… And there’s that very neat little place that just opened up, prime location, right across from the Gates, a bit small but then again they don’t get that many customers. It’s the perfect spot to go and watch that huge line up. You sit at the terrace sipping on some sinful nectar and the action is unfolding right in front of your eyes. And believe me, these folks can get pretty rowdy. Of course at first they are so well behaved, while they still think they have a chance to get in, but when the time comes to show some credentials and only mud turns up, yeah, they just lose it. They make complete fools of themselves, arguing, yelling, swearing, completely unaware that they are thus ruining the last remaining glimpse of hope. I guess one could say in their defense that the stakes are quite high.

I don’t think I ever told you that one; a while back, good old Pete was getting tired after spending way too much time at his station to close off a long week-end. Car accidents had been lucrative for S. but since his prospective clients still have to go through screening at the Gates first, he was pacing back and forth by the terrace with a double in his hand, while Pete did his best to salvage as much of the situation as he could. Some folks, though, I tell you, they just can’t be saved. As if they weren’t thinking about the consequences down there.

Anyway, St. Pete realizes his aureole is almost completely discharged and fading in and out, making him look like a cheap neon sign by a crappy motel in the middle of nowhere. So he picks up the white courtesy phone and calls upstairs. The boss answers in between creations and tries to find a replacement, but they’re all busy. He’s scanning through his alphabetical list of deities and sanctities and when he gets down to J, he says:

– Pete, dude, I would have someone to take your place for a while, but he’s been known to cause trouble and I can’t guarantee that he’ll be that much help. They say he can’t be trusted.

– Great, replies St. Pete. Just great. Well I’m just going to have to shut the gates down until I return. I can’t risk letting illegal immigrants in and Judas doesn’t even have a clue of the difference between an I-230 and an TN Visa.

– Wait, says the boss, here, I found one. He’s been kind of bored for the last 2 millenniums and I keep promising to send him back down to finish the job, but I get so caught up. He’s yours if you’d like. Just don’t say anything like crossing the Gates, it’s a bit of a sore subject…

So the boss calls Jesus over and sends him to relieve St. Peter at the Gates of Heaven. Pete explains the basic to him, briefly – they are among saints after all:

– You just sit here, Jeez, and welcome the crowd. They will walk up to you one by one and your job is to ask them questions to assess the quality of their lifetime on Earth in order to allow them – or not – to petition for an adjustment of status, a work permit, citizenship, etc… I typically use preset questions written here, you’re welcome to use them if you’d like…

Then he floats away in quest of an aureole charger while Jesus steps into his new function.

– On behalf of the entire staff and myself, announces Jesus, welcome to the Gates, where your entire life will flash back on our new triple flat plasma screen. We are open daily from now to then, and statutory holidays are no exception. In fact they are our busiest time. Please have some form of ID ready and rewind your flash file to the beginning in order to expedite the procedure. The forms for sentence appeal are located behind me on that flat cloud. You must fill all 400 copies and submit them to the proper authorities. Make sure to take a number and good luck to you all.

The first person in the line-up approaches, a blond woman in her thirties who has just died from choking on a blue Smartie; Jesus glances at the list of protocol questions and starts asking them one after the other.

– Hi. Have you lived a good life? Did you sin a lot? How would you describe your last moments? Was there love in your life? If so did you return it? How many languages do you speak? Can you tell the difference between an angel and a rainbow? Have you ever been called up here for an interview before? If so, do you remember the Light? Did you tell anybody about it? What are the last 4 digits of your bank account number (for numerology purposes)? Have you forgiven others for their sins (Bush excluded)? Have you ever watched Heaven Can Wait muted or are you carrying in excess of $10,000 dollars in will funds?…

With each question answered, he gets a clearer picture and is normally able to make up his mind rapidly about opening the Gates or not. Time passes. [Or rather it passes for you the reader because up here, it doesn’t.] While he’s interviewing the souls, Jesus notices a very old man, still far into the line-up, patiently awaiting his turn. As more candidates get past him, he can’t help but to stare at the elder getting closer and closer, and an uneasy feeling of déjà-vu comes over him. Soon, Jesus realizes he knows the man. He knows the face, the eyes, the deep sorrow, the absence, the void this old man carries with him. He’s known him, long ago.

Eventually, after many have come and gone before him, Jesus is finally face to face with the man and asks the routine questions, which get answered correctly, granting the old man access. But Jesus’ curiosity just isn’t satisfied and he keeps questioning, in hope of figuring out who the man could be and why he is so familiar.

– What was your labour during this lifetime, old man? he asks.
– I worked with wood, the old man says, I was a carpenter.

Jesus gets cold shivers. That rings a bell or two.

– Did you have a son? he asks again.
– Yes, I guess we could say that in a way, I had a son… but I lost him, answers the man.
– Could you describe him? says Jesus.
– Easy, he had wholes in his hands and feet and…

Jesus lets out a sigh and interrupts him:

– Father!

The old man’s face lights up with a smile, he takes a deep breath and whispers:

– I knew it! How you’ve grown, my dear Pinocchio!