Friday, November 19, 2004

 

Warning! Contents Flammable.


The Mullah tossed a wad of paper into the bin.

The shelves rocked slightly as the tremor hit. The Caprine News Quarterly pile slid to the floor first, releasing an explosion of tiny goats, all kinds, Oberhaslis, Nubians, Nigerian Dwarves, LaManchas, Toggenburgs, Tennessee Fainting Goats, you name it. This was followed quickly by the fall of Sheep Fancier Week, which released a pile of sheep of all kinds, but mostly Merinos and Dorsets, the featured sheep of the week. A couple of unfortunate shepherds also plopped out, along with a can of deworming medicine.

The sheep were mixed with the goats, there was pandemonium, and the tiny shepherds were trampled. The fainting goats were as stiff as plastic. The librarians tried in vain to separate the sheep from the goats but realized instantly they were not up to the task. Oh, if only Jesus was still Jesus, able to lift and separate!

But those days were gone, and nobody knew it better than Jesus. Because, lo! Unto him a sister had been given. And anointed.

Ack!

The Mullah took the trash bin outside and dumped it into the back of the truck.

The gentle rocking motion of the Spanstron IV engine had lulled most of the authors to sleep. Two were busy scribbling, though. The scratch of their quills on the grocery sacks echoed the sound of the chickens that were busy pecking around the bottom of the capsule. Captain French poked his head in. “Are there any eggs today?” The chickens replying no, the good captain returned to piloting the vessel as it made its way to a rendezvous with the Bull of Heaven with the garbage.

Father, let me have the Bull of Heaven
To kill Gilgamesh and his city.
For if you do not grant me the Bull of Heaven,
I will pull down the Gates of Hell itself,
Crush the doorposts and flatten the door,
And I will let the dead leave
And let the dead roam the earth
And they shall eat the living.
The dead will overwhelm all the living!


Wait, wait, scratch that, Bill thought. The Mullah has lost his memory. That must be it.

The Mullah looked in the mirror, trying vainly to recall the face. It just didn’t work. That was not the Mullah in the mirror. It was the Mullah in the mirror, that is, but it wasn’t. It was like looking at a face on a carton of milk: Have you seen this Sufi? The Mullah stuck a finger to the mirror and rubbed his glass jaw reflection. Stubble. But he hadn’t shaved. He still had a beard. The mirror turned light, and then dark, and then light. A clock ticked loudly behind the wall.

The Mullah poked at his nose in the glass. His finger went through, and something grabbed it, bit it. The Mullah yelped and jumped back. Yes, there was blood. And a hole in the mirror. He quickly rubbed reflected shine over the hole as he saw a finger reaching through. The glass cleared and a face emerged.

The face in the mirror was that of the dying Robert Kennedy lying on the floor.

“Agh!” the Mullah choked. Furiously, he began beating on the glass to smash it. It only reverberated as a gong, and with each BONG appeared another face, and another, and another, until finally he dropped his hands and sighed. He looked once more.

The face there now was that of a very old woman with a third eye, right in the middle of her forehead. It was very bloodshot. The word "KCUF" was written on her forehead in red lipstick.

“Dammit, no!” Bill screamed, pushing his fist through the glowing screen. It wasn’t the Mullah’s memory at all. It was something in the water, or the air, some insidious chemical, no doubt.

His hand had been gashed by the shards of the video screen. Bill licked the blood. The taste was of sulfur, mixed with something like insecticide and melted aspirin.

How had it come to this? Had we all been poisoned? He realized that, although he knew he’d lived them, the last several weeks were a blur, as if, as if… as if he’d never really lived them at all. As if some vile dust had entered his lungs and gotten into his blood and wafted behind his eyes and into his limbic system. There was no feeling. None. The last, what? Four weeks? Five? were as numbed as a paste of cocaine on the tongue.

He’d have them back, by the Tits of Meshe! If it took storming the gates of the House of Time itself, he’d have them back. He wanted his weeks.

He picked up the telephone.

 

Anthologist from Outer Space

"Come on," Bill says, "you're imagining things."

"Am I?" I say, sliding into my foil pajamas. "I don't think so."

Bill's not getting ready for bed. He's sitting in the chair, tipped against the wall, strumming a badly tuned guitar and smoking.

"I tell you," I say, "one of them's an impostor."

