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The long and the short of it

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On the last day of Earth, Earl Milosc overslept his alarm. He was a veteran and a bachelor – a forgotten patriot with bones too rickety, eyes too weak, and hands too unsteady to do any useful work. He was 46, and as he slept, he flashed a yellow-toothed smile that had seen everything, from war, peace, heartache, love, vice, virtue, meaning, and absurdity. He was currently stuck in the last phase, though he didn’t quite know it yet. Even if he did, it wouldn’t matter much. For Earl, it was problem enough to remember where he put his socks in the morning. A better man could be sculpted from a lollipop, he often said about himself.

As the world was ending around him, he tossed from side to side with the likeness of a family pet. Awake, he was a man who laughed too much and argued too little. The world made little sense to him and he made little sense to it. His physical appearance was his proof. On a good day, he was packaged in black and white polka dot underwear stained with ketchup and mustard. On a bad day, he looked like the aftermath of a circus: his hair was tousled age-old, graying cotton candy and his voice was baritone, scratchy, and ruined by volatile coughs fueled by the cancer of handheld chimneys. Often, the smoke from his cigarettes floated around his sentences like punctuation marks.

It’d be funny. The world was burning to the ground bit by bit by bit, and Earl Milosc, an average man with knees deteriorated by mediocre work for mediocre pay and whose apartment was a vestige of a bygone era littered in old newspapers and Eruption cassettes, would be its first savior.

Or at very least, he would be until the commercials ended.

*

He awoke to a bang.

With no windows to peer out of in the closet he called a home, he couldn’t see that the sudden noise was in fact gunshots being ricocheted from house to house, civilian to civilian. Earlier that day, NASA announced that a meteorite would collide with the Earth and obliterate all its inhabitants. They said the news in a despondent voice reserved for the helplessness felt during the heat of a calamity. “After the cosmic rocket has banged through with us,” they said, “the planet will look like the remains of an apple core.” They added that if anything were to survive, it’d be the insects. They loved pulverized apples.

Basic anarchy soon tore throughout the world, though its beginnings were anything but extraordinary. Many initially took their frustration out on the prehistoric creatures crawling underneath their mattresses and couches. But after hours of trying to squish the armoured tanks of the bug world, they decided that the attempt was misguided at the very least, futile at best. Evolution had chosen its next dominate species and it had six legs instead of two.

When people came to their senses, they did exactly what they always do when in situations they cannot change: they kill. Many chose to off themselves while some chose to murder others. As Earl knew and would find out again, this is how the span of history has always read. It was their legacy, one born from apes who were savage killers, not painters, who roared ferociously, not sang beautifully. During the Apocalypse, this did not change. Those still alive bathed in the crumbling, red-stained world they created and just as quickly destroyed.

Earl was different, however. He had fought his wars and lost his battles already. He was tired of people thinking they were big enough to change an even bigger world. More often than not, it was enough for him to find happiness in the small miracle of being able to get one leg in his pants before the other.

He wasn’t lazy, just indifferent. Even now as the banging resonated throughout his cramped apartment, this was true. Earl grumbled, hoping that his moan would bring an end to the noise. It didn’t, and Earl would have to check what the hoopla was all about. The day was starting off bad already, Earl thought.

Little did he know how right he was.

*

As Earl stretched out of his gray bed into pink, worn fuzzy slippers, the high-ho of the outside world reached his door. It quieted suddenly, as if sensing Earl’s slow yet stirring presence inside. Knock. Knock. Earl groaned again. “Coming, coming.” He managed to muster the words through an eruption of coughing and morning grogginess.

Much of Earl’s apartment remained dark as he tried to orient himself to the door. Covered in a thin veil of dust, every step left a wispy imprint on the floorboard. It didn’t help that fresh air hadn’t drafted into the single-room for months. For Earl, the uncleanliness was a prized novelty: with each movement, he felt like he was landing on the moon, and in the illusion of darkness, Earl looked like a mismatched astronaut donning discoloured pajamas and ragged slippers instead of a spacesuit. He moonwalked to the door.

