The Path
Kellee Kranendonk

Dena Claudie dropped the magazine on the dull grey floor. She sighed. “I know every article and story in there word for word.”

“Mom, is it time yet?” Barto, Dena’s older brother, asked. He was sprawled in in a chair at a small kitchen table. He drew his hand through his already dishevelled hair, pushing it up into little spikes.

“It’s been six years, honey,” said Donald, coming up to his wife as she hung a wet dish towel to dry.

Bonita Claudie said nothing. She walked over to a narrow drawer in the wall near the table. From it she pulled six batteries. They were the last ones, but she refrained from telling her family. Next she pulled out a battery-operated radio, as she had done for nearly every day for the last six years. She held it up. “If I hear – ”

“Yes, Mom, we know,” sighed Barto. “But we never hear anything but static.”

Bonita popped the batteries in, then wound the handle. Static crackled from the speaker on the little black device.

“See?” Barto threw his hands in the air and tapped his fingers on the table. “We’re never getting out of here.”

Donald put his hand on his son’s shoulder, but Barto shrugged it off. “I’m not a kid anymore, Dad. I know we don’t have many more supplies. If we don’t –”

The radio crackled to life. “. . . out there. . . hear me. . . at . . . station . . . point 1 . . . 5 Hanwell Cres. . .”

Dena jumped up from the narrow couch she lay on. “Dad! Mom! That’s our radio station. 93.1. Twenty-five Hanwell Crescent.”

“You don’t know that, dear,” Bonita told her.

“I’m going,” shouted Barto and rushed for the shelter door.

Donald ran after him and stopped him just as he reached the heavy metal door. “Look, son, I know we’re all sick of being in here, eating rations, scheduling showers and just being in each other’s hair. But I’d rather have you in my hair than in the ground.”

“But even if Dena’s wrong, that person is out there somewhere. If they can survive, so – ”

“Shhh, listen,” shouted Bonita.

“. . . out here. I repeat safe . . . is breathable . . . can’t say . . . but. . . breathe.”

Holding his father’s gaze, Barto reached for the door. Donald turned away to look at his wife and daughter. Bonita nodded. Donald turned back to Barto. “Let’s do it.”

* * *

No grass. No trees. No bushes.

Nothing but an expanse of ugly, dry, brown dirt underneath still, dry air. Broken, blackened remains of what used to be trees poked up here and there. Thin, loose rumble marked what was once homes. The suburban streets were undistinguishable. Grey mountains stood in a semi-circle in front of Bonita as she stood in the doorway of the bomb-shelter that had been her home for the past six years.

Dena and Barto wandered around looking at things as if they were all new. At least they were getting along thought Bonita. Donald knelt and stuck his fingers into the dry, barren sand, grabbed a handful then let it run out of his fist. He looked towards the mountains, then to Bonita. Had they sheltered themselves this long only to die on the outside?

Something creaked to her right, and she stepped outside to see the next door neighbours opening their shelter door. John and Jayne Simmons and their mentally challenged son stepped out. Gabe wasn’t much older than Barto. He was usually happy-go-lucky and carefree. But it broke Bonita’s heart to see him just standing there with his head hanging down. Even if he understood why they’d had to isolate themselves for so long, it must have been that much more devastating for him not to see his friends and neighbours.

As his parents stretched and took in the view, Bonita’s own children ran up to Gabe, calling his name and grabbing his hands. He looked up at them and a smile began to break out on his face.

Further down, another door opened. Beverley and Kenneth Finbar cautiously stepped out with their seven-year old son . . . and a toddler that appeared to be about two, wearing what looked like a cut-down t-shirt. How on Earth had Beverley managed to give birth and raise an infant under these circumstances. Bonita supposed life always found a way. She left the shelter of the doorway and headed for the Finbars. Donald and the Simmons’s joined her as little Josh Finbar joined the teenagers. Now grinning, Gabe held up a handful of small paper packets.