"Mullah Billdoug loves masquerades," Bill says. "He's a fool for mummery of every kind. Could be both of them are impostors. But they're still Mullah Billdoug."

"Then why doesn't he remember our days in the Lincoln White House?" I say, climbing into bed and plumping up my pillow.

"Maybe he does," Bill says simply.

"Something's not right," I say, and close my eyes to sleep.

But as soon as I do, I realize something: it's not just that the guitar's out of tune. Bill's playing it strangely. I keep my eyes closed, listen carefully, and finally it hits me: he's playing John Prine's "Sam Stone"--backwards. And somehow it's the squeak of his fingers on the strings, not his voice, that sings "Paul is dead," which is very odd, because Paul's the only one who isn't dead.

So then I open my eyes, put on my glasses, and notice something else: he's smoking through the lit filter end of his cigarette.

And then I think: omigod, he's the anthologist from outer space ...


Thursday, November 18, 2004

 

The Mullah Returns from Vacation

Mullah Billdoug stood there, arms crossed. He was tanned and looking relaxed at first in his new flowery shirt and straw hat, but then he’d looked at the blog and hit the roof. “Well?” he demanded.

Doug spoke first. “Ummm, we’re sorry?”

“You’re sorry? That’s all you have to say? I leave the blog alone for a coupla weeks to go on vacation, ask you two to take care of it, and I come back to this, and all you can say is ‘sorry’?”

“Bill, is there anything you’d like to say?” The Mullah looked very stern.

“We’re, ah, really, really sorry? Like, for real?”

“Doug?”

“Bill made me do it! It was his idea!”

“Did not! You’re such a liar. It was all his idea, Mullah. Just ask the janitor!”

“I left you some very specific directions, didn’t I? No human dildos, one. Two, no Jesus suits. And you had definite instructions to leave the election alone, especially Moon and Yahweh. What do I come back to? Now I’m getting calls from the FEC and DEC, and I have the Christian Coalition camped out on my porch? Satanists tossing bricks through my window? Cockroaches refusing to eat my garbage?”

“We just got carried away, Mullah. The plot just kind of took over, almost like a drug or something. We couldn’t help it.”

“Enough! Both of you! Go to your rooms. Now!”

“Awwww! That’s not fair.”

“Go!”

And off they slunk, punching each other on the arms. "You were s'posed to delete the posts, dickhead."

“And stop hitting!” he yelled again.

“Damn punks… you try to raise ‘em right, and this is what you get,” the Mullah muttered. “Maybe I should never have taught them to read and write…” And then it hit him. He hadn’t taught them! So how had they learned?


Wednesday, November 17, 2004

 

Jesus Comes To

Jesus lay on a pile of burlap sacks, trying to remember what had happened. Last he remembered was two guys breaking the plate window of the spa and yanking him off the massage table, stuffing him into a sack, and hauling him off.

Where was he? In a small room, with a fat angel sitting in an easy chair with a sword, smoking a cigar and watching a small television. Jesus kept mum.

The television show was about all about his Dad. But it couldn’t be real. …

Yahweh proudly introduced his new family today during a simultaneous broadcast beamed worldwide. Poolside with him was his new wife, Donna Sue Baxter-Yahweh, and his new mother-in-law, Yolanda Jo Odell. Mrs. Baxter-Yahweh, a former Miss Florida contestant, is a thrice-divorced mother of eight who claims to be 32 years old. She and Yahweh, although only married a week, are expecting a baby, due around December 25 of this year.

The happy groom and father-to-be, as you can see, is beaming.

“…Oh, yes, yes, ha ha ha, we’re hoping for a girl. We’ll name her Rhonda Jean after Donna Sue’s grandmother. Oh, sure, it was all-natural, indeed. We did the nasty. Yep. Back about eight months ago, in fact. We’d still be doing it now, but it’s kind of hard, what with this big belly, here, ha ha. But I figured I’d better make an honest girl of her, you know, since I am God and everything, ho ho. Makeover? Ha, ha, heavens, no. Yes, I did get a tan. Yep, lost a few pounds, too. Why, thank you. The recount? I’d rather not talk about that right now. I hear it’s going well. The New Muscular Christianity? Feh. I have no comment on that silliness. As far as I’m concerned, Jesus is dead. I have no son named Jesus. And the REAL muscular religion is right here, buddy, ha ha...”

