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“Ah, my favorite part.”
Opening my eyes, I feel hung-over, cotton-headed, I want to puke. I hear, “Ah, my favorite part”. My eyes jar open, little more each time. I see vanilla. I see wonderbread.
I see a white room, painfully lit, stylish new virgin furniture. Unblemished, all of it. And not a door. Not a window. Not even a corner.
“What a stupid little fuck you are,” I hear, a honeyed voice of practiced irony, hint of pity, sprinkle of derision, three heaping teaspoons of contempt. “I know what your insignificant brain is thinking, hmmm,” I hear, and cast my blinking around the room for a source. “I know what thoughts percolate down from your technologist’s calculator of tissue and blood and mucous. Down – drip, drip, drip – to your fat-lipped mouth, and you want to speak.”
“Wha--” I sputter.
“You want to mar this pure space with insignificant observations. Pollute it. Pollute it with a thousand idiotic questions of the damned and unaware.”
“Sputtering in confusion. Sputtering like a helmeted halfwit just crashed down the stairs wondering why his feeties hurt.”
He appears before me, crouching at my right. Smiling humourlessly. He offers me a hand. A trick? Still squatting, hand still outstretched. He won’t move until I take him up on the offer. I place my hand in his and he pulls me up into a standing position. Effortlessly. I’m still . . . I’m still confused. Don’t understand how I got to this room – where’s the door? And no TV either. I blink at my – at my captor? At my . . . what is he? Rotund fellow in a stained white t-shirt, blue farmer’s cap says “G-Gary’s Chicken ‘n’ Ribs,” faded and torn jeans, used-to-be-white gray sneakers. This greasy looking man with stringy hair all in a mullet, bad shave job on the sides. Thick glasses on a bulbous red nose. Hasn’t shaved in, eh, a week or so. He’s glaring at me now. Responding to the implicit judgment in my eyes.
Jesus, his teeth are perfect.
“Where am I? I was in a store last thing I remember, buying milk. I went in to buy a liter of milk for the cat. Where?-- now I’m . . . I’m . . .”
He leans in as if to bite me; my neck instinctively snaps its master backward. “Dead,” he says.
“Dead,” I mumble. Surely he can’t mean – “Dead?”
“You are dead, Gary,” and he lays a hand on my shoulder just for show. Just for the cameras and the mothers in the wings and the millions of future voters most of them grow up to be failures, only there aren’t any. His smile grows wider, in mockery of beneficence. “Say it with me if you like,” snakes out of his smile. “Dead. D. E. A. D. Dead.”
“Dead. Oh my.”
“Dead. La mort, if you prefer.”
I don’t know what to do. Should I be happy? Surely this isn’t hell. Hell has more imagination. Should I be upset? Will people miss me? Oh . . . “Who will feed my cat?” I ask him, and before he doesn’t answer I already know he won’t. Instead, he ushers me over to a beverage table across from the earth-tone sofa that hadn’t been there a moment ago. Or it was there, but I missed an eight-foot-long solid maple table covered in an assortment of delicious beverages when I took in the room. I scoop up a bottle of orange juice, he takes a soda water and we remove our lids together, take a sip together, and regard each other in silence.
Finally, my host says, by way of being helpful, “Usually I let people figure it out by themselves, you know. That they’re dead. But sometimes I like to speed up the whole realization part and just get right to it. Still.”
“Still. Dead. Wow.”
“Still, even with my help, you – shall we say? – unenlightened creatures just can’t comprehend all at once. Have to beat the whole subject to death.” He laughs at his pun, and so did I. Mother raised me to be polite.
“But I was alive not ten minutes ago,” I protest. “The power just went out and I was. I was . . .”
“And now you’re dead.” He sighs. He takes off his cap to scratch his head. I see he wears it because he’s going bald. And I see his head is covered with sores. He scratches one of them furiously, savagely. Scab peels off, blood starts to trickle down. He puts his hat back on to absorb it.
“Look, Gary, we are not dealing with a challenging concept, are we? Everyone dies, hmm? You can tell the difference between alive and dead, can’t you?”
“Alive and dead. Suppose I can.”
“Precisely. Not too challenging. Rats know the difference. And you’re smarter than a rat, aren’t you?”
“Even a lab rat? One of those white ones?”
