In June I began writing a new original story every two weeks and posting them to this website. Much to my surprise, one of those stories, Second Choice, spawned a second story, then a third, then a fourth and so on until it became clear to me that this was actually one novel length story coming out of me in installments. This was all fun and good but now that seven months have gone by since the first story it has become clear that a brief refresher course is needed for me and many of my readers. Therefore, leading up to the publication on this site of Part 7 on March 6th I will be interviewing a number of characters from this work here on my blog.
(In a sparsely furnished room the interviewer sits across from Epictetus. Epictetus’ dark black skin is offset by his immaculately cut suit, and both of these combined with his muscular tone and stern dark eyes would make him seem imposing if it wasn’t for the warmth in his smile.)
Joseph Devon: Good morning, thank you for coming.
Epictetus: No problem at all.
JD: So this is the first in a string of interviews. I wasn’t sure where to put you in the order, but I decided that it was probably best to start with you.
E: I take it this means I’m going to be getting all the hard questions.
JD: Unfortunately, yes. Should we start with your age?
E: I’m roughly 2,000 years old.
E: We don’t really have any means of keeping a written history, so some information gets lost.
JD: And by “we” you mean?
E: Testers. Or pushers we’re sometimes called.
JD: Okay, and what is a tester exactly?
E: Have you ever had something bad happen in your life that, once you got through it, you looked back and viewed as a positive influence? A source of growth?
E: That was the work of a tester.
JD: I’m not sure I…I don’t think I understand.
E: (There is a long pause as Epp leans back in his chair and stares off, thinking. He comes back to us smiling.) Well, let’s take you for example. If you make it as a writer will you look back on these years of struggle as a formative time? A time of learning?
JD: Not really, this seems kind of like a giant pain in the ass. I want to hang out in Spain and drink all day. That’s what I thought I was signing up for with this writing gig. It’s taken me somewhere rather different.
E: (Laughing) Testers are often misunderstood. But didn’t you say awhile back that “every word matters,” in your writing? Did you always have that viewpoint? Did you always rewrite stories four or five times? Did you always force yourself to focus as much as you do now?
JD: Not so much, no. I used to not believe in rewriting.
E: And would you say that all the years and all the piles of rejection letters for your manuscripts were what made you constantly return to the work and attempt to improve yourself and your craft?
JD: I don’t think I like where this is heading.
E: So isn’t it possible to say that being rejected has made you into a better writer?
JD: Has one of you been rejecting my stories?
E: (Smiling) You know I can’t answer that. And there many other factors than testers at play in this universe. But that’s just an example of how one of us might go to work. It can be as simple as altering something in the physical world, like maybe slipping rejection slips into your SASEs, or it’s possible someone went to work inside of you, forced you to doubt yourself, applied pressure to you to go back and relearn your job.
JD: (Clearly uncomfortable) Can we stop talking about me specifically? It’s a little weird.
E: Of course.
JD: Thank you. Now a couple more questions about testers in general, and then I’d like to hear a little more about Epictetus specifically.
E: My time is yours.
JD: Would you describe yourself as a ghost?
E: Not really. Although it’s quite possible that many ghost stories you’ve heard are actually about a tester. We exist in your physical reality, that’s important to note, but we interact with it differently. I’m capable of being visible to you or not, for example. And to pick up, say, this pen I could either manipulate it through physical exertion (Epp picks up the pen in question with his hand) or I could manipulate the very basic energy contained in the pen at a quantum level (Epp stares at the pen and concentrates, it cracks and curls up until it compresses into small ball before disappearing).
JD: (Impressed) You owe me one pen.
E: It would seem that I do.
JD: Right then. Now, how does one become a tester?
E: Through a series of choices. Essentially, a person becomes a tester by finding themselves in a situation in which they, and two people close to them, are in danger of dying. For me it was a house fire two thousand years ago. I woke up in a house full of flames and heard my wife screaming. The only thought that went through my head was that if someone was going to die that I wanted it to be me and not her. In fact, I believe I did some begging that this would be the case. And it was. I died. She lived. This is what’s known as the first choice.
JD: You mentioned three people, though.
