Gang, here's a short story that I wrote 14 years ago--ahh, to be 21 again!--and which had been published on a now defunct website called Ten Thousand Monkeys. Since it's only accessible by visiting the Internet Wayback Archive, I decided to re-post it for you to enjoy.
Cheers, JB aka Philip Shearing.
TO SAVE THE WORLD
Harry was an honest person. Consequently, he expected the rest of the world to act accordingly. Naive was too kind a word for our Harry. In fact, most would call him a sucker. Only a sucker would leave his Rum and Coke on the counter of the bar and, without a touch of concern, ask the barman if he could keep an eye on his drink while he was gone to the washroom? Of course, this is breaking one of the cardinal sins of the bar-hopper--never leave your drink on the bar to go and piss in a urinal, even if you hurry back without washing your hands just to see if it's still there where you left it.
When he came back, it was still there. He smiled at the bartender, who hadn't even glanced at the glass the whole time. It hadn't moved at all, which isn't surprising, considering that it was an inanimate object with no method of moving itself. Harry sat down on the high stool and put one foot on the brass rail and dangled the other in the air flippantly. He took a swig of his Rum and Coke and Everything changed Forever.
Yes, everything changed. His whole universe imploded, the heavens rang with cries and shrieks, and a barmaid dropped a bottle of Zambuca onto the tiled floor. Because while he was off in the loo, his glass was being laced with a highly concentrated form of L.S.D. Harry would never know the identity of the perpetrator. This was far more serious than a simple high-schoolish prank. But rest assured that the potent drug was added to the Rum and Coke for a reason.
As he gulped down the Rum, the substance absorbed into his stomach lining, and, before long, was taking a blind ride through his copper blood. It wasn't going to affect him until 30 minutes later, when he had arrived home to see the monopoly set spread out on his carpet, right in the middle of the living room, with God and the Devil lying on their stomachs.
No, for now, he was still in the bar, and his feet were on the sticky threadbare carpet. The waitress picked up the pieces of glass with her weathered hands. Two slightly fat cab drivers were sitting on stools beside her, looking at her slightly erotic ass. Harry felt a little tired and decided to head home. He had the car keys but he handed them to someone claiming to be a "designated driver". It turned out to be a car thief who was at least considerate enough to let Harry off at his house before rolling into the night, with Harry's Sunfire buzzing like a mosquito on 'roids.
Harry unlocked the door clumsily, because he had to piss and his hands were full of groceries. He had an IGA on his corner and on the way home, the man who had stolen his car had been kind enough to stop and help him pick up the necessities of life: beer, cigarettes, kraft dinner, chocolate milk, pizza pockets, and a copy of Rolling Stone, thrown in impulsively at the cash register.
Harry stepped into the house and threw the bags to the floor. He ran to the bathroom and kicked the door open, tripping over the wastebasket and nearly smacking his forehead on the wall of the shower. His bathroom was a kind of grey so ghastly that it must have had carnal relations with yellow at some point in its past. There was a thick layer of mildew on the floor of his shower, like a coat of spackled grey primer. Harry made a mental note to buy some C.L.R. next time he was at the local Kresge, K-Mart, Zellers, or other fine stores. He unzipped quickly, emptying out all those Rum and Cokes into the bowl. The L.S.D. had finally integrated itself into his brain. It was pushing all sorts of buttons, making mental connections out of loose synapse. Fractal thoughts began to swoop in, and Harry felt a little bit dizzy. He attributed this to the booze, which sometimes led him into fearsome black-outs, chains of events that seemed bizarre at the time, and which he wouldn't even remember the day after.
He re-zipped, looked himself over in the smeared mirror, and walked towards the living room. He was looking at his hands, which he had dribbled on accidentally while examining a mole. The mole was benign, so he was only suffering from paranoia. The problem was, if he let his guard down, his own body might take its revenge on him. Moles would lead to cancer or other disorders, clots within the membrane, little colonies of flesh that resisted his will to live. Traitors. So how could he ignore a mole, especially one that kind of looked like Oprah Winfrey?
