As the Holy Ghost desperately twisted and turned, wrestling with the puppeteer’s batons, his aura slipped off his left shoulder. As it pulled against him, he continued wrestling, unwilling to pause and hitch it up. Far, far below, a handsome youth with carelessly tousled hair was slowly and confidently covering the distance between the Tesco aisle he had been browsing and the till at the other end of the supermarket, where a young woman in a flamboyantly pink jacket and skirt was brushing a stray strand of long blond-brown hair behind her ear as she paid for the last of her items.
The Holy Ghost twitched one of the batons, and the youth increased his pace; another few twitches, and people’s paths made slight adjustments, shifting them into the way so as to divert the youth, herding him towards the young woman’s till. His tongue between his teeth (the boundaries between them becoming airbrushed from the contact), the Holy Ghost twitched the youth forward again, and raised the other rod, ready to flick. He concentrated hard.
He flicked the rod. The young woman’s purse slipped from her fingers just as the youth passed her. But the sudden movement caused the Holy Ghost’s aura to slip further down, and he became entangled in it. The rods flailed out of control, and the youth, instead of catching the wallet in the style of a postmodern romantic hero, sped faster out of the shop without so much as looking at the young woman. She was left to pick up the wallet herself.
The Holy Ghost sighed and put down the rods: another failure. He drifted vaguely in the direction of his private cloud-chamber. He floated inside and the clouds folded themselves behind him, giving him some privacy. Inside the chamber, transparent shelves hovered in front of each of the cloudbanks that formed the walls. They were full of books, predominantly well-thumbed romance novels with tear-splashed pages. Against one cloudbank was an elegant, geometric, clear wardrobe that God and Leonardo Da Vinci had designed for him. A shaft of light pierced the cloudbank behind it, and was refracted by the wardrobe, forming spare auras for the Holy Ghost to wear. It was to this wardrobe that he now glided dejectedly – he had got so close this time – and changed his aura, shivering as he did so. When Satan had fallen out with God over artistic differences, they had gone their separate ways; God had muttered about him in a booming undertone for a few years afterwards – a very short time for an immortal being – and jealously resolved to be as unlike Satan as possible. When the Angel Gabriel reported that Satan was having a ball in his new realm, enjoying the continuously tropical heat, God in response reduced the temperature in heaven by a considerable degree.
So the Holy Ghost shivered, and slipped on the aura, grateful for its warmth. Day by day, hour after hour, he had been practising at the puppet stand, gazing down at beautiful human beings made in God’s image, though lacking the immeasurable white beard, trying to instigate relationships between them through beautiful romantic episodes inspired by millennia of romance fiction, particularly the few centuries of romantic novels, of which the Holy Ghost was particularly fond. So far he had had no success, and it was getting him down immensely. Meanwhile up on the master cloud, God continued to row with Jesus. The Holy Ghost could sometimes hear them faintly across the white void. The row, which had lasted almost two millennia, was the same old one as it had been at the start. God had never quite forgiven Jesus for slipping away and spending a weekend in the desert with Satan, when God had expressly forbidden him from liaising with him. At the time, he had thought grounding Jesus for another thirty-eight days would teach him a lesson. But the age of thirty was something like the immortal equivalent of adolescence, and Jesus had angrily born the grudge throughout his punishment. The moment it ended, he had taken his revenge: gathering all the people he could on a vast mountainside, he had denounced every one of his father’s old teachings, and made his own alterations to them. Since God had found out, the two had been at loggerheads, often sulking when not openly rowing, oblivious to the world below, where great schisms occurred among their followers, and terrible monstrosities were committed in their names – all missed by the moody duo.
The Holy Ghost heaved a heavy sigh that made his form swell momentarily. He sat on and merged partially with the bank of thick cumulus cloud that he used for a bed, his back sinking into the cloud wall behind it, and picked up his copy of The Fault in Our Stars.
The cloud bank opposite parted towards the bottom, and George, the Holy Ghost’s albino python, slithered in, cloaked in the very long woollen sock the Holy Ghost had knitted for him when the temperature dropped. George’s two favourite pastimes were hiding in God’s infinitely long beard, where he was well camouflaged, and keeping the Holy Ghost company. He was a wonderful companion, and as he wrapped himself around the Holy Ghost’s shoulders, the Holy Ghost stroked his head, and the small portion of his leathery skin that was exposed above the end of the sock, and felt himself relaxing for the first time that day. Still stroking George’s head, he settled down to read.