O TERRIBLE!



PART 1 - EARTH



ONE

“Heeeeey God! Why are you doing this to me? Am I not living up to what I’m supposed to be? Heeeeeey God!”

The song had been playing in a continuous loop on his old Sony Disc Man for the entire night, which meant it must have played almost a hundred times. This was probably the third morning in a row that Jeffrey had awakened to the early-90s Nine Inch Nails song. “Terrible Lie” was the name of it, off the album “Pretty Hate Machine”. Jeffrey felt that the song was basically written for him. It perfectly articulated the current state of his relationship with the big guy in the sky.

“Hey God! I think you owe me a great big apology!!!”

Yes, life - in Jeffrey’s eyes - seemed to revolve around one, very terrible lie: that things would get better, that there was success and happiness and love out there for everyone. But that was just what God wanted you to believe...so people would hang in there and be good and not screw up His creation. Clearly it was all bullshit. The carrot was always in front of you, but only a sucker would think that he’d actually be able to grab it...and taste it...and chew on it.

“Terrible Lie! Seems like salvation comes only in our dreams! Terrible Lie!”

If it wasn’t for the meeps and beeps of Jeffrey’s alarm clock he probably would have had the ability to sleep for another four hours, even with the song blasting out of the tattered muffs of his headphones at near-maximum volume. Depression, after all, drains the body of any and all ambition, which consequently makes a person want to sleep much longer into the day than the average human being. This isn’t to say, however, that Jeffrey didn’t hit the snooze button about a dozen times before he allowed the meeps and beeps to actually get him out of bed. In fact, this was a major problem for Jeffrey. Out of sheer wishful thinking, he would set his alarm for nine o’clock but would hit the snooze until about eleven. He (of course) would have been better off being realistic by just setting the alarm for eleven. After all, two hours of snooze-interrupted sleep makes for a very restless night’s sleep. Waking out of a REM cycle every ten minutes does horrible things to the body’s circadian rhythm.

“Heeeey God! I believed that promises, your promises and lies! Terrible Lie!!!”

More often than not, it usually took a little something extra to get Jeffrey completely out of his bed: usually a little something in the form of a ‘clinging’ sound from outside his bedroom window. The ‘cling’ was the sound of the mailman somewhat abrasively slamming the mailbox shut after filling it with mail, seventy-five percent of which was usually junk, like coupons for a free Quarter Pounder or maybe a Publisher’s Clearinghouse tease. Jeffrey was energized by the sound because it meant maybe - JUST MAYBE - there was some good news waiting for him in the cold world outside his bed. Maybe today was the day, he would hope. Yes, maybe this was the day the carrot would be close enough to grab.

“Terrible Lie! Terrible...”

Sure enough, Jeffrey heard the much-awaited ‘cling’ and the groan of the mail truck’s engine fading as it made its way deeper into the neighborhood. He rolled onto his side and pressed ‘stop’ on his Disc Man and switched his alarm clock from ‘snooze’ to the off position. Now there was silence in his bedroom...except for some crackling from the house’s heating system, which Jeffrey always found to be a peaceful sound in the middle of a depressingly chilly New England Winter.

He sat on the edge of his bed waiting for his morning erection to get somewhat under control. The erection, combined with an overwhelming need to pee, didn’t give him the most comfortable feeling in the world, and even thinking of baseball or a nice cold shower with grandma Edith wasn’t going to stop the blood from pulsating into his private area. He wondered if the morning erections were due to sexual frustration or a simple case of irregular blood flow in the pelvic region (due to lying in his bed for long periods of time). Perhaps he needed to read up on the phenomenon, like on the Internet, but he knew he was probably never going to follow through with this. Morning boners were probably always going to remain a mystery to him.

After a moment or two, his rock-hard member had sagged enough for him to stand fully upright - not that anybody was home to catch him looking excited - but even when he was home alone he still felt pathetic walking around with a teepee rising out of his flannel pajama pants. It made him feel creepy and kind of like a perverted sex offender. At twenty-four years of age and still a virgin, Jeffrey was a little insecure about his sexual life. Walking around with boners and never having sex or a real girlfriend made him feel like some perverted weirdo...like his fate was to be one of those dudes who would park in a deserted section of a Walmart parking lot, snapping it to Hussler magazines.




TWO

“One...”

Jeffrey stood in the foyer to his raised ranch house, peeking through the smudgy pane of the rectangular window to the side of the front door. The yellow morning crust was now chiseled from his hazel eyes and his bed-headed hair was nicely combed.

He wore black Doc Martens, tan Khaki pants and a sharp-looking blue-striped, Nautica shirt that was handed down from his older brother who had moved out long ago. The look Jeffrey was basically going for was “business casual”, something that would function as a means of fooling the average onlooker into believing Jeffrey actually had his “shit together”.

“...Two...”

Of course, he wouldn’t have bothered making the effort to look so nice if his house didn’t happen to be located smack-dab in the middle of a three-way intersection. This meant that the probability of a neighbor driving by his house and watching him take the one-minute journey to his mailbox was extremely high. And if they saw him walking out of his house at 11 o’clock on a Tuesday morning, wearing nothing but some pajama pants and a wrinkly, Fruit of the Loom T-shirt, they would have immediately smelled a bum, no question about it.

“...Two...one-thousand...”

Helping contribute to Jeffrey’s “got my shit together” illusion was the cordless phone he held between his shoulder and ear. Of course, it would have been a cell phone if only he had the money to afford one. Unfortunately, his mother cut him off from the family plan after he had racked up a one-hundred dollar phone bill one month. This was mostly due to text messaging some girl he was much too nervous to call (but never had a chance with anyway). Now he had to make and receive all his calls from his house line, which - for obvious reasons - made for a severe social handicap. Obviously he wasn’t going to give out his fucking house number to some girl he met at a party or bar. So he basically wouldn’t give out his number at all. Girls would have to come later, he figured. God had this in store for him. He just had to starve a little bit first.

“Three.”

Jeffrey busted out the front door to his house with about as much energy as a cannonball.

“So, yeah, I said there’s major problems with the script!” he shouted into the phone. “Preproduction can’t start till the script’s in better shape!”

He hopped down the brick steps two-at-a time and speed-walked down his driveway. The celerity in his stride denoted confidence and purpose. It was all a front, of course...meant to get the objective onlooker to judge him as a person who had a shit-load of things to do today.

“So what I said was the script’s in perfect shape! We better just go ahead and start preproduction!”

The grass surrounding Jeffrey’s driveway was a sick-yellow due to the fact that it had been trapped under a suffocating blanket of snow for the past two months. The sporadic oak and pine trees were naked and depressed, and the streets were chalky with excess salt. The whole scene created a picture Norman Rockwell would never want to paint.

“Hello?! Oh, sorry, you were breakin’ up, Chet!”

Jeffrey took a step out onto the chalky street and hopped over one of the blackened snow banks that were left over from the winter’s Noreaster’s.

“So, anyway, I told him there’s serious problems with the script!”

