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Reise Reise

Reise Reise

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Published by Greg Schoenebeck
I am not sure how this Scrbd works, but I am an aspiring author trying to receive constructive criticism. I have posted the first few chapters of my novel.

The novel is a contemporary take on Goethe's Faust.

Synopsis of Reise, Reise
Have you ever reflected on your life and asked yourself if you could go back would you do it all the same? What would you change? How much would you be willing to sacrifice to get it “right”? Nikolaus “Niko” Meer ponders those very thoughts every day as he idles away his days in the Navy on a submarine. Trapped and seemingly alone under fathoms of the icy North Atlantic he is adrift in a sea of internal reflection, lost somewhere in time dwelling upon what life would have been like if he hadn’t squandered opportunity with life and love. Niko knows that time is running short before he must make his choice- leave behind the security blanket and the only thing he’s ever known, or re-enlist his life away and sell his soul to the Devil.

The Devil (Mestophales) has been watching Meer for some time, awaiting an opportunity to make a gambit with God and ploy to creep his way back into Heaven. The time is right as bipartisanship between Angelicans and Demoncrats in Heaven has created an irreparable rift. Unemployment of phantoms is at an all-time high where soul intake and reincarnation are unbalanced, and there does not appear to be a feasible exit strategy in sight. God’s approval rating is at dismal all-time low, as confirmed by State actions such as Prop 66, replacing “Merry Christmas” with “Happy Holidays.” Many feel that God is losing touch; that he is not in tune with what is going on in Heaven and on Earth. Others agree that God has become too cavalier, likened to a reckless “cowboy” who is not open to bilateral negotiations with his spiritual colleagues; that he dictates policy and agenda from a “top down approach”, leaving no room for discussion or is unwilling to “reach across the aisle.” God is bogged down by bureaucracy in Heaven that he is losing members of his flock, like Niko, and Mestophales intends to exploit God’s weakness in attempt for his Impeachment. It’s Mestophales’ golden ticket back through the Pearly Gates.

Mestophales meets with God in Heaven and offers a wager for Niko’s soul, stating that he knows God’s flock (their trials and tribulations) much more than himself. God mocks Mestophales, indicating that no matter what evils or darkness he casts upon the disenchanted submariner, he would return to his light and purity. Mestophales sets out to prove otherwise, and a deal is struck; he has 3 days to accomplish his task.

Mestophales returns to his headquarters in the 10th Circle of Hell where his faithful (and flamboyant) assistant Freud is waiting to brief his Master about the intelligence he has prepared with regards to Niko and the submarine. The plan is to transport themselves to the submarine and possess the bodies of two of the sailors. While onboard Mestophales takes the form of a Master Chief Petty Officer, a senior enlisted submariner, who will attempt to persuade Niko into signing his life away in the service of eternal damnation, or in this case- sign his name on the dotted line of re-enlistment papers.

In the submarine's port-of-call “all the best laid schemes of demons and seamen, go ‘oft awry” as Mestophales underestimated the power and siren's call of love.

So is the tale of Nikolaus Meer a submariner who must find himself when confronted with all the carnal and worldly desires, but in the end is love enough to save his soul?
I am not sure how this Scrbd works, but I am an aspiring author trying to receive constructive criticism. I have posted the first few chapters of my novel.

The novel is a contemporary take on Goethe's Faust.

Synopsis of Reise, Reise
Have you ever reflected on your life and asked yourself if you could go back would you do it all the same? What would you change? How much would you be willing to sacrifice to get it “right”? Nikolaus “Niko” Meer ponders those very thoughts every day as he idles away his days in the Navy on a submarine. Trapped and seemingly alone under fathoms of the icy North Atlantic he is adrift in a sea of internal reflection, lost somewhere in time dwelling upon what life would have been like if he hadn’t squandered opportunity with life and love. Niko knows that time is running short before he must make his choice- leave behind the security blanket and the only thing he’s ever known, or re-enlist his life away and sell his soul to the Devil.

The Devil (Mestophales) has been watching Meer for some time, awaiting an opportunity to make a gambit with God and ploy to creep his way back into Heaven. The time is right as bipartisanship between Angelicans and Demoncrats in Heaven has created an irreparable rift. Unemployment of phantoms is at an all-time high where soul intake and reincarnation are unbalanced, and there does not appear to be a feasible exit strategy in sight. God’s approval rating is at dismal all-time low, as confirmed by State actions such as Prop 66, replacing “Merry Christmas” with “Happy Holidays.” Many feel that God is losing touch; that he is not in tune with what is going on in Heaven and on Earth. Others agree that God has become too cavalier, likened to a reckless “cowboy” who is not open to bilateral negotiations with his spiritual colleagues; that he dictates policy and agenda from a “top down approach”, leaving no room for discussion or is unwilling to “reach across the aisle.” God is bogged down by bureaucracy in Heaven that he is losing members of his flock, like Niko, and Mestophales intends to exploit God’s weakness in attempt for his Impeachment. It’s Mestophales’ golden ticket back through the Pearly Gates.

Mestophales meets with God in Heaven and offers a wager for Niko’s soul, stating that he knows God’s flock (their trials and tribulations) much more than himself. God mocks Mestophales, indicating that no matter what evils or darkness he casts upon the disenchanted submariner, he would return to his light and purity. Mestophales sets out to prove otherwise, and a deal is struck; he has 3 days to accomplish his task.

Mestophales returns to his headquarters in the 10th Circle of Hell where his faithful (and flamboyant) assistant Freud is waiting to brief his Master about the intelligence he has prepared with regards to Niko and the submarine. The plan is to transport themselves to the submarine and possess the bodies of two of the sailors. While onboard Mestophales takes the form of a Master Chief Petty Officer, a senior enlisted submariner, who will attempt to persuade Niko into signing his life away in the service of eternal damnation, or in this case- sign his name on the dotted line of re-enlistment papers.

In the submarine's port-of-call “all the best laid schemes of demons and seamen, go ‘oft awry” as Mestophales underestimated the power and siren's call of love.

So is the tale of Nikolaus Meer a submariner who must find himself when confronted with all the carnal and worldly desires, but in the end is love enough to save his soul?

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Published by: Greg Schoenebeck on Jan 28, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Reise, Reise A Novel by Gregory M.


For my Mom, who always believed; for my Dad who always helped me succeed

³The Devil is there to keep you honest´- Nikolaus Meer

³The Devil you know, may be better than the Devil you don¶t´- Patrick Isaac

Prologue in Heaven Dawn made its presence known, as golden rays of sunshine split into red, orange, and pink as if squeezed through a prism made of clouds. The weather forecast, as specified by God, called for a lot of clouds and a high of about 75° F. In fact, every day seemed to be sunny, with a slight chance of clouds. And, that¶s the way God liked it and it was good. Approaching the Gates of St. Peter slithered an enormous black asp with girth to rival a coastal redwood and charcoal scales the size of a Peterbilt¶s hood. Its presence was telltale in the pearly white clouds, like a polar bear who couldn¶t quite bury its nose in the snow in time before spooking off its prey. Slowly, methodically, and seemingly without care it meandered its way to impenetrable oaken doors which framed an inlay of pearly white granite, reserved as a barricade for the un-penitent man. The enormous structure also provided entry into the Kingdom of God and Life Eternal, or Paradise, or yada, yada, yada as the asp liked to think. There didn¶t seem to be any sense of urgency on the asp¶s part, who looked quite perturbed that he had to postpone torturing the souls of the damned to partake in the weekly Divine Being Department Head Meeting. Stopping to pant (flick his forked tongue) and catch his breath (or as the asp says, ³Checking the air´) he finally reached the pearly gates that rose 40 feet into the heavensphere, and rose up on its tail to grab the 20 pound circular door knocker, when he observed the ³No pets allowed´ gold inlay metal sign that appeared to be recently installed. ³That pompous jackhole´ the asp spat, and said aloud, ³still won¶t let that apple prank go will he?´ The asp clutched the rusting iron ring with his fangs and with relative ease wrapped loudly three times on wooden gate. No answer. ³Christ almighty, there is as much help here as trying get a blowjob in a BYU sorority house,´ the serpent spat, rolling his eyes, the color of midnight, in disgust. Among many things, the one that the asp despised the most about being an undead government official was attending all the meetings. Hurry up and wait; gotta put out this fire or that one. Did you get your travel authorization approved for attending this meeting? What¶s the authorization code for the time and attendance? Where¶s the agenda to discuss your talking points? To the asp it was all bullshit, and God could suck a fang for all he cared. Several minutes could have passed; the asp had no way to tell. Heaven, like hell, also feels like an eternity. ³I swear, it¶s always on His time,´ the asp muttered aloud, flicking his forked tongue in disgust. ³Heck, he let Jesus hang out to dry; even I was starting to feel a wee bit bad for the poor kid. I mean that Save-a-Jew walk-a-thon with the cross, the thorns, the nails, and to top it off he had to spend three days in a cave before God got off his fat, pompous rump to help him out. I mean talk about a strained father-son relationship. My associate Jerry Springer would have had a

feast with those two on his show,´ The asp continued to mutter, ³Two thousand years too late. Damn the bad luck, I really would have cashed in.´ ³Talking to yourself again, mhmmmm?´ a voice called out at the same moment the gate¶s view port slid horizontally with screeching metal-on-metal contact, causing the snake to coil like a tensed spring. Through the slit peered the steely blue eyes of the Angel Icarus who was casting a condescending gaze upon the reptile outside the holy premises. ³Snake, you are late«.Again. You should really wear a watch. I mean, that is, if you had arms´ Icarus cackled, like a crow through the porthole. ³Oh that¶s cute you little pissant. I¶ll have you know while you all are enjoying your pathetic little Sabbath, getting your fill of patty-cake grab-assing or whatever it is you guys do, I have been waiting outside like a humble servant ready to come back to the fold,´ the asp retorted taking a mock bow before beginning to unravel from its striking pose. ³Actually, we were just about to start. I mean I don¶t even know why you are up here. We are discussing your ineptness at the Heavenly State of the Union. Your soul checks and balance on Earth is way off the metric« The Big Man is not-happy-one-bit.´ Icarus said scolding the snake like a sixth grade math teacher for not knowing his times tables. Metrics. Another thing the asp hated as an undead government employee. Oh how the asp hated the arbitrary numbers game; trying to project soul intake and outtake based on projections for the two or three fiscal years into the future. It was an act of clairvoyance, but more than anything it just came down to appraisals. A Department Head is held accountable for meeting the goal and is penalized for exceeding it. The asp didn¶t particularly like the fact that God was his evaluator, nor did he relish in the fact that he would have to explain why there is a rise in the intake of souls above the projected amount and what his agenda is for resolving the backlog of souls who are now unemployed. ³Oh that¶s cute. You little winged jackass, you think you know it all. Listen smart-boy even I know that the sun is f¶n hot«.You nimrod, you may wanna keep your distance when in flight,´ The asp hissed angrily, its black hood flaring open like an umbrella. ³ So«Pretty please, why don¶t you open up the fucking door, so I can get some of that µBody and Blood of Christ¶ that everybody is always raving about.´ ³Watch yourself, snake,´ Icarus shot back, casting aside any further tit-for-tat with the asp. ³You really are a disrespectful, loathsome creature, you know that.´ ³What? You¶re telling me to watch my bum,´ The asp questioned mockingly, ³You didn¶t tell me Father Delaney was out of Altar Boy class this time of day.´ ³My point exactly, you vile beast,´ Icarus conceded, not wanting to have any more to do with the snake¶s blasphemous ways.