“He saved seeds,” said John. “From before.”

Jayne shook her head. “I don’t know how to tell him they’ll never grow in this soil.”

“We don’t know that,” said Donald cheerfully.

Bonita was about to say something when another door banged open. Old Mr. Eggers stood in the doorway, his cheeks shiny with tears. Bonita and Beverley rushed over.

“Mr. Eggers,” said Beverley, “are you okay? Where’s your wife?”

Mr. Eggers sobbed. “She passed two days ago.”

Bonita’s heart sunk, broken again. “Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that. Where. . . is she. . .”

Mr. Eggers nodded. “She’s in there. I didn’t know what I was going to do with her,” he sobbed. “I don’t know what to do.”

“It’s okay,” said Beverley. “Let us take care of it.” She called to the others.

* * *

They buried Mrs. Eggers the best they could, then Bonita and Beverley tried to console an inconsolable Mr. Eggers.

“Do you remember before we went into the shelter?” asked Barto.

Gabe nodded vigorously, keeping a wary eye on Mr. Eggers.

“Hey, do you guys see this?” yelled Josh.

“See what?” asked Dena. She saw nothing but the scraggly, barren landscape.

“I do,” cried Gabe, in his joy, forgetting the old man. He joined Josh then knelt and ran his hands through the dirt. “It’s gold, right Josh?”

“Yeah, do you see it, Jessi?” he asked the approaching toddler. “It’s gold.”

“Gohd,” she repeated.

“Gold?” asked Dena. “I don’t see it.”

Josh nodded. “It’s like a golden trail.”

“Where does it lead?” wondered Barto.

* * *

After tucking Mr. Eggers into Barto’s bed, Bonita made sure Barto was comfortable on the couch, then she joined Donald in their own bed. “Do you think Josh’s gold path really leads up to the mountains.”

“I saw it too,” he said softly.

“So where do you think it leads?”

Donald shrugged in the dim candle light. “And a little child shall lead them.”

“But lead them where?”

“’But God was very angry with them, for their hearts were always looking somewhere else, and they never found the paths He wanted for them.’ A paraphrase of Heb—”

“What is that supposed to mean, Donald?”

Donald raised up on one elbow. “Josh has found the path, Bon. All we have to do is follow it.”

“To the mountains?” she asked doubtfully.

“Maybe. But what can it hurt to try? God didn’t allow us to survive in this shelter just to have us die out there.”

“Yeah, God.” Bonita rolled her eyes. “Maybe God should have thought about that before He let a bomb destroy the whole Earth.”

“But there’s going to be a new Heaven and. . .”

“Forget it, Donald. I’m tired of rations. I want fresh corn and apples. Honey straight from the wax cells, milk straight from a goat. I want to feel rain on my face and see the stars at night.”

“So do I. Maybe if we follow this path, we’ll find that.”

Bonita didn’t respond, just curled up next to her husband. He was still hopeful after all this. Bonita only wished she could be. Before the first bombs had gone off, those lucky enough to have been able to purchase and install shelters, had gone into them and waited for word they could leave.

The radio station had broadcast for a few days afterwards, before the radiation had destroyed everyone and everything. It seemed a miracle that the air could have cleansed itself, even after all these years. But, given the chance, Donald would have told her God could make the impossible happen. She’d have believed him once. But too many years cooped up in an underground bomb shelter with no sunshine, no fresh flowers or vegetables, and an air pump that could have stopped filtering at any time, had squashed most of what she had believed in.

She closed her eyes and sighed. If everyone else was up for it, tomorrow she’d follow Josh and his path. Maybe Donald was right – what could it hurt?

* * *

A ring of thick white clouds hung around the mountain top. The peak poked through as if it had stabbed a giant, fluffy cotton ball. Morning sun shone in the otherwise blue sky, making the ring look almost like a giant halo.

“We should wait for the others,” said Donald.

