October 22, 2054
It’s my birthday. Twenty years of simulated autumns in this place. Twenty simulated years. I once loved this season. I was born into it. But here, when the green of the leaves is unconvincingly transmuted into gold, it is a cyber-alchemy that darkens the soul––or, I should say, it darkens the empty place where my soul once was––and leaves me tired.
I know you do not relish hearing from me after all this time––but I met him at last. Jesus. Yes. Jesus––Clone Of The Oh-My-God. He’s here––in prison. Jesus 2.0. The inmates call him Two.
And, no, you don’t want to hear from me especially about him after all this time––and especially from inside my Simulated Life-Sentence Cubicle. Oh, X––it is (sort of) Jesus, after all. And you must be just a little curious about my endless life in a sim-cell? Yes, they call them sim cells––like stem cells––only without a future. Honestly, I just need to write. There is no one else, and you know me––the last semi-living devotee to the written word. Come, my excellent X––you still read a little, don’t you? Those restless, lonely nights when you can’t fall asleep––books still whisper to you––like Jesus calling. You didn’t really burn all my books, did you? The television news is so sensational. Do you still read the news in the morning––those words gracing the microwave screen, delicate as lies, as you sip your tea? I know you followed my trial. I could feel it in here. Is there anything more satisfying, after all our venom, than seeing my name merged with an assault charge. You love words, too, X. Even now, I can feel your cool eyes burning this page.
Believe me, I’m not writing to somehow have you take me back. I’m in Simulation for keeps. And, honestly, I think I may have been made for Sim Life. Really. I mean life in the real world––oh, X––it was never real––not to me. A school teacher in a video-game world? My eyes were rolling in my head from the moment I woke in the morning. Now the virtual wheels of justice have done us both a good turn. I walk through my day here––and I’m not really walking at all, you know––I’m moon-walking, feet sliding over sidewalks that have no cracks––and the synthetic trees and fire hydrants––the synthetic strangers passing by––they all remind me that nothing is real. I’m not real. The only reality is the shock that straightens my hair if I break any of the rules. One step into the virtual crosswalk against the virtual traffic light––and a defined number of volts runs through my veins like manic ants. There’s not much to it––my life here. It’s a tale told by an idiot. But, darling X, so is life out there. It’s just that, in the penitentiary, the idiot has his hand on the switch. Oh, somewhere over the rainbow––where you are––the madness is just as persistent––but more subtle, like a mysterious rash that gets worse as you scratch it. In here, the insanity is much clearer. Everything is clearer in a virtual world. You know what’s making your balls tingle. So, truly, I’m not looking to climb back into that shadowy infection that we called a life together. I’m just thinking, after twenty years, maybe I could shine a strange little light on that world out there––from the No Man’s Land, in here––where Jesus and I wander.
I’m hoping you’ll save these letters––please––just in some dusty corner––maybe where my other books used to be. I want to think of these letters––this one––oh, and the others that will come––I want to think of them being collected and bound. It will be my Book of Luke. It will be our Forgotten Book from an Age when Books were Forgotten––a story adrift on the tide of our times––about a Savior––who returned to save no one. Doesn’t it intrigue you, Madeleine?
He is the mirror held up to our simulated nature––this meaningless shadow of a brief candle––the clone of Jesus! It’s crazy––a fiction wrapped inside a myth wrapped inside this virtual dream––and it all signifies nothing! But it is who we are––and I’ve spoken to him. I’ve spoken with Jesus 2.0, and I want to make a record of it, a brief chronicle of our times––the times that wrote, directed and produced The Second Coming. It was our miracle this time! The Son of Man!
I confess to you––oh, and you know it already––I’m a driven man still. You hated that in me? Of course––just one of so many things. I understand. In this Age of Answers, X, I had only doubts, and I could not keep them to myself. Indeed, I’m helpless to keep from writing this book––this Book of Luke––destined to be un-read for all of the time––this Book of Doubt. This time, though, the light I mean to shine on Jesus 2.0 is intended to extinguish him. Out, out brief candle, it will say. He is my doubt about our times incarnate––this shadow, born among us––and, for all of us, I will send him back into the darkness. You will entomb the two of us together, Jesus and me, wrapped within these pages, and then roll the rock in place that seals the tomb and leaves us in fathomless obscurity forever.
