Story Detail

Knock Knock Knocking
by Steve Kealy
Pages: NA
What happens when you die? When you die suddenly? It might not be what you expect...
Reviews: 2

Knock Knock Knocking

Thomas knocked at the door and was surprised when it opened.

“Hello?” he called out, as he stepped inside.

“Well, hello to you too!”, replied a cheery voice.

“Is anybody here?”

“Yes, be with you in a sec.”

The interchange felt a bit like stepping into a country post–office, only to find it empty because the post–mistress was up a ladder in the store room out the back.

The room wasn’t like a Post Office though – more like midway between a domestic living room and a doctor’s waiting room with a bit of Airline Business Lounge tossed in.

He looked around the room – neither big, nor small; nondescript colour. Neutral.

As he turned back he realised there was a small woman standing in a corner. She wasn’t there a moment ago. She did indeed look for all the world like a village post-mistress.

“Ah,” he jumped a little.

She smiled. “How can I help you?”

“Um, I don’t know,” he replied, uncertainly. “I’m not really sure why I’m here. Or even where I am.”

The door opened behind him and a silver–haired lady, sprightly but slight, her smile unbridled, stepped in.

“Oh,” she said. “So sorry to interrupt. Are you…?”

The tall bearded man beside Thomas, where the post-mistress had been a moment before, shook his head and smiled. “No, Mrs Smith, but if you go on through, he’s waiting for you.”

Mrs Smith smiled even wider, nodded a happy wordless greeting to Thomas, stepped past him and walked through a door he hadn’t noticed before.

“Wait, how did…” he started, turning back to the greying curly–haired woman who first greeted him. He flinched. She was perhaps in her early fifties, light spectacles on a chain around her neck, wearing dark slacks and a blouse that might have been a uniform top but didn’t look like it. There was a small name–badge above her left breast, but without his glasses and not wanting to be that guy, the one who stares at women’s breasts, he couldn’t quite read it.

The door opened again and a small, slightly bent old man with a long wispy white beard and a broad–brimmed black hat came in. He wore a similarly black suit that, while it looked like it fitted him once, was now loose on his gaunt frame. He didn’t speak but the suddenly swarthy woman beside Thomas said, “Just through there Abraham,” with a gesture. Her dress reached the floor and a headscarf covered almost all her dense black hair.

Bobbing gently from the waist, the old man smiled wordlessly, nodded to Thomas and stepped through the other door.

“Now, where were we?” asked the grey–haired lady with the name badge. The lady Thomas thought of as a post-mistress, but who was clearly lots of other people too.

“I have no idea; I don’t know where I am, why I’m here or what’s going on,” started Thomas.

The door behind him opened again and a very much younger man wearing a white robe over white cotton pants and a white skull–cap entered. He was clean-shaven but had some small cuts to his face, as if he had recently shaved off his first beard. He scowled under his eyebrows but said nothing. The short woman beside Thomas, clad head–to–toe in a black burkha with only her dark eyes visible, abruptly pointed one of her gloved hands without speaking. His eyes downcast, the man moved briskly to the other door and stepped through. He left it open, but it swung closed after a second, shutting with an audible click.

Before Thomas could open his mouth, the first door opened again and three girls, all under about ten, piled noisily through it; one was giggling, two were skipping.

There was suddenly an old man beside Thomas, wispy-haired, in a brown dressing gown and slippers just called out, “Hello girls – just straight through that door and they’ll be there to meet you.”

“Thank–you!” they all trilled politely, as they left via the second door, slamming it behind them. It reopened a crack and one face peeked through the gap and said “Sorry!” before closing it gently.

“Lovely manners, but enough now,” the lady with the name–badge said softly, as if to herself. She made a small gesture at the entrance door. Thomas turned to look at it and it wasn’t there. Nor was the exit door and Thomas realised he couldn’t now remember what they looked like, whether they opened inwards or outwards and even precisely where they had been on the now–blank walls.

Seeing the look of confusion on his face, the lady with the name badge invited Thomas to sit. “You’ve got a few questions, I expect?”

“Too right I have – starting with all that,” Thomas shrugged at both the recent past and the area behind him, where the doors were, but weren’t now.

“Well, where shall we start…?” posed the lady, still the one with the name badge.

Thomas gestured again, to her. “How about with you?”

