William Quincy Belle is just a guy. Nobody famous; nobody rich; just some guy who likes to periodically add his two cents worth with the hope, accounting for inflation, that $0.02 is not over-evaluating his contribution. He claims that at the heart of the writing process is some sort of (psychotic) urge to put it down on paper and likes to recite the following which so far he hasn't been able to attribute to anyone: "A writer is an egomaniac with low self-esteem." You will find Mr. Belle's unbridled stream of consciousness here (http://wqebelle.blogspot.ca) or @here (https://twitter.com/wqbelle).
The G Button
Bert pulled away the bubble wrap and looked at the shiny new device, the Shangdi Smartphone IV. It cost more than other models, but consumer reports ranked it favorably in ease-of-use and he didn’t want to waste any time fooling around with technology. Life is too short, and he had far better things to do than become frustrated with the so-called necessities of modern life.
He set the device and instruction booklet to one side, gathering up the box, bubble wrap, and bits of debris to put in the recycling bin. After pouring a fresh cup of coffee, he sat down to familiarize himself with his latest purchase.
How intuitive was the device? A reviewer had written how most people never read the manual, making it imperative that manufacturers create products that were as foolproof as possible. Looking at the buttons and display, Bert doubted whether the device was as intuitive as it claimed to be.
He turned the device around in his hands, noting the power switch, the charger socket, and the volume controls. He looked over the keyboard and saw the standard keys: alpha-numerics, Enter, Delete, and Shift. Frowning, Bert stared at a small key in the upper left-hand corner, marked with a capital G. Removing his glasses, he held the phone right up to his face. To the right of the G were two tiny letters that he could barely distinguish. Blinking twice to clear his vision, he stared at the key. He couldn’t be one hundred percent sure, but the tiny letters seemed to be a lowercase o and d.
Setting the device down and putting his glasses back on, Bert picked up the instruction booklet and thumbed to the index. He followed the alphabetical listing to the section headed “G” and skimmed through the entries. Finding nothing, he pursed his lips and shook his head. It had to be an acronym, he thought.
Bert pressed the power button. The display showed an hourglass and percentage marker, counting up to one hundred. As he took a sip of coffee, the display lit up with a monochrome wallpaper dotted with icons. A sidebar showed the image of an envelope, a small 1 in the corner. Curious, he touched the screen, over an icon labeled “Mail.” A chronological listing of messages appeared. The single email proclaimed: Welcome to the Khoda Network. Hoping this would give some answers, Bert took another sip of coffee and touched the subject line. A full-screen version of the email came up.
Thank you for your purchase of the Shangdi Smartphone IV, and welcome to the Khoda Network. We’re certain you will find your experience with us heavenly. If you should have questions, please feel free to use the G button in the upper–left-hand corner of your keyboard. You will be immediately connected to a support representative who will do their best to ensure quality service.
Rubbing his chin, Bert scrunched up his face and stared up at the ceiling. If it was an acronym, what did it stand for? Glory or Death? Gold, Oil, and Drugs? Wasn’t there a sci-fi comic book featuring a Galactic Obliteration Device? Should he press it and see what happened?
Closing the message, Bert exited his inbox. He tapped the clock icon, examining the various options. It took a moment, but he managed to set the alarm for 7 a.m., his usual time.
He glanced again at the G button.
The options menu suggested various alarm tones, so he systematically tried each one. The first choice, “siren,” was particularly loud and made Bert jump. He lowered the volume, thinking he simply wanted to be woken up, not scared to death. After several tries, he chose one labeled “traditional,” the ringing bell of an old-fashioned alarm clock.
His glance slipped past the G button.
Bert opened the instruction booklet, combing first through the G section in the index before looking under K. In the chapter discussing the features of the keyboard, he found much information about typing, using the support keys, and discovered supplemental uses for the Enter key. Other than the email he had received, there was no other mention of the special key.
Deciding to explore the other features of the phone, Bert picked up the device, his gaze immediately flicking to the G. He inspected each of the icons on the display, but came back to the mysterious button. Lifting a finger, Bert held it over the button. He dropped his hand on the arm of the chair, tapping his finger. What to do? What to do? Taking a deep breath, he pressed the button and held the phone up to his ear.
