The Synchronicity Factory
Fiction: A comic take on the extra-dimensional forces that are behind the mysterious force of synchronicity and why we should be grateful for them
1. INTRODUCING SYLVESTER FORRESTER AND YOURS TRULY
Professors, theoreticians and part-time pontificators may gather behind ivy-draped walls in the ivory towers of AfterWorld №9 to dissect the causes for the Synchronicity Factory’s failures, but Sylvester Forrester had little time for such navel-gazing.
For Sylvester had a quota to make and one last chance to make it; and it wasn’t just his job on the line, it was the core thing that makes a soul a soul: his identity. Without one of those, one may as well just merge back into The One and bliss out in Non-Duality for a while.
No, before Sylvester even considered blissing out, he had to prove to himself and the world — or rather, the Afterworlds — that the Synchronicity Factory hadn’t farked things up when it had ignored its hiring freeze one year ago to bring him on.
As the valedictorian at the top Synchronicity program in AfterWorld №9, Sylvester was both the factory’s Last Hope and its Biggest Pain in the Ass. After all, his success, or rather lack thereof, was a constant reminder that the Synchronicity Factory was failing because if this great student of synchronicity couldn’t figure out how to work its magic on the cynical modern humans anymore, who could? Maybe it was time to hang up the spikes, call home the cows or … you find a better metaphor, will ya?
But Sylvester a quitter? Not in his constitution, not gonna happen.
Just attract that one client, that one person among the sea of too-smart-for-their-own-good civilized folks who could appreciate his work.
Find the client, save your job, save the factory?
An angel can dream, right?
Do angels dream? And if they do, do they dream of electric bugaloos? Or dejected detectives with degenerate tattoos? Or long-lost lovers hooking up over hippie hula hoops?
Ponder then proceed, please.
“No!” is Sylvester Forrester’s very quick answer to my questions because, like many of the incarnations on Earth that he’d left behind a few years ago, he was far too busy to dream or far too stressed to remember his dreams if he did. Especially since he committed one of the biggest screw-ups in the history of synchronicity with Clinton Staley and just about shut the Synchronicity Factory down for good.
What, do you really think the AfterLife is a stress-free affair? Or that angels don’t need sleep?
Stop me right there, if you would. I’m being unfair. I’m calling Sylvester an angel and that’s likely conjuring up the wrong image in your mind. Are you looking at halo-wearing creatures decked in flowing white robes, cloud-puff wings sprouting from their backs, flügelhorns at the ready?
If you weren’t before reading that sentence, you are now! I tickle myself…
I’m being told I must apologize. Such things don’t come easily to me, which is one of the reasons I was told that a writer of my considerable talents and esteem wound up in AfterWorld №3, a dull place full of the dullest of dullards (yes, I recognize that sentence doesn’t live up to the expectations you probably have of someone who considers himself a supremely talented teller of tales. You think I should have used more than just three variations on the word “dull,” but the genius of the sentence is that it represents the dullness of this place through a limited vocabulary. From here on, I shall not explain the methods to my madness. Just understand they exist and do your best to keep up.)
(Crap. I’m really in hot water now. I’m also told one of the reasons I ended up in lowly AfterWorld №3 is because I suffer the sin of self-promotion, a man who likes to toot his own flügelhorn, if you will. So, no more comments about my genius; you’ll figure it out on your own.)
((Double crap. Not even crappy disguises at self-compliments are allowed. This is really hard on me, OK?))
Anyway, if I’m ever to progress up the AfterWorlds Escalator to a more worthy and rewarding locale, I must work on myself and learn to make amends. If I do that, perhaps I will advance to an AfterWorld where the Narrative Factories have Big Bosses who are more punctual in delivering better scripts than this one. If that were to happen, I wouldn’t have to continue delaying the actual tale with these silly asides.
Oh, yeah, the apology.
Here goes: I’m sorry, okay? I shall do my damnedest — crap, not the best word choice considering my circumstances — to move the tale of the Synchronicity Factory’s last best hope, Sylvester Forester, forward in a more concise fashion, one that is more honest and fair to you, Willing Reader, for whom I am indebted.
Back to it…
Imagine a man. A normal man with a perpetual tan because AfterWorld №9 is nine clicks closer to the Sun than Earth is. He’s got wispy brown hair and a flair for … well, nothing to be honest. Sylvester Forrester is just an average-looking dude and you can dress him in average clothes, whatever that phrase conjures for you.
Just don’t imagine anything ethereal. He’s an angel only in the sense that he’s not a corporeal being living in your dimension. After all, a guy with a predilection for pretzels covered in Prussian cheese sauce ain’t a saint, am I right?
The point is Sylvester Forrester has never even heard of a flügelhorn and he certainly never had angel wings. In most ways, the beings of AfterWorld №9 are not all that dissimilar to the beings on Earth. And the AfterLife is pretty similar for them to the … BeforeLife? LifeBefore? I’m still so new here, folks, just arrived two weeks ago, so let me see if I can tune into Sylvester and ask him: What does a person in the AfterLife call our earthly existence?
— What’s that, Sylvester?
The Earth Life, he says. Okay, so Earth Life and life in AfterWorld №9 are much the same.
Maybe it’s different in the other AfterWorlds (AfterWorld No 3 actually kind of sucks more than Earth because we don’t have things that tantalize the senses like tacos or marijuana. Like I said, very dull!).
Maybe there are worlds with angels that strum harps and dangle grapes above their lover’s lips while streams of the purest water trickle into gold-encrusted fountains, maybe … but such questions are, again, merely a source of speculation by the speculative classes in their spectacular spectacles. No, for Sylvester, life in the HereAfter seems a lot like life in the HereBefore, er, Earth Life, and that means he has to make enough money to earn his keep.
And speaking of keeps, what’s keeping me from telling the story? Nothing. The Big Boss has given me the next section. Let’ proceed.
2. SYNCHRONICITY CASE #1: LYDIA JOSEPH
Perhaps Sylvester was too successful too fast. Or at least his college success had left him with a big head.
He figured he knew the theories, the concepts and the strategies so all he had to do was show up at the Synchronicity Factory and he’d earn the Ethereal Points needed to rise to the top of the Ethereal Scoreboard just as fast as the raunchy gas clouds rose from his anus after he’d gorged himself on the aforementioned pretzels with Prussian cheese sauce.
And when he’d made a hit on his very first attempt and saw his name light up in green on the Scoreboard, well, he knew he’d made it.
It’d been a relatively simple synchronicity to plan.
One of the tricks he’d learned in school was that because synchronicities were what the inventor of the concept, Carl Jung, referred to as “meaningful coincidences” where events in one’s outer world reflected things in one’s inner world, it was best to look for the type of people who were good at making connections and who had a predilection for discerning meaning from those connections.
There were various methods of discerning such personalities. Many used an ancient Greek system, some preferred more modern ones like the Enneagram, and others had developed their own systems. Sylvester, though, had always been partial to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) system.
Funny thing was, the day he arrived at work and put up his MBTI poster on the wall behind his computer, well, the three co-workers sitting near him just about laughed him out of the factory workroom.
“MBTI?” said Willy Winkler, a synchroniciter whose most prominent feature was a sea of wrinkles that cracked his face into a thousand creases. “Who uses that debunked bullshit any more?”
“I do,” Sylvester said confidently.
“Looks like we got ourselves another loser!” Willy said and the two synchroniciters who sat near Sylvester snickered.
Nice to meet you, too, Sylvester thought but decided to let his results speak for him.
He sat down at his computer and typed in four letters: ENFP. Of the sixteen MBTI types, this was the one he felt best fit the type who could make connections and were open-minded and mystical, and thus likely to believe in and notice synchronicity.
Sylvester focused on his computer screen, watching as the data points began to compile. Within a minute, he already had several thousand hits — and knew he’d have to provide the computer with more variables to narrow things down.
A trick his teachers at Synchronicity University had taught him was that because synchronicity was a hard-to-pin-down concept, use your intuition and trust in a process that wasn’t totally logical. Thus, Sylvester liked to do a broad search for a favorite category and then randomly pick a target by closing his eyes and just pointing to a spot on the computer screen.
As he did this, he heard more snickers from the three co-workers who were apparently so lame at their jobs that they had time to watch his every move. Sylvester continued to ignore them and when he opened his eyes, his finger had landed on one Lydia Joseph, an 87-year-old widowed grandmother in Carlsbad, New Mexico.
On the surface, she was a great prospect: first, women tended to be more open-minded than men on the synchronicity question; second, she lived in New Mexico, a state with a reputation for forward-thinkers, or as the cynics called them, batshit crazy hippies; and third, she was nearing the end of her current incarnation’s run, which had a way of making a person more susceptible to pondering the possibility of a plane beyond the physical, a plane which may explain the experience of synchronicity.
So Sylvester printed out her information, brushed past his three still-staring-and-snickering co-workers, and grabbed the copy from the printer so he’d have something tangible to focus his intention on.
The next step in working a good synchronicity is entering the person’s mind to learn about their inner world and then figure out what connections one could make to be presented to that person in their outer world. Thus, the person would sense that the inner and outer world boundary was not as solid as they had been led to believe.
This was actually Sylvester’s favorite part, for he found the psyche of most individuals endlessly fascinating. Much as he wanted to dillydally in this part of the process, he had to remind himself that he was the Chosen One, and thus his Big Boss expected results, the sooner the better.
Fortunately, Miss Lydia Joseph was a treasure trove of connections and, it turned out, she was well-versed with the idea of synchronicity and had her share of experiences that made her a pretty solid believer.
How had no one found and claimed this woman?
