by Robby Charters
© 2008 by the author
Imagine waking up in a strange pace. you have no memory of how you got there, nor who you are. one thing becomes increasing clear: this isn't the same world in which you went to sleep. it's ... Allegory.
It's about heaven and hell, and how they begin in the same place.
Excerpt (first few chapters)...
I wake up. I'm lying on a bare wooden floor in a plain room. The plaster on the walls looks new. It's neither been painted nor papered. The floor definitely looks as though it were made to be covered with carpet or lino -- anything. It's got sploshes of plaster all over it. Where the light switches and fixtures should be, there are holes with wires sticking out with the bare ends wrapped in black sticky-tape. There's a bay window with a bit of light coming in.
I've never seen an emptier room.
And, I'm stark naked.
What am I doing naked in an empty room? I don't remember. I don't even remember going to sleep.
Did I get drunk or something? I know that happens to people. But I don't think I'm the type who gets drunk.
Then again, I don't even remember that for sure.
I don't remember anything. I've heard of people who showed up somewhere, stark naked, with total Amnesia. I don't remember where I've heard it -- I just know it's happened.
Oh God! Now it's happened to me!
Maybe there's something in another room that'll jog my memory. I get up, but I'm careful not to go near the window. Not till I find some clothes.
There are several rooms. All of them are bare and empty. Again, I stay away from windows. The kitchen has a counter and a sink, and gaps where the fridge and stove should go. I try the tap, but it's dry.
This would actually be a nice house if it had carpet, some decent wall paper and furniture, and lights and water. I like the way the rooms are laid out. Everything looks as though it were bigger than in a normal house though.
I try the stairs. They're higher than normal steps. At the top there's a bathroom. There's a tub, a loo with no water in it, a sink and a mirror. Again, every thing's big.
I look in the mirror.
I look young -- very young. While I don't remember anything, at least I'm sure I wasn't the young boy that I see in the mirror. I'm positive I was an adult.
Then why the heck do I look like that?
It does look like me though -- when I was 12 or 13.
No wonder everything in this house looks big. It's me that's smaller! Well -- that would explain it if it made sense.
I do sort of remember that that was a rather awkward time of my life. It was an age in which changes began to happen. I seem to remember, later, having these vague questions in my mind about this stage of my life: had things worked out differently, where would I be now -- meaning the 'now' before I apparently fell asleep and woke up here.
So, what happened? Did I fall asleep at that age and dream I had grown to adulthood? Did my parents move and abandon me? Did I accept candy from a stranger who kidnapped me and stuck me in this empty house?
I know I'm not dreaming. I feel everything, the floor under my feet, my backache from sleeping on the hard floor, the texture of everything I touch -- it just doesn't happen this way in dreams.
In storybooks they pinch themselves to make sure they're not dreaming. I suppose, if you've seen a genie or appeared in a fairy castle or something. This is too ordinary for that.
The mirror tilts so I can see my whole body.
I look ugly. People have told me I'm handsome, but I don't think so.
I seem to remember that sometimes I thought being nude brought a sensual feeling -- it made me feel sexy, even at 13. Now, I just feel ugly.
But now, I've got other problems. I'm inside this strange house. I'm naked. Apart from a mirror, a bath tub, a loo with no water, a kitchen and bathroom sink, there's absolutely nothing in the house.
I go to one of the upstairs windows, which are high enough to not reveal my lower body.
There's only the wall of another building a few feet away. Out another window, I can see into another unfinished house. No matter which way I look out, I only see more walls, some windows, some sky if I look up, and dirt if I look down.
The room at the end of the corridor is what I've always wanted in a house. It's almost like a wardrobe, except it includes the upstairs bay window. There's enough room to put an armchair. The box in front of the bay window is also good for sitting on and looking out -- if only people couldn't just look up and see my nude body just inside the window. I open the window box. It's empty.
I can't believe this house has a room like this. If only there was a view -- I mean other than the back wall of the next house.
Now, I approach the bay window of the family room directly downstairs and look down at a muddy patch between this and the next house. There are prints of bare feet in the mud. They look like a child's.
What do I do now?
I could stick my head out the door and cry for help. Maybe the neighbours could lend me a pair of trousers and call the police for me.
But all the houses around about look empty, like this one.
I could venture outside -- maybe.
