What if when you died, you were given a choice? When Alex Napleton dies after a long battle with cancer, he must decide if he will go to heaven or stay on earth and join the eternal struggle between good and evil.
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The war has raged since the beginning of time. Good and evil struggle for dominance and control of the universe while Alex lays dying from cancer. He is only 12, too weak to rise from the hospital bed where he has been for the last six months of his life. As he closes his eyes for the final time he hears more than the monitors that beep and hum, more than his mother's soft sobs. He hears the sounds of swords clashing, shouting, the grunts of ferocious effort and the cries of the dying. Above it all is a strange melodic singing, foreign yet beautiful. When the thread of his life finally breaks he opens his eyes and what he sees is...
The hospital room was finally quiet. The only sounds were soft sniffles. Alex lay in the bed too weak to move. Leukemia had robbed him of his strength; the chemo therapy and radiation had stolen his hair and made the last year of his life miserable. He knew the end was coming soon. The doctors had stopped coming by several times a day. Now even the nurses had finally stopped coming in at all hours, they only made their appearance to administer medication. They had even removed most of the monitors and wires that had for so long been like shackles that held him in place. He hurt all over, but the pain medication made everything numb so that he only felt a dull sense of the agony the cancer was causing. He was fully awake and his mind was clear of the narcotic fog that usually made everything seem miles away. He couldn't remember the last time he was able to see and think so well.
“Mom,” he said, his voice a horse whisper.
“Yes, sweetheart,” said his mother.
She had been the one sniffling. She was doing a great job holding back the tidal wave of grief that she felt over losing Alex. She raised her head from the bedside where she had been leaning over in prayer. She was giving him a beautiful smile. Alex had always loved his mom. It had just been the two of them for most of his life. His father had been killed in the Iraqi war when Alex was just a little baby. Now she would be alone and that thought made Alex's hope that his death was near a little less welcome. But the suffering had gone on too long for any escape from the pain, nausea and constant poking and prodding by doctors, to be anything but a relief. His mom was being brave for him and it made him love her even more.
“I love you, Mom,” he said.
“I love you too honey,” she said as tears ran silently down her cheeks. “I love you so, so much my brave little man.”
“I think it's almost time, Mom. I'm ready and then you can go home. You won't have to worry about me.”
“Oh, Alex,” she said and the sob caught in her throat.
“Do you have anything you want me to tell Dad when I see him?”
Alex's mother felt like her heart would stop from the pain. She couldn't speak for a moment. She had to hold back the gut wrenching sobs that she knew was coming. She didn't want to ruin this moment with her little boy. It might be her last.
“Oh, baby. Tell him that I love him. Tell him to take good care of you or else.”
She tried to joke but it fell flat.
“Don't be sad for me, Mom. I'm so happy that it's finally going to be over.”
“You aren't afraid?” she asked.
“No, I'll be in heaven and I'll be happy. No more tears, no more sickness, right?”
“That's right baby.”
Alex felt sleep coming. He could no longer fight to stay awake or keep his mind clear. He didn't mind though, soon it would all be over and he would be free again. He had total faith that he would go to heaven, even though there was a little voice somewhere far back in his mind that said. . . what if? It was possible that there was no heaven, no God, no eternal life. He had to admit that his life could be ending forever. It didn't seem fair. He was only 12 years old after all. And four of his years had been spent battling leukemia. The last six months he had been confined to this hospital bed. So even if there was nothing after death, it would at least be a release from this pain.
“Hold my hand, Mom,” he said. Then he fell asleep.
It took about two hours for his breathing to become labored. He fought for each breath and his mother thought it must be like trying to breathe through wet fabric. There was a gurgle in his rattling chest and his arms and legs twitched with the effort.
Fortunately Alex experienced none of the death pains his body was going through. His mind had pulled far into itself to escape the agony. He was in a deep coma only minutes before death, when he heard the sounds of a frantic battle around him. He tried to open his eyes and see what was happening but his eyes no longer seemed to obey him. He was sure he could hear it; there were growls and shouts and the clash of swords and shields. The shouting seemed to be in a foreign language that was almost musical. His death came now, right as the fighting seemed most intense. It was sudden, even though his mother would have said that she thought each of his desperate breaths for the past hour would have been his last. She had been praying frantically, begging for God to spare her only son, but her mind was constantly listening for the next breath to be sure her baby was still with her.
When Alex died he felt a snap and suddenly the pain and the fog of morphine was gone. He opened his eyes and sat up on the bed. The room was dim and although he could have looked at his ruined body or at his mother who was still holding his lifeless hand and praying silently as she shook from sobs of grief, his attention was riveted by two beings standing at the foot of his bed. He thought of them as beings, not creatures, because it was obvious that they were not made of flesh and blood. Both were glowing, one much brighter than the other, but both luminous. The brighter of the two was smiling, his face the size of an adult but clear and bright, almost anxious; like a child on his way to the park. There were no worry lines, no age or defect in what Alex thought of as skin. His teeth were perfectly uniform, his hair was thick and full, falling to his shoulders but not a strand was out of place. He stood at least six feet tall and looked in every way like a man except for the hint of wings at his back. He wore a cloak open at the chest revealing the angular lines of muscle. His arms were bare and his hands were folded on the foot rail of Alex's bed.
