May/June 1999

The Bug Man Cometh.

This is a story about a kick-around-kid. His name was Bug (or 'The Bug-man' depending on how well you knew him). Those that made a sport out of The Bug-man simply called him Bug. Because it's a waste of time to elongate the name of a kick-around-kid. Unless, of course, you're calling him shit-head or cock-sucker. Then, and only then, it's not considered a waste of precious seconds. So, to clarify things, those that coveted him as their kick-around guy knew him as Bug. Everyone else called him The Bug-man. Simple adolescent politics.

When Bug looked in the mirror and started talking in his head he referred to himself as Bug. He didn't realize that he did it, but he did. This, of course, occurred primarily because it made him feel like he was a part of something. Even if that 'thing' was making fun of himself. There would come a day in front of that mirror when he would stop and look at himself and realize that it wasn't right. But that comes later. This is the beginning. And in the beginning he was just The Bug.

Before everything turned to shit and the world went upside-down, Bug was a senior in high school. Like a lot of kids he wasn't particularly good at anything. He had no idea what he wanted to be when he became a man. He knew only that he would become one. Beyond that there were just sheets of wordless suffocation and the distinct feeling that guys like him never got anything on the sacred list. The sacred list which, for countless eons had never been seen by anyone remotely associated with geek-dom, was comprised of five mystical and secret things. Some say that the list is a myth. Others claim that it's hidden in a great temple deep within the mountains, guarded by various quarterbacks, cheerleaders, hip kids, and bad asses from the days of yore. It's every geeks desire to quest for this ancient list. And many have died trying to find it. I would gladly give you some insight into its wisdom but I was from the other side of the fence.

So Bug was staring down the barrel of the final four months of his young life. Four more months and he would graduate into the real world. And although he was just a kick-around guy he knew that the future was the kind of place that afforded guys like him second chances. The truth, of course, was that he would be moving into a much larger pool of human beings. The kick-around-guy factor would more than triple in university. Little did Bug know then, but by fourth year there wasn't anyone left except kick-around-people. You see, they're usually the smart ones. They're the kind of people that build the stadiums that jocks play in. No stadium, no game. They're also the guys that become agents and high level executives. So they end up negotiating player contracts on both sides. So, rather ironically, kick-around-people usually end up holding the good end of the leash. But that's just the way karma works. Don't ask me why it works like that. That one's for The Buddha.

So you can dream, I guess. The reality of life is that all those hot chicks that wouldn't give you the time of day when you were a kick-around-guy will do everything in their power to woo you once you've been transformed into your new self. They get all dolled up and troll the clubs in hopes of meeting someone that makes enough money so they don't have to do anything ever again. And their victims are usually kick-around-guys. Why? Because they outnumber the other classes ten to one in successfulness. Out of every one hundred athletes only one will ever make it professionally. Out of every one hundred kick-around-people more than half will do the same. The ranks are filled with people that you would never guess were once kick-around-types. The list is so long that if you laid it out starting in Vancouver it would end somewhere near Beijing. That's a pretty big list. If you think I'm full of shit then rattle this one around in your melon. It's a well known fact that all the hot girls at high school reunions are mostly x-kick-around chicks. And the beauty of that scenario is that they're not only three times as sexy as any girl you currently know (not counting the ones pinned up on your bedroom wall that you have make believe conversations with), but they typically don't really give a damn if you've got a truck load of money. Why? Because they're all brain surgeons and shit. They may, on some off chance, recollect that you once drove your daddy's BMW around on weekends and were the center of attention in the McDonald's parking lot on Friday nights, but chances are they drive North American and don't eat meat. Not yours, anyway. But this story isn't about victorious eventualities, so you can get that pretty little picture of Bug and some super vixen-brain surgeon living a life of passionate happiness out of your mainframe. It doesn't end that way unfortunately. It ends another way.

