The Day the World Changed
When the world changed, I was having my lunch break. My co-workers and I always went to the same restaurant every day, a little Chinese place that was right across the street from the office. We had been going there for years, and the friendly older couple who ran the place always saved us a table. Their son Xiaonan had graduated from college that summer, and he joined us most days. He wanted to make it as a writer, but we always promised him that if he needed a regular job, he’d have one at our office. He was a good kid.
We were joking around and waiting for our usual orders - mostly the couple who ran it had them ready for us, but we had been let free a few minutes early today - when it happened. The world... changed.
Everyone went quiet immediately. It wasn’t quite clear, at least to us, what was different, but we were aware that something had happened. Then Xiaonan blinked, and we realized that his eyes were glowing gold. He raised a fist, slowly, carefully, as though he was trying his best not to let some small insect escape, and when he opened his mouth to speak, gold light shone from within it.
“发生了什么?” he hesitantly asked. What’s happening? Despite the torrent of golden light that was escaping his every orifice, his voice was still precisely the same.
“Xiaonan?” I asked.
The young man blinked again. “John?” he said. “John, I feel... strange. Where are my parents?”
“Zhang! Li!” Emma shouted. They emerged from the back of the restaurant a moment later, and upon seeing their son gleaming and glowing as though he was the sun, they immediately began to babbling in Mandarin, speaking far too fast for me to be able to follow. All I could make out was the worry in their voices.
Xiaonon turned to his father and said, surprisingly calmly, “看.” Look. Then he opened his closed fist.
Nestled in the center of his palm was what looked, at first glance, like a tiny mote of golden light. Then it opened its wings.
When the world changed, I was right there, at the source. No, not Mount Everest, or Yellowstone, or Jerusalem, or any of those holy places you might think things flow from. I mean the real source of everything. And no, I won’t tell you where.
It doesn’t look like much, that I will tell you. It’s a dingy little place, with nothing to tell you what it is, and little more to recommend it than a big stone that’s shaped a little bit like a chair. Or a tree stump, or a divot in a hill, or something else entirely, maybe. It looks a little different to everyone.
How do I know that? Will you stop asking so many questions and let me explain? I know because there were three of us there. Me, Carl, and Vanessa.
Stop interrupting! No, you can’t talk to them. They’re dead.
I’m getting to that.
Right, so the source of it all is a dingy little place with a chair made out of the world. That’s the point. Me and Carl and Vanessa found it. It took years of hard work and dedication and more than a bit of luck, let me tell you. But we found it, and Carl sat on the stone. Well, it was a stump for him.
And he died.
So then it was Vanessa’s turn, and she sat in her hill divot. And she died too.
Obviously she sat even after he died! It’s the source of everything, the whole world, sitting there makes you God, you imbecile!
But I figured there must be a trick of some sort. So after Vanessa vanished –
HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO TELL YOU-
Fine, I guess they might not be dead. But they’re not around any more. They turned into golden light and melted. Maybe they discorporated and turned into celestial beings, who knows? I didn’t get a butterfly. Ask the Pope, or Beyonce, or that Xiaonan kid. They got cosmic knowledge and untold power. Me? I get nothing.
Right, yes, back to the story. I figured that there must be a trick to it. So I went up to the stone, and I looked underneath it. I scraped away the dirt and found a little box made of some kind of black metal. It had a label on it, but it was too dirty to read. I opened it, and that’s when it happened. The world... changed.
And while I don’t know exactly what happened, I know a bunch of glowing golden butterflies poured from the box. And they went all over the place, and a few people got them, and they get to play God. Not me.
I get nothing.
When the world changed, I was sitting at home, drinking and wishing. Wishing what? Well, wishing that things were different, of course. Wishing that my girlfriend hadn’t left me. Wishing that my boss hadn’t fired me. Wishing that my friends had liked me. Wishing that I had the power to change things.
But I didn’t, of course. No one has that much power. At least, no one had that much power. Now, well... things are a mite different now, of course. Oh yes, things are different...
So there I was, sitting on the couch and drinking a beer and scratching my dog Toby behind the ears. There’s a spot he loves, see... look, it’s my story, I’ll decide what’s relevant! I was scratching my dog Toby behind the ears, in the spot he loves, and he looked up at me, and I looked down at him, and I thought to myself at least you love me, boy. And then the world... changed.
Everything was different, all of a sudden. I saw the truth behind everything. I saw what I could change, and what I couldn’t, and the two were much different than what I thought they were. I saw the golden light, the divine spark that fuels everything, that all things are made up of. I saw that golden light sitting deep in Toby, in the beer, in the lamp... and in me, too. I saw where it flowed from, the empty throne at the center of it all, waiting for the right person. I saw how to use it, to stick myself in the moment between now and then, between what’s happening at this moment and what’s about to happen, and make things happen my way. And I saw the messenger, the tiny little butterfly that had brought this understanding to me.
I knew, right then and there, that what I did next was the most important thing I would do in my whole life. The butterfly was a messenger, and I could either take this knowledge, or... I could not. Of course, it wasn’t really quite as simple as that, but I don’t remember the details, not anymore.
Because I squashed the butterfly, of course. I didn’t want to know all that. It’s too much of a responsibility for the likes of me. Power’s something for wishing for, not something for having.
No work of art exists in a vacuum. All things have their influences. Although it would be impossible to identify everything which influenced me in the writing of the World Changed, I do wish to pay tribute to those which I am aware of as well as to those I paid conscious tribute to.
This was written as part of a short story class in college, taught by then-professor Alix Ohlin.