Jesus just lay there, blinking back tears. Could it be true? Could his Dad have been behind his kidnapping? Maybe he got tired of pretending I wasn't there. B-but, why? Why, Dad? And where could Mary be? And the Holy Ghost? And Bongo, my pet monkey? The tears were really enough to break your heart, watching him as he looked at the television.


 

The New Muscular Christianity

Hermes dashed off into the countryside, sailing over small towns and villages until he found a quiet spot in rural Ohio. He had to be alone to think. He stopped in a little glade near a brook, where he spotted a dryad sitting in her willow tree.

“What’s happening, little sister?” Hermes asked. “All good?”

“Fuck no, man. I’m utterly bummed.”

“What’s wrong, babe? Post-election blues? Nematode infestation? Toxic sewage in the brook?”

“Nah, that’s all S.O.P. It’s the Republican picnickers.”

“Republican picnickers? Ye shits, honey. Where?”

“They’re not here right now. But they come here every Sunday. They bring lots of likker and dope. They get high. And they have sex with giant squids. Right there, in the daisies. Then they have a big bonfire over there, and throw in babies. Then they jump in the river and whip themselves raw with briers.”

“Yeah, I’ve heard about that. It’s their new secret ritual. Those aren't Republican picnickers. It’s the New Muscular Christianity you probably heard about. All the rage, but hush-hush. Sorry to hear they’ve invaded your glade.”

“Look at all the trees they’ve cut down. They only spared me because I’m a useful place to tie the goats up.”

“Goats too, huh? This must be where the inner circle comes, then. Only they get to use the goats.”

“Well, I just wish they’d stop. I’m sick of it. I’m a nice moral dryad—Florence is my name, by the way, and I see by the slippers you’re Hermes—and I don’t like it. It offends me. I came here to America to get away from Bacchanals.”

“I understand. Yeah. Wish there was something I could do, but…we’re not in power right now…” Hermes spread out his hands in defeat.

“Well, you see Zeus, or Pan, or Demeter, or Persephone, you tell ‘em that I think it stinks and something should be done.”

“I’ll do that, darling, I really will.”

Hermes flew to the top of a rock and pondered. Why would they be meeting here, in rural Ohio?

It was then he remembered the recount. The most contentious part of that was happening here. That must be it.


 

Rep. Ed Schrock

"Okay, you two," Sun Myung Moon says to Hermes and Satan, "what's this about Ed Schrock turning gay? I smell the two of you all over this one."

Hermes and Satan try to look innocent.

"What?" Hermes says. "I thought he always was gay. Nobody can turn you gay."

"Not even a god?" Moon says.

"Well," Hermes says mock-modestly, "I guess it might be possible ..."

"Exactly," Moon says. "But why on earth would you go after Schrock? He's one of our most valued conservative Congressmen! He's got a 92% vote rating from the Christian Coalition, for god's sakes! He cosponsored the amendment banning gay marriage! How could you possible pick him to push?"

"Well duh," Satan says, stifling a smile.

"Come on, Sun," Hermes says. "He's a big hypocrite. Where's the fun in letting him go after gays when he's dreaming of a big juicy buttfuck himself?"

"Fun," Moon snorts. "Look, you're working for me now. Got that? Conservatism is all about hypocrisy. You go after the people who are too freely acting out what you're afraid to act out yourself. That's the way it works. That's how the moral majority stays moral: by policing other people's behavior and hiding their own. We have to be supporting this behavior, not exposing it--and certainly not for 'fun'! That's about the least conservative value there is!"

"Sorry," Satan mumbles.

"You're sorry?" Hermes squeals, looking from Satan to Sun and back to Satan. "Jeez louise, I can't believe you two. You're really serious about this shit? Supporting hypocrisy, not having fun? Fuck that. I'm outta here."

He spins on his heel and exits. Satan calls out "Hermes, wait--!"

"Let him go," Sun Myung Moon says. "We're better off without him. And we've got work to do. What about this Ken Mehlmann story? What are we doing about that?"

"I dunno," Satan says. "Whaddya want me to do, make him straight? Kill anybody who writes about him being gay? What? You tell me, I'll do it."

"Lemme think," Sun Myung Moon says.


