God's Shoehorn (Chapter IV)
‘The worst thing about prison cells…’ mused Paul dryly from the top bunk of his institutionally grey room, ‘…is the company.’ There was a creak from below. The sound of very fine leather soles touching plain concrete tickled Paul’s hearing.
‘Don’t try to be clever’ said God flatly as he stood up from the bottom bunk. Paul hid his smile. He knew how much taking the bottom bunk would have irked his holiness, all in the effort of fooling Paul into a false sense of security.
'Wouldn't dream of it' said Paul and turned his head to view his cellmate. God did not look at home in a prison cell. He never had been very good at fitting in - it was probably an only child thing. 'Is that a camel hair polo necked sweater?' Paul asked in a slightly bemused voice. God glanced down.
'Hmm? Oh... yeah... it's a penance thing' he shrugged, 'Got to lead by example and all that.'
'Why do you need to do penance?' asked Paul and he saw a momentary flicker of guilt on God's face. Paul didn't press the issue. God could be touchy when he thought his white as white reputation might be at risk. It had been quite a PR coup to persuade everyone he was loving and merciful after all the fire and brimstone of his early career.
'You know why you're here?' God asked. Paul sat up and shrugged. Of course he bloody knew.
'You can't take the job' said God flatly, 'It doesn't look good.'
'You made my life miserable' replied Paul, he stopped himself grinding his teeth with an effort of will. 'All that time when I was at seminary school when you'd tell me the real answers to things... do you know how frustrating it is to take part in a theological debate knowing the truth but not being able to voice it for fear of being laughed at or being declared a heretic?!'
'Omniscient' said God pointing at himself without expression.
'Why did you do it?' Paul demanded, 'Why spend all that time bugging me, complaining about things and telling me truths that quite frankly I could have done without knowing?' God remained silent for a minute as his former shepherd of men took deep calming breaths.
'You know how Psychiatrists are required to see one of their own proffession regularly to keep themselves stable?' Paul nodded, 'Something like that' said God.
'Oh come on!' scoffed Paul hopping down onto the concrete floor of the little cell. God's current incarnation loomed a good foot taller than him. 'You're saying that you need talk therapy?'
'You try listening to millions upon millions of prayers every day!' snapped God, 'It wouldn't be so bad but I went ahead with the free will idea before it'd been tested out properly in the Eden Labs.' Paul paused and looked at the distressed deity with consideration. He was coming to a realisation that had never occured to him before.
'You can't answer them can you?' he gasped and God winced. It had to be hard for an omnipotent being to be reminded he couldn't do something.
'It defeats the point of free will if I go and solve everyone's problems for them' he sighed and pulled an white tube from his pocket. The electric light in the end glowed dimly as the creator took a drag of nicotine water-vapor. He offered it to Paul after a moment. 'It's menthol' Paul shook his head in surprise.
'So you're ignoring people's prayers for their own good?' he said slowly. God gave him a flat look and leaned against the cell wall.
'I'm not going to rise to that' he drawled and took an electronic drag. 'I don't ignore... I just don't answer most of the time. The whole point of giving mankind free will was that they make the best of themselves through learning. Life is a lesson. Perhaps I should have built in a greater sense of spiritual intelligence... but then what worth is a lesson easily learned?'
‘So you have to listen to everyone’s woes and it gets you down?’ Paul chuckled. The thought actually cheered him up a little. God’s incessant whining over the past years suddenly didn’t seem so bad. Paul thought of all the bible-belters and quakers and whatknot confessing their sins and pleading for job promotions and material nonsense. He grinned. That must be quite wearing even for an omnipotent being!
‘I’m taking the job’ Paul said into the silence. God glared at him hopelessly. ‘It’s not to get back at you’ he continued honestly, ‘Well, maybe a little… but mainly because… well… I actually think Lucifer’s right. I am the only person who can do the job. I’m the only one without bias.’
‘Without bias?… Really?’ Paul had the good grace to blush.
‘Well… ok, maybe not completely without… but to hell with it, if you’ll excuse the pun. I’ve seen heaven! I’ve glimpsed purgatory… I want the whole set! It’ll be fun!’
‘You think hell is going to be fun?’ chuckled God, ‘I’m not sure you’ve fully understood the concept of hell, Paul.’
‘Look’ the ex-priest went on excitedly, ‘Think of it as my way of gaining perspective again! I need to see how the other half live so that when I come back to the fold, I can do it with… I don’t know… renewed faith?’
‘An interesting way of putting it’ murmured God thoughtfully. He looked Paul in the eye. ‘You do know this is the end times, right?’ he said and Paul shrugged.
‘I have a feeling things’ll work out for the best whatever happens’ he said and smiled jovially, ‘Call it faith.’
‘Hah!’ God chuckled and patted Paul on the shoulder. ‘He’s outside the door now’ he said.’
‘Yeah’ God nodded. Paul glanced at the door nervously. ‘You still not talking?’
‘He led an army of my own angels against me, Paul’ came God’s voice with quiet, controlled anger of the ancient kind.
‘Fair play’ said Paul. Quite suddenly he was alone in the cell. He glanced about him and lit a roly. He felt strangely better. Despite enjoying his freedom recently he had not enjoyed being so completely at loggerheads with God. It wasn’t really surprising but it turned out that being at odds with one’s maker could be a little uncomfortable at times. Paul coughed on stale tobacco smoke and put out the roly after only two drags. He really needed to quit.
