Pope Michael Peppe

"Bob" wended his way through the huge computer-packed office, dodging frantic clerks at almost every step, and ducked inside the glass-walled inner office. In its center was a large desk covered with huge piles of paper, several ashtrays heaped with butts, some Styrofoam coffee cups surrounded by chains of brown ring stains, and a half-dozen telephones, all of them ringing. In front of it all was a cheap plastic nameplate, which read

Alm. "God," C.E.O.,

Barely visible behind it, and below a drifting battlefield haze of smoke, was a huge balding fat man in His shirtsleeves, His massive gut bursting His shirt into an upside-down V at the bottom. A long white Michelangelo beard with a permanent brown coffee stain at the mouth flowed down His chest, as did the ringlets of His long dirty-blond hair. Two chunky forearms like hairy pink sides ofbeefpushed through His rolled- up sleeves, the hand of one of which was gripping a phone receiver.

"No!" He shouted into it, slammed it down and picked up another. "No!" He picked up another. "NOT" He continued to answer phones in quick succession. "Yeah, you and half a million other poor slob-no."- "Ah, maybe. Gimme call next week. I said maybe."-"Just relax and breathe calmly. I got an ambulance on the way."-"No-kill 'im yourself. What am I, the Mafia?"-"Well maybe if you spent less time prayin' to Me and more time searchin' through the rubble you'd find her!"-"I'll see what I can do."-"Stang, not you againl No way: Edit it yourself."- "Can't help ya, pal. In fact, I'll see you in My Office on Monday. Sorry-I promise you'll get a better vessel next time."-"You atheists are all alike: always callin' at the last minute. What do I look like: Federal Express?" He threw down the receiver angrily and switched on the answering machine. A softer, politer version of His own' voice could be heard, speaking somewhat stiltedly.

"You have reached the Infinite, Eternal, Omnipotent, Omniscient, Almighty "God." I've stepped out of the office for a moment, but if you could please leave your name, religion, species, genus, family, order, class, phylum, kingdom, ecosystem, planet, solar system, galaxy, galactic cluster, universe, dimension, plane of being, time of aeon you called, and a brief prayer, Allah, Brahma, Ra, Quetzalcoatl, Myself or one of the many other Almighty gods will answer your prayer as soon as We return. Please wait for the tone." After the tone there could be heard, on speakerphones scattered throughout the floor, the desperate, hysterical yammering of trillions of voices, in billions of languages: begging, weeping, confessing, moaning-an incomprehensible cacaphony of suffering.

"God" turned to "Bob" with a look of infinite weariness in His sky- blue, bloodshot eyes, and noticed that "Bob's" face was ash-white with horror. "A slight greenhouse effect in the Virgo Galactic Cluster," He said, nodding casually at the phones. "Pangalactic drought-a few billion extra famines. Business a little brisker than usual." He modeled a slight smile to put "Bob" at ease, but to no avail. He dropped it. "So. What can I do for you?"

"Bob" was mystified. "You called me here, Sir."

"I did?" "God" began rummaging through stacks of schedules, muttering, ". . . wish one a' these omniscient Goddamn secretaries would let a god know what the Hell..." At length He gave up searching and smiled somewhat sheepishly. "The Hell with it. Refresh My memory. What's your name, son?"

" "Bob" Sir."

"Bob what, for My sakes?"

"Not Bob: "Bob." "

"Oh, "Bob"! Dobbs, isn't it? Church a' the SubGenius?"


"Well how the Hell are ya?I" In emphasis "God" slapped a meaty paw on the desk, cracking it cleanly in half. In an instant both halves were launched into the air, crashed through the ceiling and disappeared. A moment later an identical, intact desk came hurtling through the same hole and slammed into the floor in front of "God." Every paper, pencil, ashtray and cup was in exactly the same spot as on the old desk, though jiggling slightly. "Sorry," said "God," a little embarrassed. "Bad habit. Anyway, I haven't seen you since you were knee-high to a blastula! I knew your old man, Xiuacha-Chi-Xan, and his wife, Jane. In fact, correct me if I'm wrong, but I think I created 'em."

