Bob had not started out life thinking that existing was suffering, but the last few years had cured him rapidly of any delusions he might have had that there might actually be some purpose to life other than to cause him pain. It had all started with Marsha. Damn her.
The two of them had met in a physics class they had both been taking at the local university. It had been lust at first sight, and that lust had been satisfied in short order. Unfortunately, neither of them had much experience with relationships, and both made the all too common mistake of thinking that lust and love were one and the same. They had exchanged rings and vows before realizing that outside of the bedroom, they had nothing in common. Most notably, Bob was a kind soul, prone to spontaneous acts of charity. Marsha, on the other hand, had a mean streak in her. It wasn't that she was sadistic, but she was extremely petty, and any frustration she accrued was cause for her to immediately begin plotting revenge.
The relationship went downhill quickly after that. It had culminated when Bob caught Marsha in bed with two men from the garbage disposal company. The divorce had been quick, if hardly painless. Marsha had a scum-sucking lawyer for a brother. In her final act of spite, she had not only taken everything, but had also claimed sole custody of their cat. Bob had spent the twenty dollars left in his wallet to buy a one-way bus ticket to anywhere-but-here.
Relocating hadn't improved life any. Since Bob was an electrician, he was able to pick up the pieces of his financial ruin and start getting back to normal, but in his haste to leave the proximity of the woman he now affectionately referred to as 'the poison marsh', he had also abandoned all of his friends and family. His efforts to mingle and meet people had failed dismally, and he had finally decided it was easier to just stop trying. With that decision, he had attempted to immerse himself in his work, only to find that his old friends, volts, watts and amperes weren't much for making conversation. Each passing day, he found himself less enthralled with circuits. He figured that at this rate, in a few more weeks, and he'd be just about ready to take a job at McDonalds to break the monotony.
Bob's current dwelling reflected his emotional state. It was a small apartment, with little charm to boast even at the best of times. Dirty dishes filled the sink, and dirty clothes filled the hamper, with an occasional shirt tossed carelessly on the floor and forgotten. Everything was covered in a layer of dust. The mirror had been turned to face the wall. It wasn't that Bob was unattractive. He was fairly tall, reasonably well muscled, and his hair was thick and brown, complementing his blue eyes. He had let it grow out somewhat, as he did not have the energy or the inclination to visit a barber. Bob had turned away from his reflection because seeing the emptiness in his eyes left him feeling emptier still.
Bob had not grown up to be a religious man. In happier times, he had once described himself as a fanatic agnostic. Not only did he not have a religion, he adamantly refused to even discuss the subject. It was almost a matter of pride for Bob that he probably knew less about the Bible than just about any person in America.
The way life had been treating him, however, made him reluctantly re-evaluate that stance. He couldn't make himself believe in any particular religious mythos—they all looked too fantastic for him to believe, but perhaps a generic respect for powers unseen and unknown was in order.
Bob's first prayer had been the most awkward moment in his entire life, even surpassing the day his mother had discovered his stash of pornography when he had been fourteen.
"Um... you, out there," he started, feeling more than a bit silly, talking to empty air, "I... don't really know what to call you, or even if you exist. I know, it seems pretty shallow of me, turning to you now, talking to you because I want something. Five years ago, if I saw this picture of myself, I'd have laughed. 'Look, it's some guy who thinks he's talking to an invisible something, that, for all he knows, looks like a hedgehog when it allows itself to be seen.' I don't know if you're omniscient, or even why you should give a damn about the life of one man, whether you know the details of that life or not. But things have been hard for the last few years. I'll pull through it, I'm sure, though I don't really know why I still bother. But things would be so much easier if I just had someone to be with. Friend, lover, or just someone who won't charge me fifty bucks an hour to listen to my bellyaching, then tell me I'm depressed, as if I didn't already know that. I'm not asking for the moon, or for the perfect someone. I'm just tired of being alone."
Bob hadn't been expecting any kind of reply, so he was more than a little surprised when a flash of light momentarily blinded him. The light was only there for a second, and then it was gone, leaving behind... a hedgehog.
"You called?" The hedgehog asked, amusement evident in its voice.
"God?!" Bob exclaimed, when he finally managed to find his voice.
"Hardly," The hedgehog said, self depreciatingly, "Consider me to be half of God, though that term is still rather misleading. You can call me Anima. I'm here because I was impressed with you. For all your stumbling, that was a prayer that truly came from your heart, and those are rare enough as it is. For you to then ask for something reasonable puts you into a category that's almost beyond belief. Most people want a miracle, and those are amazingly hard to come by, even in the world beyond what you mortals can see."
"I don't mean any disrespect," Bob said, looking at Anima curiously, "but are you really a hedgehog?"
Anima laughed, and her laughter was wind through the pine trees and the babbling of brooks, "I am the female principle. I am every woman, but more than that, I am every female, of every species. I merely chose to manifest as a hedgehog because your comment amused me. You asked for someone to talk to—a friend, a lover. I am easily able to manipulate the minds of women, but doing so is completely against my ethical code. You left me only two choices: ignore your prayer, and the poetry in your soul, or answer it myself. There will be time for friendship and conversation later, if you are still willing. Right now, I can feel your need. Your last relationship has left scars upon your soul. Let me give you a good memory to drown out the darkness you have had to endure."
Anima stood up upon her hind-legs. There was no flash this time, nor even a rush of displaced air. One instant, she was a hedgehog, the next, she was the most beautiful woman Bob could ever have imagined. She was garbed only in her smile, and in the cascading, liquid flame of her hair. She was tall and sleek, perfectly proportioned without the ridiculous exaggeration that so many men seemed to find attractive. Her skin was the color of rich coffee with a generous helping of cream, and her silver eyes reminded Bob of the sun behind a thin layer of clouds. On her forehead rested a small, star-shaped birthmark. What some might have perceived as a flaw only served in her as leaven for her flawlessness. And yet, Bob's mind shied away from thinking of her as sexual. She was a supreme being. To refer to her attributes as merely sexual seemed akin to profaning a shrine.
Whether Anima read his thoughts, or simply his expression, Bob would never know. Again her laughter soothed him, but this time there was an undercurrent to it that excited him.
"You can think of me however you like, Bob. While I am the blushing virgin, I am also the weary, worldly woman who has seen much of the ways of men. Sex is one of the bridges between the mortal and the divine. There are no dirty words, save words that are spoken with the intent to harm. You have had too many truly dirty words directed at you. Be at peace, now, and let no worry of propriety restrain the imagery of your mind."
Anima's swift movement to his side gave Bob no further opportunity to object. With a grace that seemed impossible, yet somehow completely natural, the fingers of her left hand caressed his face, tracing the line of his jaw, before continuing down to the vee in his t-shirt collar. With one fluid motion, she slipped his shirt over his head and tossed it aside, and her hands continued their sensual caresses, leaving fire to mark their movements across his chest. When her mouth joined her hands in their exploration, Bob truly began to realize the obvious truth, even as his throat, seemingly of its own volition, gave voice to his pleasure. She was the best. Not simply the best he had ever had, but the best lover humanity had ever known. The certainty of her movements was the certainty of one who could draw on the experiences of every woman in the history of his species.
.... There is more of this story ...