And so it came to pass on the seventh hour of the seventh day – as predicted in the scriptures – that GOD summoned his apostles to present their feedback.
He supposed he really should have chosen a larger office, or perhaps even booked the conference room, because it soon became apparent that this was going to be a tight squeeze. And this was because he’d recently – despite the current economic situation – had to take on more and more staff.
But that was fine with GOD.
Despite his normally benign disposition, it never inconvenienced him to make those who aspired to climb the stairway to his cloud feel a little uncomfortable.
He sat in his IKEA multi-functional office chair, cowboy boot-clad feet on his desk. Nonchalantly he lit a Cuban, and observed members of his team jostling for space, the atmosphere growing more brittle by the second.
‘Everyone here?’ he asked.
‘Natural Disasters called to say he’ll be late,’ replied Death, a lopsided smirk etched across his portentous face. ‘Said he’s got caught up in an earthquake in Pakistan. But he’s sending about fifty thousand souls my way, so it’s not a total disaster.’
Political Correctness coughed politely. ‘To be honest, I think you could probably class it as a total disaster, Death.’
‘To be honest, I don’t care what you think PC. It’s his bloody job, isn’t it?’ Death replied, more interested in the fifty thousand smackeroos coming his way.
God looked vexed.
‘It’s not an excuse for being late though, is it?’ he muttered to no one in particular. ‘He doesn’t need to oversee that type of activity personally. Death … tell him if he’s not here in the next ten minutes, I’m going to send him to have a little chat with you.’
The smirk on Death’s face spread like a fault line.
‘Shouldn’t The Devil be here?’ A small, reedy, disembodied voice came from the back of the room.
‘Allapope,’ replied God, making no attempt to conceal his irritation. The ash he flicked in the general direction of the bin, landed on the dog-eared MFI carpet tiles. ‘How many times do I need to tell you that The Devil does not actually exist?’
Allapope – whose real name was Religion – was the only apostle to have been blessed with an official nickname. This was partly because GOD wanted to constantly remind himself that there was still a war to be won, and partly because GOD can be still a prickly bugger when the mood takes him.
Allapope stared at his red papal shoes. Or, he would have, had he been able to see them beneath the white cassock with attached pellegrina, girded with a fringed white fascia, and topped off with the embroidered papal coat of arms. He knew his memory wasn’t what it used to be, and sometimes had to admit he wasn’t up to the job anymore. Trouble was, there was no retirement in this game. And he also knew that sometimes GOD had to get Natural Disasters and Pestilence to do his job for him. His influence, he was aware, had been on the decline since his last real throw of the dice – the Spanish Inquisition – and the ‘Swinging ‘Sixties’ had relegated him to the lower leagues. Had it not been for the Bible Belters with their crusading zeal and their Gospel choirs, he would have been a spent force. He knew he was a shadow of his former self, clinging onto past glories with the desperation of the English football team.
‘Yes, of course,’ he replied. ‘I’m sorry, but sometimes I forget. And should I take it that there’s no such thing as ‘hell’ either?’
‘Not entirely,’ Death replied. “Hell” is actually listening to you rabbiting on with your self-righteous ecumenical bullshit like a broken bloody record, every Sunday.’
God decided this was a good time to pull things together.
‘Right,’ he said, stubbing out his cigar and clearing his throat. ‘As Usual we’re going to take it from the top, as in, issues that we consider to have the more significant influence on world order. So we’ll start with—‘
The door opened and Natural Disasters squeezed his ample frame into the room, high-fiveing Death.
‘They’re on their way, bro,’ he said, looking pleased with himself.
‘Nice one,’ replied Death with a forced smile. He disliked feeling beholden to anyone, let alone feeling obliged to perform such a crude act of physical engagement such as a high five.
‘Nice of you to join us Nat,’ GOD continued. ‘Now that we’re finally all together, we’ll start with your feedback, Pestilence.’
Pestilence puffed his chest out and squeezed through to the front of the room to stand next to GOD’s desk. It was clear to all that he’d been looking forward to this moment for months.
‘Well, as you all know,’ he began, ‘this has been an excellent year for me with the greatest pandemic scare since the Spanish Flu. We’ve just passed the million souls mark … I believe that’s correct, Death?’
‘Yes, but only about half of those can be correctly attributed to your pandemic, Pestilence. The Humans have become resourceful, attributing cause of death for anyone who was fat, old, ill, or what they refer to as “ethnic”, anyone who died in hospital or a nursing home, to your pandemic. Saves them the trouble and expense of an autopsy. And apparently … ’ Death continued, warming to his theme and looking pleased as punch to have the opportunity to pull Pestilence – who had been unbearable to live with for months – down a peg or two. ‘Apparently, even people who are terminated by Natural Disasters or Transport Wrecks are having their deaths attributed to your plague, even if they had fully recovered months before their termination. So I think we can safely assume that those figures are highly inflated.’
