The newly deceased arrived at the pearly gates of Heaven in groups of five or ten, as usual. The white light delivered them like clockwork. Saint Peter was to be there to greet them in the lobby, to usher them through the gates and into Paradise. As one group entered, the next group of souls would arrive. The Heavenly Host was all about following the schedule, and had been since the dawn of time.
On this day, however, there was no one at the desk in front of the gates when the souls arrived. In fact, the lobby seemed deserted. Confused, the souls floated near the gate. More souls arrived, surprised to see the others. Soon the lobby was crowded with souls, their soft lights bobbing hesitantly. Their hushed voices murmured their bewilderment.
The gates rattled, and then were pulled open. Saint Peter hurried out, shut the gates behind him, and stood with his back against them. He looked a mess. The holy man's normally placid countenance was gone, replaced by a furrowed brow and a distant stare. His normally pristine robe was ripped in multiple places, and hung limply off one shoulder.
The souls were even more confused by his appearance. Questions rushed through the crowd and back up to the front in a roar of sound that circled the room. Finally, the other souls pushed one light forward, hastily chosen as a spokesperson. The soul bobbed in what it hoped was a respectful manner and floated closer to Saint Peter.
"Your Holiness," the soul began. "Whatever is the matter, sir?"
Saint Peter did not respond at first, his eyes still focused elsewhere. It took several tries to get the great man to finally look at them, and the soul repeated his question. Saint Peter coughed and ran his hands over his face, as if to wipe off a horrible memory. The souls waited, their lights winking in their distress. Finally, he spoke.
"I'm sorry," Saint Peter raised his voice, so that the multitude could hear him. His hands were held in supplication. "I'm so sorry. Heaven is closed until further notice."
The souls floated in the sudden silence as Saint Peter stumbled and slipped through the gates. The slam reverberated loudly.