God: the inside story (Chapter One), a short story by Paulconnell. Date added: 2012-07-11. Times viewed: 584.
- Please SEND FEEDBACK - Writers love hearing from you. You can view the Authors profile here
- Intro: A sampler of my new novel - available as a Kindle ebook on Amazon. A journalist finds his way into heaven and spills the beans on celestial politics, personalities and hospitality.
God. the Inside Story by Paul Connell
CHAPTER ONE In the out door
You will probably want to hear, first of all, the bit about how I saved the entire universe from destruction. I may have done. I reckon I did so, but if I did it was an accident really. I didn’t mean to. It wouldn’t be fair for me to take undue credit.
You may also wish to know why, given that these events occurred some time ago, it has taken me so long to get around to making them public. Well firstly I thought that other events, deriving from the stuff herein, might render their publication a tad pointless. I thought, in fact, there wasn’t going to be a world to buy and read anything I produced. There was a brief point just about two years after my adventures when I thought, ‘Oh aye, now it’s kicking off properly.’ But it wasn’t. It was nasty but it was not the end, just routine human nastiness albeit on a grand scale.
I also thought that there would or might be forces out to stop publication of this story. You know the drill; secret societies dating back to the crusades or whatever, long-hidden secrets, shadowy ecclesiastical figures. Well if there are or were they are still secret, hidden and shadowy. Extreme and entirely justified editorial scepticism has been the only impediment to my putting this stuff out there. So I also spent a fair bit of time thinking that it was all just too implausible. Stick with it and you’ll see what I mean. You’re well entitled to scoff. Please scoff.
So what I’m going to have to do, first of all, is put the story in a bit of context, a bit of historical background. This will not take long.
It all came about, really, because of my abiding interest, professionally and otherwise, in religion.
Religion and big money; I’d seen it, even spent some of it, or at least had some of it spent on me.
Religion and corruption; I’d been there, frequently. Horse and carriage stuff.
Religion and politics; I’d done it – another regular pair of cell-mates.
Religion and violence; I’d had it done to me. Not nice.
Religion and sex; I’d, more or less singly, operated the T-shirt franchise for a bit; a nice little earner.
I’d seen, done and heard the lot in twenty very odd years in the holy cities, the ashrams, temples, cathedrals, synagogues and mosques of an old, decaying and degenerate world. I’d pursued devious clerics on every continent, except, come to think on it, Antarctica, a remarkably scandal-free zone, or maybe just too cold to be worth the hassle.
Not only had I seen, done and heard it all, I had, more to the point, made a reasonable living from the seeing, doing and hearing and then detailing my observations to the faithless and the faithful alike. Both parties had shown a healthy appetite for my analysis of the precise composition of the clay from which their pastors’ little piggies had been fashioned by the jumbo assortment of gods they represented.
They built ‘emselves up and I knocked ‘em down.
So now there I was; the world’s most prominent investigative reporter in the religious affairs field, the biggest baddest fish in a small, venomous but lucrative pond.
What did I have to show for this achievement? A free floating remit from four top papers, a worrying range of expense accounts, an expensive divorce and a soul condemned to a dozen varieties of damnation by every major sect and quite a few of the minor ones; just some of what I had to show, should I have chosen to do so. I usually chose not to.
My prime had been in the twilight years of a tired Millennium whose last few years had seen me resting on my reputation a bit. This was, however, a well constructed and extremely comfy sort of place to rest. The contents of St Patrick’s crypt, the secret Jerusalem conference of ‘77, the Imam’s weekend retreat, the Krakow commune of ‘42; all were stories I'd broken on an aghast world. Once recovered from their aghastification the world seemed to enjoy learning that, even for the Godly, to err is human.
Interesting enough to sell the odd newspaper too. It was a job.
