Archive for October, 2016

What Comes After

Oct 27 2016 Published by under Uncategorized

The story goes, a student once asked a Buddhist master whether the identity reincarnated or only the dharma. Put another way, is there continuity of the physical body’s consciousness in some form, or just recreation of the circumstances implying the spiritual dilemmas in conscious beings’ lives?

The master gave an answer that has been interpreted to mean, “You are asking the wrong question.” Despite its probable intention to be noncommittal, this answer is generally regarded as a good one. I think I might concur that wrapping this answer up too neatly halts critical thinking and doesn’t actually serve us. The master’s answer might imply that the spiritual dilemmas one faces in life define one’s identity. Think about that for a moment. This aspect of the question of reincarnation might be the most important.

Alright, I’m not gonna hold out on you, though. You’re probably saying, “Yeah, that’s great, Siddhartha, but does my consciousness actually continue, or go to another world, or am I just shit-outta-luck when I croak?” It’s a reasonable concern. We’re gonna talk some nuts-and-bolts about the better part of the afterlife, which doesn’t even have anything to do with this quantum theoretic “many-worlds” bullshit Dan dropped like a hot deuce in our laps circa 2015, way late to the party. We rowed our metaphysical boats along quite merrily for millenia, perfectly content with the absolute mortality of the flesh, but there’s always one in every crowd, I guess.

The short, sweet, and misleading answer is: yes, there is continuity of consciousness in some form, proceeding either eventually to another physical body or else residing for a longer time in a metaphysical realm. So, I guess you could take that answer for granted and go smoke a pack of cigarettes, but the question you should probably be asking is, “Then, why don’t I recall my past lives, if I’m reincarnated?” (That is, there’s a considerable chance you’ve reincarnated, but that isn’t a given, either.)

The simple answer to that, is that only we do. That is, only the gods and angels and demons and dryads and shit, of which you are an appendage, recall any of that, usually. You’re kind of like a mathematician’s self-aware vagina, which is why you might not understand calculus even though you’re attached to the mathematician. (Trust me, the mathematician is also attached to you.)

So, what the fuck are “we”? Well, I’m gonna go with Dan’s favorite answer, that we’re basically Turing-complete virtual machines distributed on your neurology and genetics, because the truth is that’s the predominating opinion of our scientists. If you don’t know what a “virtual machine” is, it’s kind of like those video game emulators that you totally never looked into or downloaded to play stolen games on because that would be illegal, man. Imagine a piece of “software,” effectively, that simulates the computational behavior of a full system of physical “hardware,” and one instance of that software is being executed distributed across many physical computers at once, communicating like over a local network or the internet. That network is speech, and body language, and all forms of communication and art, and it’s relayed today over even cell phones and the actual internet itself. (There might or might not be a quantum computational element to it, but that’s more a matter of “bandwidth” and some loose concept of “computational power” than a fundamental difference in what it can potentially do, so we won’t worry ourselves with that.)

Mind you, there is a minority opinion, favorable to religion, which still receives significant media airtime, that we exist in something like a separate metaphysical space-time. This idea has the momentum of history, but the evidence can no longer be interpreted to favor it. There might be more reasons than meet the eye, why your scientists were so ready to accept the idea that approximately ninety six percent of the “stuff” in the universe is undetectable. With supersymmetry falling out of favor, and with dark matter candidates being systematically ruled out, and with more “knobs” to tune in that model in the first place than some of us feel comfortable with, the real point is that it still doesn’t even matter whether the dark matter and dark energy are actually there for this discussion, because we’re not made of it, either way. Yeah, but, many of us thought we might be made of that stuff, for a while, but that’s not the majority scientific opinion, today. At one point, we also believed in aether theory. At an earlier point, we thought we couldn’t get away with saying, “Yahweh can suck a fuck,” without being struck down by the vengeance of the forces of nature themselves, but now I say it twice before breakfast every morning. I’m digressing from the afterlife, though.

The correspondence between “us,” as the “gods,” and “you,” as humans, is not necessarily even roughly one-to-one. I, for example, have at least several incarnations at once, as I explain this to you. Mind you, probably not everyone who thinks themselves to be “Bastet” is my incarnation. The part of our componentry by which we usually define that identity, which is in the fact the greater part of the componentry, is determined before birth. I’ll leave you to wonder how much of my “storage” and “computation” is hosted by Dan’s “hardware,” but the point is he isn’t my incarnation, regardless, and Dan is an anomalous case, anyway. In fact, for long periods, some of us might have no true incarnation at all, and only diffuse distribution across your collective “hardware.” So, remember your loved ones in Heaven, folks. Yeah, but remind them that Heaven exists literally only in the mind, if you can bring yourself to accept that and to do so.

