Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The Below - Elster

Editor's Note: After my last Storytellers submission, I was challenged to write something that didn't involve criminals, cops, thieves, hitmen or detectives. Well it took me forever and a day to come up with something that didn't involve criminals, cops, thieves, hitmen or detectives, but at last I did. And boy did I ever.

The Below is something completely different than anything I've ever written before. It was born from a line I thought of while in the shower - that Jesus was nothing more than a born-too-early hippie.

The results of this thought became the short story below. And, quite possibly (if I can frame it out) my next book project. I hope you enjoy:

Far, far down in what he would come to know as the Below, it was like nothing he had ever seen. The vast chamber was of some form of hewn stone that many thousands (millions?) of years ago might have been molten lava, or perhaps even some other stone not found at the surface. The only light provided by flickering torches, which gave off a sulpher smell.

“What are you?” he asked the silent watchers. “And why was I brought here?”

And “what” was indeed the correct question. For even in the dim light from the distant torches, it was clear that these were no men. They were inhumanly tall, all shaped differently. Some stood on two legs like men, others crouched on all fours. None of them looked like people. He looked away.

For a long minute there was no sound, save for the wind and the crackle of the torches. Then, the leader spoke. “We were among the first, we walked here in the Below far before your Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden for putting their grubby hands on the Master’s private stock. We are the Master’s servants, just as you are David.

“And as for why you are here, all that in good time.”

David looked around the cavern. It seemed endless in the shadowy light. Beasts (for if they were not beasts or demons, what then could you call these monsters?) hovered in the fringes, just outside the licks of light. “What are you going to do to me?”

The leader laughed. Surprisingly, it was not an altogether unpleasant sound. “Do to you? We will talk to you, as we have been talking to you. Then it will be you who decides what is to be done. The will of the Master most likely.”

“The master? Who is your master?”

The leader smiled. Even with its fangs bared, David recognized condescending when he saw it. “We all serve the same master David. He is the creator of all. All come through him and all must do his bidding. Despite your storybooks David, there has always been only one.”

“But his son…”

This time the laugh was ugly. “Is it to Jesus Christ you refer? The Master has no child. The Master needs no child.

“Christ was a hippy, two thousand years too early. His message was peace and love and all that good stuff. The son of Mary and Joseph was fucking Jerry Garcia without the heroin.” He trailed off lost in thought. “Though if the poor bugger knew what the Church would do in his name, he probably would have crucified HIMSELF right there in the manger. Besides, you’re Jewish, what do you care about the one they called Christ?”

David shook his head. “You’re lying. You’re just trying to deceive me. What are you?” he asked again. “Are you Satan?”

“No David, I am not Satan.” He swept his arms all around in a grand gesture. “We are merely Satan’s foot soldiers, as Satan is the Master’s foot soldier. We do the bidding the great ones. We do the filthy jobs that the Upper Servants won’t do. Think of us, David, as the great janitors of humanity.”

Davids head reeled. He thought he would be sick. In the last forty-eight hours it has all come apart. His most normal, most perfect life had come undone in the grandest of manners. He has lost the woman he loved in a fiery car accident when her Saab had been crushed by an out of control oil tanker. And then in a moment of pure hatred against the world, right during his eulogy of the only person he had ever loved, he had cursed G-d right there at Linda’s funeral – in front of his shocked parents, the rabbi - in front of everyone. Then he’d gone on the world’s biggest bender and woken up here. In Hell.

“So what’s the deal? G-d is pissed I cursed him so he had the demon janitors of humanity, no offense, take me to Hell and punish me for a thousand years?”

The leader laughed. “No offense taken Davey. But you aint in Hell. Believe me, the Below is the Ritz Carlton compared to the fires that burn in the pits of the place your people call Hell. And no, the Master, the one you call G-d, has no idea you are down here. At least we hope not. Cause if he did, he’d be pissed as, well, Hell.

“But seriously Dave, it really doesn’t do for the Chosen One to be cursing the Master.”