Synchroniciters for the Synchronicity Factory were allowed to lay claim to clients and the clients who were most desired were those who not only believed in synchronicity but became joyous from them or, best of all, gave thanks for them. Such “paying clients” generated a steady “income” — represented by Ethereal Points, which were turned into Ethereal Cash — for angels like Sylvester and the Synchronicity Factory was able to pay its Ethereal Bills, as well.
He leaned back in his chair, biting his pencil as he stared at the ceiling when he sensed eyes on him. He looked and the three nosy do-nothing co-workers were all watching him.
“Don’t any of you fools have any work of your own to do?” he asked.
Immediately, he feared he’d spoken out of turn and waited for a retort but for some reason, none came as all three focused back on their computers.
Suddenly, Sylvester realized they’d possibly answered his question: None of these fools had found Lydia because none of them had any work ethic.
Their loss, his gain, because after only ten minutes in Lydia’s head, Sylvester began to formulate a plan.
Turns out Lydia had a thing for mint chocolate chip ice cream. And she’d been face-deep in a bowl of it while watching a documentary that morning about the first reported UFO sighting to get national attention, one that took place near Mt. Rainier in Washington state. It was Lydia’s feeling that UFOs were actually delivery vehicles for the dying that only those with an immediate connection to death could see.
For all she knew, and she knew quite a bit having lived most of her adult life in Roswell, New Mexico, home a famous UFO crash in the 1940s, with a husband who was a UFO researcher, she was the only person to have this theory. Furthermore, she’d only shared it with her husband who had brought the theory with him to his grave just one year ago.
If Sylvester had wanted to, he could have verified that her husband hadn’t told anybody, but it seemed irrelevant because he knew that Lydia believed he hadn’t. And one of the reasons Sylvester had gotten an A in his Synchronicity Planning course was because he was able to determine when to avoid doing unnecessary work.
There was another aspect to this belief that she shared with her husband that made Sylvester excited. Her husband, Jerry, had promised her he’d contact her from the Beyond. Yet he hadn’t.
This brought back all of Lydia’s mid-life fears that there was no Beyond, which meant she’d never see Jerry again. And that, no matter what the doctors with their focus on the physical said, was the real reason she was dying. Call it Broken Heart Disease, if you must.
Sylvester wouldn’t have admitted it then because he was still riding his high horse, but he was also lucky that day. While in Lydia’s head, he’d stumbled upon a random thought about a visit from her daughter and grandson that afternoon. And when Sylvester entered that young man’s head and the head of his mother, he learned that they’d just returned from a camping trip near Mt. Rainier and the boy had purchased a shirt relating to that first UFO visit.
“Wear the shirt,” Sylvester ‘whispered’ in the boy’s mind.
I use ‘whispered’ because it’s the best word I can think of. But I think you know what I’m talking about. You know that thing where you sort of ‘hear’ a thought in your head and there’s a suspicion that it isn’t your thought?
You don’t? Oh no, Willing Reader, don’t tell me you are also one of these cynical, disbelieving Moderns, a self-described skeptic?
Okay, even if you are, if you do an experiment for 10 minutes and come back to me, I can verify what I’m talking about it. Close your eyes and pay attention to your breath. If you do this, you’ll notice that your mind will keep chatting at you. Who is creating those thoughts? Are you sure it is only you? Go ahead, do it, I’ll wait.
Not so confident now, are you?
Or are you?
Even so, I’m sure you noticed that your thoughts just sort of appear. Well, let me tell you, there are times when those thoughts are really not yours, nor are they coming from that part of you that the mystically minded call your Higher Self. No, they are really being put into your head by someone, perhaps even a synchroniciter like Sylvester.
And that’s precisely what Sylvester did to the boy.
“Wear the shirt.”
So the boy did.
In the same manner, Sylvester entered the mother’s head and whispered, “Buy mom some of mom’s favorite mint chocolate chip ice cream.”
So she did.
So when the boy carried a box of mint chocolate chip ice cream into the room wearing a t-shirt that read “Mt. Rainier, home of the first UFO sighting” just as Lydia was pondering that documentary, well, she felt a nice little tingle of synchronicity.
But that wasn’t the full extent of it. Sure, it earned several Ethereal Points on the Ethereal Scoreboard next to Sylvester’s name and generated some Ethereal Cash for the factory and him. No, it was when Lydia’s daughter-in-law then told Lydia that the man who ran the gift shop where they bought the shirt had this theory.
“It’s crazy, I know, but he believes that UFOs are delivery vehicles for the dead and only those near death could see them,” she told Lydia.
Lydia was blown away. Then a nagging doubt made her ask, “Did the guy who owned that shop know Jerry?”
“Why, I didn’t think to ask,” her daughter-in-law answered, “Why?”
Just as Lydia was about to answer, she ‘heard’ something like a voice in her head. While it wasn’t the voice her Jerry had had in life, she knew it was him. It had to be because no one else speaks to us in our mind, right?
Here is what “Jerry” said: “No, love, we never met. Like I told you, I never told a soul about our theory.”
Tears filled Lydia’s eyes and she simply said to her befuddled daughter-in-law and grandson, “Thank you, thank you both.”
Meanwhile, back in the Synchronicity Factory, Sylvester got his first big hit — 1,000 Ethereal Points — and the sense that he was, indeed:
THE SYNCHRONICITY FACTORY SAVIOR.
Oh, how quickly the mighty-in-their-mind fall.
There’s this thing called Beginner’s Luck.
To be fair, that phenomenon isn’t the only reason for Sylvester’s hit. However, the fact that it was the mother’s comment about the gift shop man that had put Lydia over the edge and Sylvester had only played a role in the t-shirt and ice cream purchase, well, that was lucky, wasn’t it?
But no, when he was asked about the plan by his Big Boss the next day, he said he’d also planted that part of it, thus taking credit that wasn’t due.
Sylvester had made a big mistake here. For he’d learned about the three-day time rule at Synchronicity University and if he’d been a humble worker like most beginning workers should be (IMHO), well, he should have assumed his Big Boss also knew about the rule.
But again, Sylvester was lucky.
For his Big Boss was like his co-workers: the job had so defeated him that he’d all but checked out and thus didn’t really hear Sylvester’s explanation of how he’d pulled off the plan. And thus he didn’t see there was no way Sylvester could have gone back one week — four days beyond the three-day time limit — to make the cashier at the gift shop say that to Lydia’s daughter.
Beginner’s Luck, I rest my case.
Point is, just like in the Earth Life, in the AfterWorlds taking credit where it’s not due will invite the Humble Chefs, those creatures who excel at serving entities their specialty, Humble Pie.
Sylvester took some nibbles of that pie in the year to come, the year that precedes where this story began, but he had his first truly large helping during his run-in with Clinton Staley, Slugthorpe Cleever and Justine Agor.
3. SYNCHRONICITY CASE #2: CLINTON STALEY
The thing is, while Sylvester’s first target was a success and even earned him some begrudging respect from two of his three co-workers (Willy spoke to Sylvester’s fears when he said, “Beginner’s luck, you won’t sustain it”), it hadn’t garnered him that many Ethereal Points on the Scoreboard. 1,000 points was a good start, but it wasn’t going to keep the factory open.
You see, the value of each target depends on several factors, such as age (younger targets were worth more because they could be targeted many mores times than an elderly person like Lydia) and previous belief in/experience with synchronicity, both of which Lydia had.
The highest value were new customers who were young and didn’t believe in synchronicity.
And that’s what led Sylvester to Clinton Staley.
Like Lydia Joseph, Clinton Staley was an ENFP and that was how Sylvester found him. But that was where the similarities ended.
While Lydia lived in an area known for its open-mindedness toward the “woo woo,” Clinton lived in a locale famous for its cynicism: Washington, D.C.
Sylvester wanted to prove to the company that he could nab high-profit, hard-to-get clients so he typed in the nation’s capital along with ‘ENFP’ in the search field. Again, once the screen listed the candidates, he used the close-your-eyes-and-point technique and landed on Clinton.
Clinton was quite the find: a scion from the Staley family, famous for owning the A.E. Staley Manufacturing Company, which was one of the two companies responsible for spreading delectable and oh-so-fattening high-fructose corn syrup all over the world.
Ironically, its competitor was named the Clinton Corn Processing Company so Clinton’s mother received a lot of grief from her family for naming her firstborn son Clinton, but she’d done so because he was born on the eve of Bill Clinton’s 1992 election and she kind of had a crush on Slick Willy.
Anyway, Clinton grew up with lots of money but little in the way of love. His father was often away running the company and his mom was caught up in the benefits of money and status. Despite that, Clinton was a jovial kid. His mother saw this and felt the kid was doing well enough on his own but when he became a teenager he began to push her buttons and what she once thought of as a well-adjusted, happy kid became a rebellious, arrogant boy in need of correction.
Still, he somehow survived his teens, went to the University of Nebraska and when he graduated, he got as far away from his mom as he could, immediately landed a job working as a lobbyist in D.C. for the corn industry with a specialty in high-fructose corn syrup.
Sylvester was downright giddy about finding Clinton. So giddy that one night, the Synchronicity Factory had a party and it only took one beer for him to start blabbing about his latest find, which he called a “high-risk, high-reward type of opportunity.”
“What makes you think you can land a guy like that?” asked Willy Winkler.
“Because I’m good,” Sylvester said, pounding back a sip on his second beer. “One of these days you guys are gonna get over hazing me and then maybe learn a thing or two.”
“I got 20 Ethereal Bucks says you don’t get this guy,” Willy said.
“Make it 25 and you’re on,” Sylvester said.
The two men shook hands.
At the age of 27, Clinton had things all figured out. He was a skeptic, bragged how he “believed in science” because he felt science could answer any question man could come up with. If it hadn’t already answered it, it would in time.
Meanwhile, when he’d had actual synchronicities, he’d dismissed them as “just coincidences” and carried on with his business.
