“The smoke is hazy nectar, the smell of the flowers a violet ambrosia.”
“I know I had more,” Howie moans despondently under his breath. “I had more, I… there was a third of an ounce…”
John Kerry still hasn’t returned from the wine cellar underneath the house of Howie’s landlord. Howie has a whole little workstation set up – his backpack is upside down on his lap, the grinder is open, the packet of rolling papers–
‘pretty lucky they didn’t burn up, ladies’n’germs; how else would Hootsie Babey show Swahmey Johnny Kay how pot will be smoked in New Civilization?’
–is waiting for a leaf to be drawn, and Roscoe, whose inside and outside are caked with ash to the point where smoking anything with him comes with the guarantee of contracting lung, throat, and mouth cancer (if the ashen air doesn’t cause it all first) is clenched securely between Howie’s top and bottom jaw. Inches before his face held in both hands is the unsealed mylar bag with the last of Howie’s pot in it.
“There was a whole third of an ounce when I put it in the safe, how… when…”
There were many ways to smoke pot before Rapture took the good out of the world, and Howie “Hoots” McGee was more than familiar with all of them. For the most part, stoners are broken into two cliques: glassheads and paperchasers. Glassheads prefer the manual and slightly more complex process of burning pot packed into a bowl and inhaling the smoke through a glass tube (sometimes through a series of glass tubes) which is attached to the bowl. The pipes come in a variety of models: one-hitters, chillums, spoon pipes, sherlock pipes – Howie’s seen a glass blunt once, that thing was wild, pain in the ass to clean though – bubblers, bongs, percolator bongs; all can be used dry, some (the bongs and bubblers specifically) are better with water in them to cool the smoke and filter some of the good stuff out so you inhale as much tar as possible, yum yum yum. These pieces punch you inside of your skull, they really do. Especially the big ones. Plus, glass pieces don’t constantly burn the pot supply as the smoke session progresses, they require less pot to get a session going, and they can be repacked easily to keep the session going. Efficiency and sustainability: the way of the twenty-first century cannabic glasshead.
Paperchasers, on the other hand, don’t give a roach’s wing about efficiency and sustainability. A paperchaser is simple: take some pot, roll it up into a paper stick, and light her on fire. Breathe deeply, cough if you’re a bitch. Relight it if it goes out, flick it away when it’s done. Boom. Potted like a houseplant. There are two primary ways of smoking pot in the dojo of the paperchaser, plus a third method that Howie’s never been particularly fond of: the joint, the blunt, and the spliff. Starting in obscurity, the spliff is a tobacco cigarette laced with marijuana. That’s right, both strains of tobacco (normal and wacky) sealed into the same paper shell. It gives you a nice head buzz, so Howie’s been told, but he doesn’t smoke tobacco. Won’t even smoke a blunt, which is a cigar(ello) emptied out so it may be filled back up with pot, and those are the shit. Blunts, compared to joints, are usually much girthier, so they usually pack a bigger punch with each and every hit (a quality which isn’t exactly nerfed by the tobacco in the cigar’s recycled wrap). A joint, the ol’ reliable for stoners of both ephemeral and glassual persuasions because of its place throughout tradition and history and its ability to be shoved into the bowls of some glass pieces, is about as simple as it comes. Picture a tobacco cigarette: now, replace the tobacco with pot, the white paper with kind of transparent hemp paper, and the fibreglass filter with a crutch made out of an index card. Swish: you have the joint. The keystone of stoner culture, the staple of every burnout’s combustible diet, the one thing that used to get Howard out of bed in the morning day after excruciating day before he met Johannes and his name was changed to Howie “Hoots” McGee.
Then there are certain stoners who push the limits of the culture forward, futurist utopian stoners who see the rules by which the game is played and say Bet. Howie, inventor of the best way to smoke pot in the history of smoked pot, is one such futurist utopian stoner. Howie is a stoner with a deep-rooted love for joints that is only complemented by his devout respect for glassheads and all the gorgeous works of art they employ for the sole purpose of ensuring their pot goes smoked; Howie’s the type of dude who refuses to smoke a blunt because he doesn’t want to contaminate the glorious pot smoke with the cancer-fumes of the stinking weed of Jamestown, yet he still wants the satisfaction of puffing on a bundle of pot as thick as a dime is wide and inhaling a joint’s worth of smoke in one hit. He wants the premium pot smoking experience, Howie “Hoots” McGee does, and so he cleared the rain forest of all its trees and paved his own way into Canna-vana, and you know what, Jack? He hasn’t looked back since.
Howie “Hoots” McGee is the inventor of the best way to smoke pot in the history of humanity, ladies’n’germs, and the master is about to practice his art.
