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fiction God Nicholas Montemarano The Spot 183 It was an old joke that Thomas Godfrey, given his name, had no choice but to become an atheist. “I’ve considered changing the spelling to G-o-d-f-r-e-e,” he said from behind the lectern, “but then even more people would hate me.” Most of the audience laughed, but not the man sitting in the second row, behind Thomas’s wife, Louise. Before Thomas continued his lecture , it occurred to him—a premonition, what someone religious might have called a sign from God—that the man might harm her. True, the man was long-necked and spectacled, more bookworm than psychopath . But he had been staring at Thomas, creepy and blank, since the lecture began. Thomas would have preferred an angry expression—he was used to that. The man was close enough to the stage for Thomas to notice that he hadn’t even blinked. Thomas had grown up next door to a kid who never blinked and who had tied him to a tree and singed his eyebrows, then a few years later was hit by a train. “He was a child of God,” the priest had said at the funeral. Thomas, despite having hated the kid when he was alive, had believed this. But the same priest used these words at Thomas’s sister’s funeral, three years later, and that was the moment it dawned on Thomas that there was no God, at least not the supernatural God most people referred to when they used that word. The sadomasochistic, genocidal, bloodthirsty bully of the Old Testament was no more real than Emma Bovary or Huck Finn. In the past month, since his most recent book had made the Times best seller list, Thomas’s hate mail had increased in volume and malice. A priest had tried to convince him that he was possessed, then offered to perform the exorcism. A woman from Alabama wrote that unless Thomas repented, the world was going to end in sixty-six days. One lunatic threatened to sodomize him with a cross. A week earlier, he had received a bullet in the mail. His initials, T. G., were carved into its side. He was shaken—three drinks that evening even though he had given up alcohol since his heart attack—and Louise had noticed and asked him what was wrong, but he lied to her, told her it was nothing, just another crackpot letter. Someone had sent him the same five-word letter every day for two weeks: Time to meet your maker. There had been phone calls, too—a man’s voice in the middle of the night. “Time to meet your maker.” Click. Before Thomas had entered the auditorium tonight, he’d heard someone behind him say these words. When he’d turned around, he’d 184 ecotone seen the man who was now sitting behind his wife. Whether the man had spoken these words Thomas couldn’t be sure, but he was unnerved now that the man hadn’t laughed—hadn’t even smiled—at his silly joke about his name. It was entirely possible, he decided, as he tried to regain his composure and continue his lecture, that this man was behind the letters and phone calls, but then again, there were other people at this lecture who hated him. His wife had urged him to cancel. Why take a chance? she had told him, but it was his first public appearance since his heart attack four months earlier, and he didn’t want to wait any longer to respond to some of the comments people had been posting about him on their blogs: that God had been the one to stop his heart, just as God had been the one to start it again; that his brush with death would finally make him see the light. “I’ve received so many letters over the years urging me to be more Christlike,” he said now, “that I finally decided to take this advice and rise from the dead. As most of you know, I died four months ago. I collapsed in Rittenhouse Square Park, right across the...


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pp. 182-201
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