In the beginning, it was dark. Man was by himself in the darkness. He might not have minded so much if there had been Wi-Fi and he were able to catch the Sunday game. He assumed it was a Sunday, although days had yet to be created. It was a good guess, but he was wrong. It was actually a Tuesday. Man was left alone in the darkness, and he was bored.
Then the Voice spoke to him. “Man, I made you a smartphone to keep you entertained while you wait. Now, quit complaining. I’m very busy.”
A bright light shone in the darkness. Man reached for the smartphone. For a time, it delighted Man. There was still no Wi-Fi, but he had full access to the camera, calculator, and settings applications. There was also unlimited minutes and instant messaging, but the Voice was the only one in his contacts and always seemed annoyed when he called.
“Who is this? Oh, Man. Can you just hold on a sec? Got to get these waves just right and—damn. Dropped them again. What part of ‘this far, and no farther’ don’t you understand? Hello, Man? I’ll have to call back.”
The Voice never did call back.
Man was beginning to feel neglected. He was only able to change the background on the smartphone so many times, and the camera was all but useless in the dark. He had taken to tapping numbers at random into the calculator and trying to find all of the combinations he possibly could. Of course, this was before math, and the numbers were meaningless to Man.
It was a very, very long time until the Voice returned. It was such a long time, that Man felt as if he had been given the smartphone a decade ago, although concepts of time were not something invented yet, and it had actually been three days.
When the Voice had finished with the rest of the world, it returned. It was time for Man to come out of the darkness. The Voice crushed Man into a speck of dust that had just been lying around under an oriental rug. It was all the Voice had left to work with. Man found the process tedious and made sure to tell the Voice so.
“This process is tedious,” he said.
The Voice didn’t give a damn what Man thought and took away his smartphone. Then the Voice left Man alone for a while as a speck to think about how his attitude could be adjusted.
It was very cramped as a speck. Man had no room for his thoughts, and he began to miss the weightless void of darkness and his smartphone. But even these thoughts were too big for his speck form, so he waited for the Voice to return and tried to come up with good apologies.
The Voice returned after a good long session at the gym with his kickboxing instructor, Julio. The Voice might have stayed out longer, but it hadn’t had any lunch and Julio had been challenging, to say the least. As a reward for working so hard, the Voice swung by McDonalds on the way home and bought a chicken wrap, fries and a large sweet-tea.
Any apologies Man might have come up with vanished when he smelled the Voice’s French fries. He wondered how hard it would have been for the Voice to add an extra order.
The Voice set the large sweet-tea on the ground so that it would have both hands free to work. Then, the Voice put Man into a sort of semi-conscious dream state because it couldn’t take anymore crap and because Man didn’t seem to have done any attitude adjusting at all while it was gone. The Voice might have said this was ungrateful, but in truth, the Voice was proud that Man had courage enough to stand up to it, even if that courage was misplaced.
After a substantial amount of pulling, stretching, and squishing, the Voice was quite satisfied with the result. Man was all new and fresh, if not a bit pale and thin, but the Voice was still pleased with the overall design. The Voice was less happy when it realized the French fries had gone cold.
The air had also grown cold, but that was because it was well past midnight when the Voice had finished. Days and nights were still pretty new, but it was a Saturday. And the Voice messaged all its friends to plan a meet-up at Chipotle. It was craving Mexican. Man was left naked, spread in the dewy grass with nothing but shiverings and dreams.
In the morning, Man felt terrible. Everything hurt. The sun was too bright, the breeze was too chilly, and the grass was too itchy. His existence was heavy, wrapped in shaky muscle and tender skin. Not to mention, Man was having a hard time shaking off sleep.
He stumbled through the meadow in which he had awoken desperate to find the Voice and to ask it, to plead with it to take the body back but to return the smartphone. Man also wanted to give the Voice a piece of his mind. This line of thinking lead him into a dizzy contemplation of self and whether anyone can really know their own mind or not, much less give someone a piece of it.
At the end of the meadow was a hill, and at the top of the hill there were some trees, and in between the trees was a Starbucks. Man grabbed a latte, tall, no foam, and continued on his journey. This was before drink-sleeves were created, so he had to wrap a few leaves around the cup and take the lid off to let the latte cool before he could drink it. Man still burned his tongue. But the latte made the morning a little more cheery. He discovered that if he were to stretch his voice over words in a certain way and at different intervals, he could produce a somewhat pleasing sound. Song, he called it.
Man sang with his burnt tongue for a good long while as he walked through a wooded area. There was no recycling bin to be found, so he had to hang on to his latte cup. Otherwise, it was a good day, and he had no idea what was waiting for him at the edge of the forest.
