He didn't intend to end up there so deep in the water. It was a careless accident. He leaned too far over the ledge when looking at a group of ducks down below. Then, he was farther than them. He tried his best to get back out of the water, but he didn't know how to swim and the lake was vast. The bridge he was on was twenty feet above him and land from any side of him a greater distance than that. He almost made it to one of the beams of the bridge before slipping under. Then, he kept falling until he couldn't see the light of the sun anymore. That's what he would tell them once he got back above the surface. He would surely get back to the surface. After all, he came back from all those others times. As he floated down, he felt his lungs burning. He'd let out a breath when he couldn't hold it in any longer. The water rushed in like poison. He flailed around, arms and legs in dyssynchrony. The more he moved, the more the water slipped in and filled him up. Submerged in water, water submerged in him--for all the liquid, he felt as if he had swallowed a sun and drifted into empty space. Then, the pain went away. It was as though the water itself was cradling him. Darkness turned to blinding light. He wondered now if he was dead. He nearly died many times before, but those times were on purpose. This was different. He needed to remember to say that when he was resuscitated. Surely, he thought, this time would be no different than all the others. He never died those times. He'd seen this light before, briefly. A dream would start soon, or darkness would return. He would wake in a hospital bed with kind staff. A nurse would ask him questions. He had the answers prepared. Soon, he thought, he would definitely wake up. He would be saved, and for a time, be cared for. The light lingered too long. He felt cold. The emptiness from within him filled the void with an infinite, sickly, unspoken dread. There wasn't anyone around when he fell. He should've swam back up in time to make it to the surface and collapse somewhere. There, someone would find him. He should be found. He should be. He was certain he was dead. Or dying, at least. He waited for his mind to fade away from this empty dream. What awaited beyond that was likely more emptiness, but his consciousness wouldn't be present for it. He would cease to be. 'Is that why you think it should be like this?' A voice asked him. The voice was loud, in his mind and all around him. It caused ripples in the water above him. He noticed now he seemed to be closer to the surface of the water than before, rather than farther away. He saw a person standing above the water. The more he stared, the clearer the person became. Whoever they were, they appeared to be slender and dressed in all white. Their hair was as white as their clothes. He couldn't quite decide if the person was a young man or a young woman. He wondered if they were an angel. The person laughed shortly after he thought that. 'No, certainly not. Those aren't real. Did you want them to be?' He wasn't sure. He wasn't a Christian himself, but he had been raised in a predominantly Christian society. Much as he didn't believe, a part of him, upon potentially being greeted with an afterlife, had certain expectations. If not the atheist presumption he typically held, the most readily available idea was that. His mind then jumped to the next option he'd been taught, demons. The person laughed again. 'Now, you might find beings like that, depending on what you want to call one. After all, humans are quite good at making demons.' He didn't understand what the person meant. Since the person appeared to be able to read his thoughts, he asked. 'Who are you? Are you god?' 'Why do you want to know?' The person asked back. 'I don't know.' He thought.
'Am I in Hell?'
'There is no such place.' The person said.
'Is this Heaven?'
The person shot that down too. 'No, that doesn't exist either.'
'Is this even real?' That last question wasn't directed at the figure standing over him. It was to himself. From what he read, the human mind was capable of creating very intense dreams or hallucinations as the body was dying. Many people saw all sorts of things in their final moments. This likely wasn't real either. It was his brain giving out on him, and since he was never a particularly religious person, his final dream didn't include a punishment of Hell nor a reward of Heaven. That was what he reasoned.
'Interesting.' The person said. 'Well, I suppose I'll leave you be then.'
'Where are you going?' He asked the person.
'Seems you'd prefer to be left alone in your mind. I was bored and hoping to find some entertainment, but you don't seem interested.' The person said to him in his mind.
'What do you mean by entertainment?' He asked.
The surface of the water grew closer again. 'One of my children will be sending someone to get you soon. I thought I'd play a joke on him and take you somewhere he couldn't find for a while.'
'Who's coming to take me?' He asked.
'The name you have given him is Death.' The person said. 'Or perhaps, the Grim Reaper is what you prefer. You get the gist, don't you?'
He wanted to laugh. He couldn't conjure a pretty illusion of Heaven or seeing long dead relatives, but his mind was going to bring him that specter. Since this was his dream, he told himself, he should be able to do whatever he wanted. And yet, his mind only brought him this stranger and the threat of a skeleton in black coming for him.
'You're afraid of seeing him, huh? I suppose humans are quite afraid of dying.' The person became ever clearer to him as he floated upward through the water.
He slipped through the water and found himself in a place of white. The strange person smiled at him. He stood up. The being was shorter than him and appeared to be male, but he still wasn't sure. They both stood on top of the water's surface. The water beneath him was now pitch black instead of the murky blue of before.
"So, what are you supposed to be?" He asked the stranger.
"I'm not supposed to be anything." The stranger laughed. "I am."
At those words, his mind decided on a position for this person. "Then you are god. Or what my mind thinks god should look like."
"Is that so?" The person laughed. "Is this form really what you were expecting?"
"Not really." He admitted. "I was thinking you'd be..."
"Yeah. An old man with a white beard." Another hold over from his Christian upbringing, he was sure, but that was the truth of the matter. A part of him was a little embarrassed he couldn't mentally imagine anything else when he thought about that. Then again, he thought, he was dreaming now and he had made god look like this. Perhaps his upbringing didn't box in his ideas as much as he thought they did.
"I've looked like that sometimes for fun." The stranger said. "But I can't say it's a favorite form of mine."
"Is this?" He asked.
"When I bother talking to humans, I have to take a human form or most of you will lose your minds." The being laughed at him. "On earth, snakes are my favorite. But you're all so afraid of them these days."
He assumed this was his mind making another biblical reference, a joke on the serpent in the garden of Eden. "You...you are a man, though, right?"
"I'm not anything like that." The being said.
"I don't mean a human being. Your gender..." He clarified.
"I invented that concept. Certainly, that means, I do not possess it myself." The being said.
"But your body...what is your real body? What do you really look like?"
"You can't comprehend my real self. I don't have a 'body'. I don't have a 'physical' form, at least not how you would think of it. Those are things that you are bound by, not me." The being answered.
Frustrated, he simplified his question. "What I mean is...what should I refer to you as then?"
"Are you that concerned with that? This body I've decided to dress up in is a male form. You can pretend this is me, if it makes you feel better. But I don't really care. You can call me anything you like. If you'd prefer to think of me as 'she', then do as you please." Though it was irrelevant, he began referring to the being in his thoughts as "he".
With that out of the way, his cultural upbringing caused him to need another piece of information to attach to the being. "What is your name? Do you have one or is it just 'god'?"
"Humans invented the idea of gods. But I know what you want. I named myself my favorite sound when I was first exploring that part of reality." The being said.
"What was that?" He asked.
"Meh. It doesn't matter." The being shrugged his shoulders.
"You won't tell me what it is?"
"But you didn't say any name."
"Yes, I did."
He shook his head. "No, you just dismissed me. What is the sound?"
"Meh." The being repeated.
"Meh." The being repeated the sound once more.
"That can't be your name." He said, shocked.
"It is." The being asserted with no hint of lying.
"No, your name can't be 'Meh'. That's ridiculous!" He argued.
"This may surprise you, but that sound didn't originally have any meaning to it trillions of years ago, and today, still does not mean anything much of anywhere." Meh, as the being claimed his name was, laughed again. "It's not any more or less meaningful than Anthony Greene."
Anthony was certain at this point he was dreaming his last dream, and his mind had decided to spend its final moments of life mocking him.
"You can think that, if you want. It really doesn't change anything." Meh said.
"It does. I know this is a dream." Anthony said.
"And what if it's not?" Meh asked, amused. "What will you do?"
"I don't know...how would I know it's not?" Anthony asked.
"You wouldn't, now would you? Because if you are only dreaming and there's nothing more to it than that...at some point your dream will end, your mind will go blank, and there will be nothing more for you to think on about this. You can never know either way. Isn't that funny?" Meh laughed.
"No, it's not!" Anthony yelled at him. "I don't want to see you! Can't I see my grandparents?! My old dog? Some flowers? Anything but this!"
"If this is your dream, shouldn't you be in control of that?" Meh taunted him again. "Well, go on. Make it happen. In your dreams, it is you who is god of reality."
Anthony tried to conjure up images of loved ones long gone, but no one appeared for him. The white space remained as empty as before.
"So that's it. My final dream is a nightmare." Anthony's shoulder sank down. He collapsed to his knees, unable to sink back into the water.
The young man in white, the being that claimed the name "Meh", leaned over Anthony. "Don't worry. It'll be over soon. I'll return you and you can go. You wanted to die, right?"
Anthony looked up at the being. "No."
"Then why did you jump?" Meh asked.
Anthony looked away. "I don't know. I didn't think...that I'd really die."
"So, what were you hoping for?"
Anthony didn't know what to say. "I don't know. I just wanted to hurt a lot in a different way and I...I guess...that someone would care about me for a while..."
"There's no one you think cares about you?"
Anthony looked up at the being again. In his eyes, the being's form became clearer. The young man in white appeared to be in his late teens or early twenties. His eyes shifted between cool grey and dark brown, never staying in either shade for long. The young man looked familiar and unfamiliar, like a forgotten childhood classmate or a distant relative. He couldn't attached a real name to whoever he presumed his mind was basing this appearance off of. The being seemed to be based on many and no one at once. Even the presumption of male shifted before his eyes. The closer he looked, the more feminine the being appeared, but when he started to notice those feminine features masculine ones drew his attention away from them. Anthony challenged the shifting being before him. "Shouldn't you know the answer to that? Aren't you supposed to be god?"
The being smirked at him. "Well, yes, of course I know. But if I don't ask you things, the conversation won't feel natural for you."
With all his anger, Anthony pushed his right hand through the water and splashed it at the being. "Is this what's entertaining to you?"
"I don't bother controlling such things. If you are that alone, it's because of the choices of many. Yourself included." The water went through the being. Meh crouched down. He looked Anthony in the eyes. "You could call me a distant god. I prefer to watch events play out. I want to see what you all, across all of my creations, are capable of. Sadly, it seemed many of you are most capable of causing suffering. But I gave the intent of cruelty and kindness. The choice of which to act upon belongs to those with complex consciousness."
"Then, do you answer prayers? Who does?" He asked.
"Prayers? No, if I did that, I'd be negating your free will. I leave those sorts of decisions to my older children. They don't do it often either. As they've gotten older, they've realized it's not wise to." Meh said with a cold smile.
"So all that praying people do...is for nothing?" Anthony asked.
"Typically. You might get someone to answer you, like one of my children who are more powerful than you, but it won't be me and it likely won't be the one who controls the mechanisms of life on your planet either. You'll be answered by someone significantly weaker than them but moderately stronger than yourself, if you're answered at all." Meh put his left hand against his face. "They're growing older too, and they're not as interested in dealing with human affairs."
"Who are those who are stronger than me?" Anthony asked.
"I believe you named them a number of things. Some of them gods, some of them fairies, monsters, and so on. They might answer you. But probably not. Your kind is quite violent, often in ways that other beings that exist on your planet have never been." Meh answered. "Humans typically go extinct in the end by their own hands. I always hope it'll turn out different, but certain beings seem unable to drift from that destiny."
"But if they're stronger than us, couldn't they just stop us from doing bad things? Why would they leave us alone too?" Anthony raised his voice, frustrated at this supposed "god" before him.
"They're stronger in that they can control the rain or the wind or the flowers, but humans made nuclear weapons and do things like vivisections and dump pollution everywhere. You leave your own kind to starve. You fight over poisons and money, a meaningless currency you exchange for things you mostly throw away. They don't really like that. Some of them find your kind barbaric. Others are terrified of your potential. They hide themselves away from you." Meh patted Anthony on the head. He sighed. "My over-skilled tool-makers. Your kind may reach the same fate as the last set similar to you, or perhaps your destruction will be much faster."
"At the other end of what you named the Milky Way...what a cute name, by the way. I really like it. Anyway, at the other end of the Milky Way, there used to be a sun around the size of your sun and a planet similar in conditions to yours that had people very similar in appearance to you. You could say they were humans or human-like. There were differences. The planet wasn't exactly the same, so internally, their bodies worked slightly different, but they were similar in appearance and behaviors." Meh created an orb between his palms. It was blue and green like earth, though the green parts were shaped differently. A singular satellite circled it. "There were other competing, sort of human-like beings on the same planet. In the end, the kind that looked most like you killed off the others. Then, they killed off most of the animals bigger than them. All the while, they fought with and killed each other. In their desires to fight, they made more destructive tools. Every so often, they would lose most of their technology from all the fighting, start over, and come back with something more dangerous when they rebounded from the last mas disaster they caused. I honestly thought they'd blow up their planet themselves, but the sun killed most of them and a meteor the rest, aside from the ones who killed themselves when they knew there was no saving their species."
