Souls, Angels, Devils, God, and gods. Certain tales are best understood through the lens of religion.
Murderers have a special planet they go to when they die. Kepler 22b. Oh yes. Attorneys who represent them don't know that. Well, no one really knows that.
I know all about it now. I was accused of murdering Harrison Reed, Esquire. The train thundered toward him, its sharp light pinning him like a spear. He stood in the center of the tracks facing it, not moving. Defiant. Impotent. The night seemed to laugh around him.
He opened his arms to greet the onrushing locomotive, waiting for its juggernaut embrace. In its glowing headlight he saw a glimmer of what humans called Heaven. "So it's like this, Beth..." God stubbed out his cigarette in the ashtray and leaned across the bar, close enough for me to smell his cheap cologne. "I'm not omnipotent."
"But you're God." I took a swig of my beer. "The all-knowing." The Devil and The Blues
Met the devil one day, drinking coffee at my favorite breakfast cafe. Devil was looking at me while I was reading my paper. It was 2 a.m., a time of day so thin that nothing seemed real, but the tubes cycling in and out of my husband like external blood vessels, his monitors' rhythmic beeps of electronic pulses, the ventilator's hiss and sigh, all kept pulling me back to a reality I didn't want to accept. The doctors had told me Robert was "actively dying." Actively dying? What did that mean? Pale, emaciated, and immobile, Robert's coma seemed the antithesis of any action.
His parents and sister hadn't yet arrived; unable to resign from their jobs as I had mine, they'd given up their constant vigil months ago, so by the bed I sat alone with my husband of twenty years. My continual presence and loving attention hadn't been enough to bring him back to life, to actively living. The man, sitting at the desk, thinks he is alone. His head is bowed and his fingers touch the edge of a grainy photograph. All day he radiates youth and energy, but here he lets himself feel the pain that gnaws at his bones. Weariness shows in the slump of his shoulders, in the sag of his chin. War, pain, grief--all these things have bowed him, but never broken him. He is not the kind of man we can touch.
But now we have our chance. His finger taps what looks like cigars laid upon the ground, if Cuban cigars can be twenty feet long. I taste despair. It rolls across my tongue like a fine brandy; I savor it before I speak. "I can make that go away." Begin with water.
Cup it in your hands. You can feel its utter lack of character. It has no texture; it has no resistance. It is substance, and yet it is emptiness. It possesses nothing of its own. It cannot give; it can only borrow. At the first chill of winter in Delphi, Aristonike's husband was struck with fever and died. Aristonike washed his gnarled body with her calloused hands and placed one of their few coins in his mouth. Her two boys and their wives helped with careful piety, while her grandchildren squawked and squalled.
With the funeral done and quiet restored, Aristonike was confirmed in her decision: she would not live with either of her boys' families. Her sons' wives were pleasant, but that would change if she stuck her nose into it. She'd be bound to tell those proud girls to dirty their hands and milk their own goats, for starters. No, she would go someplace where she wouldn't cause trouble. Amraphel curled his already hunched body atop the chest of the first sleeper Dream had assigned him that night, her location plucked from the parchment he had been given long ago which remained blank until the dreamer was nearly ready. As the woman snored, her torso bucking irregularly, he rode spasmodically up and down in the darkness, cursing his luck.
He already resented the humans upon which he preyed, but he hated even more the members of that species who snored. They distracted him as he worked, and degraded what was meant to be a noble and uplifting process. Each unconscious snort, each jerk of the woman's head as she struggled to breathe, only served to deepen his pain, underlining the unfairness that humans, so roughly hewn, so clumsily conceived, could do what he could not, reminding him that while it was in their nature to easily tap into the divine, he could only--as a function of his centuries-long apprenticeship--borrow it, but never own it. I've never liked this airport. The endless corridors of white on white remind me of a hospital, but this is the only place I can talk to Stewart after the heart attack. He's not always here, but I come every day to look for him.
Today he's sitting in his favorite spot in the departure gate, a corner seat connected to a low table. I tried sitting on the table once, but we can't talk unless I sit on his right, where I was for the trip to Hawaii. Death's dead lover sits opposite him, his chest still, his flesh a mirage.
Jerome is naked, as spirits are, and he seems so real Death imagines if he reached out he could stroke the dark satin skin, the rough-hewn muscle underneath. But were he to reach out, his hand would simply melt through air longing to be human, so he doesn't. Jake called from Heaven again. When the phone started ringing, I glanced at the call display. As usual I didn't recognize the number. It's always different, and not always an actual number as such. This time it had a lower-case lambda in it. 212-3-λ-something or other.
