When Coral said the next day she would be leaving Recovery Ranch I said that I wanted to go with her. I felt I had recovered all I could in the place I was now dubbing 'Green Pastures'. "Are you sure?" asked Coral.
"Yes, I am sure," I announced firmly.
Earl did not protest since my coming there had been none of his doings I am sure. Coral and I took the next stagecoach to a place I had come think of as the 'Waiting Station'. When we arrived, we got out of the stagecoach and started walking around the town which seemed to be a strange combination of the old and new. There were people riding horses on the streets, but there were also people driving cars.
I was really quite tired. I was having almost as hard a time deciding what hereafter would suit me as Earl's friend Mark had. I wasn't looking for hell, thank God, but I knew none of the religious heavens would do since I had never really been an active church member. Coral and I decided to sit down and rest in a park, while Coral said, "You decide what you want to do."
"What do you recommend?" I asked Coral. "You have surely advised a lot of people who have come to the other side."
"Oh, I don't know," said Coral, "I stopped giving advice since nobody ever wanted to go anywhere I suggested."
"I had no idea you would be able to pick and choose what kind of heaven you wanted to go to," I said. "I thought we would just end up in the place we deserved."
Coral laughed. She said, "Excuse me, but that sounds so funny. People have the most hilarious ideas about heaven. Who knows what who deserves? People know themselves better than anybody. So eventually they figure out someplace to go that might suit them. But then they leave those places, too. Not having found it quite to their liking, as you left Recovery Ranch."
"I was afraid that Earl would start depending on me, as a companion, you know. I don't want to be any man's companion right now. If I am able I want to travel around while."
"I think we were both quite helpful to Earl, but he will get along fine without us. He seems like the independent sort."
"I am tired of relatives right now," I said. "I wrote my memoir and it took me so long and caused so much controversy I am afraid of meeting up with any more relatives here who might object to it, too. Especially Mother and Dad who might think I was hard on them."
"Oh, I see," said Coral. "How long did you plan to let your memoir cool off, a hundred years or so?"
I could not help but take a long hard look at this sister of mine who seemed to be making fun of almost everything I had said so far. She laughed at my ideas about heaven, and now she was finding my sensitivity about my memoir amusing.
"Oh, I am sorry," said Coral who also had a disconcerting way of reading my mind. "Well, I can read your mind very well," she went on, having correctly read my very last thought, "How do you think I was able to tell what all the family I left behind were thinking? When they did not exactly express their thoughts to me. I had to learn to read their minds, silly. You do it in all kinds of ways. Since they can't see you so you can ask them."
"I just never expected a spirit to have such an advanced sense of humor."
"Think about it. I have been experiencing what people say and do when they reach the other sides for many years. You haven't. People are amusing. Okay. I mean think of some poor Mormon lady looking for Mormon heaven. Can you imagine what a disappointment she is going to feel when nothing lives up to her expectations. She is going to be down right disillusioned. She is going to feel that heaven is just one big fat disappointment. But it would be impossible for reality to live up to hype. Now do you have any idea what think you would really enjoy over here?"
I was almost afraid to say what I was thinking for fear she would laugh. "I know I don't want to go live with the wolves," I said. "I think I am going to have to sit here and collect my thoughts for a while. I never did get to be a famous writer."
"You want to be a famous writer in heaven?" said Coral, looking as though she was trying to prevent herself from bursting out into peals of laughter. "Imagine that. Let us see, Shadra Ames has arrived. She has always wanted to be a famous writer, so guess what, we are going to make her wish come true today!"
I played along with my irrepressible sister, "Will I be able to sign my book?"
"Yes," said Coral, "She is the author of??"
"Then came the Dawn", I said. "That's a novel about the hereafter I have been writing," I added helpfully. "In it I have imagined what heaven must be, meeting up with my long dead sister again."
"No wonder we have gotten along so well," said Coral, "if you have been imagining a meeting with me again. How touching."
