A long red light
Kick the kickstand down
Lift up your legs
Form into a lotus pose
Palms out to the sun
Kick up the kickstand
Quick turn left
Quick turn right
Into the lane
Graced by a handpainted sign:
A few feet of rope
Is all I need
A death defying jump
As evil as a motorcyclist
O'er a mountain
I'll purposely fail
I'll miss the mark
And fall into the dark
And as I fall
Into the trench
I'll hang on to the only bit
Of serenity I've ever witness
It seemed like plenty of minutes
Before my grounding
Of the situation
I'm placed in a displaced
Though I'm dismembered
My disfigured image displays
My inner being
I confront my discomfort
And end all thought
The final sight
Will be as is
Take me as I am
As I take away my life
I love it when someone’s thrown into the scene
Like a motorcyclist hitting a woman picking up her children from school
And before she can cock her head back to ask
How was school or
What did you learn today
There’s a helmet crashing through the windshield at 70 mph
Then the swerves and the tire tracks
And the screams and the noise
Everyone get up
Brush yourself off
And ask if everyone’s alright
But the motorcyclist is pronounced dead on the scene
And the mother will have to take counseling
Where she’ll start an affair with her shrink
To escape the boredom of suburban life
And the kids will think it’s cool but won’t realize
The whole affair will inspire one to write
Award winning novels
And drive the other into an early suicide
When someone’s caught off guard like that
I can’t help but to smile at
The helplessness and the look on their face
It’s the eyes
The same kind of look the mother has when her
Husband comes home early only to find her
Riding Dr. So-and-so in the same bed her
Two boys were conceived
Later the dad will say to his boys
It’s not your fault
And one will cry like a little girl
And the other will call his brother a little girl
Though in the middle of the night
He will wear the same face his mother wore
When she cocked her head back and saw
The man wearing the half undone tie she bought two Christmases ago
This man is in fact the keeper of some nuptial vows
She can still recite to this day
Expressive redux when she does a double take
And stares at the wedding ring on the hand
Still clutching the doorknob
We embrace order and schedules
But we need that spontaneity
That everlasting feeling that
We aren’t just cosmic specks against
A grumpy god
Deep down we all have that felling somewhere
That sense of small
The feeling the brother gets as he
Dots his i’s and crosses his t’s
On the suicide letter
But even deeper is the tickle in the back of the skull
Felt right before the rope or belt or Christmas lights or electrical chord
The feeling he is wrong and with it floods the realization
Of meaning in the absence of a reset button
Cashing A Check
I just saw this wonderful line
in a column in a motorcycle
"The mind writes checks that
the body can't cash".
The vision that many from the
old neighborhood have of me is
short and thin with a Pepsi in
one hand and a cigarette
in the other
Others will remember me as
taller and thin, hitting a jumper
from the corner or throwing
a "no-look pass" to a cutter.
Others will picture me at the
end of the bar in the Broadstone
with an open pack of Pall Malls and
a half-finished beer on the bar;
Don Gibson's "I Can't Stop Loving You"
on the jukebox.
"Pat, one more when you get a chance"
Age has taken the jumper
Diabetes has taken the Pepsi
Common Sense has taken the
cigarette and booze.
I am older and wiser and
hopefully more tolerant
I am satisfied with my life
to just be able to once more
fake the man guarding me and
go up with a jumper and
get nothing but net
To be able to, once more,
"cash that check"
”Milestones” by Robert Rasor, American Motorcyclist; March 2006
Copyright 2006 John F. McMullen
The Chief of the Bali Police, Inspector General Teuku Ashikin Husein, has renewed his call for closer scrutiny and control over scantily glad tourists riding motorcycles on Bali's streets. The Chief told his officers, "for now is enough to give them a warning and give them a T-shirt to wear." The top policeman in Bali was quick to suggest his officers be on guard against unwanted side effects of his order. Smiling, he warned: "We'd be wrong if local residents all headed for the streets with half-naked bodies in order to get a free shirt. Let’s not have them happen, it could bankrupt us." - Kompas/4/2009
One can imagine the pandemonium that descended the morning after the free T-shirt proposal went into effect on our demure island paradise, dubbed by Jawarharlal Nehru as ‘the morning of the world’ for its endemic harmony and intrinsic order. A thunderous roar shattered the serenity of sunrise, sending bakso men careening to the curbs and macaques climbing to the tallest branches of trees. A seemingly endless procession of bare-chested locals on motorcycles clogged the major arteries of the busiest bule ghettos – sorry, I mean, ‘areas of tourist interest’.
Tourists, mistaking this for some sort of cultural procession, immediately took out their cameras and camcorders to capture the event.
“What are all those boys doing on motorcycles?” asked a blue haired American tourist, focusing the zoom on her Leica M8 digital camera, boasting more bells and whistles than the Walthamstow greyhound track.
“I think it’s a cremation procession,” answered her English companion, carrying her umbrella to shield her purse strung face from the unforgiving equatorial sun, not unlike Irene Dunn in Anna and the King of Siam.
“Ahh, fuck it,” said a young Australian in Billabong gear, large Bintang in hand, “let’s get bloody hammered. Woooooooooohoooooooooo!”
“Did someone mention boys?” inquired a middle aged man from Zurich, her eyes precisely searching, like Swiss clockwork, for local young boys to bugger.
“Look!” said the ghost of the blue haired American’s husband. He’d been dead for three weeks but nobody in Bali informed him, out of politeness and superstition. “The police are handing every motorcyclist a free T-shirt. Now, that’s an unforgettable image I’ll take to the grave.”
“Free T-shirts!!! Woooooooooohoooooooooo!” the Australian shouted, spilling half his beer on the Swiss-bugger. “Sorry, mate,” he apologized, spilling the remaining half on the English prune carrying the umbrella.
Meanwhile back at police headquarters, the General’s Pembantu Letnan Satu was pacing hysterically. “Jenderal, Sir. The entire budget of our department was been spent on supplying one million T-shirts to our half-naked people! We’re bangkrupt. Flat broke. Rugi!!! What shall we do? We have no more money to pay our staff their salary.”
The General removed his visor cap, a hat that would certainly impress any ten year old boy who had never played a video game, and tugged on the long hair protruding from the left mole on his chin.
“Salary! When has salary been a consideration for a policeman doing his sworn duty?” he sternly admonished the young officer. “Call all patrol cars to send up roadblocks at every major intersection from Jimbaran to Ubud. Tell them to check for helmets, expired registrations, broken taillights and to double the fines if they find durians stinking up any moving vehicle. Our dedicated officers know the drill. Tell them, ‘business as usual’.”
“And if that doesn’t work, Sir?” the officer meekly asked.
Tugging now on a mole hair coming from the opposite side of his chin, the General answered with ascetic calm, “Then, we do the same thing our bank directors do…we rob banks.”
“Yes, Sir!” the Chief Warrant Officer saluted firmly. “Anything else, Sir?”
“Yes. Bring me a dozen free T-shirts for my meeting with the Governor this afternoon.” Then, testily twisting a recalcitrant bristle emanating from a humongous mole on his nose, the General added, “And get me some goddamn tweezers!”
By Andy Tran
It was dark, blackened, and booming with thunderclaps. It was a Monday night when Drew, Art, and Clarke were out in the parking lot behind their crumbling two-story apartment building. They were sitting on picnic tables that were littered with crumpled bags of potato chips and crushed Coca-Cola cans. The three boys had been college students who’d attended Virginia Commonwealth University. And now they were staying in purgatory, waiting for a van to come with some trials and tribulations that would prove their goodness and vouch for their character.
They had died the night before in a car accident. Clarke had driven his cherry blossom Jaguar down the main road while he was texting on his phone. He swerved over the concrete median. A gray eyed, black haired woman was walking down the crosswalk. She stepped onto the sidewalk. The car battered into her body. Blood flew up into the air. Her arm tore off her shoulder. And it rolled down into the rain gutter. The car smashed into a telephone pole on the other side of the street. Before the howling ambulance could arrive to rescue them from impending death, Drew, Art, and Clarke had died, and taken their last breath.
At the current moment, Drew was reading a Playboy magazine, drinking a beer. He pulled on a cigarette with his leg hugged to his chest. His face was resting up on his elbow that lay beside a bottle of lotion. Across from him was Art who was sharpening a hunting knife against the bench, peeling the wooden edge with his blade. He made faces in the wood as he carved deeper into the heart of the wood. Clarke was sitting on the other end of the picnic table clutching onto a leather bound bible that touched his plastic crucifix. The cross bounced against his paper rosary beads.
They were enjoying each other’s company because it had been a long time since they had seen each other. When college had ended the year before, the three of them had gone their separate ways. Except now they were in purgatory waiting to be tested for their sins.
Drew had driven his Mercedes Station Wagon back to Northern Virginia where he crashed on his brother’s couch in his Georgian Style four-story brick house. For supper he ate spaghetti and meat balls. He would walk to the indoor gym and bench-press 190 pounds. He would perform rows using dumb bells while looking at the mirror, wondering how he had become so chubby in the face and so obtuse around his belly. He had red hair and freckles under his eyes. He looked like Fat bastard from Austin Powers, except he had a coke addiction, so he looked much gaunter than Mike Myers.
When he would finish his work outs he would go straight to the 7-11 across the street from his neighborhood and buy two buffalo chicken tacquitos and a lemon-lime Gatorade to rejuvenate his energy. He’d sit on the floor of his balcony that overlooked the town and he would eat and drink. He would dream about having a girlfriend, just dream.
But even Drew was smart enough to know that he would not find one, not in his current condition of health. He needed to lose more weight and gain more confidence. He was a virgin. Back when he was a toddler his aunt had played around with his private parts, and that promoted a stunted experience to him gaining knowledge in sexual intimacy.