He opened his mailbox, swiped a modestly-sized pile of mail from inside of it and immediately headed back into the house. He also made an effort to give his watch a few peeks, which insinuated that he was a very busy man, a man who had something very important to get back inside for.

“Preproduction can’t start till the script’s in better shape!”

He leapt back up the brick stairs and scooted back into the front door, figuring that what he had just accomplished had probably been done in record time.

“And then I went to the store to buy some bread and butter! The script’s in horrible shape! I got a bad case of potato chip farts!”

He shut the door tightly behind him, slammed his back up against it and let out a deep sigh of relief. He was pretty sure nobody from the outside world had seen him and, more importantly, nobody had judged him. It was a successful endeavor, no doubt about it. Mission accomplished.

Safe and sound in the house, he thumbed through the mail, but nothing was addressed to him except for a bunch of credit card offers. He thought this was kind of funny because all the offers made him out to be such an outstanding citizen and human being. “Jeffrey Gray, you’ve been approved!” “Of course we want to give you shit-loads of credit!” “You deserve it because you have a spotless credit record!” “You’ll definitely be able to pay it back because you’re a good, responsible human being.” “Pats on the back to you, my jolly good fellow! Pats on the back to you!!!!” In fact, all Jeffrey really needed to do for a confidence-boost was open one of these bogus credit card offers, at least once a day, kind of like popping a daily Prozac. The banks seemed to be the only people on earth who would make Jeffrey feel loved.

But, yes, the pile of mail didn’t seem to possess any good news for Jeffrey, unless one would consider good news to be a Victoria Secret postcard informing him that he won a “Free panty!!!” Fuck, this WAS good news, but only for a man who had a hot girlfriend to give it to, or if Jeffrey was a transvestite it might have been good news as well. In other words, no good news.

“O TERRIBLE!”





THREE

Jeffrey sulked his way up to the top level of the raised ranch and entered the quaint - but claustrophobic - kitchen. The room was well-domesticated with the finest “Made in China” trinkets, like vanilla-scented candles, cloth place mats, fake bird’s nests atop the cabinets and plaques for the walls. The plaques had banal slogans on them that were meant to be inspirational - things like “Accept what cannot be changed and have the courage to change what should be changed,” “Bless this mess”, and other sayings one would commonly find in a Wayne Dyer Self-Help book.

Jeffrey opened the humming refrigerator with the intention of grabbing the can of Chock Full O’ Nuts and getting the hell out of there. But something stopped him. Something made him keep the fridge open. It was a can of beer, of course: Budweiser (heavy, not light), and the beverage seemed to emit a kind of seductive frequency, probably much like what Odysseus heard when the Sirens tried to have their way with him. The can was calling for Jeffrey. And he found it almost impossible to resist.

“You know you want me,” the beer seemed to whisper to him. And it was true. Jeffrey wanted that beer. He wanted it baaaaaaad. In fact, he must have stood in front of that refrigerator for-what-seemed like ten minutes, feeling the hot breeze warming his ankles from the refrigerator fan below. Sure, it was pretty damn early in the day but, already, the cravings were hitting him like a pregnant woman lusting for chocolate. Beer put something into his blood that numbed him from all the pain. Yes, the beer had a mysterious ingredient that allowed him to feel happy for at least a short amount of time. OK, maybe the ingredient wasn’t so mysterious. Maybe it was just alcohol. Fuck, there was no ‘maybe’ about it. It WAS alcohol.

Despite the terrible temptations, Jeffrey wasn’t quite at the point where he was going to start drinking so damn early in the day. He knew that the day he started doing something like this was the day he was probably wicked doomed. But with the way his life was going, he knew the day wasn’t far off. It was imminent, he figured. In fact, it was inevitable. Like, literally.

See, when he turned twenty-one, Jeffrey’s mother told him that when he was just a tot, the pediatrician told her to “look out for Jeffrey,” because every sign pointed to him becoming an alcoholic in the future. This was mainly due to a wheat or barley allergy, or some kind of allergy. Jeffrey never really remembered what it was. It was some kind of grain allergy that made him crave beer and that’s all he ever understood.

The fact of the matter is that alcoholism was in Jeffrey’s blood (according to the pediatrician)...unless his mother just made the whole thing up to scare him away from the booze, which was a good possibility as well. Whatever it was, Jeffrey wished his mother hadn’t said anything to him at all. Instead of scaring him into NOT drinking, the threat paradoxically made him more accepting of the fact that becoming an alcoholic was inevitable. And the sooner he gave into the temptations, the sooner he would be at peace with himself.

But, again, today was NOT the day Jeffrey was going to give in to the call of the Budweiser. Besides, he had a can fresh full of Chock and thank God for that, because coffee was the one thing that made Jeffrey perfectly content with not drinking a Budweiser. Not that it was a completely healthy lifestyle, but a caffeine addict was at least a little healthier than a beer addict.

Can of Chock in hand, Jeffrey shut the refrigerator and proceeded to make a fresh pot of coffee with his six-cup Mr. Coffee machine. Even though the process of making the coffee didn’t involve getting his hands the least bit dirty, Jeffrey still washed his hands thoroughly after the procedure. This was for two reasons: first of all, Jeffrey was a compulsive hand-washer, which was probably a quirk that stemmed from some sort of obsessive-compulsive disorder that hadn’t been diagnosed yet. But secondly, Jeffrey wanted an excuse to use a ply of paper towel. Sure, he could have just ripped off the paper towel without washing his hands, but he needed to moisten it so as to get it into a wad with some weight to it. Why? Well, you shall see in just a moment.

“OK, register this, guys,” Jeffrey shouted to the ceiling as he rinsed his hands under the faucet. “If I get this shot in, I’m getting a call today. Ya hear that? If this shot makes it into the basket - nothin’ but basket - I’ll get the call...let’s say by two o’clock today!”

He finished rinsing his hands and ripped a ply of paper towel off a plastic dispenser mounted beneath some cabinets. Of course, the whole procedure wouldn’t have been complete if the entire roll of paper towels hadn’t popped off the dispenser and rolled onto the floor, which they did.

“Hell on earth!” Jeffrey cursed to himself. “This shit’s always happening to me!”

For a moment, he wanted to say, fuck it, and leave the towels on the floor. Or kick them to the side. But then he knew he would get it from mother when she got home from work. Yes, keep her happy for now, he thought. Keep her appeased. It won’t be much longer before he’ll get the fucking carrot and chomp the shit out of that thing. And then he’ll be able to move away from his mother’s nags. This will happen. Definitely.

He carefully re-mounted the roll of towels in its proper place and resumed moistening his ply of paper towel into a weighty wad.

“All right, guys, here we go...if I get this in, I’m gettin’ a call by two o’clock today!”

He positioned himself about ten feet away from a Rubbermaid rubbish basket positioned in the far corner of the kitchen. Deep down, he knew the odds of him hitting this shot were slightly higher than the average Joe because he had attended basketball camp all through his early teenage years. He learned all about how to bend his knees the right way, and how to curve his wrist far enough back so that he could see the “shooter’s wrinkle”, and how to aim his shot with the “gooseneck follow-through”.

