Once upon a time there was a little boy who no one particularly liked. His name was Jiminy, but he didn’t like people making fun of his name, and whenever someone made fun of his name, he would sock them. This led to no one bullying him or talking to him, and as he grew older, this drove him slowly insane.
At first, he began to plead with people to talk to him. He yelled at the top of his lungs from tables, threw himself headfirst against people, and gyrated to horrible tuneless music. That seemed to work at first, because people started bullying him. But he took it like a child getting candy, and his smiles demoralized them so much that they stopped, and when they stopped, he resumed his disruptive cycle.
The teachers told him that he was testing their patience. His parents told him that his lack of control reflected badly on them. Eventually, when his sister came of age, she began scolding him as well. Nothing mattered, though, because he continued to not be able to talk to his classmates. They asked him where his friends were, ran away from him, and even made complex plans in trying to get away from him.
Eventually, all of them reached the end of their ropes. They tried to scare him away with talk of marriage and lewd acts and negligence and broken fingers. But he seemed to relish those conversations, and one by one, he greeted them by talking to them about violence and cynicism.
This was the final straw. The teachers told him that this sort of behavior was unacceptable, and he seemed to completely understand. But when they asked him why he was doing it, a change suddenly came over him. He put his head in his hands and let out a bloodcurdling scream that caused at least four of them to jump out of their chairs.
But they didn’t punish him for that. When he went back to doing the same thing, they didn’t ask him to stop again. The only real problem with his school performance were his outbursts; his schoolwork was good, and his good grades pulled up the classes he was in. The teachers knew he was a hard worker, and so they deliberately ignored how uncomfortable everyone felt around him.
Eventually, when he reached a certain age, his fellow schoolchildren began to really dislike his antics. They would calmly ask him to stop, and he would stop every time. People began to tell him that his brand of strange behavior would cause him to be fired from any job he tried to go into. Also, he finally realized that he was neuro-diverse.
All of this caused a marked change in him. He began to recede into himself, losing himself in the Internet and its wonders. He became distant and his grades began to drop. He began to stop doing anything of note, and eventually no one noticed him. He became nothing to the world, and once that had happened, what came next was nearly inevitable.
He did not go to college, instead trying feebly to get a job with his horrible grades. He did not work hard and he did not own anything. He thought that his life was pointless, and so one night, he decided to get a gun and shoot himself.
Death hit him like a freight train, and when he woke up in an unfamiliar bed in a room the color of rot, he was very confused.
Something was sitting beside him, and it looked like something cut repeatedly with a hacksaw. It smiled at him with an angry glare and said, “That was your test.”
“What?” he asked it.
“That was your test. You failed in life.”
He was angry. “Why did you make me like that, then?”
“I didn’t make you like that.”
“Well, then whoever did.”
“Whoever did what?”
He grunted in exasperation. “Why did my creator make me like that? Why did my maker set me up for failure?”
The ugly thing looked at him with an unreadable stare, and he began to feel self-conscious, and then, without any prior warning, he began to think of how he had wanted to talk people, but had never known how, so he had tried to get people to bully him and then befriend him.
The ugly thing appeared to read his thoughts. “It was resourceful of you.”
“It didn’t work,” he muttered.
“Steve Jobs once decided that he wanted his valuable equipment to be a different color. The paint broke it. Not everything works.”
He thought of how he had tried to fit in by teasing people, repeating their violent scary things back at them. He thought about how he suddenly realized how stupid it had been, and how he had screamed so loudly that the teachers had all looked at him like he was a wild animal.
The ugly thing interrupted him when he was finished. “You were angry. That was why you did all of that. Everyone gets angry sometimes.”
“Well, it could have gotten me fired.”
“So rational adults say violent things to their colleagues in order to make them go away?”
He thought about that. “I don’t know. It feels like I should have learned a lesson from that.”
“You did. It was that lesson which set you on a path to failure.”
He thought about how he had tried to stifle his urges, to pretend everything was normal by trying to recede into the Internet. He asked himself if it was because of his outburst that he had done this.
The ugly thing seemed to be about to speak, but Jiminy spoke first. “I was told that I was part of a set, told that my personality was in line with some ideal that was constantly bastardized. I felt like that made me less special. I thought I needed friends to be special.”
Now he began to try and get up. “But I was wrong. I was my own person, wasn’t I? I could have become something great. I could have stayed on my path and become something.” He felt stabs of pain, but they only motivated him. “I could have become a horror filmmaker! I could have become a clown! I could have become something normal! I just needed to work hard.”
Then he stopped, and he held himself in an agonizing position. His torso was burning, and you could see it on his face, but he dared not go down. He hissed his final four words out from between clenched teeth. “But – it – was – HARD!”
The thud of his head against the pillow punctuated the last word. He lay panting while the thing beside him looked at him with a mixture of pride and mirth. When Jiminy was breathing regularly again, it finally began speaking. “You could have done something great. You were made to be someone special.”
“But I couldn’t talk to people.”
“That was intentional.”
“But then why was it so hard to live without people?”
“You were meant to swallow your pride and try to speak with people. You were meant to try anything. No time would have been too late. People forgive. You could have done it even as you were entangling yourself in the Web.”
Jiminy laughed, a barking laugh which sounded like coughing. “I didn’t have the fortitude. I don’t want to believe it was completely my fault.”
“Of course that wasn’t it. Your circumstances may have played a role. Perhaps if you had known you weren’t a ‘normal child’ earlier, you wouldn’t have been so beaten down by it. Perhaps if you had been more intelligent, you would have figured out such things in your lifetime rather than here. Perhaps if you were in a less fragile state, you would have pushed through it. Perhaps in that case, you never would have perceived what you could have perceived. Perhaps, perhaps.”
“Is there any way to feel less bad about failing in life?”
“That’s up to you to decide.”
“You’re not being very helpful.”
“That’s because you think I have the answers to these questions. I don't. I know about as much about how to succeed as you do. The only thing I really know is that there’s no point in holding oneself back. In fact, I have seen many people who were undeniably held back from their complete potential. Schizophrenia, sports injuries, ALS - the list goes on. As I said, I don't know everything. For all I know, all of your problems were based on some obscure mental disorder not even you understand.”
Jiminy processed this for a while. Then he stayed in his bed, and the thing beside him sat attentively. It made him feel good, for some reason. Eventually, he asked, “Am I in hell?”
“I don’t know. You could say this is hell. I don’t know if this is hell, heaven or purgatory. Now, I do know that there’s just a giant field of nothingness outside this room, and every once in a while, someone goes out and disappears. I know that there’s no point exploring there. I know a lot of things, but in the end, you have to decide what to do with your time here.”
He licked his lips. He didn’t have any saliva, and he wondered fleetingly how the systems in his body worked. But he felt like he didn’t belong. He wasn’t sure when it had started, but it was beginning to grow, and it had grown to the point that he had never felt so unwanted in his entire life of being unwanted. He wanted another chance at life.
“Can I come back to life?”
“You’ll have to learn everything all over again and hope you have the intelligence to get it right. But perhaps these lessons will be embedded in your subconscious. You never know. I certainly don’t know.”
“I want to be alive again and try and help people.”
“Maybe you will, maybe you won’t. Maybe it’s the world, maybe it’s your own shortcomings. You should know that if you think the way you did in the life you lost, you will never feel success.”
“I’m going to remember that.”
“But not in your next life.”
Jiminy got up, even as the pain made him grimace. It was worse than the first time, and he could feel his mind dissolving, but even so, he managed to say his final words. “If I can do this, I can do anything.”