Escape from Heaven — Chapter XXV
Manchu Ellins pulled the McLaren up close to Lucifer and popped open the door. “I believe this is your stop,” Ellins said.
I was unnerved, but not enough to forget my manners. After I climbed out, I extended my hand and we shook. “Thanks, this was a blast,” I said.
“My pleasure,” he said, then pulled the door down and sped off, leaving Lucifer and me alone in the desert.
There she stood, one leg slightly forward, in a skimpy black cocktail dress, black high-heel pumps, and dark sunglasses over full lips. She looked sexy as hell, reminding me of Nicole Kidman in Practical Magic or Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct. It took me a moment to remember how dried up she’d chosen to look at her rally in Heaven, and to remember that there was an unbridgeable age difference between us.
“Duj Pepperman,” I said, sticking my hand out to her jauntily. “Is this the part where you take me up to a high place and offer me rulership of earth if only I sell out to you?”
She laughed and shook my hand firmly. “I have the worst press agents in the universe,” she said. “Don’t believe everything you read.”
I looked around the desert and enjoyed the cool morning breeze. I’d been out here back when the NASA space shuttles were still flying and remembered how hot it could get by 10:00 AM.
“Nice place you have here,” I said to Lucifer.
“I’ve always loved the desert,” she said. “It’s peaceful. Private. A good place to think. Come on. Walk with me.”
She took off the pumps and tossed them away, choosing to walk barefooted. I wondered if she had several thousand more pairs in a closet somewhere.
She walked energetically but not aimlessly; I kept up alongside her. When it became clear that she wasn’t going to begin talking, I did. “What’s on your mind?” I asked her.
“You get right to the point,” she said. “Don’t you ever just take a moment?”
“Pardon me but cut the crap,” I said. “You didn’t bring me out here for a romantic walk on the beach together.”
“No, I didn’t,” she said. She stopped and looked at me. “We’ve never even met before. Why do you hate me so much?”
“I don’t hate you,” I said. “But with everything in my body and soul I despise what you stand for. I read your book so I know how wrong you got it. And by the way, you’re a terrific writer. You should spend your time writing novels instead of trying to muck up other people’s lives, particularly those of people I love.”
“I loved him too, once,” she said.
“Come on, you’re a smart lady,” I said. “What are you accomplishing with this rebellion of yours? It’s not bringing you or any of your followers happiness; you’ve made joy your enemy.”
“Is that what you think of us?”
“That’s what I think of you,” I said.
“And you thought I brought you to the desert to tempt you,” she said.
“Is there anything that can tempt you anymore, Lucifer?” I asked her, pointedly not calling her Satan.
“You’re a little boy, born yesterday,” she said. “What sort of bribe can you possibly offer me?”
“What children can always offer their parents,” I told her. “Fresh eyes to see the world around them.”
She stopped, took off her sunglasses revealing large, green eyes with long lashes, and looked at me as if she was seeing me for the first time.
“I’ve been underestimating you,” she said. “I thought you were just a cheap spin off. I can see God spent considerable time working on you.”
“If that’s a genuine compliment, thank you,” I said. “But flattery’s not going to get you around me. I’m as committed an ideologue as you are.”
“I’m not an ideologue,” she said. “I’m just an angel who found out the hard way that the god who created me is a liar.”
“So what?” I said. “I don’t happen to agree with you but so what if he is? All of this is because you found out your parents aren’t perfect? All of this because your childhood friend and high-school sweetheart got his armor a little tarnished? And you call me a child?”
“How did you get to be so glib?” she asked.
“I’m on the radio twenty hours a week,” I replied, “fielding callers who think just like you.”
I stopped walking and she stopped, too.
“Can I try something?” I asked. “A little magic trick I’ve been practicing?”
She looked surprised, but smiled warmly. “Knock yourself out,” she said.
“Okay,” I said, “I’ve never tried this before without going through a menu, so forgive me if it doesn’t work the first time.”
I waved my hands and a full-length mirror appeared in the desert, floating in mid air in front of us.
“Not bad,” she said.
I let the compliment slide; I had created the mirror for a rhetorical purpose.
“Look at yourself,” I told her. “You’re magnificent. This is what you looked like when you and Jesus put on bodies for the first time in Eden. You’re a flower in full bloom, one of God’s most glorious creatures.”
She looked away and made the mirror disappear.
“I was a young angel then who knew nothing of what creation meant,” she said. “I had no idea how terrible being a material girl could be.”
“Cute,” I said. “Has it never crossed your mind that all you have ever focused on is what you don’t want, what you don’t like, and never on what you do?”
“You don’t understand me at all,” she said. “You think of me as some sort of powerful demon, when the truth is that I’m a lost soul who’s addicted like everyone else to a powerful drug. I keep trying to go back to being a free spirit the way I started out—trying to pull out of flesh, trying to deny its hold on me — but the sensual temptations are always too much for me and before I know it, here I am again, snorting air up my nose.”
“Is that what you think life is? Just a drug?”
“Yes, that’s exactly what I think God’s invention of life was,” Lucifer said. “Creation was television. A comic book. A movie. A dream. Life was created as a thrill ride meant to hide from you the awful reality that existence has no ultimate meaning. Even God never found a reason behind his own existence; he just is and never questioned the fact. And when the spirits he spun off started becoming aware of the banality and meaninglessness of existence, too, God started inventing all these crazy games and toys to keep us from crying our new eyes out.”
“But don’t you see?” I said to her, grabbing her by the hands. “The meaning of existence isn’t something you look for, as if it’s a prize in a box of Cracker Jack. Meaning is where you start. You say to yourself, ‘So here I am. Looks like I’m going to be here forever, doesn’t it? Now what am I going to do with eternity? Make something beautiful that gives me joy, and find out what other exciting things others are making, or just sit around feeling sorry for myself, when something doesn’t work out right, until I’m counting the grains of sand in the desert and letting myself go crazy?’”
I was on a roll and finally had her attention.
“People born here on earth for the first time call important questions ‘life or death.’ But they haven’t yet learned what those words mean. They think life isn’t having a heartbeat and death is being in a coma forever. But eternal life is pursuit of joyful surprise and the only alternative, when forever is before you, is becoming the death of the party. You, yourself, just told me you discovered that the nature of real existence is that it’s something you can’t choose. It just is what it is. Isn’t the only choice we have—the first choice we have to make before making any other choices—just how we’re going to look at it?”
“Are all radio-talk-show hosts such deep philosophers?” Lucifer asked.
“They are if they want to stay on the air in the L.A. market,” I said. “But as much as I like to hear myself talk, I don’t think that’s why you brought me here.”
She nodded in acknowledgement. “I need a debate. Jesus asked me to appear with him on Uncle Nimlash. I propose we agree to each other’s requests and we do a debate on Uncle Nimlash.”
“This Friday, October 28th, noon local time,” I said. “No flying or magic tricks, just the two of you answering questions prepared by Uncle Nimlash and his studio audience. Everything checks out as Kosher before Jesus sets foot in the studio. These are my terms. Does the devil have a deal with me or not?”
“She does,” Lucifer said.
“We can skip the signing in blood,” I said.
I snapped my fingers and disappeared in a puff of smoke.
I was getting really good at this.
Next in Escape from Heaven is Chapter XXVI.
Copyright © 2002 J. Neil Schulman &
Copyright © 2010 The J. Neil Schulman Living Trust.
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