Last summer the mayor went into a coma and we all prayed for a miracle. What we got instead was an end to Fred Womack’s narcolepsy when he sleep-walked a campsite cigarette into a cirrus of smoke. The whole valley was rolling tides of fire and everyone thought we’d have to evacuate forever. You wouldn’t know left from right when the sirens are sounding. Somewhere, sometime that night, somebody caught the last glimpse of Christy before she disappeared. She didn’t even lock up the bowling alley. The pins just stood there. Everything waited to drop. When we did get our wits about us and found she was gone, we gossiped about what she’d do, where she’d go, there was so much life to be had just beyond that thick veil of ash. It billowed down the hill into a blossom of charcoal roses, and in a sea of sirens, we prepared to be swallowed whole…
…But we weren’t, we couldn’t leave, the FAA had grounded all our flights. The fire looked so pretty in the etch-a-sketch sky, from dust to dust, there was a symmetry that remained. You see, in our county, the scales of life stayed stuck unevenly: the poor led the rich five to one. Life was two down on death, and face masks flew off the shelves to reveal a now-pregnant corner store cat. The owner debated an abortion, “it’s no world for kittens. The big one is coming and it’s all just a matter of time.”
I reasoned there hasn’t been a major earthquake in eighty-six years, realizing I’d just proved his point, and mine. “But what’s an earthquake to a cat, anyway?” I continued. “The worst that could happen is they land on their feet.”
“The worst that could happen,” he corrected, “is that the big one don’t come.”
We divided ourselves along generational lines, and the youth waited in child’s pose in yoga rooms designed to simulate the heat of Hell. We were mindful of being mindful, and when Fantilly dropped dead at the end of the town-wide 10K, he became our real-life Greek hero. No, our lives had become myths. We coped by doing drugs to convince ourselves of what was real, and all these minor visual hallucinations gave shape to meaning in the static configurations of the smoky sky. A silver lining: the heat of the fires reduced electricity costs at the studios, though many passed out in Warrior 2. A class-action against Lululemon erupted and appellate litigation continues to pend. The question now is whose money will stretch past the finish line? Although to assume a finish line is to accept the premise there was ever a race at all.
The city couldn’t stretch for shit, not its funds or its wits, and Christy’s parents pleaded for a more tactical search and rescue. In sentiment analysis, being “tactical” did not play as well as being “tactful,” and people screamed A-C-A-B. The police’s PR firm advised that it would be smart to invest in arrest training aimed at minimally lethal outcomes, and it was reported that “so far, they have been a massive success. Over the course of the training, nobody died during an arrest,” although during the training, no official arrests had been made. In time, suicide-by-cop will become substantially less common and sex-related injuries will sky-rocket. Of course, death by taser will occur more frequently; from dust to dust, our uneven equilibrium will remain…
…Christy was still missing though, and like any tragic mystery, it filled the community with an excited hope. See, people would say, in the etch-a-sketch summer, there are still small joys to be found. For some, the existential threat of going to the grocery store was a call-to-action, and the local performance artist finally did it: they died for a piece. He just laid there, investigating his dream of heaven, looking sort of squeamish and uncomfortable on the dusty ground. When Angel Kennedy electrocuted him back to life, he had no memory of the performance, but perfect fluency in Dutch. Within the year, he will try to re-colonize New York and find himself in the white padded cell that he once dreamt of as heaven. This is the danger of the presumed premonition; disease sleeps under each unturned leaf. Biblically, heaven isn’t even white, it’s a multi-colored taffeta, a sea of infinite gemstones permanently watching you and me. Google taught me that candidus means white, and that what is candescent is devoid of color. Perhaps God was telling me that pure white is everywhere in all our perfect little Hells. Though to assume this is to accept the premise that Google knows anything in the same terms as God.
It was in the white heat of the yoga studio that I first bent until I could kiss my knees. “I took a bunch of muscle relaxants, it’s an epidemic. That’s sort of my defense,” the instructor said. The garbage can in the bathroom was filled with orange bottles the same color as the particulate air. Outside, I found that my flexibility was total rubbish below one hundred degrees. I took more psychedelics in search of some explanation, and then I was going down fast, though not to Hell. My car had rolled over driving through the smoke, and I folded in like a pretzel. When they found me all chewed up on the side of the road, I was sitting there in my new consciousness, just sort of looking around…
… And despite all the yoga and the breathwork, in the cool hospital room I was still subject to the flu. When I did finally get cocked back up, the furthest stretch I could manage was a keyboard hunch. My sensitivity to sensitivity had only worsened in A/C, and my mindfulness had turned into a mania… About what, I can’t remember? But hell, I’m not one to be told to end a sentence too soon…
…So when someone tried to police public discourse, I yelled ACAB and reached for my taser. Then there was the citizen's arrest, and the real one after that. In some corners of the internet, I was an idiot savant, and in all the others, I was everything else. And can you blame me? Around those parts, steak was made of mushrooms and halloumi was worth its weight in gold. Everyone was in ketosis and God was dead. Science had won, it said it in The Times, and all we got for a prize was a collective crankiness and criminally terrible breath.
Goddammit, brain damage isn’t all amnesia and slurred speech, you know. Rooms were brighter and whiter, and water smelled like wine. The corner store cat was still pregnant, even more than before, the street proved that cats can get pregnant from different daddies if you go off and give them enough time. “The little slut, the little slut,” the owner kept muttering, holding his disappearing cigarette like a torch. He waved it around like the Shaman of American Spirits, burning his tobacco leaves in circle eights of hate.
Everything felt like a video game cutscene, which implied no meaning, just a feeling that something significant and real awaited at the end of our long, sticky nonsense. People made mention of Christy, and then she turned up dead, which we figured was the most romantic thing that could have happened to begin with. “Tragedy and romance are one and the same…” was what one network executive told everyone when they came to town. They told us they wanted to make a true crime show about the girl. They said they needed to pay off their divorces. “Well, he’s sort of right,” another network executive said about the first. “So long as you’re talking about good reality IP.”
By the end of summer, we all knew we wouldn’t be young forever, our lungs were like sand dunes and young men had started to recede. For this, we were grateful. It gave us something to grasp. Sure, there were the rumbles of the road and the explosion of the SpaceX satellite, but without all the worry there would be nothing to wish on as we watched the debris fall like shooting stars.
When the big one finally hit, I was at the corner store, buying some cold milk and dried apricots. The ground started rolling in pulses and I remembered tripping on crashing waves as a child. Now my life was nothing but airy seafoam and Christy was gone, dead, stuck on our tongues like the air so thick and orange that you could rip a chunk from it and chew on it like a big slice of dried fruit. Although to assume the possibility of swallowing something that sticky is to accept the premise you have teeth strong enough to chew through all the things that have been weathered by time.
The store began to shake and so did the cat, writhing on its side as kittens dropped out of it like SpaceX debris. We swept them all together as quick as we could and held them up to show the little lady her spawn. They were all orange and black, except the smallest one was so white it looked like a ball of snow. When we put the runt to the mother’s face she looked away, nestling her head into a box of fallen Cheerios. “The cat’s so nearsighted, she’s damn near blind,” the store owner said, laughing as he picked up the things that the quake had knocked to the ground…
…My take: isn’t that sort of what you get for playing with laser pointers so much?
Conor is a writer in New York with recent work in Spike Art, Dirt, and The Drift.