Featured October 3, 2018 Fantasy
From the editor:A young man named Terry realizes his younger brother is, against all odds, God. Don’t miss this funny and surreal story about family by Trent Jamieson, an award-winning novelist and short story writer based in Australia.
When I found out that my brother, Denis, was God I was pretty pissed. We’d always been competitive, but two most improved player trophies for soccer and a first in Maths B couldn’t top that.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” I said as I smacked the back of his head.
“I didn’t want you to know.”
“Some God you are. We found out anyway.”
“Yeah. I stuffed up there.”
“So does Dad get to quit his job and we all move into a mansion with a swimming pool?”
“It doesn’t work that way.”
No it didn’t.
Mum had caught him talking to angels and Dad found the Secret Control Room -- in some astounding synchronicity. Putting two and two together they asked him to come to the kitchen –- the single, glaring, hundred watt globe (pearl), the uncomfortable cracked blue vinyl and metal chairs, and the laminated, wonky legged table making our family’s equivalent of the interrogation room - and got the truth out of him. I imagined his right eye twitching like it always did when he was caught lying, twitching like mad.
I’d been at soccer training so I missed it all. Mum was peeling potatoes and Dad watching the football when I stomped in, knees muddy and lungs sticky with cold.
Denis was in my bedroom reading a comic.
“That’s mine,” I said and Denis nodded.
“So it is.”
“Put it down.”
“Mum’s got something to tell you. I think you should see her.”
“Put it down.”
He looked up, eyes hard. Denis could be a pretty mean fighter when he wanted to. And, this time, I knew he would make it count. I decided to let it lie and walked to the kitchen instead, mumbling under my breath.
“Terry, your brother is God.”
Mum stared at me, lips tight.
“Don’t swear, Terry, it’s unbecoming of a gentleman. Denis is God and you’re to love him all the same. We all will.” There was a hesitation in her voice and, I think, she almost cried. She strengthened though and smiled and hugged me tight. I was at that awkward age and pulled out of her grip.
“Mum,” I groaned. She blinked and laughed a little.
“Not too old for a hug, young man.”
The kitchen smelt of dinner and the lavender in my mother’s perfume. Denis walked in a little shyly. Mum gave him a hug too. Hugged us both, till Dad called out for a beer.
I woke one Saturday morning with an angel hovering over my bed, staring at me with eyes of radiant knowing -- joyous, loving and filled with contempt all at the same time. I knew he could reach down with his needle-thin fingers and pluck out my pounding heart. Knew that part of him wanted to. I could barely breathe, couldn’t move, as he fluttered above me and time grew all slow and cold.
“Malak, no.” Denis said and, suddenly, the angel was gone. Denis snorted. “That Malak he’s crazy.”
“Why? Why is he like that? He’s an angel after all.”
Denis shrugged his shoulders, he was reading another one of my comics.
“Good and Evil. Angels exist simultaneously at both extremes.”
“And what about you?”
“I’m God,” he said smugly. “I transcend everything.”
“Transcend this,” I said in my best Schwarzenegger accent and gave him a good pummelling. God or no, I could still take him on occasion. It ended with both of us crying -- I can’t remember who hurt whom, but neither of us wanted to get in trouble -- and running to Mum. He got there first. I spent the morning cleaning up my bedroom. Denis taunted me with my comic until Mum got mad at him too. Both our bedrooms were clean by lunchtime.
One day Denis showed me his Secret Control Room – not so secret any more – out beneath the tool shed.
There were lots of switches and clicking dials and a big blank screen, like out of the old science fiction movies they’d show sometimes on Sunday afternoons -- lodged odd and restless between a football match and the evening news. I swear if you looked at that big screen long enough you could see everything. Everything and nothing
“What’s all this for?”
“You wouldn’t understand. I just use it to control stuff.”
“Obviously, but what?”
“CNO cycles, the spin of galaxies. Prime Ministerial Addresses. The Guest Lists of Letterman. You know, just stuff. Most of it's on automatic, but you've still got to keep things moving from time to time.”
“Can I have a go?”
“Because, you’re not God.”
“That’s not fair.”
“God isn’t fair. Ask the citizens of Jericho.”