He had a half-second of thought about how usually, moles don't look like television celebrities. They usually look like skin growths, not faces with real eyes and a mouth. What followed that half second was another half second of seeing God and the Devil lying down on his carpet, sprawled in front of a Monopoly board, with their money all lined up beneath the borders . God was a white wraith with a pink heart glowing faintly within Its breast. God was asexual, like a flower. The devil was most definitely male, with a round face and a sort of barrel-sized chest. He had glasses with pointy, red rims and he was wearing a Nike t-shirt and Adidas cross trainers. He had horns, but they looked suspiciously like Nokia cellphones, each growing perpendicularly from his hairless skull.
The devil smiled in a stupid sort of way and said, "Ready to rock and roll?" God shrugged and illuminated the spot across from him, a 4 foot section of carpet, which would later become one of the key attractions at St. Joseph's Oratory. Harry had imagined the carpet behind golden rope, in the Holy Shrine of Relics. Tourists from Buffalo, New York would stare at the carpet and say, "Wow. God touched that with His light... Are we going to Buffet Maharajah for supper?"
So Harry did what his instincts told him. He grew some chicken skin, meaning his hair stood on end like tent poles planted in the ground, and he crouched down in front of the Monopoly board. God had already taken the Shoe, and the devil had the Car. Harry wiped his hands on his jeans and chose the Dog. They rolled, one by one, and Harry swore that the dice felt warm after the devil handled them with his hairy, sweaty palms. He rolled a 6. All three of them had rolled a 6. The odds of this happening were one in two hundred and sixteen. God sighed and rolled again. Since he had no arms, he would simply levitate the dice, cause them to spin in the air, and then let them drop chaotically. He got an 8. Harry smiled, but stopped when the devil frowned at him. One of the cellphones lit up. The devil had received a text message from Richard Simmons. He pledged his allegiance to the dark lord, and apologized for missing that dinner party on New Year's eve. The devil would soon strike him with a light dose of cholera before forgiving him and taking more dance lessons from the master.
God made the heavens spit lightning for effect and then rolled the dice onto the board. Despite the fact that God was clearly asexual, Harry felt more comfortable thinking of him as an English-speaking man. This is how most Westerners picture their Creator. The dice plummeted to the board and landed on a 1, advancing God to Baltic Avenue. Next, the Devil, who was to his immediate right, rolled and got a 5. He cackled and handed 200 dollars to Harry, who had taken it upon himself to be the bank.
Harry felt that there was no need for conversation, or not just yet. Something told him to ride this one out. What's the point of offending one's guests, especially two so highly ranked in the food chain? He looked around at his sloppy living room, full of newspapers and "final notice" bills still in their original envelopes, unopened, and cursed himself for not having cleaned up the place after work the day before. He hoped that they hadn't looked in his bedroom. It was even worse.
It was Harry's turn. He rolled a 10 and was just visiting the Jail. The devil and God continually kept smacking each other faintheartedly, but roughly just the same. Harry, in a mood of conciliation, offered them a drink. God shook his head and the devil pulled a Fruitopia out of his knapsack that had been lying next to him. He drank it in one swig. Harry got up just the same, taking advantage of the break to stretch his legs and analyze the situation. Why were these people--not people but beings--in his living room? Where did this event rank in the cosmic scale of things? Did this pair often travel together, just to give unsuspecting people heart arrhythmias? Harry decided not to question his faith. He figured that God was just playing a little practical joke. It was the day before April fool's day, the anniversary of the holiest Pagan holiday.
Harry hadn't expected the devil to look so irreverent. He had always pictured a smiling, mustachioed imp with pointy ears and monstrous horns, not Nokia cellphones. He didn't understand why God was so small either. He didn't look at all like he was supposed to according to all those movies or even the roof of that Chapel in Italy. He was far less impressive than one would assume, especially for Someone who allegedly created the entire cosmos.