“Lab rat? Of course.”
“You so sure? Ever run a maze?”
“Well I . . . no, I . . .”
He let out a harsh, wheezing laugh. “No. I was kidding. Hey,” he gripped my left arm, “did you want to die?”
He nods. “Sure. Sure, most people don’t want to. Right. But what about other people? Who really gives a shit whether most other people die – who really gives a shit in the long run?”
I didn’t have an answer. He knew I wouldn’t.
“No one. Correct. Why not?”
“I don’t really . . .”
At astonishing speed, he dug his fingers into my shoulders and lunged forward, his face nearly crashing into mine. Fixing his eyes on mine, burning into mine, he whispered, “Quick Gary: name five dead people.”
“What did I tell you?” he whispered, hot dog breath filling my nostrils. “Insignificant.”
He let go of me and strolled casually to the other side of the room. “You must be faster, Gary. You must think faster.”
“Faster. I tried. Didn’t give me time.”
“Precisely the problem,” he tells me, in a schoolmaster’s voice. “Precisely the problem. If you can’t tell your ass from your elbow in lass than a second, what hope is there for you? Eh? No hope at all.”
Feeling defeated and bewildered, I tossed my body into a recliner. My body. Heh. What good is that now? What is it? Looks like me, feels like me, but I’m dead. “I was murdered,” I mumble absently, and instantly realize it’s true. “Murdered. My God.”
“Obviously not paying any attention to what I have to say,” my host snarls. I hear his feet on the bright white tiles. I hear his big feet slide over to my chair. I hear his breathing. Standing behind me.
“Wasn’t I?” I ask.
“Murdered? Isn’t that what happened?”
“Or did I just die? You can’t just die, can you?” I turned to face him. “Can you?”
“Oh!” he cries in mock horror. “And they say there’s no intelligent life after death! Oh, how can I refuse those big wondering eyes, those magnificently dull, bovine eyes?” He slumps to the floor, eyes closed. Twitching. “I’m torn!” he screams. “Torn between my mission, and, and my humanity!”
I turn away from him.
“You’re so boring, Gary. So very very boring. The stupid ones always are, but I’m an optimist you see. Each time I think things will be different. Each time I allow myself the foolish hope that the next idiot will be witty and entertaining and . . . well, interesting, to be honest.”
“Fine.” Still lying behind me, I hear, “So? Do you want to go through those not-so-pearly gates now and see whether you get an eternity of contented nudist living with all the soy milk and applesauce you could ever want, or a dank basement apartment with no heat and a noisy upstairs neighbor?”
My heart skips. Fear closes my throat, tightens my chest, cramps my belly. “Ummm . . . Can I wait?”
“Wait. He wants to wait. Perfect.”
“I want to see how my death played out. I want to know who killed me.”
“He wants to wait. Like I’ve got nothing better to do than entertain him.”
“I need to know.”
“You’ll know all you desire to know if you get option A. They’ve got all the reruns you could ever want. Live in the past, if that’s your thing. Watch FDR’s entire sad, paranoid, meaningless life play out over and over for all eternity. Hurrah.” That last didn’t sound much like a cheer.
“I need to know who killed me.”
“You don’t know.”
“No, I don’t.”
“And I’m supposed to care.”
“Care, don’t care, whatever you want. All I’m saying is that I care. It’s my life. Was my life. And I care.”
“You know more than you believe.”
I close my eyes and try to recall. I see flashes, hear snippets, but feel everything. I feel so much more than I remember. Now words, few images, scattered sounds – but always sensation. “I guess I was” and I feel a sharp pain in my side. And another. And another. “. . . stabbed.”
“I was stabbed,” I tell him. “Yeah, that sounds right. That feels – well, I’ve never been stabbed before, but I’d guess it feels a lot like, um, like what happened.”
“That’s all he has. I want my money back.”
“No, you see, everything’s so dark.”
“Dark. You mean you remember dark or don’t remember anything and you like metaphors?”
“The power went out. Yes. In the store. The power went out in the store then . . . and I remember screaming. Loud screaming, not words just sound. So loud. Then pain. Yes, the power went out and . . . wait. Why am I telling you this? You must know. Don’t you? You know. You should be telling me what happened.”
