A Date for the End of the World

by Mary Brunini McArdle


My name is Donald Burnham. I have always wondered what life after death would be like. Would we experience a glorification of this world, this Earth, only better with all our friends and loved ones around us? Would there be banquets every day? Would we drink wine in the Father’s house? Or maybe only Jesus can do that.

Perhaps we could travel the Universe and ask God all the questions we had stored up over the years. Some people think we’ll all be part of a whole, a “oneness.” Although the Archangels must be individuals; they have names.

Some people think we’ll sleep until Judgment Day and then simultaneously rise up in our glorified bodies. But if Judgment Day involves the “living and the dead,” the world will end with some of us still living. That could be scary or wonderful, depending.

I departed this world at the age of 66, of a heart attack. The afterlife turned out to be completely different from every imaginary scene I have described. I came to an enormous throne surrounded by winged beings. A Visage sat before me, and I asked It if I was in Heaven.

“No, Don,” the Visage replied. “You haven’t earned that privilege yet. You have more work to do.”

“Yes, of course, Your Holiness, Sir. But like what?”

One of the beings nudged me. “Address the Visage as YHWH.”

“Come again?” I wiped some moisture out of my right ear and hoped the being would practice his pronunciation in another direction next time.

“YHWH.”

“That’s what I thought you said. Can I buy a vowel or two?”

The being looked a little weary. “Take your pick. That’s what everybody else has done anyway, since the beginning of time.”

“By Jove, that’s accommodating.” Sometimes I just can’t restrain myself.

The being rolled his eyes presumably heavenward. “I wish I had a nickel... But never mind. Stay with the program and you’ll eventually meet Yeshua Ha Messiach.”

I dabbed at my ear again. “And the Spirit, too?” I had to head the being off. Give him a plosive consonant and I’d be in for a regular baptism.

Thankfully, the Visage had a full schedule and wanted to get down to business. “Don, have you ever heard of Cawnpore?”

“No, Sir... uh... YHWH.”

“It is in India. There was a massacre of women and children there during the Sepoy Mutiny in the 1850’s. I’m going to send you back there. I want you to bring their spirits to me before they feel pain. You will observe them being cut to pieces; snatch their spirits from them; no one will be able to see you and no wall will hold you back. Do you understand?”

I gulped. “If you say so, YHWH.”

I saw The Visage suppress a grin. “Kneel and go. You’ll know the way.”

And I did. It was an unimaginable scene, one I wouldn’t forget. But the thirty or forty spirits seemed grateful.

When I returned, I knelt and bowed. “Don,” the Visage said gravely, “you have performed well. But your work is not yet finished. I’m sure you’ve heard of Hiroshima? After all, it’s a part of your time and your memory. How about a promotion? I think now you’re ready for something bigger.”

I didn’t dare ask YHWH if I would then be admitted to Heaven. The “promotion” sounded like a pretty time-consuming job. But there was no telling how much sinfulness I had to work off. I didn’t think I’d been a bad person, but I was certainly no saint.

I nodded at a pair of the winged beings as I left. Were they angels? Not as I had pictured them. These “angels” wore charcoal gray suits with tails and black cummerbunds. Their wings looked like silver tinfoil.

Once I had finished my assignment and released thousands of souls, I floated back to the throne room.

“Don,” the Visage said thoughtfully, “I’m thinking you might be up to... Well, the end of the world is coming momentarily.” The Visage stared off at some unseen wonder. “It’s going to be quite a show. Spectacular. Earthquakes, volcanoes, tornadoes. And the sky will literally catch on fire before the clouds trimmed with golden edges appear.

“If you help me with this, along with the many others I’m going to need, we’ll have to get you out of that hospital gown. You won’t be invisible this time; I’ll want you to be able to mingle. Be part of the crowd, so to speak. Did you have a favorite set of clothes?”

“I’ve always been partial to khakis, YHWH.”