“Hail Mary Full of graaaaaaaaaaa...”

He shot the paper towel wad into the basket, though - to his great misfortune - he missed the rubbish by about a mile.

“O Misery!!!” shouted Jeffrey, flipping off the ceiling with his middle finger. “All right, erase! Erase!”

He scooted over to the rubbish basket and swiped the paper towel wad up from the floor, spitting into it so as to give it some extra density.

“Erase, guys!” he repeated. And he repositioned himself for another shot.

“Now, if I get this shot in right here that I’m about to make, I’ll get a call...by the end of the day today. Hear that? If this piece of paper towel makes it into the white plastic liner of that trash barrel over there, I’ll get a call by...let’s say...by eight o’clock tonight. OK? ‘Here goes....”

He closed his eyes and took a moment to visualize the shot.

“Our father whose art’s in heaven...” he whispered to himself. And with that prayer voiced to the universe, he shot the wad in the direction of the rubbish basket with perhaps the most beautiful goose-neck follow-through ever to be executed by a non-NBA basketball player.

“Hollow be thy naaaaaaaaaaameeeeeee...”

But apparently the goose’s neck wasn’t enough to guide this particular wad into the rubbish bin. Because it missed. BIG TIME.

“O HORRRIBLE!” spat Jeffrey in the direction of the ceiling, utter sourness repressing his optimism. “Screw this! I coulda written a whole ‘nother script by now!”




FOUR

Jeffrey stood by the vinyl kitchen counter, holding a large, Japanese butcher knife that his mother had bought a few years back (after seeing it on Oprah). No, it wasn’t what you might be thinking: Jeffrey hadn’t snapped and gone psycho...yet. No, the knife was for cutting a grapefruit, which was currently placed on a small, ceramic plate (also Made in China).

“Erase all that other crap! If this grapefruit is yellow, I’m gettin’ a call today. However, if this grapefruit is Ruby Red, I won’t get a call.”

He muttered a quick prayer under his breath and proceeded to cut the grapefruit in half.

“Thy kingdom come, thy will be dooooooooooone...”

Much to Jeffrey’s surprise, fate decided to throw him a curveball. The grapefruit wasn’t yellow, nor was it Ruby Red.

“Pink?! Hahaha. Very funny, guys. ‘Forgot about pink. Very funny. But erase!!!”




FIVE

Jeffrey sat at the oval kitchen table with his hand deep inside the contents of a Cheerios box. The table was one of those deals with ears that folded in and out, depending on how many people you wanted to have sit at the thing. Usually they were folded in because it was just Jeffrey and his mother eating there. Jeffrey’s dad was never home in time for dinner. He worked very long hours in the financial district.

“OK, if it’s the Corvette, I’m gettin’ the call. If it’s the Lamborghini, I will not be getting the call today. Register, and...”

He shuffled through the many O’s for something - anything - encased in plastic wrapping. It wouldn’t have been a difficult procedure had the box not been a Super-Jumbo-Sized purchase from BJ’s Wholesale. The thing was an enormous abyss of Cheerios. Amazing.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity...SUCCESS. He felt something that wasn’t a Cheerio. It was the toy! Jeffrey gripped his hands around it, closed his eyes and slowly began to pull his hand out of the box.

“These earthen vessels are for us...” he sang quietly to himself for good luck. The song was a hymn or psalm of some sort that he had heard at his church. But that isn’t what’s important right now. What IS important is whether the toy was going to be the Corvette or the fucking Lamborghini!

Jeffrey opened his hand and saw that it was...shet! The fucking Lamborghini!

“Screw this! I coulda written, like, a hundred scripts by now! Man, you guys suck, know that? Register the fact that you guys suck!”

He grabbed a handful of Cheerios and threw them into his mouth, pretending they were pills that would take him out of his misery. Then he washed down the cereal with a chug of black coffee that he pretended was hard liquor. The consequent combination wasn’t tasty.

“The least you could do is show me a sign or something! A sign that tells me whether or not I’ll be getting a call today!”

He abruptly stood from the table, unintentionally scraping the legs of his chair several inches backwards. Fuck, he hadn’t meant to do that! His mother will have his ass for that one. The hardwood floors were relatively new and expensive to re-sand, not to mention re-polyurethane. Yes, his mother would definitely have his ass.

“All right, ready?” he gruffly asked the ceiling.

He wiped the Cheerio crumbs off his hands, took a moment to compose himself and pointed his finger straight out in front of him.

“One, two, three...”

He pivoted himself around in place, being sure to keep his finger straight and extended into a right angle from his torso.

“Sign!” he shouted and stopped to see where his finger was pointing. It was a loaf of whole-wheat bread lying atop a wooden breadbox.

“Bread? Wheat? Um...toast? Uh...sandwich...delicatessen? I should go to a delicatessen today?”

Though there might have been a tasty sandwich in it for him, Jeffrey didn’t see how going to a deli had anything to do with his screenwriting career (or lack there of a screenwriting career).

“Erase!”

Jeffrey knew he had to begin the whole process all over again. The bread wasn’t giving him shit for signs.

“Three-two-one-SIGN!!!”

This time, his finger pointed to the coffee-stained pages of a BOSTON GLOBE, lying spread open on the table from when Jeffrey’s mother must have been paging through it earlier in the morning. And it wasn’t just open to any old page. It was the horoscopes page, which is something that piqued Jeffrey’s interest in the most insanest of ways.

“Horoscope? I should read my horoscope? Is that what you clever idiots want me to do???”

He snatched the newspaper from the table and ran his index finger down the list of astrological signs.

Capricorn:
A contract will be signed, sealed, and delivered. Love is also on the rise, so keep your eye out for that special somebody. Five Stars.

Jeffrey tilted his head from side to side, allowing the astrological prediction to seep into his brain.

“All right, guys, not too shabby. I’ll take it. Thanks, guys.”

He carefully blessed himself with the signs of the cross, being sure to keep his fingers at each station for no less than one full second apiece.

“Thus ends my conversation with those who guide me. Amen. Shalom. Allahu Akbar. And everything else. Thanks.”

With his mind now in a state of momentary satisfaction, Jeffrey grabbed the cordless phone and headed for his room to grind out a few more pages. He figured it was best to remain productive, even if the phone call was imminent. Maybe it was all part of the plan. Maybe after a few more pages he would finally be at the right place in life to get his break. Maybe there was one more idea he had to get onto paper before he got the call. Yes, this was all meant to be.




SIX

Jeffrey shut the door to his bedroom tightly behind him. Even though there was nobody home at the moment, he still always kept his door shut when he worked. The more he cut himself off from the cold, outside world, the more comfortable he felt. It was just him and his invisible friends. Nobody bitching at him. Nobody judging him. The more alone he was, the better he felt. Sad, but true.

This wasn’t to say, however, that his room couldn’t have been any more comfortable. It would have been much better if his mother had allowed him to make the room a place of his own. See, after Jeffrey graduated from college, his parents found themselves with more money to throw around, what with the pricey tuition bills no longer limiting their budget. So they consequently did a shit-load of renovations in basically every room of the house, Jeffrey’s bedroom being one of them. They sanded and polyurethane’d the floors, replaced the windows with energy-saving ones, and painted over the walls a baby-blue.

