This is the sixth round of the Title Writing Prompt Challenge. For them not familiar with the challenge, a quick summary: three writers offer the fruit of their labor and inspiration based on a given title.
The Round 6 Title — It’s A Wonderful Life — was chosen by Perry. I’ll choose the title for the next round.
The writing challenge has no restrictions and the stories span a wide gamut of genres. The majority of the stories fall in the G and PG rating range with a few perhaps pushing into the soft R-rating. Those ratings are guidelines but they are subjective. If you find a story disturbing because of the topics, language, and/or plot points, stop reading and move on to the next one. The same thing goes if you find yourself not interested in finishing a story. It may seem like obvious advice, but these days many people go out of their way to experience outrage (and then complain about it).
This, then, is my submission, written with a few days to spare, for a change of pace. However, I can almost guarantee few will find this one to their liking.
Oh, before we begin, I solicited blurbs from each writer. Here’s mine:
Edwina never dreamed she’d have to defend her choice. Now, she’s doing just that in justifying her antinatalism view.
It’s a Wonderful Life
Copyright 2022 — E. J. D’Alise
(3,100 words – approx. reading time: about 12 minutes based on 265 WPM)
Expecting to wake up in her bed, Edwina was a tad surprised to instead wake and find herself seated on a witness stand. At least, it looked like a witness stand. There was a tall desk to her right, where one might presume a judge would sit, and an empty area that might well be a jury box to her left. Looking forward, she could see one table and several chairs beyond it.
“I’m in a courtroom,” she said to no one, for she was alone in the room.
The last echoes of her words faded just as figures coalesced, filling the room—eerily silent figures. Edwina registered no sound other than her heartbeat.
“OK, so I’m dreaming. One of them lucid dreams I’ve read about,” Edwina said, this time addressing herself.
“This is not a dream,” a voice said.
It appeared to emanate from an empty spot a few feet in front of Edwina, but then a final figure coalesced, its mouth moving to catch up to the spoken words.
“You are here to be judged.”
Edwina looked at the figure, trying to decide if it was male or female. The voice didn’t give it away, and neither did the manner of dress or the shape she could make out under the peculiar garb. Dismissing the speculation, she focused on the more pressing matter.
“I’m about to be judged? By whom, and for what?” she asked. “And who are you?”
“You may call me Hegetes,” the figure replied. “You stand in judgment before God for the failures in your life.”
Edwina perked up.
“I get to meet God? So cool!” she said as she tried to peer past the edge of the tall desk.
“God is not here,” Hegetes replied. “We trusted servants stand on God’s behalf.”
“Ah . . . Same ole song and dance, I see,” Edwina said. “And they wonder why I don’t believe.”
“You doubt, even here?”
“All I see is some lackey fancying themselves speaking for God. I’m not impressed,” Edwina replied. “By the way, how did I die? Last I remember, I was fine and had just gone to bed.”
“You seem remarkably unperturbed by your situation,” Hegetes said. “But to answer your question, you were killed by a piece of a falling SpaceX satellite.”
“Wow, what are the odds, eh? Is my cat OK?”
“It was,” Hegetes replied, “and I can’t help but think you’re not taking this situation seriously. It’s your future that’s at stake.”
“Well, I’m reasonably certain I’m dreaming.”
Hegetes didn’t bother replying. Instead, it produced a tablet, tapped it twice, and scrolled through the contents for a few seconds.
“I’d have thought for sure you’d be using scrolls. Don’t tell me you have Wi-fi here in . . . By the way, what is this supposed to be?”
Hegetes looked up, then went back to scrolling as it answered.
“Think of it as a way station,” it replied. “So, let’s get to it.”
“Wait! Don’t I get a defense lawyer?”
“There are no lawyers here, defense or otherwise,” Hegetes replied. “You get to make your case and are judged on the soundness of your argument.”
“I like that!”
“You like that?”
“Yup! There’s nothing I like better than arguing about stuff. Well, debating, but some see it as the same thing. So, what are we debating about?”
“You opting not to have any children.”
“Wait . . . Is my mom in this dream? Is this her dream!?”
“Kid all you want, but the facts are simple. Willingly, with deliberation, you decided against procreating.”
