The Long Trip

James L. Cowles

Copyright 2020 by James L. Cowles

Photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash.
                         Photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash.

 He said there was no training needed and that most of those who wanted to go are much older and not at all in good physical condition. I simply couldn't believe what I was hearing. I could see I really needed to give this a lot more thought, so I thanked him and hung up the phone.

I forgot about it for a few weeks, then I ran into my friend, Dan and for some reason I thought of it. It could have been because I had thought of him when the guy told me no training was necessary. I mean, old Dan seemed to always be up for something like this. He would do most anything on a whim and this thing would fit him perfectly. No training, no concern about physical fitness. Just as I thought, it peaked his interest as much as it has mine.

I was embarrassed when Dan asked if it cost anything? It was an important question I hadn't even thought to ask. How dumb could a person be? I mean, it might cost a fortune and if that were the case, neither he nor I could afford it. When we were kids, we loved to go to the movies downtown. A couple of ten year olds riding the bus from Highland Park all the way to the bus barn in downtown Louisville. It really was only six or seven miles, but it seemed so much farther to two kids on an adventure. Anyway, we saw a few movies that put this idea in my head and I've been carrying it around for all these years. In fact, from that first time we saw our first space movie and Robbie the Robot, I have dreamed about travelling into space and I didn't even ask what it would cost. That kind of thing ain't free, you know.

So, Dan convinced me to call Mr. Van Meter again and ask what the charge would be. He told me he was in, provided it was a reasonable price. I was so glad I had a friend to go with me and for the rest of the afternoon we talked of old times, when as mere children we had actually talked about travelling into space, visiting the stars. Even in our youth, we thought there were others just like us, scattered on planets throughout the universe. We could even imagine meeting exact duplicates of ourselves. When we smiled, they smiled, when we raised our hand over our heads, they did the same. Every move we made, they were doing that same move. I remember how we laughed about certain unspeakable things that we would be doing at the same time. What a memory that was and here we were, grown men, laughing again, just as we did as kids, all those years ago.

Mr. Van Meter was actually expecting my call. He said he had wondered why I hadn't ask what he would charge, but he said he knew if I was really interested, I would call again. When I told him there was now two of us who were interested in going, he was pleased and said, "the more, the merrier." He also told me there's more to tell and he invited Dan and me to come to his seminar, which was scheduled for the first saturday of next month, at 2:00 in the afternoon. He said he would reveal the cost then, to which I said, "if it's a significant amount, neither Dan nor I would be able to participate." He told me not to worry about that and that he was sure I would be pleased once I had heard the entire story. I made reservations for two, then called Dan to tell him to put it on his calendar.

The day of the seminar, Dan and I decided to meet for lunch to prepare ourselves for what we were about to hear. We both had lots of questions and we were excited to find out the detsils. Dan wondered why Mr. Van Meter had said that no training was necessary (?). After all, we both knew the Astronauts had undergone rigorous training, both mental and physical. Why would we not be doing something similar? Would we merely be passengers in a ship manned by someone who has endured such training? We both would feel a lot better if this was the plan. On the other hand, I had questions about the number of people going with us (?). If the number were large, it would follow that the ship must be large and the smaller the number, wouldn't it cause the charge per person to increase? These were serious questions and demanded serious answers.

We arrived about fifteen minutes early and were surprised to find the room entirely full. It was a pretty big room and Dan said he would guess there was about 500 people or so in the auditorium. There was more gray hair in that bunch than I believe I've ever seen in my whole life. In fact, Dan and I were part of only a small number who had no gray hair at all and the place was abuzz with both male and female heads bobbing up and down like typewriter keys . I've never heard such a loud, obviously excited bunch, in my life and when Mr. Van Meter came to the stage, the crowd erupted and we all stood to welcome him.

It was obvious Mr. Van Meter was pleased. He wore a big smile on his bearded face, as he took time to look over the audience, gesturing several times as if he personally knew many of the participants. I wasn't sure, but I think he looked directly at Dan an me and even made eye contact with me. He waved in my direction, at least it appeared that way. It was a little puzzling, because I knew he had no way of knowing me. We had never met. He introduced himself as "Doctor" Van Meter, which surprised me. That was odd. He had never mentioned his Doctorate in either of our conversations. Dan looked at me with a puzzled look on his face and I just shrugged my shoulders. I thought about the ad in the paper; it was the reason I called him and I know it said, "Ask for Mr. Van Meter!"

The first five minutes were devoted to a film depicting the universe. It showed an array of stars, planets and comets and it was beautiful and uplifting. Afterward, the Doctor answered one of the questions I had about training. He told us, despite what some may say, none of us need any training to travel the universe. "In fact," he said, "we are all natural astronauts. Everyone one of us will someday return from whence we came, that being from somewhere in the beautiful universe." OK, I thought, he may very well be right about that, but I could see Dan's face out of the corner of my eye and his incredulous look told me he was beginning to be very uncomfortable. Nevertheless, we were here and here we would stay until we had heard every detail.

The big surprise came next. The Doctor picked up a bible and began reading:

John 14:1-6 1"Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father's house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going." Thomas said to him, "LORD, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?" Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. "

The Doctor slowly looked into the audience, allowing those words to sink in. They were beautiful words from Jesus, with promise of eternal life. Did he want us to believe he was Jesus, returned to take all of us to heaven with him? His silence became disturbing and low whispering begin to ripple through the crowd. Dan didn't find it necessary to whisper and said iǹ a voice loud enough for several rows to hear, "What the Hell, Jim? This guy ain't Jesus, returned to take the saints to heaven!"

The Doctor must have heard him, because he immediately said, "I offer you the opportunity to go to the heavens early, and take the Christ up on his promise of eternal life. You will all go there some day, my friends. Why not now?  I will see that you get the proper send off, my friends and all for only $500 each. That will cover the cost of both the drug and it's administration and I can promise you, you will feel absolutely no pain. Isn't that what you want? Do you not want to go home to your forever life in the beautiful heavens of Jesus?

As Dan and I were leaving, we looked back to see only a few in the crowd following us. Dan and I just wanted to go and go quickly, but I could see the line at the table was long and we could see cash exchanging hands. The Doctor was smiling again, a broad, toothy smile and as for me, well, I was calculating the amount of money he was about to pocket.

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