“Angels are dicks.” Denny nursed a beer at the El Diablo Bar and Grill in the heart of a hot and humid Wednesday afternoon.
“Give ‘em a break, Denny. They’re dead.” Tomas sat at the end of the bar smoking a cigarette and doing something with his smart phone. The bar was dimly lit and quiet. Denny was the only customer and Tomas the only staff. The front door stood open to let in the bright Florida sunlight, and catch whatever breeze might accidentally slip inside. “You’d probably be partying all the time too if you were dead and became an angel.”
“First of all, I’ll probably never become an angel, second, I don’t like to party, and third, why the fuck did they have to move into my trailer park?” Denny had already been through this with Boris, Tomas’s father who had opened the bar for lunch, but had yet to exhaust his complaints with Tomas. Boris left after the brief lunch rush to run errands, leaving Tomas behind to pour Denny’s beer and listen to his tales of woe.
“Being an angel is better than being the other thing. Besides, you party all the time, Denny. And why wouldn’t angels move here? It’s beautiful here.” Tomas had known Denny since he was a child. He grew up in this bar. For as long as he could remember Denny had been a regular. He was almost like an uncle. An abnormally large, shaggy uncle.
“Drinking beer and smoking pot is not the same thing as partying, Tomas. These guys are doing fucking karaoke all fucking night.” Denny finished his beer and contemplated ordering another.
“Yeah, but they sing like angels.”
Denny had to give him that. Apparently becoming an angel made you the best possible version of yourself. Whether or not you could sing in life, you could sing as an angel. You were also transformed into the most beautiful version of you possible. The big mystery was why they were back on Earth. Not even the angels knew. They were plenty unhappy about it, so they said, but it was hard to tell from their non-stop carousing and fornicating. They were used to Heavenly indulgences and most weren’t interested in giving them up just because they were back on Earth.
Denny decided against another beer. He’d been drinking out too much lately to avoid the angels and money was getting tight. He paid Tomas and shambled his way to his shitty Toyota truck. He was too large to fit inside his truck with the seats in place, so he’d removed the truck seats and replaced them with a simple bench. Even with the seat removed he could barely squeeze himself inside.
Denny stood six foot six, slouched. Average height for a swamp ape. Denny was a shaver, a derogatory term used by swamp apes, yetis, bigfoot and their ilk for those who kept their hair trimmed so they could pass among the humans. When harassed by his cousins Denny would hold up a closed fist and intone solemnly while slowly opening his fingers to reveal an empty palm. “Here in my hand is how many fucks I give.”
When Denny got back to his trailer the angels were having a jam session. Mostly harps and trumpets. While some angels could seriously play, most just fucked around like a four-year old banging on a toy piano. Being an angel didn’t give you instrument-playing skills if you didn’t already have them, but apparently it allowed your ears to translate cacophony into some celestial harmony. Denny slipped on his headphones and turned up his music all the way.
This was a less than satisfying solution because what Denny really wanted was to take a nap on his hammock in the back yard among the butterflies in his garden. Plus, he could still hear the angels through his headphones.
Denny leaned over to reach his bong and his stash laying conveniently on the floor near the couch. As he leaned over the cord of his headphones caught on the corner of the coffee table, pulling the headphones off his head. Denny cursed.
This was ridiculous. He didn’t want to be listening to music with his goddamn headphones. He didn’t want to be hearing anything, much less that god-awful, inescapable squalling permeating the neighborhood. Before he could think through what he might say, Denny was out his front door and walking to the angel trailer.
The angels lived in a double-wide across the street from Denny situated on a large lot. In addition to the trailer the lot was filled with pick-up trucks, SUVs, a brand new Camaro convertible, assorted couches and chairs, a handful of (well-trained Denny would admit) dogs, and angels. Too many angels.
Like everyone on Earth Denny had learned a lot about angels in the last six weeks. There were the angels that were around when God made everything. Gabriel, Peter, Lucifer, etc. Those angels were still as mysterious and non-Earth dwelling as ever. And then there were all the people who died and went to Heaven, and who were turned into angels. Those were the angels that were now back on Earth. One night they had all gone to sleep in Heaven only to awaken on Earth. There had been no advance warning, and none of them knew if this was permanent or not.
At first it seemed like a blessing. Loved ones were reunited. Many living were able to express regrets or apologies to those who were dead, and vice versa. Many thorny theological questions were resolved, while new questions sprang forward. Suddenly religious studies scholars were a hot commodity on the cable news shows. (It turned out that Mark Twain was surprisingly close to the truth when he wrote “Captain Stormfield’s Visit to Heaven.” Heaven is a large place with many diverse customs. All theologies were correct and Heaven allowed for segregation for those who wanted it).
Most of the angels who returned, however, didn’t have anyone to reconcile with and were interested in pursuing the hedonistic life they had adopted after their death. No matter how chaste and sensible people might have been when they entered Heaven, being healthy and immortal turned them into indulgent sybarites.
Denny’s trailer angel neighbors were gathered in a ragged semi-circle facing a couple of angels who, admittedly, were playing some virtuoso guitar. The problem was the half-dozen or so who played along by banging on their Heavenly harps, and one guy learning how to strangle a banjo. Without hesitation Denny strode into the center of the semi-circle and raised his hands high above his head.
Slowly the angels stopped playing. The virtuoso guitar players were the last to stop. When they finished their riff Denny said “I give up.”
One of the virtuoso guitar playing angels grinned. “Howdy, neighbor. What can we do for you?”
“Guys, seriously, you are absolutely shredding on that guitar, but I was wondering if you might be able to give it a rest sometimes. I’m no angel. I still need my sleep, and occasional peace and quiet.”
The angel’s grin twisted slightly. There was a lot of malice in that grin.
“I don’t reckon we’re doing anything wrong. We’re just celebrating God’s glory through the joy of music.” Denny heard some of the angels behind him snicker. A couple whispered, but he couldn’t make out what they said.
“I appreciate that. Glory to god. I love music. But, guys, there’s just so much of it. Do you mind giving me a break?”
The angels grin dropped away and he stared coldly at Denny. “You comin’ on my property and telling me what to do?”
Denny heard an angel behind him stand, but he didn’t turn around. “Just asking. Just looking for a little neighborly compassion.”
The angel set his guitar on the ground, leaning it against the trailer. He stood. “Are you telling me, an angel, part of God’s Heavenly choir, that I’m not compassionate?”
This was not going the way Denny hoped. It looked like there was a real possibility he was about to fight an angel. Possibly even get attacked by a gang of angels.
“You’re a big ‘un aren’t you,” said an angel sizing up Denny. Denny had a good six inches and hundred pounds on the angel. “What are you? Some kind of half breed?”
“Yeah,” said a voice from behind. “Half dumb ass and half pissant.” The rest of the angels laughed loudly. The angel confronting Denny grinned that malicious grin again. The other guitar virtuoso angel remained seated, his chair tilted back to rest against the trailer, his guitar held loosely in his hands, a look of bliss on his face.
Denny could see where this was heading. Rather than wait for it he punched the angel in the nose, knocking him back against the trailer and knocking the other angel off the chair. In an instant Denny felt multiple angels jumping on his back.
Fortunately, because of the mass of bodies, no one was able to land a particularly good punch. Denny sustained some bruises, and a bloody lip, but his injuries were slight considering.
At the sound of the ruckus a couple of lady angels came out of the trailer and started hollering and kicking bodies until the fighting stopped.
“What the hell is going on here?” asked one heart-stoppingly beautiful angel woman.
The angel Denny first punched said, “This fella’s coming onto my property trying to tell me what to do.” Denny was disappointed to see that his punch had no effect. He didn’t even have the satisfaction of seeing a bloody nose.
