DP FICTION #41B: “Jesus and Dave” by Jennifer Lee Rossman

It had been just over a year since the second coming of Jesus and, like most atheists, I couldn’t say it had been a particularly good year for me.

Sure, the Lord’s first bit of business had included clearing up some of the more vague parts of the Bible, including some mistranslations and things his father had, in his words, “gotten wrong.” That put an end to a lot of bigotry.  The lack of world hunger and the new commandments about littering were incredible, of course, more positive change than I’d hoped to see in my lifetime.

But it’s just… having proof that my entire belief system (or lack thereof) was absolutely backwards, and having every holier-than-thou relative constantly sending passive-aggressive emails filled with selfies of them and His Holiness…

My fellow non-believers converted, and one even became a priest. I think I’m one of the few who refused to do so.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I believed. I’d seen too many miracles – some firsthand, like the time the East River parted to let the family of kittens cross safely. So I believed. I just didn’t let it change my life.

I didn’t pray, didn’t give any more to charity than I normally did, and I sure didn’t stop drinking (one of his newer, less popular commandments). I lived as a godless heathen, as my Auntie Ruth would say.

So imagine my surprise when the lord and savior himself knocked on my door and asked for my help. You wouldn’t think he’d have to knock, what with all his magic and ability to walk through walls. But he was nothing if not courteous.

He stood on my stoop, all beard and white robe and smiles, a stained glass window come to life.

“My child,” he said in a warm, booming voice. If the whole son of God thing didn’t work out, he could make a killing as a game show announcer.

“It’s pronounced ‘Dave,'” I told him politely, averting my eyes from the angels standing on either side of him. I’d never read the Bible, but I’m pretty sure it didn’t describe angels as horrifying, winged humanoids with tentacles on their faces.

“Of course. After David, the Biblical king.”

“No, after my mother’s brother Dave, the mattress salesman.”

From the corner of my eye, I saw one of the angels snatch a pigeon off the railing and eat it.

“I think Nazareth is that way,” I said, pointing.

He pointed in the other direction. “Actually, it’s that way.”

Well, I guess he would know.

“I come to ask your assistance,” he said, clasping his hands.

I opened my mouth to make a sarcastic comment, but stopped when I saw the look of fear in his eye. What on Earth was Jesus afraid of? And what did he think I could possibly do about it?

“What is it?” I asked, nervously hoping he wanted me to come over to his place and kill a spider. As they had been mentioned in an addendum to “thou shalt not kill,” maybe he couldn’t bear to ask anyone else to sully their immortal soul.

Even before he spoke, I knew that couldn’t be it. Jesus had probably invented the whole “catching a spider in a cup and sliding a piece of paper underneath it” trick.

“There’s a reason I came back now, David.” He smiled apologetically. “Dave. The world is in danger. Will you help me save it?”

I thought about it for a minute, then nodded. I rather liked the world, even if there were a lot of religious people in it.


The museum was only a short walk from my apartment, but it took forever because somebody had to stop every five seconds and sign autographs. I wondered if his pen ever ran out of ink, or if it worked like the loaves and fishes.

When we finally found a moment of peace – JC made a blind beggar see, and everyone left us and crowded around the guy to, I dunno, absorb the miraculous juju or something – I asked him what exactly he expected me to do.

“Despite what my more… excitable followers would have you believe,” he said, spreading his hands in vague gestures as he spoke, “the Devil has not actually been corrupting the American media or making toasters explode.”

“What about making politicians cheat on their wives?”

“No, not even that. Gabriel!” He snapped his fingers at one of the angels, who was holding a squirrel inches from its mouth. “What did we talk about? If you’re going to come to the Earthly plane, you have to follow the rules. Do you want to go home and stay with Dad, or do you want to put down that squirrel and come with us to save the world from Satan?”

It reluctantly returned the squirrel to the tree.

“That’s what I thought.” He turned back to me. “No, the Devil has been imprisoned for the last two thousand years, as was I. Our destinies were entwined, which is why I let myself be crucified. If I died, so would he.”

Well, that was a part of the Easter story they left out.

