God is a Liar
by Hugh Dufour
As Miriam scratches the childhood scar on her cheek, the Reverend says, “God is a liar, a fabricator of essential fallacies.” Then I swallow the 13-Z pill.
I can get away with anything.
Miriam’s wearing a long white cotton dress, which hugs her limber, undernourished, erect body. Her face is like an unripe peach, with sandy hair, thick and long. I love her unflinching slit eyes, and they shine, and they’re much too green to feel real. Her thin lips, well, they’re almost sickly, and it makes me feel happy, suddenly.
So what will it take to break my Miriam’s faith?
What will it take so my Miriam, she chooses me?
“I pronounce you man and wife,” the Reverend says to all of us.
13-Z is obtained from the small, spineless flower Thula, which is found under the ice caps and deep oceans of Saturn’s satellite, Europa. The drug is ground into powder for oral capsule and the dose is about 0.3 to 0.5 grams and lasts about 12 hours. Effects vary from nausea to an acute temporal dislocation.
The drug still hasn’t kicked in.
Then the Reverend opens the box and pulls the rings out, and all thirty-seven couples line up. We’re all sweating in this community hall that serves as a church and that looks like an airplane hangar with mold eating up the shingled, dilapidated roof. It looks like a giant mushroom about to crumble. The Reverend slips the ring on each finger that’s presented to him. I’m feeling anxious and trapped, and I can’t wait for the 13-Z to start.
The Reverend says,
The snake told the truth.
They did become like the gods
Because they could choose whether they wanted evil or good.
We all walk out of the cathedral, one couple at a time. I try to grab Miriam’s hand, but she pulls away as we exit like ants through the adobe entryway and head to the central open-air pavilion. Why does she do that to me? Why is she so cold sometimes?
Side effects of 13-Z vary from acute sweating to epileptic seizures. About fifteen minutes after ingestion, the first symptoms appear. The front cervical cortex overheats, and certain temporal dislocations appear. The heartbeat accelerates and the subject usually undergoes rapid synaptic activity which produces massive amounts of serotonin release.
As they say, lightning never strikes twice. I won’t get another woman like my Miriam, never in a thousand years.
We walk by the new 10,000-volume library and the neat nursery, with the mosquito nets covering the sleeping babies, and it looks like some fake life-sized plastic model before you get to actually building the real thing. I’m irritated, but I don’t want it to show.
And then we’re walking towards our rotting Colonial Revival dorm, and this is where all the couples divide up, so we say bye to all our brothers and sisters and we head to the palm-tree covered Dorm 32b. It feels like some badly choreographed play in a high school musical. Suddenly I’m imagining me and my Miriam kissing in our room, and I don’t know how I’ll be able to hold off till then.
And we enter a building with dirty stucco arches. I unlock the numbered door. Inside, there’s scuff marks on the wall, and the area between the bed and the wall is so cramped, I feel like a prisoner entering his cell. And still, Miriam’s playing the waiting game, so I press my mouth against hers, but she pulls away, her neck smelling of jasmine and lavender. She smiles meekly, her deep green eyes shifting back and forth.
“The Reverend wants us to wait a month,” she says.
She gets up and starts inspecting the cracked cupboards. Me, I’m staring at her. I’m tonguing the inside of my cheek and I can feel a skin abscess pushing through. The frustration is just building inside, but I decide not to let it show, no, don’t let it show. The whole room is starting to look like the inside of a coffin, and Miriam, she could be the living dead, and I could be dead too, but I don’t want to feel dead.
Some 13-Z users are depressed and seek the mood-elevating effects of these stimulants to relieve the temporal ineptitude. Others tend to use them in high energy activities, such as at dance parties. 13-Z causes the release of increased amounts of dopamine in the brain, which is the likely cause of mood elevation and temporal fixation. 13-Z differs from other drugs, in that it interferes with the reuptake of temporal stasis in the front cervical cortex.
Most people using very high doses of 13-Z may become psychotic, because 13-Z can cause severe anxiety, paranoia, a distorted sense of reality, and real or imagined time traveling. Temporal dislocation reactions include auditory and visual appropriation (hearing and seeing things that are intrusions from the past) and a feeling of having unlimited power (omnipotence). Although these effects can occur in any user, people with prior knowledge of the drug are more amenable to them and can effectively channel the experience to alter the present time continuum.
