The Downtown Apocalypse Exchange was on the corner of Smoke Street and Mirror Avenue. Steel and glass rose out of the thoroughfare and knifed into the Paradise sky. Jim followed Rockefeller in through the revolving doors. Continue reading “Metadirt – Part 2 [Jim #15, Short Fiction]”
Well, if you’ve been following these crazy stories at all, you’ll have noticed that there’s been a significant drop in the rate of posts lately. I finally got another story uploaded – if you didn’t see it on the main page it’s right here. It’s a two or three parter, so expect some more soon.
As for the novel, the manuscript is finished and the illustrations and cover are on the way, and all that’s left is the drudgery of formatting. The Book of Jim will be available in paperback, kindle, and nook real soon. For real this time. I promise. If it’s not, I’m either dead or insane or both, and you should probably look for something else to read.
The short film Limbo is finished. I’ve seen the final cut, and it’s hilarious. I love every second it. Fangso and Haines did a brilliant job on it. Most recently it’s been accepted to a film festival in Florida, and we’re waiting to hear from Tribeca. If you’re one of those amazing and intellectually disturbed people who put money into the kickstarter, hopefully you’ve gotten all the updates and goodies you were promised. If otherwise, get a message to me and we’ll make sure you get sorted. The film itself, you’ll have to wait a little while longer while it runs through the festivals. They can’t release it while it’s “on the circuit”. How big of a while I’m not sure. Probably a few months yet. And after that, it will be available for free online. Especially on this blog.
That’s it for now. Expect the book and some more stories soon.
Remember that short film Limbo, based on One Truth Road? Well, it’s getting made. Big time. H. Jon Benjamin (Sterling Archer) is playing Jim. The kickstarter is set to roll out on Monday, 6/2, but you can sneak in and check it out here:
I’ll be posting updates here and on the main page. That’s all for now. If you enjoy the stories, swing by and throw us a fiver and we’ll get you a movie.
Update #1 — 6/2 10:30 am
Kickstarter is live, and the first five dollars is in the hole.
Update #2 — 6/3 1:40 pm
Up to $2,500. I’m not familiar with kickstarter, but that seems like an okay way to begin. The reddit post had some hitches but it was overall pretty successful. A HUGE thank you to everybody that helped out with your upvotes and social media wizardry (and a few of you even shelled out some cash!) 27 days to go . . .
Update #3 — 6/8 10:26 am
Stuck at $3,800. We’re finding that it’s hard to get people excited about a short film. Which is understandable – I don’t watch short films all that often myself. I think some people are also under the impression that short films are profitable, and that by giving to the kickstarter they’re lining somebody’s pockets with money. But short films have to be real successful just to break even, there just isn’t any money in them, that isn’t why they get made. They get made, for the most part, by passionate young film makers trying to bust into the business, or who just want to make an awesome little movie. Fangso and Haines (director and producer) are a little bit of both. If you’re reading this and it’s still June and you think Jim is fit for the screen, give it a share. This thing only gets made if people know about it.
Update #4 — 6/14 4:38 pm
$7,300. The number is going up, but it’s looking grim. We have 16 days to raise 20k.
Update #5 — 6/23 10:24 am
$21,500. Fangso and Haines are pounding the concrete. With seven days to go we’re 8 thousand from our goal. Much less grim, but not home yet.
FINAL UPDATE — 7/1 7:40 pm
We made it! $31,404! Right under the wire. The film is a go, I’ve exchanged some congratulations with the director, Fangso Liu, and it looks like it’s off to the races. Will post something more complete soon. Thank you to everybody who contributed or helped to spread the word.
The angel at the docks pointed north and Jim thanked her for the canoe. He rowed for an hour and came to a place where the lake became narrow and snaked between roots and rocks. It opened up into a silent cove. The water looked like a block of metal reflecting the sky, and in the middle of it a small man fished from a wooden raft.
Jim paddled up to him.
“Uh, Mr. Christ?”
The man didn’t move. He sat on his wooden raft with his wooden fishing pole in both hands. He looked at the water.
“I’m sorry to bother you, Mr. Christ,” Jim said. “I know you’re retired.”
“I’ve been fishing this spot for three hundred years,” the man said. “Three hundred years, and I haven’t caught a single fish.”
“That sucks,” Jim said.
“If a man casts his pole into a fishless pond, does he deserve to eat?”
Jim had been a long time getting here and he was pretty tired and a little angry. “I’ll be completely honest with you, Mr. Christ, I don’t give a shit and I’m not sorry about it,” he said. “Your followers are ripping Paradise apart, and you’re out here fishing.”
“Josh,” the man said.
“Josh?” Jim knew a Josh back in Tennessee. He was an old drunk with brown teeth and a lazy eye. “Alright, Josh. I’m Jim.”
“I’m glad to meet you, Jim,” said Josh. “But the politics of Paradise no longer interest me.”
“The fuck they don’t!” Jim said. Then he realized he just said fuck at Jesus – or Josh – and he pulled back. “Sorry, maybe that’s not called for. But you’re the guy at the center of the whole thing. They’re all fighting for different versions of you.”
“No they aren’t.”
“Yes they are.”
“Goddammit they are!”
“People would rather die for the things they can’t see, than live with the ones they can,” said Josh. “One look at me, and they’ll just go die for something else.”
“That’s the problem. Nobody’s dying,” Jim said. “And isn’t that why you died?”
Josh laughed. It was a deep one from the gut.
“Well I’m glad you think it’s funny.”
“Give it a few thousand years and it will be,” Josh said. “I told her those barriers were a bad idea. What finally brought them down?”
“It’s not important,” Jim said. “They’re down and nobody is special anymore and they’re pissed off about it. I came here to convince you to talk to them.”
“What did you do in life?”
“What work did you do? How did you eat?”
“Well, I don’t know, I just worked. Welding was good money. I did some roofing and drywalling. I don’t follow you.”
“We are not so different,” Josh said. “I also just worked. Mending ploughs, building houses. I even did some roofing.” He paused and looked Jim in the eye for the first time. “Would you give another man the road because he had clean hands? Would you accept the sting of his whip because you didn’t give it fast enough?”
Jim cringed. This was the rubbery shit that kept him away from church.
“No,” he said. “I’d pull him off his horse and beat him to hell.”
“Well, we had hammers and empty stomachs, and the Romans had armor and swords. They were chosen by many colorful gods and we were slaves to a black one. So one day, after three Roman soldiers raped and killed a friend of mine, I stood on a crate and said, I am a son of God.”
Jim followed Josh’s gaze. The fishing line disappeared into the plate surface of the water. He expected the line to jerk at any moment, and Josh to finally catch his fish, but the surface never broke.
“Between the Aramaic of the people,” Josh said, “and the Hebrew of the scholars, and the Greek of the Romans, the a became a the. Articles don’t translate so well. I became the son of God, and a few years later the fuckers nailed me to a cross.”
It was Jim’s turn to laugh. He nearly capsized.
“I’m glad you think it’s funny,” Josh said.
“The Articles of Faith!” Jim said. “I get it now.”
“I can’t help you.”
“Seriously though, you’ve got to give me something. I came a long way.”
“You said you were a roofer. The firmament is a roof.”
“There’s war in Paradise because the devil lied, and now that the lie is broken the advice of Jesus Christ is that I board it up?”
“My name is Josh,” Josh said.
Jim was at the edge of the cove and still shaking his head when Josh called out some parting words.
“Jim! Before you cast off, make sure there’s fish!”
With a bag full of nails, a good hammer, and planks of wood donated by the Presbyterian Church of Canada, Jim went to work. One nail, one board at a time. He started where the crack in the firmament met the ground and worked his way up. He doubted that Josh’s advice had been sincere, but he didn’t care. It felt good to work. Hell, maybe that was the point.
