Author's note: A special thanks to Stephanie Swan Quills for her excellent narrations to this entire series.

'Job's Ashes' - EmpyrealInvective (Narration by Stephanie Swan Quills)

'Job's Ashes' - EmpyrealInvective (Narration by Stephanie Swan Quills)

I knew her complete story the moment I laid eyes on her. Once every couple of years, the heavenly host would send one of the entrants My way. Typically these people were having difficulties adjusting or they had burning questions that they needed answered. They claimed that this was done to keep me attuned to the people. (You make one inquiry about the current state of slavery and suddenly people view you as ‘antiquated’, ‘insensitive’, and ‘racist’.) In reality, they did it as a means of painting a sympathetic face on the Omnipotent.

She moved carefully into the Primium Mobile; she was a shaking autumn leaf in a windstorm. They had sent her to Me to provide some sort of comfort, a solace of sorts. I would answer any questions she had or smooth over any difficulties in transition. Looking at her, I could see who she was, and what she actually was.

She appeared, as what she had wanted to be seen as. She looked to be about nine, she had blonde, sun-kissed hair that flowed down her back. She was a little on the heavier side. Scrapes and bruises marked up her elbows and knees that told of her life as a tomboy. Those were just appearances however, a façade. I saw through the illusion to what she was at her very core.

That wasn’t who she was. She didn’t have long hair; they had cut it and shaved it down in the end. They said it was to save her the trauma of seeing it fall out, but in actuality it was to save them the heartache of seeing her deteriorate before their eyes. She wasn’t heavy; in fact she was bone-thin. Months of radiation and chemo tended to do that to people. It robbed them of their appetite. The food that they could keep down was typically bland, light, and not very nutritional. Her scrapes and bruises were replaced with bedsores and lesions.

She looked around from torch to torch, expecting Me to be standing by the flame and warming Myself. She expected to see Me as a kindly old man, but I was not. Technically, I wasn’t in the room. I was the room. I was there; I was everywhere. My form was incorporeal and was spread out into every inch of the chamber. I am insubstantial; I am everything.

She spoke, “Is there anyone here?”

“I AM.” (A little bit of biblical humor. It passed over her head completely.)

She continued, “They sent me to You. They said You had the answers.”

I did in a sense. I could make anything truth. I could speak and My words would become reality. I was the truth. The real trick was making My answer palatable to them, acceptable. I responded, “Speak My child. I only have time to answer three of your questions.”

The girl paused for a moment, as if considering running out of the room. Talking to thin air was a daunting prospect. She eventually decided the risk of looking foolish was worth the reward. Her voice quavered with her first question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”

I paused for a moment to consider My response. I had multiple answers, but only one answer that would sate her curiosity and ease her discomfort. “To test their faith and to keep people strong. Without tribulation and trial, people grow complacent; they deteriorate in their faith. Trees without wind lose their branches.”

My mind traveled back to an image of her. She was in the hospital bed with her toys laid out before her. She had dolls; she had action figures, cards, and trinkets from faraway places. Some were gifts from her family and friends, others were offered to her from nurses and doctors returning from distant locales that sought to give her succor. They gave her so much, but none of it was what she actually wanted, needed.

She was angry and a bit jealous. They had given her all of these wonderful things, but had taunted her in other aspects. She had all of these amazing toys, but didn’t have anyone to play with. The hospital ward was empty. Some would call that a miracle while others would denounce it as a tragedy. There were no kids to play with. She secretly longed to be outside and feel the sun on her skin and the wind in her hair. She wanted the company of another child, someone to confide in, but that was denied to her. She spent her final moments in loneliness.

She interrupted Me from My reverie after taking sufficient time to ponder My response, “Why do we have to die?”

“To give life meaning. If you all lived forever, life would have no meaning. There would be no sense of urgency. The smallest of notions and the grandest of gestures would be rendered pointless if death had no significance. People die, so humanity tries to live to the best of their abilities.”

I trailed off to her hair. It was once blonde, but the nurses shaved it down before radiation therapy. They called it a kindness. They didn’t want her to suffer the cruelty and emotional trauma of watching it come off in patches, to be left as wisps, ghosts of what once was. They buzzed it off and a few of the more compassionate nurses joined her. They got their hair razored off alongside her and donated it to the Locks of Love organization. At the end, she looked like a tiny, bald, emaciated alien.

