by Donald Raymond Jr.
You’ve seen Heaven, if you’re lucky.
And you remember that queasy feeling you got, when you looked at the black and white photographs, the narrow stairs leading down into the darkness. Like you were remembering something you’d always known, like you’d been there before.
You haven’t. What you were feeling was the ghosts. They’re in your bones, and they know. They’ve been jammed in there 5,000 years, and you can feel it, the suffocating closeness of spirits, the dead breathing on you from across the world. Like being trapped forever in a coat closet with everyone you knew from high school.
Standing room only. Heaven’s not so big, actually; about thirty acres, give or take. I could show it to you on a map. It’s right under the Step Pyramid.
That’s what they built it for, you now. Once they figured out the dead were hanging around. It must have been quite a surprise, finding out you were going to live forever. Knowing everyone was going to live forever. Imhotep built it; Imhotep was the one who realized what was happening. And he went to King Djoser and said: we have to get ready.
It had to be a place, walls and roofs; ghosts burn in daylight. Like little bits of paper set on fire; just one quick shriek and it’s over.
They worked day and night, trying to fit them all in. From one small slab, they raised up another. Then they built a mountain. And they started digging.
But they built and built, and people kept dying. Soon the place was thick with ghosts, and nothing to do but stand around in the darkness and listen to them whisper in the dust and the gloom.
They forgot, though. They built more pyramids, even though the dead still ended up in Saqqara. They carved the river canyons with tombs, and they thought they were doing the right thing. Without Imhotep around to tell them, they didn’t know where Heaven was. They thought it was a metaphor, or in the sky.
It’s not. It’s 15 hectares of rock.
We’ll be going there someday, maybe. If you’re lucky. Or maybe if you’re unlucky.
Because even though they forgot where Heaven was, we still fear it. The ghosts can whisper to us, and what they told us was: no more room.
Not everyone can get in, anymore. You know this too; the stories of judgment, they’re real. The winners get to live forever, munching on beetle wings beneath the sand; the losers go up in sparks when the sun touches them.
And you’ve always known. Always been afraid to go to church; even more afraid of the back rooms, where you’re certain terrible secrets are kept.
You’re right. Go down the corridor to the closet, past the robes and the smell of mothballs, to the cupboard in back. Take out the bingo set. You know what it is now.