Call to Heaven
Updated: Jun 3
Updated June 2, 2021
Copyright © 2020, Neal McChristy dba Postemailonline/WFP LLC
Summary: Can you see heaven and live? That has haunted Ralph McConnell, a 15-year old Arkansas youth since an episode at school where he went to heaven, saw Jesus and was accompanied by the Apostle John. The apostle, on earth for over 2,000 years, has become a mentor to Ralph on Earth. Ralph explores teen feelings he goes to college and launches his first flirtation Ralph’s father dies after an accident, but that is not all of the upsetting developments in his young life as he attempts to deal with his father’s absence. He has a succession of doubts after a romantic breakup and then doubts about his NDE experience. In this episode, presumptions fall. Ralph is stalked by an anti-Christian dowser of dreams.
Episode 10 June 2, 2021
March came in a dull, gray haze, draping across the sun and filling the streets and walks at the university with just enough rainfall to wet the soles of shoes. It alternated with a scattering of ice and tiny snow icebergs underfoot.
The spring semester found Ralph marking time until the next. The white dogwood flowers arrived on campus, mixed in with the pink of the redbud as spring burst in with color. The earth turning to warmth didn’t reflect Ralph’s heart. He churned into his studies and spent some time with Professor Sam, who was a wealth of information about his questions about Near-Death Experiences. He started dispelling doubts — very slowly, but steadily.
He chanced on Elizabeth one day on campus, and she had some time to kill, so they went to the snack bar.
While they exchanged “how you beens” and some talks about studies, Ralph marveled at how her eyes were a piercing brown and complemented her dark-brown hair and olive skin. He thought about asking her out but realized how awkward that would be.
“I don’t think you should give up,” she said abruptly.
“On Lana? You’re more optimistic than I am.”
“Ralph, you’re a good guy with a loving heart. I think she’ll come back to you.”
“Tell me,” Ralph said. “Would you?”
She looked at him quizzically at first, then said, “If I had a guy like you and dumped you for someone else, then regretted it, I’d come back to you in a New York minute.”
He wasn’t sure the meaning of the hint of a smile on her face.
“She regrets it?”
“I best not say any more.”
She asked about singing, and Ralph had abandoned the singing regularly with them, even though the thought sometimes gave him a tug. They had hugged good-bye, and he was left with some encouragement where there had been doubt. But since she was the one to leave, the first move was up to her.
Soon, June arrived with the buzz of insects and shedding of coats and even heavy shirts.
Ralph’s work at a bookstore manufactured an excuse to spend the break before summer school in the college town. He just couldn’t live at home while John lived with his mom. She talked cheerfully, though somewhat blithely, on the phone, as she always did, though. He often thought of his mom’s words and sometimes there was comfort; sometimes there was a sort of dissonance, like a note sounded sharp or flat in a song.
He needed the money working part-time at the bookstore. His schedule was crowded, though. There was little time to go to the bar with Joe, even though tempted. Women came into the bookstore and he was friendly and helpful, as his boss had told him to be. His boss spent the day in his office writing most of the time, except for a trip out for coffee. He was a columnist for some obscure political magazine, in addition to writing what Ralph determined in a peek to be a novel. Ralph Googled his name and found that Jerome Samuelson, his boss, had three novels that had hit the New York Times Best Sellers List. No wonder he didn’t have to spend much time selling books in the store.
“Did you see this?” Samuelson brought in an article and laid it before Ralph. It was from a Chicago newspaper. “Heavenly experiences are rare but occur.” Jana had syndicated her story, and the Chicago paper picked it up.
Here we go again.
Jerome Samuelson stood in front of the desk a while. “Don’t worry,” he said. “Your personal life doesn’t make any difference to me, as long as you’re not a felon…”
Then he continued. “But what an interesting experience. You’re one of a select club.”
“It’s a blessing,” Ralph said, “but sometimes not.”
Later, Ralph was making sure receipts balanced with the bookstore account when someone cleared their throat. He smelled her unique perfume before looking up.
She held a book, but he couldn’t see the title.
“I heard you were working here,” she said, “so I decided to check it out.”
“Mr. Samuelson is a generous man,” Ralph said. “Generous enough to give me a job.”