Art had ridden his Honda motorcycle across dilapidated streets full of potholes and wide cracks. He went home to his crooked bungalow behind a swimming pool, where he used to serve as a lifeguard before his supervisor fired him for taking his daughter’s virginity. Art had reasons to have resentment towards the supervisor. Because all of it was a lie, that had no concrete backing. The daughter had given him head while he stroked her breast. She knew what she was doing. He presumed that she lied about being a virgin. But he hoped that she didn’t lie about being eighteen.
The night he found out the daughter was going to have a baby, he bought a hunting knife. Not because he wanted an abortion. But because he wanted the baby by a C-section which he thought was the correct method of extracting a child. Although when he had arrived at the doorsteps of the daughter’s house he began to think about his own daughter. And as the overhead light on the front porch buzzed on with an orange glow, Art sheathed his knife back into its holder, turned around, and walked away into the shadows.
And back when he was a child living at home alone with his mom, after his dad passed away from leukemia, she would beat Art with a switch made out of a strip of an oak branch. Whenever he would receive poor grades on his report card, his mom would take out the switch, tell him to turn around and stick his butt out, then she would whip back her arm and strike him over and over across the back, as if she owned him and had the right to punish him the best way she saw fit, which was every day until he grew muscles and height and bought a hunting knife to use for woodworking, but it actually served him as his protector from his hurtful mom.
Now Art had an insatiable desire to hurt people, evil women like his mom, cutting them apart with his knife. But he only pondered the idea of killing a human being, he had never hurt anyone before, hadn’t even bullied another person.
Clarke had taken the Greyhound bus back to his hometown in Winchester. He got off his stop near his house. But before he dragged his luggage back into his bedroom, he went across the street and attended church at the Catholic establishment called Holy Spirit. He sat in the front pew so that he could kneel only a couple feet away from the center foamed stage that was covered in a table cloth that had blessed water poured over it. The church reeked from the candles, tithing bags, and red wine, and crosses, with communion bread.
He pressed his hands together and held his face to his folded fingers. He sank his knees into the pew that was covered with red felt, and he prayed, prayed until he felt his body glow with a warmth, warmer than the love that he felt for God. The gospel music percolated through the air and the smell of incense filled his lungs. Later he found out that the church was stealing money from the parishioners in order to facilitate their child pornography operation. It hurt him to hear that information. When he came back to his house, Clarke burned his bible in his fireplace while he smoked a cigarette, trying to forget about his false god.
After he had graduated from high school there was this one summer night when he and his sister Martha were smoking pot and drinking forties. They were riding their red bicycles around the black pavement of their cul-de-sac, racing each other from one end of the block to the other. Clarke was biking especially fast, and as he turned his head around to smile at Martha, his front tire jammed against the curb. He landed on the front lawn of his next-door neighbor’s house, unscathed. Martha shook her head at him and laughed. She dropped her bike on the street and went over to help him up to his feet. But when she was walking across the street, a sable motorcycle came charging up the block. It was hurtling across the sidewalk, the biker waving his hand, screaming at Clarke to get out of the way.
But Clarke just laid there, on the ground, his eyes fixed on the yellow beams of light flashing into his line of sight. He closed his eyes. A great magnitude of force pushed him across the weathered grass. He opened his eyes. Martha was staring at him, smiling. And as she turned her face around, the motorcycle crashed into her body. The sound of bones breaking filled the air. A deep silence pervaded through the neighborhood. Blood stained the lush green grass. Martha lay there on the sidewalk, her arm curled at an irregular angle, her leg splayed out. The motorcyclist gunned his engine and wailed, riding away from the scene of death.
Clarke felt a rumbling sensation within him. His stomach lurched forward. He threw up on his clothes. He dropped his head to the front lawn. Wind blew against his face. The grass fluttered across his eyelids. And the hot tears crawled out of his eyes, while he prayed to God for the first time in years, that he would one day see Martha in heaven.
Back in purgatory Drew, Art, and Clarke each wanted to leave and atone for their sins, with hopes for absolution and peace in heaven. Drew believed that he would have virgins waiting for him up in the clouds. Art knew that heaven could be an abstract place, so he only wished for tranquility and a hammock tied between two rugged oak trees, for relaxation. And Clarke remained undecided on heaven, hoping that his faith in the lord hadn’t corroded over time.
Drew flipped out his cellphone and glanced at the time on his screen: 11:39pm. Earlier in the afternoon he had sent an email to a website that sold clone women. They cost a hundred dollars each, but he had enough grad money from his family and his job working as an audio technician at a music studio down on Broad Street which afforded him the funds to make the purchase. These clone women were formed in factories shaped from blood, flesh and bone. They had light white skin and long legs. Their faces were curved into ovals and they had eyes that shone with a cobalt brilliance that would make any man shudder just by gazing into their direction.
A half an hour later an unmarked white van pulled up into the parking lot. The sliding door slammed back. And a dark haired man wearing black sunglasses came out carrying three heavy boxes under his arms. He dropped them on the asphalt. Then he reached into the back compartment in the trunk of his van. He got out a roll of latex condoms, a butcher’s knife, and a first aid kid complete with sutures and adhesive bandages. He brought the items to the picnic table and set them on the bench, one piece at a time, in front of the boys.
The dark haired man narrowed his eyes and smiled at Drew. “Here’s your order sir. You paid for your purchases online and the credit card will be sent to your billing address. Drew fished out his wallet and grabbed a few greasy dollar bills and then handed them to the man. “Thanks for your help, sir,” he said, shaking the man’s hand. Head tilted forward, the dark haired man bowed, turning around, he went back to the white van. Before he got in through the driver’s door, he turned around and told the boys, “And one more thing none of you can interfere with each other’s clone women. Or else the tests will end and none of you will be able to pass your judgment and go off into heaven.” Then he got into his car, gunned on the engine, and careened out of the parking lot.
The boys looked at each other and then looked at the boxes. They shook hands and agreed that no matter what they would not hinder each other’s trial. None of them wanted to stay in purgatory. They wanted to go up into heaven and leave earth. Ghosts, apparitions, spirits, would ever they called themselves, would not survive on this barren land that they named their half-way house. It was a place where they had to reside in until they completed their tests. And it was critical to gaining a seat up, up away in the clouds of heaven, a fact that they all were aware of. If one of them impeded the other from finishing their trial, then the others would immediately be transferred to the underworld. And none of them were in the mood for getting sunburned.
Drew, Art, and Clarke stood up from the picnic table and walked up to the three cardboard packages. Art unsheathed his knife from his leg holder. He cut the solid black tape off the front and the middle of one of the tall crinkled boxes. Clarke held his plastic cross and wriggled the rosary beads with his fingers. Art and Clarke squeezed Drew on the shoulder and smacked him on the back for good measure. Drew sighed as he stepped up to the first package and opened the cardboard flaps.
An arm extended from the box. Then a blonde blue-eyed woman jumped out of the box. She had on a black cocktail dress and black stockings. Her lavender ballet shoes clicked together as she stepped out in front of Drew. She lay down on the asphalt, took a piece of cloth from behind her waist, and then she tied the blind fold over her eyes. Drew went over to the roll of latex condoms. He grabbed them and he looked at the girl. She was beautiful like a runway model that hadn’t been photographed with airbrush and applied with copious amounts of makeup. She had sullen cheeks and a hooked nose. Her breasts were round and large and did not seem to have any cosmetic surgery administered to them.
Drew glanced over at his friends. Art was rubbing his hand on his temple and biting his bottom lip. Clarke was sucking on his thumb, a habit of his that he had developed from chain-smoking too many cigarettes. Drew turned back and unzipped his fly. Then he ripped open a condom wrapper. He went behind the dumpster beneath the corrugated scaffolding and covered the condom over his penis. He hurried over to the blonde woman and stood a foot away from her, his chin in hand, considering her profile. He wanted to sleep with her and bang her brains out until she moaned with happiness and was writhing with insatiable pleasure.
Then the blonde woman began to shudder uncontrollably on the graveled ground. She tossed her head back and forth and coughed out loud. She screamed and under the blind fold tears began to stream down her cheeks. Drew hung his head down in his hands. He rubbed his face with his fingers and sweated with anxiety. He had an incredible infatuation with women. But he didn’t have it in him to rape this blonde. Evil hadn’t settled into his psyche. He bent down and untied the blindfold from the woman’s eyes. And then he grabbed her by the arm and pulled her up to her feet. He reached into in his wallet and took out a twenty-dollar bill. He pushed it into her hand and told her to catch a bus back to wherever she had come from and to never venture back to this decadent area. She smiled and nodded at him. She spread her arms out and gave him a hug. As she was turning around to walk away, she looked over her shoulder and blew him a kiss. She told him that he passed the test and that he would be transferred to heaven in a short while. Soon she disappeared from view and vanished into the shadows that hung suspended over the shadows of the alleyway.
Drew went back to the picnic tables and chucked the roll of condom packages into the dumpster. He pounded his fist on the tabletop and cursed out loud. He was embarrassed that he had even considered contemplating having sex with that girl. He smoked a cigarette and then drained a beer. The test had shaken him to the core and he did not know if he could handle watching his friends go through their trials and tribulations. He pulled on his cigarette and blew out smoke, thinking about what the afterlife would be like for him.
Art came over to the second cardboard box and with his hunting knife tore the pieces of tape that held together the packaging. He took a step back and tucked his hand under his armpit and then waited to see what was going to happen. His mind was clear with thoughts that revolved around murder and death. The hunting knife weighed his hand down. The intense desire to kill this clone woman was becoming too powerful to resist. He had a compulsion to hurt, to destroy. He didn’t know if he had it in him to stop his hunger to kill. His chest started to beat with a rhythm that was steadier than a hummingbird perched on a flower petal. His arm shook with a tremendous amount of trepidation as he saw the cardboard flaps spring up and back.
A thick leg popped out of the box. And then a petite brown-eyed brunette wearing a white sundress and red heels climbed out of the packaging. She brushed the Styrofoam and the dust off her shoulder. Her eye turned to Art and she grinned at him. She took a long, thick piece of rope from the box. Then she tied her hands together in a loop and tightened her wrists together, so that her arms were twisted behind her back. The brunette hobbled over to him and gave him a wide smile. She motioned her head towards his side.