The chilly banter ceased, as the deadbolt to the pearly gates slid across to its full length stop in a blistering amount of pain to the inner ear that rivaled a thousand fingernails screeching across a chalkboard. The thick door slowly lumbered open, admitting the light of a thousand suns, causing the asp to be momentarily blinded and rousing a guttural³F¶n Hell, that¶s bright´ Without letting Icarus have the time or audacity for an invitation to enter, the asp slid past the angel who flapped its wings and took flight; hovering low above the approaching serpent as a raptor stalking a field mouse in a snow covered thicket Taking note of his ostentatious nature, the serpent yelled out to the hawk, ³You know Icarus, I think I know what I¶ll get you for Christmas; how about some 100 SPF wing lotion?´ the asp laughed to himself, and slithered well past the gates onward through the pathway leading past the Enchanted Garden. The Enchanted Garden was an enormous estate. In fact one could say that it was the original Playboy Mansion. Luscious green rolling hills intermingled with low clouds spread through the wide spanning valley, fed by the holy water fall. In fact, I believe it is the holiest water fall in heaven and on Earth. But, don¶t take my word on that. Frolicking in the lagoon at the base of the misty falls, played golden-haired virgin goddesses; it was God¶s gift for living a pious life in the convent of their prior lives. The asp was so awestruck by this candy land of carnal pleasure that he muttered, ³I¶d make each one of those lovely ladies a Saint, with the number of miracles they can perform on me.´ Feeling as if he¶d procrastinated enough, sightseeing by the water¶s edge, the asp negotiated further down the path and made its way up the marble steps of the Temple of Solomon, and entered. There at the great round table sat the holiest enclave ever assembled outside of Barbara Streisand- Liza Manilli- Celine Dion reunion tour. The temple was darkly lit with the exception of rippling light cast upon the towering marble supports which by vast cauldrons of burning oils. The asp found the table was in deep discussion, which bolstered his spirits, hoping it would be the conclusion of the meeting and less time spent in this awful place. Through the dark light he could make out the silhouettes of key senior leadership present at the meeting. Squinting, he could barely make out his holiness, Shiva. Hmmm, I bet he is still pissed about that little wave I made in the Indian Ocean« And they say humans are smarter than animals? Slithering closer, the asp recognized a large rotund belly and concluded that the rest belonged to that bucket µo chicken µn biscuits, Buddha, who seemed to be imagining Shiva as a standing rib roast from one of those Bugs Bunny cartoons. It really is incredible, you know, the whole damn country uses chopsticks and that guy looks like the Pillsbury Doughboy. Just something ain¶t right about that. Oh, and there¶s the Lakota Representative Crazy Horse, and quite frankly he looks rather pissed. At least he¶s here. I think he hates God as much as I do, and rightly so. I¶d be pissed if my great tipi camping trip was cancelled on account of permanent Sunday school.

The asp finally closed within earshot of the table and noted that a heated argument was picking up between Muhammed and God himself. ³You said seven virgins, God, seven.´ Muhammed yelled. ³You¶re a very bad man.´ ³What are ya talking about; they covered the spread you camel jockey?´ God chuckled with a hearty laugh. ³It¶s not my fault Charlie¶s such an arrogant, fat infidel! To go for 4th and 2 from your own 25 could cause jihad in my country.´ Muhammed retorted. ³Listen, if the offensive line would have given one ounce of give a crap for the Touch Down Jesus, then we wouldn¶t be having this conversation would we?´ God said. ³And take off that ridiculous hat in here. You look like Aladdin or something,´ ³Seven virgins God. Seven. Don¶t you know I have guys lining up outside my door looking to collect? The jig is up! I don¶t have the heart to tell them there aren¶t any. It would devastate our cause against the infidels.´ Muhammed ranted with wild hands placing emphasis on his desperation to persuade God to see things his way. God, looked over his bifocals with unsympathetic eyes and listened. ³You owe me, especially after I helped Moses part those seas. How long are you going to gloat and keep up that façade about a shepherd holding his staff like, like some Harry Potter character« That¶s just ridiculous and you know it!!! Holding back 100 foot walls of water? If it weren¶t for our cofferdams we installed, he¶d still be rolling blocks of stone for the Pharaoh Rameses.´ Muhammed growled angrily. ³I can¶t believe I am getting a shake down from a sheikh,´ God said patting an assistant on the wing who just filled up a chalice of water. ³You know if only you guys would just lighten¶ up, read something a little lighter and less militant, you could be a little more tolerable. ³ Muhammed stared back at him with a chilly, evil eye, which caused God to tread backwards. ³I am just sayin¶.´ God put out his hands, calling it as he saw it. ³You very bad man God.´ Muhammed said. ³Oh he¶s not bad, Muhammed, you are just as dumb as a bag of hammers´ the asp spoke up, entering the shower of light beaming down onto the table from the colossal domed roof above. ³If anybody owes anybody it¶s you for the amount of overtime my demons are putting in these days due to your so-called µholy jihad¶ against the infidels. We may have to work on Halloween for the preliminary Saddam Hussein investigation because we don¶t have the soulpower to support our day to day persecution and torture of the damned.´

³Well, well. Look who¶s finally decided to join us. You¶re late as usual Mestophales.´ God chided the latecomer like a nasty schoolmaster. ³Sorry my Liege, I didn¶t realize µThou shalt not be late¶ was a last minute addition to your new book. I¶ll go get the ruler,´ the asp scornfully replied as he made a mock-like curtsy ala court jester. ³You know, you should bite your two tongues you little miscreant, especially in my house. You¶re lucky I made you just a snake, because the prince of darkness should have been an old, wooden outhouse given that you are a pain in my backside and are full of crap.´ God said, selfdelighting in his witty comeback as he nudged Muhammed playfully in the ribs. ³Tell ya what God, the next time I need to hear your lip, I¶ll put it outta my zipper like I had Father DeLaney do for little Billy Jenkins.´ The asp spat back. The last words of the snake¶s retort caused God to lunge across the table towards the throat causing Buddha and Shiva to restrain the almighty with all of their might. ³Gentlemen, gentlemen please can we get a grip here´ interjected Crazy Horse. ³I don¶t have all day. Crazy Horse meeting with council spirits on new casino deal, and no time for your ongoing feud.´ ³I agree,´ Shiva said. ³I have a spinning class in an hour, and then off to Kama Sutra.´ ³Spinning? I would have thought you to be more Yoga?´ Buddha questioned. ³No, right now I am trying to shed a couple of pounds for Diwali. It¶s a raucous of a good time you know; five days of partying with food and drink. A taste on the lips is a life time on the hips.´ Shiva replied. ³What are you talking about? Shiva, you have to run around in the shower just to get wet. I think you can afford the extra pounds.´ The asp said laughing to himself. Then leaning over to whisper in his ear, ³Stop by later and I¶ll bless you the sacrament of gluttony and you can kiss your ab lounge and that meathead Chuck Norris good bye forever with all the junk food your skinny rib cage can handle. ³ ³Silence you Idiot!!! I have heard enough of your insolence.´ God boomed, his voice echoing off the enormous marble ribs supporting the temple roof. ³You shall not blaspheme in thy house. Is that clear?´ ³Sure, sure God, you¶re the boss´ the asp replied sardonically. ³What¶s up his frock today, tubby?´ The asp whispered to Buddha, taking his place at the table, but he did not respond for fear of a stern reprimand from the head of the table.

Sensing that God had dispensed with the informalities, the remainder of council took its seat. The asp still cast a menacing glance at God not thrilled at the idea of being chastised in front of the others. He loathed it. He loathed God more than anything, ever since his disbandment from the Herald. And for centuries the two were locked in a power struggle; Good vs. Evil. A power struggle of checks and balances with life on earth the pawns of their game of chess. But, now they were here to address the State of the Union on Earth, here in the Holy Senate Chamber within the Temple of Solomon. The chamber was a monstrous, tower-like coliseum with stadium seating rising into the 7th heaven. Angelicans and Demoncrats split the venue in two as if a USC-UCLA football game were being played; right down their individually worn red or blue sashes, respectively, signifying the alliance their team. In the center was the grand marble table, cut by the finest mason, which measured 20 cubits by 30 cubits in an oval shape. It was here which sat the gladiators of the spiritual world which jockeyed for God¶s ear. And, so the table was set for our tale. It was the present time, in the year of our Lord. The time of the four horsemen is imminent, based on the grains left in the doomsday hourglass. Bipartisanship has spread rampant through Heaven. Unemployment of phantoms is at an alltime high where soul intake and reincarnation are unbalanced, and without any feasible exit strategy in sight. God¶s approval rating is at a dismal all-time low, as confirmed by such state actions as Prop 66 , replacing ³Merry Christmas´ with ³Happy Holidays.´ God has been plagued by scandal in office. The Angelicans are losing favor with the masses, which are becoming increasingly bitter and divided about the rise in simony and the ³business as usual´ attitude so many feel has been plaguing Heaven these days. Many feel that God is losing touch; that he is not in tune with what is going here and on Earth. Many agree that God has become too cavalier, likened to a reckless ³cowboy´ who does not open bilateral negotiations with his spiritual colleagues; that he dictates policy and agenda from a ³top down approach´, leaving no room for discussion or is unwilling to ³reach across the aisle.´ There is a sense in the air that Heaven is at a crossroads of biblical proportion. That Heaven needs change it can believe in. No more ³I think we can!´ Sometimes, change can come in the most unlikely of circumstances, where an unlikely series of events can call reveille and make an unlikely hero ³arise from thy slumber.´

AlasReise, Reise, Seemann Rise.

Chapter 1: Dead or Alive I never really liked funerals, I thought to myself. The wind was really starting to whip across the clearing of icy, glazed headstones as I drew up the collar of my Navy pea coat. Supposed to snow again; hope this doesn¶t take too long. I always considered myself a wedding guy. Better food; people seemed like they had a better time. I knew I should have brought a hat for this. Maybe, it¶s because I never really thought too much of dying. I always seemed to let each day come as it may. Just living the dream, eh? Secretly, my dream involved a Norwegian Victoria Secret model working over a stovetop of brauts and kraut as hard as she worked out my mattress box springs. One can dream right? I mean, this is what this all is. Just a dream, right? The wind was gathering intensity and brought me back to reality as I joined the rest of the congregation bowing their head in prayer. An intermittent sob, a sniffle, broke the hallowed silence they all shared. The skies were as foreboding as was the mood. I looked from side to side as the priest kept on and on with his eulogy. I noted all were in deep meditation. Good God Man! ³He sure is long winded isn¶t he?´ I said to my Father, rolling my eyes. No response. Just a sullen expression of deep sorrow and loss. I really hope they have those Thai chicken skewers at Aunt Karen¶s place. And, those mini- Stromboli. I suppose you never can be too sure what the next day brings. One day you are here, the next you could be just a distant memory. Better to be on this side of the dirt, I always say. The sun was trying its best to peak through the December grey, but it just didn¶t have the energy to breech the bastion of gray, stormy skies A large, strong Elm stood on that hill with us, nearly stripped of all its double serrated, oval leaves; its limbs rattled in the intermittent gusts. A few wispy red and orange ones, like dying ambers of a flame, challenging the imminent harshness of winter, but, their days were dwindling and numbers fading one by one carried away by the wind. It was curious to see how life clings to hang on to its past. The eyes around me were beginning to well as anecdotes of his past life were being told. Doesn¶t sound like a bad guy; it kind of sounds like me in a way. Hearing his stories really makes me think of how I lived my life. I stepped forward slightly to read the headstone, and that¶s when I awoke.

