“At the Pearly Gates” by Steven Smith
Even in the afterlife (the good one), things can be hard. Here’s a story I wrote about how arduous it must be toiling away , day after day, at the gates of Heaven. St. Peter’s been finding work a little difficult recently, so in his infinite wisdom he decides to train a robot to help lighten the load. What could possibly go wrong? Written on the 9th February 2017.
“An Incident at the Pearly Gates“
“You died in a jet ski accident”.
“No he flaming well did not!” spat St. Peter, bashing a spanner off the robot’s head.
The devout and hard working saint was particularly flustered today, normally his divine duty of manning the Pearly Gates™ was stressful – there were always unjudged souls ready to object to being denied peace everlasting – but today was extra aggravating because he was trying, between fresh neophytes, to build himself a robotic servant. No mean feat when the world’s population never took a break from dying and ascending that ethereal escalator in the sky.
“I told you already, this one died of a brain aneurysm, not a sodding jet ski. Now get that into your thick CPU or we’ll be here all day… Oh Jesus Christ, here comes another one…”
“Did somebody say my name?” It was Jesus, he’d appeared out of a pink cloud, a habit his father had asked him to stop because it was upsetting the more sensitive angels.
“Get lost Jesus, I’m busy here,” snapped St. Peter, jabbing a golden screwdriver into the robot’s auxiliary port.
“Well now, somebody’s uptight today. Better hurry up Pete, you’re starting to get a backlog there,” jested the son of God, pointing at the steadily expanding line of recently deceased on the other side of the gate.
“Shut up, you wood-whittling hippie!” barked the divine doorman. Jesus sneered and promptly left, kicking up a wisp of cloud in his wake. “Alright, you. Yes you. You’re next. Okay, let’s try this again. St. Peter 2.0, tell me how this man died, and I swear to the All-Maker you’d better not screw it up again”.
“Greetings sir, and welcome to Heaven. My neural sensors indicate to me that you have just died in a jet skiing accident”.
St. Peter exploded. Literally. Never in his multi-millennia long service to the Kingdom of God had he been this spectacularly angry. After his steaming skull chunks had settled over the clouds and the pulpy bits of his sizzling brain slid down the faces of the bewildered deceased, Peter’s head reconstituted itself and he resumed his tirade. “Damnit! You’re the single biggest piece of crap I’ve ever had the misfortune of working with in my entire life! Gabriel, hey Gabriel, get your bronzed buns over here and help me out with this pile of trash!”
Gabriel, who was nearby and busying himself with adjusting a quadriplegic’s bow tie, sauntered over to the gates and let loose an impressed whistle. He’d never seen a robot in Heaven before. And no, Jesus’ wooden golem didn’t count.
“Gabe, now you’re a smart lad. You know a thing or two about machines, what with that arcade cabinet you and Jesus threw together for Barachiel’s birthday last week. Tell me how to fix this piece of garbage before I lose it completely and set it on fire”.
“What operating system is it running?” asked the angel, rubbing his fake-tanned chin.
“Erm, excuse me…” asked a man timidly on the other side of the pearly barricade. “But could you tell me, is this Heaven?”
“Shut your mouth, you impatient wretch!” blared St. Peter. “I’ll get to you in a God damn minute, can’t you idiots hang on for just a second? You’re already dead, it’s not like you need to be anywhere or anything”. The angry old saint scratched the bald spot under his halo, it always itched whenever he was stressed. “Now let me think here… Um, yes, I think it’s Microsoft Windows: Divine Edition. That’s it. Why?”
“Oh,” said Gabriel, sounding suddenly quite hopeless. “I don’t know much about Microsoft systems, I’ve only ever worked with Apple ones”.
“Apple?!” spat St. Peter, kicking the robot and stubbing his toe in the process. “Apple?! You know damn well no apples are allowed in Heaven, not since the incident with Adam back in the day. How dare you speak such blasphemy!”
“Oh shut up Pete,” scolded Gabriel, turning and starting to walk away. “It’s an operating system by a company called Apple. It’s not an actual bleeding apple, you dick. I hope that robot falls over and crushes you, you nasty old man”.
“Fine!” yelled St. Peter with his finger pointing accusingly at the retreating messenger of God. “I’ll fix this thing all by myself! I don’t need you or your bad attitude anyway, Gabe!”
“Excuse me sir, but I really must insist: is this Heaven or is it not?” It was the man on the other side of the gate again. He seemed to have gathered some courage, for now he had stretched an arm through the bars and was tapping St. Peter vigorously upon the shoulder.
The gatekeeper of the afterlife was about to turn around and chastise the man for daring to lay his fingers upon a saint, but he didn’t get the chance. For at that very moment the robot kicked into gear and wasted no time tearing the impatient soul’s arm clean off. Howling in agony, the man fell backwards clutching his bloody stump as several other recently deceased gathered round and tried their best to stem the bleeding, but then gave up when they realised they were already dead and bleeding out probably wasn’t that much of a concern.
“Why did you do that?” shouted a woman accusingly.