"You created a little more than that," replied "Bob" admiringly. "You called into Being every plant, animal and protist in the physical universe-all matter, all energy, all space, all time and all the laws that govern them. In fact, the very plane of reality itself! And don't think we don't appreciate it!"

"Oh, that," said "God," suddenly shy. "Ah, it was nothin'. Still is, in fact."

"Bob" laughed headily at what he hoped was a joke. "But that's what's so hilariously paradoxical about it all: Reality's here, and yet it's also sort of not here at the same time. Existence is real, but it's also nothingness-it's like in the Zen koan where-"

From out of nothingness a Zen Buddhist staff in the shape of a huge pipe suddenly materialized and cracked "Bob" in the head. 'What did you say was real?" asked "God" doubtfully.

"Bob" rubbed his head. "Ah, existence."

"I don't get it. What's 'existence'?"

"Um, well, You know . . . what's here."

"And where, pray tell, is that?"

"Well, actually, that's what I was sort of hoping to ask You. And why did You put it here, of all places?"

"You mean in nowhere? Basically because there just wasn't room anywhere else. Anyway, I wanted it nearby, where I could keep an eye on it. Besides, if I put it somewhere in particular I'd have to put it everywhere else too, wouldn't I? Otherwise nosy creatures like you would never lemme hear the end of it. But I'm still confused: What's 'existence'?"

"I can't believe Yau're asking me that. It's just . . . I dunno, it's just . . . everything, I guess. You should know, You created it!"

"I created a word? No way, pal: I don't do words. The only word I ever ran off was Logos: after that I subcontracted the whole account out to those primitive little multicelled chordate+-those flightless, hairy suckers in that galaxy over by Vega-you know the ones, you sell to 'em: very noisy, real arrogant, bitch alla time, 'bout half a rung above brachiopod-"

"Homo sapiens?"

"Yeah, yeah, Homo sapiens. Language I jobbed out to them: Figured at least it'd keep 'em outa mischief. I didn't realize they'd use it as a substitute for consciousness!"

"But they're tryin'to become conscious, "God." I know: My outfit's been tryin' to help 'em-"

"Oh sure. Every time someone conscious comes along they kill 'im and make up a religion about 'im: My boy Jesus, Socrates, Mozart, van Gogh-even you."

"Ah, it was the least I could do. Besides, I was passin' through Frisco that day anyway on business, and I had no evening appointments, so I-"

" "Bob." You still haven't answered My question. Tell Me about this 'existence' myth you people have created, and why you're blaming it all on Me."

"Myth?" "Bob" swallowed hard. "You mean reality's just an illusion? Then the Hindus were right! It's all just the veil of maya, it's all just-"

"Yo, cool out-one myth at a time. And so what if reality's an illusion?"

"Why, that would mean it's not really there."

"But, if nothing's there, how could an illusion be there?"

"Well, I guess nothing would be there except the illusion,"

"But then the illusion would be reality, wouldn't it?"

"Er, I guess it would seem to be, but . . . it wouldn't be, really."

"But how could something be, to you, if it didn't seem to be?"

"Bob's" head was starting to spin, "Ah, I s'pose you'd just, sort of, like, suspect, that . . . maybe . . . like-"

" "Bob." Relax. I think you've been doing lunch with the humans too long." He lit another cigarette, to go with the three already buming. "Y'know, We gods have a word for human consciousness."

"What's that?"


It occurred to "Bob" that everything "God" said might be a lie.

"See what I mean?" said "God."

