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Escape from Heaven cover

Escape from Heaven
A Novel by J. Neil Schulman
Chapter 2

Did you ever find a million dollars that you forgot you had?

That’s about as close as I can come in describing how I felt at that moment.

It’s not that anything around me changed physically at the moment of revelation. I was still sitting at a table in Jerry’s Famous Deli. My sandwich was still in front of me. So was my glass of Dr. Brown’s celery tonic and a dish of pickles.

What was different is that I wasn’t Duj Pepperman anymore.

I looked around the restaurant, at the other people. I saw them for a moment on the surface; then it was as if my vision went around a corner and I was seeing them from another angle, not just on the outside, but from the inside out, and with perspective both on their past and future.

I looked at a waiter and I knew that his fondest wish at the moment was to get the part he was up for on General Hospital.

A young woman sitting at the next table had just been told by her doctor that she was pregnant … but not by her husband, who was sitting at the table next to her, and had no idea. She wanted to keep the baby. So would he … but only if he thought it was his.

I looked over to a trim middle-aged man with a shaved head, sitting a few tables away, an ex-army colonel who had served with distinction in the Gulf War. He had been forcibly retired due to a sexual harassment scandal involving men under his command, but that he, personally, had nothing to do with. Now he was middle management of a small computer software company and was about to be laid off, although he didn’t know it yet. His greatest wish was just one more mission where he could make a difference.

Across from me, at another table, was a short curly-haired man who had been a successful writer of science-fiction paperbacks—mostly media tie-ins. The book contracts had dried up and he was now working as a technical writer. He had completed an original, science-fiction novel with an epic theme that he hoped would be his break into hardcover publication and serious reviews, but so far no one would touch it and it was breaking his heart.

The TV over the bar had CNN on. A prominent U.S. senator was being interviewed about a bill she had introduced for a comprehensive national health plan. She should have been focusing instead on her own health; she was addicted to both amphetamines and barbiturates that she used to mask the pain of her husband’s serial adultery. She had shut down sexually, converted her libido into power lust, and covered it all with a smile that was permanently glued onto her face.

I looked in the bar mirror, at myself.

I saw that my life until that moment had been preparation for this one, that “Duj Pepperman” was a fictitious identity, that his life until that moment had been a series of training exercises waiting for my arrival. I felt that I’d just arrived after a long journey but registered surprise at how overweight this body was.

I laughed silently. Until that moment, Duj Pepperman had been an atheist.

There were two staggeringly beautiful women with elfin ears, both of them blond, almost albino, sitting a few tables away from me, looking at me intently. I recognized them as angels named Estella and Sophia. They recognized me as well. I nodded to them; they nodded back.

I paid my check and walked out to the parking lot. They were waiting for me in front of Sebrings hair stylists, where I had parked.

“I can’t commit suicide,” I told them. “I’m bound by the rules.”

Estella nodded. “Don’t worry, we understand our orders.” She pulled a Glock 9-millimeter pistol from her jacket pocket and pointed it at me.

Sophia said, “Give me your keys.”

I gave the keys to Sophia, who unlocked the doors with the remote. Estella opened the rear passenger door, motioning me in with the gun. I got into the back seat of my car, Estella following, with the gun still pointed at me. She reached across and pulled down the shoulder strap, buckling me in.

Sophia got behind the wheel of my car, started the ignition, and drove off, while Estella pulled a roll of duct tape out of her handbag.

“Give me your hands,” Estella said.

Holding the gun on me with one hand, she bound my hands to the seat belt, ripping the tape off with her teeth, then bound my feet. I tested the strength of the tape. She’d done a good job.

Sophia turned on the radio and tuned it to KLSX FM. The Beach Boys were singing “Good Vibrations.”

Both angels started singing along, “I’m pickin’ up good vibrations, she’s giving me excitations …”

Still singing, Sophia drove onto Admiralty Way. I started singing along with the angels, “Good, good, good, good vibrations!”

Sophia turned left on Via Marina, then onto a pier leading out to the harbor. Sophia accelerated the car while opening all four windows. The car leapt the pier and splashed. The Mercedes floated a few seconds then began sinking. Water began rushing in through the open windows.

“Na na na na na … na na na!” sang Sophia, Estella, the Beach Boys, and me.

All of a sudden, the angels vanished and their voices cut off. Just as suddenly, I was no longer God.

The radio shorted out and went silent. I stopped singing, mid-vibration.

I was Duj Pepperman again, bound with duct tape into the back seat of a Mercedes that was sinking into cold salt water, water that was quickly rising up my chest.

“God, where did you go?” I shouted, panicked. “Why did you leave me?”

There was no answer.

I took a deep breath as the water rose toward my chin. Used all my strength to try to break the duct tape, but it was no use.

“Oh, shit!” I said, took one more breath, my last, then sunk beneath the water and drowned.


Next in Escape from Heaven is Chapter III.

Escape from Heaven is
Copyright © 2002 J. Neil Schulman &
Copyright © 2010 The J. Neil Schulman Living Trust.
All rights reserved.

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