He worked for a long time. Days, weeks, a year. Hundreds of boards and thousands of nails. He didn’t eat and he didn’t sleep. He didn’t look up because it discouraged him, he didn’t look down because he didn’t care for heights. He looked at his hands and the place where the hammer met the nail.
Beneath him the strange sound of a strange war pushed him upward.
But one day the hammer broke and he looked around. He was a mile high over a shredded wonderland. His labor trailed behind him like a dead rainbow. He looked up and saw that he had the whole sky to go.
“I don’t think this is going to work,” he said.
A friendly and wise old face popped in through the crack in the firmament. Wild hair and the blaze of intelligence.
“You goddamn crazy hillbilly!” Einstein said. “You can’t fix the sky with wood!”
“Yeah, well your dice didn’t work for shit, either.”
Einstein barked a laugh and pulled himself up and mounted the firmament like a horse.
“I’ll make it make it up to you.”
“This breach is distorting my antiverse, too. And I think I’ve figured a way to patch it.”
“Do you remember when you pushed me, Jim? The power of thought and the expansion of Paradise? Well, it turns out that thought travels through the vacuum at exactly the speed of light. This isn’t too surprising, but it gives rise to some wacky results, the most obvious of which is most pertinent. The object of thought is immediately real, but our experience of it is delayed by the intervening distance over c. Everything we dream up exists for a substantial amount of time before we can even see it.”
Jim understood none of it. “I think I preferred Jesus,” he said.
“Anyway, I’ve examined what’s left of these barriers, and I believe I understand their function. They refract the light as it returns from the object of thought, and whoever originated the thought receives only the frequencies and colors that satisfy the preconceptions of the original. Unwanted information is essentially filtered out, scattered like a prism. It’s simple and ingenious, but I believe I can improve upon it.”
“Listen, I don’t understand what you’re saying, but I’m at the end of the line here,” Jim said. “You’re talking to me because you think you can fix this thing but you need an extra pair of hands. Well, hands are the only fucking thing I got. Give them something to do. I’ll do it.”
“It’s the particles, Jim,” Einstein said, “They’re goddamn crazier than you are.” He poked wild holes in the air with his index fingers. “As soon as you know where one is, it’s somewhere else, in from the wrong direction and out at unknown speeds. We need to make waves, Jim. Waves!” He made waves with his arms. “Wonderful predictable waves!”
“I don’t know how to make waves,” Jim said.
“I’m going to implode the dark star behind me and send out a wave of anti charm-quarks,” Einstein said. “And along this breach I’ll shoot a hyper-frequency energy beam. The energy in the beam must be concentrated in waves. Any particles will rip the guts out of the anti charm-quarks. That’s where you come in.”
“Of course it is.”
“We need a distraction.”
“You want me to distract the particles?”
“The people, the war, you need to distract all potential observers. Matter and energy come in waves until a somebody takes a look, then they freak out and have a particle party. If a single person down there looks up at the energy beam, its waves will particulize and the jig’s up.”
“Are you fucking with me?”
“Take this walkie-talkie. Contact me when the distraction is in play.”
“You’re fucking with me.”
“I didn’t believe it until I was dead,” Einstein said, slipping back into the antiverse. “Do you know the difference between science and religion, Jim?”
“Results! Get me that distraction, and I’ll get us a barrier.”
Jim did his best to explain the situation. He left out the part about his atomic ejaculate and failed at explaining particle/wave duality, but he got the important stuff. The firmament had cracked, and fixing it required the distraction of a billion warring Christians.
“I won’t do it,” Hitler said.
“Oh come on,” Jim said.
“It is not a good idea.”
Hitler sat in a soft leather recliner. His pineapple pina colada had a pink umbrella. Some true crime novels lay on the table. It looked like vacation, but his fists were clenched on the armrests and his eyes were pale and serious.
“I am relaxed now,” Hitler said. “I golf. I tell jokes. I read interesting articles.”
“You don’t look relaxed.”
“I am learning.”
Jim looked at his hands. Why couldn’t he just do something with his hands?
“You instigated the biggest war in history,” he said.
“And maybe up here you don’t get any credit, but like a hundred million people died.”
“There was a lot of death.”
“I bet a lot of them still think you’re kind of a prick.”
Hitler pounded his fist on the table and spilled his pineapple pina colada.
“I am given neither the recognition of my conquest nor the forgiveness of the conquered!” he said. “It isn’t fair!”
“Well then let’s flip it on them,” Jim said. “Go out there, talk some shit with that silver Nazi tongue, and save the fucking day!”
“Just give me a microphone,” he said. “I will unite the birds against the sky.”
Einstein. Einstein. Are you there?
Jim! I am in orbit around the dark star. The apparatus is fully operational. Is the distraction in play?
It’s ready, but it might take some time.
After detonation, it will take two minutes for the anti charm-quark wave to reach the energy beam. Not a single person can witness it. No observers! Our timing must be perfect.
Do not detonate until I give the word. I repeat, Do not detonate.
What is the distraction? Fireworks? A John Wayne movie?
Uh, well, not exactly. Would that have worked?
Anything that draws the eye. We only need a picosecond. What is in play?
I went with Hitler.
What?! You goddamn crazy hillbilly!
Hitler stood on the shoulders of a smirking angel. He tapped the microphone, and the thud echoed through the sound system of Paradise. There was a wang of feedback and he cleared his throat.
“The – enemy – is –not – here!” he said. He said it several more times, until some of the fighting around him stopped and he had a small audience.
Jim watched from a safe distance, binoculars in one hand and Einstein’s walkie talkie in the other. The small audience became a fashionable one in a matter of minutes. Mostly Orthodox, but some Anglicans and even Lutherans looked on with interest. At first they seemed mildly amused, glad for a break from the war. But Hitler spoke with a hard rhythm and punctuated with his fists and pretty soon they were punctuating with him.
Hitler really deserves some credit for all that death, Jim thought.
When the Catholics came the sounds of war stopped. They outnumbered the others by far. Methodists, Baptists, Mormons, Presbyterians, Evangelists, Congregationalists, Pentecostalists – all dwarfed by the Catholic hoard. Billions surrounded Hitler, high on the shoulders of the smirking angel.
The Presbyterian Church of Canada was the last to arrive. They brought enough cake for everyone.
Hitler had yet to say anything of substance. Given the full attention of every Christian in Paradise he drew in a breath and cracked his knuckles. A second smirking angel came down from the sky bearing an empty canvas. Hitler raised a brush and rounded out his speech.
“The – enemy – is – not – here! There is – another – barrier! The enemy – lies – in wait! I – will bring – the enemy – to us! I – will paint – Mohammed!”
“Oh shit,” Jim said.
Einstein! Now! Fire! Fire!
What’s happening down there?
Hitler is painting Mohammed! I don’t know jack shit about Islam, but you don’t fucking paint Mohammed.
Dammit, hillbilly. Elvis, you could have called up Elvis. Alright, we have detonation. Two minutes to arrival.
Can you make it go faster?
Anti charm-quarks do not have a gas pedal.
He’s got the outline of the face.
One minute, forty seconds.
Is that a nose? I think it’s a nose.
And thirty seconds.
You know, he’s pretty good. It’s kind of sad how good he is.
And fifteen seconds.
The lips are taking shape.
One minute remaining to impact. Is the distraction complete? A single observer, Jim! A single eye looking up and the waves of the energy beam will collapse!
Nobody’s turning away from this shit. He’s working on the eyes.
The eyes are fucking brilliant. I almost want him to finish. It’s like, they’re looking through me, man.
Twenty seconds. Jim, if this works, there will be an immense burst of light. Following the burst –
He’s on the ears. All he’s got left is ears. I think he’s going to do it. Holy fuck!
