This is the first page. Go ahead and turn to the last page if you’d like to know how this all ends. Some people are like that, wanting to skip ahead before time has had a chance to do its thing. Don’t worry; you’ll come around to our way of thinking. You always do.
If, on the other hand, you’d like to take the scenic route this time, well then, have we got a trip for you!
Go ahead and turn to page 13, where you’ll read all about how, after years and years of struggle and perseverance, you finally get the girl, buy the house, live long and healthily enough to play with your grandkids—and even manage to squeeze in a few vacations here and there. It’s on that page where it’ll be revealed how you’ve always been partial to two extremes of geography: The White Mountains, in New Hampshire, and South Beach, in Miami. Both offer stunning vistas, unpredictable storms, and copious amounts of snow.
In fact, on page 68, when you go to Miami as a young man, you’ll almost boil to death from the inside out, fruitlessly and frustratingly lusting after girls; when you go to New Hampshire you’ll almost lose yourself to the white-capped immensity in the distance, overcome by the feel of time at the geologic scale as it shapes the very soul of the earth–rendering the topography all but unrecognizable to our distant descendants, who will return to this rock only to tread over the fossilized remains of burnt-down video arcades while peering up at the stars through the holes in the atmosphere, millions of years from now.
Don’t worry: they don’t appear until page 5,314.
Turn to page 45 for a thrilling interlude of bone-tingling suspense. It’s here that you find yourself wearing a pistol on your hip and a gas-mask over your face. You have a machete slung across your back and a shotgun in both hands, and you’re making your way to the waiting helicopter at the seaport–you know, the one down by the ferry to Governor’s Island, which at this point is itself a lost cause, having been swarmed by zombies. You race down the length of the dock to the idling bird as the waves from the East River slap at the underside of the concrete apron. Sirens and smoke hang over the city and the sun is going all liquid-gold as it slides down the glass walls of the Financial District. Just as the bird is lifting off with everyone safely aboard, leaving the blood-stained mob below–they’ve broken down the chain-link fence and poured out over the apron just as the pilot is pulling up on the stick–you’ll think of Her. She appears ever-so-briefly on page 16.
Warning: Do Not Turn to Page 16.
Page 16: You sit with her inside the little mock-ups of race-cars near the plate-glass windows in that video arcade in New Hampshire. It is pre-winter. You know what that’s like. Up north autumn starts promptly on September the First, proceeding thereafter to drop dead leaves on lawns while cutting short the day’s light, even before the kids can get a chance to finish their homework. It’s not fair, and there are decades in store for you promising nothing but more of the same. You’ll always be alone, and the empty evenings outside your bedroom window will make you feel as though the Earth has been evacuated without you. These preliminaries will form not so much a season unto itself as a ritual-function of the coming cold, a prelude to a sacrifice, the clearing of the altar for the forthcoming death, widespread, inside and out, that alone can satisfy Winter’s king. And boy does he ever have it out for you. We have no clue what it is you did to get on his shit-list, but, well…it’s enough that you should know that for the time being, young man, a windbreaker and long-sleeve shirt will suffice.
You walk with her along the side of the highway and she brushes up against you from time to time. Not recoiling, like all women will do once you’re older and a man; no, the thought of touching your skin makes her smile. Enjoy that feeling while it lasts.
The woods to your right are as pale and bare as the sky’s meager and failing light on this Sunday afternoon, but such thoughts don’t make you as sad as they normally would, because you’ve got a pocketful of quarters and a tanned, exotic girl walking by your side. Nothing has ever been so perfect, nor will it ever be so again. We’ll see to that. We swear to you.
So dreamy and happy later on while she sits sideways in her seat in the video-game next to yours in the arcade, the sun and the plate-glass window conspiring to tease you with a near-summer bath of heat, something whispered as she smiles and leans in…
We’re taking away your sense of home.
Turn to page 1,413 for your trip to Mars, and the ten years you’ll spend there in near-solitude, toiling outside of the glass dome of the penal colony. You’ll be tending to the silent machines that mine the Martian surface, behemoths slow-moving against the gossamer atmosphere, pale pink and red, like some slow-dwindling vitality being leeched out from over an industrial park. The sheer expanses with which you’ll contend, the internal scream you’ll wish to silence with the application of bullets to your brain, just explode this frame, but–no guns to be had. Hell, not even armed guards; and fences? Ha! Just where do you think you’re going?
Huh? We’re talking to you, boy. Speak up. What did we tell you would happen if you kept on with these little rants of yours? Spilling the beans on the archons and the Demiurge and such. You think we can just let that slide?
But…speaking off the record: You take this place way too seriously. Getting yourself all worked up over nothing. Don’t you think it’d be better to have some time by yourself? To decompress, to work through some of these issues? Isn’t that healthy for your human brain? Enforced solitude? Don’t you value this opportunity you’ve been given to look out at the stars and to reflect on what exactly it is you’ve done to deserve this? You wanted equality with the gods. Transparency in their process. And so ye shall receive. After all, who is more equal to you than yourself, working on an alien world all alone? And what could be more transparent than the glass dome of your containment suit?
Tell Orion we said hi.
You’ll come back from Mars a broken man (page 10,822), too tired even to reminisce over pages 5, 78, or 992, that last one, having to do with your Ducati, a particular favorite.
Turn to page 500 to become a race car driver (yay!) and zip around the track at speeds unfathomable.
Turn to page 33 to learn the secrets of the Pyramids at Giza.
Turn to page 666 to incarnate as the Dragon himself, to spread terror, sickness and death over the Earth. The Pale Horse will be your friend, the lake of fire your sudden end.
Turn to page 51 to invade as an Alien race from another galaxy, but, be warned: the pages, though they’ll now be written in a squiggly, foreign script, will likewise still be numbered. Which means you’ll have no choice, after you’ve holstered your ray gun and walked over the smoking remains of video arcades and the teenaged lovers smoldering within—
after you’ve levitated above snow-capped mountaintops prior to leveling them with scalar beams—
after you’ve made the waters off Miami Beach boil and shredded the atmosphere to reveal the stars from the sand—
after you’ve stood in front of the Pyramids on Mars and appraised your handiwork—
after you’ve reflected on your life, an old man unknowingly spending his last day on Earth with his grandchildren as they hike the White Mountains, overcome with a sense of the passage of time and the speck of an instant we’re each allotted on this rock as you gaze out over the land and up at the nearest star—
after you’ve sworn your soul without any takers to just have that one moment in the arcade last forever, to just never go home and never have the night fall and never move away, to never have it so that forever after the Winter king will see to it that steaming you bleed before in ragged threads of muscle and vein you’re torn to pieces—
(kill everyone and everything you have ever loved; burn this fucker down from the inside out; show them exactly what you think of this trap of theirs)
after you’ve assured yourself that this time is the last time, because you’ve finally found your way out of this cycle of birth and rebirth and heartbreak and failure, of soaring, sweeping vistas—
Why then, you’ll have no choice but to turn to the last page, where you’ll learn the truth.
Are you ready? Turn.
Hello, and welcome back to Earth! Please turn to page 1 to begin your adventure.