Fire. Smoke. Dust. Bullets hissing like demented snakes as they hurtled through the smoke filled air. Screams of pain from the wounded on both sides. Every now and then the red and blue flashes of a police car could be seen, but only for a moment. Usually the red-blue lights disappeared in a wave of fire and a terrible explosion.
This was a gang war.
Jack sat hiding behind a car, loading his pistol for what seemed like the tenth time that morning. The Cutters had come in like lightning during a big meeting of all the gang leaders, catching them off guard, and killing quite a few before any guns had even been drawn. But once the guns were drawn, the Cutters immediately began to realize the costliness of their mistake.
Jack, also known as Jack the Lantern, was known for his ability to 'light up' a conflict. He was six foot two inches tall, with hair that was naturally dark black. His eyes were green and threatening and his fists had calluses from hitting people. He was known through his gang, the Titans, and the guy you definitely did not want to piss off.
Jack popped up from behind the smoking bullet-ridden Camero he was crouching behind and let off three shot into the smoke. He though he heard a scream, but there was too much of that going on to be sure it was from him. He ducked back down and reached into his backpack. He felt the familiar round shape of a grenade and removed it from his pack. He paused and took a breath to calm his nerves, then pulled the pin out and hucked it over the side of the car. After about five-seconds he heard the ear-drum shattering explosion and poked his head up to see the damage.
The second his head appeared over the car, a shrapnel grenade from the other side went off. He felt metal bite into his legs and face and toppled backwards. He felt his head slam heavily onto the curb and suddenly everything was darker than it should be. He could feel the blood running down his face, but it seemed more distant. Everything began to grow fuzzy., He swore some more and sat up, but blood and black covered his vision. He tried to fight it, his growing lack of vision and felling, but it was too much effort. Finally, after about a minute of battling with himself, he passed out. The battle raging around him.
Jack woke up. It was boiling hot, and all around him screams and fire filled the air.
"Weird," Jack thought to himself. "Did I wake back up?"
He swiveled his head to observe where he was. All it took was one look at the play dough red rocks, and paper-bag brown dirt to let him know he definitely wasn't on the battlefield…or even on earth. As he observed this hellish place more, he saw that the ground was covered, not with bones, as one might imagine, but with things such as crack-needles and Switch-blade knives, still open. It would be incredibly stupid for anyone to walk on that, Jack thought, yet, as this thought came into his head, a whole group of people, dressed in clothing from many different eras came past, rolling on their sides. Jack watched in horror as a whole group of about fifty people came, rolling past, leaving the disgusting brown ground muddy with blood. Behind them urging them forward were three hideous demons, carrying long thin spears, which the used to prod the victims onward. One reared its massive, bumpy head towards him.
"Hey, you, get your filthy carcass over here, now! Until your fate is decided upon, you get the pain torture from us!"
Jack took a step away, but cursed so loudly it echoed as his heel was poked by a hypodermic needle. He stumbled toward and fell, almost face first into the deadly bloody mud. Instead of falling though, he felt a strong hand on his back stop his fall, his head an inch away from a long rusty knife
"Back demon, before I lop off your arm again." The voice was strong and commanding, but not necessarily deep. The demon hissed a curse word at Jack's unknown savior."
"Beat it runt, you just got lucky last time! That's all."
The hand on the back of Jacks torn leather jacket now pulled him to a standing position, and a short, wiry figure advanced into his line of sight, walking over the needles and knives as if they weren't there. Jack shook his head. The guy must be only a few inches over Five feet, going against a demon somewhere around eleven feet tall. The monstrous figure stood snarling, and great globs of spit flew from his barely open mouth, mixing into the dirt making more mud. He grabbed his spear and held it ready, but it was no use. The small figure, who looked so pathetic against the giant monster, had whipped out a small thin sword and sent a jet of flame that seemed to heat up all of hell. The monster, it's body now having the consistency of badly burned dirt, fell back. A second later, out of the ashes, a smaller looking version of the monster sprouted, coughing dust and give his conqueror a nasty hand sign. The man just laughed and walked backwards. He pointed a finger at Jack.
"You, God wants to talk to you before you make any more dumb decisions, and he told me to give you a tour of heaven while he takes care of some blessings he needs to give. That's the only reason you're not to be a permanent resident."
Jack stared open-mouthed at the small man.
