The Sacred Chapter
"I'd like to welcome you all to Diniliah," the bus driver said over the speaker as he drove his passengers from the hotel to the church sector. "The holiest planet in the galaxy. Here on Diniliah, not only can anyone from any planet understand anyone else from any other planet, but we can all breath the same air and all function perfectly well in the same gravitational environment. This is the gift of God."
Colin and Pryk sat next to each other, listening to the bus driver as they rode along the bumpy road.
An ambulance roared by a few moments later. Pryk perked up excitedly, "Follow it! Follow it!"
"I'm afraid it's heading in the wrong direction, sir."
"Follow it or I'll sue your God-damned life away from you!"
The driver ignored him.
Pryk's blood pressure rose even more than before, setting a new galactic record.
As they strolled down the wide, dusty main street filled with mainly pedestrians and only a few small vehicles, Pryk had finally calmed down enough to caution Colin, "Make sure you don't listen to too much of what they tell you."
"I wasn't planning to. But just out of curiosity, why not?"
"The brochure explains that the spiritual and philosophical views of many life forms can have detrimental effects on human beings."
Colin clicked his tongue, "Old news, I'm afraid."
Pryk shook his head, "I'm only telling you what the brochure said."
The short, shaggy lawyer creature squinted in the sunlight. "I am not used to being outside."
"It feels perfect," Colin said. And it did. The temperature was just right, including the light breeze blowing through the air. And the gravity was exactly suited to him as well. And all the other tall, thin or short, thick life forms around them didn't seem to be having a problem with it either.
Then Pryk noticed a quadruped walking towards them. It had a head about his own size, and it was wearing a wide-brimmed hat. "One moment," he said to Colin. Colin watched him go up to the four-footed life form. Pryk didn't say anything. He just stood directly in his path. So the alien walked around him. Pryk then ran up to him again, "I noticed that you walked around me just now."
"Yes," the alien said, slightly confused.
"Yet you could have walked through me."
"I guess I could have."
"But instead you walked around me."
"Yes, I did," the alien said, trying to head away.
Pryk maneuvered himself in front of the alien again. "You did this to get to the other side of me."
"But both methods get you past me, do they not? So when you walk around me, you do in effect walk through me."
"I suppose so," the alien quickened his pace.
"Therefore you might as well have walked through me," Pryk quickened his own pace right alongside the larger, four-footed creature.
"Can I therefore consider that you did indeed walk through me?"
"Yes, you may consider that!"
"Excellent. I shall therefore consider that to be an assault on my person. I am a lawyer from the planet Frontier, and I can now sue you for every penny you've got. But as it happens, all I need is the hat." So he reached up, grabbed the alien's hat, put it on his own head, and returned to Colin.
The alien stopped walking. He wasn't sure whether to believe he could be sued or not. What should he do? Then he realized that he was standing in the middle of the street like a doofus. And it suddenly worried him what some of the nearby passers-by might be thinking if they were watching him. He was afraid he might look like a wimp for taking that treatment the way he did. But then the only alternative seemed to be getting sued... which was a bad thing. Eventually he decided not to take any chances, and so continued on his way, trying his very best macho walk... which was rather tricky for a quadruped.
Continuing on their own way, Colin asked Pryk, "You couldn't really have sued him for that, could you?"
Pryk kept his eyes forwards and said smugly, "I can sue anyone for anything at any time." He turned to Colin and tipped his new hat, "On this occasion however, I preferred to settle out of court."
A small brown deciped came up to Colin, "Here, let me give you this." He held up a rock. "It is the most sacred symbol of my people."
"No, thanks," Colin said, sensing a con of some kind.
"No, it is a gift. I give it to you."
"Fine. Thank you," Colin said, taking the rock and heading away.
"And now you give me money."
Colin sighed. He knew that there had to be a catch to it. He just didn't know it would be so obvious. "I'm sorry. I'm going to have to return your rock." And he tried to give it back.
The brown creature however refused to accept the most sacred symbol of his people. As soon as Colin moved it towards him, the creature pulled his limbs underneath his long, thin body, avoiding the rock. So Colin handed it to a passing robot instead. The deciped quickly turned and followed the robot carrying the rock.
