The Downtown Apocalypse Exchange was on the corner of Smoke Street and Mirror Avenue. Steel and glass rose out of the thoroughfare and knifed into the Paradise sky. Jim followed Rockefeller in through the revolving doors.
A few hallways and an elevator took them to the pit. The pit was a wide open room filled with scrawling screens and barking souls. Papers were waved about, scribbled upon, given over, passed around, scribbled upon again, taken back, and passed around some more. The numbers on the scrawling screens went up and down. Somewhere, for reasons Jim couldn’t figure out, a brass band with really loud symbols played the can-can.
Suspended in the center of the room was a four-sided screen that made Jim think of the Dallas Cowboys Stadium. On it flashed God and the Apocalypse – God with a red arrow down and the Apocalypse with a green arrow up. Rockefeller pointed to the area beneath, where rows of souls looked through telescopes into floor-holes.
“We call them lookers,” Rockefeller said. “They’re all looking in on different parts of Earth. What they’re looking for is news – good news and bad news. Hope versus despair, more or less. They pass the info on to the shouters, the shouters shout, and the market responds. It’s complex, but in general bad news is good for God, and good news brings on the Apocalypse. The rest of the market swings between them.”
Jim pointed. “Does that say God is going for three cents a share?”
“Must be a good day on Earth.”
The Apocalypse was at six thousand three hundred and fifty-four dollars a share. Jim looked around and began to understand some of what scrawled across the other screens. There were stocks for Freedom and Justice, bonds in the numbers eleven and forty-two, future-stocks in the Future, sub-prime Love derivatives, and the color yellow had just gone public and was under-performing.
A gong shook the pit.
“The hell was that?”
“Some Chinese bull cornered the market on karma,” Rockefeller said. “Raked in a cool trillion before the bubble. He pretty much does whatever he wants now.”
“I thought karma came from India.”
“Wherever it came from, if you want a piece of it you have to go through the Chinaman. Almost everything goes through the Chinaman these days. The index, we just call it the Dao now. D-A-O Doa. Some kind of Eastern thing.”
Jim thumbed the six hundred dollars in his pocket. He watched the lookers and the shouters and the brokers, listened the endless can-can and the punctuations of the gong. He wondered if he’d be better off investing in Freedom first, or Security, or maybe hedge his bets with a little of both. There was always God or the Apocalypse or the color yellow. Maybe some Paradise Bonds to stabilize the portfolio.
“So, where’s this Chinese dude?”
The Chinaman sat cross-legged on a stool. He wore a Yankees cap, a FUBU hoodie, jean shorts and sandals. Beside him was the gong and in his lap was the hammer.
“You want some Dao?” he said.
“Yeah, I’d like to try some Dao.” Jim held up his cash. “Six hundred worth, if you got it.”
“Six hundred – American?”
Jim blinked and fingered his ears. The Chinaman replaced the hammer and closed his eyes.
“There are many stocks,” the Chinaman said, “and the stocks are one. To take stock in a thing is to take stock in stock itself. To take stock in a thing that is not a thing – such is Dao.”
This sounded like a fortune cookie to Jim, and suddenly he felt like a racist. Before he could decide whether or not to apologize for feeling that way, the Chinaman continued.
“When taking stock, do not ask yourself, What is the value of this stock? Ask instead, What is value? Know this and you will know Dao. And today is your lucky day, because stock in Value is on special: Buy six and get free wonton.”
The Chinaman produced a greasy bag of shitty dumplings and Jim breathed a sigh of relief. He wasn’t a racist.
“No, that’s alright,” he said. “If it’s alright with you, those God stocks caught my eye. Three cents a share sounds like pretty neat deal for the Almighty. And I did the math, looks like I’ll get twenty thousand shares.”
“Are you sure? Free wonton very special deal. Good value.”
“I’m dumping it all on God. I got a good feeling about it. Earth is due for a bad year.”
“Okay. Six hundred American for twenty thousand pieces of God.”
The twenty thousand pieces of God were transferred upon a single certificate. There was a great deal of information, much of it scribbled and some of it in Chinese, but the important bits were bold typeface and perfectly legible:
Incorporated in the Folds of Time
This certifies that ___Jim___ is owner of ___twenty thousand___ shares of the capital stock of
Purchased at ____3₵ / piece ____ on ___year of rat ___
Valued at ___$600 American____
Transferrable on the Ledger of Dao by the endorsement hereon and surrender of Certificate.
