From Chapter 1 – Stranger in a Strange Land (895 words):
Thirteen hours late, my cross-galaxy voyage to the All-Souls Transit Center ends in a puff of soft lunar dirt on Mare Tranquillitatis. I expect to meet the legendary God of planet Earth in his office but as I deplane he’s shuffling down the concourse toward his departure gate. He’s easy to spot – inside this small, sparse four gate terminal we are the only life forms in sight.
With his stooped posture and unkempt shoulder length gray hair, God reminds me of the mythical Atlas. His tremors underscore the physical and emotional toll he has had to bear. Did his mental state also degrade? He spent two millennia managing a planet populated by quarrelsome headstrong terrestrials. Over that much time any deity posted to such a world would succumb to the effects of prolonged stress.
I quicken my pace, catch up to him and extend a hand. “Good day, Lord.”
“This is how you address your superiors?” The decibel level of his gruff voice implies impaired hearing. “Where are your manners? A bow is in order.”
Though I have not yet fully adapted to the musculature of this adult male body I inhabit, my flawless execution of a deep obeisance brings a quick smile to my face.
God gives me a brusque signal to rise. “You’re my replacement, are you?”
“Correct, Lord. I am humbled and honored to take your place.” I bow again, less fully.
“Call me NTG if you wish. I prefer answering to that nickname.”
So the rumor is true. That he calls himself the New Testament God instead of his given name means he has indeed gone native. This explains a lot.
We sink into a ‘maximum comfort’ couch – or so the attached tag boasts – stuffed full of condensed nimbostratus cloud threads imported from Earth. An ugly green tarp spread over the cushions prevents our clothes from getting soaked by residual moisture.
God adjusts his overcoat and leans toward me. “I trust you had an enjoyable flight?”
“I would like to say yes, but what a hellacious trip.” That’s an understatement. “We flew through several cosmic storms, circumvented an unmapped black hole and limped here on back-up power after the anti-matter fuel engine failed. I will never fly by chartered spaceship again.”
“Now that you’ve arrived, what makes you think you can take on a tough job like this?”
“This is my fourth assignment, though the first for Milky Way Galaxy, Inc.” I place my carry-on bag on the tan moonrock table and open a side pocket. “I have a résumé, if you want to peruse it. In each previous posting, the planets I shepherded returned to optimal status. Whilst this assignment is more complex, I assure you my record shall remain unsullied.”
“Humph.” He spits into the thin puddle created by the leaky couch and waves off my résumé. “I thought those spineless MWGI decision-makers would send a rank amateur. After only three postings, you expect to fix this mess? You’re still wet around the ears, sonny. Have you even hung your precious university degrees on a wall yet?” He points at the nearby picture window. “On Earth they say you learn more through failure than success.”
“Elder, I did not travel here to fail. MWGI reached out because of my extensive training as a planetary turnaround specialist. They are confident I am the best available deity for this job.”
“And you agree with that assessment, do you?” He fidgets, as though trying to stand and walk away, but can’t get off the couch.
“I would not otherwise have taken the job, Lord. Once I did, I undertook considerable research. The travel delays afforded me extra preparation time. I have learned everything a new deity should know about Earth and its inhabitants. I am ready to take the reins.”
“Your extensive reading helped you form opinions regarding the humans, did it?”
I disregard the sarcasm implicit in the question. If I ever reach his wizened old age, young deities will receive better treatment from me than this. His attitude is understandable, though. Forced retirement is a difficult pill for anyone to swallow, supreme beings included.
“Lord, these sentient beings do have many laudable qualities. However, whilst I prefer not to focus on the negative, on the whole humans strike me as a rather unpredictable species.”
NTG spits again and rummages through the pockets of his black overcoat, pants and vest. “Where’s the damn thing? Did I forget it? Ah, here. Since you’re not dead, you’ll need this to get into heaven.”
He hands me a Holyday Inn card key with “NTG” stenciled on the back side. I stare at the card whilst mulling over my research, which characterized heaven as an imaginary afterlife sanctuary. With a shrug, I deposit the card in the pocket of my blue denim shirt.
