Deceiving the Elect: Book 1
by Douglas Christian Larsen
The story of a fellowship of world-weary people who hear the call of the still small voice, the call to a mystical quickening, their hearts and minds opening to the Ancient of Days and the whisper of Truth. It is also the tale of Jehovah’s Army (JA), a powerful new spiritual, political and mercenary juggernaut, forcefully shepherding all religions into one ecumenical force, marching under the banner of Christ. The first goal of JA: take back America for Jesus, and the next? Ultimately, the world. These men of God will usher in a new golden age of peace, under a new world order, where an anointed one will rule the world with a rod of iron. As the world sinks further into madness, a group of people brought together by the need for truth must stop religious fascism from taking control of the world in the new novel, Deceiving the Elect – Book 1: Quickening Dreams. Author Douglas Christian Larsen presents the first of a seven-part series about a new human revolution of the mind.
Set in a world that mirrors the present social climate, the first novel begins as a small group of unrelated people find themselves questioning all modernized dogma of organized religions after hearing a "still small voice" that wakens them in their dreams. World-weary ex-boxer Stacey Colton teeters on the edge of suicide until he hears the voice, which at first only seems to bring him trouble, leading him into an auto accident, which lands him in jail. On the other end of the accident, Bronte Chaplin, a music prodigy and dual victim of both a mind-control cult and an abusive ex-boyfriend, makes a prayer for the man of her dreams. Seconds later she is involved in an accident with Stacey. Instead of accepting his smiling face, she flees the scene.
Joshua Bouwer and Michael Potok are roommates and Sunday school teachers who have been searching 10 years for the "perfect church" to no avail. The two men are polar opposites. Joshua is a sloppy, seven-foot tall giant covered with a long beard and mountains of flesh. Michael is a small neat freak who has been shriveled by disease and childhood violence. Questioning whether there is a God, the two begin a Web site that investigates the teachings of false prophets and religious extremists. This work directly affects the Jehovah’s Army, a fascist group of religious extremists. Believing they were mandated by God to wage war on "the pagans," the army is commanded by an anointed one to create a global Christian theocracy that punishes the smallest infraction with swift, Old Testament justice. Buddy Nicodemus is a fervent soldier in this army who fervently lusts to stop these heretics, but his first confrontation with Stacey proves it is not going to be an easy task for either side to win.
How is it possible that intelligent, well-rounded, clear-thinking people can end up deathly silent on bunkbeds at Heaven's Gate, reduced to ashes at Waco, or a member of a New Age stadium-sized "mega church" robotically repeating whatever grade-school mantra they are commanded to chant? The "Deceiving the Elect" series explores how it is possible, that even the "elect" can be deceived, when they are willing to check in their intellect at the door, and invest their trust in a charismatic personality, and how the very best place for a cult to hide is right out in the open, bright-tailed and bushy-eyed, every Sunday morning. Conspiracy theories, whispers of illuminati and an ancient intelligence that has set in motion a 175-year deception to dazzle the entire world — to deceive, if possible, the very elect of God. Would you utterly lose your faith in the Truth if millions of people suddenly vanished from our world? Christ warned, implicitly: "DO NOT BE DECEIVED."
©Copyright 2011 Douglas Christian Larsen. Deceiving the Elect: Book 1 — Quickening Dreams, by Douglas Christian Larsen. All Rights Reserved by the Author. No part of this book may be reproduced (except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews) or transmitted by any means without the written permission of the publisher, Wolftales UNlimited.This book is a work of fiction. People, places, events, and situations are the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or historical events, is purely coincidental.
my Wife, Carolena of the Angels,
God’s gift to me
though I deserved no gift
woman of substance
lover and friend
my Mother, Nancy Lee Larsen
faithfully read to me when I was little,
listened to my stories when I was bigger than little,
then read my stories though she is not a reader
throughout my life has taught through example
the meaning of “unconditional love”
(this, heroically, in spite of me being me)
Eric Pichot, lifetime friend, reader
almost everything I’ve ever written
laughed at me — the appropriate times
laughed with me — the inappropriate
Irina Kocsis, friend and proofreader
who none too gently nagged down
most of the cruder characters in the novel
For false Christs and false prophets shall rise, and shall shew signs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect. Mark
Staceman watched the people flying, soaring more powerfully, swifter than birds, agile as angels, doing modified crawl strokes ten feet above the ground, their arms and legs scrambling, mouths stretched wide in delighted screams. He blinked his eyes. This was all so much like a dream! It was so very much like he had always imagined this glorious event, and yet so, so different. He knew it shouldn’t, but his heart slammed in his chest. What was there to fear?
Was it a dream? He lifted his arms and rubbed his wrists into his eyes, and then studied his hands, looking intently at the myriad wrinkles, his very own fingernails, cuticles, lifelines and scars and imperfect whorls of hair, seeing everything as if for the first time, so new, so bright. You couldn’t do that in a dream, could you? These close-up and utterly nonessential details were never included by the dreaming mind, in the dream world. But Stacey could not remember how he got here. It seemed to be a flash, a minute twinkle of light reflected from a bead of dew beaming the morning sunlight. Dew sparkling like diamonds, a terrible cliché, but hey, what could you do when that’s exactly what it looked like? The proverbial “twinkle of the eye…”
Was that it? In the twinkling of an eye? He swallowed hard and looked up from his hands. Maybe the idiots were right, after all! The Rapture was true! It was true, all true, and here he was, in a flash of time, right here, in a whole new world.
This new world was utterly beautiful, utterly bright. The buildings all towers, gleaming white, the millions of people seeming flawless in physical perfection, dressed in shining white raiment. Raiment? What kind of word was that to be using? Didn’t raiment mean clothes? So why not say clothes? Staceman Colton, or “Spaceman” as most of his post high school friends called him, was in heaven, dressed in beautiful white raiment that felt as light as a feather. He wondered if anything could be as wonderful, as beautiful, and as perfect as this?
But still. Down deep, in a secluded room of his heart…he wondered. He wondered. He frowned and seemed to be the only person within his perfect eyesight whose mouth held such an uncharacteristic downward flexing. A frown. Just an upside down smile, that’s all, but how strange. Something, something…he could not quite put his finger on it, but something was dreadfully wrong. Something? What? I mean, something had to be wrong, didn’t it? Nothing was perfect, was it? His eyes slowly moved across acres of people, and there he spotted the Lord — Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd — surrounded by flocks of tumbling, riotous children, beautiful human sheep. The children! So many children. But it was easy to spot the Lord, even amidst all the riotous splendor. So obvious and so easily seen, even buried deep in a huge pressing crowd of laughing faces, waving arms, hugging arms, outstretched fingers, touching fingers, all of the people pressing in upon the King of kings and Lord of lords. Jesus Christ stood head and shoulders above those about Him. He was a giant. And the Lord, even though far away, looked across the heads of all those people, and His eyes searched for just a moment, just a moment really, and then his gaze met and held Stacey’s widening eyes.
The Lord smiled, and Stacey returned the beaming expression. Okay. It’s all okay, really. All seemed as right as
raisins in the rain, again, but mainly on the plain. All was right. It had to
be right, didn’t it, if this was heaven? Perfect? Finally, perfect? Right. All
was. Yes, all was right. Really. All was perfectly perfect. Or was it? Yet,
deep within his breast, a nervous flutter tapped against the inside of his
chest, perhaps weakly for the moment, up against the bottom of his throat.
Maybe just a tickle, the errant butterfly. Stacey, his smile intact, looked
away from the Lord. How could you continue to stare into such eyes as those?
Eyes that saw and completely understood eternity.
Stacey again watched the flying children. It looked wonderful, the aerial acrobatics they performed. Most of them remained close to the ground, but a few more adventurous shot off into the atmosphere, soaring, the wind screaming off their bodies, flying without wings, their faces upturned, eyes closed, confident in this new uncanny ability, shooting upward like rockets, higher, higher, until they were no more than tiny dots, like specks of dust in a sunbeam, twisting and turning, rising and impossibly falling — no fear, the popular advertising slogan said off all the backs of all the pickup trucks in the world — and here was the best advertisement ever. No fear. Stacey wanted to try the flying thing too, seeming almost familiar, perhaps half-forgotten dreams he dreamed as a boy.
How old am I, he briefly wondered. Age did not seem to be concrete here, no longer a factor in reality. Only yesterday he was eighteen years old — was it really only yesterday? Or was it only today? Is that how the Rapture worked? You lost time as you transformed into incorruption? Above time. Bigger than time. Time, time, what time? But today, or in the now of this moment, he seemed older and younger, wiser and yet somehow more innocent than he had ever been before, and everyone he saw about him seemed no more than what his old mind perceived as “in their twenties” — young, wrinkle-free, ageless, and perfect. Glowing and flushed and laughing and sparking. Sparking? Yes, light seemed to shoot off of everyone, in tiny effervescent twinkles. But sparkling, too. Sparkling? Yes, they seemed to wink and sparkle with the impossible white light!
He blinked his eyes. A blonde girl flew past him, and for just a moment, for just the shadow of a heartbeat, it seemed he perceived a wrinkle in the air just above her. Maybe he just had something in his eye — but could you “get something in your eye” in heaven? He blinked and his eyes trailed her as she executed neat somersaults twenty-five feet above the ground, without a wire or a net, as agile and fleet as any bird of the sky. She was impossibly beautiful and impossibly graceful. There! Just again, something seemed to shade above her, a movement — no, not a movement — but a shadow winking into reality just above her back…looking directly at it, the shadow, he could not see it, but if he moved his eyes just slightly off-kilter, moved just into the peripheral field, what? What was he seeing, anyway? Hmm, silly, to be looking for zippers in a “perfection suit,” but what, what was he noticing about the beautiful blonde girl, sailing so naturally in the warm breezes of the air…
…and yet the impossibly beautiful blonde girl did not seem natural, not at all. The movements she made, the turns of her body, the flailing of her legs and arms — all seemed contrary to the effortless arc of her flight through the heavens. Like a puppy suddenly able to dart about in air currents just like a hummingbird. Staceman shadowed his eyes from the intense light which emanated from no particular place, and yet from everywhere at once — the light seemed painful (was it politically correct to use “painful” here, anyway? Would he receive a demerit?) And what kind of thought was that to be thinking, anyway? He was surprised that sarcastic thoughts were still possible; of course he’d always leaned to the sarcastic left. But he watched the beautiful blonde girl in her natural/unnatural flight. No, her flight was not natural, because all her motions seemed at odds with the effortless flight — as if she were being carried. He mentally slapped himself. Just stop it, you worry wart, what are you going to do now? Start nit-picking heaven?
Should you even be able to think of nits in heaven? And, now that he thought of it, what exactly is a nit, anyway?
There! Again, just behind a shining black man who flew through the air at about a distance of ten feet from the ground — a shadow seemed to wing along just above him. A dark vaporous doppelganger. For a moment it appeared that Staceman had discerned the sleight of hand behind the street magician’s trick. He had seen the little green pea pop out behind the walnut shell, for only a flash, to be rolled right under another shell. His mouth twitched and he nearly allowed himself to think: “Ah! I know how they do it!” But instinctively he knew it would be not wise to think such a thought, not wise in any sense of the word, not even here, in heaven. It would be dangerous. He inhaled sharply and it felt as if his heart had stopped dead and fish-cold in his chest. For a moment, just a moment, Stacey thought he saw a machine or jetpack strapped to the laughing man’s back. No, not a machine, there was nothing machinelike at all about that transparent shadow above the black man’s back. Hmm, Black Man’s Back, nice tongue-twister, that.
He slapped himself on the forehead. Just stop it. Stop goofing around. You were always a goof off and you’ll always be a goof off, even here in heaven, I guess, and they’re going to get sick of you and boot you out.
Or crucify you.
The Staceman backed away, his eyes fastened upon the flyers. Now everything was normal, well, as normal as things here could relatively be. He bumped against someone, and still moving backward, bumped into someone else. He couldn’t look away from the figures in the sky, and there again, another ripple in the air, another dark shape winging — winging — above a flying boy’s back, and there, above a red-head’s head, some large dark shape. And as if his eyes were opening, focusing, and adjusting — evolving to some other dimension of reality, he suddenly perceived dark floating mists accompanying each and every one of the hundreds — no, thousands — of people flying and laughing, screaming and chortling. And the dark shapes were much larger than the comparatively tiny specks of flying people. The people were being carried through the air. Carried, but they thought they were flying — what could that mean? Why would they need to be tricked like that? Tricked? What kind of thought was that to be thinking in heaven? Just stop it, Stacey, just stop it! The people were being carried about like toads in the talon of great eagles.
“Watch it, brother,” someone said as Stacey, still moving in reverse, slammed into them. Funny, but the instant irritation was so painfully apparent in the delivery of the slammee — did irritation hang around as a product of heaven, then? Stacey, without apologizing, whirled and dashed toward the nearest building — what appeared to be a temple, or a church — and slammed into a woman.
“I’m so sorry,” he burst, looking with dismay at the woman lying upon the ground. The woman he had just knocked off her feet.
“You idiot!” she cried, gazing up at him with anger.
He went to his knees to help her up, but she slapped his hands away as some sister bent to aid her. She called him a name he never thought he would hear in heaven. He didn’t think his mother would appreciate such a non-flattering description, either, even back on earth.
“I’m really sorry,” he repeated, edging slowly away.
The woman, dusting herself off, called him a truly nasty name. Not only was it vile and dirty, but kind of on the blasphemous side, as well. Well, no somewhat there at all — she had blasphemed in heaven! Maybe that was part of the fun of heaven; the Ten Commandments really have no meaning up here! And why should they, as they’d first gone bankrupt on earth.
Stay calm, he told himself, measuring each of his steps. Allow your shoulders to hang naturally. Breathe, keep breathing, and keep a dopey grin on your face. Don’t let them know that you know. Know what? Know what! Don’t let them know what you know. Stupid smile. Yes, just like that guy — the guy who is staggering around as if he is drunk. Or that woman, the one shrieking, who seems to be laughing and laughing like she is stuck and can never stop laughing, tears pouring from her eyes — the panic just discernible hiding behind her laughter, ready at any second to erupt from laughter into screams of terror, of pain, of utter, utter fear. And all the faces, mirror them, the faces twisted, the faces more grimacing smiles than smiling the smiles. Be like them. Look like them. And keep moving. Just keep on moving.
Is this heaven? He asked himself. Don’t be stupid. What else could it be? You know, though, don’t you? He put his hand out to touch the comforting warmth of the building, felt the rough tape-and-texture brilliance of the painted wall. You know, though, don’t you, Staceman? Paint in heaven? Well, why not?
You’re being stupid, he told himself. Here you are, in heaven, for goodness sake, and you’re worrying about the shadows of flying people, you’re worrying about painted buildings and people who can’t stop laughing! Can you blame them? They’ve just been delivered from all the pain of the world, all the death and murder and disease, the sudden infant death syndromes and abortion and school shootings and parent killing and wars and rumors of wars and miscarriages and sexual abuse and especially Saturday morning cartoons.
The real question is, “Why aren’t you laughing, Staceman?” Sshhh, don’t speak out loud, don’t think out loud, just keep that stupid smile on your face. Can they read your mind in heaven?
He smoothed his hand on the painted wall. The paint was whiter than anything he had ever thought of as “white” before. Gorgeous. His fingers trailed up to bubbled stained glass, not like the stained glass of earth — no, this glass emanated its own light, captured its own light, manufactured its own glory, reflecting haloes of blue and magenta and maroon upon his skin. And the glass, if it could be called glass, was thick. Bulletproof. He nearly laughed. Bullets in heaven, the very idea, it was funny, wasn't it? Like, he thought, war in heaven. For a moment he felt like a four-year-old boy, watching with starry-eyed wonder the twinkling of many colored points of light upon the Christmas tree in the
back when his parents were together, happily married, which had to be about the
happiest period of his life on earth. He turned his hand this way and that,
enjoying the luminescent rainbow of light shining out of the stained glass,
laser beams coloring his skin. Light expanding and turning, glowing all the
hues of Crayola crayons on steroids. Lake House
Boy am I silly. My first day in heaven and I can’t stop worrying. I’ve always been a worrier and I guess I’m a worrier in heaven too. He smiled, and laughed. Enjoy the colors. The white paint. The cans of paint must have the logo “Glory” stamped on them. Enjoy, enjoy, throw back your head and laugh. Fine, all is fine. Sure, everything is fine. Enjoy this, the beautiful colors, the good people. Try a flight yourself, and be like a bird, or more, like an angel!