Jim? Jim, come in! Jim, did it work? Damn you hillbilly, what’s going on down there?
I’m – I’m here.
Did it work?
Well, Hitler finished his painting and the whole nation of Islam blitzed in from a new breach. But I think it worked. There was a huge burst of light. Something’s weird though.
What is it? Can they see each other? They should not be able to see each other.
It’s like, the opposite.
Sonofabitch. A million pole dancers in Paradise, and you give Hitler a paintbrush.
No, it’s awesome. We can see each other’s thoughts. I can’t explain it, but . . . I don’t know, it’s like we’re all looking inside each other, but on the outside. And it’s fucking crazy because we’re all thinking the same things. Wait, no, there’s some Mormons thinking something different. Everybody’s looking at them. Oh man they’re super embarrassed. I can feel it, it’s horrible. And we’re empathizing . . . alright, they’re cool. Yeah, turns out we all think the same shit. It just got real friendly down here.
Jim found Lucy on a low-hanging cloud. She was all Lucy now and there were bags under her eyes. Jim said nothing and stood beside her.
The throng of all religions was peaceful but stirring. The spectacle of oneness had lost its charm, and it looked like they might start to go at it again.
Then it began to rain fish.
“Are you doing that?” Jim said.
“Nope,” Lucy said.
Jim pulled out the walkie talkie.
“Einstein, it’s raining fish.”
“Is that some kind of hillbilly riddle?”
“No, it’s raining fish. Does that have anything to do with the energy beam?”
“Well, in theory, if enough neutrinos from the antiverse run up against the quark barrier with sufficient simultaneity, any number of strange physical phenomena could be localized there. Fish rain is a bizarre, but possible, outcome.”
The fish fell and fell. Big juicy happy fish. Children played with them, waving the fish around like swords and beating each other silly. Many of the fish were cooked and eaten. Some of the fish landed in water and were fished again. And the fish kept falling. There were rivers and pools that were nothing but floppy and happy fish. The fish were knee high in some places and waist high in others. Grown men made fish angels and fish snowmen and competed at fish throwing and fish juggling and some of them even tried to sell the fish.
Where oneness by itself fell short of peace, the rain of countless fish fell long of war.
“You know what Jesus said to me?” Jim said.
Lucy stopped him with a hand.
“I don’t care,” she said. “I just need a drink.”
Jim couldn’t take it anymore. He looked away. The angel laughed, grabbed the telescope, and looked for himself.
“This is nothing,” the angel said. “You should have seen Carthage. Or Nanking. Or Rwanda. Hell, I’ve seen prison-rapes that were more entertaining.”
“Entertaining,” Jim repeated. He just couldn’t wrap his head around it. “So this – this is all happening right now?”
“More or less.”
The images burned. Jim had always known that people did awful things to one another, but he’d never really seen it. He certainly hadn’t seen it through an angel’s telescope before.
“So you just watch this like it’s TV? Do you ever watch the good stuff?”
“This is the good stuff.”
“I mean, like weddings, things like that. Celebrations. People building things. You know, art and science. Babies.”
The angel pulled himself away from the scope. “Did you ever watch those things?”
Come to think of it, he hadn’t. Jim hated shit like that. He shook his head.
“Think of Earth as a bad dream,” the angel said. “It’s awful while you’re in it, but when you wake up it’s pretty gnarly.”
“But why is it so awful?” Jim said. “Why do people suffer like that?”
The angel had his mouth open with a response, but a faerie burst in through the window. Another crashed through the ceiling. A third walked in through the door. Jim had always pictured faeries as Tinkerbelles, but these were bespectacled bald men, two feet tall, and all business.
The door faerie didn’t see Jim, and he puzzled at the angel.
“Angels don’t ask why,” he said.
The angel pointed at Jim, and Jim was soon surrounded.
“You’ve been served,” the faeries said together.
One of them handed Jim a manila envelope, and he opened it. Inside was a single sheet of paper. It read,
Jim v Logic
You are hereby commanded to appear in Paradise Court to defend yourself in the above-titled case and to answer to the following charge(s).
Charge(s): Asking a loaded question.
Jean Paul Sartre Courthouse
When Jim finished reading, the faeries were gone. He looked at the angel.
“I think I’ve just been summonsed,” he said.
Jim had defended himself in court before, but that was for a traffic violation. Defending a loaded question at the Jean Paul Sartre Courthouse sounded like it was above his pay grade. An ad in the Yellow Pages (William and William: Defense Attorneys for the Anguish’d Heart) had pointed him to a small office near the courthouse, and the receptionist told him to go right in.
It was a cluttered office, littered with books and parchments, and William Shakespeare sat behind the desk. His nose was buried in a tome.
“What’s the charge?” he said without looking up.
“I, uh, I asked a loaded question,” Jim said.
“Why is there suffering. In the world. Why do people suffer.”
“Well,” closing the book, “you’ve come to the right place. Have a seat.”
Jim sat down. “I thought you hated lawyers,” he said.
“A man cannot always choose how he employs his talents,” Shakespeare said. “But he is only lost if he doesn’t employ them at all.” He searched for an empty sheet of paper, and not finding any turned one over. “It bodes well to begin with a name.”
“Jim,” Jim said, and Shakespeare wrote it. Jim stared.
“You – I mean, Shakespeare – just wrote my name.”
“Ha! Well, at least there’s someone left in Paradise who appreciates a red-blooded jot.”
“What do you mean?”
“When that French lunatic shot his monkeys into space, my lays lost all appeals. What authorship remains is culled from a squall of apes.”
Jim nodded his head. He decided it was a metaphor and didn’t want Shakespeare to think he was stupid. “Yeah, man. The shit they come out with now. Bunch of apes.” He coughed into his hand.
Shakespeare snapped his fingers. “The summons,” he said. Jim handed it to him and he sighed. “These relativisms are wearisome. What were the circumstances?”
“Well,” Jim said, “I was looking through this angel’s telescope, I think it was Russia or Ukraine or somewhere, and some really nasty stuff was going on. We were talking, and I just asked him about the suffering.”
“What did you say exactly?”
“Umm, I said, Why do people do awful things to each other? Why do people suffer?”
Shakespeare made some more red-blooded jots. He looked over what he had written, scratched some out and made some more. He finished with a flourish of the pen, folded the paper and put it in his pocket.
“Well, Jim,” he said, “take comfort in this. It is not merely your heart, but the human heart, that is on trial. These existentialists reach too far.”
“Great,” Jim said. It sounded like good news. He stuck out his hand and Shakespeare took it. “So, you think we’ll win? I mean, you’re Shakespeare, right?”
“I’ve yet to win a case,” Shakespeare said, patting him on the shoulder. “But all morrows begin without sorrow, and tomorrow these hearts will beat against the narrows. Of logic. Beat against the narrow . . . straits that constrict the mind. Hmmm.” He looked at a wall, perked up and snapped his fingers. “Embattled hearts are empty in their quivers, but beating shake the world that minds but scratch.”
Jim was stuck on the first sentence. “Am I fucked?” he said.
The courtroom was a courtroom. There was a judge, a bailiff, a reporter, lawyers mulling about. Prosecuting on behalf of Logic was Immanuel Kant. As Jim waited for his case to be called, Kant made short work of a young girl whose slippery slope “regarding the origins question” was an “assault against reason.” As punishment, she was given a signed copy of Kant’s book about metaphysics.
Jim leaned over to Shakespeare. “Well, that doesn’t seem so bad,” he said.
“You’ve never read Kant,” Shakespeare said.
“Now appearing before Judge Russell, case twenty-three, Jim v Logic.”
Jim followed Shakespeare to the defendant’s table. They stood.
“The defendant is accused of discharging a loaded question into the face of human suffering.”
“Plead,” Judge Russell said.
“Guiltless,” Shakespeare said.
