Ever wondered what would happen if you got so drunk you forgot how to exist?
Wonder no longer.
Without a doubt the greatest achievement in human history, thought Steve Green staring at a ghostly pallid structure, is the toilet. The simple, menial object constructed some years ago to serve a clear and important function in everyday life was so commonplace that it would take a golden variant to excite interest- but without it, civilisation would be quite the eyesore and he wondered at length how different the landscape might look had it not been made. Who was the genius that came up with the idea? Who- faced with the endless channel of filth- thought ‘I should make a stool for stool’? What kind of brilliance sparked the fundamental desire? How did we manage before its inception? And why, for the love of god, why was his head so sore?
Groggily, he raised his impossibly weighty head, burped, and looked around. His kaleidoscopic vision painfully focused on the sickening tornado of images assaulting his freshly-woken eyes. He squinted, wrought his hand in defence against the coursing heave of blistering light, and slowly pieced together the fissured fragments strewn about like a shattered mosaic. There was a toilet- he was doubly sure of that- running water from a ruptured pipe appended to the aft of a grime encrusted sink sparsely veiled the grubby floor, a square window was much like a… well, a window, and through it flooded the invading beams of light he sought desperately to eradicate. He couldn’t remember why he was in the toilet, specifically why he had woken cradling the base of the ceramic seat.
He momentarily pondered if the inventor of the toilet was in cahoots with the inventor of toilet paper, like a secret monopoly planned years in advance to extort every penny from the general populace for sibling products that would be considered essential to everyday life. Obviously, there was no answer. Like a dazed toddler he stumbled out of the bathroom and to the closest piece of furniture, later assigned the designation of ‘couch’, and flopped lazily in the direction of comfort, finding purchase in what he later designated ‘cushions’.
There was definitely something happening around him, something big, something apparently very important, and whatever sober section of his mind that still existed suggested he should do something as equally big and important, but that sober voice was comprehensively exhausted, having screamed night after night and decided instead to relax its coarse throat, and was thusly drowned out like an introvert at a college party.
That was it, Steve decided, there was a party! Daniel’s birthday party. Of course, that would explain the vaporous smog obscuring vision, the unbalanced swivel of his brain from left to right, and the vilifying exclusion of standard thought. He grunted, burped a second time, and pivoted round to absorb the atmosphere.
Was that music or the throb of his brain? Was that someone dancing or was the ceiling fan on? Why was his arm moving? Was that a shot of whiskey?
Without a doubt, he thought, the greatest achievement in human history from start to finish was the discovery and production of alcohol. Again his mind was drawn to the toilet and fleetingly he speculated if there was another secretive monopoly hidden there.
Somebody shouted ‘drink!’ and like the well-adjusted gentleman he was, Steve hurled down his throat the closest pool of liquid empathy his hands could find. He coughed as the scorching liquid hit his unruly stomach and then upwards thrust his arms victoriously.
(This was what he believed he achieved, when in truth all he managed to do in his inebriated state was splash a mound of pistachios down his front and flail like an out of water fish on the couch.)
Someone was around him making a fuss. With an indolent wave he batted them away and refused to be yanked free from his self-perpetrated stupor. Somebody on the other side of the couch called his name in an effort to rouse his attention, another voice in the kitchen expressed their opposition to the idea, and like a crashing plane, a clamour of dropped cutlery or the smash of a particularly slippery beer bottle opened the floor to a less than eloquent argument. Steve was the centre for some reason, the crux of the argument; and puzzlingly, interjections of inexplicable confusion seemed to steer the heated discussion a nation away from him.
The gargle of noise did manage to revive a miserable sum of soberness, enough to question what the point was of his prone position but insufficient to do anything about it. He reflected momentarily on the subject of standing, namely, the question of where and how he would stand. The question wasn’t, however, where or how he would stand, it was how the act of standing would in any way facilitate easing his current predicament. Maybe he didn’t need to stand, maybe he could be sociable from the comfort of the couch. Maybe he didn’t need to be sociable.
