“When we are done here you will be killed,” said Director Emmet Peterson of Best Possible Life, Inc.
Hearing this, Asher leaned back in his chair, casually rested his hands in his lap and began to swivel ever so slightly from side to side, the tension in his shoulders melting with each subtle twist. Still, he made sure to knot his brows for the Director’s benefit.
“You will sign papers acknowledging that fact. Mr. Asher, I want to be very clear about that from the start. Do you fully understand?” He sat back in his large leather chair as his assistant delivered the tea.
“It’s just Asher. Yeah, I get it. But it’s not really me, right? It’s some other version on another path, like me, but not. Like a ghost in different world.” He took the offered tea and set it aside, placing it on the director’s large desk which loomed over him. He felt small.
“As far as the alternate-universe-you is concerned, he is as much you as you are and feels just as alive. And I’m sure will feel quite unhappy with being ‘moved aside’ so that you may supplant him.” The Director took a sip of his tea.
“Right, I guess he would,” conceded Asher, ignoring his cup. “But since I’ll be taking over his life, it’s not like he’s really dead, er, gone. I mean no one there will notice, right? And as far as anyone here in our ‘verse is concerned, I’ll just be missing so it’s like no one died at all, yeah?”
“If that’s what helps you to sign the contract.” The Director placed his tea down on the table beside him. “You realize of course that this is not an inexpensive endeavor. Out of The Infinite, we will search exactly one million alternate universes for the Best Possible You – literally searching for that one-in-a-million Mr. Asher who’s living the best possible version of your life. And when we find him we will kill him. I say that without euphemism Mr. Asher, so that there are no misunderstandings. We will kill him and put you in his place.”
Asher furrowed his brow in an attempt to look thoughtful and said, “But the killing, wouldn’t that be somewhat, how do I put this? Illegal?”
“There are infinite worlds, many of them unpopulated and without laws. We simply walk your alternate self towards one of those, usually without them ever knowing.”
“I see,” said Asher, who was sure he didn’t.
“This takes some time and resources,” Director Peterson continued, “all of which you will have to cover. And to be frank Mr. Asher, if you can afford our services then things must be going well enough for you right here in our own cozy corner of the multi-verse.”
Wife, dog, shitty job. That was it. And I really hate my job, thought Asher. Dark gray cube, no personal items allowed. Fill out this form; double-check it; do it again. Repeat. Not anymore. “I won a tidy sum in the lottery. Not a fortune, of course, but enough for this.”
“Well you could certainly use it for a nice vacation for you and the missus, perhaps a second honeymoon?” suggested Emmet.
“With my wife?”
“That was my thought, yes.”
“Ugh. Just nags me every day to dress better and apply myself at work and ‘put on a happy face’ and other drivel. No, there must be something better out there.”
“Statistically speaking, yes.” Emmet handed Asher a stack of papers. “Very well Mr. Asher, I just needed to be sure you understood what you were signing up for. We will of course, require full payment in advance.”
“It’s just Asher,” he said with a grimace as he signed his lottery winnings over to Best Possible Life, Inc.
Asher was a statue that stood leaning on the door to his apartment. He’d forgotten how long he’d been frozen there, his keys in his right hand poised at the lock. I can’t do this, he thought. But there was no use putting it off. He let out a deep breath and did the one thing he dreaded most each day: he turned the lock and pushed at the door.
And immediately found himself under attack. His attacker leapt at him aggressively, shoving him back against the door, slamming it closed and knocking Asher to his knees. This was the opportunity his attacker had been hoping for! Baring a long, pink, and extremely wet tongue as a weapon, she deftly used it to cover every inch of Asher’s face with sticky-warm saliva.
“Enough! Enough!” he shouted and pushed his unappreciated best friend back onto all fours with a small whack to the nose. “No licking! Ugh, now I smell like dog.”
“Hello sweetie I’m so glad you’re home!” came a tiny but playful voice from the kitchenette. “I’m always so lonely without you.”
Asher groaned, quite audibly.
“I bet what you need is a big hug and a long kiss after your hard day.” His wife Anna wiggled up to him, pushed the dog aside, and wrapped her arms around his neck and pressed her lips against his.
“Oh! You taste like dog,” she said in surprise, a sly smile growing on her face. “Who have you been with?” She winked at Brizzy. The Blue Heeler wagged her tail furiously and gave two enthusiastic barks.
“Oh hell, why must I always be attacked when I come home? Just everyone give me some space!” shouted Asher as he pushed his way past and moved down the hall.
“No one is attacking you dear, we just love you is all. We’re happy you’re back, can’t you see that?” Anna’s smile began to fade.
