An Unforgettable Melody - Epilogue

An Unforgettable Melody - Epilogue

Well, this is it; we’ve arrived at the end.  This has been an incredibly fun and invigorating journey.  I can’t thank everyone enough for their support and thoughts as I’ve written this series.  The only thing that has made me happier than connecting with Mike and Melody is seeing how many others enjoy connecting with them as well.  The epilogue contains no sex or erotic scenes, but I hope you enjoy it all the same, as this has always been the ending I have envisioned for the series.  As always, please rate and comment as you feel so inclined.  I hope you all have enjoyed reading this series as much as I have enjoyed writing it, and I hope you will come back to reread it many times in the future.  Thank you again. – auguy86

Epilogue Song Titles

I’ll Fly Away (Johnny Cash)

An Unforgettable Melody - Epilogue

To all the world, they appeared to be a normal, if surprisingly healthy elderly couple. But to each other, Mike and Melody were still as young and energetic as the day they first met over one hundred years ago. Still as in love as the day they married, nothing in the universe could ever hope to crack their undying dedication.

Their two children, Harry and Maya, had grown into wonderful adults and lived long, fulfilling lives, raising families of their own. Harry discovered a natural capability as a leader, becoming a long-serving member of the Georgia State Legislature. In spite of his political success, he never desired to run for governor or a position in the United States Congress, saying, “I never want to lose my connection to the people who gave me this job.” Maya, following in her father’s musical footsteps, became a renowned violinist, playing in several orchestras around the country before breaking out as a popular solo recording artist. By the time of her retirement, her success and popularity had brought about a surge in school-aged children wanting to learn the violin.

The long life Mike and Melody enjoyed was not without consequence, as they had outlived both of their children. They felt an enormous sense of pride in the wonderful lives and families that their kids had been blessed with, but there was always something that felt unnatural about parents burying their own children. In their old age, the couple kept to themselves for the most part, not wanting to make new friends that they would again outlive and have to say goodbye to. Even so, their unwavering faith never diminished.

As Mike lay on their bed, his wife cuddling in his arms, he reflected on all this and the incredible blessings he had been given in his life. Though he had enjoyed immense health for a century, he had always said he did not want his life to be prolonged beyond what his body could endure. As such, he could tell that his body was close to shutting down. Gazing into his wife’s lovely emerald eyes, he kissed her tenderly.

“It’s almost time, isn’t it?” he asked.

Nodding, she replied, “It is, but… I’m ready. When you die, I will die with you. We will never be separated, of this I’m sure.”

“I’m ready too,” he said with a smile. “We’ve had to say goodbye to too many great people; Mom and Dad, our kids, Darcy, Stuart, Ashley, Trey…”

“We’ll see them again,” she reassured him.

“I know,” he mused . “When we die, so I’ll know, what will happen to your body? After all, I wouldn’t want people to think I mysteriously murdered my wife and hid her body!” he joked.

Melody giggled, as sweetly as she had the day he first met her. “Don’t worry, I will leave behind a body with yours. To the world, we will have died in each other’s arms.”

Feeling his end approaching, he drew his wife close, kissing her one last time.

“Thank you, Melody. I love… you…”

Slowly, his vision began to fade… into darkness…

*****

Awaking with a start, Mike gasped and panted, working to comprehend where he was. He found himself dressed in a tailored, tan suit with a blue tie and brown loafers. Looking around him, he was sitting on a sidewalk of a downtown area, yet he saw no other people. Still, the streets were far too clean for this to be a ghost town.

“Melody?” he called, but heard no reply. “Melody!”

Melody, Melody can you hear me?

Even in his mind, he heard nothing. Mike was now afraid; there was no sign of his wife anywhere. As he looked in every direction for her, he noticed an enormous building a block or two over.

“Guess that’s where I’m supposed to be heading,” he muttered to himself as he began his walk up the street towards the building.

As the entrance to the building came into view, Mike could tell that it was even larger than it first appeared, stretching upward into the low-hanging clouds. The entrance was guarded by a set of enormous gates. In front of the gates stood a large, imposing man dressed in a black suit with dark sunglasses covering his eyes. Despite his strong appearance, the man had one of the warmest smiles on his face that Mike had ever seen in his life.

“Hello, sir,” the man said as Mike approached.

“Hi, um… I think I’m lost.”

“Nah, you’re not lost. All I need is to see your invitation, and you can head on inside,” the man replied.

Searching his coat and pants pockets, Mike found nothing. “I don’t seem to have an invitation… where exactly would I have gotten one?”

Holding his hand up, the man said, “It’s alright, not everyone has an invite. If you know me, you can still go on in. So, do you know me?”

“I don’t believe so, but I’d love to get to know you. Mike Braxton,” Mike said, extending his hand in greeting.

“Good to know you, Mike. Name’s Pete. I’m the greatest bouncer in the universe,” he replied, shaking Mike’s hand. “So, do you know me?”

“Do I… know you?”

His wording confused Mike. Hesitating, Mike pondered what Pete could be getting at before answering.

“Pete?” Mike asked.

“Yep.”

“The greatest bouncer in the universe?”

“That’s me.”

“Pete… Pete…” Mike continued to mutter to himself. “Wait a sec… Pete wouldn’t be short for Peter, would it?”

“Why, yes. Yes it would be.”

