One day he was rummaging through the attic of an old house that once belonged to his great-grandfather, a famous scientist called Dr. Win. Underneath a pile of musty old clothes he discovered a box. It looked mysterious and reminded him of stories he’d been told when he was a little younger about buried treasure and pirates and dragons. He had long since rejected such nonsense and refused to read such stories. He felt guilty that the discovery of an old box had evoked such superstitious memories. Putting such thoughts aside, he looked at the box with a healthy curiosity, purely scientific in nature and devoid of any tricks of the imagination.
There was some writing engraved on it and a picture of some sort. Taking one of the discarded items of clothing, he wiped the dust from the inscription and from the half-obscured figure depicted beside it. The picture was a crudely inscribed matchstick figure. He couldn’t work out whether it was meant to be a man or not. It appeared to have a tale so he couldn’t be sure. He turned his attention to the writing. Open and be Enlightened. Needing no further encouragement, he opened the lid of the box. Looking inside he saw that it was empty except for a solitary envelope.
Momentarily he found himself disappointed at the lack of treasure but then told himself that hidden treasure was merely a childish fantasy. Picking up the envelope, opening it and feeling inside, he pulled out a pair of dice. There was nothing special about them. They were just an ordinary pair of dice. Again, Dick struggled with feelings of disappointment that the box had contained nothing more interesting. He was about to close the box, leaving the dice inside, when he noticed that the envelope contained a note. Removing it and unfolding the paper, he struggled to decipher the extravagant flourish of the handwriting. Slowly but surely he figured it out. Behold the Dice of Life. Cast them and discover the meaning of life. Signed, Dr. Win, June 1866. P.S. The Dice are Real. Nobody ever made them. They have always been. They are older than Life itself.
What could it mean? Feeling as though he had really discovered something magical, in spite of his misgivings about such kids’ stuff, he put the note and the dice in his pocket and took them to the solitude of his room. He re-read the note. Behold the Dice of Life. What could it possibly mean? Cast them and discover the meaning of life …. It seemed crazy. But what the hell! What did he have to lose? Certainly not his soul, because souls didn’t exist. Only kids believed in souls, or life after death, or heaven and hell.
He threw the dice.
A good start. He threw the dice again.
He threw the dice another dozen or more times. Double six every time.
The next day at school, he showed the dice and the note to his friend, Harry Stottal.
Truth be told, Harry wasn’t really a friend. Dick didn’t have any real friends. He thought all the other kids at school were too childish. But Harry was different from the rest of them. He was always asking questions. Dick often didn’t like the sort of questions that Harry asked but he couldn’t help finding him and them interesting. You never knew what Harry was going to ask next.
As Dick held out his hand, showing the dice, Harry looked quizzically at him.
“Watch,” said Dick, throwing the dice.
And again, and again. Double six every time.
“See! Isn’t it amazing? I’ve been throwing the dice ever since I found them. Hundreds of times. Thousands. It always comes up six. Every time. Without fail!”
Harry continued to look at Dick quizzically.
“Don’t you see?” he said, excitement mounting in his voice.
“See what?” said Harry.
“It’s the meaning of life?”
“The meaning of life. Dr. Win’s note said that these were the Dice of Life and that when you cast them you discover the meaning of life. So this is the meaning of life!”
“What do you mean?” said Harry, looking more perplexed than ever.
“Well,” Dick replied. “It shows that the meaning of life is like this set of dice. It’s predetermined. The rules of the cosmos are a succession of throws of the dice.”
“I’m not sure what you mean.”
“Think about it. What are the chances of you and me standing here talking to each other?”
Harry looked at him, the same quizzical look on his face.
“At the beginning of time,” Dick continued, an element of exasperation creeping into his voice as he endeavoured to explain the meaning of life to this ignoramus of a boy. “I mean the very beginning… There was nothing but gas and stuff. Right? Gas and space. Somehow that gas and stuff became solid. A rock or metal or something. Very improbable—but it happened? A double six. You see.”
“Actually, billions and billions of double sixes.”
“Okay,” said Dick. “Billions and billions of double sixes. It doesn’t matter how many double sixes as long as the Dice of Life continues to throw the double sixes—every time, without fail. Don’t you see?”
“Go on,” said Harry, his forehead furrowing in apparent perplexity.
“Well, this solid stuff somehow becomes a living organism. The rock or metal or whatever it was became life. What are the chances of that?”
“I’d say none whatsoever,” said Harry with surprising decisiveness.
“But it happened! Don’t you see! It’s like another trillion-to-one chance. Trillions of double sixes!”
There was an air of triumph in Dick’s voice.
Harry looked at him. The silence, though short, was deafening.
“What?” said Dick.
“The dice are loaded.”
“But they can’t be loaded.”
“Because Dr. Win, a very great scientist, perhaps the very greatest scientist who ever lived, has shown us that the Dice have always existed. They are older than Life itself. There was nobody to load them, don’t you see? They always existed. Nobody made the Dice. The Dice made us.”
“I know all about Dr. Win,” said Harry. “He never showed us that the Dice have always existed. He only told us that they have always existed. It was a question of faith on his part, not a question of knowledge. He believes. He’s a believer. A believer in the Dice. He believes that nothing exists except the Dice. The Dice have become a dogma. But I lack Dr. Win’s faith. I’ve always lacked faith that dice can be thrown trillions of times in a row and always come up double six unless they’ve been loaded—and if they’ve been loaded, someone must have loaded them.”
Dick looked at his friend darkly. “Are you religious?” he asked.
“Not in the sense that you understand the word,” Harry replied, the hint of a mischievous grin breaking the contours of his countenance.
“Well, you sound like a religious nut to me,” said Dick, who’d decided that Harry was as stupid as all the other kids in the class.
Harry smiled. “I dare say I sound like all sorts of things to you.”
Dick grunted in inarticulate indignation.
“All I would say,” Harry continued. “Is that I accept nothing on faith if it doesn’t conform with reason.”
“But we can see and feel the Dice,” said Dick, his voice becoming shrill with the sheer idiocy of his interlocutor. “Nobody can see the invisible Dice Maker because he doesn’t exist.”
“There are many ways of seeing the Dice Maker,” said Harry, “one of which is seeing the Dice.”
Dick had heard enough. Scooping up the Dice and putting them safely back in his pocket, he stormed off in search of more convivial company.
And he did not live happily ever after.
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