Madeleine, I know you will help me push the Clone of God back into the abyss. I will write this cry in the wilderness––and you will be the organ that both collects and erases it from the human consciousness forever. I know I can trust you–– your hatred is transcendent.
November 22, 2054
Thanksgiving already. It’s meaningless. Even before I came to this place, that holiday was ironic. No one cooks anymore. I guess we should be thankful for that. All that comfort food sneaking bundles of empty calories into our veins and exploding our hearts as we watched football–it was the last real domestic terrorism. So, there’s little feasting left in that festival, but we can still be thankful.
It’s the beginning of the Christmas shopping season.
And today, my work on The Book begins.
In the beginning . . . [I’m remembering, like God had to when he wrote the Bible.] In the beginning, there were news stories about Cloning. But truly––even back in the day–no one cared about cloning anymore. You remember that? The news was sleeping with entertainment by then–and cloning only made headlines in a trial story when a clone argued with himself in court or something—tabloid stuff. Mostly cloning had gone from science fiction to science who cares–like watching those grainy retro-images of the Moon landings. Cloning stories were a dusty landing on a lifeless topic.
But there was the Jesus Clone!
Madeleine, darling––may I use your name? I want to address my epistle to someone. Don’t you remember how it started? Italy. Italy was in back in ruins. Poor Italy–always so painfully–what–bulimic or whatever since the Roman Empire Days. Swinging constantly between fits of La Dolce Vita and, you know, Il Duce. Anyway, The Shroud of Turin was up for auction, you remember, and I know that–but I have to write for the latter-day epistle-readers, too–the ones who weren’t there–and some lab boys here the U.S. went together and bid for a piece of it. They were saying–hey, we brought back dinosaurs––so why not Jesus? There was a little scuffling about it. The churches made some scuffle about Oh, It’s The Shroud of Turin or whatnot. But what are churches these days? The Masada for the aged, that’s all (insert footnote on Masada)––the last bastion for angry old people who refuse medical marijuana. They go to church, sing with the recorded music, complain about the way things are today. And they believe in life-after-euthanasia. It’s going to be better than retirement, they say. Everyone’s got their own bathroom and their own phone–and maybe Jesus would play piano in the lounge. But they weren’t ready to meet Jesus now! Right now? What? They didn’t like Jesus dropping in this way. He should call first and then a big announcement–trumpets and what-not. Not this cloning. No. So, they put up a dusty ruckus. What’s new? No one really cared.
So, Jesus was cloned from this shadow on The Shroud. And in the fullness of time, etc., the Holy Embryo was inserted into a homeless woman who needed the money––and Our Savior was born and placed in a neo-natal manger. There were no angels or shepherds. God, in particular, kept to Himself.
So anyway, I noticed the story of the birth that morning. That is, Madeleine, your husband Luke noticed. He said aloud to you, “This is something!” He said he would talk to his students about it Monday. It was a Sunday. And you were in the kitchen drinking that brand of tea that everyone drinks now to make them anti-occidental or whatever (I know it’s anti-oxidant–I’m joking), and you said nothing because, lo, you were uninterested.
That is the way it was with the mass-media annunciation, divine cloning, and uneventful birth of our Savior, Jesus 2.0.
Save these letters, Madeleine, in Jesus’ name.
January 1, 2055
Happy New Year. The first New Year of Our Lord in Prison. I talk to myself, here, in the sim-cell. And you would say to me, “What’s new? Most of the time when you were talking to me you were talking to yourself.” And I say, that’s true enough, but that’s because it is the nature of the times. We live in an age where everything has already been said–so, yes, I talk to myself because I’m the only one I haven’t heard from. But in here, I’m always surrounded by simulated strangers who pretend to listen. That confuses me. So, I write to you because I know I am talking to myself in these letters,
and I don’t have to deal with your simulated listening or anyone else’s. After all, I’m bringing the story of a Savior who, as far as I can tell, is saving no one––so you are exactly what I require––a private audience with someone who is definitely not listening. Hallelujah.
