Dedicated to my friend Vaun, who vehemently denies this story and wishes I’d quit telling it.
Once, on an ordinary day at the Wilkinson Student Center, located on the campus of Brigham Young University, an engineering student sat at a table quietly eating his lunch. As he sat contemplating the composition of the macaroni salad (and specifically marveling at how the ingredients held their texture while withstanding the forces of the moisture provided by the mayonnaise), he failed to swallow properly and unfortunately, met an early demise.
In the next moment found himself standing atop a cloud, surrounded by the most beautiful blue sky. He heard harp music, and when he turned to see from where it was coming, he found that he was in the back of a small line to enter the Pearly Gates.
After waiting a very few short minutes, his turn arrived. There at a podium beside the gate was Saint Peter, who greeted him warmly. Peter apologized for the delay, which the young man appreciated very much even though it had not been a long wait at all. Peter then explained that the Lord Himself usually attended the gate, but today He had been called away on some urgent business and had asked Saint Peter to fill in. He then asked the young man to state his name, last name first.
“My name is Clark. Vaun Clark.”
Peter began flipping through the pages of the massive Book of Life, heading for the section labeled “C.”
Puffing his chest out just a touch, Vaun added, “I’m a – that is I was a BYU engineering student.”
Saint Peter quickly shut the Book of Life closed, and exclaimed, “That is all I needed to hear! We never turn away a BYU engineering student! I don’t even need to check the book – come on in!” With that, he swung open the Pearly Gates, and added, “Make yourself at home, Brother Clark!”
Vaun entered Heaven, taking each step slowly and deliberately as he attempted to capture every detail to his memory. As his feet stepped onto the street paved in gold, he admired the indescribable beauty of everything around him.
Very soon, Vaun found himself drawn to the Heavenly library. He entered, and browsed the selection of books. Eventually he found a book entitled “How to Build Your Own Universe,” settled into a comfortable chair, and began reading.
Some time later, he was disrupted from his study by a tap on his shoulder. He turned to see Saint Peter standing by him. Vaun noticed that Peter’s countenance was visibly different than it had been earlier. “What’s up, Peter?” Vaun asked cautiously.
Saint Peter began speaking, but avoided making much eye contact as he said “Brother Clark, I hope you are enjoying yourself here.”
“I am very much. Thank you for asking, Saint Peter!” Vaun responded, sensing some bad news was about to be delivered.
Saint Peter stood for a moment in awkward silence. He seemed to be ready to say something, then just as quickly stopped himself before any words came out. After several false starts, he sighed heavily, dropping his head and shoulders. “Brother Clark,” he began. “There is no easy way to say this. After you entered Heaven, I did go ahead and open the Book of Life – because I had to formally check you in.”
He paused, as though he hoped Vaun would take over the conversation. Vaun did not say anything, and so Saint Peter eventually continued. “I turned to the page where your name should have been. It was not there.”
Again he paused, allowing Vaun to realize the words just spoken. Vaun defensively replied, “But I am a BYU engineering student!”
“Yes, yes! I know!” agreed Saint Peter. “We have never in the history of the Kingdom turned away a BYU engineering student. I was as stunned as you are! But I looked three times, and you name was simply not written in the Book of Life.”
Again, they both paused, lost in thought. Vaun finally asked the question that he feared he already understood the answer to. “So, what does this mean?”
“It means…” Peter trailed off. He hesitated, sighed, then started again. “It means that you’ll have to follow me as I escort you out of Heaven.” Saint Peter added, “Brother Clark, I am so sorry!”
Vaun slowly closed the book he held, and set it down on a table nearby. He quietly rose from the chair, and followed as Saint Peter lead him out of the library, down the street, and back to the front entrance. Peter held the gate open for him, and Vaun stepped slowly through it.
“So where do I go now?” asked Vaun.
“Well, you go that direction,” replied Peter, as he pointed toward a staircase leading downward.
Vaun moved slowly toward the staircase, and as he stepped down on the first step, he heard Peter call out behind him, “Again, Brother Clark, I am truly sorry for the mix up.” Vaun was too lost in his disappointment to respond. He just continued downward, one step at a time.