In short, Clinton was a Modern Man, a pragmatic dude who was going places, so no matter how many “woo woo” events happened to him he wasn’t going to be deterred from his belief that there was nothing to them.
Sylvester had his work cut out for him.
To understand Clinton Staley and what went wrong for Sylvester Forrester, you must endure a brief aside about his rival, Slugthorpe Cleever.
With a name like that, it’s no wonder most people don’t like listening to tales about him, but the reason Sylvester was going to not merely dine on Humble Pie, but downright feast on it, had as much to do with Slugthorpe Cleever as it did Clinton Staley.
The rivalry between these two men started when they were roommates in their freshman year at the U. Of Nebraska. Clinton didn’t know it at the time, but he was put with Slugthorpe because his mother wanted it that way. And as one of the university’s biggest donors, what Liz Staley wanted she got. What Liz wanted was for her arrogant son to be humbled as soon as possible and she could think of no better humbling experience than having to put up with Slugthorpe, the snobby son of Liz’s college roommate.
So it was that when Sylvester was researching Clinton he found Slugthorpe.
You see, while Clinton was from a corn family, Slugthorpe’s family fortune had been made in sorghum. What’s that, never heard of sorghum?
Not to worry, neither had I until I was handed this script to write. So according to the research I was able to do on the Earthwebs, sorghum is the number one competitor with corn in terms of ethanol production.
Now that shouldn’t have mattered to Clinton because his family was all about the sweet nectar known as high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS from here on). But his mother and father had recently been wanting to expand into ethanol because both of them felt that the fossil fuel industries were soon to see their downfall. Plus these diet-freak upstarts were starting to make noise about HFCS being not a nectar of the gods but actually bad for the humans. Best to diversify.
Anyway, the two started off as great friends, both sharing a love for obscure 1980s drama rock bands like The Cure, wait a minute, they aren’t very obscure are they? Don’t ask me, I’m a jazz fan as any fans of actual music should be.
(Oops, another warning — ”Your arrogance is grinding! Stick to the story!” — from the Big Boss, the guy who hands me these silly narratives to make into something halfway as delectable as high-fructose corn syrup-drenched potato chips, so…)
As is often the case with such friendships in college, it was broken up over a girl. In this case not just any girl, or well, in actuality when it comes to this tale, just any girl. That really was her name, Justine Agor. Okay, close enough.
Point is, both of them felt they were madly in love with her. On a surface level, though, they were both virgins and they were still too inexperienced in the ways of love to move beyond their late-teen lust. In short, their battle for her became more about who could bed her first because they both wanted to show the other who the Alpha Dog was.
Funny thing was before either had a chance to go the distance, Justine dumped both their asses, but not before telling them to do what everyone knew they wanted to do: jump each other’s bones.
That broke Clinton’s heart and he took it out on Slugthorpe. Both being solid Middle American Republicans, Justine’s implication that they were gay lovers was too much for either of them to take so at the last party of their sophomore year, Clinton Staley and Slugthorne Cleever had a down-and-out rumble. Most agreed Clinton had the upper hand, but no one was really sure because the brawl went all the way from the party, down 12 flights of stairs into a muddy field adjacent to their dorm and into a stack of Nebraska corn so tall that neither boy could be found for 13 days.
Again, give a guy a break, I’m just reporting the facts. Do whatever you want with them!
There’s one more thing you need to know about Clinton’s college years. It was over that summer at a cocktail party at the Staley mansion in Lincoln that Clinton overheard his mother talking about how she had greased the wheels to make Slugthorpe his roommate. “Hoped to knock some of his arrogance out of him with that boy,” she’d said.
Clinton was pissed. Here he’d thought that going to college was his ticket away from her and yet she was the one who had turned his first two years into such a disaster. Fuck her.
And as he thought about it, he realized the two women in his life — his mom and Justine — had both screwed him over.
Yet even as Clinton vowed to forget about women for a while and focus on finishing college and starting a career, there was still a part of him that felt he and Justine had unfinished business.
Over the next several years, Slugthorpe, Clinton and Justine (claimed to have) lost track of each other. Thus, it was with great joy that as Sylvester was trying to figure out what kind of synchronicity it would take to convince Clinton that his worldview needed to expand, he saw that Slugthorpe and Justine were, just like Clinton, living in D.C. and better yet, they were almost assured to cross each other’s paths in the next few days.
You see, both Clinton and Slugthorpe had been assigned to attend some sort of private pow-wow at a Nebraska senator’s townhouse and Justine was going to be there because she’d just started working for the senator.
Both Clinton and Slugthorpe were under the impression they’d be the one to convince this backstabbing senator that he shouldn’t have sold them out. First, the senator had reduced subsidies of the Staley company corn, pissing Clinton off, and then double-crossed Slugthorpe on his promise to take some of the savings and invest in subsidizing Nebraska-grown sorghum. Who knows where the money actually went? Wasn’t in my notes.
The senator did have an excuse, however. His motivation for helping out Slugthorpe’s sorghum empire had been China because that gigantic country had been upping its request for sorghum for their burgeoning need for feed for the increasing number of dairy animals they were raising. Unfortunately, the current president had started a trade war with China which ruined the incentive for the senator to aid the sorghum growers. So he had changed his mind and wanted to hold the pow-wow to see what they could all work out.
So am I. I’ve got no clue where this is going. The Big Boss has yet to give me the conclusion to this sucker and I haven’t seen him in weeks.
But none of that stuff really matters, to be honest. All you need to know is that Sylvester knew Clinton, Slugthorpe and Justine would be crossing paths and when they did, Sylvester had come up with a plan to help Clinton win that Alpha Dog fight with Slugthorpe and yes, it involved finally winning the heart of Justine Agor.
Before we get to that pow-wow with the powerful senator from Nebraska, I need to clue you in on another common trick that synchroniciters like Sylvester use to create synchronicities: your dreams. This is a lot easier than it sounds, because, well, when you guys are dreaming, you, or more accurately your ego self, is sound asleep.
Your ego is like the sentry guarding your castle — your identity — and when he sleeps on the job your castle is unguarded. Thus little bastards like Sylvester can walk right through the gates.
Far as I know this is one reason your dreams can be so nuts.
Anyway, Sylvester was poking around in Clinton’s noggin the night before the senatorial showdown and found a useful memory. Why not remind Clinton of it through a dream?
Would it work?
Hell, why am I trying to write with suspense?
I already spoiled the lead. You know damn well it failed.
Still, I like to give a guy some credit for trying. I mean, merging a memory into a current dream’s a pretty neat trick, right? Too bad Sylvester — and the Synchronicity Factory — couldn’t see it that way.
Clinton’s eyes dance across Justine’s figure, knowing he shouldn’t be undressing her because the whole point of this dance, at least from her perspective, is so he can take in the outfit she’d designed for her final exam in her fashion class.
“It’s quite dashing,” he says at last, “you’re sure to ace the exam.”
“Do you really think so?” she answers. “I added this wool cape and fur collar over the high-neck design of the dress to give it a more classic, comfortable look, you know, but also keeping it black and white so it’s conservative enough for older women to wear.”
“Well,” Clinton says, “I think you’ve succeeded. Now, about dinner…”
“You and your belly,” Justine says, tossing the cape onto the bed and picking up a ratty copy of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, “I’ll negotiate: we can eat, but ya gotta let me read the passage I told you about.”
Clinton tries not to roll his eyes, doesn’t succeed, but luckily Justine has looked away. “If you insist.”
The itch of the sleep slobber running down his stubble woke the HFCS lobbyist and Clinton looked up at the clock — shit, 5:45! — and bounced into action, the slobber discharging from his face onto his workspace — clean it later! — as he put on his suit jacket, bounded out of his tiny office, through the main office where others like him were still working on turning the financial wheels that really made D.C. run, into the bathroom where he found his travel kit and quickly shaved off the stubble, splashed his face with cold water to kill any remnants of sleep, combed his dark hair and strapped on his watch — 5:47, not bad, ready to go.
The meeting with the senator would be held at the senator’s new townhouse just north of the Capitol Building about a 20-minute walk from Clinton’s office and it was scheduled to begin at 6:30. Perfect timing, he could even enjoy a lovely fall evening after a morning that had started off with some rain.
Clinton hoped the change in weather was an omen of the meeting; he’d spent enough time preparing his plan for how he’d sway this backstabbing senator back into his corner so that Nebraska again would favor corn and not some sort of imposter crop like sorghum.
Sorghum’s for hicks, Clinton thought, walking up Vermont Ave. and ignoring the sound of traffic from the street so he could go over his spiel again.
As he did so, a college kid carrying a backpack and a plastic cup of hot coffee came barreling around a corner and — wham! — right into Clinton, the backpack flying and the coffee lid popping off, its scalding contents escaping and landing all over the back of Clinton’s neck — ”Fuck!” — as he fell to the ground.
He was about to get up when he noticed the first of Sylvester’s synchronicities. On the ground was a ratty paperback copy of The Fountainhead, which the kid quickly swept into the backpack.
Clinton wiped the back of his smoldering neck and as he stood up, the kid said, “sorry” and was off into the crowd before Clinton could even have the satisfaction of scolding him. He looked to see where the kid had come from, but before he could figure that out, the next synchronicity caught his eye. In the window of a small fashion boutique was the high-necked black and white dress with the wool cape and fur collar.
What the fuck?
He knew that Justine had placed the dress in the school’s annual fall fashion show, received a prize for it and then sold it to a company based in New York so it was possible he’d see it again someday. Still, what were the odds he’d see it again here in D.C., three years later, and even more, the odds he’d see it at the same time as he saw a ratty copy of The Fountainhead, on the tail end of dreaming about that night?
“Not very good,” he said to himself.
He checked the back of his suit and was pleased to feel it was still dry; it appeared the coffee had only landed on him, not his clothes, so he took a handkerchief from his pocket and dried his neck before he began to walk on.
