The Devil’s Peace – Part 2 [Jim #9, Short Fiction]

This is Christopher Hitchens, reporting dead from the godless soup of eternity. Approximately ten hours ago – ten hours relative to what remains unclear – the atomic ejaculate of a Tennessee man cracked the Christian firmaments and the myriad zealots of Christ are swarming. The nest has been stirred, comrades and friends, and they’ve taken to the clouds with Bible, fist, and tongue. The Bible, one supposes, is for bludgeoning; the fist is a reminder – a rather pedestrian one – of the glory of the ever-vacationing Jehovah; and the purpose of the Christian tongue remains scientifically mysterious. If it’s on your bucket list – as impossible as such a list may seem in this Cartesian infinity – but if you have one, and it includes proselytization or purification, catechism or communion, inculcation or inquisition, this is the place to be.

And I have the dubious honor of interviewing the man that frenzied these ridiculous sheep – these hairless and sadomasochistic and sexually inverted apes. Jim, thanks for dropping in.

Yeah. No problem.

You look pretty good for the epicenter of a holy war.

Thanks.

Do you have a god in the race, Jim?

No. I was never religious. My aunt was a Baptist though. I wouldn’t bet on the Baptists.

To bet on any particular sect of this deranged cult, of this outdated menagerie of demagogues and faith-mongers – it’s a bet on a lame horse. A dead horse. A dead lame and plaintive horse. Only the religious would make it.

I guess they might. Or they do.

I have it here that you were even present for the diplomacies.

I was.

Well? Perhaps you could give us the upshot.

I’m still trying to wrap my head around it, man.

Give us the old college try.

Alright, well uh . . . The devil – or, the woman that introduced herself as the devil – she’s transgender – she came to me in tears and said me and Cherry brought down the barrier. Evidently the angels put up this barrier so the different kinds of Christians couldn’t see each other. That’s part of their Paradise, I guess, is knowing they’re the ones that got it right. Cherry’s the girl I’m seeing, by the way. As far as you can see a girl around here, I guess. Anyway, we had this epic fifteen-rounder and blasted a hole in the, uh – what did you call it? The firmament. So the barrier came down. Lucy – that’s the devil’s name, short for Lucifer – she tells me I broke it so I’ve got to help fix it. Only out of nowhere she turns into Gabriella because these Christians won’t do any deals with the devil. So I’m like, Well what the hell, are you the devil or some kind of angel? She won’t say. It’s all part of the Truth, I guess. Well, we get up to the cloud and Gabriella gives these Christians the bad news. You know, that we’re all just kind of here and there’s a lot of relativism going around. What did she say? She said we’ve got a whole ocean to swim around in and everybody wants to fight over a drop. And that totally floored me – I never thought of it like that before. And it went right past these guys. I couldn’t believe it. Like she laid it right out. Then the Protestant dude found out Pope John Twenty was a counting error and it all went to hell.

What an utterly useless response. If it was of any importance I’d call it tragic. To those of you still with us, I salute your resilience and I’m humbled by your endurance. I’ll try to reward it with a retelling – with an editorial – worthy of the auditory canals. Though I doubt the irony can be missed by anybody, there are some important subtleties that I think might escape the first glance. It’s fairly well established – the one-two punch of sexual repression and deviancy that infests the institutions of religion – Hey! You can’t come in here! I’m a journalist! We’re protected under international –

***

The Anglican sheathed his sword, apologized to Jim for the intrusion, and departed. Christopher’s head lay on the desk next to a decanter of red wine and a half-empty glass. His body lay crumpled on the floor.

“I’m under the impression he hasn’t read the articles of the Geneva Convention,” the head said.

Outside the clangs and bangs of war were getting louder. It sounded like some cavalry charging into modern artillery. Jim watched the journalist’s head biting at the stem of the wine glass, and he realized that nobody was going to die up here.

“Are they going to fight forever?” he said.

“Oh, I’m sure they’ll come to an agreement before eternity’s end,” said Christopher’s head. “Even the religious can’t escape the strangeness of infinity. If it can happen, it will.” He curled his tongue around the stem, yawed back and forth and then gave up. “Do me a favor?”

Jim picked up the glass and poured some of the wine into Christopher’s waiting mouth.

“Why can’t they all just be special together?” Jim said.

“The war of the ages is being fought all around me, and I’m trapped in a windowless room with an autistic pacifist,” Christopher said. “Let me try it this way. We’re pattern-seekers, Jim. Nothing thrills us more than the seventh note of a scale followed by the eighth. It’s coded into our genetics through a hundred thousand years of evolution and survival. To understand is to bring order to chaos, and there is no order here. And in the absence of order the reptilian brain will invent one, and it will smash a million square pegs through the proverbial round hole to maintain it. You’re simple so I’ll put even more plainly: These men invented God that they might shovel all their doubts up his ass, and your coital nuke stabbed Him in the guts and now it’s raining shit.”

“Pattern seekers?”

“Fuck me.”

“Well, help me out then. Because what you just laid out sounds like a pattern.”

“Some patterns exist. One example of false pattern recognition doesn’t convict the thought processes of the entire species.”

“You’re an atheist.”

“By default.”

“So where do the angels fit? This place? An atheist in Paradise is a contradiction.”

“I have certain suspicions in that regard. The ever-expanding thought-reality of this place is reminiscent of Lewis – Hell is a state of mind – I’m sure even you’ve heard that before. This freedom-loving devil sounds an awful lot like she walked out of the pages of Paradise Lost, and all this gallivanting around with dead celebrities is straight out of the pages of Dante. Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita. I scarcely need to mention the central conflict, this Paradise-sans-Truth tension, a trope as old and quaint as Eden. Throw in the haphazard philosophizing, the hipster pseudo-irony and the cheap jokes – It’s almost as if some publicly educated and unemployed ass is having literary spasms.”

Christopher looked directly at me and I blushed. I looked down at my keyboard and traced the lines of the letters with my eyes and considered all the words I’d ever typed and wondered why I bothered. I stepped outside and smoked a cigarette while I watched the squirrels climbing through the trees. I poured myself another coffee. I thought about quitting. I decided not to, and when I returned I fully expected to martyr myself on the edges of Christopher’s rhetoric. Thankfully, by the time I sat down he had already moved on.

“As for the angels,” he said, “If apes can graduate, so too can men. It would be a cosmic travesty if we were evolution’s end.”

“So everybody’s got a pattern for everything,” Jim said. He stole a drink from the glass and nearly spit it back out. “Ugh, that’s bitter.”

“It’s Amarone.”

“It’s bitter.” He set the glass down. “So what do we do? Nothing?”

“Carry me,” Christopher said.

“What?”

“I don’t need a body to give these demagogues what-for. Even the invicted heart draws blood from the brain. Reason, Jim! We’ll divest them of these superstitions with reason, with the dynamics of logic and argument. From the mud to the clouds and beyond the stars, we scour the fields of battle with the ink of a thousand years of secular thought. Carry me, Jim! I’ll eat in Paradise what I merely disdained on Earth.”

Jim squatted and looked into Christopher’s eyes. “I don’t think it’ll work,” Jim said.

“Carry me.”

“I’d rather not.” He stood and made for the door.

“Jim! What humanity lost through submission it will win back with irony! Mark those words, Jim. One day!”

***

Jim wandered. Feats of violence and insanity surrounded him. He saw the pointy hat of a bishop wobbling in the hatch of a Sherman tank, rolling at the head of a legion armed with shovels and pitchforks. Why, from the unbounded armories of Paradise, would a man choose a shovel? Jim didn’t even bother himself with it. Great volleys of arrows were exchanged between the clouds and artillery shells whistled and cut open the hills. Angels kept a loose perimeter on the ground and in the sky. Some of them appeared confused and sincerely concerned, but most were pointing and laughing and having a pretty good time.

The crack in the firmament hung over the war and glowed inversely.

He came to a place between three hills, sheltered by trees and a river. It was open and flat and filled with thousands of peaceful people. They sat in groups and talked and nibbled. A few walked about and handed out pamphlets. A middle-aged woman in a conservative summer dress met him as he entered.

“Welcome,” she said.

“What is this place?” Jim said. “There’s a war going on, you know.”

“Well, we are the Presbyterian Church of Canada, and we’d much rather have a picnic,” she said. “Would you like some juice or some coffee? There will be some cake and cookies afterwards. I could introduce you to some boys – oh excuse me. Men. You aren’t boys anymore, are you? My son is about your age.”

“Afterwards of what?” Jim said. He made his suspicions known with a squint.

“Oh, we have a very special speaker.” She leaned in and spoke confidentially, “It’s top secret, but I’ll give you a hint. His name is John Calvin.”

The name didn’t mean anything to Jim, but he thought he better act impressed. “Holy buckets,” he said. He retained the squint.

“The holiest,” she said. “Can I bring you to my son? The two of you will get on just great.”

“Sure.”

She led him to a small group that stood at the edge of the gathering. She introduced them and Jim introduced himself and she left. Her son had a thick shoulders and a good handshake and he wasn’t wearing a vest. Jim liked him, and the liking intensified his suspicions.

“So Jim,” Michael said, “Are you looking to buy something or just hiding from the weather?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, do you have any interest in becoming a Presbyterian?”

“Oh, well, not really. I’m not very religious.”

“That’s quite alright, Jim. No worries, really. You know, I’ve got this theory about Jesus. Don’t shove Him down anybody’s throat, and He won’t fly out of anybody’s ass.” He slapped Jim on the shoulder. “Are you alright? Looks like you’ve got something in your eye.”

Jim had squinted his face into a walnut. He relaxed it a little. “You seem alright,” he said.

When John Calvin arrived he elevated himself on a tree stump and the talking and nibbling came to a polite pause. He spoke for twenty minutes. He condemned the war but not those who fought in it. He asked everyone to pray for their misguided brothers and sisters. He spoke simply and eloquently about the difficulties of moral absolutes and the strangeness of infinity. As he neared the end of his speech, and he said there remained but one theological problem to resolve, Jim was hanging on his words.

Maybe I’m a Presbyterian, Jim thought. He was squintless.

“As we know,” John Calvin said, “God in His wisdom and His mercy has granted Grace Everlasting to some of us, and Damnation to others. We are all mortally bound to the Original Sin and we share equally the depravity of the Human Condition, and His choice has nothing to do with our little world, and everything to do with His mercy. The difficulty we face, following the crack in the Firmament – ”

Jim shrank.

“ – is that everyone is now in Paradise. It has been established theologically that this is not the will of the Creator, and something must be done.

“Lacking the authority to deliver Damnation, and being naturally opposed to it for the frailty of our Condition, there is but one path to Reconciliation with God. Half of our number must sit uncomfortably in chilled buckets of water until the Firmament is mended. We shall make this sacrifice in shifts not less than twelve and not exceeding forty days. And if there any anemics here, or any other persons ill-disposed to chilled buckets of water, please give your name to Mrs. Roy at the front desk. We thank God for His Patience and for giving us this Wisdom. Amen.”

