5,300 Words

Poe died of rabies, didn’t he? Died raving, at any rate.

Here we are at end in a cheap motel along the lost highway. You’ve been walking for a long time and the time has come to rest. Your sandals are worn through to the bone. Your beard could host sparrows. Your eyes have seen too much.

Sit in the armchair by the table. Here’s a tumbler and an unmarked bottle. The bottle should be green with electric lime, but it’s black. Pour a shot, set it aside. That’s the hammer cocking back. That’s the muzzle and the bore of the universe bearing down; that’s the naked bulb in the eighty-dollar a night room snapping on. The window frames the world like a television screen. That shadow flowing over the tundra is the moon coming too close to its mother. While all other points of fire wink out, a wandering star sparkles, black flame from a black nozzle magnified by the whiskey glass bottom pressed to your eye. Press RECORD. Time has come to get down to cases.

This room is a microcosm of everything that exists. You are alone with the monkey that rides your back. DO NOT DISTURB has arranged this tête-à-tête. There’s no mirror, there’s only you and him and you aren’t friends. There are, however, questions you’ve got to ask yourself here at the brink. Let’s make it easy. These are yes/no questions. Be honest. Honesty is best.

For a moment back there you got to be a god. There were infinite possibilities. Look at what you did with that split second of omnipotence. Look into the mirror, if you are able. You open your mouth and the mirror shivers and somewhere a supermassive black hole dilates.

“But it wasn’t that way at all,” you say. “My father killed me when I was a boy.”

You sound so sincere.

§

Despite what we thought the Mayans said, the world did not end in a fiery apocalypse last year and I am drunk as a lord.

The glow of the goldfish in its bowl greets me when I descend the twelve steps into the living room at oh-my-god-thirty in the A.M. intent upon finishing the vodka in the freezer. I’m dying of thirst. Dying of every lack.

The goldfish is named Hercules and it shines in the radiance of a wandering star that falls beneath the edge of icy peaks far to the west. Those peaks, serrated as a fillet knife, are millions of years in the making, as is the star’s own brilliance. Hercules is older yet. You may wonder how this could be so, since goldfishes swell to match the dimensions of their confines. Surely such an ancient specimen could swallow a whale here on the eve of the last night of Anno Domini 2013. Hell, it should be enormous enough to gulp down a mid-sized city.

There you have it: I am the custodian of an infernal dreadnaught. I keep it in its tiny prison as a precaution. A check against unfathomable power. So far, so good. I unscrew the cap and drain the vodka dregs and that’s better, I’m no longer a man crawling across the desert while vultures circle and circle. I’m rebuilt, remade, a millimeter closer to sanity. I’m in control. Nothing can go wrong.

I regard Hercules, hanging dead in the water like a tiny, unexploded torpedo. Something always goes wrong.

My twelve year-old son Larry is convinced there’s trouble. He knows from trouble. The left side of his face is mangled. Phantom of the Opera gruesome, he won’t wear the mask Mom knitted him for polite company. The deed occurred two winters ago in the Northern Territories while we checked my trapline. A bonding expedition is how I sold it to Mom. Days and days of trekking through forests on bearpaw snowshoes, nights of heating pork and beans over cheery campfires; a real adventure.

But, damn, the ghost of Yul Brynner must’ve haunted the machine. It went wrong one afternoon on the shore of Great Slave Lake.

The gray wolf was caught fast in a leghold trap and had frozen to death. Or so Larry thought until it revived and sprang upon him and snapped its red jaws into his flesh. Destroyed his left eye, almost took his head off, but for me being Johnny on the spot with a shotgun loaded with slugs. Stupid kid should’ve waited for the all-clear before charging forward. My fault; I should’ve taught him better. I’ll shoot the bastards from a helicopter from now on.