Harry ran his fingers through his stringy, unwashed hair and walked to the fridge. Fearing God's wrath, he ignored the Heinekens and palmed a bottle of water. It had come out of the cleanest, most polished tap in all of France, water drawn right out of the Seine River in Paris. Independant testing would give it away as filthy water, but luckily Harry had no idea how to check the potability of water, nor did he feel the need to. The fancy blue label looked nice, and all his friends at the gym swore by it, between sets with the rowing machine.
By the time Harry got back to the living room, God and the devil had begun an arm wrestling match. The amazing thing was that just a few moments ago, God didn't really have any arms. He must have produced them from sheer will just to challenge the dark demon at his own game. Harry didn't say anything for fear of distracting them, and sat down quietly at his place. The devil winked at him and beat God in one swift motion. God didn't utter a word, but then again, what was he supposed to say? That he was not infallible after all? Highly unlikely. He probably let the devil win, just to make him feel better for the whole "banishment from the gates of heaven" thing.
God turned to Harry. Harry felt light-headed, as if he had been climbing a mountain while carrying a rucksack on his bony back. Words seemed to emanate from all around him, not from God himself.
"Harry...my child...we are here to ask you a single question."
God paused for effect.
The devil quickly asked "Where's a good strip-joint around here? I mean a real good one, not like the ones in New Brunswick. I mean full-on, hardcore..."
God summoned two angels who restrained the devil and placed a muzzle made of spider webs over his mouth. God resumed his silence, before causing everyone to disappear except for him and Harry. Harry felt unable to move or speak. He farted and felt like a sinner.
"Don't feel ashamed. You are of Me. Anyhow, where was I? Oh yeah. I Am here to ask you one question. Why did I put you here?"
Harry felt dumbfounded. What a question! He had been asking himself that one for a long, long time. He strained his brain to the seams, searching all those long lost Bible study classes and episodes of Seventh Heaven. He thought about all the things he had seen and heard, all those countless events which had impacted him all the way up to this instant. He summoned all of the courage he had in his soul, and then quietly said,
"To make a difference."
God nodded. Harry was pleased. He felt like he was getting somewhere. God scratched himself with the freshly-created arms beneath His veil, which was transparent and looked empty. Harry didn't doubt this moment for a second. It was far too authentic, like when Mohammed began to jot down those flowery phrases in a language that he barely wrote, or when Moses saw the burning bush begin to chant in ominous tones. Harry wondered if he was a prophet, like they had been.
"Harry, you're one of my favourite people. You aren't the smartest, nor the most pious...actually, you're not the best at anything. Well, I'm sort of getting off track. Really, the one saving grace that you have is your devotion to everyone else, your immense trust of strangers. Some would call you nave, or even vulnerable, but I have another name for you...The sheep of God."
"Sheep?" Harry asked.
"Yes, I know that the terminology still needs some work, but you're a Sheep. You follow the rules, for the most part, and you do this so un-spectacularly that I know that you're special. Not special in the "everyone is special in God's Eye's" way, but special in that you believe in all of my creations so completely. Even my Son (God said this word a tad bit lower) wasn't as loyal to my grand vision."
"You mean Jesus?"
"No, didn't you study the Bible? Jesus is part of me, just like the Holy Ghost. We are affiliated into the same being. No, my son, the one your people called David Koresh."
"No offense, Mr. God, but wasn't he just some wacko from Waco? Wasn't he, well wasn't he a cult leader who had false delusions of grandeur?"
"Of course not! He was my son, sent to correct all the errors on the earth. Problem is, once he became earth-bound, he figured that saving the planet was impossible, and he just started having intercourse with all of his followers and stockpiling weapons, waiting for his time to return to my side in heaven. I didn't want to interfere in the ways of man, so I let the Feds go in and take him out. That's not to say that I don't care, but remember that I love you all, and I was busy trying to save all those Africans from that horrible ebola epidemic at the time. And don't even get me started on the Tutsis and the Hutus..."
"So, if you'll pardon my ignorance, God, David Koresh was really your son?"
"Well, in human terms, no. But I created him, just as I created you."
Harry gulped. "Me?"