So I didn't answer the phone. I just let it go to voicemail. If it's important, I told myself, they'll leave a message. The suicide witch crushes glass in her leather gloves. Shards crumble like crackers over soup, filling her metal bucket. The witch's fingers squeak together in the damp cellar air. Glitter escapes over the worktable's edge, like white stars vanishing in the low torchlight. A peasant girl lies dead on a funeral board, her dress nailed to the wood in thirteen places.
The witch's name is Yim, but none call her that. She lives under the noble house of Jiang in the province of Kung-lao, in a cellar with puddles like rice paddies. In the summer, fat flies buzz around her face until she swats them down. In the winter, her knees ache, and she coughs in the dampness as if she were an old hag. But Yim's ragged hair is black without silver, and her face shows no lines. She can still see in the dark. The heavy church door swung open and a bald-headed Monk peered out. "Jesus won't see anyone until after dark. You'll have to come back later."
"Wait," Nick grabbed the door. "I'm a reporter. I called earlier--" The monk scowled and looked Nick up and down. Nick let go of the door. When they came for her father, he hugged her tight and whispered into her ear, "Never forget your daddy loves you." Even as they tore her from his arms, she promised with all the earnestness a child of seven can muster that she would never, ever forget.
And she didn't, even when they handed her over to a stony-faced woman who told her to forget her father, then smacked her face until her mouth bled when she balked at this new name she couldn't even pronounce. In the orphanage to which that woman delivered her, she comforted herself with memories of his love when the staff took glee in pointing her out as a criminal's get so all the children would taunt her and nobody would ever dare break ranks and be her friend, lest they too be contaminated. Mary Shelton steps into the kitchen of her efficiency apartment on Christmas morning and quietly fixes a small pot of coffee. Long ago divorced, with no children and no family living close by, Mary is prepared for a solitary Christmas day. While the coffee pot burbles and drips, she turns on the television for some company.
A reporter speaks excitedly. "...a phenomenon that cannot be accounted for. I repeat, this is not a hoax. Police stations across America began receiving calls in the early hours today, when individuals across the country phoned to report the break-ins. Police Chief Richard Burley is here with me at the station." Things you were supposed to believe in, but you didn't really until He told you for certain:
Heaven. "Here's a good one," Kali said. The left corner of her mouth was curved up like a dog-eared page: her trickster smile. In her hand was a crumpled parchment with ancient letters scrawled messily across it. "'Please strike down this impious philosopher with your mighty lightning.' Unsigned."
Horatio moved beside her and tried to stare over her shoulder. "Addressed to whom?" It begins the same as always, with the sound of the shovel scraping over the country road. I sit upon the dashboard of the idling car--being a turtle, it's the only way I can see--watching as the old woman lifts her shovel, carrying the mangled carcass of a squirrel.
She opens the rear door and places the squirrel into a shoebox on the back seat. The smell is not pleasant, but I say nothing. She seals the lid. The piece of amber that held the inclusion--the fragment of shed snakeskin--had arrived in a load from Iraq, between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. There were also twelve pieces that had leaves and tiny bits of bark--a fruit tree, it would turn out. When the material was isolated, removed, and its DNA analyzed, the company--one of the "species resurrection" companies providing collectors, museums and wealthy consumers with product--knew it had both a non-venomous snake of a new genus and a fruit-bearing tree in the ficus genus. When the techs had made their report, a young man in Marketing suggested that they package the two as the "Eden Pair." The amber, after all, was from one of the three locations that might, scholars believed, have been the location of the mythic Garden of Eden. "A snake and a tree," his boss responded. "Why not?"
The tech responsible for DNA scanning noticed anomalies, but had seen such things before. Like leglessness in some lizards, it wasn't a red flag. What mattered to the company was that it wasn't venomous and that it couldn't breed with living species. If the buyer wanted more, the company would clone them. Zaphira spoke to God. It wasn't that she had been taught to, or that she was at a loss for conversation partners. It was mainly that no one else was interested in talking metaphysics with a four year old. The other children at daycare would stare blankly, and if she became too insistent Miss Carnegie sent her to Quiet Corner. Which was where she was now.
She rocked forward on the Quiet Corner carpet until her forehead bumped against the dust-colored wall. She closed her eyes and pressed her fingers against the lids creating bursts of color that matched the rhythm of the bumping. Alexandre found Samson exactly where the card said. The card hadn't mentioned the gun or the explosives or the twenty-
seven ashen-faced hostages, but he could work with that. It's somebody's birthday. Streamers tangled in the chain-link fence--a spotted pit bull with a party hat strapped to his flap-grinned face. So I know it's somebody's birthday, and soon I'll remember whose. Soon I'll remember arriving here or who is going to take me home.
