The path was well worn, for they came in numbers.
To many, the journey had taken the form of almost religious homage. But for the majority, the subjugated, it was a feared and tortuous trek into the unknown.
Penance or penalty – who could tell? It mattered not.
Even those forced to accompany their masters on frequent trips were fearful of stumbling upon unexpected terrors. For this was an unforgiving land - a strange, soulless wood land, fraught with dread and trepidation around every turn. A land inhabited by a species of beings, shy by nature, who would gather in small groups but scamper into the darkened recesses when approached by outsiders. For it would seem they too were tormented by the unknown.
Colin had been here before, of course. Most of the village’s menfolk had.
But this particular command to saddle up the iron horse and prepare for a new venture into the living, breathing nightmare took him by surprise. Surely his master had laid sufficient sacrifices at the altar of Ingvar to last until the year end at least? Had their dues not been fully satisfied? What more could be required of them?
Colin’s hands were visibly shaking as he prepared for the journey. A survival pack was hastily replenished with revitalising fluids, spectacles, a mobile communicator and most importantly, cash. The god, Ingvar rewarded the offering of cash. This Colin knew only too well.
The short trip to the edge of the mysterious wood land passed quietly and the iron horse was securely stored in a place that would later become as difficult to find as the end of a rainbow.
Colin’s master led the way towards, and through the rotating gates to the place of nightmares. Colin took a deep breath and closed his eyes as, from somewhere deep within, he found the courage to follow.
Instantly, his heart sank. His knees trembled. His head felt as if it were being squeezed by a contracting band of steel. Experience, however, reassured him.
“Focus on the positive. Always the positive,” he told himself. If his master was in benevolent mood, there may be a reward at the end of the trek. Assuming he made it through unscathed, that was.
Trailing a discreet distance behind his master, Colin joined the sluggard masses. Eye contact with the other subjugates proved difficult, but when by chance glances were exchanged, he could see into the very souls of the others. They were neither dead, nor undead. They were caught in a twilight world where all emotion had been thwarted. Until they made it to the other side (if they made it to the other side) their minds belonged to their masters. Only the naïve or plain stupid would offer up opinions of negativity. Even those who opined what they considered a neutral indecisiveness would be ruthlessly smote down in a volley of retribution.
As they wandered deeper and deeper into the petrifying forest, their masters would casually pick up items for brief inspection, pat them, then cast them aside once again. Colin and the other subjugates, however, would become disorientated and nauseous. Their very existence lay in the hands of the masters. So long as they remained no more than a few steps behind, and didn’t let them slip out of sight, they knew it would all have to end. Eventually.
Focus. Envisage the end. How good will it feel when it’s all over?
And then it was.
Suddenly, the trail opened up. No longer was it a random path meandering throughout the heavily wooded area. It was now a straight, direct walkway through a deep valley, dwarfed on both sides by mountainous blocks erected in temple-like fashion – a place for final worship before leaving the kingdom of Ingvar.
The mood of Colin and the numerous other subjugates visibly brightened. Their pace increased. Their gait lightened. They were nearly home. All that remained was to wade through the wide, but traversable rapids.
It had been done before. This was do-able.
And there, in the near distance, the reward. Colin’s master gave that look. Simply translated, it meant: ‘Yes. Ok. You’ve been good. Go on.’
And Colin ran and Colin skipped over to the reward. Now – ice cream or hot dog? Or maybe some meatballs to take-away? Or some cinnamon rolls?
Weekend visits to Ikea were sometimes worth the grief.
Other books in this genre:
"Most stunning about this cartoon is that, even though it's barely there at all, it has a certain low-key charm. It's an astoundingly different approach to cartooning". -- Cartoon OpportunitiesIt was a revolutionary idea when Scott Dikkers launched Jim's Journal in 1987 as an "anti-cartoon". The strip's drab title character, Jim, shuffles through a life in which virtually nothing ever happens. Yet Jim's Journal became a phenomenal hit, first on college campuses with Jim's fellow slackers, then exploding into other publications throughout the country.In I Feel Like a Grown-up Now -- Jim's fifth and final collection -- the prosaic Jim enters the not-so-exciting life of an adult. He negotiates married life, takes a job as a grocery clerk, and faces the frequent harassment of phone companies begging him to switch his long distance service. Cartoonist Dikkers, who lives in Madison, Wisconsin, is no longer syndicating Jim's Journal. He now devotes his time to filmmaking and The Onion, a humorous alternative newspaper.
Sparty darted from the corner of the barn, his Dalmatian dots blurring like flurrying snow. He'd been idly nosing a Daddy Long Legs, a passel of sticks that wouldn't play. Steve's head jerked to follow his dog, and because his arm followed the trajectory, Old Bessie mooed "red alert!"
