(c)1999 by Rob Northrup

Awakened by a jostling at the foot of his bed, Paul was disturbed to discover that The Lord God Almighty had fucked-up teeth. It wasn't enough that He sat on the edge of Paul's bed in a glowing human form, or that He was drinking the juice from an old jar of olives Paul had lost in his fridge. Even the stunning fact that Almighty God was a stocky, mean-looking, black-haired youth instead of a bearded old fogey failed to be as stunning as His fucked-up teeth. The overbite was barely noticable, but all His teeth were jagged and sharp, the canines setting forward from the rest, one of the bottom front teeth tilted sideways and inward.

"I am your Lord God Almighty," He said, and waited for it to sink in. Then He rested.

Paul squinted. For no particularly solid reason, he knew it was God sitting in front of him. But there was a tiny millisecond of doubt when common sense made Paul think, This is all just a dream. Then God took another swig from the olive jar, and the potent smell of fermented olives climbed up his nostrils. Paul's dreams were never vivid enough to include fragrances. He decided he wasn't asleep, and it was very definitely God sitting in front of him.

The Lord God Almighty slurped at the last of the juice from the olive jar and selected an olive to chew on. He spit the pimento back into the jar and mumbled, "Ya see, Pauly, I decided I'm gonna give you a break. Figured I'd just pop in here to your place and tell you the Secret of Life, so you can kill yourself now and be done with it. I know it's earlier than you prefer to wake up, but I figure, why let you waste another day? We'll just nip it in the bud before the day even gets going."

There was really no reason for Paul to believe this character on the end of his bed was God, in fact there were a lot of reasons to believe He wasn't. The glowing aura wasn't awe-inspiring enough to really prove He was God, since it was kinda dim. Would God be the kind of being who would sit wiht only one butt-cheek on Paul's oak leaf and duck pattern bedspread? For that matter, why would God choose to visit Paul at all? Let alone to tell Paul the Secret of Life?

"Seeee--ahem--Secret of Life?" Paul croaked, his throat filled with phlegm.

"Yeah," the Lord God Almighty said, spitting another pimento into the jar, then sucking another olive out. "The secret of life that tells why you're here. The answer to all questions of philosophy and religion and crap like that. You ready for it?"

"Yeah, yeah, I'm awake." Realizing he would be up for a while, Paul pulled his glasses off the nightstand and fumbled them on his face. "What did you say your name was again?" Paul asked, scratching a pimple on his lower back.

This was enough to make the Lord God Almighty stop chewing and look steadily at Paul. With a frown worthy of a supreme being, the glowing figure at the end of Paul's bed spit another pimento into the olive jar and said, "Bruno. Call me Bruno. I'm sure you've heard some of my aliases like 'Allah,' 'Yahweh,' 'Jehovah,' 'Zeus,' 'Ra,' 'Lord,' 'God,' 'Godhead,' 'Godfella,' 'the Godmeister,' 'God of Abraham,' sound familiar? Just skip all that malarky and call me Bruno."

Paul thought that such a momentous occasion as meeting God should be sealed by a handshake (if Gid would permit it). But his father had taught him to always stand up when shaking hands with someone, and to do that would mean getting out from under the covers and standing in front of God wearing nothing but Fruit of the Looms. "Okay, Bruno, uh, sir--I mean, your honor," Paul said. "What's that you were saying about the Secret of Life?" Paul was also curious about the God's idea that he might kill himself, but thought it better not to ask.

"Yes, well, the Secret of Life is this-" Bruno began, and quickly swallowed the olive He had just started, pimento and all. After making a sour face, Bruno the Lord God Almighty said, "The quality of your life, and all the events in the course of your life, are determined by the fights you have when you're in elementary school."

With that final tidbit tipping the scales to an overload of nonsense, Paul felt the urge to go back to sleep. It would be rude to go to sleep when God is trying to talk to you though, and maybe deadly if He was as jealous and temperamental as some of His followers claimed. Paul blinked at the digital clock that showed 5:46, struggling to keep his eyes open. "When you say 'fights,' you mean the struggles and tribulations that I faced as an elementary school student?"

