Overview: A riotous fantasy in which rock-star novelist Farren (The Time of Feasting, 1996) imagines Jim Morrison wandering through the shades of hell looking for a way out. Don Juan had it comparatively easy in hell. To begin with, he knew where he was and why he was there, while poor Jim can't even remember his name. Sometime, someplace, someone had royally flamed his memory, though he couldn't recall where or when . . . All he knew about himself was that he had once been a poet and that, at least for the time being, he would be forced to live absolutely in a highly specialized moment where even the mundane appeared strange and unexplored, and reality checks could only come via the benevolence of the passing crowd. Talk about a bad trip.

The first thing that strikes his consciousness is the rather vivid orgy replete with golden calf that's taking place around him. A spoilsport with a long beard and two stone tablets breaks up the party, but by then Jim has met Doc Holliday, who tells him who he is and what, more or less, is going on around him. The two set off on a leisurely tour of their domain, which includes ghost towns inhabited by alcoholic dogs, nuclear firework displays, a (very) low-rent district called Gehenna, and a poet-guide named Virgil.

There's also the bifurcated ghost of Aimee Semple McPherson, split into the opposing spirits of Aimee (who has grand spiritual ambitions and manages to impeach Jesus on a trumped-up charge) and Semple (who is most at home in her role as a Nazi dominatrix). Semple becomes the object of Jim's quest, but he has to fight off a host of demons worthy of Hieronymus Bosch before he can reach her. Fortunately, Doc Holliday has the magical Gun That Belonged to Elvis, so everything is bound to turn out right. Right?

Hilarious, mad, and fast: Farren is probably one of the first writers since Baudelaire who in fact would be right at home in hell.

 

Jim Morrison's Adventures in the Afterlife by Mick Farren Book Chapter One

 

Say what you like, folks always

make a big deal over death.
 
Animee McPherson stood on the terrace and stared balefully across the landscape of Heaven. For perhaps the two millionth time since her death, her rage at the manner in which God had betrayed her boiled to one of its cyclical peaks. How dare He, if indeed He existed at all, treat her with such unconscionable treachery? She had done so much on His behalf. She had avoided temptations, bypassed indulgences, forgone the pleasures of the flesh. She had sacrificed to the maximum in His name and, from her perspective, He had cynically betrayed her. Her entire life had hinged on a single belief in which she had placed absolute trust. He had promised a Heaven when she died. That He then so totally reneged on the deal transcended the criminal and took the burden of guilt to a new level of divine iniquity. Aimee McPherson had arrived in the Afterlife only to discover that, if she wanted a Heaven, she was expected to build it herself. God Himself had failed to put in even the most cursory manifestation, and she had begun to doubt that He actually existed at all.

If there was a God, He appeared to believe that this psychic erector set would be ample reward for a lifetime of love and devotion, of prayer, praise, and supplication. He had presented her with a blank celestial slate and left her to make it up for herself. After all the promises, the only Heaven she had received or perceived had come directly out of her own imagination, without help, without encouragement, without even the benefit of an instruction manual.

Aimee McPherson stood on the terrace and stared balefully across the landscape of Heaven and knew that it was entirely her own creation. This should have pleased her, if for no other reason than that of pride in accomplishment. Pride in accomplishment, however, counted for little beside abandonment by God. This Heaven had been torn, at a great cost of emotion and energy, piece by piece and construct by construct, from the deepest soul core of her imagination, and the effort of its manufacture had not been easy. Back on Earth, from the moment that she had devoted herself to God and His works, she’d had little call to use her imagination, and now she found it a weakened and atrophied thing. Creating Heaven from the ground up had been a struggle and chore, imposed on her at exactly the time she was expecting only relief. Heaven should have been ready and waiting for her when she arrived, spick-and-span, fluffed and folded, like some metaphysical five-star hotel with Saint Peter to greet her at the reception desk, angelic bellhops to assist her, a deputation of long-deceased pets waiting for her with soulful eyes and wagging tails, and a metaphoric complimentary mint on the pillow.

Even coming up with an overall design concept had been no easy thing. At first she had leaned heavily on what she remembered of the work of the artist Maxfield Parrish, coupled with no slight touch of Disney’s Fantasia. This early borrowing, and her admittedly flawed memory, tended to account for the overly vibrant cartoon colors, the wine-dark indigo of the water in the lake, the dazzling ultramarine of the cloudless sky, the deep somber green of the cypresses and Scotch pines on the headland on the far side of the water. The heliotrope of the ice-cream mountains in the far distance and the velvet unreality of the immaculate daisy-flecked grass that ran down to the water’s edge, drawn directly from the Disney school, was, if anything, less plausible. She had to admit that the way the outcropping of raw, gold-veined marble tended to resemble some strange, overripe, processed cheese food was actually her own fault. She seemed to be incapable of producing authentic-looking minerals, much in the way that some people can’t draw hands. The Maxfield Parrish memory also accounted for the presence of the small neoclassic temple over on the promontory that projected into the lake some two hundred yards from where she was standing. Parrish had inspired the half dozen diaphanously clad virgins who danced, hand in hand, perky and unflagging sprites, endlessly circling in a dance with basic choreography in the interpretive tradition of Isadora Duncan. Disney, on the other hand, had provided the fawns, bunnies, and happy little bluebirds that cavorted in the air above, whistling and cheeping the melodies of saccharine pop ballads of the thirties, forties, and fifties, as Aimee stood on the terrace regarding her Creation.

As though sensing, if not her actual thoughts, certainly her general mood, a lone bluebird darted to within eighteen inches of her face and hung hovering, smiling blandly and whistling disjointed snatches of “Over the Rainbow.” Suddenly furious, Aimee snarled and swatted at the bird. “Get away from me, you inane figment! Get the hell away from me!”

The bird deftly dodged her slapping hand, but then only retreated some six inches and continued to hover. It started to whistle the chorus from “Swinging on a Star.” This time she swung at the bluebird with a clenched and unexpectedly accurate fist. The blow connected, taking the bluebird completely by surprise. It staggered back, cartoon-style on empty air, with small stars, suns, and planets circling its head. Aimee allowed herself a grim smile. “That’ll teach you to screw around with me, you flying rodent.”

The bluebird shook itself in midair, shedding three feathers that drifted lazily down to the terrace. The bird looked at her reproachfully and then zigzagged away to join its companions. Aimee glared after it. “I ought to erase the whole bunch of you and start all over again.”

In moments of self-doubt, anxiety, and depression, Aimee would castigate herself for concocting a Heaven that resembled nothing more than a very bad animated painting on black velvet, set to a soundtrack of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs blended with New Age elevator music. In the depths of this emotional trough, she found it all too easy to believe that even her own creations, the bluebird included, were turning against her and secretly laughing at her presumptuous ambition. Fortunately, after she discovered that both Prozac and Valium could be conjured out of the air merely by thinking about them, she was able to ensure that the frequency of such moods was strictly limited, and she began to find both the construction of Heaven and the contemplation of the finished product a great deal less stressful.

For a time, she had half believed that God might come to her, like some crowning glory or ceremonial prize, when Heaven was finally completed to both His and her satisfaction. This belief had finally wilted and died, however, when God failed to put in His much-anticipated appearance. After no manifest rainbow, no pillar of fire, not so much as a lousy dove, her attitude had changed and her resolution hardened. If God was going to forsake her so casually, she, doing as she had been done by, would likewise forsake Him. She would continue to extend her Heaven, and it would be open to all who came. It would be exactly what every Christian soul needed and expected after the trauma of death and its immediate aftermath, right down to the very last golden sunbeam, faithful collie, and cascading waterfall. The only difference was that she would provide the godhead herself. She would make herself the focus of the cumulative praise and adoration; she would be the happy recipient of the lauding and magnifying. She knew that it might take a certain degree of adjustment, particularly on the part of the males, before they could accept her as the legitimate deity. On the other side of the coin, she would have the instant loyalty of all those feminists who maintained that God was a woman. She was aware that there might be a number of unwavering fundamentalists who, even in death, would refuse to accept a fait accompli as to the legitimacy of her divinity. For them, of course, there was always Golgotha and the Pit.

In life, the idea of beating God at His own game would have been the ultimate blasphemy. Here in the Afterlife, it felt more as though she and God were on a level footing, and the concept of blasphemy demanded a noticeable inequality between blasphemer and blasphemed. Blasphemy was a mortal sin, after all, and she was no longer mortal. Of course, should God finally notice and take exception to her efforts, she would be glad to fall down and worship Him. If He chose to cast her to the fire or otherwise chastise her for her presumption, so be it. At least she would have His attention.

At first her plans had not been too grandiose. Heaven would be a modest, fairly exclusive place, a Club Paradise, with just room enough for her and a few million faithful who might choose to follow and dwell with her. Unfortunately, Aimee McPherson, possessed of that megalomaniac drive and absolute certainty of ambition that is almost unique to evangelical preachers, found it difficult to retain a modest attitude toward anything for very long. As a concept, her Paradise grew and grew until she knew the only logical conclusion was to engage in a Holy Mission, perhaps an actual Crusade, to forcibly reconfigure the entire Plane of the Afterlife to her image of Heaven. Only then would the newly dead know for certain that the biblical promises and predictions were true, that covenants had been kept, even if she was filling in for the absentee Almighty. Unfortunately, her powers of creation were unable to match the scope of the concept. For a while, she and Semple had still been a part of the same single entity; warring factions, perhaps, but at least united under quasi-flesh. They had managed to work together. Aimee had done the expansion; Semple had filled in the details. Increasingly, though, Semple had used the construction of Heaven as a vent for her perverse sensuality, her willful pride, and her invert’s delight in the sick and abominable. Aimee’s Heaven became littered with small pockets of the irrational and the warped, many too disgusting even to cite in passing, and the split between the two of them had shown itself as manifestly inevitable.

