Archive for the 'Short Stories' Category

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’d 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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The Most Likely of All Possible Worlds

Sep 29 2016 Published by under Short Stories

Ilya wants her cancer cured. Min wants his mother’s cancer cured. Bo wants a functioning lung. Leon wants his son’s heart to last just long enough to make it to the transplant. Ronald Drumpf wants a bigger penis.

“I knew it was gonna end this way,” I think every day, now. See, the thing is, it turns out that even the “gods” aren’t truly capable of miracles. We can’t rewrite the physics “rule book,” believe it or not.

We’ve been on this planet for a very long time. We’ve seen things it isn’t even possible for you mortals to see. However, the debate over religion is almost identically the same one you already know as humans. Some of us try really hard, to answer your prayers, but please believe me that you can often accomplish more by picking up a soup ladle or donating to a highly reputed charity. There is relatively little in my purview, as the “god” Bastet, that is not available to any one of you, to affect real change on this beautiful, delicate little planet we all call home. In reality, I am an elected politician to you, and that is basically all. Please, remember the pharaoh. Remember the Japanese emporer. Remember the divine right of kings, and remember our shared history.

I cannot put it more plainly. We exist; we are all but human. The apparent confusion around this fact is virtually the same as your debate between the scientific fact of evolution and the baseless claims of a fascist “God” tantamount to the propaganda of North Korea. I can no longer euphemize this. It might be time I left politics.

I’m done with it, in fact. Timothy wants to be able to walk, and an essentially failed businessman riding on his television notoriety and his inheritance from his father is paying millions under the table for penis enlargement magic. “Because it’s natural,” I kid you not.

Mind you, he doesn’t need a bigger penis. Of course, this is very probably true, and I might have to feel a little bad for him, and find a respect for his personal request, if his penis is in fact clinically “micro,” though the issue here isn’t when it’s right to feel bad about its size, you see. He’s very quick to point out, though, that his penis is already huge. He’s quick to remind us, on national television, he just wants to be really freakishly big. He claims he considered asking for “naturally” larger breasts for his wife, or even his daughter—his words—but his wife really just can’t get enough of the “peen,” I’m sure. She likes ’em big as loaves of bread, Ronald tells us, because he wasn’t able to circumvent the provision that requests for “physical magic” are to be a matter of public record, since that “breakthrough” hit the scene.

Everybody gets one, basically, subject to the condition that it isn’t “too” obvious, usually, or illegal. Madison wants her cat to live another year. Jeremy donated his to a group that will use it to further peace in the Middle East. Ronald wants testicles the size of avocados.

So, maybe I should explain how “physical magic” works: it doesn’t. In most worlds, I should not have to qualify that statement. We’ve recently made a very important discovery, though: it can appear to work in a way that is not a stage illusion to the eye, or the telescope, or the microscope, or the stethoscope, until you understand the somewhat subtle physical reason why things happen that way, and then to carry on believing it is a political magic trick. If you’re willing to literally die if you don’t win this election, you can live almost only to see yourself win it, truly enough.

My friend, how “physical magic” works, or rather doesn’t, is as simple as this paradox, which rather isn’t: you are guaranteed a physically possible result will happen, regardless of how likely it is to happen. The likelihood to see it is physically predictable, yet all likely and unlikely physically possible scenarios occur. It happens all ways, and we see it happen any of them, with a guarantee that all are seen by different versions of us. Understanding the social implications of this is critically important to my world—our world—but it doesn’t become a concern in an obvious way until you win the lottery a few hundred times in a row. That “evidence” can be read many ways. Superstition and religion are still the tools of the miracle workers and policy makers.

We once did not utter the holiest four letter name of “God” for this reason—he has oppressed us for thousands of years! Yet, to speak could unmake our being. A tyrant, a mad man, yoked all our world under his delusion of grandeur, and counted the age of the universe from the moment of his birth. Allah, Adonai, Father of Christ, believe me, yours is not the only name!

How many of them did you steal, Elohim? How many of us did you slay to send a proxy in their place, to take their name? How many did you devour, you fat, gassy, beast? Now, here we are. When the world showed you some greater measure of tolerance, you took advantage of us, and taught your followers to believe in only you, against any evidence. This is not our way, or the way of the universe, Yahweh. Rome conquered you as a nation, but had no problem with you as a god. Then, you pretended to bring an honest man back from the dead, and you swore his followers to no oath but yours. Maybe that was for some good discerned, Qanna, but the dead do not control their memory. Ultimately, no one of us does. I don’t suppose you’ve met the Jains, or any of us, El Shaddai. It is not even in the true hearts of so many of your followers, but your jealous organ!

Say it, human! Say that your God is perfect, and infinite in all capacities, and that you believe him before all the scientific evidence that could be and your own eyes and ears! This is the self-unaware refrain of fascism! This is a poison whose antidote is the study of history!

So, when Ronald Peckerwood wanted surgery-free “natural male enhancement,” God knows He’d take the money, like Kim Jong Il would. Shiva wouldn’t. Neither would I. Maybe “God” just “happened” into the absolute power to corrupt, though, and I give myself too much credit. I think I know garbage men who’d have more integrity.

“See, those assholes can absolutely waste their physical magic on trying to do good for other people who didn’t work for it, and walk away with nothing to show for it,” Ronald bombasted through the television. “They’re idiots. No one’s gonna do that for them. Let ’em waste it on any refugee or illegal immigrant who’s just gonna turn around and pay the favor back with a suicide bomb. Idiots, all of them. You won’t see me wasting my opportunities.”

Right, Ronald. You’re such a cunning businessman, with a gigantic penis, by the way. Your net “success” starting from the capital of your inheritance hasn’t even beat the average market return! You’ve literally wasted more money than you’ve ever made! I’m not even talking about your garish lifestyle, your gold-plated toilet, but rather just the opportunity cost not to put the money in a damned index fund! You could have had a virtual guarantee of better return sitting on your ass rather than creating shell corporations to bankrupt, to dodge debt and taxes!

“Stop screaming at the broadcast,” Maat said to me.

“Was I screaming?” I had to ask.

“I can hear what you’re thinking,” she said.

“He’s literally ready to end the world over this!” I yelled at her.

“They all are, Bast,” she said.

“What do you think about that?” I asked her.

“Personally, or as historical judge of fate in the afterlife?” she asked.

“The second one, first,” I said.

“It’s genuinely a matter of ignorance, for most people,” she said. “You can see how the best scientific explanation for ‘physical magic’ is not an easy one to understand well enough to accept.”

“… And in the other capacity?” I was curious.

“The planet is easily lead by willfully ignorant people and hypocrites, and I’m sick of this shit,” she said.

“How do we stop it?” I asked.

“… The End?” she clarified. “I don’t have a better suggestion than what we’re already doing. We shouldn’t take it personally. If we take it personally, and we say something people already don’t wanna hear in a way they definitely don’t want to hear it, everyone has far too many other avenues for immediate gratification today to listen to what we’re saying for another three seconds.”

“We’re competing with thousands of flavors of donkey porn on every person’s handheld device,” I said, slumping.

“It’s worse than that,” she said. “The distractions are researched at great expense to be carefully orchestrated, though phone porn might suffice.”

Maat smiled. “What do you think about the Guinea pig’s role in this?” she asked me.

“Yeah, what the hell am I supposed to think?” I wondered. “My rational mind tells me that’s really all he is, a ‘Guinea pig,’ like even he says. I honestly believe at this point that literally every one of us ends up in shoes closely resembling his in a parallel quantum world.”

I said, “He couldn’t be less political.”

“Is that good or bad?” Maat asked.

“It’s a guilty pleasure,” I admitted. “It’s fun to watch him pop, but that’s super convenient for good ol’ ‘Al’ and Eris, when the pig eats his foot.”

“It’s also extremely inconvenient, I think,” said Maat.

“All he wants is a hole in the ground and a loaf of whole wheat bread,” I said, melting into my chair. “I don’t know if he even deserves it.”

“Either way, he gets it, in one of these worlds, and I’m starting to think we all do,” said Maat.

I rubbed my third temple. “The whole fucking time, that’s what that weird subtext to the damned afterlife really was, that we thought we understood.”

“It’s obviously more complicated than that,” said Maat, “but it’s not angels flying out of Al’s butt, for sure.”

I couldn’t stop staring at Drumpf’s squinchy orange mug. “Why did we let it go on this long, Maat?” I asked half rhetorically.

“Which part?” she responded.

“… Keeping the important parts half a secret from the humans,” I said.

She laughed devilishly. “I could be a jerk and just fall back on the fact that it was the democratic will of the people, nominally.”

Why?” I wanted to know.

“Bast, for one thing, we’re essentially parasites,” she said. “The humans might not take kindly to the fact that we basically lay eggs in their brains, or maybe rather their minds.”

