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Jake

A devil poofs into being on his left. “DO IT NOW,” chuckles the devil.

Another poof. “Do it twice!” says the devil on his right.

“It’s a cookie, not an ethical crisis,” says Jake. “And don’t I get an ange—”

A shoulder dragon appears, breathing tiny flames. “Who’s yelling at you?” she roars. “I’ll burn them!”

“Bird them!” says a pigeon, crowding the devil. “Bird!!! Birb?”

Bite,” hisses a shoulder snake, and chomps affectionately. Jake yelps and drops the cookie. The bird eats it.

“My conscience is confusing,” Jake grumbles.

“Like you follow it anyway,” says the ghost in his phone.

Jake

Jake dies and goes to Hell.

“This sucks!” says Jake.

“Right?!” says a demon.

“I thought I’d stop existing.”

“Nah,” grins the demon. “Death just takes your measure. No more quantum possibility, no more choices, no more branches. This is it. This is all you get.”

“Aha,” says Jake. “Well. In my life, I searched for certainty, so it’s poetic that—”

“Shut up!” says the demon, and throws him into a bunch of fire.

Jake also goes to Heaven when he dies, but that Jake can’t know about the one in Hell. That’s kind of what the point of Heaven is.

Jake

Dawn comes early in summer, and the wishes are restless. Nobody in the house can sleep while they’re out there chiming and trilling. Jake scritches his fuzzy eyes and pads out bareback to open their coop.

They flurry-flap and scatter out into the pen, then regather to nudge his arms and legs as he measures out a bowl of crushed Adderall. Once they’re eagerly pecking, he checks their nests. Nothing’s hatched, of course. Jake doesn’t know why the house keeps them anymore; their food is expensive, and you can’t let them go hungry. Given the chance, they’ll eat you alive.

Amy

Here’s what you’re left with, when it’s over: crap neither of you bought and nobody wants. Amy cleans and bags and cleans and bags and makes him pick it up when she’s not at home. She is shipshaping. She is fixing what she can fix.

Sleeping alone is cold on your body and weird with your dreams. Exhausted but awake, one false dawn, she takes tea out back and watches the recycling pickers. She’s exchanged more satisfying goodbyes with homeless people than they got from each other, she and Jake. The trouble with love stories is they only have one author.

Epilogue

Brought to you by Ben Wray

“Okay, what about exceptions?”

“I need your exceptiona-” but then Kay’s rudely interrupted.

“Notimetoexplain!” Mario grabs her and spacetime rearranges itself in a flash of light. They’re just in time for the closing words.

“Omnia mutantur, nihil interit,” solmenly quotes Toe. “Death is but a door, time is but a window…”

“Is he quoting Ghostbusters 2 or 8-bit theater?” asks Jake, but Dylan kicks him, hard, and he shuts up.

Everybody’s there. Zach, Rob, Asuka’s doctor, Zaganza, Shelly, your favorite character not already mentioned… everybody.

Then Millicent’s paw thrusts triumphantly out of the ground suck it Brendan I win forever.

Jake

On average, Jake lives to be 78. ┬áHeart disease will get him if cancer doesn’t, and that’s assuming he doesn’t try carrying a pizza one-handed on a motorcycle again. On the other side most of his quanta coalesce, though outlier death-selves loiter translucently. The younger ones all have stupid hair.

Eventually the Jake plurality runs across a very faint apparition, from a solitary worldline. Only he lived to be a hundred and one.

“Did you keep up the lifework?” they ask him. “Did you finish? Was it worth it?”

“What work?” says Jake, pointing to his neck. “I pulled a Carradine.”

Jake

The List is out again and the important part goes 5) Stalin 4) Snyder 3) Limbaugh 2) Jake for the eighth year running, and everybody’s buzzing about Gaddafi’s leap back into the top ten. Everyone except Jake, anyway.

That 2 gnaws at him. Realistically, he can’t compete with an icon; Ol’ Number One isn’t going anywhere. But the kids beneath him know that too, and they’ll gun hard for his spot instead.

Mere fuckuppery can’t keep him competitive forever. Jake feels old. Maybe he should try his hand at film or genocide? That community college catalog just came in the mail.

Jake

At times of deep self-loathing, Jake discovers, Maslow’s hierarchy is reversed: sleep evades him, and peanut butter tastes like a dead thing in his mouth.

“You’ve failed me for the last time, Maslow!” Jake shouts.

“No, Mister Jake!” cries Maslow, covering his head and scurrying for cover. “The Maslow is so sorry!” Jake whips him around the house with a willow switch anyway, but it doesn’t make his food taste any better.

“Why do you let him treat you that way?” asks Amy, dabbing Maslow’s forehead with a cool cloth.

“The Maslow has needs too,” says Maslow, shivering with delight.

Jake

“Thanks for coming,” says Jake.

“What?” says Amy. “I live here.”

“I’d like to begin by addressing certain rumors about the motorcycle.”

“What did you do to my bike?” says Amy sharply.

“Has a modest amount of chocolate milkshake been introduced into its tailpipe?” says Jake. “We can neither confirm nor deny.”

“Sometimes it is very hard to remember that I like you,” says Amy, facepalmed.

“There is a distinct odor of burnt marshmallows! No one is arguing otherwise.”

“I’ll get the hose,” Amy sighs.

“By the way,” Jake says, “turns out I was two days late to the milkshake party.”

Jake

“We’re not the same person,” says Jake at 29. “The self is transient, and every atom of our bodies cycles out within seven years.”

“We’re not having that argument,” says Jake at 48.

“I’m not you,” says Jake at 29, “and I’m definitely not–” He curls his lip at Jake, 21.

“Ignore him,” says Jake at 48, with kindness. “Your pain is real; your fears aren’t illusions. You’re living through the crucible that shapes us all.”

“But why doesn’t she LIKE MEEE,” wails Jake at 21.

“No one likes you,” glares Jake at 29. “And what the fuck are you wearing?”

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