Thursday, July 30, 2015

Waiting for a Miracle: A Blackout Poem

Waiting For A Miracle: A Blackout Poem
The clock ran out,
 and people just got a peek
 behind the curtain this time. 
Mary never materialized.

This is a blackout poem, after having been freed from the page. For the uninitiated, a blackout poem is, obviously, a specific form of poetry. The writer takes a section of newspaper and 'blacks out' words he or she wants to exclude. The stuff left over constitutes the poem. I think it says a lot about the subjectivity of media. I looked at an article about a Lady Gaga performance and saw this. You might've come up with something completely different, and that's fine, too. Stuff like this opens up a lot of interesting doors. Hope you enjoy! 

Was Reagan Crazy?

Was Reagan Crazy?

Yes. This is clear. He advocated for an economic policy that, objectively, cannot work. Trickle-down economics states that granting tax cuts to the wealthiest corporate magnates will eventually lead to greater wealth for the workers employed by said corporations, and indeed all workers. This is provably false, as when you give the rich more money, it will invariably go towards lining their own pockets. Further, economist Steven Zydar conducted a study that showed that tax cuts for the wealthy do not create jobs. So, Reagan was quite clearly politically insane. He didn't care about facts, and neither do his disciples in the modern Republican party.

But that's not what I wanted to talk about today. Ronald Reagan, who ran our country for four years, was goddamned obsessed with the concept of an alien invasion. In an infamous speech to the UN, he hypothesized that an extraterrestrial threat would help to unify the world. He claimed that the invasion would force us to put aside our differences as we worked to save the entirety of the human race.

The speech can be found, in video form, here.

For the purposes of this examination, we're going to ignore the implausibility of there ever being intelligent life outside of Earth, let alone life that represents a significant threat to the human race. Let's assume that aliens are a known quantity. The invasion is inevitable.

So, the question remains. Is this an accurate statement? Does Reagan's idea about the invasion make any sense?

I think it does. Sure, in the beginning, mass panic would cause people to revert back to their primal, animalistic states. It would most likely be every man for himself for some amount of time. Society would, in all likelihood, devolve into loosely-connected bands of roving looters, struggling to survive and doing so by any means necessary.

But, eventually, we would all realize that a lawless, purely individual societies are doomed to fail, In fact, they aren't societies at all. In the wake of the invasion, amid the death and destruction, humanity would have to come together on a larger scale, and rebuild civilization itself from the ground up. In that scenario, there's no place for bigotry of any kind. Everyone must pitch in, so exclusion of any group spells death. Humanity will need all the help it can get, and the unity that arises will be unparalleled.

That's assuming that things like race, gender, and sexual orientation are even on people's minds after the fall of civilization. Nobody gives a shit about your politics when there are giant green men coming to eat everyone. When survival is not a guarantee, there simply isn't enough room left in your brain to think about such trivial things.

All of this is a long-winded way of saying that, no, Reagan was not talking out of his ass in that video. That's surprising, I know, but there's a first time for everything, I suppose.

Then again, maybe I'm an idiot. Perhaps my idealistic optimism is clouding my judgement about human nature. Perhaps, in the aftermath of the invasion, our dividing factors would be more important than ever. Maybe, without the glue of compulsory participation in society holding us together, each group would split into their own separate nation-states. Societies then would only be made up of like-minded people who banded together out of choice, rather than necessity. Then all the groups would wage perpetual war with one another over the planet's scant natural resources. Maybe I'm giving the human race too much credit.

Just something to think about.

Humanists Behind Bars

Recently, an inmate in a correctional facility in Oregon sued the prison for the right to practice his 'religion of humanism.' The Federal Bureau of Prisons recognized his plea. This means that, for the purpose of the prison system, humanism is considered a religion. This new designation affords humanist prisoners the right to form study groups, hire chaplains, and speak to philosophers.much in the same way that Christian inmates would be allowed to hire priests.

This seems to be following the US Army's example of recognizing humanism as a 'religious choice.'

Now, many atheists, most of whom refer to themselves as secular humanists, take this as a mixed blessing. And, honestly, I can sort of see where they're coming from. After all, humanism is not a religion, and recognizing it a such might contribute to the collapse of the already tumultuous relationship between outspoken atheists and conservative Christians. After all, we've spent years correctly denying the claim that atheism is a religion, and now it is being recognized as such. At least it is in one specific context.