Chapter 2: The Heavenly State of the Union Part 1 (Like taking Pork from a Barrel) A flurry of angels started to buzz around passing out the agenda for today¶s meeting like hummingbirds feverishly extracting nectar from a honeysuckle. God ignored the commotion as he had become deeply immersed into deciphering the small font that had been copied onto the scroll. He continued to squint and stared through his Heaven Soft¦ custom lenses (noted for superior lightweight comfort and rugged durability). ³You know there ain¶t no sailboat in there, no matter how long you stare at it.´ Mestophales jabbed wryly, referencing the Magic Eye Pictures. God broke off his gaze from the scroll momentarily to produce a cautionary glance before returning to the memo. ³We need more light in here.´ He said out loud. On call, the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove set ablaze descended from up above, illuminating the great hall. The pearl white marble walls radiated the tongues of fire, hovering 10 feet above the congregation like a candelabrum. Still God could vaguely make out the typing on the scroll, and he muttered, ³And this is not good.´ ³Gabriel!´ God bellowed with his gaze intently fixed on the page. Gabriel was God¶s Angelic Branch Chief in charge of Angelic Affairs after he proved his worth as a Team Lead during his internship in Heavenly Incident Response (HIR). His keen insight and unswerving devotion to duty caused even a few of the Angelic Commissioners to take note. In fact it was said that the Sacred Continuity of Operations Plan (SCOOP) that provided contingency procedures for helping Noah build the ark and collect animals two by two was heralded as ³progressive and had foresight.´ Using this as a springboard, Gabriel propelled his career in Angelic Affairs where he became the Mortal-Immortal Liaison Team Leader. Likened to the Dr. Phil of his time, he helped facilitate the conveying of awkward news to Joseph where he learned that Mary would conceive a child that was not his own. DNA tests later confirmed this in a follow-up show. ³Gabriel, I thought in the last meeting we discussed that Times New Ephesians 12 point is the new approved font?´ God demanded. ³Oh, yes. Yes it is,´ replied Gabriel, feverishly scrolling the cursor to look up the records Heavenberry•. ³Well, it says that the fiscal year is at an end, and we are in a Righteous Continuing Resolution. And, uh, let¶s see here. Ah, yes here« This year¶s fiscal budget has not been approved for the coming year, so we are limited to priority one or two ticket items for expenditure.´ ³But Gabriel, this is a priority one item!!! I can¶t read the blasted thing!!!´ God boomed.

³Yes, but the Commission denied its approval. Ever since the Demoncrats won in the past midterm election, they gained control of the house and as you know the Commission. With 3 Demoncrats to 2 Angelicans we could not sway the vote and priority one went to...´ Gabriel said solemnly. ³To what???´ God yelled sharply. ³To new pitchforks and a Lucifer 3000” smoker with side firebox and grill rack for ease of roasting flesh of the damned.´ Gabriel said with head lowered and afraid to meet the wolflike eyes reflecting the flame looking down upon him. ³What???!!! No, no, no. They have gone way too far. First it was the Pineapple Upside Down Cake and Beef Yakisoba Treaty and now this?´ God barked. ³Pineapple Upside Down Cake and Beef Yakisoba Treaty? I don¶t remember that?´ Gabriel asked puzzled he hadn¶t come across it in the Holy Archives. ³Yeah, it was a Treaty signed before your time. It was used an agreement as punishment for Naval submariners and for all the ungodly acts they took in foreign ports. The backlog of sins, caused the Simony Market Crash of ¶85. Everyone felt the impact of this crisis and Satanic Decision Directive (SDD 67) for Enduring Constitutional Operations was crafted to prevent such occurrences ³detrimental to Heaven or Hell alike´ & shall be mitigated in the future-´ ³Is that the one where in Annex A of the procedure, it states that now both surface and submariner naval sailors will be given a ³heavy dose´ of Pineapple Upside Down Cake and Beef Yakisoba to curb any further attempt at their despicable actions in port of call?´ ³No, no that¶s Annex X.´ ³The plan has really worked though my Lord?´ ³Gabriel, if only we had the proper intelligence to make a more judicious decision.´ ³But, you didn¶t my Lord. The Failure of Initiative Simony Market Crash Committee (SMCC) determined that your intelligence was in error,´ the asp chimed in, rubbing salt in a wound that was still fresh in many minds in Heaven and Earth with God¶s ineptitude during an emergency. The Demoncrats rose to their feet in thunderous applause for approval of their leadership¶s voice. God ignored the asp¶s ploy to engage in verbal combat. ³Anyhow Gabriel, I want you to write this up as a priority one ticket item and tell them to approve this before a non-negotiable sandal goes up their ass.´ God said holding the scroll up. After the long tirade, the group went back to reviewing the following agenda Date: Dec 16, 2006

To: The Divine Roundtable Working Group From: God Subject: Budget plan and the State of the Earth Union

Agenda Preliminary Discussion & Upcoming Events 1.) 2.) 3.) 4.) 5.) Retirement party for Director of Biblical Materials Safeguards, Damien Karas (10 min) 666 training submittal due 12/30 (10 min) Holiday Party preparations and updates (10 min) Wal-Mart Updates (2 minutes) Global Cooling (2 minutes)

Current Status & Future Plans 1.) Current Status on Earth: 6.6 Billion People satisfied (30 min) Long Term Projects 1.) Pluto Planet recall (5 min) 2.) Da Vinci Code Leaks:  Mary Magdalene Internet photos (5 min)  Punishment for Dan Brown (5 min) Open Discussion

There was a ten minute silence as the assembly started to review the itinerary. It was a typical meeting albeit the flashy ³Heavenly State of the Union´ title may imply otherwise. It was typical from the standpoint that since Heaven and Hell composed of the two largest departments of the Netherworld Regulatory Commission (NRC) it always seemed that most of the table talk was between God and the Asp. The other offices supported the overall mission of the Agency, but had no real say past what flavored frankincense could be burned in the temple break room. A lot of times the others just sat idly by and watched the grains of the hourglass fall until it was time to adjourn. ³Alright, first of all I want to say thanks for coming during the busy season here as we are down to the final days before the New Year. First of all, I want to say I am pleased with all your efforts which you all have put forth. I know we all have been putting in a lot of hours and burning the chrism, or for you pagans, the midnight oil.´ God said looking over at Crazy Horse who had sliced his chest with knife fashioned from the jawbone of an enormous prairie bison and started using the agenda as his canvas for the finger paintings of bloody drawings.

³It has been a tough year for us. The two biggest concerns at the present are the battle in the holy land and an intelligence leak which indicate that American Presidents have loose affiliations with the Devil. ´ ³Additionally, I believe that our strategy for checks and balances concerning our soul incoming and outgoing has the pendulum far too swung to the one side.´ God turned his attention to address him nemesis cordially, ³Mestophales, I believe you had a good plan written, that had a quality research and investigation, but in the long term I think we as a whole did not have sufficient information to address a quality exit strategy.´ God trailed off, sorting through the rest of his talking point notes. ³Without a clear a defining exit strategy we put ourselves into a bind. Torture by the souls of the damned has skyrocketed 150% over the past two years. Unemployment of the undead has increased dramatically due to the inability of Siva and his department to effectively implement a reincarnation initiative. His staff has an extensive backlog, and swamped to the point which we have been forced to send souls out in temporary positions as fungi, algae, and flu,´ ³But, that initiative could spell disaster,´ Shiva added, shaking his head. Currently we have some summer hires being placed into the H5 N1 Avian Flu branch and subsequently incorporated into Archangel Michael¶s Avian Flu Pandemic Plan (AFPP) as flu reincarnates, that will be assured to cause over 1 million death and illness worldwide.´ ³What this really means, if we do not get a handle on our soul intake, then we will be in dire straits, and I don¶t mean Money for Nothing and Chicks for Free.´ God finished. ³Well, I don¶t know what more you want? I mean our Branch executed the orders for jihad as part of the stimulus package which you approved,´ Muhammed chimed in defensively, ³We made war to hopefully make babies, and so far baby boom of 1940¶s not look like 2000¶s.´ ³Muhammed, I understand what you are saying, but I will not accept that we are in a baby-making recession,´ God replied. ³Okay, let¶s move on, we¶ve got a lot to cover, Gabriel please continue-³ ³First of all, thanks for coming. I know some of you had trouble getting in here with Jacob¶s Ladder getting congested from an earlier accident on the Outer Rung,´ Gabriel said pacing around the marble table reading from his notes, ³Okay, so let us look at item #1. As you all know Damien Karas will be retiring at the end of January. He did an excellent job for 1200 years as Biblical Materials Safeguards Division Director. He is stepping down after an amazing career. ³Notably he founded Opus Dei as part of our incident response plan and has really been a valuable asset for being able to thwart mans attempt to discover a link between the egg and the chicken. So we need to come up with some ideas for a going away present for the good service he has provided. Ideas anyone for party location and gift idea? Go ahead Muhammed.´

³How about a caricature, perhaps he standing on top of a mountain fighting back crusaders with a scimitar and 7 virgins clinging to his legs while shouting ³Dan Brown prepare to meet John Brown.´. ³Um, yeah, let¶s not do that. Okay?´ God said, rubbing his temples in frustration. ³Seriously guys, I need something. Why is it I need to do everything around here? Shiva, you guys know how to party. Think of something and no Bollywood, okay, I can¶t understand it, except for the mega-hot babes.´ With a nod from God, Gabriel continued, ³Okay, moving on to #2, Mestophales, I need you to get submittals from your demons concerning 666 training. To re-emphasize, we are in a Righteous Continuing Resolution so in order to appropriate new funds we must ³use or lose´ what we have from our old budget. So, any external training that you want to put in for, you must do so by COB on Dec 30th.´ ³Does this include any Exorcism Preparedness Training classes? This was a subject for debate the last time we convened.´ ³Yes, I say, µThy will be done¶.´ Laughed God at his own joke while making the sign of the cross. With the words, the Demoncrats got to their cloven feet, clapped their hooves and snarled in guttural pleasure. When the ruckus subsided, they took their seats, eagerly anticipating the next moment to interject. ³Okay, Gabriel let me talk a little bit about #3, here«.Holiday Preparations. It¶s that time of year. So, I really want to strive for religious diversity this year. Even though, it¶s my baby boy¶s birthday, I want everyone to celebrate. I believe that everyone should have the ability to open presents, even feather headed dirt worshippers,´ said God as he cast a disapproving gaze over to Crazy Horse who has moved on from bloody finger painting to making preparations for smoking peyote in his peace pipe carved from a familiar looking apple tree. ³So, Shiva since I nominate you to make the plans for the Damien Karas Birthday celebration, just go ahead and work on the holiday party too. I want it big. Trees, Menorahs, upside down crucifixes, arugula, the works.³ God said emphatically with eyes as wide as a kid on Christmas morning. ³I want to say religious diversity, µYes We Can!´ Both parties rose to their feet and shouted, whistled and clapped in approval. God sat their soaking up the praise and took a drink of water from his glass, and waited until the chamber took its seat. ³Jesus, I want you to do your magic show. The kids just love that trick you do with the fish and bread, and the adults love that water into wine trick.´