At least my professional devotion to matters of the spirit afforded me the chance to explore the pleasures of the flesh, if purely as an amateur. I had made plenty of time for the odd bit of wine, women and song though not necessarily in that order. Music was my first love and, unfortunately, as health, looks and vigour decline it will inevitably be my last. Like most products of the 50s this had meant rock and pop at first. As my generation got old, grey and fat and still, obtusely, failed to die, I’d broadened my tastes to a bit of opera and, especially, jazz. The world's main religious sites had always refused, stubbornly and consistently, to coincide with the places where a decent bit of be-bop could be heard, despite my best efforts. I had, however, become adept at finding excuses for a trip to New York, Paris or Havana. A side-line in concert and record reviews supplemented the religious affairs syndications and even paid for a few luxuries like clothing and alimony.
These activities also supported a continuing love affair with the dizzying variety of ways in which the world chose to feed its hunger and slake its thirst, an affair betrayed by my increasing reliance on the sort of bespoke tailoring that flatters the fuller figure. You name me any significant town and your price range and I’ll tell you where to get yourself fed and watered real good.
And then there were women. And then for increasingly long intervals there weren’t.
Let’s draw a heavily lined veil over that one. Some other time, maybe.
Now, as an old, jaded Millennium faded and we looked towards the new one with a slightly shinier version of the same tarnished dreams and abandoned hopes as before, I found myself, like Chaucer’s Wife of Bath, in Galicia at Seynt Jame, or to cutte ye olde crappe, in Santiago de Compostela in the Celtic North-West of Spain.
I had been chasing a reasonable to middling story. This involved monies, made by Andalucian nuns from selling sweet pastries, finding their way into the treasury of a minor and recently deceased West African despot. These pesetas had then funded a campaign of genocide against the only Catholic tribe in his country. Smallish beer, but arousing enough interest from my editors to justify an odyssey around Rome, Frankfurt, Pretoria, Abidjan, and Madrid, chasing leads.
I was in Santiago trying to trace a Monsignor Teruel who had served as some sort of link to the late unlamented President. I had a few leads and contacts but they had proven variously senile, evasive or dead. So, I made some more plenty of time to renew my acquaintance with the massive lichen-dotted Romanesque heap of the Cathedral and its surrounding city. After ten centuries of practice these folks sure knew how to welcome a pilgrim. I even found space to catch up with some album reviews, and to drive up the coast to La Coruna to write up a concert by a young Cantabrian band who were starting to make waves with a blend of flamenco, Gaelic pipes and township jive. I was confident that one of the small specialist mags I strung for would be grateful for a Galician by-line to boost their credibility as international sophisticates.
It was on returning in the wee hours from this jaunt to the city’s Renaissance pilgrims hostal, now converted into a pretty nifty hotel, that I received the note from Miquel the receptionist guy. I was dog tired and hit the sack without reading it.
I’d planned a long lie-in but was roused by an unearthly, if familiar, wailing noise from outwith my room. Bleary-eyed I threw open the window and peered down at a ginger mop blowing into a set of bagpipes and bouncing a few trial notes off the hotel wall.
A lanky kilted figure attached to the ginger mop looked up and smiled.
‘Mornin’ Mr McAdam. Lovely day, again.’
‘It was, yes. I thought I gave you some cash to fuck off yesterday.’
‘You did, indeed, and off I happily fucked. Yesterday.’
‘Problem is this is such a prime spot, Mr McAdam. The tourist buses get in there,’ he indicated up the street, ‘and the main square is down there.’
‘So sorry but it’s just too good to miss the chance.’
He stoated a few more trebly notes off the wall and adjusted his chanter. Then he looked up again and grinned.
‘I was thinking about what you do, Mr McAdam.’
‘Not Mr McAdam, just McAdam. You were, were you?’
‘Yeh. Pretty much what I do.’
‘McAdam – son of Adam, like we all are. Bit of a coincidence innit? Is it a stage name or a nom de plume or whatever?’
‘No, it’s my real genuine family name, and yes a bit of a coincidence. Do you do requests?’
