Master of Life
It wasn't more than a few minutes before all of New York noticed. As New York went, so did the rest of the world, and before long the whole world noticed the Almighty's return, and everyone began to get very nervous.
"Oh, shit." was humanity's first, and most appropriate response. God stayed silent for a good long while, so humanity assumed the worst. God, for this overheated mess of unprepared pupils, was the teacher announcing a surprise test on the hottest day of the year.
Unbeknownst to the humans, God was also incredibly exhausted. He exhaled loudly and thought: I just want this over with. This game has gone on for long enough. It's time to take care of business.
Whispers of anxiety raced through the metropolitan coastal regions, especially from atheists, agnostics and other humans who had long since denied His true claim to Humanity. Snarky, arrogant God-denying heathens could scarcely contain their disbelief. Some unbelievers shouted apologies into the sky, hoping it would save them from damnation. Others took the passive aggressive route and locked themselves indoors, hoping God wouldn't notice.
"Эй, смотри! Бог пришел. Вот дерьмо! Shit." said a cab driver from Russia.
"I gotta toss this stash!" said a drug dealer from Pomona, California.
"He looks pissed. You sure it's him?" an Argentinian investment banker asked his mistress.
While these apathetic folk did their best to look righteous, the righteous folk whipped themselves up into a frenzy. Cries and shouts of exaltation rose up through the flyover corridors and the dense, swampy swath of Bible country. God fearing folk prostrated themselves before the gargantuan deity in the sky. They grabbed their unbaptized relatives, thrusting them into the nearest bodies of water and hoping God wouldn't account for timing.
"See, God? Mah cousin is saved! He was just there baptized!" cried an organist from Clearwater, jutting a finger out at his newly drenched relative.
"Praise Jesus! Praise Jesus! Oh lordy, praise the comin' of God!" screamed a pawnbroker from Atlanta.
"It's you, oh lord! It's you! Lord have mercy! Oh lordy!" exclaimed a grandmother in Baltimore.
"When is He gonna make His move?" asked a businessman in Turkey. "I have clients waiting but until I know what God wants from us, what is the point?"
The large deity ignored the laws of physics that He'd created and made himself visible at the same spot in the sky no matter who gazed on him on any part of the Earth. He did this with something he called the 'prism of heaven,' a very convenient tool for showing himself to all people at all times. He hung it across the sky so that cultures from different areas of the globe, from their individual vantage points, would see the exact image they were raised to see.
The nonstop crying and shouting from dense pockets of God fearing peoples all over the world took its toll on the weary deity. Like a warm thunderstorm, human sentiment flowed over him and left him wanting for a celestial shower. I leave for a few thousand years and they get blubbery, He thought.
God mused before speaking to the humans. He knew the sound of His voice might cause some to lose their minds, so he'd have to speak gently. He was a reflective God, capable of forming a single thought slowly over thousands of years, but this situation was different. He didn't have much time to make a decision, and besides, humans lived so quickly and urgently. God had no choice but to quicken His pace so they'd listen.
"My children..." He said at last. His voice, as expected, was sonorous and beautiful and horrifying. Earth hushed up. All his children gazed up on him slack-jawed and wide-eyed, like extras from a Spielberg movie forced to stillness by some miraculous event, but God's resplendence was vastly more blinding than even UFOs or dinosaurs.
"Life." God began. "This thing you've been doing for a few thousand years. You call it life. It's become a game, and I've determined this game needs to end. When the game ends, I will choose a winner. One of you will win at life."
"How do you win... at life?" they asked.
God's answer was direct.
"Be awesome. Be present. Be popular. Be winning."
The only person unshaken by the rigorous demands of the Almighty was someone who had arguably achieved all of God's goals already, a man who most of humanity thought of the moment God made His demands.
Fletcher was known as the man ahead of the curve, the man with the knowledge and the information to smite his foes. Fletcher smirked and watched God with a keener eye than the rest of humanity, because God's appearance was the first real evidence that had rattled Fletcher's worldview. However, this new evidence didn't upset Fletcher so much as it annoyed him a little bit. He didn't let it get him down. He was already winning at life, and he was certain he would win the contest, hands-down.
Fletcher excelled at a myriad of things, but his specialty, that which set him apart from his peers, was his mastery of staying ahead of the curve on everything. Pop culture. Cool music. Trends. Memes. Sayings. Fletcher mastered five separate human traits in his pursuit of this knowledge. He had mastered energy. He had mastered wit. He had mastered self promotion. He'd mastered popularity. And lastly, he'd mastered confidence. No other humans sought to emulate or exceed him in any of these areas. Anyone who tried was immediately defeated. Fatality.
