Martin had grown pretty cavalier about sticking his hand down his pants in public. He wore the same pair of loose-fitting blue sweats everywhere he went, and if he got the urge to slip his fingers under under the elastic waistband he just did it. Wherever, whenever. He didn't care much about what other people thought anymore. If they were offended, Martin's philosophy was: screw 'em. They could look away if they wanted to. Concepts like "public" and "private" held very little meaning for him these days. Hygiene and grooming were no longer top priorities for him either, especially since he'd quit his job and decided to live off his savings. He pretty much let his hair and nails do as they pleased, occasionally trimming his bangs with a pair of kitchen shears when the hair got in his eyes. Martin bathed no more frequently than once a week, and his toothpaste and toothbrush sat neglected in his filthy bathroom. His diet now consisted almost entirely of Orange Crush and Hostess snack cakes, though he would occasionally splurge and get himself an order of chili cheese fries. His days were aimless and formless, consisting mainly of long naps, eating binges, marathon viewing sessions of cartoons and pornography, and occasional "field trips" into town where he would mainly wander around and look at things.
Martin was the happiest man on earth.
Just a week and a half earlier, Martin van der Cove had been, if not the unhappiest man on earth, at least in the bottom third for middle-class Caucasian males between the ages of 25 and 40. He was a sub-supervisor of data reduction at TrendTronics in Massatunqua, Ohio, and all things considered, this was a dreadful thing to be: stressful, tedious, unrewarding in the spiritual sense, and only modestly rewarding in the fiscal sense. Martin would spend his days trying desperately to meet his quotas, perspiring heavily and worrying deep creases into his brow. At 35, he looked 50. He estimated that every "performance review" at work took a year off his life, and he endured four of these every year. At the end of his work day, he would drive his used Ford Festiva to his lonely little apartment, where he would eat TV dinners and Google the names of girls he'd had crushes on in high school, occasionally pausing to reflect sadly that most of them must be married by now. Martin had not gotten a night's sleep without the aid of an over-the-counter drug in at least eight years. This was no kind of life.
The visit from God changed all of that.
It was an otherwise nondescript Wednesday night when the Lord Almighty came into Martin's life -- or, more specifically, his living room. At the time of this miraculous event, Martin was watching The 50 Most F'd-Up Moments in Reality Show History. The countdown-type program had reached #28: a clip of a spoiled heiress flashing her surgically-enhanced chest to the Pope, then bludgeoning the bewildered Pontiff nearly to death with her exposed artificial mammary glands. (All this was tastefully blurred by the basic-cable television network, Martin noted with regret.) At that very moment, the lights flickered on and off for a few seconds and suddenly the power went out. Martin cursed his luck, trying to remember if he'd paid his power bill that month or not. But then, just as suddenly the lights came back on, and Martin saw that a stranger had entered his apartment and was now standing over him.
Normally, of course, Martin would be terrified of such an occurrence, but he was weirdly at peace at this moment. The stranger looked exactly like him. Staring at him was like staring into a three-dimensional mirror. The stranger was even dressed exactly as Martin was.
"Hello, Martin," said the stranger in a voice that was a replica of Martin's own.
"Uh, hello," replied Martin after a pause, not frightened but at the same time not sure of how to react to this bizarre occurrence.
"I am God," said the stranger.
"God?" said Martin. "Like, the God? The Lord? The Almighty? The Creator Of All Things?"
"Eh, sort of," replied the stranger. "I don't really have a body, so I made myself visible to you in a form I knew you could comprehend. Can I sit down please? You and I need to chat."
"Oh, uh, sure," said Martin, moving to the end of the couch to give his guest a place to sit.
The stranger took a seat next to Martin.
"Thanks. Martin, I have come to bring you some tremendous news. As I said before, I am God. And, yes, I did sort of create the universe and everything in it."
"Well, yes. It's a long story. The longest story, in fact, that there is. Anyway, I've come to tell you... I'm shuttin' 'er down."
