|Disclaimer: The following story is a work of fiction and a little bit of satire. For those of you who have a deeply religious and personal relationship with God, the Almighty, the Big Guy Upstairs, or however you refer to Him, I recommend you read something else. I have my own relationship with the Almighty, and as with most of my friends, I occasionally do a little ribbing. I don't feel there's anything tremendously sacriligeous in this story, but then my mother believes I'm influenced by demons, hence this disclaimer. In short, READ AT YOUR OWN RISK!|
The case worker looked down at the file on her desk with sad eyes. People often looked at her and thought she was older than her years because of those eyes. She had the eyes of a woman who had worked for the Unemployment Office for ten years, and who felt every day of those ten years acutely. She'd already used up her vacation days for the year, but maybe if she cut into some of her sick leave . . . . Sharon shook herself out of her fugue and focused on the page before her.
Standard white paper in a standard tan folder. Very thin, indicating no previous records. A photograph of a man in his early middle ages, rather distinguished, but otherwise unremarkable. Sharon gave a sigh as she read the name once again. I. A. Jehovah. Obviously an assumed name, probably some religious nut who didn't have the social skills to hold down a decent job. She looked for his history and wasn't surprised to find it blank. This was his first visit to Unemployment, and it was her job to make it his last. She had lost faith in her ability to help anyone, but particularly when misfits were involved. The information on her sheet was sparse, and there was a list of previous aliases, which she took as confirmation of her fears. This one would probably be a hustler.
Putting on her best face possible (the one she hoped would look hard and discouraging to any double-talk), she called out, "Mr. Jehovah?"
A man in a proper business suit and tie stood up, clutching a modest leather briefcase. He was tall, well groomed and pretty much like the respectable man in the photograph. She reminded herself that the respectable ones almost always weren't.
"Good afternoon, Ms. Encino," he said pleasantly as he took his seat opposite her. "I'm very glad to meet you in person."
"Good afternoon, Mr. Jehovah," she said as nicely as she could. She found herself having a little trouble getting past his odd name choice. "I'm afraid your application is a little sketchy, so I'll appreciate your cooperation with filling in the details, okay?"
"I'll be happy to explain anything as well as I can," he assured her. An odd mood settled over her, until she realized that she found the rich timbre of his voice enthralling. She forced herself to pay attention to the business at hand.
"Well, for starters, I want to ask about your name," she began.
"It's a little . . . unusual." Her eyes ran over the lengthy list of aliases on the sheet. "When did you change it?"
"I haven't changed my name," he told her seriously. "I've always had it."
"But you also list these other names."
"People have called me by many names for a long time," he explained. "The names I've been given are too numerous to list here, so I gave you the most common ones."
"I find that very odd," she remarked. She continued to stare at the sheet as if it could give her some divine guidance. All she could note was the beginning of a level 8 headache. "I. A. Jehovah. What does the I. A. stand for?"
There was a slight pause which seemed slightly embarrassed, as if he knew what she would think of his next words. Then he said quietly, "I Am."
She looked up and stared at him. He really wasn't kidding. "I Am? What kind of name is that?"
He looked her in the eye a bit defensively. "It's my name. At least, one of them."
She sat back and returned his gaze. "This is prepos . . . " She stopped herself and groped for professional detachment. "Mr. Jehovah, what is it that you do, or want to do?"
"At the moment I own what you could call an organization. My organization is fairly self-sufficient and quite well maintained. My staff is capable of running matters on their own for a few more years, so I thought a brief change of pace might liven things up. I have no intention of quitting my day job; I just thought a few years of something different might help."
Sharon pinched the bridge of her nose and prayed for strength. "Just what is it you're qualified to do?"
"Oh, well," he paused for a moment of visible discomfort. "I suppose if you want something specific, I'm very good at building things."
Sharon perked up. This was something she could work with, either in terms of finding him work or pinning him down as a fraud. She didn't see that it mattered much either way. "Construction? Are you a foreman?"