The room span and whirled like a revolving parade of nonsense. Steve struggled to make an ounce of sense from any of it, to settle on a singular moment which might soothe the chaos, but when this predictably failed, he reached out for the closest bottle and immediately swallowed its contents. He grinned as the delectable liquid swayed to his stomach and effectually relaxed the burning wake of the whiskey. This was- unknown to him- because the bottle he had blindly nominated was in fact a tomato ketchup container and dispensed its smooth filling to him like a baby’s bottle.
Was it the fourth day of the party or the third? Must be the third, he thought, since it was yesterday he was suspended upside down from the ceiling fan. Or was that on the first day? No, the first day, he was sure, involved tequila and there was no way his memory would’ve retained a flicker of it.
Daniel was twenty-something. At some point during maturity, the number becomes less important and more like an annual reminder that life was marching relentlessly onwards. Steve hated that reminder almost as much as he hated Daniel. But this was a party, there was alcohol in bountiful and diverse volumes, people around him to silence queries of alcoholism- though this wasn’t a must- and no force on Earth, not hatred, not love, not a monkey with a nuke, could stand in his way.
To replicate this level of drunkenness, though it wouldn’t be recommended, the following strategy may be employed:
On the way down, smash your face with a baseball bat.
Forget a parachute.
Alternatively, it would be possible to emulate Steve’s progression through the rocky road to the mountain of anti-sobriety, but again, this wouldn’t be recommended, for entirely the same reasons you shouldn’t go skydiving without a parachute.
He grunted. Someone, who looked to him remarkably like an extremely blurry golem, came to his side. He grunted again.
Amidst a din of garbled white noise Steve extricated the words ‘fourth’, ‘party’, and ‘okay’. Lazily, aside he shoved the blurry golem and instantly regretted his decision to attempt getting up. Back into the reassuring supports of the couch he sank happily.
Fourth day of the party and already he was fraught. He wondered if he was getting old, then wondered if time mattered or existed at all. Maybe time was an idealistic concept erected in the minds of lesser creatures, and clung to like a primordial life-boat by superior creatures, to help ease the passage of our entropic mundanity.
He blinked. Had he really just thought that?
The sudden onset flux of a befuddling concept rendered him blind to the outside world, and something strange and alien snagged him. He swatted the inquisitive claw away, deciding not to pursue where it came from, or why his arms and the tips of his fingers buzzed insistently, and focused instead on the surrounding racket of the party.
Others might consider his indulgences sinful or debauched, Steve considered it a noteworthy talent. Hence his immense confusion at how he was struggling so unusually. If there was one thing he could do, one thing they might mark on his gravestone as the legacy he left behind: ‘Could drink like a parched desert snake in the Atlantic Ocean’.
But here he was at the verge- or conclusion, that theory was vaguely obscured- of a four day bender with no hint that he could endure. ‘Limit’ was a word tossed around like an unwelcome gun, and no one knew more than Steve that such an ideal, this anonymous obstruction, was injurious to the trek of liquor-fuelled merriment. Limit was not a word in his vocabulary, other than when expounding that it wasn’t a part of his vocabulary.
He often paraphrased Edgar Allan Poe- unbeknownst to him- when iterating his mantra on life.
‘I became drunk, with long intervals of horrible sobriety.’
Maybe, he thought, he should sleep for a moment. Just an hour of rest and he’d be ready to join the party once more and reignite what was sure to be the dying embers of the communal energy- after all, if he was feeling like this, there was no telling the wilting fatigue the rest would be experiencing.
So, he closed his eyes and let the world defocus into an oblique jumble of disorder. As he slipped away, he let out an expression that could only be expressed as such:
He opened them. Instantly, he realised there had been some kind of mistake. A very, very large mistake that shouldn’t have happened. It was a prank, he told himself, he drifted off into a deep sleep at a party and this was the consequence.
Whiteness, stainless and perfect, consumed him like colossal cradling arms. It was the whitest white he’d ever seen. He wasn’t sure it was actually white, it was so white. Impossibly white. He half expected some dim-witted skinhead supremacist to appear and drop to their knees in awe. But this didn’t happen, thankfully. He was quite confident that in his current state he would be less than effective in a fist-fight.
A considerable amount of unanswered questions conceded comprehension- how long had he been asleep? Was this the end of the world? Was he still drunk? Was this a dream?
It certainly wasn’t the party. And the party was what he wanted most.
