“IT ENDS BADLY!”
• • •
“Mary, fearing abortion, refused to have sex with her crummy boyfriend.”
This sentence twinkles into my disintegrating brain as my bike tire rolls over a dead squirrel. The squirrel is flat as a pancake now. (I am old enough to remember what a pancake is, you see.) The whole body is crushed. Even the skull is a millimeter thick now, where it was round before, and full of brain. The little twitching nose is gone, never to twitch again. . . .
I turn down a dark street and think about Mary a little more. She is a character I have just created by accident, and all I know about her so far is that she might be crazy.
Not that being fearful of abortion makes someone crazy. But that it would scare someone into lifelong celibacy is crazy, or at least totally irrational. I haven’t had sex in forty years, mostly for religious reasons, and even I think this lifestyle decision is absurd. No, this can’t be a realistic character. I cannot create her. I destroy Mary. As she vanishes and becomes nothing once again, I realize I miss Mary just a little bit. Maybe she was all right. Maybe Mary could have used a friend. Lord knows I could.
When I start to think about it more, I doubt anyone would be able to relate to Mary. No one has children anymore, after all, and they probably wouldn’t know what an abortion even is. And anyway there isn’t anyone to read this trash in the first place, or to not have children, or to not know what an abortion is, because near as I can tell everyone is dead.
Mary doesn’t exist long enough in my brain to have an opinion on the dead squirrel I have just run over, or any dead squirrels at all for that matter. Maybe she wouldn’t have given two shits about a dead squirrel.
It really is a shame about the squirrel, though. There was no dignity in that death. No proper burial or anything. I’m serious. I say this as a man who lives half a mile from a mass grave filled with corpses from the last horse flu pandemic.
Anyway when I was in high school, many decades ago now, when there still were high schools and children and so on, I would bury cats and dogs I found on the road. It was a thankless job. I did this too many times to count.
I remember one summer, when I was just a boy, and the world wasn’t what it is now, which is to say a nightmarish planet-sized tomb for everything that ever was—well, one summer there was a little dog that had been left out in the sun so long he burst. Truly, his little stomach became a pressure-cooker of hot gas. He exploded like a pimple.
Needless to say, by the time I came upon him there wasn’t much to bury. I scooped up that sun-seared alien flesh with my teenage hands and got to work. I did what I could.
Someone is going to say that, because squirrels weren’t selected to accompany needy human beings tens of thousands of years ago, they feel as though a squirrel burial is “beneath them.” I suspect that’s what most people would say. That or, “I don’t drive around with a shovel, for God’s sake.”
To which I would say: Why not? Plenty of things need burying. Are you going to use your hands? And anyway there is no one around to ask these questions anymore, because of that thing that happened to the Moon, and because everyone is dead.
I don’t like seeing dead animals at all. I hate that it makes me so soft, but there it is. And I’m including animals who aren’t covered in fur and have cute little faces.
A dead starfish! Can you imagine?
As I think about it now, I don’t know why I was so critical of people who don’t drive around with shovels. I haven’t had a shovel in my car for a long time now. Hell, I don’t even have a car. Or even a clean pair of underwear, for that matter.
I feel rotten as hell, by the way, now that I’ve dredged up that image of the exploded dog. You’d think with all I’ve seen these last twenty years, an old man like me wouldn’t be so shaken by a single death. Hell, I don’t know. I’m high as shit right now. I get all weepy.
Or maybe I just feel rotten as hell for every reason there could possibly be.
Can you blame me? Hello?
• • •
My hair is almost completely white now. It is mangy and awful and full of moth wings and dried cough syrup. If the sun starts setting any earlier, I think I’ll pull it all out.
“Wheeler, fearing love, fed his electric guitar to a trash compactor.”
I write this on the back of a pharmacy receipt for tampons and M&M’s. Oh, Lord. They’re never going to let me write another romance novel—not after my last three flopped. But then they flopped because no one bought them, because no one reads anymore, because everyone is dead.
