If I said that my life was boring would you take it as an insult? Because I am pretty sure that my life was just as boring as anyone else's. If I had to describe the things that had happened to me, I would probably say that they were incredibly average. I had fallen in love once or twice, graduated from university with a fairly okay grade, and become stuck in a bog standard job that had nothing to do with the university fees that I was now paying off. I went out to drink with the lads once a night, feel worse for it in the morning, and then have it shaken off again for the weekly grind. Like I said, monumentally average. If your life plays out just like that… well don't be too offended, I would say average is good. Like don't get me wrong here, something a bit more interesting from time to time would be nice, but there was no way I would describe things as bad… just average and sometimes boring.
Everything was average until it wasn’t. I mean no one's life can be average forever. There has to be outliers, things that skew the results, that even happens in the most scientific studies so really it was only a matter of time before something out of the ordinary happened to me. Something so world shatteringly life altering that nothing would be the same again. I don’t mean that in the way of breaking up with someone or getting married either, those may be life altering but they are still pretty average and normal. No what I’m getting at here is something so out of the ordinary that you can’t ever look back from it, an event that changes the very fiber of your being.
The day started off as averagely as any other for the last twenty three years had. It was a monday, and as such I was immediately in a pretty foul mood. The saturday just past had been a minor outlier from the norm, a night where we had all got so absolutely off our heads that we’d likely all be feeling it through till next weekend at the very least. The headache wasn’t as violently skull crushing as it had been on Sunday, but it was still present, and that dull ache in my ribs that signified a punch or a tumble into a chest high wall probably wasn't going to disappear any time soon either. Not even my morningly bowl of coco-pops were enough to cheer me up.
It was during that bowl of sugary morning cereal that I began to feel a little odd. You know how when something big is going to happen you can sort of feel it before it does. There’s this charged tinge to the air, an electric buzz and the slight hint of ionization at the back of your throat. As if the events of the upcoming day were somehow so large and powerful that their repercussions were rippling back through time. If the event were an earthquake in the fabric of my life the ripples back to that morning could only be described as a tsunami, drenching me in a definite sense of unease. I passed it off as an effect of the hangover. The milk and lingering alcohol in my system were probably just mixing together to create an unholy mix in the pit of my stomach, and that was the reason I was feeling so uneasy. Probably.
Nevertheless I decided to go on with the day. Mondays were important after all. Though they were by no doubts the worst day of the week they also set a precedent for how the rest of the week would go. If you had a great monday then the rest of the week was probably going to be pretty good, if you had a terrible monday then the chances were that terribleness would seep through to the rest of the week, or at the very least Wednesday. I was determined to make the day a good one, no matter how much uneasiness was squirming around in the pit of my stomach.
My phone buzzed. I let my spoon sit in the bowl of discoloured milk and soggy chocolate cereal and checked the messages, it was Sophie. Now, seeing as I have labelled myself quite possibly one of the most average men alive it goes to follow that I would also have an equally average longing for someone in my life. In my case it was Sophie. She was, as cliche as it sounded, everything I could want in a woman. If I were the average guy then she was the average manic pixie dream girl that captures the heart of the average guy. Again, yes it was a cliche, but cliches are such because of a reason and that is usually because of how often they crop up.
I’ll be at yours in like ten minutes, so get your ass in gear and be ready the text read.
“Damn it,” I muttered.
This was typical of Sophie. She was a whirlwind of activity, and while carpooling with her satisfied both my wallet and my bleeding heart I couldn’t help but wish she would for once break her trend of being early and instead be late for once. Especially today with a blanket of dread hanging over me. I hadn’t showered since Saturday. I tentatively gave my pits a sniff, swore under my breath, and discarded the remnants of my morning meal. I needed to shower, and there was no way I would be ready by the time Sophie arrived.
The steaming hot water of my walk in shower turned out to be exactly what I needed. As the rivulets of cleansing liquid cascaded across my torso, which had gained an unsightly purple blotch in the obvious shape of a fist, I felt as if I were being purified. Whether it was the water washing me clean of my sweat or the heat sinking its way into my bruised muscles and bones I didn’t know, but it felt good. I shook myself out of my relaxation and finished the shower, by now Sophie had probably arrived and let herself in with the key. If I kept her waiting then she would only get more and more pissed off.
There are probably worse things than having your crush see you naked, save for a towel, and dripping wet in your own hallway. But as my blood rushed to my cheeks in a violent blush I couldn’t come up with anything that could fit the bill.
