The Devil’s Gospel: Chapter 1.1 – The Mauve Lump
The Mauve Lump
The Pipe Cleaner
The Cigar-Smoking Baby
The Mauve Lump
Oddly enough, it all began with Theo Rabinowitz’s left Nike.
I’d slipped a sliver of brimstone into it overnight.
And now I sat in the overstuffed chair in the living room, flipping through The New Yorker, waiting for Theo to awaken, take a shower, get dressed, slurp up some Cocoa Puffs, plop on the couch and enthusiastically stomp his feet into his sneakers the same way he has since he was a Jewfroed six year-old, eager to get outside and play Pee Wee League Soccer.
Difference was, on this particular morning, Theo would cram his left foot in his shoe, stomp his enthusiastic heel down on the brimstone I’d left him – “Shitballs!” he’d swear – and then he’d shake the innocuous black pebble out onto the rug, wondering how the Hell that got in there.
(Can’t help it. I still laugh every time.)
This run-of-the-mill injury to Theo’s left foot – within a month, he’d forget it had ever happened – would leave only a slight bruise on the underside of his heel…
…but would also go on to form a deeper, unnoticed clot, that over ten long years would eventually grow and travel its way through his veins up to his head, leading to Theo’s abrupt death by stroke at age 38 – in the middle of his Jewfroed six year-old son’s Pee Wee League Soccer game.
They will have eaten Cocoa Puffs together that morning.
But that’s if I’ve planned it accurately.
Something I take great pride in doing.
Goddamn, though, Theo was taking his sweet-ass time rolling out of bed this morning.
I vibed the hounds upstairs at the Abbotts, who set up howling like they’d just seen the devil all right, a devil, you vaporous pettypincher, A – which they had, of course, or at least part of one. Bowler, the Great Dane, ran clomping and clicking and sliding up and down the fake hardwood floor above Theo’s head while the yip-yip dog, Fergie, went off like a Chinese wind-up toy on meth.
After ten seconds I was sorely tempted to send them both into seizures, if I weren’t so busy…
…sitting here doing nothing.
Theo remained motionless under the covers.
Half-formed suspicion flared in my mind.
I put down the magazine, rose from the chair, moved my entire corporeal being fucking Hell, Archelaeus, fine, i “walked” into Theo’s bedroom and stared down at the lump underneath his mauve comforter, a ratty old holdover from two girlfriends ago (she’d wanted bedsets; Theo’d wanted ebola). It moved up and down with his breathing, but other than that, nada.
I felt an urge to call out his name, but the way I’d set things up, Theo was never destined to think he was crazy. See, nine out of ten people hear my true voice – a blend of screeching metal and a feeding swarm of carnivorous insects – and they assume they’re having some sort of psychotic break. (The tenth guy really is psychotic, and it’s no use messing with that type, always flickering in and out of random dimensions. Tiring as shit to follow; though I do know a few devils who specialize.)
Worse, it could lead Theo to the uncomfortable thought: Wait a minute! What if I’m not crazy? Uncomfortable for me, that is, because then we’d be into the whole “proof there is some sort of God-Thing Out There, Something Unlike Humans, Something Greater! (!!!)” territory and I’d just be courting trouble. Next thing you know, I’m condemned to watch the births of a thousand chubby, happy newborn humans – and personally bound to vouchsafe them long lives of fulfillment and joy.
God’s bad side blows goats.
Besides, Theo questioning his sanity could throw off all my other timelines: what if he gets married earlier, afraid he may need someone to take care of him? What if he gets married later, afraid to need someone to take care of him?
All of which could impact the date of the birth of his son – and if there’s no six year-old suburban soccer team to stroke out in front of, if Theo just keels over into the Charmin display at a Shop-n-Sav on a Wednesday night… there’s no poetry there, only bathos.
All my hard work gone to shite.
Still, I’d done dry runs on several only slightly-alternate versions of this reality, and in each of those, Theo’d gotten up between 7:05 and 7:06.