“Strange coincidence, but never mind it,” he told himself. “Gotta focus.”
Sylvester watched this first part of his plan go down and was disappointed that Clinton’s hurried reaction had only garnered him a few Ethereal Points on the Scoreboard but he knew the best was yet to come.
Often with a good synchronicity plan, it was the third event that made it impossible for the subject to blow it off. More than that, if the event was a doozy as Sylvester felt this one was, it usually caused the subject to feel a deep sense of gratitude and that meant Ethereal Points, lots of ‘em.
So it was that 30 minutes later as Clinton was entertaining a fellow lobbyist, an attractive blonde who didn’t seem all that entertained, that the final synchronicity was revealed.
Because as Clinton was admiring the pleasant curve of the blonde lobbyist’s bosom, in walked his old nemesis Slugthorpe Cleever and tailing right behind him was not only Justine Agor but Justine wearing the freakin’ wool cape, fur collar and high-necked black and white dress.
What the double fuck? Clinton thought but this time he knew.
Much as his mind wanted to deny it, the deeper part of him knew.
Combined with the college-kid crash, these were signs. Signs that he was being given a second chance with Justine.
God is good, after all.
His heart fluttered at the thought of being with Justine; he’d had his share of dates and one-night hookups since moving to D.C., but ever since Justine dumped him (and Slugthorpe), he’d avoided any committed relationships and instead had focused on his career. That move had paid off, he thought, but then here she was, casting doubt on his certainty.
Because it wasn’t until that moment that he truly realized how empty his heart had been, how meaningless life was when one stuck strictly to the career path. He vowed to himself that this time he wouldn’t blow it, he would walk over to Justine, who was talking to someone casually, smile a forgiving smile and say,
“Hey Justine, fancy meeting you here and in your beautiful outfit, too.”
The brown-haired, (hopefully still) corn-fed beauty looked away from her conversation partner and toward Clinton, eyes flashing recognition, a smile forming, “Clinton Staley, I’d heard you might be here.”
“From who?” he asked, stupid, stupid, stupid, who cares?
“A mutual acquaintance,” she said nodding toward Slugthorpe.
Back on AfterWorld №9, Sylvester was walking toward Willy Winkler’s desk, noticing that the veteran synchroniciter was seemingly hard at work, but Sylvester knew it was a cover. Willy never worked and just a few moments ago when Sylvester had received so few points for the first two synchronicities, Sylvester had caught Winkler watching the results on his Scoreboard and he was laughing about them.
No, like Sylvester, Willy was tuned into this story because the outcome was more than just about the Ethereal Points needed to keep the lights on at the Synchronicity Factory, it was for pride and, yes, money.
“Willy,” Sylvester said, patting his colleague on the back because he knew Willy hated physical contact and he wanted to rile him up. “You watching this?”
He pointed to the Scoreboard where there were 350 new Ethereal Points and an arrow indicating the potential for many more. And they were all next to his name, Sylvester Forrester.
“Yeah, umm, yeah,” Willy said, “just really busy, you know?”
“No, I don’t really know, Willy,” Sylvester said. “Because I’ve never really seen you busy.”
Willy didn’t respond.
“Anyway, never mind all that, just look at the Scoreboard for a sec — ” he pointed up to it, where Sylvester’s name had now been entered into a “Green Letters of Success” category and the Ethereal Point counter was rapidly flipping through its numbers, indicating to both men that this was going to be a very high scorer, indeed. “You got that money with you?”
“Yeah, umm, su — ”
And then a funny thing happened.
Well, it wasn’t funny at all when you consider the consequences for poor Sylvester and Clinton.
“Ah, yes, of course, our old pal Slugthorpe,” Clinton said to Justine. “Unlike with you, I knew he was going to be here. Certainly has been a while, though.”
Justine nodded and was about to turn away when Clinton went for it: “Say, are you in town for a while?”
“Well, umm, yeah,” Justine said. “I live here.”
“Oh!” Clinton said. “You are just full of surprises. Well, then, hey, how about you and I get a cup of coffee some time, you know, catch up on old times, trip down memory lane, that sort of — ”
“No, Clinton,” Justine said. “That’s not ever going to happen.”
A metal jail door slammed shut in Clinton’s mind. What?
He couldn’t think of what to say next and as he struggled for some words, he felt a clap on his shoulder and knew right away whose paw it was.
“The one and only Clinton Staley!” Slugthorpe’s jovial voice boomed in his ear. “How ya been?”
But before Clinton could recover himself enough to answer, Slugthorpe inched past him, sliding right up to Justine who he pecked on the cheek and said, “Thanks for coming, love.”
The Ethereal Points on the Scoreboard were in free fall, every number gained was now gone and it was reversing itself —
“Hey, is that even — ”
“-possible?” Willy finished. “Sure it is, Sylvester. Didn’t you learn anything in that fine university of yours? That’s why we gotta take it easy on the, what did you call them? — ’big risk, big reward’ clients? The risks can be totally devastating.”
The numbers kept going backward and with each loss, a little part of Sylvester’s soul was lost with it.
How could this be? How could such a perfect plan go so wrong?
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it was all Sylvester’s fault. You see, one of the things that made Sylvester the valedictorian of his class at Synchronicity U was he’d taken to heart one of its most important lessons: be thorough in your research.
However, this time, he had only gone 2/3rd of the way. He’d started by researching Clinton and that had led him to Slugthorpe and finding out they’d both be at the meeting. Sylvester had then looked back at Clinton and seen Clinton still thought of Justine, which led to the memory of Justine showing him the dress that Sylvester had turned into the dream.
He had thought he was being thorough by then checking in with Justine and was blown away to see she was also in D.C. and would also be attending the meeting.
Super excited, Sylvester had gone to Justine’s apartment, hoping, praying and-YES! — there it was: the outfit was hanging prominently in her closet!! So he’d given Justine the suggestion that day to wear it, and all felt like it was meant to be: this was going to be a BIG scorer and he, Sylvester Forrester, was going to be the Synchronicity Factory Savior. Plus, he was gonna make that twerp Willy Winkler squirm as he paid him those 25 Ethereal Bucks.
Ah, the exuberant arrogance of youth!
Sylvester had made the first two connections-from Clinton to Slugthrope and from Clinton to Justine — but in his excitement about how well this was working out, he’d forgotten to check on the last side to complete the love triangle — the connection between Slugthorpe and Justine. If he had, he would have seen that she was regularly spending the night at his apartment and Slugthorpe was getting ready to propose to her.
Does Humble Pie come with a cup of Hindsight is 20/20 Tea?
“Fuck you, God, or gods, or whatever the fuck,” Clinton told himself from that secular confessional, the toilet seat. “If you do exist, you’re simply here to play cruel tricks on bastards like me. Well. Fuck. You. Two can play that game.”
He told the sob forming in his throat to fuck off, sucked it in and stood up. He was going to go out there and close the deal with the senator. He was going to show that cocksucker Slugthorpe that he wasn’t going to let some childish rivalry over a stupid girl interfere with his ability to get shit done.
As he zipped up his pants, slowed his breathing and flushed the toilet, he told himself over and over to any part of himself that had believed in something as stupid as “a sign from God,” “Never again, never ever fucking again.”
And one thing about Clinton Staley: even though he was a Washington D.C. lobbyist for the high-fructose corn syrup industry, he could still be a man of his word, especially if it meant shutting down his ability to feel the pain of his heart. And so, long after Sylvester Forrester had forgotten about him, Clinton Staley lived up to his promise. He lived and died a cynic and a hater of humanity, especially those who succumbed to any nonsensical notion like a benevolent universe that speaks to humans through signs and connections.
No, that cell door was slammed shut on Clinton Staley that evening and Sylvester Forrester was the jailer.
4. SYNCHRONICITY CASE #3: WYATT BURNSIDE
It was one thing for Sylvester to accept that he may not be able to save the Synchronicity Factory. Much as he believed in himself, he knew he was only one person and he could only do so much, especially when he had to work with such do-nothing loser assholes like Willy Winkler.
So yeah, he could accept it.
What he couldn’t accept was that his actions were the final nails in the coffin of the Synchronicity Factory. No, he couldn’t believe in a world where one put so much effort into something, and not only didn’t it work, it actually backfired and made things worse.
Didn’t matter what number you gave to the AfterWorld you were living in, that was no world he wanted to be a part of. (Plus, it made him wonder: If this was the shitty metaphysical underpinning of AfterWorld №9, how much worse were things in the previous eight worlds?)
And here, Willing Reader, is where I so badly wanted to tell him about the lack of tacos and reefer here in AfterWorld №3 but Sylvester had sunk so low that I couldn’t communicate with him then.
In fact, Sylvester’s low became my low. Why, I wondered, did the Big Boss at the Narrative Factory of AfterWorld №3 give me such a miserable story to tell, especially when it all had seemed like such a light-hearted ruse when I began it? For a writer like me who loves to revel in the witty ridiculousness of existence, what kind of punishment was this?
I dared not ask. Because I was beginning to fear finding out how much worse the worlds were below me. I knew there were only two left; but, having been raised a Catholic (a ridiculous religion I saw through at the age of twelve and spent my life mocking), I realized that ever since arriving in AfterWorld №3, my childhood fears of Hell had been rekindled. I began to drift off to sleep with visions of lakes of fire filled with burning sinners and then my imagination really began to take off, and soon I was visiting demon-owned mansions dotting the shores of those lakes, places which held eternal bacchanals where hundreds of sinners had been speared and were being roasted as kebobs by grotesque, laughing demons, giddy over the misery of the ever-spinning, ever-burning sinners…
And so, regardless of any unhappiness I felt with my lot here in #3, I had absolutely no desire to find out what AfterWorld №2, or worse, AfterWorld №1 might be like.