³Oh, and Gabriel, tell the angelic choir to bring their A game, not like last year¶s dismal performance.´ God said. ³Yeah, that¶s right. First they played µLittle Town of Bethlehem¶ which sounded great. Next thing you know they come out to sing ³O Holy Night´ and the words for Little Town of Bethlehem started playing.´ Buddha chimed in. ³Man, I cannot believe they lip synch. That could cause holy jihad in my country.´ Yelled Muhammed. ³To think they blamed it on having colds. And what was that crazy hoe down looking thing that one choir girl did before she scurried off the stage?´ Shiva added. ³I don¶t know, but it¶s your rear if that crap happens again. So make it good or no Holy Cow for you. Got it?´ God said eyeing Shiva which signaled that there would be no room for negotiation. ³Alrighty, on to our monthly Wal-Mart update. We just got the Supercenter opened about a month ago and it seems like it is fairly convenient (things are right on track). They have opened a salon now and even a bank. But, I think the nicest addition to ours is that the Wal-mart Chapel is a true Godsend. No pun intended.´ God said laughing at his own joke with no one else catching on. ³What do you guys think?´ ³It¶s a good store all in all Father. I really like it.´ Jesus said who had been silent up to this point scribing notes and minutes concerning the meeting. ³I think it is really is a complete a one-stop- shop. ³ ³No, no. I don¶t like it. My people are being treated unfairly. First the subservient doglike women that they are demanded to remove black shroud before they get Netherworld Passport photos,´ growled Muhammed ³Secondly, there is a new 48 hour requirement on suicide vests for background check. If we must strike down the infidel today than it should be so. Enough with the profiling already!´ The Demoncrats rose to their feet and growled again in jubilant approval, as the Angelican representatives remained mum in their seats, obviously displeased with this notion of equality in times of Heavenly Preparedness. God took a moment to ponder, also a moment to think about if he¶d remembered to TiVo the . ³Good points Muhammed, all good points. About the black shroud, I agree, that your women do look like dogs and should have the right to wear a black shroud to protect others from seeing them. That is a belief which may be construed as offensive.,´ God said., ³I shall earmark spending to assess a 24/7 shroud clause to the Heavenly Patriot Act, and push through a bill next month for approval´

With this the Angelicans rose to their feet, singing praises of Hosanna in the highest, this time with the Demoncrats left on the laurels to stew. After, the rumbling subsided, Muhammed continued trying to clear up the misunderstanding. ³No, no. That not what I mean to speak, sir. I say women are subservient dogs and need to wear black shroud such that my people will not have carnal desires about other women.´ ³I understand your point. But, I continue to believe in what I believe and what others believe in. so we can all have the same belief. But, it¶s hard work. It¶s incredibly hard, working hard. Hard choices take hard work.´ God sighed. ³It¶s just hard, okay?´ This would be a good time too, to point that sometimes God tended not to make any sense. Often the words in his head did not manifest into coherent sentences through his lips. And, that¶s what his dialogue tended to be sometimes, just words. ³Some girls even refuse underwear and are now adopting like 8 children from Vietnam to be more like the infidels of the West. I cannot and will not allow this infiltration. We have values and traditions to uphold and find it dangerous to have progressive women being molded by the pig man, Ryan Seacrest and MTV Europe.´ ³Listen, Muhammed I feel your pain. I know that your women may be« May be hard to look at. I understand. Not everyone can be a California girl from Laguna Beach. But, my stance is the same as it was for the driver¶s license legislation that had been handed down. A picture of a black veil does not tell a thousand words.´ God said firmly with resolve. ³For seven virgins I make deal.´ Muhammed said. ³Look, you got until Ramadan to cool it with your soul intake. If anything you owe me seven of your virgins, although taking a chance behind veil #1 may be too risky for my blood. Not much of a gambling type, ya know. ³ God said. Then God leaned in close to whisper in Muhammed¶s ear, casting a thumb over his shoulder to Jesus who was obliviously scribing notes, ³Listen, I got lucky with the whole third day plan; wasn¶t sure how that was all going to pan out., he had risen so that¶s much more than I had planned for.´ ³Alright, I will relay this to my Branch and see what I can do, but you still owe me.´ Demanded Muhammed. ³Read my lips, no new virgins okay?´ God firmly stated, thus finishing the one on one debate. With that the Angelicans rose in pleasure giving God a standing ovation. As the last echoes faded away into silence, God pressed onward.

³Okay Son, where did where are we at?´ Jesus shook his head and looked skyward muttering, "Eli, Eli, lama sabacthani" Apparently, he overheard his Father after all. ³Enough of this already«.Look Son, we have been through this before, and I am not going to go over it again.´ God responded as the breath left his lungs like the wind spilling from a galleon¶s mainsail. ³Sorry, but the plan became more ad hoc than we had wanted. But, we wanted to show the Sanhedrin that we were taking a hard stance and we don¶t negotiate with their kind. ³ ³Quite frankly there has to be a better way.´ Jesus replied in disgust. ³We tried to deliver our message in a more diplomatic manner,´ God answered. ³I don¶t think we could have negotiated with these guys using bilaterally. We need more people like you Boy, to carry the cross.´ Seeing that his Son still was disappointed, God threw his hands in disgust. ³So, Jesus, what do you want? I gave you a birthday party every year that has gotten progressively better from the days of Frankincense and Mur. You don¶t even have to sleep in a stable anymore.´ God said. ³Forget it Pop, I just wish we knew each other better. Did things together more often. I don¶t know just break bread or something.´ Jesus said. ³I know, I know. But, I am busy, real busy. I¶d love to lounge around like Lazarus all day, but it¶s tough being the boss and having to balance life and death with him over there´ God said acknowledging the asp who has become increasingly agitated by the family reunion. ³Listen, I know that Peter gets all the credit and hell, he probably gets more girls, but believe me, Son, you are the real Rock and a damned good one at that!´ With that father and son gave an awkward hug for it would take some time and some counseling to make them see eye to eye. But for now, at least they could respect each other until another Palm Sunday rolled around again. ³Ah, guys. This is great and all but can we please stick to agenda? I must make propaganda statement for Al Jazeera TV news at 6:00 in time to make evening news edition in the District of Capital Infidelity³ Muhammed intervened, hoping to get the assembly back on track. ³Yes, moving on,´ Gabriel concurred. ³The next order for discussion is Global Cooling.´ ³Ah««´ A deep, disgusted sigh came over God. ³Yeah, yeah« I just wanted to give you an update with where we stand concerning the climate change on Earth. As it has been known for the past 10 years there has been a shift in the culture that is being brought about conscientious, radical human beings bent on the destruction of the work of beauty that I have

produced«.Which, if I may add, only took seven days to complete.´ God said. A roar of the Angelicans erupted as they stood up from their seats to applaud. After the ovation subsided, God continued, ³For more on this, I¶ll turn it over to friend and esteemed colleague, despite what Dan Brown may write, Sir Isaac Newton.´ God introduced as the great physicist floated forward from the shadows who had been witnessing the proceedings. Even though God, put his hand to his mouth and looked deep in thought, it was a mere subterfuge. Terms like the Jerusalem Protocol, climate change, and the Amish car exhaust & emissions cap were mere ³inconvenient truths´ which distracted him from thoughts of how Notre Dame coaches should best employ their freshman phenom quarterback. God nodded his head in agreement when the others nodded and did all he could to suppress his yawns. After all, he really hated science class. ³«..And so if this scenario happens we will all be out of work with no soul left on earth.´ Newton ended leaving a foreboding feeling linger in the air with his final words, and silence engulfed the Great Hall. Making the point to ensure that it appeared he was fully attentive, ³ I want to say, heckuva a job Newty, heckuva job. But, Newty are you sure about all of this? Does it seem like some sort of hoax? Can the changing of the atmosphere« Can it be cyclic?´ God questioned disapprovingly. ³Absolutely not.´ After a moment¶s pause to let it sink in, Shiva spoke up first, ³So, what can we do Newton? How can we help?´ Getting up from the table and pacing with hands behind his back, he said, ³As, I was indicating from the figures and equations in my presentation, we must continue deforestation. The more conversion of CO2 the better. Secondly, Buddha, I love what you are doing with your Branch. Dirty coal, heavy industrial pollutants. But, I need you to step it up, like a plate of General Tso¶s chicken was on the line. Shiva, I need more Holy Cows. Manure accounts for over 30% of greenhouse gases, but I think we can push the figures up a point or two. Mestophales, I need your demons to work harder. That Hummer idea was ingenious, twelve miles to the gallon. But, it¶s not enough we¶ve got hybrids to contend with. I think we should start a program, µcash for gas¶, and that means Muhammed I need you to drill baby drill.´ Both sides, red and blue rose to their feet in thunderous approval, and chanted ³Drill Baby Drill´ with reverberations that deafeningly echoed throughout the coliseum. Over and over they roared in unison, until the chant subsided. God paused for a moment to reflect momentarily. ³Newty, seems kinda counter-inutive, I mean, counter-in-tu-titive, I mean ah, counter to what I was ah- thinkin¶. But, alright then Newty, I¶ll

get on the horn with µol Dicky and tell him our new strategy to µDrill Baby Drill.¶ Should be back from hunt¶in by now.´

Chapter 3: Haze Grey and Underway. My eyes flicked open and all I saw was black. No snow covered field. No eulogy. Worst of all, no Victoria Secret model making dinner in a corset. Still here. Haze grey and underway on a fast attack sub for Uncle Sam. I touched my chest with my hands and felt the cool, raw fear which soaked through my oil-stained undershirt. Still here, still breathing«.Right? The sleeping quarters in the 21 man bunkroom compartment was cold and dark and that¶s the way I liked it. With the exception of the red corridor track lighting that lined the deck walkways to aid with navigation in the space, it was blissful darkness, free from the electrical hums and mechanical chatter within the belly of this steel shark. It was my sanctuary. The exhaust of the circulating fans passing through the ventilation duct above me blew an arctic chill across my body and sent shivers through my sweaty body. It felt refreshing on my face, although the rest of my body didn¶t share the same sentiment. My back was beginning to get sore from the Navy issued 3´ thick foam mattress which barely fit my 6¶1´ frame. It was far from Tempurpedic memory foam; in fact I think it had amnesia. My bunk was the top, outboard along the far bulkhead. The racks were stacked three and was like a mausoleum, housing the crew of the damned, the dropouts, and the transients who are trying to close the chapter on a past life and doing their best to pen a new one. With an eighth of an inch thick blue curtain spanning the length of my catacomb, it was my little piece of heaven, if such a place existed. It is here that I would lay prone and sleep, listen to music, read a novel, look at one of the many tattered Playboy¶s that¶s gotten used and abused, or just plain abuse myself, if you catch my drift. The only problem I had were six, 3´ thick cable arteries of 450V juice running through them, so there was not much room for creativity; and sooner or later my luck would turn and I¶d find out how well of a conductor foreskin makes. What then? So maybe my piece of heaven is a little different than yours. I¶m sorry but when you have little to work with, you just have to get creative. The last time I checked there was no billet at the Playboy Mansion, and Navy Regulations prohibits the wearing of a bathrobe and sipping Crevassier on duty, as it is not considered the proper uniform of the day. Believe me, I checked into it. So, this is it. Just laying here. I can¶t sleep. I have no idea what time it is and no, I am not going to check my watch. All I knew is that by my last journal entry, and no that¶s not a freakin¶ diary entry mind you, was that it was a week to Christmas Eve, and that was going to be spent underwater in the chilly North Atlantic. I¶d like to see Santa pull that one off, perhaps he¶ll swim up the torpedo tube to deliver our goodies.

