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Fiction Issue - Anticapointment

Third Place

They kept God in a big drafty warehouse on the Southside. When Darian first drove up, he realized that it was the very same building that he wondered about every time he passed it on his ride in to work; most days he casually dismissed it. Future lofts, he thought. But now, he saw just how massive it was, with only a few small windows at the top and a tiny door at the bottom. A developer could never fill it—too much space. He parked and walked from his car to the gate, which started to open. Carmen came out of the door and walked toward him. She was wearing the same festive dress when they met at church. An older woman, maybe about sixty-five or so, she was small with a huge smile and something vaguely hippy about her.

"You made it," she said with a giddy laugh.

"Yeah," he said, "of course." And he meant it because how could he refuse her invitation?

"Are you a believer?" she asked last Sunday as they waited in line for donuts after the service.

"Well, I'm at church..."

"Yes—but do you believe?"

He considered her question. As a kid he believed—often more than his Sunday school teachers. Whenever he looked at a clock and it was 3:16, he immediately started reciting, "For God so loved the world...." The programming was that deep. But he was an adult and he drifted. He believed in Jesus the same way that he believed Superman was from the planet Krypton; it was a wonderful story, an inspiring metaphor, a prescription for living your life. But did he expect either of them to save him?

"I want to believe," he said, laughed to himself, and added, "like Mulder."

Carmen just looked at him. "Who?"

"Never mind," he said, once again realizing he was at that awkward fortysomething when his references only landed with a particular age group.

"I think you do," she said as she bit into a rainbow sprinkle. "I think you do want to believe."

"Why do you say that?"

"I have a telescope that I use to look into men's souls."

He laughed at that as he licked the glazed donut off his stubbly chin.

"I can show you God," she said, suddenly turning serious.

He stopped and looked at her, quizzically. Years ago—one lucky night—an Episcopalian girl told him that very same thing. He didn't think this was what Carmen meant.

"Come," she said again, handing him a card. "It's for reals."

She clutched his hand and smiled, then walked away. He looked at the card. It said, "Godspace" and there was an address. Ah, he thought—Christian art group.

"Monday, about five-thirty," was written on the back of the card and though he was usually underwhelmed by this sort of thing, he decided to go—it was on his way home from work and he had nothing else to do. I'm sure it's going to suck, he thought. Some chanting, some overwrought imagery, a not-so-subtle request for a donation.

"I want you to know there will be a moment of shock," Carmen told him as they stood outside the small door in the parking lot. "It is not unusual; everyone who ever did this experiences that moment. But you should be prepared."

"Okay."

"Have you eaten yet?"

"No."

"Good. I'll get Gabriel to warm up some ambrosia," she said as she put her key into the door and went in. Darian followed. They walked into a small hallway, at the end of which was another door. Standing next to it was a tall man, smiling. He was impossibly beautiful, beaming with light and a radiant half-smile. He looked up and his face lit up even more.

"A new friend?" the man asked.

"Gabriel, this is Darian. He's here for a viewing."

"Wonderful."

"Yes—could you get him a cup of something?"

Gabriel turned and magically produced a glass. It was filled with glistening liquid.

"Oh, yum!" said Carmen. "This is good."

Darian took the glass. Is this where he gets drugged? he wondered. He sipped. It was like white wine in a pool of honey. The hairs on the back of his neck raised with the sweetness and his ears twittered.

"Ready?" Carmen asked.

"Yeah," said Darian.

"Come on," she said smiling. Darian followed her and a rush of air hit him as he entered a dark, vast warehouse with rafters hanging high above and tiny windows letting in dusty rays of sunset. The room was empty except for a chair and a small table.

"Sit," said Carmen, and Darian plunked down on the comfy chair. "Wait."

She stood next to him, smiling. A moment passed. Nothing happened. Another moment. Still nothing. Darian sipped at the glass. The taste popped his eyes open but still nothing.

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"It might be a while," said Carmen, breaking the silence, but then a burst of white light filled the skylight, illuminating a shimmering pool on the dusty ground of the warehouse. A crack of thunder made Darian jump. His jaw dropped and his eyes widened. He stole a glance at Carmen who was looking at him with a beaming smile. Darian's gaze shot back to the puddle of light. In the distance a shape was approaching out of the shadows—something not human. Darian raised up in his chair—the shape grew closer. It had horns or antlers. And hooves. It walked into the light. It was a caribou—a caribou!—now bathed in the rays of light from the ceiling. The beast stopped for a moment and looked over at Darian—the animal's eyes pierced him and he was overcome with empathy and fear. Darian was transfixed and frightened and exhilarated. It was almost too much. And then the beast looked away and trotted off. As it left the rays of light ebbed and disappeared, leaving Darian and Carmen in the dimly lit warehouse. Darian stared at the nothing. After a moment, he fumbled for his wine glass. He took a sip. The liquid was too much for him and he passed out.

"Where am I?" Darian demanded, waking up. He was resting on a bed in a small, clean room.

