The Gatekeeper

       



The Gatekeeper
Gary Kline

       



        The Gatekeeper was austere. Elderly, tall and lean, wearing a flowing black robe, clutching a large black ledger in the crook of his left arm.

        The man-in-charge faced the head of the impossibly-long queue beneath a simple roof made of rough-hewn logs floated maybe a few meters overhead. Beside the Gatekeeper were a few stands with several shelves, a small square table, an a sturdy lectern that appeared to be fashioned out of ironwood. To the dead man, this place seemed entirely foreboding--even sinister.

        It had taken weeks to get here from the start of the line a long, long way back. Perhaps it had been months. The dead man, whose name had been Christopher, couldn't be sure given his fog of confusion. But finally, finally, he was standing behind the last person ahead of him, a very aged dead man, who was talking, almost arguing, with the Gatekeeper.

        A glance behind him found a line of endless--countless--tens of thousands winding its way down the gradual gray-green slope. The line went up another very long hill, eventually disappearing over the dusty, faded shoulder of an even more distant hill that blurred against the horizon. The dead were almost an invisible afterthought; they stood, silent and as gray as the rest of the scene, waiting to learn their fate.

        Ahead were two paths; to the left, an enormous queue of the dead, trudging along a sign reading “To the Depths of HELL.” On the other path two or three dead walked by a sign proclaiming: “To the Right-Hand-Side of God.” This path led up a lush green hill and disappeared behind huge pearly gates among fluffy clouds.

        The man once-named Christopher blinked then and rubbed his eyes in disbelief. He thought he glimpsed a figure up in the clouds flying about on angel wings. A few sunbeams streamed through the clouds. Despite his mental fog, former-Christopher wondered at the aerodynamics. Well, he thought, I am dead after all. We're all dead here--

        “Sir!” the Gatekeeper barked. “You're next. Please step forward.”

        Beyond, the deceased man just interviewed joined the masses shuffling toward Hell. The masses were lined up five abreast and headed around a low hill. At the opposite side of the hillock seemed to be a dull, reddish glow with a faint sulfurous stench.

        The deceased, once named Christopher, stumbled forward apprehensively. He wondered if he should fall to his knees to beg for--

        “We have here, Sir,” the Gatekeeper announced, “what your life amounted to. Are you ready to go over the sums with me?”

        But before the dead man could respond, the official leafed several pages to and fro. He said, “You've died of the results of a fall at Mt. Rainier . Humph, that couldn't have caused you too much suffering. I'll check that your death was basically painless.”

        As he drew a stern check mark in the ledger the recently deceased protested, “But I was in the hospital for 56 hours with severe internal injuries! I was delirious with pain until I died.”

        “Hm, a weakling too,” the Gatekeeper said, scratching another check mark. He flipped a sheaf of pages backward.

        “Ah! Here we have some positive news! You were in a bad fire at age 16, I see. Seven months in the hospital and a few operations... . All right... yes, all right. After all, suffering is good for the soul.” The Gatekeeper smiled, but the smile didn't quite make it to his eyes.

        “There were nine operations over the years, actually,” the dead man said. “That amounted to a lot of suffering, see? Terrible suffering. And--” here he tried to reach for the ledger. “And I saved my parents and kid sister... Do you have that listed?” As he tried to look at the black ledger, the Gatekeeper whipped it far back and out of reach.

        The Gatekeeper glowered. “Saving your parents merely grows out of God's commandments, Sir. `Honor thy Father and thy Mother' and so forth. --I don't think your sister was worth saving, since after all, she turned out to convert to Hinduism and its reprehensible False gods!” He snorted loudly, scowling deeply, then glancing at those trudging toward the Depths of Hell. “Can you imagine? Praying to a false g-o-d like Shiva? Not only is your sister a stupid bitch, but she broke the First Commandment: 'Thou shalt not have any gods before Me!' ...(There really are no people more terrible than your sister, Sir!)” After another, even louder, snort, the Gatekeeper mumbled, “You ought to have let her perish in the fire.” He added, “I'm putting down that you had a wonderful childhood.”

        “But--!”

        “Come, come now, Sir. It's written in the Volume of Rules and Regulations that 99 and 44 one-hundredths per-cent of children have 'average childhoods'. I could show you the rule on page 4,944,845. --I believe. Let me see: is that Rule 757,013? Clause 527c? I think that's right! (You know, sometimes I forget how intelligent I am.)” The Gatekeeper smiled broadly.

        “Still,” the dead man said. “It should count in the total, shouldn't it? All that suffering and saving my family?”

        The Gatekeeper flipped back the pages. “Your childhood was `Fairly Normal'.” Another check. “...Now, it says here that it took you until age 27 to find gainful employment. That's going to cost you a mark of Sluggardliness, Sir.” A brisk tsk-tsk-tsking.

        “But you've got to understand that I was in excruciating pain for years after the fire. I had third-degree burns over 40% of my body! I did try my best! I really, honestly did do my best, sir.”

        “A likely story!” the elderly Gatekeeper snorted. He flipped past that section of the dead man's History and whistled a brief tune, finally smoothing the pages in the ledger.

        “So you're not going to give me credit for having the courage to finish college and be gainfully employed for 21 years? Until my fall while mountain-climbing?” The dead man was feeling more and more indignant. “I could've just laid around and amounted to nothing! --At least I had the guts to bite the bullet and get on with it.”

