Chapter Six: The City of God
I had expected to be disappointed as we entered the New Jerusalem, as I assumed there would be no way that it could meet the glorious expectations I had read and heard over the years, but if anything, the effect was greater than I could imagine.
I have already said something of the great size of the city, and the sheer magnificence of it. I expected the golden glory to lose its attraction once I had spent some time in it, but I found myself marveling at the cool, soft effect the substance had on my feet, and I looked around d to see if someone could explain it. Chao noticed my expression, and stepped forward.
“The gold used here is different than gold as men have known it, indeed it would have to be” she explained.
“As you can see, more gold has been used here in New Jerusalem than existed before in all the world. Also, the gold men knew was much fought-over, and used in slave trading, robbery, and all manner of vice, so that it would in no way be fit for such Holy purpose.
“This gold, though it looks much like the gold men knew, is different stuff, in that it was made by the virtue and true great goodness of God. Every charity, every act of faith, every hope renewed by kindness, made this gold as a by-product, and His angels have brought it all here, to be built into the Holy City. It is light and pure, and so is the cause of only good effect. No injury will happen in this city, no vile desire, nor even the smallest petty spirit. The gold used here was not for its human value, but to serve the Holy values of God, that there might be a place on Earth where God and Man might truly commune.”
As Chao finished, I saw that our group had formed a circle, and we all sat on a carpet, laid on the floor and made up of a beautifully intricate pattern, which on another occasion might have commanded my attention. But just then James spoke:
“Let us pray”
I bowed my head and waited for him to continue, then realized we were each of us to pray silently. In a further moment, I suddenly realized I could hear everyone’s thoughts in prayer, and joined my own as if part of a dance in words, praising God for His love and hope and grace, and asking His blessing for this place and for each other. It was as if we all formed the same thoughts in the same moment, and in that instant I detected another, the Holy Spirit, moving among us and touching our hearts, ministering to our deepest needs, even when they were unknown to our own minds. The effect of this, somehow, was to unite us in spirit and adoration of the Divine, but without losing our identity, like a note both raised and lowered two octaves to gain both clarity and profundity. We remained ourselves, yet became one greater than the sum of our selves.
I sensed others in different parts of the city joining in, and I realized that others had preceded us in that same chorus of joy and delight. I had, in an instant, the notion that somehow Bach and Mozart, Plato and Pascal, Ellington and Joplin, and other shad glimpsed something of this communion, and each expressed it as they were able.
How long we went on in prayer, I do not know, but it did not matter. When we finished, like the final resolving chord of a hymn, we all rose refreshed and content, as if the prayer had been the best of relaxation and rest, and so it was, for us.The light seemed to come from everywhere, and I realized that we ourselves had become sources of light, either creating it or at least reflecting it on everything and everyone around us.I also learned additional secrets to the city, as we explored. New Jerusalem had something of the same strange physics that we had utilized in coming from Heaven to Earth, and I found we could travel as near or far as we needed to in a single stride. You simply had to set your perspective to the task.You could hear the details of any conversation, by simply stopping and paying close attention. And I realized that every conversation was enthusiastic, hopeful, kind, and happy. This too, fed my spirit.I also saw, that within the walls, New Jerusalem had many vibrant colors, rather than being the monochrome I had expected. Every color was visible in this place or that, although green seemed to be very popular (probably as a complement to the gold).As we walked through the streets, I was impressed by the fact that here were people from every nation and race created by God. As promised in the Bible, none had been forgotten. I saw an Amish couple talking with a Samaritan man, and some Eskimos were kicking a ball back and forth with a group of Thai children.We walked through the city for hours on end, but neither tired nor lost interest. It seemed impossible to become bored or jaded here. My comments here hardly do justice to a place, where it seemed all hopes and dreams were brought to pass.Talese cleared her throat, and we all turned.“It is time to move on, to keep some promises” - she looked pointedly at Gregor, who nodded abruptly, the first solemn look I had seen since we arrived here. Together, we passed again through the walls of New Jerusalem, and I hoped it would not be overlong, before I could return here
As we left New Jerusalem behind, I felt like we were traveling away from the sun. Of course, the visual effects alone could do that, but even so, I felt a drop in energy and mood as we flew back towards Eastern Europe. Looking around, it seemed that most of us felt that way.Except for Gregor. who appeared very eager to see his homeland. And, I noticed, Bernadette also seemed excited to see the former land of the Czars. The others seemed as before, a little depressed to be leaving New Jerusalem behind, although Richard seemed as uneasy as before, and again I wondered about him.Below us, the forests of Bavaria sped by, and I imagined I could see something of the homeland of Bach and Gutenberg, but since everyone was intend on points further East, I decided not to ask if we could stop now. As I regarded Chao, Rilka, Talese, and Richard, I wondered if we might be visiting their homes, as well.
