…You Wouldn’t Want to End Up Like Mister Miken…

Goodwill

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Gerard Miken was, for lack of a better word, ordinary. Gerry was neither tall nor was he short and he couldn’t be considered a robust gentleman although he was hardily a lean man. His bushy crop of hair was neatly combed in the same direction each day and he went out of his way to don a suit and tie about as routinely as he combed his hair to the side. There was nothing provocative about Gerry.

As if his physical stubbornness wasn’t enough, Miken would do the same thing every day until the day that he died, of course. He would awaken in the morning only to find himself in an unsanitary state, so he would head to the bathroom and take care of his hygienic responsibilities before he went down for breakfast. He would eat raw toast with a bitter mug of coffee each morning. Gerry would drive to work soon after and spend the day in his cubicle doing what needed to be done, even going as far as to ignore his co-workers and neglect to respond to his stomach, which lurched around noon, beckoning for lunch. After he was finished with what his boss demanded of him he’d go home and watch a little television before getting dinner and eventually retiring for the night.

On the day that Gerry Miken died, though, things changed.

As he drove to work, Gerard turned on the radio station that he always did as he traversed the highway system. The music, which droned on and on, suddenly cut to an announcer, promoting a contest in which, if you answered a trivial question correctly you’d win a million dollars instantly. Miken knew the answer and even considered picking up his cell phone because he thought he’d be late for work if he tried to get a hold of the station to answer the question.

He got to work and was quickly ushered into his boss’ office, where he was given a proposal to work in a tropical location; in taking the position Gerard would have also gotten a raise. Miken, however, turned it down because he was afraid to move away from his house that he had known for well over thirty years.

At lunchtime, Gerard actually caved in and pleased his stomach by getting a quick bite to eat. The cashier at the burger joint he went to appeared to be his age and was extremely attractive. The woman came on to Miken, although Miken remained, or played rather, an oblivious man because he was convinced he was too old to get into a relationship, even if it was just for a good time.

Gerard Miken eventually returned home and, as he was driving, an odd storm accumulated. It looked threatening, however, Miken pursued home so that he could curl up on the coach, watching his favorite television show. He parked his car outside of his house and started walking across his lawn. Then, before he could think or even cry for help, he was struck by a shard of lightning and killed instantly.

Within that same second, it seemed, Gerard awoke with a startling quickness. He noticed that he was no longer in his front yard; rather, he was in a vast desert, where the sun was more impressive than he had remembered before. Miken decided that it best he walked in any particular direction until he found life or a sign of it at least so that he could make heads or tails of what had happened to him. After all, he had no recollection of the lightning striking him, nor did he know where he was. So, as he trekked through the rugged sand terrain, Gerard began looking around for any noticeable life. His suit was beginning to wear in the difficult conditions and his shoes, too, although he thought it best to keep them on since, if he took them off, the cooked sand’d burn him.

Gerard had been walking for days, although he did not know it at the time. He now had a shaggy beard formulating across his dulled face and his clothing had begun to perish; all that was left was rags clinging to his belt, shoulders, and knees. Miken’s facial expression was sunken and all that he could think about was finding someone to give him a drink of water.

Then, before Gerard, there was a man. He bore a tattered black robe and he seemed to be a very dark and brooding man with slender arms and fingers as far as Gerry saw and he seemed to glide across the sand, not tripping over his own feet as Miken had been doing for well over a hundred miles. The brooding, cloaked man approached Gerard and said, “Are you Gerard F. Miken?” The cloaked man was given an apprehensive nod on Gerard’s part. The Cloak, as Gerry thought his name would be, pulled out a parchment and said, “Perfect,” before walking away in the same direction in which he came.

“Eh, excuse me,” Miken bellowed to the man. It had been a while since he used his voice, so it came out coarsely. “Where am I?”

The Cloak turned around and faced his interrogator. “Why, you’re in heaven of course,” the croaky voice said. When the Cloak saw that Gerard had seemed extremely offended, he decided to delve into a much deeper explanation. “You were actually struck by lightning when you got out of your car,” Cloak explained. “It was my fault, really. You see, during your life, you took no risks. There was never an appreciation for what you were given by God. I’d say it was disrespect, however, the Big Guy thinks that’s a little harsh since, after all, there are no real guidelines to the way you’re supposed to live your life… So anyway, I decided to have a little fun with you, you being the most superstitious man on Earth. I baited you into a ton of things before you died, yet you ignored them…” Cloak saw that Gerard was deep in thought about what he last remembered. “Yes, the contest, the promotion, and the girl could’ve all been life altering events but did you want anything to do with them? NO!” He said in a long, exaggerated voice.

“Why would you do something like that?” Miken asked, almost brought to tears. “I liked stuff the way it was.”

