Many eons ago, when the World was nothing more than a barren ball of rock forsaken by the gods, it was happy.
It was happy because life was simple. It was happy because life was understood. It was happy because simplicity is the way to peace, not only for creatures, but for worlds as well. And so, without even being aware of what to call it, the World was at peace.
But one day, a wild pack of gods searching for a world discovered the World. And these gods were indeed searchers, having pushed far out from the crowded, god-packed center of the Milky Way and toward the outer reaches of one spindly galactic arm. To reach the World, they flew for many ages, at a thoughtful pace, as gods are wont to do. And in reaching the World, they grew very excited indeed.
“It is a fine ball of rock!” cried one.
“And we will make a fine World of it!” boomed a second.
“Yet this time we will do it right…” whispered a third.
Gods do not need air to make sound, in space. They are gods. And so they can bend both worlds and the laws of physics over whenever they wish, screwing both as they please.
“It is time to begin,” intoned a fourth god.
And the gods did begin.
First, born from a deific love of disaster and chaos, the gods gathered in a smaller planet from elsewhere in the solar system. Obeying the artistry of physics in their task, they created a collision, watching as the flesh of the two worlds both blended and separated as the two worlds felt both sadness and joy. And a newer, more fertile World was born.
High above, the Moon formed from the debris thrown free. It seemed to watch the proceedings below, like a bastard child half envious and half relieved.
“It is now ready!” shouted a fifth god. “It is hot again!”
From the bosom of one the rest pulled the seeds of life. Seeing this, the World grew nervous. It had heard what the seeds of life had done to some of its third cousins, but being a ball of rock, could do nothing to resist.
At first life grew slow by our standards, hardly evolving at all. Yet by the standards of gods and worlds, it grew and evolved fast.
Single-cell organisms became multi-cell organisms. Multi-cell organisms became complex organisms. Complex organisms became diverse organisms. And, manipulating the flesh of the World for the benefit of life, the gods made sure that water, atmosphere and more all grew in the ways they knew to be necessary, from eons of training as young and obedient gods elsewhere in the galaxy.
Some of the gods worried, as philosopher kings and queens are wont to do, about this new life. Their godly hearts bled for every form, and they wished to good for each. But deep down they knew that what is good for one life is evil for another. So they taught life to love and trust the gods, who are always the true kings and queens of worlds.
Many of the gods descended to the flesh of the World, to grow smaller and become gods of certain places. There they learned the ways of the organs of their new World. There they worked in tandem, for the good of the whole, and always half awaiting the day when this World would die and they would be forced from its corpse and toward the distant body of another, younger one.
“It is now time for sentience,” stated a sixth god.
The other gods, seeing the giving, taking Eden they had created, assented.
And pulling new seeds from the bosom of one, the gods planted them, sewing the flesh of the changing, learning World with the sprouting promise of Humanity.
Humanity grew, following the mandate of all life by giving allegiance to the gods who were responsible for all life.
These new creatures, blessed with faculties unique on the World, did not deign to see themselves as gods over it. The very idea would have been ridiculous. They loved their wives, aided their husbands, raised their children, and partook of their communities, each of which was awash with stories that sang of the truth of that view.
“And if they were to see themselves as gods?” wondered a seventh god.
“The same fate would befall them as befell all the others of other Worlds,” replied an eighth.
“But are we not better and wiser gods than those we left behind?” inquired a ninth. “Can we not avoid the fault of our elders, faults they are only not wise enough to see, recognize, and mend?”
Godly murmurs of powerful assent rippled over, across, and within the World.
The changing World heard these murmurs. Long ago having fallen in love with the life sewn on it, it had bonded with both that cornucopia and with the gods who had fallen and bonded with it. It felt fear, and yet it also felt excitement. The possibility of more change was the common source.
“Then we will whisper to Humanity that they are but young gods,” bawled a tenth god. “Perhaps they are. Perhaps that is how new gods are grown. I disbelieve the fables told by our elders.”
Starting in one place, then, the gods did whisper.
As they knew would happen, Humanity began to behave like kings. In a god’s eye blink of Time, were gods to have eyes, a fire started that spread outward, consuming not only all other life but all of the pockets of Humanity that still believed themselves to each be one of myriad subjects in the Kingdom of Life, and not the unified King or Queen insulated from the commoners.
From on high, the effect of the change on Humanity was clear. Humanity spread, as if on a mission to turn all of the flesh of life into the flesh of Humanity. It looked to the gods like a disease. They thought of the life of their World, and of its affliction called “cancer.”
On the surface of the anguished World, the descended gods shrank or even died under the feet, tools and assault of Humanity. The gods, pressed, wondered what to do.
“And now how do we guide them?” questioned an eleventh god.
“Can we guide what will not listen?” queried a twelfth.
