The Midnight Hour (Short Story)

William’s Last Day 

It was 11:59pm and the ward at the local nursing home, Oak Terrace, was silent.  William MacDonald, an elderly gentleman in his early 90s was in a deep sleep. He had mentioned earlier that afternoon that he was not feeling well. His mind was still sharp, but his body was slowly decaying. He didn’t have the stamina he once did and he found himself getting agitated and angry lately.  All the staff loved him. He was a retired war vet and had spent his life proudly serving his country in WWII, he had even won a few medals for bravery. Yet now, as he sat in his wheelchair staring out the window, all he could think about was his grandkids.  They had done well for themselves. They had all married, had children of their own, and were now working in various professions. Yet, he felt sad that his legacy was slowly being lost. The grandkids did not care much about his old war stories, they simply enjoyed catching up on the latest celeb gossip.  “Ah well,” he breathed heavily, “a generation that came and went.”

At 7pm, he asked his favourite nurse, Ruth-Alice, to wheel him to his room.  He had finished his favourite dinner of roast pork and mashed potatoes with a side of green beans, brussel sprouts, carrots and mashed turnips and suddenly he felt like sleeping.  Usually, William was a night owl, keeping other residents awake with his antics, but today, he just didn’t feel like it. Ruth-Alice brought him to his room, drew the curtains, helped him get into his warm flannel pyjamas and put on his favourite soothing music.  5 hours later, the bedroom was filled with his light snoring. Ruth-Alice decided to peak in before she went home for the night. He seemed to be okay. Peaceful. Ruth-Alice grinned. A lovely rest for a lovely gentleman. Tomorrow will be a new day. She thought.  The nursing home was planning a special service to commemorate the vets, and she knew how proud William would be dressed up in his favourite army uniform which still fit him. Just like last year and the year before that, he would make a point of taking out his medals and showing all the visiting children what he had accomplished for the sake of his nation.  Ruth-Alice didn’t know that William was not about to wake from his sleep, that actually William had already started drifting into the land of no return, and that actually, the medals would not be displayed outside of his door, but rather on the inside of his coffin.

At 12:01am William awoke.  At least he thought he did.  He looked around his room and it all looked the exact same, but suddenly he felt peaceful and warm.  As his eyes snapped open, he saw a giant angel standing by his bed. The angel was dressed in white, had long flowing silver hair and blazing blue eyes.  The angel was also carrying a flaming sword, but William did not feel any fear or panic. In fact, he had never felt so peaceful in his entire life. “I am Michael,” the angel said, “I have come to take you home.”  William gaped at the angel with his mouth wide open. “Where am I? What’s happening?” He still was not panicked, but he was highly curious. Michael spoke to him in a soothing and even voice, “Your time to depart has come, you will not need anything.  Please follow me.” William, who had been confined to his wheelchair for the past 10 years after a stroke, suddenly felt his limbs moving freely again. He felt himself leave the chair as if he was flying. Suddenly, he did not feel like a 90 year old man anymore, he felt like a 23 year old full of stamina and strength.  As he was being lifted from his chair, he suddenly felt energetic. His face broke into a grin, “I’m ready for an adventure” he yelled. “Hang tight,” said Michael, “we are on our way!”

Soaring through the night sky, out through the open window, William could see all the trees and houses down below.  He passed over his children’s homes, and then his grandchildren’s homes. He passed over the ravine, the mountains, and the factories.  William suddenly felt a pang of guilt. He knew that where he was going he would not be able to return from, and he felt sad that he couldn’t say goodbye to those dearest, but he also knew there was no time.  As he continued to move up and into the night sky, he started soaring far above all the countries of the world he had never visited. His life flashed before him – images of his 7th birthday party, his wedding day, his first child being born.  Yet, he was not emotionally attached to any of them. Rather, it was as if he was watching someone else’s life on a big cinema screen. Finally, in the last leg of the journey, he saw the planets in outer space, and then he was pushed through a very fast wind tunnel filled with pink, purple, blue, green, and yellow until eventually at the very end, his eyes were assaulted with a pure white light so strong it was blinding, and yet William did not squint or close his eyes, he kept them open until he eventually landed on clouds as soft as marshmallows. 