Bonita nodded distractedly while she watched her kids and Mr. Eggers. The three of them milled about, Dena and Barto apparently looking for something, the elderly man intently staring at the ground. After a moment or two, Donald joined him. Mr. Eggers looked up. “Do you see it?” he asked.

With a sigh, Bonita turned just as the Finbars exited their shelter. Josh ran up to the teens. “Barto! Dena! I had a dream last night! An angel talked to me. He told me to follow the path.”

Dena knelt in front of him. She looked up at Barto for a moment, then at Josh. She spoke softly so Bonita couldn’t hear what she said. Then Beverley and Kenneth came to talk to her.

“He’s so excited about this dream,” said Beverly. “He’s convinced Heaven is up on that mountain.”

“Donald thinks we should go,” Bonita told them.

Suddenly Gabe Simmons burst out of his shelter. “There was a man in my room last night,” he shouted. “He had wings!”

His parents came out behind him as Josh and the teens came to meet him. He repeated what he’d said.

“Gabe,” said Dena. “Did you have a dream?”

Gabe shrugged. “I saw a man with wings in my room. He told me to follow the gold.”

“How come you all had that dream?” asked Barto. “I didn’t. And how come you can see it now, Dena when you couldn’t yesterday?”

Dena shrugged and started to open her mouth, but Bonita saw the look on her daughter’s face and rushed in to stop things before they escalated too far. “Look, why don’t we just follow the path. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do?”

Gabe nodded vigorously, Josh shouted “yes” and pumped his fist in the air. Little Jessi jumped around in excitement even though she didn’t know what was going on. Amazingly, everyone else agreed.

They trekked across flat, barren land, Dena, Josh and Gabe in the lead. Donald and Barto followed, the latter carrying Jessi who had suddenly taken a liking to him. Her parents came next accompanied by Gabe’s parents. Bonita brought up the rear with Mr. Eggers. It looked to Bonita like a terrible earthquake had shaken everything apart, then a raging fire had swept through, finally burning itself out when its’ fuel supply had been exhausted.

Finally they came to the foothills. By this time everyone was hot and sweaty, the kids complained of hunger and Jessi had started crying.

“Why did we not think to bring more food?” grumbled Kenneth as he rummaged in a diaper bag he and his wife had taken turns carrying. He tossed out a handful of rags, except Bonita realized they weren’t rags, but cloth diapers. The only thing Jessi’s parents could do in a bomb shelter. He pulled out an outfit and some toys that must have been Josh’s at one time. Then he held up a little plastic container triumphantly. “We’ve been rationing these treats severely,” he shouted. “But there are enough in here for everyone to have two.”

He opened the container and took out two Oreo cookies. Then he handed the container to Gabe. “Pass these out, could you please, Gabe, and you can have the two that are left.”

Gabe went to each person offering the cookies. When he got back to Kenneth, he took two cookies and handed the container back. Kenneth looked at it and frowned. “Did everyone take two?”

Each person nodded. Dena and Josh even held theirs up for him to see.

“I even gave Jessi two,” said Gabe proudly.

“What’s wrong, Ken?” asked Beverley coming over to him.

He showed her the container and it was her turn to frown. Donald approached them and peered inside. He grinned and looked at Bonita. “There are cookies left,” he said gleefully.

“Maybe Kenneth miscounted,” said Bonita.

Kenneth shook his head. “No, I don’t think so. Even if I did, I know there wasn’t enough to have this many left over.”

“Pass them out again,” suggested Donald.

But Kenneth shook his head. “Maybe we should just keep going.

“I think this was a bad idea,” said Jayne, looking at the chocolate sodden toddler sitting on the ground. “We should just go back.”

“No, we have to keep going,” said Josh.

Gabe nodded. “We do, Mom. The man with the wings said so.”

Jayne sighed and rubbed her eyes. John put his arm around her shoulders. “Look, I know we’ve all had trying times. But I for one don’t really want to go back to that shelter. I mean, if you really want to, I will, but. . .” He trailed off.

