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The Resurrection Begins

Sep 10 2016 Published by under Short Stories

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A Brief History Out of Time

Aug 12 2016 Published by under Short Stories

The irony of passing the “veil” between life and death is that something comes after, yet nothing is revealed. The select meet “God” personally, each essentially in her or his own image. “God” sits on an ornate throne of gold and recites “Footprints,” just as you would expect. Or “God” meditates on a snow capped mountaintop and might wait an eternity to crack a penis joke. Or “God” weighs one’s heart against a feather on a loaded balance to justify even harsher punishment in “Heaven” than on Earth for the happenstance of a lifetime of hardship and inequity. “God” shakes hands and makes deals, like any of us, because “God” is basically a democracy when “God” works and a dictatorship when “God” can get away with it.

Human, why would a supposedly omnipotent being care to demand your praise, or attempt to micromanage your punishments and rewards, unless he were rather the pharaoh or divine king who depended on your reverence? Worship the god that admits her limitation and humanity instead, or—better—don’t. There’s no great enlightenment here, nor is there perfect poetic justice, nor is there finality. If “God” exists, how can we feel more than the true but tiny love of an ant for you? It is neither my desire nor my place to reward and punish the ants. I look up from Earth, and I wonder whether the gods of other civilizations feel similarly about the gods of this backwards little planet.

I used to take it slightly seriously. Like, “God” was a big deal. That was about five thousand years ago. People were throwing orgies in my honor. I still believe that’s one of the most appropriate ways to show appreciation for how we meddle in your lives, or at least the most likely to get a prayer or two answered. You probably bummed a smoke from “God” at Mardi Gras in ’87. I’ll bet it was a Parliament. You’re going to Hell if you smoke, by the way, and Satan has told me to make it clear that they only stock Pall Malls there, so you should be worried, apparently. I haven’t smoked a cigarette since ’87, so I wouldn’t know. I died, that year, so I decided it was a good time to quit.

“So, when are you quitting?” I asked him as he took a deep, desperate drag.

‘Bastet, you’re not wrong to ask that,’ he thought, ‘particularly right now, but, by the same consideration, it’s either suck this or suck a fuck, and I’m clean outta fucks to burn.’

“Dan, you gotta stay hopeful,” I whispered to him.

He visually scanned his dark corner of the hospital parking lot for Russian spies before he spoke.

“Bastet, can you pull some strings?” he asked.

“I would,” I told him, “but I’m not sure that I know anyone whom you don’t that could help with this.”

“Except you don’t have a public reputation as a borderline terrorist,” he said, and spit.

I sighed. “Oh, Dan, it’s not like…”

He gave me a look like only two people in this world could make.

“O… Okay, yeah, you have a point,” I had to admit, “or just, like, a terrorist, without the ‘borderline’ part.”

Dan’s face went flat. Then, his eyes started to water.

“Katie, he’s my best friend,” he said. “He’s the only one who even took the paper I wrote on quantum gravity months ago seriously.”

“I took it seriously,” I wanted him to know.

“Katie, then he’s the only flesh and blood person whom I could reference in public without appearing any crazier.” The tears rolled down his cheeks. “We’d talk about math. We’d play chess, and he’d beat me nine times out of ten. We’d play go, and he’d beat me every single fucking time! He’d call bullshit whenever I deviated from mathematical rigor in my science, yet he was always still supportive and infinitely fucking patient! I acknowledged him in the paper, Katie.”

Exhaustion caught up with me for a moment, and I didn’t know what to say. “He claims he didn’t make any notable contribution to the paper.”

“The paper wouldn’t exist without him,” he said.

“So you’re supposed to be Jesus and Einstein, now?” I asked. (I meant it to come across a certain way, but I cringed a little listening to myself.)

“You’re at least five thousand years old,” he said. “I’d be fairly disgusted if not a single one of your incarnations was a doctor of physics.”

“It’d have to be one in the past hundred years for that particular subject matter—wouldn’t it, Boltzmann?” I said. “Maybe I’ve stayed abreast though, to your point.”

“So, am I right?” He crossed his arms.

“We’ll all find out after the Apocalypse,” I said.

“I’ll stop it, again,” he fired back.

“…Pretty sure that was just you getting drunk and pretending to save the world,” I told him.

He muttered, “Then I’ll just get drunk and pretend not to, next time.”

“Unfortunately, it’s moot if no one ever reads the paper,” I said.

He choked up. “…Which is just one of the trillion reasons I can’t lose Adam.”

I tried my best to give him the hug he needed that I couldn’t physically give him and the carefully measured validation that his asshole of an advisor never would. (…As I carefully measured how I could make it look like an accident.)

I said, “The last journal waited a month to reject it without explanation because they couldn’t find anything obviously and fatally wrong with it, like I couldn’t, except for the letters next to your name, of course.”

He looked around again, furtively: still no spies. He actually put his arms out into the air around where he “imagined” I was. (I might or might not have been floating a foot to the left.)

“You know, Dan,” I said with a glint in my eye, “it’d be a real shame if your sorry excuse for an advisor—”

“—You finish that sentence,” he said, “and they put me in the beigest place in the world with the shittiest mind altering drugs in the world for a very, very long time.”

“You never have to say that aloud, Dan,” I reminded him.

We both laughed hopeless, emotionally spent giggles. His best friend was dying. We both knew, for reasons basically no one else physically in that hospital could suspect, that was a multifaceted problem.

He released his death grip on thin air. ‘Have you seen his inner, in all this?’ he wondered of me. ‘I honestly don’t even know how this translates to him.’

“Well, it depends,” I said. I chose my words and felt their implications, one by one: “Brain injuries in particular can give us a pretty bad jolt, when we’re incarnate. The recovery prospects and timeline are a little different, for complicated reasons that you might have some idea about by now. Um, you, in this case, given how well you know each other, and your friends in there, are actually rather important to him in that regard, right now.” ‘I know how bad this is,’ I couldn’t tell him. “It’s not completely unlike how he needs you in the flesh to get through this, except, as far as his inner goes, you might actually be helping him in a more direct sort of capacity like he needs a doctor for in the physical realm, whether you realize it or not. I mean, we have doctors—”

“—So you mean, rather, like a tissue or blood donor?” he asked.

I didn’t know how to say anything other than, “Um, well, basically. Yes, like that.”

‘…And I’m sure our inners are lining up,’ he thought.

I didn’t even really know Adam, personally, but I started to cry. “Yes, you all are, Dan.”

I felt someone tap me on the shoulder.

“We need to talk with you,” whispered the tapper. “It might be time critical,” he added.

“Dan, there’s something I need to do for Adam right now,” I said.

‘Odin thinks I can’t hear him, doesn’t he?’ thought Dan.

Odin recoiled like he smelled something rank. He pointed a finger. “After we trained you, you’d better hear me, Jesus!”

“I trust you,” Dan said softly. ‘…But please, please, no zombies,’ he added in his head.

“Of course, ‘no zombies’!” said Odin. “Get in there, your friends need you!”

Dan pointed a menacing finger that had touched more gods than vaginas. “No fucking zombies,” he growled aloud, and he turned to head in.

Without Dan to worry about, for the moment, I divided my whole attention between the Three Stooges. Odin looked grim. Thor looked guilty. Loki only ever looked this nonchalant when he was scrambling a covert preemptive strike.

I didn’t even know what was wrong, but I had already decided to kill Loki first. “So, start explaining in total truth and detail,” I said.

“Okay,” said Odin, “look, first thing: no zombies.”

“…Like, ninety percent sure, no zombies,” said Thor. Odin looked at him agape.

“No, absolutely no zombies,” said Loki. “We know the procedure went better than anyone could have even imagined, but that’s exactly why he was able to up and split so fast.”

I shot daggers at Loki and then turned to Thor. I asked gently, “Tell me the truth, Thor.”

Thor pussyfooted for a second as we all watched him expectantly.

“…Like… ninety seven percent, no zombies,” he said timidly.

Forty percent of your soul dead soldiers were effectively turned into ‘zombies,’ if I remember correctly,” I said. I was fuming.

Odin grimaced. “The figure you’re recalling from the trial, Bastet,” he said, “was honestly about forty two percent—but that was over the entire history of the experiments!” he shouted. “The subject matter experts agreed that we had achieved a reliable seventeen percent ‘zombie’ side effect rate on the soul resurrection method before people found out and the courts got involved with—”

“It was a war crime!” I screamed. “You mean to to tell me—”

“—Seventeen percent!” Thor bellowed. “They never dreamed of it! Practically every one of our soldiers begged to opt in, anyway, and all that is exactly why they commuted our sentences! One of the doctors actually called it a ‘miracle’!”

“Bastet,” Odin started talking, fast, “the fact is, due to Dan’s connection with us, and Shiva’s connection with Dan, we had—perfectly legitimate—preexisting agreements with Shiva—”

“—But why he would ever—” I started to say.

“—Because eighty three fucking percent—that’s why!” said Odin with an indignant look. “The man is a mathematician, but it doesn’t take one!”

I was already thinking about what I was going to have to tell Dan. I bit my lip. Diplomat face on, Bastet…

How sure are you,” I asked, “honestly, that—”

Loki exploded. “Not a single one of those so called ‘zombies’ could have ever bolted in a fraction of a second and covered his tracks expertly behind him, like he did, but that might make perfect sense if the procedure was a total success and you just let us explain.

I relented. Every face was haggard and wearing a look of sincere concern, at this point.

“I’m listening,” I said.

“We need you to find him,” said Loki. “Kali and the rest of the family obviously have their hands full, on top of being completely exhausted. We need to go back into the hospital and suture up the connection to his lower as best we can, still. You have sufficient privileges to look for him in places that even Dan’s inner might not be welcome, especially.”

“I’ll get right on it,” I said.

Listen, first,” snapped Loki.

I felt his military grade privacy barrier go up around us.

He said, “Now, you know as well as any of us that the damage that was done to Adam’s soul has virtually no chance of being primarily due to his physical accident. It’s horrible, but people’s brains get practically disintegrated on a daily basis, and yet it almost never causes damage to the inner or the soul to the extent of the state that we found him in. In all likelihood, that’s exactly why he ran and hid for his immortal life the instant he was conscious again. You be careful. Shit’s really freakin’ rotten in Denmark, tonight. You read me?”

He handed me something. “Dan’s inner gave me this to give to you. You activate it, and it’ll help protect you immediately as well as let him phase in to where you are nearly as quickly. I know you’re already no one to fuck with, but he’s one of us, and two are better. And, if the person behind this is exactly who I know we all already could guess it is, Dan knows practically his every shitty little parlor trick, probably even better than us.”

“Got it,” I said, turning over the device. “I activate this and get wrapped in a bubble so the guy I’ve babysat for ten years who can’t get over me can swoop in to save me with his big, muscular penis.”

Loki rolled his eyes. “It’s not like that,” he said. “He’s just the obvious choice to back you up, isn’t he?”

“We’re politicians,” I said, “not feudal warlords, some of us. But if I actually had a reason to put on a siege suit tonight, you’d better realize that Kali—”

“—You’re right,” he cut me off. “She’s ready to go on a killing spree, practically, but do you actually think that’s what she should be doing right now?”

“Point taken,” I conceded, putting the “call button” away. “She hears us, by the way.”

“Nah, not through this barrier,” said Loki.

“Don’t try to keep secrets from me tonight, you weaselly fucking little crumb bum, Loki!” said Kali from a place we couldn’t see.

“That wasn’t possible,” said Loki matter-of-factly. “She’s cheating.”

“You find me proof of who did it, and I hack his fucking dick off with a rusty meat cleaver!” screamed Kali from somewhere unseen.

“Is she in the hospital room, right now?” asked Loki. “I can’t find the damned communication tether. Is she just screaming that loud?”

“You bring me his fucking sack, Bastet!” Kali yelled.

“Can I keep the balls?” asked Loki.

I keep the balls!” shouted Kali.

“I’d like to see someone make a constellation out of that,” said Loki.

“I’m gonna go find Shiva, now,” I said, as I phased out of there. I didn’t even know where I was going, yet, so I popped out in a low aether basically down the street, but that was a little too intense.

You’ll have the opportunity to travel faster than the speed of light again, someday. At this point in history, it’ll get you out of awkward parties, but it used to be mostly a slow one way trip, continually into Earth’s past. Ask a physicist why. It sounds strange, but, for a few of our millenia, we couldn’t figure out why you folks lived “backward.” In a way, it was a matter of perspective. It was always obvious that we could interact in a chronologically sensible enough way when we were incarnate, but the mechanism is honestly still only about as well understood as your brains are understood by your experts.

(By the way, if you happen to know something about special relativity, Dan once pointed out a really intriguing heurism to me that might help you understand: start in a frame with two tachyons traveling opposite directions and Lorentz boost to the frame of either one. Perhaps there are dragons hiding in plain view, just on the other side of the veil of light. We might or might not have countless defunct, embarrassing models of when and how your garbage becomes fine China. As well, it’s troubling that we can see our dead relatives again, and you can’t in the same way. The meaning of all this is occult.)

I went to Mount Kailash, and the hands of the clock turned backwards. It was the most obvious place to start, to me. I saw “Adam,” of course, but not our Adam “here” and “now.” I watched him play with Ganesh and Parvati. (…That is, “Parvati” most of the time, turned “Kali” when he came home drunk, some nights.) The happiness radiated from his face. At intervals, I watched him meditate so perfectly still for so long that it disoriented my sense of direction in time. I watched petitioners walk backwards up the mountain to meet him and down again, as major religions marched from tomb to womb to mere potential. I saw Shiva poke his feelers in by memory or anticipation from distant times and places, but Adam was not here. I sped my clock back to the Cretaceous, just in case, until the mountains didn’t exist and the landscape was unrecognizable. No Adam. No, madam.

I phased into the gravity well anomaly for a minute. (That thing is harder to explain.) I phased out of it to find my timing was decent: I was only about 30 years early. In fact, then, I supposed I was right on time.

From the edge of the anomaly, I poked a special sort of “tether” out towards a home in the Republic of Venezuela. I stepped a little deeper into the anomaly, and the clock turned forward.

Lusinchi was on the television, then John Paul II. The bolivar artificially tumbled. A family took a plane to the United States, and a young Adam gleefully shouted, “Turbulencia! Turbulencia!” I giggled at the expense of the other passengers. His parents were technically skilled, and they had a good life with Ivan and Adam in Randolph, New Jersey. The boys grew by the minute. Adam played chess at summer camp with—is that who I think it is? Two too smart kids slacked in the back of Mr. Pecoraro’s science class, where every test was pop. They both got “four-point-‘o’s”—in that class, at least. Ivan’s hair was long and flaming. Naughty, naughty things ensued. There were lots of familiar faces, suddenly, and lots of questionable decisions. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched myself make out with some “loser” for about nine months and yet never quite make it to “home base.” Oh… Dan… You’re in and out of hospitals. Adam is, too, for seizures. A younger me says one of the hardest things she’s ever had to say, to Dan, and it’s all up and down. Him and Adam are at different colleges. Ivan and his father go to the Dominican Republic to study medicine, and I can’t keep track of it all. Ivan… That’s not fair. That’s not fair to anyone! To lose a son, and a brother… Adam’s family is heartbroken. Adam goes to graduate school, though, and so does Dan! Those bastards get to Dan, in a minute. Adam is a little luckier, but it’s hardly a matter of just luck. Dan’s writing me poetry he’ll never know I read. The world nearly explodes, a few more times. Adam has another seizure, years later. His friends are there, but then a second later—

I blast out of the well as I drop the tether. For a moment that lasted hours, I saw Adam on the floor of his bedroom, motionless and alone. Kali is frantically calling the police from another state. She might have saved him. I don’t know if there was anything else friends or family could have done. It was painfully close, but it wasn’t quite our Adam “here” and “now.” I watched him flee a hospital bed, too quick and too enigmatically careful in covering his tracks to chase.

I landed in some middle aether, panting and crying. Adam had a grand mal seizure on a Saturday evening, in his apartment near his graduate school. His wife was away for the night. She called him and couldn’t reach him, but Adam liked to take naps at around that time, and he hated not being trusted to his autonomy. He fell face forward onto his arms, probably from his bed. He was unconsciousness and alone for hours, likely, as his wife desperately tried to reach him by phone. The muscles in his arms began to break down from restriction of blood flow and oxygen, and the breakdown products taxed his kidneys. The lack of oxygen damaged his cerebellum, and his brain in general. He’s recovering from Lyme disease. He’s epileptic. If it wasn’t for the heroic concern of his wife, calling the apartment management and the police relentlessly, he would probably already be dead.

Dan considers Adam to be his oldest, closest, best friend. I know why, now.

Maybe it isn’t beside the point that the damage to Adam’s counterpart on our plane went far beyond the typical for his physical injuries. I wasn’t lying, when I said brain injuries, in particular, could give us a “jolt,” for reasons that might be clear by now, but the extent was extremely unusual. I can think of another unmentioned, unmentionable reason why Shiva would have taken the care and the risk to make prearrangement with the Aesir and Vanir, and perhaps that’s the thread I should have started pulling in the first place.

On our plane, there is a quiet and usually deserted structure rather surgically positioned at a balance point between the edge of the gravity well anomaly I mentioned and a region of free flowing “forward” time for us. This structure has a very particular purpose, much debated. By a mechanism that might be obvious now, but will assuredly be obvious soon enough, the purpose of the structure is “Resurrection.” The media dialectic might convince one that the chance of perfect restitution of all human physical bodies by this structure, or device, is a rather democratic “fifty fifty.” That is, everything works out just perfectly or else nothing survives.

Dan hates this structure. Adam hates this structure. I hate this structure, yet here I am.

I situated myself a distance past the balance point on the free flowing side and watched. Things get a little wonky on the rare occasion that this structure is in use. I watched as, a couple of years ago from our lowers’ current perspective, the structure suddenly got very, very crowded. People prayed and un-prayed ancient, secret prayers that read forward and backward—depending on which side of the aisle you were on—for days, in time circuits. The point was to never, ever stop praying to the Abrahamic god at this neighborhood in time, right where the world was meant to end by nuclear holocaust, for as long as it took “God” to become powerful enough to perfectly restore the physical human bodies of the devout. I’ve embalmed people, yet I find this little ritual to be exactly as heebie jeebie, creepy crawly as it might sound to you.

(By the way, I assure you this will never work, because, believe it or not, neither your nor our physics allow this feat, with one critically pie-in-the-sky, Hail-Mary, infinitesimally improbably little debatable caveat, and not even the Abrahamic “God” can change this fact. However, many people have been able to lie and base long and successful political careers on it, we all know.)

I stepped to the other side of the time flow, to be sure I hadn’t missed anything. To my great pleasure, somewhere in New Jersey, of all places, some laughable nut ran drunkenly around his parents’ backyard talking to himself and, somehow, managed to become the only known historical example of human scale macroscopic quantum tunneling, in the process. The “devout” were perplexed. There was nothing strange about this. “You-Can-Call-Me-Al” shit a brick and tried to pass it off as a miracle. This virtually impossible sequence of events was fixed in our history, now. Nothing could be done to change it, anymore. I could play this on repeat, again, and again, and again, and again.

The prayer and its reverse, like a Satanic backtrack on “Stairway to Heaven,” continued awkwardly for a bit. (I wouldn’t be surprised if that was where “Al” got the idea.) “Al” composed himself and recited his preordained contingency speech in stereo time channels. No nuclear holocaust today, folks, I’m so sorry. Lucifer ruined it, again. Shucks. There was some note of finality in the prayers, and gradually the crowd dispersed. There was no sign of Shiva.

I watched from afar until the structure was basically deserted, again, as I considered my next move. I thought I generally knew where Adam was. I was going to have break some laws, or at least defend my actions’ legality after the fact.

I needed an armor suit. Rather, I already suspected I needed the armor suit—the big one. I triggered the activation sequence. The plates wrapped snugly as the generator units came on, and the heads up display flashed under the visor.

The artificial intelligence took about four seconds to boot. “Council member Bastet,” it said evenly, “peacetime lockout is in effect.”

“Override peacetime lockout,” I said.

“Please state the reason,” the “A.I.” prompted.

“…Immediate S class threat to council member Shiva’s immortal life.”

“Please clarify,” the A.I. said without audible concern.

Anxious, I said, “He’s traveled within a short space-time interval of the anomaly’s singularity to sabotage Allah’s ‘Ark.” His lower is brain damaged, and he’s recovering from major soul surgery.”

“Evaluating…” said the A.I.. The next three seconds lasted a century.

“…Credible just cause, time critical,” it reported, “code 003. Overriding peacetime lockout.” As the generator units kicked into full operation it asked, “How may I assist you?”

“I need to find the head of his timeline, within an hour or two of fleeing the hospital,” I said. “I suspect he’s within about a week of the point where the anomaly touches down on Earth, maybe a bit before when the ‘Ark’ will come into use. He would have to be incarnate as his current lower, at that time on Earth, but I suspect he’s targeting potential timelines where his lower and inner are both effectively permanently incapacitated.”

Shiva was playing dice against the odds of ending up a vegetable, I was guessing, and he had me playing, too.

“Approximately 330 macroscopically distinguishable future timelines fit those criteria,” said the A.I.

“Ah, c’mon…” I said. “He’s either still trying to cover his tracks, or he has as little idea as any of us do which ones are likely to matter, or both.”

I thought for a second. “How many of those is Lucifer incarnate in, in his current lower?”

“Six,” reported the A.I..

I did a double take. “For Christ’s sake, Dan…”

“One of these timelines appears to contain what could be Shiva’s current head, with significant injuries beyond his accident,” the A.I. added.

“Get us there,” I told it.

“Affirmative,” the A.I. responded, and the propulsion system blasted.

“Council member Bastet,” the A.I. intoned cooly as we phased through possibly the harshest environment on the Astral we had the technology to reach, “the void beast appears to be attacking council member Shiva at our intended destination.”

“…Practically on Allah’s Armageddon throne? When the beast is safely trapped behind that barrier, like ninety nine percent of the time, that we built at an expense of billions? When did it escape?” I asked.

“About thirty two hours ago,” said the A.I.

“Wow, I hadn’t heard!” I said as we dropped out of long distance travel phasing mode and into evasive phasing, and I was already blasting the fucking thing with the primary arm cannons. “A friend of mine was really badly hurt, about twenty four hours ago, and then he came here, where no one could find him, and he must have just walked straight into the damn thing!”

“It appears to have arrived minutes after he did,” said the A.I. credulously.

“No shit!” I yelled, as I blasted and dodged away. “Because Shiva would have realized that, of course, if the head was already here, or the history report from his armor showed it anywhere near the place!”

Speak of the Devil, the beast recoiled from a square hit in its projection center to reveal Adam’s inner on the ground below. He was wearing some discretionary use armor model, probably off grid, that was practically torn to shreds. I flashed him Dan’s call button, and he knew what to do.

Now he was encased in something sturdy, at least. Backup would be here any second.

“Council member Bastet,” the A.I. addressed me as I braced myself against a wall to fire the big cannons, “are you implying that this was council member Allah’s doing?”

“No!” I shouted as the first hard shell was released, “Why, do you think it’s a little convenient and obviously motivated?” It connected; I think I winded it.

Lucifer flew in like a proverbial “bat out of Hell” in some rinky dink homebrew suit—I thought, til I saw the recoil. He’d aimed for a sensitive organ, and the beast howled.

I shot a communication tether over to him. “Get Kali!” I shouted down it.

He fired a few light rounds and… oh, you goddamned idiot.

It’d be impressive that he had already dimensionally folded the room in the ICU into the Doomsday Chapel, across vast intervals of time and space, if there weren’t dozens of undefended and critically injured people on the other side. Of course, Kali wasn’t even in it. The Aesir and Vanir were, though, and I never saw three people so immediately delighted to have a figurative portal to Hell open up right in front of them. They came out blasting rapid fire while other, sane people scrambled toward the periphery.

“Where’s Kali?!” shouted Dan’s inner.

“Waiting room!” their friend Shaun shouted back.

Of course, he folded the waiting room in next. Kali noticed immediately, and I never saw an armor go on so fast. More innocent bystanders scrambled, as I turned up the maximum charge on my biggest particle beam cannon.

For a minute, it was chaos. We beat the beast back far enough that Kali could grab Shiva, and he, her, and Dan went out the bathroom window, back into the hospital. The Norse were just taking off their limiters when my cannon hit capacity and discharged.

It was a square hit in the beast’s center or projection. With an ear piercing shriek, it fell over like an earthquake, and the chapel went quiet.

Loki looked back at me and pointed. “Your kill.”

“But I’m not dead, yet!” said Thor, pretending to talk with the thing’s mouth flaps.

“Not for long,” said Odin. “Let’s get it back behind the barrier.”

“I think I’ll go for a walk,” said Thor.

“It’s nearly as dead as that joke,” said Odin. “You come help us, Thor. They probably need her back at the hospital.”

“Fucking Christ,” was all I could think to say, as the suit disengaged.

“Were you?” asked Odin.

“Go to Hell,” I said, turning towards the dimensional fold.

“I have a vacation home, there!” called Odin after me. “It’s beautiful in October!”