“Acceptable.” The Visage snapped his fingers and one of the “angels” appeared with everything I would need, including tennis shoes.

“Uh, YHWH? There’s one more thing.”

“Yes, Don?”

“Well, for an occasion this big... could I have a date?”

The Visage nodded. “Good thinking, Don.” He gestured to the “angel” who had brought my clothes. “Go and fetch me that redhead — you know the one. She’d be perfect, and she’s got a load of work to do.”

“Lucille Ball?”

“No, I don’t like the way she dresses. I was considering someone like Bathsheba. Lovely woman. Bad, but lovely. Filmy veils and great colors.”

“Wow!” I exclaimed. “This is going to be some trip! Loads of fun!”

“Not just fun, Don. Work. You must ease fears, comfort the unsure, promise the living they won’t really be harmed — just scared out of their wits. Help them ignore all those dead people rising from their graves. Bathsheba will be a marvelous assistant for that. With her by your side, everyone will be looking your way. Think you can handle it?”

“Damn... uh, darn sure, YHWH!”

One of the “angels” snickered. I glared at him.

“YHWH, is it time to go?”

“Get dressed first, Don. Shed that hospital gown. Bathsheba will be here soon. I think she’s wearing peach and violet, with silver sandals and toe rings.”

“Wow!”

“Oh, sweet Jesus!” an “angel” groaned.

“Hey!” the Visage said angrily. “You do not refer to my son Yeshua Ha Messiach like that! You will accompany Don and Bathsheba and attend to their every wish. Adjust their clothing, serve them food, escort them, and counsel them. And I would advise you to do it right if you want to come back here.”

It was my turn to suppress a grin. I found this amusing, but I didn’t want to show it. These “angel” things were a bit pompous. They could use a little humility.

Then Bathsheba appeared, and, man! Didn’t everything else recede into the background! I offered her my arm, which she took, smiling. What a dish! I thought. That gorgeous hair and that stunning figure concealed by chiffon-like clothing. Her tiny feet with her sandals and vermillion toenail polish, her voluptuous... I’m sure the editor won’t allow me to say, but you’re probably guessing what I’m thinking anyway.

“I know exactly what you’re thinking, Don. Thank you. Of course I’m aware I’m a dish. I’ve always been a dish. Got me in a bit of trouble a long time ago. That’s why I’m still working.”

“Uh... whatever,” I stammered. “Ready, my dear?”

“Quite. I could use a break. I don’t get to date much anymore.”

“Then let’s go.”

“Let’s. And I think we should take our time, precious. Let’s string it out as long as we can. Okay?”

Holding hands, Bathsheba and I took a deep breath and jumped. Down we went, through the fiery sky, skimming volcanoes, whirling in and out of ragged clouds, dragging our toes through tidal waves, watching the most amazing earthquakes and smoking fissures. Bathsheba giggled and planted a kiss on my cheek. I laughed out loud.

“Look,” I said, pointing to a particularly eye-catching mountain in the process of cracking in two.

“I wish we could stay here longer,” Bathsheba murmured. “It’s been ages since I’ve been anywhere with a man.”

“Careful, sweetheart. Isn’t that what messed you up before?”

“Uh-huh, and I haven’t been allowed to do much since. I don’t know if Heaven will be this entertaining, after I earn my way there. All I do right now is mending, washing, and, oh, read the Bible. And dress up every day for nothing.

“Oooh!” she squealed suddenly. “Don, see that? There’s a big basket on that grave! Full of jellybeans. I love them! Come on.”

“Sweetheart, that’s a child’s grave. Read the tombstone: Melinda Jackson, 2007-2012. She was only five years old. Her mother probably put that basket on her grave.”

“She’s dead, isn’t she?” Bathsheba reached out and grabbed the handle of the basket. Just as she dipped into the jellybeans, the grave opened and a little girl in a white dress emerged.

“Hey, that’s mine!” She grabbed onto the basket handle and a tug of war ensued, jellybeans spilling all over the ground.

