It was not far along and the ground improved. A hardy desert grass obscured the path, but it was a welcomed sign. Glen felt sure he was getting somewhere, and it was not much further before he smelled the green. His eyes caught it moments later, though it was still far off He heard the wail of the men that followed him and thought they might stop and might even go back to their cave. They did not stop, and he was actually glad for the company, poor as it was.
“There is life up ahead,” Glen spoke to the air. “I can see the green and smell it in the air.”
“It is perdition. It is purgatory. It is death.” The three men responded to Glen’s words. Glen could not see it, but he did decide it would not hurt to walk carefully and keep his eyes open.
“Now gentlemen.” He spoke up so they could hear him. “I don’t know what perdition is, I don’t believe in purgatory and life isn’t death so there you go. Besides, it smells like home – not mine, mind you. Like Dorothy where if you go looking for your heart’s desire you don’t have to look any further than your own back yard.” The others said nothing.
It did not take long to see the big house behind the trees, and it was a real big house like an old southern plantation home or the kind of manor house sometimes found on out of the way roads in England. It also did not take long to see the chain link fence. It was laid out perfectly. Scruffy, dull green tufts of thick grass with barren brown dirt between was on one side and a lush carpet of green, well landscaped with trees, bushes and flowers was on the other.
“What is with the fence?” Glen turned at last to face his three followers.
“There is a sign,” the Leader responded and the Officer pointed a short way down the fence.
“What, no Cheshire cat to go with it?” Glen was joking but they were not smiling so he lost his grin, stepped down and read. “Keep out. You are not welcome or wanted here.” He turned to look at the three, but they looked surprised. They whispered before the Leader asked.
“What sign are you reading?”
Glen raised his brows and pointed to the sign. “This one right here.”
“But that is not what it says,” the Treasurer said.
The Leader hushed the man and read the sign he saw. “Welcome. Come around and in by the gate and you can have a mansion of your own.”
Glen squinted at the sign. He did not see it. He squinted at the three men in their pompous rags, and decided to encourage them toward something better. “So, why don’t you take them up on the offer? It sounds pretty good. New clothes, I bet. A warm, comfortable bed to sleep, food whenever you like and who knows what all.” He let his voice trail off because they looked horrified by the whole idea.
“But I need to be the leader,” the Leader said.
“And I need to decide everything,” the Officer said.
“And I need to keep the accounts,” the Treasurer said. “And all the money.”
They turned as one and began back they way they came. There was no chance of saying anything more even if Glen could think of something to say. He looked again at the sign. It clearly said, “Keep out.”
“Pardon me.” Glen turned and saw a man through the fence. He smiled because the man was smiling, but he held his tongue. “Why are you on the wrong side of the fence?” the man asked. “You should be in here. I am certain.” Glen watched as a young woman came to join the man and add her smile to the group.
“The sign says Keep out.” Glen responded.
“Not possible,” the man said. “Surely you belong here.”
“You certainly don’t belong there,” the woman added.
“Story of my life. I don’t belong here but I don’t belong there either.” Glen lost his smile and had a sudden insight. “Your home is in heaven?”
“Yes, certainly,” the man said.
The woman looked up at the man. “It must be. It can only be heaven.”
Glen nodded and turned away. He ran to catch up to the three men but never found them and never passed them. When he got back to the cave they were not there, either. It did not make sense, but he thought overall the whole adventure made more sense then he imagined it should. He squeezed through the crack in the back wall of the Leader’s room and found his flashlight. The world outside the cave was beginning to fall into night and he knew he had to go.
It was not easy climbing back up that steep incline, but he had to get back to where he belonged – or at least where he belonged more than where he had been. The flashlight slipped from his hand when he reached the top. He heard it clatter back down to the cave below. There was no way he was going back to retrieve it. All he had to do was shove himself the last foot.
When his mother came in to wake him up that morning, Glen felt like he had not slept a wink. He had not, and what is more, his flashlight was missing.