The irony of the song “Black Hole Sun” by Soundgarden playing on the radio was not lost on Anthony. He chuckled wryly as he looked out the car window at the sky. He assumed the irony was not intentional. The last thirty minutes, the radio had been playing randomized songs. He was pretty sure there wasn’t anyone left who hadn’t abandoned their posts at the radio station. Anthony took a deep drag from his cigarette and blew out smoke along with a wistful thought.
“The entire world is a sinking ship and we’re all scurrying around like rats.”
Getting out of the city had been the only hard part of his trip thus far. The people in the city had really lost it. Given their impending fate, a lot of people took to looting, getting wasted, and generally getting into mayhem in an effort to get in touch with their baser desires. Anthony didn’t see the point of it. He wanted to face the end with a sober mind and a clear conscience. (With as clean a conscience as his last minute scrubbing could do anyways.) For once in his life, Anthony had decided to try and face something without slinking back behind the veil of a drug-induced stupor.
Anthony was five days sober and wasn’t enjoying it at all. He knew most of the symptoms from his fair-weather friends who had tried to go cold turkey: sweating, aches, a runny nose, and insomnia. (Although the last one could be attributed to the unusual circumstances he found himself confronting.) One symptom that caught him off guard however was the priapism. He was harder than a dissertation on quantum relativity, which was hardly making his drive a pleasant one. He imagined how he looked, a sweating, shivering, and shaking shit-show with a substantial stiffie. As ridiculous as it might seem, he had somewhere he wanted to be before the end and nothing was going to stop him.
He turned off the paved road and onto a dirt road. The forest was on either side of the road and seemed to swallow him up as he drove deeper in. His destination was a run-down cabin that he used to go to with his friends so they could ‘commune with nature.’ What that really meant was shooting up in a different locale. The cabin belonged to one of his friends and chances were slim that Anthony would find him out here. The last he saw of him, he had just mainlined a syringe full of a mystery substance that another junkie convinced him was pure H. Anthony knew he wasn’t going to see him ever again.
Anthony let himself drift into the hazy pleasant memories that surrounded the cabin. Most of those memories were blurry after being tinged and contaminated with so many illicit substances, but even if he couldn’t remember everything exactly, he could remember that it was probably very fun. After five more minutes of driving, Anthony arrived at the cabin.
It was as run-down and dilapidated as he remembered. The door wasn’t even on its hinges anymore. He stepped into the disarray. There were expended cigarette butts everywhere and the occasional needle littered the ground like landmines. Anthony moved carefully through the remains of what was once his life. He kicked a spoon with a burnt bottom. He had lived here for three months with two other friends and his dog. He smiled at the memory of his dog. Tracker was a good dog. He was a big dumb black lab, but he was loyal and affectionate.
Anthony wiped at a tear and left the disheveled cabin behind him. What he wanted was in the back. The woods butted up against the cabin like a wave preparing to wash over a coastal city. Anthony took a deep breath to steel himself and ventured deeper into the woods. He remembered that there was a clearing one hundred yards up ahead and that’s where he wanted to be.
He stood in the clearing and let himself drown in the pleasant memories. He remembered riding in the back of his friend’s pickup truck to the cabin. Tracker had been so excited and enticed by the smells around him that he hopped out of the truck before it even came to a stop. He vanished into the woods for a few moments before returning panting. Anthony scratched him behind the ears and they went inside.
The clearing was ten or fifteen feet wide and gave him a clear view of the sky.
Anthony sighed and said aloud, “I guess you are wondering why I am here, after how we left things? Time is short so let’s skip the formalities. I came here to say how sorry I am.” He ground his teeth and swallowed back his emotions before he continued, “I guess I should eulogize you before as I didn’t do that in the first place. I loved how you would follow me around and roll on your back every time I paid any sort of attention to you. You really were starved for attention. Every time I was zoning out on the couch, you would sneak up on me and lick the tips of my fingers.” Anthony chuckled at the pleasant memory before he went on, “I’m sorry you died the way you did.”
The memories once again swallowed him whole. They had spent all of their time shooting up and barely paid attention to the world around him. He had been out of it for what seemed like weeks before he finally came crashing back down to the world. It was the smell that snapped him out of it. It was a saccharine and cloying scent. Curled up at his feet was Tracker. He was now nothing, but skin and bones. His eyes had turned a milky white and flies had already swarmed the body drawn by the scent of death. He had starved.
Anthony let the realizations pound into his brain one after another like an unrelenting ocean. Tracker probably could have found sustenance if he ventured out into the woods. He could have left at any time because they hadn’t shut the front door in their haste to go trainspotting. He could have survived had he decided to leave the stoned Anthony behind, but he didn’t. He was loyal. He stayed by his master’s side waiting for alimentation and affection that would never come. He thinned and still he stayed with his master probably licking at his unresponsive fingers hoping to elicit a response. Days passed and his bones became more pronounced. Weeks passed and reduced him to a skeleton with fur clinging to him.
Anthony choked back more tears and said, “I picked you up. You were so light, so weightless. I carried you into the woods; I began digging at the soft earth with my hands. I wanted to give you a decent burial; you deserved at least that much. I am so sorry! I am sorry you died that way, I am sorry my friends came to and started talking about scoring some more H, I am sorry I didn’t even bury you.” This time there was no containing his emotions, the floodgates opened and Anthony wept, “I just left you out in the opening to be picked apart by scavengers and insects. You didn’t deserve that.”
There were no bones left; animals and the passing of time had picked the dog’s corpse apart. Anthony continued to talk, “I’ve hurt a lot of people in my life, I stole from my parents to feed my habit, I took advantage of and betrayed my friends' trust, but the worst thing I have ever done was out here in the woods in this clearing. You were by my side when you died, it’s the least I can do to be by your side when I go.” He glanced up at the horror that awaited him, that awaited everyone.
The pinprick of inky blackness had grown in the sky. It was now like a tumescent cancerous mass and Anthony imagined its jaws were snapped open wide to swallow everything in a single horrifying gulp. Anthony watched as the space around it was distorting and being drawn in by the black hole’s intense pull. He stood by where the body of his best friend had once been laid to rot and be torn apart and felt the fear rising up in his chest. A blurb of lyrics floated into his head and he couldn’t help, but smile at the poor timing of it all.
“Hang my head,
Drown my fear,
Till you all just disappear.
Black hole sun,
Won’t you come,
And wash away the rain?”
Anthony hummed the song to himself standing at the grave that now served as a monument to all of his sins as he waited for the world to be swallowed whole with him alongside it.
Billy watched the looter through the sights of his revolver. He had just smashed the store window with a brick. He had no idea where the brick had come from. Maybe that was why his fellow officers called him Dim. At times he spent an inordinate amount of time questioning things that didn’t need to be questioned. It didn’t matter where he had gotten a brick, the fact he had it and used it to smash the shop winder made him a looter.
He yelled, trying to project his authority, “Stop! You are under arrest!”
The looter regarded the officer with the same look one might give to a unicorn. He was bemused that there was even anyone left trying to uphold the law with the end only hours away.
The looter said, “What’s the point? We’re all going to be black hole fodder in a matter of hours, why not take what I always wanted?”
Dim shouted, “Stay where you are!”
The looter turned to him and pointed at him as he began to reproach him, “You are one stupid fucking-”
Dim squeezed the trigger.
Dim watched him die. He clutched at his chest in surprise and staggered back. The looter fell on his back while the police officer watched the blood begin to pool under him on the street. He had once seen himself as the cities’ last bulwark of hope against the anarchy that had gripped the city, but that illusion was shattered as the looter died. The cities’ last ‘bastion of hope’ fled back to his house.
His wife, Felicity, greeted Billy at the door. She was wringing her hands and it was obvious she had been crying. She pulled him into an embrace and wept with relief. She had urged him not to go to work today. Billy dissuaded her by telling her it was his duty. He likened it as an obligation to the badge he wore. He took off the badge and dropped it on the ground; he spoke softly.
He sank down into a chair at the kitchen table while his wife poured him a shot of whiskey. He raised it to his mouth, but his shaking hands practically sloshed out all of the liquor before it could even reach his lips. She poured another for him and he was a little more successful this time. She asked the question that he knew was coming the second he walked through the door.
