By George Dell (B. 7/31/95)
Most people called him Bill, but his friends called him Billy. They would, if he had any. Billy lived in Antioch, California, in a small white house with his mother and his step dad, Scott. From his room he all he could see was a fence, some dead grass, and a small reservoir. Some days, Billy let his mind wander, while he watched the scintillas of sunlight dance on the water. The reservoir was the only beautiful thing in his life, besides his soul, and that had been ailing ever since he had met Scott.
During the week he attended school, biked home and watched TV. During the weekends he watched more TV. When Scott was in a bad mood, he went on long bike rides. Sometimes he would spend the whole day riding around aimlessly, searching vaguely for the slightest amity in the wastes.
His father had left before he was born, and Billy thought of him sometimes, and wondered why he left. He never drew up the courage to ask his mother, and she never spoke of his father.
Billy didn’t like Scott, because Scott hated Billy. On the first day Billy’s mother had brought Scott home, Billy had opened the door and said hello. Billy was yearning for a man to act like a father to him.
Scott grimaced at him, and said to Billy’s mother.
“I didn’t know you had a kid.” Scott knew he wouldn’t find a girl as nice as her again, so he stayed with her. At best, he saw Billy as a negative on a cost/benefit analysis, and at worst, as a genuine impediment to his enjoyment of life.
Sometimes, when Scott was drunk or in a bad mood, he would hit Billy with his belt. It hurt a lot, and it made him very angry. He tried not to cry when it was happening, because if he did, then Scott would beat him harder. He didn’t know why Scott did it. Most of the time it was for little things that Billy had forgotten to do, like taking out the trash, or feeding the dog. Sometimes he didn’t say why he did it, and that drove Billy crazy.
Billy didn’t know what to do with all the anger he felt, so it went everywhere, including himself. He was the angriest boy in Antioch. He spat on teachers, gave rude gestures to police, and broke a lot of nice things, no matter where he was. On time, late at night, he took a rock and threw it through a store window.
He was caught, and he spent the night in jail. He didn’t sleep at all. It felt like his heart was a furnace, that it was going to grow so hot that it would melt out through his chest. He wished that it would.
His hatred burnt so ferociously and impotently that, by the time the sun came up, he was wishing for death.
It was about nine in the morning. At the station, they had called his parents, and for the first time since he was six years old, Billy prayed to god. Scott picked up the phone, and Billy became an atheist.
Scott was curt on the phone with police. It was quiet enough in the station that Billy could hear everything he said.
“Let him walk home, think about what he’s done.”
It was the middle of may, and everything outside was blooming. School would be ending soon, and Billy would probably be held back. He was failing most of his classes. He didn’t care. He didn’t care about anything.
Billy felt like he had been falling his entire life. He had had a vague feeling of anticipation, a strange yearning for the feeling of his feet pressing against the smooth black floor of the absolute bottom of perfect anguish. He wanted to feel the certainty, the knowledge of the light at the end of the tunnel, the feeling that it could only get better.
But every time he fell lower, he had known that it was not the end, that there was a darker shade of black, just beyond his vision.
As he stood in the late morning glare, looking at the front door of the only home he had ever known, his skin crawling with fear, he felt a horrible sense of satisfaction.
It can’t get worse than this, he thought. Nothing could be worse than this.
He was wrong. Scott gave him a bad beating, worse than he had ever gotten before, but he had been expecting that. What made it awful was that Scott made Billy’s mother watch while he did it. Scott had been talking to Billy’s mother, about discipline, and how important it was in the healthy development of a young man.
“Sometimes you have to give them a little tough love.” He said, and Billy’s mother was so tired from all that she did that she hardly listened, and she didn’t speak but to show her assent. Such is the power of love.
Scott hit Billy dozens of times all over, hard, and each time he was hit, he cried louder, until he was wailing, plaintively. His cry was so raw and heart rending that it would have brought almost anybody to tears. But Scott had Billy’s mother convinced, and she was unmoved, and Scott was a jackal, and he could not be moved.
When it was all over, the silence was deafening. Billy trembled.
“Now go to your room.”
He walked to his room and left the door open. He lay on his bed and stared at the ceiling. He looked at the texture of the ceiling and his mind was as formless and shapeless as the space between the stars.