"Yes. I am usually against trying things twice, but I think that this time, we'll obtain our objective. You're part of the team, Harry. I want you to build a church."
"But I don't know anything about a church! All I remember from all those services is how the host tastes like Styrofoam and that we have to murmur something incoherent when the priest gives us that look."
"That part isn't important. Just make it up as you go along. All I want you to do is to remind everyone that I Exist, and that they should respect one another. And don't think that your job won't come without frills. I promise you eternal life, a seat beside me in Heaven should you ever decide to retire from ruling the earth, and a really good social benefits package. Since you're a good guy, I'll even break the rules and give you 90% dental coverage. You hear that? 90%, provided that you pay in full up front, and then I'll credit your bank account overnight."
"Well, it does sound very interesting..."
"Ah, hardball, eh? O.K., O.K., I'll even let you remain 100% human. No chastity, in other words. As long as you spread my message, feel free to spread anything else you want, know what I mean?"
Harry began to wonder if God was going through a mid-life crisis of some sort. He thought about the premise, and decided.
"God, it's a deal. When do I start?"
"Right after you beat Me and the devil at monopoly. That is your test of faith."
"Isn't this a form of gambling?"
"Just don't repeat it to anyone. I invented the whole cosmos...what do you want from me? A deity needs to have some sort of entertainment once in a thousand millenia."
"Of course. But what if I lose?"
"That's where the devil comes in. He had bet me that you couldn't convince all the humans that I was the One and Only. I argued, and we decided to challenge you to this game, just to prove that you had strength of character and good stress-management skills. I can't stand earthly avatars of my Will that can't handle pressure. I felt that this would be appropriate."
"But there's one thing I never understood. God, you are all about love and peace, yet the earth is such a place torn with conflict and anger...is it the devil's fault?"
"My plan is not for you to understand."
"That sounds suspiciously similar to what my parents used to say when I asked them..."
"O.K., O.K.," said God emphatically. "I'll fill you in. I wanted mankind to figure it out for themselves."
"Yes, but I grew tired of waiting. So far, the only people's that have remained true to my vision are the ones that get trampled on. I've been sitting here for thousands of years, waiting for you noble savages to change your swords into lawnmowers. Peace is the only way to go. Didn't you ever hear that Beatles song? I just don't understand humanity sometimes..."
God's voiced trailed off until it grew faint and delicate. His arms had retracted to someplace unimaginable, and now Harry began to really pay attention to his features. He had a face that looked like it was made of silk, with no mouth or eyes. It reminded Harry of a pillow he had once seen at the Ikea on the outskirts of town. God had a pleasant odour; he smelled of rasberries and Old Spice. He had no feet either, but since he levitated instead of walking, he didn't really need them.
Harry sniffled. He felt like he was coming down with a cold. He wondered if God would help him out.
"Another thing I've been dying to ask you is why each religion gets so confused as to your true origin. Also, which is the one true faith?"
"Well, Personally, I am quite fond of the Society of Friends."
"Isn't that a television sitcom? You know, the one with Ross and Monica..."
"No, my son...the Friends are commonly known as the Quakers."
"Ah yes, the nice people who make all that oatmeal?"
God shook his head and his pink heart began to flutter within his breast. Harry was aware of this because God's chest was transparent. Harry started to bite his tongue so hard that it bled a little.
"Harry, the Quakers are a good people. But nobody is any better than anyone else. You humans are all from the same seed, descended from single cell creatures that I planted on the earth five hundred thousand years ago. It was my first attempt at making a perfect world. I have always been an underachiever. I think it goes back to my parents, and the way my father never let me go through that black hole...*sob*"
Harry grew deeply afraid. Somehow the idea of God crying made him feel that the world was about to end. He decided to console Him. He gulped.
"Can I put my arm around you?"
"It is better not to. Most people dissolve into ashes and dust if they even see me. But then again, I guess I am the Omnipotent One, the Lord of All Things...so...O.K. Go ahead. I promise you won't die."
The two sat side by side, staring at the monopoly board. Man put his arm around Deity, and for a moment, everyone in the world felt like they were in their mother's arms, safe and warm.