This meant that Jeffrey no longer had the freedom to decorate the room in any way he pleased. Where before the renovations he had every inch of the walls covered with posters, now the walls didn’t have so much as a baseball pennant decorating them. In other words, the room’s interior design was as sterile as a Holiday Inn’s and Jeffrey never felt completely at home there. But it was still quiet and peaceful and estranged from the outside world, which was usually all that mattered to him.

Jeffrey took a seat in the swiveling chair of his computer desk and took a peek at one of two small clocks placed in the desk’s far corner. A piece of masking tape identified the clock on the right as “East Coast” time, while another piece of tape identified the clock on the left as “West Coast” time.

Jeffrey always considered himself to be a West Coast person trapped in an East Coast world, though it was difficult to decipher where he came up with this concept (seeing that he had never even been on the West Coast). Nevertheless, this was how he justified waking up at eleven o’clock in the morning and eating lunch at three o’clock and going to bed at three in the morning. His mother, of course, hated the schedule he was on, but Jeffrey always told her that if he were living in California, his way of life would have been perfectly acceptable; the only difference, of course, was geographical location, which was irrelevant when you really thought about it. After all, he still only got seven or eight hours of sleep a night, like most people. All right, maybe it was nine hours of sleep, but, technically, nine hours was what the Surgeon General recommended people get on average, at least according to a recent Mattress Warehouse commercial Jeffrey had recently seen on television.

Anyway, yes, Jeffrey was on “West Coast Time”, so right now it was technically nine o’clock in the morning and he had the whole day ahead of him. There was plenty of time to put his nose to the grindstone and squeeze out some pages. Yes, pages. Pages? Pages. Oh, how, Jeffrey loved that word: ‘pages’.

He gave his knuckles a crack and awoke his “sleeping” Macintosh Powerbook from its idle state. The machine was a high school graduation gift from his parents and had lasted Jeffrey a whopping six whole years! Despite the fact that the hard drive contained about six gigabytes (versus the thousands of gigs the newest computers possessed), the laptop still got the job done as far as writing went. The only downside was the fact that whenever he went out to a Starbucks or Panera Bread to write, he would get hairy stares from every single person in the place, as though it were a sin to use a laptop that was about five years past its prime. Whatever. In the end, Jeffrey didn’t really give a shit.

So, yes, he sat at his computer desk and spent a moment or two trying to get his mind into focus, clear away the fog and get his typing in sync with his brain, so that things would flow out more easily. But he was having a tough time concentrating. The problem was that the cordless phone was giving him the eyeball - well, not literally, of course. Phones don’t have eyeballs, silly! Another way of saying it was that he couldn’t get his mind off the phone, like a girl he had just recently developed a crush on. Maybe he wasn’t doing everything he could possibly do to get the damn thing to ring. Maybe he needed to give things an extra push. He had read a lot of positive psychology rhetoric about giving things “positive energy” and so on and so forth. Maybe the situation needed more positive energy!

He hopped out of his computer chair and grabbed a Bible from his bookshelf. The Bible was a fat, red paperback King James edition, but John didn’t have the intention of reading any of it. Instead, he took the Bible, placed it on the computer desk, opened up to a page that was more or less in the middle, sandwiched the phone inside of it and closed the pages around it. Yes, perhaps the phone needed the most positive of all energy and the Bible would provide it. He figured that maybe placing a few rosary beads atop the Bible-sandwiched phone wouldn’t hurt the situation either (which he did). And saying a quick Hail Mary prayer. And blessing himself with the signs of the cross.

Now Jeffrey was ninety-nine-percent confident that there was nothing more he could do to make the phone’s energy more “positive”. So he sat down at his laptop and FINALLY…began to write.




SEVEN

An hour had passed. Jeffrey was still writing at his laptop, but his energy had decreased to the point of only being able to type with one finger, hitting one key at a time. The little buzz he got from his morning’s coffee had already withered away and his ambition was drying up like a pond during a drought. Besides, how could he write when his mind was focused on other things: namely, the phone? That mother friggin’ phone!

His eyes wandered away from the LCD computer screen and focused on the telephone, still sandwiched in the Bible like a hotdog in a bun. He didn’t think he would stoop down to such a pathetic level but, by this point, he didn’t really give a fuck; he knew what he had to do.

He shamelessly widened his eyes and tried to visualize a beam of positive energy shooting out of them. This was a trick he read about in a book called “The Secret”. It was all about the “visualization” process or something like that.

“One...two...three...RING!” he shouted.

He pictured sending the beam from his eyes and to the phone, but he wasn’t sure if he was doing it right. Maybe he was concentrating too hard. Maybe he wasn’t concentrating hard enough. Maybe he needed to relax a bit and that would work.

“One-two-three-RING!”

“One-two-three-RING!”

To his horrible misfortune, his efforts didn’t yield any positive results. The phone failed to ring.

“Fuck this!” he shouted and swiveled away from the computer. “This is fucking retarded.”

He grabbed a yellow-papered note-pad from off his desk, ripped a piece of paper out of it and crumpled it into a ball.

“All right, guys,” he shouted into his ceiling.
“Angels...Muses...God...Jesus...Mary’s...Joseph’s...Virgins, whoever the hell you weirdos are. You can’t leave me hanging like this. I need to know.”

He hopped out of the computer chair and positioned himself, dead-center, in the middle of the bedroom. He was approximately ten feet away from a small, metal wastebasket nestled in the far corner of the room.

“This is the last time I’m gonna do this, all right? So you better give me a straight answer.”

He listened for a response from his invisible friends, but all he could hear was dead air mixed with some crackling from the room’s heat registers.

“Register this, guys. If I get this shot in....” Whoops, he caught himself and stopped to think for a moment. “Erase! Erase! If I miss this shot....” A Chesire grin curled up his face as he realized how clever he was being. “Yeah, if I miss this shot...the call will come in, let’s say, ten minutes or so.”

He took a deep breath, formed a shooter’s wrinkle in his wrist and went for the shot.
“Hail Mary full of graaaaaaaa...”

He scored!

“O Miserable human condition that I’m a part of! Argh...the least you twisted spirits could do is give me a straight answer, but nooooooo....”

He listened to the stale, dry air for a few moments, hoping for some sort of audible sign. But none came to him.

“Screw this!”

He started pacing the room, huffing and puffing the stress out of his system.

“Who does he think he is, anyway? Oh, how de do...I’m Burt Bastorach. I’m a big-time Hollywood agent. I live in the Hollywood Hills. I have a BMW and a wife with big boobies! Whenever I go to my high school reunion, people envy ME. I’m Burt Bastorach.”

He paced the floor some more and looked back up into the ceiling.

“Know what? This is insane. I mean, look at me talking to myself like this. I’m leaving. Register this, guys. I’m leaving right now. I’m gonna get some pizza and pick up girls...!”

