He wanted to know about the world. When the last book had been read, the last television program watched and the last drops of human knowledge consumed, he realized that it wasn't enough. Hr still did not know everything, like if the universe held other sentient life forms or how long the current world order would last. And as his years grew longer and longer and the end seemed more and more imminent, he felt the finer points of his sanity slipping away into old age. The man grew desperate. So he explored the darkness and finally met Death.
"Please, give me some more time" he begged.
"No one is allotted more time," Death told him. But the man wouldn't take no for an answer. He fell to Death's feet, gripped the hem of Death's black robe and sobbed into the thick, prickly fabric.
"I have no wishes of riches or love holding me back. I crave knowledge, above all else."
Death was amused, for it was not often that a human so explicitly renounced material goods or human companionship. Death decided to humor the man for a while.
"Suppose I grant you an extension—what would you do with it? Would you continue to read the books? Humans argue constantly about most things and so, books are often written, then re-written, then completely disproved. Answers to certain questions are beyond human understanding."
The man dried his tears and looked up at the shadow of Death's face, desperation in his eyes.
"And will you devour the scientific literature of your kind?" Death continued, "For it is apparent that the pursuit of science moves painfully slow when humans are not motivated by political or social events. Not everyone is as curious as you. You will not find what you are looking for, even if I allow you to remain on Earth for eternity."
The man's eyes widened and he stood up shakily.
"Not true," the man gasped, "some of the answers I seek will be revealed in time. Of that I am absolutely certain."
"You wish to know how the world will end," Death said.
"That is one of my questions, yes."
"One could argue that the world ends when a man dies."
"No! Not my world—the actual world. The Earth."
"The Earth will never end," Death told him, "it will only change form."
"How can that be? There must come a time when the Earth will vanish into a black hole—or be caught in the Sun's explosion and burn into a million tiny fragments…or something."
Death was becoming impatient. It had no wish to engage in a discussion on the metaphysics of existence with a silly human. For a wild moment, Death considered taking him right then and there and be done with him forever. But that would have been cruel. Death was not accustomed to being cruel. And so, to get the irritating man to leave him alone, Death did the next best thing: it gave him what he wanted.
"I grant you eternal life," Death said begrudgingly, cringing at the expression of pure joy on the man's face, "and I have also given you the power to observe everything in the universe. You can see into the far reaches of space. You can also see particles at the subatomic level moving at the speed of light. You shall know everything."
And before Death disappeared into the black, not wanting to bear witness to the sickening expression of pure joy on the man's face, the awe in his eyes. He raised his arms to the sky and cried out to the universe.
"So this is what it's like to be God!"
And for many years, the man wandered the world, reading all the new books, watching all the new television programs, and observing the Earth change before his eyes. But people grew curious about the old man and rumors began to spread of witchcraft and black magic. The man knew he had lived too long. And without a second thought, he picked up his belongings and crept away from the familiar through the darkness of the night. His friends and family were left behind but for this, he felt no regret. Human companionship is irrelevant, he realized, in the ultimate pursuit for truth. Before he knew it, he had lived a millennia and the face of human culture had completely changed. But not for the better.
The old problems of war, famine and poverty lingered. Men continued to fight over property and ideas. Religion, even the newer and more progressive religions, still diverted attention to what the man to be nonexistent entities. Death had been right: the advancement of science was slow and mankind still had not discovered how to live on the moon or made contact with extraterrestrials or built sentient machines. The man grew frustrated and tried to help. He became a doctor and won a Nobel Prize for his research in genetics. But the attention never died down and when people began to notice his unnatural long life, he knew he could not just pick up and leave. So he faked his own death and knew that if he were to make a difference, it would have to be small enough to not attract too much attention. With this lifestyle, the man grew frustrated and when his frustration became too much to bear, he once sought Death.
"Why have you come back?" Death asked him, annoyed.
"These people, they are foolish! It has been two thousand years and they have achieved nothing!"
"You said I would know everything. But how can I when mankind doesn't discover it?"
"I have given you all the time in the universe. Why can you not discover it yourself?"
"I've tried! But they wouldn't leave me alone! I live forever but they cannot know that."
"And why not?" Death asked, bored by the conversation. Death cared little for this man's problems. In fact, it was almost slightly angered that he found something to complain about when he had gotten all he had wanted.
"Because—because I would be experimented on! It would throw everything these men thought they knew into doubt. Religion…faith…all would be challenged!"
The man blinked, not understanding.
"It would forever change human history. Men have always wondered about such things. To give them the answer—it'll break down everything. Religion, morals, hope! Men…men are not meant to know what the secrets of life."
"But you're a man."
The man stared for a while. At with a small shake of his head, he disappeared back into the world. Where he went, Death did not immediately know nor did Death care, for Death was sure he would be back.
For years, the man lived in isolation, hidden deep within the woods near the Arctic, and mulled over Death's words. On more than one occasion, the man found the painful pangs of depression unbearable and tried to end it all. But Death was not dishonest and the man found his attempts to be futile. He would clench his fists and stare at the blank well, feel his eyes welling up with tears and scream out into the silence. He was going through an existential crisis and all the knowledge in the world could not tell him the nature of his existence. Was he a man? Or was he something more?
But every storm eventually passes and the man knew that nothing man-made could be permanent. Buildings crumble, ideas become forgotten and the bones get buried. And like all man-made things, the man's confusion also began to recede as he realized what had to be done.
One cold winter morning, he appeared in front of Death for the last time.
"I no longer want to be a man," he declared.
Death did not understand at first.
"What can you be if not a man?"
"Many things. I do not want to be alive. But I do not want to die either."
"So what is it exactly that you want?"
"I want to know everything, everything, without having to wait for the human race to discover it. I want to know the past, present and future all at once. I want to remain sentient forever so that I can watch mankind without having to be a part of it."
"You will remain sentient forever. And you can choose to not be a part of it."
The man shook his head.
"No because no matter what I do, I am still a slave to this body. I require food and water, shelter, human company—all essential for the survival of a man. All items that can only be acquired through active participation in society. The world is much smaller now than it was two thousand years ago. There is nowhere to hide."
"Surely you must have thought of this when you first came to me? You must have realized that to live forever means exactly that—live forever? You would still have to eat and sleep."
The man hesitated for a second before speaking.
"Man feels emotion. I do not want to feel. I only want to think."
Death nodded slowly, finally understanding.
"You want to be God," Death said.
The man said nothing, only stared intently at Death's black robe as gray clouds gathered in the sky above.
"There is no God," he said quietly.
For the first time in all of history, Death lowered its black robe, revealing its horrid, deformed face. The man recoiled in fear as he saw the shadows danced in its eyes.
"There was no God," Death said, smiling toothily, "But I think it's time Death has an assistant, don't you? The population has grown so large. It's difficult to keep track."
Death turned to the man, still smiling, as the man's form began to lose shape and cohesion. He opened his mouth to scream but his voice was already gone. The only indication of his fear was in his now-red eyes.
"So, God, it will be your duty to frighten the children…to bring me souls. You are up for it, aren't you?"
And God looked at Death, His head swimming with truth, His face full of indifference and His heart devoid of any emotion. With no expression on His face, God bowed to Death and vanished as the first raindrops began to fall.