Mary squeezed her daughter’s. “You know I’ll always be watching over you.”
Margaret’s tears flowed down her cheeks as she smiled and nodded. Unable to summon any words, she squeezed her mother’s hand in return. Then she let her go.
Mary was at peace when she closed her eyes for the last time. When she saw the light, she thought she had woken again, but then she realized the light was drifting closer to her – or was she drifting closer to the light? It was hard to tell. There didn’t seem to be an up or down, just Mary and the light. She didn’t try to fight it – wasn’t sure she could have fought it if she tried – knowing she was going to her God and waiting patiently for the moment she had waited for all her life.
But when she finally reached the light (or the light reached her, she still wasn’t sure which) she found something different altogether. There was no gate. No throne. No harps. None of the things she had been told to expect. Instead, she found what looked to be some kind of sorting apparatus surrounded by … were those mail chutes?
Mary drew closer to what she was now pretty sure was a sorter, but this time she did try to fight it. She was lost and confused and wanted nothing to do with whatever that thing was. But it did no good. The mouth of the machine got closer and closer and there was nothing she could do about it. She started to panic.
“Hey, whoa, chill out,” said a voice from behind her.
She tried to turn around, but couldn’t. “What’s happening?”
“Dunno. But I expect we’re about to find out.”
“What … what is that thing?”
“Dunno. But why worry? We’re already dead. It’s not like things can get any worse.”
“What makes you so sure about that?”
There was a pause, as if the disembodied voice was considering its answer before it responded. “What could be worse than death?”
“Oh. Ha! I hadn’t even thought of that one.”
“Where is St. Peter?”
“Huh. I hadn’t thought about him either. I guess the Bible got a few things wrong, didn’t it?”
Mary felt panic rising in her and she tried again to move away from the apparatus, but still to no avail.
“Yo, you really need to calm down. What are you struggling for?”
“I have to get out of here. I don’t know what this is. I don’t know where I am. I just know this isn’t right.”
“How do you know this isn’t right?”
“Because … because …”
“Because it’s not what your book taught you?”
“It’s the word of God. It can’t be wrong.”
She wasn’t sure, but she thought she heard chuckling. “You do realize that book was written by men, don’t you? God didn’t have anything to do with it. I don’t know if they were smoking something when they thought some divine being was talking to them, or if they were just straight up lying, but clearly they didn’t get everything right.”
“But … but…”
“Look, there are a lot of so-called ‘sacred’ texts out there, what makes you so sure yours is the only right one?”
“But…” Mary struggled to find an answer even as she was pulled into the apparatus and her panic suddenly vanished. She was shown a series of images from the mortal realm and she immediately felt calm, thinking now she would be able to look upon her family, but she didn’t see them. Instead she was shown images of people she didn’t recognize, apparently from all over the world. They didn’t mean anything to her, but she felt drawn to one of the images – she wasn’t sure why, because she didn’t recognize anything in the image.
Mary would have told the apparatus to stop on that image if she could have, but she didn’t need to. It seemed to sense her feelings and brought the series of images to a halt so she could linger on that one. As she continued to gaze at it, the image got larger, until it took up her whole vision, and then it seemed to engulf her. Before she realized what was happening, Mary wasn’t looking at the image, she was in it.
Then the image was gone and Mary was in darkness, but she wasn’t Mary anymore and she wasn’t afraid of the dark. Wherever she was, she was warm and safe. She was happy there until something started pushing her. She was pushed and squeezed and pulled until she emerged into somewhere bright and cold. She did not like that at all.
But, gradually, she adjusted to the light and someone cleaned her off and wrapped her in a blanket. Then she was being cradled in someone’s arms and that felt good. They spoke to her and she recognized the voice. She liked that voice. So she relaxed into those arms and that voice and she forgot that she had ever worried about where she was or what was happening to her.