If I were desperate enough.
I'm not desperate enough yet.
I sit and lean against the wall near the spot where I woke up.
I try to remember.
I can't remember anything very clearly.
Those events from when I was the boy I now see in the mirror seem almost within reach -- like a dream that just faded -- but I still don't remember them. There are other things that happened after that, but they are even more dim.
I don't remember any events, but I do have perceptions, impressions, beliefs, and I know facts about this and that.
I remember lots of theology -- stuff about being 'born again', and 'letting Jesus into your heart'. That sort of thing.
I also know a lot of science, economic theory, how to draw a still life, a portrait, a landscape.
I was an artist.
If I had my canvas and oils, how would I render myself now? Cubist? Impressionist? I don't see what I could add to the surrealism that I seem to be locked in already. I feel as though I were the subject of one of Escher's drawings.
I also remember science fiction concepts. There's the pulp fiction, with Klingons, Jedi and warp-speed, but I was more into things like alternative histories, speculative fiction, cyberpunk, utopias and dystopias; there are possible futures, like in Brave New World, or an Orwellian one where 'Big Brother' is constantly watching.
That's it! Maybe I've been captured and modified by aliens, or cloned by a mad scientist, or -- naaa.
I think the theology comes closer to explaining things. Still not that close though.
So, what happened -- really? Did I die? Am I in heaven or hell?
If this keeps up, it might end up being like hell. What am I going to eat? I'm already thirsty.
But in hell, they've got fire and brimstone. Maybe it's a C.S. Lewis type of hell, as in The Great Divorce?
It can't be Purgatory. Catholics believe in Purgatory, but they're wrong about most things. It's not in the Bible.
According to what I was taught, I'd be in heaven now if I had died. I mean, Jesus died for all my sins, didn't he, and I accepted that by faith. I said a prayer once, and admitted I was a sinner in need of salvation. I felt different after that.
Someone had asked me, 'If you died tonight, where would your soul be?'
Sitting naked in an empty house, surrounded by other empty houses? Not my idea of either heaven or hell -- well, hell maybe. It doesn't make sense.
Nothing makes sense.
For right now, I'll assume that I really am a 13-year-old boy with amnesia left inside a vacant house.
I've got to get help.
I'm a bit squeamish about going outside in the nude, but if that's what has to be done to get help, I'd better do it. Otherwise, I'll die of thirst.
I guess I must be getting desperate. I even feel like I could have a panic attack if I don't do something.
I open the front door a crack.
How did they ever get Council permission to build houses so close together?
I step outside.
Why! This place is a jungle of houses! There's no footpaths, no lawns, only houses with a couple of feet between -- sometimes not that much. There's no order.
I leave a rock in the door to prop it open. There are steps going down into the mud.
There are the footprints. I also see dirty hand prints on the wall. The hands are a bit smaller than mine.
I don't dare go far, as I'm sure I'd quickly get lost in this jungle of houses. Why I should worry about getting lost, I don't know, but I am. Somehow I seem attached to this house.
I venture between the two houses, following the footprints. At least I can follow them back again later. There are my own footprints as well.
I look at the other houses as I go. They're all in different styles. There's brick, wood, stone, stucco, Victorian, Gothic, Greek, Modern, Postmodern, there's a Swiss style chalet, an Irish farm house, there's one with a thatch roof. I've never seen a neighbourhood with such a variety.
I like the house I found myself in the best though. Somehow, the style and layout is perfect.
Oh God! Someone is looking at me from a window -- a child's face. As soon as I look back, it disappears.
Whoever it was, saw me naked! I'm sure he or she must think I'm insane.
I walk a bit further, around another corner, still following the footprints.
Then I see her -- the owner of the foot prints.
She is also naked, but very thin, scrawny and dirty.
I know why I'm out walking in the nude. What's she doing out here?
I seem to remember that kids look cute in the nude, but this one looks anything but. Reminds me more of a goblin.
She's digging away in the mud. Then she looks up at me. I'm not so embarrassed now -- not by someone looking like that. She just looks casually, and goes back to digging.
After a while, she says, 'New here, aren't you.'
I hesitate. 'I guess.'
'I can tell. You 're still fat.'
I'm not that fat -- well, compared to her maybe.
She pulls a worm out of the mud and plops it into her mouth.