He grinned maliciously. ‘Only if they don’t end in ‘off.’
‘Pity. Do ‘The Dark Island’ then,’ I found a scrunched up pile of notes in my pocket, selected one at random and, wrapping it around a coin for weight, lobbed it neatly into his case.
He peered at it and grinned even more widely. I needed to get used to the colour of those banknotes before they disappeared, I reminded myself.
You said you liked jazz, didn’t you?’ he asked.
‘I’ll do a free form jazz version of it then.’
‘No thanks, just the standard dirge will be fine.’
‘Oh,’ he looked mildly disappointed, ‘OK.’
With the mournful pibroch as background I carried out some basic ablutions. It was on my way back from the shower that I spotted the envelope and remembered last night’s delivery.
Written in good English in an elegant italic on expensive vellum, the note told me that Gabriel would be pleased to see me at noon, giving an address in the nearby old town. I was a bit annoyed that my respite was ending. What with all the jetting around exotic locations, I hadn't actually had a proper holiday for years.
The name Gabriel was not one that had figured in the story until now, but it seemed worth pursuing. I was being paid to be here to write a story about an international scandal, not to doss about, so back to work I supposed. Call it the Protestant work ethic or something like that. At least, I consoled myself, it's better than having to live by the sweat of my brow.
I donned my working garb, pretty much the same as my leisure garb it has to be said, and went down to the hotel lobby. Miquel was still on duty. Either he lived here permanently, sleeping under the counter, or worked absurdly long hours.
I caught his eye. ‘Hola, Miquel.’
‘Hola Senor McAdam. Will you be dining with us tonight? The kitchen has some particularly fine bonito freshly delivered.’
‘Sounds good. Yes, book me in for 9.30 please. The note you gave me earlier. Who handed it in for me?’
‘A sister? Whose sister?’
‘Si, a sister, a monja, what is the English?…a noon. Yes, a nun.’
‘A nun? Hmmm,’ I wasn’t sure if that made the invite more or less interesting. ‘This address,’ I folded the note to let him see only the relevant part. I didn’t know him that well, ‘Do you know where it is?’
He looked and nodded, without giving any suggestion that it meant anything much.
‘Not far away. Five minutes walk. Off the Praza Inmaculada.’
So, well before Noon I had checked out the address. Basic good health and safety practice for the investigative journalist; look before you peep.
It was a modest souvenir shop hidden in the warren of streets that had grown up without the benefit of planning consent in the hinterland of the great Cathedral.
Inside the ancient heap pilgrims queued to climb a few steps to hug the Buddha-like statue of Saint James, the Moor slayer. This was a real social climber, a guy who had graduated, in eight hundred years or so from Palestinian peasant to genocidal maniac and patron saint of Spain. His bones, the queue folk sincerely believed, lay in the crypt below. Around his tomb the locals had built not only a great cathedral but also the world’s first tourist industry. Defined paths, each with its infrastructure of inns and signage led here from all parts of old Europe. Outside the Cathedral, the craft-workers in azabache, that's jet to you or I, had, in ancient times, colonised this square at the rear of the cathedral, just at the point where the pilgrim routes reached their goal. Once upon a time, possibly more often, those who had trudged the Camino Santo all the way from the French border or beyond had bought rosaries or crosses in the shiny black-defining stone. Now modern pilgrims arrived by car or air and bought postcards, mock pilgrim staffs and plastic scallop shells as well as all manners of souvenirs carved in jet. Shop windows and trestle tables were piled with table decorations, jewellery, religious baubles and tat. Most prominent were replicas in all sizes of the Cathedral's huge incense-burner, the Botafumeiro, swung daily by a scrum of beefy clerics, for the greater glory of God and the amusement and fumigation of the tourists.