“Prosecution, go ahead.”
Kant took the floor. He was small and arrogant.
“The defendant,” Kant said, “hereafter referred to as Jim, asked of an angel, Why is there suffering? This is not an innocent question. It is has been sufficiently established that this line of inquiry leads nowhere, and that it debases logic and fugues the mind. As it is the purpose of this court to disabuse Paradise of bad thinking, it is the court’s imperative to hold Jim accountable for these words. The question was loaded, and he fired it like grapeshot over Prussia.”
“Prussia?” Jim said.
“Objection!” Shakespeare wagged his pen. “There is no Prussia!”
Kant continued. He paced the open court with his hands clasped behind him.
“Why is there suffering? The underlying assumption is clear: The suffering has a purpose. Embedded in the question is the bold assertion that the tragic nature of mortality is somehow transcendent, that it is tragic because. The question asserts that pain and misery have defensible, perhaps even noble, functions. It is a claim whose magnitude embroils the most practiced minds, and Jim offered no evidence to support it. He blithely assumed it, and he buried the assumption in six retarded syllables.
“The prosecution will happily drop all charges if Jim can defend the assumed position. If Jim can make the case for meaningful suffering, and raise a foundation to support his assumption, he is free to go. If not, the prosecution is bound by Reason and Logic to seek the maximum reprisals.
“And if I may append an editorial, the presence of an angel compounds the depravity of offense. It is disheartening that not even the wards of heaven are safe from these stupidities.”
Kant gave Jim a glare before sitting down.
Judge Russell stifled a yawned. “Can the defendant provide evidence that humankind suffers meaningfully?”
“That’s what I was asking in the first place,” Jim said. “That’s my question. You’re asking the same question.”
“No,” said Judge Russell. “Your question was unlettered, and it arbitrarily presupposed an ontological argument. Do you have such an argument prepared, or don’t you?”
Shakespeare put a hand on Jim’s shoulder.
“If it pleases the court,” said Shakespeare, “I’ll set these quibbles to rights.”
Judge Russell sighed. “Get on with it then.”
Shakespeare had a swagger on the floor. He belonged there. Jim had only ever dreaded Shakespeare in high school reading courses, but seeing the man perform struck Jim with awe.
“What soul in Paradise would shine so dull
As one by Reason painted nub to skull?”
“Yes! Sustained. Guilty. Bailiff, remove the poet.”
Jim watched helplessly as Shakespeare was removed from the court. Judge Russell waited for the doors to close behind him, then spoke.
“The defendant, Jim, shown here to be guilty of discharging a loaded question in the presence of an angel — “
“And over Prussia!”
“Yes, over Prussia.” Judge Russell removed a tiny cannon from a pocket in his robes. “As Jim loads his questions with superfluities, the superfluities of his person shall be loaded into this tiny cannon, and fired in no particular direction.”
Kant approached the bench and handed the judge three books. The two of them whispered.
“Furthermore,” Judge Russell said, “Jim shall be required to read and comprehend the ontologies of Sartre, Heidegger, and Spinoza before coming aground.”
Jim felt hands on him. The bailiff had returned. He was ushered across the court and towards the tiny cannon. The books were thrust into his arms.
“Now wait just a damn minute,” Jim said. “Dammit, just hold up. I might not be smart the way you guys are smart, but I know a stack of shit when I see it. You all just stack it a mile high. I’ll shit my own mountain before I climb up yours.” He threw the books to the floor. “And sonofabitch I wanted to hear what Shakespeare had to say!”
Judge Russell yawned. “Moot,” he said.
The bailiff stuffed him into the tiny cannon. The books followed, thumping him on the head. Jim heard a flick, a hiss, and a boom, and he crashed through a window and soared over Downtown Paradise.
The ontoligies flapped about him like pigeons. He grabbed one and began to read.
“Modern thought has realized considerable progress by reducing the existent to the series of appearances which manifest it.”
Jim was on a pleasant hike through a mountain pass. It felt good to breathe some fresh air. Some Tennessee air. A lazy crick ran alongside him, and there were birds in the trees. If there were seasons in Paradise, it was late summer. Everything was green and the air dangled between warm and cool.
But he didn’t have time to anchor a thought before he came to a fork in the pass. A wooden sign poked out of the ground, and neatly scrawled were four curious words:
Jim’s going this way.
The arrow pointed to the right.
Jim frowned. He didn’t like it. He preferred turning right, but the sign was a little bit pretentious. In the end he went against his inclination and took the left.
It wasn’t long before he came upon another fork and another sign:
Alright, Jim’s going THAT way.
The scrawl wasn’t as neat and it looked sour, which made Jim a little sour. Angry, if he was honest with himself. Here he was, trying to have a nice walk and clear his head, and he had to worry about stepping on the feelings of a sign? Hell, he wanted to go left. But it was with conviction this time that he went to the right.
Almost immediately there was another fork. This one had seven prongs and the sign was definitely pissed off.
Jim isn’t here. And even if he is, it’s COMPLETELY IMPOSSIBLE that he’s going THIS WAY.
The arrow pointed straight up.
“Well,” said Jim, “you win this round.”
As he walked past the sign the ground gave way and he fell. He fell for a long time. It was a dark hole and he thought he could hear the mountain laughing. A circle of light appeared under his feet and he fell down into the sky and up into the ground. The hole was gone. The mountain was behind him.
Jim sighed. So much for Tennessee air.
“Don’t worry,” a soft, creamy voice said. “Nobody ever makes it up Mount Cogito.”
Jim looked up at the damndest person he ever saw. Sexy fishnet legs disappeared into a brawny male torso. One arm looked like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s, the other like a Barbie Doll’s. A flamingo neck balanced a pale head wearing a feathered hat.
“Nooooo,” Jim said, looking into his eyes.
“Ah-heee-hee!” A twirl and a pose. The Barbie arm presented itself. “I’m MJ.”
Jim had no idea what to do with the arm. He shook it. “Jim,” he said.
“So how do you like it here?” MJ asked. “Isn’t it great? Everything is so free here. I love it. I absolutely love it here.”
Jim couldn’t help it. He laughed. MJ snapped the Barbie arm into a girly fist, rested the Arnold arm on his hip.
“Why are you laughing?” It was a flirty whine.
Jim flailed his hands. “You’re all over the place, man.”
“Oh, this! It’s Lucy’s ball,” MJ said. “She throws one every month. She calls it the Frankenmasque. They’re always looking for fresh meat.” He winked and skipped away.
Jim stood in the entrance of a gothic mansion. There were winding stairs and chandeliers and plush carpets and oil paintings. He was here in spite of himself and having second thoughts. A young woman took his jacket and beckoned him to follow.
“So, what exactly am I getting myself into?” he said.
“Frankenmasque,” she said. She sounded Slavic.
“Which is . . .”
She stopped at a door, turned, held out her arm.
“Okay then,” Jim said.
The door closed behind him. Inside was a single chair with straps that looked ready for electrocutions, surrounded by an empty conveyor belt. Another young woman stood behind it.
“Sit,” she said. Also Slavic.
Jim stood. She smiled.
“It’s a party. You will like it. Sit.”
She patted the seat, and Jim sat down. The straps were automatic. He couldn’t move. She pushed a button and the conveyor hummed. It carried out a variety of human legs, laid out like chicken at a buffet. Before Jim could object she unstrapped his legs and popped them off.
“Well shit!” Jim said. “ Alright, it’s cool. I’m cool. That’s your job. Wow. Frankenmasque.”
She held up a milky smooth woman’s leg and looked at Jim inquisitively.
“Ah, man. Man legs, I think. I guess I prefer man legs.”
She gave him a look.
“I mean, no. Not like that. Goddammit now I’m not sure. One of each?”
