Even after walking a considerable distance together, I’m not sure what to think of Seneca. He gives off a good-guy vibe, and I don’t sense he’s a threat—even though he hasn’t given me a single reason to trust him. He seems comfortable in the strange new land I have stumbled into. He moves through it as if he’s in charge. My curiosity regarding my father is pulling me into his game. He knows my name and claims to know my deceased father—present tense.
Seneca smiles at me every minute or so as we walk along the misty beach. He seems to be waiting for me to ask a question. I find myself torn between keeping my defenses up and trusting him. As time is moving on, and we still have no identified destination, I figure I have nothing to lose by restarting the conversation.
“Look, Seneca, here’s the thing: You have to know how weird it is for me to hear you talk about my dad as if he’s still alive. You’re going to have to help me with this.”
The smile on Seneca’s face tells me he’s quite pleased with himself for waiting me out. “I’ll show you the way to the Fifth Dimension. Once we are there, I’ll address your questions. Come with me.” Before I can ask how we get off the beach and do something as implausible as change dimensions, Seneca disappears into a thick mist.
I curiously approach the spot where he made his exit. I stick my hand into the thick fog. I feel nothing but cool air. Closing my eyes and leaping forward, I assume the landing stance I use when parachuting. I land hard. When I open my eyes, I find my feet planted on a surface of solid crystal. Seneca is standing in front of me with a discernible smirk on his face. “You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?”
Seneca laughs. “Yes, sir, I certainly am.” His snicker explodes into a full belly laugh. “But don’t think I don’t appreciate your caution. You are a trained soldier. I get it. Really, I do. Have a seat, son.”
Seneca points to two broad chairs to his left. I choose the one with a clear view of the “air door” through which we just entered. I have no idea who—or what—might be able to follow us here. A good soldier always positions himself where he can exit quickly when in an unsure situation.
The white chairs are made of a material I cannot identify. The one I choose is cool to the touch and very plush. When I sit down, I sink in deep. Seneca hands me a glass of cold iced tea and takes the seat beside me. “In case you are wondering, we don’t cover chairs with animal skin here. All creatures are honored as God’s prized designs.” I keep my uneasiness to myself, but am tripping over the word “creatures.” Seneca lifts his hand to the open space in front of us and calls out, “Show us Grayson’s last military action.”
The area comes to life with a 3D figure of me. My image is face-up on the ground in Yemen. I stare in horror at my dead body beneath the Socotra trees. The blood has stopped flowing but has stained the ground around my head and torso. I feel my chest tighten at the sight. I jump to my feet in defiance. “What is this? Am I dead? You hand me iced tea as if this is a social visit, and then show me this! What is going on here?”
“I know this is unsettling, son, but keep watching.”
I have known Seneca for less than an hour, but his calm demeanor talks me down from the ledge. I ease back into my seat. It takes every bit of self-control to look back at the scene. After a few seconds of stillness, two bright lights drop from the sky and hover over my lifeless body. A foggy image rises out of the bloodied heap and reaches its arms to the lights. The blur focuses into a translucent version of me. The two lights that dropped from the sky transform into men with tall wings attached to their backs. They are dressed completely in white and appear to have no hair on their bodies. A wreath of light that encircles the tops of their bald heads lights up their faces. They take the hands of the image of me and all three lift into the sky and disappear.
I look back to the body in the hologram. It looks different somehow. My emotions have quieted as I survey the empty scene. Seconds later, there is activity in the brush to the south. Two troops from the U.S. ground team are climbing the hill. They reach the body and check the vitals. Sergeant Wilson stands and salutes as First Officer Patterson removes my dog tags. They seem to be weighing options of removing the body. I must hand it to these guys—they are soldiers to the end. Wilson and Patterson each get under a shoulder and begin to maneuver my body down the hill.
The screen flickers and the image changes. Now, I’m watching my mother sitting on her porch swing. She’s holding an American Flag folded into a triangle. She pulls a picture of me out of the fabric. She is gently pushing her right foot on the wood floor to keep the swing moving. Tears run down her cheeks. She wipes them away with the Kleenex she is holding in the cuff of her jacket sleeve. Tears well up in my eyes as I watch her cry. I try to hide them from Seneca, and I’m angry. “Why are you showing me this? If you’re intending to break me mentally, it’s not going to happen. If you don’t start answering some of my questions about this place and the whereabouts of my father, I am going to leave. Got it?”
“And go where?”
“I don’t know for sure, but for starters, I am charging back through that spot in the ‘fog wall’ you showed me.”
“Grayson, I think you know what is happening here. You’re a smart man. You’re in Heaven. Normally, people are happy about this.”
“Is anyone ever indignant?”
“Not usually. Your position might have something to do with your arrival. Instead of being met by people you know and taken to the Pearly Gates of the Seventh Heaven, you’re being held in the Fourth Heaven.”
“Why? What… you know, I don’t care. I just want to see my dad. Him, I trust. I want you to take me to see him now!”
“I assure you your dad is here—and he knows you’re here. I’ll take you to see him when the time is right. The deviation in arrival protocol was done for a reason. You are here, and I am here, because you have been chosen to lead an important mission back to Earth. The future of humanity depends upon its success. I am also here to prepare you. Your father agrees the mission requires your full attention and thinks it best you hold off visiting with him and your friends.”
“What friends? I don’t know anyone else here. The few friends I do have are alive back on planet Earth.”
“Grayson, don’t you know the troops who died on the battlefield beside you consider you to be their friend? You are a hero to fifty-six men here. And there are hundreds of classmates, neighbors, and generations of relatives waiting for you.”
“Why would the troops remember me? I was the one hiding on a rooftop, or up a tree, while they moved in and took the real risks. I don’t remember any neighbors. I didn’t keep up with classmates—but why would people in their thirties be dead anyway? As far as relatives, I only met a few, and we weren’t close.
“You’re building this into something it’s not to prey on my emotions. You can stop the sales job. I’m done with the emotional stuff. Since arriving here, I’ve been forced to watch my death scene and my mother in mourning. Just move forward. Fill me in on this mission—the one I’ve been ‘chosen’ for against my will. If this is what it takes to end this nonsense, let’s get it done.”
Seneca sits back in his seat and lets out a heavy sigh. I sit again and think through my verbal attack. I try to validate my decision to go for his throat. Though I’m suspicious of this man’s agenda, I suppose I should hear him out. It is obvious I’ll need his help to get out of this place.
“I’m willing to hear you out on the mission, Seneca, but you have to stay off the people stuff and give it to me straight.”