The stairway lead downward for quite some time. Vaun became interested in the support beams used, and how the hand railings had been so well hung where there was so little to properly secure them to. He became so interested in his surroundings that he almost didn’t notice the rising temperature with every step.
Eventually, he reached the bottom. He stepped off to an unlevel rocky surface, surrounded on all sides by dark, burnt looking stone structures which formed a long passageway. There was quite a long line of new arrivals, and so he took his place in line and waited.
After nearly nine hours of standing in line, he finally reached the desk. There stood Lucifer, frazzled and out of patience. “Name!” he demanded without bothering to look up.
“My name is Clark. Vaun Clark.”
Beelzebub started hunting through unorganized files scattered about his desk.
Lost in his thoughts and disappointment, he added in a barely audible voice, “I’m a BYU engineering student.”
Although his comment was spoken to no one in particular, Old Scratch took notice. He stopped looking at paperwork, and looked Vaun in the eyes. “What did you say again?”
Vaun shook off the depression he was feeling, and repeated, “I’m a BYU engineering student.”
Lucifer stood frozen, simply staring at Vaun. Then, without warning, he threw the file folders that he had been handling, and put on a small temper tantrum. He yelled, “I have no time for games, Mr. Clark. You don’t belong here. Go upstairs!”
Vaun became defensive. “I was just upstairs. They sent me down here.”
Satan jumped about kicking over his chair and several file folders. “What am I supposed to do you with you! I’ve never had a BYU engineering student come here! I don’t have any place for you to go! I simply don’t have time for this!”
Vaun was a bit amused by the fit of anger that the Adversary was displaying. Vaun could tell that this might take a while, and he was already tired from standing in line for so long. He boldly offered a suggestion. “Perhaps I could just go inside and look around. I’m pretty good at busying myself. Perhaps I can find somewhere to go or something to do on my own?”
Satan considered the idea, then agreed that would be fine. He extended his pitchfork and pulled the gates of Hades open. “Yes, that will get you out of my hair for awhile. Go on inside and do whatever it is you do. I’ll find you later after I have had time to think of an assignment for you.”
Vaun began walking in, and heard Satan continue to mutter his thoughts out loud. “I have no idea why they sent me a BYU engineering student. Must be somebody’s idea of a practical joke…”
Vaun found the differences between the two locations very startling. Here, the ground was uneven and hard to negotiate. The caverns that he walked through were very dimly lit by a lake of fire and brimstone. As he continued, he found miserable souls carrying boulders around, sweating, stumbling, and struggling in the dark and dangerous conditions. He found the combination of heat and humidity almost unbearable as he climbed and descended the rough terrain.
After a while, he realized that Satan had not come to find him, and so he made his way back to the front gate. Satan was still there, working through is unorganized filing system to try to check souls in. He pushed on the gate to attempt to exit, but the gate would not budge. So he called through the bars to the Evil Spirit, “Excuse me, Mr. Satan, sir?”
The old Serpent spun around in a rage, yelling, “WHAT DO YOU WANT?!” He squinted and strained to see Vaun through the darkness, and calmed down somewhat when he recognized him. “Oh, it’s my BYU engineer. Look, I still don’t know what to do with you, so just don’t bother me, OK?”
Vaun courageously replied, “Sir, that is what I have come to talk to you about. You see, I’ve been exploring, and studying the structures that you have here in the place of torment. I’ve noticed that it is uncomfortably hot here, and so I think I have come up with a working plan to build an air conditioning system.”
The foul fiend was about to yell at him again to get lost, but then the words Vaun was saying sunk in. This soul was not only volunteering to work, but had a project that would benefit everyone else! Nothing like this had ever been tried before! He considered carefully, and asked, “Are you sure that you can do that?”
