Sunday, July 2, 2017—This is a scene from my novel, a decades-old perpetual work in progress. Superficially sci-fi, it is based on a philosophy that life is immortal, everything has consciousness, and everything runs its course then evolves into something else. Time and space are illusions within a “spacious present.” Death is like a phase change–like water converting to steam–while retaining the essential qualities of water. From this perspective, there is no end point, and the process is the goal.
The purpose of the novel is to make you smile. Let me know if you want more.
CAUSE AND EFFECT
The sun, shining through dingy, crocheted curtains, cast a mosaic of light and shadow across the worn rug. By the angle of the light and content of the shadows, Joe knew it was at least 11 AM.
His head throbbed with an intensity of 200 on a one-to-ten scale. The light hurt his eyes, but he didn’t have the courage to move. He remained curled stiff, eyes clenched shut, until his bladder forced him to attempt the impossible and get out of bed.
He moaned, then winced. He eased to a slouching position at the edge of the bed, resting his aching forehead between tender hands. Slowly, ever so slowly, he stood and staggered to the bathroom, carefully shielding his eyes from the light. He downed two aspirin and then a third, to abort the stroke he must be having. It was at least a stroke. Maybe an aneurysm had burst. He stared into the mirror. Images of his certain, agonizing, and imminent death spread like acrid black goo across his quivering brain.
“I’m dying,” he told his haggard face. It stared back at him—coldly critical, his appearance substandard today, even for him. He and his reflection eyed each other. He noted the dark eye sockets, red eyes, fuzzy vision, chin stubble, wrinkles, and greasy hair. He didn’t smell too good, either. Let the embalmer handle it, he decided. That’s what he’s paid for.
He trod a wobbly path through the living room to the kitchen, where the percolator was full of yesterday’s grounds. His stomach wasn’t feeling much like coffee, but his head told him he was in caffeine withdrawal. He cursed Marian for getting him so drunk that he forgot to prepare the coffee pot. He imagined her boiling in a vat of coffee, begging for mercy.
Suddenly, Beon’s face loomed across Joe’s inner screens. The balding, round visage grinned like the Buddha, his eyes innocuous, his portent ominous. Joe’s head pounded harder, and his knees felt weak. An image of lab rats, pinned to boards and randomly shocked, blotted out Beon’s face. Then, the lab rats became little Joes, with Beon delivering the shocks.
Joe listed the objective, measurable reasons for his agony. Unendurable pain. Undetectable caffeine levels. Betrayal by his only friend. Violation of sacred coffee ritual, and death without absolution. Beon. He threw fresh coffee in the pot, spilling half the grounds on the counter, creating yet another reason to feel miserable.
Percolator finally started, Joe turned to face new trouble. He opened the freezer and scowled at empty ice trays. The little Joes in his head jumped and slumped.
He dragged his failing carcass to the couch. He imagined the pain in his head could power a small city, if he could figure out how to harness the energy. Not today, though. And tomorrow wasn’t looking too good, either.
Beon’s face returned, and with it, thoughts of the healing machine. Joe wondered if it could cure his headache. “Yes,” said Beon’s image.
“Who asked you?” Joe demanded, not realizing he spoke out loud.
“You did.” Joe decided he was going crazy, too. “DALE,” said the face. “Diet-Associated Life Enhancer.”
Joe covered his ears, but it did no good. Beon’s image swelled in his head, and dream pictures bombarded his brain, rocking his scientific foundations. The throbbing and pounding got louder, clanging against his skull. Joe closed his eyes and waited to die. Through it all, Beon’s face smirked, as if he enjoyed Joe’s suffering.
But death defied him, and Beon continued to grin. Joe glanced around the room. A single picture, hung askew, showed a listing clipper ship, an artifact left by the previous tenant. George White left a few pieces of tired furniture, too, good enough for Joe. His mailbox in the foyer downstairs still bore White’s name. When neighbors called him “George,” Joe didn’t bother to correct them. It was as good a name as “Joe.”
Now Joe wondered for the first time what happened to George White. His couch may not look great, but it had personality. It was warm, comfortable, inviting. It was friendly. It was taking care of him, helping him feel better, as a friend would do.
“I have tangible evidence that you existed,” he told the former tenant, “even if we’ve never met. I still get your mail. Beon is only imaginary, but he’s torturing me, and I can’t get away from him.”
Joe’s eyes began to blur. His stomach felt queasy. Vague terrors swept over him, and sweat poured from his upper body. He wiped his face with a dirty napkin and dropped it on the floor. “This is only a hangover. It clouds my perspective, makes me think crazy thoughts. It was only a dream. A machine like that is impossible, and Beon doesn’t exist.”