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Heaven Sent









A short story by Alan Botham





First Published in 2018 by Alan Botham

Written by Alan Botham

Editing by Anne Grange Editing

Text Copyright © Alan Botham 2018



All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of the author.



Names, characters, businesses, organisations, places, events and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.



Heaven Sent

By Alan Botham


John was gazing in his usual dreamlike way through the kitchen window. The lawn and flowerbeds expressed an appearance of tidiness, rather than Shangri-La – colourful but not spectacular. He was not born with green fingers or blessed with the gardening dexterity that many of his friends possessed. Quite simply, he could spend all morning slaving in the garden; then surveying his work afterwards, he always wondered if he had changed or achieved anything.

Today, it was the top of the shed that caught his attention. He reminded himself that he must re-cover the sloping roof before Masie gave him another roasting. It was true. His wife had reminded him on a number of previous occasions to repair the shed roof. In John’s usual way, he had allowed the instructions to slip from his priorities. Maybe another day.

Right on cue, Masie entered the kitchen, all bustle and polish as usual. Since she had taken employment at the local authority, John labelled his wife as dynamic. Before that, Masie had been hidden in the house, quietly cleaning and cooking. St Thomas’ Church had been her only vice, organising events and trips for the old folks, and attending prayers, once a week.

When their two boys had arrived, two years apart, Masie had thrown herself into their junior years, but now they both attended secondary school, she had taken a job. There was no more slaving over a hot stove and cleaning windows for this woman.

John often mused that his wife gave the impression of someone with chief executive status, rather than that of a part-time clerk in the legal department. Masie now drove her own little car and enjoyed regular trips out to coffee shops with her work chums.

Masie’s safaris into the garden ceased, and John was left to deal with it, and to pick up the children after school; or from their gran’s when Masie worked late. Masie might sit in the garden to devour a bottle of wine with her pals to discuss the girls who worked in the post room. Apparently, these girls were not very nice, but were quite attractive.

‘Yes, John. The shed roof.’ barked Masie.

Yes, I’ve got it, thought John.

‘Let’s have it sorted in the next few days.’ Masie kept up the attack.

John turned to answer, but Masie had already flown out of the kitchen, carrying her files and sports bag.

‘I’ll be at the gym after work. I’ll pick the kids up, but remember it’s Jack’s memorial tomorrow.’ The front door slammed.

John was convinced that Masie’s files contained nothing of importance. Perhaps they were only for show, and gave his wife a more important-looking profile. He heard his wife’s car pull off the drive.

He placed his coffee on the sink and his thoughts moved onto his brother’s service at St Thomas’ the next day. It was five years since Jack had passed away from cancer. No doubt, he would have to confirm arrangements with the vicar. In the last few years, he had seen Masie’s involvement with St Thomas’ activities decline significantly. John reminded himself to ring his mum to check that she knew the time of the service.

John locked up the house, retrieved his bicycle and started his thirty minute ride to work. Two cars were out of the question with the expense generated by two songs. The boys had been born to Masie in her mid-thirties, and as a result of John being the only bread-winner for years, there were no big bank accounts or savings.

Cycling to work fitted John’s image and approach to life. He was not dour, just always in the background, and he always chose the quiet edge of group family photographs. Having two boys, and an occasional kick-about, he was content. He was devoted to St Thomas’, his local church, and activities such as organising the memorial service for his brother Jack gave him all the satisfaction he desired.


Joe and Jamie, the image of their father John, scrambled their way from school to the end of their gran’s street, only two hundred metres from the school. They always walked in a group with one of their school friends’ parents for safety. The final leg of their journey was a short stretch along their gran’s road. She was always at the gate, waiting for them.

When their mum worked in the afternoons, Dad would collect them later, direct from work, and all three would walk the last mile home together, Dad pushing his bike. Today, Mum would pick them up in her car.

The two boys left the wagon train of mums and school chums. As they rounded the corner of Gran’s street, John and Jamie were initially shocked; then the person blocking their path brought a smile to their faces. They recognised him from their memories and countless family photographs. Uncle Jack was obstructing their way. Jamie, the younger brother, was about to hug his uncle, until Joe held his brother back.

‘Are you a ghost, Uncle Jack?’ asked Joe.

‘No – just a spirit,’ came the reply.

‘I’ve never seen a spirit before,’ Jamie whispered.

‘Shouldn’t you be in heaven?’ Joe asked, ignoring Jamie.

They both stared, waiting for a reply. Joe became aware that the being in front of them was unusual, to say the least. He sort of drifted around, and there was a sweet, sickly odour, clinging to him, like cheap scent.

