“…this kingdom of ash, this place so familiar…”
The Lord is Real
For the first time since Howie stepped into St. Wuester’s Church and found out Rapture had befallen the Earth and taken all the good souls up to Heaven, the sunlight does not hurt his eyes. He also, even if only for a brief moment, considers the possibility that there might still be a God after all, that despite the utter annihilation of the world as Howie knew it – and Howie “Hoots” McGee knew the world well, ladies’n’germs, he knew it exquisitely well – there still might be Someone looking out for him up there above the clouds.
The clouds which had darkened loathsomely while Howie was unconscious.
For though he considers himself a tough nut to crack, our Howie, he refuses to allow his mind to be totally shut. There is always room for growth, even when you heard a knock on your door and opened it to a candy gram sent from the desk of Death Herself because you know what, chum? You were going to get that candy gram eventually, Death will come a’raspin’ on that chamber door at some point down the road. At least Howie gets the chance to have a private death, a death all to himself in a moment when nobody else is dying. He’ll be the only one in that rowboat as it crosses River Styx, Howie “Hoots” McGee out of What Used to be Wuester, New Jersey and is Now The Last Stand of Civilization on Earth will face Heaven’s gatekeeper alone and he alone will have to explain why he abandoned those Sisters Three at the church, and he’ll answer for himself. He’ll have no problem answering for himself, he’ll let it all hang out. And then he’ll probably wake back up just like he did a moment ago.
The moment before he registered the Pain.
The only two certainties in life are Death and Taxes; folks who consider themselves wise have likely uttered this piece once or twice along the infinite spiral that is the unknowable backstory of reality at large, but as wise as they may be, they’re forgetting (or possibly leaving out) the third point of that Holy Trinity of Certainties: Pain.
Pain is inescapable, Pain is all there is. To feel Pain is to live, for what is life if not a brief period of kicking and screaming as asswhippin’ after asswhippin’ is brought down unto you while doctors in scrubs and rubber gloves dump unopened bottles of expired baby aspirin on you? How can one possibly know that one still walks the land of the living if one does not stub their exposed pinkie toe on the leg of a piece of furniture, if one does not bump shoulders with the doorframe every now and again? If one does not, say, step on a nail while walking through the ruins of his past?
The list could go on; there are many alternatives but they all essentially surmise in getting vibe-checked by the Universe Herself, and that doesn’t feel good, but it’s an unavoidable kind of not feeling good. To be asked Yo, you cool? by an Existential construct of reality is not a good checkpoint to clock in at along the revolving door of a journey that is a day in the life, amigo, but that door will always revolve right on back and your ass will take that question every single time because we just don’t have a choice, can I get an amen ladies’n’germs? Can a ‘man get an amen after the Rapture’s come to Earth and taken all the good souls back into The Sandbox? Of course I can’t, everybody’s dead! Everyone’s dead, ladies’n’germs, every last ladie’n’every last germ, there ain’t nobody left to give me that amen no matter how bad I need it, no matter how clearly in the eyes of the Lord Who Isn’t There I deserve that amen, there’s nobody to play the sender so receive that message I shalt not.
Because the Lord is real, y’see, He’s realer than reality itself, but He ain’t always there, Jack. The thing about the Lord is that He don’t exactly know what’s goin’ on around here any more than we do, that’s what one Hootsie Babey likes to believe. See, ‘cordin’a’Howie, the Lord is up there minding the business of a whole bunch’a universes on the side, this whole alleged multiverse thing some of the dead human race once contemplated is prob’ly just God Almighty’s side piece. He’s here ‘cause He loves us, but He don’t want Who Else He Loves to find out about us, ‘cause them Other Folks He hangs around with? They ain’t good for nothin’ but trouble. See, They don’t like us for a reason, Jack; that’s because They know He loves us more than He could ever love Them. That’s what ‘tis, ladies’n’germs. That’s how the charcoal crumbles: into soot every time, always by the weight of something heavier.
God is out there and God does love us, especially the few of us left down here on Ashen Earth, and though He turned the other cheek to the Devil chaining up just about every last one of His children and dragging them down the highway to Hell off the back of his Humvee sometime before sunup – His children both human and otherwise, mind you – He wouldn’t cut off the power for those who made it through the night without lighting a candle first, a little flicker of something hot just to let His children know that they’re still alive and kicking.
