“You’ve gotta be shitting me.”
Saint Peter shrugged his shoulders, “Those are the rules.”
Oscar shook his head in disbelief. “If this is heaven,” he reasoned, then motioned towards the Pearly Gates, “And those are the Pearly Gates,” and in fact they were, “Then you’re Saint Peter.” Saint Peter tilted his head in acknowledgment, “But there’s no way Saint Peter is telling me I have to kill my way into heaven.”
The silken-haired Saint shook his head slowly, “Nah, man, you don’t have to kill shit to get into heaven, but you do need to kill again everything you offed in your earthbound life.”
Saint Peter reached into a pocket in his ever-so slightly shimmering robes, the kind of white that makes every other white brown in comparison. He pulled out a cigarette and lit it with a match against his thumb nail, then threw the still-burning match to the ground and watched it spiral to earth.
Here he guffawed, said, “Can you believe that you guys used to think those were meteors?”
Oscar had nothing to say. He stood there, 86-years-old and nonplussed for the first time since he was a young man. His back was hunched and his hands enfeebled as evidence of the blue-collar lifestyle he fostered. He expected that once he stood here, they’d be recovered and healed, that he’d feel like a young man.
Instead he felt as old as he ever had.
Saint Peter could detect Oscar’s thoughts, and he said after taking a drag from his smoke, “It’ll get better, once you pass those gates. Until then, you’ve gotta own up, man.”
Oscar was infamous to family and friends for his no-bullshit attitude, a general personality of obstinance that only worsened with old age. That was probably why he died the way he did, refusing to acknowledge the warning on the tree shredder that he rented from the Best Value.
Shit needed to be shredded, and Oscar would be damned if he was going to do it by the books when he was paying hourly for that shit heap of a machine.
And damned he was, here, facing Saint Peter.
He allowed a sigh and then silenced it with a sneer, “That’s no cigarette.”
Saint Peter inhaled again and held the smoke in his divine lungs, “Sure as fuck it ain’t.”
Oscar’s sneer grew into a grimace, “Some Saint you are, cursin’ and smokin’ the reefer.”
Saint Peter shrugged, “Hey, man, you tell people they’re going to Hell for a few thousand years and let me know how you cope.” He pulled another puff from the joint and exhaled a storm cloud. It passed over the southern Atlantic ocean and headed inland towards central and western Africa. “They’ll appreciate that rain, man.”
Oscar shook his head. “So everybody has to kill again everything they killed in life to make it into heaven.”
“Ehh,” said Saint Peter with a shaking hand, the universal signal for ‘kinda’, adding, “Whatever fucked up thing you did most often in life, you’ve got to go through again right here. Some people have it different ways, but you sir, you killed a lot of shit in your life.”
The clouds surrounding the Pearly Gates suddenly were filled with the presence of heavenly angels, sitting in the clouds as if Oscar were in an arena.
“And you, sir,” Saint Peter said, “You were an exterminator. So all the shit you killed in your life, you’ve gotta kill again.”
Oscar couldn’t believe it. For a while he stomped his feet and cursed in a curmudgeon tirade, and for awhile even Saint Peter curled his lip in surprise and disgust at the vile words pouring from Oscar’s mouth.
And Oscar’s attention was suddenly tilted upwards at the sound of a harp being strung. It was a glorious noise, and he saw that while some of the angels were watching him, a large group had amassed in a gloomy-colored cloud, and they all played instruments. Suddenly, the music started, and Oscar had a faint memory of this song. It was the one from Star Trek, when Spock fought Captain Kirk.
He felt a sting on his neck and slapped it, looked at his hand and was surprised to see that a mosquito had infiltrated heaven. When realization struck, he looked to Saint Peter and asked, “When does this begin?”
Saint Peter finished the joint and flicked it towards earth, and Oscar watched as the flaming smoke-and-marijuana transformed into a sudden and unexpected glitter-bomb over a gay pride parade in San Francisco. Oscar could even see the spectators there smiling in joy at the surprise splash of color, and for a moment Saint Peter smirked with what seemed to be true joy.
Then, when the happiness drained from his face as slowly as honey from the hive, he said, “Right now.”
Without warning, Oscar was surrounded in a cloud of mosquitoes. The air was thick, and as he waved his arms through the mass of mosquitoes he could only compare it to the feeling of swimming through the plastic ball pit when he was a child. His feet and legs were suddenly covered with a mass of cockroaches, silverfish, and ants.
Oscar shrieked with fear and pain and absolute disgust, and the angels in the clouds above reminded him very much of fans at a Cowboys vs Eagles game with their shouting and hooting.