The Arrival

“Welcome, welcome!” came an exhilarated voice.  “Where am I?” William asked, rubbing his eyes. “In Zion, of course” said the stranger.  “Zion?” William repeated. “I’m not Jewish.” “Well, I suppose for the rest of you, you would call it heaven.”  Came the playful response.

There in front of William stood a middle aged man with a large tummy and a deep jovial laugh.  “Zion, heaven, it’s really one and the same” he snorted. William looked the man up and down, he certainly did not look like an angel.  “So, I’m…” William couldn’t bring himself to say the word. “Dead, passed over, bought the farm, kicked the bucket, yeah all of it” the man giggled again.  “Oh, I seem to have forgotten my manners,” the man corrected himself. “I am Edmund, guardian of the people. And it is my job to show you around. But first, there are a few things we need to take care of.”

“Firstly, you’re a mess.  Let’s take care of that.” Edmund looked William up and down.  William started to feel self-conscious. It was true that in his youth he was quite a charmer.  He was a real ladies man, fit and muscular. But he had aged less than gracefully. He suddenly started feeling like he wouldn’t make the cut.  Edmund seemed to read his thoughts, “Just so you know, you didn’t come here as a 90 year old,” he stated, “in fact, you have the body of a 35 year old.  I am just looking for wounds.”

William suddenly became aware of a few scrapes on his arms, a huge gash down the back of his leg, and a large bruise on his back.  He did not have any of these injuries in real life and he didn’t know where they came from. Edmund gently started applying antiseptic to the leg and William roared in pain.  He had never felt anything like that before and his eyes stung with tears. Edmund soothingly whipped out a tissue and started dabbing William’s eyes. “Sshh.. it’s ok. You need to heal.  We don’t want you bleeding on the rides, we are going to take care of you, it will all be ok.”

“But how?” asked William “I’ve never seen these wounds before.”

“You’re broken.”  Replied Edmund. “Just like everyone else who comes here.  The internal wounds are showing on the outside.” He gently touched William’s leg again with the cream.  “This huge gash is from being told your whole life that you are a failure and not good enough. The bullying from your school days made it very deep indeed, and when your wife walked away, it became impossible to stop the blood flow.” 

He then rubbed ointment on William’s back.  “That huge bruise is from having to carry all the pressures of life.  Being made to grow up fast, to shoulder responsibility which shouldn’t have been yours to carry at 17 when your father walked out and you became the man of the house.”

Finally, he massaged William’s arms with the cream.  “These little scratches were all the ways you tried to cope. Your need to be macho, the horrors you faced in the war just trying to protect your country and your inner need to be a hero, the money lost during your brief spell of gambling all in the thought that building a mansion would cure the emptiness inside.”

William looked at his feet embarrassed.  Edmund put his arm around his shoulder. “Don’t be embarrassed” he replied his voice full of tenderness and compassion.  “Everyone comes here with wounds. It is my job to bandage them up. It takes time, but they all will heal. In fact, they will gradually begin to fade while you are here in this amusement park.  There you go, all bandaged up with kindness and love,” he said as he put on the final plaster.  

“Next up, we have to do something about those filthy clothes,” Edmund said, not unkindly.  William looked down again and noticed his clothes were all tattered and torn. William suddenly felt so ashamed as if he were wearing rags.  Edmund seemed not to notice or to mind. “Let’s see what would look fine on you” he mused bringing out a bundle of freshly pressed white robes.    “Ah ha! This one” he said proudly choosing the cleanest, most sparkling white one, “Try this on.” “Don’t worry,” he mentioned, “everyone comes in like that.  The clothes from your world cannot compare with what is in fashion here. Your clothes display how you lived your life.”

“Was I really that bad?”  William could sense his blood boiling and his nerves become jangly and defensive.  It is true that during the war, he had become quite a player (who didn’t like a man in uniform?), and after he was done his tour, he had resorted to drink to try to drown his sorrows.   This is when his wife left. She had told him it was either her or the bottles, he had chosen the bottles at that point and after he sought help, had regretted it ever since. But, for the most part he considered himself a decent enough man.  He had raised 5 children and tried to be the best provider he could be, and at the nursing home, all the children loved him and referred to him as “Papa William.” He just wished his own great-grands would have visited and called him that.