"But how could consciousness itselfbe only paranoia? What about all of human culture: art, science, religion, history, politic-"

"Nothing but a vast web of conspiracy theories. But that's a minor issue. I still don't understand: How could I create everything in existence if I Myself already existed in the first place? Wouldn't that mean I'd've already missed a Spot? I mean, wouldn't I have to've been flat-out not existing from the get-go to pull that off?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well, if I'm sittin' around existing all over the place I'm gonna need a pretty existence-esque place to do it in, unless I miss My guess. I mean, no matter how many existences you claim I can bang out, including My own, you've still gotta save one out for Me to exist in while I'm knockin' 'em off, that was there when I got there. And believe Me-I'm in the business!-if there's anything that's a bitch to create, it's a thing that already exists in the first placel Like Me, for example. How'm I gonna macram6 Myself outa the woodwork if I've already finished the job?"

"Ah, well, I guess we were all jus' sorta hopin' You'd kinda just handle all that unpleasantness," mumbled "Bob." "We'd all heard how talented You were an' all, an' I guess we all figured, hey, if anyone could do It-"

"God" exploded into belly laughs. "Hoh hoh hoh! Dobbs, you're a hot ticket!" He lunged across the desk and crushed "Bob" in a loving bear hug, killing him instantly. Equally suddenly "Bob" became Jane Dobbs' fertilized ovum, which turned into a blastocyst on the uterine wall of "Bob's" Pipe, which developed into an embryo, which became, in rapid succession, a fetus, an infant, a child, a teenager, a young man, and passed through every stage of "Bob's" adult life, culminating in the astonished Epopt alive in "God's" office exactly as before, having just recalled every moment of thought, sensation and action he had ever experienced in his life. He tried not to seem impressed.

"Dobbs: Lemme get this straight. You've got one thing, 'reality,' which you hope exists, and which you think exists, since it is existence, but which you're afraid might not. Then you've got something else, 'nothingness,' which you think doesn't, which actually can't, since it is nonexistence, and therefore which you hope doesn't-but which somehow does, since you've got both a concept of it and a word for it, and which you're afraid does so to the exclusion of whatever really does."

"Bob" struggled to explain his concept of the coexistence of being and nonbeing, which he knew went far beyond anything in Zen. "In a way, for some people, maybe. But what I'm saying is: Maybe everything exists and yet doesn't exist at the same time!"

"And what time is that?"

"Um, now, I suppose. You know, all the time. The infinite eternal spacetime now-moment, in which things happen, and all that."

"In which things happen? What things?"

"Everything! What doesn't?"

"Everything. What does? Name one thing that happens."

"Ahhh . . . me talking to You right now."

"God" roared with laughter. "Oh, that's rich! Wotta choice! Oh, how I love you earthly mortals." After a while He regained His composure, daubed His watering eyes and leaned forward confidingly. "I always watch your shows."

"Our shows?"

"Oh yeah. 'Yet Another World,' 'Five Billion's Company,' 'People Are Suffering.' . . . My favorite is the nature show, 'Wild World of Sapients.' Channel 787,526,459 x 1034, somewhere around there. It's not exactly cerebral, but there's tons of sex and violence, which we gods just can't get enough of." He waved at an open doorway, through which "Bob" could see an immense wall of video screens, fifty monitors high, in a hall that receded into an immeasurable distance. "The Homo sapiens channels are just a little ways down the hall, maybe a few billion'miles or so." "Bob" leaned forward for a longer view, but could only make out a few thousand screens. "What you're looking at is Phleum pratense," said "God." Upon each screen was a single trembling stem of timothy grass.

"Aha," said "Bob." "But why did You laugh a minute ago? You mean all this isn't really happening?"

"God" smiled indulgently. "Of course not, Pipe-trachea. You think deities as infinite and groovy and Ml-state as I am are gonna dick around in a buncha burly forearms an' an of-white chin-rug? And 1 wouldn't be caught dead in this necktie, much less on my day off (Unlike My hired double, who was wearing it in 1883 when we left His body for Nietzsche to find, floating facedown in a Baden-Baden mineral bath.) "All this is just a dream you're having, which I personally programmed from a software database of your own crude assumptions and stereotypes about God and the nature of reality. A dream which, I may add, just became lucid. We manufacture and release a customized dream of clichés for every subscriber-er, creature-in the universe."