Art lowered his head. He looked at the hunting knife holstered in his leg holder. He unsheathed the knife. He walked up to the girl and raised the knife over his head. But then he glanced over his shoulder at his friends and hesitated.
Clarke was shaking his head. Drew was running his fingers through his hair and forcing a smile on his face. They both seemed to not be interested in Art’s current predicament. But in reality they both were worried about him. They wanted him to pass his test. Not just for their sakes but also because they didn’t want their friend to burn in hell.
Turning back to the girl Art lifted up his knife and seized the girl by her shoulder. He heard somebody yell in pain. He craned his neck left to right. Before he could zero in on where the sound was coming from, he realized that the guttural scream had arisen from his own throat. He dropped the knife. It clattered on the asphalt. He covered his face in his hands and breathed in with considerable relish. Tension fixed in his legs as he tried to walk over to the girl. He picked up his hunting knife from the ground. He approached the girl from behind. He grabbed her hands. Blade in hand, Art sliced through the ropes tightened around the girl’s wrists. The pieces of rope fell through the air and landed on the ground. He took the girl by the shoulders and turned her around. He slipped the hunting knife into her hand. She closed her fingers over the knife and nodded at him. She smiled at Art and hugged him by the waist.
As he closed his eyes and grinned he felt a rapid slashing motion tear through the space below his chest. He clutched onto the gaping wound. The laceration hurt like hell. Blood oozed out of the deep, open gash. Art collapsed to his knees and grabbed his side. He felt a rushing burst of pain stab through his body. He looked at the woman. She smiled at him and told him that he passed the test. She delivered the hunting knife back to him. And then kneeling down, she rubbed her hand over his injury. A great amount of warmth washed through him. Art closed his eyes and tried to stand up. He got to his feet. The pain had departed from his wound. He thanked the girl. She waved at him and then she turned around and snapped her fingers. After a short time her body began to dissolve into particles of dust and she evaporated into mist. Her source of energy floated up into the air and disappeared, as if she hadn’t existed to begin with.
Clarke rushed over to his friend and scooped up the first aid kit. He cleaned out his wound with a bath towel. Then he applied some scented healing ointment to his wide cut. He sealed it with an adhesive bandage and sighed with respite. Art patted him on the back and shook his hand, thanking him. Clarke nodded his head at him and put his hand on his face, smiling. Kit in hand, Clarke went across the parking lot to the final cardboard box. He took out a pair of scissors and cut through the tape.
The box opened up, the lids popping from side to side. A green-eyed redheaded woman soared out of the opening and smiled at Clarke. She bent down and picked up the scissors that was lying on the ground. She took the blades and snapped them into two. Then she took one of the sharp edges and stabbed her stomach with a quick thrust. She smiled at Clarke, her head lolling back, as she fell to the side. He scrambled over to where she was laying on the asphalt. He pulled the scissor blade out from her abdomen.
His hand hurt with a twinge of pain as he dropped the scissor blade to the side. He was about to take a clean rag and clean out her wound when he noticed a paper note placed in her front shirt pocket. As he cleaned her injury with the rag, he opened the note up and read it. The note said: I don’t want to live anymore because I sold my soul to the devil for a thousand dollars in order to pay for my abortion.
Crushing the note in his hand, Clarke picked up the woman with his hands and hugged her as tight as he possibly could without causing her anymore anguish. Her tears dribbled down his face and for a moment he believed that he had cried. He didn’t want this woman to die. Even though he hardly knew her, he didn’t know if he could pass the test in order to go to heaven. At this present time he thought that purgatory might not be such a bad place to stay at.
He shook his head and rubbed his face with his hand. The sweat was dripping down from his slick hair. Hot breath lapped around his neck, the woman was taking short, measured breaths. He could feel her heart beating through her chest and it was making him feel like a monster. Because he had the opportunity to save her life, but he was not sure if he should follow her wishes, or just go ahead and rescue her from death.
Life after death seemed as if it were a picturesque landscape painting that existed in realistic fiction detailed with lush green meadows, and valleys with warm rivers flowing through the center of their crevices. Clarke had no apprehension when it came to helping others, but these present set of circumstances confounded him. A slant of pressure was sliding within him on the inside and it made him disturbed. He worried about the woman who was in his arms, gasping for breath. Her blood was staining his shirt collar. She was wracked with an incredible quantity of emotion and her peach-colored skin had shriveled up into pale white, a white that belonged on the chalk outlines of unidentified bodies lying on the pavement with yellow tape surrounding the perimeter of the scene. He put his hand under her shirt and felt the blood soaking out of her long gash. He gazed into her deep green eyes and stifled his sobs. He smiled until his tears had slid down the corners of his mouth. And then he kissed her. He said to her, “I’m going to respect your wishes, no matter how much damage my conscience will receive.”
She smiled back at him and brushed her red hair away from her green eyes. She put her arms around his neck and embraced him with a kiss. Her breaths fluttered against his neck one by one, warm and moist. Hand around his shoulder, she squeezed his bicep. “Don’t feel bad. You just passed the test,” she said. She released her arms around his body and fell back to the pavement.
Her red hair burned into the air like flame diminishing from a candle on a warm summer evening. Her green eyes decreased in size and began to explode with a flash of emerald splotches. Her pale white skin brightened up with strokes of yellow and shades of blue. And then she softened into a big puddle of melting limbs and corroding bones. The wind swept the remaining ashes of her body away and carried the deceased woman into the afterlife.
Clarke sank to the ground and cupped his face with his hands. He cried, cried as if he had lost a best friend to cancer. Cried so hard that his mouth screamed with trepidation and he shrank into the fetal position. Closed eyes, and open mouth, he slammed his fists against the asphalt until he felt a surging pain rise through his knuckles His arms shivered with grief and he felt a void in his heart that was surrounded by boxes of glaciers.
Frozen and numb, he wanted to leave purgatory and travel across to the other side to find that green-eyed redheaded woman and wrap his arms around her waist and nuzzle his head against her face and tell her that he should have had the courage to save her from death. He yanked his plastic crucifix off of his neck. He battered it against the brick wall of his apartment building.
The paper rosary beads clattered along the ground. He tilted his head back and reached out into the air with his arms, pumped his elbows back, and then screamed, screamed until his lungs seared with unbearable pain. “Lord why are you doing this me? Why don’t you show yourself? You’re a coward,” he said with pain dripping down his voice.
When Clarke had raised his head up at the sky, flailing his arms, shouting, his small bible slipped from under his jacket pocket. The bible dropped onto the asphalt. Yellowed pages flapped open, back and forth. And the red ribbon that served as a bookmark drifted off into the wind. He bent down on his haunches and picked up the bible. He leafed through the pages. Then he read from Ecclesiastes 1:2.
“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says The Teacher, “Utterly Meaningless. Everything is meaningless.”
Clarke nodded his head in agreement and said, “That’s exactly how I feel right now.” He got up from the ground, walked over to the picnic table, and sat down on the bench. Bible in hand he immersed his focus into reading the prose that had tranquilized his desperate spirit.
Drew smoked another cigarette. He was feeling exhausted and he wondered what his fate was going to end up like. He knew that he had passed the test, but he still felt guilty for wanting the flesh of that blonde woman. A billow of smoke drew out of his mouth and he sighed.
Art was etching rectangles and rhombuses into the table top with his hunting knife as he leaned forward on the bench. He propped his face with his hand and yawned. He felt crappy about wanting to hurt that brunette. On the other hand he loathed that she had tried to kill him. But passing the test was the main thing that stay embedded in his mind. He hoped that he would gain entry into the pearly gates and hop across the white fluffy clouds of heaven. For a long time none of the boys said anything to each other. It wasn’t if they had talked much before anyhow, but now they really just wanted some peace, and some quiet.
A booming crack of thunder crashed through the walls of the double-sided alleyway. Clarke shut his bible so hard that the pages slapped into each other. Gusts of powerful wind pummeled into the dumpster beside the picnic table. The bottles of beer tumbled off the bench. Glass shattered across the asphalt. Cigarette butts rolled around on the grass near the parking lot. Lightning flashed and thunder roared as light rain plummeted down in volleys.
Art dove into the dumpster and grabbed out three plastic bags. He handed each of them to Clarke and Drew. “Just think of them as umbrellas,” he told them with a slight smile. He wished he could just get drunk and forget about the whole day. Heaven seemed so far away, and he didn’t have the patience to wait.
The three of them covered their heads with the crumbled plastic bags. The crashing sounds of rain grew into a soft, pitter-patter, and then stopped completely. Rain drops slid off their arms and splattered on the benches.
Drew curled his knees to his chest and grappled his hands around his kneecaps. He had all the time in the world to think about anything that he desired. But right now he wanted to eat some Ribeye Steak and Scrambled Eggs. He pulled on his cigarette and then coughed in his shoulder. He had been trying to quit smoking for a while, but the allure of nicotine always had brought him down and up, until he stopped his attempts. Then he started to chain-smoke, heavily to forget about his brother who had died from lung cancer back when he was still alive on earth and not in purgatory.
Clarke shut his eyes and clasped his hands together. He prayed that he would get into heaven. He pushed the bible across the picnic table. His eyes lowered, his mind was decaying from the lack of sleep. Then he remembered that he was dead. He didn’t have to sleep in purgatory. He reached across the table and picked up the bible. He asked Drew for a cigarette. And when he popped the cigarette in his mouth, the flame burning the tip of it, he felt powerful for some odd reason. As if he had the right to make his own decisions. He was his own man. His arm remained in the air, his hand over the bible. Ash crumbled from the cigarette tip, and plopped onto the paperback cover.
A golden lightening blot struck Clarke’s hand. Shockwaves catapulted through his palm and fingers. Ferocious power had smacked into him. He bit his bottom lip and clutched his hand, which writhed with pain.
