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Looking For Heaven

17 Nov

Jade crouched in the corner of the dark, dirty room and wondered when her food was coming. She hadn’t eaten all day and she was hungry. She kept listening for the familiar sounds of The Master’s footsteps above her, but all she heard was an eerie silence. She supposed The Master had been drinking that gold liquid again, the stuff that made his breath smell funny. Sometimes it made him sleep for a whole day. Jade lay down on the filthy mattress and covered herself with her worn old blanket. The Master would come tomorrow.

Every night as she lay waiting for sleep, Jade thought of Mama and Papa. When they had been here, so long ago now, she had been allowed to play outside. Papa would lift her up and swing her round and round as she squealed with delight, and then, at night, Mama would read to her from the huge storybook beside her bed.

Then one day, Papa had gone away. Mama said he’d gone to Heaven, but Jade didn’t know where that was. She had promised herself that someday, she would find out where Heaven was and go there to see Papa.

After Papa left, there was no money, and Mama started saying they would have to go to the poorhouse. Jade didn’t know where that was either, but it didn’t sound good. When The Master came to stay, it seemed like all of their prayers had been answered. The Master had enough money to buy them food, and they didn’t have to go to the poorhouse.

But then Mama had gone away to Heaven as well, when Jade was twelve. The Master had started locking her in this room for longer and longer periods to punish her for being bad. One day, he simply hadn’t let her out again. Every day, he’d come in to give her food and empty the bucket he left in the corner of the room for her. Sometimes he’d come in to “keep her company”, but she had taught herself not to think of that.

She wasn’t sure how long she had been living in this room. She thought she was about sixteen now.

When Jade woke up the following morning, her stomach was growling and she felt sick. She put her ear right up to the door, but all she could hear was absolute silence. She sat on the mattress and waited.

A long time later, The Master still hadn’t come. Jade’s head was starting to swim. She stood nervously by the door, trying to get up the nerve to knock or call out. She knew she would get into trouble, but she really needed to eat. She listened one last time, and hearing nothing, she tapped tentatively on the door. Emboldened by the lack of response, she knocked a little louder and started calling out, softly at first, and then louder and louder.

Still, there was nothing. Not a single sound.

With a superhuman strength fuelled by the instinct to survive, Jade sobbed and launched her entire body at the door. She screamed in fright as the door gave way and she stumbled into the narrow hallway.

She scooted back into the room and crouched in the corner, terrified. The Master’s punishment for this would be like nothing she had ever known. But despite the screaming and crashing, the silence prevailed.

Jade slowly unfolded herself and stood up. She peeked out into the hallway. Seeing and hearing nothing, she crept up the stairs. At the top, she opened another door and stumbled as the sunlight, which she had not seen in four years, assaulted her senses. It was a long time before she was able to crack her eyes open wide enough to look around.

She found him in the kitchen. He was lying on his back on the floor, staring blankly at the ceiling. The blood on his head had long since dried. At first she started, thinking he would be able to see her. But he didn’t move, even when she tentatively nudged him with her toe. He seemed to be sleeping with his eyes open.

Jade saw a loaf of bread on the counter. She clawed wildly at it and shovelled it into her mouth. It felt so good to eat.

She was halfway down the stairs, going back to her room, when a thought struck her. What if she went outside, just for a little while? She yearned to feel the grass under her bare feet, the way she remembered it from when Mama and Papa were here. She could go now, before The Master woke up, and he would never know.

Jade didn’t understand that The Master was never waking up again.

When she went outside, she almost darted back immediately, scared of the sounds and the sunlight. She still couldn’t open her eyes all the way. But then she stepped onto the grass, and her mind was immediately flooded with memories of her childhood.

Driven by a force that she didn’t really understand, Jade kept walking. She didn’t know where she was going or what she would do when she got there.

Maybe she would try to find Heaven so she could see Mama and Papa, and feel safe again.

This week’s Indie Ink Challenge came from evenstarwen, who gave me this prompt: Write a story, in any genre, about or inspired by this photo: http://i.imgur.com/Xrhe0.jpg.
I challenged  Lance with the prompt:Write about the missed opportunity you regret the most.

Heaven Is Underground

15 Aug

“Heaven is underground.”

These words were spoken by my five-year-old son James on Saturday. Our discussion about death and the hereafter had been prompted by the fact that it was my late father’s 74th birthday, and we were all feeling a sense of loss.

Up to this point in their lives, my kids have not received any formal religious education. They have both been baptized in the Anglican church, but that was done partly to keep the grandmas happy, and partly to give the kids access to the support system of a church, in case they should ever need it. We did not have them baptized out of any deep-seated religious belief within ourselves.

Now that James has started talking about heaven and hell – a subject that is by no means banned in my household but that has never received much airtime – I am realizing that many non-religious parents who send their kids to Sunday school possibly do so because religion is such a great way of explaining things that we really don’t have a clue about. It is really convenient to be able to say to a child, “When you die, you’ll go to heaven if you’re a <insert name of religion here>, otherwise you will go to hell.” Without religion, it can be tricky to find an explanation that will satisfy kids, or indeed, adults.

I’ve never really been one to believe in heaven and hell myself (the nuns who were responsible for my Catholic school education would be horrified to hear me say that), but I do believe in an afterlife of sorts. There is so much energy contained within a human being, and that energy has to go somewhere when we die. I mean, isn’t it a scientific fact that energy is neither created nor destroyed – it is simply converted from one form to another? Following that reasoning, I believe that lost loved ones – like my Dad – have some kind of presence in this world.

When James told me that heaven is underground, I asked him what he meant.

“Well,” he said solemnly. “When someone dies they get buried. That means heaven must be underground because if it was in the sky, we would shoot the dead people up in rockets.”

Not bad logic for a five-year-old.

I spoke to him about the soul leaving the body, worrying that I was just confusing him further. I needn’t have been concerned – he seemed to catch on to the distinction between body and soul right away, and he launched into an imaginative description of what happens when we die.

“When you die, your soul doesn’t need your body anymore, so it comes out through your tummy. Just like when you have a baby. Your tummy gets bigger and bigger, and then your soul comes out and goes KABOOSH! And your body gets buried and your soul zooms to heaven like a rocket ship. Faster than Lightning McQueen!”

Wow. I had always pictured souls gently drifting to heaven, kind of the like the feather that flits around during the opening and closing sequences of Forrest Gump.

James’ way sounds a lot more exciting. I didn’t try to correct his version of what happens, because what would I correct it to? Who am I to say he is wrong? Maybe the afterlife is a lot more energetic than traditional religion would have us believe.

Here’s my question to all of you. How do you talk to your kids about death, heaven and hell? Do you let them believe their own versions of what happens after death, or do you try to stick with conventional religious beliefs?

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/aussiegall/296336966. This photo has a creative commons attribution license.)