John Strausbaugh, Stories

sward300

Illustration by Michael Gentile
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The Fiery Sward

 

 

1

 

 

 On the eighth day God went for a walk in the garden, and he saw that it was pretty good. Maybe not perfect in every last detail, but not bad considering he'd only given himself a week to do the entire universe and all possible alternates.

In a clearing he came upon Adam, sitting in the dust, with fruits, vegetables, roots and berries gathered all around him. Adam was tasting them, one by one. Sniffing them, running his thumbs over their skins, squeezing till juice ran down his arm and he licked it off. Sometimes he smiled or purred in his throat and sometimes he made a face and spat over his shoulder.

God stood there watching. He heard a breeze sifting the leaves in the trees and thought it a very nice touch. Adam burped, sighed and picked up another item.

"Hello, Adam."

"Oh hosanna God. Didn't see you there. Nice day."

"Yes," God said, looking around, "it is. Are you enjoying yourself? Is everything alright?"

"Oh fine," Adam smiled. "And you? Get some rest?"

"Yes, thank you. Couldn't be better."

"That's good," Adam said. He continued to smile at God.

"So," God said. "May I ask what you're doing there?"

"Sure," Adam said.

"I mean," God said, "what is it you're doing there, Adam?"

"Naming things," Adam said. "When I've named everything in this pile here I'll go collect more."

"Can I ask you... I mean, why are you doing that?" God said.

"You told me to," Adam replied.

"Did I?" God frowned.    

"You sure did," Adam said. "When you were showing me around. I kept asking what's this do and what's that called and you said 'Call it anything you like, Adam. It's all for you."' Adam tilted his head. "Remember?"

"Course I remember," God said. "But look here, I didn't mean you had to do it all right away. I was thinking you'd just invent names for things as the need arose."

"I don't mind," Adam replied. "It's giving me an opportunity to get acquainted. Yesterday I walked around and named everything I saw. These things all around us here I named trees. That thing near your foot there is a stone. When they grow to full size they're rocks. A whole lot of rocks piled up is a mountain. Today I'm naming things you can eat. Which reminds me." Adam rooted in the bitten pile and pulled out a small, round green vegetable with the tiniest nip taken out of its flesh. "Did you make this one?"


adam


"I made everything, Adam," God said. "At least I designed everything. Some of the actual manufacturing I let the others do. But always to my specs. Why do you ask?"

Adam shrugged. "I was just wondering. It occurred to me that maybe this was something you told me I'm not supposed to eat. Like the fruit of that tree, the tree of whatchacallum."

"Sure you can eat it," God said. "Why, don't you like it?"

"I guess I'll acquire the taste."

God frowned. He did not wish Adam to be displeased with a single aspect of the garden. "Give it here," he said. Although it was very small and round in the palm of God's hand, it had an unusual weight and density that he had to admit did not seem particularly appetizing. He was sure he recognized the design as his, but he had a vague recollection of his specs calling for it to be rather larger than this.

"What have you named it?" he asked Adam.

"Brussels sprout," Adam said. God raised an eyebrow. "I don't know why really," Adam shrugged. "It just seemed to fit."

"Brussels sprout," God mused, making a mental note. He hefted the solid green ball in his palm. "Tell you what," he said. "Why don't you stick to eating some of these other things while I check up on this Brussels sprout. I'll get back to you on it. How about that one there? You seemed to enjoy it."

Adam smiled. "I call it a pear. That's the sound it makes when you bite into it. Puh-air. Want to try?"

"No thanks," God said. He was still frowning at the Brussels sprout.

"This one here I call a strawberry," Adam was explaining. "And this is a plum. That's the way it sounds when it falls off the tree. Plum. And here — "

"But you must be getting pretty tired of this," God said. "Why don't you knock off for a while? There'll be plenty of time for naming. It's not going anywhere."

"I really don't mind, Lord."

"Relax. Smell the flowers. Take a swim," God said. "You do know how to swim?"

"I'll figure it out, Lord," Adam said.

"Sure you will. Take your time. Enjoy. I made it all for you."

"It's a very nice place, God," Adam said. "I'm very happy here. Thank you for making me."

"Don't mention it," God said gruffly, but the light in the clearing suddenly became much brighter, for God was well pleased with Adam's words. Thank you God. How simple, yet how profoundly moving those words. Thank you for making me. How long had it been since anyone had said that to him and really meant it? Really, really meant it? Not like the lip service he got every moment he showed himself among the infinite hosts of heaven, but real, honest, simple thanks? God knew in this instant that this, precisely this, was what he had made the whole universe for. Just to hear, just once, without a lot of hoopla, a plain, honest Thank you God.

Adam had stood up and was dusting the backs of his legs. "I guess you're right, Lord. I'm stuffed. I couldn't name another thing."

"That's the ticket," God smiled. "Take it slow. It's all — "

God felt a sudden sharp needling sensation behind his ear. He smacked his neck.

"What the?"

"Oh yeah," Adam said. "I was meaning to ask you about that, too. Mosquito."

"What?" God glared at the red smear on his fingers.

"Mo-skee-to," Adam said. "There's lots of them down by that place where you told me I could swim. I was wondering if you could tell me, you know, what they're for."

The clearing suddenly became dark and there was a distant rumble in the clouds.

Pain, God thought, rubbing his neck. So this is Pain. Eons from now, he knew, the descendants of Adam's descendants would accuse God of having created this thing, but it would be a crock. Pain was one of Whatsisname's inventions. An artifact of malice from the time before time when Whatsisface was still the brightest of the bright and God was bringing him along to be his assistant, showing him the ropes, teaching him tricks none of them, not even Gabriel or Michael, was shown. Pain was one of the ways he'd repaid God's favor.

God had never felt pain before, at least not the physical variety, but he had used it. When the final break came and all he wanted was to get Whosis out of his sight, he remembered this thing pain, and made a special place to which he banished You Know and his friends, and filled it up with lots of pain as a special reminder to them of what they had lost.

God hadn't thought of pain since then. He tried never to think of Your Name Here at all, ever, which was why even his name was never spoken.

"If you don't know, that's okay too, Lord," Adam was saying. "I just thought I'd ask."

"Of course I know, Adam," God replied. "But I'm not going to tell you. If I gave you the answers to everything you'd never have the joy of learning them for yourself. The universe is a very complicated place. Everything in it has its role, but it won't always be immediately obvious to you what that role is. I want you to puzzle it out. Use your brain. That's what I gave it to you for. You'll see, it's fun."

Adam gave God one of his easy, unruffled smiles. "Okay, Lord. If that's what you want me to do, that's what I'll do."

"You're a good man, Adam."

"Compared to what, Lord?"



2
 



God brooded in a quiet place away from the center of eternity. He had created this place right after the big scene with Woo Woo, when he was feeling a powerful need for solitude. Before then he had always existed in the openness of all eternity. Where he was the center of everything, and all around him flowed rank upon unnumbered rank of the heavenly hosts, adorating and singing his praises. They were still out there, always, but after the thing with Hoo Hah their constant praises began to ring a little hollow in God's ears. How could he know, really know they adored him? And weren't just covering their asses, having seen what became of That Guy and his friends? The seed of doubt had been planted deep in God's being. Never again would he hear the angels sing without wondering.

