Wednesday, May 25, 2016

A Life Like This

There once was a man who was unhappy.  When he was a boy, he was born in an unhappy house, with an unhappy family who were poor.  When the boy was twelve, his mother, who worked as a simple laborer, was struck down by a cancer and died.  The boy's father had a job that took him far away for days at a time, so that the boy spent the rest of his childhood in an empty house that had very little in it.

Yet the boy, as he became the man, decided he would not live all his life this way.  He worked very hard at labor jobs and he took many labor jobs, so that he was able to finish his schooling.  His schooling did not make him happy, however, so he chose not to go to university but rather to go on working.  He worked all the time and he was unhappy all the time.

He lived in an apartment whose landlord was never there and the man realized that he could sublet the apartment to someone else and earn $100 a month doing that.  So the man did it and searched for another apartment where the landlord was never there.  He found another one and then another one, and soon he was finding two or three a month, signing leases and then subletting these apartments to other people for a little bit of money more.  But though it made him money, it did not make him happy.

In a year he quit his labour jobs and all he did was find apartments to sublet.  Finally one day he had so many apartments that he was able to put a downpayment on a whole block of apartments, which made him even more money.  This was followed by a second block of apartments and a third, until he was making so much money that he was becoming very well known in the city where he lived.  But still, this did not make him happy.

Then he met a very beautiful woman who wanted to marry him.  He married her and although he was working all the time looking after his apartments and buying more apartments to rent, together with his wife he had two children, both boys.  But since he worked all the time, he hardly saw these boys before they became old enough to go to school.  His beautiful wife sent them off to a private boarding school so that he saw his boys only once in awhile.  He would often think of his boys and this would make him unhappy.

When enough years had passed for his boys to make up their minds about their father, the man realized that his sons did not like him very much.  He did not understand how they could form an opinion like this, since they had seen each other only on holidays and sometimes in the summer, it made him very unhappy to learn that his sons did not like him.  And as time went on, he began to realize that his wife did not much like him either, but that she stayed with him only for the money he earned.  This made him more unhappy.

He loved her, though he hardly ever saw her.  He loved his sons, though he hardly ever saw them.  He could not imagine divorcing his wife and yet he could not imagine giving her any more of the money that he had earned.  For years he went around and around in his unhappy thoughts, until he finally decided that he would give up everything and end his life.  He had never known a moment of real happiness and so he felt that suicide would be a blessing and not a loss.

He thought of how to do it and decided that he would do it with a gun.  He chose an evening and he sat in his study, with the gun sitting on his desk in front of him, waiting for him to use it.  "I will have a drink and then I will be able to do it," he thought.  So he poured himself a brandy and drank it down.  Then he poured himself another brandy.  After a third brandy, he felt a little sleepy.  He looked at the gun on the desk and rested his head on the back of the chair.  There he felt drowsy and fell into a deep sleep.

When he opened his eyes, the gun was still on the desk.  But in the dark recess of the room, he sensed that there was someone sitting on a chair there.  He peered into the dark and saw that there was a stranger there.  And the longer he peered, the less dark the room seemed to be . . . until he could see the stranger fairly well.  The stranger wore a dark suit and very pleasant shoes; he was just the sort of person that the man would have made a lot of money from renting a penthouse suite.  The stranger had a kind smile and seemed to know what the man had meant to do.  "I must be drunk," though the man to himself.

"Who are you?" asked the man.

"Someone who has come with an agenda," said the stranger.

"I'm not interested in any investments just now," said the man.  "I'm very busy."

"We are already invested," said the stranger.

"No, no," said the man.  "Listen, you have to leave."  The man reached for the gun, to put it in a drawer, but he found that his fingers passed through it.

"You're all done with that now," said the stranger.

"No, no, no, I never touched the gun," said the man.  "I was going to use it but I didn't."

"But you drank the brandy," said the stranger.

"The brandy?"

"Yes, your wife has poisoned you.  She has done it so that she can have your money and be with her lover."

The man felt pain when he heard these words - for, as soon as he heard them, he realized that it was true.  The stranger's words were impossible to deny.  "She's murdered me," said the man.

"Yes," said the stranger.

"But she'll be caught.  They'll find out that she's done it."

"They won't find out," said the stranger.  "She is using your money to protect herself, so that they will not investigate your death very closely.  The doctor, who is being paid very well, will come in and say that you died of natural causes.  Then she will be very happy."

This made the man terribly unhappy.  "She won't miss me?"

"No," said the stranger.

"But, but . . . my boys will miss me.  This will make them unhappy."

"No," said the stranger.  "Your sons will be very happy when they discover that they have the money you have left them in your will.  They will do all the things they always dreamed of doing, without any feelings for you at all."

The man felt immense unhappiness at this.  "But . . . the people who worked for me - they'll care about me."

"The new management will decide to sell your holdings," said the stranger.  "They will make a great deal of money and they will share this money with thousands of shareholders.  And all your tenants will have their buildings taken over by other people who will be willing to negotiate their rents and make them lower.  All those people will be much happier now that you are gone."

The man was truly unhappy now.  "Then it has all been for nothing."

"Not for nothing," said the stranger.  "You spent your whole life saving up your unhappiness.  You saved and saved, hoarding all the unhappiness you could lay your hands upon - and now you are taking all that unhappiness with you.  So you make the world a happier place by leaving it.  Now come along.  We have an unhappier place to go yet."

And so the man rose up and followed the stranger.  And the dark followed with them.


Matt said...

Not sure that I really get it. Very interesting though.

Ozymandias said...

You need an agent, seriously. I'd pay for a collection of short stories like this.

runningwithscissors said...

Seconded. I'd just like to mention that the books of yours I recently purchased are rather smashing, too. 'How to Run' and 'The Dungeon's Front Door.' The scarcity of actual literature about roleplaying games really does suggest to me that there must be some real independent gems of the genre out there waiting to be found, much like this. :)
Actually, if I may ask, do you do all your publishing independently? If so, that is mighty impressive. Brilliant. An inspiration, even.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Thank you, Running with Scissors,

I do all my publishing myself; layout and technical presentation. I have an editor who identifies most of my errors - but sadly, things do slip through. It is very difficult to obtain the sort of level that a publishing house enables, since they usually have up to four or five copy readers for a project.

Archon said...

Damn, thats cool. I do like stories like that - short and poignant, with a mythic feel to them. Thank you for posting this.