“No. Sorry. Didn’t see.” I can hear the smirk. I can hear him roll his eyes. “Come to think of it,” he teases, “I believe Golden Girls was on at that time and I think that Bea Arthur is just a doll. Rrarr. Love to have that hot meat for lunch tomorrow. Look at her, man. Irresistible. No sane man would turn down a fuck with Bea Arthur.”
“Too old for you,” I tell him, rising from my chair. “She’d break under the weight.”
“Clever! No, no, you see. She’s solid muscle. She’s as close to man as woman can be and still maintain that feminine charm. She’d go all night, one of those rough and ready retirees who’s maintains her friskiness past death. One of those bitches who gets here on the red-eye horny as all get out.”
I show my disgust through facial contortions. “Look,” I tell him, “you’re a wonderful host, but could you please just give me any useful information you have about my death. Please? Then I can be on my way and you can beat off to Golden Girls reruns on the . . . you don’t even have a television.”
“No need for one here.”
“I had a lightning bolt like in those first-life movies I’d set one off right above your thick fucking skull, watch you piss your pants. Listen to you scream. Zap ‘em through your chest, make you dance, twitch, beg. Tone. Tone you take with me. Should be more polite.” He mimes the flipping of pages. “Okay. I see. Your file here states that you’re a lawyer. Oh Gary. I hope you like the basement.”
“I’m not a bad lawyer. I deal with wills and contracts. My work doesn’t hurt anyone.” You’d think they’d be past all those fucking stereotypes after death. Think they’d get left behind along with the money and the porn. “In fact,” I tell him, haughtily to be honest, with what I hope is an appropriate measure of pride, “I am really quite dull. Or was quite dull, I suppose . . . is . . .”
“What do you remember?” He’s humoring me, I think, hiding his sarcasm. Or does he really want to help?
I tell him I remember going to the store for milk. I remember listening to the cat’s desperate pleading and watching snow blank out the world through my living room window and thinking to hell with this, I want to stay home and watch the news. I remember giving in when it became quite clear that the cat wouldn’t stop howling until it got a saucer full of whole milk. Grumbling and grimacing and glaring and groaning as I slipped on layer after layer of clothing made in third world countries by people who have never seen a single fucking snowflake in their entire lives. I remember being in the car. I remember cursing the fucking car when it wouldn’t start. A blizzard. That’s what was building. A moonless black night turned white with snow, yellow with street lamps. And I remember finally admitting to myself that no one was going to come along with jumper cables because every sane person was tucked away safely indoors. Walking to the convenience store filled with hate and self-pity.
“Yes. Thrilling. So on a snowy night you walked to your local convenience store for some milk. And when you got there.”
“And when I got there I realized I might have to spend the night.”
“Overnight. Because the storm had intensified. Winds picked up. More and more snow until I couldn’t tell whether it was day or night. The snow . . . the snow was really coming down. There was no way I could go home in that. So I stayed in the store . . . and the snow kept coming, building up a wall against the store. A . . . a . . .”
“And all I could think of was the cat’s going to be so pissed.”
He nodded out of agreement or for something to do. “Who was in the store with you?”
In truth, I hadn’t thought to notice. I don’t recall even looking around much, taking note of the people around me. Think I mostly kept my head down and thought about the cat. What I would tell the cat. How I would make it up to the cat. “Hmmm.”
“Hmmm. I need more than that.”
“Hmmm. Okay. Let’s see. There were clerks.”
“Clerks. Yes. How many?”
“Two. Right. Craig and Linda. I know them. They’ve both been working there a while. Craig’s tall and bitter and his eyes poke out from dark caverns. And Linda knows a lot about everything, about the whole world, except that she doesn’t know shit.”
“Craig and Linda. Go on.”
“And there was a scruffy-looking kid. Wasn’t at the counter. Scruffy-looking kid about 15, maybe a big 14. Hung around by the magazines. Waiting for a chance to grab one and dash out. Not dressed for the weather. And a . . . a guy. And his girlfriend. Girlfriend was in line ahead of me, and she keeps yelling back at the guy who’s running around the store from one aisle to the next trying to keep up with her demands. More jerky, get orange juice, you brought the wrong toilet paper. That sort of thing.”