I stepped through the fold, and Dan let it go. Kali overtook me with a surprise hug.

“I don’t really know you well, personally, but I have to thank you—thank you— from the bottom of my heart,” she said, turning to the room, “and all of you.”

“Anything I can do, Kali…” I replied.

There were fresh tubes already running in and out of Adam’s inner, as the medical team hovered and flitted. He was conscious, at least.

Someone I presumed to be a doctor addressed us. “The new wounds are relatively superficial,” he said. “Most of it is from the initial injury.”

The room breathed a collective sigh of relief.

“You can talk with him,” said the doctor.

We stood over the inner and lower, listening to his respiration and the steady rhythm of the machines attached to him. The lower was in a coma. The inner was beat up, nearly as bad.

No one spoke for a minute.

“I think…” Shiva started to speak, “we pushed back ‘t=0’ about… ten years, during that last scare with the war. I wasn’t… I wasn’t gonna let him get away with it!”

He was crying. “I still needed to be incarnate to… to…”

Kali gently hushed him. “…The safety mechanisms on the chapel, Adam.”

He said, “…Got me about halfway, with my clearance… Busted the other safety mechanisms and broke the ‘nuke’ and its trigger. If any was the right one… who knows.”

She said. “I wanna chew you out, but I just.. I…”

They were both crying. I looked around, and we all were.

“Who did this?!” demanded Kali.

“I…” said Adam, “I don’t have proof. I just don’t have proof.”

“Spoken like a true mathematician,” said Dan’s inner.

It’s strange how the pressure fell off the concern for “Adam’s” mortality in one regard and created this cognitive dissonance in the process, with the self same Adam still in a coma and on life support with bleak prospects for recovery. How did this happen? What could we do? Would he make it? I have been worshiped as a god, and I didn’t know. I never knew. I don’t know anyone who does, on Earth or in Heaven.

“God” did this to Adam, I couldn’t help but think. At least, he should have done more to prevent it. “God” shouldn’t let things like this happen, much less even make them happen.

I used to take it slightly seriously. Like, “God” was a big deal. That was before I realized that “God” hurts people like Adam every single day, or else just lets them get hurt, for no good cosmically significant reason, in total self assurance. That was before I got into politics.

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The Riddle of the Sphinx

Sep 08 2015 Published by under Short Stories

Tube socks… Thousands, millions of tube socks, oscillating to the day-and-night cycle of the planet, coming on and off feet, on and off… hands, as googly-eyed puppets, watching me… watching me pick my nose… The fuck you looking at?! …This? …I bought it at Wegman’s. It cost me a hundred dollars, and I don’t even know what it is… Or maybe it cost me eight dollars and twenty seven cents, and I know exactly what it is… I pick up dead things with this… Havoc… Sexy goat-beast—

“GRRRRRR!”

My cat alarm growled at me, and I opened my eyes to face the dawn. It bothered me that I needed help getting up that morning—most days, I don’t—but he’d kept me past my bedtime with his addictive personality traits, again.

“What a fucking mess…” I thought to myself aloud, sighing and closing my eyes again. I counted to three, and I was on my feet.

It was barely even his fault, I told myself as I straightened the bed, and he kinda did us a solid. The least I could do was speak the truth for him, but he’ll fuck the whole thing up, I knew already.

I decided I’d give him a wake up call. He kept me waiting for an answer just long enough to remind me I’d been the one to break up with him and why.

He answered with a grunt.

“Get the fuck up,” I said, wondering to myself why I’d called him at all. “It’s nearly eight o’clock for our lowers. They’re gonna wanna talk with your incarnation, too.”

He sighed. “…Thanks,” he said. “Can I keep the tether open?”

I wondered if we had the bandwidth for him to see the infinitesimal rise of my eyebrow as my gaze wandered off, but it was moot if he was as unconscious as he usually was. “Yeah, sure,” I said. “You’re gonna watch me get dressed?”

“You’ve got a visual up?!” he said, and then he tweaked the fuck out of bed and onto the floor. I already knew he slept naked. (Since you’re gonna wonder, now, eight or nine, but it’ll never help him any…)

He came up from behind the bed a couple of seconds later in a gray European-style suit with a blood red silk shirt and a rose-patterned black and red tie. I thought about it for a moment, and I was in my own matching suit with a skirt hemmed a bit below the knee. Being a life form of pure thought takes all the fun out of risqué video chats with your psycho ex-boyfriends.

“No nemes or kalasiris?” he asked. “You’ve looked fabulous in them, lately,”

“It’s a civil court appearance, not a cultural festival,” I said, inspecting my outfit, “but I enjoy them again lately, too—thank you—or a stola. I like your ponytail, but I can’t decide if the goatee makes you look like Jesus or Satan.”

He grinned and fondled his moustache. Then, he laughed. “We look like the Wonder Twins,” he said.

“You picked a good color scheme, for how I feel today,” she said. “Just stand on the other side of the room from me.”

“You seem sweet on him, at times, at least,” he said.

“What’s he wearing?” I asked.

“He has the luxury of showing up in pajamas,” he said, pouring himself a cup of coffee. “Eris’ lower will show up in a twenty year old bathrobe, for chrissake.”

“Eris’ incarnation won’t be expected to testify, though, and it’s bad if he looks like the scraggly, drunken schizophrenic you really are in the flesh,” I said.

“They’ll think I’m crazier if he wears a suit,” he said, lighting his morning cigarette. “What’s your lower wearing?”

As, if!” I said, feeling around in the “undercarriage” to at least make sure she wasn’t being raped by some other persistent, delusional “ex.”

His nose wrinkled. “How could my meat-puppet possibly be the only one involved in this?” he asked.

“You’re the only one of us crazy or desperate enough to send your meat straight into the grinder!” I yelled, impulsively crossing my arms.

“Do you blame me?” he asked.

I bit my lip. “…For his sake.”

I felt him out in his usual states. He was in the first place I looked, on the back steps to the garden with coffee and a cigarette, just like “big brother.”

I said, “I honestly think he doesn’t even know if you’re alive.”

“I want to assure him, but he’s rightly guarded, of his own volition,” he said.

I told him quietly, “I blame him slightly less than you.”

He scratched his temple. “Bastet, I guess I understand.”

I puckered my whole expression. “He writes better poetry than you,” I said.

He recoiled like I’d hooked him. “You’re welcome,” he said.

“Alright, we gotta get to court,” I said. “Your lower looks like a scumbag.”

“More like your smegma rag,” he said. We really have no manners here in Heaven’s public restroom.

“Sock puppet…” I said.

“What?” he asked.

“What goes on two socks with sneakers, three socks on business, and one sock with sandals?” I puzzled.

“I see what you did, there,” he said, “but nobody else would, which is the other reason you bought candles.”

“Triple wick…” I said.

“A vagina works both ways,” he said.

“So does an asshole, virgin,” I reminded him.

“Tell that to the judge,” he advised.

I materialized a prop set of thick black-rimmed glasses on my nose to take off for the sake of the pathos, and I rubbed my temple. Yeah, there was a reason I’d always loved him in the past tense.

Let me make this clear right now: there is no physically or magically possible scenario where I give away the life I’ve built for myself, for him or anyone, but, to his limited credit, he seems to basically understand and respect this, and he’s not a bad nut, in my book. The problem was convincing a judge of this. I counted the things I had going for me that were better than him, as we made our way to the court, but I admit that I only could have gone on for ten or or eleven times the transit, in his defense.

Loki’s smile was as wide as the dildo he had picked out for Dan’s legal opponent. It had been Loki’s suggestion, to file a civil suit against Allah for the slander and torture of his son, and Loki had even offered to act as Dan’s lawyer. Dan had accepted without hesitation, but we all already knew he was crazy.

“All rise for the honorable judge William Robertson presiding in the case of Strano versus Strano,” said the bailiff, and we rose.

The judge came in and told us, “Be seated.” What a relief.

The judge addressed the court, “First, for the sake of clarity and brevity, given the potential confusion between those before me and their incarnations who are involved in the case in different capacities, I’d like to refer to the plaintiff and the defendant by their common proper astral names.”

“John Strano,” he said, “may I call you ‘Allah?'”

‘You could just call him, “Al,”‘ I thought to myself.

“That’s fine,” said John.

“Daniel Strano, pardon, but may I call you ‘Lucifer?'”

“That’s fine,” said the angel formerly known as “Daniel.”

They had to start with this shit; let’s not forget who’s who.

Loki began his argument by demonstrating various pieces of borderline-illegal technology found in Dan’s family home that had been used to torture, coerce, and misrepresent Dan to the public. Dan’s part-time lawyer and double-time “tech-monger” had a look in his eyes at times during the presentation like he was sexually jealous of the particularly nasty devices he was parading out. Expert testimony was submitted, about the devices and about peculiar circumstances that had allowed Dan to escape death under these conditions. This aspect of the situation had become central to a public debate about physical magic on Earth, but what concerned us then was how it affected Dan’s treatment by Allah. The nuts and bolts of immortality and physical miracles were for another case. I admit I became distracted from the rather dry proceedings, imagining everyone in the court room except Dan in their underwear with clown make-up and juggling evidence or some other tom-foolery, until it was my turn to take the stand. I was sworn in.

Loki smiled disarmingly at me. “Bastet, would you please briefly describe how you know Daniel Strano?”

“Our incarnations met years ago,” I began. “His lower reached out to me again a couple of years ago, on the astral, and, given our shared political interests and his need for a friend, I try to keep him what company I can. He’s respectful of my wish to keep my lower out of things like this.”

“Are you two fighting for the same cause, or is he your cause?”

“A little bit of both,” I said. “I’m sure everyone in the room is aware of legislation we’ve helped forward and the investigations I’ve participated in on his behalf.”

“Please tell us, briefly, what you observed about Daniel’s living conditions in the time around when you first met,” directed Loki.

“I had the opportunity on many occasions to physically visit the house where Daniel has lived in most of the time since then, a five-bedroom home owned by John and Annie Strano. It is exactly where you might imagine Allah’s and Eris’ incarnations would live. The interior is beautiful and fastidiously kept, but relatively modest for the size of the house. Astrally, the house appears to have a similarly artful decor, of which the primary function is actually nominally for security and privacy,” I told him.

“Dan lives comfortably enough in the flesh,” I continued, “but the spirit is another story. Knowing him personally, I always held the opinion that Dan has a keenly perceptive awareness of his environment on the astral, despite the modification that has been made to his soul biology as a result of legal decisions made at around that time. It was determined, about when I first met him, that his awareness of the astral had become a problem, given his reputed behavior toward both physical and astral beings in the months before we met, and it was decided his soul would be magically and chemically altered to deaden his astral senses, supposedly to protect him and the people around him. It seemed obvious to me at the time that, despite the changes to his biology, Dan was still very much aware of us. The common opinion was that he only thought he could hear us anymore, due to illness and his gradually fading memory of prior events, but I carried on clear conversations with him that theoretically shouldn’t have been feasible—on the astral and in the flesh—given the purported deficits imposed on him.”

“What have more recent investigations you’ve participated in found?” asked Loki.

I considered my rehearsed words. “Dan’s soul was modified in part to disrupt his awareness of our plane, but not in the manner or to the extent commonly presented, as a human basically deaf to our plane and rendered a nonparticipant in it.”

“What were the effects of the soul modification?” he asked.

“As has been reported in the media on the authority of independent medical examiners,” I said, “Dan’s lower maintains evincible predominating autonomy of thought and action despite the control mechanisms surgically installed in his soul. It’s likely that other people who’ve received these treatments are in a similar position, is part of a recently suggested clinical opinion, except that two factors are important to Daniel’s situation: for one thing, he values demonstrating his agency to the public over the appearance of sanity, and for another, his family has attempted to systemically project the appearance that he’s half puppet and half terrorist with astral and physical illusions hidden in his environment, especially the family home, and on his astral person itself. Fixtures in the house have been used to project what amounts to a false hologram of Daniel’s behavior on the astral, while he’s gone about his business, trapped in plain physical view at times, trying to stave off the effects of his soul surgeries and to signal vainly to us that he was even aware of the disconnect between a world projected by Allah and Eris and his limited awareness of what was really happening in our world.”

Loki said, “I would like to remind Your Honor of the examples and expert analyses submitted of the various technologies that were found in Daniel’s home and on his person.”

“Frightening,” said the judge, “that so little of it was even your design.”

Loki nodded. “You flatter me, Your Honor.”

“Bastet,” Loki continued, “as you know him, was Daniel even aware of the terroristic rhetoric forwarded by his presumed astral identity for the past nine years?”

“…Probably about a fifth or a tenth of it, I’d guess,” I said, “while the rest of it is completely at odds with what I know about him personally.”

“Is that Dan’s soul, right there?” Loki asked pointing back at the plaintiff’s table.

Lucifer waved excitedly and twirled the edge of his moustache.

“Yes,” I confirmed, “but Daniel would probably rather say that he and that guy share a quantum Turing machine, whether virtual or hard.”

“Is that Daniel’s soul?” asked Loki, pointing to a holographic photograph on the evidence table of Jesus consuming dissociatives amid the strewn components of an improvised explosive device.

“While there is the tiniest superficial similarity between the two, that man is an imposter,” I testified.

Loki smiled and touched his fingertips in front of his face. “One more thing, Bastet,” he said. “Allah has made the claim that Lucifer has stolen critical technologies to make Daniel a walking physical anomaly of sorts, and to enable a rather powerful form of physical magic that reflexively reacts to protect his mortality and produces limited ‘miracles’ as a result when he is threatened. As an accredited academic, what is your opinion on the idea, originally forwarded by Daniel himself, that the apparent miracles we seem to cause by manipulating his body’s mortality are actually due to a quantum anthropic principle on his part and luck on our part, as we kill him in worlds without miracles we desire to happen?”

I cleared my throat. “I think the important thing to remember, about this claim, is that no independent investigation has found anything intrinsically special about Daniel’s body or soul that could be responsible for such effects and his apparent immortality. Holding quantum ‘many-worlds’ interpretation true, it’s reasonable that at least a set of such extremely unlikely worlds should exist, without recourse to ad hoc explanations for his apparent immortality of flesh. In this regard, Daniel’s explanation is one of the only relatively plausible ideas to be put forth that does not rely on undetectable reasons for his existential condition.”

“Thank you, Bastet,” said Loki with an assured smile. “I have no further questions for you.”

Loki walked back unhurriedly to his table with hands clasped behind his back. Allah’s attorney (a Mr. Barlowe, I think his name was,) put away a document he’d been looking at and approached the stand. I wasn’t sure what happened now.

“Bastet,” began Barlowe, “is it true that your incarnation and Lucifer’s dated at one point?”

Of course he’d target this. “It is,” I said.

“How old were you when you started dating?” he asked.

“I was sixteen,” I said.

“How old was he?” he asked.

The “king” was already in check. “I think twenty one.”

The obligatory ignorant murmurs circulated the gallery like an infectious disease.

Mr. Barlowe asked, “How did you meet him?”

“…Through work,” I told him.

He asked, “Was he your supervisor?”

“No,” I responded. “We were both cashiers, until he left the job after a couple of months.”

“Did you consider him a teacher in any regard?” he asked.

“Absolutely not,” I assured him.

“How long did you two date for?” he pressed.

“About nine months,” I said.

He asked, “Did you have sex with him?”

“Objection, Your Honor!” Loki shouted. “Relevance?”

Barlowe turned to address the judge. “I’m trying to determine the objective reliability of Bastet’s testimony and get an account of Lucifer’s behavior as concerns his mental health from someone who knows him, Your Honor.”

Loki looked disgusted. “But the particular question bears no relevance to either matter!”

I considered the implications and panicked. “Wait! No, we never had sex!” I interjected.

All three of the judge, Loki, and Barlowe gaped at me.

Barlowe removed his glasses to clean them. “Are you aware of what the age of consent is in New Jersey, Bastet?”

“No,” I said defensively.

“For your reference, it’s sixteen,” he said. He replaced the set on his nose.

“Did he ever do or say anything that made you feel threatened?” he asked.

“No,” I said.

He looked me in the eye. “Even in the slightest?”

“He was actually one of the least pressuring or aggressive boyfriends I’ve ever had,” I clarified.

“Was he ever erratic or grandiose?” asked Barlowe.

“Honestly, yes,” I admitted, “but he was extremely gentle with me.”

Barlowe kept his eyes locked to mine. “Did he ever encourage you to hurt yourself or anyone else?”

“No!” I replied.

He reminded me, “Bastet, you are under oath.”

“He jokingly told me to ‘kill’ my parents, in the obvious sense of teenage rebellion against their institutions, but we all know the man won’t even raise a fist to protect himself, and his jokes are inappropriate,” I said.

“Would you consider that an inappropriate joke?” asked Barlowe.

I said, “I’ll kill them right now.”

“Council member Bastet…” admonished the judge over some half-stifled laughter from the gallery. “Just answer his question.”

I looked Barlowe in the eye. “No,” I answered.

“Did you ever encourage him to hurt anyone?” asked Barlowe.

“Objection, Your Honor!” shouted Loki. “He’s attempting to compel the witness to testify against herself on a potentially criminal matter.”

“Sustained,” said the judge. “Mr. Barlowe, now that I’ve let you establish a context, I’m waiting for you to make your case.”

“We still haven’t gotten to Lucifer’s hospitalizations, Your Honor,” he responded.

Robertson looked nonplussed. “Well, proceed, but directly,” he said.

Barlowe nodded at the judge and straightened his glasses for a moment before continuing.

“Bastet, was Lucifer hospitalized while you were dating?” he asked.

“Yes,” I had to answer.

He asked, “How many times?”

“Twice,” I specified.

He asked, “Did you visit him?”

“Of course,” I stated.

“Did you bring him any care packages, or reading material, or the like?” he asked.

“I brought him a Teddy bear and graphic novels,” I said.

“What were the titles of the books you brought him?” he asked.

I suddenly wanted to slap my sixteen-year-old-self. “Oi… Johnny the Homicidal Maniac.”

Barlowe looked over his rims. “Excuse me?”

“The name of the graphic novel series I brought him was Johnny the Homicidal Maniac!” I said over some confused muttering from the gallery.

Loki rolled his eyes.

“I see,” continued Barlowe. “Do you feel Lucifer needed to be hospitalized?”

“I don’t know,” I said honestly. “I doubt he was a danger to himself or anyone else.”

Barlowe’s face suddenly turned lurid. “Would you feel threatened if he accused you of hurting him in ways that you had no idea about and made no sense, and if he attempted to use painful military grade restraint magic against you as he did his family?”

I thought for a moment. “How could he be held accountable for using magic against people who swore that there is no such thing and who forced him into a hospital to convince him of that by coercing him to take antipsychotics, particularly when these were to render him incapable of that kind of action?”

The judge shifted to face me squarely. “Council member Bastet, you don’t get to ask him that,” he said. “Just answer the question.”

“I suppose I would be scared,” I said, “but he never did and never will use anything like that against anyone but his parents.”

Barlowe took two measured strides in front of the witness stand and stopped. “Just one more matter, Bastet,” he said. “Is it true that you played a significant role in the research that informs the dissenting opinion on a scientific explanation for the apparent immortality of Lucifer’s flesh?”

“I played a small role in it,” I had to say. “My lower was not involved and is unaware of the work, to be specific.”

Barlowe looked me straight in the eye, again. “Do you have any significant doubts in the hypothesis that the only reason Lucifer’s lower is alive today is because of the virtually infinitesimal chance of his survival in at least one possible quantum world, that we happen to be lucky enough to be experiencing with him?”

I’m sure my face betrayed what I wished I could say. I said, “Under oath… Honestly, yes—it relies on an extremely small chance of us seeing him alive, right now—but it is the only reasonably scientific explanation that has been advanced so far, I believe.”

Barlowe faced the judge. “No further questions, Your Honor,” he said, and turned back to his table.

“Council member Bastet, you may return to your seat,” said judge Robertson.

I left the stand feeling violated and disgusted. Arguments and testimony carried on blithely in a rhythm that seemed totally oblivious to the people really affected.

Dan’s lower was brought up via camera at one point, from his cloister in his backyard. Loki asked him if he knew what was going on, and he said, “You’re debating my case in a court that has no authority over me.” The defense attempted to cross-examine when Loki finished with him, and he answered a couple of questions only to end up finally giving them the bird. The judge made a joke about how he had always wished that he had found himself in a position to do something like that, and the court laughed nervously, and things went on like Dan’s statement wasn’t basically true. It was almost easy to forget that the defendant had attempted to end the world less than a year ago and the plaintiff’s zany antics might somehow have been partly responsible for stopping it.

Sooner or perhaps later, by my pensive and distracted internal clock, we took a recess and expected the judge to return with his ruling.

When we returned, he said, “I think, whichever side one favors in this case, most would agree that major questions are left to be answered pertaining to both the soundness of mind and peculiar existential condition of the plaintiff. However, I’m sorry to say that evidence of the malfeasance alleged in the treatment and representation of the plaintiff by the defendant is clear. On the large majority of the evidence presented pertaining to the slander and psychological mistreatment of the plaintiff, and considering the effective loss of earnings and lasting damage to his mind and character, I must find in favor of the plaintiff—”

The clamor and cheers that went up from the gallery at those words was deafening. The god-king of all conservative politicians had one ruling finally not go his way, lost to one of the wickedest men in the world, even if the road to possible criminal conviction would be interminable.

The judge finished making his closing remarks. Daniel and Loki stood up and turned to exit the courtroom with a spring in their step.

I caught Lucifer with a hug and whispered to him, “Do you have to die before ‘God’ forgives you for this?”

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Eudaemones

Aug 25 2015 Published by under Short Stories

Maybe the “End” had come and passed with a shrug already for one little blue-green speck in the backwaters of our galaxy, but I wasn’t sure that I was on that speck anymore. In a minutely different world, there but for the grace of quantum mechanics, perhaps I was dead. Perhaps an event resembling a miracle was all this world had been waiting for to praise “God” and fire the nukes, a red heifer or a red herring, but there are no literal miracles in this world, no physically impossible events “hacked” or “bugged” into reality by any being unbound by physics. There are only statistically common and uncommon events, and, if Everett was right, maybe Schrödinger’s cat could just pop his cyanide capsule when his run of lucky sevens inevitably ends in the crapper—or maybe the table would just kill him. Maybe Vegas and Monte Carlo are the ultimate quantum suicide experiments. Maybe this world would rather just fire temple-to-temple if there is no just dessert or ethical odds-bet jackpot.  Maybe we even get everything we want, in a practically infinitesimal fraction of physically possible quantum worlds, and maybe we live happily-ever-after.

“What’s it like to be a privileged observer, Dan?” asked Bastet.

I was always bad at ignoring her, as much as I pretended. I tried to remain present in the insect drone of the beautiful high summer day that was evolving around me in the backyard.

The voices of the “angels” had left me well-enough alone in the hospital, this time. They had come for visiting hours, with sandwiches and board games, but there just wasn’t much left to talk about, once I’d went in. I was out in five days, and you’d think nothing had changed for the “episode.” My employer accepted me back. My family accepted me back. We all remembered what had happened, but what was there to say for it?

“‘…I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this Earth,'” I told her, “as opposed to the other Earths where the Nazis won World War II, or dinosaurs developed written languages and digital egg timers.”

“Maybe there’s only one world, Dan,” she said, “where the necessity of your survival leads to the discovery of some relatively extensive physical magic.”

I held out a hand and clapped my fingers to its palm a few times to demonstrate its emptiness. “…Still waiting for ‘God’ to put that bagel I’ve always wanted right here,” I said.

“…Relatively extensive,” said Bastet, “but you can get one of those for a dollar down the street, besides. I mean, who wants eternal life, anyway?”

I winced. “Wait,” I said, “did I hear that right? What chicanery is ‘God’ trying to sell you now, of which I’m supposedly at the root?”

“I’m not sure I want to tell you,” said a river in Egypt.

“Does it involve trying to kill me?” I asked.

“Trying, maybe,” she said, “but it’s arguable whether it’s an attempt to kill you if it can’t succeed.”

The hair on my nape prickled. “Why would it be questionable whether a concerted effort to kill me would succeed?” I asked.

“Obviously because no attempt has succeeded so far,” she said as a matter of fact, “and we’re starting to suspect a physical principle.”

I gaped. The ash fell off my cigarette.

“…And I’m certain the magical cigarette smoke is what keeps the bionic chupacabra at bay, every day,” I said. “I assure you that you’re wrong.”

She “snuggled” the air of dubious scientific hypotheses that always surrounded me. “Dan, let’s imaginate here for a minute. Do you remember what happened last week at the End of the World party we threw, or that time we wanted to drop a bomb on your monkey face but the spirit of quantum bullshit saved your ass, or that time we put neural implants—”

“I’d rather imagine that I had the super power of not giving a shit about your clap-trap and that everybody thought I was an awesomely righteous dude.”

“Well, you’re in luck,” she said, “because we might be imagining the same world, here, believe it or not.”

“It’s fun to make-believe,” I said.

“It’s even more fun when your fantasies become realities, Dan,” she said.

A monarch butterfly landed directly on my forehead, waved its wings unassumingly for a moment, and then took off across the yard again.

