Ray looked up from his paper. A single bass note, smooth and rich, tingling with vibrato, faded into the corners of the otherwise silent living room. He turned back to the sports page and… there it was again, a single, low organ tone, the lingering sound of a slow warm- up at the keys. As it faded Ray heard the barest trace of a final harmony, of faint voices joining in a crescendo. Ray tossed the paper down onto the empty, egg-stained breakfast plates and walked to the back door. Nothing. He put his hands in his pockets and rocked back and forth on his toes, peering over fences into neighboring yards. Just the distant white noise rumble of a neighbor’s lawn mower.
Another organ note, louder this time, and now joined by a choir of voices rising and singing a wordless chorus. The music rose in volume, doubling and redoubling as more voices sang out. Deeper organ tones took up a minor harmony to the main melody and higher notes ducked and wove through the bright refrain. The increasing bass rumble shook the house and Ray cupped his hands over his ears. A coffee mug rattled off the kitchen table and shattered on the floor.
The world split above Ray with a colossal tearing sound. The kitchen ceiling peeled back like an orange skin and roiling clouds filled the gaping wound in the sky. Sheets of lightning flashed and waves of heat and cold battered Ray from all sides. The roiling clouds shattered and Ray screamed. Above him, ascending into infinity, the architecture of heaven was laid bare. Seraphs marched in stately procession up and down Jacob’s ladders, while flights of angels in full martial dress soared in formation from horizon to horizon. Limitless fields of angels stirred hurricanes with their wings, whipping clouds and fog to tatters around them. Above them, at the center of creation, a golden gate hung in the sky’s depths.
In unison the heavenly host turned to face the gate. A sudden silence swept through the vaults of heaven and a deep bell tolled. The gates began to open. Blinding, agonizing light poured out of the crack between the gates. The tightly massed angels raised their arms and cried out hosannas and hymns, hammering Ray to his knees with the force of their joy.
Light and sound beat against Ray. Past regrets and buried shame rippled through him. In the light of utter self knowledge and heavenly judgment Ray wept and cried out, beating his hands against the ground.
“All right, folks! That’s enough!” The blazing light from the gate vanished and Ray fell in the sudden stillness, clenching the split remains of the kitchen linoleum with shaking fingers. Through teary eyes Ray watched the heavenly host scatter, small groups of angels splitting off to wing their way through the corridors of heaven. Within seconds the infinite reaches of space above him were an echoing hall, stray feathers and scraps of paper twisting idly in the breeze. Angels in tool belts popped out from behind the scenery, starting up a tremendous racket of hammering and yelled instructions as they disassembled the massive golden ladders that framed the sky above Ray. Enormous horizon-spanning set pieces trundled along above him, guided off to one side or another by packs of angels in rough work robes.
“Not too shabby, eh?” Behind Ray stood a balding angel, short, with a pot belly straining the material at the front of his robes and thick arms that spoke to an eternity spent swinging hammers instead of strumming harps. He lit the back half of a soggy cigar.
“Am I… dead?” said Ray, rising to his feet. Above him the crews of angels were still busy at work disassembling and repairing the firmament. The short angel barked a laugh and punched Ray in the arm.
“Of course not! You’re as alive as you were before all the commotion. Maybe even more so.” He swept his hand from horizon to horizon, encompassing the massive span of heaven that lay open above them. “This was just a dress rehearsal, not the real thing at all. Gotta make sure the machinery is working right, ya know? Keep the cast in line, make sure everyone knows their part.” The angel looked over the ruin of Ray’s kitchen, at the hole in the roof and the litter of shingles and timbers that had collapsed across the floor. “Damn shame about your house though.” The angel shrugged. “Still, a chance to see those pearly gates is maybe worth some clean-up.”
A deep rumble from above shook Ray’s house and the sky began to close overhead. The angel flipped his cigar onto the kitchen floor and reached into a pocket in his robes, withdrawing a fat envelope and handing it to Ray.
“This is a pretty standard survey. Just some questions about the performance, if you noticed any glaring eschatological errors, stuff like that. Just fill it out and leave it somewhere in the open, we’ll find it.” He unfurled his wings and rose through the air, leaving Ray standing in the mess of his kitchen. At the edge of the sky, before he crossed over into the light and color of infinity, the angel spun and called down to Ray, cupping his hands around his mouth.
“Oh, and try to have that filled out before next Friday!” he yelled. “We need the input before the big show!”
Sam Larson lives in Colorado, in the United States. Sometimes he writes short fiction, most of the time he writes about the out of doors at Bluelinesfly.com.