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Before the beginning of time there was no such thing as surprise.

By the way, by the “beginning of time,” I mean the beginning of this time, the one that we’re now busy living and dying and doing things in, the one we’re currently complaining about. There may well have been other times, you understand—there quite likely were, in fact—with their own beginnings and endings and complaints, but our time, the one going on right now and the one we are concerned with here, knows nothing of these other possible, earlier sister times, if indeed they existed—which they probably did.

Be that, though, as they say, as it may. The point here is that before this time began—this very one I’m writing this in right now, and the one you’re later reading this in—before this time began, there were no surprises.

Nor was there any stuff, like cars. Nor was there any matter to build stuff like cars with, nor energy to mold them, had there been some moldable matter around for stuff like cars.

Nor was there any space for roads to drive around on in cars, had there been matter and energy to bring cars about with. Nor, of course, was there any time for them to travel through had there been matter, energy, and space to set their stage.

Before this time began, then, there wasn’t much of anything, anywhere—in fact, there wasn’t any where at all, nor any when. There was just the one, timeless thing: Alphonse.

Of course, Alphonse is now—through a long and intricate series of events that was nothing if not convoluted (and all conceived of and staged by the one and only Alphonse, of course)—this Alphonse is now, and for the foreseeable future known as God around here, but I am getting ahead of myself. And besides, I don’t want to give you the impression that God’s real name is Alphonse. It is not. It is Joe. And you had better not remember that.

So, to recap: Before the beginning of time: Nothing. That’s to say, nothing, nowhere, nowhen. Except for Mr. Outside-Space-and-Time himself: Alphonse.

Now, Alphonse was pretty serene. In fact, one could be forgiven for saying that he was the personification of serenity, that he was nothing but and had been nothing but utterly serene for pretty much ever (I know, there was no time in which to be utterly serene for pretty much ever in, but bear with me).

Okay, to re-recap: All we had, then, was Alphonse, and he simply was; and as I’ve implied, the business of simply being was a pretty serene one, so that’s what we had, a serene Alphonse who had never been anything but serene, and who was facing (or would have, had he had a face) the prospect of going on being nothing but serene for ever and ever and ever (or would have, had there been any ever and ever and ever to be serene in). He was, then, this Alphonse of ours, facing a future that on the whole and upon serene reflection struck him (or her, who could tell) as boring beyond godly endurance; i.e., as something he did not very much feel like putting up with.

So, rather than serenely lying back, to break the monotony and to amuse himself Alphonse created little island universes (which he thought of as galaxies), swirly things, lots of sparkly little points which were quite pretty and moved around and looked stellar and all that, but while they were beautiful and sparkly and swirled just so (as long as he kept them beautiful and sparkly and swirling just so), what he longed for most of all was not starry sparkles at all but surprise, and these starry islands were hardly surprising at all since Alphonse was very well aware of who was making them, and not only that, once he stopped—stopped making them, that is—they simply undid and went away. Which to Alphonse, again, was not very surprising—since, as we said at the outset, there was no such thing as surprise.

And this was, to our timeless friend, Alphonse—not to put too fine a point on it—a big bummer.

Indeed, Alphonse’s biggest (and only) problem was that he was omniscient, he was all-knowing, he did know all there was to know. Not that there was much (if anything) to know about, but what there was, at least while he kept it there and knowable, well, he knew about it alright. And this, in a word (His word), was nothing but boring, surpriselessly so.

So, to re-re-recap: Big bummer.

Being quite fed up, then, with boredom, one day he set out to fix himself a surprise by doing his godly best to forget who was creating that little galaxy over there, just so he could look at it and go: “Wow. Look at that, will ya,” but he couldn’t. It was him doing it all right, and being all-knowing he knew that very well. Try as he might, no way. Couldn’t fool himself. Besides, who else was there to have done it? And, just like before, as soon as he stopped making it, gone was the galaxy. Back to being serene and all-knowing and nothing but. Damn.

To re-re-re-recap: Damn.

He tried again.

And again.

And again.

Which is how he, after many, many fruitless tries, finally struck some very inspired pay dirt and created the Lie, his finest—some go so far as to say only—accomplishment.