But Howie has yet to make it through the night, the sun hasn’t set all the way yet. Howie still needs to crawl out of the wreckage of the fallen outdoor staircase, Howie needs to remove his front teeth from his bottom lip and get a hold of himself, Howie needs to stoOOOP PULLING THAT FUCKING LEG JESUS FUHCKING CHRIST HELP ME, HELP, SOMEBODY FUCKING HELP ME!!” he realizes, thinks, then screams at the top of his lungs as he tears his fingers open on oxidized metal and burned lumber trying to scrape the sixty pounds of ruin out from under him so he can drag his foUUHCK FUCK FOOT, MY FOOT!”
Black powder poofs out under Howie’s fist as it slams blindly into charcoal. His other hand is clenching at his chest as if it was the only thing preventing his heart from popping–
‘like an eyeball’
–like… an air bubble. He pushes himself back into the wreckage a bit, easing the pain bleeding out of his foot just enough to realize he can hear himself breathe again. Lifting his torso slightly, Howie attempts to look beneath himself and sees only black. Charcoal, his clothes, what parts of his skin are exposed – black. The mound settles down on top of him as Howie lowers himself back and surrenders to the Lord’s work being finished, no matter how strange the way was in which it had to be done.
“I must have stepped on a nail or something,” Howie decides. “Or a nail stepped on me. Every time I move, my foot moves around the nail, I can’t… how the fuck am I going to get out of this?”
A thought occurs to Howie that both breaks his heart and immediately mends it back up. On one arm he hoists himself up – no simple feat, especially with the staircase settling down on top of his back – and goes to dig into the big center pocket of his hoodie, and that’s when Howie remembers his hoodie is tied around his waist.
“The joint is definitely gone,” he says aloud, making reality all that much realer. “It’s ruined even if it’s not.” He sighs, blackening his sinuses on the following inhale. “Whatever. My pot’s so much better than that shit. Step aside, Homegrown Jones, Howie Baby got that Forbidden Fruit waitin’ for him.”
Time seems to pass, doing so without a trace.
“If he ever gets out of this pile…”
As the sky darkens, so too does the ground beneath.
“I came for you, Yahn. I came home. But I’m stuck on the steps, you locked the door.”
When he first got here Howie could see exactly where the ashen forest starts at the end of his landlord’s yard. He can’t see the ashen forest at all now, nor can he see the bleak gray miasma following him on his tour through this kingdom of ash, this place so familiar yet at the same time so disgracefully foreign… so disgracefully dead… it’s all dark now. It’s not quite black, not quite like the rubble, but it’s almost there. Howie first despised the ubiquitous gray of the infinite blanket of ash draped upon his neatly slaughtered world, but now he craves it. Now he could plead for it, if only doing so would bring it back. But it’s nighttime now, or so it shall be soon, and Howie cannot spend the night under this pile of ruin. Anywhere would be better, he would sooner sleep with one of the Sisters than alone and crushed by cinders with a nail sticking out of the bottom of one of his feet.
“I can’t even tell which foot,” Howie reminds himself in a miserable whisper of woe. “I can hardly feel my legs, for cryin’ out loud…”
So he lifts himself up and begins to pilfer through the rubble. That portal opens up beneath his eyes again, that tiny black vortex holding beings of purple lightning who beckon him from the other side. They’re real, he can see them, they know Howie’s name and all of his past. Howie begins to weep, he can no longer keep his eyes open. The portal expands ever wider, ever farther. Howie cannot feel the tears on his cheek, cannot feel the nail in his foot. There is only the portal into that other world, that plane so astral and energic, it’s calling to him, it’s offering him a place to rest. A place to sleep. A place to smoke. All he has to do is leave this Raptured wasteland behind him.
“Leave it all behind…” Howie grunts as his hands go limp. “All be… al… leave it all be… hind… me…”
Hello Commons, this has been the fourth subchapter of the third chapter of Flowers, a novel about a man who smokes the last of his pot.
Flowers is part of the Third Spiral, an anthology of sorts called The Here and Now which is comprised of stories told from the various planes of Existence.
Flowers is available to read for free in its entirety on my website. Click here to check it out.
I’ve written a few other books, too. Click here to see the list.
If you like Flowers and would like to help support my work, click here and buy an autographed copy of the book (or anything else!) from my store. Alternatively, you can snag a cheaper (and unsigned) copy from Amazon by clicking here OR you can buy the ebook for even cheaper here.
If you’re there, hypothetical reader, thank you for being there. Be well Commons~