He grabbed his wallet from his dresser to prove to the spirits that he wasn’t bluffing. Then, he marched over to the door, clasped the doorknob and even started to give it a little twist.

“...Unless you show me a sign of some sort. Register! ‘Only thing that’s gonna stop me from leavin’ this house is if you show me a sign.”

He moved away from the door and repositioned himself, dead-center, in the middle of the bedroom.

“Ok...”

He stuck his finger out at a ninety-degree angle from his body and spun himself around in place.

“One-two-three-SIGN!”

Nothing caught his eye, except for the bare, baby-blue wall in front of him. He realized that if he was going to get a sign he would have to angle his finger forty-five degrees towards the floor; otherwise, he was going to get nothing but bare wall over and over again. Maybe things would have been different had his mother allowed him to put up posters. Maybe one of the posters would have provided a sign. But she hadn’t allowed him to do this. So he had to adjust the position of his finger in order to get more concrete results.

“One-two-three-SIGN!”

His finger now pointed to a pair of old, beat-up New Balance running sneakers that were from Jeffrey’s days of running track at high school.

“Shoes...sneakers...running...jogging....”

He picked every crevice of his brain for some sort of meaning behind this possible sign. But nothing was adding up.

“What the fuck is that supposed to mean? Should I go for a run today?! Stop being so cryptic!”

He decided to give it another go.

“One-two-three-sign!”

And another go.

“One-two-three-sign!”

And one more go.

“One-two-three-sign!”

But there was no sign, at least as far as Jeffrey could interpret.

“All right, you spirit fags! Laaaaaaaaaayta, bitch!”

And, this time, Jeffrey wasn’t bluffing. He marched toward the bedroom door, opened it up and he did, indeed, leave that room.




EIGHT

The phone rang five times from its holster on the kitchen wall.

“Hi, this is the Grays,” said a middle-aged female voice on the answering machine. “Please leave a message and we will get back to you as soon as we can. God bless.”

“Uh...yeah, Hi, Jeff,” said a male voice pretending to speak in a young, female voice. “This is Heather. I want your body. Bye.”

As it turned out, it was actually Jeffrey who was leaving the message. In fact, he was only about five feet away, talking into the “family” cell phone. This was a phone Jeffrey’s mother and father kept reserved for emergencies, like for long car rides or when Jeffrey’s father was taking a business trip. Most normal people probably wouldn’t have labeled this particular situation as an emergency, but Jeffrey, of course, considered it to be the most emergent of emergencies. He needed to be certain that the answering machine was functioning properly. One technical difficulty in that machine and his career could be over!

He turned the cell phone off as quickly as he turned it on. His fear was that his mother would notice that the battery had gone down - not that she necessarily kept close tabs on the battery bars - but Jeffrey still didn’t want to risk upsetting her for no essential reason.

Once the phone was shut down, he let out a deep exhale, relaxed and played his message back on the machine.

“Uh...yeah, Hi, Jeff. This is Heather. I want your body. Bye.”

He closed his eyes and played the message back one more time.

“Uh...yeah, Hi, Jeff. This is Heather. I want your body. Bye.”

He shut his eyes even tighter and played the message back one more time.

“Uh...yeah, Hi, Jeff. This is Heather. I want your body. Bye.”

He pictured this “Heather” in his mind and completely disregarded the fact that it was he who actually left the message. For a moment, it was almost as though his dream had come true: that Heather DID, indeed, want his body. Yes, for an ephemeral moment in time it was a reality. And it made something inside of him feel so damn good. It was probably his soul. He had heard about things like this. Feeling complete and all that shit.

Only after listening to the message approximately ten times was Jeffrey able to bring himself to the point where he could actually erase the message from the machine. If his mother wasn’t going to come home and listen to it, he would have kept it there forever. He probably could have listened to it forever, too.




NINE

Now that he was absolutely confident the answering machine was functioning properly, Jeffrey felt he was at a point where he could carry through with his threat to leave the house. He stood in the foyer, taking peeks at his neighborhood, just to be sure no cars were coming down the street or no neighbors were walking by. They were all bound to judge him for sure.

“This is your last chance!” he shouted into the ceiling above. “I’m leavin’ this house right now, unless you give me a phone call...or at least a sign of some sort!”

He opened the door and a rush of cold wind chilled him to the bones. Could this have been the sign? Were the invisible friends trying to tell him that he should stay inside?

“I’m leaving this house in three...”

He leaned his body out the door like that tower in Pisa, just as proof that he wasn’t fucking kidding around here.

“Two...”

He took a full step out the door and planted his foot onto the flag-stoned landing of the front steps.

“One...”

He desperately searched his surroundings for a sign. The cold wind wasn’t enough of one. He needed something to basically hit him over the head if he was going to stay in that house any longer.

“One-thousand...”

He paused a moment and took another look around. Nothing stood out in his immediate line of vision, except for the chandelier hanging from above, the foyer steps and some discolored wallpaper that went out of style in the 80s. He thought that his invisible friends were, perhaps, trying to communicate with him through sounds, so he gave a careful listen to the dead noise in the house, but all he could really hear was the hum of the refrigerator coming from the kitchen upstairs.

“All right, screw it, I’m leaving!”

But just as he was about to leave, there was a chirping sound that paralyzed his actions. Jeffrey’s heart leapt into his throat out of a sheer Pavlovian conditioned response. He knew that sound from anywhere. It was the fucking phone!!!

Jeffrey darted upstairs, snatched the phone from its holster in the kitchen and took a peek at the caller ID window.

“Blocked call! It’s him!!!”

Jeffrey immediately made a beeline for his “office” (i.e. his bedroom), feeling that it would appear unprofessional if he were to take the call in his mom’s kitchen.

The phone chirped a third time as Jeffrey ran down the hallway and shut himself securely within the confines of his “office”. He immediately lunged at his old-school, three-in-one stereo (phonograph, radio, tape player) and stuffed a blank tape into one of the decks. An array of office-type sounds started to blast out of the stereo speakers - things like fax machines, Xerox machines, printers, water bubblers and phones ringing in the far background.

Nervous as anything, Jeffrey paced the width of his room, purposely yawning to stretch out the muscles in his mouth, much like a singer would do before a big concert.

“OK, thanks, guys,” he said to the ceiling. “I knew you’d come through for me. Hey, do me a favor and bless this call! Ya register? Bless this call, please!”

The phone continued to chirp while Jeffrey rehearsed his initial greetings.

“Hello? Hullho? Yes, hello? Jeffrey here. Talk to me. Jeffrey Gray Productions. Hello?”

He fingered the ‘talk’ button on the phone and closed his eyes for a brief prayer.

“The Lord is with theeeeeeeeeeeee...”

And, with that, he FINALLY answered the phone.

“Hello!” he shouted, his voice cracking like a pre-pubescent schoolboy.

Jeffrey couldn’t believe what he was hearing on the other end: dial tone. The hum of fucking dial tone!

“O Terrible...what have I done???”

He gave the phone a good, Au-pair-strength shaking and took another listen. Still, there was nothing but the dial tone.