But, I don¶t want to know anyway. I¶ll leave it up to the dreaded Wakeup to dictate time to me, since the body¶s alarm clock is out of commission. Until then, hopefully, I got enough

time to go back to some kinda fornication with Jenna on that wastewater treatment plant control panel. Don¶t judge. If Cheri magazine says it¶s okay then, hell why not. It¶s my dream. You got a long swim ahead of you if you wanna stop me. Ah, but what¶s the use. I got an active imagination and a strong left arm. How far is that going to get me in life? Perhaps I have the makings for a good writer, but unfortunately that takes my right hand. Guess I¶m screwed. And since boot camp at Great Lakes, I¶ve been grabbing ankles ever since. Alas, here I am alone again to wrestle with my thoughts and do some of that reflecting shit. You know the road I traveled mumbo jumbo that is usually reserved for couch talk in some shrink¶s office. Anyhow, Here, follow me I gotta tap a kidney. The arctic blast infiltrated my blankets to the point that it has got a fierce kungfu grip on my bladder. I can¶t take any more so let¶s continue this conversation on the way to the head. I broke free from my quiet reflections as the urge to pee intensified from the kungfu grip which held my bladder in a submission hold. I couldn¶t take one more moment of the arctic chill which infiltrated my blankets. Pulling the curtain back, I grabbed the frame of the rack across from me with my right hand, and as I grabbed my frame in my left I swung my legs outward and gently descended six feet to the cool linoleum deck like a gymnast descending from the parallel bars. Definitely a 9.6 for technical difficulty and sticking the landing. ³Christ, it stinks,´ I muttered to myself. I swear it always smells like someone crapped their pants. I tell ya, some of these guys fear water as much as the Wicked Witch of the East and have no idea how to operate a bar of soap even if there were directions on the side. Slipping on my shower shoes that were stuffed at the foot of my rack, I instinctively negotiated the left, right, left through the dark with relative ease. You do it enough, you¶re bound to get good. That¶s what I read in Cheri too; all kinds of factoids. I pulled opened the door to the 21 man bunkroom and stepped into the foreword compartment lower level. The intensity of the light was immediately taken in by my cornea, which skewed my vision momentarily as the pupil rapidly adjusted from my hours in solitary confinement. Pausing a moment before starting my trek to the Lower Level Head. After my eyes adjusted, I started to walk forward, making my way around to the stairway leading to the middle level passageway, which is the major traffic artery on the boat . Making my way around the corner, the rumbling of the Auxiliary Room became louder. The Auxiliary Room was the compartment which houses numerous mechanical and electrical equipment that helped support a lot of submarine¶s mission critical systems which was operated by, fittingly named, Auxiliary Mechanics or ³A-Gangers´. Some of the machinery included: the diesel generator for emergency power, O2 generation, CO2 removal, refrigeration, and sanitary equipment to name a few. These guys were tough, gritty mechanics, often known as knuckle draggers as homage to their gorilla cousins. Most carried the stigma of being incompetent, being ³those Vo-tech kids´ or being the washouts from the Navy Nuclear Power School who weren¶t ³smart´ enough to make it through the rigorous 2 year science based tech school. Maybe some

of it was true. But a shitbag will be a shitbag regardless of race, creed, and how much training you give him. After rounding the corner, I grabbed the handle to the second door on the right and cautiously opened the stainless steel door, which opened inwardly; I didn¶t want to hit the guy that could be exiting the shower stall that was just on the other side of the entrance. Like the door, the middle level head was a 360 ft3 box composed entirely of stainless steel, with the exception of the blue speckled tile floor. It had one shower stall, which had enough room for a 6¶1´ submariner, two sinks with mirrors, and a gravity operated toilet stall. Pretty much a glorified Port-o-Potty. You sit down, do your business and fill up the bowel with potable water using the supply valve that piped in from the onboard tanks. Once, that you felt you had enough water to adequately flush your turd, you pulled the large lever on the right of the bowel to operate the ball valve. The ball valve opened and voilà! Your turd and toilet paper made a trip to the sanitary tanks below. And, if you listened really carefully, you could even hear its final stop on impact. The flush was also a courtesy to your fellow shipmates, to clean any graffiti off the bowel and to flush any toilet paper and turd off the piping that ran down to the sanitary tanks. This is done to prevent clogging the pathway the drain lines and onboard a submarine there is no Draino, it¶s called 100 psi ships service air; and that in itself could be a messy proposition if a clog did exist, if you catch my drift. My trip to the Lower Level Head would prove uneventful. I stood dumbfounded, perhaps still groggy, perhaps not believing that I saw the metallic silver and red ³Do Not Operate´ tags hanging on the valve hand wheels to flush and drain. The sanitary tanks were being pressurized with air so that the contents could be blown overboard. Even the fish gotta eat, and the only solution to pollution is dilution, even if the food is shitty?

³Oh what the F-?´ I muttered, cursing my bad luck. The more time I spent upright and moving around meant the harder the time I would have trying to fall asleep. Well, let¶s try the middle level head. I made an about face and retraced my steps, climbing the stairs that connected the lower level and middle level compartments. At the top of the short flight of stairs I opened the door to the middle-level berthing compartment with stacked racks 3 high, for roughly 50 sailors. Slowly opening the door inwardly I felt the door was obstructed. I put my shoulder into the faux wood paneled door, breaking the stalemate. When the fluorescent light entered the space from the middle level passageway, I saw that the obstacle was a musty sock covered foot protruding from the middle rack; its owner did not rouse, just rolled over, muttering something incoherent in their sleep. Closing the door behind me, I let my eyes adjust before negotiating the twists and turns through the spacious compartment. The Middle Level Berthing was a little more hazardous to traverse through as the floor was essentially rows upon rows of canned vegetables, fruit, and

other food supplies, covered with plywood . .This arrangement added another 2 and a half feet off the deck and with me being six foot didn¶t make the math work for moving easily through an 8 foot high compartment. Hunching over like Quasimodo was your only hope that you didn¶t leave scalp behind on the ceiling brackets which supported conduits of electricity. Passing through a gauntlet of blue coveralls (called Poopie Suits) hanging four deep from hooks near each rack, I caught a waft of filth. Some of the suits probably hadn¶t seen an ounce of ERA ever since we cast off lines two months ago. Holding my breath, I quickened my step and burst through the middle level head before I inhaled a deep breath of stale air. Wasn¶t quite mountain fresh, but it¶s better than breathing that road kill in the other compartment. This Head was the more spacious of the two that were available to the crew. The Chief¶s quarters and Officer¶s quarters had their own baths and shitter stalls, and the CO and XO shared a similar setup. But, this head had three sinks and mirrors, three shitter stalls and two baths. Between this and the lower level head, these two compartments served as the sanitary pit stop for over one hundred enlisted submariners. ³Sweet«Open for business´ I muttered as I made my way over to the stainless steel urinal So, this is it. This is my nightly, daily, whatever routine. You actually are catching me winding down from a very action filled evening. I got off my 6 hour evening watch, I ate dinner in 15 minutes, and then I went back to the engine roomto clean dirt and oil for 45 minutes. Afterwards, I was posed with a very critical decision. Should I stay up and ³burn a flick´ which, if my instincts proved correct, should be ³Wild Things´ or ³Original Sin´ which promised gratuitous shots of Denise Richards or Angelina Jolie¶s jugs. Or shall I retire to my rack, the one that I hot bunk with my watch relief, to read a novel or smut magazine? What should I do, what should I do? Either way should be a win-win scenario, right? I chose the rack. But, alas«. I like that word alas. It makes me feel Macbethean or something. I yearn for something more fulfilling. I hunger something more. Something to have a sense of self worth, to call my own. I have lost that zeal, that zing. Chemistry books, nuclear technologic voodoo, and engineering blah blah blah are well, just blah, blah, blah. For starters, what I am really longing for is companionship outside of a Penthouse centerfold and a pair of tube socks. My days are filled with loneliness, with a cold solitude as the winds and sea of the North Atlantic. Perhaps I am just being a sentimental skirt about all of this. But, truthfully, I need something in my life. All I am is a First Class Petty Officer, qualified in every facet there is onboard this pig. I suppose my time will come and I will find it. I just wonder when God will let me know what the hell I¶m supposed to do with my life. Until then, I keep my head down and follow my orders. But, one can wonder and long for something else right? I gave myself a couple of shakes. Any more, than I am just whacking off and some say that ain¶t right. I opened the potable water valve to admit water to the urinal bowel, and depress the green kick lever with my foot to open the ball valve to drain and flush. Putting myself back

in order, I turned around and went over to the sink to wipe of my hands. I washed up and through some cool water on my face and looked into the mirror. Jesus, I looked like hell as I stared back into bloodshot, hazel eyes. The mirror reflected the dark rings, burned into my sockets, and revealing nights of restlessness and dreamlessness for who knows how long.. Perhaps weeks or nights? The lines in my face could tell a story, but which would it be- know how far I go, or how go I far? I looked and felt older, I felt beaten down. Who am I? Some days I don¶t even. I am a ship with no anchor, drifting in no direction. No matter how hard you washed, you never felt clean. Maybe it was the recirculation air, entrained with diesel and amine fumes. Maybe it was our desires and illusions that we tried to suppress, but ultimately bubbled to the surface in our subconscious state. Scrub as you may, you never felt clean. I took a short stack of paper towels from the dispenser and wiped my face, and felt it was time to get back to the rack. At that moment, the door opened, and entered MM3 Johnson, the section 3 auxiliary mechanic for the midwatch. ³Hey Meer,´ Johnson said, taking note of my presence at the sink, and called out.´One, two, three.´ Now, this wasn¶t a test of his counting skills for I am sure even an A-Ganger can count to about 10 before taking their Navy issued boondockers off. No, he was calling out to the three toilet stalls to see which is occupied. As a courtesy, the occupant would repeat back which stall was in use. With no answer from the 3 stalls, elicited a pleasant response from Johnson. He laid down his clipboard containing the pages of logs he recorded on the various boat parameters he was assigned to monitor during his 6 hour shift. As he closed the door to the stall and started to unzip his poopie suit, I asked ³Hey Johnson, what time you got?´ ³It¶s about 0255´ he replied back, settling in while opening, what sounded like, a magazine of some sort to read and kill the time. I thanked him before exiting and made my way back the path I came. I was pleased that I had a good hour and a half before the witching hour before being roused by the wakeup to relieve the watch.. Without haste I arrived to the door and entered the Twenty-One Man. Upon entry I noted a faint luminescence from the hatch in the deck which provided access to the ship¶s stores. The cook was probably sifting through cans and cans of food for what he needed for the meals of the day. More than likely they were cans of beets or even worse it was pineapples. And, more than anything, I loathed pineapple upside down cake with a passion. For months it seemed that the only thing the Mess Specialists could make was pineapple down cake. Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner,