I close my eyes and there are countless unknowable faces behind my eyelids and they want to touch me, want to know, like there's something they could steal from just underneath my skin-- "You seem to have brought one heck of a sword here. Four and a half feet long, black steel blade. Can you tell me what you know about it?"
"Well, my grandfather was the treasurer for one of the dark lords, over in the Southlands. And, you know how it is. Sometimes he'd bring home little things that wouldn't be missed--caught up with him in the end. Liver eaten out by demons on a rock in hell, or something like that. We send him a card at the holidays, but I don't know if he reads it. Anyhow, this was one of the things that he brought back. We used to love it as kids--used it to cut pumpkins in half, and we'd chase each other around with it." Stalker feels the leers of wall-leaning pool-players slide along her spandex dress--she's worth gazes, even though she gilds her hair to hide sneaking gray.
You understand that the aforementioned Body is designed for no more than seventy (70) years of operation, and that attempts to employ said Body for any period beyond the aforementioned duration carries no guarantee that it will function in any capacity. You understand further that We have no control over the actions of other vendors, and that consequently the Body selected for your use may be subject to the actions of other models not within Our control, including infection, infestation, deformation, and decomposition before the expiration of the design period. It started with a thumb. Tiny and pale, it came in a slim, padded envelope that fit through the mail slot in my front door. A week later, I received a toe--the big one, possibly for a right foot. A week after that, the pinkie finger of a left hand, no bigger than a kidney bean. Each item was made to my precise specifications and guaranteed one-of-a-kind. I laid out my growing collection on the table in my workroom and spent countless hours trying to surmise the eventual results from those small clues.
During the fourth week I received an ear; pink with curving cartilage like a strange seashell, a souvenir gathered from an exotic beach. Next came an eye with a blue topaz iris, the color reminding me of the waters at the ocean where I spent the summers of my own childhood. With steady hands, the watchmaker inserted the tiny cog into the back of the timepiece. Clocks of various shapes and sizes occupied the workshop around him. Outside, the winter storm blew.
Amidst the cacophony of ticks and tocks, the occasional chime and bell, came a knock at the cottage door. The watchmaker paid it no mind, but continued to work with unyielding concentration on his most intricate design. Meanwhile, a cold draft gusted in as the door opened and a tall, heavy stranger, wrapped in burlap and furs, hunched down to enter. Snow dusted his clothes. Ice clung to his lashes and beard. The water's glassy surface reflects the boardwalk and the mist that drifts above it. Pine scent lingers in the chill air. The only sounds are the clomp-clomp-clomp of your feet, the slow rumble of the bicycle's tires across the uneven planks, the tick-tick-tick of the chain winding over the gears. Soon even these come to a halt.
Steps lead down to the water. The angel floated just below the rafters of Amy's bedroom. It glowed like a Christmas ornament: rainbow colours shimmering across its translucent, slow-sculling wings. Its soft radiance filled the darkened room.
That demi winter night, Thrash stood on the passage stone, a hundred meters from the village walls. During the long hours his eyes had grown accustomed to the dark, and when he glanced at the sky the stars were brighter than he'd ever imagined: dazzling, mocking.
The wind's knife cut at his bare chest, flensing flesh to bone. Thrash longed for the warmth of his wool-lined leather coat. But that was a boy's thought. Men did not wear such things. "Here," says Nina, "hold this," and she puts it in my hand. That's how I come to be holding the stone when the world ends.
It's hard to tell at first what's happening. We've been standing on the beach in the bleak afternoon light, gray shore and gray sea, sand and spray whipped into a fine stinging mist by the December wind. We were beachcombing. Well, Nina was beachcombing. She said we ought to have a walk, for old times' sake, after the meeting with the lawyers but before the whole thing was done.
Souls, Angels, Devils, God, and gods. Certain tales are best understood through the lens of religion.
by Day Al-Mohamed
Ding! The first bell of the New Year. Corporal Michael Bradley's gaze flew to the chronometer that glowed faintly in the heads-up display of his armor. He had waited all year for this. People always thought that All Hallows Eve or All Souls Day was when the living could speak with the dead, but the Romans were the ones who understood that the true day of communication with the afterlife was New Years Eve--Janus of Two Faces, one looking back at the past and one looking forward to the future. It was a truth that every soldier knew and held closest to his heart.
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