It was outside one of these shops, a little off the main drag, that I found myself standing shortly before mid-day. A dusty window displayed the usual range of fripperies in jet, along with such desirable goodies as plastic virgin-shaped bottles of holy water, plates bearing the Holy Father’s image and tracts in Spanish, Gallego, French, Italian and English. The combination of grimy window, dark interior and harsh mid-day sun made it impossible to see inside. I checked the vicinity for danger. Down at the bottom of the street the tourist throng began but here I was, more or less, alone. A thin denim-clad pair of legs hung over the side of a nearby metal rubbish bin, and a limited Spanish tenor crooned cante jondo from within. Neither the legs nor the voice seemed to offer any threat.
I entered the shop to find myself surrounded by shelves full of the same sort of cheap idolatrous rubbish that filled the window. At the far end, behind a tiny counter, a wrinkled old gent sat sucking noisily on an unlit pipe, reading a comic book, and paying me no heed whatsoever.
Gabriel? I didn’t think so.
I made like a tourist and began to examine the shelves full of trinkets. Turning, I was mildly surprised to find, hidden behind the main door, a revolving rack of cassettes. It contained an odd assortment of musics, both holy and profane. The tapes ranged from choral works to American pop and Balearic rave, flamenco and heavy metal. One section was full of tapes of the troubadour tuna troupes who panhandled amongst the tourists in the town’s cafes. Among the dross though a few gems shone through; a Weather Report compilation and a mid-period Miles Davis album. I possessed neither and the primal male urge to do so was strong. Despite the fact that I had no cassette player available to me nearer than about 1200 miles away, plus the strong chance that they were poor quality bootlegs, churned out on a ghetto-blaster in Vigo, I lifted both and approached the counter.
Handing the old man a note for the tapes I asked, as casually as I could muster, ‘Is Gabriel in?’ If English didn’t work I was prepared to try my shoddy Castilian.
No need. The wrinkly one took the cash, offered no change, and nodded to a half-open door behind him. Pocketing the tapes, I stepped round the counter and through the doorway. Down a short unlit passage I found myself in a neat high-walled garden, a tiny handkerchief of lawn surrounded by low clipped shrubs. A gate in the high wall opposite the building seemed to lead to a back lane.
On the lawn a man reclined in a deck-chair, eyes closed, facing me. I sized him up immediately. About 30, tall, slim, athletic, dark glossy hair, expensively maintained olive complexion, not Spanish. Italian maybe? Possibly a later son of a discretely wealthy Lombardian family. Probably a low red sports car parked in the lane and Mafia links. Possibly a cocaine-user. Definitely dangerous.
He opened his eyes to the blazing mid-day sun and gazed evenly at me without blinking. Difficult that.
‘You are Mr McAdam,’ accentless English, delivered as a statement not a question.
‘And you are?’
‘You are early,’ he had not looked at his watch.
‘Can you take me to Padre Teruel?’ I asked, feeling that somehow this encounter was not meeting my exacting standards of control; as in what the feck was going on here?
‘I know no such person, come this way,’ he replied, rising and heading for the gate.
I was getting a bit irritated by now and did not move. ‘What can you tell me about the loans to President Nimbela?’
Gabriel turned and looked at me impassively. ‘I can tell you that you have been chosen for a great honour, the greatest honour possible for one of your calling.’
‘You’re on the Pulitzer committee are you?’ I snapped.
‘I know no Pulitzer,’ he said, his tone still bland and ultra reasonable, as he opened the gate. ‘Come with me.’
‘What guarantee do I have of my safety?’ I asked of his retreating back.
He turned and smiled the smallest possible smile.
‘I can give you God’s word,’ he said as, around us, the bells of Santiago began to wind into their well-rehearsed announcement of High Noon.
My instinct for a story struggled for a brief moment with my highly practiced devotion to self-preservation. The story won.
‘Oh well,’ I said, ‘can’t say fairer than that.’
I followed him out of the gate and as it clicked shut behind me, found myself in Heaven.