Anthony titled his head. He rubbed his chin. "But if that's the case...that's not really anything to do with them."
"No, their sun would've died regardless. She was quite tired. That may have been unavoidable, but you see, before they died, they'd sorted out how to get into space at least. And if they hadn't lost their technology so many times and kept fighting with each other, they may have well found a way to leave and find somewhere else to exist. Even toward the end, the leading groups, rather than working together, spent their time fighting and competing with one another. They would sabotage each other's efforts, so desperately wanting to be the first ones to find the solution. Eventually, they realized it was too late, but they kept up everyone's hope as long as they could. When it became obvious to everyone they were doomed, the planet erupted into chaos. Many were wishing for the sun to scorch them before it got hot enough to kill them all. That was before the meteor, which took them all. They did get farther into space than your kind have, but it wasn't enough to matter." Meh created an image of a sun expanding, getting closer and closer to the little planet. A large meteor came into view next, eventually crashing into the blue and green planet.
"So, does that mean some were off the planet when it happened?"
"Yes, but these weren't escape missions those people were on. Only one ever landed anywhere. Here, recently, actually. But I told you, they were pretty violent too. The people they sent into space on long distance trips were meant to be explorers to never return. They were created in labs solely for the purpose of being used for space research. They weren't willing to risk sacrificing their own kind, but they still needed a smart individual to explore. So they doomed others similar to themselves in appearance with the same mental capacity as themselves to the vastness of space with little to no help. Some were sent out solely to see how long they'd last and what might kill them. Many died. But a few survived the trip outside their galaxies, suspended in sleep. Three are still drifting. One will die soon. The ship can't go on much longer from the damage it sustained traveling through space. And one has already landed on your planet."
Anthony rolled his eyes at where his dream's narrative was heading. "Don't tell me the government really is hiding aliens..."
"That child is the only one they know of. Little green men like what you see in movies don't exist. And your government, fortunately, does not know anymore where that child is. They lost track. I may have interfered on that one." Meh put a finger to his lips and smiled.
"I thought you didn't interfere with us." Anthony crossed his arms.
"I usually don't, but I could read their intentions. They planned on cutting open that child and running all sorts of disturbing experiments on this being that wasn't even born on their planet. So, I simply made their little tools malfunction while I cleared a path for the one human willing to protect that child. They're living in the Darién Gap now, covered by mist and rain." Meh said.
"I don't know where that is."
Meh shrugged. "That's not surprising. You're from the United States. That seems par the course."
Anthony ignored that comment. "Why did you protect that child?"
"The child didn't come from Earth. That's why. Usually, I let the different life forms in the universe choose their own fates, but I was bored that day and I decided to intervene on a whim." Meh said.
"Is that why you're talking to me now? You're bored?" Anthony asked, his annoyance growing. "Couldn't you just talk to us all the time if you wanted to?"
"I used to do that, a long time ago with the earliest ones I set into motion. I don't talk to many now. I get demands and wants, but no one actually wants to listen to me. They only want me to do something for them." Meh turned away from Anthony and looked up at the vast emptiness above them. Somehow, Anthony got the feeling the being was looking at something Anthony couldn't see. "What they ultimately ask of me is to take away the biggest gift I ever gave them, free will. Because if I make everything perfect where no one will ever fight or suffer, nothing amounts to anything nor does it mean anything. You won't have a purpose you can choose for yourself, you won't feel sad over anything, or angry, or anything. And you won't value one bit of it."
"Couldn't you just take away the free will of really bad people?" Anthony suggested.
"And when will someone be bad enough for me to take that power of theirs away? What if you're the bad one in their eyes? Who is the winner? What's the threshold? How much bad can a person do? And should I revoke their power to reflect on their actions and change themselves? Will it have meaning if I force them to be good?" Meh asked Anthony.
"I suppose it wouldn't, but it would make life a lot easier." Anthony sat looking down at the water beneath him. He contemplated what the being said. "I don't know. It seems like some people, no matter how bad they are, never get punished for anything."
"Well, that's on your own kind, isn't it?" Meh said. "It's your world, your home, and your people made the rules and system that you all operate in. I planted the seeds of what could be into this universe, but what you became from that is of your own making. Take a little agency for yourself. I've given you so much of that."
"So you're saying...it's our fault?" Anthony asked, annoyed.
"If a child messed up their room, who should clean it? The parent or the child? Your kind are wise enough to know what you're doing and grasp the ramifications of your actions. Why can't you do it?" Meh asked. He sat down with Anthony, staring into his eyes again.
Anthony looked deep into those eyes. If by some impossible chance the being before him really was the god of all reality, he wanted to see what was in those eyes beyond the shifting colors. He so often heard the eyes were the window into the soul. What was contained inside god's eyes? His upbringing made him expect, to his own embarrassment, clear blue eyes full of infinite wisdom. The being before him revealed himself with those strange shifting eyes, from grey to dark brown. In them, Anthony saw cold, quiet forests. He could feel the freezing winter air on his skin from gazing into those eyes. The longer he looked, the more he recognized those woods. That place was one he used to visit long ago when his grandparents were alive, in a state far from the one he lived in now. Rather than seeing into that being, Anthony suspected he was looking into his own soul. "On my own, I don't have that kind of power."
"Well, that's another problem for you to work toward solving, isn't it? You organized enough to participate in all these silly rituals you've created for yourself. Surely, you can organize yourselves out of it." Meh didn't offer him any direct advice.
"And what happens if we fail? Will you let us all die?" Anthony asked, the cold woods reminding him of two graves he stood in front of years ago.
"None of you are immortal. You will die one day, from something or another, and eventually, your kind will either evolve into some other beings or you will die out. That is the way. How far along you get, and what you become, is up to you. I will not interfere." Meh touched the surface of the black water they sat on. The water turned blood red, then black, and then it filled with stars.
"What about the universe itself?"
Meh dipped his hand beneath the surface of the starry water. Spiraling galaxies came into view. "I haven't decided on that yet. I may let this one die on its own. But I've rarely extended the lifespan of a universe or removed one of them for being awful."
"Wait...removed? What do you mean?"
"For all the stars and planets in the sky, all the galaxies, all the different forms of life on your own planet...did you really think your universe was existing alone? You're not special in that way. Nothing about your planet is particularly special, nor your galaxy, nor your universe. There is nothing about your experience of life up to this point that has been in any way exceptional." The view of the universe shrunk down rapidly until all the spinning planets and stars were contained within a sphere beneath the water. That sphere rested against a mountain of other spheres, all similar and slightly different in colors and shapes contained within them.
Anthony had heard of this theory, of there being multiple universes, but he never gave much thought to if that was really possible or what the shape of his own universe might be. "How many are there?"
"More than you can grasp. But don't worry on that. They're all very similar to this one. Some are a little older, some a little younger. This one is certainly not the oldest. It has a few siblings though. There are some that are quite nearly exactly the same as this one, in terms of history and life forms that existed within them. Somewhere out there, there's another Earth with almost an identical history...up to a certain point. Then it diverges from here. It will meet a different end than yours eventually as it shifts and changes more as you move through time. One of your other siblings had an Earth, but it already died. The Cold War went a little differently. Another never had humans. It's not doing so well under dinosaurs though. Well, that's on them." Meh shrugged again. Anthony tried to picture what the being meant by that last statement. What would highly evolved dinosaurs look like? On his own planet, the remnants of the dinosaur branch on the tree of life were now what everyone called birds. Did they become something else in that universe? He stopped his thinking on this and reminded himself this was likely a dream. He wished to see his grandparents again and his first pet dog. He listened to what Meh had to say, but his heart was in another place. "Of course, by sibling, this is from the perspective of your planet. There are many sibling universes where many things went nearly the same for some other area of space where your planet never existed at all."
Anthony sighed. His grandparents wouldn't come. He presumed that was because he knew he was dreaming and knew they weren't really there anymore. He could never see his grandparents again. He didn't seem to be able to control this last dream either. Giving up on having a pleasant last dream, he let the dream go wherever it wanted. It didn't matter now. He was going to die, and soon he wouldn't be thinking about anything. This sadness would end. He was beginning to think no one saving him would be a good thing. If he died now, he wouldn't have to keep repeating this cycle of trying to kill himself to be saved and loved for a bit before being thrown back to the wolves and failing at living properly in society the way the world told him he was supposed to. Anthony embraced the pointless dream to see where it would take him. If he was lucky, he might see something that he wanted and if not, perhaps he would be so distracted by being in the dream he wouldn't notice when he truly started to finally die and fade out. "Could you show me another Earth?"
"That's easy enough." Meh shifted the scenery around them. The water beneath them was gone, replaced with concrete and asphalt. Skyscrapers were all around them. Careless people walked around them without looking at anyone. "You should recognize this place. It's in many of your movies."
Anthony did. He wanted to roll his eyes again. "This is New York City."
"Are you sure?" Anthony joked.
"I'm omniscient, so yes."
"Right...because you're god." Anthony noticed something odd about this version of New York. "So, were the twin towers not built in this universe?"
"They were." Meh turned away from him.
"They tore the buildings down? Huh. I didn't expect that." Anthony thought the city looked a bit odd without them, but never gave much thought to them being there before.
"It's more...they came down."
"Faulty building?" Anthony asked. 'This sounds like something from a movie. Maybe I've seen this in a movie before and that's why it's in my dream.'
"No...Did you want to see it happen? I can walk you back through time." Meh offered.
Anthony shook his head. "I don't think I want to see anything like that. Were people inside...?"
"Yes, it was a regular day. Well, it started as such."
"No, I don't want to to see that." Anthony shook his head again dismissively. He never liked disaster movies.
"Probably for the best." Meh moved the scenery around them away and pulled them both into the sky.
Anthony felt the wind on his body. He used to have dreams about flying and floating up above earth when he was a teenager. He hadn't had a dream like that in a long time. The place beneath them looked like a regular city, but he couldn't place where what city it was supposed to be. "Is this another Earth?"
"No, this is that planet I told you about in your own universe. See, the people look just like you." Meh brought Anthony closer to the people, their feet still ten feet in the air.
"They do...but they seem..." Anthony stared at them.
"A little shorter on average, huh?" Meh said what Anthony was thinking about. "But your people's average height used to be smaller once too."
"Their eyes look a little different too...I've never seen anyone with eyes those colors." Anthony said. The eyes reminded him of colored contacts meant to wear with costumes.
"Oh, yes. That is different, isn't it?" Meh floated down closer to one of the people. He looked happily at their eyes, smiling. "Rather pretty. They're such vibrant colors. You'd only see these hues on flowers on Earth. But I do also find your more muted eye colors quite beautiful as well."
"I don't think anyone's ever said my dull brown eyes were beautiful." Anthony said. He recalled many rude ways people had referred to his eyes. Dirt brown, mud brown, shit brown, ugly, dirty, dull.
"Oh, but they are." Meh rose back up. He touched Anthony's face and stared deeply into his eyes. Anthony looked back, seeing that same woodland scenery from his heart reflected back. Meh smiled at him too. He looked back down at the people. "This is when they knew their time was running out. Look, many are dead already."
Anthony saw bodies here and there along the street. "Did the heat kill them?"
"Some of them. But many of them killed each other or themselves before that. Panicking, selfishness, and so on." Meh looked up at the looming sun and meteor above them. "Do you want to feel how hot it is in this place? You're already dead, so it won't kill you."
"I guess. It's not like this is real anyway." Anthony said, not thinking much of it. Meh snapped his fingers. As soon as the sound ended of that snap, Anthony's entire body felt like it was on fire. It felt much worse than when the water filled up his lungs. He screamed. "Make it stop!"
"Painful?" Meh waved his hand in front of Anthony.
The pain went away immediately. Anthony reflexively tried to catch his breath, but then he remembered he wasn't breathing at all. "How is anyone alive in this place?"
"There weren't many by this point. They were more accustom to it than you. Most of them lived underground. That wasn't enough to save them for long." Meh looked sadly at the people walking around. "Another event kills most of the rest who were still alive by this point. The meteor would be hitting soon. It didn't take all of them, but it will be the final thing that prevents them from ever building up anything again. Over there. Once it comes down, all of the people you see around here will be dead." Meh pointed out the meteor in the sky descending down above them all.
"And you're so calm about it. They're all going to die!" Anthony shouted, though he didn't believe the being was really a god. That young man was a figment of his imagination, an illusion created by his mind, that he was yelling at. Still, he felt something in yelling at that form. The rage somehow comforted him over his own mortality.