In the end, the conflicted sisters, Aimee and Semple, had faced reality and divided, by a unique binary fission of their own inventing that made them two instead of one. Aimee had compensated for the loss of what amounted to half of her personality by becoming even more obsessive about the transformation of her personal Paradise into what she increasingly thought of as the Omniheaven. Without the Omniheaven, she was nothing but another previous human living in a world concocted from delusions and fantasy gratifications. If she couldn’t bend others to her perspective, she was no different from the fool who pretended he was Moses and staged quasiCinemascope, biblical spectacles so he could spend eternity righteously smiting sinners of his own creating, forever and ever, world without end, amen. Although Aimee didn’t care to admit it, even to herself, the removal of her sister from the original and essentially schizoid personality had taken with it many of the previous checks and constraints. Aimee discovered that her manic enthusiasms and headlong obsessions tended to run faster since Semple’s departure, always more reckless and always at full flood. Likewise the depressions tended to mire her even more deeply. In divorce from her apparently dangerous dark half, Aimee had herself become darker and more dangerous.

Once split, the sisters had maintained little contact, although they were constantly aware one of the other, and were capable of a frightening empathy. Semple kept mostly to herself, indulging in her dubious amusements and pastimes in the environment that she had created since the one had become two. Aimee had never visited the place, but she had the impression that it was a replication of Semple’s idea of Hell. In many respects, this fit serendipitously well with Aimee’s master plan. Her Heaven, counterbalanced by her sister’s equal and opposite Hell; a positively Newtonian theology. This didn’t mean, on the other hand, that she had any plans to visit the place.

Separation also didn’t keep Semple from deliberately devising ways to irritate her from afar. At all-too-regular intervals, her sister would play some minor prank, causing a black and sinister helicopter to clatter across Aimee’s azure sky, disturbing the fleecy clouds with its violent prop wash, or sending a flock of malicious and predatory birds to settle in the cypress trees and stare at her with bleak, beady, Alfred Hitchcock eyes until they abruptly left and flapped away to the other side of the sunset. Semple also had a habit of removing the odd cherub or angel for her own nasty amusement. Although Aimee could hardly approve, these abductions were of little importance. Angels could always be replaced.

At that moment, however, Aimee had more pressing matters on her mind than Semple and her games. The master plan was hardly coming to fast fruition, and Aimee had to admit that she lacked the imagination required to conjure a suitably infinite Celestial Vault. What she needed was a helper. A Michelangelo who would labor in her Sistine Chapel. What she needed was a visionary whom she could bend to her will and inculcate with her vision, and who would help her make Heaven the place that it really ought to be. For a while she had considered making overtures to the phony Moses; the size and elaboration of some of his spectacles certainly bespoke a measure of power and directorial talent. They also indicated, if by nothing other than their bizarre repetition, that the Moses guy was barking crazy. Despite, in theory, having all eternity in which to work on it, Aimee knew she would never bend him to her will. His insanity was too inflexible. What she really needed was an artist, a painter or a poet, one who was fresh from death or otherwise clean-slated, without preconceptions and totally vulnerable to suggestion and manipulation.

As with so many of her recent trains of thought, the railroad eventually led back to Semple. Aimee knew she would need Semple in on this capture of a creative hireling. The artist would have to be located. He would have to be kept ignorant and off balance, and then be brought to her quickly before he could develop any inclinations or preferences of his own. Aimee knew she wasn’t the half with the capacity to accomplish this. It was Semple who had the necessary cunning and seductive charm. It was Semple who would have to find and snare the poet or painter for her, and persuading her sister to accept the assignment would not be easy, unless Aimee could somehow appeal to her innate perversity.

As Aimee turned away from her less-than-satisfactory landscape and walked back along the terrace, an uninvited vision wandered aimlessly into her mind. A young man, wild dark curls, a sensual pout, and thumbs in the conchoed belt of a pair of narcissistically tight leather pants strolled idly down a dusty road, roughing the dirt with the heels of his worn engineer boots, dragging on a cigarette. He clearly had no place in Aimee’s design and she consigned a thunderbolt to the vision, garbaging it before it could grow or develop. The young man staggered, stunned, and left her mind. The obvious first reaction was to blame Semple, and Aimee would certainly quiz her on the intrusion, but she knew instinctively that the apparition of the strange young man was something other than one of Semple’s annoyances. She also hoped he wasn’t a portent of future problems.

round

 
Jim Morrison shook his head, trying to clear it. Had he been mauled? Mindfucked? Struck by lightning? Large parts of his consciousness were wastelands of fractured shards, data retrieval had become history. Sometime, someplace, someone had royally flamed his memory, though he couldn’t recall where or when. He had a flash of sun, dust, and a back road, idly dreaming of an ice-cold beer, but it was such a brief sparkling fragment it could provide not even a pointer to the thread of a real story. So it went with most of his mind. All he knew about himself was that he had once been a poet and that, at least for the time being, he would be forced to live absolutely in a highly specialized moment where even the mundane appeared strange and unexplored, and reality checks could only come via the benevolence of the passing crowd.

One of the few things about which Jim Morrison was certain was that his true death had not occurred on that dusty back road. All thoughts of his true death conjured fragmented but repeated impressions of lukewarm water, a womblike tub, and the city of Paris. Beyond that, all he could retrieve was a useless combination of details, motor skills, and unrelated images. One major problem was that, for the time being, his own name was one of the things that determinedly eluded him. He could read and write, he could remember the names of songs and the titles of books. He knew enough to put his pants on one leg at a time and zip the fly when he was done. The rest was a destructed jigsaw of fear, rage, and unhappiness, both his own and others’. A woman ran with her hair on fire, smoke drifting across a bleak concrete freeway lined with withered palms and choked with frightened cars, while a threatening red sun on the hazy horizon struggled to shine through that same smoke. Blind horses drowned in slate-gray ocean and Indians died on the sands of a sterile desert.

He sincerely hoped the apparent garbaging of his memory was purely temporary. Painful as it might prove, it was his and he wanted it back. He was fairly optimistic that it would one day return. Something, possibly a perceived familiarity with advanced and multiple intoxication, told him that his life on Earth had been replete with blackouts and memory lapses, and suggested that this could well be a cosmic version of the same condition. If it was, he had only himself to blame. One of his most profound desires, when he had found himself discorporated at such an unexpectedly early age, was that he could somehow avoid the thereafter being merely a rerun of the same drugged, drunk, chaotic shambles. As far as he could tell, and to his eternal shame, his resolve wasn’t holding up too well.

The immediate concrete fact before Jim was that he had suddenly found himself at a party, and he knew enough to realize that it was no ordinary party. Jim had no clear idea of how or why he had arrived there, but it was plain that this Cecil B. DeMille production of howling, dancing, undulating vice was full of others who had rendered themselves as mindless as he was. He could see the unmistakable vacancy in the eyes of a high percentage of the revelers. They, too, had sacrificed mind and memory to the specific moment; for them, it was a moment of vibrance and abandon, a gratifying instant of tongues and hair, sweat and flesh, lips and liquidity. All set against the backdrop of a towering, slowly erupting volcano that spewed majestic flows of bright, sulfurous, hellfire lava and sent them slithering and easing their way sinuously down the upper slopes in ponderous slow motion. All around him, faces gleamed with flame reflections of red-orange heat, and demon-black shadows crouched among the crush of groaning, howling participants.

The thousand or more human beings who made up this plunging mass, plus the hundred or so other entities who couldn’t quite be classified, were crowded into a natural amphitheater at the base of the mountain. The set for this epic surrender to hedonism and sexual abandon was a flat-bottomed basin surrounded on three sides by high black basalt walls that looked to have been carved out of prehistory by some vast, violent geological scoop. Within its confines, men and women, intoxicated to the borderline of psychosis, clawed and pawed at each other’s greased, painted, and perfumed bodies. Some lay sprawled in spread-eagled abandon on the now damp and stained cushions that had been strewn across the floor of polished stone, while others groped, staggered, and stumbled, bent on staying on their feet come what might. Such clothing as had been worn back when the festivities had started was, for the most part, long since shredded or ripped away, and, along with it, any sense of individual identity, even on the most minimal level. The crowd had all but merged into a single, moving, but apparently unthinking, entity. This lust-driven composite was a constant flux of wave motions that, at regular intervals, would erupt into screaming pockets of mass hysteria or moaning cluster orgasm.

On a rock ledge above the seething crowd, Ethiopian drummers, their shining, oiled forms festooned with gold jewelry inlaid with turquoise and ivory, and their faces hidden by the fall of their dripping dreadlocks, pounded furiously on the hard hide heads of leopardskin-draped kettledrums, rhythmically urging the already furious crowd to even greater frenzy. The drummers seemed all but oblivious to the women and men who crouched at their feet, seemingly worshiping what they saw as the driving force of the orgiastic confusion. Intrusive, urgent hands stroked the players’ legs and shamelessly cupped their genitals and buttocks, but the ritual drummers missed not so much as an inflection or accent. Even when bold, eager tongues licked the very sweat from them, the beat went on, relentlessly maintained, unwavering and unchallengeable.

On a second ledge, immediately below the drummers, relays of young men and women, all but naked in sheer drapes of near-transparent Hunan silk, poured dark, aromatic, psychedelic wine from a seeming endless supply of stone jars into the upheld goblets and even directly into the open mouths of the Mad magazine mass that milled below them. The hair of these serving youths was garlanded with twines of white flowers and some wore luxurious orchids behind their ears. Every one of these exquisite servants swayed in time to the throb of the drums as they slaked the mob’s obvious thirst, and they broke frequently from their appointed tasks to allow themselves to be kissed and fondled by absolute strangers and even carried down, unresisting, into the squirming carnality. When these dalliances interrupted the wineflow, celebrants would climb up and help themselves. Entire jars would be passed down and borne away, their contents slopping and staining what remained of the surrounding crowd’s disarrayed clothing, and adding to the profusion of fluids that drenched and lubricated the desperate celebration.