'Yuuech! Why did you do that?'
'Only thing there is to eat.'
'Yep. There's also maggots, slugs, snails, if you're lucky you might find a mole.'
'What is this place anyway?'
'You are new here.'
'How long have you been here?'
'Long enough to quit ask'n.'
This gets worse by the second!
She looks as though she could have been a beautiful girl at one time. I think her hair is brown, but it's hard to be sure. It's long and straight in parts, but hopelessly knotted in others.
'What's your name?' I ask.
'Becky -- I think.'
'You don't know?'
'Do you know your name?'
I suddenly realise I don't.
'Does anyone else live around here?'
'Sure! There's someone in every house. Some hardly ever come out though.'
'Scared, mostly. Some of them embarrassed to be nude.'
'What about you?'
'Stopped being embarrassed long ago. No sense in it. You starve - like Alec, the kid who lived in your house before you.'
'How do you know where I live?'
'I looked in your window and saw you sleeping. The house changed, so I knew someone new was there.'
Then those were her hand prints I saw on my wall. Not that this makes any more sense than before.
'Where can I find something to drink?'
'I'll take you to Tony's house.'
She gets up and starts walking. I follow her.
We've passed dozens of houses, Probably goes on like this for miles, and not a single phone to call out for help. And still she's walking. She turns a corner every now and then.
There are no straight lines here. The houses aren't in neat rows. You have to go around all of them, and find your way between them. Some are placed at an angle, some with only half a foot or a few inches in between, so you have to go the long way around.
There's another kid digging for worms. I can't even tell if it's a boy or a girl. Becky just walks right past without a word.
She notices me looking back.
'Don't talk to him. He's a total scumbag.'
Every now and then, I see more faces looking out at us. We pass more kids digging, or walking about. All of them look worse than pictures I've seen of starving children in African refugee camps. We're constantly having to step over and around holes where people have been digging.
It's looking less and less like I'm going to get rescued.
'How did we get here?' I ask.
'Donno. I think we must'a died or something.'
Died! Oh God! Then it is...
We keep walking.
'Were you a Christian?' I venture.
'Must not'a been a good one if I was. I ended up here, didn't I!'
Becky finally goes up the steps of a house, and knocks.
So I'm dead. That's one question settled, anyway. But somehow I hadn't expected anything like this.
The door is opened by a red haired boy who looks much healthier than Becky. He looks at her and sighs, 'You're such a leach!'
Then he sees me. He says, 'Oh okay. Over there.' and points towards the kitchen.
There's about six or so kids lined up. Some are older, some younger, mostly thin and scrawny.
I take my place at the end of the line, behind Becky. The water only comes out at a trickle, so it's taking forever.
A boy in front of Becky looks at me. 'You're new.'
He turns around again without waiting for an answer.
I don't seem to be shocked at all to see people nude. It suddenly seems totally natural. It's not like on Earth, where one or two parts of the body stand out. You just see the whole person at once.
In fact, I think I've lost the ability to feel sexually stimulated.
A couple of kids in front get into a fight. Tony comes to break it up. He acts as though he's everyone's big brother.
'One more fast one out of you, and you're out, understand?' he says. 'Now, the rest of you, keep that line straight. We've got to keep this orderly.'
He says to the kid in front of Becky, 'All this time you've been coming, you haven't gained any weight. Something's wrong with you.'
'How can we?' he answers. 'You haven't been give'n us noth'n.'
'It's because of you lot -- you're not appreciating it. You're not treating it right, so the blessing's stopped.' He sighs. 'I should be living inside the Heavenly City, but I was put here to make you all into an orderly community, not a bunch of rag-tag worm-digging louts. And you, Becky, your problem is, you're such a leach. Good of you to bring someone though, but if you'd quit being a leach you'd start getting blessed.'
As he goes back to sitting down, Becky breaths, 'Oh! Shut up!'
At long last it's my turn at the tap.
I cup my hands and begin drinking.
The water tastes terrible, but I drink anyway. It takes almost forever to satisfy my thirst.
If I'm going to have to walk all this way every time I want a drink, I don't know.
I return to the family room, and Tony is sitting against the wall. Becky is standing near the door.
'How do you get your taps to run?' I ask.