Okay, here’s the picture. I talk to Two in the yard. This is the simulated yard of the prison where the inmate-sim-selves are allowed to gather for one half-hour every day. His Simulation (I capitalize here out of respect for His somewhat genetic divinity) is an illustration from some Medieval book, so it’s two-dimensional––like a playing card––and he’s got big sort of vacant eyes and long fingers. He only responds to anyone with Bible verses. So, even when I’m talking to him, it’s like talking to a book. Which, dear Madeleine, I know you would say is the story of your life with me––and I say, fair enough. (When it comes to books, yes–I’ve read some books. While I have not read deeply, I have read widely. That bookishness I know you find so enervating (look it up if you’re uncertain) is my conscious effort to fill the vacuum modern culture has left by accident in removing all doubt, pain, and fear.)
Jesus 2.0 is in prison because he killed a prostitute––that is, he killed his lover who had been a prostitute––an older woman, old enough to be his mother. (See the ancient Greek play Oedipus The King–though just reading all this, dear reader(s), I know is enough to exhaust any residual curiosity per se.) Anyway, it comes to pass that we meet––Two and me––in the sim yard. The simulated sunlight is bright. Everything in simulation has an edge to it, okay, even the light, and in sim life, everything turns more suddenly. New angles offer themselves suddenly, when you turn your head. My own voice comes from behind me somewhere when I move my lips. When Two speaks, he holds two long fingers in the air.
But dear reader––yes, you, Madeleine, whether you’re really reading this or not––I am getting ahead of myself. I should talk about school first in these letters. That is where my story––that is, Luke’s story––really begins. The students wore pajamas to school. That was their school uniform because everyone wanted them to be comfortable, and they sat in class on couches. School was a video game. Over the years they played the levels of The Game, and, in the end, they were granted a certificate that made them “Graduate-Citizens.”
I was their teacher––the teacher of students in pajamas. They didn’t even comb their hair, most of them. I could only make them pretend to listen to me for a few minutes at a time. So, I would ask them questions at the beginning of class that I found in my books. What is the sound of one hand clapping? I would ask them that. They sat in pajamas and mostly did not answer. Some would laugh at me–only not at me as much as to each other. Most would not laugh because it was too much work. They just wanted to play The Video Game and get on to graduating. Period.
That Monday morning, after reading about The Cloning on Sunday, I asked them what child was this––this child that had been born from the shadow on The Shroud? They were bored. They were bored with the question they had just heard and bored with most of their lives. I could feel their boredom. I could always feel it, but this time it kind of climbed inside me. Even though their boredom was a dead thing, it climbed inside me and chewed holes in me like termites. It was like your boredom, Madeleine. I think it was the sound of one hand clapping.
Let this be enough for today, I guess–for chapter two or whatever–and so here ends the Gospel of Luke for right now.
Again, Happy New Year.
Please put this letter with the others.
April 1, 2055
April Fools’ Day and Easter Week.
Perfect, am I right?
Two isn’t talking much. It’s His Last Days. That’s what they say in the yard. At least I think that’s what they’re saying. All sim-voices sound alike to me, even my own sim-voice, and they all come from behind my head, so I get a little crazy listening to them (and don’t take this opportunity to say anything about–what’s new? or something like that, okay?), but they’re all saying the same thing. The end is near.
I told you, Two speaks in Bible verses. I think it might be The Book of Luke. I have read that part of The Holy Bible with particular interest as it had my name in the title. You could look it up in one of the books you burned. Ha. If it’s The Book of Luke, that’s funny in this weird way–because then I’m talking to the same book I’m writing. The Gospel of Luke, right? That’s April Fools’ Day for you. And it’s sort of Easter for you, too. Perfect. (And I say ‘perfect’ on this occasion advisedly because I’m talking about Jesus–though, I also have to say, in regards to perfect, none of the edges here seem to match up.) Today I asked Him if they were going to delete Him. He says to me, “Let the dead bury their dead.”
I say to Him, “Make sense.”
He says, “Into thy hands I commend my spirit.”
(I don’t capitalize ‘my’ because it was His Own divine Self that said it, but I’m not sure what’s correct or what he would want per se.)
I say, “What?” He’s got these big eyes, Medieval eyes, and, when you ask Him questions, they just slide right through you. Not into you, through you. And he’s got those two long fingers He holds up. And sometimes–now, get this–sometimes He’s got the stigmata, the holes in His hands and feet, all right? Sometimes not. They come and go even when he’s talking to you and holding his hand up there–like whoever composed His Sim used a number of different paintings. So, it’s like the hand He’s holding up there has the hole in it–then it doesn’t have the hole–and then it does–like His hand has this eyeless socket that’s winking at you.
