I suppose I should have expected the “Hallelujah Chorus” or some such stained glass music.
Instead, I was awakened to the strains of my favorite song. I reached for the inevitable snooze button to shut off the horns and bass guitar of “You Can Call Me Al” by Paul Simon, but then realized that I wasn’t in my own bed.
Matter of fact, I wasn’t in my own house, or even on my own planet. I opened my eyes as the bass line continued and the brass orchestra at the foot of my king sized bed continued. Normally I would have had my usual headache to wake me, but my body felt invigorated. I clenched my hands and flexed my legs and feet beneath the sheet and felt like I was 20 again. And then I looked again and I was 20.
The door crashed open and a young version of Stan, my buddy and next door neighbor crashed through the door.
“Al! Dude! You’re young!” he shouted, then stared at the brass orchestra blasting out the last few bars of Paul Simon’s masterpiece.
“What is going on?” I shouted back. “This ain’t L.A.”
“No, it certainly is not,” another voice said. I turned to the other side of the bed. The musicians disappeared and a tall, thin guy dressed like a butler showed up. I jumped out of bed and then noticed that Stan was dressed in a tuxedo.
“Nice suit,” I said, then looked down to notice that I was dressed the same way.
“Welcome to heaven,” the butler said. “I am Bartholemew, and am charge of your orientation.”
“Heaven?” I said, looking at Stan, then at the butler. “Does that mean I’m dead?”
“I’m afraid you died quite a while ago,” Bartholemew said. “You and your friend there as well.”
“Yeah,” Stan said. “I remember now. Never fall asleep on I-80 during a snowstorm.”
“So I guess we missed the Second Coming,” I said. “But I don’t remember dying. I would have remembered that.”
“You were already dead, dude,” Stan said. “I died probably six months after you did.”
“But I don’t remember dying.”
“It says here,” said Bartholemew, holding up an iPad that I hadn’t seen before. “That you died on April 1, 2012.”
“No, no, that’s not right,” I said. “I lived a long time after that.”
“Oh, I see,” said Bartholemew. “That was merely a choking incident. You only died temporarily. The actual, final death was on July 14, 2014. Heart attack. Mercifully you died in your sleep.”
I didn’t respond, but remembered going to bed with a bad case of indigestion. I started at Stan and Bartholemew, and raised an eyebrow.
“So what do we do now? Take the royal tour?”
“And do we really have to wear these monkey suits?” Stan asked, pulling on the collar of his tuxedo. “Mine itches.”
Bartholemew raised an eyebrow. “I was under the impression that you were royalty.”
Stan and I looked at each other and laughed. “No, we’re science fiction writers. By the way, you might want to check your records and make sure we’re supposed to be here.”
Bartholemew shook his head. “The records are never wrong.”
“So can we change into something else?”
He smiled. “This is heaven. Anything is possible.” In a flash, Stan and I were dressed in jeans. Stan wore his Grateful Dead T-shirt and I had on my TCU Horned Frogs shirt. We looked at each other and grinned. All was right with the universe.
“Let’s boogy,” I said.
Bartholemew–who agreed to let us call him Bart; it was either that or Mew–took us outside my ranch-style home with the expansive front lawn and told us to look up. We held our breaths as we looked at other people–some in self-propelled flying machines, some beneath balloons, some simply swimming through the air–flying and floating through the sky. In the center of the bright sky was a white hot brightness that I assumed was a sun. Stan grabbed my arm and pointed off to the right. I looked off toward the horizon and realized that it curved upward. As I looked more closely, I could follow trees, rivers and buildings as they curved up into the sky. I imagined that I could see more landscape as I looked straight up, but it was likely my imagination.
“It’s a Dyson Sphere,” I said, almost breathless.
“Nonsense,” said Bart. “It’s a God Sphere.” He pointed up at the white-hot light in the center of the sky. “And that’s God’s throne.”
I shook my head. “No, you don’t understand. In 1960, Freeman Dyson first envisioned a sphere that would be built around a star, making it possible for a civilization to capture all the energy coming from that star. It’s just like I thought it would be.”
“Actually, Freeman Dyson was inspired by the work of Olaf Stapledon in 1937,” Bart said. “And I was the one who inspired him.”
“Yeah, right. And I’m Elvis Presley…oh, I suppose he’s here too?”
Bart checked his iPad and frowned.
Stan spoke up. “He might be listed under The King.”
Bart looked up and frowned. “There’s only one King here, and He’s not named Elvis.”
“Well, never mind. I suppose we will have lots of time to meet everyone here.”