Why are my protagonists always afraid of things? Who the hell are these damn people? Poor Mary. Poor Wheeler (such a good name). I myself am not afraid of anything, except maybe losing my other testicle. Though I think this thing’s on its last leg, and should be taken out behind the woodshed, and pumped full of buckshot, so to speak. Or perhaps literally, but I ain’t got a gun. I wish to keep it for sentimental reasons only. It’s not like it has any use to me anymore. You should see the witch’s brew this little egg-shaped juice factory pumps out. It looks less appetizing than that pink slop that bubbles up out of the gopher holes near the old bowling alley. Nobody knows what that shit is, man. But then I reckon just about everyone is dead.
I heard a knock on the door just now and so I threw on my housecoat (had been naked before) and waddled through the darkness to answer it. I tucked my penis between my legs before I opened the door because Lord knows nobody wants to see that gnarled old branch anymore than I do. But anyway it was a wasted effort because no one was out there. Thought it was one of those cocksuckers who have been stealing my garden gnomes (there are hundreds of them in my yard, and every night I dutifully count them). But no, it was a visitor from another time. This happens every now and then. He or she (or it—or whatever—God knows these visitors might not be human after all) left a parcel on the doormat. It was wrapped, as they always are, in an old nudie mag. Ancient stuff. Lots of lens flare, lots of bush. Tasteless really. Anyway I opened it. And yes, of course, it was another newspaper from the future. I won’t spoil anything for you, but every time I get these things, which is frequent enough for me to have an opinion on them, I have the same damn thought. See, as near as I can tell, just about all of it ends badly. And by “all of it” I mean . . . well, I mean all of it.
I read the paper for a long time. I read it twice, and then three times more. I don’t practice acupuncture anymore so it’s not like I have anything better to do. I was boiling a huge sweet potato I had found lodged in a gutter, and holding the paper with my free hand I thoroughly scanned its contents. I made a lot of noises with my throat to indicate to the spirits who haunt my house that I was indeed pondering the news I had been given. You see I have been afraid that these spirits think I am a moron. Which I am. I just don’t want them to know that. Anyway after I had absorbed everything into my sad, tired old brain, I used the newspaper to wipe my sad, tired old ass.
I am divorced. My son is dead. Actually my wife is dead too, since just about everyone is dead, but the fact remains that we’re still divorced. My cat has been missing for six years, maybe longer. In this eternal night it is hard to say what day it is, or what month it is. I certainly don’t know what year it is.
My only friend is a pair of women’s underwear that I have named “Charlie.” Trust me, I would be wearing Charlie if Charlie fit me. My left testicle, who is alone now (his brother is in Heaven), stretches like grey Silly Putty down to my knee, and swings all over the damn place, knocking knickknacks off low-hanging shelves, and generally just getting in my damn way. Lord knows it’s impossible to find underwear now, so I tried to make do with what I had, which was a pair of women’s underwear that I took off a mannequin someone had chained to a football goal post out behind the old high school. Anyway Charlie didn’t fit, so I have since bungied my testicle to my leg with a gross sock, and have made a new friend in the process.
I read when I can. Mostly I read manuals for air-conditioning units, or health brochures about gonorrhea. I take what I can get, you know, to keep my mind sharp. My only hero is former President Jimmy Carter, and maybe Neil Armstrong. I also greatly admire whoever invented the Roach Motel, and, if I’m being honest, the buttplug. (Maybe it was the same dude.) Mostly I am naked. Other than Charlie and the ghosts, I am alone.
I haven’t slept in years, not really, but the other night I did slip off for a little while. I figured it was from the drugs though I’ll be damned if I can remember which one finally gave me some much-needed Z’s. Probably something I made with Drano and peanut shells. You see I make my own stuff. I haven’t quite figured out which chemical does what to me, but then I am using a chemistry textbook that is intended to be read by elementary school children. It is seventeen pages long and there is a place in the back where you can color.
