A Small Civilization

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"I was trying to create a new type of cheese," said Mike Hairball as he sat down in the couch. "That's how it all started. I didn't mean for things to go as far as they did. It was just supposed to be cheese. But things got bizarre when people came out."

"Take it easy, Mr. Hairball," said the therapist, scribbling something in his notebook. "I'm here. We can talk through your problems. I'm listening. Sort of. Now just take a deep breath and relax. I'm going to ask you a few simple questions, starting with this one: what the hell are you talking about?"

"That's what everyone says," said Mike, "Nobody believes me. I mean, it is a pretty farfetched story. I will readily admit that. But it's completely true. I was trying to create a new type of cheese, and instead I created a civilization."

"Whoa, whoa, whoa. Did you just say you created a CIVILIZATION?"

"Yes," said Mike Hairball, burying his head in his hands, "I was mixing milk with butter in an attempt to get it to the right consistency to make cheese. Then I threw in some fuzz I found in my pocket for good measure, and I let the mix sit over night. When I came back down into the basement--I always work in the basement, you see--the bowl in which the cheese mix had been was empty. So I went back upstairs."

"Why do you always work in the basement?" asked the therapist.

"The rest of my house is on fire. At all times. It's always ablaze."

"What? Why?"

"I keep it that way. It adds an element of adventure to my life. It makes everything more exciting. Do you realize how boring it is to live your life in a middle-class suburban household? Just picture it in your mind: you get up out of bed, you brush your teeth, you eat breakfast, and you watch television. But now, picture doing all that stuff WHILE dodging flesh-melting flames! It makes my life TEN TIMES more interesting. When your house is always ablaze, eating breakfast becomes a struggle for survival. It makes me feel more significant. Plus, I have no idea where my fire extinguisher is."

"That's very interesting," said the therapist (who had long since stopped paying attention), "tell me more!"

"Well, the basement is the only part of my house that isn't on fire. I would LIKE it to be in flames, but alas, it's made of cement. And cement isn't flammable. I'm hoping to buy a tiger or some other maneating predator to put down there, but I can't afford one yet. But anyway, back to the cheese. I got sidetracked. I always get sidetracked. It's like, one time I was in Cuba, and then I got sidetracked and ended up in Zimbabwe. I'm gonna take off my clothes now."

"Uhmmg." muttered the therapist, who was now beginning to doze off.

Mike slowly unzipped the zipper on the front of his pants, slid them off, and tossed them out the window. Then he removed his shirt, along with the fishnet gloves on his arms. There was a cat wrapped around his waist.

"Is that a cat?" asked the therapist, coming back to his senses.

"Why, yes it is," says Mike, "I can't wear underwear because I'm allergic to it. So instead, I kidnap cats and tie them around my waste. It's actually quite comfortable. Cats are pleasingly fuzzy, so they feel very comforting on the genitals."

"That's kind of disgusting," said the therapist as Mike took the disoriented animal off his body and gingerly stuffed it into an envelope.

"I always store the cats in envelopes when I'm not using them," said Mike, waving the bulging envelope at the therapist, "It's splendid storage. Incidentally, I'm naked."

"I noticed," said the therapist. "I also notice you have no penis."

"That's correct. It was stolen by a pickpocket. I still haven't found the culprit. He reached into my pocket, attempting to grab my wallet, but instead he clamped right on to my penis and pulled it from my body."

"Must have been painful."

"I actually didn't notice until a few weeks later."

"Interesting. So, what happened with the cheese?"

"Oh right, the cheese! Well, it was a few weeks after I made the initial mix of milk, butter, and fuzz, when I decided to go down to the basement and bang my head against the wall."

"BANG YOUR HEAD AGAINST THE WALL? WHAT?"

"Only a few times!"

"It doesn't MATTER how many times! It's still bashing your skull against a hard surface and potentially causing irreversible damage to your brain!"

"I was in a bad mood. I always do things like that when I'm in a bad mood. Like, just the other day, I came home after a particularly bad day at work, and sawed my arm off at the dinner table."

"WHAT?"

"That's right. I then attached a home-made fake one."

The therapist suddenly noticed that where Mike's left arm should have been, there was simply a spoon attached to his shoulder with some tape. The therapist said, "Good God."

"And then the week after that, I removed my own liver and part of my spleen in my sleep."

"UUUUUUUUUUHGGGH. That is disgusting. But what happened when you went to the basement to bang your head on the wall?"