Again, the pause. "Um, no. Not really."
"An engineer, then?" She pressed him, convinced she had unearthed a spectacular line of bull. "Or maybe an architect? Do you build towers and bridges?"
"No, nothing like that. I'm actually quite good at landscaping. I've done some pretty spectacular work in that field. I'm sure you've heard of some of my work." He looked very discomfited at this point.
He wasn't giving her what she needed, but she felt confident she could pull it out of him. "What exactly have you done?"
"Well--everything, really. There isn't much I haven't done."
Sharon closed her eyes and massaged her temples. The level 8 headache was arriving with much fanfare in her brain, and she felt her patience slipping. It was obvious by now that he was simply not going to tell the truth. "Mr. Jehovah, unless you can clarify your job history for me, there isn't much I can do for you. You have to cooperate with me, and I feel you haven't been truthful with me at all."
The man sighed deeply, lost in thought. Sharon felt a moment of unease, and found herself wondering if her efforts weren't stirring him into some psychotic episode. Visions of his finely combed hair in bloody disarray as he stood over her broken and bleeding body filled her mind. She felt her mouth go dry and tried to swallow to relieve it.
Eventually, he stirred and sat straight in his chair. "Ms. Encino, I'm going to tell you something which I know you're not going to believe at first."
She relaxed. "Really?" she replied with tremendous sarcasm. "Why stop now?"
"You see, as preposterous as it may seem, I'm God."
This was the expected response, and once the moment had arrived, she found it incredibly hilarious. She felt a touch of pride at her cool, professional response to this wisecrack. "I'm honored to have You in my office, but I'm not qualified to help someone of Your caliber. I wasn't trained to place supernatural beings."
"I know you've had a hard time with your mother's religion, and I regret the path they've taken," he said softly. "Lucifer is always trying to subvert the Holy Cause."
Something in his eyes disturbed her as he said this, and she focused on the folder until she recovered. Finally, she closed the file and put on her best you're pathetic but I'm a professional face. "I'm sorry, Mr. Jehovah, but I'm afraid there's something nothing I can do for you."
He held up a hand and beckoned her to wait. "Ms. Encino, I know this hasn't started very well, and I wish to make it up to you. I can prove to you that I'm truly the Lord God. Will you grant me that?"
This could be amusing, so long as he didn't do something psychotic like leaping out the window to prove his divinity. She sat back and gestured for him to proceed. "I'm on pins and needles. Go ahead."
He opened his briefcase and took out a small, white business card. She took it from his hand and read the gold inscription. It said, simply, God.
She looked up from the card and smiled at him. "I thought there were supposed to be three of you. God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Which one are you?"
He smiled expansively and shrugged his shoulders. "Oh, I'm God the Father. God the Holy Spirit has been working here for the past few millennia, but I haven't been back since I brought Elijah to Heaven. Jesus hasn't visited since His trip two thousand years ago, but He suggested that I mingle with Creation a little. He said I should get a feel for what I've done and how things have progressed since I was last here."
"So, you thought you'd come down and seek work through the Unemployment Office? Can't you just create a job for yourself?"
"I could," he admitted thoughtfully. "but We felt that would negate the whole experience. Jesus said I couldn't fully appreciate the nuances unless I went through the red tape beginning to end. Personally, I think He felt I should go through a similar hassle He put up with, but I have no intention of attracting so much attention. I want a quiet little vacation, not a quest."
"Where did you find a virgin in this day and age?" she asked, thinking the question very clever and appropriate.
"Oh, I didn't take the same route Jesus did. I've only come to work, and as such I've only been in town for a few days to wander around and get a feel for the city. He was right, of course. It's one thing to be omniscient and know everything, but it's quite another to experience it firsthand. Did you know that the very flavor of the air in New York has a flavor unlike any other air in the world? Not even Los Angeles can match that, in spite of their pollution and smog. I understand Denver comes close in the winter, but New York just can't be beat."
