At 8:07 A.M. last Monday morning, Lionel Timer cracked open an egg and found within a universe. The egg, being part of Lionel’s breakfast, was hard boiled.
Bad news for the universe and all it’s tiny inhabitants. Rather good news for Lionel, as it turned out. His video feed, blog posts and subsequent #Lionel-tiny-universe made him an overnight social-media darling. For the first time in his twenty-nine years of life, he was popular. People waved to him on the street. He was invited to a post-post production party for a locally filmed T.V. series. He was a meme. A prominent German athletic company asked him to co-design a seasonal shoe with a rap-music artist who went by an unpronounceable name.
“This,” he said to himself, “is the life I was always meant to live.”
He could not imagine a more meaningful and fulfilling existence. That is until 7:42 P.M. this evening. Summoned by a persistent and rather aggressive knocking, Lionel opened the door to his ground-floor, bachelor apartment. Upon Lionel’s welcome mat, which comically (in Lionel’s opinion) stated “Hi. I’m Mat.” stood the god of the tiny universe. Unlike the egg-sized universe, its god was not tiny. He was enormous. He filled the doorway to Lionel’s apartment. Despite stooping, his shoulders pushed against and cracked the popcorn ceiling of the hallway. His head, crooked at an uncomfortable-looking angle, was the size of a Lionel’s under-counter refrigerator.
Lionel quickly estimating the chances of this being the god of some universe other than that of the egg. He concluded the chances were infinitesimal at best. So he decided to make the best of the situation.
“Would you like to come in? I’ve ordered pizza. It should be here in twenty minutes… or less.”
Lionel stood to the side. The god of the tiny universe squeezed his very large body through the doorway. As he did so, he took out the recently repainted, white door frame and a sizeable chunk.
Lionel jumped back, avoiding the door as it fell from its torn hinges. “Please, have a seat.” He indicated the sofa, a beige and orange striped, overstuffed model.
It was a moving out gift from his parents. The sofa used to reside in the Timers’ basement rec-room, next to the billiards table, which rarely got used. It was the very same sofa upon which Lionel lost his virginity as a high school senior to a girl in his grade, who cried for an hour and a half afterwards. Due to the bitter-sweet nature of that incident, his feelings regarding the sofa were mixed.
The god of the tiny universe folded himself up like an origami pachyderm and perched on the edge of the sofa. The frame of the sofa creaked and groaned and then snapped. His flaming-red cheeks blushed a deeper shade of crimson as he made an effort to prop up the sofa with the end table closest to hand.
“No, no. It’s okay. Don’t worry about it. I was thinking of replacing it anyway,” Lionel assured the god. He took a seat opposite, in the Scandinavian flat-pack armchair he bought with his first paycheque. The chair dipped and rocked on its laminated, bent-wood frame, as he scooted his weight to the front in a more formal, and what he hoped was an appropriately respectful, position.
He gazed at the god’s features, trying to establish his mood. Lionel always had difficulty gaging other people’s internal state by their expressions. As a middle-grader, he pleaded with his parents to send him for psychological assessment. He feared that he suffered from some mild form of Asperger’s. His parents insisted he was simply an introvert and with practice and more personal interaction under his belt, his anxiety about other people’s feelings would disappear.
Sitting across from the god of the tiny universe, whose entire head kept erupting into flames, taxed Lionel’s sense of interpersonal confidence to its limits. The paint on Lionel’s ceiling started to bubble from the heat. Reckoning the layers of paint pre-dated the move to ‘latex only’, he worried about toxic off-gassing.
“Would you… like a beer?” He stood and started toward the kitchen. “I’m going to have one. I bought some imported Belgium ale.” With his new-found celebrity status, Lionel figured he should ‘up his beer game’ and earlier that afternoon, had visited the specialty liquor store on Bute Street.
The god of the tiny universe nodded.
Lionel stepped into his compact galley kitchen, pulled out his phone and quickly tapped in a text message to Gary. “The god of the tiny universe is sitting on my sofa.”
Gary was characteristically quick to respond. “What does he want?”
“I don’t know.”
“What did he say?”
“Does he look angry?”
“You know I’m not good at that.”
“Maybe he’s there to smite you.”
“Maybe. What should I do?”
“Have you offered him a drink?”
“If he does smite you, can I have your car?”
“I’m still making payments to my parents. So, technically it’s their car.”
“How about your bike?”
“Sure.” Lionel glanced over his shoulder.
