Genesis 28: Stairway to ‘Heaven’ (Season 1, Episode 14)

What happens when Jake leaves home to marry his cousin? A bloody wedding night, a party at God’s house and a cannabis-fuelled, mind-shredding hallucination.

This is the latest episode in a serialised narrative. If jumping into things mid-way doesn’t bother you, ignore this and keep reading. If you like to start from the beginning, check out the archive here.


WARNING

If you are a creationist, evangelist, fundamentalist, or biblical literalist, this will probably offend you.

If you have any sense of propriety, this will probably offend you.

If you have the capacity to be offended, this will probably do the trick.

If you're okay with that, then read on.

If you want to read on just so you can tell me how terrible I am and that I should never write another word ever again, feel free.

Who knows? It might actually work.


Lest you think Ishmael’s story ended with him having cut his own head off, I’ll go right ahead and summarise the rest of his lineage in a paragraph or two:

In the same way Isaac’s descendants would go on to form the Israelites (and later still, the Jews), Ishmael’s children (the Ishmaelites, strangely enough) would go on to form the beginnings of the Arab people.

As such, the modern-day religions of Judaism and Islam both trace their origins to Abraham, and are therefore known as Abrahamic religions. Christianity is another such religion, which we’ll get to in a future series.

But back to the earliest Abrahamic religion...

The OG, as it were.

At this point in the story, the family is divided. Esau’s gone off and married a couple of Canaanite women just to piss off his mom. He’s still a little sore about the whole ‘her flaying him alive’ thing and isn’t ready to patch things up yet.

Hold a grudge much, Esau?

Anyway, one of these lovely young lasses is Judith (Judy, for short), daughter of a Hittite named Beeri – naturally, a raging alcoholic. Esau’s other father-in-law has a similarly-fitting moniker, due in no small part to his terrible body odour.

Elon the Musk is a strange cat, even by biblical standards.

He spends the majority of his time in what he calls a ‘lab’, where he does everything from trying to invent a type of wagon that doesn’t need a driver or a donkey, to pondering a future where humans live among the stars like gods.

For this, he is thoroughly hated by the local community, as most of his experiments result in damage to his neighbours’ property, or to his neighbours themselves.

An example, you say?

I thought you’d never ask.

How about the time when his ‘driverless wagon’ ploughed through the tent of a young family who’d just welcomed their fourth child into the world? How about the time when he decided to send his wife into orbit via a crudely-constructed catapult?

See what I mean?

None of this is to mention the fact that his dogged pursuit of what he refers to as ‘science’ results in him often neglecting to bathe (hence the name).

Yes, Elon the Musk is a strange cat, indeed.

His daughter, Basemath (or Bas, for short), is Esau’s first wife.

Judy follows shortly thereafter.

Eventually, Esau takes them both home to meet his traitorous mom and brother under the pretence of reconciliation, but really, he just wants to high-road them.

“See, look how noble I can be? I’m willing to overlook the fact that you flayed me alive and stole everything from me. Why can’t you just accept that?”

Get over yourself, Esau.

And that’s pretty much the response he gets when he rides into his old camp at Beer-sheeba. Becca’s waiting out the front with her now-trademark battle axe strapped to her back and a bunch of armed servants behind her.

“Turn around,” she says. “Take those Canaanite whores and go back where you came from.”

The wives give each other a look like, “Is this bitch serious?”

“I don’t think that’s necessary,” Esau says. “Also, you realise that this is Canaan, yeah? Where you’re standing right now?”

Becca just stares him down. “Not for long.”

Esau goes, “You sure about this? You really want Jake continuing on the family line? I’m a hunter and a warrior. I can provide for us, fight our battles.”

“If you’re a warrior,” Becca says, taking a few steps forward and unsheathing her battle axe. “Prove it.”

Silence.

The wind whistles between them and a tumbleweed blows past. Yep, they had tumbleweeds back in the ancient world, too.

Esau swallows. He briefly weighs the pros and cons of fighting his own mother to the death, the likelihood of succeeding without a weapon or any skin on his body.

He goes to say something, then thinks better of it. He turns the wagon around and drives off.

His wives give each other another look like, “Maybe we hitched our goats to the wrong post.”

