This is the seventh round of the Title Writing Prompt Challenge. For them not familiar with the challenge, a quick summary: three writers offer the fruit of their labor and inspiration based on a given title.
The Round 7 Title — Side Jobs — was chosen by me. Gary will choose the title for the next round.
The writing challenge has no restrictions and the stories span a wide gamut of genres. The majority of the stories fall in the G and PG rating range with a few perhaps pushing into the soft R-rating. Those ratings are guidelines but they are subjective. If you find a story disturbing because of the topics, language, and/or plot points, stop reading and move on to the next one. The same goes if you are not interested in finishing a story. It may seem like obvious advice, but these days many people go out of their way to experience outrage (and then complain about it).
This, then, is Gary’s submission.
Oh, before we begin, I solicited blurbs from each writer. Here’s Gary’s:
There’s a new phrase in the Meriam Webster’s Dictionary this year. It’s Side Hustle. We used to call them side jobs. In my story, the not-so-Holy Ghost gets a bit bored with his day job and decides to venture out into the world to spice things up. He gets more than he bargained for as we get a new look at the Old Time Religion.
Copyright 2022 — R. G. Broxson
(4,700 words – approx. reading time: about 18 minutes based on 265 WPM)
“Gimme that old time religion, gimme that old time religion, gimme that old time religion, it’s good enough for me.” The congregation swayed to the strains of the timeless gospel. They shelved their hymnals into walnut pugh pockets, freeing their hands so that they might lift them to the heavens, palms up, cribbing some of God’s good vibes. Their eyes rolled skyward to the great I Am without expectation or consideration. They simply sang from their hearts.
This is where I do my thing. You know; the thing where people just freak the fuck out. They jump around; they scream and holler; they go bat-shit crazy for a few minutes. They flop down and do the dying cockroach dance. That’s all me. That’s my gig. It can be at church, where the passions ebb and flow with the centuries, or it can get wacky-real at any rock star-palooza that gets you pumped. I can happen in the Congo with chanting bone-nose natives or at a Braves’ game where the fans mime a Tomahawk Chop in hopes of scoring a run. That’s me, that who I Am.
The I Am, in this case, is me, aka The Holy Ghost. I Am perhaps the most unappreciated deity, but yes, I’m going to capitalize it; just like you reborn believers capitalize the other so-called GODS. Why not; I’m a full third of the big trinity, although sometimes I feel more like a third wheel. That’s cool if you are a kid on a tricycle, but the snooty theologians and bible-ologists tend to look down their noses at me.
Perhaps a bit of background is in order. Unlike the hooty-tooty, super- mysterious Father and Son, I actually have an origin story. Of course you know of Adam, the first of your kind. He had an origin story that didn’t get into Genesis. Truth be known, he was shat out of the Creator’s ass after a bad batch of burritos.
Gotcha! I kid. I told you, I’m playful. I am a Spirit. I’m told I’m a bit A.D.H.D., whatever that means. Back to serious, solemn. Okay, Adam and Eve were the first of the first. They were the grand in the Grand Experiment. They were modeled from clay and ribs, snips, snails, sugar and spice. And their lungs were filled with the Almighty’s breath.
Adam and his gal, Eve, good kids, they stayed within the God-lines at the beginning but something went sideways. A fateful monkey wrench got chucked into the celestial machinery and everything went whack-a-mole. The Serpent whispered to Eve; she took a bite; Eve convinced Adam, how could he turn down anything from that naked babe. Sin, shame, and fig leafs ensued, yadi, yadi, yah. God-lines were broken.
Bottom line, when these two disappointing lab rats were escorted out of the Garden, they exhaled the breath of God in a sigh. It is often described as a sigh of despair, but I believe it was a sigh of relief. Either way, they were no longer welcome into the inner circle, nor were they immortal. And that was that, except that that breath became Me—The Holy Ghost. And now you know.
Blame it on that crazy caveat, FREE WILL. Yes, I capitalize those two words too; they trump all the desires and destinies of all the deities ever produced in your fevered imaginations. Yes, even Tyr, the Norse god of war, the wolf-taming rube that lost his hand to Fenrir, the sun-eating wolf of Ragnarok. I even make provisions for the sensuous rope queen, Ixtab, the Mayan goddess of suicide. GTS (Google that shit).
Here’s the dirt, the tabloid trash you humans seem to love and easily believe. FYI: God shakes his big shaggy head over your ability to believe this check-out counter crap, while you hee-haw at the Immaculate Conception. Anyway, once Adam and Eve figured out fucking (tab P goes into slot V), they put the rabbits to shame. I presume that it was their innate nature (be fruitful and multiply is not just for citrus farmers and mathematicians). Not a million percent sure, because I didn’t build them, and I was only around at that time in a transcendental nature. But I’ve sat in several AAR meetings (After Action Reviews), full of PPT slides, to determine what went wrong.
Yes, there was a screw up. C’mon, did you really think this was all part of The Plan? Dad and Jesus have never actually owned up to it, but any time I sarcastically crack on the “The Plan”, or ask, “How’s that working for ya’?” I get the hairy eyeball from Jesus and a lightning bolt from Pop. He does not spare the lightning rod. The general consensus is that an ungrateful creation was the problem. The Great Flood was a half-hearted attempt to scrub the bucket, but some scum was resistant and survived.
So, I kind of keep to myself these days, popping up at revivals, jamborees, Burning Mans, sporting events, MAGA rallies, even Comic-Cons. It’s a pretty good gig, I guess. The natives get all jazzed up on hallucinogens, who let the dogs out, and hype. I can’t complain, I’m probably the least employed deity.
But sometimes, you know, I feel like I’m just spinning my wheels. Like I’m a one-trick pony. Believe it or not, being the life of the party can get stale after a few millennia. Being a cheerleader is awesome, but sometimes I would like to get out there on the field. I am a creature of sensations and action and I would truly love to try something different. I am also created to be an impulsive creature of spontaneity, so here I go…(anything I do from here on out can be blamed on my Dad).
PS: As I tend to get way too emotional in everything I do, from this point on, I will hand over the telling of my tale to my “ghost writer”. He (capital H), once chiseled an all-time best-seller into the hearts of mankind. However, for the penning of my quasi-autobiography, I implored Him not to use any Thee’s or Thou’s. You will thank me later.
PSS: After a short stint in Hell, and conferring with Shakespeare and Hemingway, I’m told this is a brilliant idea in that I have trouble sticking to my plot because I’m really ADHD, and that the point of view or POV of this tale will now be told from a truly omniscient third person. Perfect.
So again, here we go…I’m assured this may be the first new chapter to the bible in nearly 500 years. It is unfortunately titled after the Old Testament acknowledgment of me (Dad insisted that He use my scary name):
The Spirit of the Fear of the Lord
Verse 1—The Spirit of the Fear of the Lord went forth from the enlightened Kingdom of Heaven and entered the inferior realm of man in an attempt to explore and experience carnal emotions than were not originally intended for His limited designation and destiny, as ordained by God Almighty.
Verse 2—Desperately in search of personal enlightenment within the wickedness and insidious nature of men’s hearts, The Spirit of the Fear of the Lord befell upon a random vagrant. The seeking Spirit filled the heart of the Philistine living under a bridge in the tribal city of San Francisco.
Verse 3—The man, suddenly filled with The Spirit of the Fear of the Lord, threw down his infected needles, eschewed his harlots, and began to earn shekels as a carpenter to support himself and his bastard children.
Stop! For Your sake and mine, stop! Sorry, Shakespeare, you were wrong; Hemingway, you were drunk. Dad, this is not what I wanted. This is not even what happened. We don’t need another chapter or verse to the bible, and if you ever did write a sequel, why would you start with “The Spirit of the Fear of the Lord?” Nobody ever calls me that except you, Dad, when I’m in big trouble. Gotta be the worst named book of the bible since Ecclesiastes.
Dad harrumphed at my displeasure, but seemed to be gladly relieved of the responsibility of chronicling my lurid memoirs. So, I’m on my own here. Bear with me and my ADHD.
Yes, I’m breaking bad, but with His stipulated permission. As I became increasingly antsy to try something different, the Big Guy (not Joe Biden), sensed my angst. As a rule, we don’t read each other’s thoughts. But, as you have probably guessed, that random homeless guy I encountered under the bridge in Verse 2 of my chapter actually had a home. Some refer to it as the Throne of Heaven. Yes, spoiler-alert, my omniscient ghost writer was God, playing a hobo, and he played me for a fool.
It actually happened this way: After finally deciding to go rogue, I cleared my calendar and snuck down to Earth in search of a new experience, a side job. I thought, what the hell, try one of those homeless blokes and get inside his head and heart. Find out why they decide to live like the hair-shirt hermits of days gone by.
I found the old bearded scruff lying in shit and squalor and smelling like skunk sausage. As I am invisible to most hosts, it was strange that he actually eye-balled me as I hovered above. I just assumed that some really good psychotropics were kicking in. I entered the man and listened. This is what I do. I find a positive personal note and I pluck it. Some souls strum like a lead guitar, some need a beat-down like a snare drum.
The most damaged souls tend to need a lot of percussion instruments and I am happy to bring the big sticks. Whatever it takes, the music plays. I am an artist of the heart. You might call me a heartist (But if you do, you would be obliged to pay the trademarked royalties to your local church in the form of tithes and offerings). Yes, we like that sort of thing. It is an indication and fairly accurate gauge of how much you love us, and we are all about the love (it is the subject of every PPT meeting).
Back to the old skunk sausage dude: It was Dad. He is the worst at pretending to be a human, as you can probably tell from his scriptures. And this drawback is probably why Jesus got the big gig. He was more down-to-earth, literally.
So, after a lecture from the Old Man about being careful not to fiddle too much with The Grand Plan, he dissolved and I was left alone to continue my quest. He did, however, leave some basic rules and a little advice. After mentioning The (fucking) Plan for the third time, it clicked that I should make my own plan. This did not require a pen and pad, but now that it was approved, it required a lot of thought. When given leave to execute, whom would I actually inhabit?
My Grand Plan looks more like a laundry list, and it looks something like this: lizard, junkie, rock star, school teacher, cancer patient, blade of grass, Nosferatu, and, if my 24 hour limit imposed upon me by GOD is not depleted, I’ll play a couple of wild cards. Yes, Dad agreed to my escapade but only if I agreed to a one day limit. He quoted himself from the Book of Psalms: One thousand years in your sight are but a single day that passes by. I hate it when he refers to himself in the third person but I agreed; a day, a year, a minute, I just needed to see what creation sees. I was created to give meaning to life; this was my chance to see why life needed meaning.
Free from my day job of infusing humans with spiritual sparkle, I began turning rocks in search of a likely lizard. It didn’t take long to find the object of my desire, the Eastern Glass Lizard. You probably think that my one true mission is providing that Old Time Religion feeling to the multitudes, the seekers. Not true. I also have the gift of reading souls. It’s the gift of empathy that I rarely get to flex. It just takes a minute. I need to embody a body, and I can feel what they feel. It’s a ghost thing, but not necessarily my day job. I did this with my new lizard friend.
The glass snake looks like a snake, crawls like a snake, flicks its tongue like a snake. But it’s not a snake or a duck, it’s still a lizard according to your classifiers (you humans love your labels). Alas, a legless lizard, not from accident or incident, and not a casualty of the Great Saurian Wars. But purposely handicapped by nature, by evolution, by God. Curious, I coalesced and allowed the semi-serpent to inhale me.
Immediately I felt this reptile’s conflict with its condition. Its small bifurcated brain held two principal thoughts: Hungry, hungry, hungry for bugs, emanated from the base brain (the so-called lizard brain) but the developing thinking brain yielded much more. Who am I? What am I? The rational brain battled more cognitively to understand its true nature, its definitive place among the reptiles and serpents, and What’s next? It felt deficient, cheated, and yes, pissed off. I got all this in a micro-second. All creatures want to belong, and this species was left wanting.
I considered the lizard and his predicament and then soothed the anxious reptile as I exited its scaly body. Have you ever seen a lizard smile? This one did. That’s what I do. I can leave you with a smile—what greater super power is there?
Junkies, as it turns out, are easier to find than glass snakes. I settled into a free-zone park and walked among the swaying, stupefied, glazed addicts. I stepped lightly around the land mines of crap and needles that these vagrants boldly emplaced on their perimeters like defensive IEDs. I chose a woman of indeterminate age. She looked ancient, gaunt, and used up. She was 22.
She stood at a street corner and faced traffic, her hands akimbo on bony hips that once caught the eyes of passing johns. No one slowed or stopped today for directions or erections, except me, The Holy Ghost. I approached her as a man in a long coat and a dapper hat. She recognized me right away from her days in Sunday school and breathed deeply. Inside, I felt her pain. And I know pain.
I felt every hammer pound, every nail penetrate, every thorn pierce, every lash perforate flesh when my brother made his Great Sacrifice. I’ll rate His worst day at a 10 on any pain scale. When I entered this woman, let’s call her Janice, I registered a 12 on the same scale. Her pain was not concentrated into a three day drama; it was a lifetime of rapes, broken bones, battering, bad trips, pimp slaps, degrading sex, hunger, addiction, and the worst of the worst—an estranged relationship with God. I’m not a preacher, but I have learned from experience that those that deny God suffer the most. No, not because they are religiously wrong, it’s because they don’t have a rope to hold in the storm. They don’t have hope.
Don’t think for a minute that Gods can’t cry. I wept. I left her with love. I gave her a memory of herself as a young girl talking to a boy, both blushing. Another memory of herself being held by her grandparents; they cooed and tickled little Janice the day she saw the stars for the first time. The day her destiny was locked in. Not her fault. Even Houdini couldn’t escape his destiny.
Yes, I said it. You humans are very predictable for a reason. You are basically programmed with a destiny chip. What you don’t know is this: that program can only be overridden by one creature—you. God gives you a template, complete with a path and neon road signs, and most humans follow that road religiously, pardon the pun. But it is not chiseled in stone. For those strong of heart and sure of strength, you can bust loose and do any ‘goddamned’ thing you can conjure. But I digress. I’m on a schedule.
Rock star was next on the list. This should be fun.
I found one rather easily. Let’s call him “Diamond Dave.” In between puffs of cannabis, Dave breathed in some Holy Shit. That’s how he described it. I wasn’t there for entertainment, but the wild roll of crazy crap I witnessed inside his hippocampus was prime time. Most humans fall for the big hair, the makeup, the jewelry, and the don’t-give-a-shit attitude. But they interpret all this as hubris, arrogance, super ego. Who could argue when the Rock Star demands that all the brown M&Ms be extracted from his candy bowl before each concert?
But you are wrong about a rock star’s motivation, and that’s why I’m doing this. I want to see for myself and perhaps dispel some of these Motown myths. He was right when he sang, “There will come a day, whey youth will pass away, what will they think about me?” These artists, and they really are artists, have cracked the intended template, broken the mold, changed their destiny. They just want to rock. If they get remembered for doing what they do, all the better. Their only curse is, they can’t turn it off. That why the Rolling Stones are still rolling. That’s why they rock until they drop. I left DD with a memory he had long forgotten due to chronic substance abuse. He was ROTFL when I left him. I laughed too.
Now for the real rock stars—the teachers. Jesus often spoke of the elders he encountered in Jerusalem when he was only 12 years old. They debated God’s Plan for days as he lost track of time and his parents searched the city for him. Although omnipotent, he learned more from their questions than from their answers. He often likened teachers to angels on earth. I hovered over a school in South East Georgia and made the plunge.
Needwood Middle School, home of the Warriors. An appropriate mascot indeed. The battle was real and the war was waged in every classroom, every day. I randomly selected an ELA teacher attempting to explain the elements of a Haiku poem. He said it was Japanese; there were no Asians in the classroom. He said they were poems about nature; they never left their squalid homes to go outside. He said they were very structured: five syllables in the first line, seven syllables in the second line, and five syllables again for the third line. There was little structure in these children’s lives, aside from school. But they played along. They looked like silly seals as they clapped out every syllable to make sure they hit the targets. They missed miserably.
As the teacher sighed deeply at their erratic efforts, he breathed me in. The cacophony of clapping and the crude attempt at creating poetry exhilarated him even more so than my unique and inspiring presence. They were struggling, but some were learning. He understood that it was a process, sometimes sloppy, and not a plug-and-play program that gets instant results. As the ultimate warrior, he simply picked up and wielded his mightiest sword, the pen, and showed them on the Whiteboard what a really good Haiku looked like.
Students are teachers, (5 syllables)
That’s my favorite secret, (7 syllables)
I learn from you too (5 syllables)
The kids clapped out the syllables together to make sure they got the right Haiku count. But a few, just a faint few, actually read and absorbed the words and grasped the deeper meaning. The teacher cleared his head from my wool-gathering and asked himself the timeless teacher question: is this silly poem going to make a difference? The answer that came back to him was straight from God. Yes. Even if it’s one kid. One can change the world. I thought of Jesus and moved to the next ‘victim’ on my list.
If there ever was a cosmic victim of fate, it would be a child with cancer. For Chrissakes, what could a kid ever do to deserve this malady?. Notice, I placed a question mark for those that think they can answer and a period for those that see the question as rhetorical. Again, choice is in play.
I went to Saint Judes (spoiler, there are no real saints, you guys made that shit up) and drifted down the hospital corridors. I felt equal parts of pain and suffering juxtaposed with positive vibes of strength and hope. It was a battlefield, and the casualties were children and their families. There were no winners here.
A doctor stepped out of a room, holding a chart over his heart like a shield and shaking his head. I entered and found a girl, perhaps six, clutching a doll. As per the family’s wishes, tubes and electrodes had been disconnected; they dangled uselessly from beeping machines like a mechanical octopus. A young mother and father with wet faces held hands and stood vigilant at the girl’s bedside. The doctor had just explained that they had tried everything that medical science offered. Polly was in God’s hands now.
I froze. I couldn’t do it. I simply could not enter this child, especially knowing the heart of my Father. He was a rule-maker, a rule-follower, and he never, ever, gave in to the impractical matters of the heart. That’s why he created me. I was the emotion, the empathy, the spirit that humans needed when things were at their worst.
This was my moment of truth. This was the reason I stepped away from the day job of riling up religious wingnuts just to get the ‘love numbers’ up, and finally started exploring new employment possibilities. So I held my breath as Polly inhaled her final gasp. I expected the worst. I expected bitterness at lost life, potential, family, friends, even the loss of her favorite doll.
Polly was so peaceful. So beautiful. She wore a pink cap over her hairless head. That was her favorite color. She just exhaled, as Adam and Eve had done, leaving the Garden. I came out and surrounded the family—consoling them. I could do nothing else for Polly. But she was not alone. He was there. Before I exited, I sensed Him. He held her hand, He pulled her so close and whispered something I could not hear; He wiped her tears and she left, waving goodbye to her mother and father. She actually giggled as her spirit ascended.
I needed some peace after that. The last thing on my list was exactly what the doctor ordered. I rose from that bed, a mess. I went basic. I picked out a single blade of grass, and I descended. It was bliss. Yes, every living thing has energy, a soul, if you must. Some are more complex than others. The ‘soul’ of this blade of grass was sublime. Its roots connected to the lawn, which connected to the trees, which connected to the forest—it went on and on. This single blade of grass was the world.
I spent nearly all my allotted time luxuriating and recovering in the spirit of the grass. It enriched me, fulfilled me, rejuvenated me with its wonders. It also shocked me with man-made insults of deforestation, fires, landslides, and crop encroachment. But I came away with a certain knowledge that you should take to heart. Nature will not fail. It will not fall. It was here before man, and will be here after mankind (the kind part of mankind has all too often been a misnomer).
Leaving that blade of grass, I felt more alive than ever before. Now I could finally understand The Plan that God and Jesus were always referring to in those dreary PowerPoint slides. It was my last adventure on my list and I had a good feeling that I had experienced the outside world and now I was ready to return to my day job. I really missed those fans and fanatics and this outside world was just a little too much.
As I ascended, back to my seat at the Throne, I tried to put everything together in my mind. I learned a lot from my subjects: the glass snake (lizard), the junkie, the rock star, the school teacher, the cancer patient, and that blade of grass. As for Nosferatu, come on, there are no vampires. I only included that red herring to keep you reading. But I did mention one other item—a wild card.
As usual, God and Jesus had been arguing over the latest numbers. I always tried to stay out of the serious business of running the universe. But this time, when Jesus walked away in a huff, exasperated, I followed him.
“Jesus,” I asked, “why do you still wear that crown of thorns?”
He looked at me for a long time, contemplating an answer. “I’m tired of talking right now. A lot of good it does.” He glanced back toward The Throne. “I could try to explain, but words seem inadequate. Join me,” he said with a weary smile.
This was the wild card I had hoped for and I believe Jesus knew I might ask for this intimate access. I coalesced as he breathed in deeply. Now I would truly know my brother.
There it was, hidden in the heart of his heart, the reason he wore the thorns and the truth behind the tension between the dueling deities. It was that God damned day on the cross, well documented in the Book of Matthew, when Jesus shockingly cried out, “OMG! Why have you forsaken me?” That was the lynch pin. I remember it well. I certainly don’t blame Jesus; I don’t think that I could have borne that kind of pain, that anger, the scorn of man-un-kind for a single moment.
I had always avoided the contentious topic as I am an upper, not a downer. I sensed it was a source of shame for Jesus and I suspected that was why he never took off that bloody crown, the uncomfortable one woven with thorns. But this revelation revealed a different reality.
Jesus had not called out to his father as a desperate child in too much pain. He had called out as an equal in anger. Jesus was, of course, ready to die, but the agreed upon Plan was for him to live, no matter how long it took. Weeks, months, years on that wretched cross if necessary. My brother believed that if the people witnessed the miracle of eternal life through faith, they would repent; they would change, they would become worthy of His love. God, our Father, couldn’t bear to see his Son suffer. He abandoned the Plan and brought Jesus home.
I was, for lack of a better word, gob smacked. I didn’t know what to say, what to do. A father’s love and a son’s obsession had somehow become a barrier between God and Jesus. How ironic. God never apologized for his decision and Jesus never forgave God for giving up on humanity just when they needed Him the most.
Jesus exhaled and I wrapped my arms around my brother in love. I lifted the thorns from his brow and flung that horrid halo across the galaxy.
“Free Will,” I whispered. “They will figure it out, or they won’t. For your sake and theirs, I pray that they do. Don’t blame Dad. He’s only human when it comes to His kids.”
Jesus smiled, it was beautiful. I hadn’t seen it in millennia. That’s what I do. I make people smile. I think I’ll keep my day job.
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