Melted paint from the ceiling dripped onto the god’s head. He didn’t seem to notice.
“I’d better go.” He hit ‘send’ and slipped the phone back into his pocket, grabbed two bottles from the fridge and headed back into the living room.
Lionel twisted the cap off from a bottle and handed it to the god of the tiny universe. The god nodded and enclosed the bottle in his enormous hand. The beer began to steam and bubble from the heat of his grasp. As he tipped the bottle to his fire extinguisher-sized lips, the last gasp of steam popped out. He tipped the bottle again, then tapped the bottom with his other hand. Nothing came out. What Lionel assumed was disappointment, creased the god’s mighty forehead.
Lionel quickly held his beer out to the god. The god shook his head and held up his right hand to wave him off. Lionel took a healthy swig of his beer. Never having tasted Belgium ale before, he gagged a bit at its taste and high alcohol content. He tried to cover his discomfort with a cough. Once he had regained his composure he attempted to speak.
The god held up his hand again. Lionel closed his mouth. The god glanced at the floor and tapped his fingers against the livid, ropey muscles of his naked thighs. He sighed and looked at Lionel once more.
“This isn’t easy for me,” he said.
“I can imagine.”
“Can you? Really?”
“No, I suppose not.” Lionel shifted uncomfortably on his chair. He lifted the beer to his lips again and remembering the taste, set it back down on the coffee table untouched.
The god of the tiny universe gazed out the window into the parking lot beside Lionel’s apartment building. He seemed to be searching for the right words amongst the fuel-efficient compacts. “I’ve always been a ‘live and let live’ kind of god. But Monday, when you hard-boiled my universe, you created an imbalance in the system. It’s not just that I’m going to miss the little buggers – I am, of course. They gave me a millennium of entertainment. It’s that you created a literal imbalance. And now, if it’s not corrected, the plane of existence will tip to one side and everything – I mean everything – will slide to one side and pile up. It’ll be a real, gee-dee mess.”
“Oh.” Lionel broke eye contact and stared at the carpet.
The fibers closest to the god’s toes sizzled and curled up into melted, polypropylene globules.
“I didn’t mean to. I’m really sorry.”
“I’m not here to play the ‘blame game.’ I’m only here to right the plane of existence and avoid absolute havoc. And when I say absolute, I mean–”
“I get the picture.” It was Lionel’s turn to hold up his hand. He thought about his ten-thousand UvU hits this past week. He thought about the cute girl from the post-post-production party who gave him her phone number, who he hadn’t called yet. He thought about the irony that his very short-lived feeling of being accepted and his moderate fame were about to be torn away from him by the consequences of the very instance which provided them. “You’re going to smite me, aren’t you? To restore the balance?” He thought about calling Gary, to come over and record it so his great, personal sacrifice could be broadcast and get ‘likes’ from all his online Fess-up friends.
“Oh, thank goodness.” All the tension fled from Lionel’s body and he slumped back into the chair cushions. He exhaled his relief in a massive sigh. “I mean, phew…”
“No, I’m going to boil your entire universe. It’s the only way to create true balance again.”
“What!” Blackness closed in around the edges of Lionel’s field of vision. Small white explosions peppered his view. A wave of lightheaded-nausea swept over him. With his arms crossed over his chest, he folded forward to stick his head between his knees. “I’m going to be sick.” His voice muffled by his trousers.
Lionel deliberately breathed in through his nose and out through his mouth to a steady count of three. He slowly lifted his head and rested it in his hands. “And what is the proper reaction to learning that I’m to blame for the imminent destruction of the entire universe?”
“Oh, I don’t know… stoicism? That’s a highly underrated trait these days, don’t you think?” The god of the tiny universe scratched his flaming brow, sending cinders scattered across the coffee table and setting alight the T.V. remote control. “What’s so bad about just taking it on the chin. Learning from your mistakes, and moving on?”
“Moving on?” Lionel’s voice cracked at an unusual octave. “How can you ‘move on’ from oblivion?” He flung himself back into the chair and grabbed handfuls of his hair. “This can’t be the only way.”
“It’s the most efficient way.” The god stopped his scratching and leveled his gaze at Lionel. “This isn’t some random solution, you know. We had meetings, and committees and white-board sessions to come up with this. We know what we’re doing.”
“If you’re all so smart, then why in the hell did you put a universe inside of an egg?” Lionel gestured his exasperation with wild hand movements.
The god looked at him with a puzzled expression. Even Lionel could catch that.
“All universes are inside eggs, Lionel.”
