Between Heaven And Hell
(This was a writing assignment we used in my writing group. I was given a situation–the stalled elevator–and the cast. The rest was up to me. This is the result.)
Brother Danny Bobo boarded the elevator, white leather shoes, white wool suit, red silk tie—“for the blood of Jesus washes every sin away,” he would explain at church meetings, “making us ‘Whiter Than Snow’”, and always, always, those last three words were sung. He stepped to the control panel, pushing the button for the 36th floor with his free hand. His other hand grasped his black leather, red-letter edition, King James Bible. At that moment, a gentleman in a gray suit entered the elevator. “Going up?” Danny asked.
“42nd floor,” replied Dr. Jonathan Evans, research scientist for GenSciCorp, a cloning specialist, a visiting professor at the local university, an atheist, and the newly published author of Why There Is No God, which had debuted on the 19th spot of the New York Times Best Selling List. Glancing at the preacher’s Bible, Jonathan added, “but if your question was metaphysical, up doesn’t exist.”
A third man entered the elevator, his once black hair dyed light purple and gelled into a faux-hawk, dressed in black pants and dress shirt, with a red-lined black cape draped over his shoulders. A gold pentagram hung pendant from his throat. “Hell, I’m late,” he complained, reaching past Danny to punch the 39th floor button.
“He’ll probably ask if you are going down,” Jonathan remarked dryly.
Taking in Danny’s Bible and his gold cross lapel pin, Rafe Hornsworth replied, “Damn right I am.” With that, the elevator door closed and a moment latter lurched into action. Groaning, it slowly crawled up the elevator shaft. The three men stood apart, the Baptist pastor and the Satanic priest at opposite corners. The atheistic scientist leaned against the elevator wall. He never felt at equilibrium riding in an elevator. Leaning against the wall at least gave him a wobbly sense of balance. ‘Octopus Garden’ played softly on the elevator’s Musak system. “You know you’re getting old,” Jonathan thought, “when your generation’s music has become Musak.
Suddenly the elevator lurched, jerked, then shot up at an alarming rate of speed. Jonathan crashed to the floor. Then, with a second jerk, the elevator stopped dead, midway between the 19th and 20th floors. Rafe lost his balance, joining Jonathan on the floor. Danny crashed against the doors, managing to maintain his footing. He turned to the other two, offering a hand to each. “Here,” he said.
“I can get up by myself.” Rafe scrambled to his feet unassisted.
“Thank you,” said Jonathan, taking Danny’s hand. The two together raised Jonathan to his feet.
“You’re welcome.” With the utterance of those words, the lights went off on the control panel and an emergency light came on. Danny pulled open the panel marked Emergency Phone and pulled the phone out. Holding it to his ear, he tapped on the disconnect button twice, then replaced the phone. “Not working,” he said. “No dial tone.” After a brief silence, as they took their situation in, Danny added, “Being stuck on an elevator is a great plot device for television shows, but I’ve never known anyone to actually be stuck in one—until now.”
“Why did I have to get stuck with a Bible thumper,” growled Rafe. “I’d appreciate it if you would keep the hell silent.”
“Gentlemen,” broke in Jonathan before the Baptist preacher could reply. “I’m of neither of your persuasions, believing neither in a heavenly king nor an infernal majesty. I would appreciate it if we can agree to focus upon our immediate situation—the elevator and what we might be able to do to facilitate our rescue, and not upon our mutually exclusive persuasions.”
“Why, bless you, I’m not a Bible thumper, and I don’t take advantage of unwilling, captive audiences.” And here Danny laughed a simple, joyous laugh. “It might amuse you to know I was once like both of you. I didn’t believe in God,” he said to Jonathan, then to Rafe, “and I was a Hell’s Angel, hard drinking and hard driving myself straight down the road to Hell, and not the one paved with good intentions, nor the metaphysical one either. Just Hell right here on earth. I ran into my share of Bible thumpers, so I know what it was like to be button-holed. Didn’t like it, and I won’t do it, so you have nothing to fear except my natural tendency to wax on about anything. Just say, ‘enough said’, and I’ll try…”
“Enough said,” cut in Rafe. “And I was never like you.” Danny obligingly stopped in mid-sentence.
“If they don’t already know that the elevator is stuck, they soon will,” said Jonathan. “People waiting for the elevator will complain and someone will be sent to check out what happened.
