The news report couldn’t have been more explicit. A storm was imminent. Hardly unexpected, in this part of America, but there was something especially vicious about this particular storm. Even the name, Hurricane Maura, implied a greater impact than usual. Thomas always wondered why the worst hurricanes seemed to always be named after women, but put it down to the natural condition, reinforced by his two unhappy marriages.
He watched the report with his usual brand of skepticism. He’d survived five decades of these kinds of warnings and they’d only ever become more hysterical as the ever-increasing number of news channels competed for attention. In his view a storm was a storm. Some may have hit worse than others, but at this point every time it rained it felt like there was a storm warning, and in his day they used to call it simply “hard rain”. The reporter read from a statement from the government, in as dramatic a performance as he could muster, that people should evacuate their homes and stay with relatives until the storm had passed.
“What a load of horse-shit.” Thomas said out loud to his empty house.
He turned the television off with a roll of the eyes. He walked to the window and looked out over the river that stretched and snaked alongside his house. In his view, the most reliable forecast was his own two eyes and years of experience. It didn’t look too bad so far. Besides, he was a good Christian man, more reliably in church on Sunday mornings than communion wafers. God would look out for him, as he always had.
The following morning, the rain had started. The river had risen up almost to the very top of its banks. Thomas looked out from his bedroom window as he sipped his coffee. From the horizon line he watched a coastguard boat approach and slow as it drew level with his house. A man standing on the front of the boat waved and Thomas opened the window to hear him better over the sound of the driving rain.
“Hey you in there” the man began “what are you doing still in there?”
“This is my house” Thomas replied gruffly.
“The river is about to burst, the town is going to flood, you gotta get out while you can.” the man yelled, bemused at Thomas’s obtuse reaction.
“I’ve lived here all my life, this happens all the time.” Thomas shouted back.
“Man, seriously, this isn’t the worst of the weather, there’s more rain coming. Come on out and we can take you some place safer” the man continued.
“No way. I’m not leaving. I’m religious, God loves me, nothing’s going to happen, God will keep me safe.”
The conversation reached it’s natural impasse as a second man on the boat appeared and said something inaudible from the rear of the vessel. The first man looked back at Thomas and tried once more.
“This is nuts, you gotta come with us.”
Thomas closed the window and waved them off. The boat carried on down the river as the man threw his arms out in exasperation.
The day wore on and the banks of the river did indeed break. The first floor of the house swam with water. Thomas realised this was happening of course, and moved his most valued possessions up to the second floor. But even as the water reached the level of the windows downstairs, he had no fear for his safety.
The power cut from the house as he began to hear the chugging of helicopter blades above the house, and as he stepped onto the balcony of his room he heard a woman’s voice on a megaphone that cut through the din;
“You down there, get up to the roof and we can drop the cradle and take you to safety.”
Thomas yelled at the helicopter in reply; “No, I go to church every Sunday, God loves me, God will save me – if I need saving at all.”
The woman repeated her offer, with the added cheek (Thomas thought) of questioning his state of mind in the process.
“Are you crazy? The whole town is evacuated, the flood water is still rising, let us help you!”
Thomas went back inside and took the shotgun from his wardrobe. He took it back to the balcony and fired a shot into the air. The helicopter peeled off, and even though it was not through the megaphone, Thomas felt like he could hear the woman’s cursing as it did so.
That night Thomas put himself to bed, confident in his assessment that the rain was easing up and everything would be fine in the morning. Or at least making strides in that general direction.
He awoke with the water lapping against his bed, and rising more rapidly than before. He was a confident swimmer in his youth but that was now some time ago, and he quickly tired. Finally he could kick and push against the water no longer and he was enveloped by the waves around him.
Suddenly the black in front of his eyes was replaced with light, and a human-looking figure stood before him, next to a set of pearly gates which Thomas could barely discern against the light itself.
“Thomas Byres.” the voice began, and seemed to suddenly stop. “You’re not expected…”
“Why are you…”
“I appear in this form to make the transition easier to accept.”
“You said I was…”
“Not expected. Not for several years yet.”
“And this is…”
“Heaven, yes, well done.”
“But… I’m not supposed to be here… I mean… I was at home, I’m healthy…”
“Perhaps we should sit.”
“This is outrageous, I want to speak to God.”
The voice laughed “Who do you think I am?”
“You’re God?” Thomas asked, feeling that his mouth was making sounds entirely independently of his brain. “Don’t you have better things to do than to welcome every person individually?”
“The benefits of existing outside of your concept of time…”
“You’re speaking American…”
“Technically, no, we’re not speaking at all – it’s a little hard to grasp at first. You can’t think of yourself as a person here, you don’t have a body, time is meaningless… This is all supposed to come more gradually… You’re merely a spirit now – pure energy.”
“Wait… I’m dead… How did this happen?”
“I’m afraid you drowned. You didn’t feel any pain, it was like someone turning out the lights before falling asleep.”
Thomas stared at the figure for what he felt was a moment, if moments had existed in the state he found himself in.
“God – I thought you loved me. I went to church every Sunday, I treated people well, I was devoted, why didn’t you save me?”
“Thomas – I sent you a news report, a coastguard boat and a Marine helicopter… What are you doing here?”