Mike O’Houlihan pressed the lobby button on the elevator flight panel. To his astonishment, the elevator began ascending rather than descending,
“What the . . .?” There are 64 floors in the building, he had gotten on at floor 32. As the numbers on the floor indicator changed rapidly, he frantically pressed all the buttons on the flight panel hoping to stop it. The elevator continued to rise. When it reached 64, the numbers on the floor indicator stopped, but the elevator did not stop.
Finally, after what seemed an eternity, the elevator stopped with a sudden jolt. Mike grabbed the handrail to keep from falling. The door to the elevator sounded like it had come off of its rollers as it opened and clanged to a stop. To Mike’s utter and profound amazement, the prospect contained nothing but white fluffy clouds. A few wisps of white stuff floated past the elevator door. He stood still for a moment wondering what he should do. He pressed the ‘close door’ button. Nothing happened except a loud annoying grinding sound. All the lights on the flight panel went out.
He stuck his head out of the elevator. There was nothing but more fluffy white clouds.
“This can’t be happening.” Maybe it was an acid flashback even though he hadn’t taken acid for 15 years. Delayed reaction he assumed.
With fading hope, he pressed all the buttons on the elevator flight panel again. Nothing happened. When he pressed the EMERGENCY STOP button, he heard a loud organ playing something akin to a funeral march which did not calm his growing apprehension.
Finally, an elderly man strolled up to the elevator door, “Greetings and salutations.”
“Who the hell are you? And where the fuck am I?”
“Heaven,” smiled the elderly man.
“Am I dead?”
“Heavens, no, my feckless friend. If you were dead, this is the last place you would be.”
“So, you’re a funny guy, eh? Would you mind telling me what the fuck I’m doing here?”
“Happily, Mr. Couth. You’re here to be shown the error of your ways.”
“You have to be fucking kidding me.”
“No, I am not fuc… kidding you. Now, you have me saying it.” The elderly man grimaced. “Would you mind not using the f… word? It offends me.”
“You’re not my mother. I’ll say anything I goddamn please. What’s your name old man? And please don’t tell me it’s Gabriel.”
“No, no, that name is beyond my pay grade. Would you believe, Methuselah?
“Come to think of it, you do look like something the cat dragged in.”
“I think I’ll call you, Geezer.”
“You are too kind. And what may I call you, Mr. Tact?”
“How about a taxi to get me the hell outta here?”
“I think you mean, get me the heaven outta here?”
“There is another functioning elevator over there.” Methuselah pointed.
“But I don’t think you’ll wish to take it.”
“And why is that, wisenheimer?”
“It’s an express elevator to you-know-where.”
“And that would be?”
“You’re funnin’ me?”
“I wouldn’t think of funnin’ you.”
“Hey, what’s with this list of names?” Mike walked up to the alternate elevator? “I know some of these guys. Mickey, Hog, Wolf, Shorty, Rat, Gus, Fingers. These guys are all dead.”
“Yes, I am pleased to agree with you.”
“And they took this elevator to you-know-where?”
“Bingo,” Methuselah grinned.
“My name ain’t here.”
“Play your cards right and you’ll be on the top of the list.”
“Oh, yeah? Keep ridin’ me with those wise-cracks and you’ll be pickin’ iron outta your liver.”
“I doubt it, but your point is well taken. By the way, what name may I call you?”
You can call me, Mister.”
“Okay, Mister, would you please follow me.”
“Not until you tell me where the fuck we’re going?”
“You wouldn’t understand if I told you in fourteen different languages, with diagrams, and photographs. And please don’t use that word.”
“Well, then I ain’t goin’. How do you like them apples?”
“How would you like a bolt of lightning up your backside?”
“On second thought, I think I will follow you. Lead on, Geezer. What a grouch!”
The clouds slowly parted revealing a horrible looking gothic castle.
“Why are we going here? What is this awful place?”
Methuselah was silent as they mounted the stone stairs to the entrance. The doors to the edifice opened and a harsh voice cried out, “Welcome, Michael O’Houilihan, also known as Knuckles and Bad Boy. This is your life. Come on in.”
“Hey, Geezer. What the hell is going on? This place sucks.”
“This is a pictorial archive of your tawdry past. And I agree with you, it does suck, and it’s going to suck even more once you get inside. Follow me, Mister.”
“I ain’t goin’ in here. Are you nuts?”
“Would you prefer the alternate elevator?”
“Lead on, you crusty old bastard.”
“Thank you, Mister. I like you also.”
They moved slowly through the dark shadows of Mike’s school years. Scenes of him fighting and bullying other children were projected in full-3-D color. “Hey, this is okay. I didn’t take no crap from nobody. Nobody fucked with me.”
“Indeed they did not. You were such a popular fellow. I get the impression you are very proud of yourself.”
“Yeah, well, that’s the way the cookie crumbled.”
The school years came to an end but the conduct did not. The grimness of Mike’s life began to weigh upon him. “Hey Geezer, what’s the point of this? I don’t like it.”
“You weren’t meant to like it. It is here to remind you of the meanness of your heart.”