So Bug was a kick around guy and he had four months left before his graduation. But during those final four months he would remain the property of three individuals. The three individuals in question were Brad, Tony, and Scott. Now, the demented thing about this little trio of hatchet men was that they all lived on the same street. Ironically, Bug also lived on that street. Even stranger was the fact that Bug's mom (Mrs. Bug) used to baby-sit all three of them when they were youngsters. So the four boys played together every day for years. Brad, Tony, and Scott ate thousands of meals at Bug's house, watched thousands of hours of television, attended eleven birthday parties, smoked their first cigarettes, and spent countless hours listening to Mrs. Bug sing opera. Because that's what Bug's mom did before she got married and move to the burbs. She belted out the good stuff. But things changed when the boys finished elementary school and started junior high. The unseen forces of social status, popularity, and a variety of other outer pressures began to change their landscape. Bug, unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) remained relatively the same. And because of that he became a target. And as everyone knows, the best way to take a target apart is by having good ammunition. Brad, Tony, and Scott had thirteen years worth.

So that's pretty much how it happened. Bug became 'The Bug Man' and his three childhood friends used the past to humiliate him to gain whatever it is you gain when you humiliate someone. Strangely enough, Bug did not. And although he could have easily told countless stories about his three friends (such as the one about Scott pissing his pants the first time they went on the giant roller coaster) he didn't. His perception of their friendship didn't change. And that's the way it is for kick-around-kids. That's their downfall. It's called loyalty. And though some might consider it a loyalty to others, you might find (upon closer examination) that it was a loyalty to himself above anything else. And that's what people, in an age long forgotten, called character.

But that's not the point. The important thing was that Bug was about to become the key figure in a series of extraordinary events. Events that would shape history. Events that would take decades, nay, centuries to fully comprehend. Perhaps, knowing humanity's track record, events that they would never understand whatsoever. And it all started, as many things do, out of nothing.

It was one of those better than average spring days. The kind of day that makes you remember why summer is the most acceptable season. It was one of those spring days that lulls you into wearing shorts and a t-shirt and then produces a thunderstorm right before you have to walk home. It was also the day that Scott McGrath asked Jennifer Rittinger to go to the movies with him. It was Tuesday. And that meant $2.50. But although our man Scott was a rather popular guy, he was beaten to the punch by Will Palmer, the son of a well-to-do carpet warehouse tycoon that had his own brand new Mustang. So Scott hit a wall. And, as lady luck would have it, the first person that Scott ran into after hitting that wall just happened to be Bug. It doesn't matter than Bug was simply walking around a corner and bumped into Scott (who didn't even know he was there). All that matters is that Bug was Scott's kick-around-guy and Scott was pissed off. Bumping into him was enough of a reason to start world war three. And that's exactly what Scott proceeded to do. He let loose on Bug like never before. Bug, in an attempt to protect himself, tried to turn and run down the hall. But Scott was able to reach him before he could. And, reaching out to grab Bug by the back of the shirt, he accidentally pulled Bug off balance causing him to fall to the left. To the immediate left of Bug was a stairwell. And that's where Bug went. Down the stairs. Head first, for maximum style points I'm sure.

Upon reaching the bottom of the stairs, Bug's head hit the floor and knocked him unconscious. It also split his head wide open. Open enough to encourage a doctor to give him thirty six stitches. Besides that Bug got off lucky. Just minor bruises to his arms, legs, ribs, and face. Scott, on the other hand, did not get off so lucky. Instead of helping Bug he decided to run and was later arrested by the police at his home (which, conveniently enough, was right next door to Bug's). His involvement in the entire affair had been confirmed by a boy named Jack Dykens (better know to several members of the basketball team as Jack-Off the kick-around-guy). Jack saw his chance to get some back. So he ratted on Scott. Later that week Brad and Tony would pay Jack a visit and explain to him why ratting on Scott was a bad thing to do. This, of course, led to a much larger and more publicized physical engagement between Brad, Tony, and the three individuals on the basketball team mentioned earlier. You see, in this crazy world there are a lot of strange rules that aren't written down on paper. One of them is that you don't kick around someone else's kick-around-guy. So there was a great and widely publicized meeting of the minds in what was once called 'The Gully'. And there, in front of three hundred blood thirsty teenage kids screaming their heads off, the two groups slugged it out for a while. Noblemen all.

