The Fire Pit
The semi truck with its load of freshly cut logs skidded on the snowy highway before I had the chance to swerve. The last thing I remember was letting out a scream so loud my throat began to burn. I felt a brief, crushing impact, followed by nothing but blackness and silence coming over me.
When I came back to consciousness, I felt light and floaty, as if I were on drugs. Although I cannot tell you what it would actually feel like to be on illegal drugs, because I had never actually done them.
You see, I was for the most part a 'Good Girl' all my life. I was a 'religious' woman, a wife and mother. I went to church, invited the Lord into my heart as a teenager, went to ladies' Bible studies, taught toddler Sunday School, sang in Christmas and Easter worship choirs, and I was in the midst of raising my children in the local Methodist Church. My kids were nice kids, my husband was a respected member of our small community, and I worked a rewarding job in an elementary school.
You can't get much more squeaky clean than lil' ol me!
All right, all right! I know I'm not perfect! I don't read my Bible or pray every day. It's not that I don't want to, it's just that I'm kind of lazy. And distracted. And to be honest I don't always commit myself to reading my Bible. I'd rather read other things like Stephen King, Harry Potter, Danielle Steel romances, Wikipedia pages, and...well, fanfiction. And not to mention I write fanfiction. Lots of it.
Okay, okay! I'm a sinner.
So when two evil-looking men in black suits who reminded me of the twin goons from Breaking Bad- except even more evil- came into my floaty happy place and started to drag me by arms with scowls of contempt on their faces, I started to cry with dread and horror.
"Who are you? Why are you being so rude to me?" I protested. "Where's St. Peter and Jesus?"
"DO NOT SAY THOSE NAMES AROUND US, YOU SIN-INFESTED, REPREHENSIBLE JEZEBEL OF A WOMAN!" one of the goons roared at me in a voice that reminded me of the creepy Linda Blair girl in 'The Exorcist.'
"Wait, are you demons?" I shrieked. "Is this Hell?"
"You got that right, sister!" said the other demon. "You didn't make it. Tough luck, lady."
I couldn't hold back my tears of shame. I was not a good enough churchgoing lady, I realized. I did not read my Bible every day. I didn't pray unceasingly all the time. I sometimes skipped church so I could laze around in my pajamas all Sunday and watch Netflix. I didn't tell everybody I knew about God.
The definition of 'Sin' means to miss the mark. And by golly, I sure as- you know the word- missed the mark in my unremarkable life. Lying. Envy. Covetousness. Greed. Forgetting to correct the clerk who overcharged me for a few bucks. Having sexy dreams about Hollywood actors who aren't my husband. Being mad at my dog, just for doing dog things. Wishing that Karen at work would lose her voice for life. All the things I did and thought in my life that weren't pure came back to haunt me.
I screamed and cried in guilt and shame, as the two demons pushed me toward a cliff and hurled me down into a pit of fire.
Landing softly on what felt like pillows, I saw what looked to be red-hot, roaring flames surrounding me, yet there was no smoke, and no smoke smell either. And there was such a feeling of warmth! Instead of searing heat and pain, I felt nothing but coziness. You know, like when you're outside in zero degree weather on a frigid day in January and you hop into your car when it's been running and the heat is on? Oooh, it's the best!
I glanced up and saw the two goonish demons looking down at me from a cliff high above me. They seemed surprised and astounded.
"This 'Hell' thing isn't really all that much to be worried about, you guys!" I called up to them. "You should jump down here with me! We can sing 'Bad to the Bone,' and 'Hell's Bells,' and whatever songs you like to sing around here! I guess I can't sing the Hallelujah Chorus, though, can I?"
Yikes. If I broke into 'The Hallelujah Chorus' or any other of my favorite songs about Jesus and the Lord God of the Universe, I was afraid the goon demons would be furious at me and turn the fire temperature hotter.
I glanced back up at them in their dark suits, standing on a cliff and silhouetted against the golden bright flames all around me. I noticed one shaking his head in disbelief, looking at the other.
"Guys?" I called to them. "Are there any marshmallows? I really have this craving for a S'more. Just to let you know, my cravings are pretty intense. After all, before I died in that car accident, I was starting to go through something called 'Menopause.' Of course you two are men. So I guess you don't understand how bad those cravings can be."
"SILENCE!" barked Goon Demon One. At least he was polite and didn't say 'shut up.'
I almost wanted to laugh, because I found it so pleasant sitting here in this fire pit which felt ten times better than my cozy bed back in life, while annoying a pair of wannabe thug demons with my request for S'mores ingredients. I wondered if they were being paid by Lucifer himself to watch over me.
The thought came upon me that perhaps I could have sinned more in my life. This wasn't so bad. But I didn't want the consequences of some of the sins I could have done, because I'd hated the consequences of the sins I had actually done in truth.
After a few minutes I had the realization that perhaps I was just being 'warmed up' for Hell. It was likely that they were about to do the 'frog in hot water' trick on me. I worried that the fire would get hotter anytime, and I braced myself for pain and torture. Looking up again at the two demons on the cliff edge, I noticed them oddly gesturing to someone behind them, putting their thumbs up.
I had read once that putting a thumb up was what the ancient Romans did to send someone to doom, rather than a thumbs down. It must be the signal to heat my fire pit up to scorching. Tears came back to my eyes as I thought of all the ways I could have been a more Godly person, and messed up.
They threw a soft, white rope down to me. What was this? I put out my hands and clutched it.
"Bring her up!" said one of the demons. Within moments, I felt myself being lifted out of the pit by them as they tugged on the rope. They helped me over the edge of the cliff.