Fletcher didn't just participate in social media; he'd made himself a bona fide brand there. Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Kickstarter, Reddit, and Gawker Media, just to name a few, were all places he thrived. He'd accumulated communities of friends on each site to the degree that the founders sent Fletcher gifts to thank him for his participation.
"Fletcher!" their notes of appreciation read. "We know that you have several options to choose from when it comes to representing yourself in social media circles. We are thrilled and honored that you have chosen us." With each note came gift cards, swag, and even edible arrangements that Fletcher took snapshots of, and posted immediately to his Facebook wall.
"Look who's awesome!" he boasted, under a picture of a sumptuous strawberry fields basket. "Don't you wish you were me?"
Every joke Fletcher told got applause. Every debate he waged, he won with wit, panache, and devastating logic. Women fainted when his picture cropped up on their news feeds. Fletcher's participation in social media was only the tip, of course, of his massive contributions to humanity's quest for being awesome not most of the time, but all of the time. To balance out his blinding personal awesome-sauce greatness, he also volunteered for seven major charity organizations.
Among them, children first, an advocacy organization dedicated to creating memes for wayward orphans to help them feel, in Fletcher's words: "legendary."
"Even orphans deserve to feel legendary!" he boasted. "I've known all my life what it's like to have legendary status, and it's only fair that other kids get a taste of it what it feels like to win at life."
Most people went along with Fletcher's trend shattering prognostications, charmed by his ability to insert himself into any discussion at any time with new, rare bits of knowledge. On the odd occasion that some poor fool challenged Fletcher, the fool would lose. More specifically, the fool would be filleted, then have awesome-sauce poured all over him or her.
"When you boast like that - you're kidding, right?" someone who didn't appreciate awesome once asked Fletcher. "Is that part of your schtick? I don't get it."
"What schtick?" was Fletcher's irony-free reply. "I'm awesome. Better I share my awesomeness with the world. Would you rather I kept it to myself? The world would be such a worse place without me in it. You lose! I win!"
Through his separate skills - his boundless energy, his razor sharp wit, his dogged moves to stay nimble on the bleeding edge of the radar of the world stage, his supernatural confidence - Fletcher preceded his own reputation through what one might consider a lifelong campaign of self promotion. It had paid off in dividends. There was nothing truly left for Fletcher to do except reap the rewards of his efforts to be a ragingly awesome world citizen, but Fletcher chose not to rest on his laurels. He was always on the go; always letting people know he was there. He was always plugged in.
Fletcher entered about twenty contests a week - from the mundane eating contests of a local food chain, to National endeavors. He won all of them, and each time he won, he did that closed mouth grin of his, and puffed his chest out, and stabbed others in the chest with one outstretched finger, and boasted. It was clear that the secret to his success was basic. By constantly entering himself into the discussion, the discussion came to depend on him. He successfully grafted himself onto peoples' shared consciousness with an energy and enthusiasm that might be difficult for any normal person to sustain for too long without burning out.
The world was so convinced that Fletcher would win God's game that they scarcely noticed all the other humans vying for the prize. Among them, Mother Suprema, a humanitarian nun who had spent most of her life living in hovels in Indonesia, Mexico City and India. Another candidate was Dieter Peel, a middle aged investor and entrepreneur who claimed to have cured cancer in test subjects. Another player in the game was a rock star named Boonil who dedicated his life to curing malaria. A former President put his name up on the ballot. His organization dedicated itself to solving world hunger, and he said "far be it for me to consider myself above God... I merely want to use His Game to call attention to the great deeds of humankind. Finally, the very last candidate to fire his name into the ring was Lan Wah, crazed despot from North Bavlava who considered himself the greatest war hero and poet who'd ever lived.
None of these candidates, despite their shared gravitas, had any chance against Fletcher. None of them were as popular. None of them were as plugged in. Their causes required them to hunker down, staying under the curve, 'taking their time' with 'complex problems.' They slid under the radar far too often, giving them almost no time to anticipate new trends and songs the way that Fletcher did. No one made people laugh the way he did. None of them used the five great elements of success the way he did.
Mother Suprema scarcely registered a slight tick on the recognition scale. The former President was moderately popular, but didn't have a sense of humor or a trace of wit. Boonil only succeeded in making people feel guilty. Mr. Peel, the investor, was probably the savviest of the non-Fletcher candidates. Peel understood social media the way Fletcher did. In fact, he might bested Fletcher, but unlike Fletcher, Peel hadn't mastered the five great skills of being awesome. He was too busy investing in others' ideas to promote his own, and that was his fatal mistake.
