. . E . . . DOUBLE TOOTHPICKS.
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is Hell? Is God a Master of Eternal Torture and Pain?
excerpt from the novel Deceiving the Elect
© Copyright 2001
Douglas Christian Larsen
JACK WATCHED HIS POP POP MOODILY. The ancient man --
the oldest man in the world -- didn't look too good today. Kind of gray
around the gills. His eyelids sagged. In fact, Jack knew that soon he
wouldn't be the Great Grandson of the Oldest Man in the World any more.
He felt a little guilty, thinking about the prospect, because his
sadness was more based than a little bit on the fact that he would miss
this small bit of fame, and maybe that little bit of sadness was a bit
bigger than the fact that he was going to miss this old geezer, his Pop
Pop, as a real-live person, his own flesh and blood, his dear old sweet
Pop Pop. Sometimes it was hard to think of Pop Pop as a real-live
person. It was more like he was an, oh I don't know, an entity or
something, not a human like Jack himself. Like he was a little piece
broken off of El Capitan up at Yosemite, or a Sequoia tree come to life,
or, or maybe, I don't know, one of the characters walking straight out
of the Bible. It was hard to think of Pop Pop as being a young guy,
getting horny over girls, getting in fist fights and stuff, falling in
love, having dreams about being something, having real friends through
the years and watching them all die...
sighed. Poor old Pop Pop. No one was around who could understand the old
geezer. Jack certainly didn't believe that he understood his great
grandfather. But he knew that he loved him, his Pop Pop, didn't he? Sure
he did. Jack loved the old man. That's the real reason he came here, now
almost every day, to listen to the old man's stories -- some of the
stories were so goofy Jack didn't even know what they were supposed to
be about. Sometimes he thought maybe his Pop Pop thought he was telling
stories to babies or something. Jack knew that the old man used to tell
stories in church, years and years and years ago. Maybe a hundred years
was staggering to think that when Jack was born, the old man was already
99 years old! He had lived practically a century before Jack was even
born. When he thought about things like this, he felt he didn't even
deserve to sit next to the old man. That it was an honor to have such an
old man for a relative. Who cared what they said in school, that teacher
Mandlebrot and his condescending nonsense, and Janine and her witchy
ways. Jack had a grandfather that was the oldest man in the world, and
aside from his age, he was really a wonderful, loving man. What a
precious life form, Jack thought, someone this old.
held the old man's hand, as he always did. Sometimes, it was kind of
gross, holding Pop Pop's hand, because it didn't even seem like a hand.
That it was skin, with muscles and some fat inside, and veins and
arteries and a skeleton in there -- no, it seemed more like he was
holding a dead chicken's foot or something. But he knew that Pop Pop
liked it, holding hands, and sometimes when he was telling one of his
stories, that old hand would squeeze his hand with an incredible
strength -- Jack would actually wince at the pressure, and he was a big
guy himself, lifting weights, on the wrestling team, playing basketball
every day. Jack doubted any of his jock friends could squeeze his hand
you sad, boy?" the old man asked him. Probably he had forgotten Jack's
name again, and relation. Or else he was just being affectionate. "You
thinking about that little girlfriend of yours? What was she into,
again? Witchcraft and stuff?"
looked levelly into his great grandfather's eyes. They were sitting with
their backs up against a great old tree way back at the end of the
nursing home's property -- this is where the old man always wanted to
meet him when he came for his daily visit -- and the old man was looking
every day, every hour of his 116 years of age. And Jack couldn't help
wonder, was it all a waste? No matter how old you lived to be, wasn't it
all a waste? Wasn't it all useless? Didn't everything and everyone just
get old and fall apart, like the old man? Everyone he knew had died. And
now, he was waiting to die, and probably didn't have long to wait. Of
course, Pop Pop was held together pretty good for so many years. But
still, he was so light, Jack could probably lift him over his head.
you think it's all a waste, Pop Pop?" Jack said, feeling like he would
cry at any moment, or maybe have to haul out and slug a tree, break a
few of his knuckles -- that's how down he felt, sitting with this old
man, holding the withered chicken foot in his own young, fresh hand.
Back at school a young girl said she loved him and now was running
around with the whole football team, and his best friend was trying to
get him to smoke crank with him, and the teachers, they were trying to
teach him about "civil rights," and he knew another girl younger than
himself who had an abortion two weeks ago -- wasn't just everything in
the world, like, a total waste?
a very wise question, you know," the old man said.
wise?" Jack said, surprised, because it was the last thing he expected
the old man to say. Generally, people said retarded things like: "Oh
don't worry about stuff," or "Go do your homework," or "You're too
stupid to think about deeper things, go watch cartoons" -- no one had
every accused him of being "wise" before.
old man's tired old eyes looked around the grove, studying the trees.