Lionel dropped his hands into his lap. “You’re telling me that right now we are inside of a giant egg?”
“Not a giant egg. The Liplips, they’re inside a giant egg. You’re inside a… a modest-sized egg. Well, actually… more small… ish.” The god puffed his cheeks in and out. “I’m not saying insignificant. Just, you know, not one of the big ones…. in the grand scheme of things. When you think about it–”
He was interrupted by a soft knock from the direction where the door used to be.
“Excuse me, but is this number six?”
Lionel and the god turned in unison toward the voice. A young man with no discernable facial expression, stood inside of the gaping hole in the wall. He wore a maroon and violet-coloured uniform and carried a large pizza box. Lionel stood and pulled out his slim wallet.
“Yeah, this is six. That’s for me.” He slipped out his new credit card and held it out to the pizza delivery guy. “Card okay?”
“Yeah, sure, man.” The pizza delivery guy reached to take the card from Lionel’s hand and nodded to the god of the tiny universe still sitting on the sofa. “‘Sup?” He looked from the card to Lionel and back, several times. “No. Effing. Way.” His neutral face sprung to life as a wide grin. “It’s you! Man, I saw your UvU video. Oh, man! My girlfriend is going to freak. Hashtag Lionel-tiny-universe!” He shoved the pizza box into the startled-looking god’s hands and grabbed his phone from his pocket. “Can I get a selfie man?”
“Uh, yeah. Why not?” Lionel reached up to pat his hair back into place.
Pizza delivery guy put his arm around Lionel’s shoulders and held his phone at arm’s length above their heads.
The flash went off, dazzling Lionel with its brightness. He rubbed his closed eyes, watching the hallucination colour-show generate by pressing on his retinas. It was something he did during moments of personal duress. When he opened his eyes, the pizza delivery guy handed him the portable terminal to validate his credit card. Lionel punched in his PIN and entered a generous tip. He handed the device back.
“Whoa, man, is this right?” Pizza delivery guy pointed to the ‘total with tip’ line.
“Yeah, I… I kind of owe you… big time. Well, I owe everyone, but you’re here so….”
Lionel looked over to the god of the tiny universe who sat licking melted mozzarella from his fingers. The pizza delivery guy looked from the god to Lionel, and shrugged.
“It’s a little hard to explain. He’s here to destroy the universe. It’s my fault. Sorry.”
“Like, now?” The pizza delivery boy’s celebrity-sighting joy evaporated from his face.
Lionel looked to the god. The god nodded and took another bit of pizza.
“Now.” Lionel confirmed.
“Bummer. I was saving up for trip to San Fran. For me and my girlfriend, Starshine Lapis. That’s her name. She made it up, but it really suits her, you know?”
The pizza delivery boy scrolled through his photos and held up his phone for Lionel to see. On the seawall, overlooking English Bay, stood a pretty girl with deep-blue eyes and a halo of dark, fuzzy curls.
The pizza delivery guy sighed, then slipped his phone into his pocket. “Well, I better get going. I still have four pizzas to deliver.”
He looked again at the god of the tiny universe, now on his third piece of pizza and back to Lionel.
“Don’t beat yourself up, man. You just did what anyone of us would have.” He reached out and patted Lionel on the shoulder. Then turned, stepped over the fallen door, and made his way down the hallway.
“See?” The god’s speech was slightly garbled with the stringy cheese hanging from the corner of his mouth. “Stoic. What did I tell you? If he can manage it, surely you can.” He held the pizza box out to Lionel. “This is really good.”
“I’m not that hungry anymore.” Lionel stuffed his hands into his pant pockets and adopted a petulant stance.
“Oh come on, don’t be like that. Last chance.” The god breathed lightly on the pizza re-melting the mozzarella and sending a waft of delicious aroma Lionel’s way. “Mmmm…. Yum!”
“Oh, alright.” Lionel took a slice from the box and folded it in half before taking a bite. “Wow. This might be the best pizza I ever had.” He stuffed the crust end into his mouth and reached for another slice.
“That’s how it goes. Last meal stuff. Always the best.”
Lionel stopped chewing. He felt a lump form in his throat. He swallowed it along with the pizza as he considered the god’s words. “Last meal,” he repeated.
The god set the pizza box on the coffee table. “You know, if this isn’t what you want, I can always…” He made waving motions in the air. “You know, conjure up whatever you want. Not to blow my own horn, but I am a god and all. I’m not half bad at linguini al pesto.”
