The Farthest Country

by | Jun 1, 1999 | Prayer

HTML clipboard Dayton Jones swayed in indecision as he studied the real estate office. The place looked nice enough-a tasteful black-and-white striped awning covered the wide picture window, and the bright red door beckoned amid a sea of faded storefronts. Through the window he could see two paintings, each mounted on a gilded easel. The first pic­tured a pretty little white house set amid rolling hills; the sec­ond featured a seascape with foaming waters and a rocky shoreline. Both pictures were pretty, he supposed, if you liked artsy things. He didn’t, but Marge did, and it was only because of her insistence that he’d come here at all.

For several weeks now, Marge had been insisting that it was time to relocate. The Texas heat bothered her, she said, and the rains, when they finally got around to coming, threatened to drown them in mud. Texas wasn’t shy about anything, and she’d had all she could stand of life in the most braggadocious state on the planet. Marge wanted to move, and move far away, which was why Dayton found himself standing before the real estate office that had been recommended by both the good folks at his church and the regular folks at the bar. The folks at the downtown real estate office could send a man anywhere he wanted to go, even to the farthest country.

He paused, looking beyond the window display, and felt himself catch his breath when his gaze crossed that of a man seated behind a desk. The fellow smiled and waved, and Dayton nodded in response as a burning blush began to rise from his collar. He’d been caught checking the place out, so he might as well go in.

Summoning his resolve, Dayton turned the gold knob and pushed his way in. Two men, each of whom sat at a desk in the cavernous room, acknowledged him almost instantly. The first fellow, who wore a blue denim shirt and jeans, stood and thrust out his hand before you could say “jackrabbit.” The other fellow would have been as quick, Dayton figured, but he’d been on the phone at the time. He threw Dayton a big grin, though, and lifted a finger as if to say he’d be with him in a minute.

“I’m Gabe, and it’s a pleasure to meet you,” the first man said, giving Dayton a smile as broad as a Texas barn. “Thinking about moving on?”

Dayton tore his eyes from the other fellow, who kept grin­ning in his direction. “Yes. I’m Dayton Jones, and the wife and I-well, we’ve lived a good life here, but she keeps telling me it’s about time to relocate. She wants to move to someplace real different.”

“We all come to that point.” Gabe’s smile widened in approval. “Wise is the man or woman who realizes nothing on earth is permanent.”

“Except maybe death and taxes.” Dayton struggled to smile at his own weak joke. “Anyway, I’ve heard you guys are good, so I thought I’d come see what you have available. My next­door neighbor bought a lot from y’all last year.”

“Has he relocated yet?”

Dayton shook his head. “No, but he talks about moving every day. I think he’s been the one to influence Marge—she’s my wife-so she sent me down here to check things out.”

He had scarcely finished the sentence when the second agent came out from behind his desk, his hand extended and his eyes alight like a jack-o’-lantern’s. “Hi, good to see you! I’m Sam Black, and I have just the place for you!”

The smile vanished from Gabe’s face. “He was talking to me.” Sam frowned, his handsome features hardening in disap­proval. “But he came in to see me. I saw him looking through the window.”

Dayton looked from Gabe to Sam. “You two-don’t you work together?”

Gabe answered first. “Never. We represent two competing firms, and we work in the same room so people can see the full range of what sort of lots are available in eternal real estate. But you’ll either make your deal with Sam, or you’ll make it with me. Nobody can negotiate a deal with two agents.”

Sam stepped forward and took Dayton’s hand. “I’m so glad you came in today, Mr. Jones. We’re having a special on lots in a very unique location, and I would love to show you some photos. Once you’ve seen what we have to offer, I know you’ll want to sign with ReMorz Realty.”

Behind Sam’s back, Gabe stood on tiptoe and twiddled his fingers to catch Dayton’s attention. “Don’t sign until you’ve seen other options. ReMorz can’t come close to matching what we have to offer at Heavenly Homes and Garden.”