The Golden Calf itself squatted balefully at the center of the entire sensual maelstrom, presiding over the sinuous chaos. Over fifteen feet high from its cloven hooves to the tips of its branching Texas horns, and constructed entirely from beaten gold and crusted with precious gems, it provided the ultimate focus and singular provocation of all that happened around it. Ultimately pagan in its sculptured ferocity, the tall idol’s nostrils flared, and the huge rubies that formed its eyes glared down with implacable bovine contempt at those who prostrated or disported themselves before it. The Golden Calf had been festooned with more white flowers, splashed with wine, and columns of smoke rose on either side of its massive head from braziers of burning incense, all but creating the impression that the beast was breathing fire. Two women, bodies bare from the waist down, straddled the wet ridge of its metallic spine, rocking their hips backward and forward, riding the towering effigy with eyes closed, faces ecstatic, locking in lewd oblivion. The idol even came with its own sacrificial maiden, who hung in chains suspended from its mighty horns and, in the tatters of her blue silk ball gown, bore an uncanny resemblance to Debra Paget in the Vista Vision, wide-screen version of The Ten Commandments, although in the movie Debra Paget had not been used with such repeated depravity by such a representative cross section of the massed celebrants. In historical and mortal fact, that kind of thing had been the prerogative of Howard Hughes.

That Jim had no idea of how exactly he had come to be under this particular volcano at the time in question had, after repeated draughts of the purple wine, pretty much ceased to bother him, in part because, as the crowd swayed around him, he was hallucinating to the point of near-blindness. At one point the effects of the wine had prompted the vaguest of recollections of being in the middle of a pitched battle in a high mountain pass between the Dionysians and the Apollonians. The Apollonians had come in with automatic weapons and air support, while the Dionysians had only coup sticks and ghost shirts. Needless to say, he had been on the side of the Dionysians in this unequal conflict, and his memory may have been the price that he paid for his ill-advised participation.

About the only thing of which he was sure was that he hadn’t created the orgy himself. His recall might be down, but he still knew his own personality, and he was confident that his tastes, although certainly of a Bacchanalian bent, didn’t run to such old-Hollywood, pornographic grandiosity. When he found himself at the base of the Golden Calf, caressing the exceptionally full and well-formed breasts of a naked and nameless young woman who resembled a very young Mamie Van Doren, he knew it was the work of some mysterious other. If he had been in control, he would never have allowed himself to be dragged from off her so early in the encounter.

Initially the young woman had been energetically eager, and in the mere space of their first minute together she had entirely ripped away his white linen shirt. Jim hadn’t been too concerned about the shirt, and when the woman had started unbuckling the belt of his ancient leather jeans, he had been quite prepared to swim with the prevailing sensual tide. The only thing that bothered him was that, when she spoke, he found himself unable to understand a word she was saying. At first he was alarmed that he had been deprived of language as well as memory. This theory hardly seemed to fly, though; he not only thought in English, but when he attempted to say anything, he formed English words and sentences despite the drunkenness of his condition.

The woman’s speech also seemed to lack the form and natural repetition of language; it was little more than a sequence of unstructured grunts and glottal cries. Jim’s next assumption was that she had consumed so much of the psychedelic wine that she was actually talking in tongues, but then he noticed that a similar glossolalia was being mouthed and uttered by most of those around him. Could it be that whoever had fashioned this lavish and ultimately impressive event, and possibly even brought Jim there from wherever he’d been, had problems with giving speech to his creations? Either that or he wanted to keep his celebrants in mindless noncommunication in his lush pit of Babel. It was while Jim pondered this question that he discovered that he who ponders can also lose. Two men, a bull-dyke lesbian, and a creature who could easily have been a Sasquatch had picked up the Van Doren replicant by her arms and legs and physically removed her, while the surrounding crowd brayed with laughter. Jim considered the action neither friendly nor sexually ethical, but he was too loaded to make an issue of it.

After that, he had wandered aimlessly through the chaos of the orgy, shirtless in his jeans and scuffed engineer boots, finding himself repeatedly splashed with wine and fondled by total strangers of both sexes and none. This licentious buffeting soon grew tiresome, and he looked around for some detached vantage point where he could observe the epic debauch without any compulsion to become part of the action. He noticed a hollow niche some twelve feet up on the rock wall, opposite the ledges occupied by the Ethiopian drummers and the youths serving the wine. A usable if rudimentary path led up to the niche and it seemed to be exactly the kind of spot to which he could happily withdraw. The only snag was another individual already had the same idea. A fully clothed man was sitting there, knees drawn up, shoulders against the rock face, and a wide-brimmed black hat pulled down so it concealed his face. He was the only fully clothed, not to say elaborately dressed, character in sight, which, in context, made him appear singularly perverse.

As Morrison observed the man who had beat him to the sanctuary, his rival pulled a silver one-pint flask from his coat and took a long drink. He then returned the flask to his pocket and almost immediately fell into a spasm of uncontrolled coughing. He struggled to extract a white lace handkerchief from another pocket and bring it to his mouth. When he finally withdrew the uncharacteristically dainty piece of linen, Jim could see, even from a distance, that it was stained with fresh red blood.

The man looked strangely familiar to Jim, although he was of course unable to put a name to him or locate him in any context. That someone in the Afterlife should be suffering from what appeared to be not only a terminal earthly disease but one that was classically Victorian was remarkable enough, and the man’s style was certainly in profound contrast to any of the other guests at the orgy. Where the rest were primitive or Old Testament, he was clearly a son of the nineteenth century. The cut of his black velvet frock coat and ornamental brocade vest could only be described as rakish, and the same applied to the long, old-fashioned cavalry boots that extended well above his knees. His soft floppy hat was turned down at one side in a decidedly dandified manner, and in Morrison’s estimation he had struck an almost-balance between western gunfighter and dissolute pre-Raphaelite aesthete. Jim wasn’t quite sure how he recognized these origins, but he was relieved to find that at least his cultural reference bank hadn’t completely gone off line.

While he was entertaining these thoughts, Jim also found himself being pawed at by a naked and grossly obese hermaphrodite who not only talked in tongues but did so with a repulsively sibilant lisp and a spray of drool. Jim quickly decided that enough was enough. He ducked away from the creature’s damply eager clutches and unappetizing, fish-belly flesh and began to negotiate the series of hand- and footholds that led up to the niche now occupied by the familiar stranger in the frock coat and soft hat. The hollow in the rock was large enough to accommodate three or four grown men; the worst the stranger could do, Jim reasoned, was scream at him to go away. As he approached the man, Jim called out, extending what he saw as a minimal social courtesy even if it wouldn’t be understood.

“Do you mind if I join you up there?”

The frock-coated stranger pushed back his hat, revealing a sickly pallid face with a dark drooping mustache, hard blue eyes, and the expression of one who is easily irritated. To Jim’s surprise, he answered not only in English but in a deceptively indolent drawl that might have had its origins in the old, and largely fictional, antebellum south. “May I assume that you’re looking for some peace and quiet and not some kind of homosexual liaison?”

Jim halted halfway between orgy and niche. Despite the lazy speech, the stranger’s overall demeanor was quite enough to warn him that this was not a character with whom to trifle. “I’m definitely looking for some peace and quiet.”

The stranger shrugged. “Then come ahead, young man. Come right ahead.”

As Jim reached the hollow in the rock, the stranger looked at him questioningly. “You seem, sir, not to be remembering me?”

Jim instantly adopted an improvised approximation of the stranger’s fanciful speech patterns. “I fear, sir, I have no memory at all.”

The man’s eyes narrowed dangerously. “Considering the nature of our last encounter, I’m surprised that you would have forgotten it in such a hurry.”

Jim was quick to explain. “I mean I have no memory of anything. I appear to have materialized here with no recall beyond a sorry and confused blur.”

The man seemed content with the explanation, at least for the present. “That’s unfortunate.”

Jim sat down, allowing a civilized distance of almost two paces between them. The man seemed to accept this as a mark of well-mannered respect. “At least you and I are not the wanton creations of whoever started this thing.”

“What makes you say that?”

“If you and I were mere fantasy figments, we would not be up here, playing the part of nonparticipant watchers. We’d be down there, wallowing with the rest of the recently invented swine. To mangle Descartes a little, we observe, therefore we are.”

This statement was so far from anything that Jim might have expected that he was temporarily at a loss for a response. The stranger, for his part, seemed to have nothing to add, and the two of them sat quiet for a time while the bacchanal continued to howl and throb below them. Finally, Jim could contain his curiosity no longer regarding the familiar stranger’s identity. “I fear, sir, you have the advantage of me.”

This time the stranger didn’t bother to raise the brim of his hat. “You think so?”

“I do indeed. You would appear to know who I am, while I have no recollection of either your name or where we might have met. In fact, I’d be more than happy if you could tell me who I am. My own identity also appears to have escaped me somewhere in the mysterious transit that brought me here.”

The man chuckled and then coughed as a result of the unguarded laugh. “Are you saying that you want me to introduce you to yourself?”

“I suppose I am.”

“That’s some singular request, my friend.”

“But one that I need to make.”

The familiar stranger paused for a very long time, toying with Jim, perhaps, or pondering the ethics of reuniting an individual with his mislaid identity. Below them the orgy showed no signs of abating. The Debra Paget look-alike chained to the golden calf was now being forced to pull a train for a gang of burly Cro-Magnons with thick red hair all over their bodies. Finally the stranger made up his mind. “In that case, my friend, your name is Morrison . . . James Morrison.”

“James Morrison?”

“James Douglas Morrison, commonly known as Jim.”

“You’re telling me that I’m Jim Morrison?”

“That’s what you were calling yourself last time I saw you.”

“You’re putting me on.”

“Indeed I am not.”

“The Jim Morrison?”

“So you said. You claimed you were the Lizard King, whatever that might mean. You went on to boast that you could do anything.”

“I suppose I was drunk.”

“As a skunk. Indeed, a good deal drunker than you would appear to be right now.”

Jim nodded slowly and thoughtfully. This took some digesting. “No shit.”

“As I recall, you were inordinately proud that you had made something of a nuisance of yourself for a short while in the twentieth century.”

Jim was beginning to get the distinct impression that the stranger was making fun of both him and his disability. “I’m beginning to remember.”

In fact, a whole block of memory had abruptly tumbled back into place, memories of crowds and lights, fame and fortune and a myriad of women, of hashish and heroin and massive quantities of alcohol. Of flash and flamboyance offset by monstrous hungover depression and a constant dicing with the death that had ultimately become inevitable.

The familiar stranger took another pull on his flask. He also coughed again, but only a couple of times and without the previous painful violence. “Of course, you may not really be Morrison.”