'Prayer is the answer, brother. Prayer opens doors that man can't open. The trouble is, no one prays. I get up before the sun rises every morning to pray. Some would rather look at the sunrise, but that won't get you anywhere. Prayer, and serious prayer is the answer, not sunbathing...' and goes off into a spiel that I'm sure I've heard before somewhere. Probably in church.
Finally, we're outside again. Becky is taking me back. She seems to know the whole place like the back of her hand.
'Do you have to go through all that every time you need a drink?' I ask.
'I don't. I just suck the mud.'
'Tony's water don't taste much better.'
'No, it didn't!' I observe.
'It used to taste better. Then he got an attitude. He won't even let me sit down in his house now. Says he gotta clean up after me. But soon his water will stop. Just watch. He'll be out sucking it out of mud like the rest of us. I seen it happen before.'
'Where do you live?' I ask.
'I don't know. I got lost right after I got here. Nice house though.'
'Houses here aren't furnished. We gotta furnish them ourselves.'
'How could it be nice then?'
'I liked the way the rooms were. Haven't seen no houses like it. I wish I could find it again. It gets cold outside at night.'
I think about her and others sleeping outside. My house has plenty of space.
When I look at her, I cringe.
I can't blame Tony for not letting her sit on his floor. She's the last thing you'd want to have about.
And yet... shall I?
'Why don't you sleep in my house?' I blurt out.
Why did I say that?
'Can I? Really?'
This is the first time I see anything like a smile on her face. I'm sure she was a very pretty girl once. Now I'm glad I invited her.
We finally arrive at my house.
'Why you have a rock in your door? Afraid you can't get back in?'
I let her pick which room she wants to sleep in. I sleep in the little end room with the bay window.
I can't see any stars.
I try to pray.
'God! What am I doing here? What is this place? Am I in heaven or hell? I believed in You. I still believe in you. Can you still hear me from where I am now?'
Somehow, I think he can.
'Please help me sort this place out!'
I say the Our Father.
I feel a bit better. I'm getting sleepy.
It wasn't a dream. I'm still here in this weird place.
I look about the house. I see muddy footprints heading out the front door.
Why anyone would worry about getting floors like this dirty is beyond me. Maybe Tony's been here too long.
Anyway, Becky must be back outside digging for worms and finding wet mud to suck.
I suppose I'll have to get used to it. Sure this isn't hell?
I go into the bathroom to take a pee. No way to flush it down. It's going to stink.
I try the water again.
A trickle! Maybe half the size of Tony's.
I taste it. It's sweet!
I run out to find Becky.
Now Becky is in the bathroom. She thinks this is just grand. She smiles again.
After drinking her fill, she goes back out to dig worms.
I'm terribly hungry now. But I'm not ready for worms yet.
I pray some more.
'Thank you Lord for the water. I'm beginning to believe in you more. I still don't understand this place, but at least I know I'm not in hell. But please, I need something to eat besides worms!'
I put the stopper into the bathtub drain, and turn on the water as far as it will go. I'll just leave it that way and see how full the tub gets.
I knock about the house all day, exploring all the rooms. There are closets built into the walls in the bedrooms. There are bars for hanging clothes on -- but no clothes.
In the kitchen, I see an empty basket on the kitchen counter.
Funny. I didn't notice that yesterday.
There's also a broom, a dust pan, a mop and a bucket in the laundry room. There's a Belfast sink there too.
* * *
I've opened one of the pains in the upstairs bay window, and I'm sitting on the window box with my feet dangling outside. There's nothing to see. Nearby houses block what view that could be had. I doubt if there's anything but more houses anyway. But I like this room.
I look at the sky some more. It's pale blue. Last night it must have rained a bit, only enough to dampen the mud. It never rains enough for the water to collect in one place for people like Becky to drink it.
I try again to rack my mind for who I am, and where I've been.
I can now remember what my parents looked like, and the school I started going to when I was six. Not much more though, only isolated events here and there. I think my name might have been Jack, or Jake, or something. Jake sounds more like it.
They sort of fade out after that, and stop altogether at age 13. What was it about that age? Why do I look 13 now?
I try to remember by starting with things I know, and trying to remember how I learned them.
I think some very negative things must have happened then. It seems as though things were going along okay, and then something happened to change it all.
* * *
The tub looks half way full. I stand there and look at it.