"They're already dead. We're witnessing the past." Meh reminded him.
"You could've done something."
"I could, but I chose not to." Meh shifted the land beneath them back to the empty, white space. "They could've saved themselves, at least for a little while more, if they'd worked together. They had the potential. I let them make their own choices. They didn't choose wisely, and so they faced the consequences."
"But what about the other animals that lived on that planet? You could've saved them."
"Luck meant these creatures here were the ones who reached the potential necessary to save them all. Not every animal can be that. I leave the care of them in the hands of the ones who can do the most. Since they did not act as they needed to, everyone went down with them." Meh said. "I let it be this way in all spaces where life exists. It is the duty of those with the highest levels of consciousness to protect the others."
"You said that there are beings above humans on Earth who can do more than we can...beings we called fairies...did this planet have beings like that?" Anthony asked, curious what his dream would conjure up for him in this strange, elaborate fantasy reality.
"Yes, it did. They'd grown tired of living and chose death as well."
"What do you mean? They got tired of being alive?!"
"It's pretty draining to live for millennia and watch the world you live on gradually die. They used to interfere more in the lives of beings on their planet, but they grew tired of it over time, then the tiredness stayed even when they were away. They could've helped get everyone off the planet, but they chose to die with it instead. Then they wandered." Meh said.
"What do you mean they wandered?" Anthony asked, unsure what his mind might show him next.
"What we're seeing right now is only a few layers of existence." Meh raised a hand.
The universe itself shifted into layers. Colors Anthony couldn't normally see bloomed before him. Planes of up and down and side to side that shouldn't exist, threads flowing out across everything, strange and bright blue particles, darkness that was different than what he knew as darkness, energy his body couldn't contain, shadows and shapes impossible, everything was too strange for his eyes to comprehend at once. He froze, forgetting his thoughts about dreaming. The blue particles merged with the shadows and walked across the infinite, colorful, dark void. "What...what is this?"
"This is part of the universe you cannot comprehend with your current technology nor your body's senses. I believe your kind named what's left after the body returns to the ground the 'soul'. This part of you can wander, and the rest that stays behind goes on to become shells for other lives to move into. In a way, you're only renting that body of yours. All that really is yours is this spark left behind." Meh said as he had their bodies follow behind the shadows. "Once that little solar system was destroyed, the life that once lived there wandered out. Some stayed in place, but others explored and came to other solar systems and lived again."
The moving shadows floated down to earth and into new bodies. One of the shadows, Anthony watched, fell into the womb of a very obviously pregnant woman. The woman wore clothes from centuries ago. Anthony touched her stomach. She didn't react to him at all. "Why at this point?"
"A body cannot contain a soul until consciousness is possible. Consciousness does not begin at conception. It takes quite a while for you to truly be a living being." Meh put his hands on the pregnant woman's stomach. "Even now, this life is barely what can be called a life. The little body in here cannot breathe on its own or feed without being connected to another body. This being will only truly be alive once born. So many at this stage don't make it to that first breath and move on to another belly. This one was born. A little prince who grew up to love poetry and hate war. He's since died and chosen to inhabit another body out of boredom. Right now, he is a child in your current time, a child named Alexis."
"Infinity is long and lonely. You say human life is full of misery, but for all those who have lived long and wandered long, there is nothing more joyous than a brief moment of quiet happiness. However, often they only realize this after death. Death is an unchanging state, eternal if one so chooses. The impermanence of life is what makes it special. Beings that live long and choose death will typically return to life in bodies with shorter lifespans. Those like you will typically choose something similar to their own lifespan. It's a comfortable amount with that level of intelligence." Meh sped through time to show the child in the present. The child was crying alone in his bedroom. "This little one is sad right now, but he has the potential to know deep happiness and fulfillment later in his life. He doesn't know that, of course, and that makes this current sadness so painful. He may not make it to that happiness either, but the chance is there."
"I thought you were omniscient. Don't you know everything? Which way will it go?" Anthony asked, reminding himself he was dreaming. This was no real god, and he would prove it to himself. This child, Alexis, definitely didn't exist.
"I've left it to him to decide on his own. I hope he makes the right choices." Meh said. "I may have been slightly untruthful about my omniscience. I know all that was since I was born and all that is; and I know most of what can be, but not what definitely will be. I am still surprised by the future at times. I am not entirely omniscient. I know nothing of what was before my existence and not exactly how everything will turn out. For the future, I can make good estimations of what most likely will be, and I can force some things to be if I want. I prefer to be surprised."
"But you could make everything perfect. Why would you want to be surprised when you could just make everything good from the start?" Anthony asked.
"I told you. It wouldn't mean anything if it was like that." Meh crouched down to beside the child. His expression was empty. "It's very likely many of the futures I can see as possible will come to pass. He won't make it far in some of those universes where this child exists, but there should be at least one where he gets that life."
Anthony looked down at the child, searching his memories for any child he had met before that looked like this boy. He was certain his dream must be conjuring up something real and layering a level of fiction over it for the dream's narrative, but he couldn't place who the child would be based on. Anthony sat down on the floor and looked more closely at the boy's face. 'Nothing. Who are you?'
Meh laughed. "You've never met him."
"Then my mind must've based him on a bunch of kids then." Anthony said.
"For your last dream, right?" Meh laughed again.
"I know you're not real. If this is what I'm seeing, I'm certain there is no god and no afterlife." Anthony put his hand through the child between them. "When my body finally dies, this will just end. We won't finish whatever little 'plot' my brain is making up for this. Lights out, that's it."
"You keep saying that. Why don't you shift this dream to something else then?" Meh asked him.
Anthony tried to visualize his deceased relatives and pets again. No one came to him. No familiar spaces, no favorite foods, no adored long lost items, nothing. Anthony suddenly couldn't get even his own self to move within the dream. He sighed. "Now what?"
"Do you want to be able to move again?" Meh asked.
"Are you doing this?" Anthony asked back, annoyed.
"Am I?" Meh stood back up. He shifted the scenery around them to a future point. The child between them was now a man. The man had a mix of grey and black hair. He had a weathered look about him, but his eyes were full of light. The place around them had changed from a child's bedroom to a wheat field. A small wooden house cast a shadow over them from the edge of the field. Meh raised his hand. Anthony felt light. He tried standing up. He was able to without any trouble. Meh grinned. "I'm not real, right? Isn't that what you said?"
"So, no matter what I do, this dream is just going to play out this way, huh?" Anthony shook his head. "I guess my brain wants to hash out all the reasons why a god isn't really possible to help me accept my own death. Well, fine then. I have some more questions. So...if there's multiple universes and a person can exist in multiple of them...then where is their soul really? Because if each of those versions had their own soul, then they're actually separate people. It doesn't make sense."
"I never said they contained different souls." Meh said. "Those are all the same flame, lit to several different candles."
"Those would be different flames though." Anthony snapped back.
"Why would that be?" Meh asked him.
"Because...if you light a candle with another candle's flame...that's not the same flame. You've made two different flames." Anthony argued.
"And what would they be if the flames merged back? Would they be one flame again or an entirely new flame?" Meh asked back.
Anthony thought on it, then stopped. "Wait, what do you mean? Are you saying after death, all these souls go back into being just one soul? Then which universe do they exist in?"
"That hasn't happened yet, but I see it likely will at some point. I don't know when. Something similar already happens with soulmates." Meh said. "Sometimes, they choose to return to being only one soul."
"Oh great. Now my brain is bringing up soulmates of all things. Come on. I'm dying. I'd prefer Hell at this point." Anthony rolled his eyes.
Meh laughed loudly. He smirked. "Typical of a human to disregard the concept due to your personal failings in romance. Soulmates are deeper than simply wanting a partner."
Anthony glared back at Meh. It would be his luck for his final dream to remind him of his terrible dating history. "Alright, go on then. What are soulmates really?"
"They're not my invention, not directly anyway. My daughter, Time, wanted a greater challenge in weaving the threads of fate and reality. So, she started to split the sparks coming to life in two to more than double her work. When souls split from one another meet, they will fall in love. Madly in love, and I mean that in the most disturbed sense of that. They'll become like opposing magnets. They won't want to separate. If they are separated from their other half after meeting them again while alive, they will lose their minds in grief and would do all sorts of atrocities if they thought it would keep that other person from being taken from them. A romance with your soulmate is the most passionate and most disturbed relationship possible. It cannot be stable without the two souls merging back into one being. Over the many years of my existence, I've seen quite a few that became one again. Once they merge back, I've yet to see one split apart, though some will go on to be born in another vessel."
"So you're saying that the way to have the most stable relationship with someone would be to...not date your soulmate?"
"Not even know of them. If you know of them, inevitably, barring death separating the two, they will eventually reconnect and become inseparable in life. I've observed that if these pairs meet in one life, whenever they get bored of death and choose to live again, they will always be reborn as a pair in the same general location. They won't have any memories, usually, of their past together or what binds them, but the connective forces will draw them together in the end. They're trapped in each other's orbit, the bonds between them gradually strengthening until they are one unbreakable force. It's a reaction that cannot be stopped." Meh created two lights in his hands. The lights were pulled together until they smashed into one another, forming a bigger, brighter light. "This child is someone like that, someone who has already met his soulmate before. He is on his third life now being born already with his soulmate near. But there is one path were he could live a mostly stable life without that person being a major part of his life. It's highly unlikely, but there is a chance his path will shift to this when he is twelve. The conditions will be in such a way that even after meeting his other half, he could live a life without that person and still be happy. He won't live long in that life though. In the rare chance this type of situation occurs, they never live long."
"Why's that?" Anthony asked. He looked over the man, wondering if his dream was supposed to be showing him the child's future self in a life with or without his supposed soulmate, or if it was a happy life at all. The land around them looked dull to him. There didn't appear to be anything around the place. The house was overgrown with kudzu and ivy. He wouldn't want to live in that place.
"They will gravitate toward death to get back to their soulmate, but it won't be a conscious effort. There's no escaping the pull once it begins. It is a spiral back toward completion." Meh touched the shoulder of the man who stood between them. The man did not react to Meh's touch. "It is likely, like with the merging of the split souls, the other splinters across the other universes will all merge back again. It follows similarly to how I've observed the universes I've created. They expand out in all directions, then eventually, they pull back in. Many of those have expanded again for several more times, while others are drawn to merge with other highly dense, hot masses before exploding out into a different type of universe than the one your world can exist in. I love to watch them grow. I've yet to see a soul do this, but I am near certain I will observe this in the future. I'm curious to know, if once this occurs, if they will split their own selves the second time. I wonder, what will you all become next?"
Anthony couldn't understand what Meh was telling him. It all sounded like metaphysical sci-fi nonsense. It reminded him of his mother rambling off about a new spiritual book she'd purchased from Wheat Barn, her favorite publisher, about angel numbers and "quantum mechanics". Anthony felt a strange sense of comfort in that. His dream wasn't letting him see his mother, but it was presenting him with some nonsense of the sort she would most likely fall for. That familiar silliness made him unconsciously smile. In a way, even if it was the more absurd side of her, at least some part of her personality could be here with him at the end. Unless he was lucky enough to be saved, he would never see her again. Anthony tried to remember the last thing he said to her. He couldn't, but he knew their last interaction was an argument. It wasn't anything important, he was sure. He didn't say sorry, and neither did she. Neither of them were ever good at saying sorry. He assumed he picked up that behavior from her as a child. It never really did him any good.
'I suppose it ending without anyone saying sorry is exactly the way it would always end, huh?' He sighed. Saddened at his own foolishness, he started to see the value in his dream and accepted it as precisely the one he deserved to have. If he couldn't see anyone important to him here, at least his dream would indulge him shadows of those people in this fake god. He thought up more questions for Meh, the sorts he would throw at his mother after she summarized another one of her "life altering" spiritual books and began guessing what the fake god would answer. "So, then, if all this is true, I should have a soulmate too. Have I met them before?"
"No, you haven't. Even if you survive this, there's a very small, next to impossible chance you would meet that person in this life. But you could have a pretty fulfilling life without them. If you live through this, that is." Meh answered.
"You're saying I could survive this? At this point?" Anthony asked.
"This planet's reapers have not harvested your soul yet. They can't, as I've taken you far from your body." Meh snapped his fingers. The space around them disappeared. They floated above the lake. Anthony's body floated face down in the water. On the water's surface, a group of cloaked figures carrying large scythes stood looking down at the body. "They can't do anything. But they know something is wrong. You should be there."
"They can't see us?"
