Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Unpublishable Short Story: The Atheists

It's not the greatest short story, and, sure, the ending is a bit weird, but this story is part of The Unpublishables because literary journals are primarily humorless, liberal douchebags.

The Atheists
By Michael Frissore

Erica sat on a metal folding chair by the river. A dozen or so of her college friends looked on as Martin stood before her brandishing a leaf blower - a Toro Ultra Blower Vac - with the word “Reason” written on it in red Magic Marker.

It was a beautiful spring day, perfect for Martin to perform his very first de-baptism. Erica happily volunteered to be his first subject, feeling that her own baptism as an infant was done sans her consent.

Martin, a senior, was the leader of a group of anti-religious students who started meeting and reading books about atheism. With some research Martin discovered that groups at schools around the United States were performing de-baptisms. He decided this was just what his group needed.

Erica, a freshman, was brought up by Catholic parents, though not terribly strict ones. While raised in public schools, she went through all of her religious education classes until confirmation, at which point she saw herself as free of religion. College had thus far proven to solidify that decision. Meeting Martin at a bar near campus moved her further from what her parents called “the Lord.” She now saw herself as a firm atheist.

Martin placed his left hand over Erica’s head, careful to not yet activate the leaf blower in his right hand, while, at the same time, keeping his dog Moe at bay with his right leg.

“Erica, my fellow non-believer,” Martin said. “Have you freely renounced the previous mistake made by your parents and accepted reason over superstition?”

“I have,” Erica said.

“Then I now pronounce you de-baptized.”

He flicked the switch on the Toro, knocking Erica off her chair and scaring the hell out of Moe. Erica laughed along with her new friends and looked up at Martin as if to say “Oops,” while Moe recovered and licked her face. Erica then rose to her feet, waving her arms in the air.

“I got de-baptized!” She shouted as her fellow classmates embraced her firmly and offered congratulations, some expressing how they couldn’t wait until their own de-baptisms.

“How do you feel?” one of them asked her.

“I feel so free,” Erica said, munching on a “de-sacrament” - a Saltine with peanut butter. “It’s so therapeutic.”

Martin then handed Erica her Certificate of De-baptism. She clutched it lovingly, held it against her chest as if hugging it then waved it triumphantly for all to see. Martin smiled at her celebratory gestures.

“Now you can use that certificate to petition the church where you were baptized to remove you from their baptismal rolls,” Martin told her.

“I will definitely do that,” Erica replied.

Her friends continued patting her on the back as they all walked to the train and then out for lunch. Martin thought about what a success his group had become and how wonderfully his first de-baptism had gone. He was very excited. There would be more ceremonies like this one, he thought, in the months ahead.

That night Erica returned to her parents’ house. Her mother, Sally, and father, Richard, were sitting on the sofa watching Wheel of Fortune. Richard was reading the paper as Sally knitted a sweater beside him. Erica let her purse drop to the floor and presented her certificate, doing a semi-dance in the process.

“I got de-baptized,” she sang.

Richard rose from the couch and threw his newspaper to the floor while Sally gently began sobbing into her own hands, nearly poking an eye out with her knitting needle.

“So that’s it, is it?” Richard said. “You just couldn’t wait to crap on something your parents and grandparents hold dear. Couldn’t wait to rid yourself, your body and soul, of our Lord and Savior, could you?”

“Oh, Erica,” Sally cried.

“You baptized me without my consent and now your mistake has been corrected.”

“You want to hear about a mistake, you smarmy little…” Richard began.

“No, Richard,” Sally pleaded.

“She’s gonna hear this, Sally!”

“I’m eighteen, Dad. I can do whatever I want. You’re not the boss of me.”

“We should have kept you underwater,” Richard said.

“Oh, that’s nice,” Erica said.

“Richard!” Sally cried.

“All we wanted,” Richard said. “Was to bring you up right, and because the cool bands and the cool celebs shun religion, we were jerks for caring.”

“Maybe you were, Dad,” Erica said,

“Maybe we shouldn’t have named you either. Let you choose that too. You’d have named yourself Hannah Montana.

“Whatever, Dad,” Erica said, leaving the room. “I have a party to go to.”

“And don’t expect any Christmas gifts this year since you don’t celebrate it because Jesus sucks, right? You can worship nothing but the intellectual superiority of being an atheist!”

“I will, Dad!” Erica shouted as she walked out the front door.

Erica went to meet Martin and the rest of the group for a party at Martin’s Christian friends’ house. Steve and Alisa were believers, though not regular churchgoers. They were having other Christian friends over and Martin couldn’t wait to “de-vangelize” to all of them.