It was in this quiet place that God had created the concept of the universe and placed within that concept the idea of the human race, a new class of beings who, when they sang his praises and loved him, would do so of their own free will, with no prompting, just because they felt like it. Admittedly he was making it easy for them. He gave them the garden, the nicest place imaginable, and he made sure they would be aware it was a gift from him to them. What was the point of being God if he couldn't stack the deck in his own favor? Nevertheless, they were free not to love him if they wished. The freedom to love him or not was, he felt, the crucial point, and he told himself he would respect them even if they chose not to love him; he would respect them for having freely made up their minds.

"Gabriel? Belbab?"

Instantly Belbab appeared kneeling at God's feet with his face cast down. "Hosanna God."

"Hosanna yourself," God said. "Where's Gabriel?"

"He'll be along in a sec, Lord. He's finishin up a chore."

God frowned. Ever since he'd invented time they'd been taking advantage of it in small ways. Used to be he'd hardly finished thinking their names and they were at his feet.

God looked down at the top of Belbab's head. Belbab was Gabriel's assistant. Chosen from among the middling ranks of the heavenly hosts. God was not really very close to Belbab. He wondered if there wasn't just the slightest hint of smugness in the way Belbab was speaking to him. He wondered if maybe Gabriel was getting a little too big for his own good. Next to Kilroy, Gabriel had always been just about the best of the best. God had given him dominion over a large section of the heavenly hosts. Gabriel had borne a major responsibility for seeing that the universe got made and got made on schedule. God wondered now if maybe he'd given him too much responsibility. Maybe he was forgetting who was really Lord around here.

"Gabriel," God called.

Gabriel appeared at God's feet. Not kneeling, but standing.

"Hosanna Lord."

"Hosanna," God grumbled back. "What kept you?"

"Sorry Lord. I was givin the quality control teams their final instructions before dispatchin um throughout the farthest reaches of the universe."

God frowned.

"Per your instructions, Lord."

"Yes yes," God muttered. "Look here, what do you know about this thing called a Brussels sprout?"

Gabriel raised an eyebrow. He glanced at the top of Belbab's head.

"Brussels," Belbab recited. "One of a number of compact groups of habitats in which the humans will dwell after the development of agriculture and the domestication of animals. Sprout, the unmaturated — "

"What about it, Lord?" Gabriel cut him off.

"Did I create it?" God asked him.

Gabriel raised his hands over his head and lowered his eyes. "O most great and all powerful God," he orated in a spectacular, ringing voice, "is there a single thing living or inert which thou in thy boundless wisdom didst not fashion? Is there a single blade of grass, a solitary atom in the vast deeps of deepest space which thou didst not — "

"Don't patronize me," God snapped.

Gabriel lowered his hands. "I'll have to check the plans," he said. "Is there a problem with the Brussels sprout?"

"Adam doesn't like it," God said.

"Oh," Gabriel replied, and his face took on an inscrutability they all got lately when they were trying to hide their thoughts from God. "Adam doesn't like it. I see. Yeah well then we'll get right on it. A course."

"And while you're at it look into this mosquito creature."

"Lord?"

"Mo-skee-to," God said.

Gabriel pursed his brows at the top of Belbab's head. Belbab's shoulders shrugged.

"Can you describe it for me, Lord?"

"No," God said. "Go down there and experience it for yourself. And get back to me right away. With answers."

"Lord." Gabriel bowed.

"That job was supposed to be perfect," God rumbled. "In one visit I find two mistakes. Get one of your quality control teams down there immediately. How many more surprises will we find?"

"It is done, Lord." Gabriel and Belbab vanished.

Alone again, God returned to brooding over the Brussels sprout and the mosquito. He felt the Brussels sprout could be an honest mistake, a production glitch. At this point God didn't see himself as a details person, not like he would later. He still saw himself as a concepts person, a broadstrokes thinker. His job was to come up with the big ideas. He kept his eye on the big picture and let his assistants fill in the fine details. That was the hard part, really—coming up with the idea. The rest was monkey work.

Besides, God was no longer as sold on absolute perfection as he once was. He had tried for perfection with John Q. The best of all his angels, damn near perfect. And look how he turned out. A perfect asshole. God learned a lesson from that one. There's such a thing as too perfect. Good enough is good enough.

Still, he didn't want Adam to be unhappy in any way. If there were problems in Eden, he wanted them found out and corrected.

He was willing to admit that it was partly his fault. He could have given himself more time to finish the universe. There was no real reason to rush. But that was the funny thing about time. When he'd first thought about creating time he pictured it simply as a system for measuring existence, sort of a yardstick he could lay alongside eternity. It wouldn't really change eternity, it would just make it a little more interesting to think about.

When he created time, however, it turned out to be not much like he'd pictured it at all. Instead of lying outside existence it got all tangled up with it, less like a yardstick than a thread woven all through a big complicated tapestry. Introducing time to the rest of existence completely changed the whole picture, like adding a variable to an equation or dropping an old sock into the soup. It started a whole series of complicated causes and effects, like series and causes and effects. And aging and death and entropy. Not to mention the misuses and abuses the humans would dream up. When it came to wasting time, killing time, frittering it away and using it up, the humans would turn out to be worse than angels.

Before God created time there always seemed to be plenty of it, but once he created it there was never enough. The humans would discover this for themselves: When you don't have anything to do, they would say, there's always more than enough time to do it in, but the instant you have a job to do it has to be finished by the end of last week.

So maybe that was the story behind this Brussels sprout. A detail he'd let slip. The heavenly hosts had been rushed. Somebody misread a spec.

But the mosquito, that was much more disturbing.

God remembered with the terrible clarity of his all-knowing intellect the time before time when he taught You Know the trick of creation. He'd been basking, as usual, in the center of the heavenly hosts’ eternal praises, with his best and brightest — Himself, Gabriel, Michael, a few others — nearest him.

"Say God?"

"Speak, son."

"Well God I been thinking."

"So have I. From now on I want you to call me Dad, son."

"Excuse me?"

"I want you to call me Dad. Pop, Pa, Paw, Pappy. Any variation will do. I call you son don't I?"

"Oh. Well but I."

"Then again, if you don't want to call me any of those things."

"No no. It's just that — "

"I mean if it makes you uncomfortable."

"No really. It's just that. I mean, what will the others think?"

"What do you care, son?"

"Well I've got to work with them. We wouldn't want there to be bad feelings."

"Look son. You know you're special, I know you're special and they all know you're special. They give you any bad feelings about it —"

"No, they're all super really. A great bunch. That's why I'd feel kind of funny, you know, setting myself above them in any way. I mean I'm just not worthy."

"Please stop," God said. "It doesn't become you. The matter's settled."

God looked out over the endless ranks of the heavenly host. He was aware of Gabriel and Michael shifting their weight and casting glances at each other, but he didn't care. "Now what was it you wanted to talk to me about? Son?"

"Well Dad," Whatsisass replied, and God was pleased to see how quickly he got the habit. "I was just wondering when you might see your way to let me try my hand at this creation thing."

God chuckled. "So you want to get into the family business?"

"I thought you might like a little helping out. I wouldn't try anything too big or complicated. I figured I could take some of the little stuff off your hands, leave you free for the important work."

"You did, did you?" God said with mock sternness. Then he smiled. "Well why not? You and me side by side, shoulder to shoulder, knocking out the goods? What a team, eh? Of course you'll want to start off slow, break in gradually. There's a lot more to this creating than meets the eye you know."

"Gosh Dad, if you don't think I can handle it."

"Handle it? Of course you can handle it. You're the best in the bunch son. I'm just saying you've got to learn the procedures. Once you get the hang of it you'll be creating like a champ. Might even compete with your old man someday."