"Not unless I allow them to. There is nothing in all of what I have created or set into motion that I cannot prevent from noticing me. I can be as invisible or visible as I wish anywhere and everywhere at once." Meh took Anthony's hand and pulled him closer to the group. "You want to get a look at them don't you? What does Death look like to you? This is your dream, right? So, let's see what your mind wants to show us."
Anthony tried to get free of Meh's grasp. He didn't want to see the Grim Reaper. Anthony knew he didn't exist, but skeletons were one of his big fears. It was one that always embarrassed him, but he couldn't help it. When he was a child, he found one in the woods by a creek. He had been playing around and tripped into a pile of leaves. At first, he thought he'd fallen into a pile of rocks. The hard bones hurt him when he fell. Once he regained his balance, he saw the skull and screamed. Anthony ran all the way home, crying his eyes out.
Anthony never knew what happened to that person. The police took the body away. All he knew was the skeleton was wearing mens' clothing and the skull was broken open at the back. Every now and then, he had nightmares about that day and how often he'd played at that same spot and never stumbled upon that body before. The skeleton had a long beard and long hair, a dark brown peppered with grey. The clothes were filthy and darkened from dirt and blood, but he could tell they were once an army green.
He knew that must be why the fake god wanted him to see that figure. For some reason, his mind had decided he needed to face that man one last time. Anthony closed his eyes, but when he closed them, he saw the same thing as if they hadn't been closed at all. He opened his eyes and tried again. It wouldn't change. The figure with a long beard was getting closer and closer. His eyes betrayed him and stared where that figure should have had his own set of eyes. Empty sockets, white bone. He wanted to scream. His voice left him. His mind told him he should be hearing his heart beating in his ears, but there was no sound there.
'Of course there isn't.' He reminded himself. 'I'm not breathing.'
'Are you returning?' A voice called out to him in his mind.
Anthony thought at first it was Meh, but the voice was different. This one, he was sure, was a man. Anthony looked around at the four hooded figures. All, save one, were focusing their attention on Anthony's body. The other three weren't skeletal, but they all appeared to be men. One wore a blindfold, another wore a much looser cloak that his hid features well, and one barely had his hood on at all. This one, with long, blond braided hair, held tightly to the end of his braid as the wind blew around him and only him. The end in his hand, the golden strands became a noose. Bright brown eyes, a shade lighter than his own, locked with his.
"I thought you said they couldn't see us." Anthony said, eyes wide.
Meh looked as surprised as Anthony. He smiled. "Well, I've never been proven wrong on that before. Hello, there."
'Are you returning him?' The blond man asked silently.
"That's up to him. Wait around for a while longer. He hasn't decided yet if he will live or die." Meh answered.
The blond man pulled his hood down completely. He smiled back. 'Doing my job for me? Take your time.'
"You're a curious one. I've always liked that about you. Well, you'll see me another time. You can choose to tell them or not that you can see us." Meh said to the blond man.
The blond man let the wind carry his hair behind him. 'I think I'd rather keep that a secret.'
Meh waved to him, then changed the scenery again. They were in the white space again. The emptiness wasn't as empty as before. Arches and doorways appeared around them. Darkness hid any hint of what lay behind them.
"It's different. What's in those places?" Anthony asked right away without thinking.
Meh walked toward one of the doors. "Who knows. Maybe you should find out for yourself. It is, after all, your dream, isn't it?"
"My dream. What does my dream want to show me?" Anthony spoke to himself. He approached the door Meh stood beside. His mind must've wanted him to open this one first. Since he didn't seem to have much control over anything, he let that choice be made for him. There was no questioning he would open that door.
On the other side of the door was his childhood bedroom. The sun's first rays shifted through his grey curtains, casting stripes on his floor through the cheap, plastic blinds his parents never replaced. His parents weren't home at this time, already rushed off to work. Soon, he would need to get up for school. Thirty minutes of dark thoughts to decide on if he would skip today or not. Summer break had just ended. It was a Monday morning. He had stayed up all night, used to his summer schedule, and here he was now watching the dawn and going into the day knowing he had no energy for what was ahead of him. He always hated how it felt to be sleepy and sleep when the sun was up. His father always told him people like that were failures at life. His mother told him it was a sign of mental disorder. Dreaming without darkness, exposed while the world is awake, the fear of being woken, the pain of waking to another day already over, the eeriness of dark and how the world gradually came into view plastered in a too bright golden glow; these thoughts would tumble out into his mind on repeat as he ruminated over the same arguments over whether to get up for the bus or not.
Sunrises always felt like a sight one shouldn't be observing. It was too early and too late. Seeing dawn always felt like being dead. His teenage self distracted himself from the soft yellow shining on his floor with big headphones and max volume on his CD player, a specific song on repeat. Earlier, when the night still covered him, he would've had the CD player set to pick up FM radio, listening to the live audio from a club that his favorite station often broadcast on the late hours of the weekend. He loved the energy of that noise, but hated the idea of entering a space of that much chaos and full of too many strangers with too much of everything he was not. His diary, resting beside his pillow, had been his nightly companion, with confessions written down in half truth and coded words to be left somewhere anyone could easily find and wouldn't find anything worth wanting to read again. Like everything else in life, his journal was a performance for himself and others. He often daydreamed in the late hours of the night about what someone might think if someone discovered his diary after a sudden, young and tragic demise, what parts should be rewritten, what should be erased, if anyone would decode his words, and why did he ever write any of them down in the first place when none of it was ever as interesting as he wanted it to seem?
Seeing his younger self there, he knew everything that former self was thinking and planning. For all he claimed he was different from others, he repeated the same sets of behaviors again and again like clockwork. Without hearing a single note, Anthony already knew exactly what song was playing on repeat. For all of high school, it was always the same song. He didn't know why he was so depressed then, so lonely. It didn't seem like there was anything especially wrong in his life, not anything he could place. Yet, he spent most of his time alone. The older he got, the more he turned inward.
His younger self pulled his knees in. A stray tear fell from his face. Anthony sat on the bed and looked at himself. He could tell this particular day he wouldn't have gone to school. He'd be starting the school year off with a string of early absences again. His parents would be upset with him when they got home. Young Anthony wiped his face off. He changed the song, took shelter back under the covers, and tried to sleep. Anthony knew what thoughts ran through his head then. He was surely coming up with what excuse to tell his parents later about why he didn't go to school again.
Young Anthony looked over at an empty part of the bed. His younger self had left too large a space with nothing. Anthony realized what year it must've been. From his early memories through all of middle school, a golden retriever would've been sleeping there. That ended the summer between eighth and ninth grade.
"Even in this memory, I can't see you." Anthony reached down and touched the pillow his old friend once rested on. "All that I can touch is where you were, but not where you are."
Anthony turned and looked at the sunrise. Dread washed over him, the dread he was so familiar with in his teen years. After he left school, he didn't experience this sort of feeling anymore. This patterned behavior ended. College classes allowed him to sleep in later without missing class, but he failed harder there. He couldn't have his mother forge a doctor's note to get out of missing classes anymore. He never finished college. He couldn't keep jobs for long either. He disrupted those things with suicide attempts. One after another. He didn't jump straight to that. It started smaller. He remembered.
With that thought, Anthony looked back down at himself. His younger self turned over and reached under the bed to grab a steak knife. The boy put the knife to his left wrist. He slid the knife over his skin without cutting through. In eighth grade, Anthony had started this pattern of going through the motions, but he didn't break the skin then. The simulation of the action alone was enough to relieve his pain then.
Anthony knew exactly what today was. He reached for his younger self's left wrist to pull it away from the blade. His hand passed through himself as the blade drew blood. His younger self's face contorted in agony.
"Stop!" Anthony called out to himself, tears in his eyes. "Stop it..."
His younger self worked up the courage for a second, deeper cut.
Anthony tried to grab the knife. He couldn't stop anything. "Please...why are you showing me this? Just let me die already."
"Let me die already." His younger self said.
Anthony leaned away, horrified to hear his younger self.
Meh watched him from the doorway. Anthony noticed him there. He yelled at him angrily. "Why? Why did you let me feel this amount of pain? I didn't do anything wrong! This is what's good to you?! Look. I still have the scars!"
Anthony pulled his sleeve back to show many scars across his left wrist and farther down his arm. "I can't undo that. I can't go out in public in a T-shirt. What did I do to deserve this? What magical thing was I supposed to do different to be happy?"
Meh walked over to him. He brushed aside Anthony's tears. "There wasn't anything, really. You were simply unfortunate in your circumstances. That is the nature of everyone having free will. Some will suffer for no reason at all."
"You're evil." Anthony didn't bother holding back his tears. He looked away from Meh at the dull yellow.
"Maybe I am." Meh leaned down and put his forehead against Anthony's. "Maybe you should hate me."
Anthony looked up and into those eyes again. He saw the forest through one of the archways. Anthony stood up and walked through it as the room around him disappeared into dust. The familiar trees held no warmth when he pressed his palms against them. In this place, it was sunset. The trees hid much of the dying, blood red light. Stars were visible directly above him. Another version of himself appeared. This one was younger than the last.
His child self played with sticks on the ground. He was dressed in all black. He was eight then, too young for his parents to explain what happened to grandma. Grandma Samantha had much in common with him in a way. She had taken Grandpa Tobias's pistol and made use of it in the weeks after his death. The older he got, the less he understood it. His grandmother was ten years younger than his grandfather. From what he learned, she became pregnant at fifteen and had the baby at sixteen, a baby that would grow up to be his mother, Tovia. As a child, he saw his grandparents as a happy, sweet old couple, but now he found their dynamic disturbing. He learned from his mother that his grandparents met when his grandmother was ten and his grandfather was twenty. As an adult, he didn't understand why his grandmother didn't feel free once he was gone. She crumbled quickly. She had never lived without that man. She didn't know how to live without him, and so she didn't.
His mother told him horror stories when he was older about what his grandfather was like when she was a child, another crack in his wonderful memories. His grandparents had four children together, two boys and two girls, two of them before his grandmother was eighteen. His grandfather was a very well off man. They had plenty of toys, but he beat all of them regularly. Some nights, they were left hungry to punish them for rages that couldn't be explained by anything any child had done. His mother once said she was glad the man died before any of his children had daughters, but wouldn't elaborate any longer on that. Anthony could never make these two images of his grandfather fit together--the man he saw and the one his mother knew. As he grew older, and those memories of his grandfather became duller, the pieces were starting to fit into place. However, here in this space where he didn't breathe, he wanted to indulge in those memories anyway. After all, he was happy then. The further he went forward in time, the times he could call himself that were few.
Though it may have been a betrayal to his mother, he wanted to see his grandparents happy together, if only as an illusion in his mind. No one would ever know. This was only happening in his mind.
But he couldn't conjure them there. He could only bring himself to that final day he spent in the woods behind his grandparents' house. He always felt alone in that space. It was a quiet isolation, different from the rising sun inching in on him at dawn. When he visited his grandparents, he could play out there alone for hours making up stories in his mind to play out. The sticks, leaves, rocks, acorns, and everything that rested on the forest floor were his personal toys to make believe with. Today, though his grandmother's funeral was earlier, he played as he always did. Her death wasn't something he could fully comprehend yet. He didn't get to see her body. It was a closed casket funeral. Anthony knew what death was, more or less, but the emotional pain would come in the weeks after when he finally understood he would never be coming back to that place again.
His parents sold the house as quickly as they could, after his mother removed a few select things from the house the day of the funeral. The rest of his grandparents' things were sold by someone else through an estate sale, then the house went right after that. He hadn't been in that town once since they died. The place remained only as a space in his memories, somewhere he visited in his dreams on occasion in some distorted form. Someone else surely lived there now, but in his mind, that space was both permanently empty and always full--of his grandparents things, of their bodies, of their voices, and all the emptiness that hung in that place when they were no longer there to gift those items life.
Anthony tried once more to bring his grandparents to him to relieve at least one happy childhood memory, as tarnished as they may be in the present. No one came to him. Little Anthony ran back towards the house to show off a shiny rock to one of his cousins, Toby, but Toby's part of the family was already gone. All the cars in the driveway had left except his parents' car. Anthony followed behind his child self, knowing how this memory played out. He thought about it often when he was suicidal. His mother had blocked off the bathroom where his grandmother shot herself. No amount of clean-up could fix the stains on the wall. In that moment, Anthony wasn't sure where his parents were. Later on, they would call him to the car after coming back from a neighbor's house. That wouldn't be for at least another hour from this point in the memory.
