The prompt from this story came from the philosophical musings of my niece, who dressed up as the grim Reaper for Halloween and questioned what would happen if someone died in Heaven. Thanks, Carol Ann, for telling me about this conversation!
What Comes Next
Martin pressed himself further into the hole beneath the roots of the Weeping Willow, hoping that the screen of branches would shield him from view. His panting was so loud in the enclosed space he was sure it would give him away. He breathed though his nose, trying to quiet himself and still his trembling limbs and racing heart.
A dog bayed nearby, raising goose bumps on Martin’s arms. Was crossing the stream enough to confuse the dogs? He had wanted to go farther in the water but it was slowing him down too much and his pursuer had been gaining ground. He had been left with no choice but to find somewhere to hide and hope for the best.
‘Where is he boy?’
The voice sounded like its owner was standing just a few feet away. Martin held his breath and squeezed his eyes shut, praying – ha! Praying! – that he wouldn’t be discovered. The dog barked and then there were the sounds of crashing through the undergrowth.
‘Get him, boy!’ the voice said, moving away.
Martin slowly let his breath out, the tension draining from his muscles. He would wait here until he was sure they were well away and then sneak out and continue his journey. He opened his eyes and caught sight of a spider, industriously spinning a web between two small roots. He had been surprised to discover that even spiders had their place in Heaven. It made him sad to think of all those people back on earth who thought animals had no souls and just ended when they died.
With great care, Martin crept out from his hiding place, looking up and down the stream for any sign of his pursuer. He was alone. He brushed dirt from his clothes and then bent over the stream, washing his face and hands before cupping some water and gulping it down greedily. His stomach grumbled, reminding him that he hadn’t eaten that day. He bowed his head, putting his hands together like a child in church.
My Lord, I give thanks for your bounty and ask for some food. Amen.
When he looked up, a small loaf of bread and an apple lay on the ground in front of him. He tore the bread in half, scattering some at his feet for the local wildlife, and then shoved the rest in his mouth. Food tasted so good here, much better than anything back on earth. Swallowing the bread, he drank some more water and grabbed the apple, putting it into his pocket for later.
Martin walked out into the middle of the stream and began to walk against the current.
Martin’s shoulders dropped and he reluctantly turned to face his pursuer. The figure appeared to hover just above the surface of the water, it’s long black robe rippling in the slight breeze. The voice that issued from beneath the black cowl was surprisingly gentle, not at all what he had expected. But then, he wasn’t sure exactly how he had expected the Grim Reaper to sound.
‘There’s no point running,’ said Death. ‘You know that no man can escape me.’
‘Why me?’ Martin asked, resigned.
‘It’s your time. That’s all.’
‘But it’s been less than a generation this time! Why do I have to go back so soon?’
‘I don’t make the decisions, Martin. I just do as He tells me.’
‘Life is so hard down there. Why can’t He make it a bit easier?’ Martin recognised that he was starting to whine but he couldn’t quite stop himself.
Death sighed, a sound like wind rattling through the bare branches of winter. ‘You humans are so slow to learn. Most of the other species only need one life to find their place in the plan.’
‘I’ve had twelve! I know my place!’
‘No, you don’t. If you did, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.’ Death held out a black-robed arm, his skeletal hand appearing, empty one moment, and holding the scythe in the next. ‘Are you ready?’
‘As ready as I’ll ever be,’ Martin muttered, falling to his knees in the stream. ‘You know, all of this would be much easier if He would just tell us the lesson.’
‘He has, Martin. The problem is that so few people actually listen.’
With that, Death swept his scythe above Martin’s head, severing his connection to Heaven. A shimmer settled over the now-empty body and brightened until even Death had to look away. When he turned back, the body was gone.
Bright light. So bright that he screwed his eyes shut against it and let out a wail.
‘Hello, my darling,’ a woman sobbed, wrapping him in her arms. ‘We’ve been waiting to
The baby cried out again, turning his face towards the comforting smell of the woman.
‘Do you have a name for him yet?’ A voice asked from somewhere behind them.
‘We’re going to call him Paul, for my father,’ the woman said, gently stroking his face.
That’s not my name, the baby thought. He couldn’t quite remember what his name was though. Something beginning with M, he thought.
‘Thank you, God, for sending me a healthy baby,’ the woman murmured, her lips against Paul’s head.
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