Me and Kyoko were driving home from a nice pasta dinner at our old friend Gretchen’s house when God appeared in the back seat of our car and granted Kyoko one wish for saving Gretchen’s life all those years ago at Action Park.
“So what’s your wish, Kyoko?” God said, after Kyoko pulled over onto the side of the road and thought for a few minutes.
“Hmmm …” Kyoko said, craning her head to the side and looking up at the roof of the car. A black SUV whooshed past. Blue headlights flashed harshly in the rear-view mirror. A blast of rushing air sent our car rocking. Resting her hands in her lap, Kyoko looked over at me and grinned.
“I wish for me and Nick to be transported into the world of Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights.”
“An interesting choice,” God said, nodding. “I hope it helps you find what you’re looking for.” Then he snapped his fingers and disappeared.
“Who’s Hieronymus Bosch?” I said to Kyoko. “And what’s the Garden of Earthly Delights?”
“It’s a three-panel painting from—oh shit,” Kyoko said, her hand rising to her mouth. “I forgot to tell him which panel to put us in.”
“Does that matter?” I said. “What kind of painting is it?”
“Eh, I think it’ll be fine. Since he’s God, I’m sure he knows which panel I was talking about,” Kyoko said, resting her hand on my thigh. I shuddered a little at her touch. My body tensed with anxiety. “Don’t worry. You’re going to love it. It’s exactly what we need to get the old spark back.”
I forced a smile onto my face and nodded. Ever since me and Kyoko got back together three months ago, things had been going pretty good. She had started wearing her wedding ring again, and we were communicating better than ever before. The only thing that hadn’t come back yet was the sex. Back when we were together the first time, sex was the only way Kyoko knew how to open up and to let me into the secret world of her inner life. But now that we were older, wiser, and better at expressing ourselves, our communication wasn’t as dependent on physical intimacy. Because of that, we’d only slept together once in the past three months. That scared me. Kyoko was starting to get bored, and my anxiety was creating some very embarrassing performance issues which only exacerbated the problem. And that wasn’t good, because I knew how quickly Kyoko could change her mind again and leave me behind without another thought.
Feeling the warmth of her hand on my thigh, I took a deep breath and tried to relax my body. Then I rested my hand on top of hers and squeezed.
“Okay,” I said. “Let’s try it.”
Moments later we found ourselves lying naked on our backs in a lush meadow of green grass, tall trees, and small ponds of clear water. Fantastical animals that only exist in dreams grazed all around us, while God, looking youthful and dapper in a set of silky pink robes, stood to our left. A man and a woman were with him, but all three were too distracted by their own business to notice our presence. In the pond near our feet, a fish with gleaming silver scales and white-feathered wings stared up at us with eyes like wet black marbles. A strange creature with the head of a horse, the long horn of a narwhal, and the thick body of a manatee swam circles around the winged fish. At the far end of the pool, a small man wearing the costume of a duck-billed platypus read a heavy book while floating in the water.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” God said to us from behind.
“It really is,” Kyoko said, glancing up at the oak and cherry trees swaying slowly in the breeze. She grabbed my hand and started leading me toward the tree line to the east. While we walked, she leaned in close and whispered in my ear. “We’re in the first panel of the painting right now, but we want to be in the second. I think it’s this way. Follow me.”
The sounds of human voices, chirping animals, and sloshing water grew louder as we approached the tree line.
“Don’t do it, Kyoko,” God said, his voice suddenly sharp and paternal. “That’s a place of sin. And you know exactly where it leads. Everything you need is right here.”
Kyoko squeezed my hand and nodded.
Trust me, she mouthed.
I nodded and squeezed her hand in agreement.
“Thanks,” Kyoko said to God, “but I think we’ll be okay. It’s not like we’re going to steal anything or kill anyone or …” she turned to me and shrugged. “What were the other commandments again?”
“I don’t remember,” I said, looking at her with worry. “But are you sure you want to antagonize him like this? Shouldn’t we listen to what he says?”