Edmund’s deep throated laugh knocked him back out of his embarrassment.  With Edmund’s head cocked back,William could feel his insecurities melting away.  “Of course not!” Edmund could barely control his laughter. “The rip here was from the time you changed the tire for your elderly neighbour and managed to somehow rip your jeans, this stain is from playing football in the grass with your kids, and this splash of red?  From the time you tried painting your mother’s house. You were a terrible painter, but how were you to know?!” William couldn’t help but laugh heartily right along with him.  

“OK, I think you’re ready to go in now” Edmund waved his arm towards the park.  “My job here is done. All you have to do now, is go up to the Ticket Collector, tell him your name and he’ll give you an all inclusive pass into the park.”

Let’s Show You Around

“Step right up!”  Yelled the voice. William looked and before him was a man in his mid-20s, tall and skinny.  “What is your name?” He asked. “William.” William mumbled. The man flipped open a huge book and started tracing his finger down the page.  “Ah yes! William MacDonald, is it? A new arrival? We’ve been expecting you. A day late, but hey, what’s a day amongst friends. Come on in!”  He grinned.

As William approached the park he noticed a large arching sign reading, “Door of Hope.”  A huge rainbow arched over it, with palm trees and flowers surrounding it, and 2 large angels carved in olive wood and overlaid with gold on either side.  Also on either side of the sign, there were two live angels with flaming swords similar to the one who had brought William here in the first place, but they did not look scary.  In fact, they were chatting to one another as friends.  

Surrounding the park were more trees of all varieties looming large – higher than he had ever seen before, with pleasing fruits he had never tasted.  An abundance of birds flew brightly overhead with the most stunning colours he had ever seen. The flowers also were more delicate and fragrant than one could imagine, and in the centre was a huge water fountain carved purely of onyx and encased in the purest gold imaginable.  The fountain poured over into the valley watering the trees. The setting felt so peaceful and idyllic.   

The park itself was protected by walls made of layered precious stone interlaced with cedar beams.  Layers of jasper, sapphire, emerald, ruby, topaz, turquoise and amethyst provided a lovely sight with pearls used at the very top as decoration.   There was live music wafting through the air – the swelling of cymbals, harps, trumpets and all sorts of instruments many of which William had never seen or heard, but all were completely in harmony and rhythm with no sense of dissonance.    And it felt that when a voice rose in song, the whole earth echoed back its praise. Everything was alive and bursting with flavour and once the jubilant noise hit the air, the clouds and wind carried it even further. The place was infused with a delicate perfume.  A light and airy fragrance, not too strong, but which lingered – a mix of wild herbs and flowers with a hint of honey and lemon. The place was flooded with light, but it was not the type that blinds you. It was as if one was reliving the calmest day at the beach, but without the risk of a sunburn.  Yet, there was actually no sun. It was not scorching, but it wasn’t cold. It was a unique day – a day which did not distinguish between day and night, and even when the cool of the evening hit, it was still as light as before. It was a place without night and with no darkness.  

William’s mouth naturally wanted to laugh with glee and his tongue felt instantly unleashed to tell everyone around how magnificent and awesome this place was.  The others all just flashed him a knowing grin and made an acknowledging nod. They all knew They had all been around this park many times, but none of them seemed to grow bored with it. 

William noticed that the amusement park was completely full, but at the same time it didn’t look busy.  The doors were never shut – people came in and out all day, and along with the brilliantly green blades of grass, the areas which usually would be pavement and concrete had been paved over with gold.   There were people from every culture, country, race, and age, and while their facial features were still retained, everyone all seemed to look alike, but it was the soul they were connecting with. There were many languages being spoken, but it seemed like when someone opened their mouth and spoke German, one was aware it was German but instinctively heard it being translated into Spanish.  And then there was a dialect which all seemed to gain access from, it was known as a heavenly language or the language of angels, which all were able to speak regardless of intelligence or academic achievement on earth. There were enough rides for everyone and the place was so vast. It seemed as if everyone instinctively knew which rides to choose first, and all the queues remained short.   William queued up for his first ride, when he heard four women’s voices behind him. Someone was calling him “Precious, Precious! Wait up!” He ignored it at first because that was not his name. His name was William. But soon it became obvious they were speaking to him.” “Hey Precious!” the voice panted as one who had just run a mile. “Welcome to Door of Hope! I would like to introduce myself.  I am Beloved, and these are my sisters God’s Chosen, Mercy and Anointed. We have been asked by Edmund to show you around.