Jim frowned. “What do you mean?”

“You know how it is.”

“No, I don’t.”

The stranger pushed back his hat. “That’s right. I was forgetting. You don’t have a memory.”

“I’m getting some memory back and it’s all Morrison.”

“Well, it would be, wouldn’t it?”

“It would?”

“We all indulge our fantasies, my friend. We strive for seamlessness.”

Jim was now totally confused. “We do?”

“It rather goes with the territory. In fact, it quickly becomes all the territory we’ve got.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Of course you don’t. You lost your memory on the way to the orgy. You don’t remember the death trauma. You may have left it in the cab.”

“Left it in the cab?”

“A figure of speech.”

“Oh.”

“You really don’t remember, do you?”

“I’m afraid I don’t.”

“And you certainly don’t remember the next stage, hanging cursed and discorporate, one of the million tiny, anonymous pods in the Great Double Helix.”

Jim shook his head. “Are you kidding me?”

The stranger scowled. “Why should I do that?”

Jim shrugged. “I don’t know.”

The stranger turned his head and looked directly at Jim for the first time. His eyes had changed from merely hard to downright dangerous. “You wouldn’t be about to suggest that I’m a damned liar, would you, sir? You wouldn’t think of suggesting some slanderous thing like that?”

Jim half-smiled. “Oh no. I’ve done some dumb shit, but nothing that dumb.”

The stranger nodded. “I’m glad to see that at least your animal cunning and instincts for self-preservation haven’t deserted you.”

For a while neither man spoke. The stranger tapped his right foot gently in time to the relentless drumming. Finally Jim decided that he should prompt the stranger to go on with his story. “You were saying . . .

The tapping foot stopped. “I was saying what?”

“I was a discorporate pod hanging in the Great Double Helix.”

The stranger nodded. “Indeed you were. We all are directly after death. And some of us like it so much we pay repeated visits, just to start again.”

“So then what happened?”

“You began to find that you had the capacity to make this stage of the Afterlife practically anything you wanted it to be.”

“I did?”

“Damn right you did. The pods dream.”

“The pods dream?” The drumming or the wine sloshing in his stomach, or maybe the ongoing confusion, was starting to give Jim a headache.

“The pods dream and find that their dreams might become their reality. The pods think and thoughts become things. A few, the really unadaptable, go the disembodied route, hanging around waiting for a séance to happen or spooking out and haunting some of their lifeside mortal hangouts. Those of a more Hindu mind-set take the Canal and get busy reincarnating themselves as kings or cockroaches, entirely according to their level of earthly self-esteem.”

“And the rest of us?”

The stranger unscrewed the cap on his flask. “The rest of us? Indeed, Jim Morrison, what of the rest of us? The rest of us create an environment out of our previous realities and fantasies.”

“You mean that, after death, there are people who take on the identities of the famous and notorious?”

“Why the hell not? Maybe on Earth you were some sorry, no-class, turd-shoveling creature of insignificance, but you don’t want to go damned from here to eternity like that. Oh dear me, no. What happens is, after a couple of incalculable timeless aeons hanging in the Helix, you realize that you can be Alexander the Great or Catherine de Médicis or the Old Whore of Babylon if you so wish. And so you wish and, presto, that’s exactly what you become. That’s what you are until maybe you think better of it and transcend.”

Jim frowned. “But surely you must retain some turd-shoveling memories?”

“Believe me, friend, they fade like a dream with morning in this wonderful new postmortem reality.” The stranger suddenly grinned. “Hell, I’m not even sure that I’m really who I claim to be.”

“And who might that be?”

Again the stranger turned and stared at Jim. “My name, sir, is John Henry Holliday, although many people call me Doc.”

He slowly extended a thin, rather feminine hand. Jim grasped it, noting that it was as cold as that of corpse, which, of course, technically it was. “So you’re Doc Holliday.”

“Indeed I am. To the best of my knowledge and belief.”

“I’m proud to meet you.”

“And so you should be, boy.”

“I used to watch movies about you.”

“They liked me in Hollywood. I was the perfect foil for the insufferable Wyatt Earp.”

Jim eased in a question before Doc Holliday could embark on a tangent of recollection. “There is one thing I don’t understand.”

“And what might that be?”

“I didn’t create you out of my fantasy. I’m certain I didn’t create any of this.”

“Of course you didn’t.”

“So what am I doing here?”

“That’s a good question.”

“Is there an answer?”

Doc took a pull on his flask. “Even in death, no man is an island.”

Doc Holliday seemingly took a delight in elliptical conversations, and Jim figured that, for the moment, the best policy was just to wait out his loops. Eventually he would come across with something approaching an explanation.

“The first thing you learn when you start building an existence here in the Afterlife is that a billion other sons of bitches are doing exactly the same thing. In my father’s house there are many mansions. Unfortunately, they all have walls as thin as a cold-water walk-up, interconnecting doors and unending corridors. You start colliding, overlapping, banging into each other, and setting up a general interlocking confusion.”

Jim framed his next words cautiously. Now he knew that the stranger was, at the very least, an analog of Doc Holliday, his survival instincts still told him it was probably unwise to piss him off, real or not. “That doesn’t quite tell me how I got here.”

“I can tell you why I’m here.”

Jim figured that this was better than nothing. “So why are you here?”

“The truth is I was already here.”

“You were?”

Doc gestured airily to the eruption behind them. “I was up on the volcano disposing of a power ring that had turned out to be singularly destructive. It’s the only way to get rid of those damn things. You bring them to life and after a while you find they’re not only taking on a life of their own but also taking over yours. You have to burn them up in either an active volcano or the breath of a dragon. I imagine that, in your case, you were probably wished here by whoever’s throwing this al fresco wingding.”

“Me?”

“You may not know it, but you’ve got something of a rep around the hereafter.”

Jim groaned. It seemed that history had been repeating itself. “And my memory got scrambled in the process?”

“You got it. Unless you’ve been hitting the absinthe or ingesting alien fungoids.”

“I’m afraid I’m still confused.”

Doc chuckled. “You’ll be even more confused when you find out about the other problems.”

“Other problems?”

“Like how the bit players in the fantasy also take on a life of their own.

“Would you care to explain that?”

“I’m not sure there’s going to be time right now.” Doc gestured to a point above them, a rocky promontory higher on the slopes of the volcano. “I fear Moses is come upon us to smite the fornicators.”

Jim turned and looked where Doc was pointing. A tall bearded figure, angular and bony in a tattered and dirty woolen robe, and with a mass of gray hair that hung well past his shoulders, was standing on the rocks, glaring down at the orgy around the Golden Calf with the disapproving stare of patriarchal wrath. Jim glanced at Doc. “That’s really Moses?”

Doc shook his head. “I very much doubt it. Just some turd-shoveler putting on the style. In point of fact, Moses was bicameral and he couldn’t make a move without his right brain telling his left brain that it was the Voice of God. He probably transcended millennia ago, and now he’s sitting on what he fondly believes is the right hand of Jehovah.”

Jim saw that the Moses figure was actually carrying a pair of stone tablets like miniature headstones. “He seems to have the Ten Commandments with him.”

“Of course he does. They go with the costume.”

“So what does this turd-shoveler want?”

“Like I said, he’s most likely here to smite the fornicators.”

“Can he do that?”

“Sure, that’s probably the reason he set up this rat-shit drunk, buck-naked hoedown in the first place. Nothing these Bible-thumping retards like better than smiting a mess of sinners in flagrante. Doubtless that’s why you were dragged here at the unfortunate cost of your memory.”

“Moses set this thing up?”

Doc was getting to his feet. “Sure he did. A pristine piece of ego tripping. His mission is to punish sinners, so he has to create a few sinners to punish. He also buses in outside talent like you to give the proceeding a measure of heft.”

Some of the celebrants below had broken off from their fun and games and were staring up at the figure on the mountain with its stone tablets. The drums faltered and stopped together. Jim also scrambled to his feet. “Are you saying we’re going to get smitten?”

Doc pushed back his coat, revealing a nickel-plated Colt .45-caliber automatic with a mother-of-pearl handle inlaid with a gold lightning flash. “Not if I can help it.”

As Doc spoke, the Moses figure braced his legs, drew himself up to his full height, and raised the stone tablets above his head. His voice, monstrously amplified and heavy with unnatural and highly electronic reverb, roared out and echoed around the mountains, “I SAY TO YOU, OH ISRAEL, YOU HAVE CORRUPTED YOURSELVES!”

The impact of the sound was like a thunderclap, and, even inured as he was from his days on Earth to super-amplified noises, Jim flinched momentarily. The roar of Moses was certainly enough to bring the orgy to an abrupt stop. Drunks halted in their tracks and copulating couples froze in midthrust. Individual revelers broke away from each other, retreating for supposed protection in the shadow of the Golden Calf.

Moses advanced down the mountain, bearing the tablets of stone above his head. “YOU HAVE ERECTED A GRAVEN IMAGE AND MADE YOURSELVES AN ABOMINATION IN THE EYES OF GOD.”

Jim glanced at Doc. “I don’t even believe in God.”

Doc smiled grimly. “I don’t recall that ever giving one moment’s pause to any Bible-thumper.”

“THOSE WHO REFUSE TO LIVE BY THE LAW MUST THEN DIE BY IT!”

Threateningly bright and powerful streams of plasma energy undulated from the stone tablets and circled Moses, ducking and weaving but growing in strength. One suddenly darted out, swooped down into the amphitheater, and struck the Golden Calf, burning off one of its horns, and a large chunk of the idol’s golden head. It also totally vaporized the Debra Paget look-alike. This seemed scarcely fair or just to Jim. Bound and restrained as she had been, she was about the only one at the party whose participation in the depravity hadn’t been obviously willing. He could only assume that prophets and patriarchs still operated on the principle of guilt by association. If you’re there, you’re guilty, and damn the extenuating circumstances.

Doc growled angrily in his throat as a second plasma stream struck the Calf on its haunches, vaporized a dozen or more sinners in a single dazzling explosion, and scattered a fine rain of molten gold over the terrified crowd. Now the guests at the orgy were scurrying in every direction, looking for any way out or any available cover but finding none. A third plasma bolt struck home and the amphitheater began to resemble a battlefield more than a party.