“Perhaps they can be taught by a greater connection of their devices,” proposed a thirteenth. “If the essential variety and interconnectivity of their machines becomes apparent to them, perhaps the essential variety and interconnectivity of the life of the World will become apparent to them.”
“Most by far will do no more than satisfy the simple desires they are evolved for,” blurted a fourteenth.
“Yet perhaps it will still work, somehow,” hoped a fifteenth.
“Perhaps it would be better if we destroyed them,” mumbled a sixteenth.
“You would murder god children?” barked a seventeenth.
“Then perhaps a humbling disaster,” ventured an eighteenth. “Destroy their belief in their own godhood.”
“Then how would we reproduce?” goggled a nineteenth.
In the end, the gods did guide Humanity into the weaving of a Web. And things proceeded with some promise. Little. Yet some. And over it all, the gods hovered, doing what they could for the bleeding, anguished World from which diversity was being stripped away like layers of skin, and cut out like organs.
“Are they gods, or are they not?” pontificated a twentieth god, the one who forever watched from the face of the Moon. “Perhaps we should not have left home so soon….”
“Shaped like an hourglass.”
“I said ‘shaped like an hourglass’ my friend.”
“To remind us that life is short.”
The beautiful blonde in knockout red as tight as Scrooge’s pre-ghost purse strings was, by then, long gone. She’d rounded the corner, out of sight beyond the salon she’d walked out of, ample hips swaying to the beat of God’s own music or a man’s own heart. And above the narrow, measured waist, ample breasts glimpsed before in brief profile would no doubt have been swaying in time as well. It had been hard to tell. She’d not walked toward the two men, but rather away, as the past always does.
Lenny, to illustrate his timely point, moved his hands along the glass curves of an imaginary hourglass filled with the Sands of Time. He stood there, on the quiet sidewalk of the city, bathed in peaceful philosophical wonder. Truth is beauty. And beauty? Truth. He’d heard it somewhere.
Carl, mouth ragdoll slack and dry as the sands of the Sahara, could not quite form a complete sentence yet. The gone girl could hydrate him, but would not. Failing that fluid, the Sands of Time might, if given time.
“Truth and beauty, brother.”
With a pointing finger Carl had gestured to the spot where the beautiful woman had been, scant moments before. The finger trembled, shaking its knobbled knuckles, and the arm swayed much more than the body.
Lenny stood next to him, at the mouth of the bar they’d stepped out of in the neon lights of night. His color changed from red to yellow to blue and then back again to each, in turn. His hands rested on his hips and he shook his head.
“You know, Carl?”
“I’m not shaped like an hourglass. You aren’t either.”
Lenny looked at Carl, a head-turning motion that involved looking up about eight additional inches. Carl was not looking at him. Carl was watching the empty spot, the place from which truth and beauty had vanished, as if he were unable to pursue the woman because he’d have to pass through the sanctified spot and so defile it.
As he spoke, Carl’s words came out in a scared stream, as if he were urinating. There was a reasonable amount of beer in his system. Lenny knew it was not uncommon for beer to do that to Carl, to make him stream a coward’s yellow. Carl could be so strong, when sober, with his muscle and his size. The liver-revealed component parts of alcohol include irony.
“You’re shaped more like a wrist watch, but with arms and legs. All your bulk is in the middle. I used to be shaped like a steel bar, back in college. Now I feel like a dried out bar of soap.”
Having said the words, Lenny turned his head away from Carl and toward the sign for the bar they’d just stepped out of. He still had to look up. The sign read “Moe’s Bar” in red neon. The apostrophe flickered.
“Calm down, Carl. We still have time. Why don’t we go inside and have another drink. It might help us forget.”
“Children are beautiful. Well, the idea of them is.”
Lenny looked back at the sanctified spot.
“It’s like I need a filter.”
He held his hands in front of him, gesturing and searching for words. Carl looked at the gesturing hands that were searching for words and his lips moved. Lenny’s hands circled around and around each other.
“I always get too much of them at one time. It’s like I need just a little of mine at a time and at regular intervals to keep me going. What am I trying to say, man?”
He looked at his gesturing hands.
They made that hourglass shape again.
“God I’m smart.”
The two men looked ahead again, to the sanctified spot. They both wanted to go back into the bar, but for different reasons. The sidewalk was scaring Carl and the fact that the sanctified spot on it was defiling on its own, fast as time passed, scared Lenny. They both felt like children hiding under their blankets from monsters.
He paused, blinking dazed lids before going on.
Turning his big shoes away from the then-defiled spot, Carl faced the bar door. He went around Lenny and then stopped at the door. He turned back, on the threshold and indecisive without his wingman.