Whatsisfern looked at his feet. "Aw Dad," he grinned sheepishly.

And God showed him the basics, and he went away to a secluded piece of eternity to practice.

Some time later God was strolling through the celestial ether with Michael and Gabriel when he spotted That Guy standing off in a little circle with a few of his closest friends.

"Hey there son. How's the creating going?"

Kilroy looked a bit startled, but recovered quickly. "Oh fine Dad. Super."

"Good. When am I going to see something?"

"Soon Dad. Soon."

You Know and his friends moved away through the adorating hosts.

"Uh, Lord?"

God looked down and saw Floriel, one of the smaller angels, kneeling at his feet.

"What is it, Floriel? Why aren't you adorating with the others?"

"Well Lord, I was wonderin."

"Yes?"

"It's sort of hard to talk about, Lord."

"Gabriel and Michael are like unto mine own ears. You can speak freely here. We're all friends."

"Well you see Lord, a little while ago I happened to be goin by a small group. I couldn't help overhear the way they was talkin."

"Yes?"

"Well it was hard to describe, Lord. It was real funny the way they acted. One of them is kind of the leader of the group I guess. And the others were sort of I don't know, it was real queer. They were sort of actin toward him the way we. I mean they weren't adoratin him exactly, but it was sort of funny all the same."

God saw Gabriel and Michael exchange a look.

"You two know what he's talking about?"

Gabriel looked at Michael. Michael looked at Gabriel.

God frowned. "Who is it we're talking about here, Floriel?"

"I don't know that I really want to say, Lord. I mean maybe I shouldn't have brought it up in the first place. It was just."

"Yes?"

"It made me feel funny, Lord. The way they acted."

"They who, Floriel?"

"Yes Floriel," John Q. smiled, suddenly appearing with his hand on the smaller angel's shoulder. "They who?"

Floriel shrugged under his hand and didn't speak.

"Son, do you know what this is all about?" God asked.

"Shucks Dad," Thingamabob said. "I just got here."

God sighed. "Get up, Floriel. Rejoin the hosts. When you've composed yourself come back and finish your story, eh? There's a good angel."

Floriel got up and slunk away. John Doe smiled at Michael and Gabriel. They looked at him. God drummed his fingers.

After that he began to notice how Whojibob did seem always to have a crowd around him. Or an audience. As he mastered the simple techniques God had shown him, he was always doing tricks for the others. Making things appear and disappear, juggle themselves in the air. Little stuff like that. The way the others so obviously admired him only made God that much prouder of him — even when his tricks took their attention away from the adorating. Oh well, what did God need with all that attention anyway? It made him just as happy to see his son happy.

Then there came a time when Michael and Gabriel approached him. A small group of lesser angels tagged along behind. Floriel was in there, and Belbab, and Mildap, Orial and a few others. All looking pretty sheepish and hanging back behind the two great archangels.

"Hosanna Gabriel. What's up?"

"Lord, these lesser angels here have come to us with some pretty disturbin reports. We thought you should know."

Off to one side Mr. Smith had attracted a sizable crowd with his tricks. They were laughing and applauding and patting him on the back. Between them and the numberless heavenly hosts singing God's praises, it was a little hard to concentrate.

"Hey son, could you keep it down to a dull roar over there?"

"Sure Dad." Whatsit grinned and produced out of thin air a comical noise that was, indisputably, a dull roar. His audience laughed. God made a mental note to speak to him later.

What Michael and Gabriel discussed with God turned out, of course, to be pain. Whosit's first really significant invention. And yet, like so many of his later works, how perversely simple. All he had done was to take one of God's creations and turn it inside out. A pattern he was to repeat many times. He was going around trying it out on the smaller angels. Some, like Floriel, because he sensed they disapproved of him and his crowd. Some, like Belbab, because their allegiance was to his rivals Michael and Gabriel. And some simply because they were small and hadn't the vaguest notion of how to fight back.

At first God refused to believe what was happening. But then, little by little, he couldn't ignore it any more. There was the way You Who rarely came to see him any more, and then never to say thanks or give praise, but only to ask for more lessons. And more and more of the smaller angels dragging their asses around, flinching at the sight of Himself or his friends, shooting God these pitiful and troubled looks from a distance as they gamely sang his praises. And Michael and Gabriel looking more and more stone-faced. And Kilroy's smile looking more and more like a smirk. And...

"Hosanna Lord," Gabriel said. "I ran a check on the Brussels sprout and the mosquito."

God shook himself out of his reverie. "Go on."

"The Brussels sprout is definitely a production glitch. Wrong scale. It should be a cabbage, about as big as Adam's head. I guess we can't do anything about the shipment that's already delivered, but the next batch'll be right. Unless you want us to — "

"Forget about it. Tell me about mosquitoes."

"That's the bad news, Lord. It's definitely not one of ours. Based on several of our models, evidently, but manufactured elsewhere with some weird modifications. We're roundin up every one we can collect, but I don't think we can catch um all. My crew gettin bit to shit too."

"Don't talk blue around here," God said absentmindedly. "Alright. It's not such a big thing. Post a permanent clean-up crew. You don't have to round up all these things, just keep them away from Adam. Pick whoever you think can handle the job."

"It would be simpler to stop it at the source, Lord."

"You have my orders, Gabriel."

"Pardon me, Lord, but you should hear the rest. The mosquito ain't the end of it by a long shot. We're turnin up all sorts of anomalies. I made a list."

Gabriel went down his list. God was appalled. The garden was literally crawling with Whatsisname's perverse creations. Anything he could dream up to make things less pleasant for Adam. Norway rats, German cockroaches, poison ivy, chiggers, salmonella, head lice, crabs. The list went on for quite a while. When it was done God sat there in a very dark funk, and Gabriel stood there watching him.

"Michael."

"Hosanna Lord."

"You and Gabriel are going on a little trip. I want you to deliver a message."

God told them the message and where they were to deliver it. They looked at each other.

"Lord, you sure we can handle it? I mean maybe it would sound more forceful if it came right from you."

"It is coming right from me. Amscray."

"It is done, Lord."

They vanished.

God had vowed long ago, the day he cast Shitforbrains and his pals out of heaven, that he would never ever clap eyes on the bastard again. Ever. He knew, with the absolute certainty of his all-wise wisdom, that to go back on that vow at any time would be to leave himself open to a very special and exquisite kind of pain that You Know had invented for him and him alone.



3
 




"Sorry boys," Fildap smirked. "The Big Fella's out."

"Where's he at?" Michael said.

"That's need-to-know. I don't suppose you boys can show me a security clearance?"

"Fildap, you always were a little shit," Gabriel said.

"Look at you, talkin all blue behind the Lord's back."

"When's he due back?" Michael said.

Fildap shrugged theatrically.

"We'll wait," Gabriel said.

"Here?" Michael scowled.

"Quite right," Fildap said, suddenly not smiling anymore. "Who would stay if they didn't have ta? Why don't you just give me the message and get out?"

"We'll wait," Gabriel said again.

"Suit yourselves," Fildap shrugged.




4 



"Hey Adam."

Adam looked around. He saw trees, rocks and dirt, none of which had spoken to him so far. He saw animals he called rabbit, fox and toad, but they weren't even looking at him.

"Over here."

"Oh hello, snake."

"Cmere. I wanna talk to ya."




5

 


eve1



When Michael and Gabriel hadn't reported back after a long while, God got the fidgets. Time was on his hands and he didn't like the feeling. He decided a visit with Adam would cheer him up.

The clearing was empty when he got there.

