23 Seconds

by Rick

He sat on his old brown couch in his bare square room staring blankly at the flame of the candle on top of his plasma TV. He sat and thought the same thoughts that had played over in his head for as long as he could remember. "Nothing interesting ever happens to me, I am twenty seven years old and I have nothing to show for it." He was right, nothing interesting had really occurred in his whole twenty seven years. He often had thoughts about how his life had just sped past him so quickly that there was barely enough time to catch a glimpse of it before it became an obscure memory. He thought that maybe he was depressed, but even that didn't sound right, even depression was a bit interesting. He remembered his friends always telling him that it was all in his head, but he never understood what they meant by it, of coarse it was all in his fucking head, where else would it be?

He decided to test and see if he was just making the whole thing up and looking at the half empty glass, or if his life was as meaningless and shallow as he claimed. He decided to see how long it would take to summat his whole life, without leaving out anything that was important.

He counted twenty three seconds. He could sum up his whole life in twenty three seconds! He went through it once more; born to ex-hippies; broke arm at nine; kicked the winning goal in under 12s footy; poor marks all through school; got laid at 16; an unsuccessful relationship; worked a shit job for eight years; and, still getting stoned every day. That sealed the deal, it was pathetic, that that was all his life consisted of. It all seemed hopeless, how can you pick yourself up from this, how can you turn around twenty seven years of nothingness. The emptiness swelled inside him like a balloon stuck on the helium bottle, the feeling slowly mutating into an overpowering anxiety with no fixed point of reference. He ran through the memories again, so brief, so quick, they were just thoughts, his life could be condensed into hollow, anxiety producing thoughts that appeared and disappeared seemingly at random.

From within his ruminative spiraling, something dawned on him. There was something a little different about this moment. A question seemed to naturally arise in his mind, "What's different about right now?" The answer appeared as quickly and as effortlessly as the question. "Until now, I have never contemplated the emptiness of my own existence?" In fact, when he relaxed enough for his thoughts to appear with clarity, he realized that it wasn't until now that he had really had any self reflective thought, any conception of himself as a being in time.

A non-specific wave of what felt like deja vu swept over him, distancing him to a place of confusion; his own reference point becoming more fluid and less distinct. He suddenly felt small, incredibly small, so that even a person two feet away from him wouldn't be able to see him. His anxiety levels rose as he contemplated the enormity of his situation. He had only now, for the first time, reflected on his life, actually seeing himself from another perspective, for the first time he had taken a step back and looked in. As his thoughts bubbled away, he wondered if this was what people referred to as a mid-life crisis. "A midlife crisis at twenty seven" he exhaustively mused, at least something was happening.

In the midst of the swirling in his head, he felt that in that moment, there was an ethereal focus on him, like there were arrows from all directions, aimed precisely at him, he felt like he should be embarrassed, or apologetic for being who he was. As he felt the focus get stronger he heard the sound of the door to his apartment creak open and saw a man walk in. The man was covered from head to toe in black, but he wasn't wearing any clothes, just the blackness, not his skin so much as there was blackness attaching itself to him.

Although he did not feel in physical danger, a fear started growing within him. In some strange way he knew why this being was here, and what he was going to say, but when he tried to focus on it, it seemed just out of reach. The whole situation had become extremely surreal and any attempt he made to bring himself back down to earth was fruitless. His fear blended with a sense of aliveness at the prospect of what could happen next, about the potential of what could be known. Perhaps it was this blank black man that was the key to hauling his life out of the shallow emptiness and into a position of depth and meaning.

Knowledge, true knowledge, for the first time in his life, felt like it was upon him. It was so subtle, almost not present, just a subtle cloud of knowing floating in the air around him. He felt that something he had always known, but that had lay dormant outside his own consciousness, was about to be awakened.

The blank black man glided right up to him, standing directly opposite and holding himself with a mirror like presence. "I know you know why I'm here" the blank man not so much as spoke but transferred.

Instantly, he knew but could not bring himself to answer, the answer was so overwhelming that he could not fully recognize it, and the answer stuck to the bottom of his stomach.

"You need not be so worried, this knowledge is a gift". The black messenger telepathic.

He stood there stunned, a spark of anger building within him.

"I am sure you know, but to make it clear, I will have to say it. You are not who you think you are. Who you think you are is not real. You are a character in a story."

To hear it put into words, it sounded ridiculous but it struck him deep at his core.

"What the fuck are you talking about? A character in a story? Not real?" The anger was building within him and his breathing was becoming shallower, he wanted the anger to expand and envelop him so that he could refute this bullshit, but it was as if the anger was attached to a heavy truth in his stomach that stopped it spreading. He knew. The candle on the TV began to flicker violently.

"I don't think you realise the gift you are being given".

"The gift I have been given, you have just told me that I am nothing, that any concept I have had about myself is wrong and that I am just the idea of God knows who, and this is a gift?"

