Jeff Phillips: God’s Least Likely to Succeed [an excerpt from the novella]

Image by Dan MacRae

Tiedt walked over to his briefcase that he had placed on a chair in the corner, opened it, retrieved a stapled packet, and handed it to Fib. On the cover page was the title, “A History of the Fib Lineage.”

“Read it. Then you’ll know you’re perfect and you will fulfill your duty. But for who? I don’t know. I hope you’re loyal to your own goddamn country. A country that is good at doing its laundry. It may take a while to get to it sometimes, but loads get done.”

Tiedt left the room.

The packet was 43 pages but a Post-It note on the front said, “Turn to pg. 17,” so Fib did and found a highlighted paragraph. Fib glanced over the pages prior to glean that this was a dossier on his family tree. So he flipped to the indicated page to read more on someone named Smokee Friedkin:

Born in Hamburg in 1917, Smokee immigrated to the United States when he was 15. He became known for his psychic abilities and made a small fortune as a gambler until his notoriety made him an outcast; he was banned from the card tables. He worked as a CIA operative with Project MK-Ultra during the Cold War until he was murdered by unknown assassins who tied him to railroad tracks in Chicago’s meatpacking district in the middle of the night.

Fib wasn’t sure if this was some hint they thought he might be able to bring an inherited, psychic usefulness to the organization.

He flipped through the latter part of the packet and noticed some pictures. One was of a glum, bearded man in an oversized sweater. His body was gaunt, face a little skeletal. Fib shivered because it was recognizable. The one time he took magic mushrooms in college he saw this face reflected in a glass of ginger beer. The face grew a little body, had swum up to the orange peel but was swallowed by a pore in the ice. At the time Fib giggled and cried out, “James and the Giant Peach!” And his friends giggled, too. Now Fib giggled because the caption on the man’s photo read “Smokee Friedkin.”

Fib looked up and was beckoned from the doorway by a rotund woman in a pastel, pink pantsuit whose gnarled hands showed the older age her Botox lips tried to hide. In a gnomish voice, she introduced herself as his partner for an assignment.

She said they would be going to a séance, undercover, and needed to remember as much information as possible on those who attended. These people would need to be watched and infiltrated further at a later date. They would also need to take special note of any supernatural activities and how they were conjured, how they might be able to be recreated.

Fib thought this pathetic and entry level. But he didn’t say so to the gnomish woman. He wanted people to think him a good sport. So he could win their favor and soon be granted posts in a shifting international network.

“This isn’t a joke,” the woman snapped and crushed her thick fist against Fib’s hand splayed out on the table.

“We’re gonna drill,” she added. “We’re gonna find out how useful you really are. Just know, I died once for a day and haunted the shit out of the kid whose sloppiness caused it. I can also conjure up demons and fuck up your life.”

“Don’t worry about me. I’m following your lead.”

“I sense you’re a wanderer.”

“You a psychic?”

“You’re a dense recruit. I maybe think you won’t be much use at all and we should leave you at home.”

Fib was quiet. He wanted to be left behind on this mission. She didn’t seem like a good partner.

The woman watched him, almost like she was testing him, which further made Fib silent because after a long interview process he was exhausted, especially after it seemed like a done deal. Why did he have to prove himself again to this gnomish woman who communicated by bashing fist against hand and by establishing threats before any lines could be crossed?

She continued to stare into his eyes.

Fib closed his eyes, an elongated blink for a brief reprieve and felt a nausea bleed down from the top part of his head. And he saw an image of this woman giving Smokee Friedkin an aggressive blowjob, occasionally biting down, causing Smokee to howl and squeeze one of her saggy breasts with his long, nicotine stained fingernails. He tried to open his eyes, briefly saw her grinning and leaning toward him, and then his eyes clipped shut again. She was laughing and his heart beat at what felt like a dangerous rate.

In his vision he saw a scar appear on flesh, crossing as a slice up the skin of her ass, almost like it was a second crack, making a third butt cheek.

“What kind of accident disfigured your rear end like that?” Fib asked. The flash of these images began to feel excruciating. After Fib said this, she relinquished control of his eyes and mind, and he knew it was her. He could tell by the way she relaxed as the release trickled through him. His back hurt, a pocket of pangs moved into the muscle along his lower lumbar.

“You’re much too polite. Calling it my rear end, boy.”

“I wanted to be polite. I was raised not to call out a woman’s ass with any hint of vulgarity, despite her being a vicious bitch.”

“I can tell you,” she said. “That you only have capabilities that force you to listen up and look around. Otherwise you are an arrogant dullard. I’m going to keep you on a leash. I’m going to force you into a quick round of Ouija board questions to a nasty spirit and ask him politely to hang around, on your shoulders, with claws wrapped around your head to make you look at the right things. And he’ll whisper things so you can interpret. He’ll do this because one hardly even needs to ask him politely; he’ll be excited for a release out of the netherworlds. We’ll accomplish more this way. We always do. Because they insist on hiring bare-chested cherubs. Which is actually good, because it’s easy to get you possessed. So if they hire useless chumps, I gotta make them more useful.”

“Who the fuck do you think you are?”

“I’m Geniene. I’m your buddy. HR does this buddy program for new hires. Mentor. Mentee. Nice to meet me.”

“I was told there is no HR.”

“I’ve been here so long I make up my own departments.”

Fib tried to think of a department he’d like to create to contain the horrid woman who wouldn’t stop.

“Now I’d like one more hour of conditioning you before we play with that Ouija board. What do you say, baby?”

Fib tried to reply but his tongue swelled up and convulsed and his lips felt itchy. A metallic taste spread inside his mouth and a flat object took shape. He pulled it out and found a large, copper coin with a silhouette of some goddess on its face, the image of a barnacle-speckled whale on the backside. The copper was old, with a green patina, which played up the etchings of the barnacles. He held the slobbery coin and felt it grow heavier. His mouth still tasted of the coin and his stomach churned. He couldn’t remember if copper was poisonous. Some memory lay hidden of a time he may have swallowed pennies as a child. He may have been taken to the hospital.

Geniene cackled and wiggled her fingers in front of his face and he began to see stars.

Then the door opened and Tiedt walked in.

“Been looking for you, chum. Had more to-”

Geniene turned to wiggle her fingers at Tiedt, but Tiedt pulled out his gun. She tucked her hands into the waistband of her pants and tugged up on the flesh of her hip. Tiedt fired his weapon at her chest, it would’ve pierced her saggy breast – Fib had a difficult time scrubbing this from his imagination – but she vanished into steam that smelled of rotten meat.

“That fucking witch!” Tiedt was furious.

“That’s the word I was looking for to desc-”

“Shut up, you fuck!” Tiedt aimed his gun at Fib. “You bring her in here with you?”

Fib laughed at this notion.

“That a nervous laugh because I’m spot on?”

“Far from the truth,” Fib was nervous now because of the gun. “Don’t know her, don’t want to know her. Plus she made this nasty coin appear in my mouth.”

Fib turned up his hand to show the coin, but the coin had turned into some pearly jelly on his palm that looked like a squirt of cum. Tiedt maintained the weapon’s aim.

The section above is an excerpt from “God’s Least Likely to Succeed” by Jeff Phillips, published in Zizobotchi Papers: volume 2, fall, 2017.

Zizobotchi Papers is a literary journal dedicated to the novella. Think double feature of long form fiction, with a paperback spine instead of a marquee. Purchase copies of volume 2 here, preview it below: 

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