Anyway, the mauling unreeled before me with the slow motion ineluctability of a high speed car crash. The bite and the blast occurred two, maybe three, seconds apart. Fast ain’t always as fast as we’d wish. Signal to nerve and my trigger finger twitched. Ka-fucking-BOOM and White Fang got taken in two while my boy, covered in blood, described a snow angel with his convulsions. I could see the circuitry of his brain through the gash where his lovely brown eye had been. He didn’t cry. He stared at me with a dreadful calmness as complete and cold as the ice of the lake itself.

The stars came out while I sliced my long john sleeve and wrapped his skull. The rag soaked through, became his red bandanna of courage. The wandering star swung wide across the skinned heavens and filled his black iris with hell.

Larry said,

§

“Hercules is sick.”

Dad’s expression was remote as polar snow by the reflected luminance of his iPad screen.

“No, it’s not sick. It’s the Terror of the Deeps.” He always referred to the fish as “it.” He referred to all animals as “it.” And babies.

“He swims upside down.”

“Maybe it’s bored.”

Larry flicked a penlight over the goldfish bowl.

“Oh, no. Leonardo da Fishie is gone! I thought he was hiding in the candy castle.” A tear glittered in the boy’s good eye. He took things like this hard, same as his mother.

“Ah, exhibit A. Hercules obviously devoured hapless LDF. Ergo, Hercules isn’t sick. In fact, I submit that this is prima facie evidence that it is growing stronger.”

“I put him in there because Hercules was lonely. They were supposed to be friends.”

“Lemme tell you, son, this isn’t such an unusual way for a friendship to end.”

“His eyes…”

“Eh?” A latticework of diagrams and formulae shivered in Dad’s glasses. He worked at the University of Fairbanks and was always bringing home some quaint and curious jag of arcane lore.

“Dad, his eyes…”

“Windows to the soul. Portholes, in the case of a fish.”

“Damn it, John!” One half of Larry’s face was livid, the other half dead as stone. All those severed nerves, you see. Spit flew when he got excited.

Dad set aside his notes. He made a steeple of his fingers and tapped his nose.

“You ever kill anyone?”

“No.” The softness of the question sobered Larry right up.

“Interestingly enough, I have. With my bare hands, no less. The Marines trained me to do that. In light of this information, perhaps you’d care to reassess our relationship. Unless you prefer dancing on thin ice.”

Larry and Dad were alone in the cabin. Larry’s bothers, Mike and Sam, had gone into town with Mom for Christmas shopping. Larry didn’t think his dad would risk murder, but the old man put the loon in loony and there wasn’t much point in pushing his luck, especially without witnesses.

“Hercules’s eyes are black. Pure black. Something is definitely wrong with him.” Larry’s voice quavered.

Dad thought about that for a few moments.

“There are two possibilities. Either Hercules is shining with the darkness of whatever abyss spawned it, or it acquired a fungal infection from munching Leonardo da Fishie. My money is on door number three: demonic possession.”

Later, when Mom popped into his room for a goodnight kiss, Larry was still brooding. He informed her that he thought Hercules’s strange behavior was an omen.

“An omen of what?” Mom said. The shadow of her head moved like a Medusa-coil on the wall.

Larry shrugged.

Mom smiled sadly and smoothed a lock of hair from his brow.

“Y’know, your father has owned a goldfish ever since we were in high school. Same bowl, same name. This has to be Hercules the Thousandth. There’s something Freudian going on, I am sure. Don’t antagonize him. He’s not stable and he doesn’t like you very much.”

“Why does he hate me?”

“He doesn’t hate you. You just annoy him terribly.”

“Is it because of my face?”

“Oh, sweetie. Your father is a simple man. He’s too dumb to feel guilty. You give him an inferiority complex.”

“He’s a world class scientist.”

“Doesn’t mean he isn’t dumb enough to fear what he misunderstands.”

“But why?”

“He thinks you’re special. That frightens him. Brave men such as your father are frightened of the smallest things. Kind of like how elephants have a phobia of mice.”

“That’s just a myth!”

“Trust me on this. I’m giving you five dollars for your allowance, by the way.”

“Oh. How am I special, Mom?”

“You’re not, dear.”