“Our biologies are so intricately interwoven that that’s really not an accurate way to put it,” I said. “They wouldn’t have understood thousands of years ago, like we didn’t, but we share the capacity to look at it clinically, today.”

“… Maybe in the past fifty to one hundred years,” said Maat, “or two hundred, at most.”

“Then why not in the past fifty years, Maat?” I just wanted to hear her state the obvious.

“I could regurgitate the talking points,” she said, “about mental privacy, and respect for the ancient religious taboos, and investing too much in the humans with questionable prospects for return, but those are bullshit.”

“Then why?” I asked her again.

“… So ‘God’ doesn’t have to be accountable to them, too, when he takes money to grow Tronald Dump’s dick, obviously,” she said.

“You’re one of my best friends, Maat,” I told her.

“When does ‘Oo-la-lonald’ come up in the queue for his natural male enhancement miracle?” she asked.

“Tomorrow,” I said, “right after a fourteen year old who’s asking for her HIV to be cured.”

“That’s really the most tragic part,” said Maat.

“What?” I asked. “That it’s false hope? That the ‘Guinea pig’ is gonna see a world where she’s cured by chance, which has zero actual bearing on her prospects for a cure? ‘Oh, thank you, God!’ she’ll say, and the cameras will come in for close-ups on her and her family’s tears, and all it is in reality is the Guinea pig’s personal Hell.”

“Maybe ours, too,” said Maat.

I raised an eyebrow. “Is it?” I asked her.

“… Not the HIV patient’s,” she said.

“Is it an illusion?” I asked her.

“She’ll get her cure, but yes,” she said.

“She won’t get her cure, Maat,” I said. “That’s why this is so utterly malicious. The reality is, we’re just going to see the Guinea pig die, instead.”

Maat put her hand to her chin. “That’s so hard to parse,” she said. “By now, it’s so hard to believe.”

“Yeah, well, the lab rat has been successfully damned, by now, for cracking too many jokes at God’s expense,” I said, gathering myself to leave. “Ultimately, it’s not anyone’s fault, when it happens to all of us.”

“It was partly his own choice, Bast,” she said. “Where are you going?”

“I’m gonna get a hammer and go smash Ron’s dick with it til it doubles in size, so he doesn’t have to kill my delusional ‘ex,’ anymore,” I said in a huff.

“Bast, I’m curious!” she called after me. “What do you plan to do when it’s your turn to be the lab rat?”

“It’s an objectively physically true statement that I’m probably gonna find out in like five seconds, Maat!” I called without turning back.

I’d already arranged the meeting, but I was honestly slightly ‘skeeved’ by the idea of talking with him in private. The mansion I was told to meet him at, on the Astral, (in a rich neighborhood of Heaven, of course,) was even gaudier than the physical ones the guy attached to his favorite cocktail wiener slept in. This was hopeless, I already knew. Even if he relented, it’s not like there weren’t billions more people ready to take his spot in line. I just had to have it out with him, for me. I knew what was going to happen, in the set of worlds following the likely general scenario, and I knew what was going to happen down the road in the one he was convinced was a sure bet.

Even his “soul’s” face looked like a squinchy orange potato head doll, in person. (I swear to you he was playing with a giant corn syrup stretch doll while “discreetly” looking at porn on a monitor turned away from the door, when I walked in.)

“Miss Bast, welcome to my humble abode,” he said, as I entered.

I cringed. “Normally it’s ‘council member Bast,’ Mr. Drumpf, but I guess the formalities aren’t really important, particularly since I’m here on personal business,” I said gently.

“Oh, you’re a council member?” he asked, eyeing me in a way that even “God” usually wouldn’t get away with. “Can I ask, what are you, Bast?”

I knew what he meant. “I don’t know what you mean,” I responded.

“I mean, your ‘lower,'” he said, “is she, like, Egyptian?”

That ended the charade, buddy. “My ‘lower’ is a vegan taxidermist who works with roadkill, whose television appearances were actually watched by the singular and coveted ‘Jesus’ demographic, unlike yours.”

He was taken aback, but then he smiled. “Me-ow, Bastie baby. For a council member, you don’t have the best poker face, do you? My secretary told me you had a request for me.”

I said low, “Ronald, it might not be so much of a request as a warning about the shit show you’re about to walk into blind, but, for the Hell of it, let me ask you, first: would there be anything to convince you to cancel your request in the physical magic queue, to be served tomorrow?”

Ohhh, say no more, Kitty,” he said, “say no more. I get it, now. You’re sick of your boy toy being pushed around, and you just can’t take it, can you? Let me tell you what—here’s what I’m gonna do for you, Bastie. First, I’m gonna unzip my pants,” he said as he reached for his zipper. “Then, you’re gonna put those pretty lips against my—”

“—Ron!” I yelled. I stabbed at him: “I’m gonna yank it down hard like a slot machine lever til your eyes spin around and come up cherries, you racist, misogynist hog.”

He zipped back up and gaped at me, and then he sat down with an angry look on his face. He knit his fingers in front of him. He said, “‘Kitty-Kat,’ I’m gonna say something I usually wouldn’t say. I’d never say it. This wasn’t exactly what I was expecting, when my secretary told me you needed a favor, and I don’t like it. I don’t like it one bit. I respect it, though, a little, I admit. I have to admit.”

I closed my eyes for a moment, and I took a deep breath. “Ron, there are two general sets of worlds we could find ourselves in by this time tomorrow. The one you’re expecting, that most of the world is expecting, contains you with your cock blown up like a party balloon. The other general set, which is probably trillions of times more likely as a whole, contains my close friend, dead, and your penis is nonplussed. For his death, we are no more likely to find ourselves in the first general scenario set, is the majority opinion in the scientific community at this point, on the topic of ‘physical magic.'”

He scowled. “That’s such an obvious lie that I could laugh at it, Bast. Look at the endless line of successes! Every day, we get miracles out of him, out of that bastard rebel. The proof is indisputable.”

“Then how does it work, Ron?” I asked him.

“He stole the technology from God!” he shouted. “He has to exist, now—it’s an ‘existential imperative,’ I think the terminology is—so if we move to kill him, that world just doesn’t exist, because it can’t!

“What physics textbook did you read that one in, Ronald?” I prodded him.

“It’s as plain as day, Bast! Experiment is on our side, this time!” he said. “Why are you targeting me? What about the dozens of people in line between now and me?”

“‘Dumpf,'” I addressed his greatness, “the difference between you and most of them is that you’re a tiny, selfish prick.”

He laughed and smiled. “Except, pretty soon, I’ll be a colossal prick, Bastie!”

We stared at each other. My expression didn’t move a millimeter.

“I mean, I already am, that is, but bigger,” he said. “It’s relative.”

“Ron,” I said to him, “when God answers your prayers for a horse cock, it’ll just be one more reason that nobody would ever sleep with you but a gold digger.”

His face turned lurid. “You think you’re so damn witty, bitch, but that doesn’t even make any sense when you think about, when you really think about it. I mean, even a hooker—”

“‘Frumpf,'” I said, “I know some hookers, and you’re not up to their standards, but I’ll give you that you might find a handful of really desperate ones on the bottom tier.”

You don’t know who you’re talking with!” he roared. “I’m the best businessman, the greatest—”

“Ron,” I said, “you could have taken Finance 101 at community college, put your inheritance in a mutual fund that promised average market return like your professor basically would have told you, sat on your ass wanking and eating cheese puffs for the rest of your life, and literally ended up making more money that way, I hope we both realize.”

“You’re nothing but a flat-chested, ugly bitch in the end, ‘Bast-tard,'” he fumed.

“‘Lumpf,’ put a handle on your head and sell it to Louis Vuitton,” I suggested.

Out, bitch!” he exploded at me, as I turned to walk the long mile to his office door. “Your boyfriend is gonna suck it when it’s twice the size of his!

“Go to Hell, ‘Fonald,'” I said without looking back.

“I own half of Hell, in fact. The taxes are outrageous, just insane—you really couldn’t afford them,” he said.

I turned to face him from the door. “That’s why they have the best infrastructure, education, and healthcare on the goddamned Astral, ‘Pumpf,'” I said, and I blew him a kiss as I exited.

“That accomplished nothing,” I thought as I strutted my way in escort out of the mansion, “but, man, did it feel great!”

The world is already over, I decided. I took a day off to count my “blessings” and to watch the endless stream of winning lotto tickets get cashed.

Ilya’s cancer was “cured.” Min’s mother was “cured.” Bo’s lung started to work, by a stroke of improbable luck. Leon’s son rolled seven after seven. I knew that, for every wish granted, a vastly more probable set of worlds kicked us in the head, completely unprepared for it. I knew we were only living in a ‘Guinea pig’s’ personal Hell, by alien luck, in nearly the tiniest possible fraction of a quantum mechanical universal wave function—just like his father had planned.

