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short stories
by Norm Breyfogle

The Angel's Offer

The Metacosmologist

Lenny's Bestseller

The Primal Christ

The Damned One

I.D.

Little Master

Dr. Adams' Absurdist Therapy

The Dictates of Protocol

The Angel's Offer

He was devastated when his wife and son died in the car crash, but life goes on. In the evenings at home alone he still felt Jenny in the other room, with Samuel just about to run around the corner. He’d wept wretchedly for a month, and he still cried inside after all the outside tears had dried ... but life does, indeed, go on. To one such as he, even one’s own heart of hearts is but a part of the world, only an infinitesimal speck in infinity.

He’d been called an enlightened man, but if asked he’d only admit to that honor using philosophical reservations and postmodern equivocations; an enlightened man is not proud. A lifetime of experimenting with altering his consciousness had left his mind as flexible as a bonfire in a windstorm, and there was little fear or guile in him, so when the angel appeared via thin air inside his university office (where he’d spent the last few hours grading his Philosophy students’ papers) he barely batted an eye.

“Charles Visson, the Most High has sent me to offer you a choice.” Snow white wings gently folded behind broad shoulders, and softly tinkling bells chimed harmoniously in a glittering fractal cascade around a handsome golden visage.

Eye half batted, the mortal paused but a second before responding, “What’s the choice?” It wouldn’t do to waste time with gushing emotional sentiment or endless speculation in the presence of the ineffable.

If he hadn’t been perfect, the spiritual emissary might’ve twitched his own eyelid at the unexpected calm in the lowly human’s reply, but, being perfect, he continued without hesitation. “You've recently lost your wife and son in an unforeseen accident. Would you be willing to forgo your enlightenment to have them back, alive and healthy?”

“No,” replied the fallen son of man.

“Would you be willing to forgo your enlightenment to have them back, alive and healthy, and immortal?”

“No,” replied the descendent of Adam.

“Would you be willing to forgo your enlightenment to have them back, alive and healthy and immortal, if you would also be immortal yourself?”

“No,” replied the conscious lump of clay.

“Would you be willing to forgo your enlightenment if you, your family, all of humanity, and the entire planet’s biosphere would also be immortal, redeemed from the ravages of sin and existing in a state of pre fallen perfection?”

The philosopher ape paused. The stakes had risen considerably now, and in spite of the angel’s lucid directness, there were unanswered questions galore.

“Being in a pre fallen state, I assume everyone would be enlightened?”

“Yes; everyone but you.”

“But I’d be immortal?”

“Yes.”

“Does that mean I could or could not kill myself?”

“You’d still be able to end your own existence if you so chose.”

“And if I did, would I then live again after my death in a heaven or a hell?”

“No. Your death in such a circumstance would be final and absolute on all planes of existence, simultaneously.”

Dr. Charles Visson, bodhisattva, contemplated this offer for long moments. This wasn’t like Jesus’ temptation by Satan in the wilderness. Jesus had been offered power and glory, but not the salvation of mankind, since Satan had not the power to bestow such a gift. But if God himself––through an angel––had made this offer to Christ, would he have taken it? Effectively, the offer would have been to save the planet without any need for crucifixion!

But even Jesus might balk at the prospect of eternal damnation, of losing his enlightenment, his spiritual understanding, forever.

There was but one last raising of the stakes to be made; dare he do so? Trembling, professor Visson spoke, and this time his composure was marred by the slight crack in his voice. “Is God prepared to offer in lieu of my enlightenment the salvation of not just this planet, but of the entire Cosmos? Of all beings everywhere, all who ever lived and ever shall, in all the Multiverse of Multiverses?”

This time it was the angel who paused. How dare this flotsam grill a vanguard of the Highest? And now to challenge, to dicker, to deal? What audaciousness! If the Lord himself wasn’t protecting these fleeting motes ... but the immortal had his charge, and he knew his duty well. “God is willing to offer even that in exchange for your enlightenment, yes.”

Charles almost fainted; whether it was from relief that the angel hadn’t struck him dead as retribution for his brass or from the sheer, cumulative shock of the overall situation, he couldn’t say. He steadied himself, fought to remain upright, closed his eyes, and attempted to calmly consider the ultimate choice laid before him.

Surely, relinquishing his own hard-won acceptance of the fundamental mystery of existence, his enlightenment, his attitude of honest openness to truth, his pearl of great price, his very salvation, was worth the salvation of the entire Cosmos? If he couldn’t stand living with the loss of his spiritual depth afterwards he could always promptly and painlessly kill himself ... and he’d have saved the entire manifold of Being! Yes, it would be selfish of him to say “no” now, when offered this much. After all, he was only one man, balanced against the salvation of an infinity of souls.

“Do you accept the terms?” the angel prompted.

One last word, lifted on the air by human halitosis, sounding not unlike the grunt of a dying chimp, passed between the imperfect teeth of the corruptible mouth of man––

“Yes.”

––and existence changed.

Charles Visson opened his eyes just as his wife Jenny and his son Samuel ran into his arms, alive, well, and immortal. Hugging them both, his gaze wafted out his office window and he saw ... paradise. Everything was the same but somehow different; everything now shone from within with the crystal clarity of boundless perfection. And all the past dead were resurrected, and the world was larger now to accomodate them, and it all worked perfectly, for God is omnipotent.

Still, something was wrong ... but he couldn’t quite put his finger on what it was. He looked at his family’s perfect bodies; he looked down at his own perfect hands, at his perfect reflection in a wall mirror. Nothing wrong there. Then, looking into the transfigured, enlightened eyes of his wife and son, he understood and became ashamed. Yes, everything had changed, all right. Everything, everyone, was physically perfect, even himself, but while everyone else could enjoy it with clear, sinless abandon, he could not, not any of it, especially not when he was so utterly alone in his Godless misery. Everyone, including his own family, was infinitely better than he, for they were all at peace while he was not. The Garden of Eden had returned, and he was the only one in all the infinite Cosmos that didn’t belong. He became angry.

Suicide? Ha! Dr Charles Visson declared war on God.

 

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