DP FICTION #42B: “The Vegan Apocalypse: 50 Years Later” by Benjamin A. Friedman

Dear valued McFleshy’s patrons,

On this, the solemn 50th anniversary of the Vegan Apocalypse, we’d like to thank you — our loyal Consumers-of-the-McFlesh™ — for relying on McFleshy’s (and only on McFleshy’s) for all your dietary needs. As you know, without your loyal patronage our tremendous planet would have surely long since fallen prey (yet again) to the Vegans. Instead, thanks to your fortitude — we’re still here. And thanks to us (and the delicious McFlesh™) — you are too!

For it is only together by consuming at least three juicy Fleshies™ a day, that we can be certain to avoid the fate of our Beloved Billion™ — keeping the Earth safe for all our children…and all our children’s children – etc.

We know this. And we know that you know it too:

“McFleshy’s means survival!”™

McFleshy’s also understands, however, that some of you — too young to have witnessed the Vegan Apocalypse firsthand — have begun to ask troubling questions like: “Why?”

• Why must we consume the McFlesh™ (and only the McFlesh™)?

• Why must we devote so many tens of millions of acres of precious above-sea-level topography to beef, pork, and horse production?

• Why do the Crazy Ones claim that we are the cause of the Great Flooding, the average life-span of forty-two, the balmy winters in Canada, and, of course, Brown River Stench?

As though these were not the Natural Order™ in our Post-Vegan world!

McFleshy’s knows such dangerous murmurings are nonsense…but this is not enough; you must know it too. Yet many malignant myths keep popping up – like fungi – in the minds of today’s youth. And just like that often-poisonous gateway protein, we must eradicate such mental spores before they lead us down the slippery slope to soybean – and annihilation.

It is in this spirit that we hereby set the record straight on this, the solemn 50th anniversary of the Vegan Apocalypse, upon this complimentary maple-glazed, pressed-pork parchment (the text and flesh of which you do hereby agree to consume immediately and in totality after reading under penalty of…etc.).

Thank you again for your McPatronage™!

 

1. A Clarification of Terms: on vegan vs. Vegan 

Today, even 50 long years after our Beloved Billion™ were torn away from us, there are still those among you who hold to the falsehood that there is a distinction to be drawn between a capital “V” and a lowercase “v” as applied to the suffix “-egan.” But the hard reality is:

THERE IS NOT.

At least not in terms of culpability.

FACT: Those humans who embraced the death-cult known as “veganism” are every bit as much to blame for the fate of our Beloved Billion™ as the Vegans.

LET US REPEAT: Both vegans and Vegans are equally to blame for the fate of our Beloved Billion™ — anyone who insists otherwise is a Crazy One.

 

2. Etymology and Origins

It is still important, however, to clarify the distinct yet interconnected roles these two groups played in the Vegan Apocalypse. And for this, we must revisit the origins of both little “v” and big “V” – to see how their phonetic overlap was anything but random.

 

a. The cult of veganism

It was in 1944AD, during the height of the Second World War, when an alleged Homo sapiens named Donald Watson coined the term “vegan” – as an abbreviation of “vegetarian.” Promoting an even more radical form of the perverse anti-flesh ideology championed by Adolph Hitler, “The Vegan (sic) Society” formed by Mr. Watson demanded the elimination of not only animal flesh from the human diet, but all animal-based proteins. Followers of “veganism” insisted this diet would prove highly beneficial to both body and spirit, as well as to the environment…

Oh how the Vegans must have been laughing at us, 25 light-years away!

 

b. Vega/Alpha Lyrae

As for those other Vegans…12,000 years before veganism took wicked root here on Earth, the brightest star in our Northern Hemisphere was the star Vega, in the constellation Lyra.

Appearing in the night sky of today as a blue-tinged white prick of light with a declination of 38-47 and an apparent magnitude of 0.03, the Vegan System is now also known to possess a single earth-like planet that we call Vega-1.

(Obviously we cannot print its more popular name here, as McFleshy’s is a family establishment).

Now you may ask, what else has Vega been called by us humans?

Well, in both ancient Egypt and ancient India, Vega was known simply as:

“The Vulture.”

Just as telling is the name that the ancient Assyrians assigned to it:

“The Judge of Heaven.”

Meanwhile, our own designation of Vega – as Vega – actually comes from the Arabic phrase an-nasr al-wāqi, meaning (again):

“The descending bird of prey.”

And so an undeniable pattern crystallizes into view:

Whether hunter or scavenger, judge or executioner, human stargazers have long intuited some dark truth about our celestial neighbor, winking at us from a mere 25 light years away…

Just ask the Quixotipl Tribe of 12th century Peru.

Oh wait, you can’t…

The Vegans ate them.

 

3. On “Synch,” or: “As above, so below.”

Now, to fully understand the connection between Vegan and vegan, one must first recall how human vegans behaved – specifically, what a demoralizing experience it was to eat of the tasty flesh in their vicinity.

For those of you not old enough to remember, let this quote from one of Pre-VA America’s greatest voices be your guide:

“With the narrowed eyes of a harridan and the high and mighty tones of a hypocrite…they let loose upon you a litany of falsities, until appetite herself has not one inch of space to breathe free. Yes, my brothers and sisters, to eat of the delicious flesh near a vegan…is to be circled overhead by a vulture readying to descend.”
-Martin Luther King Jr.
(Source: Facebook™)

Let us also consider for a moment what was lost when the supposed-Mr. Watson removed the letters “E-T-A-R-I,” from VEG[ETARI]AN. Some of you may assume this change was inconsequential, but it was anything but; rearrange the missing letters and we find an immediate clue to their meaning:

T-E-R-A-I.

AKA: the Latin word for: “Earth.”

Rearrange them again and we get:

“E-A-R-T-I”

Only one alphabetic unit away from “Earth” in English (again).

Now you see, don’t you??

By removing these five letters, vegans and Vegans were brazenly announcing their unholy alliance and ultimate goal – to take out Earth! At this point, to call the phonetic overlap mere coincidence is to deny the obvious: that vegans and Vegans were linked from the start, in the same interpsychic web of reality-manipulation they would later use in concert with one other – to ensnare our Beloved Billion™.

And what do our McFleshy Scientists call these manipulations of reality?

“Synch™”

For if the Vegan Apocalypse has taught us anything, it is that alien mind penetration can and will cause a toxic run-off of strangely interconnected coincidences (linguistic, logistical, and otherwise) in one’s vicinity.

This is why the last months of our Beloved Billion™ were spattered with such a perverse abundance of what vegans called “signs and miracles”…and our McFleshy Scientists now call “mind-bait and psycho-spam.”

AKA: Synch™

 

4. Historical Context 

These days, it is a challenge for young people to imagine what our planet was like prior to the Vegan Apocalypse. Many of our oldest citizens have contributed to this confusion by characterizing the years pre-VA as a simpler, more innocent time: lower sea-levels, cleaner waters, fewer colostomy bags…

But this nostalgia, sadly, is misguided.

In truth, it was in the deceptive calm of 2012AD-2022AD that the seeds of our Beloved Billion’s™ destruction were being planted. So we must now look back – with eyes tinted-not – to reconstruct how we missed the many signs of impending catastrophe. Only thus may we ensure that NOTHING ALIEN EVER CATCHES US OFF-GUARD AGAIN.

 

a. The Fate of the Quixotipl (2012AD)

We begin ten years prior to the Vegan Apocalypse, in 2012AD, as a great upsurge of interest in the ancient Mayan calendar reached its zenith.

This archaic time-keeping system was just then concluding an epochal cycle, and many in the New Age spirituality movement (a hot bed of vegan activity) were predicting that the world was about to end as a result – not violently, but in some nebulous sociological transformation often described as:

“Crunchy.”

That same year, archeologists in Peru discovered the remnants of the tiny civilization of Quixotipl, whose own astronomically-calibrated calendar was also set to conclude a cycle – ten years later, in 2022AD.

A series of Quixotipl wall glyphs depicting the last time a Quixotipl Age ended (in 1101AD) was discovered as well; in these, the star Vega is depicted as a gaping maw from which a spiraling vortex of sharp-beaked “bird men” are swooping down to Earth…to carry the Quixotipl people away…

Ironically, those excavating the Quixotipl site at first believed its inhabitant to have been a decent, flesh-eating folk– on account of the thousands of hastily discarded bones found at the top layer of the dig. As soon as the archeologists realized these unburied, unburnt skeletons (all carbon-dated to the 12th Century AD) belonged to men, women, and children, however…they changed their tune.

The Quixotipl, it turned out…held to an entirely flesh-free diet.

 

b. The Blowing Winds of Vega (2012AD-2016AD)

To understand what destroyed the Quixotipl people over one thousand years earlier, we must next look to the disturbing transformation of Stephan Mallik, aka: “Starfalcon” – once a mild-mannered PhD student in the archeology department of the University of Virginia…now a footnote in history – right alongside Benedict Arnold.

After conducting extensive field research on the Quixotipl site in 2012AD and again in 2013AD, Mr. Mallik’s scholarship helped popularize the theory that the Quixotipl had died in a mass ritual suicide – just as the last cycle of their calendar was concluding. Mr. Mallik explained the absence of sacrificial relics at the site (e.g. blades and chalices) by proposing a slow-acting poison ingested away from their final resting place as agent.