A moment later short green tomato-shaped creature came up to Colin, "I can tell the past."
"Yes, I can. I am an anti-prophet. I can see into the past," he said as though it were meant to be impressive.
"All right, what did I have for dinner last night?"
"I don't know. I wasn't there. But I can tell you what I had for dinner! And where I had it. And what I was wearing!"
"I take it then that you can only see into your own personal past."
"Actually," Colin said politely, "I can see into my own past as well."
The short green tomato-shaped creature was astounded. "Can you?"
"All right. Prove it."
"Very well. Last night I had what my hotel laughingly calls pizza. And I wore... well... this same outfit, actually."
"You're making it up."
"I am not," Colin insisted as he tried to walk around the small green tomato-shaped creature.
"Well, gimmie a dollar and I'll tell you what I had for dinner."
"I'm not interested in what you had for dinner."
Fortunately the small green tomato-shaped creature couldn't walk as fast as a human.
"First recorded words! Hey, human creature," said an alien as thin as dental floss and so tall that Colin could not see its top. "Would you like to hear the first recorded words ever?"
"What do you mean?"
"We have sent a probe back to the beginning of time. And it recorded a voice speaking."
This could be very exciting, Colin thought. "What did it say?"
One of the alien's very thin hands shot out, "Five space-dollars."
"Strange thing to say," Colin mumbled as he reached into his pocket for the money. He quickly found five space dollars, but held them back for a moment, "Is this on the level?"
"It is as level as you and I."
Colin reluctantly handed over the money, telling himself that he was more curious than hoping for any kind of revelation. The alien handed over one of a number of small digital recorders the size of a key. Colin pushed "play." And this is what he heard: "So that's what it does. Oh, shit. Now how do I turn it off..."
He turned back to the alien. "That's it?"
The alien shrugged, "Hey, that's what the probe recorded."
Colin stuck the recorder in his pocket and walked on, Pryk following close behind.
They continued on past the immense variety of life forms and a vast collection of churches each espousing their different philosophies. They passed the Church of the Holy Order of Lunatics. They passed a church with a stained-glass picture window of a man wearing a black leather jacket and sunglasses, driving a bright red convertible sports car. They even popped briefly into one church where their passports were blessed rather than stamped, and they listened briefly as the priest explained his people's "Big Boing" theory.
At one point they passed a life form as flat as cardboard. Colin was in a silly mood, and so came up to it. "Hello," Colin teased in a mock-scary voice as he stood next to the alien and leaned over it. "I am a creature from the third dimension."
"I can see your feet, asshole!" said the bitter alien. Then it said, "Hey, as long as you're here, may I assist you in a spiritual matter?"
But before Colin could answer, Pryk suddenly came to life, "What does it involve?"
The creature brought forth his holy pistol, "I will release you from the burden of this corporeal existence, so that you can attain true immortal spirituality."
"You want to kill me?" Colin asked, making sure he understood this crazy, flat alien.
"Only this physical vessel in which the real you is trapped."
"No, you may not!" And they moved on.
"That can't be legal, can it?" he asked Pryk several paces later.
"All religions are allowed to practice here, no matter how stupid."
"Well, that particular religion needs a bit more practice, if you ask me."
A large, feather-covered primate grabbed Colin's arm and said urgently, "You understand that if we all squeezed our sensory organs shut as tightly as we could, screamed loudly and jumped up and down, then there would be no need for literature!"
Just to shut him up, Colin replied, "Yes, I did know that, actually. Thank you."
And they continued down the street... a bit more quickly.
Nearly an hour later they reached the end of the street. Colin and Pryk crossed to the other side of the street and began heading back the way they had come. But with feet complaining of the need for a break, Colin soon found himself sitting in the church of Bigbigzozobop.
As they entered, the priest was in the middle of explaining to the congregation that the universe and everything in it was merely Bigbigzozobop's holy semen. "So we are all merely sperm!" he elaborated. "Sperm! And when we encounter the cosmic egg at the end of time, we must be ready for singularity!" He folded his hands and continued more solemnly, "In the beginning, Bigbigzozobop ejaculated the universe with His tremendous, mighty, gargantuan cock. Each race must battle one another for supremacy so that at the end of the universe, only your own race can join with the cosmic egg, and thus create the next great life form!"