The user’s ability to cope with the visual and auditory time-traveling also affects the experience, often referred to as a loop distortion. An inexperienced, frightened user is less able to cope than someone who is more experienced and not afraid of the loop distortion. A user under the influence of 13-Z, undergoing a loop distortion, can develop extreme anxiety and begin to panic, resulting in an infinite loop. The user may want to escape, which is not possible. Some users remain in the loop distortion for many days (or longer) after the drug’s effects have worn off. A prolonged loop distortion is more likely in a user with a preexisting temporal dislocation and can become permanent.
Sometimes, the Reverend, he calls you up in the middle of the night. And then he forces you to drink some liquid.
And you just hope it’s not cyanide.
And you kiss his feet when you learn that you’re still alive.
Always something up his sleeve, the Reverend.
So then I say to Miriam, “We have to leave,” and, “We can’t stay here.”
Then Miriam stares at me for a long time without blinking.
“What are you talking about? This is our home, isn’t it?” So, then she touches her scar again, and her lovely upturned mouth turns me on. And she licks her lips, but I stay focused on the matter at hand, even though she’s as pure as snow with her white skin and her white dress.
The Reverend, when he smells something fishy, he sends you to the Spank Hole.
You kneel in shit in the Spank Hole for days.
And you can smell the shit off yourself after that, and it never disappears.
Miriam, she is my miracle.
It’s as plain as the nose on my face.
“They won’t be watching us now,” I say, but my voice doesn’t sound so confident. “They’ll leave us alone. Married couples are free.”
And she smiles, but not angry. “I thought you liked it here.”
“I like you,” I say, my voice still shaky. “I can’t imagine being alone without you.”
When 13-Z kicks in, it’s usually without warning. The subject can be caught off guard. It’s important to remember that the first hallucination of 13-Z is akin to a psychotic reaction. The subject must be in a controlled environment where he or she feels comfortable and safe.
Miriam touches her scar, wiping the blood.
“Stop doing that.” I grab a Kleenex and give it to her. “You’re making it bleed.” She just shrugs her shoulders and keeps touching the bloody scar. God, she irritates me sometimes.
“When he gives us permission,” she says, “we can have a baby.”
“Oh yeah? Imelda killed herself after he took it away from her. You want that?”
“She ran away. She was an unbeliever.”
“Imelda was a believer. But she couldn’t stand the fake cyanide. That’s why.”
“It’s just to test our loyalty. Like God in the Garden of Eden.”
“Garden of Eden, my ass. He’s changed that story so often, he doesn’t even know what the real version is. Oh, and the Brothers have doubled up on guns. Maybe you noticed, or maybe you’re too caught up in his fabulous teachings?”
“We need protection.”
I don’t say anything, because she might be right.
“So when are we having sex?” I say.
She’s irritated, but not that much. “I told you. The Reverend says, wait.”
“Fuck the Reverend. Why is he always talking about death? Something’s up, Miriam.”
“He knows best. He sees things we can’t see.” Her tone of voice says that nothing will change her mind. Why is she so beautiful? Why can’t I get rid of her?
“He knows shit. Now he talks about being the reincarnation of Lenin. Of Jesus Christ, for fuck’s sake.”
“Don’t get angry.”
“I’m not angry. But hey, he’s going to do something bad and you don’t care.”
And she stands there, staring out the window, and she says, “This is our faith. Our faith can’t be broken.”
“I’ll be your faith,” I say.
She looks downward. So, it’s back to this. I want her and she wants the Reverend and the Reverend, well, who the hell knows what he wants.
And then it’s my Father, but this time he’s in the room with us, but Miriam can’t see him. The 13-Z has kicked in. The room is wobbly and I’m sweating. My Father, he gives me a knife and he cradles my hand, and I know I’ll never be able to save him, and he says, there are no choices, you do what the world tells you to do.
What do I do with the knife? Is this for real? Or just a hallucination? You can’t tell with 13-Z.
“What happened in Zimbabwe?” Miriam says.
She never asked me that, and I wonder why she’s asking now. And I feel something softening inside her, as if her body is opening up.
“Nothing happened,” I say, trembling and staring at my Dad as he stands behind her.
