I was surprised at the ostentation. The security fence was bad enough with it's golden spikes that seemed to reach all the way to the sky—well, to where the sky would have been if there had been one—but the gates were worse. They really were laminated with pearl shell. It was way over the top.
Then I saw him, a big German Shepherd. He was draped across that Great White Throne I'd been warned to expect and he looked bored. He barely raised his head as I approached.
“Are you God?” I asked.
“Don't be ridiculous. You've been listening to too many dyslexic jokes. Even you should know that God isn't a dog. I'm the gate-keeper.”
“I thought that was St. Peter's job.”
“Annual holidays,” he said. “Four weeks a year under the Gatekeepers' Award. He's down on Earth, fraternising. I'm minding the shop while he's away. Now, I'm not going to ask again, what's your name?”
“Rrralph,” I growled.
“Very droll,” he said. “Wonderful name for a dog. What moron called you that?”
“He isn't a moron, and he was my best friend. He's a publican.”
“He must have been drinking too much of his own brew. Anyway, whaddaya want?”
“I'm dead. I want what everybody wants. I want to come inside.”
“Not a chance!”
“Why not? I've been a good dog. Faithful. Friendly. Didn't chase cats. Let old ladies pat me. Wagged my tail a lot.”
The Gatekeeper nodded toward a sign on the gate. “That's why,” he said.
I hadn't noticed it before but it was plain enough. It said: Pearly Gates, Keep Out, Leviticus 5:20.
“What's this Leviticus rubbish?”
“Don't you know anything? Them's the regs. Leviticus, Section 5, Sub-section 20: In Heaven all is perfection.”
“So what's the problem?”
“Paragraph B says, Nothing imperfect shall be permitted to enter.”
“That's racist! It's no wonder you're stuck out here doing guard duty. I might not be a German Shepherd but any Jack Russell worth his salt could run rings around an overweight, out-of-condition mutt like you.”
“Careful Buster, or I'll black-list you. Now, take a look at yourself. What happened to the tail God gave you?”
“It was docked, that's what. That's not my fault. It's what they used to do to us down there.”
“Leviticus doesn't care how it happened, only that it did. Sub-section 21 says, If it's broke, fix it. You'd better hot-foot it back to that publican and see if he can help. If you're here with the tail in place by midnight, you're in. Otherwise forget it.”
“Have a heart! That's less than two hours.”
“You were bragging about being faster than me. Let's see you prove it. Besides, Leviticus...”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah.” I was getting sick of hearing about this Leviticus character. He must have been some kind of bureaucrat.
“Department of Celestial Immigration,” smirked the Shepherd, reading my mind. “Now move it. The clock's ticking.”
The journey back to the pub didn't take long; after all it was more a concept than a distance. When I arrived the place was already closed for the night but I could hear the publican moving about inside and started pounding the door with my fore-paws and barking loud enough to wake the neighbours. It wasn't long before he came to see who was making the racket and his face, when he realised it was me, was all smiles.
“Rrralph, is that really you?”
“It certainly is,” I said wagging my stump with pleasure. “I didn't think I'd ever get to see you again.”
“You can talk,” he said. “That's amazing.”
“Of course I can talk,” I said. “I'm a spirit dog now.”
He took me inside and gave me some left-overs from the fridge. No wonder I was fond of him! When I finished eating I said, “When you cut off my tail, why did you have it mounted, and hung behind the bar.”
“It was so long,” he said. “I'd never heard of a tail that long before.
“When I saw you in the window of Christo's Pet Shop it was love at first sight. I just bowled right in there and said, 'How much is that doggy in the window?' I don't think Christo knew much about dogs because he insisted on wrapping you in a brown paper parcel. He said he did that with all his pets—even the goldfish. I brought you back here and unwrapped you on the bar, and you were so pleased to see daylight that you started wagging that long tail. The problem was that you knocked everybody's beer onto the floor, so I borrowed a cleaver from the Bill the Butcher and docked it.”
“Well I need it back.”
“Sure, no problem. I'll just get it down for you.”
“I don't want it on the mounting,” I said. “I need you to put it back where it belongs—on my stump. Super glue it, or something.”
The publican scratched his head and looked thoughtful. “OK, I suppose that's not a problem, but you'll have to wait till tomorrow.”
“It's got to be tonight. Right now. I have to be back by midnight or they won't let me into Heaven.”
“Sorry, Rrralph, I can't do it. I'm not allowed to re-tail spirits after hours.”