Surely it couldn’t be a dream. He was too self-aware and his limbs and faculties were too responsive to be pure figments. As for the question of being drunk, he’d been intoxicated enough times, and depressingly sober a few, to know he was presently attentive, teetotal, and a considerable distance from anything that could change this.
“Hello?” he shouted, rising unsteadily.
Around him was white as far as he could see, boundless and interminable. Not a smirch of murk marred the homogenised expanse, and there seemed to be a severe lack of elevation, upwards or down. Never before had he considered himself a particularly thoughtful man, yet with an endless breadth of nothing glowering at him, he began to hastily review his choices in life.
“Hello?” Steve repeated timidly.
Somewhere far to his right, or close to it, a faint but distinct ‘crack’ echoed and over the worryingly flawless white ‘floor’ bounded excitedly. Instinctively he ducked, predicting a stray missile of sorts to lobby him, and when nothing came, he thoroughly examined the spring of his worries.
It would be safe to assume that through him crashed titanic confusion and surprise.
Sitting on a shabby velvet recliner was a rather bored looking man dressed from head to ankle in intricately embroidered tweed clothing, broken only by untied, black leather shoes and a slothfully knotted purple tie. A pair of wide-rimmed reading glasses perched on his nose, a tuft of thinning black hair retreated from his wrinkled forehead, and a patch of stubble swallowed his chin. He reminded Steve of an old professor he used to have. He also recalled despising that professor, since he was a perplexing eccentric hell-bent on delivering more narrative than substance.
The man flipped, eyes flashing and jaw agape. “Yes?”
It was difficult to put an age to the face.
Steve, with nowhere else to go and nothing else to do, hesitantly approached the man. He could see that they were both as equally stunned to find the other in this endless empty plane. At the man’s side, Steve leaned awkwardly against a tall, round coffee table and attempted to conjure a conversation.
“So…” he said nervously. “Er, what- what’s, er, happening?”
The man, who Steve now noted as being nothing like his old professor, shrugged coldly.
“How am I supposed to know?” he replied. “I’m just sitting here and all of a sudden you pop up out of nowhere. It’s very distressing, you know.”
“Yes,” said Steve apprehensively. “It must be very distressing. Er, quick question, where am I?”
The man indicated lazily to the blank environment and exhaled exhaustedly. “Where do you think?”
Steve traced the man’s gesturing and observed in full the infinite white void. Splendorous awe encircled, or submerged, or did nothing at all, like an ocean, or a volcano, or a vacant cubicle, and gradually an unsettling terror developed in his panicking synapses. They connected several underlying threads of memory, then exploded in a mess of alarm, pointing their beady fingers at a flagrantly gaudy sign that said ‘Are you an idiot?’.
“Oh my god,” he gasped, clutching at his body for security. “Am I dead? Are you death?!”
Slowly, the man turned, with an expression that one would wear if they’d just witnessed a tiny innocent hamster rabidly devour an entire pack of Rottweilers whole.
“Death?” he exclaimed angrily. “Death?! Are you kidding me?! Do you have any idea how busy Death is? She’s trying to clean up the mess you and your species are making down there. Death, pfft, please! She doesn’t have time to sit around and do nothing.”
Steve uneasily withdrew from the abrupt detonation, ready to run if the mysterious man launched into an attack. A surfeit of questions, bidden by the diatribe, impatiently tapped their fingers and waited for his mouth to catch up and start speaking them. Down? Down where? Death is busy? This guy knows death?
He coughed gawkily. “Er, okay. So, who are you then?”
The man ascended from his seat and to the sides flung his arms, like he was hugging a huge gorilla.
“I’m Life!” he proudly declared.
“That’s right. Life!”
Steve rubbed his head. He was obviously very, very drunk. “You’re Life? I mean, the Life?”
“Well,” said Life, stroking his chin, “pretty much Life. I mean, not life, Life!”
“Fine.” Steve shrugged. He wasn’t in the mood to argue. “What am I doing here? And where am I?”
Life approached him, pulled his arms out to the side, and seemed to be calculating something specific. Steve, sensing a lack of control, allowed the strange man to appease his whims. It wasn’t like he could do anything anyway, not until he found out where he was, what he was doing there, and why he desperately craved a drink.
