Forever 1.10: Between Waking and Sleeping

            Glen rushed back to the tree on the following morning, but Aster was not there.  Apart from a brief break for lunch, Glen spent the whole day on the tree, but Aster never came.  By evening time he was half-convinced he had dreamed the whole thing.  When he awoke the following morning he found out the cousins were coming and that meant he had to be sociable and play games and keep company with the gang.

            Glen did his best, though his mind kept wandering back to his tree and to Aster.  His heart was there as well.  He liked his cousins well enough and his brother and little sister, though his sister was still too small to join in all the running around, but it was not the same.  He saw them just about every summer.  He saw Aster once.  And while his mind kept saying he fell asleep and dreamed it all, and only came awake at the sound of the dinner bell, his heart said otherwise, and he was not disappointed.

            It was the last day before they departed when Glen managed an afternoon to himself.  He hurried straight to the tree and called softly for Aster.  He called, but there was no response, and so he began to talk to the air.   “This is my last day here this summer.  I would really like to see you again.  I won’t say anything or tell anyone if that is what you are afraid of.  You see, my cousins were here the whole time and I never said a word, not to them or my family.  Please.  I need to know you are real.  I mean, you started it all by buzzing around my head.  Now the least you could do is show yourself.  Otherwise I just go home thinking I’m not right in the head, or something.”  Glen paused at a sound in the leaves further down the tree.  There was something there, and at first Glen thought it was a bird.  He started to shift away from that spot, back across the trunk in case it was a squirrel or something that might feel trapped.  He did not want to be attacked by a desperate squirrel.  Something squirted out from the leaves.  Glen threw his hands up and shrieked even as he heard the words, “I’m here.”

            “Aster?”  She zoomed behind him like she was going to hide behind his head.  She fluttered from ear to ear still wary about what was in the leaves.

            “I barely escaped,” Aster said.

            “What is it?”  Glen asked.  He was not feeling very brave, but he was determined to try.

            “My sisters,” Aster whispered very close to his ear.

            “Hey!”  Glen shouted in part because of the surprise at having a fairy so close to him and in part because he was scared.  “Come out of there and show yourselves,” he said.  “There is no point in hiding now, it is too late.”

            There was a rumbling in the leaves and Aster whispered very softly.  “Don’t believe everything you see.”

            A wolf head poked out from the leaves, barking, snarling, drooling and showing great big canine teeth.  Aster shrieked and grabbed on to Glen’s hair.  Glen jumped back and grabbed his chest, but held on and yelled.

            “Stop it.  You should be ashamed of yourselves trying to scare a little boy who never did you any harm.”  Glen remembered and named the fairies.  “Iris and Apple, stop the nonsense.  Show yourselves now.”  His words were sharp because of his fear, but the wolf head dissipated as he spoke.

            Two fairies floated up from behind the leaves.  Iris was dressed in purple which faded to blue at the edges.  Apple was pink and white, like the blossom.  Neither looked happy, but Aster simply tugged on Glen’s hair and took a seat on his shoulder.

            “I told you it wouldn’t work,” Aster said.

            “Yes it did work,” Glen admitted.  “You really scared me.  But Aster is my friend and it is not nice to keep friends apart.  It is easy to scare little boys, but that is not nice either.”

            Iris and Apple simply floated at a good distance and said nothing.

            “I bet you two are both much nicer than that,” Glen said with a smile.

            “Not Crabapple,” Aster whispered in Glen’s ear.

            “Crabapple?”  Glen said it out loud and barely avoided turning his head to look at Aster which would have simply knocked the fairy off his shoulder.

            “Hey!”  Apple objected, but Iris giggled.

            “We are nice,” Iris said quickly to cover her laugh.  “But Aster broke the most important rule.  We are not to show ourselves to mortals.  It isn’t done.”

            “Ha,” Glen objected.  He was not laughing.  “I have heard lots of stories about fairies and people.  Elves and others, too.  Don’t tell me fairies have never been seen by people.”

            “That isn’t the point,” Iris said.

            “It isn’t done,” Apple added.

            “But he looked so lonely, all by himself day after day,” Aster whined a little.

            Iris came down to a small branch by the end of the tree and sat, so Apple joined her.  “And what did you do for all of those hours?”  Iris asked.

            “My imagination,” Glen answered honestly.  “I told stories to myself, like about pirates and cowboys.  I imagined Captain Hawk of the Golden Hawk which was really the Flying Dutchman, disguised.  And Marshal Casidy, not the fastest, but maybe the smartest gun in the west.  Sometimes I imagined big Lars before the revolution, living with real Indians.  You know, adventure type stories.”

            “Stories that boys like to read.”  Iris nodded her head, but Glen shook his.

            “Brother Tom is the reader.  I’m not much of a reader.”

            “Oh, but I bet those are great stories,” Aster said.

            “Yes, they were,” Iris agreed.  She seemed to be thinking of something else.  “But we should not interfere when the storyteller is telling stories.”

            “It isn’t dome,” Apple repeated.  “It shouldn’t be done.”

            “Oh, but,” Aster did not know what else to say.

            “But you make my stories better,” Glen spoke for her.  “Don’t you see?  I mean, I would never tell stories about you exactly, but having a friend to share with and dream about always makes stories better.”

            “You dreamed about me?”  Aster sounded warmed by that idea.

            “I think so,” Glen nodded carefully.  “I’m not sure because I never or hardly ever remember my dreams exactly.”

            “But there are some things you are not supposed to know,” Apple said.

            “Far too late for that,” Iris smiled for the first time.  “He already knows all there is to know about all of us, even if he doesn’t know it.”

            “That is a silly thing to say,” Aster spoke up.

            “That doesn’t make sense,” Apple looked at her sister.

            “Come along, Apple.”  Iris let out her wings and rose slowly into the air.  “This is Glen’s last day for this summer.  There is no reason he should not spend it with a friend.”

            “But, Iris.”

            “Come along Apple.”  And Apple did, while Aster let out a cheer.

            “Hurray!”  Though as soon as they were alone, Aster flew off Glen’s shoulder and settled down on a branch just out of reach.

Forever 1.10: Wilderness Ways

            Glen was perhaps seven and walking with his grandma to the dining hall when he first saw the tree.  It was not that he never noticed before, but you might say this was the first time he saw it.  Glen and Grandma just climbed the hill path to where it ran in front of the Big House.  Grandma walked slow and steady with her cane while Glen danced all around in the exuberance of youth.  He slipped on a pinecone and slid down the steep side of the hill that faced the lake.  He caught himself quick enough, but his eyes went to what seemed a peculiar sight. 

