He sits at his desk. Reading. Reading about how an axe murderer killed 30 chimps because of his distorted vision.
Hmm... He says. Should've got glasses. He steps away from his desk, puts down the newspaper and slips into bed. It is warm because of the electric blanket he had left on. It says not to walk out of the room while it is on but he thought he ought to be adventurous. He has been living a boring life up until now. He thinks the electric blanket manoeuvre would take him out of his rut. He has been in a rut for twenty years. He thinks it all started going wrong when he was ten but he can hardly remember back then because nothing very memorable happened.
Paul is thirty something years old and lives on Clear view Crescent. Most of the people there are retired. Sometimes he feels retired because he never does anything. Although, he joined the bowlers club about a year ago. It was an exciting month, and he had felt like he really belonged for once, but then the captain, an eighty-seven year old retired tennis coach kicked him out because he was a bit boring and was bringing the team down. Paul understood. He took his white clothes and left.
He works at the canning factory. He has worked there for twenty years, he always thinks he's lucky to even have a job and shouldn't go looking for a new one. It isn't very interesting and doesn't pay very well but he likes the people there. It is one of his only chances to interact with people in his whole week. You aren't allowed to talk to anyone or look at anyone but he really feels like he knows the people. He cans dog food. It isn't a very nice process but he likes it there anyway. They actually want to fire the factory workers and replace them with machines but they can't because they work full time. Paul has tenure. That's what they told him after he canned one hundred tins of dog food in an hour. They can't fire him, although they don't hide their distaste for him.
The other day the boss fired all the part-time employees and replaced them with one machine. She wanted to fire all the main canners as well but the person who had the place before her gave out a load of tenures to good employees. She called a meeting and stood at the microphone looking down at her employees as if they were fleas. She then called Paul up to the stage and he curtly obliged.
“Now. Good morning everyone. All the part time workers have been fired. We replaced all two hundred of them with one machine. I know. Amazing right? And now we want to fire you. But, for some reason you all have tenure. Tenure at a canning factory for dog food. Isn't that an achievement? Anyway, we want you to quit and if you don't we will make working conditions so terrible that you will. Now, you may be wondering why I have Paul up here. Well, Paul has been working here for twenty years. Apparently, like you, he has tenure. Apparently, we can't fire him. So, Paul. You have been working here the longest. So I want to ask you one question that might clear up a lot about the canner's mindset. Okay. How can you not tire from such a terrible job? You squeeze horse meat into cans for goodness sakes! And it's not just horse meat. We just go around and picking up random dead corpses. They could be human, Paul! Human. Why wouldn't you quit?”
“I like the social side of things.”
“Oh. You like the social side. Social side! Social! You can't whistle, talk, glance, sing, move, eat, or even open a window. You can't do anything. Anything. Please leave. Please! Why would you stay?”
“Thank you but I would prefer to keep my job.”
She then had a nervous breakdown and decided to resign from president of the company. Paul kept his job and still works from 2am to 4pm for 10 dollars a day with no rest breaks. All his co-workers quit after the wage cuts and now he packs dog food in the back silently by himself. Except, there is one other person who still works along side him. The on-looker who supervises him to make sure he doesn't steal any of the food, whistle, or sing etc. The on-looker also has tenure and also stayed for the social side of it. They don't know Paul's name but think they know him well. The on-looker also lives on Paul's street. But, they will never meet, talk, or exchange names because they are both too busy trying to keep their job.
Paul is walking to the drug store. It is five blocks away from his home but he likes to walk there. He thinks if he had a car he wouldn't use it. So, he didn't buy one.
Paul thinks that they should have loyalty cards for drug stores. He always goes to the same one and even knows the people working there. They are on a first name basis. If he had a loyalty card he really thinks his life would drastically improve. All those missing cents down the drain would be returned to him. Paul smiles at the prospect.
Today he is going to buy toothpaste. He has a particular brand he likes and if they are out of stock he doesn't brush his teeth with toothpaste until they do. Once they didn't have it for a month and when he saw the dentist
“Have you been brushing your teeth with toothpaste?”
“No. They didn't have the one I wanted.”
“Which one is that, I might have it?”
“Wool-worth’s home brand.”
“I don't have that one.”
He switched dentists after that and they haven't been out of stock in two years. But, in case they are he has a secret stash hidden in his sock draw. Along with his favourite brand of chewing gum and a tin of pineapples in case they ever go extinct. He doesn't have much room for socks, the secret stashes take up the whole draw. So, he has a second sock draw where he actually puts his socks. At first it was very confusing because he would reach into his sock draw and pull out a tin of pineapples. It was concerning for a while until he remembered why the pineapples were in his sock draw in the first place. But, then Paul eventually started reaching into his second sock draw instead. Life is a lot more consistent now.