The man- Life, apparently- finished his calculations, weighed up his options, and satisfied that the results would be irrevocably advantageous, proceeded in due fashion in concluding his experiment. The subsequent movement was so swift and otherworldly that an outside observer might not have noticed it happening. Steve yelped and dropped to the floor, or the ceiling, and cradled his pained groin.
“Oww!” he roared. “What the hell was that for?! Why would you kick me?!”
“Sorry,” said Life, retreating to the luxury of his velvet throne. “It’s what I do.”
“What?” Steve coughed, operating the table as a stabiliser. “What’s wrong with you?”
Life sipped from a martini glass- inexplicably materialised in his hand- and shrugged.
“Oh, plenty of things.” He gestured to Steve’s left. “Anyway, I don’t have a lot of company here, so please, take a seat. We can discuss your unexpected presence.”
Steve followed Life’s motion, noticing a twin armchair enticing his yearning for relaxation. Where it came from, he didn’t have a clue, though he suspected that if he did, his awareness of the greater universe would be placed in grave jeopardy. He took the seat.
“Okay,” he said breathlessly. “Okay.”
A football scampered across the edge of vision. It was worried. For reasons beyond the scope of the cosmos, its worries will be left unwritten and unknown. Life watched curiously as it shot into the distance like it had been fired from a cannon.
“Terrible down there,” he said, relatively out of nowhere. “I’m sure you know, you were down there, you’ve seen it. At least you’re not there anymore.”
Steve sighed. This was the game, he decided. “What are you talking about?”
“Oh, I almost forgot, you don’t exist.”
“What?!” Steve exclaimed.
Life shushed him. “Let’s focus on what’s important here, you interrupted my daydreaming. That’s a rather serious offence, although, I don’t know how I’ll punish you since there’s nothing left to punish. You’ll have to settle with feeling very, very unhappy with yourself. I’m sure you can manage.”
Steve, slack jawed, eyes wide, face melting like a kit-kat in a furnace, gawped at the strange man in absolute shock. For some reason he never once considered the statement of non-existence to be a lie, but seriously questioned his ability to grapple with it. How could he not exist?
“Oh,” said Life, catching Steve’s shocked expression, “you look worried. Did I say something upsetting?”
“You-you-you…” Steve stole a moment to compose his line. “You just told me I don’t exist!”
“I also told you I was Life and you didn’t bat an eye,” argued Life. “Are you really that bothered about not existing? It’s a dreadful thing, existing.”
Steve shot from his chair, flailing his arms around in blind panic, hoping the steady motion would ground him an inch closer to reality. It didn’t. In fact, his arms, or lack thereof if Life was to be believed, understood the performance to be one of congratulations or celebration and thusly spread their fingers to facilitate the act. This was called, Steve remembered, ‘Jazz hands’.
“Existing is all I do!” he exclaimed furiously. “You can’t take that away from me!”
“I didn’t,” said Life, unmoved by his enthusiastic flapping. “Trust me, I have better things to do than stop people existing.”
On cue, a red, aggressively sophisticated fishing rod materialised in his hands, which he roped and prepared for use. This use, as it turned out, was to snatch a queue of blue bottles, lined up as if expecting a firing squad, a few metres away. Life appeared to enjoy the practice to the same extent the bottles didn’t.
“You’re saying,” said Steve gently, rage building as he watched Life blatantly ignore him, “that I don’t exist. At all?”
“I don’t exist?”
“But I’m standing here, talking to you?” Steve reasoned.
“Yes,” Life retorted, simpering. “Do I need to remind you who you’re talking to?”
“No,” said Steve, slipping back into his seat. “No, no, I guess not. How, er, how did I stop existing?”
Life heavily sighed- so much so that Steve braced for an incoming hurricane- and then aside sluggishly chucked his fishing rod, and turned to face his new, begrudging companion.
“Right,” he groaned. “What’s the last thing you remember? From existence, I mean. Don’t start telling me what you just did a second ago.”
“Er,” Steve mulled it over, “I think it was something to do with a toilet. Or a couch. A ceiling fan?”