Like an angel. He looked up into the sky. He could now see the dark shadow shapes perfectly. His eyes had adjusted. How come he couldn’t see them before? The shapes, huge, winged, long — angels. Well, that explains it, then. Angels. Everywhere. But why were they dark? Why were they hidden? Everyone else must be able to tune into them as well, can’t they?
He glanced out over the thousands of people and as if by magnetic force, or some horizontal gravity, his eyes met those of The Lord. The Good Shepherd seemed to be watching Stacey Colton, as if all the people between Him and him did not exist, as if it were only me and Thee, Shepherd and sheep. Am I a sheep? What did Jesus say to the goats on his left hand, or was it right?
Ridiculously, a childhood song snapped like a pop-up video into his brain: He knows when you are sleeping, He knows when you’re awake; He knows when you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake…!
“That’s Santa Claus,” Stacey burst, surprising himself with a snort of laughter. “Not Jesus!”
His laughter froze. Died away. Because his eyes had not left those of the Master, and he realized with a start that Jesus was not smiling back at him. That’s Santa Claus, not Jesus. What a thought. He stared at Jesus. Jesus seemed to be frowning. No, not frowning — he looked more like the rapper Ice Cube with his characteristic wrinkled, glowering forehead and snarling eyes. Stacey looked away, swallowing hard, suddenly more self-conscious than he’d been than all the times he’d been shy or self-doubting in his whole life, put together, combined and ditto amen and amen. Heaven. What a complete nightmare. Leave it up to the Staceman, a rebel in heaven. Heaven with a glowering Ice Cube Jesus.
Again he put his hand up to the stained-glass bubble of gorgeous light. He wanted that sense of childhood happiness, childhood carefree glee again, but then he lifted his hand just a tad higher, and he froze.
He nearly had put his hand into a cobweb. Yuck. But the instantaneous fear was already gone; there was no spider in such an old web, whatever spider lived here had either died or packed up shop a long time ago, and had moved on to greener pastures, or darker corners, wherever more bugs crawled in heaven. As it were, only a small dead fly, rotted and dry, remained dangling in the old web. Nothing to fear in a cobweb, right? No poisonous spider in a cobweb. Only a dead bug, a fly in the old web.
“Flies in heaven,” Stacey said, softly. Flies, and spiders too. Hmmm. And dead bugs as well. He frowned. Spiders suck the blood out of flies in heaven. Well, why shouldn’t there be a vicious cycle of life and death in heaven? Wait a minute. He had always thought death would be eliminated in heaven. Oh death, where is thy victory, or however that went. But apparently not. At least for bugs. For people, sure, just look how insanely happy everyone was, like they were stoned out of their gourds. But the bugs, ah, the poor flies and spiders. Tut tut, the silly things. Let them get their own Saviors. His eyes focused closer upon the painted wall and he saw a jutting blob of paint curling away. His fingers moved. He couldn’t help himself. Like some people can’t keep their hands off their pimples. Some kind of picky obsession. He wanted to stop himself, his mind screamed at him to stop, stop, stop, and he tried to slow his fingers, but they moved ahead as if with their own mind, they lifted off, like rockets, departed the stained glass, spaceships launching into space, and without any conscious thought his fingernail picked and pried at the paint blob, just like someone picking at their own face, and suddenly the blob jerked, it moved, and it was falling, it was falling away, loosing a dusting of plaster beneath it, dust sprang up, filled the air, and the paint blob fell away, in slow motion, trailing downward, and Stacey’s eyes widened, and he stared, his eyes fastened at the empty space where the paint blob had been, he stared at old brick, red tired pitted brick, the underlying red brick bared suddenly from beneath the falling Glory-brand paint. And he couldn’t help himself, his fingers, both hands, began dusting and clearing, a mad archeologist stumbling on the tomb of Moses.
Yuppers, a brick, an old brick beneath the beautiful white paint. Suddenly fear burst out from within him, as if it were spouting like icy water from a fire hose attached to his heart, and shooting with terrible force out his arms and legs and eyes and ears and every orifice of his being. And the revelers about him sensed it, oh yeah, right off, and a wide path cleared about Stacey Colton. He, the perceiver of the dead fly, he the archeologist of the old red brick — Stacey Colton, that meddler, that troublemaker, that present-day Lucifer!
He looked up, and again his eyes snapped to those of the guy he thought was Jesus, and sure enough the guy was looking at him, and he still wasn’t smiling, but now he was doing more than a posing rapper’s scowl: he was snarling.
Suddenly “the lord” seemed much closer than he was a mere heartbeat before. Stacey felt his back slam into the wall as “the lord” began to move in gargantuan strides his way. Growing, bigger, moving forward faster. The guy he at first thought was Jesus was now roughly pushing people out of the way, shoving them left and right, now knocking them aside with fists, and now outright trampling over them. Rag dolls flipped and flung, cartwheeling and dropping and falling and too quickly splatting upon the golden streets.
“Who let you in here?” The would-be, good-be shepherd thundered.
Stacey shook his head and pushed back against the wall like a cornered mouse. Every molecule of his being demanded flight, instantaneous screaming, shrieking escape, run baby run, as the charging lord smashed his way through the screaming people.
Suddenly people were falling from the sky, shrieking in terror as dark vaporous shapes deserted them and turned toward Stacey, whose eyes were ping-ponging in terror between the dark shapes, the falling people, and the angry, trampling being approaching him. People screamed. Blood splattered. Shapes plummeted to the ground, splatting noisily, terribly loud.
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored, Stacey thought, but felt no inclination to burst into a chorus of “Glory Hallelujah!”
The furious being was almost here. He no longer looked like a man. Stacey couldn’t look away now. His body quaked with grand mal seizure. Look! It was some kind of animal. Like a hippo, an elephant, or a rhino. And it was rabies mad, lunatic mad, psychotic serial killer mad — it was slobbering, slavering enraged.
“WHO LET YOU IN HERE? YOU DON’T BELONG!” the furious rhinoceros thundered, in the voice of doom sounding like a million industrial-strength toilets flushing simultaneously, now aiming a deadly sharp nose-spear at Stacey. The angry being still wore a white robe and sported a bushy brown beard, but now it definitely was a rhinoceros, a lumbering and huge monster of destruction. And, most horrible of all, there was a leering, smiling face upon the rhinoceros horn.
“This has to be a dream,” Stacey panted, struggling vainly to push himself into the wall, away from the terrible creature that was too close before him. He screamed and lifted his hands to keep the plunging beast off his throat, he put his fists up like a boxer and he knew how to defend himself and he knew how to attack but now it was pure instinct because there was absolutely no attack against this fierce creature and absolutely no thought of defense, but yet there his hands were, fists up, right fist protectively and loosely before his jaw and left hand out ready to jab ready to feint but the lion crashed down, its terrible fangs closing upon him, roaring, and roaring, and roaring —
— Stacey came awake with an electric surge. He was lying flat in the dark room, and his body rocked in his bed, vibrating, as if he had just fallen through space and time, fallen through the ceiling — he had just fallen from that other world into this world, and he knew that he was in bed, and he knew for certain that he was not breathing, and it seemed that an eternity had passed since his last inhalation of air. Maybe this was death, NDE, or something whacked like that. His mouth popped open fishlike. He gasped as he rolled onto his side. A dream, a nightmare, it had just been a dream, he thought, terrified and electrified with bladder-shaking fear, only a dream, calm down, you’re awake now, in your bedroom, and it was only a dream, only a dream, only a dream — he breathed, his mouth shuddering, his body quaking, tears springing to his eyes, breathe, just breathe, the air felt good coming in and out, thank God, he could breathe again, finally, and thank God, it was only a dream...
“It was not a dream,” a deep voice said from the dark.
With a jolt Stacey jerked about and drew his legs up into a fetal ball as he stared toward the foot of his bed. A tall man was standing there, looking at him in the darkness, and even though perfectly dark, Stacey could see every feature of the man in armor standing there, the deep dark, so dark and terrible eyes, and the prominent, alien cheekbones, the cascade of black hair upon broad shoulders, too-broad shoulders. And wings rose up like a great eagle behind the man, stretching from one corner of the room to the other. This was not a man. No man ever had such strength, such beauty, and such fierce unearthly light emanating from his very being.
Stacey felt as if all strength was gone from his body. He could not move. He was a slab of ice. A giant iced steak. He couldn’t breathe or move or speak or look away or even close his eyes. The dream was bad, but this was different, worse in terror potency. This was real. Real. An angel stood at the foot of his bed. A real angel. Not some cartoon dead person sent back to the earth to help you get a raise at work. This was a real angel, swelling there, the terrible reality of its being filling up the entire room from wingtip to wingtip, as differently above a human as a human was above an ape.
“Tomorrow it will seem a dream, my beloved charge,” the being spoke again in a voice of music, sheer beauty, incense for the ears. “But tonight know that it is true, a vision of things to come. This was not a vision of symbols to interpret. I assure you that everything you believe is true, and the wheel of eternity is turning swiftly now, swifter than you imagine.”
Stacey was marble, a statue boy-man; uncertain whether he was living or dead. He could only stare at the being visible even in darkness, a glowing man composed of light, and yet an embossment of the shadow, of night, and things unseen or felt. He was certain he was not even breathing.
“You are greatly loved, Stacey. Beloved. But you must cling to the truth, my charge. Do not let it go, even when it turns inside out, and seemingly vanishes to reappear again soon after. Get wisdom, equip yourself, and study for understanding. Cling to truth. That which is unwritten will occur, but it will not be what it seems. For what has returned will not be what it once was, only a semblance, a shadow, something unseen when looked at directly, but seen when viewed through the corners of your eyes. The written word is stronger than the solitary revelation, and the raptor’s talon is the handshake of the enemy. Do not be deceived, beloved charge. Cling to the truth. And cling to the three others, when you find them.”
Stacey felt miserable and filthy before the strange being at the foot of his bed. I must be dead, he thought, because I am not breathing. If I could, I would throw myself face down on the ground, and I would not care if I ever breathed again.
“But tonight, dear charge,” the majestic being said, “rest. Rest is important. Remember, rest. Rest, close your eyes, and rest. Yes, there, rest. Shhhh. Rest…”
Stacey’s eyes closed, he took a deep, shuddering breath as his body eased slack, and he slept.
† † †
The “big boy” stood staring blankly through the window at the darkness beyond. Although he stood taller than most men, the boy was only fourteen years old. At this point, no one knew just how tall he would eventually sprout — Oma and Opa worried that Joshua, the baby in the family, might end up taller than most professional basketball players, but if so, that was okay, they’d still love him, just as Joshua’s two big brothers topped out at six-foot-four and six-foot-five. The family did not really mind how tall their precociously tall Joshua grew, but they wished people would treat their giant son more kindly, as Joshua was the kindest and gentlest giant on the face of the Earth.
Joshua stood staring, mouth hanging slack, slabs of hands dangling, eyes at half-mast, staring out into the darkness of night. He felt numb, all over. His eyelids were heavy, and he swayed. Swayed. Don’t fall over, he thought, or did someone say that? Was there someone standing at his shoulder, right now, someone watching Joshua? A someone, even taller than Joshua? Was that even humanly possible?
“Sleepwalking,” Joshua mumbled. He had been sleepwalking ever since he had learned to walk — the family joked that he had probably done some heavy-duty “sleepcrawling” before that time.
The boy’s face was battered, a scab on his chin, a new cut above his left eyebrow, swelling beneath his right eye, and a loose tooth in his mouth — children had always been rough on Joshua, and now teenagers were proving no different. Still, all in all, this hadn’t been a bad day for his first day of high school, his first day as the “new kid” in a small-town school. Joshua liked the kids at school, but that wasn’t saying much as he generally liked anyone he met. However, kids, and adults too, in general did not smile upon the gangling thirteen-year-old who lumbered into their vicinity, all six feet six inches (and growing) of him — people instinctively found him imposing, even threatening, despite his goofy, goony smile.
They called him “Goliath” and “Beanstalk Boy” and sometimes “Frankenstein.” King Kong and Godzilla. But Joshua didn’t mind. He loved people, regardless of what they called him. Or when they struck him, with their fists, or sometimes baseball bats. He wanted to be like Michael Jordan, even though
black, and Joshua was white, because the guy had it all so together, and seemed
so gentle, as gentle as Joshua himself, and yet people treated him nice. Joshua
wished he were black, well, yeah, white
was okay too. But Michael Jordan seemed so graceful, so confident, not like
Joshua, an ever-tripping, ever leaning .
Joshua bumped his forehead on low-hanging things, tripped on little things that
were so far below his head, and when he attempted to dunk a basketball he
nearly always somersaulted over his Size 15 sneakers and the basketball
drizzled away beneath the backboard. Tower of Pisa
“Sleepwalking,” Joshua repeated, and blinked. Odd. Generally, when you practiced sleepwalking, you had no idea you were doing it. Usually someone had to tell you of the fact the next day. So maybe this wasn’t sleepwalking, after all. What, then? Joshua did not know. He did not know why he was standing in the living room of his parents’ house, staring out the window, in the middle of the night. He swayed sideways, back and forth, like the pendulum in a giant grandfather’s clock, only upside down.
“Something is coming,” Joshua said, as the trees moved out there, in the darkness, and the sound of the wind rose in the still, quiet night. Oh yes, something was out there, headed this way, moving through the darkness. He shuddered. His body was alive with gooseflesh. Something out there, something coming this way, like King Kong coming through the jungle, knocking towering trees left and right. Something bigger, stronger, more terrible than King Kong. Lightning flashed. Lightning. A storm. Something. Something, coming, this way, something.
Then Opa was there at his elbow, shaking his arm gently. “You okay, Josh? Sleepwalking again? Wake up, sweetheart, wake up, and let’s get you back to bed.”
Joshua looked down on his father, all five feet two inches of the fifty-year-old Opa. “It’s coming, Opa.” He looked back outside. His father looked out the window too.
“What is it, Josh? What’s coming?” Opa said, and his voice shook. He adjusted his glasses and peered through the window. All was quiet. It was blackness out there, you really couldn’t see anything. But the way Joshua said it: “It’s coming.” Opa more than half-believed he’d see something charging the window, any second, something great and hairy, some homicidal ape. But the night was perfectly calm, nary a breeze blowing, no moon, no stars, just blackness and dead quiet. But Opa’s back rippled with gooseflesh. He swallowed hard and peered up at his behemoth son.
Joshua inhaled deeply. He watched as the sky lit up outside — lightning snaking down. Fireworks. The big show on the Fourth of July down at Lane Park. Huge clouds boiling up above the neighbors’ houses, the storm clouds purple and black and green as the sky turned emerald, like swimming through the ocean, and then long fingerlike tubes dropping down from the clouds. Mushroom clouds. Mushroom clouds with dangling fingers, reaching down, grasping. A giant hand? No, twisters. Tornadoes, two of them, now three, four, and then two more — twisters, cyclones, reaching down like a six-fingered hand, reaching down. Beautiful, that’s what Joshua thought, he’d always wanted to see a real, live tornado, and now here he gets to witness six of ’em. The sky flashing with brilliant light. They were coming; the tornadoes were coming, straight at Joshua and Opa. And in front of the terrible sky tubes ran three small figures, no, four. And Joshua saw that he was one of them, the tallest of them, the figures, of course. He was running with a man, a woman, and a little boy. Or not a boy, but a very small man. They were running toward Opa and Joshua, the figures, just before the storm, but they’d never make it to the house in time. The wind roared at the house and the little building rocked and shook. Run, Joshua thought, run, don’t let them catch you. Suddenly the window burst inward showering Joshua and his father with glass.
“What do you see, Josh?” Opa asked, looking from the dark window up into his son’s pale face. There was not a sound outside, and yet Joshua seemed to be looking at something, hearing something. Something. Joshua trembled, and tears streamed from his eyes and nose. Something. Something wicked, this way, coming.
Big tears rolled down Joshua’s face. Joshua’s broad chest began to hitch.
“The storm is coming, Opa. The storm — is coming,” Joshua said in his deep voice, his tone strangely flat, dreamlike. The window was not broken. In fact, for just an instant, Joshua looked at his own reflection in the glass, and he could see Opa’s little head on one side of him, down low about at chest level, and on the other side stood the angel, with his arm about Joshua’s shoulders — the angel was quite a bit taller than Joshua. It made him feel small. The angel was beautiful and alien, hardly human at all, nothing like all the pictures of them that made them out to be fluffy women-men, or fat little babies. This guy was power, living power, a breathing, reasoning bolt of lightning. Bright power, made out of cones and tubes and triangles and points. Maybe an electric bug, a giant firefly, but strong, beautiful, weird and breath-taking.