I could tell it wasn’t Santiago. The lack of mouldering lichen-encrusted old buildings was a clue. Another clue was the lack of any buildings at all, other than the small defensive installation/sepulchre type thing from which we had just stepped. No eyes or gun barrels peeped out from the narrow slits about fifteen feet up its unadorned concrete walls, and the gate which had closed lightly behind us now seemed, at a glance, to be a heavy forbidding wooden door. Indeed that’s what it still was when I looked properly.
I could also tell it wasn’t reality; something to do with a shortage of gravity, my feet barely skimming the short, coarse grass beneath them, far less the gritty, sandy soil from which the grass tufted.
We stood in a great expanse of arid heathland, under a sapphire-blue sky laced with gauzy lilac clouds. It was some hours past noon here, though a watery but insistent sun was still doing its best to drain colour from all around us.
In the distance, some miles across the plain, a walled city lurked in its own shadows. It was an irregular, jagged sort of settlement, a few minarets and spires scratching its sky, with a single dark tower dominating. Between our outpost and this city there was some activity of people or animals rushing hither and thither, though my eyes could make out no detail.
I tried hard not to seem impressed.
‘OK Gabriel,’ I grimaced, ‘good trick, well done. Now where did you put Santiago?’
Gabriel allowed himself another skinny de-caff smile.
‘Santiago is where it always has been and always will be. For reasons that need not concern you it is, more than Rome, a truly eternal city. Our business is here,’ he murmured, moving towards the distant city.
‘And here is?’ I queried, not budging an inch.
‘It goes by many names,’ he called back over his shoulder. ‘Best call it Heaven.’
I looked at Gabriel's departing figure then back at the sepulchre/ pillbox door.
‘God’s word?’ I shouted after him.
‘God’s word!’ he shouted back.
By the time I had caught up with him, a cloud of dust was racing towards us from the direction of the city. This gradually transformed itself into a small open carriage pulled by two sturdy piebald ponies and driven by a stout black chap of middle years and, it transpired, no conversation; until a bit later anyway.
It swept past without acknowledgement to turn sharply and rumble up alongside us, where he drew the snorting beasts to a halt.
Gabriel leapt lithely aboard and beckoned me up. I surprised myself by doing it in a single bound, the apparent lightness of gravity giving me an athleticism I had not enjoyed even in my prime. The driver gave a barely perceptible shrug and the ponies set off at a trot.
‘OK Gabriel,’ I ventured, ‘what’s happening?’
‘Listen and do not speak,’ he answered. ‘As I said, you have been chosen for what must be the ultimate task which anyone of your trade could perform, the ultimate ‘scoop’ as I believe you call it. You have been chosen to conduct an exclusive series of interviews with the Divine Creator and to convey the holy word back to the people of your world.’
‘Oh is that all?’
He glared at me. I shut up.
‘This is not a step that has been taken lightly, nor,’ he continued, ‘is it one that is wholly approved of down here, but it has been decided. You were chosen, apparently, because your impartiality and honesty have been noted.’
He paused. ‘I don’t suppose you realised you were being read quite so widely.’
The journalist’s instinct that had brought me here had now stopped squabbling with my cowardice and turned its attentions to an all-out war with my natural tendency not to believe a word of this crap.
‘You will require some sort of proof,’ said Gabriel, in a tone of weary regret, acknowledging it as some mildly undignified bodily function.
‘I will require some sort of proof,’ I answered.
‘Well for a start we could stop the carriage and watch this.’
As the buggy drew to a halt I turned away from him to see that we were now approaching the throng I had spotted from some miles back.
Arrayed across the plain in serried ranks was a host of soldiers, horses, beasts, vehicles, creatures, objects, and... things beyond easy categorisation. The mid-afternoon sun glinted off a whole spectrum of skin, hide, hair, teeth, scales, armour and wild bloodshot eyes.
‘What is it?’ I asked, not sure that I really wanted to know.