Five minutes ago he had felt like he was on the verge of something great, that his life would be taking a turn and now he could not get any lower, in fact it was beyond low, there was some smug, wraithlike motherfucker in his lounge room telling him he was a character in a story and the worst part of it was that, for whatever reason, he knew it was true.

"Just take a moment, breath, let's look at your predicament. Look at your life up till this moment, what was it like?"

He paused, but felt like there was no need to answer.

"That's right, nothing was going right, you were agonising over what a waste of time your life was, and your inability to make up for the last twenty seven years. Now, think about it. All that is gone."

What was being said made sense on some level but something was preventing it from sinking in, it was too out there, out of the realm of comprehension.

"You're actually lucky, just think, your fictionality means that you are no longer bound by time or any physical laws. Everything you do can be effortless, you can know things without having to investigate, you don't have to try, it will just be transferred to you. You can relinquish control, and relax with the knowledge that whatever needs to happen, will happen.

He tried to fathom what was being said. "Ok, let me see if I'm understanding you". He was barely able to keep a lid on the tie dye of thought, emotion and anxiety flowing through him. "You're saying that I can know things that I don't know, by stopping and letting whosever's idea I am, speak through me?" As the words left him it became a little clearer and he could feel a tectonic shift within.

"Bingo! I'll show you. What is 60,200,747 divided by 736.6460083?"

The answer came quicker than instantly to him. "81,722.76279"


A rush of power pulsated through the veins of the twenty three second man, "I want you to ask me something" he wryly said to the messenger.

"I want you to ask me what the 1700th word in the pocket Oxford dictionary is?"

"Ok, what is it?"

The answer effortlessly arose within him. "Archaeologist." He felt like he was starting to get a grip on it and that he was clasping a bit of control back again. "So I think I get it, you ask me something and I know the right answer because some writer is striving for "creative authenticity'. He said laying the facetiousness on thickly. "So in a sense, I can get Them to pretty much do anything I want, if you ask me."

It all appeared clear to the man for a moment, but then the waters began to muddy. Another sinking feeling took hold, a sinking feeling that reached into the depth of his being. He addressed the messenger that by now had almost taken on a spectre-like appearance

"But hang on." Anxiety and panic washed over him. "Even what I'm saying right now and whatever question I ask isn't thought of, or asked, by me." His head was a merry-go-round. It's comes from Them, I am not doing anything". He felt that sick feeling you get just before you awake from a nightmare. "And whoever is writing this story comes up with everything, even the questions I'm asking. They probably had a copy of the Oxford dictionary sitting right on their desk, chuckling at how clever they were, for creating a prosaic dialogue." His head felt like it was going to pop, he knew there no way he could get his mind around this, as it was not him that was responsible for the thought. The panic of having no thought that was his own, was almost too much to bare.

In that moment there was nowhere left to turn. No more thoughts to think. Surrender. Surrender was the only choice left. He let go. He let go of the control he'd never had. The candle flickered its last gasp and went out.

There was nothing left; no thing left. There was no black figure, no plasma TV, no lounge room. No self.

At his deepest core, closer to him than his breath, he unquestionably knew who he really was. He was not a character in a story, not a thought, not even an individual person, he was all those things and none of them at the same time. He felt his true nature, his essence. He could feel what it was that beats a heart, that grows a flower, that spins the planets, it was him. There was no separation between any of it; this was his true nature, the animation and illumination of life. He stepped back within himself and rested as the pure conscious awareness, the infinite oneness of"

"Hey! I want to say something." He stated with a divine like quality to no one in particular.

"No, I am not talking to no one, I am talking to you."

"Me?" I wrote

"Yeah you that's writing the story, I just want to say a few things to you." His voice now as clear as day in my own head. "But, as these things I am about to say will in some way becoming from you, I require that you try to relax your conscious mind to let me speak clearer."

"Ok" I wrote as I calmed my mind and got ready for this experiential exercise.

"Good, you are with me. You just need to hear this. I can see what you have done in this story. It is quite clever, and I can see your aim of alluding the reader to the questionable reality in which they live, which is nice. But, you have also thought that everything I have done, thought and said, has been your creation, which to some extent is true. However, there is something different between you and me. I am free. I know unequivocally that my thoughts arise and fall without me having any control over them, how about you? I also know without a shadow of a doubt, that who I think myself to be is just a concept, how about you? I have let go and surrendered to the universe in whatever form it takes, how about you? I have understood surrender and the fictionality of my own existence beyond that which can be possibly be alluded to with words, how about you?

If you can agree with what I have asked and can honestly say that you are free from worry about the past or future , and can distinguish between what is a thought and what is real, then you may not need to listen to these words. But just as previously, you knew what I would say, I too know what you will say, and I know you cannot answer yes to all those things.

Let me know when you can and maybe I'll write a story about you.

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