“So?! Then, you admit to the charge and have no remorse?” Hegetes asked, pointing an accusatory finger at Edwina.
“What’s the big deal? It’s not like humans aren’t reproducing like frantic rabbits. So why does my decision matter in the least?”
For a moment, Hegetes lost its composure, the mouth stuck in the semi-open position as the face made a decent attempt at looking both shocked and stern. Then, after a few seconds, it regained its composure and continued.
“On your world, most interpretations of God’s will include a mandate to reproduce; children are, after all, gifts from God. How can you refuse such a gift?”
“On my world? Are there others?”
“Don’t avoid the question. Why would you spurn God’s gift?”
Edwina paused, a shadow of doubt forming that this was not, in fact, a dream. But, if not a dream, the question merited an honest answer instead of snarky.
“It was for ethical reasons,” she answered. “I believe — believed — it unethical to bring a sentient life into the world.”
A low murmur suffused in the room, a murmur that stopped when Hegetes raised his hand.
“You dare question God’s judgment?”
“You betcha! I’d do it to its face if it had the guts to show itself and answer for its cruelty, lack of compassion, and, most of all, for all the suffering endured by humanity. Suffering in the past, present, and future.”
Hegetes paused, considered the being before it, and asked a different question after consulting the tablet.
“You look to have had a wonderful life, yes?”
“I’ve been lucky in many respects, yes,” Edwina replied.
“And yet you would deny the unborn the same opportunity.”
“Do you know what a non sequitur is?” Edwina asked.
“Then I don’t have to explain it … but you do. So what exactly do I deny the unborn, and what does that have to do with the quality of my life?”
“On balance, you must have liked being alive. This follows from you not ever considering ending your life prematurely. One presumes you’ve also experienced suffering in your life,” Hegetes paced in front of Edwina as it spoke, getting ever closer with each back-and-forth, and stopped in front of her box to conclude the argument it was making. “We can then conclude the pleasure of being alive outweighs the pain of any suffering you might have experienced. In that case, you deny the unborn life a chance at the same.”
Edwina further lowered her estimation of Hegetes and didn’t hide the fact.
“So, I can assume there’s no tree of logic where you’re from,” she said, adding a touch of disdain to her tone. “My existence, and that of billion others, is fait accompli. Do you know what that means? Let me tell you: it refers to a thing that has already happened or decided before those affected hear about it, leaving them with no option but to accept it.
“The fact I found myself alive, how I dealt with it, and my ultimate acceptance of it has no bearing whatsoever on deciding the wisdom or morality of bringing another sentient life into being,” Edwina continued. “What does matter is this: do I have the right to decide for others what suffering they can bear?”
“But, but . . . You’re depriving that unborn life of choice!” Hegetes countered.
Edwina closed her eyes as she pinched the bridge of her nose. She enjoyed debating deep issues, but not when faced with having to explain the minutia of even simple facts and logic.
“Heg, may I call you Heg? Great! … Look, Heg, you’re missing the point, so let me take a different tact. Would you miss a choice you didn’t know you had?” Edwina asked. “For instance, say you go to a restaurant on a Wednesday and pick something from the menu. But you don’t know that on Tuesday, the menu had different entrées; entrées you would have preferred to the current offerings. Would you miss those?”
“Er . . . No?”
“Are you asking me or answering?”
“No,” Hegetes replied, “I would not miss them because I didn’t know about them.”
“Great. Now, follow me on this — would you have been able to choose those entrées you didn’t know about?”
“No,” Hegetes unhappily replied, seeing where this was going.
“So, what choice have I denied a life that would not exist unless I chose to bring it into existence? None. Worse, could that life make any choice other than accepting its fate after I chose to bring it into the world? No.”
Hegetes considered Edwina’s argument and decided on a different tact.
“I concede the argument about choice,” Hegetes said, “but your larger premise is predicated on suffering having no value. In essence, you’re saying no amount of good makes up for experiencing pain and suffering.
“But,” he continued, “that is demonstrably not the case. For instance, pain can be good. You can go to a gym and work out, play a game, or do any number of things that might cause you pain, but you still enjoy them. And, you even get a benefit from it.”
“You’re cherry-picking,” Edwina replied. “Let’s talk about the whole range of pain. Physical and emotional or moral pain, especially from knowing we have a finite life.”