‘It’s the practice field for Armageddon,’ replied Gabriel, hopping off and heading for a grassy knoll nearby. ‘Come up here, you’ll get a better view.’
‘Practice?’ I asked, ‘for the Apocalypse?’
‘Of course,’ he said. ‘You don’t expect them just to make it up as they go along on the big day, do you?’
I thought about this.
‘I hadn't really thought about it before. I suppose so.’
‘There is much new thinking that you will require to do in the next few days.’
That sounded a bit of a threat to me so I dealt with it as I usually do with threats, ignoring it and hoping it would go away. It seemed to work so I joined him to watch as new rank upon new rank of figures joined the vast army before us. To our left were row upon row of dark armoured cohorts astride massive white horses, before us a seething, disorganised mass of short, corpulent figures enveloped in lurid purple cloaks and brandishing viciously glinting pikes, behind them a dense pack of creatures who seemed half flame and half animal; some lions, some monkeys, some cows, some birds. All were rearing up, gesticulating and ululating wildly. To our right there were several hundred tall swarthy sexless figures with vestigial wings sprouting from their shoulder-blades. They beat, pumped, blew, sucked and twanged on a variety of tubes, skins, bellows and strung objects. Near the front on a row of bright stools sat seven rather grubby non-descript old gents bearing large leather-bound books. Only they were quiet amidst the most horrendous din imaginable, as each strange creature sought to drown out the others. Around the whole throng charioteers raced, whipping their steaming, bellowing steeds to greater exertions.
I looked to Gabriel, hoping for some explanation.
‘They’re just warming up,’ he said, without looking at me.
I found my mobile somewhere in the folds of my jacket and checked it. No messages, good. No signal, bad. Not much juice, not so good. This was all so long ago now that I was still at that time pretty damn amazed to have a tiny, low definition digital camera built into the phone; a little gift-cum-loan from a grateful Japanese magnate for whom I’d done some freelance exorcism of an Iowan sect operating within his company. I’d been happy to ‘road test’ it for him. I lifted it and took a snap of the army.
‘Umm, don’t do that please,’ asked Gabriel. I put it away.
Suddenly, and without warning, silence descended like death and from between the parting waves of the orchestra there trooped the star performers; a heavily pregnant woman, a fat, smug looking lamb, four smallish dragons, four huge chain mailed horsemen bearing weapons, and four similar helmeted and armoured cavalrymen bearing long brass trumpets. All eight of their steeds were huge and spirited and every one the black of the jet I had scorned on the souvenir stalls of Santiago.
This group arranged themselves before the host, acknowledging neither the throng nor their neighbour nor us. They seemed to be waiting for something.
They were. From behind us appeared a creature who exuded command and authority. He/she/it, no-definitely he, was about eight foot tall and built like a heavyweight boxer, with the skin-tone of a West African, a US army-issue haircut and garb that could have been described as military fatigues, were it not apparently of diaphanous scarlet silk. He carried a bullhorn and mounted a short metal stepladder erected for him by a small hairy creature of mysterious species who then scurried to the front of his leader and opened a book for his inspection, which he ignored.
‘My colleague Michael,’ murmured Gabriel.
Before me a vast army of the most loathsome conceptions of the vilest imaginations of heaven, earth and hell cowered visibly as this sergeant-major figure spoke.
‘Alright,’ he barked, ‘you’ve all had a break. No excuse for yesterday’s sloppiness. I want good positioning. I want terror, I want awe, I want dread, I want the joy of salvation. God Almighty! You’ve had the goddamn script two thousand years. What more do you want? Right, positions, and counting...5...4...3...2...1...GO!’
At this last roared command the multitude split into a thousand fragments and milled incomprehensibly about. The woman, the lamb, the petite dragons and the old book-keepers acted out some arcane ritual in middle-field, while the sergeant-major roared dementedly and his hairy little batman turned the pages of the book, which his boss continued to ignore.
‘Of course,’ murmured Gabriel beside me, ‘it’ll all happen and be seen on a bigger scale come the real thing.’
