Getting a holiday story just under the wire– January 6th is Old Christmas, the Twelfth Night.
I have a whole pile of ideas for scary Christmas stories that hit me 2 nights ago, just a little too late. I’ll ignore seasonal norms and post them as I feel the need. Right now, have some satire.
The light was the wrong color– a flickering yellowish-orange– and it came from the wrong direction– not from a window but an interior door. The door to the furnace room, in fact, just off from the makeshift bedroom my wife and I were in. Home for the holidays, we were staying with her parents. The room was in the basement, but thanks to a kind of well leading up to ground level, the single window provided decent sunlight during the day.
I sat up with a start. It was deepest night and the light was nothing like the steady, calm radiance of sunlight but the living, nervous glow of flame. I started to scream, trying to wake my wife, but a deep voice silenced me. Hush is what it actually said. The voice was resonant and distant– musical. The sort of voice that should have intoned “Be not afraid.”
You’re asleep. She can’t hear you. A pregnant pause as I shifted in my bed and wondered what to do.
Don’t freak out, okay?
I nodded, wanting the keep the tongues of fire in the furnace room happy. I also looked around for something heavy to throw at the voice, just in case. Probably a book. Joe Hill’s The Fireman was beside my bed, seemed an appropriate choice and must have weighed 5 pounds besides.
No, don’t do that. The voice sounded kind of worried, so I picked the book up, held it like a talisman in front of my chest, and started walking towards the voice. “Who are you?” I asked, squinting through the doorway towards the flames. They weren’t spreading at least. No smoke, no heat, unnatural but better than the alternative. Fear crawled on my skin, dancing its cold dance as I waited for an answer.
God. the voice began, then coughed slightly. Well, a God. One of the Yahwehs. Look, it’s a little complicated. Would you mind–
Driven by a sudden impulse I leapt forward to the doorway, so I could see the furnace room in all it’s cluttered glory. The boxes and abandoned air conditioners were lit from above; the light was tall, it came from on high.
–keeping your distance? The voice finished with a disgusted sigh. But it was too late.
Moses got a burning bush. I got a flaming cross, its light so pure, perfect and disgusting that I had to avert my eyes. What the hell kind of God was this?
Maybe He heard my thought, or maybe He just knew what I must be thinking. The flames seemed to shuffle slightly, like nervous feet, as He answered me. The God of Racist Christians. After a moment he added And anti-Semitic ones, sounding none too proud, the American kind, with a small amount of European crossover. It… surpasses your understanding, okay?
I was bewildered. I was a good Liberal Christian; said my non-denominational prayers at night. I felt guilty for every racist thought that wandered through my skull. There were an inexplicable number of them, truth be told, but a part of me felt better for catching them. We don’t act on thoughts we know are wrong. Usually. I hope. “Is this… is this because of that time in high school? When I accidentally told Anthony to go to the back of the bus? Because I meant that literally, I really wasn’t trying to say–”
“But I really hurt his feelings and I didn’t know what to say. I should have said something. This is terrible.”
Look, shut up a minute. I’m not here because you’re one of my… flock. I hadn’t known that flames could shrug awkwardly, but they did. I’m here because I… I need to talk to someone… someone who isn’t horrible, all right?
Somehow His candor broke me out of the weird guilt spiral I’d started down, got me thinking, asking questions. “Wait. One of the Yahwehs?”
Um. Yeah. Not the original one, the unpronounceable, ineffable One. Just… one of the others. His rolling resonant voice sounded sheepish now. Sorry.
I waited, or maybe I was just too stunned to reply. He seemed to interpret my silence as waiting, though, and He seemed eager to explain itself. How it wasn’t really His fault. What you call God, the God of Abraham and Jeshua, he… likes to delegate. He put the Demiurge in charge of creation, Metatron in charge of Heaven. People can’t imagine He Who Is as he is, so they end up worshiping aspects. A lot of the things Christians claim as dogma have nothing to do with Christianity– Prosperity Gospel, divinity of saints, slavery, that kind of thing. So when the theoretically devout are also incredibly–
“Deplorable?” I offered. Somehow, even without eyes I could feel Him glaring His annoyance at me..
I was going to say ‘Incompatible’ but have it your way, funny guy. He’d come to me, I realized, but Gods of all varieties are unused to being interrupted. When that happens, there’s a big pile of prayers coming in that he really doesn’t want to listen to. He’ll delegate the duty to angels or saints for a while, but if the problem sticks around for a couple centuries then he figures enough is enough and makes one of us.
Well, that’s why it doesn’t get a lot of advertisement, y’know? You people get intense about religious stuff.
Hearing the phrase “you people” flow off of the fiery tongue of The God of Racists did me no good, but I saw his point. Any time someone gets a new idea about religion, any time that idea gets some traction, people end up dying.
“It kinda calls a lot into question, though.”
Hey, I just confirmed the existence of God for you. Show a little gratitude.
“Actually, I like having faith. To have faith I can’t– you realize I’m writing this off as a dream, don’t you?”
