Everyone has a gift. Some people are intelligent. Others are empathic. You can be born into wealth or find your soul mate. If you see things one way, being born into a religious family can be a gift. Everyone has these sorts of things. I have a gift too.
God is going to send me to Hell.
I found this out on my twentieth birthday at seven p.m. I was alone, sucking up the first straw-full of a vanilla shake at a retro-theme fast food joint and reading a flyer on a college that I had been saving up money to go to. Our Holy Father walked in the door and ordered some fries, then sat down across the table from me. That time, he looked like some generic 50's rock star, replete with a bright red stratocaster.
“Nice costume. Who are you?”
“Thanks, I try to fit in (He didn’t very well, but then a God among men rarely does). I’m God.”
Thirty seconds later, through a variety of interesting parlor tricks, God had me convinced. It was kind of dreamlike, I suppose. I felt like perhaps I should kneel or something, but he was eating french fries, so I figured this was probably an informal meeting. I sat there and talked with God about the weather until he had eaten all of his fries. Then he got serious.
“I have some bad news for you, Bill. News I think you aren’t going to understand, and news that may ruin you. That’s why I gave you twenty years of happy ignorance, because the rest of your life will be spent” and here he paused, “in the knowledge that you are going to hell when you die.”
“That is for me to know. I really am sorry, but it had to be done.”
“...Well, could you play me a song, then? Last Kiss, perhaps? Shit.”
“You are taking this well, Bill. Yeah, I could do that for you.”
That was the entirety of the conversation. God was kicked out of the store for playing his guitar, and I finished my milk shake and went home.
They are right in that you can try to escape. I got drunk five days in a row trying. But one day, in a fit of sobriety, I wandered into a clothing store. I walked through its aisles, searching the way I had used to when I didn’t know my destination. You know what I’m talking about, if you’ve ever really thought about the way we search through the department stores of life looking for the next purchase. It is as if we have replaced the impossible desire of attaining our goals in life with the simple purchase. We glean some small form of glory and victory from a sale, a good deal. I intended to take my comfort in this, the simple victory of consumerism, to begin to enjoy the life that I had left before I began an eternity of torture, but it was not to be.
I found my deal there that day, at the back of the store in the discount section. There, on the hat rack, was a khaki canvas hat - sort of like a fedora - and I put it on. I struck a pose as a private eye from one of those noir films in the mirror, and a thought occurred to me about the way those private eyes passed their own judgment on the world, deciding what was right and what was wrong, and what you couldn’t really be sure about. Paying for the hat, I left the store immediately. The feeling I had at that moment was either insane or determined.
For a few weeks I was stranded in the mundane as I consolidated my funds. I sold my car - a not so shabby sedan I had gotten as a gift from my father on my 18 th birthday - and most of my clothes. My computer went too, and my substantial music collection. I had been an avid heavy metal listener. I donated my lengthy hair, collected some dues I had from friends, got my money out of the bank, read some books on vehicle maintenance and nature-survival, and told my family and friends by mail that I was going to join the French Foreign Legion. By that time I was in New York. See, the people in the part of the world where I lived didn’t need me. Not like some places did.
You can read the newspapers and read the police reports from around the world if you like. It gives you a fairly good idea of what I did then, from perhaps a more objective source. I knew God gave me the gift of damnation, but he also gave me some other small gifts from the day I was born - a healthy body, good eyesight, fairly good looks. I never did pick up languages well, but you’d be surprised what silence and good looks can get you. No matter. You can read the papers, see what I did with all that I had. They’ll tell you half the story. What they saw of me was not me, but what I did. I remained nameless, in the shadows. I liked it that way. Never did like fame.
Then again, there is the other half of the story. I arrived in Italy by airplane and found a harbor city. I still don’t know what it was called, because I did not stay long enough. It was pretty. I worked as a dock hand informally, by which I mean I was never on any list of employees; simply a bum willing to help with loading and unloading around the docks. I never earned much, only enough for food. While I learned the movements around the dock I slept in a young woman’s house nearby. Her name, I think, was Ora. She was good to me, and let me use her computer to shop - no longer to attain my small victories, but to give meaning to my life. No longer in the bright mainstream of syndication, but in the more brackish backwaters of individual dealers. Within a few weeks my packages arrived and I said goodbye to Ora. I did not tell her that I would sneak aboard a small cargo vessel bound for India.