“As in… The Rock on Which I Shall Build My Church?” Mike said with a grin.

“It seems you do know me,” he said with a smile.

“Saint Peter himself!” Mike exclaimed, immediately grabbing him in a bro-hug. “So… is this it? Is this Heaven?” Mike asked.

“Yes and no,” Pete said with a shrug. “All your questions will be answered in this building behind me, but I’m not the right person to answer them. Head on in, and at the main lobby, take the first hallway on the right, room 107.” With a snap of his fingers, the gates creaked open.

Stepping through the gates, Mike turned back and asked Pete, “By the way, you haven’t happened to see my wife come this way, have you? A girl about my height, red wine hair, gorgeous emerald eyes… have you seen her?”

Thinking for a moment, Pete replied, “I see a whole lot of people come through here, so I can’t be certain, but that description does sound familiar.”

Breathing a sigh of relief, Mike waved goodbye to Pete and entered the enormous building as the gates locked behind him. As he stepped inside the warm brown hallways of the building, Mike was overwhelmed by the sheer number of people, all in a flurry of activity. He noticed that all of them were dressed in tan suits identical to his, with pants and ties for the gentlemen and skirts and scarves for the ladies. Quite a few had on blue ties or scarves as he did, but a great many had on yellow ones. He couldn’t be sure, but the ones with yellow seemed a great deal more stressed than the others he passed. As he looked around for his hallway, a pair of little boys flew past him.

“Hurry up, John!” one of them called.

“Ok, ok, wait up Rich!” the other said.

“Huh, interesting,” Mike mused to himself. “Those kids were wearing green ties. Wonder if all that means anything?”

Turning down the first hallway, he waked for a few paces before arriving at a door labeled “107.” Taking a deep breath, he opened the door and stepped inside, finding an office with chairs, a huge desk, and a rolling chair turned away from him.

“Hello?” he said as he entered. “Is anyone here?”

“Well, well,” said the occupant of the enormous desk chair. “It’s ‘bout time you showed up here, boy.”

As the chair turned, Mike did a double take and rubbed his eyes. In the chair sat a man, perhaps in his late twenties or early thirties, wearing a dark black suit, with jet-black hair and thick, round glasses. The Texan drawl and huge grin on his face seemed familiar, but the hair kept throwing Mike off.

“You… sound like Harry Weston,” Mike said. “But there’s only one way you could actually be the Harry Weston.”

The man chuckled. “Welp, the only way I could be Harry Weston… is to be sweeeeeeet,” he said bleating like a sheep on the last word.

As Mike’s face turned to one of joy and exuberance, he exclaimed, “Oh my GOD! Granddaddy! It is you! It’s really you!” He soon found himself wrapped up in one of Harry’s signature bear hugs.

“Boy, I tell you what, you’re somethin’ else,” Harry said as he released his grandson.

“Ok, tell me. What’s going on here? Is this Heaven or not? Pete out front said it was and it wasn’t.”

“He’s right, boy. Think of this building as the customs house. Everyone comes through here first before learning where they’ll go next,” Harry explained.

“Customs house… does that mean that Melody is here?”

After a brief laugh, Harry said, “Melody’s already come and gone. Sweet girl, I tell you what. She was so excited to meet me; seems you’ve been talkin’ me up.”

“Come and gone? Where is she?”

“Well, she’s already on the other side, boy!”

“Other side?”

“Sit down, sit down, I’ll explain everything.” The pair sat at Harry’s desk as he began to elaborate. “When you first entered the building, I’m sure you saw that everyone was dressed alike, save for one thing. Did you notice that one thing?”

“Uh, yeah. Everyone had different colored ties and scarves on.”

“Right. Those colors are an indicator of a person’s status here in the customs house.  There are four colors: green, blue, yellow, and red, and they each mean different things. Now, which colors did you see?”

“Quite a few blue and a whole lot of yellow,” Mike replied.

“Very good. Did you happen to see any green by chance?”

“Umm… yeah, there were these two little boys that ran past me. They had green ties on.”

“That’s the first status. Green means that you’re guaranteed to get into Heaven, with no waiting or facing of your sins. Greens are a bit uncommon, since it’s mainly reserved for children who die before they can grasp the concepts of good and evil and make their own choice. Also, anyone who was enslaved in some way or had no choice or free will in the circumstances of their life is made a green as well. We call these people the ‘Innocents’, in that they never had the chance to accept or reject God to begin with. As a matter of fact, Melody was a green herself.”

“Really?” Mike said in surprise. “But, I gave her free will, and she chose on her own to learn about God and his teachings.”

“That’s true, and believe me, that’s a big factor in your status as well. But in the end, she was still enslaved from birth and had no choice in the direction her life took, granting her the status of green.”

With a sullen look on his face, Mike said, “I… participated in that enslavement. Guess that means I could be in serious trouble here…”

Laughing, Harry gave him a friendly slap on the head, saying, “Not so fast, boy. Look at your tie. What color is it?”

“It’s blue.”

“Exactly. Blue is the next status, and the second most common of the four. What it means is this: you’ve been deemed unworthy of going to Hell at all. Unless you request to go, you won’t be sent there. Where you go from the customs house depends on your upcoming hearing. In that hearing, you will have your sins and shortcomings made clear to you, and you will have to respond to them. If you respond well, you’ll be granted immediate entry into Heaven. If not, then you’ll have to work through your shortcomings in Purgatory.”