            There was a tree, but it did not grow straight up like trees were supposed to grow.  Instead, it grew horizontally, straight out from the steep side of the hill, out over the lake.  It appeared like it was reaching out for the sunset which always set behind the other side of the lake.  True, the tree was stunted, but it was big and thick and old, and Glen realized then that he could walk out on the trunk itself.  The following morning, he did just that and found where a big branch made something like a natural seat.  And best of all, it was out of sight from the Big House, and even from the path that ran in front of the big house.

            Glen sat there for hours on and off over the next eight or ten summers, untouched by the world of people, undisturbed by the ways of human life.  He was touched only by the tree and the lake and the sun reaching for the trees that he could just make out on that distant shore.  He let his imagination roam free and he imagined great tales of high adventure.

            Once when he sat there, though he might have been a whole year older by then, it was nearly the time for the people down at the dining hall to ring the great dinner bell that was out by the lake.  Fishermen and travelers all across the lake could hear that bell as it sounded for miles.  Glen was just thinking he ought to get back to the cabin and wash up when something caught the corner of his eye.

            He thought at first it might be a horsefly.  He turned his head and the fly turned with him.  He turned his head back and forth several times but could not catch sight of it.  He thought to get clever.  He sat about as long as an eight-year-old can sit still and then turned as fast as he could.  Still, the thing stayed out of sight, just at the outer edge of his peripheral vision.  He had to ask.

            “Are you a boy or a girl?”  He was almost shocked to death when he heard a shy little answer.

            “I’m a girl.”

            He sat for far longer than a normal eight-year-old might sit and thought about what he heard.

            “Why can’t I see you?”  Glen asked at last.

            “I’m supposed to stay hidden,” the answer came.

            “You can let me see you if you want to.  I won’t hurt you.”

            There was a moment of silence before the girl spoke again.  “I’m glad you won’t hurt me, but I am not supposed to be seen.”

            “A bit late for that,” Glen responded.  “We are already talking so you should let me see you.  It is only polite.”

            “Well.”  The girl drew out the word like it was a whole sentence.  “If it is only polite.”  She fluttered into view, a fairy, bigger than Glen’s hand but not as big as his forearm; and perhaps not as big as Glen’s eyes.”

            “Hello.”  He hardly knew what else to say.

            “Hello,” the fairy responded.

            “My name is Glen.”

            “I know.  I’ve been watching.”  The fairy flitted to a small branch a bit further out over the lake and took a seat.  “My name is Aster.”

            “Good to meet you,” Glen said as he tried not to stare.  The fairy was wearing a short dress that was yellow but flared to lavender-white at the collar, on the sleeves and at the bottom.  A passing glance might easily mistake her for a flower, perhaps a daisy.

            “Good to meet you.  I’ve been watching.”

            “You said that.”

            “I did?”

            “No, I mean you already said you were watching.”

            “I did?  Well it’s true.”

            Glen shook his head.  “Tell me, why were you watching me?”

            The fairy looked away like one suddenly shy.  She turned a bit pink and for a second her dress mirrored the color.  “I like you,” she said.

            “I like you too.”  It was an easy thing for Glen to say because it was true.  The fairy smiled broadly at his response before she got suddenly serious.

            “Oh, but my sisters say I am not supposed to bother you.  They say all the Little Ones are supposed to stay away from you.”

            “Sisters?”

            “Yes, Apple and Iris.  They say we are not supposed to disturb any of the people.”

            “But I’m not disturbed,” Glen said.  “And this is such a nice tree for dreaming, but it is better to share it with a friend.”

            The fairy looked around.  “You have a friend?”

            Glen was the one who smiled this time.  “You could be my friend, if you want.”  

            The fairy turned shy again and looked away.

            The dinner bell rang from down the shore.  Glen automatically looked in that direction though he could not see anything.  When he looked back, the fairy was gone.  He slowly got to his feet.

            “I’m sorry,” he spoke up nice and loud.  “I’m late, but I can come here tomorrow.  I would love to see you again tomorrow.  If you came earlier we could spend some time together.  Aster.  My friend.”  There was no response.

Forever 1.10: Northern Days

            Glen spent little time at home during the summers.  At least several weeks every summer were spent in the Northland at a private club that covered ten-thousand acres of wilderness.  There were three lakes on the property, the main one full of sun-fish and bass, and the proverbial river ran through it.  For anyone who wanted to shop on vacation it would be a nightmare, but for communing with nature, it was paradise.

            The river was just deep enough, even in August to meander down in a canoe.  The wildlife came up to the banks unconcerned in the early morning and late afternoon.  With even the slightest breeze there were no bugs at all.  In fact, the most bugs the trout ever got came from those inclined to stand in chest-high waders and try their hand at a cast or two.

            Some members – and there were only 40 altogether – would arrive in their private planes which they landed at a grassy strip some distance from the cabins.  They generally buzzed the main lake once or twice before landing to alert the caretaker and chef that they had arrived.  Otherwise, life was a very calm and quiet affair at the club.  The lake allowed no motorboats and the cars could not do better than ten or fifteen miles per hour on the dirt and natural two-rut roads that snaked around the property

            Glen’s Grandpa had a log-cabin he built himself.  There were back bedrooms on the ground floor, but the kids usually slept up in the loft which overlooked the living area with the cathedral ceiling.  That living room had a dining area at the far end from the front door.  From the table, one could look out the picture window on the dock and that picturesque lake.  Mother would often sit there or on the screened porch just off the dining area and read where she could keep an eye on the swimming area beside the dock. 

            Only one other member built his own place, and that was next door to Grandpa’s beautiful, rustic cabin.  Fortunately, there was a row of evergreen shrubs that blocked the view of that house.  The man, a bank owner from the city, built a bungalow more appropriate to the everglades than the northern woods.  There is no accounting for taste.

            Just up the path from the Banker’s eyesore, and it was uphill, at the highest point along the lake, there was the Big House where most members stayed when they came for a visit.  The two wings of the two story building faced the lake and had a dozen rooms up and down in each wing.  In the center, there was a common living area like in a fine hotel, with one side lined with lake view windows and the other filled with a fireplace big enough for Glen, brother Tom and sister Carol to all stand in when they were young.  The club had been designed originally as a hunting club, and there were signs of that everywhere, including pictures on the wall with men hovering over deer and showing off the bear they killed.  By the time Glen arrived, the club had morphed into more of a summer spot for fishing, swimming, gentle boating and just plain relaxing.  Most of the members, after all, were Grandpa’s age by then or older.