"Very interesting. So, about your proof . . . ."
"Right, right. We got sidetracked. Put down the card, please."
Sharon did as she was told. As she lifted her hand, the card immediately turned into a small, hissing snake. She stood up and shrieked at the top of her lungs. Jehovah picked up the snake by its tail, and it turned back into an ordinary piece of paper. "Of course, I know you're afraid of small crawling things, but this is a most effective demonstration. Moses made a big hit with it in Egypt. I thought it appropriate for gaining your full attention."
"That's...an incredible trick," she admitted as she sat down and tried to catch her breath. The image of the snake came unbidden to her mind, and she shuddered. "You're a magician in addition to your other skills?"
"That wasn't magic, Ms. Encino. Not as you define it. I simply altered the probability of the card being a snake for a few seconds. It has some other ramifications, as well. For instance, what time is it?"
"You're God. Why not tell me?" she said, not entirely suppressing the spite in her voice. The snake had rattled her worse than she wanted to admit.
"Well, I know what time it used to be, but I want you to tell Me what time you thought it was."
Used to be? Sharon looked at her watch. The last time she looked it had been an hour before quitting time. Now her watch said 2:00. She looked out the window in shock and saw darkness, interrupted only by a few lights in faraway buildings. It was 2:00 am. She stared at Jehovah in astonishment. "What happened?"
"I altered probability again," he replied. "The details are quite beyond you, at the moment, but I placed us in a reality where we're having our meeting in the middle of the night." He paused for only a heartbeat. "We're back the way we were."
Sharon looked at her watch again, and this time it reported 4:16. She glanced outside and saw sunlight reflecting off buildings that had been dark before. "That's impossible," she whispered.
"No, it's improbable," He corrected her. He appeared unaffected by the changes. "Don't worry, no one else is experiencing these radical alterations. Oh, maybe a few ultra-sensitive souls are picking up something, but they won't be bothered by it."
She gave him a long, searching look. He returned it with a look of complete comprehension. "I understand. You could be deceived by trickery like a hallucination or hypnotism, or maybe you're dreaming all this. I can assure you, this is none of that."
She changed to a wry look. He stood up and extended his hand toward her.
She eyed it with considerable suspicion. "What do you want me to do?"
"Just take My hand."
She thought about this. She looked at her watch, which now read 4:18. She looked out the window down the hall to the press of unemployed people waiting for their appointments. There was no way she could get to them all today, even without this excursion, and her shift supervisor had been hinting dire threats if the department efficiency rating didn't improve soon.
She stood up and took his hand.
Bright, bright white light. She cried out in fear and surprise. There was no sense of movement or feeling whatsoever, nothing to prove that she was really alive.
"Don't be afraid. I promise I will allow no harm to come to you." His voice reached her from all directions, coming from everywhere and nowhere at once. She found it oddly soothing to her, and she became aware of a sensation she had missed before. She couldn't see him, but she could still feel her hand clasped tightly in his.
"Where are we?" she managed to gasp.
"We're moving through one of Heaven's intertemporal gateways. It's a little shorter, but a lot more impressive than the long way. Just don't wave your hands around a lot."
Sharon closed her eyes, and found the blinding light unchanged regardless of whether her eyes were open or closed. Then, abruptly, the light dimmed to a bearable level, and she became aware of streaks of vivid colors, deeper and richer than any she had ever seen before. The patterns became complex and eerie, and she found herself thinking that if Picasso were to paint Heaven, this would be the result.
Suddenly, there was a darkness as complete as the light had been. She opened her eyes and found no difference. The sensation of being disembodied returned to her, and she stumbled.
She bumped against him, and the sensation passed. Their hands were still tightly clasped. She blinked several times, but nothing else changed.
"Where are we now?" she whispered. She didn't know why she was whispering, but it seemed appropriate.
"We're in another time period, in a house you once knew as your home."