"Oh yeah. I got down there, and there were little people all over the place."

"...say that again?"

"There were little people in my basement. And I mean REALLY little. They were only a few inches tall. Like, they were about as tall as the average crayon."

"Okay, so, let me get this straight. You went down to the basement to bang your head on the wall and found a bunch of miniaturized people there."

"That's right."

"Then what happened?"

"Naturally, I tried to sweep them up with a broom. But they were very evasive. They kept running away from it. After a while, I noticed that they were shouting to each other. It was hard to detect their voices. They were high-pitched and kind of obnoxious. But they were saying things like 'the great creator is displeased with us! Run away!'"

"They called you the great creator?"

"Yes. After a while I got tired and went back upstairs to watch my flaming TV. But I started sneaking down regularly after that to watch them. If I was quiet enough when I opened the door, I wouldn't frighten them."

"How many of them were there?"

"Oh, about 20 at first. They lived in little shacks made out of old playing cards I had stored down there."

"What did they eat?"

"Ants, at first. They made little farms, where they grew fungus and raised ants. They rode around on the back of the ants sometimes, but they mostly raised the ants for slaughter. They'd cook the ants using an old lighter I had down there, and have big feasts where they'd eat dozens of dead ants. That was before I started interfering in their society."

"Interfering in their society?"

"Yeah. It all started when I decided to leave a tape recorder down there. I wanted to hear what they talked about. I left the recorder there overnight, and ended up with THIS tape."

Mike reached into his ear and pulled out a tape.

"Why was it in your ear?" asked the therapist.

"I had the tape surgically implanted into my brain. I can pull it out whenever I want it. You got a tape player?"

The therapist pulled one out of his drawer and handed it to Mike. Mike stuck the tape into the tape player and played it for the therapist. On the tape was a high-pitched man's voice, bellowing:

"ALL PRAISED AND GLORY BE TO THE GREAT CREATOR!!! The Great Creator, my friends, is the giant man who created us with the Sacred Ingredients! He mixed them together in the right order, and WE sprang forth!!! We must worship the Great Creator and one day he will come down from the Glorious Kingdom Above, and teach us his Great Wisdom! And it'll be Great!"

The therapist sat in confused silence.

"Don't you see?" said Mike, "I realized what my situation was the instant the tape ended. I had accidentally created a race of miniature people when I was trying to make the cheese! I somehow stumbled upon some secret combination of chemicals that makes miniature people!"

"Interesting," said the therapist, "So, what did you do?"

"Naturally, I took advantage of the situation. The next day, I went down there and proclaimed myself as their overlord, and I laid out a set of rules that they had to follow at all times. I told them that I was their Godly Father and that I loved them. I demanded that they constantly worship me and make sacrifices to me. I declared that any rebellion against me would be punished with oblivion for all of them. I proclaimed that I was significant and that they were insignificant, and that only by obeying me without question would they ever be brought to Paradise. Paradise, in this case, was the upstairs kitchen. I described to them the wonders of all the food in the upstairs kitchen. You know, I'd say stuff like this: 'follow me, and I will take thee to the glories of the Great Kitchen, where there are desserts 500 times the size of your body!' I basically screwed around with their heads."

"Interesting."

"Then I started bringing food down for them. At first I only brought little things. Like oreos or pretzels. Then I started making larger offerings. In turn, they'd make sacrifices in my name. At first, they only sacrificed ants, but soon they started sacrificing each other."

"That's grotesque. Why didn't you stop them?"

"To be honest, it was because I enjoyed watching them do it. It made me feel powerful. Up to that point, I'd felt pretty useless on this planet. I worked the most meaningless job on the face of the earth. My only friend was my dog, and he ran away with a poodle. Forcing these inferior people to commit violent acts against each other made me feel like a more important person. It made me feel important. There's something very compelling about being worshipped like a God by a bunch of feeble-minded subjects. It's a feeling that you enjoy, and you don't want to let go of. I decided I deserved a little fun. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I wanted to be cruel to somebody powerless. I liked the feeling of authority I got while I watched this small civilization blossom. They thought I was a God."

"So basically, you decieved them because you thought it would be fun to watch them suffer?"

"Yep. The preacher on the tape was named Jarvis. He was my favorite. He became my partner in controlling the small civilization. I posted a set of rules on the wall of the basement, written in crayon. Rules like "you may not have any fun at all, because having fun is an insult to the great Creator." Really nasty stuff like that. I wanted to experiment with them. I wanted to see what would happen. Jarvis would report anyone who had violated the rules to me, and I would punish them."

