March 1997

The local headlines read:

LATEST CORPSE DISCOVERED IN LOCAL LIBRARY

Sunday night, an unidentified body was recovered in the Religion section of the Leonard Nimsy Public Library. The body was shredded to piecemeal some hours earlier and reassembled apparently on the spot, lying in crucifixion position with glasses placed carefully beside him. "Johnny", as our police have taken to calling the elusive mass murderer, seems to have taken special care with this victim. The remains were scooped up and deposited in the morgue, awaiting contact from friends or family. When none were forthcoming, the police issued this description: 5'11, male, brown hair and dark skin, goatee, dressed in slacks and a green shirt. As of now, still there have been no claims. On Monday, blood writing was discovered beside the scene of the grisly deposit, finger-painted on the spines of nearby books. The script reads: Edgar Christ. The meaning is unknown at this time.

We are left only to guess who this poor bastard was, and why "Johnny" seems to have been so interested in him. Police officials are quoted as saying: "God have mercy on him, the unlucky shmuck."

This reporter cannot help but agree.

Eternity in a Pickle Jar

I will seek my soul mate, through death and into life again.


Edgar was bored.

It was the single unequivocal fact of his afterlife, and it irked him to no end. By all accounts he was supposed to be blissing away his eternity safely situated in Heaven like a properly vindicated Christian, but the fact of the matter was that all he could think about was getting up and taking care of that litter out by the entrance once and for all. Oh, the litter. He couldn't believe he was the first one with this problem.

Day one—or was it hour one? Or year one?—he had been brimming with something between serenity and unbridled glee. Finally, all those years of racking up positive karma, watching his words, going out of his way to assist people back on Earth paid off. Not that he wouldn't have done it anyway—it was just nice to get a reward after going unappreciated for so long.

Who cared if he was actually dead at this point? This was amazing! He'd get to meet all the bigwigs on the theological circuit, talk to Michael first hand, finally look into those mistranslation issues in the bible, and oh, hadn't he always thought the Classical Jesus was really quite handso—WHOA, so not going there.

(Less control, now. Thoughts on a looser leash.)

But by day, or hour, or year, or fucking eternity two, the man was shifting uneasily in his fold-out chair. Where were the angels? What was with those freaky-ass flying bunnies? Nothing was happening.

And that was when he remembered exactly why he'd never much cared for spas and massages and such when he was alive. Yes, he'd gone to a spa. Edgar was completely secure in his masculinity, thank you. It was just that the problem then and now was ultimately the same problem: he wasn't content with simply 'relaxing'.

He had to do something.

So by eternity three, his fingers were itching for a pencil, with which he might lay out the multitude of designs rushing through his head, because boredom truly was the best inspiration and he was dying to do something. Anything at all.

Hah. "Dying". That was pretty funny.

And then a thought dawned on him, like the 20 gigawatt Light of God shining down on some poor gullible sap through the secret window in the upstairs of his childhood church. It occurred to Edgar that…

No one was watching him.

Even those disturbing winged rabbits had zoomed off to harass some poor unsuspecting newcomer… leaving him alone. Totally alone. No one watching, no one to see if he happened to stand up. So… he stood. Success!

And it wasn't like anyone had said he couldn't stand up or walk off. Maybe he could see about that litter after all.

Edgar flicked his eyes around the compound, nervously awaiting some wrench in the works. His fellow dead were blissing away in their cheap chairs, totally unaware of his miniature temptation. How come he wasn't blissing? Did he forget to drink the special punch at the administration desk or something?

(Man at the front never mentioned this possibility.)

Nothing seemed to be happening, so he took a few slinking steps towards the chain link fence. Still nothing.

With growing confidence, the dead man edged off to the border of the… where the heck were they anyways? Somewhere on the metaphysical plane, he supposed, considering he was now sans one corporeal body and still interacting with the apparent world. He always had wondered where Heaven was. He'd never expected it to be so… lifelike.

Edgar vaulted the fence, sticking the landing and bowing graciously to his imaginary audience. Being deceased must help a body's coordination, because he'd never been so graceful in his entire life. As soon as he had assured himself that he was indeed alone, he strolled off at a jaunty pace, eyeing a shape over the hill a ways away.

Well that was weird. It looked like… a boulder on top of a chair. No, on second thought, as it drew closer, he began to suspect that the giant blob was alive. In fact, it was wearing a shirt that said…

"God?"

"Shhh, you'll wake him!" ordered the strange, spindly creature peering out from underneath the chair. It looked like it was a part of the chair, actually. And Edgar thought his life had been crap.

"Is that really God?" the dearly departed whispered dubiously. He'd never been much for the foaming-mouth literal Christianity some people at his church favored, but this was a bit more than unorthodox.

"Ah, duh," the cone-headed creature snorted. "He only invented the universe. I would know. He made me way back at the beginning, because he was too lazy to float on his fat ass for another chronosecond. I guess. He was never awake long enough to explain anything."

"Really." Edgar was disappointed. The bit of him that had always marveled at the Works of God crumpled up in his chest, leaving a little hollow spot. But, you couldn't argue with a first hand testimony. "Okay then, as disappointing as that is, the universe is pretty cool. How'd he make it?"

"Dunno," answered the spidery thing in his high, weirdly accented voice. It was like something from… The Labyrinth. Yeah. Edgar had seen that movie back in the eighties because he'd been such a big fan of David Bowie. Not a bad movie; he'd liked the moral well enough.

"Well you were there, weren't you? You should know how it happened." Edgar raised an eyebrow.

