Forever 1.11: The Transient Heart

            Glen danced.  Not well, but he gave it his best shot, and Debbie helped him literally every step of the way.  He surprised her when he showed that he knew how to waltz, and he was somewhat graceful being rather athletic.  But the truth was, Glen spent most of his time trying to maneuver Debbie toward the punch bowl and then out of the torch lights.  It was not easy.  Debbie liked to dance.

            “You are a really good dancer,” Debbie lied as she set her punch cup on the edge of the table.  Glen took her hand and brought her out under the stars.  Showing her the big dipper was the only way he could get her alone.

            “I am not,” Glen admitted with utter honesty.

            “Well.”  Debbie took back her hand so she could worry her hands together.  She looked down again at her boots as she spoke.  “But you are much better than the other boys.  I think with a little practice you could be good.”

            Glen chose not to respond.  He grabbed her hand again and tugged her a little further into the dark while he pointed to the sky.  “There,” he said, and he traced the stars of the dipper with his outstretched finger. 

            “Oh,” she said with some excitement in her voice.  “I see it.”  And Glen was glad.  She knew what a dipper was, unlike the girls a hundred years in the future.  Glen turned to her and risked setting his hand around her waist like they did when they waltzed.

            “Now about this dancing,” he said.  Debbie was not fooled.  She slipped her arms around his neck like she no doubt watched her mother do it.  Glen needed no more invitation.  He kissed her, and it was no tentative kiss.  Debbie’s eyes went wide before she squeezed them shut and poured herself into the kiss.  When their lips parted, Glen did not let go.  He held her tight, and she held him with equal desire.  He pecked at her lips, kissed her cheeks gently and kissed her forehead before he kissed her eyes.  He had no doubt her heart was racing.  His certainly was.

            “You know,” Glen said.  “In some cultures kissing is considered an invitation to marry.”  Debbie looked at him and looked deeply into his eyes.  Then she kissed him, smack on the lips, and did her best to leave a permanent impression.  Glen got the feeling she was marking her territory.  When she was done, she spoke.

            “I would not mind,” she said, and Glen was the one who felt it was best to bring Debbie back into the light.

            For the rest of the week, Debbie snuck away from home and came to the digs by lunchtime.  She always brought a basket of goodies, and Glen found her harder and harder to resist.  They sat in the grass, held hands some,  kissed some, and talked about everything and nothing and sometimes did not talk at all.  But every day, Glen became more anxious.  It was coming up to the time when he was supposed to leave and join his family up north at the club.

            Glen found the cave, but this time he opted to leave it covered.  He did not want to end up in 1768, although he imagined he would not mind seeing Debbie in something more low-cut in place of that turtleneck prairie dress she always wore.  When his last day came, he held on to her.  He gently touched her breast and felt her fire roar.  He knew he was on fire already, but he went no further.  Deep down he knew it was not right.  Still, he could not help the words that came unbidden from his lips.

            “Come with me,” he said.  “It is not far to the city where we can catch a train for the east.  We can,” he almost hesitated.  “We can marry and have three children, just like you want, and we can be happy.”  He was surprised at how little he had to struggle to talk her into it.  She had a bag.  He had a duffle he could wear as a backpack.  He could hardly sleep that night.  And in the morning, his grandparents said good-bye, apologized for not being rich enough to sending him off with a horse.  But he said that was alright, kissed them and ran to the spot.

            Debbie was already there, and she looked excited.  He was thrilled to see her as well, and he decided in the night that 1868 might not be so bad if he was with her.  He certainly knew what to invest in if he ever got any money to invest.  Given the chance, they might even become rich.  No, that might not be bad at all.

            The first few hours were wonderful, though they held hands and said very little.  In the following hours, Glen caught her glancing back.  When they stopped for lunch, the glance had become a look and Glen asked her about it.

            “I’m just thinking of my family, my home, my friends.  I’ll get over it.”

            “This is a great adventure, just you and me.  As long as we are together I know everything will be wonderful,” Glen said.  She smiled, but even then Glen knew it was a lost cause.  Soon enough she was talking about going home where they could have a proper wedding first, and then she began to talk about what they were doing, that it was wrong and they were going to hurt a lot of people.  Glen did not let it go too far.  He might have been a teenager, and really a teenager, but somewhere inside him there was still the wisdom of one much older.  Indeed, his parents often accused him of being old even when he was a child.

            “Your bag,” he said.  “I have to go.  But I will come back next year and maybe I can come to stay, if you still want me.”