“Okay, sweetheart, let’s get you back to bed,” Opa said, patting his son’s arm and pulling him back toward the hallway where the rest of the family slumbered. At first Joshua resisted and Opa had no chance in the world of moving the titan boy from the window, but then, slowly, Joshua relented, and followed his father back to his bedroom, and bed, and sleep.
“The storm is coming,” Opa repeated, going to his own bedroom and found that when he took off his thick bifocals, kicked off his slippers and snuggled up next to Oma, he could not return to sleep.
It is coming, he thought, it is coming, and there’s nothing we can do to stop it. It is coming. The storm is coming.
† † †
Little Mikey lies pinioned upon his sour bed, each arm tied to a corner of the headboard, feet stretched and tied to the footboard. He wants to die, but he can not put that wish into any true reasonable words — but his little body senses the entire wish, the deadly desire. His chest hurts, terribly. It throbs. “Wib-bwoken,” is how he said it to the doctor at the hospital which made the doctor and the nurses’ smile. It was so cute how he mispronounced his malady, and what a talent for underestimation the kid had, the medical professionals mused, because Little Mikey’s ribs were broken, plural, multiple, two on the right and three on the left, and he had two nasty hairline fractures on his spine, which may or may not affect the kid’s ability to walk, or at least walk normally, in later years, thought the doctor, shaking his head, tears so close. Most likely it would affect his growth, as well, or at least his lack of growth. Poor kid. He had to look forward to arthritis and other dark pains, and it wouldn’t be when he was an old man, either.
Hell, the doctor thought, he knew this was a clear-cut case of child abuse, but he was seeing more and more of this kind every day, and what, really, could you do. What could you do? This kid is lucky. Probably won’t see his sixth birthday, or maybe so, as the day is so close. In all likelihood his prostitute “mother” doesn’t have insurance, no shocker there, and the man who did the damage to the kid probably is crossing state lines even as the doctor bends down to look into poor Little Mikey’s eyes, both of them swollen nearly shut. But the eyes behind the swollen flesh are so grave, and so blue, what kind of world is this, anyway? Such a serious little kid, such a serious Little Mikey. The doctor hates to admit it, but he kind of likes the rugrat. Not that he ever wants to share an ice cream cone with the bug, but the kid sure is likable, that’s for sure. A kind of soothing beauty to him, a kind of peace surrounding him. Such deep, wise blue eyes. What is that color, anyway? Turquoise? Teal? Call it beautiful, whatever color it was.
But that was in the hospital, where Little Mikey enjoyed the attention the nurses gave him. And once in a while even the doctor, but Little Mikey sensed that the doctor didn’t like him. All in all, the hospital visit — all two weeks of it, was the best time in Little Mikey’s life, at least to date. Still, he had to get home, he thought every waking minute in the hospital; he had to get home to protect his baby sister. She needed him, he was all she had, and the angels had told him that God would take care of him, Little Mikey, because the Father had chosen him, Little Mikey, but that he, Little Mikey, needed to keep careful watch on his baby sister. Because bad people lived in the world. Lots of bad people, most of them men. Almost all of them men, the angel had said.
Now Little Mikey was home, tied to his bed, not because his Mommy was mean, but because the doctors had said he couldn’t move, not much, because of the little cracks in his back. Mommy must have stepped on a crack. And Little Mikey could smell pee-pee, and he felt bad, because he was a big boy now and never went pee-pee in the bed, but now he was tied to the bed and no one had come to release him and carry him to the potty and so now he couldn’t help it, he had gone pee-pee and it burned down there. He knew he was going to get into bad trouble for this accident, but he wasn’t so much worried about that, getting into trouble, as he was about watching over his baby sister. She couldn’t even hardly walk yet, and still the bad men wanted to get to her, and hurt her, just like “Uncle Frank” did, just a few weeks ago, and when Little Mikey had stepped in front of his baby sister, to protect her, to watch over her like the angels said he should, “Uncle Frank” grabbed Little Mikey by the feet, and swung him around — Little Mikey saw the world blur — and then his little body smashed into a wall, and his back punched a hole in the wall, and Little Mikey was sure he was going to get into trouble for that, but then “Aunt Nancy” came into the room, screaming, and she picked up Little Mikey, and he felt like a bean bag without many beans left, and “Aunt Nancy” had called the big white truck with the flashing lights on top, and Little Mikey had enjoyed that ride, and the guys inside were very nice to Little Mikey. The pain hadn’t been that bad, in fact, he could hardly feel anything.
Now all he could think about was that the world was not very nice, it was full of bad smells like pee-pee and bad burning sensations like in his private, and especially the world was full of bad men, and sometimes even bad women, though not as many as the bad men, and Little Mikey didn’t like the world, it was always dark, and he knew from TV that there were other little kids in the world, not just Little Mikey and his baby sister, but he had never met any in the real world, this dark world, and though he couldn’t put it into words, Little Mikey wanted to die. He had already absorbed all the pain a body is allowed to absorb, and poor Little Mikey didn’t want any more, not even a teaspoon full.
“You have to be brave,” the angel said, kneeling by Little Mikey’s bed. The angel swept back the sweaty hair from Little Mikey’s forehead. “You have to be strong, Michael, deep inside. You have to be strong inside that man inside you. Inside, you are very big, Michael, a man, even though outside you are very small, a boy.”
“Bad wod,” Little Mikey told the angel, tears welling up in his large blue eyes.
The angel nodded, and his eyes brimmed with tears. “Yes, Michael, a bad world. But you have to hang on, Michael. Don’t ever give up. Never. Endure. Michael, please, endure, never give up, okay?”
Little Mikey considered the request. He loved the angel, who had been his only friend for as long as he could remember — Mommy called the angel “Little Mikey’s invisible pal.” But now Mikey had his baby sister, only Little Mikey’s baby sister couldn’t see the angel, which frustrated Little Mikey, because nobody could see his shining friend, they called him “Little Mikey’s invisible pal.” He didn’t know what to tell the angel, because he didn’t know, not really, he just didn’t know if he really could hang on, keep going…
“Please, Beloved?” the angel said, a tear running from his eye.
Little Mikey felt sorry for the angel, who looked so sad. He nodded, smiling. “Okay,” he said, brightly. “Nevuh gie up.”
The angel smiled. “Good boy, Michael. Never give up.”
“Nevuh gie up,” Little Mikey repeated.
“And remember, who lives in your heart?”
“Yosh-uh-wah,” Michael said, grinning, the smell of pee-pee not so strong. Maybe the world wasn’t so bad, so dark, because even though there were bad men, there were also good angels, weren’t there? Even if they were only your invisible pals. And there was Yosh-uh-wah, who smelled good all the time, and who held Little Mikey when things got too bad in this bad world filled with bad men.
† † †
She looked up into his eyes and loved him with her entire being. Her little heart felt like it would explode, any second, it really did. “Don’t go bye-bye,” she whispered to him, slipping back into baby talk, even though she was a big girl now, more than seven, almost seven and a half.
“Papa has to go, Angel, but you’ll see him all the time,” the big man with the dark eyes said. He was a little distracted. He wasn’t really paying attention, and this bothered him. If he allowed himself to pay attention, his heart would break, and he would die here, right in front of his little girl. And he had to keep himself distant, not care too much, because how was he ever going to survive in this world without seeing his pretty little Bronte every day, his own little Papa’s girl? He wondered, only briefly, where in the world Michelle was hiding, but he wasn’t surprised that the strange little girl hadn’t come forward — maybe she wouldn’t realize he was gone, not even for weeks, if ever. And when she finally did, she probably wouldn’t care.
The little girl forced herself into his arms, up into his lap like she hadn’t done since she was five years old, all those years ago, before her mother had begun to turn her away from him, because he was second class, through and through, and would always be in the mother’s eyes. The little girl snuggled into his arms and buried her face into his chest. This was his cue. Ever since she was a baby she would snuggle into his arms and he would sing to her, but if he sang right now, he might not make it, just might not make it, because it was a long way to the door, and an even longer way to his old pick-up truck, and an even longer way back to sanity.
“Sing,” she told him, imperiously. He smelled good, her Papa did, as he always did. That little creamy bottle with the ship on it, it wouldn’t ever be in the bathroom again. Would she ever smell Papa again? She should have swiped it when she had a chance. But it was gone now. She snuggled deeper within his embrace, she would never let him go, she would sit here in his arms, smelling him, loving him, until they both died and turned into skeletons like in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which her Mami would kill her if she’d known that little Bronte had read it, but the little girl just couldn’t stop reading, even the books Mami told her not to read — maybe even especially those books.
“Papa has to go,” he said, holding it all together. Just don’t let your head crack open, you weak, weak man, don’t show the little Angel how bad you’re hurting, don’t let her know, just run out of here, now, just run, go, go, go…
“Sing,” she commanded.
He held her tightly. He sang: Hey diddle, diddle, the cat and the fiddle, the cow jumped over the mooooooooooooooon…the little dog laughed to see such sport, and the dish ran away with the spoooooooon. It was her favorite, and his. His sweet tenor voice easily moved deeper to a slightly more strained baritone, and when he hit the exaggerated basso profundo moooooon she giggled in his arms, as she always did, because he did sound just like a cow, didn’t he? That was a talent, wasn’t it? The ability to sound like a cow, one that jumped right over the moon, that had to count for something, didn’t it? And then she imperiously demanded, his little princess, that he sing the Little Light song, and he sang: This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine…this little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine…
“Let your father go now,” the beast said from the doorway. Well, her name wasn’t beast, not really, but that was how the father thought of her, especially since she was driving him far away from his little girl, forcing him out into the night. Was second class really all that bad, if he really was second class, which the beast would never be able to convince him that he really was, but who knows, maybe in the grand scheme he really was second class. Still, he didn’t think so, he didn’t believe there were classes, not with his Father.
Bronte went rigid. She wriggled out of his arms and he made a desperate snatch to capture her, but she was gone, fleeing to her room, where she would cry herself to sleep, but she wouldn’t let him see that, oh no, she wouldn’t let him know that she loved him so desperately, because she blamed him, she did, because he wouldn’t cross over and meet Mami halfway, it would be so easy to do it, Bronte herself had done it, but not her Papa, he was stubborn, Mami said so. Papa just wouldn’t do it, like Santa Paul said he should, poor Papa, he wasn’t bad, Bronte knew, she felt it with every molecule of her being.
He watched her go, the lump that wasn’t in his throat a minute ago as he sang “This Little Light of Mine” was now back and he was on the verge of tears, on the verge of begging the beast, but he wouldn’t, no he wouldn’t, he wouldn’t bow down before her huge proud breasts, never, not today, not tomorrow, not ever, for forever.
Mami crossed her arms over said ample breasts and leaned against the doorjamb. “I think you should be going, now, Christian.”
He rose and met her at the door. For a moment she did not move. It was as if she wanted something from him. She wanted him to do something. Like grab her, shake her, shake some sense into her mule head, the beast, but then she moved, to the side, and he squeezed past, and he could smell her, and he had to admit that he wanted her, even now, even though they hadn’t been together like that in more than a year, not since Michelle was born. He walked from his house and out to the little economy-sized pick-up truck — Chevy Luv, and love was so far from him, just like in some corny country-western song, only he had no dog to stare gloomy-eyed from the rearview window as he drove away into the night — and he ducked into the tiny cab, with all his possessions in the world under a tarp in the little truck bed, and he did that, he drove away into the night, with no sad-eyed dog to stare out behind him.
But Mami’s eyes watched. Tears streaked her still thin face, and her shoulders shook, and her ample bosom quivered as her big heart felt like it was ripping down the middle inside her body. And Bronte watched, too. She saw the little red truck drive into the night. She watched until the little red lights from the back end of the truck were gone, gone, gone forever, and then she collapsed upon her bed and wept. She wished she’d said good-bye, she wished that she had kissed him, one of his big sloppy kisses, she wished she had snuck out to the truck and crawled into the back part of the truck, maybe with only her little violin, and they’d live quite a life together, wouldn’t they? Bronte would not have to make those frightening noises with her mouth any more, just to make Mami happy. And Papa would sing to her, wouldn’t he? With his sweet voice, and his gentle dark eyes, her Papa, they could be happy together, couldn’t they? No matter what Santa Paul said about second-class Christians?
† † †
As he sat alone on the
Mount of Olives his talmidim came and asked,
confidentially: “Tell us, when are these things going to happen, and what will
be the sign that You are coming back, and that the world is ending?”
And Yahshua told them, “Be very careful, don’t let anyone deceive you. For Christians will claim they are anointed, and deceive many people. And wars and the threat of war will erupt everywhere.
“Don’t worry, because these things must happen, but still, it won’t be the end.
“Countries will attack each other, and rulers will fight each other, and many will starve, and disease will spread everywhere, and earthquakes will happen in surprising places. All these terrible things are the beginning of the earth’s birth pangs.
“Then they will arrest you, torture you, and even kill you, and everyone will hate you, but it will be for the sake of My name. Many of you will surrender to hopelessness, and begin to betray each other, and hatred will grow in your heart for each other.
“Many false prophets will proclaim themselves, and they will deceive many. And because the law will mean nothing to the world, the love in hearts around the world will snuff out like candles.
“But if you do not give up, you will be saved. And this Good News of the Kingdom will be told around the entire world, a witness to every nation, and only then will the end come.”
Matthew’s Gospel Chapter 24, Verses 3-14, from Michael’s Spiritual Notebook
We must believe in free will! We have no choice! - Isaac Bashevis Singer
If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things. - Rene Descartes
Strange times are these, in which we live, when old and young are taught in falsehood's school. And the one man who dares to tell the truth is called at once a lunatic and fool. - Plato
If there really is a God who created the entire universe with all of its glories, and He decides to deliver a message to humanity, He will not use, as His messenger, a person on cable TV with a bad hairstyle. - Dave Barry
He shambled from the living room, rubbing crusty sleep from his eyes. Seems he fell asleep in front of the boob tube again. He rasped a cough. Beer phlegm. Wonderful. How much did he drink last night anyway? Just a few drinky-winkies. Were there people here last night? Oh, okay, that’s right, you were alone, and feeling terrible, and how much did I drink last night? Couldn’t have been more than a six-pack, or a twelve-pack at best — or worst. He paused at the kitchen sink to spit, then blinked hard at the globs in his eyes and bent lower to check out what it was that he had spit up — what was it, anyway, a spider? He winced. No spider. Just a clump of bloody mucous. Maybe a bit of lung, too, if he was lucky.
Wonderful. What a wonderful world, what a wonderful life.
He opened the refrigerator but couldn’t seem to see. Man, what time was it anyway? He rubbed at the seemingly increasing muck in his eyes and blinked into the refrigerator. Seemingly no more beer, and what kind of breakfast could you ever enjoy without a few cans of beer to wash it down? A seemingly pretty boring one, it would seem. What’s with all the seeming, he considered. Seamy is more like it. Seemingly seamy.
Oh how far from your training days you are, flabby boy, he grumbled at himself, his mouth slow and mushy with mucous, his eyes gluey and crusty. Was a day, not long ago, when he would be mortified if his body held more than six percent fat, and what was he today, probably in the neighborhood of 20 percent, of all things! Who was he kidding, probably 25 percent. Then again, back when, in his pup days of yore, he exercised hard, every day, at least two hours a day, and he played just as hard. How much exercise did he receive in today’s world? Well, he did often walk from his cubicle at work to the coffee pot, and if you figured he drank 40 cups of coffee a day, that was some pretty good exercise, wasn’t it? Not to mention all the arm curls involved in lifting those 40 cups of coffee, probably 20 times each, to empty them. And then there were the cigars! They had to figure into the exercise mindset, didn’t they? Boy, what a waste of humanity you are — hey, shut it, blubber boy, this is the good life, independence, freedom, the bohemian life at its purest form. Move over Gauguin.
He stumbled to the kitchen nook and the disarray of pizza boxes. Man, how many pizzas have you bought in the last few days? In this explosion of boxes there should be at least the scraps of a breakfast. Breakfast, yum. He rummaged a bit, came up with about four pieces of crust, and one slice of pepperoni pizza someone dropped behind the table. Wonder who that someone could be? Would have to do. He peeked into the trash and found a can some pessimist had tossed half-empty. He couldn’t believe his luck. Who could throw out half a can of perfectly good beer? And who cared if it was warm and flat and that someone’s used Kleenex was wadded up on top of the tab?
I used to run three miles a day. Could bench-press twice my weight. And did so, every day. I visited the gym more than I visited the lingerie show club, wow, that seemed like ages ago. Nowadays all the strippers knew his name, and the guys and gals at the gym would just think him another fat guy in to leer at all the Lycra/spandex-painted flesh fortified with ample surgical plastic. Well, maybe he was not fat, but definitely not in any kind of good shape. And he definitely knew a lot more about the lust of the heart than most human beings. And he definitely had let himself go. Had let himself gone, a long time ago.
