“It was just a dream, Bill.”
Gloria looked back to Bill. A little line creased between her eyebrows. Her eyes were perfectly framed by the rear-view mirror, and Bill was struck by how lovely her eyes were despite her stern expression.
Bill sighed, “Maybe. But it didn’t feel like a dream. It felt like, you know, touch. It felt like I was feeling a story.”
Benny crinkled back the paper wrapper on his cheeseburger and took a bite. He slurped a sip of soda. “I don’t know. Maybe it means something, G?”
Gloria looked over to Benny. “Christ! Not you too?”
Benny shrugged. He held a French fry up to his mouth. “He’s been dead-on so far as far as we know.”
She inhaled and shook her head.
“I don’t think it was real,” Bill said. He ate a French fry and swallowed it down with a sip of soda. The straw in the soda held a hint of the lives surrounding it. He saw a single mother dreaming of a night out away from her kids and knew this to be the woman who had served them the fast food back at the drive-through window. Bill tried to ignore the feelings and stories embedded in the plastic and Styrofoam and paper. He ate a chicken nugget and tasted its history. It surprised him how little of the history of that nugget had to do with chickens and how much had to do with various grains and varieties of soy.
“What do you mean: Not real?” Benny asked.
Bill swallowed his nugget with a slurp of soda. “Well, it doesn’t fit in with my own theology, I guess. Did you ever read Dante in college?”
Benny nodded, too. “I never actually read it, but I studied it. Got an A on a paper about it. I remember writing about the rings of Hell and all that.”
Bill nodded. “Exactly! Rings. The stadium became rings. When I looked around at all the devils and demons, they were the souls of the damned. Now that I think about it, there were levels. Just like Dante. The tortures differed to suit the sin, an inverse of all that is good, and The Devil was at the center of it all. But what were the angels doing there?”
Gloria sighed. “Dreams are funny like that. Sometimes they don’t mean anything, you know?”
Bill ate a fry and looked out the window. They rode through a Florida suburb. Farmers' markets and strip malls whizzed by. “Maybe. Maybe you’re right and it was just a dream, but if it’s not, if it wasn’t just a dream, then it’s worth noting. Perhaps I have a link, you know?”
“A link?” Gloria looked back at him in the rearview mirror.
Once again, Bill found himself staring into her eyes. He tore his eyes away, thought of his wife, felt guilty, and looked back out the window. “A link to our guy. This wasn’t my theology. This wasn’t a reflection of my beliefs. I’m not that literal, I guess, in my, uhm, I guess you could call it my translation of faith. I believe differently.”
Benny grunted. “One of those Rob Bell guys, huh? Let me guess: You don’t believe in Hell?”
“No. I believe in a Hell. If there’s a Heaven, there’s got to be a Hell right? You can’t have or understand the concept of light unless there’s some dark somewhere. At least that’s the way I see it. But what is Hell? What is Heaven, for that matter? Are they physical places or spiritual? What are they exactly? I can’t say I know. I’ve read through the Bible probably dozens of times, been an active member of my church for the last six years, typically attend Bible classes and the main services, but I’ve never been able to find a definitive answer on these things. There are beliefs, there are theories, but little that I would accept as fact when it comes to specifics regarding an afterlife. I know some Christians who believe Heaven and Hell aren’t really even an issue until later on. They believe the dead sleep until Christ’s return and then are judged and have their salvation or damnation determined. I don’t know, definitively, about any of that stuff. I would be unlikely to trust anyone who tried to tell me those answers with absolute authority, to be honest. That’s the sort of thing usually reserved for end times cults like the Davidians, for just one example. Anyway, I don’t think anyone living today really knows exactly what Heaven and Hell really are. It’s a mystery. But I really don’t think they look like their Medieval depictions anymore than Jesus was an Aryan with blonde hair and blue eyes. Those are Medieval constructs with very little resemblance to the original Jewish source materials.”
Benny laughed. “He sounds pretty smart, huh?”
Bill could see Gloria’s eyes smile in the rear-view mirror. “Did you go to seminary in the years we’ve been apart by any chance?”
Bill smiled. “No. Just had a lot of time to think over the years and reflect over some of the bitter things like that, especially the last few months since I’ve been on my own. I know enough now to know I don’t really know anything. What you believe and what really are are not always the same thing.” Bill thought about his wife, the love they shared, the way they touched, the way they kissed, the way she promised him her love and loyalty, the way he saw her in another man’s arms the last time they touched. “Beliefs are not the same as facts. They’re more fluid, I guess. At least they are for me. That’s how I know that what I was seeing—“
“You mean dreaming,” Gloria interjected.
“No. I mean seeing, or feeling,” Bill said. “What I was feeling was not my own view on things. The vision was too solid. The underlying theology or cosmology or whatever you want to call it was too consistent. It was concrete and unchanging. It fit in with the worldview I’ve been seeing at the crime scenes, is what I’m trying to say.”
Benny turned around in his seat. “So, do you think Pastor Green’s involved in some way?”
Bill nodded. “Maybe, but maybe not. In my dream or vision or whatever it was, Pastor Green was the Devil. I don’t think our guy sees himself as Satan. He’s too self-righteous for that, I think.”
The three of them bumped in the car as Gloria rode over a speed bump to enter their hotel’s parking lot. She parked the car. “So you think our guy doesn’t care for Pastor Green that much, huh?”
Bill shook his head. “I don’t know if care is the right word. I think our guy cares for him plenty. He did put him at the center of Hell, after all. No, he’s not the hero of The Bible, but Satan’s got a little bit of pull, especially in Dante if you think about it. No, I think our guy respects Pastor Green. I think our guy respects Pastor Green a lot, in fact.”