The Four wait on the banks of the Euphrates, watching the Clock of Heaven count down. Their sweating horses nicker and fidget, as always. The immense machine is suspended over the waters in front of the horrific quartet, gleaming in the high, hot sun.
Its great brass gears rotate slowly, regulated by a huge escapement that rocks back and forth, back and forth as it has done for millennia. When the gears mark their ultimate progress–very soon, now, very soon–the Riders will be sent forth, and one-third of humanity will die.
All of which is patently specious, as any thinking person can recognize.
Realistically, those brass gear teeth would have worn away to nothing over centuries of continual churning. Yet it isn’t simply a question of the gears themselves, but more so of their axle bearings. Did someone provide grease to keep them from seizing and binding? No. Axle bearings need frequent lubrication, and even with that they don’t last forever. That’s a simple fact. And what of the pendulum and its counterweights that supply power to the Clock? No one reactivated those. Heck, the writer hadn’t even mentioned them up to this point.
Besides, the clock escapement wasn’t invented until the eighth century C.E., in China.
You might think that God or one of his minions took care of these mundane maintenance actions, Him being omnipotent and such. Or that it was a magical clock whose components were divinely prefigured. But that is not the case.
The fact is, God neither created nor does He maintain this Clock of Heaven. It is nonexistent except as a figment of the hindbrain of the author of this story.
So, given the inherent technical problems with this notion, we will convince him to remove it herewith:
The Clock explodes in a cataclysm of gears, sprockets, parts and pieces that never were. The Grim Riders and their horses wince and flinch in the flurry of imaginary detritus. A new world is to be born, and the appointed destroyers of the old one, these apocalyptic horsemen who’d waited patiently for thousands of years, are at once both heartbroken and piqued that they no longer have an active role to play in the dismemberment. Promises reneged upon, hopes dashed–much like a memo announcing the cancellation of a corporate pension plan pressed into the nose of an impending retiree. And then consternation sets in: They are merely observers, now. Just like the rest of us.
Of a sudden, it is Judgment Day: the day when all Creation, living and dead, arises together to judge God.
An organism has been chosen to adjudicate. By whom, the writer doesn’t say. Perhaps by a meta-God. Assume whatever or whoever you will. Don’t sweat the small stuff. In this version, the chosen subject is a deceased meerkat named Pashi.
He is a fine specimen of his kind. Tall, with a tawny coat and a thick, sturdy tail. He once served as a sentinel for his clan, was a doting father, a favorite uncle to many of the youngsters. That he was killed in the prime of his life by a hungry mongoose is not relevant to this tale. We all die, many of us before our time. He, however, is arisen, and he will be the one to preside over the judicial proceedings to come.
He ascends to an aspect a hundred miles above the Earth’s surface. Imagine his surprise! Last he knew, his flesh was being munched upon by his worst enemy. Now he sees the world laid out for his detailed inspection below. His keen eyes take it all in. It is what he is best at doing: watching, seeing.
He hears the distant sound of a trump and sees the world split open along many seams, as all the pieces of all the organisms that have ever lived emerge and begin to come together again. Mountains erupt and ancient fossils are exposed; the bones vibrate crazily and shake off the accumulated dust of long-past epochs, then conjoin to recompose whole skeletons. Seas roil in a froth of reconstruction. Huge ejaculations of oil and coal deposits swirl in black, swarming clouds, coalescing at length into archaic plants and extinct animals. Dripping, hoary things rise out of tar pits. Molecules bicker over their proper locus inside their original owners. It is a cacophonous dispute, a noisy and turbulent affair. All is in turmoil.
We must pause at this point to question the validity of the exposition. And rightfully so! On its surface, it doesn’t wash. We are all composed of atoms that were once part and parcel of all the living organisms we’ve ever eaten. And so on and so on, throughout the eons. We must presume that, the newer the revived organism, the less was its reconstituted density. Or perhaps all these atoms somehow cloned themselves repeatedly, temporarily borrowing mass from the virtual quantum foam so as to generously share their physical allocations. We see the author wave his hand in an impatient, disdainful manner. He is not in the mood to expand upon this point–much less to start the tale over from scratch and tell it right.
Things do settle down in the fullness of time. Every organism that had ever graced the Earth with its living presence, from the simplest bacterium to the largest sea-gulping whale, congregates in neat rows in the thin atmosphere above the planet, all arranged according to its Linnaean taxonomy: Domain, Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus and Species.
And here is what we imagine our little Pashi saying when he views the teeming ranks that stretch off into the vague distance:
It is a lot to put on a simple meerkat. But somebody has to do the deed, and he is determined to give it his best.
“Who will speak on behalf of God?” he calls out.
Sorry, stop right here. This dialog is rendered in English language words. There is no solid rationale for doing this. Amazingly, the author refuses to apologize for inserting yet another point of disbelief–and even worse, for requiring me to call attention to it via another digressive intrusion. He proclaims instead: The fable is nearing its conclusion. Suffer along, honored Planetary Citizen. Suffer along!
There is a rumbling among the vast congregation. A single entity comes forward, one who once had, and now has again, the form of a man. He speaks in a tremulous voice: “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want–”
Pashi flicks his tail and cuts him off short. “Inconclusive, irrelevant, circumstantial–and moreover, factually in error. I remember things more clearly, now. On balance, the lives of all gathered here today were characterized by want. Getting was the thing we needed more of.”
So God was condemned, repudiated, anathematized, banished, expelled, excommunicated, cast out, evicted, ousted, shown the turf, booted, pink-slipped, and ultimately deported. Having been warned shortly in advance of it, He avoided the ignominy of having the door hit Him in His ass on the way out.
To be fair, it is a tough job being God, and there are always going to be folks laboring under you who don’t appreciate your efforts. We all know that business would be so much easier without having to worry about such pesky entities as stakeholders and customers. But we can take heart that He’s found a better gig now–as a Consultant, last we heard. Guys like Him always land on their feet.
Fortunately for Him, management everywhere tends to give much more credence to an outside consultant than to their own employees. Which remains a mystery, since those honest laboring folk have for years been telling their bosses the very same things the high-paid consultants say.
Anyway, life went back to normal on Earth. Few noticed much if any change.
For any readers left with enough residual audacity to ask about Pashi’s denouement, we pried this from the author: Pashi became an ex-meerkat again, his scattered bones deposited back into the ground from whence they came. Thanks for the service, Pashi. Good job, fellow. Pat, pat; boom, boom. Back to your eternal rest, now.
And as long as we’re dealing with all the i-dottings and the t-crossings and the final umlauting here, I may as well mention that the writer, having writ, moved on to more productive themes. To this day, he remains stubbornly and inexplicably unapologetic for leaving this tale behind him, a rude pile in the middle of the trail. I realize it’s way too late to warn you of its presence. But don’t blame me, please; it wasn’t my doing. I just work here.
© Gary Cuba
Gary’s short fiction has appeared in Jim Baen’s Universe, Flash Fiction Online, Universe Annex (Grantville Gazette), Abyss & Apex, Andromeda Spaceways and numerous other spec fic publications.