Jim read over the certificate several times. It looked legit.
“So now what?”
“Now you take your God to the pit and chase the dragon.” The Chinaman took a shitty dumpling from the greasy bag, considered it thoroughly, then ate it. “You will regret not taking the wontons. Very good for Dao.”
Jim had one more question before going back to the pit. He stood awkwardly for several moments then finally asked it.
“Are you Confucius?”
It made the Chinaman angry.
“Not all Chinaman is Confucius, asshole! I only happen to be Confucius.”
The lookers looked through telescopes at the earth and the shouters shouted the good news.
“Forty-eight hours without a murder in Chicago!”
“A nice guy with teeth won the lottery!”
“The Middle East is taking a nap!”
“Africa still exists!”
“The McRib is back!”
Jim’s pieces of God, purchased at three cents per share, bottomed out at a halfpenny per share. It was an all time low for God, and the good news kept pouring in.
“A strapping young lad just got his first handy!”
“Worldwide literacy is up five percent!”
“Those FIFA cunts are fucked!”
The Apocalypse went double-green-arrow-up and passed nine thousand American dollars per share. Jim did some more math and discovered that his six hundred American dollars, purchased with a bag full of dirt and most of his happiness, had dwindled down to one hundred. He wasn’t sure if he should sell his God shares now or ride the big guy out. On the one hand, God had an eternity to bounce back – but the other hand was holding Earth, and Earth seemed to be doing pretty good for itself. He asked Rockefeller.
“Well,” said Rockefeller, “A good day is a bad time to sell God. There just isn’t any value in it. If I were you, I’d hold out for a hurricane and try to break even. Doesn’t matter how bad things get for God – there’s always a hurricane to bring him right back around. Sell him then.”
“So how long’s that gonna take?” Jim didn’t have all day. Plus the can-can was starting to wrangle with his nerves.
“You never know. And it doesn’t have to be a hurricane. Earthquakes and Ebola work just as well. Just hold out for some bad news before you dump God. At least you’ll mitigate your losses. Try a little more diversity on your next go.”
Jim figured he ought to take Rockefeller’s advice, so he found a bench to sit on and waited for some bad news. But three hours later there was a cure for restless legs and God stood on the edge of a pence.
The market panicked. God had never been so low and the speculators speculated bankruptcy. The brokers set the pit on fire with “God here! Shares of God!” and “Firesale! All shares! All shares!” and “Almighty Bonds to Bottom Bidder!” The shouters maintained their endless string of wonderful news and the sellers had no counterparts. Triple-red-arrow-down and crashing hard.
Then a man from the back of the pit made himself heard through a megaphone:
“Jim Jones is buyin. Jim Jones ain’t givin in to this heretical abandon. For though Earth is prospering in her moment, catastrophe is comin and God shall rise again. Jim Jones, all shares, Jim Jones.”
A madness like ecstasy rolled through the pit and the brokers swarmed Jim Jones. Thousands of tickets and certificates were signed over to the suicide-monger in a matter of minutes, and the act of buying recovered God to a penny per share. With God saved and the market stabilized, the pit-barkers sighed with relief and went back to business. It was shouted that Morocco had legalized butt-fucking. Stock in Love exploded.
Jim watched all of this from his seat on the bench. He turned his Certificate over in his hands, pondering. At a penny-share he’d get two hundred American, which was probably mitigated losses, but he’d have to sell the last bits of God to the guy who ruined Kool-Aid for everybody. His pondering ended when Jim Jones approached him, still wielding the megaphone.
“Jim Jones is buyin.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“Jim Jones is a true believer. Jim Jones is offerin sticker price.”
“Sticker price? Like, six hundred dollars?”
For some reason, something the Chinaman said popped into Jim’s head: To take stock in a thing that is not a thing – such is Dao. He read over the certificate again, and then it clicked.
“This thing is just worth, like, whatever it’s worth.”
“It’s worth six hundred American to Jim Jones.”
“Can you put down the megaphone? I’m right next to you.”
Pondering, as an act of conscious will, didn’t generally work out so well for Jim. But today he seemed to be doing alright with it so he gave it another shot. He pondered, If this is the last piece of God that Jim Jones doesn’t have, then it’s worth whatever he’s willing to pay for it. So if I just haggle with him for a bit, the value of the stock will go up. But then, instead of selling it to him, I’ll just buy it from myself. It’s like free money. From God.
He wasn’t very good at haggling, but he knew you were supposed to start big.