Odd. Sparty seldom left Steve's side for long when he was milking, content to supervise stoically. Outdoors the squirrels scampered in disquieted haste, to beat the winter that always seemed on its way. Sparty could chase them all day.
Odder yet, Sparty's bark was neither rascal-pursuit or guardian-like. Steve deciphered his dog's messages as readily as Jackie understood Brandon's baby whimpers and coos. Sparty sounded like boyhood Christmas.
"Sorry, Old Bess," Steve said with a pat to the cow's haunch, "but I gotta go reconnoiter. Sparty is playing the scout."
Steve lifted his cap to scruff his longish hair and then resettled it. He hoped the S aligned properly, his version of company best. Whoever was out there was new, not a neighbor. He may have heard tires crunch the gravel of the lane moments ago, plausible because the postman and pastor made rounds.
His recently-divorced and near-thirty son, Brandon, might be home from a date, stumbling in soon to do chores. More likely lurching toward his personal suite, their Winnebago parked between the two small yellow barns, to game.
Steve was unalarmed. It was, after all, his property and his dog, both long tethered to his soul. His wife, Jackie, was cooking massive quantities of homogenized, teen-pleasing fare at what she called her lively 'hood, the local high school cafeteria.
Steve strode purposefully to cross the milk barn threshold, yet his curiosity threatened to loft his cap into the breeze. Fall swirled the air with possibility. With winter's frosty temps, folks bought more milk, probably for vast quantities of hot cocoa and holiday baking. "Hurrah" for health benefits sabotaged by season-sanctioned treats and extra cash for the Breeden Dairy.
"Howdy. To what do I owe the pleasure?" Steve said to the figure backlit by midmorning sun, his tone friendly yet authoritarian. Cautious, strangely calm. Sparty's tongue vigorously worked the stranger's extended palm, as if he was lapping up crumbs. His body waggled more than it did for Brandon.
"You owe the pleasure to our awesome mom," the man boomed. He patted Sparty's head, stood, and extended his arm.
"Say what?" Steve took in the Tony Lamas that trumped his functionally forlorn rubber boots, his gut struck with emotion as if kicked.
The refrain of Springsteen's "Born to Run" jangled on Jackie's iPhone as she peeled potatoes at her polished aluminum sink. She frowned at her reflection, tucked a curl behind an ear, and swore, "Porca puttana!"
Daydream interrupted by ringtone. She paused to wonder what her mother might think of Italian, cursing, and ringtones? Mrs. Clayton, now deceased, would have known about interruptions because that's a mother's life. And about daydream's because that's a woman's.
Jackie knew a little Italian because she was a singer and an Internet trawler bored with daily life conscribed, conscripted, and safe. Her new phone brought portable intrigue, Words with Friends, and calls to fling gossip around town. She no longer feared deleting Steve's business data on the desktop computer.
But this wasn't one of her friends calling. They knew not to interrupt supper chores. The song signaled Brandon, only child and light of her life, he of the never-ending energy since his first day on earth, calling to check in.
Jackie loved the song, her son, and the fact that he called her frequently, but not necessarily in that order and not at this time. In her reverie, she had been in Rome, skirt hiked to step into the Trevi Fountain, its cool water swirling her ankles. She wiped one hand on her apron and reached into its pocket for her phone.
"Hi, honey, I love you!" Jackie tried not to sound as perturbed as she felt. Farm ways didn't allow for unwelcome. "How's everything?"
"Mom, it's all turning to shit!" Brandon's stage whisper sounded like a shriek. "We're gonna lose our home. I'm scared to tell Dad. You gotta help me, Mom."
A request for help was expected - history did repeat itself - but her daydream whispered provocatively, "Come back to Rome!"
Jackie didn't speak. If there'd been a cat about, she'd blame it for stealing her tongue. The dog, Sparty, tail wagging to the beat of dairy chores, was in the barn with Steve.
"Mom. Mom. Are you there? I wanna see your face. Why won't you use FaceTime?"
"Brandon, you know your rural Michigan farmwife mom can't always look like the Avon lady. Hold on, will you? I'm fixing your dad's supper. I have a knife in my hand."
"OK. I'll call back in five." Brandon clicked off.
Jackie placed the phone on the new granite counter, gingerly because of the price of both. She dropped the knife into the sink and elbowed the faucet to a tepid blend of water to rinse and wipe it on a fresh dishtowel, then did the same with her hands. She beamed at the lengthy one-piece potato peel in the sink. It was a game she played to break the tedium of having peeled more potatoes than McDonald's.
Then Jackie strode to the fridge for iced tea, poured a tall glass, and took a gulp to further unlace her nerves. The kids' house loss was going to be most unsettling to Steve, her steady-eddy, church deacon, dairy farming man. Was she going to have to play go-between again?