Dayton felt the corner of his mouth droop in a wry smile. “Um-shouldn’t it be Better Homes and Gardens-you know, plural?”

Gabe laughed. “The name doesn’t refer to private gardens, Mr. Jones. It refers to the garden. Eden. Anyone who secures a home through our organization has access to the most perfect paradise ever created.”

Shaking his head, Sam crossed his arms and leaned on the corner of his desk. “Forget the garden, Mr. Jones. Why would you want to hang out with a bunch of fruits and nuts? Our lots have indestructibility. Our homes are fireproof and earthquake-proof. Our location is so permanent even the worms in our soil live forever.”

“Really?” Dayton asked.

Sam gestured to the computer monitor on his desk. “Just watch this video, Mr. Jones-may I call you Dayton? If you buy a lot from us, we’ll certainly be on a first name basis.”

“Sure.” Ignoring the polite sounds of disagreement emanat­ing from Gabe’s corner, Dayton stared at the monitor on Black’s desk. An image flickered, then the camera panned over a magnificent mountain, dark and tall, with black rivers running from the crest. Over the floor of what appeared to be a valley, Dayton saw a series of domed stone huts, lined up like petri­fied gray beehives. There was no denying the power behind the dark and pulsing images of heat and stone, but somehow Dayton didn’t think Marge would like living in a black-and­gray landscape.

“I don’t know” He kept his eyes on the monitor, avoiding Black’s gaze. “It looks a little bleak.”

“Bleak? How can you not see the beauty in this place? It’s a haven for melancholy temperaments. Besides, it can be what­ever you want it to be, Dayton.” Black’s voice fell to a sensuous purr. “Look at it again, through the eyes of desire.”

Dayton blinked the images of the oppressive landscape away. Instantly, the scene changed-he saw the quiet Texas countryside of his youth-the long stretch of gently rolling asphalt highway, the slanty barn in the field, the white house with the green-painted porch. Any minute he expected to see his sweet mother push open the screened door and call him for supper­

“Don’t believe everything you see, Mr. Jones.” Gabe’s voice came from the other side of the room. “Remember-pictures and videos can be manipulated. ReMorz Realty has never been known for truth in advertising.”

Black ignored his competition and leaned forward to whis­per in Dayton’s ear. “Our residents are real, my friend; there’s no room for phoniness in our world. You know those rules and regulations most residential communities enforce? There are no rules in our society. You do what you want, when you want to do it, and nobody cares.”

Dayton felt a light touch upon his arm. He turned away from the tantalizing picture of his childhood home and saw Gabe standing there, a determined look in his blue eyes. “Our community is anything but bleak,” he said, jerking his thumb toward his desk. “Come over and see what we have to offer.” Dayton followed Gabe, then leaned on his desk as another video rolled over another computer monitor. The screen filled with images of verdant hills and blue mountains and golden plains, of skies lit with aqua and purple and tangerine lights. The camera then seemed to fly over elaborate mansions outside a shimmering city, and as the helicopter or plane or whatever took these photos dropped lower, Dayton saw people in this development, folks whose eyes were shining with happiness and contentment.

Black’s smooth voice broke into his thoughts. “Remember what he said about falsifying video images? Anyone can do it, pal.” Transfixed by the delightful images on the screen, Dayton ignored Black’s comments. “This place is beautiful,” he whis­pered. He wanted to close his eyes and fall into the picture, to fly over those fields and join those people in the city …but the hard voice of practicality brought him back to his senses. Marge had sent him to do a job, and she’d want to know about expenses and details and rules. She cared a lot about such things.

“Um” he approached the subject reluctantly “does your community have deed restrictions?”

Gabe smiled. “Of course. We understand that perfect happi­ness springs from submitting to righteous authority. Everyone in our community obeys the Landlord without question. But His yoke is easy, and His burden is light. It’s a pleasure to be part of a heavenly community.”

The video ended, the monitor faded to black. Dayton blinked the images away and looked up at Gabe. “That’s really an incredible place.”