“Every time you talk about it, something lights up. As if you saw something there.”
“You noticed that?”
And then my Dad, he does something but I’m not sure what.
Okay, so there is still something left in her. Something that doesn’t belong to the Reverend. Miriam is locked up in there, and I have to set her free.
“I saw a man die,” I say. “We were up in a tree, running away from a charging rhino. He was a ranger. Just like me. Then he fell, and the rhino gored him. I watched the horn pierce him. The blood splashing. I didn’t do anything.”
She seems concerned.
“And then I started shooting up heroin,” I say. “And then I met you.”
We hear footsteps approaching. Many footsteps. The Reverend’s distinct boot hits are loud and clear.
My Dad, he’s sitting on a chair, now. My hands are shaking, and I feel like I’m going to puke.
The door opens. The Reverend, he comes in the room, followed by two Brothers. One of them is Brother #36 who took me in after I overdosed in that ditch, and I don’t know his name. The other Brother’s name is Karl, and he likes me.
The Reverend sits down beside me on the tiny bed. I’ve sometimes inspected the Reverend’s eyes, but never with such attention. Nature played a nasty trick on the Reverend’s eyes, and they are so bulging, they appear about to fall in your lap, and so distant from one another as to give off the impression of being on opposite sides of his head, like a crocodile’s.
Don’t let them know you’re weak.
Don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry.
These are the side-effects of 13-Z: an acute awareness of your internal bowel movements. Dry lips and itching scalp. Dizziness, drowsiness, confusion, slurred speech and a reduced ability to stand up and walk.
And the Reverend, he points to the cudgel. “I will now ask you to hit your wife as hard as you can.”
Miriam looks down, her hands flat on her knees. I eye the zinc lamp on the bedside table, and it’s so close to the Reverend’s head.
“You want to hit her,” the Reverend says. “You wish to see her cry. To partake in the violence. It liberates. You’ll see. Once you submit to violence, it creates a new existential plateau. You comprehend where you’re coming from. How choice defines you.”
And I look at my Father who’s looking at me, and his eyes are all wet, and he looks like a dried-up plant. And he tussles my hair like he used to when I was a kid. But nobody in the room sees this because this is all happening on parallel time, one that only 13-Z can open up.
And the Reverend smiles patiently. “You have a duty to fulfill. To aggrieve her by absolving her. If you choose not to, you defile our Covenant.”
I stare at Miriam.
Look at me.
Get me out of this.
And she looks down, but then I see a tremor in her lower lip. Is she scared? Angry? Indifferent? Does she think I’m a coward too?
Men are no longer men. Men are substituted beings, who are losing their natural otherness and entering upon a parallel existence on the artificial orbit of uncertainty.
Why am I thinking this? What the hell is this?
“Do I need to say how terribly disappointed I am if you don’t partake in your sacred duty?” the Reverend says. “As long as you choose the Covenant, I am content.”
And then my father says (but they can’t hear him), “In 1983, a neurosurgeon called Benjamin Libet, he asked a group of subjects, and he had their cerebral activity monitored.”
So, I say, “In 1983, a neurosurgeon called Benjamin Libet, he asked a group of subjects, and he had their cerebral activity monitored.”
And they’re all staring at me, Miriam included. They’re wondering where I’m going with this.
And I’m wondering where my Dad is going with this.
Then my Dad whispers in my ear, “And the subjects were then asked to press a button at will, with no stimulus or planned decision.”
So I say, “And the subjects were then asked to press a button at will, with no stimulus or planned decision.”
My Dad keeps whispering in my ear: “So, the results showed that motor activity preceded neuron activity by 350 to 400 milliseconds.”
Then I say, “So, the results showed that motor activity preceded neuron activity by 350 to 400 milliseconds.”
Then my Dad says, “The experiment proved that the subjects’ bodies reacted before their minds.”
And I say, “The experiment proved that the subjects’ bodies reacted before their minds.”
And Miriam is staring at me, not saying a word, but I’ve caught her attention. Something has changed.
I’m feeling happy, proud of myself for some reason.
And the Reverend nods.
And Brother #36 hits the side of my head with the cudgel. I hear the crack of teeth and taste blood in my mouth. I fall. I see a tooth on the floor. The pain is horrible.
