Dren lay down on the grass, under the trees in the park. It was night and he just lay there staring at the stars, wondering if the same constellations would be there tomorrow night. He didn’t want to go to sleep. Not just yet. He wanted just a little bit more time in this world before it ended. Before it slipped away and everything changed again. Like it did every day. He didn’t want to change into another role, another person just yet. Tonight, he wanted to savor the feeling of being free, of the fresh air and the beauty of the night sky. It was one of those rare moments in all his lives, when he actually appreciated anything again and he wanted it to last, to keep the illusion of happiness and contentment. So he lay and gazed up at the stars in the sky. But all too soon, the reality of his world came crashing back down and the joy he got from seeing the stars turned bitter as he remembered that most likely they wouldn’t be there for him to see tomorrow. Or even if they did, he mightn’t get the chance to see them. Because tonight, the world would end. Like it did every night. And tomorrow, a new world would be waiting for him, whoever he might be in that world. Because for everyone living in this sad, shifting world, the world ended every twenty-four hours. And every twenty-four hours you would be reborn in a different role, a different age, you might even look different. Dren had no idea who he’d been at first.
Who was he when he had first been born? Who were his parents? Were they even alive? Does anyone really be born or die here? He didn’t know. He didn’t even know how old he really was. Today he was a teenager, who’d dropped out from school. Tomorrow he might be a baby held in someone’s arm. The day after that, he might be the president of a country. The day after that…..Well, the possibilities were near infinite. But when you lived in a world like this, each day soon lost its meaning, like it had for Dren. Why work at anything when tomorrow it would all be gone? Why look for love when tomorrow it would be swept away? Why care when anything that might bother you would be swept out in the next twenty-four hours? Except for the one thing that did really bother you; the fact that the world ended and rebuilt itself every day and you had no say in the matter.
Days became dreary. Time became a cage and was hated. Life lost colour. It lost meaning. And so each day the people of their world, would go to sleep and wake up and spend the day in whatever role they were placed in and go to sleep and then the whole cycle would repeat itself. They were all sleepwalkers, some hoping that one day they might just wake up and others who had once hoped, but cared no longer. It was a bitter, bitter world and Dren hated it. He fell asleep thinking how much he hated it.
He woke up in a bed with the sunlight shinning in his eyes through a window, he’d never seen before. He sat up and rubbed his face and then yawned. Then he swung his legs off the bed, stood up and shambled over to the mirror. The face of a man in his mid- thirties greeted him. He glanced around the rooms and noticed the desk strewn with papers. He studied them, looking for the clue, that he knew would be there to tell him what he was this time. Ahh, there it was. He was an accountant. The smell of breakfast drifted up to him, along with the sounds of someone moving about in the kitchen. Oh, most likely he was married this time. Of course it was to someone he didn’t know, who didn’t know him and like him, had just woken up here this morning. But she was playing her role as she was supposed to do. Because really? What else was there to do? At first, everyone had rebelled for a while. Then even rebellion had come to make no sense, to be meaningless. Because honestly, how does one rebel against the workings of the world? You couldn’t. So you just went along because it took your mind off everything sometimes or just gave you something to do. A purpose that had no purpose yet still we needed it because if we’d been left every day without something to do, we’d go insane.
Dren went downstairs to find bacon and eggs waiting on the table for him, and a tall beautiful woman at the counter, making coffee.
“Straight black?” she asked him.
“Sure,” he said.
“How did you sleep?” she asked him.
“Not so well. You?”
“Don’t know,” she said. She came to the table, holding two coffee mugs in her hands. She handed one to him and carried hers to her seat opposite his. He thanked her and then they ate breakfast, barely saying a word. Dren ate thinking about what she had said because he knew all too well what she meant. There were blanks in his memory. Sometimes they were long blanks. Most likely those were from the times he had been a bay or w very small child. So chance were, yesterday, she been one of those. He finished his breakfast, had his coffee and pushed away from the table.
“I have to go to work now,” he told her, “I’ll be back this evening.”
She nodded. “Goodbye,” she said, “Have a good day at work.”
“You have a good day too,” he told her and then he pulled on his jacket and went outside to the car waiting there. He got into it and drove to work, never being able to understand how he knew where work was. Then he settled into his office there and after learning what to do form the little information packet on his computer, that was nearly always there, he set to work. When he was done, he went ‘home’ and went to sleep. And the next day he awoke as janitor of a hospital. And like clockwork he went to work, did what he was supposed to do and went back ‘home’ and went to bed. And like it had been doing, all his life, days and lives and worlds passed and Dren cared not.