I slapped my face and dragged my hand down it. “I am officially done with this shit,” I said. “Get it through your virtual machine that there is no God even if you folks exist.”

“Maybe God is just a slob like one of us,” she said.

“Just a stranger on a bus?” I wondered. “I’m sure Her line doesn’t run through this little provincial backwater of a planet whose denizens can’t even accept each other, much less Her.”

Bastet smiled a far-off smile. “You’d figure, of everywhere,” she said, “She’d go where She was needed the most.”

I stubbed out my smoke. I couldn’t decide whether the insects and birds sang like it was any beautiful day, or one of the only beautiful days. I wondered how they’d sound on the day I couldn’t hear them anymore. I thought, “Whatever the case, they have the right idea.”

I crossed and uncrossed my legs. I put a hand to my chin and then took it away. “I have three things to say to you and to everyone, and then I want to play some goddamned video games about saving the world, and you can play them with me or leave me the hell alone, but you cannot drag me back into quasi-religious delusions for like, five hours. This little bubble, right here and right now, is a no-crazy space-time hyper-volume, and you can respect that or leave it.”

“Fair enough,” she said. One of the neighbors laughed from behind the bushes.

“First thing,” I said, “whatever the fuck has or hasn’t happened, I’m only special in the way that every living being on this planet is special—but I’m happy and proud to be anything at all. I’m an egotistical nut-job, and almost anybody in the position I delude myself into thinking I’m in could bring kindness and humility to the role, and that’s why most people forego the level of ego-masturbation that I derive from you delusions of grandeur—because most people have more realistic and balanced expectations for life, so they don’t end up like me.”

“I agree with you that there are probably millions of people in this world better suited to your situational accident of birth, Dan—okay,” said Bastet, “but I guess what I’m saying is that it might turn out that you’re actually a physical anomaly of sorts, rather than just a joke referencing one.”

“…So said the primary reason for which I am prescribed antipsychotics,” I added, “but you’ve brought me to my next point: I have kind of a crazy idea why it might seem like you can’t kill me.”

Bastet raised a halting hand. “Let me guess! Just let me guess, Dan! The reason for anything that ever has, will, or could happen is the damned quantum suicide experiment. We exist in a superposition of all physically contrived worlds, and the reason you’re not dead yet is because of the tiniest physical chance of your survival, and our ungodly luck always pans out such that—wowthe cat came back, again.

“It has explanatory and predictive power from my perspective, if I can take your claims of experimental evidence at face value,” I said.

“It has no explanatory power, from my or anyone else’s perspective,” she said.

“But wouldn’t this be the very argument we’d expect to have in such a world?” I pleaded.

“Make your third point, already,” she demanded.

“If you actually exist, and you’re saying what you’re saying in good faith, then when your luck fails and the eventuality of my death becomes apparent to your world, they will come after you next to attempt a repeat hot-streak—because you’re killing me in the case that external ‘miracles’ don’t appear to happen, aren’t you?”

Her rhythm missed a beat. “It’s debatable,” she said.

“You’ll realize that it isn’t and I’m just a politician’s drunk son,” I said as I walked across the grass to the back door.

I trudged upstairs and booted up my machine, determined just to play some fucking video games for a change. It feels sometimes like all I ever play is “Chrono Trigger,” but the story never gets old. There is something that always feels fundamentally right to me about a group of teenagers coming into no-uncertain foreknowledge of the End of the World, nearly a thousand years after their own natural deaths, and just saying, “Fuck all this shit; we’ll try to stop it because we know better and we might be able.” When I saw it acted out in a video game, the metaphor was nearly as clear as the moral imperative to me, even as a twelve-year-old. It was the antidote to everyone else’s cynicism and defeatism: “Fuck all that bullshit, because my kids’ kids’ kids are in danger. We’re probably gonna die, but I don’t want to live without trying.”

I could feel Bastet looking at me, as I loaded up my game, like I was a particularly smelly piece of garbage that she was trying to identify out of purely morbid curiosity. She poked me in the hippocampus, and I grunted. She kept looking at me like she expected me to do something spectacular, like sprout horns or wings, but the Rapture had been over for a week.

“What if quantum mechanics actually follows de Broglie-Bohm interpretation, Dan?” she asked after a while. “What if the reason you’re still alive is because it’s part of a predetermined underlying plan for everything, that it can’t happen any other way, and those other hypothetical ‘worlds’ where you die are just an auxiliary part of the equation that factor into the math but can’t drive the world off a blue-print determined at or beyond the moment of the Big Bang?”

I wondered if this is how video game characters felt. “I think it’s pretty obvious that’s a metric butt ton of contrived goat shit,” I said.

“Everything is crystal clear about the cat-skinning experiment when you’re the one licking his butt in the perfectly isolated box,” said the cat god.

“It’s Darth Vader’s revenge,” I said, as I hacked my through my favorite virtual forest. “If it turns out that macroscopic superposition is ubiquitous and if I fucked things up badly enough for him, he can at least ruin my life in the increasingly unlikely worlds I live to see by telling everyone that miracles will fall out if they bash me like a piñata. Usually I just die, but the ones of me left alive have to explain why that looked like it cured cancer in limited cases, which it didn’t, and nobody ever believes me that nothing is any more likely for killing me, and they’d actually be better off if I just died.”

“First of all, you’re dead wrong about that last part,” she said, “but, you know, I see where you’re coming from. However, it’s an anthropic argument that doesn’t apply to anyone’s perspective but yours. It could make sense to you, that any world you survived in just looked like a miracle when it was really the only sort of world you could live to experience at all at this point, but then no one else can invoke that explanation of why we’re in a world where you literally seem to be quantum mechanically tunneling through Apocalypse scenarios.”

I pounded the keyboard to beat the active-time counterattack. “I find it hard to believe that I actually made a ‘quantum leap.’ We’re up shit’s creek if that’s one of the more likely scenarios in which I live to see the nukes not fly.” I took out the “baddie” before he had a chance.

Bastet sniffled. “…Or, I dunno, maybe we’re already in Hell, Dan.”

I paused the game. “Cat, I can’t say that any of this bullshit is real at all, and frankly I’m tired of thinking about it. Let’s say I’m somehow actually having this conversation with a five thousand year old being who really is the Bastet of history and myth. You and the other ‘deities’ eat, drink, breathe, and screw weird Lovecraftian extradimensional geometry beasts for breakfast, whether or not we’re in agreement that your native space is a virtual projection of biological computers. You fucking reincarnate, anyway. Maybe it just becomes apparent, for every being on this planet, in different tiny little fractions of the universal wave function, that the flesh is ‘immortal’ in a different way, despite the likely natural death part. Does that sound like Hell to you?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “Wouldn’t the likely survival scenarios degenerate into feebleness and constant pain? Isn’t the breakdown of the flesh more quantum mechanically likely than its endless health?”

“…Just like its death is even more likely, after a time, and then maybe I get to find out once and for all if you folks really exist,” I said, “but some of those unlikely worlds are healthy enough, too, apparently.”

I unpaused my game and continued my quest for the meaning of life. As I tapped away at my physical interface into a world of electric bits and magic, Bastet settled into my bed like a cloud of rainbow unicorn farts over a fairy mushroom circle in the woods. I admitted a quantum of laughter; they “smelled” good.

“Hey, Dan,” she said after a moment, “say we are a projection of physical natural computers. Maybe you sold me on that one, or not. Do we experience the same sort of immortality as the flesh? I mean, would this “many-worlds” wet dream apply to us?”

The scene changed, and I looked up. I had arrived at the End of Time. Nothing was there but a place to wait.

I thought for a moment, and I said, “I do think the one implies the other. The caveat is that you folks are more dependent on us than some of you might care to admit. You depend on us for your quality and sustenance of life as we depend on this planet. Of course, there would be worlds where your viewpoints continued for times as similarly arbitrarily long past your likely expiration dates, but we don’t want to live in an environmentally hostile world, and neither do you.”

I kept poking around out of time as I spoke. “You’ve seen friends and family on your plane die, haven’t you?”

She said with a note of resolve, “It’s true that we die, sometimes. Sometimes it’s more figurative, and sometimes we don’t come back. Basically, we’re as driven by survival needs as you.”

I found a wormhole in a bucket and stepped in. “So, when do you folks admit your existence on Earth, to save yourselves from the global catastrophe that we all think is on the way?”

The unicorn fart kicked at the covers of the bed and passed right through them.

“Hey, Dan,” she said.

“What?” I asked.

When the fuck do you stop asking me that and go get laid for a change, already?!” she screamed, throwing imaginary hot dog buns at me.

I pretended to catch one and eat it. “Is that an unreasonable question to ask the schizophrenic voice of my ‘ex,’ if she wants me to admit she exists and respect her feelings?”

She put her face in her hands. “I’m sorry I even said that. No, it’s not. It’s really not. I just have no answer for you.”

My hero rattled his saber. “I always wondered how or why it could even be that you never do. Fishy…”

“I won’t answer and I won’t say why not. Don’t talk with me if you don’t want to,” she said with a pout.

I took lethal damage. I said, with genuine wonder, “You’re too cool for me.” I raised my character from the dead. “I don’t know what I’d do you without you, cat. I don’t even think your counterpart would fully understand why, at this point.”

“Maybe there’s a nonzero physical chance of her understanding, Dan,” said the echo of a voice I probably wouldn’t even recognize anymore. She “kissed” me on the noodle-noggin’. “I could just say, ‘That’s all you get.'”

I had reached the boss’ final form. I paused the game. I wondered what it was like to be me.

“You know, I think I’m gonna go see what Jake and Dave are up to,” I said to myself. “You wanna come?”

“Is that it?” she asked. “We have the rest of your life to go on adventures of questionable veracity, and you think you’re just gonna tap out now?”

I started to fire off a couple of text messages. “No, I don’t,” I said, “but I kinda feel like taking a break and just smoking a joint with you three.”

“I won’t tell your doctor,” said my nurse.

“I’m sure the governor has already been alerted, and that’s exactly the danger of making a secret of a hypothetical world like yours,” I told her.

“…Or yours,” she said, “Doctor Coulda-Shoulda-Woulda-Researched-Quantum-Computers.”

“…Right, that the NSA uses to search these texts I’m sending about smoking a fat one,” I said with a grimace. “Silence is golden, and anything ‘God’ says is right.”

She giggled a sniffly fit. “I believe you, Dan.”

I put my phone in my pocket and closed my laptop.

“That’s why I keep doing this,” I said, “in reality.”

“Then I don’t believe you!” only I could hear her shout.

“You better not, Katie!” called Eris from the master bedroom.

“He’s a fink and an ingrate,” added “Al.”

“Folks, I’m going to Jake’s for a bit!” I called.

“Have fun, Dan!” my mother called back.

“Don’t have too much fun, though,” added my father.

I packed up my affects and hopped in the car. Bastet never had to call shotgun, and neither did Katie. The neighbors waved as they attempted to unmake my soul in order to extract a world of perfect, eternal physical bodies from the stuff of my viewpoint, despite the relatively higher probability of the zombie Apocalypse along the way. As I drove down the street, the “innermost-beings” of passers-by tried to drag me into arguments by making disparaging remarks about me as a representative of my generation’s lack of respect for God and country.

Bastet called out the window: “Not today, fuckers! We’re gettin’ higher than the angels and playin’ video games, for once!

I think there’s hope for the world.

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Bastet Converts To Atheism

Aug 21 2015 Published by under Short Stories

The irony is that I have no faith in a deity existing beyond the physical bounds of our universe. That is, I have neither belief nor trust in such a being or beings. I do not believe in a dual immaterial plane. I do not believe in a Creator. However, I do believe that rational self-interest implies kindness on the parts of human beings on this planet, and I have faith that most of us feel compassion and responsibility for our sisters and brothers even beyond that modicum of intelligent behavior.

Shooting stars are the mechanistic debris of astrophysical processes, but I have a bad history with them. About nine years ago, a stunning green jet across the sky coincided closely with the start of delusions that culminated in my first psychiatric hospitalization. At that time, I started studying physics; I lost my faith in “God”; the delusions never ceased or else irreparably broke continuity of narrative despite my skepticism. I have “heard voices” most people would parse as gods or demons every single day since, independent of psychiatric therapies and my metaphysical beliefs. A few days ago, I saw the second brightest meteor I have ever seen, traveling from east to west in the northern sky relative my house’s back steps, and I wanted to imagine it was some sign of reconciliation, a “thank you,” or a signal that I could let go.

I imagined I heard other beings around voice their amazement at the fireball, and I started to hypothesize aloud to no one how the color of the jet might either be due to bright spectral lines from the oxidation of materials in the meteor or black body radiation from the heat of atmospheric entry, or some combination of the two. Even the angels would have looked at me blankly as if to say, “What the hell is this guy going on about?” (I found out later that it was actually from ionization of the air, and that even the most reasonable-sounding ad hoc hypotheses are usually wrong.) Whatever the angels would have thought, though, the protector of Lower Egypt, “she of the ointment jar,” bearer of a sistrum, my liaison to a dual world I have trouble believing in, and my long-time friend, seemed to smile at my need to reduce heavenly beauty to burning rocks.

“What do you know about wormholes?” asked Bastet.

I looked into the twilight and took a swig of the beer I’d brought out to the garden with me. “They’re fanciful,” I said. “It’s arguable if they even exist.”

“They better,” said Bastet, “because I’m told our region is falling into a black hole, and the only way out is a wormhole.”

“Earth’s falling into a black hole, now?” I asked.

“Not your physical region,” said Bastet, “but the local astral. They say that if we don’t find a wormhole, we’ll be crushed into the singularity.”

I took another gulp of beer. “I’m not sure singularities exist, either,” I said. “Anything falling towards one would have its local time further and further slowed relative the frame of a distant stationary observer.” I reached for my pouch of tobacco and rolling papers. “By the time it limited at reaching an apparent singularity, its passage of time would cease.”

“What happens then?” asked Bastet.

I took a pinch from the pouch and started to roll a cone. “Whatever would happen,” I said, “would happen in a frame where time had stopped. The thermal dissolution of the black hole could occur before that last infinitesimal transit into the singularity could ever happen.”

I put the filterless cigarette in my mouth and lit it. “So maybe that’s what would happen,” I said. “You’d fall into the black hole until its dissolution appeared so accelerated that you exited at a far distant time, if you survived the tidal forces.”

“So you could get out?” asked Bastet.

I blew smoke into the purple sky. “Hate to tell you, but if you weren’t already ripped apart beforehand, you’d have to be thermalized in the process of dissolution of the black hole. Your information might be preserved, but not intact.”

“Oh, well, thanks for your sympathy, asshole,” said Bastet with a chuckle.

“It’s ridiculous!” I said. “Nobody around here is falling into a black hole. At least, Earth isn’t, and I thought you’re incarnate at the moment.”

“Yeah, and what about the ones who aren’t?” she asked.

I paused to take another drag. “…Pretty sure you folks are all entirely represented in the physical natural and artificial computational media on this planet,” I said. “I don’t think you’re going to be forgotten easily. I’m living proof how hard it is to make a human brain forget its imaginary friends.”

“You scare the crap out of me, Dan,” said Bastet.

I grimaced, “…The fuck I say?!”

“I tell you our world is headed for an imminent cataclysm, and you coldly describe to me how we’re gonna be ‘thermalized’ and our only hope is human beings trying to glue us back together via faith healing.”

“Well, what are you gonna do?” I asked.

“We could call the world ‘over’ and flee,’ she said.

“How?” I asked.

“…Nuke it and send big goo-covered bits into space to seed the next planet,” she said.

“And how do you intend to convey billions or trillions of conscious viewpoints via residual amoebas on nuke crater ejections?” I asked. “…Zip files?”

“I don’t even know what you’re you’re talking about,” she said.

“I’m saying, prove to me that you’re neither a figment of my imagination nor a virtual machine existing on my and other biological computational hardware, Bastet,” I challenged her.

“What the fuck are you even going on about?! You mean a meme?” she asked. “What if we’re dark matter?”

“If the dark matter around here was falling into a black hole, cat, I hate to break it to you, but Earth would be, too,” I said. “So your purported black hole definitely isn’t physical. If that’s your null hypothesis, you better cling to this rock for all its worth.”

“Your sci-fi is too high-concept, Dan,” said Bastet. “You’re gonna have to break it way the hell down before the nukes start flying, buddy.”

“This is a real thing, now?” I asked.

“Douche thinks he knows everything,” came a voice that was unusually physically audible and in the general vicinity of the neighbors’ yard, back behind the bushes, for one of my talks with Bastet.

“So this is apparently a real thing, then,” I responded.

Bastet sighed. “Yes, Dan,” she said, “this might even be more of a real thing than usual, for you.”

“If you’re not part of a space whose existence is localized to the collective mind of beings on Earth,” I asked, “by what mediating physical force do we communicate?”

“Dark matter, dick,” came the neighbor’s voice again.

The conversation was starting to get weird for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that I swear to you I could count on somewhere between zero and one hands the number of times I had ever previously hallucinated a physical voice besides my own participating in conversation between me and Bastet in admission of the “real” topic. I could parse the neighbor’s comment as just a response to me pontificating to myself about black holes aloud, maybe, but that was still as weird as anything.

“Do you know anything about an information singularity around here?!” I called to the neighbor.

“I don’t know nothing about nothing,” I heard him shout back.

“Is it even possible to have an ‘information singularity’?” asked Bastet.

“I could think of two ways,” I said, “and those are simulated physics and the Bekenstein limit, but it’s more likely that ‘God’ is a mass delusion.”

“Our physics aren’t simulated,” said Bastet.

“Well, you folks try to impress me with your pseudo-matter and pseudo-energy constructs all the time,” I said. “I think it’s safe to say those aren’t fundamental. Allah deals in pseudo-souls built out of that crap that you folks all seem really fond of, but I tore mine apart like five times and I’m still here, so those are obviously not what Al pretends they are, and you should sell your interests in his bogus timeshare reality already.”

“You don’t even know what a soul is,” said Bastet.

“It’s equivalent to the state of a Turing machine,” I said, as I reached for my lighter.

“No, it’s definitely not,” insisted Bastet.

“…Because you think it’s that bullshit contraption with the pseudo-nuclear fuel rods and the superstructure that reaches from your concept of Earth to some dubious ether hallucination, that Al’s business partners sold you all,” I said, relighting my cigarette. “They could get away with it because it looks like what a lot of people might even imagine a physical soul would be like in this age, and I bet they’ve been upgrading them for years, and those things might even be a bunch of showy textures and lighting effects thrown onto memetic virtual machines.”

“So I guess you know what a soul is,” said Bastet, rolling her eyes, “but you obviously have no idea how it works.”

That’s, not, a, soul,” I growled. “Want me to rip the fuel out of mine for a sixth time?”

Bastet poked a few feelers into my “soul reactor,” which is probably a goddamn parasite for all anyone knows. “Why is yours still functional if you’ve taken it apart before?” she asked.

“Because when I rip it apart, Al can either kill me to make it look convincing or quickly and quietly install a new one before anyone can figure out his scam, and the ‘dimensional anomaly’ must be pretty important to keep around.”

“Do it,” she said.

“This’ll be good,” came a voice from the neighbor’s yard on the other side.

My astral “muscles” were atrophied, but I managed to poke a few tendrils of my own into my apparatus and yank out the convincely uranium-fuel-rod-like pieces protruding from the core. A cheer went up from the sports field on the other side of the block.

I maneuvered the rods clumsily over to her. “You want these?”

“You got like ten minutes to breathe,” she said, “fifteen at most.”

“Unless Al shoves them back in for some bullshit reason, like the supposed welfare of a lunatic,” I said.

Bastet sighed. Her aura turned thick and cold. “Dan, that’s not gonna happen this time, because the rest of us need to know, now.”

“It’s a reusable virtual machine at best,” I insisted, downing my beer. “Most of the animals don’t even get them, and they breathe just fine. It’s ludicrous to think that the soul is a second substance.”

There was a pause. I wondered whether it was possible for Bastet to hold her breath for the sake of dramatic tension.

“It’s been about a minute,” she said lowly.

“I’m getting another beer for this,” I said. I swear the neighbors chortled. “Just don’t let Al kill me to make it look convincing,” I told her.

“I’m betting he would have already,” said Bastet, “so chances are you’re fine.

I went inside to grab another beer and took my sweet-ass time. I had to laugh at how damn esoteric my delusions can be, but I allowed myself a little room to indulge for a change.

“Ripped your soul apart, again?” asked the guy from “Footprints.”

‘…Science.’ I thought.

“…The beer, too?” he asked.

‘…Last wish,’ I thought.

“Want me to fix it again?” he asked.

‘I’m betting they won’t let you interfere this time,’ I thought.

“Hate you, scumbag,” said a supposedly all-loving god.

‘Mutual, demiurge,’ I thought.

When I came back outside, Bastet poked a few feelers back into the “soul” apparatus.

“What was the other idea you had, about an information singularity?” she asked.

“That one isn’t the case, either. I’m sorry I brought it up,” I said.

“Tell me what it is anyway,” she said.

“The Bekenstein limit is a bound on the information and entropy a physical system of a given energy and volume can represent,” I said. “It’s both an information theoretic limit and a thermodynamic one. It’s maximized by a black hole. If some biological or artificial computational apparatus on the planet hit the black hole maximization of the limit, it might have black-hole-like information theoretic properties. I have a much simpler explanation for what you folks on the astral might think is going on, though.” I cracked my can of beer.

“Yeah, well, lay it on me,” said Bastet, “in the next five minutes or so you theoretically have.”

I scratched my chin for a second, and I put up my pointer finger as a request for a momentary recess. It took me about twenty seconds to roll another cigarette. One of the neighbors coughed.

I lit it and took a drag. “Suppose beings resembling the deities of human myths and legends exist, but they’re actually much less universal than myths suppose. After all, they’re reputed to micromanage the affairs of our planet, which is really a speck of dust among countless planets in countless galaxies. You’d figure they’d have bigger issues to tend to. Perhaps, they exist only in the human mind, developing through the natural selection of ideas as we evolve through the natural selection of genes. Maybe they even started as myths, but were communicated via language through a computational information space composed of the minds of beings on this planet, possibly even the DNA.”

I paused to take another drag. “…And,” I said, “suppose many of them lived under the yoke of an effective or literal dictator, who had encouraged them to fight and kill each other in his name, and had led them into a condition of mutual assured destruction. You could call him ‘Al.’ Perhaps he foresaw an end to his reign, and built ‘end of the world’ prophecies into the religions he had promulgated, and he had always planned to end the world before he lost control of it.”

“Yeah, and where would that get you?” asked Bastet.

“It might force ‘Al’ to a point where he needed to fulfill Revelation to maintain his rule for another fifteen minutes or so, if he’s a sick fuck like that,” I said.

“Who would that make the dimensional anomaly known as ‘Dan’?” asked Bastet.

“…The happenstance son of his incarnation,” I said.

Whoa…” said the neighbor on the right.

“Do you hear this shit or what?!” I called.

“Dan, we hear you every night we’re out here,” called a neighbor I’d never even met in person, “but you’re usually redeemably entertaining.”

“…But do you hear the imaginary Egyptian goddess, as well?” I asked.

“Don’t know nothin’ ’bout nothin’ like that,” he said, “but, if you scream any louder, it’ll no longer be funny, and I’ll call the cops.”

I asked Bastet quietly, “Did the delusion you folks force me to refer to as a ‘soul’ die yet?”

“I no longer know anything about how our world works,” she said, feeling around in the cold, dark, mechanical vestiges of an idea that most normal people probably think of as something more like a holy unicorn fart made of rainbows.

Years ago, I practiced “magick.” Many of us might not realize that thousands or even millions of people think of spirituality as a full-contact sport one can play, with rules and protective equipment, rather than a world one only ever spectates in the abstract from a distance. A great many people—some people you know personally—believe in a dual world called “the Astral Plane” and think they communicate with demons, angels, and gods. By virtue of a psychiatric diagnosis, I am forced to live with the apparency of this plane whether I believe in it or not. Many do believe in it, though. Many think the “gods” are real “people.” Perhaps you’ll allow me, then—despite the superstitions that abound—that such beings would not be strangers to the internet, and modern physics and politics, and that the height of their culture on our planet is in fact the height of our culture, and that they might be nearly or exactly as earthbound as us.

The rest of the night was uneventful; I tried to tune out the “voices” and watched Japanese cartoons until it was time to go to sleep. They kept going on like it was the end of the world.

I had trouble sleeping through their shenanigans. I wasn’t well-rested for work the next day. Maybe that’s why mundane tasks seemed to take on a religious significance. For that day, I wasn’t a contract software developer, but rather the angel Daniel processing a rush at the gates of Heaven. People were just dying to get in. Database maintenance was “really” a symbolic act of writing names into Heaven’s ledger. My boss was revealed to me as St. Peter. I was nearly run down by a car while crossing a five lane street, except that I paused to look when a friend said “Goodbye,” for some reason I couldn’t parse, before she rushed across the street. A disagreement about the logic behind a report for an app we were developing became an argument about whether the “new ark” could survive the Apocalypse. I wondered how I got this job. I had to leave early, and I couldn’t give an explanation of why.

