“Sorry,” said the being. “I can’t let you in.”
“What on earth do you mean?” said Ruda. “I don’t pass judgment?”
“Few do,” reminded the being. “Next!”
Ruda looked over her shoulder, and saw clouds.
“There isn’t anyone next. Additionally, I find it somewhat strange that the Pearly Gates are literally pearly, that the floor appears to be made of cloud, and that it’s all rather as I would have expected. Don’t tell me all the scholars were exactly right.”
The being peered over its spectacles at Ruda. “It’s non-denominational,” it said. “You bring your own religious imagery here and place it on top of a template. This appearance matches what you believe.”
“Bespoke afterlife?” said Ruda. “Ridiculous.”
The being merely shrugged.
“Well anyway,” continued Ruda, “what did I do during my life that prevents my entrance?”
“Plenty of intoxication,” said the being. “Gambling. Inappropriate dalliances. Greed, lots of greed. But mostly failing to live up to your potential and leaving things in a terrible state. Next!”
“That’s not how it works,” protested Ruda. “Those aren’t the rules!”
“They are my rules,” said the being. “I have the keys.”
“This is not heaven,” said Ruda. “It can’t work like this. What am I supposed to do?”
“Ah, well,” said the being. “You could buy an indulgence.”
Ruda sighed. “How much?”
“The gold pieces that are over your eyes.”
Ruda lifted her hands to her eyes, and realised there was a gold coin over each. She peeled them off her eyelids, handed them over, then looked around.
The clouds had gone, as had the gates. Instead, there was dust. There were cities. She saw her home. But looking closely, in a way she had never looked before, she saw more. She saw hunger. She saw hatred, violence, cruelty. She saw disparity.
She looked at the being. It was watching her, waiting for a reaction.
“I’m not dead?” she sighed.
“No,” said the being.
“This was a lesson?”
“Is there really a heaven? In any religion?”
“Maybe,” said the being. “Maybe it depends on you.”