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Escape from Heaven cover

Escape from Heaven
A Novel by J. Neil Schulman
Chapter 4

Have you ever noticed how many different cultures burn candles as memorials or in prayers for the dead? Being an atheist, I’d always looked for rational explanations about stuff like that. Let’s say that you’re in a society before the invention of cameras, with few people who can even write or paint. What can just about anyone do in remembrance of the dearly departed? About all you could do was to light a candle, that was my way of thinking about it.

If you get nothing else out of this narrative, get this: just about everything is more complicated than I’d thought.

As Felony was leading me by the hand to the appointed place of my rebirth, my inability to see things around me subsided, and I gradually became aware of my surroundings. We were walking along a path in a well-manicured city park, with high-rise architecture surrounding me at a distance.

It was hard for me to assign a style to the buildings. You know how, in the Albert Brooks movie Defending Your Life, Judgment City looks like the outskirts of Las Vegas? This was nothing like that. There was little in common with earth styles of architecture at all.

It wasn’t the glass-and-steel towers of America, not the classical styles of a European capital, neither the elaborate temples of Asia nor the Moorish edifices of the ancient Near East. It was more self-consciously artistic, with the architect being liberated from the load-bearing requirements of earth construction to explore pure esthetics, and with an astonishing variety of building materials.

Some buildings looked as if they had been grown as a single crystal, the ultimate in organic integrity. There were some structures that looked as if they were constructed of clouds, and a few that had the Blade Runner look of a Syd Mead illustration. Some of the more-metallic-looking buildings hovered high above the others, like a cover from a 1940’s Astounding. The overall effect was like the 1964 New York World’s Fair or Disneyland, but done for real.

The building that Felony brought me to near the outskirts of the park looked as if Dr. Seuss or M.C. Escher had a hand in its design. From the outside it looked like a series of glowing mazes that turned in on themselves. But when you passed inside (not through a door; right through what appeared to be a solid wall) it looked a cross between an ancient Roman home and the medical practice of Dr. Victor Frankenstein. I had a real sense that whoever had done the interior decorating had seen way too many movies.

To my right I saw a modernistic waiting room with plush chairs, couches, and coffee tables piled with old magazines that would have looked at home in a dentist’s waiting room. The room was full but I didn’t have to put my name on a list. Sophia and Estella, the angels who crossed me over, were waiting for me as we entered, both dressed in a translucent white dress that reminded me of a nurse’s uniform by way of Hugh Hefner. Either Sophia or Estella would qualify as your average Playmate of the Year. “He’s waiting for you,” Sophia said.

“Who’s waiting?” I asked, but directed the question to my daughter, and suddenly she was no longer 12-years-old but a woman who looked my own age.

“Jesus, of course,” Felony said. She kissed me on the cheek. “Call me when you’re settled in, Daddy. I’m in the Tree.”

Felony disappeared, the way the two angels had when I’d died. It was a bit disconcerting.

“This way, sir,” Sophia said. The angels linked arms with me from both sides. I didn’t know whether to feel escorted or under arrest.

There’s no way to say this that isn’t going to tick somebody off, so I’m just going to say it. The Savior looked like a Middle Eastern terrorist or a Colombian drug lord. Or at least that’s what he looked like to a Hollywood-imprinted American arriving from the early-21st century.

Jesus looked short, muscular, olive-skinned, with piercing eyes, jet-black hair, and a thick black beard; when I was brought in to him he was wearing a white Sydney Greenstreet suit. The only thing that broke the stereotypical first impression was Jesus’ brilliant smile and the bear hug with which he greeted me.

The angels left, closing a door behind them, and Jesus motioned me over to a couple of upholstered chairs, catercorner to each other.

“Mind if I smoke?” Jesus asked.

If I still had one I raised an eyebrow but said, “No problem.”

No, I can’t tell you what brand of cigarette Jesus smokes; he took an elaborately carved pipe and a cloth pouch out of his jacket pocket, packed something pink and fleshy from the pouch into the pipe, and blew into the mouthpiece as if it was a child’s bubble pipe.

It wasn’t bubbles that came out of the pipe’s bowl, though, but a jet of flame followed by a thick cloud of white smoke.

It didn’t smell like tobacco to me, and not like marijuana, either, if that’s where you thought I was going. It smelled a little like incense or burning spices but overall, it smelled to me like barbecue smoke.

I don’t know what I’d expected when I sat down in the arm chair opposite Jesus—maybe a chance to get a few of my questions answered—but what happened next was nothing I could have anticipated.

Jesus took a deep draught of smoke from his pipe and blew it towards me, not a short breath but a deep, continuing wind that traveled along with a deep low humming. The smoke began swirling around me, faster and faster and faster, and a jet of flame formed above me.

Suddenly it was as if I was a candle, but instead of rising, the flame started moving downwards, and I felt intense heat starting at my temple and spreading out from there to my entire body. But instead of consuming me, the flame was making me solid.

I don’t know if I passed out, went into a trance, or whether it was over in only an instant, but the next thing I knew the flame was gone, the smoke was floating easily up to a cathedral ceiling … and I had a solid body of flesh again. But rebirth doesn’t come with clothes. I was sitting in the arm chair, now naked.

Not for long. Sophia and Estella were right behind me with a terrycloth bathrobe. When I stood up I felt a bit wobbly but managed not to fall. Estella helped me on with the robe … and just in time, otherwise the Savior would have been staring at a growing erection triggered by my proximity to Estella’s cleavage as she bent over to cinch the robe’s tie for me.

Sophia placed a golden chalice into my hands, and Jesus picked up one like it. Estella picked up a pitcher and poured a clear liquid into both cups.

“To life,” Jesus said to me.

Jesus put the cup to his lips and so did I. We drank. It was a wow. I didn’t know what it was but knew that if somebody bottled it on earth, Coca Cola would be out of business.

Jesus stood up, and with some effort I made it back onto my feet.

“I apologize,” said Jesus, “but I have a full waiting room. I’ll see you in the morning at breakfast, all right?”

“Sure,” I said, weakly.

Jesus and I shook hands then Sophia and Estella helped me walk out of Jesus’ office … and directly into what looked to be the master bedroom of my town home back in Culver City.

“Get a good night’s sleep and we’ll be back for you in the morning,” said Estella.

“Sweet dreams,” said Sophia, and then, much to my regret, they were both gone.

I went into my bathroom and looked at myself. I didn’t look any different than the way I had looked before I died.

I walked to my bedroom window, opened it wide, and looked out, but instead of looking at the garage doors of the next row of houses, I had a spectacular view of the heavenly skyline at night. I wasn’t in Kansas anymore, Toto.

Heaven doesn’t smell like any other city I’ve ever visited. There are no industrial fumes; instead, the air is permeated with a spicy, deep-forest fragrance. There was a lovely warm breeze carrying this wonderful air into the house so I decided to keep the window open.

I was more tired than I’d thought. I threw the robe on a chair, climbed into bed, and was asleep before I knew it.


Next in Escape from Heaven is Chapter V.

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

My comic thriller Lady Magdalene’s — a movie I wrote, produced, directed, and acted in it — is now available for sale or rental on Video On Demand. If you like the way I think, I think you’ll like this movie. Check it out!

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