The man placed the gleaming toe of his dress shoe on the edge of the concrete molding. He adjusted the position of the sole slightly, trying for a more precise placement. Having come this far without incident, he wanted to be as accurate as possible.
The day couldn’t have been more breathtaking. The sun beamed brightly, high overhead, surrounded by a cloudless, cobalt sky. The grounds of the campus glowed with the marvelous colors of nature; emerald green shrubbery bloomed everywhere. The trees and bushes lay within rustic brown, finely groomed walkways marked by perfectly placed stones and statuettes.
The man smiled serenely while enjoying the exquisite environment. He placed his hands on both sides of his skull, examining his haircut. Everything had to be in place. He slid his fingers along the wool blended slacks and coat, feeling the soft texture of the fabric gliding along the pores of his skin. As a light, scented breeze floated softly over the top of the building, he adjusted his tie, positioning the knot perfectly between the collars of his shirt. Kneeling, the man re-tied his shoes, making sure each loop in the lacings held an identical shape and size. He stood, feeling the comfort of his clothing against his bones, muscles and skin. He leaned forward, placing the bulk of his weight on his right instep. Unbuttoning his suit coat so it could flap freely in the wind, the man stepped off the edge of the building. Face first; eyes wide open, he fell into the void of uncertainty.
The sensation of falling simultaneously thrilled and terrified him. At first his descent seemed awkward. He flapped his arms, watching the world invert itself as he rolled head over heels through the thin, autumn air. Then he righted himself, flew through the clear sky with his face pointed toward the cement pathway below.
He smiled as he fell, feeling all the troubles of his life tearing away from his body like layers of clothing in a hurricane. He congratulated himself, serenely happy with the months of planning and execution. No one had known of his intentions. He had arranged for the care of his animals, set his financial house in order, written the timed e-mails to those he felt deserved explanations, and very calmly carried out his plans. He enjoyed precision; his meticulous attention to detail allowed him to relax during the final hours.
Tears began flowing from his eyes, but not because of any sadness on his part. The speed of his descent forced the moisture from the sockets. He kept them open; however, he wanted to see the end rush toward him during the last few seconds of his life. He wondered if he would experience any pain.
Perhaps a flash of intense suffering before the soothing blankness of death overtook him, perhaps nothing at all. Would there be any light, a guidepost leading him to the heavens? If he believed his early teachings, it might be a flaming sword held by a monstrous demon, cackling with delight at the arrival of another willing victim. In reality, he cared not about either eventuality. All that mattered to him was a release from the madness that occupied his mind during every waking moment. He would suffer any alternative, any future battle with eternity in order to rid himself of the voice constantly troubling him. He had listened to his self recriminations for fifty years. He would not endure it anymore, not for one more day. In a matter of seconds, it would all be over.
The voice came from everywhere, entering his ears cleanly. The falling man peered from side to side, looking for whoever had asked the bizarre question. However, he saw nothing that failed to assuage his growing fear.
“Sir, your name, if you please!”
After the voice touched his ears again, the man noticed the air directly to his left shifting somehow. The next second, a peculiar looking creature emerged. It stood behind a tiny podium, tapping a small pencil against the diminutive dais. The man looked back at the ground. The small intruder did the same.
After seeing the walkway quickly rushing toward them, the tiny interloper harrumphed roughly. The man’s descent halted immediately. Without warning, the falling man, his suit, tie, shoelaces, and hair follicles froze in mid-air. After assessing the situation, the man found that although his body seemed secured by some invisible vice, his eyes and mouth could move freely. He shifted his vision over to the alien visitor.
“See here, I…”
“Name, please,” demanded the interviewer.
“My name is hardly important under the circumstances, don’t you think?”
The tiny official locked eyes with the inverted man. “The process must be completed. Now if you will just cooperate, we might not be here for the rest of the day.”
“I don’t want to be here at all!” shouted the stationary man.
The interviewer jotted a few notes on his minute form. “Belligerent, uncooperative, self absorbed. Tsk, tsk, unfortunate, very unfortunate indeed.”
“Go away!” shouted the man, clearly disturbed. “Whoever you are, go back to where you came from and let me die in peace!”
