A bright light surrounds you. Everything is soft and fluffy, full of clouds and forgiveness.
It’s a lie.
You want to know what Heaven’s really like? Is that what you want? I should warn you, it’s probably not what you want to hear. I should leave you to your preconceptions, everything you heard about heaven being glorious. About standing at the right hand of the Lord… It’s all wrong.
The truth about heaven is a much darker affair. I’ve been there. But I was lucky.
I came back.
You’re still here? Okay, then I guess I’ll tell you. The road and the tale are both long and arduous, with no convenient stops on the way.
Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.
It started the way most stories about heaven do. With my death. I was hit by a car going at seventy miles an hour in a thirty mile an hour zone. I found out later that the driver was a seventeen year old girl, passed her test two weeks before. She never even stopped.
I died in thirteen minutes and four seconds. That’s how long it took for my body to give up after the impact. That’s how long it took for my soul to flee my shattered bones and broken skin.
The shapeless shape of my soul began to rise. A promising sign, when you’re dead. After all, haven’t we always been told that Heaven is above us, with Hell waiting like a beast below, hungry for the sinners.
In the bible, it states that there are three heavens. There is the firmament, covering the Earth that holds the birds and the clouds. Travelling through that alone took what felt like days. But as a disembodied spirit, time takes on a different meaning. Seconds last for days, but weeks pass by in a moment. It stretches and compresses like putty in the hands of a child.
The second heaven, with the stars and the moon and the planets, everything from here to the edge of the universe takes a long time to pass through, even with the warping. An eternity, in which you think all the things that you can think, feel everything it is possible to feel. Every single experience flows through whatever passes for you. I was still interested when I got to Pluto, but past the Kuiper Belt, in the empty blackness, that’s when I got to losing my mind or at least whatever was remaining of it.
Finally, after that infinity, I passed through to the final heaven. The realm of the Lord and all those waiting at his right hand. All of them waiting for me.
The first thing that struck me was the colour. Everybody knows that Heaven is full of light and splendour.
It’s not supposed to be red. Deep red, blooming like blood through the streets of a town. I felt cobblestones beneath my fingers, roughly cut, harsh against my hands. My hands… I was no longer disembodied, no, I was firmly re-embodied.
It hurt. It hurt a lot.
I rolled onto my back and gasped for air, fighting for control of my aged mind, fraught from those countless years ascending through space. Above me, I saw no stars, no moon, no sky at all. Just an emptiness, above a clear shell. The clearest view of absence.
‘Hey. New arrival?’ A voice, gruff and low, came from about six inches next to my ear. I heaved myself onto my side and looked into the single ugliest face I’d ever seen. A twisted mouth below a bulbous nose, with patchy fur covering the lower half of the face. The eyes were the most worrying part, one deep blue, almost black, and staring straight at me, through me, beyond me. The other, milky but roaming in the socket as if it were looking for an escape.
‘Where?’ That was as far as I got before I heaved, stomach clenching and attempting to escape.
‘Where are ya? Look at the signs, kid. You’re in Heaven. Population you.’ He grinned, all tooth and gaps. ‘Have fun! Look out for the Seraphs.’
The creature moved away. As I’ve been writing this tale, I’ve been trying to describe how he moved. The only thing I’ve got, however, is multiple dislocations. It was as if he removed each joint from the socket, placed the limb where he wanted to go, then plugged it back in.
It did nothing to help my already churning stomach.
After some time retching on the ground, feeling incredibly sorry for myself, I had to explore. I found my feet, unsteadily, then made my way through the oddly familiar streets.
Cobbles gave way to tarmac, and small stone houses turned to skyscrapers, shining beacons of metal and glass. I’d have described them as reaching for the heavens if I wasn’t already there.
You’ve seen pictures of Times Square, thousands of adverts on every surface? It was recreated perfectly, but with my face everywhere. It’s quite disconcerting having your own eyes staring down at you. A face you know so well, having seen it every day of your stupidly short life.
A rumble set the glass panes shaking in their settings, reflections dancing on the red streets. I turned, slowly, to face the source.
It was a monstrosity. A mechanical creature, humanoid in shape, but a hundred times the size of a man. Ticking and whirring and stomping through the roads, clicking through jerky movements.