and Midrats (the midnight ³rations´ meal) always pineapple down cake. I know these guys didn¶t attend the CIA, but a little sticky bun now and then never hurt anyone. Just as the cans that line the deck in the middle level berthing can be hazardous, the access hatch to the ship¶s store has its fair share of peril as well. Normally a chain link rope is put up to prevent anyone from plummeting eight feet into the well, but depending on the motivation of the Mess Specialist that wasn¶t always the case. I remember having a bottom rack right next to that hatch, and one night, much like this one, I had to go relieve myself. When I rolled out to put my feet on the solid deck, I found myself free falling into the pit of culinary despair. Only until my elbows shot out to break my fall through the deck did I prevent further bodily harm aside from pulling some sort of muscle in both armpits. I mean really have you ever heard of anyone pulling a muscle in their armpit? I shut the door quietly behind me and made my way to my rack. Once more, as if trained by Bela Karolyi himself, I instinctively grabbed hold of the top racks and swung my legs upward in one swift motion and stuck the landing onto the top bunk in one fluid motion for perfect tens. Except for the French judge. Slipping off my shower shoes, I slid inside my sleeping bag, which I have spread on top of the mattress and brown CPO cover. Since two racks in this compartment are shared with three people, known as ³hot racking´, we all have our separate bedding. And some of that it, is a little more sanitary than the others. Hot Racking works like this. Imagine there are three people whom I will call A, B, and C. When I (Person A) finally get up to relieve the current watch (Person C), I will remove my sleeping bag, pillow, and other sleeping gear off the rack and take it back to the engine room to store until for six or so hours until I am relieved by Person B. So, person C gets to sleep in my ³hot bunk´ I recently vacated. Meanwhile, when I am on my six hour shift, Person C will go to sleep in the rack I recently vacated. When I done with my shift I will go sleep in the ³hot rack´ that Person B has vacated. And this will continue in an endless Hobo -Like cycle. I dug into the lumpy mattress, hunkering down to make myself comfortable. I shut my eyes. C¶mon, sleep baby sleep.. Not more than twenty minutes later the door to the bunkroom opened, streaming light and the sounds of the mechanical jungle to my sanctuary. A brief moment goes by and I hear a rustle of what sounds like laminated papers. No! It can¶t be. Can it? Shhhhhh. Listen. Do you hear that? I thought, as my stomach and spirits sank in disbelief. I heard a faint muffled voice piercing the darkness on the other side of my rack¶s partition. ³Paige«.Paige.´ the voice called out. ³You have an hour to relieve the watch.´ It can¶t be.

A moment later I heard the raspy voice, like the grim reaper who smoked one too many Pal Mals, call another name across the way. You gotta be freakin¶ kidding me, I thought as I recognized all the names from my watch section. Reality started to creep in, and I had this sneaking suspicion that this was going to be a long day. Tired and groggy, I feel like a wolf ate me up and shat me off a cliff. And then it came. The faint red glow from his flashlight shone through the gaps in my curtain as if I had been caught a prison spotlight as I was hiding in the shadows during my escape. ³Meer?´ Damn, he found me. ³Meer´ Perhaps if I stay quiet he¶ll go away. ³Meer?´ He sure is persistent, like a Jehovah¶s Witness, which by the way are the only people that make you want to hide in your own house when they come knocking with their cutest kid ever used as a stage prop. Finally, and conceding to the inevitable, I answered, ³Yeah, yeah. I am up.´ ³You got an hour to relieve the watch,´ the wakeup said as if he were a robot from the future, programmed with a narcissistic source code, unsympathetic to waking us from our fantasies. I acknowledged him and lay there, staring into the high voltage cable running, debating if I wanted to take a solid bite out of it and end my misery. I can¶t believe that good for nothing AGanger, Carter, got the time wrong. Damn the bad luck. Judging by its start, I knew that it was going to be an interesting day and by its end, little did I know it was about to get a lot more weird.

Chapter 4: Heavenly State of the Union Part 2 (The Wager) ³Again, thank you for that Newty, heckuva job. Okay where were we?´ God bellowed, as he skimmed back over the agenda. ³Current status on Earth: 6.6 billion people satisfied.´ Not even until the word µsatisfied¶ finished reverberating off the coliseum walls, the Angelicans had already flown out of their seats to whoop, holler and cheer on their Master and Commander with ardent fervor. Only until the raucousness ebbed and the party affiliates retook their seats, did God continue. He loved reveling in the moment and wasn¶t about to squander a precious clap. ³We had a great run boys, a great run. ³ God said. ³Remarkable really.´ ³I really loved that trick you did, creating woman from a man¶s rib, which was just brilliant!´ commended Gabriel. ³Don¶t forget about the Wii!´ yelled a voice from above who prompted a rise of laughter with a comment concerning the brand new videogame console. Another voice cried out, ³4000 more years! 4000 more years!´ ³Thank you for your kind words. It was been a tough go with the roadblocks in progress involving the ongoing Crusades, the Tyrone Willingham years at South Bend, and that scandal involving a senior staff member, a female intern, a cigar, peanut butter, and a dachshund. It has been trying times for all«´ God paused a moment as he scanned the faces adorned in red and blue. He could feel the hate and the contempt on both sides of the aisle for tough decisions he has been forced to make, but more so for the decisions he failed to make. ³«.And, the centuries ahead will be difficult times. A shift in power is coming and I look forward to working to reaching across the aisle, hand-in-cloven hoof with the Demoncrats to rework a new exit strategy for our imbalance of soul ingress and egress. After the Lessons Learned/Action report is distributed we will work effectively, cohesively, and synergistically to independently chart our next course of action. I look forward to the challenge and to working with all of you.´ God said addressing the Demoncrats. ³In the end, I believe we are turning over the keys in pretty good fashion. Rates of happiness and self-satisfaction are on the rise. The number of confessional sins is on the decline, and the feedback on the Heavenly Entrance Exam (HEE) shows that 9 out of 10 people would like to come back to earth in a second life. ³ God¶s confidence started to return, reinvigorated by the self-affirmation that all his deeds were righteous and pure, even if Mestophales believed him to have delusions of grandeur.

³But, we came through alright. I¶d like you to find me one soul who is not completely and utterly satisfied? The room was still and silent as God looked up to the stadium seats filled with red and blue members who were looking at each other. It appeared as if no would would challenge the Holiest of Holies until a roaring ³You LIE!!!´ came echoing down from on high from someone (clearly Demoncratic) in the gallery. An audible gasp rippled through the coliseum like cascading dominoes and then the gallery fell silent. It took a moment for God to ruminate on what just happened. Could someone actually cite a reference to tarnish the luster that shone on his prized trophy, Earth? After a long, awkward moment, the asp grinned; finally he had found his carpe diem. It had been too long. He finally leaned forward with an answer to what was supposed to be a rhetorical question. ³One moment, my Lord. Let me speak to this. You must forgive Mayor Black, clearly he is off today. I think the many delays on the Undead Metro¶s Red Line have got our dear representative from the 5th Circle a little rattled. (There may have been truth to this, but more likely was he was tired of µSimony Without Representation¶, which was the battle cry of both he and the Serpent¶s beloved metropolis.) I believe what the great Mayor Black meant to say was µwhat about Nikolaus Meer?¶´ replied the asp reveling from the fact that he had an opportunity that needed to be seized.. There was a momentary pause before God answered. ³Ah, um, come again? Nikolaus, who?´ God said as he looked to his angelic entourage that became puzzled that: a.) his righteousness was in question and b.) no one from his personal staff was producing answers on cue. By this time the ranks of both Angelicans and Demoncrats leaned forward in their slightly to eavesdrop upon the discussion which God certainly wished were in private. You see God was never one to be great at holding press briefings that were unscripted. Often, his speech writers hoped to steer the ³Big Man´ in the right direction and to keep focus on a course that would prevent confrontation and subsequent humiliation from a media feeding frenzy. But time infinitum God would feel it necessary to ad lib with his own thoughts and feelings, leading to a speech that had all the makings of ³the Gettysburg Address´ come off like ³the Cat in the Hat.´ At this very moment, God¶s summer interns now waited with bated breath in hopes that the State of the Union didn¶t spiral into a train wreck that the media critics would eat up and print in tomorrow¶s Jericho Street Journal. ³Yes, Nikolaus. You know, one of your µsheep¶.´ The asp said. ³Rumor has it, he¶s quite upset, and even thinking about leaving your herd.´ ³Flock.´ God said. He did not like the asp¶s condescending tone the least, now more than ever. ³I know, I thought you¶d be upset about it.´ The asp replied.

³No you insolent gnat, Flock. He¶s part of the Flock.´ God shot back, correcting his adversary. ³Hey, don¶t get angry at me, I¶m not the one with the Flocking problem. If you got your head out of the clouds you might know what the Flock is going on. It ain¶t all rosebuds and fawns down there, my Liege,´ The asp parried God¶s jab. ³Don¶t lecture me about my Flocking problem. If I had thought there was a problem with My Flock I would have investigated it.´ God growled, clearly irritated, clearly losing composure. ³A sire,´ Gabriel interrupted, ³We have members of the flock waiting in the Hall of the Mountain King if you wish to summon them for enlightenment.´ ³No, get the Flock out of here. I have got the Flocking statistics right here on my HeavenBerry”. Let me see«. Argh! Can¶t see a blasted thing«. «.´ God said using the thumb scroll to sift though the right data file. ³Yes, let¶s see«. Let¶s see«. Here, it indicates that the Flocking Metric shows that we are green for this quarter across all categories. Although science and engineering has tailed off and down from last quarter«.´ God tailed off. ³Well that makes sense, it is probably down due to Dan Brown, but it¶s marginally close to being out of specification.´ ³Gabriel, have you seen these figures.´ God said, turning his head to his assistant and caught a glance his angel feverishly sweating and wiping his brow with his red sash. ³Well, sir, the numbers are not quite exact. We didn¶t figure in such an insurgency of scientists, philosophers, and other non-believers who are threatening the Flocking stability. Right now we are a stuck in a quagmire and quite frankly I don¶t know if we have a strategy to prevent the sectarian views which threaten to polarize the members.´ Gabriel replied. ³Jesus Christ!´ God shouted. ³Yes Father?´ ³Who is in charge of the Flocking Science and Wizardry Department?´ God demanded with frustration mounting. ³ I believe that is Judas, Father?´ Jesus replied. ³Judas? Bring him in here please, I want to get to the bottom of this.´ God said with disdain in his voice. ³NOW!´ The crowd in the coliseum above started to buzz with electricity. For the first time today, members of press, scrambled to find papyrus such that they could write an account of the events