Paul reaches into his pocket for his chewing gum. It has no flavour and is coloured white. It is called Mint supreme *minus the mint. He likes to chew on something that tastes the same when you start and when you end. He once left chewing gum in his mouth overnight. He forgot he was chewing it and it stuck to the back of his left molar. Paul asked Jenny, his mentally unstable neighbour who had a carer. She has dementia. He sat next to her for half an hour. The only thing she said was
“Charlie. Is that you?” But, Paul misheard her and thought she was talking to him,
“Yes. It's Paul. I have a problem.”
“No, Paul. Anyway, I have a piece of gum stuck on the back of my left molar. What should I do?”
She fell asleep.
“Hello? Are you okay?”
Then Paul left. Her carer was eyeing him strangely.
“Can I help you mister? You were in there a long time. Are you a relative? Because she hasn't recognised anyone in thirty years.”
“No. I am her neighbour. I was asking her about a dental problem I have.”
“Oh, okay. She doesn't respond to anything so I would quit while you aren't ahead. I can help you with your dental problem.”
“Thanks, I have a piece of gum stuck on the back of my left molar. Whatever I do doesn't seem to do anything.”
“I see. Have you tried prying it off with a fork?”
“No I haven't. I will do that now.”
Then he left. He got a fork from his kitchen draw and tried to pry it off. He went too far and blood started gashing from his mouth. Paul fainted and the carer called the emergency services. They arrived and took him to the hospital. They had to surgically remove the fork and gum, the gum was trickier, and they ended up having to remove the skin and then give him a skin graft. Paul was very shaken by the experience. As he looks back on it he doesn't laugh. He doesn't find it funny. But, every time he brings it up as he visits Jenny, the carer laughs. He supposes it will be funny soon, but he hasn't waited long enough. People do say “you will look back on it and laugh”. Although, he did learn a valuable lesson, never take advice from Jenny's carer.
He reaches the drug store. He looks around. They are in stock. Karma is in my favour he thinks. He picks up the toothpaste and walks towards the counter. The person there is Arthur, at least that is what it says on his name badge. Arthur is a young 20 something year old boy with gleaming red hair. He is new, you can tell by an uneasiness about him.
“Hey there.” Says Paul.
Arthur nods and takes the toothpaste from him. He runs it through the machine and the small Television Prompter says 3.95. Paul fumbles a little with his wallet. He brings out a five dollar note.
Arthur gets the correct change and says
“Shop again so-”
Arthur stops speaking. He stares. Almost as if he knew what was going to happen. A gunman steps into the store, the gun is pointed at Paul. The gunman hands a bag over the counter and says
“All of it.”
Paul freezes. Beads of sweat roll down his cheek, he feels as if he should do something and then something very peculiar happens. Time seems to freeze, it isn't like one of those moments when people see their life flash before their eyes, time actually stops moving. Paul stares, everything has stopped.
Paul sees a blurry patch of something just in his peripheral vision. He can't make out what it is but it is really demanding his attention. He slowly moves 360 degrees surveying the room. For some reason outside his understanding Arthur is breathing. He is still moving. All time has stopped except for him and Arthur.
Arthur raises his hands at Paul. Paul is surprised. He isn't entirely sure what to do. He has never heard about anything like this happening. Arthur is in slow motion and Paul can see it. Paul knows he is quicker. For some reason Paul quickly scoots to the left and Arthur shoots great beams of light from his hands. How odd. He has never seen anyone do that either, but he hasn't known many people, so maybe this kind of thing is normal.
Paul raises his hands to Arthur half thinking that it is some kind of greeting and he should respect other's cultures. He can see waves coming out of his hands towards Arthur and Arthur isn't moving. He turns to the gunman. Still frozen. Paul turns to Arthur. Something very peculiar has happened. Arthur has somehow gone two dimensional. He can only see him when facing straight on. Then after a couple of seconds he is gone all together. Not with a flash of light but just a faint feeling where he used to be, like a cold pocket of air.
Paul tries to look back at the gunman but he can't. The gunman has also disappeared. Paul is very glad he had already bought his toothpaste before this happened. He puts it in his pocket and steps outside. Surprisingly enough, no one is there. The usually busy street is completely empty. Even the shops are not being supervised, they haven't even put up a closed sign.