“Great,” said Life, as flat as a steamrolled pancake subsequently trampled under a stampede of elephants. “Fascinating. Very interesting. A masterpiece of a tale. My heart cannot wait for the gripping conclusion of this riveting saga. How will the sequels ever live up to the glory of this innovative original? Please, continue, before my soul explodes with excitement.”
Steve allowed the insults to go unchecked. “I was at a party. Wait, I remember! I was drinking at a party, a birthday party. God, it was four days long. There was so much alcohol.”
A sound, equally harrowing as it was mellifluous, resonated comprehensively through the unfathomable vacuum. It danced, galloped, twirled and pompously flaunted its fluid flexibility. This was, Steve gathered with a faintly startled gasp, Life’s laughter.
“That’s how you stopped existing?” the man chuckled. “Congratulations! That’s the best one yet. Absolutely fantastic. Seriously, that’s gold, that is!”
Steve scowled. “I’m glad you find it so funny.”
“Oh, I do.” Life lay back, weaving his thumbs. “You drank so much alcohol you forgot how to exist. Honestly, I know a lot of things about the universe, about existence as a whole, great secrets that would make your head spin like a revolving door, and I never thought for a second someone could do that, or that anyone would be stupid enough to break a fundamental law of cosmology. If you had a brain I’d give it a pat.”
Rubbing his head, or at least, the place his head formerly inhabited, Steve strived to assimilate the assault of information. The whole was too large, too convoluted, and too downright annoying to swallow, and in prodigious swathes overpowered him. I don’t exist, he told himself again and again, hoping repetition would transform the idea from concept to fact. It didn’t.
Like a man with a 20 pound steak on his plate, Steve elected to cut the information down into smaller pieces in the hopes his mind wouldn’t explode from its digestion.
He’d never see his family again. Not much happened.
He’d never drink again. Something went down.
A random thought occurred. He gasped.
He’d never eat bacon again.
Time to figure this out, he thought.
“How does drinking too much,” he questioned, “stop me existing? I don’t… I don’t understand what’s happening to me.”
Life, presently batting a tennis ball attached on ropy twine to a child’s toy racket, sighed and silently agreed to help the confused young man. Who it was he agreed with, why they cared, why he cared, or how such an agreement was understood despite an absence of words, is one of the countless concealed enigmas of reality, and is best left unknown.
“Ugh,” he groaned. “Fine. You were drinking, yes? A copious volume of alcohol got thrown down that gullet, yes?”
“And you’ve been drunk before, correct?”
Once again, Steve nodded.
“So, tell me this,” Life continued, “have you ever been so drunk, so hammered, that you’ve forgotten half the night, entire conversations, your name, your address, the colour of your mother’s eyes, or the customary procedures involved in the evacuation of the bowels and the purpose of the toilet to help ease these procedures?”
Shamefully, and against his better judgement, Steve nodded. “Yes. Do you have a point?”
“It only stands to reason that if you could get to a lofty level of drunk, a level that you couldn’t remember in the morning, I might add, it would also be possible for you to forget how to exist. Especially, and I think this is where you’ve tripped up, if existing is all you do. Makes it a lot easier to forget if you’ve got nothing else to remember, doesn’t it?”
Safe to say, Steve was simultaneously impressed and depressed.
“I, er, I mean,” he nervously tapped the chair, “I didn’t think that was a possibility. But what does it mean to not exist? You know, what do I do? Am I a ghost?”
Life shook his head. “No, you’re not a ghost. You’d have to die to be a ghost, and you’d have to exist to die. It’s really very simple. You don’t exist, not at all. And don’t worry, I know your next question.”
He inhaled deeply before continuing. It was at this moment Steve wondered why Life would need to breathe at all, and became painfully aware that he himself wasn’t, and hadn’t been since he awoke. It was a troubling sensation that he voted not to think about, deciding he already had enough on his plate and really couldn’t be bothered delegating all the bewildering issues.
“I really, truly have no idea how you can exist again,” said Life sternly. “Or if it’s possible. But you’re free to relax here while you’re figuring it out. I’ve got nowhere to be.”
From the realm of nothing he pulled a something- which turned out to be an aging, dusty acoustic guitar that he strummed softly. The song rang a bell. This was strange; since Steve didn’t exist, neither could the bell, nor could the bell-ringer.
“This is all really confusing,” said Steve, as Life plucked contently. “I don’t know what to make of it all.”