Shall I take a bath?
I have an idea. Where's Becky?
I run downstairs, and out the door. I see her foot prints, and follow them.
'Becky, come here.'
I take her by the hand up the stairs and into the bathroom.
She looks at me. She can't believe what I'm saying.
'Just get in! Take a bath!'
She slowly gets in. Soon she's having a wonderful time of it. I stand there watching her as mud is coming off her body, and pink flesh is showing underneath for the first time in -- I don't know how long. Her true hair colour is showing.
Finally, she gets out.
I know this isn't life on Earth. I can truly say that Becky has a beautiful body. On Earth it might have aroused other feelings, but here, she's simply beautiful.
She looks at me, and hugs me.
I'm happy. Hungry, but happy.
It's bed time. I'll have another drink.
Now, the water is coming out twice as strong as at Tony's house.
I get down for the night, and say an Our Father, and then say some things from my own heart. I really do have a lot to be thankful for.
As usual, Becky's out worm hunting before I'm up. She's filled the tub for me though.
I'm sitting in the tub and thinking.
I'm sure I lived past 13 years old. I remember people were just starting to talk about personal computers. We didn't have one.
So why do I know so much about spreadsheets and things like open source software?
What about surfing the Internet? That was unheard of!
So why am I in the body of a 13 year old, with a dim memory that stops short at 13?
There's no way to dry myself off. The loo flushes now. That's nice.
I walk downstairs dripping wet.
I guess it's the force of habit from my life on Earth. I wander into the kitchen looking for something to eat. I know there isn't any.
There's that basket on the counter. There's something in it.
A plum! Brilliant!
It's just at the perfect stage of ripeness, and I take a bite.
It tastes heavenly! It's better than anything I've ever eaten!
At least I know this isn't hell, because the plum tastes like heaven.
That's not sound theology is it!
I finish eating it.
I'm not hungry any more. I wander outside to look for Becky.
I hear kids arguing around the corner.
There's Becky, cursing out a boy. It's the same one she told me the first day was a scumbag.
He's even thinner than she is. She's shouting obscenities at him, and looks like she's about to start swinging.
There are tears in his eyes. He turns and limps away crying.
Becky is back on the ground digging frantically. She's almost as dirty as before.
I guess she must have caught him digging in her territory.
She never notices me. I was going to ask her if she left the plum, but obviously, she hasn't seen one in years. Not the way she's going at those worms.
I turn and go quietly away.
If Becky didn't leave it, who could have brought the plum?
I walk about some more. I'm careful to keep track of where I've been, and I won't venture out of the area until I know it well.
There's really not much to see, only more houses, and more houses.
Where does it end?
I wonder if I could get on my roof? I could probably get a view from there.
I go back inside.
I'm not afraid of locking myself out any more. Becky says that everyone can get into their own house, but no one else can unless the owner lets them in. That means I have to let Becky in every night.
I go upstairs.
There's a square trap door in the ceiling above where the stairs ends. If I stand on the rail, I can just reach it. There's a handle on it for pulling down.
It's a bit precarious, but I can do it.
I'm sure I was too scared of heights at 13 to do this on Earth.
The trap door pulls downward on a spring. There's a ladder that slides down. I go up that into the loft.
It's dark up here.
There's a little light coming in from over there. It's an attic window.
My dream house had attic windows.
This house has everything that my dream house had, except furniture, carpeting, wall paper and location. I guess that's why I didn't recognise it as my dream house at first.
The window opens. I can climb out onto the roof.
I carefully stand up on the peak of the roof and look.
There are roofs in every direction as far as the eye can see, some steeped, some almost flat, some completely flat, some domes, some cone shaped and countless other styles. There's no horizon. It just fades out. It's as clear a day as I've ever seen. In fact, I don't think I've ever been able to see so far in any direction. Yet, the most distant parts sort of fade into blue, like the sky.
There's not even any sign of a curve in the Earth's surface. This is obviously not Earth as I know it. It's either much bigger, or it's flat!
And this city, or whatever it is, has gotta be many times bigger than London, or New York!
Parts of the hazy horizon are brighter than others -- especially to the East. I guess it's East. The sun moves from that direction. But the West is darker.
The light of the Eastern horizon is soothing to look at. I sit for a while and take it in.