Lenny’s jaw worked. He ground his teeth. He’d felt a few other moments of truth and beauty in his life, strong ones, half out of the blue and beyond what the moment called for. When they faded, it felt like the sickness of lurking death that hid just around the corner, waiting for the moment to spring.
“No. I’m not going back in there. I’m following her.”
“I said I’m following her.”
Carl stood there, still, looking like a huge butterfly was beating him on the face with its wings and that wing dust was getting in his eyes.
Lenny started walking toward the spot that had gone so far beyond defilement that it had become a normal spot again, the way a rotting carcass will, at last, leave standard ground there in the same place.
“I said I’m following her. I’m gonna say hello.”
By then, Lenny was halfway to the spot, horrible in its perfect normalcy. The total distance was perhaps thirty feet, and the total time since the beautiful blonde woman in red vanished was less than sixty seconds.
“You gonna stop bellyaching and follow me?”
Lenny was at the spot, his philosophical serenity gone. The sensation, even in the midst of hopeful pursuit, soured him. Or at least it soured the serene part of his philosophical state. Behind, Carl was still standing in the bar doorway and his hands flapped like the wings of a huge butterfly.
“Fine then. We all die in a sharp pile of regrets.”
Lenny made the ninety-degree turn to the right and disappeared from Carl’s sight. That second disappearance, the yank of it, snapped something in the big man and he lurched after his friend. His house was in the other direction, and he felt the bond pull at him as if it were a huge rubber band.
The rubber band bond between friends can be still huger.
“Dammit I know!”
Up ahead, still walking though red as a heart stoplight, the beautiful woman swayed to that inner music of the beating blood. She wasn’t that far off. It was as if she’d meant to give them time. In sixty seconds she could’ve been gone forever.
“Well sober up.”
The new street looked a lot different than the one they’d left. It was a finer street, far and away, leading to places even finer. Somewhere the two friends crossed imaginary tracks, from the wrong side to the right side.
“I wonder why she was in that salon? That wasn’t a high-class street.”
Carl bobbed along behind, in bouncy lurches, on the imaginary rubber leash. At times his butterfly hands seemed to be his motile force.
“Stay with me then.”
So he kept following.
“What should I say to her?”
The woman picked up her pace, though it wasn’t in the nervous way a woman might who feared two odd men were following her. She swayed on, and it was as if she moved faster because the tempo of her music had gone from adagio to allegro. There were no other pedestrians on the sidewalk.
Some of the shops Lenny and Carl passed were very fine. Lenny wondered if he should catch up to her or call out.
Every footfall felt, to Lenny, like a thundering grain of sand landing at the top of a desert pillar and rolling down a line on the cone to impact the glass. He felt nerves. It felt like the glass might break. He felt as though he were looking up at the glass. Were they glass walls or a glass ceiling?
They were ten feet away from her. She was red fire.
It was a hissed whisper. The woman turned. Lenny and Carl froze.
The woman smiled, broad and ruby lipped, as warm as a hearth.
Carl emitted a squeak. He sounded like a mouse, and “emitted” is the perfect word to describe the delivery. It might’ve been rodent radiation.
“Can I help you?”
Lenny swallowed, took a deep breath, and dove into the moisture.
The woman had no visible purse. Her shoulders were bare and bronze and her bosom was as ample as her hips had implied. The cleft between them was a beautiful thing, as much a romantic death as a dive into the Grand Canyon.
“How may I be of service to you?”
Lenny swallowed again, the soured truth and beauty returning.
“Well, this will sound strange, I know.”
“It’s all right. Go on.”
His fingers worked against each other.
“I saw you come out of the salon back there, when we were standing outside the bar nearby.”
Lenny turned his head full around to Carl and Carl emitted another squeak that was the squeak of a helium balloon being tied off.
He turned back.
“You were just so beautiful. Life is full of regrets and when I saw you I just felt a few moments of true peace. Then you went away and it went away. The moment, I mean. You know that kind of moment?”
She nodded, taking a breath. Lenny went on.
“I didn’t want to be lying on my death bed under a pile of any more gritty regrets than I’m already under. To leave something on the table, something like that, is like leaving it on the deathbed you know you’re aiming for. I didn’t want to look back and think of you and say to myself that it probably wasn’t gonna get any better than that. So I just wanted to say hello and tell you how beautiful you are. I hope you’re not offended. I don’t want anything else but to be able to say I said it.”
“There you go.”
The lovely woman turned her head, as if to go, or as if Lenny’s saying “there you go” had been to point out to her that some part of her had gone on. After a moment or two, she turned back to him, glanced at Carl who looked like a mouse pretending it was a deer in her headlights, and spoke.
“I don’t have to go.”
“No. How much?”
“How much time do you want?”
She took a step toward him.
“My usual rate is a hundred dollars an hour.”
She put a finger under his chin, lifting his face to the light.
“No kissing on the lips, though.”