So Oscar dug deep and he imagined renewed vigor in his hands and his heart, he ignored the snapping aches of his back as he stood up straight and bellowed a war cry against the realities of entering heaven.
And Oscar went to town. He grabbed fistfuls of flying insects and squeezed them until they slipped through his fingers like wet sand at the beach. His stomping shook loose the crawling insects and stomped them into a chunky, quivering paste. He was fury incarnate, and just as he swatted away the last of the insects, he heard an all-too-familiar skittering.
The rats and the mice. Even his calloused heart and withered skin crawled at the sound of thousands upon thousands of vermin swarming towards him, forming huge swaths of buck-toothed destruction. They assaulted him relentlessly, gnawing and chewing his joints and his flesh, and Oscar felt a powerful twinge of regret for killing these creatures once, a regret he could feel through their impassioned and hateful bites.
But killing them a second time?
Oscar grinned now, and the angels in the clouds who were hooting and booing were struck silent. The 86-year-old exterminator felt transformed into an agent of extermination. His hands twisted the necks of rats and mice even as his feet kicked the coarse-furred vermin from the clouds of heaven and into the alleys of Delhi. When the rodents swarmed his neck and face he chomped down on their necks and their bellies with his teeth and rotting gums, feeling his strength renewed as their vile blood mixed with his own.
When the last rat fell, and Oscar looked towards whatever heavens were above heaven, the angels in the crowd were silent. The heavenly choir continued their fevered playing of battle music, and Oscar shouted in a ragged voice, “What’s next?”
What continued for several more hours was something even the big guy upstairs turned his attention towards, cracking a beer and nodding silently in approval. Oscar dealt with the mangy coyotes he killed that were eating people’s pets. He wrestled to the ground the trophy buck he shot as a child and swam through a sea of serpents that he poisoned or beheaded without hesitation.
As the creatures he killed came pouring forward, he remembered why he got into the business in the first place. It wasn’t to kill something, it was to do something nobody else would. Oscar believed he provided a real service to people, and even if he took no joy in eliminating creatures considered pests or annoyances, he did what he had to do. For himself, and for his neighbor.
After the deer came the camel, that runaway beast from the zoo that went on a rampage through his hometown. Other neighbors saw that humped beast destroying vehicles and stomping children, and other neighbors thought somebody should do something about it, but it was Oscar who took a sledgehammer to that camel’s legs and then brained the thing into non-existence.
And he was a god damn hero for it.
On and on the list went; cats, parakeets, the hundreds of fish he pulled from the river, the insects he never realized he killed in the first place, and crocodile he inadvertently killed by pouring motor oil down the drain that got picked up by the carp that was eaten by the seagull that the crocodile munched upon.
And by the end, the angelic crowd was cheering in unanimous support for Oscar. They’d never had such a magnificent show. The big guy gave his thumbs up, and Saint Peter clapped a slow, honest approval for Oscar.
Saint Peter’s form half-walked and half-floated towards Oscar, he placed his healing hands on the bloodied, broken, enfeebled man. Oscar felt a surge of healing energy course through his body, felt his wounds heal and his body regain the strength and fortitude it had when he was a young man.
“You pass, Oscar. You may enter heaven. What a show, man. Seriously, most people don’t get in. Not even the dentists.”
Oscar looked at his hands, marveled at how the liver spots had disappeared, and the renewed youth in his eyes looked up at Saint Peter.
And Oscar reached out and grabbed the heavenly gate keeper by the throat. Saint Peter’s eyes widened in terror and surprise. Nobody was supposed to be able to make actual contact with him.
Even as that foreign feel of fear grabbed hold of Saint Peter’s heart, Oscar pulled the gate keeper towards his face. Oscar’s breath even at its best was foul and Saint Peter would have gagged if he could breath through the strangling choke Oscar had on him.
“Things are gonna be a bit different around here,” Oscar said. He picked up Saint Peter and held him aloft in the air for all of five and a half seconds before choke-slamming the gate keeper through the clouds beneath him, sending the body of a saint towards the earth (it would only be perceived as a sudden and unexpected snowstorm… in Uganda).
The angels aloft in the clouds looked terrified, and Oscar turned towards them, “Who’s next?”
They abandoned their cloud seats and Oscar nodded in satisfaction. He took a seat where Saint Peter once parked his worthless ass.
And suddenly, another person appeared in front of Oscar. A meek-looking woman, terrified and probably still remembering the sensation of death.
“Is-is this heaven?” she asked with trepidation.
Oscar nodded slowly, “Yeah, head on in.”
The woman obliged and seemed a little confused, but each step she took forward filled her with calm and joy. Finally, she was home.
Oscar tended the gates from that moment on, and the big guy shrugged it off.