Little did either atheist know that the party would not be nearly as well attended as they thought. Erica, expecting the gang who watched her de-baptism, was disappointed that it would be just her and Martin that night.

And Martin would be deeply upset when he found out that Steve cancelled on his Christian friends because he didn’t want to subject them to Martin.

Thus it was just Martin and Erica, alongside Moe, who walked up Steve and Alisa’s driveway. Erica, knowing that Martin’s intent was conversion, was uncomfortable that the atheists would be outnumbered. But that was what Martin wanted - the teacher and student, just the two of them against the Christians. Now that Erica had been de-baptized they could conquer Christianity together.

Steve and Alisa, meanwhile, prepared appetizers for their guests. Steve hoped to keep the night’s conversations away from religion as he always did with Martin. He liked the man. That was part of why he told his other friends not to come. He knew Martin had been waiting to preach his own gospel, and that his friends would hate him for it. He and Alisa could handle Martin and a handful of kids.

Before ringing the doorbell to Steve’s home, Martin addressed his companions.

“Listen, fellow atheists,” he said to Erica and Moe. “We’re going to convert some believers tonight. Wow them with facts and reason. Put an end to faith as they know it. Better wax up them crosses, Christians! Here we come!”

“I don’t understand why it’s just us,” Erica said. “What about strength in numbers? And why does the dog always come with us?”

“Erica, honey,” Martin said. “These are not questions you should be asking. You’re the apprentice. You should ask how many of these believers will come to our side.”

“Well, can I at least put this leaf blower down?”


Martin rang the bell and Steve answered, clearly expecting a bigger crowd at his door.

“Hello,” Steve said.

“Hello, Steve,” Martin said. “Thanks for inviting us.”

“Not a problem. Was that you yelling out here? Where are all your friends?”

“Couldn’t make it,” Martin said as they entered. “And where are your other guests?”

“Touch of the swine flu, I’m afraid,” Steve said. “I see you brought your dog though. And a leaf blower. Good thinking.”

“See,” Martin whispered to Erica. “Where is their God when the swine flu is about?”

“What was that?” Steve said.

“Nothing,” Martin said. “Just that you know how inseparable Moe and I are.”

“I don’t actually,” Steve said. “But welcome. May I take your lawn equipment?”

Erica handed the leaf blower over to Steve, who Martin then asked if they could keep it by the door in case they needed it.

Martin introduced Erica to Steve and Alisa and they all went to sit in the living room. There they discussed the weather, movies, and sports. Steve passed around plates of deviled eggs and stuffed mushrooms and periodically filled everyone’s wine glasses.

Martin waited for the right moment to state his purpose and thought the pouring of the wine was the perfect time to both do this and make a joke.

“So Steve,” he said. “Have you thought about serving wine not drawn from the blood of Christ?”

“What does that mean?” Steve said.

“Have you and Alisa thought of taking God out of your lives? Going from believers to non-believers?”

“Why would we want to do that?” Steve said.

“Well,” Martin answered. “We’re well into the 21st century, for Christ’s sake. No pun intended. The Best-Sellers List is filled with books portraying God as dead or not great. Don’t you want in on that?”

“Martin,” Alisa said. “I thought we had an understanding that religion would not be brought up at our gatherings.”

“Well, it’s been the elephant in the room, hasn’t it?” Martin said.

“No, it hasn’t,” Steve said. “We’ve gotten along great until you called me yesterday saying you wanted to unsave my soul.”

“I’d like to, if I may,” Martin said. “Begin with a quote from Christopher Hitchens’ God is Not Great. He asks, ‘How can we ever know how many children had their psychological and physical lives irreparably maimed by the compulsory inculcation of faith?’”

“Wow,” Steve said. “That’s a lot of big words there, Martin. But I’ll try to answer by saying that my guess is we can’t. At least not until we’re done tallying the psychological harm caused by video games and exposure to homosexuals.”

“See!” Martin said. “Hate speech!”

“That was a joke, Martin,” Steve said. “I love video games.”

“Hey,” Alisa said. “Who’s up for some Cranium?”

“I thought Christians believe humans don’t have craniums,” Martin said.

“Okay,” Steve said. “You know what, Martin? You and you latest victim should go.”

“I’m not a victim,” Erica said. “You can’t just judge us by our beliefs.”

“Isn’t that why you’re here?” Alisa said.

“We’re here to enrich you with reason,” Erica said.

“Yes,” Steve said. “Like it says on the giant leaf blower.”