Slowly, the darkness eased until she could take note of details throughout the room. In the far corner was a picture of a tall tree covered with white blossoms. Underneath the tree played five bright little children, taking turns on the swing and cavorting about the trunk. A small bed sat underneath a large window which overlooked a housing project. At the foot of the bed was a small hope chest. It was all completely familiar to her. Including the tiny figure huddled under the thin blanket, surrounded by an army of stuffed animals.
"Oh Gabriel, are you sick again? Don't worry, Mommy will make you feel all better," came a small, high-pitched voice. Sharon felt a shiver down her back.
Gabriel, the stuffed cat she had loved so deeply until her mother threw him away. She had cried for months afterward, and had never believed her mother's story that Gabriel had run away. Seven year old girls really aren't that stupid.
"Gabriel was over six years old and very dirty when your mother decided to wash him," he told her. "She didn't know how rotted the stitches had become, so when she put him in the sink and began to rub in the soap, he literally fell apart at the seams. Your mother tried to put him back together for three hours, but there was nothing she could could do. She decided to tell you he ran away rather than tell you he died."
Sharon crossed her arms and hugged herself. She thought of how she had acted toward her mother during the months she grieved for Gabriel, and felt ashamed. It also occurred to her that the man standing next to her claimed to be the Almighty.
He chuckled. "This isn't Judgment Day. You still have a long way to go."
That was spooky. Almost as if he had read her mind....
"Of course I did. I'm omniscient."
She let him read her next thought, but he didn't reply.
"Charlene, you take care of Gabriel while I go get his medicine." Little Sharon kissed the stuffed cat Gabriel and the stuffed giraffe Charlene, then cautiously crawled out of bed. She tiptoed to her bedroom door and very carefully opened it. In spite of her best efforts, it gave a squeak, and she paused fearfully. Mommy wouldn't like it that she was awake at this hour.
After a few seconds of nothing happening, little Sharon finished opening the door and made her way to the bathroom as quietly as a six year old can walk. Her heart pounded with fear of discovery, but she pressed on. Gabriel needed her; she was the Mommy and Mommies always take care of their babies. She made it inside without incident.
Once inside, she flicked on the overhead light. She always forgot to close her eyes before turning on the lights; always forgot how much it hurt to see after such darkness. When her vision cleared again, she went to the stool by the sink and dragged it into position. Unfortunately, it made a horrible noise when moved, and she froze.
This time, her mother woke up. "Sharon? Baby, what are you doing up?"
Little Sharon thought fast. "Uh, I'm thirsty, Mommy. I want a drink of water."
The adult Sharon found herself blushing. She shifted uncomfortably, but the man beside her said nothing.
"Okay, baby. Just be careful, and go right back to bed."
"I will Mommy."
"Good night, Mommy." Little Sharon sighed with relief, then finished moving the stool where she needed it. The sink was too high, and the mirrored medicine cabinet was even higher. She stood on the stool and balanced herself carefully as it shifted under her weight. Kneeling was more stable, and was normally enough to reach the sink, but that left the cabinet out of reach. After a few seconds, everything was under control. She reached over and pulled at the cabinet door.
The adult Sharon knew what was to happen, and took a step forward. The man held her back. "You can't help her. It's already happened, and nothing will change that. I won't allow it. It causes too many problems."
Sharon took a deep breath and tried to relax. It wasn't easy.
The action of opening the cabinet caused the stool to fly out from underneath little Sharon's feet. Child and stool fell to the floor together. The stool clattered on the ground, and the child screamed at the top of her lungs in pain and fright. A small cut began to flow with blood on her right temple.
Barely a moment passed before Sharon's mother rushed into the room. "Sharon? Sharon! Oh my god!"
The woman grabbed the towel nearest to her and began to mop at the flowing blood. Both were approaching hysterics. Little Sharon was wailing over and over again, "I'm sorry, Mommy! I wanted medicine for Gabriel! I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I'm sorry!"