"Shuttin' 'er down?"
"Yup. Closin' up shop. Puttin' out the lights. Callin' it a day."
"On what exactly?"
"Everything. Well, at least, everything that you know. The universe and everything in it, including this planet."
Martin, for the first time, began to grown concerned.
"Wait, you weren't a McCain guy, were you? I mean, I listened to what the guy had to say! I just didn't feel that..."
"Martin, relax," said God, reassuringly. "It had nothing to do with that. I don't even follow Earth politics."
"Then why? Are you angry?"
"Oh, no, no, not really. Martin, you have to understand that I've existed forever. Forever. Just think about that. I've always existed. As far as I know, I will always exist. Imagine being sentient for eternity, knowing that you will be aware of your own existence forever and ever and ever without end. No pause. No relief. No end in sight."
"Wow," said Martin. "Bummer."
"You're telling me. And there's no one like me. I'm the only one of my kind. It's incredibly lonely, not to mention boring."
"But don't you stay busy by running the universe?"
"Running? I'll let you in on a little secret: the universe runs itself. I have very little to do with it. Think of a little kid with an ant farm. Can you picture that, Martin?"
"I guess. I never had an ant farm."
"But you can imagine it, right? Well, basically, I'm the kid, and the universe is the ant farm. Sure, I set up the ant farm at first, but everything after that was really up to the ants. It's like this: before I came up with the universe, I was basically alone in a big sea of nothingness. Nothing on all sides of me. Just blank as far as you can see in all directions. Like a clean sheet of paper, if you can imagine that."
"And that was the way of my life for... well, for an awfully long time. You'll have to forgive me, Martin. I don't really have much of a concept of time. That's strictly an Earthling invention. But, anyway, it took me a while -- a great long while -- but eventually, I realized that the sea of nothingness all around me wasn't just empty. It was composed of elements, all the elements that make up the universe. I slowly, slowly, slowly learned how to arrange those elements by mixing and combining them, and the eventual result was this thing that you call the universe. For a while, that kept my mind occupied. And after a while, I reached a point where I said to myself that I was done, and I just kind of stepped back and looked at what I'd created. That's basically what I've been doing for the last however many millions or billions of years."
"Why did you create mankind?"
"I didn't. At least, not directly. Mankind just sort of happened. I told you, Martin. I just put the elements into place. Everything that's happened since then has been a surprise to me. Imagine when one of my planets in one of my galaxies produced a life form that was sentient like me, capable of thought and aware of its own existence. It was quite a shock. But believe me, I have not interfered. This little chat I'm having with you is rare indeed. I almost never do stuff like this. I've watched life on Earth, off and on, but I haven't directly participated. All that stuff that you humans attribute to me, like the weather -- that's all just side effects of my little science experiment. Wars, technology, science, religion, etc. -- that's all your doing, not mine. I didn't write the Bible. You guys did. I haven't even read the thing all the way through. I don't know how you humans managed to guess my very existence. I never wanted you to know. Somehow, though, you figured it out. But all that stuff you've written about me -- all those things I'm supposed to have said -- it's not true. I never said that stuff. Like the Ten Commandments. That's not even my style. Morality is a human concept. It has nothing to do with me."
"What about Jesus?"
"Seems like a nice kid, but..."
"Not directly, no. No more or less than you are. Again, though, nice kid. But we're getting sidetracked here. I think I've taken this universe project as far as it'll go, so I'm shuttin' 'er down. Totally. Completely. No bargaining. I'm going back to the big sea of nothingness. I don't know if I'll be happier or less happy or what, but it'll be a change. From there, I think my next project will be to try to will myself out of existence. It might be a tough project but I think I can eventually figure it out. I've got plenty of what you call time to do it."
"Why are you telling me?"
