Indiana (a short story)
(“Indiana” is one of the stories in the author’s debut work of fiction, Birds of a Feather: Short Stories & Miscellany, available in paperback and as an ebook on Amazon, Goodreads and Smashwords.)
After an interminable nap, God opened his eyes. “Ah.”
George Crockfeldt had never heard the voice of God. He was a simple factory laborer. For the past 33 years, he had worked in a light bulb manufacturing plant just outside Terre Haute, Indiana. He was within reach of a comfortable pension plus a monthly Social Security check that would pay the rent and keep him in his model train hobby for the remainder of his years.
George watched thousands of newly formed standard glass bulbs pass him every day. His job was to spot-check glass for sharp edges and other noticeable defects. At the end of every shift, George felt confident that, due to his keen eye, the nation would see a little clearer.
Halfway through his Friday swing shift, God spoke to George Crockfeldt. George was confident God was speaking to him due to the fact that light bulbs generally do not illuminate unless they are connected to an electricity source—especially when lacking mounts. Also, light bulbs, with or without mounts, rarely communicate independently in Morse code.
George was also fairly certain that only God was aware of his personal knowledge of Morse Code. His father, Zebediah Crockfeldt, taught him Morse Code when he was ten. This same year, his father presented him with a top-of-the-line Lionel train set for Christmas. The following year, Zebediah Crockfeldt was run over by a drunk ice cream truck vendor. Young George henceforth kept his knowledge of Morse Code a secret from everyone. Also, he had a blind hatred of frozen desserts.
Two angels sought a moment of confidence in a niche of the celestial alcazar.
Ralph of the Sardonyx Wings, a gossip-mongering heavenly host if ever there was one, kept his tone low, “He awoke today. And spoke.”
Seraphim Sandalpfon’s wings unfolded in surprise. “Are you bearing false witness?”
Ralph replied with beatific nonchalance, “I bumped into Gabby. He swears El Shaddai opened his eyes. Hasn’t happened in a long time.”
Seraphim Sandalpfon proffered, “Not since Joseph Smith. Though everyone knows the Maker had hyacinth habaneros at the triclinium the night before.”
A cherub who had barely escaped the Luciferian Judgment and who now was delegated to aeternal janitorial duties casually broomed past the niche wherein Ralph and Sandalpfon were ensconced. He hated the way sardonyx left a perpetual flaky trail of chalcedony and carnelian; his was a Sisyphean sweeping sojourn. “O, joy. Praise be to the Highfalutin Potentate. A new manifestation of His Uncorrupt Paterness. Just what those simians deserve.”
Ralph and Sandalpfon bit their sanctified tongues.
The Angel Tzaphqiel felt a twinge of guilt. Yes, it was his-her job to transmit the message from Yahweh-Sabaoth. But still. The Creator hadn’t stooped this low since poor Isaiah.
George Crockfedlt pulled a Bic pen from the breast pocket of his powder blue factory overalls and transcribed the Morse Code message on his right palm. There was no mistaking:
“Strip off thy garments. Bespeak to Indiana. Her end draweth nigh.”
The faithful factory laborer was not in the habit of disobeying orders from superiors—especially as his was a right-to-work state. Just to be sure, George called over a fellow line inspector to verify he was not hallucinating. Sheila Knosclad could hardly believe what she saw: a single bulb on the halted line was blinking repeatedly.
George knew then and there that his career in illuminated melted sand had reached an end. Even an high school dropout such as himself could discern that a light bulb communicating in King James English was a big deal. He accepted the prophetic mantel.
The Angel Tzaphqiel shook his-her head. Poor Prophet George.
A factory supervisor arrived in a huff to Crockfeldt’s station, alerted to an expensive pause in manufacturing. He literally crapped himself, but just a bit, when he beheld the blinking bulb. The Prophet George tendered his resignation effective immediately. He handed the manager his overalls and exited the factory in well-worn Fruit of the Looms.
Ralph sauntered up to Seraphim Sandalphon in a corner of the Consecrated Cafeteria. Ralph palmed a cup of chodchod tea and whispered softly so that Signor Michael, several tables away and who grunted any time he heard mealtime conversation, could not hear. “They say Indiana is a goner.”
Seraphim Sandalpfon paused from nibbling a cob encrusted with carbuncle, agate and emerald. “Are you sure? I have friends in South Bend.”
Ralph sipped his tea. “Best look into it, then.”
At his local public library, The Prophet George queried a reference librarian about public indecency laws in the Hoosier State. The librarian’s laywoman interpretation of IC 35-45-4-1 led The Prophet George to believe that he would still be honoring the Lord God and the State of Indiana if he simply put a sock on it.
The librarian considered calling security when the strange patron asked whether she thought Ziploc baggies over one’s buttocks would satisfy the “opaque covering” requirement. Actually, she would have been well within her right to summon a safety officer when the patron first approached her desk in bare feet and wearing an extra-long Indiana Colts tank top and fresh white briefs. The librarian had no idea the Angel Tzaphqiel was blocking her personal safety instincts.
When The Prophet George returned home, he examined the contents of his top dresser drawer. He held up a pair of short athletic socks.
The Angel Tzaphqiel overrode the mortal’s volition. The Prophet George had an abnormally large penis; short socks would not do. The messenger directed the Most High’s mouthpiece to a pair of long argyles usually reserved for Easter service with the Prophet’s recently deceased mother.
