Soon I am going to publish a collection of short stories, so I want to give readers of this website the opportunity to have a sneak peek at that content. I’ll rotate the story on this page about once a month, and make a short post and tweet about it each time I do.
My short fiction is extremely diverse and sometimes bouncing off the walls. Whatever you may expect as a reader, you’ll probably always be in for a surprise. Please enjoy the unique and previously unpublished short story of mine below. I hope you enjoy it, and if you do please feel encouraged to send me a note to tell me what you liked about it and why. And if you don’t — I’m sorry! But you still might enjoy the next one. Cheers!
The Last Man to Know Nothing
“Thomas Young, of London, died in his bed of heart failure in 1829. He was 56 years old and reputed to be the last man on Earth to know everything.”
Alexis Altman walked aimlessly across a broad meadow of cut grass. He tried not to be aware of the sparkling, glass city that rose in the near distance all around him. The city was densely full of people, happy people. He always felt alone there. Here, in the meadow, which was like an enormous golf green, he felt less alone. There were often no people here. Sunlight graced his skin and gave it a healthful, if somewhat dry, glow. He was 56 years old.
He sat down and wrote in a crinkly old journal. It was hard to get journals anymore. He had a few left, sealed in plastic in a closet, but once he used those up he didn’t know where he would get another one. Just make his own out of sheets of paper stapled together, most likely. He was probably the only person in the whole world who still used a journal. He was special. Or trash. Nobody thought he was special. He liked to think he was special.
Everyone stares at me in the city, they stare at me everywhere I go. At the same time I feel like a ghost, as if they can’t see me. It doesn’t make sense. They all know me. Everything I say to anyone, everyone else knows it. They all know me as much as my closest friend. They all are my closest friend in a way, except they’re not. They. I’m like a ghost to them, and they to me are a they. They are they. They are not individuals.
Because they aren’t individuals, are they? They can’t be individuals. What do they think about that? Can they even think, as an individual? They stare right through me. It’s also true that they are mystified by me. I’m the ghost that everyone stares at, who catches attention but isn’t really there.
I feel as if I’ve been cursed. I’m a leper. I’m a leper. I’m a leper. I’m THE leper. A leper. It runs through my mind constantly. I want to hold a woman and have passion with her. And I do, but it’s not with her. Or it is, but it’s not. Asia is sweet to me. She enjoys it. And everyone knows what we do. If I do something with anyone, everyone else knows it, as if they did it too. They know what she felt better than I do. The leper doesn’t know. The one who knows nothing.
I heard someone say, ‘the man who knows nothing’. I think they call me that. I wish I could have a friend. My friend Frank, my friend George. My girlfriend Asia. This shit doesn’t even make sense to them. Mom said it was a miracle, how they saved my brain. The new technology, the first use of it, and I was saved. She said it was a miracle. A miracle. She doesn’t even talk to me anymore, she doesn’t even open her eyes. She’s one of those ones. There are a lot of those ones. I don’t know how many it is.
My miracle. Almost instantly they realized what else they could do with the technology. Miracle of miracles. What was good for me became a leprosy. My miracle became my curse. My loneliness. If they waited for me. If they waited a year. I might have lived until then. I might have been one of them, of that. I might not have been special.
None of them think I’m special. They think I’m trash. Or a ghost. I guess.
It’s so lonely. They can’t even understand what it means to be lonely. It’s completely foreign, even the ones who lived it can’t remember. The past is buried so fast. The past is past. Past remembering. I’m so alone in my aloneness.
But alone in the sun of this meadow I feel like a man. I feel less alone here than in the city. Thank God for this city. Thank you God. You are harder to me than Job, God. Why me? Why me alone? Your tender mercies are hard, God. But this meadow saves me, and I thank you for that. In the sun. Maybe Asia will come here today. Thank you God for Asia. God. I prayed. Is this cruel miracle the payment for my faith?
