They continued their walk along the snake road. A few kilometres and a few snake herds further they came up to a fork in the road. On Nathanial’s advice, they decided to take the path that looked to be made by creatures with feet or paws. This would ensure that they would not end up in a snake city.
They walked most of the day, stopping only for a quick lunch. Everyone had agreed that, if possible, they would not sleep on the dry desert ground again.
The terrain was mostly sand, which would vary from fine to coarse, as they continued forward. The dry air baked their lips and forced them to crack. The relentless sun heated their backs as they walked, but no one suffered more than Joel who’s leather clothing kept the heat in like an oven. He dragged his spear as he walked, and his sword would bang against the back of his legs.
Lily felt her necklace begin to vibrate. “We must be close to trees. The Father Tree Necklace is vibrating and pointing me in the same direction that we’re walking.”
Just faintly visible were a few trees, perhaps a grove or perhaps a mirage.
“If the necklace sees it too, then it can’t be a mirage,” whispered Marc.
They continued to walk with renewed hope.
The road acted like a divider between the two houses. On the left a beautiful little cottage surrounded by plants and flowers with large trees behind it. On the right, its exact opposite, a large structure made of crumbling walls and without a roof. Around this second house only the desert sand that was blown against the walls grew.
A slender boy ran from the cottage to meet them. “Hi! My name is Tom, but most people call me Julie.” Everyone raised their eyebrows. “Have you travelled long?”
“Hello…” said Lily pausing to decide what name to use, “Julie. I’m Lily, this is Marc, Joel, Meribah and over there is Nathanial.” Nathanial had wandered over to the crumbling house. “Some of us have travelled longer than others, but we are all tired.”
“Say no more.” Julie waved them toward his house. “It may be small but its comfortable, and we can sleep in the basement where it is cooler. This land isn’t totally inhospitable, it just tests its creatures to make sure they’re worthy.”
Everyone smiled and thanked Julie in turn, and walked toward the house. Nathanial turned from the crumbling walls and was about to thank him as well when someone shouted. “Hey you get away from my wall! Probably stealing pieces of it. Well this isn’t the Iron Curtain, and no one will pay you for it.” A boy’s head popped out of a crack in the wall. The boy examined the crack closely. “Just as I thought, you stole a piece big enough to pass a watermelon. Well I hope you sleep well tonight, while the wind blows enough sand through this new hole to suffocate me in my sleep. Keep your gay friends away from my house.”
Nathanial was shocked to hear that he had stolen and broken somebody’s property. “Sir, I truly didn’t know that someone lived here. And I would never steal or break anything that I knew belonged to someone. Please accept my apologies.”
“Keep your apologies, you pansy. They won’t stop me from suffocating tonight.” The boy went back to looking at the crack.
“What a grouch!” whispered Meribah.
“Yes, but a cute grouch all the same,” whispered Julie. Then to his neighbour, “Jason, I hope you can join us for a drink and some fruit later.”
“Not very likely,” said Jason going back into the house, but he continued talking to himself, “You know how we straight people are. Always have things to do. Idle hands are…”
“He’s a charming one,” said Marc.
“Kinda reminds me of a father-in-law I once had,” Joel remarked.
“Oh, forget about him,” Julie shooed them into the cottage, “he’s ok. Loneliness makes some people like that. Come on I’ve got some baked bread, dried meat, and some preserves.”
Julie made sure that they were well fed, and that everyone wanted for nothing. The coolness in the basement, that he had promised, made it easy for everyone to become comfortable. His house was decorated with paintings, tapestries, and family pictures. The carefully selected furniture complimented the carpet and the decorated walls. All of the house was finely decorated for a man; it was too finely decorated for a man, thought Joel.
“So, Julie what’s the story with Oscar T. Grouch next door?” asked Joel.
“Jason? Oh he’s harmless, and sometimes he’s quite friendly. In his last life he was a president of a large firm, and one of the most successful at that. He was the ‘King of Wallstreet’, and owned thousands of acres of land as well. Now the poor soul is all alone.” Julie stopped to drink some wine. “Do you like the wine? It’s a mixture of apple and grape which I grow in the back.” Everyone nodded. “Yep! All alone. I guess all his family and friends won’t be reborn for quite awhile. You know, rich people and their greed.”
“Why doesn’t he like you?” started Lily. “I mean, he seems cold to you and anyone who knows you.”