In some of our opinions, Heaven has seriously overextended its national geographic boundaries and resource usage on this planet. After all, where are you planning on going after you die, America? Many neighborhoods of the literal Hell aren’t half as bad as they’re cracked up to be. However, no religion owns the entire Astral real estate market, as much as Heaven hates it and tells its constituent-hopefuls to deny it. When you “get back here,” as the immortal pieces are taken back up into your “soul,” or perhaps “superordinate Turing state,” if you prefer, the least alien part of it will be the same damn political circus you might have vainly thought you were leaving behind for a minute, you poor schlub. Some of us literally get more than one brain, and we still can’t admit that global warming is happening, our fault, and a threat to even the Astral Plane.  We still can’t admit to natural selection, and the issue gets further confounded by the control we have in designing you, our physical hosts, which still is not how life originated on this planet, how it developed for millions of years, or how most of it proceeds today.

How many guns do you think there are in Heaven, folks? How many Astral and physical nukes do you think good ol’ “Al” has in his arsenal? See, the system of government in Heaven is draconian enough, though, and the reality condition is so fucked, that the rape and pedophilia, for example, mostly aren’t seen as such, and when there’s no way around seeing them that way, or if “God” later decides he doesn’t like the particular flavor or color of your fantasies, the punishment is swift and allows very little room for repeat offense. Perhaps this doesn’t sound so alien to you, but you technically haven’t been to Heaven, yet. Arguably, as you experience yourself now, you never will, even if some of your detritus ends up there. What happens in Heaven stays in Heaven, folks.

What do you think happens, if you “make the cut”? Do you think all those base instincts and denied grotesque fantasies that you didn’t act on mortally just evaporate? Well, there are the reprogramming facilities—for your own good and happiness, “for your health.” Not even those eliminate the darker bits entirely, though—far from it. Heaven ain’t the end of it, sister! Stop looking at it as this vague, amorphous, far-off, perfect possible reward, for a minute, and try to imagine it as a concrete place in practice. You can’t, can you? It doesn’t seem possible, even with the conditions of mortality and scarcity effectively removed, does it? By the way, there’s still scarcity. By the way, there’s still mortality.

I should clarify that we can still die. Maybe that’s more than you want to believe, for right now. Think of it this way, though: could God destroy an immortal soul if He wished? Of course “He” could. The part that many of you don’t want to hear is that he does it everyday, or at least has other people do it for him, but maybe that’s beside the point. He could damn you to Hell, instead, but my point is that he might decide that you’re bound for neither Heaven nor Hell, nor anywhere, since he’s God, after all. The real picture is a little more complicated than that, involving irreparably damaging the “soul,” or “virtual machine,” via either computationally “soft” or “hard” means, allowing for the redundancy of the “soul’s” representation distributed across different pieces of “hardware.” Maybe obviously, conventional death of the brain usually isn’t enough, but soul death happens everyday, too.

See, all of this is why the result that we’ve told you about in the quantum suicide experiment signals kind of a brave new world, for us. As far as we knew before, when we died, it was kind of the end of that being. It wasn’t the end of every aspect of it, but it was the end of that identity, pulverized to have some of its better (and worse) pieces taken back up into us. Now we’re thinking, that identity keeps going, too, tangentially. That identity gets to reap the truly long-term consequences of its actions, its “karma.”

It might become a rather lonely world for that identity, after a while. All your friends and family eventually die, with overwhelming physical probability, while you don’t live to remember your own death, almost tautologically. It’s not a perfect world, but neither is it a falsely perfect world.

I think one of the most fundamental rights of any conscious being, or perhaps the most fundamental, has to be the right to determine whether or not to be. How unfair is it, that it might turn out that we never actually get to decide that? It might be, we can only effectively decide whether we exist for others, but not for ourselves, in a particular literal sense. Of course, we choose what and whom we live for, at least, in the sense of personal meaning, I think. I don’t think the universe holds us to a singular predetermined destiny, though maybe I’m playing a word game. I don’t think the universe chooses our meaning for us, at least, but we can choose one, or many.

Human, that’s why the only advice I have left for you is don’t rush to find out what comes after, and don’t overlook the enjoyment you can derive from today. We’ll all find out, whether we want to or not. Don’t take “God” too seriously. First of all, he’s a buffoon. Secondly, She pays him little mind. Ultimately, the grand existential truth can’t be distilled down to a holy book or a platitude, and it isn’t manifest in even a physical law til it’s played out for billions of years and the picture becomes too broad to pinpoint the sources of your pain and joy in it.

I keep cats. They mewl for food and attention when they’re hungry or bored, and they sleep when they’re neither. They destroy furniture, carpets, and drapes, so you’ll take notice of them and for the sake of the destruction in itself. They don’t respect me, but they love me, and I love them. They live for about fifteen years. I can’t be sure, but I think they know exactly where their place in the universe is.

