Archive for March, 2015

The Soul Shortage

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on March 19, 2015 by ofherbsandaltars

Jesus had spent most of the morning comforting the newly arrived soul of yet another murder victim, freshly arrived at the rusting gates of heaven-abandoned, and about as freaked out as anyone Jesus had ever welcomed in. Finally, the entire thing had been smoothed over by Mary and a large chicken pie, as Jesus’ mum took yet another lost sheep under her wing. Within a week, that murdered kid would be sitting in the park with the rest of them, happily knitting scarves, or making jewellery, or welding together a go-kart – Mary could always find something for them to do, something, anything, that would keep them away from Raphael and his potatoes.

Now, Jesus had slipped away from the crowds, wandering down the mud track towards heaven’s gates, before taking a barely-visible footpath through the greying trees with their weird lesions, beer-cans and cigarette butts scattered in the grass. After a solid five minutes of walking, he arrived at his favourite spot, the only place in the whole of heaven where he could find a few minutes peace. Though he wasn’t big on maintenance, and only went litter-picking when Mary nagged him, Jesus had done all he could to keep this little place looking as good as possible, despite God’s abandonment and the rapid slither into decay. In that small clearing was something halfway between a large pond and a small lake, a couple of fat frogs sunbathing on lily pads at one edge, the occasional golden shimmer of a fish moving beneath the surface. Jesus stepped carefully around the edge of the lake until he reached his favourite chilling spot, where the water was dappled with sunlight and shadow, and a squashy purple blow-up chair awaited him.

Sitting in the rubbery embrace of his chair, Jesus dug into the pocket of his tatty jeans, and began rolling himself a joint, using the good stuff – the stuff he saved for these rare moments of private relaxation. As he twisted off the end of the rizla and sparked up the joint, he leaned back in his purple chair, closed his eyes, and held in the smoke for as long as he could, feeling the weed seeping into his brain, hearing nothing but the birds in the trees, the soft ‘plop’ of a frog jumping off its lily pad. When he opened his eyes and exhaled a cloud of smoke, everything seemed a lot more manageable. Perhaps the present crisis would resolve itself, the way they usually did. Human beings weren’t stupid, God had seen to that – perhaps there would be no need at all to make any drastic moves. Perhaps-

His train of thought was broken by the sound of vast, beating wings, the water of the lake beginning to ripple as though in a violent draft, and Jesus sighed despairingly. He shielded the joint with one hand just before a large feathery something tumbled out of the sky, and plunged into the lake with a joyful whoop, cold water erupted around it and splattering Jesus from head to toe. A moment later, a dripping white-blonde head emerged from beneath the surface, and a thin, topless boy began swimming towards Jesus, his sodden wings trailing in the water behind him. As the angel came sploshing out of the lake, water cascading from his limp white wings, Jesus asked,

“How did you know where I am? Nobody knows about this place!”

“I know everything!” said Raphael, beaming proudly. “I am all knowing! I’ve got wings, see?” He illustrated this point by spreading them wide, and flapping them dramatically, half-drowning Jesus in another violent spray of lake-water. Once his feathers were a little fluffier, Raphael continued, “I fly around, sometimes, looking and observing and seeing, and I have observed and seen this place, and your purple chair, and have thusly summarised-” he paused for dramatic effect, before finishing triumphantly, “That you sit here sometimes, and smoke the good stuff!” He sniffed the air, and beamed, repeating, “I am all knowing!”

Jesus laughed, and held out the joint. Raphael dumped himself down in the grass, and unceremoniously wiped his hand dry on Jesus’ jeans, before taking the joint, and beginning to smoke it. Jesus lay back in his purple chair, stared up at the summer sky, and tried to appreciate this brief moment of tranquility, before he was inevitably dragged back into the chaos, or probed with impossible questions.

“So…” said Raphael, before pausing to take another drag. Jesus groaned inwardly. “So…if you’re sitting out here, and nobody’s supposed to know about here, and you didn’t even invite me, what are you up to?”

Jesus glanced over, and found Raphael staring at him curiously, his aquamarine eyes huge and hypnotic in his fine-boned face.

“What am I up to?” Jesus repeated.

“What are you up to,” said Raphael, with all the suspicious gravitas a stoned angel could muster. “I have looked and observed and seen that you are up to something… Is it a good something? Is it a party? A party for me? Am I allowed a birthday? God never told me when my birthday is, but I know that I’m very, very old, and so it seems quite unfair that I’ve never had a single birthday, but now God isn’t around, maybe you could give me a birthday! Is that what you’re up to?”

Jesus took back the joint, briefly wondering whether to agree, and give the angel a birthday, but he soon realised it wouldn’t bring back his peaceful afternoon. Raphael would merely go scrambling back into the sky in a dripping tangle of soggy feathers, and within five minutes, every angel in heaven would be raining down upon this place with a fistful of ecstasy pills…

“No,” said Jesus. “Sorry. More important things to worry about…”

“Souls?” asked Raphael, fixing him with another curious stare. “Are you thinking about the souls?

“How do you know what I’m thinking about?” Jesus demanded, feeling the first uncomfortable squirmings of paranoia. He stubbed the joint out in the weeds, and pocketed the remainder – if they were about to discuss the souls, he might need it later.

“I am all knowing!” Raphael repeated, with obvious satisfaction. “I have been looking and observing and seeing, and everybody is talking about the souls…”

Jesus sighed, and conceded,

“Yes – I’m thinking about the souls…”

“Well,” said Raphael, beginning to rummage around in the weeds, “It isn’t really your fault. Or mine either. We’re not supposed to be the omnipotent ones – I have to try very, very hard to be so all knowing, and I still don’t know about the souls. I think that-” He broke off, ceasing his rummaging, and stared up at the sky. He remained in this position for several motionless seconds, before leaning towards Jesus, and continuing in an undertone, “I think that God actually took some with him! Because he couldn’t be bothered making new ones at the new world, so he took all our souls with him! And that’s why we’re running out! So it isn’t my fault at all. I don’t feel guilty. Not about the souls. Or about anything, really. Guilt is bad for the digestion.” He ended this monologue with a sage nod, and resumed rummaging amongst the weeds.