I was lucky, and made it through customs at Port Said without detection. I jumped into the Red Sea one night, making for shore with my packages in float-able containers. In that dark sea I was a speck of lone human consciousness, and I thought: What if I was wrong? I was only one person, with only my memories and soul to form my opinions. No higher force dictated my judgment or guided my hand. I might be as blind as I was in the in the dark and fathomless uncertainty of the sea. But there was one other who had been in the darkness and passed judgment before me. And now, because I was certain of my fate, I was free to act as He had.
The next morning found me on the beaches of Somalia. Afternoon did not find me there, for I had gone, moving alone and unhindered into the hinterlands. There in that desert I unpacked my simple plan - one long smooth black barrel which carried a solemn weight in my hands and a dusty fedora capping me as I squinted in the sunlight and came to terms with the place and the deed. Days later I found myself covered in brush, motionless. Resting in a well-hidden depression near the side of a dirt road that passed through a small collection of huts and hovels, my ears became aware of a distant motor vehicle’s engine. I remember that it was just after nine in the morning - just beginning to heat up - when I saw a dilapidated pickup come down the road kicking up dust. I followed it with the scope of my rifle carefully until it came to a stop just outside the nearby settlement.
Wavering in the heat waves there, three men disembarked, quickly circling to cut off any avenues of escape from the village, which stood alone on a plain. With guns held high they advanced on the village, firing into the air sporadically. They shouted warnings into the lifeless village, their voices carrying in the hot air only faintly so that they seemed like the cries of animals. I watched from my concealed position as they closed in brazenly, like animals to the carcass. The intent was clear - to take what the villagers had and kill them as well. Within the huts the same knowledge circulated, and a few villagers attempted to flee. Before I could act they were cut down. I can remember a searing pain in my mind when I saw that. My eye to a telescopic sight, I asked myself again about my judgment. Then I pulled the trigger of the first news story.
I sustained myself from the scraps I found upon the dead, and the newspapers began to feed off of me. They wrote stories of rebels and bandits retreating from farmer’s lands and Red Cross convoys coming to roadblocks at dawn only to find them desolate, their garrisons heaped motionless upon their injustices.
When Somalia grew too familiar for my safety, I moved on. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my travels, it is that the locals do not appreciate when you start to become part of the scenery. That may have something to do with my style of tourism, but it seems true wherever I go. Newspapers would write me in Russia, then North Korea. Paragraphs described a demon in the Philippines, and terrorist cells evaporated like rainwater under forest canopies in the tropic night. Mountain caves in Afghanistan grew silent in the passing of my canvas hat and I, and once a car bomb workshop in Iraq suffered from a premature detonation of its own infernal projects. I was in China and the Serengeti. I have blackened my heart with the dried blood of hundreds.
Because I am one and I am without affiliation, my enemies don’t see me when I arrive. They do not know to look for me because I am doing what good men should not, which is that very same thing they take advantage of. They were not looking one night when I crawled as a bush through opium fields in Colombia, setting them ablaze. I went to the top of a hill and as they came to save their fields they dropped, the sound of my rifle’s report lost in the roar of the fires. There were many different ways that the cartel members convulsed and collapsed between my sights, but I have read somewhere that all death is really caused by a loss of blood to the brain. I suppose that must be right. Either the blood cannot get to the brain, or the brain is not there for the blood.
In alleyways and arroyos, I have judged above all other forms of judgment. Governments hunt me, religions deplore my heinous acts. I forgive them, for how could they find it within themselves to do what I must? Upstanding, educated men and women cannot morally support me. I offend their sentiments. They too are forgiven, for theirs is the kingdom of God, and so they would mar themselves by accepting me. Even their God - my God - would not condone me, and I think perhaps I am sending most of my enemies to prepare the way for me. There are other ways He would have these things be done, but I will do them the wrong way and get them done faster. People will suffer less, and I will suffer all the consequences of any wrongs. I, who can suffer no more than I will.
It was a gift, my damning. My judgment is already passed, and so I freely pass judgment on others. I have this chance to be a miniature revelation in and of myself, for I can fear nothing. This is what I was given my gift for, not to be misused in any other way. I know it because I do serve, I do work. But I still do the devil’s work. A strange condition, no? It is the only condition that could allow a man to do what I do. In all the world there is no one like me.
There are jobs that should be done, and I do them because hard-working, decent people shouldn’t have to. This is my task, this is my justice, and I will be responsible for its repercussions. You will benefit, and remember that sometimes the judgment of God is not the judgment which makes the world a better place. And if I’m wrong?
It’s just life, after all.