‘It’s good to be back on Earth,’ said the presence. ‘It’s lovely to see you again.’

Although the boys knew this was their uncle, he appeared to be older than he was in photographs, and he was dressed in a white robe.

‘You died five years ago…’ Jamie stared, his face growing pale.

‘I know.’ Jack shrugged.

The boys remembered Jack as a bundle of laughs. A dedicated church servant, who could throw off his religious cloth and go for a kick-about with the boys anytime, Jack had resembled their father only in looks. He was more adventurous than his brother; more carefree, and always laughing.

Everyone, especially John, had acknowledged that his brother was the clever one in the family. A job as a computer programmer placed him in a far higher league than John. But Jack had never revelled in the trappings of his success. Beyond the church, he never married, and had stayed close to his mum.

The two boys started to relax in the spirit’s presence, but Uncle Jack started to walk away, around the corner.

‘Be good,’ were his last words.

Once Jack had disappeared, the boys realised that their gran was waiting at the gate, waving at them. Although they were confused, they started slowly towards her.


John was busy cooking a fish finger tea, knowing that Masie would arrive soon, after collecting the boys from his mum’s house. The routine worked well and allowed Masie use of the car on her work days, as Masie picked up the boys on her afternoons off, usually after a gym visit or a coffee with her work friends.

Flipping the fish fingers, John spied a black shape pouncing onto the kitchen windowsill. John reached over and flicked the window latch, and the cat slipped in through the window. The smell of fish fingers cooking usually attracted Casper. However, today, he appeared nervous, and as the front door opened and the boys and Masie entered the house, Casper scooted out again.

‘He’s in a scatty mood,’ John commented, as the family piled into the kitchen.

‘Bet Joe pulled his tail,’ shouted Jamie.

‘Did not.’

‘You boys go and wash,’ John directed.

John started to explain that he would repair the shed tomorrow, before his brother’s memorial service.

‘That mother of yours becomes less lucid every day.’ Masie interrupted his update. Lucid was one of the words that had appeared in Masie’s vocabulary once she had started work.

‘What has Mum said now?’ John asked.

‘She says she’s in a state of bliss – claims Jack’s been to visit her.’

John placed the fish fingers on the buttered bread and looked at Masie, bemused.

‘That’s okay then,’ he said. ‘She’s just got herself into a state because tomorrow is the fifth anniversary of Jack’s passing away.’

Masie started making a pot of tea.

‘Obviously she’s still not come to terms with Jack’s death. Your mum visits his grave every day. Probably just her imagination running wild.’

‘It’ll pass after tomorrow.’ John felt calm and at peace. Masie stared at him; her expression seemed worried. John just smiled.

‘But the boys have chipped in and told me they saw Jack on their way home.’

‘You know what kids are like – they’re just playing games to wind you up. I’ll have a chat with them over tea,’ he added.

After putting drinks on the kitchen table, Masie vanished upstairs, shouting down as she ascended the stairs.

‘Late for my jog – do have a chat with the boys.’

This was another work-related outing. Five overweight colleagues, getting out of breath together in the park. Then, mused John, a few glasses of wine to complete the evening would provide the ducks with a laugh.

John handed his sons their sandwiches as they dived into the kitchen.

‘Can we run with Mum?’ asked Jamie.

‘Sometime.’ John smiled. ‘Now, when did you see Uncle Jack?’

‘On our way to Gran’s,’ Jamie answered.

‘Not while you were at Gran’s house?’ John asked.

The boys shook their heads, now with mouths stuffed with fish fingers.

‘Was it someone who looked like Uncle Jack?’ John enquired.

Again, they shook their heads.

‘He spoke,’ Jamie piped up. ‘He said he was visiting Earth and he wanted to see us.’

John tried to steer the conversation to a suitable conclusion.

‘Jack was taken from us five years ago, and I’m sure he’s in heaven. He will be happy there. Maybe it was someone else you saw.’

‘So was it a ghost, or was it an alien?’ Jamie asked. Joe seemed to be more interested in eating. John saw an opportunity to close the chat with a pleasant ending.

‘Yes, maybe one from the comics you’re always reading, or from one of your computer games.’

As the boys charged upstairs to change out of their school uniforms, John’s thoughts turned to his mum. He decided against phoning her – he usually struggled to get a word in edgeways. John concluded that the best idea was to wait and to get to the bottom of her visitation from Jack tomorrow. He realised that because his mum visited Jack’s grave constantly, and it was so close to the anniversary of his death, that she might have imagined some type of visitation from Jack’s ghost. Confident that he could sort everything out tomorrow, John cheered up, and he allowed Casper in again.