“Yeah, that was completely uncalled for!” yelled another.
“You’re a malicious piece of work, that’s what you are!” cursed a third man with his arms folded.
“Oh go to Hell, you bunch of whiny babies. I didn’t tear his sodding arm off, now did I? It was this useless mountain of junk over here, he’s been botching up all day long and now this. I can’t win. I just cannot win today”. St. Peter glared at the group of confused and angry people awaiting both judgement and an apology on the other side of the gate. Then he turned his gaze towards his robotic companion. “St. Peter 2.0, why, pray tell, did you tear that poor man’s arm off?”
“Because, master, he was showing hostilities towards you, and I simply did as my defence programme dictates I do in such circumstances”. The robot stared blankly into space. The gatekeeper considered this for some time.
“Right, owing to your loyalty, I’ll give you one last chance. But if you get it wrong again, it’ll be the last thing you ever do. Now, tell me how that man lying over there died”. St. Peter stood back with his arms folded and awaited the robot’s response.
The mechanoid thought long and hard, his capacitors and circuitry buzzing and ticking as he processed the situation extra carefully, like a dog who’d been specifically told not to eat the biscuit, despite the biscuit having been placed upon his nose. “You died…” the robot paused. St. Peter’s eyes glared with the intensity of a thousand prayer candles. “…When a robot tore your arm off and you bled to death”.
“No! Damnit no!” screamed St. Peter in a foul rage. “A man can’t die twice! You imbecile! That’s it, I’m going to decommission the crap out of you, you worthless pile of bolts!”
“Actually,” said a voice from beyond the gate. “I think he’s right. This man is dead…again”.
St. Peter snapped his head towards the speaker, then looked down at the one-armed man. He was blue. And not breathing. The saint fell into deep shock, he was utterly bewildered. Such a thing had never happened before in the entire history of Heaven. No one had ever died twice. It simply wasn’t possible, surely?
Just then, the one and only Jesus Christ showed up once more, having felt a disturbance in the divine force. “What’s all this, what’s going on, we’ll have no trouble here,” he demanded as he marched over to St. Peter and saw the blue, one-armed man on the other side of the Pearly Gates™. “Is that man dead?! For my sake Pete, what have you gone and done now? You’ve killed somebody!”
“No I haven’t!” fired back St. Peter, shaking like a leaf. “People can’t die in Heaven, how can he be dead? It’s not possible!”
“Look idiot, he’s not in Heaven yet. He’s still on the other side of that gate, therefore, technically not in the afterlife yet. If you hadn’t wasted so much time with that hunk of junk over there, he’d be inside and enjoying everlasting happiness. Now look at him. He’s dead! I don’t even know what that means for his soul. He’s probably in purgatory now, for all eternity, no thanks to you. That’s it, I’m shutting this gate down!”
“What do you mean you’re ‘shutting this gate down’?” croaked a man on the other side. “We’ve got every right to be here! You can’t deny us entry into Heaven, we deserve our divine judgement! We’ve lived a life of righteousness for this moment!”
“Yes, yes, I know,” replied Jesus as he pulled a roll of caution tape out of his bum bag and began cordoning off the Pearly Gates™. “Don’t worry, I’ll open the second gate for you. Hadraniel’ll sort you out. His gate’s on the other side of Heaven”.
“How far away is it?” asked another.
“Hmm…’bout eighty six thousand miles away,” answered Jesus, affixing a large “CLOSED TO THE PUBLIC” sign.
“Eighty six thousand miles?! I’m not walking that! It’ll take ages!” whinged a little old lady, shaking her fist.
Jesus screwed up his face in annoyance as he straightened the sign and took St. Peter’s keys off him. “Alright! Fine, I’ll arrange a bus to come pick you up. Now don’t say Jesus isn’t good to you”. The Messiah turned to St. Peter once again and addressed him. “Pete, you done goofed royally this time. I’m hereby suspending you as official gatekeeper of the Pearly Gates™ and temporarily revoking your sainthood. Don’t look at me like that, Pete. You know fine well I can’t let this slide. A man is dead because of you. It’s not up to me to judge you for this, that’s up to my father. That’s why I’ve just texted him about what’s happened. He wants to see you now”. Peter opened his mouth to protest but Jesus cut him off. “Shut up! Don’t say a word or I’ll put my foot in your ass! Now go. He’s waiting. And take that damn robot with you”.
Peter, who was now just run-of-the-mill Peter and not St. Peter the revered doorman, grudgingly shuffled off towards God’s office, leaving Jesus behind to dispose of the blue, one-armed man. Peter wasn’t exactly enthusiastic about his impending meeting with the supreme deity, not when the reason behind it was him essentially losing an innocent man’s soul to the unknowable abyss of purgatory…possibly. He’d probably wind up getting fired, or sent as a missionary to Hell to try and convert demons like poor old Jegudiel after he’d burnt God’s bagel that one time. God didn’t mess around. As he and his robot made their way though the gardens and winding streets, Peter was hissed and booed at by the angels and other saints. Word got around quickly when somebody messed up in Heaven.