She chuckled. “Oh, that’s very gallant Thomas. I’d expect nothing less of you. Ever the lady’s man.”

“Wait, how do you know my name? Who ARE you?”

“Oh, who I am is of no importance, but we know everyone here.”

“Okay – so let’s start with that instead,” said Thomas. “Where exactly is ‘here’?”

“This is what you’d call a Distribution Centre, or perhaps a Clearing Centre. It’s where people decide where they’re going next.”

“Going next?”

“Yes – where their next destination will be; it depends upon what they really want to do. They make their own minds up – we don’t decide for them; we’re merely facilitators.”

“Whoa, back up a bit. Where are we exactly?”
“What do you remember, Thomas?”

“Everything – why?”

“No, I mean your most recent memory – what is that?”

“Well I went to work this morning, and…”
“Did you Thomas?”

He ignored her, “I got in my car as usual, and headed to…”

“Not the office Thomas. Where did you go?” There was a bit of steel in her voice now.

He started to shuffle a bit. “Okay, I made a small detour…”

“Yes Thomas. To Jane’s house, where you made a phone call.”

“Yes, I called the office.” Thomas was looking a little flustered.

“And told them you weren’t coming to work because you were ill. But you weren’t ill, were you Thomas?” The woman’s voice had lost its warm Customer–Service tone and was now brutally matter–of–fact.

Thomas was very uncomfortable. “Yes. No, well, I wasn’t feeling great…”

“And what is the last thing you remember Thomas?” Her voice had an edge like a rapier to it.

Thomas had tears in his eyes now. “I was at Jane’s house and I … I don’t know. I had a bit of a turn.”

“You were in bed, Thomas. With Jane. You had a heart attack. While being unfaithful to your wife, the mother of your three children.” Her voice stung like a lash.

“Oh.” Thomas looked up at the woman now. Despite her severe voice, her face was serene. “Am I in a hospital?”

“No Thomas. I’m afraid it was a fatal heart attack.” He seemed not to have heard. Or not understood.

“Oh,” again: “Where are we?”

“As I said, this is what you would call a Distribution Centre.”

“So, I’m… sort of dead?” Thomas seemed to be a few steps behind, but catching up. He held up his hands and inspected them.

“Well, your body died, yes.” The lady’s tone had softened again.

As if he wasn’t ready to process that just yet, Thomas skipped a track: “Those other people. You weren’t yourself.” It was a statement that needed an answer, the way a question does.

“They saw what they expected to see and met who they expected to meet,” said the lady. Thomas now saw her badge said ‘Peta’. He looked at her blankly.

“Mrs Smith is a lovely lady who played the organ in church; she was hoping to see her saviour, but I am not he; she will see him soon enough. Abraham is a rabbi; he served his community with distinction for many years and lived a pious life, married a good woman and raised eleven fine sons; he expected to meet a devout Jewish woman and that’s who was here to greet him. He will meet his Messiah soon. The children were together and hoped to see their beloved Grandpa again – so they did. Their parents came through just before you and are waiting for them.”

“Oh – the whole family? That’s a pity,” said Thomas. “And what about the other chap?” He still wasn’t really processing his own circumstances.

“Ishmael believed that suicide with a bomb would get him to paradise; he expects to find devout people like himself there. But I think he might not find his outcome so appealing. The three girls and their parents were near him when he…” seeing Thomas’s crestfallen face, she didn’t finish the sentence.

“So, what now?” asked Thomas. “You’ve been very kind and I’ve taken lots of your time. But why did I see you?”

“Oh, don’t worry about that, said Peta. “There’s lots of other spaces like this and we can take as long as you need. You saw me because you’re an atheist. You don’t believe in an afterlife, you have no faith, so you get a bureaucrat as a facilitator and a tasteful office as a place of transition.”
“Oh. Transition” He tried the word and found it fitted his reality. “So what did the others see?”  

“Mrs Smith saw the doors to the church where she was married, where she worshipped for 58 years and where she buried her husband three months ago; Abraham saw the doors to the Schul where he has held services every Shabbat for over sixty years; the girls saw their grandma’s house and Ishmael walked through the great gates of the Blue Mosque.”

“So, no Pearly Gates then? Like in the stories?”

“Mrs Smith saw the gates she wanted to, just behind you – it’s a question of what each person believes. What do you believe, Thomas?”