“No, don’t do this to me. Please don’t do this to me....”

He dialed Star-Sixty-Nine and shut his eyes for another brief prayer.

“Blessed is thy fruuuuuuuuit.”

“Sorry, the number you have dialed is untraceable,” said the operator.

“No...no,” he kept repeating as he dropped to his knees, looking like the personification of despair. “Hell on earth. Hell on earth.”

But, soon, his despair swelled into rage. No just God or Angel or Jesus or Buddha or Mother Teresa would do this to him.

“You call that a fucking blessed call?!” he shouted into the ceiling.

He quickly realized that cussing at his invisible friends wasn’t in his highest and best interest. Not that life was peachy having the “friends” around, but who knew how much worse things could have gotten had he been completely forsaken?

“Sorry guys,” he said with a hint of reluctance in his tone. “Erase that latter cussword, please. I didn’t mean it.”

And, just then, the phone started chirping again!

“Another blocked call!”

It suddenly occurred to Jeffrey that this may have all been a test. Maybe his invisible friends made the last call not go through to see how he would react. Maybe if he didn’t apologize for his cussing the phone wouldn’t have rang again.

“Oh, thanks guys for this second chance. Please bless this call, OK?”

He was about to answer when he realized the tape on his stereo had run out.

“Misery!”

He quickly ejected the tape from the deck and flipped it over to its B-side. To Jeffrey’s miserable misfortune, there was about five or ten seconds of silent leader at the beginning of the tape.

“Come on...come on....”

Finally, the sound of a dial-up modem blasted out of the speakers and Jeffrey knew he was good to go. He cleared a frog from his throat and did a few warm-up exercises for his voice.

“Mee..mee...myy-mo-meeeeew. Pleeeeeeeze bless this caaaaaaaalllllll...”

And with that, he answered the phone.

“Hi-lo!” he shouted. It was a combination of ‘hello’ and ‘hi’. Due to nerves, Jeffrey combined the two greetings and he was pretty damned embarrassed about it. But, alas, there was no need to be embarrassed, for it wasn’t who he thought it was. This time, there was a voice on the other end of the line, but not the voice Jeffrey was looking for.

“Oh, Hi, Ma. Where you callin’ from? No, I was in the bathroom, sorry. Where you callin’ from? Oh, cuz it said ‘blocked call’. The caller ID, Ma. It said...never mind.”

His mother’s voice scratched out the other end of the line and Jeffrey couldn’t help but equate the sound of her voice to the sound of fingernails clawing at a chalkboard. He felt like an asshole thinking this, but it was true - at least in his ears it was true.

“All right, yeah. I’ll put the hamburgs on. What time do..? What tone of voice? I’ll put the hamburgs on, but not because I have nothing better to do. Just understand that, please. I’m busy with a lot of stuff but, yeah, I’ll put them on.”

The sound of his mother’s voice raised in volume and soured in tone.

“Did I say that, MA? Did I say that??!!!!”

Jeffrey manipulated his fingers into the form of a gun and pretended to shoot himself in the temple.

“Well, you always think I have nothing important to do. I’m a busy man - believe it or not - but I’m a busy man. I...But....”

Jeffrey knew that it would be wise for him to choose his battles, and this one was not worth fighting. Let her win, he thought. Soon, he’ll be out of the house, living in the Hollywood Hills...with Heather. This will happen.

“All right. OK. Bye.”

Jeffrey ended the call and tossed the phone onto the disarrayed sheets of his unmade bed. He suddenly felt the need to hock a major wad of phlegm from his throat. He had no tangible evidence to support this, but he felt that his inability to explain himself clearly when he talked to his mother was the root cause of his chronic phlegm problem. In other words, the phlegm was a physical manifestation of all the feelings he failed to get beyond his throat and into the outside world. It was the end result of nobody ever listening to anything he had to say. Nobody understanding him. Nobody allowing him to express himself to the fullest.

But, again, this was all just a theory. It was entirely possible that he just had allergies or a chronic cold and this was what caused all the mucus in his trachea. He knew he would probably never get any definitive answers to these questions.

“Hoooooooooocccccccccckkkkkkkkkkk.”

He grabbed three Kleenex from a box of Puffs Plus he kept on a nightstand beside his bed and spat the mucus into them. Why three Kleenex? Well, wasn’t the answer obvious? If he had only used one Kleenex the phlegm would tear right through that shit and get all over the floor. It had to be three Kleenex. It just had to be.

Jeffrey spat his phlegm into the Kleenex, rolled the moist wad of tissues into a ball and side-arm-chucked the end result into a wastebasket across the way.

“Thought that was all pretty funny, huh?” he asked the ceiling. “I bet you’re all having a good old laugh about it up there.”

He took a seat back into the computer chair and swiveled himself back and forth with his legs.

“Heeeeeellarious,” he said to the ceiling. “Oh, I get it...this is some sort of reality TV show to you guys, that it? In that case I’m happy to be so entertaining, then. Yeah, well, just you wait until I get up there, man. Yeah, you better be hiding when I get up there, guys. Cuz I’m gonna tear some shit up!!! And you can forget it if you think I’m gonna erase that latter cuss.”

He stopped swiveling, folded his arms and pouted like a child.

“All right, fine. I take back the cuss. Erase that cuss, guys!”

He hopped back up from his chair and started pacing the width of the room again.

“Screw it, why don’t ya just show me a sign or somethin’? You can’t keep me in the dark like this. It’s not fair. One-two-three-SIGN!”

He saw that - this time - his finger pointed to his oak dresser that ran parallel against the back wall to the room.

“’This the sign, guys???”

He approached the dresser and focused on the middle drawer, which seemed to draw attention to itself due to it being open slightly ajar.

“I should open this drawer, guys???”

The drawer was actually what-Jeffrey-referred-to as his “junk drawer.” Instead of containing any clothes or socks or underwear, it had a bunch of...well, junk in it. Decks of cards and bubble gum and those Pog things (that were popular in the nineties) were not uncommon to find in this drawer. There were also a couple of those Tiger video game thingys (baseball and bowling) that were all the rage in the late 80s. This was also the drawer where Jeffrey would hide his naughty things like erotic pics ripped out of Playboys and all the free samples of condoms he had acquired over the years (mainly from concerts or health classes). Most of the condoms had probably expired by now, but two or three of them were still likely to be fresh and good to go, not that he had any use for them other than to use as practice for when the real thing actually happened. Yes, Jeffrey had accepted that sex wasn’t likely to be in his immediate forecast. This would change, however, when he got his big break. Then, he’d have sex just about every night, sometimes with more than one girl at the same time.

Jeffrey slowly opened his junk drawer and the first thing to catch his eye was a small, wallet-sized photograph of a pretty girl with brown hair and milky-white skin. She also had green eyes, and a smile with just the perfect teeth-to-mouth ratio. This meant that she wasn’t teethy, nor was she gummy, nor did she have the grin of that horse named Mr. Ed. In other words, her smile was absolutely perfect and - to Jeffrey - she was a perfect ten, no doubt about it. Her name...was HEATHER HUCKLE.

