“The smoke is hazy nectar, the smell of the flowers a violet ambrosia.”
“The sunrise must be so fascinating,” Howie says after a long period of uncomfortable silence which followed his reminding himself hey, by the way, Jack, what happened to Jhan? You pulverized skinnyboy’s corpse into dust last night and went on to not think of him since. Kinda glazed over that one, huh Hoots? Huh, Hootsie Babey?’
“That–” Howie starts, then intercepts his words from within. He thinks. Concludes, “–was an isolated incident. Some baggage just don’t fit in the backpack.” Then it hits him: the backpack ‘full of supplies’ is gone.
“My bag is gone,” as Howie falls backwards and dents his crown against the ground, for some reason expecting half a foot of snow to catch him even though he’d looked around multiple times and knew well that the stranger who built the splint on his foot also cleared the ash away in an area large enough for Howie to be unable to discern its shape while still leaving enough ash on the ground for Howie to scoop up and cover the black blood clot twice over: once for basic decency, and again when it started to peek through!’ Howie says in thought as the fit of lucidity brought about from his mind’s total disassociation from his body at the shock of the head injury flows in with the endorphins rushing to the back of his skull, but that was before. Now, he’s not thinking anything at all.
Things are a bit cloudy for a little while. Laying down is the only option for Howie “Hoots” McGee if he wants to stay conscious, and ladies’n’germs, staying conscious is about the second most important thing on Hootsie’s mind right now. A third of an ounce of pot to the first audience member to guess what’s at that number one spot, c’mon, raise your hands and I’ll call ya out! Anybody, anybody! How about you, Sister Letty? Did you break off from Etty and Betty to come find me in the night, wrap my foot then disappear to make a cross out of the rest of the wine rack wood? Either way, I hope you brought more bud, but it’s cool if you didn’t – I have a stash right in the house, and I’m almost one hundred that it is, in fact, inside the house.
“It’s in the safe,” Howie says, more testing his ability to speak than anything else. He knows the stash is in the safe, which is almost definitely in the house. ‘In the wine cellar.’ “Where my stranger ‘man was. The stranger stole my pot and fixed my leg as a parting gift. God fucking damnit.” Now Howie’s mad and concussed, subjectively alone on a dead world floating in a peculiar Universe, one unlike many others. “And why is it unlike many others, ladies’n’germs? Because there’s somewhere that’s called The Soapbox in this Universe, or whatever garbage I said before when I was speaking in tongues?” He thinks. “Did I say that?”
Howie scratches behind his right ear. The sound is soothing, it makes him want to break his splint apart and slice his own throat open.
“Foggy. Everything’s really foggy.”
Everything’s really foggy.
Howie stares out into the soulless gray blur that is the limit of his reality.
“Everything’s really foggy.”
An unprecedented amount of time passes in perfect stillness.
‘All right, it’s about time to make a run,’ Howie thinks to himself as he sits himself up to test his head. There’s a thunderously dull pounding out back and his eyes aren’t quite cooperating as well as they usually do. Back on his back, he rolls his taint skyward and hangs his legs over his head so he can get a good look at the top of his foot. It does not look decent, and while he cannot see the bottom of his foot (nor does he see the possibility of touching it with his hands), Howie cannot feel an exit wound from within.
“Probably shouldn’t put weight on it,” Howie warns himself aloud, speaking clearly and concisely.
Casually rolling back to a flay laying position, Howie slowly lifts into a sit and gives the dark clouds a chance to leave his perception, a chance they take. What doesn’t go is the little dot. There’s a tiny black dot darting around Howie’s perception jiving this way and that, but it’s not an eye floater – he has plenty of those from the ash, the gunk he’s cleared out of his eyes alone could be put in a museum and misinterpreted as ancient tools of war, but that’s different than this. He doesn’t know what this is–
‘it’s the portal’
–but he feels as though he should be concerned about it at least a little bit, what with it appearing right after he hit his head and all. A little black–
–circle from time to time isn’t a bit deal, but seeing it dart–
‘open it’s trying to open’
–around like this one is just makes him feel uneasy for some reason. Like maybe–
‘trying to open’
–more than one–
‘beings calling me’
–problem but my brain can only process one of them at’a’time’in’its’current’state FUCK!” Howie says swiftly then shouts to himself as the dark clouds encroach over his vision again. He sees swirls of precise, laser-etched color writhing between him and the clouds, almost like birdwings of dust in a sandstorm. Like batwings of death in an ashstorm. “Rapture,” Howie reminds himself, then hears himself say, “I’m going to die.”
Then he doesn’t feel anything but dullness. Distantly from within he hears a high-pitched ringing.
