* * *"Stephen Lane?"
"That's me." Stephen gazed up at a radiant winged figure who was standing behind the lectern, flipping leisurely through an impossibly large book. The angel paused dramatically.
"You're in. Welcome to heaven."
The gates of pearl swung open, letting out a light so brilliant that it was almost blinding. Stephen could hardly believe it. At last he would enter into the realm of the Almighty—and at last he would be reunited with his beloved wife and daughter. He walked along the sparkling path in wonder, surrounded by gold and jewels that would put even the most glorious earthly kings to shame. Every now and then he would pass a fellow saved soul. Each one was smiling serenely, as though they didn't have a care in the world and never would again. After a while he came to a clear river with massive trees planted on either side.
And there, under a tree with pomegranates that glistened like rubies, was his wife.
How long it had been since Stephen had felt her warm embrace? It must have been... just over twelve years. He remembered because she had passed away when Sophie was only three. He had spent seven long years caring for their daughter on his own. Then she was hit by a pickup one rainy evening, and suddenly he was alone. He had spent another five years in isolation and misery, plodding to and from a featureless cubicle each day until he just couldn't bear it anymore. But now, now he would have the rest of eternity to share with his family.
"I'm so glad to see you, dear," said Rebecca. Her smile seemed to outshine even the divine brightness of their surroundings.
"And I, you," said Stephen. "So, where's our little girl? I can't wait to get us all back together again."
Rebecca tilted her head slightly. "I'm sorry, who?"
"Sophie. Our daughter. Where is she?"
"I don't know who you're talking about, honey. We never had any children, did we?"
Stephen just stared. "Look, this isn't a joke, Becky. I've waited five years to see her, and I didn't k—I mean want to see both of you. It's been so long, and I just need things to be how they used to."
"If you're looking for someone, you'd best go see one of the seven archangels."
Tears began to form in the corners of his eyes. "Why are you being like this, honey? Why won't you take me to her?"
"Don't do that, Stephen." Her tone was not angry or even stern, but merely flat. Seeing his confusion, she uttered, as if it had been seared into her mind:
The words were so cold and lifeless that they could have come out of a machine.
"Oh, I know!" said Rebecca, the music returning to her voice. "Let's go worship our Lord! No one could ever be anything but joyful in His presence!"
It was then that he noticed her forehead. It was marked with a word in Hebrew, יהוה, that he recognized as the unspoken name of God. From that single detail, he somehow knew that the woman in front of him would be of little help in finding Sophie.
"Come on, dear! I just know you'll feel better once you bow down before our Master! Besides, it's been over an hour since I last praised Him for His boundless love and glory."
"Becky... do you think you could point me to the nearest archangel? I need to find our dau—um, I need to find someone."
She sighed. "Suit yourself. I saw Gabriel leave from worship at the same time I did, so he's probably in his mansion right about now."
She pointed downstream to a golden house gleaming in the distance. And from there they parted ways.
Part 2 will be up tomorrow. [Update: Here it is.]
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