"How did you…"
"Don't be getting idea's kid, just because God likes, doesn't mean I do, and even if I did, I wouldn't tell you how I did that, now let's get a move on, the screaming of tortured souls always give me the willies."
The man shook his head, "You're either deaf or retarded, I don't like that, I said let's go!"
Jack was taken aback by the man's attitude. "Ok, fine, lets go then."
"Good choice," The short man said sarcastically. He grabbed jack's arm and pushed off the ground with his feet. If they moved, Jack didn't feel it. One second they were in Hell, and the next, they were on a lawn of perfect white grass that seemed to glow. A few trees, all with leaves of pure gold and bearing fruit that seemed to glow. Underneath one of these trees, a man in a white robe sat, patting his stomach contentedly while silver juice dripped from his long beard. A long windy path led up to a giant gate, made of polished steel, that glinted beautifully in the sun. The sun seemed to hit everything at the perfect angle. At the gate, no guards stood, not that it was necessary it seemed the gates didn't have a top to climb over, and there wasn't exactly an entrance either. The short man walked up to the gate, dragging Jack behind him, and walked right through. Jack felt something stop him, but the short man gave a powerful tug and he came through the bars.
"What was that?
"That is heavens defense. We need no guards in heaven for three reasons. One, it's dang near impossible to escape hell, for those lucky morons who do manage, they have to get through out second defense, the gate. The gate blocks all those unworthy of coming through from entering. I had to use some of Christ's love for you to pull you through the gate."
"What's the third?"
The angel just looked at him and tapped the hilt of his sword. "Barbecue." He replied, "Now, let us go onward, I have a lot to show you, and you are probably going to die. I'm not sure if God is going to heal you or what but I saw what kind of place your in and I can't think of any way to phrase it…you're screwed. Still, I must show you heaven in its full glory." He sucked in a breath of heaven's pure air, "My name," he started, "is Michael the Archangel, and I will be your guide through heaven today."
Jack shook his head, "dude, I'm no Christian, but I know who Michael the Archangel is and you cant be him you're…"
"Short? That's what everyone says," Michael said in a faked patient voice, "then I whack them until they cry for their mothers."
Jack closed his mouth from the next thing he was going to say. He remembered the torched monster and realized that even if the man was lying, he wouldn't be one to argue.
"Well, ok then Michael…where do we go first?"
"Look around you idiot, and ask me a second time."
Jack obeyed and swiveled his head. His eyes saw it all, but he wasn't even close to being able to take it in. He saw waterfalls hundreds of feet sending crystal-clear water cascading onto beaches of small smooth diamonds. Rivers of Milk, Honey, and Root-Beer winding slowly through a forest of Trees with fruits of all colors. He smelled the honey-like smell of them from even his position, which was atop a very tall hill. He looked around and saw wild-flowers like nothing that had ever been seen on Earth. He heard laughter from behind him and spun around to see a man and his wife walking towards the forest with a wicker basket in hand. They were both wearing pure white robes and spoke in a dialect that Jack recognized from his time in the gang as Russian. He looked up. The sky was a black-purple and dotted with stars, and clouds floated lazily past. A flock of giant creatures that looked like a cross between a moth and a hummingbird flew overhead.
"This is our first stop?" Jack asked.
Michael nodded, "And it only took you one try. You should feel proud."
Jack ignored the sarcasm. "This place is beautiful."
"And it's the lowest of the three kingdoms. Everything after this can only get better. Take a good look. This is the place where those who were imperfect, but don't deserve the eternal pain of hell go. These people had standards that they followed, but didn't know of God. These also didn't do things like get married in sacred places, and disobeyed some of God's commandments, but more out of ignorance than out of Malice. Here they learn how to act, but cannot progress further."
"This place is amazing."
"Well, don't expect to see too much of it, even though it's easier to get through, you're lifestyle would definitely not permit you to live here.'
Jack heard those words, which seemed to be spoken so easily by this man, yet they pierced his heart.
"Do you really mean that?"
"Absolutely, look at your life. Sinners don't go here, just accidental sinners, there is a huge difference between the two groups. "
Jack shook his head and looked around, "But…I must be able to change, that would be unfair if I didn't have a chance…"
"God knows it would be unfair, so he gave you a chance. This is your chance, he's letting you see the beauty of Heaven so that you will know what it is you're missing out on. God is merciful, and so long as you actually repent, you can be saved. That is why Christ died, was so that you could have a chance."
