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  • Writer's pictureRobert Pettus

Choose Your Heaven

“Please choose your heaven,” said the ethereal voice in my head. I looked around but I couldn’t see anything—everything was a shifting, blinding white.

I winced at the shining brightness.

“Would you prefer darkness?” said the voice, “I wasn’t quite sure when assessing your life preferences and experiences. Sorry about that.”

The bright light then changed abruptly to total darkness. I felt more comfortable, though still confused.

“Now,” said the voice, “Please choose your heaven.”

“Choose my heaven?” I responded, “What the fuck are you talking about?”

“We need to know where to send you,” said the voice, “You have to select your afterlife.”

“I’m dead?”

“You are indeed,” said the voice. “It happened while you were sleeping. You probably didn’t really notice.”


“Yes,” said the voice, “Now, choose your heaven. Please.”

“How do I even do that? What are my options?”

“Your options are literally limitless. There are heavens innumerable. Usually, we provide a selection of options based on the subjects’ beliefs and life experience, but at the end of the day—no pun intended—it’s up to you.”

The shapeless voice chuckled at itself.

“You have a weak sense of humor,” I said.

“Don’t chastise me,” responded the voice, hurt, but in a voice incapable of expressing anger. “I never get the opportunity to talk to people in light-hearted situations—only after they’ve died. I try my best with the jokes.”

“I’ll bet you’ve used that one before,” I said.

“That’s none of your business. Anyway, it can be difficult to wade through so many possibilities, so it's probably best to choose something you’re comfortable with. That seems to work for most people.”

“Good point,” I said.

“Here are some afterlife selections I’ve picked up by examining your personal beliefs and life experience. It seems like you were heavily subjected to the Christian worldview early in life, which is common these days, so you can choose that one if you want.”

“Wouldn’t I go to hell? I never prayed or went to church other than when I was a kid.”

“That’s up to Jesus, I guess. You probably would. I haven’t spoken with him in a while though—he changes his mind about things as the followers of his religion change their views. Needs to keep his numbers up. So who knows? You may yet sneak through the pearly gates.”

“Are they actually pearly?”

“I have no idea.”

“Oh. What are my other options?”

“You could go the Hindu route and be reincarnated; you seem to have been interested in that option during your adolescence. Though I must say—you weren’t a very enlightened individual, so you may not like your new form. You may come back as a slug, a bat, or a plant."

“A bat sounds nice,” I said.

“You do like the darkness. You could also choose the Ancient Greek tradition, which I’m noticing you were intensely interested in.”

“Down the River Styx?”

“Indeed. It’s not so bad as it seems, I don’t think. It’s as good as any other option, I suppose.”

“Can I create my own heaven?”

“You can—that’s actually our most popular choice outside of Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Judaism—but I wouldn’t recommend it; creating your own world is both difficult and exhausting; most of the time it turns out badly. And once you’ve created it, you’re stuck with it. It’s not easy being a deity. Even Jesus—currently the most successful deity in terms of numbers—gets really flustered with the whole thing sometimes, and he was far better prepared than you; he began creating his own heaven well before he had even died.”

“Damn,” I said.

“Yeah,” said the voice.

“How did you get your job?” I said.

“Me? I chose this job! After I died, I made a choice to be the voice which helps deceased souls choose their heaven. I died young—crashed my moped oner night after leaving a bar in Bangkok. I think my everlasting soul was still somehow riding the beer buzz when I was asked to choose my heaven, so my loud mouth chose this option. It wasn’t a bad choice, though—I got lucky. Maybe I could have done better, but who knows? I sure as hell don’t.”

“Didn’t you have to steal someone else’s job?”

“Yeah. She seemed happy about it, though. It’s rare that someone gets the opportunity to move to a new afterlife once they’ve made their selection, so it was probably an incredible surprise for her.”

“Would you like it if I took your job?”

“I wouldn’t really care either way. I didn’t die all that long ago—I’ve only been doing this for a couple decades; haven’t had the chance to tire of it yet.”

“I guess I won’t do that, then. Can I choose something fictional?”

“Of course. Everything is some combination of fiction and nonfiction, anyway. Makes no difference whether you go to Valhalla or Jahannam, whether you choose Wonderland or Middle Earth. I must warn you, though, that there seems to be a problematic nature to those who choose culturally accepted fictional realities for their afterlife.”