“Purgatory?!” Mike said, laughing to himself. “Are you tellin’ me that the Catholics had it right all along?”

Harry laughed out loud at his realization. “Yep, that they did! You ever read Dante’s Divine Comedy?”

“Yeah, about his journey through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven.”

“Well, he pretty much hit the nail on the head, at least as far as Hell and Purgatory are concerned. Purgatory is in essence a mountain, as he described, that one must climb to work off their sins and be deemed worthy of entering Heaven. How long you’re there for depends on the severity of your shortcomings and your own will and determination. For example, another blue, Gandhi, was going to be admitted into Heaven, but he felt that he was not ready, and, in an unprecedented move, asked for time in Purgatory to better himself. When it was all said and done, it took him only six hours to climb Mount Purgatory. It takes most people days, weeks, sometimes many years to do so.”

“So, you’re saying that I’m going to be on trial? And the outcome of that trial determines where I go?” Mike asked.

“Well yes, but trial isn’t the best way to describe it. They won’t be in the Judgment Chamber to determine your guilt, as that has already been determined, not only for you, but also for everyone in the customs house. After all, nobody except the Son of God Himself lived a life free of sin.”

“Ok, I guess that makes sense,” Mike said, feeling more at ease. “So how can I best respond to my sins and shortcomings?”

Harry frowned, saying, “I’m sorry, but I can’t tell you that. It’s something you’ve gotta discover for yourself.”

“Guess I better think on that,” Mike replied, now beginning to worry.

“Anyhow, next in line is yellow, by far the most common status,” Harry continued. “They almost made you a yellow, but your efforts in teaching Melody about free will and God’s love prompted them to upgrade you to blue. Those who are yellows could end up anywhere. In most cases, their hearing determines whether they go to Purgatory or Hell. They can also gain immediate entry into Heaven, though this is somewhat less common. Purgatory is the most likely destination for a yellow, though anything is possible, depending on the severity of their sins and their response to them.

“Finally, the last status is red. I bet don’t even need me to tell ya what that means.”

Nodding Mike said, “One-way ticket downstairs?”

“Yep. Only the worst of the worst, which knowingly did enormous amounts of evil, are assigned this status. They don’t receive a hearing, but they must still stand before the Throne of God and face all their sins brought to bear. Thankfully, reds are quite rare; it is a status reserved only for the most deserving individuals. If there is any doubt at all as to whether they warrant this status, they’re upgraded to yellow, no questions asked.”

“Wow, that’s heavy stuff,” Mike said with a sigh.

“Sure is. Anyway, your hearing is coming up soon. Before that, there’s one matter of business to attend to. Everyone is allowed to watch one other person’s hearing before their own, so that they can see what goes on beforehand. It can be anyone of your choosing, so how ‘bout we head back out to the lobby and find us a good candidate?”

“Sounds good,” Mike replied, standing and exiting the office.

As they stood back in the lobby, the hustle and bustle of the many souls moving through never slowed. Mike watched with intent, wanting to consider several potential candidates before making a decision. As he watched, a blood-curdling scream erupted from the other side of the room.

“NO!!! I do not accept this! I am a martyr! A saint!”

A man was fuming off to the side of the lobby, speaking to a larger man dressed in a black suit. As the angry man attempted to attack, an invisible force knocked him off his feet to the ground, where he was swarmed and restrained by three more men in black suits.

“What was that?” Mike asked.

“Look at his tie,” Harry replied.

Mike could see that the man’s tie was red. “What did he do?” Mike asked.

Bowing his head, Harry explained, “In life, he fought for a terrorist group made up of religious extremists. Though he saw himself as servant of God, his crimes were heinous. He captured a bus full of twelve year-old girls to make them all slaves for his group and brainwashed many of them to try to get them to join up. His final act was to go into an elementary school right as class was letting out and detonate a bomb strapped to his chest. He killed fifty kids in that act alone.”

Taking this new information in, Mike finally replied, “I don’t need to see what happens to him. A part of me does want to see him punished, but I guess that wouldn’t make me much better than him, would it?”

“I agree,” Harry said with a smile.

Scanning the room, Mike’s eye caught sight of a man with a yellow tie that he recognized as a prominent politician from Georgia. He had served alongside Mike’s son for several years before being elected governor. Though he talked about his faith in God and family values, Mike had long suspected that he was one of the most corrupt men in the state. Every law he signed seemed to do nothing but grow and consolidate his own power. Since Harry had said that Mike had almost been a yellow, Mike thought this would be a good person to observe.

“What about him?” Mike asked, pointing to the man.

With a chuckle, Harry answered, “Henry Buchannan? Excellent choice.”

Harry led the way up to a booth on the third floor where they would view Henry’s hearing in the Judgment Chamber. There were identical booths lining the wall of the circular room, extending upward for about eight floors, though Mike noticed a section between ten o’clock and two o’clock completely devoid of booths. Most of the occupants in these booths were dressed in black suits, like Harry, though a few were wearing the same tan suits Mike had on. He surmised that the ones wearing black suits must be those who had already made it into Heaven.

The ground level of the large chamber was a circular floor containing several panels on the wall that appeared to be able to open. In the smaller, inner circle stood two podiums, each surrounded by circular wooden railings. Soon the light began to darken, and a ring of large men in black suits and sunglasses entered from the many panels around the room, surrounding the edge of the ground floor and standing in the shadows just beyond the illuminated center of the chamber.

