One of the attractions of starting this blog is the opportunity to give stuff away. For several years now I’ve been working on a collection of short stories, in various states of completion, with God as a main character, sometimes as the protagonist, sometimes not, with the working title godstories. I’ve never much attempted to market them. God, according to my sources, generally approves of giving stuff away. This one, “Waiting For a Train,” serves as an introduction to the tales:
Waiting for a Train
God stands on a cracked concrete platform waiting for a train. A hundred yards behind him on the highway, cars whiz by in a great hurry in both directions. It’s August. Everybody’s on holiday. Except God.
Nothing moves on the rusty rails except the train, still several kilometers away, and a few kilometers beyond that, a cat who enjoys the smooth steel beneath his paws. God notes the railsâ€™ parallel linesâ€”the idea of them anywayâ€”converging in infinity, an image of eternity. Somewhere between here and eternity that same cat gets smacked by a train.
That’s the trouble with being God. The universe is lousy with images of eternity, littered with dead cats. He can’t let it bother him, though. Infinity is his stomping ground. The unknowable is a piece of cake. The unthinkable?â€”just something heâ€™s already thunk. He’s God.
The train’s late. Not late as far as God’s concerned, of course. Omniscience pretty well shitcans any notion of early and late, but waiting is an essential human experience, and God collects the experiences of the universe like some people collect stamps or mannequins or toys popular when they imagine they were happier than they are now. The only difference is people tend to collect particular things, while God goes for just about anything.
That doesn’t mean he isn’t swayed by local color. Humans are consummate waiters, anticipators, hopers and prayers. A Freemolian, for example, wouldnâ€™t begin to understand the human predilection for waiting. Freemolians, in fact, never begin anything, denying, as they do, the existence of time. But God denies nothing, and if you’re going to spend any time at all with humansâ€”the ones who came up with the notion of Judgment Day, no lessâ€”you should spend some time waiting. Itâ€™s the regional dish. So thatâ€™s what he’s doing. They’re all good. Each moment, part of the Divine Plan, the moments waiting every bit as much as the moment waited for. In this case, his appearance to a fellow riding on the train, name of Danvers.
He likes appearances, does God. He can’t see what good, what interest there is in being God without them. Where’s the fun? Might as well be a Prime Mover or a Tao if you’re never going to incarnate, manifest, metamorphose, appear, get around, shake things up. What else is there? Transubstantiation? His end is a bit thin. Humans like him timelessâ€”I am that I amâ€”and that’s all that I am? Who is he, Popeye? God smiles, and the light turns golden. It almost fitsâ€”stronger than anything, always mumbling semi-coherently, with a gut full of spinach. But with no Olive, no mate, no intimate companion to adore. No Sweet Pea to look after. Whose kid is he, anyway? Even God doesn’t know.
He takes another glance down the tracks toward eternity, his smile fades to nothingness, and thunder rumbles in the mountains. Sometimes he regrets monotheism with a poignancy unmatched in the universe. This is one of those times. All times are as one time to him. You have to just let it happen, if you’re God. You just have to hang.
Waiting and longing, he finds, go together like shrimp and cocktail sauce. He slaps his belly with satisfaction. Waiting for a train is everything he always knew it would be. He hums a little Johnny Cash. God sounds a little like Johnny Cash.
The Spanish train he waits for runs on a pokey little narrow gauge line called the FEVE, that occupies, like all things, a special place in Godâ€™s heart. When the two-car train rounds the bend, ending Godâ€™s wait, he’s delighted to get onboard, eager to make his appearance. There’s nothing halfway about Godâ€”he throws himself into everything. The train PA is cranked loud. Frank Sinatra singing, â€œStrangers in the Night.â€� The train pulls away from the station, moving a little slower with the weight of God onboard, his head brushing the ceiling, his breadth filling the aisle.