“Whether he took some with him or not,” Jesus replied, “It doesn’t really matter – we would’ve got here eventually. We all should’ve seen it coming. Successful species breed out of control, and humans are the most successful species there’s ever been. Down there, they’re breeding and breeding, and up here, all we’ve got is a finite number of souls…”

“Well,” said Raphael, snatching a large pebble out of the weeds, dunking it in the lake, and blowing on it. “I think we’re doing very well. Minimal Soul Insertion. Quite experimental! I think God would be pleased about it. He never really left us with the cook-book, about exactly how much soul to put in a person – people are getting by very nicely with tiny little souls. Compact. A thing is perfect when there is nothing left to take away, said somebody once. I can’t remember who it was, which means that it doesn’t matter – I just said it, so it’s mine now. You can put that in the next Bible, when you tell them all about the mini-souls, and everybody will quote me all the time. I might even end up on the internet. They might give me a telly show – just like Judge Judy!” Beaming, he glanced down at his pebble, which had now transformed into a small potato, dropping softly in half to reveal a layer of melted pimento cheese. He began peacefully nibbling it.

“Might need one of those myself,” Jesus muttered, “By the end of this day…”

“Extra strength,” said Raphael, rather proudly. “I have synthesised oxycontin into the tingly cheese! Morphine and oxycontin, all in one happy little potato! God would be very proud of me.”

“I doubt it,” Jesus replied, with a wry smile. “And don’t tell mum, whatever you do.”

After a brief silence, as Raphael finished his potato and licked the grease off his fingers, Jesus continued glumly,

“The minimal souls aren’t working. You’ve seen what it’s like down there recently… People are going crazy – they’re being more violent and evil than they’ve been in decades, they just aren’t working with less souls in them. They’re doing terrible things to each other, and it’s all my fault. Twenty-five years ago, I started the minimal souls experiment, and look what’s happening now those people are adults. It’s a bloody disaster…”

“Well,” said Raphael, gazing peacefully across the lake with half open eyes, swaying slightly, “Maybe it isn’t a disaster, really. Because I tried an experiment, too. All of my very own. An experiment to be helpful…”

“An experiment?” Jesus repeated, frowning. “You’ve been experimenting on the souls? Oh, please tell me you’re joking!”

“No…’m not…” Raphael mumbled, flopping back in the grass and closing his eyes with a blissful smile, his wings spread wide. “I’ve been helping…”

“RAPHAEL!” Jesus groaned, leaning over and grabbing a chunk of the angel’s hair. He gave it a sharp yank, adding firmly, “Wake the hell up and tell me what you did!”

“That’s not very nice,” Raphael grumbled, opening his eyes and struggling into a sitting position. “People aren’t supposed to be mean in heaven! Pulling hair is mean – just because my hair is prettier than yours, doesn’t mean that you can-”

“What,” Jesus repeated, “Did you do, to the souls?”

Well,” said Raphael, smiling again, “I was thinking, a couple of decades ago, about the soul shortage, and…I had some good ideas. You were trying the Minimal Souls experiment, and I thought there should be a second experiment, just in case yours didn’t work. So I started thinking, about the fact that people can be mean sometimes. And then I formed a hypothesis, about…making people be nicer to each other…so then…I jus’…” He trailed off into silence, his head nodding forwards, and Jesus reached out to give his hair another yank. Raphael jolted back to life, giving Jesus a fuzzy smile and explaining, “The oxycontin cheese…makes me sleepy…”

“What did you do to the souls?” Jesus demanded. “You wanted to make people nicer, so you did – what?”

“Well…I thought about some of the things in the world that are nice. Like puppies. And rabbits. And morphine. So that’s what I did.”

Jesus spread his hands in bemusement. “Did what?”

“Mixed them up. We had lots and lots of puppy souls, and bunny souls, so I threw some of those into the people souls, and then I tossed in a few morphine potatoes for good measure, and then I gave it a really big stir, and I started making people with it!”

“Oh, shit, Raphael!” Jesus groaned. “You made people out of dogs and morphine?!”

“I did. Quite a lot of them. And they’re very, very happy and pleasant and nice people, too! I keep a watch over them often!”

“They are?” Jesus asked, rather dubiously. “There really isn’t anything…wrong with them?”

“Well… They aren’t very good at people things. They like dogs more than people, and they like sleeping, and they like sunshine. But they aren’t very good at going to work and sitting in a boring room doing boring things for no particularly logical reason. Which is something I sympathise with, actually – I wouldn’t like to be a person either, these days, having no wings at all and wearing a horrible tie and carrying a silly briefcase full of lots of papers and no drugs or sandwiches. So the people I made, they don’t usually do work. They do nicer things than work. Like heroin.”

Jesus ran his hands through his hair in despair. “So…you’re telling me that all the homeless people sitting under bridges with their dogs…those are the people you made?”

Some of them – not all of them. But they certainly have a cheerful predisposition towards dogs and heroin and the great outdoors. Those are the things that make them happy!”

“Please, Raphael,” Jesus begged, “Don’t experiment on the souls anymore! Will you promise me?”

Umm…” said Raphael, looking slightly guilty. “I actually did do…one other experiment, about…sixteen years ago… That one didn’t go quite so well, but I was only trying to be helpful…”

“What did you do?” Jesus asked fearfully. “What else did you try?”

“Well, I was still trying to make people nicer, but in a different sort of way. It was just after I’d learned how to synthesise ecstasy, and I had looked and observed and seen that ecstasy made people very, very nice – so friendly to each other. And it also gave me lots of happy thoughts and good ideas. So I made myself an ecstasy peach, and I ate it, and when I started having happy thoughts and good ideas, I made lots and lots more, and I tossed them all into the puddle of souls! But it still seemed as though something wasn’t quite right, so I sat and I thought for a while, and then I decided it needed something fluffy. Because everybody likes something fluffy when they’re on ecstasy. So then I thought about squirrels, with their fluffy little tails, and I took a huge bucket of squirrel-souls, and I poured them in too, then I gave it a really big stir, and started making people with it!”