Many archeologists praised this hypothesis.

But then, in 2014AD, just as Mr. Mallik was completing his dissertation on the subject, he began to behave erratically. “What if there IS a deeper cosmic order embedded in The Calendar?? Now that I’ve eliminated ALL meat and dairy from my diet, there are so many ENERGIES I’ve grown attuned to…forces I never imagined possible before…”
(Source: Reddit.com/r/vegan [defunct])

Thus began one of the first internet posts attributed to Mr. Mallik under the pseudonym “Starfalcon,” and thus – like Saul of Tarsus – did Mr. Mallik discover his “calling” as both apostle and evangelist for Vega.

(Of course, unlike Christianity, the so-called “Gospel of Vega” had a dark side!)

According to Starfalcon – and his dozens of disciples – only those who cleansed themselves of the tasty flesh would ascend to the “next level” of human evolution. This Grand Shift was set to correspond with the next turn-over in the Quixotipl calendar– in 2022AD – in communion with the “enlightened” beings of Vega-1.

Apparently, the more ancient alien civilization had been guiding humanity towards veganism (and “salvation”) for millennia…

The acolytes of this radical, esoteric strain of veganism converted many poor bodies throughout the 2010’s by tapping into the irrational hodge-podge of mytho-mystical belief still plaguing humanity at the time: utopian fever-dreams, socialist messiahs, drug-fueled raptures, quantum physics, sweaty yoga, string theory, artificial intelligence, and the false-promise of singularity…they even identified the children’s novelist Arthur C. Clarke as a Vegan prophet, claiming he had encoded many of his adolescent fictions with “messages” for true believers.

Many thousands would perish as a result of such nonsense.

Of course, this death count was just a drop in the ocean – a trifle, really – when compared with the seeds of mass slaughter that the “respectable” vegan community was planting, concurrently, in the secular, “more rational” worlds of academia, business, and politics…

Here we discover the true depths of vegan treachery!

 

c. The Anti-Flesh Crusade (2017AD-2020AD)

Today, thanks to the tireless research of our Scientists here at McFleshy’s, we can affirm with 100.00% certainty that both Global Warming and Brown River Stench were ALWAYS inevitable — historically and geologically.

That’s right: no matter what we as a species did or did not do to prevent them, they WERE coming for us.

LET US REPEAT: the rising tides in Ohio and Nevada are NOT our fault.

It’s a McFact™.

So how then to explain the obsessive efforts of the Environmental Lobby of the late 20th and early 21st Centuries AD to prevent the unpreventable?

Two words: “vegan infiltration”

Using the Sword of Damocles of “Climate Change” to instill fear and panic, vegan infiltrators pointed their crooked fingers at the embryonic meat industry, trumping up ridiculous charges of causality between then meager modes of tasty flesh production and incipient global warming. For instance: they claimed that methane gas emissions from livestock were heating up the Earth’s atmosphere.

Just imagine that for a moment, would you…?

Farts!!

They also claimed that the removal of millions of acres of swelteringly hot jungle and rain forest– to make room for much breezier grazing pastures – was making Earth hotter too. Looking back, the vegan infiltrators’ accusations appear backward, irrational, and unscientific – of course. At the time though, many were desperate to believe there would be some way to avoid the onslaught of Brown River Stench. And who can blame them?

Sadly, the notion that Homo sapiens had a choice in this matter is hubris.

Or as we like to call it: McHubris™

The truth is, we humans have the tendency to believe whatever supports our preconceived worldviews…and many good-intentioned environmentalists were turned against the Great Meat Makers as a result of these untruths.

Everywhere one looked, vegan distortions were sweeping into the collective consciousness, not just through the Environmental Lobby, but through the worlds of business and healthcare, in the ideologically corrupt productions of Hollywood and academia – even through children’s television!

Yes, everywhere they could, the vegans waged their deadly war:

• At major universities, they wrote venomous screeds on the “human rights” of animals. (Just think about that for a moment!)

• Student unions promoting radical anti-flesh lifestyles soon became entrenched. (Mass protests and boycotting against the meat industry followed in abundance.)

• Meanwhile, in science and medicine, vegan propagandists paid off corrupt “experts” to assert that flesh-consumption levels in impoverished nations (like Mexico and Africa) were healthier than those in the one exemplary flesh-eating nation in the world: The United States of America. (Fortunately, most Western doctors ignored such findings.)

• Unfortunately, in food manufacturing, vegan “entrepreneurs” began churning out an endless supply of flesh-substitutes, from oft-carcinogenic sources like soybean, pea protein, and the aptly named seitan.

And so it was that the developing world remained nearly fleshless, while in first-world kitchens, kale and squash proliferated.

In other words: at the very moment when humanity NEEDED to be manufacturing as many gross tons of cow and horse protein as possible, we were instead flapping about with our pants around our ankles.

Until finally…the stage (and table) for the Vegan feast…was set.

 

d. The Rising Horror (2021AD)

Imagine if you will…a morning like any other…

You replace your Clara-Lung Breathing App™ with a fresh mask, report any dissonant dreams you may have had to our McFleshy-Care™ “We Care!” Reps, punch your request for AM-McSustenance™ into your breakfast console, and begin to serve your toddler its delicious McFleshy Baby Slur™ (so that it may grow up big and loyal). Only this time, for the first time ever, your precious babe turns its mouth from the McSpork™ – refusing to consume even one bite!

Of course, you know your child needs to be ingesting at least three iron-rich gelatinous cubes of Slur™ per meal to be truly safe from Vegan mind-rape. Yet for some reason, on this terrible morning…your precious one will NOT submit.

“No, mommy,” it cries. “No, daddy!”

“But this Slur™ is packed with the same McFleshy-Blend™ of 743 tastes and flavors that you adore so very, very much,” you assure your stubborn child. “You LOVE consuming your delicious McFleshy’s Baby Slur™! Whatever has gotten into you, toddler!? Why don’t you EAT IT already?! Are you turning into one of THEM?? ARE YOU?!”

But it’s to no avail; your baby will not eat its Slur™.

Now…if you can imagine such a nightmarish ordeal, you should likewise be equipped to envisage the UTTER HORROR facing so many billions back in 2021AD, as they watched mothers, fathers, siblings, and children…begin to slip away from them…by refusing the precious flesh.

Of course, the first signs of Vegan mind-infection were considered by some to be minor, even pleasant…

In addition to low-grade Synch™, many of The Affected™ reported strange dreams…of remarkable vividness and power, uniformly alike in content.

Here is how one notable victim described the experience:

“I found myself soaring bodiless…across multiple otherworldly landscapes at once…yet feeling no sense of fragmentation or even disorientation in the process. Only pure, transcendent bliss…”
-George W. Bush Jr.
(Source: The New York Times, 2/14/21)

Indeed, the Affected™ universally reported feeling embraced in their dreams by some vast intelligence, which they (somehow) felt both a part of, as well as separate from, throughout…

Soon—

• Affected™ politicians were retiring from public life in droves –with hauntingly authentic farewell speeches.

• Affected™ painters were painting images so sublime that art galleries had to start stocking tissue boxes.

• Affected™ poets were composing verse so sensitive to the depths of The Human Condition™, that several poetry books almost cracked a Best Seller List.

• Etc.

Yes, for one brief shining stretch of months in early 2021AD, even the most skeptical of flesh-eater could be excused for wondering…if maybe, just maybe there was something to this supposed Gospel of Vega after all…

 

e. The Saviors of the Flesh (2023AD – HAPPILY EVER AFTER)

Of course, we don’t want to re-traumatize you with the gory details of 2022AD:

• You know all about the terrifying intensifying of Synch™ and the psychological withdrawal of the Affected™ that followed already.

• You have heard – again and again – the audio recordings of their endless chanting…in that hideous alien tongue.

• You know too well what an eruption of Bright-Light-Madness looks like…as well as the ugliness of what follows…

• That is, Epilectic-Death-Syndrome (AKA: “the Vegan Slurp”).

• And of course, your brain is thoroughly seared with the millions of Instagram images of the Tragic Flesh Heaps™ – emptied of all that once made our Beloved Billion™ human. (For the record: our Beloved Billion ™ never included the deaths of self-identifying vegans – who numbered around 600,000,000, and were usually the first to go. All we can say of their flesh…is good riddance.)

Fortunately, you also know the happy ending to this story…

• How the corporate leadership of The Great Meat Makers™ banded together, forgoing profit, reward, and even vacation days – to rapidly ramp up production and distribution.

• How the brave Sizzle Queen, Fry Factor,  Chateau Du Burger, Taco Americano, Veal Deal, Nugget Town, and Roasties  corporations (to name but a few Heroes of the Flesh™) gave us the Force-Feed Initiative™, which spared so many millions on the brink.

• How these brave corporate entities mobilized the armies of Blackwater, Iron Eagle, et al to overthrow the political leadership of the day, installing us as Global Hegemonic Potentate For-All-Time™ (AKA: GHP-FAT).

• And how, finally, you helped rename us “McFleshy’s” after this bold public choice beat out write-in candidate: “SukDeezNutsVega!” in online polls, three years later.

After all, as we like to say here at McFleshy’s:

“Here at McFleshy’s, you get…HERD!”™

 

5. Winners and Losers

As we all know, it is a truism of human history that it is written by the winners…

Yet sadly, there are no winners in the intergalactic struggle we are currently waging on your behalf – at least not yet. And so this history of the Vegan Apocalypse must remain incomplete, even after 50 years of healing, rebuilding, and all-you-can eat March McRibble Madness!™

Yes, it is true that the vultures of Vega, along with their flock of human sheep, took us by surprise once. But now WE KNOW. And now that we DO KNOW, there is simply no excuse to ever deviate from the tasty flesh again.

Yet, even after all we’ve been through together, all the tasty flesh we’ve provided you and yours, there are still those among you who refuse to accept the Natural Order™. There are even those among you who are STILL trying to summon them back…

We speak, of course, of the Crazy Ones, those who forego the delicious McFlesh™ for whatever desperate scraps of fungus and algae they can summon into being – in hidden bathtubs and root cellars beyond the security-ensuring gaze of our benevolent McWatch™ lenses.

Yes, these maniacs would actually summon the Vegans BACK into our world!

• LAMENTING their absence from our mental airwaves!

• PRAYING for their immediate return!

• BLAMING McFleshy’s for clotting the arteries of consciousness so that the Vegan Mass-Mind simply cannot penetrate!!

As to that last accusation, all we can say is: HECK YEAH!

After all, history IS written by the winners!

And this war is one we can – AND MUST – win!

So please, if you do know of any Crazy Ones in your midst…sneaking a carrot here, whispering doubts about McFleshy’s there…report them to us IMMEDIATELY; we MUST quarantine ourselves against THEM.

So thank you once again for your ceaseless and unquestioning McPatronage™.

Now eat up! Chewing and swallowing every last bite of the complementary maple-glazed pressed-pork parchment upon which this unquestionable record of the Vegan Apocalypse has been printed – as prescribed by McFleshy International Law™.

We do so appreciate your cooperation and loyalty…

After all, this story won’t swallow itself 🙂

 


© 2018 by Benjamin Friedman

 

Author’s note: The germinal seed for “The Vegan Apocalypse: 50 Years Later” came to me back in 2011, during the height of fascination with the Mayan calendar and its impending terminus in 2012. At the time, I was working at a Yoga center in Massachusetts called Kripalu, where the thought of a collective shift in culture and consciousness was not just a laughable bit of New Age naivete, but a genuine and sincere hope for resurgent 60’s-style idealism. And with the Occupy Movement and Arab Spring then at their zeniths, it was true; anything seemed possible. Of course, as in George Lucas trilogies, so in historical dialectics…as the various “empires” of cynicism, despotism, corporatism, and the politics of propaganda and deception have all since “struck back” in myriad and disturbing ways. This story was my way of grappling with that great gulf between human possibility and reality. For just as the Mayan Calendar wasn’t the end of history for the good, the Vegan Apocalypse of my story isn’t meant to be seen as the end of all hope – just another chapter that depends on human agency for its sequel.

 

This is Ben Friedman’s first sale to an SFWA-accredited publication, an honor for which he is titillated to an almost obscene degree. Previous stories of his have landed at 365 Tomorrows, Every Day Fiction, The Story Shack, and Sonic Boom Literary Magazine, and his screenwriting has won the Golden Blaster Award at the Irish National Science Fiction Film Festival as well as the Grand Prize from the WeScreenplay Short Film Fund Competition. He currently is recovering from an inauspicious injury (that could be the punchline to a bawdy joke were it not oh-so-true) in his hometown of South Orange, New Jersey after a number of years of peripatetic soul-seeking throughout New England, Colorado, California, Israel, and Australia.

 


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DP FICTION #40B: “Withholding Judgment Day” by Ryan Dull

5:00 AM GMT

Brother Franco Corsini always woke up early when the world was ending. Some Elegian monks could roll out of bed twenty minutes before Christ returned and perform their duties without a hitch, but Brother Franco needed a long morning to get into the right mindset. He lay in the pre-dawn light with his blanket pulled to his chin and prayed for humanity in expanding concentric circles – first himself, then his monastery, then the city of Milan, the nation of Italy, the people of the world, the dead, the unborn, and all Creation. Through the wall of his cell, Brother Franco could hear his neighbor already rejoicing at the top of his lungs. But his neighbor expected Christ to return before 6:00 AM, and so of course he was yelling. Brother Franco belonged to the 2:00 to 3:00 PM GMT slot, which he shared with Brothers Dimitri Abdulov and Hernan Esteban, both of whom were currently sound asleep in the Elegians’ second monastery in central Colombia. Brother Franco had nine long hours left. He knew, but did not yet expect, in an immediate, physical way, that the world would end. For a novice, this might have been cause for alarm. But Brother Franco had been expecting the end for years now, and he trusted that he would get there, even if it took all morning.

The world was always ending. That was the miracle of the Order of Saint Elegius, that the world was always ending, but it never ended. Two thousand years ago, before Jesus Christ had ascended into Heaven, he had warned the crowds that he would be returning soon. For two thousand years, this soap-bubble Earth, this mass of lonely Creation inexplicably divorced from Eternity had crept along from one nervous moment to the next. The Bible says, “The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” Time was short. The sun was low and the shadows long. And Creation, even as human beings laughed and struggled and prayed within it, hungered for the end. Creation knew what it was to be unified with the living God, and it knew what it was to be separated. Intolerable. Each new moment was a breach of natural law as absurd as walking on water, as shocking as resurrection.

And humanity needed every second. The early church fathers monitored the sky and tore at their hair. They weren’t ready for Christ. Just look at all the souls left to be saved. Look at the world, this unrighteous, unjust, humiliating mess. They needed more time.

Perhaps that’s why the Church called Elegius a saint instead of a heretic. A fifth-century legal scholar, it was Elegius who had first read Luke 12:40, “You must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you don’t expect him,” and wondered aloud if that meant that as long as someone expected Christ to return, he wouldn’t. If so, a dedicated group of believers could postpone the End of Days indefinitely. His contemporaries had scoffed and Elegius, shamed, had moved on to other things, but the idea stuck around. There was something to it. It felt like doctrine was supposed to feel. Renounce the world in order to gain it, die in order to live. Expect God’s return in order to forestall it. Why not? It was Gospel. More than that, it was useful. Hence, two centuries later, the Order of Saint Elegius. They had persisted for over fourteen-hundred years, and by all measures, they had achieved great success. The world was still here.

But eternity was long, and Armageddon only had to wait. And the Elegians – how can we judge them? They were few. They were secretive. They were a handful of well-intentioned clerical washouts who lacked the discipline to be Trappists, the humility to be Dominicans, the grades to be Jesuits. Their method was odd and their mission – there was no getting around it – was to thwart the will of God, to imprison Him in His Heaven, to praise Him in the morning and subvert Him at night. Impossible to maintain rigor under such circumstances. A stressful, thankless office. So we can forgive the Elegians if they occasionally slept through Vigils or even Lauds. And maybe we can forgive them for abandoning their watch today between 2:00 and 3:00 PM GMT. It wasn’t all their fault. Anyone could have stopped Armageddon. We should be careful who we blame.

 

12:55 PM GMT

Certainly we can’t blame Brother Hernan, who by 7:55 AM local time an hour outside of Bogotá, was awake, dressed, and firmly believed himself to be Expecting. Elegian Expectation was a tricky feat. It wasn’t enough to contemplate the end, to have a hunch. One had to truly anticipate it, like sunsets, gravity, lentils for lunch on Friday. Armageddon was opportunistic. It could find purchase in the tiniest gaps. Brother Hernan was doing his best. He had made the rounds, grabbing his brothers by the shoulders and advising everyone to fast, because tonight they would sit at the Lord’s Table, and the Lord would want them to be hungry. Now he was heading out into the sunshine to say a mass or two and wait for Christ to descend. To any outside observer, he was hitting all the beats.

But a few days earlier, Brother Hernan’s mother had passed away. She had been old and she had been sick for many years and Brother Hernan understood that her transition from pain and infirmity to the loving arms of God was a joyous one. But something about her absence, about his no longer having a biological family, about the first Saturday in half a decade on which he would not borrow a car to make the long drive to the house she shared with her nurse – something about it made Brother Hernan feel intensely fixed to the Earth. Technically, officially, he should have been thinking, “I will see you soon.” But it had only been a few days, and the floodwaters were still receding. We can forgive Brother Hernan if he hadn’t yet made it past, “Mother, where are you?”

Brother Dimitri – perhaps Brother Dimitri deserves some blame. He was oversleeping. His alarm clock had shorted out overnight and no one had thought to knock on his door. It was the sort of thing that happened from time to time. That’s why they worked three to a shift. Still, the Lord was returning and Brother Dimitri was asleep in bed. It didn’t look good.

And what about Brother Franco, back in Milan? By now, he was a dozen rosaries deep, striding through what appeared to be some showcase Expectation. He was feeling it today. His every word was sincere and his eyes were Heaven-bound. Brothers who saw him praying found themselves looking skyward, listening for angel’s wings.

