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

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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