He plunked himself down at the table, chomping on pizza crust — careful not to gnaw off the ends of his broad, bushy moustache — sipping warm beer. Man, how did my life get here, he wondered. Dumb question, this early in the morning. But what time was it, anyway? He squinted at the kitchen clock. About it would appear. Seemingly. But who knows. The knuckles in his right hand sure were speaking, though. Wonderful. Arthritis plus a drunken binge. Probably just slept through the last dregs of my job. . Unless the sun was out at . I’m safe if it’s Saturday. Or Sunday, I’m safe if it’s the Lord’s Day. But who wants to be safe? He belched. What day was today, anyway? Maybe he could figure it out if he could remember what night it was last night before he crashed on the couch. And there was a reason he crashed on the couch, wasn’t there?
Could he and the little woman be having a fight again? Is that why he slept on the couch? Ah, the headache, the headache, it was here, it was like, now, man, now. But why was the house so quiet, and why had he slept on the couch? Questions, the world was seemingly full of questions. Seemingly wonderful questions. Well, to be away from her — the little woman — even for one night, was worth a mouthful of lint. Wonderful, that was his life. Ah, to be free, at the helm of your own command, setting out into that big ole world, free to make your own choices, do whatever you want to do, the ole world your oyster, blah-de-blah blah blah! But where were his kids, his kiddies, his kiddycats, the little ones, the infantisimos? He already missed the little lispers. Man oh man, why did he even have to have kids, they didn’t deserve all this nonsense, but it was his entire fault, because what kind of man was he, anyway? Barely could manage to support the little critters, anyway, he didn’t blame Laurie for leaving him, really, how could he blame her? Bonk. Just like that. Laurie had left him. Well, now that he thought of it, it wasn’t just lately that she had strayed far away from home. In fact, a fat yellow envelope was sitting right over there on the table, and it was probably the one peek at it that sent him off on his beer-guzzling, pizza-crunching dark wave of depression.
I should have stayed a boxer, he thought. Trouble breathing through your nose was nothing, compared to how he thought of himself these days. He used to think quite highly of himself. Thought he was quite a dude, all muscled, talk about cardio conditioning, popping-out veins and expanded lung flow! Now, he was trapped in a prison of blubber and bills, pudgy lungs and muscular credit-card debt. Struggling artist? What glory was there in being a struggling artist? At least as a boxer he got some of that instant gratification, no matter how bad his record had been, because he looked great, like a sleek Doberman pinscher. Now, freedom seemed like a faraway concept. Sure, it used to be an island on the distant horizon, and he was swimming through shark-friendly waters, but now there was no sign of the island, and he was inside one of the sharks — actually, he was inside probably two of the sharks, because he was little more than half a man, these days, as Laurie loved to assure him.
Freedom? Let freedom ring. You ding-a-ling, because, like a broken bell that’s about all you can sing, in hell, this shell, botta-bing. There’s the sting. How many more self-delivered body-blows can you wing? Cha-ching, cha-ching. Cut it out, he told himself. Blubbering blubber butt.
Because, that was it, really, the answer, wasn’t it? To all the questions? To be free? He looked out the kitchen window and realized he could see. Even before he wondered if his eyesight were miraculously healed due to the elixir of beer, he remembered that he must have slept with his contacts in. Wonderful. Did he remember taking them out? Nope, can’t quite recollect that. What a life. There was a low rumbling in his head. This should be fun. The first stirrings of one of his sick headaches. It wasn’t just imagination. Hypochondriac brain waves. Bang, bang, bang, hello brain? You home? Good, it’s your turn to be the heavy bag. Leaving your contacts in your eyes when you sleep doesn’t exactly help that, you know? I know. Migraines, asthma and arthritis. The knuckles of his right hand throbbed, the arthritis alive, well, hungry and feeding. Wonderful. Migraines, asthma and arthritis, OH MY! Someone throw in the towel. Big Headache Day with Arthritis Hand thrown in and you don’t even know if you’re supposed to be at work, and you have more than a little bit of hangover. What are you talking about, throw in the towel, the ref is already counting you OUT. Life was much simpler as a boxer. You could get good menial work back then, not this artsy-fartsy low-pay graphic computer stuck-at-a-cubicle work. Work, what a joke, what a joke of a job you have and who cares if you just lost it?
Who cares where the money will come from to pay the rent on this house, or put groceries in the refrigerator for two children? At least when they were beating you up you could put food in the refrigerator, but of course there weren’t kids back then, and why else would Laurie have even noticed him, back then, if it were not for his hard body, and the seemingly easy flow of moolah for boozing, and traveling on your motorcycle, and hotels, and strange cities. What good are you, these days?
He stopped moving. His body tensed and went very still. What am I thinking of? Something. Shhh, be very quiet, what am I trying to think of? Not hunting wabbits, but be vewy, vewy quiet, even so. Shhhh. Listen. Even in boxing, the thing happened, where you had to do it, no matter how disgusting it was, you had to admit that it was over, you lost, you were just a bum — if only for this here particular fight, next fight you’d pay the other guy back, and it’d be his turn to be the loser, my turn to be the big winner — and wasn’t this just such a time, a bigger realization in a much bigger fight? Not that he’d ever experienced too many of those winning sensations. No, put that aside, I’ll think about that later, it was something else. Something else. His eyes, still looking out the kitchen window, glazed over, as his vision turned inward. Something else. He had no idea of what he was trying to remember, but such an overwhelming feeling moved up and down his back, prickling with goose pimples, his spine tingling as if with electricity, he knew he must be very still and concentrate, just remember, you don’t even have to think about what a certifiable loser you’ve become, just remember, concentrate and remember, to remember, or almost remember, whatever it was attempting to break from his dark subconscious mind up into the airy-but-murky, the still-dark realm of his consciousness.
Relax, nice and easy, let everything go, just rest, rest…
Something you dreamed. That was it. Yes. He dreamed something important last night. A dream. Yes, another one of his dreams. It seemed like years since he’d had one. So maybe it was a harbinger of better times, going back in time even though you can never go home again, but maybe back to those self-confident days of dreaming and ever-present masculine power. A dream, yes, again, another dream — when was the last one? Hmm, when he was eighteen, maybe? But last night, what did he dream? Something he must remember right now. But it wasn’t ready. The memory of the dream. It was laying back, the dream, huddled within a coffin, a vampire, and the daylight was too bright for it to raise its head just yet. What did I dream? Don’t think about it. Just let that go too, along with the bigger realization, the darker realization. Don’t think about anything right now. Rest, remember rest, you must rest, just rest, yes, rest, rest, rest.
He abruptly lifted the can of lukewarm beer to his lips and threw back his head. He winced slightly at the raspy flat warm taste. He padded over to the trash again and pawed about, dug down until he found an ashtray dump, not thinking, not thinking, like Laurie lying on the table giving birth to Dougie so wanting to push but he was there telling her no don’t push not yet just wait until the time is right don’t push and here he was don’t think just wait just don’t think his hand wiggling through soggy garbage and wonder of wonders he came up with a perfectly good cigar butt a perfectly good cigar butt maybe three inches of it — maybe there was a God up in heaven and maybe this boy was in fact one of the Chosen People the Remnant he dusted ash and hairs off the butt and jammed it into the corner of his mouth not thinking don’t think about anything just go flat go smooth don’t think don’t think don’t think. Not thinking. Don’t think. His ever-present lighter was ever present in his shirt pocket and he flicked it and fired up the tired old stogie. Yeah, just let the fingers do the walking, the lighter do the talking, ah, cigar smoke, an incense in my nostrils my lungs you are a-caulking, oh boy, you’re far gone, yeah, you’re losing it losing it losing it losing it — are you kidding, you lost it a long time ago, what made you think a palooka had a chance as a boy Hemingway? Yeah, you’re gone, you’re outta here, the ref just stood up from your prone body and that other bum is the big winner!
He padded in his socks back into the living room where his face had nuzzled the cushions off the couch. Absently he juggled a few of the cushions back into place and then plunked down, not thinking, allowing his brain to drift free, as he willed back the dream. What had he been dreaming in his pizza-and-beer haze, and why was it so important that it was sending signals up from the Antarctic wastes of his slumbering memory, sending Morse Code dots and dashes, demanding that he interpret the signals and convert them into three-dimensional images to play over the screen of his mind…?
Briefly, he felt like a little mixture of some Biblical men, prophets they must be, from his old Sunday school daze, these guys, these Biblical guys — of course, as corrupt and filthy as he’d become, he knew he was nothing at all like any of those Biblical guys, except in the way he felt right now — these prophets, who could they be? About the dreams? Joseph? No, not that dreamer, he was a little too perfect, a little too squeaky, this side of clean. No, later…the guy who probably had his winky lopped off…Daniel, yeah, that guy, with that king — what was his name? Nebuchadnezzar. Not that he knew the Bible all that well, just the Sunday school kinda stuff, that’s all. But old
Neb, you could remember. That guy was a real card. Tell
me what I dreamed and I won’t chop you up into little pieces. Daniel the big
bloated high-voiced eunuch who couldn’t be scared by anyone. Even getting
chopped up into tiny little kitty-food pieces, good inspiration, that. But back
to the dream, the all-mysterious dream. His
dream, not oh-Daniel-boy’s-the-pipes-the-pipes-are-caaaaaalllllllliiiiing
dream. THE dream, last night. Was it an erotic dream? Those were always important
and fun to rehash. Or, more likely, was it a nightmare?
Nightmare. Bingo. You have the winning combinations of numbers! You are a winner, sir!
And he was back within his dreaming mind. His heart rate accelerating, blood chugging, churning, squirting swiftly through his body, sweat glands opening the doors, the doors to do their chores. Brain heat up, body cool down, what a setup. His tongue swelled up in his mouth and for just a moment, a panicky moment, he wanted to stop, don’t remember, don’t think, don’t move, don’t feel or squeal. Please allow the vampire to return to its pre-dusk slumber. Don’t move, don’t think?
But no. It was nightmare time, and a doozy of a nightmare at that…
…he remembers running through some tall city, must be downtown because of all the tall, cramped-together buildings, but not a really tall skyline city, like New York City or any place staggeringly up in the sky like that. It is more like a downtown Sacramento, or Denver, where most of the tall buildings are no taller than 25 or 30 stories tall, and all huddled together for warmth, for security, or in case they need to lean against each other when the wind blows too hard. And maybe it is not him running through these streets, but someone like him, someone he’s just watching with his dreamer eyes because a radio announcer is reporting in the soundtrack of his dream and maybe that’s his portion, to be announcer — narrator — and maybe he is part adventurer, experiencing the terrors of the too-real dream, and also part radio announcer, keeping his voice rock steady despite the tragedy — “Oh the humanity!” — as the titanic vacuum cleaner hoses descend from the sky, about five or ten tornadoes, white and clean, reaching like anteater snouts from the sky, curving and undulating and spinning above the tall buildings, impossibly slow for such tremendous giants, but faster than people can run, or faster than cars can drive, and the announcer bravely announces: “We don’t know what they are, but they are moving closer to the buildings, and people are only now looking up, they are only now noticing the terrible danger from above! Are these tornado tubes some new enemy launch? Or is it more likely the Hand of God, visiting judgment upon errant humanity?” Is he the radio announcer, or is he that man, right there, the one running, looking up, the impossibly huge tube coming down above him, above me, right above me, oh God no, a round gaping mouth, toothless, hungry, yawing hungrily, stretching down, intelligent and awful, shadow, shadow, the light blocked, the darkness, and the terrible cyclone roar of wind and my hair standing on end, being sucked upward, and am I running, running, madly scrambling, doing a football huck-and-jive but there is no way to elude this pursuer, it is too close, and too huge, and now he is lifting off the ground, being sucked off the ground and he is going end over end, there down there is the ground but now there is the sky, twisting, turning, but no, he must be the radio announcer because he sees the man disappear into the giant sky tube, and now cars are being sucked up, and one of the tallest buildings is stretching, unnaturally, yawing and flexing in a way it was never designed to do, and now it is tearing in half, beams and steel and billions of shards of exploding glass, all lifting, cleanly efficiently, whisked from the Earth into the sky, into the sky, into the tubes, and people are screaming, lifting madly, horns are honking as headlights whip in crazy circles, flashlights disappearing sucked inside the tubes, reduced to matchbox size, and the radio announcer drones on: “Strange sight! The most incredible sight I have ever witnessed! An event of epic proportions, of what I could call Biblical proportions, like the fall of Sodom and Gomorrah or Noah’s deluge, what I am witnessing here could never be the hand of man, and yet I must wonder could it be the Hand of God either? But is there any other option?” And now he is neither the people being sucked into the sky nor the radio announcer, for he is racing in a small vehicle, away from the terror of the sky tubes, get away from it that’s right have nothing to do with it because it is not an escape and in no way a way out either and his car races over a tall winding freeway overpass, and he looks over his shoulder and sees the tubes stretching into the sky, hundreds of times longer than the tallest building, stretching what looks like miles away into the too-tall sky, Jack’s beanstalk and one of them is turning a hungry maw his way, seemingly watching the car race away and it turns itself to pursue, and he says to the woman sitting beside him in the passenger’s seat: “We have to get out of here! We have to head for home!” And the woman — it isn’t his wife, he knows (he doesn’t quite know who she is, although she seems very familiar) — she says, her voice barely controlled panic: “And then the flood came and took them all away!”
He exhaled. For a long time it appeared he had not been breathing. His lungs hurt right now. He had felt like this, a long time before, a time he could no longer remember, except for maybe distantly, like a sonar ping in the depths of his brain. He sucked in a long greedy mouthful of oxygen, and then fell back on the couch. The cigar butt was dead in his teeth. How long have I been sitting here remembering that dream, he wondered, distantly. Good thing I didn’t catch my mouth on fire!
Man, what a dream. What a nightmare. Truth be told, a long, long time ago I used to have dreams like this quite often. He scratched at his stubbly cheeks. Was it that my imagination was better back then, or was it just that I was mixed up with all that religious stuff? But more dreams no man ever had, especially of the nightmare variety. And then the flood came and took them all away.
Whoa, but wasn’t life better now, out here in the far country, doing it on my own, not worrying about some God guy up in the sky watching me? Isn’t it better, to reign in hell as opposed to serving in heaven? Like I’m reigning, in any way, that’s a laugh. Go ahead and chuckle, chucklehead. But isn’t everything better off now? Better?
“Isn’t it, God?” he said, breaking the silence, finally, of this horrible morning. He looked up at the ceiling, stained dark from cigarette and cigar smoke, and he looked past the ceiling, past the blue sunlit sky and the clouds and the ozone layer and the dark of space and the fire of stars all the way up to heaven where God sat on his sofa looking down at the Earth, His feet propped up on His coffee table Earth, the Earth, His ottoman. “Isn’t my life better now?” He was on the high road, wasn’t he, sure, in a far country, but he was choosing his own way, not either of their ways, wasn’t he? Please God, if there is a God, isn’t that true? My road, not Your road, and not their road, if there is a God — hey, it sure sounds intellectual when you say it that way, doesn’t it? If there is a God? Who cares, who cares, who cares? Like anything matters, really. If there is no God, then anything is permitted, isn’t that what the Karamazov man said? Things are better without God, and there is no god, only those we make…
…and then the flood came and took them all away.
He swallowed hard. Sweat on his brow. But of course, it wasn’t, his life, better. Better. What a laugh. His life. It was flat, and remote, and seemingly almost over, now. Stacey Colton sighed, an exaggerated release of breath, as if his pent-up soul were releasing with his breath. Maybe that was an idea. Escape with his breath, floating free, the ultimate freedom. He became very still. Was he about to start having those thoughts again? He shuddered, an actual trembling shudder. No, do not even think about it. You’re just too sensitive to even entertain such thoughts, even remotely. He hadn’t had these kinds of thoughts since the kids were born, and he couldn’t afford to start having them again, not now. But that was the bigger boxing game, wasn’t it? Really? That was the thought he didn’t want to think about, just yet, just a few minutes earlier? Shouldn’t he admit it to himself, now, like all good boxers should, that it was over, he had been beaten, soundly, fair and square. Sure, it was true. Go ahead and throw in the Towel of Life. It’s over. De nada. Zippo. Amen.
