THE PROPHET'S EYES RESTED ON HER, and he looked sad.
He stretched forth his hand, over her.
There was a hole in it.
She was swamped by wave of guilt and relief and remorse and fear. It had all been a test, a final test of her faith, and she had failed.
How had she been so stupid? So faithless? So bad ?
Jesus shook his head.
"Oh ye of little faith—I expected better of you, Melanie."
She hung her head.
"I'm so—so very, very sorry, Lord. I tried to believe. I really did."
She waited, for her punishment.
"You allowed your reason to take you where faith should not go. Lift your head, child. Look at me."
She raised her eyes. He was smiling, sadly.
"Do not fear. It was no test—only a challenge. And you have learned from it. There is only one thing needful, and you did that when you were six years old, in Sunday school. Remember?"
Hope washed over her, and she nodded.
"I prayed, with Mrs. Stowry. I hardly understood what it meant."
"You accepted me as you lord and savior. Nothing else matters. Everything else is forgiven, because of that."
Could it be? It was all true? She was going to Heaven, and so was Tom, and so were the children! They would be together there, for all eternity. And all because they had said that simple prayer!
It was wonderful beyond belief. For the world to be so simple, so safe, for everything to be so...
And then she thought of Maryam.
She turned to look at her, and Jesus followed her gaze.
"And you, Maryam, what do you have to say for yourself?"
She returned his gaze with a brief and friendly smile, still serene.
"I was mistaken about some things, I see. I hope that I was not mistaken about the most important thing."
"And what was that?" he asked.
"The goodness of God."
"No." He said. "You were not mistaken about that."
She smiled again, gently.
"Then I have no fears."
He shook his head.
"You should have. And you will. For the goodness of God is the very thing that separates him from you."
A question crossed her face. He continued.
"Let us be clear, for the sake of the witnesses. Did you, Maryam, in your lifetime on Earth, accept me as your lord and savior?"
She gave her head the tiniest shake.
He lifted his staff.
"Then you must pay."
He stamped his staff once on the ground, and the pavings cracked. The crack spread until it was a great chasm, at Maryam's feet.
She pitched forward, and fell, twisting, into the darkness below, and the darkness below that, and below that, forever, until her screams were swallowed by the endless flames and tortures of hell.
Melanie wondered, as she watched the fissure close, if she could ever be happy—even in heaven with her family—knowing that her friend was suffering eternal agony in Hell. It all seemed so pointless and miserable.
But Jesus smiled, and wiped the tears from her chin and her cheeks and her eyes, and suddenly she was joyful.
She still remembered Maryam, and what had happened to her, but it no longer caused her the least bit of sorrow or pain or regret.
The angels escorted her to her place in the choir, where she found that she already knew the words and the music, and where she would stay, singing his praises endlessly, with perfect joy, forever and ever and ever, without end.