Fiction: The Time Neil and I Found God

This story was originally published in Wild Musette, Spring 2019. You might consider buying a copy, or otherwise sending some money their way. It’s a cool project and they’re worth the investment. Also, I really like this story.

 

We were two blocks from Neil’s place when we found God. He was lying on the edge of the vacant lot where that big yellow house used to be. We almost didn’t see Him because it was pretty dark out and we had a few beers in us, but once we did we both stopped short.

“Oh man,” Neil said to me “That’s God!” Only he didn’t even have to say it because I knew it too the second I laid eyes on Him. You can just tell, you know? I guess I can’t really explain it if you’ve never seen Him, but when you do you know right away that there just isn’t anybody else He could possibly be.

He’d been dead for what we guessed was an hour or so. Not that either of us is exactly an expert on the subject, but we’ve watched enough cop shows to pretty much know the signs. “Well, who do we tell about this?” I asked Neil. “Cops? Newspaper? Some priest or pastor or whoever?” Neither of us was super religious so we were kind of at a loss.

Neil just stood there looking down at God. I looked at Him too. I wish I could describe what He looked like, but that’s another one of those weird sort of things where if you haven’t seen Him there just aren’t any words that can come close to capturing it. I say Him because, I don’t know, that’s just what I always called God. He didn’t necessarily look like a man, but not necessarily not like a man either. I don’t want to get off on a whole thing here, but you see what I mean about not having the words.  

Finally Neil spoke up after what seemed like a long time staring at God. “I mean,” he said, “Yeah, we gotta call somebody, but, like… this is something, man. This isn’t a thing most people are ever gonna see. And the cops and the papers and all, they’re going to find out about this soon enough. If God is dead it’ll be pretty obvious before too long, won’t it? So here’s what I’m thinking: we would be the biggest chumps in the world if we didn’t get something out of this. I mean, if ever there was something that deserved a finder’s fee, right?”

My first instinct was to tell Neil to go to hell, because he’s just one of those guys who’s always got some kind of can’t-miss scheme, you know? And of course they always miss, and of course he never learns his lesson, and after a while you just get tired of hearing the same old routine. But this time, when I stopped to think about it, I had to admit it made some kind of sense. After all, this was pretty much the biggest thing that was ever likely to happen to Neil or me. And they do say the Lord works in mysterious ways. 

“I’m listening,” I said. “But just how do you plan on making money off of this?”

“I haven’t figured it out yet,” Neil said. “But I have figured out that He’ll probably fit in the big freezer in my garage until we come up with a plan.”

 

Three days later I was home in my apartment watching the news. You might have figured there’d be all kinds of horrible stuff happening with God out of the picture. Riots in the streets, planes falling out of the sky and all that. But mostly things had been pretty normal. This night there’d been a shooting over on the North Side and a bunch of people got killed in a mudslide in Indonesia, but those were the sort of things that happened once a week or so. Things did feel different, though. Just a kind of a… I want to say hopelessness, but that’s not quite it. Maybe pointlessness is a better word? Nothing too specific, it just sort of like hung in the air and made everything feel a little off. It seemed like the newscasters felt it too. They were barely trying to do the fake smiles and dumb little jokes like they do every night.

Just before the weather report started I got a call from Neil. “I figured it out,” he said. “Come on over.” I said he could tell me on the phone but he said he wanted me there, so I shut off the TV and walked the eight blocks over to his condo. He was waiting in the garage when I got there. He didn’t look like he thought things were pointless at all. 

“So I’ve been thinking hard about it,” he said. “At first I had the idea that we could just sell tickets secretly. Like charge people to come see the Body, maybe charge extra if they want to touch It. But then I’d have people walking into my garage, and who knows where they’re coming from, and how much we can trust them to keep quiet, and it all just sounds like a mess. So then I’m thinking maybe we sell locks of His hair or pieces of His clothes or something. But then I say to myself, you’re thinking too small. Something like this, you need to take it to people who are too rich to care. People who’ve been able to afford their every fantasy for so long that the only thing they want anymore is anything they haven’t had.”

“Yeah, but how would we ever even have a chance to talk to someone like that?” I asked.

“There are channels,” Neil said, doing that thing he’d do where he acts like he’s just a guy who knows this kind of stuff. “So I’m listening to the Terry Torres Show this morning” – that’s this stupid conspiracy theory radio show that Neil never misses – “And he has this guy on who’s talking about these secret clubs for the super-rich, and how there are groups out there who have cannibal banquets. Like, they buy somebody freshly dead, an executed prisoner or something, and they send out some kind of group text or something and a bunch of billionaires get together to, y’know, eat somebody.”

It hit me right away what Neil was building to but he didn’t pause long enough for me to respond. “So if these rich guys will pay a fortune to eat just, like, anybody, how much are they gonna pay to eat God?”

I stared at him for a moment. “You said somebody freshly dead, though.”

“Yeah, but I think they’d make an exception for God. And we got Him in the freezer while He was still warm. That meat will be just like fresh when you thaw Him out. I mean, think about it. We’re talking about people so far beyond morality that they won’t even hesitate. And we’re selling them something they never even considered was something they could buy.”