“Yes, he’s definitely homophobic. Not too comfortable around my kind. -” Julie stated quite openly.
“Excuse me Julie, homoph…? I’m sorry I don’t know what you mean,” apologized Lily.
“Of course you don’t. You’re a Soren, born in Heaven where everything and everyone is born perfect. On earth there are some people who are born in the wrong bodies. Women born in men’s bodies, and men born in women’s bodies.” Julie realized that he had been yelling, and slowed to a nicer tone. “Sorry. I kinda take it personal, I guess I have to. It is personal. You see, Lily, I can’t be happy with a female mate. I need a someone who’s a male and is attracted to me.”
“How sad,” noted Nathanial. “I can’t imagine how lonely you must be.”
“It’s no that bad. You people must think I’m a terrible suck, but you’ve caught me at that time of my life.” Julie crossed his legs and winked at Nathanial. This made Nathanial very uncomfortable, and it was noticeable that he had truly bit his tongue to keep from causing a scene. “I’ve had many lovers and I haven’t always been alone. Its just, you see, I’m kinda in a dry spell. And I’ve been in this particular dry spell for about … Oh hell, since my death.”
“Are you saying that you haven’t met another gay person since you’ve been here?” asked an astonished Marc.
“Only, Ted, but he doesn’t count. I find it hard to even classify him as a person.” Julie got up and picked up the dishes that he and his guests had used. He then walked toward the stairs. Marc stood up to follow him and help him with the dishes. “No no. Just sit down I’ll be right back, I’m only going to let these sit tonight.”
“That’s odd. We have never met any gay people, earth-angels, Sorom or Soron,” said Joel. “There must be a reason. Let’s see if we can figure it out. It’s not that there are any restrictions on a person’s sexual tendencies for admittance into heaven. So when they come to heaven, where do they go?”
“There own city?” offered Lily.
“Not likely,” thought Joel aloud, “they don’t have different beliefs than any other earth-angel. Unless they feel persecuted here more than they did on earth.”
“No,” Meribah cut in. “Everyone has the opportunities and the right to be happy in heaven, so if they did feel persecuted they could simply solve the problem. And without anything as drastic as segregation.”
“Celibacy!?” tried Nathanial. “After all isn’t that close to what our friend, Julie, is trying?”
“Can’t be. We’re all human, and it’s human nature to be close to someone.” Marc looked at a painting behind him as if looking for the answer. “It has to be something like…” He looked back at Joel, his wingless friend. “That’s it!”
“What’s it?” asked Julie coming back into the room.
Lily looked up a little embarrassed. “We. We were trying to determine why there aren’t many of your kind.”
Julie broadened his smile and sat gracefully down again. “So what’s the answer, Marc? Am I the only fag to make it to heaven? Me and Ted that is.”
“Ok, if you really want to hear what I think,” said Marc not waiting for an answer. “Like Lily said there aren’t many of your kind, but what is your kind? There is no kind, you’re human and that’s all there is to it. And we’re all souls here, right? We’re spirits. And if we are spirits, then we can’t be trapped in a physical body. The fisherman and the Indians have taught me that. So spirits can’t be male or female, therefore our bodies are chosen by what we feel more comfortable with. Maybe I should have said that our bodies can be male or female, interchangeable with what were more comfortable with. Joel used to have wings. Now he doesn’t. He wasn’t comfortable with them.” Marc stopped for a second to decide what he wanted to say next. “So Julie, it comes down to not what you want, but what is right for you. Right now you’re not sure whether you should be a man or a woman, so until you do, you’ll stay with the form that you’ve become accustomed to. Eventually you’ll either be a male in a male’s body or a female in a female’s body.”
Julie wiped a tear from his left eye. “You know, I kinda always knew that… but I needed someone to tell me.” Julie wiped another tear. “Thanks Marc. I hope that what you said will help me.”
Marc only nodded and looked down at his hands. He did not intend on scolding Julie, but it had worked out that way. He decided that anything he said would only make him seem small and maybe even make Julie seem smaller.
A few minutes later, a recomposed Julie wished everyone goodnight and lay down over by the far wall. Everyone else fell into place shortly after, and all were sleeping well in the cool basement.
An opposite scenario was being played outside the cool basement; in his roofless house Jason lay on his side in fetal position with his blanket over his head, while the merciless hot winds blew sand over and through his walls to pepper his blanket and his lonely nightmares.