“I guess they must have left in a hurry.” Paul says. He walks down the empty path going back to his house. Even the birds seem to be gone. Everything is gone and time is stopped. The leaves on the trees don't move and the air seems to be stiff and resisting as if it may be solid. He walks four blocks and there is not one more living animal. Paul assumes there is some kind of festival going on or something. Maybe it is a prank. Maybe Jenny's carer is sorry about suggesting he stick a fork in his mouth and she is pranking him to say sorry.
Paul figures he should play along. If she did it would mean she cared for him and he wouldn't want to ruin the surprise. Every now and again he stops and says
“Well , isn't this odd. I guess I may as well go home.”
He keeps walking and the longer he walks the more he is unsure. How would she get every living thing apart from the trees, how would she do that thing with Arthur, how would she convince everyone to play along? This wasn't a prank. This must be reality.
“Well, things could be worse.” Paul says.
He holds his gum and takes a stick. He chews until he forgets he is walking, forgets he is chewing and forgets where he is going. Paul walks into a tree.
“Worse.” He says.
Paul walks all the way home, and no one is seen. He figures he should be worried but is slightly relieved. Social things have never been his strong point. He whistles. His whistle echoes and a shiver goes down his spine. He probably should have brought a jumper. He reaches his block, his street, his house. Before he goes inside he checks if Jenny is next door. She isn't.
He goes into his house and makes a TV dinner. He likes how all the different foods are separated. He thinks he should be eating it in front of a TV to be staying true to it's nature. Except, he doesn't own a TV. He had thought about buying a TV just so he can eat the TV dinners. Paul doesn't think it is worth it. It is only one type of food, but the other day he decided to be rebellious and eat it at his dining table.
He leaves a few of his peas and puts them in his compost bin. He sleeps and dreams of nothing. When he wakes up he has no sleep in his eyes. Must've been the dinner he says. A rebellious action must have revitalised him in body and mind. He smiles.
Paul steps outside to breathe in the morning air but there is no such thing. Something very peculiar has happened. Time has no longer stopped but it is not normal either, but there is still no people. He stiffens as he realises what has happened. Time is going backwards and he is not tired, or hungry and has no bodily need. He takes a stick of gum and chews it vigorously. Then stops.
“Now is not a time to get a jaw ache and let emotions run free”
Paul says. Then he chews more paced.
“It is too serious of an occasion.”
He starts to walk, but, unlike normal he does not know where he is going. Paul is confused. Why him? Was it the electric blanket thing, maybe it was not that it was flammable and that it actually changes the rules of the universe when left to it's own devices. Darn labels, they should have been more specific. Darn rebellion.
Paul walks until his feet go numb and he falls over.
When he continues he now takes more care to stop occasionally to get the feeling back in his feet. He sits at a park bench staring at a building that was recently demolished, then he sees something quite peculiar. A demolisher truck comes and rebuilds the building.
“I did not expect that,”
The last day has been a very confusing one and he needs a minute to gather his thoughts. He waits a minute. Paul stands up and continues walking. Paul thinks he is walking East but doesn't have a compass so he is just on a hunch. He has the slightest recollection that he has walked here before but thinks nothing of it. He can't be jumping to conclusions at a time like this.
He passes by a dead snake. He is a little jumpy and thought it was a real snake. People say when you see a snake you should act like a tree until they slither away. Paul stands dead still waiting for the dead snake to move. After about three hours he takes a step backward and thinks it must be in hibernation or something. Then after another ten minutes he convinces himself it isn't going to go and bite him. Paul continues walking.
Paul doesn't know when he stops walking. It was as if he was unconscious but he never slept. His feet are covered in calluses and are red raw with skin flaking off but somehow his shoes are the same as they were on the first day of the time break. Paul calls it the time break because he is not sure what else to call it. He is slightly damp. He doesn't know why.
Paul looks behind him. There is an ocean, an ocean he doesn't remember being there. He doesn't think it is normal to walk through oceans but he hasn't known many people. Maybe he is in a mid-life crisis or something. He is not entirely sure what a mid-life crisis is. Maybe everyone goes through this. Or maybe it is just people who disobey the all mighty electric blanket. Paul has been walking so long that he now believes the electric blanket he offended is god. Paul has been walking a long time.
Paul reaches into his pocket and takes out a stick of gum. The gum continues to reappear when he wants it again. Maybe it is a gift from the electric blanket. Maybe he is forgiven. Or maybe it doesn't wish him to talk and has given him something to chew on. He doesn't think much of anything any more. Walking through an ocean, completely normal. Demolisher trucks rebuilding buildings, completely normal. Unlimited gum, completely normal.
Paul feels weaker since the first day of the time break. He feels older, he thinks his life continues at normal whilst time goes back wards. He tries not to think about it much. Paul is not very sure of why he is stopped. He looks around him and sees a cave. It is dark but it is drawing him in. Maybe the god is sending him a message. He must obey.