and spin the story in a direction to smear the Angelicans further and make the Demoncrats look like the saviors ready to clean up the mess that the incumbents will leave behind next month. After several minutes (which felt like an eternity for God) Judas entered the great Hall. He approached the marble table by which God was sitting, who was sifting through his own papyrus scrolls and incessantly tapping his fingers, impatiently awaiting an inquisition. ³Heavenly Father, you wish to-³ ³Yes, yes. Judas, there is a question about your 4th Quarter report concerning the Flocking Science and Wizardry Department. Are you aware that some of the numbers had been ³milk and honeyed´ to ensure that the metric was in specification?´ God said bluntly, demanding an explanation. Judas paused for a moment and he too began to feel a tingle of sweat develop on his brow. ³Ah, yes, yes I am Father. Orders came down that there were to be no red marks. Caiaphas told me he thought the numbers would stabilize out, but ³The Da Vinci Code´ Collector¶s DVD came out in November he couldn¶t recover. Additionally, rumor has it that Harry Potter is close to developing a cure for cervical cancer by mixing Dragon¶s Flame, Phoenix Dung, and a Human Papillomavirus Vaccine.´ God stared in disgust, but remained quiet. The tension was thick as a San Francisco cloud bank, but Judas pushed on through. ³Look, the numbers are still a byproduct from the 500¶s. Times are just Flocking different. We have to change our policy to accept that.´ ³The numbers were close, and we did fix them slightly. ³ Judas said. ³For a fee. Looks to me that Caiaphas paid 30 silver for you to hand over your 4th Quarter statement that is erroneous.´ Gabriel said, presenting his Heavenly Leave and Earnings Statement (HLES) to God. ³And yet behold, the hand of the one who is to betray me is with me at the table,´ said Jesus shaking his head. ³Look guys I just-³ ³SILENCE!!!´ God boomed. And paused to think and let the revelation absorb in his thoughts. ³Judas, you have got to your Flock together. This is unsat. Your weekend pass to Valhalla is revoked until further notice. You have until the Demoncratic inauguration ceremony

into the House of the Lords. Then you will brief Secretary µShe-Who-Will-Not-Be Named¶ with your new plan for handling your mess,´ God said. ³And let me tell you she will not be as tolerant as I. Just ask her husband, she is still fuming about the peanut butter and the dachshund.´ He finished, casting the cowering Judas the Evil Eye. ³That¶s all. Get this Judas out of my sight.´ God said gritting his teeth while running his hands through a disheveled head of hair. Can¶t wait to see the headlines tomorrow. µMaverick Leader to Retreats to Family Ranch Without Flocking Clue¶ the asp thought. ³Alright Mestophales, minor setback. So what¶s your point? Nikolaus is unhappy? So what? Lots are unhappy from time to time, but they always come back. Always. Listen, I can name you hundreds of dirt worshipers that would love to have a crack at me.´ He said casting a thumb in Crazy Horse direction. ³All we had to do is get him his own monument and he was making the sign of the cross.¶´ ³I concede that Nikolaus has been a little withdrawn, but he is busy. He has zeal and a passion for learning and an insatiable appetite for truth and knowledge.´ God said. ³He is a real go getter.´ ³Well, Nick, as he is called by his friends is a µlost soul¶.´ The asp said putting emphasis on the latter. The gallery above gave out a collective gasp. The Angelicans looked shocked, while the Demoncrats saw opportunity. It became evident that this Meer was a soul that teetered on the edge of good and evil. He could go either way, depending on which side gave him the best deal. The battle for it was like a Heavenly Steel Cage Match which pitted God and the Devil, the AP clear-cut #1 and #2, free from BCS Football controversy. ³So, we have a µlost soul¶ do we?´ God said stroking his goatee. ³What do you propose, snake?´ It was becoming intense now, any controversy involving soul unemployment or Global Cooling was now becoming a distant memory in the minds of the journalists who have been keeping testament of the day¶s events. It seemed like everyone in the stands were straining their necks to hear the foray of rhetoric being laid out on the marble table below. ³All, I am saying, your great worship, is that there is a soul in need and I believe he is about to jump ship.´ The asp spat with a flippant tongue. ³I believe Nick has no dedication for you, for he feels neglected. I believe that his incessant thirst for knowledge is a weakness that could cause him« A loss of «his eternal soul´ the asp said trailing off as if he were a Sith Lord.

³What, you think he¶ll want to join the likes of you? ³ God said laughing out loud, staring incredulously at the asp across the way. But the asp returned the stare, with hateful, venomous, coal-black eyes. It was a game of mouse and the pits under his eyes flared from the uncomfortable warmth that was radiating from its prey. ³Well, well. What to do« What to do.´ God said. ³I ask again, what do you propose?´ ³Since you put it like that I say we make a kind, little wager. You know something fun, no money involved.´ ³Okay, I am listening. God is always listening.´ The Big man said chuckling to himself and bringing some levity to a stage that was thick with anxiety and anticipation. The asp didn¶t laugh. ³His soul.´ The crowd gasped so loud that it echoed throughout the domed structure. ³I believe that I can show him awesome, grand, and wicked things that will blow his freakin¶ mind. Make him long no more, make him content, make him feel real and wanted«..´ ³Show him?´ God snorted. ³Show him what? No matter what, he is my child and I will one day lead him to the place of heavenly light´ God proclaimed. ³So, is it a bet? To allow me to tempt Nikolaus for the exclusive rights to his soul? To come live in eternal damnation and a place of carnal fun 24/7?´ the asp laughed maniacally. Come on old man, even you don¶t have the balls. God sat back in his chair, eyes looking up into the chandelier of light spilling from the Holy Spirit, running coarse hands through his graying hair. His hair always turned a shade of gray when stressed. A toll for being the Heavenly Commander-in-Chief all these years in office. ³Alright snake, you got it. Even in Nick¶s darkest moment he will be conscious of the righteous path.´ God said. ³So you think. I know your wretched humans more than you do. Their minds are feeble and their hearts can be twisted into all the carnal pleasure they desire.´ The asp hissed as he flaring the hood of its giant neck in a show of intimidation. ³Well, my friend I tell you what. I will adjourn the rest of the session, for this has become far more interesting.´ God said lifting the giant gavel from the marble table.

³You have two fortnights. After then, you shall cease and desist from all soul possession activity with Meer, is that clear?´ God said making the issue clear and without room for interpretation. ³Don¶t wait up. I don¶t want to leave you hanging like your boy over there?´ the snake said contemptuously. ³Bite your tongues«.´ God pointed at him with a stern glare. ³Two fortnights. I¶ll be watching.³ With that, God slammed down the gavel and adjourned the session. The hall burst into a commotion of discussion and movement. God versus the Devil. Spirita-e-Spirita. ³The Thrilla in Heavilla´ was coined and was becoming the toast of the Heaven. All the while the Fates stood by sharpening their blades as the soul of an unlikely man in the most unlikely place would be tested and will bear testament to our story.

Chapter 5: Circle the Wagons Mestophales slithered a frantic pace down the great halls as if a sidewinder in the was on the loose after a rare afternoon desert snack. He hadn¶t a moment to spare and needed to get back down below to headquarters, to make the preparations for possession of Nikolaus Meer¶s soul. That pompous, arrogant fool. Keep making wagers and I¶ll have your soul too, the asp thought to himself. The asp stopped short of the exit of the hall which led into the enchanted garden and on to the Gates of St Peter and realized he had no intention of dealing with Orion¶s Beltway traffic

at this hour. Inner and outer loop would both a zoo at this hour, and Mestophales didn¶t need Radio 666 WTOP to tell him that. ³Ah, to Heaven with taking that rickety Ladder Jacob made back down, I am taking the goddamned elevator´ the asp sputtered making an about face and taking a side corridor that led to God¶s executive means for transportation from heaven to earth and even, if need be, Hell. But, it was restricted for official use only and required a password to gain access. Hmmm, if I was a complete moron what would I use? The asp paused in front of the console keypad and flashing displaying requesting the secret code. Ah, of course. In an instant the asp whipped its tail around in a wide arc and began to punch the code into the alpha numeric keypad and pressed enter. What a moron. WWJD? Is that the best he can do? So much for IT security. ³At least he didn¶t pick Barney.´ The asp said out loud to himself, referring to the family dog. In a matter of seconds, the doors to the 20 foot high elevator, slide open and the asp slithered inside the mirrored box that had dozens of flashing buttons and indications. With a swoosh, the doors shut, and an automated angelic voice came through the speaker, ³Shalom, and peace be with you. Where would you like to go today?´ ³Go to Hell.´ The asp said adamantly. ³Excuse me, oh no you didn¶t¶. Ain¶t nobody talk to me like dat. You done lost your mind, shhh-ugar?´ the voice shouted back in soulful anger. ³No to Hell. Take me to Hell. You know it¶s«. Hot«Demons« Pitchforks« That place.´ The asp sputtered, stumbling while trying to control his temper and keep from making a bad situation even worse. The asp had seen a lot of fire and brimstone in his day, but even hell hath no fury that spawned from the sermon of a Southern Baptist Angel. And, being hostage in the elevator, the asp had no upper hand here. I¶ve got no time for this. ³Swing Low Sweet Chariot, what you wanna go and do that for?! You sure, honey? Dem¶s bad tings down there, mmm hmmm.´ The voice said. ³Dat place make me nervous as a long tailed cat in a room full o¶ rockin¶ chairs, I do declare..

The asp was patient«« ³You wouldn¶t have a snowball¶s chance to get me down they¶r, no sar.´ «.real patient. If he could take 40 days in the desert with God¶s dysfunctional kid«.Just have to let her preach. ³I says you need to go down to Dixie, by the grace of God´ Like fatiguing a 500 pound swordfish, just gotta have patience. ³Listen my dear, I would love to pontificate Proverbs and Psalms with you, but I really must ask you again to take me to Hell post-haste.´ The serpent hissed, trying to bite his tongues as much as possible. ³My boy, don¶t you needn¶t go to him if you have an axe to grind. The Devil will come to you in time, if dat¶s what he wants.´ Precisely. ³Take care, and jos ring if you¶s wants me to come back down?´ ³Why, Have« You« Been bad, my dear?´ the asp spoke like Mr. Smith who was interrogating Neo in the Matrix. ³No, no sar. Jis sayin¶ if u needs a lift, sar.´ The voice said trembling, starting to figure out who the passenger was in the service elevator. ³Ah, just kidding. You are a good sport mµlady. Any time you get bored of him (eyes rolled, looking upward), you will always have someone down here to µsing da blues wit¶.´ The asp said cordially with a Rastafarian accent. ³Dats mighty kind of ya sar, I. I best be gettin¶ you home right µway. Haste-P-post, I-I mean P-post Ha-hast,´ the voice said stuttering, trying to avoid any confrontation and temptation. ³Very well, off we go then?´ the asp said with a wolfish grin. ³Yessir, goin¶ down.´ I¶d like that right about now. The elevator started to accelerate rapidly in a free fall that was reminiscent of when he was branded a pariah many moons ago, dispelled from the ranks of the herald. Falling faster and faster from the cloud covered skies of heaven into the stratosphere of purgatory, the elevator soon reached speeds that pinned the enormous snake against the mirrored walls. With the force