“Anna, what are you doing in this kitchen it’s a disaster!” Asher stood surveying the assortment of pots, pans, and other cooking detritus strewn about the counter tops.
“I’m making your favorite, Ashy-baby. It’s your mom’s famous recipe, try it.” She lifted a tasting spoon to his lips with a new hopeful smile.
His brow furrowed, “No one ever could make it quite like mom.”
Anna frowned, “Well I am trying you know. Maybe you should make it yourself!” She threw the spoon in the sink, walked into the bedroom and shut the door.
“Hell, here we go again,” said Asher to himself. “Always getting up in arms at the drop of a hat.”
He felt a soft nudge at his knee. “Oh what is it now? What do you want?” Brizzy had sidled up to him and dropped her leash at his feet. “No way! I just got home! Go walk yourself.”
Asher threw himself on the couch and turned on a recording of last night’s San Francisco Raiders game with the volume turned up enough to drown out the sound of whimpering at the door and sobbing from the bedroom. He grabbed his phone and ordered a pizza.
“Men are the reason women are dumb,” Asher announced while rolling back in his chair and pushing the conference room door closed.
“You’re saying women are dumb?” asked Norbert with a nervous edge.
“Yeah, especially the lookers.”
“That’s kind of a dick thing to say, don’t you think? Wait, don’t tell me. I’m pretty sure I know the answer.”
“Oh shut up and listen, fool. You might learn something. I said men are the reason they are dumb. It’s not like women are genetically dumb, it’s that we make them that way.”
“Sure. And how exactly do we do that?” Norbert shifted in his seat, visibly uncomfortable with where this was headed.
“I’m glad you asked. I’ve been dying to tell you.”
“Yeah, I bet you have.” Norbert looked through the glass wall of the conference room and down the hall. No one was in sight.
“Pour me another shot and I’ll tell you all about it,” said Asher as he slid his coffee cup across the smooth wooden table.
Norbert poured them each a long shot of whiskey and then hid the bottle in his satchel. The occasional drink throughout the workday to fortify themselves against the long parade of corporate bull was the one thing they could both agree on. He made to hand Asher the cup but then pulled it back at the last second. “You know you’re a train wreck, right?” said Norbert with no little concern in his voice.
“Give it here, wise-ass!” Asher said, leaning forward and grabbing his cup. “You’re here for your whiskey, not your opinions.”
Norbert only shook his head and said, “Hey, I’m just glad I get to watch.”
They toasted each other, threw back their heads, and with a cough, Asher said, “All right, here’s how it works. You ever see some ditsy broad going on and on about centering herself and aligning her chakras? Or how she thinks she can sense when her friends are sad no matter where they are, or how the Great Mother Spirit speaks to her through her kale garden? Or better yet, how modern medicine is a scam, but taking an organic locally sourced seaweed enema slathered with fucking essential oils will cure her of all disease.”
“Sure, I’ve met a few nutty granolas in my time,” admitted Norbert.
“Of course you have. And what did you do?”
“I slept with them.”
“Before or after you told them they were full of shit?” asked Asher.
“Well I never…”
“No, of course you didn’t. If it was me, or any other guy you know who came up to you and started spouting all that bullshit you would laugh in our faces and tell us where we could stick it. But a hot chick can spew any amount of nonsense and all she’ll ever get from a guy is ‘yeah babe, that sounds great; yeah, I see how that could work; yeah, that’s really fascinating, tell me more.’ Positive feedback all the way to the bedroom. So you see, we make ’em dumb because we wanna shag ’em.” Asher downed the last of his whiskey and slammed the cup down on the table to help emphasize his point.
Norbert just stared at him for a long moment then shook his head. He took a slow sip from his cup then said, “Man, I don’t know how you’ve lasted around here as long as you have. You keep spouting crap like that and they’ll toss your ass out for sure.”
“Not me buddy, no way. They’ll have to be quick to catch me ’cause I’ve got a plan.” He slid his cup back across the table to Norbert who watched it come to a stop beside his.
“Oh sure, you’ve got a plan all right. Your only plan is to get drunk at work and bitch about what a crappy job you’ve got. Meanwhile there’s a crowd of envious little pricks staring up at your ass from a few rungs down the ladder just waiting for the day you go too far and get tossed out.” Norbert refilled the cups.
“Well they won’t have to wait long, buddy. This crappy job will be theirs sooner than you think. I’m telling you right now I’m ready to step aside.”