“Don’t worry about it,” she said, turning sideways and squeezing through the narrow gap between the two gnarled oak trees before us. “We’re good people. We earned this. As long as we don’t break any of his commandments, we don’t have to worry about the third panel of the painting. Now give me your hand.”
She stuck her hand through the gap in the trees.
“Wait, what happens in the third panel?” I said.
“An apocalypse of death, torture, and mutilation rains down upon the sinners of the earth,” she said. “But you’re going to forget all about that when you see what’s over here in the second panel. Please trust me, Nick. We need this. I wouldn’t have wished for it if the risk outweighed the reward.”
I looked at Kyoko’s hand and then back up to her brown eyes visible through the gap in the trees. I drew a deep breath and grabbed her hand.
“Disappointing,” God said, in a quiet voice. “I’m very disappointed in both of you.”
Kyoko ignored him and gave me a wide smile as she pulled me through the gap in the trees and led me into the second panel of the painting.
The second panel was even more beautiful than the first. Just past the tree line, the ground sloped downward and we waded into a shallow lake. The lake sat at the edge of a pastoral paradise of rolling grassy fields, surreal stone architecture, and spotless blue sky. In the center of the lake, a group of naked men and women kissed and played games alongside a wild duck as big as a grizzly bear. To our left, a trio of women took greedy bites out of a basketball-sized blackberry dangling from the beak of an enormous finch. On the right, a pair of lovers peered out from inside a massive hollow apple floating on the surface of the water, while a stray leg from a different couple having sex behind them burst through the hardened skin of the apple. In a nearby field, dozens of naked men and women frolicked blissfully among a playground of gigantic fruit pods.
As we waded farther into the lake, the sounds of contented laughter, splashing water, and beautiful birdsongs filled the warm air around us.
“This place is unbelievable,” I said, noticing a warm pink flush in Kyoko’s cheeks.
“Now you know why I wished for this,” she said, licking her lips and giving me The Look. “If this doesn’t reignite the old spark between us, nothing will.”
My heart thudded heavily in my chest. My palms slicked wet with anxious sweat. My throat tightened at the thought of disappointing her again.
“So what do you want to do first?” I said.
Kyoko wrapped her arm around my waist and pointed at a ring of people crowded around a man standing in the grass on the other side of the lake. Pairs of shiny red cherries as big as billiard balls sat atop of a few of the onlookers’ heads, while the man in the center of the crowd drank from a shimmering jug shaped like the thorax of a large insect. Once the man was done drinking, he belched loudly, handed the jug to one of the members of the crowd, and passionately kissed the man to his right.
“Let’s see what’s going on over there,” Kyoko said. She tugged me over to the crowd of people and wormed through the ring of bodies to the center. For five minutes I stood next to her and watched as she yelled into the cacophonous chatter of the crowd and asked for a chance to drink from the shimmering jug. No one answered her or even acknowledged our presence. Instead, they laughed and kissed and passed the jug back and forth between themselves. After another five minutes of being ignored, Kyoko snatched the jug from the hands of the woman standing next to us. The woman yelped in surprise; the crowd yelled angry admonishments. Ignoring these, Kyoko tucked the jug under her arm, forced her way through the crowd, and started running toward a large lake on the other side of the field. Punches and kicks rained down on me as I clawed my way through the crowd to follow Kyoko. Once I caught up to her, I grabbed her hand and we ran, our bare feet thumping against the soft dirt beneath the grass. We ran until we reached the edge of the large lake northeast of where we entered this panel of the painting. When we turned around and looked behind us, we saw that the crowd had given up the chase after a few seconds.
Kyoko grinned at me and leaned the jug back and drank. Clear, foamy liquid dribbled from the corners of her mouth.
“Whoa, that’s really good,” she said, handing the jug to me. “You have to try this. It reminds me of watermelon juice, but a little bit thicker. And I think I taste some vanilla in there too.”
