Monday, January 16, 2017

The Man Who Wanted To Start Again

God sat down at my table. Short, messy grey hair, an unshaven face and a ring through one ear. "You wanted to talk to me," he said. It was a statement, not a question.

I nodded, frowning a little. He looked disinterested, like he wasn't really paying attention.

"You want the chance to start again," he said. "To have your life over from the beginning, yes?"

"Not quite the beginning," I replied. "Maybe from the start of school. Something like five years old."

"But that's not all you want, is it?" said God. "Try again. Be more specific."

"Well, I want to start my life over," I replied, "but I want to remember this one. I want a second shot, but with the knowledge I have now."

"Very well," said God, nodding vaguely and fiddling with a loose thread on his jeans. "Tell me why."

"You know why," I replied.

"Please. Tell me anyway."

I sighed and gazed into nothing. "Lauren Stirling. Do you remember her? She was always out of my league. She ended up on the T.V. you know. An actress."

God nodded.

"But if I'd known what I was doing - if I'd got in there early, she could've been my wife."

God shrugged. "Yes, you may be right."

"I could have befriended her early on, played all my cards right, and then gone out with her in high school. I'm sure of it."

God scratched his arm and watched me thoughtfully.

"We could have been one of those couples who dated right through their teenage years and spent their adult lives happily married. That could have been me. I just never knew how."

God nodded again.

I paused for thought. "And I let people push me around way too much as a kid. I wish I'd known how to stand up for myself earlier. I could've avoided a lot of heartache. There's too much bullying in schools, you know."

"I do," replied God. "Carry on."

"And look at all those opportunities I missed as a teenager! I was just too naive or immature to recognise what was right in front of me. If I'd really known about life back then, I could have been famous by now!"

God stared at the wall behind me with a glazed expression.

"I could have spent all my formative years focused on success. I could have been rich, I could have been famous, I could have been married to the most beautiful woman I've ever met. If I had another shot, I could make such a success of my life!"

"I don't disagree," said God, placing both hands palms-down on the table.

"You don't?"

"Nope."

"Then you know how I feel?"

"Entirely."

Relief flooded over me. If God knew how I felt, how could he possibly refuse my request? How could anyone? The feelings were so strong... Surely that was all he would need. It was certainly all I needed. "Then what do you say?" I asked.

"You have my permission."

I paused. This seemed too easy. But perhaps it was easy. Perhaps all you had to do sometimes was ask. "You're saying I can actually do this?"

"You can indeed." He didn't seem to be kidding.

"Seriously?"

"Seriously. But, before I drop you back into your five-year-old body, I need to ask you a few things."

I nodded, my heart thumping with excitement. I had expected him to say no.

"If I am going to do this for you, the same offer has to apply to everyone else as well. I mean, I have to be fair. I am God, after all. Unless, of course, you know of anything that makes you special - that means you are entitled to this opportunity but no-one else is."

I hesitated for a moment. Everyone else would get a second chance too. This had never occurred to me. In my fantasy I had always been the only one. The rest of humanity would still be on their first time, giving me a huge, secret advantage. I wondered what this revealed about me.

"Well?" said God. "Why should you be the only one who gets a second shot? Is there anything that makes you more entitled than the rest?"

I knew the answer before I spoke. I had lived an average life thus far. Not terrible, not incredible, just average. "Not that I'm aware of..." I said, carefully.

"Well then, that's settled," said God, seeming to pay attention now for the first time. "Everyone who wants a second shot at life will be offered one at age - how old did you say you were again?"

"Thirty-nine."

"Thirty-nine," nodded God. He seemed to be enjoying himself a little now. "They will be returned to their five-year-old bodies, but with their older minds, able to take full advantage of the opportunities life may have denied them the first time round. Do you agree?"

I was beginning to have doubts. "You're offering it to everyone? I bet there'll be a lot of takers..."

"I expect there would be high response rate, yes."

"Will every other five-year old be a second-timer?"

"Not every one. But the probably the majority of them."

"But... what if some other second-timer ended up getting Lauren Stirling?"

"I don't know. What if some other second-timer got her?"

"But that's not fair!"

"Why isn't it fair?" God was fully engaged now. "Explain it to me."

"You already know!"

"This time I don't. I really don't."

I envisioned being back at my old school as a child, surrounded by little children who were actually ambitious, scheming little adults in disguise. The scenario suddenly seemed extremely unappealing. I then wondered why I labelled every other second-timer a devious git with myself as the only exception. I looked back at God, and he was grinning at me. "Stop reading my thoughts!" I exclaimed.

"I can't help it," he replied. "Do you wish to return to your early life now? I am ready if you are."

"Hang on, hang on, I'm not sure. What would a world look like where anyone who wanted to start over could do so?"

"Well, it'd be a hell of a lot more competitive, that's for sure," said God, thoughtfully.

"From how early on?"

"Right from the word go."

"Oh."

"And if you got Lauren Stirling and she looked back and felt like she could have done better, she would be able to have a second go as well."

"Really? I never thought of that."

"Indeed. And as for fame and fortune, I suspect you will find it even harder on your second try, because so many of the second-timers will also be pursuing the same thing."