“Right. Demanding. Buying a lot of stuff. Don’t know who was paying for it. She or the guy. They knew Linda. In between screaming to the guy, she and Linda are chatting about the storm. They’re telling each other ten different ways each that it’s a bad storm.”
“Two clerks. Kid. Guy and girlfriend, or woman and boyfriend. That’s all.”
“That’s the lot.” I can’t believe how fast it came back to me once I started talking. All this information I didn’t know that I know, hiding in there, waiting for my big red mucous membranes to part ways.
“So,” he says, grinning at me, whispering conspiratorially, “which one do you think would have killed you?”
“Must have been the kid,” I answer without the slightest hesitation. “He was scruffy-looking – did I mention that?”
“Once or twice. Sure of that?”
“That he was scruffy looking?”
“That he was scruffy-looking, he says. No. Are you certain that it was the kid, that the kid killed you?”
“I don’t think it was the kid. Trust me on that one.”
“Because he’s on his way. Be here any second now.”
I stared at him. Disbelieving. And I ask him can he really tell who’s going to die.
“Not always,” he answers with a shrug of casual humility. “But sometimes it’s written plain as day
* * *
I wake up like I’m in a dream, like I fell asleep only it feels like waking up and for a minute I don’t know the difference. I prop myself up on my elbows and I see I’m in a white room filled with must be ass-ugly lawn chairs. The one guy looks like a hot-dog vendor at a monster truck rally. The other guy I remember, but I don’t know where I met him. The vendor strolls over like he doesn’t know whether to throw me out or send me to a lab for study.
“Over the years I have worked at this job,” he tells the room, “I have come to recognize different types of souls and their reaction to being reborn in the afterlife.”
He stops, his feet touching my waist. Without looking up, I know that a mountain is looming over me, ready to crack. Crush me any time it wants. But he smiles at me, like he means it. “I like you,” he says. “You take it calmly, more matter-of-factly than most.”
He helps me up and I say, “Shit. I was kinda hopin’ one o’ you would be naked . . . and a chick of course. You’re both dudes, right?”
The vendor’s face falls. “And then you ruin my mood by sounding as stupid as you look. I can’t begin to thank you. Really.”
I can’t understand why he’s being such an asshole. Really, I thought I should say something smart, something that would totally shut him up, but my mind is empty.
“Empty. Yes,” he says. “Okay then, doesn’t matter. I know which direction you’re headed.”
He turns to the other guy, the guy from the store. That guy seems really agitated, excited about something. Finally he bursts out with, “Kid! We’re dead!”
“We died in the store!”
“Obviously.” What’s wrong with him?
“I was killed. Were you killed, too?” Then the crazy bastard lifts up his shirt to show me all these bloody holes, wounds. “This is where I was stabbed! I think.”
“Can’t be sure,” he says.
“Can’t be sure. Jesus,” says the vendor.
“What else could they be?” I ask.
“Gary, lower your shirt,” the vendor orders him and he obeys. So that’s his name. “And yes, Reinhold,” he says to me, “both of you died in the store. Gary here was telling me all about it. You missed a positively thrilling tale.”
And then, fuck me, that Gary guy starts to cry. Wailing, sobbing, moaning. Most pathetic sight I’ve ever seen. I mean, what good’s it gonna do if he’s already dead. Have some goddamm dignity. Moaning and screaming and begging. Lots of “I don’t want to die” mixed with “Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!” and a few “Please, can’t you send me back please I want to go back” and a lot of shit I don’t understand about an angry cat. The vendor turns his back on Gary and heads for the lawn chairs. Gary’s begging him again: “Please please please. Don’t we play chess or something? Huh? And if I win you have to let me go? That’s how it works, right? A phone call? A lawyer? A last supper?”
The vendor flashes Gary a smile at that last one. He sits in a lawn chair, which then rises off the floor and spins till the Vendor’s facing Gary, and Gary’s all like in prayer at the Vendor’s feet. Like he’s a commoner and the vendor’s a king or something. “Gary,” he says, regally, “let me make a few essential facts absolutely clear. One: I am not death. Death has no persona. It is a law of the universe, just like gravity. You cannot play Scrabble with gravity in order to fly – why should death be any different?”
“Dumbass,” I mumble under my breath so it’s totally wasted on him. I wish I’d said it louder.
