The Dead, those practical jokers, are never dead for long. After they’ve lain in the grave or urn or crypt for three days, they rise, like bread, warm and fermented, revive as if from a delicious but vaguely disturbing sleep, a sleep deep, deep and riddled with dream, and they shake out their limbless limbs, reassemble the sodden flesh, and move moodily about, famished wildcats. They remember everything about their deaths, the sputter of breath, the wavering faces crowded above them, which makes them a little cross, as you might imagine. It is not nearly as reassuring to awaken into the airless atmosphere of an afterlife as they’d hoped.
The Prophets are the slowest to rouse. For all their sure-footed divinations, they are the most likely to have nursed a scrap of doubt, which occasionally expressed itself in Life as a dull throb in the optic nerve. Their eyes would water with uncertainty and they’d fall to their knees and sleep. In Death, they unwrap themselves, like a gift, unfurl their beards, which grew at a hastened pace when their hearts ceased to beat, and try to conceal their disappointment. They know better than anyone the spring-loaded trap of expectation, its jagged jaws. They pride themselves on being able to make do; they can defer desire eternally, even without the cautionary overindulgence of the Wicked to guide them. It will come, it will come, it will come, they have murmured, one day… Their shoulders are ropy beneath their robes from having borne the onus of revelation. They squint in the new light and are well-pleased to feel the ache in their bellies that is an absence of hunger.
It is the Murderers, of course, who make a racket, loud enough to wake the…wait, thinks one. Where am I? He eyes warily the do-gooder milksops around him. This is no place for an assassin! He roars and imagines leg irons, which he rattles vigorously. The Prophets do not bat an eye. He sidles up stealthily—he knows how to appear suddenly at the victim’s back, inside his unsuspecting shadow, as if out of nowhere, trick of the trade—and gives the Prophets his most menacing glower, daggers speeding from his eyes to their hearts. Prophets, however, do not startle easily. They look at him forbearingly, and he feels the top of his scalp prickle with exasperation. He pulls a switchblade from inside his boot, snaps it open, carves an S in the air, and holds it to a Prophet’s insubstantial throat. Nothing, not a shudder, not a gasp, no begging, no tears. The Prophet’s eyes are round with forgiveness. The Murderer feels ineffectual. He slumps on a rock and picks his teeth.
The Innocent feel they’ve been misled. Did they shield themselves from Knowledge for nothing? Where is the reward for never falling, remaining upright and ignorant, if they’ve cast their lot with Murderers and Prophets? These blue-eyed Marys, they become sullen and sigh loudly, the sound of innocence evacuating. Innocence lost, they begin to torment the Prophets with sharpened sticks, poke them in the ear, the navel, the buttocks, never drawing blood of course, and they jeer at the Murderers from a healthy distance.
The Intellectuals are perfectly devastated. It never occurred to them that…well, all of it. Resurrection?! Ugh. That was not an idea that ever appealed to them, not for a second. When they think of the existential conundrums they fed themselves on, the well-basted speculations that were their meat and drink, now sham nourishment, they could just kill themselves all over again. They sit, hug their stork legs, hang prominent chins between their knees, self-spitefully refuse to clean the oily smudge from their spectacles, tie and untie their wingtips, and abandon themselves to unoriginal thoughts. Dark, dark day, they mumble as they survey the flat and weatherless landscape that is their…fate (they wince), empty words, alas, only signs, and this thought seeds a reluctant smile. Here, in this (they scratch their worn-out noddles thoughtfully), this, this arid, sterile (they cast their gaze toward what once was the indifferent sky, rub their jaws meaningfully) no man’s land of no representation… endless space… liberated, they think, it comes to them suddenly, yes! liberated of interpretation, so far beyond multivalence we arrive at last at the singular, the essential, the aboriginal Logos! their hearts seize, the Final Discourse, hegemony of hegemonies, where we lope wordlessly about, they stand and pace, their unkempt hair waving frantically about their heads like incandescence, hermeneutically bereft in this desolate wasteland of ineluctable, inexpressible perfection! No one listens, not a soul, and the familiarity of this lends them a narcotic comfort, and they nap.
And then there are the Monkeys, everywhere, resentful and drowsy, fed up with infinite theorems and the pressure to turn xlkc#jvie8&5ish into Hamlet or Henry or All’s Well That Ends Well—what monkey these days has that sort of time on his hands, they’d like to know—awaiting evolution, as they have for millennia, drumming opposable thumbs on their hairy knees, promises, promises, sprawled on every rock, too weary to pick a nit: a mystery even to God.
They All miss the passing of Time, which once slipped from the body like gas, a malodorous relief.
When God finally appears to the Dead, after they’ve wandered about in the hilly nothingness that is their unrelenting future, hoping to discern a hostile climate—hailstorms, arctic winds, hurricanes, anything against which they must shelter themselves—He takes the form of an egg, hardboiled, and they tap His shell with their shoes, gingerly at first, then single-mindedly like miners who’ve uncovered at last a vein of gold, peel the shell away and bore through the rubbery white until the yoke, that ylem of God, blinds them and they raise their arms gratefully. The sound they make as they stagger about in the broken remains is a crackling hosanna. Praise God, prays God, preys God, crunch, crunch…crunch crunch crunch.
If only they could see the look of boredom that makes the yoke crumble with despair. Ideals, ideals, oh spare me the ideals! thinks God. Where’s the calumny, the malice, the gluttonous greed? It’s true, the thick wool of iniquity is forever shorn from the pink and risen soul once these pardoned sheep get a load of the Almighty, their truculent shepherd. Day in, day out, is there no end, He wonders, to My irrelevance (which is, He thinks, the same as being the Be-All and End-All, Alpha and Omega, Long and Short of It, that is to say: Null and Void)? Praise Cod! warbles God, that prickly pear, a mocking sneer crimping His imagined mouth, fish lips flapping, His infinite mind leaden with brooding, smoldering with grief. Each day He visits the Dead, they nearly shatter His heart. He has long fantasized about bringing Eternity to a shuddering halt: ONCE. AND. FOR. ALL. Ohhhhhh. He’s not sure how much longer He can bear it.
Now the atmosphere is teeming with God, the churlish mope, and he gathers the diaphanous ooze and flutter of Himself into his infinite arms like a voluminous laundress collecting the soiled linens and shirtfronts and trousers and kerchiefs of the world. An impossible task, that’s what God is, He won’t deny it.
Meanwhile, the Dead dance, blind as moles! They wait, they wait, pointlessly they wait, for Time they wait, they wait for Time to pass.