Directly across from Art, heavy movements pounded against the large green dumpster. The black cover top banged opened. Green paint chipped away and flopped onto the garbage bags. Art crawled back to his spot on the picnic table and shuddered with fear. He had no idea what to expect, nor did he know if he should have any expectations.
The black trash bag exploded into hundreds of pieces and a gigantic white man shot out of the green dumpster, dressed in a black hoodie sweatshirt with a Rasta beanie. A wire hanger was protruding under the man’s thick mop of dreds. He untangled it from his hair and chucked it at Art. Arm swooping down, Drew blocked the wire hanger with his hand. He swatted it to the side. The white man bellowed out a roaring laugh. He clapped his hands together. Thunderbolts detonated in cacophony. The yellowish, blue shine illuminated the darkened alleyway.
“God is that you?” asked Clarke.
A huge lightning bolt crashed right before his feet. Clarke howled in pain, scrambling back, waving his hands everywhere. He made a face at the white man and flipped him off with his middle finger. He felt pissed off and wanted to pummel him with his fist, but his body was convulsing from the pain that he had received from the shocking bolts.
“Don’t say that name in vain. Next time I might kill you. Then we’ll hang out for eternity,” said the white man. He laughed so loud that the walls of the alleyway reverberated with a great volume of roaring sound. “Just kidding. I wouldn’t kill you.” Sunlight poured in between the cracks of the clouded sky.
Warmth latched onto Clarke’s shoulders and made him feel awfully pleasant. He straightened up his posture and walked over to the white man. He nodded his head at him and extended his hand out. “My name’s Clarke. And these are my friends Drew and Art,” he said.
“I am called Michael,” he said as he shook Clarke’s hand. His long, brown dreds spun to and fro. His eyes glazed over with cherry red as he smiled at him. He looked like a Rastafarian that had smoked too much marijuana and now spent his time playing Mario Kart and Beer Pong.
Drew came up to Michael and shook his hand. He felt a considerable magnitude of heat undulating from the man’s hand. “Call me Drew,” he said as he took a step backwards. He wondered if he had come from heaven. He dropped his hand to his side and tipped his head up at Michael, thinking that it would give him validation points.
Michael clicked his tongue and sighed. His red eyes brightened with madness. He came over to where Art sat on the picnic table and stooped over him. He smacked Art on the back a few times with his mighty hand until Art’s shoulder blades cracked with release. “How are you doing?” he asked him.
Art turned around and looked at him skeptically. “Yeah…um, I don’t even know you dude. But I’m Art,” he said. He hunched over and carved a piece of chipped wood off of the bench. The woodchip peeled off and it bounced onto the street. He wished that that woodchip was Michael. Maybe he would get to stab him if Michael turned out to be a degenerate character.
Whistling through his brown-stained teeth, Michael stood up from the bench and walked over to Clarke and grasped him on the shoulder. He looked into his eyes and wondered if Clarke had the potential to enter into heaven. Out the corner of his eye he glanced back at Drew and Art. Faith was what Art needed in his life, or his purgatorial life. And one look at Drew and he could tell for certain that the kid needed to work on his conversational techniques with the ladies. He considered himself to be a good judge of character, after all he had been appointed by God to test these three boys. He knew that Drew, Art, and Clarke had passed the trials and tribulations with the cloned woman who had come from the darkened sky packaged in cardboard boxes, but he wanted to know if they were ready to embark on a new quest.
Clarke smoked a cigarette and put his face in his hand. Heaven didn’t seem so far from purgatory now. He puffed out smoke and sighed. Belief in God and having passed the test indicated that he came from a good background and that he had a admirable character. Although he knew all those things he could tell from speaking with Michael that there was a journey ahead of him and the other guys. He took a good look at the white man.
Michael was ten feet tall and he had a beard crusted with potato chips and red jellybeans. His eyes glazed over with candy taffy apple. Tarnished in a blackish-white color, his skin stood out freckled with dots. His lips were cut up raw with slits and the ends peeled as he rubbed his upper lip with his tongue. Brownish flakes filed off.
He reached into the huge pocket on the bottom of his hoodie sweatshirt and pulled out a neon-green plastic bong. And with a flick of his wrist he flipped it up and caught it with his mouth. Tipping his head forward he snapped his fingers.
“No way,” said Drew. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing with his eyes. He had always believed in mystery and magic, but this was too unbelievable. He sat on the bench and looked straight ahead at Michael.
A small chunk of bud landed in Michael’s hand. He put the bud in the metal bowl of his neon-green bong, pressed his ashy lips on the mouthpiece, and then he sparked it. The walls of the alleyway rattled. And the sky and the ground seemed to push into each other. Twin pillars of smoke spurted out from within the green bong. Gray wisps circulated up and up, loop-de-looping. He sucked in all of the contents and held his breath. His cheeks blazed with a reddish, blue hue. He pounded his chest. A yellow ball of smoke and haze lolled out. A smile of enormous proportions ballooned up and stretched across his face. Jellybeans and potato chips spilled down from his beard and clanked against the asphalt. He hurled the bong up in the air, and it loop de looped. He clapped his hands. And the bong disappeared.
Clarke looked at Michael with his mouth hanging open. “Dude that was so awesome,” he said. He had no reservations anymore. He believed in Christ again and he had a feeling that the white man in front of him had powers bestowed upon him from the lord.
“Thank you Clarke,” Michael said. Then he pulled his black hoodie sweatshirt up and over his head.
Great white wings fanned out of his upper back, adorned with intricate light feathers. Michael reached into his pocket and fished out his golden halo. He tapped the glowing edge. And it brightened up with a remarkable clarity. He placed it over his head. And the halo began hovering above his shaggy hair.
Art couldn’t believe that this interesting character was in his presence. Guilt pierced through his chest. He didn’t want to hurt Michael anymore. He knew now that hurting people was wrong. But somewhere deep inside of his soul, he still wanted to hurt somebody just once, just to try it out.
Cigarette in hand, Drew walked over to Michael. He wanted to touch the feathers on the wings. He wondered if they were used for flying. He stood in front of Michael and asked him, “So are you an angel?”
Michael nodded his head at him. He thrust his hand out and snatched the cigarette from Drew as he was putting it in his mouth. He crushed it in his hand. “You shouldn’t smoke. It’s bad for your lungs he said. I know. That’s how I died. It was stage four lung cancer,” he said.
“I get it. I know the repercussions from smoking. But I mean you’re smoking weed. Isn’t that bad for your lungs? And by the way you said that you had died. So does that mean you used to be a human being, like us?” Drew asked him.
“Yes I used to be a human. But after I passed the trials and tribulations I became an angel and was brought to heaven,” he said.
Art left his hunting knife on the picnic table because he didn’t want to appear violent, carrying it around an angel. He walked over to where Drew and Michael were talking. And then he asked, “Do you mean that you had to pass trials and tribulations, just as we had to do?”
Michael laughed and shook his head.
“What’s so funny?” Art asked, feeling a little conflicted, wondering if Michael was laughing at him, or something else that was wandering through his mind. He didn’t know if angels even had functioning minds. But there was an angel standing right before him, speaking with eloquence, demonstrating his command over the English language.
Michael put his hand up and smiled at him. “I meant no disrespect. But I have to admit I was amused when you had asked me your question, because it implied that you had gone through the same arduous tasks that I had faced back when I was in purgatory,” he said.
“So what ‘arduous tasks’ did you have to take?” Clarke asked him.
Michael turned his head to Clarke and pursed his lips. “There’s a reason that they call me Michael,” he said. He had a steely gaze on his face. His eyes narrowed and became darkened as the night around them with a hint of crimson round his pupils.
“Why’s that?” Art asked, not even caring that he was interrupting the conversation; he just wanted to get down the answers.
Michael took in a deep breath. For a short while he said nothing. Then he glanced back at Art and said, “I am an arch angel. A long time ago my friends Gabriel, Raphael, and Uriel and I had to fight in this war in heaven. I became an arch angel because I completed my trial. And that trial was to kill the dragon and his warriors. After I killed the dragon I transformed into an arch angel. And that’s my story.”
“Was the dragon, Lucifer?” asked Drew.
Michael nodded his head at him and then looked off in the distance at nothing in particular.
“That’s correct. And he’s still out there,” he said. He rubbed his hands together and told the boys, “Gather around in a line and take a good look at yourselves.”
The boys looked at each other. Then they looked back at Michael.
“You are all eligible to fight a new dragon. This dragon is a reincarnation of the gray eyed black haired woman,” he said, glancing over at Clarke. “And she is the same one who died when you crashed your car into that telephone pole, killing all of yourselves instantly,” he said.
Clarke looked down at the ground. He felt sick to his stomach. He wanted to rest. “I made that mistake. I’m sorry everybody. We wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t done that,” he said, looking very vulnerable.
Michael put his arm around Clarke’s shoulder and squeezed his arm. “Now you have a chance for redemption. Turns out that gray eyed black haired woman is a serial killer. She has killed many children. She has a mental disorder that has destroyed her brain cells. She didn’t deserved to die like that, but nobody will miss her, especially her victims living up in heaven,” he said.
“But before any of you face this new dragon you have to enter the underworld and deal with your insecurities and inner demons,” he said, folding his arms behind his back. He took one look at Drew, Art, and Clarke and then he smiled. “So are you guys ready to face your fears?” he asked them with a chill in his voice.
Drew looked at Art. Art looked at Clarke. And Clarke looked at Drew. They nodded their heads at Michael. Then one by one they shook his glowing white hand.
The shaggy brown hair moved away from his face as Michael brushed his dred locks back from his glazed red eyes. He backpedaled from the three boys. He pressed his hands together, rubbing them from one end to the other. And then his great white wings flapped back and forth, making a small burst of energy. From the thin air, the ball of energy floated down to the asphalt. The energy ball plunged straight into the asphalt. It began to drill a hole into the black street. The hole increased in size. And it grew deeper and deeper. A glow of electricity buzzed through the ground.
