Originally written in October 2015
I’d thought that everything would be peaceful after making it into Heaven. I mean, it was at first. No problems at all behind the pearly gates. Everyone’s needs were met. I even got a job within the first week of my arrival. It was awesome welcoming people into Heaven. Kind of like being a Walmart greeter back on earth, I guess, except, you know, people are happy, and I got to show them around a bit. Seeing their overjoyed faces as they looked forward to eternal bliss was more satisfying than any job I’d had in life. Then the attack came. A tribe of orcs spilled out of the mountains beyond the entrance where I worked, raiding the closest block of paradise they could get their hands on. But they fled after the first defenses were mounted, disappearing back into the hills after suffering only a couple losses. It was on my day off, so I didn’t see it.
But apparently the guards found my key on one of the slain beasts. Now, this would have normally sent me to prison back on earth. However, heaven had no prisons, so they didn’t know what to do with me. Exile to…that other place…was obviously high on a lot of people’s lists. Until the Tribunal made a decision, I was confined to my home, with guards posted outside.
As far as I knew, no official inquiry was being made to confirm or deny my guilt, no matter what I said. It was assumed that I had given the beasts my key so they could enter virtually unopposed. That left it up to me to prove my innocence. I didn’t know who had planted my key, or let the orcs in, but I was going to find out, or destroy all the monsters if that’s what it took.
So, my eyes popped open in the middle of the night, accepting the reality that not everything was peaceful in paradise. I had to make my move. After two days of confinement, judgement could come at any moment, and then I would have no chance.
I crept out of my blankets and ninja-ed my way around my quarters, gathering the equipment I had prepared for my journey. Sadly, I had nothing with which to fight the orcs. There was no reason to have a weapon in Heaven unless you were protecting it, like the soldiers and guards. Grabbing two of my potted plants, I carried them carefully upstairs to the window. Peering down, I spotted the two guards on either side of my doorway, one talking on the phone and another reading. I waited patiently for the phone conversation to end. No need to alert anyone else to my plan. It was still hours before the sun even began to hint at rising.
“Yes, honey, I have to be here all night. I can’t leave Weaver here all alone. What would she do if the big bad traitor attacks her with his ‘welcome’ button?”
“Shut up, Gifford.”
“I’m just messing with you,” the shiny soldier said, nudging his companion as she read. He went back to the phone. “Alright, babe. You get some sleep. I’ll be relieved in the morning and we can have a late breakfast. Love you.”
“You sure are a lucky…”
Weaver went down, her steel helm protecting her from any lasting damage, but the impact left her unconscious on the ground. The second pot however, landed on Gifford’s shoulder, which was also protected by steel plates, shattering and sending flakes of pottery and dirt into his face. He looked up at me in surprise that soon scrunched into anger. He ripped the key ring off his belt to open the door.
No time. I flung my legs over the window sill and dropped. The guard was still struggling with the lock when my feet crunched his helmet down onto his shoulder-guards. I collapsed to the ground with him, trying to roll back to my feet as soon as possible and knock him out before he could draw his weapon. Luckily that wasn’t necessary as I saw him breathing with a peaceful look on his bearded face, which was resting in a growing puddle of drool on the pavement.
I quickly took their sword belts and strapped them on myself, glancing up and down the road to see if anyone was coming. But it was a quiet and peaceful night, like any night in Heaven.
Escaping the outer gate was even easier. The guards were only looking outward to the hills and mountains, and guarding the main gate. However, the service entrance a couple dozen yards away wasn’t locked with a key. It was more of a crank and pulley system and it couldn’t be seen from the outside wall unless it was open already. I disappeared into the trees and was gone before anyone could suspect anything was awry.
Three days later, I still hadn’t spotted a single orc in all the hills and mountains I wandered. I set up my hammock again, high in the trees, and went to sleep frustrated and angry.
My dreams were infested by shadows of beasts that scampered off before I could get close enough to actually see anything. These restless dreams were cut off by snapping branches and muffled whispers. I opened my eyes to stare straight into the disapproving face of Billy.
“Good morning, sunshine,” he said, breath hot on my cheeks.
I jerked up to a sitting position, sending the hammock swinging. Billy’s perch in the tree next to my head apparently wasn’t stable enough and the motion sent him teetering from 30 feet up.
I looked under my bed to see the source of the voices that were now moaning under a pile of Billy.
“Get down here,” Billy stated in his calm voice. I never liked Billy’s calm voice.