Adult Sharon found herself reaching toward her mother, and stopped with her hand hovering over the woman's shoulder. She shuddered uncontrollably.
"You can't touch her," said the man who claimed to be God. "You're not real, as you understand it. It isn't possible for anyone other than Myself to be in the same place or time more than once. I wrote that fail-safe into the system at the beginning. It's very rare for anyone to be allowed this chance to travel through time, but My foresight is infallible. I don't care to deal with the trouble it causes in the space-time continuum. I won't interfere with Free Will as a general rule, but then again, restarting is such a hassle."
Sharon suddenly had an image of God trying to jump-start the universe like a car battery. She couldn't help laughing at it.
He laughed with her. "Yes, that analogy is remarkably accurate."
Sharon found herself surrounded by the light again. This time she wasn't so disturbed by the lack of reference or sensation, although it was no less disconcerting. "Why did you show this to me?"
"It's part of My proof that I Am who I say I am," his voice replied from all around her. There was a hint of mirth in his voice. "You have to admit, not everyone can pull up memories and go to them with such ease."
Sharon was willing to concede that. "But how do I know this isn't simply an illusion of some sort?"
"I'll take care of that momentarily."
They were back in her office. She was still reaching out to him. She blinked in surprise.
He released her hand and sat down.
Sharon looked at her watch, and found that it was still 4:18. "Didn't we go away into that . . . gateway for a while?" she asked.
"Yes, but only the memory remains. Nothing actually happened, and as such, no time passed," he explained.
"Well . . . that's remarkable, but hardly the proof I--" Sharon paused in mid-sentence as she sat down. She stood up again and looked down at the small, stuffed cat in her chair. "Gabriel?" she breathed. She looked from the cat to the man sitting in the chair, then back to the cat.
"You're really . . . Him?" she whispered in awe.
His grin was sardonic. "I Am."
"How do I know You're not, um . . . . " She didn't know how to phrase it politely.
"Satan? Oh, He's nearby. He's very curious as to what I'm up to. He probably has it figured out by now; He hates it when I get started on a project. He's always looking to trip Me up. I won't let Him interere with you, though; you're quite safe."
"Um, well, as long as You say so . . . . " Sharon fumbled through her desk for a while, unsure of what she was really looking for. When she stopped, she discovered she had found an assignment for . . . Him. She made the appropriate notations and handed the form to Him. "This position is for an experienced construction worker in the Cook Enterprise firm. I know You're a little, shall we say, overqualified for the position, but I'm sure You'll be able to work Your way up quickly. Is this acceptable to You?"
He smiled generously and accepted the paper. "This will do just fine." He signed in the appropriate places, took note of the address and time, and handed her the correct copy. "I guess I'll have to change My wardrobe a bit, but that's no problem."
God gathered up His briefcase and stood. He shook her hand firmly. "Ms. Encino, it's been a pleasure. If you ever need Me, you know how to reach Me."
She nodded absently, still overwhelmed by the affair. She stared as He walked out of her office. She saw Him pause beside another man sitting on the bench. They appeared to have a brief conversation, but she couldn't begin to imagine what it was about. Then He walked out the door and was gone.
Sharon pulled herself out of her daze and picked up the next case file without looking at anything but the legend. "Mr. Splintfoot?" she called. The man God had spoken to stood up and swaggered into the room. He flopped himself down in the chair with tactless grace and regarded her with a bemused grin.
She looked down at the file and took in the full name. "So, you're Lu B. Splintfoot?"
He nodded, smiling happily. "It's an old family name. Lucifer Beelzebub Splintfoot."
Sharon looked up at him in shock.
"If there's anything available, I'm very experienced with demolitions. It's a passion of Mine, really." Lucifer crossed His legs and grinned mischievously.
Sharon decided she could forego the interview process just this once. It was too much to ask of anybody, she told herself. Way too much for one afternoon.