Lionel took another bite. “No, this is fine.”
“I don’t mean to harp on about it, but this might be your last request. So…”
“I like pizza, a lot.” Lionel forced a smile while he chewed. He tried to count to forty before swallowing, to make it last.
“Some people become philosophical, right about now. About regrets, lost love, that sort of thing.” The god of the tiny universe sat back on the sofa and laced his balloon-sized fingers together. “If there’s anything you’d like to get off your chest…?”
As he said this, he raised his eyebrows in what Lionel thought was meant to be sympathetic gesture – but couldn’t be sure.
Lionel looked around for a serviette, then sighed and wiped his hands on his pants. “I wish I didn’t like eggs for breakfast, but I suppose that’s a bit obvious.” He suddenly felt self-conscious and avoided eye contact with the god on his sofa. He looked around his apartment instead. Although not purposefully a minimalist, he had little in the way of personal effects. The only picture was a framed snapshot, a birthday gift from Gary. The two of them, standing in front of the fish display at Pike’s Place Market, arms around each others’ shoulders and smiling into the camera. The photo was taken on their one and only road trip. As a last minute “What should we do?” on the May long weekend last year. They threw suitcases in the back of Lionel’s second-hand Fiat 500 and drove to Seattle.
Lionel smiled at the memory. Just seconds after the picture was taken, one of the vendors threw wide, and a ten-pound sockeye salmon slapped Lionel squarely in the face. For the rest of the weekend, he and Gary kept score on how many times either of them could work “fishy” into the conversation.
The god picked up the pizza box, folded it in half and stuffed it, whole, into his mouth. He sat chewing, watching Lionel as if waiting for him to make some heartfelt pronouncement.
“I wish my friend, Gary, was here.”
And then he was.
Gary stumbled forward, an opened can of domestic lager clutched in each hand. Beer slopped from the cans onto the carpet as he tried to steady himself. “Whoa… what just happened?” He twisted to take in his surrounding. “Lionel! What the…” He quickly downed one can of beer, belched, and drank the second one.
The god of the tiny universe looked on with what might have been a wistful and thirsty expression.
Gary stared at the god. He spoke out of the corner of his mouth, “Lionel, is that…?”
“Yeah, it’s him.” Lionel held his right hand out, motioning between Gary and the god. “This is Gary. Gary, this is… um.” An uncomfortable pause ensued as Lionel realized he and the god of the tiny universe had not been properly introduced.
The god cleared his throat. “My name is Tedch–” he said and followed that with a full five minutes of noises that sounded like a very distressed chicken.
Gary and Lionel looked at each other and then back at the god.
Gary set the empty beer cans on the coffee table. “Would it be okay if we called you Ted?” he asked.
The god considered the request and then nodded. “It will likely speed up our conversation if you do.” He squished the melted carpet between his toes, twisted them back and forth, making swirly patterns. “Well, Gary, since you’re here now, do you have any last requests?”
“Huh?” Gary’s permanent grin was wiped off his face. “Why would I have a last request? Aren’t you here to smite Lionel?” He raised an eyebrow at Lionel. “No offense, dude.”
Lionel shrugged. “None taken.” He waited then for the god to enlighten Gary as to the situation.
The god, however, simply sat making melted footprints in Lionel’s carpet. Lionel took a deep breath, held it for the count of two an exhaled noisily.
“Here’s the thing, Gary. Turns out, he… Ted isn’t here to smite me. It’s a balance issue – an egg for an egg kind of thing. And…”
Gary turned and headed to the kitchen. He called back over his shoulder, “I’m getting another beer. Want one?”
“No, thanks,” Lionel said and glanced at his open Belgium ale sitting on the coffee table.
“Ted?” Gary asked from the kitchen.
The god of the tiny universe looked at his scalding hot hands and sighed. “No, thanks.”
Gary walked back in with a beer in each hand.
“So,” Lionel started again, “it turns out that our universe is inside an egg too. And–”
“I knew it!” Gary said. “The chat boards have been full of Egg Theory lately. String Theory, my ass.” Gary chugged the first bottle and started on the next. “Think about it, we’re inside of a giant egg.”
“Not a giant egg, that’s the Liplips. A conservative sized… oh, never mind.” The god licked his dry lips, in either an impatient or thirsty gesture. “Gary, your friend Lionel created an imbalance and the only way to restore balance is to boil your universe. Got it?”
Gary wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and set both empty bottles on the now cluttered coffee table. “All of it? I mean, the whole universe?”