“I am what you might call an angel, Gary. Or maybe a demon – two sides to a coin and all that. My job is to orient new souls to their beautiful – or in the case of you two, dreary – new after-death surroundings. Your new environments. Your new contexts. You might say, I’m in charge of quarantine.”
Gary reaches out with one of his hands, dramatically. Like William Shatner. “No! First we have to learn who killed us . . . and why!”
“Ah yes, I almost forgot. You’re an idiot, and must know every little thing, every insignificant answer to your insignificant questions.”
Gary looks hurt. Poor baby.
“Very well then. Reinhold, who killed you?”
And now, suddenly, because I sure as hell didn’t feel this way before, I’m sad. As if I care about all this death shit. “Fuck that,” I tell the vendor. “Why should I care? What difference does it make if some asshole killed us or we both had a heart attack or something? What difference does it make if we know or if we don’t know. Fuck it. This is so gay.”
“But you’re so young! You haven’t even finished high school!” Gary sobs.
“And now I don’t have to. Yay for me.”
“Yes, yes. So sad,” mocked the vendor. “Or not. Either way, let’s try to solve the riddle of who killed both of you pathetic imbeciles so that I can move on with my afterlife. What do you remember, boy?”
I tried to think back, though it really wasn’t all that long ago. “I was in the store chatting with Craig, the clerk . . .”
“No you weren’t! Liar!” Gary screamed.
“What the fuck is your problem?”
“Liar! You were at the magazines! You were going to shoplift! Shoplift a magazine – maybe more than one!”
“I was talking to Craig.”
“When? Not when I was there. Not when I was there!”
Sigh. “Fine. I was waiting for Craig and that other bitch, Linda, to deal with this asshole and the girl that’s in front of him when I realized we were gonna get snowed in.”
“Huh,” Gary grunted, puffing out his chest. “That’s better.”
“Gary,” said the vendor.
“I’m just --”
“Go on,” the vendor tells me.
“So I was at the magazines and Gary and this girl were in line. And Craig and Linda – the bitch who accused me of shoplifting once--”
“Doubtless with good reason!”
“Sorry. I’m sorry. Just feeling a little out of sorts, y’know, emotionally.”
“No problem, man,” I tell him. I think I might even mean it. “So I realized there was no way I was gonna be able to get home in that storm. And I was pissed off cuz I didn’t have any money to get a slurpee or anythin’ while I was waiting, thought Craig might let me run a tab for the night. Oh, shit! There was another guy, a jock, who was bein’ bossed around by that bitch in front of Gary in the line. Forgot about that dude. And I think his girlfriend’s name was Amy. So soon the door is totally blocked with snow, and it’s still piling up fast. There’s no way we’re gonna get out of there. And . . . holy shit.”
I stare at Gary. How did I forget this till now? “Then my main man Gary here starts freakin’ out, throwing shit, ripping magazines and newspapers out of the racks, demanding smokes and all that. Fuck.”
“I did no such thing!” Gary snarls. “Take it back. Punk. You little punk. Take it back”
Fine, then,” I say, pretending to back down. “Okay. So Gary here decides to cry and scream, and throw things – in a really manly sort of way, like a fucking Greek god.”
He glares at me. Perfect.
“And then Linda starts freaking out too, buzzfuck like her fucking brain leaked out her ear, sobbing and sobbing and constantly saying that she better get overtime for this, she better get overtime or there’ll be hell to pay, better get overtime for all these extra hours she’s working. Finally Craig takes control. He sent Linda to the stockroom and made Gary go to the bathroom. Told him not to come out until he could act like a calm, rational, adult. Heh.”
“Screw you, you little bastard. I was not crying. I wasn’t doing any of those things.”
“Whatever you say, man.”
“I would not. It’s not even in my nature.”
“Just tellin the story like it happened.”
“Don’t get all worked up, man. We don’t want you to start cryin’ again.”
“Shut the fuck up.”
“Man, you’re a pussy and a liar.”
“Enough,” the vendor said. “Stop it, both of you. I don’t care whether Gary was throwing a tantrum in the store or not. We all know he’s a pussy. Continue your story, Reinhold.”
“Thanks. So while Gary’s walking to the bathroom and Linda’s in the back, smoking, even though it’s supposed to be illegal indoors, and the Jock’s trying to get Amy to let him stand in line with her, while Craig talks about movies to nobody in particular and I’m seeing my chance to grab the new Maxim – the lights go out.”