My Favorite Christmas Tree
Originally appeared in Ellipsis: An Anthology of Humorous Short Stories, August 2016
The names in this story are true.
Only the facts have been changed.
None are innocent.
We called ourselves the Scurvy Bastards. To us, drinking was science; the weekend our laboratory; our bodies, test tubes; and our minds, the experiment.
Every Friday and Saturday, each of us would absorb three to four times the lethal dose of alcohol, and have others report back on our actions. Needless to say, this was fascinating research.
One night, whilst sitting on the Scurvy Benches, as was our wont, the Electrician (a man permanently wired) had just dismissed the whole of Kant’s epistemology with the words, “That faggot didn’t even drink.”
The air was crisp as lettuce and miniature fogs arose whenever someone used the Pissing Tree. The Electrician’s irrefutable logic set Feeney thinking. Feeney did a great deal of thinking. He had to. No one could be that disturbed or disturbing without having put a great deal of thought into it. He was something of an enigma wrapped in legend. None knew from whence he came; he would appear like some mythical being, gym bag filled with books, Jameson, and Stout, dressed like Sherlock Holmes. He had a great red beard, and spoke in parables. One night he passed out and we found the only identification he bore was a membership card to the Dudley Do-Right fan club in the name of Little Bobby Feeney.
At present, Feeney was engaged in what he termed, “The Great Experiment.” The premise was as simple as it was ingenious: How long can a human being subsist on Guinness Stout and Cheese Doodles?
14A Nobfiddler's Lane
Thursday, August 22nd 1889
Bill Sikes to Doctor J. Watson:
Hand-delivered by Urchin
Deer Docter Watsen
I am sure yule forgiv this intrushon inter your privat life, but I have come upon a situashon what you might be abel ter help with (or indeed, your pal Mister Holmes). As you knowe, I have lately been on the strayt and narrow after being a bit of a robber fer most of my lyfe, so have been involvd in doin some cleanin fer the gover ment. In fact, I have been cleanin the basement in the monument what is knowne as Big Ben. An while doin so I have come inter contact with a gentleman by the name of Mister Hannay.
Anyway, I will get to the point of this letter: Mister Hannay is a writer what is interested in writin crim books and books about villins an that, an he was arskin me what I thought about stuff. Well, whil we was talkin, he arsked how many steps there was up to the tower, so I said there were about four undred.
He was a bit upset at this and said 'So, not thirty-nine, then?'
'No,' said I.
'Bugger,' said he.
Anyway, then he said he would have ter go and I watched him goin off down the streete. Then I appened ter notice that two surly-lookin fellers was followin him, so I hurried on down and catched up with him and took him inter a nearby pub.
The long and the short and the tall of it, Docter, is that Mister Hannay needs your help. I have enclosed the address at where he is stayin and have told him to expect you shortly.
I ope this were alright.
Saturday, August 24th 1889
To Sherlock Holmes Esq. from Doctor Watson
As you appear to be ignoring my messages, I have taken it upon myself to investigate the matter I brought to your attention the other day. Since our old pal Bill Sikes is unwilling to inveigle himself any further in the affair, I sent a telegram to 'The Uphill Gardener' (a public house of dubious repute) arranging to meet with Mr Hannay and attempt some sort of intervention.
When I arrived at the aforementioned hostelry last evening, I alighted from my Hansom in a flurry of excitement. I hasten to say the excitement was not of my doing, but created by a group of young apprentices in the midst of a series of strange tasks: some bigwig by the name of Lord Shagger had demanded they ascertain the cost of performing an appendectomy on the cheap. Identifying me as a physician by my Gladstone bag, the rabble pinned me to the wall and fired a barrage of questions regarding surgical cuts etc. I whipped out my trusty revolver, prompting the youths to back off, at which point they spotted that old fiend Dr Knox across the road (still on the run concerning that body-snatching business), and set off after him.
Finally free of the fray, I scurried into the public house and located the property owner. He glanced around nervously and bade me make haste to an upstairs room where I found our client, Richard Hannay.
'Where's Sherlock Holmes?' said he, with what I deduced to be an unhelpful degree of resentment.
I explained how Mr Holmes was engaged on another matter, but that I would do all I could to help. At this, he crumpled in a heap on the fireside rug and began to sob loudly. Feeling somewhat embarrassed at this show of unmanliness, I determined to explore my feminine side and knelt down beside him. Slipping an arm around his shoulder I must admit I found the experience of human contact rather comforting (as you know, Mrs Watson has been somewhat distant lately, following her fling with that Italian ice cream seller).