Michael stopped Jim at the exit.

“Jim! At least stay and finish the cake. There’s a whole half left!”

“It’s too sweet,” Jim said.

***

She sat in a mortar hole, her back against the charred and blasted ground. Light played across her through the branches of a broken tree. She was Gabriella where the light touched her, and Lucy in the shade.

“They love this war,” she said.

Jim sat down next to her. The ground was still warm from the explosion.

“They love it more than the lie. They will never stop fighting.”

“I think the ones that aren’t fighting scare me the most,” Jim said. “You know, I swear there’s a guy that could set everybody straight.”

“I made a promise,” she said.

The ground shook beneath sound of faraway devastation. There were shouts, and someone blew a battle horn that belonged in a fantasy novel.

“How long can the angels contain it?”

“Not forever,” she said. She turned to him, and the light made a diagonal cut through her face. A sad eye for the angel and fury in the devil’s. “What do I do, Jim? Break a promise made to a friend, or let this war of fools consume Paradise?”

Jim sighed like a blowfish and shrugged.

With the painted fingers of the devil she pulled from the angel’s pocket a folded and tattered paper, yellowed with age. She handed it to Jim and he unfolded it. It was a map of Paradise, marked neatly with triangle mountains, curving rivers, loops for clouds, dotted cities. Left of center was scrawled an X, with the caption, Christ be here.

“Well, that settles it then,” Jim said, standing. “It’s time to find Jesus.”

 

_____________________________________

Jim Home

Intermission [Not a Story]

It was my intention to keep this blog strictly fiction, every inch of content nothing but stories.  But the more I look into this world of blogs the more it seems like kind of a silly and unrealistic goal.  I think it’s alright if this one is mostly stories.

First, I want to thank everybody that’s been stopping by to read the Jim series.  Getting around 40 visitors every day, which is infinitely more than zero and plenty to keep me going.  Considering the saturation of the blog-sphere and the fiction markets it’s amazing that anybody is finding this place at all.  And a few of you are actually bothering to read this.  And I think that’s kinda neat.

Second, there’s a possible short film in the making that’s based on the 1 Truth Road story.  The project is in the preliminary stages, and it’s a coin flip as to whether it gets made, but when they sent me this poster I just had to share it with you guys:

Poster-4

Obviously, the working title of the film is Limbo.  I like it because it’s direct, and people can grab it and know what they’re getting into.  (Well, aside from the transgender devil and the chicken wing orgasms.)  I don’t like it because it seems very Catholic.  What do you guys think?

Last, there will definitely be an illustrated Jim novella when all is said and done.  I started blogging Jim because I wanted to throw shit at the wall and see what stuck, and I’m pretty close to having the central story and character built.  It will be months before it happens, but it will happen.

So, with some luck this dead guy from Tennessee will get himself a movie and a book in the coming months.  Which ain’t so bad.  At any rate, The Devil’s Peace Parts 2 and 3 will get posted soon.

Thanks for reading.

 

The Devil’s Peace – Part 1 [Jim #8, Short Fiction]

Jim stood and stretched. The house was gone and the Paradise around them was flat and gray. Above them the mushroom cloud looked like an inverse tornado. He looked at his penis.

“How many megatons do you think that was?” Jim said.

Cherry lay on her back, nearly comatose.

“A lot,” she said. Her breasts were pink beneath the fallout. If she ever moved again, there would be an imprint of an angel in the ashes.

“Do you ever feel like we’re overdoing it?” Jim said.

Cherry didn’t answer. Jim caught a flake of ash in his palm and watched it dissolve.

Out over the flatness a jagged light broke the sky. It was bright and Jim shielded his eyes. A tremor swam through the ground.

“Are you there?”

“I’m here.”

“What was that?”

“It wasn’t me.”

Then the air shimmered and warbled and out of the hole walked the devil. Jim thought at first that the face was painted, but it was mascara. She was weeping.

***

“They are so cruel to me,” she said. “Why are they so cruel? What have I ever done but give them freedom and happiness? By what rights do they accuse me? I work – so – hard – ”

Her voice quivered and her hands shook.  There was rage beneath the sadness.

Jim had always been terrified of emotional women, and this one was the devil.  He gulped and looked to Cherry for help but she was glazed and dumb.

“What happened?” he said.

Lucy walked at him. Jim thought it was all over, that he’d pissed off the devil and hell had found him at last. Instead, she buried her face in his neck and cried.

“What am I going to do?” she said. “What can I do, Jim? The barrier is broken. There will be war. I hate the wars of men. It’s the blood, I can’t stand it.”

Jim held her and let her cry. “It’s okay,” he said.

“I give and I give and I give and it’s never enough or maybe it’s too much I don’t know I just work so hard and now everybody’s going to hate me. They’re going to hate me and all I ever did was give them everything they ever wanted and they won’t stop until it’s all gone everything I worked for,” she said into his neck.

He patted her back and said shhhh.

Another tremor rolled through and the jagged light flared above the bleakness.

“What did I do?” he said.

Lucy pulled her face from his neck and set her eyes into his. They were beautiful and timeless and bleary. Her hand on his cheek put warmth in his bones.

Jim,” she said. “So reckless and innocent.”

He kissed her. It was reflex. When it was over Lucy laughed and wiped some of the mascara from her eyes.

“I’m quite the devil, aren’t I?”

“You’re a beautiful devil.”

“And you’re very sweet.”

“Did I really break Paradise?”

“Paradise is yours to break.”

“Ughh,” Cherry said. “Get a fucking room.”

The rebuke stabbed Lucy in the chest. She looked staggered. She closed her eyes, took a breath, and opened different ones. “She’s right,” she said.

Her transformation was swift and Jim stood looking at a professional and determined woman in white heels, skirt, and blazer. And he was covered in a suit and tie. He made a question mark with his face.

“You’re going to help me fix this,” she said.

“I still don’t understand what’s broken.”

“With the barrier down, the Christians can see each other.”

That didn’t make enough sense to Jim. He furrowed the question mark.

“They needed to gloat, so I let them gloat,” she said. “They were all very special until about ten minutes ago, and they will not like this equality.”

Jim looked at his tie. He flopped it around. “I don’t know,” he said. “This sounds like a job for Jesus.”

“He retired.”

“What?! Why?”

“You’re about to find out.”

A shimmer and a warble and the air opened up. Lucy checked her complexion in a pocket mirror.

“And Jim, they know me as Gabriella. Say nothing about the devil.”

“Okay. Wait. Which are you?”

Her smile was coy. They went through the hole.

***

The cloud was furnished with a round table and some chairs and an 18th century neoclassical Venetian chandelier. In the chairs sat Martin Luther, Pope John XX, King Henry VIII, Saint Paul, and Joseph Smith. Gabriella claimed the final chair and Jim stood behind her.

“Thank you for coming,” Gabriella said. Her white blazer glimmered. “You are all aware of this by now, but I will say it plainly so there is no mistake. Everybody goes to heaven, and heaven is uniformly wonderful.”

There was some silence. King Henry coughed but his heart wasn’t in it. Martin Luther stood.

“Let me be the first to welcome this news, and to praise God in His mercy and His wisdom. It brings joy to my heart that the entirety of the human spirit is given this plane to thrive upon. I have ever contended for a democratic eternity, tempered by the dominion of a merciful Master, and all Protestants glory in this new brotherhood.”

Luther retrieved a stack of papers from under his seat and thudded them on the table. They were a foot high.

“And I formally submit this petition, signed by one hundred millions, demanding that the Catholics be evicted immediately.”

Hurrrrr hurrrrr hurrr,” said Pope John XX. “One hundred millions. Hurrrr hurrr hurrr.”

“They are honest millions!” Luther said. “I would take any individual among them against all of your corrupted legions!”

Gabriella accepted the petition and coaxed Luther back into his seat. She informed him that there would be no evictions.

“Everybody goes to heaven,” she said again. “It was decided a long time ago that Earth is a hard place with an obstructed view, and it’s unfair to expect people to get anything right. If entry were contingent upon rightness, the place would be empty. Every one of you is here because none of you are right.”

“Proverbs thirteen verse three,” Saint Paul said. Arms folded, head bowed. “He that keepeth his mouth keepeth his life; but he that openeth his lips shall have destruction.”

“Very good, Paul,” Gabriella said. She threw him a treat and he ate it. “It may have been a mistake to veil this relativism. It may be that the orders of angels have purchased your happiness with an awful hubris. But the barriers were built and you were given your time to gloat. That time is finished. Now that you see one another you have two options: Join together and celebrate your failures, or fight for nothing.”

“Hubris,” said the Pope. “Hurrr hurrrr hurrrr.”

“This man cannot be retained in heaven! King Henry, surely you have no love for these vicars.”

“Ay, these wonky twats been on the piss for yonks,” King Henry said. “All smart for God but they go arse over tit for an Irish penny. Never been a Pope that didn’t beggar the poor cunts that fagged around for him. Give England a sword if it’s a buggered Pope that stiffs you.”

“What?”

“It means ay. Fuck Rome.”

Hurrr hurrr hurrrrrrr.”

“Imposter!”

It was the first word to come out of Joseph Smith’s mouth. All eyes snapped to him.

“There is no Pope John Twenty,” he said. He stood and brandished a tablet. “It says right here on Wikipedia. There is a Pope John Nineteen, and a Pope John Twenty-one, but due to an accounting error they skipped John Twenty!”

“Ha!” King Henry pounded the table with his fist. “Counting Popes is a mug’s game, any road. Can’t build a cathedral with holy bell-ends. Fuck the Popes, count the shillings! Yaa haa harr!”

“ENOUGH!”

Gabriella stood and her beauty and fury diminished everything. Jim stepped back, afraid to be near it.

“Are these trivialities not yet beneath you?” she said. “Even here, in the seats of Paradise, will you squabble over small ideas and circumstantial prejudice? Existence itself stretches out before you in all of its eternal possibility, and this is where you sit, and these are your discussions. The world that sorrowed you is a drop in the ocean. In recompense I give you the ocean, and you fight over the drop.”

She breathed and shook. Jim could not believe this was the same woman that welcomed him to Paradise with a blowjob.

“There is only one question that should concern you,” she said. “Why must angels lie to keep the peace in heaven?”

The air shimmered and warbled and she stepped through the hole and was gone, devil or angel. Jim stood forgotten on the cloud of war that he had nutted.

***

When Jim looked back to the table, Joseph Smith was crouched like a cat behind the Pope. He pounced and snatched off the vicar’s hat. There was nothing underneath it.

“Pope Fishbowl the First!” King Henry laughed.

Jim gaped. The words that nearly brought him to his knees had no effect on these men. That, and the Pope’s head was hollow.

Joseph Smith had his nose in the papal cap. “There’s something in here!” he said. The cap echoed, something in here, in here, here.

“If you pull another Testament out of there,” Luther said, “I’ll see that you eat every doorbell in Paradise.”

