“Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil” – that’s my favorite thing in the Bible. The verse is Exodus 23:2 if you want to look it up. I always thought the Commandments would have been better if they included that one, instead of railing on about god and Saturday. But what I really want to talk about is my least favorite thing in the Bible. All the way in the back of the book Mathew says – “Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents. For unto everyone that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.” That’s a mouthful for us in the new century but the meaning is easy: Poor people have holes in their pockets and rich people have funnels in their gullets. Continue reading “People Should Have More Than Zero Talents”
People never ask me about the Bill of Rights. I consider this an unfortunate state of affairs because I have developed several cogent remarks that concern this subject. Lacking a proper audience I pollute the Internet. Continue reading “Bill of Rights Redux”
The gates of Psycho Pasture opened after Jim ate the banana, and the whole host of pedophiles was unleashed upon the grand plane of paradise. There were some like Jim and the King, who had suffered innocently in the unlucky crossfire between the devil’s conceit and humanity’s prejudice – but most were pale and greasy and thoroughly guilty. Tens of thousands of child-raping men and women stepped out into the light and were bewildered by it. Continue reading “Escape from Psycho Pasture – Part 3 [Jim #19, Short Fiction]”
The Book of Jim: Agnostic Parables and Dick Jokes from Lucifer’s Paradise – finally published. Took me a few more months than I thought it would, but it was worth it. The paperback is slick as hell, the kindle works great, the illustrations are fantastic. Really happy with it. If you’re a nook-head, the nook version will be available as soon as I can get it to work. Epub is a nightmare when it comes to images. Anyway, here are the amazon links to the paperback and kindle editions:
The stories are still floating around on the blog, free as ever. Metadirt Part 2 coming soon.
Small Town, Paradise. Green yards and clean air and split-level houses. A post office, a police station, a grocery store, five bars and a set of stoplights. Autumn in the afternoon and summer in the evening, and every evening a new episode of Financially Stable and Moderately Happy Family.
Jim watched from up the road as a man mowed his lawn. The lawn was lush and smooth, already clipped to quarter-inch perfection, and still the man mowed over it. He marched back and forth over his square of grass for half an hour before cutting the engine, putting the mower in his garage, and entering his house.
Jim waited five minutes then knocked on the door. The man answered with a beer in his hand.
“I was wondering when you’d come around,” the man said. Continue reading “Cool Cogito, Bro [Jim #13, Short Fiction]”
“I don’t dream anymore.”
“Nobody dreams anymore.”
“Is it still possible to dream? In this place?”
“Well, anything is possible. But no, not really.”
“I miss it.”
“You miss it?”
“They’re just dreams.”
“You don’t miss dreams?”
“When I was a kid I dreamed about the world series and hitting a homerun. You know, bottom of the ninth, two outs, down by a run, I’ve got a broken arm and I’m hitting into the wind – and then boom it’s out of the park. I march the bases, wave my hat, I stomp down at home. The crowd goes wild.”
“It’s a nice dream.”
“I think so.”
“You know, you can just do that now.”
“You’ve already done it?”
“Well there you go.”
“It wasn’t the same.”
“That’s because it was real.”
“I felt stupid.”
“It is stupid. Incredibly stupid.”
“You just said it was a nice dream.”
“A nice, stupid dream.”
“Well, I miss it.”
“I can’t give you your dreams back. Dreaming requires lacking and you lack nothing. Except for dreaming. Which is weird, but that’s just how it works. And if you try to dream about dreaming you’re in for a real headache. So don’t go doing anything like that.”
“Can you do anything for me? It doesn’t have to be the world series. Just a simple one maybe. I used to dream about driving down the highway. That’s it, just an open road and the engine and the sky. How about that one?”
“No dreams. Here’s what I can do for you though. I’m going to go ahead and diagnose you with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.”
“I don’t think that’s what I have.”
“Are you sure? It comes with a wagon full of dex.”
“It’s pretty much meth. Your teeth won’t fall out, but it will stimulate your psycho-activity.”
“I can’t dream anymore so you’re giving me a wagon full of meth?”
“To stimulate my psycho activity?”
“Take it or leave it.”
“Well, I mean, if that’s all you got.”
Jim pulled the wagon of dex along the top of the wall. It was like a little red wagon except it was big and blue. The pills were white and they rattled like teeth. The wall, forty feet high and ten feet thick, cut an erratic line through the Middle of Nowhere. Jim popped another pill and went back to stacking bricks.
Somebody called up to him from the ground.
“Hey! You! What’s the big idea?”
“What the hell are you doing?”
“It’s a wall!” Jim said. “I’m building a wall! Eighteen million nine hundred thousand three hundred and sixteen bricks so far. You never knew how many bricks it took to make a wall!”
“Well who’s it keeping out?”
“Where’s it going?”
“Why you building it?”