"Bob" wasn't surprised: He'd noticed "Reg. Olympus Pat. Off." embossed in the lower right-hand corner of every retinal image he'd had since arriving. "I'll buy that," he said. "But what about me in bed dreaming this? Surely that's real, isn't it?"

"Dream on. That's just an infinitesimal monad of infinite reality, which is nothing but a dream I'm having."

"Bob" wondered why no one had mentioned this noteworthy fact to him before, but tried to appear nonchalant. "Oh sure, everyone knows that. What I meant was, within Your dream I'm real-r as real as anything else is, anyway." His voice fell to a worried whisper. "Um . . . right?"

"As a matter of fact, no. At this point your real physical self and private personality are almost totally obscured by the SubGenius ideology created by yourself and your sla-er, followers. Indeed, it's pretty safe to say that if you hadn't existed they would have had to invent you-although their amateurish version would've fallen far short of Mine."

"You've got a point therw-but that's fine with me. The less they know about me the better. They know far too much as it is! But at least the Church is real."

"A mere idea in the minds of its parishioners."

"Perhaps. But those minds are real, and so are the bodies they're lost in."

"Sure. Until My dream's attention gets bored and wavers for a moment, and their whole galactic superduster evaporates like breath on a mirror."

"Bob" considered this, then his eyes slitted suspiciously. "Wait a minute. If this is my dream, then You're the one who'll do the evaporating when my attention wanders. Not only that, but if I'm the one writing Your lines, how do I know I haven't filled Your mouth with lies?"

"You don't, any more than you know all the waking thoughts you feed yourself aren't lies. Most of them are, as you know. But I'm probably your Higher Self, that tells you all the things you know are true but won't admit, because you're afraid they're blasphemous against your religion: survival. For all you know, I might even be your Atman, a term you might remember from the Rajneesh Account. Essentially I'm the hit man of the mind: You call Me in as infrequently as possible, I smother some cherished self-delusion in its crib, and you disavow all knowledge of the operation. Sort of the Grassy Knoll of consciousness. But occasionally, like now, you find Me useful as entertainment-so long as I don't get uppity and tell you, say, two painful truths in quick succession."

"Hmm. But if you're so wise, then, tell me this: VThy did I call You here to call me here today?"

At that moment the door swung open and in burst a beautiful Indian woman with a dozen arms, each clothed in a white polyester business shirt, and each carrying a large sheaf of computer printouts. Several dozen identical heads, in two even rows on either side of her central head, receded babbling and grimacing into the distance. Beneath each was the droopy bow tie of a woman executive.

"Kali!" barked "God." "I thought I asked You not to-"

"Sorry to interrupt, A.G., but I need to route these asset-liquidation orders through Everyone today so we can start implementation. I just need a quick initial of approval." She threw two huge sheaves down on the desk. On the top of one "Bob" could read:




Must be returned to Office of Smitings

Below this, in almost microscopic type, was a catalog of hundreds of names, which began

1. Aaaaaab 

2. Aaaaaagla

3. Aaaaaakks

4. Aaaaafshuh

Next to each entry was a date and a time of day. In the upper right- hand corner was a red stamp bearing scores of other names in even tinier type, most of them hastily initialed, which began

The top sheet of the second stack began with "751,949. Eaaaarphuph." Quickly "Bob" whitfread the entries until he found what he was looking for:

751,981. Earth                                     7/ 5/ 89        0700 hrs

"Bob" gasped audibly. The liquidation of his host planet had been moved up nine years! He glanced up furtively to see if "God" or Kali was watching, but they seemed to be arguing about something. He had to act quickly. Obviously, to simply delete the entry would look too conspicuous, and so would probably be disregarded. He decided to use a proofreading symbol. As carefully and unobtrusively as he could he withdrew his pen and drew a single line:

The date would now be read 7/5/98. This would at least give the Church back the time it originally had, and desperately needed, to spread its Massage of Salivation.