“We have to keep going,” Josh insisted. “We have to keep following the path.”

“We do, Mom,” said Gabe again. “Yup, we do.”

“But for how long, Gabe? We can’t be running around out here in the dark!”

Gabe’s face fell. “But, Mom, we’ll have the moon.”

She looked at her son who towered over her by nearly a foot. She smiled and went to him. “I’m sorry, Gabe. I’m tired and hungry.”

“Mom! We have cookies!”

Jayne began to giggle, and soon everyone joined her.

* * *

The golden path gleamed in the bright moon hanging high in the sky. Or so the kids claimed. So did Donald and Mr. Eggers. The group trekked on. Mr. Eggers had slowed them up at first, but waxing moonlight had gotten him so excited about the shiny path that he somehow managed to keep up with kids.

The assemblage had grown by a few people, but Bonita still brought up the rear with Jayne and Beverley. Suddenly, on the crest of a hill, Gabe broke away from the lead yelling for his mother.

“I see the light, Mom. Do you see it?” He grabbed her hand. “Come see it, Mom.” He dragged her up to the front of the line, bouncing on his toes and pointing.

Josh, Dena, Barto, Donald and Mr. Eggers chattered excitedly as the others tried to see what was going on. Jayne followed Gabe’s finger. Down in a valley, in a dark, shadowy area that Jayne assumed was the base of the mountain where the moonlight didn’t reach, a fiery oval appeared to surround a tall slender man.

Murmuring began. Jayne looked around, but the looks on everyone’s face told her they all were as confused as she was.

“Ainjah,” said Jessi, resting in her father’s arms. She’d been asleep earlier but apparently had woken without a sound. She seemed bright and alert as she too pointed at the light. “Ainjah,” she repeated.

“What’s that?” asked Kenneth.

“Angel, Dad,” said Josh. “She said angel.”

“That’s an angel?” muttered Bonita.

A chuckle rippled through the gathering.

“Come on!” Josh yelled. He grabbed a hand on either side of him – Dena’s and Barto’s – and started to run.

Gabe yanked his mother along. She quickly grabbed her husband’s hand. Donald had taken Mr. Eggers’ hand and they were running as fast as the older man could go. A few others who’d joined them along the way followed. Bonita was left with Beverly, Kenneth and Jessi, who was beginning to fuss, and a few strangers.

“What do we do?” asked Beverly.

Jessi screamed and pointed. “Jos! Jos!”

“I think she wants to follow her brother,” declared Kenneth.

Beverley shrugged, then looked at Bonita and the others. “Well, let’s go I guess.”

Bonita nodded and the smaller group headed out after the larger one.

* * *

The man stood in front of the mouth of a cave. The orangey light that had appeared to surround him came from a fire within. Bonita wasn’t certain that it hadn’t surrounded him when they’d been further away.

Long blond curls tumbled down over strange, mis-shapen shoulders. He wore jeans, sandals, and a white t-shirt with the word ‘peace’ in rainbow colours. He smiled. “Welcome, everyone.”

“Are you an angel?” asked Josh.

“Well, my name is Gabriel,” he said with a wink.

Josh’s mouth gaped open. Jessi had stopped her fussing and now began bouncing in her father’s arms.

“Hey, that’s my name too!” shouted Gabe.

Gabriel grinned and held up his hand. Gabe proudly slapped him five, then the angel stood aside and indicated the cave. Two people already sat inside. “We have food, and shelter for the night.”

“What’s going on?” asked Bonita. “Can you tell us that?”

Gabriel smiled again. “All will be revealed later. Please, come rest and partake in our refreshments.”

Although the entrance to the cave wasn’t much taller than a couple of metres, the ceiling soared, and the entire inside was vast. An impossible orchard grew within, a few metres from the entrance. Lush green grass carpeted the area among the fruit trees, which were laden with ripe fruit. Crickets chirped and woodchippers buzzed.