The next morning, the day of Jack’s memorial service, Masie scooted off, taking the kids to school, issuing instructions to John.

‘I’ll be back later – meeting up for a coffee – I’ll be ready for Jack’s service.’

John stared at the garden shed roof, contemplating the repair. Slowly, he became aware of a sickly smell that forced him to turn around quickly.

Stunned as he was, John told himself that the image he confronted was not real. Facing him, grinning, was his brother Jack.

‘Thought I’d surprise you,’ the vision spoke.

John struggled to the settee and sat down. This was a dream; an apparition, or just tiredness. But something was there.

‘What? Who are you?’ John asked.

‘Your brother. Here to warn you,’ Jack stated.

‘You’re not here. You’re in heaven,’ John blurted.

‘I escaped.’

‘I’m dreaming, aren’t I?’

‘No – I am here,’ said his brother. It sounded like him.

‘Why escape?’

‘To warn you.’

‘What about?’

‘Earth is just as pleasant.’ His brother started his explanation. ‘Heaven is not what you assume. Too friendly. Too quiet and well behaved.’

‘Aren’t those the qualities you associate with God?’ John asked.

‘Yes.’

John was confused. Even though it was still early in the morning, he moved over to the drinks cabinet and poured himself a large whisky, hoping that the drink would propel him from his dream.

‘Isn’t that why you embraced the teachings of our God?’ John heard himself ask.

Jack smiled. ‘Wherever we exist, we are humans. Imperfect, and that’s what makes us what we are. We cannot strike even with God – to be perfect – even when our spirit cannot.’

‘So are we wrong to follow God’s way?’ John took another gulp of his drink.

‘No – we just need to question everything – and that’s how we progress, develop and improve – not by accepting the complete callings of one God.’

‘God is wrong then?’ John questioned.

‘No – he has opinions, just like a human. And opinions can be questioned. But not in heaven.’

‘Are you saying that God is a dictator?’ This dream had turned nasty.

‘No.’ Jack raised his hands slowly to calm his brother. ‘There will always be good and evil, right and wrong. Even in heaven, they must survive together, even for the spirit to be content. God founded this universe, and decided to create life here. Unfortunately, we humans think, question, and sometimes change our opinions. That is what we do. We’re not perfect on earth and we shouldn’t be in heaven.’

‘Give up on faith?’ John poured more whisky into his glass.

‘No – just question it. More and forever,’ Jack insisted.

‘Won’t God throw you out of heaven?’ John retorted.

‘I’ll be returned by the Guardians and re-programmed.’

‘The Guardians?’

‘Angel types who are God’s overseers.’

‘Will you be punished?’ John blurted out.

‘No – reassessed. So drink. Argue with the wife. There has to be some war – then peace. Some good, some evil. Anywhere,’ Jack stated. ‘We can’t be saints. We just struggle, and desire to do ten times more good than evil. Heaven should be another paving stone in our progression – not as God wishes – a life of Shangri-La.’

‘You agree with God’s teachings then?’ John asked.

‘In many ways, good must overcome evil. But it always comes at a cost, and isn’t always pretty. It’s the struggle that makes us human – and powerful.’ Jack had taken on the demeanour of a preacher. ‘God made us his children – to join him and his way in heaven. We have progressed beyond that. I cannot be perfect, even in spirit life. Do not upset yourself, John. If you think you fail, use your faith to improve life, and aim for heaven. However, do not assume that we can exist in perfect harmony as spirits.’

John returned to drink up, and turned to ask how his brother had escaped from heaven. He was gone. Dream over.

He searched the downstairs of the house. Nothing, only Casper, on the windowsill, waiting to come in. John gripped the kitchen sink. Nothing was left. Only a sweet odour. John became frightened; anxious. He was in the kitchen, alone.

First the boys, then Mum. Now what? What was taking place? What was happening? Was someone impersonating Jack, playing a joke? Perhaps it was his friends in the darts team?

It was the fifth anniversary of his brother’s death, but what had just appeared before him was Jack, no imposter. John had to consider that the events were real. Just as he finished his third whisky, Masie blew in from her coffee morning.

Before John had time to motion that something was wrong, Masie had placed her shopping on the kitchen table and had commenced her interrogation.

‘No shed repaired then? Have you spoken to your mum?’ were Masie’s first questions.

‘Jack has been to see me…’ John spluttered.

‘Not you as well! You’ve been daydreaming, rather than doing the important things. Jack is in heaven, where you might not join him if you carry on not concentrating on the jobs in hand.’

‘He’s escaped from heaven,’ John insisted.

Masie was emptying the shopping bag, showing little interest in what he was telling her. She looked like she was about to burst out laughing, but then scowled at John.

