“The smoke is hazy nectar, the smell of the flowers a violet ambrosia.”
The ‘Man Who Saved Roscoe
The ‘man who saved Roscoe insisted he was only gone for twenty-five minutes at the most, but Howie refused to believe that. Howie accused him of abandoning him and leaving him for dead only to have a change in heart at the last second and come back, which the man who built the foot splint found to be about as incredulous as it sounds. The man then proceeded to inquire about whether or not Howie had smoked up yet and Howie said no, sadly he did not, because he’s having quite a bit of trouble getting Roscoe clean.
“Roscoe is the pipe, then?”
“Yes, my pipe’s Roscoe. Brilliant deduction, Sherlock,” Howie rudely commends his selfless savior.
“Huh. Well maybe you should.”
“Smoke up, for the love of… what’s the name of this street? Vhykus Path? For the love of Vhykus you should smoke up, man.”
“Trust me, we’re on the same page there, Mister eh… remarkably enough, I didn’t catch your name yet.”
“Nor did I get yours,” says the man as he rolls the first rock in place around the shallow hole in the ground. “And considering how I splinted up your foot–”
“To no avail,” Howie reminds the man, “as I still can’t walk on it.”
“Your stupidity was not accounted for in the formula, my humblest apologies,” the man concedes. “You’re not meant to be walking on it, not for at least a week.” He rolls his eyes at Howie’s rolling his eyes at the idea that Howie might survive to see next week. “You want my name, tell me yours. We’ll play questions.”
“We’ll play questions, I hear that right?” Howie looks around more with his hands than his head. “Look around, Jack, does this look like a Goddamned game to you? Tell me who you are and stop messing around, come ON!”
“Jack?” the man asks. “Is that your name? Jack?”
“N–… Howie. My name is Howie, and I’m a marijuana addict. There, are y’happy now? Fuckin’ twink, pleasure to make your a-taint-ence. What are you called?”
Before he gets a chance to answer, Howie adds, “Tell me it’s Jack.”
“It’s not Jack,” disappoints the man. “Close though. The cards said John, so I go by John.”
“The cards?” Howie asks. He expects John to pull out a deck of tarot cards bound in silk ribbon and use them to reveal the secrets of this unlike the others Universe they’ve been marooned in with no realistic chance for survival. Howie is disappointed again when John throws a red and white box of playing cards at him. Got some black on the box, too. “What are… Kerry Flip-Flop? Who’s Kerry?” He doesn’t feel it necessary to look at the cards for more than a second, they make his stomach churn.
“Me, I suppose,” John Kerry (he supposes) supposes, then claps his hands like he wants the cards back. “The house I woke up in wasn’t like all the other houses. Most of it was unburned. There wasn’t any ash on the street for a while until after I left.”
“Really? Is that right?” Howie asks. It’s nice to have company. It’s nice to not be alone. “Where’d you say you came from again, John Kerry? You saw the ashfall from Cannonball, but were you walking up it, or…?”
“The ashfall, as you call it, was on my left, but I heard you screaming, too. I saw what must have been be your tracks that turned onto Rosebud before you got stuck, but I decided not to follow them because I didn’t know where they were going. Could have been someone crawling out of their home and heading the same way as me. I thought as much possible at the time, but looking at the houses back here…”
John looks at the houses then. A kindred chill runs up the spines of both men, though neither know the chill was shared.
“You didn’t know,” Howie says simply. “You did not know, John. Did… so you came from the center of town, then?”
“Hm? No, Central Wuester was south when I first left the house, then east. Not sure when exactly it happened, a while after I got on Cannonball though.”
“But Cannonball leads to the center of town if you follow it all the way,” Howie says. “I thought I heard that somewhere.”
“I think I heard that same thing, Howie. Wan’a know what’s weird about it?”
“I didn’t live in Wuester before all this happened.”
“I mean I never heard that before, yet I know it to be the truth. If I turned right onto Cannonball instead of left back when I first go on it, I would still be headed towards Wuester Central, more than likely.”
