by Aidan Ryan
“Order! Order! We must have order!” The imposing figure banged heavily on the table and demanded silence from the babbling crowd.
“Now,” he said, still standing, “Please, take your seats, and we may begin the meeting.”
The assembled beings did as they were told, albeit reluctantly, and a few lingering grumbles of discontent could be heard over the squeaking and groaning of chairs, the soft ruffle of cushions being adjusted, and the ever so quiet rustle and creak of bamboo mats.
The figure at the head of the table looked down upon everyone gathered there. Truly, he, or she, was a marvelous sight to behold. Depending on who was looking, it appeared differently. At times it was a tan, four-headed, four-armed man, constantly reciting strange prayers and usually eating something with a spoon. To others, it appeared as a blue-grey-skinned, four-armed being. To some it was a three-eyed, four-armed, yellow-skinned figure with a snake coiled around its neck. To still others it appeared as a form even stranger than the rest, indescribable by any language known to man… or god.
“Would you stop all that shifting around?” piped up a man farther down the table. “I can’t concentrate and you’re giving me a headache.”
The changeling creature shifted one last time into a red-skinned, axe-wielding (again, four-armed) elephant-man-beast and folded his arms (all four) across his large, elephantine stomach.
“You know it’s not easy for me, Zeus.” He grumbled in a low, booming voice, “It’s involuntary, really.”
“Well, I’m sorry,” Zeus conceded, stroking his curly white beard. “Is anyone else feeling a bit of a draft in here?” he asked, changing the subject. He adjusted his toga against the cold. In truth, it was very cold on that desolate plain of extra-reality, an empty space in which the great table was situated, floating and yet stable, ethereal and yet existing in a way that was greater than mere reality. Below the table spun a spiral cloud, multi-colored and wonderful to behold, thread-like strands breaking off and then coming back to combine with others, forming thick ropes and weaving to create a repeating pattern. They were the threads of time.
“Yes, I’m feeling a bit cold,” said the man next to Zeus, another bearded, toga-wearing deity. A trident was resting against his shoulder.
Across the table a dark skinned man with the head of a falcon raised his arms above his head and conjured up a flaming ball of light which blinded all at the table.
“How’s this? Feeling warmer?” he asked in an alien, clacking voice. Up and down the table those gathered at the meeting threw up their hands to shield their eyes.
“Damn it, Ra, stop showing off!” shouted one man.
“It’s really not that impressive,” said another.
“Enough!” shouted the elephant in the room. “We must get down to business! The clock is ticking away, you know, and at this pace we’ll miss the deadline!”
“Alright, alright,” muttered the collected beings.
“What are we talking about again?” asked a strong, sharp featured man wearing a grandiose crown.
“Would you please pay attention, Ahura?” Zeus chided. “Just once, try to stay on task.”
“I won’t tolerate lip from you, young man!” Ahura’s face grew red with anger. “I created the universe, you know!”
“No, I did!” shouted a number of pagan gods in unison; they were a motley assortment of deities, ranging from a half-man, half-tiger god to a golden, bearded, and highly decorated patriarch wearing the sun for a crown.
“Ridiculous!” shouted three identical men, also bearded (quite a popular trend in the divine realm) and clothed in cloth woven from the softest of clouds. “We did!” Realizing they had all spoken at once they immediately began to fight amongst themselves.
“Wait just a second!”
“I’m the eldest, so it only makes sense that I made the universe!”
“We’re triplets! You’re only older by a few thousand years.”
“Your worshipers are impure! They have strayed from the true faith!”
“Oh yeah? Well watch this!” With that one of the triplets began to glow with an intense light and at his right and left sides, respectively, appeared a middle-aged, brown-haired man dressed in simple cloth attire and a white dove that may or may not have been on fire. “How do you like that one?”
“You think you’re so –”
“I AM THE UNIVERSE!” shouted the elephant, now changing so quickly from form to form that he became a blur of flying limbs and random utensils.
“Please,” muttered a small man at the far end of the table, “stop this bickering. We must, as you, Brahman, have so judiciously pointed out, stay on task.” His quiet voice carried across the table and all the others gathered there fell silent and turned to look at this beautiful, diminutive figure. He sat cross-legged beneath a tree of some sort and was clad in an orange robe with gold trimmings. “We must decide what to do about the Apocalypse.”