"But I imagined you a lot slower than you actually are. I have been continually surprised by the swift turn of your mind. I had no idea someone in our family would develop into such a surprising thinker."
Coral began to weep. "How kind of you to say that," she said. "I hoped my family would be proud of me when we met again on this side. I tried to educate myself as well as I could so I would have a lot to tell my family when they came."
"I think it is wonderful you have been so brave," I said. "Visiting the Indians in their spirit worlds and the blacks in theirs. You have even visited the ghostly battlefields where all the soldiers meet on the other side."
"The children's hereafter is the saddest of all," said Coral.
"Oh, I am sure it is," I said. I wanted to stop her from telling me about the children's hereafter. I thought it would be too sad for words. But then I thought better of myself and said, "I am sure you were there for a while. You must have been very sad."
"There weren't nearly so many children in the hereafter then as there is now," said Coral with her eyes glittering. I bowed my head. I don't know why but I felt ashamed to think things had gotten worse instead of better. Doctors had worked so hard to improve the life span of children, so what had gone wrong?
I could see Coral didn't want to talk about it, so she must be very affected indeed. She seemed like such a brave soul, as though no subject could ever daunt her, but now I was seeing something in her face and eyes that troubled me.
We just sat in silence for a while on the bench in the park. Finally Coral seemed to recover. Sadness in heaven? Even good people like Coral discouraged? Could the end of the world be coming after all? What was killing all the children?
"They are," said Coral, reading my mind. "People."
"I know, but in greater numbers than ever? That is hard to believe."
"Come and see for yourself," said Coral in an indifferent voice. "Although I don't suppose you are up to it!"
"Yes, if it is that bad, I had better go and see. I shouldn't put it off. I have been worried about the future of earth, but I guess I thought heaven was eternal."
"Not unless people learn to preserve life. If they don't value life, they soon won't be able to sustain life. Life as we know it will end. People aren't learning their lessons any more. They have given up improving themselves. If the savages overrun the civilized people all progress will stop."
"What can I do?" I asked, realizing that I sounded pitifully inadequate.
"You can pitch in and help me," said Coral. "I have studied all the hereafters and I know where the most help is needed. If I find a spot for you, will you be willing to go into the toughest areas that exist in the hereafter? You will have to deal with dreadful people. The worst savages you can possibly imagine."
"I thought I had already dealt with them."
"No, these are worse. We call them the resisters. They are resisting every argument that is brought before them. They aren't listening to anybody."
"Then how do we reach them?"
"We don't. We just study them. We don't know what will reach them. That is why we have to study them, so we can try to figure out what happened to them. Why they are resisting everything now. Time is of the essence. We must reach them before they have managed to figure out how to destroy all the galaxies. How to end time."
"I thought I already knew people like that. They want oblivion."
"That is what they want," said Coral. "We have them here now in endless numbers, threatening to destroy all the hereafters. They have never been so strong."
I felt quite frightened. We were sitting here so calmly. Why was she telling me this? Was Coral mad?
I didn't think I really had a choice though. I was going to have to go with Coral and see what unimaginable hordes she was talking about, see if they really existed. I hoped not. I really didn't know that I was up to this, but what choice did I have? If she said there was a terrible threat to continued life, perhaps there really was. The idea of existence after death was such an unbelievable concept anyway. I felt very lucky I had resurrected my spirit enough to meet up with Coral again. Perhaps we really were not existing. Perhaps this was the stuff of nightmares. But Coral looked very strong. Her eyes were steady. She seemed to know what she was doing.
"Well, let's go," I said, "I am ready."
"Are you sure?" said Coral.
"I am sure. I trust you, Coral. You are my sister. I never saw you do a bad thing. I think you are still a good person. What is more I think you are even stronger now. Yes, I will follow you anywhere, even into an unimaginable hell, if you say that is where I am needed."
Coral got up silently and I began to follow her down a long dusty road.