This is what he did: First he created—well, he keeps creating, you understand, continually keeps it in place or it would vanish—a galaxy: a trillion, give or take, sparks (stars to us, but to him they’re just sparks), and while doing this—keeping these things there, with his left hand as it were—he, with his right or some other hand, decided with a certainty only an Alphonse could muster: Joe did this. Not me. No doubt about it. This thing over there is Joe’s handiwork.

Was there a Joe anywhere? Didn’t matter. Alphonse’s decision precluded such questions, any questions. His decision was absolute and doubtless, irrevocably beyond debate. It was, in a word, a certainty: that galaxy over there, that very one is Joe’s handiwork. Plain as day.

All-knowing now about whose handiwork that galaxy was (i.e., Joe’s), Alphonse turned away for an instant, feigning sudden Godly interest in some other direction, then, the briefest of spells later, looked back (in order to take Joe’s galaxy unawares, as it were): And yes, still there. Joe’s galaxy. Alphonse moved closer to get a better look. Yes, still there, holding steady. Nicely done, Joe. So nicely done, in fact, that Alphonse couldn’t help but wonder where is he then, this Joe? Would like to compliment him on his work.

Ah! He should not have wondered; for wondering he remembered that there was no Joe, that he had made him up, had made it all up, and poof! went the galaxy.

Damn!

He tried again though, lied that is, said Joe did it, and better, harder this time, with more conviction, more certainty, with utter and complete and everlasting certainty in fact. Then, for good measure, he also decided to never remember having decided Joe did it. And to top it off, he finally decided to never remember having decided never to remember, and that, as they say, did the trick.

There it was: a surprise galaxy, so sparkly.

Alphonse could not remember having seen it before and wondered where it might have come from. He tried again to recall, had he seen this thing before? No, he hadn’t. Had he done this? No, not that he could remember. And then, the most beautiful thing of all, when he could not for the life of him figure out how this galaxy had come to be, finally: he was surprised. Delightfully surprised. And very happy.

Now Joe was not the kind of creator of galaxies to rest on his laurels. No sir. One galaxy was not enough. Before you could say much of Jack Robinson he had built himself another one, one that actually crashed into the first which caused all kinds of havoc and intergalactic clouds and storms and all kinds of cool things, and Alphonse was surprised (and very delighted) at all the commotion. And now He was really curious: who was doing all this? It wasn’t him doing it, so someone else must be behind it all. Intrigued, Alphonse went looking for that someone.

And finally—some time, a lot of time, later—found him, messing with a bright colored metal looking thing that gave off badly-smelling blue-white smoke through a little pipe in the back not far from the left rear wheel.

“Hey, you there.”

Joe stopped what he was doing, stood up, straightened his you wouldn’t call it back, and wiped his, well not hands exactly, and looked over at Alphonse, a little surprised to see him.

“Hey to you too,” he said.

“You wouldn’t be Joe, would you?”

“Yes,” said Joe. “I am Joe. Well, Joseph, actually.”

“Joseph?”

“Yes. That’s the longer version. And you are, if I may ask?”

“Alphonse.”

“Can’t say that rings any bells. Where do you come from, Alphonse? Not from these parts, I take it.”

“I’m not exactly sure.”

“Well, you must have come from somewhere, we all do.”

“I don’t remember,” said Alphonse.

“Been here long?”

“Here? No. Just arrived.”

“Ah. But you’ve been around.”

“Around, yes. Lots. And pretty much forever, actually.”

“Me too,” said Joe.

“What’s this then?” asked Alphonse, nodding in the direction of the ‘56 Chevy Joe was tinkering with.

“This,” said Joe. “Is a car.”

“What does it do?”

“They’re energy converters. Pour in some old dinosaur here (pointing to the gas tank) and off they go, moving down the road spewing ozone destroying fumes.”

“Road?”

“Here, see the tarmac, asphalt.” Joe pointed to the road disappearing down, well, the road.

“Asphalt?”

“Another use for old dinosaur,” said Joe.

“What are those things, dinosaurs?”

“Ah, you must have missed that.”

“Missed what?”

“Earth, Mars, Venus: The planets. I made them and filled them with dinosaurs and stuff and then extincted them all. Very amusing stuff. Had myself a great old time.”

“Earth?”

“That’s where we are right now. Never been here before, then, I take it?”

“Not that I recall,” said Alphonse.

“Where do you come from then?” said Joe.

“Not sure,” said Alphonse, honestly.

“Well, you must have come from somewhere.”

“I suppose so,” Alphonse looked around, still surprised at all this stuff. And still very much delighted. “So, you’ve made all this, huh?”

“Sure have. And you? What have you been up to? Wherever it is you’ve been.”

“Well, for one, I’ve been enjoying myself,” said Alphonse.

“That’s nice,” said Joe. “So, what have you been enjoying?”

“All this,” said Alphonse with a sweeping gesture with not his arm exactly.

“My creation?”

“Yes, your creation.”

Joe frowned. “So, I guess what you’re really saying is that you’ve been taking the grand tour, enjoying yourself, goofing off while I’ve been hard at work.”

“Watch it,” said Alphonse, a little offended. “You can’t talk to me this way.”

“Why not?”

“Don’t you know who I am?”

“You’re Alphonse, you just said so.”

“I’m more than that. Much more than that. I’m Alphonse, the ultimate creator.”

“You? No, sir. You are not the ultimate creator. This is the first time I’ve laid eyes on you. I’ve never seen you create a thing. Not for as long as I’ve been here.”

“Which is how long, exactly?”

“Oh, a long, long time. Billions.”

“Billions what?”

“Billions of revolutions of this planet around this star.” Joe pointed at the local sun as a way of defining his terms.

“Ah.” Alphonse frowned. “A long time, huh?”

“Sure.”

Alphonse kept frowning. He didn’t quite know how to deal with this Joe. Found him a little too cocky. In need of down-to-size cutting. So, in order to put Joe in his proper place, Alphonse looked around for something to nit-pick about. “Something’s missing though,” he said after a while.

“And what would that be, Alphonse?”

“Shouldn’t there be something, you know, some things in our image. To run this, what did you call it?”

“Car?”

“Yeah, car.”

“That’s a thought,” said Joe, “but I don’t think in our image is such a hot idea, wouldn’t fit in these seats. Something smaller perhaps, with two legs and two arms and a head. How does that sound?”

Alphonse pictured it. “Yeah,” he said. “I agree. Let’s call it an Adam.”

“An Adam?”

“Yeah. And let’s make him a wife thing called an Elvira. And they can have a bunch of babies to populate this Earth of yours and then we’ll have lots of people running around writing confused books about them and start all kinds of religions.”

Joe considered this. “Nah,” he said. “Sounds boring. Let’s make some more dinosaurs instead.”

“What’s with you and dinosaurs?” said Alphonse.

“They’re cool,” said Joe. “And they convert so nicely to fossil fuel. Just give them a little time, and a little pressure.”

“Do they pray?” asked Alphonse. “An Adam would pray.”

“The dinosaurs? No, not really. They don’t care much about that kinda stuff. They eat, lay eggs, hatch and become fossil fuel, that’s what they do.”

“Well, who’ll do the praying then?”

“Praying to whom?”

“Why, to me, of course,” said Alphonse.

Joe shook what should have been his head. “I don’t like the sound of that so much. Let’s stick with non-praying dinosaurs,” he said. “I can make them smaller and car-driving.”

“Well, you stick with your dinosaurs. I’ll create myself an Adam,” said Alphonse.

“Well,” said Joe. “Truth be told, you can’t.”

“What do you mean, I can’t?”

“You’ll have to have me do it—and pretend you don’t know that I’m not really—or the Adam won’t stay created.”

“Oh, shit,” said Alphonse as he suddenly remembered, and poof! went absolutely everything.

So, to re-re-re-re-recap: Poof!

And so he had to start all over again, really deciding this time that no matter what, and no matter what Joe said to remind him, he would not remember. And it worked fine, all the way up to, and including:

“Well,” said Joe. “Truth be told, you can’t.”

“What do you mean, I can’t?”

“You’ll have to have me do it—and pretend you don’t know that I’m not really—or the Adam won’t stay created.”

 “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” said Alphonse. “I’m Alphonse, the creator of the known universe. I can create whatever I want.”

“Actually, no,” said Joe. “I’m the creator of the known universe.”

“That’s a lot of bull,” said Alphonse. “I made you, and you know it.”

And, of course, poof! went everything.

“Oh, shit,” said Alphonse.

So he started all over again, really really deciding this time that no matter what, and no matter what Joe said to remind him, and no matter what he said to Joe to remind himself, he would not remember. And this time it really worked.

Still does.

So far.

So, to re-re-re-re-re-recap: So far.

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