That’s the kind of authentic biblical slang you just don’t hear nowadays.

Needless to say, the trip home is pretty quiet. You could probably go so far as to say the tension in the air was cuttable.

If Esau hadn’t been flayed alive, his knuckles would be white on the reins. His knuckle-bones are white, sure, but they’re covered over with muscle and sinew, so you can’t really see them.

I digress...

It isn’t long before Bas speaks up. “I can’t believe you let your mom show you up like that.”

Judy sucks in sharply through her teeth, squirming in the awkwardness.

Bas frowns at her, oblivious. “What?”

Esau says nothing, grips the reins a little tighter, squeezing blood from his exposed muscles like water from a sponge.

“If that was me,” Bas goes on. “I woulda been all like “hell, no” and slapped that bitch in her wrinkled old face.”

Finally, Esau snaps. “Your mom voluntarily took part in the world’s first space program. How did that end up again? Oh, yeah, that’s right. With her turned into raspberry coulis all over some sharp rocks. I wouldn’t talk if I was you.”

Bas goes quiet for a moment, unable to argue. Then, in a smaller voice... “She’s still got the record.”

“For what?” Esau says, baffled. “Height?!”

Bas grumbles and does that thing where you sarcastically imitate what the person said without actually saying it.

“I heard that,” he says, without turning around.

When they get back to camp, Esau ignores everyone and goes straight into his tent. He does that thing where you wash your face off in the basin and look up into the mirror like, “Who am I?”, which no one ever actually does in real life.

Except...as we’ve been over a few times, there are no mirrors in the Old Testament. That is absolutely, unequivocally, the one piece of technology which does not exist at this time.

Yet, somehow, when Esau looks up at the tent wall behind his basin, he is looking at an image of himself.

But it’s not a reflected image.

It’s his own...fucking...disembodied skin!

Esau snuck back into the camp the night that Ishmael cut his own head off and grabbed Neb’s body, which was still sown neatly into the Skoot™. It served a dual purpose:

  1. It allowed him to get his skin back.

  2. It allowed him to return the body of Ishmael’s first-born son to his family so they could give him a proper burial, which, after a slight alteration in the recounting of how it all went down – namely, that Becca killed Neb and Ishmael, not him – earned him their eternal gratitude.

You might be wondering – why not just put the skin back on, Esau?

Since we’ve accepted the fact that Esau can survive without his skin, and that the skin isn’t rotting away without a host body, it’s a damn good question. And the answer is, simply, that he has tried to put it back on.

Only...it didn’t fit.

Or, more specifically, the skin didn’t automatically re-attach itself to the muscle. Esau was imagining that perhaps the skin would remember his body and instantly fit to the contours of it like an Iron Man suit. Instead, he got the thing on and it didn’t feel like he had his skin back.

It felt like, well...it felt like he was wearing a full-body suit made out of skin.

After about three seconds, he was like, “Nope, this isn’t gonna work,” and stripped down to his sinews. He then hung the disembodied skin above his basin like he was starring in a Buffalo Bill prequel movie.

You might be asking yourself why he did that, and I honestly can’t tell you. Maybe he wanted to remind himself of what he’d lost. Maybe he wanted it to fuel his thirst for vengeance.

Maybe he’s just got a problem with hoarding.

Whatever the case, Esau takes out Ishmael’s stash, rolls a joint, and starts getting a good bake on. He’s feeling a little lost, a little despondent. Christ, he’s forty years old and what does he have to show for it?

Two wives and no skin.

He’s been cut out of the deal entirely.

Jake’s going to inherit everything – the flocks, the servants, the promise of a great nation.

He’s been at it for a few hours when he gets an idea.

Springing up from the couch, he goes outside and runs through the camp to find one of Ishmael’s daughters, Mahalath.

(No, not Mahalalel – that was Enoch’s grandfather. Jesus, what’s next? You going to say all Chinese people look the same? Shame on you.)

Anyway, he comes up to Mahalath (May, for short). She’s washing clothes by the well with some of the other women and he swings her around, grabbing her by the arms and staring at her with wide, red, glassy eyes, shouting, “Will you marry me?”

May just stares at him.

If there’s anything more terrifying than a skinless man surprising you out of nowhere, just try to imagine one proposing in a weed-induced frenzy. Maybe he’s on that synthetic shit.