Smith reached into the papal cap. It required the full length of his arm and his face puckered with effort. When he withdrew his hand it held a single sheet of paper. He read,

“By the time you read this, we will have won the war. Hurrr hurrr hurrr.”

“It’s a rouse!” Luther jumped from his seat.

“Sabbing bastards!” King Henry drew his sword and slew the falsely numbered Pope.

Luther whistled and a silver osprey flew forth. “Black smoke!” he said and leapt on the bird. “Black smoke forever more!”  He flew.

Joseph Smith unchained his bicycle and pedaled away.

King Henry mounted his steed and approached Jim and towered over him. “That’s a right stonker in those yankee breeches. Wield it for England and I’ll grant you all the fadges north of Leeds.”

“No thanks,” Jim said, and the king insulted him severally and galloped off.

Jim looked around and found the elevator. He held the door for Saint Paul, who entered slowly, arms crossed and head bowed. The glass door closed and soft jazz fueled the descent.

“Corinthians six, verse three,” the saint said. “Know ye not that we shall judge the angels?”

“I don’t have any treats,” Jim said.

The saint let fall a single tear, and the 18th century neoclassical Venetian chandelier rose out of view.

 

_____________________________

Next Jim Story

Jim Home

I Hate Myself and I Can’t Die [Jim #7, Short Fiction]

In Paradise, the snooze button gave you six minutes.  Jim hit his again.  He’d lost count.  Maybe two hundred hits, maybe a thousand.

Outside his window the sun was shining and the birds were chirping.  Every goddamn day with the sun and the birds and the breeze.  He buried his head in the pillow.

His phone rattled and chimed.  He grabbed it and squeezed out an eye.  Cherry.

Happy hundred!  Wanna party?

Had it already been a hundred years?

Na.  Let’s skip it.

He drifted.  The alarm sounded and he snoozed it.  Another rattling chime.

Oh come on.  Me and the girls made plans . . .

Great, Jim thought.  Free holes: empty, wet, dark, used.

Not hungry.

No pie, I promise.

Let’s do it tomorrow.

I want you to nuke my pussy.

That almost got Jim out of bed.  He’d pumped a lot of things into a lot of holes, but he’d never seen a clit go nuclear.

I don’t have that kind of energy.

Haha.  Are you Mr. Bummy Pants today or what?

Fuck you.

I’m just tired. 

I know just what you need, Mr. Bummy Pants.

Don’t –

Happy Hundred, Jim.  Good luck!

***

His door banged open.  A wild man with a beard and shining eyes grabbed Jim by the ankles and pulled him off the bed.  His head bounced on the floor.

“Goosh!”

“Art thou Jim?”

Jim sat up and rubbed his head.

“I art,” he said.

The man picked up the bed and threw it out the window.  Glass shattered.  The frame clattered on the walk below.  The mattress clung for dear life, impaled by a shard.

“I am Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton, and you are fortunate in the company you keep.”  He kicked over the nightstand.  “I am neither cheap nor easily persuaded.  And I’m the best.”

With a fist like a rock he made three neat holes in the wall.  He unzipped his fly and began to piss in the corner.  He spoke over his shoulder.

“You have exactly three minutes to dress yourself and pack one bag.  The bag may not weigh more than a stone.  It ought to contain knickers for all seasons and terrain.”

“I’m not packing a bag,” Jim said.  “Did Cherry send you?  Tell her she owes me a bed.  I’m not going out, I don’t want to go out.  I don’t care about the years and I just feel like sleeping for a while.”

“Two minutes,” Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton said.  He zipped up and kicked another hole in the wall.

Jim groaned and put his head in his hands.  He wanted to cry.  He listened as the Sir furthered the destruction of his bedroom.

“One minute.”

“Alright,” Jim said.  “Alright, I’m getting up.  I’m up.  Just give me an hour or so.  I’ll take a shower and get my shit together.  You hear me?  Let me get sorted, you British psycho.”

“Too late,” Sir Shackleton said.  He grabbed Jim by the shoulders.    “Look at this place.  It’s unlivable.  I’ve scheduled it for demolition.”

“You what?!”

But Sir Shackleton walked out the door without another word.  Jim hopped after him, one leg in a pair of jeans.

“What does that mean, demolition?  You’re not serious.  I like this house.  What’s wrong with a house?  People live in houses.  Sunnuva bitch.”

He got his pants on just in time for the front door.  A tank rolled through his fence and onto the yard.  Shackleton gave it a thumbs up.  Jim yelled stop! but it fired a shell and his house exploded.  It fired another shell and the house fell over.  Jim was pretty sure the third shell was just for fun.

“This isn’t funny!” Jim said.  “I was just taking a few days off.  A few months maybe.  Years.  It doesn’t matter.  Is it fucking crime to have the blues?  I had stuff in there!”

Sir Shackleton’s eyes clogged his throat.

“Was it the stuff of dreams, Jim?  The stuff of adventure?  Did it smell like the dead salt of acrid seas or the sour sweat of the jungle?  Was it a fist raised against winter and the hot blood of glory?”

Jim swallowed.  “Uh, no.  It was, like, albums and stuff.”

“Art thou a man?”

“Sure.”

“Sign this.”

“What is it?”

“Sign it.”

Jim signed it.

“Good.  My starship is down at the bar.  We’ll have to take a cab.”

***

Olympus was a mountain in orbit around a red giant.  Ten thousand miles from base to peak, with no planet to support it, the mountain spun like a top that the giant had flicked into motion.

“I have to climb that?” Jim said.

“You’re going to conquer it,” Sir Shackleton said.

“Listen, I get what you’re doing and I appreciate it, but can’t you just drop me at the top?  You go tool around for a while and come back and pick me up.  I won’t tell anybody.”

Shackleton slapped Jim through the face.

“Thou art Jim!  Thou art a man!  Every moment in a man’s life is a woman, Jim, a woman with brass legs and wrecking ball chicken-tippers.   Every moment is her walking by.  There she goes.  There goes another one.  Maybe the next one will blow your sad chubby a kiss.  And they’ll keep walking by, Jim.  It’s a doll train to pussy town and you’re not on it.    And you won’t be on it until you grab one of these broads by the throat, lift up her skirt, and open up the turnpike.”

Shackleton had both hands on Jim’s shoulders and his eyes were lasers.

“Open the turnpike, Jim.”

“I don’t know what that means.”

“Open the turnpike.”

“Half way, just drop me half the way up.”

Sir Shackleton sighed and released him.  He handed Jim a piece of paper.  It was the thing he’d signed.

“Read the last paragraph,” Shackleton said.

The undersigned hereby agrees that, upon failure to reach the summit of Olympus in full compliance with the rules stated above, all freedoms shall be forfeit for one year and one day, during which period the undersigned shall be placed in the custody of psychotics and have experiences including, but not limited to, rape, torture, and mutilation.

“I really have to start reading these things,” Jim said.

A foot to his chest and he fell out of the starship and landed on his back at the base of Olympus.

***

Jim was a quarter of the way up when he heard a foreign but familiar sound.  He followed his ears, and sitting against a bare tree a young man played a haggard guitar.  Blonde hair hid the edges of his face and the noise he made was brutal and sincere.

Cobain looked up and saw him.  Jim felt like a gazelle coming upon a lion in the wild.

“Hi,” Cobain said.  It was friendly.

“Hey,” Jim said.  He took a cautious step.  “I, uh, heard you playing.”

Cobain ran his fingers over rough body of the guitar.  It looked like it had been hacked out of a stump and strung with wire.

“I didn’t think I’d ever play one of these again,” he said.  He moved some of the hair out of his face.  “Something about this place, I guess.”

“Yeah . . .”

“Sir Shackleton?”

“Yeah!”

Jim found a rock to sit on.  He sat with his elbows on his knees.

“It’s funny,” Cobain said.  “When you get everything you’ve got nothing.  Somebody comes along and takes it from you, then you have something again.”  He strummed a soft chord on the guitar.  Its imperfections rattled.  “You hear that?  That’s the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard.”

“It’s raw,” Jim said.

The two of them sat in like posture for a while.  The peak of Olympus was shrouded in distance and the vacuum was close enough to touch.  It was quiet.

 “Can I ask you something?” Jim said.  “I guess it’s kind of personal.”

“That’s alright.”

“Why did you kill yourself?”

Cobain looked at his guitar.  “You know, I can’t really remember what it was like to be in that space.  I remember being there, I remember the thoughts, I just can’t pick up the moment.  There was a lot of pain and I didn’t know where it was coming from, and I made a decision and everything was over.”

He moved some of the hair from his eyes.  There was a smile playing in them.

“The craziest thing about it was seeing it.  I just expected the world to go black, and then I was standing there over my body.  Like, the mess never occurred to me – it was all cerebral.  It was metaphysical.  But when I saw the chunks of my brain mashed into the ceiling, the whole philosophy of it seemed kind of absurd.  Less than absurd, like it didn’t exist.  It was more embarrassing than anything.”

Jim tried to think of something to say, the right question to ask.  He couldn’t.  Instead, he shifted his weight and looked at the dirt.

“What really fucked with me was when the angel popped up next to me.  He said, I bet you’d have written a kickass song about that.”

“Did you?” Jim said.

Cobain plucked a few notes.

“It’s a little rough around the edges,” he said.

He played a song.

***

The peak was a fist against the bleakness.  Jim pulled himself up the steep wall of the forearm one hold at a time.  His arms and legs burned.  It had taken a long time to get this far and it was strange to have the top so close.

He wondered how many people had made this climb.  How many had gone numb with happiness and come here to feel something again?  He wondered if Cobain would ever look down from here, or if he’d work at his song for eternity.

He reached the top and pulled himself up.  Ten thousand miles were beneath him, and as many thoughts behind him.  He stood up and breathed in.  The red giant burned a red hole in the sky.

Jim pulled out his phone.

Stock your shelves, bitches.  The nuke is hot.

Jim Home

The Face that Employed a Thousand Angels [Jim #6, Short Fiction]

Annual Cleopatra Lottery

Spend a Night with the Egyptian Queen!

Enter in person at:  777 Lay Lady Lane

We accept both chance and fate.

The Cleopatra Lottery is run by the Paradise Grant Committee and is in full compliance with the Pussy Pact.  All participants enter willingly and with full knowledge that their indulgence rights will be abused.

Jim read the flyer three times before he looked at the man who had given it to him.

“What is this?” he said.

“It’s the Cleo lotto,” the man said.  “We run it every year.  Winner gets to bury his bone in the Queen of the Nile.”  He failed at handing out another flyer.  “You must be fresh from the circus if you haven’t rolled for Cleopatra.”

“Yeah, pretty much.”  Jim read the flyer again.  It was a plain piece of paper, black and white and matter-of-fact.  “She’s the one with the face, right?  I mean, the thousand ships.”

“Nope.”

“Oh.”

“You there!  Cleopatra Lottery!  Lay Lady Lane!  Chance or fate, don’t be late!”

