a short story by Jessica Palmer
A melodious voice intruded upon the symphonic landscape of her dream becoming incorporated into it.
The twelve-year-old girl twisted upon her bed. Gabriel grimaced. A little young for the task laid before her, he thought. He could just see the headlines in the National Enquirer now, but he needed a virgin, named Mary. And this one had been hard enough to find.
Finally, Mary realised that the voice that interrupted her slumber was coming from outside the comfy confines of the duvet. She dragged the sheets across her face.
"Just a few more minutes, Mum."
"Mary!" The voice was brisk, sharp and ... definitely male.
The knuckles on the sheets turned white, and the body under the covers trembled.
The voice came again, soft, muted, gentling her. "Come on, Mary, I know you're awake."
"Oh hark, oh hark, I bring you news of great tidings and joy."
Mary screwed up her courage. The sheets spoke with more bravado than they felt. "Right, pervert. Who are you and what are you doing in my bedroom?"
"Great tidings, indeed. Rejoice, rejoice, Mary, for you have been chosen."
Mary eyed the enormous figure--an equivocal outline in the cotton cloth--but the girl sensed no immediate peril. She relaxed slightly. The shape continued talking. "You of all people have been selected to bear the daughter of God."
"Right! Don't tell me, let me guess. You're God," the sheets spoke with real confidence.
"Well, no, of course, not. Don't be silly," the figure sniffed and rustled disquietingly beyond the cloth, "God doesn't come down and talk to the ... rabble, Himself. He works through emissaries like me."
All fear evaporated. This was a real nutter here. Not even smart enough to claim to be God. Definitely, not someone to be afraid of.
"Look, perv, if you don't go away. I'll scream real loud. I'll ... I'll ... " She thought of the worst threat she could imagine. "I'll call my mum!" The knuckles tightened their grip upon the hem and lowered the sheet slowly. Mary steeled herself to hazard a peek at the creep. "And she'll call the cops."
A single eye peeped from behind its veil of white. It opened and closed rapidly. Mary blinked. For standing there before her was a creature from her worst images of hell. It had wings, but more than the normal complement for, say, either a butterfly or a bat, and it was completely covered with fur. There must've been a million-zillion eyes extending from each hair. And when it uttered its next syllables, they issued from a least a trillion mouths.
And it was huge!
Then her mind focused on his words.
"... No, your mother won't be waking up. I made sure of that... . "
And Mary didn't wait any longer; she threw off the covers and ran screaming from the room.
"... I granted her blessed sleep and sweet dreams. I ... I ... Mary? Mary? Are you there, Mary?"
Gabriel shifted under the weight of his wings. "Well, I say! The cheek of the maid!"
Then the nightmare faded from the room.
"HOW DID IT GO, GABRIEL?"
"She was, ah, less than thrilled, boss," said Gabriel.
"OF COURSE, THE FIRST ONE NEEDED A LITTLE PERSUASION, IF I REMEMBER CORRECTLY."
"I'll say. That clumsy oaf," roared Mary above the Heavenly Hosts.
"QUIET, MOTHER, I NEED TO HEAR THIS. SO WHAT HAPPENED, GABRIEL?"
Gabriel fussed with his robes and fluffed his wings. "She, uh, ran away."
"SHE WHAT? SHE RAN AWAY? FOR GOODNESS SAKE, WHY?"
"I don't know; I don't understand it. I mean I wore my most magnificent demeanour."
"AND JUST EXACTLY HOW DID YOU APPEAR?"
Gabriel shrugged. "Oh, you know, all covered in nice fur, lots of wings, eyes, and mouths spitting fire. The usual. You said to wear my best."
The Heavenly Father slapped his forehead. "JESUS CHRIST. YOU IDIOT!"
"Yes, Father? How have I offended You?"
"NOT YOU, JUNIOR. IT'S JUST AN EXPRESSION. WHY DON'T YOU RUN ALONG AND DO A GOOD DEED SOMEWHERE?"
He turned his attention a back to Gabriel. "OF COURSE, SHE RAN AWAY. HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO TELL YOU? YOUR SUNDAY BEST, NOT YOUR FRIDAY BEST. THAT'S ISLAMIC TRADITION. FOR CATHOLICS AND SUCH LIKE, YOU APPEAR PRETTY MUCH AS YOU APPEAR NOW. WHITE ROBES, GOLDEN HAIR, HALO. MAYBE A HARP. YOU PROBABLY SCARED THE BEJESUS OUT OF HER. GREAT. NOW WE'RE GOING TO HAVE TO FIND ANOTHER VIRGIN."
Gabriel groaned and dug his toe under a portion of the cloud, lifting it to see if he could find any dirt.
"WHY DON'T YOU TAKE OUR FRIEND HERE AND GIVE HIM A CRASH COURSE ON THE MANY MANIFESTATIONS OF THE DIVINE?"
"Mumble, mumble, mumble, morph!" said Jesus.
"WHAT WAS THAT, JUNIOR?"
"I said, 'oh Father, let this cup pass from me'."
"NO SUCH LUCK."
"Grumble, mutter, grrr ... Come on, Gabriel ... mumble, mumble, mumble ... never get any respect ... "
© Jessica Palmer 1998.
This story appears
in the collection Other Visions of Heaven and Hell, which
begins: "On the seventh day, He rested. A big mistake." The book takes
a none-too-delicate poke at our beliefs in God. Other titles include:
"A Cold Day In", "And Now a Word From Our Sponsor", "Snowball's Chance
In", "On the Wings of a Prayer", and "When Hell Freezes Over".
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