“What are we going to tell the kids?”
They hadn’t told the kids about the black hole, they were divided whether or not to cause them distress over something that they could not control. His wife wanted them to know everything; Billy wanted to protect them from the end. He had been protecting them all of their lives, he felt the least he could do was protect them at the end.
He began, “Don’t.”
She pressed onward, “They need to know. They’re frightened.”
“Then why didn’t you?”
Felicity looked him in the eyes and said, “I think it should be you that tells them.”
This didn’t surprise Billy in the slightest. He always broke the bad news, he always took the kids in for their shots. He was the enforcer, the bad guy. Felicity was there to kiss away their tears and soothe their complaints of injustice. He helped himself to another shot and this time succeeded in drinking it without spilling a drop. He resigned himself to his fate.
Felicity had insisted on staying downstairs. She wrapped her hand around the bottle and made it very clear that she needed to calm her own nerves. Billy went upstairs to the kids’ room. They were living on a budget so all three kids were consigned to a single room. They were young enough that it didn’t matter to them, but Billy could see a shit-storm bubbling up in the future.
If we had a future, Billy thought wanly.
Billy’s three children sat together in the room. The youngest, Ben, sat focused on his Game Boy. He tried to recall the name of the handheld; it was a D-something or other. To him the handheld would always be a Game Boy and every game station that ever existed was a Nintendo. The six year old was trying to ignore his eight year old brother and ten year old sister who were talking to themselves in a corner of the room. Chris, the second oldest was close to tears and Kim, the eldest was crying. This disheartened Billy more than anything else. She was a tomboy, she never cried. She was a trooper.
Billy read the situation immediately. They knew that something bad was happening. They had probably read it plastered all over their mother’s face and divined it from her wringing hands. His appearance broke the floodgates and they all rushed towards him and were wrapped up in his embrace. Billy held them as tight as he could. They eventually pulled away and asked the question he was dreading.
“Daddy, what’s going on? Did something bad happen?”
Billy looked at the terrified faces of Ben, Chris, and Kim. He had wanted to keep his resolve and appear strong for them, but it just wasn’t possible. He dissolved into tears before them. He had always been there for them, every lost baseball game, every scratched knee, every hurt feeling. He was the great and mighty protector and now he had been reduced to an impotent blubbering mass.
Billy wiped at his eyes in a futile attempt to make the tears stop, but they kept flowing out of him. Ben wasn’t able to make sense of the situation and had begun to cry as well. Kim was paralyzed by the shock of the scene before her. She had never seen her father cry. Chris was the only one who decided to act.
He stepped forward and wrapped his arms around his father’s neck and choked, “It’s okay.”
Billy was hit by the realization. He was the protector! He could still protect them from this.
He had to react quickly. It had to be seamless in rapid succession before the realization could dawn on them. Before they could register what he was doing. He didn’t want to see their faces warp into terror, he could only hope that they would be too surprised to realize what he was doing until he had done it. It would be quick. Billy thanked and cursed God that he hadn’t yet taken off his revolver.
Bang! Bang! Bang!
Billy’s aim had been accurate. He had hit his marks, but he wasn’t quite quick enough. He fell back and impacted the floor with a hard thud. He sat on the ground for a moment, before he realized that he wasn’t done yet. There was still his wife and then himself. He turned and left the room with an image burned into his mind. The youngest, Ben looked at Billy through shocked eyes down the barrel of the .38 special revolver. He had managed a choked scream just as his father had pulled the trigger.
Felicity had of course heard the sounds and gone upstairs to check them out. Her mind had tried to rationalize the sounds. Maybe her husband had thrown something, but as she looked at him in the darkened hallway with the revolver in his hands, those weak attempts crumbled. Her chest grew tighter and tighter. She turned to run, but Billy raised the revolver and shot from his hip. It caught her in the side of her face and sent her into the wall next to the stairs. She slid down the wall leaving a small trail of blood and toppled down the stairs.
Billy followed her down, hoping the bullet had hit something vital or the tumble down the stairs had done its job. It had not. She was dragging herself feebly across the floor when he reached her. She rolled on her back to look up at her husband and he almost gagged. The bullet had practically torn away her left cheek, exposing her tongue and broken teeth, it was the same one that he used to plant such tender kisses on.