Fifteen minutes down the road from work, out on one of the major highways, four lanes had been constricted to one by emergency vehicles. We all inched forward impatiently, as if toward the Promised Land.

“What do you think Heaven and Hell are like, Dan?” asked Bastet, who’s never out of spitting distance, as far as I can tell.

I reached over and turned off the radio. “I can’t get away from thinking that Heaven is full of nice old middle class grandmas and grandpas who don’t know what class warfare is despite the fact that they participated in it to get where they are,” I said. “I imagine a lot of the real estate has been developed to look like senior communities. Levitt and Sons probably made billions on it. It’s a last bastion of economic segregation out beyond Armageddon, where people are happy they no longer have to worry about things like the poverty and conditions of scarcity they didn’t fix in the flesh, until reality sets in and people realize the laws of economics apply just as well to even the astral plane.”

Bastet gently laughed. “I find your metaphysics uplifting, for some reason,” she said, “or at least poetically just.”

“What about Hell?” she asked.

“It’s probably where Al hides the politically dissident and poor,” I said, “much like prison, and mental hospitals, and ghettos on Earth now.”

“Which way would you rather go?” she asked.

“Isn’t it obvious?” I wondered.

We were approaching the point on the road where all the lanes were constricted to one to pass the emergency vehicles. Lights and arrows pointed the way like flaming swords.

“Think carefully, Dan” she said. “If it were on you to judge Earth, who should get into paradise?”

“Everyone,” I said without hesitation. “Nothing less of a goal would be worthy of an all-powerful deity—not that I know any.”

We reached the single open lane.

“If your father had veto power, and he said that wasn’t gonna work, tell me, which way would you rather go?” she asked.

“Hell in a hand basket,” I said as we started past the blockage.

A feeling of unreality rocked me as I passed a flashing arrow level with my head. I gripped the wheel tightly. It wasn’t fair of the pseudo-hallucinations to play with my head while I was on a major roadway.

“You could be on the highway to Hell, then, Dan,” said Bastet, “and maybe I’m even coming along for the ride.”

Emergency responders on the side of the road watched me pass. The accident looked bad. The angels directing traffic on the flip-side of a bad scene looked worse. Most of us on the road were directed “right;” I went “left.” I’m crazy, but I’m not naive.

“So what happened here in a parallel quantum world, or whatever, for the folks with papers to get into Heaven?” I asked.

“I dunno, probably vaporized by a nuke as soon as they were cleared,” said Bastet.

“Everybody gets a world with their own perfectly-timed nuclear annihilation?” I mused. “Wow, sounds like Heaven,” I said.

“It’s what comes after that’s Heaven,” said Bastet.

“…And hell is being stuck on Earth to fall into the black hole?” I wondered.

“Maybe Al just has something special picked out for you,” she said with a chuckle.

The road opened up, again. I said to her, “I guess Hell is where Al hides his contingency plan. So I don’t suppose the theory about the megalomaniacal dictator having his reign challenged was a popular explanation for the bullshit singularity, was it?”

“The Bekenstein limit might or might not be a hot topic on astral social media today,” she said.

I lowered my visor and sighed. “I’m sure it’s my fault, somehow.”

It took more effort than I would have figured, just to keep my hands on the wheel and my eyes on the road. It was a weird place for me to be, suspecting my dictator pseudo-parents, the Judeo-Christian-Islamic god-king and Greco-Roman goddess of strife, to secretly prefer that I just never made it home that night. I imagined the modern cult of Eris chasing my car, throwing trout and hot dog buns.

“Why can’t you just accept this, already?” came the other “voice” of my mother, as I felt her try to twist my mind around like a Rubik’s cube. I worried that she was the type to smash one and try to glue it back together.

“Look, Ma,” I said, “I’m not sure that I even believe in you folks, but it’s always going to follow that the end of the world is unacceptable in my universe of logic, independent of the existence and will of ‘God.'”

“Daniel, this is what the people want,” she said. “We’re simply giving them what they want. People don’t want to live in a dirty physical world with complicated sustaining conditions and tenuous ways of life. Do you?”

“You are such a fantastic faker,” I said. “Is this fun for you? I asked. “Are the cameras rolling? Any other night of the week, we’d be making fun of Dad for a Ralph Cramden-esque harebrainer like this, but you must be on your best behavior, tonight.”

“Do you think I couldn’t sneak a private word in with you on Doomsday, son?” she asked while I shifted to make the exit.

‘What is it?’ I thought.

“It’s kind of amazing that you’re alive at all. Maybe you taught us something about Schrödinger’s cat, Dan.”

“What’s your real payoff in this?’ I asked in my head. ‘Is it love? Is it thousands of years of momentum that started in the marriage of Roman and Jewish politics?’

“It’s a little bit of both, and then some,” said Eris.

“She’s claimed it’s about physical magic, Dan, in part,” whispered Bastet from some hidden place close by.

“Why bother living in a world we don’t have control of?” asked Eris. “I can’t take chaos, Dan—you understand the irony. That is, I need control.”

“…Controlled chaos,” I said, ” controlled descent past the event horizon of a black hole.”

“You see, some of us don’t believe we need the Earth at all. We created the Earth,” she hissed. “We can certainly simulate it, when we leave, but the time has come to leave.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Oh—because it’s a fucking drag, man!” she shouted in my brain. “Because our world and our way of life are threatened, whether you want to believe it or not, and we’ve known about it for thousands of years, and we have technology to simulate the parts we’d like to remember about this world—with magical fireballs and spells for eternally perfect hair, when we want them—and because it was always a game. The game is over, now.”

I said, “I think the only thing that threatens your way of life is a social awakening to the unsustainability of living in a castle in the sky.”

“Well, thank you, Daniel, for bringing that to the people,” said my Italian grandmother’s revenge. “If it weren’t for you, we’d have one fewer nut with a grudge against God and his family.”

I pulled into my driveway and shakily gathered up the day’s detritus to head into the house: I shoved cigarettes, a lighter, and my phone into my pockets and carried a lunch container and my keys in my hand.

I greeted my parents perfunctorily.

“I’m home… Fine, how are you?”

It didn’t even matter what any of us said.

I wolfed down some fruit and nuts while no one was looking and cracked a beer for the ride. I deposited my load in the least noticeable and consequential spot I could walk to while drinking, out in the usually figurative but occasionally literal “Garden of Eden,” hunkered far from plain view.

I started the day’s installment of a 45-year-long suicide ritual. I had time to just think without excess pressure. The world could have been ending. I took a sip, then a puff—a sip, then a puff. This is apparently what I would choose to do when the bombs dropped.

I’d known my fairy godparents were basically evil fascists for years, now, frankly. At least, that was the case if they existed, and it doesn’t matter whether or not they exist on the best and worst days.

“Dan—are you with us?” asked a cat-headed being that I have to conclude, in polite conversation, is a compensatory manifestation of multiple personality disorder.

“Dan, realize you have real friends,” she added.

“I realize, Katie,” I admitted.

“Don’t even call me that,” she said.

“A long time ago in a distant supercluster-fuck, I based you on her.”

“Dude!” she bounced me back and forth on a few warm, salty waves of emotion for a young love. “It works neither of those ways, not the conservative educated guess that it’s purely a product of your guilt nor something almost any other human being is directly aware they’re participating in.”

“You’re either real or your not—and you’re not,” I snapped.

“Neither are you,” she responded. “I don’t understand how you could be at once so obviously determined to see your ‘delusion’ through and yet dismissive of and desperate to ignore us.”

“Then, you just tell me what I’m supposed to think, cat.” I said.

“I don’t want to tell you what you should think,” she said.

“No, but I even mean that sincerely,” I thought aloud. “You’re an integral part of my inner polylogue, and, honestly, I think I’d miss you, most of anyone. You seem to be my advocate, here.”

The sense of her presence settled in close. “Well, I think you’re awk’, man.”

“What else do you think?” I asked.

“I think you got a pretty raw deal with this schizophrenia crap,” she said. “I think there’s a payoff in you imagining Armageddon scenarios like this, though.”

“What’s the payoff?” I asked.

“That’s the part I haven’t quite figured out yet, but you seem damnably adamant about chasing them down, as much as we wish you’d just leave us alone, already,” she said. “Maybe you really like talking with me. Maybe you think it beats being a ‘spontaneous,’ world-travelling, go-getter professional, for some inscrutable reason.”

I fidgeted and pulled my legs into half-lotus position. “So that’s it?” I asked. “I could just abandon the delusion mid-stride, and the world will take care of itself?”

“I think the irony is that’s what Eris and Al have been trying to get you to do for nearly a decade, but you’re never gonna forget us so long as we keep trying to make fun of you to your face,” she said. “…Or maybe it’s because we’re being pulled into a black hole.”

“‘…Falling into,'” I corrected.

Her aura turned crimson. “Dan, there’s one more thing. If Eris and Al aren’t supposed to exist anyway, you should take this astral bomb I’m putting in your hand and drop it directly on them. You should do more than that. Because I know there’s what you think of your human parents, Dan, and Eris and Al are supposed to be some kinda psychological foil to Annie and John, but they are, like, really evil fucks, Dan. Your real parents would even say it. You should, like, rally all the support you can with me and declare war on them, Dan.”

Some nasty figment that I would imagine could hurt pulsed angrily in my hand. “If I believed in them enough to use this thing, that’d probably be the completely wrong thing to do, still, wouldn’t it?”

“Dan, they’ve told too many outright lies about you, about how you’re secretly violent, and you’re responsible for acts of terror they actually manufactured themselves, and you’re supposedly not even conscious, Dan. You’re supposed to be some broken piece of machinery that isn’t even psychologically healthy enough to ask for the help and forgiveness of ‘God.’ It’s kind of amazing, Dan, how you must have imagined these beings that want to fundamentally un-make your identity in the public’s direct sight, that they hide behind blamelessly human, albeit controlling parents who try to own your psychiatric treatment, and your medication regimen, and the definition of your personality, when they claim this conversation isn’t part of it, and maybe the ancient ex-girlfriend you pine after through me understood the general upthrust here and sympathized with you, even if she’s never coming back, Dan. Maybe she wouldn’t want you to act like just another good little cookie-cut ‘success’ story, ever, even if her life went on without you years ago, and even if your family insists it’d just be easier. You should find another nut like her, Dan. And you should make things as difficult for megalomaniacal politicians and theocrats as possible.”

“…But there’s no chance of her coming back?” I asked.

“Not a chance, Dan!” shouted one of the neighbors.

“What do you want me to say?” she asked.

“You just seemed so impassioned, there,” I said, “that I might have to conclude you’re purely a dream-like wish fulfillment rather than anything resembling how she feels, if she actually doesn’t want anything to do with me. How could you say all that and be the same girl who hasn’t wanted to talk with me in years?”

Bastet emitted an exasperated groan. “I put my faith in your powers of imagination, Dan,” she said.

“You want this back?” I asked, holding out the angry, pulsating figment.

“I want you to think critically about your sanity,” she said, “if you’re not going to try to declare war on the voices in your head.”

“That just sounds horrible,” I said with a laugh. “What happens when it’s over? Do I become the fascist commander of thousands of Legion?”

“King Solomon purportedly kept his demons in an urn,” she said. “You should pick out a very dirty urn for them.”

“Kit-cat,” I said, “I’ll trust what you say. For my sanity, and for any other pertinent reasons that might not include the fate of the world, how real should I consider Eris’ and Al’s rhetoric?”

“For your sanity?” she asked. “…As real as you need to in order to put them in their place—in a dirty urn.”

I rubbed my hands together. “Then, here’s how it’s going to go down,” I said. “On the one hand is a potential world where these little chats of ours are purely the product of mental illness. Preoccupation with them could cost me a job, my finances, sleep, and my reputation. B.F.D.. I don’t drive or operate heavy machinery in that world when I’m like this, I don’t make decisions with irreversible consequences insofar as I can avoid them, and, if I end up in a hospital, perhaps I actually need it. On the other hand is a potential world where the fate of Earth hangs on a critical period of which we’re in the midst, and I could count on human beings to capture, relay, and critically assess the pertinent details I supply to the collapse of a god-king’s dictatorship, including the words coming out of my mouth this very moment,” I said. “In either world—in any world—violence should never be considered an option for ameloriating the human condition.”

A cheer went up from what was probably a damned kickball game down the street.

“Is it even worth pointing out,” I wondered, “that the supposedly all-powerful gods are incapable of doing something as purportedly trivial as materializing a bagel in my hand,” I said, holding out an open palm, “or even just getting me to shut up?”

Another cheer came from the field down the street. It wasn’t for me, but I preferred to pretend it was.

“Dan, look,” she said, “I’m in a complicated situation, because the assumed reality of my conscious viewpoint might require the reality of many aspects of your delusion, but I’m wondering what your psychological end game is, here. Do you expect thousands of years of human history to be suddenly rewritten as a lie, when our world becomes fully apparent to humanity, because you argued the entire planet into a corner in your head?”

“I’m even more ready to call it patently ridiculous than you,” I said, crossing my arms. “The problem is, you folks never stop talking, whether it’s to crack jokes at my expense or to insist on questionable reality conditions, of which you claim to be hiding all the evidence.”

“I could go away,” she said.

“You, of all my symptoms, are the one that keeps me most sane,” I said. “Everyone can leave but you, and a select few not including my heavenly father, mother, and brother.”

Bastet paused for a second. Her ‘aura’ felt tight and half-there.

“What about your heavenly kitties?” she asked.

“They can stay,” I said, pouting.

“What about us?” asked a familiar, mildly devious voice.

Another one gently growled, “Whoa, the kid don’t even appreciate the situation he’s in.”

“You know, at this point, it might be alright for him to just stop talking, whether he realizes it or not,” said the “young’un” of the group.

“We could make him stop,” said the most grizzled of them all.

“That’d make us as bad as his parents,” said the first.

“I’m wondering if he’s figured that part out yet,” said the grizzly one. “Dan, Schrödinger’s cat could be skinned in the most humanely behaviorally conditioning manner, don’t you think?”

“Don’t give it away,” said the first.

“Loki, I’m not sure there’s anything to give away,” I said.

A voice came from behind the bushes, “Now he’s talking to goddamned comic book heroes.” I nearly cracked up.

Baldr growled, “His chosen mate is worthy, but I’m not sure she feels the same way about him.”

“She could use the same cat-skinning method as they do until he approaches godliness,” said Loki.

“That’d be brutal,” said Baldr.

“She’d have billions of dead boyfriends in billions of worlds in revolt, said Thor, “and he’d probably just go on like he didn’t know the difference.”

“Hey, Bastet,” said Odin, “you might not realize it, yet, but this guy gave us the closest thing to physical magic anyone has on this planet. It just involves killing most of the cats in the bag.”

Bastet giggled. “Dan, do you know these folks?”

“I may have studied ‘magick’ under this team at one point,” I said.

“You don’t know nothing about that,” said Odin, “and call it ‘tech.'”

“Really, like we’ve never heard of semiconductors,” said Thor.

“You think you’re fancy-schmancy, because the lab rat finds out about the latest technology first,” said Loki.

“Dan,” he added, I’m going to give you a chance to really impress your girlfriend. If you were as evil as you think your family is, and you had every intent of killing someone, but what you really wanted was to control him, what would you do?”

“Try to solve everything with hand-waving and quantum mechanics, like usual,” I said.

“How?” asked Loki.

I took a good pull of my beer to fill the pause while I thought. “You could subject him to a quantum random stimulus, and if you could predict his behavior across the ensemble of his reactions, you could kill him in all but the cases that you preferred how he reacted, Al’s a son of a monkey.”

“Why did you say that last part, Dan?” asked Thor.

“I’m not exactly—Eris’ cooch smells of Chilean sea bass—sure.”

“What diction!” said Odin. “Dan, are you Jesus?” he asked.

“Fuck no,” I said.

“Hm.” He scratched his chin. “Apologize to Al and ask him to forgive you,” he commanded.

“Wait, why?” I asked. “Nothing doing.”

“Insult Bastet,” said Thor.

“I don’t get it,” I said. “I will when she deserves it, Governor Chris Christie is sexually attracted to the Antichrist.”

“Have you ever seen any evidence of physical magic, Dan?” asked Loki.

“N… no…” I said.

He gave me a “noogie.” “I believe you,” he said. “Do you get it?” he asked.

I thought I did, but I didn’t want to suspect friends of yet another transgression against me that had about as much evidence to support it as the arguments against global warming.

“Do you notice what you’re saying, Dan?” asked Loki.

I clenched. “Yes,” was all I could say.

“Do you notice what you’re not saying?” he added.

I relaxed a little. “So, are you folks trying to reinforce my character, or test it tube-sock snake-charmer doesn’t even have to ask that question?”

I shook out the willies. “Yeah, I get it. As we both said, you could kill most of the cats in the quantum bag that don’t say the things you want them to say.” I paused. “Thank you,” I added.

“And he even thanks us!” said Odin with a slap of his knee.

Baldr growled, “Don’t, kid.”

I said, “I’m sure Punch and Judy are trying to leverage that principle to much more nefarious ends at this very moment, or I’m developing Tourette’s.”

“Do you think you were forced into your life, Dan,” asked Loki, “or did you choose it?”

“If I wasn’t forced, somebody would have to volunteer, and it might as well be me,” I said, taking another swig.

Odin’s face turned darker than a moonless night. “That just leaves one pressing existential question, Dan, the answer to which could forever topple Allah’s empire,” he said, “and, yet, that answer should be completely obvious.”

Thor turned white and Baldr looked away. Loki’s affect was mute, and Bastet’s grimace didn’t hide the tension and guilt in her air.

Who wants to drink?!” shouted Odin.

The rest of the group acted startled, but I was sure it was more the psychopomp than the psychocircumstance.

Odin drew a spear out of my head, as if a coin sleighted behind my ear, and pointed it at me. “Pound that beer,” he demanded.

I pointed a finger at him and shook it with my beer can. “Don’t tell me what to do!” I shouted. I was so frustrated that I pounded the can.

“Is this how we’ll always remember him?” asked Thor.

“It’s not how I will,” said Loki, “not entirely.”

I didn’t need any more excuse to anesthetize myself. My parents were preparing for a huge family party back on planet Earth in a few weeks—perhaps suspiciously—and there were virtually wall-high stacks of beer and gallons of liquor in the house. I quietly helped myself without either justification or remorse. I didn’t have a ram’s horn for the bloat, but I’m not really one for ceremony, anymore.

I situated my eldritch ritual in the gazebo my father and mother planned and built with their own hands in the backyard. The Aesir took up positions around the benches, like observant stone idols, and I sat next to the riddle of the sphinx, with a drink and a smoke.

“You know,” said Odin as I cracked my beer, “it doesn’t even have to be a matter of your behavior. They could even kill you in the case that external events didn’t pan out in quantum mechanically unlikely ways, and call it a miracle in the worlds you continued to live in.”

There was a sinister glint in his eye. “Do you want me to turn that cigarette into something special for you, Dan?” he asked.

I admit I was tempted for half a moment. “Except, are you quantum mechanically more likely to kill me in all worlds where I only wish I had a joint, or fail to kill me?”

“Dan,” said Loki, “say you know a way to test that principle.”

“…Not a way that I’m willing to play Guinea pig for,” I said, and I coughed. My throat was dry, suddenly. I felt a little light-headed.

“What about macroscopic quantum interference, Dan?” asked Odin.

My throat was getting worse, but it didn’t feel quite like I was getting sick. “Yeah, it might have been demonstrated at the level of particle packets or small superconducting devices, but, the greater the scale we can verify it on, the more suggestive it is of Everett’s ‘Many-Worlds’ interpretation.”

“It’d probably look like a miracle, to the untrained eye,” said Loki, “if a macroscopic substance interfered with itself—wouldn’t it?”

I tried to clear my throat, but I just scratched it up. “Happens with…” I coughed, “Bose-Einstein condensates of helium-4, where blobs of the stuff phase through each other..” I coughed again, “but it takes a controlled environment.”

“What would make a substance a good candidate for interference?” asked Thor.

“With Bose-Einstein condensates…” I coughed and licked my lips, “the key is that helium-4 can act like a boson, so particles of it can be in the same place at the same time, but I guess chemical simplicity in general would help.”

“Like, what chemical substances could work?” asked Thor.

My throat was so dry. I wanted to see what I was coughing up, to check if it was bloody or infected, but the night was almost pitch black, without a moon. My skin even felt dry.

“Um… I don’t know,” I choked. “…Noble gasses and elementals, ammonia, water—”

“—Boy!” said Odin. “…Water. Sounds like you could use some!”

“I’ll be right back,” I said, and I practically ran inside for some water. I grabbed one of the large tumblers from the kitchen cabinet and downed two fillings of it from the kitchen sink. I filled it again, because I was just that thirsty, suddenly.

I noticed my hands looked pale, dry, and venous. I stepped into the bathroom to inspect myself in the mirror. I turned on the light, and I noticed I looked thin, pale… desiccated? I didn’t know what to make of it, but I grabbed my water and headed back outside.

“Feeling better?” asked my personification of a desire for a girlfriend with super powers.

“Not really…” I said.

“Wow,” said Odin, “I’m thinking about this macroscopic interference stuff you were talking about. I mean, water is so readily available, and everyone who’s taken a chemistry class knows every water molecule is exactly the same—right?”

“Yeah, they’re interchangeable,” I said. “The full set of quantum observables are never exactly the same for fermions, but any water molecule would act the exact same way exchanged with any other.” My throat was still dry.

“I mean, if you could interfere water, you could get your reagents anywhere,” said Odin. “Even the human body is, like—what—about 70% water?”

I felt lightheaded. In fact, nothing felt right. “Yeah…” I said.

Odin and Loki gave each other frustrated looks.

“I mean,” said Loki, “you could fake a miracle with that—like turning a false prophet into a mummified husk—but probably only if you had, like, two-thousand years to prep for it—as you approached a quantum information singularity, or something.”

“Hey, Dan,” he added, “if you pissed off a powerful being a long time ago, who could live for thousands of years, and he wanted to try something like that on you, how might you stop it?”

I took a swig of my water. My throat was dry, again. My skin was dry. My eyes were dry.

I started running around the property in a desperately erratic path. The Aesir tailed me.

“What are you doing here, Dan?” asked Loki.

“Macroscopic interference,” I said, “would depend on off-diagonal terms in the density matrix,” I huffed, “from a large number of respectively superposed and identical degrees of quantum freedom.”

“So why are you running around like a half-mummified chicken?” asked Loki.

“Because an unpredictable or hard-to-recreate path through space for the water in my body would make it difficult,” I said, panting, “to either superpose degrees of freedom or keep them identical across quantum parallel worlds,” I added through a slightly moister throat, “especially if I’m lucky and there’s a quantum computational element to my choice of path.”

“You make it sound like thousands of years of human history led up to you running around your lawn like a psycho,” said Thor, “like we were approaching some singular end-of-the-world scenario where some long-lived fascist thought he could end your opposition to his hegemony by faking a miracle with a spectacularly showy and hard-to-believe application of quantum theory. Hey, Dan, but how could he pull that off? It’s almost as if he knew precisely what was going to happen, to the nearly exact level of quantum detail, to line up quantum parallel worlds or something like that. Did you say brains might be quantum? How could he do that? It’s almost like he would have to be able to predict the future in minute detail.”

Despite the running, it felt like I was starting to hydrate from the gut full of water. “Christ, I don’t know!” I shouted. “…Obsessively researched predictive models? …An actual Bekenstein limit maximization? …Tachyon-like signalling between quantum computers via entanglement? But…” I shook my head.

“…But what?” asked Thor.

“…But that’s such pseudo-scientific, self-help guru bullshit!

The Aesir laughed as I rounded the house for a fourth or fifth time and turned on my heels. It’d been years since I’d run a mile, even, but there was no end to the insanity in sight, and I somehow felt better for at least getting some exercise out of this, or something.

My parents heard me yell, and came out of the house to plead with me to just stop.

“Just stop, Dan,” I heard my brother say.

“Just stop, Dan,” I heard my mother say.

My father looked absolutely lurid, and we had nothing to say to each other.

My family called the cops. The ambulance followed shortly, and, as they strapped me to the gurney, the Aesir suggested that it wasn’t over, and they joked I might have an alien “head-crab” parasite attached to me in a parallel quantum world that was only ever-so-slightly different. It was an animated night. You’d think the world was ending.

Of course, I was admitted to the hospital. That night, as I fell asleep, I recited a poem that I’d written for Bastet’s physical counterpart, over and over aloud, like a mantra, until I fell asleep under those horrible fluorescent lights. No bombs went off. If the Four Horsemen rode, I couldn’t see them, even in my mind’s eye.

“To the Cat God:…” I would repeat, “This is the poem I never wrote for you…”

“It’s a nice poem,” said Bastet, “and I love you. Now, just stop, Dan,” she joked. “Just never write me another poem again.”

Maybe Everett was right, that life is a natural quantum suicide experiment that continues for an arbitrarily long time in unlikely, miraculous worlds. I’d like to think that billions of quantum parallel worlds converged on the point at the end of this sentence.