Jack just stood still. He had been born into a good family, and gone to church on Sundays. He had done what he thought he should…then He turned 16. He'd been in a gang ever since. He was pretty sure he had a few illegitimate children, and the tread-marks on his arm showed he wasn't always as sober as he looked. He had gone wrong of his own choice, and now that he realized what he was doing wrong, and what it was keeping him from, he felt scared.
Michael looked at him and nodded, "You're scared that you won't be able to make it back, but Christ suffered for all sins, so you don't have to worry, you just need to repent and accept him as your savior. It's like he's the who's posting bail for you. You can choose to accept the bail, or tell him to go away. It' your choice."
Jack fell onto his knees. Tears streamed down his face. "What have I done?" he asked to himself. Michael answered the question for him.
"You got off track…way off track, but God must think you'd be good for something or he wouldn't be doing this for you, now get up. I've got to introduce you to Cassia."
Jack stood up, Michael grabbed his arm, and took a step. By them time his foot hit the ground, they were standing behind a pretty young girl who was working in a garden outside I giant house. Jack still had tears running down his face. He wiped them away quickly.
"Cassia, I brought a guest!" Michael said quietly.
The girl whirled around.
"My goodness Michael you scared the crap out of me! Give me a head up next time before you come in!" The girl turned her attention to Jack.
"What happened to you…and what are you wearing?"
Jack looked down. He didn't realize his clothes clashed so horribly with the environment he was in. His torn bloodstained leather jacket and ripped skinny jeans.
"Oh…I…uh…" he stuttered looking for some reason to be wearing that kind of clothing in Heaven.
"He was supposed to be in Hell, but God's giving him a chance to change., and this is what he was wearing when he passed out."
The girl just nodded, "Well, that makes a bit more sense. I can see that outfit working for someone in Hell. Why'd you bring him here?"
"Showing off the scenery of Heaven, I thought he might like to see your garden." Michael turned to Jack. "She used to be a-"
"Hey" Cassia interrupted, "let us not delve into my past life. I've gotten over that."
Michael nodded, then turned back to Jack, "Well…she did some bad stuff, to say the least, but she's repented and now has Heavens best Garden. I'm telling you this because you and her were on the same track, and she's repented and live here now."
Jack nodded. "Ok…thanks."'
"No problem!" Michael exclaimed, "Well, now that we've seen this! Let us be off, we have more to explore and little time to explore it all!" Michael took hold of Jack's arm, then took a step. In a flash the environment changed. It was lighter, Jack noticed. He looked up. Instead of stars, this time he saw the moon, shining brightly and covering a beautiful landscape with moonbeams. Small threes lay almost lazily, all bent so that they made almost a bench with the shape it the trunk. Fruit tangled from them, about the size and shape of a golf ball, and giving off a radiant gold light. The grass was a perfect emerald green and the hilly landscape reminded Jack of the sea. The grass was blown gently by a calming wind. Jack felt very peaceful all the sudden. He turned to Michael, who just shook his head and smiled at him.
"I love the middle kingdom, it's always like this, and it never gets old or boring, it's constantly relaxing. It's the most wonderful place for a person like me. I just have to relax sometimes, you know?"
Jack nodded, "I do too, usually I go to an arcade…I know it sounds weird, a big gang leader like me playing ski-ball…but I have good memories of arcades."
Michael smiled and nodded, "Yea, I can get that. Come on, I'll explain what goes on here while we eat." Michael picked one of the fruits off the tree and tossed it to Jack.
"It's delicious, nothing at all like anything on earth."
Jack looked at the golden fruit. It's flesh was soft and felt furry, like a peach. He took a curious bite and a wonderful sweet flavor filled his mouth, like nothing he had ever tasted in his life.
"What is this?" Jack asked as he took another bite, chewing slowly, fluorescent juice dripped down his chin, but he did nothing to wipe it off. He took another bite.
"This is fruit from a close genetic relative to the tree of life," Michael said.
"Genetic relative?" Jack asked. "There are genes in Heaven, I didn't think there'd be anything like that here…"
"Well sure, where do you think it all comes from? Do you think God's just some sort of magician that does whatever he wants just by snapping his fingers? He's more like…" Michael paused, "well, picture God as the greatest scientist in the history of everything."