I took a long swig from the jug, my heart still beating hard from the run. Kyoko was right, the liquid was delicious. It had the clean, sweet taste of pulp-free watermelon juice, and the rich, creamy finish of a vanilla milkshake.
“Oh wow, yeah, that’s great,” I said, handing the jug back to her. But she wasn’t interested in it anymore. Instead, she dropped it on the ground, pressed her warm body against mine, and started kissing me. I pulled back and tried to still my trembling fingers. “Do you think we could go somewhere more private, at least?”
Kyoko stared at me for a long moment and sighed. Then she looked around the open field and saw a man carrying a giant mussel shell on his back. Bending down and picking up the shimmering jug of exotic juice, Kyoko called out to the man and waved him over. After negotiating with the man for a few minutes, she traded the shimmering jug for the giant mussel shell.
The man and I placed the shell onto the surface of the nearby lake and pried it open. Kyoko slithered inside first; I followed. With the shimmering jug clutched in his left hand, the man waved to us, let the shell snap shut, and pushed us out toward the center of the lake.
It was hot and slippery inside the shell. Soft pink flesh lined the walls and ceiling. Despite the stuffiness, we had more than enough room to lay down and stretch our legs to their full length. Noticing this, Kyoko climbed on top of me and mashed her lips against mine. But after a minute of making out, she pulled away and peeled a sheet of sweat-soaked hair off her forehead.
“Jesus Christ, it’s so fucking hot in here,” she said, pressing her palms against the top half of the mussel shell. Fat droplets of sweat dripped from the points of her elbows. “I’m sorry, Nick, but we have to open this shell. I feel like I’m going to suffocate in here.”
I sat up and grabbed her wrists.
“Please don’t,” I said, my voice warbling with anxiety. “If I can’t … I don’t want them to see me disappoint you like that.”
Kyoko leaned forward, held my face in her hands, and looked at me for a long time. Her cheeks flushed a deep pink. Her gold brown eyes glinted like crystalized amber.
“You have to forget about the past,” she said. “Everything that happened before this doesn’t matter anymore. We’re here, together, right now. And there’s nowhere else I’d rather be. He gave me the wish, not you. So if I wanted something else, or someone else, I would’ve wished for that. But I didn’t. Because I want you. And I know you always used to tell me that I was so closed off and that I never let anyone into my world, but that’s not the case anymore. It took a hell of a lot of pain and hard work for me to get to this point, but I made it. Now it’s your turn. Because in order for things to work out between us this time, you have to open up to me. And the world. You have to let us in. And I know it’s scary, because the only time people can truly hurt you is when you let them in. But you have to, Nick. You have to let me in, or else we’re never going to get past this.”
I slurped a deep breath and tried to slow the frantic thudding of my heart.
“But I don’t even—how do I do that?”
Kyoko smiled and flicked a trembling droplet of sweat from her chin.
“Opening this shell would be a good start.”
“Okay,” I said with a sharp exhale. “You can open it.”
She shook her head.
“No. You have to do it. That’s the only way it’s going to work.”
I stared at her for a long moment and then nodded.
“Okay, roll over,” I said, grabbing her by the ribs and sliding her under me. “This really must be an alternate reality if you’re lecturing me about emotional vulnerability.”
“Didn’t see that coming, did you?” she said with a laugh.
“No, I did not,” I said, pressing my hands against the slippery pink flesh above my head.
After an initial resistance, the top half of the shell snapped off at the connection point behind Kyoko’s head and splashed into the lake. Cool spring air washed over our sweat-drenched bodies. The sounds of laughing people and chirping birds filled our ears once again. Before I could enjoy any more of the beautiful scenery, Kyoko rolled on top of me and kissed me passionately. Moments later, we heard a familiar voice.
“I’m glad to see you two are having fun,” God said, from above. “But all sinners must face judgement sooner or later. And I’m afraid that time is now.”
“Just ignore him,” Kyoko said, breaking away from me for a moment, her breath rolling warm and heavy past my ear. “He can’t touch us. We didn’t do anything wrong.”