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The End

May 08 2015 Published by under Short Stories

Look, this one is gonna be brief, because I know you’ve got listicles to read. Fourteen lines is really pushing it, man.

It was fast-approaching my thirtieth birthday. I got to thinking about the prose and poetry I’d written for someone I really cared about, and how she’d probably never seen the vast majority of it, and wouldn’t ever see it, unless I brought it to her attention. I got to thinking again about how she’d been there for me in the absolute worst times of them all, and I honestly thought she was the kind of person who’d appreciate the mythos her idealized memory was a major player in. I had already started trying to publish a lot of this shit, and I thought that she should see it first. So I sent her a message, maybe the fourth or so I’d sent her in years since we’d stopped really talking, to the effect of, “This is the last thing I ever need to say to you, here’s this story I wrote about you, or someone like you, and all I really want for my birthday is for you to read it.”

And she did. 6 o’clock-ish the next morning, I look at my blog, and there’s a couple of hits on the piece and the index. It was obviously her, and that was my birthday wish, and there was nothing else to say, and I thought, “Wow, she actually gave a shit,” and I was happy and sad and mixed-up all day.

I made a couple of posts on a social media thread I started, about a show that’s, like, a major hit—you’ve probably heard of it—and how, if I had to make, I dunno, one last statement to the world, it would be appropriate if it were about how I think the show kinda sucks. Like, every time I sit down to try to watch the show, it’s immediately violence and titties, and characters motivated by power and selfishness, and it’s, like, really incredibly cynical and voyeuristic, if you ask me. It doesn’t shed any light on the human condition, I think, unless you think that people are selfish and violent at their most natural, and it’s somehow profound that the show admits that—but I think that’s actually pretty crappy and cynical. Someone challenged me on whether I’d really sat down and, like, perused the books, but I just have no fucking desire to make myself an expert in that, so I guess they win—and they can read whatever the fuck appeals to them, with my blessing.

I did that, and I went to work, and I kinda did a shitty job, but I love my office, and it seemed like people kinda understood. Somebody said on the way out the door toward the end of the day, that we should “get out and enjoy the weather while it lasts,” looking at me. It was kind of a funny thing to say, because we’re just getting into spring, and the cold weather is just on its way out. I couldn’t concentrate, and I left.

On the ride home, I was thinking about how Katie had actually read the story I sent her—that person I hadn’t really talked with in years, her name is “Katie”—and I was all depressed and happy and kinda fucked the whole way home. I’d been feeling really messed-up, lately, and I’d told her, “You saved me, and I never really thanked you,” and I thought, “She does it again.”

Someone in the office had said a funny thing that day, about how they had asked someone for a favor, and that person had asked for a favor in return. It was the kind of thing they knew they’d have trouble remembering, (to return the favor,) and they had said that to the person doing a favor for them, and they asked us all in the office at lunch if that was wrong. Like, if a person does you a favor, and they ask you for a favor in return, and you don’t think you’re constitutionally built to remember the favor they asked you for, is it wrong to say that to them? I thought it was, that it’s kinda like saying, “I tend to swing my arms in circles while I walk, and I’m not good at watching where I’m going, so I’m just warning ya.” I like the person who asked that, though—she’s really cool—and I tend to do the same kinds of things, I think.

So I get home, and I’m all messed. My folks notice, and I don’t know why I tell them, but I tell them that I sent that story to Katie. (My mom had read the story before.) I tell them I’m sad, but I’m happy because she read it. And my brother says, “Like, yeah, she clicked the link.” I know for a couple of reasons that I’m not gonna pontificate on that—no—I mean, it seems more likely that she at least read it, even if it wasn’t like a life-changing experience for her and she still doesn’t have anything to say to me—but he has take that from me. “It doesn’t even really matter,” I say, “if I just go on thinking she read it, and that’s a pretty crappy thing to say to me,” but he goes on about it, and he talks about how I’m off in my own world all the time, and I’m fixated, and he doesn’t wanna cook with me when I’m off on another planet like that. (We’re both vegan.) He’s the kinda person, though, where all the cooking has to happen not a second before or after he wants to cook, and he admits that, but he doesn’t want to change it. And I told him how he sounded kinda cold and conceited—and he even agreed—and I told him how it reminded me of one of my roommates who didn’t even wanna talk for fifteen minutes a week with the person they lived with, and they’d go out to the bars with people they gave a shit about and then study for MCATs, and that was fine with me, for her to choose her priorities, but she didn’t understand how—that was her prerogative—but it was mine to feel hurt by it.

Katie read the story, and I never tried to talk with her again. And if you don’t like or understand it, stop fucking reading.

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Daniel in the Lions’ Den

Jan 27 2015 Published by under Short Stories

It takes you a day just to recover from emergency and intake, because you’re reminded that you’re basically still in the dark ages of psychiatric medicine every time they strip you down to your boxers and a hospital gown, put a printed plastic bracelet on your arm with your name and a bar code on it like you’re a damaged canister of mixed nuts that’s just missing a label and 2 filberts in the grocery story nobody wants to shop at—but we can still sell those nuts, man—put you in a room with 4 beige walls to perfectly complement the beige ceiling and the wavy-patterned linoleum beige floor tiles, with a camera over the television from 1987 that they never acknowledge is obviously a fucking camera, when you learned DOS before you had pubes, and you just opted in the lobby not to sign the release to share the video with other institutions, and then they tell you to try to get some sleep but leave floodlights on in the room through the whole night—but at least you brought a fucking soft-cover book this time!

Then they send the crisis counselor in, and he tries to get you to put down the book. Years ago, I brought a copy of Bohm’s Quantum Theory in with me, having clutched at it like a snot-covered security blanket in a moment of life-changing insight, making myself as inseparable from it as a sensitive child going through problems at home. Years later, I brought a quantum field theory text in, and the crisis counselor—the very same counselor from so many years ago—warned me that, “You should give up that stuff, man. You’ll fry your brain trying to understand it.” Man, I hate to tell you, but I’ve been over that mountain, got a degree, passed a graduate level course in the subject, coded a simulation with applied semi-classical gravity fields, and got three T-shirts, but all I brought you back is this freaking exasperated tone.

When he gives up, and when you’re too exhausted to read, you might as well start talking to yourself freely, because it’s the best conversation you’re gonna have for a week or two. Pretend the whole ward knows exactly what you’re talking about—fuck it, the whole hospital! Pretend the gods themselves are throwing you a “welcome back” party right then—or “good riddance,” as the case may be. You’re not going anywhere for half a month, because you just got there, and it’s safe to assume you’re there for an excellent reason, whether you talk to yourself or not—so indulge. Tap dance with the fucking stars, you gorgeous, unfathomable beast.

The doctor comes in when you’re finally approaching the point of falling asleep despite the lights and removal of all things familiar and “you.” People ask why I have these tattoos on my wrists, and I tell them they mark the completion of two epochs in my life—which they do—but I don’t tell them they’re there to remind me who I really am in the emergency psych ward. The doctor comes in, her face blank, her manner hurried, and she barks half a dozen questions at you. She has to ask you three times about your level of education because, you don’t stutter, but the answer disagrees with her assumptions. She walks out of there as soon as her liability is minimized. You can finally sleep, then, because you’re just relieved that you know exactly what the next few weeks ahead of you have in store—after the first time, at least.

So it always takes me a day to recover, after they wake me up for the ambulance to the in-patient facility, and wrap me up on the gurney like a babe in swaddling clothes, and wheel me down to Limbo.

My parents dropped off some clothes and toiletries, but I dreaded talking with them. I changed into something comfortable to sleep in, trying to feel appreciative for that, at least, when I knew a lot of folks in the ward wouldn’t even have a second pair of underwear.

I laid down on the worn mattress, and I just listened to the voices in the center room that all the bedrooms adjoined, for a little. You overhear conversations in the ward to which you tend to feel like a familiar party even when you don’t know anyone, snippets about getting high, patients coming and going, and admonitions to demons for manipulating innocent Christians’ thoughts. I don’t even want to tell you what the demons say back.

As I started to drift away from what I’ll call “normal waking consciousness,” I heard the only “voice” I was currently on speaking terms with.

“Awe you fawwing asweep?” asked my “fwiend.”

“Trying to,” I said aloud.

“You usuawwy don’t wike to tawk to me awoud, though,” she said.

“There’s no reason to keep it quiet, tonight,” I said.

“Want me to wead you a bedtime stowy?” she asked.

“Bastet, please cut the fake speech impediment,” I said, rolling over.

“Why?” she asked.

“‘Cause you’re five thousand years too old for a lisp,” I said.

“Nuh-uh,” said Bastet, “fiwst, I’m going to teww you a stowy—and technicawwy it’s a wotacism, not a wisp.”

“…A what?” I asked.

“…A wotacism!” Said Bastet.

“…A ‘lotacism’?” I guessed. “…A ‘rotacism’?”

“Forget it,” said Bastet. “Just listen as you fall asleep.”

I pulled the covers close and shut my eyes.

Bastet tickled the back of my neck. “There once was a boy—or man-boy, really—who wanted to grow up to save the world, like so many near-virgins who play too many video games and watch dirty Japanese cartoons.”

“Thanks,” I said.

“You’re welcome,” she replied. “He wanted to save the world, because he knew that exponential population growth, unchecked carbon emissions, reliance on non-renewable energy sources, and a condition of mutual assured nuclear destruction could not be maintained indefinitely.”

“You’re not making it easy to sleep,” I said.

“He knew that the chosen path of a majority of human beings was unsustainable,” she said, “’…But if I master the power of magic,’ he thought, ‘then maybe being able to shoot five magic missiles in a single cast will somehow help me reverse global warming!”

“I hate you,” I said, even though I was laughing.

“He read medieval and modern grimoires,” she said, “and started hanging out with a bunch of dodgy characters, like demons, and people who called themselves ‘mages’, and he drank a bunch of cough syrup whenever he needed to refill his mana meter.”

“What magical effect did the pot have?” I asked.

“…Made you impotent,” said Bastet, “and he had sex with a bunch of hookers and killed them to get his money back before driving around the city in a stolen car while being chased by the national guard. No, that didn’t happen, but he did meet a hooker, in my estimation, and she wasn’t very nice, but he convinced himself he loved her, for no clear reason given her lack of redeeming qualities that I can see, and he hallucinated psychic conversations with her about various depraved topics for a few months until even he got sick of her. He drank a lot, and wanked a bunched of angry wanks to try to get her out of his system, which never worked, and somehow the gods of various religions got pulled into this debacle of an unhealthy, one-sided relationship between her and him, because they expected him to either start a revolution out of sheer sexual frustration or possibly try to do something drastic, like ruin their Sunday brunch—and the girl was supposed to be his soulmate or some crap, they said, even though he doesn’t believe in that, or any of this bullshit I’m describing.”

“I don’t believe in this conversation, even,” I said, “but somehow I feel guilty because you called her a hooker with no redeeming qualities.”

“The girl fucked with his head, and gave him an inferiority complex, and left him a pretty messed-up shell of a boyfriend by the time I got to him,” said my “guardian angel,” “but kinda sexy in a bad-boy way that he’ll never quite recapture.”

“Then, what happened?” I asked.

“The gods were very angry at him,” said Bastet, “and they called him names, and said mean things to him like, ‘Dude, you fucking ruined brunch for everyone forever—way to go,’ and so they had to have a trial for him, and they sentenced him to have his soul split in billions of pieces and distributed to the people of the world to control his every thought and action, because it turned out that he was some sort of dimensional singularity that the gods could exploit as a resource. He maintained that the whole deal was bullshit, and he demonstrated repeatedly to us that we couldn’t control him, and he eventually got bored and went off to get a degree in physics while we pretended to channel the stuff of his soul into evil magic and snort it during wild hate sex with our ‘ex’s that never happened. Oh, and many of the gods and angels and demons and dryads and shit were actually the alter-egos of other people living on planet Earth—where he did not live at the time—whom it seemed like he could speak with psychically.”

“Tell me about all the times your incarnation dressed up in furry costumes and tried to snort my soul,” I said.

“Then the cat god told him to fuck off,” said the cat god.

I felt her aura envelop me like a hug. “…And that’s what Groundhog’s Day is all about, Jimmy Spooner,” she said.

“I remember a fox costume,” I said.

“…And that’s after trillions of dollars may or may not have been invested in trying to make you forget, while keeping you viable as a fuel source and a political diversion. I suppose you win the universe, Dan,” she said.

“What’s my prize?” I asked.

“I think you already know,” she said.

“Medication time!” came a shout from the center room.

They put me be back on my old meds, but the hospital could never risk the temptation to up the dose. It was just easier, I suppose, for everyone but me. It’d help me fall asleep, at least, right then.

I slept til lunch. I woke up, avoided all eye contact, ate soggy under salted green beans for lack of options without animal flesh, secretions, or ova in them, and slept til they woke me up for visitors.

I decided that if it was my parents they woke me up for, I was walking away. To my moderate wonder, though, I scanned the crowded cafeteria to find two of my closest friends from high school. Adam had brought a chess set with him. Jake was fiddling with his phone.

“What are you folks doing here?” I asked.

“What does it look like?” asked Adam. “I thought we’d both be up for a rematch.”

“…And I just like picking up women in mental hospitals,” said Jake.

Adam and I laughed. “That’s my line,” I said.

“Crazier, the better, right?” said Adam, chuckling.

“I find it correlates with the willingness to perpetrate unspeakable acts in bed,” Jake said.

“Until you start getting fifty calls a day from her,” said Adam.

We all started to laugh, but then the two of them looked at each other uncomfortably and stifled.

“Dude,” I said, “the truth is, anyone who’s been at this for a minute has experienced more ‘crazy’ in an afternoon than you will in your entire life, and they don’t want any more. They’ll never call you back.”

That got a hammy laugh from Adam. Jake smiled.

I tilted my head back and sighed. I said, “Man, it’s good to see you folks here instead of my parents.”

“How you feeling, brother?” asked Adam.

“Dude,” I said, “to be honest, I don’t know if I’m wired or exhausted, I can’t have a smoke or a cup of coffee, and an Ancient Egyptian cat deity with a speech impediment keeps cracking jokes about the Apocalypse that nobody but me can hear.”

“I can hear her!” I could swear I heard someone shout at the next table. I was relieved when Adam and Justin turned their heads to look, too.

“I don’t know that person,” I whispered.

Adam cackled. “…But you and she appear to have a friend in common!”

I tried to shake out the willies. Jake was still looking over, jaw hanging slightly.

I looked him straight in his face. “Bro’, that’s your chance!” I said.

Jake kept staring. My friend’s friend, looking older than my mother, with magenta hair, winked at Jake.

Jake slapped the table with both hands. “Dudes,” he said, “I’m done.”

“We gotta play this game first,” said Adam.

“Set it up quick,” I said, “before everybody else’s demons get a chance to know mine.”

We set up the board, and my first new friend in the hospital looked away. Jake tried not to let on that he was looking back that direction. I thought about a particular conversation Jake and I had years ago, under the influence of a moderate amount of marijuana, in which we both verbally came to agree that verbal communication had apparently become unnecessary to convey our minds. I wondered, as I considered my first move, if Jake was more taken aback by our new friend’s cavalier attitude and charm, or her purported familiarity with Bastet.

Adam beat me, of course. I could make excuses, about not being in my right mind, or about being distracted by all the psychic conversations I kept getting pulled into, but he usually beats me.

When they left, I slept til nearly dinner. I awoke to the feeling of someone staring at me who probably wasn’t there.

“What do you want?” I asked no one in particular.

“I want you to give up this suicide mission and just try to get some quality out of life, finally. You’re not doing anyone any favors,” said the One God of Too Many Religions, “especially yourself.”

“You say that like I really have other options,” I talked back to “God.”

“You do!” he shouted. “The problems you’re convinced you’re going to fix are too big for you! You’re only going against the democratic will of the people, anyway! You don’t own the world.”

“Of course, because you own it,” I said. “You’re gonna suck every last drop of oil out of the Earth, to keep your constituencies happy, and when you’ve built your own private Idaho of a ‘paradise,’ you’re gonna set the people who believe in you to kill each other over who gets to join you in it, and you’ll ultimately eugenically hand-pick your final kingdom.”

How do you figure?!” he demanded.

“I don’t trust any belief system that holds that there’s an ultimate expiration date on Earth,” I said. “Wasn’t that what we were fighting about, when you put me in here?”

“You were fighting with your parents about things they don’t have the slightest idea about—and you don’t, either,” he huffed. “They—we don’t deserve this.”

“Of course I don’t understand,” I said. “I’m just a backwater yokel to the folks on your plane. You, on the other hand, are a powerful charismatic dictator who likes to tell people how they’re allowed to screw.”

“You know that’s not my will,” said ‘Al.’ “I can’t micromanage every action undertaken in my name—it’d defeat the purpose.”

“Your will is whatever appeals to the person to whom you’re speaking,” I said. “It’s kind of amazing how you can maintain so many dogmas at odds with each other and still convince their adherents that theirs is the only true one, without drawing scrutiny to your faithfulness. You’re just a wheedling politician, ultimately, and you’ll act like it’s righteous when you get to pick which of your rich friends and obedient token sheep get to board the new ark.”

“There could very readily be a place in Heaven for everyone, including you, if you just do what you know in your heart is right,” he said.

Get bent!” I shouted.

“Just go to dinner,” he said.

I did as I was commanded, but it won’t make any difference when the Rapture comes. They were opening up the doors to the cafeteria when I left my room, and I got in line for food with the rest of the damned.

The person behind me was singing spirituals. Ahead of me was the magenta-haired woman with whom I apparently shared a delusion.

“Michael, row the boat ashore. Halle-luuu-jah…” said the one behind me.

“She hasn’t stopped singing that for three fucking days,” said someone farther up in line.

“You should sing with me,” said the woman behind me. “Jesus is the only way anyone’s getting out of this place, you’d best realize. His Second Coming is upon us!”

“Lady, if Jesus were alive today, he’d end up in Greystone, and you’d never hear about it,” said the person farther up.

My friend’s magenta-haired friend and I chuckled.

“Even if he was in the hospital, He’d save us, praise Him!” said Our Lady of Tactless Piety.

She tilted her head back and raised her arms. “Jesus, I know You can hear me!” she cried. “Deliver me from the wicked and set my soul free, Jesus! Michael, row the boat ashore…”

“I’ll set her soul free,” grumbled the person up ahead.

The one behind me started clapping. “Halle-luuu-jah…”

The face of the one ahead suddenly darkened, and his fists clenched. He started to stomp back to the singer, but the woman ahead of me with the magenta hair got in front of him, to my relief.

“Hey, we all need a crutch,” she said to him. “You’re next in line, anyway.” She pointed to the space in front of the food cart that had opened up.

He bit his lip and turned around to walk up.

The rest of us at the tail end of the line filtered into the cafeteria and got our food. Someone must have told them I was vegan, because they had an option for me this time, with salad and chickpeas. When I got my meal, I looked around for a seat, and I noticed the magenta-haired woman was sitting alone.

I walked up to her table and said, “That was very cool of you a minute ago, to step in-between those two. Do you mind if I sit with you?”

She looked up at me and said, “It wasn’t anything. Sure, pull up a chair!”

I flipped the nearest unoccupied chair around to her table.

As I sat down, I was surprised to notice a commonality in our food. “Are you vegan, too?” I asked.

She looked at me with solemn, analytical eyes. “It’s a family tradition. My mother was a Hindu priestess, and my father was an Algonquin shaman.”

I tried to express my respect in my face. I said, “Oh… That’s very…”

Her gaze turned impish and light. “I’m messing with ya,” she said. “I don’t even know who my parents are. I noticed the last time I was in here that you folks get better food—something fresh.” She chuckled.

I had to laugh. “Hey, I can’t deny that fresh veggies are better than the dry eggs and oily meat,” I said.

I put down my fork and offered a hand. “I’m Daniel,” I said.

She looked at my hand, then put down her utensil to accept it. “Tara,” she said. “Pleasure.”

We picked our forks back up and each took another mouthful of salad.

“That’s a heavy biblical name,” she said. “No wonder you’re in here.”

I sighed. “Yeah, maybe it helped give me a god complex or two,” I said.

She smiled. “You’re in the lions’ den, Daniel. I’ll bet you told a king something he didn’t wanna hear.”

“It’s kinda funny,” I replied, “but I tend to think that’s the real reason most of us are in here.”

“I know exactly what you mean, brother!” she said.

We both busied ourselves with eating. I was curious about before, with what she’d said during visiting hours, but it’s the sort of thing you learn not to ask about after a couple of stays in the “bin.” With a question like that, there’s the chance of disappointment with the answer, but it’s sometimes worse when you get the answer you thought you wanted to hear.

I returned to my room and conked out for the night. I missed the evening “leisure” therapy activity (karaoke or the like) and the after-dinner snack—gosh, golly.

When I woke, I’m not sure if Bastet was waiting to talk with me or if I had reached a blind, sluggish astral feeler in her direction, like a hand searching for an alarm clock, or a prayer for coffee.

“…No coffee or cigarettes for at least a week, Dan,” she said.

I kicked at the covers and put my pillow over my head.

“Find me a connection,” I said.

“I don’t hang out with dealers,” said Bastet.

“What good is a familiar if she isn’t familiar with the local apothecaries?” I asked.

“Excuse me!” she said. “Don’t talk to me like I’m your servant! I have entire armies at my disposal!”

“Ohmagawd!” I said, “…thousands of Legion!”

“My territory holdings on the astral are among the richest in this world!” she insisted.

“…Vast, fertile tracts of land!” I mused.

She can’t exactly kick me, but she can “zap” me in such a way as to elicit a pretty violent twitch when she feels like it, it seems.

“Where’s a goetic demon when you need a dealer?” I wondered.

“…Often closer than you think,” said a third voice.

I flinched. “Is he with you?” I asked Bastet.

“What would you give me for a smoke and a cup of Joe, Dan?” asked the third.

“Well, he hasn’t got a soul or anything like that,” said Bastet.

“Yeah, she snorted the last of it during hate sex with her ‘ex,’” I said. I twitched violently.

“I’m not interested in a soul or anything like that,” said the third.

“Who is this guy?” I asked Bastet again.

“Um, maybe he’s not such a nice dude, I’m thinking,” said Bastet.

“Is he someone to worry about?” I wondered.

“Um… Maybe a little, yes,” she said.

“You’re worried about him?” I asked.

“…Yes,” said the commander of thousands of Legion.

It got uncomfortably quiet in my head, for a minute.

“Don’t worry about me,” I assured Bastet. ‘I don’t have a soul to sell, anyway.’

“He said he isn’t after a soul,” said Bastet.

“I’m a fan,” said the interloper. “I just want to see you keep doing what you’re doing.”

I laid in bed for another couple of minutes, unsettled by the lack of sophomoric name-calling in my head for a change, and then a nurse came in to take morning vitals. Breakfast would be in about fifteen minutes, she told me. I stared quietly at the ceiling, trying to ignore screaming in the hall.

They summoned us, and we shambled into line for breakfast, stoned into ox-like amiability by the meds. A couple of people threatened to sue to no one in particular. Nobody wants to be here. None of the patients think it helps. All you can do is eat mindlessly.

I sat down with my purportedly vegan pancakes and melon and grieved the absence of smoke and bitterness. Tara came over and sat down without a word or eye contact.

We each took a couple of bites of breakfast. Finally, she looked up.

“Something dark is following you today, Daniel,” she said. “Keep yourself pure. Don’t descend into hate.”

“I suppose that’s good advice, in general,” I said. “I think it’s just the lack of coffee that makes me look like I want to kill someone, though.”

Ha!” she said. “So that’s it.”

We each took another bite of our short stacks.

“What are you in for?” she asked me.

I barely heard the question, as my nerves suddenly reported contortion and dismemberment besides all evidence to the contrary. My eyes bulged, but I tried to hold it together. I put my face in my hands.

“My parents told the cops I threatened them, which isn’t true,” I said.

I needed to move, but I only allowed myself to wiggle my toes.

“They think anything is justified in having me hospitalized when they decide I’m unwell,” I added.

Tara gave me a worried look. “Are you okay?”

“No, honestly,” I said as I bounced my heels, out of instinct. “It feels like I have to move and all my body parts are mapped on wrong.”

“That’s the meds,” she said. “‘Akathisia,’ I think they call it.”

“Not sure,” I said, fidgeting into a dozen different postures to try to find the least bizarre-feeling. “They just upped my dose, but I thought it happened when you start a new med.”

“What does it feel like?” she asked.

“…Velvet friction-burn and intense guilt,” I said, “and like my torso is inside-out—I don’t know.”

“Maybe it’s the war-machine sucking the last drops of your soul out,” said an unfamiliar voice I thought I’d left back in my room.

Tara said, “They might give you something for that.”

“I don’t think I want any more meds at the moment,” I said, squirming. “Sometimes, they’re worse than the illness.”

Tara sighed. “I wish I could shoulder some of the weight of your cross, Daniel,” she said.

We both took another mouthful of breakfast, as I swiveled my feet on their balls.

“You’re right, though,” she added.

