The Dead: Book 14 (frag. 1)

The Book of the Story

LISA THOUGHT THE CHAIR was made of stone, or maybe some kind of metal.

It was certainly solid—hard, and cold, and uncomfortable. It was also a little too big for her, making her feel like a child.

There was nothing holding her in it, except for the fact that she couldn't seem to get out of it.

She could wiggle a little. She could move a bit from one side to the other, or lift her arms up to the uncomfortably high armrests.

But she couldn't get out of the chair.

It was strangely humiliating.

The voice came from behind her, and, try as she might, she couldn't turn her head far enough to see.

"Comfortable?"

Lisa laughed.

"No. Not really. This chair..."

"Excellent."

"Pardon?"

"So, do you have any idea where you are?"

"Dreaming, probably."

"Dreaming? What's the last thing you remember?"

"I was... Oh! I was standing on a ladder in the front driveway, putting a pumpkin up on the roof—for Halloween. I was lighting the candle, when suddenly..."

"Yes?"

"The ladder gave way. I pitched forward. I think my head hit..."

"Any idea now?"

"I'm dead. Am I dead?"

"And, if you are dead, then this must be..."

"Heaven? Hell? Purgatory? I don't know."

"Perhaps you'd like to hazard a guess as to who I am."

"God?"

"Which one?"

"There's more than one?"

"Of course not. Not more than one real one. The question is, which one is the real one?"

"I'm afraid I don't..."

"Don't be coy. You know perfectly well how the game is played."

"Game?"

"Yes. Game. You're born into the world in a family, in a culture, that believes in a god. If you're very lazy, you believe in that god all your life, never questioning, always betting on the accident of your birth."

"I never thought of it that..."

"If you're a little less lazy, you check out some of the other religions. You make a decision based on some criteria you make up in your head to move to one of them."

"It all sounds so..."

"If you're extremely energetic, you may even notice that there's no way to tell which one is right, and you set out on your own, inventing your own religion, or becoming an agnostic or even an atheist."

"It sounds so arbitrary."

"It's supposed to be."

"So it doesn't matter what I do?"

"Oh. It matters a great deal. If you guess wrong, you go to hell. If you guess right, you go to heaven. For eternity."

"But..."

"WHO DO YOU THINK I AM?"

Lisa was trembling. She found it hard to breathe.

"But if there's no way to know, then how can you..."

"Which one?"

She finally got a deep breathe.

"It's not fair," she said.

"The pot is criticizing the potter, now?"

"You said yourself, there's no way to know."

"Exactly. If there was a way to know, you wouldn't need faith."

"But doesn't it take just as much faith to believe in the wrong god as it does to believe in the right one?"

"Were you a lawyer?"

"No. I just..."

"It's not enough to have faith. You also have to guess right."

"It isn't fair."

"It is fair, because those are the rules. I made them. And what I say goes. WHICH ONE DO YOU THINK I AM?"