Three polite knocks resounded off the cell’s steel door. Paul took a breath and nodded to himself. He was making the right decision – he was sure of it. The sound of the heavy locking mechanism clanking open echoed off the concrete walls. The door swung inwards.
Mrs Parsonage looked up from her contemplation of the bubbling cauldron’s contents with a smile of expectation. A loud buzzing filled her back garden ominously as a huge swarm of bees descended on a spot of ground on the opposite side of the fire from the old witch. Strange energies crackled in the air as the swarm flowed in on itself until it resolved into the form of a pretty blonde thirty-something woman in business dress. She graced her hostess with a broad smile and blew a kiss over the fire.
‘Hey teach’ she said in greeting and Mrs Parsonage smiled and nodded gravely.
‘Miss Heatherton’ she said following the forms of ancient tradition, ‘Welcome to my fireside. You remain second of The Three.’
There were always three. No more and no less. Mrs Parsonage had often wondered why, but never strongly enough to properly research it. She was not an academic at heart, Mrs Parsonage. Three, went the song, is a magic number, and that was good enough for her. A sudden whoosh of air followed by a rather unseemly whoop of excitement and a dirty skid of leather boots on dry lawn announced the final arrival.
‘Wotcha!’ said Mrs Parsonage’s second and final ever pupil in things occult.
‘Miss Kale’ intoned Mrs Parsonage sternly fighting the urge to smile at Isabelle Kale’s state of dress. She had apparently flown the whole way from Cheltenham in just her dressing gown and a pair of heavy duty hiking boots.
‘Well she said it was urgent, Layla’ said Isabelle at the look she got from Mrs Parsonage’s other past pupil.
‘Welcom to my fireside. You are Third of Three’ said Mrs Parsonage determinedly sticking to the traditional greeting.
‘Oh’ said Isabelle, ‘Um… thanks?’ Layla rolled her eyes and sniffed. ‘What’s up teach?’ asked Isabelle ignoring Layla. She wafted pungent fumes away and eyed the cauldron suspiciously. ‘This is all a bit official isn’t it?’ she pressed.
‘The end of days is upon us’ said Mrs Parsonage with a calmness she did not feel.
‘Which days?’ asked Isabelle with a confused frown. Layla was staring at her old teacher in horror, cheeks pale.
‘The end of days’ repeated Mrs Parsonage, ‘The apocalypse? Four horsemen and all that?’
‘Bugger off!’ laughed Isabelle. Her smile slipped off her face as Mrs Parsonage’s stony face told her just how funny she thought the situation was.
‘I’ve not even graduated yet!’ whined Isabelle piteously as the import of these tidings hit her properly.
‘What about my wedding?’ whispered Layla.
‘Right!’ agreed Mrs Parsonage, ‘And I only just had the curtains done!’ She was glad they were all of like mind in their responses to this poorly timed Armageddon. She let her sister witches simmer their initial fear until the anger began to bubble through from beneath. ‘We…’ she said dramatically, ‘Are going to stop it from happening.’
‘What?!’ shrieked Layla at the same time as Isabelle’s exclamation of ‘Bollocks!!’
‘Do you want your perfect day?’ Mrs Parsonage directed at Layla.
‘Well… of course…’ stuttered the young business woman.
‘Do you want your degree?’ Mrs Parsonage looked to Isabelle.
‘And the rest!’ agreed Isabelle fervently.
‘Then we need to get ourselves to Israel, ladies because it’s all about to go to hell in a handcart and if we want to stop it… its going to take some fast-talking and quick thinking!’ Mrs Parsonage was gratified to see their heads going up and down as she spoke.
‘How could we possibly…’ started Layla in a moment of self doubt but withered under the intensity of her old teacher’s stare.
‘Anything is possible for three such as we’ insisted the old witch, ‘I’m not done with this world’ she continued, ‘And I’m buggered if I’ll let it be done with me. Not this witch!’ The two younger members of the coven looked to Mrs Parsonage silently for a moment until finally Layla once more summoned the courage to speak.
‘Why are you holding that thermos flask over your head?’ she asked. Mrs Parsonage felt her sails deflate a little.
‘Oh!’ she looked at the offending item which was raised in her until-recently gesticulating hand in a rather odd dramatic pose. She lowered her hands and sighed, nodding at the cauldron. ‘I made stew for the journey’ she said.
‘Yum!’ crowed Isabelle happily, ‘I’m starving!!’ Layla rolled her eyes. She did that a lot around Isabelle – most people did. Mrs Parsonage thought it might be all that unadulterated enthusiasm. It could be wearing.
- God's Shoehorn (Chapter V)
In this chapter, Paul is shown around his new place of work (Hell) by Lucifer. He finds it doesn't match up to preconceptions...
Previous hubs in this series
- God's Shoehorn (Chapter III)
In this continuation of God's Shoehorn, Paul has an altercation at the supermarket, and Mrs Parsonage meets an old friend who is acting a wee bit suspiciously.
- God's Shoehorn (Chapter II)
In this second chapter of God's Shoehorn, Paul has a surprise meeting with the devil in a coffee shop, and Mrs Parsonage goes looking for artifacts of occult significance under Lindesfarne Abbey.
- God's Shoehorn
In this hub inspired by my 'activities to inspire your creative writing hub' (pats self on back in egotistical self-aggrandizement) - Father Paul falls out with God and Mrs Parsonage communes with dark forces. Read on to find out how these things tra