“That’s a lot of crap. I don’t have no meanness of the heart. How long is this gonna take?”
“As long as necessary to enlighten your benighted soul.”
“Enlighten my what?”
“Your spou, dummy. Now, come along. It gets better.” Methuselah chuckled as he descended a circular stone staircase and exited the building.
The darkness of Mike’s school years passed. They entered the next phase of Mike’s awakening, a brilliant forest of trees and flowers.
“Hey, this is much better.” He smiled with delight at the prospect. Suddenly his expression fell, “Audrey! Is that you?”
A young girl got up from a bench and walked slowly toward Mike. “Yes, Mike, it’s me.”
“Why are you here?”
“To remind you of the pain you caused me.”
“I didn’t cause you no pain.” Mike shrank back a step as his memory caught up with him.
“Ah, I see you do remember. I gave you my love, my heart, my body and you trampled on them in your quest for gambling, sex, and drugs.”
“But Audrey, I . . . where’d she go?”
“She died, Mister, of a broken heart. See the tombstone over there? Congratulations. Why she cared for you is one of those mysteries of the ages. You did know she was pregnant when she died, didn’t you?”
“I didn’t know no such thing.” Mike’s protest was half-hearted.
“Yes, you did. It was a little boy who never had a chance. A son. You probably referred to him as a son of a bitch.” Another notch on your belt. Eh, Mr. Smooth. Oh, excuse me. Mister. Why anyone would care for you is way beyond me.”
“Knock it off, asshole. There are plenty of people who care about me.”
“As long as you have the money to spend on them.”
Mike was silent.
“Ah-ha. Seems I’ve pressed a button.”
“I was abused in my childhood.”
Methuselah burst into gales of laughter then stopped suddenly, “No you weren’t. You were loved and cherished and you repaid them by rebuffing everyone who cared for you. You wanted to be free to pursue your own selfish desires. Well, you certainly succeeded in accomplishing that. I don’t think I have ever seen a soul as blackened as yours. Now it’s time to pay the piper. Come along, Mister. There is more, much more. Oh, this is so much fun.”
“Wait, Geezer, I’m sorry I hurt Audrey. I didn’t mean to. I really didn’t know about the boy.”
“WHAT? You didn’t mean to. She’s rotting in her grave because of you. And, did I just hear the words I’M SORRY pass your miserable lips?” Methuselah laughed hysterically. “I’m surprised your lips did not drop from your loathsome face. It’s the first time you have ever uttered those words. But did you mean them or are you scared? Come along, let’s find out.”
They passed out of the forest into the shadows of Mike’s childhood home.
“Hey, this is where I grew up.”
“Yes, it is. Such a cozy little cottage.”
“I can smell something cooking. Mom was a great cook. She made lasagna like you never tasted. Where is she?”
“You want to see your Mother?”
“Yes, my mother.”
“You mean the woman you tortured with your meanness, deceit, lies, and indifference. Let me show you to her. Come this way, Mister.” Methuselah moved into the brightly lit kitchen. “There she is.” Methuselah pointed to an open casket in the middle of the room where a kitchen table once stood. All the chairs lined up perfectly around the casket. “Come here, Mister. Have a seat and enjoy the spectacle of the untimely death you caused.”
Mike shrank back against the wall, “No, I didn’t do this. Please, Geezer, take me away from this.”
“Ah, I see you do have a memory and possibly a conscience. How delightful. Oh no, you will not leave this room until its purpose has been fulfilled.” Methuselah looked into the coffin. “Martha, my dear. Look who's here? Sonny Jim has come for a visit.”
The corpse of Martha sat up. She looked around, smiled at Methuselah and then saw her son. “Michael! me darlin’,” she reached out, “Come here, my boy, my love.”
“No, Mother, I’m sorry. Please forgive me.”
Martha withdrew her hand, “All is forgiven, son.” She smiled and lay down in her coffin.
“A second, I’m sorry. My my, we are making progress. And a request for forgiveness – heavens to Betsy! If this keeps up I’ll be out of a job very soon. And your name is Michael, how sweet. May I call you by the name your victim gave you instead of Mister?”
“Yes, Methuselah. Please call me Mike. Are we done yet?”
“Oh no, Mike. There is much more. Are you having a good time?”
“No, I’m not, but you already know that.”
Methuselah chuckled as he stood up and moved through a doorway into darkness. “Come along, Mike, the best is yet to come.”
Mike dutifully followed. “Where are we going?”
“To visit some relatives of yours - your brothers.”
“No no, I can’t, I won’t. Please. For God’s sake have mercy.”
“You can’t, you won’t, please. What has come over you? The elevator to hell is right over there waiting for you. We can end all of this right now if you prefer. Just step in and press the button marked HELL FIRE and DAMNATION. It’s non-stop. I believe there is a special place down there reserved, just for you.”
“For God’s sake, have mercy? It is for God’s sake that you are here. Now shut the fuck up and follow me. Oh, there I go with that word. See what a bad influence you’ve been on me?”
“I’m sorry. I promise never to use that word again. Please forgive me. Lead on.”
