Copyright © 2018
All Rights Reserved
Tylor Kranyak
Author of Legacy of Krazatan
An Atheist in Heaven
     There was a big sale at Maria's favourite store. Richard was dragged along since he was the only one who could drive. After an hour of shopping the two of them made their way down the busy New York street. They headed toward the parking lot with several shopping bags in hand and wallets hundreds of dollars lighter.
     The sidewalks of Time Square were packed with people, mostly tourists taking pictures of the giant Coke sign. They should have been watching their own pockets instead. New York was ripe with thieves who preyed on the carelessness of out-of-towners for easy cash. The streets blasted with the sound of taxis and buses honking their horns as they weaved their way through traffic. Richard had wanted to take the subway instead of fighting the afternoon gridlock, but Maria didn't want to carry their bags all the way home. So, they decided to take the car.
     "Think you bought enough?" Richard asked. His arms were already starting to tire from the weight of the shopping bags.
     "I know, I went a little over board," his wife said sheepishly. "But, I just couldn't resist that skirt. It was fifty percent off!"
     "It still cost three-hundred dollars. Who would spend that much for just one skirt?"
     She shook her head. "It's the brand that matters. Lots of women would kill to get their hands on a Miu Miu at this price."
     "So... you just spent three-hundred dollars on a name?"
     Maria chuckled a little. "I don't expect you to understand." She hooked her free arm around Richard's. "Thanks for taking me shopping, I know you don't like coming to these places."
     Richard shrugged. "You're my wife, I like seeing you happy." Even at the expense of my entire week's paycheck, he wanted to add, but kept that part to himself.
     She smiled as she reached up and kissed him on the cheek. "I love you, Richard. Still, I feel a little guilty for dragging you out here with me today, so I bought a little something for you."
     Richard cocked a brow at his wife. "And what might that be?"
     "You'll find out tonight," she said as she flashed him a devilish grin.
     Richard looked over his shoulder and saw a man running down the sidewalk, pushing people out of the way as he went. In his hand was a woman's purse, and chasing after him were two police officers. Richard barely had enough time to move when the man shoved his way between him and Maria. Richard fought to maintain his balance, but tripped when his foot reached the curb. He slipped and fell face first into the side of the street. The last thing he heard was his wife screaming with terror as a yellow taxi screeched toward him.
     Then, everything went white...

     As his vision slowly returned, Richard found himself standing in a bright place surrounded by blue sky and clouds. A giant golden barred gate stood before him. In front of it was man standing behind a podium. He had wings and wore a white robe.
     "Where... am I?" Richard said softly as he approached the man.
     "Welcome, Richard."
     "How do you know my name? Who are you, and what is this place?" Richard demanded.
     "Why, this is Heaven, of course." He gave a light bow and added, "You may call me Peter."
     Richard's heart sank to the pit of his stomach. "Heaven? You mean I'm..."
     The angel, as that was obviously what he was, nodded solemnly. "Yes, I'm afraid so. But do not fret. From now on you will have an eternity of peace and joy." Peter raised his hand, and a clipboard appeared in a puff of smoke next to him. Grabbing it, he flipped a couple pages and said, "Now, let's see..." He frowned as he scanned the pages. "That's strange... It doesn't say here what your religious beliefs are."
     "Oh, well..." Richard scratched his head sheepishly. "I don't really have any to be honest."
     The angel smiled with understanding as the clipboard disappeared in another puff of smoke. "Ah, so you're an atheist."
     Richard started to panic. "You're not going to send me to hell, are you?"
     "Calm yourself, Richard. Despite what your churches on Earth would say we wouldn't turn away a good-hearted soul just because he doesn't believe in God, especially since you've led such a good life up until now. We simply have to find the right place for you, that's all." The golden gates slowly opened, and a bright heavenly light shone from beyond. "Follow me," Peter said as he led Richard through the gate.
     The sky was full of clouds that glowed softly in the golden light of the sun. Angels flew majestically across the sky as the air was filled with the sound of heavenly choirs singing their hearts out. Richard's heart fluttered with joy. He had never seen or heard anything so beautiful in all his life.
     "This is amazing..." Richard said, his voice full of awe and delight.
     "Yes, it is quite a sight isn't it?" Peter lightly pushed Richard toward the edge of the cloud they were standing on. A few moments later the portion of the cloud under them separated from the rest of its body. It lifted them higher into the sky, where they had a better view of the sight before them. "Here you will live in a paradise of your own creation where your every wish will come true." Richard was too enthralled with the sight before him to notice Peter turning to point elsewhere. "Now, if you'll look over here you can see Mt. Olympus."
     Startled, Richard turned to the angel and asked, "Wait... what did you say?"
     "Mt. Olympus, home to the many Gods and Goddesses of the old Greek faith."
     Their cloud moved away from the angel choirs and toward a large mountain-top that poked through a mass of even more clouds. Various buildings, fountains, and temples stood on the tip. Richard could see figures celebrating with a large feast in one of the open-walled structures. It looked just as majestic as the last sight, but Richard was far too confused about its presence to appreciate its beauty.