We came to the steps of the museum and stopped while Jesus posed for a picture with a group of tourists. The angels tried to use the camera but succeeded only in taking a series of close-ups of their own faces, and I had to step in.

“Thank you, Dave,” Jesus said when the crowd had dispersed.

“Shouldn’t you be the one getting thanked?”

“Probably, but there’s no one here but an atheist, so I can wait until someone better comes along.” He smiled and elbowed me in the ribs. Of course he had to be funny. “Anyway.” He pointed to the museum. “Around a year ago, archeologists found something mankind was never meant to find. A jar that was his prison. And they opened it. I need you to close it.”

I stared at him blankly. So it wasn’t “come over and kill this spider,” but a variant on “hey, could you help me open these pickles?” He was Jesus. Couldn’t he handle closing a jar on his own?

“Not this jar.”

My heart skipped a beat.

“Oh, didn’t I mention that I can read minds?” He grinned, like this was all some enormous joke on my behalf. “I’ll overlook the scandalous thoughts about that blonde tourist a couple blocks back if you’ll start thinking of me as He with a capital H. It’s kind of polite.”

Kind of presumptuous, I thought. Very loudly, so he could definitely hear it.

This was the part of religion I hated most. I could get behind the idea of some conscious force controlling the universe, and accepted that, if an afterlife existed, that force probably wouldn’t let you in if you killed people or stole from little old ladies.

But all the stupid rules. Don’t eat this kind of meat, even though it’s not really that different from this other meat. Don’t covet your neighbor’s wife or oxen, even though sitting around and thinking “gee, my neighbor sure has a nice wife and/or oxen” is literally the least harmful way to spend the afternoon. Always be extremely thankful to the magical sky dude who gives out cancer like the dentist gives out toothbrushes.

“I don’t claim it’s a perfect system,” he said quietly. “Far from it, even with the alterations to the Brand New Testament. But the worshipping of us – and all the various ways to do it – was invented by humans, and despite what my father says, you are some of the most flawed things He ever made. We’d love it if you followed all the arbitrary rules – although they really aren’t arbitrary and you’ll see why when you’re at the Gates – but we know you aren’t groundhogs and we can’t expect you to be.”

I must have drifted off somewhere. “I’m sorry, groundhogs?”

“The most perfectly devout creature on Earth,” Jesus said.

Boy, did I feel like a fool for not knowing that.

He looked at me with the kindest eyes I have ever seen. They physically radiated light and warmth, and a feeling of wellbeing and acceptance filled my chest.

“We don’t care how you worship us, or even if you believe in us. We know this is kind of a one-sided relationship. All we want is a little respect. And for you to help me save the souls of the entire human race.”

It was a moving speech that had me ready to run up those steps and take Satan head-on. And then he had to go and ruin it.

“Trust me, I’d rather have a groundhog here, but they’ve all been raptured. But I know you can do this. I believe in you, Dave.”

Oh yay. Jesus believed in me. And considered me an adequate replacement for a fat rodent that’s only useful as speedbumps and on fake weather holidays. Lucky me.

I almost walked away. I almost let the world fall into the clutches of evil incarnate. But I didn’t.

“I’m not doing this for you,” I informed Jesus as we walked up the steps to the museum. “I’m doing it for the world. It’s my favorite planet now that Pluto’s gone.”


Our breaths and footsteps echoed through the expansive halls of the museum, which had been evacuated in anticipation of our visit. I was hesitant to ask why he thought I, surely the least groundhog of all people, could possibly help him defeat the devil. I figured it probably involved something like the face melting at the end of Raiders, and he just didn’t want to waste one of the good people.

“We aren’t defeating him,” Jesus said quietly, but even in a whisper his voice reverberated like thunder. “And you are one of the good people. Goodness has very little to do with piety, my ch — Dave.”

He turned sharply to look at the two angels, who were lagging behind to lick display cases containing taxidermied birds. Their wings slumped under the power of his gaze and they caught up to us.