“So I’m not in hell and I’m not being punished. Why am I here then? Not that I’m not enjoying my time in the, the Below is it? And what do you mean by chosen one?”

The leader looked at David, as though trying to make a decision. Finally he spoke. “Your world is coming apart at the seams David. Your people are being born rotting on the insides. The Upper Servants believe that your world needs to be cleansed by the fires. And boy, do we agree. You people really fucked up his gift to you.

“But here’s the rub Danny Boy. Your prophets speak of the final battle between good and evil – and Davey, it’s gonna be a beauty, let me tell you. I already got my front row seats reserved for that one.

“And that battle can go one of two ways. If humanity is deserving then from the ashes will come final salvation, good will triumph over evil, and it will truly be paradise on Earth.

“However, if the people are judged to be unworthy of being saved, well, the Master will ring in the final apocalypse. He will wipe this world, and everything on, in or under it, utterly clean. Sadly, that would include us poor innocents in the Below. And frankly Davey, this place may seem kinda drab to you, but we like it here. And that, my little bewildered friend, is where you come in.”

David was shaking his head. “What do you mean ‘where I come in?’ What do I have to do with any of this? I’m an architect for Chrissakes.”

The leader stared at him some more. “Your name is your very first clue David. No one is named by accident and your name is no exception. David, as in King David, father of the messianic dynasty. You are a direct descendant to King David – a link back to the start of the end. And it is on you to fix this mess your people have made before it’s too late.”

David laughed incredulously. What choice did he have? “You’re joking, right? Let me get this straight. I’m the messiah and G-d wants me to save the world. But he doesn’t know I’m here even though he’s omniscient. Yes, not it all makes perfect fucking sense. Am I dreaming? Is that it? Am I passed out in an alleyway somewhere?”

The leader sighed. It was a strange noise to hear from such a creature. “For starters, you are not the messiah. But that is a theological explanation you are not going to get. Suffice it to say, you are a harbinger.

“More to the point. The Master doesn’t WANT you to necessarily save the world. But he has bestowed upon you the ability to do so. Every generation has one such link in the chain with such a gift, the ability to change the direction of the world so to speak. It is incumbent on that person to realize that gift and use it for its purpose – in your case, saving the world from apocalypse.

“The problem is, as the generations move farther and farther from good, as they become more jaded and internally rotted, they no longer even get a sniff of the spark that’s inside of them. So, we are sorta cheating. We are letting you know about the spark and hoping that you use it the right way.”

David looked at the leader. He looked all around the cavern. He spoke more to himself than to those around him. “This can’t be real. This is a dream or some sort of hoax.”

‘That’d be one helluva elaborate hoax don’t you think D? And seriously you’re just an architect. If this wasn’t real, who would go through all this trouble just for you? You don’t smoke do you Dave?” David shook his head. “Of course you don’t. Man, I haven’t had a fag in like twenty years. We need to roam the Earth more boys.”

“Ok,” David finally said. “Let’s assume this is all true. Let’s assume I am who you say I am and you are who you say you are.”

“Good assumption D.”

“What am I supposed to do? How am I supposed to fix the world? I’m a nobody, a nothing.”

The leader barked out a laugh. “The fuck am I supposed to know Davey? I’m a demon, not your fairy godmother. And that endeth our little meeting Dave. But, I am quite sure you and I will meet again.” The leader stuck out his hand and touched David’s shoulder. And David was falling to the ground, caught in the leader’s arms and gently laid on the cold stone floor. He turned towards to of his followers. “Beiri, Toiri, take him back up. Oh, and give him some guidance. This boy wouldn’t be able to find his ass if it was taped to his hands.”

Nine hours later David Kolter woke up in his apartment, hung over and exhausted, and, the only evidence that his trip to the Below was real, a slip of paper in his hand. The little crumpled note, damp from his sweaty palm, contained a name and the words “Googel it” written underneath. Apparently demons didn’t spell all that well.

David stumbled out of his bed, past the answering machine showing forty-three new messages, and booted up his computer.