At last, Gregor’s homeland came into view, and I realized we were not bound for Russia, but Ukraine. And what a Ukraine!In books, I had seen something of Kiev and like places, always drab and poor, the people always unhappy and suffering. Not so here!The Kiev we entered was a showplace of celebration and joy, almost like what Walt Disney had hoped for in his theme parks, before the rides and vendors took over the place. And everywhere there were children, more than I had seen in any other place.
This, apparently, was what Bernadette had been eager to see, as she swept up a few children in an eager hug, as more came running. Apparently, some of our group were already well known here, and people greeted us all with broad smiles and enthusiasm. I found, to my great surprise, that I could understand and speak Ukrainian, though I couldn’t and can’t write in that language.We enjoyed a great deal of music and dancing, and a lot of beer and sausage. I felt guilty at first, until Gregor assured me that now, you didn’t get drunk off the beer, and the sausage was not made from any animal. I also discovered, to my relief, that I didn’t get gas anymore.Gregor left us some time during the festival, and I realized he was looking for his family. From his relaxed smile when he returned, I surmised he had found what he hoped to see. Bernadette was very popular with the children, as was Talese, who found herself dancing with them, although she claimed it was ‘foolish and undignified’ for her to do so. I noticed, however, that after she sat down, when the children returned, she did not disappoint them.
A great number of men seemed to recognize Richard and approached him, but he said nothing. James explained that Richard was not allowed to speak, but the men did not accept this from him, and after a while, I had to step in to prevent an argument.
As we walked back to our table, I remarked to James, “You owe me. Later, you gotta tell me what’s up with Richard, OK?” James simply nodded.
After a while, I noticed the children had left us, and asked some of the adults, and they explained the children were sleeping. It was then that I realized that there was no sun, and so no sunset or sunrise. Hours had passed, and there were no shadows to show the passage. I wondered a little at this, but I was not tired, and there seemed much more to do and sing, so I noted the thought, and together we praised God and celebrated the new life in this good Earth.
Perhaps the strangest effect of this new earth wasn’t how the physics of space were different here, but time was altered as well, somehow. I realized that a great deal of time had passed, and what seemed like hours to me, may well have been weeks, even years!I wondered what the children had dreamed about. I was curious to see if I could sleep and find out for myself, but I wasn’t tired. It seemed that everything I did in this new world was a matter of choice, even eating and resting. I wouldn’t have been surprised to find it so in Heaven, but here it seemed very strange.I wondered about the men who had confronted James, and I was puzzled. I had the distinct impression that the men had almost been to the point of fighting James, and his behavior seemed to indicate that he believed the same. Could men still sin here?Bernadette came over to me as Talese began to gather our group together. Apparently we were getting ready to leave Kiev. Bernadette sat down next to me, and I realized we had a little while.“I see something troubles you” she said, and she touched my hand with her long, cool fingers. Suddenly, I felt very much out of place, but Bernadette’s intense gaze allowed me no escape.
“I thought -” I began, and Bernadette encouraged me on with a kind look.
“I thought sin was to be no more, but now I fear that men may still sin.
“If so, I worry how I may conduct myself. I might lose all I have gained!”
I worried for a moment that Bernadette might laugh, but she shook her head and smiled gently.