Howie opens his eyes to a barren ashen wasteland. Very little time has passed, but Howie is positive it’s been at least four days. The Nomadic Healer Goddess did not return from her quest. It’s time for Howie to move on.
“No,” Howie says, breaking the silence and splitting his headache evenly across his temples. “First I need the goods. Then I move on.”
Hallucinations of phantoms lurking in the miasma fade as the dark clouds begin to depart. Howie’s trying to figure out why he didn’t notice the hallucinations before they left but then again, they’re gone all the same. Now, how is he going to get up?
Back when he was working out daily and stretching properly for his body Howard could easily stand up from lying flat out on his back without so much as using his hands, but life convinced Howard to acquire a gut and a taste for petty complacency when Jhan evolved him into Howie “Hoots” McGee. It’s all right, Howie’s funny, Howie likes the ‘man he’s become, it’s just that great blessings often come with great trials to grant the privilege of their use, is all.
“I am losing my mind not two days into the end of the world,” Howie reminds himself. “I need some Jesus… no, the church. I need the church. The landlord said I needed some Jesus. Some Jesus, not a lot though. Just some.”
The stillness of that which follows Death’s perishing.
“I wonder who fixed my foot. I bet it was Roscoe.”
Howie abruptly leans forward and contorts his hip so his left leg is tucked underneath his right. Pivoting with his left foot, Howie throws some weight on his hands and manages to get up on his good limbs, then immediately lowers himself back down on his ass and thigh because he bonked his head on the glass ceiling and on the ashen ground: Howie doesn’t have a cane nor anything to grab onto, and the house itself is a breath away from coming down itself. Even if he stands up, he wouldn’t be able to balance.
“I wonder what would happen if I put some weight on my foot…”
Positioned to crabwalk, Howie slowly lowers his bad foot to the ground and winces as an uproar builds inside the blackish-red hole in his blackish-purple foot.
“Goddamn that doesn’t look good. No good at all.”
He lowers to his ass and puts his hands on the ground at his sides to brace himself. Scooting back proves to be painful as Hell, he cuts the power to his right leg almost immediately after starting and lets his good foot anchor for the majority of the scoot. Keeping his right foot flat on its heel, Howie brings his left foot in until he can reach his knee with his left hand. Sucking in one’s gut is an art Howie only recently began studying, but he’s one of the best students in his division; knee to his chest and hands slightly behind him now, Howie pushes off the ground and leans forward, simultaneously unbending his left leg and using the right heel for unreliable balance. Steadily he rises. Takes his hands off the ground. Stands straight up with one leg bent and the other straight off to the side, posing like a backup dancer in a crime opera.
“Yeah, that’s the’ffFFFUCKING MOTHER OF GOD!!” he says and then howls as he puts a shilling of weight onto his terminal foot and the blackish ashy scab capping the geyser between his first and second knuckle launches up past his knees like a putrid rocket full of biohazard on its way to contaminate the moon. Arms swinging about in a feeble attempt to regain his balance, Howie hops forward twice on his good foot before feeling his right leg swing around to stop himself from falling altogether, which, in hindsight, would have been exceedingly less gruesome and painful than trying to catch himself on the fall with his hands. Blood, puss, coagulated ash, and about a gallon of the shit that composed the black blood clot spouts out of Howie’s foot like a leak in a garden hose that finally springs full bore into a hole: in bulk until the flow gently peters off some time later. For Howie, that time is roughly one half of a half of a second.
“Back on the ground,” Howie pants to himself on his hands and knees. The ash is buzzing through the air like a swarm of bees; he’s gotten quite used to the dry sting in the back of his throat he feels every time he swallows, speaks, breathes. “I’m back on the ground, it’s all right.”
Looking at the foot carnage is all too tempting. Howie begins to crawl towards the singed house of his landlord, taking care to keep his dripping right foot (which has lost at least a third of its mass despite cranking up the pain output to nineteen) dangling just above the dead ground. Banking right at the rubble, he stalks across what used to be the front lawn before it was burned to a crisp and stops before the front door which used to be solid. Fortified, too, with four locks.
“Maybe he really saved me,” Howie reminds himself. “Maybe the old boy was getting loaded in the wine cellar when–
‘hot its so hot’
–the Rapture happened and took all the good souls up to Heaven, leaving me, three nuns, and a dude who knew about the wine cellar and could make a splint.” He thinks for a bit. “Nah, the landlord’s dead. That gung-ho douche bag was about as incompetent as they come – if it wasn’t for his sister’s international handbag business, he would never have the apartment to begin with. Or the house.”
The world digests Howie’s words.
“Doesn’t have either anymore. Nobody has anything anymore.”
“Except the Sisters. They have enough supplies to last them pretty much indefinitely.”