Howie’s focus sharpens to a tampered dagger’s edge. “Oh.”
“I’m pretty sure I came here from elsewhere – maybe I was placed here, maybe I was always here. I don’t have the foggiest – from somewhere else entirely. I woke up to Armageddon, apocalypse is all I know, yet I have these… memories, sort of.” John Kerry scratches his head. Clouds of worry darken his face. “They’re more like data points off an outline, something a kid would study in school, I…” he trails off. Silence ensues.
To break the silence, Howie says, “Well, no more kids studying in school now, John. At least all that’s over.”
John lets the silence return and go on undisturbed for a while. Howie should have done as much from the start, but it’s too late now. What’s done is done.
“I’m Howie, by the way. Howie Hoots McGee.”
John starts. “Really? That… that’s your name, man?”
“Yeah, it used to be Howard,” Howie explains, looking at the ground. “You can call me… eh, whatever you want, I don’t care anymore.”
“Why’d you change it?”
“Huh?” Howie asks, perhaps a bit hopefully.
“Why change your name to Howie Hoots McGee? It sounds like it would make a good story.”
“Probably would,” Howie agrees amiably. “It was, uh… for a ‘man. A hue-man. Let’s leave it at that, cool?”
John places his tenth stone around the fire pit. “Cool enough, man. Cool enough.”
Howie’s foot has begun to swell again. It’s at roughly two-thirds its prior mass, yet it feels four times too large for the leg it’s attached to.
“You said you put my stash in my bag?” Howie asks without making any move to reach for the backpack. He leaned back a while ago and now he’s just laying there, clamping his eyes ever tighter against the grayish-white glare of the cloudy sky.
“Where’d you find it?”
John pauses for a moment. Wipes the sweat from his brow. “You had it, in your hands. You don’t remember?”
“I thought the stash was in the safe,” Howie says to his eyelids. He raises his arms in a sort of vertical shrug. It isn’t comfortable. “Enlighten me.”
“Everything was covered in dirt, like you unburied it, and you were holding it underneath you.” He thinks. “The pipe might not have been buried deep enough. Before the, theee-uh… Rapture. Looks like it melted and deformed a little.”
“Yeah, I saw that. Was the bag melted?”
“The bag? There wuh… oh, that. No, your weed is safe. I wouldn’t smoke it myself, but–”
“But you’re John Kerry, according to your little deck of cards you got there, and I’m Howie Hoots McGee, the next great stand-up pot comic based in humble Wuester, New Jersey, a sleepy town also known as The First Stand of New Civilization because the Goddamn world is over.”
John waits for Howie to finish, not knowing that was the end of it. Then…
“Point taken.” John hauls another ash-dusted stone into place around the pit. “Seriously, though. I don’t know what happened last night, but that bag looked plastic, it could have, I don’t know…”
“Melted and soaked its fumes into the weed during the Rapture before you buried it?”
“I didn’t bury my stash, John,” Howie corrects him. “I woke up in the church, I told you that. I thought I… didn’t I tell you that?”
“I don’t know. It sounds familiar enough,” John says, focusing entirely on his stones. “But regardless, whoever buried the stuff obviously tried their best for you, but uh…” Another rock finds its place in the lost world. “Might not have been good enough. The heat could have melted the bag and laced the weed with toxic fumes or something, no? I don’t know, Howie, this stuff’s all just popping into my head. I’m worried about you, you’re the only one I’ve found since I got a’walkin’ and–”
“You’re afraid we’re the only ones alive out here, too,” Howie leads him into finishing. “I get it. So am I. I can put your mind at ease, though – there is nobody else out here. Like, for sure. It’s just you and me, John. Just you and I.”
“There’s nobody where you came from?” John asks out the side of his mouth.
The vibe becomes suddenly wary. Howie clutches at his stomach. “And why would you think that, John?”