“I worry the same, my friend.” she said. “But there is better hope for us than before.
“Stop for a moment, take your peace, and contemplate your heart.”
It seemed kind of a zen thing for a nun to say, but I had no better answer, so I paused, took a breath, closed my eyes, and looked within.For a few moments I sensed nothing but my passing confusion, and I almost thought the peace of reflection and introspection was what Bernadette meant. Then, of a sudden, I saw my own heart of spirit, and within its halls, seated sideways on a comfortable-looking chair, which looked suspiciously throne-like, was Jesus Christ.
“Hi Daniel!” said Jesus [He actually used my *new* name, but I’m not writing it here]. “I like what you’ve done with the place, especially kicking out the idols and hedonism.Go on back to Bernadette, we can talk later.”
I waved sheepishly, shrugged, and opened my eyes. Bernadette was looking closely at me, with an amusement I didn’t understand, until I suddenly realized that every believer had Jesus in his/her heart, literally. Such a presence would be proof against temptation, so long as we kept Him there. I had heard it enough in sermons, but to actually be able to see Him there was something else entirely.
“This is an advantage for everyone who has accepted Christ. They never walk alone, and need never face temptation or evil without defense.
“Not that you will find many who sin here now. Satan has been chained, so no one is encouraged to do wrong, except he chooses it plainly by himself. What’s more, there is much to prevent deception. I will not tell you to try to deceive, but if you were to try, you would now find it very difficult to evade the truth. This place now is one where honesty and virtue are plainly understood and seen, and everyone openly chooses their course. Everyone has enough time, enough resources, and those who would work together, can do so now with no fear of fraud or theft.” A short distance away, we saw Talese sternly wave us over. It was time to move on.
As we flew from Kiev, I realized I was better able to control my flight. So I sped up a little to even up with James, who nodded to me.
“You want to know about Richard?” he asked.
“Yes, of course” I confirmed.
“But I also wanted to ask you about perspective. Is it me, or is everything bigger on this new Earth?”
James laughed.“Yes, everyone picks up on that in a little while. Part of it is, we are in a greater reality, and by greater, I mean the scale and depth is kicked up some. But also, this Earth has to be able to show every good thing done in its history, and that really adds up to quite a lot.
“Kiev, for instance. It was a lot bigger than you remember, right?”
I nodded.“Well, there’s more than a thousand years of history in that city, and for all the evil that men did, there was a lot of love, alot of compassion, a lot of hope and good that was made there, and it all needs to be available for anyone who lived there before, or visits now.
“Look at the city lights below!”
I immediately understood what James meant. Flying over Eastern Europe and Western Asia before, I had always been struck by how dark and dismal that part of the world was. Now, lights twinkled below as if expressing joy and humor which had been too-long suppressed.
James continued his explanation:“It also contains the space for its potential. You won’t believe what Vegas looks like!”
I laughed, thinking how James might be impressed by all the lights and glamour, but he caught my thought and laughed back.
“Ohhhh no, no casinos, and none of the sex stuff!
“I mean that Las Vegas had a ton of potential, and now that all the deceit and temptation has been removed, the people there can really explore its possibilities. You do know, that Las Vegas has more churches per capita, than any other city on the continent?”
I suddenly realized what James was saying, and I was now eager to see what kind of turnaround Vegas had made.
“Thanks” I said. “Now, about Richard. Why isn’t he allowed to speak, and why did those men come up on him in Kiev like that?”
“I can’t tell you everything, Daniel,” said James, “but I can say this: Richard was a man of some dominion in his life, and he was able to sway people with speech.“Talese received orders from the Boss, and it seems that Richard needs to think long and hard about what he did with his talents, lest he get into trouble again too quickly.
“She’ll speak to you about it, though, before you go back to Hell.”
I shot a look at James, but he was getting ready to land, as we all approached the Northeastern Chinese village of Liaoyang. Chao’s obvious excitement showed the clear reason for this stop.