§

“Let me be clear, there is no Machine,” Director Mallory said to close his remarks at the Star Chamber deposition. This emergency hearing was in response to an international crisis that appeared to be rapidly mutating into a global apocalypse. Blame had to be apportioned and attributed. Heads were going to roll, and how. The Director snapped his briefcase shut and strode out a side exit. He skipped lunch at the grill that day, became quite scarce indeed.

The Machine activated again six hours later and its effects were irreversible.

But by that time, when shit hit the fan for real, the Director was already aboard an emergency capsule speeding toward the moon. He and ninety-seven other bureaucrats, technicians, scientists, and prostitutes survived on a base hidden in a crater on the dark side for nineteen months. Eventually, they all perished of starvation, or mayhem induced by a cabin fever type syndrome. He went last—blew the station to smithereens with mining explosives and then unzipped his environmental suit to vacuum and watched his life boil away. He was lonely, not sorry. No one back on Earth cared. He’d been long forgotten.

§

We became aware that mischief was afoot long before it manifested into anything concrete. Much as I detected aberrations within my own body prior to the cancer diagnosis. What a life. Larry beats cancer and it bites me on the ass, among several other places.

Ah well. Where was I?

This colorless shroud had begun to spread beyond the simple colonies in the earth, contaminating the highest rungs of the ecological ladder. It had begun to creep into the collective consciousness of humanity. A psychic stain. We read this in the white gaps between the lines of news reports, heard it whispered on the garbled short wave transmissions of my old ham radio. A farmer in Akron, an astronomer in Barrow, another week a Greenpeace scientist in Newfoundland. As yet, inchoate. Soon this would change.

Then, pandemonium. Then, endgame.

I had nightmares. The cancer intensified and so did the dreams. I suspected it might be a form of precognition, but reversed into the past. One night, Hercules broke his silence of decades and began to communicate with me via telepathy. He warned me and warned. I dragged my feet and upped my booze prescription. Who listens to a fish?

As weeks passed, the scenarios changed. In a panic, I called my boss at three A.M. to relay the latest from the psychic front.

The Director said, “What did you see?”

“It was grotesque. There was this primordial goo—”

“Goo?”

“Not actually goo, more of a jelly. None of us could decide if it was some kind of fungus, or an invertebrate. Slimy.”

“Perhaps a snail without the shell, a jellyfish?”

“Jellyfish. This slime covered everything—the ground, highways, skyscrapers, mountains, everything. And it was…aggressive. Not intelligent, but definitely aggressive. Sensitive to light, sound, movement. People were fairly safe unless they started talking or moving around. Then this slime would crawl up after them, attracted to the commotion, and find them wherever they tried to hide. Horrible. This one scientist type kept saying the organism had been here forever, that it ate the dinosaurs, that it lived in a dormant state until something triggered its active cycle. That it represented evolution come full circle. We built this time machine, except it wasn’t exactly a time machine, more like a machine that tapped different dimensional frequencies, and opened a gate to the end of the Jurassic and saw the slime appear. Dinosaurs were stampeding through an underground tunnel and it bottled them up and we heard them dying. Complete crap, I know, but damn if it didn’t make sense. Parts are fuzzy, I don’t remember all the details.” I ran out of steam. “Pretty wild, yeah?”

“Yes. I want the truth. How did you—How could you know this?”

“Know what?”

“Drop the bullshit. Who’s feeding you information? Don’t give me anymore garbage about it being a dream.”

“You wouldn’t understand.”

“Yes I will. We’ve seen everything, haven’t we?”

I spilled, and man, it was a relief to finally tell someone about that damnable goldfish-cum-deathgod.

The Director let it hang for a long time. When he finally spoke, his tone was deadly calm. “John, I’m sending a car.”

“Why?”

“You’ll be taken into a field and shot. It’s for the best.”

“Ha, ha?” I said.

“Kidding. Emergency meeting.”

The Director wasn’t kidding, as it turns out. At least they made it appear to be natural causes. Poor Gladys had suffered enough.

