Neville Lansdowne fell off the world.
Actually, he did not so much fall off as let go. The world had been moving so quickly lately and Neville was finding it almost impossible to keep up.
It hadn’t always been that way. There had been a time when keeping up was not a problem; a time when the world was moving at a nice, leisurely speed and, a gentle walk had been sufficient. But then the world began to get faster. Suddenly, Neville found himself jogging, and then running. His cheeks became flushed and his lungs panted and puffed as they struggled to get the air he needed to maintain his pace.
Still faster and faster the world went. Neville’s life was like a never-ending hundred metre sprint. There was no way he could keep this going. As his legs turned to jelly and collapsed under him, Neville grasped in desperation for something to hold on to. A tree, a stick, a small crack in the footpath. He dug his fingernails in and gripped tightly as the world dragged him along, his hair flying wildly behind him and his legs kicking loosely at the air. His whole body strained and tears began to well in his eyes as the wind rushed against his face.
Slowly, surely, he could feel his grip loosening, could sense the strength departing from his fingers. He couldn’t hold on much longer. Any second now and the strain would be too much. His arms would break. His fingers would be ripped off. His whole body would snap into two. The pain was unbearable. Something had to give.
Neville let go.
For a couple of seconds, he lay, breathing slowly, while the strength flowed back into his body and the feeling returned to his arms. Then he looked up and saw the world spinning away into the darkness of space. Neville was seized with panic. He leapt up and began chasing after the world, trying to catch up with it again so he could get back on board. But he was too slow. Soon the world was nothing but a tiny dot, no bigger than a golf ball.
Neville stopped and watched as the world diminished into a pinhole of blue and then vanished. He was alone. All around him was nothingness. Neville shivered. He wasn’t used to such quiet. It felt strange and slightly unnerving. What could it mean? How should he feel? What was he to do?
High above, the lights of the stars twinkled. To his left, a comet flashed past. To his right, a distant supernova flared in a sudden blaze of brightness. It was a beautiful sight; an everlasting silent night.
Neville was overcome by a feeling of peace. No more desperately rushing to keep up. No more frantically clinging on for dear life. Neville didn’t need the world anymore. He was free.
As he observed these new surroundings, Neville noticed a stream of lights gliding past. He was standing on the edge of a field of asteroids. Some glowed like small planets while others were no bigger than a teapot. Suddenly, Neville had an idea. He would find himself an asteroid and make it his home. Then he could start again, from scratch, to fashion a new world. A world that would work exactly the way he wanted it to. And once that was done, he could get down to the important business of just being Neville.
Neville scanned the asteroid field, carefully trying to discern which would be the best asteroid to choose. Many of them rushed past like speeding racehorses in an intergalactic derby. Neville didn’t want an asteroid that moved fast. He wanted a slow one. One that gave him time to do all the things he wanted to do. Finally, he spotted the right one. It looked to be about the size of a large house and it dawdled sluggishly across the sky like a lazy, sleepwalking pony.
Neville walked quickly towards the asteroid and climbed aboard. It was perfect. Maybe slightly bigger than it had appeared from a distance, but not by too much. There was enough space to play a football match but no risk of having to run too far to get the ball. It might have been cold and rocky and barren, but after the helter and skelter of his previous life, Neville found it strangely appealing. This was just the place to start creating his new world.
First things first. Neville would need a country and countries need borders. Using his heel, he marked out a series of lines on the dusty surface. A couple of straight lines on one side and a couple of twisty, windy lines on the other. When he was finished, the lines enclosed a space about eighty metres by fifty metres. Outside the lines was foreign territory, distant and unknown. But inside the lines was Neville’s country, the place he was proud to call his new home.