Liaoyang was smaller than I expected, given James’ explanation that every place would contain all of its people and history. The whole of the village could hold only a few thousand, so in its prime, it must still have been modest, indeed.But as I walked around, I became aware of something else about the village, which was greater than Kiev’s majesty.
Almost everyone seemed to be connected to someone else. The family connections which I had observed in Kiev (a slight, invisible but discernable line between people) between family members was very common here, and I realized that friends in Liaoyang were as close as family in Kiev, and family in Liaoyang was very strong here indeed! I had the impression that these were bonds of devotion and caring beyond any I had seen before, and I counted myself blessed to be able to see it.We allowed Chao to find her family, while we met with the village people. There was no festival as we had seen in Kiev, but all the same, we were made to feel welcome, and by the Grace of God’s planning, we found ourselves again able to speak easily, in some common language I found I knew, though I had never heard it before. A light, musical dialect, which in some ways reminded me of Cantonese, though it was not structured like it. A whim took me on a tour of the village, and in a few moments I was alone.
I heard a voice call out, and thinking it was one of he village children, I turned-And was struck full in the face with something fast, round, muddy, and hard in the middle. I had been mudballed!
I suddenly realized the voice had called out “Nyaha!” just before impact, as if to make sure I got it right in the face.
Suddenly, I heard it again:”Nyahaa!”
I knew better, but turned anyway when I heard the voice, and again received a mudball on the side of my head.I whirled around, but saw no one. My attacker had complete advantage.
I decided that numbers were always a good thing to have, so I tried to casually return to our group, and got hit three more times on the head and shoulders by my assailant before I saw the group again. When they saw me, I was immediately the center of attention. Rilka giggled a little bit, Richard looked like he wanted to say something, but was stopped by Talese, and Gregor handed me a towel, as two more missiles came in, and everyone gave me room. Talese peered at me for a long moment, then chuckled.
“Well, are you going to tell me you like getting hit with mud, or are you going to take care of your problem?” she inquired.
“Of course I want to fix this” I replied, as another missile and taunt landed on my ear. “Can you tell me what’s going on?”
“That should be obvious” Talese replied. ”Somebody wants to make you face a problem they have with you, and the Lord has decided to let you two square matters yourselves.”
“Fine” I said. “Why is it I didn’t get any warning, and why are they allowed to hit me without me even seeing them?”
Talese shrugged.“Guess you’ll find out when you take care of this.” she replied. ”Go ahead and clear this matter up, and we’ll wait for you.
“But be sure you don’t bring back that mud thrower here. I have no taste for these games!”
I muttered to myself as yet another mudball came in.
“And I do?” I asked under my breath, but at least I was able to duck this pitch.
My one-sided game of mudball became even less amusing, when I decided to try to evade my assailant. I had a thought, to jump/fly into the air, and so evade my attacker, but this time, when I jumped, I cleared a few inches, then - plunk -back on the ground. After a few tries, my attacker apparently, realized my limit, and the barrage of mud increased its pace and viscosity; I got the distinct impression my opponent was spitting on the mudballs now, before throwing them.I tried to run, I tried to duck, and somehow each new hit found a new place. I began to wonder where I could find a hot shower.I began to lose hope that I could handle this situation. I was out-positioned, out-supplied (the guy never seemed to run out of mud – he must have been launching from Boston), and I still had no idea what was going on.
“Pssssssssssssssssssst!”I looked to my right, and saw Richard waving at me, from inside a window.
“Pray!” he ordered, which seemed so strange, that I didn’t think he was serious. I began to think this was why they wouldn’t let Richard talk; maybe he liked to make fun of people in trouble.Another mudball accentuated the thought, as it landed on the back of my head, accompanied by the now-traditional cheer of derision.
”Pray!It will work!” He said again, and I realized he meant it. Well, a salvo of spit-covered mudballs had removed any real self-consciousness from me, so I hit the knees.
A few more landed on me, now an easy target, as I tried to think about what I should say.
“Lord, please remove from me this plague of mud?”