“Ma’am,” said Denny. He spit a mass of blood and spit so he could speak clearly. “Ma’am, my name is Denny and I live right over there. Welcome to the neighborhood. I was just asking if maybe y’all might be able to slow down the partying a little bit. Some of us in the neighborhood still need to get some sleep and the occasional peace and quiet.”
She turned back to the guitar playing duo. “I told you you were disturbing the neighbors. No one wants to hear your goddamn guitar playing twenty-four hours a day.” She turned back to Denny. “I’m sorry, Hon. It’s been a little weird for all of us since Heaven shut down. Some of us,” she shot a dirty look at the angels standing in the dirt lot, “have forgotten how to live peaceably among reg’lar folk. I’ll make sure these boys start keeping decent hours.”
“Thank you, Ma’am.” The rest of the night was peacefully, blissfully quiet. Denny slept soundly through the night.
The “music” started again late the next morning. Denny went out for the day, annoyed, but comforted by the thought of another quiet night. He returned home at 7pm and the angels still played.
Denny ate, smoked a few bowls, and touched up his shaving. The angels still played.
Denny slipped on his headphones and watched “Planeta Bur,” aka “Planet of Storms,” a Soviet-era science fiction movie from the early days of the space race. The movie ended and the angels still played. As midnight passed Denny accepted that whatever truce had been reached was now abrogated.
It was time to escalate. It was time for magic.
Denny fixed a full pot of coffee and started prepping for spell casting. He pulled out all of his spell books, took inventory of his herbs, oils, and other magical ingredients and started meditating on what sort of spell might affect a bunch of angels. Not that he was the greatest spell caster, but he’d been building his skill for over a half century and his granny always told him he had a knack.
He finally settled on a silencing spell. It was the most straight-forward and he had nearly all the ingredients. Once he decided on a spell he left his trailer to pick up the few remaining items he needed to successfully cast.
Denny loved the swamp at night. At least here it was quiet. He considered briefly moving back to the swamp, but immediately rejected the idea. He wanted his couch and his bed and his TV and his computer and a roof and walls and all his stuff and hot water and electricity. Moving back to the swamp was not a long-term solution. The silencing spell probably wasn’t either, but he had to try something.
Denny kept gardens all over Florida. There wasn’t enough room in the yard around his trailer. And, not everything could be grown in that one microclimate. Some things needed the swamp. Or cooler spaces, or wetter spaces, or a place warm and dry. None of Denny’s gardens looked like a traditional English garden. They blended in with the landscape. Some he tended more often than others. These in the swamp, not far from his home, were the ones he tended most often. Tonight he harvested passion flowers. Long before the white invasion the people in this area used passion flowers as a calming agent, a property Denny could use to amplify the effects of the silencing spell.
Denny’s granny said he had the oo-oont. Denny didn’t speak Old Country, but it meant he had the knack for spellcasting. She insisted he inherited it from her. It was true that Granny was a highly-regarded spellcaster, and when Denny wasn’t being politely humble he’d admit that he was no slouch. He’d never really pursued it as a vocation as his grandmother had. She spent decades learning from others, traveling the world, seeking out ancient or obscure spells. Most of what Denny learned he learned from her, and from screwing around for his own amusement. He was counting on his innate power to silence the angels, or to at least annoy them enough so they’d move away.
Putting together a proper spell took time, which was why Denny didn’t do it more often. There were four steps to a spell; researching; assembling and preparing the ingredients; meditating and focusing the energies; and casting the spell.
The angels were still rocking when he got home. Meditating and focusing his energies was going to be the hardest part of this spell. He needed to be close to where he wanted to cast it, but the constant noise was going to make this a challenge. Denny did his best to muffle the sound by stuffing his ears with tissue paper, wrapping a t-shirt around his head, and then slipping on his headphones. Not perfect, but it would have to do.
Once he got into the zone of preparing the spell, and concentrating on focusing the energies he was conjuring up, the noise faded away. This was the best part of spellcasting. It got Denny into the zone.
It took hours to get the spell ready, but once it was prepared Denny had to act fast. He ripped the gear from his head, grabbed the perfectly blended potion, and charged out his front door.
The angels’ jamboree didn’t look much different than the last time he visited. Except this time only one angel sat in the center, the non-speaking virtuoso guitar player was nowhere to be seen. And, the door to the trailer was open, with a male angel sitting on the steps blowing one loud piercing note on a harmonica.
Denny cast the spell. Before the angels knew what hit them Denny was shouting the spell words while dipping his hands into the potion and flinging drops toward the angels. He moved fast. Swamp apes could move surprisingly fast for their size. He moved around the semi-circle chanting the spell words and flinging the potion.
It was working.
As Denny cast the spell he could hear the angels getting quieter. He could see they continued to play but it was like someone was turning down the volume. It was working! Denny tried to stay focused. He thought about the accolades he would receive from his neighbors, but pushed the scenario out of his mind. He had to stay focused, to concentrate to the end of the spell.
With the last drop of potion and the last word, there was complete silence from the angel band. Denny gloated. He didn’t mean too; he knew his granny would smack him if she saw, but he couldn’t help it. His long nightmare of listening to the Heavenly choir was at an end.
The bully angel stood and walked over to Denny. Grinning. Denny’s gloating vanished. He did not like the looks of that grin.
The angel winked at Denny. Definitely not a good sign. The angel lifted his arms, tilted his head back and and opened his mouth as if to shout. The air around the angel erupted in flames that didn’t burn. The angel glowed a brilliant blue-white and and a flash of blue flames engulfed all the angels, then the flames vanished. Denny heard a loud whomp, then everything was normal.
“Nice try, pissant. But, seriously? I’m a fucking angel.” The angel laughed and turned his back on Denny.
Denny let out a shout of aggravation. Complete silence. Denny shouted again, shouting at the angel. Complete silence. The angel band started up their cacophony concerto again.
All the way back to his trailer Denny mumbled and shouted, trying to make noise. He was completely silent.
Denny tossed a bunch of clothes into a duffel bag and threw the bag into his truck. It was time to visit the folks.
Denny’s parents raised him as a shaver. During his youth they had also passed in human society. But in the 1980s they decided to ‘retire’ and move back to the swamp. Dad said he was never going to wear pants again. Mom had always preferred the swamp to a house, but had been willing to spend a few decades shaving.
Shaving was more common among some clans than others. It was more common in the western hemisphere than the eastern. Some yeti, no matter how much they groomed, just couldn’t fit in with the surrounding human society. Even in the western hemisphere shavers tended to live in rural, out-of-the-way places. They could never blend in perfectly. They were large, misshapen (as far as humans were concerned), and oddly colored. And, regardless of how much they shaved, notable for their hairiness. A few had gone mainstream over the years. Denny had an uncle who had performed with the circus for decades, and who had retired to a junkyard outside of Gibsonton, Florida. At least one well-known Hollywood character actor, and two NFL players were shavers. There were probably more, but Denny didn’t pay attention to that sort of thing.
By the time he got to his parents’ home in the Everglades the spell backlash was beginning to wear off. Still, Denny could barely make a noise above a whisper as he explained to his parents what happened. Once he told them his story he crashed in a hammock he strung between two palms and slept for a dozen hours.
By morning the spell had worn off and Denny could make normal noises again. His parents were eager to hear the gossip from the world of people. They had no idea that angels had returned to Earth. Where were the sasquatch angels, they wondered. Denny didn’t have an answer.
“You should talk to your grandfather,” said Denny’s father finally after catching up on the world of humans.
