Mergs (Or Why Godot Can't Come . . .)
Something was definitely wrong with the world. The Provider appeared to have abandoned his children, and the cold advanced unchecked from the great beyond, even as the land lost its life-giving warmth. And, although every single being was aware of the incipient disaster, none could understand the reason for the inexplicable climate change, let alone think of a way to stave off the certain destruction of their kind.
Mergs, the dominant beings in a world of almost limitless bounty, are highly resilient, sentient beings who had evolved in an environment that offers no natural impediment to their growth and development. With no natural enemies to protect against and no need to marshal limited resources, Mergs, who are not by nature particularly gregarious, never developed a social structure or any concept of property; all the necessities of life are provided by the land in inexhaustible quantities. Each simply takes from the land in accordance with its needs or appetites without the slightest need for toil, industry or planning. Food can be found all around in limitless quantities and variety. All that is required to procure a meal is to bend down and scoop up tasty, highly nourishing morsels of delectable substances in endless varieties and inexhaustible quantities. Thirst quenching, delicious liquids quite nourishing in their own right are available in pools, lakes and rivers of various sizes scattered throughout the land. As with the solid food, the land offers up liquid nourishment in endless variety, some yielding intoxicating effects not unlike that of alcohol and hallucinogenic drugs in the human system. These intoxicating springs are particularly popular with Mergs who are not by nature temperate creatures.
Although the Mergs’ existence might seem a utopian one, there is, alas, a price exacted for such a life of perpetual ease and unending bounty. Endless leisure and an existence devoid of challenge had made the Mergs into a rather intellectually dull race. Intelligence is not prized in a land that so freely yields up its bounty, where there is no game to hunt or trap, no enemy to guard or plot against, and no need for shelter to protect one’s property or oneself from the elements, or the aggression and greed of others. Thus, while Mergs had the same genetically coded survival instinct as all other living organisms, the particular circumstances of their rather hospitable world did not necessitate that it give birth to science, mathematics, or the cultivation of knowledge that at its most fundamental core is born of the survival instinct. For Mergs, survival merely requires eating, sleeping and reproducing to take place. And, since Mergs reproduce asexually, that function is best served by eating as much as possible, thus obtaining the necessary mass and energy required by the reproductive function. Not surprisingly, then, Mergs spend most of their waking hours eating, or looking for new sources of food in order to find pleasure in what would otherwise be the tedium of their primary occupation.
Although the Mergs have no religion as such, they share a universal belief in the Provider, their creator who is the source of life and, in accordance with their belief system, constantly replenishes their supply of food and keeps the land warm for their benefit. Perhaps such a belief system developed due to the destructive floods and killing fumes that are inexplicably visited at least once on the land during the typical Merg’s life cycle. In the Mergs’ belief system, the Provider doles out such catastrophes as punishment for unknown transgressions of which they must surely be guilty, though they be beyond their comprehension. But, because such punishments are uncommon, they represent more an apocalyptic myth than a reality to be feared by the average Merg.
When such disasters occur, the remarkable resilience of these creatures allows them to spring back undaunted to soon forget they had taken place. And if the Provider earned their respect through the awesome power he wields, he also earns their unwavering devotion through his constant replenishment of their food supplies which miraculously appeared daily throughout the land, rumored to emanate mostly in a far-off region of the world, where they are said to gush forth in incalculable quantities, conjured forth by the benevolent Provider, erupting from the bowels of the land and spread by Him to the four corners of the land through powers beyond their ken.
Despite the fact that most Mergs spend their whole life in a relatively small area, some travel does occur in one of two ways: some Mergs literally eat their way from one place to another in search of different sources of food, and each recurring flood deposited a few hardy survivors in far-off lands. Additionally, some of the more adventurous Mergs‑‑those not yet of breeding age who for that reason need not spend most of their time eating‑‑sometimes venture to climb “the growing regions,” incomprehensively vast, dark mountains that rise upward slowly and inexorably as lava-fed islands do on Earth’s oceans, reaching for the heavens, stretching out endlessly into the Great Beyond. Unlike the beneficent land, these regions are largely bereft of food and contain no pools of liquid from which to drink. Some Mergs believe that these massive desert regions are a link to the Great Beyond through which a brave Merg with a pure heart might travel, prove its worth and earn the right to meet the Provider. Few were brave or foolish enough to attempt the quest, and of those who did, fewer still returned to tell of it. The fortunate few who made it back alive uniformly reported that the warmth of the land did not reach into the higher regions, but clung close to the ground. Despite such discouraging reports, a few Mergs still ventured forth from time to time, convinced that none who had tried the ascent before them had been worthy, and taking heart in the fact that so many had not returned, believing these to be enjoying the unimaginable Epicurean delights awaiting in the Provider’s domain.
