For someone who started out life as a bystander in someone else’s story, Sir Woebegone is doing pretty well. This week, Chuck Wendig gave us a random choice of twenty settings for our story – I rolled a 2 and got the Gates of Heaven (if only it was that easy!). I decided Sir Woebegone was a suitable person to turn up there. I’ve even given him his own badge now. 1020 words that I hope you enjoy!
Sir Woebegone examines his conscience
It wasn’t what he expected. Sir Woebegone’s teleporting skill was improving, but he occasionally got it spectacularly wrong.
Three sets of gates loomed out of warm mist in front of him. On the right was a circular brick gateway, with a white wall on either side. Centre was a pair of ornate wire gates, resembling wrought iron but looking more like mother of pearl. Further left was a dark stone archway, massive and austere.
He tentatively stepped forward, re-sheathing his sword. Something large rose out of the mist; he grasped the hilt again.
“Greetings, oh traveller,” said the shape.
The mist rolled back and Sir Woebegone gazed upon a lion. A lion with a very odd face. A lion that talked.
“Which door would you like to attempt?” the shape continued, giving up on a return greeting from its visitor.
“Er, I don’t know,” Sir Woebegone said. “What’s the choice?”
“The choices are before you. Over there, the Garden of Unearthly Delights. Here, the Pearly Gates, and over there, the Path to Nirvana, level 8.”
“The Pearly Gates?” repeated Sir Woebegone. “Isn’t that the entrance to Heaven?”
The shape sighed. “I suppose you were expecting Saint Peter.”
Comprehension dawned. “Well, yes. Who are you?”
“I am the Sphinx. I patrol the gates. You don’t expect the traditional gatekeepers to hang around all day, do you? They have better things to do. Besides, no-one is scheduled today. Why are you here?”
“I don’t know. I was thinking of a nice beach somewhere and I turned up here. What happened?”
“You wouldn’t believe how many people come out with that line. They rarely pass the test, though. They’ve usually fallen asleep at the wheel or similar disqualifying actions.”
“Test?” asked Sir Woebegone, grasping at the word he understood.
“Of course. Would you expect to pass through the portal to your preferred eternal life without showing you deserve it?”
“Eternal life? You mean… I’m dead?”
“Oh for heaven’s sake, stop being so predictable. If I had a rouble for every time I’ve heard that one I’d be as rich as Croesus now.”
“Is Croesus in heaven?”
“Well, no, he likes to spend his time dicing with the Devil. Which gate? Hurry up I haven’t got all day.”
Sir Woebegone thought the one to the Unearthly Delights looked quite nice; he could see stunted trees and upright rocks set in a garden. The one on the right looked depressing. “Is level eight the top level?”
“No, the Buddhist chaps have to get up to that tower if they want to get to Nirvana, but most find level eight perfectly acceptable, without the extra effort.” He waved to a dark cube poking out of the mist. It looked like a strenuous journey.
The Pearly Gates sounded familiar, and heaven was clearly his ambition. He just didn’t feel ready for it yet.
“Well? If you need more time I can leave you while I patrol the other gates.”
“What other gates?”
“The ones for the other religions, of course. We keep the Pearly Gates apart since their customers tend to think they are unique. They put up with the Buddhists, but then the Buddhists put up with everyone. They’re a pleasure to deal with.”
“You mean everyone shares the same heaven?”
“Pretty much. After the initiation ceremony everyone gets on just fine. But you have to be suitable to get in.”
“How do I get in?”
“I ask you three questions, you search your conscience, give your answer, and if you’re right, we let you in.”
Sir Woebegone took a deep breath. “I am ready.”
The Sphinx leant on its arms and gazed into Sir Woebegone’s eyes.
“Question one: if you could invite three people to dinner, who would they be and why?”
Sir Woebegone took a step back. “But I’ve never invited anyone to dinner! I don’t dine.”
“That’s irrelevant. Who would you ask and why?”
Sir Woebegone thought of all the people he knew, and all the people he’d heard of. With most he would rather go to hell than invite them to dinner. The Sphinx snored gently, even though its eyes were still gazing at him. He cleared his throat.
“I’d invite my page, who has always been good to me, except when I wasn’t good to him. I’d invite the dragon because he didn’t eat me. And I’d invite the woman in the courtyard who did my washing, even though she always complained.”
“Hmm, that’s unusual. Most people ask at least one king, Nobel Prize winner or celebrity. Next question: what is the action you most regret, and why?”
The Sphinx closed its eyes this time, snoring straight away. Sir Woebegone sat down. He wasn’t what most people called a person of action. He’d been a bit of a joke in the knight’s hall. He worked back through his recent adventures, past the discussion with the dragon and the role of the Empress in sending him to its lair, back through the years as a knight in her service, back through basic training to…
“I most regret beating my little brother at conkers, because I always won and he never thought he had any talent.”
The Sphinx lifted its head. “Most unusual. Third question…”
A small man with wings sprouting out of his shoulders, and a halo tipped rakishly over one eye, scurried out from the Pearly Gates.
“What’s going on? There’s nobody due today!”
“Sir Woebegone, Saint Peter.” The Sphinx introduced them.
Saint Peter took out a scroll from his robes and ran his finger down it. “Woebegone, Woebegone, no, you’re not here. Not due for years. Go away!”
“You mean I’m not dead?”
“Do you feel dead, man? Of course not. Be off with you and don’t come back till you’re ready.”
“Well, great. Bye, then, thanks for your help, Sphinx.” Sir Woebegone pulled his sword from his scabbard and thought of that nice beach he’d been trying to get to in the first place.
“Nice of him to thank me,” said the Sphinx.
“How was he doing?” asked Saint Peter.
“He’ll do. Just as boring as the rest of them.”
(c) J M Pett 2013