“Yes, you are quite right, Siddhartha,” added a very old Asian man, practically swimming in an intricately patterned green robe. “I might add that –”
“Hold on a minute,” one of the triplets interrupted. All eyes in the room darted between him and the man who had just spoken. The tension was palpable. “Why are you here?” another of the triplets demanded.
The old man coughed and appeared quite disturbed.
“A meeting of the gods was called, was it not? And I have come, just as I should, to offer my insights into the matter at hand.”
“But you’re not a real god. You’re just an old man.”
The entire assembly gasped at once.
Across the table Thor leaned over to Odin and whispered, “I’ve been waiting for someone to break it to the old man for going on twenty-five hundred years. I never expected it would be Allah who finally told him.”
“Tell me about it,” Odin replied. “That reminds me, now I owe Loki a drink.”
Confucius – for the old man was indeed none other than the famous Chinese philosopher – stood up after a few painfully awkward seconds of gasping and making elaborate gestures.
“Well, I never… have been so insulted…”
Now another old Chinese man, this one wearing a red robe, rose and walked over to the babbling Confucius.
“Come on, we don’t need them.”
“Right, Laozi.” Together they turned their backs on the gods and walked away from the table, eventually disappearing into the dark void of existence.
The other members of the gathering breathed a collective sigh of relief.
“Well, that was awkward,” Brahman muttered. “Anyway, perhaps now we can get down to business. We all know the story. Itzamna had to go and give his worshippers a calendar and this whole ‘end of the world’ thing got started.”
At this, all of the gods gathered at the table turned to look disparagingly at the bird-like creature sitting at the far end, clacking its beak and squawking in indignation.
“Now hold on,” Brahman said, holding up all four of his arms for silence. “It’s not just his fault. Jesus, it just so happens that some of your followers got it into their heads that the world was going to end with all your talk of Judgment Day and the ‘Second Coming’, and, let me tell you, that hasn’t helped things at all. And Allah, Yahweh, you’ve done nothing but confuse the whole matter even more. If the three of you could just get your stories straight…” Brahman paused and shook his massive head. “I mean, you’re brothers! Why you can’t come up with a consistent theology is beyond me.
“Odin, Thor,” he continued, spinning to face the two armor-clad Norse gods, “your tall tales of a glorious and bloody Ragnarok have also contributed to the problem.” Brahman turned to look back at the assembly. “When you get down to it, we’re all, every last one of us, complicit in the whole affair. It turns out that every religion on Earth has some inkling of an end of time, and now we’ve got to decide what to do about it.”
At once there was a great clamor, as all the gods raised their voices to offer their opinions above everyone else’s.
“QUIET!” demanded Brahman, and after a few muted grumbles the gods resumed their seats in silence. “Now, there are two sides to this debate, each with credibility and valid arguments. On one hand, we could ignore the prophecies completely. Just pretend like they never happened. The years will pass and, with the exception of a few nutjobs down there, the people of Earth will forget all about Doomsday. Of course, there are some problems with this. First of all, by ignoring our own revelations, we lose credibility. People may turn away from religion completely. Also, we have to deal with our counterparts down below.”
At this, a sort of low rumble of displeasure echoed through the void. Gods left and right turned to their peers and shook their heads knowingly and in disgust.
“Yes,” continued Brahman, “Hades and Loki and Satan and the Antichrist and even Harold are all getting restless down there, not to mention all the nasty beasts and things they’ve conjured up. We could have a real problem on our hands if they up and decide to end the world on their own.”
Again, murmurs of “yea” and “nay” rippled across the table.
“Now, on the other hand, we could go ahead with it and wipe out humanity.” Brahman paused, and at once the crowd fell into fierce debate, with much name-calling and finger-pointing.
“I know,” Brahman said, holding up his arms, “there are conflicting views on how exactly this is to be done. We have to balance catastrophic natural disasters and man-made suffering with both an epic battle of gods and men and the coming of a New Jerusalem.”
“So, what?” Isis interrupted. “Is humanity supposed to be wiped out or just relocated?”
“Well, that’s all part of the problem,” Brahman admitted. “We just can’t seem to get our stories straight. Not to mention the conflicting views on the afterlife. If there’s an end of the world, my whole religion’s shot to hell, literally. So much for reincarnation. And if we don’t allow reincarnation, heaven will just be too full of people. Seven billion, flooding the pearly gates all at once. Peter isn’t going to be too happy. And what about Satan, Hades and Osiris? They’re going to want a share too.
