THE GOD OF BROKEN WORLDS
by Randy Chandler
The God of Broken Worlds poked his bulbous head through the ragged rip in the cosmic veil, looked down upon the world and saw that it was bad. "Extraordinary," He said to his aide. "This surpasses all expectations."
"Very good, sir," said the aide.
"To the contrary, Satchel," boomed GBW, "it's very bad."
"It's Hershel, sir."
"What's that, Satchel?"
"My name, sir, it's Hershel." The deity's adjunct maintained his deadpan expression because he wanted the Old Boy to think he had the patience of Job. The truth was, his job and his deity sorely tried his limited patience. Acting as GBW's functionary and metaphorical appendage was a tribulation he would not have wished upon The Old Testament's most exalted hero of affliction.
"Yes, well, as I was saying, it's very bad down there. Worst I've seen in ages. Isn't that wonderful, Hershey?"
Hershel sighed and rolled his eyes. "As you say, m'Lord."
"Look at it! Running like an ill-oiled machine. Wound so tight the whole thing's ready to fly apart in utter [He pronounced it "udder"] chaos!"
Hershel winced at the mental image of bovine teats flying in chaotic formation, but he held his peace. Best not to disagree with the Old Man when He was on a tear.
"I think this world is just about ready for me to make my presence known. Don't you agree, Hereford?"
Hershel slapped his own cheek and replied, "Certainly, sir."
"Excellent! Make the necessary preparations. And while you're opening the way, I shall be choosing my outfit. I'm leaning toward the Raiment of Fire."
"Perfect choice, sir."
As the God of Broken Worlds stormed away amid a happy crackling of static electricity, Hershel gazed down upon the out-of-kilter world and allowed himself a moment's lamentation for his lost mortality. Then the moment was gone, and with a shrug of the spirit he turned his full attention to his assigned duty: the opening of the way for his erratic Lord and Master.
Certified Wreckmaster Buckley Butts was no stranger to bizarre situations, but the one in which he now found himself was certainly the most unnerving in recent memory.
He had nothing against dead people--some of his best friends were dead--but that didn't mean he liked riding at the head of this funeral procession, hauling the broken-down hearse with his raucous wrecker. By virtue of his surname, Butts Wrecking Service was already the butt of too many lame jokes; teenagers with too much time on their hands never tired of phoning his place of business with snappy one-liners such as, "Wrecked any good butts lately?" Or "There's a crack-up on Route Six, time to haul butt." It was all very tiresome and made him long for the simpler days of Prince Albert in a can. But this--leading a funeral procession to Sunset Garden Cemetery--was sure to inspire the town's half-wit wags to new heights (or new depths, depending, of course, on one's perspective).
Buck glanced in the rearview at the hearse and the trailing line of cars and said, "Sumbitch."
"Which bitch?" inquired the voice from the wrecker's radio. It was Buck's dispatcher, Billy Moss. Buck had forgotten he had the mike in his hand keyed to transmit.
"Disregard," Buck told Billy.
"Hey, Buck?" Billy's voice crackled with static. "Are they gonna pay you extra for being in the carcass caravan?"
Buck shook his head in disgust. The first half-wit had spoken.
Howling at his own joke, Billy continued. "Got yourself a cadaver convoy."
"Billy?" Buck maintained a matter-of-fact tone, low-keyed and controlled, as he led the parade for the dead through the cemetery gate.
"Get your ass off the radio and stop polluting the air waves with your stupid jokes."
"Roger that, Wrecker One," Billy guffawed. "Or should I say, Meat Wagon Dragon? Get it? Dragon...draggin'?"
"Lord, deliver me," Buck muttered, casting his eyes upward in what he supposed was the general direction of Heaven.
"Perhaps He will," said the dapper man in a white suit who had just materialized on the seat next to Buck. "Pull over."
Buck jammed on the brakes and looked askance at his sudden passenger. "Who the hell are you?"
"Hershel the Harbinger, emissary of God."
Buck's mind suddenly slipped its cogs. He tried to get it back in gear, but the best he could come up with was: "The God?"
Hershel the Harbinger chuckled. "Not precisely. Just one of the many who make up the whole blessed pantheon."
"The what?" The ringing in his ears was the sound of his mental gears grinding, seeking purchase on reality.
"The God of Broken Worlds," said Hershel with an obvious air of exasperation. "See here, my good man, there is no time to explain further. The Old Boy is ready to come through and He doesn't take kindly to unnecessary delay. Believe me, you don't want to get on His bad side."
"Are you...an angel?"
Hershel gritted his teeth and thought: Millions of souls on this planet, each containing at least a spark of the Divine, and I have to team up with this dim bulb. He wanted to slap the obtuse mortal, but that was against the Rules of Harbingering, so he slapped himself instead. "I'm the closest thing to an angel as you're likely to see. No more questions. Just do as I tell you and just maybe this god-awful scheme will work out for the best."