‘Why would they do that?’ asked GOD, perhaps little naively, but seizing the opportunity to marginalise Pestilence, who he had also found to have become unbearable.
‘For the simple reason,’ Death continued, ‘it feeds the scaremongering frenzy that the politicians and the media thrive upon.’ There was a general air of agreement in the small office. ‘Anyway Pestilence,’ Death wasn’t finished yet, ‘those figures are pathetic compared to the Spanish Flu, and even AIDS was a more efficient killer.’
‘I don’t want to talk about AIDS,’ GOD interjected, angrily. AIDS was a sore point with GOD, as it had terminated Freddie Mercury, and GOD had been a huge fan. He’d never forgiven Pestilence for that. ‘Stick to the point Pestilence. Just remind us – succinctly if you will – what is your long term goal for this …’ GOD consulted his notes, ‘Chinese Flu?’
‘Well, it’s actually called COVID, GOD. But to answer your question, the long-term goal is for the virus to mutate and exponentially increase. By the time they’ve developed a vaccine for it, and argued over who benefits from it financially, what they refer to as the R Number will be stratospheric.’
‘Do be more specific, Pestilence. Where exactly is this leading?’ GOD asked.
‘Besides which,’ Death was on a roll. Fifty thousand souls banked and Pestilence squirming in the saddle of his high horse, could be considered a better than average day. ‘Only a tiny percentage of those supposedly terminated by your epidemic are souls who would not have died soon anyway.’
GOD looked grave.
‘Is this correct, Pestilence?’
Pestilence slowly waggled his head from side to side, in decisional balance.
‘There are,’ he conceded, ‘I will accept, some unresolved issues over the validity of the figures and how much of a threat this virus is to the vast majority of the global population.’
‘Well in that case, why don’t you come up with one that will actually work, a pandemic that the young don’t have total contempt for?’ Death asked.
‘I consider two pandemics in one year to be one too many,’ GOD said.
GOD had been hard on the humans ever since His Earthly Disciples [aka the Catholic Church] had messed with The Lord’s [His] Prayer. Taking out “for thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory,” required some serious payback and, as a consequence, War had been allowed to roll out 911. But two pandemics in one year wasn’t the answer. ‘That would simply leave us looking as indecisive as the British Government. Let’s move on … War?’
Death shot Pestilence a smug look as the latter ceded his space to the new presenter. War, who the archangels referred to as “a hunk” and was built like the proverbial brick shithouse, squeezed into position.
‘Let me begin by saying that this has been one of my worst years since the height of the Roman Empire, and for that, Pestilence, the blame can be squarely paid at your door.’
‘Oh come, come, don’t be so melodramatic, War,’ Pestilence interjected. ‘You can’t blame me for your inability to do your job.’
‘Please explain, War’ demanded GOD.
‘There’s not been one decent terrorist incident since Pestilence kicked this thing off. Not one. Even the Jews and the Arabs aren’t shooting at each other and the North Koreans haven’t fired a single bloody nuclear warhead this year. And as for the Irish? They seem to have forgotten how to make bombs. And that’s all down to you, Pestilence. How can I do my job properly when global focus is diverted from the one thing that really matters?’
‘Which is?’ asked Pestilence, sensing that War’s bleating could swing the pendulum back his way.
‘Which is global bloody conflict. And the only way anyone’s going to achieve that is to have a despot as a leader, and even Putin or Kim Jong-il don’t seem to have the stomach for it anymore. Anyone remember Hitler, or have we all forgotten how successful I was with him?’
‘Let’s not relive past glories, War,’ GOD interpolated.
‘Well, if Hitler’s rise to power had coincided with one of Pestilence’s little interventions—‘
‘I’m not sure they would have bothered with it that much back then,’ GOD said. ‘So in summary, I must record your progress this year as “must try harder”, War.’
War shrugged, glowered at Pestilence whose countenance had regained much of its shine, and shouldered his way angrily to the back of the room.
‘Right, let me see,’ said GOD, consulting his notes, ‘who’s next … ah, Politics. I’m hoping you will have a solution to this Trump character. Oh … and if you mention Brexit once again this year, you’ll be spending Christmas with Death.’
Just as Politics was about to shuffle to the front, there was a knock at the door. It was Saint Peter. They all knew that this could only mean one thing – someone important had just arrived.
All eyes turned to the man in charge of admissions.
‘Sorry to interrupt you,’ he said nervously. ‘But an elderly man with orange skin and a ginger wig has just turned up. He came in from the Walter Reed military hospital. I think you need to make a judgement on this one GOD, particularly,’ he consulted his notes, ‘as he made an average of 23 false claims a day over a 14-month period.’
GOD looked at Politics.
‘Is this the one?’ He asked.
‘Then tell Monica Lewinsky she’s free to go. This one can take over on Clinton.’