"You were overcome. You fainted. It happens. We have a few beds just for that circumstance," Carmen said. She was sitting in a chair pulled up next to him.

Oh no—it happened. I knew it and it happened. Tricked by some Christian art cult—soon he would be completely brainwashed passing out pamphlets at Georgia Tech.

"I have to go," he declared as he sat up.

"But are you all right? Witnessing can be both physically and mentally draining."

"I'm fine. I gotta go," he said, heading to the door and entering the huge warehouse. He could see rays of sunshine coming through the windows. "What day is it?"

"It's Tuesday morning."

"Oh no—work!"

"It's early yet. You have time."

Darian ran to the gate and stopped. "Can you open this for me?"

"Of course—but I have one question," Carmen chirped as she took out a key. "What did you see?"

Darian paused and looked at her. What kind of question was that? "A caribou. You know. You saw it too. Geez—this wasn't some sort of dream? What was in that drink?"

"A caribou? How amazing."

Darian looked over at Carmen. He was in a bit of shock. "Well, what did you see? C'mon—you saw it. What was it—a projection? You got some projectors in there?"

"I saw a large golden whale with wings! My first time, at least. Everyone sees something different their first time."

Okay, Darian thought, she's still in character—pure nutball. "Can you open this gate? I got to get to work!"

He looked at his clothes—a bit rumpled and wrinkled, but he could probably pass. Nobody ever noticed what he wore. "Could you hurry?"

"Of course," Carmen said and the gate slid open.

Darian hurried to the car and then turned around. "Thanks," he said, barely concealing his sarcasm.

"There's another showing tonight—come on by if you like," Carmen shouted as Darian revved his engine.

Yeah sure, he thought as he tore away. He still had thirty minutes to get to work. Plenty of time. He began to settle down as he approached the office and he noticed something: no hangover. He began to think about what happened. He saw a caribou. How did they do it? Was it a hologram? A projection? Great sound design, anyway. He pulled up to his job and went in but as the day progressed, the image of the animal and its soulful eyes filled his head. He could not stop thinking about it. Carmen said he would see God—how was that beast supposed to be divine? Strange. But arresting. And by the end of the day, the image seemed absolutely real—so real that he drove to the warehouse and parked in front once again. Carmen was waiting by the gate.

"You're back," she said, matter-of-factly.

"Yeah."

"Just in time for the next viewing."

He followed Carmen to the door.

"Another glass of nectar?" she asked.

"Is that what that was?" he asked her.

"Yes."

"No—I want to be sober tonight."

"All right—a bite of ambrosia?"

"No—just show me God."

"Let's go."

They walked past Gabriel and entered the warehouse. Darian sat in the chair. He waited. Nothing. Carmen walked up beside him and sipped a glass.

"Who else sees this," Darian asked. "Who else comes here? You can't be making much money. Do you have a grant?"

Carmen looked at Darian and smiled. "That's not what this is, Darian."

"Well, what is it then?"

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"I told you—it's the Godspace. You saw."

"Okay—how do you do it?" he asked, scanning the room. "Where are the projectors? Is the animal trained? That caribou—I just want to see it again."

"Hmm—we will see what we will—"

The room went black and a ferocious wind swept past them followed by a spray of rain, drenching them, and then off in the rafters a column of fire filled the air. Darian felt the heat and his clothes were dried by it. The fire disappeared almost immediately and the light filled the room again. Carmen stood next to him and smiled.

"Oh my God!" Darian said.

"Yes," Carmen replied.

They both sat in silence.

"I think I'll have that drink now," Darian said and Gabriel appeared with a glass of the sparkling nectar.

"What?" Darian wondered out loud. It was all he could ask.

"I don't know. All I know is at about five thirty or so, every night, something wonderful happens. And all that is required is for someone to watch it. A witness. Last night and tonight, it was you."

"You mean you didn't see that?"

"No—you did. But I could see it affected you."

"Yes," he said. "It did. But why?"

"I don't know. That is for you."

"You live here?"

"I have—for a while, yes. About three months. Someone invited me and I have been staying here."

"You watch that every night?"

"Yes."

"So, this isn't an art space? A happening? A ... I don't-know-what?"

"It is the Godspace. That's all."

"Why did you invite me here? Why wouldn't you want to just watch it yourself every night?"

"For a while that is all I wanted to do. When I first came here. It is marvelous. Yes, it is. But I have been here for a while. I have a sister. She is getting older. I need to see her. I need someone to watch. A Witness."

"You want me to watch?"

"Yes—for a time. I'll come back. But I need someone to watch."

"Um... Gabriel can't keep an eye out?"

"Gabriel? No. That would not work. Oh no—that would be a disaster. No. Only people."

"Gabriel isn't a person?"

"Gabriel is an angel. Utterly useless, except for making nectar. And ambrosia. The occasional runny egg. No—I need you, Darian."

"Why me? Specifically me?"

"Because you need it, Darian."

"What do you mean by that?"

"You know what I mean. You'll see."

