The sun rose a bright yellow over the tropical horizon in syncopation to the sound of crashing waves in the surf. It was the perfect way to wake up, at least in Jack Hampton’s version of heaven. He personally had planned every minute detail of his waking sunrise, down to the subtle shade of yellow and he found himself pleasantly awakened. He rolled on his left side to take in the view of the ocean. His was getting better at this, he thought to himself. His wife, Sarah stirred as her cat jumped on to the side of the bed and licked the tip of her nose with its rough tongue. She groaned, pushing the orange tabby towards the foot of the bed.
Sara hated mornings. She had long ago stopped programming her heaven in any sort of detail. She had grown disconsolate with the vastness of possibly and endless choice. Instead, she preferred to react to the versions of other’s interpretation of ultimate happiness. Jack disapproved. Revelation, in all of its creative destruction and new world order was a gift, a reward, not to be under appreciated . Jack’s enjoyment of endless possibility was, never the less, Sara’s drudgery.
“Let me set up a nurturing scenario for you,” he offered. “Coffee and fruit could be ready on the outside patio for us. Remember when I was stationed in Paris during the French Revolution?”
“I’m perfectly capable of creating a scenario myself, thank you. It’s my choice to wake up to nothingness.”
Jack rolled towards her and gently caressed the soft waves of her hair. He changed tactics, speaking gently and holding back his waking enthusiasm. “Baby, the point of Revelation is to live in happiness.”
“Happiness is different for everyone,” Jack.
“Your unhappiness comes from choosing to live in a void. Nothing comes from nothing.” Jack brushed back Sara’s hair. He kissed the nape of neck, the lobe of her ear and then whispered, “I know something that used to make you happy. If I recall, we both enjoyed it.”
“On my God, please stop talking. That’s your answer to everything. You never change. No matter the century, you still think sex will fix everything!” Sarah threw off the covers, sending the cat Jack had programmed to wake his wife running out the bedroom door. She stood quickly, escaping her husband’s reach. “I’m not like you. You always do what they tell you. It’s not the same for me. You always follow their rules. Don’t you ever question the orders they give you? In the time it takes for every soul to be judged, the good guys are handed Revelation to create happiness. Happiness all the time in the confines of their dwelling, setting up every single minute of every day for ourselves. It’s exhausting. If you think this do-it-yourself, smiles all around is even close to reality then you’re crazy. No. You’re a tool,” her voice broke and tears began to run down her cheeks. “As if you weren’t devoted enough to live and die by the sword through the centuries. Now this new post; sorting out the people judged to go to heaven and to hell. They want humanity to stand for final judgement. It’s wrong, Jack.”
Jack stared at her quietly. Sarah had often objected to the swift justice his job had demanded he carry out on the human race. He had seen this before. She had reached the height of her capitulation and would soon wind down. “Don’t you ever get tired of blind faith?”
He stood up from the bed and wrapped his arms around the small of her back. He stared into her eyes but knew well enough not to attempt to kiss her. She wasn’t tired yet. “You’re nothing but mindless servant to the Revelation Authority.”
“I’m not mindless!,” he released his hold of her body.
“There’s no other explanation, Jack. What you do to the people damned for hell. You’re worse than mindless. You’re heartless. You’re a murderer who kills under the banner of Revelation justice.”
“I’ve never sent anyone to hell who didn’t deserve it,” Jack countered, struggling to maintain his composure.
“Who decides, Jack? Who gets the mark of the black soul and who is spared? Did you ever stop to question any of it? Those helpless marked souls sent to eternal pain and misery for ever. That’s the end result of you and your blind faith.” Sarah was crying now. Her soap box sermon was finished but not without leaving its dent in Jack’s ironclad outlook on his sense of duty. He lashed out.
“You never complained that your soul was waived in final judgement. As my wife, the fruits of my labor, the gift of self-created Heaven is extended to you by default. I’ve never heard you turn down the spoils of the war between good and evil.” He grabbed her hand and dragged her back to the edge of the bed.
She tugged at the vice-like grip Jack had clamped around her wrist. She wanted to escape everything; Jack, the nothingness, the self-deceiving illusion of happiness. “Remember when we met?” he said aloud. The exterior walls of their bedroom began to shimmer. The two were instantly surrounded by a lunch green garden. Vines grew thick over stone walls and the scent of Jasmine filled the air.
“Don’t do this!” Sarah objected.
Jack’s silk pajama bottoms were replaced with a Roman officers uniform. Sarah was enrobed in flax cotton with a brass clasp gathering the robe at her right shoulder. Sarah collapsed in exasperation. As Jack caught her, he knew the fight was over and he had won.
“I can’t do this with you,” she whispered.
“Sure you can. Just let this place remind you of how happy we were. We can still be this happy.”
“It’s not real.”
“We are real. That’s the point.” Jack leaned in and Sarah relented, kissing Jack much like she had when they had met centuries ago. Jack’s detailed memory of falling in love had filled her senses and reminded her of a love she had once known but time had eroded. The smell of cardamom baking in bread. The heat of the desert sun. The scenario was working. She closed her eyes instead of fighting. He could work from that. “I’ll make you a deal. Come back to bed with me this morning and I promise, no scenario-created existence the entire time we are there. Just you and me. What do you say?”
Sarah looked frightened. “No heaven-like scenario for yourself? Do you think you can handle me without your imaginary cushion? I know what it is to be without one myself, but both of us?”
“As long as I have you; really have you, like we were when we were in this place, then I don’t need a Revelation self-created heaven. All I’ve ever needed is you.” Jack kissed her gently on the lips and he felt the tension begin to ease from his wife’s body. He lifted her into his arms and pulled her back into their bed. He drew the light sheet over her. Leaving her there under the premise of getting a glass of champagne. He fought the urge to break his promise.