“Who are they?” Mike asked.

“Security,” Harry replied. “An elite group of God’s angels. They are not to be messed with.”

As he finished speaking, the two podiums began to shine with an ethereal light, growing brighter by the second. With a brilliant flash, the entire audience was blinded. Upon opening his eyes, Mike could see Henry standing in the podium to his right, with another man in the podium to the left. He was tall, though not as muscular and imposing as the other men on the floor. His dark black hair and goatee matched his suit for a rather striking appearance.

“That’s Thomas, the Chief Council,” Harry said.

“Thomas? Doubting Thomas?”

Chuckling, he replied, “Yep, though to be honest, he gets a bit of a bad rap. Very few of the Apostles have grown to be as thoughtful and insightful as he has over the centuries. Like I said, nobody’s perfect, but he’s responded to his trademark shortcoming brilliantly.”

As Harry finished speaking, they felt a great rumbling in the chamber. Ahead of them, the section of the chamber wall that lacked seats began to split, slowly opening to reveal a bright light within. As the wall opened, Mike could see an enormous throne on the other side, which soon was sat upon by a gigantic robed figure. The light from the room was intense and concentrated, blinding him to the point that he could only make out the feet of the figure sitting on the throne.

“Is… that?” Mike stuttered.

“You better believe it… the boss man Himself,” Harry replied with a smile.

With all parties now assembled, Thomas began to speak, his authoritative voice echoing throughout the chamber.

“Henry Buchannan, you have passed away from your mortal life and now stand before the Throne of God the Almighty, seeking entry into His kingdom. Before this can happen, you must now answer for your transgressions in life. Said transgressions include, but are not limited to, lying to one’s subjects, theft of money and property by deception from said subjects, multiple accounts of adultery, and corruption of power to an extreme magnitude. Henry Buchannan, do you understand the transgressions as they have been stated to you?”

“Y-Yes, I do,” the man said meekly.

“Very well,” Thomas replied. “How do you answer in regard to lying to your subjects?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Henry said, prompting a derisive snort from Mike.

Not conceding an inch, Thomas held firm, saying, “You are on record in life as making many promises to your subjects, such as a refusal to raise taxes or an oath to reduce eminent domain laws, only to intentionally break those exact promises after gaining power. These facts are indisputable. I ask again, how do you answer?”

“I answer that… I always did what was best for my constituents, even if they did not know for themselves what was best. I lived my life without regret,” Henry replied.

“Very well,” Thomas said. “In life you enacted, though were never caught making, policies that allowed you to secretly embezzle money and property from your subjects, often using complex language to trick them into paying fees or losing property that was rightfully theirs. How do you answer?”

“Now see here!” Henry replied, becoming more agitated. “Every dollar of funds I raised from my constituents went to worthy causes! That I can guarantee! They themselves refused to donate to those causes, even though God Himself commanded them to do so, leaving me no choice but to use the law to correct this problem. I prayed night and day about that decision, and came to the conclusion that it was what God wanted me to do.”

Thomas responded, “Even if it were true that those funds went to worthy causes, I can personally guarantee you that God the Father never instructed you to do such a thing. As it so happens, however, those funds did not go to ‘worthy causes’ as you claim, instead funding the favorite projects of those who would donate to your reelection campaigns. Do you have anything more to add?”

“No, I have no regrets,” Henry said defiantly.

Thomas continued, “Very well. In regards to the multiple accounts of adultery, how do you answer?”

Henry stood in stunned silence for several moments before finally answering, “I… I loved my wife. I love her still today. There was nothing wrong with her, I guess our marriage was… boring.”

“Boring?” Thomas asked, amazed at the man’s audacity. “She gave herself to you, body, mind, and soul. She devoted her life to you. Yet all you can say in regards to breaking your vows to her is that she was… boring?”

“Mankind has always become restless at times, seeking new and exciting adventures,” Henry replied, trying to cover for himself. “It’s our nature, a nature God imbued in us, so nothing could be wrong about it. Again, I have no regrets.”

Thomas then said, “Finally, in regards to the transgression of corruption, how do you answer?”

Staring straight into the counselor’s eyes, Henry replied, “I hate that word. Corruption is what I fought against my entire life. The very notion that you would call me corrupt is… despicable.”

“So, you claim that you did not engage in corrupt practices?”

“Yes I do.”

Shaking his head, Thomas stated, “Your claim is erroneous, and one that you know to be a falsehood. Throughout your life, you frequently ignored the will and needs of your subjects, rejecting their choices as to who should work in your offices alongside you as public servants. You would then replace those choices with individuals that would do your bidding without question. All your actions led you towards one goal: attaining, keeping, growing, and consolidating your own power and influence. Your entire life was one long quest for power over your fellow Man. How do you answer?”

“I am a man of God!” he exclaimed. “Every action I took in service to my constituents was in effort to bring them as close to God as me. The people they would have had me work with were Godless imbeciles! They wouldn’t know the first thing about governing. If the people are misguided in their actions and decisions, it is their leader’s job to correct them, as I did.”

“Very well. Henry Buchannan, this is your final opportunity to speak. Do you have anything more to say before a decision is rendered in regards to your eternal soul?” Thomas asked.