For the first and only time in his life, he was alone in that house. His grandmother wouldn't be in the kitchen baking sweets. His grandfather wasn't in his favorite chair. Boxes pulled out of closets were scattered about on the floor. Child Anthony peeked into the dusty boxes. He found nothing to entertain himself with. He went to the fridge to look for food. It was empty. Anthony had never seen it like that before. His grandparents always kept the fridge and pantry well stocked. He explored more around the house. Everything was in disarray, either moved or empty. When he gave up on finding anything interesting, he sat in the center of the living room with the shiny rock. There was no one to show it to. His mother wasn't close to her other siblings. He probably wouldn't see Toby again until Christmas. The rock didn't feel important anymore. Anthony recalled his child self feeling stupid for initially finding it interesting. His child self threw the rock across the room, then rested on the floor. The ceiling fan spun around him in an eerie way. Alone there, the setting sun cast straight shadows in through the windows. An eerie silence came over the space. For the first and only time, Anthony felt afraid to be in that house.
He ran outside to look for his parents. Anthony tried to catch up with his child self, but the boy vanished as Anthony entered a different room upon passing through the doorway. At first, he didn't recognize it. Then, he saw himself. The version of him before him was fifteen, as was the girl he was sitting on a bed with. This room belonged to a girl he dated for a little over a month. Anthony tried to exit the room, but the door closed behind him and locked.
"Hey, let me out of here! I don't want to see this! Let me see my dog!" Anthony yelled at the being, who had been out of sight since Anthony told him he hated him. No one responded to him. He looked back. This was the first person he knew that the dream had allowed him to see, and it was one of the last he wanted to. His teenage self exchanged words of forever with the girl on the bed, in hopes of a short, disappointing two minutes. Anthony refused to look at himself. He didn't like that girl, but he didn't want to go through high school as a virgin. Many of his classmates were boasting about their supposed sex lives and shaming others for not having done it yet. He didn't want to be able to be shamed any longer. Anthony was determined then to get rid of that awful title. When he was older, he realized many of those who boasted about having lots of sex and those who claimed they were virgins were both lying. It mattered so much to him then though that he was willing to sleep with any girl he could. Once he'd done it, his shame shifted from not having done it to having done it with too few a number of people. For all of high school, he was obsessed with sleeping with anyone he could as quickly as he could. He broke up with girls just to move on to another. This girl on the bed behind him, he broke up with her a week later after promising her forever.
When he got to college, he was shocked to learn many of the freshmen there were still virgins. Some were virgins at even older ages. Many had few partners. He felt cheated. Anthony slowed down with dating after reaching high school for a while, but the ability of other men to influence the way he saw himself didn't end. He needed to experiment more and tell the tale. He wasn't to be concerned over faithfulness. At one point, a group of guys had egged him on to share with them very private details about what he had done sexually with his girlfriend and all the things she had done with others before dating him. For a moment, he felt like he belonged when they jeered and joked over the more experimental things they had done together and his more terrible experiences. Afterwards, he felt like a piece of shit. He never told that girl about that, but she found out eventually. One of the men told other people around campus about what she did with him. She found out about it and broke up with him.
Dropping out of college didn't stop his terrible behavior. At work, his coworkers always got him to do things he didn't really want to do, encouraged him to do awful things, praised him for those deeds. His last girlfriend broke up with him because she caught him in the office having sex with their boss's secretary. He was fired that day for inappropriate behavior at work. That was last month. Since then, his father had gotten him a new job. Anthony didn't know why he did that. Most of the young men at the office thought that woman was hot and wanted to get with her. He wanted to impress them and he knew she liked him. He had a chance. He thought it would only be a one time thing he could brag about. His girlfriend would be none the wiser. Riled up in that need for those acquaintances' approval, he let himself hurt someone he cared about and lost his stable job, the first one he ever lost that wasn't due to lateness or another hospital stay. The girl behind him on that bed was the start of a long string of awful, regrettable decisions made at the expense of young women's hearts for the approval of men who would only like him if he was a terrible human being.
He saw his most recent ex earlier in the week. She was on a date with a new man. The man seemed nice. He didn't work for that company. Anthony didn't make himself known at the restaurant they both happened to be at, but he watched them for a while. The way that man spoke to her was so confident and kind. His eyes lit up when he stared into hers. The way he held her hand was as gentle as a lamb. He had spoken with her enough he knew exactly what she wanted to order off the menu. Anthony couldn't do that with anyone he had been with. He didn't like to share anything about himself, and with nothing to share, the conversations often went nowhere. His relationships were based on desire more than depth. He knew that feeling wasn't mutual for many of them. They had wanted to see what was inside him, and that was it's own problem. Anthony didn't want anyone to see what lurked in there, not even himself.
"You really love me, right?" The girl asked his teenage self.
"You know I do." His younger self answered her.
Anthony rolled his eyes. "Liar."
The door unlocked on its own. Anthony quickly walked out of the scene behind him. He slammed the door. On the other side, he found his mother. She sleeping on the couch, surrounded by her New Age books he always found so silly. Empty pill bottles were on the table with the books.
Anthony's eighteen year old self walked over to her. "Mom, wake up. My car won't start. I need to get to..."
His mother looked up at him with strange eyes. "What do you want now? Just take the keys."
"Are you okay?" He had asked her then.
"What do you care?" She waved a piece of paper around. "Look at this. It's your newest hospital bill. Don't expect there to be any inheritance money for you. We're already spending it on these little papers. Your father had to miss a big interview for this last one too. Someone else got the promotion. And do you know...what they're saying about me? What kind of mother has a child that wants to die? What did I ever do to you? Spoiled your whole life. Ungrateful..."
"I'm...I'm sorry...I don't know why I did that...I really don't know..." Younger Anthony apologized to his mother.
Anthony could only stand and watch the moment unfold. He hadn't thought about this memory in a long time.
"You don't know why you've cost me so much money twice now?" His father entered the room. "Goddamn it, Tovia, are you gonna empty my pockets next? Where the hell did you get all these pills?"
Younger Anthony quietly cried. "I'm sorry. I'll pay you back when I can. I'm so sorry...I need to get to school. We're practicing for graduation and I already missed yesterday."
"What's wrong with the car? Don't tell me you're cutting into that too?" His father yelled at him.
"I don't know what's wrong with it! It won't start. I need to get to school. The bus already passed. Please, can I borrow Mom's car for today?" Younger Anthony raised his voice unintentionally.
His father threw the keys in his face. "Get the fuck out of here. I gotta deal with her now."
Younger Anthony grabbed his backpack and stormed out of the house. Present Anthony found himself in the backseat of his mother's car with his younger self driving. Today, he recalled, was attempt three. Full of anger, guilt, self-hatred, and worthlessness, Anthony didn't care about attending the graduation practice anymore. He sped down the road, faster and faster, ignoring the lights and stop signs. He didn't care when he spend past a cop. The blue lights and sirens behind him didn't snap him out of that state. He let the cop follow him until he found an appropriately dangerous bridge to drive the car off. The car tumbled down a cliff, flipping several times, before dropping into a shallow lake. The shattered glass let the water rush in. He was unconscious before the car hit the water. Anthony looked at his younger self floating in the water, kept in the car only by the sturdy seatbelt he hadn't thought of taking off during his drive.
Anthony touched his younger self's face. "Was this really any better than going to school that day?"
That day, he broke an arm and a leg. He suffered a concussion. The only reason he survived was because someone out on the lake in a boat jumped into the water as soon as the car went under and pulled him to the surface. Anthony watched the fisherman slip in through the driver side window to unbuckle his younger self and gently pull him from that metal coffin. He never knew what that person looked like. Anthony only heard about the man later when he was staying at an in-patient care facility. A therapist had mentioned it to him. He couldn't know what this man looked like, Anthony told himself. His mind was conjuring up fake parts to complete the rest of the events beyond what he could remember. He was grateful for this minor deception. Out of all the memories he had endured seeing again, at least here his mind had given him a comforting addition to it. The fisherman looked so caring and strong.
Anthony swam out of the car and watched the stranger pull his younger self to the surface. "You were a good man. A much better man than me, that's for sure."
Anthony let himself sink to the bottom. His mind finally let him see his parents, as they usually were after he started high school, but not how he wanted to remember them. He wanted to go back to when he was a child, on a birthday with candles freshly lit, on a Christmas morning sitting beside a tree with rainbow lights, or some chilly Halloween roaming the night as a vampire. Back then, when his parents loved him and praised him, when his grandparents were alive and he didn't know anything bad about them, when his dog was alive and nothing was wrong with his brain.
A door fell through the water to the bottom with him. It opened. Anthony got up and walked through. He was outside his old college dorm, staring up at the building, two suitcases behind him. Night had long descended on the campus. A few lights illuminated his younger self. His younger self took a gun out of his jacket pocket. He turned it on himself, attempting to aim for the heart. His hands shook.
"That won't fix anything." Anthony said to his younger self.
His younger self started to pull the trigger, then faltered. A noise distracted him. Panicking, he shot without meaning to. Once he realized what he'd done, he tried to somehow move away from himself. His confused movements left him on the ground. The bullet had entered and exited through his body, shattering glass at one of the campus bus stops. His younger self lay on the ground, the gun beside him. He stared down at his own wound. The blood spread across his white shirt, so well illuminated by the lights along the sidewalk. He touched the wound with both his hands. At the time, in his confused state, he had been trying to keep the blood inside him. Most of what he lost poured out through his back into the grass. Though he was looking down at himself, Anthony remembered how the world was spinning then. He couldn't get back up. He couldn't call for help.
Anthony put his hands over his younger self's bloodied ones. The blood couldn't stain him now, but he could remember the pain. He leaned down and kissed his younger self's forehead. This was attempt six. His latest one was number nine. Before this current one, this attempt was the closest he ever got to really dying.
The darkness faded out as the lights behind them grew brighter until everything was white. His younger self, bandaged up, rested in a hospital bed. Nurses fixed his pillow and brought him food. The doctor asked him questions with the utmost of gentleness. A psychiatric nurse visited him after the others left to ask him more questions and speak with him about mental health treatment options. The nurse then gave him some pills to take. He happily did as he was told.
"It's going to be alright now. You're safe here." The woman said to him. "We're going to take care of you and get you the help you need."
Anthony sat at the edge of the bed. He watched the staff interact with his younger self. "You always gave me help, but it didn't fix me. You made it more enticing to want to come here, because you're all so sweet and kind. But that's not your fault. You just don't know how to help me. I wish I knew who did."
Anthony got up from the bed. He walked through the door back to the vast empty whiteness where he met that fake god. "Guess it doesn't matter now."
He sat down in the vastness. Anthony couldn't see the lake anymore. Above and below, on all sides, all was white. The archways and doors sunk beneath the ground.
"Hey, god." Anthony stared at the ground, his eyes like the space around him. "Could I die already? I'm ready to go."
He heard the being's voice. "Is that what you really want? If you want to die, I'll let you go. Are you sure?"
"What did you think I'd want after I saw all of that?" Anthony asked. "Evil god."
"If this is your dream, why did you conjure up an evil god?" Meh asked him.
Anthony laughed in disgust. "Because that's what I am."
The being didn't respond to that. Music echoed around him instead. Anthony couldn't find a source. He wasn't sure of the instrument. It reminded him of a harp. He didn't know the song. He was sure his mind must've been mixing several songs together, but he didn't care anymore what they might be. It didn't matter. He was ready for it all to fade away.
The ground beneath him shifted. Tall grass sprouted out all around. He stood up. The white above became a blue sky with thick clouds. To the horizon on all sides, the grass stretched out. A river, perfectly reflecting the sky, ran through the field to his right. The sun, soft and golden, warmed him. He could smell the wild flowers around him. Everything swayed in the light breeze passing through. A noise from behind him caught his attention.
Anthony turned around. Through the tall grass, he saw a fluffy, golden tail coming at him. His eyes widened. Soon, the face appeared, then all of the dog as the beast rushed toward him. Anthony smiled. He knelt down to greet his old friend. The dog excitedly jumped at him.
"Jack, it's you." Anthony hugged the dog. He could smell the that old, familiar fur. The dog licked his face, tail swishing so fast it was barely visible. Anthony got up and ran with the dog. They ran through the field, Anthony's age now matching how old he was when Jack was so young. Jack's fur shimmered a brighter gold than the sun and all the yellow flowers in the field. In his return to that younger self, thinking on all he had seen since beginning this dream, the only being that felt real and god-like was the beast running alongside him.
His parents got Jack the same year he was born. For all his childhood until he started high school, Jack had always been there. Through all the good memories, through all of his young innocence, when he was good, when his mind was right; Jack was there for everything that mattered. He wished he could play in that field forever. He used to not think about anything then. Every moment was a time to play. This wasn't quite the real truth of it, Anthony knew. He had started becoming depressed at the start of seventh grade when he was twelve. He already knew some horrible things about his grandparents by the time he was ten. His father and mother were already beginning to reject him for perceived social failings when he was eleven at the start of sixth grade. But Jack made it easier to forget about that. Jack was always happy. Jack didn't care what he did. Jack had no awful secrets. He was a perfect companion, one that could never deceive or hurt him. Such an innocent creature could only ever be exactly what he appeared to be.