“Hello? Who is it?” Earl harrumphed.

“It’s Dr. Shimasu, the Chief Commissioner of NASA – or whatever’s left of it. Hurry up and open the door. There’s no time. The world is falling to pieces.”

Funny. Earl didn’t think his day could get infinitely worse.

*

Once inside, Dr. Shimasu introduced himself formally.  “My sincerest apologies for the somewhat forcible entry into your lovely abode, Mr…”
“Earl. Call me Earl.”

“Mr. Earl.” Earl left Dr. Shimasu uncorrected. “…But you must understand that this is a matter of national security. Scratch that, it concerns the whole of humankind.”

“Okay, Mr. Shi…”

“Shimasu.”

“Mr. Shimasu, but I really have to get to work.” Earl pointed to watch on his hand, though in reality, he didn’t mind that he was late. Quite the opposite: he enjoyed it. He was never on time. And besides, no one came to the restaurant where he worked as a cook. Maybe it had something to do with his insipid meals… Earl’s mind trailed.

“Mr. Earl?”

“Sorry. Was just thinking.”

“You saw the news didn’t you?”

“Must’ve missed it.”

“You’re telling me you didn’t hear about the meteorite that will hit the Earth?”

“No.”

“And what about the bombs going off here in New York?”
“I might’ve – would certainly explain the loud banging that woke me up – but it definitely doesn’t concern me. I got enough to worry about.” Earl spread his arms around the room as if to show Dr. Shimasu the infinite amount of worries that could occupy a man in a dusty apartment. The scientist simply nodded as if he understood how someone could weigh the sum of Earthly existence against two-week old pizza slices and Maxim magazines scattered on the floor.

“Well, Mr. Earl, to put it simply: the shit has hit the fan, if you allow me the colloquialism. All this doesn’t matter anymore. It is the Apocalypse with a capital A.”

“But that means…” Earl’s voice veered off. Almost immediately he realized that he wouldn’t have to go to work anymore. His second thought was that he’d be able to sleep longer. For Earl, it was a win on both accounts. He joked to himself that the world should’ve ended sooner, maybe last week.

The scientist continued, “Right now, people are rioting in the streets. Any semblance of government has long since been disbanded. Looting, killing, and raping are all rampant now.”

“I see.” Earl digested everything he heard. He lit a cigarette. “How long do I have?” The smoke curled around the final “e.”

“Assuming others don’t get to us first, I’m afraid we all have around ten hours before the meteorite gives us the biggest knuckle sandwich we have ever seen.” The scientist, strong up until then, began to cry.

Earl barely noticed. He was elated, “Great. That means I still have time to watch some of my shows. Now, most likely I won’t finish Fres…”

The scientist couldn’t believe Earl. During the end of times, the gluttonous, unsightly blob wanted to continue his life just as he was living it before, if it could even be called that. In a brief yet vehement display of passion, the scientist yelled. “Mr. Earl, or whatever the fuck your name is, everything is going to go back to how it was in the beginning without humans. We’re kaput. Dead. Gone. Can you understand that through that pony-penis, fat fucking head of yours?”

“Yes.” The swearing didn’t offend Earl, though he wasn’t sure what a pony-penis looked like exactly.

“And despite it all, despite the end of the world, you want to watch TV?” Dr. Shimasu spoke in bitter resignation.

“You can join me, if you want.” Earl said it honestly with just a hint of cordiality.

“No.” The scientist was shouting fully now, “Of course I don’t fucking want to watch television. I spent my entire life doing that. I want to start over. I want to tell Jubilee I love her. I want to study art back in college. I want to fly to Paris. I want to live, god dammit. Is that too much to ask?” The scientist’s crying had now turned into a barely coherent gurgle of sobs outlining what he would do if only he could go back and change things.

In an apartment swamped by an avalanche of regrets and indolence, wearing unwashed clothing and donning a three week old beard, Earl thought about the weight of the scientist’s words. The world was ending, and with it went the rules, the institutions, and the systems that Earl felt had limited him. As the scientist said everything was as it would be in the beginning, and in the beginning, there was nothing.