“Many humans call it heaven, but I consider it home.” God’s melancholic smile comes and goes in seconds. “Souls get over the false advertising once they adjust to their newly deceased status. Follow the overhead signs to the tram that’ll take you to the complex. My office is by the main gate so I can greet arrivals on St. Peter’s days off. Ask for Angie, my chief of staff. She’s a real angel in every sense of the word.”
Excerpt from Chapter 32 – Church (Part of Someone) (654 words):
Saturday, December 25, 2027: “A good afternoon greeting isn’t appropriate on this saddest Christmas Day in Los Angeles’ history. I’m Ram Forrester. In the absence of Jack Allenby, who’s under the weather, I’m here to anchor this special newscast.”
Jack’s had too much egg nog, but that’s nothing new. “A historic local church, an important institution beloved by the Latino community since the city’s founding, has been destroyed. We don’t have numbers yet, but the loss of life is considerable. No one’s claimed responsibility.”
It’s impossible to hide my dismay, though I try. The NITWIT caller said he had ‘bigger fish to fry.’ He must’ve meant this. How’d they pull it off? If they can accomplish this, they’re a much more serious threat than I thought.
“Brendali Santamaria is with us from Olvera Street. Fill us in, Brendali.”
The camera catches the somber look in her eyes. She stays silent long enough for me to suspect she didn’t hear the cue. When she does speak her cadence is slow, soft and melancholic.
“I’m near La Reina de Los Ángeles Iglesia – The Queen of the Angels Church.” She raises a hand to cover her mouth. We hear a heavy sigh.
“This morning’s Christmas church service held an overflow crowd. They showed up not only to celebrate our sacred holiday, but to attend a special sermon given by Mexico City’s beloved bishop, Cuauhtemoc Olin. His body hasn’t been found yet. The explosion occurred – uhh, excuse me.” She turns away, flicks a finger against her cheek and gathers herself.
“The injuries, the fatalities – dozens of each. Men, women, little ones.” Her voice cracks. “I’m heartbroken.” Her eyes close.
Before I decide to end the report, she speaks with a firmer voice. “Let me finish, Ram, please.” Her next breath is so deep her entire upper body heaves. “I walked past this blood-smeared Maria doll lying on the ground earlier.” She holds the bloody doll against her white blouse for the camera.
“For those who don’t know, these doll figures are indigenous children dressed in their tribe’s styles. This one’s a girl from my tribe, Nahua, dressed in a tiny huipil.” She puts the doll in a baggy without appearing to realize her top is smeared with blood.
Ken’s voice rings in my ear buds from the control room. “Pull her. Brendali’s not giving us a report. All we’re getting is emotion.”
Bren’s hard at work despite hurting so much. I’ll damn well let her finish. With the screen focused on her, I emphatically shake my head to refuse his order.
“I thought about the cute little niná who brought this doll to church, dressed in her holiday best. Is the doll’s blood hers? Is she gone, so soon? Who took her life? Are her parents grieving, hurt or dead?”
She puts a hand over her eyes and goes silent. “We expect to hear from Archbishop Delmonico soon. As compassionate as he is, we must ask him how God could let this happen to these innocents on the day we celebrate Jesus’ birth. We need an explanation.”
With no signoff she walks away. The camera gives us an unobstructed view of a ruined church reduced to a mess of wood, pipes and plaster. The building, built in the mid-1860’s, is leveled. We segue to a commercial as the image fades from view, but not from our memory.
The victims share Bren’s faith and culture. She would’ve been among them if she’d arrived fifteen minutes earlier. Did NITWIT mean to kill her? I don’t want to bring up that idea – she’ll feel guilty, that all the victims died for her. I remember our first show, her evident pride when she walked on stage in that stunning white huipil. The doll must’ve triggered that memory and others, too – childhood, her cousin Lilia, the funeral her folks didn’t attend.
I need to comfort her, not sit here with my heart breaking.
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