The sun had long since gone down before he stirred again.
Scott called him to dinner, but he didn’t get any. He had to watch Scott and his mother eat. The last time he had eaten was noon the day before. He had had a pop tart.
He wasn’t hungry.
After dinner was over, he did the dishes. He didn’t hate his life anymore. He didn’t care. He thought nothing, felt nothing, desired nothing. Though his body was young, and he had smooth skin and clear green eyes, he was as dead inside as the surface of the moon. He washed the last dish and placed it in the drying rack.There was a window above the sink, and through it, he saw the stars. They were suspended in the sky, motionless, indomitable, and eternal. Billy felt something stir within him. His dying, anguished soul reached out toward the stars with a strength that felt superhuman. Through the window, Billy could see a star shining, brighter than all the others. Billy locked his gaze on it, drew up all his suffering, and wished, more fervently than any being had wished before, that he could go to that blazing diamond in the night, and escape all that had ever hurt him, that he could live at such a distance to the sins of his miserable, feeble world, that nothing would touch him again, and that things could be like they were before, when he was much younger, and had been happy, and the universe hiccuped, and across the measureless leagues he was transported, miraculously, impossibly, to a clearing of purple grass on a world that no other man would see for six hundred and fifty million years.
Billy fell upon the ground, understanding nothing. He shut his eyes reflexively, the animal in his nature assuming he had been struck by lightning, or hit by a bomb, or that something had destroyed the earth.
He lay on the ground in that silent forest for several minutes, trembling in fear.
When he finally looked to see where he was, he couldn’t believe his eyes. It’s hard to describe in terrestrial terms the surface of the planet he was on. Imagine a forest of sentient fractals, the color of soap bubbles, fighting and loving one another the way man does, but in four dimensions instead of three. Their speech was like elongated birdsong, and what they didn’t say, they projected into thoughts which, when they chanced to penetrate Billy’s blood-brain barrier, confused him utterly.
Billy looked up at the bright red sky, at the flat, sharp edged cyan clouds, at the oceans of life in the sky, and realized that his wish had been granted. He gasped, and was astonished to find that he could feel the air in his lungs. He could feel again. For the first time in his life, he wept with joy.
The water from his eyes fell from his face and, hissing, burnt the grass he was laying on.
What Billy had experienced only happened about once per every hundred billion Kalpa.
A Kalpa is a cycle. It encompasses the life of a universe, stretching from the birth of all matter to the time when the last of the supermassive black holes evaporates into silent echoes of matter in the void. In this Kalpa, a hole in the universe opened up in Antioch, and above the clearing on the distant planet at the same time. Billy had fallen through it, unknowingly luckier than any other being who would ever live.
On his first day on that strange world, Billy didn’t explore far from the clearing. He was mesmerized by the movements in the sky, and didn’t move until his hunger compelled him to.
He roamed a ways, and found some strange foods which satiated his metabolism, as well as his appetite. He ate and wandered.
Nothing tried to kill him. Nothing even noticed him. If he was ever harmed on that bright purple world, it was either through his own incompetence, or through sheer accident.
For the most part, he was as incomprehensible to the aliens as they were to him. They received him the same way an unusually large gust of wind would be received here.
They didn’t even notice him until he was 27 years old.
By that time, Billy had grown a long, coarse black beard. His hair went nearly down to his ankles, and his clothes had all long since worn away. It was usually rather hot on the planet, and the “ground” was spongy and soft, so he didn’t need them anyway. On earth, he would be considered insane, but on the new world he was on, he could do nothing that would get the flying fractal’s attention. He had tried several times before.
On that day, he was bouncing happily along, singing to himself in a nonsense language that he had made up.
He had forgotten almost everything about the earth, and had acclimated himself to a hermit’s life. The only times he could remember his former life were in his dreams, and he usually forgot those soon after he awoke.
He let out a particularly loud hoot, jumped hard, and flew through the air. The spongy ground caught him, and he was uninjured. He laughed to himself.
His only regret about his new life was his loneliness. He had tried to talk to the life on the sponge layer, but they told him nothing that he didn’t already know, and eventually, refused to speak to him at all. Undaunted, he talked to the sponge itself, but it didn’t have anything interesting to say either.