“I was trying to give you that opportunity so that you could have a life full of ambitious adventures and a desire for more and more mysteries, however, you shied away from them. I know this place inside and out and, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, heaven aint what it’s cracked up to be,” The Cloak said. “It’s been like this since the Big Guy settled down here. I tried to get you to appreciate life so that, when you got here, you’d be pleased with what you had accomplished, however, now that you’re here without accomplishments or desires, you’re unhappy and barking at me like I’m the one responsible… I’m sorry,”

The Cloak shrugged and soon faded away into the distance, never to be seen by Gerard F Miken again because, now that he had been given an answer, whether he liked it or not, he sat, never having to walk again. His time was up and he’d just have to dwell on what he could’ve done but didn’t for the rest of eternity.
 

E

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Goody is this named after your favorite poster here at UC? :D
 

Goodwill

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Hey, is anyone interested? I'm not gonna write Spider-Man and X-Men if board members continue to be apathetic...
 

E

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Goodwill said:
Actually, no... There are a lot of hidden meanings in this story according to me.

You don't say? Care to elaborate?
 

Ice

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UltimateE said:
You don't say? Care to elaborate?
Yeah, could you please elaborate, GW? The story wasn't bad, but it was interesting enough to read. But what ARE the hidden meanings?


Oh, and of course you'll see hidden meanings. You wrote it!
 

Goodwill

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Well, first of all, I was writing this for Teen Ink, a nationwide magazine, which has articles written by teens across the contiguous states... I've been published for music reviews and feedbacks, however, I decided, since I wrote fan fics here, I may do so for the magazine. I wanted to do something meaningful so I played around with the perspective of Heaven and how people are lobbying on it being the clouds and the paradise that the Bible depicts it as.

I played with this concept and, I think, I got a pretty good result. You've got someone who is clearly a person that falls short of being assertive in life and he doesn't seem to care until after the fact, you know? After the fact is far too late, you see, and being in Heaven isn't going to help any since, after all, it's a desert where dark and brooding Cloaks run free... I hope that, if this gets published, the audience will see that you've got to grab life by the horns and really milk it for what it's worth.

As for the hidden meanings...

First, the main character's name is almost similar to mine... I did change things around so that it was unmistakably another person, however, I made it so that the character's name was similar to mine because not living up to life's expectations is one of my biggest fears as of right now. I can't imagine dying with the regrets that I've had in my life so far and, being brought so close to death in a car accident I told you guys about, this has really been a chip in my shoulders for about six months now. I wanted to make it obvious that it is a problem to not truly live and I wanted this guy to have a unhappy ending only to show people what can happen.

Other hidden meanings go as far as personal, however, I think that they can also be very realisitic for those of you or anyone who shares the same kind of fear.
 

Seldes Katne

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So the moral of the story is “Get out there and live life because the afterlife might very well, um, suck (if you’ll excuse the expression)”? Hm, entirely possible....

Basically I thought you did a good job of establishing Gerry as an average type of guy, middle aged (I can relate), who does nothing out of the ordinary and lives on a pretty fixed schedule. This is a necessary set-up for the rest of the story. The idea of heaven not being what anyone expects is certainly a legitimate topic for many people, and entirely plausible. This makes Gerry a very realistic character, especially for someone my age; I can understand why he behaves the way he does. (This story in a sense reminds me of a novel called Waiting for the Galactic Bus, part of which deals with a Hell that anyone can just up and walk out of, but no one does, because everyone there thinks s/he deserves to be punished, so they stay....)

There’s quite a bit of telling, rather than showing the reader, what happens. The Cloak tells what would have happened had Miken taken the challenge. The narrator tells what Miken’s day to day life was like. I realize this is a short story, and perhaps you have a word limit, but if you ever get time or choose to revise this, some of this could be done in an expanded version, where there’s a scene showing the result of Miken taking the new job or calling the station (after pulling over to the side of the road, of course, as he shouldn’t be yakking on the cell phone while driving). (Okay, end of driver safety lecture.... :wink: ) On the other hand, I suppose that would be a case of The Cloak rubbing salt in the wound.

You offer three logical and believable opportunities for Gerry to “have an adventure”, and of course he turns down all three. I could argue that he probably had perfectly good reasons for turning them down, but that’s not really the point here. You’re mostly using this to illustrate Gerry’s behavior.

I found it interesting that The Cloak comments that “... there are no real guidelines to the way you’re supposed to live your life…”. Essentially, then, Gerry is being punished for a situation that is at least partly someone else’s fault here. The “heaven” you’ve portrayed reminds me of the Roman Catholic version of a place called “Purgatory”, which is where supposedly decent people go if they die with sin on their souls. They can then somehow find their way to heaven, or work off their sins, or something to that effect. (Despite being a practicing Catholic, this whole thing has never made any sense to me; Purgatory has never been mentioned in any copy of the Bible I’ve ever seen, but the comparison between that and your story just struck me.) I guess if I were Gerry, I’d start looking around for whoever is really in charge so I can be “unhappy and barking” at the person who IS responsible for this mess. :x

I get where you’re coming from on this, and I think the story succeeds on several levels. As I said, you have a good set-up, you show Gerry passing his opportunities by, and we see the final results of this by his being stuck for eternity in a less-than-ideal place. This does not paint a positive picture of the afterlife, which I believe was your point here. There is naturally a tendency to want a "happily ever after" ending on stories, but not everything needs to end that way, so good for you for not taking any easy way out in this case.