     As Richard struggled to think of a way to properly express his confusion, the angel continued, "Not many souls have been coming here for the past couple millennia. Unfortunately Mt. Olympus is only open to the various deities that inhabit it. Most who choose to come here are instead sent to the Underworld, where they are left to spend the rest of eternity in the Fields of Punishment, the Asphodel Meadows, or the Elysian Fields. Since you did not commit any crimes against the gods or goddesses of this faith, nor have you achieved any virtuous or heroic feats, you'd be sent to the Asphodel Meadows. It's quite boring there if you ask me, and before you can even gain entry you must drink from the river of Lethe which robs you of your individuality. I wouldn't recommend choosing it."
     "Okay..." Turning back to the angel, Richard asked, "Quick question. Why is Mt. Olympus in Heaven? Aren't these two places part of completely different religions?"
     Peter smiled. "They're one in the same. Heaven is the manifestation of all people's religious beliefs given form from the prayers and dreams of every man, woman, and child on Earth. There is no one right religion, it's all one place. When a person dies they choose how to spend their afterlife in accordance to whatever religion they believed in when they were alive."
     "But, how is this all possible?" Richard asked. "How can the dreams and wishes of all mankind create something in a separate plane of existence?"
     "That's a question even I cannot answer, I'm afraid."
     Richard stared at Mt. Olympus a little while longer. "So, every version of Heaven is here?"
     "That's right, and we have a long day ahead of us if we're going to see them all."
     The cloud started moving again. A few minutes later they arrived near two giant objects, a wheel and a scale. There were two long queues lined up at both of them. "Over here we have the Wheel of Reincarnation. If you feel you want to have another chance at life, this is the place to go. Simply spin the wheel, and you live your next life as whatever it lands on."
     Richard watched as an average looking man walked up to the wheel and gave it a spin. A puff of smoke appeared around him once the wheel stopped. When the smoke cleared he suddenly had long black hair, wore a flashy outfit and held an electric guitar. There was a look of utter delight plastered across his face as another angel led him away.
     Turning toward the scale, Richard asked, "What about that?"
     "That's the Scale of Karma. It measures the weight of a person's good and bad deeds against each other. The outcome decides what he or she will live their next life as."
     A particularly nasty looking man walked onto the scale. He looked familiar, though Richard couldn't quite remember where he had seen the man's face before. The indicator on the scale wavered for a few moments, then shot straight down. There was a look of terror on the man's face just before a puff of smoke engulfed him, just as it had with the previous man. This time when the smoke disappeared there was nothing but a pig standing on the scale. As the pig was led away, Peter said, "Looks like he caused a lot of problems during his life."
     Richard finally remembered where he had seen that man's face before. "Wait a minute, that man was the one who killed me! He pushed me into the street!"
     Peter's clipboard appeared again. The angel flipped through it a bit, then said, "Well, what do you know? You're right. Not long after he pushed you into oncoming traffic he himself was hit by a bus while trying to cross the street to escape the police. In a dark way, it seems justice was served."
     The cloud started moving again. As they headed toward their next destination they passed by another moving cloud. Riding it was a strange looking alien and a mass of floating spaghetti and meatballs with eyes. Richard stared at them as they passed by, and when they were out of earshot he asked, "What the hell were those things?"
     "That would be Xenu and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. They're a couple of newcomers to the God-figure department." There was a look of derision on the angel's face when he added, "I'd stay away from them if I were you."
     "Will do. So, where are we going now?"
     "Next up is Valhalla."
     The cloud arrived over a rolling landscape of mountain ranges and forests. Towering over it all was a giant city the likes of which Richard had never seen before. Many winged beings flew overhead. They looked like angels, except they wore armour instead of the white robe Peter sported. The winged beings carried men and women toward a large hall located in the center of the city.
     "Valhalla, the afterlife of the Norse mythology, is the hall of the slain where Odin chooses those who died in combat to join their brothers and sisters in arms. There they feast and tell tales of their heroic battles in an eternal celebration."
     "Sounds nice," Richard said. "I wouldn't mind partying there for my afterlife."
     "Unfortunately, Valhalla is only open to those who have died in combat." Peter flipped through his clipboard again. "You wouldn't be able to get in since you died from...  Oh..."
     "What's wrong?" Richard asked.
     "It seems there's been some sort of mistake. It says here you weren't supposed to die when that taxi hit you, you were only supposed to have a near-death experience."
     "Wait, are you serious?"
     "Quite. You're in the hospital right now, and it says here you're scheduled to make a full recovery." He tossed the clipboard aside to let it poof out of existence again as he turned to face Richard. "I apologise for the inconvenience. It seems your time hasn't come just yet, though I hope you've enjoyed your brief visit in Heaven. The next time you arrive we can continue this tour from where we left off. Until then, good-bye and good luck." With that, the angel shoved Richard off the side of the cloud.
     Richard opened his mouth to scream, but the moment he gasped for air everything around him changed. He was suddenly laying in a bed in a white room. His arm was hooked up to a heart monitor and he could feel casts wrapped around his head and left arm.
     He opened his mouth again to say something, but before he could utter a word he heard his wife's voice. "Richard!" He turned his head to see Maria spring up from a chair next to his bed. Her eyes were filled with tears as she wrapped her arms around him. "Thank God you're okay! I thought I lost you!"
     "I'm fine Maria."
     She pulled back from him and said, "You ended up breaking a few bones when that taxi hit you, but the doctors say you'll be okay. How are you feeling?"
     "I'm all right, but I just had the weirdest dream..."