“You will have eternity. Anything is possible.”
“Yeah, you said that,” I said. “How ’bout God creating a boulder that He can’t lift?”
“Or water He can’t walk on?” Stan added.
“Be serious, gentlemen,” Bart said.
“How about sex?” Stan blurted out. “You must have heavenly sex up here.”
“Sex is not part of the equation,” Bart said. “I assume you two haven’t inspected your equipment lately.”
Stan and I looked at each other, then pulled our pants out far enough to look down into them. We both yelped at the same instance.
“I’m not a man!” Stan said.
“What have you done with it?” I said. “That’s not right.”
“Sex was created to replenish the Earth,” Bart said calmly. “You’re not on Earth anymore, there’s no need to ‘be fruitful and multiply,’ so some alterations were in order.”
“Alterations!” I echoed. “But sex is fun!”
“There are many other ways to have fun up here,” Bart said. “Trust me when I say that you won’t miss it.”
“I have reason to disagree with you, but it looks like I don’t have the…well, the wherewithal…to stand up to you,” I said. “You say we won’t miss it. Do we get a moneyback guarantee?”
“Let’s put it this way,” Bart said. “No one has complained yet, and if after a while it is still and issue, you are free to take it up with the management.”
We shrugged. “OK, where to now?” Stan asked.
“I have one place I need to show you before anything else,” Bart said. “Follow me.” I don’t know why he added the last part, because a nanosecond later, we were standing in front of an large building that could have held the Super Bowl in it, yet looked like it held the Library of Congress.
“This is our Museum of Temptation,” Bart said. “Every mode of temptation that people have been exposed to in their past–and overcome–is on display here. For some reason, however, no one is interested in revisiting their past. I don’t understand it.”
Stan and I looked at each other, then at Bert. “Well, if you were human, and went through all the stuff that we had to go through, and then were here….” We shook our heads together.
“So what are you interested in seeing?” Bart said. “I can take you anywhere.”
“Well, my mother always used to tell me about the lion lying down with the lamb,” I said. “I suppose we could start there.”
“Well, I suppose that somewhere in the 33 trillion hectares of this God Sphere we can round up a lion and a lamb, but it might take some time. In the meantime, how about breakfast?”
He took us to a buffet table the size of Texas and we proceeded to fill our plates with fresh fruit, scrambled eggs, fried potatoes and sausage. I looked at Bart and he read my mind.
“The eggs and the sausage are artificial,” Bart said. “But I dare you to try and tell the difference.”
Bart was right. The breakfast was wonderful, and we spent the next half hour enjoying it. Stan stretched out on a chaise lounge and sighed.
“I could stay here all day and just eat. That’s the best breakfast I have ever had.”
“You could stay here and eat all day, but why?” Bart said. “There are so many more joys to be discovered.”
“About that,” I began. “You have a pretty good little theme park going here, Bart. Lots of fun things to do. But I find myself asking, what’s the point?”
Bart frowned at me. “I don’t quite understand your statement.”
But Stan did. “Yeah, fun is fun, but it does seem a bit pointless.”
Bart looked at Stan, then at me, the wheels turning in his head. Then a broad smile crept across his face.
“I do understand. Very well, anything is possible. I will show you the point.”
And with that we were gone from breakfast and instantly standing in front of two massive doors the size of an 18-wheeler. Bart pushed them open effortlessly and led us into a gigantic room that featured high chandeliers and dark wooden furniture. A crowd of about 100 people stood in the center of the room, facing something in the middle. Bart wasted no time but pushed through the crowd and we followed. Finally the crowd parted and Stan and I stood before Him.
He was seated on a massive throne made of glass. He looked very much like I thought He would, yet was so much more. He had a kind face, but it was the eyes that got you…eyes that both saw you as you really were, and still accepted you. Stan and I stood before the One who had made sense of our scatterbrained, artificial lives…and everything made sense. We could do no more than bow and close our eyes before Him, the One who had created us, who had died for us, and had made it possible for us to come to Paradise.
And then I heard it again…the strains of “You Can Call Me Al.” But this time I sensed that it wasn’t a full orchestra, and it was followed by the nasally sound of a DJ.
“Eighty-six degrees the expected temperature this afternoon in the Valley….”
I opened my eyes and sadly found myself back in my San Fernando home, in the bed in my room. The walls were dim and dreary, and the things I had cherished were around me, no longer worth anything. On an impulse, I lifted my sheet and looked down at the lower portion of my body. Everything was still there.
And as much of a relief that might seem, I knew that when the time came, I would be willing to give it all up. And I hope that day came soon.