of that felt as if 300 tonnes of the Temple of Solomon was thrust upon him; he couldn¶t breathe, nor could be wait until this dreadful trip was over. Come to think of it, we got to get one of these for the Scourge of the Damned Officers for the incoming detainees. Passing through the inner earth and past the Vulcan¶s Body Shop, where his alchemists were busy working on the golden calf Mestophales ordered for Moses¶ Christmas gift, they finally entered the realm of Hades. With a jolt, the elevator came to an immediate stop. With the inertial forces still at work on the giant snake, caused Mestophales to lurch forward and slam his open jaw and snout into the polished steel door, leaving two large fang imprints oozing streaks of venom which created a puddle on the floor. ³Jesus Christ lady!!!´ The asp spat poison as if it were blood from a boxers split lip after taking a swift jab. ³Sorry about that sir, but this is your stop. The Gates of Hell. Thank you for choosing Halo Transportation Services, µWhat can white due for you¶?´ the voice said quickly as the door opened, and shut equally as quick, when the asp disembarked, rocketing skyward and far away from the gravitational pull of this evil place. Suck my cock, that¶s what it can do. The serpent resumed its frenetic pace, slithering with a purpose to the front gates made of charred ash, embedded into the earthen rock, twice as large as St. Peter¶s Gates in heaven. In the center of the door was a foreboding goat skull made out of wrought iron adorned with perverse, twisting horns. Flanked on either side of the entryway were two pentagrams which burned an orange and red flame, like Motel 666 ³leaving the lights on for you.´ Approaching the gate, a voice called out in the dark, asking the asp to state its name and password. ³Mestophales, µAbandon help, all ye enter here.¶´ The asp huffed with an unbearable ennui ³Access Granted. Welcome home Master, how was your trip?´ the security system asked. ³Nice. Not thrilling, not awesome, not µbanging¶ or µoff the chain¶ like Luda says just nice.´ The asp spat sarcastically. ³So pretty please with a cherry on top, open the fucking door.´ ³Yes, yes, right away master.´

The large doors opened inward, splitting the wrought iron ³ode to goat´ evenly down the center, revealing a large bustling corridor into the First Level or as the locals called it ³Limbo´. Diametrically opposed to the Temple of Solomon in Heaven, Limbo had all the same look and feel with the exception of the heavenly art and statues had been replaced with pagan, demonic sculptures and artwork, including an occasional piece by Andy Warhol. At its center, the capital of Limbo was Necropolis City. Necropolis, or the city of the dead, was an evil place as one might expect. It was a dark city, charred by the fires of hell, illuminated by the sepia glow of a burn-lit sky. It was sprawling in a gothic style, and had an eclectic mix of trendy sections and old historic districts. Theoretically one could (if they were so inclined) take in a full day by starting at the National Undead Zoo to check out the return of the Giant Panda Werewolves, head downtown to take a leisurely stroll around the expansive Blood Reflecting Pools to see the new First Apocalypse War Memorial, and take in a Necromancer¶s game at the Wal-Mart Arena. It was a great city with a thriving night life that could be attested to the number of metro-sexual vampires in DuPont Pentagram which partied from dusk to dawn. But, Mestophales hated it. The commute was Hell on Hell¶s Orion Beltway and was always backed up with congestion. Inner or Outer Loop. Didn¶t matter. Most of the time it was those Mandarin Dragons, usually the female ones; they didn¶t know how to fly. Yes, he rarely liked to come in if he could avoid it. Furthermore he hated going to the Black Citadel. All the corridors led to the Dearly Departed Immigration Center (DDIC) or coined the Black Citadel, were Mestophales needed to get to and catch the Undead Metro Red Line to the 5th level, get out at L µStyx Plaza and transfer to catch the Yellow Line to the 9th Level at the Pentagramagon City. That¶s all well in theory but the way the Metro line was running these days (or more apropos- not running) But, it was never easy getting through the DDIC. In fact Mestophales dreaded it, as silly as that sounds. For the DDIC was filled with lines and lines of immigrant souls, waiting and biding their time for admission into the ranks of the damned. Here I am given God¶s wretches, feeble and weak. I never asked to be given your tired, your sick, and your poor. Once again I clean up the scraps from your supper. It¶s your mess God, to deal with, not mine. Condemned to a life of purgatory, the non-baptized and non-believers, wait in line to receive their Holy Visas, for a second chance to pass through St. Peter¶s gates. But in some ironic twist of fate, Mestophales became God¶s shepherd, herding the souls of the damned in limbo until they are worthy to emigrate to Heaven. Damned WOPS, all of them. They show up on the shores of the Lake of Fire , and it is my fault they are ³Without Peter¶s Scriptures!´ I loathe and curse them all. Untouched and unable to torture them, my staff must still work and process them. And to think how many Illegals we have in our 9 Ringdoms? Taking our scourging and demonic jobs away. Not paying tribute. And to think they can¶t even speak our tongues!

³We should just build a goddamned fence to keep them out,´ the asp spat as he reached the end of the corridor that opened into the large Courtyard of the Damned. ³My second thought that is sheer stupidity. There is too much unholy land to cover that much distance. There¶s got to be a better way,´ the asp muttered to himself, then looking skyward in the direction of Heaven, ³Only a goddamned buffoon would contemplate that idea.´ The corridor emerged onto a street level in the Zodiac Street section of downtown Necropolis. In the center of the courtyard sat the awesome building of grotesque grandeur. The Black Citadel was an immense, towering structure, clad in black obsidian and guarded by ferocious gargoyles, which rose high into the Hellisphere. Flanked on either side were large ziggurats in the shape of pyramids, were they too were clad in black obsidian. The Citadel was by far the largest building in Necropolis City, which even dwarfed St. Lucifer¶s Cathedral and the Black House in the 9th Circle, much to the chagrin of Mestophales. Crossing Taurus Ave and making a right onto Aries, the serpent winded his way through the horde of ghouls, fiends, banshees and other late morning commuters who were trying to make their way to work. Slithering down Aries past vendors selling ³NC is for Lusters´ shirts, butchers selling ³mystery flesh on a stick´, and wraths playing skull drums with femurs, Mestophales made a left at the end of the block onto Virgo Avenue which would lead him directly to the entrance of the Black Citadel. Son of a Bitch. More stairs. The black obsidian cut rock, proved a sheer gradient as it rose to reach the ground floor level. It was surely going to be a long day for the serpent, but the thrill of the hunt and the warmth that he felt in his pits kept pressing him onward. Winded after what seemed an eternity of climbing, the asp reached ground level and looked to see the dark city below. Not a bad view up here. The blood blossoms are starting to flower. Not too bad after all. Perhaps when I retire I¶ll settle down in the city; maybe on Iblis Hill or out further in Chernobog Chase. Moving forward through the giant revolving door, Mestophales scanned the immediate lobby area for signs that would give him direction to the Undead Metro. Before that, he was funneled into a line to pass through Holy Artifact Detectors. And, as usual the Department of Hellish Security (DHS) was taking its sweet-ass time directing admittance into lines for inspection and performing various personnel inspections. ³Okay, people line forms over here, m¶kay. No crucifixes, no holy water in excess of 4 oz, no fangpaste, and absolutely positively no silver bullets whatsoever,´ the Werewolf said with a British accent, identifying the prohibited items listed in the DHS Directives that were approved with the Satanic Decision Directive (SDD) 667 in 2001. The serpent slid forward and tried to remain patient. Even I, prince of darkness, have to put up with this bullshit, for there ³isn¶t any favoritism in Dimensional Security,´ The asp sulked, waiting his turn as the line was a switchback that seemed to move at a slug¶s pace through the processing stations.

After about 15 minutes, the asp had finally reached the processing station. ³Sir, please empty your pockets, place any items you may have on the belt. Remember to remove your shoes. Then step through.´ The werewolf said impatiently to Mestophales. Hmmm, shoes« I am a fucking snake. Let me see, something is not adding up here. Where did they get this crack security guard? I swear werewolves are as smart as undead monkeys. ³Yeah, about the shoes. That ain¶t happening. I can molt in your µbin¶ for you so you can analyze my explosive skin.´ The asp growled with contempt. ³Alright smartarse, I do¶an need that. Jokin¶ bout Dimensional Security is a Helluva Offense (HO). Aye, bloke lemme see yo¶ur ID. Let¶s see who¶ll be laff¶n now wit a lil¶ chat in Interrogation.´ The guard said in a thick cockney accent, flouting the unruly snake. The comment unnerved the asp as his eyes became lit with flame and its hood opened as if to steal the soul of this worthless wretch that was causing him unnecessary delay. ³M¶boy, I know you are just trying to do your job, but I would be weary for the ground you tread is quite fragile. You may seem like a cocky, tough beastie with your little badge and your Rent-A-Fiend uniform, but act like that in front of me again, and I will ensure you are down in my office on the 9th floor, faster than that crap you just took in your pants.´ The asp hissed, chiding the security guard. It took a moment for the words to set in and then it registered. ³Ninth floor? Oh shit!´ Oh shit is right, bub. But, it was too late. The werewolf quickly tried to cross his legs to salvage any further damage that was already being administered to his self-esteem. ³Oh, no. Oh, m¶mmm sorry« Sir? I«Had no idea.´ The young werewolf whispered turning frenetically in place and circling each direction to find a solution to his predicament. ³Normally, you¶re wit escort and wit-out disguise?´ ³Very important meeting today m¶boy, didn¶t want to draw any unnecessary paparazzi to print their vile truths in the paper concerning the matters between He and I,´ the asp said turning a gaze up into the Hellisphere. ³But, this is between you and I m¶boy. You won¶t tell now will you?´ the asp said coldly as if to threaten a geyser spouting from the werewolf¶s backside.

³No, no sir. You... You¶re free to go. Have a nice day, Mes-, ah I mean sir.´ The guard stammered permitting entry through the portal and access into the main lobby. The asp cast one last evil eye before producing a smile that was reciprocated by the terrified Lycanthrope. At last, almost home. The lobby was as busy as any airport. With ghosts, goblins, and all sorts of damned scurrying in every direction, it was hard to get ones¶ bearings. Scanning the various signs, the asp finally saw the one that indicated the direction of the Undead Metro, which was conveniently hidden behind a Starbuck vending kiosk. The asp followed the bustling corridor briskly slithering his way past various immigration support offices and down the steep escalator to the platform to wait for the Red Line going southbound. He looked up at the status board for the Metro trains and saw that the next train was 12 minutes en route followed by 14 and 16 minutes. Typical, the train I want is 12 minutes out in bumblefuck and right up its ass, no more than 2 minutes later is another one. There is no rhyme or reason to the Undead Metro, and yet the fares still go up. With a sigh, the asp crumpled on the tread worn platform and coiled itself like a noose and pondered his plan. He was salivating at all the ways he could tempt Meer. To him it was going to be all too easy. Two fortnights, hell I¶ll have him in two nights. That¶s if I ever get back to the office. The asp looked back up at the status board. Ten minutes. One hour Meer and I¶ll be visiting you. One hour until I¶ll relieve you of your watch.

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