He raised the revolver and declared through quavering lips, “I love you so much.”
She managed, “No, don’t-” just as he squeezed the trigger.
Billy had left the charnel house. He couldn’t stand to be in there with them any longer. He would see them after it was all said and done, but he didn’t want to spend another second in the house that held the remains of his three children laid out in their room like sleeping angels or his wife spread out on the living room floor with arms stretched outward in a Jesus Christ pose. He would do it on the front lawn.
Billy took a deep breath, steeling himself for what he had to do. He didn’t care about the chaos rampaging around him. To Billy there was only him on his front lawn with his revolver. He put the revolver in his mouth. It tasted so sour, he had to think of something sweet. He cocked back the hammer. The smell of cordite made him want to gag. He squeezed the trigger.
Billy cried out, “No!”
He counted the bullets. Kim, shot in the chest. One. He pulled Chris towards him and pressed the gun under his chin. Two. Ben stared wide-eyed down the sights of his gun. Three. Felicity, trying to inch away with blood pouring out of the side of her face. Four. Five. The sixth and final bullet dawned on him. The looter. Sixth. He had no more bullets.
His friends at the station always did call him Dim. Billy laughed. It was a manic laugh that would have sent chills up the spine of anyone that heard him. He doubled over laughing until it hurt. He laughed and laughed although he found nothing funny. He kept laughing as the tears came. He was laughing while what looked like an ink spot grew in the sky, threatening to blot out everything. Billy laughed and laughed at his fate that felt just like suicide.
Try to Live
Jack Robicheaux sat up in bed, he had heard just about enough of this argument. He intended to storm off and end the conversation. The voice called out to him from the bed, “Where do you think you’re going? This is an important decision and I think we have to make it together.” Jack paused mid-stride with his back facing their bed.
He blew out an exasperated sigh. At times, loving Kato could be so challenging. He was insistent, he was full of life, he was like a force of nature. Loving him was like embracing an earthquake, like hugging a hurricane. He was passionate, and tended to act without thinking. At times he frustrated Jack beyond belief, but it was this personality that he fell in love with in the first place. He always made such rash decisions and now he wanted Jack to dive into another one of his misadventures head-on alongside him.
They had both gotten the news at the same time. They had both snuck out of a party early. Kato was in one of his moods and couldn’t be enticed to have fun despite being surrounded by all of his friends. He didn’t tell Jack directly to leave, but he was the master of letting him know passively. He acted melancholic the whole time and eventually Jack relented and they slipped out and away from the festivities. Kato always seemed to get his way if he persisted long enough. It was while they were listening to the radio on the car ride home that they first heard the news report about the emerging black hole.
Kato’s reaction had been almost instantaneous after they confirmed that it wasn’t some sort of twisted prank. It took him only minutes to process the inevitability of their demise. He suggested that they ‘opt out’ and save themselves the panic and turmoil of their impending and inescapable fate. He spoke like he wanted Jack to swerve off the road and go careening off of a cliff. Jack was always the voice of reason and rationality to Kato’s ephemeral and emotional side. It was why they worked so well together.
They argued about it all the way home and took the argument through the front doors of their modest house. For the next couple of days, it was all they did together. They argued, bickered, and quarreled about what to do. Kato wanted to go out side by side before the end came to greet them and Jack wanted to wait and see what was going to happen.
Kato’s voice called out to him, “We have to talk about this. You have to listen.”
Jack snapped with his back still turned to him, “You mean I have to agree with you. That is what you always mean. You aren’t looking for someone to discuss things, you just want some one to acquiesce to you. It isn’t happening this time! I’m not your soldier to bark orders at!”
Kato pled, “Please Jack, come back. Sit with me a while longer. I need you.”
Jack slouched slightly before he spoke in a softer voice, “This isn’t right.”
Kato asked, “Come back to bed, we can discuss this just a little while longer, it’s not like we have all the time in the world to hash this out.” Jack cracked a smile. Regardless for how infuriating he could be, Kato really knew his dark sense of humor. They clicked on a level that some of their married couple friends couldn’t even achieve. The man in the bed spoke again, “We can make it so quick. You still have that pistol from your time in the gulf war, you keep that thing in such good shape. You could make it quick.” His voice dropped to a whisper as he crooned, “Bang. Easy and quick. We can get away from this.”
