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JASON LOOKED in the bathroom mirror, adjusted the knot of his necktie, and heard laughter. The sound startled him. How could there be laughter when he was alone in his apartment? He heard laughter again. Somebody was in his apartment. A dangerous intruder, someone who was going to rob or murder him? He listened carefully and thought he heard two voices. Oh, god, two of them, he thought. I’m dead.
He looked around the bathroom but didn’t see anything to use as a weapon. He was trapped and had to get out before the intruders zeroed in on him. He looked out of the bathroom and saw the only light on was in the kitchen. He crept into the living room. Before making a dash to the door, he peeked around the corner into the kitchen and saw two young women, a blonde and a brunette, sitting at his kitchen table. He couldn’t believe what they were doing; pouring cereal into bowls, adding blueberries and sliced strawberries and topping off with milk.
Jason was struck by how comfortable they looked, as if sitting at his kitchen table spooning up cereal was something they did every morning.
He studied them some more. They didn’t look dangerous. His fear dissipated and a feeling of calm, something akin to serenity, overcame him. Jason inhaled a deep breath, adjusted his necktie once more, and stepped into the kitchen. “I hope you can explain this,” he said.
“Good morning, Jason,” the brunette said pleasantly. “Why don’t you join us?”
“We fixed a bowl for you,” said the blonde, and pointed at a bowl of cereal and fruit at the end of the table. She tapped her coffee cup. “Do you mind pouring since you’re up?”
How did they know his name? He couldn’t think. His mind went blank. He felt nailed to the floor, unable to move. He stared at them and tried to speak but croaked like a toad instead.
“Our coffee,” the brunette reminded him. She dinged an empty cup with her spoon.
“Yes, yes, the coffee,” Jason shrieked, coming out of his paralysis. He poured three cups and sat down.
“I’m Heather,” said the blond. She gave Jason a thousand-watt smile.
“I’m Hannah,” said the brunette and gave Jason an equally brilliant smile. She sipped her coffee. “Oh, this is wonderful.”
He composed himself, found his voice, and said, “You know I am going to ask the obvious.”
“You want to know why we are in your apartment, uninvited, eating your food. And how we know your name,” said Heather.
“Correct on both counts,” Jason said before spooning up some cereal and blueberries.
“We know everybody’s name,” said Hannah the brunette.
“It’s on your mailbox,” Heather added.
“Ah, right. How did you jimmy the door lock?”
Hannah, waved her hand dismissively. “Locks don’t pose a problem for us.”
Inexplicably, he accepted Hannah’s answer as being completely reasonable. “Are you here to rob me? Is that why you broke into my place?”
“Oh, heavens no,” said Heather. “We don’t do those horrible things to people.”
“Then why are you here?” Jason jabbed his spoon at them.
“We’re the advance team for H & H Consulting,” said Hannah.
“Who does H & H consult?”
“People like you, Jason,” they said at the same time.
“Hannah and I are a newly-formed LLC,” Heather said. “We’re developing a novel marketing approach in an attempt to educate people so they can make informed choices.”
“Choices about what?”
“Where to spend eternity,” both of them said together. Their smiles blazed at him, momentarily showering him with brilliant white light.
“Where to spend eternity? Who are you people?” Jason felt blood surging through the carotid arteries in his neck.
“We’re kind of like manufacturer’s representatives,” said Heather. “I’m Heaven’s rep.” A shimmering golden halo materialized over her head and a pair of small white feathery wings grew out of her back.
“And I’m Hell’s rep,” said Hannah. Two curved, petite horns sprouted from her forehead and a tail with a triangular tip shot into the air behind her.
“Oh, God,” Jason moaned. “I’m going to die.” The spoon fell from his hand and clattered on the table.
“Well, yes, but not yet,” said Heather.
Her answer alarmed him. “What do you mean, not yet? Do you know when I’m going to die?” He tried to pick up his coffee cup but his hand trembled too much and coffee sloshed onto the table.
“I don’t think you are scheduled for a final consultation any time soon,” said Hannah. “But let me check. I don’t want to misinform you.” She punched at a cell phone on the table, peered intently at it then said, “Just as I thought. You’re safe, for a while.”
“You know, this is ceasing to be funny,” he complained.
“Oh, our visit isn’t meant to be funny,” said Heather. Her halo glowed as if to give gravitas to her statement. The white wings fluttered momentarily then stilled.
“We are quite serious about giving you a preview of things to come so you can make an informed choice,” said Hannah. Her tail slashed through the air behind her.
“Do you know when I’m going to die?” His voice sounded faint and far away.
“We are not at liberty to divulge that information,” said Hannah.
Jason eyeballed them. “Fine, don’t tell me then. Make me squirm. But am I going to go to Heaven or to Hell after I die?”
“We are not at liberty to divulge that information,” said Heather.
“By any measure, an intelligent person wants to go to Heaven rather than to Hell,” Jason said. “You agree with that, yes?”
“Of course,” they said in unison.