            A little bit down from the Big House was the Cabin.  That was all it was called – the Cabin.  Like the Big House, it was built in whole log style and stained ruddy and dark, the color of morning coffee.  The Cabin could sleep eight, or up to twelve if there were children.  It often had to be reserved in advance.

            At the bottom of the other side of the hill, there was the dining hall with the two new “apartments” that shared a connecting wall.  By new, I mean they were added in the 1960s or the late 1950s.  The dining hall served breakfast, lunch and dinner and asked only for reservations to know how much to cook.  There were always a couple of college age young women hired for the summer to wait the tables and act as maid service for the apartments, the Cabin and the Big House.  It was quite a tranquil life.

            Across the dirt parking lot where several Douglas firs were left standing to make it appear like less of a lot, there was the old farmhouse where the caretaker and his family lived.  Next to them was the old barn where a few boats and jeeps were kept dry and under tarps to await their owners.  Once, there were horses there and in the stables that jutted out from the barn, but by the time Glen arrived, the horses were long gone.

            That was all of the buildings on that ten thousand acres.  Everything else was left to nature, except as I said for the dirt and two-rut roads that snaked around the place, and the grass covered air field.  When the family drove in the gate, there was always a contest to see who could spot the lake first.  It was harder than you might think since the lake was so blue, it was hard to tell what was lake and what was sky.

            The car would mostly stay parked after arrival, but for the occasional twenty mile trip to the nearest little town for supplies and the once or twice per visit trip to the other lakes.  The middle sized lake was stocked with lake trout.  The little lake had pike, some up to six feet long and with sharp teeth besides.  The car also came out around sundown.  Everyone would pile in the station wagon for a slow and quiet drive through one section or another of the property, and they would count the deer out to feed at sundown.  There was an old farm field cleared of trees and a ridge that looked down on the field.  Sometimes the herd grazing was a hundred or more deer.    Once, while riding in an open jeep, Grandpa stopped short and Glen, who was riding in the front wondered why.  A brown bear stood up just inches from the front bumper.

            Grandpa got out.  To be sure, the bear looked more startled than aggressive, but Grandpa showed some courage.  He said. “Shoo!  Skat!”  and the bear went back to all fours and loped down the ridge-side to the open field below.  Glen never knew how his Grandpa felt about that, whether he was scared or what, but when Grandpa got back into the driver’s seat he found a bee resting on the steering wheel.  He squished it with his unprotected thumb, brushed it out of the jeep and drove on.  The man had seriously calloused thumbs.  And he looked at Glen and laughed about it.

            Glen’s grandma died when Glen was still fairly young.  The world had not yet mastered diabetes.  Glen was old enough to remember her well, but at the same time, his grandpa lived alone for years.  Grandpa went up to the club in the early spring and returned to the city in late fall.  Grandpa lived for the club, especially in his last years.  In fact, he died there in a room he had in the Big House.  He died in the night, content to be in the wilderness he loved so well.  When Glen was growing up, needless to say, Grandpa looked forward to their arrival as much as the family looked forward to getting there.

            Then Glen had someone else there who also looked forward to his arrival, at least when he was young, like between the ages of eight and thirteen.

Forever 1.9: Forever

            “Just that I was surprised you were the one down in that cell.”

            “Yes, you said that.  Why should you be surprised it was me on the other end of your rope?”

            “Well, it’s like this,”  Sir Duncan paused to cut two big chunks of roast, mushrooms and greens from the thinner end and left the thicker end on the fire to cook a little longer.  He handed one chunk to Glen who was utterly grateful and ate with abandon, though it burned his fingers and his mouth.  “I have run into the same woman three times,” Sir Duncan admitted.  “That is nigh unto impossible given the infinite vastness of this place.  These Second Heavens, this middle space or dividing line between God’s throne and the earth is without end in terms of time and space and its inhabitants are mostly strange, in-between creatures.  I have my own name for this place”

            “Oh?”

            Sir Duncan chewed and stared at Glen once more.  Something was ticking in the man’s head, and at last he came out with it.  “I call this place, Forever.”

            Glen nodded.  It was a fair name.  “Still, I would bet most humans don’t stick around long.  I would guess most end up in one of these houses and get sent off somewhere out of reach pretty quickly.”

            “There is that,” Sir Duncan admitted.  “But in a thousand years I have not run into more than a half-dozen people twice and here in a short time I have met you three times.”

            Glen understood that was unusual, but his mind was elsewhere.  “So if you meet that woman again, maybe you two should travel together.”  He could see from Sir Duncan’s face that the man had thought about it, often.  “What?”

            Sir Duncan shook his head.  “She is Japanese from the days of the Shogun.  We are so very different, the first time I met her I was not even sure she was human.”

            “Well, you certainly have my encouragement.  I just spent a long time in isolation, and believe me, there is no reason anyone should be alone.”

            Sir Duncan nodded but said no more about it.  He also had another question.  “So, are you really a servant of the Lord in disguise?”

            Glen laughed,  Sir Duncan laughed.  When they stopped laughing, Glen spoke in answer.  “I was just going to ask you that.”

            “Odd as I am, I fit in around here.  There is still something very odd about you.”

            “Because I am not dead yet?” Glen suggested.  “But I was going to say I am ordained, or get ordained some day, or whatever.  If you two ever, you know, want to be together and I happen to be around.”

            Sir Duncan turned very red and set another log on the fire.  He said nothing more and opted to sleep.  The sun was about set by then so it was not an entirely strange thing to do.  Glen was also exhausted.  He lay down on the grass beneath the trees, beside the fire and wondered.

            He thought perhaps the two souls of Sir Duncan and the Japanese woman were destined to be together but in their lifetimes they were born impossibly far apart.  Now that they had come to the middle place, to Forever and neither appeared ready to finish the journey, they might meet and be joined together as they were always meant to be.

            A month ago, Glen would have said that any two people meant for each other would certainly find themselves on earth.  Now he was not so sure.  Mistakes might be made, or rather, not mistakes but things that might appear that way.  Glen simply did not have all of the information to understand.  It was like God might be speaking to him day and night, but it meant nothing if God neglected to give him the ears to hear.

            Glen slept on the open grass, on the rocky ground, without blanket or pillow and only the stars above him to watch over him.  It was the best sleep he had in over a month.