“Thou shalt not steal,” God said.
“But we didn’t steal this shell, we traded for it with the … oh,” Kyoko said.
“Yes,” God said. “And since you stole that juice, it’s time for you to experience the third panel of the painting.”
Kyoko grabbed my hand and looked up at God, who now wore a set of royal blue robes similar to the color of the sky.
“Wait, please, what if we repent for our sins and ask for forgiveness?” She said, squeezing my hand in fear. “Could you find it in your heart to spare us from the third panel?”
God stared down at us with a blank expression. Then, slowly, the corners of his lips curled into a small, satisfied smile. His eyes smoldered like the embers of a dying fire. Heavy black storm clouds choked the blue sky behind him.
“No,” he said, in a quiet voice. “Sinners like you don’t get a second chance.”
The third panel of the painting was more terrifying than I had imagined. Me and Kyoko awoke on a barren beach peppered with rolling dunes of hot sand, spiny tufts of dry scrub grass, and sharp shards of volcanic glass. All around us naked men and women screamed in pain as they received punishment for their earthly sins. On the left, a pair of musicians hung impaled on the gleaming steel strings of a giant harp as tall as a two story house. To our right, a blindfolded gambling addict hunched behind an overturned card table while a wolf in human clothes stabbed him in the neck with a longsword. In the distance, roaring fires and violent conflicts ravaged the ruins of a vast, ancient city squatting on the bank of a meandering river. Overhead, huge knives clutched between pairs of floating, disembodied ears patrolled the beach like prison guards.
Scrabbling to our feet, me and Kyoko saw that God had placed us in the middle of a long line of naked sinners slowly walking toward a demonic figure sitting atop a wooden throne. The throne stood over twenty feet tall and hovered above a circular hole in the ground ringed with the orange glow of liquid magma. The demon sitting atop the throne had the head of a sparrow and the body of a man, and he wore a set of royal blue robes nearly identical to those God had been wearing just before he banished us into this panel of the painting. A black, cast-iron kettle rested on top of the demon’s head in the place of a crown, and a pair of yellow clay pots sheathed his stubby feet like crude, breakable shoes.
“Jesus Christ,” I said, shifting my weight to the left and right to alleviate the burning pain in my feet.
“I know,” Kyoko said. Then she pointed at the demon sitting on the throne. “Just wait till you see what’s waiting for us up ahead.”
I grabbed Kyoko’s hand and looked to the front of the line of sinners. Each time a new sinner reached the foot of the demon’s throne, the floating ears skewered them through the chest with their knives and presented them to the demon for judgement. But the sinner’s offense didn’t seem to matter, because in each case the punishment was the same: the demon grabbed the sinner with his powerful hands, swallowed the screaming victim whole, and shat them out into the glowing hole to hell beneath the throne, where they disappeared in a flash of orange light and a small plume of black smoke.
“This is crazy,” I whispered into Kyoko’s ear. “We have to get out of here.”
She nodded in agreement, and we both started looking for a way to escape.
After a minute of scanning the landscape, Kyoko squeezed my hand and gestured with her head in the direction of the demon wearing the blue robes.
“The wall behind his throne,” she whispered. “Look at it. It’s not connected to a building or any other type of structure. It just goes on into infinity in every direction, all the way up into the sky and through the clouds. I think that’s the end of the painting. If we can break through that, we might be able to get out of here for good.”
I looked at the wall. She was right. It extended all the way to the burning city beside the river and beyond. But with the floating ears preventing any escape from the line of sinners, there was only one direction for us to go: straight toward the demon on the throne.
“Yeah, that’s got to be the edge of the painting,” I whispered back to Kyoko. “But how can we—”
Just then the woman in line behind us tapped me on the shoulder.
“You can’t get away by yourselves, if that’s what you’re thinking,” the woman said. An Ibanez electric guitar hung from the woman’s left shoulder; a six-inch hole in her chest stared at me like a cat’s vertical pupil; a Yamaha electric guitar amp sat fused to her back like a sixty-pound tumor. Ear piercing feedback squealed from the amp each time she moved her body and jostled the strings of her guitar. “You’re going to need someone to distract the ears while you get away.”