At the edge of the forest, a metal and glass structure jutted from between the trees like a bad tooth. It was long and narrow, with three walls and a roof. This in and of itself was not all that startling. However, the figure seated just inside the structure on a bench was enough to stop Man in his tracks. He had thought himself the only person in the world. Learning that he was not made him feel a bit more like a speck and less like Man. He tossed the cup towards the figure, intending to hit the person in the head. But the cup bounced off the ground first and rolled to a stop at the figure’s barefoot.
“Listen here,” he said over the small distance between them, “I am Man. And I am the first Man. The Voice and I are good friends, we shared French fries together and everything.”
There was a pause.
“Woman. The first Woman. Nice to meet you, I suppose.” She had glanced up long enough to take in where he stood and then went back to scrolling Pinterest on her smartphone.
Woman was a head or two shorter than Man. He could tell even though she was sitting. She had longer hair than he had, but it was twisted in some sort of fashion so that it stayed to one side of her head. She was also naked, with two bits of flesh hanging from her chest and a certain lack of protrusion at her groin.
Though she seemed nonchalant, Man approached her with caution. Perhaps she was another one of the Voice’s punishments. He would have preferred the speck at this point. A Woman was too new, too strange. Man picked up the cup but remained standing a few feet away from her, just in case. He glanced around for a recycling bin. There weren’t any.
“I’m sorry,” he said, “about, you know, throwing the cup and everything.”
“You’re fine. It said you might do something like that.”
He sat down at the far end of the bench. “Who?”
“The Voice,” she said, and shook her head without looking up from the phone. “Who do you think it goes out to Chipotle with?”
Man didn’t know what to say to that. He thought he and the Voice had something special together. Sure, it wasn’t much. But in the darkness, they had been the only beings to exist. And who was she to take that from him?
“I thought I was the only one,” he said, more to himself than to anyone else.
“You were,” said Woman, looking at him for what seemed like the first time. “I guess you don’t remember.” She gestured to his chest, where a long jagged red line split the otherwise normal skin.
His hand explored the line, having not much considered it before, and felt a great emptiness there.
“The Voice made me shortly after he did you. I guess it thought you wouldn’t make it on your own. Said something about how much you like to complain and how easily you get bored.”
Man moved a little closer to Woman and tried to see what she was looking at on her phone. She jerked it away when he got a little too close, and he scooted back an inch.
“How come you still have a phone?” he said.
Woman shook her head. “I didn’t piss off the Voice like you did, you loser.”
They lapsed into silence. Man thought about his birth into the world. He thought about everything he knew about the Voice and everything he didn’t know. Woman slanted her phone sideways to snap a picture of Man and message it to the Voice and all its friends. She included a witty caption about how ridiculous Man’s face looked when he was busy thinking. Then she went to check her Instagram to see who had liked her tutorial on easy wilderness hairstyles.
It was about this time that Man thought to ask an important question.
“What exactly are you doing here?” said Man, “And what is this place, anyway?” Then he smiled. If she was so smart, he wanted to see her answer that one.
“Waiting for the Voice. It was going to meet us here for the lowdown on chores and instructions.” She shrugged.
“That doesn’t sound like much fun at all,” he said and frowned. The Voice wasn’t bad or anything. After all, the Voice had given them the smartphone. But if there was one thing Man was sure of, it was that the Voice did not know a good time when it saw one. No fun whatsoever. Even the word “chores” was not enjoyable to say.
“Suppose we go exploring for a bit and then come back to meet with the Voice?” he said, rolling the cup along the small space of bench between them. She caught it with one finger and rolled it back.
“I don’t think we should,” she said.
He paused, and then rolled it again. “The Voice is out having a good time, why shouldn’t we be too? It’ll still be around when we get back.”
Woman took the cup and held it out to him as he stood up. Man took it from her and smiled. “ Of course,” he said, “if you don’t want to come, that’s fine. I understand.” He took a few steps away and started to stretch his voice again as he had discovered earlier. Singing felt really nice with someone else to listen. It wasn’t until he was several feet away from entering the trees again that he heard her soft footsteps behind him and knew she was following. Man slowed his pace.
“Just don’t get us lost, or anything,” she said, disrupting the stillness.
“I can’t get us lost if I don’t know where I’m going,” he said, to which she couldn’t argue. Then Man began to sing again, and he taught Woman. Except, she could hold her voice higher and longer, which made Man a little defensive about his own ability. But she seemed content with the revelation and did not mention his singing at all.
About this time, the Voice had just finished up a game of poker with its closest friends. They had left business behind them to focus on cards, a bowl of the perfect queso dip for chips, and a few cigarettes. The Voice didn’t really smoke, but it liked the smell of it. And several of its friends enjoyed the smoking itself, so it was a happy arrangement.
