THE GOD-MAN

“I think,” said Hallerbee, “that I’m becoming a god.”
Radcliffe leaned on his shovel and studied Hallerbee. “A god? What makes you think that?”
“A couple of things.” Hallerbee stared across the road he and Radcliffe were working on into the cornfield beyond. The sun’s heat made sweat bead on his temples and settle in the dusty creases at the corners of his eyes. “For one thing, I feel like a god.”
Radcliffe grunted. “What, you’re Jesus?” He buried the blade of his shovel into the pile of gravel in the back of the truck and dropped it into a pothole. “Take a tour of the nearest mental ward. Half the people in it will tell you they’re Jesus.”
“I didn’t say Jesus. I said a god.”
Radcliffe grunted. “Either way makes no difference. The pilgrims coming to worship you will have to do it staring through the security glass in the door leading into a padded room.” He tapped the gravel with the toe of his boot.
“But that’s not my only reason,” Hallerbee said. “I can control things with my mind. I can shape reality to my desires.”
“You can shape reality?”
“Yes, I can.”
Radcliffe smiled. “Look around you, pal. You’re shoveling gravel in ninety-five degree heat for minimum wage. You’ve got blisters on your hands, and every time you bend over your back makes you wince. If you can shape your reality, then what are you doing working here?”
Hallerbee was silent. “I’m still learning, “ he finally said, “but every day I learn a little more. Someday I’ll know all there is to know, and the only world will be the one I choose to make. If that isn’t being a god, then what is?”
Radcliffe clasped his hands over the end of his shovel handle. “And God said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light. Is that it?”
“Exactly. Now you understand.”
“I understand one thing, Hallerbee. You’ve got delusions of grandeur. You’re a sick man.”
“Because I can control my reality I’m a sick man?”
“No, because you think you can control my reality you’re a sick man. I’m part of this world too, you know.”
“It’s not my fault if you choose to let me control you.”
“I don’t choose.”
“You choose by not choosing. You make no effort to develop your own divinity and so are forced to accept someone else’s. That’s the difference between you and me.”
“I hope it’s not the only one.”
“You’re a vanquished serf and I’m a rebel,” Hallerbee said. “I spit in God’s face because I know that one day I’ll overthrow him. You kiss his feet and accept your ruin and call those with the courage to stand up to him sick men.”
“Hallerbee, you’re more than a sick man. You’re a complete loony. You should be in a Daffy Duck cartoon.” Radcliffe filled another pothole.
Hallerbee joined him. “Why is what I say so hard to believe? One day you’ll have to believe. You won’t have a choice. You’ll be kissing my feet.”
The sun reflected harshly in Radcliffe’s eyes as he stared at Hallerbee. “You know, what’s really frightening about this is that you actually believe it.”
“I don’t believe it. I know it. It’s the difference between possibility and certainty. One day the sun will shine and the clouds will rain at my command. Birds will sing my praises and the mountains will bow down before me. Every living thing will pay me homage. The King of kings, and the Lord of lords.”
Radcliffe stopped shoveling. “Before you’re completely blinded by your own glory, let’s shrink this down to more approachable terms.” He walked across the road and stood in the far lane. “If you wait right here long enough, a car or truck will come. Control its reality. God or no god, I’ll bet you’ll jump out of the way.”
Hallerbee squinted into the sun. He looked back at Radcliffe.
“You’re on.”
“How much, twenty bucks?”
“What’s money to a god?” He reached into his back pocket. “Here, take my wallet. It has a freshly cashed paycheck in it. If I lose, it’s yours.”
“And if you win?”
“If I win, you’ll worship me.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You will fall on your knees and worship me.”
Radcliffe took the wallet, opened it, and studied the bills inside. “Are you sure you want to do this?”
“I’m sure.”
“You have a bet.”
Hallerbee’s shovel rasped against the truck bed as he lifted another shovelful down. “We’ll keep working until we hear an engine. At the last instant I’ll jump into the lane and control the vehicle. All right?”
“All right.”
Both men shoveled. The sun rose higher. Sweat spread in floods from under their arms and down their backs, drenching their tee-shirts.
“You know something, Hallerbee?”
“What?”
“I never did like you. You’re a pretentious ass.”
“You better hope I don’t win the bet. You’ll regret saying that.”
The road was a country road, a road less accustomed to vehicles than the traffic of skunks in the night. The two men’s shadows had grown long before they heard the distant rumble of an engine.
“It’s time.” Radcliffe listened to the low, powerful roar. “Are you sure you want to go through with this?”
“I’m sure.” Hallerbee laid his shovel down. He watched the road. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.”
A grain truck charged over a rise to the east, shimmering in the heat. It bellowed like a mad bull, rage glinting off its headlights. Hallerbee stood on the side of the road and watched it come.
“You don’t have to do this, Hallerbee.” Radcliffe dropped his shovel and ran his hands nervously through his hair. “Look, I believe you. Don’t prove your point.”
“Don’t patronize me. My time has come.”
“Listen, Hallerbee--”
“My time,” Hallerbee said, “has come.”
The roar of the truck vibrated the air, pounding in waves off of the two men’s chests. Hallerbee stepped into the far lane, faced the truck, and lifted his hand.
“Hallerbee!”
“Be still,” Hallerbee said quietly.
As if on an ethereal highway, the truck rose, passed fifteen feet above Hallerbee’s head, and continued down the road as if nothing had happened. Hallerbee smiled at Radcliffe. “Pretentious ass? Isn’t that what you called me?”
Radcliffe collapsed to his knees and gaped at Hallerbee. “I can’t believe it. My god, I just can’t believe it.”
Hallerbee threw his head back and laughed. “Believe it!” he cried. “A star rises in the East! Celebrate the new birth of God!” Flowers sprang up around his feet. He smiled at them, then laughed again.
The sun beat down on the two men. As they stood in the road, the birds in the fields began to sing.
* * *
The truck driver scrambled out of his cab and ran back towards Hallerbee. “My god,” he said, “what happened?”
Radcliffe looked at Hallerbee, poor Hallerbee, splayed across the road. His blood pooled red on the asphalt. “Nothing.”
“He just jumped right out in front of me,” the truck driver stammered, “right out in front of me, and just stood there. What was I supposed to do? Tell me, what was I supposed to do?”
“It wasn’t your fault. He was a nut, that’s all.”
The truck driver grabbed Radcliffe’s arm and pointed at the broken body. “Look at that! He’s smiling! How in the world could he be smiling after something like that?”
Hallerbee was grinning up at the sky as if he were watching angels. Radcliffe shook his head, then smiled, too. “All right.” He tossed the wallet onto Hallerbee’s chest. “We’ll call it a draw.”
“What did you say?” the truck driver asked.
“Nothing.” Radcliffe picked up his shovel.
The sun beat down on the two men. As they stood in the road, the birds in the fields began to sing.
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