Drew, Art, and Clarke peered over the edge of the humungous hole. It was a long tunnel with thick ridges that seemed to reach to the other side of the planet. At the bottom of the hole there was a marble white floor festooned with stripes curved in a serpentine style.
Michael reached into his hoodie pocket and grabbed out a long, roped ladder rolled up into a bundle. He crept over to the large hole. And plucking two steel nails from his hair, he crossed his chest with his finger. He stooped down to his haunches. He unraveled the roped ladder. He looped the thick braided cords around the nails. And then he smashed them into the asphalt, as if he were stepping on a cockroach.
Kicking the top of roped ladder over, Michael stepped back. The ladder with the grainy corded rungs toppled down into the large hole. He crossed his arms and smiled. Then he snapped his fingers. A blunt appeared in his hand. He lit it, smoked, rings of gray clouds rose from his crusted lips. He glanced back at the boys. They were standing with their feet shoulder length apart, mouths agape. He laughed. And smoking his blunt, Michael went over to the boys and said to them, “Who’s going down first,” he asked?
Drew raised his hand so fast, that he didn’t even realize that he was making such a rash decision. But he felt that he could conquer this task. He believed in his courage. “I want to go down there,” he said.
“Alright you’re going down first. Just climb on down there, Drew. I wish you the best of luck. Once you reach the bottom of the hole you have to go through the room on the end of the hallway, then you have to wait for your trial and tribulation. I hope that you pass the test. Best of luck to you Drew,” he said.
Lungs heavy with leftover carcinogens, Drew coughed into his hand. He hoped that he would have the stamina to complete the task. Heaven didn’t seem like such a distant possibility anymore. It felt real to him.
Drew went over to large, deep hole in the ground. He clutched onto the first rung of the thick roped ladder. He felt the intricate stitching on the rung. He felt the rough edges. He lifted his leg up and set his foot down on the second rung. The ladder wavered from one side to the other. Drew feared that he would drop to his death. He took short, measured breaths to stop his heartbeat from escalating rapidly.
For a long time he climbed without making a sound, except for a whimper ever now and then. He thought about the blue-eyed blonde who he was supposed to have sex with. After a sigh of relief he knew that he had made the right choice. If he had slept with that woman then he would have had to rape her first under the conditions of the test. And then he would have had to sleep with for eternity. Then that would disqualify him from entering heaven, leaving him in purgatory forever. The muscles in his arms strained with his lack of strength. His back was hurting. He slowed down his descent. Each of his legs was drained of energy and he thought that he wouldn’t be able to make it. He prayed to God that he would survive.
Twenty minutes later, Drew planted his foot down on the marble tiled floor. He collapsed onto the floor. His back groaned. The feeling in his fingers drifted away. He rolled over onto his belly. He struggled to get up to his feet. His chest heaved with a violent cough. He cleared his throat and shook off his fear. Ahead of him there was a hallway glowing brilliantly with small candles hanging on brass holders jutting out from the walls.
“How is it down there?” Art asked him. He was lying on his stomach, looking down at his friend, hoping that he would pass his trial and tribulation. He gave him a head nod and told him that everything was going to be alright, but he did not know what was going to transpire.
Drew faked a laugh. “I’m down here. Ready to go. I think I’m going to do well man.”
“You’ll be fine dude,” Clarke said, but in his mind he really didn’t know if Drew would pass his test. After seeing him almost touch the body of that blue-eyed blonde, he had reservations about his character. But Drew was his friend and he wanted the best for him.
Drew waved at him. “Thanks for the encouragement man,” he said.
“Can you just get on with it,” said Michael. “I don’t mean to be an asshole but there are two more guys who need to go through their tests. I mean, we’re not on a budget for time, but you need to get a move on. So hurry up,” he said.
That made sense to Drew. He looked up nodded his head at Michael. Then he walked down the long corridor lit with glowing yellow orbs.
There was a door at the end of the hall. He knocked on the door. The knob turned clock wise. And then it opened back leaving a little room to enter into the unknown place.
Drew walked inside.
The door slammed right behind him. It was a noise that was so loud that the knob rattled off and hit the floor. A chandelier hung from the ceiling and gleamed in the small room with a brilliant glow.
Industrial steel panels covered the four walls of the room. There was a round wooden table sitting in the center of the floor. On top of it, stood a porcelain vase stuffed with bloody roses with thorns jutting out from the green stalks.
Drew went to the wooden table. He plucked out a rose from the porcelain vase. For a moment he considered it in the palm of his hand, carefully, so as not to prick his fingers with the thorns.
There was a piece of paper tied around the rose with a red ribbon. He freed the note from the rose using his finger to unhitch the knot formed by the ribbon. Then he set the rose back into the vase along with the ribbon. He unfolded the note and read it. Across the page there was a message scrawled down the blue line. It said: By now you must realize that not only did you not rape the blonde blue-eyed woman because shame had washed over you. But on the inside of your soul you know that you are not heterosexual. You’re gay, it’s plain as day. You passed the first test. Your second test is to confront your sexuality and make peace with it. Not only that, but you have to admit to one of your friensd that you’re attracted to him. And in addition to that you have to express your feelings to him by kissing him. And after that you will be authorized to proceed to the final test.
A tight swelling roped around Drew’s right breast. He dropped the note. It landed softly on the floor. He wondered if he were in hell. He remembered earlier when he had the decision to have sex with the blonde woman. He was happy that he did not rape her, because that was a horrible and revolting act that any human being would have had a difficult time to justify.
He wondered if he had on oral fixation because he chain-smoked cigarettes and if that meant that he had a predilection for phallic objects. He felt his blood boiling with uncertainty. With the swipe of his arm, he swung his hand at the vase. The roses flew into the air. The vase shattered against the steel wall. Blue, jagged pieces of porcelain spread throughout the floor.
Drew staggered back and sat down on the floor. He wrapped his arms around his knees and hung his head down in his lap. As much as he hated to admit it, the note was right about him. Ever since he was a child he had the feeling that he liked boys more than girls. He lived in the same neighborhood as Art. Every day they would go to the large swimming pool in his backyard and play in the warm water. He’d splash Art in the face with a burst of water. And Art would tilt his head back and laugh, splashing his friend back with a wave of pool water. And Drew would stare at Art, his body sleek from the body dripping down the small of his back. Art would climb out of the pool and dry his body off with a bath towel. His swim trunks clung to his lower regions. His golden skin glistened under the blazing sun. Art had these clear blue eyes, eyes that would fascinate Drew. He would often gaze at him when he was turned away to the side, bending over to clean the drops of water from his leg. Drew loved to stare at Art’s broad shoulders and muscular back. Sometimes he would catch himself getting hard just by looking at his friend. Then he would have to excuse himself to go to the bathroom. There he would relieve himself and masturbate to the mental picture of Art.
As the memory of that sunny afternoon dwindled away from his head, Drew’s stomach lurched forward. He got on his knees, pressing his hand against the floor. He felt nausea building up in his liver, because of all the beer he had drunk earlier.
He rested his head against the industrial steel wall and slid down the floor. He crossed his legs. And pressing his hands against his mouth, he contemplated as to why the church would not allow such a sacred tradition like marriage to be established between two men, but a priest could go and hump an altar boy and get away with it. But he knew life was not that simple. For half-an hour he sat there, deep in thought, restless from having to decide what to do. After some thought he liked to believe that he was comfortable with being gay. However he had no idea that he had feelings for Art. He didn’t know how he would be able to discuss with him the particulars of his attraction with him without some confrontation that could potentially turn disastrous. He prayed to the lord, hoping that he would give him the strength to admit to Art that he loved him more than a brother but as somebody who loves another person.
“Doing alright there buddy?” asked Michael.
Drew got up from the floor and turned around. There was a speaker mounted to the corner of the wall where he had slumped over. He tapped his finger on the padded boom. It reverberated with a high pitch sound. “I’m doing well. Should I come back up now?” he asked.
“Stay down there. Art is coming down next to pass his test,” Michael said.
His hand shuddered with nervousness as he punched in the button on the speaker. “Art is coming? Right now?” he asked. He wished that he were in hell instead of purgatory, he didn’t want to tell Art that he loved him, but what other choice did he have now?
“I’m here now,” Art said.
Drew glanced over his shoulder. He spun all the way around and forced a smile. “I didn’t expect you to be here,” he said.
Art was standing right in front of him, looking tired from his climb down to the bottom of the hole. His knife gleamed in its holder on his shin. “Well I have my own trials and tribulations to pass as well man,” Art said with a grin.
He pointed outside of the room. “I have to go inside of that room and try my best to pass my test. Wish me luck man,” he said.
Before he could hurry out of the room, Drew grabbed him by the wrist.
Art glanced at him and smiled. “Something wrong Drew?” he asked him.
Drew wanted to make out with him and tell him that he had always had a crush on him. “Good luck man. I hope you pass your test,” he said.
“Have you passed your test yet?” Art asked him.
“I’m almost done with completing mine,” he said. “Don’t worry about me. Go do your thing,” he said making a kind face.
Art smiled and nodded his head at him. He patted Drew on the shoulder. Then he turned back around and walked to the other room adjacent to where the other room was. He pressed a gray button on the side of the wall. The sliding glass door cracked open and then opened all the way up.
Art stepped inside. The glass door slid back and locked shut. Lights from a tall lamp in the back shined with an orange glow. In the center of the room there was a fish bowl sitting on a wooden table. A goldfish was swimming around in the bowl, flipping its fins, its big black eyes staring back at Art. He moved over to the wooden table. He noticed that there was a tiny note sticking out from the goldfish’s mouth. With a quick motion, he snatched the goldfish from the bowl. Water splashed onto the ground. He felt the goldfish’s ribbed gills and its wet, orange skin. He unsheathed his hunting knife and cut a slit through the goldfish’s mouth. The note fell onto the floor. The goldfish’s eyes rolled back inside its head. Art tossed the goldfish back into the bowl. It dropped to the bottom of the bowl and got buried in the algae and the coral reef. Art didn’t feel bad for killing the goldfish. This was purgatory. The goldfish was probably a bad person.