            When the morning came, Glen woke afraid that it was all a dream and he was really back in his holding cell.  He opened his eyes slowly and saw the green and sighed.  Then he noticed Sir Duncan was packing his blanket and ready to leave.

            “I thought you might sleep for a while,” he said.  “I tried not to disturb you.”

            “No, that’s fine.”

            “There is a bit of roast still which you might enjoy to break your fast.”

            “Thank you, but I was thinking.  That is twice now you pulled me out of a pit of one kind or another.”

            “Knightly duty,” Sir Duncan shrugged it off.

            “Perhaps, but I have duties, too.  I said I was ordained one day in the future.  I want you to have this.”  He picked up his Bible and gave it to the man.

            Sir Duncan looked at it long before he shook his head.  “I don’t read well.”

            “Good for practice,” Glen said.  “Besides, I have a feeling I won’t be needing it where I am going.  Please.  I would give you the shirt off my back but I already did that once.”

            Sir Duncan Laughed and accepted the gift.  “So now, must I call you Father Glen?”

            “You better not,” Glen responded.  “If you do I may have to hit you even if I break my knuckles on your armor.”

            Sir Duncan laughed again and mounted.  “Don’t misunderstand me.  When I say you sometimes sound like a woman I mean you are the most well rounded person I have ever met.  You seem to be able to see both sides at the same time and I count that as a great virtue.  Most men haven’t got a clue, and to be fair, most women don’t either.”

            “What about you?” Glen asked.

            “I am learning, Madam.  I am learning.”  Sir Duncan rode off, away from the house.

            Glen sat and ate first.  Then he made sure the fire was out.  Then he began to feel uncomfortable being so near the house.  He hustled his feet and was not surprised that he quickly stepped out of the woods in Memorial Field, a public park in the village not terribly far from his home.   

Forever 1.9: In the House

            It was just after Glen’s breakfast was taken up by his silent feeder when Glen felt a rumbling in the cell.  He thought it was an earthquake before he realized it was coming from the wall to the outside, the one with the unreachable barred window.  He heard pounding against the wall, and he imagined there was a battle going on out there.  He thought the pounding was the concussion from artillery shells exploding in the nearby field.  The rumbling came again, and he thought of cavalry troops pouring across the fields, or maybe tanks and armored vehicles thundering along.

            Glen moved to the back corner of his cot, as far away from the window and outside wall as he could get.  He pulled his blanket up to cover him, and placed his excuse for a pillow between him and the outside.  He held tight to his bible and as he feared, the window and a huge section of concrete around the window came plummeting to the floor.  Glen barely had time to pull his blanket over his head and turn his face to the corner when the massive section of wall shattered his toilet.  Ceramic splinters and concrete pebbles sprayed the room.  The blanket and pillow caught most of it.  Glen only got a couple of small cuts and bruises that would heal soon enough.

            When Glen pulled down the blanket to look again, he saw something he never expected.  His shirt came in the gaping hole and fluttered to the floor.  All Glen could do was stare in disbelief for a good five or ten minutes.  He might have continued to stare if he did not hear a familiar voice.

            “Hello?”

            Glen had not spoken with someone in such a long time, it took him a second to remember he was supposed to answer.

            “Hello?”  He got off the cot and stood as close to beneath the hole as the fallen concrete and broken toilet would let him.  He got his shirt and clutched it while he continue to clutch the Bible in his other hand.

            “Hold on there.  Let me tie this off and we will get you out.”

            Again Glen stood in dumb silence for a moment before he thought to say, “Thank you.”  It was a few minutes before a rope was lowered down to him. 

            “Grab hold and I’ll pull you up.”

            “Just a minute,” Glen shouted back as he quickly tied his Bible into his shirt and tied the sleeves so he could wear it around his shoulder like a pack and keep his hands free.  He grabbed the rope and began to climb without another thought, and when he got to the opening, a strong pair of hands grabbed him and pulled him out.

            Glen could see nothing but light.  The outside sun was blinding his eyes which were no longer used to the brightness.  He felt it best to keep his eyes closed for a time to give himself a chance to adjust.  He did not let that interfere with his words, however.

            “Thank you.  Thank God.  Oh, thank the Lord.  Thank you.”

            “Yes, yes.  But we better get you away from this place as quickly as we can.” The man said.  It was a man, and he picked Glen up and set him on the back of a horse.  Glen held on as well as he could.  He tried not to jiggle too much and tried not to fall off as the man walked the horse for a considerable distance.

            By the time they stopped, they were in the shade of some trees, and Glen’s eyes were adjusting to the light, slowly.  He managed to get down from the horse by himself and without falling.  He paused to pat the horse on the neck before he looked around.  There was a little camp set up, with a fire and meat roasting with some roots and greens stuffed inside the roast.  Of course, Glen recognized the man right away.

            “1192!”

            “Yes,”  Sir Duncan said.  “But this is a bit of strange for me.”

            “Why?”  Glen asked.  “But first let me thank you for getting me out of that endless holding cell.”

            “Yes,” Sir Duncan intoned the word and spent a minute tending his roast.  “The truth is I did not get you out.  I did not even know you were there.”  Glen looked curious and Sir Duncan sat and invited Glen to sit as well before he explained.

            “I arrived here and stopped where I could keep out of reach of the House of the Lord.”

            “The House of the Lord?”

            “That is what the middle ones call it.  No telling how many of them there are, but if you stay here for any length of time you will come across one now and again.”

            “So why do you keep out of reach?”  Glen had some thoughts on the subject but he wanted to hear what Sir Duncan had to say.

            Sir Duncan stared at Glen for a bit.  “Your feminine side must be acting up,” he said.  “You must be starved, but you are not staring at the roast.  You are asking me personal questions instead.”

            “Sorry,” Glen said before he added, “so out of reach?”

            Sir Duncan laughed.  “All I can say is I have seen people go into those places and they never come out again.”

            Glen nodded.  “They feast you and then take you to a place they call the Hall of Grace and Justice.  Actually it is a judgment hall where they pass judgment on where and how you will spend eternity.”

            Sir Duncan looked up and nodded slowly.  “I figured it was something like that.”  He looked at Glen again.  “And you were supposed to spend eternity in that little dirty cell?”

            Glen shook his head.  “They had not decided my case yet.  That was a holding place.  I was there a month and still no action.”  Sir Duncan looked but said nothing.  Glen finished his thought.  “Apparently they could not locate my guardian angel, or as I told them, I haven’t got one.  I never had one.”

