Heavens

"Another beautiful, sunny day," Frank muttered, dryly as he screwed the lid on the can of metal polish. He had been up for three hours, since the first crack of dawn, polishing his harp, smoothing out the wrinkles in his flawless gown, and wiping and buffing everything he could get his hands on. He didn't know why, he just had this strange compulsion to do so. No dust, no dirt, no soil. Must be clean. He remembered that ever since he came here, he was that way. And singing too. Before, he couldn't carry a tune in a bucket, but now, he was singing the loudest "Hosannas" with the rest of them. The harp, (the only other harp he had seen was the one "Harpo" Marx played) and now he was playing it, and polishing it and dusting it.

"Are you ready to go, Brother Franklin?", a sweet, too sweet, voice said.

Frank didn't have to look up. It was Stephanie. At another time, in another place, he would have immediately been up and at her side. She was so youthful, her rosy cheeks and strawberry blond hair setting off her flawless pale complexion.

"The Lord will be waiting for us."

"The Lord," mumbled Frank. He remembered how he used to get choked up with emotion just thinking about spending an eternity with Him, and how everything would be perfect and beautiful.

They left the immaculate room and stepped out into the street. The gold cobblestones glittered in the sunlight and cast gilded, shimmering beams onto the alabaster walls of the nearby buildings. Ahead a large wall had a giant mural. It was a mosaic of emeralds, rubies and other precious stones and depicted Christ at the Last Supper. Someone had told him that Michelangelo did it as an encore. He remembered standing in awe, the first time he was it, but now it was commonplace.

"Stephanie, I think I'm not filled with rapture as I was when I first came here I'm worried." Frank said quietly.

"Think of the alternative", Stephanie reminded him.

He lowered his head watching his sandals scuff up the gold. Even the magical way the luster returned to the stone failed to excite him.

The alternative. Yes, the alternative. Once he asked one of the messengers about all of the others that weren't here. Especially his friends from before he was 'born again'. The messenger took him upon a mountain where rows of telescopes were arraigned. They were like the regular observation telescopes that are at scenic places, except these took no money, you just pushed a button for a five minute view, and they were gold. So much gold, everything is gold! He had walked up to one, pushed the button and looked. Far, far away he could see the others. He could barely make them out, running naked — or being chased through the rocks and brush. Endless running, endless toil, horned devils shouting orders to them. The scene was even more horrible from the fire. Fire everywhere, turning the whole scene into Crimson. it was horrible.

"Watch your step, Franklin," scolded Stephanie.

Frank looked up to see the large white columns that flanked the gold doors to the Lord's chambers. They shuffled up the stairs and were ushered in by a messenger that took them directly to their seats. The music was already in progress. They sat down in time to sing their parts.

The singing and praise continued for hours. Frank's mind wandered. He was thinking of the times before and of the fiery place of his old friends that he would never see again.

"Franklin, Franklin, "

Frank sat up straight, the music had stopped.

"Franklin," the voice from the raised seat at the front said again.

"Yes, Lord?"

"Franklin, your mind has not been on My praises."

"Oh no, Lord," said Frank. He then remembered that no one holds secrets from the Lord. "Yes, Lord."

"Franklin, I want you to have a talk with the messenger, Xavier, in the anteroom, now." The Lord said in his calm, smooth voice.

At least he didn't sound hostile, thought Frank, not like the time he had the confrontation with the money-changers.

Frank got up and turned to leave, and was happy that everyone returned to singing and took no notice of him. The messenger met him at the door.

"Sit down, Franklin," he said motioning to a gold inlaid chair with gold brocade cloth.

"We're worried," said the messenger," and quite frankly, the Lord thinks that you may have to leave us."

"Leave here!"

"Yes, it's happened before, only rarely though. You had a strong faith, Franklin, what happened?"

"I don't know," Frank said haltingly, "I really don't know. I was happy when I first cane here. But as the newness and wonder wore off, some of my faith went too. Before I came here, I remember that gold was so precious, but here it is so common that its lost its interest to me. So many things that I held as rare and beautiful, now seem so commonplace that they have lost their value. I don't care about them anymore."

"And that is as it should be. Love only the Lord, and only Him shalt thou Serve.”

"But there is more-more beside this eternal praising. We don't even need to eat anymore. And nights are the most horrible we are so rested that we need no rest."

"Franklin, I'm afraid that you are worse off than I expected. The Lord was right, you will have to leave here. Return to your quarters until an escort can be arraigned."

Frank turned slowly, and started to leave. He stopped and turned as if to ask for reconsideration, but turned back again, remembering the Lord's word was law. He continued on his way, wondering, what will it be like, how hot is the Fire, where will I be taken.

Back at his roan he laid back on his bed, staring at the immaculate ceiling.

Dawn!

"Franklin," a voice said quietly.

Frank opened his eyes. He had been sleeping. it was the first sleep, or need for sleep he had since he came here.

"Franklin, it's time."

Frank got up without a word and followed the messenger. They walked quietly down through the quiet streets, the gold sun making the gold streets even more gold. Through the streets, past the white buildings, on and on until they reached the walls of the city. Before them stood the Golden Gates.

"Franklin, I'll miss you." it was Stephanie.

Frank looked up and smiled, the gates opened and he walked out.

"You must follow the road to the end," the messenger said, "good bye and may you remember us."

Frank set off down the road. His head hung down.

"Now what am I supposed to do? I thought that Heaven was to be the final place. What is in store for me?"

Frank stopped. He noticed his sandals. They were dirty. For the first time in a long time, he was dirty and you know it didn't feel bad. He looked up and around. Grass, trees. It was then Frank realized what he had been missing. The final realization before — before what?

As he turned the corner of the hillock he saw it. The fiery pit. The heat was intense. He walked to the edge and looked down, a sea for fire. Slowly he walked to the bridge and looked across. The bridge glowed red and through the haze he could see the devil on the other side, beckoning to him.

"Well if it has to be, it has to be," Frank said to himself.

He had never felt so alone in his life. No one around, no messengers, no one except the devil on the other side. He started across. It was hot, but it did not burn him. He watched as his sandals went up in smoke and his once flawless garment burst into flame.

"It didn't burn me", he exclaimed, "It didn't burn!"

Looking up he saw the devil.

"Well here I am, ready but not willing for my punishment."

"Punishment?", said the horned man, "What do you mean, punishment!"

"Punishment for failing to trust in the Lord, for losing my faith!"

"Why should you be punished for thinking?", asked the horned man.

"The Lord expects us to worship Him and do His bidding to remain in Heaven", replied Frank.

"Come," said the horned man. "Walk with me."

They walked down the path, away from the fiery pit. Frank noticed that the hills were still green, not red as he had seen through the telescope.

"If you're wondering why all of this is not red and burning as it sewed through the telescope, well, don't forget that you were looking at this place through the flames of the pit."

As they descended the hill, he could see others, his friends from before and many others, some lying on the grass, some working and some just playing, chasing others through the trees and bushes.

"This is not at all what I expected."

"Of course not," said the horned man. "Everyone makes their own Heaven and Hell and sometime they're the same. The people you left behind feel the need to perpetually worship an exalted being. The man called Jesus, accepted the job, but it gets boring to him too. He vacations here every so often. No doubt he will look you up the next time he's here. The people here want to help each other and to help the people you left behind, that's why they are working now. They keep the fires burning, so the ones you left won't feel too free of guilt that they didn't do enough to save us. Welcome to the Summerland, now there's a Lady I want you to meet."

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