“Between you and me,” he confided as we rounded a corner and entered the hall of antiquities, “if anyone is going to get their faces melted, I’m volunteering those two knuckleheads. Dad thinks they add a certain majesty to my miracles, but most of my miracles lately have been turning wine into water to combat drought and making pandas go forth and multiply. Which is gross, by the way. Ever seen a newborn panda?”

I shook my head. He had to know I hadn’t, but it was nice of him to ask.

“Imagine the ugliest rat you’ve ever seen, then make it pink and hairless and only able to move by random wobbling movements. The point is, the angels do nothing but make people nervous.”

He flashed me a smile straight out of a toothpaste commercial, complete with little sparkly bits.

“How do you do that? That smile?”

He shrugged. “Same scientific principle used to make halos and sunbeams.”

Oh. Obviously.

We came to a display bathed in spotlights and cordoned off with red velvet ropes. On a low table in the center sat an earthen jar, cracked and weathered by the sands of time but remarkably intact. Its lid sat beside it, and large signs posted everywhere told the story of its discovery, calling it the Holy Grail.

“It’s the real one,” Jesus said, preempting my question as the temperature of the air dropped noticeably. “The Last Supper was really more of an enchantment ritual we kind of stole from the story of Pandora, taking an ordinary jar and making capable of holding the incarnation of evil. And it worked, until some fool had to go and open it.”

The lights in the rest of the museum suddenly cut out, leaving us and the jar in a bright pool amid an artificial night. I peered nervously into the thick and impenetrable wall of darkness, hugging myself to relax the goosebumps.

“Is he… here?”

“He’s everywhere, silent and invisible. Like carbon monoxide. You don’t know he’s there until he has you in his grasp.”

The possessions of the early days came to mind. Just before the second coming, the news was full of images, horrible images of people in the clutches of some kind of insanity. Flailing and contorting, attacking one another and speaking in tongues. It stopped as soon as it had started, and once the Lord hath returneth’ed, no one really talked about the possessions anymore.

“It started the day the jar was opened. My return quelled him for a time, but tomorrow the Grail goes public and every set of pious eyes upon it give him power.”

“And my eyes are godless heathen eyes.” I nodded in understanding and slowly stepped up to the display.

The ropes fell away as I approached, parting like the East River, and my hands trembled as I reached for the jar.

Its ancient clay felt warm to the touch. Hot, even. I held it firmly in one hand and took the lid in the other, making a point not to look inside just in case it would melt my face.

I heard footsteps and a soft cackling.

“Not funny, Jesus.”

“Not me, Dave.”

He sounded scared.

A frantic squawking and the rustle of feathers made me turn, just in time to witness the blackest shadow I’d ever seen taking the angels in its grasp.

In my surprise, the jar slipped from my hand.

I watched it tumble to the ground in excruciating slow motion, too paralyzed to do anything but pray it wouldn’t break.

It hit my shoe, bounced slightly, and skittered onto the floor with a scraping sound. But it remained in one piece.

I dove for it, and met the desperate eyes of the shadow, which released the angels unharmed and swooped towards me. I clapped the lid onto the jar and held it to my chest as the icy tendrils of the devil brushed across me.

The jar grew heavier as the lights came on and the temperature returned to normal, until I could no longer bear its weight and had to set it on the floor. The tiles began to crack.

I looked up to see Jesus smiling at me. And not a good smile, but a smug one.


“You prayed.”

Crap. I did, didn’t I?

“Dave the atheist prayed.”

I scrambled to my feet. “Did not.”

“Don’t lie to me,” he teased, picking up the jar without effort. “That’s like the worst sin ever. Straight to Hell, no stopover in Purgatory.”

I stared at him for a long time as the angels groomed each other with their tentacles. It wasn’t like it was a real prayer, just kind of a way to say I wished really hard that the jar wouldn’t break. Like when you’re waiting for a check and you say, “Please let it come today.” Not a religious prayer. Not really.

“Fine,” I said as we walked out of the museum. “But I never mentioned you or your dad by name. For all you know, I was praying to the Mesoamerican serpent god Quetzalcoatl.”

“Which would be a waste of time, since he never checks his messages.”

I couldn’t tell if He was kidding.