Once I had returned to the ground, all six of them were back to their feet and brushing themselves off. When they surrounded me, I smiled at the effort they had taken to fine me. I felt grateful for a second, but then remembered Billy’s voice. He was the sternest of everyone, and eyes kept glancing to him as if waiting for him to do something.
“The game’s over,” he said through clenched teeth. “It’s time to come back. They let us come look for you because we convinced them we could get you to come back and face your punishment without a fight.”
“Wait,” I managed to choke out, “you really think I did it?”
“It had your key. How else could he have gotten it?”
“I don’t know, but I’m gonna find out.” I countered. “And if none of the orcs will tell me anything, I’ll destroy them all so they can’t do it again.” Hurt and rage wrestled for dominance in my heart. I couldn’t believe they would turn against me so easily.
Billy looked at me for a moment, considering my words. “You really have gone insane, haven’t you?”
My hands clenched. “If I have to fight every one of you in order to be able to prove my innocence, I will. And if you really think I’m crazy, think of how crazy and hard I’ll fight. And if you think I’ll hold back because you are my friends, then you really know I’m innocent.”
A few of them shuffled their feet uncertainly. Billy scowled. “Look, it doesn’t matter what we…”
“What is that?” someone asked and I saw a hand point out toward a clearing that led up to small clearing in front of a canyon between a couple of the largest peaks in these mountains.
Eyes turned to see a train of wagons rolling down a dirt path. Colorful paint covering every inch of wood assaulted our eyes even from a distance of about 200 yards.
“I didn’t know there were gypsies in the afterlife.”
I just stared at the strange sight, not caring who said what anymore. This was an anomaly I hadn’t thought possible. I took a breath to comment on the matter when the scene changed drastically.
From the trees and cliffs to either side of the road, dozens of orcs poured over the vulnerable wagons and their inhabitants, hacking and slashing with their axes and hammers. The caravan managed to put up a well-coordinated defense, circling their wagons in a defensive perimeter and hailing arrows onto the aggressors. But they wouldn’t last long. It took an average of four or five arrows to take down one of the beast, and each one fell a little bit closer to the wagons.
I took a step toward the carnage but found a hand pressed against my chest.
“We have to take you back,” Billy said, confusion quivering behind his eyes.
“Whatever,” I said as I removed his hand. “If you think it is more important than protecting innocents from those that attacked your home, you are free to chase me down again and try to do it by force.”
I pushed past my perimeter of friends and ran, pulling both swords out of their scabbards. The first orc went down before it even knew I was there, tripping up a couple of its companions. Several more turned faces, that I could only assume were surprised and angry, on me and raised their weapons.
Before I could raise my own defense, several arrows dropped the closest of the monsters and a flying hammer bowled over the rest of my mounting enemies.
I turned around to see every one of my friends charging across the open ground to join in the fight. Excitement thundered through my chest, and I knew that I would be clearing my name today and returning with honor.
Half of the attacking orcs had now stopped their assault on the wagons and faced their new opponents. A howling screech erupted from the throats of the slobbering brutes, violently vibrating through the air of the confined canyon valley.
The front row of orcs facing me took another deep breath and released a blast of fire from between their jaws, funnels of flames racing to engulf me where I stood.
I threw myself to the ground behind the body of one of the fallen monsters, pulling a muscular, smelly arm over me for a bit more protection. The wave of heat rolled over me for several seconds, but didn’t manage to set anything ablaze. I raised myself back up in time to see several orcs leap from their ranks and fly into the air. Their path arced and they began to dive, aiming for the intruding humans across the field. A particularly nasty specimen made a bee-line for me, double-bladed battle axe poised to split me right down the middle.
I readied my swords, knowing I had to time every move perfectly if I wanted to survive. When the orc came within range I let my blade fly, hoping to throw it off course, or to disrupt his attack and make him counter instead. But what happened took my amazement at the day’s events to a new level. A ball of blue energy surrounded the spinning blade. The orc tried to bring its weapon down to bat away my attack, but the blue aura exploded on impact sending the howling beast hurtling back toward its companions. It impaled itself on the spear of another orc who hadn’t noticed till it was too late.
And it looked like I wasn’t the only who had unexpected tricks up his sleeve. Crystals of ice erupted from my group of friends, engulfing orcs and freezing them in place. Another orc ran back to its companions, limbs flailing spiked weapons wildly into its surprised comrades. It howled in protest of the mind control one of my friends had on it. And then the battle was in full swing. I lost myself among the heat, blood, and sweat as I swung and dodged blades, blasted green-skinned enemies with pure energy, and avoided the powerful attacks of flame, rock, or whatever else the brutes could come up with.
