The angel at the docks pointed north and Jim thanked her for the canoe. He rowed for an hour and came to a place where the lake became narrow and snaked between roots and rocks. It opened up into a silent cove. The water looked like a block of metal reflecting the sky, and in the middle of it a small man fished from a wooden raft.
Jim paddled up to him.
“Uh, Mr. Christ?”
The man didn’t move. He sat on his wooden raft with his wooden fishing pole in both hands. He looked at the water.
“I’m sorry to bother you, Mr. Christ,” Jim said. “I know you’re retired.”
“I’ve been fishing this spot for three hundred years,” the man said. “Three hundred years, and I haven’t caught a single fish.”
“That sucks,” Jim said.
“If a man casts his pole into a fishless pond, does he deserve to eat?”
Jim had been a long time getting here and he was pretty tired and a little angry. “I’ll be completely honest with you, Mr. Christ, I don’t give a shit and I’m not sorry about it,” he said. “Your followers are ripping Paradise apart, and you’re out here fishing.”
“Josh,” the man said.
“Josh?” Jim knew a Josh back in Tennessee. He was an old drunk with brown teeth and a lazy eye. “Alright, Josh. I’m Jim.”
“I’m glad to meet you, Jim,” said Josh. “But the politics of Paradise no longer interest me.”
“The fuck they don’t!” Jim said. Then he realized he just said fuck at Jesus – or Josh – and he pulled back. “Sorry, maybe that’s not called for. But you’re the guy at the center of the whole thing. They’re all fighting for different versions of you.”
“No they aren’t.”
“Yes they are.”
“Goddammit they are!”
“People would rather die for the things they can’t see, than live with the ones they can,” said Josh. “One look at me, and they’ll just go die for something else.”
“That’s the problem. Nobody’s dying,” Jim said. “And isn’t that why you died?”
Josh laughed. It was a deep one from the gut.
“Well I’m glad you think it’s funny.”
“Give it a few thousand years and it will be,” Josh said. “I told her those barriers were a bad idea. What finally brought them down?”
“It’s not important,” Jim said. “They’re down and nobody is special anymore and they’re pissed off about it. I came here to convince you to talk to them.”
“What did you do in life?”
“What work did you do? How did you eat?”
“Well, I don’t know, I just worked. Welding was good money. I did some roofing and drywalling. I don’t follow you.”
“We are not so different,” Josh said. “I also just worked. Mending ploughs, building houses. I even did some roofing.” He paused and looked Jim in the eye for the first time. “Would you give another man the road because he had clean hands? Would you accept the sting of his whip because you didn’t give it fast enough?”
Jim cringed. This was the rubbery shit that kept him away from church.
“No,” he said. “I’d pull him off his horse and beat him to hell.”
“Well, we had hammers and empty stomachs, and the Romans had armor and swords. They were chosen by many colorful gods and we were slaves to a black one. So one day, after three Roman soldiers raped and killed a friend of mine, I stood on a crate and said, I am a son of God.”
Jim followed Josh’s gaze. The fishing line disappeared into the plate surface of the water. He expected the line to jerk at any moment, and Josh to finally catch his fish, but the surface never broke.
“Between the Aramaic of the people,” Josh said, “and the Hebrew of the scholars, and the Greek of the Romans, the a became a the. Articles don’t translate so well. I became the son of God, and a few years later the fuckers nailed me to a cross.”
It was Jim’s turn to laugh. He nearly capsized.
“I’m glad you think it’s funny,” Josh said.
“The Articles of Faith!” Jim said. “I get it now.”
“I can’t help you.”
“Seriously though, you’ve got to give me something. I came a long way.”
“You said you were a roofer. The firmament is a roof.”
“There’s war in Paradise because the devil lied, and now that the lie is broken the advice of Jesus Christ is that I board it up?”
“My name is Josh,” Josh said.
Jim was at the edge of the cove and still shaking his head when Josh called out some parting words.
“Jim! Before you cast off, make sure there’s fish!”
With a bag full of nails, a good hammer, and planks of wood donated by the Presbyterian Church of Canada, Jim went to work. One nail, one board at a time. He started where the crack in the firmament met the ground and worked his way up. He doubted that Josh’s advice had been sincere, but he didn’t care. It felt good to work. Hell, maybe that was the point.
He worked for a long time. Days, weeks, a year. Hundreds of boards and thousands of nails. He didn’t eat and he didn’t sleep. He didn’t look up because it discouraged him, he didn’t look down because he didn’t care for heights. He looked at his hands and the place where the hammer met the nail.
Beneath him the strange sound of a strange war pushed him upward.
But one day the hammer broke and he looked around. He was a mile high over a shredded wonderland. His labor trailed behind him like a dead rainbow. He looked up and saw that he had the whole sky to go.
“I don’t think this is going to work,” he said.