“I think it’s time I did something about this.” And so saying, Doc Holliday drew the Colt automatic from under his coat and pointed it at Moses.

Jim looked at him as though he were crazy. “Surely you can’t kill anyone in the Afterlife? I mean, we’re all already dead.”

Doc grinned unpleasantly. “I can still fuck him up some. This piece was made for Elvis and the bullets are gold. It should have some effect.” He gestured with the gun in the direction of Moses. “Depending on that son of a bitch’s belief structure, a gold bullet going through him could trigger a bunch of possible responses. The Elvis connection should also make its contribution.”

“You’ve really got that thing loaded with gold bullets?”

The look in Doc’s eyes was starting to verge on insanity. “To be strictly accurate, the shell casings are only gold-plated, but the slugs themselves are pure twenty-four-karat. Soft-metal hollow points, guaranteed to make one hell of a mess of both bone and tissue. Now shut the fuck up, I need to concentrate.”

Steadying his right hand with his left, fingers extended in a way that was almost delicate, Doc took slow and careful aim at the figure of Moses. More plasma crashed down on the sinners in the amphitheater, but Doc didn’t duck or flinch. His focus was such that he seemed unaware of anything but his target. This being might not be the genuine and original Doc Holliday, but he certainly had a cold killer’s calculated detachment down pat and Jim had to admire him for that. When it came, the report of the pistol was unnaturally loud with an artificial echo similar to the intensified Moses voice. Doc allowed the recoil of the weapon to carry it up to a two-handed, high port with the gun beside his head. His gaze, however, was still locked on Moses. The simulated patriarch reeled backward for three faltering paces. His spine arched unnaturally, as though cringing somehow to accommodate the impact of the gold .45 slug, but almost immediately he appeared to recover. His body straightened, and it was clear, even from a distance, that his sinews were stiffening with righteous fury.

Moses slowly turned, as though searching for the heretic behind this blasphemous assault. “WHO DARES TO SMITE THE PROPHET OF THE LORD THY GOD?”

A silence so profound that it could have come directly from the gulf between galaxies fell over the amphitheater. The ex-revelers froze in their panicking tracks. As far as Jim could objectively tell, the silence lasted for five, maybe six seconds before it was shattered by the soft tubercular wheeze of Doc Holliday’s hollow laugh as he answered the irate Moses. “I guess I’m your boy, pilgrim. Are we going to make an issue of this?”

Jim could only suppose that, at this point, Moses’ rage had simply boiled all the way out of character. He looked the same, he sounded the same, but the content was hardly from the Book of Exodus. “FUCKING-A RIGHT WE’RE GOING TO MAKE AN ISSUE OF IT.”

And with that, he hurled one of the stone tablets directly at Doc. Doc, however, gracefully sidestepped, and five of the Ten Commandments, streaming a rainbow plasma contrail, spun past Jim, just scant inches from his left shoulder. The stone burst on the rocks behind him like a divine hand grenade, with a blinding, phosphorus-white flash and a shock wave that all but blew Jim clear off the ledge. From that point on, all hell broke loose. Firing from the hip, Doc proceeded to empty the entire clip of the automatic into the figure of Moses, but this seemed to have little effect except to make him even more furious and cause him to hurl the other tablet at them—the one containing commandments six through ten—and then, when this second explosion failed to dislodge Doc and Jim, to call down the full-blown Energy Storm of God.

In fact, the Energy Storm of God was borrowed intact from Raiders of the Lost Ark, but Jim didn’t know this. Thus the plasma, howling past and threatening to engulf him with its screaming skulls, came at Jim like hallucination horrors. Moses, the amphitheater, even Doc, none of them were any longer visible. All Jim could see was a funnel cloud of vague disjointed forms spinning around him in the blaze. They all seemed to be flying. Or possibly falling.

round

 
Blood-ruby light streamed through the narrow, irregular slits in the high-domed ceiling of the chamber. They formed long unwavering beams that cut through the smoke haze and shafted down to the black marble floor below, creating a geometric design in three dimensions. When viewed from most possible angles, it resembled nothing more than an elongated, cat’s-cradle cage of brightness. A slightly larger, circular aperture at the apex of the dome produced a single and absolutely vertical column of illumination, somewhat wider and more intense than the other pencil-thin rays.

The obvious stylistic influence and overall effect of the chamber was decidedly Islamic, akin in some ways to an anteroom in a huge and magnificent mosque. This had been Semple McPherson’s original intention when she had conceived the chamber and all of the other rooms in her extensive domain. She had been striving for an obvious counterbalance to her sibling’s overbearing, open-air Christianity. Where mosques, however, were places of cool holiness, the smoky red light and the abstract, vaguely flamelike mosaics, in black, scarlet, and gold, that adorned the walls and snaked up all the way to the apex of the dome whispered of damnation and punishment. The ever-burn chromium spheres floating in the convex space, moving about their randomly combustible sphere business, hinted at a cruel surrealism. The runic inscriptions and cabalistic symbols etched in gold on the black marble of the floor provided a louder literary confirmation that this was a place where sweetness and mercy had been banished, right along with faith, hope, and charity. If Semple’s creation was a mosque, it was seemingly a mosque in Hell where, rather than prayer and devotion and the worship of Allah, the primary focus was the practice of torture and subjugation. If any further amplification was needed, the way the central beam of light fell directly on a chained and kneeling winged figure crouched on the marble floor said it all.

That the light came from above tended to suggest that, somewhere beyond the dome, a larger world existed, perhaps even some semblance of a sun and a sky. In fact, that was not the case. Semple had never bothered to devise any greater reality to give context to the invented Hell in which she dwelled, amused herself, and whiled away a perfectly satisfactory Afterlife. Semple disliked the outdoors. Such niceties like earth and sky were the province of her sibling. If Aimee had her way, all of everywhere would be reconfigured in the image of her narrow, conservative, and boringly orthodox concept of a pastoral Heaven.

As with much in the Afterlife, the relationship between the opposing kingdoms of the two sisters was complicated. To think that Aimee’s Maxfield Parrish Paradise was somewhere above, and that Semple’s Arabian Hell was somehow below, was convenient but sadly nonsensical. Such relativities were merely handed on from the mortal coil, handy luggage from the earthly life. They had no factual basis in postmortem complexity.

A wingless second figure stood over the first, unbound and dressed in a costume of military cut that seemed to have been tailored out of either plastic or highly polished leather. This second figure waited just back from the central beam of light, but sufficiently close for highlights to glint on its reflective costume. The standing figure was Semple McPherson herself, arrayed for oppression, eyes hidden behind huge, insect-eye sunglasses. She tapped a slender, wandlike device lightly against the flat palm of her gloved hand and regarded the chained figure on the floor in front of her with a combination of contempt and amusement. After a number of thoughtful taps, she began to walk slowly around him. “You know that you have seriously disappointed me, don’t you? It was a simple, if intimate task, but you managed to prove yourself entirely inadequate. Are you aware of the extent of my disappointment? I gave you every chance, but you failed me abjectly.”

The voice that came from the winged figure was scarcely more than a whisper. “I’m sorry.” The prisoner’s voice had a pleading melodic quality that contrasted with Semple McPherson’s chill interrogation.

Semple halted in her circling. “Speak a little louder, will you?”

“I’m sorry.”

Semple resumed walking around the prisoner. It took five paces to trace a circle around the kneeling figure in the pool of light. As Semple moved, the cruel rap of her ultra-high heels on the mirror-polished stone echoed around the walls of the chamber and produced delayed resonances from the curves of the dome. The leather of her costume creaked and its decorative chains rattled softly, but these faint sounds were hardly loud enough to produce echoes as precise and defined as those of her footfalls. They simply added their own micro-reverberations to the general background sigh that drifted like a sad and recurrent atonal theme through the chamber. Semple was dressed in what she liked to call her “Gestapo” costume, her usual attire for the questioning, abuse, and torture of prisoners and abductees from Aimee’s Heaven. As with most of her outfits, she had designed it herself.

When she and Aimee had separated, Aimee had retained the major part of their original physical appearance, although, with Semple’s contribution to the composite personality removed, she seemed to fade somewhat, into a vapid, ineffectual blonde with large, moist doe eyes that contrasted with her small, judgmental, and almost lipless mouth. Semple, on the other hand, had found herself free to make up a whole new outward persona for herself, absolutely from scratch. With Aimee resembling such a washed-out, constrained, and self-satisfied little prig, Semple had gone for the voluptuous and exotic. She had chosen to become a six-foot-tall, raven-haired Amazon superheroine who combined the best features of Jane Russell and Elizabeth Taylor, writ large and with a few added extra flourishes of her own invention. Combinations of mix and match were the key to much of Semple’s creativity. It was certainly a technique that had been applied to her Gestapo outfit. She was arrayed in what looked to be an amalgamation of the standard sexual dominatrix garb and the dress uniform of some fanciful Nazi Space Patrol, consisting of black leather jodhpurs with a red stripe down the outside seam, high black boots with stiletto spikes, a severely tailored tunic with red inset panels and flashes, and heavy with decorative medals, chains, and epaulets. Her jet-black hair was piled high on her head, her emerald eyes invisible behind the oversized glasses.

After one circle of the figure, she stopped and slowly extended her arm into the column of light so a shadow fell on her kneeling subject. As it passed over him, he shuddered slightly. Semple didn’t know if the response was one of ecstasy or fear, and she didn’t particularly care. She removed her hand from the light and spoke again. “I think I can safely say, without the slightest fear of contradiction, that your understanding of my needs and their gratification was completely unsatisfactory.”

“I’m sorry, my lady.”

Semple ignored him. She could feel a tirade coming on and she saw no reason not to indulge herself. “I made allowances for the fact that my idiot sister saw fit, in an insane outburst of prudery and sexual repression, to create you and your kind without even the slightest hint of genitalia. Having made these concessions, however, I would feel it should be incumbent upon you to spend as much thought, time, and effort as possible perfecting your expertise in other areas of the same endeavor. Do you understand me so far?”