“I was bummed out and unfocused because there aren’t any dreams anymore but then the doctor gave me all this dex and I started to build a wall. There’s an infinite number of bricks up here and I never even thought to build a wall before. Eighteen million nine hundred thousand three hundred and seventeen. Eighteen. Nineteen. Just look at this beautiful fucking wall!”
“Say, come to think of it, I don’t dream anymore neither.”
“Climb aboard! I’ve got a wagon full of dex and bricks for days! Yaaachachachaka!”
The somebody climbed up and turned into a George, who swallowed a fistful of dex and started scraping mortar. Jim stacked the bricks. When they finished a section George carried the mortar and the bricks and Jim pulled the wagon of dex.
“This is just great!” George said.
“Nineteen million one hundred and thirty-two thousand three hundred and forty-two!” Jim said.
“All this time I was just kind of wandering around I didn’t really know what to do I mean there’s so many things you can do up here I was just a little lost I was overwhelmed and distracted there aren’t any directions around here. You know? But now it’s like I don’t even have to think the thinking is gone and I can just do and do and do and I don’t have to think for myself I can just fucking do.”
There were a lot of people like Jim and George. Everyone they ran into seemed to have dreams that didn’t work anymore. Pretty soon there were a hundred, then a thousand dreamless souls, all tweaking through the Middle of Nowhere and leaving a trail of bricks. Whole teams for mixing clay and mortar, excavating, rock-breaking and landscaping, brick-laying and brick-counting and bricking. They were very organized. A hundred new miles of wall went up every day.
The psychiatrists of Paradise discovered the wall and rallied around its cause and began recruiting every patient for its construction. Thousands more and tens of thousands were diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and soon a million men and women roamed the wall. The dex came in trucks.
They sang a song.
Fuck your boring dreams, and fuck your boring soul –
All you need is Dexedrine off you fucking go!
A zillion bricks to stack, eternity to roll –
A wagon full of dex will build a wall to
Nobody really knows!
So heed this word from us, who build and build it high –
Fuck us living, fuck us dead – Let’s build it to the sky!
A googol miles to march, infinity to fly –
A wagon full of dex will take us all to
For about thirteen years they built the wall. Their numbers swelled to thirty million and the wall stretched on for a million miles. The dex mines of Paradise passed the infinity test and no dreamless builder built without the bumps of Adderall or Ritalin or Dexedrine. Thirty million tweakers united by a single purpose – to build a brick wall through the Middle of Nowhere.
And they made it. Jim and George led them right to it. The great impasse loomed and the building of the wall came to a stop.
“What is it?” said Jim.
“I think it’s a university,” said George. “That there looks like admissions.”
“Can we build through it?”
“I don’t think so.”
“It’s pretty big.”
Just then the gates of the university opened and a man rode out on a white horse.
“I am the Dean of the University of the Place Between the Middle of Nowhere and the Somewhere,” the man said. “What is your business here?”
“We just want to pass through,” Jim said. “We’re building a wall.”
“If you want to get to Somewhere, you have to go through the University. If you want to go through the University, you have to get a Diploma.”
“We don’t want Diplomas,” Jim said. “We just want to pass through.”
“Somewhere can only be reached by those who have Diplomas,” the Dean said. “And to receive a Diploma, you have to give me money.”
“What?! Like, how much money?”
“Lots of it.”
“Well fucking how much?”
The Dean of the University of the Place Between the Middle of Nowhere and Somewhere held up his hands, about three feet apart.
“He wants three feet of money?” George said.
“Three feet per person,” the Dean said.
Jim counted on his fingers.
“So if we get you ninety million feet of money, you’ll give as all Diplomas and we can pass through your University and get to Somewhere?”
“The cost of books is not included,” the Dean said. “There are also administration and athletics fees. And technology fees. And living expenses, such as parking and food.”
“Goddammit how much?”
“Two hundred million feet of pure money,” the Dean said. “I expect it in full no later than two weeks after the day before the beginning of the fall semester.”
The Dean rode his white horse back through the gates and they closed. Jim and George watched and scratched their heads.
“Where we gonna find two hundred million feet of pure money?” George said.
The banker spun her pen and clicked it then spun it again and tapped it on her coffee mug. It was a plain coffee mug. She was a plain woman with glasses.
“Let me get this straight,” she said. “You and all your friends got doped up on amphetamines and built a wall that serves no purpose in the Middle of Nowhere. You crashed your wall into a university, and you want me to give you two hundred million feet of money for diplomas that you neither know how nor intend to use?”
“Pure money,” Jim said. “And the dean says the Diplomas will get us to Somewhere.”
“Okay.” She spun her pen and pressed it to the document, paused and looked at Jim over her glasses. “And I have your personal assurance that, following the catastrophic failure of all your ambitions, you will spend the remainder of eternity paying the interest on this loan, in a futile attempt to get back to where you were before you started?”
“Yep,” Jim said.
