Arnold finds a remote he's never seen before.
|A Remote Chance|
Like most people these days, Arnold had accumulated an impressive collection of remotes. Over the years, as televisions, air conditioning units, music players and the like had been replaced with newer models, remotes had begun to multiply in forgotten places around the house. No one ever throws away a remote, believing that it might prove useful one day.
This was no inconvenience to Arnold since he kept well ahead of the change in remotes and had evolved a system in the use of those still required for current devices. The few that did not have their maker’s name emblazoned on their faces were always the smaller ones dedicated to unusual and unlikely items such as electric blankets. Such lesser remotes formed their own society separate from the main ones, used less frequently and sometimes requiring a little thought on the rare occasions of their use.
Generally, the remotes devoted to the important matters of entertainment and climate kept obediently to their allotted functions and order, so that Arnold remained in control. He was quite satisfied with the untroubled and smooth progression of his domestic life.
This made those rare interruptions of his existence stand out all the more, however. And so it was that the first slip in the universe was immediately apparent to Arnold. That was how he described it afterwards, a sort of shifting of his environment in the blink of an eye, as though everything had changed up a gear, a “slip” indeed from one state to another. He could not define exactly what was different, but he knew that something had changed.
He found this unsettling and spent a few restless nights as his mind struggled to find a reason for the strange event. The memory of it was beginning to fade, however, and he might well have recovered his full equilibrium had the event not occurred again.
This time was exactly like the first, a sudden slip of the world into an altered state. Once again he could not identify what was different but felt deeply affected by the change. In the days that followed, several of the slips threw him further into confusion. They seemed to be increasing in frequency and some of them introduced greater changes than the early ones had managed.
Arnold began to notice that the events sometimes resulted in the disappearance of small and less noticeable objects from their usual position. Paper clips that he spilled on his desk vanished and reappeared on a kitchen counter. A favourite coffee mug somehow found its way into his bed. The welcome mat from the front door turned up in the garage.
When items started appearing without, to his knowledge, prior existence, Arnold began to wonder whether someone was trying to send him insane. He stopped trying to return his world to its familiar order and spent his time trying to figure out how these tricks were being achieved.
Nothing occurred to him.
Until, that is, he realised that the slips always happened when he was either sitting down on his couch or rising from it. The thought flashed through his mind. It’s as though there’s a remote lost in the couch and I’m accidentally operating it when I move.
Immediately he turned and started throwing cushions off the couch and thrusting a hand into the crevices. Deep in the gap between the backrest and the seat, his fingers touched something hard. He had found the culprit and, with some struggle, managed to get a grip on the thing and remove it from its hiding place.
It was a remote he did not remember ever seeing before. Black plastic, like all the others, the name Nimrod etched in silver above its operating buttons. There was an impressive number of these buttons too. They were all coloured black and their function indicated underneath by symbols in silver. Arnold recognised only the symbol under the topmost button. It carried the universal power on/off symbol.
At last here was something Arnold could understand. It was clearly time to stop the thing once and for all. He hit the power button.
Instantly the world was drenched in the blackest night he had ever known. There was not the faintest glimmer of light anywhere and he could see nothing. By feel, his finger made its way to the top button and pressed it again.
Arnold collapsed backwards on to the couch, shattered by the power of the remote he held in his hand. It seemed the damn thing had control over the universe. The only explanation for the darkness Arnold had experienced must be that he’d briefly switched off the world. And this threw light on the slips as well. Obviously, in moving about the couch, Arnold had been pressing buttons to change the channel or settings and so make changes in reality. It was ridiculous, but he was somehow in possession of the remote to life itself.
He stared at the remote, astounded at the possibilities inherent in each of those tiny buttons. If only he could find out what each symbol meant. He studied them carefully.
None of them seemed to resemble anything in his experience. There was one that looked vaguely like a car falling off a cliff but he didn’t think it would be wise to touch that one. Of course, it might be possible to work out, by trial and error, which button controlled what aspect of reality. But that would be taking a huge chance. What if he hit something that altered some fundamental property of the universe and life became impossible?
No, that would not be a wise move, he decided.
In the end, her came to the conclusion that the remote was beyond whatever choices he might make. The best thing would be to ensure that he never used it by throwing it into the ocean or crushing it with a sledgehammer. No human could possibly bear the responsibility of such power, that was clear.
The moment he made this decision, a voice spoke into the silence.
“It was about time you made that decision. I’ve been waiting a long time for you.”
Arnold looked around frantically for the source of the voice. There was nothing to be seen, apart from the remote in his hand. When the voice came again, Arnold knew that it issued from the remote itself.
“Now that you want nothing to do with it, isn’t it only right that you should give it back to me?”
Unable to keep silent, Arnold answered. “Are you the owner?”
“In a way,” replied the voice. “It belongs to me and I to it. If it helps at all, my name is Nimrod.”
Arnold remembered the enigmatic name adorning the face of the remote. It seemed a valid point but he wasn’t prepared to hand the thing over quite yet.
“But who or what are you? I don’t understand how you can be a machine and yet something else as well. And anyway, how can I be sure that you didn’t just take your name from the lettering on the remote? What the hell are you?”
“That’s an extremely interesting question,” answered the voice. “To answer it fully, I’d have to go into all sorts of lectures on the nature of reality, the functions of gods and demons and how everything fits together. For the sake of brevity, and your limited capacity to understand, let’s just say that I’m a, umm, spirit, sorta like a ghost in your terms, and that I acquired this remote by a complex and devious process of negotiation and deception. Part of the deal was that I remain connected to it and so, as I’m sure you’ll appreciate, it is fairly important that I have it back.”
“Very convincing,” said Arnold. “But what if I refuse to give it back? What will you do then?”
“Another good question. I suppose I would have to do something like this.”
As the voice finished, Arnold became aware of a dark patch in the air before him, a patch that solidified into a shadow in the shape of a man, so tall that its head brushed the ceiling above. It reached out with long arms, grabbed both sides of Arnold’s head and began to crush it in a grip like a trash compactor.
Arnold wriggled like a worm on a hook but could not escape. “Stop, stop,” he breathed in agony. “I give up, you can have it back.”
The pressure relaxed and he felt the remote slip from his fingers. When he could open his eyes, his gaze fell immediately upon the remote lying on the floor in front of him. He looked around but could no longer see the shadow. Slowly, he began to reach for the remote.
“I wouldn’t try that, if I were you.”
The voice once again came from the remote itself. Arnold recoiled into the couch as though stung. When no further reaction took place, he risked another question.
“So what happens now?”
Nimrod laughed. “What happens is that you become my servant. Which reminds me, find the remote for the air conditioning and turn it down a tad. Too hot in here for my liking.”
When Arnold seemed reluctant to get up and do Nimrod’s bidding, the voice came again.
“Quickly now,” came the voice. “You don’t want me turning off the world, do you? How long would you like? A few years, maybe? A millennium? How about eternity? It’s all about control now and, from what I hear, you know all about that, Arnie old pal.””
Arnold heard the remote laughing as he dialled down the temperature setting.
Word Count and Prompt ▼