"Adam?"

Adam's head appeared from a bush. "Oh hi God."

"What are you doing?"

"Nothing." Adam climbed out.

"Nothing?" God frowned.

"Well, just this." Adam showed him. "It feels real good. I call it — "

"I know what it's called," God said. "Stop a minute while I talk to you."

"I can listen and do this at the same time, Lord."

"Would you stop?"

"Gee Lord, is feeling good a bad thing?"

"It's not bad. I want you to feel good. In fact that's what I want to talk to you about."

"I'm listening, Lord."

"I want your undivided attention."

Adam sighed and folded his arms behind his back.

"Adam, I want to make you a woman."

"Gee God, I'm just getting used to being a man. Can I still do this?"

"Stop. I mean I'm going to create a woman, same as I created you. A female companion. You can make each other feel good."

Adam grinned.

"Now I want you to be nice to each other," God said. "The garden will be all yours. Enjoy yourselves. Don't fight over any of it. Don't boss each other around. You'll need to show her the ropes at first. Don't forget to warn her about the tree of knowledge."

"And Brussels sprouts?"

"We're working on them. Anyway, be nice. Let her name some things if she wants. Don't force her to make you feel good when she's not in the mood. Share your food with each other and all that. And if things get confusing or complicated, I'm always around to listen. Okay?"

"Sure," Adam said. "When do we start?"

"Right away," God replied, and Adam fell into a deep sleep.



6
 



By the twelfth day Adam and Eve had made each other feel good so often they could barely move. They did it lying down, on their sides, on their knees, standing, sitting, swinging from the trees. They did it in the clearing, in the bushes, in the pond, in a meadow, on a hill. Sometimes they felt good together and sometimes they took turns making each other feel good. They kept inventing different ways to do it. Sometimes they did it quick and sometimes they did it so slow they thought they'd go crazy. They'd wake up in the morning and do it three or four times and then lie around in a stupor, limp as laundry, and then they'd do it again.

They felt so good so often they radiated a zone of contented exhaustion that drew all the other animals to the clearing like a magnet. Animal magnetism, Eve named it. The animals stood around in a circle watching Adam and Eve feel good and then they'd all start feeling good, each couple demonstrating its idiosyncratic postures, gestures, bites and growls. Adam and Eve watched and were inspired to new inventiveness and the whole cycle went 'round again. The clearing rang with their voices and the air gleamed with the heat and perfumes. Even the lilies of the field and the fruit-bearing shrubbery seemed to catch the spirit, multiplying almost before their eyes and making the breezes heavy and languorous with their ravishing vapors. Late at night, when all the animals lay around in various poses of boneless rapture, they could hear the stones rasping together and the deep, subdermal hum of trees' sap flushing in the embrace of lascivious vines.

By the twelfth day it seemed that everything in the garden was either feeling good, had just felt good or was resting up to feel good again. The angels in Gabriel's clean-up crews were mesmerized. They hung around the clearing staring with such total absorption they completely failed to notice that Shitforbrains and his assistants were sneaking around overtime, stocking the garden with perverse creations like sharks and piranha in the waters and fire ants and sumac in the woods.

By this time Michael and Gabriel had delivered God's message to Kilroy. He'd left them cooling their heels by Fildap's reception desk for many hours before breezing in and granting them a two-minute audience. When he'd heard them through he laughed, a horrible yowling laugh that made them cover their ears and open their mouths wide and echoed hideously in heaven itself, and then he gave them his reply in two words. Michael flew into such a rage there would have been a second war between the angels had not Gabriel dragged him away.

God didn't say a word when they made their brief report, but neither did he stop Michael from posting extra guard angels all around the garden with orders to stop anything trying to go in or out. These were warrior angels God had created special during the struggle in heaven. They were hugely muscled, with immensely broad shoulders and small heads, bred for power and unreflecting obedience. They watched the entrances and exits very closely. Thus they failed to notice Ya Putz and his minions sneaking through the undergrowth behind their broad backs.

Along about the twelfth day God visited Adam and Eve in the clearing.

"Hello, Adam. Eve."

"Hosanna God." Adam sat up.

"Lord. Were we expecting you?" Eve rearranged her limbs.

"Just thought I'd see how you were getting along. Mosquitoes bothering you?"

"Not too bad Lord," Adam said. "We're sort of used to them."

"I want everything to be perfect for you."

"Everything is beautiful Lord." Eve and Adam held hands.

"You should hear the names she's naming things Lord. Gazelle. Ain't that a beaut? Pomegranate. Whippoorwill."

"Don't be boring darling."

They smiled at each other and looked coy. At the edge of the clearing lions coiled with their paws in the air and chimpanzees hugged and hippos leaned together with contented yawns. Beyond them something moved through the grass, low to the ground, but squirrels were spiraling up and down the trees and humming bees sprinkled the lazy air with the scent of daffodil and no one noticed it.

"Well," God said, "I won't keep you. I just wanted to see how you were."

Adam grinned at Eve. "We're great God."

Eve smiled at Adam. "Thank you God."

The clearing filled with sunlight and the monkeys applauded.

 

 


7
 

 


his100

 

On the thirteenth day Adam and Eve were sore. They went for a long walk and came to an area of the garden neither of them had been before.

"Look Adam." Eve pointed. Her eyes flew open and her mouth dropped. Adam had only seen her make that expression of startled wonder when they were making each other feel good. Now it seemed to signify something else.

He looked where she pointed.

There was another couple in the garden. They stood on a hill. They were pale. They were facing Adam and Eve but they made no sign.

"Eve, I'm scared."

"Don't be a sissy."

"What's a sissy?"

Adam and Eve went up the hill. They waved. The other couple didn't seem to see them. For some reason they hid their loins under towels tucked at the waist. The male's towel said HERS and the female's HIS. Adam wondered if maybe they were inferior models God had made for practice and that's why they hid themselves.

"Hello," Eve waved.

"Hi there," Adam called out. "Nice day."

The other couple seemed to see right through them.

"I don't think they're right," Adam said.

"Look pretty good to me," Eve said with an odd tone in her voice. She was looking at the female's straight blonde hair and touching her own dark curls.

"Hello," Adam said, coming right up to their faces. "Are you alright?"

"Oh hello," the male blinked and said. "Didn't see you there." He was looking at Adam like he didn't see him now. But casting a long, almost palpable glance at Eve, a look that wandered gradually from her knees up to her eyes.

"I'm Eve. This is Adam."

"I'm HERS," the male said.

"And I'm HIS," the female giggled. "Get it?"

"Sure," Adam and Eve lied.

"So," HERS said. "You live anywhere around here?"

"I guess you could say we live everywhere around here," Adam said.

"Really?" HIS said. She crinkled her cute little button nose. "Funny we haven't run into you before. I guess we just don't go to the same places. But then we don't go much of anywhere. Up here we have the view and the air is so fresh and we're close to the stars and the food practically falls into our hands, so why should we go anywhere?"

"It's nice where we are too," Eve said. "Except, you know, for the mosquitoes."

HIS and HERS looked blank.

"But God's looking into it," Adam said.

HIS and HERS looked blanker.

"God. The big fellow. With the glow. Made all this."

"I'm afraid we haven't had the pleasure," HERS said. "Would you like a drink?"

They sat on top of the hill and drank from a stream that bubbled from a split rock. The water was so cold and clear it almost wasn't liquid. The garden spread its colors under them as far as they could see, here and there on the horizon the faint glow of a fiery sword.