“Why the fuck did I leave that church?”
‘Because you’re stupid, Jack, because you’re a literal Goddamned baffoon. You hear that, ladies’n’germs? You paid this ‘man to kick your giggles while some irrelevant whoever sits on your babies at home so you could get out and enjoy the night air just one time this week, just one time you wanted to get away from the Hell that is your home life and actually enjoy some of the finite time you get before the Rapture comes, but surprise, fuckos, you got this guy. You got Howie “Hoots” McGee the one and only, the next big stand-up pot comic from Wuester, New Jersey, better known as the circle of Hell underneath the one at the bottom that nobody knows about because it’s only for me, this is my own private Hell I’m in and it’s customized just for me, just for ol’ Hootsie Babey. It’s got everything that makes me want to kill myself – pain, chances to fuck up without any real hope for redemption, a cache of supplies that was stolen from me, a punctured foot that’s sagging on its bones like a loose wool sweater, a stash of pot waiting for me inside this fucking house,” emphasizing the word fucking by lashing out physically at the house. The entire structure shakes as if it bodied an impact from an SUV. Howie tries to clean the soot off his hand and onto his pants but finds that he cannot, as there is more soot on his pants than there is on his hand. “I need help, man. I need some God forsaken HEL–”
“Yo!” says someone from Howie’s blind spot, which is just about all around him what with his eyes closed and all. Did he fall asleep? “Yo, gimpy! Where’d you go?”
“Can’t have been far,” Howie cusses under his breath, then jerks a hand into the air and starts waving it around like a jackass. “Yeah, ah, we’re over here, bud.” He hears footsteps – someone else’s footsteps, oh blessed, glorious stepping noises from another ‘man’s footpace, thank God and praise Him! – approaching first slowly, then swiftly when he caught scent of all the blood, I bet.’
“Relax, relax, you can stop runnin’,” Howie says aloud, he thinks. “I’m fine, ‘man, I–”
Howie starts hacking like a baby with croup. He spits out a couple globs of something slimy and vile. It tastes redder than it does black, so that’s… something.
“You look fine,” says the voice, which Howie decides belongs to a man. It’s too gruff, too hard spoken to be a woman’s voice. He opens his eyes. Once they adjust to the light peeking in through the accumulating rain clouds, he sees that he’s right. “You put weight on it, didn’t you?”
“You read my mind from afar or somethin’?” Howie asks seriously. “I thought that same thing to myself, that I shouldn’t put weight on it. Or… maybe I said it aloud, I…” he trails off, then looks enthusiastically up at the savior ‘man. “I’ve been here since yesterday, since last night. I went up on the staircase.” He points to the apartment’s front window. “Uh, there was a staircase on the side that led up there, I checked out inside. Thing collapsed when I was coming down, I leaped off just in time to not fu’bar myself. The staircase collapsed.” He nods twice and then a third time, the third one slower than the first two. More measured. “Yeah. Then things got eh… things are foggy. Complicated. This whole Rapture business… this isn’t a normal end of the world type scenario, is it?” There’s a certain childlike innocence in this crippled man’s eyes, similar to a puppydog looking at its owner after running away from a pile of shit it just laid out on the carpet. “Like, something screwy’s going on with the minds, like, some queer-ass prana’s aloft in the atmosphere, am I right? Is there some bad juju going down? Or is it just in my head?”
“I… I’m not–”
“Wait, how did you find me?”
“I heard someone shouting last night, it sounded like they needed help. Sounded like they needed it bad. Saw the clearing through the trees from the road. I wuh–”
“Cannonball, I think it was.” He turns and points up towards the far end of Rosebud whether he knows he’s doing it or not. “All the ash had fallen off the trees, it was like an alley between two skyscrapers. I went the other way when I first came through and was walking down… Rosebud, I believe the street was. Rosebud Avenue.”
‘So he does know.’
“I heard more noise and came rushing back, saw you lying with your top half sticking out of the pile of rubble. I got you all cleared off but you uh… well, we’ll get to all that later. Why don’t you let me help you back to the pit an–”
“The pit, did you say? No, not-uh, you’re out of your fucking gourd if you think I’m going to let you bury me alive, you spry, sadistic fuck. End of the world, fine; end of basic humanity, go suck a cock.” He adds, “Preferably mine,” just to be clear.
“Fire pit,” the man answers, gesturing behind himself with a sweep of his hand.
Howie leans to look past the man’s form and sees that he’s amassed a sizeable pile of stones next to a mound of dirt over by where Howie was laying before he tried walking. He’s got all their stuff over there, he even dug out a little hole. That must be where the mound of dirt came from. Huh.