So, doesn't this designation sort of undermine our push for scientific literacy and reason? We claim that said push is not about furthering a religious agenda, and this law seems to be in direct opposition to that claim.

In this context, I don't think it does. See, this isn't really about the classification of humanism. It isn't a religion, but I don't think designating it as such here will actually contribute to misinformation among theists. At least, not among those theists who still have functioning brains. There aren't many, but they're out there. My point here is that calling humanism a religion is a means to an end. If there were a way to get around that, I'm sure prison officials would have taken that path. But I don't know. Maybe I'm giving these people too much credit.

Or rather I would be, were it not for the fact that this case does not designate humanism as a religion. It explicitly calls it a religious choice, as the US Army did. This is not the same as a religion. I think it can best be summed it with a quote from Bill Maher. "Atheism is religion like abstinence is a sex position." Yes, these two things are very different, but they're on the same spectrum. Opposite ends of it, sure, but the same spectrum nonetheless.

This case is not about religion. It's about whether or not secular humanists are entitled to the same protections under law as religious folks. Quite simply, this is a matter of human rights. The FBP was sued by the American Humanist Association, and they agreed to acknowledge humanism as a worldview, rather than a religion. So, really, the argument against this is meaningless.

This decision allows humanists in prison to request time and space for activities, the right to form study and debate groups, and many other things. Before, only theists had these rights. This breaks down the barrier between special religious rights and opens the door for debate and discussion. This is about equality. We have to focus on that, rather than the technical label.

Just something to think about.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

With Great Romance: Short Fiction

With Great Romance
 Chris Costello

I suppose there are a lot of reasons to unleash a killer robot on the city during rush hour. There’s all the typical stuff, of course. Money, power, prestige. And then the all-important ‘because I felt like it.’ None of those answers fit me, though. Not really. I did it for love.

This particular bot was an old design, from back when I was just starting out. It was clunky and big, and it moved like a turtle with a limp. But it had firepower, and you just can’t beat that, can you? Then there was the sentimental value, which was perhaps more important than I was letting on. I might be a supervillain, but I’m not heartless.

I keyed in a few commands from my position inside the bot’s chest, and it ripped a skyscraper from the ground. A thousand screams hit my ears, and I let out the perfect evil cackle. I’d been in this business longer than most of the others had been alive. You don’t get to where I am today without a really good evil laugh, I’ll tell you that.

 The bot cocked its arm back like a pitcher on the windup and hurled the building into the sky. It had the appearance of an Olympic javlineir, and soon the building was little more than a distant speck in the clear blue sky.

I stepped on a few cars, just for good measure.

Just as I was about to crush city hall, a warning klaxon blared in my ears. Judging by the readout on my sensors, there was a hostile life-form approaching from somewhere nearby. A severe grin creased my face. She was right on time, as always.

Justice Girl rocketed towards the bot at lightning speed. She was moving too fast for most people to see, but then, I’m not most people. Her cape streamed out behind her, and her fist was point right at the bot’s chest-plate.

She was also laughing hysterically.

The bot’s missile defense system was top notch, even if the rest of it was out of date. I could have blasted her out of the sky before she got anywhere near me. Hell, I could’ve snatched her up and crushed her like a bug in one of the bot’s mammoth hands.

But where’s the fun in that?

Justice Girl struck the bot, and I heard the sound of metal crumpling. The alarm in my head got louder. Before I could retaliate, she turned on her heat vision, searing a hole in the robot. Then she stepped through it, entering the control chamber.

She looked at me sideways, but the twinkle in her eyes told me that she was having just as much fun as me. “Did you do all this just for me?” She asked with a chuckle. A hint of her Southern drawl snuck into the phrase, and my heart nearly liquified.

I nodded. “It’s the same model I was in when we first met.”

She glanced around at the gleaming chrome walls of the chamber. “Really? It’s in perfect condition.”

I glanced pointedly at the hole a few feet in front of us. “Are you sure about that?”

“Oh, save it. You knew what you were getting into when you started this whole thing.”

“I suppose that’s true. But then again, I am a genius. I always know what I’m getting into.”

Her face darkened, and a scowl marred her visage. She put her hands on her hips and strode up to the protective dome that enclosed me. It looked like ordinary glass, but it wasn’t found on Earth. Or anywhere in our solar system, for that matter. I’d picked it up after my teleporter malfunctioned and deposited me in Dimension X. I spent the better part of an hour running from a giant slug monster, but it had all been worth it.