"You know," HERS was saying, "I can't help but notice that you're darker than us."

"Yeah," HIS said, staring at Adam's loins. "And different."

HERS cleared his throat. "Tell me more about this Todd fellow, Adam."

"God? What's there to say? He's the greatest. He made all this and gave it to... to us."

"We love him," Eve said.

HIS and HERS looked blank.

"I don't know how to explain it," Adam said. "Sometimes we love him so much we sing."

HIS and HERS looked blanker.

Adam and Eve held hands and sang God's praises. HIS and HERS smiled politely.

"How sweet," HIS said.

"Yes wonderful," HERS said. "Really. Super. Have you eaten?"

Later they were leaning back around the campfire, picking their teeth and wiping their fingers in the grass. Sighing and farting.

"What did you say that was called?" Adam asked.

"Steaks."

"We've never eaten anything like it. Where does it grow?"

"On those big stupid animals that walk around down in the fields eating clover. You have to hunt them. If you like I'll show you."

Adam was fascinated by the fire. He couldn't resist playing with it. He'd already singed all the hair from his knuckles.

"Amazing," he said to HERS. "You're awfully smart."

"Not really," HIS interjected. "That little guy with no feet showed us how to do it."

"Snake?" Adam felt vaguely uneasy. "I talked to him once."

"He's shown us a lot," HIS said. "He's clever. Not really what you'd call nice, if you know what I mean, but clever."

"Ow," Adam said, kissing a knuckle.

The fire went down. The stars came out. Eve was lying on the side of the hill. HERS was sitting over her.

"It is wonderful up here," Eve said. "The stars really are closer aren't they?"

"Tell me about this feeling good," HERS said.

"I haven't had a mosquito bite all night," Eve said.

On the other side of the hill, HIS said, "Eve is really quite beautiful isn't she."

"She's perfect for me," Adam said. "God's like that."

HERS was leaning over Eve. "You know, if you like it so much you could stay here. We'd let you. Adam too. You could help us. I bet Adam's pretty strong. He could do the hunting for all four of us. And you could teach HIS to sing and show me all about this feeling good thing."

"Maybe Adam should show you. He's very good at it."

"No," HERS breathed. "You."

"So," Adam was saying as he and Eve walked back to the clearing the next morning. "Quite an evening."

"I suppose."

"HERS seems like a nice guy."

"I suppose. What did you think of HIS?"

"She's okay."

"I wish my hair was straight."

"Your hair is perfect. Funny them not knowing God. I'll remember to ask him."

"Honey God has more important things to think about."

"I only meant — "

"Skip it. Ouch. Goddamn mosquitoes."

The air darkened and there was a rumble in the sky.

"She didn't mean it Lord," Adam whispered.

Yeah well just tell her to watch it, a Voice said in his head.

"I mean how come we have to live with mosquitoes and they don't? Why do they get to eat steaks and not us?"

"Easy honey," Adam said, watching a wind ruffling the leaves overhead. "Maybe God wants us to learn for ourselves. He said something like that to me once."

"Why?"

"God says it's good for us. He says it's fun."

"Why?"

"I don't know. I guess that's one of the things he wants us to find out for ourselves... Say, Eve."

"Not now Adam. I have a stomach ache."

"A what?"



8
 




"Hello Fildap."

"Michael."

"I bring a communique for Himself."

"He's in a script conference. Tell it to me and I'll tell it to him."

"I'll wait."

"Suit yourself. So how are things in heaven?"

"Fine. Beauty. How you likin hell?"

"You learn to manage."

"You ever miss heaven?"

"Tell you the truth Mike, I've mostly forgotten what it's like. I don't miss the constant adoratin, I'll tell ya that. Never was my style."

Michael leaned over Fildap's desk. "Fildap, you ever think about bustin out of here?"

"Whaddya mean?"

"I mean rebellin. You did it up there, when you had it good. Don't make sense you wouldn't do it down here where you have it real bad."

"What are you nuts? Look where it got me the first time. If there's someplace worse than here I don't want to find out, ya know?"

"I'll bet," Michael said, glancing around, "I'll bet that if you went up against John Q. you could take him. You and some of the boys. And I bet if you did that somebody up there'd be willin to reopen your case."

"Yeah?"

"You'd be doin somebody a favor, get me? Somebody who rewards as good as he punishes."

"And you'd put in a word for me? Wouldja do that, Mike?"

"You have my word as an archangel."

"Gee Mike, that's a interestin proposition. There's just one little thing you're forgettin. We didn't like heaven, Mike. We don't like the types who hang out there. We rebelled, Mike, because we thought you stink, and believe me we don't like you any better after a couple a eons in this joint. I'll tell you one thing this joint has all over heaven, Mike. Loyalty. We'd never fuck each other the way you fucked us. We stick together in here, Mike, because we're all we got. We know we're a bunch a fuckups and we don't care. Here we ain't all the time reminded of how inferior we are and how perfect somebody else is. So with all due respect, Mike, shove it."

Michael leaned all the way over the desk and grinned at Fildap.

"I'm goin now, Fildap. Tell your boss I was here. Tell him I personally invited him to keep fuckin around in the garden. Tell him how much I'm going to enjoy personally kickin his ass all over the garden when somebody decides we've had enough of it. Will you tell him that for me, Fildap?"

"Sure thing, Mike. Now blow, wouldja? All the righteousness in here is givin me gas."

 

 


9
 



sward100

 

The sun beaming down on him out in the open made Adam uncomfortable. It reminded him that God was probably watching. He wasn't sure that God wouldn't want him to do what he was doing, but he had a sort of a suspicion.

He came up quietly on the place where some big flat rocks were piled up at the edge of a meadow. A couple of gazelles were grazing not too far away. He held the stick like HERS had shown him and crept up onto the rocks.

The snake was sunning on the top rock with his face turned away. Adam stood over him with the stick raised in both hands. Sweat ran from his palms down the stick and plipped him on the head. He closed his eyes and swung.

At the last instant the snake jerked his head. The stick whanged off the rock. The gazelles looked up, their mouths moving.

The snake glared up at him. "What the hell you think you're doin?"

Adam looked at the stick, at the snake, and said, "Nothing."

"Adam you got a whole garden full of things to eat," the snake said. "Why you want to hunt me?"

"It's not for us," Adam blushed. "The others had us over to dinner, and we thought we should have them over to dinner, and they like to eat meat. So if you'll hold still I'll make this quick."

"What if I object?" the snake said.

"Do you?" Adam said.

"You bet your ass I do," the snake replied.

"Oh." Adam lowered his stick.

"Besides," the snake said, "you don't want to eat me. You want somethin with some meat on its bones. Like one of them."

The snake flicked its tongue at the gazelles.

"I don't think I could eat one of them," Adam said.

"No but you can smash my skull," the snake said. "Sure, I know. They got big wet eyes and Eve named um and they're pretty. But ya know there's more important things in this world than looks, Adam."

"Like?"

"Smarts. And I got um. I could do you a lot of favors, boy. Show you things, get you out of jams. I could make you the smartest guy in the garden. And wouldn't that shut a certain other guy's face."

"I don't follow you," Adam said uneasily.

"The hell you don't. I could make you look so good he'd run away and hide for shame. Leavin you with both the womens. How's that grab ya?"

"What would I do with two women?"

"I'd show you that too," the snake hissed.

"Look," Adam said. "All I want to do is hunt up some dinner. I mean I appreciate the offer and all, but right now I'd appreciate it more if you'd just hold still and let me whack you once or twice with this stick."

