Milt Random had put a few beers under his belt, sitting alone in his dark little apartment, when he noticed that the grains of his wooden coffee table were subtly rearranging themselves. Blinking through his alcoholic haze, Milt cleared away the magazines and ashtrays that littered the table, and peered closely at the scarred surface:
His name. Written in the wood grain, right there on the coffee table. Too many beers.
But . . . more words were forming themselves around the first:
U R LIVING N A RANDOM UNIVERZ
Milt belched. The coffee table shifted: N E THING CAN HAPPEN
“Uh-oh,” Milt said. There was no one to hear him but the table.
Milt stood quickly, went into the kitchen for a sponge, and came back to scrub at the elusive words. As he touched the table with the sponge, there was a sudden rearrangement of wood grain. Everything was normal again. Milt sighed, set aside the sponge, and reached for his half-full Coors.
It was no longer a Coors. It was a Don’t be afraid.
Milt dropped the can and stared. The patterns on the plaster wall were going wild:
U R THE CHOZEN RANDOM
Shift: CHOZE AT RANDOM
Shift: MILT RANDOM
Milt was doing his best to ignore the writing, hoping that it would just go away. He stared at his hand, thinking that surely his own body was inviolable.
Wrong. His freckles were migrating into an undeniable message:
WUTS WRONG MILT
“My freckles are talking to me.”
They shifted back into scattered obscurity. The air at his ear began to buzz, forming words–a clear speaking voice with perhaps a touch of a Swedish accent:
“Don’t be scared, Milt,” it said. “Yust relax.”
“I’m trying,” Milt gasped.
“Dere’s really nothing you can do.”
“Why are you talking to me?”
“No particular reason, it’s yust happening. Given a random universe, it’s perfectly plausible, though the florts are against it.”
“I meant ‘odds.’ It’s hard to get all the words right when everything is just a fluke.”
The voice buzzed away. Glowing letters bobbed in the air before his eyes, sparkling:
4 INSTANZ IF ALL THE AIR IN THE ROOM MOVED SIMULULTANEOUSELY INTO 1 CORNER YOU WUD SUFOCATE ITS POSSIBLE
“You’ve got some spelling problems,” Milt said.
SO DO 5000000 MONKEES
“You mean all this is happening coincidentally?”
RITE UP 2 THEEZE LETTERS
“I get the idea.”
“Anything can happen,” whispered the fallen magazines, pages flapping. “So let’s make a deal.”
“We represent chaos, right? Well, we need a human agent.”
Milt’s clothes suddenly curled and reshaped themselves around his body. He was garbed in an outlandish superhero costume–knee high boots, velvet-lined cape, rakish hood.
U LOOK GOOD IN BLACK, said the shag carpet.
“Yeah,” said Milt, liking the idea immediately. “I can see it in print!”
The ceiling, reading his mind, spelled in bold letters:
MILT RANDOM: AGENT OF CHAOZ
“But you’d better do something about your spelling,” Milt said.
WUT DO U SAY
“Sure,” said Milt. “Why not? If I’ve been chosen at random, why not?” He paused. “Say, does that mean I can do anything?”
SURE. The chrome letters on the Westinghouse this time.
Milt felt a rippling in his shoulders. Huge wings unfolded from his back. He spread them across the living room.
“Wow. And big muscles?”
Milt felt himself growing larger, swelling . . . suddenly there was an odd twisting amid his molecular components. A scattering.
THE ODDZ WERE AGAINST IT, the silverware opined.
Milt was gone, spreading in a fine dust of randomly scattered particles. The cloud eddied about a bit, flowed over couch and coffee table, drifted at last onto the floor. Its last random drifting said:
* * *
“The Random Man” copyright 1984 by Marc Laidlaw. First appeared in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, July 1984.