            “Not possible,” Sir Duncan said.  “Even I have one, lout that I am.  His name is Ariel, though I haven’t seen him but twice in these thousand years.”

            Glen shook his head.  “If I have got one, I have no idea who it might be, and the angels, er, middle ones in the house have no idea either.”  Glen pointed toward the buildings.

            “Another strange thing about you.”

            “Also, I’m not dead yet.  That kind of messed with their heads, if you know what I mean.”

            Sir Duncan nodded, turned his roast and told his tale.  “I saw a giant walking across the open field there, headed toward the building but not toward the front gate.  If he had been carrying an ax or big war hammer I would not have given it a second look, but he was carrying a shirt and carefully I might add.”

            “A giant?”  Glen figured who it was.  He still had a few aches and sore spots from his beating more than a month ago.

            “Had to be over eight feet tall.”  Sir Duncan raised his hand as if to indicate the height.  Glen imagined the man was not that tall, but near enough.

            “A giant.”  Glen settled that description in his mind.

            “And he walked right up to the house there where all the basement windows are barred against intruders.  He appeared to sniff.  He sniffed the shirt and sniffed the air until he came to one window.  Then he pounded on that window and tugged at it and pounded some more until it finally caved in and left a big gaping hole.  Last, he dropped the shirt in the hole and went away with a very satisfied look on his face.  I’ll tell you, even in this place that was an odd sight.”

            “It was my shirt,” Glen said and he took it off his shoulder and unwrapped it.  He put it on and left the Bible on the ground.  The shirt still fit, though Glen realized he had lost some weight over time.

            “I figured it was someone’s, so as soon as he was gone, I rode up and yelled down the hole.  I was not surprised to get an answer.  I looked down and saw the cell.  It was smaller than a monk’s cell and I bet there was not a cloisters to walk around in or chapel to go to services in.”

            “No way out but a grate in the ceiling,” Glen confirmed.

            Sir Duncan turned the roast again.  “Well, I figured it was my duty to help whoever was trapped down there, so down went the rope and up you came.  I must say, though, I was a bit surprised when I saw it was you.”

            “Why?”                                                                           

Forever 1.9: I Will Dwell… And Dwell

            Glen found that his eyes had closed again in the dark.  When he opened them, he saw he was sitting on a cot in a room which was no bigger than a master bathroom.  There was a cot where the tub might have been, a toilet and sink, thank God, and nothing else, not even a door.  The walls, floor and ceiling were all concrete, and the walls were twenty feet high.  At the top of one wall, there was a small barred window.  It was his only light. In the ceiling there appeared to be a small grate, but that was it.

            Glen laid out on the bed.  The pillow was rough and the blanket rougher, but what could he do?

            “Hello?”  Someone called through the grate.  Glen was sure it was one of the angels.

            “Hello?”  Glen called back.  “What am I doing here?”

            “Just a temporary holding tank until your guardian angel can be found and a proper determination can be made.”

            “But I haven’t got one,” Glen said and quickly added, “and I am not dead yet so you better feed me.  If I die of starvation, you will be the one cast into the lake of fire.”  It was the most dreadful thing Glen could think of, and apparently the angel above thought something as well.  The grate slammed shut faster than Glen could blink.  The sound of that clang echoed throughout the little concrete cell.

            When the sun was setting, as Glen judged through the little window way up by the ceiling, the grate opened again.  Someone lowered a tray which held a wooden bowl of oatmeal with a wooden spoon, a small chunk of bread and a wooden cup of water.  Glen shouted up again, but whoever it was did not answer.

            Glen ate his meal hungrily and in silence as the darkness came.  When his only light was the dim light that filtered down through the grate in the ceiling, a light little better than a night light, the angel returned and lowered the tray again.  Glen kept the cup.  He could get water from the sink, and he thought to shout a request, assuming whoever was up top would not answer.

            “Send down a Bible,” he shouted.  At least he might have some reading material.  Whoever it was above sent that down with the sunrise, morning meal of oatmeal, bread and water in a new cup.  Glen said, “Thank you,” and knew that at least he would not go crazy from boredom.  Most of the time, and in the night when the limited light excluded reading, he spent in prayer though he hardly knew what to pray for.  He hoped it would not take too long to make a determination in his case, but after he had prayed through a whole month, he gave up hope for a speedy resolution. 

            Glen began to shout at the ceiling when his meals came morning and night, “How much longer?”  He never received a reply.

            It may have been thirty days.  It felt like thirty years.  The isolation was intense and the feeling that he was abandoned by God and man would not go away.  He felt unwelcomed and unwanted indeed.  He felt like it was somehow his fault, like he was some kind of universal mistake destined to always be at the wrong place in the wrong time and with the most negative, unhelpful and wrong people. 

            The reading of his life given by his examining angel was absurdly and completely wrong, but on examining his actual life, Glen realized there was not much good in it.  The words that escaped his mouth were always the wrong ones, no matter the good intention.  The things he did were good in and of themselves, but always so poorly timed they failed over and over.  And the people he most sought to help were invariably hurt by him even as he was hurt by the ones he trusted.  As the man said, every time he prayed for someone to be healed it was a guarantee the person would die.

            On the other hand, these feelings were utterly familiar to Glen.  They felt like home.  They were the only feelings he ever knew.  He was an unwanted mistake, abandoned by all, and everything he ever tried to say and do turned out wrong and proved to be stupid.  Foolish?  Nothing ever went the way Glen hoped and planned and he failed over and over, not only in his life and actions or even just in his mind.  He failed in his heart and concluded there must be no good in him.

            On the third hand, for those who have such a hand, Glen understood that this imprisonment went beyond reason.  It was over the line.  The idea that he might be some bureaucratic mistake on a universal scale was absurd.  He felt strongly that if the Lord accepted him just as he was he ought to be in Heaven.  If not, he ought to be damned and done.  Being on hold neither here nor there was absurd.  It was not fair.  It was plain wrong, and while Glen would never accuse God of being wrong or unfair, he did accuse God of being silent.  God might well be speaking to him all day, every day, but that meant nothing if God did not give him the ears to hear.

            Glen understood it this way.  There was reason in him and it cannot have arisen by chance or accident.  It can only exist in him because reason exists in the universe, and only an irrational person would believe otherwise.  The thing about not understanding the reason for something is it is no excuse for believing in chance or accident or universal mistakes.  All that meant was he could not see everything, know everything and all the ramifications, nor could he know the end from the beginning.  Or to put it more plainly, he was not God.  God knows what is reasonable and fair.  Ultimately, neither Glen nor any other human being could know for certain.