Vaun agreed that he thought he could, and asked him for a piece of paper and a pencil so he might show off his plans. Satan turned over a file folder, and watched with interest as Vaun began to sketch his idea out. As he drew, he explained to Satan how the structures of the caverns appeared that they might be able to attach some hanging supports, and what materials he had seen that could serve as duct work. He wrote a list on the side of the materials that he was looking for to begin construction, and Satan called in his top assistant. “Vaun, this is Cain,” he introduced. “Cain will get you any of these materials that you need. You make that your assignment.”
With Cain’s help in obtaining supplies, Vaun went to work on the project. Over several weeks the duct work was installed, and soon thereafter the compressor was built. After a few months of labor, Satan stood by and watched as Vaun flipped the switch to turn it on.
“Amazing! Remarkable! I never knew this was possible!” Satan exclaimed gleefully as the cool air began to flow through the land of misery. The residents let out a cheer.
But Vaun was not satisfied. “Mr. Satan, sir? If I may have another word with you?”
“Speak, my boy, speak!” responded the evil genius.
“Well, Sir, as I was installing the duct work, it was very difficult for me to do because of the poor lighting. As you know, that lake of fire and brimstone does not cast off a lot of light.”
Satan became visibly excited at this conversation. “Yes, go on!”
Vaun continued, “I believe I could design some florescent lighting and really brighten up the place.”
Satan was elated. “Yes, my BYU engineering student, yes! Anything you want, you have Cain get the supplies for you and go to work!”
And so Vaun went right to work on wiring an electrical system. As he had done with the air conditioning, he had to improvise a bit on some of the materials that he was used to on earth but did not have here. Building a power source was the most difficult task, but by capturing the thermo-energy emitted from the lake of fire and brimstone, he overcame the challenge.
After many months of work, the Prince of Darkness called for grand lighting ceremony. All the cool and comfortable inhabitants gathered together to witness as the switch was flipped, and the lights were found to work flawlessly. Another great cheer was released by the masses, and Vaun was hailed as a hero!
But before the archenemy could began a speech of lavish praise about his engineer, Vaun surprised him yet again. “Mr. Satan, Sir. If I may speak to you?”
“Yes, my boy, please!”
“As I was installing the lighting, I noticed something about the tortured souls here. Although they are much cooler now, they still are forced to carry large boulders around. I would like to install moving sidewalks…”
Without allowing Vaun to finish, Satan called Cain over and declared “Cain will see to it that you have what you need! Now go to work!”
And so it continued. The moving sidewalks were installed, and some escalators too. Vaun created a new bar-coded electronic filing system for check in of new arrivals. At every turn, Vaun continued to surprise Old Scratch with new ideas, and Cain was always there to lend a hand and fetch supplies. With Vaun’s humble service, soon the underworld became a very comfortable place to dwell.
One day much later the Lord noticed Satan nearby the fence line of the properties and stepped over to say hello. Satan seemed to be eating something. “What have you got there, Lucifer?”
“A snow cone! It is delicious!” Lucifer replied, while taking another lick.
The Lord commented, “I’ve noticed some activity going on your side of the fence.”
“Yes,” Satan agreed. “We’ve been quite busy making improvements over here.”
“Very interesting,” the Lord replied suspiciously.
“Oh, and I’ve got to thank you for sending that BYU engineering student over to us. He has been working miracles down here! Morale is up, and leisure time has increased by…”
“Wait a minute,” the Lord interrupted. “Who did you say that we sent over?”
“It was a young fellow by the name of Clark. He was a BYU engineering student before his demise.”
The Lord retorted, “There must have been a mistake! He should have never been sent to you.”
“Well, you guys did sent him to me.” the Author of Evil replied smugly.
With wrath beginning to be kindled, the Lord demanded, “You must send him back immediately!”
Satan became defensive, “We won’t do any such thing. Your people sent him to me, and I’m keeping him!”
Seeing they were at an impasse, the Lord replied, “I suppose I’m going to have to take you to court then.”
Old Scratch laughed loudly, and retorted, “Yeah, right. You do that!”
The Lord responded firmly, “Oh, I will!”
Lucifer scoffed. “And just where do you think that you are going to find a lawyer?”