Previous Challenge Entry (Level 1 – Beginner)
Topic: Exam (09/12/13)
TITLE: The Answer
By Steven Dexheimer
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From the front row, an elderly man turned and looked back. He gave the new-comer a warm smile and beckoned him over. Robert slid into the seat next to him and the man stuck out his hand.
“Henry Robbins,” he said in a voice deep and strong.
“Robert Chambers,” Robert took the offered hand. His gaze slid anxiously to the door.
“Nervous?” Robert nodded.
“A little,” Henry said calmly. Robert took in the man’s placid demeanor and felt somewhat reassured. He ventured another question.
“How long have you been here?” Henry merely shrugged.
“I really couldn’t say for sure. Without a clock or a window in here, it’s hard to tell.” The two sat in silence for a while before Robert spoke up again.
“I’m not ready for this.” At this, Henry chuckled.
“I don’t think anyone is ever really ready.”
“It’s just that…” Robert hesitated and looked at his hands. “Well, I’ve only had a few years to prepare. There was so much more I could have done and learned if I just had…” He trailed off. Henry put a hand on the younger man’s shoulder.
“Look son, I don’t profess to know everything. This is my first time here too. But I don’t think the number of years matter. It’s what you do with the years you are given.”
“How…how long have you been preparing? I mean,” Robert gestured vaguely at the room, “for this.” Henry sat back and scrunched his face in concentration.
“Oooh, I’d say a good fifty-plus years, give or take a day.”
“Then,” Robert replied earnestly, pointing to the door, “do you know what’s out there? What should I expect? What are the answers?” The old man shook his head.
“I wish I could tell you what’s behind the door, but it’s a mystery to me. As for the answers…” Henry paused in thought. “I think there is only one answer needed.”
“And you know the answer?”
“I believe I do.”
“Well, what is it?” Robert said excitedly, gripping Henry’s arm. “Please tell me what it is!” Just then, the handle-less door opened letting in a fierce rectangle of light. A figure stood in the doorway, his appearance silhouetted by the brightness.
“Henry Robbins,” spoke the figure with a ring of authority. Henry slowly rose to his feet.
“Are you ready for your Final Exam?” Henry let out a nervous breath.
“About as ready as I’ll ever be, I suppose.” He began to move toward the door.
“Henry, wait!” Robert jumped up. The old man turned and looked expectantly at him. “What…what is the answer?” Henry smiled.
“I think you already know.”
“What?” This was not the response that Robert was anticipating. Henry stepped toward the anxious younger man and put a hand on his shoulder.
“Think about the day you started this journey. From the first step, you had the answer inside of you. And when you cross over that threshold, you’ll know what to say. Well,” Henry said, giving Robert a final pat on the shoulder. “I guess I shouldn’t keep the Examiner waiting.” He turned and followed the mysterious figure through the doorway. The door closed and Robert was alone.
He sat and thought about what Henry had said. He remembered that first day so well; the slightly musty smell of the old church, the music that seemed to lift him up, and the irresistible pull that led him down the center aisle. At the foot of the pulpit, he made his prayer and felt the shackles that weighed his soul down drop off.
For the first time since arriving, Robert smiled. He knew the answer. He waited patiently for his Final Exam.
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