I guess they weren't as mean as I thought.
They backed away from me as I stepped across the cliff into a very lovely and scenic place, with blossoming trees, flower gardens, a blue sky, and a rushing waterfall like the Garden of Eden in Genesis. What? This is Hell? Seriously? I thought.
Three young men approached me. They were dressed in ancient-looking clothing, all with dark hair and eyes.
"Jennifer," one of them said to me, grinning mischievously, "You've just been Pranked!" The other two laughed.
"What?" I said in disbelief. "How do you know my name? And what do you mean 'pranked?'"
"You've always been a little unsure of yourself and your faith," said another of the young men, putting a friendly arm around me. "So we thought we'd give you a little special welcome that we don't always put on."
"And you've always had a sense of humor, and you're a super-nice lady, so we knew you'd be cool with it. Sorry to upset you for a minute there." said the third.
"Well...um," I said, feeling like these guys were truly friendly and kind, now thinking maybe this wasn't Hell after all? Was it?
"I thought this was Hell," I said blankly.
The three young men and the two 'demons,' who now didn't really look evil or mean at all, laughed again. Yet, I didn't think they were mocking me or laughing at me. I sensed a good nature with all of them now.
"No," said the one with his arm on my shoulder, "this is Heaven! That's why you're Pranked, Jen. Welcome to the Kingdom of God. My name's Shad."
"And I'm Meesh," said the second young man.
"And I'm Bedney," said the third.
Joy and relief bubbled up within me. I wasn't sent to Hell after all! But, wait a minute...Shad, Meesh, and Bedney?
"Are you by any chance...Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego?" I asked them.
"In person!" said Shadrach. "So you must have read your Bible once in a while, right?"
"A little," I said, embarrassed. "But the real reason I've heard of you three, is a song we sang in high school choir a long time ago. I looked you up in the Bible after that."
I was a bit starstruck at meeting them. Here were actual Biblical characters! Real, in the flesh and in their ancient-style clothes, yet speaking in my own native language and dialect! How did they learn to speak 20th and 21st century USA English? I still felt skeptical.
"Are you really THE Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego?" I asked. "I mean, you're very famous! And you all still look so young!"
"We don't age much here," said Meschach.
I glanced over at the two men who I had thought were demons. They looked to be kind without their scowls, somewhat older than the famous trio who'd survived a fire pit many centuries before. Now, the two solidly built men reminded me of a few of the Impractical Jokers from TV instead of the 'Breaking Bad' thugs.
"Excuse me, but...who are you gentlemen?"
"I'm Bob," said one.
"I'm Steve," said the other. "We're not demons, or Biblical characters. We're just regular guys. But we wanted to help welcome you. Again, I'm truly sorry, Miss, for making you cry before."
'Miss' instead of 'Ma'am?' I thought. That was worth extra Brownie points in my book. These were good guys, certainly excellent pranksters. Perhaps even better jokers than my own husband, who among our circle was notorious for his 'good ones.' I couldn't wait to tell him about Bob and Steve someday- once he arrived.
"It's okay," I told Bob and Steve, still trying to catch my breath from the surprise. "I was pretty scared and upset for a minute, but this makes up for it! It's so beautiful here!"
The colors of nature were ten times more brilliant. It was hard to explain. The moon in the new sky shone in daytime just as it often did in life, but here it was bigger, a colossal Super Moon. I could see a town consisting of elegant Tudor-style mansions in the distance. It was as if everything I had ever liked and desired was there. I shamefully hoped there was a Starbucks and a Culver's.
I turned back to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They looked to me like a late-80's pop-music boy band, despite their ancient togs. This had to be Heaven, if it included anyone resembling the New Kids on the Block!
"Is Daniel or Joseph still around?" I asked them. Daniel was said to be a quite attractive fellow in the Bible, and curious me wanted to know what he looked like, I admit. And of course, I wanted to see the real figure who inspired the Broadway play about the Technicolor Dreamcoat.
"Daniel and Joseph are definitely here," said Abednego. "You'll meet everyone, don't worry. And that includes Our Lord! Let us escort you to His Throne so you can meet Him. He is waiting to greet and welcome you in Person."
"Oh my goodness, I'm nervous," I said, feeling a freaky sense of absolute awe. The actual God who made the sun, moon and the universe wanted to meet lil' ol me?
What was I going to say? I suppose this was just like the song 'I Can Only Imagine' by Casting Crowns. Back in life I always heard it playing on the radio so often, it started to sound like background noise and I rarely thought much of the lyrics. Yet, I had always known that if I believed in the Lord and I wanted Him in my heart, He would grant me eternal life.
I guess I was just one of those very insecure 'doubters' that the Pranked crew, made up of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego with their two pals Bob and Steve, had to surprise and shock me. I could certainly take a scary joke like this in hindsight. Heaven is truly lovely. And I'll be facing a whole eternity to meet a lot of cool, friendly, and interesting people from all centuries, and have a wonderful time. My husband, children, family, and friends will be coming eventually. And, since time is irrelevant, it will only feel like a little while.
And yes, Daniel was handsome but I tried very hard not to fangirl over him. I only fangirl for God these days.
A.N.- This story came from a humorous prompt on Reddit. It seems too lightweight and irreverent to me as a believer to write about the Holy Word of God in this silly way, plus to even attempt to try to imagine Heaven when I'm still alive! But then, I think of Phil Vischer, one of my favorite artists who created cartoon videos about holy Biblical figures depicted as sentient vegetables. So I don't feel quite as bad.