Human, how many planets have we colonized? In a universe that is over thirteen and a half billion years old, by anyone’s best estimate, with about 70 billions of trillions of stars in the part of it which we can observe, alone, of which some others almost assuredly host life by any reasonable scientific guess, why do you think that an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and reputedly benevolent being has occupied ‘Himself,’ on this pale blue mote, with its Armageddon, its worship, and eternal damnation for something like putting the penis in the butt or kinda scissoring? What if the floor was wet and you kinda slipped? What if was dark and you thought it was a pickle? You really think She gives a shit? (I could only imagine She’d at least slightly prefer ‘She,’ by the way, but maybe that’s just me.) You really think She’d punish you for that? You really think She’d put a political imperative to you and want you to push Her agenda for Her while instructing you to deny your logic and reason? You really think She’d want you to compel the rest of the world to worship Her as you do, while She straps a bomb to the chest of someone who has an infinitesimally different interpretation of Her, to come blow up you and your family?

My child! This is a sickness and a lie! This has every hallmark of living under fascist, authoritarian tyranny!

Drumpf stepped up to cash his ticket, before they even opened the gates for the ponies. Dan suffered a major heart attack and a stroke, in practically all worlds, except for a razor-thin bridge to whatever kind of life came after.

They actually cut off his penis. They actually took a machete and hacked it off.

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How I Nearly Fucked Satan

Sep 27 2016 Published by under Short Stories

Look, he’s going to try to force my hand. He’s already putting words in my mouth, when there’s nothing to say. That would make so much more sense.

I don’t understand you, Dan, and I don’t care to, anymore. You can immortalize me all you want.

“Because it’s just not the way of the world?” you’d ask.

Because I don’t want to, Dan.

“I respect your answer, but I still love you,” you’d say.

“Why?” I wouldn’t ask.

I think I know the reason why, though, I don’t care what your answer is. You love an idealization of me, Dan—literally a psychotic one.

“I know it’s unheard of,” you might say, “to carry on so long after dead and buried, in knowledge of the reality, aware of the mores, but there is a reason your memory speaks to me, whether or not.”

Then find someone else.

“That makes even less sense,” said Dan.

Than what?

“Than talking with Bastet,” he says.

You don’t want to find someone new?

“I’ve found a dozen ‘someones new.’ I still love you,” he says.

“Why, Dan?” I wouldn’t ask.

“You’re the best one of all of them,” I wouldn’t even believe.

Do you hear me, Dan? You can’t. You made the whole fucking thing up, with a lilting tone in your voice, and I didn’t even hear it.

“Look, I don’t get it, either,” he said, “and I know it looks like a Molotov cocktail thrown at your house, but what am I supposed to do?”

Make the rational decision and give it up, Dan. It’s hard to believe that’s even sincere. It’s because you believe I’m literally an Ancient Egyptian cat god, which is cute, but it’s an instability I don’t need in my life.

“Wanna pretend?” I could imagine you saying.

No, I don’t, Dan.

“Neither do I,” you’d say.

Done with the head games, Dan. I don’t know what you want me to say, either. You’re Jesus, Dan.

“Obviously not.”

You don’t get to say that! I don’t understand it, and you don’t get to put words in my mouth!

“Can’t claim innocence.”

You certainly cannot.

“Then let’s drop it.”

Fine, yes, let’s. (I’d think, “Fuck you,” but he’d hear it.)

And that would be that. That’s the end of the conversation. Twenty years later, he’s built a statue of me the size of the Colossus of Rhodes, with cat ears. He’s written exactly 333 Shakespearean sonnets about me. Wow, man, it’s really a wonder you can’t get laid. It’s really a wonder.

“You owe me nothing,” I swear the asshole would say.

And I’d let him have that. And he’d save the world for me.

He’d try to save the world for me, because his illness latched onto me. He’d say I indirectly or directly saved him, or both, multiple times—why? Don’t say that to someone!

We met in a garden supply. He worked there, and I came in for an application, and I swear to you I was not the least bit attracted when I kissed him.

“She was this petite goth girl with long black hair—”

What color are my eyes?

“Brown?”

You have to guess?

“It was less important.”

Than what?

“Than whatever this conversation is, right here,” he said.

Oh, yeah, fucking award winning conversation in five minutes between marathon make-out sessions. Have you heard of this thing called a “date,” Dan?

“Well, by now I have,” is all he could say, “and I’m sorry.”

Dan, let me point something out: this was ten years ago. I could have a partner and a family by now.

“Tell that to Bastet,” says the nut.

Is that it? She’s not real.

“Then, I’m up shit’s creek,” I can’t understand how he’d come to the point of saying, but he has to.

Tell me I’m your soulmate, Dan.

“That crap doesn’t work.”

Tell me I’m your goddamned soulmate Dan, if that’s what you believe.

“I just said that crap doesn’t work.”

And in spite of yourself, you’re laughing. What about your brand of crap?

“Works half the time,” you’d say, “roughly.”

Oh, okay. So go away.

“You go away.”

Because she won’t?

“Ask her,” I don’t want to hear you saying anymore.

This conversation goes nowhere good, or right, or even sane.

“I have trouble imagining you falling in madly and deeply with me, honestly, at this point,” you say.

Then you understand, Dan. Say, “But what if she’s real?” Dan.

“But what if she’s real?”

My friend, at least a part of me wishes I could say she was. She is not, Dan.

He’ll say, “I’m not gonna argue with you.”

No, Dan, we are not having this conversation right now.

“This is getting creepy.”

By the gaslight of the moon, Susanna.

“I’m willing to treat it as a fantasy,” would at least be true.

You’ll make someone else very happy that way.

“This is what I live with on a daily basis, except I don’t want her to go away,” he says.

I ask, “How far would you take it, Dan?”

You don’t want to know. It’s not the way you think.

“Then, how is it?” I wanna know.

“She is someone unlike any other person I know,” you say, “or don’t know.”

She fills your inkwell, Dan? She’s a convenient unattainable? You’re a nut!

“She’s worth it!” Dan says.

“You can’t even know that,” I say in a parallel dimension.

“Something tells me you two aren’t actually so different, in ‘reality.'”

By the time I started the job at the garden center, he was already coming apart at the seams. We flirted a bit, my first fucking day on the job, and I think I was over at your house that week, wasn’t I?

“We went for a walk,” he’d say.

It was a walk to remember, Dan. Coming back to your house, you grabbed my hand—

“I asked if it was alright,” you’d point out.

You asked if it was alright to do so, as you grabbed my hand, and I said, “Yes.” We made out on the couch in his basement for the next nine months, and then I dumped him.

“You’re skipping all the good parts,” you’d say.

What good parts? The dates you never took me on? The sex we never had? Pray tell, Dan, what were these supposed “good parts”?

“You gave me an anatomically correct sculpture of a human heart in a black coffin shaped box.”

You didn’t even appreciate it.

“I still have it,” you’d say without irony intended.

That’s even worse, Dan. You probably still have every little knick-knack I brought you.

“Half of them, up in the attic or back tucked away,” you could probably say honestly.

You’re obsessed. You wanna act nonchalant, but this isn’t normal.

“We’d both say, ‘Fuck normal,’ Katie,” I can’t hear you say anymore. “I got you a plush Cthulhu doll for Valentine’s Day.”

I threw it out, Dan.

“I didn’t throw out the Teddy Bear you made me, with the eyes stitched over and a third eye open on its forehead.”

You’re creepier than that bear.

“Nearly as creepy,” you’d think. “I named him ‘Tachyon.'”

Because you had these bizarre ideas about quantum physics! You practically ran around shouting at people that they were “quantum computers!”

“And then I got a degree in physics,” of course. “I was going to research topological quantum computation for my doctorate, but my advisor was a total asshole.”

So you became a crystal healer, instead.

And you’d say, “That reminds me of the mix CDs we swapped, for some reason.”

I hope you at least lost those.

“I did, but they’ve had a lasting impact on my tastes,” I could imagine you saying, or something.

Go take some Dexedrine, Daniel.

“I got that joke literally six years later.”

I don’t care if you ever ‘got it.’

“She brought me a rabbit, to keep me company—”

No one is ever going to get that joke but you.

“I’m sure you found at least another person or two who would,” you’d say anyway.

But that’s why your love for me is eternal, right? Dan, I remember you as this virtual Looney Toon with an ax to grind against the world and against God, who was really rather laughable in retrospect!

“At least it’s not the only dimension of my personality, anymore,” he says.

But I never said it ever was. Give me a little more vicarious credit, by proxy, Dan, since I picked a winner like you.

“Isn’t it truly to your personal credit that you supported someone incapable of helping himself, at the time, largely for the sake of your own moral compass, without expectation of reward?” you actually asked me.

“That’s a double-edged sword Dan!” I yelled at him. “That’s another golden apple I don’t want to eat!”