The subject nodded silently and a rustle ran down his wing feathers from shoulder to tip. Semple noted the response with open contempt. The kneeling figure was one of her sibling’s ludicrous angels, and Semple had always found their physical construction decidedly implausible. Their luxuriant, swanlike wings were simply attached to their backs, close to the shoulder blades, as though they had been glued or cemented there with little or no thought as to how the actual function of flight was to be achieved. It was a result, of course, of Aimee’s willful ignorance of human anatomy and her deeply inhibited distaste for any study of the subject, no matter how it might have improved the authenticity of the Heavenly Host that she claimed to care so much about. Of course, the angels, when they flew, were hardly required to overcome an actual terrestrial gravity, but Semple still believed they ought to look as though they were.

Or perhaps it wasn’t altogether justifiable to blame the unreality of the angels entirely on Aimee’s prudery and ignorance. Back when they had still been joined as one, Semple had attempted to work out a mechanically coherent muscular structure for the wings of angels.

Unfortunately, the task had proved all but impossible without tolerating a level of deformity that was close to monstrous. Dynamically correct angels came doubled-over and hunchbacked, not unakin to an avian version of the servant Igor in the old black and white Frankenstein movies. Such a thing would have been completely unacceptable to Aimee, and Semple had abandoned her efforts. She continued to believe, however, that the traditional image of the angel, essentially an idealized human with wings sprouting from his or her back, endowed with the capability of flight, was both anathema to physics and a technical impossibility.

Her final fallback had been to make it clear to Aimee that, in her opinion, the angels looked stupid at best and even stupider when they were in flight. She had suggested that they should be left out of the heavenly inventory altogether, but her opinion had cut no ice. Aimee, unbending traditionalist that she was, had insisted that Heaven could never be complete without not only angels but cherubim, seraphim, and all of the other whimsical features of the popular Victorian sacred picture-postcard image of the choir celestial. This was probably why Semple now took such a lasting delight in involving Aimee’s less rational creations in her experimental studies regarding the limits of spiritual endurance. If she couldn’t make angels logical, she felt fully justified in abducting and torturing such pathetic half measures.

She continued her interrogation of the angel at hand. “I asked you if you understood me.”

Again the angel mutely nodded, but this wasn’t good enough for Semple. “Out loud, please.”

The angel’s voice choked slightly as though he were doing his best to hold back tears or terror. “Yes, I understand you.” Again, his wing feathers rustled.

The prisoner angel’s wings were, at that moment, secured by a pair of polished steel alligator clips some eight inches long, attached by short chains to anchor rings set in the floor. The angel’s wings might defy scientific logic, but they could also be one hell of a nuisance if the damn thing started to panic and thrash about. The wings of angels in this tailored Heaven had a strength that was more than equal to those of terrestrial swans or eagles.

“So what do you intend to do about it?”

“Do about what, Lady Semple?”

When the angel had first been brought to Semple’s domain, he had been informed that he should afford his captor due courtesy by addressing her as Lady Semple. If he should refer to her by name to a third party, it should be as the Lady Semple.

“About your inability.”

The angel didn’t answer. He strained against the bonds that held him, but no words came.

“Speak up. I can’t hear you.”

The angel partially found his voice. “I . . . ”

“I still can’t hear you.”

“I don’t . . . ”

“You don’t what?”

“I don’t . . . ”

“I’m beginning to lose patience.” Semple touched the angel lightly with the tip of her wand. He grimaced in sudden pain and recoiled from the contact with a desperate gasp. His answer came out in a single rush of breath as though some block had suddenly been released. “I don’t have any experience. Nothing of that kind ever comes to pass in Heaven.”

Semple’s lip curled. “Well, it wouldn’t, would it?”

“I did the best I could.”

Semple held the wand in front of the angel’s downcast eyes. “You creatures are such weaklings.”

“Perhaps if I was allowed to practice a little more, I might . . . ”

“You want to practice?”

The angel raised his head so he was looking at Semple. “That’s if you don’t destroy me first.”

“Are you attempting to make a play for my sympathy?”

“I don’t want to be destroyed.”

“I hardly overflow with divine forgiveness.”

As though to indicate her lack of basic compassion, Semple glanced over at her three rubber guards who stood a little way off, watching impassively from behind the eyepieces of their grim and featureless suits. The rubber guards were completely identical, and, as though demonstrating their role in Semple’s realm, each one clutched a heavy-duty electric mace in its stubby fingers. These three rubber guards had been the ones that Semple had summoned to drag the terrified but unresisting angel from the luxury of the lady’s nouveau purple bedroom to the Moorish horror of the torture chamber.

The rubber guards were one of Semple’s more original creations and she used them extensively to spread terror and alarm among her fabricated subjects. Although bipedal and humanoid in shape, that was pretty much where any human resemblance ended. The loose suits of inch-thick black rubber with their anonymous circular goggles and air filter snout, not unlike a built-in World War I gas mask, endowed the rubber guards with a shapeless and ultimately sinister uniformity. They were slack but dangerous, heavy balloons with arms, legs, and absolute obedience to their designer. They stood over seven feet tall, and the suits hung loosely like the skin of an elephant, but lacked the amiable pachyderm’s reassuring arrangements of folds and wrinkles.

When originally designing the guards and retainers for her personal Hell, Semple had first toyed with the idea of using traditional medieval demons, but had rejected that as being far too much like what her sister might do if she had been cast as the dark half. In the case of the rubber guards, she had confined herself to a ballpark of the imagination bounded by George Orwell on one side and Jean Cocteau on the other, seeking a monstrous paramilitary figure that was midway between a dehumanized warrior and a bioengineered robot. She had forgotten the exact details of the structure that she had devised to provide the functioning machinery beneath the enigmatic rubber. That was the way with the Lady Semple. She might labor long and hard over an element of her manufactured environment, but the moment the task was complete, she involuntarily and irrevocably downloaded it from her mind. Data crashed and was no more.

The rubber guards breathed, or at least made a regular asthmatic hissing through their filter snouts. The bodies also made a faint liquid sloshing sound when they moved, suggesting the presence of internal bodily fluids. Since they were able to stand and move and exert considerable physical strength when so instructed, they obviously had a supporting skeletal structure. They obeyed orders, and thus were possessed of at least a rudimentary brain. All Semple knew was that, in formulating the blueprint of the rubber guards, she had taken the concept of man and debased it to nothing more than a bladder of contained and controlled aggression. It seemed an adequate degree of payback for what she had suffered on Earth at the hands of men.

The thought of debasement again turned Semple’s attention back to the unfortunate angel. “I suppose, if I wanted to take on your education, I could put you in with some of my women. My retainers may look girlish, but they can be wickedly ingenious and might be able to do something with you. You could probably keep them amused for a while.”

“I’m sure I’d learn extremely fast.”

“Unless, as you say, I destroy you first.”

“I beg you not to do that.”

“You enjoy your existence?”

“It’s the only one I have.”

Semple looked curiously at the angel. This one seemed to be exhibiting an exceptionally well-developed sense of individual identity. Had Aimee somehow altered the way she made them? Had she modified the cosmic cookie cutter to give the things more sense of self? It hardly seemed like Aimee. “My sister created you?”

“That’s what I was told.”

“Then it’s perfectly simple for her to create a replacement for you.”

The angel hesitated. “Yes, but . . . ”

“But what?”

“It wouldn’t be me, would it? If you destroy me, I will no longer exist.”

Semple looked at the angel with some renewed interest. The creature may have had no balls on the physical level, but it was demonstrating a certain psychological masculinity. “Are you trying to tell me that you consider yourself a unique and irreplaceable being?”

“I am . . . from my point of view.”

Semple thought about this, but before she could come to any conclusion, something happened that radically diverted her attention from anything so mundane as the perceptions of an angel. A rotary Princess phone, apparently made out of solid gold, materialized out of nowhere, right on the marble floor, slightly less than three feet from her left foot. No sooner had it appeared than it began to ring with a bright, melodious soprano trill. Semple looked down at the thing with distaste. “That can’t be anybody but my sibling.”

round

 
Jim Morrison awoke, if indeed “awoke” was the correct word, with a headache of such catastrophic proportions that his head felt about to shatter and fragment into a hundred pieces. Despite the pain, though, a part of him was aware that the headache was of his own creating. In that part of his mind where all things are certain, and pretense or self-deception is not tolerated, he knew it was nothing more than a reflex retreat. The hangover was a defense mechanism rooted in his mortal debaucheries, which in the latter days had inevitably ended in similar monumental suffering. He was defending himself against the experience from which he had just made his exit. By re-creating the symptoms of an epic mother and father of mornings after, he was seeking to relegate the way he had been forcibly thrust all the way back to the Great Double Helix to a more manageable level. He was attempting to pretend it was no more than a psychotic nightmare, a psychedelic hallucination, or an alcohol-induced delirium, rather than face the truth. The truth was that such self-deception was all but impossible. In the Afterlife, one saw too clearly. His plunge back to the central majesty of the Great Double Helix was too strong in his immediate memory to be disguised or held at bay until some later time.

After the first shock of Moses hurling the stone tablets and the resulting chaos and plasma storm, Jim had found himself subjectively falling, discorporate and almost mindless, hurtling down a spiral energy stream, surrounded by violent, vibrant color and a screaming roar of horror that hardwired itself directly to what remained of his nerve endings. In every way, it was all but identical to the first fearful onslaught of the death trauma itself. It had resembled the phase of confusion before the light took over and protective tranquillity kicked in, except that, in the death trauma, one always rose, and Jim had been descending, fast and furious, all the way until he bottomed out in the cloud envelope.