Anyway so this dream was beautiful and wonderful. In this dream I was taken up in a great silent storm with the downtrodden and the perfectly melancholy. I was in their eternal kingdom of gloom. It wasn’t so bad. Nothing hurt as far as I could tell. It was like Sheol or Hades, just a mass of spirits, green and luminous, swirling in a shadowy haze. No one knew who they were anymore. Maybe they were no one. I called them Brother and Sister anyway. I don’t know that they heard me. I don’t think they could hear anything anymore. But then the vision faded, and I heard the hum of my junky old space heater. I returned to my definitions just as the kettle reached a boil. It was screaming in the kitchen. I was heating up some water for a bath. It takes about an hour to do this, given how small my kettle is. The water is yellow and foul and smells like elephant diapers.
It is from behind dead eyes that I write these words to you tonight. I am mostly blind. I have cataracts and my spectacles are made from two kaleidoscopes I tied together with baling twine.
“Bernard lit a match on a witch’s ass and danced merrily into a swamp.”
I have just rushed from the bath with these ideas still in my head. It is the most amount of energy I’ve had to do anything in probably ten years or more. The hernia, which I had to fix myself by the way, and I did a damn sloppy job I’ll have you know, has really taken all the zest out of life. Also my one ball aches all the damn time. It makes these awful noises. It sounds like a first-generation Model T.
And anyway, it really is difficult to will yourself to do anything at all ever since that thing happened to the Moon. It’s a real damn shame what happened, no joke. Hell, I think about that all the time. I can’t imagine how anyone on Earth, which may just be a few dozen of us now, is able to think about anything else. You look up at the night sky and you say to yourself, from behind a layer of Drano and peanut shells, “I’d hate to be the poor sucker who has to fix that.”
Sometimes I hear this certain sound, it is in my head of course, and it is a beautiful sound and I love it dearly. I can’t describe it. If I were some asshole I suppose I would say it sounds like a bunch of drunk-ass angels singing some old Sammy Davis Jr. tunes in sea cave. Lord does it bring tears to my eyes to hear that. And I thought only a chainsaw cutting through a tin can full of baked beans could have that effect on me. Hell, I don’t even know why I’m bringing this up. I’m writing this on a roll of toilet paper by the way.
I really wish I could tell you more about the future. You know, what was written in the newspaper and all. The paper is handwritten. It always is. I know it’s actually from the future though because it is always dated fifteen years from now. The author’s penmanship . . . hoo doggies! It’s fucking chicken scratch is what it is but why wouldn’t the news itself be true? l suppose I’ll find out for sure in fifteen years. We all will.
. . . But then let’s face it, we’ll all probably be dead in six months. What’s left of us, anyway, which I am convinced is no more than fifty or sixty love-starved soul-drained psychos.
Hate to say it but they never do get around to fixing the Moon. Whoops!
• • •
Buncha neon and perfume, man. A great big smear of it. That’s all this thing is. A spiraling multicolored light show for idiots. Thank God it’s almost over. My pacemaker exploded inside my chest last week. I often wonder when it’s lights out for me, like it was a few years ago for all those people who are currently stinking up the mass graves next to the old Chuck E. Cheese.
At this point I would be content to ask Satan for advice. I don’t like the guy one bit but I’m sure he’d know what’s up. Hell, he probably masterminded the whole thing. He’s laughing in the deep, I can hear him now. And anyway there ain’t nobody else around ‘cept Satan, that’s for damn sure. Last time I saw someone was probably two years ago. Some dude in a trench coat and a cowboy hat was whacking off in the crumbling parking lot of what used to be my favorite pet store. Even after all the terrible things that have happened to Earth, and to the Moon, bless its heart, and even after all those people perished in flames . . . and after all the bombs, and all the screaming, and all the government-issue cyanide tablets in the CDC suicide tents . . . well that perennial symbol of mankind stubbornly persists: the guy in the trench coat brazenly whacking off in public. Musta been seeing pictures in his head because the only thing in his line of sight was a diseased crow chewing on a dirty marshmallow inside a Chef Boyardee can. Now that’s some kind of imagination!