It transpires that Hannay cannot return to his own flat as one of his admirers is tormenting him with threats of libel etc. (I use this term loosely, since his melodramatic plots are completely ridiculous and unlikely to provoke anything other than utter boredom). However, I persuaded him that it was foolish to stay away from his own home and we should go there at once to face whoever (or whatever) awaits us.
In the end, I only managed to convince the man after showing him my trusty weapon. His eyes lit up on seeing it, and he begged me to let him touch it. I agreed to this, since I didn't see any harm in letting him feel its solid shaft and hair trigger, so long as the damn thing didn't go off in his hand!
Thus empowered, he became considerably animated and minutes later, we hailed a cab and set off for his apartment. Had I known what lurked in the shadows of that deadly spot, I might have taken more notice of Hannay's concerns.
To be continued
Diary of Doctor J. Watson
Flat 14, Windemere Mansions
Later the same day...
It was dark when Hannay and I arrived at his apartment. My companion’s initial enthusiasm (spurred by the knowledge of the gun in my pocket), had by this time dissipated somewhat. He began to display signs of anxiety; sweating profusely from every pore, an inability to get his key in the lock, visibly starting at the click of the light switch etc. I made myself useful by making a pot of tea while he hurried to the window and drew the curtains.
I busied myself in the kitchen and was a little disappointed to discover there were no Custard Creams. When I returned, Hannay had not moved from his position by the window.
'Here we are, old bean,' I said, handing him a mug of Darjeeling. 'This’ll perk you up.'
Holding the edge of the curtain open, he took the cup and stared at me for a moment, then his gaze moved back to the street outside. 'They’re back again, see?' He turned to me, a look of utter fright in his eyes. 'What the devil can they want?'
I shrugged and peered over his shoulder. In the street below, two rather iffy-looking men were standing by a telephone box, gazing up at the flat. I determined to put a brave face on it: 'Looks perfectly innocent to me – just a couple of chaps having a quiet smoke.'
Hannay shook his head. 'No, they’re after my plot.'
I blinked. 'Your what?'
'My plot,' said he. 'They want to steal The 39 Steps.'
I considered this for a long moment, debating the consequences of such a proposition. 'Sorry, what?'
He uttered a low moaning sound that hinted at his current mental state. 'Watson! Don’t you get it? It’s all about my book – The 39 Steps. They want to steal the plot.'
I began to experience a growing sensation of annoyance. 'What, you mean this isn’t about some international spy ring?'
'Spy ring? God no, it’s much, much worse.'
My blood ran cold. 'You mean - they’re writers?'
'Of course they’re bloody writers, damn it. Ever since I came up with a cracking good idea for my new novel, everyone’s been after it.'
I sighed. 'You’re an idiot. Sorry Hannay, but I’m going home.' I began to put on my socks and string vest. However, a knock at the door startled us both. 'Who the fuck’s that?'
'It’s them!' screamed Hannay, 'they’re going to kill me.'
I pulled on my trousers. 'Don’t be ridiculous. It’s probably just someone who’s lost their way and seeking directions.' I hastened to the door and pulled it open.
Standing before us was a moustachioed man wearing a frock coat. He leaned forward slightly and muttered, 'Ostovich.'
'What?' I said. But our visitor spake no more. He pitched forward and fell in a heap on the floor. And that’s when I noticed the knife in his back.
There was little need to check the man’s vital signs, but I went through the motions nevertheless. Given my companion’s somewhat heightened sense of terror, I decided to break the news to him as gently as possible:
'He’s snuffed it.'
'My God! I’m next!' Hannay’s hands flew to his face, cupping those rosy cheeks in a girlish manner that put me in mind of my own dear wife and the ‘swooning maiden’ act she sometimes adopts whenever I ask her to iron my longjohns.
'We must fetch Sherlock Holmes,' he cried, tugging at my lapel. 'Only he can save us.'
I brushed him aside. 'Don’t be such a nancy-boy, Hannay. Pull yourself together.' I checked through the dead man’s pockets and found two items: a picture postcard of some obscure Scottish village and a small white card displaying a silhouette of a man and the slogan ‘Scudder’s Marital Aids’. Slipping both articles into my pocket, I stood up. 'His name’s Scudder and judging from his business card I don’t believe him to be involved in creative writing. Now, Hannay, this is very important – the word he uttered before he fell…'
Hannay clenched his hands. 'I thought he was asking for the Post Office.'
I shook my head. 'No, that’s meaningless. I'm certain the word was ‘Ostovich’, which is obviously Russian. This man is a secret agent.'
'But what’s that got to do with me?'
I walked over to the window and retrieved my cup of tea. 'I think this has something to do with your writing, Hannay, but it’s also got something to do with spies.'
'But I don’t know anything about spying,' he wailed.