Until one day, one life, when Dren, a teenager once again, was out walking on a Saturday, passed a park where a girl was throwing a Frisbee to a great, big labrador retriever. The dog raced after the toy, caught it and raced back to the girl, almost knocking her down in its enthusiasm to bring it to her. The girl laughed happily as the dog rested his forepaws on her shoulders and practically shoved her in the face with the Frisbee in its mouth. She wrestled the Frisbee out of its mouth and flung it again. The dog took off again wildly and she shouted encouragement to it.
Dren stopped walking and leaned against a tree staring at her in puzzlement. He couldn’t quite comprehend what he was seeing. It wasn’t that a girl playing with a dog was anything unusual. What was unusual however was the fact that her laugh had been genuine. It wasn’t as if people didn’t have a genuine laugh every now and then, but hers was different. It wasn’t the sound of one time laughter or sometime laughter. It sounded as if she laughed like that all the time. In fact her whole demeanor was different, was truly genuine. Not as if she was playing a role, like they all were, but as if she really was just a carefree, teenage girl, playing with her dog at the park. As if she really owned the dog and loved him like she had had him from when he was a puppy and she was toddler and they had grown up as best pals for life. Dren couldn’t wrap his brain around it. How could someone be like that? He had never seen anyone like that before. He remained leaning against the tree string at them, as if he might just magically understand or he might see the façade of genuinely slip. But before either of things happened, something else did.
The girl reached back and flung the Frisbee for the dog. Only it slipped from her grasp before she completed the full throw. The result was that the Frisbee went off at an angle and hit Dren smack into the head. He staggered and put a hand to his fore head. But before he could really catch himself, he heard a loud ‘roof’. Oh no, thought Dren. Then he was bowled over by the dog in its rush to get to the plastic toy. He lay on the ground, feeling utterly stunned. There is something really awful about being run over by a dog. A heavy dog.
He heard the sounds of someone running up to him.
“Oh my goodness!” he heard someone exclaim. A face appeared above him. “Are you alright?”
Dren just stared at it for a few more moments before he registered that what it said and that the face belonged to the girl.
He gave a weak nod. Then the girl’s face was joined by another which was far closer and less pleasant.
“Roof!” the lab barked. Dren coughed from the sudden assault of dog breath and twisted his face as dog saliva sprinkled all over his face. The lab licked him slobbery and barked again. Dren groaned.
“Move away Chocolate,” said the girl. She pushed the lab away and held a hand out to Dren. Dren took it and she hauled him up. Then he rubbed his face with his tee shirt, trying to get rid of the dog spit on his face.
“I am so, so sorry,” apologized the girl. I didn’t mean for that to happen. Honest. It was a mistake. And I sorry about Chocolate, he’s very, um, excitable.”
Dren held up a hand to stop the stream of apologies. “I can see that,” he said. He looked down at the dog which was gazing at him and waving its tail, vigorously, with a doggy grin on his face.
The girl laughed. “Are you really alright though?”
Dren nodded. “Sure. Although getting knocked over by a dog is new.”
The girl laughed again and once more it struck Dren, just how genuine it was.
“Well” she said, “There’s a first time for everything right?”
The statement suddenly reminded Dren of the world he was living in. “Not anymore,” he said, “not really.”
“Of course there is,” she said, “You said it yourself. This is the first time that you’ve ever been knocked over by a dog.”
“That I know off,” he countered.
“True,” she agreed, “But you can’t remember, so it’s like a first time all over again.” Everyone knew that there were memories they didn’t really have anymore. Living so long in a changing world did that. Memories faded.
“I’m Liv, by the way,” she continued. She held out a hand.
“Dren,” he said. He took her hand and shook it.
“Nice to meet you Dren,” she said, smiling. And she sounded like she meant it. Dren frowned at her.
“Oh,” she said, “I mean, I didn’t mean like it was nice to meet you this way or anything. I wouldn’t wish anyone getting knocked on the head with a Frisbee and knocked down by a lab. Oh, your head has a bump. But anyway, I didn’t mean it like that.” All of this was fired off at rapid speed.