“So am I still going straight to Hell?” I asked out of curiosity. “I think my uncle Randall is probably there, and if I have to go, I was wondering if I could get an apartment near him.”

“I guess that depends on how you live the rest of your life. Rescue some dogs, donate to charity, and I’ll see what I can do. But do me a favor and don’t pray anymore.”


He smiled, the big one with all the sparkles. “Because there’s rumors that the four horsemen are coming next year, and I just might need an atheist again.” He pointed behind me. “Hey, isn’t that the pretty blonde tourist?”

It wasn’t. When I turned back, He and the jar were gone. The words “Take care of the knuckleheads for me” had been etched in the sidewalk.

The angels wagged their tentacles at me. One of them offered me a pigeon.


© 2018 by Jennifer Lee Rossman


Author’s Note: This story came about when I wondered how people would react to incontrovertible proof that their beliefs are wrong. Would they believe something else, or stick to their old ways? Is there a middle ground? Believing in a god but choosing not to worship him? And what if that god was perfectly fine with you choosing not to worship him?


Jennifer Lee Rossman is a science fiction geek from Oneonta, New York, who cross stitches, watches Doctor Who, and threatens to run over people with her wheelchair. Her work has been featured in several anthologies and her novella Anachronism is now available from Kristell Ink, an imprint of Grimbold Books. Her debut novel, Jack Jetstark’s Intergalactic Freakshow, will be published by World Weaver Press in 2019. You can find her blog at http://jenniferleerossman.blogspot.com/ and Twitter at https://twitter.com/JenLRossman






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DP Fiction #22: “The Schismatic Element Aboard Continental Drift” by Lee Budar-Danoff

“Captain, we have a situation. I’ve been investigating a potential religious sect.”

Captain Madeleine Salim of the generation ship Continental Drift set down her vitamin soup bottle. Instead of spending the start of her shift in contemplation of the new planet below, part of the anti-agoraphobia program mandated by the ship-to-shore landing process, she faced the lieutenant. Ronald Chin resembled the noble eagle from their histories, with short wavy hair, sharp nose and piercing eyes. Salim returned his salute.

“Why wasn’t this brought to my attention immediately?”

Chin stiffened. “I couldn’t report gossip. Rumors of religion crop up during every new generation. In the past, they turned out to be student groups prepping for exams, or thought experiments. I had to rule out those possibilities.” His proper military posture tired Salim, who waved him to a seat.

“The leader of this new sect is Orrin Himmelfarb—”

“The physicist?” Salim knew every adult on the Continental Drift by name and profession. Of the almost three hundred people now living aboard, Orrin was the last she would’ve considered spiritual in nature.

“He preached in private to individuals at first. Now he’s speaking to small groups in public. Tracie Aliyeva assists him.”

Aliyeva, their nanotechnologist, displayed no abnormal tendencies. Salim rubbed her forehead.

“Which religion is he using?”

Chin frowned. “That’s what I can’t explain. He preaches all of them.”

Ridiculous. She recalled the chapters on religions. All of Earth’s history was taught up to the point of the generation ship departures. The population for each ship had been selected based on religion to avoid future clashes and violence. The atheists assigned to the Continental Drift learned about religions as part of their cultural past but didn’t practice any.

Plans were underway for the transfer of supplies from the sister ship. At the end of her shift, their entire population would vote on a new name for their planet. Why, at this critical moment, had Himmelfarb made religion an issue?

“Could the loss of gravity cause mental stress or deviations?” As they’d approached their target star  system, the ships decelerated and their rotation about their pivot point slowed. The centrifugal force that provided artificial gravity wound down. Once the ships de-tethered and settled into orbit, the future colonists had learned to function in low-g. Transition sickness continued to affect everyone. “Are people reacting adversely to the meds?”

Chin said, “No. The mild dose in our food will alleviate the effects of motion sickness–the disequilibrium and vertigo which started when we arrived. There are no biological or pharmacological sources causing people to seek a god.”