“Nothing really – until a few minutes ago, anyway.”
“Of course, we had another Thomas here, a while back – he Doubted too. Why did you mention the Pearly Gates?”

“Well, that’s what we were taught at school; that the entrance to heaven was through Pearly Gates and you’d meet Saint Peter. But I thought it out for myself and decided the whole religion thing was just a way of giving primitive people some rules to live by. And Saint Peter was just part of the story.”

“Do you really think so? Because that’s my name.”

Thomas flinched and read her badge again: Peta.

“Well, I am a bit surprised to be here; I always thought that when life ends, the lights go out and that was the end of it all.”
“is that what you want? Oblivion? Because if it’s what you desire…”

“No, no – I want to see my wife again. Our children.”

“No Thomas. They’re still alive; they’ll mourn you, learn how you died and move on. It’s what humans do.”

“Oh,” said Thomas. “I’d like to tell them I love them.”

“Do you? Did you? How did you show them? I think we both know the answer to that. No, I’m afraid your path is forward, not back. And only you can decide what that path will be.”

“What do I get to choose? Like between heaven or hell?

“There is no heaven and hell, Thomas – there is only progression.”

“What’s next? For those others? For me?”

“That depends upon what you want, what you expect and what you believe. They may see their supreme being and rest a while before moving on. Mrs Smith will see her husband again and they will go ahead with each other. Abraham will mingle with generations of his forefathers; the girls will join their parents and their path will be together for a while longer yet.”

“And Ishmael? The Bomber?”

Peta’s eyes flashed and for a split–second, Thomas saw something different: not the benign middle–aged lady with spectacles on a chain, or any of the other shapes she had been; it had horns. And teeth.

“There is a place for people like him. It is not pleasant. But it is permanent. You don’t get a second chance when you kill innocents in the name of faith. Any faith.” Peta’s voice was sharp and hard, like razor–edged diamond.

“So there’s a second chance?” Thomas asked, brightening up at the prospect.

“Yes, there may be – but as I said, you don’t go back to what and who you knew before. It is all ahead. The past is past.”

“Oh. Well, if that’s the way it works then… I expect I disappointed a few people.”

“Yes, you did,” Peta was once again warm and friendly, “if it’s any consolation, you’re not the first and you won’t be the last.”

“I suppose I’d better be moving along then.” Thomas stood up. “Thank you for being so patient with me.”

“Not at all; it has been my pleasure. If you step through that door, you’ll meet someone who will help you make a choice which works for you, which matches your belief.”

Thomas looked over his shoulder: there was a door behind him again, but only the one. He nodded and smiled to Peta, turned and walked through an ordinary office door, taking care to close it gently behind him.

He was in a field, with grass underfoot, and some trees; He looked back, but there was no sign of the office, or of Peta, or whatever she was or became. There were white clouds overhead and rolling hills in the distance; tall yellow flowers grew through the lush green grass in odd patches and there were tiny white daises at his feet. The place was naggingly, hauntingly familiar but he couldn’t remember being anywhere like it.

A man in pale slacks and an open–necked shirt was walking towards him. He was tall and ruggedly handsome, with a thick head of dark hair and a welcoming smile.

“Thomas. I’m especially glad to meet you.” He stuck out a hand and gave Thomas a firm but brief handshake. His tone was warm, like his hand, and authoritative.

“I’m sorry – I didn’t catch your name?” queried Thomas politely.

The tall man – about thirty–five, Thomas guessed, but with flecks of grey at the temples – laughed. “I didn’t give it. You wouldn’t know it or remember it anyway. Let’s just say I run this place.”

“Ah. Perhaps you could tell me what and where this place is, then? I have a feeling I’ve been here before, but I can’t place it,” said Thomas, as if the ‘where’ was more important than the ‘why’ which he’d already explored with Peta.

The bigger man laughed again, not so warmly this time: “You saw this place every time you went to work; you might recognise it as the screen–saver picture on your computer. The computer you used to arrange your dalliances with women other than your wife.”

“Ah, yes. That. Well, I’m truly sorry about all that now.” His tone was contrite.

“I’m sure you are – but it makes no difference; Jane is traumatised, your wife is devastated, your children are inconsolable, and you are dead. When they find out how and where you died, your children will despise your memory. And your employers will know you for a liar and a cheat, so they won’t hold a wake in your memory or contribute to your funeral,” said the tall man in the open–necked shirt.  

