The Worlds Longest Joke Part 3
Jack sat down, well back from the lever. He looked thoughtful and puzzled at the same time. After a bit, he said, “So this makes me the Judge of humanity? I get to decide whether they keep going or just end? Me?”
“That seems to be it,” agreed Nate.
“What kind of criteria do I use to decide?” said Jack. “How do I make this decision? Am I supposed to decide if they’re good? Or too many of them are bad? Or that they’re going the wrong way? Is there a set of rules for that?”
“Nope,” replied Nate. “You pretty much just have to decide on your own. It’s up to you, however you want to decide it. I guess that you’re just supposed to know.”
“But what if I get mad at someone? Or some girl dumps me and I feel horrible? Couldn’t I make a mistake? How do I know that I won’t screw up?” protested Jack.
Nate gave his kind of snake-like shrug again. “You don’t. You just have to try your best, Jack.”
Jack sat there for a while, staring off into the desert that was rapidly getting dark, chewing on a fingernail.
Suddenly, Jack turned around and looked at the snake. “Nate, was Samuel the one bound to this before me?”
“Yep,” replied Nate. “He was a good guy. Talked to me a lot. Taught me to read and brought me books. I think I still have a good pile of them buried in the sand around here somewhere. I still miss him. He died a few months ago.”
“Sounds like a good guy,” agreed Jack. “How did he handle this, when you first told him. What did he do?”
“Well,” said Nate, “he sat down for a while, thought about it for a bit, and then asked me some questions, much like you’re doing.”
“What did he ask you, if you’re allowed to tell me?” asked Jack.
“He asked me about the third request,” replied Nate.
“Aha!” It was Jack’s turn to grin. “And what did you tell him?”
“I told him the rules for the third request. That to get the third request you have to agree to this whole thing. That if it ever comes to the point that you really think that humanity should be ended, that you’ll come here and end it. You won’t avoid it, and you won’t wimp out.” Nate looked serious again. “And you’ll be bound to do it too, Jack.”
“Hmmm.” Jack looked back out into the darkness for a while.
Nate watched him, waiting.
“Nate,” continued Jack, quietly, eventually. “What did Samuel ask for with his third request?”
Nate sounded like he was grinning again as he replied, also quietly, “Wisdom, Jack. He asked for wisdom. As much as I could give him.”
“Ok,” said Jack, suddenly, standing up and facing away from Nate, “give it to me.
Nate looked at Jack’s backside. “Give you what, Jack?”
“Give me that wisdom. The same stuff that Samuel asked for. If it helped him, maybe it’ll help me too.” Jack turned his head to look back over his shoulder at Nate. “It did help him, right?”
“He said it did,” replied Nate. “But he seemed a little quieter afterward. Like he had a lot to think about.”
“Well, yeah, I can see that,” said Jack. “So, give it to me.” Jack turned to face away from Nate again, bent over slightly and tensed up.
Nate watched Jack tense up with a little exasperation. If he bit Jack now, Jack would likely jump out of his skin and maybe hurt them both.
“You remember that you’ll be bound to destroy humanity if it ever looks like it needs it, right Jack?” asked Nate, shifting position.
“Yeah, yeah, I got that,” replied Jack, eyes squeezed tightly shut and body tense, not noticing the change in direction of Nate’s voice.
“And,” continued Nate, from his new position, “do you remember that you’ll turn bright purple, and grow big horns and extra eyes?”
“Yeah, yeah…Hey, wait a minute!” said Jack, opening his eyes, straightening up and turning around. “Purple?!” He didn’t see Nate there. With the moonlight Jack could see that the lever extended up from its slot in the rock without the snake wrapped around it.
Jack heard, from behind him, Nate’s “Just Kidding!” right before he felt the now familiar piercing pain, this time in the other buttock.
Jack sat on the edge of the dark stone in the rapidly cooling air, his feet extending out into the sand. He stared out into the darkness, listening to the wind stir the sand, occasionally rubbing his butt where he’d been recently bitten.
Nate had left for a little while, had come back with a desert-rodent-shaped bulge somewhere in his middle, and was now wrapped back around the lever, his tongue flicking out into the desert night’s air the only sign that he was still awake.
Occasionally Jack, with his toes absentmindedly digging in the sand while he thought, would ask Nate a question without turning around.
“Nate, do accidents count?”
Nate lifted his head a little bit. “What do you mean, Jack?”
Jack tilted his head back like he was looking at the stars. “You know, accidents. If I accidentally fall on the lever, without meaning to, does that still wipe out humanity?”
“Yeah, I’m pretty sure it does, Jack. I’d suggest you be careful about that if you start feeling wobbly,” said Nate with some amusement.
A little later – “Does it have to be me that pulls the lever?” asked Jack.
“That’s the rule, Jack. Nobody else can pull it,” answered Nate.
“No,” Jack shook his head, “I meant does it have to be my hand? Could I pull the lever with a rope tied around it? Or push it with a stick? Or throw a rock?”
“Yes, those should work,” replied Nate. “Though I’m not sure how complicated you could get. Samuel thought about trying to build some kind of remote control for it once, but gave it up. Everything he’d build would be gone by the next sunrise, if it was touching the stone, or over it. I told him that in the past others that had been bound had tried to bury the lever so they wouldn’t be tempted to pull it, but every time the stones or sand or whatever had disappeared.”
“Wow,” said Jack, “Cool.” Jack leaned back until only his elbows kept him off of the stone and looked up into the sky.
“Nate, how long did Samuel live? One of his wishes was for health too, right?” asked Jack.
“Yes,” replied Nate, “it was. He lived 167 years, Jack.”
“Wow, 167 years. That’s almost 140 more years I’ll live if I live as long. Do you know what he died of, Nate?”
“He died of getting tired of living, Jack,” Nate said, sounding somewhat sad.
Jack turned his head to look at Nate in the starlight.
Nate looked back. “Samuel knew he wasn’t going to be able to stay in society. He figured that they’d eventually see him still alive and start questioning it, so he decided that he’d have to disappear after a while. He faked his death once, but changed his mind – he decided it was too early and he could stay for a little longer. He wasn’t very fond of mankind, but he liked the attention. Most of the time, anyway.
“His daughter and then his wife dying almost did him in though. He didn’t stay in society much longer after that. He eventually came out here to spend time talking to me and thinking about pulling the lever. A few months ago he told me he’d had enough. It was his time.”
“And then he just died?” asked Jack.
Nate shook his head a little. “He made his forth request, Jack. There’s only one thing you can ask for the fourth request. The last bite.
After a bit Nate continued, “He told me that he was tired, that it was his time. He reassured me that someone new would show up soon, like they always had.
After another pause, Nate finished, “Samuel’s body disappeared off the stone with the sunrise.”
Jack lay back down and looked at the sky, leaving Nate alone with his memories. It was a long time until Jack’s breathing evened out into sleep.
Jack woke with the sunrise the next morning. He was a little chilled with the morning desert air, but overall was feeling pretty good. Well, except that his stomach was grumbling and he wasn’t willing to eat raw desert rat.
So, after getting directions to town from Nate, making sure he knew how to get back, and reassuring Nate that he’d be back soon, Jack started the long walk back to town. With his new health and Nate’s good directions, he made it back easily.