The material didn’t have a name, at least not one that was pronounceable to humans, so I’d taken to calling it Ajaxium, after that fellow in Greece. It was stronger than everything else out there, and nobody could break through it. Not even if I gave them a thousand years to try, and they were allowed to use a jackhammer.

Justice Girl cocked back her fist, and the Ajaxium shattered into a million little pieces. The shards clattered to the chamber floor, settling around her feet.

“Oh, come on.” I said, looking down at the mess. “Now I’m gonna have to clean that up.”

Justice Girl said nothing. Instead, she reached into the cockpit and grabbed me by the scruff of my lab coat. She hoisted me into the air effortlessly, and I stifled a scream. I glanced down at the ray gun strapped to my belt and tried not to look like I was looking. Which, naturally, made it all the more obvious.

Justice Girl scoffed and snatched the weapon off my belt. Then she tossed it over her shoulder and out of the hole, whereupon it plummeted to the street a hundred feet below. Before I could voice my opinion on this matter, she yanked me forward so that I was about two inches away from her face. Her breath smelled like spearmint gum and flowers.

“Hey!” I said, forcing the words past the lump in my throat. “What are you doing?”

She began to move, tightening her grip on my neck. I felt like I’d gotten myself caught in a vice. The heroine stopped only when we were teetering on the edge of the hole. She thrusted her arm outward so that I was dangling over the edge, suspended in the air.

From all the way up here, the people looked like ants. Even so, I could still hear them cheering. It made me want to hurl. If I’d had anything more than a burrito for lunch, I probably would have.

“H-hey.” I said, resisting the urge to wipe the sweat from my brow. “We’re both adults here. Let’s talk this out, okay? As Lennon says, ‘give peace a chance.’”

Justice Girl chuckled bitterly. “If you say it, I’ll let you go.”

“Say what?” I asked, feeling my face heat up. I’m reasonably sure that fear had nothing to do with it this time.

She laughed again and relaxed her grip on my coat. I slid down a few inches, but she caught me before I fell. I did my best to choke down the yelp that fought its way up and out of my throat. I was about as unsuccessful as one would expect.

“You know what I want to hear.” She said coyly.

I shook my fist in mock indignation, but my knees remained like jelly. “Never!” I shouted.

She let me slip again. The ground came rushing at me, and I squeezed my eyes shut as tight as I could. My descent halted abruptly as Justice Girl caught me by the hand. “You might want to reconsider your position.” She said.

“Okay, okay.” I said, looking up at her. “Happy anniversary.”

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Thing About Symbols

I like Christmas. The fire crackling in the hearth, the stockings stuffed to the brim with candy and gifts. The tree standing there, ornaments glittering in the light. It is regal and grand, a symbol of the season. It is proud, and it fills me with a sense of belonging, of hope.

That is, until I get to the top. The angel on high, looking down on me from her kingdom in heaven. They tell me I am loved, and that she serves as a reminder. I can tell none of them ever paid attention in English class. Show, don’t tell. If I am valued, it is not enough to say it. Be there for me in times of crisis, let me know it will be okay. Only then will I feel as though I matter.

The illusion is further shattered when I look back at history. Throughout time, the angel has been used to torture and oppress in the name of freedom. It has been forged into a weapon, a tool of dehumanization. How can it make me feel loved if it forces me to change who I am?

The Waves: A Poem

The waves crash against the stone
Bringing with them hope
for tomorrow and today
but maybe the tide has gone in
and the waves have
long since retreated
back to the deep
and nobody’s listening anymore.