I glanced across the mauve lump to his bedside clock. It was now 7:09.
I frowned, but was unwilling to concede yet that anything had gone wrong. Theo still had twenty-six minutes in which to get up, shower, eat, and put on his shoes. But fuck if he really ran late, or else he’d forgo the Nikes entirely, slide into his worn old Birkenstocks (I know, I know; it nearly repulsed me off the scene in the beginning), and my Pee Wee League window would slam shut forever.
7:10. And Theo just lay there.
My frown deepened.
I vibed outward, trawling for anything unexpected.
Obviously I caught a few brethren in the area, “the area” being the East Village – and Archelaeus, too, though mercifully silent for once – probably watching the tricentennial retrospective of the Cooking Channel. ‘cause you’re an enormous blob, that’s why. I caught Saints Luke and Paul playing Galaga in the Sacred Heart of Mary ICU near a devout woman’s deathbed, waiting to fly her first class. (All those disciples are nuts for the 80’s arcade games. Why? Sublimated anger at all that turn-the-other-cheek horseshit, I figure. Can’t smite the heathens like you used to? Play Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!)
I reached further, towards Jersey, but found that devoid of activity as usual. (Even devils have standards.) Down the coast was empty too.
Slow day in America.
Slow day on Earth.
Or so I thought then.
Of course, what I was really looking for, stretching every semi-divine perception I had as far as it would stay coherent – summoning all my strength to bear on a single universe, even though it felt like I had a raging case of crabs and I knew it was pointless from the moment I started – what I was really searching for…
I do that occasionally.
Sometimes I just miss It.
But the price my kind pays for our Existence is our removal from God’s presence. No face time (or Its equivalent), no booming voice of Truth, none of what you humans perceive as warm white light. Sure, we can send messages back and forth (FYI, e-mail’s been around forever – the only reason you humans got hold of it is because Mahazeleth owed Gates a favor), but It never replies with more than an impersonal “Stop fucking around with that,” or the classic, “Like it or lump it.” Even though it’s not as if God ever forgets you, or doesn’t know every single thing about you and what you do with every instant of your life and, if applicable, afterlife – we’re talking about God here – but frankly, it’s not the same, not being able to be with It.
Like everlasting spiritual blue balls.
For at one time, in no-time, before God had Created “time,” all of us dwelled in God’s presence: devils and angels, human souls, even the big-D Devil himself. Me, I hold only dim recollections of that time-before-time now, and this is the sole way I’ve learned to measure my eternal life: by that memory’s fading. Indeed, had you asked me in the Beginning, I would’ve deemed it impossible for the memory to fade at all – and yet it seems God’s Creation of time must adhere even to the semi-divine, like a thin film of dust you don’t see until you swipe a finger through it.
It may seem strange to you, that a devil should pine for God – but really, what else is there to do with eternity, besides make humans miserable? (And shit, you do half the work for us.) Devils are merciless and pitiless because God Created us merciless and pitiless – and then treated us accordingly. I ask you, what’s worse than being denied the presence of your mother-father-Creator, when you have done no more than become what It has made you? what is—? is that a smirk? oh, plenty of pity for myself? go eat raw fuck, Archelaeus. I have always maintained that devils’ exile from God is the unique punishment that never ends – we are, literally, the infinitely persecuted.
This can turn some folks pretty bitter, believe you me. You think six million Jews were gassed because Hitler was a tyrant? Hitler was a human. A bipolar submissive failed-painter vegetarian.
Only once did I bother asking Tsibolim, “Dude, but why the Jews?”
And Tsibolim had just shrugged.
Ma nishtana ha-lahylah ha-zeh?
Why should this night be different than any other?
Thus my vibes came up empty.
If God doesn’t want to be vibed, God doesn’t get vibed. And It doesn’t want to be vibed by my kind.
Sucks, but It works like that.
