"Now," Harry Rogers says, his voice stern and commanding. His six year old daughter, Claire Elizabeth Rogers, looks up at him from her position on a snowbank, pristine white ice skates dangling from her small feet. "The far edges of the pond aren't quite frozen enough for you to be playing on them, so I want you to stay as close to the banks as possible, got it kiddo?"
Claire has been, since her birth, precocious. She prefers her books to friends and, on occasion, her own family. Precocious or not, though, Claire is a horrible listener. In fact, while her father explains the finer points of staying on the thick ice - a truly genius statement that Claire should have really paid stricter attention to - Claire's mind is wandering to the stack of Nancy Drew mysteries she unwrapped three hours earlier.
"I got it, dad," she says smartly and Harry immediately knows she doesn't have it, but he's freezing his ass off and so instead of explaining it yet again, he helps his daughter up off the snowbank and pushes her out onto the ice.
"Remember to stay off the edges!" he calls after her and she waves a purple mittened hand at him as she sprints off towards the six other little girls who have all received the same lecture and have all pointedly decided to ignore it.
He should be more surprised when the ice cracks and Claire disappears, but he's not. Truth be told, he's really only surprised that it took so long - he'd been betting on three minutes, tops.
* * *
Claire's first reaction to her situation is to immediately regret having not listened to her father. Her second is to immediately regret having worn heavy ice skates while going for a dip in a frozen pond. She thinks that sinking would be a terrific feeling if she were capable of breathing under water.
And then she's out of the water, bone dry, and standing in front of the prettiest woman she's ever seen. The woman is tall and elegant and Her skin is the color of caramel, Her hair a wild nest of brown curls that look as though they've been spun with gold. It's the eyes, though, that make Her so pretty. They're bright green, the color of spring grass after it's rained, and they're staring at Claire.
"Hello, Claire," the woman says and smiles. "I'm God."
Claire's mother has told her a million stories about the woman in front of her. Katharine Rogers has described God to a T, right down to the dimples in Her rosy cheeks. Claire knows that the woman in front of her is God, just like she knows she must be dead. Only dead people meet God.
Well, dead people and crazies but the last time she checked, she was pretty much sane, so dead she must be.
"I like your ice skates," Claire says, pointing at the pristine white skates. God smiles, twirls a little so Claire can see the flapping gold wings that stick out from the backs of the skates.
"Hermes gave them to Me," she says and Claire makes a mental note to figure out who Hermes is. "Hence the wings."
Claire considers her situation and, being the precocious and well-read little girl that she is, decides to be as adult about it as she can.
"Am I dead?" she asks and God, to Her credit, doesn't lose a beat.
"Not technically, Claire," She says. "I brought you here, to Limbo, so we could chat a little."
"Chat about what?"
"I'm sending you back with a gift," God says and Claire's attention becomes immediately focused.
"Is it a pony?" she asks. "I've always wanted a pony and my daddy says that if I'm really good then someday he'll buy me a pony but he won't tell me when so I have to be good all the time and it's starting to get really boring."
This lengthy explanation causes God to pause slightly and reconsider her decision.*
"No, honey, it isn't a pony..."
"Is it a little brother?" Claire begins again and God fights the urge to clamp Her hand over the child's mouth. "My mommy says that I could have a little brother if my daddy wasn't so busy all the time with his work. Daddy says that if I have a little brother, it better not look like the milkman because then we'd have to find a new one and good milkmen are hard to find."
God, being the responsible and somewhat omnipotent being She is, realizes at this point that a proper response to all of these admissions is lacking and therefore chooses a different tactic.
“Right. Okay. Well, Claire, here’s My gift to you: you’re going to be My assistant when you get older. You’ll tell people things for Me.”
“Like that telephone game Sarah Truman plays?”
“Yes, just like that telephone game Sarah Truman plays.”
“You know Sarah Truman?”
“She doesn’t believe in You.”
At this point, God decides to cut Her losses and run and leave the paperwork for someone more patient than Her, someone like Her archangel Gabriel (his penmanship is simply to die for). So, She snaps Her fingers and sends Claire back to her body and her family and jets on back to Her offices at Heaven, Inc. She does, however, make a point of filling out the HI-245 form, Sibling Requisite Form.
She hopes a little brother will be just the kind of balance Claire needs.**
* * *
"I got to meet God," Claire says when she's finally awake and warm.
"Really, and how is She?" Katharine asks her only daughter.
Claire considers this question as she sips her hot chocolate. Harry pauses in the doorway of the living room to eavesdrop on the conversation.
"She's gorgeous," Claire says, "and She had the coolest ice skates. They had gold wings on them!"
Katharine laughs at her daughter. "Hermes made them especially for Her a hundred years ago, so She'd always be able to stay standing up in them. She's a horrible ice skater."
"I'm going to work for Her when I'm older," Claire says and from the doorway Harry laughs. "A nice big office at Heaven, Incorporated."
"Of course you will, dear," Katharine says, unaffected as always. "Now, who wants more hot chocolate?"
* Because of this one incident with Claire, God no longer contracts young children to be prophets. She learned Her lesson the hard way by trying to explain to a six year old the concept of prophetic dreams and visions. Like explaining the difference between a holy vision and an acid trip to a nun, which She’s also done once before...
** When Patrick is born that Christmas, it means Claire is no longer the center of attention, which means she has to learn how to fend for herself, which in turn means she starts listening better. It also helps that later down the line, when Patrick turns fifteen, he decides he wants to be an accountant, a much more down to Earth profession than Claire's. Literally.