The head of a benevolent research society gets a proposition for some useful information. Unfortunately, he bites off a little more than he can chew.
If only the world cared about such things. Stopping mid-stride in the rich sector of urban decadence, Austin reached down to pick up a carelessly tossed Slurpee cup. It wasn’t unusual to find these sorts of things; what, with people more interested in shallow reality TV. than a decent program on the effects of litter and the environment, it was complete luck that the world wasn’t heaped to the brim with filth already. Well, the material sorts, anyway. Continuing on with cup in hand, he made his way homeward through the quiet neighborhood.
Strolling down the sidewalk, which had become his routine over the past few decades, had afforded him quiet time to think and impress this cruel fact on his mind. Depression, he convinced himself, was a good motivator. Austin had just finished a meeting with several of his colleagues, all coming to an agreement upon an important single fact: the world was indeed doomed. For years, he and a group of erudite scientists had been trying to find a plethora of cures for many of the diseases that haunted human reality. They began their hopeful group, an organization with fingertips in just about everyone’s pie, based on the independent work and study from available peers, the scientifically gifted. Father Austin, as most people called him due to his benevolent quest, was the director of this movement. Unfortunately, he had not made much headway in his search for the elusive Hippocratic grail. While everyone patted him on the back and gave him half blessings of thanks for his own years of indentured study, he felt that it was all becoming for naught. There hadn’t been any recent breakthroughs and no one seemed to care anymore; there was simply too much sensational propaganda infecting every inch of print and every syllable of broadcast wavelength to have any real hope for success. If only he himself could know the answers to all those hidden secrets, people would love and respect him like a saint. Or, like a god. Finally ending his walk to his house, he found his mailbox being packed by Mike the Mailman. He moved over to within inches of the man and stopped, letting his shadow brood over the bent figure.
“Why do you always have to leave so much junk in my box, Mike?” He enunciated his name intentionally to show his disapproval of the man’s pointless job. Mike slowly rose to tower over the little prune, breathing in deeply in preparation for the routine conversation they were about to have.
“You know I don’t personally send you these things, Mr. Hinks. I just deliver them.”
“It’s Father Austin, if you don’t mind. And yes, I know you’re just doing you’re job. But would it kill you to just throw them in the bin right there?” He pointed to a recycling container adjacent to his mailbox. “You know, I put that one there just for you.”
Mike sighed, wishing he could fill the old scrooge’s mouth with the damn junk mail instead. “You know I can’t do that Mr.-err- Father Austin. That would go against every regulation and I’m pretty sure it would break a couple of laws, at that. Besides, how would I possibly know what was junk mail and what wasn’t?”
Austin scowled in disgust. “How long have you been delivering mail to me, Mike?” he said, his tone seething with condescension. Mike helplessly shrugged his shoulders, causing Austin’s face to furrow even more deeply. “Well, Mike, if you had a brain in that head of yours you’d simply look in the recycle bin two feet in front of your face to know what to keep and what to toss.” Finally fed up with this little exchange, Austin angrily snatched the rest of the envelopes out of the others grasp. “Just give me those, you damn buffoon.” Quickly, he eyed over the miscellaneous catalogues and brochures and with an arrogant smile, tossed the allotted mass into the yellow receptacle.
“Now then, Mike, move along and go fill someone else’s box with trash.” Without another word, he proceeded past the postal worker in a haughty stride up his driveway. Relieved at his departure, Mike sighed gratefully, rolling his eyes as he sauntered along towards his next destination.
As Austin was basking over his verbal lashing of the idiotic mailman, he was suddenly caught off guard by a visitor who had been awaiting him at his doorstep. Before the man could stand and accost him, Austin held out an open palm, declaring, “No, no, no. I’m uninterested in whatever useless junk you’re selling. If you could please leave-“
“By all means, I’m not here to sell you anything, Mr. Hinks.” The strange fellow interrupted. Dwarfing the relic of a human by a few heads in height, the proclaimed non-salesman was dressed up in a sleek black suit and checkered tie, highly polished shoes, and a pair of black-as-black round spectacles, the kind a mad scientist was portrayed to wear. His head, which was as bald as the moon, shone shimmering in the bright sunlight. He smiled a big hearty grin, offering his hand to the midget of a man.
“Good day! My name is Mr. Mephis, and I’m thoroughly thrilled to finally meet you, Mr. Hinks.” When his hand was neither received by an equal or lesser appendage nor even gazed upon, he smoothly slid it back without losing an ounce of composure. Austin entwined his arms and scrutinized the stranger. Who was this bubbling baldy? If he was a man of any character or importance, he wouldn’t be waiting on a doorstep like some miser.