§

“But it wasn’t that way at all,” you say. “My father killed me when I was a child. He shot me in the back while we were out moose-hunting. Watched me kick and squirm in the slimy leaves while I kept trying to catch my breath and eventually bled out.”

§

You are nineteen. She is thirty and far from home, a Georgia peach who’s taken it upon herself to divest you of your virginity. She’s naked against the goose down comforter. Coals are banked in the potbellied stove. The blizzard is well into its third evening. The survival-shack is a vanishing speck on rim a vast snowy plain. Its windows are candy ice, its door frozen shut. The wick of the kerosene lamp burns low.

She places your hand against her sex, slides your fingers deep into her.

“Feel the shape of me.”

You feel the shape of her, all right. Your body is green-lighted across the board, five-by-five, all systems go and awaiting the firing solution. However what blooms in your consciousness isn’t an overheated reaction to her musky slickness, it’s the howling void of the storm that opens from a pinhole to obliterate your rationale thought, then overcome the solar system, the galaxy, and everything else.

The disjunction between flesh and thought only lasts a half-dozen ticks of the seconds-hand of the all-weather watch you wear on a string around your neck. Yet each infinitesimal pulse from its electronic braincase jangles the plexus of nerves around your heart and there’s a bifurcation of reality. You are shattered and remade. Six beats over a span of sixty-million light years—your distilled consciousness elongated into a harpoon that pierces the corpus callosum of the universe. The wounded vista is a nightmare of nightmares; it is not dissimilar to gazing into the gaping pit of your own eye socket blown to impossible dimensions. And inside that cavern? A light that is darkness beams forth. Hideous red glow, disintegrating glare, death ray of the soul.

You will later discover that thousands of people across the world shared this precise experience at the precise same moment. Most of these people immediately resorted to graphic forms of self-annihilation.

Not you.

Your hair will go white from the vision, although when people ask what you saw out there, you’ll only smile and change the subject. You’ll have mastered the fine art of disassociation and forgetting. Booze will help. Insanity will help too. Mom lied—you are special.

You snap back to local reality and the woman drags you atop her. She doesn’t notice that you’ve changed, been rearranged from the cells up. After you’ve made love, the Georgia peach kisses your cheek, tracing the old, bitter scar that marks the very core of you, just as a tree’s rings spiral ever tighter. She asks how it happened. She’s intoxicated with your imperfection.

You tell her about the neighbor who kept a kennel of racing huskies and how when you were ten your father made you enter the lot as the neighbor was hitching his team. Dad knew you were piss-in-your-pants-scared of dogs. He wanted to make a man of you, force you to confront your fear. Eighteen sled dogs, snapping and barking in madness to run as a pack across the tundra. You were small for ten and maybe a couple of them mistook you for prey and the others simply operated from instinct. You slipped, one of them nipped your arm, and then all devolved unto frenzy. They sank their fangs and pulled in opposite directions and there was a bucket of blood dashed upon the snow. Here came your dad’s boots, and the mukluks of the neighbor, frantically jigging the way men will to stamp out a fire. They drove the enraged huskies away from your tattered ragdoll self. You remember observing the debacle from on high as a floating astral projection. Curious, yet detached from the moment.

Your Georgia peach listens attentively and when your words trail into nothingness, she asks what happened to the dogs, to your dad, to the neighbor. The lamp wick folds in upon itself and all is darkness.

“We went to hell.”

§

Each day I begin with the basic facts of my existence:

My name is Gladys. I am fifty-seven and a widow. Two of my three sons are also dead. It would be better if the eldest were gone, too. Poor aim is to blame. There’d been a flaw in the lens of the scope and the kill-shot went wide.

Larry is dead to me. Is that enough?

I am caretaker of a goldfish. His name is Hercules and he owned my husband until the day John passed away. The fish is all that I have left of my previous life. Won’t be long until humankind in general can say that.