Life groaned and cautiously placed the guitar on the ‘floor’. “You don’t need to make anything of it, that’s the best part about not existing. You’ve got nothing to worry about!”
Steve didn’t see it like this. His life was, ultimately, all he had, and it was gone. The white void wasn’t particularly comforting. Lacking anything substantial, it sat there like a placid forest of nothingness, leering at nothing, saying nothing, and being nothing.
“I don’t like this,” he said. “I want to be back at the party. Have you ever been to be a party?”
“Party…” Life masticated the word. “Party. I can’t remember. That means I’ve probably been to many.”
“Yeah, yeah,” said Steve. “I’ve been to a few, I think. You can’t turn down a good party. Booze, good company, and… and…”
Life ventured a guess. “Good atmosphere?”
“Yes!” he exclaimed. “Good atmosphere! Not like here.”
Life was somewhat impressed with the idea.
The guitar, however, was less impressed. It should be noted that this is entirely its own fault for constantly allowing itself to be strung along by very dull and very unimpressive people and fret-ernising with idiots. It disappeared in a draft of harmony.
“Would you care for some tea?” said Life, pointing towards the coffee table.
Sure enough, sitting on top of the table, in front of the martini glass, was a ceramic emerald teapot decorated in floral patterns, accompanied by two identical cups bearing the same floral designs, a metal jug of milk, and two sugar plates. He picked up the cup closest to him and examined the immaculate craftsmanship.
Steve grimaced. “How can I drink tea? I don’t exist!”
“Neither does the tea.”
Life poured the non-existent tea, which steamed, didn’t steam, emitted a faint aroma of ginger, didn’t emit a scent, and consumed the proffered sugar without swallowing a grain.
“It’s lovely,” claimed Life. “For non-existent tea, it’s pretty good.”
Entertaining the teapot, Steve marvelled at its erudite and charming designs.
“You know,” he said jovially, “this is a really nice– argh!”
Life caught the teapot as it tumbled and returned it gingerly to the table. Steve rubbed and sucked his thumb.
“It bit me!” he claimed angrily. “The damn teapot bit me!”
“Yeah, it does that sometimes,” said Life.
“I’ve never had a teapot bite me before. It doesn’t even have a mouth. How-”
“Best not to think about it.”
Never one for letting go, Steve pursued. “Why did it bite me, then? I didn’t do anything to it!”
“Teapots,” Life explained, “are among the most vicious creatures in existence, and non-existence. Horrible little things, really. Can’t say I blame them. Can you imagine being left alone on a kitchen counter for ages, just sitting there, waiting for someone to come along, open you up, stick a bag full of leaves in your stomach, pour boiling water into you, empty you through your only orifice, drink your filling, then leave you on the counter again, sweltering water and dead leaves festering in your stomach? A miserable existence, if you ask me. I’m surprised teapot to teapot related homicide isn’t more common.”
Life stroked the offending teapot. Apparently, that calmed it down.
“Just drink and enjoy your tea,” he added. “Don’t worry about the teapot. It doesn’t even exist.”
Steve couldn’t enjoy the tea. He tried, he really did. The last thing he’d want to be, other than dead or not existing, is an ungracious guest, but there were things in motion that took precedence over liquefied leaves. Ignoring the issue wasn’t an option.
The issue was, in plain sight, that his body stopped abruptly at his waist.
“Haaaaagh!” he roared, lunging to check the emptiness. His hands met velvet where they should have met legs. At the very least, he expected them to meet non-existent legs.
He stood- floated would be a better description- and pointed agitatedly towards the area his legs formerly occupied.
“What’s going on?!” he screamed in panic. “What’s happening to me?!”
“Isn’t it obvious?” said Life, smirking. “You’re legless, mate.”
Steve glared at his half body blankly. You never notice the importance of limbs until they’re gone. He never thought much of his legs while they were there; holding him up, carrying him to the next pub, giving way when the drink got too much, and propping him against a wall when the party spiralled wildly. They were gone. Technically, a snooty voice trumpeted, they’d been gone the moment he ‘awoke’, presently, they were just catching up.
“What do I do?!” he shouted. “How do I stop this?”
