"Now that I have had a nice nap, Earl, I feel more like talking. I haven't seen any other people. Don't tell me I am your only guest!"
"Do you feel like seeing people?"
"Do I have a choice?"
"Of course, you have a choice. We always have a choice about whether we are going to want to see people. Even more so here. Where everything is made to order. We aim to please. I pride myself on being able to read the minds of my guests, at least at first. I took you as a lady who needed a long rest. Who must not be hurried or made to see people before she is ready."
"Well, I have had quite a journey. I don't know when I will be ready to tackle interacting again. May I ask, do you allow drinking here?"
"No. In hell, people still drink, but when we come here we have more or less conquered our vices. I, for example no longer smoke or drink. I hardly require anything to eat at all."
"Hmm, maybe I am in the wrong place. I don't know whether I am ready for a starvation diet or not, but I did want to stop making food the center of my existence."
"Well, so did I. I would much rather just have a pleasant chat out here on the south porch, than I would even think about eating. Do you mind?"
"Oh, no, it will be a pleasure. Although I have no idea what fuels our energy here."
"We aren't real in the sense that we were on earth. We are more figments of our imagination. You will see how it all works in time. Don't fret about that right now, or it will ruin your day. Just accept what is for now."
"I will try. The horses look real. The grass is so green. I have always loved green pastures, haven't you?"
"Yes, that's why I am the caretaker of a green pasture. There is nothing more beautiful and peaceful."
"The sound of that little creek flowing through the pasture is so soothing to my ears. Looks as though there are a lot of birds. How nice. I really can't say how long it has been since I was this close to a green pasture. I only got to see them on golf courses and the like on the Internet. I haven't seen so many birds since I was a child. Walking in my Grandfather's green pastures. That is how I came to love them so."
"Oh no, he never wanted to die. He thought his beautiful green ranch was paradise."
"So now another green pasture has been created just for you because you love them so."
"I would hate to think it was created just for me."
"Lots of people love green pastures. Don't worry, we get many requests for them. People wanting to recreate peaceful feelings they had sometime in their lives. They want to get back to a sense of well being and harmony."
"I was getting awfully old and decrepit. I knew I was going to have to lay my tired bones down at some point. I knew a change it was a comin'!"
"Are you disappointed?"
"How could I be, sitting here in this peaceful place. I don't seem to be in a hurry to go anywhere. I am just going to enjoy it, and your company, if I may. Now what did you say you used to do besides ranch?"
"I was a man of many interests. I used to publish books, as a matter of fact. I was all involved in the world of books. When I retired I decided to go out west and buy a ranch so I could become a man of the earth again, so I'd be comfortable you might say when I returned to the earth. I did not want to raise cattle. I just bought a small ranch and some horses I could take out on the trails. I just brought along whatever I thought I would enjoy, a dog, a couple of cats. I began to live very simply again."
"So you know a lot about books?"
"That was my world for about 40 years. I understand you had been writing your memoir when you expired."
"Yes, I had a very difficult early life living on a ranch. My father was a cattle rancher."
"A businessman of sorts. Hmm. Well, I liked publishing memoirs. They were some of my favorite kind of books. I couldn't find enough of them, good ones that is."
"Don't you think people have lost interest in reading books?"
"Not in my world. That was all anyone ever talked about. I went out west to get away from a business I had been in far too long. You can get tired of anything if you do it long enough. I started doing a lot of hiking in this rugged country around here instead. It was very restful to me, getting away from all that bookish talk."
"I am sorry. I didn't mean to talk about something that no longer interests you."
"That isn't it at all. I just wanted to celebrate my body for a change. So I did that until I passed over. It was a very satisfying way for me to spend the last fifteen years of my life, but now I don't mind talking about your memoir if that is what you want to talk about."
"I don't think I do. I decided to write a novel when I got stuck with my memoir. Guess what I wanted to imagine? My hereafter. Do you think I had a death wish?"
"Not at all. You knew that was your next move, so you wanted to get prepared. I must be the kind of man you wanted to meet, someone who would understand your outdoors life as a child and your interest in writing, someone who did not drink. I take it you have not known many men well who did not drink during your life time."
