The Joys Of Heaven
Moya Green


The day Neville finally dropped off his perch he was so plastered it took him some time to notice. When he eventually became aware of his surroundings he found himself lying at the foot of a deep shaft. Far above was a faint circle of light.

“Some stupid bugger’s left a manhole cover off,” he thought.

After a while it dawned on him that he ought to do something about it. He clambered to his feet, and realised that the shaft was not vertical as he had first thought, but inclined at an angle of about forty-five degrees. He should be able to crawl out.

It was a painful crawl and for a long time the light seemed to come no nearer, but at last he reached the top and was able to squeeze out into the open. He gasped. He was standing before an immense wall, pierced by hundreds of turnstile gates. A long queue stretched from each gate. It reminded him of a football stadium - but far vaster than anything he could ever have imagined.

“Must be some game,” he thought as he joined the nearest queue.

“Name? Date of birth?” snapped the ticket clerk. “Date of death?”

Neville gaped. Death? “What is this place?” he stuttered.

“The Pearly Gates of course.”

“What, all of the them?”

“Certainly. Can’t process the numbers we get through nowadays with just one set.” The clerk twitched his wings impatiently. “Hurry along now, I haven’t got all eternity. Through the barrier and turn left.”

Neville took the ticket thrust at him and pushed through the turnstile.

“Numbers 28,000,035 to 28,000,050 this way” shouted a small angel.

Neville glanced down at his ticket. 28,000,047. He tagged along behind a motley group of people. They were all wearing whatever they had died in, so most were in nightwear of various descriptions. Many wore ordinary clothes, some of which were torn and had bits missing. There was a man in a wet-suit, and a woman in riding clothes, and one fat bloke in some very strange leather items, all trussed up in chains.

“You wouldn't happen to have a fag on you?”

Neville jumped. The small angel had dropped back and was walking beside him. He was not quite Neville’s idea of an angel. His wing feathers appeared to be moulting, and his robes made him look like the one whose mother didn’t use Persil.

“Yeah, sure.” He fished out his packet and offered it. They both lit up.

“Ah, that’s better,” said the angel. “I could look after these for you,” he added. “You won’t be allowed to take them inside. Heaven’s a completely smoke-free zone, now.”

“I suppose so,” said Neville disconsolately. “By the way, something’s been puzzling me. How come I’ve ended up here? I thought I’d have qualified for the other place.”

“Oh, it’s all one since the Rationalisation,” said the angel. “The Powers That Be decided it was too expensive to run separate establishments, so they closed Hell down and now everyone’s sent here. Only the sinners” he added darkly, “don’t enjoy it.”

Neville’s attention had been distracted by a young lady who had just joined their party - blonde, shapely and stark naked. He frowned, worried. A sight like that - something should be happening to him, but nothing stirred.

“Shit,” he muttered. “I really am dead!”

“’Fraid so,” said the angel.

“So what happens now?”

“First you get Washed in the Blood of the Lamb.”

“Sounds disgusting.”

“It is a bit, but you come out nice and clean. Then you get your robes and join the Blessed. Are you musical?”

“I used to play the tenor sax.”

“Sorry, not allowed. Only harps and trumpets here. Well,” he turned to go, “better get back and round up another batch. No rest for the wicked! See you around, maybe.”

They had reached a large building strongly resembling a municipal swimming bath. Neville watch the angel fly away, feeling suddenly rather lost and lonely, before following the others inside.

The Blood of the Lamb was not as bad as he expected, more like a shower of red scented water, and it certainly cleaned him up. He was rather annoyed to see all his tattoos had disappeared. He’d been proud of them, especially the naked lady on his chest. When he flexed his muscles he could get her to - well, couldn’t be helped. He pulled on the regulation white nightshirt and went outside.

Two elderly ladies were waiting for him, each with identical tightly-permed grey hair and beaming smiles.

“Mam!” he cried. “And Auntie Ginny. How - how lovely.”

He found himself pressed to his mother’s meagre bosom. “Neville, love! We came as soon as we heard you’d Passed Over. I never though I’d ever see you here.” She wiped a surreptitious tear from her eye.

“Didn’t think you’d make it, see,” said Auntie Ginny. “But then,” she went on with a disapproving sniff, “they let all sorts in nowadays.”

“Come along, you must be hungry.” fussed his mother. “I can tell you’re not eating properly. And your hair! When did you last have it cut?”

They led him to a table, covered in plates of sliced bread and flagons of water.

“Is this all?” asked Neville.

‘Bread of Heaven and Living Water,” said his mother, beaming. “What more could you want?”

“Bit of butter would be nice.” He picked up a slice and nibbled it. It tasted like - well - bread. He poured a glass of the Living Water, drank it off, then gasped in astonishment and horror. He was instantly, totally, sober. The comforting fog which, for most of his adult life, had shielded him from reality had vanished, and he had the uncomfortable feeling that it would not be back.

He looked round. They were in a green meadow, under a cloudless blue sky. Around him others of the newly arrived were being greeted by their long-lost friends and relations. Others of the Blessed wandered aimlessly about. There were animals too - he could see the lion lying down with the lamb, and the horses of the Apocalypse grazed peacefully a little way away.
He noticed many of the Blessed wore fixed expressions of total bliss.

‘What are they on?” he muttered.

“They have gone before the Throne, and been touched by the Hand of the Lord,” said his mother.

“Thought they looked a bit touched,” agreed Neville.

“You can go, once you’re ready,” said Auntie Ginny. “Your Mam and I have been sent to be your guides, to prepare you.”

