The Next Life
By: Carl R. Merritt
Floyd Powell, an eighty-three year old retired factory worker from Harrisonburg, Virginia, was dying.
Cancer, nearly spread throughout his entire body now, was eating him alive and was causing his last few days on Earth to be painful and undignified, the tumor in his brain causing him paranoia.
His dear, devoted wife of sixty-two years, Ella, was forced to feed him and clean up after him as though he were an infant.
She never complained, nor did she utter a harsh word, but Floyd knew that all the work was taking a toll on his most cherished Ella.
Lying in bed with an IV in his arm, Floyd felt sorry for his wife, but could think of nothing do to make it any easier on her. He was nearly an invalid, only able to walk with extreme pain, and nothing was going to change that sad fact.
His only regret was that he had not been a better person during the last five years of his life. Since his illness began, Floyd had become a real bastard, treating all his friends and family members as if they were dirt when they had all made it obvious that they were only after his money. Floyd hated them all for that, spurning them and wishing them all dead. Now, with death coming closer every day, he couldn't help but wonder what exactly awaited him in the hereafter, Heaven, or . . . the other place. The fear of going to hell for all his misdeeds over the last five years was now of great concern to Floyd, and he knew it was time he tried to do something about it. Reaching over for his phone beside the bed, he called his nephew, Jeff. The only member of his family besides his wife that Floyd thought he could trust. While he waited for his nephew to pick up the phone, Floyd once more considered the notion of asking his wife to aid him with this latest scheme, but decided that she would probably refuse. Ella wasn't stupid.
"Jeffery!" he wheezed. "I need you to do me a favor. Come on over and help me get ready for a short trip! Where? Where, you ask?! I'll tell you where! Abe's tomb!"
The trip from Harrisonburg to Moore's Lake was only a few hours by car, but it was enough to sap most of Floyd's remaining strength.
Still the old man knew he had to make this journey to the ghoul's cave if he wanted to guarantee his future in paradise.
Upon getting out of his nephew's van, Floyd managed to work his way to the rear, where Jeff was just finishing setting up a medium sized motorized cart. It was a nice apparatus, just the ticket for letting Floyd travel across the graveyard. Just how Floyd planned on getting through the woods and the cave itself hadn't been worked out yet, but little details like that never worried the old man too much. All his life, things just happened to have a way of working out. Besides, Floyd reasoned that he could still walk . . . crawl . . . if he had no other choice. It would be extremely painful, but he could walk.
Floyd had to stop the motorized cart at the edge of the woods, the wheels could not handle going over the rough ground and tree roots.
"It's not far," Jeffery said, taking his uncle's arm and leading him along. "According to my information, the cave entrance is only about a hundred yards."
"Yeah," the old man gasped, death drawing nearer with each step. "This path has been used a lot. See the footprints? The packed dirt?"
"Uncle, they did say that there were guards at the cave. This is probably the way they come too."
Five minutes later, Floyd and his nephew were at the mouth of the cave. Both men stared at the opening as if it were an impassable bridge. They knew the going would not be easy for anyone not in good health.
"I'm going in alone," Floyd said to his nephew.
"I'll crawl if I have to, but I don't want anyone to witness what happens in there."
"That's my decision and it's final, Jeff. If anything happens to me, tell everyone back home what happened. Remind my wife that my will is in the top right drawer of my desk." Having made his wishes clear, Floyd shrugged out of his nephews grip and stumbled into the cave. He hadn't remembered to bring along a flashlight. The darkness immediately covered him like a shroud.
Between being so near death and the darkness, Floyd was having a hell of a time making his way to the tomb. He came to understand that it was only around one hundred yards, but at the rate he was moving, it may as well be a thousand. And if things weren't bad enough, there were sounds nearby. Flapping noises that Floyd correctly assumed to be the bats he had heard so much about. He feverishly hoped they weren't hungry.
Up ahead, the old man saw a light. It came into view as he made his way past a slight bend in the cave. Ah! The guards! About time! Maybe they can help!
"Hey up there!" Floyd wheezed. "How about giving an old man a hand?"
Rushing to meet him with a large flashlight in his hand was a middle aged man with a face that looked like it carved from stone. He had strong features and wore the uniform of a police sergeant. He was armed and was looking at Floyd with a worried look.
"Sir! Are you all right?"
"I'm fine, fine! Just give me a hand!"
"A hand, sir? With what?
"Help me in there to see the damned ghoul! What in the hell do you think I want?"
Sergeant Baker knew better than to deny the request. After what happened to Marc Lamas a month before, Sam would be taking no chances of disobeying Abe's orders. "Yes, sir. If that's what you want. Here, let me have your arm."