Meanwhile, Bug spent a couple of days in the hospital and three weeks at home before returning to school. And it was on that day that everything changed. I'm not going to say that it changed for the better because that would imply that people had learned their lesson. That wasn't the case. It rarely is. So let's just say that it simply 'changed'. During his recovery Bug had spent a great deal of time laying in bed thinking about things. He thought about his life, about himself as a person, about the past, and about the future. And during all that thinking Bug began to notice that there was another voice in his head talking with him. At first he would simply close his eyes really tight and the voice would go away, so he attributed this anomaly to his injury. But as the days past Bug began to realize that there was someone else in his head talking underneath his thoughts, kind of like obscure radio traffic that one picks up by accident. So Bug started trying to figure out what the voice was saying. This wasn't as easy as you'd expect. If you'd like, try closing your eyes and shutting yourself off from everything. Once you've done that then try and defuse your inner monologue so there's nothing but silence. It's not so easy. But Bug spent hours trying to do it. And, after awhile, he was able to determine that this 'other voice' was repeating a single word over and over again. And that word was 'tonight'. It's safe to assume that Bug wasn't exactly pleased with his discovery. Instead of some universal wisdom he was given a single word. And, beyond that he had absolutely no idea what it was implying. So Bug tried to forget about it. But the more he tried to, the louder it got. Even when he went to bed it was still there. In the dark. Repeating like numbers...

Bug awoke to find himself in a small field surrounded by large, ancient trees. Soft lights shone from within the trees, illuminating the field. The sky was black and filled with millions of stars, all of which seemed to be moving slightly, as if the world was spinning out of control. But it was warm there in that field, so Bug decided to stretch out on the grass and watch the stars whip by. What pleased him the most was that the word had stopped repeating in his head. It hadn't gone when he had finally managed to fall asleep. Somehow it had continued, like an echo or an old sonar ping. And so Bug just laid there on the grass and watched. And it was comforting to him because he knew he was asleep at home in his bed but also very much in the field watching the stars, wide awake. And that's when the body that belonged to the voice came walking through the trees and all my foreshadowing comes into play.

'Peanut?' was the first thing the stranger said to Bug. Bug's response was to say nothing and just sit there with a perplexed look on his face as the figure came closer. 'You want a peanut?' the voice came again, followed but a slight laugh. Bug's gaze traveled from the stranger's face to his hand where, coincidentally enough, there was an opened bag of peanuts. 'Sure' was all Bug could think to say. So he took some peanuts and ate them. Sitting down next to Bug, the stranger laughed again and said 'you gonna ask me who I am or are you just gonna sit there?' So Bug asked him and the stranger laughed again. 'That's the funny thing about it,' he said 'it's a stupid question cause I don't really have a name. So you call me what you want.' Searching his thoughts, Bug came to the conclusion that the easiest thing to call the stranger was 'Voice'. So that's what he did. And so Bug sat there, after naming the voice 'The Voice' and listened to it talk.

'A lot of people spend a lot of time worrying about things Tom. They spend entire lifetimes worrying. People expend so much energy trying to figure out what's next that they forget where they are and all the things that got them there. A lot of us find that tragic. Our boss thinks it's funny. I don't know why he finds it so hysterical, but he does. He tells us all the time. He'll just be sitting around and suddenly break into hysterics because everyone's so damn confused and worried about everything. A lot of us wonder why he bothered making all of this in the first place if he finds it so funny. And he says that's precisely why he did it. And then he'll go on to correct himself and say that he didn't actually do anything, technically. That he just stumbled upon this place and decided it would be fun to see what happened. That's who you people call a lot of different names. I just call him Big Eddie. And this, well, this is where you all go when you die. Nice, isn't it?'

Looking slightly puzzled, though flooded by the new found realization that life after death was a very real possibility, Bug could do nothing more than nod his head with his mouth gaping open. The Voice realized that Bug was somewhat dumbfounded, so it decided to continue before Bug's mouth started collecting mosquitoes.

'Now, you gotta understand that there are some things that I can tell you and others that I can't. And there are some things that would just take too damn long to explain. So let me just give you a brief rundown of how things are before I get to the point...

