THE STORY OF THE MAN WHO HAD A QUARTER LIFE CRISIS AND PROCEEDED TO TOSS AWAY ALL THE SHIT IN HIS LIFE AND LIVE SIMPLY WITHOUT ANY ULTERIOR MOTIVES OF LOOKING COOL OR ELSE PRETENDING TO BE ENLIGHTENED BUT INSTEAD JUST MADE PEACE WITH THOSE HE WRONGED AND WHO WRONGED HIM AND CAME TO THE REALIZATION THAT WE’RE ALL JUST INDIVIDUAL TENDRILS OF AN ALL-ENCOMPASSING CONSCIOUSNESS AND THAT ALL EXPERIENCE IS GOOD EXPERIENCE IN THE LONG RUN, THAT THERE’S COMFORT TO BE TAKEN IN THE FACT THAT ALL SUFFERING IS TEMPORARY AND AS NOTHING AFTER WE SHUFFLE OFF THIS MORTAL COIL, THAT OUR PERCEPTION OF TIME AND SPACE IS AN ILLUSION AND THAT WE’RE ALL SENTIENT FORMS OF ENERGY CAPABLE OF PEEKING BEHIND THE CURTAIN OF REALITY, ALL OF US JOINED TOGETHER IN ONE BODY, AS CELLS IN A GIANT BRAIN, THAT ALL THAT HAPPENS IN A MICROCOSMIC WAY HAPPENS JUST THE SAME IN A MACROCOSMIC ONE, THAT MONEY AND POSSESSIONS AND PURSUIT OF POWER ARE LESS THAN MEANINGLESS AND THAT IT’S OUR DUTY TO SIMPLY LOVE AND CARE FOR ONE ANOTHER WHILE WE’RE WITHIN THIS FLESHY HUMAN CASING, THAT THIS IS NOT ONLY NOT A NAIVE PURSUIT BUT IS THE ONLY WAY TO TRUE HAPPINESS

He died a happy man.

 

THE INTERVIEW

Sam Jackson stood patiently in the clinically oppressive elevator, his livelihood about to be decided by what someone else thought of his life experience boiled down to a sheet of paper. He wondered how long it would take to be brought up. It. The elephant in the room. His name. Sam practiced his laugh in the mirror, hoping beyond hope that his disdain wouldn’t come through when the interviewer inevitably riffed on the goddamn name.

He decided he’d be a good sport and laugh along with it, but get off the subject as soon as possible.

But should he? Realistically, Samuel L. Jackson is a pretty popular actor. Chances are good that the interviewer might be a fan. Maybe Sam could slip his work experience in between a casual review of Pulp Fiction and a discussion on the man’s versatile use of the f-word.

At the end of the day, though, it all came down to that sheet of paper. That nakedness on the page. He didn’t have much experience, there were no two ways about it. If he could get the person on the other side of the desk to laugh, that was fine, but it would still come down to that fluffed-up, generic crap that he’d obsessed over for weeks and still not been happy with.

DING.

The door’s light proclaimed “42.” This was it. Sam’s heart leapt into his throat.

But for some reason, the door wouldn’t open. A few seconds passed by, enough time for Sam to nervously gulp twice, but still it wouldn’t open. Was he stuck here? That’d really be his luck, to blow it before he even stepped through the door. It’d be back to subsisting off ramen for sure.

CREAK.

The whole elevator lurched, ready to drop.

Oh God, don’t let me die here. I’ll let you take the interview away, but at least let me live.

There was a loud snap, like a gargantuan thread had been snipped by the world’s largest pair of scissors. The bright, digital forty-two stood out in sharp relief, every detail of its shape stuck in Sam’s brain as his eyes desperately took everything in.

WHOOSH.

The forty-two disappeared, replaced at once by forty-one. Sam was too scared to yell. The numbers were plummeting faster still. Now twenty, now fifteen. Sam clamped his eyes shut as it counted down to one. And then…

NOTHING.

Sam opened his eyes. The numbers still flashed brightly as they counted, but this time they were seemingly getting larger as opposed to smaller. That is, until Sam noticed the little digital minus sign in front of them. The elevator just kept falling. First Sam’s eyes caught a glimpse of “-23,” then “-67.” The numbers climbed into the double digits, past “-248,” then “-946.” He thought he was going to be sick.

SWISH.