A friendly and wise old face popped in through the crack in the firmament. Wild hair and the blaze of intelligence.
“You goddamn crazy hillbilly!” Einstein said. “You can’t fix the sky with wood!”
“Yeah, well your dice didn’t work for shit, either.”
Einstein barked a laugh and pulled himself up and mounted the firmament like a horse.
“I’ll make it make it up to you.”
“This breach is distorting my antiverse, too. And I think I’ve figured a way to patch it.”
“Do you remember when you pushed me, Jim? The power of thought and the expansion of Paradise? Well, it turns out that thought travels through the vacuum at exactly the speed of light. This isn’t too surprising, but it gives rise to some wacky results, the most obvious of which is most pertinent. The object of thought is immediately real, but our experience of it is delayed by the intervening distance over c. Everything we dream up exists for a substantial amount of time before we can even see it.”
Jim understood none of it. “I think I preferred Jesus,” he said.
“Anyway, I’ve examined what’s left of these barriers, and I believe I understand their function. They refract the light as it returns from the object of thought, and whoever originated the thought receives only the frequencies and colors that satisfy the preconceptions of the original. Unwanted information is essentially filtered out, scattered like a prism. It’s simple and ingenious, but I believe I can improve upon it.”
“Listen, I don’t understand what you’re saying, but I’m at the end of the line here,” Jim said. “You’re talking to me because you think you can fix this thing but you need an extra pair of hands. Well, hands are the only fucking thing I got. Give them something to do. I’ll do it.”
“It’s the particles, Jim,” Einstein said, “They’re goddamn crazier than you are.” He poked wild holes in the air with his index fingers. “As soon as you know where one is, it’s somewhere else, in from the wrong direction and out at unknown speeds. We need to make waves, Jim. Waves!” He made waves with his arms. “Wonderful predictable waves!”
“I don’t know how to make waves,” Jim said.
“I’m going to implode the dark star behind me and send out a wave of anti charm-quarks,” Einstein said. “And along this breach I’ll shoot a hyper-frequency energy beam. The energy in the beam must be concentrated in waves. Any particles will rip the guts out of the anti charm-quarks. That’s where you come in.”
“Of course it is.”
“We need a distraction.”
“You want me to distract the particles?”
“The people, the war, you need to distract all potential observers. Matter and energy come in waves until a somebody takes a look, then they freak out and have a particle party. If a single person down there looks up at the energy beam, its waves will particulize and the jig’s up.”
“Are you fucking with me?”
“Take this walkie-talkie. Contact me when the distraction is in play.”
“You’re fucking with me.”
“I didn’t believe it until I was dead,” Einstein said, slipping back into the antiverse. “Do you know the difference between science and religion, Jim?”
“Results! Get me that distraction, and I’ll get us a barrier.”
Jim did his best to explain the situation. He left out the part about his atomic ejaculate and failed at explaining particle/wave duality, but he got the important stuff. The firmament had cracked, and fixing it required the distraction of a billion warring Christians.
“I won’t do it,” Hitler said.
“Oh come on,” Jim said.
“It is not a good idea.”
Hitler sat in a soft leather recliner. His pineapple pina colada had a pink umbrella. Some true crime novels lay on the table. It looked like vacation, but his fists were clenched on the armrests and his eyes were pale and serious.
“I am relaxed now,” Hitler said. “I golf. I tell jokes. I read interesting articles.”
“You don’t look relaxed.”
“I am learning.”
Jim looked at his hands. Why couldn’t he just do something with his hands?
“You instigated the biggest war in history,” he said.
“And maybe up here you don’t get any credit, but like a hundred million people died.”
“There was a lot of death.”
“I bet a lot of them still think you’re kind of a prick.”
Hitler pounded his fist on the table and spilled his pineapple pina colada.
“I am given neither the recognition of my conquest nor the forgiveness of the conquered!” he said. “It isn’t fair!”
“Well then let’s flip it on them,” Jim said. “Go out there, talk some shit with that silver Nazi tongue, and save the fucking day!”
“Just give me a microphone,” he said. “I will unite the birds against the sky.”
Einstein. Einstein. Are you there?
Jim! I am in orbit around the dark star. The apparatus is fully operational. Is the distraction in play?
It’s ready, but it might take some time.
After detonation, it will take two minutes for the anti charm-quark wave to reach the energy beam. Not a single person can witness it. No observers! Our timing must be perfect.
Do not detonate until I give the word. I repeat, Do not detonate.
What is the distraction? Fireworks? A John Wayne movie?
Uh, well, not exactly. Would that have worked?
Anything that draws the eye. We only need a picosecond. What is in play?
I went with Hitler.
What?! You goddamn crazy hillbilly!
Hitler stood on the shoulders of a smirking angel. He tapped the microphone, and the thud echoed through the sound system of Paradise. There was a wang of feedback and he cleared his throat.