E: Yes, well, after the first choice is made a tester exists in a kind of a trial basis. These are called newbies by some people. You become this otherworldly thing that can disappear and (laughs) destroy pens and such. But you aren’t a tester yet. There’s still your second choice to be made. That’s where the third person comes in. For all testers it seems like there was only one other person involved, it seems like a straight forward trade, your life for theirs, but that isn’t the case. Eventually that other person dies, and then everything becomes clear. When my wife eventually passed away it finally dawned on me that I had heard two other people screaming in that house fire. My wife and another woman who meant a great deal to me. After attending my wife’s funeral I had to make my second choice. It was time to actually decide if I had sacrificed myself for my wife or for this other woman. And, in this second choice, it is possible for a tester to be born. If you decide to protect the other person, if I had chosen that other woman as the reason for my sacrifice, then I would have become tethered to her and when she finally passed on I would have exited from this world.
JD: But you didn’t make that choice.
E: No, I chose my wife, who was passing away. Now it gets a little confusing. Because, while I did choose my wife, my bond with the other woman was strong enough so that I didn’t actually follow my wife from this world. But once my wife passed, because she was the one that I chose, all bonds ceased to exist. In other words, in choosing my wife I chose to remain here, on this world, but become permanently separated from those that I loved. Those, in fact, that I loved enough to die for in the first place. I became a tester.
JD: You’re right, it is a little confusing.
E: (Laughs) Yes, but that is more or less the point. There is an odd little hiccup in the universe that allows us to exist. A loophole, if you will, in what seems to be a simple moment of self sacrifice. We juke the system and stay behind while the doorway to the next world closes. But, yes, it can get confusing, and in the end it doesn’t exactly matter. The thermodynamics involved in an internal combustion engine are also confusing but you don’t need to understand them every time you want start your car. I loved my wife enough to die for her, and when she passed on I decided I loved the world enough to not go with her and cast myself adrift forever.
JD: Okay, and we’re going to look at that sense of being adrift when we talk to some other testers throughout this week. For now, though, we’re running out of time and I want to just get a little history on you. What was your greatest push?
E: They all have their merits but I’m assuming you’re talking about Newton.
JD: Yes. I’d like to talk briefly about that and Kyokutei’s role in it.
E: A lot of people don’t understand Kyo. And for good reason I suppose. He is a little different. But he’s tough and he’s pure, that much I can tell you. And, after I had been testing for about fifteen hundred years, I felt I was getting soft so I enlisted Kyo to help me, to challenge me, to attempt to destroy me if possible. One thing Kyo did was to dig up a young boy named Isaac Newton. There was such huge potential in Newton that failing while pushing him could have obliterated me. So Kyo is basically a tester for the testers. Although he seems to only be working for me at the moment.
JD: Possibly because you’re the only one crazy enough to ask someone like him to destroy you.
E: (Smiles) Possibly. You have to understand, though, after fifteen hundred years of anything you’re going to begin to wish for some way to shake things up.
JD: That seems perfectly understandable. All right, I’d like to thank you for coming. I didn’t get around to asking you everything I wanted but, like we said at the beginning of this, it’s probably best that you get asked the hard questions even if that means a little less Epp than I had hoped for. We’re going to end with the questionnaire created by Bernard Pivot and used by James Lipton from “Inside the Actors Studio.” You ready?
E: Most certainly.
JD: What is your favorite word?
JD: What is your least favorite word?
JD: What turns you on creatively, spiritually, or emotionally?
E: I try to keep with me a sense of wonder at what people can accomplish.
JD: And what turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
E: When I think back at how long I’ve been here…it can sometimes seem to me like I’ve overstayed my welcome. Like maybe it’s time to move on.
JD: What sound or noise do you love?
E: Perfectly shaped ice cubes dropping into a nice, thick, crystal whiskey glass.
JD: What sound or noise do you hate?
E: The roar of a fire.
JD: What is your favorite curse word?
E: (Laughing) There was a wonderful one in use in Gaul awhile back but I don’t think it would translate well. I guess, “Ah, fuck,” is nice. Sort of flows nicely.
JD: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
E: I’d like to be a cook. A cook in the local bar, you know, I don’t want to be a chef. I like more rustic stuff. I want to be the guy who makes the buffalo wings that you crave every weekend.
JD: What profession would you not like to do?
E: I don’t think I could be a surgeon.
JD: If heaven exists, what would you like to hear god say when you arrive at the pearly gates?
E: (Thinks for awhile) That was some good work you did; now go see your wife.
JD: Thank you, it’s been a pleasure.
E: No problem at all.