She hated losing her golden locks. She wanted to keep them to the very end. She didn’t care if she had to watch her hair fall away in clumps. She hated the fatalism of it. She hated the thought that they would shave her down due to the thought that she wasn’t strong enough to watch it all fall apart. The worst thing was that one nurse had saved a lock of her hair and bound it into a tiny little doll. The nurse had given it to her as if having a part of what was once her would be a comfort. It was not. It was a reminder. It reminisced of days lost, of moments she couldn’t return to. It was a momento mori to her.

It was her final question. She could ask Me anything. The secret of the universe was in her hands, “Why do bad things happen at all? I understand that our faith needs to be tested at times, but why? Why do we need to suffer to this degree? What point was there in suffering the way that I did? Answer me. Please!” Her voice quavered and tears began forming in the corners of her eyes.

The images overtook Me. Her family had stuck with her through the diagnosis, the chemotherapy, and her physical degradation, but they weren’t there at the conclusion. In the end, she died alone. She died reaching out into the nothingness. A part of her accepted that they didn’t want to be there at the end, to witness her final agony. She tried to understand that, but in the end, when death came, those thoughts and reasoning were blasted from her mind. The last words on her lips were her mother and father’s names.

Her father was in an alleyway when her time came. He had just finished work and stopped at a bar on the way home. He wanted to be somewhere where people didn’t know his story, didn’t feel sorry for him. He had a few drinks and chatted with a hooker at the bar. At the very end of his daughter’s life, he wasn’t there. He was cheating on his wife.

They eventually retreated to an alley where he gave her one hundred bucks. She tucked it into her bra and leaned back against the brick wall. He hiked up her skirt and lowered her panties. She licked the inside of his neck as he slid himself into her. He thrust a few times before his climax took him, not in orgasm, but in a rush of tears. He pressed himself against her as he wept bitter tears into her neck. He didn’t find sexual release, but another sort of catharsis. He whimpered into her as she stroked his hair in sympathy. He hadn’t cried since his daughter’s diagnosis and at the end, this was his only outlet. He was sobbing against her with his pants around his ankles with his flaccidness pressed against her thigh when his daughter died.

Her mother was at home when the leukemia took her daughter. She had finished a bottle of wine to fortify her for what she wanted to do. She knew she had to make it quick. Her husband would be home soon and she didn’t want him to intervene. The tragedy had chipped away at her and at the end of her daughter’s life, she felt like a sandblasted ruin with nothing left. She was a smoothed statue, a symbol of sorrow. As her daughter died, she was on the cusp of suicide.

She had downed a bottle of red wine and had just pressed a razor into her wrist. She held it vertically knowing that this was the way to do it. She pressed it so deep into herself that blood welled up at the surface. All she had to do was drag it up her arm and slice herself open. She had had enough. She was empty; she was a heart-shaped box that had been hollowed out. She closed her eyes in preparation to cut her wrist, but in that moment, all she could see was her daughter’s eyes. Her hand trembled. Her daughter’s angelic face smiled at her through the darkness. She remembered holding her daughter at the hospital and that moment gave her the strength to let go. The razor dropped into the sink and her mother broke down. She wept at her weakness while her daughter died, alone and scared, miles away.

I was lost in the recollection. The girl waited a few moments before repeating, “Why do bad things happen at all? Why do we need to suffer? You have to know. You made us, You made us to suffer.”

I paused, there were multiple ways I could answer her question, but there was only one true answer. She was on the brink of tears. A moment of light, a moment of clarity gave me the courage to give her the truth. I answered her, “To give My life meaning. You all suffer to keep Me going, to keep Me interested.”

I sent her away before she could question My answer. In the end, I gave her the truth. I was God; I was a supreme being watching the world like a soap opera. I was a kid examining an ant mound with a magnifying glass, smiling as I incinerated those unlucky few. They suffered so I could live through them vicariously. Their pain made Me feel alive.

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Written by EmpyrealInvective
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