Across the room, Sam Black chuckled with a dry and cyni­cal sound. “As incredible as it may seem, it’s no place to retire. Ask him about the work you’ll be expected to do.”

Dayton winced. “You expect your residents to work?”

Gabe’s mouth quirked with humor. “What do you think our people do all day, sit around on clouds playing harps? The Landlord dispenses jobs according to our residents’ gifts, and everyone enjoys their assignment. The community is a place of learning, exploration, and serving. Some of our people work in the praise department, others work in the educational system. We even have ministers of fellowship.”

Black snickered. “We don’t have jobs in our place. No responsibility. No work. Why would you want to sweat through a lifetime on earth and then spend eternity with your nose to the grindstone? We’re talking forever here; Dayton. I’m sorry, but a million years of singing the `Hallelujah’ chorus is not my idea of heaven.”

Gabe lifted a brow. “Our jobs do rotate, you know”

“A good job sounds better than a trillion years of boredom. I never minded putting in a good day’s work.” Dayton put his hand to his chin, thinking. “Okay, but what about the community’s population? Marge is a fine woman, but she’s not crazy about some of the folks we’ve had as neighbors in the past. I’d like to know a little bit about the people who will be living in the area.”

Sam Black stepped forward, placed his hands on Dayton’s shoulders, and firmly turned him around. “I’m so glad you asked. We’re a multinational, multiethnic community, Dayton. Equal treatment and equal rights for all–but our accommoda­tions are based upon what a person accomplished in his life. We’ve got some really extreme quarters for some folks, but you’ll find we’re a very diverse group and not at all snobby or exclusive. You know what they say-it’s the broad gate that leads to our place. We welcome everybody.”

Gabe cleared his throat. “Excuse me. The gate to our com­munity may be narrow, but we will be home to a large number of people, more than you might realize.”

Dayton turned toward the Heavenly Homes and Garden desk as Gabe pulled a calculator from his shirt pocket. “Let’s see,” the agent said, “since the creation of the world, nearly forty-two billion people have been born on planet earth. Over the ages, our community has welcomed twenty-eight billion children who died before they reached the age of accountability … add to that the one billion, forty million babies who have entered our gates since 1973” he glanced up at Dayton “abortion, you know”

“I didn’t know,” Dayton whispered.

Gabe turned his attention back to the calculator. “Add to that figure the one billion, two hundred million throughout history who have already made their reservations with us, and it looks like our population will hover around the thirty billion, two hundred forty million mark.” He gave Dayton an easy, con­fident smile. “That’s nearly three-fourths of all human beings ever created. Makes sense, doesn’t it? The Creator wants to share our place with as many people as possible.” .

“Hey, hey, let’s not get carried away.” Sam Black thrust his head into the empty space between Dayton and Gabe. “Sounds crowded, right? Come on over to our place. We’ve got a bot­tomless pit; we’ve got room to spare.”

Gabe ignored his competition. “Our capital city, the New Jerusalem, will bustle with folks serving the Lord. The angels will visit there, and the saints, as well as the citizens of redeemed Israel. But the city is foursquare, extending 1500 miles up, down, and across, so it would reach from the north­ernmost point of Maine to the southern tip of Florida, as well as from the Atlantic Ocean to the western Rocky Mountains. It is a layered city, with one level built atop another. The city planner has designed over eight million miles of beautiful golden avenues.”

“You want to live in a crowded city?” Sam snapped. “I know you, Dayton. You’re a country boy at heart.”

Dayton nodded at Gabe. “He’s right. I really do prefer the wide-open spaces.”

Gabe smiled easily. “Of course you do, and we don’t expect you to live in the city. Our community also features a new heaven and a new earth, so our residents will have an entire universe to explore.” He glanced down at a clipboard on his desk. “I see we have an entire subdivision of lots available on the revamped Mars. The atmosphere has been laced with a chocolate chip cookie scent, and residents may choose pets ranging from nonshedding cocker spaniels to tireless Arabian stallions. There’s a group of mansions available on the Ocean of Tranquility, each featuring a workless kitchen and gym. Your supernatural, immortal body won’t need repair, but some people like to exercise just for the fun of it.”

