It was many years ago that the good lord first met young Wes Cephissus at a church-sponsored tractor pull/chicken barbecue in Scott County, Kentucky. Cephissus was there to load up on chicken and beer, and to flirt with Flory Dank. The good lord was there to recruit servants. Cephissus had always been a fan of the good lord. He’d read all of his books and attended hundreds of his lectures. So when the good lord invited him to join the agency, Cephissus gratefully accepted. So moved was he by the good lord’s invitation, in fact, that Cephissus, who’d just finished his 12th beer, dunked his head into a boiling bucket of Flory Dank’s barbecue sauce and withdrew it, a full 10 seconds later, uncooked, unharmed.
It was a miracle. Word spread. The good lord was duly impressed.
Wes Cephissus proved to be a faithful servant, completing assigned tasks on time or early, and always under budget. Everywhere he went, he carried a cell phone, a pocket-size notepad and a blue Uniball Micro pen, to record the good lord’s assignments, the first of which had been the purchase of the phone, pad and pens. Sometimes the good lord called often — every few days — with small tasks, errands, short essays, multiple-choice exams, whittling projects, banjo repair and so on; sometimes it was months or years between calls. Every once in a while, and always after completion of a long project, the good lord invited Cephissus up to Hebben for red wine and cigars.
One morning, as he sat on his golden throne in Hebben, the good lord saw an interesting ad for apricot nectar in the newspaper. Apricot nectar. That gave him an idea. Parting his long white beard, he reached into the golden monogrammed (“TGL”) breast pocket of his thick purple robe, extracted his cell phone and speed-dialed Agent Wes Cephissus.
“Ah, Cephissus,” the good lord replied. “I hope you’ve got your pen.”
Of course, Cephissus did.
“And your notepad?”
“All set,” said Cephissus. “Good to go. Shoot.”
“I think you’ll like this one,” said the good lord. “You’re to marry Ms. Dank and make three children. Do you understand?”
“Three . . . children. Yes. Got it.”
“Thank you, Cephissus,” said the good lord. “That’s it for now. We’ll be in touch.”
So that’s what Cephissus did. He hung up the phone, married Flory Dank, and made Janey, Skip and Cissy Dank-Cephissus. Then the good lord called with more instructions.
“Four . . . apricot trees. Got it.”
Cephissus stuffed his family, a case of warm Fanta, six jumbo bags of pork rinds and two Frito pies into an early-’90s Ford Bronco and headed out to the Ozark Mountains of northern Arkansas, to the southernmost reach of Table Rock Lake.
There, at the end of Hollowbass Road, just as the good lord had described it, was a symmetrical cluster of four wild apricot trees. Cephissus tied each member of his family to a tree, exchanged tearful goodbyes and left. There was no need to apologize, for everyone knew that Wesley Walker Cephissus was carrying out the orders of the good lord above. Even as the mountain lions arrived to feed, not one Dank-Cephissus child dared complain, for they were children of faith.
“Goodbye, children. See you up in Hebben!”
Soon Cephissus had forgotten all about his old family (the good lord had instructed him so) and was writing an advanced whittling textbook when the good lord called him to duty again.
“Ready?” said the good lord.
“Shoot,” said Cephissus.
Another assignment followed, and another. Agent Cephissus remarried over and over again, co-producing dozens of children, abandoning one family tied to Joshua trees in the high desert above Los Angeles, where they’d starve and their carrion would be consumed by buzzards; raising another trio of thin blond spawn and dropping them from a helicopter through the skies of Baghdad, where they’d be blasted to smithereens by multinational military forces who’d mistake them for David Spade. An assignment was an assignment; whatever the good lord asked of him, Agent Wesley Walker Cephissus obliged without question.
“The good lord works in mysterious ways,” he explained to each new family. And they had to agree.
At last, one day the good lordcame up with what he considered would be Cephissus’ final task. After completing it, Cephissus could retire to sunny skies forever in Hebben, where all of his dead families were waiting with fresh pot roast and lemonade, and delightful tales of summer camp for Cephissus to ignore. Hebben.
“Agent Cephissus? Hello?”
“Sorry. I was going through a cloud. Go ahead.”
“Pen and paper?”
“Hang on. All right. Shoot.”
“Determine the border,” the good lord said, “of where you end and the rest of the world begins.”
“And the rest of the world . . . begins,” Cephissus repeated, and wrote in his pad. “Got it.”
“Then we’ll be in touch,” the good lord replied, and hung up the phone, and slouched in his throne.
Agent Cephissus watched the sunny cloudblossoms of Hebben rolling across the rearview mirror as he made his way down El Norte Road in the bright-red pickup truck that the good lord had given him for Christmas.
The rest of the world begins. Well, Cephissus thought, Hebben’s reflection is in the rearview mirror, and I’m looking at the mirror, so the mirror must be part of me. And the mirror’s attached to the truck, and the truck’s on the road, and the road’s on the hillside, and it’s all beneath the sky. It seemed simple enough.
At the bottom of the hill was a stop sign. Wes Cephissus idled there, watching the sign, awaiting further instructions.