Denny sighed. “I suppose. Maybe this is a sign. Now that the angels are here I should go on my wanderjahr. See all the relatives.” Ancient tradition held that the men and women of the sasquatch travel the world in search of a mate. This created a network of communication among the spread out tribes, and reduced the chances of inbreeding. Denny’s mother’s ears perked up at the word.
“That’s a spectacular idea! You should have gone on your wanderjahr years ago. You’re already sixty-five. By the time your father and I were sixty-five we already had your older brother Rocky.”
Denny rolled his eyes. He just didn’t feel ready to settle down. He was having too much fun with his life. Besides, he wasn’t sure if he ever wanted to have kids. Given the small population of the tribes, however, having children was an expectation and constant pressure.
Denny’s father harumphed. “Yes, well, maybe, but that’s not what I meant. I meant your grandfather might be able to help with this whole angel thing.”
“Do you mean Granny? She’s the spellcaster.” Denny looked worriedly at his father. Was he starting to lose it?
“No. I do not mean your grandmother. I mean your grandfather. For your information he happens to know God. Maybe he can pull some strings.”
“What do you mean? Like THE God? Is that even a thing? I didn’t know that people could… know God.” Denny struggled with the novel concept. Until the angels returned he hadn’t even believed in God.
“Of course they can. Billions of people know God. You don’t get to be the ruler of all the known cosmos without meeting a few people. How do you think things get done in Heaven?” Denny’s father was unusually stern.
“I never thought about it. Until the angels came back I assumed there was no Heaven and there was no God. Is there a Hell?”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
“How does Grandpa know God?”
Denny’s father shrugged. “I don’t know how they met, but they used to hang out. Back when I was a kid Dad and God would go fishing out in the ‘glades. They were fishing buddies.”
“You should go see your grandparents, Denny,” said Denny’s mother. “I’m sure they’d love to see you. It’s been so long since you visited.”
Denny nodded, still a little stunned over the revelation that someone could go fishing with God. “Yeah, I’ll do that. That’s a good idea.”
Denny’s grandparents lived in the Florida panhandle. The next morning he threw his duffel bag into his truck and started the long drive north.
Once he arrived at the state park he left his duffel bag in the truck and started the long hike to his Grandparents home. He felt a little sheepish. It had been so long since he visited he was worried he might not be able to find them. It turned out finding them was not a problem.
His grandparents were in the middle of a rather loud party.
Denny felt some alarm and anxiety. Cryptid apes were not noted for their loudness. In fact, for as long as they had been hiding from humans, they were noted for their tremendous ability to stay quiet and hidden. What if human people stumbled across the cryptid ape party Denny had walked into?
He heard it, and smelled it, long before he saw it. As soon as he saw it he understood what was happening. The sasquatch angels had also returned. For some reason they had appeared here, but not near where his parents lived.
Denny had never seen so many cryptid apes together in the same place. He also realized, when confronted with so many dead apes, that he hadn’t had to deal with much ape death in his life. He knew many more humans who had died than apes. This was because the ape clans lived mostly isolated from each other, only in family groups. And, his family had chosen to mix with people, a custom he continued. Apes also lived much longer than people. Denny was still young at sixty-five. His parents were approaching their two hundredth birthday, and his grandparents were over three hundred and fifty years old.
The most apes he’d ever seen in one place at one time was at his grandfather’s three hundredth birthday. Denny was fifteen at the time. About twenty apes, almost all of them family, showed up to that party. There were easily a hundred apes at this party. And a non-trivial portion were engaged in some sasquatch sex act. Denny wasn’t squeamish about sex, but really all he knew about sex was from watching human porn. He was still a virgin and had never seen yeti fucking. It didn’t look so bad. At least the yeti angels seemed to be enjoying it. It looked basically the same as human sex. Maybe it was time to go on that wanderjahr and find a nice bigfoot lady to settle down with.
Denny snapped himself out of his reverie and started looking for his grandparents. He hoped he didn’t find them doing it.
He finally found them well away from the party. Denny’s grandfather and grandmother sat in a cozy little alcove in the hammock of a mangrove tree with two angels. Denny’s grandmother saw him first.
“Denny! What a surprise!” She frowned for a second. “You’re not dead are you?”
Denny grinned. He loved his grandmother. She’d always doted on him. He felt guilty now for not visiting more often. He walked up to her and gave her a big ape hug. “No, grandma, I’m not dead. I came for a visit.”
“I see you’re still shaving,” said Denny’s grandfather. Oh right, that’s why he didn’t visit more often. His grandfather had a virulent hatred for shaving culture.
“Denny, I want to introduce you to your Great-Grandfather Grod, and your Great-Aunt Bernice.” Denny shook their hands solemnly. He wasn’t sure what the proper protocol was for meeting dead family.
“So, uh, you guys are back from Heaven?” The two angel apes looked at Denny and tilted their heads slightly.
“Oh, they don’t understand English. Why, there were hardly any European people round these parts at all when your great-grandfather died. And then ones that were around mostly spoke Spanish. We’ve been talking in Old Country. It’s so nice to have guests that speak the old language.”
Denny did not speak the old language. His grandmother had tried to teach him when he was a child, but he’d always been too distracted by human culture to put in the time and effort to learn an essentially dead language. He listened to them speak to each other in a foreign language. He gleaned that his grandparents were explaining who he was to the angels.
After the introductions Denny’s grandmother turned back to Denny. “I had a premonition you’d visit. But, I couldn’t tell why. What brings you out here?”
“You came to visit family!” His grandmother was obviously delighted with the idea that Denny would take an interest in his extended family.
Denny felt put on the spot. He didn’t want to disappoint his grandmother, but he knew better than to lie to her. She had powers. “Actually, I didn’t realize there’d be all these ape angels here. I really came to ask granddad a question about the angels.”
Denny’s grandfather heard Denny refer to him and turned his attention back to Denny. “Why would you come to see me?”
“I’ve been having some problems with my angel neighbors, and they’re driving me crazy. And, not just me, I think they’re driving everyone crazy.” Denny saw his grandmother’s eyes dart quickly to the loud noises of partying and rutting coming from the swamp nearby. He realized that maybe they too were tiring of the angels.
“So, what does that have to do with me?”
“Well, I was talking to dad about it, and he said that you might be able to help because you knew God.”
Denny’s grandfather shrugged. “We used to fish.”
Denny’s grandmother turned to her husband with a look of shock on her face. “You never told me you knew God.”
Denny’s grandfather grimaced, obviously unhappy that this was now a topic of conversation. Denny’s angel family hooted a question, then the four of them began having a heated conversation in the old language. Denny sat awkwardly by, wondering what was being said. From the looks of it, he thought he could guess. The two angels and Denny’s grandmother were all ganging up on Denny’s grandfather, who mostly sat stubbornly and listened, with only the occasional defiant grunt. The conversation became more heated until Denny’s angel great-aunt stood, roared, and stomped off into the swamp. Denny’s grandfather, stood, roared back, and stomped in the opposite direction. Not exactly the end result Denny was hoping for.
“What happened?” he asked his grandmother.
“They’re driving me crazy, Denny.” She inclined her head to indicate the huge angel party taking place a few hundred feet away. “I’m surprised we haven’t been discovered by humans yet. If humans didn’t have their own problems to wrestle with, I’m sure we would have. They won’t shut up. At first it was nice. It was a blessing. I learned so much. I was so happy. But, they just won’t stop partying. They won’t stop yelling and fucking and fighting and drinking and shouting and laughing and hollering. They won’t shut up. I’m an old woman, Denny. I just want some peace and quiet.”
Denny nodded. “I know what you mean. Why did great-aunt go stomping off?”