"No, I mean the fights. Like fisticuffs. Knock-down, drag-out punching and kicking and hurting with occasional biting." Bruno set the olive jar on the floor near the cornerpost of the bed.

"Okay." Paul stared at the thick, dark V where the deity's eyebrows ran together over His nose. Paul's mind reeled backwards and missed the point again. "So what does the fighting in school mean again?"

As angry as Bruno looked, He didn't let Paul's bleary thinking affect His mood. "The fights in elementary school determine how well the rest of your life goes. If you won the fights on the playground, you win at the rest of your life. If you lost those crucial childhood fights, then you lose at every major life event for the rest of your days."

There was no question of how this secret applied to Paul. He had lost every fight in school. He had been beaten on the playgrounds, in between classes, during classes when the teacher wasn't looking, during classes when the teacher was looking, even on the busrides home.

But it sounded like such a shabby way to determine the fate of human lives, Paul had to refute the idea. "What about people who win some and lose some? Their life turns out so-so?"

Bruno shook His head with brief, tight movements. "Doesn't happen. Nobody wins some and loses some. There is no middle ground. Childhood fistfights have only winners and losers. The people who claim they came out even are lying, because they're losers." God licked His gray lips and looked back at the olive jar, now full of little, red, glistening, maggot-shaped pimentos. "You got any pretzels around? Eagle brand especially..." He looked back through the wall toward Paul's kitchenette and said, "Aha! Crunchy chow mein noodles! I'll be right back!" God trotted out the door of Paul's bedroom.

The course of human lives, Paul pondered, are determined by whether they win or lose their childhood fights? "Like how much of a person's life is determined? I mean, exactly how important is it that you win those fights? Does it kick you up into a higher tax bracket, or does it just boost you a little, or does it get you one better job? Or does it, like, make you really win at everything, like money, women, happiness, paradise?"

"Everything," Almight God Bruno said when He finally returned from Paul's kitchen cupboard with the crunchy chow mein noodles. "You win those fights, your life is great. Jimmy Stewart picked on every boy, girl and teacher at his school until he kicked all their asses twice each. You know why Katie Couric smiles so much? She killed a class full of kids when she was in fifth grade. Her family moved and changed their names, and now she can't stop smiling for an instant. Arnold Schwarzeneggar systematically burned down five Austrian schoolhouses when he was nine years old.

"On the other hand, Pauly, you got beat up by Neal Omus in kindergarten; Jenny Lasky and Brian Eberhart in first grade; Benny Charles, Olaf Stevenson, Sally Taffeta, John Perez-"

"Yeah, all right, I get the picture!" Paul ground his teeth and looked at the corner of his bedroom away from God. He considered the many battles of his childhood, all losses. From the first time he was knocked down by a neighbor girl at age three, he had never won a fight. His usual strategy was to run away, though he was rarely fast enough. But what was he supposed to do? He had always been scrawny, born scrawny when his mother popped him out of the womb three months early. The quality of his life had been determined by the dozens of fights he couldn't help losing as a boy? Paul looked into God's beady eyes and said, "That's bullshit."

"Oh no, it's true," God said, looking infinitely sincere.

"I mean, it's a bullshit way of doing things. It's not fair!"

God Bruno grew bored with the plain chow mein noodles, so He strolled back toward the other room for something to dip them in, saying, "I know. I wasn't reaaly thinking of the justice of it all when I set it up this way. You know, this place looks pretty bare. You oughtta get some posters or some cheap art prints. Maybe some sculpture?"

"So what were you thinking when you set up life this way?" Paul threw off the bedspread with brown ducks all over it and followed the Lord God Almighty into the other room. Then he remembered he was still wearing only his Fruit Of The Looms, and thought he should put something on. But it was God he was about to go yell some more at, the Creator of Paul's underwear and all they contained. He stormed off to confront his Creator.