Paul walks into the dark. He sees for a few minutes but when he is in complete darkness he seems to be led through the cavern. Paul is not sure how long he walks, he no longer has the privilege of night and day and has no way to tell the time. He could have been there hours, days, months, years or even decades and it all feels the same.
Paul stops. There is a light. A light at the end of the very long tunnel. He wonders for a while what it might be but then remembers his mission to keep walking. At first he cannot see for he has not seen light in so many years. His pupils shrink and he is as blind as a newborn. Paul is reborn by the all-mighty electric blanket god. He no longer thinks life is peculiar.
He sees the outside world again. He is not surprised it is still there. He looks at the foot of the cave. There is something there. Paul walks to it and sits next to it. It is squirming and crying. It is a baby. Paul is a little confused. Who would leave their baby at the edge of a cave in a time break. What a neglectful parent. Then a thought crosses his mind. This must be a gift from the all-mighty electric blanket god.
“Thank you for your gift my sweet warm lord.”
Paul cries out.
He picks up the child. A child of the lord needs a name. Hmm... What would the lord want? When did this all start. The drug store. Who? The gunman and Arthur. Well, he can't really call the child gunman. That may create a confusing identity when it is older. Arthur. It will have to be Arthur. As if a sign from god a wave crashes over Paul and when it leaves the child is dry and was shielded by a rock.
“A sign. Oh, thank you lord. Arthur, you are Arthur.”
Paul cries out again, shouting as if a god wouldn't be able to hear him if he spoke at a calm tone. The baby in shock stops crying. Paul takes it as another sign and starts rambling to his god.
Paul feels an energy stronger than his own, pulsing out of Arthur. The time break ends. Time stops again and then goes forward. As Arthur ages Paul youths. He grows younger and stronger and he can feel this happening.
Arthur grows into a wise, intuitive child and questions Paul. Paul talks of the world before, with billions of people and not only trees, of the electric blanket god. They continue to walk. Arthur eventually has heard enough and shushes Paul when he tries to talk to him. As if Paul is talking to a greater power. Paul obeys Arthur. Age has no meaning when time is broken. Arthur is the same as Paul, although he is in sync with time and Paul rebels.
Arthur need not eat, drink or sleep. They walk all day and night and unlike Paul, Arthur gets no calluses or numbness. Paul slows down the two with his constant falling and Arthur continues to walk on without him. Paul runs to catch up and Arthur barely acknowledges him.
Arthur nods and continues not even looking back to see if Paul is walking with him, as if he does not need him. Paul prays as he walks. To the electric blanket god who has given no sign in ten years. Paul is worried at first as they walk through lakes and oceans but soon adjusts to the lack of air and the larger density. They never veer off course. They continue to walk even through trees. Arthur shoots beams of light from his hands and burns through trees. Paul shoots invisible waves that take things out of existence. He does not shoot the trees as he likes the scenery.
Paul is starting to doubt the existence of the electric blanket god. It has not given a sign in twenty years. Time has slowed considerably and they are nearing Paul's origin. They walk past his house. He turns to see it. Arthur walks unacknowledging, a red haired twenty something year old. He reminds Paul of someone he knew from his past life before he became a worshipper of the electric blanket god.
Paul reaches the drug store. Arthur, for once in twenty years turns. He moves and changes into a shop keeper uniform. He turns to Paul, Paul flinches, this has not happened since he was four and a half, he looks fondly on the memories of carrying Arthur when he was a newborn.
“Paul, the time is soon. It will end. I will not listen. This will make sense. There is a god but not the one you think. Your power is strong, maybe even the strongest. It is all about age and therefore as time changes it will loop. Remember this. Or at least try. Here it comes, I am sorry I cannot say more. It would ruin the surprise. No prank.”
Then he turns away from him and stands behind the counter. He pins in his name badge and seems slightly uneasy. Arthur seems almost scared and says
“The loop. Remember. Shop again so-”
Time stops. The time break has ended. There is a minute of no change. Arthur is paused. He is disappearing. Paul sees a slight blurriness in the corner of his eye and it is demanding his attention. He feels strange, like he has been here before.
Paul walks through time. He is nothing but a traveller. He will exist for the universe’s existence, he is lucky the universe is not infinite. It is just very big and every now and again needs someone to rebuild it. Paul is stuck in a rut. A universe long rut. He is repeating twenty years forwards and backwards and he has a slight recollection that he has done things before.