The conductor doesn’t emerge from the front cab to collect Godâ€™s fare, but continues his conversation with the engineer. Neither knows God’s here. God isn’t appearing to the conductorâ€”who only hopes to make it home in time to watch The Simpsons, telling the engineer that according to the morning edition of El Pais, the Simpsons are the most famous family in the world. The engineer objects that surely Mary and Joseph are more famous, and the conductor speculates that the paper mustâ€™ve meant living famous, or imaginary famous. He only read the headline.
God leaves them to their theological discussion. He’s appearing to Danversâ€”who isn’t feeling particularly hopeful about anything at the moment. He sits alone on the train, writing, in a little notebook, a numbered list of items he has optimistically headed Story Ideas. There are twice as many numbers as ideas. From years of practice, however, writing on all manner of conveyances, numbers and ideas are neat and legible in spite of the jostling of the train. All the ideas stink.
Danvers is a science fiction writer, between books. God has a special place in his heart for writers between books. Even science fiction writers. God is something of an sf fan, though he doesn’t much like going to the conventions. Too many elevators. He loathes elevators, always too small. And all that ice cream. He never knows when to stop. When he does take in a con, he disguises himself as the only guy to show up for some first novelistâ€™s Sunday morning reading. He laughs or cries or looks like he’s eagerly tracking the science, as seems appropriate. He’s God, after all. He can do all three at once if necessary. Then he always buys two copies of the bookâ€”one as a gift, he says, for his son or daughter. If he really likes it, and knows, as only God can know, that it would make a great movie, he sends the second copy to Spielberg, who never has the sense to make a single one of them into a movie. Sometimes he regrets the freewill thing almost as much as the monotheism.
Angels were another bad idea. All that adoration, one deityâ€”not a pretty picture. He is endlessly patient with them, of course, what choice does he have? They’re more popular than he’ll ever beâ€”all those insufferable, sappy stories about them. No angels today though. Danvers would dive out the window if an angel came anywhere near him.
He and Danvers are the only two passengers on the train. God sidles down the aisle and settles his enormous bulk down next to the man and reads the Story Ideas list, shaking his head. “You could use some divine inspiration,” he says.
Danvers says, â€œYouâ€™re God, arenâ€™t you?â€� as if he’s terribly clever to have figured this out with God staring him right in the face.
â€œIâ€™m God, if you say I am,â€� God replies.
â€œYouâ€™ve used that line before,â€� Danvers jokes bravely, just to show God he isn’t the least bit intimidated by some omnipotent being he doesn’t, in fact, believe in for a moment.
â€œThatâ€™s precisely why Iâ€™m here,â€� God replies. â€œI could use some fresh material, some new stories. I want you to write about me. Iâ€™m tired of the same-old, same-old.â€�
Danvers bursts out laughing. â€œMe? Write about you? But Iâ€™m an atheist.â€�
â€œYes, but youâ€™re fond of me. You canâ€™t deny it.â€� God pokes him affectionately in the ribs.
â€œStop that. As an idea, as a concept, as a mythological being. But some weird fellow on a train? I donâ€™t know…â€�
â€œYou were praying just a few moments ago, and here I am, live and in person, and now you donâ€™t know?â€�
â€œI wouldnâ€™t call that praying, exactly.â€�
â€œCouldâ€™ve fooled me. Look. It doesnâ€™t matter if you believe in me or not. Did Homer believe in Athene? Does Groening, or whatever his name is, believe in Homer Simpson? Who cares? Who better to offer a fresh approach than a doubter? Donâ€™t get me wrong. I love the old stories, but everybody gets so damn pious about them they make me feel like a Baptist at a dance. Iâ€™ve had it up to here with piety. Show me one good use for piety and Iâ€™ll eat a comet and shit stars. But weâ€™re getting off the subject here. Will you do it? Will you write about me?â€�
The voice of God is no small thing. He doesn’t need any reverb to fill a hall. He makes Charlton Heston sound like a wimp. But Danvers never expected him to sound so… folksy.
