Imagine me on my back in a park in the shadow. This summers heat wave has been helped a little bit by my new portable computer, which makes it possible to work or read almost anywhere. I had been doing that and was now just relaxing, listening to the birds and the children playing.
Id had an intense week, and it is possible I dozed off. At any rate, I felt a soft, but firm hand take mine, and gently tug. It tugged and pulled, and lifted me, into the air, and up.
I went into the air, and saw my body lying on the grass under me like the limited little meat construct that it is. I lifted up and up between the great trees, and looked all over the city.
I lifted higher, and soon saw what I realized that I had known all along: the sky that we see over us is not at all as far away or as infinite as we think. In reality it is just a thin layer with clouds projected on it from above. I even think I saw one of the projectors. I drifted up between the complex structures that held the sky in place, and came to an edge of a more solid layer. On top of that was grass, and I stepped on the ledge and walked.
I hadnt noticed the hand that had been supporting me all the time, but now I looked, and saw... an angel? It was a human figure with huge wings, and looking sort of blurred and streaked like a photograph taken with a long shutter time. He spoke to me with a hollow voice that sounded like it came from nowhere specific.
Mr. Stobblehouse, he said. You will soon have served your due time in Hell, and it is time to prepare for your release.
Hell? I said. What do you mean? I am not even dead yet?
Dead? He said. What is that? And when I couldnt answer that one, he continued: Hell, yes. Like your cohabitants, you have been sentenced to Hell long ago, and your personal time is about up. It is time to chose your heaven.
Er, OK. But I want to make sure I understand. What is this Hell you talk about?
He started to sound impatient. Hell. Where you have been living, what did you think? And he held up a hand, and on it spun a familiar blue and green sphere.
Whatever you call it, I couldnt care less. Now, we got to get going, I have 1289 customers today.
So he showed me heavens. One with all the food you could eat. One with whips and chains and leather. One with nothing at all, just quiet. One with rock music. One with harps and lions and lambs grazing together.
Well, they all looked interesting one way or the other. But they also all lacked one thing: variety. And something else was nagging me. So I asked: Tell me, are you sure about Earth? I mean, it is a pretty poor show in places. But still, it is not *all* that bad. And particularly I think it is really getting better all the time. I mean, you should have been around in the fourteenth century...
I was, he said. And it is true things are improving rapidly, mostly as a result of the Project nearing completion. Still, will you please...
Listen, I said. Do I *have* to leave? I mean I kind of like the place. Sure, it could use some spaceships and food for everyone, and more fun movies, and lots more nude Pretty Young Girls kicking about, but still, I think it has a lot of potential. Give us a few centuries, and...
He looked at me, his eyes like great holes in space. You people are impossible. I told the Old Man long ago. I told Him, you will never get any discipline into this bunch, I said to him...
And now a lot of you simply dont wanna leave, even after your term is served. What the heck have you got going? He threw up his arms and flapped his great wings. Oh, whats the use. Stay if you want. But I tell you, it is you people who will be left with cleaning the place up when you are finished with it. It was scheduled for demolition on the first of January year 2000. But obviously nothing came of that. He turned and started walking away from me. Well, see if I care! I did what I could. I...
Things around me seemed to get less solid as he walked away, and at the same time I had the funniest experience of not being able to breathe, something blocking my nose. I felt for my nose, and felt small fingers. I opened my eyes. I was lying on the grass, and a little girl was holding my nose so I couldnt breathe, giggling. She wanted to play, and sat astride me, knocking the air out of me.
Her mother came charging over. Mindy, dont bother the man. Hes trying to sleep. Come here! And she pulled the little girl off me.
Ah, dont worry, I said. I like kids, and I was not supposed to be sleeping anyway. The mother of course was not listening and just dragged the kid away.
I lay there for a little while with my hands under my head, relaxing and admiring the landscape. A little bird came and picked the crumbs from biscuits Id had earlier. A big airplane flew overhead, and I wondered where it was going. This was a good year, and they are only getting better.