Asia did come to the meadow, and she brought her friend Brendan with her. Brendan liked Asia, and didn’t like Alexis. That’s why he came. Asia liked everyone. She liked thrills. They brought a picnic to share with Alexis. Another woman had seen him laying in the meadow, so they knew he was there. They brought wine to drink, and Asia was sweet and asked Alexis tons of questions. And Brendan was indifferent and poked casual fun at Alexis’ expense, without being mean. Not mean per se. They were all half drunk within half an hour.
“Maybe you’re a psych,” Brendan said.
“What’s a psych?”
“You don’t even know that?”
“How would he know?” Asia said.
“How could he not know?”
“He’s not plugged in. He only knows things if we tell them to him.”
“I’m not being mean to him!”
“What is a psych?” Alexis asked again.
“Psychs are evil people,” Asia said. “It comes from the old psychological word, ‘psychopath’. It doesn’t mean exactly the same thing that psychopath did.”
“It’s not the same thing,” Brendan said.
“You don’t have to tell me to shut up, I know already–”
“I said it for him!”
“That’s what I’m doing too.”
“Shush. So, Alexis, what happened is that when everyone was plugged in, some people turned out to be evil. When everyone was plugged in, they didn’t have anywhere to hide. Most people have some evil inside of them, but once we were plugged in we could all perceive and understand each other, and there wasn’t any reason for any of us to hurt any other one anymore. But there were some people who weren’t that way, they had some kind of problem, so that even while being plugged in all they could do was hate and look down on everyone else. That included each other, of course. Does that make sense? Some people are born evil, that’s in a way the easiest and most correct way to express it, and it doesn’t matter if they are plugged in and know everything and know everyone, that doesn’t change them. They can’t change. But once they’re plugged in, everyone else knows who they are, we know what is inside of them. Of course, they have to be killed.”
“You just kill them?”
“There’s nothing you can do with them,” Brendan said. “When you get inside their thoughts it’s obvious. There’s no moral or ethical question about it.”
“How do you kill them?”
“This is so boring, let’s not get carried away with the subject of psychs. They’re the nastiest thing known to exist in the universe.”
“How many of these people are there that you just kill?”
“It’s hard for you to understand, because you haven’t been plugged in,” Asia said.
“He could be a psych.”
“He’s not a psych.”
“He could be one.”
“See, Alexis, once you’re plugged in you have no defense against anyone else. They’re inside your mind and you’re inside theirs. It turned out that a little more than 3% of the human population were psychs, and we killed them right away. Even though Brendan is being difficult, what he said is true: when you get inside their mind the decision is obvious. They were inside our minds, too, so they knew what was happening, and they knew there was no escape. Some of them still tried to do as much damage as possible before they were killed, because they’re psychs, but since everyone was in their thoughts already there wasn’t much that they could do.”
“When you’re plugged in,” Brendan said, “if someone wants to hurt you, you can’t defend yourself against them, because you know their thoughts. They know your thoughts, too, so it becomes mechanistic. If they have a gun and you don’t, you’ll die. Or vice versa. But no one that gets plugged in wants to hurt anyone else, except the psychs. Because when you’re plugged in it’s like you and everyone else are the same person in a way.”
“3% of the population were psychs in the beginning,” Asia said, “but since then they’ve been born at a much lower rate. Obviously, it’s largely genetic. So today less than 1% of newborn humans turn out to be a psych. And that is expected to keep going down. They never get a chance to breed anymore; we know what a newborn psychs thoughts are like.”
“It seems wrong to kill a newborn.”
“Morality takes on whole new dimensions when you are plugged in. Instead of guessing at other people’s thoughts and feelings, what it’s like to be them, and instead of working and slaving to accumulate knowledge to try to understand the world around you — it’s all there. It’s all at the tip of your brain. The thoughts of newborns were shocking to people at first. Of course the babies learn rapidly because they are plugged into our thoughts, too. Newborn thoughts don’t last very long once they are plugged in.”
“But couldn’t the psychs unplug, if you were all going to kill them?”
“I told you, maybe he is a psych,” Brendan said.
“You can’t unplug once you’re plugged in, it would kill you. It’s not a reversible process. If, for example, your neural implants fail at some point, that is immediately fatal. And that happens sometimes. No technology is perfect.”