I Believe: A Poem

I believe in community for its own sake, and that we have kindness within us all
I believe that Star Trek can change the world
I believe in deep fried food that is good only when you are eating it
I believe that family is created, and we need not stick with the one we’re born into
I believe in hugs
I believe in diversity as commonality
I believe that information is our most precious commodity
I believe in drinking cocoa in summer, and lemonade in winter
I believe in the power of the written word
I believe that I am a king, and nothing can change that
I believe in equality, but not in justice
I believe in lazy sundays
I believe in curiosity, but not in superstition
I believe that the only constant is change, and that’s okay

Items Found on the Corpse of a God

Items Found On The Corpse of a God

Item 1: Darkness.
Item 2: Firmament.
Item 3: Sticks.
Item 4: Corn husks.
Item 5: Small handheld mirror.
Item 6: Clay (dried).
Item 7: Spyglass (collapsible).
Item 8: Wooden box (unopened).
Item 9: Copy of the Holy Scriptures of the Highfather (heavily annotated).
Item 10: Prayers from the faithful:
--Subject: "I have a question about..." (1,082,334).
--Subject: "Thank you for..." (4,127).
--Subject: "Please give me..." (42,881,458).
--Subject: "Help, [insert monster here] is attacking us!" (11,240).
Item 11: Packet of biographical information on local warriors.
Item 12: Address of war hero Esper Agomar
Item 13: Legendary Flaming Sword (well--used).
Item 14: Collection of severed heads offered up as sacrifices by the war hero Esper Agomar: 
--The Mawbeast of Rogal Fenn.
--Kell Baruch, King of the Giants.
--Glomfreet, Ice Dragon of Splinterstone Peak.
--Various unnamed horrors of questionable infamy (18).
--Innocent bystanders (14).
--Various priests the of Highfather (7) and attendants (10).
--Filia Agomar. (Missing Head)
--Esper Agomar, Jr. (Ashes)
Item 15: Lightning bolts (infinite).
Item 16: Charred remains of the war hero Esper Agomar (cause of death: lightning bolts).
Item 17: Paternity test results.
Item 18: Bottle of antidepressants.
Item 19: Bottle of whisky.
Item 20: Letter of resignation (unsent).

Supervillain Supply Shop: Short Fiction

Supervillain Supply Shop
Chris Costello

Dora didn’t recognize him when he walked into the store. Not at first. She only knew he was someone important because Madame Furie said so in her earpiece. “Code yellow.” Madame said, cutting the connection before Dora could ask her what the hell that meant. It wasn’t Code Blue, so the guy wasn’t a cop. They got a lot of officers in at the end of the month, when cops were trying to fill their quotas, and it was far too early for that. Nor was it the one for robot armies. That was Code Steel.

No, this was Code Yellow, which she didn’t remember. She slouched against the wall behind the counter, wracking her brain. They had a manual with all this stuff in it, but she never bothered to carry it with her. This was technically a fireable offense, but they were shorthanded right now, so nobody was going to do anything about it.

And then it hit her. “Holy crap,” she said to herself. “It’s Power Star.”

Power Star, the Cape of Capes. Dora fought the urge to swing around and stare at him. Instead, she glanced at the monitors under the counter. Her boss kept hidden cameras everywhere, which made it easier to get an unobtrusive view. Sure enough: Power Star. Once you were looking, he was recognizable even in a tracksuit and baseball cap. The chiseled jaw, the broad shoulders straining the cheap fabric that encased them. She thought she saw a bit of his spandex costume peeking out from under his collar, but she couldn’t be sure.

Was he the first superhero to walk into the Supervillain Supply Depot? Probably not if they had a code to go with him. He was certainly the first to do it on Dora’s watch, but she had only worked there six months. She waited to be told what to do, though she was pretty sure she already knew the answer. Flip the more dangerous displays, slide the secret panels open, the way you would if he was a cop. But he wasn’t a cop.

She tried to remember if he had a secret identity. If so, would he be willing to blow his cover? If she shouted ‘help,’ would he rip off the tracksuit or duck into the bathroom to change? She pictured him saving someone in the tracksuit, like an off-duty police officer.

Not that she would shout. He only had two months until graduation from Sidekick Academy, and the one thing she’d learned was that sidekicks tended to get kidnapped on a fairly regular basis. It was to be expected. “Try getting out yourself.” Her instructor had said. “You might get lucky. Otherwise, sit tight and do your best to not get killed.” She decided to follow that advice right now. It’d been her own idea to apply for a job here. Get to know the villains on their own turf, so maybe they’d be more forgiving when they encountered her again in the field. Why wouldn’t that rule extend to heroes as well?

Power Star didn’t seem to be in any hurry. He scanned the shelves absently, as if browsing. First, the books, where his fingers brushed past Hiring and Inspiring Lab Assistants, Monologuing for Dummies, and My Year As a Disembodied Brain In a Jar. At the magazine rack, he thumbed through a copy of Hench Life, and then put it back on the wrong stack, with Better Lairs and Dungeons.