“Hello,” greeted the woman. She stood, revealing a swollen belly. She was tall with short blonde hair and sparkling green eyes. “My name is Stephanie, and this is my husband, Jimmy.” She indicated the man who stood beside her.

Jimmy reached to shake hands with the adults, his eyes blank. “Nice to meet you,” he offered politely.

“Everything okay?” asked Donald, as he shook the offered hand.

Jimmy shrugged, but before he could respond, Stephanie spoke up. Jimmy turned to watch the kids who’d run into the orchard and were picking big yellow apples, peaches, cherries and even oranges.

“No.” Stephanie shook her head, and continuing in a low voice said, “Look at them. How can they be growing here like that? I mean, I think I know but Jimmy – ”

“Steph,” growled Jimmy.

Kenneth set Jessi down to run over with the other kids. “Did you guys follow a path too? Is that how you got here?”

Stephanie glanced at Jimmy. “Yeah, a path of gold. I saw it, but Jimmy didn’t.” She put her hands on her belly. “I think this is why I could see it. Did any of you see it, or was it just the children?”

“I saw it,” said Donald. “But my two teens didn’t. At least not at first. The older one still doesn’t. But Mr. Eggers here saw it too.” He drew the old man forward.

“See, it’s not just because I’m pregnant,” Stephanie said to Jimmy.

Jimmy opened his mouth then snapped it closed again. Stephanie went on. “I’m kinda scared. I’m not sure what it all means.”

“The path goes to Heaven,” Josh shouted from his perch beneath a cherry tree.

Stephanie looked at him. “Are you sure?”

“Uh huh. It’s up the mountain.” Josh pointed upwards.

“The mountain?” asked Stephanie.

“Yeah. We can go there tomorrow,” Josh said with confidence, as though he were in charge.

The adults exchanged silent looks. Finally Bonita spoke. “Look, why don’t we just eat something then try to get some rest. We’ll figure out what to do in the morning.”

* * *

Gabriel was gone when they woke up in the morning. A few more people had joined the group and the cave entrance had been sealed up.

“What the – ” shouted Bonita.

“Boni!” chided Donald, stretching and rubbing his eyes.

“What are we supposed to do now?” asked Jayne.

“I don’t know,” said Stephanie, “but that was the best night’s sleep I’ve had in a long time.” She glanced around the orchard at the various people stretched out in the grass. “Maybe the kids know what to do.”

As if on cue, Gabe came running from somewhere deep within the trees. “Mom! Dad! I found something! Come look! Josh! Dena! Barto!”

Jayne got to her feet as a few people grumbled. “Shh, Gabe. Inside voice.”

“But, Mom, I. . . I. . . .” He started rummaging around in his pockets. “I planted my seeds,” he said finally, producing empty seed packets.

Jayne grinned. In Gabe’s mind, this was a garden, the perfect place to plant his seeds. “That’s perfect, Gabe.”

He grinned then grabbed her hand. “Come and see.”

He hauled her through the maze of trees to show her where he’d emptied the packets. But when they got there, Jayne noticed another entrance. Bright sunlight shone in. “Gabe, what’s that?”

Forgetting the seeds, he shouted excitedly, “That’s what I wanted to show you. See the path?”

“Yeah, I see it,” exclaimed Josh, who’d followed them. “Come on!”

Gabe took off after the little boy, followed by Dena, Barto, and Mr. Eggers who seemed to have aged backwards overnight. He had fewer wrinkles, more black in his grey hair, and a definite spring in his step.

A crowd of adults gathered around Jayne. She turned to them. “Well I guess we should follow them.”

Donald nodded as he eyed the flakes of gold glittering in the sun. He could see the path winding up the mountain. He started to follow the excited kids, but a sudden overwhelming urge stopped him. He looked at the group. “Would anyone like to pray with me?”

Stephanie stepped forward. “I would.”

Donald cast his gaze over the remainder of the adults. Two of the newcomers stepped forward. Donald nodded then the four of them joined hands.

