Existential Terror and Breakfast: 2

Epiphanies taste better with toast.

A vague feeling of guilt echoed above Malcolm’s unforgiving hangover as light intruded into his eyes. The existential panic attack he would be having soon would be worse. Every bit of movement was like a heavy burden as he marched out of his bed. He was starting to think that waking up was a mistake. The crux of the morning was how he had gotten home. Malcolm indulged to the point that he had blacked out, and consequently had no recollection of how he had gotten home. Strewn across his now sordid house was a full set of clothing that he had worn the night previous and bafflingly enough there was a fully completed jigsaw puzzle on his coffee table.

Malcolm Steadman is not exactly known for his deductive skills, and is certainly no Sherlock Holmes, but it occurred to him that he had walked home from the pub, removed his clothing, and expertly assembled the jigsaw puzzle. He had done that, all without being conscious of doing it. A terrible dread was slowly building around him. This suggested to him that consciousness was not a necessary component to the complexities of his life.

The finished puzzle before him was one that he had owned for a couple of years. He had originally bought it after he had promised himself that he would take up a hobby and be more productive with his life. This puzzle would sit on his bookcase, gathering dust, acting as a testament to his inactive lifestyle. Now, it sat finished, mocking his fragile sense of agency. After he had blacked out, his body acted in an autopilot that was not just set to his basic instinctive needs, but also to his aspirations. If he was capable of deciding to do it without being sentient, was his consciousness, or his ego, actually in control at all? Was his sense of “I” or “me” the pilot to his life, or was it just a constant commentary on the automated actions that he would do with or without it? Was Malcolm in fact, just an awkward automaton with the illusion of free will? He had ceased to notice his menacing headache.

The terrible dread had turned into a full panic attack.

His heart raced and palpitated, his breath was labored, the false sense that he was dying hung in his mind. The puzzle was of course, unaffected by this. Here was the worse part of it: if his sense of being was an unnecessary commentary with the illusion of agency, then his panic attack was doubly so. Him being upset about never having freewill was totally frivolous. That, he thought, was cruel. Did it matter that he thought it was cruel? What was the use of his sentient protestations to a life of automation that did not need his permission to automate? If this is how it was going to be (or had always been), wouldn’t it be less of a hassle if he was always blacked out? He imagined going about his usual day-to-day life, walking, eating, conversing, and yes, even solving puzzles, all without him being “him”.

His panic attack faded out of focus as his hangover fell back into the foreground. This was no better. He was still experiencing unpleasantness even though it appeared that experiencing that unpleasantness was a feature that was not needed. Could it be that the only true difference between him and his puzzle, was that the puzzle did not pretend “to be”? Only one of them insisted that they had volition.

Whether he truly decided to do it, or was preordained to, Malcolm Steadman began to spitefully, and violently, kick the puzzle before him to death. Each vengeful kick only enhanced the intensity of his hangover. He was vaguely aware that he was only spiting himself.

Then he got ready for work.

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Rev. Fitz
Michael Fitzgerald (Rev. Fitz) is a writer, illustrator, and amateur Electrical Engineer who lives in Seattle.

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