"Uh, mmm..." said Buck, resigning himself to enforced ignorance. "What do you want me to do?"
Hershel smiled sweetly, attempting to soften the force of his next words. "I want you to go get the corpse out of his box and lean him against that grotesque statue of an angel. I'd do it myself but I'm not allowed to touch dead things."
"I can't do that. There's such a thing as respect for the dead, you know."
"There's no time for pissing about," Hershel raised his voice. "The bugger won't be dead much longer. Just do it."
"Whaddya mean, he won't be--"
"Tch...tch...." said the harbinger, holding up a staying hand. "You're wasting God's time."
A beefy hand suddenly rapped against the driver's window of the wrecker, and Buck turned to see Porter Fields, the owner and operator of the funeral home, fuming and mouthing unheard words. Buck cranked down the window and caught the tail-end of Porter's rant.
"...to know what in God's name you think you doing."
Hershel chortled. Buck turned to the harbinger and said, "You tell him, wise guy."
"You, sir, are about to witness a divine miracle," Hershel said grandly.
"Who might you be?" Porter demanded.
"You might think of me as the left hand of God."
Buck wanted to get the whole thing over with, so he pulled a lever to drop the hearse onto all four wheels, got out of the wrecker, pushed past Porter Fields and went after the corpse. This whole mess was Porter's fault anyway; if he'd had his other hearse in good running condition, Buck wouldn't be here now with his revered wrecker hooked up to Porter's broken-down hearse.
Several family members of the deceased were out of their cars and stood staring in disbelief as Buck opened the coffin and dragged out the corpse of Maxwell Biddy. Biddy's widow fainted dead away, falling into the arms of her brother-in-law, who had been secretly sampling the forbidden fruits of her womanhood on a weekly basis for nearly two years.
Buck dragged Max Biddy's heavy corpse over the grass and propped it against the tall statue of an angel, feeling less than confident that he was actually doing the will of God. Hershel was out of the wrecker now and was urging everyone to "Draw near and bear witness to the miracle of God Almighty."
"I'll have you arrested," Porter Fields threatened Buck. "You and your faggy little friend."
"Stand back, heathen," Hershel warned the undertaker. "Too close and you'll be consumed by divine fire. I assume no liability here."
"You pompous little--"
The air around the corpse seemed to waver, and a sharp sizzling sound filled mortal ears. Then the air itself appeared to catch fire and a muffled thunderclap made Buck jump several inches off the ground.
"Behold!" shouted Hershel. "The Lord is come!"
Surrounded by blue flames, a tall figure with an enormous head appeared next to the corpse of Max Biddy.
"Jesus," said Buck, awestruck, "look at the size of that head."
"That's the Godhead, you ninny," Hershel whispered. "Best keep such comments to yourself. The Old Boy is rather vain, and He's sensitive about His big head."
The God of Broken Worlds blew a fiery breath over the corpse, singeing Max's hair and brows. "ARISE, MY SON," God commanded. "SPEAK THAT ALL MAY KNOW YOU LIVE AGAIN."
Max opened his eyes; he looked like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming eighteen-wheeler. His lips parted slowly.
"Uh, there may be a problem, Hershel," Buck whispered. "Old Max can't talk. He lost his tongue to cancer."
"Bloody hell," said Hershel.
"Arrgh uhh ooh," said Max.
Two more family members fainted. Porter Fields pissed his Armani pants and reeled away from the reanimated corpse.
The Holy Flames circumscribing the deity all at once grew intensely brighter and a look of obvious panic appeared on His face. "HEREFORD! HELP ME!"
"Ooooh uuuh arghhh," said Max, shambling toward his unconscious wife.
"Go back, sir!" shouted Hershel. "Go--"
The God of Broken Worlds was enveloped in ravenous flames, and He began to flap His arms wildly like a chicken trying to fly, spinning round and round like a flaming top. His head exploded like an unpunctured potato in a microwave oven. The fire quickly burned out, leaving in its fiery wake a melted lump of smoldering goo.
Those spectators who had not fainted began to flee in terror.
"Bugger all," said Hershel. "This has never happened before."
"What the hell is that," asked Buck, pointing at the quivering lump of goo.
"Godstuff. It's what you get when God goes up in flames."
"You mean God's dead?"
"In a matter of speaking, yes."
"No, God can't be dead," Buck insisted.
"Dead is a relative term," explained the former harbinger. "You might say He's relatively dead. But not destroyed. Energy merely changes forms. There's always a danger of something like this happening whenever a deity takes physical form in your world. It was that Raiment of Fire. I should've checked its molecular structure before He suited up."
"What happens now? I mean, look at Him. He hardly looks up to ruling over Heaven and earth."