“No, please don’t show this to me now,” he pleaded with the ceiling. “Why’d you have to show this to me now???”

The photo was Heather’s high school yearbook portrait. She had given it to him at play rehearsal one day. The show was “Guys and Dolls” and Jeffrey played Bennie Southstreet while Heather played Miss Adelaide. In fact, they had done theater together for many, many years, but Jeffrey had always kept his crush a secret.

“Is this a sign? It must be.”

He looked away from the photo and directly into the ceiling.

“What does it mean, guys?!”

He looked back into the photo and caught another glimpse of the look in Heather’s eyes. For a brief moment, he experienced a feeling deep in his gut that he hadn’t felt in a long time. It reminded him of the movie E.T. when the alien’s chest would illuminate with red light whenever he experienced feelings of love. This was what Jeffrey kind of felt was happening inside of him right now. Yes, this was the best way he could describe it. There was something about Heather that just felt right. It made him feel whole and complete and all that crap. Yes, it was all one, big giant cliché that was in just about every romantic comedy ever made, but it was also very true.

“Wait, does this mean I’ll see her again? Is that what you twisted nut-jobs are saying?”

He ran over to his desk and tore a fresh sheet of paper out of his notebook.

“Ok....” He had to think a moment to be sure he phrased the question as clearly as possible. “Register this: if I keep writing and suffering and writing...I’ll eventually be successful and, well...SCREW IT. ERASE!!!”

He realized he still hadn’t figured out the best way to phrase the question. He didn’t want any ambiguities here. He wanted to be as straight-fucking-forward as possible. That way, the answer would be simple and easy to comprehend. There would be no excuse for his invisible friends. They wouldn’t be able to play dumb and say, ‘Whoops, we thought you meant something else.’

“OK, I’m gonna be really frank here. If I keep doing what I’m doing - you know, writing and suffering and all that crap...sorry, erase ‘crap’. If I keep doing what I’m doing - writing and suffering - the day will come when I get to marry her.”

He crumpled the sheet of paper into a ball and positioned himself for a shot.

“OK, here ‘goes. If I get this shot in, I’m gonna find Heather Huckle and marry her!”

Bend of the knees? Check.

Shooter’s wrinkle? Check.

Goose-neck follow-through? Check.

“Thy kingdom cooooooooooooooome!!!”

Miss.

“O HORRIBLE! All right, best out of three, guys!”





PART 2 - HEAVEN



ONE

She hovered down the long, white tunnel wearing a long, cute dress that she manifested to look like the one she used to love wearing. It was a black evening gown from Sak’s Fifth Avenue and she had worn it the night she was awarded her Pulitzer Prize at Columbia University. It represented a pinnacle in her life, one of the best nights she had ever had. A time when she was at her happiest. A time when she felt the most loved.

Her ankles and feet were visible at the bottom of her dress, but unnecessary. For a person who could virtually be anywhere at any time (within level three and below, that is), space and time were no longer a factor for her, thus rendering her feet sheer decoration possessing no practical use whatsoever. After all, she was merely energy and only as physical as she wished to represent herself. And seeing that it had only been a handful of years since she’d been on the “other side”, she was still used to thinking about her “self” in the way in which it was represented during her time on earth: that is, as a physical entity. However, once she got her wings and ascended to the higher astral planes, she would no longer feel the need to represent herself in this way. She would more than likely be represented as...well, NOTHING - maybe an orb, if anything. But most of the ascended masters on the higher vibrations didn’t represent themselves as anything at all. They were just energy. The higher one got on the astral planes, the more detached they were from their human existence. In their minds, human form was merely one possible way of representing oneself...not THE way.

But, yes, for now, Lillian was still representing herself as a form very closely resembling the way in which she looked during her time on earth - well, during her prime, that is. After all, who wanted to represent themselves as an old prune? Not Lillian. No, she was adamant about manifesting herself to be in her 30s, when she was young and beautiful, with long, curly brown hair and eyes as green as a lawn in May. Her most distinguished feature was her lips because they always seemed to be puckered (even when they were completely relaxed). In fact, it was her lips that rendered her “cute” down on earth, and it was usually what would attract the men to her.

Lillian hovered further down the long, white ‘hall’ (call it what you will, as there was not a word that could describe it) and she listened to the beautiful angelic hummings emanating from the higher levels. It reminded her of being in a department store back on earth, where the music would be playing lightly over the intercom. But instead of banal, top-40 hits and one-hit wonders, these were the sounds of highly evolved musical spirits composing harmonies and melodies that were way ahead of anything that was happening on earth. One of these spirits would eventually volunteer for human existence and become the next Janis Joplin or Jimi Hendrix or Curt Cobain or Michael Jackson.

In fact, everywhere she went there was always word of new and fantastic arts/sciences being developed on the upper planes, all with the intention of eventually bringing them down to earth. They were supposedly the next Einsteins and Picassos and Bachs. The latter-day Socrates’ and Nietzsche’s and Shakespeares and Chekhovs. Their time on earth was imminent. New and exciting things were always on the horizon. There was a tremendous energy in the spiritual dimension. Creativity mattered so much more up there than she remembered it mattering while she was on earth. All people seemed to be concerned about on earth was money, and success, and fame. In the spiritual dimension, it was the exact opposite.

In fact, each day that passed, Lillian would find herself saying, “Oh, so that’s what it’s all about.” It was the expansion of her consciousness. Her gradual escape from the mind. Her baby-stepped departure from the earth’s vibration and preparation to ascend to the higher astral levels. She progressed a little bit more and more everyday. But she would be the first one to admit that she was still very much trapped within the human consciousness. It was a prison that was very difficult to escape.

Lillian would often fantasize about having her wings and ascending into the higher levels, but the fantasy itself only proved she was very far off from actually getting her wings. This was because the fantasy was very “human” in nature, as it involved popularity, power, envy and other man-made values. Essentially, she would envision herself flying high above New York City where every human being on the ground would look up and envy her for having wings. She was so popular and powerful up there. She was the queen of New York. And everybody loved her.

On one hand, Lillian knew that this silly little fantasy meant she still cared too much about what Man thought of her. After all, ‘Man’ was no longer relevant where she was. It was God she needed to please, not Man. But, still, she wasn’t yet at the point where she could rewire her mind differently. It was a very difficult mindset to shake. She still wanted to be loved by Man, perhaps even more than she cared about being loved by God. She didn’t want to admit it, but it was true.



TWO

Lillian started focusing her mind on the Archangels long and hard...thinking and thinking about nothing but them. Soon, she felt herself in the midst of a tremendous energy, which she soon identified as Gabriel, one of the Archangels that was operating on the vibration closest to God. She wondered how it felt to be that high in vibration and was somewhat depressed to realize she would never be there. The Archangels, after all, were of a breed of their own and were never manifested as human beings. Their energy was on a vibration way higher than what was on any of the seven astral planes.

