Chapter 14
Paragon: Silver Cross



            Paragon and Pollux went over to a cemetery in Limbo where a gravedigger was moving a headstone.
            ”Shall we lend you a hand?”
            ”Well, since you’re here anyway, then...”
            ”Of course.”
            They helped the gravedigger to get the stone up on a low trolley.
            ”That’s some heavy rock. It must have been expensive.”
            ”Yes, and it’s got my name on it along with my dad’s.”
            ”I notice your year is at the top.”
            ”Yes, I died when I was young, but it took many years before I realized it. I moved like a ghost and tried to live a life I didn’t get the opportunity to try out because I died so young. It was something of a self-deception, but eventually I found out about it.”
            ”You’re obviously not quite resigned to your fate, since you're still here.”
            ”No, a little time should probably pass first.”

            The church was empty, but Paragon and Pollux were greeted outside by a black-clad man with a wide-brimmed black hat and a badge that read ‘The End is Nigh’.
            ”Are you a priest here?”
            ”I am the pastor of the small group of believers who have received the merciful gift.”
            ”The soul matter fits in any case, but is your task not over? As deceased, you’re now here in Limbo, but you might not even realize that?”
            ”Yes, I know about this. I see this as just a little stopover on the way to salvation in the hereafter.”
            ”If you already think you belong to the saved, why are you here? One would otherwise believe the way to heaven for a soul like yours would pass without detour?”
            ”It is certainly true, but I think I can still do some good along the way. As you can see, there is still need for my humble deed. Most of the shipwrecked souls here have not found the proper path, so there lays a merciful act in preparing the way for the poor lost sheep.”
            ”Ahh, I see. Now I’m working in the secular division, but from your point of view, I must admit you help us, in a manner of speaking. One of the main purposes for us in soul handling is just that as many as possible of the lost souls decide to look toward the heavenly pastures, to stay in your imagery.”
            ”I see. I have heard about your blessed work up there, but after all, we don’t quite agree on the ultimate purpose. We share the view that the souls are awakened at the very last day of Earth, where the chaff must be separated from the sheep and the righteous will have their dwelling place in Heaven while the ill-fated beings are sent to Hell.”
            ”I have understood that much, but unfortunately the Great Plan cannot afford the luxury that every small portion of soul mass can be allowed to exist on its own forever, so to speak.”
            ”Perhaps, but at some point the top management realized that they had to recycle the spiritual residual contribution left when a man’s bodily casing collapsed. A question of awareness of resources, one might say. Nowadays you can’t afford to squander top priority valuables.”
            ”That’s what you call rebirth?”
            ”Yes, or reincarnation. It was simply a necessity when the population exploded.”
            ”I have to admit the question of rebirth does not appear in the canonical writings I refer to.”
            ”No, but they’re also immensely old and in great need of an update. If you dig into the advent of holy scriptures, the course of events was obtained through a series of resolutions on various synods in the past, where the shrewd church fathers decided which of the mythological writings were being decisive. There are as you may know Apocrypha asserting something other than the legalized statutes, and it strictly speaking only reflects the ancient church policy which has entered into compromises to make things run as smoothly as possible.”
            ”I think you have a demeaning attitude to the scriptures, my dear friend.”
            ”Maybe, but that’s because over the years I have been exposed to so many unpleasant consequences of ideological differences. What should be a positive spiritual experience often ends up in a political dispute between earthly interests. Instead of carried out in harmony with acceptance and tolerance, life has evolved into tangible disputations with spiritual arguments used as weapons between groupings. A very sorry state of affairs.”
            ”I understand. I also regret the many apostates, who have not chosen the proper path. People then lost by false prophets they meet on their way. Alas.”         
            ”I can see we hardly agree on the mission statement, but you do at least make a major effort to get as many souls as possible lured onto the road to the hereafter. Then we will take it from there. The end justifies the means.”
            ”Just my words.”
            ”Yes, although some power-hungry religious orders in their time went completely overboard in their attempts to proselytize.”
            ”We are many who regret that. But what brings you here, if it is not a quest for a sustainable basis of existence?”
            ”We’re looking for an errant soul said to possess special qualities. Therefore, we thought you might’ve met her. Here is a fairly lifelike portrait which we have also posted around town.”
            The preacher glanced at the picture.
            ”I am sorry, she doesn’t belong to my congregation, but it’s possible she may come. Who should I contact if she decides to seek the light of grace?”
            Paragon handed him his card.
            ”Here is all the necessary information. She is definitely wanted, and I think the authorities are prepared to put up a sizable bounty for her apprehension.”
            ”A small donation to the church collection box?”
            ”That I believe is a golden opportunity, yes.”
            ”I will make a note of that. In my earthly life, I went out and tried to make all nations His disciples, and now I will gather the forces of my great work among the lost souls here. God has put me in this position and I shall show myself worthy and live up to his trust.”
            ”Good luck, preacher.”
            ”Thank you, brother.”