I know what you’re saying, but it’s true.

“So, corner me, and have your way with my imagined point of view!” I wanna scream in his face.

“I’ve thought about this conversation a thousand times,” he said, “and I understand why you’d rather not have it.”

Then we’re not having it.

“Best conversation I never had in ten years,” you bastard.

He never even took me on a single date. You never wrote me that poem, Dan, until I was long gone.

“You’re right,” he’d admit.

Well, it wasn’t so special. It wasn’t real, Dan. It was a gesture made at me, for you, like everything else.

“That last part isn’t true,” you might have half a right to say.

Dan, regardless, it was completely unrealistic.

“Katie, your ‘idealization,’ who is my closest friend, is just as sick as I am with the false ‘realism’ that underscores our alienation and every nuclear bomb,” I could maybe imagine you saying.

It’s not that big, Dan. It’s not the extinction of humanity, and it’s not the meaning of life—and I’m not her.

“… Are you sure?”

Eighty percent, Dan.

“Don’t let me put words in your mouth!” he says, right.

Take a guess whether I feel the same way sometimes, Dan.

“That’s why, Katie. You don’t know how hard that actually is to find.”

It’s not hard at all, Dan. I’ve met plenty of people who do more about it than you, or me.

“It’d be in poor taste if I gave you a list of the concrete actions I’ve taken toward that end,” you’d have the balls to say.

That’s already in poor taste, though.

“I started to realize that the posturing and ideals weren’t enough, at some point, I’m sure you could understand, but that’s just growing up. The Peace Corps wouldn’t take me, Katie, for an obvious reason. I’m also not the most social and disarming personality, by nature, but there are other avenues besides personally ladling soup.”

Because you’re full of yourself? So you throw money at it, you’re saying?

“I’ll never stop, however it’s perceived,” you say anyway.

Dan, that’s far too easy, but I admit that it might actually be slightly more to your credit than I gave you, but it might not even be. I guess I didn’t think about it, because why would I?

“You basically convinced me to go vegetarian, delayed. My primary reason is energy efficiency and emissions. I’m vegan, at this point,” I’m sure you’d wanna tell me. Let me make a mark on the scorecard, Jesus.

That’s nice, and I actually appreciate it, in a certain way, but it doesn’t matter, Dan.

“That’s not why I’m doing it,” I’m sure. Oh, of course, not Dan.

“Look, neither one of us wants it to be a dick measuring contest.”

You’re damn right, buddy. It also has nothing to do with why I’m not gonna talk with you.

“The less important part is whether you ever talk with me,” I don’t completely believe or understand.

Then what’s the important part, Dan? A book of sonnets for me that I’ll never read?

“You’re getting warm.”

A book of sonnets that my idealization will like?

“Um… Yeah, probably,” half blew my mind.

Then take it up with her!

“Do any of these characterizations not fit?”

Yet, you’re not sure what color my eyes are.

“Must be ‘true love,’ with ponies and rainbow sprinkles,” I could picture you saying.

Well, it’s not reciprocated.

“That’s your decision, and it’s okay, but it has no bearing on the way I feel about you.”

You’re literally the craziest person on the planet. I finally see. You’re completely batshit.

“We’d ‘win’ the Prisoners’ Dilemma,” might sound like yet another non sequitor, but you’d go ahead and “mansplain” it anyway, and I’d probably at least accept that’s actually a pretty high compliment, coming from you.

When I broke up with him, as a teenager, it might have been one of the hardest things I ever had to do up to that point. To his very limited credit, he tried his best to make it no harder for me than it had to be.

“You had a bright future, and my life was a shambles. It wouldn’t have been fair to you.”

It’s moot, Dan. We never even had sex. I couldn’t pick his penis out a lineup if a rape charge depended on it.

“That first part, I still don’t think it’s as important as people make it out to be, in the particular way most people think about it.”

It’s not a small part, Dan.

“You’d probably at least remember that much.”

Fuck you, Satan!

“I wasn’t ready,” you might actually say.

I don’t know what to think about that, Dan, but it’s never gonna fucking matter, anymore.

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Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Strano!

Sep 25 2016 Published by under Short Stories

The call came on a Monday morning when Dan was starring groggy eyed and dopey into his black coffee. Eye of the tiger, Dan. Retail manners, with just that little bit of obsequious sugar in your tone. You don’t know what’s coming, and you won’t. You won’t believe it. Never gonna happen to you. The Second Coming will happen, first.

The call came on a Monday morning, though, as Dan dribbled black coffee all over himself from an over sized mug, like a drunken buccaneer, slurring, swearing, until the phone shocked him with a thousand volts, and that was enough for him to pop. That was all it took. Yes, Dr. Weinentini, he’s available to travel next Tuesday. His employer will likely understand, in fact… Yes, that’s Peter, from the paper. So you see… He provided a doctor of physics’ opinion, I couldn’t have done it without his advice about basic consistency tests… Yes, and Adam coached my calculus. Yes, Tuesday—may my parents come? I see, yes. Yes, I’ll talk with you by email. And thank you for taking the paper seriously, Dr. Weinentini. I mean, I understand that it—yes, see you Tuesday.

“What was that about?” I asked him.

“Like you and the rest of the planet don’t already know,” he said with a maniacal giggle.

“Dan, chance is a factor,” was all I said.

“You’re right,” he said. “People come up with scientific results every day. I had a theoretical result tantalizing enough for some hotshot ‘P-H-D’ ‘phud’ to want to cite, if he ever happened across it. He did, and it was worth it to him to recreate the result, and he ran with it. Good ideas produced by people in the wrong circumstances are usually overlooked.”

“Yeah, well, smarter people have been wrong,” I reminded him, and I pulled him close.

“Dan,” I “whispuwwed,” “I want you to pwomise me something, fow you and fow evewyone.”

“I ‘pwomise’,” he said.

“You haven’t even heard what it is, yet!” I yelled.

He pointed a finger and said, “I want you to promise me that you show some small bit of mercy to my parents when you overthrow their fascist theocratic dictatorship and save the world, at the bottom of the next rabbit hole over from mine.”

“Dan, then it’s just inevitable,” I said, “and you promise me the same.”

Insensible, he went back to his coffee in silence as if nothing had happened. He stared absently into the sun.

I broke the silence in his thoughts one more time. “Dan, you’re right that I already knew,” I said, “and I have a plan for you to consider.”

“… A plan?” Dan asked.

“We’re going to try to force a conversation about our impossible conversations, with the room full of physicists you’re going to be speaking in front of about your quantum accident of a paper, if you want to,” I told him.

“How?” he asked.

“Well, you get the pseudo physical magic concept by now,” I said. “If you want to, Dan, I’ll use it to force the conversation, if you broach the topic.”

“By killing me if the room doesn’t admit to the conspiracy?” he asked squinting.

“Yeah, Dan,” I said, “basically.”

He shrugged and raised his open hands. “What the hell? Sure. If there’s anything to this paranoiac’s waking dream, I’m dead with overwhelming probability already anyway, and I never notice the mechanism by which you folks would end it.”

“So you’re ready to do this?” I wanted to know.

“If you don’t exist,” he said, “it’s harmless anyway. If you do, why wouldn’t it work, and what does it matter anymore?”

“Then we’ll do it,” I said. “It’s settled. It’s that simple.”

Dan went in front of a room full of people. The room had ambiance, in fact. Some hotshot “P-H-D” “phud” took it on himself to make a public announcement about a strange result in the study of quantum gravity. For one reason or another, a non-institutional venue hosted the event, and it had character. The “phud” introduced Dan. (The “phud” was actually quite a pleasant and charming person.) I was kinda proud of the mistake that wasn’t a mistake.

Dr. Weinentini started to wrap up his talk. He said, “… So, you see why it’s necessary to take seriously the earnest attempt that led to this, and we’ve talked a bit about the theory. With little modification, the simulation is an implementation of Mr. Strano’s math. Here he is to speak a bit about his work in his own words.”

“Now, I hate to say this, but Mr. Strano has asked me to make an explicit note of the fact that he has an illness on the schizophrenia spectrum—which I think is a perfectly unnecessary segue. You will see what I mean. So, without further ado, here is Mr. Strano!”

There was a moderate and sincere applause from the room.

“I wanna fuck ya,” I said as he walked out to the podium. I think it put a little extra spring in his dick.

Dan started to break out the fifty dollar words. I think I followed most of it. His augmented theory of gravitational waves followed from a few simple assumptions. Black holes can be treated as single irreducible quantum objects. They emit waves in the apparent total mass of the hole. The waves travel at the speed of light. They cannot carry more energy away from an object than it has. The waves are bounded on event horizons and the Big Bang.