            Debbie cried.  She took her bag and turned around, but she cried for as far as Glen could still see her.  She would get over it, indeed.  It really was only puppy love, or perhaps puppy-lust with raging hormones, but she would get over it.

            Glen also turned and walked without paying too much attention to which way.  He stayed pretty much on course, but found a surprise a couple of hours before dark.  He came to the digs.  He had not intended that, but somehow he must have gotten turned around.  He did not mind, though.  This time he was not only going to the cave, he was going inside.

Forever 1.11: Gone to Dance

            “So, are ya going to hold her hand?”  Tyler asked.  He was the nice one, and he was asking about Debbie.  Glen shook his head when he spoke.  He could not believe that fifteen and sixteen year old boys in 1868 actually talked that way.

            “Of course, it’s a dance.”  Glen understood the young men sincerely respected the young women enough to treat them gently and believed that sex was best kept to marriage, if even then.  Heck, one out of ten girl’s Glen’s age back home in 1968 had already given up her virginity.  The boys expected it and the girls no longer respected themselves enough to say no.  “I’m going to kiss her.”  Glen announced, just to see their reaction.  Tyler turned red.  Curtis looked at his feet.  Robert, the big mean one, sneered.

            “Don’t lie,” Robert said.  “You’re just making that up.”

            Glen grinned.  He had no idea how well they knew him – how long he had supposedly been in town, but it was long enough for the boys to know who he was and at least one girl knew him.  He was glad to hear that his feelings in that brief encounter a hundred years in the future were mutual feelings.

            “Hey look,” Curtis changed the subject.  “Look who is riding a horse.  It’s old man Wilson’s nig –“

            “Hey!”  Glen hit Curtis in the shoulder and the boy dutifully said ouch.  “Show some respect for a free man.”

            Curtis looked like he did not understand.  Tyler stepped in.  “Okay, negroid.”

            “That’s not much better,” Glen frowned.

            “What would you call him?”  Tyler asked.

            “How about African-American?”

            “Shit,” Robert erupted.  “You talk like a damn Yankee.”

            Glen whipped around and hit the boy hard enough to send him to the dirt.  “My family is all over the Carolina rolls of the honorable dead, and my uncle also died defending Vicksburg from the damn Yankees.  Don’t you ever call me a Yankee again, and you better keep that nasty talk to yourself around me, too.  God is my witness, you will respect other people, all God’s children, or so help me I’ll hit you again.”

            Robert thought about it.  Tyler and Curtis did not know what to think, until Tyler got between Glen and Robert.

            “He didn’t mean nothing bad by it.  Did you Robert?  It’s just how we talk here, that’s all.  Nothing bad.”

            Glen nodded slowly.  In 1868, they honestly did not know any better.  He knew it would be generations before anything really changed and there was nothing he could do about it in the short term.  He stuck his hand out to Robert who was still on the ground, thinking.

            “Sorry I hit you,” Glen said.  “No hard feelings.”

            Robert grinned as slowly as Glen had nodded.  He took the hand and let Glen help him up.  “Sorry I called you a damn Yankee,” he said until he got to his feet and added, “Ya damn Yankee.”  He turned and ran.  Tyler shouted and ran after him a short way.  Curtis might have run, but looked at Glen who was grinning and shaking his head.  After a moment, Tyler came back and he, Glen and Curtis walked to the school together.

            Outside the school, there was a dance floor set-up on the lawn.  There was an American flag flying on the flag pole with far less stars than Glen was used to, but Glen got the impression if he peeled back the stars and stripes he might find the stars and bars just beneath the surface.  There was a separate stage for the band and a few tables shoved together that had all sorts of baked goods and sweet goodies on them, along with the required punch bowl. 

            Curtis wandered off when Tyler and Glen made their way to the food.  Ms Esmeralda Commons, the school marm scolded them and said they had to wait until the dance started.  Glen put on his best humble face.

            “Yes, mam,” he said, drawing her attention to himself while Tyler stuffed something sweet into the pocket of his slacks.  With that accomplished, Tyler echoed the “yes, mam,” again as a distraction, but Glen honestly felt he could wait.

            “Glen.”  It was a girl’s voice that made him turn around.  Debbie came up, all smiles.  Susan was with her, and Glen was startled to realize he knew Susan’s name.  He hardly had time to contemplate the implications of that, however, because Debbie’s father was right there beside his daughter.  And he was sporting a pistol at his belt.

            Glen swallowed as Debbie introduced him.  “This is Glen that I told you about.”  The man eyed Glen with laser beam eyes.  No matter that lasers would not be invented for a hundred years.  

