Of Platypuses and Things
Originally published in Planet Relish 1988
Dave’s death came as a bit of a surprise to him. Not that he particularly cared whether he lived or died; having had somewhat of a bleak attitude toward life, he’d never become all that attached to it. The manner of his death surprised him – although he’d heard stories of people dying similarly, he had never given the stories much credence, and certainly had never expected to die that way himself.
It happened as he walked home with a friend after class, a class in which the professor had managed to discuss both platypuses and proofs for the existence of God.
“Don’t believe in God,” Dave had said, failing to notice the faint rumble of thunder that emanated suddenly from the clear blue sky. “What kind of a God would create a world like this one? Full of misery, war, and hunger. The planet’s coming apart at the seams, if you ask me. There is no God. If there were, he’d do something.” The thunder grew loud enough for Dave to notice it, and he held out a hand to see if it encountered any raindrops. It didn’t. “Where is this God, anyway? I’ve never seen Him, It, or Her. It’s never introduced Itself to me.”
When Dave’s friend opened her mouth to reply, another, more strident roll of thunder pre-empted her.
“Another thing,” Dave said. “What kind of a God” – and he raised his voice here, unaware that as he did so the thunder was rumbling fiercely and approaching a peak of its own – “would create an animal as ridiculous looking as a platypus?” Dave laughed loudly, and the thunder climaxed angrily.
Dave’s friend stared up at the sky. A dark, roiling cloud had appeared there. As she watched, the cloud produced an elegant little lightning bolt of a golden yellow hue that sped gracefully through the sky and effortlessly turned Dave into a smouldering pile of fine black ashes.
No, Dave certainly had not expected to die like that.
Now, thoroughly dead, he stood ankle deep in a lavender mist and watched bemused as a tall, thin man with glasses and a short, pudgy man without glasses appeared suddenly from out of nowhere and approached him.
“I say there,” the shorter of the two greeted him. “How do you do?”
“Not well, I should think,” the tall man commented dryly before Dave could respond. He pursed his lips in the manner of one in the know. “At least, he won’t be doing very well very soon.”
“You are no doubt correct,” the short man agreed.
The twain regarded Dave mutely for a moment.
“Are you in trouble,” the tall man said suddenly.
“Doesn’t look good at all,” commented the short.
“Glad I’m not in your shoes.”
“Wouldn’t trade places with you in a million years.”
The tall man placed his hands firmly on Dave’s shoulders and propelled him forward.
“Hey!” Dave protested, but found that he was powerless to do anything except go where the tall man wanted him to go.
A clipboard appeared in the short man’s hands as he marched along beside them. “Dave Smith, number one one two, four six one, five seven two B.” He flipped a page. “Apathy, pessimism, slander, tsk tsk!” He glanced up at Dave. “Really, Mr. Smith.” Back to the page, he read, “Sins, negligible. That’s good.”
“Basically just an attitude problem,” drawled the tall man from just behind Dave’s right ear.
“Let’s hope He sees it that way,” grimaced Shorty. The clipboard disappeared and he moved to whisper confidentially in Dave’s ear, “I think you just caught Him in a bad mood.”
“Very bad mood,” agreed Tall.
“If you’re polite, maybe you’ll get off easy.”
They propelled him through a doorway that blipped into existence before them and entered a large, sparsely decorated chamber. Several torches lining the walls provided a modest illumination. The only outstanding feature was a throne of what looked to Dave like bronze next to the wall opposite the door. A middle-aged man with a beard fully two and a half feet long occupied the throne. He possessed a great leonine head of snowy, unkempt hair, and pale green eyes that tracked Dave’s movements with interest. Tall and Short escorted Dave to a spot just before the throne, and then moved to stand on either side of it, facing Dave.
The man with the beard leaned forward to study Dave. He regarded him closely for some time before speaking. “You,” he said. “You upset me this afternoon.”
Dave’s knees almost buckled and he had to exert quite an effort of will to prevent from trembling. He had a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach that the Being in the throne was God. And God was glaring at him.
“In fact,” God said, “you really pissed me off.” The glare intensified.
Dave’s eyes widened. “Did you just say ‘pissed off’?”
“Do you have a problem with that?”
“What kind of language is that for God?”
“I’m God. I say what I like when I like.”
“Oh?” Before he could stop himself, Dave said, “And what gives you that right, mister? Might? Might makes right?”
Tall and Short shook their heads frantically, mouthing, no, no!