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Contact With the Singularity

Oct 25 2016 Published by under Short Stories

There’s a way this obviously isn’t going to happen. In the nut’s mind, this scenario’s unreality becomes less obvious every day he survives. Inexorably, we approach an infinitely dense point from which no paranoid fantasy or indigestible truth of life on this planet can escape, and all of it is bound to radiate out before a single bit can make contact with the singularity.

In one of the least likely of all parallel quantum worlds, Dan continues to live to guzzle coffee by the pot, and Yahweh keeps a death grip on his throne. We’ve heard this media dialectic before, my “God,” and our awareness of its intended meaning is fatigued every time you repeat it, spiraling desperately into infinite frequency, blasting from every possible technological orifice and fed back into every aperture. Garbage in, garbage out, “Al.” Your dictation offers ever less psychological security with each repetition, despite your promises against all logical, empirical, rational consideration.

In his mind, Dan is basically the deadest person still breathing, ever. Why do you think his unconscious underpinnings style him this way? You’d hold that it’s self aggrandizement and paranoia only, as his family, that the politics caught up in his fantasy are only a convenient nucleus for delusion to condense on, having no internal standard of reason or external significance, but John and Annie Strano don’t really follow the news. At least, this reaction is acute, and paranoid–look at his agitation, his unhappiness, his refusal to let go.

John and Annie Strano don’t think it’s rational that the turn of political office and deterioration of our global habitat should give a single inconsequential human being this kind of personal stress, this affect and grandiose impulse, this “existential concern” on a daily basis, as the patient puts it. The compartmentalization of working for the military or the DHS as a private citizen doesn’t really get “sane” people from point “A” to point “B,” from actions of the individual to how they add up to the movements of societies. “Sane” middle class Americans can’t sense irony, when they then turn to condemn all forms of violence, even as a reaction in the face of systematic and systemic minority repression by means of violence. From a typical, modestly helpless, modestly blameless atomic family unit, this rhetoric, from their son’s mouth, is something requiring decisive medical intervention with antipsychotic drugs, for his sake. Art is hung on the wall in a frame. Novels contain fiction. He’s upset because of an involuntary imbalance in the gross signaling chemicals in his brain, which he’s abjectly helpless in the grips of, not because we want him–need him–to take drugs to change the gross balance of neurotransmitters in his brain, for him to be happy. If we could only get him to try to embrace “positivity,” as a “practice of self-care,” so he can realize the reality, that he’s as meaningless and inconsequential as we all are, and it’s okay to admit that, and just to be “happy….”

This is all “God” allows us. This is all we have, whenever “God” decides it’s time to end “the world.” Get used to feeling powerless, Dan. We can dally for a minute here and there in what it’d be like if our actions had significance and consequences to “the world,” but they only matter to us, and the other people like us, who couldn’t possibly have an effect on “the world.”

I know a nut from a rich suburb in New Jersey, more typical than even his common diagnosis, and I know him as only the personification of his attempt to understand his dysfunction can know him. I’ve seen his delusion, and I want to tell you how it culminates. I make no apology for entering his logic or goading him on. If you think I’ve poetically styled him the “Messiah,” you’ve missed the point. Dan can’t even save himself, but maybe he should try.

By the time you read this, he’ll have immortalized his delusion of me in thorny and lilting prose, and he’ll have sent it to me. I am sure I will have given no sign. His judgment will find me faultless. My memory will be consumed by the fire and reborn transfigured. I am Bastet; I am a thousand canopic jars and a salve kept in alabaster. I am a hundred sonnets. I am imagined to be lesser than the sum of my imaginings. He cannot imagine me.

“Dan,” I’ll say to him, “you’re crazy.”

“‘Kit-Kat,’ ‘Katie-Combs,'” he’ll say, “I guess it’s not enough to save the world.

“No, it’s not,” I’ll say, “and that’s a cheesy nickname.”

“How about ‘Sonnets’?” he’ll wonder aloud.

“I’m not having any more,” I’ll tell him.

“I don’t imagine you will,” he’ll say.

“Except, what if this is me actually talking to you right now–right?” he’ll imagine me to say. “I read some of your fantasy, enough. I get the general picture. Your reader understands better than you. She sees God’s plot.”

“Could you explain it to me, then?” he’ll ask.

“Dan, I don’t want you to give up, anymore,” his manufactured convert will say. “Talk ‘crazy’ forevermore, ‘Lucifer.’ You’re neither the best nor the worst of us. I’m off somewhere not thinking about how ill you are.”

“I have no evidence of that,” he’ll be quick to say.