A voice, a thousand voices, emanated from the armoured creature. They called my name, a harsh siren song calling me towards the creature, clicks and whirrs as each layer of voice joined the chorus. It called me to it, a great armoured glove reaching down from the heights to pull me into its grasp.
I ran. I’m not ashamed to say it, but I ran. Through all of those familiar streets, until I came to somewhere I knew. The creature stomped after me, but was falling behind. I saw an open door in a small cottage and dived through.
I knew this place. This was my childhood home. This was the place where my father had beaten my mother until she bled, locked me away in a cupboard until I stopped crying. This was a place with no happy memories.
I’d come through to the old sitting room, a horrific, floral print sofa sits in the corner facing an old CRT television set. Match of the day was playing, just as it always had been, Des Lynam and his cronies chatting about something I’d never understand. He’d have been drinking since noon, cans of Tennent’s and Special Brew casually discarded all over the floor. I’d hear him calling from the sofa, he’d just shout…
I whirled around. It had been his voice, the voice that had haunted my nightmares since I was eight years old. There he was, sat on that awful print sofa, can in hand. A thin line of drool running down his mouth that he hadn’t bothered to wipe away. ‘Boy! Get me a goddamn beer!’
I looked down to see shiny shoes on my size four feet, just as they had been back then. Mum had polished them, every night, just to make sure that I wouldn’t cause any embarrassment at school. There were creases in my trousers that you could shave with. I felt the fear rise, muscles tensing as I prepared to fight… Or run away.
The can flew at me, crashing into my temple. A lance of pain flowed through me, shooting down my spine and rooting me in place. Fight or flight was no longer an option. The only option was to take the beating as it came, as it always would. The sound of leather against leather, the small tick as the buckle came undone. His face drew into a grimace as his hand went high, the lampshade swinging as the belt caught it, setting the shadows dancing around the room.
Then everything stopped. Everything was still. The shadows ceased to dance and my father froze in his anger, the brown leather of the belt defying gravity in his grasping hand.
I fell to my knees, retching once again. This is not how I’d ever imagined Heaven.
‘What were you expecting?’
I’d been lying on the Axminster carpet for a long time when the voice came to me. It was my father’s voice, but softer. The father I’d imagined instead of the father that I’d had.
‘I… I expected the Heaven we’ve been told of. The lights, the chorus of angels, peace and goodwill?’
‘This is a path to peace. I created this place for you. Your truest fears will prevent you from finding peace in any guise. Your fear of your father has followed you throughout your years, preventing you from peace. Here, I provide you the chance to find it. This is Heaven.’ My father’s body released it’s grip on the belt, leaving it hanging in the sickly yellow light. ‘Nobody said that it was easy.’
He reached a hand down to me, kind wrinkles around his eyes as opposed to the anger lines I was so used to seeing. He pulled me to my feet, staring deep into my eyes. ‘But…’
‘No, there has always been misconception. Heaven is a trial, an ordeal. And then you can rest at last.’ He sighed. ‘So few of you understand.’
I heard the Seraph bellow outside. It was coming back for me.
‘I can let you out. I can send you on your way.’ He said, holding my hand tightly.
‘I want to go home.’ I told him.
‘I might be able to do that.’ He smiled, sadly, before continuing. ‘Most people just want to rest. Are you sure this is what you want?’
I looked into my father’s eyes, those same eyes that were once so terrifying. He had been right. This was a path to peace. But I wasn’t at my destination yet. ‘Yes. I have to go back.’
The Seraph’s hand burst through the wall, fingers circling my body. I heard the gears clicking within, as the grip tightened. My father’s hand was still in mine, my own grip matching the Seraph’s. A final bellow from the multitude voice, then the fingers fully closed.
I woke in incredible pain. I had been officially dead for six minutes. I’d been I had fractures in more than half the bones in my body and I’d lost three pints of blood. The doctor’s told me that I shouldn’t have made it out alive.
My father was sat by my bed. Eyes of anger softened by pain. For the first time, I saw him as he was.
An old and pitiful man. Hurt and lonely, where he’d put himself. I reached out from my bed and took his hand in mine.
‘I forgive you.’
Blimey, that was a long one today. Could probably do with some editing, but here it is. What would your trial be?
The Idiot in Tin Foil