Good But Not Great

Julian Modugno


In the beginning, there was Lily and Lily was not happy.

“I can’t do it anymore!” she screamed as she threw her clothes into an old suitcase.  “I’m sick and tired of living like this.”

To be fair, Steve had seen Lily throw this tantrum many times before. Hell, she hadn’t even put away the suitcase from the last time she packed up her stuff and threatened to leave.  He tried to drown out her angry sobs and focus on his studies. “You don’t care about anything!”

“Of course I do,” countered Steve. “I care about all manner of things: books, science, the first season of 24…

“But what about me?” she shrieked.

“Oh, right,” he said, returning his attention to Lily. “And you.”

“It’s too late,” she sneered. “I’m tired of always coming in second to your ruthless pursuit of knowledge and I’m tired of complaining about being tired of coming in second to your ruthless pursuit of knowledge. What’s the point of being alive if you spend all your time waiting for the person you love to spend some time with you?”

“I don’t feel like I spend all my time waiting,” Steve replied.

“I’m talking about me!” Lily screamed. “You know what, Steve? Screw you. Call me when you grow up. On second thought, don’t call me. Ever.” Lily stomped out of the apartment, slamming the door behind her. Steve thought about chasing after her but, based on years of empirical evidence, he found that it was better to just let her cool off and return of her own accord.  He dove back into to his stack of readings and soon the familiar topics of theoretical perceptions of time and shamanistic rituals of Amazonian tribes lulled him to sleep.

Steve awoke at 10:30 the next morning, his face resting on the journals scattered all over his desk.  Lily usually made sure he woke at a reasonable hour but she was nowhere to be found.  Steve laughed. There was no way she was gone for good.  But, when lunchtime rolled around and Lily hadn’t returned to make him a grilled cheese sandwich, he became worried. Maybe she really was gone for good this time.

He tried to reach her on her cell phone but it went straight to voicemail. A cursory search of Facebook led Steve to discover that not only had Lily made their break-up Facebook official, she had deleted her profile altogether. Incapable of remembering the names of any of her friends or any of the places she liked to hang out, Steve was at a total loss as to how to contact her and apologize. This time, it would appear, she had really, truly broken up with him.

Steve spiraled quickly into a deep depression, heading immediately for the liquor cabinet and the plastic bottle of whiskey he had brought home to celebrate his and Lily’s second anniversary, only to find out it was their third anniversary and he was three weeks early.  Lightweight that he was, Steve soon found himself crouched over the toilet, heaving up stomach acid, cheap whiskey, and what he wished had been a grilled cheese sandwich.

Maybe Lily was right. Maybe Steve did spend too much time engrossed in his studies.  And what did he have to show for it? A poorly-paid graduate assistantship researching fringe scientific theories at a third-tier university, government subsidized housing, and paper cuts all over his body. Lily had been the only good thing in his life, the only woman who had ever put up with him for longer than a couple of dates and certainly the only woman who had had sex with him without first losing a bet. Besides, it wasn’t Steve’s fault he was so curious. It was simply human nature and there was nothing he could do about man’s innate thirst for knowledge. Or was there?

Steve pulled out his phone and called his best friend Eric. Eric was a graduate student, a philosophy major with a focus on nihilism, at the same university that Steve attended.

“Yeah, sure. I’ll be right over,” Eric said over the phone. “It’s not like I’m doing anything important anyway.” By the time Eric arrived, Steve had already worked his way through an entire pot of instant coffee.

“Why would you make instant coffee in a coffee pot?” Eric asked.

“Does it matter?” Steve shot back.

“No,” replied the nihilist. “Nothing does.”

“Eric, one of the defining characteristics of man is his endless quest for knowledge,” said Steve as he launched into another of his pedantic lectures. “And yet, nothing good has ever come of it: the conquering of indigenous peoples, the splitting of the atom, Yahoo! Answers. Our determination to know why and how has created nothing but pain.” Eric leaned back in his chair and rolled his eyes as his friend continued on.

“But what if I told you there was a way to end all that suffering? To return humanity to a state of pure bliss? As you may well know, modern theories about chronology suggest that the forward momentum of time is simply a byproduct of human perception. In reality, time is as rigid as depth or length or any of the other dimensions.  We simply cannot perceive it as such.”

“Yeah, yeah,” muttered Eric. “I’m certainly perceiving how long you’re taking to make your point.”

“Certain holy men of a primitive tribe in the Amazon realized this hundreds of years ago, long before modern thinkers caught up. These shamans would ingest a mixture of hallucinogenic fungi and seeds in order to achieve a higher level of consciousness. Legend has it that this altered state allowed the shamans not only to perceive time in a new way, but to move through it, as you or I might move through space.” Intrigued, the philosophy student leaned forward in his chair.

“Eric, what if I told you that I had recently received a shipment of these fungi and seeds? And what if I proposed that, tonight, you and I consume this mixture and travel back in time, long before all of human history, to the moment when Eve first ingested the Fruit of Knowledge? If we stopped her, we could save humanity from this curse that is knowledge!”