Was there a god? Salim never worried about such questions. Their ancestors and founders were Secular Humanists who relied on science, facts, and reasoning instead of myths, faith or superstition to understand questions of humanity and the universe. Now, as they embarked upon the final stage of their journey, a small group might disrupt the harmony designed thousands of years ago.

Chin saluted and left. Streamers from the arrival celebration party floated along her office walls but couldn’t relieve Salim of the weight of responsibility. Determined to learn the truth, Salim left to find Himmelfarb. Down one hall, she encountered Dr. Kendrickson vomiting near one of the viewports where the now motionless stars shone bright. Salim turned the sick dentist from the disturbing panorama, called for a medtech and cleaning crew, and continued on her search.

Cafeteria Three doubled as space for large group activities. Over the centuries, despite projects that maintained the ship’s interior, surfaces and furnishings displayed the ravages of age. Salim found the physicist at the head of a worn plastic table, Aliyeva beside him, drawing nods from the people seated nearby. She frowned. Charisma, a favorable trait among colonists, might be an obstacle to dissuading others from Himmelfarb’s words. After collecting a lunch tray, she headed for the table.

“We need to talk,” she said to Himmelfarb. “Let’s go to my office.”

Himmelfarb asked, “Why not here?”

He wanted everybody to hear. Salim didn’t intend to give him an audience. She leaned down and lowered her voice.

“I’d prefer privacy. I’m sure you’d prefer to come of your own accord.” Salim tilted her head toward the door where Lieutenant Chin stood.

Himmelfarb grabbed his tray and stood. “Always an honor to dine with the Captain,” he said. Tracie Aliyeva rose but Himmelfarb waved her off. “See you later,” he said.

Salim wasted no time once her door was closed and they were seated.

“You’re preaching religion, beyond a course of study you’re not authorized to teach. Why?”

“I’m glad you asked.” He took a bite, and waited until Salim followed suit before explaining. “You have concerns but I promise I’m not creating dissension among the members of our new colony.

“There’s a truth, a secret, passed on since my ancestors first boarded the Continental Drift.” He leaned forward. “My people aren’t atheistic. We believed that faith in any god, not just the god of the Jews or Muslims or any group, would support us through the two millennia our people faced aboard this ship. When someone struggles and can find no solace in a friend, no relief in the words of a psychologist or counselor, we,” he pointed to himself, “offer a solution bigger than the survival of mankind. Faith in something so huge, so unfathomable, yet so caring, is the answer for troubled souls.”

Salim shoved her spoon into the vegetable paste which adhered to her tray. “You’re saying your ancestors boarded the wrong ship?”

Himmelfarb shook his head, lips pressed. “You misunderstand, Captain. My family feared for the people of this ship.”

“They lied on their applications? That’s a serious breach of contract. Our founding documents clearly state that those who joined this ship would never establish a religion.” Severe penalties were outlined for any who broke this rule.

Himmelfarb nodded. “We didn’t set out to establish any particular religion. Only when someone was in need did we offer a solution others here wouldn’t consider. There hasn’t been one incident caused by religion on this ship.”

He was right. No generation passed without spats or serious disagreements, but nothing in the historical logs suggested religion was at the root of a single issue. That didn’t change the facts.

“But now we’ve arrived.” Salim tapped her desk. “In less than a year, we’ll descend to the planet and build our new civilization. The ship-to-shore program is working within expected parameters. Why preach to people who are adjusting? Especially when you know the consequences.”

“Despite the wall engravings, the constant lessons, the structure and multiple redundancies built so we’d remember we’re on a ship, surviving as a race by spreading across the galaxy, some are disturbed and need spiritual guidance. Yes,” Himmelfarb held up a hand, “many will be ready, but not all. They wish to hear me.”

“Practical knowledge and rational thought should provide a sense of safety and comfort,” said Salim. “Our founding documents planned for contingencies including the emotional and psychological needs of individuals regardless of their futures on the ship or a planet. No purpose beyond survival was mentioned or needed. Our humanity depends on our ability to think critically.”

Salim sipped from her soup bottle and grimaced. The soup was cold. “Our community was designed to be bound by common beliefs, without myths. Our ancestors began their journey free of superstitions, and refused to offer false security to their progeny. Logical reasoning should relieve any fears. If your forebears lied to board this ship, and if your words cause dissent, you threaten our entire colony. And I can’t allow it.”