The Rides 

The first place WIlliam was brought to in the amusement park was the funhouse. This was one of William’s favourites when he took his grandchildren to the park.  Yet, this funhouse was different than any he had ever seen before. It was filled with mirrors – some made him look too big, others too skinny, in some he retained his old sunken face and in others he looked just plain sickly.  In a few he was wearing funny clothes, in some he saw himself giving water to a dog or taking care of an injured animal, and then in others he saw himself in the midst of his alcoholic stupor raging at his wife. Her sobbing, and packing her bags.  Him apologizing, cuddling her, and saying it was all a mistake and he would never do it again only to repeat the exact same action the following day. William was mesmerized by all these mirrors. They seemed to highlight his greatest insecurities and imperfections, but the ones that clung to him most were not him being too fat or too skinny, wearing business suits or silly outfits, but the ones that showed his character and how he acted.  That was lesson number one for William: none of the superficial outward things truly mattered in this place, only the inward actions remained.

His second ride was in a box car made of cedar wood, which went along a gentle rollercoaster track circling a small sea.  There were lily pads and blossoms in the middle and the sea was teeming with all sorts of colourful fish. He wasn’t sure what the point of this ride was, but it was calming, peaceful and relaxing.  It almost put him in a meditative state which he was never able to achieve during his life because he never knew how to shut his brain off.  

Face to Face With God

His last ride, took him up a large mountain in a cable car and dropped him off at a lookout.  Once he exited, he looked around and could see the whole expanse of the earth stretched out. The deep jungles, the picturesque beaches, the vast deserts, the lush oasis and the dotted cities.  He could see all the countries of the world – all the places he had been and everywhere he wished to go. Yet, it all seemed so peaceful. Everything was still. The desert and parched lands suddenly sprang to life before his eyes – cacti started flowering and the crocus started to bloom.  The mountains were higher than imaginable and they were gushing with milk and honey flowing from their sides. William suddenly noticed a huge waterfall that he hadn’t seen before – brilliant and magnificent. The sand started shifting and turning into cooling springs. The deserted haunts also started teeming with plant life. A highway opened up before his eyes and thousands of people wearing white robes started walking upon it.  As they walked, their eyes shone as if dancing and they wore smiles their faces could barely contain. There was certainly no heaviness amongst them and only light, airy, uncontainable joy!

  Suddenly, a great eagle with powerful wings, long feathers and a full plumage of varied colours flew above him, and snapped William out of his reverie.  He then realized he was face to face with his Creator. He heard a deep, resonant voice chuckle and say 7 of the most powerful words William had ever heard in his life “See, I am doing a new thing.”

William was standing before God’s Throne, but he didn’t know it was God.  He thought it was another angel, but this time the angel seemed bigger, brighter, more glorious and more splendid than any he had ever seen.  “Who are you?” He could barely croak, for this time, his body was filled with awe, reverence, and even a tinge of fear. He did not feel endangered, but he also did not feel safe.  “I am known by many names. I am called Blameless, Unfailing Love, Hope, Comfort, Eternal, Righteous, and Faithful. But you probably have always simply heard me referred to as God – Gracious, Overall, Dependable.  There were 24 elders also in white robes seated around God’s throne, but everyone was silent. William had often held a cynical view towards life. He had seen a lot of horror and injustice during the war and he used to make up scenarios in his head.  He used to boldly assert that if he ever met God face to face he would ask him to defend the atrocities of the world and to make a case for why bad things happened to good people, but all of this resolve and defiance faded away and dissolved the moment he actually stood face to face with the Almighty.  
God sat upon a throne made of jasper and ruby, a ring of emerald encircled it and there was a huge rainbow arching over it.  In front of the throne, was a sea made of crystal so that one could be in God’s presence but not too close so as to be consumed by His warmth. 

The 24 elders bid William to step a little closer, and as they ushered him into God’s presence they sang a song:

“Well done, good servant, take your rest,
And here take part in what is best.
Your life’s journey was long and hard,
Here we ask you to let down your guard.
Here before God’s awesome throne,
Make all your wants and wishes known.
What better than to laugh and sing,
Here before the King of Kings.”