'Ah,' said I. 'And yet, in your recent novel ‘The Forger and the Gin-Juggler' you went into great detail about the process of creating false passports.'
'Oh, you read my books?' His manner changed abruptly and he began pawing at my chest like a lovesick pig.
'Indeed,' I muttered. I turned my face away lest he perceive my lying eyes. 'I didn’t like to say so before, but I’m rather fond of a good story and the depth of research that goes into your work might easily prompt a less intelligent casual reader to think you were involved in spying yourself.'
He shrugged. 'Actually, I make it all up, but I suppose it’s possible…'
'Not only possible, but highly likely. You said yourself someone was trying to steal your new novel.' I rubbed my chin the way I’ve seen Holmes do in such situations. 'I believe that the men who've been following you are enemy agents. Scudder here was obviously involved – perhaps he was a double agent. A triple agent, even.' I peeked through the curtains and noted with a grim nod that the two men at the phone box were still there. 'We have to leave.'
'And go where?'
At that precise moment in time I had no idea, but then a thought occurred to me. Pulling the postcard out of my pocket I studied the picture closely – it depicted a traditional Scottish village and the slogan ‘Frae Bonnie Scotland’. 'We need time to consider our next move,' I said, waving the card. 'We’ll catch the next train to Edinburgh and head for Newton Stewart – no-one will think of looking for us there.'
On the Nature of Re: Genesis
God entered Freud’s consulting room. He wasn’t sure why he was there but he knew that his job depended on it. The memo was clear:
Our records indicate that you are due for a psychiatric examination with the company's chief psychoanalytical clinician. Please report to his office in room 3 beginning on Tuesday, October 11th, as per section G in your contract. Failure to comply will result in your immediate dismissal from the call center and you will no longer be granted access to the facilities of Heaven Inc.
God expected the room to look different. He was prepared to enter a neat and organized space. Instead it was a cluttered mess. There were chotchkies everywhere, seeming to represent some kind of unfocused history. Aborted fertility goddesses from various cultures and lopsided Paleolithic bowls lay strewn about the study while arrowheads took their rest in a display case overhead. Tablets with hieroglyphics and cuneiform scrawlings sat in holders on a desk. The dead languages were showcased, as if to suggest something about psychoanalysis itself.
The walls were covered with pictures of people, places, and certificates. One picture looked like a photograph of the statues at Abu Simbel. On closer examination; however, it wasn’t Abu Simbel at all. Perhaps it wasn’t even Egyptian but rather Nubian, those wannabes from the south that during Egypt’s worst period of decline saved the great dynasty from her own self destruction. After the Great Ramses died. God searched around, wondering if the mummy of the mightiest pharaoh might be hidden in the room. No soiled linens were found.
“Gutten tag,” said a voice slathered in a thick German accent. Freud appeared. He sat in a chair next to the daybed where God was soon to lay back. In the corner was a bust of Caesar or some other emperor from the Julio-Claudian dynasty of Rome. Or it could have been Alexander the Great. Who the fuck knew. This ode to history was terribly garbled. Everything that was once truth seemed to get mixed up here, in this room.
“Would you like to try some cocaine?” Freud offered. “I think you will find it picks you up quite nicely.”
“No thanks,” God declined, holding his soft hands up to show his resistance.
“Okay then, please have a seat,” Freud pointed at the daybed covered with an old patterned rug that extended onto the floor. A matching piece covered a piano stool in front of a shelf. Books written by Freud lined the shelf with titles like, Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Studies on Hysteria, The Interpretation of Dreams, Psychopathology and Everyday Life, and Totem and Tabu, which served as the doctor’s ode to egocentricity.
God sat on the couch and noticed that it felt softer than it looked. But a cloud of dust wafted up from the carpet when he sat. A sneeze escaped God. He had hoped for leather. The smell of cured cow hide pleased Him.
“Hello God. My name is Doctor Sigmund Freud.” Freud cleaned white powder off of his glasses with a cloth that he kept on the small table which held the floating Roman head. “Do you know why you are here?”
“I received a memo from the CEO that I was due for a psych exam today. So, I assume that is why I am here. I didn’t realize that these exams were mandatory.”
“Well, I assure you that this is normal,” Freud lied. This was certainly not a normal practice for employees of Heaven Inc. and Freud knew this. In fact, only the CEO knew that this was taking place. Something big was coming down the pipe at Heaven Inc. Freud desperately wanted to be a part of it.
“Sure. I am just hoping that this won’t take too long. I’m very busy.”
“This discussion will happen over several days but no more than an hour at a time. I know that you are busy at the call center. Don’t worry though, you have been signed out for these sessions.” Freud looked at the cocaine. He rubbed his nose, thinking about taking another hit. He declined, though, wondering if his heart, which was about to drum its way out of his chest, could take it.