“And what happened to those people?” Jesus asked, grimacing.

“Well…they’re quite exciting people. Very energetic! But the other people on Earth don’t really seem to appreciate my Squirrel People – they all think my Squirrel People are mentally ill, and they give them lots of horrible drugs to make them less interesting. That makes me a bit sad…”

Jesus sighed. “It’s ADHD, isn’t it? That’s your ‘Squirrel People’. You single-handedly created all these kids with ADHD!”

“It’s not a bad thing,” said Raphael. “I think they’re lots of fun! Especially when they’re little. I watched one boy paint his entire bedroom floor with peanut butter, once, which I thought was a lovely idea – I don’t know why God didn’t think of that one, having a nice edible floor for when you get hungry in the night.”

“No more experiments,” Jesus said firmly. “I know you’re only trying to help, but just…please leave the souls alone!”

“But we have to do something,” said Raphael. “I remember when the Lake of Souls was so big it took almost an hour to fly across, and in the mornings when it was all misty and the sun was just beginning to shine, it was like rainbows, stretching out forever. And now it’s just a sad little puddle. So we have to do something…”

“I know what God would do,” Jesus said wearily. “God would be wholly capable of making more souls, but he just wouldn’t bother. Instead, he’d summon up another asteroid and do the humans just like he did the dinosaurs – take out half of Asia in one blow…”

Ohhh…” said Raphael, wide-eyed, “But you can’t do that! I’m still learning how to make sushi! You can’t asteroid Asia until I’ve learned how to make cocaine sushi! You’re not going to, are you?!”

“No,” Jesus admitted. “You know I couldn’t do it, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself. It was alright for God, hiding behind Metatron and being all mysterious – he didn’t have to face the people he’d just volcano’d to death – God moves in mysterious ways, and all of that. But I can’t do that – it’d be me standing there at the gates, trying to explain to half a billion Asians why I’d just wiped them out, and oh, by the way, you can’t even stay here because we’re running out of souls and you’re just about to be recycled! I can’t do that…”

Reincarnated,” Raphael corrected. “When you say ‘recycled’ it sounds very unpleasant indeed. You have to work on your skills of persuasion before you appear to a crowd. I think that’s why God gave me wings – it’s to make me extremely impressive. When I used to appear to people, in the early days, they would see my wings and my majestic demeanour, and then it really wouldn’t matter what I said. I think it’s very sad, that he never gave you any wings…” Looking deeply depressed by this, Raphael spread one wing, arcing it over Jesus’ head, and giving him a feathery hug.

Jesus smiled reluctantly, admitting,

“I wouldn’t have minded some wings… Maybe if it hadn’t ended so badly between us, when he left, he might have given me a pair as a goodbye present…”

After a short silence, Raphael gave Jesus a final affectionate pat on the head with his outstretched wing, and retracted it. Then, he said sadly,

“I think lots of souls are going to come home soon anyway. Bad things are happening, down there. All those horrible lunatic Isis people, and that nasty Putin man who says I’m not allowed to kiss other boys – those are the people I was trying to change, by putting dog souls in with the people souls. People with dog souls would never do things like that! My Dog People are the nicest people on Earth, even if they aren’t very clean. Bad things are happening…and that always means lots of souls…”

Jesus sighed, muttering,

“I really hope not…I don’t want to watch another war. And the last thing people want, when they’ve just died in a war, is to be sent straight back down there again. You know what it’s like anyway, with voluntary reincarnations – they all want to live somewhere nice, somewhere affluent. No one wants to be dumped in the Indian slums, or tossed back into a war-zone…”

“So…” said Raphael, frowning thoughtfully, “What would happen…if you just stopped giving out souls at all? If people were just born with no soul at all, what would happen to them? Would they be horrible?”

“They’d be dead – they’d just be dead. I doubt they’d live for an hour after birth…”

“That’s the solution then!” said Raphael, rather excitedly, his wings quivering behind him. “There’s no need for a great big killing, we can just let them die out a bit naturally! And I know that sounds mean, but it could actually be very nice – we could make life better for everybody! We could watch all the parents, and only give the nice parents a soul-ified baby!”

“But that’s not my decision to make,” Jesus disagreed, frowning. “I can’t start performing awful eugenics on everybody, deciding who’s worthy of a child and who isn’t. You know I hate giving children to horrible people, but there has to be some suffering for them to learn from – that’s what God always taught me…”

“But you aren’t God,” Raphael pointed out. “And God isn’t coming back. God abandoned us. And everything is a horrible mess, doing it his way. You always said you thought he should interfere more with the humans, and stop them making such horrible messes. Maybe this is a good thing – maybe this is a sign! This is how we’ll make everything better!”

Jesus grimaced. “What a lovely thing to be remembered for. Jesus – instigator of the dead baby plague, 2015…”

“No,” said Raphael, “That’s very negative. You’d be the Saviour of the Soul Puddle. It isn’t good to be negative. Negativity is bad for the liver. Do you want an ecstasy peach?”

“Not right now, no…”

“Well, I’m going to have one, before your horrible negativity gets stuck in my hair.”

Raphael began rummaging around in the weeds once more, and Jesus shook his head despairingly, fishing the squashed end of the joint out of his pocket, and re-lighting it. Moments later, Raphael had found a pebble, and dunked it in the lake. Holding it in his cupped palms, he closed his eyes, and an expression of utter serenity passed over his pale face. Then, he gently blew on his pebble, and it transformed into a perfectly ripe peach. Raphael beamed at it, and took a bite. Jesus smoked his joint in silence, steeling himself for the onslaught of terrible drug-induced ideas, from the angel who had, in all his infinite wisdom, tossed a bucket of squirrels into the Soul Puddle.