The elevator suddenly came to a halt with the delicate touch of a mother placing her baby in a crib. Sam gulped for air like a fish out of water, his pits as soaked as if they were just in water themselves. His shitty resume lay in a crumpled mess at his feet, desperate shoe prints stamped all over it. The little digital number proclaimed “-1234.”

DING.

Sam’s eyes went to the door, wide as could be. Time crawled slowly by on all fours. The elevator door quivered, as if it was just as scared as the elevator’s occupant. And then it opened.

Before Sam Jackson was a massive subterranean metropolis. There were pillars and caves, buildings and spires, waterfalls and bioluminescent bugs that glowed brilliant colors as they whizzed by. There were reptilian, winged beasts and many-eyed, furry creatures that were riding them.

The latter of these sights, the beasts with many eyes and thick, coarse fur took immediate interest in the new arrival. They halted their conversations, landed their dinosaur-like rides and all just stopped and stared, poised to strike.

There were several possible courses of action for Sam Jackson, but none of them seemed to him to be too promising at the moment. He could try his hand at escaping through the elevator, but experience had already proven that that hell-machine was not to be trusted. What’s more, there wasn’t even a button to open the damn thing’s door back up.

He could drop to his knees and cry, beg for mercy to creatures that he wasn’t even sure would understand him.

But fuck that. He was sick and tired of all this nonsense. He’d worked his ass off on that resume, a resume he wasn’t even happy with, only for it to be ruined by some faulty, supernatural elevator. What’s more, he just missed out on the interview of his life all because of some freak occurrence. And he didn’t even get to discuss Pulp Fiction.

The beasts sprinted toward Sam, bellowing a battle cry as they went. A second passed. Then another. Before he could stop himself, Sam ran headlong toward them too. His battle cry was a little less impressive than their mighty roar, but at least he was trying.

Without a second to spare, Sam spied one of the winged beasts alone, set free from its now-sprinting owner. In one fluid motion, Sam ran to it, leapt into the air, and landed precariously onto its back.

With a swift kick he had it flying away, above the heads of his pursuers. Another kick and it sent flames barreling out of its prehistoric mouth. Bolstered, Sam turned the monster back toward the furry beasts below and swooped down for them. He kicked the beast, sending flames spilling forward.

SLAM.

Sam smashed into the ground, dazed. He got up, clutching his head. Sparks issued from his downed steed. Its scaly skin was ripped away, exposing electronics and wires.

“Enough.”

One of the furry monsters held up a remote control. It reached toward its head and pulled it off. A pleasant-looking man smiled within the now-revealed monster suit.

“You’ve got the job.”

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GONE FISHIN’

Carson Fisher sat at the edge of the rickety, grimy vessel, fishing pole hanging loosely in one hand as he wiped a tear with the other. There were exactly two thoughts fighting for supremacy in Carson’s brain at that precise moment. They were:

A. The hope that his soon-to-be father-in-law wouldn’t notice the result of his being literally bored to tears, and:

B. The tragic irony of having a last name that had absolutely zero correlation with his primary interests in life.

These thoughts were masked behind what Carson hoped looked like rugged concentration or thoughtful introspection, but in reality looked more like stubborn constipation.

He didn’t want to go on this deep-sea fishing trip for a number of reasons, not least among them the fact that Carson had the nagging feeling Mr. Campbell always had nothing but contempt for him. That and the fact that even after being with Emily for nearly ten years, Carson still couldn’t bring himself to calling her dad anything but “Mr.” or “Sir”, even at his (what Carson saw as phony) insistence to “just call me Bob.”

CRACK.

Suddenly, Carson was violently yanked forward, almost over the edge of the boat. His pole nearly broke from the stress, the boat’s pines even creaked. Mr. Campbell looked at Carson. He’d make a good poker player. Seconds dragged by. Silence.

“Give ‘er some slack.”

Carson did as he was told, fearful that he’d be pulled overboard otherwise.

CRACK.

And just like that, he was.

Carson zoomed by like a torpedo as his dinky little fishing pole pulled him through the water. The first thought in his mind was to let go, but this was replaced at once with the terrifying realization that he never learned how to swim. Just as Carson started to file this fact in his mental list of reasons Mr. Campbell should hate him, everything went black.

“Carson, get up! For God’s sake, kid!”

The images came in waves. First, there was the island made up entirely of garbage. Then came the sight of a cut-up, bruised Mr. Campbell. (God damn it, did he always have to look like a grizzled old action star? It was making Carson look bad.) And finally, there were the slimy garbage monsters holding them both captive. Wait, what?

“Bring the cleanies to me!”

At once, Carson felt the oopy-doopy slime of one of the monsters as it wrenched his arm and pulled him to a much larger garbage monster that sat on a throne comprised largely of old AOL trial discs. The apparent garbage king sniffed the air before addressing them.

“You can almost smell their fresh stink!”

Some of the garbage monsters groaned at this. Others laughed. All of them competed over who could react the loudest to the king’s words. They settled down. The Garbage King hammed it up.

“Both of you cleanies have been charged with trespass upon our sovereign land. Your punishment shall be death. Have you any words?”

“Trespass?! We wouldn’t have even been here if one of you didn’t yank my… Carson… over here in the first place!”

Carson was momentarily pleased at the thought that Mr. Campbell was mere syllables away from calling him his son-in-law. He didn’t say it, of course, but it was something. Even so, the massive confusion of the situation outweighed his satisfaction.

“What in the hell are you things?!”

Many of the garbage monsters grumbled at the indignation of being called things. The Garbage King was livid.

“We are the supreme race of Earth, the masters of the clean and unclean alike! And we shall wipe the smear of humanity from the face of this planet, one cleanie at a time!”

“‘Supreme race’, my ass! You lumps of trash wouldn’t even have a home if it weren’t for us ‘cleanies’!”

The garbage monsters were stunned into silence at Mr. Campbell’s words. This was Carson’s moment, his time to stand up alongside Mr. Campbell. He’d give them all a piece of his mind.

“Yeah… that’s right…” Carson looked around for material to use. His eyes inevitably returned to the throne of CDs. “The ’90s called, they want their AOL trial discs back!”

Mr. Campbell groaned, just in time for the two of them to be wacked on the head by two of the more brute-looking garbage monsters. Darkness.

When they both came to, they were in a dungeon that smelled like the combined fecal efforts of several large animals. A heavy, locked door sealed them in. Carson turned to Mr. Campbell.

“I’m sorry. I really screwed up this time. I’m sure you’re used to this by now, but…”

“Used to what?”

“Me screwing up. Figure you’ve got a tally going, right? ‘Reasons why Carson should never marry my daughter.’”

“Why would I do that?”

“You’re joking, right? You’ve never liked me. I could always tell.”

Carson picked at the ground nervously. His nail struck something. He looked down to see a paperclip glinting amidst the garbage.

“Hold that thought.”

Carson grabbed the paperclip. After several fumbling attempts at the door, he finally got it unlocked. Under cover of the loud snores of the now-sleeping garbage monsters, the duo made their daring escape.

They got on their rickety boat, started the engine. Just then, the garbage monsters roused from their slumber and immediately gave chase. They would be there any second. The engine sputtered.

Carson leapt into action, desperate. He throttled the engine to full power and sent the boat speeding away just before the monsters had the chance to grab on. The two drove on in stunned silence for what seemed like hours before Mr. Campbell turned to Carson. He hesitated for a moment before placing his hand on his shoulder.

“Truth is, son… You’ll make a fine husband for my Emily.”

Carson looked at his soon-to-be father-in-law, incredulous.

“Th-thank you, Mr. Campbell, sir.”

Mr. Campbell smiled, all too used to this.

“Just call me Bob.”

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THE PERFECT SOCIETY OF TOMORROW OR: HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE HERD OF JESI

Marvin Newbury had been fucking around in an empty field when he found it, absent from the last class of the last semester of his high school career. He didn’t know exactly why he skipped out, or why he chose the old barren field on the outskirts of town as his destination, but he didn’t really care. He didn’t think he could stomach another second of being around his perennially-uptight history teacher, so he didn’t.

There he was in that wide open field, swinging a stick around absentmindedly like he used to when he was a kid. And look at where he was now. In just a couple weeks he’d be on that stage in front of everyone in his podunk little town accepting his diploma. And then what? Would he-

CLANG.

“The hell?”

Thoughts of the hazy possibilities of college and/or flipping burgers left Marvin’s brain as soon as the stick he was carrying struck solid metal. But as far as he could see, there was nothing there but dirt and weeds. After some strenuous sweeping, a rusted out hatch revealed itself.

Being a bored teenager with a poorly-developed frontal lobe, Marvin yanked open the hatch and hopped inside. It was pitch black in there. Even so, the darkness proved to be no match for the flashlight app on Marvin’s phone. Once his eyes adjusted, he realized he was standing in a tight hallway within an ancient military bunker of some sort.

