Today I started painting the trailer bright red. Vermilion is what the paint can says, but it's red, all right. The color of tongues covered in strawberries, rich carpets and embers. I got the door painted and most of the concrete steps. When the angels of discrimination come to scourge the ordinary, I won't be among the punished.
Some of the tenants came out and gawked, standing in their bathrobes and shuffling in their sandals, holding snotty kids in their arms. They mostly shook their heads and wandered off after a while, except for old blind Miss Moore who grabbed my arm and told me her water heater was busted.
Sure I'll fix it. No reason the lady should have cold water while awaiting her final judgment. She tries to watch TV and drinks about a case of Coors every night, which is peculiar for an old blind lady, but I don't think it's enough. The angels have to take stock of things quick, and they aren't apt to notice something as subtle as watching TV when you're blind. Old Miss Moore won't stand out when they burn away the boring, and she'll go down in fire with the rest.
I got inside and put on my gloves, sewed all over with rhinestones and sequins. I draped the rest of my colored beads around my neck and tied a bell around my ankle, so if my body should stray from my spirit in the night, my spirit will hear and fetch it back. Those things happen. We lost my daddy that way.
I turned on the TV and switched to the special satellite station, the one that's supposed to be in between signals. God wasn't on yet, so I went and made a bag of microwave popcorn. I sprinkled bacon bits and sweet tarts into the bag, and I was looking for the taco sauce when God said "Hey."
I hustled to the living room and sat in my lawn chair. "Hey God," I said. "You're looking mighty fine today." God looked like a slime monster this time. He was broadcasting from a nightly-news set. The monitors behind him showed angels with flaming swords riding giant locusts around a dirt-bike track.
God wiggled on top of the news desk. He looked like a bathtub full of lime jello, without the bathtub. "Have you marked your house?" God asked. "Have you set the signs and signifiers?" His voice was monotonous and the rhythm was stilted. I realized he was reading off a teleprompter.
"Sure have," I said, felling pretty good. I got a handful of popcorn-sweet-tart-bacon and chewed it up.
"Have you brought the word to the masses?"
I rubbed my forehead. "Well, I tried to lead by example. They gathered around when I painted the trailer."
God wiggled furiously. "You must take the word to them! The angels will arrive soon! All the mundane, the ordinary, the featureless will be consumed!" He wasn't reading off the monitor anymore.
I winced. "They don't much like hearing the word, Lord-have-mercy. They're inclined to stay just the way they are, and do things as they always have."
"They will come on bicycles and by balloon, they will arrive in mailboxes and packages of cake batter. They will come like fleas on the dogs and like giants over the moon. The dull shall be turned into nothing by the coming of the angels."
"Ten-four, Lord," I said, and pushed myself up. I stepped over the model trains and the puddle of chocolate sauce with the Barbie-doll heads floating in it. I needed to put on my white vinyl jumpsuit and get the ladder. I'd preach from the rooftop, and maybe a few of the people in the trailer park, maybe the young ones, would follow my example and save themselves.
Somebody knocked on the door. I wondered if an angel of discrimination would bother knocking. Seemed more likely they'd just come barreling through the aluminum walls. I opened the door.
It was Cheryl. She had on a short skirt and a net shirt. Her fingernails were painted bright purple. I grinned out loud.
"Lord, Ham," she said. "They called and told me you went crazy after I left, but I didn't think they meant crazy. What's all that in your beard?"
"Baconbitsandsweettarts," I said. "Cheryl, you got to hear the word, but with fingernails like that you can stand up proud and be counted, they're not going to do a thing to you."
"Let me in, Ham. Me and Vivaldo are quits."
I stepped back, frowning. Vivaldo? Fellow on a motorcycle with a funny accent, I remembered. From the days before the revelation. He wasn't ordinary or boring-- I remembered Cheryl telling me that much. Maybe he's a prophet too, I thought. But I remembered chasing after him with a shotgun, and I couldn't think why I'd do that to a fellow warrior for the Lord God of Fascination.
Cheryl looked around the living room and heaved a big sigh. Her hair was stiff with spray and her bangs fountained up, solid. "You're gonna help me clean this up, Ham. I'm back for good, and things can go back to normal, you don't need to be crazy no more."
"What happened to Vivaldo?" I asked. Go back to normal? She didn't know what she was saying.