And so she left and Darian came the third night. He was excited and even left work early, saying he had an emergency at home and, as usual, no one cared. He took out the key Carmen gave him and he opened the gate, walked into the warehouse, grabbed the glass of nectar, and took a seat. It was the first time in a long time that he looked forward to something knowing that it was not going to suck. He waited. And waited. But nothing. Perhaps it was early—in his excitement he did not look at the time. But then... the lights flickered. On. Off. On. And lying in front of him was a giant bearded man in a robe. Asleep. And he lay there. And slept. And did not disappear.

"Gabriel!" Darian yelled after an hour watching.

"Oh, hello," laughed Gabriel as he entered the warehouse space looking up at the enormous sleeping man. "My."

"Yeah—what is it?"

"God. Sleeping."

"Yeah. Have you ever seen this before? This ... manifestation?"

"No."

"Well, it seems to be going on a while. Isn't it supposed to kind of wrap itself up?"

"Yes. I guess he needs to wake up. That seems like it would be the logical end to a nap."

"Yes!" shouted Darian. "Yes!"

Darian looked at Gabriel expectantly. "How?" Darian finally asked.

The angel just shrugged his shoulders. "Don't know—would you like some more nectar?"

Darian looked at the angel realizing the truth of Carmen's assessment. "Yes, another glass please."

Gabriel left to fetch some more and Darian stared at the snoring slumberer. No matter, thought Darian—just wait it out. He dipped his manna in the ambrosia and walked back to his chair. He sat and watched. But as the hours passed and the night wore on, Darian realized that he would not be going home.

"Gabriel!" he yelled and the angel appeared. "Gabriel, I have to go to work in a few hours."

"Oh, no—you mustn't do that. You have to watch."

"What?"

"You're the Witness. You have to watch until the end of the Vision."

"But I have to go to work."

Gabriel did not understand.

"I don't have any sick days," Darian tried to explain but, again, was met with a complete lack of comprehension.

Darian waited another two hours but God did not wake up. Darian stood and, in a fit of resolution, walked to the door.

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"I have to go to work," he declared and brushed past the helpless Gabriel. Darian walked out into the morning light to his car. It was a quiet morning. It was very quiet. It was too quiet. Darian stopped and looked around. Nothing was happening. Literally. A flock of birds froze in the air. A leaf hung as if by an invisible thread. A cloud dripped a shower of eternally expectant rain. Darian walked back to the warehouse. He saw Gabriel and wanted to explain but, as Gabriel was an angel, Darian assumed he knew what was happening—and he was correct.

"Gabriel—you've been here a while, right?"

"Oh yes—it feels like forever. It has been forever."

"And you've seen other Witnesses, right?"

"Yes—every one."

"Okay—so how do I measure up?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well, in comparison to Carmen, for example, am I a good Witness?"

"It is difficult to compare."

"Okay—but how did she do this differently. I mean, something like this never happened, did it?"

"No—definitely not. Carmen was an excellent Witness. She was very excited every time she came. Just a bundle of happy expectant energy."

"So she expected something good was gonna happen?" Darian asked.

"Yes. That's about right."

"Hmmm—I'm not like that."

"Not really."

"No—I pretty much expect that something mediocre is gonna happen. If that."

"Yes..."

"I mean—I guess I just think it's gotta get worse before it gets better... And so here we are..." Darian said.

"Maybe. He does make the world go 'round," Gabriel chirped.

"So—how do I wake Him up?"

"Well... I have this trumpet."

"Okay..."

"And if you blow it... right in His ear...well..."

"Give me the trumpet."

Darian took the trumpet from Gabriel and the angel quickly pulled a ladder over to the slumbering God. Darian ascended the ladder and positioned the trumpet right next to God's ear.

"Just blow on it," offered Gabriel. "But not too loud."

Darian put his lips on the trumpet and blew. A deafening roar burst out. The earth shook, the walls of the warehouse fell down, and a huge cloud of dust rose up enveloping everything. When the dust cleared, Darian looked around—but there was nothing to look at. The slumbering God was gone. Everything was gone except for the ground on which they stood and a vast empty space above them.

"That was probably too loud," Gabriel said.

"Ugh."

"Yeah."

"So it would seem I... got rid of God... and all of Creation..."

"Yes."

"Oh no."

And then the nothing of space filled with a single light and something miraculous happened.

"A star!" Darian exclaimed as the bright light appeared. And then another. And another.

"Oh good—it seems God is back. That was kind of scary, huh?" said Gabriel, smiling a little too much. "I thought it was the end."

"Nope," said Darian, "it's a beginning."

He walked to the chair and sat. He even took a sip of the glass of nectar that Gabriel had left for him. Creation began to unfold all around him, filling the emptiness.

And for once, in a long time, he was actually looking forward to something.


>
Photo credit:

Michael Wardner lives in Atlanta. He was an English major at UC Berkeley and has an MFA in film from the Academy of Art in San Francisco. His first novel, The Boy Who Went Boom, is available on Amazon, and his cartoons can be seen at www.thezeros.tumblr.com.


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