Red light comes through the window set high in the uppermost wall of the white room. Food is delivered on a tray through a slot in the metal door. There is a toilet, sink, and cot. Hercules in his domain upon a wooden folding table. My canvas and paints are long gone. My old books were spirited away as I lay in drugged stupor. The doctors don’t visit anymore. Nor do the plainclothes policemen, nor the government agents. Once in a while, whispers filter through the intercom.

The voice says, how could you?

I lie on my cot and stare at the red light. I wonder what is left out there in the world. Why does anyone even bother with it? Humans are genetically predisposed to contest territory, even if the prize is irradiated tracts of scorched earth. We are born to fight, bred to kill. We are the makers of plague, the detonators of artificial suns.

Mike and Sam were perfect. Larry got cancer when he was young. Never proven, but we always suspected it had something to do with his father’s tour of duty in Afghanistan. Maybe John didn’t get the gas mask on in time and he unwittingly huffed a few breaths of some chemical agent or other, something that replicated itself through the blood and warped our firstborn. Yes, whatever it was, it came back for John. And now I’m alone.

We noticed the cancer only after it took Larry’s left eye and began nibbling on his brain. The operation to remove the tumor was a gruesome success. The Elks Club paid for everything. Post-op, nothing was ever the same in our little Information Age family unit.

Larry’s soul shriveled into to a wizened monstrosity. A cannibal gnome, invested and diabolical. I saw it in its reptilian elegance, peeping out from his heavy-lidded gaze. Gone was the sweetness, snuffed was the affection. He exhibited a sharp intellect that impressed teachers and doctors alike. They assumed he was bound for greatness. He fooled everyone—psychologists, teachers, friends, extended family—except for us. John and I recognized the coldness, the calculating edge to his new nature, and we were afraid. The kid became a liar and a manipulator. He made up a dozen convincing tales of how he lost the eye and deployed them with a conniving genius against suitable targets. He wanted to hurt us, especially his father. Why? I don’t know. Perhaps he had something in common with all those assholes who climb mountains for the fuck of it. Perhaps the devil was in him. Perhaps my boy is the Antichrist.

I tried to keep the peace and failed. The feud between Larry and his father took on the spectacular excesses of the US/Soviet Cold War era. There were moments I feared John’s temper would get the better of him and he’d smother the boy in his sleep. Dear God, now I wish he’d done it.

Red light keeps on creeping along the wall. Still no shadows, only the light. The intercom crackles and there is a long bleed of static. Someone begins whistling.

What year is this? I don’t remember.

However, I do remember the instant it all crystallized for me: Halloween night, 2013. We put together a haunted house in the basement and invited the boys’ classmates and a bunch of kids from the neighborhood. John played Dr. Moreau, decked in a ratty lab coat and a panama hat, intent upon convincing the gaggle of “young entrepreneurs” to invest in his latest mad experiment. Meanwhile, I acted the role of an escaped bird-woman who’d enlisted the tykes to overthrow the good doctor and free the beast-people trapped in his laboratory. Twenty-five diminutive ghouls, goblins, witches, and Tinker Bells thumped down the stairs and piled into the drafty confines of the basement. After a brief tour of the various props (the radioactive scorpions and candy cockroaches were not to be missed!), Moreau gave his doomed spiel and was promptly slaughtered by his latest and greatest creation, the Alpine Wildman, a hybrid brute formerly known as Morris the Accountant. Reverend Custer played Morris with grandiose flourishes. The grizzled elder delighted in his slobbering and snarling role. He was a hell of a fellow, our right reverend.

Of course, Dr. M wasn’t so easily defeated. Only by finding and destroying his brain, the phylactery of his evil spirit, could there be true peace on the Isle. The brain was a pink and black piñata John and the boys fashioned from newspaper, glue, and paint. Damned thing hardened into a cement block and none of the kids could perforate it with the beating stick (the doctor’s cane) despite whaling on it with concentrated savagery. Happy young faces darkened and a few tears were shed until supermom Becky Champion, ever the quick-thinker, cried out, That’s not how ye attack a brain of quality! and tore the piñata in twain so its sweet innards were cast to the ground. The ensuing scrum over butterscotch lozenges and chocolate raisins became so violent so quickly that the adults gawped in astonishment while tiny fingers were stomped and adorable pug noses squashed by bony little elbows. The children hissed and clawed each other with the ferocity of alley cats.