I heard motion to my right again, and realized that Richard had come out from the house.“Ask Jesus to help you know what to do” commanded Richard, and he wielded a large stick, like a baseball bat. For a moment I worried about my safety, but as the next mudball came in, Richard parried it neatly away, like a foul ball, and I realized he was buying me some time at risk to his own decorum. I also wondered if his help would get him in trouble. So I lowered my head, and I asked Jesus to show me the way.
For some time, I saw and felt nothing, but somehow I understood that I was to wait. As I did, I heard the whoosh of incoming mudballs, and the ’splut’ of Richard batting them away.Then I had a vision in my mind, of a young man I knew years before. I vaguely remembered him, then it came back to me, and I knew not only what had caused this situation to come about, but what I had to do.
I stood up straight, opened my eyes, and now, far in the distance, I could see him.
“OK, Mac” I called out. “Let’s talk!”
And I jumped in his direction, this time able to fly as before, although I trailed mud behind me.
Behind me I heard Richard call out ”Good Luck!”, and before me I heard Mac cry in alarm, and turn to run away, but I knew I would catch up to him.
I flew the distance between us, and tried to think of how I would resolve this situation. As I did, I became aware that I had no clue about what would settle the matter, but I realized that Richard had given me the answer already. So as I approached Mac, I drew within myself , and asked Jesus for His blessing on my effort, for His direction to my heart and mind, and His peace on the situation I was about to enter. If nothing else, I felt him calm my spirit, although I could swear I also heard Him remark ”It could be worse – there’s another guy in a similar situation, but he’s dealing with – well something not so nice as mud!”
I landed on an island, eerily reminiscent of a scene from a James Bond film. I knew Mac was here somewhere, but he had hidden himself before I arrived.The island was very quiet. I heard no animals, no birds, no insects even. Fortunately, for the moment, no mudballs or taunts either.I thought about Mac, and what had caused him to hate me. It was my fault, of course. Mac Lennon had been a friend of mine years ago, when we were both children. We had both had been harassed by bullies in our school. To my shame, I had discovered that the bullies would let me be, so long as I helped them bully Mac. I knew it was wrong, even as a 9-year old, but I went in with the bullies. I’d told Mac later, that I was sorry, but that really didn’t undo what I had done, and we had never been friends again. The strange thing was, Mac came from a very wealthy and powerful family. When he grew up, Mac had inherited a large company and lots of money, and he was smart and tenacious enough to build it up to even greater power and influence. I had heard it said, that Presidents of countries had to wait for Mr. Lennon’s convenience, when they wanted to see him, and absolutely no one laughed at him or demeaned him. Why, with all that power and success, was Mac chucking mudballs at me and laughing like a deranged prankster? As I thought about it further, I realized that maybe, after all these years, what Mac wanted were the things denied him when he didn’t enjoy influence and prestige.
And in a flash, I knew what I had to do.
“Alright, Mac” I cried out to the island. “I’m here. Say what you want to say, and do what you need to do. I’m right here”
Immediately, a barrage of mudballs came in again, and after the break, they were as nasty as before, but I didn’t move, and I said nothing. Just stood there in a rain of mud, and waited.Mac had a lot of mud to go through. After a while I couldn’t keep my mind from wandering just a little, and I wondered where he was getting all of this mud. I also wondered how he could keep it up this long. I had lost track of time, but I was sure he had been at it for hours, throwing mud and screaming.And getting closer, I realized. I took a mental breath, and prepared myself.
Finally, Mac came into view. He stopped when he saw I wasn’t running or ducking. He giggled for a while, to see me coated in slimy mud, but his face darkened to see I wasn’t properly angry or afraid.
“You’re not following the rules!” cried Mac, but I didn’t answer that.
“You’re suposed to be humiliated, like I was!” yelled Mac.
“I am humiliated” I answered. “Not because of the mud, but because I caused you such pain, Mac. I am sorry, and wish I had never done it.”
“Not good enough!” cried Mac, and he let loose with another barrage of mud. I realized that he was making the mud out of his own spite, and I wondered how it must feel to harbor that in your heart. I dismayed to recall, though, that this spite was of my making, however unintended. I lowered my head.