***

Lay Lady Lane was a long shining broadway of neon lights.  Marquis flashed the names of history’s most beautiful women.  Marilyn Monroe, Jackie Kennedy, Mata Hari, Pocahontas, Brigitte Bardot.  There were more that he didn’t recognize – Wang Zhaojun, Madhubala, Hwang Jini – and Jim lost count.  Above them all in the center of the broadway Cleopatra glittered.

Jim walked in through the revolving doors.  The lobby was crimson and gold.  The men in front of him and the ones pushing past him went through one of two doors, above which read Take Your Chances and Accept Your Fate.  He went to the help desk.

“First time?” the man said.  His nametag said Butch, Angel in Training.

“Yeah,” Jim said.

“Well, it’s pretty simple.  You go through that door, you get what’s coming to you.  You go through that one, you get something else.  It’s like, you walk the path or you roll the dice.”

“Dice?”

“Yep.”

Jim checked his pocket.  The dice were still there.

“What about this bit where my indulgence gets abused?” Jim said, showing Butch the flyer.  “I don’t like the sound of that.”

“Jesus.  Really?”

“What?”

“I mean, you’re here to roll dice for a chance to spear the queen and you’re asking me about the fine print.”

Butch, Angel in Training, had a point.  Jim laughed, shook his head, shrugged.  “Man, sometimes I just want to know what the hell’s happening to me.”

“Tell you what,” Butch said, “Here’s the short of it.  Lucy, her whole thing is everybody gets what they want, right?  She hates rules.  But what’s the first thing you want to do when you get to Paradise?  You want to fuck Cleopatra.  So Cleopatra’s got, like, millions of dudes trying to fuck her every day.  And that’s a shitty Paradise.  So Cleopatra rounds up all the scorchers, you know, your Marilyn Monroes and your Joan of Arcs, and they all march on Lucy.  And Lucy’s cool – have you met her?”  Jim nodded.  “Yeah, you seem like the type.  Anyway, she sets up this whole infrastructure and assigns a team of angels to field requests, they sort it all out and pass on the good ones.  Now Cleopatra just gets an email every week, and if she sees something she likes she can jump on it.

“It all sounds good, except Cleopatra – just Cleopatra – needs a thousand angels to sift through all these requests.  There’s a shortage of angels.  And there’s millions of dudes that are pissed off because of the selection process – they know damn well Cleopatra isn’t gonna blow some salesman from Alabama.  So there’s hardly an angel in Paradise that isn’t on fuck request detail, and everything with a dick is crying foul.  I mean, they don’t even have the personnel to do the whole meet and greet thing.  People are getting hit by buses, waking up here, they don’t know what’s going on.  They’re still clogging up traffic.  It’s a fucking mess.

“Finally Lucy comes out with the lottery and the Pussy Pact.  She tells Cleopatra and every other scorcher if they spread their legs once a year they’ll get angelic privilege.  To the hard-ons, she says you’ve got an eternity to win, if you don’t like it the Truth Road is that way.  That cooled everybody off, and we built Lay Lady Lane.”

“I guess that makes sense,” Jim said.  “So, this is just saying I might not win.”

“Pretty much.”

Jim said thanks and went to take his chances.

***

He walked out of the casino, rattling his glossy reds and shitting a grin.  He hadn’t lost a roll.  The room he walked into was all windows and cushions.  Light played on the marble floor.  An angel, not in training, greeted him.

“Congratulations,” the angel said.  “Please, if you’ll take a seat, fate will present the final challenger soon.  Feel free with the fruit and wine.”

“Is Cleopatra –”  Then he saw her.  She lay draped over a sofa, a bare and tan leg dripping from its side, one arm a triangle behind her head.  What fabric she wore was white and pulled taut by golden rings that pressed against her skin.  Midnight hair, cropped short, cut straight across her forehead.  Blue eyes.  They looked at Jim.

“Uh, hi,” Jim said.  He aborted a handshake mid-step, failed to convert it into a wave, tried to save it with a scratch and tripped over a pillow.  His dice skittered over the marble and came to rest at Cleopatra’s hand.  She picked them up and held them in her palm.

“Well?” she said.

“Those are my dice,” Jim said, pointing.

The angel chuckled.  Jim flushed.

“Einstein gave them to me,” he said.

The angel snorted.

“They are lovely dice,” Cleopatra said.  They were still in her palm.

Jim stepped carefully over the pillow.  He stood over her.  She saw him look at her breasts.  He cleared his throat and took the dice.

The other door opened.  A man in a white suit strolled through it.  Jet hair slicked over a sculpted head.  One hand disappeared into his jacket pocket, the other held a boot.

“There’s at least one man back there,” he said, “who thinks if you can throw a boot, you can change destiny.”

“Welcome, and congratulations,” the angel said.

“Angel,” the man said.  “Cleopatra.”  A nod for each.  To the angel – “So which kind are you?  The kind that takes my coat, or the ethereal kind?”

“I can manage both.”  The angel took his jacket, and the boot, and showed him to a seat.

“This is a lovely apartment.  Say, you there, I’m sure the lady loves the view, but mine’s obscured.  What do you say we dispense with flirtation and get down to business?”

Jim realized he was standing right in front of the Egyptian Queen with his ass in her face.  He took a breath, gritted his teeth, composed himself.  He wasn’t any less of a man than this guy.

“Business it is,” Jim said, and sat down.  He could see the angel biting his lip.  God he wanted to punch that fucking angel.

“It is customary for the representative of fate to choose the final game,” the angel said.

“I represent myself,” the man said.  “Fate’s your word, it isn’t mine.  I don’t want any part of it.  Besides, I’ve been out of ideas since I woke up in this crazy joint.  Let the kid decide, he’s good for it.”

Jim held out the dice.  “One roll,” he said.  “High roll wins.”

“Short and sweet.  I like it.  Who’s first?”

“You.”

He rolled a nine.

Jim shook, blew, rolled.  Eleven.

“Yes!”  On his feet, fists in the air.  “Eat shit, Bogart, the queen is mine!”

Humphrey  twirled a finger.  “Reel it in, cod slayer.  I’d say you should play it closer to the vest but you wouldn’t know how to wear it.”  He stood up, leaned over, spoke from the corner of his mouth.  “And I didn’t want to say this in front of the lady, but Joe Louis is taking a dive.”

“What?”

“The unknown soldier is going for a walk.”

“I don’t . . .”

“Your zipper’s down and I can see your testicles.”

Jim coughed and pivoted.  With his back to the queen he checked his crotch.  It was fine.  He double-checked.  No Joe Loius.

*Shit.*

He turned around and Bogart had her slung over his shoulder.  The actor kicked open a window, pulled a gun from his jacket and fired a zip-line into the gardens.

“What the hell, man?  You lost!  Angel, stop him!”

Bogart give him the dramatic profile, the last look back.

“It was a good roll, kid,” Bogart said.  “It just wasn’t meant to be.”

The two of them zipped out of sight.  Jim ran to the window and watched as the actor stuffed Cleopatra into the back of a Packard Super Eight and drove away.

“Can he do that?” Jim said.  “Why aren’t you doing anything?  You should be doing something!”

The angel was laughing freely now.  “Don’t beat yourself up,” he said.  “He does that every year.”  He doubled over.  “The boot!” he gasped.  “Oh, I almost died.”

“But I won,” Jim said.

“Eat shit, Bogart!  Eeeeeheeeheehehe!

Jim Home

Next Jim Story

Jim v Logic [Jim #5, Short Fiction]

Jim couldn’t take it anymore.  He looked away.  The angel laughed, grabbed the telescope, and looked for himself.

“This is nothing,” the angel said.  “You should have seen Carthage.  Or Nanking.  Or Rwanda.  Hell, I’ve seen prison-rapes that were more entertaining.”

“Entertaining,” Jim repeated.  He just couldn’t wrap his head around it.  “So this – this is all happening right now?”

“More or less.”

The images burned.  Jim had always known that people did awful things to one another, but he’d never really seen it.  He certainly hadn’t seen it through an angel’s telescope before.

“So you just watch this like it’s TV?  Do you ever watch the good stuff?”

“This is the good stuff.”

“I mean, like weddings, things like that.  Celebrations.  People building things.  You know, art and science.  Babies.”

The angel pulled himself away from the scope.  “Did you ever watch those things?”

Come to think of it, he hadn’t.  Jim hated shit like that.  He shook his head.

“Think of Earth as a bad dream,” the angel said.  “It’s awful while you’re in it, but when you wake up it’s pretty gnarly.”

“But why is it so awful?” Jim said.  “Why do people suffer like that?”

The angel had his mouth open with a response, but a faerie burst in through the window.  Another crashed through the ceiling.  A third walked in through the door.  Jim had always pictured faeries as Tinkerbelles, but these were bespectacled bald men, two feet tall, and all business.

The door faerie didn’t see Jim, and he puzzled at the angel.

“Angels don’t ask why,” he said.

The angel pointed at Jim, and Jim was soon surrounded.

“You’ve been served,” the faeries said together.

One of them handed Jim a manila envelope, and he opened it.  Inside was a single sheet of paper.  It read,

Jim v Logic

You are hereby commanded to appear in Paradise Court to defend yourself in the above-titled case and to answer to the following charge(s).

Charge(s): Asking a loaded question.

Paradise Court

Jean Paul Sartre Courthouse

Downtown, Paradise

When Jim finished reading, the faeries were gone.  He looked at the angel.

“I think I’ve just been summonsed,” he said.

***

Jim had defended himself in court before, but that was for a traffic violation.  Defending a loaded question at the Jean Paul Sartre Courthouse sounded like it was above his pay grade.  An ad in the Yellow Pages (William and William: Defense Attorneys for the Anguish’d Heart) had pointed him to a small office near the courthouse, and the receptionist told him to go right in.

It was a cluttered office, littered with books and parchments, and William Shakespeare sat behind the desk.  His nose was buried in a tome.

“What’s the charge?” he said without looking up.

“I, uh, I asked a loaded question,” Jim said.

“The question?”

“Why is there suffering.  In the world.  Why do people suffer.”

“Well,” closing the book, “you’ve come to the right place.  Have a seat.”

Jim sat down.  “I thought you hated lawyers,” he said.

“A man cannot always choose how he employs his talents,” Shakespeare said.  “But he is only lost if he doesn’t employ them at all.”  He searched for an empty sheet of paper, and not finding any turned one over.  “It bodes well to begin with a name.”

“Jim,” Jim said, and Shakespeare wrote it.  Jim stared.

“What?”

“You – I mean, Shakespeare – just wrote my name.”

“Ha!  Well, at least there’s someone left in Paradise who appreciates a red-blooded jot.”

“What do you mean?”

“When that French lunatic shot his monkeys into space, my lays lost all appeals.  What authorship remains is culled from a squall of apes.”

Jim nodded his head.  He decided it was a metaphor and didn’t want Shakespeare to think he was stupid.  “Yeah, man.  The shit they come out with now.  Bunch of apes.”  He coughed into his hand.