‘More likely, he escaped from the prison. It’s only a few miles away.’

Her remark upset John, and did not sound convincing, even to himself.

‘He said heaven was not a land of milk and honey – that God has many principles we should agree with but that everything is too perfect. I think that’s what he meant.’ John added, in a whisper.

‘Have you been drinking?’ Masie glanced at the glass on the table. That put a shot across John’s bows. ‘Do you think it’s Christmas or something? It’s not even midday. Get a grip, John. It’s Jack’s service tonight.’

John was fully aware of what Masie had just pointed out. Whatever had happened, he was no longer sure that had not been a dream. He must have desired some answers. Masie awoke him from his thoughts.

‘It’s probably someone impersonating him – your mates’ practical joke,’ Masie proposed, not fully committed to any one explanation.

‘I’m off to have a nap before I get ready for the service. Sober up,’ Masie ordered, and went upstairs.

Focus, John told himself. Yes, could someone be impersonating Jack? If they were, then it was a joke that should be stopped. It was not amusing in any sense. The police – that was the solution. That was the way forward. They could investigate, and quickly apprehend anyone playing jokes and pretending to be a spirit.

Although that was not really a plausible explanation, John had decided on his course of action, and having already consumed three whiskies, he was full of false courage.

The police station was situated in the centre of town. John was out of breath on arriving, having cycled hard to reach the station. He should have taken the car, but he knew he was probably over the limit after downing that whisky.

The building was constructed from smooth stone. To anyone passing, it could be a warehouse or mill. There was no large neon sign outside to designate it as the police station, but a nineteenth century style lamp hung over the square front porch. The police station overlooked a set of steps that led to glass doors. Many drunks must relieve themselves on the steps at weekends, judging from the rank smell.

John pushed through the front doors, aware that he had not formulated any plan, or what to say. The area in front of him was a large reception with a row of chairs against a side wall, presumably an open waiting room. Directly in front of him loomed a medium-sized reception desk manned by an officer who was busy on a computer. Behind this was a partitioned open-plan office, from which came the sounds of numerous staff, doing whatever the police did on a daily basis.

The officer spotted John and waved him forwards. John immediately felt nervous; not himself in any way. He walked slowly towards the desk as the officer completed his final tap on the keyboard.

‘How can I help, sir?’

‘My brother Jack.’ John tried to speak in a relaxed, quiet tone.

‘Yes – is he missing – or has he been attacked?’ the officer replied.

‘No – he’s dead but alive,’ was John’s best offer.

‘Please explain, sir.’

John was gaining confidence.

‘He died five years ago today, but he or someone like him visited me this morning.’

The police officer looked at John with a hard stare.

‘You’re reporting a ghost?’

‘No!’ exclaimed John. ‘A spirit.’

‘Have you been drinking, sir?’ The officer leaned over the desk to sniff at John’s breath.

‘Not really. Just a whisky or two. He spoke to me…said he’d escaped from heaven.’

John’s reply stirred the officer into a stiff pose.

‘Where is this person now?’

‘Gone.’

The officer placed his arms on the desk and moved closer to John.

‘How did your brother visit? Through the front door or down from above?’ The officer pointed to the heavens.

‘This is serious,’ John insisted.

‘Can you describe him and his clothing?’

John was taken by surprise. He’d had a vague impression that his brother had looked older somehow, but he couldn’t remember whether Jack had been wearing a suit or white robes.

‘He looked sort of like my brother,’ was all that John could muster.

‘Anyone else seen him?’

‘Yes – my mum and the children.’

The officer wrote something on his pad.

‘Did you not think to put it down as a runaway imagination? You said it was the fifth anniversary of his death?’

‘Possibly,’ admitted John, the three whiskies taking effect.

‘As it is obvious that you have been drinking and your brother passed away five years ago, are we not looking at wishful thinking perhaps?’ the officer proposed.

John sighed. This had been useless and he felt like a fool. The officer sat up straight and looked him in the eye.

‘Provide us with a photograph of your brother and we will check if anyone fitting his description has been floating, or should I say, stalking around the area. However, if he has been dead for five years, he might not be in any state to be apprehended.’

John realised that he wasn’t being taken seriously at all. He leaned over the desk, to try to focus the officer’s attention. It had the reverse effect. The officer rolled backwards in his office chair, and stood up. He was quite tall and imposing.

‘I think sir has been drinking. Best you go home and have a quiet nap. Things always appear different after a good sleep.’

