Eric James Stone
Three Deaths for Ammon J. Merrill
What do we really know about conditions in the spirit world? I believe a BYU religion professor’s article on this subject had it right: “When we ask ourselves what we know about the spirit world from the standard works, the answer is ‘not as much as we often think.’” – President Dallin H. Oaks, October 2019
Ammon J. Merrill found himself sitting in a soft, ivory-colored chair in a room with pearly wallpaper. Before him was a white desk with an empty chair behind it, backed by a mirror on the wall. Ammon couldn’t remember how he had gotten here, but at ninety-three years of age, he knew he forgot things more and more often. Based on the color scheme – and the fact that he was wearing a white robe – Ammon suspected he was in a temple.
A door opened, and a woman clad in a snow-white dress entered. “Sorry I’m late. I’m Sister Hatch, and I’m here to help ease your transition into the Spirit World.”
He started at that. “What, I died?”
“In your sleep,” she said as she sat down. “Very peaceful way to go.”
“Where’s my wife Clara? I expected she and other family members who have passed on would be here to welcome me.”
Sister Hatch nodded. “Yes, well, sometimes our Mortal World cultural traditions about the afterlife aren’t quite a match to the reality. That’s why I’m here. Let’s get started, shall we?”
“Okay. I’m ready to learn.”
“Perfect!” She smiled. “First off, your spirit body currently looks like your physical body did when you died. That’s a result of being tied to your physical body for so long, but now it’s time to revert to your spirit’s natural form.”
“How do I do that?”
“It’s a simple Priesthood blessing.” She rose from her chair and walked over to Ammon, then laid a hand on his head. “Ammon J. Merrill, by the power of the Holy Priesthood—”
Ammon jerked his head away from her hand. “What is this? A woman cannot hold the Priesthood!”
She withdrew her hand. “While in the Mortal World, men held the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods, and women were denied priesthood. But in the Spirit World, women hold the Miriamic and Magdalenic priesthoods.”
After a moment’s thought, Ammon said, “I guess that makes sense. The Lord promised that women would become priestesses in the afterlife. I guess I’m just not used to being dead yet.”
“I understand,” said Sister Hatch. “You’re not the first to react like that, and I doubt you’ll be the last.”
Ammon frowned. “But, forgive me, I do find it a little strange that you are the one doing this, rather than a man.”
“Well, it must be a woman, because men are denied the priesthood in the Spirit World.”
“What? That’s preposterous!”
Sister Hatch frowned. “In the Mortal World, you thought it perfectly reasonable for women to be denied the priesthood. How is this any different?”
Ammon awoke in his bed. Just a vivid dream, he thought with relief. But he couldn’t think of a good response to Sister Hatch’s question before he drifted off to sleep again.
Ammon J. Merrill found himself wearing a white robe, sitting in a soft, ivory-colored chair in a room that seemed somewhat familiar.
A door opened, and a woman in a snow-white dress entered. “I’m Sister Hatch. I’m here to help ease your transition in the Spirit World.” She sat behind the desk.
I’m dead, Ammon realized – making his déjà vu even more disconcerting. “What does that involve?”
“First off,” Sister Hatch said, “take a good look at your spirit body in the mirror behind me.”
Ammon looked in the mirror and was startled to find a woman in a white robe staring back at him. He quickly looked down at his own chest and saw the swell of breasts under the cloth. “No, this isn’t right! I’m a man, not a woman.” He resisted the urge to check between his legs, horrified by growing certainty about what he would not find.
“Your imperfect physical body in mortality was male,” said Sister Hatch. “But your spirit is female. When you rise in the First Resurrection, your perfected body will match your spirit.”
“This can’t be my spirit body,” Ammon said. “The Proclamation on the Family says gender is an essential characteristic of our eternal identity. I think like a man, feel like a man. In the core of my being, I know I am a man. This—” He pointed to his breasts, then down toward his groin. “—is not my body. I cannot spend eternity in a wrong body. There must be some mistake.”
Sister Hatch nodded. “Don’t worry, this happens occasionally, and there’s a simple fix.”
Relief flooded over him. “Oh, good.”
“We merely adjust your personality so that you feel like a woman, and then—”
“No! That doesn’t fix anything. I wouldn’t be me anymore!”
Sister Hatch frowned. “In the Mortal World, you thought it perfectly reasonable that transgender people would spend eternity as their biological sex. How is this any different?”
Ammon awoke in his bed. Another vivid dream, he thought with relief as he felt his body and confirmed he was still a man. But her question nagged at him as he tried but failed to resist falling asleep again.
Ammon J. Merrill found himself wearing a white robe, sitting in a soft, ivory-colored chair in a room that seemed quite familiar, but he couldn’t place it.
A door opened, and a woman clad in a snow-white dress entered. “Sorry I’m late, Ammon.” It was his wife, Clara, looking every bit as beautiful as the day they got sealed in the temple for time and all eternity.
He rose to meet her and they embraced. Since she had died six years ago, he knew this meant he was dead, too. “I’m so glad we’re together again at last,” he said.
She stiffened in his arms, then pulled away and sat at the desk. “I’m afraid I’ve got bad news.”
Trepidation filling his heart, he sat. “What is it?”
“Our sealing has been canceled by Heavenly Father because he disapproved of our marriage. I’ve been assigned to be sealed to someone else. He seems a good man, though I doubt I’ll ever love him the way I love you. Someone else will be assigned for you to marry.”
Aghast, Ammon said, “But Heaven wouldn’t be Heaven for me without you!”
Clara frowned. “In the Mortal World, you thought it perfectly reasonable that people in same-sex marriages would be split apart in Heaven. How is this any different?”
President Ammon J. Merrill stood at the podium in the Conference Center. “My dear brothers and sisters,” he began, “recently I had three very vivid dreams.”
About the Author
Eric James Stone is a Nebula Award winner, Writers of the Future Contest winner, and two-time finalist for the Association for Mormon Letters Awards. Over sixty of his stories have been published in venues such as Year’s Best SF, Analog Science Fiction and Fact, and Nature. His debut novel, the science fiction thriller Unforgettable, has been optioned by Hollywood multiple times. Eric lives in Utah with his wife, Darci, who is an award-winning author herself, in addition to being a high school science teacher and programmer. They have two children.