Wrapping the old man's arm around his neck, Sam half carried him to the entrance of the ghoul's tomb. An arm's length away from the stone wall, the policeman sat him down and pried open the heavy door.
"Thank you," Floyd wheezed, clearly on his last breath.
"You're on your own now, sir. I can go no further."
Floyd nodded his appreciation and crawled through the opening. Upon seeing the old bones he had to crawl over, he simply stopped and came to rest on his hands and knees. "Abe, are you here?" he gasped. Abe!"
The ghoul appeared in his normal array of swirling, brightly colored mist. He solidified just a few feet in front of the dying man. He floated silently for a few moments while he considered his newest guest.
"YOUR REQUEST?" he asked finally.
Floyd knew better than to waste words. He was so close to death that any word he spoke may very well be his last, so he got right to the point.
"To go to Heaven."
"ARE YOU WILLING TO PAY THE PRICE?"
Price? What could this damn ghoul want from me?! Certainly he doesn't want money! Floyd called upon all his inner reserve and slowly got to his feet. Even this close to death, he would not allow himself to lose what dignity he still had by dealing with this ghoul while on his knees. Too much like begging! "What... " the old man had to stop for a moment. The energy he had spent standing had been too much. Yeah, it's almost over now. I'd better get this over with. "What is the price?"
"YOU WILL GO TO HEAVEN. BUT IS IT WORTH THE PRICE OF YOUR WIFE GOING TO HELL WHEN SHE DIES?"
Ella! No! He can't . . . I can't! Ella has never done a thing wrong in her entire life! She spends two hours every day praying! She's cared for me these last few years, and has never even complained! Even if it means me going to hell, I won't . . . CAN'T sacrifice her eternal soul this way!
"You bastard! No! I won't pay the price! And neither will my dear Ella! I'm leaving!" Anger rising within him, Floyd called upon his inner strength once more and slowly left the tomb. He roughly brushed past Sergeant Baker on his way out, not bothering with an apology, or even an acknowledgement.
Seeing the old man sweep past in a fit of anger, Sam's first inclination was to help him make his way out of the cave, but stopped when he noticed that he was doing just fine. So instead, Officer Baker went inside Abe's tomb to find out what had happened.
"Abe! What was that all about?"
The ghoul, still floating in place and deliberating what he had done, turned his attention to the policeman and took a few moments to explain. Finished, he answered Sam's questions before he had a chance to ask. "IT IS NOT WITHIN MY POWER TO SEND A PERSON TO HEAVEN, OR HELL. THAT IS EVERYONE'S CHOICE AND IS DETERMINED BY HOW THEY LIVE THEIR LIVES HERE ON EARTH. REGARDLESS, THAT OLD MAN IS GOING TO HEAVEN WHEN HE DIES ANYWAY. I SIMPLY WANTED HIM TO KNOW THAT NOTHING IN THIS LIFE IS FREE. EVERYTHING HAS ITS PRICE."
"Then you lied to him! You said you would send him to Heaven when he dies if he sacrificed his wife!" Sam said, stunned. As far as anyone knew, Abe was as honest as they came. For him to lie...
"I MISLED HIM. I TOLD HIM HE WOULD GO TO HEAVEN. THAT MUCH IS TRUE. HE JUST ASSUMED THAT I WOULD BE RESPONSIBLE, AND THAT THE PRICE WOULD BE HIS WIFE'S SOUL."
Sam smiled, his faith in the ghoul restored. Then something else just occurred to the cop. "Wait a minute! He left here in better shape than when he arrived! Did you . . . ?"
"HIS CANCER IS GONE. MR. FLOYD POWELL AND HIS WIFE HAVE MANY MORE YEARS LEFT TO ENJOY LIFE."
"That doesn't sound like you. Why did you do it?"
"I WILL NOT PUNISH A MAN WHO IS NOT IN CONTROL OF HIS MENTAL FACULTIES. HE HAD A TUMOR IN HIS BRAIN THAT WAS AFFECTING HIS JUDGMENT WHEN HE DECIDED TO ASK FOR MY HELP."
"That's gone now too, isn't it?"
Abe didn't answer. There was no need to, for the smile on his skeletal face was a dead giveaway.
Sergeant Baker couldn't believe it. Abe, after all that had happened to him and his wife all those years ago . . . still had a heart. Still smiling, Sam understood something else also. Abe, if faced with no great injustice, was just one big softy.
What will Abe do to a man who wants to be the richest man on Earth? Find out in the next story . . . Beyond Existance!
E-Mail the author at: CarlMerritt@compuserve.com
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