Dren shook his head. “No.” he said, “Um, that’s not what I meant. I mean, why I frowned. It was because, well…” he trailed off, not sure how to say it.
“Well….” said Dren, “It was because it sounded like you really meant it. Like, really meant it. Not just playing a role. Not just acting like you’re supposed to.”
“Of course I really meant it,” she said simply.
“No,” said Dren, thinking she wasn’t understanding what he was trying to say, “I mean...” he began but she cut him off.
“I know what you mean. And yes, Dren, I am genuinely pleased to meet you, even though after today, I might never see you again. I am.”
Dren stared at her. “Why are you like that?” he asked finally. She laughed again at his confusion.
“Come on,” she said, “Let’s sit and I’ll tell you why.”
She settled herself, cross-legged on the grass and patted a spot next to her. Dren sat down slowly, not sure where this odd encounter was going. But he was too curious to let it go. He looked warily at Chocolate but the big dog, apparently undeterred by the fact its game had stopped, just ambled over and lay down next to them, with his head in Liv’s lap. She stroked his head fondly and Dren watched in a sort of morbid fascination, as the dead might have for the living.
“So you want to know why I’m like this huh?” Liv began. Dren nodded his head.
“Well,” she said, “It’s pretty simple. I choose to be.”
Dren frowned at her words. “You choose to be?” he repeated.
“Yes,” said Liv firmly, “I choose to be. I choose to live my live. Really live it. Not just get up each day and go through the motions. I choose to live the motions, Dren.”
“But why?” asked Dren, “Why? There’s no meaning to any of it. Every day it’s all just going to go away!”
“And you’re letting that stop you?” asked Liv.
Her question stopped Dren in his tracks. “How could it not?” he asked haltingly, not able to understand, how she could have asked that question in the first place. Hadn’t she been here like he was? Hadn’t she lived in this world?
“Maybe because I choose not to let it? Maybe I choose to care, no matter what?”
“But why would anyone do that?” asked Dren, his confusion growing.
“Why would anyone choose to live the way you do, Dren? Why would anyone allow themselves to become emotionless husks just walking around, when there’s so much of this around?” here she indicated the space around them; the beautiful green grass, the blue sky dotted with fluffy clouds. Dren didn’t have an answer for her. Not a real one anyway.
“But how can you care?” asked Dren, “How can you care for all of this when this world takes it away each day?”
“Well, shouldn’t that make you care for it all the more?” she asked. Dren frowned again as he took in her words. He had never seen it that way before. Maybe he had, long ago, but not anymore.
She leaned forward and run her hand along the length of Chocolate’s back.
“Listen to me Dren,” she said, “Every day I get a new life. I get to be so many things. I get so many lives. Once I thought like you too. But then one day, I thought, why should I be this way? Why should I resent it? Why can’t I live each day to the fullest? Why can’t I enjoy each new world and each new life? Why can’t I make someone else’s life brighter, even if it’s only for one day? The answer, I discovered was that there actually wasn’t any reason why I couldn’t. So I did. I get up each day, determined to live and to learn and to love, as much as I can.”
Dren sat stunned. How could anyone think like her? She was crazy!
“And what happens when you get tired of it? What happens when you can’t take the heartbreak from losing what you love each day?”
“Is that why you live like that? Because you can’t love and can’t care because you are too scared about the heartbreak? Is that why you bottle up your emotions and go through life without feeling much more than bitterness and despair and anger? Is that why you have such a don’t care attitude toward everything?”
“I’m not scared!” Dren protested angrily, “It just doesn’t make sense!”
“You are scared,” she told him, “But there is this. I’ve got all my love to give and to share. I’m not going to leave it to rot. If by loving and caring about things, I am happy. Then I’ll love and I’ll care because I want to be happy. Do you want to be happy? Do you want to be real?”
“Of course!” snapped Dren, “But what you’re saying to do, only makes you more unhappy.”
“Only because you don’t know how to let things go,” she replied.
“And you still didn’t answer my question,” he pointed out to her.
She smiled, “Honestly, I don’t know. However I don’t think it will ever happen.”
“Why is that?” Dren demanded.