As he spoke, his voice was almost threatening. “Only six people will attend your burial; one will be the celebrant, and one will be a homeless drunk who stumbled to the wrong gathering but is too polite to leave before the end. His decency exceeds yours and is already noted.”

Thomas was aghast. “Only six people care I died?”

“Yes – and four will be your family, who will not remember you fondly.”

“Peta told me there is no going back, but she didn’t tell me much about this place. What is it?”

“Mmmm. Thomas, that’s a tough question. I don’t think I can really answer it. Not for you, anyway.” The man’s voice had a curious rumble to it, like distant thunder.  

 “Well, what would say, Mrs Smith, call it? She came through the office a few minutes before I did.”

“Oh, Maisie Smith! Did you know her? What a lovely lady – and such a wonderful husband too; quite devoted to her – there was no doubt they’d wait for each other. So nice to see reunions like that! No, of course you wouldn’t have known her, would you? Not at all your type of person. You know she lived just three doors down from Jane? But you wouldn’t know anything about church–going ladies, ladies who kept their marriage vows, would you?” There was more thunder in the big man’s voice. Things were not facing the way Thomas liked.

“Maisie Smith would have called this place ‘Heaven’. It is what she dreamed it would be – a fine English garden, with a riot of scents and colours, which her husband has tended every day since he arrived here and while he waited for her.” Thomas looked around and couldn’t see anything close to an English garden.

Thomas finally made the obvious leap. “Would Mrs Smith have called you God?”

“Indeed she did. For her comfort I was a little older and there were robes. It was what she expected.”

“And Abraham?” asked Thomas.

“Abraham is a devout, honest, humble man who served his fellows and his faith with diligence; he is at rest with his family. He too, saw and received what he expected to see and hoped to receive.”

“What about the girls? They are too young to be here”, countered Thomas, still resisting the irrefutable truth.

“Indeed they are, but I do not control free will,” rumbled the Almighty. “If evil is done, there are … consequences.”

“And Ishmael?” asked Thomas.

“His future is not here. It is… elsewhere. It is not pleasant. He will not progress.”

“Did he see God?”

“If you mean, did he see Allah, or Mohammed, no, he did not; he sinned in my name. He will have no joy in the afterlife he chose.”

“What are my choices?” asked Thomas.

“You too, have none. You denied all offers of guidance forevermore; you chose to ignore the many opportunities to follow a spiritual path to redemption. What you see is your only option. Your future is tedium.”

“Oh my. I think I’ve made a rather big mistake.” Thomas slid to his knees on the fresh green grass. He noticed it didn’t smell like a lawn should. If anything, it smelled faintly plasticky.

“Yes, I think you could say that,” said God. “You’ve spent most of your life denying my existence; actively arguing against it, in fact. Yet here we are. Here you are. I never heard you decrying the existence of Lucifer. Not once.”

“But why didn’t you tell me?” asked Thomas in a small–boy voice. “All I wanted was proof that you really existed. Just a simple sign to put me right.”

“Proof?” boomed God, now immensely tall, with silver hair below his shoulders. “You want proof? You want a SIGN?

“Every morning and every evening. I painted a fresh picture in the sky across all the world. Every one different, every one a masterpiece. I gave you rainbows and nature’s splendour every single day – and still you want a SIGN?” The voice ended as a peal of thunder from the sky. As it faded away, there was just a faint melody echoing on the wind: “Knock, knock, knocking on heaven’s door…”

And he was alone. Utterly alone.

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Lily Woods
I like this story. Very much. It offers an interesting perspective on how we should live life - whether we believe in what comes afterwards or not.
Caroline Hurry
Wow! This part-confessional, part-cautionary tale captivated me from the start. The thread of duality holds this ‘true to life’ narrative in a way that supersedes the ‘thou-shalt-NOT’ mind-binding tenets of religion. Abraham. A brahmin. Ra. Ra. Sun worship? Moon worship? Is it all linked? Abraham was ready to kill his infant son for a deity demanding ‘blood sacrifice’. Saturn eats his own children. Does your faith nourish and support you? If not, why wear religious cloaks lined with torn promises and guilt of not having lived up to expectations, even as circumstances changed? Do you think God cares about your affairs? Do we even know what reality is? Steve Kealy’s piece got me thinking about the bigger questions. Really hoping to read a sequel …