Colin decided that his feet weren't that in need of a break. And as he got up to leave, the priest called after him, "Why do you leave us?"
"I... I've got to pee," was the only excuse that came to mind. "But do you mind if I ask... if each race is competing with all the others, aren't you rather spoiling it by letting us in on this? What about your own race?"
"We must all be on equal terms in battle. Or it will not be fair. And if the game is not fair, it is not worth playing."
As Pryk waited outside, he found he had some time on his hands. So he caused a traffic accident, agreed to represent the victim in court, and suggested some legal council for the other party, thus performing a legal function, thus demanding a fee. He also suggested psychological counseling for a woman nearby who was having a hard time coping with this terrible sight, and then demanding a fee from her as well.
Colin visited several more churches. In one he learned from a priest that this corporeal existence is merely punishment for a crime which all life forms had committed in some unspecified "real" world.
He visited another church which kept their spiritual leader cryonically frozen for months at a time. And about once a year, when they had accumulated enough questions worthy of his time, they would awaken him. They would place upon his head the "sacred ears," which were actually a pair of antlers. And then they would ask him their questions... which, unfortunately, usually only had to do with sports.
In another church, they were actually told that it would be best if everyone did bad deeds throughout their lives. "You see," explained the priest, "The Supreme Fish..."
"You mean God?" someone asked.
"That is what some of these fools will mistakenly tell you He is called. But we know Him to be the Supreme Fish. He eats us! All of us. And the others try to con you into behaving in a good and loving manner. In this way, our spirits become more attuned to a certain biological frequency. We become more palatable. And then the Supreme Fish will eat us! But if we behave badly, then we will taste bad. And the Supreme Fish will not eat us, and our spirits will live on forever in the cosmic ocean!"
Someone in the audience shouted out, "But maybe we should be eaten if that's what God wants!"
"No! We must save our spirits. We must live differently from how God has asked us to live. That is the only way to avoid being eaten!"
Colin got up to go, followed by a thoroughly bored Pryk. On their way out, a little boy-thing gave them each a bag. Colin took his bag, "Thank you. What's in it?"
"Shit," the little boy-thing said pleasantly.
"What?" Colin opened his bad, and sure enough, he had just been given a bag of poo. "What on Frontier is this shit!?
"Holy fecal matter. It is sacred. It is our way of thanking you."
They deposited their holy fecal matter in a huge pile of other discarded holy fecal matter just outside the front door of the church.
They next met a group of beings who had drawn maps of various streets located on many different worlds all over the galaxy. Through communion with the almighty, these people were able to tell where all the new potholes were going to appear after a heavy rain. And they would then arrange for couriers to dash off and tell the people of the galaxy, to warn them. But they seldom actually got there in time, since the vision only came an hour or so before the potholes formed. But when the couriers got there, they were at least able to confirm that once again, they were correct. And they hadn't missed one yet.
Colin didn't know what to say to them after their demonstration. Pryk, however, did: "So what?"
"Another human!" Colin heard someone from the crowd shout. And a rather haggard looking man staggered up to him, grabbed both his arms and began shouting excitedly, "I've just had the most amazing revelation! Masturbation is the key to self physical and temporal teleportation! Watch! I'll show you!" And the man began undoing his trousers. Colin quickly turned and walked away before getting the full demonstration. "Wait!" the man called from behind him. "Watch! Look! Look!" he shouted urgently from behind Colin. And then he was silent.
And when Colin finally did turn in order to tell the man that he simply wasn't interested in watching him choke his chicken... he was gone. Colin looked up and down the street, and even down a nearby alley. But the guy had simply vanished.
Well, thought Colin, perhaps I'll experiment with that later... in the privacy of my hotel room.
Several hours later Colin was about ready to call it a day and head back to the hotel, when he came across the Church of Satan. There was a group of people standing outside the church, and they were apparently singing. As he drew closer, he realized that they were actually protesting. Singing protestors had begun long ago when certain protestors actually came to the mistaken conclusion that it would help their cause if they repeated some catchy rhyme over and over. Over the years this practice eventually evolved into entire songs of protest.
