THEY WERE HALFWAY TO THE THRONE, and moving faster every moment. Maryam leaned closer to Melanie's ear.
"Whenever we are unfair to others, when we fail to care for them, when we hate, we make ourselves into the kind of person who can't receive love. When we are dishonest with ourselves and others, we become souls that cannot receive truth. When we refuse to enjoy the joy of others we become unable to enjoy the earth or heaven, and capable of misery wherever we are."
She squeezed Melanie's arm.
"That is all hell is. It's not a small thing, but it's not random, either. I've only known you for a very short time, my dear, but I am quite certain you are not one of those."
Melanie stole a fearful glance at the prophet, who was closer by the second.
"But you don't know," she said. "You don't know how awful I was. I hated people like you. I thought you were all terrorists, and evil."
"How can you hate someone you don't even know? You didn't hate me, dear, or any other person. You hated an abstraction—a fiction—and if the kind of monster you imagined had really existed, you would have been right to hate it."
But Melanie insisted.
"But you don't understand. I did hate people like you. Back on Earth, I would have called you a liberal—I would have called everything you just said liberal theology. My church said that people like you, who believed things like that, were tools of Satan."
"It must be very hard for you, now, wanting so much to believe that I am right."
It was true. Melanie did want to believe her. And why shouldn't she?
They were slowing again. She could make out the faces of the people on either side as they passed.
If everything else was false, if Allah was the creator, instead of God, if Jesus wasn't God's son, if it had meant nothing to accept him as Lord and Savior, then she did wish that Maryam was right, and not just out of selfishness.
It would mean Tom and the children would go to heaven, too. And lots of good people, whose only sin was to be taught the wrong things, to be born in the wrong place.
She did hope Maryam was right. She hoped it with all of her heart. If that made her a liberal, then she would just have to be a liberal.
They came to a stop, in front of the throne.
If this prophet was going to decide her fate, she hoped he was a liberal, too.
The prophet's eyes rested on her, and he looked sad.
He stretched forth his hand, over her.
There was a hole in it.