But Expectation was so fragile. Three days before, Brother Franco had seen an advertisement in the newspaper for a documentary about humpback whales. Brother Franco quite liked documentaries and humpback whales, and although the film would not be screened for another two weeks, well after the Apocalypse, he had thought, “I’m looking forward to seeing that.” He was still looking forward to it. Which is to say that some tiny, overlooked lobe of Brother Franco’s brain believed that cinema schedules would survive past 3:00 PM GMT. His Expectation was insincere. He had no idea.

But there were so many other people in the world. Surely someone must have expected something.

Well, not necessarily. The main problem – and again, we shouldn’t cast blame, we aren’t accusing, we’re trying to explain – but Creation probably would have been safe if humanity hadn’t been distracted by the World Cup finals. They were being held in Lagos, Nigeria. The story of the so-far stunning tournament was the upstart Chinese national team, which had blitzed through half a dozen traditional juggernauts behind the heroics of Tan Mingjian, their preternaturally quick midfielder. China, never before a football powerhouse, had been overtaken by World Cup fever. At 1:30 PM GMT, China would face off against Brazil in an Old Guard versus Young Bucks grudge match that was expected to draw more viewers worldwide than any televised event in history. In the hours before the match, a few sweating fans quietly wished that the world would end, so that their team might be delivered from humiliation. But at 1:30, all thought of eschaton evaporated. Armageddon was unthinkable. Surely God, like everyone else, was too busy watching the game.

And where were the doomsayers, the street-corner visionaries, the amateur obsessives? There were piles of those people, a whole cottage industry, and they could find a volcano in a vegetable garden. Hard to imagine those fanatics asleep at their posts.

What you have to understand is that the Apocalypse industry moved in cycles, one dire prophecy at a time. The latest had involved a fragment of Sumerian tablet that bore the words “We Finished” and a date in three-inch-tall cuneiform. It hadn’t gotten a lot of attention when it was first yanked from the ground back in the 1980s, but after the Mayan long count calendar deadline had failed to pan out in 2012, everyone had gone looking for the next thing. Marion Seebler, who ran the digital magazine End Times Now out of Gasper River, Kentucky, had found a reference to the Sumerian tablet in an old university newspaper and published a blurb. And although the tablet was unimpressive and its message was oblique, it rose to prominence on the strength of its single, huge advantage: the date, as best as self-tutored Sumerian translators could figure, was right around the corner. Last Monday, as it happened. People cashed bonds and bought canned goods and got cozy in their backyard bunkers. But last Monday came and went. Last Tuesday came and went. By Saturday, the world’s doomsayers were nursing themselves through the let-down, reading old favorites about ancient aliens and waiting for the next big prophecy.

As for the few billion otherwise accounted for, it was hard to say. On any given day, at any given hour, the total population of non-specialists predicting biblical Armageddon might fill a stadium or an auditorium or a restaurant or a mid-sized sedan. Today, there weren’t very many at all. And as Creation approached 2:00 PM GMT, there were none.

So as clocks rolled over and the Elegian brothers of the 1:00 PM GMT shift let the last echoes of their final, desperate prayers fade to sour silence, Creation found itself in an unfamiliar situation. For the first time in a very long time, no one expected a thing. God did not seize upon these unattended seconds to return in glory. Luke 12:40 said, “an hour,” an entire hour. God was playing fair. But Creation noticed. It looked like a real opportunity. And O, the horrible anxiety, to be separated from its Creator, that interminable stress, those eons Creation had endured one microsecond at a time, grinding its tectonic plates like teeth. Understandable, that Creation couldn’t bear to wait any longer. Maybe we can forgive it.

 

2:09 PM GMT

The Earth gave a few, tentative shudders, mostly unnoticed. Predators circled, birds went silent, herds packed in close. Near Bogotá, a young woman who had walked into the woods to think her way through a new romance was interrupted by the peculiar creaking yawn of a thousand bent trees suddenly standing up straight, trying to look their best. She looked around for a moment, and then dropped back into her thoughts. Volcanoes cleared their throats. Things deep in the ocean, in defiance of all instinct and fear, began to swim toward the light.

 

2:12 PM GMT

Brother Hernan was sitting on a bench outside his dormitory. He hefted his Bible into his lap and it cracked, by chance, to Luke Chapter 12. He was so familiar with the chapter that his eyes scanned across it and he didn’t think much at all, except to wonder what the kitchen made for lunch on Saturdays. It had been years since he’d been at the abbey on a Saturday afternoon.

At precisely that moment, halfway around the world, Brother Franco caught an object in his peripheral vision and jumped, certain that it was the floating body of Christ resurrected. Four blocks away, a cinema owner frowned at a poster for one of this month’s features. It looked crooked, and he thought he could detect a flicker of menace in the humpback whales.

Marion Seebler, back in Gasper River Kentucky, was trying to squeeze a few more page views out of that Sumerian tablet. Sumerian dates could be finicky. Who was to say they hadn’t mistimed the Apocalypse by a few days?

The crowds in Lagos were sagging. Brazil had just gone up two to nothing in the first half. China looked hopelessly outmatched. Meanwhile, stadium staff scrambled. Two dozen spectators had suffered seizures in the last fifteen minutes. Officials ran for crash carts and blamed the heat. Some people were sensitive like that.

 

2:17 PM GMT

The young woman walking in the woods outside of Bogotá was not available for natural peculiarities or obscure harbingers of the end times. She was thinking about her last relationship, and the one before that, and the one before that, and the entire, grinding karmic cycle of romance and anguish, birth and death, things moving together and things moving apart. When she looked at this new relationship, this ecstatic living thing, she also saw the way that it would one day fester and bloat. Clouds were gathering – literal clouds in the literal sky. It felt like a bad omen. She couldn’t know that they were gathering everywhere.

 

2:24 PM GMT

Steam billowed up from sewer grates. Seeds cracked and unfurled while they still had time. Eggs rattled in nests. Graves shook.

 

2:29 PM GMT

In a few small places and without much fuss, the ocean began to boil.

 

2:36 PM GMT

A bird flew into Brother Dimitri’s window with a sound like a kettledrum, leaving behind a few drops of blood. Brother Dimitri rolled over and pulled his blanket tighter.

 

2:39 PM GMT

Brother Hernan closed his Bible. He knew it wasn’t working. He wasn’t sure he wanted it to. Somewhere beneath the doctrine, beneath his oaths, beneath habit and intricate self-deceit, somewhere way down in the storm cellar of his soul, Brother Hernan craved the End of Days. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.” Every Expectation day for twenty years he’d set that hunger against his duty – the kingdom wasn’t ready, there were souls left to save – and he’d managed to do his job. But now the resurrection of the dead had a face. It had small hands and a voice that had prayed over Hernan when he was young and lost in a fever that felt like an abyss. What was his duty, then? And what, exactly, was he expecting?

 

2:43 PM GMT

Clouds were massed above the stadium in Lagos. Spectators craned to see Tan Mingjian steal the ball, run fully 80 meters, attempt an irresponsible stab at the goal, and score. The entire stadium and a good sixth of the human population took to their feet.

 

2:47 PM GMT

Graveyards were trembling and gasping, queasy earthquake shudders that pitched mourners onto their knees and sent pedestrians running for their cars.

 

2:49 PM GMT

Marion Seebler read the same translation four times, squinted, realized how dark it had become, and decided to take a break.

 

2:53 PM GMT

The Chinese national team hauled the game to 2-2, and the broadcast was a steady roar of manic crowd noise. Impossible to step away from a game like that. All three of the upcoming 3:00 Elegians were huddled in front of outdated, contraband televisions. They would tear themselves away to begin Expecting at 3:00 and not a moment before. There would be no last-minute rescue.

 

2:55 PM GMT

Astronauts in the International Space Station reflected that they’d never seen the surface of the Earth so obscured. They made a note.

 

2:56 PM GMT

People were packed into churches, temples, shrines of all kinds. People were contemplating God and truth and high principles. People were shoring up their homes against all sorts of end time scenarios: meteors, environmental collapse. People were so, so close.

 

2:57 PM GMT

Brother Franco, pulsing with joy, began a loud countdown. Nearby brothers joined in. His enthusiasm was infectious, but the others all had different Expectant hours marked on their calendars and none imagined that they were counting down to anything in particular.

 

2:58 PM GMT

Bibles in the libraries and homes of nonbelievers all over the world threw themselves off of shelves and opened to inspiring passages. It was now or never. Some people picked them up, some glanced at the words.

 

2:59 PM GMT

Brother Franco’s countdown was going strong. A dozen cheerful brothers were chanting along. Several hours away, Tan Mingjian had the ball and a swathe of open field and he looked unstoppable. It had become so dark that stadium staff considered turning on the floodlights. On the other side of the world, Brother Hernan reached the conclusion that life, despite all, went on. He would someday meet his family again and until then, he would cling tightly to the Earth and embrace the gift of existence as fully as he was able. He felt better, but it was exactly the wrong conclusion to reach at this particular moment.