I looked at Kyoko and then back to the woman.
“You would do that for us?” I said.
“Sure,” she said, playing a quick metal riff on her guitar. In an instant the ears swarmed around her and started slicing her arms with their knives until she stopped playing. “Alright, alright, fuckers, I’m done!” she said to the floating ears. Dropping her bloody arms to her sides, she looked back at me and Kyoko. “As you can see, I’d do anything to get out of this shithole. I just want to get back to playing with my band and hanging out with my girlfriend, Heather. Things were finally going good in my life when those squid alien assholes showed up and ruined everything.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Kyoko said to the woman. “But thanks for your help. Once you have the ears distracted, we’ll make a break for the wall and punch through. Then we’ll hold off the ears while you run to the wall. Sound good?”
Kyoko looked at me and then back to the woman. We both nodded.
“Sorry to rain on your parade there folks, but your little plan just ain’t gonna work,” said the man standing in line in front of us. Neon purple scars like the branches of a fern curled down the entire length of the man’s body, all the way to the backs of his heels. He stood half a head shorter than both me and Kyoko, and he couldn’t have weighed more than a hundred and twenty pounds, but hard disks of muscle rippled beneath his scarred skin with each relaxed breath. “You caint do nothing in this place without taking care a that chickenshit right up there with the pot on his head,” the man said, flicking his chin at the demon sitting on the throne. “He runs the show round these parts, and if he sees anyone making a break for that wall, all he’s gotta do is say a couple a special words and your ass is grass. Believe me, I know.” The man pointed at the scars on his back with a deformed hand.
Kyoko leaned forward and studied the man’s back.
“The demon up there gave you these scars?” Kyoko said.
“Yes ma’am,” the man said. “Me and that chickenshit up there were having it out in the west Texas desert when he started saying these weird-ass words in some other language I never heard before. A few seconds later I woke up here, looking like this.”
Kyoko glanced at me and then back to the scars on the man’s body.
“These are Lichtenberg figures,” she said. “They show up when a person gets struck by lightning.”
“So that’s how that little shit k.o.’d me,” The man said. “Once a cheater, always a cheater.”
The man shook his head and scoffed. Then he held one of his oddly-shaped hands over his mouth and drank the amber liquid pouring from the hardened digit that used to be his thumb. Studying his deformed hands for the first time, I saw that all his fingers were gone, and that both of his hands had been molded into flesh-covered whiskey bottles. But this divine punishment didn’t seem to bother the man in the least.
“Would you be willing to challenge him to a rematch in order to distract him while we get away?” Kyoko said to the man.
“Darlin, there ain’t nothing I’d rather do right about now,” the man said, wiping his mouth with the back of his wrist. “You just tell me when, and I’ll march right up to the front a this line and challenge him to a rematch in front a all these fine folks. I’ll even let him keep his cute little birdie mask on.”
“Okay good, so we’re set,” Kyoko said, turning back to me and the guitar woman. “Once our friend here has the demon distracted, you’ll start playing your guitar to get the attention of the ears. Then, when they swarm you, me and Nick will make a break for the wall. Once we’ve punched through the wall, you’ll throw away your guitar and meet up with us. Sound good?”
The guitar woman nodded, but I craned my head to the side and looked at Kyoko.
“Wait, how are we going to break through the wall? We don’t have anything to—” I said.
“Please, Nick,” Kyoko said, squeezing my hand. “You have to trust me.”
“Please. Just trust me.”
I looked at her for a long moment. My heart smashed in my ears. My mouth went dry. Slowly, her lips curled into a small smile. Feeling some of my anxiety dissolve away, I nodded.
“Okay,” I said. “I trust you.”
Kyoko squeezed my hand and tapped the scarred man on the shoulder.
“We’re all set,” she whispered into his ear. “Whenever you’re ready.”
The scarred man nodded and bounced on his toes and smacked his whiskey-bottle hands together a few times. After a sharp exhale and a crackling stretch of his neck, he started pushing his way to the front of the line.
“Pardon me, coming through, out of the way, very important business here, folks,” he said, as he shoved naked sinners out of his way.
When he reached the foot of the wooden throne, he looked up and pointed his deformed hand at the demon wearing the blue robes.
“I want a rematch,” the scarred man said, as the ears swarmed around him. “You and me. One on one. Right here. And I’ll even let you wear your cute little birdie mask so you don’t get embarrassed in front a all these fine folks when I kick your ass.”
Just before the ears skewered the scarred man through the chest, the demon held up a hand and stopped them.
“After all the chances I’ve given you, Jonathan, this is how you repay me? With more anger and threats of violence? Haven’t we done this enough?”
Jonathan turned his head to the side and spat.
“Well, mama always said I’m as stubborn as a one-eyed donkey, so I reckon one more time ought to cover it.”
The demon shook his head and sighed.
“Disappointing,” he said, rising from the throne and floating to the ground. Moments after the clay pots on his feet touched the sand, he slipped off his blue robes. Then he slid the cast-iron kettle off his head and tossed it behind his throne, where it smacked against the boundary wall with a hard thunk. Grabbing his beak with his right hand, he pulled off the sparrow mask.
Me and Kyoko watched this scene from our vantage point in the line of sinners. When Kyoko saw that it had been God wearing the sparrow mask the entire time, she shook her head in disgust.
“Goddamnit,” she said. “I knew it was him. This is very bad. Our new friend there doesn’t stand a chance.”
“What are we going to do?” I said to her.
“Stick to the plan,” she said to me with a shrug. “There’s nothing else we can do at this point.” She turned to the guitar woman. “Get ready. Once they start fighting, play as loud and fast as you can.”
The guitar woman nodded and took a few steps back. She rested her bloody hands on her guitar and waited. Me and Kyoko looked back at Jonathan and God.
God let go of the sparrow mask and crossed his arms behind his back. Just before the mask touched the ground, Jonathan darted forward and blanketed God with a pair of right jabs, a left cross to the chin, a right hook to the body, three right jabs to the side of the head, and a left cross to the crown of a perfect cheekbone. Though each punch connected with a solid, thumping impact, the blows had no effect. They seemed to smack against God’s body harmlessly, like raindrops pinging against the windshield of a car.
Jonathan danced backward and held his whiskey-bottle fists in front of his face in anticipation of God’s first attack. But God kept his hands behind his back and his eyes fixed on Jonathan. Sensing her opportunity, the guitar woman strummed a deafening chord that quickly devolved into a sludgy, chugging, death-metal riff. Gradually increasing the tempo and intensity of her playing, the guitar woman swirled her frizzy blonde hair and thrashed her body with wild abandon. This sudden cacophony of sound and motion sent the floating ears whirling in disoriented, drunken circles; two pairs of ears hovering above Jonathan’s head crashed into each other and fell to the ground in a mess of impaled cartilage and blood-slicked steel. The remaining four pairs left Jonathan and God behind and started swarming the guitar woman.
Kyoko squeezed my hand and we ran toward the boundary wall. Shards of volcanic glass sliced the aching soles of my feet. Fiery sand scoured the open cuts on my heels. Smoke-saturated air shredded my dry throat. But I clutched Kyoko’s hand and kept going.
We reached the border wall in less than a minute. Circling behind the wooden throne, I looked to Kyoko.
“What do we do now?” I said, gulping serrated breaths, my bloody feet roaring in pain.
Kyoko fell to her knees and started digging through the sand.
“Find something to break through the wall,” she said. “There’s got to be a rock or one of these pieces of obsidian we can use.”
Clawing at the sand, I found rough tufts of scrub grass and more shards of volcanic glass, but nothing that could break through the wall. Each shard of volcanic glass was too sharp to get a firm grip.
Moments later, Kyoko yelled to me.
“Nick, over here, help me with this,” she said, pulling at the handle of the cast-iron kettle God had been wearing as a crown while pretending to be the demon prince. “It’s too heavy for me. Try to hit it against the wall.”
I scrabbled over to her and tried to lift the kettle. A wet groan tumbled from my throat as I strained, but I could only lift it two or three feet off the ground before my arms and shoulders burned with crackling pain.
I dropped the kettle on the ground and rubbed my sweaty hands in the sand.
“It’s too heavy,” I said. I pointed to the left side of the kettle’s circular handle. “You take that end and we’ll swing it together. This thing has got to have enough weight to break through the wall.”
Kyoko nodded at me and grabbed the other end of the kettle. Before I gave her the signal to lift, I took a quick look around. Jonathan darted around the glowing hole to hell and jabbed at God with his whiskey-bottle hands. The guitar woman fought off the ears with the percussive punch of a galloping riff and the swinging headstock of her Ibanez guitar. Satisfied that the plan was working, I looked back to Kyoko and counted down from three. On zero we lifted the kettle out of the sand and started smacking it against the wall.
The wooden wall cracked with each impact of the kettle. Forked rivulets of cloudy sweat scudded down my forehead. Gritty smears of sand-caked blood covered my throbbing hands. After two frantic minutes of exertion, we punched through the wall and cleared out a hole just big enough for a single person to squeeze through. Thrusting my head through the hole, I smelled cool, crisp autumn air: the same air me and Kyoko had walked out into after our dinner at Gretchen’s house. But before I could step out of the way and usher Kyoko through the hole, I heard God’s voice behind us.
“Don’t try it, Nick,” he said, absorbing three of Jonathan’s punches directly to his chin. “It’s not going to work. Kyoko wished for this, so you two are stuck here with me for good.”
Just then Jonathan circled around behind God, leaped over the glowing hole to hell, and wrapped his arms around God’s neck.
“Go on!” Jonathan said. “Get outta here before he can call down his lightning!”
I nodded at Jonathan and threw a shard of volcanic glass at the guitar woman’s feet to get her attention. Moments later she looked up from her headbanging and nodded. She slid her guitar off her shoulder and swung it like an ax at the swarming ears. With a satisfying crunch, the electric-blue Ibanez connected with a pair of the floating ears and sent them flying into the nearby river. A few of the naked sinners clapped and broke out into cheers. Then the guitar woman dropped her guitar on the ground and ran in our direction.
I turned back to Kyoko and started ushering her through the hole in the wall. Before she could squeeze through, God shouted a wrathful command in a strange language I’d never heard before. But Jonathan wrenched God’s head backward and choked off the last few words of this command. In retaliation, God ground his elbow into Jonathan’s stomach, and the two of them teetered off balance toward the hole to hell underneath God’s throne. Hearing God’s command, me, Kyoko, and the guitar woman dropped to the ground and took cover.
A blinding purple light flashed around us. A crackling roar of thunder crashed overhead. After a few moments of eerie stillness, I opened my eyes and checked on Kyoko and the guitar woman. None of us were harmed. Turning around, I saw Jonathan and God teetering closer to the glowing orange hole underneath God’s burning throne.
“Nice shot, deadeye, but it looks like your aim was a little bit off this time,” Jonathan said to God. “You gone and torched your fancy-pants toilet throne instead a me. And now you and I are goin for a little swim together.”
Jonathan gave us a wide grin as he fell backward into hell and took God along for the ride.
Seconds after Jonathan and God disappeared, the remaining ears swarmed the three of us and started slashing at us with their knives. I tossed shards of volcanic glass at the ears while Kyoko used another shard to cut the Yamaha amp off the guitar woman’s back. Once the woman was free from her divine punishment, Kyoko helped her through the hole in the boundary wall. Kyoko followed. Then, just before the remaining ears executed a three-pronged pincer attack on me, I grabbed Kyoko’s out-thrust arm and slipped through the narrow hole in the wall.
