“Look, it’s very simple.” Alvis sighed, regretting the imminent loss of the potentially useful couple of hours left in the day. “Just imagine a piece of wood. Hold that piece of wood very clearly in the front of your mind.”
Eliezer paused and thought. It wasn’t that he was a particularly bad student. He was hardworking and intelligent; he rinsed his hats weekly and polished his cane every night. He just didn’t appear to really know what he was doing. And looking like you know what you’re doing is very important in their profession.
“Yes, yes it is done. A piece of wood. Front of my mind”
The wrinkles around Alvis’ eyes crinkled just slightly. “Right. You can look at this piece of wood can you? You can see where every atom of its being exists? Nothing missing?” He coughed. “In short, boy, you understand the piece of wood?”
Eliezer glanced up at his master’s face, searching for any sign of a trick. His master took great pleasure in tricking him. However, sensing nothing this time, he sighed, returning his gaze to the far-reaching corner of the room just over Alvis’ shoulder.
“I understand the piece of wood.” Closing his eyes, Eliezer tried very hard to concentrate. So far, he thought, I’m doing very well. A small smile of satisfaction spread over his lips, though he doubted it would linger for long. Although not quite a professional, Eliezer was not stupid.
“It is easy is it not, to fully understand it? Nothing in that piece of wood escapes you does it?”
“No sir, nothing. It is easy to see where every aspect of that piece of wood is.”
“Good. Let me into your mind.”
Eleizer gritted his teeth. This was never an easy experience. Closing his eyes, he forced himself to relax and felt the familiar tugging of his master’s mind bumping into his own. A knock at the door. Eleizer opened it.
“Right” said Alvis. Within the confines of Eleizer’s head, he stood at about 1/8th of his natural height, and his voice was reduced to a squeak, but somehow, he retained his air of dignified grace. Must be the beard, thought Eliezer, running a hand over his boyish stubble. “My beard” squeaked Alvis, “is not the issue here, thank you very much. Kindly show me your piece of wood.”
Eliezer clenched his being and conjured up the wood.
Alvis picked it up, grasping each end tightly in his hands. “Still understand the wood?”
Eliezer nodded dumbly.
“And if I break it in two? What then? Could you still keep track of every fibre of wood? Could you tell me where every single piece would end up? Predict where each splinter would fall on the ground?”
Eliezer was hesitant. Most of all he did not want to appear foolish. However, he did have to concede that he would never be able to make any such predictions about each individual fibre of the wood. Or could he? He stared hard into the wood. He understood everything there – after all, he had created it. “I suppose, if I knew all about every atom of the wood, and...” he glanced at his master’s hands, “and how hard you pulled it apart… and where exactly you placed your hands, then I could tell exactly where each splinter would fall and where the wood would crack.” That sounded good, he thought, before he doubled over in intense pain, gripping his ear which hurt as though his master had just crawled through it.
“EXACTLY!” Shouted Alvis, wiping something flaky off of his robe. Restored to his natural height, he shouted in his normal voice causing Eliezer to look up at his master with sincere shock.
“Of course you could know where each splinter would end up! You would simply need to know all the facts. Each splinter was only ever going to end up in one place – I can only break it in that way once, never again. If you had sat down and recorded each aspect of every atom of the wood and subsequently interrogated me about where I would hold and how hard I would pull the wood and added this to your results, you could know, before I had done it, where every piece would land. All you really need is time. Time to assess, time to record. Get it?”
“I… I suppose I do, yeah!” he replied with increasing confidence, “I would know all the everything before they happened.”
Something creaked. Glancing in the direction of a battered wardrobe, Eliezer remembered how long it had taken to get used to this wretched castle. He missed his family, how long had it been now? Five years or six? I miss my home. My brothers, even (he had seven) and my dog. A sudden cold feeling of shock spread down his legs. He had suddenly realised with a grim certainty, that his master had began talking again without his attention. Frightened at what he had missed, but more so at being missed, Eliezer tried surreptitiously to slip back into his conscious, attentive state without changing his facial expression. This was not easy, especially when dealing with a fully trained wizard. Eliezer knew all too well, the price that could be paid for missing even a small piece in the larger puzzle of what was being revealed about their profession.
“…And by taking this idea and applying it further, even if I did not tell you how hard I would pull the wood, or where I would place my hands upon it, you could work this out simply from my background. I would not place my hands on any random spot. If you spent an immense amount of time studying my past, my personality and where I usually place my hands - as well as the layout of the room – you, Eliezer could easily determine how I would grasp the wood. You could know before I would knowAgain, I would only do it once, I would only put my hands on one fixed point on the wood, unless of course I slipped and grasped again, but you would know this from my muscle volume and hand eye... erm my hand-eye.... where was I?”
“You would only do this once? Sir?”