I have to confess that I would like to know what Gerry does after this, but I get the impression that he's sitting there for eternity as part of the point of the story. He's probably going to be sitting there a long, long time.... :)

(Just out of curiosity, what is “raw toast”, exactly? Is this just a slice of bread? Toast with no butter or jelly or other covering?)
 

Goodwill

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Well, thank you for taking the time to review. As always you've picked up on a lot of stuff others tend to overlook and, for that, I'm grateful. I mentioned before that there were a lot of hidden meanings and you seemed to pick up the obvious ones real quick. In fact, you've picked all of the ones that expected you all to pick up, so congratulations!

I admit that I toyed with something I shouldn't have, which would be God and Heaven. God was portrayed in a more pessimistic way than one would probably imagine and heaven wasn't the bountiful garden that people always seem to imagine. God thinks lightyears different in comparison to us and if he's as frank as he was in this story (it's obvious through Cloak, I would hope) it would be more fitting for someone like God than if he were to be sympathetic for the selfish people that we are. Gerry, in God's opinion, took advantage of what he's been given.

Also, raw toast is something with nothing on it. I admit, it does sound a bit off.
 

Seldes Katne

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Goodwill said:
I admit that I toyed with something I shouldn't have, which would be God and Heaven. God was portrayed in a more pessimistic way than one would probably imagine and heaven wasn't the bountiful garden that people always seem to imagine.
Not to be disagreeable, but I think this is a perfectly legitimate topic to explore, both as a writer and as a human being. Granted, your portrayal was on the pessamistic side, but I think it's reasonable for pretty much anyone to think about the afterlife (assuming you believe in such things, and probably even if you don't). I'm aware of several authors who have pictured an afterlife that is quite different from the Christian version many people "expect", from Parke Godwin (the Galactic Bus novel I mentioned) to Philip Jose Farmer's Riverworld series, which completely discarded the Heaven/Hell notion of what happens to humanity after death.

The problem, of course, is that no one really knows what happens after we die, so speculation and the interpretation of "visions" is pretty much all anyone has to work from. (Of course, if I were really a good Christian, I'd just point to the Bible as all the proof anyone needs, but....[shrugs] there's a reason why I refer to myself as a "practicing Catholic". Perhaps someday I'll actually get it right! :D )

I personally would be happy to have an afterlife that is not all about sitting on clouds (I have a problem with heights) and playing the harp (no musical ability here), or any of the other standard expectations. My great fear is that I'll get stuck for eternity in a heaven that I'm sharing with Oral Roberts and Jimmy Swaggert and Osama Bin Laden -- you know, the super-religious types who are conviced they're going to heaven because they just are sooo in tune with God.... :sick:

I figure in that case I might as well opt for going to Hell -- it's torture for eternity either way. Perhaps the conversation down there will be better. :wink:

I do, however, remember watching a panel discussion on comparative religion on our local PBS station, and the man who was a practicing Buddhist (I think) made a wonderful comment that gave me hope, something to the effect that whatever comes next is going to be so completely unlike the life we know that we presently have no way to even imagine it, just as an unborn baby has no possible way of imagining what life is like outside the womb. I thought that was a serious awesome idea.

Sorry for rambling on; I'm in a philosophical frame of mind this morning.

Also, raw toast is something with nothing on it.
Okay, I wasn't sure -- I thought it might be a regional delicacy or something. 8)
 

Goodwill

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Well, I'm the kind of person that won't take something for what it's been said to be without finding out for myself. For instance, I went to this Christian Workcamp (An organization that sends Christians to derelict locations to fix them up) last summer and there was an evening program where the campers would share "God sightings" on their work place. One person got up there and said that they didn't know where they were going of course and someone came along that knew exactly where the house was... This was a "God sighting". God had helped them find their house, I was told, but couldn't save someone who had recently been lost in a car accident. I was close to this person and, yet, God took her away and decided to help them find their house... I questioned God's ability and power on the spot and brought it up with my Priest. While I never actually got an answer, I do see a flaw in Christianity and that's blind faith.
 

Ultimate Houde

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I could see what you were trying to get across, but it needs more omph behind it. Maybe you could have him fantasize about what these events would happen, and then he would shy away from the result

One thing i found confusing was the way you switched between his first name and last name. It was really un-needed, and the way you did it, it made them seem like two different people.
 

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