The Prophet George spent the rest of the afternoon playing with his boyhood Lionel train set, which ran without a hitch as if it were still Christmas Morning 1970. He caressed his Johnny Cash “Riding the Rails” Boxcar which he had purchased from a Ben Franklin in the mid-70s and which, upon being visited by the Incandescent Word the previous day, he had finally opened from its original packaging. He realized he might never again lay eyes on his miniature locomotive cosmos of engines and cabooses, tracks and tunnels.
Douglas Land was an executive producer for the local Terre Haute conservative television news affiliate. Other than his Mercedes G SUV, he valued his waterproof cellphone case above all personal possessions. The case permitted him to perform his 24-7 news cycle administrative duties while lounging in his backyard pool on Saturdays and Sundays during the summer.
Land lazed on his back on a purple pool floatie and absorbed the late afternoon August sunshine. He cradled a bottle of Fernet on his hairy chest and stared at marshmallow clouds. His phone rang.
He noted the call was from his station. “Land. What?”
He listened. His body pitched sideways off the floatie; his phone shot from his hand like an ejected fighter pilot.
Land plunged his fist into the kiddie-end depths to retrieve his phone. The call was still connected. “Pronto Pup Christ! I’ll be there in 20 minutes.”
He hung up and dialed the national desk in New York to prepare them for a viral. He spied the floating bottle of Fernet, its myrrhic spirit seeping into the pool.
WTH weekend field reporter Skye Jimenola and her cameraman followed the late-middle-aged Caucasian male on foot down Ohio Street in downtown Terre Haute. The man paused in front of the First Community Church.
The cameraman panned out in order to capture Citizen Crockfeldt in all his argyle and Ziploc glory.
The Prophet George worried that if he aroused the nice-looking television lady, he might find himself in violation of IC 35-45-4-1. He wondered, in a worst case scenario, whether the county jailer would force him to don an orange jumpsuit against religious convictions.
The Angel Tzaphqiel sighed and took measures to stabilize The Prophet George’s lozenge stocking, which was jerry-rigged to his genitals with rubbers bands and plastic binder clips.
“You aren’t stimulated, are you, ma’am?” The Prophet George asked. He pointed at the camera. “Is that thing on?”
Skye momentarily wondered the same about George’s attire, but blew by Citizen Crockfeldt’s question and thrust the microphone in his face. “What did you say your name was again?”
The Prophet George held aloft an 100-watt light bulb a la the Statue of Liberty. “I speak as a prophet of the Most High God of Israel. I am The Prophet George.”
The cameraman was about to zoom in on the dandelion wreath wrapped around the mostly-naked man’s balding pate, when he noticed in the background a man in collar briefly exit the main entrance of the First Community Church, then trip over himself to reenter once he realized what was camped out on the sidewalk. The cameraman figured that moment alone would probably add a few hundred thousand views to the clip.
Skye continued her interrogation of Citizen Crockfeldt, “Well, as a prophet, what is you want to tell the WTH viewers?”
The Angel Tzaphqiel reviewed his-her notes. Jehovah Shammah was not opposed to a global audience perceiving a miracle this early on.
The light bulb aloft in George’s hand began to blink.
Nifty trick, the cameraman thought.
George translated the bulb:
“God…is coming…to Indiana…Heads up…Hoosiers…Check out the sky…next…Tuesday. Avoid…interstates.”
“Prophet George, what do you think—”
Skye Jimenola paused in the middle of her question; she sensed something above her, as did the cameraman, who instinctively craned his camera skyward. A poofy cumulus cloud the size of a man’s fist turned cinereal before their eyes, then obsidian, then darker yet to a color of inviolable darkness.
Jimenola let hang a drawn “um…” for the universe of social media to hear. “Frank, are you getting this?”
The camera bobbed as its operator nodded.
The Angel Tzaphqiel suddenly sensed the Omnipotent Tetragrammaton’s attention squarely focused upon the scene—something that had not happened for several centuries. Actually, not since Golgotha.
Those poor, poor carcasses, he-she thought. Holy. Shit. Hold on to your mortal coils, folks.
Pantocrator Plasma rained down upon the spire of the First Community Church. And had not the Angel Tzaphqiel cashed in a few hard-earned cherubic chips, every organic being within a half-mile would have returned to stardust.
Frank instinctively grabbed his partner’s hand and dragged her to cover behind a parked SUV. The viewer was privy to a minute of twirling pavement and blinding electric purple, followed by a cacophonic droning of automobile and building alarms.
Sensing the theistic rage had subsided, Frank emerged, instinctively with the camera as his third eye, around the corner of the vehicle’s back end. First Community Church of Terre Haute seemed remarkably unscathed. Several individuals stumbled out of the building holding their hands to their eyes and ears, including the collared man from earlier, who tripped and fell backwards into a landscaper’s wheelbarrow.
“Damn. He’s gone,” Frank heard Skye mutter.
Frank scanned the area. Indeed, there was no sign of the light bulb seer.
The news team demonstrated seasoned training and gathered itself. Frank squared the camera on his shaken colleague, who straightened her skirt with a tug. A portion of her bra showed through her blouse, which had lost two center buttons.
“This is Skye Jimenola, reporting live from Ohio Street in downtown Terre Haute. With, and now without, The Prophet George. WTH Weekend News Ten.”
By the time Douglas Land returned home, it was Sunday evening. He had just orchestrated one of the most-viewed news clips in hashtag media history. He had been in the business long enough to know the circus had just begun, so he slipped home for one solid night of rest before the week of sleepless, deadline grind commenced. He realized with some irony that the actual circus was already in town; “Terre Haute Under the Big Tent” had been the intended original lead story the previous evening—before “The Naked Prophet” showed up.
The world’s attention was trained on Terre Haute, doubtless for the first time. Reporters the world over were beginning to descend on Western Indiana to uncover the life and times of The Naked Prophet, whom the previous night a WTH reporter had identified as George Crockfeldt—another feather in the WTH cap. Before leaving the station, Land had offered a $1,000 bonus bounty to any WTH staffer who could track down the former light bulb factory worker ahead of the pending broadcast tsunami, which included a number of affiliate reporters who had already turned up at WTH. Land had even offered station privileges to several right-wing Christian broadcasting teams, given his network’s consortial agreement with the National Religious Broadcasters.
Land was exhausted; he left a trail of clothes from front door to backyard and slinked down the steps of his pool, a six-pack of Japanese beer in hand which he had grabbed from an outdoor refrigerator. His naked body embraced the cool water, and he floated on his back in the moonlight glow. He plucked cans from their plastic yoke and let float an armada of Asian rice lager that escorted him to the middle of the pool.
The only object between the news producer and the celestial proscenium was The Cloud, as many were calling it. For the moment, the edge of the strange phenomenon covered a portion of the gibbous moon. Several Facebook pages were already devoted to The Cloud, which was the subject of a Sunrise News story the weather team was planning for Monday. The best named page thus far was Terre Haute Purple Haze.
Douglas reached for a nearby can. He popped the top with a psssh!
Seraphim Sandalpfon floated several feet above the pool, invisible to mortal eyes. He beheld the naked human and touched his own unformed loins. He contemplated in his pre-adamite tongue what life might be like with mortality and genitals. What must it feel like to pee?
Douglas raised the can in a toast to himself: “Nutjobs glued to nutjobs. Next stop, the New York desk. Nutjob Grand Central.”
Seraphim Sandalpfon sensed a powerful presence. He cautiously ascended over the roof line of Land’s gingerbread manor and saw a rusty bucket of a vehicle approaching from the edge of the subdivision. A 1976 Dodge Dart, to be precise, with an 8-track player playing Debby Boone’s greatest hits. A light in the passenger seat perpetually blinked. Sitting cross-legged on the roof, unbeknownst to the driver, was the Angel Tzaphqiel.
“Thanks a lot, Ralph,” Seraphim Sandalpfon muttered. “I’ll probably get assigned to Uruguay for meddling.”
The snooping angel dropped to terra firma, assumed the form of a flowering sumac and held his preternatural breath.
The snuff-colored clunker paused in front of the news producer’s driveway, then pulled up and kissed the bumper of Land’s precious Mercedes G. Land sucked down his Japanese beer, unaware that a nearly naked fat man was squeezing through a narrow crease between the wall of his house and a prickly hedge that separated his front and back yards.
The Prophet George was himself unaware that the hedge had snagged his argyle sheath and Ziplocs. He emerged from the hedge and scratched a patch of itching hair near his navel. He observed his exposed member and collapsed onto a padded pool chair, more or less confident that in the newsman’s yard he was safe from the consequences of IC 35-45-4-1.
At the sound of an unexpected visitor, Land rolled like a gray whale in heat and inhaled a chaser of pool water. “What the fu-blblblb—?!”
Land struggled to find the pool bottom with the tips of his toes and grabbed a nearby can of Japanese beer to fend off the naked simian.
The Mouthpiece of God waited for the producer’s coughing to subside before hurling his light bulb into the pool. The bulb plinked into the water beside a floating can.
“Oh, relax,” The Prophet George ordered. “You know who I am. El-Shaddai says thou shalt give me refuge. Now toss me one of those beers.”
Land struggled to process the figure before him. “How did you find me?”
The Prophet George realized both Land and he were in matching states of undress. “Do you have any idea what it’s like to drive while reading directions in Morse code from a light bulb—with an entire army of reporters—your army of reporters—searching for you? Seriously, I want a beer.”
Land waded close to the shallow end. His foot brushed against the empty bottle of Fernet at the bottom of the pool. “No, I mean how did you know who I was?”
The pool lights began to flicker, as did the floating light bulb.
The Prophet George frowned. “Fine.” He lifted his meaty frame and wobbled to the pool’s edge. He rescued a can that was about to enter the skimmer, then farted. It sounded like a balloon tiring of its vocation.
The Prophet George opened the can and farted again. “Sorry, been holding it in all day; not sure why. Wait, you are Trobriand Land, aren’t you?”
Land was amazed. No one knew his first name, assigned him by his damned anthropology professor of a father. “No one calls me that.”
The Prophet George took a swig. He hadn’t downed a beer since his second cousin Lenny’s wedding two years ago. He felt a new personality emerging, a metamorphosis, of sorts. His scrotum hairs stood on end. “God does.”
Both Land and The Prophet George watched with curiosity as each other’s hair turn silver. Every hair, from pate to hallux. Suddenly, Land’s barbecue grill erupted in spontaneous flame.
The Prophet George dropped the can of rice lager. “Holy—get out of the pool. Now!”
Only the Angel Tzaphqiel and the nearby sumac sensed the stirring of purple static high above in The Cloud. Yet The Prophet George could see the exalted reflection of the Godhead in Land’s pool. He averted his eyes and repeated his plea for the news producer to exit the water.
Just as the news producer emerged from the water, the bolt struck.
Chaos and vaporization ensued. Land and The Prophet sought mutual naked shelter behind the outdoor hibachi. Meanwhile, a flowering sumac tiptoed to the edge of the yard, of which the Angel Tzaphqiel was aware.
Seraphim Sandalpfon sought out his grapevine acquaintance, who was having his foot talons painted olivine at the Chrysolite Salon.
Seraphim Sandalpfon seated himself in a pearl-studded chaise longue beside Ralph of the Sardonyx Wings. Though practically parturient with news of terra firma, Sandalpfon casually flipped through a recent issue of Supernal Digest.
Ralph sensed the excitement of his fraternal spiritual being. His left wing reached out and tickled Sandalphon under the chin. “Well?”
Seraphim Sandalpfon kept his face buried in the preternatural periodical. “Tuesday.”
Ralph lowered Sandalpfon’s periodical with an opposable toe. “There isn’t an immortal soul from Abraham’s Bosom to the outer edges of Zion who doesn’t already know about Tuesday.”
Ralph dismissed his imperishable pedicurist with a shooing glance and inserted chrysophrasus cobbles between his toes to prevent the olivine from streaking.
Seraphim Sandalpfon sometimes wondered whether his Sardonyx companion belonged on this side of the Creator’s favor. “Well, I suppose I could tell you that He showed his face to two mortals, one the naked prophet, the other the media whore.”
Ralph feigned disinterest while inserting a final cobble. “Showed His face to mortals, did he? Well, I suppose that is something. Maybe that pathetic cherub with the broom was right about a new manifestation.”
A presence seated itself upon the pedicurist stool. It grasped Ralph of the Sardonyx Wings’ unpolished foot and began to scrape the angel’s calloused heel with an onyx file.
“I thought I dismissed you,” Ralph barked.
The Angel Tzaphqiel worked steadfastly upon his-her fellow messenger’s paw, mindful of the example once set by the Trinitarian Son. Seraphim Sandalpfon and Ralph of the Sardonyx Wings succumbed to seraphic shock in the presence of the Archangel of Binah.
The Angel Tzaphqiel applied a blameless brushstroke of liquid peridot to Ralph’s middle talon. “I have a job for you two buttinskies.”
Seraphim Sandalpfon sunk low in the lounge. Shit, here comes Uruguay.
The Angel Tzaphqiel applied another perfect stroke to Ralph’s pinky talon. “How familiar are either of you with Protocol XLII?”
Ralph of the Sardonyx Wings swallowed hard. “Annihilation?”
Sandalpfon sputtered, “But I thought that was still tied up in supermundane committee.”
Seraphim Sandalpfon and Ralph of the Sardonyx Wings, immortal beings though they were, each swallowed hard. The beryl mailbox hanging upside-down from the picket fence read “Abaddon.” From within the compound’s trailer, they heard the sounds of squealing swine and a cacophonous, incorruptible fart.
Ralph tried to relieve the tension, “There’s a bellow blast from Beelzebub if ever I did hear.”
Both angels half-jumped from the sound of shattering glass; a large rhyton filled with wine landed and smashed into pieces at Ralph’s chrysolite pedicured toes.
Sandalpfon unfurled a scroll and mouthed the words therein. “Behold the locusts. Behold scorpion’s tip. Behold the burning bramble…”
Ralph rolled up his diaphanous sleeves. “O, hump a behemoth. Like the bugger has any choice. Yo, Apollyon! Get your ass out here. Yahweh’s beck and call!”
Land poured a glass of blood orange juice and replayed in his mind the final images of the previous evening, which included The Prophet George’s hairy backside usurping his bed. Also, every drop of water—and beer and Fernet—in his pool had been vaporized. Plus, no manner of effort—not even cutting the residential gas line—could extinguish the fire on his grill. Finally, exhausted, Land had given up. After all, the naked trespasser told him not to worry based on the advice of blinking light bulbs. Never had a couch seemed so appealing.
Land heard the private ring tone on his phone reserved for WTH weekend field reporter, and occasional lover, Skye Jimenola.
He gulped some juice and answered. “Skye.”
Skye spat out words in Gatling gun fashion. “It’s disappeared, Doug. Disappeared, as in no longer there. Here! It’s gone, Doug, gone!”
“Slow down, Skye. What are you talking about?”
“Doug. Indiana has disappeared!”
Land lifted the blinds at the kitchen window above the sink. A mass of fir branches pushed against the window. “What, the state? I’m looking at it right now. Seems like the normal shithole we all know and love.”
“Frank and I were following up on a lead in Marshall. George Crockfeldt’s mother is buried there. Anyway, we were headed back on I-70 and got to the border, but it’s just blank.”
Land turned and noticed The Prophet George in his usual glory bent-double looking through a bottom cabinet. “Skye, are you high? What do you mean it’s blank?”
Skye slowed her speech. “Not five minutes ago Frank and I watched a tractor trailer drive straight into oblivion. Not a single vehicle has emerged from 70 West in the past 20 minutes.”
The Prophet George turned his head. “Got any cereal?”
Land pointed to a lazy Susan cabinet and took the call to another room. “Skye, sorry, but this sounds a little—”
“Doug. Shut the fuck up and turn on a television. Indiana is Void. V-O-I-D.”
Land grabbed a remote and powered up his flat screen. Every channel was blue. “My reception is dead.”
Frank the cameraman interjected on the other end of the line, “Doug, we are staring at a wall of blackness from ground to cloud that runs the entire Indiana border as far as the eye can see.”
Land settled into pragmatic newsman gear. “Then someone please tell me how the hell we’re able to speak on a cellphone.”
The Prophet George approached from behind, munching on Rice Chex. “Check your reception, Trobriand.”
“Huh?” Land looked at his phone; he tapped it. “No bars. Wha—? Skye, can you hear me?”
Land looked at The Prophet George, “What’s going on?”
The Prophet George reached into another cereal box and produced a handful of granola and chocolate chip pellets. “No idea. Have you looked outside lately?”
Land approached a living room window. He pulled back the blinds and stumbled backwards into a credenza. His property was surrounded by a towering column of orange and white whorls that reminded him of images of the gas storms on planet Jupiter.
The ceiling light fixture began blinking. The Prophet George interpreted. “Relax, Doug. We’re safe within the column. Better in here than what’s beyond. The light’s saying something about an angry lobster. Dang, Tuesday can’t get here soon enough. You’re out of milk, by the way.”
Doug turned his attention back to his phone; it was dead.
Ralph of the Sardonyx Wings and Seraphim Sandalpfon were stationed on the murky bottom of the Hulman Street Reservoir, together charged with keeping Abaddon at bay until the Angel Tzaphqiel’s signal. The “plutonian pillbug,” as Ralph had referred to it, seemed harmless enough once they had separated it from its trailer trash environs and sobered it up. But Sandalpfon wasn’t taking any chances. Annihilation, however it worked, was no less effective on astrals than on earthly creatures. He had hogtied the creature’s array of pinchers and legs with several cords of Adamas rope. It rested peacefully upside-down at the bottom of the reservoir; occasionally one of the monster’s antennae deftly fingered the constricting knots.
A carp nibbled a scum-covered rock near Sandalpfon’s toes, and the angel practically jumped out of his ligurus-bedazzled formal apocalyptic robe.
Ralph of the Sardonyx Wings snickered, then jumped to attention when Tazphqiel’s androgynous voice cut cleanly through the water: “Unleash That Which Consumes.”
Both messengers unsheathed flaming swords and walked the perimeter of the great beast, cutting loose its bonds. The creature registered its freedom, and hunger.
Not an ark’s worth of cubits away, a television van idled on the shoulder of East Hulman Drive. The logo across the vehicle’s side showed a satellite dish planted atop a wooden cross; a dove hovered above the cross. The words “KINGDOM NEWS” ran diagonally to the right of the logo.
The world of Radical Right Christian Media was no less cutthroat than the secular news industry, of which Kingdom News journalistic darling Joshua Skiderik was pudding proof. As he often confided to his sidekick cameraman, Hal: “One does not rise in the Christian news crucible with daily helpings of the fruit of the Spirit alone.” After all, more than 5 million Evangelical TV viewers depended on him daily to unearth the lies of the Great Deceiver. Christ’s Truth was a daily crusade waged for the New Jerusalem. Though a fervent believer himself, Hal usually tuned out Skiderik at about this point.
WTH had kindly offered to host the roving Kingdom News team, but Skiderik did not return this graciousness in kind. A WTH reporter had daftly left notes from a major tip about the whereabouts of The Naked Prophet lying on the edge of his desk. Skiderik spied the tip and stealthily poured a half-bottle of Texas Pete Hot Sauce in the reporter’s coffee mug. He assumed the reporter’s GI tract would recover eventually; thus, his act wasn’t really a sin.
Inside the news van, Skiderik sat in the passenger seat and consulted a road atlas.
Hal sat on the edge of the open side door and tinkered with a smartphone. “I don’t get it, man. No connection on both phones. Plus the tablet. GPS is out. Satellite is totally down too.”
Skiderik monkeyed with the radio. “Debby Boone on every station.”
Hal was not amused. “Turn that thing off. It’s bad enough to be flying blind. The tip sheet said Dresser Avenue. Find it on the atlas; we can’t be more than a few miles away.”
Skiderik looked out the front window. “Actually, Hal, I think I have a pretty good idea where it is. Let’s lead with a graphic from Exodus 13.”
Hal continued toying with his electronic gizmos. “Exodus 13?”
“Grab your camera.” Skiderik pointed at the theophany in the nearby distance, growing higher and higher above the tree line. “’And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire…’”
Hal came around the side of the vehicle and beheld the whirlwind of swirling flame. “Holy Shadrach!” He rushed back to the van for his camera.
Skiderik hopped across to the driver seat. “Meshach and Exclusive-bedngo. Quick, grab some footage and get in!”
While Hal recorded the rising pillar of fire, Skiderik observed what at first seemed to be a capsized boat bobbing to the surface of the reservoir in the near distance to the news van’s right. What appeared to be a curved hull was actually a rounded carapace that continued rising and eventually gave way to dozens of frenzied legs that reached out for the grassy banks of the reservoir shore.
Within moments, a hulking opalescent creature was blocking the van’s way on the road. Water and mud slid off its body, while several frontal antennae surveyed the environment.
The creature’s antennae froze, then deliberately turned toward the white van.
Joshua Skiderik would never know that Abaddon had sensed a near pure form of hypocrisy in his person. No soul tasted better.
Skiderik slammed the van into reverse, but Abaddon was upon the vehicle in moments. It happened so quickly that neither Ralph of Sardonyx Wings nor Seraphim Sandalpfon could tell that the universe had been instantaneously divested of several kilograms of stardust.
Abaddon shat remnants of the white van and increased in size.
The Angel Tzaphqiel sat on his-her favorite ledge at the edge of the Universe and waited for Tuesday.
Somewhere down below in infinitesimal Terre Haute, Abaddon, now a mighty-sized leviathan by that orbiting sphere’s standards, was gobbling up an ice cream factory and tossing about cars from a moving freight train.
Those humans: so eager to crusade for one religion, yet so generally ignorant of their obeisance to other false immortals. Take their days of the week: not one day dedicated to the Maker. Not even one month: Janus, Mars, Maia, Juno. Such disrespect.