Now, when I say ‘What?’–He says nothing for a long time. He just sort of stares, and His hand is blinking and winking at me–while his conversation is getting re-booted or something.
“Whatever.” That’s what I say to Him, and I tell him this, too. “They say they’re calling for Ultimate Rehab for You.” That’s what I tell Him, and I tell Him that’s their way of saying euthanasia around here. “They say You don’t respond to therapy,” I tell Him. “That’s what I hear. And I can believe that.”
Finally, He says to me, “O, perverse generation, how long shall I put up with you?” And I say to Him, now that’s pretty much calling the kettle black as He was the one who killed His own prostitute girlfriend who was–on top of that–old enough to be His mother. And I said He may want to be more circumspect about the whole perversion category after such an act.
I should say, I had little patience with Two from the beginning. I’m an old man now who is not particularly taken with young Saviors. I wouldn’t even have talked to Him except for the advent of one coincidence. That co-incident had the name of Penelope. That’s the prostitute that He killed. It turns out His prostitute-lover happens to have been a student of mine, years and years before. Lo, that’s right––my student––and she was in my class on the day I asked, “What child is this?” So, years later, after I find my own self here in Sim City–and after that Lab-Hatched Clone of God has grown into a man–a man such as he was–I remember hearing the news right here in prison–hearing the name Penelope.
“That crazy Clone of God killed Penelope!”
That’s what I said to myself.
And from that moment on, I just wanted to know why.
How could he kill her?
Why did he kill her?
In due course, as people say–in due course–and as if someone was harkening unto my questions–Jesus 2.0 was sentenced here. He was sentenced here–and in spite of my own self–I’m telling you I don’t understand this–in spite of my own self–and in spite of you, Madeleine–though I understand your burning my books and all that–I am now also beseeching your help–and I do beseech you, Madeleine–it has all come to pass, etc., that I am, indeed, myself tasked with the burden of writing The Gospel of Jesus 2.0 According to Luke.
As I write these words, okay, lo, the memories echo in my head. It’s like they’re breaking loose in there. The idiots are in my head––the idiots telling the tale are in my head playing Whack-a-Mole with my neurons. I can feel it as I write. It’s April Fools’ Day––and they’re in my head. My memories are breaking loose. Madeleine, they’re stealing this story. That’s why you have to save these letters. My own memories are becoming goddamn simulations.
This is what I remember.
The day I brought the news to class, the news of the Jesus-cloning––they were sitting on couches, students in pajamas––Penelope was there––and they just wanted to play The Game. They were at level 12, and they just wanted to become Citizens. Instead, I read the news to them and said to them, “What child is this?”
As I said, there was nothing at first, they were so bored. Then Condor, he’s slow––verily, I tell you the boy is slow, but he talks, at least––and he says, “So, the clone is Jesus? Jesus making a come-back?”
I say, “Yes. Okay.”
Then Condor asks a good question. He says, “Who cares?”
I shrug, and I say, “That’s a good question.” I say, “I don’t know what the aged at church think,” because I wasn’t aged then, “except they’re always saying––Jesus saves. Jesus saves. I guess they care. Maybe they think Jesus will save them.”
That’s when Kamala says––and she always wore nice pajamas––she says, “But save us from what?” Or in Bible language she would say, “But, lo, save us from what?”
And I did answer Kamala, saying, “I don’t know––death, I guess. They talk about how everyone will live forever.”
There was a lot of silence mostly, but that’s when Penelope joins in. She was always braiding and unbraiding her tangled blonde hair––but she liked questions like this––I remember that. And Penelope says to me––I remember this very clearly––she says, “But I’m just not afraid of death. I don’t think anyone is anymore.”
I remember saying, yes, okay, and nodding, but it was almost like I wasn’t listening. Something was turning over in me. Still, I remember what she said.
“Death––” she said, “I think death might be what everyone really wants.” That’s what she said. “It’s life that’s boring.” She was looking around at all of them and so was I. “Look at us. We’re still in pajamas. You want to save us? Save us from life!” Lo, that’s what she says. “It feels like we live forever already––and then more life after euthanasia? I’m sorry, Jesus.” Then she quotes Patrick Henry or whoever–not that she knows that–and she says, “Just give me death.”