The flames shrunk a bit, a dark sullen red. They gave no heat and I hugged myself as I shivered.
“Look, what do you want?” I heard myself demand. I’d never imagined myself telling a divinity to get to the point, but now that I was here I felt like I was being a model of restraint. The guy was grating, immature. He sighed; if he’d had feet he would have shuffled them.
I don’t know, man. I just want somebody to know I’m– I’m not the worst. I don’t agree with a lot of what’s said in My name. I don’t think people should be shot by cops because of the color of their skin. I don’t think we can turn our backs on Syrian refugees, and I don’t think America is just for white men! I’m– I’m just sick of the company I keep!
Racist Christians suck! There! I’ve said! They suck camel balls!
I got the feeling He was grinning behind his flames, like this was transgressive as hell for Him. He also seemed excited, like a teenager wondering if he’d get in trouble for spraypainting graffiti in the church bathroom.
I stared, waiting for what came next. That felt good. I heard him murmur, sounding self satisfied.
“Okay,” I asked, uncrossing my arms, “Good. So what are you going to do next?”
A fire can have body language, it seems, as sure any court witness or orator. He had been about to thank me, I think, was surprised by my question.
That’s how it’s done, isn’t it? He murmured in what seemed a less-than-divine whine. Confession, no questions asked.
“Pretty sure confession’s for humans, not for God– aspects of– for You. I’m not Catholic, but I think penance comes before absolution.”
I am Divine. I’m not really interested in the formalities.
“Then why come to me at all?” I could feel my jaw tightening, jutting out, my beard quivering. I didn’t fight it.
The Cross turned its back to me. I’ve said my piece, it intoned, solemn as a sullen teenager. I’ll be leaving now. You may expect your reward in three days ti–
“No,” I said, without trying to be brave, without really thinking about what I was saying. “You can’t buy me off that easily.” A thought struck me from nowhere, a thought as to His purpose here. “I’m not the only person you’re meant to visit tonight, am I?”
My followers are unpleasant, the voice growled. I listen, why should I speak? They already make me feel unclean.
“And if you want forgiveness, why turn to me? I’ve never been a victim of racism.”
You have endured much.
It was my turn to be surprised. “What?”
Ganged up on in seventh grade, a group of three boys beat you on the playground, calling it a wrestling match. When you were 15 you had filth thrown on you from a bridge by strangers. Your car was vandalized twice, once by eggs at your home, once while it sat it the high school parking lot. Your letter jacket was stolen. You were laughed at, assaulted, had a can thrown into your ass so hard that you walked with a limp for 3 days. You know what it is like to be rejected, reviled for how you look, who you are.
I felt my fists balling up as He made His list. “I notice a lot the moments you mention,” I said carefully, “involved black kids. Or I assumed they did at the time.”
“I’m a nerd.” I didn’t wait for His reply. “It got me beat up, but that doesn’t signify. That shit’s ancient history, high school crap. Maybe– MAYBE– it taught me a little bit about what people who genuinely suffer have to go through. But it never hurt my career, never made me feel like where I came from wasn’t good enough, only helped me in school.”
He paused, unsure. But you have learned pride in yourself, your heritage.
“What, you mean I’m descended from a long line of dorks and dweebs, from Gary Gygax to Bill Gates? Dumb stuff happens to everybody. Everybody gets judged because of things beyond their control. But scared cops don’t shoot nerds. Hell, it kind of sucks that no one thinks we’re dangerous, but–”
But you are dangerous. He spoke with a kind of smug authority on this, and I didn’t have a reply. “It’s not about me,” I said finally, trying to inject authority into my own voice. For once, He stayed quiet. I hoped He was listening.
“If you want to do something, then speak to your followers. Don’t tell them they repulse you– no one listens to that. Tell them they’re wrong, they’re making the world worse, that White Nationalism is not Your will. If you want absolution, there are millions of people you’ve wronged by letting things stand. You want forgiveness? I’m just a Southern white boy. Talk to the others. Talk to the mothers who lost their children, to the congregations whose churches and synagogues were burned, to Dylan Roof’s victims. I haven’t lost anything.”
I felt Him staring at me, His flame burning low, retreating further into the furnace room. He left silently, either seething or sad, I couldn’t tell.
I don’t know what that God did that night, if he made his three visits on Christmas Eve, if he woke up changed, with a heat three sizes larger. I don’t know if I couldn’t reach him, or if I didn’t try. Change is hard– commitment, forgiveness, sacrifice. If He’d really changed His followers’ hearts maybe there would be no need for Him. Or maybe that was His true and only duty and He was afraid of it. When you say you’re sorry, you admit something is your fault. Gods aren’t in the habit of having faults.
All I know is He left my bedroom and my furnace room dark when he left. I prefer the darkness, really. Darkness doesn’t make deals; it’s quiet and honest and knows its own mind. I don’t have to see myself or others in the darkness. Darkness lets me sleep.