As they ran through the field along the river, Anthony began to gradually age back up. Jack's body kept pace with Anthony's until they both reached fourteen. Jack slowed down. His golden fur was duller now. He walked with a limp. Anthony stopped running. He sat down beside the river and called Jack over. Panting, Jack sat, then rested his head in Anthony's lap. The dog's eyes grew heavy. Anthony petted the dog as its breathing became slower. He returned to his adult self, a tear sliding down his face. "You were a good boy."
Anthony looked down at their reflections in the river. Jack's reflection changed to that of the god. The being rose through the water covered in blue stars.
"So, you show your face again." Anthony said.
"This is the one you wanted to see most." Meh petted the dog's head. "Dogs are a favorite of mine. Such beautiful creatures. He lived as long as his body could allow him. The pain in his bones didn't bother him as much when you came home from school."
"If you love them so much, why couldn't you give them longer lives?" Anthony asked.
"That's simply how things evolved on this Earth. There are other Earths where they only live two years and ones where they can live to fifty. Here, you've given them more life than the average wolf." Meh held the dog's front paw. "This dog was well loved by a boy who played with him every day, gave him plenty of treats and toys, and let him sleep on the bed every night. This little life ended having only known happiness, because of you."
Anthony looked down at the dog. He appeared to be dreaming, though Anthony knew he wasn't breathing.
"Died in his sleep dreaming about another day with you." Meh touched the dog again. The creature vanished, as did the field. "Did you really live an evil life?"
"I did a lot of terrible things." Anthony said.
"But not all of it was terrible, was it?" Meh asked. "But, you know, if you die now, that's all there will have ever been of Anthony Greene."
"Could there ever be anything else?"
"Could there be?" Meh asked his question back. "That would be your will to decide."
"Is it really? This is just a dream. I'm still..."
The white vanished into darkness. Galaxies spun around them. The vibrant, unreal colors slowly returned. Meh and Anthony floated in the middle of it all. Anthony put his hands beneath the Milky Way. Staring into that tiny vastness, he didn't notice Meh move behind him. Anthony cupped his hands around the galaxy to hide away all of its light. "What am I supposed to get out of this part of the dream? Is it just nonsense at this point? Well, at least I got to see Jack again."
"There really is nothing you will believe in, not even yourself." Meh said, placing his hands on Anthony's shoulders from behind. "How deep your sorrow goes. A bottomless pit."
"If you're really god, then didn't you make me that way?" Anthony tried to crush the galaxy. It slipped through his hands.
"Not intentionally, but I suppose you are all, in some way, in my image." Meh slipped through Anthony and turned to face him. His appearance had changed to a distinctly feminine form with medium brown skin and long, dark brown hair. The eyes remained unchanging, dark brown with a hint of grey occasionally sparking within them. The clothes, in colors of red and orange, looked primitive to Anthony. "In quite a few ways, really. I can't know, but I don't believe there is anything higher than me. I am likely entirely alone."
"Who is this supposed to be?" Anthony asked.
"Another human form I've taken before. I used to use this one very long ago for you. Civilizations were just beginning to form then." Meh looked down at himself. "I haven't put on this appearance in a while. I used to prefer using female bodies more in your earlier history. Whether matriarchal or patriarchal, I rarely had much trouble getting humans to understand who I was. As time went on, this type of body was only useful with certain groups. Most of you preferred a male body, ever increasingly toward one similar to your own outward appearance. But you are not unique in desiring to see me as yourselves in some way. Most other creatures prefer for me to present myself to them in a form similar to themselves. That too, is a component of me, as I am ever searching to find if there is anyone like myself--in equal power or greater."
"This form...what country are you supposed to be from? India?" Anthony wondered aloud.
"I used this form before there was a place called India."
Anthony looked up, or at what he thought should be up. In space, he wasn't sure if there truly was anything that could be called up or down. He briefly wondered what up could even be in relation to if all that existed outside the universe was likely nothing. There was no such thing as up. But he was dreaming, he told himself, and this wasn't really space. It didn't matter, certainly not now as he was dying. Anthony asked another question, partly to waste time and partly to see what his mind would conjure up. He had a guess of what he'd likely see. "So...what was the first form you showed humans then?"
Meh changed shape again. This body's skin was darker than the last and the hair, jet black, was a different texture. This body was covered in no clothing at all, allowing Anthony to get a full view of the physical nature of the form the fake god had taken. The frame was androgynous. Up top, the body had breasts, but male genitalia below the waist. Anthony couldn't see if there was more than one set of genitalia, but he somehow knew there was. Rather than clothes, the body was covered in painted symbols. Above the cleavage was painted a golden sun with a silver crescent moon beneath the sun. Golden marks extended out from the being's eyes like rays of light. Along the stomach, silver paint showed the lunar cycle in a vertical pattern. The legs and arms were painted with wavy blue marks and dots. Along the sides of the mouth, golden marks shaped like fangs were painted. Inside the golden fangs were tinnier red fangs painted over the gold. The forehead was marked with the same symbol as on the chest. Fingertips and toes were painted red.
Anthony wasn't surprised by the figure his mind conjured up. It made sense enough, from things he knew already. The more he stared at the being, the more he was sure this was definitely something his own mind came up with. There was no way this was anything divine, Anthony thought to himself. Confident in his ability to guess what his dream would show him next, he thought up another question. With a tired smirk, he asked, "What does your real form look like?"
"My real form isn't physical. There is nothing to see." Meh answered.
"Show me anyway. You made me be able to see so many other things. Convert it into my vision. Something I can understand." Anthony's smirk widened.
"I can't. There is no way you can comprehend it at all."
"Then show me as close as you can in a way I can understand."
Meh shook his head. "There is nothing, because there is nothing to see. I am more akin to dust or electricity than anything like this body. But I can show you my favorite form when I'm speaking with older beings."
Feeling sleepy, Anthony felt himself relaxing. 'Must be soon now.'
Meh transformed once again. This time, his body grew and shifted to something inhuman. A river of stars flowed through space, engulfing Anthony, he floated along the surface, staring up. The river extended out, then up, gradually taking the shape of a snake's body. Anthony looked back. Behind him, the river widened into an infinite ocean stretching across everything he could see. The stars, blinking in shades of blue and white, cradled him in that dark, unreal place. Anthony looked at the snake part again. The water and most of the snake portion were blue, but the head of the snake was red. The eyes of the being shifted between blue and red. Anthony found the being beautiful in this form, though he still didn't believe it was anything real. Inside the river, Anthony saw something swimming toward him.
It was Jack, young again. The dog swam up to him, happy as always. Anthony petted the dog, who now rested his head on Anthony's chest.
"So, have you chosen death?" Meh asked Anthony, leaning down with his snake head only a small distance from Anthony's body. "Should I return you to death?"
"I'm tired. I've been waiting to die anyway." Anthony's eyes were heavy.
"Didn't you tell me earlier you didn't mean to die? I can bring you back." Meh said.
Anthony looked up at the giant snake, unafraid. The being's eyes were bigger than Anthony's entire body. He saw, reflected in the being's eyes, an unattended to tombstone in a graveyard he didn't recognize. "I thought you didn't interfere in things? Or is my pain that boring to you? I think I've seen enough. This little journey has reminded me that there's nothing back there for me. Everything good there ever was is already dead and me returning to life won't make it any better."
"That's only true if you want it to be." The snake being gently touched Anthony and the dog with his head. When he moved away, where the being had touched, a tiny golden retriever puppy rested. The little creature woke up. Jack looked at the puppy, then at Anthony. The dog smiled while panting, tongue hanging out to the side.
Anthony petted the puppy with his other hand. The puppy, legs weak, wobbled over closer to Anthony's face before falling down on his chest. The puppy barked in frustration.
"In the grand scheme of all life I have observed, including my own, your actions in life haven't been particularly evil nor all that good. Your mind is quite unwell, which leads your actions to be. When you hurt others, you hurt yourself too. You hurt yourself more than anyone else in your life. But you gave a wonderful life to one. There is no greater goodness in my eyes than caring for someone far more fragile than yourself."
Anthony watched the puppy play around on him. He smiled. "That's pretty funny from you, since you don't care for us much."
The snake's head moved farther away. "Well, as you said, I am quite evil. I am very selfish in my endeavors. But I hoped that some of you that were created from what I set into motion would be better than me. As you are now, you are already better than me. That does make me proud, regardless of how much you don't believe me or in me."
Anthony looked back at Jack. The dog was old again. The beast's smile didn't fade like the rest of him. He looked back at the puppy, then back to Jack. "Is that what you would want me to live for?"
Jack's dog smile widened before the two dogs--the old, long dead friend and the new life barely able to stand--vanished into stardust.
Anthony stared at his palms. "I suppose I could try again. If you really are god, then bring me back. Let me wake up."
"As you wish." The god said.
Anthony sunk beneath the water's surface. Floating down, he felt himself falling asleep. He laughed at himself. This must be the end of the dream now.
Anthony opened his eyes. The cold, autumn air sent a chill down his spine. He coughed up water. Wet grass was underneath him. His clothes were soaked through. He looked down at himself. This wasn't a dream. Anthony looked around. A blond man was sitting beside him. The man appeared to be in his twenties. He was dressed in all black jogging clothes. His long blond hair was done back in a low braid.
"Are you alright?" The man asked.
"Am I dead?" Anthony asked to confirm it to himself.
"No, not anymore." The man smiled at him. "I managed to bring you back. It took me about half an hour to get you to breathe once I pulled you out of the water."
"Thank you..." Anthony started to piece together what must've happened. This man, he thought, was likely getting in his morning exercise and happened to be passing by when Anthony jumped from the bridge. "I don't know how I ended up there...I was up there and then..."
"You fell over the side? That's really high up." The man looked up at the top of the bridge.
"You didn't see me fall?" Anthony asked.
"No, you must've been underwater already for a while." The man shook his head. He jokingly asked. "Where did you go down there?"
Anthony laughed. "You wouldn't believe me. I had the weirdest dream."
"Oh? Did you end up somewhere you didn't expect?" The man laughed with him.
"Yeah, I think I met god, but god was kind of...weird."
"Oh, really? Hah. At least you didn't meet any demons." The man shrugged. "Well, better get home and change clothes. You'll get pneumonia if you stay like that."
"I will. Once I figure out how to get back up there." Anthony motioned to the bridge.
"Go down that path over there. It'll lead back to the road that bridge connects to." The blond man pointed to a path behind them.
"Thanks. And thanks for saving me...uh...?" Anthony got to his feet. His legs felt weak.
The blond man stood up and shook his hand. "Conrí."
"That's an interesting name. I don't think I've ever met anyone with that name before."
"It's not common around here." Conrí said.
"Are you from abroad?" Anthony asked. He couldn't place the man's accent, but it didn't sound like any American one he knew.
"Are you on vacation? Sorry, did I derail your plans for today?" Anthony apologized.
"No, I'm here for work. Which I actually need to be getting back to soon." Conrí shook his head. "Well, this is where we part ways, Anthony. I wish I could chat a little longer, but I have a lot of work to catch up on."
"Right." Anthony nodded. "I really can't thank you enough for helping me. I'd be dead if you hadn't of pulled me from the water."
"It's been quite an unpredictable day, that's for sure." Conrí laughed again. "I've really gotta go now. See you around, Anthony."
"See ya! And thank you!" Anthony turned around and walked toward the path. He thought about something. He wanted to thank his rescuer more. Anthony turned to ask for the man's phone number to maybe take him out to lunch as a thank you. "Hey, can I...Hello?"
There was no one there. Anthony looked all around. There was no way that man could've gotten that far from him so fast. Something else dawned on him.
He didn't tell that man his name, but Conrí had called him Anthony.
Anthony turned back around, walking quickly up the path, then running. He ran all the way back to his apartment.
When he opened the door, his roommate was leaving with a box in hand.
"Oh, hey. Was wondering if I'd see you before I left. This is the last of it. The new guy's already here." His roommate said.
"He's here? What's his name again?" Anthony asked.
"I think it was Bobby or something." The man said. "Well, it's been fun. I gotta meet my girlfriend at the new place."
"See ya!" Anthony waved goodbye to his now former roommate. "Bobby, huh? I wonder what he's like."
Anthony went straight to his room to change clothes. When he undressed, he noticed something. His body shook. Tears welled in his eyes.