So instead, I stood impatient next to Theo the mauve lump – quietly bringing his blood to a boil ‘til he woke in a feverish sweat. And even that took a while, as he thrashed around in a nightmare for some time, something about elephants trampling his childhood tricycle. I gave the elephants bloody eye sockets and sharks’ teeth and open brain pans with oozing pustules until at last Theo sat up blinking, heaving for air. Scanning the room, he tried to re-orient himself in a world where Dumbo isn’t the tool of a devil.
“Good morning, Theo,” I said brightly, though not on a plane he could hear.
Theo shuddered nonetheless, ran a hand through sweat-slicked hair, and swallowed back the catch in his throat.
Too much late night Animal Planet, he thought a bit wildly.
I glanced at his clock again: 7:12.
Twenty-three minutes left to the window.
Crude as it was – I was glad Archelaeus was MIA; he would have laughed for weeks – I charlie-horsed Theo’s right calf to get him out of bed.
i knew it. stop giggling, you prick!
Theo hissed through gritted teeth as his muscle yanked up with a nearly audible twang and he thought shit shit shit! as he swung his feet to the floor, desperately extricating himself from the mauve comforter and bounce-limping around the room, arms pinwheeling like a drunken ballerina.
After a few moments of this, his muscle finally eased, and Theo thought, Jesus. Bloody shark-elephants and a charlie-horse. So far this day totally sucks.
I did a happy little shuffle of my own.
Back on schedule.
While Theo showered, dressed, then ate his Cocoa Puffs, I browsed through my various conscii in this universe. (As mentioned, it helps to split them up – less tar aftertaste.)
As a rat I was doing splendidly in Mrs. Shuman’s cabinet, nurturing the infection that would soon lead to her painful demise via hanta virus.
As Kenny Stokes I was following some blonde in a convenience store, checking out her ass wrapped in pink Lycra, planning to jerk off to it later while cutting myself on the inner thigh.
However, the poltergeist at the house east of Perth was starting to get on my nerves – things are damned hard to negotiate with, such scattered human conscii, spread out over several dimensions. Loan ‘em a bit of power in this reality to wreak some havoc and what do they do? Start levitating shit. Clearly outside God’s rules for this universe and bound to get me a “Stop fucking around with that” e-mail.
I’d already tried to explain to the poltergeist that in this world, pots and pans should rattle, not float – little thing called “gravity” – hablan gravity, assholes? But unless you’re actually in a poltergeist’s Origin dimension (something I’d recommend avoiding yeah, yeah, and we know how that worked out, didn’t it?), it’s like talking into a staticky CB radio. For all you know, someone’s listening, but do they understand? Will it affect anything in the long run? Doubtful. I had half a mind – pun intended (devil, remember?) – to send the poltergeist packing, until I saw little Rosette Dewar sitting at the foot of the family staircase, weeping into her miniature five year-old fingers.
Her brother Ferdinand (weird, this family was with the names), a fifteen year-old version of his father, sat next to her, and pried her hands from her face.
“What’s the tears for?” He paused. “You go upstairs alone again?”
Rose nodded and sobbed harder.
Her brother pulled her into his shoulder. “Why Mum and Dad ever moved here…” Ferdinand cast an angry glance up the stairs, then muttered, “I’m going to kill that thing.”
The poltergeist could stay.
After all, a teenage lust for murder and a crying little girl.
What more could a devil ask for?
Theo slurped down his post-Cocoa-Puff chocolate milk, dumped his bowl in the sink, ran some water over it, then came into the living room to put on his booby-trapped shoes.
I said, “dumped his bowl in the sink, ran some water over it, then came into the living room to put on his booby-trapped shoes.”
Except the dick just kept standing at the sink.
In fact, he was washing his bowl.
Then he was drying it with a dishtowel, then putting it in the cabinet.
Let me explain something here.
In 247 trial alternate realities, not once – not one single Goddamned time – had Theo ever washed his chipped blue ceramic bowl – the only bowl he owned – and put it in the cabinet. In every other reality he’d just filled it with water and left it in the sink until the next morning when he needed it.