Shakespeare snapped his fingers.  “The summons,” he said.  Jim handed it to him and he sighed.  “These relativisms are wearisome.  What were the circumstances?”

“Well,” Jim said, “I was looking through this angel’s telescope, I think it was Russia or Ukraine or somewhere, and some really nasty stuff was going on.  We were talking, and I just asked him about the suffering.”

“What did you say exactly?”

“Umm, I said, Why do people do awful things to each other?  Why do people suffer?”

Shakespeare made some more red-blooded jots.  He looked over what he had written, scratched some out and made some more.  He finished with a flourish of the pen, folded the paper and put it in his pocket.

“Well, Jim,” he said, “take comfort in this.  It is not merely your heart, but the human heart, that is on trial.  These existentialists reach too far.”

“Great,” Jim said.  It sounded like good news.  He stuck out his hand and Shakespeare took it.  “So, you think we’ll win?  I mean, you’re Shakespeare, right?”

“I’ve yet to win a case,” Shakespeare said, patting him on the shoulder.  “But all morrows begin without sorrow, and tomorrow these hearts will beat against the narrows.  Of logic.  Beat against the narrow . . . straits that constrict the mind.  Hmmm.”  He looked at a wall, perked up and snapped his fingers.  “Embattled hearts are empty in their quivers, but beating shake the world that minds but scratch.”

Jim was stuck on the first sentence.  “Am I fucked?” he said.

“Pretty much.”

***

The courtroom was a courtroom.  There was a judge, a bailiff, a reporter, lawyers mulling about.    Prosecuting on behalf of Logic was Immanuel Kant.  As Jim waited for his case to be called, Kant made short work of a young girl whose slippery slope “regarding the origins question” was an “assault against reason.”  As punishment, she was given a signed copy of Kant’s book about metaphysics.

Jim leaned over to Shakespeare.  “Well, that doesn’t seem so bad,” he said.

“You’ve never read Kant,” Shakespeare said.

“Now appearing before Judge Russell, case twenty-three, Jim v Logic.”  

Jim followed Shakespeare to the defendant’s table.  They stood.

“The defendant is accused of discharging a loaded question into the face of human suffering.”

“Plead,” Judge Russell said.

“Guiltless,” Shakespeare said.

“Prosecution, go ahead.”

Kant took the floor.  He was small and arrogant.

“The defendant,” Kant said, “hereafter referred to as Jim, asked of an angel, Why is there suffering?  This is not an innocent question.  It is has been sufficiently established that this line of inquiry leads nowhere, and that it debases logic and fugues the mind.  As it is the purpose of this court to disabuse Paradise of bad thinking, it is the court’s imperative to hold Jim accountable for these words.  The question was loaded, and he fired it like grapeshot over Prussia.”

“Prussia?” Jim said.

“Objection!”  Shakespeare wagged his pen.  “There is no Prussia!”

“Overruled.”

“Damn.”

Kant continued.  He paced the open court with his hands clasped behind him.

“Why is there suffering?  The underlying assumption is clear: The suffering has a purpose.  Embedded in the question is the bold assertion that the tragic nature of mortality is somehow transcendent, that it is tragic because.  The question asserts that pain and misery have defensible, perhaps even noble, functions.  It is a claim whose magnitude embroils the most practiced minds, and Jim offered no evidence to support it.  He blithely assumed it, and he buried the assumption in six retarded syllables.

“The prosecution will happily drop all charges if Jim can defend the assumed position.  If Jim can make the case for meaningful suffering, and raise a foundation to support his assumption, he is free to go.  If not, the prosecution is bound by Reason and Logic to seek the maximum reprisals.

“And if I may append an editorial, the presence of an angel compounds the depravity of offense.  It is disheartening that not even the wards of heaven are safe from these stupidities.”

Kant gave Jim a glare before sitting down.

Judge Russell stifled a yawned.  “Can the defendant provide evidence that humankind suffers meaningfully?”

“That’s what I was asking in the first place,” Jim said.  “That’s my question.  You’re asking the same question.”

“No,” said Judge Russell.  “Your question was unlettered, and it arbitrarily presupposed an ontological argument.  Do you have such an argument prepared, or don’t you?”

Shakespeare put a hand on Jim’s shoulder.

“If it pleases the court,” said Shakespeare, “I’ll set these quibbles to rights.”

Judge Russell sighed.  “Get on with it then.”

Shakespeare had a swagger on the floor.  He belonged there.  Jim had only ever dreaded Shakespeare in high school reading courses, but seeing the man perform struck Jim with awe.

Shakespeare began,

“What soul in Paradise would shine so dull

As one by Reason painted nub to skull?”

“Objection.  Poetry.”

“Yes!  Sustained.  Guilty.  Bailiff, remove the poet.”

Jim watched helplessly as Shakespeare was removed from the court.  Judge Russell waited for the doors to close behind him, then spoke.

“The defendant, Jim, shown here to be guilty of discharging a loaded question in the presence of an angel — “

“And over Prussia!”

“Yes, over Prussia.”  Judge Russell removed a tiny cannon from a pocket in his robes.  “As Jim loads his questions with superfluities, the superfluities of his person shall be loaded into this tiny cannon, and fired in no particular direction.”

Kant approached the bench and handed the judge three books.  The two of them whispered.

“Furthermore,” Judge Russell said, “Jim shall be required to read and comprehend the ontologies of Sartre, Heidegger, and Spinoza before coming aground.”

Jim felt hands on him.  The bailiff had returned.  He was ushered across the court and towards the tiny cannon.  The books were thrust into his arms.

“Now wait just a damn minute,” Jim said.  “Dammit, just hold up.  I might not be smart the way you guys are smart, but I know a stack of shit when I see it.  You all just stack it a mile high.  I’ll shit my own mountain before I climb up yours.”  He threw the books to the floor.  “And sonofabitch I wanted to hear what Shakespeare had to say!”

Judge Russell yawned.  “Moot,” he said.

The bailiff stuffed him into the tiny cannon.  The books followed, thumping him on the head.  Jim heard a flick, a hiss, and a boom, and he crashed through a window and soared over Downtown Paradise.

The ontoligies flapped about him like pigeons.  He grabbed one and began to read.

“Modern thought has realized considerable progress by reducing the existent to the series of appearances which manifest it.”

Fuck.

Jim Home

Next Jim story

Crashing the Frankenmasque [Jim #4, Short Fiction]

Jim was on a pleasant hike through a mountain pass.  It felt good to breathe some fresh air.  Some Tennessee air.  A lazy crick ran alongside him, and there were birds in the trees.  If there were seasons in Paradise, it was late summer.  Everything was green and the air dangled between warm and cool.

But he didn’t have time to anchor a thought before he came to a fork in the pass.  A wooden sign poked out of the ground, and neatly scrawled were four curious words:

Jim’s going this way.

The arrow pointed to the right.

Jim frowned.  He didn’t like it.  He preferred turning right, but the sign was a little bit pretentious.  In the end he went against his inclination and took the left.

It wasn’t long before he came upon another fork and another sign:

Alright, Jim’s going THAT way. 

Pointing left.

The scrawl wasn’t as neat and it looked sour, which made Jim a little sour.  Angry, if he was honest with himself.  Here he was, trying to have a nice walk and clear his head, and he had to worry about stepping on the feelings of a sign?  Hell, he wanted to go left.  But it was with conviction this time that he went to the right.

Almost immediately there was another fork.  This one had seven prongs and the sign was definitely pissed off.

Jim isn’t here.  And even if he is, it’s COMPLETELY IMPOSSIBLE that he’s going THIS WAY.

The arrow pointed straight up.

“Well,” said Jim, “you win this round.”

As he walked past the sign the ground gave way and he fell.  He fell for a long time.  It was a dark hole and he thought he could hear the mountain laughing.  A circle of light appeared under his feet and he fell down into the sky and up into the ground.  The hole was gone.  The mountain was behind him.

Jim sighed.  So much for Tennessee air.

“Don’t worry,” a soft, creamy voice said.  “Nobody ever makes it up Mount Cogito.”

Jim looked up at the damndest person he ever saw.  Sexy fishnet legs disappeared into a brawny male torso.  One arm looked like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s, the other like a Barbie Doll’s.  A flamingo neck balanced a pale head wearing a feathered hat.

“Nooooo,” Jim said, looking into his eyes.

“Ah-heee-hee!”  A twirl and a pose.  The Barbie arm presented itself.   “I’m MJ.”

Jim had no idea what to do with the arm.  He shook it.  “Jim,” he said.

“So how do you like it here?” MJ asked.  “Isn’t it great?  Everything is so free here.  I love it.  I absolutely love it here.”

Jim couldn’t help it.  He laughed.  MJ snapped the Barbie arm into a girly fist, rested the Arnold arm on his hip.

“Why are you laughing?”  It was a flirty whine.

Jim flailed his hands.  “You’re all over the place, man.”

“Oh, this!  It’s Lucy’s ball,” MJ said.  “She throws one every month.  She calls it the Frankenmasque.  They’re always looking for fresh meat.”  He winked and skipped away.

***

Jim stood in the entrance of a gothic mansion.  There were winding stairs and chandeliers and plush carpets and oil paintings.  He was here in spite of himself and having second thoughts.  A young woman took his jacket and beckoned him to follow.

“So, what exactly am I getting myself into?” he said.

“Frankenmasque,” she said.  She sounded Slavic.

“Which is . . .”

“Frankenmasque.”

She stopped at a door, turned, held out her arm.

“Okay then,” Jim said.

The door closed behind him.  Inside was a single chair with straps that looked ready for electrocutions, surrounded by an empty conveyor belt.  Another young woman stood behind it.

“Sit,” she said.  Also Slavic.

Jim stood.  She smiled.

“It’s a party.  You will like it.  Sit.”

She patted the seat, and Jim sat down.  The straps were automatic.  He couldn’t move.  She pushed a button and the conveyor hummed.  It carried out a variety of human legs, laid out like chicken at a buffet.  Before Jim could object she unstrapped his legs and popped them off.

“Well shit!” Jim said.  “ Alright, it’s cool.  I’m cool.  That’s your job.  Wow.  Frankenmasque.”

She held up a milky smooth woman’s leg and looked at Jim inquisitively.

“Ah, man.  Man legs, I think.  I guess I prefer man legs.”

She gave him a look.

“I mean, no.  Not like that.  Goddammit now I’m not sure.  One of each?”

She nodded.  She popped on the milky white along with a blue-suited cowboy boot.  The conveyor belt hummed again and carried out the legs and brought in the arms.  Jim was ready this time when she popped his off.

“Alright, I need muscle in my arms.  Look at me all you want, no chick sticks.”

She popped on a nice cut and ran the conveyor.  It carried in the torsos.

“Now wait a minute.  Just wait.  Give me a second.”  Jim breathed.  “You’re really gonna rip out my chest?”

She smiled and ripped out his chest.