God sighed. “Can we please get on with this?”
“Sure. Let’s start with the present. Tell me about your job.” Freud slipped a notepad and pen out of his inside jacket pocket. The booklet was empty except for a single name: God. He flipped to page one, pen in hand, prepared to jot notes down.
“There’s isn’t much to tell. I’m a B2C, or Business to Consumer representative at Heaven Inc, as you probably already know. Essentially, I handle in-bound Judeo-Christian calls to heaven.”
“Excellent. Take me through the beginning of your day. What does a typical morning look like for you?”
“Most days start out pretty normal. I get to work around eight, setup at my station and then take calls. But, as I’m sure that the cameras and swipe cards indicate, lately I find myself checking around to see if anyone is watching me sneak in a little late. I get this feeling that I’m being watched. I know it sounds paranoid. I have to say though, I do generally like the gods I work with.”
Freud feverishly scribbled notes. He was looking for anything that could be incriminating. While this wasn’t nearly enough to provide the CEO with the ammunition he needed to dispose of God, it was certainly going in the desired direction already.
“My seat is close to the entrance so I try to move quickly and throw my backpack and jacket under the desk in one quick sweep. I’m not even sure how my headphones go on, it just happens so naturally now. I lean back in my chair, and adjust my mic. I casually look at the time, like I’ve been sitting there for two hours. I yawn, even if I don’t need to. Then it’s time to get a coffee.”
Freud stopped scribbling. He tapped the pen against his nose, “Why is it that you are late so often?”
God sighed, “Bacchus,” he admitted.
“Bacchus?” Freud leaned forward. “I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but Bacchus was a patient of mine quite some time ago. Don’t tell me that he’s on another drinking frenzy,”
“Yes. He’s been on a real tear lately. He calls me religiously at nine PM and insists that we should go out. I try to tell him that I have to work in the morning but he retorts, telling me that he knows a place where the drinks will be stronger, the dancing better, the girls prettier than the night before. I can’t believe that he is always right! Somehow each night is a little better than the last. The beer and liquor and wine flow like milk and honey and… wine. It’s really hard to say no!”
“Bacchanalia, indeed! But let us shelf that discussion for later. For now, why don’t you tell me about the people with whom you work?”
“Sure. Where to start? Well, in the first row going from left to right, after me, there is Jehovah, Pan Gu, and Buddha. In the Back row from left to right is Janus, Osiris, Ishtar, and Shiva. As you may know, Jehovah is my brother.”
“Good. Good. Tell me more about your brother.”
“Jehovah is the only outbound caller at the center, even though he does manage some call blending. If you were to look at us side by each, our facial features are similar. We dress considerably different though. Jehovah wears a formal eighteenth century red overcoat with a white vest and this white puffy shirt. He dawns a blue scarf around his neck but pulled through like a tie. I have never seen him without his red, white, and blue jester’s hat but the monocle that he sports is new. As you can see, I prefer jeans and a white t-shirt. The most notable difference between us is that Jehovah has a small scar under his left ear which looks oddly like a castle’s watchtower.
“Jehovah always sits with perfect posture, industriously calling away. He is the best salesman I have ever heard. I’ve spent some time listening to him and I remember one of his pitches. If he is on the defensive, he’ll start asking, ‘How could you not want to be a witness?’ And he’ll tell them that, ‘This year we are offering an additional 20 seats into heaven. After this there are only 65 seats available throughout the rest of Earth’s days. Imagine how foolish you will feel if you are left out of heaven. And the best part is, regardless of your personal baggage, you will not go to hell. Being my witness is a guaranteed ticket against going to hell.’ And then he’ll be reaching for a pen because that’s when Jehovah has made a new follower.
“It’s clever to include a get out of hell free card. It seems to convince those on the fence. But then he takes down their banking information – I have no idea why that is required.”
“I see what you mean, he sounds quite talented.” Freud petted his well-manicured beard like he was hoping for it to purr. “How do you feel about his success at Heaven Inc.?”
God hadn’t thought about his brother as successful before. He even looked down his nose at him for making the outbound calls. God decided to answer honestly, “I think he’s a joke. If he was successful, he wouldn’t have to make the calls. The calls would come to him. He works night and day; it isn’t a life.”
“I see. Do you think he feels that way about you?”
“I don’t know. I don’t really talk to him, even at work.”
“Okay. Let’s move on to some of your other colleagues. Who else do you work with?”