"Just for the record," said Hershel, "He never ruled anything. He only existed because enough people believed in Him. Take away all the parlor tricks and pyrotechnics, and all you had was a semi-supreme being created by the faith of misguided mortals. His only job was to give people hope, hope that there were better days ahead. A better place than this. Without such hope, your world would degenerate into violence and chaos the likes of which you can't imagine. That's the theory, anyway."
"Isn't there something you can do? You said there are other Gods. Can't one of them take over?"
"It doesn't work that way." Hershel rubbed his pale chin thoughtfully. "But there is something you might do."
"Me? What could I do?"
Hershel smiled thinly. "How would you like to become a god?"
"I'd do it myself, but that would violate the harbinger's code. What say you, young man? Why not be all you can be?"
Buck watched helplessly as the raised-from-the-dead husband dragged his unconscious wife behind an ornate mausoleum, the obscene bulge in the stiff's pants indicating that Max was hard-up for some wifely affection.
"Come, come, Mr. Butts," said Hershel. "This chaos will surely spread if you do nothing. Is it not time for decisive action?"
Buck's shoulders slumped in resignation. "What do I have to do?"
Hershel pointed at the lump of Godstuff. "Eat that. Eat it and be transformed. He who consumes Godstuff becomes godly."
"You're not kidding, are you?" Buck kept his eyes fastened on the heap of holy goo. He thought he detected a hint of movement within the amorphous lump, perhaps a pulse of life.
"I am not, sir." Hershel seemed offended at the suggestion that he would use such an occasion for foolishness. "The ingestion of Godstuff is hardly a joking mater. It is Holy Communion in its purest form."
"But I'm not...God material," said Buck. "Surely you can find a better candidate for Godhood."
"You will do. But you must do it now. Wait any longer and it will be too late. The stuff has a very short half-life, chemically speaking. Seize the moment, Mr. Butts. Now!"
Buck warily reached down, picked up the Jell-O-like lump and began to eat it. "Hmm," he said with his mouth full. "Not bad. Tastes sort of like..."
"Chicken?" Hershel chuckled at his own infrequent and inappropriate joke.
"No. More like 'possum. Wish I had some sweet potatoes to go with it."
"Don't talk, just eat," Hershel advised.
As Buck crammed the last of the Godstuff into his mouth and licked his fingers, a terrible screaming arose from behind the mausoleum.
"Oh dear," said Hershel. "I think the former widow has awakened from her swoon to find herself being ravaged by her resurrected husband."
"I s'pose we ought to rescue her," Buck said as he swallowed the last slimy morsel and belched a small thunderhead.
Mrs. Biddy's screams became cries of orgasmic passion.
Hershel smiled wistfully. "I don't believe she wishes to be rescued just now. There's an apocryphal saying of old: 'In every resurrection there lies a sturdy erection.' That certainly tells the tale."
Buck laughed and the unexpected force of his laughter knocked over three marble headstones and shattered the stone wings of a cherubic statuette. "Good Lord, did I do that?"
"It would seem so, sir. The transmogrification is taking place."
"The change, m'Lord. It's working its way through your body and soul."
All at once Buck's head inflated like a helium-filled balloon, and his feet were floating several inches off the ground. "Hershel!"
"Don't be alarmed, sir. All is well. Just relax and go with it."
"Easy for you to say." Buck pressed his hands to the sides of his swelling head. "My head. I think it's going to explode!"
"No it's not," Hershel reassured him. "It's just the Godhead taking shape. Nothing to fear, sir."
"I...I..." Buck began to stammer. Dark clouds scudded in from the west. Thunderheads formed with impossible speed.
"Yes?" Hershel looked up at him with unmistakable reverence.
"I....CHOO!" Buck sneezed and lightning flew out of his flared nostrils.
"God bless you," said Hershel.
"I AM LORD." These words issued from his mouth of their own accord.
"Indeed, sir." Hershel clapped his hands together and held them prayerfully beneath his chin.
Jagged bolts of lightning flashed across the black sky and thunder shook the earth to its molten core.
The new God of Broken Worlds flung open His arms and shouted: "I AM LORD."
"Very good, sir," Hershel said. "But let's not be tedious. Your worlds await."
"Best lower your voice, sir. You could be causing tidal waves in Japan."
"Right, right. I DO understand, Hershel. EVERYTHING."
"You do?" Hershel was skeptical. The previous GBW had been rather simpleminded in his understanding of the cosmic workings of the worlds He oversaw. His grandiose reach had far exceeded His feeble grasp.
"I do. Come, good servant. We have worlds to put to rights."
The new God of Broken Worlds clambered into the cab of His wrecker, and Hershel obediently followed Him.
Leaving the broken-down hearse behind on the ground, the wrecker lifted off on wheels of whirling fire and flew into the tumultuous sky with all its multi-colored lights flashing--or as one stunned witness would later recount to the media, "They flew off into the storm, all lit up like a Mexican whorehouse."
Buck stuck his big head out the window and shouted: "Hi-yo Silver, away!
Wreckmaster Buck to the rescue!"
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