“I’m not a psych,” Alexis said.
“I know you’re not. It probably bothers you to hear about us killing them. You really can’t understand it. Did you know that there is no crime in the world?”
“I noticed that seemed to be the case.”
“Luckily you’re a law abiding citizen,” Brendan said.
“He says that because you’re the only person in the world who could commit a crime.”
Asia paused and ran across the grass after a blue and yellow butterfly, which flew up high into the air away from her.
“Did you see that one, Alexis? A rare Battus philenor. It had kind of a tiger striping. It might even be a new species. I couldn’t see it clearly enough. Maybe one of our entomologists will come out here tomorrow and try to catch one like that and see. Actually three of them will.”
“Do you understand why you’re the only person in the world who can commit a crime?” Brendan said.
“Because all the psychs are dead and it’s only good people left?”
“It’s not only good people left! That’s not really how it is. I’m not a good person. I’m just an ok person, like most people, but a lot of people are better than I am. Asia is a good person, better than most. I know what she thinks and she knows what I think, but that doesn’t make us the same.”
“The reason,” Asia said, “is because the concept of crime is meaningless for people who are plugged in. Everyone else knows my emotions and my thoughts, and I know theirs. We’re all one entity in a sense. What would it mean to commit a crime? Can you commit a crime against yourself? Other people could say you did, but what if there were no other people, there was only you? See, we could commit a crime against you, but since there is only one of you it is a fringe case, the exception that proves the rule. Even when they were plugged in, the psychs would still continue hurting other people, or trying to. They weren’t capable of being communal. But without them there is no crime. There’s no malice.”
“If I was plugged in, I’d probably hate half the people in the world,” Alexis said.
“See? I told you, he could be a psych!”
“You wouldn’t hate them, Alexis, because once you were plugged in you would understand them. And when the people you think you would hate are plugged in they grow and become much less objectionable. The world of the past, the world that you remember, and the world you still have to inhabit, was full of lies. But in the new world, the plugged in world, there are no lies. All the hurt caused by other people is gone.”
“Well I’m not a psych.”
“I know you’re not.”
“She knows you’re not, but I don’t know it,” Brendan said, and laughed.
Asia pinched Brendan and they both yelped in pain, then giggled and hugged each other. Then they all had sex together. Alexis didn’t like that Brendan was involved, but Asia couldn’t even contemplate leaving the other man out. She thought it was hilarious that Alexis wanted it to be just the two of them, alone. She said that she understood why it mattered to him, but she didn’t actually seem capable of understanding it. The sex was physical affection that Alexis needed, so it felt good. And after all, it was sex. But if at any moment his pulse slowed and he began to think, he felt even more alone than before.
I often think of doing something to disrupt them. They can’t anticipate it. They’re so used to being able to know everything, see everything. They wouldn’t see it coming. I think the reason why they don’t worry about me is because there are so many of them, and only one of me. If I did anything, they would immediately know it was me. It would be impossible to do anything bad and not get caught. That’s what they think.
Is it impossible? I often think about it. If they read this journal they would probably kill me, too. Like the babies who don’t fit in. But they won’t bother to read this journal. I’m the one who knows nothing, the trash. I’m the last man on Earth to know nothing.
My mother is still alive. My old friends. I wonder if they keep up on me. If they pay attention to Asia’s thoughts. They must not. Maybe they’re like my mother. It seems like it broke the minds of the older ones, the ones my age, even younger. Only the next generation who grew up with it, the ones like Asia, seem to cope. Maybe that’s why my friends don’t talk to me, don’t notice or make themselves noticed. Asia could tell me a message from them, if they wanted her to. They could even talk to me through her. She’d probably enjoy that.
This whole system is closed to me. There’s no way to know about it. They all know automatically. It seems absurd to them when I ask about how it works. How could they even explain it to me? I guess it makes sense that they couldn’t. They all know everything automatically. Everything they learn, they all know. If they tried to tell me I wouldn’t be able to comprehend it. And they don’t even think with words in this way, like I do in my journal. Some of them, like Asia, seem to enjoy doing it, using words. Like it’s their hobby. Brendan must be like that too. But they don’t have to.