She nodded. She popped on the milky white along with a blue-suited cowboy boot. The conveyor belt hummed again and carried out the legs and brought in the arms. Jim was ready this time when she popped his off.
“Alright, I need muscle in my arms. Look at me all you want, no chick sticks.”
She popped on a nice cut and ran the conveyor. It carried in the torsos.
“Now wait a minute. Just wait. Give me a second.” Jim breathed. “You’re really gonna rip out my chest?”
She smiled and ripped out his chest.
“Jesus!” He looked down at his dangling arms and legs. They weren’t even his. He’d have felt sick to his stomach but it wasn’t there anymore. All he saw on the conveyor belt was the jiggling of breasts. “Is this some kind of joke?”
“Luck of the draw,” she said.
He sighed. “Give me some perky ones.”
The conveyor rolled. Now it laid out pelvises, complete with ass and junk.
“All or nothing, sweetie.”
“Well, I’ve got enough holes. That one. No, the big one.”
He had to admit, when she made the exchange, that it felt nice to have that kind of meat swinging between his legs. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad.
But the conveyor belt rolled on.
“You can unstrap me now,” he said.
She didn’t say anything.
“I’m all Frankened up.”
Heads rolled in.
“Oh come on! Even Michael Jackson kept his fucking head!”
But one of them caught his eye.
“Wait a minute. Is that – is that Billy Mays?”
She grabbed Billy Mays’s head. Jim tried to object but it was too late. She popped his head off and replaced it.
And then Jim was looking at his head. She was holding it. He looked down at his cleavage, at four flaccid inches, a milky leg and a cowboy boot. He looked at his head again. He looked at the woman.
“Why am I me without my head?” he said.
Her smile was a secret.
“Are you?” she said.
The ballroom was filled with Frankenstein’s creations. They mingled, they danced. No one wore masks because their heads were all rearranged. Jim looked around for his but couldn’t find it. He grabbed a martini from a passing tray and took a sip. It was dry.
It was a sultry voice. It came from an older woman’s head, aged like wine with brunette hair. There were breasts beneath it but a bulge in the pants.
“Uh, yeah,” Jim said. “Is it obvious?”
“You’ve been standing here for ten minutes. Looking around for your head, I suppose.”
“Just don’t freak out, hon. You have to get lost first. That’s the half the point.” She smacked his milky ass and strode away.
But his beard itched. The leg was cold. His tits were strangled and the four inches wouldn’t sit right. He didn’t even know if the discomfort was his. If the thoughts were his. Were these his thoughts running around in Billy Mays’s brain? Did he have a brain? Had he ever? Was it possible to think someone else’s thoughts? Somebody was thinking in his head right now. Would it be all scummy when he got it back?
The lights went down. A balcony over the floor glowed red, the air shimmered, and Lucy appeared. She was just Lucy. Everyone was silent.
“Welcome to Frankenmasque,” she said, scanning the crowd. “So many new faces tonight!”
This was followed by laughter. Jim didn’t get it. Then he got it. He didn’t laugh.
Lucy held a pink masque up to her own face, and what followed had the flavor of ritual. She spoke with a lightness that undercut her words. Initiated pockets of the crowd replied in rote.
“Hearts of beasts and Grendel eyes, hearts that beat and wrestle whys.”
“I AM THE EGGMAN!”
“What are you wearing under all that skin? Where do you end and I begin?”
“I AM THE EGGMAN!”
“Holes that bleed, poles that breed, coals that burn with awful need.”
“I AM THE WALRUS!”
“Why are you hiding under all that skin? Open up and let me in.”
“COO COO KA-CHOO!”
The lights went up and Lucy was gone. The masque began.
Jim saw a man leaning against a big Chinese vase. He was all man, except for a nice round ass in spandex that curved out of the jeans. Regardless, he leaned with confidence, cool and observant. Jim was drawn to him.
“You looking for your head too?” Jim said.
“Both of em,” the man said.
“I take it they didn’t have any, uh . . .”
The man grimaced. “It leaks,” he said.
“Was it a woman?”
“Was it a goddamn woman that dragged you here?”
“Yeah,” Jim lied.
“I know why they do it. They think we’re insensitive. All cock and no love. They think martinis and lady parts will give us some kind of perspective. As if there isn’t enough of that going around.”
Jim shifted. “I’m just kinda freaked about my head. I thought I was my head.”
“What’s your name?”
“Well, listen Jim. Forget about it. This place is bullshit. A man isn’t the sum of his parts and he isn’t the creamy middle of himself either. And he sure as hell isn’t what a drag queen makes him out to be. A man is what he does, Jim. A man is what he does with his time and with his money and with his back and his sweat. A man is where he goes and who he fucks and what he says.”
Jim liked this guy. “What did you say your name was?”
“Ernest,” the man said. He pointed to one of the balconies. “You see that stack of meat there? That’s Hunter. He’s on point and he’s bringing down the chandelier. When he does, me, Jack London, and Clemens are going in swinging.”
“Wait, Ernest Hemingway?”
Hemingway held out a baseball bat. “You in, Jim?”
Jim took the bat.
“It’s a good old-fashioned smash’n’grab. Get in, get what’s yours, get out. We rendezvous at the main entrance. Take the west flank and wait for my signal.”
Hemingway pointed. Jim took his position and tried to look inconspicuous.
When Hunter leapt from the balcony to the chandelier the party gasped and stopped. He was wielding a saber and he shook it at the room.
“What I do,” he said, “I do for Nixon.”
He cut the rope and the chandelier crashed to the floor.
“Now!” cried Hemingway, charging with his Louisville Slugger. His first swing removed a blonde head from a veiny neck.
Jim was close behind. He swung wildly. Heads rolled and arms fell. Hunter was on his feet, punctuating his blows with “Victory!” and “Not a crook!” Past him Clemens and London were laughing as they cleaved.
The massacre was over in a minute. Jim scrambled through the wreckage and gathered up his head, and with some difficulty found his legs and arms and the rest. He followed the four authors at a run, bobbling his parts.
In the main entrance they reassembled themselves. There was an extra body. Hemingway, Clemens, Hunter, and London made short work of it.
“You in there, Fitzgerald?” Hemingway said.
Fitzgerald shook his head, looked about him, came to his senses. “You guys are insane,” he said. “What did you do to her this time?”
Hemingway pulled him to his feet. “Your wife’s a jack-fisted whore,” he said. It seemed to settle the matter. “They’re running the bulls on Cloud Seven. Vamonos!”
Jim followed them out of the mansion and down the drive. They’d forgotten all about him. As they climbed into a classic Cadillac, he waved and shouted,
“Thank you, Mr. Hemingway!”
Hemingway stood in the backseat and pumped his fist. “The world, Jim! It’s all worth fighting for!”
The Cadillac roared away. As he waved, Jim saw a birthmark on his wrist. He didn’t have a birthmark. Or at least he didn’t used to. He looked back at the mansion, at the mark, at the dwindling Cadillac. He barely considered going back for his arm. He drew up the shoulders he had and walked down the road.
“Jim’s going this way,” he said.
The Orgy was a floating ship with red sails. It was enormous and Jim couldn’t fit it into his brain.
It’s like New York City flying over Tennessee, he thought.
“How big is this place?” he said.
“You’re looking at it.”
“No, I mean, like, the whole thing. Paradise.”
Cherry flicked him in the nose. “Your head needs a leash,” she said. “Plenty of those up there. Only one way up.” She pointed to the catapult.
“Aren’t you coming?” Jim said.
Cherry licked chicken grease from her fingers. “I need some R’n’R,” she said. “You know, watch some Ghostbusters, ride some dolphins. That sort of thing.”
Jim strapped in. “Well, any advice?”
“Don’t freak out. Everything grows back.”
She pulled the lever.