I had to think for a second. I was actually sort of into what he was pitching. This was a one-of-a-kind offer if there ever was one. But then I started thinking about all the times before when Neil got gung-ho about something he heard on one of those creepy AM talk radio shows he was always listening to, and how every one of those schemes ended in something close to disaster. Like the time he tried to launch his own independent stock market, or when he thought he could run an alpaca ranch out of the courtyard of his condo building.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I’m not sure I want to be a part of this. It sounds too risky for me. But don’t let me stop you. I sure don’t have any better ideas, so this can be all yours.”

“You mean it?” said Neil.

“Yeah, I think I do,” I said.

He shook his head. “Well, OK. I’m still gonna give you your cut when I hit it rich, though.”

“I appreciate it,” I said, and I really did. I had to admit, as I left the garage, things felt a lot less pointless than they had an hour earlier.

 

A few days later I was sitting home again, half-watching a baseball game on TV. I was supposed to be at work but I hadn’t really felt up to it for a couple of days. Nobody from my job had called looking for me yet, so I figured I’d leave well enough alone. I was super hungry but I just couldn’t see a point in actually getting up and making food. I was trying to order some delivery but it seemed like most of the restaurants in town weren’t bothering to pick up their phones. Even the Chinese place around the corner was closed, and they usually stayed open even on Christmas. I’d finally managed to place an order at the Fortune Wok way over by the college when there was a knock at my door. Of course it was Neil, holding a paper bag and wearing a big grin. “Hey,” he said. “I need to get your opinion on something.”

He set the bag down on my kitchen island and pulled out two foil-wrapped packages, then peeled back the foil to reveal two identical burgers. “OK, can you tell me what’s different about these two burgers?” he asked.

“That one’s made of God,” I said, pointing to the one on the left.

“How could you tell?”

I shrugged. “You know how it is. You’ve been around God. You can just… tell.”

“That’s exactly what I hoped you’d say. As long as people can tell right away what It is, I’m golden. This stuff will sell Itself. So, you wanna have the honor of eating the first Godburger?” 

I looked at it sitting there on the counter. I can’t say I didn’t consider it. Even if I hadn’t been super hungry I think it would’ve been a tough call. “Nah,” I finally said, “I ordered some Chinese.”

Neil shrugged and picked up the burger himself. He stared at it for a couple of beats, almost like he was afraid, but then he took a bite. I watched him chew for a bit before I asked, “How is It?”

“Good,” he said. “Tastes like a burger.”

 

I didn’t see a lot of Neil for a while after that, but he checked in every now and then to keep me posted. It turned out his plan was working just like he said it would. He explained how a producer from the Terry Torres Show put him in touch with some of the cannibal party people he’d told me about. It annoyed me a bit that he’d been right about all that stuff being true, but I didn’t say anything. He thought at first that he was going to have trouble getting the rich folks to buy his story, but he said that every place he went, they just let him right in. He’d made two sales so far, one to this guy who made a few hundred billion dollars inventing computer software and the other to a guy who was the heir to an old-time royal fortune in Bolivia or Bulgaria, I forget which. He said he had five more sales pending. I was happy for Neil, and I was pretty happy for me too. 

Things had been going super well for me ever since Neil’s last visit. I never did bother going back to my job, but it didn’t matter because I kept coming into just enough money to cover me. I’d get rebate checks in the mail for things I forgot I ever bought. I kept finding 20-dollar bills on the ground in public places. I put some stuff up on Craigslist and sold it all right away, a lot of it for way more than I was asking. I made $400 in one week, which is a lot considering that most of what I was selling was just old Archie comics and Sega games.

It wasn’t just the money, either. I was happy all the time. Not like a corny, “strutting down the sidewalk whistling a tune” type of happy. It was more of a deep contentment, not really like anything I remembered feeling before. I almost felt guilty about that, because everybody else seemed to be feeling just the opposite. Everywhere I walked, people were yelling at each other, or sometimes even getting in fistfights. One night when I went across town to pick up some Chinese food – nobody was making deliveries anymore – I saw a lady push a guy right through the plate glass window of an empty storefront. There were a lot more empty storefronts lately. It was a pretty depressing scene all around but for some reason none of it brought me down. 

 

One morning a few months after he left, Neil showed up at my door. There was something different about him, but a good kind of something. Like he’d gotten taller or better looking somehow. “I made a mistake,” was the first thing he told me. “Have you been watching the news?” I told him how the last set of local anchors still on the air had gotten into a screaming match in the middle of the weather report a couple of days earlier and since then nobody had bothered to broadcast any local news shows. 

“Last national news I saw was about how the president was supposed to give some big address about foreign relations or something,” I said. “But instead he just stood at the podium staring for a couple of minutes and then walked off shaking his head. The reporter said she knew how he felt and started crying, and then the anchor in the studio started yelling at her to get it together and I just turned it off. You could tell it was gonna get worse before it got any better.”

“I doubt the stuff I’m thinking about would get on the news anyway,” Neil said. “It’s all, like, crazy secret stuff. I should have known better than to trust a rich guy.” 