Suddenly from over the far horizon swooped a creature the size of half-a-dozen Jumbo jets jammed together. It was huge and grey-purple, shiny and scaly like a newly landed trout. Unlike a trout it was multi-headed. It was hard to be precise about the number of heads as they were all very active. Possibly seven. Some were looking malevolently down at the armies below, others were held fully back, screaming at the sun, one was chewing on an oak tree, another lolled a huge leathery tongue out and licked its own brows.
This behorned abomination filled the sky, four massive translucent wings flapping wildly fore and aft, blue-green flame streaming from every orifice as it soared over the hellish throng. As well as the over-provision of heads, it seemed to have more orifices than was standard issue in the animal kingdom. It swooped and scattered groups of the troops with its fiery exhalations. A few objects were left writhing on the ground in various stages of preparedness from au point to crispy.
Just at this moment a gut-wrenching bellow of anguish and fury rose from the sergeant-major and the churning mass ground to an abrupt silent halt. Apart from the burnt guys who kept right on busily writhing, that is.
The huge dragon-creature hovered unsteadily, all fourteen eyes (I had a chance to count now) looking balefully down at the field.
‘Terror? FUCKING TERROR?’ screamed the scarlet one at the sky-bound monstrosity. ‘I’ve seen more terrifying visions in the cherubim’s sleeping quarters. This is the end of all time you’re portending not some fucking Sunday-school outing! Now back and start again and this time look as if you mean it!’
If it is possible for such a hideous and terrible brute to slink shamefully then shameful slinking was what it was up to as it flapped pathetically back towards the far horizon.
‘Right!’ bawled the sergeant-major at the rest of his charges, ‘that wasn’t too bad. Good positioning, good bedlam, but try to look more unpleasant horsemen, and Famine! I’m watching you for weight-gain! You want to go back to the camp, do you? OK take five while that stupid bastard gets back into position.’
The company relaxed visibly and gathered in small buzzing knots of conversation. Someone fetched a bucket of water and made a token effort to damp down the participants who’d been toasted. Some of them staggered to their feet, brushing ashes from their uniforms; some of them continued to lie there sizzling quietly.
‘I think we’ve seen enough,’ said Gabriel, heading towards the carriage without looking at me. ‘You have an appointment to keep.’
I stood briefly, struggling to make sense of what I saw before me. I had been around. I’d seen and done quite a lot. I think I’ve already made that point clearly enough. My, by now very deep, cynicism was not finding it easy to come to terms with all this.
Perhaps I had flipped? I didn’t feel mad although I would, presumably, be the last to know if I was.
Reality orientation time. I mentally ticked off my name, rarely visited address, date and place of birth and a few brief biographical details. Yup, I'm who I think I am. I reminded myself of a few of my opinions on human and political affairs. I did not believe that I was from Mars, that the CIA had a camera planted in my forehead, that World War Two had been a conspiracy to create the state of Israel, nor that the Dutch Royal family were lizards and were behind the world’s heroin trade. All reasonable indications were that I was sane after all. Clearly therefore, I reasoned, it’s the rest of existence that’s chosen to go askew. I didn’t like to think that I might have some responsibility for putting that right. Free world after all. If people want to practice for its end, that’s up to them. Hell, back home there are people who spend all their free time dressing up and recreating long lost battles down to the last detail of weaponry and tactics. This is just the same sort of thing.
I turned to find my way blocked by one of the huge black horses bearing an armoured trumpeter. This close I could see the blood-red eyes of the animal, its sinewy sweating flanks, flared steaming nostrils and lathered hide. It stood the size of a Clydesdale but with the sleekness and muscular definition of a thoroughbred. The figure astride was, at first sight, equally impressive in severe and undecorated silver-grey armour, burnished to a deep mirrored blackness. My eyes followed up the beefy legs and torso to find the visor pulled back. This revealed a rather young looking blonde-eyebrowed lad smiling nervously at me. As our eyes met I detected a distinct blush. I was hauled back through the years to childhood visits to Edinburgh Castle. Returning on successive visits over the years, the huge great-coated and helmeted soldiers guarding the main gate had slowly shrunk before my eyes into over-wrapped pink pimply youths in ridiculous hats. Either the army had, in the interim, relaxed the entrance requirements or I’d grown up. Maybe both.