You see, Theodore Rabinowitz was not a man who cared for tidiness. He left his socks on the floor, his mail on the kitchen counter for weeks, his soap with little pubes sticking out of it. Though he did shower. Cleanliness, unfortunately – somehow that one got ingrained. But tidiness? A definitive no.
So what was happening?
There was some sort of reality-bending going on that I didn’t like.
I especially didn’t like it because it wasn’t mine. But just as I was about to materialize enough to steal his Birkenstocks and throw them into the Eighteen-Millionth Zip Code of Hell (where they rightfully belonged), Theo ambled into the living room.
As I said, finally.
One minute to the window.
Theo sat on the couch and grabbed his left Nike. I held breath I didn’t need; so much delicate planning, so much artful design…
…only he just… kept… sitting there.
Nike in hand, squinting at The New Yorker I’d foolishly left open on the coffee table, a gift subscription from his sister. He was staring at one of the abstruse comics, trying to make sense of it, which completely fucking baffled me – Theo never tried to make sense of the comics. He just assumed, rather good-naturedly, that he didn’t get the joke, and moved on. He was a nice guy (it’s why I’d picked him in the first place – it’s always more fun to fuck up the nice ones), but the brightest bulb in the Christmas strand? Not so much.
So what was the pattern here?
I told myself to think, damn it! Signs and Symbols!
Kept sleeping, kept washing, kept sitting – someone was sending Theo a message to stay put, but who – and why?
No time to speculate.
Only thirty seconds ‘til Theo looked at that gruesome moving-eye cat-clock on the wall – okay, some things creep even me out – realized he was late, and slid into those hated sandals.
What to do? What?
Declassé it may’ve been, but another muscle cramp would only lose me time. Ditto a mysterious ring of the doorbell or an empty-line telephone call – and forget assorted knocks or creaks in the walls; he’d only try to find the source.
Come on, kid – the comic isn’t meant to be funny. That’s why it’s funny. It’s why all New Yorker comics are funny. It’s the onlyreason they’re funny. If it was actually funny, it wouldn’t be in The New Yorker. It’s why they’re a Lucifer Subsidiary®!
Now put on your fucking shoes!
Theo gave a start and looked around, as if he’d heard me.
Which startled me, in turn.
Understand, I’m not a big believer in mental telepathy with humans, limited as you are. Telepathy implies a communication between “minds” (or “souls,” for those of us of a spiritual bent) in a manner far beyond most of your human capacities to imagine, let alone manifest.
However, I would note the difference between “telepathy” and “mindreading,” i.e., two-way vs. one-way. For those of my ilk, reading human minds is as easy as watching the chiron scroll across the bottom of the screen on CSPAN – only thousands of times more boring. All that linear thought of yours, laid out in la-la logical lines: yawn.
While it’s true, a few people learn to blank out that scroll with hypnosis, meditation, prayer and whatnot, and sometimes its contents get scrambled (schizophrenics’ scrolls look bullet-riddled, as random verbs and nouns get sucked into other realities: “Why * *body pin * *? I * take * this * around!”), for the most part, human minds are open books.
Open, insufferably unfascinating books.
On the other hand, when it comes to you hearing us, it may seem simplistic, but the universal rule is as follows: ears are the organs through which humans hear the world. (God does seem fond of slapping the limits on you people, but, hey, just my opinion.) True, I can shoot a general vibe or feeling at a human – my personal fave is a combo of nostalgia and fear (I swear, better than an eight-ball) – fuck with their dreams on the higher planes, and yes, even sling ‘em a cheap leg cramp when necessary. But as far as communicating complex thought to a human, there’s no spiritual/mental sign-language. You folks are like Helen Keller, only stupider for the fact that you have no idea you’re deaf and blind.
