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Escape from Heaven cover

Escape from Heaven
A Novel by J. Neil Schulman

Part Two
Back to Earth

Chapter 11

I hate traffic jams.

I hate them especially when they’re caused by bureaucratic stupidity, like scheduling most Interstate repaving during the summer months when more people are driving cross-country. I know it’s because the tar they use can’t be poured in cold weather but can’t they get Dupont to whip up a better concrete?

I hate that highway engineers have never been allowed to implement a traffic flow system that doesn’t permit the failure of one or two vehicles to cripple the entire system during peak loads.

I especially hate the waiting caused by toll booths, which is the bureaucrat’s way of saying that their need for sucking a few extra bucks out of you is so important that they don’t care how much it ruins your day.

The endless lines of departing angels and humans flying to the tunnels out of Heaven reminded me of the I-10 Freeway east out of Los Angeles on the Friday before Labor Day weekend. If this was an example of how the new leadership was planning to run earth, it was all the more reason to vote against them. Luckily, almost all of the outbound traffic was taking the bypass to the Palace so once Sophia, Estella, and I flew past that exit, the traffic flow sped up considerably.

“Remember to keep your body mass on zero until you’re out of the tunnel,” Sophia warned me. “Getting stuck inside a black hole is no fun.”

“Unless you’re on a first date,” Estella corrected her.

Sophia and Estella both took positions in front of me, then it was our turn at the departure gate. Sophia jumped, then Estella, and I took up the rear.

I hate trying to follow somebody in traffic. I always lose them.

I took all of two extra seconds in turning myself massless so I could begin accelerating and an angel behind me passed and yelled, “Why don’t you learn how to fly?”

“Ah, go bless yourself!” I yelled back at him, and hit it, trying to catch up to my guides … but they were already gone.

Damn! I was about to pull over to the side to figure out what to do when another angel slowed down and paced me. “Lost?”

I nodded, embarrassed. “I was convoying but got left behind. Worse than that, nobody told me my exit.”

“Happens to the best of them,” he said. “Glide up into the autocontrol lane. The tunnel will read your flight plan and eject you at your destination automatically.”

“Thanks!” I said.

“No problem.” he said, and sped ahead.

It just goes to show. Don’t make any generalizations about angels.

I followed instructions and the autocontrol lane started accelerating me.

It was a quick return trip. The tunnel turned translucent, letting me know that I was about to exit, and I found myself in a glide path coming down over Los Angeles. I felt myself slowing down over Marina del Rey, and hovered for a moment over the roof of Jerry’s Famous Deli, before the tunnel took me through the roof, deposited me inside, floating above the tables, and shrunk to infinity, disappearing.

My mass was still set to zero so for all intents and purposes I was a ghost, invisible to the mortals below me. And, sitting at a table near the bar in Jerry’s Famous Deli, was one of those mortals, myself a few days earlier, biting into a tongue and Swiss cheese on rye.

Sophia and Estella had already taken seats at the table where I had originally seen them, when I was the guy at the table eating the sandwich.

At this moment in spacetime there were two of me. The guy sitting at the table, eating the sandwich, was in a mortal body and clueless of what was about to happen to him.

Then there was me, in a resurrected body, with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men.

I contemplated the grandfather paradox. What would happen if I killed the living Duj Pepperman right now? Would I still exist? Then I realized it wouldn’t make any difference. He was about to die in a few minutes anyway, the “victim” of a carjacking. If I killed him, the worst that would happen would be that he would enter the tunnel a few minutes early and nothing else would have changed.

Lucky for me, I didn’t have to test the paradox directly. Estella waved me over and I floated over to their table.

“You need to merge into him so he can see and hear us,” Estella told me. “Stay inside him until we hit the water then you’ll be free to take his place.”

“What about his drowned corpse?” I asked. “The police might find it and it could turn out to be embarrassing for me.”

“You never studied,” Sophia said disapprovingly.

“Look, I was busy—” I started to explain.

Estella pointed to a dessert list on the table. “What’s this?” she asked me.

“A dessert list?” I asked.

“Which is also called a…?”

“Menu?” I responded.

Suddenly, a grid of three-dimensional icons appeared in front of my face along with a virtual mouse. The layout had been copied from my personal computer at home.

“Why don’t you run the tutorial before bed tonight?” Sophia suggested.

I nodded sheepishly.

I floated back to the table where the other Duj was eating and merged myself into him.

At the moment that our spirit bodies came into alignment, Duj Pepperman remembered that he was God.


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.

It was time for me to leave. I pulled myself out of my old body and floated up toward Sophia and Estella as the Mercedes with my old self in it began sinking quickly.

“I don’t like watching this part,” I told them. “I felt so scared, so alone.”

“Start counting,” Estella told me.

“One, two, three …”

Eight seconds elapsed between my separation from my old body and the moment that Duj cried out “God, where did you go? Why did you leave me?”

Only another six seconds passed before my last words and my last breath.

I’d made the terror last longer than it needed to by holding my breath. At the instant that the rush of cold water hit my lungs, Sophia pulled the old me out of my body and guided him upward while Estella opened a tunnel. All three of us stayed behind his peripheral vision so he wasn’t aware of any of us.

I heard him worrying about what would happen to Felony if he died now so I floated over behind him and touched his forehead for a moment to calm him. It worked and he allowed himself to float up to the tunnel and directly into the autocontrol lane.

“Fifty-eight, fifty-nine,” I counted.

My old self was gone in sixty seconds.

Estella held the tunnel open for a fast getaway.

“Now if you had studied,” Sophia told me, “you would have been able to do this yourself already.”

She extended her hand and an air bubble formed around the Mercedes, lifting it out of the water; but more than anything else, it looked like a video being run backwards. The Mercedes leapt back out of the water until it was sitting, dry and undamaged, on the pier. There was nobody in it and no body in it. The engine was still running.

“See you soon,” Estella said to me. Each of them gave me the sort of kiss that made sure I could never forget them.

“Soon for you or soon for me?” I asked her.

“Is there any difference?” she answered, then Sophia and Estella flew up into the tunnel and it once again disappeared.

I was floating above the Marina, alone.

“Menu,” I said, and the display appeared in front of me. I clicked on “My Body” and a mass scale came up. I slowly turned up the mass on my body until I floated slowly down to the pier, and stood there until the scale read “100% Earth normal.”

I climbed into the driver’s seat of my Mercedes, adjusted the seat and mirrors, backed off the pier, and drove home to resume my life as if I’d never died.


Next in Escape from Heaven is Chapter XII.

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

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