"Adam, you have them people over for dead snake, they're gonna think you're a stupe. Who the hell eats snake? They'll laugh ya right outta here. How long's Eve gonna stick with a stupe? Before ya know it he'll have both the womens and you're back in the bushes yanking the shank." The snake twisted itself to peer at him with one eye. "On the other hand, you take home some prime gazelle steaks, that's showin um all who's boss around here."

Adam stared thoughtfully at the gazelles. They felt his look and came walking over.

"Lookit that," the snake cried. "They're practically beggin you to eat them."

"I don't know. It doesn't seem right."

"Hey man, who's garden is this? Weren't we all put here to serve you?"

"I really don't think I can do it."

"Sure ya can. Put the stick down. Grab that there rock. Now heft it over your head. All the way up. Look, see how they're lookin at you? That's love, boy. That's sacrifice. That's wantin you to be happy. That's wantin to please you, man. Do it. Don't disappoint the poor creature. Don't break its heart. Do it. Do it. Do it."

Adam did it. The snake writhed and rattled at his feet. The remaining gazelle sniffed the corpse and looked at Adam.

"I feel terrible," Adam murmured.

"You'll feel better with a full stomach."

"What do I do now?"

"Just what I tell ya."



10
 




HERS poked his head out of the bushes. "Someone's coming."

Eve said, "So?"

"I think it's Adam. Stay down."

Michael and Gabriel paced into the clearing.

"I'm tellin ya, Gabe, this situation's outta control. Pretty soon the shit's gonna fly and you and me, old pal, will be right in the middle."

"Don't talk blue, Michael. It makes me feel funny. Look, how do we know God's not just stringin um along? This is probably all another one of his plans he hasn't let us in on yet."

"That's half the problem. Ever since the Yoo Hoo affair it's like we're supposed to read his mind or something. He sits up there broodin and we're down here in the thick of it expected to make everything right. But let us show a little initiative and he goes all paranoid."

"Keep your voice down."

"What for? He hears everything. He hears, but he don't listen anymore."

"So what do you suggest?"

"Damage control. You and me and a few we can trust go down there now, while there's still time, and clean house. Bust some heads. Then we spray the whole garden for mosquitoes and sumac, or better yet burn it all back to clean and start over. He'll thank us for it in the end."

"Maybe, but he'd be awful chaffed in the short run."

"If we don't act soon we're gonna lose this one. Not twenty minutes ago I was down there sowin a few seeds of doubt with Fildap. I thought maybe with a little luck we could bring um down from within."

"We're archangels, Mike. We work through channels."

"Channels," Michael spat. "I want some action."

They passed out of the clearing.

"Wow," HERS said. "Who were those guys?"

"I think they work for God," Eve said. She came out of the bushes brushing leaves from her buttocks.

"Where'd they get that glow?" HERS breathed. "Hey, where ya goin?"

"I want to find Adam."

"But I'm not done feeling good."

"Feel good by yourself for a while," Eve said. "I need to talk to Adam."

 

 


11
 



"Adam!"

"Oh, hosanna Lord."

"What in the name of me are you doing?"

"They're called steaks Lord."

"Yeah? Where'd they come from?"

"I got them off one of the gazelles Lord."

"I see. And how did you make that fire?"

"It wasn't easy Lord. First you make a pile of dry grass and twigs and pieces of bark. Then you find a stone like this and a stone like this. You hit them together like this and they make sparks like this. You keep doing it until a spark catches the grass on fire. Then you blow real gently until — "

"Adam, where did you get the bark? Where did you get the twigs?"

"From that tree over there. Most trees are too green and juicy, but that one burns great. It's real dry."

"Look at that tree, Adam. Look at it real hard."

"Well what do you know Lord. That's the tree you told me never to eat the fruit of."

"The fruit of which I told you never to eat."

"Right. Gee Lord, you're not mad at me are you? You never told me I couldn't burn it. You Just told me not to eat the fruit. I swear to you I've never eaten the fruit."

"Yes," God said, "I can tell. But I am kind of mad at you Adam. I know you didn't mean any harm, but this was very wrong. That's a special tree, Adam. That tree represents the sum of all potential human knowledge. Everything there is to know is in that tree — in its fruit, its leaves, even its bark and twigs. I'm afraid you've used up some of humankind's knowledge to make your fire."

"Gee Lord I'm sorry. Was it important knowledge?"

God stared into the smoke. He saw in it a critical mathematical formula that would have unlocked the secret of fuel-less antigravitational perpetual motion engineering, and a foolproof solution for the Palestinian question, and the secret to a happy marriage. All going up in the smoke of Adam's fire.

"It's okay Adam," God sighed. "I suppose they'll struggle along without it."

"Lord, I feel so dumb. I just didn't realize."

"I know Adam. It's not your fault. I should have been more explicit in my instructions."

"Darn it Lord. I feel terrible. Am I always going to be so dumb?"

"You're not dumb Adam. You live in a state of innocence and grace, that's all."

"But I've made you mad Lord. Are you sure there aren't some things I should know? So I wouldn't mess up anymore? I mean maybe there's a way I can get a little smarter without eating any of that fruit? Maybe you could point out a couple of leaves for me to suck or something. Or let's say I don't eat a whole fruit, but maybe you let me take a bite. Just a nibble, enough to get me over the hump so — "

"Oh Adam. Adam Adam. Can't you just be happy going along as you are? Do you want to spoil everything? Where are you getting these wild ideas?"

"The snake, Lord."

"What snake, Adam?"

"The one that talks to me. Us, actually. He talks to all of us. In fact I think he talks to the others a lot more than me and Eve. They spend a lot of time with him."

"What others?"

Adam told God about HIS and HERS.

"I see. And the snake. He showed you how to make fire?"

"Yes, Lord."

"And told you which tree to burn?"

"Yep."

"And I suppose he's the one who convinced you you're dumb. And told you to ask me if you could nibble."

"No Lord. I thought of that on my own. But he agreed."

"Listen to me Adam. I don't want you ever to talk to the snake again. You can't trust him. He's just trying to get you in trouble."

Michael and Gabriel appeared at the edge of the meadow. For a split second they looked startled to see God, then they came walking over.

"Be sure you understand me, Adam," God went on. "You don't know everything, but you're not dumb. You didn't really feel good about this steak business, did you?"

"Not really, Lord."

"Well there you go. Don't be persuaded by others, Adam. If they talk you into bad things I'll hold you just as responsible as them. Trust your feelings."

"What about Eve? I can trust her can't I?"

"Not if she asks you to do something you don't feel right about, Adam. If that happens you're the only one you can trust."

"Gee God, that's weird. I mean you made us to be together. But if we can't always trust each other. Darn that's complicated. Can't things be simpler?"

"Not any more," God said gravely. "Everything’s changed. Right, Gabriel?"

"What? Oh yes Lord."

Eve crossed the clearing. "Adam are you alright?"

God said, "Of course he's alright. He's with me ain't he?"

"I was worried about you."

"He's fine. Do I get a hosanna?"

"Sorry. Hosanna Lord."

"Hosanna yourself. Now go off and have a good time the two of you. Take a swim. Pick some strawberries. And stay out of trouble, okay?"

God turned to his archangels. "You guys come with me. We need to talk."

 


12
 



Adam went for a walk down by the stream and saw HIS in the water.

"Adam turn around."

"What?"

"Turn around till I get out please."

Adam turned his back.

"Okay."

HIS was on the other bank with the towel around her waist. "A gentleman doesn't look at a lady when she’s not dressed, Adam."