But then the cold began to spread over the land, bringing with it more death and devastation than had ever been visited by floods or noxious clouds. Many Mergs blamed the adventuresome youths for having angered the Provider by trying to venture into his realm, thus visiting upon them this new, harsher punishment. The practice must be stopped. An alarm call went out to every corner of the land summoning Mergs to come together. Although Mergs normally kept to themselves, communication was possible between them at a low, instinctual level; news could travel very fast between them in reporting disaster or new sources of food. Other than the rare flood and killing cloud warnings, Mergs communicate with one another most often to report the opening up of a canyon in the land; such canyons, which indiscriminately appear and slowly disappear again as the land exposes for a time its most rare, delectable food source. These ephemeral canyons are believed to be a special reward from the Provider, and are very much welcomed. But this time the Mergs’ natural communications network was exploited for a far more important purpose, a call for prayer to seek forgiveness from the Provider. And so they prayed for forgiveness, and for the wisdom not to stray again from the path he’d intended for them to take.
Their contrite supplications, however, went unanswered, and the world slowly, inexorably cooled down. And still they prayed, with every ounce of remaining energy, their communal supplications rising above an ocean of despair threatening to engulf them. But if the Provider heard them, he was unmoved; rather, he seemed to mock them by delivering ever greater quantities of food in endless waves of tantalizing richness even as he allowed the earth to cool, spreading out before them a cornucopia of delights while doling out a slow and painful death.
And still they prayed. And still the earth grew colder. And still they died. And still those that remained, clung to hope, huddling together in groups, billions upon billions of Mergs, making use of what little warmth remained in their bodies and in the land, ensuring that the ones in the center of the group survived a little longer to raise their thoughts skyward, towards the dark, forbidding Great Beyond, hoping that the Provider would hear their prayers and deem them worthy of deliverance.
* * *
Meanwhile, a universe away at the intersection of Houston Street and the Bowery in New York City’s Lower East Side, two police officers knelt by the decrepit figure of a man who lay motionlessly in a tightly curled fetal position on the snow covered ground, dressed in many layers of tattered, filthy clothing, covered by several oily sheets of cardboard from under which emerged shoeless, deeply callused, dirt encrusted feet which, like the man’s leathery face, had turned somewhat blue in the sub freezing temperature. He was lying in a pool of melted snow mixed with vomit and bodily wastes. The older of the two officers was trying to find a pulse in the man’s neck.
“He’s dead, Harry,” he said to the younger man, looking up into the latter’s somewhat contorted expression, large brown eyes squinting behind a large leather-gloved hand cupped over his nose in a vain attempt to keep out a most inhuman smell. “Call an ambulance,” the kneeling man added, fighting to quell a wave of nausea. The young officer did not respond for a few moments; he simply stared at the body, a mixture of sadness, shock and revulsion on his face.
“Did you hear me, Harry? Call a damned ambulance, now. I don’t want to spend the rest of the shift here.”
“Yeah, Mike,” the young officer replied, finally hearing the other’s voice. “Are you sure he’s dead?” he queried, rising to comply with his partner’s request.
“He’s dead all right, but not too long; he’s not stiff yet. I’d swear I felt a bit of warmth in his neck when I took his pulse. Poor bastard. Seems about 50-55 with no visible trauma; My guess is the booze got him, or the cold. There’s no I.D. on him. Just another John Doe for the morgue.”
“I’ll never get used to this,” exclaimed the younger man, turning towards the squad car to place the call.
“Don’t sweat it, Mike. He kicked off peacefully, which is all any of us can hope for. Nobody’ll even know he’s gone.”
* * *
And still the Mergs prayed for deliverance to a deity who could not hear them, hoping to recapture the favor of their divine Provider, clinging with the last remnants of their strength to a faith powerless to stave off the advancing chill of death.
This is one of eight short stories from my Book of Dreams 2nd Edition: Science Fiction and Speculative Fiction Short Stories, available in paperback and Kindle versions from Amazon.com. Additional information and another short story preview are available at http://www.amazon.com/Book-Dreams-2nd-Edition-Speculative/dp/1480295914/ref=sr_1_8?ie=UTF8&qid=1370368407&sr=8-8&keywords=victor+d+lopez