In the cloud envelope, out on the far margins of the Great Double Helix, he discovered to his relief that he had partially stabilized. He was not going back to the vacantly dreaming pod form. Instead, he floated with a ghost gauze remnant of the Jim Morrison body still draped in tenuous wisps across his consciousness. Before him, but at a merciful distance, seemingly too far away for it to draw him in, the Great Double Helix revolved in its awesome vastness, cloaked in attendant vortices of impossible, unbearable brightness, and with the parallels of forcibly curved space arching around it like concentric parabola. If he turned his perception through some ninety degrees, he could also see the Canal of Reincarnation tangentially dropping away to the Edge and the mortal Earth beyond. For a while, he was sorely tempted to maneuver himself so he would be pulled in by its quasi-gravity and take its path to a second mortal go-around. A deep-seated belief in karma, however, dissuaded him. He had hardly excelled in his last life, and the idea of returning as an insect, a virus, or maybe even yeast, in no way appealed to him. On the other hand, he had absolutely no desire to spend an undefined eternity in indistinct Limbo, the null zone that was the worst fear of all in the Afterlife.

It took him a seemingly long, although obviously immeasurable time to realize how the way out was in fact ridiculously simple and completely in his own hands. If he concentrated all of his energy on perceiving and reconstituting the details of the slowly fading Morrison body, he would ultimately recorporate. Essentially he was replicating the pod process, except that, unlike a pod, he had conscious control and didn’t have to wait out the randomness of a pod’s haphazard dreaming. He didn’t even need to make the effort to move. The more the body gathered substance, the more it was repelled by the ectoplasmic wind of the Great Double Helix. If he simply hung in and didn’t struggle, its celestial backwash would ultimately toss him back into the fantasy of the Afterlife like some fisherman’s rejected catch. He’d “wake,” with the exact blinding headache from which he was now suffering.

Jim groaned. “Oh fuck, I think I’m going to throw up.”

In truth, Jim was actually feeling somewhat better. As he confronted the fullness of what had recently happened to him, the pain noticeably mitigated, although it was still a matter of better as opposed to worse, rather than better moving through to good. He still didn’t feel absolutely ready to open his eyes and face the light, but then the voice cut in on his thoughts. “At least you’re back. For a while, we thought Moses had tossed you to the end of nowhere.”

The voice took Jim completely by surprise. It was, however, young and female, and it sounded friendly, with a faint trace of a Latina accent. Jim took a deep breath and very gingerly opened his eyes. At first he thought that the light would blind him, but after a few seconds he grew accustomed to it and was able to make out a woman’s face looking down at him with obvious amusement. The amusement increased as Jim struggled to sit up, and he altogether failed to share the joke. “I wish you’d tell me what you find so goddamned funny.”

“I guess this is what you have to expect if you go out honky-tonking with Doc Holliday.”

“I didn’t go out honky-tonking.”

The woman plainly didn’t believe him. “I heard the two of you were attending an orgy.”

Jim avoided her eyes. “Yeah, well, there was an orgy and we were there, but it wasn’t from choice, I can assure you.”

“That’s what they all say.”

Jim wearily started to protest. “It’s the truth.”

“I suppose the devil made you do it?”

“I think Moses made me do it.”

“That’s a new one.”

The woman was slim and pretty in a tough, no-nonsense way, with olive skin and straight glossy black hair that hung almost to her waist. She was dressed in a low-cut white cotton peasant dress trimmed with lace, but in total contrast she also wore a bandolier of cartridges, slung bandit-style across her shoulder. Her blue and white Cuban-heeled cowboy boots gave her a sexy, confident stance, and Jim started to pay more careful attention. Even in the Afterlife, an ex-human’s erotic radar still continued to function. “So what’s your name?”

“Donna Anna Maria Isabella Conchita Theresa Garcia, but you can call me Lola.”

“Lola?”

“That’s what Doc calls me. He has a very bad memory for names. I think it’s a side effect of the opium.”

Jim propped himself up on one elbow. “I’m Jim.”

“I know all about you, Jim Morrison.”

“You do?”

“You were famous long ago.”

“For playing the electric violin, Donna Anna Maria?”

She looked at him impassively. “Lola.”

Lola was carrying an engraved silver tray. Jim gestured to it. “What’s that?”

“Your breakfast.”

“It’s been a long time since I was offered a breakfast.”

Lola set the tray on the bed and Jim noticed that she wore a silver identity bracelet on her left wrist, but the name tag was blank. He leaned forward and inspected the tray’s contents. What part did food play in the Afterlife? Nostalgia for mortality? Part of a ritual? A hedonistic indulgence? A simple prop for an invented lifestyle? Eating was a piece of comfortable holdover behavior that had absolutely nothing to do with nourishment or survival, and Jim rarely bothered with it. His first look revealed, however, that this breakfast was a highly individual one. The bone china coffee set, the glass of orange juice, and the two slices of wheat toast were reasonably conventional. The collection of multicolored pills and capsules, the ornate flask of laudanum, the loaded opium pipe, the thin black cigar, and the four fingers of whiskey in a crystal shot glass that were also carefully arranged on the tray came, on the other hand, squarely out of left field. Jim looked at Lola questioningly and Lola shrugged. “We didn’t know what you wanted, so we gave you the same as Doc.”

Jim blinked at the spread that was now set before him. “Doc has all this for breakfast?”

Lola nodded as though it were really no big thing. “Every day when he’s in town.”

Jim picked up the glass and sniffed the whiskey. It was bourbon and, if his nose didn’t deceive him, at least twelve years old. “What are the pills?”

Again Lola shrugged. “Don’t ask me. I think Doc invents them. As long as he gets a jolt, he don’t care to sweat the pharmacological details.”

“Is Doc here?”

“He’s around.”

“And did Doc create you?”

Lola’s eyes flashed angrily. “What you say?”

“I asked if you were one of Doc’s creations.”

“You think that somebody made me? You think that I’m some irrelevant piece of set dressing?”

Jim knew that he had said the wrong thing. “I just asked. I wasn’t trying to be disrespectful.”

Lola leaned toward him and her expression was dangerous. “You listen to me, Mr. Jim Morrison, and you listen good. I ain’t nobody’s creation. I’m here because I want to be. You know what I’m saying, ese?”

Jim eased back in the bed. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you.”

“Just don’t do it again, okay?”

Jim nodded, looking as contrite as possible even with a headache, without compromising his devil-may-care charm and allure. “I surely won’t.”

Lola turned and walked out of the room, and Jim watched the sway of her retreating hips with singular appreciation. It would have been an understatement to say that she interested him. It might have been a side effect of his recent brush with what had been painfully close to a second death, but right at that moment she seemed about the best-looking woman he’d seen in a long time. Once she was gone, he pushed back the sheets and swung his legs over the side of the bed and tried sitting up. For a moment, he felt dizzy and disoriented, as though mind hadn’t quite locked into body and the two were operating out of phase. With an effort of concentration, he eased the two halves of himself together until he felt as though they were properly meshed, then he waited a moment and the dizziness passed. Deciding that he was now about as fully integrated as he was going to get, Jim slowly looked around the room.

The best word to describe the place was “incomplete.” It was obviously a bedroom, since it was dominated by the huge canopied bed on which Jim had been lately lying, and the stairs down which Lola had made her exit suggested that it was on an upper floor of some larger structure. What was less clear was why the place had no roof and only two and a half of what should have been four walls. In many respects, it resembled a film or stage set. It also hinted Dali, although no soft clocks flowed. Since he’d risen to a sitting position, Jim could see a blue and cloudless Technicolor sky beyond the canopy of the bed. One wall had been completely finished, right down to red velvet wallpaper, and even an ornate gilt mirror hung at approximately eye level. Another wall was missing entirely, and beyond the wooden framework that should have held the wall in place, Jim was treated to a view of flat, rust-colored desert, with mesas and hazy mountains in the distance. Instead of a third wall, a bannerlike bolt of what looked to be saffron-dyed silk had been hung in its place, and it undulated gently in a slight breeze. The silk extended beyond the level of the floor, and, for all Jim knew, might have reached all the way to the ground, wherever that was. Aside from the bed, the room contained little in the way of furniture. A pile of clothing rested on a plain, straight-backed chair, and an ornate Victorian washstand stood in front of the wall that wasn’t there.

Since Jim was quite accustomed to anomalies in the Afterlife, he didn’t spend too much time puzzling over either the nature or origins of the place in which he found himself. Instead, concentrating on the practical possibilities of the moment, he turned his attention to the contents of the tray. He poured himself a cup of coffee, wondered about smoking the cigar, but decided he wasn’t ready. Even in the Afterlife he had never mastered the knack of not inhaling, and cigars inevitably made him cough. What really interested him was the drugs. The array of medication was formidable. A total of seven pills and capsules were arranged on a blue and white Wedgwood plate, two large white pills, two smaller yellow pills, two red and black capsules, and one more in turquoise and orange. “Sweet Jesus, Doc, who do you think you are? Jerry Lee Lewis?”

Jim pushed the pills around on the plate with his index finger, arranging them into different patterns of colors. Finally he selected one yellow pill, a red and black capsule, and both white pills. He had no idea what they might be, but how much harm could they do? He was already dead, after all. He put all four in his mouth at once, and, before he could think about it any further and reconsider, he washed them with a gulp of coffee, followed by a fast shot of bourbon and a chaser of orange juice. The old reckless Jim was back in the saddle again, going with the impulse and damn the torpedoes. Maybe, if he kept it up, his coherent creativity might actually return. Having escaped the Great Double Helix, he felt he was taking the first steps in a new phase of being. And these steps would not be cautious or faltering: better a lurch than a whimper. The best of times had always come when he’d pushed self-destruction to the fate-to-the-wind limit, and that was where he was headed now. There’s danger at the edge of town. By the way of compromise, though, he ate a single slice of toast, if only to indicate to the world, and maybe Lola, if she was the one who cleared away the tray, that his repast hadn’t been purely chemical. Then he sat back to wait and see where the pills might be taking him.

Jim didn’t have long to wait. A loud bang, and a vibrant flash like an exploding TV screen, heralded the onset of at least one of the drugs. The entire room, and the world and sky beyond it, began to spin violently. Jim’s vision shattered into fractal chaos. From the intensity of the rush he estimated that, had he still been mortal, his heart would probably have exploded. The effect lasted for only a few seconds, though, and then he returned to normal. A second later, a small army of six-inch-tall, anthropomorphic cartoon rodents in tiny military uniforms appeared, quite literally out of the woodwork, and proceeded to march across the floor in formation. They halted in front of Jim, saluted, and then vanished. Even Jim found himself a little stunned, and had to remind himself that, like so many other things, drug abuse in the Afterlife was exempt from the restrictions of cause and effect.