Dave winced and braced himself for another bolt of lightning. But when none came, and Dave found himself capable of opening his eyes, he saw that God appeared more quizzical than angry. He took a deep breath and drew himself up a bit. Perhaps, he thought, God respected him for his chutzpah. He permitted himself a small smile.
“It astounds me,” God said, “that I could have created a creature so remarkably dumb.”
Dave exhaled sharply.
God snapped his fingers. Shorty produced his clipboard from the air and presented it to God, who perused the clipboard silently. Abruptly he handed it back to Shorty, who made it disappear.
“Apathy,” God snapped.
Dave recoiled at the force of the word. “What?”
“You heard me. Apathy! Explain yourself.”
“Apathy.” Dully, Dave tried to engage his brain, give the word some meaning.
Apathy! To not care, passionless, without feeling.
“Insensibility to suffering,” God added. “What was the point of your life, Smith?”
Dave’s eyes lit up and it was his turn to glare. “What do you mean what was the point of my life? What are you asking me for? You tell me what the point of my life was, dammit!”
Dave’s words echoed nicely off the far walls of the chamber.
The silence that followed, however, was less pleasant. Short and Tall trembled on their respective sides of the throne. God glowered threateningly.
Dave lost his nerve and decided a strategic retreat was in order. “I mean, tell me what the point of my life was, p-please?” He laughed weakly. The laugh sounded foolish. He regretted trying it.
God appeared less angry. “It’s quite simple, really. Your life had no point.”
Initially, Dave was stunned by this response, so much so that he was rendered speechless. He’d always suspected that life had no point, and had in fact voiced this opinion often, but to hear it stated by God himself, and with such finality, was a bit of a shock.
But because he’d really figured as much all along, he soon got over it. “So you’re saying that life is really pointless,” he asked, just to be sure.
God laughed. A raucous laugh, underscored by a low, ominous roll of thunder. Nice touch, Dave thought of the thunder. Subtle yet effective. Really gave one quite a psychological edge.
“Fool,” spat God. “All life is not pointless.”
Dave was taken aback. “What do you mean?”
“All life is not pointless,” God repeated. “What’s so difficult about that?”
Dave made a quantum leap of understanding. “Are you saying that only my life had no point?”
“Maybe it’s my fault,” God mused, tapping a slender finger against one arm of his throne. “Perhaps I made your brain too small. It’s a wonder you can think at all with a brain like that.”
Dave clenched his fists. “Now wait just a minute. As far as I could see, life had no point. I mean, we’ve been trying to come up with a point since day one, and all we’ve come up with is a thousand different religions. Which is the right one? The one you’re born in? I don’t think so. And heck! Up until a few minutes ago I wasn’t even sure you existed.”
“As I remember it,” God leaned forward menacingly, “you were quite sure that I didn’t exist.” His emerald eyes locked firmly on Dave’s, he motioned Tall and Short forward.
“What kind of God would create a world full of misery,” announced Short.
“War and hunger,” added Tall.
“Whole planet’s coming apart at the seams.” Short.
“Where is this God?” Tall.
“Platypus,” finished Short.
“I took particular offence to the remark about the platypus,” God commented sourly.
“Sorry,” Dave apologized, unable to think of anything else to say.
“I created the world, Smith, but I’m not responsible for what’s done with it, okay? I created it for you, not for me. Don’t blame me for the mess you’re making of it. And I’ve always been rather fond of the platypus. Don’t be making fun of it.” God scratched his beard. “That takes care of slander and the platypus. Now, how ‘bout pessimism? And we haven’t covered this apathy thing enough yet. Eh, Smith? What’s with this pessimistic attitude of yours?”
Dave shrugged, as if that explained everything. When it became apparent that it didn’t, he said, “What can I say? Life didn’t look too good to me.”
“Well, the world’s a mess.”
“Really? Why didn’t you do something about it?”
“Me? Why should I be the one to have to do something?” God was beginning to sound just like his parents, for crying out loud. Dave decided the time had come to take a stand. “You can’t tell me how to live my life,” he said, just loud enough to be heard.
“I beg your pardon?”
“You heard me. You can’t tell me how to live my life.”
“I am your God. Your Creator.”
“So? Uncreate me. See if I care.”
“No.” God’s shoulders drooped slightly. “I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
Dave suppressed a grin, confident that he had just bested God himself in a verbal joust.
An instant later he realised how absurd that notion was. Even calling it a stalemate would be stretching it. He took another gander at his reflection in the pond, and sighing a big platypus sigh, padded softly away toward a stand of juniper on the other side of the meadow.