“She wants to go back to Heaven. She doesn’t like it here. A lot of angels don’t like it here. I think they’d all like to go back to Heaven. Apparently it’s pretty nice there. Your great-grandfather wants to go back to Heaven. So, when we heard your grandfather knows God we tried to persuade him to reach out, to see if he could intervene.”
“But, he won’t?”
“Apparently they had some sort of falling out. All your grandfather would say is ‘He knows what he did.’ He’s too stubborn to reach out. You know how stubborn your grandfather can be.”
Denny nodded. It was legendary. Glumly he decided to go party with the angels.
Partying with the angels turned out to be far less fun than it sounded. It turned out that their angel food had little taste. At least to Earthly creatures. Even worse, their angel booze had no effect. It was like drinking slightly sweet air.
Disgusted and depressed with the whole situation Denny went off in search of a relatively quiet place where he could be alone and contemplate this new world he found himself. When he got to the water’s edge he chose a direction at random and walked until he couldn’t hear the party anymore. Once the noise faded he searched for a suitable place to sit and collect his thoughts.
He saw his grandfather sitting on a fallen tree. Fishing. Denny felt awkward walking away and so felt compelled to join his grandfather.
“Hi, Granddad. It’s me.”
“Of course it’s you. I heard you coming from a mile away. You’ve lost the sasquatch lightfoot. Did your grandmother send you?”
“No. I was just trying to get away from the party. I wasn’t looking for you. Just looking for some peace and quiet.”
“Well, if you’re looking for some quiet you can have a seat. It’s a beautiful view. One of my favorites. If you want to talk I suggest you keep on moving.”
Denny took a seat. Granddad was right. It was a beautiful spot.
Denny sat silently while his grandfather fished. The sun was setting over tops of the trees and the air was taking on a rich golden glow. Granddad’s fishing was done with a line, a hook, and a stick. Granddad would toss the hook into the water and then gently pull it through the water in a complicated zig-zag. Before long he brought in two beautiful bass. He handed one to Denny, and took the other one himself. They sat in silence eating the fish. The quiet broken only by the sound of chewing. He realized he hadn’t eaten anything since getting on the road that morning when he’d had some chips and coffee from a convenience store.
After their fish they sat perfectly still and quiet until the sun set.
Long after the sun set and the stars came out Denny’s granddad said, “You were always a good kid, Denny. I liked you. It’s not your fault your dad fucked you up.”
Denny sighed. A perfectly transcendent moment and now he was going to hear about the family squabbles.
His grandfather held up his hand at the sigh. “Give me a moment. Your dad fucked you up. But, I suppose, one of the things I’m learning in my old age, is that just because he didn’t do it the way I would have done it, doesn’t mean he fucked you up. I can see what kind of man you grew into. I don’t really understand your lifestyle, or why you want to live the way you do, but I can tell you have a good heart. You’re honest, Denny. Most importantly, you’re honest with yourself.”
Denny sat silent. Dumbstruck. This was the longest his grandfather had ever spoken to him that wasn’t a rant about his horrible life choices and his horrible parents.
“I suppose death has been on my mind a lot lately since the angels returned. Frankly, Denny, between you and me, I’m not sure if Heaven is the place for me. All that hedonistic indulgence leaves me cold.”
Denny nodded, “Yeah, I don’t understand how it doesn’t get old. Where’s the sense of accomplishment from finishing a difficult task? Where’s the gratification from knowing you did your best against insurmountable odds?” Denny was pitching. He wasn’t exactly sure what his grandfather wanted to hear, but guessed he was somewhere in the ballpark.
There was a long silence before Denny heard a sniffle. Was his grandfather crying? This was getting more awkward by the second.
“I’ll see if I can get ahold of God. You’ve made me think, Denny. Thank you. I’ve got some questions I want to ask God before it’s time for me to die.”
“Sure. OK. You’re welcome?”
They sat in silence. What Denny really wanted to know was if his grandfather was going to get in touch with God anytime soon. As peaceful as it was sitting out in the swamp, what Denny really wanted was to get back to his comfy bed in his home.
Their peace was interrupted by a couple of bigfoot angels crashing through the forest looking for an isolated place to screw. As Denny heard the couple approach he hoped fervently they’d pass on by and leave him and his grandfather to their moment of peace. Instead, they walked right up to where Denny and his grandfather sat silently.
The angels didn’t seem to see them and started making out just a few feet away from Denny’s grandfather.
Grandfather erupted. “Stop it!” Denny could see he was struggling to stand up, so he got up quickly and helped his grandfather to his feet. “What the hell is wrong with you apes? Can’t you stop fucking for two seconds?”
The angels laughed. “You’re just jealous old man. Don’t worry, your day will come soon enough.” The angels resumed their necking.
“I don’t want it! I don’t want an eternity with you. I don’t think you came from Heaven at all. I think you came from Hell.”
“Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. It sure feels like Heaven to me.”
Denny’s grandfather spat with inarticulate rage. He rushed the angels. Rush may be a bit of an exaggeration. He slowly rushed the angels and began beating on them with his fists.
One angel, the female bigfoot angel, casually struck Denny’s grandfather in the center of his chest. Grandfather went flying back, tumbling and falling into the water. Denny’s first instinct was to fight the angel, but he quickly realized his grandfather was struggling in the swamp. With the sound of angel’s laughter in his ears, Denny leapt into the swamp to rescue his grandfather.
The old ape’s arthritic limbs made it difficult for him to extricate himself from the tangle of roots he found himself caught in. Denny pulled him out. The old ape was gasping, coughing and choking. He threw up water on the shore. The two angel apes were doing it doggy style, both staring at Denny and his Grandfather with bemused smiles and occasional grimaces of ecstasy.
Denny’s grandfather lay there staring at the angels. Once he caught his breath he turned to Denny and said, “That’s it, Denny. Help me up. We’re going to find God.”
“When you see him can you ask him to let us back into Heaven?” asked the lady angel who had knocked Granddad into the swamp.
“Fuck you,” said Denny.
“Calm down, asshole,” said the male angel. He then looked at his sex partner. “Livers,” he shrugged.
Denny followed his grandfather, curious exactly how one went about traveling to Heaven and speaking God.
Denny waited patiently while his grandmother and grandfather discussed the situation quietly between themselves. The angel apes could be heard hooting and hollering. It was almost impossible to get away from their noise in the once quiet national park. When they reached a conclusion they came over to Denny. Denny’s grandmother did the talking.
“Denny. Your grandfather tells me that you helped him out of a jam back there when the angel shoved him into the swamp. It’s not easy for your grandfather to admit, or for me for that matter, but he’s… we’re getting old. We can’t do the things we used to do. He wants to thank you. I want to thank you. I shouldn’t tell you this, but you’ve always been my favorite.” Denny’s grandfather looked sheepish and embarrassed. He stared at the ground, the sky, the treetops, everywhere but at the people talking.
Denny smiled. “Thanks, grandma.”
“If your grandfather is going to get to Heaven he’s going to need your help.” Denny’s grandfather looked like he was shrinking in on himself. For a moment he looked ancient, small, and frail.
“Sure, what can I do?”
“Your grandfather needs a ride to Heaven.”
Denny nodded, uncertain how to follow up on this request. “Is that something we can do in my truck?”
“I told myself I’d never ride in a goddamn automobile, but I don’t know how else to get to Heaven’s gate. I don’t think I can walk that far anymore. At least not in a reasonable time.”
“I can drive you. I’d be happy to drive you. Just tell me how to get there and I’ll take you.”
“It’s south. There’s a portal to Heaven in the mangroves of Ten Thousand Islands.” Denny’s grandfather didn’t say ‘Ten Thousand Islands’ but instead used the ancient word. Denny understood enough of the language to know his grandfather was talking about the area at the southwest end of Florida on the Gulf coast..