I nodded again and said, yes, but I felt something opening up in me then, as if my own questions were coming up so fast it felt like vomit. And I remember saying, “But isn’t it bizarre that they would conjure up a savior just when it feels like no one really needs saving anymore?” I wanted to talk––and they were bored. I raised my voice. I wanted them to wake up! Verily, you know?
Oh, Madeleine, dear reader, I have to stop! I can feel the tingling. Ants in my veins. I must go to my work––my sim-job. I teach sim-children. I teach them the same lesson over and over. Thou shalt not hit another person. They have the faces of those children–the children I assaulted––yes, only even more soul-less––Condor, Kamala––the students that I hit with the Bible that day. Lo, I tried to save them! I tried to awaken them from their endless sleep. Maybe you were right to burn my books––but they paid attention the day I smacked them with one! They awakened that day! Penelope awakened. I had one good day in class.
Now, in here, there’s an electric shock any time I raise my voice. This is my voice-raising now, Madeleine–lo, these letters delivered unto you are my cry in the sim-wilderness. Save them. Except for the eternal flame of your hatred for me––this secret Gospel of Jesus 2.0 According to Luke is all anyone can ever know of immortality and all anyone needs to know.
That last part may be Keats. I’m not sure.
June 21, 2055
It’s the longest day of the year––out there—the summer solstice. In here, it’s all one endless day. Imagine a day twenty years long. Precious X, they are saying I’m not being responsive to therapy. They put that thought into my head. That’s how they tell you things. A thought is in your head when you wake up, like a revelation. It comes to you. Oh, I’m not being responsive––and it’s razor-sharp––like conscience––cutting into you. You’ll end up on The Row, it says––you’ll end up like Jesus. It feels like conscience––but I know it’s them––and they’ve made this day–and every day–the longest day of the year.
Fuck them. Sorry––you never liked harsh language––but it doesn’t matter. It’s my gospel. I confronted Two about Penelope. “You killed her,” I said, “now you’re going to die!” That’s what I said unto him. “You are the Angel of Death!” That’s what I said. I was trying, lo, not to yell at him, but I felt the tingling anyway. His sim––his two-dimensional medieval sim is very twitchy to talk to as it is. I try to push him but my hands go verily through him. Now, I must tell you–it’s come to pass that something’s really been eating me. “Did she love you?” Lo, that’s what I asked him. “Penelope,” I say to him, “the girl you killed––she loved you, didn’t she? Didn’t she!” And the advent of the tingling is upon me so hard my fingers hurt, and my teeth.
That day in class, Madeleine, Penelope talked about how she wasn’t afraid of death, and she also said something else. Behold, she said she wondered if Jesus would be afraid of death. She said, since he had already died once, maybe he knew what death was––and she wondered if he would be afraid to die again. Condor and the others were slipping deep unto boredom––yawning and fiddling with their toes. But she said maybe she wouldn’t mind being afraid––lo, even afraid of death––if being afraid of death was exciting. I remember barely hearing her, and that nausea had come unto me and I reached for the Bible. Verily, verily, my life was but a dream.
Twenty years later, I’m in prison. And–lo and behold also–Twenty years later, Penelope’s a whore. She comes unto the young Jesus 2.0 and she’s all over him–even unto insatiable. They say she doth scream his name through the night, leaves her fingernails in his furniture. Glory to God! Maybe she’s found the fear of death, at last––in those little deaths with him––those little second comings, etc.–which I submit for your consideration with a multitude of innuendo.
Even so, it surpassed my understanding about the death he finally brought her. How could he kill such a woman as this who loved him that much? So, I leaned in, truly staring hard into his medieval lidless eyes like I was death itself. “How could you kill her?” That is what I spoke unto him.
“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body,” he said back unto me.
And I cried out––“Oh!”––only it was like laughing––and it was a rage that ripped through every circuit of my sim body. “I’m glad you feel that way––because your body is going to be killed! You’re going to die! Ha! No one walks away from The Row, Buddy Boy” I told unto him, “––and I’m telling you–they sure as hell aren’t going to resurrect you this time!” And that, as they say in the Bible, is that! Amen.