He offered to resurrect them for me, one by one and have them explain just what had happened after Joshua blew his horn. He told me it would be easy, not even a miracle, just the windblown fragments of an ancient massacre given new whispering voice.
But I made him stop when the first one began to claw its way out of the tool shed, its bones made of dust, its voice darker, and more terrible than any horror movie creature I had ever scared myself with.
Denis blinked at me, sending it away with a wave.
"That's nothing," he said. "If that scares you, wait till the Parousia. Wait till the end of days, when the clock ticks round to twelve, and see what comes knocking at your door."
I hit him then and he yelled for mum. As I remember it our rooms were very clean that year.
At first Mum found the angels difficult to handle. But they seemed to enjoy her company, hovering in groups of threes and fours over the kitchen, watching her cook. She’d shoo them away with a broomstick but they’d always drift back -- wings -- part silvery-fairy-gloss and cockroach brown -- a soft, rustling ambience melding with the kitchen fan and the muttering whine of the fridge.
“Can’t you do anything about them, Denis?”
“They listen to me most of the time, Mum. But they’re angels. Just like everything else, they’ve got free will.”
In the end Mum just got used to them. Maybe even liked having them around. She’d slip them the occasional beer or glass of milk. Sometimes they’d even sing for her and I tell you, you haven’t heard anything until you’ve heard an angel sing Sinatra standards or Hey Jude. Even I liked it though I would never admit it at the time –- I was going through my top forties stage.
I think Dad was hit the hardest by it all. He’d always been an atheist – and now he had to contend with God in his own house. He and Denis sidled around each other awkwardly.
Sometimes I’d catch him staring at Denis, an odd disappointed expression on his face. If I thought Denis’ revelation might have brought Dad and me closer together I was wrong. It was as though one such surprise was all that Dad could take. He didn’t want to risk uncovering any other secrets -- heaven forbid that I should turn out to be Brahma or the devil or worst of all, gay -- so he kept his distance from both of us.
But things continued as they always do -- a family is a formidable thing, nearly indestructible in its obstinacy, and there was always mum -- football season slid to a close, cricket season started.
I loved my brother, but it was never easy. He had the rapture,I had my first guilty attempts at masturbation.
They’re not quite the same.
“It’s not fair,” I once said, when we were fishing together. An angel hovering above us, with bored flicks of its wings, reaching down on occasion to zap fish then resurrect them; startled and lazarine they’d flop back in the water and be gone, perhaps to preach to the depths of the miracles that floated cruel and powerful just above the surface.
Of course, with all that going on, we never caught anything.
“How did you get to be God?”
“I just did, I suppose.”
“But how did you use the secret control room when you were a baby?”
“I didn’t till I was four.”
“Then who was controlling everything?”
Denis looked at me from across his fishing rod, his feet were dangling over the pier, his nose was dotted with freckles and reddening with sunburn because, like me, he didn’t want to wear his hat.
“Me, through telepathy. You see in many ways the secret control room is just a metaphor. It’s quite simple, Terry. Stuff usually is.”
“What’s a metaphor?”
“It’s like. It’s like, I don’t know, I’m just a kid.”
“Bet I can throw further than you.”
I could, of course. I was two and a half years older. Threw a stone right across the river. Beat that one, God.
Mum went to the doctors. She kept on getting these headaches you see. A few tests were done and they found a tumour in her skull; a quietly growing malignancy a third and fatal child. Mum blamed the powerlines that ran over our house. I knew it was the angels. Denis denied everything –- said the tumour was not the sort associated with ionising radiation -- but he kept a tighter rein on them after that.
Mum got sick very quickly, as though, once named, the illness grew all-powerful. The tumour was inoperable. Not a problem though, because my brother was God.
I asked him if he could fix Mum up and he looked at me, quite surprised.
“A lot of people pray to me everyday. To heal this or help with that and I don’t do anything, it’s not my way. It’s not God’s way. Why should Mum be any different?”
“But you can change it.”
“I can no more change it than you can.”
“But you’re God. You’re everything.”
“There are rules. I can’t just break them.”
“But she’s Mum.”
“And I am God.”
That was always Denis’ excuse. He was God. But what kind of God does that?