One: Hell does not exist. All those images of lava lakes, fire breathing demons, and that Damon kid from that Omen movie,- chuck em. Everyone goes to the same place when they die and you're soaking in it, so to speak.

Two: There ain't no place beyond this place. You cannot die twice, nor do you get to go back to earth as a goat or a super model. This is, quite literally, the end of the line.

Three: There are only two kinds of beings up here. Us, and you guys. By 'us' I'm referring to myself and others like me that do Big Eddie's bidding for minimum wage without the possibility of unionization, medical, dental, or paid sick days. By 'you guys' I'm referring to those people who once had to go to the washroom but once here no longer do.

Four: This place, call it what you will, is infinite. It goes on forever. And though most people have a great deal of trouble actually visualizing that possibility, let me assure you that it very much does. There is no beginning, there is no end. Though there are emergency phones on most major highways in case you get stranded in the middle of endlessness and need a tow truck.

Five: And I can't stress this enough. You do not possess the ability to fly up here. You don't get wings. And, since this place goes on forever, we decided that it would be best if air travel was forbidden, since navigational instruments would be useless. Oh ya, one other thing. Clouds. The only ones you're going to see are up in the sky which, rather conveniently, also goes on forever.

Six: Memory remains intact after death. If you hated pickles when you were alive you'll hate them when you're dead. This particular point will come up again, I assure you.

Seven: No one, and I mean absolutely NO ONE, gets to see Big Eddie. Only we get to see Big Eddie. The problem with it being that Big Eddie isn't exactly a being of solid matter and it's rather difficult to spot him considering the fact that he too is, rather conveniently, endless as well.

Eight: And most importantly, all of this lasts as long as you peons can agree to disagree. I can't stress the importance of this one enough. Like you mortal types, the omnipotent also have a threshold for tolerating bullshit. Just because this place 'is' doesn't mean that it couldn't be 'isn't' in the snap of Big Eddie's non-existent, though quite endless, fingers.

Nine: Refer to points 6 and 8 for probable reasons for this conversation.

So there you have it Tom. Not pretty, I'll admit, but accurate enough. Now, I might as well get on with the task at hand if you don't mind, time's-a-wasting. Have you ever heard of destiny Tom?'

Sitting up slightly, Bug shook his head indicating that he had some knowledge pertaining to the subject. And though it might be argued by some that fate and destiny are, in fact, one in the same, Bug couldn't quite recall which was which. He was pretty sure that destiny was a power that is thought to predetermine events, though he fully conceded to himself that that might be what fate was. He always thought that fate was that which inevitably happens as if determined by some force. He couldn't remember which was which. It was times such as these that preyed upon mankind's annoying use of the blank faced 'nod and agree without thinking' look. A look that, if I may say so, has been the root of many evils and lonely nights spent sleeping on the sofa for countless men everywhere. So Bug just shook his head. Because thinking about thinking about it had made it hurt. So The Voice, seeing that Bug understood, rambled on like Lenny Bruce on uppers.

'Good. That's good. Well, let's just say that destiny isn't always what it's cracked up to be. Sometimes you've got to give it a little nudge in the right direction. That's where you come in. What I'm about to tell you might sound unbelievable, but try to bare in mind that I've got a pretty good handle on reality and that I often converse with a high power, so you'll believe me when I say that I'm not making this up. You see, there was a lottery of sorts. A whole bunch of names were thrown into a hat and yours just happened to be the one chosen. Now, before you have a heart attack let me assure you that this kind of thing's been done before (not that it's worked), but it's been done. The last time we tried it we sent a guy back to deliver a similar message. Our plan backfired, of course, and now the world's got Catholicism and a whole whack of other isms. Unfortunately, the poor bastard we sent ended up nailed to two telephone poles, though we were able to rescue his remains from that cave in time enough to avoid any legal ramifications. But you see my point. It's not like these things are entirely preordained. We just throw a whole bunch of names into a big drum and pick one. And, as it turned out, you just happened to be the lucky winner. I fully understand that it's not exactly what you might of had in mind for your life's work, but everyone's gotta step up to the plate sometime and it just so happens that you're next up in the order. The question now is: do you bunt or do you go for the glory and put one over the center field wall?'