“Jesus!”  He looked down at his dangling arms and legs.  They weren’t even his.  He’d have felt sick to his stomach but it wasn’t there anymore.  All he saw on the conveyor belt was the jiggling of breasts.  “Is this some kind of joke?”

“Luck of the draw,” she said.

He sighed.  “Give me some perky ones.”

The conveyor rolled.  Now it laid out pelvises, complete with ass and junk.

“Really?”

“All or nothing, sweetie.”

“Well, I’ve got enough holes.  That one.  No, the big one.”

He had to admit, when she made the exchange, that it felt nice to have that kind of meat swinging between his legs.  Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad.

But the conveyor belt rolled on.

“You can unstrap me now,” he said.

She didn’t say anything.

“I’m all Frankened up.”

Heads rolled in.

“Oh come on!  Even Michael Jackson kept his fucking head!”

But one of them caught his eye.

“Wait a minute.  Is that – is that Billy Mays?”

She grabbed Billy Mays’s head.  Jim tried to object but it was too late.  She popped his head off and replaced it.

 And then Jim was looking at his head.  She was holding it.  He looked down at his cleavage, at four flaccid inches, a milky leg and a cowboy boot.  He looked at his head again.  He looked at the woman.

“Why am I me without my head?” he said.

Her smile was a secret.

“Are you?” she said.

***

The ballroom was filled with Frankenstein’s creations.  They mingled, they danced.  No one wore masks because their heads were all rearranged.  Jim looked around for his but couldn’t find it.  He grabbed a martini from a passing tray and took a sip.  It was dry.

“First time?”

It was a sultry voice.  It came from an older woman’s head, aged like wine with brunette hair.  There were breasts beneath it but a bulge in the pants.

“Uh, yeah,” Jim said.  “Is it obvious?”

“You’ve been standing here for ten minutes.  Looking around for your head, I suppose.”

“Guilty.”

“Just don’t freak out, hon.  You have to get lost first.  That’s the half the point.”  She smacked his milky ass and strode away.

But his beard itched.  The leg was cold.  His tits were strangled and the four inches wouldn’t sit right.  He didn’t even know if the discomfort was his.  If the thoughts were his.  Were these his thoughts running around in Billy Mays’s brain?  Did he have a brain?  Had he ever?  Was it possible to think someone else’s thoughts?  Somebody was thinking in his head right now.  Would it be all scummy when he got it back?

The lights went down.  A balcony over the floor glowed red, the air shimmered, and Lucy appeared.  She was just Lucy.  Everyone was silent.

“Welcome to Frankenmasque,” she said, scanning the crowd.  “So many new faces tonight!”

This was followed by laughter.  Jim didn’t get it.  Then he got it.  He didn’t laugh.

Lucy held a pink masque up to her own face, and what followed had the flavor of ritual.  She spoke with a lightness that undercut her words.  Initiated pockets of the crowd replied in rote.

“Hearts of beasts and Grendel eyes, hearts that beat and wrestle whys.”

 “I AM THE EGGMAN!”

“What are you wearing under all that skin?  Where do you end and I begin?”

 “I AM THE EGGMAN!”

“Holes that bleed, poles that breed, coals that burn with awful need.”

“I AM THE WALRUS!”

“Why are you hiding under all that skin?  Open up and let me in.”

“COO COO KA-CHOO!”

The lights went up and Lucy was gone.  The masque began.

***

Jim saw a man leaning against a big Chinese vase.  He was all man, except for a nice round ass in spandex that curved out of the jeans.  Regardless, he leaned with confidence, cool and observant.  Jim was drawn to him.

“You looking for your head too?” Jim said.

“Both of em,” the man said.

“I take it they didn’t have any, uh . . .”

The man grimaced.  “It leaks,” he said.

Jim shivered.

“Was it a woman?”

“Huh?”

“Was it a goddamn woman that dragged you here?”

“Yeah,” Jim lied.

“I know why they do it.  They think we’re insensitive.  All cock and no love.  They think martinis and lady parts will give us some kind of perspective.  As if there isn’t enough of that going around.”

Jim shifted.  “I’m just kinda freaked about my head.  I thought I was my head.”

“What’s your name?”

“Jim.”

“Well, listen Jim.  Forget about it.  This place is bullshit.  A man isn’t the sum of his parts and he isn’t the creamy middle of himself either.  And he sure as hell isn’t what a drag queen makes him out to be.  A man is what he does, Jim.  A man is what he does with his time and with his money and with his back and his sweat.  A man is where he goes and who he fucks and what he says.”

Jim liked this guy.  “What did you say your name was?”

“Ernest,” the man said.  He pointed to one of the balconies.  “You see that stack of meat there?  That’s Hunter.  He’s on point and he’s bringing down the chandelier.  When he does, me, Jack London, and Clemens are going in swinging.”

“Wait, Ernest Hemingway?

Hemingway held out a baseball bat.  “You in, Jim?”

Jim took the bat.

“It’s a good old-fashioned smash’n’grab.  Get in, get what’s yours, get out.  We rendezvous at the main entrance.  Take the west flank and wait for my signal.”

“West?”

Hemingway pointed.  Jim took his position and tried to look inconspicuous.

When Hunter leapt from the balcony to the chandelier the party gasped and stopped.  He was wielding a saber and he shook it at the room.

“What I do,” he said, “I do for Nixon.”

He cut the rope and the chandelier crashed to the floor.

“Now!” cried Hemingway, charging with his Louisville Slugger.  His first swing removed a blonde head from a veiny neck.

Jim was close behind.  He swung wildly.  Heads rolled and arms fell.  Hunter was on his feet, punctuating his blows with “Victory!” and “Not a crook!”  Past him Clemens and London were laughing as they cleaved.

The massacre was over in a minute.  Jim scrambled through the wreckage and gathered up his head, and with some difficulty found his legs and arms and the rest.  He followed the four authors at a run, bobbling his parts.

In the main entrance they reassembled themselves.  There was an extra body.  Hemingway, Clemens, Hunter, and London made short work of it.

“You in there, Fitzgerald?” Hemingway said.

Fitzgerald shook his head, looked about him, came to his senses.  “You guys are insane,” he said.  “What did you do to her this time?”

Hemingway pulled him to his feet.  “Your wife’s a jack-fisted whore,” he said.  It seemed to settle the matter.  “They’re running the bulls on Cloud Seven.  Vamonos!”

Jim followed them out of the mansion and down the drive.  They’d forgotten all about him.  As they climbed into a classic Cadillac, he waved and shouted,

“Thank you, Mr. Hemingway!”

Hemingway stood in the backseat and pumped his fist.  “The world, Jim!  It’s all worth fighting for!”

The Cadillac roared away.  As he waved, Jim saw a birthmark on his wrist.  He didn’t have a birthmark.  Or at least he didn’t used to.  He looked back at the mansion, at the mark, at the dwindling Cadillac.  He barely considered going back for his arm.  He drew up the shoulders he had and walked down the road.

“Jim’s going this way,” he said.

Jim Home

Next Jim story

Something different

Infinite Orgy [Jim #3, Short Fiction]

The Orgy was a floating ship with red sails.  It was enormous and Jim couldn’t fit it into his brain.

It’s like New York City flying over Tennessee, he thought.

“How big is this place?” he said.

“You’re looking at it.”

“No, I mean, like, the whole thing.  Paradise.”

Cherry flicked him in the nose.  “Your head needs a leash,” she said.  “Plenty of those up there.  Only one way up.”  She pointed to the catapult.

“Aren’t you coming?” Jim said.

Cherry licked chicken grease from her fingers.  “I need some R’n’R,” she said.  “You know, watch some Ghostbusters, ride some dolphins.  That sort of thing.”

Jim strapped in.  “Well, any advice?”

“Don’t freak out.  Everything grows back.”

She pulled the lever.

Thwump.

“Whaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhooooooooooooooooooooooooo!”

He flew in through a window and landed on feather down.  He stood up and saw that he was in an empty room.  There were four doors, and over each was a sign.  One said “straight”, another “gay”, and a third for “either way”.  The fourth was written in flames that read “MANIAC”.

Jim considered the flames but shook his head.

“Baby steps,” he said.

He went in through the straight door.

***

A woman mounted him.  She had wild red hair.  Jim hadn’t even known he was naked.  Or that he was hard.  She finished after nine pumps, shook with pleasure, leaned back and breathed fire.

“Hi,” Jim said.

But she sprinted away and dove headfirst into a pool of vibrating bedposts.

Jim was hard and lathered and disoriented.  He grabbed another woman and tried to kiss her.  She slapped him across the face and pointed to a sign that flashed high in the dome.

NO KISSING.

“Sorry,” Jim said.  He shrugged and pointed at his erection.  She obliged.

He looked around while she worked on him.  Cages hung from the domed ceiling.  Beds bigger than houses crawled with the wildest sex he’d ever seen.  Trampolines threw couples mid-coitus through a goal post, their form and style judged by three serious men.  Soft strobe lights and a bass drum gave it all a rhythmic pulse.

Jim finished and the woman stood.  There was green on her face.  He sniffed it.

“Guacamole?”

She pushed the rest of it into her mouth and sucked her finger clean.  A coy smile and she was gone.

A brief stroll landed him in twenty-three unique holes.  He climaxed several times, and the contents of his penis seemed to depend on the woman.  One guzzled down his strawberry yogurt, another bathed in a spray of Jim perfume.  The final shot was his, and a single firework exploded over the Orgy.

Beneath its flash he saw an angel standing high on a golden table.  The angel was cut like a diamond with a white shock of greasy hair, violently itching his scalp and producing a flurry of snow.  Five large-breasted woman collected the snow, cut it, diced it into lines.

“What is this?” Jim asked one of the women.

“The dreams of Beelzebub,” she said.  She snorted some and her forehead parted beneath the lips of a quivering vagina.  She fingered it and a dove flew out of her mouth.

“Angel dust,” she said.

Beelzebub threw back his hair and spread his arms.  “Fly like the angels fly,” he said.  “See what the angels see.  Fuck like the angels fuck.

“Okay,” Jim said.  He snorted a line.

Thwump.

“Yyyaaaaaarrrrrrrggghhqwopeinvalsdkjhrlwkch!”

The nearest woman was a tiny brunette and he pounded her into the floor.  He grabbed another and buried his face in her.  When the top of his head sprung a dick, a third began to ride it.

“I’m a fuckin unicorn!”

A crowd gathered.  They began to chant.  “Un-i-corn!  Un-icorn!  Un-i-corn!”

“Fly!” roared Beelzebub.  “Fly!”

The small of Jim’s back grew hard and he was mounted again.

“Fly!”

His fingers ballooned with veins and heads.  There was a soft warm mouth for each.

“Fly!”

Elbows, ankles, ears, thighs.  Jim was a spiny lizard, shaking with pleasure, drenched in tit sweat and twat skeet.  He wanted more.

“Infinite dicks!” he cried.

The chanting stopped.

“Oh fuck!”

“Get down!”

“Abandon ship!”

