Plugs

Author’s note: this story is dedicated to my friend Julie, her partner Kirk, and their daughter Matilda, because Matilda arrived in the world with a similar entourage. (I doubt anyone who knows Julie was surprised.)


Though we live in the Internet Age, Sofia’s birth was announced in the usual way: a voice was heard crying the news from the sacred cave in Damascus (interrupting the congress of lovers in the condominium above); a woman fell down beside the holy well at Chartres (now a cathedral), saying, “She is come!”; and a spirit stood amid the burning lamps of the Pituk gompa’s altar in Tibet, waiting quietly until the monks understood, but since they know to watch for these signs, that didn’t take long.

Perhaps every mother feels—on a good day, for a brief moment—that her child is the Messiah. Only a few know for sure, and the news does not generally please them. Sofia’s parents, both professors at the Università di Roma “La Sapienza,” just looked confused when the angel Gabriel showed up while they were cooking dinner, alighting on the mushroom basket by the door, which never recovered.

“I’m positive I helped with conception,” pointed out her father Rafaelo. “And since we are—were?—atheists, I’m afraid God wasn’t on our minds at the time.”

“Yes yes yes,” Gabriel replied. “If you’ve glanced at your human race lately, you know the Divine does not to do anything the same way twice.”

Sofia’s mother, Catriona, looked down at her belly, where a bump the size of a small pecorino cheese liked to move about, first high, then low and off to the side: Sofia.

“At least that explains the animals, caro,” she said to her husband.

“Animals?”  asked Gabriel sharply.

“They follow me around. Cats, dogs, pigeons, hawks, rats, foxes—any creature in the city. I walk to work and by the time I get there I look like a zoo on the move.”

“The odd thing is,” pointed out Rafaelo, “They never eat each other, not even when they disperse.”

“A sign of Universal Peace,” nodded Gabriel.

“That’s very nice, but someone has to clean up all the poop afterwards,” said Catriona.

“Ah! Not unlike having a baby, then,” said Gabriel. He groomed each wing with the air of one who has done his job. “Well! That wraps it up for now. Expect further communications as events warrant.”

“—But,” Catriona began, suddenly realizing how very many questions she had, yet too late, for Gabriel had ascended in golden state, leaving behind only fragments of wicker and footprints in the fungus.

“There you are,” Nessa said when Guy walked into the apartment. “I was worried you’d have trouble finding it.” He took off the coat and looked around the place, his eyes skimming over some things, resting perplexedly on others. She hung his coat on the rack and wrapped her arms around him.

“Home,” he said tentatively. Then he kissed her behind the ear and buried his face in her hair. He breathed in deeply and said it again, with more confidence. “Home.”

She took him by the hand and led him to the kitchen, where she had set out scallops and other ingredients. He immediately began to cook, visibly brightening as he did so. There had been very few of Guy who didn’t love to cook. “Is it much different in this universe than the one you’re from?” she said.

He made a face. “Let’s not compare notes again. We always do that. Some things are the same, some things are different. Although I think the government’s better in this one than in mine. It got very dark there by the time I started traveling.”

Despite what he’d said, this launched them into a conversation that carried them all through cooking, dinner, and cleanup, right onto the couch after dinner, where they sat drinking little glasses of sherry, a taste she had developed specifically because it wasn’t natural to her. Guy always seemed to enjoy when she was a little different. She leaned back against his chest, and he wrapped his arms around her.

“I love the beginning,” she said.

“As if we ever have anything else,” Guy said, smiling.

“I’ll miss you when you go on to the next me, though.”

“Me too.”

They sipped sherry.

“I hope I never see the first you again, though,” she said. “Three years with that bastard …”

“I know. The first you was awful after a year or so.”

“Somewhere, I bet he’s saying that about me,” Nessa pointed out.

Guy nodded, but neither of them was really unhappy about it. When you love someone, they both felt, you find a way to stay together regardless.

Tomas loved books. At first, like most children, he preferred to chew on them. That changed when he learned to read at the age of three. Dr. Seuss was the gateway drug. Oz, Wonderland, and Narnia led the way to harder texts.
He was seven when he made the promise. “I’ll read every book ever!” From that day on he was never without one. Fiction or nonfiction, it made no difference. A quirk in his brain made him remember every word of every page.
Tomas visited libraries. He learned to speed-read. He taught himself other languages. Facts bubbled through his brain, joining and sparking one against the other. Were he not so busy reading, he’d have become an inventor, a philosopher, or quite thoroughly insane.
He studied dead languages. He worked in bookstores and was fired for reading on the job. He put every penny into ordering more books. Read once, they wound up in stacks he carried daily away to be sold.
He gave up sleep. It was just a matter of willpower, or another quirk of his brain. Evicted from his efficiency, he lived in his van subsisting on peanut butter and Proust.
Tomas traveled from city to city visiting libraries and estate sales and bookstores, finding underpriced books and selling them for gas money.
He read hundreds of books a day, as fast as his fingers could flip the pages. Movie novelizations and abstruse textbooks and choose-your-own-adventures, he gulped them all. Older books he hadn’t already read grew harder to find, so he picked up every translation. English, Russian, Japanese, Javanese, Esperanto, he read them all.
And yet the number of new books being published grew faster than he could read. He read while eating, he read while driving. Something had to give.
Tomas overclocked himself, blazing through piles of books in seconds. Day and night he ghosted through library stacks seeking the odd unread volume. He broke into publishers’ offices seeking not-yet-published manuscripts, into museums to read diaries and journals.
He gave up dying. He learned to teleport. For three hundred years he lived from page to page. Finally, he reached the day of equilibrium.
“I have read every book published. There will be a new book released in four seconds. Do I wait to read it? Or do I end it now?”
Tomas took a second to admire the sunrise. He took another to sum up his life so far. Then, with a happy sigh, he moved on to the next book.

DISCLAIMER: The story below uses the names of real celebrities. If you think any of the events portrayed even vaguely resemble real events, please contact me—I have a magic lamp to sell you.

Eventually they found me. The media. I figured they would sooner or later, what with everything that had been going on. So I explained to them about the lamp, and about the genie and the three wishes. And I explained about how my first impulse had been to wish for the general selfish things that everyone thinks of, but then how I’d thought about it a bit and done what I think most people would really do if they’d been in that situation.

First I wished for lasting world peace.

Second, I wished for the eradication of all diseases and ailments.

“What about the third wish?” asked Dan Rather, who seemed to be the ringleader.

“I haven’t decided what to do with it yet,” I said. Which was true.

Things got rather ugly after that.

Matt Lauer started smashing my stuff with a baseball bat he’d brought. Crash. Crash. Crash.

“You better wish it back, you bastard!” Keith Olberman shouted.

Bill O’Reilly was sobbing into his hands, just repeating “I’m doing pet detective segments,” over and over.

“Wish it back!” They took up the chant, started advancing on me. “Wish it back!”

“You have any idea what you’ve done to my ratings?” Larry King had a knife.

In retrospect, of course, I should have turned them all into chickens or something, made them feel inner peace. I don’t know exactly, something. But I panicked. Katie Couric had a very vicious looking cleaver and kept letting out short yelps. And, yeah, I panicked. And I put it all back.

So that’s how that all went down, and how things all got messed up so bad again. Of course, nobody in the news is letting me get my story out, which is why I’m putting it here. I guess I just wanted to say I’m sorry. I guess I wanted someone to know.

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