"...punish?"

"Yeah. I'd pick them up and throw them against a wall, or I'd smush them with a flyswatter or something like that. There is no way to describe the rush it gave me to kill one of those little dudes. The shock and awe that it inspired in the other little people. Watching one of their own be crushed by my All-Powerful Foot was enough to humble even the most independent among them. And some of them WERE quite independent. Some of them questioned my authority to my face."

"And I can see why! You claimed that you loved them, but then you slaughtered them if they disobeyed you in the slightest!"

"I know! I was a complete hypocrite! The hilarious thing was that most of them were far too stupid to notice this basic inconsistency! And those who did ended up dead by my hand. I then decided to shake things up even more in their community by creating a wealthy upper class. I brought down a doll house for Jarvis the preacher to live in, and I brought down an entire steak for him and his family. I only gave bread crumbs to the rest of the town, and I posted a new rule that said: 'by order of The Great Creator, 50% of every family's food must be donated to Jarvis the Preist, so he can continue to preach the words of Truth, Righteousness, Morality, and General Awesomeness.' Some of them disobeyed, so I executed them. I was becoming more and more methodical in my execution methods. I'd flush them down toilets, microwave them, fling them off my roof--I was an effective killing machine. I had to be, to keep the rebels under control, and to keep the masses scared crapless. Because fear is the key to control. I learned that. As long as they knew I could stomp them all into oblivion with the slightest provocation, they would obey me. It wasn't really out of respect or love anymore. It was out of sheer terror. I had become a monster. They feared me. And I loved it. I loved to watch their terrified, broken-hearted little faces as I carried another of their number away to squash. They knew perfectly well that if they spoke out, I'd squash them too. So they kept silent. Soon, I wrote a national anthem for them. It was called "we love the great creator." I made them sing it until their throats were soar, and I told them that if any of them stopped singing it, I would step on them. So everywhere I went in my house, I was being constantly serenaded as an overlord. A God. I made a tape recording of the song, and carried the tape everywhere. It made my life so much more bearable. It didn't matter if I spent another day working at a job that would never take me anywhere. It didn't matter if a girl turned me down when I asked her on a date. It didn't matter if my favorite TV show got cancelled. I was no longer an average Joe. I was a God. I was Mike the Magnificent. Mike the Mighty. Mike, controller of a civilization."

"That was a really long speech."

"You should have heard some of the speeches I made to the little ones. I'd bellow for hours on end about ruin, destruction, morality, righteousness, and why they had to obey my laws without question. I decided to screw with them even more when I stopped feeding them. At this time, their population had exceeded 500. It was a lot of mouths to feed. The only one I fed was Jarvis, who by this time had eight houses that spanned the floor of the basement (the other 499 people were squeezed into little shacks in the corner of the room). When they asked why I was starving them, I'd say that I was displeased with them. They were failing to follow my rules. I'd say that some among them weren't true believers. This was all I needed to tell them. They turned on each other INSTANTLY, trying to filter out the non-believers and the heretics so I'd start feeding them again. Oh, the things I saw them do to each other would make your hair curl. There was an inquisition. There were trials. There were executions. It started out orderly. Then it became a riot. They got it into their heads that it was the brunettes among them who were behind the famine. So they systematically killed all the brunettes and offered the bodies to me as an apology. I laughed at them. Right in their face. You should have seen their faces."

"I...I...I don't know what to say. This is grotesque. This is horrible. You seemed like such a nice guy."

"I AM a nice guy! I just acted the way ALL nice guys act when they are placed in positions of ultimate power! I have a miserable life. I deserved a little fun. A little fun at the expense of some inferior people."

"This is horrible. This is beyond therapy."