“How should I know?” Life rolled his eyes. “It’s not every day I have to deal with this kind of nonsense, you know. I do have other things to be doing.”
Three red balls appeared in his hands. He proceeded to juggle them unexcitedly.
“What happens if…” Steve trailed off. “What happens if it all fades? Am I going to hell?”
“Oh, no!” A red ball escaped. Life slammed the arm of his chair. “Sorry, what were you prattling on about?”
Steve’s anger bubbled. “Could you please focus? I’m fading away!” He gulped. “Am I going to hell?”
“Don’t be stupid,” said Life, tapping his temple. “You don’t have to worry about hell, you won’t be going there. Hell is reserved for people who invest in digital watches, who think buying bottled water is a ‘pretty neat idea’, who don’t have time for anything less than a six slice toaster, and people who think their daily lives can be accurately calculated in advance by plotting the movement of the stars and planets in relation to their month of birth. No, Steve, hell’s not really your scene.”
Life sipped his tea.
Steve, who had thus far composed himself with the exhaustless grace of a king, was at breaking point.
“Right, okay,” he said, behind clenched teeth, “that’s great. How does that tirade help me at all?! Help me!”
“With what?” said Life innocently.
“Oh, the leg thing. Right. If I had to guess, I’d say all you have to do is remember what you forgot, and why it was so important to not forget, and figure out how you could remember something that doesn’t exist while you’re forgetting how to not-remember. Just a guess, mind you.”
Surprisingly, Steve managed to follow the twisting sequitur. “That doesn’t make any sense!”
“What did you expect?” said Life, juggling the remaining balls.
Steve looked around for anything that could help him, then remembered helplessly that he was in a void, an illimitable region of nothingness, and that other than Life’s occasional invocations there was nothing coherent enough to constitute sanity.
But this couldn’t be the way it ended. There was so much of life, and Life, that he was yet to experience. He couldn’t go out like this, fading away in a pit of absence. He’d never be at another party, never pass out at three in the morning and wake up at half four the consequent morning. He had to get back. This wasn’t fair.
He hadn’t even finished his beer.
A flicker of conscious relativity sparked conscious thought, like a defibrillator reviving a corpse. There was a way forward. There was a way out. He could escape this den of gibberish and insane rationality, and return to the normal insane logic he knew, loved, and forgot to care about.
See, Steve had only one talent, a talent he discovered in the latter part of his existence, and a talent he considered his saving grace in an otherwise terrifically mediocre reality. Football, tennis, music- he didn’t need any of it. All he needed…
Was a drink.
He lunged at the martini glass staring menacingly at the teacups.
It should be noted that martini glasses are notoriously arrogant from the moment of their inception and often regard their fellow crockery as considerably inferior parodies of their evidently supreme rulers. For this reason, and several more, teacups and coffee mugs loathe martini glasses. Thankfully, they are seldom proximate.
“Hey, hey!” said Life. “That’s my drink! Don’t touch that!”
Steve ravenously drained the glass. It appeared to be considerably deeper than superficially implied, a conclusion he was exultant to ascertain.
“Oh, greedy pig, going to empty the whole thing, are you?” Life scoffed the scoffiest scoff ever scoffed. “Sure, drink up.”
He didn’t spare a drop, not for the sake of Life’s future endeavours, not down his shirt for future cleanings. He wanted it all. The bottom of the glass cracked against the table. Steve steadied himself. The familiar spread of inebriation, like a sewage leak, surged to his extremities. The friendly feeling split his lips into an ecstatic grin.
“Figured it out, did you?” said Life, equal parts surprised and displeased. “Congratulations.”
“Getting drunk made the problem, so getting drunk can fix it!” said Steve proudly.
He couldn’t help a triumphant bubble upsurge in his chest. He had beaten non-existence, and now he would be returning- to life, to the party, to the urine-soaked toilets of his favourite pub, and the hangover laps he hadn’t fully appreciated.
“Yes,” said Life, yawning. “How very good for you. You know, you could’ve stayed here. There’s no time, no death, no hangovers. You’re going back to exist. It’s a very silly choice.”
“I was fading away,” Steve argued. “You wouldn’t tell me what was going to happen!”
“I’m Life. I don’t have to explain everything.”
