a short story
Gary Baker, March 2014
Two years back I was ready to jump ship. I was standing on the corner of Haight and Ashbury, looking at my feet, ready to take the plunge, and then I found God. I’d never bothered to call myself an atheist until that precise moment and, ever since then, I’ve never seen any reason to change that.
I remember the wind, the incessant tugging of air at my jacket like an unseen monstrous entity trying to throw me around. It was enough to boil the blood in my veins before I even looked down to see the bustling streets so very, incredibly far below. I inhaled deeply through my nose and held it for a second, awaiting the calming effect that it often gave, then slowly, so very slowly released it through pursed lips.
My breath quivered as it went, anxiety meshing with raw fear and a wish that it didn’t have to be this way. I opened my eyes, unaware that I had ever closed them in the first place, and looked once more upon the setting sun falling between skyscrapers. The world was coming to an end. Everything was crumbling and there was nothing I nor anyone else could do about it.
They say the ring of fire was on the verge of breaking itself, that the icecaps were gone completely and that the most recent hurricane in the Caribbean wasted it’s way all the way through to Moscow before finally petering itself out. Claims had been made that the moon was shifting in it’s orbit and that one more nudge in either direction and there would be two possible outcomes: A- it would fall toward us and be the last thing anyone ever saw, or B- it would drift away into space and would kill the cycle of weather and tides and so on. From there it was only a matter of time before the whole of human existence simply shut out like a dimming LED.
I wasn’t ready to face those consequences. My life had been perfect up until then. I had a wife, three loving children, and a career as a high market supervisor for a publishing firm at the dawn of an age when books -- real books -- had come back into style. These days everyone carried some literary document made of pulped wood and ink with them at all times. Some chose the age-old classics from the early twenty-one hundreds, with topics that bordered on the heretical dislike of technology, while others chose more modern titles spanning anything from the sciences to the dead religions that technology had slowly pushed out of society.
Yet it would all be gone in a mere echo of the dials upon a clock. Entropy had reached it’s end, and I wasn’t one to face things like that head on. What if the world burst into flames? How could my pale complexion face such a feat without hordes of pain lasting all-too long? Besides that, I hated pain. I still do.
So there I was, facing the sun for the last time with my buttoned jacket beating a quick rhythm against my throat as though drums beating out my lonesome dirge. A tear dripped down my cheek and fell from my chin. I watched it fall, eyeing the glint of refracted light as it pre-enacted what I was just about to do.
And, in the uncaring crowds below, I made eye-contact with God.
My heart skipped a beat. Maybe more than that. I just know it felt like forever that I was transfixed in those eyes. They seemed to hold everything, like miniature doorways to the whole universe with infinite stars and everything just a few cellular molecules apart. I couldn’t tell the gender from that height, but there was no mistaking who it was: all the dead religions boiled down to that one moment when what appeared to be a pitiful homeless vagrant caught the sight of a man about to end it with a half step into empty air.
Suddenly I slammed against the stone wall, my heels arching as I tried to get back to something stable. I was inside my office before I knew it and was racing lopsided to the elevator terminal even as I suddenly realized I’d lost a shoe. It didn’t matter, though, as I just had to get there. I had to meet him -- her -- it -- or whatever God claimed to be.
“Got a hot date?” Jennison Valdery mocked me as she calmly sipped her protein-infused mocha beside me. Her suit had been pressed and refitted just that morning, smoothing the edges of her elegant hips with swatches of silk-like carbon micromesh and an underlying leather-tan fabric. She eyed me with an arched painted eyebrow and eyelashes that extended all the way to her forehead as the latest fashions dictated.
“No,” I mumbled, loosening my tie awkwardly as we descended floor by floor.
She laughed that fake laugh of hers, a chuckle that was supposed to catch men off-guard. It didn’t work on me, not these days, not now that I had a purpose. We’d had an affair once or twice before, I will admit, having hit the red panel on the way down to indicate a corporate need to stop the elevator as would be done in a private meeting. It happened more than either of us wanted to admit, but I never had the heart to tell my wife.