I managed to hide the side-effects from the staff at breakfast. I skipped morning therapy again to study my quantum field theory text. I knew my parents would come to visit today, and the last thing I needed before that was therapy.

By lunch, the akathisia—or whatever it was—had become severe. I sat with Tara again, and I think we were both happy as middle schoolers to not have to sit alone in the cafeteria, but I wasn’t much for conversation.

“This kind of stoning is really so much more humane than what they did in the Bible, isn’t it, Dan?” said a voice coming from a dark and squalid place. “Too bad you have the wrong delusion. You could convert, you know.”

“Michael, row the boat ashore…” proclaimed the poor woman with too much of the right delusion.

“Faith is wasted on the faithful,” muttered Tara.

We both chuckled as I bounced and swiveled on the balls of my feet.

There was little I could do to either concentrate or relax between lunch and visiting hours. As I tossed on my dilapidated mattress, I almost wished I honestly believed in a benevolent “higher-power,” but not to the point of rejecting the balance of evidence.

“Do you love your parents?” asked Bastet.

“I’ll never stop loving them,” I said. “I wish they’d understand why I think certain expressions of their protectiveness are toxic and part of their neuroses, though.”

“How do you maintain this wall between thinking of them as your human, forgivably ignorant parents,” asked the least welcome of “voices,” “and the falsely deified tyrants of a five thousand year dynasty?”

“…Usually with off-label psychotropics, believe it or not,” I said.

“Oh, I believe it,” said the “Dark Lord,” himself.

There was a knock at my door. “You have visitors, Daniel,” said a voice on the other side.

It felt like I tumbled down the hall, the vector of gravity’s pull flailing every which direction, but averaging to deliver me to that single point of infinite density that might as well have contained all of space and all of matter. My parents were discernibly exhausted. I was exhausted. I looked down at the table, guilty, but I wasn’t sure that I’d even done anything wrong. None of us deserved this, but here we were—again.

“Tell them exactly what you think of them lying to have you put here, Daniel,” said nobody.

“Daniel, even if Bastet is actually talking to you right this moment, she gets you by now,” said Bastet.

I looked at my parents. They looked back at me. We all knew the gory details. We all knew each other’s justifications, the shape of the argument, and the weight of a soul.

“I love you,” I said, choking up.

“We love you, too,” said my mother.

“We love you too, Dan,” said my father, crying.

The rest of my visit to the hospital is a blur. There was “therapy” and proselytizing by Christian nurses that made me happy I occasionally talked with “Satan.” My parents brought competitive word games for visiting hours, and it didn’t matter who won. Side-effects got worse; side-effects got better. I blew off half the activities to study the soft-cover textbooks my parents brought me, but I never missed arts-and-crafts. There’s only one other episode from those weeks that I remember with any particular clarity or emphasis.

It was the day I finally left. My folks and I had a meeting with a doctor and a social worker, and I was one of the lucky ones who had a family to come home to after the hospital, who wanted him. They’d packed my clothes up in a garbage bag, and gave me a shot in the arm in case I got any ideas, and I carried my soft cover texts out to the doors you only pass through once. My parents were waiting for me on the other side, and I was walking down the hall with a nurse.

“Daniel!” I heard Tara shout from down the hall.

I turned back.

“They care about you,” called Tara. “It’s hard for them, too.”

I nodded, and I waved to her. “You take care of yourself, Tara!” I called back.

“Daniel!” she shouted. We locked eyes across the distance.

She pointed a finger to the sky. “Her, too,” she said. She drew the finger to her temple, like a gun.

Without another word, the daughter of a Hindu priest and an Algonquin shaman turned down the hall and walked back into the lions’ den. I followed her the long way around.

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Psycho-Christ Versus the Bad Mama Twins in the Rolling Holiday Battle Cage

Jan 03 2015 Published by under Short Stories

“It’s settled, then,” said the bearded one at the head of the table. “We obviously can’t have you running around, psychotic, trying to start some sort of ridiculous pseudo-religious uprising, but I think we’re basically convinced that you’re not likely to end up in the state you did a few years ago anytime soon, again—do you agree?”

Of course, it was purely paranoia, but I could swear they’d tightened a few screws on the restraining mechanism, pierced manifold through my psychic biology, specifically for the occasion. I couldn’t get the overwhelming scent of orange out of my elbows, but my elbows were about six meters away, anyway, between the nape of my neck and my ears.

I tried to locate my vocal apparatus, to respond. “I guess, if I’m supposed to believe that a majority of the world doesn’t want to own up to the universally known fact of their hard astral counterparts while incarnate—if I’m supposed to believe that in this room—” I said, “but I’m supposedly epistemologically incapable of knowing this in any other context, but you’re just going to tighten the thumbscrews whenever I naturally provide some evidence to the contrary, but nobody—”

“Dan!” said the smartly-dressed woman to his right. “You’re not helping your case. We get it. You’re not going to give up the ghost on that one—no pun intended.” (I’m sure she’d intended the pun.) “What we’re trying to determine, primarily, is whether you’re a danger to yourself or anyone at this point. I suppose you’re free to foot-notate every day-to-day interaction with the possibility of a conspiracy—I think many functional schizophrenics do, honestly—so long as you have sufficient insight to parse those suspicions as unreal, or perhaps somehow differently real, and as nothing on which you need to act in violence, as we think you’ve demonstrated.”

She adjusted her suit jacket. “Additionally, we can’t have you jumping in front of traffic or walking into open campfires at the behest of ‘the voices,'” she added. “It is our opinion, though, after observing your behavior to some level of scrutiny, that you currently mark a clear delineation between what we’ll call ‘this’ world and ‘that.'”

I would have grimaced if I could feel my face. “I find it ironic that ‘that’ world’s requirements for my behavior are so similar to ‘this’ world’s.”

“Perhaps it’s fortunate,” she said. “So, again, tell us what your plans are for the coming year, Daniel.”

Visions of eight tiny reindeer roasting on an open fire danced through my head. I said, “If my parents are still willing to host me and the heavenly host, as they say they are, I guess I’m going to find a full-time job, pay back my debts, and try to just stay out of the bin.”

The room nodded in approval.

“Then there’s just one more thing, Daniel,” said the well-dressed woman. “I have a personal request.”

I didn’t want to hear whatever it was, but I was a captive. “What’s that?” I asked.

She closed her eyes, removed her glasses, and put her hands to her temples. “Daniel…” she started.

She took a pause too long for comfort. I wanted to squirm.

“Yes?” I responded.

She opened her eyes to glare. “Every year at Christmas, I see you in the same chewed-up jeans, shoes like a twelve-year-old, and that ratty Lars Frederiksen t-shirt.”

“Annie…” said the bearded one.

“No, John, let me speak!” she cut him off with a sweep of her hand.

“Every year at Christmas at my aunt’s, you wear the same freakin’ threadbare clothes and scummy shoes you’ve been wearing since high school—and I can’t take it anymore!”

The rest of the room groaned.

A squeak issued from my left side. Bastet offered, “Eris, that really isn’t the point of this—”

“You shaddup, you overgrown housecat enabler!” said the god of strife.

The feeling of having my shoulder blades wrapped around my feet, despite being discernibly illusory, was becoming nearly as uncomfortable as the lecture.

I tried to locate either of my middle fingers, but failed. “Um, Mom—”

You listen to me, first!” she declared. “I am sick of—every yearbattling with you on Christmas morning to get you to shave and wear something besides those goddamn clown shoes—and white socks! Then, you make us late to get on the road for my aunt’s—you and your no-good brother—and I can’t take it this year!”

“Eris,” said one of the representatives, “this is an official proceeding—”

I, don’t, care!” frothed my mother. “He’s fucking old enough to wear a decent pair of pants and a sweater! This is why he doesn’t have a girlfriend!”

“I thought it was the chronic schizophrenia and my overbearing mother,” I said, as I felt my spine twist into a pretzel.

Bastet gaped. “Annie, are you actually turning up the juice on the soul cage—as you air your dirty laundry in front of a damned federal legislature?!”

Only Hera’s mastery of the indignant Italian mother routine exceeded Eris’.

“He’d do it if he loved me!” she whined.

Bastet’s characteristic purple aura turned red.

“That’s a military-grade cage!” she shouted.

I could no longer feel if I had limbs, much less feel where they were. I think I started to have a panic attack.

“Dad…” I squealed.

The bearded one looked at me with some redeemable note of sympathy, then at his consort.

“Dan, she’s right,” he said.

The Ancient Egyptian principle of truth and balance slapped her forehead and exchanged incredulous looks with Bastet.

“Alright, two things,” said Maat, looking at my parents’ evil twins. “First, we’re about to go into recess. This is the last order of business: Dan’s not a danger to anyone, and we need to stop treating him like he is. Issues of his particular existential condition left aside, allowing experimentation into that pressing scientific concern we’ve talked about without him, he deserves a relatively normal human life. Anyone say ‘Nay’?”

No one said anything. Maat looked around.

“Okay, Dan, you made parole, so to speak,” said Maat, “so we’re officially in recess. Secondly, it’s now criminal for you to do this to him, without preregistration of intent with the Council toward a particular end, you sick fucks,” she said to my parents’ doppelgangers. “Take off the cage or you’re each going in one.”

Immediately, my spine mostly uncoiled. The panic stopped. I could form sentences. My elbows were still in the next room, though.

“Are there any permanent effects from that thing?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Maat, “but you mostly deserve it. Wear a decent shirt to Christmas.”

“…And shoes!” added Eris.

“…And shoes,” said Maat. “Everyone enjoy the year’s end.”

In my head I heard a gavel hit a block, and back on planet Earth I heard my mother shout from her bedroom.

“Merry Christmas, everyone! Get the fuck up, take a shower, shave, put on some decent clothing, and get in the car!”

The disorientation of waking somewhere unexpected was offset by the familiarity of waking up with a slight hangover.

I have a dream like this once every couple of years, but the politics don’t stop when I wake up. That is, I know I’m dreaming the Council proceedings, but I’m holding off on saying whether they’re “real,” still. As a paranoid schizophrenic, sometimes the subjective difference between dreams and waking life boils down to a strong cup of coffee.

There was a knock on my door. I groaned.

My dad opened it—John Strano, not Bizarro-World Dad who’d supported my mother in leveraging a military-grade restraint and torture device against my usual choice of wardrobe a minute ago. At least, I’m willing to concede in my better moments that the man is probably unaware of the actions of the legend. The man would have likely maintained as well that I deserved it, though.

“Merry Christmas,” he said. “We gotta get going. Get in the shower, and we’ll take breakfast on the road.”

I tried to say “Merry Christmas” back, but the way I gurgled it probably sounded more like “Murder Christians.”

“I made coffee,” he added, as he turned to my brother’s door opposite mine. He knocked, and brother Christian screamed.

I rolled out of bed and stumbled down the stairs, eyes slits, and started my routine. I don’t remember pouring coffee, but when I came to I was in my coat with a cup in one hand and a rolled cigarette in the other on the back stairs outside the house. I tried to pretend that the sensation like my arms were on backward and my head wasn’t properly attached to my body were the after effects of magical torture, but deep down I knew it really was probably caused by the neuroleptics or the illness they were supposed to treat. One way or the other, I’ll hold that my politics are a bigger motivator of the semi-compulsory antipsychotic regimen, while billions of people believe an omnipotent deity was born this day.

“Merry Christmas,” said Bastet, making me jump.

‘You’re still there?’ I thought at her. ‘Happy Yule.’

“Happy Yule,” she said. “Whadya get me?”

‘This,’ I thought, raising a middle finger.

“Is that all?” she asked.

‘Actually, I got you two,’ I thought.

“Where’s the other?” she asked.

I raised the index finger on the same hand. For a moment, both worlds were silent.

“That’s a neat magic trick, Dan,” she said.

‘I also do Bar Mitzvahs,’ I thought.

“How does it feel to be a free man?” she asked.

‘Was that real?’ I wondered. ‘Sometimes I can’t tell which dreams are prophetic from which are just fulfillments of freakish wishes.’

“Do you truly believe that you’re having a conversation with an Ancient Egyptian cat deity at the moment?” she asked.

‘No offense,’ I thought, ‘but most signs probably point to “no.”‘

“Then let’s just move forward as if the gods apologized to you,” she said, “for the constant verbal abuse leading to sleepless nights and holidays in the hospital and stuff.”

‘I guess some schizophrenics suspect the world of secretly plotting to make them happy, at times,’ I thought.

“Do you accept?” she asked.

I took the last swig of my coffee and last drag of my cigarette. Years of training had honed my timing to the point of unconsciousness.

I said aloud, “Yeah, well, I guess it’s Christmas and shit—”

There was a quick rap on the sliding glass door behind me, and my father opened it, as I nearly tumbled down the stairs.

“Dan, we gotta get moving,” he said.

‘Like my bowels,’ I thought. “Alright, alright, I’m done.” I replied.

My mother shouted from the kitchen, “Wear one of the shirts we got you, and don’t you dare wear those stupid sneakers, like you’re freakin’ twelve years old! I’m warning you!”

I shuddered. “Merry fuckin’ Christmas to you, too, Mom!” I yelled.

“Merry Christmas!” she shouted back with a giggle.

“Wait—he’s not done yet,” said my younger brother, shimmying past my father onto the back steps.

“Oh… smoking buddies?” asked my father.

We both nodded.

“Oh,” said Dad. “Hurry up, the two of you.” He shut the door and headed off toward the kitchen.

“Merry Christmas,” I said to brother Christian.

“Merry Christmas,” he responded, pulling a menthol from its box.

“I’m quitting for New Year’s,” I said.

“Yeah, me too,” he said, and we both laughed.

“It’s tough with the psychosis,” I said. “It seems to help with the symptoms, sometimes.”

“I completely understand,” he said, lighting his cigarette. “If nothing else, it helps you cope with the stress.”

“How’ve you been feeling?” I asked. He’d come in from Boston, and I hadn’t seen him in months.

“Good,” he said. “My doctor has me on one of the newer meds. It’s worlds better than the other stuff, for me. You should really look into it. You’re on one from the previous generation.”

I leaned back against the railing. “Yeah, maybe,” I said. “I kind of like my ‘whisper-it-all.'”

Christian guffawed. “Some of the drug names are so stupid, they’re hard to take seriously,” he said.

“It beats ‘end-it-all,” I said.

He laughed. “Who’d name a drug that?” he asked.

“It probably has something to do with the organic chemistry,” I said.

I looked down at my feet. “You know, I don’t totally trust the meds, Chris.”

“Why not?” he asked.

I said, “The mind isn’t the product of a few signaling chemicals dispersing along the concentration gradient. It’s entirely physical, but it’s computational. It’s literally programmable, in the sense of a Turing state.”

“Wait, what do you mean?” asked Chris.

“Changing the chemical balance of the brain seems to me sometimes like trying to debug software by tuning the voltages of electrical components in a computer. Changing chemical balance could still be therapeutic, but that’s not the root of all mental illness, so just taking a pill can sometimes only do so much.”

“Oh, but cigarettes help with the symptoms sometimes, right?” Christian shook his head. “So why not therapy, then?”

“Oh, therapy is great,” I said, “sometimes. The drugs are helpful sometimes, as well. There’s certain kinds of ‘therapy’ that can only come from self-introspection, which therapists encourage, but they’re tied to a pathological reality condition as I am.”

Christian said, “I have no idea what you’re talking about, Dan, except for the part about brains as computers.”

The sliding glass door opened without a knock, this time, when my bladder would have appreciated the warning.

“Guys,” said Dad, “let’s go!”

“Alright, alright,” I said, “I’m hoppin’ in the shower, now.”

I headed up to the shower and turned the hot water up to nearly full blast, like I always do, and watched my skin turn flush red before soaping and shampooing. I reminisced about playing with jumper pins on the motherboard of one of our old PCs when I’d wanted to “improve” it. One good little static shock could do in an exposed machine in. As I toweled off, I couldn’t help thinking about how I used to swallow cough medicine by the bottle.

“Wear those,” said Bastet, as I rooted through my pants drawer.

‘Why those?’ I wondered.

“They accentuate your junk,” she said.

I recoiled at my own sick mind. ‘This is a family affair,’ I thought.

“Oh, am I invited?” she asked.

‘Sure,’ I thought, ‘It’s not like I have any control over what you do.’

“How about my boyfriend?” she added.

“She’s never going to stop doing that, Dan.” said the deification of strife. “Tell her ‘no’ and see what happens.”

“How do you know it isn’t him?” Bastet retorted.

“Is it?” asked my evil stepmother.

I had already picked a (loose) pair of pants and a sweater. I started to put them on, both legs of the pants at once.

‘At this point, it’s not like I expect her to suddenly come running in the flesh one day because I hallucinated a particularly flirtatious conversation with her, Ma,’ I thought. ‘Of all my myriad god complexes, though, it seems like she consistently defends me—against you.’

“‘A drunkard’s dream if I ever did see one…'” said Eris.

‘The boozer doesn’t fall far from the tree,’ I replied.

“You’re wearing that?” asked my mother’s revenge.

“Dan! We’re late!” shouted my dad from the hall.

“You both might have some fuzzy idealized vision of how I could look,” I muttered quietly as I put on my shoes, “but, in reality, it doesn’t even matter what I wear.”

I bounded down the stairs, but stopped short when the All-Knowing Earth Mother sucker-punched me with that look.

“Oh, you’re wearing that?” she asked.

“Tell me to get the fuck in car,” I said, and we got the fuck in the car.

“Do we have the food?” Mom asked, once we were seated.

“We have the food,” said Dad.

“…The gifts?” she asked.

“We have the gifts,” he said.

“…Cats taken care of?” she asked.

“Annie, can we get on the frickin’ road already?” he said.

“Don’t start with me, John!” she warned.

“Annie, the kids already made us late!” he said.

“The kids” exchanged looks and rolled their eyes.

Are the cats taken care of, John?!” my mother practically screamed.

Yes! The damn cats are taken care of!” he shouted.

As he put the car into “drive,” Chris and I both started laughing, which was unforgivable. Mom immediately turned around to share the Christmas cheer.

“Listen, you two rat fink bastards,” said the incarnation of sarcasm, “I’m warning you—I’ll kill ya dead—”

I snorted and Christian gaped at the point she said “bastards.”

“Mom,” said Chris, “you do realize—”

“—I know what I said, you sonuvabitch!” she yelled. “Listen!

We were quiet, all of a sudden.

Mom raised an unassailable finger. “I do not want to hear one peep about how the party takes too long and you want to go home, or how you’re tired all day because we got on the road too early, or how you’re a general misanthrope and you can’t stand to be around the family for eight hours. You’re adults, we’re driving you, nobody made you come, and you’re perfectly capable of socializing politely—with a smile—for one goddamn day. Am I clear?”

“What’s clear,” I said, “is that the immediate family is somehow obligated to become your emotional punching bag every year at Christmas because you don’t know what to do with your anxiety about the holiday but project its origin.”

I’m not an emotional punching bag,” said my father.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “then I’ll just speak for how I feel, but I’ve heard the same undeserved polemic every Christmas morning for the past sixteen years, when none of us started on the war path except Mom.”

“John,” shouted Mom, “do you see what they do? Why can’t we just have a pleasant Christmas for once?!

“I know, Annie, every year…” he said.

“Okay, we haven’t done anything yet,” said Christian.

“Am I nuts,” I asked, “or is she the one who started with a sour attitude on the offensive?”

“Well you are nuts,” said John. “…The two of you, actually.”

Christian looked over at me. “That was supposed to make us laugh,” he said.

“Jesus fucking Christ, I know,” I said.

“Daniel,” said my mother, “every year, you come to my aunt’s and complain— ‘There’s no vegan food for me,’ ‘I can’t stand being with the family,’ ‘You made me come,’—“

“I never once, in nearly thirty years, complained about Angie’s impeccable hospitality or the food,” I countered. “In fact, I’ve never said any of that, but you worry that’s what I’m thinking—when it isn’t—and you become indignant about your own projection, because it gives you an explicit immediate conflict to stress over where you have the moral high ground, and I’m sick of you burning me in effigy! You need to find a better way to cope with your stress over the holiday!”

My father had to ask, “Daniel, did you take your medication today?”

I bit my lip and looked out the window for the next quarter minute.

“Daniel, I asked you a question,” he insisted.

“I heard your question, and I understand your actual reasons for asking it better than you do,” I smouldered.

“What are my ‘actual reasons’?” he asked.

“It’s your trump card to invalidate anything I think or feel that you don’t like—like you attribute every adult decision I’ve made in my life that you don’t agree with to some involuntary, senseless manifestation of mental illness.”

“I’m just asking you whether you took your medicine,” he said.

“Dan,” said my mother, “I think your father is just trying to express concern for your health, in his slightly insensitive way.”

“All you folks ever really care about is my health,” I said, “like when you lied to the cops, saying I threatened you, to have me hospitalized.”

Daniel!” she shouted, “You needed to be hospitalized! There was no way around it! You weren’t well, and you weren’t staying in our house like that!”

“We told the police what happened to the best of our memory,” said my father.

“It’s funny that I remember those nights better then you,” I said, “even what the so-called ‘voices’ screamed in my ear, but you can’t even remember the words to Grateful Dead songs you’ve been singing for forty years.”

“Dan—” my father started.

“—John…” was all my mother said, shaking her head.

Her super-powered alter ego wasn’t quite as reticent. “Every single Christmas, Daniel…” said Eris.

‘I guess I could just eat shit instead,’ I thought. ‘Shit’s vegan, right?’

“What did I do to deserve this?” she asked.

‘You or her?’ I wondered. ‘She’s not having this conversation. She didn’t take every opportunity to practically hold me down to try to break and retrain my identity and opinions.’

“So you hold your mother responsible for that?” she pressed.

‘What I was saying is rather that I have to hold you responsible only for your actions and her only for hers,’ I “said.”

“…Like the supposedly baseless hospitalizations?” she asked. “…The chemical ‘mind-control’? …The ‘pathologization’ of the decisions of yours she doesn’t agree with?”

I fidgeted in my seat. ‘I know what you’re trying to do, Eris. You want me to double-down on my parental baggage? Do you get off scot-free when the lines get a little blurry and I call her by your name?’

Bastet pinched my ear. “Dan, don’t even play into her,” she said.

‘“Dad” is conspicuously quiet,’ I noticed.

“He’s driving,” said Eris.

‘Right, sure,’ I thought. ‘“God” can’t walk and chew gum at the same time, even when I’m actually the one chewing the gum.’

“He doesn’t want to talk with you,” said Eris. “All you two ever do is fight. Change your attitude.”

‘You’d do it for me, if you could,’ I thought.

“Stick the knife right there, Dan,” she said. “You would, if you could ever prove these wonderful little ‘family meetings’ weren’t a product of mental illness.”

The real Annie Strano shifted and cleared her throat.

It was like I’d been struck. I grappled with this chronic feeling I get, like I have to parse two proven ideas that are impossibly at odds with each other.

“I don’t know what I do to deserve this,” said my mother. “I’m always a ‘bad mother,’ somehow. Whatever I do, it’s not up to standard, and the same for your father. We’re human, Daniel. So are you.”

“…Except, you’re not,” said Eris, “and neither are we.”

“Shut up, Eris,” I muttered unconsciously.

“Oh, now I’m ‘Eros’ again,” said my mother.

“Right, I’m ‘Allah,’” said my Dad.

I let my head and eyes fall back and stared at the roof of the car. For some reason, it was particularly frustrating to me that Annie never understood the difference between the (ostensibly male) god of sexual love and the Great Hag presiding universally over strife—or “chaos,” in her modern cult—when I had pointed out the difference to her several times, in a number of different contexts, because it’s a particularly embarrassing thing to have your mother running around telling everyone on the block when the truth of the matter might be marginally less Oedipal.

“I thought her grandfather was Eros, in this incarnation,” whispered Bastet.

‘You’ll have to excuse her,’ I tried to explain. ‘We’re a family of inbred pagans.’

“I take offense at that,” said the Holy Father.

Eris and “Al” got a kick out of that. Honestly, so did I.

“What’s funny?” asked my mother. She sounded more worried than angry.

“Folks,” I said, “the secret identity thing is admittedly ridiculous, but I can’t help it. Your doppelgangers never shut up, even with the meds, but even I’ll admit, it’s basically impossible that Rome and Judea formed some sort of clandestine alliance by marriage, reincarnated over thousands of years into the people in this very car.”

“But that’s just what we want you to think,” said Eris.

I twitched.

“Daniel,” said my father, “I’ll ask you again: are you taking your meds?”

“I swear to any god besides those two that, yes, I am on a totally regular medication schedule,” I said.

“Do you need to up your dose?” asked my father.

“Folks, I’m frustrated because so many family arguments turn into something you think you can fix by forcing me to take more medication that just stones me into being less likely to want to point out your neurotic tendencies,” I said. “You both came into this car ready to blow over your own holiday stress. Christian and I got a lecture because Mom’s boiling over about showing the right face to her family, taking charge of the party, and not being able to puppeteer the behavior of her children as an extension of her identity, feeling generally out of control like she does every year. Dad, you’re the road warrior, because she’s almost literally not even capable of driving on a highway, and ultimately it’s just easier to give the “kid” a pill than somehow miraculously part the Red Sea of traffic so Mom will stop flipping out—just one iota less. I’ll admit it was weird that I accidentally just called Mom ‘Eris,’ but it wouldn’t mean we’re all coping with our stress healthfully just because I didn’t stand up for myself when you folks take it out on me and Chris wrongfully!”