So when you see that homeless guy ranting on the corner about the voices? It’s because we’re talking to him. You don’t hear it because we’re not talking to you. If we wanted to talk to you, you would be the homeless guy ranting on the corner.
Or the President of Iran. Give or take.
Point being, we certainly can’t beam our voices directly into your skulls.
This isn’t science fiction, people.
Hence my surprise when Theo twitched, and seemed to hear me.
I tried it again, vibed fiercely, Put on your fucking shoes, nimrod!
But this time he ignored me, turning his eyes back to the magazine. Exasperated, I followed his gaze – not to the comic this time, but below it, to a small ad for a downtown diner called Jack’s Ruby. More specifically, Theo was staring at a line-drawing of the restaurant’s façade, a banner emblazoned across the front of the building with the house specialty:
My diabolic stomachs clenched.
Guess it’s supposed to be home fries, Theo thought.
Yes! A typo! I thought back at him. It’s an ad. Two-dimensional!
Mmmm, thought Theo with his stomach. Home fries. Greasy. Greasy napkin.
Shit, no, fuck, I vibed panic at him. Typo. Pink slip. Somebody could lose their job over this, like you could lose your job! Can’t be late, Gartner thinks you’ve been slacking already—
Mmmm, thought Theo. HOME FREES. I should go there after work, have some HOME FREES—
And just then Theo’s cell phone rang.
What the unholy fuck? I thought angrily as he picked it up, the screen flashing Courtney’s photo. She never once called before!
For a brief moment Theo debated answering, as –
SHOES SHOES SHOES! I vibe-screamed at him with all my metaphysical might –
– but then he looked at that ugly fucking cat clock with the eyes.
“Shitballs,” said Theo, standing.
He was late. He’d call her back tonight.
I wanted to wrap my talons around his neck and shake Theo like a newborn baby ‘til his eyes rattled in their sockets, but at that point I knew it was already too late.
As he grimaced and threw his phone in his backpack and jammed his crew-socked feet into his Birkenstocks (I knew I should’ve chucked this thing at the start, Goddammit to the blackest reaches of Hell) and kicked his Nikes – along with my brilliant fucking pebble, fuck God! – under the couch, and made for the door –
That Theo had slept in, washed his bowl, and tried to make sense of a comic.
I knew that Theo’s earlier twitch wasn’t him hearing me think — it was that tingly convulsion running down his spine, that weird shiver you humans get for “no reason,” the feeling you describe as “someone walking over your grave” – and I knew it was that rippling signifier that something in Theo’s reality had just shifted.
I knew Courtney’s call wasn’t mere coincidence.
And I now knew that someone or something was out to screw up my plans.
Because I also knew, when I’d flipped through that same magazine earlier and saw that same ad for Jack’s Ruby, with the line-drawing of the banner—
—it had said “Home Fries.”
Some human and semi-divine theorists postulate we were once even part of God – but those guys are a bunch of wishful posers spewing a Pollyanna fountain of crap. You may wanna be a rock-god like Bono, too – but the closest you’re gonna get is front row at the concert.
Year after year, Theo would examine his dorm room and apartment walls, scanning for cracks, telling himself and any curious roommates about the traumatic earthquake he’d experienced when he was 12, visiting his Aunt (neé Uncle) Terri in San Francisco. Seemed Theo was petrified of being crushed to death by a falling ceiling – though it had nothing to do with the earthquake. It was the remnant of a life in 14th century Algeria, when he’d gacked it just so. His last thought as his brains had oozed out against the dusty brick was, “I told Jafari to fix those beams! I am so fucking pissed!” That kind of energy transcends lifetimes.
Of course, if one has the energy to follow schizophrenics’ ping-ponging through various realities – which I assure you, one doesn’t – their thinking usually makes perfect sense: “Why can’t somebody pin me down? I can’t take all this jumping around!” But unless you’re, oh, I don’t know, a nubile 14 year-old peasant girl in medieval France with a pre-existing homicidal religious fervor, why should I bother?