“Not to mention, with the Earth gone we’d lose our only source of entertainment. Would we start over again from scratch? Maybe give the dinosaurs a fighting chance this time?”
Everyone turned to Ahura Mazda. It had been his idea to kill off the dinosaurs in the first place.
“What?” he asked. “They had a few million years, more than the humans have had. And they weren’t very interesting to watch.”
“Well, yeah,” Mercury muttered.
“I suppose you’re right,” Allah agreed.
“Can’t argue with that,” Athena admitted.
“So, anyway,” said Brahman, retaking control of the discussion, “now we must decide what to do: destroy the Earth, or forget the whole damn thing.”
“Well, do we have to choose?” Allah asked, with an innocent shrug. “Maybe we could just kill off the infidels.”
“Goddamnit, Allah, you know there’s no such thing as infidels! We’re all here, aren’t we?” his older brother chided.
“Yeah, sorry. I guess you’re right. I just can’t help but blame the infidels.”
“But what about the atheists? We could just kill all the atheists,” Jesus suggested.
“Well, I suppose…” Brahman mused.
“Yeah!” Poseidon exclaimed.
“I don’t see why not,” Ahura said.
This new idea seemed to electrify the table with new energy. The gods began to stand up and stretch, flex their muscles and demonstrate their powers in vibrant displays of noise and light.
“Those atheists think they’re so damn smart!”
“To see the looks on their faces…”
“No! We must forgo all violence!” shouted a naked Indian man.
The table fell silent. Siddhartha had spoken up again. The soft-skinned, elegant man said very little, but when he did speak up everyone knew that it was wise to listen.
“Perhaps there is another option we have overlooked.”
At this the gods muttered amongst themselves – “What could we have overlooked? What did we miss?” – but quieted down almost immediately when the man held up his hand for silence.
“There is a path that could allow us to forestall Doomsday and avoid a mass departure from religion.”
The void was so quiet, one could have heard a pin drop, if, that is, there had been anything to drop it on. The thin, cross-legged man gazed slowly around the table, fixing each of his esteemed colleagues in the eyes.
“We could show them the aliens.”
All at once the table erupted into violent commotion. Cries of joy, outrage and amazement burst forth from a multitude of mouths.
“Please,” resumed Siddhartha, raising his voice just slightly, “hear me out. They are coming close to finding them anyway.” Now the din slowly faded, the gods fully realizing that what Buddha said was true. The humans were coming dangerously close to finding the aliens on their own. “It is only a matter of time. I suggest we help them. Drop some clues, fix a broken satellite here and there. The aliens have developed roughly the same religions as those practiced on Earth, so that would solve the problem of the irreligious, and it would reverse the trend of slowly declining faith in all of our people.”
“But what about Hell?” asked Brahman, a bit peeved at Buddha always stealing his thunder. “We still have to deal with them.”
Siddhartha folded his arms, hiding his hands away in his flowing silk sleeves.
“We will have to face our enemies below no matter what choice we make today. This much is true. The end of the world will not happen on our reckoning, and it will, when it comes, resemble all that we have mentioned: catastrophic acts of nature, man-made destruction, and a battle of gods and men, side by side. The only variable is the outcome. If we win, a new age will dawn. Utopia for mankind will be achieved and Heaven and Earth will be united. If we lose, mankind will be destroyed and demons will inhabit the burnt-out shell of Earth. We have but one option. We must prepare for war.”
The gods nodded to each other in grim silence. Suddenly, the ethereal plane of existence seemed a little colder, a little darker. What Buddha said was true. There was only one choice.
“All in favor of Buddha’s proposition, say aye,” commanded Brahman from the head of the table.
“Aye!” said Brahman.
“Aye!” said Eric Clapton.
“AYE!” cried the rest in unison.
“Then it is decided,” Brahman said, and sat back down. “We have a good two thousand years or so before any of this happens. Spirits, bring out the cigars and brandy!”
Dutifully, hazy white, possibly winged little things floated out of the emptiness carrying a humidor, decanter, and several stout glasses. Gods are gods, after all, and they’ll live like gods too.
AIDAN RYAN is a seventeen year old high school student from Buffalo, New York. He is convinced he will one day be portrayed by Johnny Depp in the biopic of his life.