“Some of your philosophers argue that suffering makes you human and that death gives your life meaning.”
“So what?” Edwina countered. “Some psychologists also say the same thing, even going so far as saying suffering is good. Religion tells us suffering is God’s tool to get us to accomplish God’s purpose in our life. And that purpose? To turn us to God.”
“You don’t hold to those views?”
“No. Pain and suffering are bad, period. Many of those rationalizations are just that, rationalizations for something we endure because we have no choice. The fact that sometimes pain and suffering are transformative is irrelevant. For instance, a rape victim might overcome her emotional trauma to go on and accomplish things she might otherwise not have, but how many would choose rape as the vehicle of personal growth?” Edwina replied.
“Even the banalest — pain from exercising — has roots in emotional suffering, either in the form of worrying about our health or our looks. In some cases, both. Worse, it doesn’t matter how much you ‘suffer’ … the result is death.”
“Surely, you don’t suggest humans should be immortal. It would fundamentally change their nature.”
“And?” Edwina replied. “Let me ask you something; are you immortal?”
“Eh . . . Yes, but—”
“Is it causing you any physical or emotional discomfort?”
“That’s not the point,” Hegetes countered. “Humans are—”
“Were you made as you are, or did you have to suffer a mortal life before this?”
Hegetes didn’t reply for what seemed a long time before speaking again.
“If you could painlessly, without any human being aware of it, end the whole of humanity, would you do it?”
“What do you mean?” Edwina asked.
“You seem to suggest the pain and suffering associated with life is always worse than the good in one’s life. So, let’s say there’s a button you could press. People would then fall asleep as usual would but never wake up. They would just cease to be; no suffering, pain, or angst. Would you press the button?
“Why not? You just argued against the value and benefit of pain and suffering, and that any joy one might experience from living doesn’t make up for the suffering. If you could instantly remove all pain and suffering from the world, why wouldn’t you do it?
“Because it’s not my choice to make,” Edwina replied.
“So, how is it your choice when it comes to an unborn life?”
“Let me guess; you have friends on the Supreme Court.”
“I don’t understand,” Hegetes said.
“Look, the two are equivalent in only one respect,” Edwina explained. “It’s not my choice to make. In the simplest terms, I don’t have the right to choose for someone else. In the first case, choosing to act would be strictly for my benefit, namely to procreate. In the second case, I’d be robbing billions of their autonomy. I don’t have the right to bring a person into this life, and I don’t have the right to end the life of a person who’s already here. In both cases, I would be usurping their independence and autonomy.”
“So you sit in judgment of people who procreate.”
“Nope! I’m not responsible for them or the decisions they make. It may not be something I would do, but how they square their choices is up to them. Besides, I like children, even if I feel sorry for them.”
Hegetes waved his hand in dismissal.
“We are getting into an area of discussion removed from the task at hand,” Hegetes said. “Let me address the issue with a focus on something else. Namely, the constant improvement of the human condition.”
“You’re joking!” Edwina said.
“No, I’m completely serious,” Hegetes replied. “Look at the tremendous progress humans have made through the thousands of years since they lived in caves, most of it cumulative and accelerating. Can you not imagine a time when human life will be much, much better than it is now, and suffering and pain almost insignificant in comparison? Would you deny countless future generations the benefits of the continuous improvement of the human condition?”
“Holy crap on a cracker!” Edwina said, exasperation finally having loosened her propensity for swearing, such as it was. “You don’t do a whole lot of thinking, do you? Tell me, is that a requirement from your God, or is it just not in you?”
“Mind your attitude and speech, Edwina Regina Granger. You sit in judgment before us, and you’re not doing yourself any favor,” Hegetes replied, pulling himself upright and striking a stern pose.
“OK, fine,” Edwina said. “I’ll play your little game. You now present as favorable a scenario where pain and suffering are constantly diminished until, presumably, it’s negligible. But, moments ago, you lauded the value of pain and suffering as a feature of humanity instead of a flaw, hinting at its necessity.
“Per your earlier arguments, when that happens, and suffering is all but eliminated, humans will have ceased to be human, have no character, and have lost the need for God,” Edwina added. “But, let’s assume it’s a worthwhile goal … what is the price for that goal?”