John had been stopped in his tracks. He moved away from the desk, trying hard to collect his thoughts. What next? The phrase repeated through his head, making a pounding noise. He had come here for help and he had been reprimanded for his drinking instead. His visit to the police station was slipping into a black hole, and no assistance was forthcoming.

John’s inner turmoil must have been obvious on his face. The police officer looked at him with concern.

‘Maybe you should approach the church for guidance. If your brother was a spirit, they will have answers to your questions – put your fears at rest.’ He spoke in a gentler voice.

This suggestion immediately registered with John.

‘Yes, the church,’ John agreed. ‘They must help. Maybe they’ll have some answers.’ At least the vicar would be reasonable and would view John more reasonably.

The officer smiled.

‘Go and have a good chat with your vicar. I’m sure he or she will be very sympathetic.’

John stumbled out of the police station, located his bicycle and pedalled furiously across town.

St Thomas’ was a compact, solid building, built of clean-looking stone, perching on a small hill, looming over the tidy gardens that surrounded it. John propped his bike against a buttress and marched into the familiar church, confident of a solution to his nightmare.

On the inside, the building appeared narrower. A modern partition of wood and stained glass separated him from the pews and the central aisle. The building had been recently renovated here and there, with newer touches in a light-coloured wood.

As John started towards the aisle, a tall, rounded figure, dressed in civilian clothes, came towards him from the sanctuary of the church, where he had been attending to the altar. Vicar Barnes: his presence cheered John a great deal.

‘John – great to see you.’ Vicar Barnes greeted him with open arms. ‘You’re early for the service – it’s not for another three hours. Are Masie and the rest of the family attending?’

The vicar’s enthusiastic greeting made John hesitate, but he soon recovered.

‘I came especially to see you concerning a difficult situation.’

‘Please tell me,’ urged the vicar. He didn’t seem surprised.

‘My brother Jack visited me today, to warn me.’

Vicar Barnes appeared to be composed and calm.

‘I know it’s your Jack’s anniversary. Maybe you’re looking for a vision, or a sign that he’s fine and happy in heaven.’

‘No – it was Jack, and he warned me of trusting too far in heaven. He says it’s too perfect, even for spirits. He said we can go beyond heaven.’

The vicar raised his hands in supplication.

‘You know, John, there is a perfect life in heaven, awaiting those who take on God’s teachings. It is in heaven that we join God, and not beyond.’

‘Yes,’ replied John, not too convinced. ‘But I think Jack was trying to say that blind obedience to the Bible is not the way forwards, even in heaven. The text is out of date.’ John surprised himself with this suggestion.


Reverend Barnes delayed his answer. John’s mother had already visited him earlier and had departed happy with his explanations. John would require a little more persuasion.

Expressing a soothing aura of calmness, the vicar prepared his reply.

‘Remember, John, there is no automatic entry into heaven. We look to the Bible for God’s teachings and those of Jesus and His disciples. Accept God as Lord and Saviour. Trust in His faith and salvation will be given. Heaven is perfect. There is nothing beyond that for the spirit.’

‘So we can trust in our faith as it is taught?’ John asked, his eyes wide, reflecting the stained glass windows.

‘Exactly.’ Reverend Barnes seized upon John’s apparent return to composure. He continued to appease John.

‘Accept, John, that eternal life is in heaven, not beyond it. It is not necessary for the spirit to progress.’

Placing his arm on John’s shoulder, he saw the opportunity to put John at complete ease.

‘There is no need to escape from heaven. Where would you go? John, do you not consider that you had a dream, wishing to see your dear Jack on the anniversary of his passing? Sometimes these dreams involve a reaffirmation of one’s beliefs and faith. It is our nature on Earth to question everything. In heaven, all our questions are behind us.’

John looked more assured. The vicar produced his punch line.

‘We do progress, improve and become more civilised on earth through time. But we also progress and evolve our faith in Jesus and God. Questioning our beliefs makes them stronger, not watered down or different. But there is no requirement to update the Bible or for God to update his word.’

Reverend Barnes was now sure that he had John’s confidence, having achieved similar success earlier in the day with his mother.

‘Now, John, go home to rest and return tonight for your brother’s memorial.’

‘Yes,’ said John, staring at the cross behind the altar. ‘You’re right. I was stupid really. Who would want to escape from heaven?’

John walked slowly down the aisle, and as he departed, Reverend Barnes felt a beaming smile spread across his face.

As John slipped through the heavy church door, the vicar raised his eyes upwards, in time to view Jack being escorted back to heaven by two Guardians.

‘Silly Jack,’ was his comment.


John found that the heavens had opened as he found himself outdoors again. The rain poured down but he felt at peace. His faith had returned, and later, he would remember Jack with a new sense of serenity.

18



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