He remembered dreaming about heaven, once, many years ago. Beautiful, the sights still impressed on his mind. Sparkling like a diamond. Of course, that had not been a dream about heaven, not really. No, that was a fake heaven. Fakeroonie. Whoa, he hadn’t thought about that doozy of a night terror in years. A fake heaven, for fakers. The diamond was one of them false diamond thingies, the cuticle zerobians, or whatever they were called. Fake diamond, fake heaven, with dead bugs and peeling paint. Not that he remembered it all that well, other than it had freaked him out more than just about any other night terror he’d ever experienced. And it had been a very false dream, too, a nightmare of nightmares even. With a rhinoceros Jesus and saints flying with shadowy jet-pack backpacks. Whoa, I don’t even want to remember that nightmare. Stop it, stop thinking about it, because what about when you woke up? Or had you woke up? He squawked with laughter — a rhino-Jesus? If I ever told anyone about it they’d think I was on drugs, back then — how old was I, anyway? Maybe I never woke up — maybe I’m still asleep, this is the same dream, and it just goes on and on and when I finally wake up I’ll be Rip van Winkie and I’ll have a long white beard, asleep all these years, asleep…how old was I?
“What was I, eighteen years old when I dreamed that?” he pondered, closing his eyes, Stacey did, rubbing at his forehead, where the ache was emanating from just behind his eyes, sending out the first sour shockwaves of pain throughout his head, the “sick-headache day” messages, relaying important signals to his belly with the frantic encoded command: SICK! SICK! SICK! What was that in Morse code? Dot-dot-dot — dash, dash, dash — dot-dot-dot. No, that was
he thought he remembered. “Geepers, Jesus. Isn’t my life so much better now?”
But even that thought caused him a tiny twinge, using God’s name in vain. “If there is a God,” he would always add, because you couldn’t prove it, not
really, either way, either be it yea or be it nay, but it did sound très intay-lect-shoe-all when you said
it in a group of friends, didn’t it? If there
is a God. But just to be certain, even now in his far wanderings from
religion and spirituality, he didn’t do all the oh-my-gods and jesus christs!
and god-damns that everyone else he
knew barked when they hit their thumb with a hammer, even the “Christians” said
it with a certain angry glee, or supplied the near-miss substitutions like gosh darn or jeepers creepers or gol dern
or cripes. Call it childhood training
or basic Superstition 101, Stacey didn’t know, but he didn’t do it, either.
“Allah my ass,” he sneered. “Buddha my butt. Shiva my shrinky.”
And then the flood came and took them all away.
Of course, so many “Christians” did not even consider that to be “taking the Lord’s name in vain,” snapping out: “Oh Jesus!”
Stacey was reared in one of the twigs of the many branches of Christianity that took the Bible seriously, took God seriously, took His Great and High Ten Great Commandments seriously (well, nine, for the most part, but ten, kind of, if you squinted your eyes and turned your head sideways), and seriously had very little fun. So many “Christians” today believe the Bible to be a book of myths, stories “to learn by,” and God’s Ten Commandments as arbitrary pick-and-choose rules of the past, given only to the Jews, not applicable to “Christians.”
Those crazy Jews, they’re not supposed to party with bathhouse boy toys (abomination) or eat piggy-wiggies (abomination) or watch sports on Saturday (abomination) the “Jewish Sabbath,” or dabble with other women (abomination) or cut the flesh with earrings and tattoos (maybe not abomination, but kind of icky when you think about it). Us gentlemen gentiles, why, we’re not under the law, so anything goes, right? Or, when we do keep any of the commandments, please feel free to modify wherever you choose, because, after all, whatever you bind on earth, you bind in heaven, right? So the seventh, we turn into one in seven, or the first because of “resurrection” and adultery is okay if it is provided by videotape or late-night cable, and honoring the parents is best left up to the old folks’ home, be it ever so humble, there’s no place like groan. Sure, Stacey agreed with them, all a bunch of stupid, wasted effort and grinding of the teeth. But…
…his life was not better. In fact, what brought on the drinking binge last night was the fight he’d been having with Laurie for the last week or so. Begging her to come back to him, or else telling her he never wanted to see her again, saying that he loved her, still, despite everything, and that he hated her guts, the filthy, stinking whore. But he didn’t get drunk last night because they’d been fighting for a couple of weeks, or a couple of three weeks, or twelve weeks, or however long they’d been married. No, it was the culmination of almost five years of marriage, yesterday — or the day before yesterday — when Laurie wouldn’t let him talk to either four-year-old Dougie or baby Carol with the words: “It’s over, okay? I don’t never want to see you again, you wasted bum, and you ain’t never seeing the kids again neither, okay? You got that Mister Genius?”
Yeah, it was over, Mr. Genius got that loud and clear, but not from her words — her cheating on him was louder than her words. Hell, she’d been shacking up with two different guys the last two months or so, maybe switching back and forth between them, with the kids dragged along for all the glorious sights and sighs.
She had thrown her wedding ring at him two months ago. Kind of heavy, considering the engagement ring was glued to it. It smacked him in the forehead. Ouch. He had laughed, knowing she’d be back, because what woman could do without Stacey Colton?
That was the funny thing. Well, one of many funny things, anyway. All those years Staceman stood against temptation. He would never consider having an affair. And everyone knew if anyone would ever have an affair it was Stacey Colton, because women liked him, a lot, it would be so easy for him, because maybe they weren’t lining up like they used to — flab can do that to your peacock — he still had all the markings of both a man’s man and a ladies’ man, and the truth was he liked women even more than they liked him, and that was a pretty strong whammy, all things considered. No one thought Laurie would ever cheat on him, do the dirty deed, have an affair. Because, come on, he was Stacey Colton, good looking, even if his nose had taken some bashing, and he was way too smart for his own good even if his brain had taken some smashing, and the boy was funny and to plunk down a cherry on top of the treat Stacey treated women wonderfully. And he would never cheat on his partner, he was like a wolf, in that way, a wolf only mated once and for life, even if your wife did turn out to be an in-heat pit-bull mongrel. It all added up to a powerful mathematical computation, how wonderful Stacey was…uh, unless you, you know, took into consideration…his thoughts.
Oh yes, his dirty, dirty thoughts. Because he knew how to think about women, that was for certain. He thought about them a lot, despite what that long-ago Lord said about lusting over a woman in your heart. And Stacey thought about them constantly, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, whether he wanted to think about them or not. But TV helped, it sure did, as well as late-night cable, and all the movies on the silver screen, a guy like Stacey couldn’t even blink without ramming his eyes into Pamela Anderson’s sizzling cleavage, or Julia Robert’s dazzling smile, or Sandra Bullock’s twinkling eyes, or the nearly nude Victoria’s angels (some secret, that) or Frederick’s dirty hamper — Stacey Colton was a hungry, lustful man, and the world was bent on keeping his belly full, well, of course, maybe not his belly, not exactly…
…and yet, with all that, he had never cheated on Laurie, not even close. Well, there was once, when he had powerfully considered it, but that was just the last straggling line of women who worshipped the male animal, still attracted to his “athlete-of-yore” muscular build, and the last twinges of a false-god in a world that sets its athletes up in shrines of hallowed adoration; however, Stacey never actually crossed the physical line, he never took it from dirty thoughts into dirty deeds. Close, tremblingly close, but no cigar, Mr. Clinton, no cigar.
Laurie had done that, cigar and all, without even the prerequisite dirty thoughts.
So his marriage was over. The proof was in the pudding, or at least in the yellow envelope on the table. He could do a Vivian Leigh kind of thing, chasing Clark Gable through the fog, simpering ridiculous platitudes like: “I’ll get her back! Tomorrow is another day!” But no, it was definitely over. I mean, it had been over for probably the last six years, even though he had only known Laurie for the last five, four and a half of them in the chains of marriage. He was only too stupid to know it dead and cremated and sprinkled over the ocean, until yesterday. Okay, so he wasn’t that stupid. Yet he hadn’t signed the papers, not yet.
His parents had told him this would happen. Both his brothers said the same thing, the cheap kind of girl Stacey found attractive, of which Laurie was the ultimate pinnacle. Of course they were all religion-brained idiots, his family, especially his holier-than-thou brothers. But they were right. Even his dad once described Laurie as: “The run-over cat my son dragged home.” And what could he expect? He married that, like his dad had said, a cat, a druggie, a pothead, an illiterate shoplifter, all rolled into one sexy, pretty package of tight black jeans and black leather mini jacket and ultra-high high heels. And there were years, good ones, for them, together, with their adored Dougie (her pregnancy with Dougie, for instance, was an idyllic time, from conception to about a month or so after his birth), and less than two years later Carol was conceived (which hadn’t been such an idyllic time, which might account for the fact that Carol was not so closely bonded to him as was his son). Wasn’t it all worth it just so those two kids could be born?
But man, god (if there is a god), my life is complete waste. Hey let’s call it for what it’s worth, complete, unadulterated pookie, no use prettifying the language. We’re talking worms in the sewage rotten, and that’s pretty bad for a guy who used to be king of the world. Look at me, mom, king of the world! Or was that James Cameron? Whatever, Stacey used to have some pretty big aspirations, with a lot of visible promise, everyone thought he was smart, everyone thought he would be a huge success. Talent, the boy simply oozes talent, Martha, we must sign him up, immediately, to star in all our pictures, and get that literary agent on the phone, Martha, because this boy can WRITE, too! Give the boy a cigar — not that one you dunderheaded idiot! Give him an illegal Cubano! After all, this kid is so special he’s worth a stint in prison.
That’s how incredibly unique Stacey the Staceman Colton was, um, er, IS…
(Like David, in the Bible, a man after God’s own heart, both a poet and a warrior.)
…he relit the cigar butt — where was a fresh cigar when he needed it — and stabbed a finger on the TV remote. Some religious channel oozed into his living room, jazz music splintering into his ears somehow in sync with the throb of his headache — how did those guys do it, anyway? Was it hypnosis, or what? However they did it, they were doing it, irritating him and pissing him off, even before he could make one word out of their simpering, begging lips. How could you look away from such a spectacle? It was like midget clowns murdering each other with stainless steel bananas, you couldn’t look away. You couldn’t look away, because it was too horrible, too ghastly! Some woman with phosphorescent lime green hair — man, I hope that is a wig — jumping up and down, clapping her hands, laughing. That’s good, matching green lipstick and fingernail polish, he thought, not sure if his eyes were in danger from all the radiation emanating from the woman in ghastly green. Maybe my TV is on the fritz, but no TV could be that bad, could it?
Laughing and laughing, she was, oh yes, so happy, so joyous. And yet copious tears poured down her face. Copious, isn’t that a trifle exaggerated, Stacey? Nah, that was a deluge fountaining from her eye sockets.
He wanted to turn the channel, but some kind of zombie ray penetrated his brain (Join us! Join us! Join us!), a veritable tractor beam, robbing his index finger of surf volition. He had to watch the unreal green woman in her old South hoopskirt, preach it, sister, preach it. Like a lookie-loo passing on the freeway, he just had to look at the protruding bones from the three-car pile up on the other side of the road. Gross, Mom, did you see that guy, his guts were hanging out! You could always tell a writer from
California, that was for sure (fershure!).
“Jay-zuss,” she said, somehow laughing and crying at the same time, pronouncing the name of the Lord in stereotypical southern-fried drawl that could only be described as Televangela, “Yooor sooooo goooood!” She actually said it that way: Yewer (like sewer) sew goo-ed, instead of You are…and Stacey, wincing, had to lean forward, his teeth literally on edge, because the “good” — goo-ed — sounded like it had to mean that someone was covered in goo, God, that’s right, all covered in green goo. “You give us money, Lord, every time we send in our seeds, whether it be fifty dollahs, or fifteen hunderd dollahs, or fifteen THOUSAND dollahs…”
Stacey’s eyebrows lifted. He noticed as the denominations got larger a mysterious fire seemed to shine from her eyes, her words clipped more precisely and her smile grew bigger, if that were possible, and her tears poured out until they were almost squirting from her huge camel-false-eye-lashed orbs. Maybe this was a “time out” on the World Wrestling Federation show. It had to be. This was much closer to professional wrestling than holiness, wasn’t it?
“You give us back a hunderdfold, a THOUSANDfold, a MILLIONfold…” She crooned, but paused awkwardly, because where did you go after such a number as a million? Was it trillion or billion — she always did get those two mixed up — or did you, for the right effect, skip right to ZILLIONfold? Come on, you couldn’t go higher than zillion, could you? I mean, it was the end of the civilized alphabet, for goodness sake! “You give us back a huge honking return Lord, Jay-zuss, Lord Jay-zuss. Not what like those liars said. Because they did, they said it, good Jay-zuss. People lied to us Lord. They told us Your Word wanted us poor, in poverty, blessed be the poor if you can believe it Lord, with icky bills to pay and choke us until we was dead-dead-deader-than-a-doorbell dead!”
Stacey, in his funk, nearly laughed. Was this a Saturday Night Live take-off, or maybe Mad TV, or worse (better), maybe a Monty Python double-take on American TV religion? Whatever, it couldn’t be REAL, could it? I mean, nobody in their right mind would put someone like that dressed up like that, on TV to say those things, in that way, would they? Could they?
“It was the devil, Lord. Satan, he dreamed the whole thing up, told people not to let loose of their money, and that it was hard for a rich man to get to heaven, Lord. Satan. Or that guy covered in pimples, Job, that liar, who said you take things away! That guy was a nut and is just a-burnin’ in hell right now, yes he is, good Lord, even if he did say blessed be the name of the Lord, cuz anyone can say that, can’t they, because it was all an act, wasn’t it Lord? Because you give, and you give, and you want the world just covered with millions of rich Christians, so we can shine like lights for You, Lord. Satan doesn’t want nunna that. Make them heathens jealous with our money, Lord, Satan too, make them covet us with all our money, Lord, Satan doesn’t, amen. Take their money, Lord, those losers, those Muslims and them Hindus and them Mormons. In fact, Your fixin’ to take those wicked heathen’s money, ain’t-ya Lord? I’ve got a WORD for all you Really Truly Christians out there! Thus sayeth the Lord: I’m gonna take the money from the wicked and give it to you! To you! To us. That’s right. To give to us! This is my prayer, Jay-zuss. That those people, sitting out there in front of their TVs, would wake up, right now, Lord, and dig into their wallets, and dig deep into their checkbooks, and send YOU a seed Lord, Satan don’t need it, send their money and checks to the address at the bottom of the screen right now, to YOU, Lord, Satan has plenty of money yes he does, Lord, Lord, up there a-smilin’ down from heaven, a seed that is as small as a mustard seed, Lord, and You know how much we love our hotdogs Lord, especially with mustard, and ketchup too, and Robby likes his with relish, but them pickles, Lord, I say Lordy! How they give me gas — but lo! Lo! How you turn that littlest of seeds into a great big ole Christmas tree that birds can peck in! A big ole Christmas tree, Lord, just like the one that Jesus was born under. And a hunderd dollahs is such a little much — a thousand dollahs is such a little much. Why, Lord, you said giving You our all was such a little much…”
Stacey turned off the TV. Only he didn’t really turn it off like a normal person would do it, just by pushing that conveniently large round button at the top of the remote. No, he used his imagination. He lifted the remote and flung it with all his might. Some people might say “with all his might” as a way of expressing anger, or strength, but in this case it was literally with all his might.
His face stretched into a monster-mask of pain, and his shoulder contorted backward as if he were inventing some new kind of pitch for baseball, and his fist hung grotesquely suspended, for a bloated moment, and then his whole body snapped over, his arm transforming into a powerful slingshot and the remote rocketed from his fist like a skull-penetrating stone from David’s sling. The 25-inch TV screen imploded like Goliath’s head, the screen folding in on itself, suddenly cracked and sizzling, sparking gloriously for just a second or two, and then nothing but sheer black. Bonk. Sizzle. Nothing. Darkness. Deader than a daid-daid-daid-doorbell.
He rubbed his hand, flexing his knuckles. Creak, creak, creak. Rusty hinges.
Stacey sat glaring at the spider web of broken technology. The ultimate fount of American worship. Religion in a box. Our own private prayer closet, our link to the “gods who live,” our sports heroes and laugh-track divinities. Stupid. Idiotic. I can’t believe I ever believed in such a practice, such a body, as Christianity, such a mind-control system of greed and stupidity, or that my parents are still “believers.” Believers, deceivers, what’s the diff? Of course, he had never been reduced to such a trailer-park religion as what had just simpered on the screen. At least his parents were in a religion that believed in the Bible, and followed it instead of all the ridiculous traditions that Christianity in general held dearly. Okay, so he didn’t know much about his parents’ religion, it had never been his mug of beer. But he’d never seen them dress or act like that, or talk like that, or say such stupid things as that.