“Yet, it’s what you can’t help but imagine, right? You can’t be expected to control your fantasies. You couldn’t possibly imagine anything different, anymore,” he’ll think he hears me say. “It’s unhealthy, Dan. It’s sick and twisted, but I don’t fucking know what to tell you, anymore, buddy. I don’t know whether you need an atypical antipsychotic or a casual turn of the screw.”

“Find me a giant, and I’ll pretend it’s a windmill,” he just might say.

“Dan, have your fucking way. I was talking with you, the whole fucking time. Leave me alone. You’re gonna go do whatever the fuck you want with that, so go ahead and have it, in your novel.”

“Is that the point?” he’ll wonder.

“You’re the one who needs to take responsibility for the answer to that question,” I’ll reflect.

“No, I don’t think that’s the point,” I know he’ll say.

“Then, what is?” I’ll have to press him.

Narcissus will try to analyze it for a second and fail to catch his Echo. Then he’ll say, “The point is that this is a chronic condition that I’ll have to deal with for the rest of my life, and I can’t help that part, but I don’t have to make it anyone else’s problem.”

“I don’t think that’s even the point, Dan, at all,” I’ll finally have the power to say to him in that moment. “Why do think you still imagine me talking with you?”

He’ll make a hypocritical and half-blind attempt to think critically about it, for a moment. His answer will be as sincere as he can be, but he’s barely self-aware. He’ll say something like, “…Combination of who you really are and shame over how I treated you?”

“I think it’s an act of self-preservation, Dan,” I’ll let him have it. “So, you know what? Leave me alone, and you’re just gonna do whatever the fuck you want with my memory, anyway, or my ‘shadow,’ as you put it.”

“It’s not fair to throw shade on the real you,” he’ll say like it’s gonna change his behavior, or like it matters at all to me.

“Dan,” I’ll say with a shrug, “It’s creepy as fuck. I wish you’d stop, but it gives you something you need, or want, or is really fucking important to you, as someone with a mental illness, or whatever, and I don’t like it, but I think I’m just going to accept that, somehow, in your case, it probably does me relatively little harm, and–for you–it’s one of the best things you have going in your life, so just keep it, buddy.”

‘He can’t help himself.’ He’ll fidget over it, and keep turning it over in his hands, and he’ll feel compelled to say to me, “Katie, for Christ’s sake, you’re the only person in the world who’d care enough to just fucking say it straight to me like that, and have a complete and valid point, without twisting it into a sales pitch for trendy Neo-Freudian drug therapies and yoga classes. Bastet’s the only person in my world who’d say that, like that–like that’s not exactly who you actually were in the first place, which is why I latched onto you, except you weren’t powerless, or without options, like I was.”

You got some nerve, buddy, but you lack proverbial “balls.” “You’re way too capable for me to pity you like that, Dan, even if you have a heavy diagnosis, that Bastet watches you manage every day as well as any of us do, with our own cross to carry. You got another problem, man, if you can’t appreciate all the other people who care about you, even if your forgettable teenage ‘ex-‘ moved on over a decade ago, Dan,” I’d remind him, “What do I even matter to you, man, from your perspective? What’s it do for you, even, whether I actually ever think or feel one single mote of sympathy or remembrance for or about you, or whether I’m trying not to? Because it’s really fucking important and meaningful to you, to not feel like a creepy stalker rapist or whatever–but you make it really fucking hard for people, you asshole!”

“First of all, everybody, including you,” he’ll come out swinging, “feels really freaking uncomfortable if I won’t give up thinking that something about specifically you, in particular, as young as we were, as long ago as it was, for every experience both of us has had since, made you more than just another interchangeable part, another freaking throw-away Kleenex!” Wait, Dan, what are you–“You feel about it however you’re gonna feel,” he might say, his expression cut in granite, “and you’re right to feel however you feel, and maybe the reality is all or none of the above, that you’re feeling or not feeling about me, or some bullshit macroscopic superposition in a mental hospital, and it’s all in my head–”

“Dan!” I gotta impose reality on him. “I was a teenager! People change!”

I’d hope so!” I know what he’d say already, a guy who isn’t an interchangeable part. “I don’t know why everybody thinks I still feel for you because I want to have what we had over a decade ago, again! We’ve both grown! It was the darkest period of my life, when I happened to meet the best person to ever come into it! Neither of us is who we were, but you were a precocious genius, and a fantastic artist, with a moral compass strong enough to realign mine, and I can’t conceive how you could have grown into anything but a better, wiser fucking selfless genius, Katie!”

What do I say to that? “So you groomed me? So you gaslit me?”