Monday, November 15, 2004

 

Creep Out

Bob Jones stands by the coffee pot, drinking cup after cup--to calm his jittery nerves, or to pretend that he doesn't need to calm his jittery nerves, that he isn't weirded out of his tiny mind by the gods here in the studio with him, working on his speech to President Bush. Hermes is writing the text and giggling madly. Sun Myung Moon is fiddling with Satan's Yahweh suit, adjusting the wig and the beard, twiddling the voice-box dial till it sounds exactly like Jesus. The scarab beetles swarm over everything, not just Sun Myung Moon and his wife with the unpronounceable hacky-whacky jaw-breaker name. The engineers ignore them, or flick them off a switch they have to flip.

"How about this?" Hermes says, holding up the paper with a wicked gleam in his eye. "'In your re-election, God has graciously granted America--though she doesn't deserve it--a reprieve from the agenda of paganism.' You gotta love that one, huh? Like he doesn't really know what paganism means, thinks it's the same thing as atheism--and it's written by the greatest pagan god of all!"

"Yes, yes," Sun Myung Moon says irritably, "we know you're clever. Get on with it."

"Okay," Hermes says. "It goes on: 'You have been given a mandate. We the people expect your voice to be like the clear and certain sound of a trumpet. Because you seek the Lord daily, we who know the Lord will follow that kind of voice eagerly.'"

"What the fuck?" Satan says. "The Lord will follow some mere mortal's voice?"

"Pay attention, Satan," Sun Myung Moon says. "Not the Lord will follow the voice. We who know the Lord will follow the voice."

"Oh," Satan says. "So is that when I come in?"

"I still think it's better for him to be next to the Bobster from the beginning," Hermes says. "Walking in right in the middle of the speech makes it look like Jesus just happened to be passing by."

"But why would Jesus just sit there quiet next to Joe Blow listening to him talk?" Sun Myung says.

"Bob Jones," Satan says.

"Sitting there beneficently," Hermes says. "Or what's the word, beatifically. And at the end, he says 'Hi, my name is Jesus Christ, and I approve this message.'"

"I don't like it," Sun Myung says.

"So what does the Bobster say?" Hermes says, looking up at the college president comically.

Bob Jones spills his coffee all down his shirt. "Fuck!" he yells. An intern dabs at the shirt. Bob Jones holds the fabric away from his skin, starts unbuttoning buttons. Clearly, he's going to have to change. This is TV.

But Hermes can't stop. He's fascinated by the dumb ordinariness of the name Bob Jones. "Bob Jones. Bob Jones. Bob. George. Dick. Why do all these people sound like characters in a children's book? Do you have a dog named Spot, Bob? Do you have a pair of square pants?"

"Enough," Sun Myung Moon says testily. "Was that the end of the speech?"

"Uh, no," Hermes says. "Here's the end: 'Don't equivocate. Put your agenda on the front burner and let it boil. You owe the liberals nothing. They despise you because they despise your Christ. Honor the Lord, and He will honor you ... If you have weaklings around you who do not share your biblical values, shed yourself of them.'"

"Yeah," Sun Myung Moon says, "that'll do."

"I like the sneer at weaklings," Satan says. "That's in line with the new Jesus we're creating. The fascist leader, not the faggot liberal."

"You don't think the cooking image makes Bobolink sound womanish?" Hermes says. "I mean, what does a real man like Bob Jones know about cooking, right?"

"No," Sun Myung Moon says, "Bob Jones isn't doing the cooking. It's like something a guy might say to his wife when he comes in from hunting, or fixing the car, or beating the kids. 'Move that pot up to the front burner, I'm fucking hungry.'"

"Okay," Hermes says, "so then George Bush is the wife?"

"Whatever," Sun Myung Moon says.

Somewhere the intern has found Bob Jones a new shirt. He's tying his own tie, like a real man. His eyes scan the room: the scarab beetles clicking and clacking over everything, Satan practicing sincere facial expressions in a mirror, Hermes putting the moves on some thirtyish associate producer ... and his heart sinks. What has he gotten himself into? But no, he tells himself: buck up. This is for God. This is for moral values. This is for America.

And that last is the magic word. It puts new iron in his backbone, new bounce in his stride. He takes his place with confidence.

And then, what the hell--he gets an erection. It's under the table where no one can see it, but still--how can he concentrate on what he has to say with Little Bobby throbbing? He glances around furtively. Nobody's looking at him, except Satan, and his gaze is, well--beneficent. Even beatific. He's got the look down, now; has put the mirror away. But why does that look creep him, Bob Jones III of Bob Jones University, out?


Sunday, November 14, 2004

 

Ground Rules

Oh, shit, Hermes thinks, as he exits the White House and sees the scarab beetles all over the lawn.