“I’ll tell you what, in a roundabout way, you guys CAN make a believer,” he snarled, dimly seeing his face in the reflection of the broken green glass. “Christianity like that can make me believe in God, because watching a circus like that proves the existence of the devil, that’s for sure!” If you believe in the devil, you have to believe in God, right? And a circus presentation with clowns in green wigs proved the devil, proved him straight and hard. How could anyone take Christianity seriously after viewing that program on TV? Didn’t she call herself and her followers the “really-really-really TRUE Christians?”
The devil was a 300-pound champion, and Christianity was a feeble, babbling, falling-over-backward 98-pound weakling. DING-DING-DING! We have a WINNUH! The Devil, Lucifer, Satan that Ole Serpent! Roun’ Numbuh Six Hunerd an-uh Sixty-Six! Back from his whoopin’ in
Gethsemane, he’s made a terrific comeback, hasn’t he,
Why not just go out and kill yourself, right now, a soothing voice said, softly, seemingly from inside his headache. Man, what wisdom. Yeah, you had to admire a cool, calm and wise thought like that, didn’t you? In all the madness, all the chaos, there was still a quiet wisdom ready to blurp at you like an all-wise Pop-up Video. Man, weren’t those little bubbles just a full o’ wisdom? Man oh man, those thoughts. Those thoughts. Sensitive Stacey in an insensitive world, nobody loves him, I say now everybody hates him, he’s just gotta go out and eat some o’dem worms. Little Man Tate, pure and simple, all over again, Stacey was Little Man Tate, and Jodie Foster be damned. What a world, what a world, I’m melting!
Stacey slumped on the couch. You’re right, he thought. What worth was it in living? With a brain like this, all the stupid rhymes, all the stupid puns, take the ole boy out and just a shoot him daid, like a doorbell. Stacey hiccupped laughter. Daid like a doorbell, that idiotic dingbat woman thing on TV. Did it make any sense to go on like this, this stupid life, where there couldn’t be a God, and yet there was such ample horrifying proof of a devil? A government like this, with a grinning white shaggy president like this with a country like this with a world like this? He was breathing hard, and it could be that at any moment tears would erupt from his eyes. Funk, what a black-wave funk you’re in, my pretty. Give us the slippers, gollum, gollum, precious precious slippers, because there’s no place called home in the land where Sauron lies. Why not just get it all over with, who cares what you find on the other side, if there’s anything over there on that side? Gotta be better than this, surely, certainly yes indeedy-do?
He abruptly stood. Why am I thinking these things? He blinked back tears. Are these my thoughts, or am I going crazy, or is the devil whispering sweet nothings into my head?
“Leave me alone,” he said, out loud if you can believe that. I’m going loopy, nutzeroonie, completely whacko.
A sudden resolution flooded him. Yes. Simply that, yes. I will do it. I will free myself from all this pain, from rejection, from the lack of appreciation and love. I mean, why shouldn’t people love me? Aren’t I a genius? Aren’t I beautiful? Well, okay, maybe not beautiful, not any more, but I can still score higher than 150 on a standard head-shrinker quiz. And although I’m punched up a bit, women still like my mug. Check out the mug on that pug! Shouldn’t people worship me?
But there was no worship. Not even any love, not really. Because he was a major disappointment to his family, wife, mom and dad, brothers and soon his children, just as soon as they found out what a complete loser he was — give ’em four years, maybe sooner. Man, was their life — his kids’ — going to be messed up, completely. What chance did his kids have, whether he killed himself or not? If he just struggled on, just kept plugging, they’d be the product of a broken home, and all the many nightmares Laurie would soon visit upon them. Correction, was even now visiting upon them like pharaoh’s major headaches.
And if he killed himself? Without thought, he pulled off his socks and tossed them across the room. His hand was killing him. Mean achers, that’s what his knuckles were. Stupid arthritis. But then he was the idiot that spent a part of every day slamming his fist into a heavy bag, or into someone’s hard head. Why not kill himself? He was old, tired out and worthless. The old stallion just ain’t what he used to be.
AND THEN THE FLOOD CAME AND TOOK THEM ALL AWAY.
Ouch, that was so loud it almost ripped his head off, or at the very least ripped a jagged hole in the front of his head. Oh why even think about it. If he killed himself it didn’t matter any more. He would be out of the story. His kids would never know him and the succession of “daddies” they would soon know would be their father, their Papa.
Stacey was the kind of guy who rarely made up his mind, but when he did, it was made up. If, for instance, he decided right now in the here and now, that he was going to go outside, climb into his stupid old Toyota Celica with its barely working brakes and its broken driver door so he always had to climb in from the passenger side — if he decided to, oh, smash his car through the guardrail on the fourteenth floor of a parking tower (only $3 to park all day!) — then he was the kind of guy to go out and get the job done, no wimpy kind-of-attempts to gain sympathy — a cry for “Help! Please, someone pay attention to me!” No, he would go out and do it, and in such a thorough way that it would take a miracle to survive. Heck, it would take a miracle if they could collect more than one bucket of him with a squeegee!
He abruptly stood, barefoot, and marched out of his house, and did not lock the door or even bother shutting it, keeping every trace of thought of his children from his mind, climbed in through the passenger door of his stupid old Toyota Celica, miraculously got the engine running, and headed for downtown, where for two bucks you could park for an hour in a fourteen-story parking garage, or for only three dollars you could park all day, wow what a deal.
What a deal.
Late Night TV Commercial:
A solemn man smiles poignantly into the camera, seemingly wise, familiar, and the picture of trustworthiness. “Hello friends. Has your life become a meaningless series of repetitive cycles? Has the glamour worn off your special relationships? Does everything seem boring? Camera slowly zooms in for extreme close-up. You can know your destiny. You can find peace on this earth. You can understand what life is all about. You can finally know what the plan for you is in this confusing world, what everything is really all about. Call the 1-900-number you see on your screen, and a knowledgeable medium will speak with you. Cut to row of phone banks peopled by attractive blonde women in mysterious and alluring robes; the women are serious, grave, and yet oh-so-personable as they connect with unseen callers. The same host in voice-over: The spirits know. The spirits are here to help. Find out what your guardian angels have to say about you. Please call today, because success and peace are just a breath away. Know that peace beyond understanding.
Channel Surfing Hastily Past Religious Channel:
Middle-aged woman in business attire, strolling before huge audience — at first glance this appears to be a business seminar, except on closer inspection the speaker’s fashionable “business suit” is strung with glittering rhinestones, huge mirroring “disco balls” suspend from each of her earlobes, and her sensible shoes are made out of the same “disco ball” material. …for there’s a deeper place. You all know this. Right? Amen. That’s the inner man. It’s the spirit. That’s the real you. Your body is just a container, a shell. Amen? Amen. The speaker appears to be angry, for she frowns and deep lines are formed upon her forehead and along each side of her mouth. Deep in her eyes it appears she is in some terrible distress, some deep trouble, but her mouth speaks boldly, contrary to the deep pain within her eyes. The Bible says we were created in the image of God. And so we are, we are tripartite beings — that means we are three parts, just like God, just like God — amen? Amen. Soul, Spirit and Body. Three.
Late Night Radio Talk Duzzbee Dirty:
I’m sick of it people, all this happy talk, all this stupid talk. Tell me, what’s this world coming to, is what I want to know? Anyone with half a brain out there reading me? Get out your WeeGee boards, folks, and receive my vibes! The world is going to hell in a hand basket and I’m sick and tired of all the whiney people, the bums and the bag ladies, the geeks, grunts and gooks! Let’s nuke’em is what I say. Nuke’em all, with the gays and the fundamentalists thrown in! Who’s your buddy? Tommy Crank is, that’s who! And I’m listening if you want to call and you think you can tell me what this world is coming to! Because that’s what I want to know!
Syndicated Radio with Samuele the Scripture Scholar:
…we must not separate over the minor issues, and most issues are minor. Let’s hold fast to the Gospel and like the Apostle Paul let’s attempt to know nothing more than Christ and Christ alone! And that’s about all the time we have for this edition of the Scripture Scholar, but we’d like to ask you all to remember us in your prayers, and remember, this ministry is supported by you, so any kind of donation is appreciated. You are making a difference, now, and for eternity. Thank you all, and God bless!
The Oldest Man in the World
Leaves paratrooped from the tall trees in dizzying spirals as the last warm breeze of fall whispered through the sky. An old man walked slowly through the grove of trees, sometimes pausing to watch the fall of leaves, chuckling softly when large crackling leaves landed upon his hat. He wore an old gray wool sweater with leather patches on the elbows over a red flannel lumberjack shirt, and baggy and faded Levis the color of winter sky, cinched tight at his tiny, withered waist, a pair of chunky hiking boots which looked bloated and oversized on his ankles, and a dark leather fedora purchased by his wife twenty years before. His shoulders were still broad, strong, but now showing some stoop, and his huge hands were cracked and dry, as if all the moisture were sucked out by the dry climate of Colorado decades ago, and he kept at least one hand in his baggy sweater pockets for warmth (the one not using the cane). The day was decidedly warm, and the old man, always hot blooded, was now losing his heat to age, and to compensate he wore thermal socks beneath his hiking boots, and thermal underwear beneath his lumberjack shirt and Levis.
I’m so glad that I still have mobility. You know better than I do, that’s for sure. I think I’m still figuring that out, though, and I guess no matter how long I putter around, I’m still going to be figuring things out, and I’ll never quite get there, will I? Thou art the potter, I’m just a silly lump of clay. A little clay old man. And You’re shaping me.
Keep on shaping me. I’ve got no chance without You. What’s that Disney movie, the best one, where all the dishes come to life and put on a big old production number? I can’t think of the name. But You know what I’m talking about. I’m like one of those plates, a very old wrinkled plate, not that plates have wrinkles, especially plates that come off Your pottery wheel. But You made me, and You know best if I should sit on a shelf, or in the dish drain, or maybe spend more time in the dishwasher. Whatever, I know enough after all this time to let You decide, that’s for sure, that’s the ticket, You got that right.
For instance, the last many years don’t make all that much sense to me, what little of them I can remember. But You have a plan, I know that, for sure, even if I can’t see it. But I can sure see the plan when I’m able to remember all the years as a whole, then I can see a little bit of Your blueprints spread out before me, then I can see a little sense in the whole mess that is or was my life.
He walked with the aid of a blonde-wood cane. Fifteen years earlier he carried it with him when he walked, sometimes twirling it, other times pausing to hold impromptu fencing contests against invisible opponents, sometimes invisible antagonists, and at other times invisible assailants, and in fifteen years he had never lost a match. But these days he leaned heavily upon the cane, and rarely had the necessary breath to twirl the stick, and if a fencing match presented itself, the old man hastily conceded all honors. When he was younger he carried it because he liked the heavy silver wolf-head knob. He enjoyed tracing his fingers through the teeth, rubbing the mane, polishing his thumb over the deep inset ruby eyes. He enjoyed the heft of the cane due to the heavy hand knob, but these days he was considering asking his grandson to replace the silver knob with a smooth aluminum knob, or maybe he should just start carrying a wholly aluminum cane, something which did not make him go out of breath so soon.
Getting old, he thought. Getting old? Boy oh boy, he had been old for more than 40 years! What was he, 100 already? No, no, definitely not that old. Or was he? What was age, really, when you thought about it? Just mixed-up moments, that’s all, all the bits spread out on the floor like a puzzle, and the old boy just wasn’t up to the task of putting them in any sane order.
At the moment he could not remember his age, not exactly, but distantly he could remember an 85th birthday party, given by his 65-year-old son and 63-year-old daughter, and just behind that memory he could also recall attending that same daughter’s funeral, when she was 67 years old, and he also knew that his son, in his seventies, was dying of cancer, or had he already died of cancer? Funny thing, memory. It was easier to remember little Chuck in his arms, still gooey, just after birth, looking up at his daddy with such serious eyes, his little boy, yes, if he remembered correctly, Chuck died of cancer last year at about 72, or 73. Hmm, or was it 82, or 83? Or had that been many years before? Little Chuck, so serious for a newborn baby, not even supposed to focus his eyes yet, and here he was, looking up at his daddy with such serious eyes, the same serious eyes when he looked at his daddy, all those years later, in the same hospital, dying of cancer. Maybe it was not easier to remember the newborn Chuck’s eyes, because they were the same as the 74-year-old Chuck, only the face around the eyes was different, so aged, so old. And had Chuck known about Rose? It didn’t matter, she was a good wife to Chuck, his son. And when had Rose died? The years, the numbers, tumbled in his mind like some psychotic math teacher run amuck on a blackboard, chalk dust flying everywhere.
“Still not much for math,” he said, his voice partially blocked, necessitating a harsh cough and hack, and a careful spit at a nearby shrub — if he were not careful, he would wear his phlegm down his neck, and that never pleased his “caregivers,” not much. All those years of smoking cigars really did turn out to be not such a great idea, but try telling him that when he was young, and strong, like a bull, or was it a bear? Even today, with what he knew about smoking, he still got terrible cravings to lick a cigar, all the way around, inhale it and smell it as the saliva dried on the tobacco, and then light it up, suck the match through the natural-leaf wrapper, suck the match until the end of the stogie glowed like Nebuchadnezzar’s statue, heated seven times hotter than normal, and kick back, in his favorite old long-gone-now leather recliner, and blow white smoke up at the ceiling.
Dark brown cigar, deep in smell, dark brown leather recliner, deep in smell, and white billowing smoke, oh how it stank! Even with what he knew — what he felt would always try to drag him down, even if he lived to be two hundred, and that’s despite everything his old head, his wrinkled noodle, knew! Psychological addiction. That’s what they called it. Different than physical addiction. What you feel never does jibe with what ya know, that’s something he’d learned through hard experience, whether it was about Rose, cigars, God, or eating. Go with your head, that’s the ticket, your thinking not your feeling, if you have the mind of Christ.
“I must be in my nineties, if not more.” It was hard to remember these days, and he hoped the memory fragmentation had nothing to do with the dreaded “Big A,” but at his age it was probably just that, memory fragmentation, and it was difficult to not be thinking about the “Big A,” what with where he lived, who surrounded him, and what they talked about all the live long day.
“Guess who has Alzheimer’s?” someone would ask, and the room would go quiet, everyone listening, many reaching to increase the volume on their hearing aids. Or if Murphy forgot which way the rook moved when you were playing chess, you figured, uh oh, here it is, poor old Murphy’s about to succumb to the “Big A,” and when they started, boy, they went fast, sometimes. Sometimes they dragged along, losing touch, their brain addled and fragmented, their mind struggling to pull the pieces together, put it all in a contiguous train of thought, spinning uselessly, lost in a disconnected world of stray thoughts, stray memories, stray impulses and stray fears.
Something to do with all the aluminum consumption throughout a lifetime. Aluminum cans, aluminum pots and pans, they stick in those sticky deodorant things you wiggled beneath your armpits, and even mixed it into some of your foods, like biscuits, just to make them flaky. Funny. You make me flaky.
“Wish Norton would put out something to defrag my brain,” he said. He had come into computers late. Of course, the personal kind did not even exist when he turned 70 or so, but he sure liked them, even more than nutcrackers. Before they moved him to the home he had a collection of nutcrackers from all over the world, it seemed people liked eating nuts as much in Africa as they did in Australia, just like they do in Sweden and Switzerland, and they come up with such odd ways of cracking open those nuts, why, a man could collect nut extractors all his life and not find all the ingenuous ways people got the meat out of a nut. Funny, but nuts were the original diet, yes they were, he remembered that, reading it in the Bible, but people today don’t want to hear a bunch of “fairy stories,” he’d heard his own grandchildren call the Bible that, a book of “tall tales” (he figured they must be thinking about Goliath, or it could have been Saul, who was also a giant, or maybe them mysterious and persnickety Nephilim?). They just played their computers, and looked for their computers to save them, and boy did they get a big scare when the so-called “Y2K Bug” came along and showed them all that computers weren’t god, just fancy nutcrackers, that’s all, and the old man had to admit it, he loved computers probably as much as his grandchildren did, even if the Y2K Nuts preached a doomsday that never happened, they all just cracked without the nutcrackers, but when he moved out here to the old folks’ farm, there just wasn’t room for his collection, so his nutcrackers went the way of the Dodo and the Y2K Nuts and he shifted his fancy to his laptop, and his grandson’s PC tower when he escaped this farm on the weekends.
Grandson, or son? Oh boy, don’t get me started on that. Who cares. One of the seeds of his loins. There were a few of them out there, he thought. It got to be kind of easy to mistake your grandson for your son. It could happen to anybody that lived into their nineties, couldn’t it? Wait a second. Had he already passed his nineties?