"Yeah, well I payed you to listen to me, so you're going to listen. Anyway, one day I decided I'd see if I could get them to rebel against Jarvis. I brought down an entire box full of food. Far more food than Jarvis could ever eat. And I put it in Jarvis's house. I told the rest of the people that they couldn't touch the food. If they did, it was an act of blasphemy against them. I set up some hidden cameras in the basement so I could watch their every mood. They sat there, starving, with only a few remaining ants to eat, while Jarvis stuffed his face with pudding and brownies. Finally, one of the people, whose name was Kenneth, organized a rebellion. He organized all the people and together they overthrew Jarvis and killed him while I watched. The hilarious thing was that once Kenneth got a look at how big Jarvis's house was, and how much food Jarvis had been storing, he declared himself the new dictator and refused to share any of the food. Then another little person named Kathleen organized a rebellion. SHE overthrew Kenneth. But when Kenneth's body was gone and the people were celebrating, Kathleen slipped into the mansion and locked the doors. She wanted the food for herself. One at a time, heroes would rise among them, and then they would seice to be heroes the minute they set eyes on the food I had provided for the leaders among them. One by one, each of them would rebel, and one by one, each of them would fail to change anything abou their society. Eventually, famine had chopped their numbers back down to 20. They were in the exact same position they had been in when I first discovered them, but with one major difference; now, their civilization was no longer growing. It was dying. They were in ruins. They had been perfectly content before I interfered. I decided at this point that my experiment had gone far enough, and it was time to end it. I killed the remaining 20 people one at a time. I fed them all to my goldfish. So now, I have a very bloody basement, a very useful cheese recipe, and an extremely obese goldfish."

"WHAT THE HELL, MAN?" the therapist was in complete shock.

"Don't lose it, man. Keep yourself calm. Anyway, I'd like your professional opinion on something. I had the most fun time of my life manipulating those little people. My question for you is this: are the majority of people on planet earth the same as me? Meaning, if the majority of people on planet earth were given a miniature civilization that worshipped them, would they do what I did, and smash the civilization to bits? Would they become dictators like me, simply because they like to see inferior people suffer?"

"Probably."

"EXCELLENT! Then I'm going to sell my cheese recipe!"

"Huh?"

"Picture this: civilization-in-a-can! All you have to do is mix the right ingredients, and out pops a bunch of miniature people who you can torture all you want! It'll become the biggest selling product of all time! Mediocrities all over the world will make themselves feel better by tormenting populations of helpless miniature people. This product will sell brilliantly, because it takes advantage of what seems to have become a fundamental part of the human condition: the need to control others, and to make others suffer."

"YOU ARE A LUNATIC!!!!" bellowed the therapist, repulsed.

"Well, what were you expecting?" asked Mike, irritated, "You're a freakin' therapist. Therapists are supposed to talk to crazy people for a living."

"Actually, I'm not a therapist. I'm just a janitor here. I like to pretend to be a therapist as a kind of joke." The janitor then burst out laughing at this point, and pointed at a camera in the corner.

"What's the camera for?" asked Mike.

"YOU'RE ON NATIONAL TELEVISION!" bellowed the janitor. He turned on the tv, and sure enough, there was Mike's face, looking clueless on live tv. The tv station then cut to a greasy looking game show host.

"Well there you have it, folks!" said the gameshow host, "Mike Hairball, this week's victim of the THERAPIST PRANK!!! That's right, the prank where we send a fake therapist to listen to a man's problems, and then we LAUGH A THE MAN'S PROBLEMS ON NATIONAL TV!!! Aaaw, poor Mike, he thought he was gonna be a business executive! But he's just a freakin' LUNATIC!!!!" a studio audience burst out laughing. Mike stared at the television in disbelief as the closing credits to the show rolled.

The janitor chuckled as he turned off the camera.

Mike sank to his knees on the floor.

"Why?" said Mike.

"Why what?" asked the janitor coldly.

"Why would you do something like that? You pretended to be a therapist. You made it seem like you actually cared about what I had to say. The whole time, you were part of some retarded hidden camera show. Why did you do it?"

"Why?" said the janitor. "Because I'm just like you. I wanted to torment somebody inferior to me. You just so happened to be my victim. It's fun to be stepped on, isn't it?"

Mike sat in silence.

"You had so much FUN crushing all those little tiny people in your basement," continued the janitor, "And I had just as much fun crushing you."

Mike flopped onto his back on the floor. The janitor walked over to the window and stared out at the row of apartments on the other side of the street. After a very long time, Mike said, "So I guess we're pretty similar, huh? We both decided to try and make our lives less painful by ruining the lives of others."

"Pretty much," sighed the janitor.

"But maybe that wasn't the right way to go," said Mike. "Maybe there's another way to improve your life. A way that doesn't involve destruction and mayhem."

"You mean, like friendship?" said the janitor, turning to face Mike.

"Pretty much."

"Yeah. That could be true."

"I think so. It's worth a try, don't you think?"

"Yeah. Worth a try."

"So..."

"So."

The two men sat in silence.

"You want to go get a pizza?"

"Sure."

They walked out of the room together, talking about their favorite flavors of cheese.


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