Moments later, the three of us tumbled naked into the backseat of Kyoko’s Honda sedan, which was still sitting on the side of Grove Street right where we had left it. After a minute of awkward untangling, me and Kyoko climbed into the front seats and gave the guitar woman one of the blankets Kyoko kept in the backseat for emergencies.
With the guitar woman taken care of, Kyoko handed me the other emergency blanket and a package of disinfectant wipes from the glove compartment. While I tended to my bloody feet and hands, Kyoko turned the key, which was still in the ignition, and started the car. She glanced at me and then at the guitar woman in the back seat.
“We should probably stop over at your place and get some clothes first,” I said to Kyoko.
“That’s a good idea,” the guitar woman said. “I personally don’t give a shit either way, but I don’t want the nurses to think you two kidnapped me or something. This hole in my chest will be pretty hard for anyone to explain. I’m not really looking forward to it.”
“Oh yeah, I forgot about that,” I said. “What happened to you? How did you get that?”
“It’s a long story,” the guitar woman said. “I’ll tell you about it some other time.”
“Okay,” Kyoko said. “But does it hurt? Are you going to be okay?”
The guitar woman opened the blanket and looked down at her chest. With the guitar amp gone from her back, her wound was now a six-inch, see-through vertical slit near the center of her torso. The flesh around the wound gleamed with the shiny, metallic luster of polished gold, and the edges of the wound were as sharp and precise as those of a cut diamond.
“No, it doesn’t hurt at all,” she said, prodding curiously at the wound. “I’m not sure if that’s good or bad, but right now I feel fine.”
She closed the blanket and looked up at us and shrugged.
“I’m up for whatever,” she said. “Just as long as I get to call my girlfriend before we do anything.”
“Sounds good to me,” Kyoko said, turning around and shifting the car into drive. She pulled out onto the road and pressed her bare foot to the gas. “We’ll stop at my house for some clothes, and then it’s off to the hospital.”
We pulled into Kyoko’s driveway ten minutes later. Just before she opened her door to get out, I rested my hand on her leg and looked at her. She nodded at me and spun around in her seat and handed the keys to the guitar woman.
“We’re going to stay here and talk for a minute, but you can go inside and call your girlfriend if you want,” Kyoko said to the guitar woman. “The phone is hanging on the wall in the kitchen.”
The guitar woman nodded in thanks, wrapped the blanket around her shoulders, and climbed out of the car. Once she disappeared inside the house, I turned to Kyoko and flashed a tired smile.
“I have a question,” I said.
“Just one?” She said, grinning.
“One important one,” I said. “If you didn’t find that kettle behind the demon’s throne, what did you think we were going to use to break through the wall? What was your plan there?”
Kyoko laughed and shook her head.
“I didn’t have a plan. But I believed that the two of us working together would find a way to get through it. And we did.”
“Yeah. But it wouldn’t have worked unless both of us took that chance together. And that’s what this is all about,” she said, placing her hand on top of mine.
“Yeah,” I said, looking to the front door of Kyoko’s house, which the guitar woman had left wide open. “You’re right.”
Kyoko smiled at me and followed my gaze. When she saw the open door, her smile disappeared.
“See, this is exactly why no one should have the infinite powers of a god. Because if it was up to me right now, I’d banish her right back to hell just for leaving the door—” Kyoko started to say, when I leaned over the center column and kissed her.
She rested her hand on my leg and kissed me back. A few seconds later, she broke away.
“What if she comes out and catches us?” Kyoko said.
I gave her The Look and climbed into the back seat.
“Who cares?” I said, and offered her my hand.
Steve Gergley is a writer and runner from Warwick, New York. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Atticus Review, Cleaver Magazine, Hobart, Pithead Chapel, Maudlin House, and others. In addition to writing fiction, he has composed and recorded five albums of original music. He tweets @GergleySteve. His fiction can be found at: https://stevegergleyauthor.wordpress.com/