 

2:59 PM GMT

Tourists could no longer ignore that the figures in the fresco of the Sistine Chapel appeared to be moving. Glistening aquatic behemoths climbed toward the light. Thousands of feet above them, cruise ships and fishing trawlers bucked on churning waves. A child in Vancouver emerged from the womb with Paul’s first letter to the Romans written out in its entirety just beneath the fuzz on her scalp. Brother Dimitri shot upright in bed, heart like a hummingbird, no idea where he was or what time it was or what he was supposed to be doing. And everywhere, people hurt, people died, people sinned, people cried out for release, for redemption, for a change. No one cried louder than a handful of talentless monks who thought that their transparent playacting was saving the world, and who at any other hour may have been right. Altars rumbled. Ley lines shifted. Thunder roared from the core of the Earth to the clouds and back. A young woman who was just beginning to fall in love sat in the early morning darkness on a hill overlooking a small monastery outside of Bogotá where she sometimes went to mass and thought about how perfect the world was now and how imperfect it would one day have to become and didn’t it seem right, didn’t it seem appropriate, didn’t it seem almost inevitable that the world should end right here, right now, while the Earth was as beautiful and as still and as ready as it would ever be?

And the stones quieted down, and the oceans stopped boiling, and the vast, ancient things swam back to the depths. The crowd in Nigeria held its breath and the sun began to shine and everything was beautiful and nothing was still. And when Brother Franco reached “Zero!” and nothing happened, he shook his head and shrugged and stood for a moment in mopey silence while the rest of the brothers smiled and wandered off to wait for the end of the world.

 


© 2018 by Ryan Dull

 

Author’s Note: The bible verse in the story is real, at least in some translations. I came across it when I was eight or nine and reached the same conclusion as the monks – that the apocalypse was right around the corner, but that I could put it off if I expected it often enough. It was a bit of a stressful time until I realized that I couldn’t be the only person shouldering a job this important. There had to be professionals somewhere. And that’s the story.

 

Ryan Dull lives in Southern California. He thinks being a monk sounds like a pretty good time. It’s the promise of community that really appeals to him, and the chance to give your life a single, fixed purpose. Being a writer is a little like being a monk, but only a little.  Ryan Dull is going to shave his hair into a tonsure and see if that helps.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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DP Fiction #27B: “The Aunties Return the Ocean” by Chris Kuriata

Editor’s note: Content warning for harm to children

Auntie Roberta landed badly on the roof of her escarpment house, scraping her knees across the flagstone shingles and splitting her pantyhose. Her arms were too full of black water to keep her balance so she nearly slid off the edge.

She carried so much ocean she barely knew where to hide it all. Inside her stony home, she filled the kitchen drawers and cupboards with cold dark brine. Every pot and tankard as well. She quickly ran out of places, yet her weary arms were still loaded with the stuff. Where would it all fit? Auntie Roberta got on her knees and stuffed the final bits of ocean into the mouse holes. She heard the panicked mice squeak before drowning.

What an exhausting evening she’d endured. At the appointed hour, all the Aunties of the world had banded together like a swarm of locusts, and set upon the heart of the ocean. Their grubby hands tore the water apart, breaking up the reflection of the moon as they scrambled to load every last drop into their arms.  All along the empty ocean floor, fish flopped and ships jammed into rock beds. The neighbours had called the Aunties’ bluff, refusing to give in to their demands. So, just as the Aunties threatened, they stole the ocean.

During the theft, Auntie Roberta kept close watch on the other Aunties, noticing none of her sisters carried away as much ocean as she did. Auntie Roberta always did more than her fair share and never received thanks. The other Aunties thought they were smarter than her, but really they were just lazier.

“Hey!” Auntie Robert shouted. “Get away from there!”

A burr covered cat with collapsed ears sat on the kitchen table, lapping away at a mug filled with ocean. Auntie Roberta flung a wooden spoon and sent the cat retreating through a gnawed hole in the parlour wall.

“Sneaky thief,” she huffed.

***

“It smells damp in here,” the neighbour woman Marilyn said. She didn’t outright accuse Auntie Roberta of helping to steal the ocean, but she certainly sounded suspicious.

Normally, Auntie Roberta threw rocks at nosey neighbours, but the neighbour woman Marilyn came bearing a freshly baked pie and, well, Auntie Roberta didn’t know any spells strong enough to compete with flawlessly executed baking.

“Roof leaks when it rains,” Auntie Roberta said, stuffing pie into her mouth with both hands. “Makes the house damp. Can’t do nothing about it.”

The neighbour woman Marilyn pointed to the ceramic mugs, each filled to the brim with a curious liquid the colour of midnight. “What’s in all these?”

“Coffee what’s gone off.”

The neighbour woman Marilyn put her nose to the rim and breathed in the scent of salt and seaweed, triggering memories of her uncle’s tugboat and the baskets of crabs she helped haul from the deep.

Auntie Roberta licked the last of the crumbs from the bottom of the pie pan and the neighbour woman took her cue to leave. A neighbour had nothing to fear in the house of an Auntie so long as she was eating, but once an Auntie’s belly was full, staying under their roof was like leaving your head in a lion’s mouth–sooner or later the jaw would get tired and CHOMP.

Auntie Roberta washed her sticky lips in a mug of the ocean, breaking up the reflection of the midnight moon that continued to shine from the still water.

***

Word of their victory reached Auntie Roberta in her rain barrel: “The neighbours have agreed to our demands. Therefore, return your section of the ocean back where it belongs.”

Auntie Roberta took stock of the ocean squirreled away all over her house and wondered how on earth she’d manage to carry so much. She couldn’t believe she had done it the first time.

“Looks like I’m making two trips,” she grumbled.

To distract her mind from the inconvenient task, she looked forward to the coming spring. At last, no more sneaking around or disguising her identity. No more inventing schemes to trick the offspring into entering her service. Thanks to the ocean theft, this year the Aunties could snatch up whatever offspring they desired and the neighbours couldn’t lift a finger in protest. It had been agreed.

***

The sight of the returned ocean astonished Auntie Roberta.

“Are we joking?”

The returned ocean sat miles below its original level. The water had gone off, turning grey as stale root-brew. Auntie Roberta saw all sorts of detritus swirling in the stunted ocean; cobwebs, bits of crayon, pocket lint, silky upper-lip hair… You couldn’t even see the reflection of the moon anymore. It was an embarrassment. The Aunties left the ocean looking torn apart as a robbed grave.

The original genius of their plan, having every Auntie take part (for how could the neighbours track down and punish a million Aunties?) turned out to be its greatest weakness, for while a dozen Aunties will be cunning and precise, two dozen will be absent-minded and deceitful. Harvesting the effort of every Auntie in the world? Good Lord. The neighbours ought to be thankful there was any ocean left.

***

The day after, Auntie Roberta lay on her roof, camouflaged beneath a blanket of shingles, her arms loaded with rocks to repel the invading neighbours she was sure were coming once they switched on the morning news and got a look at the mess the Aunties had made of their beloved ocean.

Not a single rock needed to be thrown. The angry neighbours never came. Instead of seeking retribution, the neighbours gathered together as a community and held a day of mourning for their once vital ocean.

No action would be taken against the Aunties. The neighbours would honour their agreement, terrified if they reneged the Aunties would rise up and do something even worse.

That evening, Auntie Roberta smelled fresh bran muffins and opened the door on the neighbour woman Marilyn. Auntie Roberta stuffed muffins into her mouth, famished after spending all day on the roof with nothing to eat but the occasional low flying sparrow.

The neighbour woman Marilyn lifted a mug from the kitchen table. A bit of the ocean remained inside: a mouthful’s worth. The neighbour woman Marilyn swirled the mug, making the ocean race around the ceramic walls like a fat, black worm.

“I’d never looked closely before at how beautiful it was,” she said.

Auntie Roberta kept quiet, unwilling to admit her involvement in the ocean fiasco.

The ocean in the mug retained its midnight colour, and when allowed to pool the reflection of the moon shone brightly, dancing on the wall like candle flame.

“May I keep this?” the neighbour woman Marilyn asked. “So that one day my grandchildren can see what the ocean used to look like?”

Auntie Roberta’s full belly made her agreeable, and she waved her hand generously. “I suppose so, on the condition of future baking.”

She watched the neighbour woman Marilyn carry the mug down the escarpment, clutching it between her hands, not wanting to spill a precious drop of the original ocean. Neighbours made a bad habit of deifying things. Such reverence for objects made them easy to take advantage of.

***

When an Auntie grabbed an offspring, they performed a series of alterations to make the offspring more compatible with their needs. Some were muted. Others had their limbs lengthened or shortened. A few had their eyes cut out in order to heighten their other senses.

Auntie Roberta modified her offspring by burning the hair down to stubble, compacting the feet into cloven hooves, and replacing the teeth with chunks of rock. This kept the neighbours from recognizing their darlings when Auntie Roberta sent them into town to purchase necessities. She didn’t mind the extra work. She re-sculpted the offspring so effectively that even if their mothers did recognize them, their mothers always let them go, correctly believing they were beyond hope.