God brightened up with the display of courage Harry had unwillingly displayed. God had told a little fib. Nobody crumbles to ashes and dust. They just disperse their energy throughout all things, and their molecules spin into the stars. God had desperately wanted a hug, someone to cry out to. For once, he had a vent for all his frustration.
"Harry, I've gone astray. I should never have let those Americans louse everything up."
"But we didn't do anything so wrong...we were just trying to build a great nation, in your honour."
"Building a great nation does not equate with bombing Vietnamese schoolchildren with jellied napalm. And the way you won't share all those AIDS drugs, protecting your pharmaceutical companies...Sometimes, it's almost enough to turn me Atheist."
They shared a brief laugh, before considering the Holy Contradiction. God made a bluebird appear, and it began to chirp a springtime minuet.
"So who is the devil?"
"Well, I guess that you could say that the Hindus got most of it right. They understand that I am part of all things, that I created this big mess, and that one day, I'll cast it aside with a sweep of My Hand. But just like every other religion, they confused their own destiny and ambitions with my will. Now they want to kill all those Muslims in Pakistan...sigh..."
"Don't beat yourself up over all this. How were you supposed to know that humans would be so cruel?"
"True enough. But I started this existence. Why couldn't I have imbued all life with a sense of respect for one another, instead of this driving impulse for survival? I think that was My major screw-up."
"But we forgot my question. Who is the devil exactly?"
"He is the physical manifestation of My Own self-doubt. When I get depressed, he shows up to make me look foolish."
"Why don't you just get rid of him?"
"I can't. It wouldn't be fair."
"Because if I just obey My own will, the world would be as bland and flavourless as day-old McDonalds french fries. The devil helps to spice things up. And you blame him for everything. He is as necessary to this existence as I am. Also, he throws the wildest New Year's parties. Last year, let me tell you, he got me and Jesus so drunk..."
"You drink?", Harry said meekly.
"Don't speak so low or you might just inherit the earth. Yes, I do drink occaisionally, only socially of course..."
"But you don't, well, no offense, but...uhh..."
"Spit it out, my son."
"Well, you're not human. How could you get intoxicated?"
"Through Jesus, my human form, of course."
"I thought that you said that he wasn't your son?"
"He isn't. He's like my left leg. And the Holy Ghost is more like my accountant."
"So You three are One?"
"More or less. Hey, all of these questions are getting tiresome. Let's cut to the quick."
"You'll have to excuse me, God...It's not every day that I meet a celebrity."
"What do you mean? Didn't you once meet Jerry Seinfeld back in 1997? I remember...you were at your Uncle's wake in Reno, and he happened to be walking by the Rest Home...remember?"
"Oh yeah, but You are far more important than some comedian, right?"
"Of course. But still, I'm just trying to point out the fact that your respect even extends to me. That's what I like about you. That is why I want you to beat the devil and Me at monopoly, so that you can get on with building my church."
"O.K. Bring him back, if You think that it's important."
Harry began to enter a sort of catatonic state while remaining conscious. He was quite unaware, but the L.S.D. was boring holes in his brain. It was making all sorts of illogical realities co-exist, where honest politicians danced with goodhearted executioners, and animals spoke mystical languages. If you look closely at the thoughts of a madman, you'll find a lot of scary stuff.
So the Two turned into Three, and they played that game of Monopoly. Harry suspected that God had tipped the odds into his favour, especially since he mortgaged Boardwalk for no apparent reason every time that Harry approached it on the board with his Dog. The devil was suffering from a sort of itching malady and his fingernails kept continually digging into his red pasty flesh. It was as if the itch was beneath the skin. God kept scolding him and telling him to roll the dice.
Harry won. Then, God beckoned him and made him levitate into his bed. When he woke up, the board wasn't there. God and the devil weren't there either. All he had was a dull throbbing in his head. At least his cold was gone, and even the mole that looked like Oprah was gone. He smiled. Everything was so clear now. He had to save the world, for God Himself.
© Philip Shearing 2001