“Y’backpack full of supplies gave me an idea,” John says, keeping his eyes to the budding fire pit. “I have one too, but mine isn’t stocked full like yours. My house was intact when I came to yesterday, too, unlike most every other building I’ve seen since I left.” More rocks are lined up around the pit. The mountain has been chiseled down into an anthill. “Yet the pickin’s were still slim, Howie.”
“So what? Maybe I just had the stuff on me,” Howie asserts. “Before shit hit the fan. Maybe I’m a backpacker. Maybe I’m a rural explorer, John, you don’t fuckin’ know. I’m a blatant enigma to you and that’s how I’ll remain, y’understand me?”
“Well I don’t fuckin’ know about an enigma, Howie Hoots McGee,” John carps as he drops the last rock into place. It lands hard and without need for adjustment. “But you’re right, I don’t know you. That said, I seriously doubt you had brains enough to keep a backpack full of supplies on you the night before the apocalypse hit. Man like me has to think if you were conscious enough to experience precognition then you wouldn’t have climbed the stairs when you originally got here. You know what kind of guy would climb a set of ruined stairs with nobody around to spot him or help him out if it got sketchy? A Goddamned meathead. Where’d you get the soups and waters, Howie? We’re on the same team here. Cut your bullshit, it’s the fucking apocalypse.”
“I know, I… sorry. This is… this is all just a lot.” Howie pauses to shrink inward and feel sorry for himself for a couple. John pays him no mind – he dug out a damn good fire pit and enjoys the satisfaction of admiring his own work. When Howie is nice and miserable, he continues. “So… whether I already told you or not, there’s a church. On a road called Madison Avenue, the last righthand turn off Cannonball before it turns into a neighborhood. Saint Wuester’s Church. I happened to sleep there last night, er, the night before. The night of the Rapture.” He gives John time to process. “And so did the Sisters Three.”
John couldn’t give a fuck less about this stupid hole in the ground he wasted the past few hours of his post-apocalyptic life digging and surrounding with stones like a common caveman. “There are other survivors?! Howie, why didn–”
“Nuns, John. Sisters by the names of Etty, Betty, and Letty. All of them old, none of them feeble. Give it time.” He chortles. “One told me they were The Last Stand of Civilization, John. They really believe humanity is going to make it out of this. They believe some other folk might have survived, too. Also, I did tell you. Earlier. I think.”
“Why wouldn’t we make it out?” John asks honestly. “Why are you sure there’s nobody else out there, Howie? The five of us survived, logic dictates that there might be others. You had a bunch of supplies on you when I found you, so I have to assume the Sisters Three have more, no? The whole situation seems pretty optimistic from where I’m seeing things. What am I missing, Howie?” Then, in accusation, “What do you know about all this that I don’t know?”
“How fucked the world is. What I know that you don’t is just how fucked the world is, and how fucked the five of us are. Four of us woke up inside a church loaded with supplies donated for charity drives, John, and you… you got lucky. We got lucky. Lucky fuckin’ ducklings, every one of us.” A moment of stillness. “Did I mention they’re loaded with supplies? Canned foods, bottles of water and drinks, more clothing than any of them will ever need… a lot more than they know what to do with. Everything someone like us would need to survive comfortably until our deaths, John, which will come either before or after all the food spoils, because that’s how much they have. More than they can use. What do you think of that?”
“I think we‘d do well to get going,” John says without missing a beat. “I think you were foolish to leave them.”
“I’m inclined to agree, tell you the truth, John,” Howie admits. “I should never have left that fucking church, but here we are. No going back now.”
“Why noh–…” Howie repeats under his breath as if it was the most exacerbating thing he’s ever been asked. “Why not? Took me the better part of a fuckin’ day to get myself where we are now, and that was on two good feet. Nearly choked on all the ash. I don’t know why it’s not bothering me as much now. Guess I got used to it. I don’t know how you’re doing so well, John. Makes me a trig bit uneasy, tell you the truth.”