“Seven years of higher education and you still believe in the Garden of Eden?” said Eric. “I thought you were a man of science.”

“Are you in or are you out?” growled Steve.

“You had me at ‘mixture of hallucinogenic fungi and seeds,’” replied Eric.

In less than an hour, the two best friends were ready to embark on their quest to change the course of human civilization forever. They had prepared a special tea made from Steve’s Amazonian shipment, packed their adventurer’s kits, and changed into more breathable clothing.

“Should I bring a poncho?” asked Eric.

“It’s Paradise,” replied Steve.

Soon, the two students were peering down cautiously at the murky tea that sat on the kitchen counter in front of them. Steve poured several splashes into a teacup for each of them but Eric just shook his head and filled up a pint glass.

“If we’re doing this, I’m doing it for real,” he said. They clinked their glasses and chugged the awful swill.  For a moment, Steve struggled to keep the mixture down, his stomach still not fully settled from his escapade with the cheap whiskey. Even Eric, a regular tripper of the void, seemed a tad bit peaked.

“Nothing’s happening,” Eric pointed out.

“According to the journal of Spanish explorer Carlos Alvarez de Campaña, it takes about thirty minutes to kick in,” Steve explained. “Do you want to play some XBOX?”

“Yes,” replied Eric. “Yes I do.

Half an hour later, Steve’s XBOX controller melted into nothingness, along with the rest of his living room.

“I guess this means the drugs are kicking in,” said Eric.

“I sure hope so,” said Steve. “Okay, we’re supposed to focus our thoughts on moving backwards through time.” The two friends furrowed their brows in intense concentration, as together they reached out into the past.

“I don’t think it’s working,” said Eric as a bullet whizzed past his ear and hit President Lincoln in the back of the head. “Never mind.” Soon, the two friends were hurtling backwards through history. The most horrific scenes from mankind’s past played out in front of them: Redcoats impaled on the ends of bayonets, an entire tribe of Incans hacked to pieces by the Conquistadors, heaps of plague-ridden corpses stacked up on the streets of Crimea. These visions of suffering were too much for Eric, who suddenly wished to be back in the safety of Steve’s living room. Everything came to a crashing halt as they found themselves mere inches from a Viking invader, frozen in time, about to have his way with a local girl.

“I want to go home,” said Eric. “Human history is too vicious. I don’t want to see any more of it.”

“Exactly, dude,” retorted Steve. “This is exactly what intelligent people do with their knowledge: they hurt each other. We have a chance to stop that. We can make it so people spend their lives on something worthwhile, like loving each other.”

“Man, you’re doing a terrible job of dealing with this breakup,” said Eric. “Let’s just go back to the present and—I don’t know—go to a strip club.”

“Never!” screamed Steve, flinging them backwards through history again, his determination far outweighing that of the young nihilist. Events flew by too quickly to be properly observed, the entire bygone world soon becoming an unintelligible blur.  Just when they thought they couldn’t handle it any longer, they came to a gentle stop as a pleasant “ding” rang from out of thin air.  They found themselves in a magnificent garden, more lush than either of them had ever seen, despite both of them being from New Jersey.  Soft fields of heather waved in the distance as a flock of butterflies tickled the nose of an albino tiger. The sun beat down on the two men, warm like a fresh grilled cheese sandwich.

“I can’t believe it,” said Eric. “You were right. It’s real. It’s all real.” Suddenly, something clamped down around Eric’s wrist. He spun around to find Steve tightening a pair of furry handcuffs around his hands.

“What are you doing?” screamed Eric, struggling against his bonds.

“I’m afraid you can’t be trusted,” explained Steve. “You don’t really believe in what I’m doing here. I won’t let you interfere.”

“You’re wasting your time,” Eric said. “Rewriting human history isn’t going to give mankind some unified purpose. Don’t you get it? We don’t have a purpose. Our lives are meaningless. Short, brutal, and meaningless and why would you even pack sex handcuffs in your adventurer’s kit?”

Steve crept up to him. “Always. Be. Prepared.”

“For what? For a sex party!?”

“I don’t have time for this,” muttered Steve, pulling a rubbery ball-gag out of his backpack and shutting Eric up with it, once and for all. As his former friend struggled against his bonds, Steve turned back to the majesty of the garden. In the distance, a massive and gnarled tree grew from the sheer edge of a cliff. Beneath one of the boughs, a beautiful nude woman held a vermilion apple in her hand. In an instant, Steve began sprinting across the garden.

Just as the woman opened her mouth to take a bite of the apple, Steve caught up to her and tapped her on the shoulder. She spun around and Steve was struck mute by the radiant beauty of this woman who looked exactly like Cate Blanchett. She had a joy in her eyes unlike any that Steve had ever seen: the joy of simplicity. Her lighthearted expression was the most beautiful thing Steve had ever witnessed. She smiled tenderly at Steve, a true paragon of perfect bliss.