I’m crackling in electronic sweat, rigid with pain. The Recycled Savior just stares through me––and inside those empty eyes, there is something. I am loath to lay words unto it–except it looked like something was eating him, too. A gnawing sense of waiting. That’s what, lo, I want to say. I’m saying, it’s like waiting itself was born in him–born like a larval worm––living in him. Endless, gnawing waiting. Behold, that’s what I saw. And now it’s in me, Madeleine––in these letters. It is what he has brought into the world! And now again, I say unto you, in this place it remains–and will always be–the longest day of the year.
Forever and ever, amen.
September 21, 2055
I see it’s been exactly three months since I wrote last. Lo, it is the equinox, the balancing of day and night. Your day balances my night. I have written your name so many times, you are more real to me than my own simulated hand in front of my simulated face. How can I possibly miss the bitter sun-like glare of your eyes––except that I do. I miss everything real. I miss my E-Z Boy recliner. Did you burn that, too? You should have. Nothing beyond a woman should be that effective at meeting a man’s needs. Imagine living in an age when we program our own furniture to seduce us! Men were dying in them, do you remember? They had to removed the ninth setting. It was news! Congress labeled the E-Z Boy a narcotic. Madeleine, life these days is fraught with strange temptations.
There was no place out there for a teacher.
There’s no place for a teacher in here either.
They put me on The Row yesterday.
Life and Death are in the balance on the equinox.
Back when I first heard they put Two on The Row, remember how he said unto me, “Let the dead bury their dead.” Lo, it makes more sense now––now that I’m one of the dead. We’re all here to bury each other. So, it fell to me to remind Two of those words when I saw him this morning. I don’t know why The Powers that Be or whatever are waiting to crucify him. Let the dead bury their dead, I told him, even though we don’t much bury people anymore. That’s what I said. We incinerate them––then we forget them. Burying is a way of remembering–that’s what I said unto him in so many words as that–it’s letting the Earth remember a person. But we of this Age and Time forget things here, I told him––that’s what we do. Let it be known, we have even forgotten the Earth, I said. We have lost touch with it, like that relative you don’t like so much who moves away and neither one of you ever really intends to call, so you don’t. Maybe you lost touch with the Earth, too, Jesus. That’s what I told him, and I told him I’d do my best to bury him anyway––with these letters, that’s what I meant.
He held up those two long fingers together and said, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.”
Lo, I held up one finger and said, “I’ll do that.”
Madeleine, I’m dying––and all I can think about is taking Two out with me somehow. The dead will bury the dead. Indeed. That’s what I was saying to him even as I flipped him off. “But what about Penelope!” I just had to shout that at him again. It came out of nowhere–like a pillar of fire. I can’t escape her, Madeleine––and I don’t want him to. “What about Penelope, Two!” O, God–I did feel the tingle then–felt it hard–so I muted myself to the level of an irritated angel. “Was she Caesar’s? Did you render her unto Caesar?” I just wanted him to blink or offer up anything–some human substance in his God Damned Virtual Self.
He didn’t blink. He said, “He who will lose his life for my sake will save it.”
I cried out then, Madeleine–tingling all over! “She didn’t lose her life! You lost it! You killed her! And you’re killing me!”
I don’t know why I said that.
I’m telling you, I’m losing it. Maybe I’m losing touch with the Earth, too. Madeleine, I think I killed Penelope. I think I killed her. I don’t know why I say that. I hear the sound of one hand clapping.
It’s the hand that writes these letters.
October 31, 2055
It’s Halloween, and Two becomes a ghost tomorrow. There’s a tingling in my fingertips as I write. Even here on The Row, they don’t like us to think of it as death. It’s rehab. To the very end, it’s rehab. They put his ticket to paradise in the bread of his last meal. That’s what the voices in the yard say—his last supper. I can’t believe it. I’ve been living with the thought of him, the goddamn question of him, for twenty years––ever since that day in the classroom. Now, those big, empty 2-D eyes will suddenly be gone––like he was never here at all.
It’s like Condor said in class when I asked them why bother about the birth of Jesus Two. He said he thought that cloning Jesus was like remembering something. Like you couldn’t remember where you left your keys. Then you remember–lo, in the kitchen or whatever. That’s right. So, we remembered Jesus. But now the thought comes unto me that we were just remembering death.
And tomorrow we’ll forget it again.
