Phil had a bit of a problem: the universe didn’t like him. People tend not to realise that the universe has its own views, they don’t realise that it has thoughts at all, let alone desires and certainly not a sense of humour. Sometimes the universe does things we can appreciate, like creating beings which can appreciate. But sometimes the universe does things we don’t like, sending meteors careening off towards a planet filled with life or causing earthquakes; it does not do these things cruelly, it is simply indifferent. The universe was not indifferent to Phil, it actively played pranks on him, deliberately trying to bring mischief to his life. It hadn’t always been that way…
One morning, Phil woke up to his alarm as per usual, but sitting next to his bed was a short, elderly man on a stool, swinging a pocket watch in his wizened hand with a pendulous motion. “You will go back to sleep,” he began, “you will forget about work for today.” Before he could object, before he could even panic at the sight of an intruder, Phil had fallen back to sleep and forgot about going to work.
Later that morning, Phil woke up without his alarm. There was no little old man, the window was closed, the bedroom door locked. An odd dream, he thought. Phil tried to sit up, but the effort it took was enormous. He felt his body begin to be pulled down into the bed, it was agonising, his head, neck and shoulders stayed where they were, pinned firmly down, as his legs and torso were being stretched for miles down through his bed. His body was on fire, his eyes boiling, his flesh blistering. He was ready to give up and die when he passed out.
Phil woke three days later, he did not know the time as all of his clocks were showing different times. He got out of bed, his back was aching, and stumbled to the bathroom. As he stood in front of the sink, cleaning his teeth, his phone rang – it was work – he felt a sudden lurch and was thrown to the floor, his head hit the mat with a thud. He shook himself then stood up, paying no attention to what was around him, or rather what wasn’t around him. His bathroom had disappeared, his house had disappeared, the whole planet had disappeared. He looked down, but there was no down, there was space everywhere he looked, distant stars as far as he could see. He clung to the mat, struggling to breathe, slowly freezing. He closed his eyes, trembling violently, then opened them again and was back on the bathroom floor, his toothbrush resting near his head, the toothpaste smeared along the tiles. It was the last of the toothpaste.
Phil spent most of the day buried in an ant-hill with only his head poking out. The ants which owned the hill tickled him all over, crawled over his face, burrowed into his ears and prodded his eyeballs with their tarsal claws. He had resigned himself to this fate when his phone rang again. He agreed to go out for drinks – anything would be better than the ant-hill.
None of Phil’s clothes would fit. They had all been altered. His trousers were too long, his shirts were too tight or missing sleeves, his socks seemed to be paired between one the size of a sleeping bag and one which barely covered his big toe, his shoes even appeared to be made out of cardboard. Nothing he wore looked good, but he still found the resolve to go to the pub despite looking his absolute worst. Finally dressed, he walked down the stairs towards the front door. His staircase was nothing unusual, boasting the standard thirteen steps, but over three thousand steps later he had reached the bottom, sweating through his mismatched clothing, still unaware of the actual time.
He reached for the door handle but could not grasp it, like in a dream where the usually tangible becomes intangible, as though he was vibrating at completely the wrong frequencies and passing straight through the gaps in the atoms. This torturous phantasmagoria drove Phil to bash the door out of frustration. He heard a creaking. The door handle was suddenly physical again, but the door hinges were starting to buckle. He threw caution to the wind and opened the door; the wind threw him back against the stairs without caution. He charged head first against the forceful gales, he knew he didn’t have far to go to get to the pub. Everyone he passed on the way was heavily armed. He saw all manner of weapons, mostly guns, swords, the occasional axe, a cricket bat, and even an unusually large, muscular man with a peashooter.
He wasn’t strong enough to open the pub door but managed to sneak in when, what must have been a fourteen-year-old girl with a fake ID, opened the door with ease. The pub was crowded, he spotted his friends in amongst the throng, past a large group of girls. There was a deep rumbling beneath the music, at first he thought the bass had been turned up, but it was getting louder. The wall at the other end of the pub came crashing down, waves smashed through the droves and slammed down on Phil. It forced its way up his nose and mouth, choking him. It pounded his ribs, putting pressure on his chest. He tried to breathe but felt the fist of the water thumping down his gullet. His body buffeted off the bar, the tables, the walls, as the waves carried him back towards his home.
He washed up onto his bed, where he curled up into a ball and cried himself to sleep. The universe doesn’t do that sort of thing to Phil every day, it often leaves him alone, but sometimes it just takes the piss. If anything knows how to really take the piss, it’s the universe.