Donny squinted. It wasn’t good enough. He shut his eyes. Still not enough. He shut his eyes as tightly as he could, but the light still penetrated. He clapped his hands over his tightly shut eyes. The light still penetrated. He clenched his teeth.
That’s when the music began. Beautiful. But much, much too loud. The booming bass voice vibrated his sternum like staccato fireworks.
“Mr. Drumpf. Apologies. Our A/V department sometimes gets a bit carried away.”
The overwhelming light and deafening sound dissolved into a melodic soaring theme. Gradually, he released his hands and then unscrunched his face. His breathing slowed and he cautiously opened his eyes a slit. All around him, the golden light of a setting sun — or was it a rising sun, he wondered. Anyway, the sun gilded a garden in gold.
Danny Drumpf stared at the huge figure towering over him. Uncharacrteristically, his voice quavered as he asked, “Who are you?”
The figure chuckled good-naturedly. “The real question, Mr. Drumpf, is who are you? After all, that’s what we’re here to find out.”
Donny tried to remember how the hell he had gotten here. “Oh, crap!” He yelled aloud with the sudden revelation. He had just died. How though? He couldn’t remember. A sudden sharp pain ripped through his chest. Donny remembered. They had cracked his sternum, retracted his ribs and taken out his heart. Surely not, he thought. Some kind of bad dream. That’s what this is. And, he willed it to be a bad dream with all his missing heart. But try as he might, he couldn’t convince himself. No, he remembered. It was real. They had literally ripped out his heart. But why he asked himself. Why would anyone do something so cruel?
Another image flew into his mind, unbidden. They had shown him a preview. While he was bound, they had dragged him along a long series of stone carvings which depicted the tortures he was about to endure, ending in the extraction of his heart. He recalled that his knees and ankles had scraped along the stone pathway that led to the altar. He marveled at how painful that had felt before they began teaching him the true dimensions of pain — its colors and tastes. But why? Why had they done this to him.
He had screamed something aloud as they had done it. Yes. He screamed the same thing again now in remembrance. “I don’t belong here!”
Donny found himself shaking his head. He reminded himself that he wasn’t really Mayan at all. That had to have been a bad dream. Bad dreams. Bad luck. Bad times. It was all bad.
Suddenly, he remembered. His real life, he recalled, had been as a con man. He was born rich and he made himself even richer. That was his real life. He recalled some of the moments so vividly that he completely forgot about the shimmering figure towering over him. He chuckled. In his real life, he was smart! Too smart to care about anyone but himself. After all, caring about others, just as Daddy had taught him, was the biggest con of all. He was a con man, all right and damned good at it. He repeated the mantra he had used almost constantly in his real life: “I am all that matters and I am always right. Give me everything you have because I’m bright!” He chuckled again.
A shadow passed across those happy sunny memories. He had had an incredible string of bad luck. That’s what had led him to prison. That’s what put him out on death row. People were out to get him. They were probably jealous. That’s why so many wanted to destroy him. Donny didn’t have a religious bone in his body. Religion! Hah! What a con job that was! But for some inexplicable reason, just as his enemies came on him he had screamed to God: “Please! Dear God! Save me! Let me be anywhere else! Anywhere!”
And, miraculously. It had worked! He had apparently been able to con God himself! He had been instantly whisked away from his 21st century enemies and had found himself in a pre-Columbian Mayan village. Using just his wits and the few 21st century possessions he still had with him, he had been able to con the Mayans as well.
For a time.
Eventually, they discovered his true nature and they killed him.
So, he wondered where the hell he was now. He muttered, “How did I survive and end up in this sunlit garden?” Donny frowned. Then, a smile spread across his face. He remembered! He had again called upon God to spare him. He had probably made some ridiculous promises or something but it didn’t matter, because he had conned God again and now, here he was in heaven! That’s where I must be. He became aware once more of the bright shimmering presence before him. Donny smiled as he realized he had outsmarted God himself!
“Hey! Tell me if I’m wrong, but I’m in heaven right? And, you must be God, right? Thanks for saving me!”
The towering presence shimmered a bit more brightly and smiled. “Oh, Mr. Drumpf. Goodness no. That’s quite amusing. My heavens, no. I am not God. That’s quaint. I am but a tiny shadow of God. I summoned you to paradise because I thought it might motivate you to do better next time. If there is a next time. I’ll check back on you in a few centuries. The carrot approach didn’t seem to work for you, Mr. Drumpf. Now, we’ll try something else.”
“Try what? What are you talking about? I don’t like your tone of voice, mister not-God.” Donny put on his imperious face: disdain, disgust, and cruelty swirled together. He had first learned to make that face while he was stealing lunch money from much younger kids back when he was a childhood bully. “Well?”
“Oh, surely, you can work it out. Mr. Drumpf. You’ll be going straight to hell. You’ll be there for quite a spell.”
Other Stories of Heaven’s Gate:
As Gold as it Gets
Do Unto Others
I Can’t be Bothered
Tit for Tat
It Couldn’t Happen to a Nicer Guy
Organizing the Doltzville Library