Then my sword clanged to a stop against the sleek curve of a scimitar. My brows knitted in confusion as I followed the gleaming silver to the handle, to the slender, but strong hands, and up to an angry, smirking, and familiar face.
“Tabby?” I asked, “What are you doing here?”
She batted my sword and attacked, but I managed to stop her again. “No point in explaining when I’m just going to kill you,” she said flatly. She slowly brought up her hand and touched the flat of my blade. It instantly melted into mush and dripped to the ground in pieces. I leaped back as she renewed her attack against my weakened defenses. I threw a weak blast of force at her to give me a break, nailing her in the stomach and tossing her onto her backside. I snatched up one of the orc’s spears, hoping I could use it to keep some distance between us. I realized that no other orcs were attacking me. None of them would come even close to the woman who wore the symbols of their tribe around her neck. Some glanced at her with a look of fear and scampered off to join the battle somewhere else. Tabby raised herself to her feet and smiled.
“You stole my key and let them in,” I said. There was no question about it now.
A shrug was the only response she gave.
I gathered as much energy as I could in my hand and threw it at her as hard as I could.
She planted her feet and didn’t even try to dodge the orb of pure force, holding her hand out in front of her and catching the attack with her palm. It pushed her back a few steps, but instead of exploding, it shrank and drooped, fading into blank air.
One thing was certain, the afterlife wasn’t the peaceful place I had thought it was. And before hurling myself back into the fray of battle, a curious question passed through my mind. Is there an after-afterlife?
What happens after we die is probably one of the biggest and most debated mysteries in the world. Not to mention all the varied possibilities that history and culture has produced. Now, I’m not here to argue which of these afterlife possibilities is correct. I have my own beliefs, as do most people in the world. I’m just musing over what some of these options could mean for our lives here and now.
The other day I watched an episode of a show where a longtime married couple finds out that one believes in heaven, and the other doesn’t believe in any kind of afterlife. This caused a temporary rift between them because the husband that believed in heaven thought that if his wife didn’t believe, she wouldn’t be there with him for eternity. This didn’t have much of effect on the wife because she didn’t believe it would happen anyway. But it just goes to show that what one believes about what happens after death can have a significant impact on this life and how we treat it.
For those that believe that this life is all we get, I see this belief bringing about two kinds of attitudes. There are those that believe that if this is everything, we might as well make the best of it, improving ourselves how we can, contributing to society in positive ways to make the future a better place. They might also attempt to achieve a level of immortality through children and being remembered by others. Most people I know with this believe have this attitude and are some of my best friends. The other kind of attitude that might develop creates people with absolutely no conscience. They believe that since nothing they do in this life has any bearing on them afterward, they might as well do anything they can get away with to improve their life however they see fit. This is obviously a socially destructive attitude that helps only that person. I am grateful that there are more of the first kind in my life, but looking at history and the world today, it seems like the second kind have a horrifyingly large amount of influence in the world. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that all greedy and immoral people, or people without a conscience don’t believe in an afterlife. I’m just saying it seems easier to rid oneself of a conscience if they believe that their actions in this life will have no lasting negative effects.
Then there are people that believe in the traditional Heaven and Hell accepted in much of the western world. Before delving into what this belief does to people’s attitudes during mortal life, let's think of what Heaven and Hell are to most people. As I understand it, when someone goes to Hell, they suffer for the rest of eternity. Some might believe that the level of suffering depends on the severity of mortal transgressions, and some might believe that once you cross a certain line, you no longer qualify for Heaven and will suffer the same torments as the world’s worst sinners. That second view doesn’t seem fair. Of the two, I believe a fair and loving God would punish and reward according to the individual, not some heartless spiritual mathematics. Then there is Heaven, where there are similarly differing beliefs, where some say people are rewarded according to their good deeds and others say that all that make it there are rewarded equally. I have the same opinion here as I did on the different versions of Hell. A just and loving God would treat people as individuals, not as one lump sum.
For an analogy, I will use my father. I do this because I believe my father is a prime example of an ideal patriarch in this mortal world, and because I believe it appropriate when another common name for the God that gives us Heaven and Hell is our Father in Heaven. My father wouldn’t give all the children the same thing on Christmas. He would learn about what we wanted and give to us accordingly within his limitations. Each of the kids was encouraged and helped to pursue the talents and hobbies they became interested in. And with punishments, there wasn’t one punishment for any and all misbehaving. If we lied or snuck out we might get grounded. If we skipped chores, we would get more chores. If we got bad grades, we would be put in a situation where studying and homework was even less optional. Luckily my dad didn’t have to get too creative. I believe I was a pretty good kid.
