Looking out on my moon-bleached land, I am overcome by a sense of dread. If indeed there is anyone else left in this world, and, truly, I wouldn’t know, consider this message an explanation of myself and a furtive glance in your general direction.
Like you, I remember my mother telling me I was a special child. I do believe she meant it, and meant well, but if I had one wish, I would go back and ask her precisely what she meant by “special”. Part of the problem here is that, although her words stick with me, I don’t remember her. I can’t see her in the faint reflection of my window, I can’t hear her in the creaking floorboards of this ancient house. Sometimes I think I smell her in the petrichor of a rainy Sunday morning, but I can’t parse out her signature from my vague nostalgia for the world that was. I remember remembering her, long ago. But centuries have passed now, and I have nothing left of her but the words.
I came of age just as the world was ending. When anything mattered, I was too bitter to make change or peace, too angry to live or love. As the reality of our doom set in, a powerful, unnamable feeling took root in my chest. I decided, as if it couldn’t be any simpler, that I would refuse to die.
And I didn’t. I can’t.
You’ve probably pondered immortality for yourself, and decided it would be far too lonely—watching loved ones pass through in the blink of an eye, little more than shadows in your considerable periphery. I tell you, the problem seemed to me exactly opposite. While other people are around, you are not free to create the world you want, the one that is truly yours. And so, as the rest of humanity deposited itself into the fossil record, I began—drawing on that same unnamable feeling in my chest—to create. It began with destruction, the sweetest, most satisfying form of creation. I flattened houses, then cities, then mountains. Soon the world was flat and bare, a canvas for my every whim. I pulled magma from the earth and made a mountain of my own, and at its highest, most insurmountable peak, I built myself a mansion darker and quieter than any you could conceive. The peak grows higher all the time, twice as fast as anyone could hope to climb it.
And from that house, so dark and still that it blurred the edges of my body, I looked through a window. And through that window, I dreamt dreams that materialized before my very eyes. In my world, dragons dueled beasts of the sea; superhumans fought in the arena; and the earth split, sicing its eager demons on the realm. But whenever it seemed that all would fall apart, I could draw the blinds, and the evils of my creation would be banished in an instant. It dawned on me that perhaps I really was “special.” Nothing in heaven or on earth could hold a candle to me. So I thought.
I’ve mentioned already that I am not completely unsentimental toward the world that was. From time to time, I would look through my window and dream of places I never even got to visit: Tokyo, Vienna, New York. I became particularly fond of a merry scene on the river Seine, full of music, and laughter, and… Her.
I’m not sure where she came from. I dream up people the same way you do, from the faces hidden in my subconscious. But her beautiful face, somehow, I saw more clearly than the rest. As you may already have guessed, I returned to the Seine quite often in dreams. She and I walked the streets of Paris when Paris was Paris, drinking, talking, dancing, and being together. For the first time in my miserable life, I got a taste of what love might be.
Then one night, though I dreamt of Her, she did not appear. Fruitlessly, I searched every rue in every arrondissement. I could command life, death, and over a trillion cubic meters of earth, and yet here I was, conquered by five feet of woman. I waited each day for Her in our little slice of Paris. I could wait; I'd been waiting for a long time. Finally, she appeared in a quaint riverside café.
I asked Her, “My love, where have you been?”
“The opera,” she said to me. “The jazz club. The countryside. All over. It really doesn’t matter where I go, I’m just… going.”
“Say,” I said, “I’ve been worried sick, waiting for you all this time. What do you call a woman who keeps a man waiting like this?”
She said, “A woman who’s living her life.”
“I gave you your life!” I shouted, my ears burning as the people around us turned to look. For the first time, I felt my creation turning against me. “Elsie, I made you for me.”
She nodded. “I figured as much. And I’m grateful for that life. But tell me, sweetheart. Is guilt a good enough reason for a girl to stick around?”
At that moment, I wanted nothing more than to return to the darkness. To dream until I forgot. I stood to let the dream collapse, but before I could, she grabbed me by the arm and brought her face hair-raising close to mine. Around us, Paris fell away in a hurricane of bricks and glass.
“You’re special, sweetheart. Why don’t you go dream up something worthwhile?”
I ask you, whoever you are: like what?
What sort of world would you build if you could start all over?
If you find this exercise difficult, you’re not alone. If you find it easy, you’re not thinking it through. You can’t have life without death, peace without loss, creation without destruction. Everything I’ve come up with is eerily like the world that was, only increasingly insufferable on my end. Can you imagine what it’s like to create a world, and to know that every bad thing that happens in it is your fault? It is a weight I cannot bear, not alone. I will attempt to restore the world that was, giving you and your kin another chance at what we had. Then, I will lock myself away in my mansion, high above it all. I'll be up here in the darkness without my dreams, trying to forget the bounds of my body.
If you are receiving this message, I presume you are a resident of the new world, although you probably wouldn't know the difference. My grim, yet honest advice: Know that one day everything will fall apart. There is nothing to life but to be good and to enjoy it while you can. Your mother probably told you that you were special; for once, consider that you really might be. Try to make up for my mistakes, if there's anything at all to be done about them.
As I'm writing this, the story has seen a most curious development.
You’ll remember that I built this house such that nobody could ever hope to reach it;
I’ve just heard a rapping at my door, accompanied by a familiar voice.
"Oh, sweetheart..." she calls.