“Are you kidding me Craig?” She snapped, her arms crossed against her chest and her eyes narrowed in a way that I found to be synonymous with an immediate dressing down. I didn’t really expect her face to soften and one of her hands to go to her mouth in shock. “What the hell happened to your chest, Craig?”
I glanced down at the offending area and noticed that the shower had brought the bruise out even more, an angry purple blotch surrounded by an ugly yellowish hue. It looked as if I had been in a serious fight, not that I remembered any of it.
“I guess… things might have gotten a bit rough on Saturday?” I responded, trying to sound nonchalant but likely failing to hide all of my worry about the injury.
“I keep telling you that going out with the guys from work is going to lead to trouble,” she chastised. “They’re rough Craig and you…” she petered off, either uncertain of what she was going to say or unwilling to actually come out with it.
“I’m what Sophie? Some sort of loser who can’t handle himself?” I shot back, my temper flaring for no real reason.
“Well no I didn’t say that… but…”
“Well for god's sake just look at you! Your chest looks absolutely horrible, and it’s not like this is the first time this has happened is it? There was the time when you broke your finger on some guy's jaw, and the time you sprained your ankle running away from a bar brawl and you had to use crutches for a week. What’s it going to be next time Craig? Am I going to text you one day and get a response from some nurse or doctor claiming you’re in hospital?” She ranted.
I was a little taken aback. After a good night almost everyone would come home with a scrape or two, it was just the done thing. Sure I was a little worse at handling myself than some of the other lads, I mean one of them was a black belt in karate so of course he had no worries defending himself. But it was more than that. Perhaps I would have expected this sort of reaction from my Mum or some other relative, but Sophie was just a friend. I didn’t realise she cared so much, and I didn’t have a response to that care. I wanted to yell and shout at her that I found things so mind numbingly boring that a night to just lose myself completely was what I needed. I wanted to tell her that I was depressed. I wanted to tell her that maybe I could change, and that maybe we should make a go for it. But every rebuke and every response died in my throat when I saw the tears spill over the lids of her eyes.
“You know what… Screw you Craig. I’m done trying to patch you up after your crazy Saturdays. You can find your own way to work today,” she snarled, turning on her heel and storming down the stairs of my flat. I
felt a choked sob push its way from my chest, but it didn't feel like my own. As I got dressed for work my mind was in a haze and I couldn’t help but think about the fantastic friendship my own selfish idiocy might have pushed away. The fact that fantastic friendship probably could have been more burned in my chest so hard that it hurt. It was a fire lapping at the very core of my being, one that was blazing out of control now that I may have lost her. So much for the monday being a good one. This week was probably going to suck beyond belief.
But even when I slammed my flat's door behind me and began the ten minute walk to the nearest bus stop I couldn’t have guessed just how bad that week was going to become. A rocky patch in a friendship that had lasted for years? That was an average problem. It wasn’t big enough to ripple back and make me feel uneasy, and that unease was still there. Writhing away underneath the burning pain in my chest that had made my head feel so hazy. Something was still yet to come, and as I took each step forward I felt the unease grow.
I had always found zebra crossings to be a bit of a nuisance. When I was in a car I felt indignation at the fact a single person would cause entire buses and car loads of people to stop for them as they crossed the street, it felt wrong to give a single person so much sway across so many others. On the flip side, I had to admit that there was a certain power in being the one who held that sway. If you were the one standing at the zebra crossing and making cars stop to you there was a brief moment of thrill, a sense of importance, that would make anyone stop dead in their tracks so that you could pass. At least that's how things were meant to work.
She was a kid. She was a kid with headphones on completely engrossed in whatever was happening on her mobile phone. She was a kid with headphones on completely engrossed in whatever was happening on her mobile phone and she couldn't hear the sirens. Everything was average until it wasn't. This was it. The moment that everything had been leading to. The major life shattering world altering event that had rippled back in time to create an unease that was now writhing so powerfully in my gut that it had overtaken my pangs of heartbreak and my remnants of hangover. It was time.
The sirens belonged to a police car, one that was chasing down a speeding van. While the police were steadily gaining on the criminal at the helm of the van it was clear that they weren’t going to be able to stop it before it got to the zebra crossing. It was equally obvious that the kid with her headphones and her phone and her complete lack of awareness was never going to make it across the zebra crossing that was meant to stop all traffic at any time before the van got there. Time slowed, my legs began to move of their own accord. In three large strides I had made it to the center of the zebra crossing, I had pushed the little girl out of the way.
Then the van hit me.
They say that when you die your mind flares in one desperate attempt to latch onto consciousness and you see a sort of highlight reel of your life. I can assure you that whoever came up with that piece of information has never been through the experience of death themselves, because at the very least it is not what happened to me.
The van hit me at what was likely close to a hundred miles an hour. As expected, the human body doesn't react well to those sorts of speeds and I was flung like a rag doll through the air until I bounced, cracked my head off the tarmac, and likely slid several feet. That first hit onto the ground was what did me in. Immediate unconsciousness followed. Well, I say unconsciousness, that was just what it felt like for the first few moments. Sort of like that in-between state when you are almost awake but not quite awake. Then I started to feel things again. There wasn't pain like you would expect after being hit by a fast moving vehicle. The uneasiness in my stomach had also subsided entirely, and that heartbreak I felt had disappeared too. But it still felt like I had a body, and although my surroundings were completely black and had no discernable light source I could still see my body, which was both naked and curiously undamaged. Not even the ugly bruise from Saturday’s night out was there.
An inky black shape shifted in the darkness. It was a dark that was darker than the dark around me. A pure black, a void so deep that it would likely drive someone insane if they looked at it for too long. It drew closer, and I could distinctly make out what looked like a velvety hooded figure.
“Well, that’s odd,” the figure said, its voice seeming to come from nowhere and everywhere at once. “I was sent to collect the soul of a small girl and yet.. Here is a fully grown adult male… most peculiar indeed.”
“Collect… the soul?” I asked, my voice echoing around the blackness and my mind reeling at the implications.
“Hmmm, a fully conscious adult male who is able to generate enough will to talk in the void, now that is even more peculiar,” the voice continued, curiosity obvious in its tone.
The darker than dark shape surged forward until it filled my vision entirely. The thing was immense. Stretching up for what seemed like an eternity, and as wide as anything I had seen before, the shape of a colossal hooded man. For a moment the scale of it all robbed me off speech, robbed me of even thought, as I tried to comprehend the unspeakable horror that had materialised before me.
“What… Where…” I stammered, unable to form a coherent sentence.
“Oh my my, come on you can do better than that… and in truth it is I that should be asking you those questions little human. How did you come to be here, and what did you do with my charge?” It pondered, the questions sounded almost rhetorical, and considering the unbridled fear that was racing through me I doubt I would have been able to answer anyway. “No? You can’t muster the will to speak again? No matter, I don’t need your words to tell me what has gone wrong.”
A smaller blotch of the inky darkness detached from the larger whole and flew through the void toward me. I did what anyone would do in that situation, I dived out of the way. I felt a surge of annoyance from the being, as if it had been offended or surprised by my action, or rather even my ability to act. Then I felt the blotch strike me in the back of the head.
I was brought back to the moment it happened. The moment I stopped at the zebra crossing. The moment I heard the sirens. The moment I saw the kid walking across the street. The moment of impact. The moment I hit the ground. The moment the light in my eyes faded and I was erased from that world forever. Then I was back in the void, a place where moments seemed to have no meaning anymore.
“Craig Lyre, date of birth the third of december nineteen-ninety-four, date of arranged death the fifteenth of august twenty-fifty-three. Those are what your numbers are supposed to be, what your file would read if I were to search it up back at headquarters. Yet here you are, your body deceased and your soul ready and waiting to cross the Veil to The Maw. This should not be. You should not be dead, Craig Lyre,” the void creature said, seemingly to itself.
“I’m dead?” I said, also to myself, “Well that’s new.”
I felt amusement from the creature, amusement that once more quickly returned to being puzzled and rather annoyed. “You have died almost forty years too early, Craig Lyre, and for that I am truly apologetic,” it said. “I can assure you that this sort of thing does not happen often, and that when it does we try to offer reparations in any way that we can before you inevitably join the rest of your race in the chasm of The Maw.”
I began to feel a little overwhelmed. In the space of only a few minutes I had died, been transported to what a massive void being described as the Veil, found out that I shouldn’t have died at all, and had also seemingly been told that all human souls ended up in something called The Maw.
“What do you mean by reparations?” I asked, swallowing my fear and my confusion. I needed to piece things together, use that logical thought Sophie had always gone on about.
“Before you enter The Maw,” the creature began, “You must live a full and meaningful life. While your life was, on average… well just average really, you didn’t really achieve anything bar the heroism that landed you into this situation. In most cases, when someone lives a life unfulfilled, we allow reincarnation into their own world. But when reparations have to be made in these rare situations we… well we push the boat out a little.”
“What does that even mean?” I asked, my patience with this otherworldly creature growing steadily thinner.
“You will be given the opportunity to exist on another plane. Join another world as if it were your own, and also to retain the memories of your life in the dimension you just left. I will drop you into a new world, one where you can succeed and prosper in ways that will fulfill you, so that eventually you too may join your species in The Maw,” the creature explained, once again overwhelming me.
“You keep mentioning this maw thing, what are you talking about?” I asked.
“Very well, as in accordance with the reparations I am forced to answer all questions you see fit to direct at me. What you learn now no mortal before has discovered, so steel yourself against the truth Craig Lyre, lest it turn you mad,” the creature warned, though in truth I wondered how I wasn’t mad already. “The Maw is the great well at the bottom of all dimensions. The being that holds the multiverse to the law and order of death. It consumes the souls of those who have lived a worthwhile life, and with the energy it gains from those souls it keeps the multiverse stitched together, afloat in the endless turmoil of the void.”
The souls of dead people were fed to a giant unthinkable horror at the bottom of the multiverse. That was what this giant creature had essentially said. The human soul was an immortal thing just as religions across the globe said, but you didn't go to heaven or hell, you were shoved inside the equivalent of a deity so it could absorb your energies and give life to the rest of the multiverse. The human soul, the very essence of what made a living being alive, was reduced to mere fuel. It sickened me, and I am sure that if I was a body and not just an ethereal figure standing in the middle of infinite nothingness I would have been sick. As it was I swallowed heavily and took a deep breath.
“Think I’m going to file that revelation under freak out later,” I muttered, and felt another surge of amusement from the creature before me, “you said that you were going to send me to another plane of existence, another dimension, so that I could live a fulfilling life. Where exactly are you sending me?”
“I will be sending you to a realm where you can thrive to your absolute potential. In a sense, this will be a realm where your wildest dreams come true. The multiverse is an interesting web of reality. While it is powered by The Maw the many realities themselves are formed by one another. Every dream any sentient being has ever had, every thought or whimsical idea, splinters the very core of infinity, and molds it in ways that not I, nor any of the Maw’s envoys, could possibly understand. Sentience forges the fabric of reality, reflections upon reflections up an ever branching and ever more intricate chain of existence. You shall be given the life of your most powerful desires, you will be sent to explore the stars.”
“The stars? What do you mean I will be sent to explore the stars? I’m hardly an astronaut,” I scoffed, out of all the fantastical and horrific things this beast had explained, it was finally starting to sound like the thing itself was mad.
“Now now Craig Lyre, spoilers.”
With that the darkness began to fade away into a darker form still, inky black upon inky black oppressively surrounded me until I passed into the bliss of unconsciousness.
I woke with a groan. My head was pounding and my mouth felt as if I had eaten a tablespoon of sand. I knew that I had a pretty heavy drinking session on Saturday, but to still be feeling the pain of it on Monday morning meant that it must have been truly ridiculous. I let my eyes flutter open, wincing against the harshness of sunlight as it streamed through my window. The world around me came into focus and I froze in my bed.
Well, I froze in the bed, because it certainly wasn't mine. Neither was the room for that matter. My bedroom was small. It was a part of a tiny flat that I owned in London, cramped and with a floor covered in dirty washing that I had yet to get washed up. There was a single dim light that flickered when the tube hurtled past, and it always smelt of damp no matter how much I kept the windows open. It was certainly not a wide and expansive room with metallic looking walls and a dark wooden floor. My room did not have two strips of high tech looking lights lining its ceiling, nor did it have futuristic looking doors with no handles and a large window that looked out into the inky blackness of space.
My memories returned slowly as the initial panic subsided. The little girl, the van, the creature in the void, The Maw. The creature had promised to send me to another dimension, one where I could reach my full potential and live a worthwhile life. I couldn't help but feel a little jolt of joy, of sheer childish excitement. I had travelled to an entirely new universe, apparently one where I lived on some sort of star ship and travelled through space. It was like all my childhood dreams had coalesced into one reality. Sure I’d died to pull it off, and sure I knew the terrible truth that my soul was basically just being harvested to feed some interdimensional god. But at the moment things were cool, and I wanted a moment to enjoy it all. I felt like a kid again.
I decided to try something. “Comp…” I began to say, before noticing that my voice appeared to be deeper than I remembered it, and my mouth felt strangely different in general. I ran my tongue over my teeth. “New teeth, new voice… that’s weird.”
I swung my legs out of bed and onto the wooden floor, which I imagine must have cost an unimaginable amount of money to get made considering this were a spaceship, and got out of bed. There was no mirror in the room, so I decided to try something that I had seen on a science fiction show before my time on Earth had ended.
“Computer, activate mirror,” I ordered, trying to make my voice as clear as possible.
“Activating mirror,” the computer system, which had a strange lack of the metallic twang voice activated AI’s had back on Earth. It almost sounded human.
A hologram flickered into life about a foot in front of me, and stared straight back into my own eyes. I had been expecting to see my slightly portly self staring right back at me, but instead I saw a rugged and handsome man. Handsome in all the ways that a man should be handsome, too. The holo-man had deep green eyes that seemed to pierce right through me, even though he were a hologram they sparkled with intelligence, life and determination. His dark hair was cut short on the sides but there was still a slight fringe. His arms and stomach showed a light amount of toning, not too much to make him look like a total beefcake but just enough to show there was a level of definition and strength beneath his skin. To be honest, if I weren’t straight, I would probably jump him there and then.
“Computer, I said activate a mirror not show me the stereotypically attractive lead of an action movie,” I snarked at the machine, not really expecting a response to such an obscure sentence.
“But sir,” the computer responded, “The holo-mirror functions are working at one hundred percent efficiency, you look just as strange as you did when you stumbled in here last night!”
I swallowed, and watched the adam's apple of the attractive man bob in synch with my own. The computer told no lies. That demonic wraith of the veil had done more than just sent me to my childhood dream. It had taken away the remnants of acne that had plagued me since puberty, it had reduced my fat levels and toned my muscles, it had made me grow a good half a foot and changed my hair and eye colour to be a striking combination. Not only had it sent me to a universe where I could do well, it had sent made me look good while doing it. That would take some getting used to.
Now to address the multiple elephants in the room. I needed to find out some pretty core things about this universe I found myself in. I needed to find out where I was, if the universe had the same star systems and constellations as the one that I had left, what my purpose in this universe was, and how much cash I had to my name. I would start with the most pressing of issues.
I turned away from the holo-mirror and strolled over to the wide window that took up the majority of one of the walls in the room. When I saw what lay outside the bounds of whatever ship or station I was in I felt my knees go weak, and had to steady myself against the wall. For a start there was the space. Of course when you are on a planet you know that space is infinite. Or at least that space was as close to infinite as a human being could ever comprehend. But when you're standing on the surface of a world you are, in a sense, separate from that infinity. The world around you keeps you grounded, no matter the infinite space above and below. When you are actually in space things become a different matter altogether. There’s nothing to ground you anymore.
I looked out of the window into the ceaseless expanse of space. It stretched out for light-years below me, light years above me, light years to the sides. Far out there were the tiny twinkles of other star systems, glimmering prettily like like diamonds on a jewelry shelf. It was beautiful, it was breathtaking, and it was making my head spin. A well of panic was bubbling away deep in my gut, whatever calming effect the Void had on me was relinquishing its hold. My heart raced, my palms became sweaty and clammy. Looking out into the depths of forever… I was terrified.
That was when it started to hit me, really started to hit me. I staggered back a few steps and collapsed onto the bed. In just a few moments I had lost everything. My family, my job, my life. It was locked away in a universe that I myself was now separate from. I let my head fall into my hands and let out a harsh sob, tears flowing freely from the corners of my eyes. Damn that reaper, or whatever it was, and damn the void. Though I hadn’t realised it at the time the entire space of the void had sapped me of my will, and though I had asked the reaper some pretty important questions I hadn’t been able to feel my fear. If I had I probably would have made a run for it. But then, how could an ordinary human run away from such an immense and powerful being in its own domain? I wiped my eyes and took a deep breath, steadying myself before standing once more. This was my life now, and although I was more scared than I had ever been before I had to make do and get on with it. There was no use moping around for the things I had lost, even if they would scar my heart for a long time to come. I had been sent to this world for a reason, I had left my Earth incomplete. I needed to lead a long and fulfilled life so that balance in the universe would be maintained, and though that didn’t sound too bad in principle, I couldn’t help but feel a heavy presence settle over my mind.