Finally, Raphael sucked the peach stone clean, and tossed it into the lake with a joyful whoop. When he turned back to Jesus, he was beaming, and his eyes had dilated into wide, glossy black orbs, ringed in sparkling turquoise.

“I’ve had an idea!” he declared, spreading his wings wide and giving them an ecstatic wiggle. “An idea about how to save the Soul Puddle, without killing all the babies!”

“Alright…” Jesus sighed, “Let’s hear it, then…”

“What if, what if, we just took back all the souls? All the bad people, all the HORRIBLE people, we could just – POOF!” he flung his arms wide in exultation, one bony elbow nearly smacking Jesus in the face. “We could just rip the souls RIGHT OUT OF THEM! POOF!”

Raphael awaited Jesus’ reply with manic expectation, his wings shivering and a few bedraggled feathers drifting down into the weeds. Jesus frowned, asking,

“You mean…while they’re still alive? Just…take back their souls, on command? So they die?”

Raphael blew an impatient raspberry, stating,

“Of course they die, that’s the whole point! Everything would be better without them, and it would mean we’ve got MORE SOULS! POOF!!”

“Well… It’s never been done before, but…I guess it could work, in theory. But…it’s a bit much, isn’t it – a bit drastic? God would never allow me to do that, to start meddling in human affairs and killing everybody! I can’t just-”

“But it’s a MIRACLE! It’s your first MIRACLE in two millennia! You’ve always said you wanted another one, that you wanted another miracle all of your very own! You always said that God didn’t do enough miracles, that he should go down there and POOFdo some stuff! To help everybody! You don’t want to get lots of sad old soggy souls coming from a horrible war, heaven getting even more dirty from all the misery – if you just soul-rip all the bad people, the Soul Puddle will be saved, and everybody who comes here for the next fifty years will be all happy about us, and what we did, and the trees might GROW AGAIN! I am an all knowing GENIUS!”

“I…well…I suppose it’s…possible,” Jesus conceded, somewhat bemused at hearing a remotely feasible idea from Raphael. “But…what about Satan? All the really bad ones belong to him, by rights, especially since I made the rules more lenient – he hardly gets anybody, these days. I don’t want to cause some kind of apocalyptic war between heaven and hell by stealing all his souls!”

“Satan wouldn’t mind,” said Raphael, with confidence. “I’ll talk to him for you, and I promise he won’t mind!”

“You…talk to Satan?” Jesus asked, looking concerned. “What do you talk to Satan about?”

“Satan used to be my friend,” Raphael replied, rather indignantly, “Before everything got awkward with God. And I missed him a lot, for a very long time. So after God went away, and I’d finished being very sad indeed, I decided to go and visit Satan, and we had a very nice time. So now I go down there every Thursday, and sometimes we go clubbing.”

“You go clubbing…with Satan? In hell?”

“There’s no need to be all snooty about it, hell looks better than this place, recently! And Satan is actually a rather nice being, now that he isn’t being antagonised by God all the time. He has grown as a person, since everybody stopped treating him like a horrible demon, and you will find that Satan is inordinately reasonable. So I will talk to him, and he will say yes. Because he likes me.” Raphael beamed angelically, clearly considering the matter solved.

“O…k…” Jesus agreed, feeling more bemused than ever by this barrage of strange ideas and unexpected revelations. “But…what about justice? If we’re taking the souls of the most evil men on Earth, and they aren’t going to hell, what about justice? It’d be like setting Hitler loose on the world all over again! We can’t just-”

“There will BE JUSTICE!” Raphael proclaimed, his wings exploding outwards in a violent puff of feathers, until his skinny body was framed by a dramatic fourteen-feet of angelic wrath. “We’ll just dissolve them all! They aren’t working properly anyway! I think God did an experiment, just like mine, and mixed something horrible into the Soul Puddle, like honey badgers or wasps or cockroaches, and that’s what made the nasty ones! Horrible old Putin and all the other nasty ones don’t deserve to even be people – they’re all wrong inside! So we’ll just jump all over their horrible dirty souls and squish them all up and take out the rotten bits and put them right back into the puddle like they NEVER EXISTED AT ALL!” By the end of this outburst, Raphael’s dilated eyes were glittering with jubilation, his tattered wings arced imposingly over their heads, throwing them both into shadow.

“But…that still wouldn’t be right,” Jesus disagreed, “Being consigned to oblivion isn’t punishment, and it would mean that all the people who suffered at their hands suffered for nothing. The lessons would be wasted – Putin and Isis and all the others would never learn to be better people – nothing useful would come from all that pain! If I’m going to do something as crazy as this, I have to keep some of God’s rules intact…”

“Then that’s even better!” Raphael declared, giving his wings a violent flap and briefly levitating two feet off the ground. “You can make them suffer! You can send them all off to be recycled where nobody else wants to go! All the slums and the war-zones and the nasty drunken parents – you can just rip out their souls, and send them straight off to a horrible place to SUFFER UNTIL THEY DIE! That’s what you do with Putin and his stinky ideas, and that’s what you do with Isis and all those other horrible motherfuckers!”

Jesus stared at Raphael in amazement, asking,

“What did you just say?!”

“I said,” Raphael repeated, smirking, “That they’re all HORRIBLE MOTHERFUCKERS! Because they are!”

“Wow…” said Jesus, unable to remember hearing such a word coming out of the mouth of an angel in the whole of his life. “You really have been hanging out in hell…”

“All words have a purpose,” Raphael stated, tilting his chin up in defiance. “And I think certain words fit certain people very nicely indeed! And anyway,” he added, casting a furtive glance up at the sky, “God isn’t around to tell me off… I’ve had to do a lot of adapting, recently. I’m like a troubled teenager, all lost in the world and living on soggy noodles and not sure about how to use the iron. That’s what I feel like every single day, but I’m never allowed to show it, because if I ever look sad at all, Uriel starts crying and then he won’t stop…” Raphael trailed off, his startling eyes beginning to shimmer with a film of tears, until he shook himself, and repeated firmly, “All words have a purpose. God isn’t watching, and Uriel isn’t watching, and that means I’m allowed to be very angry about things!”