My father, God rest his soul, used to call my mother Chef Boyardee. Everything she ever fed us came out of a can. I can’t think of anyone who was less interested in cooking. These days it’s a necessity. Who else is going to cook for you? Everyone is dead, and what little food there is left you gotta grow yourself. If I weren’t a vegetarian I reckon I would have eaten that poor squirrel, who, by the way, I did eventually scoop up off the street. He was so flat he fit between two pages of an old phonebook I had in the attic. That phonebook is crammed with roadkill, man. There must be thirty animals in there. I figure next time I find a shovel I’ll just bury the whole damn book, say a prayer, and get on with my life. Hate to resort to a mass grave but that’s the name of the game in the new world. I mean hell they’ve got about a billion pounds of human debris sardine-packed into Mother Earth a half mile from here, out by the old Chuck E. Cheese. They managed to fill an entire quarry for God’s sake, back when there still was a “they.” (Almost everyone is dead, you see.)
I still occasionally hang around that Chuck E. Cheese by the way, now that it doesn’t smell so bad anymore. All the flesh has rotted off those many millions of bones, and now it’s all silence and skeleton dust. Some fucker stole all the balls from the ball pit and even had the audacity to replace them with a hundred pounds of rusty screws and broken crack pipes, so I can’t play in there anymore. Though who am I to bitch, really? I’m the shameful sack of turds who stole the entire animatronic Chuck E. Cheese band right off the stage. Set them up in my basement and everything, and programmed them to play “Don’t Fear the Reaper.” The whole gang is there just as they always were, except for Mr. Munch, who I skinned so I wouldn’t freeze in the winter. He is now a horrifying, spidery, googly-eyed keyboard-playing mecha-skeleton, and I now have an overcoat that is made of purple fur. The old boy still tinkles the ivories as well as he ever did though. Guess the fur had nothing to do with those magic fingers of his, which, just to be clear, are now steel rods with razor-sharp tips. Stay back!
On the back of a receipt for Drano . . . “Alexandra caught sight of her reflection in the toilet bowl and slowly reached for a weapon.”
I think it was more than just loneliness that prompted me to steal the animatronic Chuck E. Cheese band. See, I had an unhealthy obsession with that place, and I needed to cut down on how often I was going there. That’s why I don’t go there much anymore. Once, a few weeks after that thing happened to the Moon, I went scavenging in the employee break room and, of course, there were about a dozen corpses in Chuck E. Cheese uniforms huddling in the corner. Maybe I shouldn’t say this but I did take one of the uniforms. I won’t get into the details. It was a long night and I’m not proud of it. But I wanted that damn uniform and, by God, there were a whole bunch of them ripe for the picking. I found a guy who was about my size and laundered the uniform as best I could in a stream behind my house, but then you know all the water is yellow toxic waste now, so I didn’t do a very good job. I did the best I could with what I was given, man. I am old and tired now you see, and the world actively hates me.
Anyway for months I would return to Chuck E. Cheese, even in the middle of the summer when the mass graves were really stinking up the place big time (I had on an old WWI German gas mask), and I would be wearing that uniform. My name tag said “Burt.” I loved that. “Burt.”
Poor Burt. He’s in Heaven now. I gave him a proper burial. Had to use my hands for that one. Very difficult. I swore after that day I would never dig a grave with my hands ever again. I had dirt under my nails for weeks, and I accidentally tore into a waterline that, of course, started spraying putrid yellow water all of my god dang yard, killing my beloved crop of purple pumpkins. . . .