So I kept quiet and accepted my assignment: Finish the tale, like it or not.
One more thing that chafed Sylvester: he had to pay Willy Winkler.
Still, like Clinton Staley, Sylvester Forrester was a man of his word so on his lunch break that day after the Staley-Cleever-Agor affair, he went to the Ethereal Bank and took out some Ethereal Bills. Twenty of them to be exact. He figured he could be a bit of a pain in the ass and pay Willy in singles.
But when he went to pay Willy, the do-nothing couldn’t just accept it with grace, he had to rub it in.
As Sylvester began to count and pass the bills one by one, Willy said, “It cracks me up, you know, you thinking you were such hot shit you were gonna come in here and save this dump from itself. As though we didn’t try.”
Sylvester was about to ask when Willy and the others had tried but he didn’t want to get distracted, so he kept on counting, “Nine, ten, eleven…”
“I knew it all along, though,” Willy said, smirking as the bills landed in his outstretched hand, “You were never some sort of wunderkind. Just another lost soul who thinks he’s better than the rest of us. But you’re not, you’re nothing, you’re — ”
“Double or nothing,” Sylvester suddenly blurted.
“I said double or nothing.”
“Double or nothing on what?” Willy asked.
“Double or nothing I can save the factory.”
“Fine,” Willy said. “But what’s the time limit?”
“What do you mean?”
“C’mon man, you don’t have until the end of Eternity to save this place.”
“Fine, by the end of the month.”
(Now, I’m being told I must explain to you Earthlings that AfterWorld №9’s moon only takes one week to move around the AfterWorld, thus one month of their time basically means one week. Did that confuse you? Perhaps you never thought about how a month is connected to the cycles of the moon? Now you have. Carry on.)
The two men shook hands. Save the factory, save your job, save your soul and get freakin’ paid: Sylvester had a lot riding on this.
Sylvester built up his confidence over the next few days by earning easy points from people less challenging than even old Lydia had been, but meanwhile, he watched as men in ugly ties and women in fashion-less pants suits walked through their offices and spoke in unguarded voices about how much the factory would be worth if it changed into something more profitable, such as a Center for Knitting Accessories for the Blind, whatever that meant.
Sylvester just plugged on, hoping to find someone, that one client, who could save the place. In the meantime, he had to at least outperform the Winklers of the world, which wasn’t hard considering Willy had long stopped even showing up most days, and when he did he was working on setting a new AfterWorlds record for thumb-twiddling rotations in a day.
And thus we are back to where this story began, with the Factory basically within days of having its proverbial plug pulled. For once, I’m being literal because, besides the computers and printers, they really had unplugged the lights, or at least most of them.
Sylvester, though, preferred the increased darkness because it helped him focus on his computer. He was running out of time; he heard the Big Boss mention “three days” and it was during one of his ruminations that he remembered a technique he’d learned at Synchronicity U.: go back into old files and find random words and use them to generate new search terms. His intuition told him to open Slugthorpe Cleever’s file.
It didn’t hit him until that night as he was tossing and turning in his two-foot bed (did I mention that our bodies shrink after we die? Or maybe it’s before we die? And then we keep on shrinking? Either way, enjoy your height, humans!). He remembered a part of the file where he learned that a Japanese scientist named Yoshiyuki Takasaki in the late 1960s helped the Clinton Corn Processing Company develop a scientific process that led to the breakthrough that benefited humanity with its golden showers of high-fructose corn syrup.
It was that name — Takasaki — which kept pestering Sylvester into insomnia so he eventually got out of bed and went to his computer, where he entered “ENFP” and “Takasaki.” And this, my friends, was what led Sylvester to the hit that just might save the Synchronicity Factory and, more importantly, his soul (and get that money from Willy Winkler, too).
Do you wanna hear about it? So do I, but I’ve yet to receive the papers from the Big Boss.
A reminder about these frequent interruptions. If I was following protocol, I’d never have brought this to your attention.
But fuck protocol. I’m starting to sense that no matter how well I do at this gig, there’s no room for advancement, not from AfterWorld №3 at least, because the whole point of being cast into this world is that it’s a place for souls who spent their lives obsessing over status and, yes, advancement. This means if I follow their rules because I’m told I will advance, well, I’ll stay stuck here.
So I’m taking a chance, even risking that I might fall down into AfterWorld #2 because, well, I’ve grown fond of you, Willing Reader, whoever you are. After all, you’ve stuck with me through all my meanderings, forgiven me of my peccadilloes, if you will.
I’m gambling that at the worst, I’m gonna be in AfterWorld #3 for a while and, well, if that means I spend my time telling tales to appreciative readers like you, then perhaps my fate isn’t so bad after all. So let me level with ya:
None of these delays have been my fault. My version of the Big Boss only gives me a certain amount of this info and it’s my job to then tell the next part of the story. Problem is, I get paid by the word. Now, there’s some super detailed info that I won’t bore you with about how the Big Boss will excise unnecessary lingo, but he’s supposed to keep all info that is pertinent for the story. And well, in my opinion, this story is not simply about our friend Sylvester, it’s about yours truly and my experience in relating this tale. Hopefully, you agree.
Regardless, I felt it necessary to explain why I sometimes carry on. Besides, it’s always fun to blame the Big Boss, is it not? ‘Least it was when I was an Earthling like you, Willing Reader.
But I’ve got some great news! While I suspect that the Big Boss may be as much of a do-nothing as ol’ Willy Winkler, he just walked over to my desk and plopped down a rather large file and said: “Finish it.”
Let’s hope he’s not lying about this, that this really is the ending. Let’s type it out and find out, shall we?
Now, the funny thing is Takasaki is not only a surname it’s the name of a decent-sized city in central Japan, about 100 miles northwest of Tokyo. Neither I nor Sylvester knew this before he typed in that search query.
Anyway, when he did, he saw the city name come up but he didn’t receive many useful hits because 99.8 percent of the names were written in a script he couldn’t read (if a Synchronicity student who can read Chinese characters goes to the Sync Factory, look out, all of Japan and China await!). But he did get five hits and, using his closed-eyes-pointing-finger method, landed on a name: Wyatt Burnside.
And then found out that Burnside was one depressed motherfucker.
Perfect, Sylvester thought, absolutely perfect.
So who was Wyatt Burnside?
Well, it’s always a challenge to define a human but these are the notes I’ve been given.
At the time of Sylvester’s finding him, Wyatt was a down-on-his-luck, contemplating-divorce, recently-fired English teacher living in Takasaki, Japan who’d come there 16 years ago by way of West Texas.
In Texas, he had been an All-American, national champion small college quarterback who was fast as a methed-up gazelle with a mind as agile as a champion chess player, and on the day we will join him, he was on his bike, pondering what he’d made of his life.
Like many in his generation, his childhood had been marked by divorce. His dad, Gary, was a Vietnam Vet who suffered from PTSD and had frequent nightmares, which were enough to drive Wyatt’s mother away. She moved back east, re-married, and Wyatt never saw her again. Meanwhile, Gary also had a broken back that he’d earned after falling from a helicopter in ‘Nam, so he mostly collected disability checks and did odd jobs to pay the bills. Despite it all, he’d raised Wyatt as best as he could.
Thus, when his dad got hooked on prescription pain meds in the early Bush years, Wyatt decided to stay close to home so he could care for him and also continue his football career into college.
See, Wyatt was a bit short and scrawny for a big-time, Division I college football team like the Texas Longhorns and while he got a few scholarship offers from some lesser DI teams like the University of Kansas, they didn’t commit to him playing quarterback and for him, it was simple: He was a quarterback. And besides that, there was his dad.
He wasn’t bitter about any of this, mind you, because he loved being a QB and he loved his dad.
Now, before you go thinking that Gary’s painkiller addiction was fueled solely by the physical pain of his bad back, let me correct you: He was also trying to soothe a broken heart as he watched the US government respond to 9/11 by starting two new wars.
“All them boys getting sent off to get fucked up just like I was! Only difference is they’re doing it in the desert whereas I got fucked up in the jungle!,” he’d shouted at the TV as the newscasters celebrated the “beauty” of the Shock and Awe campaign’s fireballs blowing up Baghdad. ”When does this goddamn cycle end?”
At his core, Gary Burnside was a softie and, like a lot of softies, the wear of the hard world took a heavy toll on him so he soothed himself with painkillers. At least that way, he told himself, he could still have the heart to take care of his only child, Wyatt.
Of course, those prescription painkillers provided their own sort of pain. It wasn’t long before it was clear Gary was on his way out of this world and when that happened Wyatt had no reason to stick around West Texas. He remembered a Japanese exchange student from college who he’d found attractive, and also recalled her teaching him some basic Japanese and a bit about the culture. He was intrigued.
And since he couldn’t play football beyond college, Japan seemed as good a place as any to get away from what he saw as the dying of the American Dream so he’d applied to the JET Programme, which hired native English speakers to teach English in Japanese public schools. He was accepted and found himself in the mid-sized city of Takasaki.
Once there he discovered there were lots of women like that exchange student and, after dating for a few years, found one that was crazy enough to take him as her husband. They’d had a pretty decent run of things, having a son twelve years ago, and Wyatt settled into the role of young father reasonably well, spending a lot of time with his boy in his pre-school days.
Unfortunately, as time went on, the boy had gone to elementary school and Wyatt began to lose some of that time with him and eventually the kid was playing video games more often than not. Meanwhile, the passion had left the marriage and both Wyatt and his wife had been too focused to notice — or too afraid to try to change the course. Whatever the reason, now, 13 years into it, more often than not they were ignoring each other. After all, when she was paying Wyatt attention, she was nagging him about every little goddamn thing and, well, Wyatt took a page out of Gary’s playbook and started drinking and taking over-the-counter cold medicine that had some opiates and uppers in them.