His self-harm scars were gone. Anthony felt over the now smooth skin. He whispered under his breath. "Was that really...real?"
That reality was too great for him to comprehend. He struggled to breathe out of fear and confusion. Anthony tried to compose himself. He quickly got dressed. "I don't know what that was. If it was real, there's nothing I can change about that and it doesn't matter. Everything will go on like it always does."
Much as he wanted to convince himself that nothing was different, he was too shaken. He sat down on the bed, staring emptily at the wall.
"What do I do now?" Anthony asked the air. His phone rang. Anthony flinched at the sound. He looked over at the caller ID. Toby Tanner. Anthony picked up. "Hello?"
"Hey, Anthony. It's me, Toby." Toby said.
"Hey. I haven't talked to you in a while." Anthony started to calm down a little.
"Yeah, it's been a while, hasn't it? Hey, were you still thinking about getting a pet?" Toby asked.
"I dunno...why?" Anthony could hear barking on the other end of the line.
"Well, yesterday, someone dumped a bunch of puppies at the kennel's back door. I'm trying to see if I can find anyone interested. A bunch of little golden retrievers. I've got three boys and two girls." Toby said. He laughed. "I'd love to take one myself, but we already have a dog and Chris doesn't want to get another one right now."
"Golden retrievers." Anthony thought about Jack.
"Yeah. I remember you used to have one. I didn't know if it was because you liked the breed or not. Thought I'd ask." Toby said. "Hey, don't bite that!"
"I do like them. But you live in Orlando. How would I get the dog?" Anthony asked.
"I could drive the dog up there. I don't mind. It'd be nice to see you."
"Yeah. Um...you said three boys and two girls...I guess I'll take a boy since you have less girls." Anthony collapsed back on the bed. Parts of his dream leaked into his mind and mixed with his waking memories. "Hey...this is kinda out of left field, but could I ask you something personal?"
"Mm? What is it?" Toby asked.
"You still don't talk to the rest of our family, right?"
"Nope. I haven't talked to any of them since the last funeral I saw them at." Toby said. "You're the only one I talk to."
"Why me?" Anthony asked.
"Because you're not a piece of shit." Toby added. "No offense to you, but can't say I like your parents either."
Anthony stared at the smooth skin of his arms. "You know, I'm starting to think I don't like them either. How hard was it to get away?"
"I mean, they threw me out, so it was pretty easy after that. They don't know my address or my number. You could always move and not bother to tell them." Toby said.
"How expensive it is where you live?" Anthony asked.
"Mm...more expensive than where you live, but most of the jobs pay more. So, I guess kinda about the same when you think about it like that." Toby sounded more chipper. "Looking to vanish? We have a spare room. I doubt Chris would care if we put you up for a while."
"When does your lease expire?" Toby asked.
"Next month. I haven't renewed it yet."
"Think it over and let me know. I can take care of the puppy until then. It'd be easier on him if he doesn't have to make a long car trip anyway." Toby said. A little dog bark came through. "How about this one? He's really playful."
Anthony laughed. "Sure."
"Call me when you decide what you want to do. We have a position we're looking to fill right now, actually. So if you moved down here soon, that'd be really convenient for us anyway." Toby said.
"I'll definitely think about it. Talk to you later."
"Bye." Toby hung up.
Anthony's heart raced. He wasn't sure what he had just done. It felt like something he couldn't undo. His father had just gotten him a new job. He would be furious with Anthony if he suddenly quit and cut off all contact. Should he give an explanation or not? Anthony didn't know what to do.
His stomach growled. Anthony sat up. "I'll deal with that later. I should eat something."
Anthony left the room. He heard noises in the kitchen. Anthony assumed it must've been the new roommate, Bobby.
When he walked into the kitchen area, he saw a very familiar face. Dressed in all white with hair that matched, a young man with dark brown eyes and pale skin was cooking on the stove. The young man looked over and grinned. "Hello, Anthony."
"What are you doing in my apartment? You're...you're not real! That was a dream." Anthony blurted out.
"That is true. You were dreaming then." Meh finished cooking. He placed the eggs and bacon he had made onto a plate.
"Am I still dying? Is that what this is? I didn't really wake up? How long is this dream going to last?!" Anthony asked. 'Is that why my scars are gone? This isn't real?'
"You're awake this time." Meh put his plate on the table beside another plate that was filled with Anthony's favorite breakfast foods. Two mugs of coffee were already prepared, sitting beside each plate. "Come have some coffee with me. That'll help calm you down."
"If...if this is real, why are you here? Don't you have some cosmic nonsense to do or whatever? Why are you in my apartment?" Anthony asked.
"I was bored, so I thought I'd play around for a while. I haven't interacted with anyone from your kind in a while like this. But don't tell anyone who I am. I'll erase your memories if you do." Meh sat down at the table. He drank from his mug.
"Can you just get that over with then? I'd like to have a boring life." Anthony sat opposite him at the plate he knew was obviously for him.
"Really? But you were contemplating suicide at the bridge earlier." Meh reminded him.
"That was...I didn't really want to die. I was just...What am I saying? You already know what I was doing! You know everything, right?"
"Yes, I know today is the two year anniversary of your longtime girlfriend dumping you and you losing your full time job that you loved so much on the same day two hours apart because of your poor attendance. And it's been exactly one month since your last girlfriend dumped you for cheating on her with that secretary and you lost that other job. What an unfortunate day this is." Meh said, taking another sip.
"Thanks for spelling all that out for me. Ugh." Anthony down his coffee. "How am I entertaining to you? I've got nothing going on in my life. I work in an boring office, I have no hobbies, no friends, and I'm single."
"But you talk back to me a lot." Meh pointed out. "I find that fun. You don't seem interested in bowing down to me or worshiping me either. You haven't begged me to change anything in your life. It's nice. I think I'll live here for now in this form."
"So what happens to the rest of the universes? Don't you need to oversee that?" Anthony asked.
"I am. I can do both at once. I'm everywhere at all times anyway." Meh cut into his eggs.
"I...whatever. I don't get it, and I don't really care. Just don't do anything weird to my life. I don't think I can take any more bizarre revelations right now. That might actually kill me." Anthony sighed. "So, are you 'Bobby', my new roommate?"
"Was there ever a real Bobby that was moving in with me?" Anthony asked.
"Yeah, I moved him to a different universe."
"Eh. He'll be fine. He won't remember being here. I moved him to the one that's nearly the same as this one. I might've missed a few history lessons in his memory, but he's American. It doesn't really matter. There wasn't much there anyway." Meh shrugged.
"What if it was something really important? Like about the constitution?"
"Can you even name all the amendments in your constitution?"
"You know...you already know the answer to that!" Anthony sighed again. "So, what happens when you get bored of hanging around here? I need someone to pay the other half of the rent."
"If I leave before you move out of here, I'll bring Bobby back here." Meh said. "But I don't think you'll be living here much longer anyway."
"What if something important happened to him in that time period? What about the people he makes connections with over there?" Anthony asked.
Meh shrugged. "I'll shuffle things around enough. You don't need to understand it."
Anthony sighed. He doubted he would be able to understand this or how the god could be so flippant about someone's life like that. He decided he'd let it go. Another thought crossed his mind. "Whatever. Hey, I don't really want to ask you for anything. But do you know the future? Do you know what's going to happen?"
"Mostly. You all organize yourselves so well, space included, that there's really only a few things you can do in your life to majorly change anything. I gave you as much free will as I could, but in addition to interacting with everyone else's free will, there are other forces even I cannot bend. Math, physics, energy, and emotions are older than even me. I didn't invent those. Even my first child, Time, isn't truly completely what her name suggest. She is only the parts of time I have the power to manipulate. Time in a broader sense existed before me. When everything is taken into account, a lot is predictable to a certain degree, especially the immediate future. But even that isn't and the farther you get out from what is almost certain to me, the more uncertain everything after that becomes. I can make general sets of predictions. You have about ten potential paths you can end up on, and I can see all of them. It's possible something truly unexpected could happen, but those ten are what is most likely. Your lifespan is small, so it's easier to predict than events on larger scales."
"Only ten? That's it?" Anthony stared in shock.
"Some people only have two to three. Some have twenty. You have ten." Meh said.
Mostly not serious, Anthony asked. "So, which path gets me to a girlfriend the fastest?"
Meh finished off his eggs. "Oh, you're never having a girlfriend again."
Anthony dropped his fork. "Get out of my apartment."
"Oh, it's not as bad as it sounds. You'll end up dating other people in about half of those paths. Some of the others, you'll just be dead in the near future." Meh said coldly.
"That doesn't make me feel any better. Wait, what do you mean I won't have a girlfriend but I'll date other people? I'm not gay."
"Correct." Meh pointed his fork at Anthony.
"So...what does that mean? Am I just going straight to marriage?" Anthony asked, confused.
Meh shook his head. "You're never getting married to a woman."
"What the hell?! So who the hell am I dating?" Anthony asked.
"You want to know now or figure it out on your own?"
Anthony threw his hands up in the air. "Just tell me."
"Well, I see many men in your future."
"You agreed with me I'm not gay."
Meh put his hands together, then pulled them apart. A pink, purple, and blue rainbow appeared in between them. "Congratulations, you're bisexual."
"No, I'm not." Anthony rejected the information. "And if I was, why would I just date men from here on out?"
"It just works out that way from who your life will cross paths with before your potential deaths. There's no special reason." Meh went back to eating.
"Ugh, what's the point of free will if I only really get ten options in life?" Anthony leaned back in his chair.
"You have more than ten, but a lot of paths just lead to the same end. Maybe one day you had coffee instead of tea, but you still went to the same restaurant at noon. Most of your decisions don't affect your entire life. They affect your life only in that moment."
"What does something so trivial in the moment even matter?" Anthony asked.
Meh smiled widely. Anthony's breakfast turned into a pile of shit. "Why don't eat more of your breakfast?"
"I'm going to vomit."
"That's what it's for. This is the natural conclusion of giving you freedom to make so many tiny choices. You don't live in a vacuum. Your choices interact with other choices in a big, chaotic mess. In the end, all the choices you will make for yourself and the people in your life make for themselves box you into ten major outcomes. And your tiny choices have led to an outcome where you'll never sleep with a woman again."
"Quit telling me that." Anthony put his hands over his ears. "You didn't change my sexuality, did you?"
"I don't bother messing around with things like that. I don't really care about those tiny details about you."
"Yes, tiny. Humans put a lot of stock in tiny things and small choices. Some of you base your entire lives around outdoor games you watch other people play or what month you were born in. It's kind of cute." Meh produced two keychains in his hand, each with a zodiac symbol on it. "Your last girlfriend was an Aquarius and you're an Aries. You two used to have matching astrology keychains and even got little yearly books about your fortunes for each day about a week into dating."
"I never believed in that stuff." Anthony waved dismissively at the items.
"No, but you did it because she liked it. She was really sweet. It's a shame you messed all that up over that secretary." Meh reminded him again.
"Can we not go through my dumbest moments again? I think we already did that enough today."
"That is true. I put you through some rough memories. Poor thing. But I would hope seeing all that will make you less likely to be like that in the future."
"...Yeah." Anthony glanced to the side at the kitchen window.
"Ah, well. I could show you how all those ten paths ends, if you want." Meh offered.
That got Anthony's attention. He sat up straight, eyes focused on Meh. "If I know them, that won't change anything?"
Anthony thought it over. "Sure, which one's the best one?"
"Be more specific. Longest life? Least painful death?"
"Least painful death." Anthony asked.
"Well, alright. This one could be an option in two years." The room around them changed. They were in Anthony's current bedroom. An older Anthony sat on the bed with a gun. He put the gun in his mouth and shot.
"I said least painful!" Anthony yelled.
"That is the least painful one. You died really quickly!" Meh pointed out. "Look, already dead. Barely felt anything."
"Why did I kill myself?" Anthony looked away from his potential future corpse.
"You lost your current job because of a choice you made at work, and your mother died the same day."
"How did she die?" Anthony asked.
"Car accident. Of course, that's not set in stone either. She has three paths at this point in her life."
"The older you get, the less you have because some have passed by. Some would only have one at her age." Meh said.
"Okay, okay...so...um, what about longest life?" Anthony asked. Meh changed their location again. They were in a hospital. An old Anthony was in the bed, breathing slowly. Anthony looked around the room. Aside from himself, it was empty. "I'm alone."
"Yeah, you outlive the person you were seeing by that point in your life by about a decade. You die slowly of cancer in this one." Meh said.
Anthony's chest hurt. He looked away. "You know, I think I'm just gonna go jump off that bridge."