“Ah yes, thank you. I would only complete this action once. Therefore the figure could be worked out. It would only ever happen one way, and this outcome and all the figures can be discovered by looking at my past. The same can be said for everything boy! Absolutely everything! This is the meaning of life! Every single thing that happens was always going to happen and couldn’t not happen. It is a simple matter of fact that any outcome has only one solution and that life is simply an accumulation of problems and outcomes. Solutions come about as a result of the people, items and matter involved, as well as every single parcel of information, down to the last atom, about them. That is why we do what we do boy.”
“That… that is why we do nothing?”
“Precisely. Everything happens because it is inevitable that it would happen. Any outcome occurs on the basis of the people involved and it was only ever going to have one outcome. Nothing more to it. Nothing more needs to be done.”
“But… so we can’t change anything?”
“Of course not, weren’t you listening? Everything happens because of people’s degrees of intelligence, personality, the intensity of the sun’s rays, the cloud cover that day or whether or not someone’s dog shat the house that morning! Everything only has one outcome, which can be predicted if one had enough time. We are wizards and are therefore the only creatures in existence who do have enough time. The only problem is that by definition, we cannot do anything about it. Trying to change something only adds you to the problem. Doesn’t matter though, it is in my nature to be lazy, just as it is in yours to do as you’re told. Now go to your chambers, reflect on what you have learned.”
Sitting down on the single piece of furniture in his chamber, a rickety old wooden chair, Eliezer concentrated his attention on halting the spinning in his head. He could sense the beginnings of a headache. Not a particularly bad one. Eliezer had met many apprentices who suffered far more severely – horrific migraines that often gave birth to weird concepts, or fantastic creatures that supposedly crawled out of the ears during deep sleep. He supposed he had little to complain about. Still, he thought, opening his eyes, I’m allowed to complain. Glancing round the room, he did a double take. He realised that he was, in fact, sitting on the only piece of furniture in his room, which couldn’t be right. He began to wonder where his bed had gone. The great, dirty mass of linen and half rotted wood – where could it have skulked off to? And how had it fit through the door?
He got up and paced through the corridors, heading towards the courtyard. It was as difficult to imagine someone stealing his old, bug-ridden mass of sheets and straw, as it was to imagine it sprinting off, gazelle-like into the sunset, but he did feel a niggling need to check.
Crispy, auburn leaves crunched underfoot as Eliezer briskly walked away from the pointy stone building. He arrived at the top of a large hill, and scanned the environment, but he could see nothing out of the ordinary, only what he always saw; a large pine forest to his left and the small village down below on his right. No sign of his bed. Cursing, he decided it would be more prudent to check the dirt road that spiralled down toward the village from the castle gate. He walked quickly and soon caught sight of a young man, dressed respectably and carrying the single bed over his shoulders. Making a strange, strangled squeak Eliezer sped up, shouting, “Stop! Stop! What are you doing?” He reached the man a panting wreck, trying desperately to form a sentence. “What… what… are you… who are you?” He finally managed to enunciate.
“Environmental Protection Agency.” The man replied coolly, showing an identification card, “‘fraid I’m going to have to take this item back to HQ. We’ve been tipped off as to several endangered species of bedbugs living in said item, and now we need to take said item away.” The man’s manner coupled with his dark expression, made Eliezer uncomfortable. He couldn’t overpower the man. Could he try reason? Eliezer doubted it – environmentalists very rarely took to reason.
“Now look here! You cannot take this bed. It is unreasonable. Why should the comfort of bedbugs override my own? I need that bed!”
“It does not matter if you need the bed or not, student.” Eliezer groaned as he noticed the dead-pan, ever-present voice of his master in his head.
“You never left!” said Eliezer, his ears ringing with indignation.
“I’m leaving now.” Said the man with the bed.
“Yes he is.” Said Alvis. “You can’t stop this man taking it. Just look at him. He has been given a job by the council and he’s going to do it. Or he won’t get paid. You cannot stop him by force and why should you? This event cannot fail to unfold.”
“But… but what will I do?”
“Dunno... don’t really care. I s’pose you’ll sleep on the floor or somethin’. Maybe rustle up a straw bed.”
“He’s right, Eliezer. There’s nothing that you can or will do because you are too polite and lack the force of will. Your old bed is gone. And why should you do anything now? You have no money and cannot buy another bed. You may as well have kept quiet about the whole incident and saved yourself the bother of worrying in the first place.”
Eliezer was annoyed. Extremely annoyed. He looked up at the council man. “How could I have predicted this? It’s stupid... patently ridiculous! What could I have done?”
A moment of confusion caused the man to pause, before he decided it wasn’t much use worrying about this odd young man. Lifting the bed, he carried on down the dirt track.
“You could have known, Eliezer, if you had appreciated the importance of what I have tried to teach you today. But you could not have done anything about it.”