“I don’t know why I’m fine either, Howie,” John tells him somberly. “I don’t know my real name, where I came from, what was going on before all this… but I know there was something. I was someone who was somewhere. In my heart I do, I just can’t…” He finally sits down. “I can’t figure it out. But that’s not important now, we need to get to that church. There’s probably some medical supplies laying around there somewhere, it’s a church for God’s sake. We can fix you up, the nuns can help!”
Howie looks at John Kerry. He’s dressed in a leather jacket and jeans. Filthy, covered in streaks of gray and dashes of black. Howie looks at himself and compares the two: John may as well have just stepped out of the shower. John is going to get to that church, that much is for sure. John is going to see to it that the Lord’s work is finished at The Last Stand of Civilization, no matter how strangely the way the work must be done.
“I’ll tell you what, John. You go, and you ask them if they’ll have me back.”
“The Sisters Three,” Howie explains like John Kerry was with him ever since he woke up in the cellar, like he should have every fucking clue of what Howie’s raving about as the fever begins to take hold of his brain. “I woke up there, helped them do some work, and then left under the implication I was eventually coming back. John, look at me. Look into my eyes.”
John looks into Howie’s eyes.
“I had no intention – zero, John Kerry, Zee’Eee’aRe’Oh intention of going back to them. I was going to come here and get my stash and my boyfriend and we were going to… I don’t know, loot the houses or some dumbass shit like that. Probably fuck a little bit too, why not? But then I found my boyfriend, John, and I guess the dude thought to take my stash out with him when he…” Howie trails off into misery. “Christ, John. What the fuck happened to the world? How could God let all of those terrible things–”
“Harold,” John says, leaning forward to put a hand on his shoulder and console him. “C’mon, don’t do this, w–”
“How could God let such horrible things like genocide and rape and starvation and homelessness and bullying and… how could He let it all happen a trillion times over, John, just to drop the world where it all happens into ash and call it cleaned up and spiffy, call it finished, call it a fuckin’ day? How could any God do it, John?”
“Howie, you need to stop,” John growls as he stands and steps towards Howie, clamping down with his hand. “Get with the fuckin’ program, guy. We’re here and we’re queer, but there’s no beer left. There’s a church, though, and while it’s not quite as good–”
“It’s got free food and drinks, yeah yeah I’ve heard the song before.”
“So let’s go do the dance,” John says, trying to stand Howard up by lightly kicking the man’s thigh. “What’s in our way?”
“I am, man!” Howie shouts to Heaven. “Do you not see that? I can’t walk on this foot, and I don’t need to slow you down taking me back to the damn church. Plus… I really betrayed the Sisters, I don’t… it wouldn’t feel right going back there. I don’t know how to explain it, but… ah, maybe you just wouldn’t understand. You look like a good man, John Kerry. A real nice guy. Me? I ain’t no nice guy. I’m a stand-up pot comic, and not a known one, either. We’re both better off if you just leave me here.”
“Enough,” John Kerry decides. He stands and walks towards the house.
“Where are you going?”
“To get wood from the basement,” John says without turning. He does stop, though. “We’ll have a fire, all right? That okay with you? That’s the plan, we’ll have a fire. It’s important.”
“Fine.” Howie doesn’t argue. The man fixed his fo–… well, he put his foot in a splint, which is more than Howie thought of, and then went through the trouble of digging out a pit and lining it with stones which probably weren’t just sitting on top of the Earth waiting to be picked. “Fine, go. I’ll… I don’t know. I’ll keep myself entertained.”
“I don’t doubt it for a second,” John says. “Do us all a Goddamn favor…”
Howie watches John disappear behind the house. A sound of decomposing metal slapping against the ground then against itself announces the opening of the storm doors. Howie looks at his backpack. The stash is already undoing the zipper.
“Yep. Keep myself nice and entertained.”
Hello Commons, this has been the fourth 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.
Be well Commons~