“Good evening, Mr. Jones,” said the wizened man, whose grizzled head barely cleared the counter in front of me. “May I call you Craig?”
“Who are you? And where am I?” I asked.
“All questions will soon be answered,” he assured me. He held a big clipboard, and seemed to be checking a list. “Now, let’s see… you were in a car accident, right?”
“Yes, I was in an accident. I don’t remember much about it, though. Am I in the hospital? I think it may have been a pretty bad accident.”
The little man grimaced. “I’m afraid it was a bad one, Craig. There was quite a bit of damage.”
I looked around. The walls (were these walls? I couldn’t tell) were plain white and blurry – and there didn’t seem to be anyone else here, despite the man’s overworked manner. Where was this guy getting his information? ”Damage? What are you talking about? And who are you? A cop? An insurance guy? What’s going on?”
He sighed and walked out from behind the counter. “There’s no easy way to break this to you, Mr. Jones. This is the Outgoing Department.”
He patiently repeated himself. “This is the Outgoing Department. It’s your last stop before departing this earthly life. You see, you’re almost dead, but before you do die, God wants to be sure you have one last chance to – shall we say, ‘go up’; instead of ‘go down.’” He winked, as if that would help his strange words make sense.
Because they didn’t. Make sense, that is. Outgoing Department? I’d heard a lot of crazy theories about what happens, at the end of life - but this one took the cake.
“Look, buddy, I don’t know what your game is, but I need to get going. I’m supposed to be at a business meeting in a few hours, and I’m on a pretty tight schedule.”
The man shook his head. “I know all about your schedule, but it’s not going to happen. The accident totaled your car – and, as I just told you – you haven’t got long to live, so you won’t be going to that meeting. As for ‘my game’, as you put it: someone’s been praying for you, pretty hard, so you’ve been given one last chance to decide.”
”Decide what?” I asked. “You just told me I haven’t got a choice. You said I’m going to die.”
The man then held up the clipboard, as if he was asking me to check off the next of his boxes. “Yes, that’s true, Craig. I’m sorry, but you will die. After all, this is the Outgoing Department. But your destination is your own decision. What do you choose?”
"You're beginning to sound like my brother, Joe. He's always hounding me to 'get right with God.' Hey, is he the one who sent you?"
He just smiled, and pointed to a clock, which had suddenly appeared on the blurry wall above the counter. “You’ve got five minutes – and then you’ll be …umm… outgoing. It’s up to you; where you go, once you go out.”
”Five minutes?” I protested. “How am I supposed to decide anything that serious in five minutes?”
But the man was no longer in the room. All I saw – and heard – was the ticking of that clock.
But, slowly, through the ticking, came a more familiar sound. It was my brother Joe – and he was calling my name.
“Joe?” I called out, because my vision still seemed a bit blurry.
“Hey, guys, he’s coming out of it!” I heard Joe say. “How are you doing, Craig? Thank God you’re awake!”
“You can say that again. Look, Joe; I don’t have time to explain, but can you tell me again about how to get right with God? I promise you – this time, I’ll really listen.”
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