Jesus laughed, reaching out to stroke the angel’s wing. Raphael gave him a shy smile, and started rummaging around in the weeds.

“What are you making this time?” Jesus asked, frowning. “Haven’t you had enough for one day?”

“No,” Raphael stated, not looking up. “You’ve made me have nasty feelings. I don’t like nasty feelings. I wasn’t ever supposed to have them, and I don’t know what to do with them, which means it’s time for a potato.”

Jesus sighed, but didn’t argue. The angels had basked in the bliss of God’s love since the moment of their creation – now God was gone, they were utterly lost and confused. None of them knew how to survive feeling anything except endless contentment – it wasn’t in the blueprint of an angel to suffer. And so, Raphael, who was brought into the world to be God’s healer, had taken his skillset and become their misguided leader, shepherding them haplessly through the New Era with his own dubious form of bliss. It was a disaster, but it was better than watching angels cry.

When Raphael had summoned up and devoured his latest potato, Jesus asked,

“Are we going to do this then – for real? Rip the soul right out of Putin?”

Mmm…” Raphael agreed, beaming vaguely across the lake. “Rip it right out…’n squish it…”

“Are you going to come with me?”

“Nooo…” Raphael said thoughtfully. “I’m gon’ fly there… s’quicker…”

He proceeded to stumble to his feet, and Jesus only just managed to catch him before he fell in the lake for a second time.

“Why don’t you walk with me?” Jesus suggested. “Walking’s very good for the…something. Isn’t it?”

“Mmm,” Raphael agreed, “Walkin’s good for everythin’…‘cept the feet…”

Jesus laughed, and began picking his way around the edge of the lake, keeping a firm grip on Raphael’s arm.

 

 

When they reached heaven’s town square, they slunk around the side of the houses, disappearing into the scrubby trees and beginning to climb the overgrown slope, heading towards the Soul Puddle. Jesus kept glancing nervously over his shoulder, sure that at any moment he would hear his mother’s voice, wanting to know what he’d been up to all afternoon. And if he told her about Raphael’s crazy idea, she would have an absolute meltdown. Not because the idea was bad, necessarily, it was just very, very new, and Mary had never quite adapted to the necessities of heaven-abandoned, that sometimes they had to make big decisions all alone, without the advice of God. If Mary found out, she would call a Town Meeting, and for the next five hours everyone in heaven would get to voice their opinions, which would rapidly devolve into a friendly, chatty little tea-party, with a round up of litter-picking volunteers and suggestions for new pie recipes, and all the other small, safe decisions that Mary felt comfortable making. By the end of those five hours, nothing would have been achieved, and all further progress would have been permanently halted by the rusted wheels of democracy.

The second face Jesus was hoping not to see, was Uriel’s. Of all the angels left behind, Uriel had been the most hopelessly damaged by God’s abandonment. For millennia his sole purpose had been to spread God’s word, to give advice guided by God’s truth, and when God left, Uriel had slithered into madness. He should have gone with God – departed for the new world – but instead he’d stayed behind, because of Raphael. That decision had ruined him, and in turn, the guilt of watching him suffer had ruined Raphael. The two angels lived together in one of the run-down, crumbling mansions on heaven’s main square, furnished in every threadbare rag and stained relic that God had ever laid hands on – they seemed the only things that brought Uriel any comfort. It was painful for Jesus to watch, the two bedraggled angels clinging to each other in hopeless, co-dependent misery, as Uriel slipped further and further into quiet madness, Raphael reminding him for the millionth time of his own name, how to tie his shoelaces and tell the time, always refusing to give up on his oldest friend. In that crumbling house, in a nest of ancient rags and dirty feathers, the two angels would often lie for days at a time, eating nothing but morphine potatoes and watching Jim Carrey films, as Raphael brushed Uriel’s hair and quietly sang to him, in a tongue that no one but the angels understood. Jesus knew that the other angels loved Uriel too, if with a little more impatience – right now Uriel was surely holed up somewhere, staring blankly at a TV screen with a worn relic clutched in his grubby hands, but Raphael’s guilt knew no bounds. If Uriel turned up now, Raphael would launch back into fanatical carer mode, filled with anguish at having abandoned him for a whole afternoon, and Jesus would be left alone. And Jesus knew – without Raphael’s manic encouragement, he couldn’t bring himself to perform this thing, this dubious ‘miracle’ they’d so hastily assembled.

He breathed a sigh of relief when they passed over the crest of the hill, now shielded from the prying eyes of the main village. It was unlikely they would meet anyone here – when the Soul Puddle had still been beautiful, it had been a popular picnicking spot, filled with the carefree sound of singing, the laughter of children, as they stared in amazement into the shimmering rainbow currents, the endless sea of raw souls. But now, just like the rest of heaven, it had slid into disarray. The greenery surrounding the shrunken lake was sparse and dead, covered in clusters of thorny weeds and stinging-nettles, and on the air hung a heavy, oppressive silence. No birds sang here, as though they sensed the desperation of the depleted Soul Puddle. The only sound was the swishing of their jeans through the dead grass, until Raphael whispered,

It’s a bit quiet…”

“I know,” said Jesus. “I can see why no one comes here anymore…”

It’s creepy,” whispered Raphael. “Why’s it so CREEPY?”

“It’s only creepy because you’re whispering,” Jesus pointed out, grinning. “We’re nearly there, anyway.”

Raphael frowned, glancing nervously over his shoulder. Then, he began resolutely humming, at first quietly, but soon with more enthusiasm, until he was striding ahead of Jesus, wiggling his wings in time with something that sounded like Blink 182. Finally, they reached the rippling edge of the Soul Puddle, where the weed-tangled greenery gave way to grubby cloud. On one side of them the souls shifted and swirled, somewhere between waves of smoke and a shimmering molten metal. On the other, the grimy cloud broke away to reveal a large hole, and far below them, lay the distant greenery of Earth.