            People might debate how it happened, but that this universe is broken goes without saying.  Glen saw the brokenness in himself and in everyone and everything around him.  But he happen to believe that God was still creating.  Everything that happened was by divine providence making Glen into the person he was meant to be.  Of course, he would not mind if God explained to him the reason for some things, like the current difficulty.  That God does not, Glen was sure that was part of it.  Not that he blamed God for his silence.  He figured it was his receptors that were malfunctioning.  He often said it: Let him who has ears, hear, and eyes see too, he supposed.

Forever 1.9: In the House

            Glen hardly sat before a new angel came to fetch him.  “Come, come,” the angel said and ushered him far enough toward the center of the room where he could see no outside walls at all.  “We have not got a lot of time before my regular case load starts, and I do want to be fair about this.  Have a seat.”

            Glen sat beside the desk as the angel got behind the desk and began to tap on his computer keyboard.  Glen got a word in.

            “I was not aware I was expected here.  How do you know you even have the right person?”

            The angel showed Glen the computer screen.  The picture certainly looked like him.  Then the angel rattled off his name, birthday, social security number, several driver’s license numbers from the several states he had lived in.  He told Glen his mother, father, brother, sister, wife, children, and Glen surrendered.

            “Now, let’s see,” the angel said.  “I see you were quite the artist.  It says here you acted in several films before you were thirty and even wrote a couple.  You were a musician, and wrote some music which sold quite well.  As you got older, you turned to writing books and had several bestsellers among the fifty-seven books you wrote.”

            “Wait,” Glen protested.  “Whose life are you reading.  I didn’t do any of those things.  That is not my life.”

            The angel paused, but only to give Glen a look that said that was not the time to lie.  “Now, let’s see what you did with all that wealth.  I see you kept it all to yourself and hated even to share it with your own family.  It says you abused your parents, wife and children.  Oh, look, you even abused your dog.  This says you were a great atheist who preached hatred and violence, and just before you died, you gave big sums to satanic causes and converted the rest to hundred dollar bills to burn.  You said you would rather burn the money than let anyone benefit from it.  And you died cursing God.  Does that fairly summarize things?”

            “No!”  Glen really protested now.  “None of that is true.  I served in the ministry for years and worked in management for several national retail outlets.  I never had money, struggled near poverty all my life.  I certainly never had money to burn.  But I gave what I had, my whole life really to others and to my family.  It was never about me.”

            “Your record says otherwise.”  The angel was unconvinced.

            “Look, who wrote that drivel because none of it is true.”

            “Your guardian angel.”

            “I haven’t got a guardian angel.”

            “Don’t be absurd.  Everyone is assigned a guardian angel at birth.” 

            “Well, I wasn’t,” Glen said.  “Look, can you trace and see who filed that report.  I tell you none of it is true.

            “I told you who filed it.”

            “You said you wanted to be fair.  Was that just talk?  Do you want to be fair, or are you just going to railroad an innocent man?”

            The angel rolled his eyes, like he had heard that an infinite number of times before, but he agreed and checked, and then paused before he spoke.

            “This is odd.  There are always words that come out of the darkness, but we ignore them because a guardian angel cannot lie.”  The angel began to click furiously.  He spoke haltingly.  “It appears as if this whole report is out of the darkness.  I cannot seem to find your angelic report.  Who is your guardian angel?”

            “I told you.  I haven’t got one, at least not one that I know of.”

            “Don’t be absurd.  Everyone has a guardian angel.  Sometimes the guardians don’t bring their charges all the way here, but that is generally when they are quickly reassigned.  It happens at times, but surely you met yours when you died.  You can’t have died without meeting yours.”

            “And that’s another thing,” Glen sat up straight.  “I’m not dead yet.  At least as far as I know I haven’t died.”

            The angel looked at Glen and appeared almost ready to believe him when something popped up on the screen.  “Aha!  Here we are,” he said.  “But wait, that can’t be right.”

            “What?”  Glen asked.  He could not see the screen, but he saw the angel look from him to the screen and back again several times rapidly before he reached out and pressed a big red button on his desk.  There was a whistle, like an alarm that echoed throughout that whole room.  Most angels were just arriving, but Glen saw them all stop and stand at something like attention.  He saw the angel at his desk also stand and bow his head. 

            There was a brief shimmering in the air beside the desk before the most perfect creature Glen ever saw appeared in a shower of light too bright for the eyes to behold.  The presence of this creature made Glen tremble to his bones.  He was terrified, but at the same time there was something old and oddly familiar about this angel.  He had to speak.  It was just one not unexpected word, but it was said like a name.

            “Angel?”

            “Glen.”  Angel showed some sign that he knew Glen in some fashion as well.

            “Lord,” the angel behind the desk had his eyes lowered and trembled even more than Glen, but he took the sign of familiarity as an opening to speak.  “The record shows that you were assigned to be guardian angel for this man, but we have no report from you regarding his disposition.”

            “I am not this man’s guardian angel,” The response was unarguable in a way that was hard for Glen to describe.  “I have other duties.  Either another was assigned to this man or he has lived his life without a guardian.  Let us hope it is the first, and to be sure, I do not know why he is even here.”  With that said, Angel’s light grew brighter and stronger until it filled the whole room.  Glen not only had to close his eyes, he had to cover them with his hands to protect them.  Then all at once, the light went out and Angel was no longer with them.

            Glen opened his eyes, blinked from the spots, but saw that the angel behind the desk was now looking at him with fear and uncertainty.  The angel said nothing else, but slid the red button back from its location on the desk.  There was a second, deep-set red button beneath it.  The angel pushed it and Glen found himself covered in darkness and falling.

Forever 1.9: And I Will Dwell

            Glen woke to the first rays of a new dawn and the peep of birds at his window.  The bed was wonderfully comfortable, the pillows, sheets and puff just perfect so he was neither too hot nor too cold.  On any other day, he could have luxuriated for some time in that bed, but on this morning he was too hungry.

            Glen opened his eyes and realized he was naked.  He could not remember how he got in that condition, but decided he would rather not know.  In any case, his clothes, such as they were, hung on a wooden butler beside the bed.  They were relatively dry, so he slipped on his pants, socks and shoes and remembered he had no shirt.