"I don't know really, Martin. I just figured I ought to tell someone, you know? And I figured you could handle it. You're not the only one. I've picked a handful of people around the world and told them the news. I chose people who I thought could benefit from knowing."
"How can I benefit from knowing that the world is coming to an end?"
"Well, for one thing, you can stop worrying and have a little fun for a change. You worry too much, Martin. Enjoy yourself. You still working that shit job at TrendTronics?"
"Well, quit that. I wouldn't even come in anymore if I were you. You got a little money stashed away somewhere?"
"A little. Enough to see me through maybe a few months if I don't work."
"Great. You'll be able to live off that until I pull the plug."
"How much longer do we have?"
"Six to eight weeks."
"Six to eight weeks? W-why...?"
"Well," said God, "like I told you, I don't have much a concept of Earth time. I just can't get the hang of it. But I've been watching a lot of TV commercials, and I hear that phrase come up now and again. And not too long ago, I was watching an ad for something called the Ee-Zee Broast Uv-N. You heard of it?"
"Yeah," said Martin. "It broasts a whole game hen in under 3 minutes."
"Exactly," said God. "Amazing technology you humans come up with. I ordered one of those things last night. I figured, when it gets to me, the six to eight weeks is up."
"And then?" asked Martin, somewhat trepidatiously.
"Then, nothing," said God. "I just pull the plug, so to speak. You won't feel a thing. I promise. It'll take less than a second. Like, you could jump off a diving board, and you and the pool and everything else would just be gone before you even hit the water. Boom. Just like that."
"Wow," said Martin. "Six to eight weeks."
"You can do a a helluva lot in six to eight weeks. Don't you see, Martin? For you, this is good news. This is the best news I could possibly give you. This is your chance to live as you want to live. I'm writing you a blank check here. Enjoy it."
"But how do I know I'm not just dreaming this?"
"Oy," said God, rolling his eyes. "You humans! Okay, you want proof?"
God got up from the couch and walked across the room to a window. He beckoned Martin to follow him.
"C'mere, Martin. You see that elm tree across the street?"
Martin immediately recognized the tree. He'd seen it every single day for the last eight years.
"Yeah," Martin replied.
"Is it real?" asked God.
"Is this some kind of metaphysical trick question?"
"No," replied God. "I'm asking if you agree with me that there is, in fact, an elm tree across the street."
"And what about the grass around it, Martin? Why is it brown?"
"Because," Martin said, "Mrs. Anderson walks her poodle down this street every morning, and the dog lifts his leg there at the same spot every day."
"Exactly," said God. "Now watch."
God snapped his fingers, and instantly the tree was gone. Just vanished into the ether, like it had never been there to begin with.
"Wow," replied Martin, dumbly.
"I hope you appreciate that," said God. "I almost never directly interfere with life on Earth. That was a huge violation of personal protocol for me."
"Why'd you do it?" asked Martin.
"So you'd know I was on the level," said God. "Listen, you wanted to know whether you were just dreaming this or what. That's understandable. In this economy, I'd want some definite proof before I quit my job, too. So here's what you do. If you get up tomorrow morning, and that tree is still gone, you'll know I wasn't bullshitting you. Deal?"
"Deal," said Martin, and he and his doppelganger shook hands.
"You're a good kid," said God. "Hey, look over there!"
God pointed to something on the other side of the room. Martin swerved around to look but saw nothing. He heard God chuckle behind him.
"Ha ha! Gotcha!"
When Martin turned back around, the Lord God had departed.
After his guest had departed, Martin sat silently on the couch for maybe half an hour. He then rose and went to bed, where he easily fell into sleep for the first time in memory. That night, Martin's hair and nails -- both of which had been recently trimmed -- began ever so slowly to grow, at an almost-immeasurable rate.
The next morning, Martin awoke and ran to the window. The elm tree was gone, the grass where it had been was green, and Mrs. Anderson's poodle was very confused. And thus did Martin van der Cove's wonderful (if temporary) new life begin.