            As the two tailed creatures had come a bit off, Pollux had to comment on the process.
            ”Some kind of discussion there, champ.”
            ”Well, I couldn’t resist. I had to tell him about the facts soul handling must cope with in our day, but I knew we wouldn’t reach any understanding across disciplines. The ideological trenches are too muddy.”
            A little boy came over to them.
            ”Is it you who’ve put up those posters?”
            ”Yes, I did. Why do you ask?”
            ”I know the lady.”
            ”Do you really?”
            ”Yes, and she’s very nice.”
            ”I thought so, too. Is she somewhere nearby?”
            ”Yes, she lives here. I often come by her place.”
            ”Really? Where can we find her?”
            ”She lives up in the house on the hill. I can accompany you there, if you’d like to visit her.”
            ”Thank you. We would like that very much. We’re not so well known around here.”
            ”No, you must be new here. I haven’t seen you before.”
            ”What are you carrying around in your hand?”
            ”That’s my other hand.”
            Now Paragon could well see one sleeve was empty. He had thought the sleeve was too long. Now the boy pulled up the worn sleeve. The arm indeed lacked a hand.
            ”How did you lose your hand?”
            ”The executioner cut it off at the scaffold.”
            ”There had been some bread stolen and they thought I had taken it, but it wasn’t me. I was sentenced anyway.”
            ”Why did they think it was you?”
            ”We were seven brothers and sisters and we were often starving down in the moorland. We went begging, and the one who ran away obviously looked like me. I couldn’t bear the injustice, so I drowned myself.”
            ”And that’s why you’re here?”
            ”You must know it’s not necessary for you to stay here. You really should go to Heaven if you want to.”
            ”No, I want to wait for justice.”
            ”Up in Heaven, they don’t care about that. There, they’ll know you're innocent.”
            ”Do they?”
            ”Yes, they closely monitor the sort. It helps to determine where you’re going next time. So in the case of judgment you’ll not suffer anymore.”
            ”But what about the lady?”
            ”Yes, we can’t leave her. It would be a pity on her.”
            ”I see there are plenty good reasons to talk to her.”
            ”There’s her house.”

            The boy pointed with his single hand at a stately mansion lying on a hill nearby. Built of wood it was rotten and decayed, but in this ghost world, almost everything was. Here, all colors were bluish-green or brownish grey. There was a lack of clear and cheerful colors. What little grass there remained was too dry, and the few trees and plants did not thrive, or nearly withered.
            ”Who's playing there?”
            Paragon pointed to three other children who were playing in front of the house.
            ”Some other children Bella has taken care of. We need her and she needs us.”
            ”Have the other children met equally sad fates as you?”
            ”Yes, they have been beaten and mistreated or have been forced to commit crimes where they’ve lost their lives. Therefore, they are here.”
            ”Not all children with a sad past end up here.”
            ”Maybe not, but these ones have.”
            Paragon and Pollux followed the boy up the stairs. As the three other children saw there were guests, they also ran to the stairs that led up to a covered porch in front of the facade. The other children were curious.
            ”Who are you?”
            ”Oh, we're just some visitors who would like to talk to Bella.”
            The children were curious.
            ”Can you cure her?”
            ”We need to have a look.”
            ”She’s been sick for a long time.”
            ”What’s wrong with her?”
            ”We don’t know exactly, but she is very frail. You have to be extra considerate.”
            ”Is that so?”
            ”Yes, we’ve talk to her and comfort her. She is a good listener.”
            They had come into the foyer, where there was an entrance leading to the living room, a heavy dark portiere of velvet half pulled. In the living room, they caught a glimpse of plush furniture and a table with curved legs. On pedestals stood jars with small palm trees.
            ”I don’t think we go right here, boss. The time not fit with our client. Too old.”
            ”You can’t always count on that. Souls can sometimes move in if the conditions please them, and this house might be fine for Bella to tolerate.”
            From the entrance hall, a staircase winded up to the second floor. The boy led the way.
            ”Bella is upstairs.”

            They reached a landing leading to a corridor that went along the length of the house. Over by one of the doors, the boy knocked. Paragon and Pollux could not hear any reply, but the boy opened the door. It creaked a bit.
            There was no answer, but the boy continued over to a large bed with high gables. A woman turned her head slightly at the sound of the boy who showed up. Now, the others would approach to the vicinity of the bed.
            ”What is it, Jim?”
            ”We have guests. Some strange beings have come to visit you.”
            ”Let them come over.”
            Paragon and Pollux had taken off their orange caps.
            ”Hello, ma'am.”
            ”Hello. Who are you?”
            ”I'm Paragon and this is my assistant Pollux.”
            Pollux nodded too.
            ”What do you want?”
            ”We come from soul handling, which is a department of the Seventh Sky. We are sent on a special mission to locate you.”
            ”Oh my goodness, is somebody interested in finding me?”
            ”It seems so.”
            ”A good question, but we don’t really know. It’s not our job to know, but it must be something important.”
            ”What might that be, in general terms?”
            ”I think it has something to do with reincarnation.”
            ”Yes, when souls reach the soul depot they get the chance to be reborn, and I could imagine they just need a soul with some special characteristics of distinction.”
            ”Imagine that. Then I suppose I should feel honored?”
            ”It’s also my belief. Then can we accompany you to the other side?”
            ”Unfortunately not.”
            ”Why not? Now that it is a worthy purpose?”
            ”I cannot leave my children.”
            Paragon looked around.
            ”I certainly believe they will follow where you are going.”
            ”I’m not thinking of them, but the ones I left back on Earth. They need me. They must have someone to take care of them, it’s my solemn duty.”
            ”But frankly, ma'am, you are here now and I have the feeling you’ve been here for a while. Perhaps your children are adults now. They have undoubtedly come to terms with your demise and have continued their lives.”
            ”Then I must know that they’ve fared well. Only then, can I leave this place and go on to the afterlife. Do you understand?”
            ”Err... Yes, I... take your concerns into account.”
            ”Thank you very much. Do come back and tell me what has happened to them. Whether they’ve managed to become competent, happy people. If so, I can have peace of mind and leave this place. Will you do that?”
            ”Hm... Yes, of course. I guess we’ll just have to do that.”
            ”Thank you. I look forward to it. I hope for the best. But I’m afraid I have not been able to give them what it takes for them to succeed in life.”
            ”You can be quite calm on that matter. I can’t imagine it’s that big a deal. But we will investigate.”
            ”Good luck.”
            ”Thank you.”