The Dead: Book 1 (Frag. 2)

The Book of the Story

THE INTERVIEW ROOM, like everything else so far, was hard to define. It managed somehow to simultaneously suggest a king's throne room, a church sanctuary, a college classroom, and a therapist's office—or at least what Daniel imagined a therapist's office might be like.

The figure on the throne/swivel chair was both ancient and young.

"Daniel! Peter! Come in. Have a seat."

Daniel threw a warning glance at Peter as they entered.

The figure smiled.

"You have a lot of questions, I know—and a fair amount of anxiety, as well.

"So," he continued, "let me begin by telling you that nothing you say or do during this interview will affect your future. You can feel completely free to be honest, to complain, to curse at me if you need to. I'm not going to be offended, and it won't change a thing—your fates are already decided.

"There. That's out of the way. Now we can get down to business."

"Excuse me," Daniel said, "Are you... ?"

"I am."

"But, I mean, which..."

"All three."

Peter looked from one to the other, then furrowed his brow.

"If this—this interview doesn't change anything, then why are we having it?"

"The interview is for clarity," the figure said. "It won't change your fate—your next destination—but it may change your understanding. It may change you. In fact, you've already changed your mind about some very basic issues, haven't you?"

"I appear to have been mistaken about you," Peter said.

"I'm afraid you were."

"I suppose this means I'm in for it. Hell, and all that?"

"And how do you feel about that?"

"I don't think it's fair."

Daniel grabbed Peter's arm.

"Remember who you're talking to!" he whispered.

"He said we could feel free to be honest."

"Yes," the figure said. "I did. Why do you think it's not fair, Peter?"

"You put me in a world where there is absolutely no evidence that you exist—where, in fact, I would never even have thought of you as a possibility if a lot of other people, who have a lot of—sorry, Daniel, but it's true—a lot of very silly notions about all kinds of things, didn't talk about you as well.

He paused, then forged on.

"I draw the obvious conclusion, given the evidence I have—the conclusion that you are just another of their silly ideas.  

"Now, after it's all over, you come out of hiding and tell me the whole thing was a test. A test which I have failed. And the penalty for not suspending my, well, my God-given reason, and believing something I had absolutely no reason to believe, is to be tortured in Hell forever.

"I don't think that's fair. And, I must say, if that's how you operate I don't care who you are. I don't want anything to do with you."

"PETER!" Daniel said.

He was trembling.

"Don't you see. He isn't casting you out. You're doing it to yourself, even now! You're choosing to send yourself to Hell! Hell is just another word for separation from God—and God isn't rejecting you; you're rejecting Him!"

"Damn right."

"Peter, don't..." Daniel turned to the figure on the throne. "He's upset. He doesn't mean it. Honestly..."

"I told you," the figure said. "Nothing he says here will affect his fate. Did you think I would not keep my word?"

"Sorry. No. Of course You would keep Your word. Sorry. I just... "

"You panicked."

"Sorry."

"Perfectly understandable. Tell me. What do you think of your friend's little diatribe? Do you think I'm being unfair?"