Life just felt easier that way.
Soon, he’d started drinking to the point where he was doing it on the job, sneaking shots of whiskey in between classes and one day, he’d gotten mad at an eight-year-old for playing with his flashcards and had raised his voice. The Japanese homeroom teacher had come over to see what was the matter, and when she looked at Wyatt with an inquisitive, slightly disgusted look, he knew: she’d smelled the booze on his breath. That afternoon, the principal had called him into the office to ask about it, Wyatt had gotten defensive and raised his voice and the next day it was over because his company called to tell him he’d been relieved of his duties.
And so here he was on a warm fall morning, his wife thinking he was going to work but in reality, he was going to bike to the river just to get out of the house to keep up the appearance of having a job.
After all, she was gonna kill him when she found out.
And why shouldn’t she? I mean, what the Hell was he going to do for money? How was he going to land a new job in the middle of the school year? Besides, his Japanese wasn’t up to snuff enough to work a regular job so that pretty much made him an English teacher or nothing.
In short, he was in a load of shit. Trapped.
He had no idea what to do.
Nothing came to him that morning until he remembered his vow to swim across the local river. Why not today? So he’d packed his swimsuit and a towel, his iPhone and headphones so he could zone out to some tunes and a full fifth of whiskey. May as well get a healthy buzz on the way.
Now, not only were those the notes I was handed about Wyatt Burnside, but they were what was on the file that Sylvester, in his haste to save the factory, his identity and, of course, win the bet with Willy, sent two copies of to the office printer. Sylvester didn’t know he’d sent two copies, just picked up the one he thought he’d printed and went back to his computer.
But Willy Winkler had been, as usual, spying on Sylvester, and with Sylvester back at his work station, Willy had walked casually to the printer, taken the other copy and figured out a way to insert a nefarious scheme into the climax of this tale. He was going to win that money and prove to Sylvester that he was just an ordinary loser.
Willy smiled at the thought and got to work.
“I can’t go on like this / knowing that I’m just getting by / I can’t go on like this / knowing that I’m just getting high”
The smooth groove of one of Wyatt’s favorite songs, “The Life” by fellow Texan Gary Clark Jr. flowed into his ears and he felt it, not for the first time; this song spoke to him on a soul level.
But unlike past listens, when it got to the chorus, “This is the life, the life, the life, the life,” he didn’t feel it as a positive reinforcement that he could keep things up. No, now it was an admonishment and he knew that he was reaching his end, that the booze and pills wouldn’t work their magic much longer.
What the fuck is wrong with me? he thought, biking around a bend and coming up fast on an elderly couple who were walking right down the fucking middle of the bike path and holding each other’s fucking hands.
He reached for the bell on his bike but remembered it’d broken off a few weeks back when, heavily buzzed, he’d dismounted too quickly and knocked the bike over in front of a 7–11 and received a shocked look from an old man.
“Outta the way!” he yelled and the old woman snared her husband’s arm so Wyatt could pass, too close for everyone.
Fucking idiots, he thought but then, a moment later, a tinge of remorse began to rise to his consciousness. Before it could bubble over into a stronger feeling he pulled the bike over to the side of the path, took out the whiskey and swigged down a shot.
Its warmth felt good and he cackled. That was more like it. He lowered the bike’s gear, speeding up and passing a park where a mother was playing with two pre-school-aged kids and it reminded him: he didn’t have to go to school today.
“Yeah! Fuck it!” he yelled and laughed when he saw the mother’s disapproving glance.
The path wound around another bend and Wyatt saw a baseball diamond where a crew of old geezers was playing fastpitch softball and the guy batting had to be the shortest dude Wyatt had ever seen, and that was saying something considering this was Japan where most humans came in small, tiny and minuscule.
The dude, though, slapped the ball to the shortstop and defied the odds, beating the throw to first base.
“Atta boy!” Wyatt yelled, causing the players to look up at this crazy foreigner and he decided to find the next secluded spot on the path for another shot of whiskey in honor of the Mini Me’s of the world.
As he drank, he remembered his high school football coach, Bo Tarkenton, because when Bo came to visit Wyatt and Gary, he’d often accepted from Gary some of the same whiskey Wyatt was now drinking. Not to say Bo was a drunk or anything. No, like lots of coaches in West Texas, he preached the gospel of hard work, commitment and team.
He was also, unlike Wyatt, white. Wyatt didn’t care what color he was; all he knew was Bo loved him because Bo loved all of his players. And it was Bo who had reinforced what Wyatt’s dad had told Wyatt, that despite his size, he had what it took to not only play college ball but to succeed at it.
Thinking about it now, the memory actually made Wyatt feel worse. Here he was, all these years later, and while he’d had that success in college just like Bo had said he could, what had he made of himself since then? Would Bo be proud? His dad?
He certainly hadn’t become like his favorite player, Kyler Murray of the Arizona Cardinals. Wyatt put the whiskey back into his bag and began to bike again, thinking about a game he’d recently watched when Murray had returned to his home state of Texas to take on Wyatt’s favorite team, the Dallas Cowboys. After a slow start, the speedy Murray had led the Cardinals to a lopsided win behind his creative running.
No, Wyatt was not Kyler Murray and never would be.
He rounded a bend and — what the fuck? — a skinny, college-aged dude was walking right toward him and perched on his head was a ratty Dallas Cowboys baseball cap.
Now, for those of you who live in a football-crazy place like Texas, that might not seem like much of a synchronicity. But Japan is not Texas; nobody really cares about football there. In fact, the Japanese call it American football to differentiate it from the other football. You know the one the rest of the world plays where people actually use their feet to kick the ball. In fact, Wyatt could only remember one time in sixteen years he’d seen someone wearing NFL gear: it was a few years before on the eve of the Super Bowl and he’d run into a dude in a convenience store wearing a New England Patriots jersey.
A Dallas Cowboys cap just as he’d been thinking about a Cowboys game. Yeah, life could be weird like that.
Sylvester looked up at the Ethereal Scoreboard: 10 points. Not bad, but nowhere near enough.
Still, he was happy. He hadn’t been sure Wyatt’s head and heart were open enough to even garner one point, so ten was a good start. In addition, this gave him hope for the next part of the plan.
A few minutes later, Wyatt was still pondering that experience as he neared the beach where he was going to go swimming when he heard a family approaching him.
He looked up and saw them, a kid, maybe nine years old with caramel-colored skin and curly black hair, was leading the way, out-pacing his father, who was black, and his Japanese mom.
“You’re getting too far away!” the father yelled.
Seeing this, Wyatt felt his heart sink. He could remember days like this; just he, his wife and his son outside enjoying each other’s company in nature; how far those days were away from him now. He reached inside his backpack, searching for his headphones because he didn’t want to hear their pleasure, to feel it, but just as he found the headphones, he heard it.
“Kyler! Kyler!” the father yelled. “Slow down! You’re just too darned fast!”
The kid — Kyler? — looked back over his shoulder and yelled, “Keep up, dad!”
Holy shit! Wyatt thought. Did he say Kyler?
No, a voice in Wyatt’s head said, he couldn’t have. It was Tyler.
Still, Tyler, how many are —
It’s nothing and you know it, the voice said.
Maybe you’re right. Wait a second, who am I talking to?
Sylvester was confused.
He’d received 85 Ethereal Points, but then 45 had come off, 10 went back on, and then 10 more came off, for a total of 40.
What had caused Wyatt to doubt?
And it was then that Sylvester looked across the room and saw Willy Winkler mumbling intently as he looked into his computer screen.
What the fuck?
Sylvester began to spy on Willy and couldn’t believe what he saw.
As Wyatt arrived at the beach, he remembered the word that described what he had just experienced with the Cowboy cap and the Kyler/Tyler kid: synchronicity.
He didn’t have a great grasp on what it meant. He just remembered that when he’d learned about it, it had made him feel like perhaps there was a pattern, a greater Purpose underlying a life that sometimes felt all too cruel and meaningless.
Besides, while seeing the kid with his dad had at first made him long for when his son was younger, it had also reminded him of Gary. Unlike his feelings of sadness about his increasingly distant relationship with his son, when Wyatt thought of his dad most of the time those thoughts gave him strength.
After all, despite his wounds from Vietnam, his divorce, and his painkiller addiction late in life, his dad had soldiered on and raised Wyatt and until recently Wyatt had thought his dad had done a really good job of it.
And one thing his dad had instilled in him was courage, especially when one was facing heavy odds.
So as he set up his beach towel and slipped into his swim trunks, he looked up at the blue sky and felt the warm sun on his skin and took in a deep breath before settling his gaze on the river: “Not that far or that deep. I can cross it easy.”
Sylvester had seen enough from Willy’s computer. As he got up from his chair, he heard the familiar ruffling of Ethereal Points appearing on the Ethereal Scoreboard and looked up — wow! 120 points!
Despite Willy’s meddling, perhaps this thing was going to turn out okay after all.
Still, he didn’t trust Willy. He began to walk to Willy’s station.
Wyatt was never the greatest swimmer but had swum in plenty of rivers in Texas and swimming had always made him feel better.
He liked this beach because it was just past a dam and thus the river bed was less rocky than it was on other beaches along this river. He walked to the edge of the water, sinking his toes into the muddy riverbed, taking each step slowly because not only was it slippery, there were still a few rocks to navigate.
Eventually, he got far enough out that he could flop into the water, which seemed easier than trying to avoid the rocks, but it also meant he was going to have to move past that point that most males fear: the cold water contacting his balls.
“Fuck it,” he said, flopping in — ”Whew!”
And just like that, the shock disappeared and he began crawling across the bottom, still not deep enough to fully swim. Another minute, though, it was and he began, a simple crawl stroke, keeping his head out of the water so he could plan his path.