“Then tell me what I need to do to go to Heaven and not Hell when I die.” Jason retrieved his spoon and scooped up the last of the cereal in his bowl. “Hell, you go first.” He pointed his spoon at Hannah.
Hannah gave him a wicked smile. “As my partner said, we believe in informed choices. People have a dreadful misconception of Hell, unfortunately. Hell isn’t what you think it is. Quite the contrary. There are no demons with pitchforks endlessly tormenting you, no sulfurous fires, no fiends forever ripping flesh from your bones. Those are urban legends designed to scare, if you will forgive the pun, the hell out of little kids and old people. Hell is just the opposite, Jason. It’s a place of hedonistic indulgence, where you get to do for all eternity that one thing you think is the most wonderful thing in all the world to do.”
Jason gave them a big grin. “Hey, what’s wrong with that?”
Hannah smiled malevolently. “Tell me, what is the one activity that gives you the most pleasure and you would do all the time if you could.” She wagged a finger at him. “And don’t tell me it’s sex.”
“Hmmm, give me a minute.”
Hannah and Heather waited.
“My favourite thing to do is fly fish Montana’s Madison River.”
Hannah clapped her hands. “Oh, Heather, we have an outdoorsman. I just love these woodsy types. They’re such eager beavers.” She looked at him and for the first time Jason noticed her eyes were a brilliant yellow with vertical slits for pupils. They looked like the eyes of a predator.
“Now consider this, Jason. If you end up in Hell because of your life choices, you will be able fly fish every day, all day, for eternity. The weather will be wonderful, of course. Sunshine, blue sky, those marvellous snow-covered Montana mountains in the distance, warm breezes all the time, and no mosquitoes. No mosquitoes are a big plus, you know. After all, we want you to be perfectly content.”
“I like the sound of that,” Jason said happily.
“There will be no respite, no relief, from fly fishing.” She leaned back in her chair.
“I can live with that.”
“Do you think so?”
Jason grinned. “Yes, Sounds more like heaven to me.”
“Of course, you will have to clean, cook, and eat all the fish you catch. And believe me, Jason, you will catch lots of fish, and you will eat every one of them. There is no catch-and-release in Hell.”
“Hell hasn’t gone green just yet,” interjected Heather.
Hannah waved her hand. “We’re working on it,” she said and turned back to Jason. “It’s just you and your dream,” Hannah continued, smiling benevolently at him. “For eternity.”
Jason squinched his eyebrows together as he considered her words. Hannah patted his hand reassuringly. “I can see you’re thinking this over. You do have some idea of how long eternity is, don’t you?”
Jason nodded. “It’s a pretty long time.”
Hannah said, “Jason, it’s forever.” She gave his hand a firm squeeze.
“What if I get tired of fishing? What if I want to do something else for a change?”
“I’m afraid that’s not possible. It’s an iron-clad contract. You only get that one delicious choice you’ve dreamed about for all the years of your life.”
The colour drained from Jason’s face and his lower lip started to quiver.
“Oh, Jason, cheer up. Fishing for eternity really isn’t all that bad.” Hannah chuckled. “You should see the fellows who say weight lifting is their favorite thing to do. Or the golfers, chasing that pathetic little ball across time.” She winked at Jason with one of those malevolent yellow eyes.
“Poor, poor Jason,” said Heather. “Now you’ve distressed him and made him afraid, Hannah. Dear boy, let me tell you about Heaven.”
“Is it good?”
“Jason!” Heather exclaimed. “How can you ask such a thing? It’s Heaven. Of course, it’s good.”
“I hope so.”
“In Heaven the first thing you get to do is find a job. There are no slackers in Heaven, and there is no guarantee your boss will be all touchy-feely, either. Then there are the usual bills to pay, the mortgage or rent, utilities, water, trash, internet and social media fees, and of course taxes, insurances, and so on. You might even have a nasty neighbour or two, but you never know. You might luck out in that category. It is Heaven, after all.” Heather smiled.
“Wait a minute. I have to pay all those things now and my boss is an asshole.”
“You will also get full, and free, job-connected medical insurance and a two-week paid vacation right away. After five years you are boosted up to thirty vacation days per year. That’s a really nice perk. Lots of people like it.” He noticed the halo over her head pulsed in rhythm with his heart beat. “And,” Heather went on, “there are so many opportunities for advancement, career changes, and re-education, but you have to strive for them.”
“Big whoop. I can do all that now,” he complained. “What’s so great about Heaven if it’s the same stuff I do every day right here?”
“Now that is an excellent question, Jason,” Heather said.
Hannah turned to Heather. “I told you he was a quick learner.”
The two women looked at each other. “What do you think, Heather?”
“I think we’re done,” she said. The halo over Heather’s head disappeared, along with the feathery wings.
The horns on Hannah’s forehead disappeared, along with the dancing tail.
They got up and started for the door.
“Wait,” Jason shouted. “Am I going to go to Heaven or to Hell?”
“That’s not for us to say,” Heather said.
“You can’t leave me like this. How do I know where I’m going to go?”
“It’s really up to you,” said Hannah.
“After all, you have choices,” said Heather as they passed through the apartment door.