Still defiant, the man simply repeated his mantra once more.

“I have no regrets.”

Soon, the chamber began to rumble as God Himself spoke His judgment.

Foolish man. To commit such egregious transgressions and still have no forethought to truly and earnestly repent of them. To knowingly do such deplorable acts and attempt to claim they are done in My name. Thou hypocrite! He who attempts to lead people to God while being willfully ignorant as to His will is truly a failure. He who sees no fault in his shortcomings and only seeks to blame them on his very creation ignores My greatest gift of all: the free will inherent in all Mankind. You are unworthy to enter My house. Given every opportunity to repent of your sins, you still choose to cling to your own misguided pride. You are UNWORTHY to ever enter My house! I cast you OUT!

The moment He had finished speaking, the platform beneath Henry began to smoke, glowing red. A look of dread and panic spread across his face; he knew he had blown his one shot at redemption. “No… no… no, no, noooooo!!!!” he wailed in desperation. As he cried out, the floor of his platform disappeared beneath him, dropping him into a bottomless, flaming pit.

“Woah… that was intense,” Mike whispered as light began to return to the room.

“I know,” Harry said, “but it was important for you to see. I’m not allowed to tell you how to approach your hearing, but I hope that watching poor Henry gave you some vital information about the answers.”

“I think so. I guess… I’m now more worried than ever.”

“Don’t be. Remember, you’re a blue, not a yellow. It’s already been determined that you’re not deserving of Henry’s fate. In fact, Henry had every opportunity to earn his eternal reward, but that’s not how it ended for him.”

Thinking for a few moments, Mike asked, “What would be the worst case scenario for my hearing?”

Nodding, Harry replied, “God would determine that your transgressions and answers to them are not enough to warrant your immediate entry into Heaven. In that case, you would find yourself at the foot of Mount Purgatory, where you would begin to work off those transgressions during your climb, bettering yourself in the process.”

Taking a deep breath, Mike stated, “Ok, I’m ready.”

Walking down several flights of stairs, Harry led him to a small, empty room with a familiar-looking podium standing on a round platform. Harry shook his grandson’s hand.

“I know you’re worried, and that’s perfectly normal. Remember, regardless of what happens in the Judgment Chamber, that you will see Melody again, you will see me again, you will see all your loved ones again. It’s only a matter of when. Have faith, Mike.”

“Thanks, Granddaddy.”

Stepping onto the platform, Mike quieted his mind and took his place at the podium. As the circular railing now surrounded him, a column of light engulfed the platform, obscuring everything from Mike’s view. With a flash, he stood on the floor of the Judgment Chamber, face-to-face with Thomas. Though he was nervous, Mike couldn’t help but smile, reminding himself that Melody’s warm embrace could be mere moments away. He allowed these thoughts to envelope him, feeling a wave of courage wash over his conscious. He looked up with a pleasant look on his face, ready for whatever Thomas presented to him. The familiar rumbling began once more, revealing the Throne of God and signaling the start of the hearing.

“Mike Braxton,” Thomas spoke. “You have passed away from your mortal life and now stand before the Throne of God the Almighty, seeking entry into His kingdom. Before this can happen, you must now answer for your transgressions in life. Said transgressions include, but are not limited to, instances of taking the Lord’s name in vain, multiple accounts of sex outside of wedlock, among other… unique situations, which we will delve into. Mike Braxton, do you understand the transgressions as they have been stated to you?”

“Yes sir, I do,” Mike replied.

“Very well. How do you answer in regards to taking the Lord’s name in vain?”

Collecting himself, Mike said, “I was, and still am, a foolish man who, in those moments, chose to let his temporary anger cloud his better judgment. I know better than that. I regretted the words I spoke the moment they left my mouth, and still do to this day. Unfortunately, there is no way to erase those words; the pain they caused is all too real. The guilt I have felt after those moments is my punishment, though I realize it may not be nearly enough to make up for my mistakes.”

Thomas paused for a moment, taking in Mike’s response. Finally, he continued, “Very well, and how do you answer for the accounts of sex outside of wedlock?”

“Those accounts did happen,” Mike stated simply. “I realize that this is against the teachings of the Bible. However, I do wish to state for the record that I did, in fact, deeply love each of the women that I had sex with. This is no excuse for my actions, but I would dishonor their names as well if I did not at least emphasize that point.”

Thomas again paused, looking in God’s direction, before nodding, as if he and God had just had a mental conversation.

“In the interest of complete discretion, God the Almighty wishes me to convey to you that, though your actions were indeed sinful and against His teachings, He also realizes that determining the context of a sin is as important as the sin itself. This, mind you, does not change the sinful nature of the action, but understanding the context of any sin is paramount to moving towards forgiveness. In addition, He and I wish to thank you for your honesty on your heart’s true feelings towards these women. That you would put yourself in a precarious situation within this chamber so as not to dishonor their names is quite admirable.”

“Thank you,” Mike said, rather surprised by the response he had heard.

“You are welcome,” Thomas replied. “Now, we shall move to the most crucial part of your hearing. The greatest transgression that you must now answer for is your willful participation in the enslavement of an intelligent, living being, one Melody Braxton. How do you answer for this transgression?”