“Yes. With major worldviews—whether religious, philosophical, scientific, or political—there is a more complex interconnection between inhabitants. Souls, to some degree, know what to expect, and can coexist in that afterlife more communally. In intentionally fictional worlds, it gets a bit dicey because the existence of the afterlife itself is based around whatever those who inhabit it think up about it. Essentially, it’s based on its inhabitant’s interpretation of the world itself, which is constantly changing as new members join. It’s a real mess, honestly. It gets quite a bit less shifty if the creator of the world joins—I know HP Lovecraft joined his own afterlife community; he was too horrified to try anything else—and that has really helped to codify that world. It’s a terrifying place, the afterlife of Cthulhu, but at least it has structure. Most fictional afterlives don’t, other than those from major worldviews.”

“Damn,” I said, “This is some complicated stuff. Can I just be a ghost? Can I haunt my former house?”

“Of course. Why do you think ghosts exist in the first place?”

“They do?” “Yes, they do. It’s actually a popular choice. I don’t think I would advise it, though. Most

souls who choose to become a specter soon lose interest in it once they realize how difficult it is to make contact with the living. It’s a lonely existence. There is the rare occurrence in which two souls will choose to be ghosts together in the same location, but that isn’t common—it usually requires some pre-death planning. Pre-death planning is really the best way to secure a comfortable afterlife—the religions did get that part right—just ask Jesus, or Mohammad, or Buddha. Hell, you could even ask Satan! He seems about as content as you could expect from him.”

“Your jokes aren’t getting any better.”

“I’m trying my best.”

“How much time do I have?”


“To make my decision.”

“Spacetime doesn’t exist here. Nothing exists here; it was weird place! So… I guess you have as much time as you would like.”

“Aren’t I wasting your time though?” “I just told you that time doesn’t exist.”


“I understand what you mean, though—I haven’t been dead that long, like I said. No, you’re not wasting my ‘time’. I have literally nothing else to do. You’re not the only person I can guide through their decision, anyway. It’s not like I’m really in a ‘place’ or spending ‘time’. I’m in nothing, and I’m spending nothing. I’m ushering numerous other souls into their afterlives simultaneously while also dealing with you.”

“My head hurts.”

“You don’t have a head.”

I chuckled at that. “Okay, that was a good one.”

“That wasn’t supposed to be a joke. It was just a statement of fact.”

“Facts can be funny.”

“I guess that’s true. So, what are you going to choose?”

“I have no idea. Am I being difficult?”

“You are less sure of yourself than many others. People uncertain of the nature of reality in life tend to likewise be uncertain in death. It’s natural, and like I said, I have nothing else to do.”

“I think I’m going to choose The Big Lebowski.”

“Really? LA in the 90’s?”

“I’ve never been to LA, but it’s my favorite movie. I’ve watched it probably hundreds of times. I feel like, if I have to stay somewhere for eternity, that’s as good of a place as any. I like bowling.”

“Good point. Make sure to take care of your toes. So that’s your final decision?”

“Yes. Final decision.”

The pitch blackness shifted abruptly to a flashing brightness, the blinding invisibility quickly taking shape into the form of the fictional Los Angeles from the movie. I felt muggy air blast into my face. I opened my eyes further, feeling the hot asphalt of a cracked street under my feet. A beat-up Ford Gran Torino with a shattered windshield sat outside a dingy apartment building.

A tumbleweed bounced across the street. I was confused, but I knew where I was.


Robert Pettus is an English as a Second Language teacher at the University of Cincinnati. Previously, he taught for four years in a combination of rural Thailand and Moscow, Russia. His short stories have been accepted for publication at The Horror Zine, the International Human Rights Art Festival, Allegory Magazine, Litmora, The Horror Tree, JAKE magazine, Horror Sleaze Trash, The Night Shift podcast, Libretto publications, White Cat Publications, Culture Cult, Savage Planets,, White-Enso, The Ana, Soft Star, Aphelion, Tall Tale TV, The Corner Bar, Super Present, Red Rose Thorns, Lovecraftiana, A Thin Slice of Anxiety, Schlock!, Black Petals, Inscape Literary Journal of Morehead State University, Yellow Mama, Apocalypse-Confidential, Mystery Tribune, Iron-Faerie Publications, Blood Moon Rising, and The Green Shoes Sanctuary, among others. His first novel, titled Abry, was published this spring by Offbeat Reads. He lives in Kentucky with his wife, Mary, his daughter, Rowan, and his pet rabbit, Achilles.


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