"Really? I always thought that…well…"
Michael nodded, "I know what you're saying, but let me ask you this. That periodic table of elements, that comes from the earth, which God made. If he made it, and he knows everything, don't you think he'd know what he put in it?"
Jack paused to think about it.
"You're right…I never thought of it that way…"
"Most people don't, most people think that God's just a magician, that he created the world on a whim with just a thought, and they say that because of that, that because of these discoveries, that God couldn't exist, they use science to try and disprove God, which is terribly ironic, since not only does science pint to God in every aspect of things, but God essentially created science, he's not some guy in a black robe up here with a wand sending lightning bolts down to earth with a wave of his hand, he's really the smartest guy you will ever know. Plus, he's perfect, he cannot sin, and he is very patient and understanding to those who he created. He's like the perfect father."
"I…" Jack was feeling something completely new to him, a burning peaceful feeling in his chest that seemed to differentiate from any feeling he had ever felt. It sent tears down his cheeks. "I never knew…" he started, "that it was like that…I always thought God would just hold me back, keep me from doing what I wanted to do…"
Michael nodded, all his sarcasm aside. He patted Jack on the shoulder, "So many people think that Gods commandants are there to hold them back, or to give God a reason to punish them for disobeying, but God isn't like that at all. He gives commandments to let us be able to come back to him as people better than we were before we came down into our bodies," He stopped, "We didn't used to have bodies, we used to just be spirits, but God, like any good father, wanted the best for his children, he wanted us to be like him in every way possible, so he let us come down to earth so we could get bodies and learn how to act so that we could be like him. Those who did good, knew the truth, and listened to his commandments, following them no matter what, go to the highest glory. Those who didn't do everything, but because they were of a different religion, went to the middle kingdom to be taught and progress to the higher kingdom, and those who knew of God, but didn't listen to his commandments, go to the bottom kingdom, where they can live peacefully. The ones who got o hell are the ones who purposely disobeyed God, or who did things so obviously wrong, they wouldn't need to know the commandments to know not to do them. Adultery, the breaking of families my a sexual sin, is one of those sins, Murder, stealing, things like that, get you into Hell."
Jack had fallen to his knees. He knew where he would be, just off this description. He began to remember all the things he had done wrong. He saw faces of people he had killed, wounded, stolen from, and beaten because of the gang. He remembered the time his girlfriend told him she was pregnant and he had run away, changed his name, and never spoken to her again. He remembered all the drugs he had done. All the houses he had burned, and all the kid's like him, who he had recruited into his gang. As all these sins and errors in his life flashes before his eyes, he was filled with a pain in his heart that began to cause an actual physical pain. He sank lower, onto his stomach and lay on the ground, tears streaming down his face. More faces and mistakes passed before him, and he began to sob harder, then, all at once, the words Michael has said to him at the gate popped into his mind, "I had to use some of Christ's love for you to pull you through." He remembered learning about Christ dying for the sins of the world as a boy in church, and cried out to this last source of hope with all his heart.
"Christ, save me!"
The second those words escaped his lips, a voice, soft and gentle, spoke, almost in a whisper, yet he heard it perfectly clear.
"You have been forgiven my son."
Immediately Jack felt a sense of warmth and love overwhelm him like nothing he had ever felt. He stopped crying immediately, but every now and then a tear of joy ran down his cheeks. After a while he stood up,. Michael was looking at him with a sense of respect.
"I always love watching people go through that,' Michael said, "the repentance process feels like hell, but afterwards, you feel like you're in heaven. It's a wonderful thing to go through."
Jack just nodded and smiled. "I feeldifferent," he asid to Michael…"lighter almost."
Michael nodded, "I should hope you feel different, that's the fastest repentance I've seen since Alma the Younger and J. Golden Kimball. Usually it takes weeks, you took about thirty minutes. That was incredible."
Jack smiled. "It sucked and rocked at the same time."
"Those are words of wisdom," Michael laughed. I think you've seen enough of the middle kingdom for now, and you did what we came here for, so I guess I can show you the highest kingdom."
Jack's eyes lit up. "Ok, sounds good to me, let's go!"