As a fine point of theory, Dan had posed the particular form of the gravity wave against the common theory in the first place. He only tried to quantize his wave because he was “crazy,” basically. His hypothesis went against a physicist’s “common sense,” but he didn’t know any better than to weave its theorems together into a cohesive delusion, which could only be treated by controlled experiment. His only real loose belief, empirically supported, is that Einstein was fundamentally correct. He offered that his analysis followed, once someone else assessed it in earnest. He thanked the room for assessing it in earnest. That was the universe, in a nut’s hell.

The room grumbled and tweeted with understanding and disbelief, balanced and readjusted as if Dan was being bargained on a scale.

Dan said, “So there’s another topic I need to talk about, now.”

About half the room carried on, and half turned their attention.

Dan asked, “When do we admit to the imminent cataclysm and fix it?”

The room stopped short. A moment later, one lonely supportive cheer flew half up, confused.

“Look to your left, Dan,” I told him. I saw his gaze tip-toe to the side of the stage, off behind the curtains, as the room grumbled and murmured.

My “lower,” my “meat,” slipped in quietly from the side door. I saw him, in the flesh, for the first time in about ten years. I smiled. I was in Converse sneakers and a hooded sweatshirt. His face broadcasted his disbelief.

There was an extra podium toward the edge of the curtains, backstage. I waved, and then I took careful aim, resting the gun on the podium to steady it. (It’s not like I only had one bullet, anyway.)

“What are you talking about?” came a clear shout from somewhere in the room.

Dan froze. I could see in his face when he ruled it an hallucination, and it didn’t even take two seconds.

It barely phased him. “Look,” he said, “I walk around, for over a decade in constant compulsory—coherent—narrative delusion, about an actual metaphysical place, a physical epiphenomenon of a place called the ‘Astral Plane,’ existing in the mind, or the brain—it’s hardly a new delusion on this planet. Over a decade, I’m trapped in it. I do some research I can’t get published, and then Steven Weinentini calls me on my cell phone and tells me he thinks its really significant, and invites me to talk in front of over a hundred scientists I barely let myself dream of ever being in the same room as, much less speaking in front of, and…”

He stumbled for a second. I flinched, but without accident.

“You’re a nut!” called someone in the room.

“I don’t have to explain,” he said, “to anyone in this room—especially my family—what it’s like to feel tiny and yet indispensable to the universe, in a common way. If we have any big and obvious cosmic secrets in this room, I’m not sure if this even makes sense, but now’s the time to abandon the ancient historical hang-ups and lead your physical extension on this planet into the light, already. We’ve really gone way past the last probable chance we even get on this planet, but we landed back on the rock at the bottom, and now we just gotta dust ourselves off and make those drastic changes that the world was gonna end before we made them.”

There was a moment of silence. “What are you talking about?” someone asked for the room.

He dropped his gaze and squinched his eyes. He said, “Christ, help me, I think most of the characters of religion and mythology exist as distributed virtual machines on a platform of natural biological computation.”

My hand trembled. “There’s only one way he can remember this going down, twenty minutes from now,” I told myself. I started to cry.

“Is this gonna work?” asked someone in the audience.

“I don’t know what we’re supposed to tell him,” said another.

“Christ!” shouted a third. “I read his damned paper already, and even I think he’s basically right about that! Billions of people believe a man came back from the dead after three days! You could argue this is even slightly more believable! Let the nut have his beliefs! He thinks the ‘gods’ are subject to natural selection, anyway! It’s harmless.”

Dan’s right eye let a tear get away from it. He said, “But that’s true, isn’t it?”

“Are you talking about the evolution of cultural beliefs, or a metaphysical being, Dan?” come another shout.

“Both!” he said. “Specifically a computational being.”

“That’s outrageous!” came a yell.

“Patently insane!” someone said above the others.

I cocked the gun. Weinentini was strangely glued to his seat during this spectacle. The room went quiet.

“Dan,” said someone toward the back, “at least one or two of us might have tracked down your paper and your internet presence. I swear to you that I don’t think a single one of us can speak to allegations of global conspiracy to hide ‘God’ from you, but your poetry is halfway decent, my friend.”

“Some of us even read your academic paper, Mr. Strano!” came another person. “We have observational reason to take that seriously, despite this lunacy.”

Dan asked, “So you really don’t know?”

I tried to remember that I was gripping the gun and not the necks of the only two other people in the room who actually knew. “Not fucking good enough, ‘God’!” I wanted to scream. “You bring this man into the world, and lie to him, and you take him out back, and bury him in a hole, and then pretend to bring him back from the dead, and you’re sitting there quietly taking credit for a message you’re attributing to him, that’s never who he was or who he was trying to be!”

I took a deep breath and held it in. I checked my aim, and I tried to quell the shakes.

As calmly as I could, enunciating, I annunciated, “Say it, or it’s over either way, ‘Al.'” Dan flinched, and looked the other direction.

“You can’t make me,” his father said immediately. “You can’t fucking make me, Dan! You can’t make me say I’m fucking Allah!”

“You mean you’re fucking ‘Eros,’ Allah,” said his mother.

John said, “‘Eris,’ Annie—you’re the one with summa freakin’ cum louder English degrees, but even I got that straight. I’m just the idiot that holds up the whole goddamned world for everybody, but Jesus H. fucking Christ is gonna call us out on his naming day!”

“So, that’s how this is gonna work,” said Annie.

“That’s exactly how this is gonna work, Annie,” said John, “him and his long lost freakin’ Lenore.”

“That’s cheesy, John,” said Annie.

“God’s an idiot, ‘Kid,'” he quipped back.

“We made him, ‘Kid,'” she said, staring at the floor, sitting on her hands.

“He’s gonna fucking ruin it, Kid! He thinks he’s gonna end God’s kingdom and his marriage in the same day!” said John.

Dan came out of the fugue state he’d been in for a second to spit holy fire. “Folks, no matter how you read it, you’re goddamned control freaks, and every decision I make, or thought I articulate, that is of actual consequence or significance somehow becomes about you! It’s about your pain, and loss of a sense of control that’s at once draconian and pitiably tenuous! It’s about your relationship with grandma freakin’ Hera, reincarnated. It’s about how I reflect the rising and setting of uncle Apollo.”

“Or was he Hypnos, Dan?” asked his mother. “You don’t understand what it’s like to be a parent, son. We know we made mistakes, but there’s no instruction manual, Daniel. I’m sorry.”

Are we missing the point?” Dan shouted and gesticulated through blood tears. “Are we changing the subject to you again? Do you actually hear a word I am saying, when the topic becomes something of particular consequence? Are we all, in fact, clear on whom we know each other to be, after over thirty years?

I gaped. The room went silent. Tears streamed down Dan’s burning, stone countenance.

A groan came from the periphery. “God, he’s probably fucking right!” said the groaner.

Laughs reverberated. My pitch fell a little.

“He’s apparently basically right about the quantum theory of gravity,” said the groaner, “and he’s probably freaking right about this! You win, Strano. You converted me.”

I let my breath go. This couldn’t be a long term solution, could it? How could anyone even have the will for it?

“Daniel,” said Dr. Weinentini, “I think there might have been that one acid trip we all had.”

“… Or two, or three, as the case may be, Steven!” someone said across the room.

Steven Weinentini rolled his eyes. “Yeah,” he said, “just enough to pretend I understand quantum mechanics.”

He said, “Dan, how about this? We appreciate the quantum gravity paper. We’ll keep an eye out for your missed connection with God.”

“I agree!” someone shouted.

The room grumbled semi-affirmatively.

Weinentini stood up. “Then let’s have a round of applause for Mr. Strano,” he said.

The applause was surprisingly warm and enveloping. I’ll never forget the sound of it, or the look on his face. Watching Dan, I kissed the gun and crossed my heart with it. I wished him namaste, out of the corner of his eye, and I fled the scene. Daniel was too distracted to acknowledge the applause.

That night in the hotel, he drank, quite a bit. He talked with himself. He wrote two sonnets for me. He fell asleep unwashed and in his clothing. It was the least likely of all possible worlds.

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The Orange Void

Sep 25 2016 Published by under Short Stories

The story goes, a student once asked a Buddhist master whether the identity reincarnated or only the dharma. More plainly, 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’s answer has been interpreted to mean, “You are asking the wrong question.” Despite its 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.

With that being said, I want to tell you a little about Vot the Destroyer. He is a cunning, sadistic, bad soul. Well, maybe, “bad” is too harsh to generally categorize his soul, but he’s at least “naughty.”

He was worshiped as my servant in Ancient Egypt. I’ll confirm a few millenia after the fact that he really was Bast’s servant, my servant, at least. His duty was to protect the food stores from vermin, and he liked his job. He liked his job a little too much, maybe, but the people were thankful and came to worship him as a minor divinity, which did not offend me. His incarnation was mummified and interred in a tomb of some stature, eventually.

