The Reaping wasn’t what anyone expected. When news broke of God’s arrival believers were ecstatic, then nervous, as they sat fingers hovered over keys, waiting to hear whose deity had come — which one of them was right.
No one was. Not entirely. I would know, I met the guy.
Not loving, not vengeful — the only omni this being was ended in ‘vore’. Like a patient gardener, God had sowed life across the universe. And now he’d returned for the harvest.
Souls, it turned out, were delicious.
“I ain’t letting nobody put me into a fucking cake, I don’t care how many universes he created.” MacGregor stood up from his stool and lifted his bony frame onto the bar.
“I don’t think you gotta worry about that,” Marline quipped from a back-corner booth. Grey ribbons of smoke curled up from the cigarette resting between her fingers. “Your crinkly ass would probably end up flavouring a sauce. You’re already a dried out herb.”
MacGregor flipped her off and hopped down to the liquor shelf on other side. He helped himself to another bottle.
There were five of us in total.
MacGregor, who looked like an over-the-hill rock star, and the quieter, cleaner-cut Barnes, had been on a munchies run when they found me passed out behind a dumpster with my face covered in blue paint. They’d brought me back to the Salty Seagull with them. Marline and her girlfriend Sylvie had showed up a day later.
“It really gives a whole new meaning to that footprint poem, eh?” Barnes nursed his beer.
“What are you on about?” MacGregor returned the way he came, an amber bottle of scotch in hand.
“God and this guy are walking down the beach,” Barnes explained. He turned his stool toward the rest of us. “Guy looks back through his life, sees two sets of footprints, but when he’s upset or whatever, there’s only one set.”
“’Cause God ate him.” MacGregor stopped in front of the pool table. “The bastard.”
I tapped my paint-speckled hands on the walnut table and stared down at the paper place mat I’d been scribbling on. “Do you think it’s emotions that attract him?” My voice cracked. The reason some people were reaped and others weren’t, was a question everyone left on Earth was wondering.
The most popular guess was religion-based, for obvious reasons. Those people believed the righteous and good were taken. To protect themselves, they carried out wanton acts of violence. Lot of good it did them. God unleashed hell on Earth, and yet these monsters were no safer than the rest of us — not that it stopped them from trying.
Others, like MacGregor and Barnes, hoped it was purity of another kind the Lord was after, and took to poisoning themselves.
“I see those wheels turning, Braveheart.” MacGregor poured scotch into my empty shot glass. “What are you thinking?”
I picked up my pen and began making a list. “Good or evil doesn’t seem to matter. If it’s not in how we behave, maybe it’s the intensity of what we feel. What if there were clues left for us? True believers of Revelations, the upset man in that poem, the meek inherit the earth — ”
“You think being really up yourself or sad is like a marinade? Makes us extra tasty?” MacGregor took a swig from the bottle, brows knitted in thought.
“Maybe,” I tapped my pen, “or angry, or — ”
“Just stop.” Marline stood from her booth. “You sound crazy. I dunno what happened to you out there, but clearly it’s knocked a few things loose.”
She looked to MacGregor and Barnes. ”What? We were all thinking it.”
“That’s funny,” MacGregor raised the bottle to his ear. “I thought I was holding a scotch bottle, but apparently I’ve dialled a fucking psychic. Don’t act like you know what’s in my head. There are things in here that would terrify you.” He tapped his temple.
“Oh, I’ve got no doubt.” Marline rolled her eyes.
“Braveheart’s the only one here who has survived a reaping,” said Barnes. “I think we should listen.”
My shoulders fell from the reminder. Three days ago, a co-worker messaged me to meet up at a coffee shop. She and some others had developed a theory.
“He’s picking us like plants,” the moustached barista had said as we all sat squeezed around a table behind cardboard cups. “So it’s simple, we make ourselves look unappetizing.”
We’d parted to go hit up the shops for ideas and agreed to meet back in fifteen minutes uglified. My co-worker had mucked up her hair with ketchup and scribbled on her face with a sharpie. A little less creatively, I went with paint.