Surprisingly, the saber rattling demon Lan Wah came closest to emulating Fletcher's success in the days following God's return to Earth. Though he'd committed horrible deeds, Wah's ego was such that he stayed on everyone's radar. When someone insulted him, Wah (like Fletcher) immediately put out a press release condemning the insult with another insult. The problem with Lan Wah was that Lan Wah was definitely not awesome-sauce. He was just not amazing like Fletcher, and though he gave it a great push, he was no match for Fletcher's winning insouciance.
The week before God announced the winner, Fletcher took a week long world tour that he called the 'I won, you lost' tour. Over the course of the week, Fletcher traveled the world, boasting about his impending win, and cashing in on a series of bets that he'd won against his detractors. He fulfilled the contractual obligations of the various bets he'd made, most of which involved utterly humiliating the losers, one after another, on a continuous live stream that his followers could watch.
He tarred and feathered a man in Bulgaria. He punched out a candy maker's teeth in Canada. He wedgied an Australian surfer and shaved the words 'Fletcher is awesome' into the hair of a Chinese Administrator. He'd proven them all wrong about various curio, from stats and trivia related item to space travel, food and pop culture. Mostly though, he just wanted to rub it in, and he'd earned that right. Some of the violence on the 'I won, you lost' tour may have even looked a bit too much and over the top, but it gave people the feels. It made them laugh. It made them think.
People loved Fletcher. His tour might have seemed like a cruel stunt had it come from anyone else, but Fletcher was awesome. People loved him. They were so wrapped up in his being awesome and being right and being handsome and everywhere at once and good at everything, that they had largely forgotten there was even a Cosmic Game about to end, a game that would change the Earth forever and shift the trajectory of mankind. They had come to see Fletcher as God, and what was about to happen would not be too far off.
From a crop of thunderclouds over Southern Russia, God stroked His mighty beard and considered Fletcher's accomplishments. God considered Fletcher's legions of followers.
"Yes..." He said to himself. "I think this will do very nicely."
God's return to Earth was not some random event. It was no fluke. The Almighty had deliberately avoided interfering in human affairs because He didn't want to be the focus of worship. He wanted the humans to coalesce and find creative ways to transcend their individual hubris. Instead, humans were so busy impressing other humans and dancing out on the sharp edge of advancement, that they were leaving their brothers and sisters behind, caught in a cloud of hipster hubris. In other words, God didn't want to return to Earth. He had to. He had to purge this problem.
Despite all the great people in the world - the crusaders, the kings, the rock stars and the seekers - it was clear that Fletcher had his fellow humans under a spell too vast to break. People had stopped looking to anyone else for their feels. People had stopped looking to God for feels. They got their feels from Fletcher. This was a direct threat to God.
God did consider simply killing Fletcher. It sounded like an easy way out. But Fletcher's soul, once killed, would drift along the sneaky channels where all incorporeal souls drift, and along the way, Fletcher's spirit, unfastened from God's great hands, might rally other lost souls like a terrible Son of Perdition. There was a chance that Fletcher might, in the afterlife proper, or Heaven forbid, even from Limbo, mount a rebellion so vast that it would make the ancient Angels' war look like a trifle.
There was only one thing for God to do. There was one way to get rid of Fletcher that would keep him close by, and isolated, and never again a threat. Fletcher would win the game of life, and all that came with it, and by winning that game, he would fill a impending void at God's side.
With His mind finally made up, God's mood finally improved. The darkened skies lifted and the sun came out across the globe.
"I have chosen!" He announced. All of the globe gazed up at the deity. "Fletcher has won at life. He wins at life. He shall win at life. For behold onto him the purpose of all humans, to fulfill God's plan with great surrender, he wins the greatest prize of all. Thou shalt receive the prize tomorrow, at Noon, at a place of your choosing." God instructed.
"Ooh, ooh! What do I win? What do I win!?" boasted Fletcher, beaming around at all his fans and sending out a string of boastful Tweets "Come on, this better be good. Who wants to bet that God's prize is like, a big letdown?" he mused. "And how about if God's prize isn't awesome, I get to give God an Indian burn?"
The congratulations from around the world were immediate.
"You are so awesome, Fletcher."
"Love you. Perfect response. Can't think of a person more deserving to WIN at LIFE."
"Congrats, beautiful, on your big win. You deserve it. xoxo"
"What do you win?" his admirers asked.
"Duh," answered Fletcher. "The winner gets to say, 'I won at life' and have it be irrefutably true. It's totally awesome. Now, if someone says they 'win at life,' I can ask 'did God pronounce you winner of life in front of all of humanity? No? Then you're wrong. Assailed fast and furious with Divine logic. Not just logic. Logic from heaven. No one can prove me wrong. Just ask God."