As he poured out two glasses, Jack deliberated. Her breakdowns were coming more frequently. His lips moving, speaking in a whisper, he created a scenario where Sarah found ecstasy in their love making. Simultaneously, Sarah sunk deeper under the sheets, relaxing her naked body and created a scenario of falling in love with Jack for the first time.
The sound of the front door closing brought Sarah out of her pleasure-inducted scenario. The nothingness had returned leaving her with a convoluted solace. She had pleased her husband and shaved off a few hours of time in a place that wasn’t heaven and wasn’t hell. She focused on Jack’s suggestion of breakfast on the patio. Slipping on her robe, she walked outside onto the terrace and cafe table, the food, the plates, it was all there, just as she pictured it. Sun shone brightly on buttered croissants, raspberries with cream and coffee. She began to envision herself enjoying it but fell short. What was she doing? Had her happiness always been forced? Or had the process of Revelation taken so long that she had become accustomed to such attempts to alter her reality? When she thought about it, there was only one scenario that came easily.
She left the breakfast behind knowing full well it would evaporate as soon as she had put it from her mind. She dressed and made her way hurriedly to a scenario she had never shared with Jack. She had first created it after the Revelation began. While Jack had tried to protect her from the plague, violence and chaos of the world as it stood on the precipice of coming to an end! There were things she had seen never the less. Bad things. Terrible things. She had used the scenario created heaven at first to convince herself of the contrary. Stepping inside the scenario-created nursery, she said, simply, “I want to hold my baby.”
Pink and swaddled, an infant started out as a speck of color and soon filled her arms. She cooed softly as Sarah smiled down at her. She walked to the corner of the room and sat in an over stuffed rocking chair. As she rocked, the walls fleshed out with images. This time, it was an enchanted that painted itself along the smooth walls. Tiny specks of yellow and umber dotted the completely surrounding mural to suggests the magic of sprites or fairies. When the baby began to fuss, Sarah opened her robe and began to nurse the baby. A wave of contentment washed over her. She continued to rock and feed the tiny little girl as she added a second layer to her scenario.
A window appeared at the north side of the room. The sound of children playing and laughing carried by a light summer breeze drifted through light cotton curtains. The fairy lights twinkled and Sarah was nearly convinced it was under their own spell. The tiny baby pulled away, rosy cheeked and sound asleep. She moved her lips in a sleepy pucker.
There was a click from somewhere in the house. Sarah stopped rocking abruptly. She listened hard. Had she heard the door? She strained to hear through the heaven-like scenario children playing outside. If she put the nursery out of her mind, it would all disappear but she could not let go of easily. Her logical self told her to clear her mind but the baby in her arms needed her, loved her unconditionally.
“Sarah?” Jack called. She closed her eyes, blinking tears away and trying to silence the sound of jumping rope outside the window. Had he forgotten something? She quickly imagined a crib and set the baby inside of it. Maybe she could meet him in the hall and he would never see this place.
“I will be right back, my darling,” she told the the sleeping infant. Jack rounded the corner and stood stock in the door way. His face was a look of utter surprise and horror emulsifying before her eyes. Fear crept into the corners of her mind. The edges of the north side window began to crack with brittle plaster. Sarah’s heart began to race. Soldiers of the Justice arms are forbidding to procreate. Jack had been steadfast about that. He couldn’t serve in duty if he was worried about his children back home.
The sounds coming from the garden were replaced with screams and pleas of mercy. Sarah heard her own bad memories replacing her scenario. The mural peeled off the walls and Jack slowly made his way into the nursery, taking in the details of his wife’s scenario. By the time he took a final step and reached her, tears were spilling down her cheeks. Sarah protectively ran to the crib and clutched the baby girl. Jack pulled the swaddling away from the baby’s face. As he touched her, the infant began to turn grey. Sarah shook as the howls and screams grew louder. The plague infected city of her memory were coming. A teenage boy. Covered in boils and ragged clothes, he near skeletal body slithered into the open window and fell to the floor. He crawled on his knees, wheezing and snapping his lips. Sarah, wild eyed screamed at him. She clutched the baby as the boy jumped to his feet and grabbed for the pink blanket. It tumbled from Sarah’s arms. “You can’t have her!” Sarah sobbed. The starving boy ripped open the swaddling to find a tiny blacked corpse.
Jack recognized this memory. It was the most recent section they had cleared in the Revelation judgement. Babies unbetrothed to any religion and born of parents with black souls were to be burned alive in fire according to the Law.
“Let go” Jack commanded. The last of the war torn room vanished, leaving Jack and Sarah standing in a stark room. They both were silent for a while, sitting on the floor on different sides of the room. Sarah finally spoke in broken sentences, holding back her sadness.
“It’s not their fault. They didn’t ask to be born. How can you just get rid of them like that? And you were always gone. We never. We were never given the chance like other soldiers and their wives….” She trailed off.
“Be reasonable. There’s no room for new life to start when the world is ending. The burning is merciful. They are gone and purified in seconds, which is more than I can say for the so-called parents.” Mothers infected with plague, driven mad ate their screaming children a piece at a time, torturing them for hours or days. Others were sold over to slavery, their parents driven by greed. Other parents sold their children to crude food manufacturing plants when they couldn’t afford to feed them. “I’m sorry that my post kept us from ever..,” he stopped. “I’m sorry we never had the chance. I’m sorry for you.”
Night washed over the room with moonlight cascading into the rooms thanks to Jack’s new scenario. Sarah responded to Jack’s creation and feeling tired, she willingly went to bed. He kissed her forehead and left her in a deep sleep and the swimming sensation of nothingness.