“Stop that!” ordered Mac, “I’m the victim, not you!”
“I know, and I’m sorry” I replied. This time, Mac stopped throwing mud, and turned to look at me from an angle.
“Really?” he asked. “Has it kept you awake, knowing what you did, wondering what you should have done, what you could do to make it up?”
“Actually, yes I did, Mac.” I answered. “Not for many years, I admit, but after I grew up and matured, I really wanted to say I was sorry.
“But by then you had private residence and unlisted numbers. I never had the kind of influence people needed to talk to you. You became important, and no one saw you unless you asked first.”
“There is that” allowed Mac, and he let a handful of mud slip from his hands. For a while neither of us said anything, but I knew the next word had to be his. Finally, Mac pointed to a nearby bench.
“Let’s talk, OK?”
We sat and Mac let out a long history of anguish and self-rebuke. I understood, at a level I never had before, how even a casual insult could hurt so deeply that a life could be derailed by it, and I wanted to punch myself. I had done a number of good things in the later part of my life, and relatively few cruel things. So, I had convinced myself that all in all, I was a pretty decent sort. Now, I understood that just because I could forget about things I had done long ago, it didn’t take away their wrong, or the pain they caused, or the damage . I started to cry, and after a few moments (I was covered in mud, after all), Mac hugged me, and told me he was sorry, and it was going to be all right. Somehow, we both got the idea to pray, and for a moment, I worried about messing things up. Mac was Roman Catholic, after all, and I was a dumb Protestant who vaguely remembered the Catholics had some different prayers, but I didn’t know any of them. Fortunately, we ended up praying together for Christ’s forgiveness, understanding, and to renew our friendship.
In that moment, he was with us, and I saw Him lay His hands on Mac’s shoulders, looking deep into his eyes.
“Well done, good friend and faithful servant. Be at peace, and enter in to the joy I have prepared for you.”
Mac grinned, waved at me, and said, “See you later, Daniel.“Good luck, and I’ll catch uip with you later on, OK?”
With that, he vanished, and I knew Mac was in Heaven. Jesus turned back to me, and I wondered what He might say. I sure could use a blessing right then.
Jesus smiled, and said to me, “Whew! You need a shower!”
When I came out from my shower, cleaning the last (hopefully) of the mud from my ears and hair, I saw Jesus waiting for me, as He hop-scotched across a grid which, I realized, had written phrases in place of numbers.As I came closer, I realized they were the Ten Commandments.Hearing me approach, Jesus stopped. On Commandment #9, I saw.
“That’s better.” He observed, “In more ways than one.”
“I know” I answered. “Out of curiosity, how much of this is your plan, or am I affecting this by my own will somehow?”
“A little of both. You are doing My will now, because - finally - you are obeying Me. But this path was determined to resolve your own issues.
“It wouldn’t make much sense for you to go around resolving someone else’s issues, at least while your own are stil out there.”
I grimaced, and Jesus chuckled.
“It’s not all that bad” He assured me.“You are doing what I command now, which is certainly to the good, and it’s helping you grow.
“You’ll need that for some of the tasks still ahead of you. But now that you’ve finished here, I shall send you back to Talese and the others. They have been waiting a while, and it’s time you spoke for Richard, else he will be scorned wrongly.Jesus put his hand on my shoulder, and looked me in the eye. This time, I managed not to flinch.“What I send you now to do, I give also strength and support sufficient to your need. Remember that, when the time comes that you may otherwise doubt.”
I heard movement from behind me, and turned to see I was back in China. I turned back, and Jesus was gone.
Talese stepped forward, and crossed her arms.“Well, at least you smell better” she said. “Now, what is this I hear about you letting Richard talk?”
nodded, and stepped over to Richard, who looked as though he had been having a hard time of things.
“Yes, Richard was very helpful to me” I said. “While you and the others just wanted me to go away and not bother you with my trouble, Richard chose to help.
“Whatever he has done wrong, in this he was a friend to me.”