            “Debbie tells me you are bright.  Any thoughts about the future?”  The man jumped straight to the point, whatever his point might have been. 

            “Yes, sir.  I was thinking after I finish my schooling here I might venture east to Davidson College or maybe William and Mary.  I am thinking about the law.”

            “Where?”  Debbie asked.

            “Virginia.  Davidson is in the Carolinas.  I have some family there.”

            “Oh, but that is so far.”

            Glen looked up at the man who was considering something.  This was clearly not the response the man expected.  Then Glen almost overdid it. 

            “Of course, Harvard has both a school of law and a Seminary if I should find myself moving in that direction.  But, that is even farther from home.”

            The man nodded, but came to a conclusion.  “Stick with the law.  That is where the money is, and an entrance into politics besides.”

            “Yes, sir,” Glen said.  “But wisdom suggests I wait to see how the dust settles before any political venture.”

            “Yes it does.”  The man almost smiled.  He patted Glen on the shoulder.  “We may talk more later.”  He turned to his daughter.  “Alright sweetheart,” he said, but it was almost swallowed by the shout, “Bob.”  And he left them and went off to see Bob, whoever that might be.

            Debbie grinned.

            “What?”  Glen asked.

            “My father has given his permission for you to court me.”  Glen looked shocked.  He had not considered that an issue.  Debbie took the expression on his face the wrong way.  “Unless you don’t want to.”  She looked down at her dowdy boots and twisted one in the dirt.

            Glen did not have to think for long.  He held out his hand.  “I want to.”

            Debbie looked up, turned a little red at the sight of his hand but also did not have to think long.  She place her hand gently in his and Glen felt her smile return in full force.

Forever 1.11: Southern Nights

            About two out of three summers Glen and his family traveled south so Gram and Grandad could also spend some time with their grandkids.   The south was hot in the summer.  Glen often thought of it as a steam bath and would point to the steam that appeared to rise from the pavement as proof.  He did not mind the steam bath, though it was hard when he was young in the days before air conditioning.  Back then there was no escape.

            One thing that was certain about that small town in the south, Glen was always considered a tourist.  It did not matter how much family he had in town, he was an outsider.  He came from the outside and soon enough would return to the outside, and there was a touch of jealousy or some unnamed emotion that went into the stares he got.  Glen ignored all that. 

            When Glen was fifteen he had a chance to stay in the south for a while when his family went up north to the club without him.  He didn’t mind because his uncle was into digging up the past.  The area had been settled for almost 2000 years, and Glen’s Uncle had some of it and had found a great deal more.  Of course, it all got written up in fancy journals and such, but Glen did not care about that so much.  He loved the artifacts, and he loved finding them. 

            Glen understood that the digging was a slow and laborious process.  As has been said, it was about as interesting as watching grass grow.  What Glen did not realize was the work that had to go into preparing a site for the dig.  He spent most of the week with a scythe in his hands chopping weeds and grass and bushes and sweating and trying hard not to step on any adders or rattlesnakes.  It was brutal in the southern, summer sun.  But he would chop all day with his future cousin-in-law beside him and then go home to the air conditioning and the television where he stayed up far too late watching the Republican National Convention.  He saw the one four years earlier – the one with Goldwater, Mister AU H2O, though he did not understand all of it.  He saw the one where LBJ got the nod, and the one that nominated Humphry around so much violence.  Now it was Richard Nixon’s turn.  He still did not understand all of it, but found it fascinating all the same.

            The site was a mound built against a small cliff that continued above the cliff in a small hill.  It was the end of the week when Glen swung at a hanging vine, he thought he might bang his scythe on the cliff face but curiously banged only air.  As the vine fell, he found a cave.  He was alone at that point, his future cousin-in-law having gone to town for lunch and something cold to drink.

            Glen did not know what to do.  The cave was not big, though perhaps big enough for him to stand in the entrance.  And it was dark, like it was covered up for so long it looked reluctant to let go of the darkness.  Glen imagined between the trees and vines and the bushes, prickers and briars that hemmed it in, no one had looked into the cave for years, perhaps decades.  Maybe no one alive even knew it was there.  He was tempted briefly to do the foolish thing and go inside, but then he thought the snakes probably knew the cave was there.  He imagined the bats and spiders that might also know about it.  Still, he thought one shout would not hurt.

            “Hello!”

            His heart skipped a beat when he heard a response.

            “Hello?”