“The name is Father Austin, and if you’re not a salesman, then what exactly is it that you want from me?” Scrunching his nose as if an odor had crawled onto the scene from somewhere, he awaited for an answer he was in all probability not going to like.
“Oh, Father Austin, I thought you might have recognized me from my letters.” The man looked genuinely surprised, while Austin flicked his gaze towards his mailbox and conjoined recycling bin. “No matter. I am a scientist like you, and very interested in your line of work. I believe I may be able to help you find some answers you’ve been looking for. Do you mind if we discuss it inside?”
“Well, why didn’t you just say so in the first place? Yes, let’s have a cup of tea and discuss whatever it is that you think you can help me with.” Rushing past the forthcoming scientist, he unlocked three separate locks then led himself inside to an almost unbearably hot house. Air conditioning is bad on the environment; Useless, Austin believed. He led the man to his kitchen where he started an electric kettle. Propping himself against his countertop, he locked eyes with his guest. “So, what field is it that you study, Mr. Mephis?”
The man kept a smile plastered to his face, and sitting down, clasped his hands in a very business-like manner. “Ahh well, you see, I study a variety of fields. But in general, I’m like you, Father Austin; I’m here to help. I can clearly see that it has come time once again for humanity to receive a helping hand. I can do that, or I should say you can do that, with my aid.”
Austin sat down opposite of the man, deeming him worthy of further conversation. “My time is very important, but always available if it’s for a good cause. What is it I can do for you, exactly?”
The man leaned in close to Austin. “I have a very special offer for you. I come from an elite order of scientists who have been, let’s say, staying in the shadows for most of human history.” Austin nearly doubled over. “We like to butt our heads in when we feel the need. If you think that the advances in scientific thought over the last few centuries have been due wholly from your civilized conception, you’d be ignorantly fluffing yourself.” The electric kettle went off, steam whistled out like an alarm screaming Bullcrap!
“Oh, I see…” Another quack, Austin thought as he removed himself from the table and poured two cups of herbal tea. Normally he would have tossed the phony bum right out into the streets, but opted to hear this little opera out. Today was stressful, and he needed a good laugh and mockery to cheer him up. He gave the man a steaming cup, but remained standing himself. Even so, he was barely even a few inches taller than the visitor sitting down.
“I don’t quite follow where you’re leading me, Mr. Mephis.” He deliberately let out a drawn out sigh. “You help people make breakthroughs in scientific discovery, is that it? Why not just do it all yourself, if you know so much?” The man sipped his tea with delight.
“Wonderful concoction! No, that would be completely out of the question. Know that first and foremost I am a scientist. Part of my job is to study the effects of such given knowledge. I am merely the messenger. Would you like to sit down, Mr. Austin?” He didn’t.
“What is my message than?” He scathed. “Are you going to give me the cure for cancer? For AIDS?” He chuckled derisively. “Or, maybe the common cold. And what exactly is it going to cost me, Mr. Scientist?” He crossed his arms with dignity.
The man kept sipping away at his tea. “This really is good, though a little bitter for my tastes. It won’t cost you more than a single puff of air; one miserable little verbal exhalation. And you supply plenty of those, don’t you Father Austin?” His smile broadened, his teeth straight and glistening like ivory pillars. “Put simply, a question. I supply the answer, or information, to any question you want. For example: One man asked for the laws of gravity and I gave him relativity. Another asked for the human building block; I gave them DNA. Of course, another asked for a pancake recipe, but they got one hell of a recipe.” He paused, taking another long sip. “So, just ask me whatever it is you wish to know in exactly this phrase- For the sake and well-being of my fellow man, I wish to know…” He trailed off, waiting for a question. Austin stared holes through him.
“Ok, I’ll play along. So I can ask you anything-Anything at all- and you’ll give me the correct information, is that right?” He stroked his grizzled chin with a bemused look.
“Yes, I can answer or supply you the meaning of anything. As you suggested earlier, I believe the cure for cancer may be a good candidate. But that is completely up to you.” Mr. Mephis kept waiting, on the edge of his seat and as giddy as a school boy cutting up frogs.
“No, not good enough for me.” Austin stated. “If you can inform me on anything, anything at all, than it is my true duty as leader of my organization to assuage the world of all of its plagues. I want to know EVERYTHING.” He looked off into the distance, proud of himself for this take on the situation, and then burned his lips on his bitter drink. His fat head nodded of its own accord, his lips whispering, “Yes, yes…” Mr. Mephis drained the rest of his own cup.
