Monday, April 6, 2020

As We Know It - Chapter 39

Chapter 39

Sarah felt the world lurch beneath her feet. The rock that was Hamish, and her and Hamish, and her with Hamish swung away. She felt no friction as the pendulum connecting the earth to the nauseated place behind her tummy button weaved to the side and left her at once weightless and lead heavy.

She felt sick and dizzy, her vision flew back up into her head and tears flopped lazily down onto her cheeks without even bothering to cause her eyes to ache.

“Sarah!” said Hamish and Jesus, both panicked.

“Sarah,” said Jesus again, alone this time and firmer. He took hold of her wrists, “Sarah, are you alright?”

Sarah said nothing. Hamish looked around; a few groups of villagers were ascending on the square from different directions. They stood shiftily in clumps, not knowing where to look but feeling too awkward to leave either. They looked as queasy as he felt.

“What is that feeling?” said Mrs Shoe weakly. “I feel as if I’m made of steam.”

“How specific.” said Mrs White, with only a cursory attempt at sniping.

“That,” came a voice they all recognised at once, “really is the end of the world.”

Jesus dismissed The Devil’s suggestion and shook his head. “It’s the peace, it’s been shaken. Sarah, I need you to tell me that you’re ok?”

“Of course she’s not ok.” chirped the relentless Devil, “It’s over.”

“The world is not over! It’s the peace.” snapped Jesus.

“I didn’t say anything about the world…”

Hamish caught on all too slow. “It’s not over. Not between me and Sarah, if that’s what you’re saying.” He was defiant in the face of The Devil.

“That’s not what you just said…” was the Devil’s placid reply. Her face contorted and when she opened her mouth to speak again, it was a beautiful mimic of Hamish’s pained admissions from moments earlier.

“Oh, well it’s over, isn’t it? It’s never going to work anymore, you can’t make it work when there’s something this big between you. I loved her so much…”

“But,” Hamish argued through a blur of confusion, and disbelief that that was what his voice sounded like in real life, “I don’t want it to be over. That’s never what I wanted - I just thought, well, when we were talking, I just thought it would have to be over.”

“And what’s changed now she’s turned up looking sad?” The Devil, credit to her, was belligerent and unsentimental now the scent of victory teased her nostrils. “She’s still what you lovingly refer to as a brain washed, indoctrinated Christian and you’re still on the other side of the bank with me and Martin Young waving at God saying thanks but no thanks.”

“Why are they in a bank?” asked Mrs White.
“Of a river…” whispered Mr Baxter.
“Oh, right. Thanks.”

“Hang on a minute! Why am I getting dragged into this?” shouted Martin Young from the crowd.

“Don’t tell me you’ve changed your mind as well?” said the Devil in a mock exasperated tone, “You were passionately eloquent in the pub about how you thought it was all a load of rubbish and you didn’t want your life to be about worshipping a sanctimonious, self involved God.”

“Those were certainly not my exact words.” Martin Young grumbled.

“No, but you definitely weren’t first in the queue for communion were you? Why do you lot all back out of your convictions once it comes to the crunch. You don’t want to worship God but as soon as you’re given a different alternative you’re terrified to come join the team you said you wanted.”

“But, I never said I wanted to worship the Devil, either.” Martin Young bleated.

“I’m not asking you to worship me. I’ve no desire to be worshipped. You keep all your worshipping time to yourself to watch Sky or play with someone’s fleshy bits. All I want is your soul to put on my tally. It’s an ego thing.”

“My soul…? What does that entail?” Martin Young asked.
“Don’t do it, Martin!” shrieked Iris Shoe, “It’s a trick! She’s tricky that Devil!”

“I can’t believe the Devil is a woman.” said Beryl, shaking her head sadly. “This is going to get talked about.”
“Possibly more than the rest of the book.” agreed Nigel.

The Devil sighed, remembering why she tried to keep away from live individuals as much as possible; humans were a pain. The invention of public transport had been a God-send, for want of a better phrase, for the Devil as she’d finally realised that humans hated each other as much as she hated them. It just took a little something extra to bring it out in public.

“Are we done here?” The Devil shouted into the sky. “Have I won now?”

“Won?” asked Jesus.

“Yes, have I won? The bet.”

“What bet?” asked Jesus.

“There was a bet?” said Martin Young, “I didn’t know anything about a bet. Why didn’t I know about a bet? I thought we were only deciding things in the meetings now.” He looked accusingly over at Beryl, who had been using her position of prominence at the shop to spread opinions rather boisterously round the village prior to votes.