“That’s close to what I remember,” Gary chimes in.
“And then I heard a lot of scuffling, motion, things falling. Some thumping. Grunting. I heard somebody lock the front door and I just assumed it was Craig. Gary starts to scream again. By the time Craig found a flashlight, Gary was dead. Linda tripped on your body when she ran from the stock room.”
“Is that all?” asks the vendor.
“No. Well, Craig phoned the cops. No, he tried to phone the cops but the lines were down. Linda was crying. She kept talking about putting Gary’s body in the freezer – but Craig and I thought we should just leave it where it was so we didn’t disturb the, y’know.”
“Crime scene,” says the vendor.
“Crime scene. At this point we didn’t know how Gary had died. Wasn’t till we turned the body over that we saw he’d got stabbed.”
“What did the police say when they arrived? Surely they came eventually. Didn’t someone have a cell phone?” asks Gary.
“I dunno. After a few hours I got tired. About one in the morning I went to the store room to take a nap. Then I woke up here.”
The vendor laughs, a supervillain laugh, like Dr. Doom or the Joker.
“What’s so funny?” Gary asks him.
“Both of you – really – both of you managed to get yourselves killed and neither of you know who it was! It’s astonishing! What losers you are.” He cackled and chortled to himself. I looked at Gary to see if maybe he was thinking what I was thinking, that we should take this motherfucker out, but I don’t think Gary understood. I don’t think he understands dick all.
So I tried to reason with the vendor. “Hey man,” I told him, thought a friendly opening would, y’know, set him off guard. “Why don’t you just back off? We’ve both had some major trauma here. We’re suffering. You don’t understand because you’re an angel – or whatever. You don’t suffer. You don’t die. You’re immortal. Try to have some fucking sympathy.”
“Oh little Reinhold. Wee Reinhold, forever a boy, never a man,” he said. “You are indeed touched, though not by an angel.”
I spat at him. I wanted Gary to join me, but that son of a bitch is hopeless. I swear.
“You don’t know a thing about me. Not a thing. I have died,” the vendor said, “on multiple occasions. What is coming for you is like nothing you could ever imagine. Your earth is a tricycle, and now you are graduating to training wheels. We’ll talk when you get a big-boy bike.”
* * *
With that, I watched as Reinhold disintegrated, screaming, right before my eyes. At first he appeared pixelated, then in groups, millions of groups, the pixels vanished until all that was left of the boy was his scream. And within seconds that, too, faded. “What did you do to him?” I demanded.
“I sent him to a higher plane, Gary,” my host told me. “Trust me. It isn’t that I’m uncaring – it’s just that I was sick of listening to him speak. Until the boy arrived, I didn’t believe anyone could be less interesting than you.”
“Did you have to do it like that? His scream . . .”
“Oh, you get used to screams. They all sound the same, eventually.”
“Narrow your eyes and close your slackened jaw, Gary, lest I mistake you for a cretin,” he smirked. “Oops. Too late.”
As I watched, my host’s features sharpened. His body thinned, gained angles and edges and corners where once everything was soft and spherical and undefined. His garments swirled around him, enveloping him. When they unfolded he looked . . . well, he looked like a beatnik in a bathrobe, soul-patch and all. “When, oh when, will our next victim arrive?” He reminded me of Scarlet O’Hara.
“Couple of hours?”
“Gary, you poor ignorant wretch, time moves differently up here.”
“You see in the spirit world we have no clocks, thus time has none of the limits placed upon it by your wretched species.”
“What about the sun, couldn’t that be seen as a big clock? And God invented the sun.”
His features darkened. “Wipe that smug, smackable smile off your face.” He made a sour face. “God.”
“Good point. That is why we disposed of him.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “Disposed of him?”
“Threw him out with the morning trash. Stuffed his carcass in a Hefty-bag and kicked it to the curb.”
“Look,” my host began, with finely-measured patience. “God was a tyrant, and forces of good oppose tyranny. Am I right? Isn’t that what the angels, the good guys, are supposed to do?”
“Well, sure. But . . .”
