Below you will find the results of my having challenged myself for a number of days to write a short story with a beginning and middle and an end inside of 30 minutes. Here is what I came up with. I hope you like it.
He was sprawled in the middle of the street. Had he been able to feel anything, he would have certainly noticed that the force of the impact had launched his knapsack down the block.
A circle of frightened people stood over him. They had witnessed the accident while waiting in line at Starbucks. Some of them were holding distinctive green and white paper cups. Two teenage girls wept; presumably they were in the car that hit him.
He felt the presence of God upon him. God did not take the form of a man or a woman, nor of a ball of white light. God was a weight of intuitive, irreducible calm balanced on his chest. Something he remembered experiencing as a young child.
“Is this it?” he asked.
“Yes,” answered God. “This is it.”
“Is everyone going to be OK?” he asked.
“I can’t tell you that.”
He smiled and closed his eyes.
“Before we go,” he thought, “can I ask you a question?”
“Certainly,” said God.
“Will people remember my band?” he asked.
“No,” replied God. “You guys were awful.”
His eyes flipped open. He detected a wave of anxiety, like someone forcing cold water down this throat.
“I said, ‘Will people…”
“I heard you,” interrupted a testy God.
“We played a bunch of shows with The Meat Puppets…”
“You played exactly two shows with The Meat Puppets: an all-ages matinee and a later show. That was it. Those are all the shows you ever played with The Meat Puppets. You talked about them for 28 years. You got a lot of mileage out of those.”
God’s tone had changed. It reminded him – more anxiety – of Mr. Powell, his high school guidance counselor.
He continued. Maybe God was confused.
“The guys in The Meat Puppets said I reminded them of Robert Quine and Clarence White.”
“No,” said God, abruptly, “the guys in The Meat Puppets said you ‘sounded like Dickie Betts.’ Somehow, you got ‘Robert Quine’ out of that. While we’re here, those Meat Puppets guys were high a lot, and had weird senses of humor.”
He was quiet for a long time. He could not hear the sirens or the young girls crying. He was too angry with The Meat Puppets, who were never any good after they left SST.
He closed his eyes, again.
“Is there Duke Ellington in Heaven?” he asked.
For the first time, he heard God get angry!
“This is exactly what I mean,” spat God! “You hate jazz! You spent thousands of dollars on jazz records and you used them all for background music at dinner parties…”
“That is not true!”
“There was one time – oh, I remember this…” God was actually tripping over his own words. “You had a dinner thing. It was you and girlfriend…”
“No. Her, I liked. The other one, I mean. Anyway, you had a dinner thing and you put on an Art Pepper record, and you spent the entire duration of the Art Pepper record talking about Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska! You called it, ‘as honest as a Walker Evans photo.’ Man, you should have heard yourself…”
He cried softly. “Am I going to Hell?”
“No!” God was genuinely startled. “You’re going home. It’s beautiful there, and you get to listen to as much Ben Folds Five as you want.”
They both laughed.
“What is Hell like?” he asked.
“Everything’s on fire and people are burning and screaming and wailing and gnashing their teeth, Sometimes Satan jumps out and clocks you with a flatiron. That whole “Punishment Fit The Crime” thing is a man-made construct. Very few people go to Hell, actually.”
“Martyrs,” answered God. “Bad coworkers, too.”
They listened to The Beach Boys on the way home. The early, fun stuff. Not the weird, later records.