It’s kind of a strange one, this, came to me out of the blue. I was watching the Truman show, and found myself profoundly creeped out during the beginning, just in the fake cheerful way everyone acted around him, and the way his life is constructed to be so perfect. It’s a nightmare to us, but from an emotionless, objective point of view it’s an almost idyllic existence: guaranteed friends/wife/kids, a pleasant home town where no crimes are committed and everyone is happy. Big brother watching all the time, so nothing bad can happen to you. Sounds like heaven. Right.
There was no longer a sun in the sky, but the day was bright all the same, and Jerry Friedman was smiling as he stepped out into the light. He waved a cheerful good morning to his neighbour Tom, who was also heading to his car for the morning commute, and got a pleasant response.
‘Hey there, buddy. Gonna be a good one, huh?’ He hated Tom. That guy was like this even before good took over. As smug as he was boring. An asshole, perfect in every way. Jerry wanted to drag him into a dark alleyway and tear him to pieces.
‘Oh yes, sir. Looking forward to it.’
The commute was easier, he supposed. You didn’t really drive. You just sat there and watched your car shoot along the roads at an insane speed, somehow navigating crowded intersections with barely a pause, inches to spare yet never so much as a scratch on the paintwork by the end. An hour long journey became ten minutes with such ideal coordination. He was always early. Everyone was.
He was lying out in the back garden when the eye opened in the sky. He had a gun in one hand and a half empty bottle of vodka in the other, celebrating his divorce to Grace. Ten years of hell with that bitch. He cut her loose and it still somehow felt like the worst day of his life. He remembered her sneer the last time he saw her, the familiar way her lip curled up on just one side. ‘At least I don’t have to sneak around with Dean anymore.’ He didn’t know who Dean was and he didn’t ask. ‘He’s my boyfriend. I love him.’
‘I didn’t fucking ask.’ That memory was clear in his mind at the moment the eye blinked open. He sensed it at first, a softening of the light and a cooling, changing from noon to a sunset in a moment. He stared up at the sun – or at least where the sun had been, and there it was, looking right back at him. No iris, just a round white ball with a dilated pupil in the middle.
Work was accounting. It didn’t used to be, because he hated maths, but once he started work there – no interview required – he found it so easy that he could let his mind wander while his hands moved the paper. He was doing that a lot lately. His mind usually wandered to happy places, like the place where he had Tom, or maybe Dean, tied up in his basement and he got to work on them with a baseball bat.
He greeted his co-workers, chatted about his new life and how great it was. No need to worry about that paycheck, isn’t that fine? Gene from customer service asked him how his ex wife was doing. He’d been dating her while the divorce was going through. Today, he kept his tone light and his eyes on her face. ‘Not an ex for much longer! We’re getting back together!’ Everything anyone said these days ended in a cheerful exclamation mark, their expression one of perpetual joy.
‘That’s great!’ she said. He felt something break inside him. It wasn’t a new feeling. Every day he woke up and saw that eye he moved one step closer to insanity. It would reach him any day now. He felt like he was in a car with the brakes cut, rolling down a steep incline toward a bottomless canyon. No way to stop. All you could do was hold on tight and watch it come. You didn’t even get to scream.
On that first day, Jerry found himself doing things. He didn’t decide to do them, or ponder them, or motivate himself to do them – he just found himself already doing them. He’d stared at the eye for a minute or so, wondering if he was hallucinating, and then he’d got up from his deck chair, dropped his gun in the dustbin and emptied his vodka into the kitchen sink. Him, who’d rather pour liquid gold down a sink than vodka. Since then, he ate mostly vegetables and lean meat, drank only water, and never overate.
Television was on for exactly half an hour each day, blinking on automatically when he got home for work, and it showed world news. There was no world news. No accidents, no disasters, no new inventions. Statistics, happy news stories. A dog that could talk, a new nature reserve, the tallest building ever built, a world government formulated, another prison closed.
He came home to a pristine house, and Grace had cooked him dinner. They sat down to eat it, talking about their incredibly boring days, and he watched her eyes for signs of life. He thought he saw some hatred in there, and that gave him a little hope. He envisioned sticking his fork in those eyes and popping them into his mouth like meatballs.
‘You know, it’s best for everyone. I mean, I don’t know if it’s God or what. I suppose He must be, to be so powerful.’
‘Could be the devil.’ The words made it all the way out of his mouth and there was a short silence while they pondered what that could mean. She made a funny choking sound and he realised she was trying to swear. Didn’t work. Shit.
‘Anyway,’ she went on as though nothing had happened. ‘It’s a force of good. Everyone guaranteed a hundred years. No pain at all. Nothing bad.’
‘Nothing bad.’ He said. ‘Nothing…’ It was possible, sometimes, to communicate like that. Get across a point without saying it. There were times he was grateful he still had his thoughts, but most of the time he wished he didn’t. That abyss came closer by the day, opening out before him so he could see the emptiness for which he was destined.
‘You have to be thankful that in the end, good won.’ She said, shining him a brilliant white toothed smile. Her smile had never been white, nor cheerful. It had been yellow and mean, like a stray dog with bared teeth.
‘Yes. Good won.’
And the days passed this way, uniform and perfect. They had two kids, and on a daily basis, even as he took care of them and played with them, Jerry envisioned smothering them in their sleep or drowning them in the bath. They weren’t his children, really – they belonged like everything else to the eye in the sky. The only difference was they’d never had it any other way. They had no idea their bodies should be theirs to control, not the insane being that scrutinized their every move.
But there were no suicides, no murders, and the world hummed along without mishap for decades.
Good won, he told himself many times as he saw the face in the mirror, always smiling, grow older, but not weaker, nor senile. He only looked older, but felt like a younger man than the year before. Good won.
The abyss grew larger and darker. Sometimes, when he looked deeply into the eyes of his friends and colleagues he could see that they’d already lost their sanity, and that nothing was left behind the shell that walked the earth. Who knew what thoughts scuttled through the broken things that had once been human minds? What were they now? Toys?
No prisons, no hospitals, no police. Early to bed, early to rise. Board games with the kids. Good won.
He could see inside the abyss, now, and there lay a question there that he didn’t like at all.
Thoughts of destruction. Torture and death and executions. He imagined skinning his family alive and setting fire to his work. He imagined sinking an axe into Dean’s head and shooting Tom in the face. His mind was on fire with thoughts while his body bought groceries and laughed at knock knock jokes.
The question was, if there was a God, wasn’t there also a heaven?
The air was never too cold or too hot. Pain of any kind no longer existed for him or anyone else, nor even discomfort. He ate but was never hungry. He slept but was never tired. Night time never came, only that pleasant orange sunset light.
Good won? Perhaps there hadn’t been a battle, at all. Maybe good had had it from the start.
The abyss was looming now and the screams within him, the thoughts of bloodshed and murder threatening to consume him utterly.
The question was: what had he really done with the gun the day the eye opened in the sky?
Walking towards his car, Tom looked up at him and waved. ‘Hey there, buddy!’
‘Hi, friend! Gonna be a good one, today, huh?’
‘Oh yes sir.’
He smiled at Tom, but though his lips moved, there was nothing behind his eyes. Only the dark, stretching onwards into eternity.