"So, I have become Dead Man, is that it?"
"If you'd like."
"And I am experiencing a bit of Heaven?"
"Well said, yes. The smallest possible bit. There is much more, of course."
"How do you know?"
"I am a permanent resident."
"An angel or a glorified man?"
"Excellent question! I expected no less."
A blatant attempt at flattery, I knew, but this guy, whoever he was, was just too amiable to get annoyed.
"And you are? And don't be evasive this time. It's a nice day out there, and I might just decide that answers are less important than I thought a minute ago."
"It's been much less than a minute, my friend."
"You're doing it again," I said. "On purpose."
"Yes. I promise to stop if you answer one more question from me."
I raised my eyebrows at him. He did the same at me, at the same time, but better. And then that whole image metamorphosis thing occurred again, and I saw him at a variety of ages, as if he were all of them at once.
"Stop doing that! It's disconcerting!"
"I imagine it is, but I am not doing it. You are. When you reside in Heaven, even as a visitor, what you think is what you see. Or more precisely, what you think is reality. That's why permanent residence requires an existential transformation. Terrestrial beings cannot stay here for long. They need to put on immortality and incorruptibility. I'm sure you could imagine the resulting chaos otherwise. That's why you are in an Isolation Room, of sorts. Quarantine, so to speak."
I had to admit, he was very good at controlling the conversation. The more he spoke, the more questions I had, and it would be very easy to get side-tracked. Plus, while I felt the conversation was extremely important, I lacked a certain necessary sense of urgency about it. That breeze and sky outside were too inviting. And I had not felt so physically good in a long time. Maybe since birth. But then, my laser-like focus would come into question and we couldn't have that.
He was smiling, again. I knew that he knew that I knew that he knew what I was thinking. It was kind of fun, and the blue outside was the bluest blue I had ever seen, or could imagine ever seeing. But enough of this, I decided, I have my reputation to consider. For some reason, I laughed out loud at that. So did he.
"Alright. What's your question? And remember, a deal's a deal. I answer your question and you answer mine. Yes?"
"Of course. Here it is: how did you get here?"
"I died. You said so yourself."
"Please! Now you're just being petulant again."
I cleared my throat to gain time. I do not like tests, or trick questions. I especially dislike tests that contain trick questions.
"Fine," I said. "If this is Heaven, and I am now Dead Man, the only way I could have gained entrance was through my faith in Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior, Friend and Brother, the Son of God, who died on the Cross of Calvary for my sins."
It's funny. I knew that was the correct answer he was looking for, and if he were being truthful in his claim to have studied me, he had to have known that's what I would say. So why the test? Why make me say it?
At that very moment, in addition to the idyllic sky, the warm breeze, the lazy summer sounds, and the perfect and painless physical condition I was in, something else came into focus. Something big and complicated and powerful that was impossible to describe, but indisputably good and pure. It filled, well, everything, and in some ways it was a glorious and stirring symphony, and in some ways light, and in some ways neither of those things at all, but much, much more.
My whole being smiled in utter, inexpressible joy. I am sure my eyes glistened with emotion so deep and profound that I should not have been able to see through the incipient tears. But I could, even more clearly than I had before! I saw my companion's face, and it looked as I imagined my own did; completely enthralled and filled with anticipation that was guaranteed to be fulfilled exceedingly abundantly beyond whatever either one of us could ask or think.
"You did that on purpose!" I said.
"Yes! Consider it a gift. A downpayment of unimaginably greater things to come. And, your welcome."
I laughed then in a way that I hadn't done since I was a boy being lovingly trounced on by a litter of puppies full of life and eager to welcome into the fold a new and interesting, if odd-looking, member.
"Your turn," I said joyously, after some uncountable time. "Who exactly are you?"
He looked at me with that same knowing and friendly smile, and his image fluctuated once more through the stages of human life, finally settling on the form of an ancient, wise, and compassionate man full of love and ageless warmth.
"I am you!" he said with a smile. "Transformed!"