This is the 14th round of The Alphabet Challenge mentioned in THIS<<link post. As a refresher, the Broxson twins, Gary and Perry, and I will each write one story for each letter of the alphabet. Meaning, a story whose title begins with the given letter. For this round, it’s the letter “N“.
Readers have until the publication of the next round of stories (about two weeks between rounds) to vote for their favorite story in the current round. Points will be assigned to each writer based on total votes received.
In each round, the story with the most votes gets three points. Second place gets two points, third place gets one point. In the case of a tie, the points for the tied rankings are added and then split equally among the writers who tied. At the end of the year, we tally up and crown the winner with the most points.
Long or short, each story will appear on its own post and the trio will be followed by a fourth post where readers can vote.
Here we go. Presented anonymously, the second of three stories with titles beginning with the letter “N” as submitted by its author.
Copyright 2020 — Gary Broxson
(3,376 words – approx. reading time: about 13 minutes based on 265 WPM)
“Next!” Saint Peter shouted.
The small woman stepped forward.
Not looking up from his ledger, Peter asked, “Name?”
“Down!” before she could finish.
“Excuse me?” Ruth asked, astonished.
“You heard me, lady. Step over to the Hellevator. There will be someone…something… to escort you down.”
“There must be some mistake.”
“We don’t make mistakes here, lady,” waving a robed arm toward the Pearly Gates behind him. “This is Heaven. I’m sorry you didn’t make the cut. Now will you please move along? As you can see we’ve got quite a backlog to sort.”
“No!” she stamped her tiny foot. “I will not just move along. Not without due process. You cannot simply make such capricious judgments without justification or evidence. I will need to speak to an attorney.”
“A what?” Peter chuckled.
“You know, a lawyer,” she restated less firmly.
“Lady,” Peter said, now wearing a wry smile and shaking his shaggy head, “As I said, this is Heaven. You won’t find any lawyers here.”
“Then I will speak to your supervisor.”
Rolling his eyes, Peter rang a silver bell on his podium.
As a matter of habit Ruth took off her owlish glasses and used the cuff of her black robe to polish the lenses. Before she placed them back on she realized that she could see perfectly without them and that she was now in a room filled with pure white light.
“You won’t be needing those anymore, Ruthy,” a disembodied voice said.
“To whom am I speaking?” Ruth asked, squinting into the bright light instinctively although it was benign.
“You asked to speak to a supervisor; that’s me, I’m the Holy Spirit.”
Across the room was a flicker of flame, like that on a candle, but without the candle. It danced and shimmered and grew brighter when it spoke.
“So, what seems to be the problem?”
“Isn’t that obvious?” Ruth asked. “I’m being sent to hell, directly to hell; do not pass go, do not collect 200 dollars. I am not perfect, I’ve never tried to be, but I don’t believe I deserve to be tossed into a lake of fire for spending my life in pursuit of justice.”
“I looked over your bio,” the flame said. “You have indeed lived a selfless life and have succeeded in a stellar judicial career. You are a true difference-maker.” There was a pause. “Uh-oh, here it is. You are a Jew. That’s a no-go. I’m sure you know…they killed Jesus. God never got over that.”
“Are you telling me that ALL Jews are summarily sent to Hell? Even after the hell they have already been subjected too?”
“There are a few exceptions,” the flame flickered. “And if you are referring to the so-called Holocaust, God is a denier.”
“Are you my lawyer?” Ruth asked, sighing audibly.
“No, I’m just the Holy Spirit,” the flame waned.
“I asked for a lawyer. Perhaps we can negotiate and set-right this mockery of justice.”
“Okay,” the flame flickered, “I’ll have to get with the Big Guy and see who’s available.”
“Can I meet him?” Ruth asked.
“Meet who?” the flame replied.
“The Big Guy, as you call him.”
“He really doesn’t like to meet with the masses. Last time he took an appointment was with some insistent guy named Hitler.”
“And how did that turn out?” Ruth asked.
“Well, after Mr. Hitler explained his position on Jews, God kind of caved in and gave him a pass to heaven.”
Ruth’s knees buckled, her jaw dropped. “Are you telling me, Hitler is in Heaven?”
“He was a very persuasive man,” the flame defended.
“Well, God doesn’t sound like the sharpest deity in the Universe; can I meet with Him?”
“Maybe later, he is busy right now,” said the Holy Spirit.
Ruth waited in a lobby stocked with a variety of papyrus scrolls as the wheels of heavenly administration turned at an excruciatingly slow pace. Always a scholar, she unrolled several and found that she was able to read and comprehend the ancient Sanskrit. They were fascinating and she was almost annoyed when the Holy Spirit suddenly relit the room with his sublime light.
“Okay,” he said, sounding like a flame slightly deprived of oxygen. “Our liaison had a hard time finding a lawyer down there that would take your case. We even offered a ‘step up’ but got no interest at all. The Big Guy doesn’t like lawyers. But we kept looking and we found someone up here.”
“So, who did you find? Shapiro? Bailey? Barbara Jordan, Thurgood Marshall?”
The flame dimmed.
“Johnny Cochran?” Ruth asked, starting to get desperate.
“We got Matlock,” the flame flickered.
On cue, an elderly man in a rumpled seersucker suit appeared in the room.
“Howdy do, Ma’am?” I’m Ben Matlock. I’ll be representing you, if you please,” he smiled broadly.
“But aren’t you really Andy Griffith, the actor who played the role of Matlock?” Ruth asked, confused.
The man put a finger to his lips and dramatically shushed Ruth. “Andy Griffith was on the naughty list, so I told Peter I was Ben Matlock and he showed me right in,” he whispered. “I’ve got a pretty nice place out back, looks like my old cabin in Raleigh.”
“Help me understand this,” Ruth looked at him sternly. “So, you, Andy Griffith, would have gone straight to hell if you had not convinced St Peter that you are Ben Matlock, a lawyer that you once played on TV?”
“Yes, Ma’am. That’s about the gist of it. Guess I’m a pretty good actor after all. Even though I never won an Emmy.”
“Not to pry, Mr. Griffith…” He shushed her again. “Mr. Matlock,” she corrected herself. “But why on earth would the beloved Andy Griffith be subjected to eternal torture in hell fire?”
“I sold my soul to the devil,” he said, grinning widely with all his teeth.
Ruth just looked at him, then at the Holy Spirit.
“It’s pretty much a standard contract in Hollywood,” Andy continued. “Opie introduced me to Satan and I got a bird dog fee by sending him to Barney.”
The room darkened. The only light that remained was the stuttering flame of the Holy Spirit.
“Did someone mention my name?” a booming voice shook the warming room. The stench of sulphur preceded the appearance of a shimmering blue image.
It morphed and coalesced, reducing in size and severity. When the smoky image cleared, there stood a dapper man in a tailored suit.
“You sure know how to make an entrance,” the Holy Spirit flickered.
Ruth and Matlock turned to the small flame. “Allow me to introduce the prosecuting attorney, Satan.”
“At your service,” the debonair man bowed at the waist. He took Ruth’s hand in his and kissed it. She felt the heat of his lips and the brush of his pencil-thin moustache.
Turning to Matlock, he squinted. “Don’t I know you?” he asked.
“I don’t believe we’ve met,” Matlock stammered.
“I’ve consulted with the Big Guy,” The Holy Spirit interrupted. “He thinks it would be fun to hold a good old fashioned trial by court to decide the fate of Ruthy here.”
“Not so fast, Mr. Spirit,” Ruth said. “Can’t we find a way to…” she looked from Matlock to Satan, “settle this out of court?”
“But this is what you wanted,” whined the flame. “I went through a lot of trouble to arrange this, and the Big Guy will not be pleased if you back out now.”
“Can I talk to him?”
“Talk to who?”
Ruth sighed again, “The Big Guy. Can I meet with him?”
“I told you, he’s busy. You’ve got three days to prepare for trial. I suggest you get started right away.” The Holy Spirit sputtered and extinguished.
“What are we going to do Mr. Griff…Matlock? With all due respect, you don’t really know anything about law, and I don’t know anything about heaven, hell, or religion.”
Matlock was about to say something when… “I’ll assist you, Madam.”
“But you are the prosecuting attorney, and you’re… well, you’re Satan.”
“My dear, I neither need nor want your soul, as sassy as it may be,” he charmed. “As it is, I’m having to build a new ring in hell to accommodate the influx we are currently receiving.
“So, what does it really take to get into heaven?” Ruth asked. “I honestly thought I had done a pretty good job of obeying the Ten Commandments.”
“It helps if you are Canadian,” Satan said.
“Canadian?” Matlock and Ruth said in chorus.
“He’s a tad whimsical these days, and the Canadians are currently on his good side,” Satan mused. “I think he really, really likes Alex Trebek. He’s impressed with Alex’s vast knowledge of so many subjects.”
“Here, come with me. I think this will help clear things up.” Satan took Ruth’s hand and they walked through the illuminated wall together.
The cacophony of noises struck Ruth like a Roman hammer, she staggered backwards. Noticing her distress, Satan fumbled through a pile of TV remotes and thumbed down the volume to an endurable roar.
The next thing that assaulted Ruth’s senses were the screens, hundreds, perhaps thousands of TV screens blinked and blared, each seeming to vie for attention over the other. This might be how a fly sees the world, Ruth reflected. The third and most disturbing thing she witnessed was the chair. It was huge, as big as a house—in it sat a slumbering giant.
“Is that who I think it is?” Ruth slid down her glasses toward the behemoth in the lounge chair.
“I’m afraid so,” said Satan. “Ruth, meet God. God, Ruth.”
“The Big Guy is a couch potato?” Ruth half-laughed at the notion.
“Well, if you ask Him, He would say that He is watching over his Flock,” Satan explained.
“But these TVs are mostly tuned to sitcoms, movies, and game shows. That’s not reality,” Ruth countered.
“Again, please allow me to speak for the Almighty as He is currently indisposed. His logic is actually quite sound. He created mankind; mankind created TV and its sordid contents; thus God, by proxy, is looking over his creations, in all forms. He also laments that mankind without direction, production, High Definition and light gaffing, tend to be rather bland.”
“He does realize that most of those shows are pure fiction, right?” Ruth asked, her piercing eyes magnified behind her glasses.
“He refuses to delineate between the two. Thus, your defense attorney ends up being an actor,” Satan laughed, covering his mouth with a crimson handkerchief.
“What about that screen?” Ruth asked, pointing to the image of a red planet hanging in space.
“A sore subject,” Satan sucked his perfect teeth. “You see, Mars was God’s starter planet. He put eons of effort into it, not just a six-day week like Earth. He wanted it to be perfect. It was verdant and lush; its oceans were teeming with life; and its people were created almost exactly in God’s own image. That was its downfall. After they developed telepathy, it didn’t take long for those giant, powerful, narcissistic beings to destroy their world and themselves in the ensuing apocalypse.”
“He was never quite the same after that utter failure. When He eventually got around to a second attempt, He finally asked my advice. I told him that perfect people have no room to grow; they end up turning their energies against one another rather than working together for the good of the race. I suggested that He start from scratch, something basic, then simply sit back and watch them go.”
“So, that was mankind, humans?” Ruth asked.
“Yes, you are the product of failure and ennui,” Satan smiled.
“So why this elaborate production of heaven and hell?”
“Ahh, all this,” Satan swept his hand panoramically, “is your conception. As I said, he created mankind in just six days and then rested, a lot. He slept right through the Dark Ages, dozed off during the world wars, and now he’s nodding during your latest crisis.
“Heaven and hell were dreamed up by humanity for the sake of power and control over one another. Reward and punishment concepts mixed in with a dash of guilt, voila, you get a pseudo-religious society that regulates its own. God bought into it for a while and even fanned the flames to see where it would go. He built all this based off mankind’s expectations of the afterlife.
But that was a long time ago, and I believe He’s lost interest in it now,” Satan concluded. “I’m sure you have a million more questions, but, I think we both have a trial to prepare for.” He winked and was gone.
“All rise!” the archangel commanded, hoisting a flaming sword.
“Let’s dispense with all the formalities, Mike,” God said to the stoic angel. “Jeopardy is on at seven; it’s the Masters Challenge.” God settled in behind the bench.
Satan approached the jury box and began. “Angels and demons of the jury, you are all familiar with the basics of this appeal. Allow me to cut through the legal jargon and make this a simple open and shut case.” He pointed to Ruth, “The defendant is a Jew.” The jury murmured. “As you may recall, the Jews slaughtered Jesus, one of our own. Is she the type of person we want strolling down our streets of gold?” They murmured even louder.
“I object!” shouted Matlock, as if he were being filmed.
God and Satan glared at him, waiting.
“My client was not present at the crucifixion,” he stated. Then he looked at Ruth. “Were you?” he mouthed.
“Is your client Jewish?” Satan smiled.
Matlock looked at Ruth again, she nodded. “Yes, she confesses to being a Jewess.”
“Then she is responsible for the sins of her fathers and the lies perpetuated by her order,” Satan stated as fact.
The six angels and six demons of the jury nodded in agreement.
Satan cinched the perfect knot in his tie, smiled a perfect smile at the jury and took a seat.
“Your Honor,” Matlock began a bit unsteadily. “I’d like to put my client on the stand… with your permission.”
God nodded assent.
Ruth made her way to the stand and sat primly.
“Ma’am, would you please tell the jury why you believe you should be allowed into heaven?” Matlock began.
As Ruth opened her mouth to speak…
“I object!” bellowed Satan, he shrugged at Ruth. “The witness is a Jew.”
“Objection sustained,” God replied.
“Are you denying me the right to defend myself merely due to my religious heritage?” Ruth interrupted.
Michael raised his flaming sword and advanced on Ruth.
God held up a hand and Michael froze. “For your information,” God addressed Ruth as though He were instructing a child, “the rules of this court are a compilation of all the judicial pillars set forth on Earth, past, present and future. In essence, they are your rules of law. You are dismissed.”
As Ruth returned to her seat, Matlock asked for a few minutes to recess.
After some rustling of papers and raising of voices, Ruth stood up, obviously distraught. “Your honor, I would like to represent myself, Pro Se.”
“I know Latin, I invented it,” God said, looking at his watch. “I’ll allow it, but first you must plead on the charges brought against you. Guilty or not guilty of being a Jew?”
“I plea Nolo Contendere, Your Honor.”
God looked over at Michael, his sword reignited into flame, changed his mind and muttered, “No contest, huh. Proceed. Let’s see where this thing goes.”
“Your Honor, as my own attorney, I wish to expand the scope of these proceedings. This case is no longer just about me. I am filing a class-action suit. I appeal to all that is holy, or not,” she glanced at Satan who seemed to be enjoying the show, “that the gates to heaven be opened to all, or none. No more passes to individuals based on erratic or whimsical ideology. Give humanity a clear and accessible path to Heaven or just do away with the whole damn thing.”
The gavel banged like a clap of thunder.
“While I’m at it, I wish to call Jesus to the stand as my first witness,” Ruth said, with all the impertinence she could muster.
“I hope you are talking about your gardener, Counselor,” God growled.
The court doors swung open. A bearded man with flowing robes strode down the center aisle. “It’s alright, Pops,” Jesus said. “Ruth here, is a cool chick. She just wants to chat a bit.” He took a seat on the right hand of God.
“Jesus,” Ruth began, “are you Jewish?”
“If you are referring to my heavenly time on Earth, sure, I was the King of the Jews.”
“Do you currently reside in Heaven?”
“Yes I do.”
Ruth turned to the bench. “So, there is at least one Jew in heaven.”
“May I remind you, Counselor, that the Jews killed my boy,” countered God, the judge.
Jesus stood up in the witness box and looked up. “Dad, I thought we got past all that crap. Don’t you remember the reason You sent me to Earth? I went there to die for their sins, all of them. Jews included. I forgave them a long time ago, maybe You should too.”
“I rest my case,” Ruth said, collapsing onto her seat beside the clueless Matlock.
The jury deliberated for hours, then filed back into the courtroom. An angel stood and read the ballots, the small scroll shaking visibly in his hand. “In the class-action suit of Ruth-v-God, the jury finds 5 votes for God and 7 votes for Ru…”
Zrroooooooom! The flaming sword of Michael the Archangel cut through the entire jury, leaving only the acrid odor of Sulphur and a flurry of white feathers drifting lazily.
Brushing a singed feather from her nose, Ruth countered, “Your Honor, I object!”
“To what?” God asked, matter-of-factly.
“To the smiting of the entire jury by your bailiff,” she finished.
“Not cool, Dad,” Jesus added.
“Your Honor, in the absence of a traditional jury, I demand a Judicial Panel to decide this case.”
“And what is that, exactly?” God asked suspiciously.
“As you are only one-third of a Trinity, I call upon Jesus and the Holy Spirit to also render decisions on this case,” Ruth explained.
A TV screen appeared in the courtroom. “What is it, Peter? We’re kind of busy here,” God grunted.
The image was fuzzy and full of static. “It’s crazy down here, God. They are starting to riot. They even painted graffiti on the Pearly Gates. What do you want me to do?” In the background, the words scrawled on the gates read Imperfect Lives Matter.
Looking back to Ruth, God said, “Standby,” and turned off the screen.
“Alright,” God said. “Let’s get this over with. It’s time for Jeopardy. I vote for myself—God the almighty, the Alpha and Omega, the…”
“I vote for Ruth,” Jesus interrupted. “Sorry Pops, you left me hanging back there on that cross. Three hours turned into three days when you nodded off. You had one job. Until you get serious about caring for these people, I’m out.”
God looked at his son, clearly disappointed. “Well that’s one against one and I’m the Big Guy, so let’s wrap this up and stuff Ruth and those protestors into the Hellevator.”
“Not so fast Yahweh,” a voice emanated from a flame in the center of the courtroom. “You’ve been asleep at the wheel for too long now. I sat by and let you screw up Mars; I can’t let you make the same mistakes here. We need change, Boss. I am on team Ruth.”
“Yessss,” Ruth fist-pumped, then high-fived a very confused Matlock.
The gavel banged like thunder. Ruth and Matlock slipped out of the courtroom as the Trinity loudly worked out a new plan for the future of heaven and hell, and humankind.
After yoga, Ruth puts up her feet and opens the newspaper. The headline reads What is a Miracle? Alex Trebek recovers completely from stage-four cancer. Ruth laughs, sips her hot tea and nibbles a bagel with lox.
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