She paused for a moment as if trying to phrase her answer. Finally she petted Chocolate’s head. “See Chocolate?” she said. Dren nodded, confused once more. “I’m only going to have him for today. Tomorrow he’ll be gone. But I’m not going to let that hurt me. Of course I’ll miss him. But I’ll forever remember the lab who I had a great of fun with. And I’m not going to let the fact that it was only for one day ruin the sweetness of that memory. I, well, I learned to appreciate everything in its moment. And when it’s time for it to go, I learned to let it go. To not mourn for it. I learned to appreciate all I learned from everything. To appreciate the time. To appreciate the fact that this world, gave me the chance to meet the people and animals that I have and to have the experiences that I did.”
Dren felt speechless for a moment. He struggled to understand the magnitude of what she told him. He opened his mouth several times only to close it again. Finally he managed to get out, “You appreciate this world the way it is?”
“Yes,” she said, simply, “I do now.”
Dren blinked at her and then took a deep breath in. “You’re telling me that you actually appreciate the fact that the world ends every day?”
She laughed at his incredulousness. “I have learned to appreciate what it gives me. I wouldn’t mind if I get a stable life at all. But until that happens, if it ever does, I’m not going to let the life I have go to waste. I’m going to really live. I’m going to really enjoy myself. I’m going to get every speck of colour I can into my life and I’m going to colour as much peoples’ lives as I can when I’m doing it.”
Dren stared at her for a moment, understanding slowly coming. “You’re going to have fun,” he said slowly. “You’re going to have as much fun as you can each day, no matter what role you’re in. That’s what you do.”
She smiled. “Sort of. I enjoy myself. But I also do what I was meant to do in that role. And I do it well. I take a pride in my work. So what if it only lasts for one day? I can still say that I did my very best and be pleased with myself. Besides, I think we were placed in the different roles to fulfill them. And if we do, if we all do, then we’ll all be happy. Because we’ll know, that no matter what, there’d be somebody for you. You may be alone today, but tomorrow you could be part of a family. A real family, even if you’ve only met them today.”
Dren thought about it. “I’ve never thought about that,” he admitted. Then he looked at her, “Do you think you’ve made a difference?” he asked her.
She shrugged and laughed. “I don’t know. At the very least I’ve given people some very memorable memories!”
To his surprise, Dren chuckled at that. She looked surprised to see him laugh and then smiled.
“The thing is Dren,” she said to him, “The only thing we can do here, is to live. So we might as well do it.”
Dren smiled, “You and most of the people in the world have a different definition of live,” he told her.
She laughed .“Really live,” she amended. Dren smiled at that and then got up. Chocolate lifted his head and watched him.
“I should go now,” he told her, “I don’t know what to think about what you’ve told me. But I’ll think it over. Thanks for telling me.” He would have left then but she said:
“Wait!” and got up off the ground. Then she came up to him and held out her arms. Dren stared at them for a moment shocked and realized it had been a long time since anyone had just hugged him for hugging sake, just because they cared. And she did care. He could see it. He hesitantly stepped forward and felt her wrap her arms around him and squeezed hard. To his surprise he felt himself squeeze her back, just as hard. Because, he realized, he cared. He cared about this strange girl, with her strange thoughts, and who was so real. He didn’t know why, except that maybe, that she had told him something profound and maybe because she cared, in that earnest, genuine way of hers. He didn’t know how long they stood there hugging each other but at last they broke away. Then Dren went down on one knee and petted Chocolate who was standing next to them.
“Bye bye Chocolate,” he told the big dog. Chocolate woofed at him and licked his face. Dren screwed up his face but then smiled. Chocolate spun around and ran back and picked up the Frisbee and brought it to him. Dren took it, looked at it and then threw it. Chocolate ran after it madly and Dren had to smile. He looked at Liv, who was looking at Chocolate, smiling too.
“So…” he said, “I guess this is goodbye.” She turned to look at him and gave a smile that was bittersweet.
“I guess it is, Dren,” she said, “I hope you have a great life.”
“I hope you continue having a great one Liv,” he told her, “And I hope we meet up again. But if we don’t, well, remember me, if you can.”
She smiled a proper smile this time. “Of course I’ll remember you!,” she said, “I hope you’ll remember me.”
“I will,” he assured her and then waving to her and petting Chocolate who had come back with the Frisbee, he left.