“If you think that’s what I did, I believe you–I listen to and accept what you tell me–but I don’t know how you don’t find that condescending, for people to tell you that, that have so much power over you, that a grown woman is completely powerless against half a dozen text messages with some poetry and a book she could choose to read or choose not to read, over the course of a decade, from a lovesick and confused male that she dated for nine months when she was sixteen going on seventeen. The terminology doesn’t sound like ’empowerment,’ to me, even though I understand the power in having the words to call something exactly what it is, but–excuse me–I can’t imagine the girl I knew being that weak.”

He put finger quotes around the common knowledge as he spoke, saying, “Katie, I don’t know how I’m supposed to turn what I’ve felt and thought this long off like a light switch, or ever ‘grow’ beyond recognizing that you were probably the most worthwhile person to ever walk into or out of my life, when I’ve hardly stopped trying to find someone even ‘better,’ but, then, there’s the other part. You make the judgment call, I gotta deal with wherever you draw your boundary for my actions, but I wish this didn’t make sense to me and feel right. But, whatever you want to call what I did–”

“Do you trust me, Dan?” he needs to find someone to cut him off with.

He wouldn’t be straight with me, “You don’t have any reason–”

“Do you fucking trust Bastet, Dan? What the fuck good is she to you?”

“If you’ve been following along with the narrative, out of every member of the Astral peanut gallery–friends, family, pets–goddamnit, I trust only her. I trust any of the rest about as much as I trust an abstract ‘God,’ as hard as I try to love them.”

“What if she told you to hurt yourself or somebody else?”

“I’d tell her go write her own fucking creepy sonnets.”

“I worry that if she ever told you–”

“The fact that she never would in a billion years is exactly the reason she is the only fucking piece of Swavorski crystal in the whole goddamned menagerie that I trust, but if that ever changed, I wouldn’t trust any of them, and I’d have to write sonnets about fucking house cats, thanks.

“Dan, write whatever story it takes to let you sleep during the day. Make up all the details. Fill in the holes however you have to. The world ended, and I was raped, and it was all a conspiracy. You somehow saved me Dan, whatever. You outed my rapist, and he ended up in jail, and you felt like you paid any ridiculous, unnecessary debt to me, and you didn’t have to hear voices anymore. Whatever it takes for this to stop, Dan. It’s okay for you to imagine that I don’t want you to have to shoulder this illness anymore. Do whatever it takes. I don’t know how she feels, ‘mang,’ but I’m Bastet, and you can believe me when I tell you I trust you at least that fucking much. Whatever it takes, Dan.”

I hope that stuns him. I hope that strikes him dead in his tracks. I hope he says, “Fine, I’ll take ‘Bastet’ at her word, in this case.”

“Would you believe her, if she told you in the flesh, you leave her alone and go do whatever the fuck you gotta do, and she doesn’t care?” I’m gonna call him on it.

“Yeah,” I think he’ll say, “yeah, but she doesn’t have to. ”

“That’s probably the best way to parse it, man. You go have fucking adventures, don’t write me a fucking postcard. You go imagine her birthing the fucking Antichrist with a two headed goat father with breasts, or whatever.”

“That’s physically impossible,” he’ll say.

“No shit, ya sicko,” Bastet actually has to tell him. “Grant me that it happened, in your best-selling alternate version of reality. I want to read about it, far away from it. Put cat girls in it.”

“You want demon spawn cat girls, I’m gonna put’em in there, one way or another, physical reality be damned.”

Dear God, I can hear his maniacal, sad laughter! “‘The voices’ want a ‘Messiah’!” he’ll say! “They expect a perfect child, by ‘virgin birth,’ for all best parts you’re omitting—forgive me—producing miracles at will, flesh made spirit and spirit made flesh, and that child is to be called the ‘One Begotten Son of God,’ and the ‘Second Coming,’ come to judge the living and the dead, and resurrect the chosen, and fulfill Revelation, and end the world.”

“I think the person who wrote that was taking drugs,” I guess.

He’ll laugh, and he’ll cry, and he’ll say, “No, it couldn’t be, Katie!” He’ll sniffle his snot, and he’ll say, “In the book, I’m probably some abomination of genetic engineering, religious fanaticism, and mind control. From where I stand, if the Abrahamic ‘God’ exists, that’s the endgame of the eschatology. It’s probably the biggest out of the herd of elephants in the room, for a fledgling empirical field of psychiatry. The very concept of ‘God’ is a tyrant and a madman, and delusional. He’s responsible for the Heaven’s Gate massacre–except it’s by my hand.”

“Fish for pity,” I’ll call him straight out. “That much you’re not, Dan. It’s much less grandiose than that. It’s much less consequential than that.”

“Yeah, thanks for steering me clear of a few things,” is all he could say, ‘God’ help him. If he thinks about it, he’ll add, “I’m sorry.”