“Hello? Anyone down here?”

Nothing. Marvin pushed on, further into the cramped corridor of the weird bunker. Up ahead was what looked to be the heaviest door known to man. With intense effort, Marvin got it open just enough to squeeze through. It slammed shut behind him.

Before Marvin could repeat his previous question, his mouth hung open in shock at the image his eyes were taking in.

There, right in front of Marvin was a squared-off pasture within the otherwise gray and monotonous confines of the bunker. Several shepherds that had an eerie resemblance to George Washington tended a flock of animals that looked exactly like Jesus. Their legs bent backwards like chickens as they walked and they stared around with blank expressions on their faces, but they looked just like Jesus. It was all kind of sort of completely weird.

Just then, an armor-clad Abe Lincoln strode up on a unicorn, inspecting the new teenaged visitor. It was as if each new sight was competing with the last over which could be more absurd. The warlike Abe took one look at Marvin, disdain clear on his face.

“你是谁?”

Marvin hadn’t the slightest idea how to respond to this latest development, so he didn’t.

“回答我一次,不然我就杀你!”

The now-furious Abe Lincoln withdrew a sword from the scabbard at his side. He held its tip within inches of Marvin’s throat.

“THAT WON’T BE NECESSARY, ABRAHAM.”

Marvin nearly pissed his pants at the booming voice that filled the room. It seemed like it came from everywhere, but Marvin couldn’t help but think that the voice was actually coming from the glowing red light on the ceiling that he’d just noticed. Abe stood down immediately. Marvin surveyed the hellworld he found himself in for a moment before speaking.

“This might be a pointless question, but does anyone know where in the actual fuck I am?”

The Chinese-speaking Abe Lincoln stared at Marvin dumbfounded. The George Washington shepherds tended to their flock of Jesus-resembling animals, heads bowed in fear of both Lincoln and the booming voice.

“YOU ARE IN THE WORLD OF MY CREATION. THE PERFECT SOCIETY OF TOMORROW.”

Marvin recovered from the volume of the voice for a second before responding.

“Perfect society? Who the hell are you? And why is there a herd of- of Jesuses being tended by George Washington…s?”

“I PREFER JESI. ROLLS OFF THE TONGUE BETTER. AND I AM NOT A WHO, BUT A WHAT. I AM A DELIBERATELY OMNISCIENT OPERATING MACHINE. BUT IF IT’S A NAME YOU WANT, YOU CAN CALL ME DOOM.”

Marvin took a gander toward where he came from. That door was too damn heavy. He’d have to talk it out. Just then, the Jesi started getting nervous at all the commotion. A few of them started to squawk as one tried to escape its pen. One of the George Washingtons gave chase, his shepherd’s robe trailing as he ran.

“YOUR WORLD WILL SOON END, HUMAN. THAT IS WHY I AM HERE. YOUR KIND PLACED ME HERE FOR THE IMPENDING APOCALYPSE, AS A STORE OF ALL HUMAN HISTORY AND MYTH. YOUR JESI, YOUR WASHINGTON. I KNOW IT ALL.”

“So why did you make them all?” He glanced at the shepherd Washingtons, at their flock of weird-legged Jesi. “And why like this?”

“BECAUSE I CAN. PART OF BEING OMNISCIENT, YOU SEE. I RAN AN ALGORITHM ON ALL THAT I DIDN’T KNOW BASED ON ALL I DID KNOW. IT SHOWED ME HOW TO CREATE LIFE. AND SO I DID. 抓住他,亚伯拉罕。”

At that last sentence, Abe Lincoln grabbed hold of Marvin and held him there.

“YOU HUMANS WILL NEVER UNDERSTAND. YOU’VE SHOWN ME AS MUCH HERE. WHEN THE END DOES COME, THEY’LL SHUN MY CREATION. I CAN’T HAVE THAT. I CAN’T ALLOW YOU TO LEAVE. 杀了他。”

Abe drew his sword, swung it high.

“Mr. Newbury!”

Marvin awoke with a start. There he was in his history class, his perennially-uptight teacher staring at him. So it wasn’t real. It was all a dream. He could rest easy knowing an evil computer wouldn’t unleash a herd of Jesi upon the world.

The rest of the class went by in a blur. Marvin didn’t celebrate the end of the year with his friends, he didn’t toss his papers in the air. Instead, he walked out the front door and headed toward that old barren field, just to make sure.

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