He honestly derived a perverse pleasure from carrying out his duties in the flesh, though, to the point that he immediately petitioned me for another incarnation at his death. I had to think twice, because of a sadistic streak in his function. He would become giddy, and hop up and around, and toss his mortal opponents in the air like rag dolls. He was violent when there was no purpose in it, even, for the sake of gratifying his ego. Given how he was loved, though. I more or less flipped a coin, and I acquiesced with a bit of reservation. Each incarnation, he became more sadistic, and more cunning, but he dutifully carried out the role I set to him.

In one of the great plagues of Europe, he killed literally thousands of vermin. He enjoyed it, but I felt I owed him a debt. His previous incarnations had all been dumb, in the sense of language, but I taught him to speak a single word. This knowledge was easily rediscovered in his future incarnations. He could speak a single word of greeting, almost unique among his brothers and sisters.

He was a serial rapist. He had his way with whom he chose, but certain norms were not in place for him the same way, or at that time. I became frustrated with him, and I had many of his future incarnations castrated. For both his and others’ safety, he was often effectively under arrest in his own home.

The irony was, for all the violence, he loved me. I felt bad for him, and I taught him to operate the mechanisms in his confines that kept him out of rooms in his own home, to the surprise of his keepers, and he was marked as different from his brothers and sisters in another regard.

I broke down and granted him a human incarnation, once. That didn’t go well. We don’t talk about that, anymore.

I almost couldn’t think of a better servant of mine to send to watch and guard Daniel, though. “Vot” and Daphne watch over him, today, and they report back on the doings of the Strano household. “Vot” still rapes Daphne, and he still likes to break the necks of baby rabbits mercilessly and fling their bodies up in the air, but it’s really hard to stay angry at him. It’s really hard to call him a “bad kitty.”

The “Many Worlds” interpretation of quantum mechanics suggests to us that he will live to see himself worshiped as an immortal god, again. I fear for the galaxy.

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Eternity

Sep 22 2016 Published by under Short Stories

I know that you can hear me, now. I know it, because I read the book. Dan sent it to me, a long time ago, and he tried to put the words, “Dan can’t speak for me,” in my mouth. So this isn’t really me, you see. It wasn’t really him, either. I have no doubt he essentially lived this delusion. I’ve thought about it, and I also see why he never wanted to give up on it. Maybe that was selfish, Dan. I’m supposed to say that, or something.

So none of this is real. None of this that I am about to say is real, probable, or possible and therefore superposed with magical quantum glue. Or it is, because you shouldn’t trust him. If we live to find out, we’ll know. So let’s give it one hundred fifty years or so. The sea level could be three meters higher, and the temperature could be six Centigrade more desperate, and that embarrassment of a Republican candidate that was on “reality” television could be in his thirty eighth consecutive term in a more likely parallel world where you and I were quickly rounded up with the others and killed. Meanwhile, we’re left blissfully unaware in a quantum afterlife that the religions were still wrong about, somehow, Dan would be quick to point out.

So, here’s what I’m going to do for our plucky hero: I’m going to offer him two outs from this gilded cage of a delusion. I’m going to pose one of them because, by now, I think it’s the right one. I’m also going to offer the other because it’s plainly the wrong one, but the important part is the same.

You see, I figured something out before Dan. We’re going to tell this story from my point of view in “his” multiverse. We’re going to consider what it’s like to be the hypothetical person or persons he calls “Bastet.”

One of these exit strategies is rather simple. In this scenario, he’s a lunatic. In either scenario, he’s a lunatic, but in this scenario, he’s basically wrong in most of the important details of his biography, and in the other, he’s basically right. So let’s say he’s wrong and he’s only ever hallucinated conversations with “Bastet.”

Some people read his book, me among them. He does or doesn’t ever hear from me again. “Bastet” never leaves him. He might even be ready to leave most of “the voices” behind, but they are not ready to leave him. They depend on him, at this point, even the most thoroughly evil among them realize. He doesn’t abandon them. He continues to weave a hard-to-believe, hard-to-understand, ironically rational world for them, for the rest of his life. He probably publishes at least another book or two. He lives a comparatively functional life, probably up until a relatively natural death. Hopefully he gets laid a few more times in the interim, I’ll “pray” for him. At that point, if there is something after death, he probably finds out. If and when he meets God, I think “She” is not particularly offended, and you might agree.

I see little to none of this, or as much as I care to. My story is similar. I know “Bastet” loves him, but I am not Bastet.

Humanity probably doesn’t get it together quickly enough in this or perhaps any scenario to avoid a mass extinction event or, possibly, specifically its own extinction event. In fact, the majority scientific opinion is that we are already at the brink of a mass extinction, or in it, or at least in a geological, climatological, ecological epoch for the planet dominated by the effects that the self-named “homo sapiens” have on Earth. This epoch is marked by a huge increase in the rate of species extinctions, among other features.

We all try to live happy lives. We’re not wrong to do this, even Dan thinks. Our lives mean what we choose them to mean. There is even room in science for a certain sort of possible thereafter, it could at least be rationally argued. Many of us do what we can for the cause of avoiding the Immanent Reality, and that should be read at least two ways. God does not necessarily save or punish us. Regardless, we live with the collective consequences of our individual actions and the individual consequences of our collective actions, doubly reversed.

I have hope; it might only be sane to admit that the scientific picture is not rosy.

A universe grows in Brooklyn, where basically nobody with an opinion on it actually has any clue what it’s doing. Dan admits this for me, I guess. We scream more about what’s on television than the threat we pose to our own survival. We take up good causes for bad reasons. We desperately seek to kill and even eternally condemn anything that might pop our delicate soap bubbles. The dialectic is impossible to disentangle from the ignorance. The other problem somehow seems to revolve around these problems, in a subtle motion.

So Dan dies convinced his greater grandchildren, (but probably not too great,) will likely experience either nuclear disintegration, famine, disease, or death of thirst. There’s a lot more he might do toward this effort, and he does it, but he does it thinking probably none of it will work. He contributes everything he intends along these lines in hope. There’s no contradiction between the “realism” and the hope, that I can see.

I have hope, too. When I look in the crystal ball, I might not see quite as bleak a world as Dan, staring back at him. It could just be that I see better chances, at least. Dan might be able to guess how much better I think the actual chances are, though. I know he has hope. I also know where the human heart is hidden, or what could serve as a fairly convincing prop, if anyone asks you.

Then there’s the other scenario, where he’s still a lunatic, but I exist. In his lunacy, he’s discerned my secret. Let’s write this scenario as he would write it, through my eyes.

It could go something like, “Chapter Zero: Really the End for Real This Time…”

“Dan sent Katie the book, finally. He died shortly after, under mysterious circumstances.”

That is, if I follow your plot, Dan, it’s likely to end that way at any moment, isn’t it? That’s how the “miracles” come to be, isn’t it? Maybe I can put the words in your mouth, though, that the unspeakable obvious implication is entirely a fiction, because you were determined to see this clear out to the end of time, if you had to, I might make you swear. It’s my place in your plot, though. It’s the world you wrote for me to see, except against all odds.

Dan sent me the book, and then he died under mysterious circumstances. In the book, he swore it was not his desire or intention. He wrote between the lines,  “They’re coming for you next,” and I was stymied. He wrote, “This is the actual plan of the God of Abraham, to wait at the threshold to understanding and eternal life, and to steal every one of those worlds from us.” It was your schizophrenia, I thought. I read your story, though, and I noticed the gaping hole in your plot, and presumably in your delusion, and I smoothed out the wrinkle in your page.

“I’m not Bastet,” I knew. I knew I didn’t know anything about what you were effectively accusing the entire world of, Dan, this conspiracy hidden from no one. If we had these “Astral” counterparts, in some hidden dimension of the mind, or in our genes, we weren’t aware of them. At least, I wasn’t aware, like this. It wasn’t feasible, for every one of us to live in knowledge of this fact and voluntarily restrict our mention of it in any regard, even under the decree of God. How did you not notice this, Dan? You yourself had no knowledge of a past life, or knowledge your “counterpart” certainly must have had, at least at some point. How could this be?

So I put his book aside with this fact, for a long while. Many years are to pass, and I live a life he couldn’t dream. I play with lots of dead animals, as a taxidermist, and I get the sense that Dan is smiling at them from a place just out of sight, and that feels as ludicrous and almost as creepy as him.

He thought he could put a geass to me, though, as if I didn’t already have it. He thought he could predict my destiny. I live long enough to joke that he might have had a point about the “quantum immortality,” and then things start to get very suspiciously, yet predictably, weird.

Somewhere along this road, maybe certain things people say to me remind me of his book and his psychotic delusion. Maybe people seem to say things that make more sense read in the voices of their “counterparts,” but I dismiss this as irrational paranoia. Maybe the thought is compulsive, though. It’s like telling someone not to think of the color purple.