Many days and worlds and lives, he thought about what Liv had said. He spent many a night, deep in thought, wondering if he could ever live like her and pondering whether he should. But deep down he knew what the answer would be. He didn’t know if he could actually do, but he sure was going to try. He didn’t want to be like this anymore. He couldn’t. Perhaps it was not only her words that had made an impression but also just the way she was. The fact that she was happy and he wanted to be like her. To really live and to be really happy. And he could be like that. If he tried. So finally one night he made up his mind. He was going to try.
He started off simple. He left tips in cafes. Kissed his parents goodbye when he left for school. Bought food for homeless people. Played with pets if he had any. Worked really hard at any job he had.
It was hard. Sometimes he just wanted to give up. He felt annoyed whenever he finished a pile of paperwork only to remember that his hard work was going to be flushed down the drain when twelve o’clock hit. He forgot to smile at people because he hadn’t actively done that in so long. He sometimes slipped back into his monotonous lifestyle subconsciously. But it was the little things that kept him going. The look of surprise and then warm happiness when he kissed his parents. The surprised look and the shyly returned smile, when he smiled at people. That ‘good work’ from his boss that day. And eventually, he began to do more. To risk more. Struggling forward for a purpose that actually had a meaning, in a world where there had seemed no purpose to anything.
Today he was a father. He had a wife and a teenage boy and a little girl about eight. It was a holiday today so he was home with them. He woke up and went downstairs to find his wife for the day looking in the fridge for something.
“Hey,” he said. “She looked up surprised.
“Hey,” she said in return and smiled.
He grinned at her and hugged her. He felt her surprise and then she hugged him back. He kissed the top of her head and said, “We have kids today?”
“Yes,” she said, “Two.”
He whistled. “Two huh? Oh well, I’m going to wake them up.”
“Okay,” she said. He removed his arm from around her and went up the stairs, ignoring her surprised, confused and curious look.
He opened the next door after his and discovered a little girl, all wrapped up in blankets. He sat down at the edge of the bed and passed his hand over hair. Then very y gently, he eased away the blankets and slowly began to tickle her side. She stirred and mumbled but didn’t wake up at first. He then began to tickle both her sides. She stirred some more and then suddenly her eyes flew open and she laughed. She twisted away and scrambled to the far side of the bed and then stopped poised there watching him warily. He sat still while her mind identified him as her father. He saw the moment when it did. Then he leaned forward. She watched him in terror and delight. Then he lunged over the bed and grabbed her. She squealed and twisted trying to get away but he had no mercy. Her laughter echoed through the house. He stopped suddenly and held her tight and said, “Oh? It looks like someone is still sleepy. Shall I try to wake her up again?”
“No, no daddy!” she laughed.
“Are you sure?”
“I don’t think so!” He returned to tickling her for a few moments more and then released her. She pulled away laughing. He was laughing too. When they both calmed down somewhat, he held out a hand to her and said, “Come on, let’s go see what’s for breakfast.” She took his hand and he helped her off the bed.
They walked out of the room , just as a fifteen year old boy opened the door opposite hers.
“If anyone tries to tickle me awake, I will kill them,” he threatened, pointing a finger with his eyes still closed and his hair plastered all over his face.
Dren snorted. “Look alive then sport,” he told him, “Go see what your mother has in the kitchen for us. If there is anything. And try not to fall down the stairs.”
The boy nodded and went blindly down the stairs. Dren watched him carefully, while letting the girl hop down the stairs, half hanging from his arm.
The boy reached down the stairs before they did. A moment later, he shouted back up, “Cereal!”
“Cereal!” echoed the girl, she let go of Dren’s hand and went down the stairs at breakneck speed. Dren watched her with his heart in his mouth even as he ran down after her.
They both arrived safely downstairs.
“Hmmm,” said his wife for that day, “It seems we have a cereal mouth.” She smiled at him, apparently having slipped into her role properly.
“It does,” he agreed.
Then they all went to have breakfast where they introduced themselves, in between mouthfuls of whatever cereal they had chosen. The lady was Nira, the boy , James and the little girl, Alice.
After breakfast and after all the chores, that Dren made everyone do, ignoring their odd looks. He and Alice and James went out into their little backyard. James sat in a garden seat and leaned back and closed his eyes. Dren had found a ball inside the house and he called to Alice.
“Hey, Alice, wanna play?” He held out the ball. Alice eyed the ball and Dren got the first glimpse of the older person inside, the person who had lived perhaps as many or more, lives than him. That person decided, ‘why not?’ Alice nodded.