“Now, Father Austin, I don’t think that’s such a hot idea. There are limits-“
“I don’t think you understand. I’ve made up my mind, and it’s high time to call you on your silly little game. So here it is: For the sake and well-being of my fellow man…”
“Please, don’t.” Mr. Mephis said dryly. His face was a mask, unmoving. “Trust me when I tell you-“
“I wish to know…”
“It will bring you no-“
“EVERYTHING!” He shouted, his eyes wide and full of arrogance. He had this rabbit by the tail.
Mr. Mephis stared at him through his black hole spectacles. “So be it.” He mumbled. Before Austin had anytime to respond, his guest had removed his dark shades, enveloping the entire room, house, backyard and outside street in a dazzling diamond white light.
Austin’s eyes recoiled, their lids drawing back instead of in, drowning in the awesome rays of all-knowing grandeur. His mind began filling as googol-bits of information streamed in. He gasped as revelation after revelation appeared before him, metamorphosing him into homo-superior and beyond. First, he became savant, than ultra-genius, followed quickly into enlightened Buddha. The answers to everything battered his consciousness as cure after cure revealed themselves to him in beautiful equations and formulae. He became Saint Austin. He was soon to become god. Unfortunately, the last singular un-fragmented piece of information that ejaculated from his mind was this: My head really hurts.
Just as quickly as the blessed information of the most benevolent kind raced through his orbs, he was utterly consumed with the blackest cruelties of eternity. War, torture, death and destruction forced their way in, filling in the deepest realms of his inner psyche. Then, cascading even further down the rabbit hole, the most unfathomable of the universe and all of its sisters tore at his cerebral sponge, filling it even more so with infinite quantum hells and etching upon his mind Escher-like stairways into primordial madness. Try as he might he could not scream nor even utter a word. All that he was able to do was learn. Everything.
Several minutes passed until the light issuing from the abode ceased. His neighbors believed he was at his studies again, nothing unusual. Inside, the man in black stood over his student who was lying stiff on the floor, petrified. Mr. Mephis rubbed at his cranium, looking down as if looking at a hopeless case. He sighed as he called the police using Austin’s telephone. He told them that he’d found his old college friend in a stupor, believed to have gone completely nuts from his strange herbal remedies. They told him they’d be shortly. Setting the receiver back in place, he gave one last look at the knower of all, and pitied him.
“As I was going to say, it will bring you no good. Well, that’s that!” Stepping over the body frozen in a hellish posture, as if it was miming its way out of a glass coffin, Mr. Mephis grabbed the formerly sane scientists’ mug, and downed the cooling liquid in one big gulp. He beamed a smile, smacking his lips.
“Ahh, not nearly so bitter.” Setting the cup back down, he pulled a small notepad from his pocket. Flipping through it he stopped at a page marked “H”. A few names under “Heisenberg” he located Austin Hinks’ name, and checked it off. The page was now full, his quota had been met. Returning it to his pocket, he proceeded out the front door, muttering, “When will they ever learn.” Outside, he took a few steps then vanished as steam into the air.
* * * * *
A few miles down the street from a now tenantless house with quite a full mailbox sits a clinical facility surrounded with high walls and razor wire. Within this establishment, at a late hour in the darkness of night, two security guards inspected its many locked rooms. They stopped at one with a fresh name tag beside it and peered through the viewport. One of them whistled while the other shook his head.
“Would you look at that one, Johnny? I heard they found him frozen in shock in his kitchen. Thought he was a stiff until he grabbed one of the paramedics and started foaming at the mouth. He claims to know, and I quote, “Everything”. Can you believe that?” He laughed and punched his co-worker in the arm. “That’s what they all say, eh Johnny? That or they see dead people or giant killer teddy bears. It’s a messed up world, ain’t it.”
Johnny couldn’t peel his face from the fogging viewport. Inside, the figure was staring at the wall two inches away from his face, as if he was trying to figure out the deep mysteries behind the padded wall he’d been mashing his face into for most of his stay. Johnny shook his head in bewilderment. “You know what Daryl? The world is doomed.” Closing the viewport, the two trudged along, checking the rest of the cubical cells in the mental asylum. Inside the room marked “Austin Hinks”, the interred man began rocking back and forth, muttering repeatedly, “I know…I know EVERYTHING. I am… I am…GOD.”