It turned out the first guy he’d sold a Godburger to, the software guy, had started up some kind of cult and had something like a hundred and fifty wives on some island off the coast of Oregon where nobody was allowed to leave. The second guy had moved out in the country somewhere in Bolivia or Bulgaria and was forcing out everybody who lived nearby so he could build himself an actual army. Neil wasn’t sure what the guy wanted an army for, but we both agreed it couldn’t be anything good.

“That sucks, but I don’t know what you can do about it now,” I told him. I offered him some leftover shrimp and broccoli but he turned it down. Said he didn’t really eat much of anything lately.

“I can fix it,” he said. “I created the problem, but I think I can fix it. I never should have tried making money on this, at least not this way. Selling God was a mistake, I see that now. I should have listened to you and kept Him between the two of us.”

“I mean, I didn’t really want Him in the first place,” I said. Then it hit me. “You’ve been eating more of the Godburgers, haven’t you?” 

“After I saw what happened with the first two that I sold, I canceled all of the other deals,” he said. “The buyers were pissed at first. Made some threats, sent some guys to break my legs, that kind of thing. But after I ate the rest of the Godburger, I wasn’t too worried about any of them doing much of anything. Yours still in the freezer?”

I nodded. “You want it? I’m not going to do anything with it.”

“No, you hang onto it,” Neil said. “I’m gonna head out again. There are some things I need to take care of.”

I could see there was no talking him down, so I wished him well and let him go. I was pretty sure he was gonna eat those two rich guys but it didn’t bother me. It wasn’t like I could think of a better solution. That night the anchors came back to do the local news and opened with a double apology that was about the sweetest thing I ever saw on TV. And the next morning there was a flyer on my doorknob announcing the grand re-opening of the Chinese place around the corner. 

 

By Thanksgiving time things were pretty much back to normal. Actually, most things were running a little better than normal. All the local businesses started coming back. The president was back on TV and making as much sense as he ever did. People were smiling at you when you passed them on the street. I still didn’t go back to work because the money kept coming in and my boss didn’t seem super desperate to have me back anyway. 

I spent a lot of time hanging around the apartment, which was always one of my favorite things to do, but after a few weeks I started getting a little bored with that so I tried to help out around the neighborhood. Nothing major, just, like, picking up trash on the street, bringing some groceries by the food pantry, buying supplies for the local grade school. Stuff where I didn’t really have to interact with people, because that’s really not my thing. It all made me feel pretty good. I noticed more people in the neighborhood seemed to be doing the same kind of stuff. Everybody I met seemed a lot happier than I remembered them being before. 

One day I came home from dropping off some of my old shirts at the homeless shelter and there was Neil, sitting on my futon watching a basketball game. He had changed since the last time we saw each other. If I looked close, I couldn’t really tell if he looked like a man or a woman or even a person. I stopped looking close. Then he just looked like Neil.

“Hey,” I said. “How’d you get in?”

“Oh, sorry,” Neil said. “I just kind of go wherever I want to be nowadays. Sometimes I forget that weirds people out if they’re not expecting it.”

“Nah, it’s cool,” I said. “So… you’re, like, God now, right?”

Neil shrugged and sort of frowned. “I think so? I don’t really know who to ask about it. It wasn’t like there was an orientation session or anything. But yeah, I’d say if I’m not God, I’m something pretty close to it.”

I thought about that for a second. “Well, whatever You are, You’re doing a pretty good job. At least from where I’m standing.”

“Thanks, man.” Neil smiled wide enough that I could tell He really meant it. “It’s hard to tell sometimes. I mean, there are still all kinds of bad things happening. I keep thinking I should be able to stop that, but I haven’t figured out the trick to it yet.”

“Well, neither did the last God,” I said. 

“Fair point. It’s really not like I do much, anyway. I think it’s more about me just existing. Which is actually a lot more work than you’d think.”

We watched the game in silence for a bit. Neil looked the same as He ever did, but also different. Like, you could tell just by looking at Him that He was something special, but it wasn’t something you could put into words. At the next time-out, I asked, “So you did eat those two guys, right?”

“Yeah, I figured I sort of had to.”

We were quiet for another minute or so, watching the same cut-rate car insurance ad that ran during every commercial break. 

“Did you want to take the rest of that burger?” I asked. “It’s still in the freezer.”

“Nah, I think it’s probably good to leave that with you. Just in case.”

“Just in case of what?”

Neil laughed a little. “Good question. Just in case…. Well, just in case, I guess.”

I decided that was as good an answer as any. “So, is there really a Devil?” I asked.

“If there is, I haven’t met him,” Neil said. “But that doesn’t necessarily mean there isn’t. Hey, could we not talk about God stuff right now? I have to get back to that in a couple of hours. For now I kind of just want to watch the game.”

“Oh, sure,” I said. “You want a beer?”

“Absolutely.”

I went into the kitchen and grabbed a couple of bottles. As I unscrewed the caps, I glanced back out at the living room, watching Neil slumped on the futon watching the game. I couldn’t help myself from grinning like an idiot, even though I didn’t know exactly what I was smiling about. I took a long pull from my bottle as I walked back into the living room. It was about the coldest, best-tasting beer I ever had in my life.

 

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