“You don’t know about the bet?” The Devil cocked her head to one side and faced down Jesus.

“No. I know nothing about a bet.” Jesus replied coldly.

“How interesting!” mused the Devil, “We made a bet…”

“Who?” snapped Jesus, a momentary lapse of control over his emotions caused a raw, penny-licking flavour in the air; it was ferocious to watch his power over the atmosphere.

“I think you know who,” said the Devil, brushing off Jesus’ might with sheer disdain, “We made a bet that you couldn’t fix the Vice Versas within 40 days, for old times’ sake, and as they seem to have decided it’s never going to work due to religious incompatibility, I have to rule in favour of myself on the bet front.”

The Devil looked triumphant. Jesus looked confused. Sarah and Hamish were frozen; for the film version you may be playing in your head, imagine the Matrix slow motion scene concept transposed to a Richard Curtis final scene. The villagers were terrified.

“What do you win?” asked Frank, grimly.

“What do I win?” The Devil enjoyed holding court, “It’s what I get to lose that’s the real prize. It’s what I finally get to shed after centuries of tedium. You.”

“Us?” whined Martin Young, “What did we do?”

“Seems a little harsh.” said Nigel, “I hardly think we’re the worst.”

“I don’t even go to church,” said Martin Young, “I don’t see why I should get punished for being un religious, by the Devil of all people.”

“Where are we going?” asked Mrs White, “Because I tell you now, if hell is hard labour, I’m going to need those hips before we hit the road.”

“River.” said Arthur Arthur.

“What?” said Mrs White.

“It’d be a river. Not a road. The Styx.”

“Right. Well, either way, I’m going to need those hips.”

“I couldn’t care less who’s religious and who’s not. It’s juvenile to believe I would have any interest in collecting a fan club of people who were simply unimpressed with a divine creator. At first, I’ll admit I viewed the non followers with slightly more respect than the others; you had some pride in looking at the concrete in your lives. But then even atheism became a religion to some; believing a lack of deity makes your pious condemnation of others superior is a folly reserved for the supremely enlightened ignoramus. You’re all a waste of time. I’ve never wanted control of you, I have just wanted you gone. And now, I believe, I shall get my wish. It is all over.”

“It can’t just be over, can it?” Karen Young forlornly asked Jesus.

“Well…” Jesus started, unsure what to say. “No, of course it’s not over, we’ll fix it.”

“What’s there to discuss?” The Devil butted in, “Sarah and Hamish are over. Irreconcilable. He has come to his senses concerning his ex-girlfriend’s adherence to an ancient way of life that precludes change and human warmth above the Almighty.” The Devil did a mock bow and continued to enjoy herself. “My man Hamish here has tried and failed to join the ranks of those willing to sacrifice sons and races to the one God. He tried. He failed. They have to end. So do you.”

“I’ll go to church!” Said Hamish, panicked. “I’ll become a Christian.”

The Devil laughed. “You’d be going through the motions. You two have to be the same. You have to be reconciled. You have to believe like Sarah does for that.”

“I will. I’ll learn to.” he was earnest.

“You can’t. Can you? Can you love God? Can you honestly say you’ll see God in everything from this day forward? Can you promise to look at your first born and love God for it, before you love it?”

Hamish couldn’t respond. Not honestly. There was nothing left in him. The weight of the world was slipping off his shoulders and into his stomach as the eyes of his village compounded the guilt he felt.

He searched his brain for a way to believe in it all. There was nothing except the logical conclusion that he couldn’t. He moved the search process lower to his heart… there had to be something there in one of the valves or chambers. How did other people find it? He tried to feel his heart beating and use the rhythm to turn his fluttering thoughts on their head. Come on Hamish, he thought, you can do this. One eye flicked open and the sight of the villagers stood staring at him poured icy water into this veins. He was going to let them down he knew it. He tried to focus again.

Some people thought with their gut, he panicked, maybe his guts would save him. He slid his focus down further and into his roiling digestive system. Be logical, he reminded himself. What do you know? You know God is real and all powerful and that humans are here on earth in order to be human. You know that God allows suffering but that that’s ok question mark because the whole point of humans is humans sometimes suffer question mark? Nope. Ok, that route was never going to bring him out of the other side of this believing in it all. So… he tried to grab on to the other theories and options that had been bubbling in his analysis but every time he tried to follow one it disappeared and he was left feeling the sun on his very real skin and his wobbling knees on the Staplegrovian pavement.

He opened both eyes and looked at the growing crowd.

“You can’t do it can you?” Said the Devil.

Hamish shook his head.

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