In the Beginning, the Creator made the Heaven and the Earth -well, actually, the Universe came first, the Heavens and the Earth came later. And he looked upon it and it was ... well ... passable for a first attempt. A bit big, maybe. A bit empty. That's where the Heavens and the Earths came in: a lot of them. Too much to look after, really, so He created the gods for a bit of help and, somewhere along the way, Raft. Only He knew why. Probably boredom. It must have been a slow day. It probably made some sort of sense at the time but it was so long ago now that there was no telling, and the name wasn’t much of an inspiration either, really. Hardly cataclysmic. It just goes to show that you shouldn’t doodle when you’re in the throes of creative composition. For want of a job description and to give him something to do, Raft was designated the ‘Spiritual Embodiment of Blundering’. Mortals called him the God of Misfortune.
It isn’t polite to mention what the Creator called him. And what he was calling him now, as Raft stood before Him scuffing the toes of his sandals on a passing cloud, would have made even Lucifer blush.
“Earth!” the Creator thundered. “One of yours, I believe.”
Raft had the good grace to look sheepish.
“And what particular recipe did you follow to create that monstrosity, may I ask?” the Creator said leaning forward across the marble desk top. “Am I supposed to keep track of everything everyone is up to? There are Many Mansions in this operation and I can’t be expected to be on top of everything! Why do you think I delegate?”
“Look, it wasn’t all my fault. It was that curry and super-strength ambrosia I had for supper.”
“Yeah,” he scuffed the cloud top again. “Got caught short, didn’t I? Just took a dump and stirred it about a bit,” mumbled Raft.
“Excuse me?” said the Creator, astounded.
“Just took a ...” Raft began.
“I heard you the first time!” the Creator rumbled. “But I wish by My Name that I hadn’t. What do you think gives you the right to go showering shit across the universe? That’s my job!”
Raft spread his hands in a gesture of abandonment. “It was experimental. Seemed a good idea at the time. I’d got a hangover. And anyway, a bit of fertiliser never did anything any harm. You’re always telling us to be inventive.”
“Inventive, yes. Just not quite so fundamental!” He sat drumming his fingers on the desk top, whilst a choir of angels hovering in the background couldn’t decide whether it was worth their job to strike up an ominous chord or just keep quiet. “Well, there’s nothing else for it. You made the pile of shit. You’re going to have to go and clean it up.”
“Have you seen the state of it down there?” Raft howled. “What about Free Will? They’ve got brains down there haven’t they? Why can't they clean it up?”
“Correction,” the Creator roared. “They’ve got shit for brains. Now you go and clean it up!”
Raft arrived in a fit of picque and a clap of thunder that echoed from peak to peak in the mountain range at the top of which he had ended up. It was a long, long, way from where he intended to go, but such was the nature of his calling. The reverberations started a small avalanche and Raft watched it carom down the valley until it swamped a small village at the bottom. “Oh Shit!” he cried in vexation and hurried down the mountain to try and help sort it out.
Luckily – now there was a word that appeared so rarely in Raft’s lexicon it always gave him momentary pause for thought – luckily, no-one appeared to be hurt, although there was one bemused cow mooing distractedly on top of a roof where it had been swept before the avalanche moved on. Unluckily – and here Raft felt on firmer ground (which was more than could be said for the villagers) – unluckily, he had forgotten to assume mortal form on the way down the mountain. And the sight of a golden column of light whirlwinding down the mountainside had sent those who saw it into a blind panic following so closely on the avalanche which had rudely interrupted their annual Beer Festival. True, they would later attribute it to the extra-super-strength lager of which there was an over-abundant supply this year, but still...
Seeing the panic, Raft realised his error and kicked into mortal form ... and immediately sank neck deep in a snowbank. Spluttering, he clawed his way out, cursing the disadvantages of corporeality – at least in ethereal form, the worst that could happen was that you would scare the living crap out of someone. Neither did you feel the cold, nor get icy fingers of melted snow inching their way inside the collar of – he looked down to check what he had materialised in – your rough home-spun tunic.
Not only was he miles away from where he wanted to be, it appeared he was centuries away as well!
And regretting anew that fateful curry that had caused him to be where he was now in the first place. It didn’t look as if this was going to be an easy job at all, judging by the events just passed. He raised his eyes to the heavens and said “Oh Lord, why hast ...” and then stopped himself. Even for a pastiche, that was a bit hackneyed and Raft knew a pastiche when he was in one – he had had enough experience for goodness’ sake.
He stood and took stock, just another scruffy mortal among the many now soaked to the skin, shivering, and wondering just what they had done to deserve this. To be fair, bewilderment was a natural condition of Raft’s personality, so it certainly passed muster for him on this occasion. He waded through the snow and started to help dig a path to the door of a building in which some of the unluckier members of the community had been trapped. It was a bit of a mixed blessing for them, irrespective of Raft’s involvement, for it happened to be the building in which the Beer Festival was being held. Certain members of the community trapped in there had perversely thought it their lucky day and had been helping themselves freely to what was on offer: ’just to keep the cold out’ was what they said when they were eventually dragged out singing untunefully and legless.