Asher made his way back to his cubicle, but not without a few sudden stops and stumbles that drew amused looks from his coworkers. Collapsing down into his chair he let out a deep sigh, cursed them all out under his breath, and reached for his bi-weekly Accomplishments and Setbacks report that had been returned to him with a sticky note attached: ‘Show more accomplishments’ it read. He was about to call up his manager and tell him what he could do with the A&S report when his desk pinged him with a ‘message received’ notification. It was from Best Possible Life, Inc. Finally, after not hearing from them for two full months they were contacting him. He opened the message:
Mr. Asher, please come to the BPL offices immediately. Exciting results to report.
This was it! Screw this job, I’m moving Realities! He crumpled up the report and threw it over the sea of cubicles. I wonder what kind of job The Best Possible Me has? It’s got to be something cool, like a garbage man or a UPS driver. Yeah that would be sweet! Working outside at a union job, no more taking it from the man.
He stood sharply, violently shoving his chair into the cube wall. Coworkers, like curious meerkats, popped their heads up quizzically over the low partitions at this unorthodox break with the silence. “Later, suckers!” he shouted and stormed out.
Asher followed as Director Emmet Peterson lead him down a meticulously maintained stone path that wound its way through the back garden of the Best Possible Life offices. He didn’t quite understand how they had so much open space hidden behind the unassuming front office, but here they were and he worried that with all the twists and turns on this path he might be a bit lost.
He soon found they were walking between two deep-green hedgerows rising above his head. He was more sure than ever that the space behind the BPL offices could not possibly contain this much garden, and even with the hedgerows shouldn’t he be able to see at least one building on the city skyline?
As he was about to protest, they came around a turn and the path opened to a small pond with a number of stone benches dotting the edge. Between two of the benches was an intricately carved wooden table; on top sat a delicate tea service – wisps of steam still drifting skyward. Emmet gestured for Asher to sit.
“Mr. Asher, I’m afraid I have some good news and some bad news,” he said as he sat down on a bench opposite Asher. “Tea?” he offered.
“Just Asher,” he said, ignoring the offer. “You said earlier that you achieved exciting results. That sounds like all good news to me.”
“Yes, well the results certainly were exciting for us. A ‘first time for everything’ situation you understand.” The Director poured tea into two delicate Bone China cups and sat one in front of Asher.
“Sure, I understand,” Asher lied. “So get on with it man, what did you find. Am I a billionaire in another Reality? A famous rock star? I always wanted to learn the guitar. Oh! Or a shift leader at UPS? That would be so kick! Well, what is it?”
“Mr. Asher, in a surprising result it appears after searching through one million alternate versions of yourself that you, right here in our ‘verse, are actually living your Best Possible Life. Well done.” He took a sip of his tea then quietly placed it to one side.
“Drop the ‘Mister’, it’s just Asher!” he blurted out in frustration and confusion. “And you have to be kidding! This B.S. existence is the best I could do? I can’t accept that. You’ve obviously made a mistake!”
“There’s no mistake. Perhaps you haven’t, well, ‘counted your blessings’ as they used to say.”
“What blessings?” He dropped his head into his hands in growing annoyance, oblivious to what the Director was doing with his own hands.
“Mr. Asher, you have a good paying job with advancement potential, a lovely wife who adores you, and a dog. Anyone with a dog that loves him can’t be doing all that bad. Now there was a version of you who owned a large house, but sadly he lived alone with three cats and so clearly wasn’t living his Best Possible Life.” Emmet shook his head almost imperceptibly, adding a mild tut-tut for good measure. “And of course, you did win the lottery.”
“Which I used to pay you!” he sat straight up, indignant.
“We will be refunding most of your payment Mr. Asher, minus a small fee for the search.”
“Asher! Asher! Why can’t you just say ‘Asher’, huh Mr. Emmet?” Asher swept his hand across the table, sending his until now untouched teacup flying off the table and into the pond.
“It’s Director Peterson, actually,” said Director Emmet Peterson, calmly ignoring the outburst.
“Oh, for the gods sakes! Well hell, if that was the bad news what’s the good?”
“I’m afraid that was the good news.”
“That was good news?” Asher shouted in outrage. “What could be worse than knowing I’m the best I can be?”
“Why, Mr. Asher,” chuckled The Director, “no one ever said you were. After all, the best you and your best situation are two separate things that are not always co-universal.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
“It seems that there is an otherwise charming and engaging alternate version of yourself from a few realities to the South South-West who never had worked up the nerve to ask Anna out and so never married her. He’s quite upset at himself for that. Never got over her in fact. We met for tea – I rather enjoyed his company.”
“Yeah, so? What’s that got to do with me?”
“He’s won the lottery as well.”
“Great, good for him.”
“And has retained our services.” Emmet’s right hand emerged slowly from the inside of his jacket revealing a sleek black pistol which he leveled at Asher’s head. “You are to be moved aside immediately,” the Director paused before carefully adding, “Asher.”