Nathaniel Heely is a graduate of the University of Arkansas. His fiction has previously appeared in The Hawaii Pacific Review, Subterranean Quarterly, Best of Vine Leaves Literary Journal 2014, Revolver, and many others. For more of his work visit nathanielheely.com.
The existence of the Afterlife was verified by a team of twelve scientists working at CERN after an accident with the Large Hadron Collider caused them to die and meet postmortem in the waiting room of Heaven. They discussed what went wrong, of course, and spent what felt like two hours trying to posit different scenarios of where they had ended up: alternate universes, wormholes, black holes, another dimension. When an
attendant came—they called him an angel, he refused any such title—he offered them their solution. Here was Heaven. None of them questioned it. The dead rarely do. They were offered the choice to either return to earth or cross the threshold into eternity. Collectively they thought it would be overwhelmingly good for humanity to return proof of the hereafter and, despite the attendant feelings of luxurious peace, they told their man they preferred to return to earth.
Opposite of what they probably expected, humanity encountered severe problems with the bona fide proof of the Afterlife. The CERN incident encouraged more coverage and investigation into Near Death Experiences. Not at all a new phenomenon, the NDE coverage contained a quixotic air closer to paranoia than assurance. Why the big push on spiritual episodes recorded as far back as Plato? The final skepticism was crushed when God himself made his way down the stairway to Heaven. And after sufficient water had been turned into wine, and the exhuming of the dead—not to mention a few family urns reanimating the ashes inside—it was deemed that this was no doubt God, or at the very least a being with all the powers of God.
The non-believers explored the full faculty of reasonable possibilities: a sudden hallucinatory epidemic, a conspiratorial re-awakening funded by Evangelical megachurches, questioning the credibility of the witnesses and/or miracles. But there were too many witnesses; there were too many miracles. Laws of physics became more or less rhetorical niceties and semantic circumstance. Exhausted, a noted scientist, essayist, and self-proclaimed anti-theist proposed that the circumstances had led him to believe that solipsism was the only factual conclusion of the events.
Atheism endured under the guise of weekly meetings of solipsists at local community centers and libraries. It was difficult for the noted scientist to convince others to come, in one part because he didn’t/couldn’t really believe they existed, and in another part because the other members couldn’t shake the feeling of their presence being undesired, seeing as the noted scientist, whom they all praised and loved, had declared them unreal. Plus, the only other logical extension was that they were the real ones and the noted scientist himself was a figment. The meetings were very vague in structure. In rotating weeks each person was assigned to bring coffee and bagels, but it quickly became dogma that if someone brought more than just enough for themselves they ought to be asked to leave. No use in wasting energy, food, money on figments.
Of course the arrival of God induced mass elation. But it also caused extreme economic havoc as many people turned away from their jobs in the expectancy that God would provide for all their needs. He was also in turn constantly invited to vast multitudes of houses of worship: synagogues, churches, temples, and the like. He rejected all of these, saying that he “wasn’t really a church person” and this in turn caused a lot of churches to lose their congregations and, long-term, to go under as well, without sufficient tithing. People out of jobs, more economic downturn, but at least Sundays lost their obligation. In an interview with Oprah, God was asked to comment on which religion was right. He meekly answered that he was still trying to figure that one out.
“You mean you don’t know?”
He shrugged helplessly.
“Is there someone else that would know? Someone higher up?”
At this he was disgusted. “Someone higher up? I’m God.”
“But what were we created for?”
“There are a lot of theories on that.”
“You mean you don’t know that one either?”
“The investigation remains, as you humans like to say, ongoing,” He said, blushing through weak laughter.
“But surely you know as you’re the one who created us!”
God had not, in fact, created the humans. Or perhaps, not yet. This floored people and many, though still believing, became disapproving of the Being. For a few weeks after, the American news media ran a daily segment comparing approval rating between Congress and God. He receded from public life, concealing himself from man once again, though not ascending to Heaven. He moved about through the ages, making cameos in hazy visions and unremembered dreams, but never to large audiences or the world as a whole. Man was so much more genial, so much more welcoming in solitude.
The general consensus declared this is where God remains, is, was, and ever shall be, Amen. Perhaps he would even get around to creating man. Throughout it all NDEs were consistently reported, but the figure of God could not be precisely ascertained: a floating pool of light, a face of a deceased relative, the likeness of Cesare Borgia. Following his ejection from humanity’s graces, the disdain eased and the public found a deep, if falsified, nostalgia for when the Almighty walked among them.
I met a small child once that told me she was God. She stared hungrily at the lawn between her toes. I asked her what it was she thought that God did.
“I’m the boss of Heaven,” she replied.
“And what is Heaven?” I asked.
But at that moment we were interrupted by a shout from across the street. Her dad said to “stop annoying that nice man.” She blushed and ran away in giggles. I never got an answer. Sometimes I walk down that street in hopes she’ll be outside playing again.
My investigation remains, as they say, ongoing.