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A Simple Handshake
Alice C. Bateman and Clive S. Michie
Dan noticed a small form of light on his right that he’d thought was a star. But it seemed to keep pace with him. He looked at it questioningly. Inside his mind, he heard laughter that was not Eugene’s, but sounded like that of one of the extremely old native leaders that Dan had met once at a powwow he’d attended. The laughing stopped, and a new voice spoke inside him.
“It’s only me, Shadow. I’ve come along with you and our friend Eugene.”
“What?” Dan laughed. “An owl that can talk to me inside my head?”
“I’m not an ordinary owl, Dan, I’m a spirit who inhabits this bird form for convenience. I am Zenira Kaztoplaizia, a spirit as old as this planet. I’ve been called many different names in my time, but you might recognize me as Old Woman.”
Dan felt a strong pulsating sensation, as the being he knew as Shadow spoke her real name.
“Old Woman – yes, I have heard and read of this spirit. So you are a female, then?”
“No, Dan, I am amorphous, I can inhabit whatever object or living thing I wish to. I am neither male nor female, I simply am.” Shadow paused. “I would prefer if you continued to call me Shadow, however. The ancient names are only invoked in times of crisis or need. Or of revelation, as now.”
Eugene’s voice sounded inside Dan. “Why is it, Shadow, that you didn’t tell me of your true identity for ten years or more? And here you are, telling Dan after only a couple of hour’s acquaintance.”
“And is Dan in the condition that you were in when you first arrived in these woods, my large friend? I have to be the judge of when the moment is right to reveal myself.”
“No,” Eugene replied, “I’ll have to admit that I was pretty severely messed up when I first came, that’s for sure! And it did take a lot of years to build myself back up to any measure of strength or rationality.”
“So you do understand?” Shadow inquired.
“Yes, my feathered friend, I do understand. It’s fine, I was only trying to provoke you.”
“Now that is something you never want to do, Eugene of the Cabin.” Shadow replied with a chuckle.
“OK, guys,” Dan said, “This is kind of strange, listening to the two of you talking inside my own head.” He laughed, and continued. “But it’s cool!”
“You seem to use that word a lot, Dan.” Shadow said. “What does it mean, exactly? I don’t feel cool in the least, personally.”
Dan laughed again. This time it took him a minute or two to stop. “It has nothing to do with the temperature, Shadow. It’s a slang expression, meaning that I really like something.”
“That is an unusual way to use such a word, but if that’s what it means, I’ll add it to my own vocabulary and Eugene’s.”
“Eugene’s?” Dan asked.
Eugene himself answered. “How did you think I learned English so well, Dan, stuck up here in the woods? Shadow here coached me for a long time in the use of it. He just never taught me how to read it, there hasn’t seemed to be any need for that.”
“Until now,” Shadow interjected. “I think the time is right to teach you, Eugene, but I’ll make it very easy for you and just implant the knowledge in your mind. How will that be?”
“Very good, my friend. Excellent, in fact. I really don’t want to spend a long time learning to read, not when there is so much work coming up for us all to do.” Eugene replied. “And you are probably right, I might even want to read some newspapers once our friend Dan gets out there and starts to talk.”
“Newspapers?” Shadow chuckled. “Eugene, that means you’d have to leave the cabin and go into a settlement. I’d pick them up for you, except that I don’t think they’d sell them to an owl.”
“Didn’t you say you’re amorphous, Shadow? Doesn’t that mean that you can change to any shape you want to?” Dan asked.
“You are absolutely correct, Dan, but it’s been a long time since I practiced using a human voice. I’ve remained in this owl shape for twenty years now.” Shadow stopped, considering. “That might not be a bad idea, though, to begin to go among the people to see what they have to say about the ways of this world.”
“I’m afraid you might be sadly disappointed by people these days, Shadow.” Dan replied. “And you too, Eugene. They’ve become so very selfish and uncaring about each other and the Mother Earth.”
“I’m all too well aware of that, Dan. I can see many things without actually being in the vicinity of humans other than Eugene. I have become very sad, and beings like myself are supposed to be apart from the realm of emotion,” Shadow told him with sadness in his voice. “I have great powers, Dan, but not ones that can make man behave in the ways he should. In my opinion, that was the one and only thing that the Creator made a mistake about, and that was giving the cast down angel whose name I will not speak the ability to affect the population of this earth.”
“I thought you were going to say giving mankind free will.” Dan laughed.
Eugene replied, “Well, Dan, I’ve actually had a few discussions about that with Shadow and other spiritual beings. We believe that if man had been given free will and the evil one had been left out of the equation, this planet would have been properly taken care of. It is the adversary who plants evil in the minds of men.”
