A Short Story
Tyson Willard was living in his car when he had a mystical experience. I may get some details wrong, repeating it, because he explained it to me poorly. He’s not an articulate person, and he wheezes.
The vision involved light, not white but green, and from it peculiar forms emerged, or creatures. Tyson described them with reference to books and video games with which I was unfamiliar -- I’m too old. The creatures had snail-like, slug-like characteristics. They filled him in on the future of our species.
There are four possible paths for us on earth, and all of them, Tyson told me, will come to pass, each for a different class of human beings. One path leads to our merger with machines. The individuals who take this path will not remain individuals for long; their identities will be subsumed in a vast computer-aided organism capable of spreading out into space and colonizing other worlds. People who take the second path will die. They are already dead, said Tyson, but most don’t know it. They don’t matter now, and they won’t matter later. They are a kind of soil, a layer of dirt. The third group will live, it will thrive, it will prevail, and without the aid of machines. It’s blessed, chosen. This group too is already set apart, doing well in the world of the present, rich and happy. Hearing this upset me. The idea that the elect existing now will develop into a permanent elect struck me as hauntingly unfair. I’m a religious person, a Christian, basically. The last will be first, the scriptures say. That the first will remain first, forever, unsettled me.
There is a fourth path involving another earth, a second earth that will grow from this one and be inhabited by a type of human cruder and stupider than our current species. These fourth-path creatures, Tyson learned, parked in his car behind a big box store, all curled up for the night in his back seat, will be the products of a great regression that has started already and is speeding up. He told me that if I looked around in crowds, I could detect these deteriorating specimens. Their heads are misshapen, unusually round, and don’t quite match their bodies in various ways, as though they’ve been jammed onto them, by force.
Tyson’s prophecy of the four paths, delivered to him in his car behind a Costco, destroyed his well-being for a time, he told me. It made him not want to eat or look for work, and this at a time when he had no money at all. He told me lived without money for a full month, refusing even to beg for it. He nearly starved, and he slept most of the time, under a plastic tarp and an old coat. The police sometimes checked on him but didn’t bother him, nor did they offer aid of any kind. This surprised me, but Tyson assured me it’s common now. There are too many car dwellers for the cops to care about.
What finally broke his depression, Tyson told me, was realizing that his vision was unimportant, that it had been caused by hunger, drugs, and loneliness. True or untrue, it wasn’t worth brooding over. He roused himself then and went out and found a job, at the food truck where I met him four days ago while visiting the city where he lives. He made me a hamburger with pepper jack cheese, candied bacon, and pickled jalapenos. We got to talking through the food truck window and, when Tyson learned I was a writer, he said he had a story for me but that it would have to wait until the truck closed. I had nothing to do but go back to my hotel that night, so I hung around for half an hour, and after he cleaned the grill and did some other chores, he sat with me at a table near the truck and told me everything I’ve just told you. And that’s all there is. We never spoke again. I left town the next morning and haven’t returned. I hope you weren’t expecting a longer story.
But there is a bit more. Tyson told me one last thing. He said he knew which of the paths that he was traveling. He sensed it the moment his vision was complete, and he even asked one of the snail-gods if he was right.
“You are,” it said. “You’ll be joining the machines.”
“I figure I have five years till then,” said Tyson, sitting with me at the table in the dark. He was wearing a greasy red apron and wasn’t breathing well. He gasped between words. He told me had asthma, and it was one of the worst cases I’ve witnessed.
“At least you’re not on the dead path,” I observed.
“Mine is worse. It’s way worse,” Tyson said. “I won’t even be a person soon. Oh well. But at least it’s not your path.” Then he laughed at me. He was stoned, and a pest, and I’d been a fool to humor him. I’d even taken out my little notebook and jotted down his meaningless remarks.
“And which path is that?” I asked him. He’d baited me. I already knew the answer, but I still asked him.
I drive a new car, I stay in nice hotels, yet it scared me somehow to be told I always will.