"Are you kidding? I was still trying to figure out how this chair stays upright without squashing me! It was a bit more important than paying attention to the fat-ass."

"Oh. That… sucks."

"Tell me about it." The little being flailed its limbs pathetically. "And you know I bet the only reason he created the physical universe at all was that he wanted a taco. And guess what? He had to wait for you guys to evolve before he could get one. I think I preferred him back then, when all he did was sleep."

"Well," the human pointed out diplomatically, "He is sleeping now."

"Right. And you can see why I don't want you to wake him. By the by, what are you doing out of your pen, little Earth-man?"

Edgar frowned, debating what to tell his new friend. "I got bored. Went for a walk."

"Oh, we got a live one here," the spindly thing sighed.

One of those stupid flying rodents sailed past their heads.

"What do you mean?" the dead man asked, flopping onto the dirt. There was a lot more dirt in heaven than he had anticipated.

"The live ones," elaborated the creature, "Nice guys, philosophers, dirt poor alley-crawlers. You know, people who get into heaven because they won't fit in Hell. It's not a very classy system."

"Isn't there a purgatory or something for that?" Edgar asked, unnerved. Nobody wants to be the leftover… and he'd had enough of that in life. It was bad enough living the last ten or so years as 'that guy with the goatee', or worse—'that guy we can shove all the paperwork onto'.

"No, all that's a bunch of baloney some Earth-man made up a couple centuries ago. There're only two places. Hell is for stupid, rude, cruel people. Heaven is for pious people. Y'know, the ones who sacrifice and martyr and do what they're told."

"But that's only two kinds of people. There can't be only two kinds of people!"

"No. But can you tell them that? Noooo. They don't listen to anything. So the third class spirits get shipped to whatever's left… I really don't know how it works." The chair-animal rolled its bug-eyes. "Seems to work out alright since nobody's lobbying any complaints around here."

"Maybe I am," Edgar offered, without much conviction.

"Are you?" the creature inquired, tilting its head.

"...No," Edgar answered.

The human looked up at the sky, wondering idly why it wasn't bluer in heaven. If anything, it was pretty gray and those far away clouds were rather dingy. He'd been expecting… oh, a sparkling azure expanse, dotted with pristine alabaster clouds. Not smog-city Illinois.

"So I'm a leftover. Great. I guess this is one of those 'nice guys finish last' moments."

"Kinda. But don't get depressed, little Earth-man. The good news is, you're free to explore the afterlife for eternity. Someone will stop you if you're breaking rules, so don't worry about it." The creature lifted one of its legs, teetering dangerously for a moments, and pointed. "You can go most places without trouble, so if you want to take a look at Hell… you know, make yourself feel better…" It gestured at a random hill.

"Go that way?" he asked, contemplating the options. On the one hand, it was a disillusioning experience to realize you were in fact so in significant that the universe didn't even have a proper place for you. On the other hand, exploring did sound fun, and…

"Hey," the dead man started, "Will I find more people like me?"

"Like you? Um… maybe? Probably not. Smart people are really rare, and most of them are total jerks. Nice smart people are practically impossible." The alien-looking creature made a face only slightly weirder that its usual creepiness. "And most people from the last century are back in the circuit. But you can still try."

"Okay. Thanks, you've been a big help. By the way, my name is Edgar. Edgar Vargas." He stuck out a hand, forgetting that the helpful creature was also part chair.

"Muffin. Pleased to meet you." Muffin tried to lift a conical foot for a proper handshake, but the snoring dead weight of a Deity on its back titled dangerously to the left and it sadly gave up. "Oh well."

With a wave, Edgar strolled off, aiming in the general direction that the creature had pointed to. Nothing seemed to change, though he walked for a good while—it was like being in a bad TV show, where the cheapo sets kept running in cycles for thirty minutes.

He wasn't getting anywhere.

Just when he'd decided to head back, try the other way (maybe ask Muffin exactly what he'd meant, pointing off in a useless direction), when the ground gave way under him and he slid down a practically vertical slope, down with no end in sight. In fact…

The ground he was currently sliding down at who-knows-how-many miles per hour wasn't actually dirt, as he'd first thought. It was asphalt, black with a yellow line off a few feet away. Or maybe it was a bunch of yellow dots, and he was moving too fast to see them individually.

He'd slipped onto his back now, and he craned his neck to look back up at the top of the shaft. Except that there was no top. Above him was mile on mile of stretching darkness, exactly the same as below, stretching, perhaps, to infinity?

A thought occurred to him, as he zoomed down the spread of nearly featureless highway. There was nothing but the road at his back, no top, and no bottom ...What if the ground was not below him, as he 'fell', but behind him?

And with that, the equilibrium tilted, and suddenly he knew he was flat on the floor, being dragged along this cavernous tunnel by some inexplicable magnetism. Talk about your paradigm shift.

No more than a few seconds- or was it a few years?- after he discovered his error, a sickly reddish glow suffused the pavement ahead, the lurid light spreading to the entire passage as it sped by.

Red? Down? Road?

Oh no. That was too much.

As the pull on Edgar's body lessened, and something vaguely shaped like a skyline began to fade into view within the vermilion light, he reach a groaning conclusion.

He was on the Highway to Hell.

Fantastic.

-x-

Somewhere behind (and ahead of) the irritated spirit, a great eye winked open from a feint of sleep and peered into the corners of reality—it sought a bright line of events, a golden thread spinning through the most unlikely twists of space and time. It looked into the Something that was Edgar Vargas, and a smile broke out between the clouds above (and below) his tiny form.

If things can begin, then this was now the beginning.

A ball rolled into motion.

TBC