"The competition will be fiercer than it already is?"

"Much fiercer. And will start much earlier too."

I slumped back in my chair, all the excitement gone. A world populated by cynical, power-hungry five-year-olds using every trick in the book to climb to the top of the pile stretched out in-front of me. Innocence would vanish. So would all the happy discoveries and explorations of childhood. Everyone would already know it all already. And be fighting over it.

I didn't want to tell God how much the new world I was about to create repelled me. And then I remembered that he knew. He couldn't help knowing. "You're reading my thoughts again aren't you," I muttered.

"Can't help it. Stop thinking if you don't like it."

"Perhaps things are OK as they are," I said, after a few moments.

"Just OK?"

"Alright, perhaps things are best left the way they are."

"Well said. Perhaps I agree. Is there anything else I can do for you?" God asked, grinning like an idiot again.

"I'll let you know if I think of anything."

"I'll be right here."

"Actually, I could go for a cup of tea."

"Great! Not a problem. I'll go get one for you," he said, getting to his feet.

"Hang on a minute, hang on", I said, raising both hands. "Maybe I'll get it myself."

"OK," God replied, sitting back down and smiling.

"OK."

(Written on my lunch break 12/01/17 after reflecting on what it would be like to have my life over again - and how it probably would be a really, really bad idea. And, just a mini-disclaimer - it's not written about me - I am not the person speaking in this story, and I've never actually met anyone called Lauren Stirling, nor is anyone I grew up with a TV star! Just for the record...)

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Guy of the Universe

Guy hovered and peered at one of the walls of the universe. It bore repeating patterns and mysterious sigils that stretched as high as the eye could see, and all the way down to the rolling, uneven terrain in the plummeting depths below. It was helpful to focus on the wall of the universe, because it took his mind momentarily off the Great Temptation.

In the high heavens there hung a blinding star, an attraction that pulled at him constantly, tugging at his heart, always in the back of his mind. The star was, at times, irresistible. Sometimes Guy would lose control - his willpower would crumble, and he would hurtle towards the heart of it, drawn by the glory of the light, caring nothing for the heat and pain that would inevitably come. The star would burn and blind him, but he had no choice; it would always be his master, like gravity to a falling stone.

Gravity did not have the mastery over Guy, however; Guy could fly. He could move with a speed that few others could match, darting through the air like a sparkler's trail. He had to be fast simply to survive, because the Hunters often broke into his universe, and the Hunters were relentless. They were inexpressibly big - vast lumbering monstrosities so huge that you could never get far enough away to see one of them in their entirety. And they did not like Guy. They were Masters of the Universe - they claimed it, it was theirs, and no others were welcome. Guy had had many narrow escapes.

Mercifully, the Hunters were not very attentive, and sometimes they didn't notice him at all. If he was managing to resist the Great Temptation; hiding in a well shadowed area of the universe where its light could not reach; sometimes the Hunters would leave him alone, conversing with one another in deep, groaning voices. A word in the Hunter language would drone and rumble for hours at a time. Who knew how they could possibly have the patience for such a language. But, that was the Hunters - inscrutable. They came, and they went, and if they ever saw Guy, they tried to kill him. And the weapons they used! Titanic clubs like whole continents ripped up and rolled into a truncheon that came at you like a falling skyscraper.

Yet, for all their mindless, inexplicable malice, the Hunters were incredibly slow. Guy had never failed to evade their clumsy assaults, darting out from under their clubs and soaring away as fast as he could.

Today Guy was weary. A hunter had done something to the star - the Great Temptation had almost doubled in brightness, and Guy did not know how much longer he could resist. He remembered watching it happen; a Hunter had pulled the heart out of the star, plunging the universe into gloom. The Hunter then re-lit the star-fires with a new heart, and the universe flamed with a new, searing dawn. All day the blinding fire had gnawed at his mind, and he was losing concentration, drunk on light.

The height was getting to him too. He needed to get to lower ground. Dizzily, he gazed down over the universe. Nothing was moving. There was no sound either. Perhaps the Hunters were not around. Flying briefly over the mountainous terrain, he alighted on the crest of a mountainous cliff which rose from the abyss, and rested for a moment, shutting his eyes. And thus, he did not see the eyes of the Hunter like planets, opening slowly, many miles above. He had landed on its knee. And this Hunter was faster than usual. It brought its hands together in a clap designed to smash Guy into paste. But Guy felt the winds change, and though his head was full of fireworks, he took to the skies just in time to avoid being crushed in a galactic vice.

The sonic boom of sound and rush of wind threw him into a spin. He tumbled through the air and landed off-balance and staggering on an endless wooden platform. He barely had time to gasp a last prayer as the black outline of the falling Hunter-club blocked out the light of the Great Temptation overhead. Guy knew it was all over, at long last.

WHAM.

"Bloody fly. Been after that one for ages," muttered John, unrolling The Times and throwing it back onto the table.

(Written on my lunch break 10/01/17 in Richmond N Yks, after a random moment's inspiration following trying (and failing) to kill a fly by clapping. I wonder what that great escape was like from the fly's perspective...)
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