Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Untitled Apocalypse Part 2.

The last man on earth made his home in the shell of what used to be a Happy Jack’s Burger Palace. It wasn't really a palace, of course, and there were nicer buildings with more room and better furniture less than a mile away. The library, for instance, or the museum of art--but he recalled some dim and happy memory of having had a birthday meal at Happy Jack's once with his parents, and the bright colors gave him some comfort now.

His first act of home repair was to board up all the windows. He did this not only for the obvious reason that most of them had already been broken during the riots, but also because he could not shake the nagging and unfounded suspicion, fostered by a lifetime of movies and comic books, that marauding flesh-eating mutants were roaming the earth. There weren’t any; there was only him, the cockroaches, the pigeons and a few limping rats, but he would never leave his dwelling after sundown anyway. Just to be on the safe side.

After the windows were boarded and curtains hung to obscure the non-view, he put tablecloths over two of the tables and his personal effects on a third. The other tables he removed with a sledgehammer and piled outside in the parking lot. On a whim, he threw rocks at the sign in front until all the words were gone and only one corner of Happy Jack’s insanely grinning mouth remained.

The meat in the non-functioning freezers had long since spoiled, but the smell was not so bad if he remembered never to open the doors. Eventually he rolled them out into the parking lot to add to his growing mountain of debris.

The streets were another matter. By summer the bodies were in full rot and the smell of it was overpowering. Birds pecked at the corpses. He lit a lot of scented candles and stayed indoors. He lived on potato chips, candy bars and Twinkies. There was a lifetime supply less than a block away a long with all the over-the-counter cold and flu medicines he could ever want. He made cocktails from the medicines, experimenting with different combinations until he found the reliable recipes for feeling good, or euphoric, or drowsy. His life itself was powered by batteries—sometimes taken from the rubble of stores, sometimes pried from the hands of decaying looters.

Autumn came and went and then winter, spring and summer. After that, the bodies were mostly skeletons and did not smell so much. Grass and then trees grew from the debris in the streets. His home became cluttered with the objects and symbols of things that once had made him happy and did not make him sad or bitter now.
He grew older. He grew old. His own death felt just around the corner, and he began to wonder if he should have done things differently. Should he have left behind something other than the piles and arrangements of a forgotten culture that would now be his legacy? Should he have built from this rubble and raw material something new that would have been his own contribution to the planet—the artifacts of his own particular culture of one? He could have painted paintings, kept a journal or traveled farther than a block from home. It seemed to him, in his fading moments, that an opportunity had been wasted, but he did not know exactly what the opportunity was.

It did not matter. He would lay down in a booth one day and die. With a whimper or a hacking cough. He would be one more dead body. He would be fresher than the rest.


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