Mike replied, “Counselor, not a day has gone by that this has not weighed on my conscience. I can honestly say that Melody’s presence in my life has changed me for the better, but this alone does not make up for the dilemma I faced upon first meeting her. As you are doubtless aware, my immediate concern was for her freedom, which I learned was something that could not be fully granted by me. The only other action I could have taken in this matter would have been to release her from her bond to me, thus disavowing my involvement in her enslavement altogether. This decision would not have been without consequences in and of itself, of course. If I may, I would ask if you, Counselor, are able to show what would have become of Melody if I had indeed released her from her bond to me.”

After again conferring with God mentally, Thomas answered, “God is all-knowing, and thus, we are able to show what would have happened in the events you describe.”

A faint, ethereal cloud appeared in the air above the chamber, and from within the cloud came images of Melody. First, Mike’s fight with Stephen, Darcy’s abusive ex-boyfriend, was shown. Thomas explained that, had Mike freed Melody, he would still have kept her locket on his person for safekeeping. However, the lack of her protective powers would have resulted in Mike losing the fight with Stephen, who would then have seen the locket as Mike lay beaten on the floor and decided to take it for himself, intending to sell it. He soon would have discovered the secret that it held and, due to the locket’s protective magic being disabled by Mike, released Melody, claiming her and becoming her master.

What followed was a montage of pain and suffering, depicting the brutal treatment Melody would have received under Stephen’s ownership day after day. Additionally, the faces of the many women he would forcibly take for himself using Melody’s powers were shown, filling the cloud until their numbers became too great to keep up with. Finally, Stephen was shown gaining mastery of his wishes, twisting his words to wish himself into positions of great power, all the way up to the office of President of the United States. As President, Stephen would have become akin to Emperor Nero of Rome, shirking his duties and sleeping with interns while the other nations of the world began to squabble in the absence of America’s leadership, eventually leading to a worldwide nuclear war.

As the images ended and the cloud disappeared, Mike said, “It has long been said that one small decision can affect countless larger ones in the future. It does seem clear that, for the good of the world, my decision to keep Melody was a wise one.”

“Be that as it may, did you not still participate in Melody’s enslavement? Even if for the good of others, enslavement is still enslavement, is it not?” Thomas countered forcefully.

For a few seconds, Mike became rather angry. He had shown the entire room the horrors that would have befallen Melody and the world had Mike not taken custody of her, and yet he was still being accused of being in the wrong. He loved Melody, he had given her free will, he had shown her the teachings of God Himself, so why was he in trouble for this? Besides, Thomas had spoken moments before on understanding the context of any sin. As his anger began to boil inside of him, Mike began to remember poor Henry Buchannan. Taking several deep breaths, he calmed himself before speaking his reply.

“You are correct. Enslavement is still enslavement, no matter what purpose it is for. I realize that a wise decision as it pertains to others does not absolve me of the sin of participating in Melody’s enslavement. I did the best that I was able to, treating her with love and dignity, granting her free will, and showing her God’s love as best as I was able, but the fact remains that she was still enslaved to me. In answer to the previously stated transgression, words cannot express the sorrow I have felt throughout my entire life that I could not give Melody what she deserved: her full, unconditional freedom. Perhaps I was not wise enough, certainly not Godly enough, to find a perfect solution. For that failure, I am assuredly guilty.”

An audible gasp came from the crowd observing the proceedings as he gave his answer; not a single person knew what to expect upon watching the visions he had requested to be played, and it seemed to all that were present that Mike was voluntarily sending himself to Purgatory by not fighting back against the forceful rebuke of Thomas. Waving his hand, Thomas immediately quieted the audience.

“Very well,” Thomas said.  “Mike Braxton, this is your final opportunity to speak. Do you have anything more to say before a decision is rendered in regards to your eternal soul?”

Collecting himself, Mike said, “I am not a perfect man; far from it, in fact. I am a sinful, shortsighted, misguided individual. I did my best each day, trying to live how God and Jesus would want me to, but in the end, I fell short. I am, in a word, imperfect. Standing here before the Throne of God, I humbly admit all my shortcomings and seek forgiveness. My only hope, my only prayer, is that the grace of God and the sacrifice of His Son are enough to make up for my vast imperfection.”

Mike bowed his head and closed his eyes, at peace with everything he had said and done. Though he hoped to see Melody again soon, he expected that the next thing he would see would be the base of Mount Purgatory. Keeping his eyes closed, he felt the familiar rumbling as God spoke his judgment.

My son… welcome home!!!

Mike’s eyes snapped open, unsure of what he had heard. Around him, the spectators cheered and applauded God’s decision. As the railing surrounding him lowered, allowing him to leave the podium, Mike saw Thomas running across the chambers with a huge smile on his face. Soon the man ran up to him and shook his hand firmly.

“You did it! I knew you could do it, Mike!” Thomas shouted.

“You’re not mad?” Mike asked in confusion.

“Of course not! I have a job to do, but victory or defeat ultimately rests with you, and I couldn’t be happier for you.”

“HAHA! That’s my boy!” came an excited cry from behind Mike. Before he could even turn, Harry had already wrapped him in another bear hug. “Knew you’d figure out the answer. It’s not about how much you messed up in life; it’s about having the humility to own up to it and genuinely want forgiveness.”

“Just one final matter,” Thomas chimed in, patting Mike on the back. As he did so, Mike’s tan suit and blue tie instantly turned solid black. “On the other side, there are no more color statuses. It matters not if you were the most borderline yellow or the most deserving green; all are worthy who have entered God’s house.”