Then he walked towards the back shelves, pulling his cap down over his eyes and shoving his hands in his pockets. Dora saw him glance over at her, and she wondered if he really had X-ray vision. Could he see beneath her uniform?
If he could, he’d see her own spandex bodysuit, only on for practice. Hers was still plain. There was no point in decorating when she didn’t know who she’d be sidekicking for after graduation. He would also see her earpiece and know that she could call Madame Furie in an instant. Maybe he was wondering why he hadn’t done that already. He caught her staring back at her and acted as though the stain on the floor was the most interesting thing in the world.

“A little help here?”

She snapped her head upwards, startled to see Chimera standing in front of her. Two of his heads sneered. The third smiled, which was much more disturbing.

She sighed, tearing her eyes away from Power Star. “The usual?”

He nodded all three of his heads at once, and she pulled the Rent-a-Minion book from under the counter.

“You know these things are online nowadays, right?” She asked, emboldened by the unusual visitor. Chimera came in every week, like clockwork. This store had customers that were actually clockwork, and even they didn’t come in as regularly as he did.

One of his heads looked up from the book. “Some of the best minions are the most old-fashioned. They don’t waste time on social media.”

He turned all his attention back to the book. She decided not to ask why he needed to come in so often if he hired the best ones.

Dora looked back down at the monitors. She picked Power Star up again in the apothecary aisle. He had something in his hand now, and he kept glancing around. It took her a minute to figure out he was waiting for Chimera to leave.

"Misters--Mr. Chimera, would you like to take the book home with you? You can bring it back next week."

"What are you doing?" hissed Madame Furie in her ear. "That's a violation."

Dora knew she had overstepped her bounds. She'd have to explain later that nobody except Chimera had used the book in the six months she had worked at the store.

All three heads smiled at her. "I'd love that. Thank you. I'll make sure to spare you and your family when I attack the city next."

"Thank you. Have a great day." She watched him leave the store. The lion's tail sticking out through the back of his raincoat gave her a jaunty salute as he departed.

At last, Power Star approached her counter. 

"Did you find everything you were looking for?" She was supposed to ask this of everyone. She didn't want another warning.

"Um, yeah." He looked away, like he didn't want to make eye contact.

She reached for the single item he had placed on the counter and tried to hide her surprise. Salve-O. The As-Seen-on-TV cure-all for supervillains caught in their own itch rays and other similar maladies. She didn't see any sign of rash on his hands or face. Maybe it wasn't for him? Or maybe the rash was elsewhere; spandex did get a little sweaty. She couldn't wait until wicking technology caught up with costuming.

"Do you have a customer loyalty card? You can save ten percent today on that itch, uh, I mean, your purchase."

He gave her a look that bored straight through her.

"I'll just put an application in your bag in case you change your mind." Dora tried to keep to her script. "Would you like a bag? They're five cents."

He pulled a compact reusable bag from his tracksuit jacket's pocket.

"Thanks for doing your part for the planet," she ad-libbed. Not one supervillain had ever brought a bag of their own, so she didn't remember the pre-planned response.

"Doing your part for the planet?" Madame Furie clearly wasn't impressed. Whoops.

"Would you like to be added to our mailing list? We send weekly coupons."

He shifted from foot to foot, visibly impatient now. "No, thank you. I'm, uh, not in town often."

He paid with cash, grabbed his bag, and strode for the door.

"You forgot your change!" she called after him.

"Keep it," he said over his shoulder.

Two warnings already. She shouldn't risk saying anything else. But when would she have an opportunity again?

"Wait, Mr. Star! My roommate has a great holistic remedy for jock--"

He kept moving.

"Dora!" Madame Furie nearly busted her eardrum. She knew: customers don't want to be known when buying personal items. They don't want to know you, but mostly they don't want you to know them.

"I'm a big fan of your work!"

"Dora, you're fired," Madame Furie whispered in her ear, calm now. Too calm.

Dora sighed and disengaged the earpiece, then headed out the door before Madame Furie made it out of the back office. She couldn't remember what the severance package here was like, but she had a feeling it wouldn't be good for her health. They probably wouldn't give her a recommendation now, either.

She ditched the store uniform as she ran. If she hurried, she might catch Power Star before he took off. Maybe he knew if Heroes-R-Us was hiring. Or better yet, maybe he needed an intern.