Once Wiliam had moved very close to God, he was handed a crown.  “Your whole life, you were told you weren’t enough. You were told what you weren’t and what you could never be.  You weren’t an artist, you weren’t a musician, and you’d never be an athlete. You were told what other people thought of you.  You were too quiet at times, too loud at others. Too timid at moments and too bold in others. Too quick tempered, too apathetic, not invested, not a leader.  And as the school years turned to work years and work years turned to family years, the weight of what you were told continued to add up and squash you from your potential.  Today, I would like to tell you how I view you: I don’t see you as someone who was deserted, I see you as someone I delight in. I don’t see you as weak, I see you as strong. I don’t see you as naive, I see you as pure.  I don’t see you as a burden, I see you as someone I sought after and pursued. I don’t see you as a failure, I see you as my beloved.”

Right there in God’s presence, William began to weep.  A grown man, an old man who had lived a long life, a tough man who had fought in the world’s most gruesome wars, a strong man who had spent his life protecting and providing began to weep inconsolably.  For there in God’s presence, William finally understood. William finally knew that what he had been searching for his whole life was right there. He finally knew that all the battles he had fought both in the field and in his personal life were not forgotten, not neglected, and had amounted to something.  And William finally knew he was completely and utterly loved, cherished and accepted just for being the man God had made him and called him to be throughout his 90 long years.

DISCLAIMER: The above story is obviously fiction and should be regarded as such.  The thought of writing on the topic of heaven came to me when my colleague began asking me questions about what the Bible actually says about heaven.  As I spent hours pouring over Scripture, it soon dawned on me that the Bible actually says very little about what heaven is like.  Rather, we are given descriptions of God’s character, the physical temple which Solomon built (and which was subsequently destroyed), Israel’s longing to rebuild it, and words of hope and comfort towards the exiled Israelites about the kind of heavenly city God would restore to them if they would repent from their wickedness and seek Him with their whole hearts.  We also know from Scripture that the Kingdom of God is when heaven and earth collide and touch each other.

Many of the descriptions chosen above, are taken right from the Bible (though again, they were not specifically meant to be descriptions of heaven).  What was profound for me in my studies was that the same things were being addressed over and over again in various books.  Themes of God’s healing of our brokenness, descriptions of the sea, precious stones and gold, the symbolism of rainbows, mention of music, the promise of a new name and soul identity, as well as the promise that when face to face with God tears, sorrow, and earthly troubles will vanish are apparent again and again. These are topics which are woven throughout both the Old and New Testaments, and to be honest, most of my descriptions were plucked from Old Testament books I did not think I would have turned to (Isaiah, Zechariah, Psalms, and Genesis to name a few) with very few descriptions taken from Revelation itself.

There were a few verses I lifted directly from Scripture and implanted in this story:

1 Kings 6:18 Description of the temple being made of cedar wood rather than stone

Isaiah 32:17 “Your eyes will see the King in His beauty and view a land that stretches afar.”

Ezekiel 17:3 “A great eagle with powerful wings, long feathers and a full plumage of varied colours.”

Habakkuk 2:20 “The Lord is in His Holy Temple, let all the earth keep silent before Him.”

Zechariah 3:4 “The angel said to those who were standing before him, ‘Take off his filthy clothes; then he said to Joshua, ‘See, I have taken away your sin , and I will put a fine garment on you.'”

Zechariah 14:6 “On that day there will be neither sunlight nor cold, frosty darkness.  It will be a unique day – a day known only to the Lord – with no distinction between day and night.  When evening comes there will be light.”

Hosea 2:15 “Then I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the valley of Achor a door of hope.”

Isaiah 35:1-2 “The desert and the parched land will be glad, the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.  Like the crocus it will burst into bloom.”

Joel 3:18 “In that day the mountains will drip with new wine, and the hills will flow with milk, all the ravines of Judah will run with water.  A fountain will flow out of the Lord’s house, and will water the valley of Acacias.”

The description of the Heavenly Language is a loose translation of the prophetic gifts of tongues evidenced in several of Paul’s letters.

And the various names God used to describe Himself in this short story are all indicative of the names given to God in praise in the book of Psalms.