* * *

The trail twisted up and around the mountain. The sun, weaving in and out of puffy white clouds, beamed down on them. Sweat trickled down backs and foreheads. Occasionally rocks rolled down the side of the path and, at times, the path tapered narrowly, causing them to walk one carefully one abreast. The kids, full of endless energy, sporadically ran back to their parents, then bounded ahead again.

“If this is the road to Heaven,” grumbled Jimmy, “why is it so difficult?”

“No one said going to Heaven was easy,” Stephanie told him.

Debate wound through the group with some believing they were climbing to Heaven, and others, doubtful, not quite knowing what to think.

Higher and higher they climbed until, around noon, Donald stopped, pausing to ease his ragged breathing. As the stragglers caught up, and Donald looked out over the scene afforded to him from this height, he noticed something amazing. “Look!”

Majestic mountains rose up all around them, growing from rolling hills and flat wheat-covered prairies. Forest grew on some, others were snow-topped, but paths coiled along all of them. Tiny black, insect-like specks crawled along each one.

Bonita joined him. “What is it?”

“People,’ he breathed. “They’re all headed here.”

“But from where? Donald, I don’t even recognize this landscape.”

Beverly, holding Jessi, came up beside them. “Somehow, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore, Dorothy.”

Bonita turned to look at her neighbour. Both she and her daughter watched the strands of people weaving along the paths. Beverly glanced at Jessi. “I swear, Boni, she understands what’s going on better than I do.”

Nodding, Bonita recalled the voice she’d heard on the radio. It was the only reason they’d even stepped outside. She hadn’t discussed it with anyone here, but she wondered how many other people heard the call and were only here because of it. Was the person behind the voice among them? Then something occurred to her – had the person behind the voice even been human?

* * *

The group continued to climb, the slope rolling in gentle peaks and valleys, until finally they reached their destination. Only for some it wasn’t as spectacular as it was for others.

“Mom, look!” shouted Josh. “I told you Heaven was up here.”

Beverley looked down in the shallow, mountain-top valley to where Josh pointed. She saw a tall stone wall with an arched wall of fire in the middle. Heaven? Her understanding was that fire belonged in the Other Place. “What do you see Josh?”

Murmurs began around her as a few people pushed by her, heading towards the wall, and Josh spoke. “The entrance to Heaven. It’s right there, don’t you see it?”

He sounded more mature, like he was older than his years. Beverley thought about how Mr. Eggers had suddenly had the energy of a much younger man. She looked for him now, and saw him rushing towards the wall alongside Gabe. “No,” she said absently. “I see a wall of fire.”

“Is it okay if I go? I don’t like leaving you, Mom. But your time will come.”

The request of a man, not the pleading of a child. She looked at him and shrugged. “Yeah, sure. I guess.” Watching him go, not really understanding what was happening, she turned away to look at the others.

Stephanie and Bonita were deep in conversation with their partners. John tried to comfort a weeping Jayne. Jessi fussed in her father’s arms, pleading to follow Josh. Some of the others that had joined them earlier – had there been that many before? – conversed in smaller groups. Children streamed past her, some with parents, some without.


“She wants to go, Bev.”

“What do you see?”

“Fire. They’re all walking through it. I don’t know how but – ”

A young woman, plump with chocolate coloured skin approached them, holding the hand of a shy Asian woman. “It’s not fire,” she said to Beverly and Kenneth. “It’s the entrance to some sort of orchard. I mean, I saw the fire too, at first. But Jia here saw the entrance all along. She says it leads to Heaven.” She frowned. “It flickers when I look at it.”

“That’s because you want to believe, but you don’t quite. Not yet,” said Jia softly, drawing the other woman closer. “She sees it.” Jia pointed to Jessi, whose cries got louder.

“Mom!” screamed a voice before Kenneth could do anything but try to calm his daughter. “Mom, Dad, it’s beautiful!”