But May’s used to it by now. She just shrugs his wet, skinless hands off and steps back, examining the bloody prints on her sleeve.

“Goddamn it, I just washed this. What did we say about touching?”

“Sorry.”

She sighs. “Okay, first of all...good morning to you, too. Second of all, how was your trip? How have I been, you ask? I’ve been great, Esau. Thanks so much for your genuine interest.”

She shakes her head and takes a basket of washed clothes over to a line that’s been strung up between two trees, starts pegging them up.

Esau follows her over. “Is that a yes?”

“It’s not a yes.”

“But it’s not a no.”

May sighs. “What do you even want to marry me for, anyway? You’ve already got two wives. And judging by what I’ve heard around the camp, that may even be too many.”

Esau scoffs to hide his embarrassment. “Who said that? Doesn’t matter. Here, let me help you with that...”

He goes to take a freshly-laundered tunic, but the second he touches it, the clean fabric is stained red with blood.

“Damn it, Esau, you’re getting blood everywhere! Just...stand over there. Over there.

Esau does as he’s told. Once he’s a safe distance from the clothes, he continues.

“Look, my wives are both Canaanites and my mom’s really fucking racist. I’ll level with you...” Esau takes one last drag – a real deep one – then flicks the roach. “The only reason I married them both to begin with was to make her angry, which I agree was pretty juvenile...”

“You think?”

“Yeah, I do. I just admitted it. I’m trying to get back in my mom’s good graces, alright. It’s the only way I can get my inheritance back.”

“Didn’t your dad already give it to Jake?”

“Yeah, but Jake stole it!”

“Hmm, I wonder where I’ve heard that before. Oh, yeah, that’s right. Every day since you got here. Change the record, man. This one’s broken.”

May, you sassy minx.

“Look, I’m sorry if I’ve gone on about it, but it’s kind of a big deal, alright. It’s an entire fucking nation we’re talking about here. Like Canaan or Egypt, but...” Esau frowns, seeing a gap in his knowledge. “Huh, I actually don’t know what we’ll be called.”

“What they’ll be called, you mean?”

May keeps pegging up clothes, blocking him from view. Esau moves around so she can see him.

“This is serious,” he says. “I could be the father of a great nation. And you know what that makes you, if you marry me?”

May pushes a tunic aside, eyebrow raised. “The mother of a great nation?”

“Exactly. Pretty much a queen.”

May’s thinking about it. Like, really thinking about it.

Then she shakes her head. “It’s pointless. Why does impressing your mom matter? Isn’t Jake the one you need to take care of?”

“Jake’s a momma’s boy. He’s got albinism, so he needs to stay out of the sun – which, I mean, you can’t help the cards you’re dealt. I don’t judge him for that. Look at me. Fuck. How much of a hypocrite would I be if...” He shakes his head, focusing. “I’m getting off course. The point is, he’s lazy as balls. She does fucking everything for him.”

“You’re saying she’s the power behind the throne?”

“If you want to get all Stark and Lannister about it, I guess.”

“And you think that if you win her over, you’ll be able to slide back into Jake’s role?”

“Hey, it was mine first! I’m the oldest, the most capable. The only reason she flayed me alive was because she wanted to get back at dad for passing her off as his sister – as well as generally being a shitty husband and father.”

“Seems a little excessive.”

“Yeah, well...she’s a little excessive. Now that Ike’s dead and she’s stuck with Jake – who’s basically useless...I think if I showed up with a non-foreign wife, she’d see that I’m the clear choice for father of a great nation.”

May thinks about it.

“Look, I wasn’t that close to my dad, but she did kill him.”

“She wounded him. He cut his own head off.”

May stares blankly. “You’re right, that’s much better. Still, I don’t think she’d like me any more than your Canaanite wives.”

“No, but that’s the beauty of it. You’re still family. And as we all know, the best couples are the ones that share the most genetic material. The closer, the better. We’re like...second cousins or something, right? That’s gotta count for something.”

May pegs up her last robe and looks back at the women by the well. She weighs it up:

Mother of a great nation.

Aging spinster.

Shit, she’s not getting any younger and it’s slim pickings out here. Even if Esau’s a skinless stoner hell-bent on power and glory, he’s not...terrible to look at. He’s got a six-pack, at least.

I mean, I guess everyone has a six pack when they don’t have any fat or skin, but...it’s still there.

And he’s tall...ish.

Sure, why not?

So that night, they get married and the very next day, they head back to Becca’s camp at Beer-sheeba – sans Judy and Bas.

“Just Married” is painted on the back of the wagon, and in the place of tin cans (to ward off evil spirits, I think?), they’ve tied a bunch of sheep and goat skins to the end of ropes. This is either the biblical equivalent, or it’s just some tasteless joke about Esau having no skin.

Either way, the hollowed-out animals drag limply through the sand, not having quite the same impact as tin cans on a hard surface, but it’s striking all the same.

And sure to scare the absolute shit out of any lurking evil spirits.

Ah, weddings.

*

But Jake won’t be in Beer-sheeba when Esau gets there.

In fact, he hasn’t been there in a while.

That’s because Jake’s headed off to find a wife of his own.

His mom was pretty clear about it. After Ike’s death, she sat him down and, in no uncertain terms, told him that this free ride was coming to a stop.

He’d been holed up in his tent, working on the next Great Mesopotamian Novel (man, that Epic of Gilgamesh is one high bar to clear), while Becca waited on him hand and foot.

No more.

“Enough of this frustrated-writer bullshit, Jake. If you were really good enough, you’d have gotten a publishing contract by now. Them’s facts.”

She told him that he was going to need to start contributing. And by contributing, she didn’t mean cooking or cleaning or tending the flocks. And she certainly didn’t mean ‘entertaining’ her with excerpts from his forthcoming book.

She meant it in the way that doctors at a fertility clinic mean it as they hand you the cup and tell you “down the hall, third door on your left.”

Which is to say, she meant semen.

More broadly, she meant children. Progeny. A great nation that he could be the father of, because right now they were a cluster of tents in the desert.

A flock of goats and sheep, some servants. That’s it.

Sure as shit no great nation.

But Jake was going to fix that. Boy, was he ever.

He was heading west, and like Eli before him, his destination was Haran. More specifically, the house of Becca’s brother, Laban. The same place Eli found Becca to begin with.

Or, in Laban’s mind, the same place Eli kidnapped Becca from after paying her dowry with counterfeit silver.

Of course, Jake had no idea that Laban held a grudge about that. He had no idea that Laban held a grudge at all. All he knew about Laban was that he had some daughters and that Jake should marry one of them in exchange for work.

Oh, Jake. So naïve.

So with his hood pulled up to shield his lily-white face, Jake presses on into the great unknown.

Becca had specifically told him not to marry any Canaanite women like Esau had done. Man, she could be racist sometimes. Instead, she wanted him to marry within the family. The closer, the better. And without any siblings, you didn’t get much closer than cousins.

So that’s what (or rather, who) Jake is going to do.

One of his cousins.

He’s about halfway to Haran, near the city of Luz, when he stops for the night. Without the sun beating down, he can actually remove his hood and feel the breeze on his neck. He can also act as something of a lighthouse, because under the full moon, dude’s skin is basically glowing.

Using a rock for a pillow, he lays out under the stars, lights up a joint.

If you’re wondering where a pale-skinned momma’s boy like Jake gets his hands on quality weed, he’d salvaged the stash from Ishmael’s backpack after the self-decapitation and had been smoking more-or-less constantly ever since.

It made everything about a thousand percent better.

Reading, writing. Jacking off.

Even when he was doing nothing, chilling around the tent, he’d light up just so he could see some weird shit, or to help him get to sleep.

That’s what he’s doing now. A little hash-and-crash. Before you can say ‘impending incest’, Jake is out like a light.

He dreams that he’s walking through the desert (real imagination on this guy – I wonder why his writing career hasn’t taken off), and he’s heading towards a huge staircase leading up to heaven. Angels are either walking up or staggering down the thing, like people coming to and from a party.

Okay, so he’s showing a little more creativity now.

Jake approaches the foot of the staircase and none of the angels seem to notice him. Mostly, because they’re either blind drunk or they’re intending to be.

One dude is so hammered he’s being helped down the staircase by his slightly less-intoxicated friends. He vomits on the steps in front of him, then slips on his own vomit and tumbles the rest of the way into a moaning heap beside Jake. His friends just laugh and continue after him at a leisurely pace.

A scream from above alerts Jake to another guy falling from an incredible height. The scream starts out small and distant, growing louder and louder until he hits the ground with a sickening thud.

Jake ducks in behind a group of angels heading up the stairs with a case of beer. They pass around a joint. Seeing all the inebriates passing them on the way down – all the people who have been kicked out of the party – is getting them jacked.

“Dude, this party’s gonna be so fuckin’ sweet.”

“Last year, I hear someone actually died.”

“Fuck, that’s so awesome.”

“Hey, who the fuck is this?”

They all turn to see Jake walking a little too close behind them like a creepy weirdo, trying to stay as incognito as someone with albinism and blood-red eyes can be.

“Uh...I’m Jake.”

The Jake?” one of them (Uriel – Uri, for short) says, amazed. “The guy who wore his brother’s skin to trick his dad?”

The rest of the group eagerly await his answer.

Jake swallows, surprised they’d heard about that. “Uh...I guess.”

The group proceeds to lose their collective shit, laughing and saying things like, “No way,” or “I heard about this guy”.

“Here, man.” The apparent leader of the group, Mike, passes him the joint and he takes a puff. Uri takes a beer out of the case, cracks the top and hands it to him.

“What’s this?” Jake says.

“Don’t ask. Just drink.”

A great slogan for any up-and-coming liquor brand.

Or maybe just a solid catchphrase for a date-rapist.

Like any impressionable young man, Jake doesn’t inquire any further into the contents of the liquid he’s about to imbibe – doing so would be lame. Instead, he immediately gives in to peer pressure and takes a sip.

Instantly, the universe doesn’t seem so cold and unknowable. He realises what love is, what wars are fought for, and promptly drains the rest of the bottle with manic intensity.

The guys laugh, and Uri hands him another.

“What do I do with this?” Jake says, holding up the empty bottle.

“Toss it.”

Jake frowns, then throws the bottle off the staircase and into the night air. A few seconds later, he hears the sound of glass shattering and someone shouting in pain.

The guys laugh again.

“Nice one, man.”

“Good throw.”

Jake’s thinking, “These guys are fucking awesome,” and starts on his next beer.

Gradually, the ground gets further and further away until it’s just a dark shadow beneath him. Suddenly, the stars are all around them and they’re approaching a door at the top of the staircase.

A door in the night sky.

Mike passes the joint, then knocks on the door. A small slot is opened and a pair of eyes study the group.

“You on the list?”

“Yeah, under Mike.”

The eyes look down, presumably at a sheet. “Not seeing it, man.”

“Michael, maybe?”

The bouncer continues to look.

Mike gets frustrated. “Dude, I’m a fucking archangel, alright. Just let us in.”

The bouncer stares at him, unimpressed.

“Are Raph and Gabe in there? Go ask them, they’ll vouch for me.”

The bouncer continues to stare, then slides the eye-hole shut.

“Jesus Christ,” Mike says. A few of the guys laugh.

Mike turns away from the door, opening his robe and pissing down to the earth far below. They hear shouts of indignation, people like, “Ugh, what the fuck?!” and “Who’s doing that?!”

The guys laugh and one of them, Kokabiel (or Coco, for short), does that thing where you grab someone and jostle them like you’re about to push them off, then catch them.

Mike shouts in fear – “Fuck!” – then laughs. “Ah, you bastard. Cut me off mid-stream. Man, that stings.”

He belts his robe back up and turns to face the door just as the bouncer opens it. He gestures them inside with a exasperated, “Get in here before I change my mind,” kind of vibe.

So in they go.

They enter through what appears to be a gate in the fence, and Jake finds himself staring at the yard of a fairly-modest house. Three bed, two bath – max.

Music is playing from a sound system somewhere inside, and angels are scattered all around in groups, drinking and smoking and laughing. A few have stripped down and jumped in the hot tub. Others are in deck chairs on the overgrown lawn, huddled around a half-drum fire.

No central-casting shit here – equal number of dudes and chicks in attendance. All races represented equally.

Well... at least the major ones.

As Jake’s group enters, their robes and sandals turn magically into jeans, jackets and hi-top sneakers to match the modern clothes of the other guests. Jake’s the only one whose biblical garb remains intact.

He notices that, as certain people leave, their clothes turn back into robes and sandals as they pass beyond the back fence and begin descending the giant staircase.

A drunken angel over by the keg calls out to Mike.

“Hey, yo, Mike – you wanna hit this?”

That’s Samyaza (or Sam, for short) – we’ve met him before. Remember, he was the guy who instigated the whole Nephilim thing that more or less led to the flood.

Mike laughs. “Sammy! You know I do!”

Jake quickly finds himself all alone as Mike and his crew head over to the keg. The pale young man just stands there, staring at the otherworldly landscape, thinking, “Is this heaven?”

Quick sidebar...

I probably should have mentioned this a few episodes ago, but in the world of the Old Testament, there isn’t actually a concept of heaven or hell. At least, not as we know it today.

There is the concept of an afterlife, but morality isn’t attached to it. ‘Sheol’ is the destination for good and bad people alike. It won’t be until later that the afterlife is kind of split into, to use NBC terminology, a ‘good place’ and a ‘bad place’.

At the point in history/mythology we’re talking about, it doesn’t matter what you did in life, everyone ends up in the same place.

Be like if one person went to Harvard, one person cleaned the floors at that same institution, and they both took their families to eat at McDonald’s that night.

I’ll let you be the judge of who’s good and who’s bad in that scenario. I guess it depends on if you’re an elitist, or if you think there’s anything inherently good about being poor.

And yes, that was a Good Will Hunting reference. You’re welcome for the free plug, Matt.

The reason I’m bringing this up is that, until now, I’ve used ‘heaven’ to describe what amounts to God’s shitty house and backyard, and I’m going to continue to do that. Partly because the imagery works. Mostly because I’m lazy.

Just know that it is not, technically speaking, the correct usage of the word.

And we’re back in...

As he scans the backyard, Jake’s eyes land on a solitary figure sitting in a deck chair. There’s a cooler full of beer beside him, one in his hand. He’s staring down at a puddle at his feet – it appears to be a previously-dug hole that had filled with rainwater.

Jake goes over to him. “Hey, you alright, man?”

The figure looks up, as if roused from a trance. “What? Sorry.” His eyes focus, recognising the person in front of him. “Oh, hey, Jake. How’d you get up here?”

Distracted by how this guy knows his name, Jake turns, seeing Mike do a keg-stand while the others cheer him on.

“I...uh...came with those guys.” He points vaguely in that direction. The guy in the deck chair nods – he doesn’t seem to care, anyway.

“You want a beer?”

Jake swallows all the drool that had instantly filled his mouth the second he saw those icy-cold brews. “Uh...sure. Why not?”

Way to play it cool, Jakey boy.

The guy hands him a bottle and Jake sits down, opens it, sips.

“You know it’s my birthday today?” the guy says.

“Oh, happy birthday.”

“Thanks.”

Jake takes another uneasy sip. “Look, I gotta be honest, man – I don’t really know who you are. I just kind of got dragged along.”

“No worries,” the guy says. “Happens to the best of us. I’m God.”

Then he takes a sip like it’s no big deal.

Jake stares blankly for a few moments before God notices.

“You think I’m fucking with you?”

You’re God? Like the God?”

He belches. “The one and only.”

A million questions race through Jake’s head, but he can’t pin one down. Instead, he follows God’s line of vision down to the puddle.

Wary, Jake says, “Whatcha lookin’ at?”

“Your world.”

“My...” Jake frowns, squints at the puddle. In the outdoor lights, he can just make out an orb of some kind, suspended in the water. “That’s...my world?”

God nods, takes a swig.

For the second time in half a minute, Jake is left speechless.

After a moment, he says, “It’s round.”

“Yeah? What did you think, it was flat?”

“Kinda, yeah. Can you blame me?”

God shrugs. “I guess not.”

It takes Jake a moment to process everything. “You made my world in a puddle in your backyard?”

“Yep. Dug a hole to start the porch. Never got around to it. I guess it filled up with rainwater, and, well...”

“Jesus Christ...”

Jake’s gone pale – yes, even paler than usual. He’s basically transparent at this point. His mind reels as all his assumptions about the nature of the universe come crumbling down.

He can see his world floating there in the dirty rainwater. The world he was born in, raised in. The world where he learned to walk and talk and read and write. The world where he wore his brother’s skin and tricked him out of his inheritance. The world where he failed as a writer and discovered weed.

Meanwhile, God and his degenerate angel friends are up here having a rager like it’s nothing.

Like it’s a hole filled with water in a backyard.

Which it is.

“I gotta make sure no one falls in,” God says, absently, tossing his empty bottle into the bushes, taking another one out of the cooler. “I know it might not seem like it, but I am looking out for you.”

Jake shakes his head, trying to clear it, to think straight. “Is this a dream?”

God looks at him. “Do you want it to be a dream?”

*

Jake sits bolt upright, sweating, breathing heavily.

It’s just before dawn. He looks around, seeing nothing but sand and the city of Luz in the distance, silhouetted by the brightening sky.

He rubs his face, wondering if he’d imagined the whole thing. Then he notices the burned-out roach that had fallen off his chest when he woke up.

“Jesus...” he thinks. “I gotta lay off the weed.”

Also, might be a good idea to put your joint out before you fall asleep with it on your chest. That’s how people burn to death, Jake.

He looks up at the slowly-fading stars, and catches himself thinking that maybe it wasn’t a dream. That maybe God really is up there and really is looking down on him now, watching him.

Only one way to find out.

He takes the rock he was using for a pillow and carves a word into it.

Bethel.

‘God’s house’.

He stands it upright, forming it into an altar with a bunch of other, smaller rocks. He kneels before it to say a prayer. Something to the effect of, “If that was real, come down and confirm it.”

But you know, more eloquent and Old Testamenty.

In effect, he’s renaming the pagan, Canaanite city of Luz with a nice, God-fearing Hebrew name.

No response from the big guy.

Very well.

Jake stands and opens his robe, pissing all over the makeshift altar. He holds his middle finger up to the sky while he does it, awaiting reprisal. A lightning bolt, an earthquake. Something.

Nothing happens.

Now, he just feels like an idiot – peeing on some rocks in the desert.

Slowly, his anger dissolves.

“What the fuck am I doing?” Jake says, fastening his belt. “It was just a dream.”

He slings his pack over his shoulder, takes one last look at the sky, then sets off toward Haran, leaving the lazily-constructed, piss-soaked altar in his rear-view.

*

Up above, God’s watching the whole thing play out. Using a tablet hooked up to the floating orb via some kind of Bluetooth, he’s zoomed in on the desert outside the city of Luz where Jake spent the night.

It’s a worldwide surveillance system that lets him keep tabs on anyone and everyone. Something he calls ‘God’s Eye’ (no ego on this guy). Basically Google Earth in real time. Not too shabby.

All around him, the backyard is trashed, angels are passed out everywhere. God’s wearing sunglasses to block out the daylight and taking his hangover cure – cold pizza and a Bloody Mary. Easy on the Worcestershire sauce.

In the background, Raph’s got the grill fired up and he’s making breakfast sandwiches for the early birds, Pina Colada in hand.

As God watches Jake build the altar and kneel down to pray before it, he pushes his sunglasses up and leans forward, not believing what he’s seeing.

“Raph!” he shouts. “Get over here!”

Raph leaves the grill and comes over to join the big guy. “Jesus, man, easy on the eardrums. The fuck’s going on?”

He peers down and sees Jake kneeling there, praying.

“See that?” God says. “I knew I’d get a good one eventually.”

“But didn’t he steal his brother’s skin and shit?”

“Yeah, but...look. He’s coming around. I might actually, finally, get someone who isn’t a total...”

Then Jake whips out his penis and pisses all over the altar, flipping them the bird while he does it.

Silence between the two.

Raph lingers a moment, unable to bear the awkwardness. Slowly, he backs up and away from the big guy.

God just slides the sunglasses down over his eyes and leans back in the chair – not angry, just disappointed.

“Goddamn it,” he says, and lifts the Bloody Mary to his mouth, trying to find the straw with his tongue.


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