It might seem funny, but when I first asked him, “Why me?” his eyebrows didn’t go up. It was almost as if he expected the question.
“Look,” he drawled. “You really want to be a failure. But you don’t want to be any kind of failure. You want to be an Epic Failure…”
I could actually picture the capital letters appearing in my head as he spoke.
“So, I’m here to help you achieve that goal.”
“That’s fine, but did you have to singe the carpet? And that sulfur smell is going to take weeks to get out of the furniture…”
He looked at the carpet and his pointed chin rose slightly as his lips turned down. “Really sorry about that. Can’t fix it. It’s part of the package. You have to make an entrance… Not a family heirloom, I hope.”
“No,” I said.
His eyebrows turned up and a smile returned.
“I can help with the brimstone though. Febreze works really well. Takes the smell away really fast. We’re going to become best buddies so I’ll have a case sent over.”
“Thanks,” I said. But I was sure it was unconvincing.
I shifted a bit nervously, changing the topic. “What makes you think I want to be an Epic Failure?”
His tail twitched and he burst out laughing.
“Well, you certainly don’t want to be an Epic Success! You think it’s too much effort, and you certainly don’t want to be caught in the middle like the rest of humanity. That’s boring.”
“He has a point,” I thought.
“Is it hard to become an Epic Failure?”
His grin widened. “Couldn’t be easier! One or two little pointers and we’ll have you moving down the ranks in no time.”
Suddenly, we were both sitting on the couch. His fingers steepled and he leaned back, his eyes half-closed.
“Let’s start with something easy. Sleep.”
“Sure,” he said. “If you want to become an Epic Failure, lack of sleep is one of the fastest ways to get there.”
“Huh?” I said.
It was not one of my best responses, but he ignored it and plunged on.
“Look. Without adequate sleep your body is sluggish, your brain doesn’t work well, you can’t focus on what needs to be done. You will make sloppy mistakes and waste valuable time trying to correct simple errors you never would have made in the first place if you had been rested!”
“With a simple regimen of lack of sleep, all the progress you have made up to now will begin to erode faster than a sand castle at high tide!”
He clapped his hands gleefully. For a moment I thought he was going to slap me on the back. I wondered if it would cause second or third-degree burns.
“And the best part is you can blame it all on the work you are supposed to be doing! No one can fault you for working too long on a project.”
I had to admit he was right. At my job, working overtime was pretty standard.
“It’s so simple. You don’t get enough sleep trying to catch up on all the work that you could get done easily – if you would simply get adequate rest. It’s a perfect vicious circle.”
The smile was wide now and I could see pointed teeth.
“And you are already on your way. You don’t have a real sleep schedule now, do you?”
“What do you mean? I go to bed pretty much the same time.”
He looked at me and his eyes narrowed.
“You go to bed a different time every night. Sometimes it’s binge watching TV, other times it’s out with the boys. If you get lucky, it’s out with a date. You try to make up for going to bed late Friday and Saturday by sleeping in on Sunday.”
“That doesn’t work?”
“Hell no. You’re messing up your circadian rhythms and they don’t like to be messed with.”
I looked at him blankly.
“Circadian rhythms are cycles your body needs to go thru to do basic maintenance on all your systems. They do everything from releasing hormones that govern how well you sleep to making brain cells that replace ones you lost in your short-term memory…”
His eyes gleamed.
“Mess it up enough and you start to forget things. You can lose coordination, muscle tone, and best of all, you look just terrible.”
“So, all I need to do is just keep on what I’m doing?” I said.
“Well,” he said, “the older you are the faster the deterioration, but we can speed things up a bit if we do some adjustments on where you sleep.”
“I like my room!”
“It’s ok. But you need to open those dark curtains so there is more light in the room when you sleep. A dark room encourages deeper, more relaxing sleep. That’s a no-no.”
He looked around and I suddenly realized we were in the bedroom. I didn’t remember walking there.
“This guy’s good.”
“You do have street noise which helps,” his voice was suddenly very close and I realized he was now behind me. I didn’t turn.
“Should I open a window?”
“No!” he said. “Cool air is good for deep sleep. Warm stuffy air is the ticket for an uncomfortable night.
“Do you have a laptop? a cell phone?”
“Both,” I said.
He rubbed his hands together.
“Excellent! First order of business for you is to turn on all your notifications and put the phone right by your bedside. And be sure to check your email just before you go to bed.”
I got the idea immediately.
“The phone will be making noises at odd times all night partially waking me up…”
“You are a quick student.”
“And the blue light from laptop has an effect that can keep you awake for quite a while after it is shut off. You can achieve the same effect with leaving on a TV.”
He looked around.
“Well, my work is done here – for now. You get started on these first steps, and we will help you turn your life into a complete mess in no time!”
I smiled. I knew I could do it. I was filled with confidence. I followed him back into the living room and he reentered the burnt circle.
“Gotta go,” he said. “I’ve got many more lives I need to ruin.”
He snapped his fingers.
“Ooops! There’s just one more thing I’ll need you to do to continue your lessons.”
Suddenly, there was a long contract in his hands. It was moldy old parchment and nearly reached the floor.
“I’ll need you to sign this. It’s no worse than most of those software forms you agree to online.”
Looking down at the incredibly tiny print, I smiled.
“It’s a lot shorter too.”
I reached for a pen on the coffee table.
“Uhhhh,” came his voice softly.
I looked up and there was a very sharp quill in his hands.
“The boss is old-fashioned,” he explained. “Has to be signed in blood.”
“My bad,” I said. “No problem.”
He left shortly after, contract in hand, promising to return in a week or so with my next lesson. I settled contentedly back on the couch thinking how my life would be forever changed at the cost of a burnt rug, and some droopy eyelids. I was so excited I decided to get started right away.
“Season One of Game of Thrones,” I decided. “That should take me through most of the weekend.”
As I slouched back and let the hours slip away I could almost hear an encouraging laugh echoing all around me.
I was on my way to being and Epic Failure…