Later, with everyone accounted for in the Town Hall, the mayor turned to Raft who had made himself very conspicuous in the rescue operation. “Thank you, stranger,” he said. “We’ve had avalanches before, but never in the middle of summer. It was a bit of bad luck for you though. You just passing through? I’ve not seen you around and I know everything that goes on here.”
Raft shrugged modestly, and dislodged a shelf with his shoulder, stopping it just before it fell to the floor. “Glad to help out,” he said. “I’m grateful there was no lasting damage.”
The Mayor looked sourly at the human wreckage from the Beer Hall sprawled in the corner who were just starting up an off-key rendition of an Alpine version of 'Nellie Dean’ with one individual three measures away from where he should have been. “I don’t know about that,” he said. “That’s the church choir over there. God knows what they’re going to sound like tomorrow. You staying on?”
Raft shrugged non-committally – and hurriedly steadied the shelf again. “I’ll stay until everything’s back to normal,” he said. “Seems a shame to leave things in this much of a mess.”
“Well, you’ll be welcome. You look like you’ve got a strong, broad, back and we could do with all the help we can get,” said the Mayor, clapping Raft on the shoulder and moving on to sort out the shambles that was the church choir.
Welcome. Raft savoured the word. That wasn’t something he normally associated himself with but he found it oddly pleasing. Somehow, someone resourceful had conjured up a steaming bowl of stew and he helped himself to a generous bowlful, spooning it down as if there might be no tomorrow. Replete, he sat himself down in front of the roaring fire and steamed quietly to himself for a moment, watching the chaotic activity in the room as the villagers came to terms with the disastrous end to what was usually a pleasant event in the life of their small community. Then, he spied someone who was evidently the village priest moving about the room trying to give words of advice, deliver bon mots of comfort and generally pestering people who were doing their level best to get dry without having to deal with platitudes as well. He drew level to Raft with an increasingly disgruntled expression on his face as if annoyed he hadn’t been called upon to deliver the Last Rites to anybody. “My son,” he said hopefully, “Are you in any need of succour?”
“Well,” Raft began, seeing a ray of hope light up the priest’s face, “not exactly,” he continued, watching the ray of hope fade again, ”but I wouldn’t mind knowing where and when I am.” The ray of hope f
“Ah, you knocked your head. You’ve lost your memory, perhaps?” the priest said, sensing a captive audience and moving in for the kill.
“No,” Raft said. “It’s just that I’m not from around here and I tend to lose all track of time when I’m travelling.”
The priest nodded, glumly. “Ah,” he said, pocketing his Rosary. “Well, this is the village of Scheisthausen, on this 10th day of July in the year of our Lord 1472. It is the middle of summer in the Swiss Alps and, by God’s Mercy, we have just had an avalanche. Well, you know that.”
“Thank you,” said Raft shuffling up on the bench to allow the priest to sit, which he did, mournfully.
“Are you in God’s Mercy, boy?” the priest asked, still touting for business.
“Shall we say, I have been found wanting?” Raft said, diplomatically.
“Haven’t we all, my son. Haven’t we all?” the priest returned dourly. “So, what is it that brings you to our mountains?”
“To be perfectly honest, I got here by mistake,” Raft replied. “I wanted to be somewhere else but took a wrong turning on the way, as it were.”
“Easily done in these mountain passes. Where is it that you want to be?”
“Err ... Garden of Eden, actually,” said Raft, hesitantly. “Any idea which direction – I mean, you being a man of God and everything?”
The priest drew himself up sternly. “You jest, sir. Pray do not take the name of the Good Book in vain!”
Raft looked horrified. “I could never do that,” he said. “He would have my guts for garters. I’m in enough trouble as it is. Thing is, I’m doing a bit of Theological research ...”
“Ah,” the priest interrupted, “so you are a man of God?”
“Err, well, you could put it like that,” Raft responded.”I’m actually trying to find the source of the Original Sin.”
The priest looked wistful. “Ah. The Original Sin. Quite.”
“So ...?” said Raft interrupting the priest’s reverie.
“Oh, ah, well, you will need to take ship my boy. They say that the Garden of Eden is far, far south of these mountains of ours. In the heathen lands of the Turks, may God grant them Mercy,” he said crossing himself. “But,” he said brightly, “I have a personal theory that the Garden of Eden is to be found in all of us and that Original Sin is but a reflection of Mankind’s ...”
“Yes, well,” said Raft hurriedly excusing himself “Thank you, father. I’ll just see if the Mayor wants a hand with anything,” and he left the crestfallen priest with finger raised mid-air just about to expound further on a point or three.
Four days later, having lent his broad back to the clean-up operation, Raft was on his way south looking to find passage on a ship willing to go anywhere near the lands of the Ottoman – there was a bit of a dispute going on with them apparently. Nothing much happened on the way there. A couple of bridges collapsed, the odd lodging house fire. Nothing to speak of at all.