Savior Management Incorporated: Short Fiction

Savior Management Incorporated
Chris Costello

Murray Sampson’s office was the kind of place everyone wanted to be. Elegant, but not showy. Lavish, but no too indulgent. At least, that’s what he liked to tell himself. His coworkers had a different opinion. 

He couldn’t really blame them for that, though. He had a view of downtown LA that most men would kill for, and his desk was fashioned out of the finest oak available. The rumor around the office was that it came from Edgar Allen Poe’s coffin. Murray had long since stopped trying to correct them. It was from Alexander the Great’s. A waterfall flowed unendingly into a marble basin over in one corner, and the Mona Lisa was framed above the door. It was on loan, but he’d take what he could get.

Murray sat hunched over his desk, scrawling furiously on a length of parchment. Many of his contemporaries had moved on to laptop computers, but he still preferred the old fashioned way. Some of his clients found it endearing.

Ordinarily, he worked at a leisurely pace, letting the ideas come to him on their own terms. Now, however, he wrote as though his hand was on fire. Sweat poured off his face, causing the ink from his quill to smudge. 

He glared at the phone on his desk, willing it to ring. Nothing happened. Murray let out a deep sigh and ran his hand through his hair. He was going bald, but a few stubborn strands still clung to his head. He admired their tenacity.

Usually, he let his clients call him first. It made them think that they were in control of their own destinies. That was essential if you wanted to establish an effective working relationship. But he needed to get some things off his chest, and fast. He went over his options. Shattering the illusion was the best way to fix the problem, but this kid was going to be big one day. He didn’t want to cheat himself out of ten percent.

Just then, a shrill noise cut through the air. The phone. Murray’s hand twitched as he went to pick it up. Against every fiber of his being, he stopped himself. You had to keep the clients waiting. It was a good way to keep them in line. Gods could get pretty full of themselves, and since many of them still held onto some of their old power, it was best to feed their egos. So he waited. After an appropriate amount of time, Murray picked up the receiver. “Savior Management Incorporated.” He said. “Murray Sampson speaking.”

“Hey, buddy.” The voice on the other line was slow and smooth, like maple syrup. “It’s Quetzalcoatl. Just wondering how the comeback tour plans are shaping up.”
Murray sighed again. “Quetzal, I don’t know how to tell you this, but you’re screwed.”

Quetzal laughed nervously. “What? I hope you’re kidding.”

“Son, I never joke around when it comes to business. That junk with the Aztecs really did a number on your approval rating.”

“Murray, come on. The Aztecs were a complex and distinct culture. A lot happened. You gotta give me more than ‘that junk.’”

Murray massaged his temples and took a deep breath. “Oh, gods. I can’t believe I have to explain this to you. The human sacrifice. The people aren’t huge fans of that. I know that’s shocking, but just go with me on this.”

“Don’t patronize me, man. I’m a god.”

“I know a lot of gods, many of whom are more successful than you.”

“Oh, yeah?” Quetzal retorted.”Name one.”

“I’ve got a meeting with Poseidon in an hour.” This, naturally, was a lie. He’d dropped Poseidon as a client years ago.

Quetzal said nothing. Then, “I never partook in the ritual killing thing, even when it was legal. You know that.”

“I know, I know. Conquistador propaganda.”

“Damn straight.”

“Don’t interrupt me.” Murray snapped. “I tried that propaganda angle. Didn’t work out. They’ve been teaching that stuff in high school history classes for years. It’s too far ingrained in their minds. I can’t help you any longer.”

“Are...are you letting me go?”

“Yes,” Murray said matter-of-factly. “You’re simply unfixable.”

“Wait, man. Let’s not do anything too crazy, here. I can change. I’m willing to make some concessions.” Quetzal’s voice quivered. “Come on, man. You’re the best in the biz. I need you.”

So much for all that stuff about being powerful. Murray thought. “Look, I love hearing you grovel, I really do. I could listen to this all day. But, sadly, I’m expecting another call. A far more important one.”

“But-” Before Quetzal could finish his rebuttal, Murray hung up the phone. It felt good to have washed his hands of that, but it did little to alleviate his stress. The kid still hand’t called. Reluctantly, Murray picked up the phone again and dialed the kid’s number.