Computers just make sense. Not that computers have sense. They just make it. They seem to make common sense, more than people do, not that sense is common in any sense. You can count on a computer to open all the doors and then close all the doors. People always forget, as does the old man, as do all his surrounding compadres. What a thing to worry about. Sylvia nearly killed him when he forgot to close the cupboard doors all those years ago. Of course, it didn’t seem all that long ago, no, it seemed he and Sylvia were buying their little house just yesterday. He had to shift his thoughts, and fast, or he would get to feeling sad again, and sometimes his sad times could stretch for weeks at a time, remembering all those people he loved that were not in the world any more. What was he thinking about? Computers. How they make sense. Because computers ran down the line, as fast as you can please, like Santa and all his reindeer scrambling all over the world, opening doors and closing doors, spitting out incredible-sized numbers, amazing math crunchers.
But, for all the affection he felt for computers, he knew they still could not do the miraculously simple things people are capable of doing. Like skipping the doors. Getting a hunch, going directly to the correct door, and opening it. The computer must run through every single door before it arrives at the correct door. Silly machine. Just had no intuition, whatsoever. Intuition is something people have, and not just women. Knowing the right answer without having to open and close all them doors. Instinctively going to the correct drawer to find the silverware, even though you’ve never been in this neighbor’s house before, the brain sifting the information and choosing the correct drawer. And he’d always had a lot of intuition, maybe more that than common sense. But that’s why he chose the women he chose, to fill in that gap for him, provide the common sense he did not naturally possess.
The old man blinked. He looked around. He was standing in a dark grove of trees, leaning on his cane. Funny. He wasn’t sure how he got here. He pulled his hand from his pocket — why was he so cold? He pushed back his old leather fedora and looked about the trees. Checked his wristwatch, only he wasn’t wearing one. Reached for his pocket watch, but remembered he hadn’t worn one in what must be fifty years. This wasn’t the first time this had happened. He often found himself in these same trees, and he never knew how he got here. But “waking” in the grove of trees did not put him in fear of the “Big A.” Nah. Different, it was, waking here. It seemed the last thing he remembered was sitting at his grandson’s house, pecking at that incredible tower machine, surfing the Internet.
Incredible thing, the Internet. Wow, so much information coming from every point of the world. An incredible thing. He never could have imagined such a thing. In fact, he remembered pretty clearly a time when telephones were pretty uncommon, and it was a staggering thought that you could get someone way over in
New York when you were
landlocked in Colorado,
and hear their voice just fine. Wow, but the Internet, that was worlds away
from the telephone, you could have moving pictures and voices and whole books
popping up on your computer.
Of course, as with anything good, the Internet had become about the nastiest thing a man could imagine, as well. Naked ladies everywhere. One click of that little mouse thing and a woman in her underwear popped up. Or, more than likely, a woman without her underwear, doing the most disgusting things. Sheesh. Leave it to people.
(and what exactly was wuthering
anyway?) off a site in Pull Wuthering Heights Alaska,
and then put up nasty pictures of people doing things that were best left in
private. A good thing it hadn’t been around when he was a kid, because it would
have hurt him, and hurt him bad. What a damage. A damage, for sure. But naked
pictures of women were one thing, but the Internet had gotten itself darker and
nastier and deadlier than naked pictures. He shuddered. Poor kids today. He
remembered when he was a boy and the most tempting thing around was simple sketches
in the Sears and Roebuck mailer, and he remembered those had been terribly
tempting. But today? He shook his head.
Grandson? Which grandson? He couldn’t remember, though he knew his grandson was in his fifties, he must be. At least one of his grandsons, he believed he had several, some of them younger, some of them sporting gray hair. But his thoughts, where were they traveling to? How he got from there to here in his thoughts he could not tell. At least he thought he couldn’t tell about his thoughts. But that seemed to be the way his mind worked, his dear wife had always sworn that he would misplace his head if he could find the zipper to remove it. How he got anywhere any more he could not tell. That would be his first wife, Sylvia, not his second wife…he guiltily shook his head. Sorry, Sweetie, I haven’t forgotten you, not really. I just can’t remember names very good today. Or was it very well? Nothing well or good about a dying memory. Like a sun, turning out the lights, all them billions of light years away, and we’ll never know when the twinkle goes out of the night, we’ll never know.
But did memories really die. He didn’t think so. Sometimes he could remember things so clearly, things from years ago. Flashes of memory, like TV shows, popping into his mind. Every now and then he could see his Mama’s face, younger than he could have ever really seen it, and her face eclipsed by a gigantic breast which filled his world. Lying there, drinking warmth and love and peace and his eyes rolling around the room like loose marbles, staring at the hearth and Father’s Civil War musket hanging there. Oh boy, here he went again, the memories still there, memories you’d swear had died and faded so many years before, but here they were, ready to be dusted off and held up before the light. How he got from there to here, he couldn’t tell.
It’s not that he could not tell, he would, if he could, or could if he would. Wood, good, soot, root, route, pout, shout, lout., snout, snot, rot, blot, epiglottis, rigor mortis — death. Start over, old man, start over. Keep it clean, keep your blows above the belt. Would. Could. And how much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? He sighed. Frankly, he had no clear idea what he was doing outside in his sweater and jeans, wandering in the trees. Good thing he was in his hiking boots. Wearing any footgear at all, really, thank God. Good thing I’m not walking around naked as a Jay bird. Are there really naked Jay birds? Am I making any kind of sense, in my old head, he wondered. My brain is filled with words, words that tumble and fall like leaves, falling like feathers in the wind, but slower, taking years to hit the ground, the floor, and the floor of my brain must be cluttered with fallen words, fallen worlds, and I trudge through them and they crackle about me, under my feet, they slow me down, the worlds crackle like leaves, worlds and words and drifted leaves as high as my thighs, the fallen words, and I hear them as if with my ears, but it’s silent, the world, the fallen world, I can’t even hear the wind, I’m locked inside my head and my fallen words, the fallen world.
“Come sit over here,” he hears someone call, thankfully breaking the silence of his head.
He begins moving, again. Ah, the wrinkled old body parts still work, they still move, thank God, because I thought I was caught in the word feathers of my mind, freshly fallen snow, but warm, there in my head. He is not certain where he is going, or from which direction the voice had come, but at least the fallen leaves are gone, and he can move again. He moves unimpeded. He has no idea who called to him. Or if he was even answering that call. But he is moving, and his knees do not ache too much, nor the arthritis in his fingers. It feels good to be moving. He feels years younger. All the signs about him indicate that winter is coming. Soon. He believes the signs. The leaves falling (not words, how silly, how could words fall?), the slight chilliness under the warm breeze, the feeling of — what? He could never quite describe it, but almost it was an invisible fog, up in the sky, closing in, drawing tighter, and when it finally reaches you, winter is here, suddenly, as if all the signs were not there — it was almost more a smell, and it was surely a smell, partly, but it was a feeling you got, over your skin, and inside your nostrils, this impending winter.
“Pop Pop?” came the voice again, quite close. Hmmm, not the voice of his grandson. This voice was too young. Or wait, was it the voice of his grandson? Where in time was he, anyway? Was he drifting again in time, working on his computer with his first wife even though she had died long before the invention of the computer?
The old man recognized that voice. It was the voice of his grandson, Beau, the philosopher. Well, not quite a philosopher, not exactly, but not a psychologist either. Something along those lines, a deep thinker, an intellectual, a young man of wisdom. Someone who helped people. Didn’t he specialize in marriages? Too bad he had not been around during the Sylvia years, but that was silly — how could a grandson be around when the son had not been born?
He couldn’t remember which child this grandson was the child of, his son, or his daughter? Had Lois had any children before she died? Was Beau the son of Chuck? It was still amazing, after all these years, to think that Chuck was a father, Chuck whom he could remember cradling just after his birth, with those serious eyes. Chuck, Chuck, are you alive at this point in time? Is that you, Chuck, calling me? Calling me home after all these years. God, oh God, God in heaven how he missed his little boy, Chuck. And Rose, who was Rose? Chuck’s wife? Could that be right? Wasn’t Rose the love of his life, remembered, finally after all these years, where had he misplaced her, his Rose, after all these years, found up against the lost coin, found, Rose, Chuck, Beau, God, adrift, he is adrift in time, somewhere, somewhen…
He came through the trees and saw the young man sitting up against a broad, tall tree. The face so young and vaguely familiar. The young man lifted his hand and waved, and his bright, handsome young face lit up with recognition and joy. The old man grinned, his body feeling warmed. Love, thank God, there was love emanating from this boy, and that was good, it was rare, because it seemed like in this day of the Internet that love had somehow grown cooler, not quite as warm as it felt when he was young. It was good to see the boy again. Warm love, thank God. He started forward, then stopped, removed his fedora, and scratched at his head, thinking. What is going on? What am I doing, and where am I? Who is this child?
“Don’t be confused,” his grandson said. Or was it his son? Or possibly even a nephew, he knew he had a few of those, nephews, or he once did, depending on where in time he was at this moment.
But this couldn’t be his grandson. This young man must only be 18, or maybe 19 years of age. Beau was older than 18 or 19. He must be in his thirties, at least!
“Come sit down, Pop Pop,” said the young man, who was not Beau, couldn’t be Beau. Could he? “It’s me, Pop Pop. Jack.” Who in the world called him Pop Pop? Kind of a silly name, wasn’t it? Was he now a silly old man? Hopefully no one called him Popcorn, or Poppy Seed, or Pope on a Rope. None of his kids had ever called him Pop Pop, he’d smack their little fannies if they ever called him Popcorn or Corn Puff or Puff Puff — his kids called him Daddy, didn’t they, and then his grandkids called him Papa — but Pop Pop? Absurd. What an absurd thing to call a man of his age, the nerve. The old man considered beaning the rascally kid over the head with his cane. Pop Pop, the kid certainly didn’t know jack, that was for certain.
Jack. Jack? Oh, yes, drifting in time, far down in time, that was Jack, little Jackie-whacky.
Jack? The old man stood still, one hand on cane, the other squeezing his fedora. He did not move. What had he been thinking about? Working on a computer at his grandson’s house, or was it his daughter’s funeral, or Alzheimer’s disease, or the way computers did not have common sense, or how people did not have intuition, or Rose, he thought a lot about her, whoever the heck she was, with her dark and yet somehow bright eyes, her strength — she had once slammed him into a wall, imagine that, had that really happened, or was it in an old movie? — or how they had to pay tuition to learn how to get the sense out of computers? How old was he, he wondered, and who was that young man approaching him just now?
“It’s okay, Pop Pop, it’s me, Jack, your great grandson,” said Jack, taking the old man by the arm, leading him to the base of the grand old oak tree, aiding him in sitting.
“My great grandson,” said the old man. Wow, had things gotten that bad? Not that great grandchildren were bad, he was positive they must be wonderful to have, but he just didn’t quite remember having any. Did he? Had he drifted that far down the line, to the time of great grandchildren? Jack, his Jack, Jackie-Whacky stay away from Tobaccy.
“Yes. Jack. You remember me. Jack.”
Of course he remembered his great grandson. Didn’t he? Was he that old?
“I was just now thinking. My memory, you know, not the best it’s ever been. Of course, it was never the best memory in town. But Jack? How old am I, Jack?”
The boy — just a boy, a beautiful blond-headed boy — smiled, beamingly.
“That’s the good news,” Jack said. “It’s your birthday today. I came to spend some time with you on your birthday, and I knew you’d be out here in the trees.”
“It’s my birthday?” said the old man. This surprised him. He should remember his birthday, he never once forgot Sylvia’s birthday, or Olivia’s birthday — Olivia, yes dear, I never forgot, not for more than a moment, anyway.
Jack just sat there grinning like an ape, not that the old man had ever seen an ape grin before, but still, the description seemed to fit nicely. What an ape, Jackie-Whacky.
“Do I have other great grandchildren, Jack?”
“Oh, you know, lots. But they pretty much live everywhere in the world. I’m the only one close enough to visit you all the time.”
Birthday. Today? Odd. Last year, he remembered, there had been some grand fuss about his birthday. If it was his birthday today, no one had made a fuss about it yet! Not like last year! “How old am I, Jack?”
The boy grinned. “How old do you think you are?”
The old man coughed, looked out across the tall green grasses, grasses turning yellow, winter on the way. “I was just thinking about it, Jack. How old I am. So many years. So many people gone that I used to remember. I was figuring, and I know I must be older than 94, right?”
The boy grinned cockily.
“Okay, I must be about 96, then, right?”
The boy smirked.
“Come on, I can’t be 100, can I? Not yet!” In his eighties, he remembered, kind of distantly, he wanted nothing more in the world than to live to be 100 years old. What a goal, so far away, just think about it, 20 years to go and you’re already above and beyond the national average. Then in his early nineties, he began to dread it, the big 100. Could anything be on the other side?
The boy cocked an eyebrow and his smirk cracked into a smile.
“You can’t trick me, you know. If I’m more than 100, it can’t be more than 102, or 103 at tops? No! Are you trying to tell me I’m 105?”
The boy burst into laughter. “Sorry, Pop Pop. You’re not even in the ball park yet! Keep guessing, go on, keep guessing!”
The old man clanked his teeth together. Yep, they were still all his teeth all right. He couldn’t be that old. This young punk was tricking him, playing games! He could still hear fine, and although the boy was a little blurry, his eyes seemed to work pretty good too. His knees caused him pain, as they had for years, but he walked with no problem at all.
“One hundred and ten?”
The boy crossed his arms across his chest and shook his head, now forcing his face into mock solemnity. He nodded, go on, go on, this is so much fun!
This can’t go on, he thought. Maybe I’m heading in the wrong direction, maybe the “Big A” has squashed my head and I’m really only 75 or 80 at tops, and this kid is making fun of me. But no. It seems so familiar. This boy, seated here beside him, did look something like Chuck. The same set of serious eyes. Same eyes, maybe, but Chuck had black hair, like his own, and this little kid had yellow hair. Yellow, think of that, must have come through marriage somewhere in the branches of their family tree. Why, he could still remember Chuck looking up at him, across all the years, newborn Chuck lying snug in his embrace. They had told him that baby’s could not see, not at such an early age, but here was proof that the collective “they” were wrong again, because here was baby Chuck looking at him, checking out each eye, looking at his nose, the clear little eyes regarding his mouth, studying his father like he already knew him.
“You’re thinking about your son, Chuck, when he was first born!” the boy said, laughing. The old man looked at him with such a comic face of dismay the boy laughed even harder. “No Pop Pop, I’m not reading your mind. Whenever I come to see you, you always think about the day Chuck was born. That was my Grandpa Chuck. His son was Beau, your grandson, and I’m his son. Jack, your great grandson. And I’m like a throw-back, everyone says I look a lot like Grandpa Chuck.”
“And let me guess,” the old man said, with weary resignation, pulling his fedora low over his eyes, “we probably go through this every time you come to see me? The whole bit?” Oh boy, he’d swore never to get like that, not like his own great grandpa — who lived to be 105 in a day that living to 65 was a pretty amazing milestone — his grandpa always kind of scared him, how he never could remember who anyone was, not even his own children and grandchildren and finally his great grandchildren. Now he had become like his own ancient great grandpa. He probably scared this boy, Jack, although Jack was a bit older than he was when he knew his great grandpa.
The boy, still laughing, nodded his head, and wiped tears from his eyes. “Every time, Pop Pop. Every time! But don’t worry, Pop Pop, you don’t have the Big A.”
“I talk to you about that?” the old man shot, surprised. As far as he could recollect, he never spoke directly of the Big A with anyone, not even his circle of Old Fogy Cronies.
“Sometimes you talk about it,” Jack said. “You feel free to talk about just anything with me. Because you know you won’t remember me the next time I come! But like I tell you every time, Pop Pop, I don’t mind. You’re my favorite person in the whole world. I try to see you every week, more if I can ditch school!”
The old man looked at him severely, then softened. He reached out and stroked the boy’s hair. “I’m sorry about that, Jack. I wish I could remember things better. I can tell, I’d like to remember you. I can see that you’re special.” He thunked the kid on the head with his lower knuckles. “But don’t be playing hooky, not even to visit me.”
“That’s okay, Pop Pop. Don’t worry about it. See, I’ve known you my whole life. You probably don’t remember this, but you used to live with us. You even used to change my diapers when I was a baby. I know you better than my own dad. You used to read to me, all those Bible stories, and The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings, and Narnia, you remember Narnia, don’t you?”
“Well, of course I should remember all those things. And I remember you, too, Jack. Remember when you got all dressed up in my clothes, my big work gloves, and boots, and you went around like a knight?” the old man said, and it felt like a great weight lifted from his shoulders. Of course, he could be remembering this boy’s father, or even his grandfather…but no, he could tell by the boy’s eyes that he was remembering correctly, this Jack was the Knight in Grandpa’s Cap, which had become one of his best storytelling yarns.