The air had vibrated as God approached.
I downed my shot and let MacGregor fill me another.
“Yeah, yeah.” Marline sat back down. “Saw God and lived. So we’ve heard.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” MacGregor swayed over to her booth. “I think you’re just scared that your sad sack girlfriend’s sulking might make her end up a snack.”
Marline shot up and slammed her hands on the table. “Don’t talk about her like that. You have no idea what she’s been through.”
“It doesn’t make sense,” I said unintentionally aloud. The room turned to me. “Why some are taken and some aren’t.” Down on my place mat the words ‘goodness’, ‘faithfulness’, ‘virginity’, ‘attractiveness’, ‘healthiness’, ‘personality’, ‘gender’, ‘age’, ‘race’, ‘wealth’, and ‘emotional’, were written and struck out. Leaving only the word ‘random?’ circled and underlined.
I squeezed my blue dabbled hand into a fist and stood. “We’ll never figure it out, not in time. But one thing’s for sure. We aren’t safe. Not any of us. There’s got to be another way.”
“What do you suggest?” Barnes rested his beer on his lap.
My eyes darted round the dim bar for answers. Strings of white Christmas lights dangled from the ceiling and pool cues lined the wall next to a faded felt table. Could we fight back? I shook away the image of half of us poking God with sticks whilst the other half tied him up in Christmas decorations. Surely others had tried, with much better weapons.
I glanced down at the pen resting on my inked up place mat. That was it. “We’ll write him a message. Ask him to stop.”
MacGregor scratched his jaw. “I’m sorry, Marline. You were right. Braveheart’s lost it.”
“Think about it.” I spread out my arms. “To him we’re just food. How weird would it be if your food talked to you? Maybe he doesn’t know we’re intelligent.”
“Well,” MacGregor flicked his eyes to Marline and back, “some of us are — ow!”
“And another if you piss me off again.” Marline raised her fist at him.
“Damn, woman. What are you, my ex-wife?”
“You think that’ll work?” Barnes placed his empty bottle on the bar with a clink.
“I don’t know. I think it’s worth a shot.” I turned to see Marline scowl.
“You want us to communicate with that thing? What makes you think it’d even listen?” Marline spoke as much with her hands as she did with her mouth. “This is madness.”
“This is Salty — Ow!“
“Shut up. I warned you.”
“I want to try,” squeaked an unfamiliar voice. Sylvie hadn’t spoken to anyone beside Marline since they’d arrived.
Marline raised her brow. “Are you sure?”
“Yeah, it’s better than sitting around waiting to be eaten, right?” Sylvie hugged herself.
“Alright, so it’s settled then!” MacGregor stumbled back toward the centre of the bar, narrowly avoiding collision with the tables. He grinned as he approached, throwing his arm around my shoulder. “We’ll send a message to this son of a bitch telling him to fuck off. And then Braveheart…” He looked at me and winked, “We shall have… our freedom!”
Barnes and the other’s groaned as MacGregor doubled over in laughter.
“You get it?” he said between breaths. “Like the movie — ”
“We get it,” snapped Marline. “So how are we going to send this message? It’s not like we have the Almighty’s phone number.”
I scratched my cheek. Blue chips lodged under my nails. I smiled. “Paint. We’ll use paint to write a message so huge he’ll be sure to see it.”
“Where?” piped Sylvie.
“The beach.” Barnes joined the rest of us in standing. “We’ll write it on the beach.”
It was as good an idea as any. As long as we started high enough it’d give us plenty of space.
“It’s off to the hardware store then.” MacGregor headed back to the bar.
“But I sure hope one of you speaks God, because I got two words I really want to say to that fucker.” He grabbed his jacket from behind the counter and stuffed a bottle in each of the inner pockets.
Barnes slipped behind the bar as well for his coat and a long crowbar. Marline and Sylvie strode to the centre of the Salty Seagull hand in hand.
This might actually work. I downed my shot. But as I placed the glass back on the table I couldn’t help but notice my hand trembling.