"God" was still fuming at Kali. ". . . But what I cannot understand is why My etemity has to be wasted initialing annihilations on every measly million or so penny-ante planet from way the hell out in the boonies by Andromeda somewhere! Hell, if the whole galactic cluster gets nailed nobody notices except Accounting!"

"Tell it to Set at the next staff meeting!" retorted Kali. "It was His idea. And anyway, You've got just as much eternity as Anyone Else!" She hurled the rest of the printouts onto the desk and stormed out, slamming the door and shattering the entire building to bits, which then formed a heap of dust on an empty, wind-blasted plain. Instantly it reassembled exactly as before.

"God," said "God." He sighed and looked at "Bob." "Now then. Where were we?"

"I was asking You why You called me here."

"You mean why I called you into existence?"

"Bob" hadn't meant that, but decided on second thought that perhaps that question had the slightly larger significance, and that now might be a good time to settle it once and for all. "Well . . . yes."

"For the same reason I called everything else into existence: as a goof. It gets boring existing in timelessness, day after day. The slightest thing takes forever. Then there's the loneliness: An infinite void can seem pretty big and empty sometimes. No matter, no energy, no space, no time, no being, no nothin'! I realized what I needed: a hobby. Something to take Me out of Myself. Something physical. So I'd at least know I existed! So I turned Myself into a universe full of particles and forces and planets and waves and stars and dimensions and any damn thing I could think of, the weirder the better. Then I multiplied Myself into an infinitude of minute little chips of consciousness that could all look out at each other from inside of all these ephemeral little plant and animal bodies, so I could get to know Myself a little better. Naturally it made Me a little Self-conscious at first, but then that was the whole idea. . . ."

"Bob" breathed a sigh of relief. So the universe wasn't created to persecute him personally!

"But enough chitchat about trivialities," said "God," getting up. "I've got a lot more important things to do than shoot the shit with you about My wild and crazy youth. Like take My eternal break, for example, which is too short as it is." He clasped His hands behind Him and began to slowly pace. "You asked Me why I called you here today." Here He wheeled and skewered "Bob" with a very grave, if slightly bloodshot, look. "Your Prophet's License is up for renewal."

"Bob's" jaw dropped. "Already?"

'Time flies, etemity waits."

"Does this mean I have to reapply all over again?"

"No. You just have to take the oral. And we better jam on it: I've gotta mn off a whole buncha these today." He gestured towards the window to the outer office. Through it "Bob" could see Christ, Mohammed, Gautama Buddha, Zoroaster, Ramakrishna, Gurdjielf, Werner Erhard, Edgar Cayce, Mary Baker Eddy, L. Ron Hubbard, Dr. Gene Scott and several others in a kind of waiting room, flipping through old Reader's Digests.

"There's a possible twenty-one points in all," began "God." "Twenty questions, and the last one counts double. They start out easy and get harder. Question number one: What is freedom?"

"Oh that's easy. Slavery of choice."

"Very good. Two: What is science?"

"Everyone's personal religion."

"And religion?"

"Somebody else's science: speculation."

"I see you've done your homework. Four: What is insanity?"

"The state of being insufficiently neurotic."

"And neurosis?"


"And why is that?"

"Because consciousness always needs to have a style."

"Seven. This one's a little tougher. A fish is to water as the mind is to. . . ?"

"Um . . . information?"

"No. Falsehood. One wrong. What do all the evils in the world have in common?"

"They're all necessary ones."

"Correct. And who commits them?"


"No. Everyone else. Two wrong. What are the two great keys to lifelong happiness and what great modern thinker discovered them?"

"Oh that's easy. Good health and a bad memory. Ingrid Bergman."

"To whom is all religious, moral, political, scientific and artistic preaching directed?"

"The converted."

"And what is the most important information in any message?"

"The name of the messenger."

"What did you, cram for this? Thirteen: Why do some people believe in Me?"

"Because You exist?"

"Of course not, silly. Personally I think I definitely might, but that's irrelevant. Because they're afraid not to. And why do other people not believe in Me?"

