Life’s Little Questions

It was a startling moment of clarity.  No answers presented themselves, but the wonder – and perhaps the absurdity – of it all struck him like lightning.  “What is this all for?”

Next to him, his partner also sat on the floor, breathing hard.  “What?”

“The universe.  Our lives.  What does any of it mean?”

“You have to be kidding.”

Loud cracks punctuated their words, but he ignored the distractions.  “Not at all.  We live.  We die.  We do some things in between, maybe, but even then the people we affect also die.  So why do we bother?  Haven’t you ever thought about it?”

“I can’t say that I have.”  His partner turned and rose just enough to peer over the counter they were sitting behind.  He fired a few shots and ducked back down.

“You should.  It seems really important…”

“Look!”  His partner grabbed him.  “I’m not sure what caused your little existential breakdown, but I need you to take your gun and help me before we lose any chance of escape.”  Suddenly his partner released his grip and looked at his hand.  “Blood.”

“Oh.  Yeah.  I’m pretty sure I got hit getting back here.”

“Where?”  His partner began examining his shoulder for the wound; he didn’t see the man come up behind him with a gun pointed towards them.  With his free arm, he managed to lift his gun and shoot first.

His partner yelled as the shot went off next to him.  When the body hit the floor, he looked back.  “Thanks.”

“No problem.”

“Okay.  We have to get you out of here.  You are not going to die, you hear me?”

“Actually, I’m pretty sure I am.  Just promise me you’ll think about it.  I’d like to hear your answer.  Now go!”

Movement, Reversed

Impatience was not a virtue, he knew, but it was part of his character.  The rune before him seemed aware of that, seemed to mock him.  Movement reversed.  Motion that is blocked.  It was counseling him to wait, that now was not the time to act.

How could he sit still?  A great wrong had been committed, and it must be set right.  To wait meant to invite even more wrong.  No, the rune’s counsel had to be set aside.  Even as he formed the thought, misgivings arose.  The runes were never wrong.  Open to interpretation, yes.  But not wrong.  And this casting was clearer than most.  What’s more, he had anticipated this reaction.  His anger, however, required something else.

The runes, he told himself, did not understand, could not fathom his need.  He knew it was not about setting things right; it was about revenge.  Blood demanded blood.  And at this moment, right and wrong held little meaning.  The runes could not account for his anger, so they could provide no useful advice.

Winter howled around him but could not reach inside.  He began to move.

What Would the Vegetable Be?

“We are always portrayed as villains.  Either savage killing machines or cold-blooded murderers.  Both couldn’t be more wrong.  We are simply people, going through our lives.”

“But you do kill.”

“Not out of malice.  And we don’t seek to frighten.  Indeed, our saliva naturally contains a blend of intoxicants that I understand makes the experience quite pleasant.  I suppose there may be some sadists among our numbers, but every group has its…  extreme members.  You bore no ill-will towards the animal that provided your meal this evening.  It is the same with us.”

“Cows are different than humans.  We have intelligence, society.  Your analogy is flawed.”

“Cows feel pain.  Show connection with their off-spring.  And they certainly have a sort of intelligence.”

“It’s not the same at all.”

“I suspect it is to the cow.”

“So why not just become a vegetarian?  I mean, if I am convinced by your argument about the cow, I could just give up eating meat.  Why don’t you?”

“You misunderstand.  I was not arguing against your eating the flesh of other animals.  I was simply pointing out that our attitude towards your kind simply mirrors your attitude towards the animals you eat.  As for becoming a vegetarian, while that is possible for an omnivore such as yourself, I do not have that luxury.  My diet is very restrictive.  My biology can only derive nutrition from a single source.  It is the biggest failing – developmentally speaking – of my kind.”

“So why not get it from a hospital or some such?  That’s how the good ones on TV or in the movies do it.”

“Ah yes.  Humanity’s attempts to romanticize us.  I wonder if it is fascination or merely reassurance that motivates such portrayals.  How would you do with spoiled meat and moldy bread for your meals?  Would you survive?  Perhaps.  But no human would voluntarily choose such a meal.  Outside of the human body, blood immediately begins to break down and lose its nutritional value.  Refrigeration speeds that process.  So it is not really a viable option.”

“Oh.  I didn’t realize.”

“No reason you should.  My people are generally not included in biology textbooks.”

“So what now?  I am the animal for your meal?”

“Dear me, is that what you thought?  No.  Do you sit and talk with the cow before eating her?  No, no.  You are more like a pet.  I enjoy our time together far too much to squander it in such an impulsive act.  You are an excellent verbal sparring partner.  One does not let such a find go so easily.  But you must excuse me.  Our conversation has only sharpened my hunger.  I would not ask you to witness my meal, so I must take my leave.  I will see you again.”

Rerun

He found himself in an empty theatre.  None of the seats were occupied except for his.  A vague sense of the movie having just ended hung in the air.  But he had no memory of going to the movies.

“It’s still a bit disconcerting, isn’t it?”  A voice from behind broke the silence.  He looked around and saw a figure near the EXIT sign.  In the dimness, he could make out no features.

“Excuse me?”

“Recently, I’ve been trying this visual analogy, but people still seem a bit confused.”

“I don’t know what you mean.”  The man – definitely a man – wasn’t making any sense.  So far none of this did.  “What movie was playing?”

“Really?  I guess the setting really doesn’t help.  It was your movie, Richard.  Yours alone.  You wrote it.  Starred in it.  And now it’s over.”

“My movie?  I’ve never written a script.  And I’m not an actor.”

He still couldn’t see the other very well, but he could feel the shrug.  “As you will.  My job is done.  You’re welcome to stay if you like.  You can watch the movie again.  Or create a new one.  Or leave here to try something else.  Your choice.  I’ll see you around.  If you want.”

“Wait!”

“What?”

“I don’t understand.  I don’t even know where I am.”

“Yes, you do.  Look, I won’t tell you what to do.  But if you really are this confused, maybe watch the movie again.  However, if you’re ready for something else, leave and see where your imagination takes you.  It’s up to you.”

The door closing seemed rather final.  It was up to him?  The seat was comfortable.  Watching a movie seemed like an easy way forward.  When was the next showing?  A bit of restlessness crept over him.  The desire for something new fought with the comfort of the familiar.  New meant unknown.  It required him to act.  And the movie was right here.

*     *     *

It was suddenly very bright, and a sharp slap on his butt elicited a cry as he inhaled air for the first time.  He was placed in the arms of a woman.  His mother!

“Congratulations.  It’s a boy.”

His mother smiled and looked at someone next to the bed.  “Richard!  Did you hear?  It’s a boy.  We should name him after you.”

He relaxed into the comfort of his mother’s arms and fell asleep.