That’s when it hit Earl: in the absence of anything is the opportunity for everything. Earl could be whatever he wanted, whatever he chose. Social, political, and economic statuses didn’t matter anymore. They didn’t exist. Earl was only restricted by his imagination and physical capabilities, and in terms of the latter, the first thing he would want to renew would be his workout routine. It took the beginning of the end to make him realize he was fat.

Next, he’d shave. He’d shower. He’d iron his clothes. He’d read. He’d write that book he’d always wanted to start. He’d clean up his apartment. He’d find a girl. He’d tell her he loved her. He’d give her flowers. He’d make her feel important and she’d do the same to him. He’d call his mother. He’d try his hand at painting. And, he’d try to be happy because if his life wasn’t worth that, then what was?

Caught in the torrent of his revelation where he was doing anything and everything at the same time but for different reasons, Earl didn’t notice that the scientist had stopped crying. Instead, a twisted smile had replaced his previous dejection. Earl was still reveling in his brief moment of pure bliss, “You’re right, Dr. Shimasu. I want to be resurrected, and don’t want to have to die to do it.”

Dr. Shimasu consternation suddenly turned serious. “Mr. Earl, I told you I came with an issue that concerned the whole of humanity. Right?”

“Yes – something along those lines.”

The wry smile returned. “Well, there is one thing I can do now that I’ve always wanted, always felt I needed to do. You can me help with it.” Dr. Shimasu’s face became entirely contorted, “Do you know what it is, Mr. Earl?”

“No I don’t.”

“To be a killer.” And with that, he lunged at Earl with a knife as long as an elephant’s tusk.

*

Fat as Earl may have been and lazy as he often was, he was surprisingly nimble. Shifting through the makeshift moon dust like a ballerina, he dodged most of the scientist’s fatal jab. Some of the serrated edge caught Earl’s forearm, tearing a hole that immediately oozed blood. But the scientist was largely uncoordinated, sharing his balance with a hamster rather than a lion. He staggered past Earl and continued to slide through the gray grime of the apartment. His knees wobbled as he skated.

Earl quickly dove towards the nearest defense object, an IKEA lamp, and wagged it as though it were as deadly as a nuclear bomb. Dr. Shimasu regained his composure. “That’s it, Mr. Earl. That’s the spirit.” The scientist turned murderer planned his second attack. Then with the wildness unique to humankind, he pounced once again.

Earl was ready this time. Sauntering to the side, he swung the lamp with full force against the scientist’s head. Dr. Shimasu crumpled like a leaf in fall, and as Earl panted overtop the limp body, blood circled the scientist’s head like a halo.

*

Earl shook. Despite killing before, he had never found enjoyment in it. But here he was in a new world, an ending world, smiling over a dead body. He had survived. Dr. Shimasu was dead. For the first time in a long time, Earl had won.

But it didn’t feel that way. In an apartment haunted by mediocrity, the black and white and red mixed into the gray. Colour seeped into the floorboards and with the door propped ajar, no longer was the room as dark as it seemed to be. Light allowed Earl to view himself fully. He was a man lost trying to find himself in the cosmos of his apartment and in a Universe that was just as much as an accident as he was. Around him, it wasn’t change; it was consistency, and that brought him comfort.

Beeping interrupted his thinking. Beep. Beep. Searching everywhere, Earl realized it was coming from the corpse below him. Sifting through the various pockets in the scientist’s pants, Earl found a cell phone. On the monitor in big red writing, it read, “You’re going to kill me, Dr. S, but the meteorite just passed the Earth. False alarm.”

Earl starred at the phone for an eternity and back. He felt like laughing but couldn’t. Somewhere, as the blood mazed its way into the dank hallway, he heard a television humming a familiar, welcoming tune.

About kacperniburski

I am searching for something in between the letters. Follow my wordpress or my IG (@_kenkan)

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