So anyway I would show up at Chuck E. Cheese every day, and I would clock in as though I worked there. I had always wanted to work at Chuck E. Cheese, you see. But I am an old, old man, and they don’t hire old, old men. Well: They don’t hire anyone anymore, because everyone is dead.
So I would show up and I had all the employees, now skeletons, propped up in different places throughout the restaurant. There was a skeleton behind the salad bar, a skeleton working the popcorn machine, a skeleton behind the prize counter, and so on. I even had a skeleton wearing a clip-on tie in the office, sitting behind a computer. He was the boss skeleton. I’d clock in and say, “Morning, boss. Another day, another dollar, huh?”
You know come to think of it I don’t know what gender any of these skeletons were when they still had meat on them. Most of their names, which I read off their name tags of course, were gender-neutral. That killed me. Though hey, it doesn’t really matter what they were, because you see once a human is reduced to its bare infrastructure, we all become the exact same thing. Death, the greatest equalizing force in this doomed dimension of ours, eventually has his way with all creatures. He takes our souls and leaves the rest behind. I have seen a lot of death, as I’m sure many of you have, if you’re not already part of the big tally yourselves—and let me tell you, it’s all the same damn thing, man. A big rubbery carcass, then a stinking pile of fluids, then a no-bones-about-it skeleton. No more faces, no more voices, no more names, no more nothing.
And listen: I apologize if this story sounds strange but you see I’m very lonely and I thought maybe what I did wasn’t such a bad thing, having all these skeletons doing what they were doing in that Chuck E. Cheese, which is to say exactly what they would be doing if that damn Moon thing hadn’t happened, and all the water wasn’t yellow toxic waste, and if the mass graves weren’t stacked mile-high with all of God’s little children.
Skeletons, if you’ve never spent a lot of time around them—and I can’t imagine how you haven’t, unless you’re dead and thus a skeleton yourself, in which case you’re probably surrounded by skeletons anyway since essentially everyone is a skeleton now, except maybe the ones who have turned to bonemeal, or have been eaten by those terrifying new hybrid animals that I’ve heard screaming at night. Well anyway skeletons are cheery sort of fellows. Hell I love those things. I’ve got a few in my basement wearing fine pinstripe suits and fancy dresses I once stole from the ruins of a J.C. Penny. And they’re sitting there holding their empty martini glasses, some with their legs crossed, some of them wearing hats or scarves, and they’re smiling forever at the animatronic Chuck E. Cheese band, perfectly intact, except for poor Mr. Munch, who I skinned so I wouldn’t freeze to death in the winter. It’s a great big spiraling multicolored light show. They love it. They’re grinning like hell, those rotten bastards, and will keep on grinning until they turn to bonemeal.
Anyway so my coworkers, God love them, were hard workers. They were at work twenty-four-seven. I would say to the boss, “Gee, would it be such a bad idea to give Jesse a raise? He or she has been working the salad bar for eight months, and I’ll be damned if he or she has never once complained about it.”
As for me: I spent a lot of time mopping the bathrooms, and stocking the display cases with prizes. Most of those prizes were shit, man. You know that “Made In China” crapola, back when China was still a country and not a ruinous pockmarked killing field, dead as the surface of the Moon, back before that awful awful thing happened to the Moon. . . .
Aw hell, my sweet potato is ruined. I fell asleep and the damn thing is mush. It exploded like a pimple. It’s all the same though, I reckon, since I have just discovered it had a colony of red ants living inside it. I know this because there are about a thousand of them floating on the surface on this foamy yellow water. I hate to say it but I might get into the roadkill I’ve got in that old phonebook. I haven’t eaten in weeks you see. Never had squirrel before, and I’m not sure I’d like it anyway, but then I guess I once said the same thing about boiled footballs.
A knock at the door. Another newspaper from the future. It doesn’t look good. And then, what’s this . . . written on the back in what looks like chocolate: “Mary, fearing abortion, laughed at the Moon.”
What was I saying?
What the hell is Mary’s problem anyway?