A can of golden sweet corn slowly boiled in water and ketchup. He considered the end of the world, the end of his civilization, or of his species, maybe. In a moment, the world had been up‑ended, but not in the horrifying, erotic way that they make movies about. It was as if time had frozen.
He was pretty sure that time had actually frozen.
He had been on the fiftieth floor, and then there was this inconceivable noise. He had dropped to his knees, clutching his head as wind rushed past. He'd thought he was dead. A bomb, a hurricane, a black hole. Voodoo.
When he'd looked up, he was outside. His building was burning in front of him, or at least the few floors that still stood. Next to it, empty lots, cleared, clouds of dust still rising. The road had been completely empty, save for two cars dead in the middle of it. It'd looked as if one was mounting the other. Scrawled in front of it, the word "diplomacy" in fresh, slightly-smeared oil pastel. Beneath it, an arrow. The arrow wasn't really necessary, as there was nowhere else to go. On all other sides, the road had been blockaded with refuse, wet and clattering, leaving only one clear path. He'd followed the arrow to the sea.
He was Magister now, as far as he was concerned. He'd considered "Duke" for a good long while, before finally settling on the right title. It'd been eight weeks since the Explosion. Was the rest of the world still intact? The rest of the country? Nothing had flown overhead or sent out any signal. Maybe the whole damn state was quarantined, governments confounded, surveying the inexplicable destruction that would be meaningless to anyone else.
But he knew how Stephanie could sometimes get.
There'd been nobody at the sea, either. He'd taken a long look along the coast one direction, then a long look the opposite way. He had looked out at the sea. Thirty or so feet out, a crowd of empty blazers clung together, their earth tones blending like a scab on the ocean, reeling drunkenly with the waves. As he watched, another one bobbed up from the depths. No people. Just jackets.
He looked down. There was a pattern in the sand, but, words or not, it was illegible now.
Maybe the copperworms had been here all along, just hiding in our dumps and swamplands, a new and disgusting species that thrived where we would not. Maybe his world was intact, and this, where he was now, it was just a new world he'd somehow landed in. Maybe there was a pattern to the garbage heaps, some kind of code or clue to lead him out.
Maybe his hearing would come back eventually.
Maybe Stephanie was still alive somewhere.
The aesthetic had been unmistakably hers, almost from the very beginning.
If this, the world's end, if it had been truly orchestrated by her, it must have taken decades. Without help, that is. Time, he concluded, had almost certainly stopped.
It'd stopped, paused, while Stephanie was still in it. And she'd made the best of it, made the city her canvas. Maybe time had frozen long enough to accommodate this project. Maybe time had frozen even longer than the project took, and her body—lean from work and eternally fresh food—had slowly withered in the unrelenting sun, the frozen bacteria unable to begin autolysis.
He knew it was inconsistent, the frozen bacteria idea. He didn't care. For all he knew, her withered remains might lie atop some heap, incorruptible and leathery, sunken with years.
He didn't care.
Nothing had stunk at first. Vast, sweeping changes had been made to his world, and he'd surprised himself with how quickly he'd adjusted. Eventually, the mounds began to steam, the fires dissipated, and his collection of canned goods grew larger. The opened fire hydrants—each one now scorched and scraped to look like a totem pole, with brightly‑colored plastic genitalia hot‑glued to the big bolt on top—they finally lost their water pressure.
Not a single bed had been left intact. Some were still mattress‑shaped, to be sure, but none of them were even mildly usable. Most were entirely absent. A large plume of smoke rose from the east, which he would later discover was fueled by nothing but pillows of all sizes, pillows from every apartment and whorehouse in the city. Thousands. It was clear that she meant for him to never sleep comfortably again.
But still, she'd moved him, carried him down fifty floors. She'd moved everyone else, too, somewhere. She'd moved the mattresses, the animals. She'd moved all the bowling pins, for some reason. He'd found some used bowling shoes in good condition among the smoking embers and vandalized bowling balls of their old haunt, but all the pins were gone.
On day sixty, he found the bulldozer in the trough of a garbage valley, its arm raised like a cup to the gods. The side door read, in charcoal, "accidental Vikings". On a hunch, he climbed in. One of the levers was wearing a felt tuxedo. He turned the ignition and pulled the lever.
© 2011 John Dowda via MyOWs.com. All rights reserved, except where noted otherwise.