            The steam came.  It surrounded him quicker than his panic could make him turn and run.  It smelled of sulfur and smoke, made his eyes tear until he could not see, and left him to stagger toward the fresh air.  After a short way he had to sit down.  His eyes closed and teared terribly, but his lungs were grateful.  Meanwhile, his ears picked up a strange sound of squeaky wheels, stomping hooves and rattling planks.  It amplified when he heard his future cousin-in-law say “woah.”  Then he heard a ratchet sound like a brake and just had to peek through his tears.

            “Come on, Glen.  That’s enough for today.  Time to go get cleaned up for the dance tonight.”

            “Dance?”   Glen looked.  The young man was driving a horse and wagon.  Glen did not understand.  What happened to the pick-up?

            “At the high school.  Debbie will be there.  Don’t you want to see Debbie all cleaned up?”

            “Dance,” Glen said more firmly.  As his eyes cleared from the smoke he got up and gathered his scythe and shovel.  He remembered a Debbie.  He met her once earlier in the week.  She was fourteen, a year behind in school.  He really never talked to her, though, because his cousin had to go and dragged him off with her.

            “So what happened to you?”  Glen’s future cousin-in-law asked.

            “That cave I found.  When I uncovered it, it spewed out some sort of sulfur-like smoke.”  Glen pointed but there was no cave to be seen.  The vines and bushes were all back in place.  “Huh!”  He was startled, and his companion had the kindness not to say, “What cave?”

            Glen’s grandmother dressed Glen in a shirt with a stiff collar, black pants and suspenders.  She said he looked very nice.  With the black tie boots, Glen imagined he looked like somebody named Clem.

            “Don’t stay out late.  At least not too late,” his Grandad said with a broad smile on his face.

            “Yes, sir.”  Glen responded in the way he felt was expected.  Then he was not sure what to do.  He had no idea where the high school was, but he saw a couple of kids dressed like him walking along so he thought to follow. 

            Glen had been quiet all afternoon, ever since his wagon ride back from the digs.  He saw many men on horseback and most looked like farmers, but a few looked like cowboys complete with chaps and guns.  He also examined the wagons they passes.  Most were loaded with hay, corn, cotton, tobacco and peaches.  There were tons of peaches. 

            Glen finagled the year out of his future cousin-in-law.  It was 1868, one hundred years earlier than he began that morning.  Curiously, he was not surprised or shocked or especially upset at his transition in time.  It felt like he had done that sort of thing before, though it also felt like he should be a different person in 1868, and his future cousin-in-law and his grandparents should not have been there. 

            “Glen!”  One of the boys saw him and waved and Glen knew he was trapped.  He jogged to catch up and then had to struggle to figure out the names of the boys. 

Forever 1.10: When Sorrow Comes of Age.

            When Glen was ten, he touched the fairy for the second time.  It happened when he asked the fairy to sit beside him on the big branch where he often stretched out his legs.  Aster stayed out of reach, but she was glad to comply until Glen made a request.

            “Would you get big?”  He asked, because she had not done that and he wanted to see her full sized.  Glen knew in their big size, fairies could pass for ordinary people, though very beautiful people.  So Glen wondered what Aster looked like in human terms, and he wanted to try and guess her age.

            Aster said nothing.  She rose up from her perch and flitted back and forth a bit as she appeared to think.

            “Please.”  Glen thought to add the word, and that seemed to be enough.  Aster sat again on the branch and became big, and her dress also got big to accommodate to the larger Aster.  Glen was astounded.  He said nothing for a good minute, and Aster actually had to prompt him.

            “Do you like the way I look?”  She said and turned her head away like one embarrassed.

            “Very much,” Glen said.  “And I would guess you are about twelve.”  He could see the signs that her stick figure might be getting ready to develop some shape.”

            “Thanks,” Aster responded with a look in his eyes.  “But I am much older than that.”

            “Wait a minute,” Glen made her pause as he thought about it.  “That would make you about sixty in real years.”  He guessed.

            “Exactly.”  Aster sounded surprised before the two of them sat, looked at each other now and then and mostly looked at the lake.

            “You are taller than I am,” Glen said at last.

            “Girls mature faster.”  That was the first time Glen heard that, but he believed it.

            “Let me see your hand.”  Glen raised his hand and waited while Aster fretted.  Aster worried her hands, looked down at her feet over the water, brushed her hair behind her pointed ear, but at last put her hand to his so her thumb was to his thumb.  She had long fingers and fully a third rose above his, but her hand was narrow and disappeared entirely behind Glen’s.  They both smiled when they touched.

            “Your fingers are longer,” Glen said.