With a few parting handshakes, Mike said goodbye to the two men. “I’ll be seein’ y’all around!” he said, turning towards the Throne of God.

Step forward, Mike Braxton. Claim your eternal reward.

As the throne disappeared, an enormous door was revealed behind it, slowly opening to reveal a blinding light. Mike walked into the light, soon becoming completely enveloped by it. With a brilliant flash, he finally found himself in a field surrounded by mist. As he stood there in awe, listening to the chirping of the birds and crickets, Mike had never felt more at peace.

“I’ve died and gone to heaven,” came a sultry voice from behind him.

Snapping his head around, he found the love of his life waiting on him, dressed for the occasion in her favorite black dress.

“Melody!” Mike immediately ran to her, wrapping her in his arms and refusing to let her go.

“I’m sorry, Mike,” she said. “I promised… that we’d never be separated, but…”

“Melody, hush,” he said, beaming. “Everything’s worked out for the best. Do you know why?”

“Why?”

“Because we’re in FREAKIN’ HEAVEN! WE MADE IT!” Mike shouted, eliciting a joyous giggle from Melody.

As the couple embraced and kissed passionately, Mike could feel the presence of another person approaching. Looking around, he could make out a figure walking up to them through the mist surrounding the field. Eventually, the person was close enough that Mike could make out who it was. He wore a casual pair of blue jeans and a plain white T-shirt, but the face and beard was unmistakable, as it was perhaps the most famous beard in human history.

“No way… Jesus Tap-dancing Christ!” Mike marveled.

“Dude, I haven’t tap-danced in ages!” Jesus replied with a smirk.

“Wait, what’s with the jeans? Everyone else I’ve seen is wearing suits.”

Rolling his eyes, Jesus replied, “Please… I’ve always been the guy upsetting the status quo around here.”

As he stepped forward and immediately hugged both of the Braxtons, Jesus welcomed them officially to the other side. “I tell you what, I’ve been watching the two of you for some time now. Mike, very few individuals could have been put in the situation you were in and respond as well as you did.”

Shrugging, Mike replied, “Meh, I still should’ve done better. I still facilitated Melody’s enslavement.”

With a playful head-slap, Jesus said, “Dude, stop that. You don’t have to think about what happened in the Judgment Chamber now. I don’t care anymore, and My Father doesn’t care anymore; you passed the test. It’s that simple.” Turning to Melody, He continued, “As for you, my dear, there’s someone who’s been waiting a very long time to meet you.”

“Really? Who?” Melody asked.

As she spoke, a section of the mist ahead of them began to part, revealing a woman. She wore a dark blue dress with pink flowers imprinted on it and let her long, black hair flow over one shoulder. Her brown eyes, once heavy from the pain and suffering she had endured in life, now shimmered with every breath she took.

“Melody,” she said. “My daughter…”

Openmouthed, Melody could only reply breathlessly, “Mother?”

After locking eyes for several long moments, the two women finally fell against each other in a tearful embrace, reunited for the first time in centuries. As they cried on each other’s shoulders, they spoke to each other for the first time in their lives.

“Mother, thank you. Thank you for the most incredible sacrifice I could have ever imagined. I… I…”

“You needn’t say anything, my dear. You are my daughter, and I would gladly lay my life down for you a thousand times more if it were necessary,” Maya said with a smile. “I am so relieved that Selena did indeed find a worthy man for you. That is what has brought you back to me today.”

Taking her hand, Melody said, “Mother, I want you to meet my husband, Mike.”

As he extended his hand, Maya ignored it completely, instead pulling Mike in for a long hug.

“Thank you. You who would love my daughter for who she is, rather than what she was capable of doing for you.”

After a long pause, he finally replied, grinning at Melody, “She’s worth it,” prompting an embarrassed smile from his wife.

“Outstanding moral fiber indeed,” came a deep voice from behind him.

As Mike turned, he discovered the source of the voice: a tall man in a black suit with a long, authoritative looking beard. “Isaiah?” Mike asked.

“Indeed,” he said with a smile.

The two men shook hands in greeting as Mike said, “Isaiah, I can’t thank you enough for what you did for my wife, and especially for Maya. Believing her and helping her as you did had to have been unheard of during the time you lived in. I mean you were helping a potential adulteress after all. Weren’t you worried about what might have happened to you under the law?”

Chuckling, the prophet simply replied, “It was the right thing to do.” He then turned to Melody, saying, “My girl, nothing has made me happier than seeing Maya’s wish fulfilled. The fact that, in spite of all the unfair circumstances life threw at you, you still managed to find your way to God of your own accord, it is one of the most incredible feats I have ever seen.”

“It’s all thanks to Mike,” Melody said with a smile.

“No, not entirely my dear,” Isaiah replied. “Yes, he gave you free will and demonstrated his faith, but it was you who made the decision to delve further into God’s word and learn for yourself of His love. You made that choice; no one forced you into it. That is most admirable.” Isaiah then looked at Jesus, who nodded. “Now, I must be going for a while. I am a member of the Council of Prophets, and there are some important matters we must attend to. I look forward to seeing you again, my friends.” With a smile, Isaiah disappeared into the mist.