“So you two believe that God made a mistake?” Dan’s mental eyebrows were raised – his light form didn’t have eyebrows.
“Haven’t you ever believed someone and given them the benefit of the doubt? To the Creator, the span of time he gave the adversary to have the freedom to participate in the world seemed short, until it began to measure up to the shorter and shorter life span of mortal men. The devil takes full advantage of every weakness, every single human failing, every slight thought of greed, lust, perversion. He encourages these things, sometimes until these sinful and evil thoughts take over a person entirely.” Shadow’s voice held a compelling intonation. Dan was enrapt by the words.
“We’re almost there, Dan.” Eugene interjected. “See that cloud with the silver lining?”
Dan started laughing uncontrollably, from deep inside his soul. The cloud with the silver lining? Wasn’t that what they always said when everything in life was going wrong? That every cloud has a silver lining? Of course they did. He must have heard that a hundred times when he left Jane.
Well, here it was, a cloud with a silver lining. Okay…
In another moment they had risen through the silver-tinted cloud, and were standing at a gate, an arched garden arbor, laden with roses the size of cabbages, and stems like the trunks of small trees. Dan’s favorite song, the one he could never put his finger on – Unchained Melody, his mind told him – played in the air. He didn’t know who his darling in the song was as yet, but he always hoped and prayed that she was out there somewhere.
There was a rainbow-hued luminescence around the gateway and he beautiful young woman who sat on a stool beside the gate, a circlet of flowers adorning her hair. She turned toward them at their arrival, and smiled radiantly. The kind of smile that you used to see any old time of the day, in downtown everywhere, at one time. The kind of smile that had all but disappeared from the faces of the earthly population.
Dan noticed that as soon as they had risen through the cloud, the surface had become solid below his feet, then he noticed that he could see his feet again. His body was back, and he could see Eugene and Shadow as well.
The silver that radiated through the bottom of the cloud was from the backing of the mirrored floor beneath their feet.
The angel rose, and extended her right hand in a sweeping, welcoming gesture. She was dressed in layers of flowing purple, soft and subtle mauve tones alternating with every other shade. The gown shimmered in its own moving light.
She said, “I am Kalandra. I am here to welcome you to Your Father’s Home. I am an apprentice Angel, I greet invited guests.” She gave a small gracious bow, the radiant smile never leaving her face. “There is, however, one small question you must demonstrate an answer to before you may enter here.”
Kalandra paused as if for an answer.
Shadow spoke, “These men will pass your test, Miss Kalandra.”
“So we shall see. Step forward, Eugene of the Cabin.” The Angel requested.
Eugene stepped toward the portal. All he could see through the gateway was a winding path curving off the right, with more vegetation. Gentle roses, that had no need of thorns to protect themselves.
“Eugene of the Cabin,” Kalandra began. Ludicrously, Dan was reminded of a telemarketer reciting a spiel over the phone. Something in the intonation of her voice, as if she had memorized an important script.
She continued, “Can you, in good faith and clear conscience, look into the mirror of the floor of what man would call Heaven, and say that the man standing inside your skin is the best man that you can possibly be at this time of your life?”
Eugene frowned. He wore a deeply thoughtful expression for a few moments, then replied. “Well, quite honestly and with all due respect, ma’am, I don’t think there is ever a day that I think I’m the best that I can be. I am always striving to improve myself, inside and out. And the area that I’m still sadly lacking in is that I seldom interact with others, and therefore don’t help them, as I should be.”
Kalandra listened gravely as Eugene spoke. “You are honest and true, Eugene of the Cabin. These are the best things that a man can be. You do not lust after women, money, drugs, things, power. You are a simple and hard-working man, minding your own business and doing your best.” She paused and widened her beautiful smile. “You are welcome to enter the Home of the Ethereal Beings. You may meet many you know here.”
A sudden thought entered Dan’s mind. He spoke it aloud. “Are we dead? Did we OD on all those drugs we took?”
“Drugs, Dan? Do you mean the natural and God-given substances that opened the channel for you to arrive here tonight?” Shadow questioned.
“Well, yes, if you want to put it that way.”
“No, I have to put it that way, Dan. The world has confused what drugs and herbal, God-given, necessary to the life of the planet and it’s inhabitants, substances are.
“The drugs they trade on the streets are not what God gave the world marijuana for, Dan. One of the benefits of the plant is that it emits a gaseous substance into the oxygen mix we live in. If grown virtually everywhere, as it should be, it could give all life here a different mixture to breathe, a mixture that might evoke different characteristics than those of the people inhabiting the world at present. It’s a weed, Dan, it has a life cycle, a place in the ecosystem… it is meant to be here, it is part of the life of the planet. We are the intruders, Dan. Even I, a visitor in the mortal realm at present, count myself among them, by my presence in their company.”