            While he dressed, he took a good look around.  The double four-poster bed poked out from one wall in a room that was hardly bigger than a standard hotel room, though with only the one bed it felt like a bigger room. The table was wooden, oak and rectangular with four chairs pushed up to it instead of the expected round, light brown plastic covered two chaired menace of a wobbly table found in most motel rooms.  The only other furniture was a desk with plenty of writing paper and pens available.  There was no television or dresser, or door for a closet as far as Glen could tell.  It appeared that the place was very transient.

            It was the table that attracted Glen, pushed back as it was toward a window mostly covered with curtains.  The curtains were not pulled tight and it was in the center crack and around the edges that the sun peeked in.  That light showed the dishes of food that covered the surface of the table.  It was most of Glen’s favorite dishes as well, though to be sure it looked like it had been sitting for quite some time and so some of it was probably not safe to eat.

            The door to the room opened and one of those angel people came in.  Curiously, the person still had an angel look about him even after a full night’s sleep and a bit of cold and hard mashed potatoes.

            “Ah, I see you are awake.  This is a good thing.  I was just sent to wake you.”  The angel stepped around the table and opened the curtains to the full force of the sun.  Glen squinted.

            “I don’t mean to sound ungrateful,” Glen said.  “But might there be something to eat a bit fresher in this place.  This food is all wonderful I am sure, but it appears to have been sitting here for some time.”

            The angel turned to face him.  “This food is the leftovers from your banquet.”

            “I had a banquet?”

            “Two nights ago.  You weren’t here.”  Glen remembered the night.  He huddled on the edge of the forest in a torrential rain where the lightning, thunder, and demons tormented him all through the night.  “Normally, come morning the leftovers make a fine meal,” the angel continued.  “These dishes have been sitting here for a whole day and night more than they should.  They were not made to sit so long, but you may find something edible.”

            Glen was hungry enough to eat some of it despite how bad it might be.  “So I had a banquet, except I didn’t because I wasn’t here?”

            “Oh, yes.  Everyone has a banquet when they arrive in the house.  There is a banquet every night.”

            “So there are leftovers from last night’s banquet?”

            “Oh, yes.  But they belong to others, don’t you see?”

            Glen saw.  “Might I have a shirt?  I haven’t got much to wear.”

            “Ah!”  The angel drew out the sound as if to say listen, this is wisdom.  “But what you shall wear is what we shall determine.”  Glen nodded, though he had no idea what he was agreeing with.  “Odd to say, I cannot remember any time in history when a person did not arrive in time for their banquet.  Now, many have come without their guardian, but that usually does not speak well for the person.”

            “So how does it usually go?” Glen asked.

            “Well, a person arrives when they are due.  There is a feast of celebration, a banquet to honor the new arrivals.  When it turns late, everyone is shown to their rooms where most sit at the desk for long hours composing their thoughts and last words to all the people they will never see again.  It is a great cleansing for the soul.  Then they sleep at last, and when they awake… “

            “But wait,” Glen interrupted.  “What if they have so many letters to write the morning comes before they have time to sleep.

            The angel shook his head.  “As long as there are words to purge, the night will continue.  And then it will continue beyond long enough for a good, restful sleep.”  At once Glen knew why he finally slept in the midst of the terrors of that night.  He probably reached the point of utter exhaustion and could not help but pass out.  Then again, if he had stayed awake, the night might have gone on forever.

            The angel continued.  “So when they awake, they feast on what is left from the banquet and whatever morning treats they wish.  I apologize there are no morning treats prepared for you, but you never came to your banquet.  In any case, when they are ready they are taken to the Hall of Grace and Justice.  That is where it is determined where and how they shall spend eternity.”  The angel shrugged as if to say that was pretty much it.

            “How I will spend eternity?”  Glen had to think about that.

            Glen spent a long time in silence pondering how he might spend eternity.  The angel in the room was clearly pondering something else and the angel was the one who finally broke the silence.

            “So how did you find your accommodations?”

            Glen looked up, brought his mind into focus and answered.  “Fine, why?”

            “This room is in the military wing.  It is more Spartan accommodations and normally only used when there is turmoil and a great influx of people.  In your case, there were great arguments on both sides, but in the end it was determined unsuitable to leave you sleeping in the hall.  You see, the room you would have had was assigned to another.  This was the best we could do on short notice.”

            “Sorry to put you out.”

            “As I said, no one in history ever missed their banquet, as far as I know.”

            Glen stood.  He could not stomach any more stale bread.  “So now what?”

            “If you would follow me.”  They stepped out into a great hall and headed for the stairs.

            “So what ever happened to the big man I told the doorkeepers about?” Glen asked.

            “I wouldn’t know.  That is not my department.”

            They walked down the stairs and entered a new hall.

            “So why did you come to wake me up?  I would think to be fully rested one would have to wake up naturally.”

            “It was decided your case must be adjudicated at first light, before the normal course of events begins.  You know, none of us just stand around here with nothing to do.  There are no open slots where we can plug you into the normal lineup.”

            They entered another stairwell and went down another flight.

            The angel continued.  “When I drop you off now, I will have to hurry to my charge.”

            “So, were you supposed to be my guide, if I had come to my banquet?”

            “Porter?  Yes,” the angel said. 

            They stopped at the door to a tremendous room.  It was so big, Glen’s eyes could not find the back wall, or see the side walls for that matter.  Glen was told to sit in a chair and wait, but he had one more thing to say before Porter vanished.

            “Thank you for taking the time to do your duty, even if I did not show up on time.”

            The angel looked at him before at last the smallest smile came to the angel’s face.  “You are quite welcome,” and he vanished behind the big doors.

Forever 1.8: Psalm 23, Mercy

            Glen pushed through the prickers and burrs until he came to a dead patch.  He thought that was a bit of grace when he first saw the weeds quit and only patches of hardy grass ahead, until he got to it and realized it was an oil slick, and maybe tar.  The oil was hard to navigate.  There were pools from waist deep to over his head that he dared not slide into.  But the tar was worse.  Glen could only envision getting stuck and sucked under like quicksand.  Glen imagined the consternation of the archeologist who dug him up in the future beside the dinosaur bones.  That brought a chuckle, but made him all the more careful.

             Glen managed to get through that area with only one minor mishap.  He slipped, careful as he was, but he kept himself from falling into a pool of black crude by grabbing on to one of those stubborn bits of grass.  His face fell forward and slapped against the oil.  He came up sputtering and wiping the awful stuff from his mouth, nose and eyes.  All he could think was it can’t have helped his appearance. 