“Hi,” she said thickly. “Me Eve. Eve like being naked.” She raised the apple back to her mouth and prepared to take a bite. Steve grabbed her arm and tried to wrestle it from her, but the mother of all mankind was too strong for him. He cursed himself for not keeping his resolution of going to the gym more often. Steve roused the last of his vigor and pushed Eve back with all his might. Suddenly, she was gone, plummeting from the cliff, apple and all.

“That’s that, I guess,” said Steve, waiting for blissful ignorance to overtake him. He had prevented the woman from eating of the Tree of Knowledge and cursing all of mankind with the unbearable horror that is the human mind, but still, much to his dismay, Steve found his mind plagued by conscious thought. What had gone wrong?

“Hey!” a voice rang out in the same dull tone as the woman Steve had murdered. He turned and saw a lean yet muscular man who looked exactly like Viggo Mortensen. “You kill Eve?”

All of a sudden, the naked man descended on Steve and tackled him to the ground, pinning him under the full force of his impressive nudity and wrapping his meaty hands around Steve’s neck. Steve tried to pry him off but found he couldn’t muster the strength. Seriously, he thought to himself, if I get out of here alive, I have got to renew that gym membership.

Without warning, a deafening crack of thunder tore through the skies and a face appeared in the heavens above. The naked man let go of Steve’s neck as they gazed up at this mysterious figure who looked exactly like that guy who played Magneto, what’s-his-name? Even Eric, still bound and gagged on the other end of the garden, took notice of the apparition.

“Adam and Eve!” boomed the heavenly visage. “What the heck is going on down there?”

“It’s Adam and Steve, not Adam and Eve,” Steve cried out.

“I-I-I knew that,” stammered the celestial being. “I know everything. Hi, I’m God. I don’t think we’ve met before. Is that guy coming from a sex party?” He pointed at Eric.

“Back off, God,” screamed Steve, pulling a pistol from his backpack.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” said God, winking and turning the gun into a puppy hugging a kitten. “Let’s talk this out like rational adults.” He wiggled His nose like Samantha on Bewitched and suddenly, He stood in front of Adam and Steve.

“What’s going on here?” asked God. “Where’s Eve?”

“I killed her,” admitted Steve.

“Oh, but why?” moaned God. “She was about to eat the Fruit of Knowledge!”

“I don’t understand,” said Steve. “You wanted Eve to eat that apple?”

“Duh,” said God. “To be honest with you, this whole ruler of Earth thing is getting super boring to me. When I made Adam and Eve simple, I didn’t expect them to be totally unable to take care of themselves.”

“But doesn’t the curse of knowledge prevent us from living as simply and blissfully as every other animal?”

“Curse of knowledge?” God said, rolling His eyes. “Talk about looking a gift horse in the mouth. You should be happy to be sentient. I mean, look at him!” God gestured towards Adam, who stared blankly into space as he whizzed onto a rock.

“But all people do is fight and hurt each other,” moaned Steve. “Is that what you want from us?”

“What I want from you? Kiddo, I didn’t make all this as part of some grand scheme. I made it because I was bored. I don’t care what you do as long as it’s interesting to watch,” said God, snapping his fingers. In a flash, Eric appeared next to Steve, unshackled and degagged. “Now take your friend and go home.”

“But Eve is dead,” Steve pointed out. “I altered history forever. How can we just go home?”

“Don’t worry about it,” said God. “That’s the third Eve we’ve gone through in as many months. They may be innocent when they’re dumb, but they sure do walk into a lot of crocodile infested waters.” And with that, God reached into Adam’s torso, extracted yet another rib from his ribcage and threw it on the ground. Instantly, a new Eve appeared, plucked a fresh apple from the Tree of Knowledge, and took a bite.

“Eve hate being naked,” she remarked.

“Wait a minute. Why are Adam and Eve white?” asked Eric.

“Get out of here!” God boomed, waving his hands at the two friends. In the blink of an eye, they flew backwards through the garden and began tumbling forward through time, past all of mankind’s greatest accomplishments: workers completing the Lighthouse of Alexandria, Johannes Gutenberg printing his Bible, Jessica Simpson selling the seven millionth copy of her 2003 album In This Skin. Steve and Eric watched in awe as humanity’s bounty unfolded in front of them before coming to a gentle stop back in Steve’s living room. The time travelers stared at each other in silence for some time before Eric worked up the nerve to speak.

“So, do you want to go to that strip club?” he asked.

“What?” asked Steve. “Dude, my girlfriend just broke up with me!”

“Forget about her,” Eric said as he wrapped his arm around his best friend and led him to the door. “She’s ancient history. Besides, if God wants a show, I say we give Him one.” And so, the two very best friends headed to the nicest strip club they could afford and had one of the most fun and reasonably priced nights of their lives. And God looked upon it, and saw that it was good but not great.