â€œI tailor my speech to whoever Iâ€™m talking to,â€� says God, knowing Danversâ€™ thoughts before he even has them. â€œYouâ€™re a Texan. You like bluntness and tasteless metaphors. In fact, you feel much the same way about Texas as you do about meâ€”both too damn big and violent, couldnâ€™t wait to leave, but still, itâ€™s where youâ€™re from…â€�
â€œOkay, okay. I get the point. But I canâ€™t do this. Anything I wrote about you would be called sacrilege.â€�
â€œOf course. If itâ€™s about me, somebody always calls it sacrilege. Donâ€™t let it bother you any. Iâ€™ll decide if it is.â€�
â€œTo hear you tell it, you decide everything.â€�
â€œExactly. Now youâ€™re catching on. So what do you say? This is a personal request from the Lord God of Hosts, Maker and Ruler of the Universe. How can you go wrong?â€�
â€œHow can I say no?â€�
â€œThere you go. Right again.â€�
â€œBut what sort of stories do you have in mind? I donâ€™t do any generational saga stuff, war stories, nationalistic propaganda. I hate angel storiesâ€”except for romantic comedies from the forties, not exactly your style. And religious fanatics like Abraham and Paul and Mohammed give me the willies. They usually donâ€™t come off so well in my stories. I wouldnâ€™t want to disappoint you. A bad review from God would be the worst. Some pretentious asshole in Locus is one thing. But youâ€™re…â€�
â€œMore reasonable? More modest? A more attentive reader? Lighten up. Do whatever you want. You think I donâ€™t have any range? Any depth? You think I canâ€™t do comedy? Romance? Mystery? You think I should just stick with special effectsâ€”whirlwinds? brushfires? leviathans? All that crap?â€�
â€œItâ€™s not you. You can do anything. I just wouldnâ€™t know where to start.â€�
â€œThatâ€™s easy. Iâ€™d start with the one about the Berovian National Orchestra.â€�
â€œI donâ€™t know that one.â€�
â€œTrust me. Itâ€™ll come to you. You wonâ€™t disappoint me. Youâ€™re forgetting: I donâ€™t do disappointment. Iâ€™m not too good with suspense either, but I try. I have a good sense of timing.â€�
God stands as if to leave. They’re approaching the next station where a German tourist couple is waiting to board the train. God doesn’t want to appear to them. It would only disrupt their holiday, and heâ€™d get bogged down in a terribly convoluted theological debate. Neither does God want to not appear to them, to be invisible to them, making Danvers doubt the validity of his own vision. Donâ€™t you see himâ€”heâ€™s standing right thereâ€”heâ€™s God I tell you! Who would want to read stories about some old hippyâ€™s hallucinations? No, it’s time to go: Better to vanish without a trace than to fail to be verified by two reliable witnesses. For those of you whoâ€™ve never seen it before, the vanishing without a trace bit is pretty impressive.
Before he can vanish, Danvers grabs his robes. â€œWait. What about the pronouns thing? Should they be capitalized? My shift keyâ€”â€�
â€œDanvers. Relax. The least of mine and sparrows and all of thatâ€”I care about, deeply, beyond all bounds of reason. Capitalization rules, I could give, you got it?â€�
â€œKnock yourself out.â€�
â€œWill I see you again?â€�
â€œThat would be telling. This is more like foreshadowing.â€�
And then, as they say, he vanishes without a trace. It is indeed, very impressive. Danvers tries to sort out what has just happened: Train. God. Berovians. Vanish. Did this mean he’s under contract now? Has God talked to his agent? Will editors return Godâ€™s calls? Probably. His books continue to sell. Danvers fantasizes that if he does okay with this, someday his work might be found in motel rooms throughout the world.
A German couple gets on at the next station. Danvers asks them in Spanish if theyâ€™ve ever heard of the Berovian National Orchestra, and neither one has. He opens his little notebook and writes The Berovian National Orchestra at the bottom of his list. Divine inspiration. The word of God. He puts his little notebook away and dozes, the words jostling about in his breast pocket like a litter of puppies, all the way into Luarca.