I'm getting hungry again.
I get back in through the attic window, and down the ladder. I leave the ladder sticking down.
I'm much happier now that I know I'm not doomed to eat worms my whole life in this place.
There's another plum in the basket.
This time, I'll take it to Becky.
Becky's eyes go like saucers. She eats the plum, while uttering squeals of delight.
And it's definitely been a long time since she had any use for table manners.
Obviously not needing to dig for worms any more, we walk back to the house. She goes up for a bath while I go into the kitchen.
Now, there's a peach in the basket - a big one!
One of the drawers is half open. There's a pairing knife in it.
I cut myself a slice of the peach. I didn't think it was possible, but it's even better than the plum I had this morning. I didn't think peaches could grow to this size.
Becky is finished her bath and comes downstairs. I show her the peach. She's amazed.
'Want some?' I ask her.
'Let's take some to Julia,' she says.
'She lives down that way.'
I follow her out the door and we go in the direction opposite from the way to Tony's. A few houses down, Becky goes up the steps and knocks.
'Who is it?' comes a voice inside.
'It's me, Becky. Open up! Got some food for ya!'
It takes a while, but then the door opens a crack. There's the most hideous face I've seen yet. I can tell she's struggling to stay on her feet.
'Oh! You've got a peach!'
The door opens wider, but she still hides behind it.
I cut her a slice and hand it to her. She eats it, relishing every bite.
'Thank you, thank you. That's the first thing I've had to eat in months!'
'Months?' I say.
'The last time someone brought be anything. Tony, wasn't it?'
'Yeah,' says Becky. 'Tony.'
'He brought me fruit every day, but he stopped coming. Doesn't get much fruit now, I hear. But why don't you take some to Sarah? She lives right opposite.'
We go across the way to the opposite door. She looks hardly better -- hides behind the door -- also talks about Tony. Before that, apparently, it was someone named Billy.
I don't know why Becky winces when Sarah mentions him.
* * *
Becky and I are back at my house sitting on the steps.
'They never dig for worms then?' I ask.
'Never come outside. Too embarrassed to let people to see 'em nude.'
There's still a slice or two of peach left. I wonder if there's anyone else who needs some.
'Who's that kid we saw on the way to Tony's?'
'You told me not to talk to him.'
'Why don't we give him some?'
'He's a scumbag!'
'What did he do?'
'He's always dig'n in other people's holes, and he hates everyone.'
'But you won't need to dig any more -- not if we keep getting fruit like this.'
'But this ain't my house. How do I know you'll let me stay and keep give'n me food?'
'I promise I'll feed you and let you stay as long as I have fruit.'
'But he's such a scumbag, he doesn't deserve it.'
'That could change. Besides, if he starts getting fruit, he won't dig other peoples holes then will he!'
'He'll steal your fruit.'
'I don't think he can do that. The fruit just sort of seems to pop up by itself.'
'Yeah.' That seems to bring back something Becky knew, but had forgotten.
Finally, she says, 'Okay.'
We're off to find Billy. Becky seems to know where he'd probably be.
We turn a corner and there he is. We just stand there, watching him.
'Billy!' calls Becky, finally.
He turns around with a start. He sees there are two of us, and turns to run.
'Wait, Billy!' I call. 'I've got something for you!'
Billy turns around carefully.
I hold out a slice of peach.
He walks up slowly. He hesitates, then quickly grabs the peach out of my hand. I think I once fed a monkey in a zoo that grabbed a peanut out of my hand that way -- as though it were afraid a trap would spring shut, or something.
He stands a short way off eating the slice of peach.
Finally, he smiles at me and says, 'Thank you.'
Not like a zoo animal now.
Becky says, 'Billy, I don't hate you any more. Let's be friends, okay?'
'Okay,' Billy answers.
Becky suggests that he come to my place for a bath. We're walking back together.
'Who shall I give this last piece to?' I say.
'That's for you,' Billy says.
'The last piece is always the best -- specially when you given the rest away.'
I take a bite. He's right! This is better -- more heavenly -- more superb -- worth a lifetime of waiting -- I mean what can I say? The first piece was better than anything I ever ate on Earth. What can I compare this one to?
And how did Billy know it would be the best?