I spied Larry on the edge of the fray, smiling with the evil wisdom of an ancient puppeteer, hands clasped before him. He’d dressed as the Phantom of the Opera and the mask partially obscured his expression. He met my glance and nodded. Then he reached up and pried open the lid of his dead eye.

Hideous red light.

§

A few years before The Whimper (as some cheerfully allude to the apocalypse), Dad and you achieved détente. You started talking again, going to the bar during football season, barbeques in the summer, and that sort of thing. Should’ve guessed something was wrong. Cancer of the everything, in this case. But you didn’t catch on.

He got trashed on boilermakers one night and told you about a camera he and some other scientists invented to take pictures of prehistoric Earth. Snapshots of the Cryptozoic? Absurd, right? Hell, that was only a piece of the puzzle. He looked around the bar real furtive-like and whispered that there was a sequence of photos cataloguing the entire solar system during roughly the same epoch. Black classification material; the sort of secrets men got themselves disappeared over if they spilled the beans. He’d drunk so much, he’d come around the mountain to a grim sobriety.

You said you couldn’t get anywhere near understanding of the theory and he said that was okay, the eggheads didn’t either. This was found art, son. Extra Terrestrial Technology abandoned during the last ice age. Geologists stumbled upon some funky equipment and semi-decipherable schematics at the heart of the Knik Glacier. The government swooped in to excavate and transport the works to a laboratory buried three quarters of a mile beneath Lazy Mountain. Dad’s team spent eight years on the project. They were like the blind men and the elephant. It was big and dangerous, they could agree. There were unpleasant implications regarding humanity’s link on the food chain. The eggheads agreed upon that too.

He mentioned nightmares. His eyes gleamed with tears and animal terror. Sinewy, gristly, fevered; he was at once the picture of a dockyard scrapper and fragile as tissue paper. Oppenheimer’s cancerous ghost. He wept on your shoulder, apologized for letting you get your face chewed off, apologized for every miserly little crime he’d perpetrated against you, and you forgave him.

Here’s the deal for all you finger-waggers and tisk-tiskers: after the old man kicked, yes, you had a go at astral projection. You got fucked up beyond all recognition and staggered out past the Nome seawall and did your thing—sat like a yogi and meditated upon the destruction of the world. You visualized the worst possible shit your febrile mind could conceive of, and after a few fruitless minutes, dusted yourself off and walked to the Polar Saloon for a beer. Earth remained very much intact despite your efforts.

Didn’t it?

§

Yes, the whole goddamned mess is my fault. Gladys knew there was something wrong with that boy. She begged me to have him locked away after the incident at his last school. The high-powered shrink we hired said as much. I wouldn’t listen, wouldn’t see, and wouldn’t act on my conscience. I could’ve committed him, could’ve killed him, a hundred times over. She would’ve backed my play all the way to the bitter end. Hacked up the body and fed it to the chickens.

In retrospect, if I’d let the Big Bad Wolf eat him, everything would’ve been different. Sure, I’d still be dead. Some of you’d be around. Some of you’d have kids of your own by now. Grandkids, even. One thing in my defense: the little fucker was a lot brighter than I’d reckoned. Almost enough to make a father proud.

Oh, Gladys. You were right, although I’ll be dipped if I ever saw his eye glow with hellfire. I mean, come on. We put you in the hatch for a reason. Worst part of it is, I knew what was going to happen. Unfettered access to the Project hath its uses, and—contrary to what some might believe—I’m not a total idiot. One night, I sneaked into the lab and calibrated the Machine to a much narrower set of parameters than we’d ever attempted, and it worked, after a fashion.