“What do you mean?”
“There are currently close to eight billion people in the world, and, arguably, most are suffering even if they are ‘better off’ than their ancestors,” Edwina explained, intoning her lecturing voice. “But, let’s look back at those past generations; close to one hundred billion people have lived and died, and nearly all suffered hardships and pain, both at the hand of nature and each other.
“Sure, we can argue that the seven billion currently alive are marginally better off than their predecessors, at least in material things we can measure. But, is that hard-won progress worth the suffering of one hundred billion people?”
“Sometimes sacrifices are made to achieve a goal, especially a worthwhile one,” Hegetes replied. “Surely, looking ahead, we can see the possibility of thousands of generations living unimaginably great lives; lives that would not come to be if people thought like you.”
“Wow,” Edwina said, “you’re making more of a secular than a religious argument. I thought God had plans for humans to share in its glory, or something like that.”
“The ability of humans to comprehend the meaning of scriptures is severely limited,” Hegetes said.
“Heg, you’re almost making me believe God isn’t selfish and evil, but I don’t buy it. Even if you’re implying that God wants humans to reproduce and ascend to god-like status eventually, I don’t see that as justification for inflicting suffering onto untold generations.
“Besides, there are no guarantees humans will get there; we’re constantly a hair’s breadth from wiping each other out, not to mention we’re plopped down on a rock floating in a very unfriendly universe that almost looks designed to kill us.”
Edwina paused to look around the room. She had everyone’s attention, and she wondered at the nature of those beings. Humans? Angels? Servants? Were they even considering her arguments? It didn’t matter, so she continued.
“But, we get back to the question of the price paid. Indeed, we don’t know to what heights humans might rise in a thousand or ten thousand years, assuming the species survives,” Edwina said, “so let’s consider a more practical example. A thought experiment, if you would.
“Let’s say you could ensure the happiness and lack of pain for ten people twenty years from now. No, make it a thousand, or even a million people,” Edwina said. “All you need to ensure their happy and pain-free existence is to do one thing: every day, for twenty years without fail, physically and psychologically torture another human being. Would you do it? Would you torture someone to ensure the happiness of a million people?”
Hegetes didn’t answer.
“Come on, Heg. It’s a simple question. Is the cost of current suffering negated or even balanced by the benefit to some future generation?”
“That’s not an equivalent scenario,” Hegetes objected.
“Becoming a parent isn’t the same as being responsible for the pain and suffering of one’s …” Hegetes didn’t finish.
“You see it, don’t you, Heg? It is the same. You choose to bring someone into this world to struggle, likely suffer, and eventually die, so that a future generation might have a better life, but still, a life that almost certainly includes suffering and pain. After all, everyone agrees to suffer is the default human condition.”
“But, there is also so much beauty in the world. Wonders to explore, emotional connection to other humans, appreciation of art, music, nature, the joy of discovering new things, of learning, of …” Hegetes stopped, pleading Edwina to agree.
“No doubt, that is the case,” Edwina said. “Humans have adapted to make the most of the hand we’ve been dealt, but that’s the point; we seek out those things and experiences to counter the pain and suffering, to make us forget the misery in the world. Even then, the respite is momentary. You could argue we wouldn’t have art without suffering, but also that, without pain and suffering, we wouldn’t need art.”
As she finished speaking, Edwina heard a beeping . . . Faint at first, but getting louder. The figures in the room began dissolving until only Hegetes was left.
“It’s time for you to go,” he said.
“But I’m not done!” Edwina said. There were so many nuances to the argument that she’d yet to explore and—
Edwina gradually drifted from slumber to awake and turned off the alarm. She blinked twice, registered the weight of her cat on her legs, and focused on the slowly spinning blades of the ceiling fan.
“It was a dream!” she spoke to no one.
Her cat raised its head, yawned, stretched, and then jumped off the bed.
“I got to write this down before I forget it,” Edwina said. “Maybe I’ll even write a short story about it.”
If you’ve already read the other two stories and are ready to vote, click HERE<<<Link, and you’ll be taken to the voting poll.
If you’ve not read the other two stories, they can be found at the following links:
Perry Broxson submission<<link
R. G. Broxson submission<<link
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