“I’ll pack you a lunch.” Denny’s grandmother beamed, happy her husband and favorite grandson were going to spend some time together.
They wasted little time before getting on the road. Once Denny’s grandfather made up his mind he was ready to act. “No time to dilly-dally,” he repeated over and over.
They set off well before dawn. Denny’s grandfather did not handle riding in the truck very well. As soon as they got over 10 miles per hour he began telling Denny to watch his speed. Then Grandfather would clutch at things inside the truck to hold on. He tried closing his eyes and putting his head between his knees for about sixty miles.
By the time they got to Homosassa Springs Denny’s grandfather was able to look out the window without flinching every time they passed a car or a car passed them. By the time they passed the Tampa/St. Pete area Denny thought maybe his grandfather was starting to enjoy the ride in the truck. At least he started pointing out sights they passed along the way.
It was almost noon when they passed Fort Myers. By then Denny’s father was leaning his head out the window and letting the breeze blow back his shaggy hair. Denny knew from previous experience that most people would translate what they saw not as a swamp ape leaning out the passenger side of a car, but as a crusty only hermit-looking human and a big ugly guy driving. People saw what they wanted to see. And they rarely wanted to see the wonder that surrounded them.
Denny’s plan was to rent a boat in Goodland. He felt a sense of urgency. The sooner he could get his grandfather to Heaven, the sooner Grandfather would have a chance to persuade God to let the angels return.
Like every other place on Earth, Goodland was filled with angels engaged in a non-stop party. The guy at the boat rental place looked dismal and was already half-drunk. Angels were racing boats along the beach line, coming perilously close to each other and the beach. One cluster lounged on a couple of boats that had obviously collided in the recent past.
Denny approached the glum boat rental guy.
“Can I rent a boat?”
The man pointed to the water. “Angels got ‘em.”
“The angels rented all of your boats?”
“Nope. Just took ‘em. Turns out they don’t need keys to start a boat. They just use some angel magic and make them go.” The man took a long drink from his Big Gulp cup, which Denny could smell was a healthy mixture of Coca-Cola and Jack Daniels.
“Do you have anything? I need to get to one of the islands.”
The boat rental guy nodded. “I’ve thought about that. Just ditching everything and heading into the swamps, but I got kids. I can’t abandon them. They still think having angels around is cool. You know what’s not cool. When your mother-in-law comes to live with you after she’s dead. God, that woman hates me. I know you’re not supposed to rejoice when someone dies, but I truly and sincerely rejoiced when she died. Of course, I didn’t tell anyone. It was my secret. But, now she’s back. And she knows. I don’t know how she knows, but she knows. Probably just guessed, but she knows. She’s turning my kids against me.” He took another drink.
“So you have no boats.”
“There’s that one.” The man squinted, bleary-eyed and pointed to one of the boats floating near the beach that had been part of the collision. “I don’t think it’s hurt too bad. Least it’s still floating. Probably just needs some gas.”
“Can I rent that one?”
The man shrugged. “Sure. If you can get it from the angels. I tell you what. I’ll give you the keys. If you can get it from the angels you can use it. When you’re done bring it back to me. I’ll consider it a win if I just get the boat back. The way it looks now I’ll never get it back. You’ll probably need some gas too.”
“OK. It’s a deal.” The boat rental guy gave Denny the keys to the boat and a full can of gas.
Carrying the five-gallon can of gas Denny and his grandfather sat on the beach and stared at the angels cavorting on the boat.
“We could beat them off,” said Denny’s grandfather.
With a completely straight face Denny said, “I’m not going to beat off an angel.”
“We could out-wait them.”
“How about we’ll use that as our back-up plan. For plan A I think we need to find a way to accelerate the process. I’d like to get this adventure moving along.”
“We could try the mermaid shuffle.”
“What’s the mermaid shuffle?”
“One of us acts like a mermaid and distracts them while the other gets the boat. We used to do it all the time with the Spaniards.”
“How do we act like a mermaid?”
Denny’s grandfather studied Denny closely. “Sometimes I forget how young you are.”
“OK. How do we act like mermaids?”
“When we get back you need to promise to visit your grandmother more often. You’ve still got a lot to learn.”
“OK. I promise to visit Grandma more often. What’s the mermaid shuffle?”
“You just get ready to swim out to that boat, and then swing by and pick me up. I’ll get the angels off the boat.”
Denny’s grandfather tried to stand from the beach and couldn’t make it. “Help me up.” Denny stood up and helped his grandfather to his feet. “Walk that way.” Denny’s grandfather pointed one way down the beach, and then started walking in the opposite direction. “We need some distance between us.”
Denny walked a couple of hundred feet down the beach. When he turned around he couldn’t see his grandfather. He was gone.
As Denny searched the beach to locate where his grandfather had vanished to he heard a soft melodious tune. At first he wasn’t sure if he was hearing it or imagining it. As the tune grew stronger he noticed the angels on the boats looking around to locate the source of the music. Eventually the music filled the air. It was beautiful. Enchanting. Denny saw the angels pointing into the surf. He followed their fingers and saw a beautiful mermaid lounging in the shallow surf near the beach, combing her long green hair and singing.
Denny took a step toward the mermaid.
The mermaid shuffle.
Was this what his grandfather had been talking about? It must be. Denny turned away from the mermaid on the beach and watched the angels. They were similarly entranced.
One dived into the water. An angel fired up the boat that still ran and pointed it to the mermaid.
Denny realized what he had to do.
The angels remaining on the powerless boat had their backs to Denny. They were all captivated by the mermaid. Denny rushed into the waves and started swimming to the boat. He swam on his side, holding the gas can high above the water with his other hand.
The last angel dived off the boat a moment before Denny’s hand grabbed the side. He placed the gas can into the boat, and then pulled himself on board. He looked up to see how his grandfather was faring. Grandfather still sang, still looked like a mermaid, but now was surrounded by a cluster of swooning angels.
Denny poured the gas into the engine. The singing stopped. Denny looked up. A bunch of confused angels were standing around his swamp ape grandfather. Denny fired up the engine. It started! He gunned the motor and aimed the boat directly at the angels surrounding his grandfather.
Grandfather dived into a wave started swimming with all his might. Denny drove the boat as close as he could to his grandfather, killed the engine, then reached over and grabbed two handfuls of his grandfather’s fur and pulled him into the boat. The angels were starting to run after the boat. Denny hesitated for a second. He’d never seen anything run on top of the water. He left his grandfather lying in the bottom of the boat, fired up the engine and accelerated, pushing the boat to its limit.
One angel reached the boat just as Denny was accelerating. Denny looked around for something, saw the gas can, and swung it at the angel with all his might. The angel lost her grip and fell behind the speeding boat. Eventually the angels lost interest and gave up the chase.
Once they were far enough away Denny turned his attention to his grandfather. Grandfather did not look well. His normal healthy gray-brown had turned into a sickly pale gray-green. He still hadn’t moved from where he lay in the bottom of the boat. His fur was soaked and straggly, and his breathing was labored.
Denny turned off the engine and kneeled next to his grandfather.
“Granddad, are you OK?”
“I don’t know. That mermaid trick really took it out of me. I wasn’t expecting that. We used to do it all the time when I was a kid to fuck with the human sailors. I never had a reaction like this.”
“Should we keep going?”
“What the fuck are you talking about? Of course we should keep going. If I’m about to die what better person to see than God?”
“Yeah, I guess so. Are you going to be able to tell me how to get to Heaven?”