He flew in through a window and landed on feather down. He stood up and saw that he was in an empty room. There were four doors, and over each was a sign. One said “straight”, another “gay”, and a third for “either way”. The fourth was written in flames that read “MANIAC”.
Jim considered the flames but shook his head.
“Baby steps,” he said.
He went in through the straight door.
A woman mounted him. She had wild red hair. Jim hadn’t even known he was naked. Or that he was hard. She finished after nine pumps, shook with pleasure, leaned back and breathed fire.
“Hi,” Jim said.
But she sprinted away and dove headfirst into a pool of vibrating bedposts.
Jim was hard and lathered and disoriented. He grabbed another woman and tried to kiss her. She slapped him across the face and pointed to a sign that flashed high in the dome.
“Sorry,” Jim said. He shrugged and pointed at his erection. She obliged.
He looked around while she worked on him. Cages hung from the domed ceiling. Beds bigger than houses crawled with the wildest sex he’d ever seen. Trampolines threw couples mid-coitus through a goal post, their form and style judged by three serious men. Soft strobe lights and a bass drum gave it all a rhythmic pulse.
Jim finished and the woman stood. There was green on her face. He sniffed it.
She pushed the rest of it into her mouth and sucked her finger clean. A coy smile and she was gone.
A brief stroll landed him in twenty-three unique holes. He climaxed several times, and the contents of his penis seemed to depend on the woman. One guzzled down his strawberry yogurt, another bathed in a spray of Jim perfume. The final shot was his, and a single firework exploded over the Orgy.
Beneath its flash he saw an angel standing high on a golden table. The angel was cut like a diamond with a white shock of greasy hair, violently itching his scalp and producing a flurry of snow. Five large-breasted woman collected the snow, cut it, diced it into lines.
“What is this?” Jim asked one of the women.
“The dreams of Beelzebub,” she said. She snorted some and her forehead parted beneath the lips of a quivering vagina. She fingered it and a dove flew out of her mouth.
“Angel dust,” she said.
Beelzebub threw back his hair and spread his arms. “Fly like the angels fly,” he said. “See what the angels see. Fuck like the angels fuck.”
“Okay,” Jim said. He snorted a line.
The nearest woman was a tiny brunette and he pounded her into the floor. He grabbed another and buried his face in her. When the top of his head sprung a dick, a third began to ride it.
“I’m a fuckin unicorn!”
A crowd gathered. They began to chant. “Un-i-corn! Un-icorn! Un-i-corn!”
“Fly!” roared Beelzebub. “Fly!”
The small of Jim’s back grew hard and he was mounted again.
His fingers ballooned with veins and heads. There was a soft warm mouth for each.
Elbows, ankles, ears, thighs. Jim was a spiny lizard, shaking with pleasure, drenched in tit sweat and twat skeet. He wanted more.
“Infinite dicks!” he cried.
The chanting stopped.
The feminine warmth disappeared and the music stopped. Each new erection sprouted two more, and each of those another two. He soon filled the entire dome. Glass shattered, beams broke. Screams fell out the windows.
Beelzebub’s roar was distant now. With each doubling the red sails faded.
Jim was the groaning nucleus of an atomic cock.
And then there was orgasm.
Jim floated in a universe of his creation. Chicken wings and beer formed gaseous nebulae. Chevy comets barreled through open space. Baseballs and hockey pucks bounced around like quarks and kicked up atoms of whiskey, carburetors, fishing poles and labrador retrievers. Good old fashioned cum swirled in giant balls, combusted, became a thousand shining stars.
“You goddamn crazy hillbilly!”
The voice came from the driver’s window of a Silverado. The face was old, the eyes were deep, the hair was frazzled.
“I finally found it!” the old man said. “The edge of Paradise! And you blew it out your nozzle!”
“The edge of Paradise?” Jim said. “Dude, I was just thinking about that!”
“Well, it was right here before you nutted a big fuckin bang.”
“Where is it now?”
Einstein pointed. “I’d say it’s about a universe in that direction.”
“Well let’s go!”
Einstein narrowed his gaze. “You don’t have any Camaros in there, do you?”
“Well, if we run out of gas, you’re pushing.”
Einstein floored it. The engine purred. A red button throttled them through hyperspace. Light came in particle waves and time melted. It’s kinda like Star Wars, Jim thought. The thought was seven parsecs long.
With one hand on the wheel Einstein pulled a joint from his shirt pocket. He fumbled the lighter. “Shit,” he said. When he bent down to search the floor the Silverado veered. Jim reached for the wheel too late. The Silverado rolled.
They were ejected at light speed. The truck spun like a top behind them.
“It’s okay!” Einstein called out, holding up the lighter. The joint flared against the myriad. “An object in motion will stay in motion!”
A flick, and the joint somersaulted through the vacuum. Jim caught it, hit it, returned it. “How do we stop?” he called back.
Einstein shrugged. “How about that Camaro?”
“I’ve got something better!” He unzipped, closed his eyes, thought of Cherry, and masturbated. When he looked up, the Millennium Falcon was soaring.
They entered through the hatch.
“Your nozzle’s a goddamn golden goose!”
“What’s your name, hillbilly?”
“Well, Jim, strap in. Next stop is Nowhere.”
The edge was an abrupt black wall. Einstein parked the Falcon and they went outside to have a look.
“What’s on the other side?” Jim said.
“I don’t have a clue.”
Jim was surprised. “I thought you were Einstein.”
“Fuck you, hillbilly.”
Einstein paced along the Falcon’s hull, observing the stark wall. He paused, chin in hand, lost in thought.
“What?” Jim said.
Einstein started. “Oh! This place, it seems to expand under pressure from the mind. If the expansion were physical, a static edge is out of the question. That’s not a mistake I mean to make twice.” He looked back at the universe. “Your ejaculation is puzzling, however. Perhaps the experience of it pushed the boundaries out. Then the ejaculate itself merely occupied the resulting space.”
“What does that mean?”
“Observe,” Einstein said. He put his hand out to touch the wall, but the wall moved back an inch. “I want to touch the edge. To want is to think. Thinking makes this place get bigger. The wall retreats.”
Jim snapped his fingers. “I’ll go! Maybe it’s because you’re Einstein. Like, your brain is too big. Maybe I can make it through.”
“I considered it, but your eligibility renders you incompetent.”
“You’re too dumb to bring back any useful information.”
More pacing. Jim mimicked Einstein’s movements, thinking his brain might follow suit. It didn’t. Einstein stopped suddenly and counted his fingers.
“I’ve got it! Jim, you have to push me!” He stood on the Falcon’s edge with his back to the wall. “I’ll stop thinking and you just shove me right through!”
“Really? Just like that?”
“Simplicity is the engine of the universe. Do it!”
Einstein closed his eyes and folded his arms. Jim shrugged and pushed.
“Oh shit,” Jim said. “Oh shit.” He peered over the side of the Falcon. Nothing. “I did not just push Einstein out of the universe. Unless I did. Think, Jim. Think!”
The universe expanded.
“Shit! Stop thinking, no more thinking.”
Jim was looking up at the wall, dumb and helpless, when the dull end of a chain emerged. When he grabbed it there was resistance. He put all of his weight behind it and drew it out of the wall link by link. At the end of the chain was an envelope. He opened it.
Nice fucking push. I’m going to be a while. Don’t wait up.
I found these under a white hole. I won’t be needing them. Good luck, hillbilly.
There was something in the envelope. Jim emptied its contents into his hand, paused, scratched his head.
It was a glossy red pair of dice.
“Fore!” Jim yelled. Even in Paradise he hooked the damn ball.
“Ha!” Hitler laughed. “Right in the trees!”
A bear-drawn chariot carried them up the fairway. Jim looked sideways at his companion, thinking he looked much better without the mustache. This was all the result of a lottery, the winner of which was balls deep in Cleopatra right about now. Golfing with Hitler was the consolation prize.
“I didn’t know you were a golfer,” Jim said.
“It was Plato that showed me golf,” Hitler said. “He said it would help me relax.”
Plato. He recognized the name from philosophy class. Something about a cave. Sometimes he swore heaven was like walking through a goddamn history lesson.
“So uh, I don’t mean to be that guy, but didn’t you kill a whole lot of people?”
“As a matter of fact, in this place I’ve only killed one person. Turns out it only counts if you pull the trigger.”
“Oh come on.”
“You were, like, the king of the Nazis.”
“I was – it doesn’t matter. But when I came to this place, they only credited me with one kill, and that was me.”
Jim lined up his shot and swung. The ball sailed, bounced once on the green and went over.
“I don’t buy it. How is that even possible?” he said.
“You’re only responsible for what you do. According to the records, I mostly just talked a lot.”
“But you set everything up. You were the guy that gave the orders. Like, six million Jews and a bunch of Russians died. How do you not get credit for that?”
Hitler took out his pitching wedge. He had a graceful swing and stuck the ball pin high.
“Nobody had to listen,” he said. “Nobody had to do any of those things. Each one of them was free to say no.”
Jim shook his head. “Naaa. No way. Fuck that, you totally killed those people.”
Hitler shrugged. Jim walked up to his ball on the backside of the green. His shot skittered past the hole and found the far fringe.
“You need to be more open,” Hitler said.
“Your club face. You are hitting the ball thick.”
“Oh,” Jim laughed. “I thought you were – I mean, for a second there, you know, I thought Hitler was giving me, uhh . .”
Hitler was expressionless and attentive. Jim shook his head.
“Forget it,” he said. “So, uh, who decides the kill count, anyway?”
“The Death Center,” Hitler said. “It’s on Corporeal Road.” His putt rattled home.
The Death Center was huge. A building map showed floors assigned to Haunting Holidays, Funeral Reenactments, Postmortem Vertigo and Trauma. Kill Records and Death Statistics was on the 27th floor.
When he reached it, a woman looked up from her computer.
“Kill records and death statistics,” she said. “What can I do ya for?”
“Yeah,” Jim said. “So, I was just golfing with Hitler, and he said he never killed nobody.”
“Well now that just won’t do, will it. Why don’t you just take a seat there and we’ll sort this all out for ya. Does this Hitler have a full name?”
“What do you mean?”
“For example, maybe Hitler Stevens, or Hitler Robinson . . .”
“Adolf. Adolf Hitler. You don’t know who Hitler is?”
The woman punched the information into her keyboard.
“There he is. Well look at that. Adolf Hitler has one kill, and it’s Adolf Hitler. What a coincidence.”
“That’s not possible!”
“Our records are absolute and infallible. Look there, it even says so on the screen.”
“But he killed millions of people!”
“Oh, I think I’d remember a seven figure kill count. Imagine that, seven figures. You’d have to wake up pretty early in the morning.”
Jim stood up and paced. He hadn’t studied much history, but he knew damn well that Hitler killed more than one person.
“Auschwitz,” he said. “Look up Auschwitz.”
The keyboard clacked.
“Oh, Nazi Deathcamp – that sounds exotic. You’re certainly at the right place. I don’t see any mention of Adolf Hitler here though.”
“But what about all those people?”
“Well, I have a Rudolph Hoss down for one hundred and ninety-two kills. Pretty impressive. And here’s an Albert Ostendorf, he’s got fifty. Let’s see here . . . Oh, there’s a Willhelm Attenburg, seventy-six kills. I don’t see any millionaires, though.”
“What about D-Day? The Battle of the Bulge? The Russian front?”
“The highest kill count I have for D-Day is fifty-nine, a man named Sam Anderson.”
“Some guy named Sam Anderson killed more people than Hitler.”
“A bunch more.”
Jim pulled some jerky out of his ear and chewed on it. Jerky helped him think.
“Alright, so who’s got the highest kill count? Like who killed the most people?”
“Looks like he was in that war with your friend. Says here he dropped a bomb on Japan. 287,598 kills. That’s a doozy.”
“The pilot?! They put that on the pilot? What about the guys that made the bomb? The president?”
“Oh, we don’t keep track of assists anymore.”
“Well, it turns out, what with all the going-about that goes on – ya know, the talking and the pushing – every kill had about a bazillion assists. Fried our computers to a crisp. We have a strict Kill/No kill policy now. No moochers.”
Jim finished the jerky. “This just doesn’t make any sense,” he said. But he thought there might be a guy that could help him out.
Plato was high on a cloud and looking down at a valley. With every brush stroke on his canvas, the valley changed.
Jim cleared his throat and the philosopher turned.
“Well, what do you think?” he said.
“It, ah, it looks good,” Jim said.
“Good, bad – Is it Valley or is it not Valley?”
“It’s definitely a valley. More flowers, maybe?”
“Mmmm.” He set down the brush and wriggled his fingers. “Daniel!”
A chiseled young man, naked and glistening, flew by and snatched the philosopher’s robe. Plato was naked too now, and instead of a penis a French horn dangled between his legs. Before Jim could look away, it flexed a B flat.
“You’re here about the Hitler problem,” Plato said.
Jim blinked. “Uh, yeah, that’s the reason I called. I, uh, I entered this thing to have sex with Cleopatra, and I ended up golfing with Hitler. We got to talking, and he said he’s off the hook for all those people he killed. I’m like, that can’t be right, so I go down to the Death Center — ”
But Plato held up a finger and closed his eyes. His horn climbed a Dorian scale.
“I know what troubles you,” Plato said. “And I think our conversation is better suited to the ground. Just follow the rainbow.”
Plato sucked in a deep breath and with some effort produced the cadences of Somewhere Over the Rainbow with his horn. A rainbow appeared beneath Jim’s feet and sloped gently into the valley. Jim scratched his head, shrugged, took a step, and he fell right through it. The ground rushed up and kicked him in the head.
“Do you see your error now?”
Plato was sitting in an armchair next to him, already smoking a cigar. His horn lay flat against his leg, exhausted.
“Error? You just threw me off a cloud! That hurt, man.”
“No it didn’t.”
“You still threw me off!”
“You walked off the cloud.”
“You told me to!”
A sigh. “Sometimes I don’t know why I bother.”
Plato stood up. He shook his horn and an F sharp drizzled out. He pointed at the cloud.
“The next time you hear a dick singing about rainbows, just take the fucking elevator,” he said. Jim followed his finger, and sure as shit one went right up to the cloud.
Jim was speechless. Plato finished his cigar, popped the butt into his mouth and chewed it while he considered his valley.
“You might have been right about the flowers, though,” he said.
And then he walked away.
“Pizza? I didn’t think there’d be pizza in heaven,” Jim said.
“Why not? Pizza is the shit,” the angel said.
“And cursing. And beer? Is that beer?”
In fact, the table was laid out with all the things Jim loved. Chicken wings, malt whiskey, chili fries, club sandwiches, those little wieners wrapped in bacon. Over the table hung a cage where two beautiful women danced naked to 90’s alternative. The angel saw him gazing.
“You can have them after dinner,” he said.
“Are they being punished?” Jim asked. He was a man, through and through, but he didn’t like the idea of raping someone in paradise.
“Punished? Is that what you think we do here? They love it. Some women like to party. We don’t hold that against them. Cherry there has been welcoming our new guests for two hundred years.” The angel leaned close with a knowing smile. “There are no anal fissures in heaven, so go wild.”
Jim coughed. “So uh, well . . .” He coughed again. “What are the uh, ground rules?”
“Like, what’s the forbidden fruit? What’s the catch around here?”