Before anything else could happen, Jim reached quickly for the opium pipe. He didn’t bother to search for a match with which to light it; he wished it alight and it was lit. He inhaled deeply, happy that spontaneous combustion was one of the perks of being dead. Opium, along with alcohol, was a drug that could, for the most part, be relied on to have a similar effect to that which it had on Earth. A couple of long pulls on the pipe were enough to mellow the environment to the point where further explosions or rodent animations would hardly daunt him. The smoke didn’t exactly take him all the way to the Palace of Mirrors, but he found himself in a far more amiable state of mind than he’d enjoyed in a long time. Maybe Doc Holliday had the right idea. Jim’s headache had completely gone; when he inadvertently dropped a red-hot coal from the pipe on his bare thigh, he was only marginally aware of the pain.

Putting the pipe down, he attempted to stand. To his mild surprise, he neither reeled nor staggered. He simply floated with an easy naked euphoria in the direction of the mirror on the red velvet wall. He smiled at his own reflection. In death, he had miraculously shed the weight gain that had dogged him through the final years of life. He could see the bone structure in his face, his stomach was flat as a board, and he was once again the sullen prince who had taken rock and roll by rebel storm. He laughed out loud. “You’re one handsome devil, Jimbo. Don’t you ever die again, you hear?”

He realized the absurdity of what he had just said, but he was too opiated for it to bother him. He turned away from the mirror, suddenly gripped by an urge to get out of the room and do something. He realized he was probably expected to dress. From his brief encounter with the man, Jim couldn’t imagine the immaculate Doc Holliday setting up his home someplace where everyone went buck naked. A thought stopped Jim momentarily in his tracks. Hadn’t Doc said that they’d met before? Jim still had no recollection of such an encounter, so plainly not all of his memory had been returned to him. Unless, of course, more than one Jim Morrison was running around the Afterlife. It was the first time he’d considered such a possibility; maybe the pills and the opium were giving heightened powers of perception. Did any mechanism exist within the Great Double Helix to prevent two people from taking on the same persona? Somehow Jim doubted it. The Great Double Helix manifested little respect for individualism. He would have liked to ponder the problem, but the drugs were doing nothing for his attention span. Dressed. That was what he had to be. Concentrate on the practical now, leave the applied metaphysics for later, when he was no longer quite so airborne.

He looked at the clothes on the chair and wondered if they were intended for him. Then he saw his old scuffed engineer boots standing side by side at the foot of the bed, as if awaiting instructions. If his boots were there, the clothes also had to be for him.

Jim picked up the top garment. It was a loose Mexican shirt made from rough cotton. Beneath it were his familiar scarred and battered leather jeans. He quickly dressed, took one final look in the mirror, and started for the stairs.

round

 
“I need your help.”

Semple McPherson raised an eyebrow and half-smiled. Aimee needed something, thus the sudden materialization of the golden Princess phone. Semple saw no reason to be helpful. “I’m kind of busy right now.”

“What are you doing?”

Semple was tempted to tell her sister that it was none of her fucking business. It was so typical of Aimee to want to know what she was doing. As though she had the right to evaluate whose priorities should be the ones to take precedence. Instead, Semple made her voice sweetly innocent. “Actually, sibling, dear, I was busy torturing one of your angels.”

Aimee sighed. “I wish you wouldn’t keep doing that.”

Semple glanced at the angel, who steadfastly refused to look at her. “Why? There are plenty more where he came from.”

“Isn’t it all a little childish?”

Semple could just imagine her sister, standing on her goddamned marble terrace looking out over her ludicrous Heaven, a sad patient smile on her miserable face and bluebirds fluttering all around her. It would make a welcome change if one of the wretched bluebirds took a shit on her. Except, of course, Aimee’s bluebirds didn’t shit. “The word you’re grasping for is ‘childlike.’ ”

Aimee’s voice took on an edge that foreshadowed full-blown exasperation. “The word I’m grasping for is ‘pointless.’ ”

“This particular angel had failed to accomplish a very rudimentary sex act.”

“They’re not designed for sex.”

“You don’t have to remind me. Besides, I was bored.”

The moment she admitted to being bored, Semple realized that she had made a bad tactical error. Aimee immediately pounced on it. “If you’re so bored, you clearly have the time to help me with what I’m doing.”

“Extending your damned Heaven?”

“What else?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Why not?”

“I’m not that bored.”

“We would be doing the work of God.”

Although she’d been through this routine countless times before, Semple started to lose her temper. “The fuck we’d be doing the work of God.”

Semple was predictably scandalized. “How can you say that?”

“Because there is no God. There is no God, Aimee. When the fuck are you going to grasp that? Since you died, God hasn’t sent you so much as a fucking postcard, let alone clasped you to his bosom like a little lost lamb. Accept the obvious, woman. God is a no-show. God has stood you up.”

Her outburst was greeted by a long silence. Semple knew she’d wounded her sister, but she wasn’t about to feel any guilt. Aimee would not only get over it, she’d exact payback sometime in the future. “You could do it for me.”

“Like, you’re God?” Semple adopted a Valley girl intonation. She had discovered it during one of the irregular browsings through mortal culture she had made since her death. It was custom-tailored to irritate Aimee.

Aimee, however, came right back at her. “I suppose you could look at it like that.”

“But you’re not God.”

“I’m doing my best.”

Aimee was actually sounding a little frayed; for a moment Semple took pity on her. “What exactly do you want me to do?”

“I want you to find someone for me.”

“Find someone?” This actually had more promise than Semple had expected. She momentarily savored a vision of herself as Semple McPherson, girl detective. She saw herself in a trenchcoat and an exceedingly cool hat, prowling dark and dangerous streets.

Aimee continued, “I need you to find someone to help me with what I’m doing.”

“Who in their right mind would want to help you enlarge that ridiculous Heaven of yours?”

“They don’t have to be in their right mind. In fact, I’d like them to have as little mind as possible. All I need is someone with enough creative panache.”

“A clean slate?”

“Exactly.”

“A man or a woman?”

“A man would depend entirely on my mood at the time.”

“Either way, you’d get to use your not-inconsiderable powers of seduction.”

“Are you saying you want me to set you up with a man? You want me to procure for you?”

Aimee sounded shocked to the bone. “It would be nothing like that. How could you ever think it?” Semple didn’t find the shock in Aimee’s voice altogether authentic. To her ear, Aimee was protesting too much.

Grinning nastily, Semple continued as though Aimee hadn’t spoken. “It’d be just like old times, wouldn’t it? I reel them into bed, I fuck them, you enjoy the experience from afar, but by never actually emerging until there was a hard-won orgasm to be had, you always left room to pretend it never happened, that you were still God’s own sainted, deep-frozen virgin.”

“It wasn’t like that all.”

“Wasn’t it?”

“It certainly wasn’t. I really don’t know where you get your ideas.”

Semple’s lip curled and her voice turned B-girl tough. “Same place you do, honey. Don’t forget, once we were one.”

Aimee said nothing, and neither did her sister. Semple was aware of the entrance of Igor, her diminutive butler with the popping amphibian eyes and high Germanic voice of Peter Lone. Igor was one of the few denizens of Semple’s domain whom she hadn’t constructed herself. He had arrived out of the blue, driven there by his own twisted, vice-laden fantasies, and since he served her with groveling devotion, she turned a blind eye to his voyeuristic skulking around in furtive observation of her tortures and abuses. He probably wished he were in the place of the angel. Semple let the silence run itself out, just to see what Aimee would come up with next. When Aimee spoke again, her voice had totally changed. Suddenly, as though a dam had burst, she was in tears. “Please help me, Semple, I have no one else to turn to. I know I’m obsessive, but I can’t do this on my own. I really can’t.”

Semple silently cursed her sibling. If Aimee started crying, Semple knew she couldn’t turn her down. It was her great weakness: she was a sucker for the crudely pathetic. It was all she could do to shut Aimee off with a fast provisional agreement. “Okay, okay, I’ll think about it.”

Aimee’s voice disintegrated into a suppressed sob. “You will? Then, we need to talk about it.”

Aimee recovered with amazing rapidity. “I thought we were talking about it.”

“Face-to-face.”

“Is that a good idea?”

“I’ll meet you in Golgotha.”

“Does it have to be Golgotha?”

“You made the place, not me.”

Semple could feel Aimee take a deep breath before she answered. Golgotha, the Place of Skulls, the one sector that didn’t fit in the rest of her cutesy-poo Heaven. “Very well.”

“Then Golgotha it is.”

Semple had assumed the conversation was finished, but Aimee had another thought. “You’re always telling me how you need to get out more. This will be the perfect opportunity.”

This last remark was a low blow. Both of them only left their created environments on the rarest of occasions. Semple liked to pretend that she was ready for anything, but, deep in her being, she feared the territories beyond quite as much as Aimee did. She was unsure of herself in those environments that apparently stretched to infinity all around her cozy Hell and Aimee’s Heaven. Aimee, well aware of this, used it against her whenever she could, but Semple didn’t parry the blow. She wasn’t quite ready for another round of sibling conflict, and she just snapped at Aimee. “Like, just meet me in Golgotha, okay?”

No sooner had Semple hung up the golden phone than it vanished. She stood lost in thought. After a long lapse of quasi-time, one of the rubber guards began wheezing loudly. Semple turned and looked at him, then down at the angel. Aimee’s unexpected call had caused her to forget the matter at hand altogether. Semple found she’d lost all previous enthusiasm for continued abuse. She gestured impatiently to the rubber guards, pointing to the bound angel. “Just get rid of him.”

The angel struggled against his bonds. “Please . . . ”

“Or give him to Igor if he wants him.”

“No . . . ” The angel continued to struggle, but Semple had no time for his entreaties. “Do shut up. I need to think.”

An idea was already spawning in the blackest layers of Semple’s intricately devious mind. Oh yes, she’d find Aimee her creative force. She’d find her a genius, but he wouldn’t be the kind to put Aimee’s precious Heaven to rights. She’d find her sister some utter bastard, and see how she liked them apples.