Compared to observing dinosaurs being consumed by tidal waves of acid jelly, these images were prosaic: Larry was sitting lotus on an ice sheet—above it, actually; he floated two or three feet off the ground. Distortion occurred all around him. I figured it was quantum interference as the device sifted through infinite possible universes to home in on our future.

No. It was Larry in all his glory. He’d made the abstract leap that the Machine was absolutely unnecessary to unlock the door and throw it wide. Anyone could’ve done it if they thought the right thoughts in the exact order. I don’t understand why it had to be him. Outside of a couple of bad breaks, he had such a happy childhood.

I think the shithead killed my fish.

§

“But it wasn’t that way at all,” you say. “My father killed me when I was a child. He allowed me to be eaten a pack of sled dogs. I lived for three days on life support, then he gave the word and someone pulled the plug.”

§

The Machine may or may not be a metaphor for our troubled times. Larry, its operator, is the everyman philosophers have dreamed of, warned us against.

What, precisely, did the Machine do? From the top: The Machine

  1. A) Opened a doorway into prehistoric Earth/Signaled an alien invasion
  2. B) Activated a battery of satellites that bombarded the planet with X-rays and killed everyone on the West Coast, precipitating WWIII.
  3. C) Activated a seismic occurrence that detached the West Coast from the continental USA and killed everyone, precipitating WWIII.
  4. D) None of the above.
  5. E) Something worse.

If you went with E, you are a gold star student.

§

“But it wasn’t that way at all,” you say. “My father killed me when I was a child. He pushed me over the bow of our riverboat as we floated the Yentna river. The muddy water is thirty feet deep and I sank without a scream.”

§

It’s a gorgeous fall evening in Palmer, Alaska. Hay dust hangs in the golden twilight. Blue clouds scrim the peaks of the Chugach Mountains. Scattered lights blink across the long sweep of the town. A soccer game is in progress on the high school field. The league championship is at stake.

Because there are inviolable rules regarding the temporal matrix, I won’t tell you who I am. Nor shall I reveal the date, except to say it’s the future. There are infinite futures, but only this one is yours. I can’t tell you whether the invasion comes from outer space, or from the depths of the Earth. All I can tell you is that Mankind has eleven minutes and thirty-three seconds remaining in its geologically brief reign as terrestrial apex predator.

Boo, and hoo.

Flash forward ninety-nine years. Sorry to say no one is missing you. Any of you.

§

Somewhere in the middle of the chaos, Larry lugged Hercules down to Settler’s Bay and dumped him into the water. The authentic Hercules, mind you. The goldfish that ended up in a bowl in Larry’s mother’s cell was a fake.

Naturally, the fish began to grow at an exponential rate, as Larry’s dad always feared would be the case. And, naturally, when it achieved sufficient mass, it swallowed a Russian trawler on the Bering Sea. The first of many trawlers. This incident ultimately led to whole fleets being consumed. No maritime nation was spared.

Meanwhile, the rockets’ red glare, and the miasma of chemical weapons, and so on. By the time Hercules got around to wreaking its vengeance upon the world, there was nothing around except millions of square miles of virgin forest. It opened its maw and gulped down the whole enchilada anyhow. Grabbed its own tail and swallowed hard.

Existence blinked into oblivion and that lasted for a couple billion years or a billionth of one second until a pinpoint of ultra-condensed matter in a sea of darkness cracked open and vomited forth the contents of a goldfish’s last supper. Here we go again.

 

Originally published in Primeval: A Journal of the Uncanny, Issue 1 (Blood Bound Books, 2013)

Laird Barron is the author of several books, including The Croning, Occultation, and The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All. His work has also appeared in many magazines and anthologies. An expatriate Alaskan, Barron currently resides in upstate New York.

Photo by Ellen Datlow.

3 Comments

  1. Amazing. I’d never read anything by Laird Barron, but if the rest of his work is anything like this short story I’m going to have to add him to my “Authors to Read 2016” list.

  2. Incredible.

  3. ME: Big fan of the Laird Barron.

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