Dayton smiled in pleased surprise. “Well, it certainly sounds wonderful… and expensive. I’m not sure I can afford a place like that.”

Sam Black’s bony hand gripped Dayton’s shoulder. “Hey, that’s the best part of my deal, Dayton! Our lots are already paid for! Everything you’ve ever done has been an investment in our place, and some of your mistakes have really earned a lot in compound interest! Come on over to my desk and let’s sign you up. You can go right out and pick up some asbestos skis for the lake of fire.”

Gabe interrupted, quietly and firmly. “Our lots are paid for, too, Dayton.”

“Really?” Dayton’s forehead knit in puzzlement. “I don’t remember doing anything that would earn me dividends in heaven.”

“You didn’t,” Gabe answered. “But anyone who wants a heavenly lot can reserve one. Remember how the United States gave land to homesteaders willing to move West and begin their lives all over again? It’s a similar deal.” He leaned over, picked up a clipboard, and handed it to Dayton. “All you have to do is accept the gift, agree to become a citizen of the heavenly com­munity, and wait for the summons to relocate. That’s it.”

“That’s still asking a lot,” Black said, a hair of irritation in his voice. “And don’t forget about your friends and family-most of them have reservations in our community You don’t want to spend eternity apart from your loved ones, do you? Apart even from Marge?”

“Well, I don’t want to spend an eternity in hell.” Dayton looked at Gabe. “But Marge is the one who sent me in here. Doesn’t seem right that I could sign up for a place without making a reservation for her, too.”

Gabe cleared his throat, and for the first time Dayton saw a flicker of uneasiness in the agent’s eyes. “I’m sorry, Dayton. Our heavenly mansions are available for the asking, but they aren’t free. The Landlord’s Son is serving as the contractor for the community. He has covered the costs of entrance into heaven, and He has overseen the preparation of each mansion. Since He has done all the work, He has the authority to enforce one stipulation–each individual must claim his or her own lot. You can’t make a reservation for someone else.”

Just thinking about an eternity without Marge shattered Dayton. “Surely,” he said, catching Gabe’s arm, “surely there are. Exceptions.”

“Yes.” Gabe nodded slowly. “Babies and small children. The Lord brings them here Himself, carrying them through the pearly gates.”

“You see?” Sam Black picked up a brochure and waved it before Dayton’s wide eyes. “Your family isn’t coming with you, so you might as well come over here and see what we can offer for eternity!”

Dayton tightened his grip on Gabe’s arm. “Can’t I do any­thing to be sure Marge and the kids will join me in heaven?”

The grooves beside Gabe’s mouth deepened into a full smile. “Prayer works on the heart of God, Dayton, and God works miracles. You can certainly pray for your loved ones. Better yet, you can bring Marge to my office any time. We’re always open for business.”

Dayton pulled a pen from his pocket and scrawled his name at the bottom of the reservation form. “I’m signing up. And I’m going to bring Marge to see you first thing in the morning.”

“Great.” Gabe pulled a colorful brochure from his pocket. “Let me show you this wonderful place out in the country. Right across the ocean is an amazing complex, the Last Trump Tower…”

Across the room, Sam Black kicked the desk, then picked up the phone, muttering about other fish to fry. Dayton blocked out the sound of the man’s complaining.

“I like it,” he said, looking at the color-splashed brochure. “And I can’t wait to move.”


Angela Elwell Hunt began her writing career in 1983. After five years of honing her craft working for magazines, she published her first book in 1989. Since then, she has authored seventy­six books in fiction and nonfiction, for children and adults. Among her picture books is the award-winning The Tale of Three Trees, with more than one million copies in print in six­teen languages. She and her husband, Gary, make their home in Florida with their two teenagers, three dogs, two cats, and a rabbit.


The Farthest Country