“The – enemy – is –not – here!” he said. He said it several more times, until some of the fighting around him stopped and he had a small audience.
Jim watched from a safe distance, binoculars in one hand and Einstein’s walkie talkie in the other. The small audience became a fashionable one in a matter of minutes. Mostly Orthodox, but some Anglicans and even Lutherans looked on with interest. At first they seemed mildly amused, glad for a break from the war. But Hitler spoke with a hard rhythm and punctuated with his fists and pretty soon they were punctuating with him.
Hitler really deserves some credit for all that death, Jim thought.
When the Catholics came the sounds of war stopped. They outnumbered the others by far. Methodists, Baptists, Mormons, Presbyterians, Evangelists, Congregationalists, Pentecostalists – all dwarfed by the Catholic hoard. Billions surrounded Hitler, high on the shoulders of the smirking angel.
The Presbyterian Church of Canada was the last to arrive. They brought enough cake for everyone.
Hitler had yet to say anything of substance. Given the full attention of every Christian in Paradise he drew in a breath and cracked his knuckles. A second smirking angel came down from the sky bearing an empty canvas. Hitler raised a brush and rounded out his speech.
“The – enemy – is – not – here! There is – another – barrier! The enemy – lies – in wait! I – will bring – the enemy – to us! I – will paint – Mohammed!”
“Oh shit,” Jim said.
Einstein! Now! Fire! Fire!
What’s happening down there?
Hitler is painting Mohammed! I don’t know jack shit about Islam, but you don’t fucking paint Mohammed.
Dammit, hillbilly. Elvis, you could have called up Elvis. Alright, we have detonation. Two minutes to arrival.
Can you make it go faster?
Anti charm-quarks do not have a gas pedal.
He’s got the outline of the face.
One minute, forty seconds.
Is that a nose? I think it’s a nose.
And thirty seconds.
You know, he’s pretty good. It’s kind of sad how good he is.
And fifteen seconds.
The lips are taking shape.
One minute remaining to impact. Is the distraction complete? A single observer, Jim! A single eye looking up and the waves of the energy beam will collapse!
Nobody’s turning away from this shit. He’s working on the eyes.
The eyes are fucking brilliant. I almost want him to finish. It’s like, they’re looking through me, man.
Twenty seconds. Jim, if this works, there will be an immense burst of light. Following the burst –
He’s on the ears. All he’s got left is ears. I think he’s going to do it. Holy fuck!
Jim? Jim, come in! Jim, did it work? Damn you hillbilly, what’s going on down there?
I’m – I’m here.
Did it work?
Well, Hitler finished his painting and the whole nation of Islam blitzed in from a new breach. But I think it worked. There was a huge burst of light. Something’s weird though.
What is it? Can they see each other? They should not be able to see each other.
It’s like, the opposite.
Sonofabitch. A million pole dancers in Paradise, and you give Hitler a paintbrush.
No, it’s awesome. We can see each other’s thoughts. I can’t explain it, but . . . I don’t know, it’s like we’re all looking inside each other, but on the outside. And it’s fucking crazy because we’re all thinking the same things. Wait, no, there’s some Mormons thinking something different. Everybody’s looking at them. Oh man they’re super embarrassed. I can feel it, it’s horrible. And we’re empathizing . . . alright, they’re cool. Yeah, turns out we all think the same shit. It just got real friendly down here.
Jim found Lucy on a low-hanging cloud. She was all Lucy now and there were bags under her eyes. Jim said nothing and stood beside her.
The throng of all religions was peaceful but stirring. The spectacle of oneness had lost its charm, and it looked like they might start to go at it again.
Then it began to rain fish.
“Are you doing that?” Jim said.
“Nope,” Lucy said.
Jim pulled out the walkie talkie.
“Einstein, it’s raining fish.”
“Is that some kind of hillbilly riddle?”
“No, it’s raining fish. Does that have anything to do with the energy beam?”
“Well, in theory, if enough neutrinos from the antiverse run up against the quark barrier with sufficient simultaneity, any number of strange physical phenomena could be localized there. Fish rain is a bizarre, but possible, outcome.”
The fish fell and fell. Big juicy happy fish. Children played with them, waving the fish around like swords and beating each other silly. Many of the fish were cooked and eaten. Some of the fish landed in water and were fished again. And the fish kept falling. There were rivers and pools that were nothing but floppy and happy fish. The fish were knee high in some places and waist high in others. Grown men made fish angels and fish snowmen and competed at fish throwing and fish juggling and some of them even tried to sell the fish.
Where oneness by itself fell short of peace, the rain of countless fish fell long of war.
“You know what Jesus said to me?” Jim said.
Lucy stopped him with a hand.
“I don’t care,” she said. “I just need a drink.”