I’m trying to tell you in these letters, Madeleine––I’m telling all the multitudes––what it is we remembered. And lo, I’m trying to tell you what it feels like to remember death––to have that memory suddenly standing in front of you! And, I’m telling you, it makes you woeful. It makes you ache to forget again. Behold that is the genius of our age––that we have forgotten death. Seize The Day! We managed to seize the day–by forgetting death.
I was wrong. Two is not the Angel of Death. He is the Memory of Death. The tinkering fools in white coats remembered him for us all––unleashed the memory for us all of old, forgotten questions. So, lo, I did face Two down in the yard today. They gave him to me one last time. He was wavering and twitchy. His eyes crawled on his face like big bugs. He was mine. The dead came to bury the dead.
“So, Two––” I said unto him, “––Jesus––Greatest of All Saviors–or Second Greatest–are you going let them do this to you? You’re going to eat that bread? You know what I’m talking about–O, Mighty Step-Son of God!”
The agony of Penelope’s death rose slowly like bread dough inside me. From Two, I got only a tin-tongued Bible verse. “Man does not live by bread alone.”
“Oh, that’s right,” I said. “That’s right. Especially not this bread. You’re not going to be living, period. Verily, I say unto you––you’re going to be dead––as dead as Penelope! All right?” And lo, every mention of death tingled, but it felt good to whip Two and me together before this crucifixion. “Two,” I said unto him, “Hearken to me! Shouldn’t you have saved the world or something? Truly, we got nothing! What’s the point in you coming back? Just to kill a whore? Not much to believe in here, Prince of Peace. Are we supposed to worship your wonderful death–again? Is that it, Two?”
That triggered a verse, and he had his two long fingers up, the simulated sunlight leaking through the hole in his hand. “The Lord thy God shalt thou worship,” he said.
“But you are God, right? Or, at least, his fax?” I said. I know no one knows fax, but I figured God would. “I’m waiting to worship you! But now you’re just going to check out again, aren’t you? They’ll say, where’s God? And unto them, I’ll say–oh, he’s dead––again.”
So then, it comes to me. I mean I’m grinning, and I say, “Better yet! Better yet– why not just kill yourself, Two? Show them you’re a man not a clone! See? Thinking for yourself and all.” I’m starting to tingle bad as I’m saying this. “Off your own self, Two. O, God, yes! Beat them at their own game. They want to take you out––take yourself out first! Okay? Are you hearkening to me? If you can’t save anything else–save everybody some trouble, at least. Savior–kill thyself!” That’s what I said.
Two stares through me and says, “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.”
I look the Clone of God dead in his empty eyes. “I’m in prison,” I say to him, “and so are you. We’re dead men. I’m not tempting anybody. I just want to know who you are. I know they’ve been telling you you’re Jesus from the time you dropped from that rented womb––and I also know you’re a born-killer.” Then, I close my eyes, and I open them again––just to show him how it’s done. “But are you really Jesus?”
And he says, “It’s you who say I am.”
“No!” I say. No, this is where it all started. It’s what he said to me when I first talked to him in the yard. “Are you Jesus?” I asked, and he said, “It’s you who say I am.” We’re back to the beginning, and now I’m part of the loop. “No––listen,” I say, “I don’t say you’re Jesus. I don’t know who you are.”
Now Two just stares at me, his eyes looking like two big bared teeth. “What?” I ask him again. “Does that bother you? Does it? Well, lo and behold this! I don’t know you!”
Then, he really says nothing. He says it hard––so hard I could hear the silence echoing between my ears.
“I knew Penelope, all right?” I said. “That’s all. I wanted some answers from you and I got nothing. I know less now than when I started. So, no. I sure as hell don’t know you.”
Then–and this is the weirdest thing of all–Two just tilts his head back a little, and he crows. “Cock-a-doodle-doo!” That’s what he says. I say, I don’t know you. He says, Cock-a-doodle-doo. That’s it. Last words. And he vanishes. His sim just disappears from the yard.
Tomorrow he disappears altogether. These letters will be all that’s left of him. Happy Halloween.
November 1, 2055
He’s dead. Jesus is dead on All Saints Day.
That’s it. People waited centuries for the Second Coming, and they finally made it happen. They welcomed Jesus to the New World––he killed the one woman who loved him most––and they took him out again. This time the last supper and crucifixion were all on one plate. It’s finished.