Up to the front door Peter dragged himself, pressed the buzzer and waited nervously for the response. “Come,” came the deep, booming reply. Peter opened the door and entered God’s office.
There wasn’t much inside, God was famously a minimalist. There was a small wooden desk that Jesus had built Him with some Lego on top of it, a reproduction painting of the Mona Lisa on the northern wall and a wilting potted plant. God was standing over the desk, putting the finishing touches on His Lego castle. “Pete. Take a seat”.
The robot walked to the nearest corner, faced the wall and put itself into power-saving mode. Peter looked around the barren office. There were no seats. “Um, there’s no chairs,” said the man glumly.
God didn’t look up as He put the roof on the castle’s east turret. With a nonchalant click of His fingers, a neon pink inflatable chair appeared in front of the desk. Peter took the cue and sat in it, squeaking and making a great deal of noise. Still not looking up from His work, God resumed talking. “It has come to my attention, Pete, that you have somehow managed to kill a man”.
“Well it wasn’t really me, it was–“
“You killed him with a robot”. Without looking up, God pointed to the hibernating automaton in the corner.
Peter looked at his feet. His big toe was bleeding. “Yes. Well, essentially. That’s pretty much what happened”.
God placed a Lego sheep in front of the portcullis, facing a pirate. “That’s not good. That poor man probably doesn’t exist anymore. Not even I know what lies in purgatory”.
“That’s a bit shit”. Before Peter even knew what he was saying he’d already swore in front of the Almighty. Peter’s mind flooded with terrifying thoughts of his employer smiting him senseless for the indiscretion.
“It is a bit shit,” agreed God, replacing the sheep with a ghost. “And considering that we have no choice other than to assume that the poor man will never find happiness again, I must punish you for your rather severe gaffe”.
Peter felt a strong sudden urge to pee now.
“Incidentally,” continued God, “why did you feel the need to use a robot during the course of your duties at the Pearly Gates™?”
Peter shifted uncomfortably in the inflatable chair, sending a loud squeal rippling through the office. “Well…” he began, his bald spot getting incredibly itchy. “I, uh, felt that having a helping hand would, I dunno, maybe speed things up a bit. You don’t know what it’s like out there at times, it gets so hectic. Especially when there’s a tsunami or earthquake or something. I needed some extra help. So I bought a robot”.
“And where did you get this robot?”
God fell into silence for some time as He removed both the Lego pirate and ghost and moved the portcullis further down the courtyard, allowing more space for His castle’s expanding walls. Peter toyed with the idea of scratching his itchy scalp, but thought better of it when he realised the inflatable chair would squeak far too much and he didn’t want to upset God any more than He probably already was.
“I had a coupon,” Peter offered out of the awkward silence.
“I was not aware Amazon delivered this far north”.
“Yeah. Only since they started using drones, but yeah”.
“I see,” murmured God, putting the finishing touches on His castle and putting it to one side.
“Right,” said the Father of all creation, folding His arms on the desk, “I have mulled it over. You have committed a very serious offence, but you have also served this kingdom for a very long time and, until now, have always acted with utmost professionalism. Taking that into consideration, I have decided to relieve you of your duties on a semi-permanent basis. When you leave this office, you will report to Gabriel–”
“Aww come on, God!” interrupted Peter, leaping out of his chair in protest.
“Silence! You will report to Gabriel, whereupon you will join him in his sacred duty of tying and adjusting the bow ties of Heaven’s quadriplegic residents. You will do this for the next four thousand years, and if you fulfil this duty without incident, then I will consider putting you back on the Pearly Gates™. Now get moving, and do not let me hear from you again, lest you wish to experience a more severe punishment. Begone”.
As Peter left the office with his head in his hands, God looked to the robot with its back to Him in the corner. It was the first time He’d actually paid any attention to it. Crossing the room, He began inspecting the machine more closely. There was a minuscule switch on the back of its neck. God leaned in, squinting His eyes. There was some small text above it. Pulling His prescription glasses out, He read the words aloud. “Jet Ski Mode. Huh, now that’s weird”. He flicked the switch to the OFF position and slapped the robot across the back of the head to wake it up.
“Robot, I am God. I’m not a judgemental guy, well, for the most part, so I want you to know that I don’t blame you for killing that poor man. I never granted robots the right to souls and feelings in the first place, so I know there was no malice in your actions. As I have just turned your Jet Ski Mode off, I want to give you an opportunity. I want you to go back to the Pearly Gates™, take down the cordon and get back to work. If you can make it through the day without any more fatalities, you’ve got yourself a full time job. Now get moving, there’s plenty more souls to judge”.
The robot beeped in acknowledgement and rattled off out the front door, ready to replace his former master. God walked back over to the desk and started rearranging His pirates and ghosts again. Removing the outer wall of the Lego castle, He revealed two homemade figurines hiding behind the portcullis, one of St. Peter and one of the robot. Smiling, God picked up the saint and put him to one side, leaving the robot all alone in the castle. “That’s better”.