He is just an unlucky one. He must just be patient. As the universe contracts so does the loop and Arthur's birth place is getting closer and closer to Paul. Paul meets him when he is ten and is drawn to him. He no longer spends years in a dark cave. He no longer travels the world over and over again until Arthur is born. Paul has to take direct routes. Paul is starting to recall more and more. He is starting to doubt the electric blanket god more and more and is relying on his gum more and more as he clears his thoughts. He is getting younger and younger and time is becoming more and more distorted.
Paul is starting to find things peculiar again and stopped time is shortening from hours, to minutes to seconds, to milliseconds and Paul is at the heart of it all. He is key. Without Paul there is no light, no life, no dark, no death, no Earth, no anything. He is randomly chosen but is somehow inter webbed with the fabric of time and he has broken it.
The universe is three days from eternal nothing. Not even nothing, less than nothing. Nothing. So much scarier than death because no one can be scared. Paul reaches for his gum. It hasn't reappeared. Paul is shocked and is still for three minutes. God has abandoned him. He has four sticks left and eternity. This fear that he will have no privilege, no comfort, no escape scares him more than anything.
Paul has decided to give up gum. That way he won't be disappointed. Paul is at his house. He wants to go inside but he knows he mustn’t. He is now repeating one day over and over again, his own private ground hog day, except alone. Arthur is not really a person. He is a robot, a shell, incapable. He is nothing to Paul and Paul despises him for forcing his belief of the electric blanket god, he is stupid. He is not wise. He does not understand. Arthur is silly. He is young and has not lived one hundred billion years, he has died billions of times but he has never really lived. He is too silly for Paul to truly hate him. He is too empty for Paul to truly hate him. Arthur will always be forgiven. He always is.
Paul reaches the drug store for the last time. He smiles. He hasn't smiled in three hundred years. Paul can feel the end coming. It is so desired. An end from this prison. This eternal loop with no escape. Paul stands and waits. Arthur tells him about the loop and starts the sentence. He has wondered how it ends but will never know. Paul laughs. He is so happy to be leaving. Although, he will miss the early years when Arthur is less stiff and Paul is older. Paul will not miss the last couple billion years. It has been so boring. He sometimes wishes for his memory to be as broken as the time. That way he will have hope. Have gum.
He reaches into his pocket. The gum has reappeared. It hasn't for so many years. He smiles. How perfect. He can leave with what he came with. How nice. How very thoughtful.
Paul is swept up into a swirling with no colour. A spinning that is still. He has no motion sickness. But, he can feel the turning of the world, the galaxy, the universe. Then he hears his own voice echoing through the quiet. How long has he waited for this? He stopped counting so long ago. He prefers to think of his old life. How lucky he was. Jenny. Jenny's silly carer. The canning factory.
“Paul. I know you. I am not an electric blanket.”
Says his own disembodied voice through the nothing. Paul nods.
“Hello. It has been a while-” Paul laughs. A while. One hundred billion years. A while.
“I know. A while. Well, I have something to tell you. You might want to take some gum to prepare yourself for this news.”
Paul takes a stick of gum and chews it in suspense, all his muscles are tense and waiting.
“You are god. I know this sounds a little outlandish and peculiar but it is the truth. You were chosen from all the beings in the universe at random to rebuild the universe however you want. I do not know who, for I am you from the future. The word 'future' probably makes you laugh as you have no structured time and it is very flexible. This will change. You have changed. Arthur was your son from a different timeline in your normal life. In that timeline you had a miscarriage and we transported the body to lead you.
He is dead, I am sorry for both of us but you will get over it, trust me. You will figure out how this works by yourself. I repeat, I am not an electric blanket. We were a little mad back then but billions of years alone can do that to a god. You are still alone. But you have happiness in a way. And, you can relive times and create places for you too explore whilst the universe wastes away. Don't ask too many questions. You can make a canning factory if you want but looking back I don't really know why you would want to. Bye.”
Paul's disembodied voice echoes for a second but then disappears forever.
Paul feels a falling sensation, then he can see and then he is in a beige room. He realises he is in his house. He walks into his dining room and on the dining room table is an interactive hologram next to an empty TV dinner box. Paul picks up the hologram tablet and it flashes to life. It says 'world creator tablet'. They have everything these days with technology thinks Paul. Paul explores it's functions for a couple billion years. He recreates the universe and for about three hundred years he works at the canning factory, immortal and content.
Eventually he gets bored and buys a TV. He is always careful to be in the room when heating his electric blanket just in case. Paul is happy. He sits at his desk reading a newspaper, a pyromaniac accidentally tried to light fire to a fire extinguisher because of their distorted vision. Hmm... He says. Should've got glasses.