"Only here, at the World's Most Curious Citizens, can you draw this near "
Eddie stepped up to the curtain.
"Feast your eyes upon the most unus--"
The barker's voice vanished. And Eddie stepped back in disbelief.
There, sitting in a chair, alone on the stage, was a middle-aged man with narrow stooped shoulders, naked from the waist up. His belly sagged over his belt. His hair was closely-cropped. His lips were thin and his face was long and drawn. Eddie would have long since forgotten him, were it not for one distinctive feature.
His skin was blue.
"Hello, Edward," he said. "I have been waiting for you."
THE FIRST PERSON EDDIE MEETS IN HEAVEN
"Don't be afraid " the Blue Man said, rising slowly from his chair, "don't be afraid "
His voice was soothing, but Eddie could only stare. He had barely known this man. Why was he seeing him now? He was like one of those faces that pops into your dreams and the next morning you say, 'You'll never guess who I dreamed about last night."
"Your body feels like a child's, right?"
"You were a child when you knew me, that's why. You start with the same feelings you had."
Start what? Eddie thought.
The Blue Man lifted his chin. His skin was a grotesque shade, a graying blueberry. His fingers were wrinkled. He walked outside. Eddie followed. The pier was empty. The beach was empty. Was the entire planet empty?
"Tell me something," the Blue Man said. He pointed to a two-humped wooden roller coaster in the distance. The Whipper. It was built in the 1920's, before under-friction wheels, meaning the cars couldn't turn very quickly -- unless you wanted them launching off the track. "The Whipper. Is it still the fastest ride?"
Eddie looked at the old, clanking thing, which had been torn down years ago. He shook his head no.
"Ah," the Blue Man said. "I imagined as much. Things don't change here. And there's none of that peering down from the clouds, I'm afraid."
Here? Eddie thought.
The Blue Man smiled as if he'd heard the question. He touched Eddie's shoulder and Eddie felt a surge of warmth unlike anything he had ever felt before. His thoughts came spilling out like sentences.
How did I die?
"An accident," the Blue Man said.
How long have I been dead?
"A minute. An hour. A thousand years."
Where am I?
The Blue Man pursed his lips then repeated the question thoughtfully. "Where are you?"
He turned and raised his arms. All at once, the rides at Ruby Pier cranked to life: the Ferris Wheel spun, the Dodgem cars smacked into each other, the Whipper clacked uphill, and the Parisian Carousel horses bobbed on their brass poles to the cheery music of the Wurlizter Organ. The ocean was in front of them. The sky was the color of lemons.
"Where do you think?" the Blue Man asked. "Heaven."
No! Eddie shook his head violently. NO! The Blue Man seemed amused.
"No? It can't be heaven?" he said. "Why? Because this is where you grew up?"
Eddie mouthed the word, "Yes."
"Ah." The Blue Man nodded. "Well. People often belittle the places they were born. But heaven can be found in the most unlikely corners. And heaven itself has many steps. This, for me, is the second. And for you, the first."
He led Eddie through the park, passing cigar shops and sausage stands and the "flat joints," where suckers lost their nickels and dimes.
Heaven? Eddie thought. Ridiculous. He had spent most of his adult life trying to get away from Ruby Pier. It was an amusement park, that's all, a place to scream and get wet and trade your dollars for kewpie dolls. The thought that this was some kind of blessed resting place was beyond his imagination.
From The Five People You Meet In Heaven by Mitch Albom. Copyright 2003 Mitch Albom. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher, Hyperion.
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