For days, Auntie Roberta waited in vain for fresh baking. Because of the damage done to the ocean, the temperature soared and there was scarcely air to breathe. Few neighbours could make the trip up the escarpment. There were no more markets and all the stores were closed. The moon did its best to keep the tidal waves in effect, but the new handicapped ocean could no longer provide the neighbours with the luxuries they had taken for granted all these millennia.

Before the receiver in her radio went out, Auntie Roberta heard about the neighbours’ pitiful attempt to rehabilitate the ocean. They emptied the tank of every aquarium and science lab. They hoped these fish would adapt to the new environment. “Nature will find a way” was the motto. Over the next thousand years, the fish might evolve into new species–guppies the size of whales–that would clean the waters and make the ocean once again capable of reflecting the moon. No neighbour alive would live to see that day, but maybe the children of their grandchildrens’ children would know the ocean as their ancestors once had.

Auntie Roberta allowed none of this tumult to affect her. So long as her house remained protected and she had her latest offspring to aid her daily tasks, she could endure anything.

The other Aunties, however, decided the neighbours had suffered long enough, and so they began bartering back the other half of the ocean.

***

Auntie Balut came to visit, trekking up the escarpment on the back of her long-legged offspring. The sunburned beast of burden collapsed after delivering her master. Auntie Roberta found an old can of stewed tomatoes. She cracked the tin and slowly fed the convulsing offspring the life-giving water inside. The last thing Auntie Roberta wanted was for the offspring to croak. With no one to carry her down the escarpment, lazy Auntie Balut would declare herself a houseguest and expect to be waited on hand and foot. The trouble with Aunties was their obnoxious insistence on making themselves at home.

With her shoes off and her bare feet propped on the kitchen table, Auntie Balut showed off the fine jewelry swaddled six layers thick around her neck. “This here had been in the family seven generations. And this here? They actually had to break into the mausoleum to strip it off the body.”

All the Aunties were rolling in wealth, for each held back a parcel of the ocean, stowed away in a kitchen drawer or under the bed like an antique vase they were waiting to appreciate.

“I could ask for all ten of their fingers, and they’d happily slice ‘em off with one hand and then wedge the knife between their teeth to slice ‘em off the other.” Auntie Balut dumped a purse of chopped fingers onto the table to prove she spoke no hyperbole.

In these harsh times, a bucket of the original ocean went a long way, and so the Aunties made out like bandits. The neighbours learned to extract threads of algae and encourage new growth. They pulled tiny fish from the black depths, happy to see new schools spawned the next morning.

Most impressive of all, when the sun set and the neighbours’ pitiful hovels were cast in darkness, their bucket of original ocean reflected the bright full moon just as it had shined the night the ocean was stolen. Whole families from age eight to eighty circled the bucket, hypnotized by the twinkling light and fortified by the fresh air.

When Auntie Balut finished crowing about her recent windfall, she looked around Auntie Roberta’s kitchen and her mood turned dour. Auntie Roberta had no mounds of jewels or ancestral skulls or even piles of snipped-off fingers to attest to profitable negotiations for her share of the ocean.

“Oh sweetie,” Auntie Balut said. “Did it not occur to you to keep a bit of the ocean for yourself? You know, to make a little—” she rubbed her fingers together in the sign of filthy lucre. Auntie Balut threw her head back and cackled till she broke wind, relishing the embarrassed look on Auntie Roberta’s face.

“You put all your ocean back? What, was someone supposed to spell out what we were really up to?”

Auntie Roberta held her chin high, waiting for Auntie Balut to laugh herself out. Instead, the laughter and the insults intensified, turned mean. “Maybe you gave the neighbours ocean freely. Maybe you love them more than your own Aunties.”

When she’d had enough, Auntie Roberta retrieved her knife from beside the whetstone and went outside. On the lawn, Auntie Balut’s offspring slept heavily, full of tomato water and dreaming of its old life. Auntie Roberta swung her knife, ripping the throat open from ear to ear, effectively bringing the offspring’s service to an early retirement.

“Leave all your jewelry on the table,” Auntie Roberta said as she wiped her bloody hands on her apron. “That should lighten you up enough to carry your own fat ass down the escarpment.”

***

Ages had passed since Auntie Roberta last paid someone a visit, so she intended to do this one right. Instead of squeezing herself into a ball to roll down the chimney or gnawing her way through the tasty kitchen floorboard, Auntie Roberta clicked her heels together on the front porch’s WELCOME mat in a perfect parody of one of the neighbours. She even brought a gift.

“Good morning,” Auntie Roberta said, proudly displaying a tray of baking. She hadn’t the right ingredients for her cookies; mostly sand and flour made from crushed mice bones, held together with spit and tomato water. She decorated the tops with broken Christmas lights.

The neighbour woman Marilyn nodded, and ushered Auntie Roberta inside. She had shorn her head bald, and her dry skin wrinkled like an impression of an alligator.

“Is your husband at work?” Auntie Roberta asked.

“No,” the neighbour woman Marilyn said, casting her eyes to the bloodstained hole blasted into the wall over the couch.

“Too lazy, is he?”

The neighbour woman showed no interest in the cookies, so Auntie Roberta snatched a couple and tossed them into her mouth. The glass crunched and made colourful clumps between her teeth.

She cut to the chase. “Have you still got it?”

The neighbour woman Marilyn nodded. “Have you come to take that from me too?”

Auntie Roberta reached for more cookies. “Things freely given cannot be taken back. But there’s nothing to stop us from making a trade.”

“What could you possibly have to trade me?”

The last of the cookies flew into Auntie Roberta’s mouth. “Anything you’d like, so long as you’re not too greedy.”

“Too greedy?”

“Meaning ask for one thing, not a dozen.”

She licked the empty tray and tossed it into the corner. The ceramic shattered, sending white shards flying like punched out teeth.

The neighbour woman Marilyn closed her eyes. Praying? Thinking? After a moment of privacy, she nodded and said, “Come with me.”

Stuffed animals made a pyramid on the too-tiny bed. Auntie Roberta’s back ached to see a bed that small. She would have to saw her legs off to fit, and there would be no room for the occasional late night company. The heads of plastic dolls crunched beneath her feet. This was a gaudy, immature room.

The neighbour woman Marilyn reached beneath the bed, retrieving a lunchbox painted over with frolicking cartoon animals. The frivolous object offended Auntie Roberta’s sensibilities, but the neighbour woman handled it reverentially, as though it were part of a daily religious ritual.

She split the box open and removed the Thermos rattling inside. Before passing the pink canister to Auntie Roberta, she held it to her chest, resting the lid against her cheek. Auntie Roberta thought she looked ridiculous, like a chimpanzee fooled into accepting a surrogate dolly.

“At night, I’d unscrew the lid, and moon light would cover the ceiling. We used to lie on our backs and watch the light ripple. She said it looked like friendly ghosts.” The memory pained her, and she thrust the Thermos towards Auntie Roberta. “It sings to me at night, begging to be let out, but I’m afraid it will evaporate and I’ll be left with nothing.”

“Relax, I’ve handled ocean before.”

At the front door, with the Thermos tucked snugly into her apron, Auntie Roberta lingered, about to suggest the neighbour woman continue to visit her little house on top of the escarpment. She could bring fresh bread, baked on the rocks in her yard. Neighbours often made feeble attempts to befriend Aunties, either out of awe or fear, but such partnerships were forbidden. This was a new world, however, and Auntie Roberta didn’t feel like she needed to play by the rules anymore.

She turned back, about to extend an invitation, but changed her mind. The light in the neighbour woman’s eyes, dim when she first arrived, had now gone out completely. She was a woman without hope, and Auntie Roberta knew she would never see her again.

***

Using steady, freshly licked fingers, Auntie Roberta poured the ocean into a hollow glass amulet the shape of a spider with its legs ripped off. She sealed the amulet tight and hung the chain over her neck. Ice coldness stabbed her breast and she shrieked. Unexpectedly, the ocean remained as cold as it had been the night the Aunties scooped the water up.

“You’re a tenacious bugger,” she saluted the ocean.

The heavy amulet swung from her chest proudly. No Auntie could laugh at her now, like stupid Auntie Balut had done. The ocean around her neck proved she was just as devious and cunning as the lot of them. She couldn’t be mocked—just so long as the embarrassing truth of her giving the ocean away to a neighbour woman (and having to pathetically make a deal for it back) stayed secret.

“I didn’t trade mine away for useless trinkets. I still got my piece of the ocean.”

All that was left now was for Auntie Roberta to fulfill her end of the trade between her and the neighbour woman.

“It’s a goddamn shame,” Auntie Roberta said.

The offspring stirred at the sound of her approaching footsteps. For practical purposes, Auntie Roberta kept the offspring crated beneath the basement steps when she went out. So much easier than worrying what mischief they were getting up to in her absence.

Auntie Roberta paid dearly for the return of her dignity. She knew this offspring was the last she’d ever have in her service. Without the ocean, the land was mute of the sound of copulation. Neighbours were unwilling or unable to create future offspring.

“I promised your mommy a strange mercy.”

Auntie Roberta slid the block of wood from the crate door. Her apron held the same knife used to cut the throat of Auntie Balut’s offspring. Used properly, it would do the job just as the neighbour woman Marilyn had demanded:

“Release my daughter from your service, quickly and painlessly,” she had said.

