Adam and Eve
It began as the obscure idea of a German philosopher, that our bodies are nothing more than the physical manifestation of our wills, and that our fingers can find their way on a keyboard, tie knots and make obscene gestures because those are things we probably wanted to be able to do. Those who first put this notion into practice, pioneers though they might have been, were mere shadows of what came later, the first drops of an impending storm. There were the bodybuilders with massive, purposeless muscles, and the legions of the tattooed and pierced, elevating tribal customs to the very heights of fashion. Add to this all manner of fakirs, ascetics and anorexics and you have a tableau which might be cited as an example of life struggling to prove a philosopher right.
And then modern science enters the picture, with its promises and its irresistible pace, for what has science become but a way to get the things we want more quickly and completely. There was no longer any question of waiting millions of years for evolution to play its role, nor of starving oneself in order to express a profound idea. Through genetic manipulation it became possible to impose the will directly on our compliant bodies, to physically transform our bones and flesh.
The consequences began to be felt immediately, trivial though they were. Now everyone's beautiful soul shone through equally beautiful faces instead of being hidden behind a pimply, wrinkled mask. Virtually the entire population of the planet became beautiful and ugliness only existed as rebellion or a gesture of disgust. It was true that some remained indifferent to this ability to change or 'improve' their appearance. They kept their original features intact and were able to feel more 'natural', although this attitude went out of style rather quickly.
There were negative consequences as well, for what is a plastic surgeon to do in a world where people can accomplish through willpower what had formerly required an anesthetic and surgical knife? They found themselves unemployed and lacking the skills to do anything else. Soon all their gaudy mansions fell into ruin, each resembling nothing so much as a sagging plastic face.
But having a pretty population was far from being an evolutionary end. As the limitless possibilities began to be grasped it was no longer enough to have long legs and well toned muscles. People searched out the exceptional, and what corresponds to the soaring aims of the human spirit more than a functional set of wings?
The first person to sport a pair of them was an accountant whose whole life had been an accumulation of small disappointments. Added up they made him bitter but set him dreaming at the same time. He had looked up into the sky and watched the flocks of birds with their unencumbered existence. It wasn't just the physical sensation of flying which he longed for but to be surrounded by nothing solid, no walls, doors, cars, books or road signs, only the empty air in every direction, in other words, freedom.
His lead was quickly followed. Poets, distressed teenagers already engaged in a form of flight, and travelers who wanted to save money on plane tickets, all took to the air. Migrations were no longer charted in terms of north or east or west, but vertically. The population rise was literal and the immediate result was a refreshing lack of crowds, at least on the ground. Giant metropolises grew relatively quiet, pleasant places to stroll around for those who still engaged in such pastimes. Earthbound cars were left unused by the sides of the roads. No one could complain. On the contrary it was as if a single solution to a multitude of problems had been offered to the world and been universally accepted.
Of course, in places, the skies became crowded. There were traffic jams, accidents, air rage and some spectacular deaths but this was taken as "being in the general order of things" and so, unavoidable. After all, no one had promised an instant paradise. It was a life with wings, with all its attendant problems.
And this sky contained darker clouds too. No longer needed, airlines fell out of business and legions of former pilots turned to crime, using their knowledge of air flows and navigation to become the highway brigands of the flying world, pirates of the air. Borders ceased to exist and the flow of immigrants was perpetual, even accidental, as no one was sure which country they happened to be over at any given time.
Not everyone decided on wings though. After their initial popularity they began to seem a bit of a cliche and a mutual resentment began to grow up between the two sides of this new, great divide. For those on the ground the life of a bird appeared irresponsible and aimless, and it was true that many people, once having grown wings, were unable to return to their professions, either because, like surgeons, they could no longer perform them properly, or because these new appendages prevented them from fitting into the places where they had formerly worked. Others rejected wings with thoughts of Icarus in mind, while still others were simply afraid of heights.
For the walking world the outward form of human life retained its basic shape throughout all these early metamorphoses. People continued doing the same old things - drinking, watching TV, having sex, writing their autobiographies and selling things. But even these time tested institutions were forced to accommodate themselves to the instantaneous demands of the human will.
Sports were as popular as ever and athletes no longer needed steroids to bulk up unnaturally but could effect this transformation on their own. The three-hundred pound linemen of yesteryear were replaced by four-hundred pound ones and these by others exceeding five-hundred pounds and more, often during the same game. Speeds and sizes escalated so rapidly that no one was able to follow the action anymore and public interest quickly faded. These athletes became outcasts, freaks, finding refuge in the darkest forests and becoming the monsters that trouble children's sleep.