“No catches. The boss doesn’t care for rules. Everybody gets in, and everybody gets what they desire. Let’s say you were a Christian all your life, well I’d be all shiny and I’d take you on the holy tour, you’d get to look down at hell and pity the damned, that sort of thing. If you’re Jim from Tennessee, you get chicken wings and bitches.”
“Huh,” Jim said. “You know, I never really believed in this place, but I figured, if it was there, it’d be a little more uptight.”
“Not since Lucy reclaimed the throne.”
“Lucifer. He’s Lucy now. Or she’s Lucy now. We’re all a little confused. But hey, more power to him if that’s what gets her off.”
“Lucifer?! Lucifer is in charge of heaven?”
Jim knocked over his beer in surprise. The angel was laughing heartily.
“Oh, the shock on your faces, it never gets old! Yes, Lucifer fought a last resistance a very long time ago. He crushed the Usurper handily. As the Usurper fell, he passed through earth, and it was in retaliation that he saddled you guys with all those ridiculous books and laws.”
Jim pulled out from long years of habit. To his surprise, he orgasmed a slice of apple pie, complete with a fork and a dapple of cream.
“Sorry,” Cherry said. She took a bite and melted with satisfaction. “I really love pie after sex.”
“No, that was awesome.” Jim was looking in awe at his penis. In Tennessee, whatever came out of it was generally a nuisance. It certainly hadn’t been pie.
Cherry laughed. “It takes a little getting used to.”
“Yeah, I guess it does.”
He lay down on his back with his hands clasped behind his head. While Cherry enjoyed her dessert, he tried to bring the last several hours into focus.
“So, you heard the angel and me talking, right?”
“About Lucy and the resistance and all that?”
“Is that what he told you?”
“What do you mean?”
Jim had never given these sorts of things much thought, so he had difficulty articulating the funny feeling in his brain. He looked at Cherry’s breasts, ran a finger down her back, watched her eat the pie. Paradise . . .
“I mean, if part of this place is hearing what you want to hear, how do you know what’s what? How do we know what’s true?”
Cherry swallowed and shook her fork. “Oh yeah, the paradox thingy. You know, it’s been a long time since I thought about it. You’re pretty quick to grab it so fast. It’ll bother you for a while, but when you get to live the way you want to live the whole truth thing just kind of goes out the window. I mean, who cares?”
“But, what if what you want is the truth? Like, is there a truth?”
She held up the pie. “This is the fucking truth, honey.” The way she said it, he found difficulty finding any fault with it. Still, he was bothered, and he didn’t think a person should feel bothered in heaven.
“What if this is really hell? What if somebody really is looking down, pitying us?” he wondered aloud.
The walls began to shake.
“Wow, that really must be bothering you,” Cherry said.
“What? Why? What’s happening?” Jim was on his feet now. “Is this bad?”
“Lucy’s coming. She comes around when the paradox gets to you. Don’t worry, she’s super nice. Tell her you like her dress.”
There was a warbling, pixelating whoomf and a beautiful woman stepped out of a hole in the wall. When the hole closed, the room shuddered back to solid.
“Cherry!” the woman exclaimed. “You indigo slut, it’s been ages! How are you!”
The two of them hugged. Jim stood naked and speechless.
“This is Jim,” Cherry said, after a few more obligatory exchanges. “He’s worried about the whole where am I thing.”
“Jim.” Lucy held out her hand. The nails were painted, the fingers were milk white.
“I – I like your dress,” Jim said.
Lucy’s laughter was sudden, honest, and contagious. Soon all three of them were laughing. Jim began to feel embarrassed he had been taking things so seriously.
“Well, I do hate these formalities,” Lucy said, drawing a card from her blouse, “but there is bureaucracy even here.” She handed him the card. “If you ever want to know the truth, just find the address on the card there. They’ll fill you in on everything.”
“Really?” Jim said, taken aback. “Just like that?”
“Well . . .”
Aha! Jim’s head rejoiced. A catch! Finally a damn catch. It eased his mind immensely just knowing there was something up.
“If you go to the truth, you can’t come back.” Lucy’s frown was sexual. Everything about her was sexual.
“You can’t come back? Why?”
“I can’t tell you that. It’s part of the truth.”
Jim looked at the card. It was nothing but TRUTH in capital letters, under which read the enticing address, 1 Truth Road.
Lucy’s hand was on his arm. He hadn’t noticed her approach. When he looked up there was intensity in her eyes. It thrilled him. She spoke softly.
“My advice is always the same. You have an eternity to enjoy yourself. The truth can wait.”
He was in her mouth before he knew what was happening. It was pleasure beyond anything he’d ever known. When he finished, and Lucy took her leave, he and Cherry shared the bucket of chicken wings.
It took Jim 376 years to get bored. He stood at 1 Truth Road, thinking it was funny how small the building was.
When he walked in, the man behind the reception desk smiled.
“You seek the truth?” the man said.
“I suppose I do,” Jim said.
“If you don’t mind, there’s a series of questions I’d like to ask you. This is completely optional, but your honest answers help us improve paradise.”
Jim shrugged. “Shoot.”
“How would you rate your overall experience? These are all one to ten, by the way.”
“How helpful was our staff?”
“The event center?”
“You know what, just put me down for ten on everything.”
The man nodded knowingly. It took him a good five minutes to fill in all the tens, and Jim was glad he made the request.
“If you don’t mind my asking, if everything is a ten, why leave?” the man asked.
“I could go for a few sevens.”
“Fair enough. Just go down that hall, and you’re looking for the second door on the right. Good luck.”
He found the room easily enough. It was smaller than the main lobby, but with the same setup. It was mostly white, and there was a man behind a desk and a single chair in front of it. Jim blinked a few times. It was the same man.
“Take a seat.”
“You’re the same guy,” Jim said.
“I run things around here. Go ahead, sit down. Alright, so before we proceed I have to make sure you understand this all correctly. For starters, once you find out the truth, you know that you can’t go back?”
“And you know that you’re leaving of your own free will, that you aren’t compelled in any way to leave?”
“Well, I can only assume that, really.”
“Good enough. And the last thing, you’re aware that billions of souls are perfectly happy to be happy in spite of the paradox?”
“Great. Now, as for the truth. For the last 376 years, you have been living in paradise, and paradise is awesome.”
That’s all he said. He said it as if that was all that needed saying. For the first time in a long time, Jim was angry.
“That’s not enough,” he said through clenched teeth.
“I’m afraid it never is.” The man nodded.
“What about God? The Devil? Heaven and Hell and right versus wrong? Who runs this place? Where is it?”
“Oh. Really? That’s not even part of the paradox. God and the Devil are the same thing, and this is where people go when they die. That’s all pretty much obvious.”
“But, but . . .” Had he made a mistake coming here? He suddenly wanted nothing more than to step back into the orgy’s oblivion. “But what about, I mean, who’s right?”
The man spread his hands. His face was brutally sincere. “If you can’t ask a meaningful question I can’t help you,” he said.
Jim was speechless. He had no idea what question to ask. All those years, the chicken, the women, the booze, he always just figured the truth was sitting here on a silver platter, waiting for him. God and the Devil are the same person? What kind of truth was that?
“The exit is through that door,” the man said.
It was a plain door.
“What’s on the other side?”
“I have no idea.”
“What??! This is 1 Truth Road! I’m giving up Paradise for this. The fuck you don’t know what’s on the other end of a goddamn door!”
“I never went through it.”
“Then you don’t know the truth!”
“I told you the truth.”
“What about the door?”
“That’s where you leave.”
“What’s behind it?”
“I don’t have a clue.”
Jim went to the door and threw it open. Before he went in, he looked back one last time.
“At least give me this. What’s the point of this place? 1 Truth Road. It sure as hell ain’t the truth.”
The man shrugged. “It wouldn’t be paradise with you moping around.”
Jim fell through the door.