Thirty million people was too many to make the walk, so the University of the Place Between the Middle of Nowhere and Somewhere fired the Diplomas out of T-shirt cannons. The red-ribboned parcels flew through the air like grapeshot. Anthropology Diplomas, Philosophy Diplomas, Liberal Arts and Fine Arts and Commercial Arts and Graphic Design Diplomas. There were Diplomas for Physical Fitness and Taking Pictures. One of the red-ribboned parcels struck Jim in the face and he tore off the ribbon and as he read it his name appeared in black ink.
The University of the Place Between the Middle of Nowhere and Somewhere
The Board of The University of the Place Between the Middle of Nowhere and Somewhere, after verifying the purity of three full feet of his/her money, has conferred upon
The Degree of
BACHELOR OF ARTS
Together with all the Honors and Privileges belonging to that Degree.
“General English?” Jim said.
“General! Well shit on me.” George stood at attention and saluted. “I got Parks and Recreation.”
“I think it means English in general.” Jim held the paper up to the sky, turned it this way and that, squinted, sniffed it. “I don’t get it. Shouldn’t everybody just have one of these?”
Disappointment and confusion were ubiquitous. Thirty million graduates built a Great Wall through the Middle of Nowhere, and there wasn’t an Engineer among them. No Scientists either. Just a bunch of philosophers and artists. They all seemed to understand at once that a mountain of dex would never bury their shame, and as broken individuals they stumbled off into Somewhere, clutching Diplomas in their anxious fists.
“Hey. Hey.” George jabbed Jim in the ribs. “You’re General Talking, I’m Private Walking. Get it? Parks and Recreation. Get it?”
“The drugs didn’t work.”
“What makes you say that?”
“I didn’t get anywhere.”
“It says here you got Somewhere.”
“Well, it turns out Somewhere isn’t any place in particular.”
“So why are you here?”
“I need more drugs.”
“I thought they didn’t work.”
“I owe the Bank of Paradise two hundred million feet of pure money. I couldn’t find any English work, but I’m pretty good at stacking bricks now. There’s a guy over on Cloud Fifty-seven with a brick fetish and he pays by the yard. So I need some more drugs.”
“I need at least a truck.”
“Not a problem. So, it says here you were missing your dreams? How are things on that score? Do you still miss them?”
“Well there you go. I can’t tell you the satisfaction that comes with helping a fellow soul in need. Here’s a prescription for an endless supply of any drug that keeps you productive, a flash-drive full of NBC sitcoms, and a bucket to scream in. And here’s my card for when it all falls apart again. Good luck to you, Jim.”
Here’s what I think is a likely chronology of Jim’s experiences so far, and the corresponding theological/philosophical difficulties he fails to resolve:
1. Entry into Paradise, blowjob from the devil, and Truth card (1 Truth Road – except for the 1 Truth Road part)
- – If I get everything I want, how do I know it’s real?
– Is this Heaven or Hell? What’s the difference?
2. Orgy and drug-induced infinity orgasm, pushing Einstein out of the universe (Infinite Orgy)
- – How big is existence?
3. Hangover at angel’s house, “Why is there human suffering?”, trial at the Court of Existentialism and Shakespeare’s defense (Jim v Logic)
- – Why do people suffer?
4. Identity crisis and the Frankenmasque, Hemmingway’s pep talk (Crashing the Frankenmasque)
- – Who am I?
5. Rolling Einstein’s dice for Cleopatra, losing to Bogart (The Face that Employed a Thousand Angels)
- – Fate vs Chance – Destiny or Dice?
6. Golfing with Hitler and a lesson in free will from Plato (The Freewillin Jim)
- – Free will and moral responsibility
7. Depression, a kick in the pants from Sir Shackleton, Cobain’s renewal and the peak of Olympus. (I Hate Myself and I Can’t Die)
- – Like, what’s the point, man?
8. Atomic ejaculate and war in heaven (The Devil’s Peace)
- – Picking your poison: Religious absurdity, morose atheism, wtf science
Here’s a picture:
I figure Paradise is the triangle, and the circles are incomplete pieces knowledge Jim picks up on his adventures. He’d love to fill that sucker with red, but the geometry of the place just won’t let him do it, and the black spaces are driving him loony. The more circles he wedges in there, the more apparent it becomes that he’ll never fill it up, the more that Truth Card burns a hole in his pocket.
Basically, that first question he asks in 1 Truth Road forms the outline of what looks like an easily measured triangle, but Paradise gives him nothing but fucking circles.
At any rate, I look forward to filling in 9, 10, 11, 12, however many more it takes. We all pretty much know what goes down at 1 Truth Road, but we still gotta get there, right?
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
“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.”
“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 bitter.” He set the glass down. “So what do we do? Nothing?”
“Carry me,” Christopher said.
“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.
“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.”
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 – ”
“ – 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.”
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:
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.