“It was weird that you called me ‘Eros,’ Dan,” said my mother.

My eyes bulged. ‘It’s weird how little your counterpart really knows about how I actually think, ‘Eros,’” I thought at Eris.

“It was fucking creepy,” said Christian.

“I have to admit that you seem perfectly coherent, though,” she added, “but I want to see you take your medication when we get home, and you talk with your doctor about this.”

“Sure thing, Mom…” I said.

‘…But I’m gonna make damn sure you hear, since she never listens,’ I beamed at the mothership, ‘that your control issues stemming from your relationship with your parents, especially your mother, has led you to demand a totally inappropriate level over control over my mental health and its maintenance, and if I wasn’t facing violence in my previous living situation, and if the economy wasn’t crap, I’d never tolerate what you demand of me in exchange for a violence-free home and food.’

“I’m sure it was all part of our plan,” said Eris.

“Dan is right,” said Chris, “that we really didn’t do anything to deserve that lecture, Mom.”

“Alright, can we call this fight over and try to have a happy holiday?” asked Mom.

“Wait,” said Chris, “there’s something else I want to clear up. Dan, I was the one who said you threatened Mom and Dad that night.”

It got quiet in the car. I was measuring my response.

Mom beat me to the punch. She said, “Daniel, we love you, but you have an illness.”

“We were worried about you, Daniel,” said my father.

I sighed. “Worry isn’t an excuse to take control of another person’s brain function away from them, though, folks.”

“Who took control of your brain away from you?” asked John.

“We did,” said Eris.

“My treatment plan should be between me and my doctor,” I said, “but you folks have to dictate it. You do the same for other members of the family. Including me, practically everyone you’re close to—Mom’s mother, Dad’s brother, and Christian—all carry diagnostic labels that you folks petitioned for, and leaned on us to have applied, and leverage in familial disagreements about lifestyle, but you folks don’t seek therapy or answer to anyone for your, well—frankly, Mom, for your debilitating anxiety and self-image problems, fixated on food, that play into your general neurotic need for control over your family life, that’s a legacy of my grandparents’ home life, and your shared codependency, folks.”

“Codependency?!” shouted my father. “Annie, are we codependent?”

“No, John,” said Mom. “We might be slight control freaks—not in the way he wants to make it out—”

“—But it keeps us thin and the house spotless!” said Dad.

“Exactly!” said Mom. “…But I’m not thin. Oh, I can’t even think about the food at the party. We’re going on a diet, January first.”

“Aren’t we already on a diet?” asked my father.

“But I gained weight!” said my mother.

“That tends to happen, when you weight train multiple times daily,” I said.

“That’s a lie,” said my mother.

“She’d seek treatment for clucking like a chicken and growing feathers, Dan,” said my father, “but she wants the eggs.”

“Right,” I said, “so, about your stewardship of my mental health…”

Mom exclaimed, “Daniel! All of this is besides the point!” (It wasn’t besides the point in the least.) “I know when my son is sick! Don’t you tell me that I can’t tell the difference between when my son is sick and when my son is my son!”

“Does your son get a say in it?” I asked.

No!” shouted the entire car.

“So, who’s worse?” asked Eris.

I had to just sigh, again. There really was no hope.

“I love you folks,” I said aloud.

“We love you, too, Dan,” said my mother.

I spent the rest of the car ride thinking about power struggles waged for control of my own head with my pseudo- and human parents, and the night I’d been hospitalized for “threatening” them. I had managed to win over public opinion in my head against them, for a moment, and my “god parents” had histrionically called for knives in their chests, with no more literal intent than Eris just had in calling for the same during that holiday morning car trip, and I took it no more sincerely than I believed my mother thought I was a “rat fink bastard son of a bitch.” I was so incensed, though, I exclaimed how, “You’re lucky I don’t, with the way you’ll treat your own son, but I’ll never stop loving you!”

In reality, we’d been fighting for days, about things besides and including psychiatric medication, but that twisted, broken, and inscrutable proclamation of love had come “out of nowhere,” in the middle of the night. Trying to shift perspectives, allowing for imperfect human knowledge, I’ll still hold that people’s paternal pity is misguided at times. I was walking to a friend’s house, to remove myself from a toxicity that invariably pulled me back, when the cops stopped me. They found out I’d studied physics, and at their (transparent, yet probably somewhat earnest) request I gave them a fifteen minute explanation of special relativity that I still think was one of my better ones. One of the officers was disappointed to hear that I think SETI has ruled out intelligent alien life in a large neighborhood of Earth, but I tried to assure him that most physicists think it’s likely to be out there, somewhere. It didn’t stop them from claiming legal right to have me hospitalized.

I imagine it’s tough being part of a political family during the holidays, based on my hours in the simulator. People judge your family, and it’s based on the stupidest criteria. They judge your religion and sect, or lack thereof. They judge the food you eat—how much it costs and to whom you give the leftovers. They judge what the kids wear and whether they’re “well-behaved”—at probably the most stressful time of year for most of us, when you’re in inescapably close quarters with the expectations of spirit and unconditional good-will, on a day of the year that simply must shine like a beacon of light and love in the season of death and illness—by ancient intention, days marked at the natural nadir of light.

We went over the river and through the woods without further incident, to the home of my mother’s aunt, who might or might not be the pagan deity Hestia. There, my family ate a traditional feast of seven fishes, possibly secretly discussing political plans for the next session of Earth’s highest astral legislature with the Judeo-Christian-Islamic god himself, or not.

If anybody wonders where Jesus fits into this delusion, I’m pretty sure he’s my cousins’ dog.

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Katie, You Are a Great Success

Nov 24 2014 Published by under Short Stories

I’m not the most socially connected human being on the face of the planet. At any particular point in my life since high school, I’ve tended to maintain one to three close, open, unconditional drinking-and-smoking relationships with other weather tossed pilgrims who also missed the boat for Moderate Success Island. That’s such a funny word, isn’t it? “Success…” It evokes a gut reaction without real criticality. It divides friends and marriages, an unplumbed gorge between those who think they don’t have it and those who can’t figure out what it is. There’s a magazine that claims it for its title, and it’s sold on the same rack as “Money” and “People.” It’s easy for me to wax cynical when I’m momentarily removed from my tightly knit social security blanket of three threads, though, when another Friday night has passed in lonely quietude and it starts to look like Saturday is going to be just as excruciating a reminder of how life isn’t going according to plan.

You know the story. You wake up, hungover from drinking alone, to find that you’re back in your parents’ house, that it wasn’t a paranoid fantasy that the graduate advisor you’d lined up months before the start of school tanked your career wrongfully at the word “go” on the basis of your first two meetings, that he’d decided you were, “…ultimately really only concerned with the trivia of interpretations of quantum mechanics and could never cut the math,” and you eventually cracked under the pressure and withdrew. You nearly fall out of bed, and when no one takes the resultant dull “thud” as an invitation to nag you about picking up your room, you realize your folks are probably gone for the day―because they have lives. You run to the bathroom, void thirty percent of the viable fluids you thought you had, stumble down into the kitchen and living area past what you’re seventy percent sure is cat vomit, rub your temples, turn on the television, and your ex-girlfriend is selling taxidermy on a cable reality show again. Then, Bastet the Ancient Egyptian cat god immediately starts in with you before your bagel and coffee―because of your chronic paranoid schizophrenia.

Dan!” she screamed in my third ear. “Dan, you’re hallucinating!”

I groaned. ‘You couldn’t possibly be wrong, cat, if I’m “hearing” you,’ I thought at her.

She poked a purple astral wisp into my eye.

“…But you’re seeing me. You don’t usually see me on cable when I’m not really there―now, do you, huh? Huh?” Her whistling, little half lisp was absolutely piercing this morning.

I sighed. ‘No, I can’t say I do―not that I recall,’ I thought.

“I mean, even when you were drunk last night, and you turned on the TV to look for me―when I wasn’t there, because even the advertisement you read said it was scheduled now, but drunk people with Jesus complexes gloss over details and expect the universe to conspire to instantly gratify them―even then, you didn’t see me,” she said, “but your condition must be deteriorating.”

The part of my brain claimed by dragons in the last great war was producing words faster than the little piece I still lived in could process them.

“You just crammed more verbiage into that one sentence than our entire romantic relationship,” I said aloud.

She chuckled. “What do you think of the piece?” she asked.

I squinted at the screen. The show’s hosts were apparently haggling with the no-longer-requited-love-of-my-life over the mounted head and neck of what appeared to be an albino male deer. The hosts noted its ostensible rarity and admitted the craftsmanship of the taxidermy. It was beautiful, but I found it hard to focus on the piece.

I had never actually seen Katie without the counter culture embellishments obscuring the view. She had removed the eyebrow piercing. She wore no white powder on her naturally fair skin, or any makeup that I could tell. She didn’t need it. No black hair dye… the natural color of her long hair was more of a sandy blonde-to-brown, or just a tinge lighter than mine, all shine, no wave. (…Maybe a little wave, but not to her “ex.”) Cropping the taxidermy out of the scene and muting the conversation, nothing would have marked any connection with the image I had of her from years ago, except maybe the Converse sneakers she wore. She was just an unpretentious, waifish, naturally beautiful Mona Lisa in her own fashion that I was almost surprised to recognize.

Her doppelganger poked me again. “So, what do you think?” she asked.

I blinked. ‘She looks nothing like you,’ I thought.

Bastet snorted. “…of the mount!”

I squinted again. ‘What mount?’

“’That’s what she said,’” said my delusional “ex.”

I stared through the screen. Katie sold her piece for several hundred dollars. I pumped my fist. The scene changed to some spoiled dippy socialite approving the piece that had been procured on her behalf for a Christmas party. I turned off the television and sat there for about half a minute. It was quiet in the house, even in my head.

“Dan?” came a “voice” that was more church mouse than cat.

“Hm?” I thought.

She paused.

“Wanna be my stalker?”

I shivered, then took a deep breath.

“Nope,” I said aloud.

“Guh!” she said. “Fine!”

“…And I’m ending our Facebook friendship,” I added as I got up.

“You ended it last night!” she yelled. “I only ever accepted that request out of pity, anyway! You’re a lousy kisser and your poetry sucks!”

I judged that it was nearing sundown by the orange light in the foyer as I trudged up the stairs. I’m a vampire, without the fangs. I could sleep from sunrise to sunset.

“How many times did you look at my Facebook profile?!” Bastet demanded.

“…About half a dozen,” I thought truthfully.

“You were always selfish like that!” Bastet shouted in my head. “I guess Jesus is just too frickin’ important to stalk a girl right, who did everything for him.”

“Don’t call me that,” I thought at the top of the stairs.

“You deleted my number!” she shrieked. “Where are the desperate, drunk, four AM calls? The unrequested sexual photos? I don’t even get a three page text out of nowhere from you!”

I walked into my closet and grabbed a spiked dog collar from off my belt and tie hanger, putting it on with the buckle behind my neck.

“Well, there were those couple of rambling Facebook messages,” I offered.

I could feel her astral corpus about to explode.

Those?!” she howled. “Dear gods, Dan―those were barely creepy! They might have even been slightly sweet! When I read that poem, I mean…”

‘What?’ I asked, putting on my own pair of battle hardened Converse high tops.

She shook her head and made an emphatic cross out motion with her arms. “Let’s just say―maybe―that the water color of the fox crying a giant black heart shaped tear that I posted the next day wasn’t a figment of your imagination.”

‘It probably was,’ I thought. ‘It was pretty, though.’

“Couldn’t you at least convince yourself that it absolutely had to be about you and fail to read between the lines that I still didn’t want to talk with you?!” She was laughing. “I have a career to think about! You’re not getting in the way of that!”

I examined my hooded sweatshirts for a minute, chin on hand. The lack of contempt was palpable. I finally reached for that one particular worn “hoodie” that I barely ever wore but could never quite bring myself to give up on.

She recoiled. “Ha! Ha-ha, Dan! You think wearing the hoodie I gave you seven years ago that you haven’t thrown out yet is gonna make up for this? That hoodie makes an appearance once a year at most. You’ve never even fetishized it! You washed it, for crying out loud!”

I was dressed for success. “I deserve a medal,” I said.

“You’re even cognizant of how a normal human being could be creeped out by what to anyone else would look like back patting for simply not completely succumbing to romantically obsessive insanity! What the fuck kind of paranoid schizophrenic ‘ex’ are you?”

I grabbed the bag I had loaded with writing supplies and a flashlight the night before and started down the stairs.

‘One who truly loves you,’ I thought.

“Okay! That’s a start!” she said. “Where are you going?”

‘To write sonnets in a graveyard,’ I thought.

“Better!” Her aura turned warm purple. “Are they for me?” she asked.

I walked through the front door and locked it behind me.

‘It probably wouldn’t be appropriate to send them to you at this point,’ I thought.

She made a noise like she was about to vomit. “Dan, there’s no hope for you,” she said.

“You’re right,” I said aloud, as I started down the walkway.

October was over. It had turned into a pumpkin and rotted with the first frost. Barely a tree held a stubborn, clinging leaf, and I was the only spook still roaming the streets in search of something sweet. The graveyard wasn’t far. I almost wished it was farther, though, because I could fool myself sometimes into thinking that the length of a trek correlated with the meaning in it. A quarter mile down the road, Bastet’s presence still clung to me like a wet miasma, but she hadn’t said anything.

‘What is it?’ I thought at her.

“Why do you love me?” She asked.

‘When I laid bare my insanity to you, you were the only person who made fun of it in a way that implied that you still credited me some fair measures of intelligence and insight, both in the flesh and on the astral,’ I thought, ‘so I consider you the kindest person in the world.’

She emitted one of her characteristic impish giggles. “That’s flattering. What if I maybe believed your ‘delusion’ could have a kernel of truth to it?”

‘You as flesh, or as dubious but witty idealization?’ I wondered.

“She’s like my appendage,” said Bastet. “Any ‘lower’ is like an arm with a mind of its own.”

‘The “mind of its own” part was the reason I was asking,’ I thought.

“…Kind of like a penis, I imagine,” she added.

‘Mine reads physics textbooks and H. P. Lovecraft all weekend,’ I thought.

She blew through my synapses like the wind in the trees. It was getting dark, but it wasn’t much farther.

“How was I kind?” she asked.

‘You were the only one besides my parents and the oppressive theocratic astral regime who visited me in the hospital,” I said. “You brought me stuffed animals and graphic novels.”

“Uh-huh,” said Bastet. “I remember, I gave you ‘Johnny the Homicidal Maniac’ to read.”

“That’s what I mean,” I said. No one else was on the road to overhear. “You seemed perfectly content to have a boyfriend who thought there was a global conspiracy to cover up the fact that he was having psychic conversations, and who thought he had other magical powers―who thought you were a god.”

“Dan,” she whistled through the piles of leaves, “you were smart and sweet, at your worst. You were obviously schizo’, but I felt safe with you, somehow.”

I walked up the drive of the graveyard. It wasn’t as venerable as some of the others around the area, but it was big and mostly secluded from the major roads. Walking between the rows of polished stones, the ground felt like it could give way underneath. The Jersey pink and purple sunset hues were dying, the last bright gasp shining through the bare trees.

Bastet giggled. “Maybe it wasn’t obvious, that you were schizo’. Maybe it really is a gigantic cover up, and you’re some kind of singularity. Maybe you took on ‘God’ and mostly got away with it.”

“…But with basically nothing accomplished,” I said, “out of my original goals of starting bloodless uprisings on the physical and astral planes.”

My phone vibrated: it was a text from my buddy Dave. I started typing a response.

“You have my ear,” said Bastet.

“That’s what I’m here for,” I said, putting away the phone and taking out paper and a pencil from my bag.

“…and a creepy hoodie,” she added.

I rolled my eyes and started counting syllables of the first line I was trying to write.

“Wanna talk with her?” asked Bastet.

‘You mean your lower, on the astral?’ I thought, scribbling a line. ‘It doesn’t work that way.’

“You’re not the boss of me,” she said. “She’s my meat-puppet dick-with-a-brain.”

I nearly had a second line. There were times I wished she’d take a hint.

“She could be thinking of you right now,” Bastet whispered. “She could be masturbating to you. You could be her guilty pleasure.”

I counted syllables for a minute before I responded.

“She could be calling me up to go get a cup of coffee if she really felt that way,” I said, “instead of sending her shadow to crack dick jokes while I’m trying to write her poetry.”

“Guh!” said Bastet. “Fine! I’m sure she isn’t enjoying it.”

She acted like she was stomping off, which is obviously theatrical when you can teleport at will. It was a sure sign that she actually wanted another sonnet. The gods are relatively predictable. Most of them are usually appreciative of art undertaken in their honor, but they don’t fall all over themselves to let you know. In my experience as a straight male, human women tend to be the opposite: some tend to make big displays about how they want poetry from a guy, but it’s rare that they really think through what that entails or appreciate the result the way they idealize it. I know guys must be essentially similar, but my own limited direct experience is with women, by accident of nature. Katie probably felt similarly, when she gave me an anatomically correct sculpture of a heart in a black coffin shaped box. I loved it, and it’s still hidden away in the attic somewhere with the other preserved organs and skeletons, but I was dealing with the onset of “life changes” during our relationship, and I had difficulty expressing any emotion clearly to anyone.

Bastet must have determined to try to contain herself just long enough for me to finish a first stanza before breaking into soft shoe, because no sooner had I rhymed “need” with “seed” than I heard a voice from beyond.

Dan!” said Bastet. “I found a dead thing that isn’t buried!”

Where?!” I shouted. “I wanna see!”

I could feel her attention flit about the graveyard like a searchlight. “Oh! Where was it?” she asked.

She took off fast down the rows of stone faced monuments, and I chased her. She hopped blithely over mounded earth and polished marble―the dead couldn’t care. She stopped suddenly at the heart of the yard and looked around. I came up on her tail and nearly fell over trying to brake. I was practically in her space. She drifted into mine.

“I think it was here,” she said.

I looked around. “I don’t see it,” I said.

“You wouldn’t,” she replied.

I shivered. “Why wouldn’t I?” I asked.

“It’s me,” she said.

“It’s you?” I reflected.

“That’s right. It’s you,” she said.

The graveyard was the least frightening part to me. “Are we supposed to pretend to make out or something, now?” I asked.

“Just pretend to hug me,” she said.

I thought of a girl who broke up with me in antiquity, shuddered, rolled my eyes, looked around, then put my arms out in a loose circle. That’s when the car came roaring up the graveyard access road.

I tried to act nonchalant. The car came as close as it could, and the windows opened.

“Are you some kind of necromancer-philiac?” asked Chrissy.

I chuckled. “I am the summonér of nothing in particular,” I said.

Dave grimaced. “You know, the line is―“

“It was an awesome line, the way I said it, Dave!” I shouted.

Chrissy cackled and pointed fingers. “You shut your mouth, Dave!”

The driver snickered. “I’m happy you two are my friends. Seriously, though, Dan, what were you doing?”

I gaped and stammered. “I… I… You texted me like twenty minutes… I thought―when you say you’re coming, usually…”

They both gave me cool, superior looks. They knew about my “illness” already. They knew a few other things about me, as well, but somehow they still kept coming around, and I loved them for it. Bastet had stealthily oozed away, and I loved her for it.

“Just get in the car quick,” said Dave. I stalled for a minute to grab my bag, and then we got out of there like it was a graveyard haunted by a schizophrenic stalker.

“Dude,” said Chrissy, “what is it like when you’re talking with people who aren’t there?”

I could barely hear her over Failure playing on the megawatt sound system. “They’re generally better conversationalists than most people,” I yelled, “but you folks are exceptions.” We all laughed.

I leaned into the front bench. “Folks, I realize how strange that was,” I said. “Please call me out on bizarre behavior if you ever feel uncomfortable or I don’t seem to be self aware, but if I didn’t indulge ‘the voices’ often enough, they’d demand my attention in ways I couldn’t parse.”

“Dan, I don’t feel uncomfortable,” said Dave. “You never get out of hand or anything.”

“Who were you hugging, though?” asked Chrissy.

“I was hugging a five-thousand-year-old Egyptian cat deity,” I said, “who I know isn’t there, on my better days, but that doesn’t stop her from yapping constantly in my ear.”

Bastet pinched my spine. She’s never out of earshot.

“What’s she like?” asked Chrissy.

“She’s too human to worship―like they all are―but she’s exceedingly kind, for all her sarcasm,” I said. “She’s sort of a protector personality.”

“So long as she’s kind,” said Chrissy.

“Hey, where are we going tonight?” I asked.

“QKI’s,” Dave said. “I couldn’t get you on the list, though. You have money for the cover?”

I felt for my wallet and pulled it out. “Yeah, I’m all good,” I said.

“Great,” said Dave. “We’re meeting a friend of mine, there. She’s single and cute.”

What a segue. “Oh?” I said.

“I might have told her I was bringing my poet-physicist friend along,” said Dave.

“I’ll try not to talk to myself in front of her,” I said. “Thank you, but why do that?”

Dave shrugged. “Sometimes it’s just nice to help connect friends, and it seems like you might both be having trouble finding someone at the moment. Her name’s ‘Katie.’”

The obligatory moment of misplaced hope in impossible accidents flared and burned itself immediately into exhaustion.

“It’s not me,” whispered Bastet.

‘Any idea what she’s like, though?’ I thought.

“Huge pair of personalities, probably,” said Bastet,

‘What makes you say that?’ I wondered.

“Your luck,” she said.

I managed to hear “the voices” clearly enough over the blaring car stereo to channel them into another stanza of poetry before we arrived in Newark. We parked in a half empty lot, and Dave got a flask out of the trunk for us before we headed over to the club, because nobody actually gets drunk in the bar. That would require a steady full time job to fund, the kind which might instead support a shared living arrangement with a significant other. Some of us had significant others to consider, and some of us didn’t have steady full time jobs.

When Katie broke up with me, she didn’t say why. I didn’t ask her. She had started to cry as soon as the first words came out of her mouth, and I didn’t want to make things any harder, and it just seemed natural. She was an intelligent, creative girl who wasn’t in a position to support someone whose life had become a shambles. I stopped her, and I said it was okay and I understood. We hugged, and that was that.

Dave’s name was on the list at the club, and Chrissy and I were satisfied to pay for the change of pace. A remix of a song by Depeche Mode was playing as we entered. We got drinks, and we sat down in a booth. We joked about how “white” the dancing was, and Dave lambasted the DJ. Dave and I went for cigarettes, and Chrissy stood outside with us. He got pulled into conversations here and there while Chrissy and I talked about whiskey and music. When Dave found us again, we went to the bar for a second round. About the time we were served, we noticed an argument break out at the door, which Dave went over to while Chrissy and I seated ourselves back at a booth.

Bastet poked a feeler in from behind. “That’s her, Dan, at the entrance,” she said.

I looked over, but I could only see Dave and the bouncer through the door. ‘Does she have a huge pair of personalities?’ I asked her in my head.

“I take it back,” said Bastet. “Sometimes karma trumps luck.”

‘Well, is she intelligent?’ I wondered.

“Her brain is skinny and wrinkle free, at least,” said Bastet.

Dave and the other Katie came in with the cold. She wasn’t unpleasant to look at, I supposed, with long jet black hair, green eyes, white powder complexion, and copious latex and piercings. Some of us accept and even like latex and piercings, but something wasn’t quite right, about the delay at the door.

“I told them I knew you!” she said to Dave as they approached our booth. “I mean, how do they expect me to pay? …To get into this club? If I weren’t for me, they wouldn’t even have a DJ tonight―you know?”

“Katie,” said Dave, shooting me a smile that made me nervous, “this is Dan, the physicist-poet I was telling you about earlier.”

I stood up and started to offer a hand.

“Oh, well, hello,” she said, brushing past my hand for a hug that left me feeling slightly violated. “…But everyone calls me ‘Kitty.’”

“I take offense at that,” said a voice no one but me could hear.

“Kitty” winked. “They say I have the personality of a cat.”

“She licks herself,” said Bastet.

“You’re a physicist?” asked Kitty. “What’s that like? Maybe you could teach some of the guys I know a thing or two about the equations of motion, you think?”

Bad pussy!” said the cat god.

I twitched, but I think I passed it off as an earthquake.

“I hate how Dave does that,” I said as we sat. “It’s flattering, but I’m not working in the field. I’m kind of in between careers, at the moment.”

“He’s also vegan,” Dave chimed. “I don’t know how he does it, but didn’t you say you were considering vegetarianism or veganism, Katie?”

Kitty nodded. “Considering,” she said, “but after a lot of soul searching and research, I think veganism might actually be socially irresponsible, in its own way. I read an article that pointed out that more animals are killed in the grain and vegetable farming operations necessary to support the diet, but they say that you are what you eat.”

My smile didn’t crack. No one but Bastet saw my head explode and reassemble itself in the course of those two sentences.