As far as Bug was concerned, this was not happening. Now, he knew that his guidance councilor had been on his back to choose a university or some other institute of specialty training, but he hadn't thought that he'd be faced with his future before actually graduating. That, and the fact that it looked like he wouldn't have any say in what that future was going to be. So Bug decided to be brave and asked The Voice a simple question. 'What if I say no?'

'Well Tom, that's the problem with this sort of thing. You can't really say 'no'. You've got intimate knowledge about this place now and sending you back without enlisting your help would not be permitted. There are certain things we can and can't do. And, though it might be difficult for you to believe, we do not possess the ability to wipe your memory clean. No one can do that, not even Big Eddie. So either you agree to do this or you die in your sleep tonight from your head injury. There really isn't any middle ground. Besides, if you think about what everyone else is going to spent the rest of their lives doing, this is far more exciting. You get the chance to help rescue mankind, live a life of adventure, use tricky gadgets and drive cars with ejection seats. Well maybe just the first two, but that's still some pretty sweet shit. Well, what'll it be?'

Laying down on his back, Bug let the stars above him blur his vision. He thought about what The Voice had said and came to the realization that he was going to have to make a split second decision that would determine the course of the rest of his life. And though he would have learned much later in life that such decisions usually occur more often than one would suspect, he was daunted by it. So he decided to do the only thing he could think of. Sitting up he turned to The Voice and said 'you got a coin?'

Smiling, The Voice rummaged around in one of his coat pockets and produced a large silver coin with a lion's head on one side and a lion's tail on the other. Taking it from The Voice, Bug rubbed it between his fingers for a couple of minutes and then flipped it onto the grass. Leaning over he looked at the outcome. The Lion's Head. Bug sighed. Picking up the coin he handed in back to The Voice and sat there for a while in silence. 'Well?!''I'll say it now so there's no confusion later. You guys should've sent in a DH'.

Patting Bug on the back, The Voice thought it prudent to sit there in silence for a while before getting back to business. And as the minutes past he thought how strange it was that while most human beings exist in a state of selfish reluctancy, this teenage boy had just agreed to go willingly into the unknown on the flip of a coin. And for the first time since meeting Bug, The Voice thought that he might just have been sent the right guy this time. And maybe, just maybe, this whole crazy plan would actually work.

'So I guess you're gonna tell me what this is all about then,' Bug said breaking the silence. Snapping out of his own thoughts, The Voice nodded and motioned for Bug to stand up. Turning, The Voice started walking towards the trees and beckoned Bug to follow him. And so the two walked together through a small greenbelt before emerging at the edge of a massive prairie. And in the middle of the prairie, some miles away, there was a very large city that seemed to be made of pure white stone gilded with silver. And The Voice pointed towards the city and said 'That, my friend, is the center of the universe. Nice, isn't it.'