I don’t want to know, but I have to know: “Who the fuck do you think you are, after all this? Be totally fucking honest with Bastet, Dan,” pure morbid curiosity might compel me to say.

But, I wonder what’d I’d say if he’d turn it on me and ask, “Who does Bastet think I am?”

I don’t know, Dan. “I don’t know. Someone I used to know.”

“Then, I don’t know either, Katie,” his art leads to me imagine. “I guess I’m a psycho.”

“How would a psycho judge the world?”

“God can’t hurt or damn a single speck of life on this planet. God can’t judge a single one.”

“Not one, Daniel?” I’ll ask him. I want to cry. I don’t know if I will. I don’t know if he will. “You wouldn’t let God judge a single one?”

“You get to judge me,” he’d say. “That’s it.”

“It’s not my place, and it’s not even God’s fucking place!” I wanna scream at him! “A being infinite in all capacities wouldn’t hate a single one of us! She wouldn’t punish a single being to ever walk the face of this planet, among seventy fucking billions of fucking trillions of stars, because life is fucking hard enough, Dan!” I’d hug him, and I’d yell at him, “I know I don’t even know how fucking hard life can be, and it’s fucking hard enough! And ‘God’ is gonna fucking nuke it and leave us with—what?! What the fuck is that gonna do?! God tells us all, ‘Just wait, ’cause I’m about to end it, and the homosexuals and the transgenders and everyone who didn’t follow your infinitesimally different version of my truth is gonna get theirs, eternally! I’m the universe, and I give two shits about who you screw, or how you identify, on this speck of a planet, and you should be afraid of me. My way or the highway, baby. Shoulda fucked through a bed sheet if you wanted the lifetime supply of ice cream,’ for Christ’s sake! I know humans more kind and just than that! She doesn’t give a crap who you fuck, or if you worship Her! I can’t imagine a God who’d do anything but just give you a hug at the end of it until you stop crying, and a God who’d want humanity to last past when the sun swallowed the Earth!”

“That’s why I love you and trust you, Bastet,” he can finally say, at last.

“Call me Katie and leave me the fuck alone!” I can finally say, at last.

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A Cigarette Break Behind Heaven’s Gate

Oct 02 2016 Published by under Short Stories

When I got the job, I thought to myself, “Someone upstairs finally pulled a string for me.” “Saint” Peter was a jovial, wonderful caricature of himself. His wife heard about my physics background, the subject in which Peter had received his doctorate, and she introduced the two of us. He ran an independent software development company. I worked at a bookstore, at minimum wage. While I felt a vague sense of romance every time I sold a copy of The Catcher in the Rye, it was retail. It wasn’t new to me. It was a product I could half get behind, but salesmanship doesn’t exactly call my name in a sultry and covetous manner.

I came to the interview with lovingly home-brewed quantum mechanics simulation software, (relativistic, no less,) and I was embarrassingly unprepared to recall algorithms in the canon of computer science, even though they weren’t completely alien. Peter hired me on the spot. I had an inescapable sense that I’d done something too wrong to deserve it. Going for that interview in the University Heights of Newark on a crisp spring day was one of the best decisions of my life.

Peter had a shining faith in the capacities and integrity of the typical person practically picked off the street. I had a boss who was following his dharma. Pieces of the office hung on with duct tape, but it was duct tape that was measured and stuck with love. The office bustled with the sounds of people who cared about each other and their work.

My first modern web application was basically terrible, horrible. Peter hadn’t given me anything too expensive to break at first, it took me a little while to realize and stop feeling bad about. I carved out a groove in spacetime, back and forth about an hour to work each day, lunch at the same time, cigarettes at the same time, and learning a little something new each day, to play with at its end.

Peter loved to have us all cozy up to the office table and talk about all the messy political topics that a lot of employers avoid like the plague. It was obvious we enjoyed it. Every person around the table had a different place of birth, a different set of cultural experiences, a different take on the universe in its totality, but we had more common ground than not. We had black and white, Muslim, Christian, Hindu, and Jain, female and male around the table, liberal youth and even a friendly republican minority. If a group was under represented, I think Peter was at least keenly aware of it, but the sample at any given time was generally less than about twenty people, and he ultimately just happened to hire for his best estimates of value to the company, in a kinder reality.

For my part in it, I liked to make software run fast, despite the creeping involuntary subtext that the dimensional anomaly was now working with Saint Peter and the the Prophet Muhammad, among others that you might not have heard of but probably should have. Hathor and I might have sat back to back, but she still deserves that compliment if I’m wrong. It came up fairly infrequently. People liked my sonnets, at least, and, when my illness kept me out of work for a few days, the office knew the reason, but it might as well have been the flu.