His goal was a large structure on the other side. It was a three-story concrete building and might have been part of the dam. Wyatt didn’t know but figured he could swim there and crawl onto the bottom ledge of the structure, rest and then return.
He reached out his arm to take a stroke when it hit a large boulder, so he had to slow down. As he did, he realized there was a whole bank of these large boulders located just more than halfway across the river. He wasn’t upset by this because they’d give him a place to rest.
He pulled himself onto a rock and rested for a few minutes. Looking ahead, he could see that he had about fifty feet of the river to cross, and the water was a deep green-blue which he assumed meant it was much deeper than the rest of the river. Still, fifty feet wasn’t too much. After all, he was almost there and this was why he’d come out on this adventure in the first place. If he couldn’t finish this, what could he finish? Was he so lame that he would be stopped so close to the goal?
No! Despite his current situation, he hadn’t been raised to quit, especially when he’d come so far.
So he maneuvered around a few more boulders and found himself back in the river where he began to swim.
Piece of cake, he thought, enjoying the water and the way his body moved through it.
One stroke, two strokes, three, soon enough he was more than halfway there. He could feel himself tiring so he stopped to see if he could touch the bottom: nothing.
Over halfway there, faster to keep going.
And that was when he heard the voice yelling at him from the distant shore.
“Willy, what the Hell are you doing?”
Willy pointed at his headphones and shrugged his shoulders, so Sylvester ripped the headphones off his head and repeated the question, even louder: “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?”
“My job, what does it look like?”
Sylvester was about to clock the dude because he could see the river scene on the computer, but something held him back. “It looks like you’re sabotaging my job which means you’re cheating — ”
“Cheating? Are you, the guy who took credit for the Mt. Rainier sync when you knew it was a violation of the three-day rule and you illegally entered Lydia’s head during the sync, really accusing me of cheating?”
How did Willy know about that?
“Oh, there’s a lot I know about you, Forrester,” Willy said. “A lot. That’s why I know you are a loser. You’re just like every other college kid who has come in here, thinking you know so much more than the rest of us, all high on yourselves. Eventually, the world will teach you, you ain’t any of that, you’re just another loser living a loser’s life.”
“Fuck you,” Sylvester said.
And just as he was about to add something to the comment, he saw what was happening on the screen, the danger Wyatt was in, and he knew that right then Willy didn’t matter, none of it did. All that mattered was Wyatt.
Wyatt couldn’t believe it. The dude on the shore, yet another old Japanese man, was wearing one of those loud, annoying t-shirts with a slogan from a TV personal growth evangelist he and his dad used to make fun of: TODAY’S THE DAY!
This was getting to be too much. Too many strange messages, especially in one day.
Besides, he had no idea what the dude was saying. Not only was he too far away, but he was also yelling in Japanese and Wyatt’s Japanese still wasn’t that great despite studying it all these years.
So he turned around and saw it — a sign on the building, a sign which he could barely make out from the shore but had ignored, printed in bold red letters in Japanese he could understand (but which I’ve translated for you, Willing Reader): DANGER!
Today’s the day.
He remembered the last time his dad had said it. Now, he’d said it many times before because the advertisement for the evangelist’s workshop ran constantly on their local TV station. His dad had often said it with sardonic wit, “Today’s the day … I eat another pot pie.” “Today’s the day … I take another shit.” Stuff like that.
But on that day, he’d said it and then left it hanging. Just as Wyatt was about to ask him for the conclusion of the joke, his dad said: “I die.”
Sylvester knew it was against the rules, but Willy had already done it and Willy was right, Sylvester had done it for Lydia and he’d gotten away with it. And besides, at this point, fuck the rules, fuck the factory, fuck the bet. Wyatt was all that mattered. He sat down at his computer, put on his headset and in the middle of Wyatt’s synchronicity Sylvester warped himself into his head.
Wyatt turned away from the crazy loon on the distant shore and back toward the shore with the structure on it and was shocked: he was almost there!
How did that happen?
And then he felt it, something, something from under the water was pulling him there — a force he hadn’t noticed just one second before but now it was all too clear. There was a current, a damn strong one, and it was pulling him toward the end of the structure, and he could see all sorts of twigs, leaves and branches bunched up there and that’s when he understood.
The DANGER! It was there, under the water, some sort of suction pulling all of that river’s water to it, that’s why this area of the river was so deep, that’s why the boulders were stacked up in the middle, that’s why the old guy was yelling at him, that’s why —
Today’s the day I die. Today’s the day I die. Today’s the day I —
No!, A voice bellowed in his head.
What? Who is that?
His body was moving there, only a few more seconds —
Never mind, the voice said. You need to remember.
Yes, what your dad said after.
He started to paddle away from the danger, but still it pulled him.
Yes, after you looked at him and told him “no, you’re not going to die,” what did he say?
Wyatt was at the structure now and his legs hit something metal; a giant grate and they were being pinned up to it, all of the power of the river relentlessly pushing him there. A concrete bar hung from the structure and he grabbed on, knowing he didn’t have long but also knowing whatever this voice was getting at might be important.
Today’s the day I die … today’s the day …
His headphones were ripped from his head, chair spun around and Sylvester came face-to-face with Willy Winkler, whose eyes were bloodshot, and the do-nothing yelled, “Cheater! Cheater! Cheat — ”
Willy never saw Sylvester’s roundhouse. It knocked him to the floor.
One problem solved.
Sylvester picked up his headphones, searched frantically for the jack on the computer in the darkened room — where, where, where, got it! — he plugged them back in and —
— yelled, “Today’s the day I die, but it’s also the day where you are born again — ”
— where you can become whatever you want to become, Wyatt continued the thought, hearing it in his dad’s voice now, “and that means you don’t have to be stuck here anymore in Texas, you don’t have to follow my path. You’ve done everything a father could have asked for, son. But now, it’s time you can make your own. Now, you see why my dyin’ is your livin’.”
He was down to his last bit of strength. The river wasn’t giving in; it had endless energy and would pummel him so long as he waited. But with every second he was pinned to that grate, his energy took a hit.
So he knew; it was up to him, him alone and he had one last crack at this.
For you, dad.
And so he called up something from deep within and began to pull his legs up out of the water, first the right leg, slowly but surely, he got it up on the ledge, the pressure building in his chest asking him to quit, and then the left leg, now bearing the full weight of the river, wanting to suck him all the way under, how easy it would be to give in — fuck that! — he pulled and pulled, felt his knee bang up against the grate, the pain shooting up into his skull, but no, fuck that, he wasn’t giving in, not yet, not yet, up, up, up … and onto the ledge.
He had made it.
And in his head, he heard a sigh of relief.
Wyatt had spent several minutes on the ledge, catching his breath and gathering his strength. As he sat there, he realized all he had to do was dive off the structure away from the dangerous, life-sucking grate and as long as he steadily swam the 50 feet across the river to the rocks in the middle, he’d be fine.
And so he was. Wyatt had lived and not only that, as he reflected on that crazy day he remembered all those synchronicities so when he returned home, he read up on the concept. Realizing the implications of it, he began to believe again that this life could still surprise him and would, if only he remained open to it.
He also felt like perhaps he had some sort of guardian angel — was it his dad? Or something else? Didn’t matter. All he knew was that he felt tremendous gratitude to that voice and for the experience — it had saved his life. Because of that, for the rest of his life he began every day with a simple prayer: thank you.
As a result, he began having more synchronicities, he appreciated each one, tried to learn the lessons they were teaching him, and, slowly but surely, his life improved.
5. TYING UP LOOSE ENDS
Now, this is your old pal the Narrator again. I gotta admit, when I got this ending I did think to me-self: Bit of Deus Ex Machina there, innit? Yes, indeed, I did slip into a bit of crappy Cockney accent to ask me-self that.
Why? Because the fawkin’ accent’s funny, innit?
Oh, you meant why did I ask me-self that? Well, I dunno. As I thought about it, I realized it’s kind of a dumb question considering the nature of this tale. After all, isn’t there some connection between Deus Ex Machina and synchronicity?
Again, I don’t know. You probably don’t, either!
Ah, don’t be sore, I’m just playing with you. I’m just having trouble letting you go here. But before I do, well, we’ve just a few loose ends to tie up.
The Ethereal Scoreboard just about broke that day. First, after Wyatt got onto the ledge, there was the big hit: 5,005 points. Sylvester was the only one in the office who was conscious enough to celebrate it, though, because Willy was still knocked out on the floor and the other do-nothings had been out on either a long lunch or hadn’t come in at all, Sylvester hadn’t noticed.
Then, as Sylvester packed up his stuff, and fast-forwarded Wyatt’s life to see if any more points would come from this synchronicity, he saw a bunch more points trickle in as Wyatt reflected on how grateful he was for the experience. And then he noticed that every time Wyatt started his day with “thank you” it added 15 points.
The Factory could definitely survive and Sylvester now had a consistently paying client — the ultimate prize. All of this meant, of course, Sylvester was not only going to be the hero of this story, but he also was going to get paid by that piece of shit slobbering all over the linoleum who he stepped over as he left the office early.
It was only 11 a.m. and Sylvester’s work was done for the day.
On his way home, Sylvester was hungry and so he made a move that caused me, as I typed this tale, to shout my own “thank you, synchronicity!”
Sylvester stopped at a taco stand.
And if he hadn’t already won my heart over, he didn’t just eat one taco, he had two.
He arrived early the next day, excited to get his reward.
When he got there, two burly men in yellow jackets that read SECURITY! stood in front of the closed doors of the factory and when Sylvester showed them his ID card, one said, “No admittance” as two men in a hardhat walked right past Sylvester and into the factory.
“What about — ?”
“They’re allowed,” one of the security guys said. “You’re supposed to report to the headquarters downtown.”