The Omnipotent Tetragrammaton rarely displayed poetic license, but the nod to Tyr could not be overlooked. Who plans a new manifestation of the Godhead on a Tuesday? Still, as if any of those mortals had time to consider Ragnarök while being run down by an apocalyptic prawn.
Yet The Great Binah Choir Director knew it was not his-her role to judge; only to stir the waters as directed. The Angel Tzaphqiel had not spoken to himself-herself in almost 65 million terrestrial years.
He-she sighed, “How IHVH loves his ants.”
The Prophet George awoke to blinking bedroom lights during the wee small hours of Tuesday morning. No longer conscious of his stark nakedness, he found Land and the newcomer and began to shake them awake. The newcomer was not accustomed to greeting the pre-dawn morning with a hairy ass in his face.
When Hal the Kingdom News cameraman had arrived to the premises the previous afternoon, the pillar had opened briefly to grant him entrance. The cameraman was no longer interested in a big scoop but was just grateful to escape the clutches of the creature now wreaking havoc on western Indiana. Also, the refuge had plenty of breakfast cereal.
Hal had shown the footage of Skiderik and the van’s demise to Land and The Prophet George. Immediately thereafter, The Prophet George had retired to Land’s bedroom. He was fairly certain of the purpose of Hal’s addition to the group. The Lord was fond of chroniclers; Douglas and Hal would make a good team. He needed to rest; tomorrow was Tuesday.
“What the hell happens on Tuesday?!” Land had demanded.
The Prophet George had not replied but instead retired to Land’s bedroom.
The Prophet George continued to shake Land awake. “It is time, Trobriand. I’ll need a tuning fork if you have one.”
Land produced a dusty violin case from his basement. He withdrew a tuning fork and handed it to The Prophet George. “I assume A is acceptable.”
The Prophet George accepted the resonator; he knew nothing about musical theory. “Probably. Also, is there—is there—“ The Prophet George struggled with the words. Just the thought of frozen dairy products brought back the painful memory of his father’s broken body, run down in front of him so many years before by a drunk Schwan’s ice cream delivery driver. He recalled the Apostle Paul’s thorn in his flesh. Ice cream was his prickle.
Hal reached out to touch The Prophet George’s hairy shoulder, “Are you okay?”
The Prophet George’s voice erupted: “Is there an ice cream factory nearby?!”
Every light bulb in Douglas Land’s house, from refrigerator to bathroom fixture, exploded. Land and Hal recoiled as glass shards rained down around them.
The Prophet George flicked an eggshell-shaped piece of glass off his pate and boomed impatiently, “Well?!”
Land shifted and crunched glass beneath his leather-bottom slippers. “An ice cream factory? Hell, I don’t know. Wait—actually there is. Jasper’s Creamery. It’s about five miles down the road. I pass it every day on the way to the station.”
“And are there railroad tracks nearby?” The Prophet George intoned.
Land thought. “Yes, there’s a railroad crossing just before you get to the—“
“Lead us, Trobriand,” The Prophet George directed. He pointed at Hal, “You, newcomer, scrounge up some working cameras.”
Land simply would not tolerate a naked fat man—no matter his divine augur status—sitting shotgun in his Mercedes G SUV leather seats. He begged The Prophet George to sit on a workout towel he kept in his trunk; The Prophet George complied. Land drove down his driveway and through the Column of Whorls at The Prophet George’s instruction. The world on the other side was a cataclysm of smoldering trees and ruined homes, with not a single human soul in sight. The sky was overcast with an ominous purple cloud that so overwhelmed all three men they dared not gaze upon it directly for more than a moment at a time.
Hal instinctively began shooting images of the devastation. He zoomed in on a house that had been torn from its foundation and flipped upside-down. The torn-up yard was filled with colorful plastic children’s toys.
Land rolled slowly down his residential road. He noticed in the rearview mirror that the Column of Whorls that had surrounded his house was now a dust devil about the size of a vacuum cleaner. The small whirlwind tailgated his Mercedes. “What did this?”
“Probably that giant crustacean thing,” Hal replied.
The Prophet George corrected, “God hath sent His Destroyer.”
Land drove through a fire hydrant’s water spray. “Fuck. Me.”
At The Prophet George’s insistence, the trio drove on toward the Jasper Creamery. Land could not help thinking of the many wartime and natural disaster video clips that had crossed his desk throughout his journalism career. Banal Terre Haute had become an aftermath lookalike of places like Chernobyl and Kosovo—actually, more akin to Dresden or Nagasaki.
Land pulled to a stop before a befallen tractor trailer that was overturned and lying sideways across the road. To the right, a stalled circus train stood on the tracks, interrupted by Armageddon on its way out of town. Many of the train cars were filled with roaring, terrified animals. Hal observed an elephant trunk probing through a window. The bellowing of a lion pulsed through the car interior. There were no people to free or assist the trapped creatures.
Land put the vehicle in park. “We’re about a half-mile away. The tracks lead right to the factory. We should stay in the car in case some of the circus animals are loose. I can backtrack and find another way around.”
The Prophet George observed the train with a twinkle in his eye. He knew he was meant to think of the special Ringling Brothers train set he had received on his birthday following his father’s death. His father had purchased the set for him before the accident. Each toy car had the blue and yellow “Greatest Show on Earth” circular logo.
The Prophet George brandished his tuning fork and opened the SUV passenger door. “No.”
Hal called from the back seat, “What are you going to do with that thing?”
“Follow me,” The Prophet George replied.