"Hmm. Because they're afraid to?"

"No. Trick question. Everyone believes in God. They just don't believe in someone else's God."

"But . . . what about atheists?"

"Hell, they need more faith than anyone: They gotta believe in everything! Anyway, I should know: Who d'ya think invented faith in the first place, for God's sakes, Oral Roberts? And I did it long before I shrink-wrapped Homo sapiens to fit around it, believe Me."

"But what about scientists, who-"

"Scientists? All those guys do is make up new names for Me. For example, their latest one is "the Big Bang," by using which they actually think they're believing in something elsw-just by changing the name! But you notice they're always very careful to capitalize it . . . . Speaking of which, let's move on to the next section: cosmology. Which is greater: the number of stars or the number of universes?"

"Um . . . neither. They're exactly the same."

"Actually, not exactly, but close enough. At any given time, the number of universes exceeds the number of stars by an average of 1,341: close enough to be negligible. Here's another easy one: What's a black hole?"

"The house arrest of the four dimensions?"

"No. My empty grave. Seventeen: Is the universe composed of waves or particles?"


"Wrong. Neither. The universe consists ofinfinitesimal looped strings vibrating in ten dimensions."

"What happened to the other six?"

"Fell down and got lost in the cracks between the first four in the first moment of creation. In fact, you should have gotten that one: It was just discovered recently by a human physicist at Princeton named Edward Witten. Can you name the other two of the only three humans in history whose theories on the nature of reality were correct?"

"Umm . . . Einstein, and . . . Buddha?"

"Both wrong. One was the Cabalist sage Isaac ben Solomon Luria, who in the sixteenth century correctly surmised, in his theory of zimzum, or contraction, that My first act of creation was to retract Myself from existence, in order to make room for the world. In fact," He murmured confidentially, "what the physicists and the Cabalists don't realize is, I am the other six dimensions!"

"And who was the third correct human?"

"The painter Salvador Dali, who astutely noted that the universe is not vast and expanding at all, but is in fact smaller than a butterfly and contracting to a single point somewhere in a railway station in Perpignan, France. But enough science. Final question. It's a tough one, especially for a clergyman, and it counts double, so you get three tries. What is the greatest enemy of truth?"

"Bob" concentrated. "Ah ... the self?"





"Still closer, but no Pipe." "God" spoke into the intercom. "Horus, could You please page the next Anointed?"

"But wait a minutw-" blurted "Bob." "What's the answer?"

"God" smiled at him sympathetically. "Consensus."

In the outer office "Bob" could see all the prophets gathering around a single desk, clutching paper tickets. A voice was calling out numbers. "Number nineteen? Is number nineteen here?... Number twenty?" "Bob" stood up.

"So what's my grade?" he asked. "Did I pass the test?"

"Oh yeah, easily. With flying colors."

"On only eleven points out of twenty-one?"

"Oh, the test itself is just a formality: a buncha red tape I hafta hassle with so's My ass is covered, for Personnel. There's really only one requirement for a prophet, and you've got it."

"What's that?"

"A mouth."

Through the window "Bob" could see an o'd man in a long beard and an ancient robe gesticulating angrily. A woman in a blue uniform was putting his tablets through a metal detector. "Bob" began moving towards the door, then stopped. "Ah, "God"? Can I ask You just one more question?"

"Knock yourself out."

"It's about what You said earlier. If You do exist, and in order to meet Yourself You turned Yourself into the universe, then everything must be real . . . right?"

"God" laughed and shook His head. "Your unreality really ticks you of doesn't it? Well maybe you'd better sit down again, because I'm afraid I've got some good news and some bad news. I was hoping I wouldn't have to break this to you, but... The good news is, yes, I suppose you could say that within your dream of My dream of your dream, quote, everything, unquote, is as quote, real, unquote, as quote, anything else, unquote, as far as that goes, which is about an octillionth of an angstrom. But unfortunately for both of us, that idea, as well as all My other ideas, including this one, and all of your ideas, are merely part of an ill-conceived fictional story. And you and I ourselves are nothing but words on a page."