“Die?” said the diminutive transfer agent. “Is that what you think will occur here today?” The agent scribbled in his book hastily, humming a strange tune the man had never heard before. “Now then, I have a few questions for you. This shouldn’t take more than a few moments, if you cooperate, that is.” The agent scrunched his forehead against a beady little eye and stared at the man with purpose. “You will behave, now, won’t you?”
Looking at the world from his inverted position, the man tried very hard to comprehend his situation. He had taken every precaution, planned everything perfectly. He had arrived today in an extremely content mood, and now this? What kind of flashback acid trip was this anyway? He finally settled on the conclusion that he had, in fact, smacked his head against the cement with superb precision. The hallucination had something to do with his transition from life to death.
“I asked if you’ll behave yourself!” demanded the tiny official.
“Yes, of course,” answered the man, resolved to have as much fun as possible with his newfound delirium.
“Well,” said the agent, snapping the cuffs of his shirt with great ceremony. “Now then, what is the reason for your action today?”
“I thought you had agreed to cooperate,” said the agent. “You actions here, and your intent, for what reason do you wish to take your own life?”
The man stared at the small specter, saying nothing.
“If you like,” the agent said primly, “I can generate a list of responses for you. It might help you arrive at an answer with less effort.”
“Yes,” said the man, stupefied by the strange occurrence. “Please do.”
The transfer agent opened his waist coat and produced a small card. Roughly the size of a postage stamp, the card snapped open authoritatively in the agent’s strong fingers. The tiny interviewer whispered a few phrases into his hand before tossing it into the air. It unfolded directly in front of the inverted man’s eyes. Seconds later, the man looked at a bulleted list of reasons one might have for leaping from the top of a building. Some of the reasons made sense, while others had no bearing on human existence at all. Nevertheless, the man entertained himself by reading through the list.
• Income generation insufficient to supply needs and wants
• Present world political-social-economic state unacceptable
• Atomic relations inadequate for bubble penetration
• Voices in head too loud – too constant
• Burial dissipation produces abnormal wind patterns
• Insufficient blood flow for sexual activity – manhood in question
“Bubble penetration?” the man asked. He questioned the peculiar phrase out loud. Even with all the blood rushing to his head, he still imagined a hundred humorous explanations for the two words posted in front of his eyes.
“Ah,” responded the transfer agent. “Yes, bubble penetration. An obvious choice on many worlds. Would you care to add radioactivity to the equation?”
“Inconsistency,” said the tiny agent. “Another unfortunate trait. I’ll have to report this immediately.”
“That’s not my reason!”
“Reason for what?”
“For being here today, you ignorant little prick! What the hell is this all about, anyway?”
“Hmm,” said the agent. “Foul language will prevent you from getting transferred forward. As will name calling.” The agent scribbled furiously in his tiny notebook.
“Alright,” said the man. “I’m sorry. I’ll tell you, I mean, I’ll pick one of the items from the list.”
“Please. Proceed then,” said the agent, tapping his pen against the side of the podium.
The man scanned the alternatives quickly, finally settling on a choice particularly close to what led him toward his fate. “The voices in my head,” he said, sighing. “I can’t stop the voices in my head. As I’ve gotten older, more voices seem to occupy my mind, and they’re louder too. It’s too much for one man to take.”
The agent scribbled furiously. He commented while looking at his notes. “And if you were two men, or three?”
“What are you talking about now?”
“Hmm,” said the agent. “Misleading statements, and without explanation. That certainly will have to be entered into the file.”
“You stated it was too much for one man to take. I then asked how you might fare if you were two men, or even three men. Actually, with the right balance of ingredients, we could even construct a six-person multi-sapien. That is, of course, if you desired it.”
“Are you insane?” asked the man. “What the hell are you talking about? Nobody can make anything like that.”
“An uncanny resistance to new ideas,” said the agent. The small being turned a page in his miniature folder and jotted down a few notes. “Unable to see beyond a myopic, limited viewpoint.”
The man wanted to reach out and swat the tiny specter out of the sky. Indeed, the small courier looked to be no bigger than a hummingbird. If he could just move one of his arms, he might be able to....
“Now then,” said the agent. “The voices in your head. What exactly do they say, and who, may I ask, is engaging you in conversation?”
The man grimaced while trying desperately to fling a hand in the agent’s direction. He felt a single drop of sweat emerge from underneath his dress shirt, roll over his chin, and splash into his left nostril. The itching drove him mad. He couldn’t do anything about it in his current state, so he allowed the sensation to pass and answered the agent’s question.
“I don’t know who they are, but they’re in constant disagreement about my current and past courses of action. In our world we identify the voices by various names, the committee, the boardroom, maybe even the general assembly. Sometimes only a few of them are present. At other times there are so many it’s hard to distinguish one from another.”
“Mmm, hmm,” said the agent, scribbling furiously. “Continue.”
“It becomes unbearable when they start shouting at each other. Sometimes they even shout at me. During those times I shout back, sometimes in my own mind, but other times, perhaps when I’m driving alone, I scream at them to shut up.” The man thought quietly for a moment before adding something else. “People used to give me the strangest looks until cell phones became an everyday accessory. That’s the only worthwhile thing about them. Now I can scream all day long in my car and people think I’m actually having a conversation with someone else.” The man laughed as well as he could through his frozen diaphragm.
“Undue enjoyment at others’ expense,” remarked the agent, jotting a note down in his log.
“Haven’t you heard a word I’ve said?” replied the man.
“Impatience, aggravation, and an unnatural sense of importance.”
“I thought you were here to help me with some sort of transition!”
The tiny agent ceased writing. The expression on his face looked pained, insulted. The small representative pocketed his pen, snapped his notebook shut decisively, and folded his arms atop the leather casing.
“My purpose is not to help you, my good man. I am here to see that the world becomes a better place after each sentient being passes to another plane of existence. If you’ve contributed positively to your world during the course of your life, then I may be able exert certain influence with powers greater than you can imagine. If, however, your life has been a selfish waste, that is, if you’ve thought only of yourself and never of others, I’m afraid there’s nothing I can do for you.”
“That’s fine!” shouted the man. “I never wanted to be interfered with in the first place! Take your stupid little pad and pen and your idiotic comments and leave me alone, you little pipsqueak jerk-off! Go back to where you came from; I don’t need your help or your influence. If I could move I’d send you to another plane of existence, that’s for sure. Now go on, get away from me! I don’t want you here!”
The agent rearranged his arms. Placing the elbow of his right arm in the palm of his left hand, he supported his chin in his right hand. “See here, you are a most ill-mannered sort. I’ve given you a few more minutes of life, and you’ve done nothing but berate me at every turn.”
“I don’t want a few more minutes of life!”
“Then what do you want,” asked the tiny agent.
“Aren’t you gone yet?” asked the man, showing as much exasperation as he could.
“Tell me, my good man, with all your life’s expectations, what would be the most satisfying experience for you. That is, if you could do or have anything you wish, what would it be?”
“That’s easy,” answered the man. “I want to beat the world.”
“I beg your pardon.”
“I said I want to beat the goddamn world. I want to win!”
“Oh my,” said the tiny agent. “It appears I’ve made a terrible mistake.” The agent grabbed his folder, neatly tucking it into his waistcoat. “Apparently I wasn’t supposed to be here after all. However, it appears I’ll be able to grant your one desire. Good day, then.”
The tiny agent snapped his cuffs again, blinking out of existence before the man could finish his last statement. The inverted jumper turned his eyes toward the ground below him. His former speed of descent returned immediately. With only a split second left in his life, the man managed to smile, inwardly at least. He would be given his last wish; he would beat the world after all. With that final thought, the man smacked the pavement face first. The impact drove his jaw through his brain, killing him instantly.
A few minutes later, two students from the college wound their way along the well-groomed pathways toward their early morning class. They clutched disposable cups of steaming coffee in both hands while adjusting the straps of their heavy backpacks now and again. They rounded one corner of the campus by the library and pulled up abruptly. Stepping gingerly around an obstruction in the pathway, one student commented to the other as they walked through the otherwise sparkling surroundings.
“Nice log some animal left there. I’m surprised the groundskeepers haven’t cleared it away. Smells like the devil, too.”
“You’d think they’d care about where they drop their poop,” said the second student. “I guess when you gotta go, you gotta go. Amazing pattern, though, don’t you think? Looks like some dog crapped off the top of this building and let it fall all the way to the walkway.”
“Forget it,” said the first student. “It’s time to go beat the world.”