The Original Jack
by Mary Wang
Once, there was a man who believed he could be anything. Beside his bed, in a pocketbook worn from use, his messy scrawl documented every fleeting dream he had of his future self. A doctor -no, a painter- perhaps an astronomer, or rather an electrician? He must have filled fifty pages at least with his dreams.
But he stopped there. At page fifty-one with the ink on the previous page barely dry, he closed his pocketbook and placed it on his bookshelf where it remained, gathering dust. He had had a particularly long dream that night, too long to write down and too long to know if he ever left it.
In the dream, he had been walking for quite a long time on a seemingly endless road. “A professional walker,” he thought, “that would do just fine.” Yet the landscape changed as he walked, tall skyscrapers in modern cities rising and falling to leave behind meadows of flowers, which then became an observatory on a beach. He looked on in wonder; in each of the buildings or meadows he walked by, there was another one of him there, living out one of the dreams he had written down. In the skyscraper, he was a businessman. In the meadow, he became a shepherd. In the observatory, he acted as an astronomer.
“How astounding!” The man proclaimed, walking faster, eager to see how many other versions of him there were. One, two, three, he counted dozens upon dozens. But suddenly, the man cried out, “What is this?”
The buildings and meadows had faded away and the landscape surrounding the endless road had disappeared, returning the man to the dark eternity he had first encountered. There were no other versions of him there or memories of dreams. “Impossible,” he decided, running forward in certainty that the landscape would change once more.
And it did. Out of the darkness, the landscape yet again transformed into a skyscraper and then a meadow. The man stopped in his tracks, looking in front of him and then behind him. “How can this be?” He had returned to the beginning and that confounded him. All of his dreams of his future were in front of him, but they were not all in reach. He could not simultaneously be in the skyscraper and the meadow in this dream, nor had he ever done so before.
This new knowledge confused him, and he sat down to think in the darkness with the comfort of the skyscraper in front of him. How could this be? Must he give up all but one of his dreams to have anything at all? He sat there and pondered, and then pondered some more. “Surely,” the man concluded, “if I wait long enough, the landscape will change some more. And surely, when it does, the right choice will present itself.”
Satisfied with his answer, he remained sitting in the darkness of the dream’s endless road, waiting and waiting as the other versions of him continued on with their lives. Every so often, they would look at him, sitting alone in the darkness and shake their heads sadly, “Oh, the poor man. Jack of all trades, master of none.”