            After that, Glen saw the river on the surface of the land.  He got excited.  He ran to the edge of the chasm, but found only a cliff where the river cascaded down to the bottom in a great waterfall.  He tried to think.  He could not imagine how that chasm was made, but it seemed there were cliffs on both ends and all along the sides.  At the end where Glen started, the hedge made crossing impossible.  Now, the waterfall did the same thing.  The river was much too swift and wide and deep for him to navigate. 

            Still, it was water, and without too much thought, Glen washed off all the briars, oil and cleaned his reopened wounds.  He drank, not caring if the water was poison itself.  He drank until his stomach was full.  Only then did he think that a stomach full of water was not so wise.  He still had to travel.

            He moved on until he came to a little bit of a rise.  It was the first break in the flat land he had been traveling.  He paused at the top for a good look and two things caught his eye.  The first was near, on the other side of the rise.  It was the big man with the dark hair, dark eyes and cut beneath his left eye who paused the day before long enough to beat Glen senseless.  At first Glen thought he was asleep.  But then Glen noticed the man was cut in any number of places and his shirt was torn off and lying nearby.  To be honest, he looked beaten far worse than Glen was ever beaten.  Glen suspected the man was unconscious, though not dead because his fingers still moved now and then and tapped against a rock.

            The other thing Glen saw was where the road on the other side of the river curved toward the water.  There was a bridge in the distance and the road rose up a ridge that stood watch over the river valley.  On top of that ridge was a tremendous dwelling.  It might have passed for a rustic hotel like one might find in a national park.  It might have been a monastery or nunnery.  It was big enough to be all three combined, only at the moment Glen did not care.  It represented in his mind food and shelter and a bed out of the wilderness.  He wanted nothing more than warm covers and sleep, hungry as he was.

            Glen’s eyes darted back to the man down below.  He took a deep breath.  Despite everything, he could not just leave him.  He went down, half-expecting the man to wake, but as he drew near he heard only one soft moan.  The eyes never opened.  Glen found the man’s shirt and went to the river to soak it.  He came back with it dripping and washed the man’s face where the blood was beginning to cake.  The man never woke.

            After his cuts were washed, Glen thought to turn him over.  He imagined if he was cut on the front he was likely cut on the back as well.  It took some effort to turn such a big man and a couple of moans on the part of both of them, but when the man was turned, Glen took a step back.  He had been whipped.  The marks were clear and deep.  Whole strips of flesh had been ripped off and Glen ran to the river several times and did all he could for the poor fellow. 

            At last, he wrung out the man’s shirt, but before he laid it over the man’s back.  Glen had a thought.  Even wrung out, the wet shirt would not offer much protection.  He glanced again at the distant building to be sure it was not an hallucination, and then took off his own, relatively dry shirt and laid it gently against the man’s back.  Then he spoke.

            “I’ll be back,” Glen said.  “I’ll get help.  Just hang in there.”  Glen did not want the man to die.

            Glen found then that his legs had more in them than he imagined.  He could only walk, but it was at a good pace, especially after he came out from the bushes and found himself on soft, green grass.  He hustled and scrambled up the ridge.  He fell to his knees over and over before he made it to the top.  He huffed and puffed, but bent over, with one hand on his knee, reached up and clapped the knocker three times against the great wooden door.  He did not have to wait long.

            A man came.  Glen supposed it could not be helped that the doorman appeared to be an angel.  He was dressed all in white, and he had a most welcoming smile before it turned into a frown.

            “There is a man,” Glen started to speak and pointed back the way he came, but the one in the doorway interrupted.

            “You are late.  Where have you been?  There is no excuse.  You were expected yesterday.”

            A second angel came up and a third, but Glen’s mind was stuck.  “There is a man,” he started again, while the two newcomers reached for Glen as if they intended to carry him inside if necessary.  Glen backed away.  He would not budge until he delivered his message and they just had to wait until he got it all out.

            “Don’t worry,” the first angel said.  “We will send others to fetch him.”  Glen nodded, and then he was not sure what happened.  He probably passed out.

Writerly Stuff: Thoughts on Background Information

            It is getting difficult for me to give critiques these days.  One reason is because virtually every book I look at begins with a prologue, and virtually every prologue is nothing but background information with a nebulous connection to the story itself.  There is a reason why so many agents and editors don’t like prologues.

            Background information is important for a writer to know in order to present a consistent character – to know what motivates them and know how they would react or respond under certain circumstances.  It is rarely important for the reader to know.

            Imagine if Hitchcock began Psycho with scenes of a young Mister Bates suffering under a controlling, demanding mother.  The movie would not have had the same impact it did when the mother’s corpse was revealed.  Picture a young couple gallivanting around Paris before meeting up again at Rick’s café.  A murder mystery best starts with a dead body, not the detective’s troubled childhood.  The skeletons in the romantic couple’s closets are best revealed down the line in any case.  And after all these years I have concluded that Lucas was right to start the Star Wars movies with episode IV.  Movies I-III suffered from too much background (in my opinion).

            I have found that the background inevitably belongs… in the background.  Tolkien wrote one of the greatest works of fantasy in history and never once referred to the Silmarillion, and while he did refer to the original fall of Sauron and the 3,000 year journey of the ring, it was only in context and in a small and general way.  It was not a background story before the story. 

            I truly believe it is best to start a story at the beginning of the story, or better yet, inching toward the middle of the story as far as possible.  As a reader, I want to read a story.  Ten pages of preface, prologue or background information masquerading as the beginning of a story and you have lost me.

            Generally, I have found there is nothing in the background SO important that it can’t be shown in her actions (where the reader is led to understand that aspect of a character), or a couple of sentences of dialogue (in the right place and time) where the character explains her actions, or (as a last resort) in introspection, as in: “She remembered the gut wrenching nights, the tears and her inability to sleep over those first few months after her father left her.  She was eleven, a very vulnerable age.  She knew she should not cling to the men in her life, that making demands on them tended to drive them away, but sometimes she couldn’t help it.”  There.  Six pages of background done.

            I used to write too much background, but I am getting over it.  I used to want to explain everything in great detail and did not trust the readers to figure it out.  I am getting over that, too. 

            I see this all the time when I critique the work of new writers (especially in science fiction and fantasy).  Background is important for the writer, but don’t bog down your reader.  Avoid prologues at all costs.  Start the story where the story starts.

            When the story is done, without any particular reference to the past, allow a few trusted readers to say if they were confused and might be helped by knowing something in advance.  Work that in, but in the appropriate place and only what is needed to make it clear.

            Of course, having said that background belongs in the background, let me also say that there are always exceptions to every rule…