            “Your hand is wider,” she responded while she wiggled the part of her fingers that stuck over the top of his.

            “But you have longer fingers than I do.”

            “But your hand is wider and swallows my little hand.”

            “It does, but yours is softer.”

            “Yours is stronger.”

            They were babbling.  Neither wanted to let go even if they weren’t exactly holding hands.

            “Glen!”  Someone called from the path in front of the Big House.  Glen and Aster snapped their hands back to themselves.  “Glen.”  The person inched down the steep hill to see where Glen was sitting in his tree, but Aster was already little and gone.  It was Brother Tom.

            “I’ll be back next summer,” Glen whispered, though there was no response.

            “Who are you talking to?”  Glen’s brother looked at him like he thought Glen had surely lost his mind and was talking to himself.  Or maybe he glimpsed something.

            “Just telling stories,” Glen said as he scrambled back up the hillside.  He said no more about it.

 

###

 

            When Glen turned thirteen and Aster turned sixty-three, Glen could see that he guessed rightly.  She had the small bumps and curves of a girl who was going to become a beautiful woman.  Glen smiled all summer and they sat close, side by side, and held hands, often.  They did not say much that summer, but they did not have to.  They were content to be together.

            Glen took that whole summer to work up the courage, but at last he took her to the end of the trunk where the roots of that big tree clung to the side of the hill.  He was about to speak when something zoomed past them like a sudden gust of wind.  Aster rolled her eyes in a very pre-teen fashion that Glen knew well.  The gust came again in the opposite direction.

            “My cousin.”  Aster admitted.

            “Oh?”  Glen stuck out and stiffened his arm and immediately felt the bump against his forearm and heard the complaint.

            “Ow!”  Aster’s cousin fell to the ground in a crumpled heap and rubbed his chest.  He was an elf and about eight or nine in human terms, the age Glen was when he first met Aster.

            “Caleon!”  Aster scolded him with his name and stomped her foot.  He totally interrupted what might have been an intimate moment.

            “I wanted to see him.  I can see if I want to.”  Caleon even sounded like an eight-year-old, though he sounded more like a nosey little brother than a cousin.  Aster responded in her most grown-up voice.

            “Well, you’ve seen.  Now go tell Iris I’ll be home shortly.”

            Caleon looked up at Glen and Glen had a word to add.  “Go.”  Caleon went.  Aster watched but as Glen felt the wind, he found his hands move to Aster’s waist. 

            Aster turned to Glen with great joy written all over her face.  She was still a bit taller than him in her big form, but that did not matter.  She slipped her hands over his shoulders and pulled in for a great hug, and both fairy and human felt exactly the same way – full of joy and peace and warmth.  Then their lips met.

            Most Grown-ups forget what it is like to be twelve and thirteen.  They think of such young people as children.  They forget what it was like before sex invaded their lives.  There was nothing sexual in that kiss, but it was full of more passion than most grown-ups would believe.  When they parted, Aster had tears in her eyes.  She took a step back and Glen did not resist, though Glen wanted to hold her longer, maybe forever.

            “I have to go,” Aster said, and she let go completely.  Glen also let go, though he felt the stab in his heart when he took back his hands.

            “I’ll be here next year,” he said.  “You will be almost thirteen then and I’ll be fourteen, and maybe as tall as you.”

            Aster let out a whimper of a laugh before she began to cry in earnest.  She immediately got small and fluttered out of reach.  Glen saw her head shake and heard her words between her tears.  “I cannot see you again.”

            “What?  Why?”

            “Because you are growing up, and I can’t help that.  You are becoming a young man and I am still the same little girl you met on that first day.”

            “No, but you are growing, too.”  Glen saw Aster shake her little head.  He put his hand out to her, but she just backed up a bit more to stay out of reach.

            “When I am of age, Iris says you will be fifty, and when I am full grown you will be eighty.  I don’t want to see you get old.  I want you to stay young with me forever in my heart.”

            “But that is not fair.”  Glen did not know what else to say.  Aster hovered and stared at Glen while he came to grips with it all in his mind.  “If you change your mind.  If you ever need me or just want to see me, promise you will find me.”  He felt the tears come to his eyes as well, but shoved them back down.

            Aster nodded and said something that Glen could never have articulated on his own.  “I love you.”

            Glen responded with his heart.  He felt the same way.  “I love you too.”  And he watched as Aster flitted across the lake, a fairy at first, then indistinguishable from a butterfly or horsefly and finally she disappeared altogether in the silver sparkles of the sun that danced on the lake in the late afternoon.

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.