“Yeah, you know, in Bezos Tower.”
A trip there usually meant a demotion — to AfterWorld №8. Or worse?
What was going on?
An hour later, Sylvester sat quietly, hands folded on his lap, in front of a sullen woman with bright red lipstick and a golden mane like a howler monkey who was telling him, “We reviewed the tapes and you broke the rules so you lost the points.”
“But what about Willy?”
“I don’t care about that,” Sylvester said.
“Well, you should,” the woman said. “Had he been seriously hurt, the consequences for your soul would not have been pleasant.”
“Thank my lucky stars,” Sylvester muttered.
“Never mind, what I meant was ‘what about how he broke the rules’?”
“Besides the point,” the woman said.
“But it is the point,” Sylvester said. “Had Willy not gone into Wyatt’s head first and caused him to doubt and had he not held up the Today’s the Day t-shirt grandpa on the bike path, I would have gotten those points before Wyatt even entered the river, before I had to go into his head to undo what Willy had done. Don’t you see?”
“What proof do you have that he held up the guy on the bike path?”
“I saw him doing it on the computer before I confronted him!”
“Do you have a copy of that?”
“How the heck can I have a copy of it when you won’t let me back into the factory?” Sylvester asked, his voice rising.
Fuck! Why did I forget to make a copy of it before I left?
“I take that as a ‘no,’ then,” the woman said. “Noted.”
Sylvester was about to say something else when the woman continued, “Look, Sylvester, I know you don’t believe me, but I’m sorry. We are sorry. That comes from the Big Boss himself. But rules are rules and you manipulated them to get all those points, so we have to take them away.”
“Still, Wyatt was the one who made the decision in the end…”
“Sorry, our decision’s been made,” the woman said. “They took the points away and actually subtracted a few more. We’re sorry. Now, please proceed to the front desk to receive your final paycheck and a suggested list of potential future employers.”
Sylvester stood up, walked to the door, opened it, and bumped into Willy Winkler, who had a silly-looking white bandage covering one side of his face.
“What happened to you, man?” Sylvester quipped.
“Money, please,” Willy said, holding out his hand while somehow managing to express a smirk despite the bandage.
Sylvester didn’t care. He took out his wallet and gave Willy the cash, this time one bill so he could leave Willy as quickly as possible.
“Have a nice life,” Willy said as he pocketed it, “loser.”
And with that, Willy opened the door and closed it and thankfully Sylvester never saw him again.
He went to the front desk, got his severance pay, the brochure about future employment, and walked straight back to his apartment, not stopping for any ethereal food, not even a taco, and went to bed.
It was 11 a.m.
He is on the escalator again, the sign above him flashes, “Welcome to the AfterWorlds! This is AfterWorld Number..”
But before he can see where he is, the escalator suddenly flattens and speeds up, moving him toward a building with the words AfterWorld Parole Board stenciled above the doorway. The escalator sends him into the building, down a long hall and, at the very end, a spring fires up from behind him — ye gawds! — launching him through the air and somehow landing him perfectly into a comfortable leather chair in the middle of a large, bland white room.
A desk is in front of him and behind it sits a man whose most prominent feature was a sea of wrinkles that cracked his face into a thousand creases. His nameplate reads: Willy Winkler.
What the fuck?
“Thank you for coming,” the man says.
“Did I have a choice?”
The man laughs and it surprises Sylvester. Not only is the tone healthy, but the wrinkles somehow become a face full of laugh lines and it’s then Sylvester realizes the man is not the Willy he knows, but an older version.
“Touché,” he says. “Let’s get to it. Do you know why you are here?”
“Because I died?”
“Well, yes, of course,” the man says. “But no, I mean why are you here with us after all you’ve been through?”
“I assume it’s because I’m at least being given an explanation as to why you are demoting me.”
“Well, then you are half right,” the man says. “Yes, you are going to get that explanation. But no, we are not demoting you. Nothing of the sort.”
“But why not?” Sylvester asks. “I failed.”
“Failed?” the man asks. “No, Sylvester, you did not fail. You saved Wyatt. Had it not been for your actions, he wouldn’t have lived.”
“But I broke the rules,” Sylvester says.
“Indeed, you did,” Winkler says. “And, as was explained to you yesterday, as a result, the Synchronicity Factory will be shut down.”
“Which means I failed.”
“Do you really define yourself by how well you served some factory that never really gave a shit about you?”
Sylvester stops. That was certainly a direct way of putting it.
“Now that you mention it, no,” he finally answers. “Why should I?”
“Precisely,” the man says. “Besides, the Synchronicity Factory is just one place among many which work in the field of synchronicity. There are even private contractors in the field.”
“Really?” Sylvester says. “How come I never learned this at Synchronicity University?”
“Did you ever ask yourself who funds that university?”
He hadn’t. “The Synchronicity Factory?”
“There’s your answer,” Winkler says. “Anyway, I’m certainly glad that this saga is over. After all, you had a rather unfortunate encounter with someone I know.”
“Oh, yeah,” Sylvester says. “Sorry about that.”
“No, no, not to worry,” Winkler says. “He had it coming to him. Besides, in his mind, he won. After all, you paid him. Plus, he doesn’t have to go to work there anymore. A win-win, you might say!”
“Sure,” Sylvester answers. “So what happens to me now?”
“Before I answer that, we want to make sure you are clear on something here. Sylvester, what is the lesson in all of this?”
Sylvester pauses. His brain is buzzing with answers but then it settles on one. “I think it’s sometimes you gotta break the rules to achieve something greater than yourself.”
“Bingo!” the man says. “At least that was one of the many lessons we’d hoped you’d learn. A valuable one, indeed. Now, to answer your previous question: what happens next is you get to choose between level 10, which is our unofficial first AfterWorld of Heaven, or you can merge back into The One and bliss out in Non-Duality for a while.”
Sylvester needs no pause to answer this one: “I need a break.”
“Excellent, just come over to this chair and we’ll get you all set up. We’ll check in periodically to see if you want to progress to level 10.”
Sylvester nods, gets up, and goes to the chair. It’s even cushier than the one he’d been sitting in. As he settles in, a pleasant female voice speaks to him from an unseen PA system, telling him to tuck his arms next to his sides and push his head back against its cushy headrest and close his eyes.
Sylvester does and the last thing he hears is “Enjoy, Sylv — ”
All goes white.
I turned this draft into my Big Boss early in the morning and, two hours later, he called me into his office, showed me some edits he’d made, slapped me on the back and said, “Well done, now go take a day off, would ya?”
Before I left the office, though, I remembered something from this tale. Sylvester hadn’t made a copy of Willy’s scheming. I wasn’t going to make the same mistake. So, I copied this draft onto a disk. Why?
I wasn’t entirely sure at the time. But I think I knew. You see, when I saw all of the edits the Big Boss had made, well, it seemed to me like he’d taken out too much. For one, he’d edited out a lot of the humor, all of my asides. After all, AfterWorld №3 is a dull place and this story is meant for its readers so we can’t allow them a story that isn’t dull, can we?
Second, he took me out of the story. Now, he may be right on that account — it may be the better story without me. I’m not the most objective judge of that. Perhaps, Willing Reader, you’ll get to see the Big Boss’ edited version one day and judge for yourself.
But third, and I think most importantly, with me out of the story, you don’t get the ending you are about to read. And while it’s a good enough ending to see our hero, Sylvester, fade to white and Non-Dual bliss, well, it feels a bit incomplete. Again, though, you be the judge.
Anyway, after packing my things and leaving the office I was too tired, Willing Reader, to do anything with that day so I took a cue from Ol’ Sylvester: I got myself a bite to eat — no tacos, of course, but about the best thing AfterWorld №3 has, rice balls filled with tuna and watery miso soup — and then went home and straight to bed.
Now I believe it was not a synchronicity but a mere coincidence that it was also 11 a.m.
I am on the escalator again — oh, crap — the sign above me flashes, “Welcome to the Afterworlds! This is Afterworld Number..”
— please tell me I didn’t go down, c’mon give me 4, give me 4…
5? Holy crap, I didn’t know I could skip a level. Did I do that well?
But I look at the sign again and it hasn’t changed: “5. AfterWorld Number 5.”
Wait, I’m being an idiot. Of course I knew I could skip levels! After all, when I died and arrived here I was on three and I didn’t have to go through one and two. Why would I think it’s so linear?
I get off the top of the escalator and in front of me is a pleasant-looking plaza with a fountain in the middle that children are running around, but it’s what’s beyond the fountain that draws my eye:
That’s right, it’s a taco truck.
I pick up my pace and can smell them, oh-so-delectable tacos, their spicy, meaty, cheesy scent of goodness floating on the wind. Best of all there’s only one other person in line.
I smile at him and he smiles back — another new arrival? — but just as he is about to order we hear a commotion from inside the truck.
“I didn’t do anything! I swear it! I just got here, how could I have — ”
“Come along, wise guy,” says a voice and I see a black-uniformed man emerge from behind the truck and he’s pulling someone, “even collecting leaves that look like marijuana is against the rules here in AfterWorld Number 5, you should have known that — ”
“But how could I — I just got here, how could I?”
And then I see the body the arm is connected to:
It’s Willy Winkler.
“Goddamn it, Willy, I just hired you!” a voice yells from the truck.
Meanwhile, I can’t stop staring. The cop pulls Willy toward me, passes me without comment, I’m still staring and Willy looks back at me. But, of course, he has no idea who I am.
“Welcome to AfterWorld Number Five,” I say. “Have a nice day … loser.”
I order my tacos — two in honor of Sylvester — and they are as good as they smell.
I think I’m going to like it here.
But what am I going to do?
“Anybody know how to make tacos?” calls the cashier.
Yeah, I think I’m going to like it here.