She must have thought Auntie Roberta would use a spell, giving her daughter a final dream of their happy family on a clean ocean before magically stopping her heart. Charming, that the neighbour woman thought spells came as  easily to the Aunties as snapping their fingers, but no. Auntie Roberta wasn’t going to waste the effort of a spell on the offspring.

“Come to Auntie.”

The offspring remained in the cramped crate. Normally so eager to get out, this time they crouched on their elbows and knees, eyes opened wide. Monkey noises came from their throat, contractions that normally turned into… what, cheers? Laughter?

In the darkness of the basement, the reflection of the moon beamed from Auntie Roberta’s amulet, shimmering over the steps, filling the crate with its cool, blue light.

“Oh, you like that, eh?”

Auntie Roberta lifted the amulet. The reflection of the moon brightened the clay wall. The offspring rolled onto their back, looking up at the light as it rippled and twinkled, dancing across the wall like friendly ghosts. Purring softly, the offspring threaded an arm into the dirt, cuddling the imaginary mommy tucked lovingly beside them.

Auntie Roberta twirled the amulet between her fingers, sending the moonlight gleaming all over the basement. She hated her sisters, the rest of the Aunties. Since the inception of the universe they had a glorious, renewable pool of fresh neighbours that provided them with everything they needed to survive. And they’d fucked it up irreversibly and for what? A fleeting moment of superiority? Untold riches for the cleverest of speculators? Well, that worked out just great, hadn’t it?

“What a goddamn shame.”

With the last of the shimmering ocean lying cold against her breast, Auntie Roberta pulled the knife from her apron and held up her end of the trade, completing the task faster and more mercifully than any spell she might have cast.


© 2017 by Chris Kuriata

 
Chris Kuriata lives in St. Catharines, Ontario. His short fiction about elderly poisoners, whale-hunting clowns, ghastly family photographs, and childhood necromancy have appeared in many fine publications. You can read more about his work at www.chriskuriata.wordpress.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Review: Sha’Daa: Tales of the Apocalypse

Sha’Daa: Tales of the Apocalypse edited by Michael Hanson

review written by Frank Dutkiewicz

(The following review first appeared 2008 in Atomjack magazine.)

I love reading anthologies and I tend to gravitate to them, but finding one that will pique my interest enough to take a chance on it can be chancy. So when one of my favorite authors, Mike Resnick, wrote the forward to Sha’Daa: Tales of the Apocalypse, it was enough for me to want to dive in.

Sha’Daa: Tales of the Apocalypse is the brainchild of Michael Hanson. He enlisted the help of ten other authors to bring his idea to life. The Sha’Daa is a forty-eight hour window in which the barriers between our world and the Hell dimensions become thin. The event happens once in ten thousand years. Old myths and superstitious have made a few wary of the hidden portal openings spread over our world. One mysterious man, Johnny the Salesman, is the only one aware of the oncoming doom. Eleven authors have written stories on a few of the collapsing portals and of the lone man selling salvation to an unsuspecting human race.

“The Dive” by Edward McKeown

Kevin Hanlon is the District Supervisor in charge of a group of misfit subway workers. He is sent into the New York subway to investigate a strange opening in one of the tunnels where he discovers the demons that are about to invade our world. All the demons need is a bit of human blood and a few souls for the gates of Hcell to be opened. Hanlon must convince his rainbow-coalition band of misfits to help him save the day.

If Hollywood is searching for their next action-packed cheesy-horror film, they need to look no further than The Dive. Like a cheesy film, it opens with Hanlon introducing his nine misfit workers, each equipped with their own colorful nickname. It doesn’t take long for Hanlon’s skeptical team to realize his tale of marauding demons isn’t crazy. They are the only ones standing in the way of an army of alligator and aped-faced monsters and an unsuspecting New York City. What happens next would fit any Predator/Alien sequel — pitched battles, rescuing of a damsel in distress, with a clichÃ’ d line or two thrown in for comedic effect†(“Can’t we all just get along?”)

If you are familiar with this standard storyline you can probably figure out what will happen. The only mystery is guessing who will bite the bullet before it ends. The Salesman’s character was done well but he reminded me of Kazoo (alien from the Flintstones), just not as corny or silly.

Despite my complaints, “The Diveis an entertaining read. For an opening story to an anthology like this, it does fit. The action is nicely written and the pacing is quick.

Tunguska Outpact by Deborah Koren

Kate is a young woman dragged into the Siberian wilderness by her boyfriend. Saul is heading a University expedition to investigate the 1908 Tunguska event. Kate becomes furious with Saul when he completes a trade she refused earlier with the Salesman – a watch for her stuffed-bear. Kate’s bubbling anger for her boyfriend, and for the world at large, is just what is needed to bring about the Sha’Daa.

“Tunguska Outpact” is a hell of a story. Ms. Koren took a simple tale of a girl with issues and made it into something more. There are only few a characters in this piece but the story is really about Kate anyway. The supporting casts serve as excellent foils for her character. Solidly done from her point of view, you get a vivid idea on what she thinks of others with a few well-placed words, a rare gift Ms. Koren uses efficiently. The crux of the story is the conflict with her soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend, Saul. She defines their relationship with little quips, such as this take on Saul’s presents, describing them as,(not) gifts at all, but little collar-and-leash sets”.

Within the story are short flashbacks dating back to when she first received her bear. Generally, a bad idea but Ms. Koren uses them appropriately and exploits them to move the story along. You get a solid idea on why Kate became the resentful girl that she has become.

The climactic scene almost comes off as anti-climactic. It looked as if it would turn into something outlandish but Ms. Koren wisely reeled it in before it got out of hand. The ending fell a little flat but the end couldn’t have possibly made this story grander anyway.

“Tunguska Outpact” is probably not going to win any awards but the storyteller I am suspecting will someday. I found Deborah Koren’s style and story-telling ability outstanding. I will be looking forward to more of her works in the future.

“Lava Lovers” by Wilson “Pete” Marsh

Doctors Toby and Sarah Nightwalkers are geologists enjoying a working vacation in the Mediterranean. They hire an old salt of a sailor named Agenor to take them to the Santorini Caldera, site of a series of volcanic eruptions dating back to 1600 BC. The two young doctors have a shared passion for old myths and legends, which is the reason why they sought Agenor services.

Against Agenor’s better judgment, the couple camp out on Akroteri, site of the ancient city that was buried in the 1600 BC eruption. On the slab of rock they camp on, the pair discover handprints – left hand human, right a three-fingered claw , that is identical to one they saw in the Petroglyphs of New Mexico. The prints remind Toby of an old myth his grandfather used to tell. Under his bride’s prodding, he recites the words to bring forth the Sha’Daa.

“Lava Loversstarts out as nothing more than a married couple having a semi-interesting conversation. When Agenor comes on the scene (a couple of pages in) the story begins to get entertaining. At one point, a good page is set aside for a geological lecture. Interesting if you’re watching the Discovery Channel. Not so much if you’re reading an anthology about the coming apocalypse.

Half way through the piece switches into high gear. The action is solid and the tension first-class. Mr. Marsh does an excellent job of bringing his characters to life. They are likeable and funny. The humor is slight but his timing is perfect. The Salesman makes a brief appearance and Marsh seems to have an excellent grasp of his character. For such a short role he has a major impact in the plot.

“Lava Lovers” is a bit slow off the starting line but recovers and finishes strong. I liked this story a lot.

“The Way of the Warrior” by Arthur Sanchez

Shinzo is a monk in the Temple of Eternal Light, and like the rest of the monks, seeks to become a warrior. As a monk, most of his battles are against grime and his weapon is a mop. In his spare time, Shinzo is the warrior he seeks to be in the world of video games.

The monks are the first defense against the demons that seek to destroy Earth. They train for the day of the challenge. Two grand champions, one demon, the other a member of the monastery, will battle for the fate of Earth on the chosen day. The time is unknown, but it is decided when all the blossoms on the cherry trees in the monastery’s garden have fallen.

On this day, the rest of the monks are away leaving only the Grand Master to watch the cherry trees and Shinzo to polish the floors. The Salesman appears with a mop and cleaner that magically cleans the floor for Shinzo, for a price to good to pass up. The cleaner works wonders, a little too well when an unsuspecting Master slips on the slippery floor, leaving Shinzo alone — just as the blossoms begin to fall.

“The Way of the Warrior” is a jewel of a story. It is quite simply, hilarious. The demon champion left me in stitches. This Salesman is the craftiest in the anthology. Shinzo is the least likely champion fate could provide. Shinzo uses his wits, and love of the video game, to combat an impossibly formidable opponent.

As someone that attempts to make others laugh, my hat goes off to Mr. Sanchez. Bravo.

“Breaking Even” by Jamie Schmidt

Kenneth is a gambler with a psychic gift that gives him an edge. Banned from most of the casinos in the universe, he returns to Las Vegas to see if he can weasel his way back into some action. The glitzy Nevada city is filled with demons who are quite aware of Kenneth’s gift. He is escorted to the airport where he runs into the Salesman. Johnny offers Kenneth a stake in the biggest game in the universe.