There was the sound of a phone ringing. One ring, two. There was a click on the other end of the line and a male voice said, “Jesus H. Christ.”
Bert took the phone away from his ear, looking at it in disbelief. Making a face, he put it back to his ear. “Hello?”
“How may I be of assistance?”
“Who is this?”
“You phoned me.”
Bert frowned. “What?”
“Listen, I haven’t got all day. There are a zillion people waiting. My phone’s lit up like a Christmas tree, and I’ve got to get busy answering questions, listening to prayers, and delivering a miracle or two.”
“Seriously, who is this?” Bert felt a little annoyed, as though somebody was pulling an elaborate hoax.
“Did you press the G key?”
“And so, here you are; connected to the great beyond. Okay, the above and beyond.”
Bert glanced around the room, puzzled. “What’s going on? Is this some sort of prank?”
“Nope. It’s the real deal.”
“Who is this?”
“I told you. Jesus H. Christ.”
“Hallowed. Although for some it’s Harold. Those biology nerds cleverly say ‘haploid’.”
“Haploid, one set of chromosomes; as opposed to diploid, two sets. It’s a joke about the virgin birth. Nevertheless, let’s not be formal. Just call me Jesus.”
Bert took the phone away from his ear again and looked at the device. “This is stupid,” he said aloud. He pressed the red button marked “End Call.”
Turning his attention to the calendar application, Bert set about learning how to record his appointments. The phone rang, a message appearing on the status line: Press green to answer. Obediently, he pressed the green button and put the phone up to his ear. “Hello?”
“Why’d ya hang up?”
Bert rubbed his chin. “What’s going on? Who are you?”
“I told you, Jesus Christ. Mr. Christ to you. And you are ...?”
“Okay, wise guy. Shouldn’t you already know that?”
“Of course I do, Bert. I was only being polite. I am omniscient and all that.”
Bert scrunched up his face. “This is a joke.”
“It’s as much of a joke as you make it.”
“Do you have any idea of what’s going through my mind right now?”
“Hey. I said I’m omniscient, not a mind-reader.”
“Listen, I’m going to lodge a complaint with Shangdi or Khoda.” Bert sat upright, anger spurring him on. “I have no idea what’s going on, but this can’t be sanctioned by the phone network.”
“Tch, tch. Is your middle name Tommy?”
“Listen, smartass —”
There was a deafening clap of thunder. The house seemed to shake, and windows rattled in their panes. Bert jumped up to scan the sky. In every direction, he only saw blue. There wasn’t a cloud in sight.
He brought the phone back to his ear. “Hello? Hello?” Looking back out the window, Bert surveyed the sky and found it clear as before. His brow creased, he returned to the kitchen chair.
Bert scratched his head. This is crazy, he thought. Distracted, he tried to peruse the instruction booklet, but kept picking up the phone. He pressed the button. After two rings, he heard the male voice: “Press 1 for God. Press 2 for Jesus Christ. Press 3 for the Holy Ghost. Hang up or stay on the line to leave a message at the sound of the tone.” The male cleared his throat and in a raised pitch said, “Beep!”
Bert sat frozen, his mind racing to make sense of this seemingly nonsensical exchange.
“Aw, I’m just messin’ with ya now,” the voice said.
“Is God some sort of stand-up comedian?”
“Hey. Who do you think invented comedy? Robin Williams? I just do it on a grander scale. I split a gut every time I see scientists trying to figure out how a photon can be a particle and act like a wave at the same time. That’s hilarious. One of my best.”
“So, I’m speaking with option number two?”
“The Trinity is really one and the same thing. H2O can be ice, water, or steam, but it’s still the same substance.”
“Did you cause that thunderclap just now?”
“Did you call me a smartass? Watch your mouth, buddy, or I’ll smite you. Or send a plague of locusts or infect you with festering boils. I’m supposed to be omnibenevolent, but let’s not forget that punishment is for your own good.”
“Can you prove you’re God? Can you do a miracle?”
The voice sighed. “Your politicians stand up and make all sorts of ludicrous statements about this, that, and the other thing: the economy, foreign affairs, or global warming. It’s obvious they can’t possibly know what they’re talking about, but the bunch of you take this hook, line, and sinker as if it’s the gospel truth.” There was a pause. “The gospel truth. Hmmm, there’s a joke in there somewhere.”