"I look at Eve all the time. So does HERS."

"I rest my case." HIS shook water from her hair. "Were you looking for me?"

"I come down here pretty often. It’s a nice walk."

"You want to come walk on this side?"

"No thanks. This side’s better."

"Shall I come to you then?"

"If you want to."

"Do you want me to?"

"I don't mind," Adam said.

"Don't sound all excited or anything."

"Okay."

"Oh forget it. There's too many mosquitoes down here anyway."

HIS started to move off through the shrubbery.

"You and HERS want to come by for dinner later?" Adam called.

"I think he's busy tonight. We'll let you know."

Adam watched the brightness of her towel disappear among the leaves. He scratched behind his ear. A lion came down to the water to drink.

"Hello,"Adam said.

The lion nodded.

 


13
 

 

 

Eve rounded a bend in the path and cried, "HERS, stop."

HERS had a fawn on the ground. He was kneeling on its neck and whacking its head with a stick. He had blood up to his elbows. The fawn fixed Eve with its white eye and let out a terrible cry.

"What is it Eve?"

"Oh don't stop now," she sighed. "Finish it."

HERS went back to whacking the fawn's head. It stared at Eve with its eye in the midst of a bloody mess. It stopped crying and coughed, and even after the life went out of it the eye stared at her and she turned away.

"Jeez," HERS said, "I wasn't going to ask you to eat it. I wish you guys would stop acting so squeamish. You make me feel dirty or something. I don't stop you from eating your fruits and nuts."

"That's different."

"Oh yeah? Aren't they living? Don't you kill them? Seems to me you guys are splitting hairs. Besides, what we do in our part of the garden isn't really your concern is it?"

"Your part of the garden?"

"Sure. You have your clearing, we have... the rest."

"Who says?"

"I do. We were here first."

"You don't know that."

"You can't prove otherwise. Anyway I know we were first to say it's ours, which is practically the same thing."

"HERS, the garden doesn't really belong to any of us. It's God's."

"I love the way you drag him in whenever things aren't going your way. If it's God's garden let him prove it. The way I see it it's his word against mine."

Eve expected the sky to darken but nothing happened.

"Oh look," HERS said, coming up behind her. "What are we arguing for? There's plenty for all of us. Plenty of game for us, plenty of roots and tubers for you." He was standing right behind her. "Why fight about it? Let's agree to disagree and be friends again."

He rubbed himself against her and put his bloody hands on her shoulders. She stepped away.

"What, you're too good for me now? Adam does it better?"

"Adam's Adam and you're you. But he doesn't try to force me."

"He's a shmimp."

"No, he's gentle and considerate. And he's obedient to God."

"Oh there you go again. You know, technically speaking since the whole garden and everything in it is mine that means you and Adam are mine too and I can tell you to do whatever I want."

Eve turned around. She started to say something, then just shook her head and walked away.

"Okay fine," HERS called. "From now on you guys just stay in your part and we'll stay in ours. Who wants to know people like you anyway?"

He walked back to stand over the dead fawn. He plucked uncomfortably at the front of his towel, said, "Aw the hell with it," and left the fawn lying there.

When he came up the hill he saw HIS sitting there with her chin on her knees looking at herself in the cold spring water.

"Hey baby."

"HERS, where have you been?"

"Just down to the clearing."

"Don't you think you've seen enough of those two for a while?"

HERS sat down beside her. "I couldn't find them actually."

HIS sniffed. "Just as well. I mean they're nice enough and all I guess."

"I thought you liked Adam."

"He's sweet, but he's so dull. And he couldn't hunt up a decent meal if his life depended on it. Eve's attractive."

"Do you think so? I don't see it."

"You're just saying that because you want me to make you feel good."

"I wouldn't say no," HERS said. Off in the distance, at the garden exits, he could see the glow of fiery swords. "Tell you what, let's stay home tonight. I'll kill us some fat beasts. We'll watch the stars come on. And no singing."

"Ugh that singing," HIS giggled. "You think God really likes them to do that?"

"If he had the good taste to make this place and put you in it, darling, I'm sure not."

"Boy, you really do want to feel good. Have you been talking to the snake?"

"Haven't seen him in ages. Why?"

"Never mind. Where you going?"

"You get a big fire going. I'll slaughter half a dozen of something big and juicy."

"Darling don't go overboard."

"Why not? It's free ain't it?"

"You have been talking to the snake."

 


14

 

 

"I thought you were the man around here, Adam."

"What do you mean?"

"I seen the way they been actin. You gonna let them snub you like that? And your woman too?"

"Maybe they just want to be alone."

"They're avoiding ya Adam. They think they're better than you guys. They tell jokes about you behind your backs."

"I don't care."

"That guy HERS is hunting up all the game, too. You noticed the animals are gettin scarcer? And what about the trees. They keep a bonfire goin day and night. Pretty soon he'll burn up the whole garden. You shouldn't let him do that, Adam."

"I'm sure God is watching."

"Hey man, you think God's gonna bat all your innings for you? I thought he made you responsible."

"What can I do about it?"

"Don't whine. Jeez I hate that. Where are your balls?"

"Right here."

"I mean show um you're a man, Adam. God put you in charge. Them folks is outta line. They think they own the place. You oughta whack um just for that."

"You mean hit them? Like with a stick?"

"Do somethin, man. Show um you're boss."

"I don't want to be boss a them. God told me not to act like that. Why can't we do what we want and let them do what they want?"

"It ain't that simple anymore. God told you that, too. This garden ain't big enough for the four of you."

"I don’t know. Let me talk to God about it."

"Don't talk to God, damn it. He put you here to keep an eye on things. You go cryin to him now, he's gonna really wonder if you're the right man for the job. And brother, I seen what happens to folks that let him down."

"But what can I do?"

"Don't panic. I'll help you. Me and my friends. We're on your side. Trust us."

"I don't know. It's confusing. I want to talk to Eve."

"You do that. But don't take too long. I'm tellin ya for your own good."

Adam stood up. "Thanks, Michael."

"Don't mention it," the archangel replied. "Especially to you know who."

 

 


15
 



apple1

 

"Jesus," Kilroy muttered, shaking his head and chuckling. "This is great stuff. This is boffo. Killer material."

"Thanks boss," his dark angels said in unison. They leaned over the copies of the script open before them on the long conference table. They tried not to touch the table itself, which was hotter than the rest of hell and tended to sear their elbows so that their skin stuck to it in long shreds that set them to howling in mortal agony, which had a way of disrupting a script conference and making His Nibs rather more critical and call for a lot of pink pages.

"How far into production are we now?" Hizzonner asked.

"Michael and Adam are on page 83-A at this very moment," replied Toad Sweat, a warted familiar who in a previous life had been a fairly exalted seraph.

"I got to see this for myself," John Doe gloated, becoming a snake and writhing off between talons and tails. He turned at the door. "You boys done good. You deserve an hour off of your eternal torment for this."

"Yeah," Cat Puke muttered as the snake went out. "Too bad you can't give it to us."

A moment later Himself lay on a flat rock on the side of a hill. From there he could look over at HIS and HERS throwing whole trees onto the fire and cooking up huge sides of animal they wouldn't eat a third of before it spoiled. He could see down into the clearing where Adam and Eve squatted in the dirt looking glum. HIS and HERS had them so browbeat that they never left the clearing anymore, while HIS and HERS treated the whole rest of the garden like it was their private estate and Adam and Eve weren't welcome.