Sure enough, just around the corner stand Sun Myung and Hak Ja Han Moon, covered head to foot in the disgusting insects and smiling beatifically.

"So good to see you again, Hermes," Sun Myung says. His freak-o wife never says anything.

"What's up, Sun," Hermes says.

"I'll take the stuff you stole," Sun Myung says.

"What stuff?" Hermes says, all innocence.

"This stuff," Sun Myung says, and starts relieving Hermes of his loot: silverware, champagne glasses, miniature soaps embossed with the Great Seal of the U.S., paperclips, a stapler, and a small Cezanne still life with apples, pears, and quince. Sun Myung slides it all into his shoulder bag. "I'll take the gun and the keys that you lifted off the Marine, too," he says.

Hermes gives an insouciant grin and hands the contraband over. Apparently Sun Myung doesn't know about the missing decoder ring!

"Listen," Sun Myung says. "If we're going to work together, we need to establish some ground rules."

"I gotta tell you," Hermes says, "I ain't real big on ground rules."

"I realize that," Sun Myung says. "That's why I'm telling you the way it's going to be."

Over my dead body, Hermes thinks.

"That too can be arranged," Sun Myung smiles. "Okay, rule number one. No more petty theft."

"What!"

"You heard me," Sun Myung says. "Absolute minimum value of stolen goods is one million dollars U.S. Preference will be given to virtual heists."

"What's a virtual heist?" Hermes says.

"Stealing abstractions," Sun Myung says. "Stealing numbers out of Panamanian bank accounts. Laundering drug money. Overbilling on government contracts--see Dick Cheney for that."

"No picking pockets?" Hermes says.

"That's right," Sun Myung says.

"Where's the fun in that?" Hermes says.

"Never mind the fun. This is the big time now. We don't have fun; we get rich."

Hermes is very careful not to think the obvious, here: what the fuck am I doing with these people?

"Rule number two," Sun Myung says: "no sex with the wives or daughters of elected officials or their advisors."

"How about the officials and advisors themselves?"

"What about them?"

"Can I have sex with them?"

"No! Sex only with the non-governmentally-affiliated!"

"How about virtual sex?" Hermes asks.

"That's always encouraged," Sun Myung beams. "But only with the citizens and the environment," he adds, "and only from behind, so they don't know who fucked em when you're done."


 

Fish Guts

"You're an attractive woman, Laura," Hermes says. "Can we find a quiet room somewhere?"

Laura blushes furiously, glancing down at George, who is fighting fish-shaped space invaders.

"Come on, you little motherfucker," he's yelling at the screen, "hold still for two seconds while I blast you into fish guts!"

Hermes looks at Laura comically, crossing his eyes and touching his index finger to his dimple. She makes a stern face, gives a librarian's shake of the head.

"Come on," Hermes says, "can't we find a quiet place where we can--talk?"

Laura takes one more look at George, then makes up her mind. She isn't going to sleep with this god, that's for sure--even though she's heard from the twins that he's a genius in bed. But it can't hurt to hear what he has to say. Maybe he'll be able to resurrect Karl?


 

Here to See the Boss

"Hi, guys," Hermes says brightly to the Marines at the White House security check point. "Wanna frisk me?"

"Empty your pockets, please, sir," one of the Marines says, and Hermes obeys. But of course while he is emptying his own pockets he is also emptying the Marine's into his own, so that the Marine starts noticing the bin filling with his stuff: "Hey, those are my keys!" and "I've got a gun just like--hey!"

The Marine is about to sound the alarm when Hermes produces a badge very like the Marine's own.

"Just messing with you, son," Hermes says. "I'm from the Secure Hermetic Interdepartmental Task Force on Unclassified and Classified Knowledge, here to see the boss on matters of national security."

"Oh," the Marine says, abashed, "sorry, sir. Please, pass right through. But, uh--Vice President Cheney isn't in town today, sir."

"No, no," Hermes smiles, winks, and leans in conspiratorially. "I'm here to see the president."

"I see, sir," the Marine says. "But I thought you said--"

"Nice talking to you, sergeant," Hermes says, and steps through the metal-detector. It goes berserk, of course. Alarms sound, lights flash: Hermes still has the Marine's pistol, keys, and decoder ring. The Marine hastily turns off the alarms. Hermes walks off jauntily down the hall.