'What's it called?' Bug asked. 'It's not called anything,' The Voice returned. 'It just is what it is. And it's there that my story begins. You see, a long time ago there used to be this big pole sticking out of the ground where that city is today. Kind of like what you'd envision the North Pole to look like. Anyway, Big Eddie says that when you guys first started coming here you'd just pop out of the pole into the middle of this huge field and wander around like you were lost or on crack or something. For years Big Eddie found this highly amusing, so he didn't bother doing anything about it. But you guys ain't so dumb, so you started building things around the pole and, for the most part, put aside your differences in favor of building a place where you could enjoy all this wondrous endlessness. And, as time passed, more and more people came through the pole and the settlement turned into a town, the town into a city, and the city into the megatropolis you see before you today. But after awhile the city got crowded. People started grouping together into various factions that they had adhered to in life. And as time passed a great many of those factions decided it would be best to leave the city and build places of their own. So, that's what a lot of them did. But not before there was a big fight about it and part of the city was destroyed. You see, although you guys can't kill each other up here, you can destroy the place. It isn't indestructible by any means. So there was a big fight. And that's where we come in. Big Eddie wasn't too happy about that. You have no idea how close you came to losing all of this forever. But instead of being rash, Big Eddie decided to create us to police the various settlements and make sure that everyone was enjoying their utopian afterlife, not destroying it. So that's the way it went for a good many years. And then there was another big disagreement and another big war. This time it was about the location of the pole. It seems that some of the factions didn't like the fact that their people, who had no idea any of this was going on mind you, were entering the afterlife in a place where they were being 'brainwashed' into believing that everyone is equal and eternity is to be enjoyed to the fullest. That's what the people who live in that city in front of you believe. They're the originals. Anyway, there was another war. And this time there was a lot more damage than before. We were outnumbered and unable to stop it because the use of force isn't really one of our mandates. So Big Eddie gathered all of us together and told us to choose someone among the living and bring them here to show them what was going on. And then he instructed us to allow that person to return to earth in hopes of telling everyone down there that there wasn't any room in the afterlife for people who elected to behave so poorly. So, we did what we were told and we sent someone back. The only problem with that particular event is that it started a faction all its own which has since just turned into another faction up here. It wasn't his fault that no one understood the message. But, like most things, maybe no one was really listening all that closely. So eternity went marching on and things grew steadily worse. So, that, in a nut shell, is the dilemma. To be quite honest with you most people up here just want to spend their time in peace. In actuality they far outnumber the trouble makers. But it gets difficult when the minority starts lighting things on fire because they're not happy about something and a great many innocent bystanders get caught up in it. So people who would never normally resort to fighting back find themselves turning into the exact thing that they didn't like to begin with. And, eventually, everyone ends up on one side or another. And that, my little friend, will no longer do. Big Eddie has come to the end of his proverbial rope. He's decided that unless everyone changes their thinking in a big fucking hurry, he's gonna shut this place down. And let me tell you, the alternative is not attractive. I don't suppose you've ever been to oblivion so let me fill you in on something. There's nothing there. Just empty space. I don't know about you, but floating around in empty space for all eternity with billions of other people doesn't particularly seem too thrilling. And it's not like this place won't go on existing either. Big Eddie will just move the pole. So not only will you guys be floating around in space forever, but you'll be doing it with a zillion retards that'll be telling you stories about how they once dwelt in this kick ass place where life was sweet but they screwed the pooch for everyone and now life after death consists of a twenty four hour space walk and public fornication in a zero gravity environment. What a mess.

So that's the deal. And that's where you come in. You get the glorious task of telling everyone down there that they have to shape up or they get shipped out. And don't expect anyone to listen to you for quite some time either. We made the mistake last time of giving our guy some special powers so that he could convince people that he wasn't kidding. But not this time Tom. This time you've got to do it all by yourself. Big Eddie's orders. A lot of us are starting to think that Big Eddie doesn't really want you to succeed. That it's about time you were taught a lesson. And we fully expect him to do it too. Rarely does the guy bluff. And I'm sure there will come a time in the future when he'll change his mind and try all of this again, but I can't say that for certain. The only thing that's ever been for certain is this place. And well... there goes that theory.'

As The Voice fell silent Bug realized that he was shaking like an epileptic. Fear was not an applicable word for what he was feeling. Terror, though somewhat more directed, was a weak substitute. He was beginning to regret his decision, though it wouldn't have mattered much because he would have died. And that meant that he'd have to spent some time in this place before being thrust into empty space. So Bug tried to calm himself down a bit. Why not do it? What was there to loose? If people weren't willing to listen to him it wouldn't be his fault. He didn't have control over their actions and thoughts, only they did. So Bug followed The Voice back to the clearing where they had first met and, extending his hand, Bug shook with The Voice and tried his best to smile and look confident. The Voice saw through the boy like glass, but realized that returning the gesture would be the best thing. And then a huge ball of white light appeared in the middle of the clearing and The Voice motioned towards it. And, as Bug started walking towards the ball of light, The Voice turned and said 'by the way, what did you call in the air, heads or tails?' Smiling to himself as he went, Tom replied - 'neither.'

To Be Continued...