Michael let go of Jack's arm as they entered into quite possibly the most amazing place Jack had ever set foot in. In it, wasn't gold, or silver, or grand buildings made of diamonds, rather, God's most beautiful and magnificent creations. Fields of giant lilies and giant roses sprouted from the earth. Fruit trees galore, some with shining golden fruit, some with fruit Jack hadn't ever seen before, and an adundance of familiar things like orange trees and cherry trees. Pure crystal clear water trickled into beautiful clear streams, and wildlife ran around freely. Children squealed and giggled as they climbed trees and played with the deer and lions as if they were common pets like dogs. Jack saw a child giggling and laughing and a giant rattlesnake slithered over its body. He saw a nice looking couple holding a newborn baby and smiling as they watched another child, a toddler, waddle off towards the stream to play in. Michael leaned over to him.
"God encourages families strongly here. The family is God's original unit of society, and he has made it sacred, all those who are true followers of him keep strong families. That's why there are so many kids and parents here. God loves families, and loves to play with the little kids."
Jack nodded his head, "Didn't Christ say that all little children were perfect or something like that?"
"Yes, he said little children were perfect and pure, and told people to become like them."
Jack nodded. "Do you have a family Michael?" He asked curiously.
"Sorta, I'm engaged, and have been for the past about…oh…one thousand years. You remember Cassia?"
Jack nodded his head.
"Well, I hadn't been married yet, and when I met her, she had changed, so I asked her to marry me, she said yes, and we've been planning it…for a long time." Jack laughed.
"My dad always told me, "son, when you find the girl you want to marry, just elope and make it easier on yourself'…" Jack frowned, "then I turned 16, got hooked on drugs, joined a gang and pretty much screwed up my whole life…"
Michael nodded, "but you repented and have been forgiven, and now you just need to start doing what you need to. Fix your mistakes…"
Jack nodded, "I should be busy."
"Why, I dare say you should, you had me worried son, I though you'd be burning in Hell if I didn't help you!" A deep kind voice said from behind him. Jack whirled around to find himself staring into a face filled with kindness, the mouth had laughing lines, and the sparkling blue eyes had a light of humor in them. The hair was white as new fallen snow and he had a long beard to match.
Jack fell to his knees. He knew, even before the man said another word, that he was looking right at God.
"Get up my son, I treat everyone as an equal in my kingdom."
Jack stood. He couldn't talk. God just smiled and laughed.
"No need to be afraid, I won't eat you or anything."
Jack tried to open his mouth and talk, and finally, after three tries, something came out.
God smiled, "I know, you aren't worthy, you aren't worthy that's what everyone says, but Jack, you just underwent one of the most painful repentances I think I have ever seen, you have been forgiven by my sons sacrifice, and so, even though you aren't quite like these people who live here, you're on the right path, and I have a feeling in a short time, you will be rejoining them."
"Really?" Jack asked, wide eyed.
"Well, it is just a feeling," God said, "But my feelings are right oh…around 100% of the time, you've just got to be righteous. Jack nodded.
"Of course, of course!"
"Now, I do need to help you with some things though, before you go."
God took him to a remote river bank. What he was taught, he has not said, nor will he ever. A little child gasped, "not ever?"
Laughing, the father of the child shook his head. They were sitting on a old couch in the home of the little girls grandparents. Just then, an old man walked around the corner. He had an old scar from a Knife on his arm, and some scars visible from a shrapnel grenade that exploded near him on his face and legs.
"Grandpa Jack!" The little girl shouted.
"There's my favorite granddaughter," Jack said happily. He looked up at his son, "Have you been telling stories about me?" he said, faking an angry voice. The son laughed, "Just telling Emma my favorite bedtime story."
Jack's old face lit up in a smile. "Well, ok then if it's only that."
Jack's wife, originally an ex-girlfriend of his who was impressed by his change and his sincere apology, walked in. Her and Jack were well into there fifties with a family of six kids (four daughters, two sons) and, in the words of Jack, enough grandkids to make an army.
Grandpa, did that really happen?" The little girl asked innocently.
Jack nodded his head, "It happened for sure, and I remember every second of it. It's the reason you're here today!"
The girl smiled and walked off. Her mom was waving at the door, and Jack's son got up.
"Time to go, thanks for having us dad!"
Jack said his goodbyes and watched his son leave for his home a few miles away. He sat down in his favorite chair and closed his eyes. He had never gone back, nor would he ever. That thought made him smile, as his eyes drooped shut, and he fell asleep.