The other being looked tired. His face was smooth like his companion but his jaw was set hard and his eyes pierced into Alex. This being had only a garment around his waist. His upper body seemed to be covered with armor of some type that flowed over each shoulder and angled down across his stomach so that it formed an X across his body. His arms though, were bare and muscular.
“Greetings mighty warrior!” spoke the dimmer of the two beings.
“Alex Napleton,” said the brighter being. “It is my pleasure to greet you. I am Felix and this is Mirdoc. We're here to help you.”
“Help with what?” Alex asked.
“Your transition,” said Felix.
“It's time to make a decision, Alex,” said Mirdoc. “Your mortal life is over.”
“So I'm dead,” Alex said, a little afraid to hear the words spoken out loud but confident that he knew the answer already.
“Yes, we lost the battle for your life,” said Mirdoc.
“The battle?” Alex asked. “You mean the fighting I heard was real?”
“I thought I heard singing or something,” Alex said.
“That is the language of the Bright Ones,” said Felix. “You are speaking it now.”
“I am? It sounds like English to me.”
“That's because English is all you have known. But now you shall see things as they truly are. However, you must make a choice. It is time for you to leave your mortal life and move into eternity.”
“We could use a brave warrior like you,” Mirdoc said. “I know this is a lot to ask of a twelve year old, but we need you.”
“Need me for what?”
“In the battle of course,” Mirdoc said passionately. “The Dark Ones have grown strong again in recent years. There are fewer and fewer of us left to hold back the tide of evil that threatens to engulf Earth.”
“You see, Alex Napleton,” said Felix soothingly. “When a mortal dies he must make a choice between moving into eternity or staying to fight alongside the armies of heaven. It is an important choice because once it is made it cannot be unmade. If you choose to stay and fight, then you will remain here in the universe until the end of time when the King of Light and Laughter comes and reclaims all that he has made. Likewise, if you choose to step now into eternity, you cannot return to this existence until all is remade. So, now you must choose.”
“I'm not sure I understand,” Alex said. “You're saying that when people die they have to decide whether they go to heaven or stay on earth?”
“Well, not everyone has a choice of heaven, but essentially that is correct. Those, like yourself, who believe in the Great Truth, Father of All Life, the Singer of the Universe, can choose at their death to join him immediately. That is their right as his son or daughter. Likewise those who have hardened their hearts and clung to the lie of the Great Deceiver, their choice is to move immediately into the place of the dead.”
“Who would choose that?”
“There are some,” said Felix sadly. “Some people who do not savor the evil of their lives or despise the goodness of the Great Truth. They do not wish to spread their vile influence on the innocent and so step into the eternity that awaits them.”
“But most don't,” said Mirdoc. “Most of them are insane or driven mad by the realization of their deaths. They are turned loose by the Dark Ones to wreak havoc on the world. That's why we need you. It seems that as their power grows, now their forces swell and ours dwindle.”
“But what can I do? I'm just a kid.”
“No, you are much more than that,” said Mirdoc, his face glowing more brightly as he talked. “You are a great strategist, a strong, creative, man of valor.”
“No, I'm just a kid,” Alex argued.
“You used to be a child,” Felix said. “Now you are an eternal being like us, with no age and no limits. But you are right in one respect. You have only the experience of a twelve year old mortal. Your life was tragically cut short, so you must continue to become the person you were created to be in eternity or in the great war. It is your choice.”
Alex thought for a minute. He didn't quite understand what was being offered to him. It wasn't exactly as neat and orderly as he had learned in church or as his mom talked with him toward the end of his life in the hospital. He had had real questions, the kind that made the volunteers at his church a little nervous. He had wanted to know about what happened when a person died. His mother had taught him as much as she knew, even though it varied from what their priest had taught. What the hospital Chaplin said was even more different. Still, that was all moot now. Alex's mind was weighing his options. He wanted to see God, even though the he had always been frightened at the prospect of standing before his Maker knowing that God knows everything about him, every bad thought, every lie he ever told. But there was something about staying and fighting that appealed to him too. He couldn't put his finger on what it was, the thought was terrifying and exciting at the same time.
“Can you tell me more about staying here?” Alex asked.
“Of course,” Felix said. “There is still time.”
“We've been in a war,” said Mirdoc, “ever since the Great Usurper turned against the Truth.”
“I remember that from church,” Alex said. “Didn't he take a third of the angels of heaven with him? If there are twice as many good angels as bad ones, why do you need my help?”
“It's not as cut and dry as that sounds,” Mirdoc said. “Yes, the numbers add up as you say, but most of the Light Ones are messengers carrying the words of Truth to the faithful throughout the world. And there are those who stay and worship the Great King of Light and Laughter, serving around his throne and in his Holy Temple. Then there are others that are artists, great singers and composers, painters and creators, story tellers and more.”
“The great warriors of the Light are few and many have been imprisoned,” explained Felix.
“Imprisoned?” Alex asked. “What did they do wrong?”
“They did nothing wrong,” said Felix. “But the enemy is actively opposing them and their defeat leads to imprisonment in chains of darkness. Now, it is time for you to choose.”
“But I have more questions.”
“I'm sorry, Alex Napleton, but this not a safe place.”
“And time's short, kid,” said Mirdoc.
“Well, can you answer one last question, just one?” Alex asked.
Felix and Mirdoc looked at each other and nodded.
“Can you tell me where I can find my dad?