Jack whirled on him and shouted, “No! I’m not running, I’m not shooting myself in the head just because you want to die side by side like this were a goddamn soap opera.”
Kato stared at him with unmoving, unblinking eyes. Jack always felt naked under his stare. Even now. Loving him was a trying and rewarding experience, but in this moment, Jack only felt pity. He was scared, they both were scared, but for different reasons. Kato didn’t want to live anymore, he had been depressed long before the announcement. He was afraid of dying alone. Jack was afraid of being left alone.
He remembered how Kato had been with him through thick and thin. He supported him when he decided that it was time to do his civic duty and enlist. He had returned from the gulf war with more baggage than he had originally left with. He remembered Kato wrapping himself around him in a hug so tight he thought he might crumble in on himself when he had woken up late at night screaming. He remembered the dreams of fields engulfed in flame belching black smoke up into the sky like it were a tableau from a depiction of the hellish apocalypse. He remembered the sudden shock that came from a stray bullet opening one of his friend’s throat at the base. Kato had been with him through the ups and downs.
Kato’s voice broke through the fog of memories, “Please Jack, I don’t want to be alone. You have to do this for me.”
He had been by his side for everything he had been through and Jack tried to be by his side when Kato’s mental state started to decline. He tried to stay and listen when his talk of suicide became more detailed, darker. It was now something more than a passing fancy, it was something real and desired. It was a pretty noose that he kept pulling tighter and tighter around both of their necks.
Jack approached the bed and tried to talk, but found it difficult as his eyes had already started to water up and his lips had already begun to quiver. Kato spoke first. He knew what was coming, “Don’t-” Jack sank to his knees and began to weep. His hand reach up on the bed and grasped Kato’s hand in his.
Jack spoke through choking sobs, “I’m sorry! I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you! I’m sorry that this happened.”
He pressed Kato’s hand to his face and nuzzled it. He didn’t care about the mess, he wanted to be close to him one last time. There was no warmth to be felt in his tenderness.
Jack croaked, “I’m sorry that I can’t do this for you.” He had done it while he was asleep. He turned the hand over and planted a kiss where the wrist intersected with the hand. He had cut so deep and probably bled out in minutes. Jack spoke, “I’m sorry I can’t join you.”
The corpse spoke, Jack knew he was dead, but that didn’t make it any less real, “You bastard! You are abandoning me. When I need you the most, you are leaving me. I need you here by my side. I need you to embrace the end with me. You are leaving me.”
Jack snapped, he didn’t care who heard him shouting, “No, you abandoned me! You couldn’t face the end and so you fled from it. Did you expect that what we did last night would be an adequate goodbye? I thought we were making up, making love like we used to! I thought we were getting better. Now you’re gone, and I can’t stay here with the reminder of what you used to be taunting me.”
Jack stood up and the voice of his lover screamed, “Don’t leave me! Don’t leave me! Don’t-”
Jack Robicheaux left the corpse of Kato behind in the bedroom. There was nothing left in the house for him. Jack knew that he had cracked, hearing the disembodied voice of his lover screaming after him, but he was past the point of caring. He stepped out onto his porch and faced the day. The sky was now almost completely black. He knew it was just his imagination, but he felt like it was pulling him towards the sky. Chances were when the end did come he wouldn’t even be aware of it. There would be a sudden moment of shock and then it would be over, like a bullet to the throat.
Jack walked out into the street and ignored the world raging around him. Kato’s voice had completely died out, but he sincerely doubted that it was gone for good. It would probably speak to him at the very end. It would probably screech at him from oblivion damning him for not greeting the end together, but that was on Kato and not Jack.
He spoke aloud once again, “You could have stayed with me. We could have seen the end together. We could have held each other as the darkness grew around us. You’re going to miss all of it, because you gave up. I am not going to do the same.”
Jack continued to walk as the sky grew darker around him. He didn’t have much time left, but in the time he did have, he would try to live.
Written by EmpyrealInvective
Licensed under CC-BY-NC