This is an excerpt from The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams.
“In there?” shouted Trillian above the noise of the rain.
“Yes,” said Zarniwoop.
“Weird,” said Zaphod.
“But it’s in the middle of nowhere,” said Trillian, “we must have come to the wrong place. You can’t rule the Universe from a shack.”
They hurried through the pouring rain, and arrived, wet through, at the door. They knocked. They shivered.
The door opened.
“Hello?” said the man.
“Ah, excuse me,” said Zarniwoop, “I have reason to believe …”
“Do you rule the Universe?” said Zaphod.
The man smiled at him.
“I try not to,” he said, “Are you wet?”
Zaphod looked at him in astonishment.
“Wet?” he cried, “Doesn’t it look as if we’re wet?”
“That’s how it looks to me,” said the man, “but how you feel about it might be an altogether different matter. If you feel warmth makes you dry, you’d better come in.”
They went in.
They looked around the tiny shack, Zarniwoop with slight distaste, Trillian with interest, Zaphod with delight.
“Hey, er …” said Zaphod, “what’s your name?”
The man looked at them doubtfully.
“I don’t know. Why, do you think I should have one? It seems very odd to give a bundle of vague sensory perceptions a name.”
He invited Trillian to sit in the chair. He sat on the edge of the chair, Zarniwoop leaned stiffly against the table and Zaphod lay on the mattress.
“Wowee!” said Zaphod, “the seat of power!” He tickled the cat.
“Listen,” said Zarniwoop, “I must ask you some questions.” “Alright,” said the man kindly, “you can sing to my cat if you like.”
“Would he like that?” asked Zaphod.
“You’d better ask him,” said the man.
“Does he talk?” said Zaphod.
“I have no memory of him talking,” said the man, “but I am very unreliable.”
Zarniwoop pulled some notes out of a pocket.
“Now,” he said, “you do rule the Universe, do you?”
“How can I tell?” said the man.
Zarniwoop ticked off a note on the paper.
“How long have you been doing this?”
“Ah,” said the man, “this is a question about the past is it?”
Zarniwoop looked at him in puzzlement. This wasn’t exactly what he had been expecting.
“Yes,” he said.
“How can I tell,” said the man, “that the past isn’t a fiction designed to account for the discrepancy between my immediate physical sensations and my state of mind?”
Zarniwoop stared at him. The steam began to rise from his sodden clothes.
“So you answer all questions like this?” he said.
The man answered quickly.
“I say what it occurs to me to say when I think I hear people say things. More I cannot say.”
Zaphod laughed happily.
“I’ll drink to that,” he said and pulled out the bottle of Janx spirit. He leaped up and handed the bottle to the ruler of the Universe, who took it with pleasure.
“Good on you, great ruler,” he said, “tell it like it is.”
“No, listen to me,” said Zarniwoop, “people come to you do they? In ships …”
“I think so,” said the man. He handed the bottle to Trillian.
“And they ask you,” said Zarniwoop, “to take decisions for them? About people’s lives, about worlds, about economies, about wars, about everything going on out there in the Universe?” “Out there?” said the man, “out where?”
“Out there!” said Zarniwoop pointing at the door.
“How can you tell there’s anything out there,” said the man politely, “the door’s closed.”
The rain continued to pound the roof. Inside the shack it was warm.
“But you know there’s a whole Universe out there!” cried Zarniwoop. “You can’t dodge your responsibilities by saying they don’t exist!”
The ruler of the Universe thought for a long while whilst Zarniwoop quivered with anger.
“You’re very sure of your facts,” he said at last, “I couldn’t trust the thinking of a man who takes the Universe – if there is one – for granted.”
Zarniwoop still quivered, but was silent.
“I only decide about my Universe,” continued the man quietly. “My Universe is my eyes and my ears. Anything else is hearsay.”
“But don’t you believe in anything?”
The man shrugged and picked up his cat.
“I don’t understand what you mean,” he said.
“You don’t understand that what you decide in this shack of yours affects the lives and fates of millions of people? This is all monstrously wrong!”
“I don’t know. I’ve never met all these people you speak of. And neither, I suspect, have you. They only exist in words we hear. It is folly to say you know what is happening to other people. Only they know, if they exist. They have their own Universes of their own eyes and ears.”
“I think I’m just popping outside for a moment.”
She left and walked into the rain.
“Do you believe other people exist?” insisted Zarniwoop.
“I have no opinion. How can I say?”
“I’d better see what’s up with Trillian,” said Zaphod and slipped out.
Outside, he said to her:
“I think the Universe is in pretty good hands, yeah?” “Very good,” said Trillian. They walked off into the rain.
Inside, Zarniwoop continued.
“But don’t you understand that people live or die on your word?”
The ruler of the Universe waited for as long as he could. When he heard the faint sound of the ship’s engines starting he spoke to cover it.
“It’s nothing to do with me,” he said, “I am not involved with people. The Lord knows I am not a cruel man.”
“Ah!” barked Zarniwoop, “you say `The Lord’. You believe in something!”
“My cat,” said the man benignly, picking it up and stroking it, “I call him The Lord. I am kind to him.”
“Alright,” said Zarniwoop, pressing home his point, “How do you know he exists? How do you know he knows you to be kind, or enjoys what he thinks of as your kindness?”
“I don’t,” said the man with a smile, “I have no idea. It merely pleases me to behave in a certain way to what appears to be a cat. Do you behave any differently? Please, I think I am tired.”
Zarniwoop heaved a thoroughly dissatisfied sigh and looked about.
“Where are the other two?” he said suddenly.
“What other two?” said the ruler of the Universe, settling back into his chair and refilling his whisky glass.
“Beeblebrox and the girl! The two who were here!”
“I remember no one. The past is a fiction to account for …”
“Stuff it,” snapped Zarniwoop and ran out into the rain. There was no ship. The rain continued to churn the mud. There was no sign to show where the ship had been. He hollered into the rain. He turned and ran back to the shack and found it locked.
The ruler of the Universe dozed lightly in his chair. After a while he played with the pencil and the paper again and was delighted when he discovered how to make a mark with the one on the other. Various noises continued outside, but he didn’t know whether they were real or not. He then talked to his table for a week to see how it would react.