He opened the note with the edge of his hunting knife. He pulled up a chair that was sitting next to the wooden table. He sat down and holding the note in his hand he read it. Along the page in neat type the note said: Your next trial is to forgive your friend Drew for what he’s about to do. You have to control your anger and not get frustrated. And most importantly about this significant test is that you cannot kill him for being who he is. You have already shown that you have empathy and kindness when you did not kill that brown-haired lady. You have the potential to go onwards to heaven. You have shown strength. So your next test is to not hurt your friend Drew and to forgive him.
Art rapped his hunting knife against the glass wall. It didn’t make a dent. The knife dropped from his hand and clattered along the floor.
He didn’t know how to respond to this message. For a moment he had thought killing the goldfish would absolve him of his sins. Now he knew that not to be true. He couldn’t believe that his test was to not hurt Drew and to forgive him. He did not know what he had to do in this situation.
Since childhood Drew and he had been best friends. They played little league baseball together. They studied together in the park lying on the grass by the lake. He remembered one time when Drew and he were playing out in the backyard in his swimming pool. Earlier in the day Art’s mom had beaten him with a switch. That killed him on the inside. Because he was crying in front of his best friend. But Drew was not like most friends. He didn’t give Art a hard time. Hell, he never mentioned it again to him. What he did was he rubbed Art on the back and gave him a kiss on the forehead. Then he hugged him, holding him in his arms he told him that everything was going to be okay. From that day on Art always knew that Drew had his back. Art would play Mario Kart 64 with Drew at his Aunt’s house. When Drew had told Art that he hadn’t lost his virginity yet, Art didn’t care. He knew that Drew chased girls as much as he could. But when Drew told him he had been with a girl before, he was impressed immediately. Then Drew told him that his Aunt used to touch his penis when he was a little boy. But now that she had Lupus everybody in the family treated her, as if she were untouchable. The irony settled into Art and at that point he wanted to hurt Drew’s Aunt so much because she had tainted his best friend. And he knew that Drew didn’t deserve to be treated in such a horrible way. Drew had begun to cry and he put his hands over his face. Art didn’t know what to say. He put his arm around Drew’s shoulder and whispered in his ear: One day you and I, we’re going to leave this place and never come back. We’re going to go to a tropical island and sit back in beach chairs, the water sliding across our toes as we bury our feet into the canary yellow sand. We’ll drink margaritas and eat pizza for days until we get sick. No women will bother us. Not my mom. Not your Aunt. It’s just going to be you and I bud. Chilling, and having a great time.
Stuck in purgatory, Art did not expect to receive such a note. Why would he want to hurt his best friend? Why would he have to forgive Drew? He picked up the hunting knife, kicked over the chair, and walked out the room. The sliding door slammed shut. The goldfish had plummeted to the sandy bottom of the glass bowl, blood smearing the stalks of green that protruded from the rocky edges.
When Art was walking down the hallway shining with bright candles, towards the large opening of the humungous hole tiled with marble, a paper airplane flew into his chest. He staggered a little and then caught the airplane. Before he could open the airplane up and read it, a great force slapped him on the shoulder with intense power.
The paper airplane fell to the floor. Art lifted his head up. Then he laughed.
Drew was looking at him intently. Sweat beaded along his forehead. And he kept moving closer to Art, as if he wanted to hug him.
“Hey man,” Drew said.
“Hey yourself,” Art said.
Drew chuckled and threw his head back, putting his hands behind his neck. He laughed again. And then he grasped his hand around Art’s shoulder. “I have something to tell you,” he said.
Art shrugged his shoulder. “You’re getting a little too close there buddy,” he said. He wanted to punch Drew in the face. He didn’t know why he was acting like this. Was he supposed to forgive him now?
“Can you just let me talk man?” Art asked, his hand still holding onto Drew’s shoulder.
Art looked at Drew and then looked at his shoulder. He backed away from him. “Yeah you can talk. Say what you want to tell me,” he said.
He had his hand covering his hunting knife’s leather holder, the hilt jutting out from the side. He knew that he had to restrain himself. He was not supposed to overreact. He was supposed to forgive his friend, no matter what happened.
Drew picked up the paper airplane from the floor. He crumbled it up. And then he threw it over his shoulder.
“Why’d you do that?” Art asked him.
“Look man,” Drew said. “If you want to read the note that’s completely cool with me, but if you want me to be man to man with you, I need to show you what my test is about.”
Art backed up against the wall and could feel the tension in the room. “Alright I won’t read the note. Just show me what your test is about,” he said. He felt worried and so uncomfortable.
“Yeah…I guess I’ll show you,” he said.
Drew grabbed Art’s arm and pulled him closer to his body. He noticed that Art was flailing his arms and cursing him. Drew put his hand on Art’s face. “Stop moving so much,” he said. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
And then he kissed him. Right smack on the lips, he grappled his arms around his waist. He couldn’t believe it, but it was true, he liked men more than women.
Art pushed him away. He spat on the floor. And now he realized why he had to restrain himself from hurting Drew, and why he had to forgive him, for coming on to him to strong. But he didn’t know if he had the capacity to do that. His mental faculties worn and used, he just wanted to go home and take a break. But he couldn’t, he was stuck in purgatory and he had to pass this trial or tribulation.
“Why did you do that?” he asked.
“Because that was my test,” Drew said, crossing his legs. He looked hurt.
Art rubbed his face. “What exactly was your test,” he asked.
“I love you,” Drew said.
“What?” he said.
“You heard me. I love you,” Drew said.
“You love me?” asked Art
“More than a friend, and part of my test was to kiss you. So now I’m content with being gay,” he said with a smile.
“Wait so you’re gay now?” Art asked.
“I’ve always been gay,” he said.
“I can’t believe that this is happening,” Art said, putting his hand on his leather holder.
Drew looked at his leg which held the hunting knife. “So are you going to injure me? Because I kissed you?” he asked.
“I never said I was going to do that,” Art said, dropping his hand to the side.
“Sure. Right. Well I’m gay. So you can accept that or not,” he said.
Art shook his head. “I don’t know if I can accept that,” he said. “But I’m not going to hurt you. You’re my best friend and I could never do that to you.”
“Well can you forgive me for coming on to strong? Can you accept me for being the way I am?” he asked
“I’m not sure,” Art said and sighed.
“You don’t have to love me back,” he said.
“I know that.”
Art looked at the marble floor. It was stone white. He clasped his hands together and stretched out his fingers, like a boxer preparing to fight in the ring. He loved Drew. But he only loved him as a friend. He was also homophobic. But then again, Drew was a cool guy. And just because Drew was gay didn’t mean that he wasn’t masculine. He didn’t know how to reason with this dilemma. But then it hit him in the gut like a baseball bat smashing into a watermelon. Drew was his best friend and he couldn’t hold his sexual orientation against him. He had to love his friend because they were bonded by a history of loyalty. He knew what he had to do.
“I forgive you for coming on to me. And I accept that you are gay,” he said.
Drew shook his hand and gave him the hug. Then he leaned in and whispered in his ear, “By the way you’re a horrible kisser.”
Art rolled his eyes. “Yeah, yeah, whatever you say dipshit,” he said.
After they had a long talk, they walked down the bright hallway and stepped onto the marble floor, then looked up at the sky, both of them in awe of how deep the gargantuan hole was, and wondering where in the hell was their friend Clarke.
Earlier in the night, Clarke had climbed down the rope ladder, rung by rung and had gone down the hallway while his friends were in their own rooms finding out about their trials and tribulations. He entered the room on the right.
A bright red lamp glowed with an intense brightness, swallowing all of the shadows that danced around the walls of the circular space. There was an iron girded table sitting in the center of the room. Clarke dashed over to the table. He hoped that it would conceal a clue as to how to get the heck out of purgatory. On top of the iron girded table there was a small granite box standing in the middle. A key hole clinging to a rusted lock jutted out from the box with the symbol of a knife cemented on it.
There was a yellow sticky note attached to the front of the box. It said: Your test is based on decision-making. It’s all about having the courage to make the right choice. Will you let your friends reconcile their differences, because they’re fighting currently, probably as you’re reading this note? Or, will you jump in and stand in between the two of them because you always feel obligated to mediate difficult circumstances? If you do jump in, you have the opportunity to talk it out with your friends. And then you’ll have the chance to receive the hunting knife from your tormented friend, Art. Then you can use the knife as a key to open the lock and potentially go to heaven, leaving purgatory forever, because inside of the box there will be a letter that explains the last and final test. If you let your friends work it out, then something incredible may occur. But you will not know unless you do it.
Clarke grabbed the sticky note, folded it, and stuffed it into his front pocket. He walked out the room and shut the door. Turning the corner, he felt a pinching feeling tighten up in his midsection.
Art and Drew were standing across from each other. The hunting knife was still sheathed in Art’s holder. And Drew was taking a step back from his friend.
“Yeah, yeah, whatever you say dipshit,” Art said.
“What’d you just call me?” asked Drew.
Art laughed in his face. “Don’t take it to heart. You’re catching feelings like a girl.”
“Are you suggesting that because I’m gay that I am feminine as well?” Drew asked. He clenched and unclenched his hands into fists. He had a look on his face that expressed discontent.
Art pulled his hunting knife out of his holder. “I think you need to chill out,” he said.
“Or what man? Are you going to stab me?” Drew asked with a cheeky smile.
“Might have to if you keep coming on to me,” Art said, laughing at him.
Clarke stepped into the hallway. He marched over to his friends. His heart was beating through his chest. The fluorescent lights swayed from side to side. And the air felt muggy with a feeling of dread. He clasped his hand over Art’s shoulder and pushed him around.
Art turned to the right. He squeezed the hilt of the hunting knife with a firm grip. Then, letting out a deep breath, he shoved Clarke back and smiled at him wryly. “What the hell is the matter with you man?” he asked.