‘Think she ate a stupid cow?’ I asked Bastet.

“Mostly just penis,” said the cat god.

“Well, my reasons are rather more about sustainability than animal rights in particular,” I said, trying to tuck-and-roll past the argument about basing your worldview on one or two bad internet articles you find through social media.

“There are health reasons, too, though!” Kitty continued. “I hear it’s great for weight loss. I’ve considered it to try take some weight off my breasts, because they’re causing back problems for me and I’d rather do anything less invasive than reduction surgery, you know?”

Huge kindness…” said the other Katie.

I gaped. I couldn’t help it. The other two of us at the table fidgeted.

“Do you think I could be sexy with small breasts?” she asked, fluttering her false lashes. “I mean, can brains carry a girl?”

“Weapons of mass deduction…” chirped Bastet.

Chrissy looked at me and smirked.

“I guess you should do what’s best for your health,” I said. I pretended only Bastet could see me cringe.

“Yeah,” she said, “I guess it’s like a guy and his dick. I’ve known some guys that were, well, huge, and it just makes all the difference in their confidence.”

“Tube sock full of bologna…” Bastet quipped.

It was happening: I was cracking again. I had hallucinated this conversation from the start, I couldn’t quite convince myself. How could I be the only one starting to laugh?

“Oh, but you find this funny,” she said with a predatory smile. “I wanted to shoot a video with my last boyfriend―you know―but he was too self conscious, and I think he started using a penis pump or something when I broke up with him.”

“’Pressure Treated Lumber’ on DVD…” said Bastet.

I couldn’t help the laughter, but I trained my eyes dead on hers. (I admit I sometimes scrunch up my face and try to project back in time on the astral plane to see the looks on the faces of Chrissy and Dave right then.)

“Would you ever be up for something like that?” she asked me. Her gaze turned intense and sultry. “I don’t use condoms, though,” she added.
I stopped laughing.

“Bring a coat hanger,” whispered the real Katie.

That did it. I reached for my drink and just barely managed to shoot it without choking. I pounded the table with the other hand and leaned over it.

“Dear Christ, I love you!” I said to nothing in particular.

Katie who doesn’t use condoms didn’t like that. Immediately, her face turned lurid and she was up from the table.

“Dave, your friend is fucking creepy,” she said. “I have to go. I said I’d meet another friend in New York, and you know what traffic is like, anyway.”

“Bumper-to-bumper…” said the good witch of the north.

Dave got up and chased after her. Chrissy closed her eyes and laughed deeply and wistfully.

“I think I need another drink,” she said, getting up to walk over to the bar.

I couldn’t take it. I tried to put a boulder on my laughter to crush it, but it sprayed out of every orifice. I made wild snorting noises like a buck or a bull. I flailed and gasped for air.

“Three hours ago, I was calling you the kindest person I’d ever met,” I said, still wracked by spasms of laughter.

“Dan―Dan, calm down,” she said in a lisping little whisper as I tried to comply. “I want you to listen very closely to me: if you can’t allow yourself a little laughter at the expense of someone who mostly deserves it, you will die.”

I started laughing even harder. I felt light headed. I saw amoebic spots before my eyes.

“Dan!” she whispered. “If you don’t at least make yourself that allowance, you will be pulverized under the weight of your fantasy.”

I stopped laughing, like someone had suddenly reached over and violently shaken me. In the next instant, I felt a hot, wet pressure behind my eyes.

“I will not let that happen,” she said.

Dave came up behind me and playfully slapped my back.

“Dan!” he said. “You alright, man?”

“Rather, you will not let you do that to yourself,” said Bastet.

Chrissy was close behind Dave, with three drinks in hand. She finished one in front of us as she stood. Dave smiled and reached out a hand toward one of the other shots expectantly. She glared at him and swallowed that one, too.

“Dave!” she yelled. “What were you thinking?!”

Dave’s shoulders fell. He patted me on the back.

“Man, she’s bat shit, but she’s hot,” he said. “I know it’s been a while for you, Dan, what with the illness and all. Maybe that’s all you get, sometimes.”
I thought I knew what he meant. In any case, no one had lost an appendage.

“Man, can we go home, soon?,” I asked him.

Chrissy looked at me with an expression I read pity in, and then she looked at the third shot. She tilted it back in one good swig.

Sooner or perhaps later, when Dave had sobered sufficiently to drive, we packed it in. Chrissy fell asleep in the front seat of the car while I finished the third stanza in the back. The couplet emerged somewhere around the point I trudged up the walk to my folks’ front door:

    So long, so many ways we said “farewell”
    to orchards left in trusting, given seed
    in parks between a crimson carousel
    and one more queue for something you don’t need.
    Why circumscribe the pencil point for’er?
    Why mourn an ocean’s passing with the tide?
    The perfect model of systemic er’r
    consuming expectation, I confide
    in her, the kindest of my waking dreams
    who gently scoops my cotton insides out,
    renews the matted filling, heals the seams
    upon my eyes, and draws me close about.
    I picked a rocking horse to take the crown.
    I bet my hand, then all the cards fell down.

“Success” is a funny word. It’s nearly lost on me. I don’t think Katie was thinking of it, either, when she broke up with me, or when she decided not to respond to my couple of attempts to reach out to her again. I hated that word in high school and my early adult life―like everyone was supposed to be on TV, make piles of money, and start a nuclear family. One can’t be a burden on the people who love them, though. There’s more to life than pretty words and searing feelings. I think of all the people I know chasing that ill defined dream, though, and all the uncritical assumptions about it that people seem to make. I would love to one day rise to the highest proverbial mountaintop and stake Katie’s banner in it in gratitude, to hold her arcane countenance up to humanity as the greatest “success” I know and as a model for my own, but from there it’s on the rest of the world to make the connection.

I don’t know if Katie will ever read the poem, but Bastet seems to like it.

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Anubis Cuts Hair in Clemson, South Carolina

Nov 24 2014 Published by under Short Stories

Suddenly, I was bolt upright and awake.

Dan! Dan, are you alive?” she squeaked.

The phonemes bubbled up through the sludge: ‘You think, therefore I am.’

“Okay. Okay, good.”

She prodded me.

“You’re positive?”

‘I’m asleep, terrified, relieved, and insane,’ I thought.

“So it’s situation normal, right,” she said, “but I’m asking you about your mortality.”

‘At two in the morning?’ I asked.

She turned ruddy-violet. “I thought you were dead! And it’s three thirty.”

The oozing stupor of sleep gradually began to slough off.

‘Why did you think I was dead?’ I wondered.

“What? Oh, it’s actually ki—” she froze mid-sentence.

“I mean, what were we talking about?” she continued.

‘Do it without me.’ I thought of the nastiest gesture I could make to her, too, as my head hit the pillow.

I fell asleep again, but psychologically it felt like just an instant of nonbeing.

Dan!

Whaaaaaaat?!” I ejaculated. My parents?!… not home, didn’t hear it.

“Whaaaaat?” I mumbled softly.

“I like you.” She looked me right in the third eye as she said it.

Fuckisit?!’ I thought. My eyes were still closed.

“Remember when you nearly crashed last night?” she asked.

I thought of the car ride home from work.

“Yeah,” I said, “I mean, sort of. It wasn’t really that close, though.”

“Remember how you felt like a ton of stress with a source you couldn’t quite pinpoint building up for literally months, and then ninety percent of it went away pretty much right there, when you avoided a crash?” she asked.

“Yeah?” I responded.

She paused.

“I really like you.” She poked a few tendrils into me.

“Okay, first of all, you’re a figment of my imagination,” I said to Bastet. “Second, you’re an involuntary imagination that was born from a girlfriend that lost interest seven years ago,” I huffed. “Thirdly, she never calls, but mostly, get to the fuckin’ point.”

“If you had to die, how would you want it to happen?” she asked.

“I wouldn’t,” I said.

She guffawed. “I wouldn’t either, but say you had a death sentence and you were allowed to choose the method of execution?”

I scratched my beard. “…Quantum suicide experiment.”

Congratulations!” she shouted inside my head.

I must have wanted to believe this. I must have wanted to be dead.

“Dan, I’m a little afraid,” she said.

“Cat, are you insinuating that the sort-of-near crash I had today was sufficient to be a quantum suicide experiment of any statistical significance?” I asked.

“Dan, first of all, what do you think the quantum suicide experiment is, and what would its success mean?” she asked.

I heard a bustle in my head room. Apparently, Bastet and I weren’t the only ones listening to this conversation, even though I was the only one having it.

“There are probabilistic outcomes in quantum mechanics,” I said, “and in small particle-to-particle interactions, these probabilistic outcomes cause superposition. That is, they lead to particles existing in seemingly mutually exclusive states, like traveling left and right at the same time. It’s thought by some that if someone were to play Russian roulette with a quantum random number generator, if the principle of superposition holds for large objects as well as microscopic ones, then surviving the game would always be superposed with dying due to it. So a person should be able to determine something about quantum ontology if they survive the game until their chances of survival are, say, one in a trillion.”

In my head, I heard a clamor go up in the gallery of extra-physical onlookers.

So, who are these people?

You’ve already met Bastet. As I said, I’m mostly certain she’s a figment of my imagination. That is, she is a loud, autonomous, and somewhat sarcastic figment of my imagination who refuses to acknowledge that I am about 20 years beyond the age for imaginary friends. They all do. Allah, Eris, Shiva, Anubis, (excuse me while I drop names,) Astarte, Lilith, and the rest of the host don’t ever seem to care that I have work in the morning. It doesn’t seem to bother them even that I’m almost positive they don’t exist. I’m new to it, but apparently, when you’re a paranoid schizophrenic, realizing all the holes in your inner voices’ stories and total lack of empirical evidence from repeatable tests to support the existence of an Astral Plane doesn’t make its denizens shut the hell up at four in the morning. Working to ground yourself in scientific study and earning a degree in physics doesn’t make them listen when you scream, “Shut the fuck up, and stop squatting in my brain!” aloud in the middle of a crowded train station or grocery store.

For argument’s sake, why would the gods care so much about me? They wouldn’t, but they claim it’s because I’m some sort of “singular dimensional crux” at a critical period in human history; I am crazy special. However, they seem to view this as more of a coincidence and accident rather than intrinsic to my character, and they’re probably right. I object to being crazy special, but they maintain a system of governance separate from human affairs, in my head, so I don’t get a say in the insanity.

“Mr. Strano,” came a voice in my head, “do you actually expect us to believe that your survival indicates the existence of multiple quantum worlds? What about the sample size, or any expectations for repeatability?”

I considered completely ignoring them, but I ventured that they might go away faster this time if I played along for at least a minute.

“Um, I don’t think a single sort-of-near-miss on the highway one day could reasonably be considered a statistically significant quantum suicide experiment,” I said, “especially if it wasn’t controlled to help establish the actual risk to mortality, so I guess, no, world politics should not turn on such a result, even if they’re Bizarro World politics.”

There was a murmur of disbelief.

“You don’t have the slightest idea what actually happened, do you, or why?” came the same voice.

“Nor do I give a shit,” I added. “I have no evidence of anything of empirical significance having happened recently, and I have work in the morning. Plus, it seems like you could do your pseudo-experiment and debate its contaminated results without any direct input from me, so the human singularity is going to sleep, now.”

Another voice came that nobody else could hear: “Dan, do you remember this document I hold here, that you refused to sign months ago?”

“The one right before I ended up in the hospital again?” I asked. “Thanks, by the way. I can’t even read your stupid imaginary documents.”

“It was written working directly from your native symbol set,” said another voice. “You could have at least understood the general meaning.”

“The Mormons would think that’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for why nothing ever reads the same way twice in the land of imagination,” I said, “but you wanted to grill me about sample sizes and repeatability of physics experiments.”

There was an uncomfortable shifting in the gallery.

Bastet sent out a tendril and grabbed the document that may as well have been the manifest of a cargo ship importing cheese.

“Dan,” she said, “let me paraphrase—”

“—Bullshit,” I said.

“Dan!” she said. “Let me summarize—”

“—Is this the document Al wanted me to sign,” I asked, “the one about the ontology for his nonexistent death-trap pseudo-world heaven with tremolo sound effects?”

“Do you mean Allah?” asked an onlooker.

Yes, Dan,” hissed Bastet, “but it’s about 30 pages of inscrutable legalese, and we’re concerned with an addendum regarding a decision of our courts about a deferred penalty on you and what was to be done should you refuse to agree to Allah’s compromise.”

“Read it twice,” I told her, “I’ll get a pen and paper.”

Dan!” she shouted, “This is exactly what got us to this point. You broke some major laws—in fact, even international treaties—with those psychic conversations you had with a couple of your friends—the ones they still acknowledge—and in attempting to repeat the experiences with them and others. You were allowed one such conversation, your ‘greater self,’ as you sometimes put it, was aware. You had three, and you attempted more—“

“—Right,” I said, “’cause, you know, I’m gonna base my world view on unrepeatable—“

“—Repeatability, Dan,” continued Bastet, “or an intentional dearth thereof, is exactly the crucial point here; you’re not actually supposed to have proof of us—no one is—and the vast majority of us on Earth aren’t even supposed to realize that each of us has a hard counterpart on the Astral.” She sighed even though she didn’t need to breath.

“You technically broke international law, Dan,” someone called out from the gallery.

“…Caused a global political incident…” said another.

“…And maybe committed a teensy-weensy baby bit of tweason,” said Bastet. “It was kind of a pwobwem, wemembew?”

“My God,” I said, “It’s a global conspiracy! Or a bullshit rationalization for why I couldn’t repeat three aberrant experiences upon which my subconscious bases compulsory belief in your existence,” I motioned to Bastet, “probably forever, now… and yours,” I motioned to the gallery, “…and you were there, and you!”

I fell immediately back on my pillow, eyes already shut.

“This is the point where we have a problem,” said Bastet to someone in the chamber-like convention on the Astral.

“…Because you can’t make fun of him any more?” asked a voice I recognized.

“…Because Russia just annexed Crimea, the oil is running out, some of Al’s factions think it’s the End of Days, and now he refuses to be the Messiah,” said Bastet.

“Are you sure?” asked the familiar voice of Shiva.

My hand shot up. “I refuse to be the Messiah,” I said. “How many times have I said since this shit storm first formed off the Pacific coast that messianic prophecies can’t work? The only thing that can save us is universal acceptance of each other and individual responsibility for world stewardship. How many of you share my sentiment that even the Son of Man basically thought the world community needed to realize its innate empowerment to save itself?”

“Most of the rational world agrees with you, Dan,” said Shiva, “but there’s this Christianity thing where about a couple billion people are expecting the return of a special someone to do this final judgment thing and usher in an era of eternal life and happiness for a select group, and this Judaism thing with a similar—“

“—codification,” I cut him off,” that’s implicitly designed to get adherents to question whether they’re the divine savior and ultimately produce the über-politician through self-fulfilling prophecy. But two big problems with that, is you produce at least a few hundred Waco Sieges first, dear Christ, and resource depletion and overpopulation don’t seem to have been anticipated by the prophecy’s engineers, so it won’t save the world anyway.”

Shiva chuckled. “You know, some of us believe in this reincarnation thing, and it might just turn out that a carpenter born in Bethlehem—”

“—Said virtually every Christian ever at some point in their life,” I said, “though most might deny it. But the carpenter would be smart enough to realize that it made virtually zero difference, wouldn’t he?”

“You don’t want a cult of adoring fans?” asked Shiva.

“I want a hole that’s dark, dry, and warm, and I want a loaf of whole wheat bread,” I said.

“How about a dark, wet, and warm hole?” asked Shiva.

“That’s the reason I’m in this situation in the first place, at the root of it all,” I said.

“Freud thought so, too,” said Shiva.

Bastet turned pink. “So the Messiah’s a misogynist, too?” she asked.

“I wasn’t blaming the hole!” I said.

“…And he’s a hipster,” said Shiva.

“…And he looks like he’s been smokin’ the reefa!” came a shout across the Astral.

“Yeah, boy!” came another. “Easter on 4/20 this year!”

I was up off the pillow again. “Wait, Easter is on 4/20 this year?”

There was laughter in the gallery.

“Why not check a calendar?” asked Bastet.

“I’m sure it is,” I said, falling back on the pillow.

“So you’re sure we’re right,” said Bastet, “but you don’t question how we knew that if you didn’t?”

“It’s about two weeks away,” I said, “I added fourteen to Sunday in a dream.”

“…And that would make today…?” prodded Bastet.

“…The fifth, since we’re after midnight,” I said.

“…At exactly 4:20,” added Shiva.

Bastet poked my brain. “Check your phone,” she said.

I grabbed my phone from the side of the bed.

“Who’s holding?” I asked

“You’re not surprised?” asked Bastet.

“I’m more surprised when your human counterparts make out of context comments that make for witty responses to what I’m thinking but don’t speak in physically spoken conversations,” I said, “but that’s a figment of my imagination or a lucky coincidence.”

Shiva added, “…Or maybe your insanity is just written clear across your blank face, 12 times a day.”

“So it’s enough to condition a response of faux ignorance on my part,” I said, “because if I press it, I’m going back to the bin, and I’m probably wrong, anyway.”

Shiva laughed. “Remember when Lilith’s incarnation hugged you randomly and said, ‘…The whole time?’”

“No,” I said, “I remember violating some random acquaintance’s space and mishearing them, albeit with no ill intent or sexual motivation on my part.”

Shiva snorted. “Freud would disagree,” he said.

Bastet slapped me with a tendril. “When did that happen?” she demanded.

“Excuse me!” came a shout from the gallery. “While I understand that you two know him personally and that Dan is obligated to maintain an appearance of mock disbelief in us all, we’re kind of in the middle of a crisis.”

The speaker approached me gingerly. “Dan, do you generally understand the situation we’re all in here?” she asked.

I groaned. ‘I can’t believe this,’ I thought. ‘I mean, it’ll kill me. But holding the existence of an Astral Plane anything at all like I imagine as an axiom, it follows that…’ I had to think about the implication.

Shiva cleared his throat chakra. “…It follows that you were put in an unfair situation that you couldn’t have possibly known about beforehand, where politicians attempted to legislate physical reality,” he said gently. “They asserted an identity on you that you believe at your core is false, called you an imitator in that identity you didn’t want to believe in, brought you to trial for it, sentenced you clandestinely to death, discovered a piece of physical law in the process that contradicted their religious beliefs, and then asked you to save them, without being willing to validate your sanity.”

“They can’t,” I said. “They probably don’t actually exist. I have no proof that they exist, and I don’t have any sane reason to suspect that I was sentenced to death via the quantum suicide experiment and survived.”

“Mm-hmm,” hummed Shiva.

I fidgeted. “What difference would it actually make to anyone that parallel quantum worlds exist, though?” I asked. “That doesn’t solve war, overpopulation, or scarcity.”

“No,” said Shiva, “but it disagrees with the publicly expressed world views of certain powerful Astral politicians claiming divinity, and it makes you look like Jesus.”

“Everybody looks like Jesus to me,” I muttered.

“Me, three,” said Bastet.

It hit me. “Wait, but when are you folks claiming I was put through the quantum suicide experiment?” I asked.

“It’s been going on gradually since you refused to sign the document outlining Al’s compromise and proceeded to flip him off in front of billions of people,” said Bastet. “It’s been so much fun waking up every morning not knowing if you’re still alive. Our best estimate is that you just tipped a five-sigma chance of survival, even though that isn’t a five-sigma result in conglomerate. But it caused a hub-bub.”

I grimaced. “See, that’s just fucking crazy,” I said. “I have exactly zero evidence to support that. How are you gonna tell this to me and expect me to react?”

“Allah is making a public statement about the situation,” said some imaginary politician that I really didn’t care to know. “Maybe you should all listen.”

I swung around slowly and got up out of bed like I was covered with weights. “I’d rather conduct a slow quantum suicide experiment of my own.” I thought, fumbling in the dark for my pants with a pouch of tobacco in the pocket. I didn’t feel well.

“Be you,” said Shiva.

The attention in the room in my head shifted to Allah’s statement on Astralvision, or whatever they call their broadcast systems, and I slipped out of the room. For the first time in a long time, I felt relaxed if not well, like I really was alone in the privacy of my own head for a moment, or at least surrounded by a couple of close friends.

“So there’s this requirement of repeatability in empiricism,” said Shiva. “Any idea how we could reliably repeat a result in evidence of many-worlds interpretation, bro?”

I opened the sliding back door and sat down like an elderly man on the steps outside. “Couldn’t tell you,” I said softly. “If I knew of an experiment to show it that didn’t rely on luck, I’d be writing a thesis on it.”

I mechanically rolled myself a conical, filterless cigarette and lit it.

“Dan,” said Shiva, “this really isn’t gonna do. Try to be happy, man. Get up and move. You’re gonna miss work tomorrow, but you got the hallucinatory voices generally on board with you today. It’s a turning point for you.”

“Is it?” I asked, smiling. “Tomorrow, the narrative is going to be completely different. This will have never happened, or it’ll become inconsequential in some contrived and nonsensical turn of events, and I might even scare or hurt someone if I actually believe it.”

I could hear Allah say something like, “We were wrong,” to much disappointment from the world in my head as if over a loud-speaker.

“Aw, brother,” said a trick of the light, or a benevolent god of destruction, “I don’t think you really have it in you to intentionally hurt anyone in a big way. You’ve been through this. You’re not gonna fly off the handle.”

I sighed.

“Dance for me, Dan,” said Shiva.

“Dance?” I asked.

“Put on a song and dance for the crowd,” he said.

I smirked. He was appealing to my daemon.

I scrolled through my phone and found Anamanaguchi’s “Akira.”

“Chiptune?” asked Shiva.

I hit play and hopped up.

“I am Tetsuo!” I shouted. No one would hear me.

“At least you’re not Jesus,” said Shiva.

“Nobody and everybody is,” I said.

I swung my hips, trying to ride the wave of the music and the night’s impossible excitement. I wanted to dance for a man who had been released from death row after over two decades when he had been there because of the color of his skin. I wanted to dance for a young girl who survived the explosion of a forgotten landmine in Afghanistan. I wanted to dance for the world, but in the quiet, dark hours of the morning on the steps of a million dollar home in one of the most affluent regions in the world, it felt disingenuous. I could only dance for myself, and my imaginary good fortune, and my real good fortune.

“That’s a pretty white dance, Dan,” said Shiva.

“It pains me to my core,” I replied, continuing to gyrate.

I heard a furor over whatever statement Al was making. I didn’t want to know what it was.

“Hey, Dan,” said Shiva, “ten…”

“Ten?” I responded, trying to keep rhythm.

“Nine,” said Shiva. I heard a plane in the distance.

“Eight,” he said. A roar went up from the world of my dreams.

“Seven,” we said together.

“Six,” I said, spinning on my left foot.

“Five,” said a host of the spirit. I clenched my teeth.

“Four,” I said, straining my balance. The crowd was quiet.

“Three,” Shiva said with me. The plane was getting closer.

“Two,” said Shiva in my head. ‘What for?’ I wondered, preparing for nothing.

“…One.”

I flinched. I could swear I heard someone physically speak that in the neighborhood.

The aircraft buzz-cut the house. I saw the narrow hull pass directly overhead. It looked like a drone, but it was dark.

“Repeatability, Dan,” said Shiva, “could be furnished by the quantum suicide experiment if you’re lucky. To remove human error, you might leave the whole process up to a quantum random number generator, autopilot, and an automatic release mechanism on a small explosive device. You’d be guaranteed success, but you’d end up living in a world that couldn’t figure out how you did it again.”

I hadn’t stopped dancing. “That device wasn’t actually rigged to do that,” I told myself.

“But they are actually spying on you,” said Shiva.

A cheer went up around the world, or nothing happened.

Dan!” squeaked my delusional pseudo-girlfriend, “Dan, are you alive?”

“He’s alive, Kat,” said Shiva.

“I’m terrified, relieved, insane, and dreaming,” I said.

She gave me an Astral hug, which is like the better part of a physical hug without physical contact, or just really being too into a hug you’re imagining.

“What does the world do now, Dan?” asked Bastet.

“Don’t know; don’t care,” I said, dancing.

“If you were us,” she said, “and you knew that the world wasn’t going to admit a global conspiracy to Dan tomorrow, how would you stop him from throwing himself off a bridge?”

“…Math and vodka,” I said.

“Pay me a visit in Delaware sometime soon,” said a blue skinned idealization of my oldest friend, “and I will furnish both.”

Needless to say, I didn’t get any more sleep that night. Luckily, math and vodka were at hand, and I enjoyed a drink at sunrise.

My parents were home soon from visiting family overnight, and we talked for a bit. They could see I hadn’t slept, (I didn’t try to hide it,) and I told them the “voices” had been loud the previous night, but they seemed happy that I appeared to have some insight and wasn’t terrified or angry. At that point, if I believed the fantasy I was forced to watch contort and twitch out in my mind like a spasming muscle, I wouldn’t be angry. Very little gets me riled these days.

Of course, nothing of significance transpired. I took a day off, but beyond that, life continued as usual in its inexorable trudge to the day proof outweighs superstition in my fragile, political, demon haunted world.

I’ll welcome it with math and vodka.

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