“Yeah. Just give me a minute. I think I’m starting to feel better.” Denny’s grandfather lay on the bottom of the boat for a few more minutes gathering his strength before he asked Denny to give him a hand sitting up.
Denny got him propped up in the bottom of the boat, his back against a seat.
“Head into the islands and south.”
Denny drove into the archipelago. As he drove he continually looked over his shoulder to check on his grandfather. The worst seemed to have passed, but he still looked exhausted. As they got further into the islands it was difficult to keep his eye on his grandfather. After his second dead end Denny broke the silence.
“Any suggestions on the best path through here?”
“No. I never came from the gulf side. I always came down on foot. Let me try to sense it.” Denny’s grandfather closed his eyes and furrowed his brow. After a few moment he let out a long sigh and opened his eyes. “Nope. Too tired. Can you sense it?”
Denny shook his head. “I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about.”
Denny’s grandfather scowled at him. “If you hadn’t wasted your time living among the humans you might have a better grasp of your skills. You have senses, Denny. Lots and lots of senses.”
“OK. But I don’t know how to use them. Nobody ever told me I have extra senses.”
The angry look vanished from the face of Denny’s grandfather. Now he just looked sad. “I know.” He shook his head, thinking about all the stuff he could say, all the anger he had had for so many years, but knowing none of it made any difference right now. “I know.” Denny’s grandfather rubbed his face. “OK. Here’s what we’re going to do. Give me your hands. I’m going to try to open one of your senses and together we’re going to feel our way to Heaven.”
Denny turned off the boat and sat cross-legged next to his grandfather. They held hands and Denny’s grandfather closed his eyes.
Denny felt an odd sensation prickling against the back of his neck. It quickly became irritating. Denny wanted to scratch or slap the back of his neck. He wanted the weird buzzing to stop.
“Keep holding my hands,” his grandfather murmured. “Don’t fight it. That’s your senses waking up.”
The irritation, like a tiny vibration just under his skin, spread from the back of his neck across the top of his head. Denny suddenly felt sick, like he was going to vomit.
“Stay with it,” said Grandfather quietly. “Let it wash over you. Don’t fight it. Breathe it in. Accept it. Embrace it. Let it flow through you.”
The nausea passed and the vibration sank into a warm feeling in the pit of his stomach, then lower still to right above his crotch. Denny could feel his cock starting to stir. But, before he could think anymore about his cock growing while he was holding his grandfather’s hands, there was an explosive sensation that rippled through his body and took his breath away. He felt like a tuning fork that had just been struck with a sledgehammer. Something within him vibrated madly, though his muscles were perfectly still.
Denny’s grandfather gave out a gasp, gripped Denny’s hands so hard Denny thought they might break, and then slumped over on his side. He looked dead. Denny stared at his grandfather’s prone body, wondering if he’d just seen his grandfather die. He looked to the chest to see if it moved. After a long long moment Denny saw the chest rise as his grandfather took a shallow breath.
Denny could feel a warm spot just outside of his body. He knew that that warmth would lead him to the gateway to Heaven. He turned away from his grandfather, determined to get to Heaven as quickly as possible. Maybe God could help.
Following the warm spot didn’t stop him from running into dead-ends as he drove the boat into swampy alcoves. Eventually he progressed. He could tell he was getting closer because the warm spot grew warmer. The spot guided him by moving around his body, to his right, his left, in front or back; acting like a compass, leading him…somewhere.
When the hot spot became nearly unbearable Denny decided it was time to climb out of the boat and continue on foot. He turned his attention to his grandfather. Grandfather’s breathing was better. He now just looked like he was sleeping. Denny decided to try and wake him.
Denny shook his grandfather’s shoulder. “Granddad. Granddad, wake up.”
His grandfather snorted, sneezed, and woke himself coughing. “Fuck off. Sleeping.”
Denny shook his shoulder harder. “Granddad, wake up. We’re almost there.”
Granddad took a swing at Denny. “Leave me alone. I’m fucking sleeping.”
“Granddad, we’re on a boat. We’re trying to get to Heaven. You need to wake up. Wake up.”
“Hunh, what? Where are we? What’s going on?”
Denny reminded his grandfather what they were doing as he shook himself back into consciousness. Finally, he was awake and remembered what they were doing. “Did it work? Did you get the sense to find the gate to Heaven?”
“I think so. It’s like a warm spot. I’ve been following it.” Denny helped his grandfather to his feet.
“I’m going to have to trust you, boy. I don’t have the strength anymore.”
“I think it’s here. The spot is really hot. I think we need to get out here.” Denny jumped out of the boat and stood in the water. He helped his grandfather off the boat.
Once he was standing in the water Denny’s grandfather sniffed a long deep sniff. The sun had set as Denny searched out the right island. A full moon illuminated the jumble of water and islands. Denny stood silently as his grandfather sniffed and sniffed.
“Smells good,” he said finally. “I think this might be it. Smells familiar. I think it’s that way. What does your spot say?”
“Let’s go.” Denny allowed his grandfather to lead the way. Grandfather seemed to have regained his strength and set off with determination.
As they got closer Denny’s warm spot grew hot enough to be painful. Denny looked at the front of his chest to see if it actually might be burning. He wondered idly if he might burst into flame when they reached the gate.
Instead, the painful hot spot on the front of his chest fell away into an icy coldness. At the same time his grandfather stopped. Denny nearly ran into him.
“Is this it?”
“You tell me.”
“The hot spot turned cold.”
“I thought so. I thought this was familiar.” They stood in front of a giant cluster of mangroves, the roots formed an entrance-way.
“Is that the gateway to Heaven?”
“What are we waiting for?”
“I’m preparing myself. Walking into Heaven is… a unique experience.”
“Do I need to do something?”
“There’s no way to prepare yourself the first time. You just have to do it. By preparing myself, I mean I’m screwing up my courage.” Denny grandfather paused for a moment. “Fuck it. Let’s go. You go first.” Denny’s grandfather grabbed Denny by the arm and pushed him forward with surprising strength into the mangrove root entrance. Denny stumbled, caught himself, and then lowered his head to step into the tangle of mangrove roots.
Denny’s left foot stepped on a root. He moved his right foot forward and couldn’t find the ground. He reached out to grab at the mangrove branches and felt his grandfather push him, hard, in the back. Denny fell.
He reached out to break his fall, but there was nothing around him. He fell through darkness. Denny screamed out for his grandfather, but his screams were silent. He fell through perfect darkness and silence. He hollered again and again, but heard nothing.
Denny felt panicked. He thought about his death. However far he was falling it was going to hurt when he hit the bottom. He braced himself against impact.
He continued to fall. After a few minutes of bracing himself against impact he started to wonder if he’d fallen into a bottomless pit. Not that such a thing could be possible, but he’d been falling for a long time. He looked around to see if he could somehow manage a glimpse of his grandfather. Nothing.
Denny fell long enough to become bored. To pass the time he pretended that falling was his entire life from here on out. Funny at first, but then he realized he’d slowly starve to death. What if he was already dead? What if something happened in that tree and he died, and this was what death was like?
As he began to seriously consider that he might be dead everything around him began to glow, turning from black to pale to blinding white. Denny clutched at his head. He felt like his body was being unzipped. The whole thing being ripped apart with a shuddering slowness. His insides pushed themselves out the top of his open head and Denny felt his outsides on his insides and his insides on his outside. He had been turned inside out. Then his back folded over and was pushed through his belly button. Denny screamed out again. This time in agonizing pain. Now he understood why his grandfather had to gather his courage. Denny had never felt any pain like this before. It wasn’t so much the physical pain that upset him. There was a searing, terrible, maddening pain in his soul and psyche. Just as he thought he couldn’t bear it any longer he landed on a soft hillock, bouncing once and came to a stop. Before he could gather himself or see where he had landed his grandfather landed right next to him.
Grandfather was unconscious again. Only this time he wasn’t breathing.
Granddad was dead.
Denny looked around for help. He assumed he was in Heaven, or something like it. It was a beautiful spring day. The sun shined softly. Butterflies fluttered on a slight, warm breeze. They were on a river’s bank. The water burbled. Birds sang. Denny sat alone in Heaven and his grandfather was dead.
“Hello!” Denny shouted. “Hello! Anyone here?”
The only response was the rapid knocking of a woodpecker in a tree high above his head.
Denny turned his attention back to his grandfather. He wasn’t sure how he knew, but he felt a deep certainty that his grandfather was dead. But, wait. Was Denny also dead? He looked at himself, feeling his arms and legs. If he was in Heaven, how could he NOT be dead? And why wasn’t his grandfather animated?
Denny looked to his left and saw no one. On the horizon was the silhouette of a sparkling city. He looked to his right and saw only the trail of the brilliant blue river, light glittering across the burbling surface. He looked back to his right and there stood a mature, perfectly formed swamp ape. Large and imposing, and remarkably handsome. The most captivating swamp ape Denny had ever seen.
The charismatic swamp ape ignored Denny and knelt down next to Denny’s grandfather. He placed the tip of his right index finger against the forehead of Denny’s grandfather, then against Granddad’s heart. Denny’s grandfather’s eyes slipped open. “Hey, Dickface.”
“Bastard. What the fuck are you doing here?”
“Seemed like you had some time on your hands, so I thought I’d swing by and see if you wanted to fish.” Denny’s grandfather sat up. He didn’t struggle with process as he had earlier. “God, this is my grandson Denny.”
God stood up and walked to where Denny stood, slack-jawed. He held out his giant hand. “Denny. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
Denny tried to speak, but no words came. He shook God’s hand.
“You’re a swamp ape,” he finally blurted out.
God laughed gently. “I’m God. People see the super-awesome version of themselves they always imagined God would look like. To you I’m a swamp ape. To a leprechaun I’m a leprechaun. To a Republican I’m Satan.” God chuckled. Denny didn’t really get the joke.
God turned his attention back to Denny’s Grandfather. “Fishing sounds great. It was getting sort of lonely up here.” He turned back to Denny. “Join us for some fishing, Denny?”
Denny frowned. He hated fishing. “Do you mind if I look around, sir?” Denny had never called anyone sir in his life.
God laughed a basso profundo laugh. “Not at all. Heaven is yours. C’mon old-timer,” he said to Denny’s grandfather. “I know the perfect place.”
Denny watched God and his grandfather walk up the river bank away from the city. Denny decided to walk into the city.
The city was stunning. Sparkling crystal surrounded buildings, providing translucent skin that refracted rainbows. The boulevards were broad and golden. Benches were everywhere, all the doors were open.
Denny hadn’t been in many big cities, but this looked like a city’s idea of city Heaven. All it was missing was the people. Or, in this case, the angels. Denny tried to imagine the streets full of angels and then remembered the cacophonous sound of his angel neighbors singing and shuddered. Maybe it was better empty.
Denny wandered through the streets and buildings for hours. There were pubs and pizza places and celestial cinema palaces showing movies made in Heaven. One theater Denny wandered into advertised a new Marx Brothers movie. Death suddenly seemed more appealing.
Eventually the novelty started to wear off and Denny realized he was hungry. Unfortunately, the only thing to eat in Heaven was angel food, which he knew would not satisfy a creaturely appetite. Nonetheless he went into a bar and poured himself a beer. It was delicious in a thin, unsatisfying way. As he was wondering how to track down his grandfather the door to the bar opened and tiny, ugly, horse-looking creature walked in. It froze when it saw Denny sitting at the bar.
“Hi little fella,” said Denny gently. “What are you doing in Heaven?”
“I fucking live here,” said the little horse. “The real question is what are you doing here?”
Denny fumbled for a response. He’d never met a tiny talking horse before. “Visiting?” he finally managed.
“Really.” The horse sounded doubtful. He walked around Denny to the back of the bar and poured himself a stiff drink of angel whisky. Denny couldn’t quite see how its hooves managed to pour the whisky into a glass. The hooves seemed to flex weirdly to the horse could grasp the glass. It drained a shot and poured another. “So, you just happened to be wandering around and you stumbled into a bar in Heaven. That is a fucking remarkable story.”
“You seem kind of angry for someone living in Heaven.” Denny drank his beer. It was crazy delicious, but had none of the benefits of Earthly beer. He remained sober.
“Look around, buddy. Heaven ain’t what it used to be.” The horse leapt on top of the bar and lay down, then took a sip of whisky. “Stop avoiding the question. How did you get into Heaven?”
“I’m here with my grandfather. He knows God. They’re out fishing. I was kind of hoping we could talk him into letting the angels return.”
“Good fucking luck.”
“So what happened there? Why did all the angels get kicked out of Heaven?”
“Have you spent any time with angels?”
“Yeah. They’re dicks.”
“Ding ding ding. You just answered your own question. After millennia of hanging around a bunch of assholes, God finally got tired of it and shut the place down.”
“Any chance he might let them back in?”
The horse adjusted its shoulders which Denny recognized as a shrug. “He moves in mysterious ways. Frankly, I wouldn’t mind if they returned. It gets lonely around here without them. They weren’t all bad.”
“So, how come you’re still in Heaven? Why didn’t you get sent to Earth?”
“God and I have a special relationship. I’m what you might call his familiar.”
“God has a horse for a familiar?”
“Eohippus, actually. Though I just think of myself as Torgar.”
“Hi, Torgar. I’m Denny.” They lifted their glasses to each other and drank. “Any advice on how to convince God to let the angels return?”
“Blow smoke up his ass. He loves being praised. You would think, being almighty and everything, that he’d be brimming with confidence, but he’s really emotionally needy. He always needs someone to tell him what a great job he’s doing.”
Denny heard his name being called from the street. “Excuse me.” He carried his angel beer stout into the street.
“Granddad. Over here.”
“C’mon, Denny. We’re leaving.” Granddad was furious.
“What happened? Is God going to call back the angels?”
“Fuck him is what happened. Let’s get out of here.”
Denny felt panicked. The Earth was still full of asshole angels. He couldn’t give up now. “Granddad, I can’t go. I’ve got to talk to God. He’s got to bring the angels back up to Heaven.”
“Fine. You can stay here and talk to that asshole all you want. I’m leaving.” Granddad started lumbering down the street, heading back to the edge of the city and the river.
“Wait, wait.” Denny drank down the rest of his angel beer and set the glass gently on the golden street. “How do I find God? Don’t go back to Earth without me. I don’t know how to get back.”
“Just talk to him. He’s fucking everywhere. He’ll hear you.” Granddad continued walking.
“God? Are you there? It’s me, Denny.” Denny felt embarrassed and a little bit delusional talking to the air. “I don’t know what’s going on between you and Granddad, but I was hoping to talk to you about all the angels on Earth.” Denny looked around to see if God had magically materialized. He had not. “I don’t know if you can hear me or not…”
“He can hear you,” Denny’s Granddad interrupted. “I guarantee you that nosy motherfucker is listening.”
“OK. Good. God, please bring the angels back to Heaven. Frankly, they’re a bit of a pain in the ass. Humanity is having trouble dealing with them. A-and, think of all the praise you’ll get. There will be a great overwhelming rejoicing if you bring the angels back. And, I know humans won’t be the only ones to sing your praises. I bet the angels will be on their best behavior if you let them back. They miss Heaven. They miss you!”