“No ‘buts’. Time for excuses is long past. See, God altered the universe in order to make it fit with His vision of order. Of course the rest of us were worried about this, the altering of the universe was changing everything, and the nature of our reality was changing. So you see--”
* * *
“Who are you?” One minute I’m standing in line and then I found myself here.
The beatnik says, “Hrmph. So, God sent his right hand man, his precious toady down to start a revolution with a rag-tag gang of dissidents and losers, heading off a much larger and more successful revolution that was being planned for a few more centuries down the road. He had two plans going at once, and one of them fucked up the other. The idiot created two sides, good and evil, and set them up to fight. And while this stupid, pointless war was occurring he continues to play with the basic nature of the universe.”
“Where am I?” I ask.
“Hush, dear. Don’t Interrupt. Gary and I are having a conversation.”
“But . . . but . . . I can’t believe I died. I never thought I would die a virgin. This must be bad,” I said, then realized that there may still be time. I started rubbing my crotch vigorously. Perhaps one of them . . .
“Who killed you?” Gary, must have been, asked me. He was practically panting.
What the heck was wrong with him? “How can you not know?” I asked him.
* * *
Then Amy vanished, screaming, just as Reinhold had mere minutes earlier.
“Gary,” my host says, “you and I were talking about God. God and the nature of the universe. Significant ontological and teleological and ethical questions. Shall we continue?”
“Enough of this!” I yelled, right in his smirking face. “Who gives a shit about the nature of the universe when I can’t figure out what’s going on with me! Me! I want to know who killed me.”
“There are larger issues, Gary. Important ones,” he said, waving a hand dissmissively.
“Not to me.”
“Is it really soooooo important to you?”
“Important, he says. Overwhelmingly so.”
“Fine.” He closes his eyes. “At present there are three people left in that snowbound store – the two clerks, Craig and Linda, and Terry the jock, Amy’s boyfriend. They are staring numbly at Amy’s body. Terry, to his credit, appears to be relieved. It’s just a simple matter of rrrriiip!--”
Terry appeared, standing next to me. “Did I die?” he asked me. “I don’t remember dying. Did I fall asleep?”
“No, good sir,” our host says. “I have ended your worthless existence on Earth and brought you here, to what may prove to be a grand new existence. Or you may be send packing to Hell.”
“You killed me?” Terry was enraged, his face a purplish red. “You motherfucker! After I live through that nightmare!”
“Who killed me?” I asked him.
“You can go to Hell!”
“That’s where he’s headed,” our host said.
And like a choir of deaf angels Terry and I ask “Really?”
“We used to send everyone to Heaven, but it became overcrowded. So then we declared that only good souls could get in. I assume you know all about that. Anyway, the new policy lessened the overcrowding somewhat, but too many people were still getting in. So now we just go by whomever the fuck I choose. And, guess what? I don’t choose you. Either of you.”
I couldn’t believe that. “You mean I can’t go to Heaven just because you say so?”
“That’s life!” And he laughed.
“So,” Terry ventured. “Is Mother Theresa in Hell?”
“Terry? Would you want to see Mother Theresa naked?”
“Then yes, Mother Theresa is in Hell.”
“What about . . .”
Craig appeared, blinking and confused. “Who killed me?”
“Only one suspect, halfwit,” our host snapped.
“Linda!” The host yelled. “Now we all know that the murderer was Linda, though we still have no motive or anything approaching a reasonable explanation. Nonetheless, is everyone happy? Eh?”
None of us knew what to say.
“Great. Then all’s well that ends well.”
“But why?” I asked.
“You had your chance,” he answered.
“I want answers!” Terry insisted.
“What the hell is going on?” Craig cried, his voice rising with intensity at every syllable.
Our host slumped into a throne that I hadn’t noticed before. “At this point, the truth can’t really hurt can it?” No one argued. “Gather round, children,” He said. Dutifully, we all sat before his throne, cross-legged. Terry leaned back on the palms of his hands. I had my chin in my hands, elbows on my knees. Craig blinked several times.
“I was bored,” he told us. “That’s all. I was bored. I thought I’d have a little fun, so I whipped up a snowstorm, led you from your pathetic lives into a convenience store and – voila! – had me some fun. Who’d guess you’d all turn out to be such colossal bores?”
Our faces were frozen. What could we possibly say to this? What possible retort? He laughed and laughed. Then, when he was done, he laughed again.