Becky doesn't go out to dig any more. She usually stays at the house, except when we go to give people fruit. Billy comes around every day. Others have been coming as well.
We've been getting all sorts of fruit in the basket. The more people we feed, the more fruit we get. It's as simple as that. Some days, the basket is full of things, like grapes, apples, mangoes, once we even had a watermelon, and another time, a cantaloupe.
Becky has been getting a bit of fat on her bones. She looks like a proper girl now -- more beautiful than ever. But it's funny. Billy hasn't put on any weight at all! Nor have Julia or Sarah. They look every bit as scrawny and hideous as ever.
Most of the other kids have been looking better though. Now that they don't dig for worms, they hang out at my place. The place is really quite alive. Usually, they're milling about outside. They come in for a meal of fruit, or for a bath, and they hang about some more, or stay all day. Some of them go back to their own homes.
Some of them now have running water as well, so this isn't the only pace they go for a drink or for a bath.
They keep mentioning Tony. I haven't seen him since that first day when Becky took me over. Apparently, his house used to have it all, just like mine. He was generous, and everyone used to go there, but then, something happened to change it all. They say something about a 'jolt'. I'm not clear what that is exactly.
Before, that, there was Billy. Was it the Billy that we know? I'm not really sure. Every time someone mentions it, everyone goes all quiet. Either that or our Billy quickly changes the subject.
I'm still trying to make theological sense out of all this. It's not hell, but there are things that are obviously not heaven either. Andrew thinks it's Purgatory. He thinks he must have been a Catholic before coming here.
I obviously wasn't, and I have trouble with the idea of Purgatory, but I can't think of any better explanation.
* * *
A pad of drawing paper has suddenly materialised in the window box upstairs. There's also a box of pastels.
I suddenly remember I was an artist. I think I'll draw Becky. I ask her to sit against the wall with the light shining on her from the window.
She's looking beautiful now. You almost can't recognise her from when I first met her, except for some of the features that I saw at first that told me she had been beautiful at one time. That beauty has returned.
I've got her basic shape. I've got the flesh tones in, and her hair colour. I think I'll add clothes, just for the heck of it. I'll have her wearing a white dress.
The white pastel isn't like any pastel I've ever seen. It covers it with white as though it were a different colour than that of the paper. It even shines.
I show her the picture. Now she's sitting there, holding it. Tears are coming out of her eyes.
* * *
The house is full of kids. Some are standing about in the kitchen eating fruit and drinking water. Upstairs, the water is running so strong they don't even bother putting in the stopper. It's like a waterfall. There are about three of them splashing in it, and one more in the Belfast sink in the laundry room.
Someone shouts, 'Hiya Reverand Tony!'
I look, and sure enough, Tony is walking about in my living room.
'Hello, Tony,' I say.
'Hah! You won't last a week!' he says.
'I know. I've been doing this a year already. I've seen them come and go. Look how disorderly they are! They're getting the juice all over the floor. You never clean up in here do you! Don't you have a broom and a mop?'
'Er -- yes.'
'It's there for a reason. Look at the mud on your floor. And haven't you heard of queing?'
He's looking at the crowd around the kitchen sink.
'They should take their drinks one at a time. Each one takes his fill and the others wait. Let all things be done decently and in order.'
He sees the kid in the Belfast sink. 'That's not designed for that! It's for filling the mop bucket, which you obviously never do.'
Now he's going upstairs. I know what he's going to say about the crowd there, so I'll stay here.
Of course, I'm right.
'You won't last a week. I counted four kids in the bath tub up there. They don't even have the stopper in, and they just leave the water running. That's a waste of good water! You won't last a week, Jake. I'm warning you. I've been doing this much longer than you have, so I know.'
I'm a bit glad to see him go.
It is a bit of a circus in here. But we're having such a good time! Maybe I should try to put some controls on?
I'll wait till everyone's gone home and talk it over with Becky.
* * *
Becky says, 'You kidding? Don't you remember how awful water at his house tasted? And it was only a trickle! I bet it's stopped already. And look how strong and sweet the water comes out here! Don't let him put his attitude on you or your water will turn stale and nasty like his.'
'Hmmm. I guess you're right,' I say.
I will do a bit of cleaning though.
* * *
Everyone's gone now, except Becky, and Billy who has also been staying with me.