He didn’t answer right away. That much was to be expected. He was on his way to the top. The kid was probably out on the town with Zeus and Thoth, making memories.

Eventually, though, the ringing ceased. “Hey, Murray.” Said the kid. “What’s shaking?”

For a brief moment, Murray was taken aback. He was usually the first one to speak. He felt strangely emasculated. Murray took a moment to psych himself up again. “Hey, Mr. Christ.” He said. “Nothing much. I jotted down a few notes about last night’s show.”

Jesus yawned hugely. “Which one was that?”

Murray kicked himself for not being specific. Jesus was a rising star, and his schedule was stuffed to the gills. Even in his infinite wisdom, he couldn’t very well be expected to remember them all. “The one in Jerusalem.”

“Oh, yeah? What about it?”

Murray winced, grateful that Jesus couldn’t see him. Although with power like his, who knew? “I gotta say. I don’t think they liked you there.” Murray sat back and waited for a bolt of lightning to smite him then and there. None came, and he let out a sigh of relief.

“What makes you say that?” Murray searched for the note of rage in Jesus’ voice, but found only neutral curiosity.

“I mean, the torches and pitchforks were kind of a red flag.”

Jesus sucked in a gulp of air. “Oh, yeah. Do you think it was because of the carpenter joke? I thought it was funny, but I guess it’d be hard for some people to relate.”

“No, no. The carpenter thing was fine.”

Jesus chuckled. “When you have a hammer, life is just a box of nails. That’s killer.”

Murray decided not to chastise Christ for interrupting him. If everything went well, he could end up as the Messiah one day. No sense in screwing that up. “Yeah, it is. I think it was mostly the part where you cured the lepers and fed the poor.”

“What?” Jesus’ voice was like a sword cutting into Murray. “Are you saying I can’t heal the wounded anymore?” 
“No, no, no!” Murray shouted, perhaps a little too quickly. “I wouldn’t dream of censoring you. You can do the piece. I’m just saying, don’t open with it.”

“Well, why the hell not?” Jesus was practically screaming now. Images of fire and brimstone flashed through Murray’s mind.

“Look, this might be hard to hear, but it’s kind of a downer. I’m just being honest. Personally,I love the bit.”

“Well, do have any suggestions?” Jesus didn’t sound angry anymore. He just seemed bored, as if this whole interaction was beneath him. Maybe it was.

“Yeah, actually, I do.” Murray tried to keep the animosity out of his voice, though he knew it was useless. Jesus could probably tell what he was feeling without even 
speaking to him. “You gotta open with the water to wine thing.”


“Just trust me on this.” Murray took a risk cutting off the King of Jews, and it paid off. He was allowed to continue speaking. Or, perhaps more importantly, to continue living. “It’s real impressive and, let’s be honest, a drink loosens them up for the rest of the show. If you want to get a laugh with that lame camel through the eye of a needle bit, you gotta get some wine into the audience. I know,” He continued before Jesus could chime in, “Some of this is pretty harsh, but I’ve been in this business since you were just a moat in your old man’s eye. I know a thing or two. If you want to become a household name, you’ve gotta listen to the advice of your representation. I don’t care who your dad is.”

Jesus was silent. Perhaps he was too dumbfounded to speak. Murray imagined that the Prince Of Peace got his way more often than not. Murray didn’t care anymore. He had a lot riding on this kid’s success, and he wasn’t prepared to throw it all away.

“Before I forget this, wardrobe is very important.  You can keep the sandals, but please, for the love of all that is holy, lose the socks.”

“Okay, fine.” Jesus grumbled. “Anything else?”

“Yeah, one more thing. Drop the sandwich-making bit. Everybody can get that kind of thing down at Subway. It isn’t miraculous, it’s just boring.”

“Dude.” Jesus sounded genuinely hurt. “You’re kind of tearing apart my whole act here.”

“I understand your concern.” That was a phrase Murray had learned on his very first day. It sounded nice, like you actually cared, but it held no real weight. “But if you go with me on this, we might be able to score a gig at Caesar’s.”

“Oh, wow!” Jesus’ interest was clearly piqued. “You mean it?”

“One hundred percent.” Murray said.

“Okay. It’s a big risk, but one I’m willing to take. Catch you later.”

“Hold on!” Murray yelled just before the line went dead. “Before you go, don’t tell your father about this. He tends not to respond well to criticism.”