Bert clicked his tongue, impatient. “How about that miracle?”
“What do you want, the loaf and fish thing? Water into wine?”
Bert rolled his eyes. “This is ridic—”
Just then the doorbell rang. Who could that be? Ignoring the hack on the other end of the line, Bert put down the phone and opened the front door.
“Large pepperoni pizza with mushrooms and green olives.” A teenage boy, wearing a baseball cap bearing the logo of Pizza Most, held out a large cardboard box. “Listen, I’m sorry. I got lost trying to find your place. Technically, anything over thirty minutes is supposed to be free, but if you could see your way clear to paying me, I won’t get into trouble. Forget the tip. My fault.”
Bert could smell the appetizing aroma of hot food. His mouth watered. Glancing curiously at his new phone, he pulled some bills out of his pocket and offered the boy a twenty.
“Gee, mister, thanks!” He handed Bert the box, snatching the bill and running back to his car. Bert opened his mouth to protest but hesitated. He shrugged and watched the boy drive off. After shutting the door, he gave in to his hunger, picking up a slice of pizza and taking a big bite.
The phone rang. Bert took a tissue from a side table, wiping his hands. “Hello?”
“You paid him? Oh, for cryin’ out loud! He was over thirty minutes. It was supposed to be free. Where’s the miracle now?”
“It was just a kid. He’ll get dinged for the amount if he fails to collect. I don’t think that’s fair.”
“Fair? Heck, is life fair?”
“Maybe not, but that doesn’t mean I have to contribute to it being so.”
“Aren’t you a nice guy.”
“I like to think so. But wait. You’d have me stiff a kid? What happened to the benevolent God?”
“Do unto others and all that. You look to me for benevolence when you should be looking to yourself.”
“I thought you were all-powerful.”
“My omnipotence isn’t the issue. It’s a question of belief. If you believe, I can do anything. In fact, I’m so powerful, I don’t even have to exist to save you.”
Bert stopped eating and blinked several times, trying to process this latest statement. He wiped his mouth with another tissue.
“What’s the matter? Pizza got your tongue?”
“What is it that you want?”
“What do I want? You contacted me. What do you want? Let’s not forget that at the end of the day, it’s all about you. I’m omnipotent and I’ve got the whole universe to play around in. You’ve just got the little ol’ third rock from the sun. You’re the one with the short end of the stick. You’re the one who keeps praying for something better. You’re the one who keeps contacting me for help. What do I want? I want you to get off your duff and do something! I want you to take charge of your destiny. Stop praying and start doing. Divine defecation, do you people procrastinate! You love to follow the adage, ‘Why put off to tomorrow what you can do the day after?’”
Bert reached for another piece of pizza, fumbling the phone. It flipped out of his hand and fell to the floor. “Jesus!” Pushing the pizza box aside, he jumped out of the chair to retrieve his phone. Hoping nothing broke, he turned it around in his hands but there was no visible damage. “Whew!” He pressed it against his ear. “Hello? Hello?” There was no answer. Looking down at the display, Bert saw nothing out of the ordinary. He pressed the G button, speaking into the device. “Hello? Hello?” Nothing but a dial tone.
Holding the device in front of him, Bert pressed the G button several times in vain. Had the phone actually been damaged, perhaps internally, from the fall? The sidebar again showed the image of an envelope, a small numeral one in the corner. There was new mail. Pressing the icon, Bert opened his inbox. He found a single email labeled: Khoda Network: Service Announcement. He touched the line, and the email opened full-screen.
We regret to announce a temporary interruption of our Digital Orientation Guide. The G button may be defective, and we are offering a replacement at no charge. How to tell if your phone is defective: the G button, or Guide button, is supposed to be labeled with a lowercase d and o before the uppercase G. It has come to our attention that on some models this is reversed. It’s been reported these buttons are connecting people to a malfunctioning guide service. We apologize for any inconvenience.
Yours sincerely, the Khoda Network.
The above story was taken from the following collection of twelve short stories.
Amazon: $3.99 USD Kindle, $7.99 USD paperback