        “Free Will, Sir. Everyone has Free Will. Had you `just laid around' as you put it, you would be pitied here. We're all big on pity and timidity here, especially myself. The meek, the submissive, and all of that.” The Gatekeeper put his left hand to his chin and mused briefly. Then aimed a bony finger at the dead man and said, “As it is, I think I'll charge you with Ambition. We don't take kindly to people who were ambitious. It's a sin, since ambition and greed go hand in hand”

        The once-Christopher shifted his weight from one leg to the other and craned his neck to see what the Gatekeeper was busy scratching in the ledger. Before long, the old man cleared his throat irritably and turned away.

        “Are you going to give me credit for taking care of my first wife?”

        “Eh!?” the Gatekeeper exclaimed. His black eyes narrowed sharply and he put the ledger on the lectern at his right. “Are you referring to that beautiful blue-eyed soul who gave you two blessed God-fearing children?”

        “Oh? Really? Well, so you say! She turned out to be as miserable a woman as I could've imagined. There was hardly a day we didn't argue. You just have no idea. She was always, always bitchy! She made my life a living h--”

        “We know everything,” the Gatekeeper interrupted. “Including how utterly impatient you were with that poor woman--”

       

        “But I stuck it out for a dozen years before she died of cancer, and I stuck with her throughout until her last breath!”

        “Sir,” said the Gatekeeper as he picked up the ledger again and found his place, “you were merely following your marriage vows.” He eyeballed the dead man and said in an offhand way , “That beautiful soul got in, of course. At this very moment she's sitting at the Right-Hand-Side of God.”

        Given what he knew of his first wife the dead man could hardly believe this, but he was far too weary and in too much of a fog to care.

        The Gatekeeper was looking for something in the ledger. Then abruptly said, “Ah, yes, here it is! --I thought I remembered your case!-- Your second marriage was to a Godless atheist floozy who enjoyed fornication!”

       

        The pen scratched several more seconds. “The floozy was nothing but a nymphomaniac, Sir. Was and is. You realize that she'll cheat on you now, don't you?”

        After a stunned silence, the dead man offered, “But I'm dead! She can't 'cheat' on me now!”

        “It doesn't matter, Sir. Sex is totally evil. Especially whoever actually enjoys it.” The Gatekeeper's face looked as though he had bitten into a particularly sour lemon.

        “But those were my happiest years!” the dead man protested.

        The Gatekeeper's pen scratched wildly. “You were Lustful! That's the worst possible judgment you can get!”

        After what seemed an eternity of furious scribbling, the Gatekeeper closed the ledger. With his tongue salivating with sarcasm he said, “Sir, I'm sorry; you didn't pass.” He indicated the path to Hell. “That way, please. To burn forever in the fires of Hell!”

        For an instant, former Christopher nearly wept. “There's nothing I can do? Nothing? Not even purgatory or something?”

        The Gatekeeper had a good laugh. “That stupidity is only for the morons who call themselves Catholics. Why, they're not even true Christians.” He paused, and after a moment said in a somewhat more kindly tone, “Well, now that you're starting to sound slightly contrite... .” He bent and reached for a thick stack of papers.

        “What's that?”

        “This, Sir, is 4,721 multiple-choice questions on 484 pages--double-sided, of course. If you score at least 99 and 44 one-hundredths percent correct ... well, I'll reconsider your fate. ” He handed over the sheaf of papers. Then remembered and found a pencil stub about two inches long.

        The dead man began to investigate the first sheet of paper; then lost control of the others and 241 sheets scattered at his feet.

        “You'll need this pencil if you decide to fill out the questionnaire,” the Gatekeeper said, proffering the yellow, No. 2 pencil stub. “Oh, and of course you'll have to go back to the beginning of the line.”

        The dead man, once named a Christ-bearer was already busy picking up the dropped and scattered double-sided sheets. Now, abruptly, he looked up sharply. “What! All the way to the back of the line? It took me months to get up here, you asshole.”

        “Well, Sir, I'm sorry ... but I'm sorry.” The yellow pencil and the hundreds of sheets of paper instantaneously vanished. “You've failed. You simply are not contrite enough.” He pointed to the scores trudging off to the left. “Take that line please.”

        The dead man felt wearier than ever. His shoulders suddenly sagged and he slowly shuffled toward the path to the left, full of self- loathing, condemned. He paused and looked over his shoulder and asked, “Will my second wife ever be with me? Even in Hell?”

        “What!” It was almost laughed. “The Godless atheist floozy? Of course not, you fool. She doesn't believe in any of this, so rather than the possibility of eternal Rapture--" here,he paused for a deep breath, his eyes aglow. "Rather than eternal bliss and an infinite Rapture (oh, praise the Lord!), this terrible, horrid Bitch has condemned herself to an infinite and absolute Nothingness!” For the first time, the Gatekeeper broke into a hearty laugh.

        “But... ,” the dead man began. Then, as if hit dead-on by a lightening bolt, a perfect clarity struck. ...“Oh!” he said. “Oh shit! Ha! ...Ha! Yes!” Instantaneously, he vanished into absolute Nothingness.

       



Copyright, ©, 2000, 2008 Gary Kline