“I fear I must be going as well,” Maya said. “I am an assistant to Saint Maria Goretti, the patron saint of victims of rape. Sadly, our work is never done, but that only emboldens us to redouble our efforts in comforting these victims. Melody, Mike, please feel welcome to visit my house anytime you wish. Jesus will show you where it is.”

“We will, Mother. Thank you,” Melody said as the woman departed.

Jesus walked up behind the couple and excitedly threw his arms around each of their shoulders, saying, “Well now, don’t you think it’s time you guys see your new digs?”

“We’d love to,” Mike said with his trademark grin.

As Jesus clapped his hands twice, the mist dispelled, leaving Mike and Melody at the gates to a small town taken right out of a storybook. The sun shone bright, a pleasant breeze drifted across their faces, and there was not a cloud in the sky.

“Welcome home, guys,” Jesus said. “Your house is in the neighborhood of mansions on the other side of that park over there, number 34. Everyone’s waiting for you, gonna give you a big housewarming party. Dinner tonight is a grand feast in the Fellowship Hall, which is that building over there,” he said, pointing to an ornate domed building in the distance. “And, of course, if you need anything at all, I’m only a thought away,” He said, smiling as he disappeared.

Glancing at Mike, Melody said, “I like him.”

“Well of course! He is the Son of God, after all,” Mike replied sarcastically.

Melody giggled, and he drew her close once more for a long, passionate kiss. As they parted, Melody took Mike’s hand and began walking into town.  Feeling that they were a bit overdressed, the couple simply envisioned the clothes they wanted to wear, deciding on blue jeans and a tan button up shirt for Mike, and tan khaki shorts and a black tank top for Melody.

“You know, you never cease to amaze me, Mike,” Melody said with a smile.

“What makes you say that?” he asked.

“I was watching the whole time during your hearing,” she replied. “I have to admit, during that last exchange between you and Thomas, I was afraid that you’d be sent to Purgatory. But you… you continue to impress me. Having the humility to admit to God Himself how many mistakes you’ve made, that takes more wisdom and guts than anything I could ever imagine. Not that I’m surprised, mind you. Just impressed.”

Kissing her on the cheek, he asked, “So, what happened when you first arrived? I was alone when I woke up after dying, but Pete told me that you had already come through.”

Melody nodded, explaining, “When I woke up, I was right in front of the gates Pete was guarding. He asked me for my invitation, which I found in my coat pocket and gave to him.”

“Huh, you had an invite?” Mike mused. “Wonder if that has anything to do with your former green status?”

“Maybe so. Anyway, once I was inside the customs house, your granddaddy greeted me and explained the different statuses to me, including what yours was. I was then escorted straight to the Judgment Chamber. Once I was inside, I didn’t have to stand for a hearing as you did, but was welcomed warmly by everyone there and immediately allowed to cross over. From the other side, I was able to watch everything you experienced inside the customs house.”

“Impressive,” Mike marveled.

“Not as impressive as the one and only Harry Weston,” Melody shot back. “In all seriousness, you built him up to be this sage-like person, and I have to admit, he does not disappoint.”

“That’s my granddaddy…”

On their way to their new house, the couple decided to walk through the large park in the middle of town. As they entered the green space, they passed by a gazebo with a country trio playing. Moving closer, they could clearly see the figures of Johnny and June Cash, singing the heavenly tune of I’ll Fly Away. They were accompanied on fiddle by Charlie Daniels himself, smiling at the pair with a wink and a nod. The pair smiled and waved back to them before continuing on their walk, the heavenly sounds of the gospel standard echoing through the park the whole time.

Mike was overwhelmed by the residents currently occupying the park. As they passed a row of park benches, they saw Ghandi and Martin Luther King Junior debating various ethical and philosophical topics, with Mother Theresa sitting two benches over, laughing and enjoying their banter. Hearing footsteps from behind them, Mike turned just in time to see Bo Jackson and Herschel Walker locked in a heated footrace.

“War eagle!” Bo shouted to Mike as he passed.

“War eagle!” Mike replied in kind. This resulted in a dirty look from Herschel.

In the middle of the park sat a large collection of chess tables, several of which were occupied by some of the most iconic world leaders ever known. At one table, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were facing off against Teddy Roosevelt and Abe Lincoln in a round-robin style four-person chess match. As they played, Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair walked up, challenging whichever duo won to the next match. Three tables over from them, Winston Churchill had just bested his old friend Franklin D. Roosevelt, indicated by the former president toppling his own king. Finally nearing the exit of the park, they saw John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan sitting down to begin a game.

“Hey, it’s the Braxtons!  You guys finally made it!” Kennedy shouted to Mike.

“Big feast tonight, and you two are sitting at our table,” Reagan joined in.

“You got it, Gipper!” Mike replied.

Exiting the park, the pair walked along a gorgeous, cobblestone road that encircled the park. They took their time as they went, admiring each of the buildings they passed. Still able to hear the melodious sounds of Johnny and June in the distance, they reached the stone archway marking the entrance to their neighborhood. Sighing contentedly, Melody could hardly believe everything that had happened that day, and couldn’t have been more excited for every new experience that was sure to come during their eternity in Heaven.

“So, what do you wanna do now?” she asked Mike, laying her head on his shoulder.

Mike slipped his arm around her waist. “Everything.”

The pair shared a long look of admiration before kissing lovingly. As they stepped through the archway of the neighborhood, nothing more needed to be said. They were home.

0