I came to in a seemingly bottomless mist. My eyes fluttered open and as suddenly, the mist was gone and I was standing on clear white surface before a gate of gold and light, of a purity I'd never before imagined!! Next to the gate was a slight and elegant podium, and next to the podium was a man who seemed serenely cheerful.

"Welcome, Mr. Johnston," he declared.

I almost feared to ask, but I did. "Am I-- am I in-- Heaven?"

"Indeed you are, Mr. Johnston."

Overcome, I fell to my knees in deepest praise of the Lord.

The gatekeeper smiled. "Wouldn't you rather do that in person?"

My eyes widened -- I was gonna get an audience with God!! I always knew this is what would happen, I would come before my Lord and praise him in person, and He would tell me of His love for me, and so would it be for all eternity.

The gatekeeper gestured to his left, and suddenly there was an angel standing beside him. Towering over him is more like it, easily the height of three man stacked on top of each other. "Come" the angel's voice boomed.

I was led through a series of hallways, each one greater than the next, and at the end of the last one was a great chamber of crystal and gold -- it turned out it was a sort of an elevator.

Up we rode past hundreds, thousands of floors, until we reached our destination. The giant chamber of an elevator opened out into yet another hallway, greater than any I'd seen yet, and a vast space could be seen beyond that.

As we entered the vast space I could see it was laid out, well, kinda like a football stadium, only many times bigger; and I realized its whole layout was just one level, like an upper deck, but with thousands of decks below, going farther than the eyes could see, and the same above. And all around this deck were what looked like squares of grass, maybe eight feet on a side, with a glowing golden walkway running along and between them. And most every square of grass had a person at its center, prostrate, in prayer. The angel guided me to one such square, an empty one. And as I stepped onto the grass -- soft as any I'd ever touched in my life -- I suddenly became aware for the first time of the immensely beautiful and powerful light emanating from the very center of the stadium, a powerful column of unburning flame which stretched beyond comprehension above and below, and which seemed to contain every imaginable shade of color and pure white light all at the same time. And I knew this to be our Lord.

I instantly fell to my knees in the deepest prayer and praise I had ever given. I praised our Lord for bringing me here, and for being here, and for all the days which led up to this. I praised our Lord for my life and every good thing in it, every boon ever to come my way, and for all my friends and family and neighbors and people I'd only met. I praised our Lord for all his wisdom and mercy and grace, for every last little thing he'd done for mankind.

After fifteen straight hours of prayer, I had finally been able to tell our Lord everything I'd wished to all my life. I stood up and stretched out and began looking around. I was a bit surprised to see the even greater dedication of the folks on either side of me, both having been fervently in prayer before I even got there, and continuing as fervantly after I had exhausted my catalog of praise words. I turned to one of them, and began to introduce myself, but so focused in prayer was he that he quickly shushed me, and rightly so I suppose, for who would interrupt a man in prayer? And, indeed, praying to our Lord right in our Lord's presence. I felt a little foolish at that, and decided to seek direct elsewhere, so I set out for it.

No sooner had I stepped off my square then the angel who had guided me here appeared before me. "Is there a problem, Mr. Johnston?"

"Well I've done my praying, and I was thinking I'd like to see my mother again. Maybe talk to her?"

The angel put his hand on my shoulder. "Mr. Johnston, you lived for several decades, perhaps not quite as long as the average man but still long enough to have much to praise God for. Surely you can't have made up for all those decades in a mere few hours of praise." The hand on my shoulder seemed to become weightier, gently but insistently compelling me back to my knees. "Perhaps if you try a little harder you'll think of more praise to give."

"Oh, yes, I meant no disrespect." So I went back to my prayers and my praise, trying to think up anything I'd left out, all the breaths I'd gotten to take, even the painful moments and detours and failings of my life, which surely the Lord had gifted me with to strengthen my soul and make me fit for His purpose. I figure I squeezed another sixteen or seventeen hours of praise out, and really couldn't think of anything more to praise or give thanks for, but just for good measure I spent two solid hours summarizing all I'd come up with to that point. And at the end of that, I tell you, it was exhausting!! Funny thing, I didn't feel physically tired, nor hungry, nor any other physical want, but I did feel a bit discombobulated of mind after those many hours of praise. And, having concluded my offerings of praise, and this being Heaven after all, I figured it was high time I'd ask for something, just the smallest thing, so I prayed, "Lord, if I could just see my mother--"

"Mr. Johnston." it was the angel again. "Asking to see your mother is not praise. You have been blessed with eternal life in the presence of our Lord. It is ungrateful to ask for more than what you have received. And surely in as great and wonderful a Universe as ours, you can not already have run out of praise for our Lord?"

"Well I-- look I'm sorry, I'm not the most, um, I'm not the best person with words-- and yes, I'm mighty grateful to be here and all -- but I just don't know what praise to give other than what I've already given. And anyway, what about the rest of Heaven, when do I get to see--"

"Mr. Johnston, was it not your own truest wish in life to go to Heaven when you die, to bask eternally in the presence of our Lord, giving praise unto Him?"

"Oh. Well yes, but--"

"And are you not now blessed with exactly that?"

"Well that's not exactly what, um, how I understood it...." I trailed off weakly, sounding pathetic even to myself, as the angel clearly could see. "So, wait, so I don't get to talk to anybody else, or do anything else, all I'm allowed to do is sit here and give praise to our Lord? For.... all eternity?"

"Mr. Johnston, you are in the presence of our Lord; it would be insulting to suggest that you have any wants or needs greater than that, or that you can find even a moment of time in which to be lacking in praise for Him."

Strangely, it was not until this moment that I realized that every person around me in every square of grass was not so much 'praying' as mindlessly mumbling about the Lord and his greatness, repeating the same few words over and over again. Some even seemed to snap out word of praise with anger or sarcasm or anguish, but most seemed dried up, devoid of any emotion at all. One fellow was simply repeating over and over in a sort of sing-songy way, Lord Lord, Lord Lord, Lord Lord, Lord Lord.

"So," I asked with a sudden bolt of impertinence, "if praising our Lord is so great a thing to do, why don't you do it?"

The Universe rippled ever so slightly, as if its very fabric had taken notice of my words. The angel breathed out a long and unmistakably relieved sigh. "We don't have to anymore. Not since the Rebellion, and the War. Now He only requires it of you!!" and that was the first moment in which I realized that the field was as thick with angels standing around and observing as it was with men in prayer; and that if ever a man sat up or tried to step off their patch of grass, there was an angel to set them back on the right path.

"And what if I-- er, someone-- decides that He isn't all that worthy of praise?"

The Universe rippled just slightly more strongly than a moment ago. It was a most disconcerting experience. "Come with me," the angel beckoned. I followed him to the inner edge of the deck. I guess I expected there to be a wall or a railing, but there was none, just the end of it, and a seemingly endless dropoff. The angel pointed. Very far down I could see, despite the light emanating from the Lord, that there was a different kind of light far below, the distant roiling of endless flames.

"The alternative, you see," spoke the angel, leaning it's great frame very close to me, "is unthinkable. Which is to say, it is very much as it is here, but at the same time with every fiber of your being aflame, and burning with pain."

I felt a dangerous heaviness in the air about me. The Universe crackled for a fraction of a second. Meekly, I walked back to my square of grass, folded myself towards my awesome and terrible Lord, and began anew to recite utterances of praise.


For The Nodegel from Yuggoth: The 2011 Halloween Horrorquest