“But don’t worry,” went on his mother, “there’s plenty to do while you’re waiting. There’s Singing the Praises of the Lord, and lots of prayer meetings, and then for a treat we have Socials, with extra bread, and sometimes one of the Archangels comes and gives a lecture.”

“Doesn’t sound much fun.”

“Fun!” His mother was scandalised. “This is the place of Eternal Bliss. You’re not supposed to have fun!”

“I can see you still have plenty of Sinful Habits that need eradicating,” said Auntie Ginny. “But don’t worry. Just do whatever your Mam says and you’ll be all right. Now finish up your bread and water or we’ll be late for Community Hymn Singing.”

Several eternities later Neville happened to bump into the dingy angel again. “You wouldn’t still have those ciggies I gave you?” he asked.

“Not the same ones, but I manages to cadge another packet,” said the angel. “come round the back of the Rock of Ages and we’ll have a quiet smoke.”

“How are you doing?” asked the angel as they lit up.

“Terrible!” groaned Neville. “It’s the hymns that get me. They just don’t let up. I think if I have to sing ‘Here no night brings rest from labour’ one more time I’ll get the screaming habdabs. And when we’re not singing they make us go to a sort of Sunday School to learn about heaven. D’you know, we have to know the names of all the angels! What’s yours, by the way?”

“Shax - I mean, Ezriel,” said the angel. Neville looked at him, and he hastily twitched his robe to cover - could it possibly be - a cloven hoof?

“You’re not - you’re never - ?” gasped Neville.

The angel blushed. “OK, I admit it, I used to work Down Below. Most of us were made redundant or took early retirement when Hell closed down, but a few were relocated. It’s not what I was used to, but at least it’s a job.”

“But how can you stand it here? It’s so boring! It’s not fair, no matter what I did on earth, it wasn’t bad enough to deserve this.”

“You’ll get used to it.”

“I don’t want to get used to it. I want out.” A celestial trumpet sounded and Neville groaned again. “Supper-time. More Bread of Heaven. I could kill for a bag of chips!”

Shax/Ezriel looked round furtively, then leaned forward. “I shouldn’t really be telling you this,’ he whispered, “but you seem a decent sort. There is a way Downstairs. They didn’t seal of Hell completely, you see. Wouldn’t have been safe, with all those lakes of burning sulphur. There’s a skeleton staff, for basic maintenance. Some of us pop down on our days off. The place isn’t what it was, of course, but there’s a pub, and a chip shop, and a couple of bookies.”

“Sounds great,” breathed Neville. “how do I get there?”

“You’ll have to be brave. The way is guarded.”


“In a manner of speaking.”

“I don’t care,” declared Neville. “I’m desperate.”

“OK. Go down the Valley of the Shadow . . . ”

The towering cliffs of the Valley of the Shadow of Death closed in. He must be near the place. A cave, Shax/Ezriel had said, leading to a shaft going down. Yes, there . . .

“And where do you think you are going?”

Neville stopped, aghast. His mother had materialised between him and the cave mouth.

“Out,” he said.

“Out where?”

“Just out,” he repeated sulkily.

“Have you finished your homework?”


“Really? Recite the names of the angels of the order of Thrones.”

“Er - ” Neville’s mind blanked.

“I thought not! Get back to your room, and don’t come downstairs again till you’re word perfect.”

Neville tried to make a dash for the cave mouth, but a hand snaked out and grabbed him by the collar. She seemed to have grown to three times her former size. “Oh no you don’t! Off to play mummies and daddies, were you, with that Sadie down the road? Nasty, dirty little boy. I’m going to paddle your behind!”

He ducked under her arm, and with a supreme effort wrenched himself free and gained the cave mouth.

“Neville, love, you wouldn’t leave your poor old Mam?” The quavering voice followed him. In spite of himself he looked back.

She had shrunk again, into a frail old lady, holding out her arms beseechingly. “You wouldn’t break your mother’s heart and drive her to an early grave?”

“I think I did that already,” said Neville. He turned away, took a step - and found himself falling into darkness.

The fall was long enough for him to think ‘I’m going to die!’ and then ‘No, I’m dead already’. Unfortunately he found when he reached the bottom that he could still be hurt, and it was some time before he felt like taking stock of his surroundings. When he did he found himself lying on a mound of cinders. Everywhere was shrouded in a darkness, a great relief after the perpetual day of Heaven. The only light came from a burning lake in the distance, which the low clouds reflected with a sullen glow, and the neon signs a the cluster of building at the foot of the mound. A path led downhill towards them. Neville picked himself up and limped painfully down. After a few yards he nearly fell over a figure sprawled on the path. It wore a leather miniskirt and fishnet stockings. A Fallen Woman, obviously. He picked her up.

Not long after he was sitting comfortably in the Lounge of the ‘Furnace Arms’ with a pint of ‘Old Nick’ in front of him and the Fallen Woman opposite. Brenda, she said her name was. Seemed a nice girl. She reminded him of his lost tattoo. Firelight gleamed on the highly polished instruments of torture decorating the walls, and on the horns of the demon barmaid. A jukebox blared heavy metal in one corner, while in another a television screen showed the racing. Neville could not quite make out what animals they were riding - not horses, too many legs. Not too worry. Brenda was smiling at him across the table, showing a generous amount of cleavage, and judging from the noise a fight had just started in the Public Bar. Neville raised his glass, and sighed with contentment.

“Heaven,” he said



Copyright © 2002 Moya Green
Published on the World Wide Web by ""