“Ok…” said Jesus, frowning slightly. “We’re really doing this?”

Find him!” Raphael hissed, “And rip out his soul!”

Jesus managed a smile, and Raphael reached out to take his hand. Then, Jesus took a deep breath, and closed his eyes, becoming perfectly still as he searched with his mind for Vladimir Putin. Within seconds, he had found him, sitting behind a desk, riffling a pile of papers – a speech, though what abhorrent new laws it was declaring, Jesus didn’t care to find out. The man was alone in his office, which seemed a small blessing – no one would be there to see him drop like a puppet with severed strings; divine intervention would not be suspected – not yet, at least. Jesus reached out his hand, fixed his mind on Putin, and in one quick movement, wrenched out his soul – dragging it free so sharply it lost all human form.

Raphael let out a joyous whoop as the smoky ball of Putin’s dirty soul appeared in Jesus’ hand, and before Jesus could protest, Raphael had snatched Putin’s soul, and tossed it onto the ground. He began violently jumping on it, flapping his wings and shaking his fists like a toddler in the throes of a temper tantrum, howling,

“I’LL KISS BOYS IF I WANT TO, YOU HORRIBLE MOTHERFUCKER! YOU STINKING, REEKING, NASTY…MEANIE!”

Jesus bit his lip, all his apprehension washed away in the amusement of witnessing the angel’s first chaotic foray into bad language. To give Raphael credit, the word ‘meanie’ had been spoken with so much vitriol that his wings were beginning to shimmer with red light, his feet in their battered purple Converse trainers still resolutely stomping all over Putin’s tattered soul.

“Alright,” Jesus intervened, “I think that’ll do – he’s got plenty of punishment waiting for him on Earth.”

Raphael reluctantly ceased his furious stomping, and took a step back, before leaning down, and grabbing Putin’s dirty grey soul in one hand. He held it out to Jesus at arm’s length, as though it smelled bad.

“Where’s he going?” Raphael asked, small sparks of red light still dancing in the tips of his feathers. “Where are you going to put him?”

Jesus paused, closing his eyes and scanning the Earth once more. After a few moments’ thought, he took back the shredded lump of soul, and told Raphael,

“India. Filthy little slum – there’s a woman carrying a deformed baby. He’ll spend his whole life as a beggar and a cripple…might teach him some humility.”

Good,” Raphael hissed, fixing the shivering lump of soul with a furious glare.

Jesus closed his eyes, fixed his mind on the pregnant woman, and hurled the soul through the hole in the cloud, sending it streaking towards Earth, and the pitiful life that awaited it.

 

 

They remained there for a further half hour, as Jesus ripped the souls out of four prominent members of Isis, and Raphael gave them each a righteous stomping, before they were shipped off to a life of misery. Then, Raphael said,

“We can’t do it all this way – there are just too many meanies in the world! We need to make a…a thing… A device! A soul-ripping machine!

“To do it automatically?” Jesus asked, frowning. “That sounds pretty complex…if we screwed up the mechanics it would be a disaster!”

“It’s not complex,” Raphael said, with confidence, “It’s a simple four-step process. One mechanism to seek out evil, another to find it a horrible new home. One more to rip out the soul, and then a final one to shoot it back. It’s easy!”

“But we’ve never done something like this without God,” Jesus disagreed, “I haven’t even set foot in the workshop in months!”

“Come on!” Raphael ordered, grabbing Jesus’ arm and dragging him back towards heaven. “You have to at least try. Because I think it’ll work!”

 

 

By the time the sun set, they were ensconced in God’s workshop, surrounded by the strange, lifeless prototypes of all the creatures that never made the final cut. The first hour yielded nothing but bent wires, arguments, and technical failings, until finally, Raphael decided they needed some inspiration. He went outside, and gathered up a large handful of leaves and acorns. Returning to the work-bench, he set about transforming the foliage into cocaine sushi. It didn’t turn out entirely perfect – the seaweed wraps were bright blue, and the pastel-pink rice fell to pieces, but they tasted fantastic, and after four disintegrating California rolls each, the ideas began to fly.

“Ok, ok ok ok,” said Jesus, rolling a cigarette with slightly unsteady hands, “What we gotta do, is start at the beginning, because the beginning is the place to start! We need a-”

“We need a BEGINNING!” Raphael declared enthusiastically, snatching up something that looked like a cross between a chicken and an ant-eater. In a flash of blue light, it had transformed into a bottle of whiskey, and the angel took a large gulp, before passing it to Jesus, and continuing, “We gotta make an evil-hunter! That’s the beginning!”

“Uh huh, yep!” Jesus agreed, nodding passionately, “So we need a…like…a sensor, an evil-sensor, like, I dunno, a great big aerial or something, or a-”

“A PRAWN!” Raphael yelled, snatching back the whiskey and taking a large swig. “We’ll make an evil-sensing PRAWN!”

“Alright! A frickin’ PRAWN! That’s totally- …wait…but why a prawn?”

Because,” said Raphael, raising one imperious finger, “Because you have to think like God! You’re still thinking like a human, talking about TV aerials, but I’m thinking like God! Just think about it – think about prawns…” He lapsed into silence, watching Jesus with fidgety expectation.

Jesus frowned, and thought about prawns. After a moment, he said hesitantly,

“You mean…because prawns change colour, when they’re cooked? So we’d make, like…a blue prawn, and when there’s evil it turns pink?”

“NO!” Raphael snapped, shooting out one hand and cuffing Jesus over the head, “You’re not thinking like God! You have to think about the sensors! What do prawns have, all over their prawny little faces? They have sensors! And they scuttle about, all over the bottom of the sea, sensing stuff out! Prawns are like little-”

“They’re like UNDERCOVER SPIES!” Jesus blurted out, wide eyed. “We need a freakin’ prawn!”

“WE NEED A PRAWN!” Raphael howled, snatching up a handful of molecular clay and tangles of wire.