“There’s Buddha. If ever I met a hippy-slacker-God, it’s Buddha. Just yesterday I had this strange run in with him. ‘Buddha bless you,’ he says to me. Out of the blue. So I ask him, ‘Why do you refer to yourself in the third person?’ He smiled at me, his eyes bloodshot and half closed. ‘I have some new literature for you today, brother.’ He hands me a half sheet of paper with what appears to be a coffee stain all along the bottom. I take it from his hands and look closely at his face. He’s covered with acne and scars. Still, his smile covers most of his face, as if completely satisfied with himself. ‘Are you happy with your life, brother?’ I can’t make out his accent. I tell him that I am happy with my life. ‘Peace is found within,’ he clichés. I tell him that topical cream is found in the third aisle of the drug store. He looks horrible. ‘You may mock Buddha all you like. You are short sighted.’ Curious, I ask him why he thinks that. ‘This life is but a small fragment of the infinity that is life. Please read the literature and get back to me.’ I joke with him, and tell him sure. And then I ask him kindly to tuck his boobies back in because there are other people working here. His zhen always hangs low and never covers his nipples. I think I still have his literature on my desk if you ever want to look at it.”
“Have you ever looked at it?”
“Okay. Enough said.” He scribbled feverishly in his notebook. “Please tell me more about your colleagues. They sound like fascinating gods.”
“Next to Buddha sits Pan Gu. He’s usually parked on his ass, groaning to himself while bouncing a ying-yang ball off of his belly. His balding head glistens with sweat which he wipes away with his hand and then uses the moisture to shape his goatee into a point. I can’t remember the last time someone called him. Did you know that long, long ago Pan Gu was hatched out of a cosmic egg. It is said that half the shell pushed up to form the sky while the other half was pushed below to form the Earth. He grew taller each day for 18,000 years until the Earth and heavens reached their appointed places. It was then that the lice fell off of his body which became mankind. Some believe that Pan Gu fell apart, but that’s not true. He was hired here, at Heaven Inc.
“In the back left corner paces Shiva. You would think that she is the birth product of the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown with her four hands raised high in the air. Her eyes light as if a fire is burning. I am sure that there is fire because out of her ears steam whistles while yelling at a caller, “I told you not to touch that shrine! Now look at what you have done!” Her intense gaze is set to destroy the world once again.
“Sounds intense! Who is she, exactly?”
“She’s the Hindu goddess of destruction. Part of The Trinity.”
“Okay. Who else is there?” Freud’s foot thumped against the ground while his heart raced in his chest. His arms felt eight feet long as he scribbled notes. Cocaine is a hell of drug, he thought over and over.
“Beside Shiva is Ishtar, the original party girl. Now her story is a little confusing. You might know her as Absusu, Abtaigigi, Dilbah, Gumshea, Har, Kilili, or even Ninkasi, to name a few of her former names. She has absorbed so many deities that it’s difficult to say what she is the goddess of. But, given the way she looks and acts, I would have to say that wine and promiscuity are two of her favorites. Kind of like Janis Joplin, but rougher around the edges.
“Don’t piss her off, though. She will lash out and tear you apart like an angry lion attacking the unsuspecting gazelle. Most of the time, however, she’s just seated slurring to herself while rubbing her Pandora’s Box of venereal disease.”
“Do you believe that this rubbing of the genitalia is a desire for her to have a penis?” Freud took a detour. He always felt the urge to ask this question about women.
“Her? No. That’s Osiris.”
“Who is Osiris?”
“If ever a god could be called a pussy, it would be Osiris. You can see him hunched over his desk occasionally taking a hit off of his salbutamol inhaler for his awful wheezing. We watch him at our desks and wait for him to notice that his penis gone. Then it’s a game of hotter / colder to find it.
Freud squinted his beady eyes, “I don’t understand. How could his penis go missing?”
“Osiris had a rough upbringing on account of his brother, Seth, who I have to say is quite the asshole. Seth didn’t like Osiris, so he killed his brother. Seth packed up the remains in a coffin then shipped it half way across the world. Osiris’ sister-wife, Isis, managed to find Osiris’ dead body which sent Seth into a psychotic rage. Seth chopped Osiris into tiny pieces and scattered each morsel around the world, to ensure that Osiris would never enjoy the afterlife.
“Well, Isis being so obsessively in love with Osiris, went searching for all of the pieces but she never found his penis because it was eaten by some fish in a river. Instead of letting bygones be gone by, Isis fashioned a stiffy for him out of wood. Apropos, right?”
Freud loved this story, “Apropos indeed. How big is it?”
“What, the wood penis?”
“Yes, yes.” He was entirely too excited.
“We have never measured it.”
“Oh. Okay, go on then,” Freud’s excitement quickly vanished.
“I’ve been working at Heaven Inc. for about 2,000 years and it was an old tradition back then to hide Osiris’ penis and make him go looking for it. It’s fun to watch a geek like that get angry and ‘…demand that the location of [his] penis be established immediately or else…’ Once we hid it in Ishtar’s ass but that was just frightening.” Goosebumps were visible on God’s skin as he shuddered.