"I honestly wasn't thinking about how it would affect you people," God said, digging His fist into the can of chow mein noodles and dipping fist and all into a small jar of Murphy's Oil Soap. "It was a long time ago. I was young. You know, 'the Folly of Youth.' I was just fiddling around and thought it'd be fun to watch some partially intelligent creatures playing around with each other, and...well, that's not the point. I realize now that it wasn't a very nice thing to do. That's why I'm here trying to clear things up for you. I'm letting you know why your life is the way it is, and how it will be for the rest of your life, so you can decide whether or not to continue it."

Some of Paul's anger flashed away for a moment when he asked, "How will the rest of my life be? Can it get better if I go out and beat up some little kids?"

God chuckled, "No, too late for that. Your life is set, nothing you can do about it now, assuming you follow through and live out the rest of it. It'll go pretty much the same as it has gone so far. No one has ever fallen in love with you. The people you think of as your 'friends' think of you as their 'acquaintance.' You work at the plant making basketball shoes you could never afford to wear. You're always tired and scared and bored and suspecting that you'll come across some good luck a few days down the road. You think you've only had a little streak of bad luck, but it's been running twenty- eight years straight.

"And from that, you can guess how the rest of your life will be." God shovelled more crunchy noodles dipped in oil soap into His mouth, crumbs falling down his t-shirt and onto the crusty vinyl floor.

Paul leaned back against the wall and stared up at the glass light shade on the ceiling and all the dead flies in it. If he could look through walls and wood like God could, Paul would have seen in the apartment above where Kelly Terliss was sitting in her bathtub getting chilly. Kelly was somehow chubby yet flat- chested. She had her dingey blond hair cut short, and some blond hairs over her lip formed a faint but noticable mustache. She never smiled. Everyone thought she was a lesbian, including the guys she hoped would ask her out. She was getting chilly because most of her blood had flowed out the fresh, deep slashes she had made in her forearms after God had visited her. The hot water had numbed her arms a little bit, so she had been fairly comfortable watching the blood make tiny waves in the surface of the bathwater.

After putting a lot of thought into it, Paul was just angry. Questions about the whole situation kept springing to mind, but they all echoed back to feed his anger. Why give humans so much intelligence if He was going to let them beat each other and live out their unjustly earned fates? Why hadn't He killed off everyone long ago? Where did He get the nerve to pull this kind of bullshit? Then Paul thought of a more personal question, and shouted it: "Why are you telling me all this? What's in it for you?"

"Like I said, I was feeling a little compassionate today, so I'm granting pardons to a few thousand people. You seemed pitiful enough that I decided to let you in on the whole thing so you can get out of it if you want." God up-ended the can over His mouth to get all the last little, broken pieces and flakes of noodles.

Paul walked to the front door and swung it open.

"If you're thinking of going up to the roof to dive off, I'd recommend against it." God wiped His mouth with the back of His hand. "This building's not high enough. You'll break a lot of bones, but you won't die from it. Try something like-"

"Get out," Paul interupted, standing beside the open door. "I'm not going anywhere. You are."

It took a minute for God to close His mouth again and regain His composure. He shrugged and walked slowly out the door. "You're right. I got more people to see. Uh, goodbye, I guess." The Lord God Almighty stopped at the threshold and turned back to face His creation. "Say, if the suicide goes wrong for some reason, don't bother telling anybody we had this little conversation, okay? It'll only make things worse for you. They'll think you're whacked, and they'll put you away."

"Right, well, thanks for all you've done," Paul said as the door flew out of his hand and thumped shut. What gall! he thought. Paul turned the key in the lck, clicked the deadbolt into position and trudged over to lean against his eighteen inch wide kitchenette counter. He stared at his bare feet on the vinyl floor and saw all the crumbs and handfull of chow mein noodles God had dropped.

What a slob, Paul thought. He breaks into my place, wakes me up, tells me that not only is my existence pointless but that it's pointless by design, pre-destined to be shitty, then eats my fuckin food and doesn't bother cleaning up after Himself!

In the end, Paul was left angry with a vaguely empty feeling, like the way you feel when you realize this is The End and the loose ends aren't all tied off to your satisfaction. But Paul also felt happy and a little powerful for having yelled at God and thrown Him out of the apartment, like the way I feel to have fucked you over with this ending.

And that was enough.



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