“So then what’s the hurry?” She crossed her arms curiously and leaned against the polished steel panelling. “It’s not like the world is going to end any time soon is it?” She smirked with a wide grin of pearly teeth and deep green lips that also followed the latest styles. “Oh, wait -- I forgot: it is!” The doors opened and I began toward them. “Well, whatever,” she cooed as I passed, “the way I see it? Doesn’t mean a thing. It’ll all be dust in a few days anyways, eh?” She kept talking, but the doors had already started closing and I was well on my way through the foyer to the corner door that led outside to the unfabricated breezes and scents.
It took a second of looking anew from this alternate angle, but I found him again with another stroke of lightning in my chest. He was still there on the sidewalk, smoking the last cigarette from a now-empty pack, watching the skies and occasionally shaking his mug with a few macro M-chips inside.
Again I had a hard time telling if God was a man or woman, or even one of those who’d been born into the middle sex given by a feat of nature and technology. For a split second I wondered what he would prefer I call him. Should I address this person as ‘Sir’? ‘Ma’am’? Perhaps even ‘thei’ as had been the overall middle term for the last century?
Instead, I lost my chance -- God looked my way, dirty pudgy face and all, broken teeth jutting to the side here and there, and grime colonies seeming to decay the very flesh upon which growth was enabled. This was a person on the verge of death as well and I wondered for a split second if that was ironic. “Well don’t just stand there,” thei called, “come closer, share a smoke with me, eh?”
I wanted to move, but found myself frozen in place. What did one say to the living patron saint of the longest-lived, though still dead, religion of Earth?
We stared through billows of smoke for ages before God shook the cup again and received a few chips from a passing soul while, in the distance, someone succeeded where I had faltered. I heard the horrendous smack and winced, though no one else seemed to even notice. These days it was far too common a sight in the cities.
“Sad, that one,” God mumbled, taking another draw of the tobacco. Those eyes still held me, keeping me staring, no matter how hard I tried to get away. “Single theilen, obviously no offspring, with a fanatic tendency to paint like no other.” God pursed it’s lips to the side, “I always wondered when those chemicals would start to affect thei and convince thei to end it.”
God lifted a grubby finger with more oily dirt on it than I had ever seen this deep in the city. “Almost like you, I might add.” A welcoming, warm smile appeared and I found myself sitting cross-legged on the ionic-edge street side with someone so low comparatively that most must have thought I’d lost it. “See? No harm done, my little lamb. None at all.”
Dumbfounded I just leaned on my knees and shrugged. “Where’ve you been?” I finally breathed.
“Here,” she handed me the tobacco and I took it gingerly, since I didn’t really think I had the choice of saying ‘no’ to a smoke from God. “Now what’s this about my whereabouts?”
I drew the first breath of smoke that I’d ever done in my life and coughed instantly, much to God’s cackling humor. When I finally caught myself again, I shot him a look of annoyed wonder. “Where have you been all my life?”
God raised thei’s bushy, unshaven eyebrows as though over the wires of a pair of spectacles. “You mean to say you, or anyone living in your religiousless times for that matter, need the likes of me?”
“As in I, the famed-” she scowled, “well, at one time I was -- creator of all things in this universe?”
I glanced to people casually passing by as the world counted down it’s last moments. They all seemed so calm, so eerily unaware. I wanted to grab one of them by the shoulders and shake them, asking frantically “don’t you care? Are you not afraid? Am I the only one who sees this?!” Instead I returned my gaze to God’s eyes, those magnificent eyes that held eons of everything imaginable. It was ironic that suddenly I had the inspiration to write books upon books on anything that came to mind, and all when I had perhaps a day or so to live. “Well I sort of had a bad week last week.”
“I stubbed my toe when getting out of my sleeping capsule, then forgot to put on my autodetection ring and was locked out of the vehicle pod for hours while I searched through messes of everything in my home for it, and things just kept getting worse for me.”
“And you just assumed I had nothing better to do.”