Then, this morning, I found a note in my cell, here on The Row. I think it’s real. The note, that is. It gets harder to tell simulation from real in here. On the other hand, I was finding that true out there, too. I opened the note and read it. It was from him––from Two.
I shouted out to the other inmates on The Row. I told them Two left a note and that I’d read it out loud. “It isn’t much,” I told them. So, I read it. “‘There is only one hand clapping.’” I looked up from the note and I waited. “That’s it,” I said, and I read it again. “‘There is only one hand clapping.’” It was all just silence for a while. Then––from somewhere down The Row––there was this distant laughter. And the laughter grew louder as it came along, and louder, washing over me, till I was laughing, too––and we were all laughing––like a chorus of crazy angels.
Now, I’m waiting.
That’s all he left behind him––that endless waiting that was in him.
It’s in me now.
Death is written large here, though I personally am not even allowed to write the word without that tingling pain. I feel death as I write. Still, it is not death we’re waiting for on The Row, Madeleine. Nor is it life after death. I cannot name it, but I think Penelope was waiting for it, too––and all of us who live in this restless age, who are exhausted from our addictions. We’re waiting for a salvation Jesus could not bring us. We just want everything to stop.
We’re waiting––to stop waiting.
December 21, 2055
It’s the Christmas shopping season once again out there. It’s been a year since I began the gospel––and with or without Jesus, kids must still wait with exceptional desperation for their parents to buy them things. In here, as you might imagine, they don’t do much in the way of celebration. They let some simulated snowfall in the yard. We pace around through the white, swirling electrons.
Tomorrow, I become swirling electrons.
When a man’s serving a simulated-life sentence and they take even that simulated life away, there’s only a ghost sitting in his cell. The only thing that makes that ghost real is who he was. When no one knows who he was, then even the ghost is gone. Dear Madeleine––once you read this last letter–I don’t doubt you will torch them all. Oh, glorious day––my gospel and my ghost will burn together.
Once, early on, I said to Two that I wanted nothing from this world and that I owed it nothing. I didn’t want the world’s forgiveness. I said because I didn’t forgive the world. I said that’s where I stood–and where he should stand, too.
He seemed to tilt his two fingers at me as he said, “He who is forgiven little loves little.”
And I said, yes–welcome to prison. As you burn these letters, perhaps I should understand the prison is larger than I thought. We both live in a world where there’s no forgiveness and no love. Rehab is as close as we get to forgiveness––simulated forgiveness––simulated love. Everything’s simulated.
That’s how they own the world, I told Two, by simulating everything.
Two never had any real expression in his voice––but sometimes it seemed more distant. “What does it profit a man,” he asked me, “if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?”
“They don’t want a soul,” I said. “All they want is the world.”
Now, months after that simulated conversation, my ghost is sitting in my cell writing––and this letter is all it’s got left of a soul in a world they own. I want to send it to the only one who might care.
First, I must confess.
Madeleine, I loved Penelope.
I loved Penelope because I knew she was waiting, too. I had sex with her when she was my student, and it was godawful, Madeleine, and a kind of vengeance, I guess–the beginning of a vengeance I was taking out on teaching, on you–on the world that was stealing my soul. When I finally pushed Penelope away, trying to save myself, I left her in a world that knew neither forgiveness nor love. So, twenty years later, she took sex–which had become her profession because that was all I had ever taught her of love–and she brought it to Two whom she had heard of in my class. I think all she wanted––all she was waiting for––was his forgiveness. Maybe death was the only forgiveness Two could offer her––the only rehabilitation for the hopeless waiting he found in her. Maybe he found it in us all.
I don’t know.
I know I killed her before he did.
I won’t ask you to forgive me, dear reader. I just wanted someone to know. I wanted someone to know that I abandoned Penelope. I chose the world over my soul because there didn’t seem to be much any difference anymore. If everything is simulated, then our world and our souls are one.
Let the dead bury the dead.
Tomorrow, over the ashes, you can begin forgetting these letters––and the world can begin forgetting the Second Coming. It happened. Now he’s been rendered unto Caesar.
He came. He saw. We conquered.
Two is here in the cell with me now.
He is my ghost.
He knows I’m afraid.
There is the sound of one hand clapping.
It is the sound of my heartbeat.