There were a few book “lookers” wandering about, but he could spend most of his time looking at her, with a short skirt showing those thin, muscular legs he had enjoyed so much and eyes that were always sparkling.
“You read the paper?” He pushed the Chicago paper to her.
“Yep,” she said. “Already did.” Obviously, that wasn’t why she was here.
In a “what the hell” move, he said, “Wanna come to a concert with me next Saturday?”
She tilted her head and showed a smile. “Gutsy.”
He raised his eyes and tossed his head. “Yeah.”
“I miss you,” she said. “Let’s go. Who is it?”
He named one of the premier performers and she got the particulars. He could hardly wait.
I am a pool for lost causes, he thought to himself as he walked home. He was not sure where this would lead. He was not even sure how he would treat her. Was this a signal that she wanted to break off with the other dude she was going with? Am I back in?
“Keep your expectations low,” Joe told him. “She’s taken.
“Then why would she go out with me?”
“Maybe like she said, it was gutsy.” He shook his head at his roommate. “Like I said, don’t expect too much.”
But Ralph did, and when Saturday arrived he had both his old Chevy and himself cleaned and polished. When he went by to get her, Lana was waiting at the door. She looked stunning, and he told her so.
The first thing she did was lean across the console and kiss him, long and hard. “This is gonna be fun,” she said.
During the concert, she was leaning into him, whispering in his ear, even grabbing his thigh. After several hours of that, his senses were zinging with excitement. They went to a bar for a drink. When they left it, the door stuck and as she tried to unstick it, her hair fell across his face and he got a whiff of her unique perfume. His senses were raging when he got into his old Chevy Caprice with her and started the engine.
There was a lot of giggling coming from the passenger seat, especially when Lana told him, playfully, that Elizabeth was home for the weekend.
“Whaddya mean by that?” he looked at her.
“The apartment is ours,” she said. He looked at her quizzically. He stopped the car and pulled over.
“Lana, what’s going on here?”
She giggled again. “I’m not over you. Isn’t that obvious?”
“But Ali — ”
She straightened up a little. “You know I don’t like being pinned down.”
“Yeah, that was the start of our relationship – I mean, how it started.”
“Ali’s been more controlling lately. It just makes me crazy.”
“Because you were tied down once and he dumped you.”
“Oooo. Somebody’s taking lessons from a shrink.” She said it lightheartedly and he took it that way.
“OK, Lana,” he said. “I never wanted to make love to a woman as much as I do you now– “
“Then do,” she said, “but I sense a ‘but.’ ”
“I want you back,” he said. “If you enjoyed yourself tonight as much as I did, you’re thinking the same thing.”
She straightened herself again. “Let’s get to my apartment.”
Doubt mingled with Ralph’s elation. I don’t want to be dumped again. Period.
The lovemaking was as hot, steamy, and intense as before. More so. He decided not to ruin it with any attempt at a commitment. She must have said thirty times how she loved him, and he was always impressed with how free-wheeling she could be in bed. His doubts melted into joy of the many times they enjoyed each other.
In her looped handwriting were several names on the list, Benjamin Kohl among them. Also someone in the area that took several hours to drive, in a wooded area of northern Arkansas. Gloria Celsus knew from reading the Chicago paper that he had also had one of the visions. She did not know if he was vulnerable to “flipping” to anti-vision mode or not, but she was hopeful.
Gloria’s fundamentalist Christian mother had given her a heavenly name twenty-five years ago. Had she known her current quest, she would have — at the very least — have shunned her daughter. Gloria, who by any standard was a head-turner, had one goal. She gathered names of those who had visions of heaven. Her mission was to sow doubt about these “visionaries” spreading what her group considered fables.
She had believed in God, Jesus, and heaven once. Her belief eroded quickly when she was sexually assaulted in the baptistery of their church after a church dinner. She was just playing in the baptistery with an older man, which she thought would be a little risqué and fun. It turned into a brutal assault. They were discovered in the act and escorted out of the baptistery by the preacher. The preacher hushed it all to secrecy. Wounded by the raw and brutal assault and beyond recovery, she still didn’t turn in the boy who assaulted her.