Even the workplace wasn't left unchanged. The foreman of a factory which made rubber tubes showed up on the job one day to find that his workers all had delicate white hands and high, aristocratic cheekbones. Their posture was impeccable and even the way they leaned over the assembly line was done with dignity and grace. Where were the rough skinned faces he had seen only the day before? Where were the squared heavy shoulders and work-worn hands? Would any of these people be able to go for a beer with him after their shift, or go bowling on Friday nights?
The entire social order was breaking down. It was a revolution, but an ambiguous one; a decline, decay and collapse all in one innocent stroke. It was happening before people's very eyes and yet they couldn't see it, so distracted were they by their new bodies and the new lives these enabled them to lead. What they gained they could physically feel, in their wings and claws and underwater breathing, but what they lost wasn't so easily tallied, and it was everything.
The foundations of human life started to crack beyond repair, splitting into unrecognizable pieces. The foreman, for example, remained happy as long as the factory was still functioning and production quotas were being met. But his dandified workforce soon found itself jaded and let the rows of rubber tubes pass them on the line with little more than a disdainful glance. He came down on the floor to try to discover what was wrong but the conversations he heard only increased his bewilderment.
"When I look at these tubes I see the image of my futile life," lamented a long time employee named Gus.
"Ah . . . life," a colleague replied, "as for life, let our servants live it for us."
The foremen tried pep talks and even threats, but to no avail, and when it finally dawned on him that his factory and its workers were in their decadent, twilight era he saw no other alternative but to pack up and go look for another job.
But where were the people who would do something so prosaic as work when the choice was between that and a new, mythic existence? When you can be anything from a centaur to a dragon to a Hindu god with twenty arms no amount of material want or parental nagging will force you to decide on a particular career. Willing their metamorphoses became a full time occupation and no one could be bothered with anything else. The everyday world had ceased to exist.
A young boy walks among the mayhem, staring at the transformed world with so much wonder that he forgets entirely about himself. He is a pair of eyes, disembodied vision, and it is only the sight of his name, Adam, sewn lovingly into his shirt's front pocket that serves as evidence of his objective self. He smiles in satisfaction. He is thoroughly entertained, and wants nothing more than to wander around and watch the familiar world disappear in such storybook fashion, with clashing giants, jungle beasts and vast, empty cities wherever he turns.
The giants are easily explained. There were all too many people whose simple minds could go no further than willing themselves bigger and stronger for purposes of brute force. Titans again walked the earth and their struggles were epic. Computerized, modern warfare was replaced by the hand-to-hand variety and these increasingly large combatants went at each other so ferociously that in no time they drove themselves into extinction, leaving nothing behind but oversized bones and countless shattered skulls.
The preponderance of animals which had seemingly come from nowhere was the result of that age old desire for a simple, thoughtless life. Saying something like, "I wish I were a gazelle", in a dreamy tone of voice was no longer idle fantasy. People willed themselves into animal forms and children became the true companions of their dogs and cats, while animal activists were able to restock the supply of species previously endangered or extinct.
It is humanity itself that now has vanished and it is with surprise that we see a young girl coming out of an empty house, her eyes still blinking from sleep. She has been left behind by her family, by her species and her race. She is alone in the world.
Neither frightened nor terribly aware of what is going on she continues doing what she has always done - going out to try to meet new people, all the while keeping an eye out for the prince of her future dreams. In other words she is thoroughly content with herself as she is, confident and social, and so sets out cheerfully to see where everybody has disappeared to.
Wild animals walk the streets which are otherwise empty. From town to town the scene is the same. She continues wandering, each night sleeping in a different empty bed. She does occasionally spot someone, but high up in the air and out of the range of her voice. They seem to be getting further away from the earth all the time. Eventually, she stops looking upward.
She has no idea how long she has been wandering, only that she has reached places where the neglected, corroding signs are in languages she doesn't understand. Everything becomes overgrown with weeds and foliage until the last human trace has completely vanished.
Then, one day, when she has arrived at the most beautiful place she has so far been she sees a boy sitting contentedly in the shade of a tree. It is Adam, of course, and he is happy to see her as he is happy to see everything around him in this lush and empty world. He offers her an apple from his tree and invites her to sit beside him. In the meadow below are all the beasts of the field, their human lives long submerged in animal memories. Adam puts his head back and looks skyward. For a moment he spies what looks like a tiny wing in the space between two passing clouds, so far away as to be otherworldly, as if he had only imagined it. At night he watches the stars. The world is quiet and good. Eve takes a bite of the apple and feels content, as she will for ever after.
About the author:
It took Michael Stein longer to write this biographical note than it did to write any of his stories. He was born in Philadelphia and has spent the last nine years living in Prague. Not used to writing about himself in the 3rd person he can't think of anything else to say.