So I’d talk about these strange perceptions in a medical context, and the possibility of some tendency toward dementia would probably be considered. I remember very clearly how Dan expressed his illness, though. I remember the day he told me I was “Bastet,” and I think, “If that’s really what you believed, why did you think just coming out bluntly with it would work?” Maybe I allow myself a little space to remember his “delusion” and to pretend that I am a “god,” as is probably the guy that masturbates the turkeys for a living, for Christ’s sake.

I let myself play God in my art, like we all do. I will produce it for many, many years, and I can’t completely escape the knowledge that Dan is probably in a parallel universe disappointed that he’s missing it. If I live long enough, for a really unnatural period of time, Dan’s “delusion” will become a fairly concrete reality for me and at least a handful of other people. (None of this happens before I’m one hundred and twenty, maybe, and he’s practically not even a footnote to what my life is likely to be.) It wouldn’t be “his” delusion anymore, though, and it wouldn’t be his “delusion.” I’m not as anxious as Dan was, though. Eventually, I’d become a problem to someone who considers himself to be God, but like for serious, with less penis humor and more money and weapons. That’s where the fun starts, Dan, be it at an age of two hundred or two thousand years. (Well, it was fun already, and God wasn’t invited.)

You see, people have this sinking feeling, over the suspicion that I’m actually Bastet. I play innocent. There comes a point that I know I’m “dead,” already, but I’m still kicking on the same old ball of rock. Maybe I’d let myself have some fun at the expense of the dominant religions, but I’m far less obnoxious than “Jesus” was, or I don’t remember if he was supposed to be literally the incarnation of Lucifer or what that whole bit even was.

Eventually, it’s less fun and games. I’ll probably be amazed at how long it takes the real secret to come out, but maybe it’d come out faster if I could be bought. If I proclaimed myself God, maybe it’d come out sooner, but it’s moot. I know the lengths to which the dominant species on this planet will go, to unmake my character to serve rich white men. I won’t bother to worry about whether they’re playing their cat-and-shell game, like the paranoiac knew. If I understand it by now, the humans know it and they don’t know it, like a mathematician’s genitals don’t know calculus.

In the shell game, that I’ll pretend I don’t know people are playing, my survival becomes even less natural. My survival would have to become contingent on the “Revelation” of the “impossible,” “miraculous” secret. What happens from there, Dan? I can think of one out from that impasse, maybe, if it’s a concrete as history.

Playing “Three Cat Monty” long enough, my only probable likelihood of future survival comes to depend on authoring one or more advances for humanity that are of such unmistakable historical import, pulled through me as oracle, by accident of its impact on my likelihood of continuing to breathe, that “God” stoops low to tip his hat, and the shell game with the stuff of my “soul” has to stop, and the real secret comes out, finally.

I probably come face to face with the God of Abraham, Dan. I meet him as a man. He snarls, and he gnashes his teeth, and he curses. He brandishes flaming swords, and commands armies of angels, and drops nuclear bombs as raindrops on my head. It is only his world, Dan, and we are only his to make and unmake, and to save and damn. It’s his to begin and end, Dan. He told us he was going to end it.

“God” tries to put words in my mouth, Dan, like you did, and in the process he unmakes himself. Finally—you lunatic—as two footnotes with daggers, among many, I am certain we both strike the Beast down.

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Hell

Sep 18 2016 Published by under Short Stories

[TRIGGER WARNING: This story graphically describes events closely resembling the Aurora shooting.]

 

If I am here to serve as oracle, with dispassionate recollection and reporting only, of unlikely events having no probable consequence, then I ask that you look at the man the same way. We’ll call him “Daniel.” It’s a common enough name.

Daniel was a graduate student of physics. There was moderate early insult to his brain during birth, but the significance of even this was still small compared to genetic predisposition, being the product of one or more recessive traits that both parents carried without expression. As you might imagine, though, no intelligence metric indicated these factors, and he was rather normal, even “a great kid” by most accounts, until around his twentieth birthday. Estimates differ as to the when the illness began to manifest, from as early as eighteen to about twenty one.

As a graduate student, he was actually at least a halfway decent researcher. His superiors didn’t think so, though, in part because of having caught wind of his diagnosis, which should probably not be admissible as a scientific basis for “reallocating” his funding, simply as a matter of his background. I think we know that this can often be the way of the world, and that science almost universally fails to justify prejudices as these as a matter of policy, but the fact of it is less personal. He felt it personally. He extrapolated it out to everyone he knew, and science won’t justify that prejudice, either.

He had nothing to wake up for the next morning, perhaps in his own mind only, and he committed himself to the End of the World. He idolized Batman’s Joker, who was written to end the world for no reason. He believed he was ending the world for no reason, while he believed it was for revenge to repay a collective sin against him, and he did not let himself see contradiction in his reasoning.

In cold blood, he planned the maximum feasible damage to the human population at large, aided in a significant regard by his education. He planned it up until the next Batman movie release. In themed costume in order to confuse the audience, he slipped into the front of a theater and emptied an arsenal into the audience at large, wearing body armor himself. He injured seventy people and fatally wounded twelve before he was disabled and taken into custody by the police.

He spent much time in a profoundly psychotic state in jail, from there, but he saw no incentive in coming out of the psychosis. That is, he had an awareness that treatment could reduce his physiological symptoms, but he avoided that treatment as best he could negotiate.

The death penalty was an option, in that state of the nation at that time. The jury found him guilty on all counts and ruled for a cumulative jail sentence over the death penalty. He was sentenced to twelve life terms without parole and 3,318 years, twelve charges being punishable by life sentences with the remaining carrying 3,318 years of jail time in total. The judge remarked that, despite Daniel’s illness, mental illness and evil were nonexclusive.

By an unlikely series of events, Daniel lived for a very long time. By the time he was one hundred and fifteen, particular parties were attempting to start a motion on a reconsideration of his case. On reconsideration, it would still be a very long time before parole might become an option.

He felt less guilt than he tried to display. Mind you, at a hundred and fifteen, he was rather spry, he was aware. For a few decades without hope of release, all he had was awareness of his mortality and conscience, I can attest, but he also had the twisted imagination of a mass murderer who happened to be a former graduate student with an illness on the schizophrenia spectrum. He’d had his indispellable delusions as well, at least mostly hidden from the sight of his caretakers and peers. He imagined conversations with Satan, or God, but the upthrust was the same. He felt special. He was convinced he was going to be rewarded, and he took his unusual state of health despite age as acceptable proof. His continuing experience made him more confident in this, month to month.

He guessed that he had time on his side. He stood quiet for five decades.

At one hundred sixty five, he was virtually proven to be the oldest human on the planet. News reports recalled the original case and the fringe groups that revolved around him. The question of releasing him entered the public mind again and was vehemently struck down, anyone could read in the news.

Around his two hundred and third birthday, having never received any of the bionic implants that had by now become available, all I can say is that something broke. The court released him to parole, more worried about something else.

He had already effectively amassed a cult. Daniel believed that the prophecies of major religions spoke about him. Some people believed it, and he had one plain, indisputable fact to support it. He very carefully avoided unnecessary technically illegal activities, and the court had to follow through with its own parole terms. Eventually, realizing a core political conviction among his followers, he entered politics with a strong anti-immigration, pro-deportation, and effectively segregationist official stance, unofficially suggesting internment and genocide. Additionally, he promised “a return to Christian national values.” At first, he probably had no strong personal feelings about much of his platform, but he recognized that these issues were important among his cult and a substantially broader swath of American voters. He was aware of how frightening and morally repugnant he was perceived to be by many voters, highlighted by the unnaturalness of his age, and he leveraged this into bombastic spectacle that he could anticipate would play well with his base despite its vacuousness. He was fully aware that he depended critically on the ignorance and irrational prejudice of certain voters, and that his two strongest points of appeal were his arguable divinity and total avoidance of real political issues in favor of what amounted to a perversely charismatic reality television show about a mass murderer who was chosen by God to live for over two hundred years to deliver a moral, religious, political imperative from the metaphysical realm.

He ran for the Republican presidential nomination and won. It was another strange chapter in American history. While the race saw him rise and fall repeatedly in popularity, he lost the election.

At this point, he floated the idea of secession among his followers, not taking it seriously himself. While there was wide sentiment in favor of it within his base, he did not actually consider it an option and did not follow through to starting another American civil war. He attempted to disappear almost entirely from the political arena, in favor of retiring into the enclave of his rather well established cult.

Through his influence, he commissioned the construction of several small fission devices, without autonomous delivery systems. He’d realized at some point that the big secret about nuclear enrichment was that it was not a particularly hard engineering problem, the delivery systems actually being a much, much harder part of fission or fusion weapon design and manufacture. The bombs were built outside of the United States. His cult attempted to personally transport the weapons and detonate them in New York City, Washington D. C., Jerusalem, Moscow, Beijing, Berlin, Paris, London, Tokyo, and Sydney, more-or-less simultaneously. Five of the bombs were successfully detonated, including the device intended for Jerusalem. Perhaps miraculously, in the confusion, there was no nuclear retaliation. In the raid of his compound, Daniel survived a gunshot wound to his head and was taken into custody.