I thought It would be nice to see the sunset from the roof. I invite Becky and Billy up as well.
We're sitting on the roof looking towards the sun.
'How big is this place anyway?' I say.
'I think it just goes on forever,' says Billy.
'It can't go on for ever,' says Becky.
'But the rule of geometry is, a plane goes on for ever.'
'But the world's round. Everyone knows that.'
'Not this place.'
I add, 'You can't see any curve like you can on Earth. And there's no horizon. See how it fades out, as though it goes on way past where the curve of the Earth would be?'
Right now the sun looks like it's melting as it hits the horizon. A red haze is spreading out on both sides.
Billy says, 'I think the place grows when more people come. I think there's an edge. Sometime I'm gonna walk, and just keep walking until I find the edge, and see what it's like.'
'You'll never find your way back,' says Becky.
'I won't need to. I'll wait till Jake's fruit runs out before I go.'
'My fruit runs out?' I ask. 'What the heck are you talking about?'
'Oh -- your fruit will run out sometime. I seen it happen over and over. You're not the first one to go all generous on us. It happens when you first get here. Then you're as old -- maybe a bit younger than your first jolt in life. You're still sweet and innocent like you were -- usually when you were a kid. That's why everyone here's a kid. When you get here, you're all goody-goody and giving...'
'I wasn't,' interrupts Becky.
'Yeah, some kids come with other hang-ups. Some died as kids. Some had rotten childhoods and never learned to love. I know all that stuff. I used to preach on inner heal'n I did. I got good at it -- I mean heal'n of memories, I'd make kids remember what they were in their life, and get them healed of it.'
Right now, the last bit of the sun is fading out right above where the horizon ought to be. There's now more light behind us than on the Western horizon.
'Yeah! I had my day in the sun, just like you're have'n now. Like Tony had, and Adrian. But just you wait. You'll get your jolt, and before you know it, you'll be fight'n Becky here for worms. Then I'll go off to find the edge of the world.'
I'm stunned. Becky has turned around to look at the light on the Eastern horizon, which lights up the night almost the same way the full moon used to on Earth. She's just sitting there with her chin in her hands.
I'm still looking at the last bit of sunset. The only thing left of the sun is a long strip of bright red haze on the horizon.
Billy's still talking away. 'You'll be go'n along just happy like a bird. Then suddenly one day, there it is -- some memory, some face -- it'll be sit'n there staring at you. You'll suddenly remember why life isn't all it's stacked up to be.'
Finally, I say, 'What sort of jolt did you get?'
'I remembered why I hate niggers. Niggers and Jews. Niggers started come'n to my house, and I just won't have that. They're sub-human!'
'Why! You're a racist!'
'Nazi, to be precise. Aryan Nations. Card carry-n member.' He talks like he's proud of it.
My blood is starting to boil.
He's still going on: 'My Earth body had a swastika tattooed right there.' He points to his shoulder.
'I thought only Christians came here!'
'I am a Christian. I believe in Jesus. But he wasn't no freak'n Jew. And I was a better Christian than most folks, 'cause I stayed true to my race!'
'You - bloody - freak'n ...' I can't even think of word bad enough.
'Ha! Ha!' he jeers. 'There you go! You've discovered your hang-up! You can't love racists for the worth of you, even though the Bible says you have to!'
He's right. I can't stand Nazis. I now remember violent arguments I had with white supremacists in my early days. When I got older, I learned to stay out of arguments, and settled for giving them the silent treatment. Their opinions don't even merit an answer, so I just treated them as though they didn't exist.
I should order him out of my house. In fact, I'll throw him off the roof!
But he's already shinnying down the waterspout.
'I told you he was a scumbag,' says Becky.
Now he's off in the direction of the sun set.
'Don't you darken my door again!' I yell after him.
'Don't worry, I won't,' I can hear him say.
It's happening like Billy said. It's only a pity it had to happen so soon.
Now I think he's a scumbag for telling me all that and making it happen so quick. Becky told me that Tony lasted much longer than me -- almost a year -- and Billy lasted several months.
Me? Two weeks, maybe. What makes it worse is, Tony was right. Next he'll be back just to say, 'Told you so!'
The water's already tasting terrible, and it's down to a trickle, like when I tried it at Tony's. There's now only one or two pieces of fruit in the basket a day now...