The Prophet George, Land and Hal walked together. The Prophet George noticed that the soles of his feet had begun to callous and weren’t as sore as expected from tramping through the rubble along the railroad tracks.
The Prophet George paused at each train car and banged the tuning fork against the metal frame. The animals inside grew instantly calm. The Angel Tzaphqiel from his-her favorite ledge at the edge of the Universe made the padlocks slip open miraculously. The Prophet George threw open the door and ordered the animals inside to come out. Hal thought about the miracle of Lazarus; Land thought about being mauled by a bear on a unicycle.
After the sixth car, Hal and Land were too afraid to turn around and behold the interspecies herd of lions, tigers, bears, stallions, pachyderms and giraffes following in their wake—and behind the herd, the Column of Whorls, which had started growing again.
Jasper’s Creamery finally came into view. The main manufacturing building had a large brick mosaic of a chocolate ice cream cone; this was the only portion of the façade still standing. The rest of the building had been swept aside by Abaddon the Creature, which had assumed something of a reclined, odalisque pose, its underbelly exposed. It was sipping leisurely from industrial-sized vats of syrupy confection inside the destroyed factory. What passed for Abaddon’s stomach was bloated with tens of thousands of annihilated souls.
Though the three humans could not see them, Seraphim Sandalphon and Ralph of the Sardonyx Wings stood in the vicinity of the superordinary pillbug; they had had their fill of Abaddon’s gluttonous sweet tooth for sentient beings and dairy products. As far as they were concerned, Protocol XLII was infinitely worse than Uruguay. The angels noticed the naked human and his two companions, plus the menagerie of animals and the Cloud of Whorls, approaching. The Angel Tzaphqiel was not visible to them; they exchanged looks, unsure how to respond.
The Prophet George stopped about a football field’s length from the slurping Creature. It continued to feast upon the gelatinous mixtures in the vats, oblivious of the three human souls. From its back end oozed something resembling melted chocolate-vanilla swirl.
“Find me a piece of metal,” The Prophet George ordered.
Land and Hal scoured the area for scrap metal. Hal handed The Prophet George a longish piece of brass piping.
“Both of you, walk a good distance to either side of me and record.”
These would be the penultimate words of The Prophet George. Land and Hal, each a camera in hand, gladly put distance between themselves and the prophetic platoon. They both pushed record on their cameras.
The Prophet George clanged the tuning fork against the brass piping and called out to Abaddon: “Commander of Locusts! Pharaoh of Flies! Hear the word of the Great I AM! Thou art cast back into Sheol! Damned art thou to the depths of Belial!”
A squeal emerged from the stuffed Devourer of Souls. It turned to face its accuser, its thousand legs and antennae twiddling with anticipation.
The Prophet George banged the tuning fork again. Its resonance reach a throbbing level. (Land and Hal forevermore would hate listening to music—or at least any song which contained the A.) The herd behind The Prophet George collectively snorted and scuffed heels and hooves against the turf. At once, both sides rushed upon the other: Hellish Isopod versus the Three-Ringed Stampede. The Prophet George rushed forward, holding high his brass rod like a naked Lord Cardigan.
As the two sides collided, The Angel Tzaphqiel snapped his-her fingers, and the Cloud of Whorls, now a formidable cyclone, twirled violently. Hal and Land each grabbed hold of large stationary objects to keep from being sucked into the vortex. The Cloud of Whorls swung out and engulfed the belligerents and ascended into the heavens, taking with it all warring parties—even The Prophet George, who was no more.
The whirlwind punctured through the purple cloud in its assent, and a ray of brilliant light pierced through from the heavens to terra firm, landing squarely on the ice cream mosaic.
Land and Hal dropped to their knees from awe yet continued filming.
Seraphim Sandalphon and Ralph of the Sardonyx Wings lay their flaming swords upon the ground and each bent a knee. It wasn’t every day that middling angels were blessed with the presence of the Godhead.
A voice not unlike Sean Connery’s issued forth from the rent in the cloud. The Voice carried hither and thither throughout all of segregated Indiana in the language of every human being:
“I am the Maker. To my Creation: Enough. I am lonely. I need you. You need me. You need each other. Love is the only answer. Accept, do not exclude. Be Kind. Share. ALSO, your precious planet IS FRAGILE. Take better care of it. Money is indeed a source of wickedness; DITCH it. Explore the universe—and don’t forget the oceans, too. Also, spend more time dancing AND MAKING LOVE. Grow gardens. Bake more pies. And this time, don’t forget ME.”
With that, the bright ray faded. The terrible purple cloud condensed into a wisp the size of a man’s fist, then popped. And the Void that surrounded the entire state of Indiana disappeared.
Hal and Land returned to the Mercedes G SUV and drove to the abandoned WTH station, Seraphim Sandalphon and Ralph of the Sardonyx Wings anonymously in tow.
Slowly, the world gradually made its way to Terre Haute to discover the undeniable divine revelation.
Somewhere at the edge of the Universe, The Angel Tzaphqiel shook his-her head.
In the ensuing years, humanity made a real go of it. Even atheists tagged along.
The nations of the world successfully introduced a non-monetary-based global economy, but it didn’t last long. Switzerland and Norway bucked the U.N. from the beginning and opted to keep their respective currencies.
Gardens sprang up everywhere, and soon, more or less in defiance of the Maker, the world started trading in botanical seeds, called Greenthumbs. Not surprisingly, greed transferred smoothly. The Angel Tzaphqiel shook his-her head some more. People got really stinking rich off of baobab tree seeds. A single seed was worth about 10,000 Norwegian Krone.