"Enough so I supposed I would have to die before I met any interesting men who were into sobriety."
"People drank in my world of books, surprisingly more than they drank in the ranch world I created for myself. Of course, I did not befriend any wild outdoors men who drank. If I could see they had a drinking problem, I was polite but did not pursue their company. I wanted to get away from people with such vices. So I mostly had to keep the company of horses and dogs and cats and wild animals. Gradually I made a few friends who were trying to get clean. Didn't want to smoke or drink or do drugs. It was liberating to talk to people who were entirely free of such indulgences. My dog of course was tremendously good company."
"Well, I did meet a few women who cleaned up their acts when they learned that I did not care to associate with people with vices. I had some argue with me. I was polite. I listened but I did not encourage them to come again."
"Men can be more ruthless than women, perhaps. Which might be a strength. I just always knew it was not my destiny to find any sober companions before I died. And I did not."
"Oh, then perhaps you deserved to meet me. You have been suffering a long time."
"I am afraid so, since I swore that I would never smoke or drink or do drugs. But I did not have the means to isolate myself, so I kept meeting those men in passing, and soon found myself trying to help them."
"I admit I took the means from my hard work as a publisher to create a more perfect world for myself, so I could shut out these people you are talking about. Now here I have created the same kind of world I created there so people like you can come here and recover. Where do you suppose the last companion you tried to help has gone?"
"Oh, he passed, but I am sure he is in some hell somewhere because he did not believe in a hereafter. I would say, come on, let us work on our hereafters. And he would just sneer and say there was no such a thing. I believe that a hereafter is somehow of our own creation, but that people had been creating lovely hereafters for centuries. I am sure you were able to use your experiences on earth to create this peaceful little ranch where people could come and find healing."
"Yes, if your ideas about hereafters and mine rather jive we could share one for a while. You like green meadows, a peaceful stream, and horses grazing, birds singing in the trees, as I do. We could sit on this weathered old porch of a ranch house and talk about books for a while."
"I think that is a very nice idea. You haven't said anything so far that turns me off. I just could not help that last old fellow any more. The vodka was killing him. He eventually took his departure."
"And you have no desire to look him up, reunite?"
"Oh no, I warned him we would land in altogether different places, since I was working on my hereafter and he wasn't. I doubt if he has even come out of his coma yet, you know the one where he falls into oblivion and does not wake up. He was very determined that was how it was going to be. I picture the first stage after death as a great number of people in comas."
"I must not have stayed in that stage long. Maybe briefly. I can't imagine you staying in a coma long either."
"I kept my eyes wide open. I thought passing was going to be a great adventure. Now somehow or another I landed here. And it has not been bad at all. I think it is what I need. I do enjoy the company of a gentleman. My last companion was raised by very civilized people so he had good manners, but alcohol still had a deleterious effect on him, after all. It was sad to see."
"Yes, I am acquainted with the effects of alcohol. I had quite a few dear friends among the writers who were seriously addicted. I finally had to get away from them, too. I couldn't help them either. I was accused of abandoning civilization itself when I left that world, but I paid no attention, since I had gotten fatigued with at all. I was afraid I would not live long if I did not get out of there, so I went. By leaving I was able to have 15 more good years before I departed, so it was worth it. I doubt if I would have lived another year had I stayed. So I was content in the world I had to create for myself in order to stay alive. I no longer was nearly so popular or famous, but I survived with many less such friends who drained me to the bone. I have always been sensitive and I knew they were getting to me."
The two fell silent as twilight fell after the red haze of a sunset faded. The stars begin to emerge. Shadra began to wonder where they were, surely they could not be on earth or were they? She was not quite sure. Earl got up and stretched. He said he had had a long day, but he had placed some food items on the kitchen table, if she was hungry. He said he thought he would retire, as he wanted to get up early and go for a trail ride. He asked her if she wanted to go. She was surprised and said, "Do you think I am up to it?"
He said, gently, "We could see."
He left silently. A slight breeze had come up. Shadra got up and walked slowly inside. She saw an apple gleaming on a table and wondering if it was real, and if she could really eat it. Well, she would find out.