“Hey man you need to stop threatening Drew. That isn’t cool. You guys are friends why are you two acting like enemies?” he asked. He didn’t know how to react in this seemingly calamitous situation. All he had to go off of was what he could see in front of him. And what he saw was his two friends fighting. He remembered reading the yellow sticky note and what the message had said. If he stopped his friends from conflicting then he would receive the hunting knife so that he could use to open up the box in the room that he was in. But if he let his friends try to reconcile their differences, then something incredible was supposed to occur. Both decisions had their benefits and their setbacks. On the one hand he could stop his friends from bashing their friends in and he could get the hunting knife to open up the box. And on the other hand he could let his friends work out their problems, which could potentially lead to something amazing, though he had reluctance as to what that something was going to be.
Drew stepped in between the two. He held his arms out at an equal distance. His head turned from one friend to the other, rapidly. He could not believe that this was transpiring, whatever it was, and it was not making him feel good about the trial. He shuffled over to Clarke and said, “Dude nothing is going down right now. But I do think that you need to chill out for a little. You’re starting to scare me.”
“I’m scaring you?” Clarke asked. He crossed his arms over his chest. “That’s not cool man. I was trying to diffuse the situation and help you out. Art’s the guy with the hunting knife. I have no idea what he’s capable of. I was trying to protect you from getting hurt and protect him from making a life-changing decision.”
“Just like the time you ran over that woman, right?” asked Art.
Clarke felt a twinge of resentment, followed by sadness. He narrowed his eyes at his friend. He walked up to him. He grabbed his shirt collar and pushed him up against the stucco wall. He wanted to beat the living daylights out of him, until there was no more life within his body. Feelings of hatred emerged throughout his soul. His palms were clammy. His arms trembled with an overwhelming wave of emotion. “You want to talk shit, you frigging sociopath?” he asked him.
Art brought the hunting knife to his chest level and nudged the sharp tip into his friend’s chest. He didn’t want to hurt him. But if he was going to intrude on the conversation that he was having with Drew, when they were trying to reconcile their differences, there was going to be a confrontation between him and he. The repercussions lingered in his brain. However he was not cognizant of his next move. He could slash him across the face with his blade. The blood would burst out in a geyser. The warm smell of flesh would bloom with a repugnant smell. He traced a circle over Clarke’s shirt. He cut off a square piece of fabric off. The cloth fell to the floor. “You going to make me stop talking?” he asked, wielding the knife under his chin.
Clarke shook his head. “If you’re a real man you would drop the knife, and fight me,” he said. His head oozed with melancholy and he remembered that he was trying to complete his trial and tribulation. He wondered if he was passing his test. He felt frightened inside. But he didn’t want to show that he was vulnerable. He couldn’t do that. Not in front of his friends. He wouldn’t want to expose his weakness, the one flaw in his character: the fact that he desired to help other people when he was not in the position to have that right, lacking in his flux state of pathos.
“You want this knife?” asked Art.
“Guys please stop fighting,” Drew said.
Clarke patted him on the shoulder. “Look I have this situation under control. You don’t have to be afraid of Art anymore,” he said. But in the back of his mind he feared that this event would spiral out of control and blow up into enormous amount of proportions. He just wanted to smoke a cigarette, lay back, and zone out.
“But I’m not afraid of him,” Drew said. “You’re the one who’s acting irrational. We were just having a conversation, and you butted into it man. Clearly you’re the one who is in the wrong. What is going on right now with you?” He had no predisposition to clocking Clarke in the jaw and laying him out on the ground. At least that would stop the ingratiating comments that he’d slip in every now and then. He just wanted peace amongst his friends, whatever the costs may be to settle old scores, to rekindle a broken bridge that suspended over the gap of a friendship in decline, lost in nostalgia.
“He’s not afraid of me. If anything Clarke we’re both afraid of you. Your behavior has become increasingly erratic. Is this how Christians become when they lose their faith? Because you can be the poster boy for that kind of shit,” Art said.
Clarke groaned. He rubbed his brow with the back of his hand. His armpits reeked from anxiousness. “Give me the hunting knife,” he said.
“And what if I say no?” Art asked.
“Want to see what will happen?” Clarke asked him.
“Guys this is getting out of hand. Let’s just cool off,” Drew said.
“Shut up Drew. I want to see what Clarke will do. You got balls kid, but I think you’re a straight up pussy. C’mon let’s see what will happen,” Art said.
Clarke released his grip on his friend’s shirt collar. He thrashed his hand against Art’s arm. The hunting knife slid out of his fingers and it clattered on the ground. Adrenaline pumped through his veins as he reached over and grabbed Art’s face. He punched him in the abdomen.
Art dropped to the floor. He looked up at Clarke. Then, stretching out his arm, he reached over to hunting knife. He touched hilt with his index finger. “You’re a real tough guy, aren’t you Clarke?” he asked.
Clarke kicked the hunting knife across the floor. He bent down on his haunches, looking right into Art’s hazy, brown eyes. He pushed him in the chest with his finger. “You’re not going to do anything stupid anymore man. I’ll help you help yourself. But you’re going to have to take some initiative. Or else you not going to be anything but a bum,” he said.
“Go fuck yourself Clarke. You’re not making any sense right now. You need to back the fuck off. Or else I might do something that I’ll regret,” Art said. He had no reason to seriously injure his friend, but if he was pushed beyond his personal boundaries he knew that he would react in a negative manner. He had his pride. And it was his ego that would cause him to make a poor decision.
Clarke got up and walked away from his friend. He scooped up the hunting knife. He considered it in his hand. It was an immaculate, sharp blade that was wide and long. The hilt was twined together by a series of warped cords. It had a serpent clinging onto the bottom of the weapon. He turned around and glared at Art. “You were going to hurt me. You were going to hurt Drew. You were going to hurt yourself by being such a jackass,” he said, shaking his head.
“So is this your trial, your test, whatever you want to call it,” Drew asked him.
Clarke inserted the knife between one of the notches in his belt hoop. He smiled at his friend. He took in a deep breath. He let out a sigh. Pushing past his friends, he walked down the long hallway way en route to the room that he was in prior to awkward situation.
Art pounded his chest. He laughed. The bewildered man, not knowing how to respond to such an odd moment, simply put his hand on his hip and rolled his eyes. “You can go fuck yourself Clarke. Go fuck yourself,” he said.
Before those hurtful words could seep into his ears, Clarke ventured back to the end of the hall. He opened the door. He slammed it shut. Once he was inside he noticed that the bright crimson light was hanging over the table sitting in the middle of the room. He crumbled the yellow sticky note and tossed it to the side. The crushed, yellow ball tilted back and rolled into the wall. He walked up to the table. He unsheathed the hunting knife from his belt holder. And he, feeling an ache press against his heart, he pushed the knife into the key slot of the granite box. He twisted the knife to the right. He took a step back and smoked a cigarette. He waited for short while but nothing out of the ordinary happened.
After a long moment had passed, the lid popped open. Gray smoke filtered out of the box. There was a glowing white orb radiating within the bottom space.
Clarke pulled the hunting knife out from the key lock. He slipped it back into his hooped belt notch. He cupped his hands around the glowing white orb. There was a piece of red string jutting out from the top. He pulled the strand out. The pieces of the orb collapsed back.
There was a yellow sticky note standing in the middle of the orb. Clarke pinched his fingers around the note. It was wrinkled and etched with scribbled handwriting. He unfolded it and laid it on his lap. He sat down on the floor, feeling the cool tiles underneath his rear end. The note said: You failed the test Clarke. You weren’t supposed to step in between your friends. Your trial was to trust your friends to resolve their differences. But you made the wrong decision, no matter how noble it was to do. They weren’t going to hurt each other. That was a presumption on your part. If you had just let your friends work out their argument you would have seen that there was no animosity between them, only love. And now you have to suffer the consequences for your decision-making. Because you stepped into to stop your friends from fighting, now you have to make another choice. Will you be okay with your friends going to heaven without you? You will still have the opportunity to enter heaven. But because of your failure you have to face the dragon by yourself, no help will be given to you. If you are prepared to surmount your arduous task, than by all means go out and slay the dragon.
A rush of pain flowed through Clarke and he did not know how to stop the hurt that was scraping away at his ingratiating behavior, sliver by sliver. He knew that he had made a mistake. To rectify the situation would take a tremendous effort on his part. At the very least he knew that he had the chance to still make it to heaven and join his brothers Art and Drew in harmony, if they would have him.
The floor opened up beneath his feet. The table vanished. The granite box disappeared. The red lamp dissipated into thin air. All that remained was the hunting knife and a tube of lotion lying on the ground that was disintegrating at a rapid pace. Clarke grabbed the hunting knife and sheathed it in the back of his pants. He snatched the tube of hand lotion from the ground and stuffed it in his pocket. The floor tiles cracked into hundreds of pieces. The lights flickered on and off.
Before Clarke could scramble out of the room the entire floor had sunken in to a long, sloping path that lead to a dark corridor. Clarke lit a cigarette. He used the flame from his lighter to guide his way. He walked onward into the shadows.
There was a door at the end of the hall. He removed the piece of wood that was blocking the double oak doors together. He threw it to the side. He opened the door and walked inside. Lights, powerful with an iridescent glow casted down on the room. The air smelled smoldering with a touch of ash.
There was a huge pit full of large, black coals bordering the plunging hole. And inside that lava infested lake there was a gigantic, purple scaled Dragon with a green stripe running down the middle of its white belly. It breathed fire into the air.
“She’s pretty intimidating right?”
Clarke turned around and laughed at the man’s face. “Yeah Michael thanks for the head’s up. About me failing the test so that I would have to face this batshit crazy dragon all by myself,” he said.
Michael shrugged. Art and Drew were on their way to heaven. Now Clarke on the other hand had to kill this dragon, come out as the victor, and then he would be able to go to the Promised Land. “You’ll be fine, just learn something from your mistakes and think of this dragon as a way for you to help restore your standing in heaven,” he said.