It would be amazing if I could somehow blow up their network. I’d destroy their central core. If they had a central core. I think they probably do. How else could it work? It would be someplace I wasn’t allowed to go. It must be protected, even for all their glibness.
I think I would destroy it. Sometimes I think like that. But I don’t think I would.
Asia said if their neural networks get disconnected they die. If I blew up their central core it would kill all of them. “Central Core” Let’s not forget it’s in quotes. I wonder if one of them will read this some day. I mean if ‘they’ will. Or else who am I writing it for?
Sometimes I hope that extra-terrestrials will come to Earth and land. I could be friends with extra-terrestrials. They could shake things up here. They could make things different.
Maybe I am a psych. I wonder about that sometimes. I must not be, I mean I don’t want to hurt people. If I could do it I probably wouldn’t blow up their core. Melt it down. They would all die, what would be the point of that? That would be worse than anything.
Asia could have my baby. She said she might do that, that it might be fun. Asia, bitch. It’s funny how she cares more about me than anyone else in the world, but doesn’t care about me at all. It’s probably hard to care about someone if you are ‘plugged in’ and they are not. Right?
It’s scary to think about humanity. I sit here in the sun, in the grass, alone, and think about it. If getting disconnected means death for them, then what if the system broke down? We doom ourselves to extinction. I can’t carry on the human race. I’ll be an old man soon. And I can’t auto-reproduce — whatever it’s called — like a toad. They must have precautions; protections. They have all of each other thinking together, they can’t have not noticed the problem.
Then I think, if they have protections then their network could be disrupted without killing everyone. Their ‘Central Core’ could be blown up.
I don’t know where it is and they wouldn’t tell me. They don’t have the time to tell someone things. Asia only tells me what she thinks is fun. Right?
It’s so hard to be alone. I just wish I had friends. To sing a song around the campfire. I dream of such little things, and them, everyone else — look at it. They are in a paradise of company.
Sometimes I think about the older ones, whose minds broke. Or whatever happened to them. That might have been me. It’s hard to count your blessings, but I try to. I wonder if they believe in God. Any of them? Asia said they do, and Brendan laughed as if it was a joke.
Is it wrong for me to want to disrupt what they have? They kill babies. What they do seems wrong. They say the psychs are evil, whatever the fuck those are, but it seems like a lot of them are evil. Their hive mind seems twisted and horrible. Why do they smile and laugh so much? Do I really know nothing, compared to them who know everything? I was considered very smart.
Maybe tomorrow I will see Asia again. By the river, or maybe in the city. If I was them I could just think in my mind to her. If I was them there wouldn’t be a question. There’s not even any way for me to contact her. Or one of them. They don’t have any need for that. I can just say something to the shopkeeper below my apartment. As if I am talking to her, I can just talk. That’s the kind of life I live. He won’t respond, but she will have heard me. It’s like that.
There aren’t many shops around anymore. I should visit another city again, I haven’t left this one in years. Maybe they keep the shop in my building open just for me. What do they need shops for? The people who come into it are probably going there just for fun.
Every day when I come to the meadow I lay down in the sun and sleep. I think of Job. I read the Bible, but only at home. Where they can’t see me. They don’t know that I read it. Brendan laughed when Asia said that they still believed in God. Do they all believe the same thing? Often when I read the Bible I read the book of Job. I think of the operation they did to fix my brain, and the consequence of that. God, thank you for giving me this meadow. Thank you for giving me my miracle. But why did you make my life harder than Job?
Will heaven be like their network? Would it be? Is that what happens when we are dead? Everyone inside each other’s mind. At this point in my life I wouldn’t join the network if I could. I’m not one of them. I’m me. I’m me! If you, ‘them’, read this, understand: I’m me! You can’t ever understand that. You can’t ever understand what it means to be me, what it is, what it feels like. I’m me. You’re not me and never will be. Only I am me. Only I know what is in my mind. And I would never want to be a part of you. Never.