For the next hour, they concentrated in near total silence, fully absorbed in the creation of the Prawn of Judgement. Finally, they had assembled a huge, angry-looking crustacean, with beady black eyes, and long purple whiskers which constantly flickered, tasting the air for the presence of evil. Raphael beamed at it proudly, and set it aside.

After another round of cocaine sushi, they launched back into manic debate about the next piece of the puzzle. For the remainder of the night, they worked at their creation, and by the time the sun rose, it was complete, sitting in a wheelbarrow by the door. It consisted of a large tennis racket, the centre of which was a swirling purple vortex, ringed in gleaming, lethal teeth. Atop this fanged vortex, sat two figures. On the left, was the Prawn of Judgement, huge and menacing, its whiskers twitching in anticipation. On the right, sat the piece of the puzzle they had assembled last, when they were running low on energy, sanity, and motivation. It was a Picasso-esque statue of Raphael, formed entirely out of deconstructed beer cans and cigarettes. Its gleaming metal wings were spread wide, and it had two cigarette arms, thrown out in jubilation. Its eyes were bright blue pickled onions, and every few seconds they would begin to madly whirl, seeking out an unborn target. Below all of this, sat a majestically phallic cannon, which Raphael had, in a fit of manic giggling, made lurid purple, with pulsing veins and even a tuft of neon pink pubic hair. From this mighty penis, the damned souls would be violently ejaculated towards a life of punishment – one final insult from heaven’s angelic mastermind.

Tired but jubilant, Jesus began wheeling the contraption towards the door of the workshop, when there came a quiet tapping. They stared at each other in horror, and Jesus hastily smoothed down his hair, feeling utterly ill-prepared to face his mother after a sleepless night of cocaine sushi.

“Hello…?” said a vague male voice. “I’m looking for somebody…but I can’t remember who…”

“Oh crap!” whispered Raphael. “I forgot him! I forgot him for a whole night!”

Looking utterly horrified, he bounded over to the door, and threw it open. As Jesus blinked in the sunlight, he saw the bedraggled figure of Uriel standing outside, his strawberry-blonde hair in tangles, and his lilac wings drooping morosely.

“It’s me,” Raphael said guiltily, taking Uriel’s hands and giving him a kiss. “You were looking for me, and I’m here now. Do you need a potato?”

“What are you doing in there?” Uriel asked, frowning in bemusement at the creation in the wheelbarrow. “Did…did God make that? Is he back? Has he come to-”

“No,” Raphael interrupted, “Sorry – God’s not here. We were just…making something. It isn’t really very interesting – let me make you a potato.”

He tried to pull Uriel away, but Uriel held his ground, still regarding the contraption with curiosity.

“It looks interesting,” he said thoughtfully. “I think I would like to know about it…”

Raphael sighed in despair. Jesus glanced at him, and shrugged – whatever they told Uriel, it would be forgotten in five minutes anyway.

“It’s a device,” Jesus explained, “To find evil people with. We’re starting a new regime – a more active one. If people do really, really evil things, they aren’t going to get away with it – we’re going to rip their souls right out, and send them off to a new life, where they’ll be punished. That’s what this thing does.”

“Things are…changing?” Uriel asked, gazing at Jesus with a slightly less vague expression.

“Well…yes,” Jesus agreed. “I suppose they are. We were talking about the problems with the soul puddle, and the evil people, and…we came to a pretty dramatic resolution, about what to do.”

“Things are changing,” Uriel repeated, nodding.

“Exactly,” Raphael agreed, “Now come on – I’ll make you a potato, and you can go to sleep.” He made a second attempt at pulling Uriel away, but again the angel refused to move.

“So…” said Uriel. “Things are changing.”

Raphael let out another sigh of despair, and gave Uriel’s arm a yank. Uriel glanced at him sharply, and protested,

“Can’t you see I’m trying to have a conversation?”

“Umm…sorry,” said Raphael, looking slightly bemused. Jesus understood why – it was the first time Uriel had shown any emotions besides blankness and misery in years.

“I,” Uriel continued, staring loftily at Jesus, “Would like to give the Word.”

“The Word?” Jesus repeated, frowning. “To who? About what?”

“To anyone, really. I’d like to…give the Word. That things are changing. That evil will be punished, and good rewarded. That there’s justice in the world. That we’re here, and we’re watching, and we’re…caring, about people. That is the Word, isn’t it?”

“Well… I don’t know about that…” said Raphael, looking worried. “That was a very long time ago. We don’t do appearing to people anymore, remember?”

“No, but you could,” Jesus disagreed, giving Raphael a pointed stare – this change in Uriel’s coherence had to be encouraged, even if it was ultimately futile. “Things are changing – they might as well change a little bit more. If you want to give the Word, Uriel, you can – Raphael can go with you.”

“I…can?” repeated Uriel, rather doubtfully. “What do you mean?”

Jesus stared at him in confusion for several seconds, beginning to wonder if it had all been nothing more than the nonsense of a ruined mind. But then, Raphael said,

“He has to know that it’s what you want. You have to tell him. It has to be his job, to give the Word.”

“Umm…alright then – yes,” Jesus agreed. “Uriel – I want you…I mean, I need you to give the Word. That is your duty. This is the new Word of God – warn the evil, reward the good. And take Raphael with you.”

Uriel’s face had split into a dazzling smile at these words, his limp lilac wings beginning to twitch behind him, and Raphael beamed, leaning over and giving him a kiss on the cheek.

“Are you coming?” he asked.

“No,” said Uriel, and for a moment, Raphael’s face fell. Then, he continued, “I’m not coming – you’re coming. I’m the one who’s Going. It’s my job – not yours. You’re just Coming, but I’m Going.”

“Alright then,” Raphael agreed, taking a step back. “You go, and I’ll just come.”