"You know how he always said he was a photographer? He sure is. Makes his living taking naked pictures of women in the city. Didn't think I'd mind. Wanted to take some pictures of me, too, said he could get me a modeling job if I'd just let him change my hair and makeup." She patted her hair. "I told him where he could stick his camera. Don't nobody try to change me, or take pictures of other women when they're with me, neither." She came toward me and patted my cheek. Her voice got soft. "Oh, Ham, I didn't know me leaving would unhinge you so much. What's got into you? What's with all this craziness?"
"Have to be different," I said. "Can't be a lump on the couch. Nothing special about me before, just watching football on Sundays and working and sleeping in the recliner. Nothing worth anything. But that's all changed."
Her mascara started to run, that's how I knew she was crying. "I shouldn't of said those things to you, Ham. You're just fine like you are, I wouldn't want you to change at all, I didn't know a good thing when I had it. You don't have to be nothing special for me, just be Ham, is all."
"I was something back in high school," I said, picking bacon out of my beard and popping it into my mouth. "Scored that touchdown in the homecoming game, hey right? Went up on everybody's shoulders. The angels could see me then. Bet they didn't even notice the guys holding me up."
She went and shut off the TV. God didn't say anything about it. She picked up my lawn chair and carried it outside. When she came back in, she wasn't crying anymore. "Get those gloves off, Ham," she said, and started taking the aluminum foil off the couch.
She spent all afternoon carrying my decorations out back to the trash heap and I helped her. She kept saying how things would go back the way they were, that she wasn't going to leave me again, that she had everything she needed right here and she'd been a fool to go looking for greener pastures. She said I was fine the way I was, and she wouldn't take back Vivaldo with his accent and his big roaring motorbike and his fancy studio if he came crawling.
I sat on the red steps come evening, looking for angels in the sky, knowing they could be anywhere, in the frisbee the Brogden kid was throwing, in the trunk of the broken-down Chevette next door. Cheryl brought me a Coors. "Where's the Magic Punch?" I asked.
She wrinkled her nose. "That mess of soda and orange juice and tea, you mean? That stuff wasn't right. I threw it down the drain. Wasn't fit for a normal person to drink." I wanted to tell her she was wrong, but it was so nice having her back I couldn't.
Eventually she went to bed, trying to get me to come with her, but I wouldn't. I was glad I hadn't started changing the bedroom yet, though. I went out back to the burn pile where she'd thrown all my ornaments, all my signs and signifiers.
God was squatting on the trash heap. He smoked a cigarette made out of ditch weeds and he wore big wings made of colored plastic wrap and coathangers. I hemmed and hawed and kicked at the dirt. God looked like the quarterback on my old ball team but I could tell he was God. "Uh, Lord," I said. "You see, the thing is--"
He waved his hand. "It's all right, Ham," he said. "She's still got purple fingernails. And you're not going to watch TV so much anymore, are you?"
"No sir," I said. "I don't think so."
"Why don't you take some dance classes, like Cheryl always wanted. And go to karaoke night at the Blue Bird Lounge sometime. Cheryl'd like that. She loves it when you sing old Elvis tunes."
I smiled. "I remember that. I haven't done that since high school."
God pitched his cigarette away and stood up. "You'll be all right."
"I've got nothing to worry about, then? I won't be scourged?"
God flapped his plastic wings. "Tell you what. A couple times a week, you make dinner, and put the toilet seat down after you use it. Then we'll call it even."
"Yes sir." I hesitated. "Lord?"
"When the scourge comes... you know that Vivaldi, the one with the motorcycle..."
God waved his hand. "Don't worry about it. Him, he's typical. He's locust food. See, he's not genuine." God tapped his temple. "I know these things."
He flew off into the trees. I went back into the house whistling, wondering what kind of food I had in the house. I wanted to make Cheryl breakfast in the morning, but I was afraid I'd used all the maple syrup on the lawnmower. It was all right. There were always scrambled eggs.
Tim Pratt lives in Oakland, California, where he works as an assistant editor for Locus magazine. His stories have appeared in Realms of Fantasy, The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, Strange Horizons, and other nice places, and he has work forthcoming in The Third Alternative and The Journal of Pulse-Pounding Narratives. His story "Little Gods" was a finalist for the 2003 Nebula Award, and his first collection -- also titled, coincidentally, Little Gods -- was published last fall by Prime Books (now available in both hardcover and paperback versions). Tim co-edits slipstream 'zine Flytrap with his fiancee, Heather Shaw. For more information about Tim, visit his web site.
© Tim Pratt
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