There were a few seconds of silence. Steve and Alisa looked at each other as Martin pet his dog.

“I haven’t fully introduced you to Moe yet,” Martin said.

“Hello, Moe. Nice doggie,” Steve said, then adding, “Didn’t I ask you to leave just a minute or two ago?”

“No, wait,” Martin said. “Moe, say hello to the nice Christians.”

“What?” Steve said.

God is a lie,” Moe said.

“See!” Martin said. “Moe knows!”

“What are you talking about?” Steve said.

God is dead,” Moe added.

Martin put his hands out in a ta-da motion, expecting awe to fill the room. But Martin was the only one in the room who heard Moe speak. The others, including Erica, stared at Martin and the dog, who was just an ordinary canine to them.

“Moe is telling you that God is dead,” Martin said.

“Well, tell him to speak up,” Steve said. “Is this a Satanic dog? What are we dealing with here?”

Atheists don’t believe in God or Satan, stupid,” Moe said.

“Oh, he told you, Steve,” Martin said.

“What the hell are you talking about?” Alisa said as Steve made cuckoo clock sounds.

“We’re out!” Martin shouted. “Me and Moe and Erica are out of the closet as atheists and you can’t hurt us.”

“Please don’t group me with you and the talking dog,” Erica whispered.

Alisa got down on her knees and began petting Moe, who licked her face. Erica drank from her glass uncomfortably as Martin stared daggers at his dog as if willing him to speak to everyone.

“What a good doggie,” Alisa said. “All dogs go to Heaven, don’t they, Moe?”

“No!” Martin said. “Tell them, Moe! There is no Heaven! There is no God!”

Steve got down on the floor next to Alisa and rubbed Moe behind his ears and grabbed at his nose.

“Gosh, Davey,” Steve said while moving Moe’s mouth like a puppeteer. “I don’t know how you sleep at night thinking there’s a boogeyman under your bed and that you might die before you wake.”

“Stop mocking us!” Martin said. Erica and Alisa tried to hold in laughter, but could not.

“Prayers are retarded,” Steve continued. “And there’s no God, you stupid asshole. Now pick up my feces and let’s go play Halo.”

“All right, that’s it,” Erica said. “I’m out of here. Steve, Alisa, it was nice meeting you. Martin, we’ll talk tomorrow about your talking dog.”

“You mean you didn’t hear Moe speak? How is that possible? You’re a non-believer just as we are.”

“No, Martin. I didn‘t,” Erica said. “And I’ll walk home. I have some thinking to do.”

Erica exited the house, leaving Martin embarrassed and alone with the Christians. There was more silence as Steve and Alisa looked at each other, then at Martin.

“So,” Martin said. “I suppose you never heard it either?”

Steve stood up, placing his hands together as if praying, but more out of exasperation than prayer.

“Martin,” Steve said. “You can’t convince people with a strong faith in God that He doesn’t exist. That usually necessitates a history of priest molestation or having one’s cat hit by a truck. Any more than I could convince you that God does exist. You want God to appear like a noisy neighbor and be all, ‘Hello, I’m God. Got any sugar?’ What kind of supreme being would just show up all the time like Mr. Furley?”

With that, an enormous, bearded, human, but race-ambiguous, figure came crashing through the wall. Martin promptly wet himself and began screaming for his life.

“No!!!!! I get it!” Martin shouted. “I believe! I believe!”

Then he ran out of the house, straight into traffic, where he was hit by a bus and killed.

“Who was that?” the large bearded man asked.

“He was sort of a friend,” Steve said.

“And a bit of a crazy person, if you ask me,” the man said.

“Gee, Earl. Maybe it was the eight-foot bearded guy crashing through the wall that made him nuts,” Steve said. “What did we tell you about doing that? And what are you doing here anyway? We cancelled the party.”

“I wanted to meet this atheist of yours. I knew you were hiding something from us.”

“Well, he’s dead now and it’s your fault.”

“Oh, shut up, Steve,” Earl said.

“You know he thought you were God?”

“Well, he’s an idiot then, isn’t he?”

“You’re cleaning up this time,” Steve said. “Some landlord. Tearing through the walls constantly without knocking.”

“Look, they’re paper thin, these walls,” Earl said. “I’m gonna have them redone soon. I promise.”

I’ve heard that before, you freakishly-tall bastard,” Steve said. “Let’s go identify Martin’s body.”

Steve and Earl went outside, where a large group of people had surfaced in the street, leaving Alisa to do the cleaning up.

M Frissore

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