The feminine warmth disappeared and the music stopped.  Each new erection sprouted two more, and each of those another two.  He soon filled the entire dome.  Glass shattered, beams broke.  Screams fell out the windows.

“Fly!  Fly!”

Beelzebub’s roar was distant now.  With each doubling the red sails faded.

Jim was the groaning nucleus of an atomic cock.

***

And then there was orgasm.

Jim floated in a universe of his creation.  Chicken wings and beer formed gaseous nebulae.  Chevy comets barreled through open space.  Baseballs and hockey pucks bounced around like quarks and kicked up atoms of whiskey, carburetors, fishing poles and labrador retrievers.    Good old fashioned cum swirled in giant balls, combusted, became a thousand shining stars.

“You goddamn crazy hillbilly!”

The voice came from the driver’s window of a Silverado.  The face was old, the eyes were deep, the hair was frazzled.

“Einstein?”

“I finally found it!” the old man said.  “The edge of Paradise!  And you blew it out your nozzle!”

“The edge of Paradise?” Jim said.  “Dude, I was just thinking about that!”

“Well, it was right here before you nutted a big fuckin bang.”

“Where is it now?”

Einstein pointed.  “I’d say it’s about a universe in that direction.”

“Well let’s go!”

Einstein narrowed his gaze.  “You don’t have any Camaros in there, do you?”

Jim blushed.

“Well, if we run out of gas, you’re pushing.”

Einstein floored it.  The engine purred.  A red button throttled them through hyperspace.  Light came in particle waves and time melted.  It’s kinda like Star Wars, Jim thought.  The thought was seven parsecs long.

With one hand on the wheel Einstein pulled a joint from his shirt pocket.  He fumbled the lighter.  “Shit,” he said.  When he bent down to search the floor the Silverado veered.  Jim reached for the wheel too late.  The Silverado rolled.

They were ejected at light speed.  The truck spun like a top behind them.

“It’s okay!” Einstein called out, holding up the lighter.  The joint flared against the myriad.  “An object in motion will stay in motion!”

A flick, and the joint somersaulted through the vacuum.  Jim caught it, hit it, returned it.  “How do we stop?” he called back.

Einstein shrugged.  “How about that Camaro?”

“I’ve got something better!”  He unzipped, closed his eyes, thought of Cherry, and masturbated.  When he looked up, the Millennium Falcon was soaring.

They entered through the hatch.

“Your nozzle’s a goddamn golden goose!”

“Thanks.”

“What’s your name, hillbilly?”

“Jim.”

“Well, Jim, strap in.  Next stop is Nowhere.”

***

The edge was an abrupt black wall.  Einstein parked the Falcon and they went outside to have a look.

“What’s on the other side?” Jim said.

“I don’t have a clue.”

Jim was surprised.  “I thought you were Einstein.”

“Fuck you, hillbilly.”

Einstein paced along the Falcon’s hull, observing the stark wall.  He paused, chin in hand, lost in thought.

“What?” Jim said.

Einstein started.  “Oh!  This place, it seems to expand under pressure from the mind.  If the expansion were physical, a static edge is out of the question.  That’s not a mistake I mean to make twice.”  He looked back at the universe.  “Your ejaculation is puzzling, however.  Perhaps the experience of it pushed the boundaries out.  Then the ejaculate itself merely occupied the resulting space.”

“What does that mean?”

“Observe,” Einstein said.  He put his hand out to touch the wall, but the wall moved back an inch.  “I want to touch the edge.  To want is to think.  Thinking makes this place get bigger.  The wall retreats.”

Jim snapped his fingers.  “I’ll go!  Maybe it’s because you’re Einstein.  Like, your brain is too big.  Maybe I can make it through.”

“I considered it, but your eligibility renders you incompetent.”

“What?”

“You’re too dumb to bring back any useful information.”

“Oh yeah.”

More pacing.  Jim mimicked Einstein’s movements, thinking his brain might follow suit.  It didn’t.  Einstein stopped suddenly and counted his fingers.

“I’ve got it!  Jim, you have to push me!”  He stood on the Falcon’s edge with his back to the wall.  “I’ll stop thinking and you just shove me right through!”

“Really?  Just like that?”

“Simplicity is the engine of the universe.  Do it!”

Einstein closed his eyes and folded his arms.  Jim shrugged and pushed.

Thwump.

Einstein vanished.

“Oh shit,” Jim said.  “Oh shit.”  He peered over the side of the Falcon.  Nothing.  “I did not just push Einstein out of the universe.  Unless I did.  Think, Jim.  Think!”

The universe expanded.

“Shit!  Stop thinking, no more thinking.”

Jim was looking up at the wall, dumb and helpless, when the dull end of a chain emerged.  When he grabbed it there was resistance.  He put all of his weight behind it and drew it out of the wall link by link.  At the end of the chain was an envelope.  He opened it.

Dear Jim,

Nice fucking push.  I’m going to be a while.  Don’t wait up.

Albert E.

P.S.

I found these under a white hole.  I won’t be needing them.  Good luck, hillbilly.

There was something in the envelope.  Jim emptied its contents into his hand, paused, scratched his head.

It was a glossy red pair of dice.

 

Jim Home

Next Jim story

Something different

The Freewillin Jim [Jim #2, Short Fiction]

“Fore!” Jim yelled.  Even in Paradise he hooked the damn ball.

“Ha!” Hitler laughed.  “Right in the trees!”

A bear-drawn chariot carried them up the fairway.  Jim looked sideways at his companion, thinking he looked much better without the mustache.  This was all the result of a lottery, the winner of which was balls deep in Cleopatra right about now.  Golfing with Hitler was the consolation prize.

“I didn’t know you were a golfer,” Jim said.

“It was Plato that showed me golf,” Hitler said.  “He said it would help me relax.”

Plato.  He recognized the name from philosophy class.  Something about a cave.  Sometimes he swore heaven was like walking through a goddamn history lesson.

“So uh, I don’t mean to be that guy, but didn’t you kill a whole lot of people?”

“As a matter of fact, in this place I’ve only killed one person.  Turns out it only counts if you pull the trigger.”

“Oh come on.”

“Honest pilgrim.”

“You were, like, the king of the Nazis.”

“Fuhrer.”

“What?”

“I was – it doesn’t matter.  But when I came to this place, they only credited me with one kill, and that was me.”

Jim lined up his shot and swung.  The ball sailed, bounced once on the green and went over.

“I don’t buy it.  How is that even possible?” he said.

“Free will.”

“Free will?”

“You’re only responsible for what you do.  According to the records, I mostly just talked a lot.”

“But you set everything up.  You were the guy that gave the orders.  Like, six million Jews and a bunch of Russians died.  How do you not get credit for that?”

Hitler took out his pitching wedge.  He had a graceful swing and stuck the ball pin high.

“Nobody had to listen,” he said.  “Nobody had to do any of those things.  Each one of them was free to say no.”

Jim shook his head.  “Naaa.  No way.  Fuck that, you totally killed those people.”

Hitler shrugged.  Jim walked up to his ball on the backside of the green.  His shot skittered past the hole and found the far fringe.

“You need to be more open,” Hitler said.

“Gwa?!”

“Your club face.  You are hitting the ball thick.”

“Oh,” Jim laughed.  “I thought you were – I mean, for a second there, you know, I thought Hitler was giving me, uhh . .”

Hitler was expressionless and attentive.  Jim shook his head.

“Forget it,” he said.  “So, uh, who decides the kill count, anyway?”

“The Death Center,” Hitler said.  “It’s on Corporeal Road.”  His putt rattled home.

***

The Death Center was huge.  A building map showed floors assigned to Haunting Holidays, Funeral Reenactments, Postmortem Vertigo and Trauma.  Kill Records and Death Statistics was on the 27th floor.

When he reached it, a woman looked up from her computer.

“Kill records and death statistics,” she said.  “What can I do ya for?”

“Yeah,” Jim said.  “So, I was just golfing with Hitler, and he said he never killed nobody.”

“Well now that just won’t do, will it.  Why don’t you just take a seat there and we’ll sort this all out for ya.  Does this Hitler have a full name?”

“What do you mean?”

“For example, maybe Hitler Stevens, or Hitler Robinson . . .”

“Adolf.  Adolf Hitler.  You don’t know who Hitler is?”

The woman punched the information into her keyboard.

“There he is.  Well look at that.  Adolf Hitler has one kill, and it’s Adolf Hitler.  What a coincidence.”

“That’s not possible!”

“Our records are absolute and infallible.  Look there, it even says so on the screen.”

“But he killed millions of people!”

“Oh, I think I’d remember a seven figure kill count.  Imagine that, seven figures.  You’d have to wake up pretty early in the morning.”

Jim stood up and paced.  He hadn’t studied much history, but he knew damn well that Hitler killed more than one person.

“Auschwitz,” he said.  “Look up Auschwitz.”

The keyboard clacked.

“Oh, Nazi Deathcamp – that sounds exotic.  You’re certainly at the right place.  I don’t see any mention of Adolf Hitler here though.”

“But what about all those people?”

“Well, I have a Rudolph Hoss down for one hundred and ninety-two kills.  Pretty impressive.  And here’s an Albert Ostendorf, he’s got fifty.  Let’s see here . . .  Oh, there’s a Willhelm Attenburg, seventy-six kills.  I don’t see any millionaires, though.”

“What about D-Day?  The Battle of the Bulge?  The Russian front?”

More clacking.

“The highest kill count I have for D-Day is fifty-nine, a man named Sam Anderson.”

“Sam Anderson.”

“That’s right.”

“Some guy named Sam Anderson killed more people than Hitler.”

“A bunch more.”

Jim pulled some jerky out of his ear and chewed on it.  Jerky helped him think.

“Alright, so who’s got the highest kill count?  Like who killed the most people?”

Clack clack.

“Paul Tibbets.”

“Who?”

“Looks like he was in that war with your friend.  Says here he dropped a bomb on Japan.  287,598 kills.  That’s a doozy.”

“The pilot?!  They put that on the pilot?  What about the guys that made the bomb?  The president?”

“Oh, we don’t keep track of assists anymore.”

“Why not?”

“Well, it turns out, what with all the going-about that goes on – ya know, the talking and the pushing – every kill had about a bazillion assists.  Fried our computers to a crisp.  We have a strict Kill/No kill policy now.  No moochers.”

Jim finished the jerky.  “This just doesn’t make any sense,” he said.  But he thought there might be a guy that could help him out.

***

Plato was high on a cloud and looking down at a valley.  With every brush stroke on his canvas, the valley changed.

Jim cleared his throat and the philosopher turned.

“Well, what do you think?” he said.

“It, ah, it looks good,” Jim said.

“Good, bad – Is it Valley or is it not Valley?”

“It’s definitely a valley.  More flowers, maybe?”

“Mmmm.”  He set down the brush and wriggled his fingers.  “Daniel!”

A chiseled young man, naked and glistening, flew by and snatched the philosopher’s robe.  Plato was naked too now, and instead of a penis a French horn dangled between his legs.  Before Jim could look away, it flexed a B flat.