The god of the tiny universe and Lionel both nodded.
“Well, for starters, that doesn’t make sense.” Gary picked up one of the empty bottles from the table, set it down again and walked back to the kitchen.
Lionel heard the door of under-counter refrigerator open and close and the clink of the last two beer bottles hitting together.
Gary walked back out of the kitchen drinking from one of the bottles. “You’re out of beer,” he said and took another swallow. He held the last bottle out to Lionel.
“I’ve got one, thanks,” Lionel said and pointed to his bottle on the table.
“Ted,” Gary said.
The god of the tiny universe looked up from his carpet swirls.
“Your universe was inside of an egg, correct?” Gary asked.
“Our universe is inside of an egg, correct?”
“So, it’s probably safe to extrapolate that all universes are inside of eggs, inside of other eggs.”
“That is a rational conclusion.” The god raised his eyebrows and nodded, slightly.
Lionel thought Ted might be expressing a slight admiration of Gary’s deductive reasoning skills. He felt a surge of pride in being Gary’s best friend.
The god leaned back and laced his fingers behind his head. “While I admire your grasp of universal physicality, I still need to boil your universe.” He glanced at the clock on the wall. “Before 10:00, to mitigate the risk of an irreparable shift.”
“But that’s just it,” Gary said and started on the last beer. “If there’s one small egg-universe inside of our universe, then chances are, there are more.”
The god dropped his hands down to rest beside his thighs on the sofa cushions. He picked at a loose thread. The strong ale in Lionel’s stomach soured with anxiety while he wondered what the god could be thinking. He looked at the wall clock. 9:56 P.M.
Gary polished off the last beer and looked around for a spot to set down the empty bottle. Lionel handed him a coaster – a beer-drinking toucan, a souvenir gift from his uncle’s trip to Dublin ten years ago. Gary carefully set the coaster and bottle on the bookcase.
“So, you see what I’m saying?” he asked the god of the tiny universe.
The god squinted and rubbed at his eyes. Lionel wondered if he was watching the same flashing lights and colours he saw when he rubbed his eyes. The god leaned forward resting his hands on his knees. Lionel glanced at the clock again, 9:58. He wiped his sweat-slick palms against his pant legs.
“You’ve got a point,” the god said. “Funny, that never came up during our planning meetings.” Then he stood, hitting his head on Lionel’s ceiling, and knocking a three-meter wide hole though it. “Ouch.” He stooped and rubbed at a toaster-sized – and growing – bump above his forehead.
Lionel stared at the cracked plaster and worried about the structural integrity of the floor above before realizing the floor, the neighbours and everything else was about to be obliterated. He looked once more at the wall-clock as the minute hand clicked forward. He shut his eyes and braced himself. All he could hear was the steady pump of his heart. He counted down from sixty, wanting to feel and experience every last beat. Four, three, two–.
“Ah-hem,” the god of the tiny universe interrupted Lionel’s thoughts.
Lionel opened his left eye, then his right one. The god was standing by the hole in the wall that used to be the front door. He was smiling and making surfer-style ‘hang loose’ gestures while Gary took pictures with his phone.
“So… I’ll be going now. Thanks for the pizza,” the god said.
Lionel looked at Gary who was busy posting the photos to his Fess-up feed. He held up the screen for Lionel to see.
“Look! Twelve ‘likes’ already.”
“That’s great… what… what’s happening here?” Lionel raised an eyebrow and tipped his head in the god’s direction.
“Well, it’s like Gary said.” The god used his left index finger to scratch his ear. Sparks dropped and burnt holes in Lionel’s favorite Herschel backpack.
Lionel was so gobsmacked he didn’t think to pull it out of the way. “So… now you’re… not going to boil the universe?”
“When you stuff eggs inside eggs… inside eggs, you can’t really keep track of them all. So, yeah, if I boil your universe, I might be boiling other universes too. Throws off the whole rebalancing calculation.”
“Okay.” Lionel stuck out his right hand to the god of the tiny universe. “Thanks for stopping by.”
The god stuck out his hand to shake Lionel’s. The heat singed the hairs on the back of Lionel’s knuckles.
“Whoa!” Lionel pulled his hand back.
“Air fist-bump?” the god asked.
After air fist-bumps all round, the god of the tiny universe made his enormous exit down Lionel’s apartment hallway.
“Should we go get a drink?” Gary asked.
Lionel glanced around his smashed, scorched and partially melted apartment. “Absolutely.”