Gabe raced up to his parents. “It’s like the one at the bottom of the mountain, but bigger. Gabriel is there, and hundreds of people! All kinds. All colours and sizes. Grown-ups and kids. And Stephanie had her baby! It’s a boy and she said it didn’t hurt at all!”

Although just as overexcited as he’d always been, Gabe sounded different. More sophisticated somehow.

“Gabe,” said John. “How can she have had her baby already?”

“It’s different in there, Dad. You have to see it, you have to.” Not so much a simple request, as begging his father to see what was right before his eyes.

“I see it! Oh, look, there it is,” squealed the woman with the chocolate skin. She and Jia bounced up and down, and hugged one another. Then she kissed Jia on the mouth. “Come on, baby, let’s go,” pulling out of the embrace.

The two of them ran hand in hand down to the wall. Gabe reached for Jessi who was nearly leaping out of Kenneth’s arms.

“No,” said Beverly, catching Gabe’s arm.

“It’ll be okay,” he assured her. “No one will hurt her, there’s no pain or sadness in Heaven.”

Beverly didn’t argue, she simply backed away and covered her face with her hands.

“What about us?” asked Bonita. “Do we get left behind just because we don’t see it?” She stood with Barto. Donald and Dena had already gone.

Gabe shook his head. “No. No one gets left behind.” He turned with Jessi and started back.

“But we can’t walk through fire,” called Barto.

“No, you’re right about that, said Gabe, turning. “If all you see is fire it will burn you. You just need a little more time.”

“How long?” asked Barto.

Gabe shrugged. “As long as it takes.”

* * *

Jimmy led the diminished, rag-tag group back down the mountain before the sunset.

“I had to let her go,” wailed Beverley. “She wanted to go. She’ll be okay, right, Kenneth? I did the right thing letting her go with Gabe, right?”

Kenneth’s arm was around his wife’s shoulder as he tried to comfort her. “You did. We will see her again. We’ll see them all again!”

“Did they die?” piped up Jimmy. “I thought you had to die to get into Heaven.”

“Does anyone remember Enoch?” asked a voice from the crowd. “He didn’t die. He was taken by God.”

Jimmy dropped back to speak to the owner of the voice. A big man of about thirty, with pierced ears, a doo-rag, and two full sleeves. “Hi, I’m Jimmy. So, you think we can just enter that place up there if. . . if what? We get down on our knees and beg God for forgiveness or something?”

The man laughed. “I’m Crash, and it’s much easier than all that.”

“How?” asked Jimmy.

But before Crash could respond, Barto, who’d been one of the first back into the small orchard, came running back. “You guys have got to see this!”

Inside the cave, Barto pointed to a small garden consisting of tomato plants, beans, corn, and a row of yellow and orange flowers. “This wasn’t here before,” he said. “These are the seeds Gabe planted!”

Jimmy looked at him, frowning. Crash gave a hearty guffaw.

“Are you sure?” asked Bonita.

Barto nodded.

“You can stay here as long as you like, but I think you’re beginning to get the idea.” The soft voice came from deeper within the cave.

“Gabriel?” asked Beverley.

“Yes, it’s me.” Suddenly the angel was there before the group, shoulders no longer mis-shapen. Instead his wings spread out in full behind him. He went to Crash and put his hand on the big man’s shoulder. “No one will be left behind. Crash will teach you, guide you. More will come. The entrance will not close until all have believed and come home.” With that he was gone.

“What just happened?” asked Jayne.

Bonita went to stand by her friend. “We’re all getting a second chance,” she said, then looked at Crash. “Isn’t that right?”

Crash grinned. “Yeah, something like that.”

“Is that what this destruction was for?” asked Jimmy. “To bring us together like this? To make, what, a new earth?”

“To bring everyone home,” replied Crash.

Then Bonita knew, everything was going to be all right, just like the kids, Mr. Eggers and Gabe had already known. Heaven would be there when she and the others were ready. All they had to do was change their minds. It would take as long as it took.