Imagine Maverick with aliens and demons. Throw in a daughter Kenneth never knew he had and you got the basic story line of “Breaking Even”. The story has plenty of one-liners, almost all of them corny. “I love Mexican”, is one a demon drops after devouring a Chihuahua.

I found Kenneth unlikable, the villain predictable, and the cast of characters unremarkable. I think the story would have been better served without the sitcom-level humor. I did find the ending delightfully poetic. Nevertheless, Breaking Even came off as unexceptional.

“Dixie Chrononauts” by D. R. MacMaster

Harvey Cormac is a US Marine, home from Iraq. He chooses to spend his off time in a Confederate Civil War re-enactment company headed to Gettysburg. While traveling on a back-road/shortcut in a bus with the company, which is followed by a professor eager to stop madman from starting the Sha’Daa, and a Homeland Security agent transporting a van load of weapons (alone) for the Maryland State Police, they are transported back in time days before the 1863 battle. Harvey Wraith, (the villain) has gone back into time as well. The deaths of the battlefield and a suspicious virgin pregnancy are the two pieces needed to bring about the Sha’Daa. Harvey and his fellow stranded time travelers are the only ones that can stop him.

“Dixie Chrononauts” started off fast and showed promise but slowed to a crawl a page or two in and dragged from that point on. The first ten pages or so are used to introduce the seven main characters and set up the unlikely scenario that places them all together on a lonely dirt road. The next ten after that are for the characters to get their bearings and figure out what the reader all ready knows. The remainder of the story becomes a desperate battle between conveniently well-armed heroes and giant snakes, spiders, and other creepy crawlers.

“Dixie Chrononauts” reads like a knock-off idea based on so many 1950 horror movies I watched as a kid. The heroes come off as stereotypical and the villain is just plain silly. All Harvey Wraith needed was a curled handlebar mustache to complete the picture. The story is littered with characters and the shifting perspectives made it difficult to follow.

The last line in “Dixie Chrononauts” sums up the piece perfectly for me.

“It’s a long story,”

“The Great Nyuk-Nyuk” by Adrienne Ray

Brian Mulcahey is a smart-alec sixth-grade student of St. Bernadette’s Middle School. His tormenting of Sister Farzenweiner and the rest of the staff has earned him the attention of the Vatican. They are convinced he is the savior that will make the King of Atrocities laugh, thus saving the world.

The premise to this one is silly. Fortunately, it’s supposed to be. The story is more about a Jesuit priest having doubts about his faith than about a jokester being put on the biggest spot ever. I found Brian likeable but unremarkable. Truthfully, I knew cleverer smart-alecs growing up.

“The Great Nyuk-Nyuk” is funny but is not in the league of the earlier comedic piece, “The Way of the Warrior. I didn’t find it as clever or as smooth. It was nevertheless a fun story.

“Talking Heads” by Nancy Jackson

Professor ‘Ronny’ Johns hand picks a group of students to help her investigate a rash of strange occurrences on Easter Island. Ronny worries that her grandfather’s old stories of the coming Sha’Daa are true. With the help of a gifted blind student, she hopes to uncover the mystery of the Monoliths.

“Talking Heads” follows an all too familiar blueprint. Set a group of people at the right place in the last possible moment to foil a carefully laid 10,000 year-old evil plan. Professor Ronny drags what she hopes will be the saviors of the world with her, but withholds crucial information on why they’re there so they won’t panic. Her students fit the clichÃ’ d plot perfectly. There are two hunky boys competing for the same girl and a blind girl (why are they always blind?) gifted with a psychic-like vision. Add a student that doesn’t believe anything, another who believes all is lost, and one more that wants to cut and run, and you have your world saving bunch.

I did like the impending doom implications — plants swallowing islanders and turning them into zombies while the gods wreck havoc one island at a time, does sound cool. The Salesman in this tale plays a prominent role but I found him to be stiff compared to how he was protrayed in other stories. To loosen things up, Ms. Jackson does try her hand at a funny line or two.

“â€I handpicked each of you because you were smart and talented. Martin, I think I invited you for comic relief.”

Despite my complaints, “Talking Heads” isn’t a bad story. The plot is sound but slow developing. Not close to my favorite but still worthy of the anthology.

“The Seventh Continent” by Lee Ann Kuruganti

The scientist, researchers, and workers living at McMurdo Base in Antarctica are celebrating their mid-winter greetings celebration when a nearby volcano erupts, releasing green-bubble monsters sent by the Sha’Daa dark lords. The bubbles are deadly and can’t be stopped. Or can they?

The first eight pages of “The Seventh Continent” is nothing but inane conversations between twenty-something Real-World (show, not life) wannabes. I began to wonder if all the western governments decided to populate Antarctica with nothing but skateboarders and rappers (plan does have merit). Once you got through the chatter, the story got better. But just like the Real-World the characters come off as selfish. I couldn’t find one thing to like about any of them. What I did like were the monsters. For green bubbles they were pretty slick, no two humans died the same way inside their transparent skins. Even for the Antarctic they were cool.

So I did find something to root for in Ms Kuruganti’s story. Unfortunately, it was for the wrong side.

“Prana” by Michael Hanson

Prana is the second most powerful being in creation. The coming Sha’ Daa draws it to a small world filled with insignificant creatures called humans. Prana feeds off the energy of the invading demons. To maximize his absorbing potential, Prana divides into 1000 sub-Prana. The plan is to reassemble after the end of the Sha’ Daa, more powerful than before. But the longer the sub-Prana’s remain apart, the more they resist the call to return as one. And one, Prana-777, has taken a keen interest in humans.

“Prana” is more of a loose bunch of small stories within a larger one. Once divided, many of Prana’s smaller parts begin to develop their own sense of identity. The longer apart, the more advanced their individuality becomes. There is a thin moral here, being part of something greater than yourself is not always great. This story comes off much like how Mr. Hanson’s interludes do, excellent tales in small doses, but as one connected piece, “Prana” felt disjointed. Part of the reason is the ending fizzled and I wanted something more.

“The Salesman” by Rob Adams

Johnny has masqueraded as a human for ten millennia. His sentence for interfering in the Sha’Daa has come full circle. The new Sha’Daa approaches and he is doing all he can so the brave, unsuspecting people of Earth will have a chance. The golden-tooth salesman then comes across a new player to the game. Prana is here to make sure Johnny doesn’t interfere with the Sha’Daa, something Johnny has been destined to do.

Rob Adams was given the task to tie all the separate stories together. He does that and provides a background for dear old Johnny. We learn who and what Johnny is and why he has lived on Earth for so long. A good portion of the tale shows what happened to him before he became the Salesman.

“The Salesman” is a nice bow for a smartly wrapped present. Mr. Adams did very well taking a single character based of several different authors ideas of what he was. This Johnny wasn’t quite the crafty, sharp-witted door-to-door salesman Arthur Sanchez created, or the wise angel-like being in “The Dive,” but he was a very rich character. I found this story as a fitting finale for this anthology. Mr. Hanson chose well picking his anchorman for his project.

Prologue, interludes, and epilogue by Michael Hanson

These are the little intermissions set between each chapter. Two things made them different from the rest of the stories. A) They’re short and B) They don’t involve Johnny the Salesman.

The prologue and epilogue are the snug fitting bookends that they should be. The interludes are complete standouts, and not the bridges between chapters I thought they were at first. The longest is nine-pages. Most fall into a one to two page length. I found the majority of them to be sharp and a few of them outstanding. Some of the less-than-a-thousand word stories had richer plots than a couple of the ten thousand word plus chapters.

I particularly liked “Jump”, “Invasion Force”, and “The Friendly Skies.” My favorite was “Brave Man”. I found most of the interludes delightful.

Final Analysis

It can’t be easy to grasp someone else’s idea, especially when you have a narrowly defined character to work with, and write a story that fits what the creator envisioned. Mr. Hanson’s brainchild was no ordinary guideline to follow. What he asked for was the equivalent of JRR Tolken approaching a group of writers to help him create Lord of the Rings to his specifications and satisfaction. The concept of the Sha’Daa and Johnny the Salesman are exciting ones. Finding eleven writers to help fill up a novel based on Mr. Hanson’s idea couldn’t have been easy.

As a reader of many anthologies, I have yet to find one where I liked every story when they are written by so many different authors. Sha’Daa does not break that streak. More than a few of the plots felt forced to me and the quality of writing was not consistent, but almost all the stories were satisfactory. I did find more than a few to be outstanding.

“Tunguska Outpact” and “Lava Lovers” were exceptional. Couple those with Michael Hanson’s many interludes and the fitting final act, “The Salesman,” and you have a great book. I found their stories to be well worth the price of admission. However, I liked Arthur Sanchez’s “The Way of the Warrior” so much I would recommend the Sha’Daa based on his story alone.

So, if like reading about the end of the world, the Sha’Daa: Tales of the Apocalypse is the book for you. I recommend you buy yourself a copy. You won’t be disappointed.

Frank hasn’t made many friends since he started doing reviews so heÂwent andÂfound a newÂchum.ÂBob is his new best bud but word is they had a recent falling out. Frank was overheard callingÂBob a ‘Windbag’ while mutual friends claim Bob refers to Frank as a ‘Blowhard’ behind his back.