So he had wandered the spongy earth, bouncing idly, composing strange songs with nonsense words, and things had stayed largely the same.
On the horizon something fluttered, catching Billy’s eye. He squinted, and was shocked to see a fractal falling from the sky on some errand that was incomprehensible to the human mind. He ran towards the fractal’s landing site, hoping that it would talk to him.
When he arrived, he found the fractal boiling somberly. It had elongated itself into a spiral helix, and was undulating wildly. Billy had seen a fractal do something like that before, but he had no clue what it meant. He had given up on meaning, in general.
He cried out “Cloogaloo baloo magoo!” Which meant: “Hello! Tell me a little bit about yourself.”
The creature started at the sound of his voice. It sensed him for a while, then flew back up into the sky.
Billy growled some invented obscenity, and fell to the ground, dejected. He rolled over petulantly, and followed the fractal as it ascended into the sky. He cursed it a little more, for good measure, and his mood suddenly changed. He saw the fractal gather its friends, and the whole mass of them suddenly began to descend towards him. Billy went crazy with excitement. He danced, yelped, screamed, and jumped ecstatically.
They arrived, and formed a circle around Billy. He shouted out more gibberish, and he suddenly felt himself beginning to rise. He was ascending into the sky, surrounded by a cloud of furry, impossibly complex shapes.
He reached the top, and looked out at the landscape below him. It was truly indescribable.
While he gazed in awe, the living optical illusions around him probed into his subconscious, and they were shocked to find that he was not of their earth. They rooted around a little more and found some badly decayed remnants of Billy’s former memories. They leapt into his ancient memories of the earth, and their awe outpaced even Billy’s. They rushed through his memories, astonished by the world they saw. Some of the beings recoiled, unable to comprehend even the concept of a “pop-tart” without injury. Some beings remained, however, and persevered in their exploration.
Those that stayed to understand his memories were transformed forever by the experience. They were happier than ever before, and their friends reported that had become kinder, and more grounded by the experience.
Billy’s memories were published in a scientific journal of the day (or something very loosely analogous to one), and Billy became a superstar.
The beings were happy to reward Billy for his worth, and they deigned to build for him any world that he wanted. Their minds moved so quickly that all of this occurred within moments.
They reached out their minds to Billy, and struggled to speak to an organism so far below them.
Suddenly, Billy saw himself inside his mind. He was a little embarrassed to see how dirty he was. The image of himself began to float, and it transformed itself into the abstraction of desire, which Billy hadn’t thought about for years. At the end of the desire was a questioning, and Billy understood immediately.
Billy, in the darkness of pure being, thought.
His mind flitted quickly over the puerile dreams of the palaces of gold and the mere pleasure he could conjure for himself. He rejected them, and thought of something greater, the greatest thing he could imagine.
He thought of nothingness.
And the spirit of Billy moved upon the face of the waters of the void.
He thought into being galaxies, sparkling like jewels in the darkness.
He thought of the earth, and the sun, and the planets, and he spun them in their natural orbits.
He descended to the primordial chaos of the earth, and saw the life that abounded there, and watched it as it grew ever greater, and wept with each extinction, and saw the human species rise from rats in the darkness to man. He watched the meek inherit the earth, and the first real men and women, and the first two humans to love one another, and to hate one another, and the suffering was almost too much to bear.
He withstood their agony, and as the centuries burst into millenia, and people spread themselves across the whole earth, it grew greater still, and still he withstood it.
At last he came to our present age, and stopped himself there, and he allowed the world to move onwards at its natural pace.
His simulacrum was not perfect.
If you go to 509 Black Oak ct., in Antioch, you will find a vacant lot, overrun with trash and weeds. You won’t find Scott, or his mother (her name was May) anywhere on this earth. The wood that made Billy’s living prison is still the living flesh of trees, in Northern California. At a textile factory in Shaoxing, China, a worker coughed and cut a piece of leather wrong, and, marked as defective, it was sent to the furnace immediately after.
You and I live in this world of his, in this childish imagination, and all that we accomplish will be no more noble or eternal than the shards of light that glittered like stars outside the window.