The gigantic dragon crept up out of the lava-infested lake. It had a large head with rotund cheeks and piercing gray eyes with a bluish hue. Along its back, the dragon’s purple scales glimmered under the heavy flood lights that rained down a shower of lightening and powerful slants of fire. The dragon stretched out its huge wings that were festooned with elaborate spidery lines. It flapped its wings. From the fiery pit of the lake, the enormous dragon soared out of its hellish condition. The dragon flew around the expansive room. It tossed out fire balls as if it were a basketball player shooting three pointers from behind the arch.
Clarke wanted to turn around and run out of the room. But he also felt a surge of courage burst through his chest. He took the hunting knife out. He cut a slit through the bottle of hand lotion. He squirted a few squeezes on his arms and legs. He spread the lotion across his skin and the callouses that protruded from his bones.
“You’re going to have to do this task yourself, Clarke. You do realize that right?” Michael asked him. He wondered if Clarke had the nerve to complete his trial. After all if he lacked the perseverance to finish off the dragon then he would perish in the fires of hell. But he didn’t want that to happen to him. He only wanted him to survive.
The enormous dragon sucked in hot breath. It flailed its short arms and hindquarters up and down. Wings fanned out, and the purple scaled creature flew closer to Clarke.
Clarke had a lump in his throat. His hands were wrought with numbness. He felt lightheaded from the lack of air in the room. He smelled the smoldering ash singe his sinuses. He could feel the heat prickle his arms, in waves, many a wave. “I realize everything,” he said.
And for a moment he did know everything. He knew that he was in purgatory. He felt dead inside. But he knew that his spirit was alive. The insurmountable task standing in front of him did not seem such an improbability to conquer. It was all in his head. And right now he was good with his head and every thought that coincided with his placid temperament.
“Then my job here is done. I’ll see you in heaven…if you even make it there, kid,” Michael said. He snapped his fingers. The great, white wings adorned with intricate feathers disintegrated into nothingness. His halo disappeared into the thin air. The worn tunic collapsed into itself. And as if he had not existed to begin with, Michael vanished from the underworld.
A powerful blast of rolling heat spiraled through the air. The enormous dragon flapped its wings back and forth, sending strong gusts of wind flying at his direction. Fireballs catapulted from its scaled mouth. Jaws unhinged and the rancid smell of ashes permeated throughout the space between him and the dragon.
Clarke circled the perimeter of the large lake encrusted with lava and soot. He stooped over, carrying the hunting knife in his hand. He sprinted forward. A fireball shot right at his head. He ducked under a boulder. The blast of the fire shocked his ears. The sound of a rock crumbling apart reverberated throughout the room.
The dragon performed a barrel roll, and swooping down, unsheathed its claws. Heat emanated from its mouth as it blew smoke and fire rings directly at Clarke. Fuming, it whipped its long, thick tail laced with spikes, and charged at the young boy who wielded his weapon.
In his heart, Clarke knew that he lacked the stamina to fight this monster. He had apprehension and he wished he could leave this place. The knife in his hand felt heavy. He lunged forward and thrust the hunting knife into the dragon’s belly. A throbbing pain surged through his arm and he twisted the blade to the left, and then pulled it out. Bright, red blood flew from the gaping wound. He tucked and rolled under a clump of rocks.
The dragon howled with considerable anguish. It slowed down its flight. Steam rose from its nostrils. Claws retracting, the monster plucked a slab of molten lava from the ashy lake. It smeared the red lava on its belly, caking the deep cut until it seared to a seal.
Clarke stood up and pushing his leg forward, he hit the ground running with his knife out in front of him. He came at the dragon making a beeline. An ache in his head pulsated a fireball launched at his side.
A great amount of warmth attacked his arm and a rushing pain belted at his midsection. He tumbled to his right, collapsing onto a bed of coals. He rolled onto his stomach, the heat from the tiny rocks pinching him with agony. He got up and clutched the hunting knife tightly.
Blazing gray eyes, the hot breath, the enormous tail, winged beast from the depths of hell, it cackled with laughter, as it approached the young boy. The dragon raised into the air, wings smacking up and down. Then, rearing its head, it propelled a blast of fire at its enemy.
Clarke, screaming at the top his lungs, turned to his left, and jumped out of the way. He cocked his elbow back, and ran at the dragon. As a fireball flew past his ear, the heat singing his hair, he ran along a slanted rock that jutted out from the ground. He vaulted up into the air, raising his knife up. The blade steady in his hand, he slashed through the dragon’s coiled neck. Then he stabbed it in the abdomen and pushed back, pulling the knife out. Blood spewed from the cut and dripped down to the molten ground.
The dragon collapsed onto the edge of the fiery lake. Its wings shrunk down in size. Fire under its breath extinguished. Flailing its head from to and fro, the venomous creature scuttled across the stony floor. It dived into a pile of ash on the corner of the room.
Clarke felt the beat in his heart palpitate. He rushed over to the pile of ash. And with a quick motion, he thrust his hunting knife into the tail of the dragon.
The winged monster emerged from the ashes. It flew up into the air, spiraling out of control. Glancing at the young boy standing on the ground, the dragon plunged down into the earth, headlong at him.
Air blowing into his cheeks, Clarke twisted his body. He scrambled into position. Standing with his arms out, his feet shoulder width apart, he drove the shimmering blade into the dragon’s eyeball. He pulled the knife out and stabbed it in its arm.
The dragon’s eyes rolled back and it let out a moan. Falling onto the ground, it went into a series of convulsions. Its chest rose down and up. And with a great roar, the dragon curled up into the fetal position. Fire leaking from its mouth, it exploded into a cloud of smoke and dust. Sparks of bright flames spread over the large lake, and lava overflowed round the brim. The ceiling dropped down and the walls moved into closer until everything inside the room began to cave in and dissipate.
“Time to go,” said a low voice.
Clarke turned around a broke into a smile. He felt a wave of relief wash over him. And for a second he could see that the future was not as bad as he had believed it to be.
Michael was standing in front of him. He had on his black hoodie sweat shirt and gray cotton pants. His bright, yellow halo hovered over his head. “What are you just going look at me like a socially retarded person?” he asked.
“Hey man, I slayed that dragon, I’m feeling gravy right now,” Clarke said, laughing. He wondered what heaven was going to be like. He could feel the tears coming up. Using his shirtsleeve he wiped his face. There was a burst of happiness rising through his body. He liked it.
“What up man?”
Clarke looked over his shoulder. He smiled. And then he lunged forward and grabbed a hold of the person who addressed him. “Long time no see,” he said.
Drew was dressed in white tunic and baggy shorts. He was barefoot and over his head a halo hung above his hair. He had the biggest smile on his face and looked incredibly peaceful. “Good to hear your voice dude,” he said.
“Likewise,” Clarke said.
“You just going to leave me hanging bro?”
Clarke turned around again. He clapped his hands together and nodded his head in appreciation. He walked a few steps and then raised his hand up.
Art received the high-five and brought his hand down to his side. He also was wearing a white tunic and baggy shorts. A bright, golden halo spun around his head. “Man you did it. I’m so proud of you Clarke,” he said.
“I’ve missed you Art. I’m sorry that I was being such a jackass earlier. Can you forgive me?” he asked. He reached into his pocket. He fished out the hunting knife and gave it to his friend and then he hugged him.
“Don’t worry about it man. You don’t need to apologize to me,” Art said. He was just glad to be out of hell. He wondered if he could finally live the tranquil life that he always had dreamed of living.
Michael came over to the three friends. He put his arms around them and tapped them on their shoulders. He looked them each in the eyes and then his wings burst out of his black hoodie sweatshirt. He snapped his fingers.
A white tunic, baggy shorts, and a glowing halo popped into thin air.
“Clarke, wear them. And then let’s get the hell out of here,” Michael said. He felt like a proud father seeing his young boys grow up into older men. He knew that Drew, Art, and Clarke had what it took to be the best warriors that heaven needed. War could transpire at any time and he was glad that the dead boys were on his side.
Clarke took his clothes off. He pulled the white tunic over his head. He shoved the baggy shorts on. And then he put the yellow halo over his head. Good, that was how he felt about life. He smiled at his friends and smiled even more when they smiled back at him.
“On the count of three I want all of you kids to clap your hands together. One...two…three,” he said. Michael clapped his hands together. The sound of hands smacking together rung throughout the room and it was a special sight to see. He looked over at the kids.
Drew had sprouted wings from his back. Art had sprouted wings from his back. And Clarke had sprouted wings from his back. Great, enormous white wings adorned with intricate feathers.
The dead boys flapped their wings together. They rose up into the air. They soared throughout the room that was crumbling into itself.
Michael pressed his hands together. He rubbed his fingers back and forth. And then a great amount of power emitted from his grip. He pushed his hands outward. A beam of lightening launched from his palms. The white light smacked right into the falling ceiling.
The ceiling erupted into a thousand of black shards. A gigantic hole emerged from the rocky upper crust. And the opening increased in length and width until there was enough room for the angels to fly out of there.
Drew, Art, and Clarke flapped their wings in unison and ascended out of the cave. Michael led the way and pointed his beam of light into the huge hole. He cried out in pleasure.
And soon the dead boys and Michael were flying in the bright, blue sky. They flew and flew until they reached the white clouds of heaven. The fluffiness of the cumulus clusters touched their fingertips.
Drew felt good about his life and a gentle wave of redemption passed through his heart.
Art wanted to shout with joy but he felt reserved as the same wave atoned for his sins.
Clarke lowered his head and felt the warmth grab onto his arms and flutter across his face, feeling like he was a good guy after all.
The dead boys walked onto the clouds. Golden gates in front of them, Drew, Art, and Clarke followed Michael as the doors to heaven opened. And so the story of purgatory ended and the narrative of residing in the city above the clouds commenced with a blast of restoration.