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"The Righteous Man" a flash fiction story.

"The Righteous Man"
Flash fiction by Tristan A. Arts (Fayanora Ahnabahn Tahlahmorgk)

      Aaron James Johnson lay on his deathbed, his adult children gathered around him. He was sad that he wouldn't be able to be in their lives anymore, but he wasn't afraid, for he had been a God-fearing Christian man, doing as the Bible said, living a righteous life. It was only their anguish that burdened him now. They'd said their goodbyes, but they seemed to think if they stayed around, he would too. It tore at him, until he couldn't take it anymore.
      "No no," he insisted, "you go on and get something to eat. You haven't eaten in hours. I'll still be here when you get back." It was a lie, but he hid it well. They nodded and left.
      Once he was certain they were gone, he sighed. Take me, Lord. Don't let them see me die. And without much of a wait, Aaron died.

      Aaron floated away from his body, and up into the sky. Though it had been night outside, a bright, warm light shone out to him like a beacon, and he followed it. He floated up into the clouds, and beheld the shining spectacle of Heaven. He did not walk so much as glide closer, gliding for several minutes before reaching the Pearly Gates. He was only mildly surprised to see Saint Peter there. The greater surprise was there was a line to get into Heaven.
      It felt like hours that he stood there, but his legs did not grow tired. His belly did not ache with hunger, and in fact, he was still floating a little above the clouds. Finally, however, he became the next in line for Heaven.
      Saint Peter looked at him and said, "Ah yes, Aaron James Johnson, let's see..." Saint Peter looked through his book for a minute or two, then seemed to find what he sought. When he did, he frowned. As he kept reading, his frown became a scowl.
      "I'm sorry," said Saint Peter, "there's been a mistake. You aren't supposed to be here."
      "Do you mean it's not my time? But... but I'm an old man, I died of old age."
      "You misunderstand me. Yes, you're supposed to be dead, but you're not on the guest list. You're to go to the other place. To Hell."
      "WHAT? There must be a mistake! I am a decent, righteous, God-fearing Christian man!"
      "According to your file, you taught your children to hate homosexuals, transgender people, and several other kinds of people."
      Aaron glared incredulously at Saint Peter. "Well of course I did! God hates faggots!"
      "That is a false belief. My son, you were misled by a false prophet. God hates nobody."
      Aaron blinked. "But... but surely teaching my kids to hate faggots isn't enough to get me into Hell."
      Saint Peter nodded. "True. There's more. Let's see... raped a lesbian, in high school, under the apparent assumption that this would somehow 'cure' her of her lesbianism." Saint Peter stared in disbelief at Aaron. "What the SHIT, man? That makes NO sense at all."
      Aaron opened his mouth to speak, but Saint Peter interrupted him. "Then in college, beat the living crap out of a trans woman with no provocation. She needed facial reconstruction surgery after that, and had to get dentures." Saint Peter shook his head in dismay.
      Aaron got angry. "Well, be that as it may, but those faggots deserved it for being such blatant sinners, defying the will of God. Fucking unnatural. And I never killed anyone. I haven't broken any of the ten commandments."
      "I beg to differ on that score. You broke the third commandment by teaching that God hates some people. Since the God you taught about bears little resemblance to how God actually is, a case could be made for breaking the first commandment. But that's a moot point; the ten commandments are obsolete. All the Bibles in your house, you should know that."
      Mr. Johnson stared at Saint Peter in confusion. "What do you mean, I ought to know the ten commandments are obsolete?"
      "Good God, man! They've been obsolete for two thousand years! Jesus replaced all the old rules with the One Commandment: Love thy neighbor as thyself. You've broken that one with your entire life, Aaron."
      He stared at Saint Peter. He could hardly believe this. Was he having a nightmare? No, it was too crisp and logical, despite the oddness of Peter's words, to be a dream. There was nothing for it... unless he could think of some way to talk himself out of this, he was going to Hell. He blinked. "Wait a minute..."
      "Yes?"
      "How can I be going to Hell? If God doesn't hate anyone, like you say, why is there a Hell?"
      "Oh, if you're thinking Hell is some place of eternal torment, don't worry about that. Though some of the things you've done certainly deserve a little fiery torment. But no, Hell is more like a cosmic time-out. The Hell dimensions are holding cells where we put wayward souls until we can figure out what to do with them. Some people are so bad they have to go through decades or more of intense rehabilitation before reincarnation. But you're not that far gone; you'll probably need less than a year of rehabilitation before being reincarnated."
      Aaron spluttered. "R-REINCARNATION?"
      Saint Peter did a perfect imitation of the Spock eyebrow. "Well, yes. Have to give you another chance to get it right, after all. Besides which, even if you were going to Heaven, you'd be reincarnated eventually. Heaven is no more 'eternal rest' than Hell is 'eternal torment.' Heaven is just a... like a day spa, or an amusement park, or any of a number of other things for people, so they can unwind a bit before going back."
      "But," he said, grasping at straws, "but if God loves everyone, why is there suffering?"
      Saint Peter did his Spock impression again, and said, "Free will. If there was no chance for pain or suffering, if there were no 'evil,' then love for thy fellow man would be the default. It wouldn't mean anything, then. The choice is what gives love, and joy, and compassion meaning. Choosing to show those in the face of suffering, choosing compassion over hatred or apathy, making that choice makes it mean something. The whole point of free will is that you can either choose to be good, or choose not to. It isn't free will if there's only one choice."
      Shaking his head, Aaron was speechless. He stood there, utterly mind-boggled.
      "Well anyway, Ahadiel and Anfial here will take you to your cell now. We can't have you holding up the line any longer."
      Two angels appeared at Aaron's side, and grabbed him by the arms. He was still so in shock that he went quietly.
      "Well, now that's over, who's next? Ah hello there, Jayne! So let's see, how did you die? Oh my... murdered for being a trans woman. My condolences. If it's any consolation, he'll get it worse than that last guy there. Murderers get to relive their crimes from their victim's point of view. Most say they'd prefer flaming torment. Anyway, here's your pass, dearie. God loves you."

Crossposted from http://fayanora.dreamwidth.org

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