“Sure,” she said. He grinned at her and she smiled back. Then he threw the ball to her. She fumbled the catch and then had to run after the ball. She got it and threw it purposely bent so that he would miss to. Dren lunged for it, missed and ended up on the floor laughing. He picked himself up and ran after the ball and thus a vicious game of catch ensued.
They had been playing for a while when Dren called to James.
James cracked open an eye. Dren gestured for him to come and play. James shook his head and closed back his eyes. Dren sighed, seeing the same uncaring attitude that most people had. He held up a hand to tell Alice to wait for a moment and walked over to where James was sitting and stooped down next to him.
“Hey,” he said.
James opened his eyes. He stared at the ball Dren was holding up and then said,
“I don’t want to play.” He looked at Dren and then added, “It doesn’t make sense.”
Dren snorted and said, “Oh, come on. You’ve lived awhile and the world is going to end today like it does every day. You might as well spend one of those days, or at least part of it, just throwing a ball around. Come on, it’ll be fun.” He smiled at James and jerked his head to where Alice was waiting. He saw James calculating in his head. After a moment he shrugged and took the ball.
A few minutes later he was thoroughly caught up in the game as Dren had known he would have been. Because people, he discovered, had forgotten how to even have fun anymore. But when you pushed them into in, they usually enjoyed themselves.
The game turned into a three way viscous game of catch. After a while, Dren saw Nira leaning in the doorway of the backdoor, watching them, having obviously been drawn out by their shouts of laughter and sounds of disappointment whenever they missed and just shouts in general. He saw her smile at the scene and then shift her gaze to him, obviously wondering, what it was that was different about him. It reminded him of the way he had acted when he had seen Liv for the first time.
He smiled at her and said, “Come on Nira, you can’t be the only one not playing.” She smiled and shook her head and would have gone back in but Alice stopped her saying, “Come on, it’s fun really. Please mummy!”
And James added, “Yeah. You wouldn’t think it but it is fun.”
Dren watched as Nira wavered and added as well, “Hey, you might as well have fun sometime. Come and play with us. Please?”
She sighed. “Fine.” James and Alice gave shouts of triumph. Nira looked startled and Dren laughed. The game of catch resumed and eventually turned into a game of scootch which Alice won because nobody could hit her hard, seeing as she was the youngest. James had protested and Dren and Nira had laughingly indulged Alice and pacified James. In short the simple game had done what Dren had intended. It had made them into a family for a little while. The way a real family might have acted when they were all home on a holiday.
The game stopped for lunch and they all retired quietly for the evening, having to rest after their unusually vigorous morning. But when it was time for dinner, Dren proposed to have a sort of picnic star-gazing thingy that night. The others shrugged and agreed and soon they were roasting hot dogs, and making burgers together, laughing and talking as they all went about their task. Finally the food was finished and they spread a mat in the backyard and sat eating on it and resting their glass of soft drink on the grass. They talked for a while and then Dren began to point out the constellations he knew. Alice followed and soon the others did too. It turned out between them, they all knew a lot and so they progressed to naming all the stars they knew, learning from each other and laughing at the funny names of some of them. Finally though they were all just lying back on the mat and just staring at the stars and taking in the beauty.
At last Nira said, “It’s almost twelve o’ clock.”
No one said anything to that but Dren felt the heaviness that had fallen on them at the statement. For a little while the others had managed to forget and now, they didn’t want it to end.
Nira spoke up again, “So, well, I just wanted to say, well, I had a great time. And, and I wanted to thank Dren for that because, well, it was because of him, I think, that we had such a great time today. So,” she turned to him, “Thank you Dren.”
Dren opened his mouth to reply but before he could James spoke up. “You’re the weirdest person I’ve ever met but… I had great time today. So, thanks.”
And Alice said right after him, “I’m always going to remember this day. It was the best day I ever had.”
Dren smiled sadly and said, “I didn’t make this day possible alone. We all did, together. So thank you.”
After that there was another stretch of silence, all of them alone in their thoughts or just looking back at the night sky. Then Nira asked, “What time is it.”
James checked his watch and said, “11:45.”
Dren sighed and felt the others do the same. They all knew they had to go to sleep now. Dren reached out and took Nira and Alice’s hands. He turned his head to look at her and saw her understand. She reached out and took James’.
“Really?” said James, “This is so corny.” But he reached out and took Alice’s’ other hand.
