The Dead: Book 17 (frag. 1)

The Book of the Story

HIS CHAIR WAS EXTREMELY comfortable, though, Arnold suspected, not as comfortable as the one it faced.

That chair was occupied by The Man in Black. His—his what? Interrogator? Prosecutor? Rescuer? Friend?

He couldn't decide, and this had been going on for quite some time.

The room was restful, infused with a quiet light. The occupant of the other chair stroked his goatee, and smiled.

"It's not an easy question for you to answer?"

Arnold squirmed a little in his excessively comfortable chair.

"You're asking me to condemn my entire life."

"No. I'm asking you a question. All I require is an honest answer."

Arnold shook his head and laughed bitterly.

"But we both know what answer you expect. What it says about my life, and how I've spent it."

His opponent raised an eyebrow.

"We're not talking about my answer, Arnold. About what I expect or what I want to hear. We're talking about..."

"My answer. Okay then, Yes. I do think the last sixty-five years of my life has been spent well. I can't imagine a better way to have spent that time than the way I did."

"Really?"

"Really."

"You can't imagine any better way to spend an entire life than to mourn—and romanticize—a relationship that lasted only two years? You do realize that the two of you weren't together long enough to even really know each other. You might never have even married, if she had survived the train wreck."

"We would have married. We would have stayed married our whole lives. We would have had children, and grandchildren."

His interviewer spread his hands.

"Perhaps so. But you could have had grandchildren anyway, you could have had a life."

"They wouldn't have been hers. What would I say to her, if I had just found someone else, and moved on?"

"Say to her?"

"In heaven, when we're reunited. Then we will be husband and wife. That's true, isn't it?"

His opposite looked uncomfortable for the first time. He fingered his collar.

"I've never asked you what your religious background is. What denomination?"

"Baptist. Southern."

"Ah. Well, as you know, I am not here as your priest, but as your therapist. I don't know exactly what the Southern Baptist teaching is on that point, but..."

"Forget it. You'll probably tell me that she, or I, won't even get to heaven."

"Not at all. I'm quite sure you will. It's just that..."

Arnold stood abruptly.

"Thanks for all your... your time, and everything. It was really... I don't think I need to talk about this any further."

He stuck out a hand.

The therapist rose from his chair, and proffered his own.

And that was when Arnold collapsed.

A long silence. Punctuated by the distant sound of sirens, a vague sense that someone was holding something over someone's face (his own?) a faint sense of jostling, the scent of alcohol, doctors probing at a body.

Then.

Arnold stood before a gate. A pearly gate.

There was a man, a robed man with a beard, standing at a lectern which was topped by an enormous book.

He leaned over the book, and peered at Arnold.

"Arnold, is it?"