“Why? Because he couldn’t find it?”
“No, because Ishtar didn’t know it was there!”
“I can see how that might be somewhat disconcerting.”
“So anyway, the only other god that works in the call center is Janus, who seems really two faced. One minute he’ll be looking at you, all smiles and chuckles but he seems to have eyes in the back of his head. And then if you look closer, you might see that he also has a nose back there. And a mouth. He actually has two faces on his head. It’s so creepy.”
“Do you like working with them?”
God looked down at his feet while he thought. “What can I say? These gods are interesting and they keep me amused. The job pays the bills, you know.”
“Do you feel like you’re in a slump at Heaven Inc.?”
God stared at his feet a little longer. He sighed. “Do you mean when it comes to the job itself? I don’t know. It isn’t what it used to be.”
A grocery store can’t expect repeat business if its checkers unleash Armageddon. This truism governs Debbie Devil, dedicated supermarket checker and horny, estranged wife of Satan. Debbie sets her sights on Joe Thorvald, a God-fearing, Lutheran. If she can get him to eat a mushroom his soul and his hunky body will be hers.
Debbie tells her sidekick, Bertram, a British cook, to change Joe’s memory, body, circumstances, era, and life, until the Lutheran becomes a man who will eat mushrooms. But there will be only so many attempts on Joe’s soul before she unleashes Armageddon out of spite.
God sends the angels General Lee and Pedro Erickson, a Mexican-Swedish chef, to protect Joe. They fight back with Heaven’s culinary weapons, tacos and Swedish meatballs.
Along the way, Joe changes into a fun-loving dinosaur and a Greek warrior with an ass harder than bronze before being sent to Hell for nonpayment of his hospital bill. Can Lee and Pedro Erickson save the soul of a Lutheran hunk and prevent Armageddon? Ja caramba.
After more than 10 years and six books, including the national bestseller "I Went to College and it was okay," Jim is back with the new prequel, "I Finally Graduated from High School." Fans of the popular "Jim's Journal" comic strip have lived vicariously through Jim as he calmly and existentially meandered through college, a job, getting married, and making brownies. In this poignant new collection of comics, we join Jim as his adult life begins: through his final weeks of high school, a lazy summer, and going off to college. This special collection of droll and hilarious new comic strips rendered in Jim's signature minimalist style comes from "Jim's Journal" creator Scott Dikkers after a more than 10-year hiatus from the comic strip. It features all the weekday comic strips as well as the bigger Sunday strips created for the debut of "Jim's Journal" on Universal Press Syndicate's GoComics (www.gocomics.com/jimsjournal). Join Jim's fans on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/jimsjournal.
Deeply upset by rampant naughtiness, Santa Claus decides to launch nuclear missiles at the world. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer argues he’s being too rash, that not all humans are bad.
Santa agrees to cancel the missile strike if he can find someone who will slay twenty-nine bad people by Christmas Eve. He settles on his kin Sam Mollusk of Poway, California.
Sam begins by killing the neighborhood terrorist. Medusa, lonely for millennia because of the snakes on her head, loves Sam and follows his every move.
Meanwhile, root-beer-loving Afghan terrorists Nar and Salah are hoping to gain membership in Poway’s Al Qaeda cell and become Tupperware salesmen as cover.
Can Sam prevent Al Qaeda’s fiendish plot and Santa’s nuclear holocaust? Will Sam survive shopping WalMart on Christmas Eve?
You Are Worthless is the self-help book from hell. This bracing blast of negativity takes aim at the impossibly cheerful inspirational self-help books flooding the market and hits the bullseye, with chapters such as Your Good-for-Nothing Friends, Your Miserable Job, and Life: What's the Use.
This hilarious parody collects hundreds of tidbits of painful reality such as You're no good, you're not great-looking, and you're going to die someday and it's probably going to hurt. Who among us isn't sick to death of the gushy, new-agey inspirational books that blindly assert that everyone is worthy? We all know the truth, and this book is as refreshing as a slap to the face.
Just some of the depressingly humorous nuggets of truth include:
* You don't really have any outstanding qualities. It's safe to say you're pretty much just like everybody else.
* The only reason your pet likes you is because you feed it.
* As you get older, you are going to have less and less control over your bladder.
* If you take a big risk and follow your dream, chances are you're going to fall flat on your face.
You Are Worthless also features a section called Hopeless Role Models from History, including Helen Keller (I've had it), and Abraham Lincoln (The only thing I'm good at is losing).
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Château de Josselin In Part One we followed Jasper and Henry Tudor’s escape from West Wales to Brittany. Now we follow events up to their