This story is by Emmett Freedman and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“So, as I was saying.”
Joe’s attention snapped back to the angel behind the front desk.
“What you do from here on out is up to you. I’d suggest some things, but I’m sure you already have a pretty big list.”
Joe smiled, barely paying attention. He knew exactly what he wanted to do. He had spent the last thirty years of his life, since his twenties, working his ass off to make alimony payments to his ex-wife, Allison. Then he’d been hit by a truck and woken up here. In Heaven.
“Yea, I think I got it dude. But thanks.”
The first few months flew by. Joe spent a week in a bar, Cloud Nine, downing bottles of whiskey and not getting drunk. He spent another week racing vintage Corvettes on a replica Le Mans course, then the next hunting big game. He never imagined you could kill anything in Heaven, but that was before shooting a few dozen tigers and a handful of elephants. Even the blood looked real.
Joe’s philosophy in the afterlife was simple: Do everything. He’d blown his chance at a good life, but here was his opportunity to make up for it. No more spreadsheets and team meetings, no more dumpy Toyota Corollas, no more frozen stir-fry. No more Allison.
Six months into his eternal stint in Heaven, the front desk angel appeared again. “Hey, Peter, what’s up?” Joe asked, setting down his parachute. “I’m about to go base-jumping.”
“It’s time for your check up with Jesus,” he said. “Just the routine stuff, but he likes to see how his people are doing up here, you know?”
So Joe went to see Jesus. He was hesitant, having never felt much connection to the man on Earth, but it seemed like the right thing to do. “A quick visit and then back to base-jumping,” Joe thought.
In the office, Jesus cut right to it. “What have you learned so far in Heaven?” He asked. “Have you found spiritual enlightenment?”
Joe hesitated. “To be honest, Jesus, I’m still making up for lost time on Earth,” he said. “I’m just taking it day by day.”
Jesus sat, opposite him, thinking. “How long will it take to make up for this ‘lost time?’”
“I could do this forever.”
Jesus looked him straight in the eyes. “Talk to me again in six months.” And then he disappeared.
Joe’s next six months were like his first six months. He surfed 80 foot waves, played tennis with pros, and chiseled men from marble. Heaven was a forgiving learning environment, and mastery of new skills was like learning to ride a bike: quick and easy. After just one afternoon on the guitar, he had gotten so good that he had quit. It was only fun being Hendrix if you had to work at it.
Soon enough, Peter was back at Joe’s side. “Time to see Jesus again, huh?” Joe asked, and Peter nodded.
In the office, Joe found a strange man sitting on Jesus’ desk. “Who are you?” he asked.
“I am the Buddha. Surely you know of me?” He smiled mischievously at Joe.
“Jesus called in a favor. He felt I would be better suited to help guide you towards spiritual enlightenment.” The Buddha swung his legs off the desk and walked over to Joe’s chair. “So tell me,” he said, leaning in close. “Are you happy?”
Joe recoiled slightly. “Hell yea, I’m happy. Life here is amazing. If I’d known I’d be having so much fun when I was dead, I’d have stepped in front of a truck sooner!” He raised an arm to pat the Buddha on the back, then thought better of it. “Kidding about the suicide thing. That’s not funny.”
The Buddha simply smiled and nodded his head. “Well, I’m not sure why Jesus sent me,” he said. “You seem like you’re really happy.” Joe started to reply, but the Buddha cut him off. “I just wonder, standing close to you now, whether you might look a bit…” His voice trailed off, innocently.
“Tired?” Joe asked. He had been feeling sluggish, come to think of it. “Yea, I’m a bit tired.”
The Buddha nodded.
“It’s exhausting having this much fun! Most days are pure adrenaline, non-stop action, and then a few days later I’m on to something else.”
The Buddha nodded.
“Could I do this for eternity? I think so… Eventually I’ll want to transition to the boring stuff, like fishing, right? And” – he hesitated, lowering his voice – “I haven’t even started having sex with people up here yet. That’ll keep me busy for years!”
The Buddha nodded.
“Yea, I could do this for eternity.”
The Buddha nodded.
Joe stood up from the chair. “Listen man, no offense, but this isn’t really helping. If Jesus asks, just tell him I’m satisfied and that’s that.” Joe turned to leave, but the Buddha placed a hand on his shoulder and looked into his eyes.
“There is no satisfying the senses.” Then he was gone.
After that, Joe returned to his life in Heaven with less vigor. He tried the dating scene, but most people were either with their eternal soulmate or holding out for their soulmate to die. He thought about giving simulations a shot, but after killing simulated animals it felt wrong to have sex with simulated humans.
The truth is that the Buddha’s words had really gotten to him. There was an emptiness in his life that needed to be filled. This was paradise, after all. He couldn’t be miserable in paradise.
So Joe decided to go see Peter.
“You want to schedule more time with… the Buddha?” Peter sat behind his desk, confused. “That’s highly unorthodox. Jesus generally handles everybody himself, and-”
Peter was interrupted by a flash of white light, and behind him appeared the Buddha. “You wanted to speak with me?”
“Come. We can use Jesus’ office.”
Again, Joe found himself uncomfortably close to the Awakened One. He wasted no time. “I’ve been thinking, Buddha, sir, that maybe so much fun isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Maybe I’m missing something.”
The Buddha nodded.
Joe was frustrated. “Isn’t there any guidance you can give me?”
The Buddha smiled at him, as though gazing at a beautiful flower. “You have every pleasurable experience at your disposal,” he said, “and yet you are not happy. On Earth you had none of those, and yet…” He paused. “Where were you happier?”
Joe gave it some thought. “Up here I’m unhappy…” he mumbled. “I have no one. Down there I had nothing… but I had…” He looked up at the Buddha. “Allison. The answer is Allison, right?”
“There is no external force that can provide internal peace. Often it is accepting our circumstances that provides the greatest satisfaction. What you need is to-”
“Yea, yea I got it. Thanks Buddha!” Joe ran from the office.
“Peter!” Joe pounded his fists on Peter’s desk, waking him from his afternoon nap. “What’s the quickest way for me to get down to Earth?”
Peter hesitated. “I can send you down there, easy, but only as an observer. And you have to be careful – you can’t be seen or heard, but you can be felt.”
Joe smiled. That’s exactly what he wanted to hear. “Scout’s honor, I’ll be careful. It’ll be a quick trip.”
Peter sat up, squinting at the computer screen in front of him. “Ok, let’s see here.” He tapped away at the keyboard for a few minutes, then looked up.
“Ok, you’re good to go.” He waved his hand, and Joe was gone.
Peter continued browsing the internet for a while, and eventually fell back asleep. Being the gatekeeper to Heaven and everybody’s fix-it man at the same time was exhausting work.
He was woken up a few hours later by shouting.
“YOU BASTARD!” A woman’s voice rang out through the clouds. “YOU SAD, PATHETIC LITTLE EXCUSE FOR A PERSON!”
Peter squinted off into the distance, and saw two people climbing the golden steps.
Joe was back. And a woman was with him.
“Hey Peter,” Joe said, grinning. “This is Allison. She’ll be here with me for…” He turned to Allison. “What is it again? Oh yea. Eternity.”
Peter was confused. “But I thought…” He trailed off, not wanting to offend his newest guest.
Joe walked around the desk and leaned in close, where only Peter could hear. “The Buddha was right. Allison is what’s been missing. I’m gonna torment my ex for the rest of time.”