“I will pray that you see eternal love,” the Reverend says. “And choose to choose. Freewill is the holy Covenant.”
The Reverend nods. The two Brothers pick me up. My pain is excruciating.
Not the Spank hole.
I won’t be able to survive the Spank hole.
And I fight back. And they hit me again.
I fall to the floor.
And I’m sweating, and I’m crying.
And they keep hitting me. I get kicked in the ribs. Booted in the face. Punched in the kidneys.
Masculinity inevitably re-emerges, but differently, in the form of a vast, shady regression on the part of a generation which is at last free from female attention, but is no longer minded to act. Masculinity is the dislocation of the phantasm onto another temporal plane, whereas here we are dealing with a sexual, quasi regressive state which reaches back before the violence principle.
Where do these thoughts come from? What the fuck is this?
And my tongue tastes like blood. The wall in front of me is a big yellow blur. Then I’m floating on the ceiling. My mind has left my body. I can see myself, crouching, as they kick and hit me and punch me and disfigure me. And my face is bloody and I’m moaning.
And my heart is pounding, and I feel a heaviness in my body and a tightening in my chest and my father says, Beauty is the soul itself.
Hold fast to the beauty.
Let it guide you. He says that, my Father, and there’s nothing I can do as he puts his foot on the chair and tightens the noose around his neck. Don’t let anyone tell you what to do, he says as he pushes away the chair.
Then he’s gone.
“Stop it!” shouts Miriam.
And I’m back in my body. I’m not sweating anymore. I’m not afraid.
I get up, shaking, trembling.
They all stare at me, not saying a word.
And Miriam is so beautiful it makes me want to cry.
So I grab the zinc lamp and swing it at Brother #36. His lower jaw explodes. There is blood on my shirt, on the white floor. The sight of blood excites me, like witnessing a beautiful painting. Karl pulls out a gun. He hesitates, because he likes me, because he’s an idiot, and I send the metal chair straight into his belly. He buckles. He screams and it’s a beautiful scream, a sweet high-pitched squeal. I grab the knife my father gave me (or did he?) and swiftly slice his throat. Blood spurts from the jugular, spraying the white walls. Karl screams. It’s glorious. The Reverend pulls backward, squirming. I plunge the knife into his holy belly and twist. Before Brother #36 has time to get back up, I smash his head with the wooden chair.
And Miriam, she looks at me with tears in her eyes.
And she tilts her head back, and I see her breasts, and I take her hand, and my breathing quickens.
And I throw away the knife and I wonder if it even exists.
“I’m not going with you,” she says. “I’m not leaving this place.”
“We’re all machines of flesh and blood and hate, you see. We’re pure animals and mechanical souls.”
“Why are you saying that?”
“Because you can’t stay here. The Reverend is dead.”
“The other Brothers will kill you.”
“No, they won’t.”
Me, I’m hurtling like crazy through time now.
And then I’m a kid again, and my father is about to kill himself. So I get back to reality, to the present time, because I’m afraid if I try to save my dad, the present will change and I won’t be here with her, my Miriam.
And now, it’s just the two of us, but Miriam, she’s staring straight ahead as if she’s caught in another world.
And I am too, because I’m sitting with my father in our basement in Montreal back twenty years ago, and he’s trying to tell me he doesn’t want to live anymore.
“Please don’t do this, Dad.”
“You’ll be better off without me,” he says.
“No, we won’t,” I say, “I know what happens after you kill yourself. Mom goes crazy and then me and Liam, we’re sent to foster homes.”
Liam, that’s my schizophrenic brother.
And then I’m back in the room with Miriam, and I wonder when the hallucination is going to stop.
And Miriam keeps scratching her scar, but there’s something different. There’s a smirk on her face I’ve never seen before.
“What are you going to do now?” she says, her hands shaking.
“I’m going to change the world. I’m going to kill all the religious leaders. I’m going to give out free 13-Z to everyone. I’m going to abolish Freewill.”
“Sounds like a good plan.” But her hands are still shaking.
Hugh Dufour is a broadcaster and animation writer living in Montreal. His stories have appeared in The Literary Nest, FreedomFiction, Criteres, Bertrand Dumont Editions, Les Ecrits des Forges. You can find him online at www.hughdufour.com and on Instagram at @ugdufour.