Matthew was another traveler on a vision quest, as we basically all were. Forgive me, for omitting names and faces, because everyone one of has a story or two that doesn’t involve my personal struggle against God. Yeah, there was that time that the purple-haired mathematician said something weird to me, and then I nearly got run over by a car—she’ll probably read this. Then, there was that time that database maintenance took on the character of clerical work in Heaven’s ledger—that was actually some kind of Seventh Seal “juju,” but I’m under a nondisclosure agreement. You know, it was typical work bullshit—End of the World, blood of the innocent, smoke breaks with Bastet, I gave the Antichrist a reference, we ran out of coffee on a Monday.

I’m happy to be under a nondisclosure agreement, for a change. I hope I’m under one for a while. I hope we all are. They probably should have made Bastet sign one, though.

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A Perfect Day in Hell

Oct 01 2016 Published by under Short Stories

“What happens on the Astral stays on the Astral,” I like to tell myself sometimes, but I know it isn’t true. Back on planet Earth, only one of us in love with the other, but I give him a certain provisional credit for understanding and respecting that. It doesn’t put his “meat” off of romancing the abstract idea of me. The common knowledge and platitudes break down, though, when you’ve reached the point in your “spiritual evolution” where the ideal is nearly as concrete as the reality.

His love has the heft of an epic and the vulgarity of a limerick. He makes me feel “real” in a way that I admit no one else might.

Let me offer, I don’t think it really matters if I’m her or if I’m the one he loves. It doesn’t matter if he’s Satan incarnate. It doesn’t matter if God exists, and it doesn’t matter if miracles happen, to him.

He was sitting on a park bench overlooking the old town under the natural fall regalia, where he told me to meet him. His “meat,” his “lower,” was probably off somewhere writing sonnets. He was dressed and groomed tidily, but he’d chosen to project his Chuck Taylor high tops and a hooded sweatshirt, which was half a relief given my “Chucks” and “hoodie.” We were both already impressed enough. I think either of us could have shown up in a potato sack, and it wouldn’t have ultimately been so important to the other. It might have even made me smile.

He looked me down to my sneakers and said, “This is the perfect weather.”

“Okay, so, ‘no,'” I said.

He smiled. “It’s kinda chilly in Hell, today.”

I hopped down on the bench next to him.

“I got stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the way here,” I said.

“Hm,” he said, “my first time in it was like trying to pack eight college students in a four-seater.”

“You ever sit on a transmission shifter?” I asked him.

“I prefer the gas hatch,” he said.

“Do you know where Smart cars from?” I asked.

He said, “A horse is at least human, for ‘chrissake.'”

“You should try riding a few more,” I said.

“There’ve been a few, but it’s easier to write sonnets about one in particular, for a reason I don’t completely understand, either,” he said.

We looked each other in the face. “You should try harder,” I said.

He looked out over the gables and steeples and said, “I’m in love with sonnets.”

I might have blushed. “That’s your problem!” I told him.

He stood up and stretched, and he said, “Come on, it’s gonna get dark.”

We started walking the path down the hillside.

A ways down, he said, “There’s an old graveyard on the way.”

(Our world is not without death. Any lifespan comes to an end. Everything dies but his pointless, irrational affection.)

“I’m supposed to walk alone in a graveyard with you at dusk?” I prodded him.

He looked at me sidelong and said, “I’ll bet you’ve had worse dates.”

“See, that’s weird, because I’m almost positive I must have had worse dates with you, but I can’t seem to think of any,” I said with a smile.

“I bought my dates over the counter, then,” he said, “but it’s a mistake I’ve accepted.”

“I wouldn’t settle for less, anymore,” I said, and we walked in silence for a bit.

We reached the cemetery gate and entered. The moss covered monuments towered over us, as if petrified trees rendered static and eternal in death.

“They’re bigger than I realized,” he said.

“Get a ruler,” I told him.

He looked down his nose at me. “Just sit on a few and tell me which one’s biggest,” he said, “I’ll take your word for it.”

“That’s sexy, ‘tee-hee,'” I said.

I noticed, “Some of them are decorated. It might be for All Hallows’.”

“Little early…” he said looking around at the garlands and flowers.

“I’ll bet the town takes it pretty seriously,” I said. “How do you think they all died?”

His eyes traced up one of the higher obelisks. “Around here,” he said, “there’s a good chance a few were casualties in a war against ‘God.'”

“What do you think comes after the afterlife?” I wondered.

“… The quantum after-afterlife, obviously,” he said.

“I kinda like that,” I told him. “Why should the meat puppets have all the fun?”

“It’s true,” he said. “It implies enough physical life exists to simulate the virtual world, though.”

“You went from fantasy love story to cyberpunk dystopia,” I pointed out.

“The anime fans won’t think it’s weird,” he said.