“All right. I guess I’ll have to take your word for it. Come along. You’re going to love the pain this will cause you.”
“You enjoy torturing me, don’t you?”
“You wish it were that simple, don’t you? I am not capable of such a loathsome thing. You have brought all of this pain upon yourself. Minute by minute, day by day, year by year.
“You have been granted a chance to undo all of this. For what reason, I’ll never know. I just as soon see you breathing the fires of hell. This is no picnic for me just in case you wondered.”
“I’m sorry, Methuselah. Please forgive me. Take me where you will.” Mike stood before Methuselah with his head bowed.
A loving smile crept across Methuselah’s face, “Come along then.” He took Mike’s hand and led him forward. “Do you remember what happened to Charlie and Peter?”
“It was an accident.”
“Was it?” Methuselah’s voice softened.
“No, it wasn’t. I was drunk and drove too fast. I was thrown from the car when it crashed. When I saw the flames, I panicked and ran and ran and ran and never looked back. I know you won’t believe me but it has haunted me every single minute.”
“I believe you, Mike. Look.”
“Peter, Charlie, oh, my God.” Mike broke into a run, crashing into the arms of his brothers. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Forgive me. Are you guys alright?
“We’re fine, Mike. Couldn’t be better, and we’re so glad to see you again.”
“Mike.” Mike turned and saw Methuselah standing near. “It’s time, Mike.”
“Time?” Mike looked back at his brothers who began to fade from his view.
“Sir, can you hear me?” a paramedic passed a vial of smelling salts beneath Mike’s nose.
“What?” Mike raised his arms to push the smell away. “What? Who are you, Where am I? What happened?”
I’m a paramedic and I’m here to help. “You passed out in the elevator. Someone called 911. How are you feeling?”
“I don’t know.” Mike looked out of the lobby window and saw clouds. “Is this heaven?”
“No, it’s not, but it’s a beautiful day. Here, let me help you sit up. Now, watch my finger?” The medic moved her finger back and forth in front of Mike’s eyes as she examined his eye movements. “Just want to make sure you don’t pass out again,” she smiled at Mike.
“I guess I’m okay.”
“Yes, I think so. You kept calling out for someone named Methuselah. An unusual name. Is he a friend of yours?”
Mike chuckled but did not answer.
“You also called out for a Charlie and Peter.”
Mike noticed the medic’s name tag as she sat next to him and took his vitals with a wrist app. “Audrey. Your name is Audrey?”
“Yes, it is. And what’s your name?” she smiled.
“It’s Michael. You can call me Mike,” he smiled. “I’m sorry.”
“For all the trouble I’ve caused.”
“Wasn’t your fault. Okay, Mike. Would you like to stand up?”
“Sure, let’s give it a try.”
“There, I think you’re going to live.” Audrey took Mike’s hand and led him to the revolving door.
“Thank you, Audrey,” he paused.
“What is it, Mike?”
“Would it be okay if I asked you to have dinner with me sometime?”
Audrey looked at Mike in surprise and smiled. “I don’t know, let me ask. Hey, Fred, Mike here wants to take me to dinner. Can you finish up?”
“I didn’t mean now.”
“Sure, go ahead. Hey. Mike, she’s very particular, and she’s in my martial arts class so watch your step,” Fred laughed.
“Would you rather do it another time?”
“No, now would be perfect. I might have a relapse.”
Audrey laughed, “At least you have a sense of humor. Come on, let’s go.”
Mike turned to Fred, “Thanks for the advice. I’ll be careful.” He looked at Audrey, “Any place in particular?”
“Some place quiet – it’s been a hectic day. I’ve got a taste for lasagna.”
“Come on, I know just the spot. It’s a little bit of heaven I think you’ll like.”
“Your mother’s cooking, right?”
“No, my mother was the best cook in the world. You would have loved her lasagna, but she’s gone now. We’re going to Volare’s over on Grand. Ever eaten there?”
“No, I haven’t.”
“Well, prepare yourself for an Italian treat. Come on, we can walk it if that’s alright with you.”
“Sure. Let’s go.”
They walked out of the building through the revolving doors into the afternoon setting Sun. Mike looked up and smiled, “Thank you, Methuselah.”
“You keep calling that name, who is he?”
“It’s an old friend of mine. I’ll tell you about him some day. It’s a fun story.”
“I love fun stories. Why don’t you tell me over dinner?”
“Okay, but I’m warning you. You may not believe it.”
“We’ll see about that,” Audrey smiled and put her arm through Mike’s. “I have to warn you.”
“About what?” Mike wasn’t sure what would follow.
“I never do anything on my first date.”
Mike stopped and looked at Audrey, “You eat, I hope.”
“Yes, of course. How about you?”
“My first date?”
“I’ve been a bad boy I’m sorry to say. Hope that doesn’t discourage you.”
“No, it doesn’t. Are you still a bad boy?”
“No, I’m happy to say. You’ll understand why when I tell you that story.”
Ok, fair enough.” Audrey steered Mike into the crowd on Michigan Avenue.