‘Hello,’ he said.
‘Er, Hello,’ I answered.
There arose an embarrassed silence, of the kind that sometimes arises between prospective lovers. I did not regard this bizarre apparition as a prospective lover. I sincerely hoped this wasn’t how he saw me.
‘Just down from Creation are we?’ he said.
‘Eh, well up, down, across, whatever. Yes.’
‘Down, we say here,’ he informed me, glancing nervously over to his shoulder to where the sergeant-major was angrily berating a group of the troll-like pike bearers.
‘Oh really,’ I said, not really sure where this conversation was going.
‘Listen,’ he said with a sudden urgency, ‘do you have any tapes?’
‘Tapes?’ I queried.
‘Yes, tapes, it's just we don't get much opportunity to get any new music down here. Some of us pick up the hardware and CDs or tapes when we're up on guardian angel duty but I don’t get much of a chance in my job, for obvious reasons.’
‘Obvious reasons,’ I nodded. I didn’t like to think what they might be, ‘right.’
‘I do have a Walkman though,’ he beamed proudly. ‘Pestilence brought it back for me last time he was up on one of his tours. The four of them have been getting a bit more up time the last few years. For obvious reasons.’
‘Obvious reasons,’ I nodded. Four of them. I liked even less to think what any of this meant.
‘That’s nice,’ was all I could manage to say to this. ‘What kind of music do you all listen to up, down here then?’
‘Oh, anything really,’ he answered, ‘light orchestral, choral of course. Organ music’s very popular. I’m a bit unusual myself, I prefer Jazz.’
‘Jazz?’ I suddenly remembered the cassettes in my jacket. ‘I’m a bit of a jazz buff too. In fact,’ I located the tapes and handed them over, ‘I do have a couple of tapes here you could have. Weather Report and Miles.’
It seemed the charitable thing to do.
The blush spread rapidly over his whole face, lighting it up with the sort of joy associated with Xmas TV adverts rather than Xmas actuality. I handed the tapes into his huge mailed gauntlet.
‘You don’t know what this means,’ he stammered. ‘You need any favour at all down here, you just give me a shout. The guys call me Dizzy. You can too but my real name’s Sheol. Not much of a name I know, but I didn’t pick it. We’re sort of trained from birth for Apocalypse duty. Even the horses are bred for it. We don’t even get to...’
‘Back in your place horseman!’ yelled the sergeant-major, having evidently spotted an absence in the ranks. In a split second, and without a glance at me, the visor was down, the tapes secreted in some fold of the huge glistening saddle and the horse pivoted expertly and directed back to its fellows. I rejoined Gabriel in the buggy as the driver flicked the ponies into action.
‘So,’ said Gabriel, ‘do you accept that you are in...,’ he seemed to have difficulty with the word, ‘...Heaven?’
I noted a slight hint of pleading in his tone. Was he a little less confident about what he was selling than he had first appeared? Not my job to reassure him.
‘Well,’ I answered, taking a last look back at the parade ground, ‘it sure as hell ain’t Fauldhouse.’
The whole novel (God:the inside story by Paul Connell) is now available on Amazon.com, amazon.co.uk and Amazon Spain as a Kindle ebook (now reformatted eliminating funny gaps and margins) Chapter 2 is now up here for non kindle owners - more later? Maybe, maybe not.
- Use for below to send feedback to author - View the Authors profile here
- The following form will send feedback to the author about this short story, please enter your e-mail if you wish a reply (which is obviously at the authors own discretion)