Jack felt again awe that the old guy could even see.
has to come around to it sometime, you know. Wondering. About the
world," he said in his still strong voice. Boy did he have a deep voice,
Jack thought enviously. Usually old men started to sound weirdly like
Porky Pig, but not his Pop Pop. "You haven't felt it yet, having someone
you know and love very well, just go and die. And they're gone, you
know. Nothing of them remains except what you carry around in your
brain," he said, tapping his head with his free hand, "and then that too
starts to die. With me, slowly, all the memories start to go. But with
other people, it's whammo, their head gets emptied by the Big 'A' and
then everyone is dead that has died, inside and out. Then you're all
alone, locked in a little closet, and it keeps getting tinier and more
cramped, the more empty it gets.
you have a lot of money, you don't think about it so much. You don't
have to worry so much. You have all these things to keep your mind off
it. But even rich people have to get around to it sometime, you know,
they have to wonder: is anything real? Is anything at all true? Is there
such a thing as truth? Hopefully, everyone can come up with the right
leaned into his Pop Pop and put his head down upon the tired old
know you think you came up with the right answer," Jack said, slowly --
he didn't want to insult the old man, or hurt his feelings. "But how do
you know it's the right answer?"
old man looked at his great grandson and his face lit up with a
surprising smile. Years seemed to melt away from his face. He looked
amazingly younger. Why, he could pass for (Jack smiled hard and
suppressed his laughter) ninety-five or maybe even ninety years of age!
Grandson Jack, love of my life," the old man said, and it was weird,
because for this moment despite 116 bone-weary years, the old man was
completely here, all of his mental faculties were returned, he was
sharp, smart -- razor-sharp intelligence burned from his eyes. "When all
of your worries suddenly disappear from your life, when suddenly you
realize it doesn't matter that all of the people you loved so much have
died -- then you know. God gives you certainty that's beyond any earthly
intelligence or wisdom. God gives you peace -- it's called peace beyond
all human understanding. When you have that, you know. And that's when
joy fills your heart."
old man's face seemed to be lit with fire. His smile was wonderful to
see. There was no acting here. No affectation. The old geezer was
brimming full of happiness.
joy of the Lord is my strength," he said in a peculiar sing-song rhythm,
nodding, squeezing Jack's hand rhythmically -- flex-rest-flex-rest --
with that merciless power.
Back off, Pop Pop, you're going to pop my knuckles out of joint!" Jack
laughed, tapping his great grandfather's hand with his free hand. He
wasn't kidding about strength -- it was amazing!
knows, Jack, everybody knows. Down deep, way down where they know no one
can see, they know the truth. It's there. God gives it to them. The most
brilliant scientist who goes on and on about Big Bangs and Evolution and
stuff, he knows there is a God. And everyone admits it, generally at the
end, but that's okay. God is so full of mercy, He even has a room set
aside for those people, the ones that laugh at Him, and spit on Him. He
has this big old birthday present with their name on it, and the only
thing they have to do is nod their head and say, yes, I want my big old
had to laugh at the picture. Sure, it did seem easy. And yes, he had to
admit it that at the back of all his doubts and worries and fears, he
did have this kind of weird knowledge that there really was a God. But
the merciful part, that always gave Jack the willies. Could anyone
believe that God was merciful? No way. Uh-uh. Not that. You'd have to be
intentionally stupid to think God was anything like kind. To Jack, God
seemed more like a monster than anything. A big, muscle-bound, bald Mr.
thinking about, Jack?" Pop Pop asked, sighing, settling back against the
know. How can you say God is merciful?"
makes you think He isn't?"
Pop Pop. Look at it this way," Jack said, feeling his brain warm up,
like an engine being revved. All the lights were twinkling ON up and
down his computer. "You remember Granny Rose? Your daughter?"
old man thought. Uh oh. He could feel the doors shutting down. Not yet!
Stay alert. The boy is asking for your help, right now, and if you
couldn't accomplish anything else in your life, accomplish this: stay
awake. Answer him, truthfully. Keep your brain up. Rose. Rose? Rose...
daughter? Rose?" he blinked. Great. No memory of a "Rose." Shoot! He
couldn't even remember his own daughter.
a sec, Pop Pop!" Jack said, knocking himself on the forehead. "No, she
was your son's wife! She was your daughter-in-law!"
okay," the old man said, distantly remembering a wedding day, Chuck in a
tuxedo with tails, his little Chuck -- he could remember lifting him up
on the day of his birth, praying in his mind: "I give this baby boy to
You, Lord. He's Yours. Keep him, and protect him, Lord! I love You. I
don't deserve this baby, Lord. I don't deserve anything. But thank You,
Lord, thank You!" Such a memory, so crisp, so fresh, like it was
yesterday, the memory, and the prayer, the fresh pink baby in his young
wife, Rose, with all the red hair that came down to her butt," the old
man said, memories flooding him, his face lighting up, tears filling his
That's Granny Rose! I've seen her pictures! And she hated your guts,
right?" Jack said, remembering all the old stories.
old man stiffened. Had dear sweet little Rose hated his guts? Did he
he began, slowly, "as I remember it -- and my memory is not what it used
to be -- she didn't really hate me, no, it was that she thought I was
crazy when it came to God, and wanting Chuck to have a relationship with
Jack nodded, "she was an atheist. She never believed in God, did she?"
don't think so," the old man said, but he wasn't certain. He seemed to
remember . . . way back, a beautiful young girl with cascades of the
reddest hair -- her dark eyes flashing up at him, her hands were on him,
he could feel her young strong hands right now, and she pushed him into
the wall, and she was angry, her mouth flying in angry words . . . what
was she saying?
feel it too!" she screamed. "You love me, damn it! Stop being such a
coward! Stop hiding behind your invisible god!"
my. He hadn't thought of that in years. Rose, his very own lovely
Potiphar's wife. He didn't want to remember this, but it was too late
now . . . his memory was so weird, like a living thing all apart from
him, flaring up to give him the old aches, all over again.
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