Himmelfarb said, “You’d make us martyrs when we aren’t breaking the letter of the law?” He raised his voice. “I’m a physicist, and I believe science and religion can coexist. My forebears insisted it didn’t matter to which god or religion you subscribed. Each is as valid as the next. Instead, the insight that you’re part of a grand design, that your existence in the vast depths of space and time mattered, was the key to thriving on a generation ship. Especially when your particular generation was not destined to become a colony.”

Martyrs? Himmelfarb threatened their entire future. Salim chose her words carefully. “Then what, exactly, are you preaching?”

“Choice,” said Himmelfarb. “I recommend that each person who comes to me review their religious studies. A particular incarnation of a god or gods will resonate with them. If you open your mind and heart, your personal truth will be revealed. No one can tell you what to believe in. We aren’t talking about science fact. Or even an explanation for the universe. I can’t prove ‘god’ any more than you could disprove ‘god’. For some, finding faith helps them have faith in themselves and in what they’re doing.”

“It sounds like you’re giving up responsibility for yourself. Have faith in some magic power and things will work out.”

Himmelfarb scooped up some food and took his time chewing and swallowing before offering his answer.

“For me, God is not an entity from whom I ask for answers. God helps me comprehend space and everything in it at an emotional level. When I first looked through a viewport, I felt small, insignificant. I sickened at the thought of leaving my only home.” He rubbed his temples. “But I see myself as part of the grander web of life, and my destiny lies below. I got over my transition sickness.”

“You can face the planet now?”

“Oh yes. I look often. Our new home is beautiful.”

Salim stood. “I can’t say I understand why people find comfort in something imaginary. I won’t deny anyone their personal choice. I cannot condone any organized religion, which is contrary to our founding documents.” She touched a button on the desk and Chin opened the door.

Himmelfarb got up but Salim raised her hand. “I want you to discuss your preaching with Dr. Ganz. I’m not convinced you aren’t offering a crutch that will cause weakness in our colonists. I suggest,” and Salim deepened her tone so Himmelfarb would take her words as a command, “that you refrain from preaching until the psychologist convinces me you’re doing no harm. If people insist belief in a god requires them to force others to believe the same way, we are dead before we set foot on that planet. In that case,” she pointed at Himmelfarb’s chest, “I will put you, your family, and any others with these beliefs in isolation, and the current generation will remain on board. A new generation, raised free of your preaching, will become colonists instead. Understand?”

Himmelfarb’s smile vanished. “I understand. But while knowledge of religion and God exists, you will never be able to eliminate a person’s choice to have faith. It’s not rational. It’s instinctual.” He followed Chin out.

Salim finished her medicated food and shoved the lunch tray aside to be recycled. Certain that Himmelfarb would share their conversation with his followers, she considered her options. Through her office viewport their new planet swam in space, a blue-green bauble clothed in swirling white clouds. There was no going back, not to their old world or the imperfect ways of their past. She reviewed the database devoted to Earth history, and stopped at the section on religions. Every aspect of their inherited culture, from art to music to stories was influenced by religion.

It wasn’t within her power to delete the material. File erasure required a unanimous vote. Even if she isolated Himmelfarb and his family, his followers would still have the right to vote. No other captain had ever suggested such a dire action. Once gone, that part of their past, their heritage, would be irretrievable. Was that wrong? Salim sighed. Even if she convinced her generation the material was unnecessary, religious ideas passed down orally might persist. Even if they were eradicated, new ones could arise.

Salim decided. The assembly to name the planet would have one additional agenda item.

© 2016 by Lee Budar-Danoff


LeeHeadshotLee Budar-Danoff sails, plays guitar, and writes when she isn’t reading. Lee volunteers as Municipal Liaison for National Novel Writing Month and is an alum of the Viable Paradise Writer’s Workshop. A former history teacher, Lee spends that energy raising three children with her husband in Maryland.www.leebudar-danoff.com]




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