No, the closest Lillian could ever get to Gabriel’s vibration was if she became an ascended master on the seventh level, but even THAT was far off for her. It would be a while before she would get there and would more than likely have to experience human manifestation several more times. Souls that were up for their ascended mastership had some incredibly grueling contracts to fulfill during their time on earth. Some of the contracts were so darn difficult it was a wonder how anybody ever fulfilled them. Master Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, Confucius, Mary Magdalene (yes, Jesus’ wife)...these were just SOME of the ascended masters that once graced the earth with their presence.

“State your business,” said Gabriel, now slowly manifesting himself in a human form with no distinct characteristics. The Archangels would often lower themselves in vibration so as to communicate more easily with the lower-level spirits. This meant appearing to Lillian in a shape she was more familiar with.

“I need to speak with God.”

“Do you have an appointment?”

“No.”

“Well, you’re going to have to make one. He’s extremely busy.”

“Please, it’s very important that I speak with Him.”

Gabriel’s energy glowed for a moment without saying anything at all.

"Please," Lillian repeated.

“One moment,” said the Archangel. “I’ll see what I can do.”

Gabriel glowed in silence and took a few seconds to communicate with God strictly by means of telepathically sending energy back and forth. This was the common means of communication in the higher levels. There was no verbalization of words. It was all just energy and feeling.

“OK, He’ll see you,” said Gabriel. “Come into my energy.”

Gabriel’s energy oozed out of its human shape and then transformed from a gooey ectoplasm to a ball of gold, pink and white light. Although she felt nothing but warmth and comfort and peace and love from the light, Lillian still feared it, mainly because it was still all a giant mystery to her. She never believed in any of this stuff while she was a human and she still had trouble believing in all of it now, even though it was right there before her very eyes.

“It’s OK. Don’t be afraid,” said Gabriel with a deep warmth in his voice, one that would humble any radio personality down on earth.

Lillian cautiously hovered towards the light and soon became one with Gabriel’s aura. The energy gave her the feeling of a giant, warm hug from her grandfather, but multiplied by one-hundred or maybe one-thousand.

Without experiencing any physical sensation of traveling, Lillian found herself on a different astral plane before she even knew she had gone anywhere. It was a giant, pure-white space with a tremendous energy that was extremely difficult to explain in words. The best way to describe it was in saying it felt like the world and all the energy within it. All the positive energy, that is. The rivers, the ocean, the trees, the butterflies, the bees, the artists, the mathematicians, the philosophers, the writers, the fools...the love...everything. It was Genesis, essentially. It was what the world WAS...before it soured from man’s misguided ways.

“What is it, Lillian?” asked an overwhelmingly deep voice that made Gabriel’s radio voice sound like the squeak of a mouse. The voice came from behind Lillian and was startling at first. She turned around to see the outline of a man slowly manifest itself. He was sitting at a rectangular desk with some paperwork and a lamp. Could this have been how God was showing Himself to her?

“God?”

“Yes.”

Indeed, it was Him…The man Himself. God. Well, His more technical title was “Planetary Supervisor (of earth)” who was under the command of the “Divine Father of the Local Universe” who was under the command of the “Divine Father of the Central Universe” who was under control of the “Divine Father of the entire universe” (an awesome intelligence also known as ‘Source’). Yes, what most humans failed to understand was that there wasn’t necessarily just one ‘God’…there was a more complicated hierarchy of highly intelligent entities each possessing His own free will. Then again, it could, indeed, also be said that there was one ‘God’ because all the divine fathers/supervisors were essentially branches of the same Universal Source Energy. Yes, they were all comprised of the same energy but also possessed their own individual free will, which was basically the case for everything in the universe, even humans. Yeesh, it was all so complicated and Lillian still didn’t have a complete grasp on it all.

“My name is Lillian,” said the spirit with shy reverence. “I’m Jeffrey Gray’s guide.”

“I know who you are,” God replied with His awesome voice.

“Yes...right. Of course.”

“How is Jeffrey?”

“Um...well, not so good, I’m afraid.”

“What’s the problem?”

“Well, I think it’s getting a little too difficult for him.”

“What is?”

“His life.”

“Life isn’t supposed to be easy.”

“Well, I think he needs a little...maybe just a tad...of...I don’t know…”

She hesitated a moment before she finished her sentence.

“…success.”

Wow, she didn’t think it would be such a big deal, but she felt as though she’d just voiced some kind of a dirty word, like the ‘N-word’ at a NAACP meeting, or the ‘K-Word’ in the middle of a Jewish Temple. Heck, she probably would’ve been more comfortable dropping a cuss, like ‘damn’ or ‘crud’.

“Absolutely not,” said God.

“Why?”

“Success is the artist’s greatest enemy.”

“But I had my first novel published when I was twenty.”

“That’s because it was a piece of garbage.”

Indeed, it was probably true. Well, heck, if God said it, then it MUST have been the truth. See, Lillian was an extremely successful writer during her time on earth. She wrote an entire series of titillating novels with all sorts of spicy romances and betrayals and back-stabbings and murders and affairs. They were all Bestsellers for the most part and a lot of critics even went so far as to call them ‘art’ (hence the Pulitzer prize). But there was always a voice inside her head that said she could do better. She should have listened to the voice. Yes, she should have listened.

It wasn’t until her death and subsequent “life review” that she was faced with the truth of her human existence: basically, that she was a literary hack who did nothing but distract people from more important things in life. Sure, she had the money, the nice house, nice car, exciting vacations and good-looking kids. She schmoozed and rubbed elbows with all the celebrities of her time. She even got to meet the President at a dinner. And shook hands with the Pope and Dalai Lama. But, after she died, she realized that all those things were absolutely meaningless. They didn’t matter...like, at all.

So, now, she was assigned to help Jeffrey with his own writing endeavors, partly because he needed the help, but also because she needed to help him in order to help herself. Because in assisting Jeffrey she would get her wings, and then she would progress on a spiritual level. It was all a Karmic way of repaying the world for all the garbage she put into it while she was down there.

Of course, Lillian was well-aware that Jeffrey’s life had to be significantly tougher than her life was in order for the spiritual progression to take place. But she, still, thought it may have been too much for one man to handle.

“You don’t know how he feels down there,” she tried to explain to God. “He’s going crazy.”

“Life is tough. End of story.”

“But I think his contract is too difficult. It’s too ambitious. He’s over-extended himself.”

“Help him fulfill it. He can do it.”

“I’ve tried and tried. And tried. But it doesn’t work anymore.”

“Do what you must to assist him on his path, but if you give him even a taste of success, you will not get your wings.”

Immediately - with that threat voiced - the wings fantasy returned to Lillian. This time, however, the vision of her flying over New York City was accompanied by her favorite song from earth. It was a song she had heard at Sunday Mass. Incidentally, it was also the song they played at her funeral. “And He will raise you up, on eagle’s wings. Bear you on the breath of dawn!!!!”

Needless to say, the thought of never getting wings put a muzzle on Lillian. She became reluctantly complacent.

“Yes, God. I understand. No success.”

She took a few steps backwards, unaware that Gabriel was still lurking immediately behind her. The Archangel weaved his energy in and out of Lillian's energy and transported her back to the lower levels.



 


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