Richard brightened and straightened his shoulders. The others looked embarassed and stared at the ground, except for Talese, who scowled at me, but I held her gaze quietly, and after a few seconds, she looked away and coughed.
“I saw the Lord speaking with you a little while ago” she said. “I suppose you know where we will go next?”
And as she asked, I realized that I did.
The others looked at me expectantly. ”Richard and I will be going to Hell, along with a friend of mine” I said, and I inwardly chuckled at their reaction. “Everyone else will continue. Richard will be with you later on,” (at which comment, Richard relaxed) “but I don’t know if I will be able to rejoin you during this trip or not. I would like to, but there is much to do now.”
Judas laughed “Don’t we know it!” he said. ”I heard all my life, how the next life was supposed to be easy and relaxing.”
I laughed back. “Hey, I’m having fun!”
Talese peered at me quietly.“Are you sure about this?” she demanded. I saw the concern in her eyes.
“Thanks, Talese. Yes, I’m sure, and yes, we’ll be fine. Thank you for thinking about us.”
"Hmpf. Just don’t get stuck there” said Talese.“Looks like your ride’s here.”
I turned, and Jesus was walking into our group, with someone I had not seen for years.
“Ready?” He asked us.
I knelt down, and hugged my old friend Arf, the dog I had back in high school. She was delighted to see me, and both she and Richard seemed pleased to meet each other. I stood up and nodded, aware of backpacks which had appeared by our feet.
“Very ready” I confirmed.
“Then be about My work” He commanded us, with a smile.
“Go with my blessing, commission, and ministry.”
Jesus put one hand on my shoulder, the other on Richard’s, and I felt us move to the dank, cold regions of the damned. For all my confidence and trust, I inwardly took a deep breath, and prayed I wouldn’t screw this up.We found ourselves in a warm, rancid cavern. Distant screams could be heard. I knew we were on a deeper level than the one I had seen before, and there was real danger here.
ichard and I looked at each other, then we put on our backpacks. I suddenly realized I was wearing a white jumpsuit, with gold lightning bolts up the seams. I felt a little like Elvis, but I knew if I started singing, my companions would laugh or leave very quickly.
Richard looked at me with a gimlet eye.“I help you with your problem, and you thank me by yanking me along, on your field trip to the Inferno?” he inquired.
“Chill out” said Arf, in a much deeper voice than I remembered from her. ”There’s a reason for everything, and you know how little of your walk you have done so far.”
Richard looked at the ground again, and I wondered how much I knew, against what I might need to know. Arf cocked her head at me and smiled.
“C’mon, Pookah.” she said, ”We got work to do, so let’s get going”
“Pookah?” I inquired.“Hey sure, if you can name me after a cartoon dog in a comic strip, I can call you whatever I want.” answered the dog.
“So, what do you want me to call you?” I asked. “It’s not as if you could tell me before.”Besides, you know my dad named you, not me.”
The dog chuckled.
“Just teasing.” she replied. ”Remember, although I had my identity, I didn’t have a name like humans do when I was on Earth.“And I can’t tell you my new name Jesus gave me, so how about you just call me ‘Arf’, until I think of something I like better.”
I nodded, and we moved out. A swirling wind whipped us with hot, then cold gusts, and the smells alternated with each blow between fetid and a sharp sour stench.I heard feet running towards us in the dim light, and I felt my clothing stiffen and turn hard, like the enameled plastic of a football helmet. Glancing to the side, I saw Arf and Richard similarly protected, as something small and light bounced off my hip. A few others arrived with the same effect. Then hundreds more fell into us, a screaming mass of futility and after a few minutes of this, I saw Richard start to laugh at the sheer lunacy of all this. I knew a bit about what was going on, though, and I waved him off. He nodded and stopped laughing, but grinned despite himself.The leader of this small army glared up at me, a caricature of every noble virtue I had seen on a human face. Now I had to struggle to keep from laughing at this arrogant little man. I thought about where we were, and the stakes, took a deep breath, and addressed the group.
“Hello, my brothers. Are you lost?”