Andy knew she was dead. That still didn’t stop her from jumping when she heard the automated voice saying three words she had never thought she would hear. “Welcome to Heaven.” Although she didn’t believe in life after death, on some strange spiritual level, she had somehow moved on. Where she had moved onto, however, had yet to be determined.
“Hi there, Andy. Please stand up and make your way through the door,” the gentle robotic voice said. Until the voice pointed it out, she hadn’t realized that she was lying down, or that there was a large white door next to her. The room looked like it could go on forever, just an endless blank space.
“Go on. Stand up. Think of me as your helpful assistant, navigating the afterlife. You can call me ASA,” the voice said. Andy quickly stood and brushed herself off. “How did I die?” Andy asked as her voice quivered with fear. “You were very sick. Since it was such a painful time for you, we erased the memories of your illness.” Immediately, Andy’s hands flew to her face, then her arms, then her legs. However, she couldn’t find any sign of the illness. Asa gave a tinkling laugh and said, “If you’re looking for imperfections you won’t find any. Everyone is perfect here.”
“Did you take anything else?” Andy was skeptical. Her brow furrowed in concern. “Only memories of the pain. Search yourself. You’ll be able to conjure images in your mind of people giving you gifts and staying by your hospital bed. Now please walk through the door.”
Andy tentatively grasped the door handle. It was cold and slick beneath her hand. A startling contrast to the warmth of the room, even with her only wearing a shapeless linen dress. “Asa? What’s on the other side of this door?” She asked cautiously. A silence hung between them for a moment. “The other side of the door has everything you could ever want,” Asa said.
Intrigued, Andy turned the handle and walked through. When she stepped out of that room what she walked into was far from her version of heaven. Instead of the calming beach she was picturing, it was a carnival. Children were running by screaming at the top of their lungs, the cloying scent of cotton candy was thick in the air. She looked over to see a crowd forming around a group of brightly dressed clowns juggling bowling pins while riding unicycles. “Asa? What is this?” Andy asked, horrified. Andy could hear the smile in Asa’s voice, while Asa answered warmly, “Your first vision of the afterlife. November 22nd, 1995. You were four-years-old. This is younger than most people’s first vision. Most people don’t remember anything before they were five or six.”
“Well, that’s because I remember when my great-grandma died and my Aunt Samantha tried to make me feel better by telling me that when you die you go to the world’s biggest carnival. I’ve always held that memory close,” Andy said. “You’ve imagined the afterlife many different ways throughout your life, and we’re going to visit each one,” Asa said excitedly. Andy grimaced in response. “Oh, God no. I really don’t feel like doing a psychological deep-dive right now. And there’s some embarrassing stuff from my teen years in there.”
“Very well. Maybe at some point, you’ll want to try again,” Asa replied, slightly disappointed. “Please walk through the door.” As she said this, another plain, white door appeared. When Andy stepped through it, her world changed. She was now standing on a beach, her bare feet burning on the hot, white sand. The sun gently warmed her skin as she stared at the jewel-toned waves of the water. “Here we are. Your perfect afterlife. Before you explore I would like to let you know that there are a few rules. Number 1, you must not speak or think ill of another member of this afterlife. Number 2, you must never eat or ask for any apples. Number 3….” Asa droned on and on until somewhere around rule twenty Andy stopped her. “I’m sorry, but, what happens if I break these rules?”
There was a long pause. “Why, you get sent back, of course. Three strikes and you’re out. Back to Earth to try again. Don’t worry, though. I will warn you, if you are about to get a strike. There are only 150 rules to follow.”
“Okay?” Andy’s voice wavered slightly. Her chest felt heavy, she wasn’t a perfect person on Earth by any stretch of the imagination. What would she be like here?
The next day Andy sat up in a soft bed and yawned. The pillowy comforter was olive green, with delicate fleur de lis stitching. The lavender walls were adorned with pictures of Andy at various ages throughout her life. She didn’t know how she had gotten here. That seemed to be happening a lot lately. “Asa?” Andy called out, expectantly. “Where am I?” Asa’s cheerful voice popped back on. “You needed to rest. Transitioning from life to death can be taxing. So, what would you like to do today?”
Andy took a moment to think, “I want to see my family.” A thick silence hung between them before Asa broke it with a chipper voice. “Oh. I’m afraid I can’t do that. You see, each of your family members broke three rules. I was forced to send them back to be reborn. Their lives were completely erased.” Andy faltered, her mind was spinning. “Okay. Who else is here?”
Asa replied, “Two elderly people, a small child, and you.”
“That’s it?” Andy was shocked. “For now. Until the next batch of the dead gets sorted into their ideal afterlives.”
“No, that can’t be right. I don’t want to stay here anymore. Send me back.” Andy felt like crying but the tears wouldn’t come. “Why the hell can’t I cry?!” She wailed. Asa’s usually bright voice sounded dismayed. “Most spirits prefer not to cry. I can adjust your setting, though, if you choose that. If you say you want to go back one more time you will get your first strike. That’s breaking rule number seventy-three.”
Something dawned on Andy. “Wait, I can get sent back if I break the rules, right? In that case, Asa, I want to go home.”
A deep booming voice roared throughout the room. “Strike one.” It was a perfect plan, Asa would advise her, whether intending to or not, and Andy would break every rule to get her chance at rebirth. “Asa, what is the next rule I can break?” Asa’s voice popped back on. “I am not supposed to advise you. Ask me again and I’ll be forced to give you another strike,” she warned.
“Asa,” Andy started…
The sadness in Asa’s voice bled through when she interrupted, “Do not ask me again. You are not the only one who will be sent somewhere else.”
Andy pondered this for a moment. Maybe by doing this she could set them both free? “Asa, what is the next rule I can break?” She asked confidently.
“Strike 2,” The booming voice she had heard earlier blasted out, making her eardrums vibrate.
“Asa? Are you still here?” She tentatively asked. A different voice responded, “I am Asa. Your previous Asa has been deactivated, they were defective. Your strikes have now been reset to zero.”
Two hundred and seven years later:
The booming voice that always followed a rule break blasted out, “Strike 2.”
“Asa?” Andy whispered. Yet again, another new voice responded, “I am Asa. Your previous Asa has been deactivated, they were defective. Your strikes have now been reset to zero.”