This is a sequel to

Martin was not in Heaven. He appeared to be in a suburb of Heaven at about one in the morning on a weekday. He wandered down vaguely curving streets through 70′s- and 80′s-era raised ranches that were uniformly dark and silent. Martin felt like he had been wandering for hours. If that was true he was late for his meeting with God.

Another intersection: Pinta Street and Apple Tree Way. He’d been here before …  right? Or was it just someplace like it? No, this was the place: there were those concrete, warehouse-looking buildings he’d seen before with the signs that said things like “Platform 3″ and “No Lifters.” He had a choice of either a grimy alleyway by the “No Lifters” sign or going back into the winding suburban maze. The maze was beginning to creep him out, so he decided to take his chances with the alley.

The alley was short, it turned out, and ended in a wooden door that was a little bit ajar. Martin pushed on the door, but couldn’t see anything in the dimness beyond. He went through.

“Oh, wait, hang on!” said a trim little guy with beautiful teeth, stepping out of the gloom and putting a hand on Martin’s chest. “What’re you doing here, now?”

“I’m Martin?” Martin said.

“Is that a question, or are you actually Martin?” said the trim little guy.

“Actually Martin.”

The trim little guy smiled and dropped his hand to a “shake” position. Martin shook it. “Martin, I’m Timmy Gates … they call me Pearly. You here to see God?”

“He said 3:00.”

“Well, time is immaterial here, and you died at 2:57, so you’re all set. OK, people!”

This last thing was said to the gloom, which lit up with golden and misty white light. A host of angels–a large host, as in probably more than a thousand–burst into song. Martin had a hard time tracking the song, but it was so gorgeous his head nearly exploded, and it seemed to be more or less on the theme of “We love you, Martin! Welcome to Heaven!”

After about a week of that–which was less than Martin wanted–the angels wrapped it up and then flapped off without a word, leaving Martin alone with Pearly.

“Is that because God … ?” Martin began.

“Oh, no,” said Pearly. “They do that for everybody. You can’t stop angels from singing, am I right? Come on, let’s go see the Big Guy.”

So they went to see the Big Guy.

Her husband said, “Don’t kill it. They don’t mean any harm.” She was pressed back in the corner, her hand over her heart, which was thumping so hard it should have burned right through her blouse, and he was bent over the thing on her desk, extending his hand.

“There we go,” he said, and he turned and extended his palm toward her. “See?” She saw. She couldn’t breathe. It crept from the end of his fingers down to his wrist. It lifted its legs like a woman folding a sheet, snapping it out in the sun. Her head jerked back and hit the wall.

He said, “Phobias are merely mental blocks. You need to work your way through them.” He lifted his hand up under her nose. Tears started to run down her cheeks. She could feel them running cold down the line of her jaw and dripping off her chin. He didn’t even notice, for a moment. And then he said “Oh, Julie.” He shook his head and left the room with the thing twitching in the palm of his hand.

She dreamed that night about spiders. They ran down the walls in streams, flowed around the bottom of their bed as if it were a rock in a river. A fountain, a waterfall of spiders sounds like nothing, magnified a thousand times; a whispery, bristly-legged nothing at all, made of legs and tiny eyes. They poured out their bedroom door and cascaded down the stairs, where the living room lights were still on.

In the dream, she didn’t move. The curtains fluttered in their wake, and the bed rocked, just a little bit, and the bedroom door shuddered. Her sheets glowed white beneath her hands.

Would it be worse if she woke up and found her husband’s body wrapped in silk, hanging from the corner of the living room? Or if she woke up to find him snoring on the couch with his mouth open? She laid in bed after she woke up, trying to decide which she hoped for most. In the corner, a spider lifted its legs exactly like an angry woman casting a curse at midnight, and spun a web.

Dear K,

Wow, that’s a lot to respond to. I’ll take it item by numbered item.

1) If he is, I haven’t noticed. Still the usual number of legs, etc. The cameras haven’t picked anything up, either.

2-4) Ha! Yeah, nice try. I’m still alive, though.

5) For the love of Christ! Listen, I hate to be pushy, but for the last time, they’re staying! What would happen to all the kids if we got rid of them? Do you think they’d be able to defend themselves? Remember what happened last time? Not to mention, the expense would be obscene. I know you have that whole thing with the gold, but we don’t even know if that will work, and anyway, we should probably save it for an emergency. I’m sorry about the stained clothing, but just wear old stuff when you go there, OK? Or a raincoat, right? I mean, it’s not like they’ll notice!

6) Thursday, or Friday at the latest. Assuming there is a Friday.

7) Oh, she turned out to be a bitch, so I had to dump her. I tried at the library, figuring she wouldn’t be able to make a scene there, but holy god did she! They revoked my library card. I don’t care what you say: next time I’m using Twitter.

8) The end of all life in the universe.

I guess that’s all for now. Stay under the tarp when you can, and don’t forget about the alarms. Keep the faith, my friend. Keep the faith.

- K

Every once in a while some smart ass kid sneaks a machete or something into the zoo, lures Edna over with junk food, and hacks off one of her heads. For the kid, it’s a lark. For me, it’s one more mouth to feed.

I could have been a manticore keeper, which is easy if you don’t mind wearing a kevlar suit every time you go in to feed the damn thing. I couldn’t work with unicorns, obviously–usually we have socially backwards undergrad girls to do that, and sooner or later there’s always an awkward call after a wild weekend saying she can’t come into work that day. That doesn’t mean she has a hangover, by the way: it means she’s no longer a virgin, and if she goes near the unicorn, she’ll get gored. But we never have a shortage of applicants for unicorn keeper. We mostly pick them up at Renaissance Faires. I think the zoo sends recruiters; I don’t know for sure. Not my department.

Dragons would have been easy; I don’t even mind heat that much. Gorgons are simple as long as you take basic precautions. Forget the mirrors: just use a blindfold and get the layout of the habitat down pat. And the guy who takes care of the Kraken just has to keep the tank murky and throw in a few virgin cows (it saved us all kinds of trouble when we finally realized it didn’t matter what ___species___ of virgins the thing ate) every decade or so.

But keeping a hydra–that’s different. You have to be dedicated. And you have to realize that things never get simpler for long, just more complicated. Take love, for example. If you’re alone, it’s the simplest thing in the world: no double families to juggle at holidays, no having to orient the toilet paper roll the right way … but then you fall in love, and all of a sudden you’re making accommodations and trying to remember the anniversary of your first ___date___ date. Getting out of it isn’t exactly simple, either, which I think is why some people opt for marriage … which is even more of a mess. Not even mentioning children! And then you realize that it was never going to work out in the first place, and you get divorced, and instead of having one person who more or less likes you, you have one person who more or less hates you who usually starts going out right away with someone ___else___ who hates you (notice how it doubles?), and likely as not you’re on the rebound and are going out with someone again, so it’s not even like you simplified anything there!

At least when it gets more complicated with Edna, you know what you’re going to get. One more head, one more set of teeth to dodge, and fifteen more pounds a day of fresh meat.

I still like it better, though, when the kid leans through the bars and Edna eats the little creep instead of getting one of her heads chopped off. First of all, it teaches all the other smart ass kids a lesson. Second, it’s one less person, which makes the world just a little, tiny bit simpler for a while.

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