Industrial pollution was cut by two-thirds, however, for which Planet Earth and all its creatures were grateful. People biked and walked a lot more. Alternative fuels like solar and wind reigned for a full century until humans finally mastered the principles of fusion.
Military budgets were retargeted to more exploratory missions of the solar system and the ocean floors. Before long, human beings actually stood on the moons of Jupiter. Also, the world unanimously voted to make Jerusalem off-limits to people, period; they filled it with dirt and spread lots of random seeds everywhere, then built a giant wall no one could climb. Almost immediately, suicide bombings plummeted.
However, pie-baking skyrocketed. People went absolutely crazy for a decent slice of French silk or rhubarb. There were a few skirmishes here and there, especially in the early days when people argued over whether Boston cream was really a pie or a cake. More progressive thinkers argued that the Maker really just wanted people to do more baking, in general.
Not surprisingly, Seraphim Sandalphon and Ralph of the Sardonyx Wings were assigned permanent guardian roles to the two videographers of the divine revelation. Douglas Land, who henceforth went by his given name, Trobriand, was much more reticent to start a formalized religion of the whole affair than his fellow Apostle Hal, but eventually the Apostle Trobriand conceded. The Apostle Hal spent the rest of his days in Terre Haute, but the Apostle Trobriand eventually married Skye Jimenola and moved to Monaco. They had three children and a black Newfoundland named George.
Both apostles’ homes ultimately became sites of major pilgrimage. For obvious reasons, spiritual journeyers were more excited to visit the Apostle Trobriand’s Monte Carlo villa.
Followers of the Church of the Tuesday Ray, or Purple Hazers, as they were called, generally met for worship on Tuesday afternoons. (Many men converted out of sheer joy that there was finally a religion that didn’t interfere with weekend sports.) Purple Hazers sang hymns about the faith of The Prophet George, and a Divine Tablet liturgy was written based on the spoken words of the Maker. A good bit of each service was also spent watching video clips from the recordings of the Apostles Trobriand and Hal. Purple Hazers went crazy for circuses and trains and eventually developed a systematic cultural taboo of dairy products.
There was a major rift in the Church of the Tuesday Ray when, on his death bed, the Apostle Trobriand reportedly confessed that he felt the Maker was a bit of a pornographer. Also, he always had the feeling that God played with human beings like little boys and their green army men. The Apostle Hal decried such words as heresy. Eventually the Church of the Tuesday Ray split into two distinct sects: the Apostle Hal sect only watched the Apostle Hal’s video recording at services; the Apostle Trobriand sect only watched the Apostle Trobriand’s video. Even Seraphim Sandalphon and Ralph of the Sardonyx Wings shook their heads.
The religion went predictably downhill from there. It wasn’t long before teenagers of both sects were hanging out with their Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Shinto and Druidic friends late on Monday nights, drinking milk straight from the cow’s teat, as it were. (That was a euphemism used by both sects to describe licking ice cream cones.) But at least humanity overall was taking better care of the planet.
The Angel Tzaphqiel watched it all from his-her favorite ledge at the edge of the Universe. At the end of the day, he-she even recommended Seraphim Sandalphon and Ralph of the Sardonyx Wings for promotion. For three terrestrial centuries, both angels had done a pretty smashup job of looking after the Church of the Tuesday Ray as best any heavenly messenger could.
Both heavenly beings were presented with ruby, topaz and sapphire-ornamented robes by the Archangel Raphael during a special ceremony. Raphael offered them both the freedom to choose their next assignments.
Both wanted to spend some time with The Prophet George.
The Prophet George shared a virtuous timeshare with Saints Enoch and Elijah, who sometimes complained that their new roommate remained something of a nudist around the house. The Prophet George spent most of his time conducting a gold-plated circus train around the full perimeter of Blessed Paradise. Seraphim Sandalphon and Ralph of the Sardonyx Wings enjoyed just riding around in circles singing hymns of glory for several epochs. Elephants poked their trunks out the train car windows and trumpeted joyously.
Meanwhile, the cherub who had barely escaped the Luciferian Judgment was forced to clean Abaddon’s litter box for eons. The cherub spent most of his time complaining to anyone who would listen about the plutonian pillbox’s lactose intolerance.
During all of this, the Omniscient Maker sat on Its Aeternal Throne, absorbing all reality simultaneously and thinking the occasional Omnipotent Thought with an inner voice that sounded a lot like Sean Connery. The Maker toyed with a coral-amethyst Chinese Finger Puzzle that St. Archimedes had given him for Epiphany.
“Not a bad manifestation,” the Maker thought to Itself. “They’ve done worse. Of course, whenever they fail, it’s mostly my fault. Never have been able to work out that whole free will-predestination problem. Someday we’ll try a Universe 2.0. But no need to rush.”
The Maker felt a yawn coming on. The Maker in fact yawned. Time and space grew tenfold; billions of new galaxies began to form.
“Tzaphqiel!” the Maker called.
The Angel Tzaphqiel appeared instantaneously. He-she was the only Created Being in all Aeternity whom the Maker entrusted for this intimate act.
“I am tired,” the Maker sighed. “Time to tuck me in.”
The Angel Tzaphqiel wrapped the Tetragrammaton in a warm, virgin wool blanket, then returned to his-her favorite ledge on the edge of the Universe.
The Maker settled in for another interminable nap.
(“Indiana” is one of the stories in the author’s debut work of fiction, Birds of a Feather: Short Stories & Miscellany, available in paperback and as an ebook on Amazon, Goodreads and Smashwords.)
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