“Bathsheba, you’re being immature. Let the child have her basket.”

A couple in contemporary clothing approached. Evidently Melinda’s parents were still alive.

“Mommy!” Melinda screamed. “This lady is taking my jellybeans!”

“Darling, we have a lot more than that to deal with,” Melinda’s mother exclaimed. The sky had turned a roiling black and the entire cemetery was exploding with bodies rising.

“David, what’s happening?”

Melinda happily stuffed candy in her mouth while her father said, “Dear, I think it’s the end of the world.”

“It is,” I put in. “Don’t be frightened, nothing bad will happen to you, and here is your little girl alive again. Just wait and someone will come for you, I promise.”

Bathsheba started walking away angrily. She turned and said, “Don, let’s go.”

“Where?”

“Somewhere I can get a couple of Hershey Bars.”

“Bathsheba, you’re spoiled. How do you even know what Hershey Bars are? And who do you suppose is going to furnish them for you with all that’s going on? I’d close my market, if I had one, in a tornado and an earthquake and dead people coming up out of the ground.”

“I thought I would enjoy myself. My first date in I don’t know how many decades. Shouldn’t you be taking me dancing or something?”

Is she some kind of nut? I thought. This is unbelievable.

“Or cocktails and dinner,” Bathsheba went on. “I polished my toenails just for you.”

A loud roar interrupted our conversation. Bathsheba almost lost her balance as the ground bubbled up beneath us.

“Get out of my way, you lunatics! You’re standing on my grave and I’m coming up!”

“Oh, my God,” I said.

“Right, Don. Either you two get back to work or I’m calling you in.”

“Bathsheba, did you hear that? It was YHWH. We’ve got to stop fooling around. So far we’ve only helped two people: Melinda’s parents. I don’t think that’s all we’re supposed to do. Of course, if somebody hadn’t acted like a kid at Halloween with that candy–”

“Oh, hush.”

“And where is that ‘angel’ fellow? Isn’t he supposed to be helping us? He could get your frigging Hershey Bars.” I looked up and saw him strolling toward us, a paper bag under his arm.

“Is that for me?” Bathsheba asked.

“Yes, Ma’am. It’s sponge cake and ginger ale.”

“Well, just get rid of it and find me some champagne and smoked oysters.”

“Not sure I can do that.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, we don’t have unlimited time.”

“Then get cracking.”

“Hah,” he retorted. “You haven’t done much with the time you’ve had. And you have a lot more work to do. So toodle-oo.” He smirked at me and sashayed off.

“Lazy ass,” I remarked.

“Do you think he’ll be back soon? Isn’t he supposed to wait on us?”

“Yes, he is, and and we’re supposed to be helping out, not thinking about food every minute. Aren’t you worried about your figure?”

“I’m dead, Don. What you see is what you’ve got. Let’s find a mall or something. I wouldn’t mind trying on clothes for a while.”

“No.”

“What do you mean, ‘no’?”

“We’ve got a job to do. I want to earn my place in Heaven, not be stuck in purgatory forever. You’ve been stuck here a mighty long time, sweetheart.”

She shrugged.

“Don’t you think He’s watching, Bathsheba? He knows you and that ‘angel’ are as lazy and selfish as they come. I’m leaving. I’m going to find more people that need to be comforted. Are you coming with me or are you going to keep up your nonsense?”

“Well! I’ve been stood up before — when I was alive, that is. But now, I may be a teeny bit ‘stuck’ but I’m pretty perfect, at least as far as looks are concerned. You ought to be more grateful.”

“Women like you are a dime a dozen, sweetheart. Bye.”

I left her standing there open-mouthed. And I never saw that idiot “angel” again, either. But at the conclusion of the turmoil on what was left of the earth, I did finally earn my place. And I didn’t need Bathsheba any more. I had it so much better. Indescribable.


Copyright © 2010 by Mary Brunini McArdle

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