"Bob" stiffened, slightly offended, but kept his cool. He'd been accused of being a fictional character before. He struggled in vain to conceive of his very consciousness itself as a mere series of abstract shapes on a page.

"God" sensed his skepticism. "Lemme show you what I mean."

Suddenly all of reality vanished.

A moment passed, which felt like an etemity. Or perhaps it was an eternity. "Bob" cleared his throat nervously.

After a while the universe reappeared, with every atom exactly where it had been, except that one of the coffee stains had moved several microns to the fight, and the entire plane of being was now tilted at a very slight angle.

"See what I mean?" asked "God." "You think I'm hot enough to pull off a slick stunt like that, working alone? And the writer isn't even breathing heavy. Think you can't be written?" He paused, then added dramatically, You're next."

'Bob" was impressed but not intimidated. He still wasn't coInpletely convinced his whole existence was nothing but a succession of signs, but decided the point was too trivial to dispute. He gave his stock reply: "Okay. But the author is real."

"God" lit another cigarette. "A mere mental construct: an assumption of the reader's."

"All right. . . . But these words are real."

"Configurations of neuroelectrical iInpulses in the reader's cerebral cortex. Synaptic exchanges of nitrogen and potassium, triggering action-potential voltage reversals, actually."

For a moment "Bob" was stumped. Then he realized he had his opponent checkmated, and delivered his coup de grace. "Fine. But the reader is real."

For an instant "God" just stared at him, openmouthed. Then He erupted into thunderous laughter, which soon had Him helplessly pounding the desk. "Hoh hoh hooh! The man just does not stop!"

The reader shifted his weight to the other bun.

After much hilarity "God" finally regained enough composure to reach across the desk, still chortling, and profer a meaty hand for "Bob" to shake. "Later, dude. Don't sInite anyone I wouldn't smite."

At that moment the door opened and someone in a suit and tie thrust in His head, which was that of a falcon.

"Yes, Horus?" asked "God."

"Are You expecting someone named Ely, or . . . Eljah, or-"

"Elijah, schmuck!" snapped a voice from behind Hiln. "And next time keep ya talons of the material!" A small elderly Jewish man in an archaic robe shuffled in with the aid of a staff. Immediately "God's" aspect was transformed into that of an ancient Hebrew sage with a long black beard.

"Ellie, you old schnook!" cried "God" jovially. "It's been centuries- what, a tongue I didn't give you, you can't call Me?" The two began schmoozing like old schoolmates, oblivious to "Bob," who moved out the door.

He stepped into the outer office. He had walked only a few steps, however, before he was approached by a little man in a janitor's uniform, carrying a loaded dustpan. "I couldn't help overhearing your discussion in there, and I think I can answer your question about the reader's reality," said the janitor. "What I think "God" would've answered-if He'd been able to stop laughing long enough-would've been that yes, the reader is real, but only as the nearest and dearest figment in the 4-D Sensurround movie his neurochemical projector is showing, which, according to the credits he subconsciously wrote but never rolls, his soft-focus animated mock-up of Goddishness has always already cowritten, codirected and coproduced, just as It has the projector, Itself and the audience watching the movie it projects and credits itself crediting It in, in the movie of the audience and the projector projecting the audience and the movie of the audience and the projector to the audience, in-"

"A simple 'maybe' would suffice," said "Bob." He turned to the reader. "Don't even read this character. He's just trying to be cute. Probably a cheap stand-in for the author. Anyway, it's just a buncha language."

"Oh, everyone knows that," thought the reader, he read that he read. In the few remaining words, he read that he reflected on the story. There had been a few slightly interesting things about it, such as its self-consciousness, he watched himself read, but he knew that most, if not all, of it would be completely forgotten within a few days, if not hours, or minutes, in the way that most reading was forgotten, just as most of life was forgotten. At long last he saw himself reach this final sentence, he read, and thought, "