Now, considering what Heaven would be like, there is a common visualization of complete peace where those that make it are forever singing and praising God. Now let’s think about this. I’m sure there are people who love singing and praying. I personally enjoy praying, and I have my reasons for that. However, the general reason that I perceive that people would praise God is to express their love and gratefulness for what he He does for them. In this life, there are many things to be grateful for. Our families and good people that come into our lives. Progress in whatever endeavor we try. Opportunities to learn and grow, and success in doing so. Along with continued health and provided means to continue doing these other things. But in this fluffy version of Heaven, what are we grateful for? For not being in Hell? If all we would do in this heaven is praise God, none of the things we were grateful in life apply anymore. If this is all there is, it seems like God is an egotistical maniac that only created an entire world full of life to find out which of them are best at inflating His ego. To me, this seems absolutely ridiculous.
Some people emphasize that we don’t have to do anything in Heaven. This seems equally ludicrous to me. If I don’t have anything to do here on earth, it feels like there is something wrong, and I create something that I have to do. An eternity of no goals or things to work toward seems absolutely boring and like no kind of paradise I would want to be a part of.
The version of Heaven that was in my dream is obviously ridiculous, but wouldn’t that be crazy if that’s how it was? In ways, it would be cool if we could live some of the most epic adventures imaginable. But a lot of the suspense and sense of adventure would be taken away if I was immortal. For some reason, the dream kept that sense that I could somehow be destroyed. Though that would then lead to the question of what happens after that. Endless Heavenly adventures? That’s almost too crazy to think about.
I do believe that Heaven will be a place where those that make it can still learn, progress, and grow to new heights. Any loving father would want his children to fulfill any and all potential, breaking past barriers and perfecting any aspect of themselves they want to. I believe God is the perfect example of this kind of father, and he wants to give us all opportunities to grow. And we can’t really grow without adversity. The greatest things worth doing are never going to be easy, and I believe this will hold true in Heaven. To me, Heaven won’t be a perfectly peaceful place of total contentment. Yes, I think we won’t be subject to death and suffering like we are on earth, but ideally, we will have struggles and frustrations that we can overcome by growing and progressing in whatever way necessary.
If Heaven is any other boring eternity where nothing happens or changes, I see no point in trying to get there, and I would actively try not to be there, and search endlessly for some other option. Maybe I would let in orcs to liven things up a bit.
The belief in any version of Heaven and Hell can have a huge impact on how people live their lives. It wouldn’t only be a conscience guiding people’s positive actions, but a mix of conscience, fear of punishment, hope for reward, and just love and gratitude to God for what we have. However, I see it as sad that there are people that believe that they will get into Heaven solely on the merit of believing in whatever their version of a savior is, or a few past actions and not on the gathered whole of how they lived their lives. This belief allows them, in their minds, to live incredibly selfish and uncaring lives that bring down everyone around them. I don’t see any belief or past actions that excuse people for being inconsiderate jerks their whole lives. If you believe in any kind of Heaven you want to get to, you should make an unending effort to live a life that would be deserving of eternal reward, through kindness, charity, good deeds, and then whatever dogmatic principles you adhere to can cap it off. Bottom line, I don’t believe there is any point in someone’s mortal life when they can be handed a figurative ticket with assured entrance into paradise.
More opinions on what happens after we die I am less familiar with. Reincarnation is a widely held possibility that seems interesting to learn about. As far as I understand, we are born and reborn in different forms of life for one reason or another. I’ve heard that if the lives are lived well enough, we progress to a superior form until, something. I don’t know. Someone enlighten me if they can. But the possibility seems intriguing enough to explore. It would be fascinating to leave this life and remember every life we have had. I think it would be cool to have memories of living as a bird, soaring over the earth, or a fish exploring coral reefs from a unique perspective. From what I understand, to be worthy of a better next life, we would have to live the current one as best as possible. I think that would affect how people live life by encouraging them to improve themselves and enrich the lives of those around them. As far as I can tell, reincarnation is a good motivator to live a good, charitable life.
There are certainly more possibilities and opinions on what happens to us after we die, but I don’t think you or I have the time or patience to analyze absolutely every one of them now. No matter what people believe, I think it is worth thinking about. Is what we think will happen to us after we die something we would actually want to happen to us? This could include how we are remembered on earth. And if we believe that what we want to happen is possible, are we living a life that will make that a reality? And should I start training now to fight orcs?