“Any way to get the control panel open?” asked Rafe.
“Not that I can see,” replied Jonathan. “A key is needed and I doubt any of us happen to be carrying a lock-picking kit.”
The other two assured him they did not have such an item upon them. “We are stuck here until someone comes along and gets us out,” Danny said. “What shall we talk about then, since faith is a forbidden topic?”
“Nothing,” snarled Rafe. “Let’s just be quiet.”
“I don’t know,” Jonathan responded. “Surely there is some neutral topic we can talk about. Music maybe?”
Rafe shook his head. “Don’t go there,” he replied. “Black Sabbath verses hymns?”
“Or books?” Jonathan forged on. Rafe simply pointed to Danny’s Bible.
“Don’t be so quick to judge,” Danny replied. “It might surprise you that among my most favorite books are Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings…”
“No way,” interjected Rafe. “Wizards and warlocks?”
“…L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time…”
“…and Charles William’s Descent Into Hell.”
“Never heard of that one,” Rafe admitted.
“You might enjoy it. It’s all about how a man damns himself, just as I was damning myself back in my hell-raising days.”
“See,” Rafe said to Jonathan.
“But Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings, I loved it. Despite all the fantasy, there’s more reality in that book than I find in most of what’s written today.”
“What do you mean by that?” Jonathan asked.
“Have you never found yourself longing to hold on to the truly precious things of life only to find them fleeting? Have you never had to give up something to save it? Have you never longed for something more…more beautiful? More wonderful? More eternal? Have you never been horrified at the destruction we can carry out against our neighbors, this beautiful earth, and ourselves? It’s all in there—the trek to Mordor, the harrowing of the Shire, the defection of Saruman, Frodo boarding the ship at the Gray Harbor. So, how many books have you read that speak to the deep desires of every human heart?”
“But a lot of Bible thumpers have condemned The Lord of the Rings,” protested Rafe.
“I told you, I’m not a Bible thumper.”
“I read Lord of the Rings back in college,” Jonathan admitted. “Haven’t thought much about it since then. Just thought it was a good book.”
“It is,” said Danny and Rafe together. They eyed each other, some of Rafe’s defenses just starting to lower.
“I’ve been too busy with my research to find much time for fun reading. In fact, I was on the way to a job interview. I was called because the company was impressed with my work with GenSciCorp. They want to offer me a position as head of a division doing genetic regeneration research with applications to things like healing of wounds and regeneration of missing limbs—arm of the starfish type of stuff.”
“Another L’Engle title,” remarked Danny.
“What?” asked Jonathan.
“Arm of the Starfish. You might want to read it sometime.”
“Damn. You’re not like any pastor I’ve met before,” Rafe admitted.
“Glad to hear it. The reason I’m toting this Bible,” he gestured with the hand holding the book, “I’m meeting with an executive of a corporation who has been reading a little book called Ecclesiastes, one of the lesser known Bible books. It’s the reflections of an old man on the meaning of life. A lot of people think the old man was pessimistic and wonder why Ecclesiastes even got included in the Bible. I don’t think he was pessimistic at all. Anyway, the guy I’m meeting with has been doing a lot of thinking and he has a lot of questions. So we were meeting to just talk about life.”
“I’m actually the owner of a printing firm,” Rafe said, “besides being a High Priest in the Satanic Church. I was supposed to meet with the financial committee of a company to show them how doing business with us could save them money.”
“Well,” said Danny, “looks like our plans are all being delayed. So, having established that we can have a conversation without yelling past each other, what shall we talk about?”
Jonathan, feeling somewhat uncomfortable, softly asked, “Have either of you read my new book? It’s called Why There Is No God.”
“I haven’t, but now that I’ve met you, I will read it,” Danny answered.
“You’re crazy,” Rafe said to Jonathan. “It’s because I believe in God that I became a Satanist. I don’t want to have anything to do with her.”
“Maybe we three can meet for drinks—non-alcoholic for me—and talk about your book?” Danny suggested.
“I would like that.”
“I must be growing soft,” Rafe remarked, “but, why not? I think it would be fun to watch you two go at it.”
At that moment the lights came back on and the elevator started sinking slowly back to the basement. “Thank God,” sighed Jonathan.
“I didn’t think you believed in him,” said Rafe. After a moment of silence, the elevator was filled with laughter—and Musak.