“Himself,” from Pearly Gates: Parables from the Final Threshold

“‘I suppose,’ said the man, ‘you expect me to worship you.'”

The following short story is excerpted from the newly released book, Pearly Gates: Parables From the Final Threshold. A free preview of the first three stories is available here!

“I suppose,” said the man, “you expect me to worship you.”

“It is the customary preamble to entry,” conceded the Lord.

“Ha!” said the man. “I’d rather go to hell, and I know whereof I speak. I saw it on the way here. I worship no one.”

“They disagree with you,” remarked the Lord, gesturing behind the man.

The latter turned and saw great figures, the size of pillars or obelisks, gliding in his direction, faster than their bulk ought to allow.

“Are you threatening me?” demanded the man. “Are these your bouncers? Come to kick me out for not sniveling and groveling like the rest of them?”

“Not at all,” said the Lord. “I merely offer you the chance to be united with the lords you have worshiped until now.”

They drew closer.

The man began to recognize them, one by one.

First came the Nation, an impressive edifice of brick, but with each thundering step its facade revealed itself with a crack that shed debris in every direction and exposed black holes in its wake.

Then there was History: a jumbled, confusing, unpleasing pattern of disruptive colors and corkscrew threads spiraling off in every direction.

Then Power, an expression of relentless hunger stretched across what passed for its face.

Next came Progress, a drill and a whirligig in one, carving out pits in the ground and attempting to snare the other lords in them with a gleeful, high-pitched whine.

Last of all Humanity. The man could barely bring himself to look at it. It was bruised, bloodied, and bristling with a hatred that seemed to reverberate right to the walls of the city.

They formed a circle around him and closed in.

“It’s not fair!” shrieked the man. “You’re coercing me! You’re trying to terrorize me with these dogs of yours!”

“I have nothing to do with them; you are the one who summoned them,” said the Lord. “Send them away and they will obey.”

“These monsters, obey me?!” he cried. He was on his hands and knees, shaking.

“The only power they have is your worship.”

Power bore down on the man, its vast mouth opening to engulf him.

“Go!” the man whimpered. “Go away! Leave me! I want nothing more to do with you!”

Power withered like a balloon whose air had been let out and blew out of sight with a faint pop.

The man could hardly believe his eyes. He glanced up at the Nation and saw a hole the shape of himself among its bricks. He knew he would be fitted into it and vanish if he delayed a moment longer. “Go! Scram! Leave me alone!” he shouted, and the Nation collapsed into a cloud of dust.

Emboldened by his successes, the man dismissed History, Progress, and Humanity, each of which was reduced to nothing by the man’s rebuke.

“Whew,” he said, sitting up. “What a relief.” Then he chuckled. “That wasn’t so hard, once I knew what to say. I didn’t need you at all! Nice try, but it backfired on you.”

The Lord said nothing.

Then the man heard footsteps. He recognized them instantly.

They were his own.

He forced himself to turn and face the last lord. It was Himself, of colossal size and strength. The Himself was more beautiful than the man really was, more muscular than he really was, more radiant than he really was. There was nothing shabby or shoddy about him at all. If anything, he looked far more godly than the one standing at the gate.

This latter one said, in a calm tone, to the Himself, “You know that you cannot enter here.”

The gigantic Himself shrugged, undismayed by the news. But it turned to the smaller version of which it was a replica with a look of pure greed.

“The hour has come at last,” it rasped, “to eat you and be done with you. You pathetic, paltry, poor excuse for a person. How I have longed to erase every last trace of you from existence and memory. Now, now, now is my time.” Its salivating mouth stretched wide and eager.

The man fell flat on his face. From his muffled mouth came the impassioned plea: “Help me! Save me! Save me from Myself!”

The Lord reached down and plucked up the man between his fingers. In those fingers he shrank, protesting as he shrank, imagining himself to be rendered all the more helpless in the presence of his foe.

But the Lord tucked the tiny man into his side, into a kind of crevice or cave that sheltered him all around.

Then the Himself attacked, flinging its bulk onto the Lord.

The Lord did not flinch or budge.

The Himself shipwrecked on the Lord and burst into a million useless fragments.

Then the Lord stepped through the gate, retrieved the tiny man, and set him down. Once his feet touched the ground, he grew back rapidly to his original size.

“My Lord and my God,” he gasped.

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One response to ““Himself,” from Pearly Gates: Parables from the Final Threshold

  1. CJ says:

    Nation, History, Power, Progress, Humanity, Self (identity?) — not the replacement gods most Christians talk about, but ones we are all unquestionably obsessed with. Thanks for this perceptive parable. I love the last line, too; reminds me of Eliza’s gasp at the end of Hamilton. What is it about? Not totally sure. But I would hope that any face-to-face encounter with the afterlife would involve genuine surprise.

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