Curious, Colin and Pryk pushed their way past the protestors and into the Church of Satan.
They were greeted in the entrance hall by a human male who asked for their passports. As soon as Colin his over, the man tossed it into a small furnace where it immediately caught fire. "Um, do I get it back?"
The guy looked curiously at the flames and ashes, "How?"
Colin shot a horrified expression to Pryk, who just whispered soothingly, "I'll sue them later." And he pocketed his own passport again.
They moved into the central chamber and found a couple of seats near the outer edge. There were no other attendees.
The rooms of the church were made to look as though they were a cave chiseled out of rock, lit entirely with red lava lamps all along the lower edges where the walls met the floor, giving the illusion of a slowly festering fire, casting hellish shadows over the high priest. The high priest himself had his short black hair slicked back. He wore enough mascara around his eyes to make him look like a raccoon, and he wore tight black leather pants and a long black cape.
The choir were singing a catchy little ditty about stabbing people and drinking their blood. The musical accompaniment was a single man with an electric guitar and speaker in an alcove with a blue spotlight on him. When the song was finished, the man swung the guitar down onto the speaker and then jumped up and down on the pieces over and over until there was nothing left larger than a toothpick. Then he clapped the dust off his hands with the satisfaction of a job well done, and high-fived the high priest on his way out. "See you tomorrow, dude."
The high priest walked over his throne, and took the sacred pitchfork. The small group of disciples nearby cheered as menacing a cheer as they could. The high priest nodded his appreciation to them, then turned his "mesmerizing" star upon his audience: Colin and Pryk. "Welcome to the Church of Satan, where no one ever leaves again," he paused to breath menacingly, and then added, "alive!"
"That's a warm welcome," Colin said, referring to the man's breath... no one getting the joke.
Pryk inquired, "If no one leaves alive, does that mean that you never go home?"
The priest held his sinister gaze... pondering how to answer that one. "I just mean you'll never leave here alive." He moved over to a large alter carved from stone. "Bring forth the helpless little animal!" he called out.
One of the disciples rose, carrying a cat-carrier. Inside was a small furry four-legged animal called a skinky. He removed it, and held it down on the stone.
The priest took out a short rust-proof steak knife which he had received recently in a set of fifty-five for only $39.95. And with the flourish of a skilled killer of small animals, he sliced open the skinky. He took out the intestine of the animal, held it up to the delight of his disciples, and he spoke, "Now, we take the intestine of the skinky and stretch it thus!" And he stretched it. "And now," he continued, "with stretched skinky intestine in hand... we summon you, oh, mighty Satan!"
Pryk began clapping, and nudged Colin in the elbow. Colin clapped thrice and then stopped, crossing his arms and sighing.
The religion of devil worship was invented simply to suit a certain life style. It was not in fact based on Satan himself. The people who formed it simply wanted to justify their flagrant disregard for good manners and most forms of acceptable social behavior. And so it really annoyed them when a famous psychiatrist who had his own show pointed out that if God is in all things, then He is in Satan as well. And therefore anyone who worships Satan is also worshiping God.
But eventually everyone forgot about this comment, and so they quietly got back to inventing their little ceremonies and rituals involving a fair amount of blood and a large amount of chanting... without knowing that they were being watched.
Normally Satan just minded his own business, spending most of his time enticing teenagers to have sex or listen to rock n' roll. But eventually he caught onto the fact that a bunch of mortals were actually worshiping him. At first he just ignored it. But eventually his curiosity got the better of him. And so, brimming with enthusiasm, Satan attended the very next gathering of his followers.
And as Colin Buchanan looked on, he too beheld the appearance of the devil before his followers.
"We summon you, Satan," the priest went on, "with stretched skinky intestine in hand!"
"Yes?" the devil said politely from the corner where he had been sitting unnoticed.
"Stop!" screeched the priest. "You have profaned this unholy ceremony! Who are you!?"
"Well, I'm the devil. Satan."