“I collected all the rocks, I just need to set them. I don’t know if any of the charcoal will burn but there’s a wine cellar in the basement of this house stocked with wood, it’s almost totally untouched by whatever caused all this. We can burn that overnight to keep ourselves warm, and to cook some of that soup in your bag.”
After a moment, Howie offers, “So you stole my bag, then?”
“No, it’s good. Better you than someone else. I think you and me might be the only ones alive out here besides the Sisters Three, friend.”
“The Sis… are you all right, bud? Where, eh… are you coherent? Where do you think we are right now?”
Howie takes a moment to ponder this. “I think this is the place you go after you die.” Lets it settle like the ash over this deaded, ruined world,’ then, “How about you?”
The man stifles a brittle chuckle. Howie doesn’t seem notice. “I think this is how you get there.” He extends a hand to Howie. “Come on, get up. I’ll bring you back over there and give you some water, then you can watch me light the fire. Cool?”
“No. Almost, actually,” Howie answers, then amends. “One condition: you got’a get something out of the house for me.”
The man looks at the dilapidated box of charcoal that is the house of Howie’s landlord. “Not so, man. The house is dead, I can only get into the cellar because of the storm doors out behind the joint, and half of that’s ruined as it is.”
“Moldy,” he retorts. “It would be in perfect shape but some of the ceiling wasn’t sturdy. Caved in. A few things weighed it down, I think. Shame and a half, I’d say we could sleep in there if it wasn’t fucked.” The man pauses to let the crippled man catch up, he’s got a look in his eye like he’s not hearing all the words. “What is it, though?”
“What’s what? ” Howie demands, suddenly enraged.
“The thing you want me to get for you, asshole. Calm down.”
Howie takes a deep breath. This mysterious stranger is right, he needs to calm down. The man helped him and asked for nothing in return, and now he’s only offering to repeat the cycle. “Did you see a flat safe in the basement? Might have fallen through the ceiling? It had–”
“It was empty, I already checked. Found it open,” the man finishes. “I think I know what you’re after, though.” He reaches into the pocket of his jacket – that’s an actual leather jacket, here of all places – and pulls out a small glass tube. It’s Roscoe, he survived the Rapture! He’s… he’s not looking too great, his glass is cloudy. Got a bend in his middle, too.
“Is that… if the safe was empty then where’d you find my pipe? You got the rest of my stash?” Howie moves as if he was about to get up, then he remembers his foot and loathes himself. Then, “Please c’me’re and hand over my pot.”
“I took it off of you last night,” the man states plainly before replacing Roscoe in his jacket. “You can have it by the fire pit. It’s just a few yards that way, come on. It’ll be quick.”
“If it’s so close then why can’t we just stay where we are?” Howie asks, nudging closer to the front door of the wreckage waiting to happen. “Why make me move?”
“Because all the stuff is over there and I’m not about to double-handle it for your sake, asshole.” He puts his hand out again. “Now take my hand and let me help you, this is inane. Come on.”
Howie, startled, takes the man’s hand. The man dips and slings Howie’s right arm over his shoulder, getting him up off the ground. They walk a few yards to adjust, ‘Though it’s closer to several yards if I’m holdin’ the measuring stick, Jack, and Hootsie Babey always holds the measuring stick; that’s just what rulers do,’ in the direction of the spot where the man dug out the fire pit. He sits Howie down next to the backpacks, only one of which belongs to Howie if he remembers correctly. The man sits down on crossed legs between the pit and the rock pile, hiding the dirt pile from view.
“Look, uh, now that we’re here I’m pretty sure I didn’t get enough rocks. I’m–”
“Oh yeah, good call,” Howie barks. “Don’t want to start any forest fires, now.”
“Sir. I’m going to go get more rocks. Please stay here, don’t wander off, and don’t put any more weight on your foot. All right?”
“Fine, on one condition,” Howie says with a smirk.
The man emancipates Roscoe and tosses it to Howie. Howie misses the catch and Roscoe silently clatters to the ground. Howie picks his buddy up off the floor, then dusts him off with his breath and his dirty shirt. “The rest of your stuff is in your backpack, I’d drink a little water before I smoked out’a that thing, though.” He turns to go. “I wouldn’t smoke out’a that thing at all. Just saying.”
“You’re just saying, huh?” Howie asks as he watches the man walk off into the gray miasma to pick rocks out of soil from which nothing will ever grow again. He looks up at the sky and the sunlight, brazen and bold, hurts his eyes. “Yeah, I’ll drink some water. Wash up a bit, too.”
The footsteps of the man who saved Howie’s life no longer reach his ears.
“Yeah. Good idea, ‘Hootsie Babey.’ Good idea.”
Hello Commons, this has been the third subchapter of the fourth 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~