I shrugged, “if there was ever a time where I wished a god existed to control my fate then that was it!”
She nodded with lips pursed around the cigarette, “hmm, you wanted someone to blame it all on.” Her face became a flurry of wrinkles as she drew again and frowned at me, then handed the tobacco back for me to do the same. “Alright, lamb,” God mumbled while streaming thick smoke from her nostrils, “look at me. What do you see?”
I finally inhaled smoke without choking and let it sit in my lungs for a bit, as I’d seen God do, before releasing it into the wild air again. But I did look him over as commanded, noting the scraps of sullied trash bags used as a makeshift belt, the stains of God-knew-what, and gave myself a moment to chuckle at that thought, coating his every last garment. He wore sneakers three sizes too small, his toes peeking out of mouth-like holes in the forefronts, and laces so frayed it looked like God had assembled them from body hair over the years. He was overweight, yet anorexically thin in the same glance, where the rags neglected to cover his pasty diseased skin, and each breath both expanded his visible ribcage as well as tightened the cellulite beneath that.
“Are you looking?” Thei asked. “I mean really, truly looking at me?”
“Krishna, lamb!” She cursed. “Why do you think I look like this? Why would an all-powerful being choose to be poorer than dirt, or eat scraps of food leftover after the rats are done, eh?”
I was silent, trying to figure out a good response.
“Or how about this one,” he shot again, “if I were so benevolent and all-powerful, why would I allow the universe to be about to collapse for your kind?”
I frowned at my one remaining glossy neosuede shoe, letting the tobacco ease my anxiety. “Because… you’re just an asshole?” As soon as I’d said it, I hated myself.
God smirked joyously and I watched as thei made the cigarette grow back to full length and reignite itself, then took a dramatically long pull. As thei released the smoke with a sigh, God rolled thei’s eyes toward me awkwardly. “Exactly.”
Suddenly I felt wronged. The world was about to end and all because the last living god had simply decided he was annoyed with humanity? What gave him -- her -- thei the right? “Are you serious?” I jabbed and snatched the tobacco away from the bastard.
“Completely,” she sniffed angrily. She crossed her arms and fell backwards onto her pile of things that looked more like trash blown in on the wind. “Think of it this way, lamb: I am the last god out there. All the others faded away as science inevitably snipped us out of the human mind. We once reigned over everything, you know, our power limited only by the vast numbers of those who worshipped us, and now only I exist due to scholars unwillingly acknowledging me because of a book I, more or less, wrote eons before their time.” She rolled onto her side to face me as she took the tobacco back for another pull. “Obviously I was pissed. Science had, in fact, won out on us all and there wasn’t even a god at it’s center for us to complain to. So I made an ultimatum: starting on this coming Tuesday I will only allow your universe to exist for one day for each soul that believes in me. Just one, each.”
I gaped and smoke dribbled from my lips. “No shit,” I breathed exasperatedly.
“Trust me, there’s shit,” he huffed angrily, “and it’s all your lousy asses that walk this earth, too. Nothin’ shittier than a bunch of worshipers ignoring you and your miracles for the plain-old screen of the latest phone.”
Then it struck me: there was a loophole. “So, wait, you mean to say that if, say, three people were to start worshipping you right now you would let the earth live for another three days beyond Tuesday?”
Thei grinned. “That’s exactly what I mean, little lamb.”
“So,” I hesitated; how to word this in a way that God would tell me completely? “How do I get atheists to start believing in a disproven god?” Then I startled with a shock of realization. “Wait -- how do I prove you to me? I can’t go out there spreading the word of your sorry ass if I don’t even believe in you.”
Crossing his nasty-smelling arms under his head as a pillow, God laughed lightly. “Well you can always wait until December twenty-fifth to find out for yourself if I’m legitimate or not.”
“But that’s this Tuesday!”
“As I said: I’m giving you humans until my son’s birthday to start worshipping me, and from then on I will only give you shits one day per believer to continue existing.” The grin on her lips was frighteningly dark.