Earline shot a frosty glare at a weary St. Peter as she stood by the pearly gates. “I should be right at the top of your list.” She pitched her voice into the high-octave whine that always attracted attention at the Walmart Customer Service counter. “It’s Earline Mae Johnson. J-o-h-“

“I can spell, thank you.” St. Peter appraised her with bloodshot eyes. “Yes, here you are. Go through the gates and turn right. You’ll find the refugee camp—”

“Refugee?” Earline’s voice shrilled to a higher register as she drew herself up to her full, diminutive height. “I’ll have you know I led an exemplary life. I expected to be rewarded with a celestial palace.”

“We’ve had so many souls arriving ahead of their time, there’s a backlog. You’ll have to wait your turn.”

“Hmph!” Nose in the air, Earline sashayed toward a cadre of worker angels scraping wads of dried bubble gum off the pearly gates. As she turned to lob a final retort at St. Peter, he answered a red phone jingling on his desk.

“We’re at capacity too,” she heard him say. “I was hoping you could take some of our overflow.”

“Hell no!” A dark voice belched a cloud of sulfur through the phone.

Earline hustled through the gates as fast as her stiletto heels could carry her, indignation sublimated by a healthy dose of terror. Turning right, she confronted a sprawling tent city splattered with graffiti.

“I don’t know why I bothered to behave myself,” she muttered as her irritation flared anew. “I could have lived it up like those Murphys next door.” Her eyes narrowed as she recalled her neighbor’s children tromping across her lawn on their way to and from school. She had reset the timer on her sprinkler system to keep them off her grass.

Wilting with nostalgia, Earline sighed as she recalled her flawlessly manicured yard. It was probably under ten feet of water by now, along with her immaculate house. Who knew that global warming could disrupt her impeccable life, cutting it short with an unprecedented tsunami?

Determined to lodge another complaint, Earline took a mincing step toward a team of angels clad in International Orange who were white-washing graffiti from polyethylene tents. SPLAT! She lost her balance and toppled face first into an enormous pothole, smacking her head on the edge of the gold brick road.

Humiliated, she scrambled to her feet, then readjusted her stylishly feathered hat which had slipped down over her nose. “What kind of person steals bricks in heaven?”

At that moment she caught a gleam of gold as a tent flap flipped aside and pudgy Myrtle Snodgrass stepped out. Stepping around the pothole, she started to saunter past Earline. 

“Myrt, what’s going on here?”

The stout woman seemed astonished to see her, but recouped almost immediately. “There’s so many poor souls crowding into heaven these days, accommodations are slim. Rumor has it, humanity wasn’t expected to trash the Earth for another seventy-five years.” She gestured to the graffiti-riddled tents, the broken road.

Myrt wrung her hands. “Guess we should have died sooner, before the rush was on.”

“Speak for yourself,” Earline grumped as she examined a tear in her skirt. “You’d think they’d be prepared for an onslaught of souls—”

At that moment a bearded saint garbed in a medieval-style tunic walked by, accompanied by a tall, stately woman who could have doubled as a column in a Gothic cathedral. The woman turned to them and sneered, “Riffraff like you are giving heaven a bad name.”

Earline put her hands on her hips. The jagged tear in her skirt flared open, exposing her lacey slip. “We have every right to be here!” She tried to hold her skirt together with as much dignity as she could muster.

The gray woman confronted her. “Just what did you do to deserve this?”

“My point exactly! What did I do to deserve this kind of treatment? I was a good person.” Earline looked to Myrt for back-up, but the plump woman was staring impassively at cotton candy clouds.

“It’s what you didn’t do that matters,” the medieval woman said.

Earline hesitated. “I didn’t steal or kill or lie, if that’s what you mean.” Now she glanced at Myrt, remembering how she had once accused her of stealing newspapers. Then they turned up in her lilac bush. “I didn’t do much of anything,” she protested feebly.

“Precisely.” The tall, stiff woman stalked away.

Myrt nudged her. “Forget them. They’re still cranky from wearing sack cloth and eating locusts while they were alive.”

“I do deserve to be here.” Earline was on the verge of tears as an angel with an orange banner draped over his snow-white robe approached them. “Earline M. Johnson?”

She brightened. “That’s me.”

“I’m afraid we have to requisition your tent for a new arrival, someone considerably holier than thou.”

Earline’s smile soured. “What? I just got here. I don’t even have a tent yet.”

“Sorry.” The angel walked away. Myrt ambled after him.

“How can you requisition something I don’t have?” Earline yelled. Sinking to her knees, she began to weep. “I’m homeless and penniless …” Then she realized she was surrounded by a gold-brick road. Fishing a nail file out of her purse, she glanced around, then pried a brick out of the road, widening the pothole.

“We were given dominion over all the Earth to do as we pleased,” she said with eminent self-satisfaction as she stuffed the brick into her purse. Surely the same rules applied to heaven. Still, she glanced over her shoulder before scuttling away, dodging potholes that disrupted the road every few feet.

“Refugee indeed!” Earline sniffed. But the weight of the gold brick in her purse also meant she had leverage. Especially now that the Earth was wrecked, she wasn’t giving it back until she got her palace.

Published in Stories