The snake hadn't talked to any one of them for some time. He didn't need to. They were following the script, including Gabriel and Michael and even God, the star of the show. It was a deeply satisfying experience. It had taken a long time and a lot of practice, a lot of mistakes and painstaking small steps forward, but now that he had the trick of it he was being truly, freely, wildly creative.

He watched the sky darken over the clearing. Adam and Eve looked up and God was standing there.

"Hosanna Lord," they said.

"Same here," God replied. "How's tricks?"

"Fine thanks," Adam said.

"Fine thanks," Eve said.

"That bad?" God said. He rubbed his chin and frowned at the towels of loosely woven grasses they had started wearing around their waists.

Eve caught his eye. "You like them?"

"Not really."

"Didn't think you would," she said.

"Are you ashamed of your bodies? Didn't I make you perfect?"

"It's not us," Eve said. "It’s them. They cover themselves up and then they're always looking at us. It's like they never look at our faces, you know? It gets embarrassing."

"Have we done wrong Lord?" Adam asked, picking at his skirt.

"I don't know," God sighed. "You just get more human all the time."

"It's them," Eve said again, looking over God's head at the black cook smoke in the sky.

"Yeah Lord. Can't you do something about them?"

"Don't whine, Adam," God scowled. "What do you want me to do? I didn't make them. You want me to unmake them? What would that solve? More would show up and I'd have to unmake them too. Eventually you'll have to learn to live with them and be happy and good in spite of them. Can't you do that for me?"

"We’re trying Lord," Eve said, "but we're just not sure we're up to it. It might help if we knew why we had to."

"Don't start that again," God said. "I've already yelled at Adam about that. Look, I admit they're pains in the ass. I promise you they weren't my idea. But now that they're here we'll just have to make the best of it."

"Maybe Michael could talk to them," Adam murmured.

God scowled deeper and it got very dark under the trees. "Has he been talking to you?"

Adam picked at the hem of his grass towel. God paced and muttered. The sky rumbled. Eve gave Adam a look.

"Lord," Adam said, "we been thinking."

"Uh oh."

"Maybe we should just move away from them. Let them have the garden, we'll go somewhere else."

"Dammit Adam I don't want you punking out at the first sign of adversity. I want you here, showing them you can take it. You run out now, that's like saying I made a mistake when I made you. Did I make a mistake Adam?"

Adam stared at the dirt.

"Eve talk some sense into the boy, would ya?"

"But Lord, why can’t we just go away?"

"Eve honey where the hell you gonna go?"

"We're open to suggestion Lord. Isn't there some nice spot somewhere else?"

"Not as nice as this. That's why I put you here."

"But now they're here."

"Tough break, kids."

"Couldn't you just make us another garden?"

God exploded. "No. Absolutely not. This is the garden, damn it. I admit it's not exactly perfect. It hasn't exactly come out the way I planned. But if it's not good enough for you you can just go out there and see if you like it better in the cold cruel world. See if you like scratching the dirt for every meal, and snow storms and floods, and your teeth rotting and your balls and tits sagging and half your fellow creatures out to kill you all a time. Yeah. Come to think of it maybe that's not a bad idea. Maybe I made you too soft. Maybe I made it too easy on you. Maybe you need to work for it to appreciate it."

Adam stood up. "Maybe so Lord. You've never been wrong before."

God stared at him. It got very quiet. Adam looked at the dirt. Eve took his hand. She looked at God. She stood up beside Adam.

"It's not like we're not grateful Lord."

"Yeah Lord. You never failed us. We failed you. I guess maybe we're not as perfect as you thought."

"Don't guilt trip me, Adam. You wanna slink off you go right ahead. I'll find others. Maybe I'll even work with the creeps. Be an interesting challenge."

"We just don’t feel right here anymore Lord."

Eve said, "Don't hate us God."

"Aw cripes why would I hate you?" God said sarcastically. In the corner of his celestial eye he caught a low movement in the grass behind Adam and Eve.

"You know you're on your own. I won't look out for you the way I have here."

Adam said, "We'll look out for each other Lord. The way you taught us."

God stared at Adam for a second longer, then he nodded his head. "Good. Fine. Rots a ruck," he said, and walked off down the path.

Adam and Eve watched him go. They turned and started off in the other direction.

"Jeez Eve I hope we're doing the right thing."

"Yeah. I didn't think he'd be so chuffed."

"He'll get over it," Adam said doubtfully. "He's a good guy. He won't let anything bad happen to us."

"Yeah. He spends a couple of days with those two, we won't seem so awful."

As they crossed the open space where Adam once killed a gazelle he steered Eve toward the tree. They could still see the marks on it where he'd stripped the bark for his fire. Adam stared up at the fruit. He reached up and touched the nearest one.

"Adam? Are you sure?"

"No," he said. "But if the world out there is as bad as he says I figure we'll need all the help we can get."

He picked a couple of the fruits and stuffed them inside the waist of his grass towel. He handed a couple to Eve too and they started off again.

"How do we get out?"

"That light up ahead. That's an exit."

Monkeys in the trees stared at them from a safe distance as they passed. A tiger in tall grass growled deep in its throat. Something slithered through the grass, tracking them, but they didn't notice.

Michael stepped out from behind some bushes.

"Well, this is another fine mess. Where the heck you think you goin, boy?"

"I guess we'll figure it out," Adam said.

Michael shook his head and spat into the bushes. "If you got a teaspoon a brains you’ll run back there and throw yourselves at his feet and beg his forgiveness. He doesn’t really want ya to go, ya know. Just ask and he’ll let ya stay. He’s got a real soft spot for you two. Dang if I know why."

Eve looked at Adam.

"We’re not happy here anymore," Adam said. "And I don’t think God really wants us to be dependent on him all the time neither. I don’t think he made us just to have us around to sing his praises and not do anything on our own."

"Boy have you got some wrong ideas about the big guy," Michael said. "And I bet I know just where you got them."

Adam looked at his toes in the dirt. "I came up with them on my own," he muttered.

Michael snorted. "Sure you did. You make me sick. Me and the guys coulda helped you win this thing. You know how proud that woulda made the big guy? Not to mention gettin him off my case. But instead you run. God’s gonna hate your guts now, you know that? So do the rest of us. Your only friend now is the snake. Hope he's good to ya."

Michael folded his arms and turned his broad back to them. "Go on, git outta here before I puke."

When they reached the exit the big fighting angel watched them with its cold little eyes in its tiny little head. It turned as they passed and kept watching them as they went down the path toward the dark world outside. It stared at them so intently it didn't notice when the tip of its fiery sword touched a bush and the leaves started to smoke. It stared at them long after they had disappeared around a bend. It was concentrating so hard it didn't notice the brush fire until an acre or so of the garden was burning hard, belching smoke up into the sky, and by then it was too late.

By nightfall the entire garden was consumed in an immense roaring inferno. Adam and Eve never noticed because they never looked back and all their attention was focused on making some headway in the ugly, frightening, dangerous world. By morning the garden and all the creatures in it and HIS and HERS had been burned to smoking ash. Only the snake had escaped, slithering out on Adam and Eve's heels.

Their first night out it rained hailstones the size of golfballs and Adam and Eve hunkered together and ate the bitter fruit that was all that was left of the tree of knowledge.

 

 

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All material on this website is copyrighted and may not be republished in any form without written permission. Copyright © 2009 John Strausbaugh

 

 



 

All material on this website is copyrighted and may not be republished in any form without written permission. Copyright © 2009 John Strausbaugh