“Goodnight,” said Dren.
“Goodnight,” the others told him and each other.
Then Dren sighed again and added very softly, barely a whisper, “And goodbye.”
He heard the others sigh, as if they hadn’t wanted to say it.
“Goodbye,” they all said, equally softly. Then they all closed their eyes and did their best to fall asleep.
When Dren woke up the next morning, his hands were still closed as if he were still holding onto their hands.
Another day he was just a guy who skated. He was skating in a little park, which had obviously been made for skaters, with all the ramps etc. He’d been skating for a while before he noticed the little boy who was sitting on the edge of the park with rollerblades on, just watching him. Dren gestured for him to come over and skate but he shook his head. Dren rollerbladed over and sat next to him. He spent the next hour convincing him to try. Then he spent the rest of the day teaching the boy how to rollerblade. They had lots of fun, what with both of them falling, rolling off in unexpected directions and giving shouts of happiness when the boy finally got the hang of it. But twilight began to fall and both of them had to go ‘home.’ The boy started to say ‘See you tomorrow,’ before he realized that that wouldn’t happen.
“We won’t,” he told Dren sadly.
Dren gave him a rueful smile and said, “Nope.” But then he smiled at him brightly, “But at least we had today.”
He saw the boy look surprised and then he smiled back. “Yeah,” he said, “At least we had today.”
Another day, when he was the CEO of a company, when he got into the office that morning, he made a phone call. Then later that evening he gave everyone the rest of the day off and treated all to food, which he had ordered that morning. He could see the surprise and the gratitude in his employees’ for the day, faces.
One day when he had awakened as a homeless person, he had spent the whole day walking just behind random people, for fun.
Then there was the day when Dren found someone who was like him. He was someone in his late twenties, just walking down the street on a Saturday morning, when he noticed an old woman with a cane, about to cross the road. He instantly stepped up and took her arm saying, “Hey Grandmother, let me help you.”
She had given a throaty laugh and said, “Of course son.” He had helped her across and they had continued down the road chatting to each other. Like Liv, she was real and genuine and like him, she seemed pleased to meet someone who was like her.
He had eventually asked her to lunch with him and she had graciously accepted. So long as he was paying. Dren had laughed and assured her he was. It was probably one of the best meals he’d had. She regaled him with ridiculous tales from some of her days. And Dren had told her about the strangest roles he had ever been in. She also shared wisdom which she had picked up from her various worlds and Dren had told her what he had managed to pick up in turn. All in all it was one of the best days he’d ever had and the surprised and wondering looks they both had brought had made it worth it more. Because, as they both had realized, that just making people wonder and think, was a good thing. They both regretted saying goodbye, but as they had to do each day, they did.
Then one day Dren woke up, as usual, in a place he had never seen before. However it was unlike any place he had woken up before in. He was in chair, sort of like the ones in a dentist’s office. He had wires attached to him. On his head, his hands. Around him, were lots of other people sitting in similar chairs but none of them were awake. At least that he could see from where he was. It was a large room. There were no windows but there were lots of light. Dren sat up slowly. His back ached a little. He carefully pulled the wires from him. He looked around and then said cautiously, “Hello?”
There was a moment of silence and then Dren heard someone say, “Dren?”
Dren turned to see someone he had thought he would never see again. Liv was threading her way through the chairs towards him.
“Liv?” he said in disbelief. Even though, she looked different, he could still tell it was her. She grinned at him.
“Hey,” she said, “They said they’d pull you out soon.”
“They?” he asked, “Who is ‘they’?”
“You’ll see,” she answered him.
“Where are we?” he asked her as she came to stand by his chair.
He tried to stand up but was finding it a little difficult.
“Easy,” she said, helping him up, “You tend to get a little nauseous at first.”
When he was upright he looked at her properly and then cocked an eyebrow up.
“Where are we?” he repeated, “This,” he looked around, “This feels different.”
“It is different,” Liv answered him. “It’s the real world.”
He started and then stared at her uncomprehending. “The real world?”
“Yes,” she said, “The world we all had dreamed of in there. The one that didn’t end and begin anew each day.”
He kept staring at her and then said in disbelief, “There’s a real world?”
“Yes,” said Liv, “We were dreaming all the time in there. Or rather, under a simulation.”
“A simulation!” exclaimed Dren, “Why would anyone put us under a simulation? How long have we been in there? How do you know this?”