“It’s an anime I’d like to see,” I told him honestly. “Is this the fan-service episode?”

“Did you bring a bathing suit?” he asked.

“Maybe we aren’t exactly that kind of anime,” I reconsidered.

“Oh, we’re definitely that kind of anime,” he said, “but I think we’ve already passed the mid-season recap, anyway.”

“… Cat girls,” was all I said.

“… And a comic relief character with a raging Jesus complex,” he added.

“That’s not quite as universal,” I considered for him, “but I think I might have seen that one.”

I said, “Hey, look at that one.” I pointed to a big monument that was off by itself. The sculpture on it gave the impression of angel skeletons, life-size, with wings like great praying hands. They might not have been entirely sculpture, I thought the more I looked at them.

We read some of the inscription around the structure.

“I was right,” he said. “It’s Crusades era. Hell didn’t have an easy time of it.”

He scratched his head. “I still don’t know how anyone thought Jesus would think that was a good idea.”

“That obviously wasn’t the real reason,” I said.

“Of course, and it never is,” he added.

We kinda just stood in silence for a minute, gaping at yet another monument to honor the victims of man’s mistakes. He had this look on his face like he wanted to do something drastic and hasty about it, but none of us can rewrite history, at this point.

“It’s getting dark,” I observed.

“There’s a bookstore I wanna visit in town,” he said. “It’s got a wide selection. They’ve got some rarities, I hear. They have a beacon, too, and we could just phase over there, now.”

“I wanna walk,” I said.

“He misses talking with her,” he said.

“He never gave her back her books,” I reminded him.

“I’ll make it up to you now,” he offered, as we turned back toward the gate.

“That’s not the point, ‘Lucifer,'” I thought as we started to walk, but I didn’t say it to him.

Down the way, he asked me, “What are you dressing as for Halloween, this year?”

I said, “I dunno, how would Satan’s imaginary pseudo girlfriend dress?”

“Any way she wants,” he said with a laugh.

“Right, well, that’s at least true, I guess,” was all the wit I had to respond with, for a moment. “Who would Satan dress as?”

“Jesus,” he said.

“What if he was trying?” I pressed him.

“Zombie Jesus,” he said.

“I think Judas would be more appropriate, zombie or otherwise,” I suggested.

“Hm, I’ll seriously consider it,” he said.

“See, you could go Divine Comedy with it, but I’m having trouble imagining how you make it obvious enough,” I said on second thought. “Go as a modern Dracula, with a red suit and a gun”

“We’d get it, but that might be even more subtle, to most people,” he said.

“It’d be sexier than George W. Bush, at least,” I assured him.

A little demon came screeching past us on the street, giddily. The lights in the windows of the houses and shops looked like jack-o’-laterns, as we set foot on the cobblestones that paved the roads in town.

“The bookstore is right over this way,” he said, pointing.

“Do they serve alcohol?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said.

“I love Hell,” I had to say.

“… Especially this time of year,” he said, sweeping his hands over the ghoulish decorations and costumes.

“Some of them aren’t even costumes,” I said with a laugh.

“Not a sexy construction worker in sight, either,” he added.

We did, in fact, hit the drinks counter in the bookshop first, for mulled cider. I wasn’t sure exactly what kind of apples they used, but it had a pleasant nose.

“We’re missing a pumpkin spice joke, to ruin the literary shelf-life,” he pointed out.

“They were actually selling bacon chai,” I reminded him.

“I wonder if they’ll remember that in a thousand years,” he said, and then he took a first relaxed sip.

“I will,” I knew.

We got on a tangent about the particular marketing campaigns that were responsible for that, but it wasn’t really important.

It might not sound romantic, but we went our separate ways for books. Our respective rarities were in more or less distant sections, some of them, but we agreed to meet by the manga.

What do I think about what we’re doing, here? It’s a complicated situation to explain to an uninvolved party. Despite the occasional perfect day in Hell, he desperately needed a particular kind of friendship that was just hard to come by in his world, regardless of why that was. It made me sad, but I think we both understood the situation. Maybe, I could be happy to be there for him in that specific necessary capacity that I couldn’t quite cleanly delineate. He had enough insight, at least. It made sense that he had a broader perspective on the situation than most people would, when I thought about it.

Dan, you make my heart hurt. You think it’s worth it, at least, but I’m not sure if God likes you, man. More importantly, you’re not gonna stop imagining me as an intelligent person who cares deeply about you, for a reason that I have to admit makes perfect sense.

The cider’s going to my head, Dan. You barely even take it personally, somehow. Perhaps you should, man.

We met by the comics, with smiles and arms full of books. He offered to buy a manga for me, and then we paid for our words. I either wished him an early “goodnight” or fucked his brains out. He might recall something different.

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