"No, you won't. That path has closed. You won't die from drowning." Meh shook his head at Anthony. "Well, I showed you least painful death and longest life. What you actually wanted to see was best quality of life from your personal view, right?"
"Why didn't you just show me what I really wanted in the first place?" Anthony asked.
"I gave you the freedom to ask for that. You chose not to." Meh shifted their location once more. They were now in another bedroom. Anthony didn't recognize the place. His older self was in the bed. An old man sat beside him holding his hand. A nurse stood behind the old man. An old dog slept at the foot of the bed. "Here. This is the one you wanted to see."
"What's happening here?" Anthony asked.
"You still die of cancer in this one, but you die at home with your husband. The nurse is giving you some medicine to help ease the pain in your final moments. You fought with cancer for seven years in this path versus seven and a half in the other one."
"Why did I die slightly sooner in this path?"
"Just minor choice differences. You went to the doctor a little later, and you were more willing to let go in one life than the other." Meh said. "Because he was here, and he made you feel at ease near the end."
Anthony looked at the other man closely. "Am I really going to be with this person? Who is this?"
"That choice is up to you. Out of your ten options, you'll only be with this person in one of them." Meh asked him. "Did you want to go through all ten paths?"
"I don't know...knowing some of this...is making me uneasy. Can you make me forget...at least that first one? I don't want to know that about my mom." Anthony said. "I don't really even know how I feel about her right now."
Meh brought them back to the kitchen. He touched Anthony's forehead. Anthony was going to ask if Meh removed the memory, but he couldn't remember anymore what he wanted to forget. Meh sat back down across from him. "It's gone."
"I...wait, you actually answered my request. I thought you didn't do that." Anthony remembered Meh said he liked that Anthony hadn't asked anything of him. He apologized. "Sorry, I didn't even think about the fact that I was asking you to do that."
"You shouldn't know that information anyway." Meh put his hand on Anthony's. "Besides, I told you. Sometimes, I do fulfill requests, but only if I want to. Why don't we forget about this and order a movie?"
"I don't really have money for that."
"It's fine. I'll make sure the bill is paid." Meh said.
"Are you actually going to work or just...magic money into existence?" Anthony crossed his arms.
Meh shrugged. "Depends on my mood."
Anthony shook his head. "You can make universes. Why is this entertaining to you?"
"Humans seem to love simulating their own world in games. I don't see why this is shocking to you." Meh laughed. He put his hand to his mouth. "Haha, I might have given you that trait myself when the old ones on your world weren't looking."
Anthony gave up understanding. "If you're paying, then sure. Put on whatever you want."
Anthony and the strange god marathoned movies for the rest of the day. Occasionally, Anthony asked Meh questions about what sorts of movies humans had created that Meh liked. Unsurprisingly, Meh's answers were often vague and expansive. Late in the evening, Anthony was growing tired of movies. He was much calmer now. His mind returned to an existential place.
Anthony leaned forward, hands between his knees. "What should I do with my life now that I've been essentially brought back from the dead? Shouldn't I try to do something important?"
"Why's that?" Meh asked.
"I don't know."
"Do people usually change their whole lives after being pulled out of lakes, rivers, and pools?"
"What is important anyway? What does that mean to you?" Meh asked.
Anthony didn't have an answer. He remembered something from his dream. "My cousin called me earlier. He asked if I wanted to adopt a puppy. I think I might."
"I hope that brings you happiness." Meh flipped through the channels. "Do you want to get a pizza?"
"Uh, sure." Anthony watched the god pick up the phone and order them two pizzas and some wings. He was still baffled by the god's behavior. Anthony never thought he would encounter the creator of his universe. He didn't believe such a being could exist in the first place, and even in the off chance a being like that did, no one that powerful would care about someone as uninteresting and pathetic as himself. Here god was anyway, ordering pizza and watching trashy horror movies with him in his cheap apartment. 'You made everything. How is this what was worth creating?'
Anthony thought longer on the matter. The being beside him had no equal and no one greater. Billions of things created and more to come, yet this being showed him a comforting death in the image of another person sitting beside himself at the end. Beings in the universe existed in pairs and found fulfillment in merging into one comforting force. This universe had sisters and those sisters had sisters, all huddled together against each other in some other vastness Anthony couldn't comprehend. Outside that apartment were billions of other humans existing on Earth, going about their day. Aside from the humans were all the other animals going through life. Dogs playing together at parks, cats napping with their kittens, snakes attacking their prey. Someone right then was painting an unimpressive work never meant to be shared that they loved with all their heart, and this god beside him would be happy to know it existed. All of it, every insignificant little moment mattered to this god who soaked it all up hopefully, distantly, wishing for everything to move on some grand scale towards the greatest amount of happiness.
In that, Anthony understood why and what this god was really doing. This god was filling himself with being happy and proud on their behalf, but had no happiness for himself. There was no one to share his joys with. This god was surrounded by life he created, but entirely alone. There was no one to discuss the way the universes were evolving with, no one to praise them to. This god's loneliness was far greater than anything Anthony had ever experienced. Anthony recalled Meh said emotions existed before he did. How soon into the god's birth did the being begin to experience loneliness and sadness?
Right now, sitting with Anthony was entertaining because the god could play pretend for a while that he could have a normal companion. Anthony wasn't sure if the god was seeking romance or friendship, but the being without a doubt wanted some form of companionship. The god wanted the one thing he wasn't able to make for himself, his own equal.
The god looked over at him. Anthony remembered that Meh could read his mind. He quickly looked away out of embarrassment.
"You don't need to try and empty your mind from me. I can see deeper than your thoughts." Meh said quietly. He raised his voice a little and spoke more cheerfully. "Pepperoni's your favorite topping."
"The pizza will be here in forty-one minutes."
Anthony felt sorry for the god. "If this is entertaining to you, stay as long as you want. But is it impossible? You can't make someone like yourself?"
"I don't know." Meh said. His eyes were on the TV. "Not consciously. I've allowed the chaos and randomness of reality to go on as it is with as little interference in hopes that maybe I can."
"Then all of this...what you really want, what you're hoping for is to somehow make the conditions for another being like you to be born." Anthony said.
"Maybe. I don't know. I never had any specific conditions in the beginning. I only wanted to see what could be." Meh held up his hands. He looked over each of his empty palms. "At first, I didn't know I could make life. For trillions and trillions of years, there was only me and nothing."
"So, what made you then?"
"I don't know. If there is something beyond me, it's not something that answers me." Meh looked upward at something beyond what Anthony could see. "Perhaps, I already am one of many but like your kind in your universe, I cannot interact with what's beyond my own bubble of existence."
"I hope it happens." Anthony said. "That you can find someone like yourself."
"Feeling sorry for me?" Meh asked.
"There's no worse pain than loneliness." Anthony said. Without giving it any thought, words fell out of him. "Hey, that person in my uh, best life...I don't really want cancer, but...could I ask you...Ah, nevermind..."
"You want me to make that your fate? I can do that." Meh answered him right away.
"But what about our free will?"
"It is your free will to ask me for that, is it not?" Meh smirked.
Anthony hesitated for a moment. "Is it alright if I ask?"
"You can ask for anything, and I can choose to indulge you or deny you. After all, that is my will." Meh put his hand on Anthony's and held it. "You know exactly what I am and what you're asking. So, Anthony...I gift that to you."
"But why me?"
"I suppose that's simply what I was going to do, isn't it?"
"Do you have free will or not?"
"I don't know. I suspect it's not as much as I feel like it is, same as how you feel about your own fate." Meh said. "After all, you are all made from me and so, you are all like me in some way."
"So, everything I saw in that dream was real, huh..." The more Anthony talked to the god, the more he realized the being beside him was only a little more certain of reality than he was. Meh was simply more powerful and older than him. Anthony, now unafraid to ask, had another request. "I know I shouldn't ask for anything else. You already gave me what I wanted twice. But...well, you said it's my own will to be able to ask, right? That little boy...what was his name...?"
"Alexis." Meh knew exactly who he meant. "You want me to ensure that future for him? I'm less willing to do that. I don't want to interfere too greatly in the life of someone you will never meet at your request."
"Yeah, I thought you might say something like that. But I had to ask."
"I'm glad you did." Meh said. "Much as I love every life, so many hurt me with their cruelty or selfishness. It gives me a little joy to hear you ask that."
"I don't know if it's really selflessness. I mean, on some level, isn't helping others partly because we don't want to feel bad or want to feel good about ourselves that we did something?" Anthony asked, less optimistic about the world than the god beside him.
"Can those feelings ever really be disentangled from your desire to gift kindness and help? Does it really matter?" Meh asked him. He went on. "What you give someone matters much more than your deepest intent. As they can only know what they have received, unless you told them otherwise, whatever your real reasons are won't matter to them...only what they themselves can perceive is what matters. That's what gives them happiness or suffering. In this case, your intent could never be known. So don't think on it."
"I'm not sure I understand everything you showed me. But is it alright if I ask you all these questions?" Anthony asked.
The being gave a sad smile. "Of course it is. After all, I never wanted to be worshiped. I only wanted to heard."
Anthony thought up another question. "Hey, if someone like you was born, do you think you'd know?"
"There have been ones I thought might be, but they turned out not to be." Meh created an orb between his hands. Inside the orb, he showed Anthony a young man with black hair, dark brown eyes, and olive skin. The young man had many tattoos. He was holding a microphone. Anthony thought the man looked like he would have an intense personality. "There is one right now...that one might be...but it's far too soon to know. He could be a number of monsters too."
"He? I thought you didn't have gender or whatever."
"I was born before the concept." Meh reiterated. "This one was born human, in this universe, on this Earth in this time period. I can see all paths lead to the absolute destruction of his soul or his transcendence into some other form. I cannot know what will be. Many like him have simply returned to the void. Perhaps, they will all be like that and there never will be another like me. I may be the rarest life that ever formed. Like you, I too fear death. I don't know what it means for me, only you."
"You can die?" This information chilled Anthony to the bone. He didn't know what it could mean.
"I don't know if I can or can't. I know I am alive, but I have no body. I don't know what death could be for me. Perhaps it's also returning back to that void. I may be the only life that does not have an afterlife. And if I die...I don't know what happens to all of you either. You all may cease to exist too. Or not. Perhaps another one of me will be born when I cease to exist, if I ever cease to exist. For as long as I've lived, there are many questions I don't know the answers to."
"Even you are afraid of death?"
"I don't know if it's fear for me...perhaps, sadness that it will come and I will be as I am now, alone." Meh watched the young man in the orb for a while. Anthony couldn't imagine what Meh was thinking about. Meh spoke softly. "Perhaps that's another reason I've watched you all so long...I like to watch when you are successful in finding connections...connections that last to the end and that you are remembered, if at least for a while, when your bodies are gone. I didn't create the emotions of love and sadness, but they are the most beautiful things I have ever known. Sometimes, I feel guilty myself...that my love for all of you is not enough to make me content."
"I understand." Anthony said. "Well, as best as someone like me can. I hope one day that person is born, someone who's on your level and can understand and see things like you do. If my life came into existence because someone lonely was seeking to fill their emptiness with as much chance for love as possible, then...I can be content with that." Anthony put his hand on the orb. He added. "Still wish I didn't have to get cancer though."
"I'm sorry." Meh apologized. He appeared to be sad. "Perhaps I should change..."
"No, it's fine. Everyone in life has some kind of suffering, right? But someone will be at my side at the end...I'd take that pain for that." Anthony rejected the offer.
"You don't even know that person yet."
"I know, but...If you say I'm going to love them, then I don't see any reason to think otherwise." Anthony noticed how late out it was. The stars were already lighting up the night sky through the window. "The stars are really pretty tonight."
"There's going to be a meteor shower soon." Meh said. He made the orb disappear.
"Really? I've never seen one before." Anthony's eyes lit up.
"In thirty minutes...in that part of the sky." Meh made the building around them temporarily invisible so Anthony could see all of the sky above them. He pointed to a particular part of the sky. "Do you want to watch it together?"
"Yeah." Anthony nodded.
Anthony followed the lonely god outside to an empty parking lot. They sat on the curb, waiting patiently for the stars to fall. Anthony thought it a strange place for the god to take him. The parking lot was full of grime and garbage. Waiting on the time to pass, Anthony noticed tiny blades of grass growing through the cracked, dirty ground beneath them. He thought the god would find that beautiful. Then, he thought on it more and realized he was wrong. That god would find all of it beautiful, the delicate blades of grass, the spreading cracks, and all of the filth. He smiled and stared up at the vast darkness above them. That night, as the lights rained across the sky, Anthony sensed something about him had changed forever. He didn't know what it was or where it would take him, but he knew he made the right choice in returning.