Gudmundower’s Soup by Richard Lutwyche
Gudmundower was frightened. He did not understand where he was or why he was there. And then someone approached.
“Where am I? What is this place and who are you?” he stammered nervously.
“I am St Peter and you are at the Pearly Gates.” He could see that this meant nothing at all to the fearful peasant before him. “Let me explain. This is a prelaunch trial and you, my friend, are one of the lucky ones! You see, this is Heaven and it is where God lives!”
“Ogfrin the Almighty?” Gudmundower’s eyes were wide open and he backed away.
“No, no. I’m afraid Ogfrin does not exist. Nor do all those other gods that other tribes worship. You see Gudmundower, there is only one god – God – and he did everything to create the world and all the creatures in it and He sat back and before He knew it, there were a thousand other gods all getting the credit. So this is our master plan. In a few years God will send His son to earth to prove to everyone that there is only one god. Part of the deal is that when men die, they will arrive at these Pearly Gates and I will review their lives and decide whether they should come in here –Heaven – for the rest of eternity or be damned and go to Hell. But you’re one of the lucky ones because we haven’t finished building Hell yet. It was supposed to be up and running but Satan is way over his promised delivery date and the budget is all to blazes. The latest excuse is that the fiery furnaces keep melting.”
St Peter fished around in his robe, looking for the notes on Gudmundower’s life whilst the peasant looked nervously around him.
“Ah! Here we are. Now I know I said you’d be coming in here anyway but I need to practise my assessments, so please humour me for a little longer as I go through your files. Right, let’s see.” He paused as he read the notes on Gudmundower’s life making little noises as he read.
“OK, not too bad. I see you’ve done a fair bit of poaching but we won’t worry about that. God put all the animals and fishes and birds on earth for everyone. You have a wife, Frigor, and seven children. Mmmm. He read on mumbling occasionally. Gudmundower could not believe that someone he had never met before knew so much about him and wondered if this was some strange dream resulting from the magic soup.
“Ah, now,” St Peter interrupted his musings, “this isn’t so good. You beat your mother-in-law! Now, who was that? I just need to cross-reference – it’s here somewhere – ah! Here we are! Oh, it’s her. Yes, well she’s already here. And just between the two of us, I have a certain sympathy for you there, so we won’t hold that against you. But you mustn’t beat her while you’re here and I’ll speak to her to make sure she understands not to hit you too much either. Now what else? You got into trouble with the authorities for fighting with a soldier, so no problems there, so over all that‘s not too bad. I don’t think you’d have been going to Hell anyway on balance. Now my notes only go up to yesterday so you’d better fill me in on what brought you here.”
“It was no crime, sire!” Gudmundower implored with all his expressive power. “You see, I’m a charcoal burner and I work in the forest. My little child Urgo was sick with the fever yesterday and Frigor said that I must bring home some of the special herbs to cure her. After I had finished, I went deep into the forest in search of the herbs and it was getting dark and I had to go into the Badlands before I could find any. By then it was almost fully dark and I missed my path and wandered into a glade where there were two old hags around a fire and I was much affeared!” His story was tumbling from his lips, like a flood of relief and his eyes were distant as he searched his mind for the right words as he relived last night’s events.
“Go on,” said St Peter gently, busy adding to his notes with a stubby pencil.
“The old crones had a very bad reputation and everyone in the village was frightened of that part of the woods, because they ruled it with evil spirits, but they saw me and called me over and they were very friendly and invited me to join them for something to eat before returning home. They had a stew of mushrooms and other fungus and herbs and I was very hungry and frightened of what they might do if I spurned their hospitality, so I said ‘yes’. We sat while it cooked and I told them of the fears of the villagers, and they were much amused. There were various things hanging in the trees around us which they said were placed there to keep strangers away because they were afraid of being attacked. When I looked up I could see from the light from the fire a dead cat, a human skull they had found and a noose and I shivered. Eventually we had the soup and it was very good and we all became much happier. They insisted I have a second bowlful.
They were nice old dears and much misunderstood and I told them, I would inform the other villagers and they had nothing to fear from us. I told them that I, Gudmundower, was also a man of the forest and worked with trees all my life. But they did not know everything, I said. For instance, I said, looking up, that noose would not frighten people because the branch it was tied to was too weak to take the weight of a grown-up person and they were very grateful to me. I even showed them how the branch would snap if it had to take the weight of a man.”
The flow of words slowed down and he looked very pensive for a moment. “I put the noose around my neck,” the words came very slowly now and his grubby hand went up to the back of his neck to where the knot had tightened and he held it, “and I jumped off the log…. and now… I’m here.” The words trailed away and he stood frowning, trying to reconcile the trick his new friends had played on him.
He suddenly looked up at St Peter, his eyes wide. “The herbs. I still have the herbs.” His voice rose. “Frigor will never forgive me! Please, I must go back. It is important – oh, please, please.”
St Peter put up his hand as he finished writing. “I’m sorry. That simply is not possible. But please, be reassured, the child will recover. I promise you. Now come along, it’s time for you to come inside. There’s someone else on their way. That’s it, mind the scaffolding!”