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Stories from the Verse
For Better or Verse
Chapter 64: Hastings 114
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Chapter 63: Slade 69
In fairness, Lauren had been attempting something incredibly difficult, even difficult to explain. She wanted to draw back her beautiful compound bow, psionically mark a target point as the place to hit, and magically create an arrow on the string, pretty much within a few seconds. She had gone over exactly what to do several times--she had even attempted a dry run, thinking through the steps and drawing the bow without actually doing it. She was never quite sure where it went wrong. All she knew was that as she drew the bowstring back and tried to think of two other things at once, she felt a very misplaced surge of power, and the ground beneath her opened and swallowed her.
She expected that she was falling into the volcano, into the interior of the planet, to be buried or burned alive. The magic she had accidentally worked was much more powerful than that. She wound up sitting on what seemed to be a cloud. Her gear had followed her, and was in fact collected about her in a quite orderly fashion, as if she had gathered and packed it all for the trip herself. While she was trying to get her bearings, someone spoke to her.
She answered even as she looked up. "Yes," she said, and hesitated as she tried to make sense of the image before her eyes. Someone might have said that it looked like an elephant; yet Lauren immediately thought it did not look at all like an elephant. It was not big enough, for starters, being only about five feet tall. It did have a long nose which draped in front of its mouth and proved to be prehensile as it helped her to her feet; and its ears were similar in structure, with large flaps that hung over. Its legs were too long, too thin, too agile for the mass of its round body, though, much more like those of a horse, suggesting that it could travel at great speeds if it wished. Also its eyes, forward facing and not in any way panoramic as most herbivores, were large, dark, with a deep inner depth for which Lauren wanted to use the word soulful. It was not gray, either; at least, Lauren did not think it was gray, although she could not say what color it was. It was, she said, as if it was some color that could not exist, a color I could not perceive, but which was so dynamic and exciting that even without seeing it I could sense that it was there. There were no tusks; the mouth seemed to have lips and teeth of a sort that enabled it to articulate English quite well. Yet she was not certain whether it spoke in English, or whether she merely heard English as it spoke. "I'm human," she finished.
"Earther?" it asked, and she nodded in the affirmative, not at all certain whether she could find her voice for the moment. "That's Peter's department. Anyone seen Peter?" This latter he called somewhat louder, causing her to glance around and to notice for the first time that in the vast white world in which she found herself there were hundreds, perhaps thousands, of creatures of many different kinds, but also many of each kind. It did not strike her until later that she could clearly see far more creatures than could possibly be close enough for her to see clearly; yet it did not appear at all crowded, as they seemed scattered about singly and in small groups. Sometimes it appeared that the image overlapped itself, as if two things were in the same place and yet clearly weren't. She eventually wondered whether, as with the color, that world had dimensions she could not perceive, which her limited mind reduced to the three she knew; and that by having more dimensions, it was easier for people to be closer to each other.
Her mind was caught by the name, the familiar name, the beast had used. "Peter?" she asked. "You mean, Saint Peter?"
"Oh, well, I guess so," it said. "But we're all saints here, so we don't usually stand on formality. Here he comes now." And indeed a man approached, rather rushed.
"I'm sorry I wasn't here to meet you," he said. "I don't always understand it all; but apparently you were supposed to have a moment here alone first."
Lauren looked at this man--for he was certainly more like a man than any creature here, and in some sense more like a man than any man she had ever met. There was something of Merlin in him, that mystery and power that was just below the surface. There was something of Father James, in the humility and goodness and courage. Yet this was such a shallow consideration of the presence she had entered. Lauren was Baptist; but at this moment she began to understand the much-vilified Catholic practice of Veneration of the Saints. This being was at once ancient and infant, wise and playful, brilliant and foolish, powerful and weak, great and humble. She could hardly find words, hardly find voice, in his presence. The voice with which he spoke was at once that of a simple man and a thunderclap. Nothing was ordinary about him; and nothing was not ordinary.
"Am I," she started, "am I dead?"
"Oh," he laughed, "nothing so wonderful as that, Lauren. You have many years ahead before you come to stay here. Don't worry; your rest will come. You are not yet ready for it--even after a hundred seventy-eight years in paradise, you were eager for something to do, some enemy to fight. The enemy is still there, and you are still on the front lines. The time will come when you will join the battle and rest that is here, help us from this vantage, but now you're still needed in the field."
"I see. Then, is this heaven?"
"That's not so easy to answer. Perhaps it is as Milton suggested, that there are layers in heaven, and this is the lowest. Perhaps this is Ezekiel's vision of the temple, and you are in the outer court. Or as Jack Lewis once wrote, this may be the Valley of the Shadow of Life. If you were actually in heaven, it is doubtful you would ever leave--at least, never go farther from it than this again. Only Paul ever entered into heaven and returned to earth, and God still hasn't told him whether that really happened or was only a vision."
Lauren considered her next question. "There is so much I want to know, so many unanswered problems, disputes about doctrines, issues to settle--"
He interrupted her gently. "It is not permitted for those of us who have gone ahead to settle such matters; you who are alive must struggle with them and find the answers for yourselves, and more than that you must understand and love each other despite the disagreements."
"What of my friends, Bob Slade and Joe Kondor? They don't believe the gospel; they strongly believe something else. Yet it appears that God is sending them to many worlds even as he sends me. Will they do all this for God, and be lost?"
"You know better than to ask that question. That is not your story. It is good that you care, and important that you minister to their needs, answer their questions, and continue to be the light you have been. But I cannot tell you their ends. I can tell you yours, that you will be here with us when you reach the end of your work in the material worlds, because you have within you that assurance of salvation already. God has promised that He will not lose you, Lauren; thus you already know, perhaps better than I, that you will be here in the end."
She nodded. There seemed nothing else to ask or say--but perhaps for one thing.
"Why am I here now?"
The saint, who had all along been smiling, with a look of joy on his face, did something that exceeded smiling by so much as smiling is happier than death; again, she would never be able to describe this in any way that could convey even the idea, nor even clearly picture it in her memory. "You are moving to another world in a different way than usual. You will find your task, or it will find you; you will find help, or it will find you. Your notions of failure and success may become confused beyond measure; but you will not fail. And I am to give you these things to help you in this." So saying, he handed her three objects. She took them, hardly noticing them.
"What do I do?"
"What you always do."
"Where do I go?"
"There is a door before you even now, if you will see it."
"When do I start?"
"As soon as you are ready."
At that instant, Lauren was alone. Her wagon was behind her, and in front of her on the cloud was a large wooden double door that made her think of entering the dining hall of a palace. There was no wall, no building, nothing but the door. She opened it, and saw only darkness through it. But of course it's dark, she thought. How could any world appear light from the vantage of the edge of heaven? Grabbing the handle of her wagon, taking one last glance around to make sure she was not forgetting anything and another longer look to make sure she would never forget this place, she walked into another universe.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with ten other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #183: Verser Transitions. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter. It may contain spoilers of upcoming chapters.
As to the old stories that have long been here: