Mini Jesus Clones Replacing Elvis As Most Popular Holiday Gift!
should have known something was wrong when I caught my mini jesus eating Beau, the pretty neighbor's little moppy narf-dog.
"Hey!" I said.
He looked up, his little face covered with dog blood, his white robes a crimson ruin. One of my good Henckels knives lay next to the dog in a spreading pool. It must have been like a sword to him. He was only 18 inches tall, the smallest house model.
"What?" He wiped his face on his robe. It didn't do much good.
"You killed the neighbor's dog!"
"Hey, it's kill or be killed, isn't that what I said?"
"Um." I didn't really know. I'm not the religious type. But it didn't seem like something that Jesus would say.
Jesus turned away from me and began ripping something dark-red and glistening out of the little dog's belly.
"Hey, stop that!" I said.
Jesus ignored me and kept tugging.
"Come on! What am I going to tell my neighbor?"
"Tell her it's a transubstantiation thing."
Jesus rolled his eyes. "Wine into blood, wafer into flesh. You people have been eating me for a long time."
"But, um, a dog . . ."
"This is a perfectly good liver," Jesus said, taking a big bite. "Do you want me to waste it?"
I shook my head, looking at the mess in the middle of my studio. Or what passed as a studio. It was the second bedroom of my tiny two-bedroom house, with the carpet ripped out to expose bare, dry-rotted floorboards, and some rough tables made of 2x4s that supported my latest sculptures. I'd come out from the house to work on a tiny commission I'd received from the estate of an obscure train magnate from Long Island. I found this instead.
"How'm I supposed to concentrate?" I asked.
The mini Jesus looked up at one of my more, ahem, unfinished pieces. "It's not like it's high art," he said.
Jesus shrugged and looked at his mess. "I'll clean it up."
"In a while."
I went over to the bench. Reluctantly. What was I supposed to do, get a broom and whack jesus like a misbehaving cat? If he could forgive mankind for making millions of mini-clones of him, especially when he saw himself sitting on dashboards, standing in front lawns, perched in windows, and living in birdcages, I supposed that I could forgive this. Maybe mini jesuses were just like this. I'd only had him a couple of days. And it's not like I would miss the dog and its constant, high-pitched, asthmatic barking, like a rusty saw-blade drawn through skull from ear to ear.
I thought about calling my parents and telling them what their oh-so-appropriate Christmas present had just done, but I didn't. My parents could worry about God. Right now, I had to worry about In God We Trust. I went back to the train guy's sculpture, trying to ignore the wet tearing sounds behind me.
* * *
I had to tell her. It was the only right thing to do.
My house was one of two at the end of an old cul-de-sac on the wrong side of the Hollywood Hills. Hers was the other. It was a nice, quiet place to live, shaded by mature olive and eucalyptus trees, hidden away from the crush of the San Fernando Valley and the roar of the Ventura Freeway. It wasn't ritzy, though. We were a neighborhood of tiny houses from the 20s and 30s, moldering happily away, awaiting the right offer from the latest shock jock or TV-assistant-producer or CEO of some crappy little company that orbited the edges of the entertainment industry, so the lots could be leveled and concreted and embalmed under multilevel ultramodern glass-and-chrome monstrosities.
I'd only seen her in passing, a slim, pale, pretty woman that I had waved at a couple of times, trying to be neighborly. I'd heard her scolding her dog when she came home and got tired of listening to its constant barking. Beau.
I stepped over the full-size Elvis laying on her front porch and knocked on the door, then turned to look back at him. He was sprawled full-out on the rough planks, one hand on a nearly-empty bottle of Jim Beam. He snored with great abandon, rattling the old glass in the windows. He was starting to bulk up a bit, but still looked pretty good. At least he was just wearing normal clothes rather than some other outfit, jeans and a Metallica t-shirt I hadn't taken her for an Elvis man.
I heard the door open and turned, trying on an apologetic face.
Then I froze, speechless. I'd seen that she was pretty, at least in the looks-good-from-afar manner, but I'd never really seen her. Pale, pale blonde hair, high cheekbones, skin like fine velvet stretched over a perfect frame. She smiled, and friendly little crows-feet formed in the corners of her eyes and around her lips. She was maybe a few years younger than me, mid-thirties.
"Yes?" she asked.
I realized I'd been standing there for several moments. Probably with my mouth hanging open.
"Excuse me," I said. "I'm . . . um, your neighbor. David Marshall." It was all I could get out at the moment.
"Anna Jefferies," she said, looking at me directly. She didn't have that shying-away, oh-shit reaction that so many women have when a strange man comes to the door. I liked that.
"I'm afraid I have some bad news," I told her. "My jesus and your dog had a, um . . . a run-in."
"Oh, did Beau get out again? I'm sorry about that. If he's over there, I'll come and get him . . ."
"No, no, I'm the one who should be sorry. My jesus, well, he had to, um, defend himself."
"Oh," Anna said. "Oh, my."
"I know that you can't replace your dog, but I'd be happy to buy . . ."
"No," she said.
"I feel completely awful."
She nodded. "It's OK."
"Can I do anything?"
Anna was silent for a long time, not looking at me. "No," she said. "Beau was the last . . . bit of something that happened a long time ago."
"And he was irritating, wasn't he?"
She laughed. "Don't lie," she said. "You were honest enough to come and tell me. Don't spoil it now."
"He was a bit noisy."
"A bit? I don't know how you stood it, being home all day. I think my long hours were the only thing that kept me sane."
I nodded. "What do you do?"
Anna waved a hand. "Sales. Noting very exciting."
I nodded, and thought about leaving. I should. I really should.
"I've seen you sculpting."
"I'd love to do something creative."
I shrugged. "Not if you want to eat."
She opened the door wider and stepped out onto the porch. She was wearing a filmy, opaque thing that suggested wonderful things. I stepped back and stumbled over the Elvis, who twitched a bit, farted, and went back to snoring.
"I'm sorry," I said.
"Don't mind him. The All-Elvis Rescue Mission is coming in a few days to pick him up. We talked about it, and he thinks it's the best thing for him. They're trying some new things, like an all-Elvis big band franchise for swing nights." I shuddered. "I've heard they don't wear well."
"Cleaning out the fridge every day, complaining that we don't live near a bar, drinking himself silly, hiking down to Ventura to try and score some drugs. Lots of fun. And then there were the rumors about him getting the neighbor's daughter pregnant." She nodded down the street, to a cluster of other houses below us.
"Sally?" I asked.
"Yeah." Anna nodded. "That one."
"I'm beginning to think that having a mini jesus isn't any picnic, either."
"No miracles yet?"
"No. But I'm not exactly, well, a believer."
She nodded, and the conversation just kind of . . . faded away. I caught myself looking away from her, uncomfortable.
"Are you sure I can't do anything for you?" I asked.
"No . . ." she said, and then looked at me. I mean, really looked at me. Like she was pouring herself into my eyes and washing through my soul. I couldn't tell you how long that look lasted. Minutes. Hours. Days.
" . . . yes," she said. "Invite me over for dinner sometime, David. I'd like to see your work . . . and meet this jesus."
"How about tonight?" It just popped out.
"Sure," she said. "See you in, say, a couple of hours?"
I nodded, stammered something, and ran home.
* * *
The Jesus watched my preparations with what seemed like amusement. He could have been smiling beatifically, but it really seemed like he was looking at me with something like contempt. I was so keyed up that I probably was imagining it, though. I kept telling myself I couldn't get my hopes up, I should be glad she didn't freak out about the dog, tell me she was a PETA member, turn me in to the SPCA. But Anna was one of the first women I'd had a date with since my first marriage dissolved and I'd left my corporate job for the questionable joys of being an artist. And she was undoubtedly the best looking. Or was it a date?
It didn't matter. There wasn't much time. I cleared the socks off the sofa and into the washing machine. Dug out a couple of steaks and threw them in the microwave to defrost. Worried about whether or not she would rather have chicken or vegetables. Looked frantically for a tablecloth and settled for an old sheet. Smelled the air to see if it had any trace of aging bachelor-smell in it. Hid the bag from the frozen veggies.
When she showed up, she'd changed from the filmy thing to more sensible slacks and a smooth, silky blouse -- not formal, not casual, but enough to make me glad I ditched the jeans and dug up some slacks and a nice shirt.
Jesus had wandered out of the room, so we had to go find him while dinner cooked.
He was standing in front of my computer, poking at the keys. The web browser was set to a popular mini jesus message board, where they . . . I don't know, talked about how crazy their owners were, counted down days to the Rapture, who knows?
"Hey, jesus, I've got someone for you to meet."
He turned and smiled, the portrait of innocence. "God be with you, my child," he said. "Bless you and may your days be long on this earth."
"Hi," Anna said. "Nice to meet you."
"Likewise, my child."
"I'm sorry about Beau attacking you."
"Do not be concerned about it," Jesus said, looking up at me.
"You must have been terrified."
Anna paused for a moment, as if she was waiting for Jesus to say something. When he didn't, she looked at the computer screen. "So what are you doing?"
"I'm conversing with some of my fellows. Since we have been restored to earthly life, we must find ways to continue with our raison d'etre -- spreading the word of our Lord and saving souls."
"Oh," Anna looked uncertain. "You seem very serious about it."
"I take all God's work seriously."
She nodded and looked at me. "Well, it was nice meeting you."
We went back to the kitchen. The steaks were perfectly done. Anna complimented me on my cooking, and even said that she got tired of people thinking she was a vegetarian or preferred fish or chicken. Maybe Jesus was working miracles, after all.
Later, I showed her my work. She was the first person to see it besides a few close friends and my business contacts, and she was a woman, and she was beautiful, so I was very interested in what she had to say.
She wandered over to the railroad magnate first, but I pushed her away. "That's just commercial," I said. "Not my best work."
"Don't put it down, David," she said, running a slim white finger over the cool modeling clay. "Honest work is honest work."
Eventually, she let me show her a finished bronze and some work still in clay. The finished bronze had eaten up most of my savings, but it was the work I was most proud of. It was a classically rendered representation of the disconnect between man and woman, shown in the detail of their expressions. It was modeled after a couple I'd photographed at the Getty, him standing with arms crossed, looking only at her, with love and pain and not a little bit of frustration, while she, totally distracted, admired a blazing shape. It was a miniature tableau that grew organically out of the rectilinear floors and walls. I realized with a shock that it was almost exactly the same scale as my miniature jesus.
"I like it," she said, matter-of-factly.
Most people drool and gush and say how wonderful things are. I'd never had anyone just say, "I like it."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean I like it. It's good work."
"And . . ."
"And what? You sound worried."
"I've always worried," I told her. "I've always worried that I'd never be good enough to succeed at any one thing. I've done so many things. I've designed and built furniture. I tried my hand at painting. Both of those never got out of the house. Until recently, I had a career marketing medical widgets that I didn't really understand. Oh, I did OK at that I guess, I made it to a vice-president's position, but I hated it. Hated it enough to quit and start over. Hated it enough that I didn't care that it was the only thing keeping my ex and I together. Now I sculpt. Will I ever be good enough to be in the big galleries? Good enough to become known? I don't know. I'm terrified that I'll end up being mediocre at everything, but truly great at nothing."
Anna was silent for a long time after that speech. Finally, she said, "The older I get, the more I think that what makes it big in galleries is just a matter of personal taste. The owner's taste. Or a critic's taste. It doesn't matter if it's good or bad."
"But am I good enough to be in any of them?"
She looked at me. "If you love doing something, it shows."
"If I love doing something I can't sell, I starve."
She looked from the bronze to me and back again. "For what it's worth, as I get older I also find it harder and harder to figure out why the galleries like the art they do."
"And . . ."
If it was me, you'd be there."
I sighed. That was enough for me. I felt good. I don't know why I did, but I felt a lot better. Everything would work out. Somehow.
We went to the living room and talked a bit more about my life, my divorce, my old job, my dreams. I was just realizing that I hadn't had a chance to ask her about the same when she said she had to go.
I thought about asking if she wanted to have a drink, wanted to stay, anything, because her presence was nice and warm and cheered up the dark, chill old house.
But in the end I did nothing. Not even a peck on the cheek.
When I went to bed, I dreamt that the mini jesus was standing in the doorway to my room, watching me. He looked at me with undisguised contempt.
"Pussy," he said.
* * *
When I wandered over to Anna's the next morning to thank her, both she and the Elvis were gone. I shrugged. For some reason or another, my good mood had stuck. Maybe she was seeing family for what was left of the Christmas holiday.
The day went well, too. I was able to get a surprising amount of work done on the railroad guy, enough that I was able to call and let the client know the design review could be a week early.
I was even able to work on an unfinished clay that had been sitting under plastic for more than a year. I found new direction and hacked at the scene, four inner-city kids looking raptly at a blank window (in which I imagined some religious icon or another had appeared), until very late at night.
I didn't even think about the mini jesus until I smelled the cigarette smoke.
He was sitting in front of my crappy little TV, watching videos on the WWE site, smoking a full-sized cigarette and drinking one of my too-expensive beers with a souvenir Nevada shot glass.
"What are you doing?" I asked.
He looked at me and shrugged, then turned his attention back to wrestling and took another drag off the cigarette.
"Come on! You're Jesus!"
"So . . . you don't do things like this! What's next? Asking to share my pot and acid?"
He put down the cigarette and looked up at me, eyes wide. "You have acid?"
"What's wrong with you?"
He looked up at me with sad, suffering eyes. Eyes of a guy who defined suffering, and then was brought back to look at himself, staked to crosses everywhere in the world. Suddenly I felt sorry for the little guy.
"Didn't you have a good day?" he asked me.
"So don't ruin mine. Come on, you gotta give a little to get a little, isn't that what I said?"
I was pretty sure it wasn't, but I was willing to go along. I left him alone for the night.
The next couple of days went like that, great stretches of productive work (I even started a new piece based loosely on Anna and I), punctuated with strange sounds and smells whenever Jesus was nearby. I think he disappeared for much of the day, maybe hiking down the hill to Ventura Boulevard for distractions, as Anna's Elvis did.
I think he did get ahold of some pot somehow, because once I came home to a house full of that distinctive sweet smell and a tiny Jesus passed out in a puddle of his own puke. On the computer were a bunch of porno MPEGs.
That night, I went through the instructions to see if maybe all mini jesuses acted this way, but whoever had written the manual was a bit of a smartass. There was a Quick Start Guide that said:
The Basics 1. Take Him out of His packaging. 2. Feed Him when he's hungry 3. Listen to what He says. You might learn something. 4. Refer to the Complete Manual for more information.
The Complete Manual was, of course, a pocket Bible.
* * *
"You shoulda jumped her," jesus said. He was standing inside my museum bronze, rubbing his hands over the swell of the girl's breasts. I'd caught him flaying a squirrel alive that morning. Anna was still not back. My good mood was beginning to show more than a bit of wear.
"No shit," I told him, clutching the sharp awl that I was using to pick at the modeling clay.
"If you're into that ice-queen look, that is," he said.
I gritted my teeth and said nothing.
"Not that she's all that great. I could set you up with the teenie down the street. Now, that's a piece of ass."
That was it. I turned, awl in hand.
"You aren't Jesus."
"No shit. I'm only 18" tall."
"You know what I mean."
Jesus gave me a sly grin. "Gave you enough hints, didn't I?"
"What are you?"
Jesus took his hand off the bronze breast and slapped his head. "Like you don't know."
"You're . . . the devil?"
"But . . ."
The mini satan hopped out of the tableau and looked at the work I'd started with myself and Anna with a critical eye. "It's a funny thing, cloning. DNA can wind backwards, things like that. Tricky for you dumb people to try to get right."
"What do you want?"
"Just the usual, Davie. I can give you fame, fortune . . . even get this crap in the art galleries. I'm sure you've heard of the deal before."
"But . . . you want my soul."
"And as many more as I can get. No dose like an overdose." He winked.
"You won't miss it." Satan began fondling Anna in the sculpture.
"Hey, stop that!" I lunged at him with the awl.
He held up a hand and grabbed the point of the awl easily, effortlessly. I felt like I'd run into a brick wall. Then his eyes flashed a bright, actinic blue.
Agony. Endless, eternal. My whole body rigid. Acid on flayed skin on burned muscles on impaled flesh on broken bones. On and on and on. Multiplied by a thousand. I don't know how long it lasted.
Finally, I collapsed on the floor, feeling like a sack of disconnected parts.
Satan's eyes were calm, hooded. All the innocence was gone. "Don't fuck with me," he said. "Don't even think about it."
"Uh . . ." I said.
"But do think about my offer. I'm in a generous mood, so I'll let you sleep on it."
He went to the window and hopped out. From the neighborhood soon came the sound of screams.
* * *P>
I wasn't really able to move until the next morning. Satan was nowhere to be found. What could I do? I couldn't tell my mom and dad. They'd never believe that anything they bought me could be defective, much less evil.
So I went to the Godshop and told them my story. The proprietor was a big, round guy with a halo of white hair who chomped on a cigar. Mini jesuses were everywhere, sitting around, smiling happily, talking to each other in low tones, building little houses with the Jesus Is a Carpenter Play Kit. I watched them nervously.
"Heard of it," the proprietor said. "It ain't common. DNA going backwards, or something like that. Probably not the devil hisself, though -- more likely a demon pretendin to be him."
"What do I do about it?"
"This," he said, jerking a thumb at a hulking crate behind the counter. It looked big enough to put a couple of people in. From the airholes drilled around the top came a dry scrabbling sound, and the glint of light on a reflective surface. An eye?
"The Set set. It's new. Just got it in. Cloned it from some bit of flesh they found in one of them Egyptian temples. Not a real looker, from what I understand, but does the job. Sic him on your little demon and poof! End of problem."
I frowned. "I thought . . . um, wouldn't they perform an exorcism, or something like that?"
"Right," the fat guy said, rolling his eyes. "And where are they gonna find an exorcist to clone? In a movie?"
I licked my lips. "Ok. I'll take it."
He named a price that was high, but not ruinous. I handed him one of my less-abused credit cards and said a silent prayer as he ran it through the system. "When you're done, bring the body back. Of the jesus. If it is really defective, they'll give you your money back."
A sudden thought struck. "Wait a minute. Once this thing does its work, what am I left with? A big old Egyptian god hanging around the house?"
"Hey, at least it won't be asking for your soul."
The proprietor snickered. "Just kidding. Read the instructions. Open up the Package of Horus, dust him with the powder, and that's it. All done."
Somehow we got the big crate in the car. Inside, something had started to breathe heavily.
* * *
No way was I going to drive right up to the house. Might as well paint "Take my soul now, satan," in day-glow neon on my forehead. I stopped down the hill and unloaded Set from the hatch.
He was an ugly, unidentifiable thing, as tall as I was. He was jet black from his feet to the tips of the but with great square rabbit-ears jutting up out of his head. He had a long, tapered beak with dull rusty stains at its tip, and glowing golden eyes with no pupils. He was wearing a simple loincloth. He looked at me.
"He's . . . up at the house," I said. "The . . . demon."
"Deeemooon," it said, in a low voice like a pipe organ.
It followed me up the hill. I shivered, feeling its eyes on my back.
The house was empty. Silent. The computer was on. More porn. The fridge had been cleared out. My three decent bottles of wine had been opened and spilled all over the floor. Set looked around, then turned to look at me.
"Hey, wait a minute . . ." I began, and then I noticed something that I hadn't noticed before. Anna's car was back in her driveway.
"Wait here," I said. "I need to check on a friend."
Anna didn't come when I knocked on the door. I was debating whether or not to open the door when I heard a muffled thump and a thin, high cry from inside.
I opened the door and ran in.
Satan had Anna, of course. Tied to one of her kitchen chairs. He was standing on a table with a knife. Aimed at her face.
I didn't think. I moved. I grabbed at the mini satan, not caring about the pain.
I stopped two inches from him, held in place by an invisible force. Something that felt like static electricity crackled between my fingers. The agony, just waiting to start. Satan looked up at me. He grinned.
"Anna!" I said.
She looked at me, eyes wide but somehow, surprisingly, impossibly calm.
"Thought about my offer?"
"Um, can I have a few more days?"
Satan gave me a jolt of what I'd felt the night before. I sagged to my knees. "Fine," he said. "Let's see what a little carving will do. It's a bit late in the season for pumpkin pie, so I guess this'll have to do."
He waved his knife at Anna.
"No!" I croaked.
He didn't even look at me. He raised the knife. Studied her like she was a thin and not very appetizing turkey. Brought it down.
Just as Set came through the kitchen window. He hit the three of us, a blurred black streak, and knocked satan off the table.
Satan screamed as Set's sharp beak tore into his flesh. He plunged the knife into Set's shoulder. Set growled in pain and shook satan like a dog playing tug-of-war.
I turned my attention to Anna. I cut her gag and bonds with the knife and helped her get out of the chair.
Satan didn't last long. After tearing out the juicy bits, Set picked up the rest of the body in his great beak, and, with a very bird-like gesture, swallowed it whole.
"Are you OK?" I asked.
"I'm so sorry about all of this! I don't know how I can ever explain . . ."
"Don't," she said, and nodded at the Set. He was growing larger, and beginning to look at us with those creepy golden eyes.
Oh yeah, the Horus powder. I searched my pockets for it, opened the package, and blew a big draught over the old god.
Set immediately swelled even bigger. He now towered over us. He hunched over to fit under the 8-foot ceiling. He breathed heavily and started to advance on us. "Huuummmannn," he said.
Anna took the package from my hand. "Uh-oh," she said.
The label said:
SET NUTRITIONAL COMPONENTS. PRELIMINARY BLEND. CAUTION: USE SPARINGLY.
"Crap!" I said. "They packed it wrong! First a defective jesus, now this!"
Anna grabbed me and pulled me back as Set took a swipe at me with a big, black-taloned hand.
She pulled me close into the back corner of her tiny kitchen. I had time for one inane thought: that at least I would die with someone I liked.
"Do you believe in me?" Anna asked.
"No time! Take my hand."
I took her hand and . . . everything wavered, like something seen through the surface of a rippling pool. Anna flickered and separated, becoming the image of Anna superimposed on a larger, more imposing woman. And in that moment, I saw everything. I saw Los Angeles under Set, a dry place of sand and desert, all the water gone from it, a few people eking out a small existence, a few coming to worship him in his garden. And I saw Anna for what she really was. Inanna. One of the oldest goddesses, thinned and wasted by time, spending her twilight in a place away from eyes, from demands, even from love. She hadn't been cloned. She was the original. She was the lover. The avenger. She was older than Set, older and more powerful. She reached out to Set and grappled with him briefly. She swelled to fill the house with her rainbow colors.
Set's darkness didn't last long in her full blaze of glory.
When I woke, I was alone in an empty house.
* * *
I still live here, of course. I still sculpt. I'm still on the edge of being able to afford even this modest lifestyle. But I'm much, much happier about it. I love what I do. And that's what matters.
No, nothing much has changed, except my newfound confidence. And the addition of a discreet NO GODS sign beneath the NO SOLICITORS sign, and a few standard precautions -- crucifixes for the Christian stuff, garlic for those damn cloned vampires, a small handgun with silver bullets, ankhs for the Egyptian pantheon, and a few small sacrifices ready for the odd Titan. You can't be too careful these days.
And a small, discreet temple to Inanna, my favorite goddess, one of the few not reconstituted for these fine new days.
Or ever again.
© 2003, Jason Stoddard