“Do you really think so?”
Denny jumped, startled by the sudden appearance of God.
“Of course. You’re awesome. How could they not miss you?”
“Angels are dicks.”
“I hear you.” Denny raised his hand for a high five. God left him hanging. “Ahem. But, in the end, you’ll regret just walking away from everything. Is that the kind of legacy you want? God the quitter.” Denny saw that his grandfather was making pretty good progress. If this didn’t work out, Denny wondered if he’d be stuck in Heaven with a vain deity and drunken eohippus. A grim future indeed. “But if you bring them back now, people will see that you are also a forgiving god. There’s a punishment — a time-out — but also an embrace, a hug — the return. One of the things I learned from my grandfather, and it took me a long time to learn it, is that work is good. It’s easy to abandon the angels to live with humanity on Earth, but that’s not the way you designed the cosmos. Trust your instincts, trust your design. It won’t be easy to bring them back, but you’ll only get a sense of accomplishment if you do the work. Bring the angels back to Heaven, God. It’s the right thing to do.”
“Do you really think humans will sing my praises? They’ve been kind of jerks lately as well. Doing all sorts of crap in my name that, frankly, horrifies me.”
“I think they will. I know they will. I know I will.”
God stood in thought, and Denny tried not to let his anxiety show. Finally, God let out a long weary sigh. “Maybe you’re right. I need to think about this.” God vanished.
“Fuck,” whispered Denny. He was hoping for something a little more definite. He started jogging to catch up with his grandfather. He was winded after a few dozen jogging steps, so he slowed down to a fast walk. He caught up with his grandfather just outside the city limits.
“What did you two fight about?” Denny managed to ask between gasps for more air. Perhaps not surprisingly the air in Heaven tasted delicious.
“Fish lures. He wanted to know my secret, how I’m able to always catch a fish. I told him, just like I told him years ago, that a fisherman doesn’t give up his fishing spots, or his lure secrets.”
“But, doesn’t he just know. I thought God was omniscient.”
“God don’t know everything.”
“That would explain a lot.” Denny walked along silently with his grandfather until he caught his breath. “So, why won’t you tell him the secret of your lures?”
“It’s none of his business. It’s the principle of the thing. There’s no reason he needs to know every damn thing in the universe. He’s God, isn’t that enough?”
“I see your point. But, wouldn’t it be a fair trade to get the angels off Earth and back into Heaven?”
Denny’s granddad stopped. “Shit. I forgot.” He started walking again. “Well, it’s too late now. We’ll just have to learn to live with the angels. Who knows? Perhaps it will all be for the best.”
Denny thought about the caterwauling in his neighborhood and knew it would never be all for the best. He followed his grandfather in glum silence all the way back to the gate.
The Heaven-side gate was two giant elm trees, at least Denny thought they were elm trees. The two trees grew in such a way that the branches combined to form a perfect arch between the two of them. Behind the arch was a tall shrub. The two swamp apes stood in front of the elm branch arch and shrubbery wall and contemplated their visit to Heaven.
“I suppose this is it,” said Denny, his voice full of defeat.
Granddad nodded. “Denny. I’m going to need your help with this. I hate the transition. I’m going to need you to push me.”
“You sure you don’t want to hang out here for a little bit? Maybe cool down? Maybe you and God can work out your differences.”
Denny’s grandfather turned and glared at Denny. “Push me through the goddamn gate.”
“Yes, sir.” Denny’s grandfather moved to the edge of the gate and closed his eyes and tensed his body.
“I’m ready,” he grumbled.
Denny pushed his grandfather as hard as he could through the gate.
Granddad went flying into the middle of the shrubbery. The split second of silent shock was broken by a lengthy loud harangue of cursing. Denny walked around to the other side of the shrub to help pull his father through.
Denny’s grandfather was still too busy cursing to answer any questions. Denny pulled him out. His grandfather’s fur was covered with leaves and twigs.
A booming laughter interrupted Granddad’s nonstop streak of cursing.
“You should see yourself.” God continued to laugh.
“What’s the big idea? Is this some sort of joke. Very funny. Now, how about you letting me get back to Earth.”
God’s laughter stopped and he looked somber. “Sorry, Alao.” Denny realized he almost never heard anyone call his grandfather by his given name. “I’m afraid your time is up.”
Denny felt a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach.
“What do you mean my time is up? I’m as healthy as I ever was.”
God shook his head. “You died coming through the gate when you came to Heaven.”
“OK, fine. I’m dead. You sent all the other dead apes back to Earth, now send me back.”
“I’ve decided to bring the angels home. Denny was right. My work isn’t done. I shouldn’t give up just because it’s hard.” God turned to Denny. “Thank you, Denny.”
“Uh, no problem? But, hold on. I think I’m not understanding something. Are you saying that Granddad is dead?”
“I’m afraid so.”
Denny felt ridiculously confused. His grandfather stood right next to him. Looking sbsurd with his mussed fur, leaves sticking out everywhere, still panting slightly from the exertion. “You look pretty good for a dead ape,” joked Denny feebly.
Granddad’s shoulders slumped and he stared at the ground. “I’m not ready to die,” he said softly. “There’s so much more I wanted to do.” He turned to Denny, his eyes glistening. “Denny, your grandmother will be alone now. You’ll need to take care of her. I mean, not that she needs taking care of, but she’ll be all alone now. Tell her I loved her more than anything. I wish I didn’t have to leave her.”
“I will Granddad.” Denny reached out tentatively to his grandfather. His grandfather reached and forcefully pulled Denny into a long, strong hug.
“You’re a good kid, Denny. I always thought you’d make something of yourself someday. If I didn’t show how much I cared for you it’s just because I didn’t want to indulge and spoil you.”
“I know, Granddad.”
They hugged for a long time, both crying. When they separated God spoke.
“It’s time to go now, Denny. I’ve got to bring the angels back, and your grandfather and I need to work through some trust issues.”
Denny’s grandfather glared at God.
“Alao, I’m sorry about badgering you about your lures. You were right. I was wrong.” God turned back to Denny. “Denny, I want to thank you for helping me get back on track. I’m ready to face up to my challenges. There are going to be some changes in Heaven. Perhaps we’ll mix in some work with the play.”
God escorted Denny to the entrance side of the portal. Denny hesitated, remembering the unpleasantness of the trip.
“Is it possible to just beam me back, or something? Tripping through that portal is kind of fucked up.”
God shook his head. “Sorry, Denny. You’ll have to use the portal. In case you haven’t heard, I work in mysterious ways.”
Denny nodded solemnly. “Will I ever hear from either of you again?”
“Probably not,” said God. “But, who knows what the future might hold.”
God laughed even though Denny wasn’t joking.
“Goodbye, Denny. Go see your grandmother. Tell her what happened. Tell her I love her. And, Denny…”
“Tell your father I love him too. I wish we were going to have more time together.”
“I will, Granddad.” They hugged, and then Denny stepped through the gate. He did not walk into the shrubs. He turned upside-down inside-out outside-in middleside-topside bottomside-middleside and then repeated the process in reverse.
When he fell out into the swamp dawn was breaking.
It was a bittersweet drive back to see his grandmother. The whole world was celebrating the sudden disappearance of the angels, but Denny’s thoughts were melancholy, thinking of loss and life.
His grandmother insisted she would be alright, and insisted he should go home. She would go to live with his parents — her son and daughter-in-law– and he would visit soon.
Denny returned to his trailer and glorious silence. He loved his neighborhood. He loved the quiet and peace. Denny stretched out on his hammock and fell asleep in the shade of a giant oak in the middle of his garden.
Tampa, FL 2017