“You’re here about the Hitler problem,” Plato said.

Jim blinked.  “Uh, yeah, that’s the reason I called.  I, uh, I entered this thing to have sex with Cleopatra, and I ended up golfing with Hitler.  We got to talking, and he said he’s off the hook for all those people he killed.  I’m like, that can’t be right, so I go down to the Death Center — ”

But Plato held up a finger and closed his eyes.  His horn climbed a Dorian scale.

“I know what troubles you,” Plato said.  “And I think our conversation is better suited to the ground.  Just follow the rainbow.”

Plato sucked in a deep breath and with some effort produced the cadences of Somewhere Over the Rainbow with his horn.  A rainbow appeared beneath Jim’s feet and sloped gently into the valley.  Jim scratched his head, shrugged, took a step, and he fell right through it.  The ground rushed up and kicked him in the head.

“Ahhhhhhhhh.”

“Do you see your error now?”

Plato was sitting in an armchair next to him, already smoking a cigar.  His horn lay flat against his leg, exhausted.

“Error?  You just threw me off a cloud!  That hurt, man.”

“No it didn’t.”

“You still threw me off!”

“You walked off the cloud.”

“You told me to!”

“I did.”

“Well?!”

A sigh.  “Sometimes I don’t know why I bother.”

Plato stood up.  He shook his horn and an F sharp drizzled out.  He pointed at the cloud.

“The next time you hear a dick singing about rainbows, just take the fucking elevator,” he said.  Jim followed his finger, and sure as shit one went right up to the cloud.

Jim was speechless.  Plato finished his cigar, popped the butt into his mouth and chewed it while he considered his valley.

“You might have been right about the flowers, though,” he said.

And then he walked away.

 

Jim Home

Next Jim story

Something different

1 Truth Road [Jim #1, Short Fiction]

“Pizza? I didn’t think there’d be pizza in heaven,” Jim said.

“Why not? Pizza is the shit,” the angel said.

“And cursing. And beer? Is that beer?”

In fact, the table was laid out with all the things Jim loved. Chicken wings, malt whiskey, chili fries, club sandwiches, those little wieners wrapped in bacon. Over the table hung a cage where two beautiful women danced naked to 90’s alternative. The angel saw him gazing.

“You can have them after dinner,” he said.

“Are they being punished?” Jim asked. He was a man, through and through, but he didn’t like the idea of raping someone in paradise.

“Punished? Is that what you think we do here? They love it. Some women like to party. We don’t hold that against them. Cherry there has been welcoming our new guests for two hundred years.” The angel leaned close with a knowing smile. “There are no anal fissures in heaven, so go wild.”

Jim coughed. “So uh, well . . .” He coughed again. “What are the uh, ground rules?”

“Ground rules?”

“Like, what’s the forbidden fruit? What’s the catch around here?”

“No catches. The boss doesn’t care for rules. Everybody gets in, and everybody gets what they desire. Let’s say you were a Christian all your life, well I’d be all shiny and I’d take you on the holy tour, you’d get to look down at hell and pity the damned, that sort of thing. If you’re Jim from Tennessee, you get chicken wings and bitches.”

“Huh,” Jim said. “You know, I never really believed in this place, but I figured, if it was there, it’d be a little more uptight.”

“Not since Lucy reclaimed the throne.”

“Lucy?”

“Lucifer. He’s Lucy now. Or she’s Lucy now. We’re all a little confused. But hey, more power to him if that’s what gets her off.”

“Lucifer?! Lucifer is in charge of heaven?”

Jim knocked over his beer in surprise. The angel was laughing heartily.

“Oh, the shock on your faces, it never gets old! Yes, Lucifer fought a last resistance a very long time ago. He crushed the Usurper handily. As the Usurper fell, he passed through earth, and it was in retaliation that he saddled you guys with all those ridiculous books and laws.”

“No shit.”

“No shit.”

***

Jim pulled out from long years of habit. To his surprise, he orgasmed a slice of apple pie, complete with a fork and a dapple of cream.

“Sorry,” Cherry said. She took a bite and melted with satisfaction. “I really love pie after sex.”

“No, that was awesome.” Jim was looking in awe at his penis. In Tennessee, whatever came out of it was generally a nuisance. It certainly hadn’t been pie.

Cherry laughed. “It takes a little getting used to.”

“Yeah, I guess it does.”

He lay down on his back with his hands clasped behind his head. While Cherry enjoyed her dessert, he tried to bring the last several hours into focus.

“So, you heard the angel and me talking, right?”

“Sure.”

“About Lucy and the resistance and all that?”

“Yeah.”

“Is that what he told you?”

“What do you mean?”

Jim had never given these sorts of things much thought, so he had difficulty articulating the funny feeling in his brain. He looked at Cherry’s breasts, ran a finger down her back, watched her eat the pie. Paradise . . .

“I mean, if part of this place is hearing what you want to hear, how do you know what’s what? How do we know what’s true?”

Cherry swallowed and shook her fork. “Oh yeah, the paradox thingy. You know, it’s been a long time since I thought about it. You’re pretty quick to grab it so fast. It’ll bother you for a while, but when you get to live the way you want to live the whole truth thing just kind of goes out the window. I mean, who cares?”

“But, what if what you want is the truth? Like, is there a truth?”

She held up the pie. “This is the fucking truth, honey.” The way she said it, he found difficulty finding any fault with it. Still, he was bothered, and he didn’t think a person should feel bothered in heaven.

“What if this is really hell? What if somebody really is looking down, pitying us?” he wondered aloud.

***

The walls began to shake.

“Wow, that really must be bothering you,” Cherry said.

“What? Why? What’s happening?” Jim was on his feet now. “Is this bad?”

“Lucy’s coming. She comes around when the paradox gets to you. Don’t worry, she’s super nice. Tell her you like her dress.”

“What?”

There was a warbling, pixelating whoomf and a beautiful woman stepped out of a hole in the wall. When the hole closed, the room shuddered back to solid.

“Cherry!” the woman exclaimed. “You indigo slut, it’s been ages! How are you!”

The two of them hugged. Jim stood naked and speechless.

“This is Jim,” Cherry said, after a few more obligatory exchanges. “He’s worried about the whole where am I thing.”

“Jim.” Lucy held out her hand. The nails were painted, the fingers were milk white.

“I – I like your dress,” Jim said.

Lucy’s laughter was sudden, honest, and contagious. Soon all three of them were laughing. Jim began to feel embarrassed he had been taking things so seriously.

“Well, I do hate these formalities,” Lucy said, drawing a card from her blouse, “but there is bureaucracy even here.” She handed him the card. “If you ever want to know the truth, just find the address on the card there. They’ll fill you in on everything.”

“Really?” Jim said, taken aback. “Just like that?”

“Well . . .”

Aha! Jim’s head rejoiced. A catch! Finally a damn catch. It eased his mind immensely just knowing there was something up.

“If you go to the truth, you can’t come back.” Lucy’s frown was sexual. Everything about her was sexual.

“You can’t come back? Why?”

“I can’t tell you that. It’s part of the truth.”

Jim looked at the card. It was nothing but TRUTH in capital letters, under which read the enticing address, 1 Truth Road.

Lucy’s hand was on his arm. He hadn’t noticed her approach. When he looked up there was intensity in her eyes. It thrilled him. She spoke softly.

“My advice is always the same. You have an eternity to enjoy yourself. The truth can wait.”

He was in her mouth before he knew what was happening. It was pleasure beyond anything he’d ever known. When he finished, and Lucy took her leave, he and Cherry shared the bucket of chicken wings.

***

It took Jim 376 years to get bored. He stood at 1 Truth Road, thinking it was funny how small the building was.

When he walked in, the man behind the reception desk smiled.

“You seek the truth?” the man said.

“I suppose I do,” Jim said.

“If you don’t mind, there’s a series of questions I’d like to ask you. This is completely optional, but your honest answers help us improve paradise.”

Jim shrugged. “Shoot.”

“How would you rate your overall experience? These are all one to ten, by the way.”

“Ten.”

“How helpful was our staff?”

“Ten.”

“The weather?”

“Ten.”

“The event center?”

“Ten.”

“The wi-fi?”

“You know what, just put me down for ten on everything.”

The man nodded knowingly. It took him a good five minutes to fill in all the tens, and Jim was glad he made the request.

“If you don’t mind my asking, if everything is a ten, why leave?” the man asked.

“I could go for a few sevens.”

“Fair enough. Just go down that hall, and you’re looking for the second door on the right. Good luck.”

He found the room easily enough. It was smaller than the main lobby, but with the same setup. It was mostly white, and there was a man behind a desk and a single chair in front of it. Jim blinked a few times. It was the same man.

“Take a seat.”

“You’re the same guy,” Jim said.

“I run things around here. Go ahead, sit down. Alright, so before we proceed I have to make sure you understand this all correctly. For starters, once you find out the truth, you know that you can’t go back?”

“I do.”

“And you know that you’re leaving of your own free will, that you aren’t compelled in any way to leave?”

“Well, I can only assume that, really.”

“Good enough. And the last thing, you’re aware that billions of souls are perfectly happy to be happy in spite of the paradox?”

“I am.”

“Great. Now, as for the truth. For the last 376 years, you have been living in paradise, and paradise is awesome.”

That’s all he said. He said it as if that was all that needed saying. For the first time in a long time, Jim was angry.

“That’s not enough,” he said through clenched teeth.

“I’m afraid it never is.” The man nodded.

“What about God? The Devil? Heaven and Hell and right versus wrong? Who runs this place? Where is it?”

“Oh. Really? That’s not even part of the paradox. God and the Devil are the same thing, and this is where people go when they die. That’s all pretty much obvious.”

“But, but . . .” Had he made a mistake coming here? He suddenly wanted nothing more than to step back into the orgy’s oblivion. “But what about, I mean, who’s right?”

The man spread his hands. His face was brutally sincere. “If you can’t ask a meaningful question I can’t help you,” he said.

Jim was speechless. He had no idea what question to ask. All those years, the chicken, the women, the booze, he always just figured the truth was sitting here on a silver platter, waiting for him. God and the Devil are the same person? What kind of truth was that?

“The exit is through that door,” the man said.

It was a plain door.

“What’s on the other side?”

“I have no idea.”

“What??! This is 1 Truth Road! I’m giving up Paradise for this. The fuck you don’t know what’s on the other end of a goddamn door!”

“I never went through it.”

“Then you don’t know the truth!”

“I told you the truth.”

“What about the door?”

“That’s where you leave.”

“What’s behind it?”

“I don’t have a clue.”

“Jesus Christ!”

“Not likely.”

Jim went to the door and threw it open. Before he went in, he looked back one last time.

“At least give me this. What’s the point of this place? 1 Truth Road. It sure as hell ain’t the truth.”

The man shrugged. “It wouldn’t be paradise with you moping around.”

Jim fell through the door.

 

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