It was betrayal. It was a seething rebellion from a broken promise in her mind. Anger turned her like magma flowing from her very being. When she became an adult and in college, she engaged in a number of groups — some religions; some not — that included discourses about the religious visions people had. The religious classes were to try to understand – to know who this God was that allowed such abuse. But after a class or two, she realized she would never understand what happened to her.
One day, she was in a religious college class and a woman about her age approached her afterwards.
“I was wondering if you would help me,” the woman said.
“I’ve heard your comments in our class discussion. Your skepticism about believers is obvious. I’m not a believer, either. I need someone like you to help me.”
“There is a whole world of people who see visions, as you know,” she smirked, “and they actually believe in them. You’ve read it in the books and papers. They think they have seen heaven and its wonders.”
“You would help us find them and expose them. And you would be paid.”
The idea had merit. From the top evangelists to the everyday testimonials she had heard, there were thousands who believed in what Gloria had said in class was “this hokum about seeing God and Jesus.” Countering it would satisfy some of the pushback she felt about those who hurt her. Plus, she could squelch the entire “vision thing” that was popularized in movies and in the books they read. For Gloria, who most closely believed in nothing now, she could help squash the myths.
“I’ve seen you know what is real and what is not,” this woman said. “The group I am with is trying to establish some skepticism in what these people believe — that really, nothing holy happened to them.”
The quest was customized for her own skepticism. Standing there clinging to her backpack, she was hooked. And for pay? She needed money to finish college, so that made it even sweeter.
“How do I find them?”
“Word-of-mouth, papers,” the woman said. “These people can’t stay quiet, most of the time.” She produced the Courier article Ralph was in. “Like here.”
Gloria gave little thought before saying, “Okay, I’m in.”
Now, weeks later, she had suspended school and was initiating a few locations to try in Arkansas. She had not contacted this Benjamin Kohl yet, but his name was there, as was Brad Lincoln and Ralph. She ventured into the Mountain Home area of Arkansas a few days later.
The diner was a green, woodlike structure with gaudy menu items on its windows and the smell of grease, pancakes, and coffee. Faces turned toward her at the counter, mostly old men wearing caps, with varying facial and ear hair and sporting paunches that showed they had frequented the chrome-and-red-upholstered chairs too often.
She didn’t take a booth, waving the waitress away carrying a menu and moving to a counter stool. The waitress raised her eyebrows at the move, but it was strategic. She wanted to overhear the latest gossip and she knew where to hang out.
She was sitting by two EMTs, who quickly stopped gawking at her as their eggs and pancakes arrived, squirting the eggs with McIlhenny’s pepper sauce and the pancakes with coned squirt-bottles of syrup and talking contentedly about what they did that week.
“Larry had a busy week,” one said. “Four resuscitations, bringing one back from the dead.”
The blond EMT laughed. “After that, Larry talked about a friend in high school who talked about seein’ Jesus after fainting.”
The other EMT snorted. “Read something in the paper back a while and something was in the Chicago paper. What was his name…” and his voice trailed off.
“Ralph McConnell,” the blond EMT said. “Had a bunch of write-ups in religious pubs and even the Springfield Courier.”
“Oh, yeah, where’d he go?”
“Larry said his dad died. McConnell’s still at Southwest Missouri State.”
Gloria had ordered a roll and coffee by this time. She was marveling at her incredible luck at having two people talk about Ralph McConnell, whom she was pursuing. She now even had where he attended college. She would do a search to find where he was. First, though, to find out where Southwest Missouri State was.
“Pardon me,” she asked the blond EMT, and immediately he turned to her. “I heard you mention Southwest Missouri State and I’m supposed to market school supplies there later. How do you get there?”
“Oh, heck, that’s Southwest Missouri State at Springfield. Just about one hundred and fifty miles from here.”
He gave her better directions than she ever could have gotten from a GPS, though she also had one of those in her car. She flirted with him a little, as she always did, hoping he might give her more information. But she knew she had limits. She thought of asking where Ralph might be staying, but instead, decided to find out herself. She had ways.
As she left, the blond EMT gave a low whistle.
“Wow,” he said. “Southwest Missouri State is going to light up when that blond lovely arrives.”