Uriel nodded, turning gracefully on the spot, and gliding away across the field. Raphael gave Jesus a big wink, and followed after him. Jesus grinned, giving the contraption an affectionate pat, and shutting the workshop door behind the angels. This thing was half Raphael’s – it wouldn’t be right to launch its maiden voyage without him. He rolled a hasty joint on the worktop, and sprawled out in a faded armchair, strongly hoping that he could get a few hours sleep without anyone finding him.

 

 

It was almost noon when Jesus was disturbed by a knocking at the door. He jolted awake, mumbling,

“Whatchoo want?”

“It’s us!” came Raphael’s excited reply. “We’re back!”

Jesus smiled, hauling himself out of the chair, and opening the door. The two angels were standing hand in hand, Uriel looking happier than he had in years.

“So,” said Jesus, “How’d it go? Did you give the Word?”

“We did!” Raphael replied, beaming widely. “I’ve missed appearing to people! Three of them screamed!”

“Only the bad ones screamed,” Uriel clarified, “The good ones were grateful. An old lady gave me a hug. And she gave me this-” He reached into the pocket of his tattered jeans, and produced a lollipop, proceeding to unwrap it, and give it a lick.

“You did very, very well, Uriel,” Jesus told him, smiling.

“I’m not sure that I did, actually,” Uriel disagreed, lifting a chunk of his tangled hair, and regarding it with disapproval. “An angel should never be filthy. I’m going for a shower…”

“I’ll help you,” Raphael agreed, “And then we’ll have a potato. Come on!”

“You’re yanking me again,” Uriel complained, withdrawing his hand from Raphael’s with a disapproving frown. “An angel does not need yanking! I am perfectly capable of washing my own hair – an angel must be clean, to give the Word!”

Raphael laughed, and Uriel paused to give him a kiss, before stuffing the lollipop into his mouth, and gliding away across the field.

“Wow,” said Jesus. “He’s…wow…”

“He’s almost like himself again,” Raphael agreed, beaming. “Just a little bit grumpier, but that’s alright. He really did give the Word – he even remembered his own name, seven times over!”

Jesus laughed. “That’s quite a thing, just in one day! Maybe this is, like…an omen, or something, that we’re doing the right thing after all…”

“You haven’t tested it yet?” Raphael demanded, finally noticing the device, still sitting in its wheelbarrow. “We have to test it – right now!”

Jesus nodded his agreement, shoving the door of the workshop wide, as Raphael fluttered over to man the wheelbarrow.

 

 

Minutes later, they had erected the device on the grubby cloud, between the shifting rainbows of the Soul Puddle, and the portal to the world below. As the sun reached its apex, shining down on another beautiful day in heaven, they sat on the edge of the cloud, their legs dangling over the distant Earth, and Jesus lit a joint, staring up in admiration at the contraption they had built. Despite its peculiar appearance, it was the most complex machinery he had ever made without God’s assistance, and he was extremely proud of it. Every few seconds, the Prawn of Judgement would begin to mutter ominously, and a filthy-looking soul would shoot into the vortex, to be violently chomped by evil teeth. Then, the beer-can statue of Raphael would wave its cigarette arms in jubilation, its pickled onion eyeballs whirling madly, before it let out a high-pitched squeal, and the crushed soul would drop into the penis. With a few powerful ripples, that phallic cannon would squirt out the doomed soul, launching it in undignified fashion towards a life of misery. Soul by soul, making the world a better place.

Raphael beamed at Jesus, looking exhausted but happy. He fished a pebble out of his pocket, closed his eyes, and blew on it. Jesus didn’t complain – it was one potato they had definitely earned.

 

***************************************************************************

 

The previous tale of Jesus and Raphael, can be found here: Paradise.

The Moth’s Religion

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on March 6, 2015 by ofherbsandaltars

Moths are obsessed with sacrifice. The purpose of a moth, as every young moth is taught, is to sacrifice itself to the Goddess. But like every religion, the sacrificial beliefs of a moth are fraught with error and superstition. The particularly cynical moths will tell their naïve cousins that the Goddess is just a cold, hard, ball of stone, and that even if the Goddess loved you, she’s thousands of miles away, through an endless expanse of dark uncaring nothingness. But always, one small, bedraggled moth with tattered wings and wide, wondering eyes, will tell the others that this isn’t true – I’ve seen the Goddess. I touched her with my wings, and she was as warm and bright as love itself. But she didn’t take me – she spared me, so that I could tell you this very thing…

And so the moths continue on their path into doomed love and burning fate, hurling themselves with reckless abandon into the face of the Goddess, frying themselves alive in the fires of false idols. Never pity the smoldering corpse of a hapless moth – for the last seconds of its life, it flew through warmth and radiant light, and thought itself in heaven. When humans tell tales of a near death experience, of the light at the end of the tunnel, their feeling of perfect love and acceptance, perhaps they are merely recalling their earlier, simpler existence. The embracing warmth and loving arms of that light at the end of the tunnel – is it truly God, or just a naked bulb, swinging from a cord in some unremarkable ceiling? Humans could argue this point for eternity, but the moth doesn’t mind. Moths have died in their millions, since humans brought artificial light into the world, but to a moth, this is merely heaven multiplied. No longer do they find themselves lost and doubting in the dark – in every room of every dwelling, the pale face of the Goddess shines down upon them. A moth can find divine beauty in the lowliest of places, and this Goddess, their false electric idol, she will accept their humble sacrifice, taking them beyond, in a blinding burst of heavenly light.

Just as there are in the human race, there are the cynical moths, who perch eternally on walls, scowling in defiance as they ignore the myriad faces of divinity, and there are the worshipful moths, who find their God in all they see. To these moths, the Goddess is everywhere – in the night sky, shining down from the ceiling, even gleaming in the pale skin of a tired human, lounging in the glow of his monitor.

So if a moth is circling your face, fluttering determinedly back and forth, don’t be annoyed. It thinks you’re the most beautiful creature in the universe. It thinks you are the reason for its very existence, and if you let it live to fly away, it will tell every moth it ever meets the tale of how it met the Goddess, and how, though it offered itself to her, the kindly Goddess let it live.