The following day, the eyes of the world rested on Fletcher's favorite haunt for the week: Splat Sushi, a remarkable fusion of authentic Japanese sushi pub and full, regulation sized paintball course. Fletcher had begun to get annoyed, though, because God hadn't announced the prize yet. They all stood around inside the paintball warehouse like Usenet rejects at a singles mixer.
"Am I being trolled by God here?" Fletcher asked finally, on the verge total boredom. "Do I at least get a trophy?"
God, being God, used that moment to will the first part of Fletcher's prize into existence, in the center of the paintball warehouse space. A giant, fifteen foot diamond crusted cross appeared, covered in ancient Aramaic and bearing God's symbol, a design so transcendentally beautiful that no one could describe it.
Fletcher, fully aware that the cameras of the world were trained on him, strode out from the edge of the massive crowd that had gathered inside the warehouse. The cocky young man looked almost beside himself for the very first time in his life.
"Hm," he said, at a loss for words. "This is really great. I'm gonna take this home and put it up for auction or something..."
Fletcher was unable to finish his clever retort, because God willed the young man up into the air mid-sentence, spun him around and flattened his body against the cross. The sky above the warehouse - indeed, above all of the world - grew red and stormy.
"Your prize is to take on the mantle of the greatest sacrifice and take your place at my side!" commanded God. "My son, Jesus Christ, has discovered a wormhole to another dimension and will enter it today to spread my Gospel in places heretofore unseen. I will miss him, but his departure creates a void at my side. I need a new messiah taking his place, next to the grand throne in the kingdom of heaven."
"But why can't I go to the other dimension?" Fletcher asked, straining against some invisible bond that held him tight against the cross. "That sounds awesome? Why does Jesus get to go?"
Everyone in the warehouse laughed through their tears. They hated seeing that beautiful man up on that cross, but his wit moved them to feels. The feels spread through the warehouse, and indeed, through the world. This was all God's plan, of course, because he needed their spirits loose and pliant, since the stones that appeared in their hands would have to be thrown soon.
"Awww, yeah, I'm giving you all the feels!" smirked Fletcher. "See, it would make so much more sense for me to enter that dimension, especially since..."
A diamond shard broke out from the cross and pierced Fletcher's left wrist, followed by the right. Next, his ankles.
"Oh, come on, God!" he whined sarcastically. "You know you want to stop doing this, God. You have better things to do with your time!"
His audience laughed as they cried, for God's will descended fast upon them as rain, and they began to throw the stones they had got. It was His will they did, fast and hard against Fletcher's flesh. It was feels from God, feels from Heaven instead of Fletcher that entered their hearts. They wept as they threw stones, as their beloved grew weak and finally ascended.
The Earth spun back to a slower axis in the very seconds after Fletcher's Ascendancy, like a yo-yo forced to un-spool and reverse after a complex maneuver. Humankind slowed and folded over itself for a time, uncertain of where the edge of the future lay. Without Fletcher to light the far edge of their path, all looked as darkness.
On the third day after the Ascendancy, no one had seen or heard from either God or Fletcher, and humankind began to weep. A few lone voices, unable to process God's intent or the reason He stole Fletcher, began to cry.
"Jesus rose on the third day!" they screamed. "Fletcher will rise again, too!"
The rally cry for Fletcher's return got thunderous, like the thumping before an encore at a concert. God stood backstage and waited for the thumping to grow loud enough, then strode back out into the sky. The humans prostrated themselves and begged him to return Fletcher.
"Your son rose on the third day! He came back!" they cried. "Why can't Fletcher come back the same way?"
"You misunderstood Jesus." answered God. "Jesus only came back on the third day because he dropped his sandals back on Earth. He meant to pop in quietly and grab them near the cave, but that snoop Mary Magdalene was hiding in a bush waiting on him, so he had to make up some big story about coming back for other reasons."
"But we thought this was just a game!" humanity lamented. "Where are we gonna get our feels, our laughter, our knowledge?"
"Life is a game, my children." God said. "You need to get it from yourselves."
"We're no good at that." humanity pouted.
God's final words to his children were "Get better."
With that, the Almighty yanked the prism of heaven away like a drawn shade, leaving his children in the darkness of their thoughts. When the deity absconded back to the Pearly Gates, He found Saint Peter outfitted with hipster clothes, giving knowledge tests to all the risen souls. To God's utter horror, souls who failed the knowledge test were being cast down into the Fires, while the gleaming, newly ascended Fletcher looked on, amused. God had the feeling that an epic battle of wits was about to begin.
"I did some redecorating while you were away!" Fletcher beamed. "Heaven is about to get awesome!" he boasted. "Oh yeah, I be givin' Heaven the feels now!"