“Yeah, yeah! You DO remember, Pop Pop. You remembered that, this is the first time you remembered something like that in years, since I was a kid!” and Jack really did seem excited, just as excited as the old man felt.
The old man felt as if he were about to cry. What a wicked thing it was, when your brain could not remember a precious boy like this. The boy moved in close to him, snuggled up against him and took one of the old man’s cold hands in his. But suddenly, like a door opening, he could remember everything. Literally everything. Changing diapers, this here kid’s diapers. Holding up Jack’s pink feet, cleaning off the baby pooh-pooh. Snuggling him in those ultra-modern plastic diaper things, without even dangerous “safety” pins! Just tape up the little rascal, and that was that!
“I remember you, Jack, I remember everything!” the old man said, and pulled the boy close to him, hugged him as hard as his old arms could hug. But don’t hold your breath. Don’t hold your breath.
“You’re cold, Pop Pop,” Jack said.
“I feel warm, right now, with you here, Jack,” he said, and it felt so true. He wished he could hold onto this moment, stretch it into hours, for as long as he had left to live.
“Last year I hit 115,” the old man said, “so I’m 116 today.”
“Yep,” Jack nodded, “Happy Birthday, Pop Pop!”
“They make a big deal about 115, don’t they? I remember reporters, and more reporters, asking the stupidest questions, boy, and 116 is nothing, nothing newsworthy anyway, is that right?” the old man asked, smiling wryly. Shoot, some of those ignorant people with microphones had asked him if he ever met Napoleon, or if he had to walk to school barefoot going uphill both ways, or what he thought about TV, or if he had a girlfriend, and how often did he think about sex?
“Well, I think they’re waiting for you to hit 120 to make another big deal,” the boy said. “You’re the oldest person in the world this year, you know.”
“Wasn’t I in a kind of competition with someone last year, someone older?”
“Yeah,” Jack said, “but now you’re at the top of the class.”
The old man sighed “Everyone’s gone, even my kids. It’s sad to live this old, you know, Jack?”
“Yeah,” Jack said, “but it’s not sad for me, you know. I’m proud to be the great grandson of the oldest man in the world. You just keep pluggin’ away, Pop Pop. I want my son to know you, too.”
“You’re not married yet, are you?” the old man asked, an eyebrow raised, just kidding, really, but you never knew, because these things seemed to go in cycles, how old a young buck should be before he should marry, and when the old man was a boy seventeen wasn’t considered all that young. He had only been nineteen himself when Chuck was born.
“No! I’m only seventeen! I don’t even have a girlfriend right now. She dumped me. But do you remember? What the test is going to be, if I marry a girl or not?” Well, she hadn’t actually dumped him, but how in the world could he ever tell Pop Pop about Janine, a real, certifiable whacko? Plus, the way she was acting, she pretty much might be dumping him.
The old man nodded. “I remember. If she says that I can come and live with you two, you’ll marry her. If she says no way, it’s hit the road, Jill!”
“Damn straight,” Jack shot, jutting his jaw.
“Watch your mouth,” the old man said, but gently. He realized language was different, and the boy was just saying something other boys said, and was not thinking about what it was that the words meant. In these times people did not much regard the words that flew from their mouths. “But you’re being too tough. It’s tradition, old people aren’t worth that much — you can’t blame her, a young couple should live alone. Of course I was never so much like that, I always loved to have my family around me.
“I’m the weird one in any crowd, and I guess it’s been that way for about 116 years. I do talk a lot more than I used to, sorry. Even a shy introvert like me starts to run on at the snout, every year it gets worse. But don’t judge women on whether or not they want to have an old geezer living with them. You keep on coming to see me. So you just keep visiting me. But don’t worry. This isn’t a bad place. I like it here, for the most part. I’ve met a lot of nice friends, here, but they do seem to keep dying off on me.”
It wasn’t exaggeration, by his count at least 30 of his friends had died in the five years he’d lived here. Thirty! That was an incredible number — not that they had died, that’s not what was so incredible — but that he had actually been close enough to 30 people to call them his friends. Each of them had memories, aches and pains and lost loves and such sadness, all these 30 friends, these old laddies and lassies. And he did not call anyone “friend” lightly. No, friend meant something significant to the old man. And the last place he lived, the other “home,” friendship had gotten him kicked out, for fisticuffs, if you could imagine something like that, at his advanced age! But ingrained habits die hard, that’s for sure, and the old man had allowed the devil ample footholds over the course of his life, and that old devil had capitalized fairly well, considering just how far from perfect the old man found himself today.
“Hey, I forgot to tell you, I’ve gone vegetarian!” the boy said, obviously pleased with himself. That was something the old man could appreciate, but not that it had come from Janine, who was all into crystals and Tarot cards and stuff. Pop Pop wouldn’t dig that, not at all.
“Really,” the old man said, nodding his head, realizing it was probably just another fad in a long series of fads for the boy — but that’s what boys did, they got interested in things, and then they lost interest in things, whether it was magician, ventriloquist, violinist, skateboarder or motorcyclist, even the old man had been the same, up until he hit forty or so! Or was it fifty?
“No, really, Pop Pop. I’ve felt it was the right thing, because look at you, it sure hasn’t hurt you, has it?” Jack said. And Janine hates my smell when I’ve had a Big Mac — she says she can sense the change in my aura when rotting flesh is putrefying in my intestines. And when you put it that way, who in the world needs meat?
The old man laughed. “No, it hasn’t hurt me. The fact is, vegetarians are usually stronger, smarter and live a heck of a lot longer. Better looking too. Better smelling, that’s for certain. I guess God always does seem to know what He’s doing, and man usually does want just the opposite of what God puts in place. Just look at them poor Children of Israel, getting food right off of God’s supper table, and they want fried chicken. Can you believe those kids? Thousands of them choking on chicken bones, but I bet they all thought it tasted great!”
“Yeah, I know all that,” Jack said, “plus I just don’t like it, what they’re doing to all them animals, especially the cows.” Slave labor. Jack shivered, the things Janine could tell him, late at night, about aliens and abductions and missing children and slave labor camps. Bonkers, Janine, but what a rack.
“Yeah, Jack, there are lots of reasons to live clean. It used to be that people were vegetarians because that was God’s original plan, but people nowadays think that Genesis is just a book chock full of fairytales and legends. Nowadays people are switching over to healthy reasons because of how dangerous the carnivore lifestyle is getting. Or maybe because it’s trendy. And the New Agers are just a bit smarter than Christians and others. But, you know it, even at your age, Jack. People are idiots, let’s face it. Cows are vegetarians, and people think they can make a few extra dollars per cow if they start feeding them sheep brains, and now you got mad cows and millions of people have been infected.” Boy, don’t get the old man started on “the stupidity of man,” because he could blow wind for hours and hours and hours. “Eat healthy,” the old man continued, “and drink lots of water, that’s what I learned when I was young. Drink lots of water.”
“Yeah,” Jack said, “there’s all that, plus I don’t like it that we’ve turned cows into, like this, you know, slave race, just plump’em up and then slam them in the head with an electric hammer, more burgers for everybody.” And is that happening, just like I said, but with people, not only cows? Ridiculous, but Jack shivered, just the same.
“Yeah,” the old man returned, “that’s always been another good reason to be a vegetarian, because we were supposed to take care of animals, not turn them into walking hamburgers and fried chickens! But God is getting ready to set all that straight, you know.”
The boy laughed. “You’re still the funniest person I know, Pop Pop. Have I ever told you that you’re a good example for me?” And what would you say about Janine? What am I going to do about Janine? Should I tell you about her? Would you be able to help me? Or would you tell me to never come here again, that I was unclean?
“Oh well,” the old man said, “I’m not such a good example. I’ve got all my faults with me, just like they were when I was your age. Some of them are gone, my faults, but mainly because my hormones all dried up! But, to tell the truth, Jack, I thought by now I’d be more perfect than I am, but I’m still miles and miles away from being perfect, despite God working on me, and working me over too, I guess, for the last, oh, eighty years, give or take a decade. I guess in your vernacular I’d have to say that I’m light years away from perfection. But God’s still working on me, every day. And I try to let Him do whatever He wants to do. That’s one thing I’ve learned. Not my will, but Thine. He knows a lot better than I do, so I trust Him to fix me where I’m broken.”
“You’ve thought God was coming, all your life, Pop Pop. Aren’t you getting discouraged, since He hasn’t come?” Jack queried, really interested in the answer, because he was only seventeen, and already it seemed like he’d been hearing about this great event all his life and it just never seemed to happen, just everything got worse, and worse and worse, and still…no God. Here beside him was a man that had been a Christian his whole life, and it seemed like, what, after a few years, you might get a clue…Jack himself couldn’t buy into all this Christianity stuff, plus the religion seemed to keep getting stupider and stupider the longer it went. Star Trek seemed much, much more plausible, especially the old Next Generation episodes. Deep Space Nine and Explorer were great, but nothing topped Next Generation. That was way more the truth than anything Pop Pop could tell him about the Bible, or those idiots hopping on TV. And if he believed even a quarter of what Janine believed, whoa, then Christianity was way off base, like 666 light years off base.
“Nope. We’re just these tiny little specks, compared to Him. The Bible says that a thousand of our years is like a day to Him, so 116 years is like, oh boy, don’t go expecting me to do the math on that one, okay Jack?”
“That wouldn’t be too much time, anyway,” Jack replied, confidently. He wasn’t the math wizard, either, but put that way, he guessed it wasn’t a whole lot of time, to God’s way of seeing it — 2,000 years would just be two days! But God, or god? Was there really more than one god? And was one of them an insane god? Janine could lecture for hours on the “insane god.”
“But don’t get too caught up in trying to figure out God’s Time, because it’s not a hard rule, you know, the thousand year stuff, it’s just the poetic way to say that God is a whole lot bigger and more real than any of us little ant people. Little people made out of clay, that’s us. People get into all kinds of trouble when they start trying to do the math on God. God is the Guy who invented math, I’d guess, and man is just barely figuring out how to make a few numbers add up. But people keep trying, that’s for sure, to prove this, and prove that about God, and my guess is that most people don’t even know if He exists or not,” the old man said, warming up to one of his favorite topics, but he still had enough sense not to start proselytizing the boy. The boy needed a Pop Pop, not a preacher. “It’s not your job to figure out how God works, and how God does things, Jack, it’s just your job to get to know Him.”
“I think I do, Pop Pop,” the boy said, and his eyes looked far off. Yawn. He gently extricated the old can from the old man’s hand and fiddled with it for a while. He used to play with this heavy old cane when he was two years old. How in the world could the old guy manage to carry this baby around, it must weigh fifteen pounds or more!
What pretty eyes, the old man thought, so much like sweet newborn Chuck’s eyes.
“I try to talk to Him every day, anyway,” Jack concluded lamely. Was that true, he wondered, about talking to Him, even believing in Him, more than you do Santa Claus any more? Yeah. I want to believe. Really I do. But God really should be a little mixture of Next Generation with some of the Bible — in the long run, the Bible was a little whacked, really. I mean, it had to be, didn’t it? Guys living to like nine hundred years old and stuff like that.
“That’s important,” the old man agreed. “Me too. I try to talk to Him wherever I go, whatever I’m doing. Is your daddy still an atheist?”
“Well, yeah, kind of, I think. Sometimes I think so, but other times not, like when my Mom got sick. He actually went into the little church thingie at the hospital and lit a candle and got down on his knees. It was really weird. He doesn’t know I saw him. I think if I brought it up he’d hit me or something.”
“Oh well, I don’t know.”
“Doesn’t that seem weird sometimes?”
“Doesn’t what seem weird?”
“That you go around talking to God all the time. Don’t people think you’re like an old bag guy, talking to the walls and stuff?”
“Oh, I bet way back when I started to really get to know Him, it could seem weird. I walked away from God, when I was young, you know, and I didn’t really come back to Him until I was in my thirties. I thought I was really smart, but I found out I was really dumb. But I started talking to Him, all the time, all day long, and even if I woke up in the middle of the night, the first thing I thought about was talking to Him. And nope, I know what you’re talking about, but I’m not going around talking to a six-foot invisible bunny rabbit or anything like that — God created us so that we can communicate with Him, anytime, without opening our mouth, or closing our eyes. You should try it some time, Jackie-Whacky, when you’re troubled about something, just talk to Him, even on the toilet, God doesn’t mind.”
“Think that’s one reason you keep on living?”
“Oh yeah, it’s a big part. Maybe the biggest part. Knowing Him. It takes a lot of worry off things. He says it throughout the Bible, you know, that if you obey Him, you’ll live a long life. And it’s pretty near impossible to obey Him unless you’re talking to Him, all the time, every day. You can get a whole lot of things off your chest. Sleep better. Don’t worry about things. Don’t worry, Jack, it just doesn’t do any good to worry, that’s one thing I learned, way back when, and if you do go around worrying all the time, it does a lot of bad to you. Trust me, there, I can tell you.”
“I can’t help it, sometimes. Seems like I was born to worry.”
“Oh yeah, Jack, I can see that in you. You’re a born worrier. Just like your dad, and his dad, and me, and my dad before me, and even his dad. Like a family curse, I’ve always thought. Well, that…and lust.”
The boy colored, grinned, and looked slyly at his great grandfather.
“Any way to control, you know, that?”
It was obvious, what the kid was talking about. The old man sighed, and he smiled. “That’s a toughie, Great Grandson. You’re going to have to do a lot of wrestling with that one, before you get it straight in your mind. The sad truth is, it’s easier to get it straight in your hand before you ever get it straight in your mind. But I think that’s what it’s all about. I think that’s one reason God gave us this powerful, uncontrollable thing. Because when you finally get it under some kind of control, and you offer it up like a sacrifice for the woman you’ll love with your whole heart, you’ll see how special love is, and what a corrupt version of love that lust really is. Does that make sense?”
The boy snorted. “You’re whack, Pop Pop. I don’t know even an inch of what you’re talking about!”
They laughed, and the old man pulled the boy in close again, feeling his youth, the strength of all the life flowing through his young body, the blood and the life in the blood moving inexorably toward the place in time where the old man now was, aged, brittle, and old, the cycle of life, ever moving around the old man, ever moving toward death, everything moving toward death, and here he was, outliving his children, and even a few of his grandchildren, but please God, not this boy, not Jack, please let him outlive me? Just to think about the battles this boy would have to fight, was even now fighting, because really, how in the world could you look at a woman without lusting after her in your heart? It’s like that’s the way men are built, always were and always would be, and what with the way the world pushed women in your face this day, this boy would surely have worse battles to fight than the old man could have ever dreamed of at eighteen, or twenty-three, or thirty-eight, or forty-two years of age, the world was a worse place, darker and more dangerous. The world was a hard place to live in, but what a blessing God gave us to have our chance to do battle.
“Do we always have deep talks like this?” he asked the boy.
“Well, sometimes it takes a while for you to warm up, but yeah, you always come around.”
“Thank you so much for remembering me, Jack. Thanks for remembering an old man.”
“It’s getting late, you better tell me one of your stories, Pop Pop.”
“Any story you want to hear? Like The Knight in Grandpa’s Cap?”
“Make one up, okay? Those are always the best ones — those are the ones that always become my favorite stories!”
“All of my stories are your favorite stories!”
The boy picked up a handful of dirt. “Tell me a story about this. Just a handful of dirt! Bet you can’t make up a story based on a handful of dirt!
The old man put out his hand to receive the gift from the boy, and the young hand moved over the old hand, and dirt came sifting down through the young fingers onto the old man’s palm.
“He has pity on us,” the old man said, his voice gaining in strength, as it always did, when he created a story. “Because He remembers we are only little clay people. Just dust…”
Memorandum on Suburban Refrigerator Door:
You are not a monster. They are the monsters. Fast, and pray, do not raid this sacred larder of the Lord. Fast, and pray. Pray for everyone on your prayer list, and add another name on your prayer list, EVERY DAY. God does not hate you. You are righteous. Fast, and pray, and you must lose at least fifteen pounds for the Lord.
Syndicated Radio with Samuele the Scripture Scholar:
Times are tough, friends, family and partners, but as long as you are out there making a difference, I and the Scripture Scholar team will be here, answering your most heartfelt questions. Please send us your support, and as a special offer this week we’ll send you a Scripture Scholar bookmark to mark your favorite spot in any of your Scripture Scholar library helper books — with a heartfelt gift of twenty-five dollars we’ll shoot out your bookmark today, and remember, this ministry is supported by you, so any kind of donation is appreciated. You are making a difference, now, and for eternity. Thank you all, and God bless!
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Cyrano Hercule Savinien de Bergerac
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