Shadow paused. Dan had again been held by Shadow’s bright, intense gaze. Questions flowed through Dan as he listened to the ancient wisdom of this entity in the form of a white owl, sitting now among the roses, his whiteness a contrast to the vivid colors of the flowers around him. Colors so bright and deep that they made the tones of Earth seem pale in comparison.
And the air… the air had an almost sweet quality, a mild, pervasive scent, visible to the nostrils even amid the perfume of the roses. Eugene recognized the faint scent, but couldn’t put his finger on what it was.
Suddenly, a small cherub with golden curls ran headlong around the curve of the inner path, past Eugene, and flung her arms around Kalandra. The Angel smiled again, her eyes lighting with joy at sight of the child.
“Hello, Maggie,” Kalandra’s musical voice greeted the little one.
Breathless, the tiny Angel held onto Kalandra for a moment, panting. “I’m sorry, Kallie, I didn’t know we had visitors right now.”
“That’s OK, Baby, you can take them to visit Mr. Howard, show them the way, OK?”
“But I have news for you, Kallie! You are supposed to bring some people to Him yourself!” Maggie was extremely excited by this news.
“Me?” Kalandra hunched down so that she was on eye level with Maggie, and placed her hands on the little girl’s shoulders. “Are you sure, Honey? You know I’m not allowed to go inside.”
Dan and his companions had been quietly watching the exchange between the two beautiful angels, but now Dan spoke up. “What do you mean, Miss Kalandra, you’re not allowed to go inside?”
For a moment, an overwhelming sadness came into the Angel’s eyes. “It’s my own fault,” she answered, tears forming in her eyes, her voice small and sad. “I killed myself, and have had to work very hard to earn a place even outside this gate.”
Little Maggie reached in her pocket and said importantly, “I have a note! From Mr. Howard Himself!”
The men expected her to pull out a piece of paper, but the child held out a beautiful purple rose petal, large as a cabbage leaf, inscribed with golden ink. As Kalandra read the words, her expression changed from sadness to joy. Her radiance increased dramatically, and there were new sparkles in her gown. The shimmering aura around her grew much more brilliant.
When she spoke, her voice was choked with emotion. “It seems that you do not need to pass any test to enter, gentlemen. You have an engraved invitation.” She paused, and her eyes filled with tears again. “And so do I.”
Impulsively, Dan reached over to give Kalandra a hug. This was a very emotional moment for her, obviously. To his shock, it was as if there was no one standing there; there was no substance to her whatsoever. His arms met no resistance.
He stepped back, startled. She certainly looked real enough!
Kalandra smiled. “That is the nature of Ethereal Beings, Dan. We are insubstantial. We have no bodily needs, no bodily functions. No real body at all.”
“But you look…” he began. Kalandra’s musical laugh interrupted him.
“Yes, I know, I look like a woman to you. But I’m not, Dan, I’m an Angel now. This invitation means that I have earned my place in ER, and my wings.”
“ER?” Dan, confused by conflicting emotions, decided to respond to a safe topic, not Kalandra’s lack of being a woman. Dan was surprised at himself when he realized that he’d been physically attracted to her. It had been a long time since he’d felt an attraction of any kind to any woman. But then, Kalandra wasn’t a woman. Dan shook his head in confusion, and listened to her answer his question.
“The Ethereal Realm. Sometimes I’ve heard others joking about that designation. ER, the Emergency Room for the soul.” Kalandra’s pretty laughter sounded again. “Shall we go? We do not want to keep Mr. Howard waiting.”
“Who is this Mr. Howard that you keep referring to?” Dan asked.
“Why that’s God, of course. His first name is Howard, and he has given permission to us to call Him by His first name, but most of us call Him Mr. Howard out of respect.”
Dan’s eyebrows rose. “God has a first name?”
“Well, why not? Doesn’t everyone?” Kalandra laughed again.
Maggie, who’d stood quietly looking from Dan to Kalandra to Shadow to Eugene for a few minutes, tugged on Kalandra’s clothing. Which further confused Dan, because when Maggie touched the garment, he could see her hand clasp the fabric, and the fabric move when she did. But when he’d tried to hug the Angel, he’d felt nothing at all. And Maggie had hugged her, too…
Kalandra saw what he was looking at, and saw his frown. She explained, “Between ourselves, Dan, we can touch, hug, hold hands, whatever we want to. But if a mortal tries to touch one of us, they cannot. It is the way of this Realm, Dan.” She extended her hand to Maggie, and continued, “Shall we go, gentlemen? This way…”
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