Steve Gergley ~ In the Garden of Earthly Delights

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.”

But I—”

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.

So, hos­pi­tal?”

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.”

That’s it?”

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: