“I bet you a months work that he’ll win again.”
“No bet, he always wins, and you don’t work.”
“I didn’t say anything about rewards, I just said work. And if he doesn’t, then I do your work. How about that?”
“No deal, I don’t do any work either. Besides, she should be getting up soon.”
“You boys need to stop talking about me when I’m sitting across the table from you. Besides, I got a bet that I can’t promise I’ll win.”
They put their cards on the table.
“Well, go on.”
“You know what She’s doing this time, right?”
The two men looked at each other, and then at their two companions. One, their boss, was the winner of every game they had played since the first dawn of the first time. The other was a silent man, who, no matter how many times they tried, wouldn’t say more than one sentence in a lifetime of a universe.
“Yeah, we know, so?”
“Well, there’ll be some variables, won’t there? How bout a little bet?”
“I don’t know.” Said one of them.
“Oh, like the shape of the thing downstairs? Or, the number of followers? There’s other things, too.”
Two men looked at each other.
“What’s the bet?”
Their boss smiled. He had a great hand to play.
“I say, hatchling with tecntacles, in the bottom of the last, resized box, and,” he paused and made a show of thinking about things. “And a frozen suit.”
The two thought about it for a little while.
“You talked to Her? You know what she’s planning then?”
“Nope.” He looked at his cards again.
“They’re all possible, but,” the one looked at the other.
“I don’t know. What’re the stakes?”
“How bout two months work, and you boys get me drinks for a universe.” He ordered his cards and got ready to lay them down.
The two men looked at each other and looked at him.
The silent man smiled.
“Oh, and I win again.” The reordered hand was laid on the table, and he had in fact, won again.
The first thing is never the first thing, unless it is the first thing, then it stands to reason. The only first thing that Janet knew was that the day had started. Her body had apparently known what to do because she didn’t really wake up until she was on the bus on the way to work. It was then that she didn’t know where she was going or why. She sat back and wondered about a lot of things, such as, what was she wearing, how did she know how to think, what was the meaning of life. It should be mentioned that coming to the great question so quickly may seem a bit odd, but all she knew of that concept, life, was that she was alive and she was doing something. She had known about her apartment, her building, the bus stop, and paying the fare, but she didn’t remember the face of the bus driver. He had seemed to be, what she had thought at the time, just another man who didn’t like his job and didn’t care what he was doing. She decided to get up and carefully make her way to the front of the bus to get a closer look.
As she stood up the bus slowly came to a stop. She started to walk to the front of the bus when the driver spoke up.
“This is your stop.” He didn’t turn around, she noticed now that he had a hat on that covered his features.
“Um, how do you know that?” She had known it as soon as the bus had stopped. She couldn’t tell why she had known it, but the buildings on the outside of the bus looked somewhat familiar, and she knew she was supposed to get off there. The door to get out was not near the driver. There was the door you got on, when she had passed the driver, and another door about half way down the bus for people to get off. When she looked at it, it opened. She glanced one more time at the driver, and got off the bus.
Then she wondered where she was. It was a strange thing. She knew where she was, it looked familiar, but she had no idea where she was or which direction to go. She turned left and walked about a block. It was the same direction that the bus had come from, but somehow she knew that all buses everywhere stopped about a block after where you wanted to get off, so she had gone back a block. She still didn’t know where everywhere was, or if she had been there, but it was somehow true inside her. She just knew it.
In front of her there was a building. It was tall, covered in dark glass, and somewhere between ominous and imposing. It had an attitude. She knew that it was giving her a look. So she walked up to it and opened the door. Then she took in a sharp breath.
There were men and women walking and running in all direction trying to get things done. They all had briefcases, or binders overfilled with papers. Some were writing as they walked, using their briefcases as a table, some were using the backs of others, but no one stopped.
There was a desk at one end of the lobby. It was a huge lobby. It went on in each direction much farther than she thought it should be able to. Along each wall there were a plethora of elevators, a couple sets of stairs, and an escalator. No one was using the escalator. She walked to the desk and waited until someone looked up to greet her. She stood for a long time. Everyone was very busy even at the desk. No one was stopping. She cleared her throat gently. No one stopped or looked up. She tried again to no avail. Then she knocked on the desk. Someone pushed a bell toward her. She looked at it for a moment, then tried to figure out who had taken the time to push a bell toward her, but didn’t have the time to talk to her. Her hand was a fraction of an inch above the bell when man behind her spoke up.
“Welcome.” It was an even voice, not quite friendly, but not coarse or mean. It was a voice of someone doing a job that they had to do. It was a job that the man had done many times, for many years. She turned to greet him.
“Welcome, Janet, how was your trip in this morning.” It wasn’t a question really, the face, calm, relaxed, and uninterested in everything around it, had mouthed the words without really coming into contact with them.
“It was good, peaceful, no one else was on the bus, it was quiet.” She noticed that the man raised an eyebrow as if to suggest that her statement was like commenting that it was strange that the ground was below their feet or the air was oddly breathable.
She waited for the man to say something, he took his time.
“What would you like to do today, Miss?” He still wasn’t much for facial expression, but she decided he couldn’t help it.
“I don’t know. I mean, I know I am supposed to be here, but I don’t know why, or what I should be doing.”
“You seemed to have known this morning, you’re dressed appropriately. Your office is on the top floor, Miss.” He turned and walked toward an elevator that wasn’t being used by anyone. Janet knew that she should have done something about what the man had just said, but didn’t know what to say or do, but she planned on finding out. She didn’t like the man so far.
The elevator was empty. It was golden inside. That cheap gold t3exture that told you if you fiddled with it the wood or metal underneath would become apparent. It had one, bright light, and an old man who was working the wheel. It was an old style elevator. The old man flipped the handled switch from “Ground Floor” to “Top Floor.” The people who had made the elevator had not been very creative in that part, but the rest of the small box was beautiful. Even if the shimmer of gold was obvious, it was intricately done. Everything was skillfully and wonderfully made. She was so absorbed by the small room that she didn’t even notice that the elevator had moved or stopped.
“Here we are, Miss.” the man stepped out and walked to a very large desk without even waiting for her. The old man at the elevator sighed as she turned to look, first at the big room, then the man who was walking through it without any apparent interest, and then the old man who was going to be staying in the elevator.
She decided to venture a small conversation with the elevator man. But before she could, the man who was accompanying her, had made his way to the desk, turned, and was waiting for her to come out. She decided to ask her question anyway.
“Is he always like this?” She asked the elevator man.
“Yup,” He didn’t even look up. He looked as if years of standing in one spot had worn him into the elevator. The carpet around his feet was bright, but when he shuffled the carpet under his feet was worn.
“You been here long?” She asked.
“Yup,” The old man said again without looking at her.
“Ahem, Miss Janet, will you accompany me over at this desk?” The man that was waiting for her had no patience. He had been standing for almost twenty-five seconds. This was not acceptable. Of course, since the morning had begun, he had had an itching thought. It had been creeping into his mind from the back, dark recesses that he had trained himself to ignore or at least cage. This thought however, would not stay back.
He made a decision.
As Janet walked up to the desk. As she did her guide walked around to the other side ofit and sat down, gingerly, as if to make sure he was going to fit inside of it. When nothing happened, he relaxed. Then he looked at Janet.
“You are my number one, you know, you should be ready to help me at a moments notice, be completely prepared, and ready to jump to my command.” He rattled this off like a man who had recited it.
“Right, I apologize, sir, what can I do for you.” She wasn’t terribly worried, though she thought she should be. She now knew what it was she was supposed to be doing at this rather large building, in these rather nice business clothes, and standing in front of this very expensive desk, on the top floor of the biggest building she had ever seen. This made more sense. This was the kind of job she had always wanted. She thought.
She had a vague recollection of a feeling of strongly desiring a job that put her close to the top, but not on it. She knew she had done many menial jobs, even tried to make a career out of… something that didn’t work out. Now she had the undeniable feeling that what the slightly unnerving man had just said made perfect sense, and that she wanted it more than anything else she had ever wanted.
“What would you like me to do first, sir?” She had said that with a little too much enthusiasm, and the man looked worried.
“Well,” He recovered quickly, “There will be a grand opening down on the first floor in a moment, I want you to go down there and over see things. Make sure that everyone does their job, etc. Then you will go out into the street and see how it goes.” He said all this more like checking things off a list than giving instruction, but Janet took it in stride, nodded, and turned to go to the elevator.
“One more thing.” The man called after her hurriedly. “Don’t tell anyone of your promotion just yet.” He paused. “There were many who wanted the position, and your sudden,” He paused again. “promotion yesterday won’t be a thing happily received. If anyone asks tell them you’re still doing what you’ve always done. Understood?” He waited for a reply.
“Of course, sir, I wouldn’t want to get anyone uneasy at a grand opening. I won’t let on that anything has changed.” With that, and a moments pause to make sure he didn’t have anything else to say, she went back to the elevator.
When the doors closed the old man looked at her. He had a confused look on his face. She tried to ask him what was on his mind, but he avoided the question deftly, and she ended up talking about how she loved the color blue so much. When she got off the elevator she realized that the old man had done it so easily, and so smoothly, that she didn’t even realize that the subject had changed and that she had done all the talking. She decided that it had to do with the elevator. Somehow she knew she never liked them very much.
In the lobby almost everyone had stopped running about. There were hundreds of people crowded around the front doors of the building all holding their breath. Janet was amazed at how long some of them could hold their breath too. There were a few people at the front of the crowd, which was the door she had come in earlier, with giant scissors. One of them was finishing a speech, at which point everyone cheered. The cheer went on as the same man picked up the giant scissors, and cut a piece of red ribbon that had been draped across the doors.
The cheer exploded. People ran around, hugging, each other, shaking each others hands, and generally being quite happy about everything around them. Some produced bottles from somewhere and there was drinking. When she went up to a one group they quickly hid their bottle, coughed, and looked at her with a combination of respect and dread.
Janet did not know what to do exactly, so she spoke to them.
“Job well done, carry on.” and she walked away. The group nearly fainted. She had no idea why. They must have been rather low on the ladder to have been so impressed with her. She didn’t feel all that important. She decided to go and have a look outside to see what was going on. She had been told to go out and check things out, after all. As she walked up to the doors the man who had given the speech stepped up to her.
“Ah, Ma’am, welcome to the Grand Opening! It is such an auspicious day! It is such a great day! It is such a wonderful thing is it not?” He beamed and looked out the doors. He was terribly impressed with something, but Janet couldn’t tell what it was. So she flattered him.
“It is, it truly is, you’ve outdone yourselves, definitely.” If she had been throwing darts, she just hit the dead center of the bullseye, and the dart went out the other side.
“Oh! Thank you Ma’am! Thank you! Di you hear that folks? We’ve outdone ourselves! Is it not a wonderful thing to hear? Oh! Thank you Ma’am!” The man now seemed to be floating upward by his swelling chest. Janet nodded at him and walked toward the door.
Her hand was almost on the handle when someone stepped up to her with a key and stuck it in the lock of the door. It was an ornate lock. It looked both old and new at the same time. She stared at it for a moment. It seemed familiar for some reason. It was important, but she couldn’t figure out why.
“Here, Ma’am, let me get this ready for you. We’ve put everything just the way you like it, as per orders. This lock you gave us is amazing. We’ve never had anything as beautiful and masterly made before, it works so well. Let me just type in the correct code, ah, here you go, Ma’am, enjoy.” the words were jumbled together and came out almost as one solid word, but Janet understood all of it and the small hands were quick to type in a few numbers and then opened the door for her.
She stepped out into a city street. It was noisy, bustling, and busy. She now realized how strange it was that earlier there wasn’t anyone on the bus she had ridden in on. She didn’t have much time to sit and ponder however though. A large man walked right past her and bumped into her arm. She looked at him with pity. Stopped herself, and wondered why she knew to pity him. It wasn’t a reaction feeling, she knew that, it was a knowing feeling. She didn’t pity him because he had been rude to her, she pitied him because…
She didn’t get a chance to finish her thought. The same voice that had opened the door for her was now at her side.
“Sorry about that, Ma’am, not everyone respects a suit like they used to.” the woman then proceeded to brush off Janet’s suit with a small brush she produced from nowhere, and after a couple brushes, put it back into nowhere.
“It’s quite alright. No harm done.” Janet looked again at the city street that was now alive in front of her. It was the same street, but not the same. It was more alive now. She remembered that when she had first arrived there hadn’t been anyone around. Then she thought some more, and realized that there must have been people around when she had gotten to work earlier, because no city anywhere is ever completely asleep. Then she spotted something that reminded her she hadn’t eaten anything all morning and that she was hungry. It was a quaint little coffee shop across the street.
“I think I’ll go have a cup of coffee. I’ll just be a Sally.” the other woman looked at her surprised. Then corrected herself, muttered something like, “Well she would know I guess,” and went back inside.
Janet went over to the coffee shop across the road, ordered a cup of coffee, and sat to think. She suddenly had a lot of questions.
What she was not going to know until much much later, was that she was God. Not a god, not some deity with the power over only lightning, or bread, or fishing, but The Actual God. No one was going to tell her either, because everyone thinks god should know who she is.
Another thing she wasn’t going to figure out until much much later, was that the universe had been made thousands, millions of times. She had had different genders, different shapes, different sizes and different ways of communicating, but she had, in one form or another, always been God.
The last thing she wasn’t going to figure out for a really long time, was that she had, on this creation of the universe, given herself a handicap. As it turned out she had only rarely been a woman. She had made men, in all universes (except one, and only once because of how the women kept trying to eliminate the men), dominant, cocky, and brazen to a fault. Therefore, she had made women the counter balance. It worked sometimes, but rarely. That being true, she had to generally take the form of either a genderless deity, or a man, just to make sure the beings she had made would actually follow her.
That, however, had not been the handicap. The handicap was that she had remade herself too. She had put a block in her mind, at least the part that controlled most of the rest of her,so that she wouldn’t know she was God. She now, here and now, thought she was human. This explains a lot about the morning as well, like how she felt groggy and distant until she was on the bus. As it turned out, the Time Clock had been started while she was riding the bus and since humans need the flow of time to think straight, she had felt groggy and half awake until it had started.
She knew none of this. What she did know, was that she was hungry, and liked the sound of coffee. She knew exactly how it was made at this particular shop, and was practically drooling when it was ready for her. She took a seat near a window, and watched the people walk by.
She tried to remember a lot of things. She couldn’t remember anything really. She knew things, but she couldn’t remember them. She knew that she knew about this little coffee shop, but she couldn’t remember when she had first come to it, or how many times she had been there. She knew how the coffee was brewed, she knew that the grounds came from a special place in the city that only catered to really high class and expensive shops, and she had no idea why she knew this.
She decided that it must be nerves. She couldn’t remember anything, but she knew things. She knew that the boy at the hotdog stand at the corner had two sisters who tormented him nightly with how he was going to eventually have to get married even though he was certain he could never get married because he wasn’t the marrying type. She knew that the news stand at the other corner was owned by a woman who hired her husband so she could sit in her apartment all day watching tv without him getting in her way. She knew that the cab driver that was parked a little way away had his “Not taking customers sign up more often than he had it down and smoked about ten cigarettes a day while he was sitting there in his car.
She also knew that she had no memory of watching or talking to any of them. She got up and walked over to a table in the back. She also had this nagging feeling that it was ok. She knew that a really big job had just been finished, that all the details for the moment would be worked out by other people, and that she had the whole afternoon to relax. Which was strange, because she was sure that the man in the office, her boss, was not a man who would give anyone time off, even if was to bury yourself. She somehow knew that he would fire someone for dying and not coming into work. Yet she somehow felt that she could relax and have another cup of coffee and he wouldn’t do anything to her.
So she drank her second cup of coffee, sat and thought about why she knew she could get away with having one more cup of coffee before returning to work.
Back in the big building, the biggest, most powerful building in existence. The woman who had been called ‘Sally’ was confused and frustrated. She was working slower than usual, but since she had such a high position, Second To The Fifth Head Manager In Charge Of Operations In the Middle Office, and she could get away with nearly anything on most days. Then her superior came up to her to see what the problem was.
“My Second, what’s wrong. You’re working slower than you usually do. I have noticed, We have worked together for nearly, well, forever by some counts. So, tell me, whats wrong.” He waited and watched her as she tried to decide how to say what she had to say.
“Sir, you know that we always use our ‘Names’ as such. We call each other by the, well, titles as it were, that we have. Well…” She faltered.
“Yes, what is it?” He was concerned now, there were reasons that they only used the ‘titles’ they had been given. It was easier in many ways, less confusion. There were only a few names that had ever been thought up by man or God, and it was left at that. Using a name, a real name, in the building, was unheard of since the dawn of time. There had been quite a lot of confusion then. It had been decided that each person working in the great building would be allowed to choose their own name. This of course led to thousands of Jareds, hundreds of thousands of Maxes, and millions of Peters. Since then, no one used their real names, it was just easier. The use of a real name was almost forbidden by custom because it could bring about a similar cataclysm that no one wanted to live through again. A whole moon had been made of cheese because of it.
“Well,” Went on The Second. “When I let Her out into the world, she used my, my real name. I was taken aback at the time, then thought that if anyone would know it and not be confused, it would be Her, but…” She faltered again. “Sir, I think there’s something terribly wrong. She agreed not to use our chosen names right after it was suggested that it would be too confusing, but she called me-”
“That’s not necessary. We don’t need to introduce that nomers ever again.” He was worried. She had never used the real names, not ever. He knew that because he had privileged information. There had been a missive sent through the highest ranking officers in each of the divisions of each floor and each branch that had mentioned that no one should ever use “Chosen Names” ever again. It had also mentioned that no one had ever heard God use a “Chosen Name” and that that was a model for the rest.
He was now running to the reserved elevator and was pushing the emergency button. It had only ever been used once before, and that was when one of the highest officers had opened the great doors to the other side of The Chasm, and had gone out. That had been universes ago. This was most likely the second greatest thing to have happened in all of recorded time in any universe yet made. He was sweating.
Sally, who now remembered why she had chosen the name, was standing at the front doors. She was looking at the people on the other side. Mortals always interested her. Now she was wondering what it would be like to be one. She would have to let her memory slowly fade away, and it would take years for her to succumb to the effects of time, but she was standing there anyway. She made a decision. She left the building.
Janet was finishing her sixth cup of coffee and was realizing that she had done what she must have wanted to do. She had become the second most powerful person in the world. It was something that few people ever think and fewer ever try to achieve, and even fewer ever get a chance to accomplish, and she had done it.
Now she wanted to do something else. There must be something else to do. She sat and though about great accomplishments she could attempt. She was finished with business. She didn’t want to mess around with any religion either, it was built too closely to businesses to be interesting. She thought about mountains. There were more than a few that were well known as widow makers.
A very slow thinker, a long way away, had just realized that something he didn’t like had found its way into his mouth. He internally grimaced. He spat it out.
Three men not far away were suddenly covered in an avalanche. They weren’t surprised by this, more dismayed. This particular mountain had a reputation of avalanches. They had spat in danger’s face and had started their expedition. Now their expedition was covered in a few hundred tons of snow.
There was also a mountain goat in the settled avalanche.
Sally went into a coffee shop thinking of a certain kind of freedom. Her head was buzzing.
Janet walked out of a certain coffee shop, thinking of another kind of freedom. Her head was buzzing too, and not just from a near overdose of caffeine.
They walked right past each other without even knowing it.
Sally asked for an application to work.
Janet caught a bus.
A man at a desk, on a top floor, in a big building, was having trouble. This was new to him. He had never had trouble before. He had organized the entire universe for millenia upon millenia upon millenia. Now he was forced to deal with more than before. He had thought that the job of his boss, God, wasn’t all that much more than his own. He had always assumed that he did most of the work. It was easy to assume. God was always walking around, seeming to be unconcerned with everything around. There hadn’t been any sign that God had ever been busy, ever. There was never the air of being busy.
Of course there was also the fact that he, the new commander of all creation, had never been in charge before, and any time he made a suggestion it had to go through God. Now there wasn’t anyone to tell him he was doing something wrong, he was deciding what was right and wrong. This was a lot of work.
He shuffled papers, looked at his computer, and then sat back and let out a long sigh. He needed someone to help him. He needed to promote someone, and fast. He pulled up the list of people who could do the job, or do it well enough. If they could do even a third of what he was doing it would be enough. If they could do just one eighth of what he was doing it would be enough. He had to find someone. He searched through the names and found someone who would do. He rang them up t his office and gave them an hour to find a replacement for themselves. They in turn picked someone and gave that person forty-five minutes to find a replacement, and so on until the lowest janitor had been promoted on the spot to second lowest janitor. Now the dust in the corners of the building would start to build up.
Janet got off the bus at a travel agents office and booked a trip to anotehr country where the biggest, most dangerous mountain was standing quietly over a small town. She then got back on a bus and went to the airpport.
Sally rinsed out a cup. She was smiling. She was happy. The coffee shop had told her that they didn’t need a full time employee at the moment, but she could work part time washing dishes and mopping the floors. She had accepted on the spot. They always used her name! She loved her name now. She was a person! She would eventually become mortal, but that wasn’t a big price to pay for being an individual. She was Sally!
She went out after work her first day and found a small studio apartment that had advertised the need for a fourth roommate. She had no idea what that meant. In the big building she had had her own small bed, her own bathroom with only the necessities, and that was pretty much it. The apartment she went into was easily five times as large as hers in the building. She looked around it, was told that she would have to sleep on the floor, and she settled in. She spent most of the day looking out the window, cleaning the apartment, or taking a walk around the block. It was nice to have a home, roommates, and a place to sleep, and they had all used her name! She was Sally! It was wonderful.
Janet looked out the window on her flight. She saw the ground below her. The passenger beside her asked if he could look out the window, he had only flown a couple times and had never been over this ocean before. He looked out and sighed with a deep sense of the sublime.
Janet knew that the whales in this part of the ocean were setting off to find the calm cool waters of the north at this time of year. She couldn’t remember reading about it, or watching it on television, but she knew it. It was nice to think of them swimming languidly through the waters, their whale song echoing off the rocks and other marine life that they passed.
She mentioned it to the man next to her. He stared at her for only a moment, looked back, and sighed once more.
“It’s a miracle for sure. Such grand beauty must be the work of some higher power.” He sat back and closed his eyes with a sense of peace and calm.
Janet would not know until much later that this man was feeling the first sense of peace he had felt in years. He had gone through a messy divorce which had just ended, his grown children had sided with his wife, their mother, and he had lost almost everything. Only in the past year had he managed to pull himself together enough to go out and find a career that allowed him to travel. He had been a good husband and father, but it had not been enough for the family. They had wanted more, much more. When he couldn’t provide what they had decided was necessity, a second house, a car for each member of the family, and enough money in his will to allow them to live without need of work for a long time, they had decided that he wasn’t the man they had thought.
Now that man was fast asleep, feeling the most peaceful rest he had felt in more years than he could remember.
Janet smiled at him and laid back to try and sleep herself.
The man at the top was feeling better. Though everything wasn’t going as smoothly as he had hoped it would. He had decided to promote one more person to help him get things done. He went through the list again and found another candidate. He called the person in, the same scenario played out, and more dust started to gather in the building.
About this time the elevator man had gone up to the desk and told the man at the top that he needed some time off. This had been a surprise, but he hadn’t had time to stop and think about it. He gave the man leave and sent a memo that everyone that would be using the reserved elevator would have to make it work for themselves. No one was bothered by this, but it did add a couple extra seconds to their days.
Before long, the man on the top had to hire someone else.
About the same time, the dust started to grow. It grew a sense. Then it grew another sense. Then it had a thought.
A mop is not the same as an elevator. This should be obvious, but to some it is not. He had always known how to use a mop, for some reason when he was made he knew. Only a handful of people in the building knew how to do more than what they were made to do. He had always wondered why. Now he knew why he knew how to use a mop. He was the only one left to use it.
He noticed that the blade on it was a little dull, but that would be worked with. Now he had to go take care of some dust. It was thinking after all, and no one else was taking care of it. The elevator could take care of itself, he knew that. All someone had to do was think of where they wanted to go, and they were taken there. There was a reason it was the only elevator like it, the same reason it was the only one used to go from the first floor to the top office. It would get lonely, but that would be alright. He would give it a good polish when he got back. That should make things right again.
A corner of dust moved toward him. He hit it. It exploded into particles and was gone. It amazed him that the dust alone could make shadows. That was worrying.
Janet arrived in the lonely country that held, as the only tourist attraction, the largest and most dangerous mountain in the world. You could see it from every corner of the country. She looked up at it. It looked like an old friend.
“Hello, miss, you planning on going up our little mountain?” An old man was taking her only bag and putting it into a dingy and small taxi.
She was jolted back to her surroundings.
“Yes, yes I am. Thank you.” She walked to the door of the cab and opened the door.
The old man stopped for a moment.
“You don’t seem to be worried about my cab? That’s a good thing! I’m the only cab driver around here that’ll take you where you want to go!”
“I know.” Janet said without thinking.
“You been here before then, eh?” The old man got into the cab.
“Um, no, no I just knew that. I don’t know why.” Janet was still puzzled at how she knew things but couldn’t remember anything. It was like having a strange form of amnesia.
“Ah, I see. Well, you just sit back. You’ll be going to the Inn, and then the mountaineers club I gather? I can do both for you. They know me at both places, it’ll be a snap. You just sit back.” He had an interesting way of doing things. Then Janet realized she hadn’t actually looked at him. She didn’t know what he looked like. That bothered her even more.
The man at the top was now thinking that being at the top was a lot like being on the bottom. He was feeling more and more like being buried under a mountain of work. He had promoted about ten people to help him, but that didn’t seem to be enough. He didn’t dare promote more, but he needed the help. How did she do it? This was like herding the universe. Well, it WAS herding the universe. He had never had to do it before. It now felt like far too much work. He wished he hadn’t taken the initiative to sit in the chair. He was feeling rather small in this chair now. He may be the tallest person in the building, but he was feeling rather small nonetheless.
Sally scrubbed her bathroom. It would have been easier if her roommates hadn’t been and out every two minutes to do something. Fix their hair, ask her to step out for a minute so they could use it, taking showers, and everything else you could do in a bathroom, even taking a phone call; these were getting in her way.
She had also met a few others who had left the building. News of her leaving had spread. It hadn’t spread quickly, anything that wasn’t work took forever to get around the building. Still, people had heard about it and were leaving to see what had happened to her.
At first it had been a few people at the coffee shop where she worked. She had liked the job, and her boss loved that she was bringing in so much business. Now it was getting hectic. She had learned quickly. She now was the second shift manager. It had only been a month. They had added a second shift and a third shift shortly after she had taken the job. She had been so efficient and quick about her work that everyone was coming from all over the city to see her in action. Even other shop owners were coming to see this miracle of barrista-ship. She had made a name for herself in only a month. The name was also spreading through out the city at such a speed that she barely had time to keep up with it.
She was, however, happy. It would have been nice to work a little less, but work was work, and she was Sally! No more Second to the… what was it again? She had forgotten. She didn’t give it a second thought however. She was almost finished with the floor, then she would go to the kitchen. One of the others who had left the building had moved in with her and her roommates. They also slept on the floor. It was different, but good. There wasn’t as much room as there had been now, six women living in the same place will do that.
If she or her friend form the building had decided to add any personal belongings, then the small apartment would be impossible to walk through. As it was, the apartment had become a pathway. A path to the beds, a path to the kitchen, and a path to the bathroom was all that the apartment was now. One of the girls who had been living there had been talking about moving out, but she still hadn’t found a place to move into. That was just a matter of time. The six of them were making enough money now that the rent was easy to pay, and the landlord, an middle-aged woman who had moved to the city at a young age herself, was very understanding about things.
She sat down on her little bed and thought. She had only a few more hours until work started and she had to figure out a few things. She might even get her own place. That might be necessary. The women she had moved in with would like that, and she could let other people from the building move in with her while they got their footing in the real world.
It hadn’t been like before, which was a good thing, but this was different. This was strange, Sally really liked it, most of it, but it was still strange. She knew something was wrong, but she couldn’t figure out what. She got up and got ready for work. She could take a slow walk in.
Janet got dressed in more appropriate mountain climbing clothes. She pulled on her pack and then turned around to walk out of the store and start the trek up the mountain.
“Don’t forget me miss,” the cab driver was behind her. As he walked by he patted her on the shoulder and went on to his cab. “Come on, we don’t want to walk the extra five miles to the base when we can drive. There’ll be more than enough walking soon.” He called over his shoulder as he got in his cab.
‘Right,’ though Janet. ‘Now he’s going with me. I know I know him, but I can’t place him.’ She decided to say something to him as she got in to see if she could use his name. She couldn’t remember it, but maybe if she just acted like she knew it it would come to her. Somehow she knew she knew this man’s name.
“Thanks a lot for coming with m-” He cut her off.
“Not a problem! Not a problem! I love a good hike and a climb now and then. It’s a pleasure for me to go. Besides you looked like you were more of the business type when you got here. Have you climbed a mountain before? No? Well, you’ll need some help.” He started his cab and was driving now. He was making rather good time. “Anyways, if you get too tired, you’ll have to know where to go to get some help, food, or shelter. Oh, I know we bought those tents, but there’s an Inn up there, for those who know how to find it. I’ll show it to you when we get past the first camp. Nice place too. Not that the camp is all that bad, but this place is a little nicer, I’ll wager anyone who’s tried is would agree. Now you see up there?” He paused as they came around a group of trees. One peak of the mountain loomed overhead. Janet pressed herself against the window to see further up. It was a nice gentle climb for most of the beginning. Then she looked a little higher up. There was sheer rock, overhangs, and some things that looked impossible to get past. She had a twinge of uncertainty. She sat back, surprised. That had been a strange feeling.
“Now, that up there is the hardest route to take. We’re not going to do that, though, I know the easier way to go. Unless you want to hardest way, we can start it out and see how you do. You look to be in pretty good shape for sure, but that there sheer face won’t care one way or the other, so maybe we’ll start on the easier path and see how it goes.”
He kept talking like that, not giving Janet a chance to say anything, until they reached the base camp. At which point a nice looking young man opened the door for her. As she got out he motioned for her to stop.
“Ma’am, we can’t let anyone up right now. There was another team that hasn’t come back and haven’t checked in. We’re shutting down the trails for the rest of the day. If you want there’s space over there to set up your tent, or the Inn back in town will gladly take you for a night.” He was serious, too.
Janet wasn’t about to stop here. She looked at the cab driver, still staring straight out the front of the cab. He shrugged. She looked back at the young man.
“Well, I didn’t buy this tent to look at it, I think I’ll get set up over there.” The cab driver laughed, one short laugh, and they parked the taxi and got their things out. The tents were easy enough to set up. Janet’s was up and ready, with only a minor delay. When she looked over at where the cab driver had been setting his up she saw he was not only finished, but was now inside taking a nap.
Well, she didn’t have anything else to do, so she took a walk around. She was worried about the men who had disappeared. She knew they were dead. How did she know? That was the first time she knew something and was worried that she knew it. She also knew their names, that they didn’t have any family to go home to, and that their jobs were coming to an end in a few years. She knew they had chosen this as a chance to leave the world at the top of their lives. It was a strange comfort to know it, but the fact that she knew was not comforting.
As she walked she looked around at the wildlife. There were some beautiful birds, some small creatures that were running in the undergrowth, and a snake or two. The insects were out as well. It wasn’t too cold at this level either. She walked around for a while, it wouldn’t be dark for a while yet, and looked at what was there. It was good. She liked it. It was calming, too. She hadn’t realized that she hadn’t been calm until she was in the middle of the forest, here.
“I see you’re getting acquainted with the mountain already.” It was a familiar voice, but it wasn’t the same. It was calm, too. It was the cab driver. He had found her. She didn’t know how he had found her, she hadn’t been on any trail. “You city folk don’t know how to walk through a forest.” He said like reading her thoughts. “You just walk right through it, not really with it, but through it. You’re good at being a city person. Must have been doing it a long time.”
She had, she knew that. Was it that obvious? She turned around to look at the man. He was studying something at ground level. A small fern wasn’t looking too well. He was examining it.
“Poor thing, not a chance left for it to survive. Too mush other growth here. It’s a rough world that these plants grow up into. The forest is a living breathing thing, its almost like a city. If one of these guys doesn’t have the right soil available, or isn’t getting enough sunlight there’s no hope. This guy took root and thought it would be a good place to grow. Sadly he can’t uproot and move himself. You think we should give him a hand?” He didn’t look up, but kept examining the fern. “Looks like some bugs got to it too. Not looking too well at all.” He had managed to find the only thing that was dying in the middle of a beautiful forest, full of life.
“It will become food for the other plants, won’t it?” Janet knew that this was true, but she was worried about the fern. She had never thought of a fern like a ‘little guy’ before, and now she wasn’t sure if she should leave it alone.
“You’re right, of course. His life is here to make the other lives more enriched, as it were. I guess we should just leave it alone.” He stood up. “Come on, they found those poor men, about half way up. Their tracking beacon finally went off. Turns out they were covered in an avalanche. Poor guys didn’t know what happened to them.” He said this with a little too much certainty.
The two had, in fact, not known what had happened. They had an inkling that they had been killed, that there was an avalanche on top of them, but only an inkling. It was a strange feeling being dead. Then a strange man, not dressed like death at all, came up to them, in the middle of a great whiteness, and told them they were, in fact, dead.
They knew it had to be death. Who else would tell you you were dead in the middle of a great whiteness? He then told them that the white was because of the snow that was on top of them. That made sense. They looked at each other and smiled. It had worked. Then they looked at death with worried faces.
“You want to know if climbing a mountain that you know will kill you is a little too much like suicide, and whether or not that will damn you or get you some horrible unknown punishment?”
The man lowered his head for a moment.
“I don’t think so. You guys should be fine. Just come this way, we’ll get you checked in.” With that he turned around and opened a door that wasn’t there. It opened on to a great lobby of a building. He guided them to a desk.
“Charles McWorth and Jefferson Dodge? Please sign here and here.” the woman behind the desk barely gave them a second glance. They stared blankly at her, and then looked once more around the buiding.
“We’ve come a long way since gates and porters, you know. We did design the first office after all. It’s much easier for you at any rate. If you just sign in there will be an assessment and then you will be shown to your place of residence for the duration of eternity.”
They signed in. There was a flash of light and their names glowed for a minute. There was a touch of red under their names, they noticed.
She looked at the names, and at them, then at the man who had brought them in.
“It’s alright, she thought of them as they were going. I think she smiled, too.” That seemed to be enough. The woman raised an eyebrow and typed something into a computer.
A bag boy arrived at each of their arms.
“If you go with them you will be able to unload all your baggage from life and then you will be shown to a rather nice, possibly undeserving, place to rest and recuperate. There are many amenities here, anything you would like to do, there is a floor that you can do it on. I hope you enjoy your stay.” then the woman turned back to her work.
Charles looked at her again, then at the bag boys, then at the man, Death, and then at Jeff.
“I could use a drink I think.” Jeff looked like her felt.
“Me too,” Charles looked at the bag boys. They looked like old men who had been turned into young men.
“I think, gentlemen, that you will find that a drink here won’t be the same as it was on earth.” Death spoke up. “But it might not matter. Boys, please take these gentlemen to my reserve. Give them something light. It should take their minds off things while they get settled.”
The two bag boys looked at each other with doubtful expressions. Then one of them turned and the other motioned for Charles and Jeff to follow.
A few hours, possibly hours, later they were in their rooms. Their baggage was indeed gone, and they were feeling the best drunk they had ever felt. They had been told that normal alcohol, here, didn’t have effect. What ever that private reserve of Death’s was, it wasn’t normal. It was amazing.
They sat with silly grins on their faces for the first week of their afterlives. When they came to, they got up and started looking for old acquaintances. There was a floor for that.
Sally poured some more coffee. The man on the top pulled out some hair. Janet started to climb. Dust started to fight back.
The elevator operator turned mopper held his mop with a certain determination. He was the best there had ever been. No one knew that. No would ever know that, though there would be suspicions later. He held his mop with a certain style too. It was more than a tool in his hands. It was a sort of artistic instrument as well. He was now in the lower levels of the basement. The dust here had collected to an enormous size. It was almost fifteen feet tall now. He slashed here and there without a thought or a glance, sending smaller dust bunnies back to being small particles, and then into oblivion. When in his hands a mop was more than a mop.
He was focusing on the giant dust monster in front of him. He had been looking for the larger gatherings of dust in all the corners of the building. He had been surprised to find that there hadn’t been much in any of the main floors. He hadn’t found any in the upper basement levels. He had gone to the boiler room. It was a well known fact that any boiler room has so much dust in it that you can make a cake. There hadn’t been any there either.
He had traveled down to the lowest level. It was just below the special reserve cellar where the special drinks for Death were born. He knew they were born now, it wasn’t just an expression. The wracks were like a sort of hive wall. When a new one was about to be born there was a waxen wall over the end that fell away as the bottle pushed through. There wasn’t any dust there of course. Nothing could grow there. There were other things, minding the young bottles that kept the dust away. They also kept everything else away. Which is why he hadn’t been able to get in.
Now, in the lowest level, he knew why he hadn’t found dust anywhere else. It had been gathering here. It was huge. He narrowed his eyes and walked toward it.
It turned its attention to him.
He stopped. It was moving ion a new way now. It was making limbs.
He tightened his grip on his mop. The blade glinted in the light of the old oil lamp that he had brought with him. It was otherwise completely dark. He could, of course, see somewhat in the dark, but this thing didn’t need to see. It had been growing in complete darkness for weeks now.
He brought his mop around in front of him. The dust blob moved and sprouted an arm. At the end of the arm was a thing that looked like a mop. It had the long handle, the blade on the end, perpendicular to the handle, and the squeegee behind the blade to clean up the mess afterward. Dust hated the squeegee almost as much as the blade.
The Head Mopper hit a button on his mop and the end became parallel to the handle. It also grew longer to become more of a sword. This had rarely ever been needed. This was also the only mop that could do it. It had been made just for this moment, much like his knowledge of mopping. He moved his foot back and prepared to strike.
Janet was now starting to climb more than hike. They had passed the first camp much faster than anyone had in the past. They were making record time. The cab driver had checked his watch a couple times on the way. He was always unconcerned, but now he was almost relaxed. It was a strange combination. They were moving much faster than Janet thought she should be able to. They were jumping over rocks, or gaps, they were running along edges that most people would have tiptoed across in fear of looking down, they were scaling rock faces that most people would need a years training to get over in a few minutes.
Janet had never climbed before. She knew that. She also knew exactly what to do and how her body would respond. It was exhilarating. She was feeling more alive than she had in weeks, maybe months, no longer, more than years. She had a sense of age now that was much longer than years.
“Wait a moment.” Janet called to the cab driver.
He looked back at her. She was sitting down. She wasn’t breathing heavy, but she was looking out onto the landscape that was beginning to stretch further and further out in front of them, with a look of knowing. Her brow was furrowed.
“Who am I?” She looked right at the cab driver with a look of ages. It was a look that actually could fry an egg, or send daggers into walls. The cab driver was doing rather well for himself. He hadn’t fainted, though he couldn’t faint. He had never felt this gaze before. He had seen it from a distance, cleaned up after it, and heard about it. He had never seen it. It had never been turned on him either. There had been an understanding about that. Nevertheless, he discovered he could sweat, and that the back of his head could burn.
He managed to not turn around.
“I think, Ma’am,” He said with as much reverence as he could muster. “That the answer will come to you as we keep climbing. There is a point that things will come together for you. It’s near the top.” He hesitated for a moment. “An old friend is waiting for you there.”
The gaze stopped. He relaxed.
“Who are you?”
He tensed again.
“Could we wait until we get to the top?” He hoped that would work. “You will find out then.”
The gaze did not come back. He started to climb again. They kept a good pace, but slowed a little. Janet and the cab driver were both more interested in the sights now. Neither of them wanted to say anything. Janet considered brooding over things, but decided that wasn’t a good idea.
“That man, my,” she paused, a faint smile crossed her lips, “boss. He isn’t what he said he was, was he.” She didn’t so much ask a question as make an observation. She was looking over the vast landscape below them.
“Not as such, no.”
There was a ‘however’ coming, Janet knew it.
“However, you did leave him in charge when you left the building. So, in a way, he is the boss right now. Even though you are the real boss, as it were.” He paused, mid step to see where this was going. They were almost there too. He just needed her to keep going another few yards, then there was the clearing. Then her old friend would wake up. Then things would start to go back to normal.
“I know.” She said and they finished the climb to the small plateau.
The dust monster had sprouted new mop mimics. They weren’t nearly as strong as the one that was being wielded against it, but it could make ones very quickly. As long as the Head Mopper didn’t get too close, it would keep growing. Then it felt a sting. It slashed with everything it could. The sting was strange. It had never felt anything before. It had always just been dust, now it was becoming more than just dust. It wanted to keep becoming.
The Head Mopper stepped back. That last mop that had sprouted from the blob had a sharp edge to it. The earlier ones had just been thrown out to parry and block. There hadn’t been an edge to them. The dust had been to soft to make an edge. This one was new. The thing was still growing. He had to fight it down as fast as he could. If it made it much further, it could over power him and move into the floors above.
It’s true there wasn’t much chance of it getting past the Reserve floor, just above, but the stairway went past that floor. You really didn’t have to stop and go through it. The thing could get into the lower levels and then into the main building proper. If it got too far in, to the ground floor for example, it could start to do some real damage.
He changed his grip on the mop and pulled a small handle out of his pocket. It was old. It was a part of him. It was the essence of the elevator that he took with him. It could do similar things to what the elevator could do. It was a weapon. One of the few things ever made for one of the building residents that was made solely for combat. Anything it touched could be sent to a place of the wielders choosing.
Usually this would end the duel quickly, as he could send the entire person he was fighting with to a room or cell where they would be picked up later. He had used it one time before. There had been a battle, of sorts, many universes ago. Now he was having trouble.
Every piece of the dust monster that he hit with the elevator handle would fall off the main part of the beast. He was making it smaller, but far too slowly. The monster was still gaining size and becoming more creative with its weapons. There was a mop with ten blades, which wasn’t a problem because it cut its own arm off and the Head Mopper hit it with the handle before it could get a new grip on it. It had also made other weapons that looked like they could send out projectiles, but the monster hadn’t figured out how to make projectiles yet, so he was safe.
He retreated for a minute to gather his thoughts. The oil lamp was starting to burn down too. He had to do something and quick. He had an idea.
He fashioned the elevator handle onto the mop. He had some string with him that could tie anything together. With the handle and the mop now combined, he started swinging as fast as he could in the most elaborate arcs and movements he could manage. In another location, with an audience, it would have been like a dance. Here it was a forced, practiced, careful set of actions that he had to do perfectly, or else he might leave the basement.
He had to focus on one place. The only place that wouldn’t mind having a dust monster. He focused his mind and body and the monster started to shrink. It became smaller and smaller. It was now back to its original size of fifteen feet again. Now the Head Mopper pushed once more. This time he was able to push it even further back into the corner of the basement.
Then it exploded.
He sailed back across the room and hit the door. As he landed he knocked over the lamp. It burst into a giant flame and then went out. The flashes that he saw before it went out, and left afterimages in his mind, worried him.
The dust had turned itself into two things. One was a man shaped thing. It held a sharp blade, which it had been looking at, it had glinted as the oil lamp exploded.
The other shape was a man sized egg. It also glinted and shined as the lamp exploded.
The Head Mopper slowly stood up. As his dark vision came back to him he saw the man shaped dust creature lower its weapon at him. It moved toward him. He couldn’t see if it had a face, but didn’t really want to see a face that that thing could come up with.
The egg cracked and something came out. It was large, and was growing larger quite quickly. It had long tentacles with barbs on some ends, and long blades on others. It also had a mouth that was stretching and moving for the first time. After it had decided that the mouth would be sufficient, it gave a soft, gravel like growl. It was dust. It was more than dust, now.
The old being, the old man, had an itch. Something was nearby. Something human, but not human. It had an old familiar feeling to it. Though he hadn’t felt it like this in ages. If it was who he thought it was, then this was a strange and portentous event. He liked that word, ‘portentous’. It meant exactly what he wanted it to mean. It was not necessarily the future, but wasn’t necessarily the present either. That was a good word.
He had to fight the urge to scratch the itch. If he did, who knew what would happen? Those two men on his knee earlier had gotten a surprise when he had reacted to that mountain goat. Who knew what would happen if he scratched an itch.
He waited. The itch was only on his elbow right now anyways. In a little while he would be able to see who it was. He was very interested in seeing who it was.
The man on the top was now scrambling to find out where God had gone. He didn’t care what the resulting punishment would be when he had to stand before his judgement, he just wanted to be done with being the boss.
His army of second in commands were not doing the job he had done very well. Each one would do most of the job they were assigned adequately, but would also be helping someone else fix what they hadn’t finished. It was a dangerous and chaotic cycle. It was a little like a circular argument, he thought, each part dependent on the other parts, if any one part was taken away it would fall apart completely.
The only problem was that this circular arrangement was turning into a spiral. It was slowly collapsing and falling apart on its own. He had to do something. He had heard that there were a few people in the building that had the single task of finding God whenever He or She was needed by the building if something important was going to happen and She wasn’t around.
They hadn’t ever had much work. They had beaten every possible permeation of solitaire. They had polished everything in their rooms. They had walked every corridor and every flight of stairs in the building. They had done everything bored people can do with unlimited amount of time and no work.
They had also read far too much.
There were four of them.
“We know She is not here, sir.” The tallest of the man answered.
“What do you mean, I know she is not here, too. Where is She?” The man on the top was out of patience.
“Well, sir, we spend most of our time in the building. We rarely ever go out anywhere. The worlds that have been created aren’t usually for us, sir. There’s been more than one universe that we haven’t even seen, sir.” The second tallest man had spoken up.
“Well, then you will get to know this world very well. You are going out there and you are going to find her and bring her back.” He had had enough. This group of lay abouts were finally going to do what they were meant to do.
“Um, sir.” The tallest woman spoke. “What if she doesn’t want to come back?”
The man on the top did not want to think about that.
“Never mind that. As long as you find her. If there’s any problem, just come and get me. I’ll fetch her myself if I have to!” Everyone in the office stopped what they were doing. No one spoke about God that way, no one. There was a vague thought that if someone did they would be unmade. Which is not the same as being killed. Being unmade would mean that the person would be removed from existence, not only in the sense they would no longer be here, from this point forward, but this point back as well. Even memory of the person would eventually go away. Having your past erased would do that to memories of other people. If you had never existed, then no one would remember you. He had also used a small ‘h’ when he had spoken about Her.
“I mean, I will talk to Her myself. Hopefully She will be inclined to come back and sort things out. At this point She’s the only one who can!” HE said this last part more to himself, but a few others heard him, including the group of four who were about to go out into the world and start looking for God.
They decided to become monks.
They showed up about three hundred years too early.
They put out the word, in the four most populated places on the earth, that they were searching for the Chosen One. As soon as they had stepped out of the building they all knew that She was somewhere in the world. They just didn’t know when or where. As the time got closer, the feeling of Her became stronger.
She made ripples in time. Forward and back. They could feel these ripples.
The mountain opened an eye. It watched a plateau not far from its face and waited to see what came into view. First it was a band of monks. Four of them. Very olds, yet very sprightly. They were talking like old friends. They looked up at the mountain and asked if he had seen God.
‘No,’ he had replied, ‘but I felt her. She’s climbing past my elbow right now.’
‘Thanks!’ They had said this was were just about to turn and leave when another group of monks, much younger, and very worn out, poked their heads over the edge of his knee. They looked around wildly. They had heard the mountain speak, but hadn’t seen anyone that they thought the voice should belong to.
Then the younger group of monks all looked at where their elders were. They all saw them. They watched as the four old monks walked off a ledge and disappeared. They didn’t fall. The youngest of the monks ran to the edge to look. They had disappeared.
A moment later a tall, frustrated man in a very nice business suit appeared. He brushed some dust and snow off his coat and looked up at the Mountain.
“Am I in the right place? She is nearby right?” He had an edge of desperation in his voice, though he didn’t look like he would be bothered by anything.
The mountain spoke again.
“Yes, She is climbing up my forearm right now. Should be a few minutes yet.” The monks now saw the mountain speak. They were petrified. Those who hadn’t come up over the edge of the plateau were shivering from the fright and awe and had almost completely forgotten about the cold. Those few who were near the edge tried to slowly move back to the edge so they could watch. The one young monk who had ran to the place where their elders had disappeared was trying to faint, but some part of his brain told him that if he did then everything that was going on around him would take notice of him, so he should save up that faint until everything stopped.
“She’s real itchy.” The mountain said.
“I suppose she would be to you.” The man in the suit had said. “How much longer?” He was impatient. “I’m freezing.”
“Not long now.” The mountain knew that the monks were nearby, he could feel them. He could even feel the one who was trying not to be noticed. He didn’t want to look at them, in case they would die or faint, or something else. Generally he didn’t like people being incapacitated on his knee. They smelled funny.
“This should be Her now.”
The monks noticed that there was a lessening of the cold around them. It wasn’t so much less cold, but they didn’t feel it as much. Then they saw a cab driver and a woman climb up another path and reach the same place they were.
Later, the youngest monk would think about that and ask, “Didn’t our elders say that there was only one way up that mountain?”
Another would reply, “Yes, they did.”
The youngest monk would think for a moment and then ask another question.
“Then where did those two other people come from? You know, the divine Cab Driver, and the Goddess?”
The other monk would sit and think for a moment, then reply once more.
“It is not for us to ask questions about the universe, but to help others find out what questions they want to ask.”
Then the two of them would get up from their coffee break and go back to their cabs.
Janet walked up to a clearing. She knew something about that clearing. It was old. It was older than the world itself. It was also alive. It was watching her.
“Hello old friend.” She looked up at the mountain. It was looking back at her. It was Father Earth.
“Hello there friend. How are you? I heard that you took a vacation. I hope it was alright?” He spoke without speaking.
The monks were having trouble understanding what was going on. To them the mountain was making strange sounds and then woman, supposedly the greatest woman ever, was responding to the sounds. They were sounds of rocks moving against rocks, the sound of an avalanche without the avalanche.
Janet thought about that comment.
“Yes, it has been good.” then she looked at the tall man waiting to be noticed. It was the man at the top. She smiled. “Did you get everything you wanted?” She wasn’t only knowing now, she was beginning to remember! She was God.
“Um, Ma’am, I think I got what I wanted, after a fashion, yes. Um,” He paused. “You are coming back now?” Then he added. “I hope?”
“Yes, I think I am.” Then she paused. She frowned, and looked at her cab driver and guide. “Death, have you known about the dust, and all the office workers leaving the building?”
He shuffled his feet. “Well, yes Ma’am, but I knew it would only be for a short time. You will be able to put everything right soon enough.” He now didn’t hide his face from her. He looked like a normal person, except for his eyes. They were deep and black. They were the kind of black that lets the person looking into them know that there is nothing at the other side of them. They were the deep dark of nothingness.
“My Second?” She turned back to her chief officer. “You must go back, send everyone back to their posts and make sure the moppers are rested and ready for a fight. Something has been born in the lowest room of the building. It will take more than one person to take care of it.”
Her Second bowed and turned, and disappeared. The monks now thought about office buildings and businessmen as something not to be wary of, but to be revered. It threw them into a problematic quandary that would be worked much later by a very creative monk who knew that all things were not only made by God, but She needed some group of people to keep it organized and clean so it ran accordingly. There were much more details later, but that was the beginning.
Her Second was thinking about the lowest room in the building. It was below Death’s special reserve cellar. What could possibly grow there? And who was fighting it right now?
Janet turned back to the mountain.
“My friend, you are always a comfort to me. It is good that there is someone looking over my creation for me.” She smiled a big smile. It was a happy smile, a rested smile.
“You are, of course, welcome my Goddess. It is always a pleasure to work for you and keep things in order. I can see quite a lot from here as well, the view is nice, and its a lot better than watching things from another planet, I assure you. That one universe, with the red planet that I was stuck on, was rather difficult to keep in order. I only saw it once a rotation, and it was so far away.”
This whole speech was lost on the monks, but not on Janet, who smiled all the more.
“I should come back here, soon, and we should catch up on old universes.” She knew she didn’t have the time.
He knew too.
“Yes, you should.”
They smiled at each other. Janet turned around, opened a door that wasn’t there, and walked into a coffee shop.
Sally was handing out an order for a tall caramel latte soy milk extra large when she saw who was next in line. She stopped. Her employees, who were now all former building employees, also stopped.
Janet was smiling at Sally.
She turned to the rest of the staff and the smile vanished. One by one they all stopped what they were doing and ran out of the coffee shop. All but Sally ran. She stayed and looked into God’s eyes. It was captivating. They were saying so much. To everyone else in the room they just stood there for a few moments, then went on with things.
To Sally, they went to a distant world where everyone in the coffee shop froze like statues and God spoke to her.
“You are happy?”
“Yes, I am, Ma’am.”
“Would be able to give up your name?”
A pause. “I don’t think so, Ma’am.”
“Will you train someone to take your place?”
“I could Ma’am, er.”
“The coffee shop needs me now. It, it well, it is part of me and I am a part of it.” Then a thought. “Ma’am.”
Janet didn’t reply right away.
“I think I do know what you mean.” She smiled.
“Very well. If you must stay here, you may. But I will be in from time to time to buy a cup of coffee, and it better stay the best.”
Sally smiled bigger than anyone thought she could. Wider and brighter than she thought she could.
“Yes, Ma’am!” She nearly saluted.
Then things started up again and God ordered a simple cup of coffee and walked out.
To the surprise of the people waiting in line, Sally didn’t slow down or miss a beat, even though her entire staff had just walked out. She worked, it seemed, almost harder and happier than she had been before. Her smile was much larger in any case. She managed to finish the day without even breaking a sweat, not a real one at any rate. The heat form the machines behind the counter didn’t count.
She went home, packed up her meager belongings, and went out and rented her own apartment. She was now free to be Sally, and she never thought it could happen. Yet, it did. She was happy.
Back in the lowest basement of the building, the Head Mopper was having trouble. The two things seemed to be tied to one another. They had learned. The one with the blade was skilled, it had watched him somehow and learned about how to use the mop. The monster was continually growing as well. It would be amazing if the next floor up hadn’t heard anything yet. It would amazing if the highest lower basement hadn’t heard anything of the battle yet.
He was still better than the dust man. He was better enough that he had, on more than one occasion, hit him with the elevator handle, but it hadn’t worked the way he had planned. The dust man would just reappear next to the monster. The Head Mopper couldn’t get close enough to hit the monster after he’d managed to hit the dust man.
He had started to yell at it. He was getting frustrated. He was getting tired. He had been made old, but the people in the building always had enough to deal with what they were made for. This was more than he was going to be able to handle on his own.
He couldn’t leave though. He was facing his end. He had had that thought about half way through the battle. He hadn’t been sure until now. This thing was going to keep on fighting until it was either dead, or it had consumed the entirety of the building.
The Head Mopper took a deep breath and drew himself up to his full height. He was a natural sloucher. Now he was more than six and a half feet tall, maybe even seven. He would be even taller than The Second, if they stood side by side right now.
He did the last thing he could do. He held each of his weapons out, one in each hand. His arms were straight out from his body. The dust man and the monster waited to see what he was going to do. He took another breath and brought the two weapons together so fast that it left after images in the dust man’s eyes. There was a flash of pure white light, and when the creatures could see again, the mop was glowing.
The Head Mopper hadn’t wanted to do this because it would mean that neither of the two weapons could ever be used separately again. He had wanted the handle to remain separate from the mop. It was too late for that. He stretched. He took a stance. He ran at the dust man.
Janet was in front of all the moppers of the building. They were more than happy to be back to what they were made to do. They walked tall and proud. Their mops shone in the fluorescent lights. Those that saw them go past had a feeling of watching their home army going off to war. It was a sight and feeling that they had only ever once before felt.
Janet opened the elevator to anywhere and spread her hands out so it could accommodate all the moppers. They filed in and waited for the door to close. They stood tall even when the doors closed and it starting to sink in that this wasn’t a parade.
Janet had a severe look on her face. This thing in the basement wasn’t really of her making, not directly. It had been left behind by her last Second, a woman who was as cunning as she was devious. This had not exactly been a design flaw, but she wasn’t proud of it all the same.
The door opened onto blackness. In the distance there was the sound of someone fighting. The fluorescent lights flickered. The moppers resolve weakened. Janet let out a yell that inspired the entire building. Clerks on the middle floors suddenly had the urge to file their documents with more determined and rarefied zeal. Even a few animals that were living in the building howled and hooted and chirped their responses to the yell.
When it was over she marched straight into the blackness.
It was less than a moment before the moppers came around and one of them yelled.
“Come on boys! This is what we’re made for! Get your mops ready and lets get this dust!”
There was a cheer from the rest of the moppers and they all ran into the blackness after Janet.
Then it was silent, except for the elevator music.
The Head Mopper was still having trouble. He had made a good push against the dust man, but it had been watching with more than two sets of eyes, and was learning faster than he was. It was starting to gain ground on him. He was being pushed back against a wall. Soon he wouldn’t have any more back to go to and the thing would have a definite advantage.
He tried to redouble his strength, but the things in front of him weren’t letting up either. He knew they weren’t alive, not exactly, so they didn’t have to rely on energy, not the same way he was. He took another step back. His elbow hit the wall. He was going to be done for.
Then he saw a light come from the other side of the room. The monster looked, the dust man paused. Then tactics changed. The monster lunged at the light source and the dust man came at the Head Mopper with a frenzy. This was, in some ways easier to fight against. Now that the monster was busy with something else, he could match the dust man, strike for strike, and he started to gain ground.
Janet yelled out orders to the moppers as they filed into the room. They all took up positions around the monster and started to move in slowly. They had to watch the arms and tentacles that were flailing about, parrying left, right, center, above and sometimes below. They kept their resolve.
A mopper captain was with Janet helping get those who had been at the back of the line to position to help those already fighting. It had started so quickly.
“Ma’am, this is a large, high level hatchling. When we see’em, their about the size of a mouse, with something like a wasp guarding the egg that it is born in. Ma’am, must have something as big as a human being guarding it. I can’t see the guard, though. Where do you think it is?” He scratched his chin.
“It’s on the other side of it. Back in the other room that it’s blocking. Don’t worry just yet about the protector, I have someone there dealing with it.” With that she made an action of unsheathing a very long, and very thin sword. The captain would have sworn that She hadn’t had anything on her before that moment, and he may have been right, but now she was holding a blade made of pure light. It was dazzling.
She walked up to the back of the lines of moppers and with a hand moved them carefully aside. Then she started to parry and riposte every tentacle that thing had with one hand, without taking her eyes off its mouth. That was her goal. She knew she had to strike there.
She took a step forward. It slithered back. On the other side of it the Head Mopper had pushed the dust man p against the back of the monster.
“Son,” said the captain. “You now how to kill one of these, right?”
The permanently young corporal next to him gave a nod. He’d done so many times himself.
“You have to kill both at the same time, almost with the same stroke.”
“That’s right, son.” The lads title had been son. It wasn’t a nickname, it was his title. Once or twice he had hated it, but he couldn’t do anything about it.
Janet was keeping the arms and tentacles at bay. The mouth would lash out to try and grab her or her weapon, but it couldn’t stand the taste of the weapon. Every time it touched there was a strange, soft shriek.
The Head Mopper had the dust man pinned against the back of the monster. He pushed off.
Janet raised her her hand.
Their swords met in the center and a flash of light and black swept the army of moppers off their feet.
When it was over they saw Janet and a man they had never seen before talking over the rapidly decreasing monster. One of the more adventurous moppers had managed to climb over the monster to get a look at its guardian. He climbed back down and walked over to the rest of the men and women and told them that it had in fact been man shaped with a big mop with a sideways blade. Money changed hands.
“You sure showed up just at the right time.” The Head Mopper was smiling, but also very tired.
“Don’t I always? I’m sorry I was away so long.” Janet didn’t look tired at all. She never did.
“Oh, I know. You were on vacation. You had given me a special task before the universe was created, remember?” The Head Mopper was quickly becoming the Elevator Operator once again.
“Yes,” said Janet with a smile. “I do.”
With that, everyone went back to what they were supposed to be doing. The Elevator Operator went back to the elevator, and gave it a good polishing and rub down. The moppers went back to their work of prowling around the building in search of any dust, and everyone else went back to their particular jobs.
One group sat around a table in the commons area with some of the recently departed.
“You suppose anyone will really keep that religion going?”
“I don’t know. Could be. Hand me another card.”
“I mean, it was all just a farce, well, almost a farce.”
“Yeah, drat, no good. Give me one more.”
“You two relax-give me two- its likely that no one will keep it up after we leave. Anyway, hah! I win again.”
“You always win!” Then the two men looked at each other and realization dawned on them. One of them got up to get the winner a drink.
And with that, things went back to normal. A mountain kept an eye on its work. About a thousand years later a woman, in new clothes, stopped in to have a chat. He was glad to see her. They talked. Then the woman went back to her favorite coffee shop, had a simple drink and had a chat with the owner. They were catching up on old times.