“I want a quadrillion dollars.”
“Jim Jones ain’t a sucka. One thousand.”
“Uhh, sixteen trillion.”
“Lord give Jim Jones the patience! Five thousand.”
Jim looked up at the big board. It was working – God was up to a dime. He supposed this was all to the good for Jim Jones as well, but maybe that’s just how the market worked. Maybe if you barked at your money long enough it just got bigger.
“Four hundred million.”
“Jim Jones is runnin outta time. New Jonestown suffers in his absence. The final offer is one million American dollars.”
God soared to fifty dollars per share, triple-green-arrow-up. All of this in spite of the good news still pouring in.
“Mr. Jones, ten million and you’ve got your last chunk of God.”
“That means I’ll take it.”
God hit five hundred American dollars per share. Jim kicked Jim Jones in the shin and ran away.
“Rockefeller! Rockefeller! I need to borrow ten million dollars!”
Rockefeller was smoking a cigar in the women’s bathroom. The room smelled like smoky peaches, and as the two of them talked various women came to shit or stare into the mirror. None seemed bothered by the smoke.
“Ten million?” Rockefeller said. “How hard did you double down? I told you not to sell God before the hurricane.”
“No, you don’t understand. This guy, Jim Jones, he’s cornering the market like that Chinaman did with Karma. Except I saw him coming. I talked him up to ten million dollars for this certificate, so now it’s worth ten million. But I didn’t sell it to him. I’m going to buy it myself. I’ll be rich and the Kool-Aid guy goes home. I got this, I just need some money. ”
“You want to borrow money from me so you can pay yourself something you already own.”
“That’s really not the best way to go about your business.”
“Well you sold me insurance that can’t be paid out, for something that doesn’t exist. What kind of business is that?”
“Looks like you’re oh-for-two then.”
“Just give me the money.”
Rockefeller puffed at his cigar. A woman clacked her heels up to the mirror, waved away the smoke with a hand, made sure her face was still on the front of her head, walked out the door. Outside the Chinaman’s gong rang out.
“I understand your dilemma,” Rockefeller said. “Nobody wants to be the guy that sold the last piece of God to Jim Jones, but ten million is a damned good price. Tell you what, you sign those shares over to me, and I’ll make you a majority share-holder of Eternity Insurance. You get your happiness back, and just let me deal with this Jones fellow.”
A few weeks later Jim met Rockefeller at a nice hole-in-the-wall for some noodles and business.
“Well, Jim, I’ve got to hand it to you. I figured you were just another sucker, selling off your happiness for existentially retarded securities, and hanging around for no particular reason. But you walked into the Apocalypse Exchange with six hundred bucks and made God worth something again. On a good day, no less. Never mind that the whole stock is in the possession of a notorious cult leader, it’s a moot point. The important thing is value. And by value I mean money. I made a shitload of money. Here’s to money.”
Jim and Rockefeller tapped glasses and drank away the wine. An angel refilled their glasses.
“So you did sell it off.” Jim wasn’t sure how he felt about that. He was happy to hear that Rockefeller was doing well, but Jim Jones was probably the wrong guy to sell God to. “How much did you get?”
“I knew it! I should have started higher.”
“Don’t kick yourself. It’s all about leverage, and you didn’t have any. You might also take some comfort in this. If you’re sentimental about things.”
Rockefeller slid a piece of paper across the table. Jim read it over several times.
Incorporated in the Folds of Time
This certifies that __Jim___ is owner of ____one____ shares of the capital stock of
Valued at ___Everything + 1____
“What does it mean?”
“You’re the proud owner of the last piece of God, and it can’t be sold. I had to call in a favor from the Chinaman, and Jones wasn’t too happy about it, but I thought it was the least I could do. It’s worth too much to be worth anything, but you can always frame it. Hell of a conversation piece.”
“That’s really cool. Thanks, man.”
“So how’s Eternity Insurance coming along? I haven’t had time to look into it.”
“I turned it into a brewery.”
“You make beer now.”
“I know what a brewery is.”
“Brewed with someone else’s happiness, so you can forget you never had any. That’s the slogan.”
“I like it.”
The angel filled their glasses several more times and the conversation turned to lesser things. They talked about trend of good news from Earth and what it might mean for the number forty-two, and they wondered openly about the fate of the American dollar in an expanding universe. When they were good and drunk, Jim ordered a bucket of wantons and toasted the happiness of worms and the Chinaman’s Dao.