He felt normality- at least, normality by comparison- tug at his senses. It beckoned him back to the party, back to the alcohol, back to life. He looked down and almost cried with happiness. His legs had returned to their rightful place. He couldn’t help but wonder where they might have strolled.
“Was I supposed to learn something from this?” he asked, as his body physically rematerialized.
Life stroked his chin. “I’m not sure. Maybe. Did you learn anything?
“Drink solves all problems?”
“I don’t think that’s an ideal I’d like to engender,” said Life. “Maybe it was… don’t eat yellow snow?”
“I already knew that,” said Steve.
“Teapots are particularly nasty buggers?”
“No, I think it should be something more substantial than that.”
“Oh, well. Don’t eat cheese in space. That’s always a good one.”
Steve was already gone. In a non-existent cloud of wispy smoke, he was reinstated to his previous benign state. The ceiling greeted him woefully, the ceiling fan spun giddily, the smell of vodka, whiskey and beer swelled, and ranks of vibrant and ostentatious shots awaited ingestion.
With wide-eyed success, fuelled on adrenaline, and pumped full of intoxicating chemicals, he shot upright as if waking, and immediately swept through the party, collecting discarded bottles to continue his adventures through the cavernous valleys of intoxication. As time passed, he considered the whole ordeal the fabrication of a very drunk and very disordered mind. Nothing to worry about, he thought. He shouldn’t give it another second of thought when he could be practicing and honing his talent. He hung by his toes from the ceiling fan, while demolishing a full bottle of whiskey, and let the dizzying, churning, stomach-upsetting whirlwind of alcohol guide his actions. No, he thought, clinging onto the whiskey bottle for dear life, nothing to worry about.
From that point onwards, however, he was unwaveringly wary and diligently respectful of teapots.
The martini glass and one of the teacups vanished.
“Monkey,” Life grumbled, sipping his tea.
The void yawned. Containing an ape descendant had been exhausting. Hopefully, Life too would be exhausted and vacate the plane to give it a moment’s rest. It sighed.
“Don’t sigh at me,” said Life. “I didn’t bring him here. Blame the damn alcohol, it’s always doing this. Whenever it can’t keep someone down, it spews them up, and we have to take the refuse. Honestly, you’d think it would know its own limits already.”
The void sighed again.
To Life’s right, a flash of black and pearly white permeated the Clingfilm of non-existence. A scrawny, bony figure appeared. It stood in much the same way corpses don’t.
“Ah, hello, dear!” Life exclaimed, hurriedly fixing his tie and glasses. “How was your day?”
“That bad? Can’t say I’m surprised. Are they still arguing about coincidental pigmentation? That’s always confused me.”
“Oh, just an ape. Alcohol gave us another one. He figured it out pretty quickly, though, he wasn’t here for very long. Did drink all my martini, the selfish idiot. Anyway, I just made no tea at all, would you like some?”
“Hm? Ah, yes, he’ll be fine.” Life poured, and didn’t pour, a second cup of non-existent tea. “A little Life-over but he’ll manage. Sugar? Of course, sugar, of course. I always forget. Oh, no, no, no, you don’t need to visit him. If you’re going to visit anyone, make it alcohol. I’m absolutely sick to the back teeth of it.”
Tea ploughed through a skeletal maze and pooled on the ‘floor’.
“Ah,” said Life, mentally scrubbing it clean. “Maybe you’ll hold the martini better. Just don’t drink too much. Don’t want you ending up alive and sober, do we?”
Life and the figure clasped hands- if such an action was capable when one of the hands wasn’t really a hand at all, and the other didn’t really exist- and in a billow of nothingness, accompanied by a sound similar to a deflating balloon, disappeared from conceptual, abstract non-existence.
The void grunted. It was really rather sick of Life, all that tea, mystery, pointless games, and alcohol. It definitely preferred, it thought, when Life left it well enough alone.
Life enjoyed entertaining, the void figured. Why else would he have guests over day and night? Not that day and night mattered here, of course. But the void enjoyed common phrases. It didn’t really have much else to enjoy, after all, not with Life dragging the intermittent stray into its midst.
In the uninterrupted blankness, there was a cough and a pained groan.
The void grunted again. If a void could truly sigh, it did that as well.
Not another one.