Liv put up a hand and said, “Firstly, I know this because they told me. The people who woke me up. Secondly, we’ve only been there for twenty-four hours.”
“Twenty-four hours?” said Dren slowly. “Only twenty-four hours?”
“It felt like forever,” Dren told her.
“I know,” she said, “I spent those same twenty four hours in there too, remember?”
“But how do you this is real?” he asked her.
“You said it yourself,” she told him, “It feels different. And besides, soon enough, your memories will start coming back. It shouldn’t take too long. I’ve only been awake for an hour and a half and already I have most of it.”
“Memories” asked Dren.
“Yes,” she said, “You know, of who you are. Who your parents are. What you’ve done for the first eighteen years of your life.”
“I’m eighteen?” he asked.
“Yeah. Approximately at any rate. We all are.” Here she indicated all the people still asleep in the chairs.
Dren looked around and then came back to the most important question.
Liv shrugged. “The exact reason, I don’t know. They said they’d tell us soon.”
“Well,” said Dren, needing an answer, “What do you think?”
“What I think?” she said, “Well, I think it was so that we could understand.”
“Understand? Understand what?” asked Dren.
“Us. Each other. How the world works.”
“How is that going to help us?!” Dren pointed to the chair angrily.
“Because we’ve sort of lived in everybody’s shoes,” she replied. “We know how it is to be a parent, a child, a boss, an employee, the janitor, an old person. We know how it feels. So we’d know how to treat each other. And we know what had to be done at every level of society for the world to work, because we’ve been at every level of society. We’ve worked in every job possible. We’ve learned from each one. We learn to appreciate what has to be done. That’s also why we went in there I think. To learn to appreciate.”
Dren sat down I the chair as his brain worked. Finally he asked, “So why are we the only ones awake?”
Liv pushed him around gently and sat next to him. “Because we lived,” she said, gently.
He frowned and looked around. “They’re all alive I think.”
“Not like that,” she said, smiling now. “In there, in the simulation, I think because we lived in there. Really lived. Or I assume you did.”
“I did,” he said. He looked at her, “You changed my life forever. In there.”
She smiled at him. “I’m glad,” she said and he smiled back,
“Me too,” he said. “But still, why is that criteria to wake up?”
“I think,” she said slowly, “It is because we really lived, that we understood and learned all that we were supposed to. You know, if you really didn’t, you wouldn’t actually know how everyone else felt or how everything really works.”
“Oh,” said Dren, “That kinda makes sense.”
“And also,” said Liv softly, “I think they just wanted people who would decide to live in a world like that. Who would decide to not give up. Who would still push on, no matter what. And it’d teach us to be grateful for everything we have.”
“Oh,” said Dren again, then, “Then I don’t deserve to be here. If it wasn’t for you, I would have been like everyone else. I would have never woken up.”
She shook her head. “You decided to do it. And you stuck with it. You do deserve it.”
Dren sighed and then a horrible thought struck him, “Wait, what happens to all the people here? Do they ever wake? Do they stay like that?”
Liv shrugged. “I don’t know,” she said, “But I don’t think so. I don’t remember what exactly, but something is telling me they won’t. All my memory isn’t back yet.”
Dren let out a sigh of relief, but he was still not truly reassured. Then he shook his head as he got a flash of something. Then another.
Slowly he said, “You, you’re in my class.”
She smiled, “It’s coming back. Yes. I am. I think this is all the world’s eighteen year olds. Or at least those for this continent.”
“Oh,” said Dren. He looked around again. It looks like it. This is a big room.”
“And it may not be the only one like it,” Liv said.
Just then they both a heard a hissing sound. They got up to see the door on the far side of the room open.
“I guess that’s our cue to leave here,” Liv said.
“I guess,” said Dren uncertainly. He still wasn’t sure, what was waiting for him out there. If it really was the real world. He stood where he was while Liv walked ahead. She noticed he wasn’t following and stopped. She turned to look at him and said reassuringly.
“It’s real Dren. You know it. Deep down inside. You know it.”
Dren nodded, took a deep breath and took a step.
“And Dren?” she said.
He looked up at her.
“Don’t forget to still live.”
He felt startled and then he smiled. “I won’t,” he said. And then he walked up to her and together they walked out to face life again in a world that wouldn’t end that night.