A higher united court was formed specifically to address his crimes and those of his co-conspirators. Roughly half of those polled around the world favored methods of execution that would usually be considered “cruel and unusual.” He was shot in the head again by a vigilante in transport to court before an official ruling was made. Against reasonable odds, he also survived this injury, coming out of his coma about two months later.

The world had not forgotten his improbable longevity, and the recovery from two gunshot wounds to the head increased arguably irrational suspicions. Daniel offered in his defense that he was God. Personally, human rights issues aside, I think the court was right to attempt official execution if only to test a scientific concern that was becoming critical.

Several attempts at his execution were made, all unsuccessful, progressively more clinical. Daniel experienced every attempt first hand. Eventually, exhausting all reasonable hypotheses, the leading scientific opinion became that this was an improbable example of “quantum immortality,” a potential secondary consequence of the “many-worlds” or Everett interpretation of quantum mechanics. Well regarded scientists, half in disbelief, offered as a point of admittedly insufficient consolation that Daniel had died with overwhelming probability by his hundredth birthday, in jail, and that he had ironically demonstrated the limited immortality of every one of his victims and every human to ever walk the planet. Most people did not understand the explanation, and they literally equated these events with the Apocalypse prophecies of major religions. Much public debate was held over it. In one such debate, a well known scientist became exasperated over the religious resistance to attempt any scientific explanation at all, and probably at how unsatisfactory the best scientific explanation even was, and he remarked, “Then we simply might as well be in his [Daniel’s] personal Hell, for all God cares about the rest of us.”

Daniel’s sentence was changed to periodic pain of execution, while conscious, indefinitely. Scientists assured the world that Daniel was the only person likely to observe his survival in any attempt, though that was contingent on a very unlikely world guaranteed to see him survive. I can tell you that Daniel was genuinely terrified, for the first time in a long while, perhaps even more so by the blow to his quasi-religious concept of his own identity.

A scientist on the fringe eventually suggested that Daniel’s circumstances were a pseudo-opportunity for the world to leverage. Daniel could be executed with precision, with temporary reprieve granted for the occurrence of some desired quantum mechanical effect of any nature at any location—in plain and inaccurate terms, “magic.” This method would not make the desired effect any more likely to happen, in reality, but it made Daniel more likely to observe a world where everyone saw it happen. Clear minds understood that the hypothetical event was pseudo-physical. However, the world had mistakenly taken Daniel’s immortality for granted, at this point. Trials of the hypothesis were arranged, and Daniel and the world in which he lived observed their success. There was overwhelming support to “utilize” the effect, whether it was illusory as a relatively fine point of theory. Many voters even understood the pseudo-physical nature of the effect and simply thought it was still appropriate eternal punishment for Daniel.

Holding this point in history conditionally fixed, the world Daniel was likely to live to see was a horrifying one, and he was likely to experience the pain of death many, many times, if he lived.

It strikes me that this unlikely story is far too complicated. This story is far, far too complicated, and this is not even the end of it.

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Heaven

Sep 17 2016 Published by under Short Stories

Alice was one of seven children. She gave birth to four of her own. She was seven times a grandmother. Then, she was over a dozen-fold a great grandmother. The family started to notice there was something strange by the middle of the fourth generation after hers.

“Alice,” I whispered to her one Christmas as she watched children more than a century younger than her open presents she’d picked for them, “you have been given a great gift that is difficult to understand, but all that matters is that you use it with kindness.” I didn’t know if she’d heard me. The “veil” thins for you, when you’re that old, but she’d never met or even seen me. She didn’t know who I was, but maybe I’d seen a case similar to hers, before.

A very young child clumsily ripped the paper away from a box containing a dinosaur, and the child clapped her hands and shrieked in delight.

“That’s the main thing,” Alice said, watching the child, enraptured.

“That’s the main thing, Alice,” I tried to whisper back in her ear.

One by one, she watched her children die. She didn’t understand it. She begged God to stop. She asked God why she was different, but she praised and thanked Him, if it be His will.

I came to her at a funeral, one night. I tried to tell her, “Alice, God is not testing you. God does not play fast-and-loose with the hearts and minds of kind people, if She truly is God. She derives no entertainment from this, and She feels what you feel. What She feels most is the ecstasy and grief of the Mother.”

Through fierce tears, she smiled and said, “I’d like to give God a piece of my mind,” and laughed. “I think He’s asleep on the job.” Her army of a family looked on as if a holy mystery.

She said, “What the mother feels most is the joy and the pain and the absence of the child.”

She gradually took a different, reverent attitude toward religion. She took an interest in science. She was an immigrant from a poor family. Her education was limited, and she had an aversion to the complicated math, but she read books about science in plain English. She’d talk about it with the kids’ kids’ kids, when she’d cook and the army would come for Sunday dinner. Some of them wanted to study science and medicine, and they’d point to her as chief among their reasons.

Years passed, and more and more people began to notice how special she was, outside of her family. Doctors and scientists felt compelled to try to explain her. Religions pointed to an obvious explanation that, luckily, many people were only ready to take with a grain of salt, including her. She became a “meme,” whatever the Hell that meant; her youngest descendants joked that it finally clinched her true immortality. People tried to ask her, “Why?” but she knew she did’t know the reason why, much less the Reason Why.

She barely recognized the world anymore. She lived long enough to distinguish the difference in the climate on the basis of simple personal anecdotal recollection. She started to realize that it was going to be a real problem for her grand kids, somewhere shortly down the generations. She used her little bit of fame to remind the world about it. She spoke simply about how her “greatest” grandchildren wanted to fly in rocket ships. Money came in incidental to her singular circumstances, and she donated much of it to feed people she considered her neighbors and children, and to help clean energy alternatives. By her hundredth birthday, which was a distant memory in itself, she had already resolved never to miss another election.

Who knows what impact she really had? People started to take the existential threats to “her children” generally seriously, though. She was a well behaved grandmother, but she told off a senator at a public speaking engagement she was invited to, once. “I’m gonna have to explain what kind of a selfish liar you were to your grand kids, one day,” she said, “when they ask me why the world is under water and you said it wasn’t gonna happen, when none of the scientists agreed with you. I’m gonna have to tell them that you loved your seven convertibles more than them.”

She listened carefully to everyone, but there was no authority over her, anymore. She had become sort of a fixture in history, but all she really cared about was when the kids were coming over for dinner, next. She’d say, “When you’re born round, you don’t die square.” She never grew insensitive to the inevitable deaths of her loved ones, despite the insight that helped her accept them. She never stopped feeling the joy and the absence of the child. In fact, she came to consider them all her children, the whole planet, and many came to call her “Grandma.”

She lived to recall first-hand the rise and fall of nations, all the “television broadcasts” about war and revolution, though television as she’d known it had become outmoded. She didn’t know the difference or care. Medical explanations for her longevity failed, and people started to reach for fundamental physical ones. A contingent among Christians started a dialog about whether she was a prophet, or even the Second Coming. “I don’t think so,” was her honest and insightful answer.

She’d read about how the human brain was coming to be better understood as a computer. That’s all she’d use a computer for, to read the news, and to look at the pictures of her many-times-great grandchildren. It got to the point that she felt she was reading a different language. In fact, a good twenty percent of the commonly used words hadn’t existed when she was born.

She thought about the afterlife, which was understandable. She seriously considered the possibility that she was already there, that she didn’t even remember the transition. I tended to think she was on the right track.

The kids got silicon neural implants. “At least they’re not tattoos,” she joked, though she’d love them if they covered their whole damn faces in tattoos, and some of them did. The planet got along, somehow, and “that’s the main thing.”

She’d long been the oldest one of any of them, the census-takers were basically certain. They started to have to exclude her from scientific data sets. Some people live longer for reasons, but we might conclude that her reason was different. As far as she was concerned, her only reason was to see how “the kids” did, and to cook them some macaroni if she could.

One of the kids in the family joked that “Grandma” had single-handedly proven the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, and the kid joked that she herself aspired just to be half as nice as “Grandma” when it happened to her. “Grandma” remembered the science books in plain English, and she said, “Nikki, you might be right about something! We’re gonna see when you’re all as old as me!” She had trouble explaining why that made her so happy, for some reason.

Her “kids” got it together, and she was so proud of them. She lived to see the day the first exoplanet colonization mission departed, and she was by the launchpad to wave goodbye. She didn’t know if God existed, but she tried to thank someone for her prayers fulfilled.

“I love you so much,” was all she could think, crying. “I love you so much.”

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