The priest looked worriedly at his colleagues. They returned the look in a feeling of mutual confusion. The priest looked back at Satan, "But... but we thank you, oh, mighty Satan, for appearing."
The devil spread out his hands and slapped them onto his thighs, "Sure."
The priest went on, nervously, "Oh, mighty Satan..."
"We offer you this sacrifice of this stretched skinky intestine." He walked hesitantly over to the seated devil, every step showing its own uncertainty.
The devil looked at the skinky intestine as it was brought slowly up to him. He tried to smile, but didn't quite manage to pull it off. The corners of his mouth rose, but a confused frown remained. He took the limp and moist thing, and held it up for a closer look. It hung there, glistening in the light of the lava lamps. He tried to think of what he could possibly do with it. And absolutely nothing came to mind. He turned to face the priest who was giving him guilty, puppy-dog eyes. "I just don't get this. You call this a sacrifice? And how badly to you need it?"
The priest's face went white, "We have offended! We beg forgiveness!"
Satan sighed in exasperation, "Oh, man, don't worry about it." He looked about the room. He recognized Pryk, "Oh, hi, dude."
Pryk did the cool upward jerking of the chin greeting as he said, "Hey."
"We have another sacrifice for you!" the priest shouted excitedly. He motioned to his friends standing near Colin. "We offer you this mortal soul," the priest smiled, eyes wide as though offering a pussy-cat a nice piece of chicken.
"Hey!" Colin said, but was instantly punched into silence.
"A mortal soul," the devil said, reasoning that perhaps he should be more polite to these confused people who were trying so desperately to please him. "Gosh, thanks."
Detecting the lack of enthusiasm, the priest dropped to his knees and wailed, "Please! We beg of you to accept our offering!"
"Oh, sure. It's great. I was gonna get myself a mortal soul just the other day in fact."
"Thank you, oh, mighty Satan! Thank you for accepting our gift to you!"
Satan shrugged, "Hey. Thank you." And he began trying to think of an excuse to leave.
The high priest rose and turned to his colleagues in naughtiness, "Proceed!"
Colin, feeling that perhaps his number was up, suddenly began struggling as hard as he could to break free from their grip. But before he knew what was happening, a pitchfork was rammed up into his rib cage rather savagely.
He dropped to the floor of the Church of Satan. The pain was excruciating. The pain was profound. It was virtually paralyzing. He lay there, feeling the coolness of the floor against his cheek. He noticed everybody's feet, but didn't know to whom they belonged. Would any of them call for help? Was there a hospital nearby. On second thought, considering his luck with hospitals, Colin began to feel it would be easier if he was just left here to die. And then the pain began to subside as all feeling trickled out of him. As he lay there utterly unable to move, he watched a pool of blood move out across the floor from underneath his chest. Was that all from him? He needed that... didn't he?
How long was this going to go on, he wondered. Shouldn't he be dead by now? Or was he going to be saved? But then if it ever got out what had happened to him... What would his family and friends think when they heard where this had happened? And what a damned stupid way this was to finish up!
He began to lose consciousness. And in a nonsensical delirium, he figured it was okay, because he would just re-write the whole scene later.
And then Colin Buchanan died.
The devil sat there looking at the dead man before him. He frowned deeply as he tried to comprehend what the hell was going on. He looked back up at his priest, "You killed it."
The priest of course, ever eager to please, dropped to his knees again, "We have offended!"
"I think confused is the word here, mate."
"What can we do to make it up to you!?"
Satan shook his head, "I dunno. I mean... do you normally just kill them?"
"Yes!" The high priest's eyes gleamed evilly. "It is the sacred tradition."
"Ah." The devil nodded. "Well, that's fine then." He paused. "Thank you," he said after he realized that no one else was speaking. Then he realized that no one was continuing to speak, "So do I take the body back to hell with me now or what?"
"No. We dispose of it."
"Okay. Well... good." He cleared his throat to fill up another silence, and then spoke again, "Good." He made a mental note to simply let his followers get on with their own affairs from now on, all by themselves.
Not wanting to interrupt the ceremony... also anxious not to be killed, Pryk crept quietly out while nobody was looking.