The Voice had lost track of time and had to leave straight from the game to be there for the meeting. It arrived at the bus stop five minutes late, but Woman and Man were nowhere in the vicinity. Frustrated, the Voice called Woman on its smartphone. Straight to voicemail.
After several frustrating minutes, the Voice sat at the bench and tried calling again. Still no answer. It was quite irate now, and opened the app that enabled the tracking safety it had installed on Woman’s phone. This was of course only meant to be used for security purposes, but the Voice was out of options, and quite frankly, worried. It wouldn’t have been a problem if Man had been late. He often took his time, and he could be quite rebellious too. But Woman would have been on time, the Voice was sure of it.
In the slow chill of evening, it found them seated by a clear stream with swarms of fish darting about below the surface. A willow dusted them with branches and they seemed to be finishing up what looked like a meal of fruits, vegetables, and milkshakes.
“So, you don’t mind if I take one then?” Woman said.
“Not at all,” said Man.
The Voice made its way carefully into the branches above the two so it could have a better view without being observed.
“Smile,” Woman held up her phone and flipped the camera lens so that it was pointed down at their faces.
“Is that when our mouths kind of go funny?”
“Yes, Man. Yes.” Woman rolled her eyes and smiled to demonstrate. When they were done trying to get the right angle for the picture, she sipped at her milkshake through a straw and flipped through several filter options that made their skin less pale.
“And this was probably the best dinner we could have ever had. Better than anything the Voice could have given us. Isn’t that right?” Man was saying.
“What?” she said, glancing up from her phone.
“Babe, the food. You liked the food, right?” his face crumpled inwards like it did when he was starting to feel insecure.
“Yes, of course,” she said, and patted his arm. He shifted a little bit closer and brushed Woman’s hair away from her shoulder to touch the skin there. The Voice had to smother a gag. This was not, of course, what it had intended when he had formed Woman to begin with. What they were doing was far too romantic, and well, gross, if the Voice had to admit it.
Man dipped forward to brush kisses up Woman’s neck and over her cheek. She squeezed one eye shut and put her hand up to push him away.
“Um, Man?” She pushed again till he backed up, confused and hurt, “You’re cool and everything, but no.”
“What? But I made you dinner. You seemed into it and—”
“You’ve been really sweet,” she said, “but I’m not ready for a commitment like that, you know? I just think we should keep our options open for a while.”
Man wasn’t sure what exactly she meant seeing as they were the only two people in the world, and there weren’t really any other options to consider. He tried to keep the hurt out of his face, but was having trouble with it.
“Listen, it’s late. Why don’t we just sleep here tonight, and in the morning we’ll go back to the Voice to get our instructions and stuff. We can talk about you and me some other time after we’ve both been able to think it through properly.”
Man shook his head, and stood up, causing several of the willow branches to shudder. “I don’t need to think about it any more than I already have, Woman. I know what I want.” He let out a puff of angry breath and left the shelter of the tree to pace up and down on the ground just outside. Woman was quick to follow.
“Don’t be like that. You know what I mean. It’s not forever, I just want time.” She tried to put a hand on his shoulder, but he shrugged away at the last moment. Her hand rested in midair and then dipped back to her side.
“Fine,” she said, and ducked back into the tree. “You’re only acting like this because you think the Voice likes you better, but believe me when I say, it does not. Goodnight.” Woman closed her eyes and curled into a ball.
Man stood in the silence of the forest for some time. He wanted to leave, walk off into the darkness never to return. He wanted to get as far away from Woman as possible. And yet, he knew his life would not be the same on his own anymore. Man sunk to the ground and pulled his knees to his chest. At that moment, he would have given anything to return to his once formless existence in the dark, nothing but his smartphone to guide him, bored, waiting. He missed it.
That was how the Voice observed Man. It stepped from the trees feeling somewhat sorry for the creation. This was not how it was supposed to go. The Voice pulled a new smartphone out of his cargo pants pocket and set it on the ground in front of the hunched figure. It was an upgrade from Man’s last phone, and the Voice knew it would take him a while to figure it out.
Then the Voice left them and headed off for its own home, which was a tad more comfortable and less like a forest. But as it left, it made sure to text Man and Woman the instructions and chores, and the Voice assured itself that it would see them tomorrow and help them work out whatever horrible relationship drama they had gotten themselves into. The Voice didn’t think it was getting paid enough for that, but all the same, it would try.
Man’s new phone lit up in the darkness, and he felt like he was coming out of a dream. A new smartphone filled his hand with a text from the Voice. It was a reassuring weight, an order to the world. Perhaps he wasn’t alone in the cold night.
And that was when he met the snake.