One night, after hearing Mum throw up for the eighth time, I could stand it no more. I raced outside, unlocked the toolshed and opened the secret door. The machine hummed in front of me – waiting, all potential the tiniest of cogs, the smallest, oddest of machines, and yet the great wheels of the cosmos turned at its command.
I gripped the controls and the universe enfolded me and I enfolded it; felt the ballooning endlessness of it all, the odd fracturing and bubbling of things smaller and vaster than my imagining. I tried to narrow it down. Tried to focus on my mother. For a moment I caught her. For the briefest instant I felt her love and her pain. Before I could even begin to cure her she was gone from my sights and I knew that I could not bring her back – no more than I could generate a solar eclipse or stir the heart of a mouse. This was God’s machine and I was not God. In my rage I thought to bring it all down, to burst every star, to turn the universe into one blazing rotten scream.
Then Denis was there. His gentleness surprised me as he pulled me –- panting, eyes rolling in my head -- away from the machine.
“Not for me. Not for you.”
“God’s will,” I said, suddenly feeling so much older.
I hit my brother then. Hit him again and again and he let me. Taking each blow until I was exhausted and he was bleeding and on the floor. Disgusted, with myself, with him, with everything, I ran out of the Secret Control Room and didn’t look back. I never hit my brother again.
After Mum died, things fell apart in a kind of endlessly painful, slow motion –- not for Denis, he was God, he had his machinery and his angels, just for the family.
Dad started drinking. He wasn’t a cruel drunk, not like some of my friend’s fathers, just a sad one. The drink dissolved us from his life. His eyes grew hazy around us, he could not meet my gaze, rarely spoke except when Denis and I were by the fridge, and then it was just to ask for another beer.
I heard him praying once, in the middle of the night, mumbling words to a god that lay a single thin wall away. I stumbled into Denis’ room, he was smiling like a cat with a bowl of cream. I left him to his small victory and went back to bitter sleep.
The rest of my childhood played itself out in my room where I read my science fiction books, the roar of innumerable sporting matches coming from the living room television. I said almost nothing to Dad, over the next few years I spent at home. Maybe a handful of words.
One of those, at age eighteen, was, bye.
This evening I ran across Denis at a bar. Surrounded by androgynous types all hungry for belief; as though God could save them.
He’d grown up to be quite a handsome man, black hair, pale skin, neatly trimmed beard –- the sort that get invited to all the right parties.
Denis introduced me as his brother.
“I’ve kept tabs on you,” he said to me.
"You keep tabs on everybody," I muttered and he ignored me.
“You’ve done alright. I like your books, cynical, but with heart.”
“If you kept tabson me, why didn’t you write. Maybe sent a vision or something.”
Denis laughed mildly.
“I stopped doing the vision thing around two thousand years ago – anything after that is pretty much delusional.” He looked at me seriously. “You know you weren’t ready.”
He had me there.
“I don’t think I’m ready now.”
Denis looked pained.
An angel startled me, brushing past to whisper in my brother’s ear. The rest of the crowd didn’t bat an eyelid; maybe they couldn’t see it. Faith after all was blind. He nodded at its words, before leaning towards me, I'd never seen him look so sad or excited.
“Look. I’ve got something to attend to. You know, turn of the millennium, Parousia and so on.”
“When exactly is that happening?”
“That’s for me to know and you to find out. You might see Mum.” There was a slight twitch in his right eye.
Ha, but I'd caught him. My brother was always lousy at keeping secrets.
"Tonight, it's tonight isn't it? Let me guess, twelve on the dot."
His right eye twitched, like it always did when he was caught out.
"That's for me to know and you to find out," he repeated, though I could see in his eyes that he knew that I knew.
He gripped my shoulder.
"Terry, poor, poor Terry. Look after yourself, okay."
Then he was gone.
One of his flock turned to me. She looked stoned. “So, is he really God?”
“You better believe it," I said.
"You're a very lucky man," she said.
"You could say so." I left her to pay for the beer.
Once home, wired and mad, I sat down at the kitchen table, poured myself a drink and waited. The clock ticking, like ants in my blood. 11.59. The End of the world. Parousia.
All I knew was that I hated family reunions. Fuck how I hated them.
The clock struck twelve, and someone knocked at the door.
This story originally appeared in Borderlands 2 2003.