As much as it pains him to admit it, Howie knows more than well that the blunt is the superior method of paperchasing pot. He also recognizes that the one-hitter, while not as adaptable as bongs nor as capable as spoons nor bubblers, is the superior method of glassheading pot, if only for the simple reason that you can slip it into your pocket and forget about it, smell and all. Where one gives the stoner portability and discretion, the other gives the stoner abundance and wile; enjoyed alone these qualities are more than good enough for any stoner, but as far as Howie is concerned, good enough is just what folks say when they don’t want to come off as spoiled or arrogant. Good enough just ain’t good enough, Jack, not for Howie “Hoots” McGee it’s not. Howie “Hoots” McGee needs the premium, he needs the best of both worlds, the greenest grass from both sides of the fence; when Hootsie Babey steps on stage in your grill/bar/impromptu comedy club, he doesn’t come to tickle your pickle. He comes to kill.
So it’s only logical, then, to deduce that when Howie smokes pot, he smokes to be killed, to get so high that he doesn’t have to come back down, and so he invented the single greatest method of smoking pot humanity would have ever known had it not been wiped off the face of the Earth like the snot off Howie’s nose and philtrum: in an ashy smear into a background of black.
“There’s never enough pot,” Howie reminds himself defeatedly. He drops the mylar bag to sit with the rest of his stash. “Why is all the pot gone?”
Howie takes Roscoe out of his mouth and sets him on the backpack. He takes a leaf out of the pack of rolling papers – ultra-thin, best papers he’s ever smoked with – and, adjusting his method around the bend in Roscoe’s belly, wraps the leaf around Roscoe’s bowl so he looks like a legless dachshund who’s wearing a cone, and there we have it. The greatest way to smoke pot in the history of humanity: wrapping a one-hitter in a rolling paper and pushing it up so you can fill it like a pre-roll. How nobody thought of this before Howie Howie will never know, but there are many names for this revolutionizing device: the paper blunt, the adjustajoint, the… ‘the fatboy,’ but those all pale in comparison of the name the brilliant creator of cannabis’s greatest innovation bestowed upon this most legendary of smoking paraphernalias.
“The glasscrutch joint,” Howie sings in a groveling melody. “My greatest achievement.”
Holding the papered Roscoe in his teeth again, Howie gets to work breaking nugglets off his nug – his last nug, the last and final dried flower bud from a pot plant on all of Earth – and grinding them into flakes for the smoking. He loses himself to the degree that he doesn’t notice John come back with two bundles of firewood under his arms; the man only realizes he’s no longer alone when John prods him with a splintery piece of wine rack that, by all counts, should be burning already.
“What?” Howie asks in a way that is usually followed with Can’t you see I’m busy? “What can I do for you, Oh Great Savior Of Mine?”
John Kerry blinks at Howie. “Got a light? I can get the fire started without one, but I figured I’d ask.”
Howie leans over and observes the fire pit. John went ahead and built a little tower in there; a pile of charcoal in the middle with pieces of the wine racks (the perfect size for tinder; the fact that Howie’s wino of a landlord’s booze collection didn’t go up to Heaven with the rest of the Rapture is beyond miraculous) stacked in a tall cube like they were Lincoln Logs. Upon squinting Howie sees bits of white intermingled with the charcoal in the center of the tower.
“Where’d you get the paper?” Howie asks as he turns the grinder cap in his hands.
“Soup cans and water bottles,” John admits proudly. “Surprised I thought of it, to be honest.”
“Same,” Howie does not lie. “How would you start it without a light?”
“Friction, I guess. But I thought I saw a lighter with the rest of your weed shit.”
“You did,” Howie states matter-of-factly.
“So why would I have to turn the ignition without the key, Howie?”
“I don’t know, ‘man,” Howie says tiredly. “I just want a fuckin’ smoke.”
“I know you do,” John tells him as he swallows his own patience with the ashen saliva stuck to the sides of his throat. “Give me your lighter, I’ll the fire going.”
“Sure, le’me light up first.”
“No,” John says, then puts his hand out. “Give me the lighter first, I’ll have the fire lit before you’re even…” His eyes found the collared Roscoe, leading his words away from their trail. “What are you doing?”
“It’s called a glasscrutch joint, you’ll get it when I’m done,” he promises. “Hold up, I’ll be two minutes.”
John almost lets it go. “No, asshole, just give me the lighter.” Almost.
“No, asshole,” as the grinding stops. “It’s an electric lighter. Might be out of juice, haven’t used it yet.” Howie continues grinding the herbs into smokable form, then abruptly stops and looks up at John Kerry. “You didn’t use it, did you?”
“No,” John tells him. “When?”
“When you moved it to my backpack.” Howie pounds the top of the grinder with the heel of his palm a couple times to knock the flakes down into the chamber. “You use my lighter, John?”
“‘Cause I haven’t charged it in a few days. If you used it, it’ll be dead.”
“I didn’t use it.”
“Then neither of us could make the smoke we want to make.”
“I didn’t use it, Howie.”
“Then I’d have to kill you, John Kerry, because I’m in the mood for smoke.”
“I want the smoke, John Kerry. I need it.”
“Howard, I didn’t use your lighter!” John yells, putting his palms to his temples as he turns and walks. ‘I should have left him and went to the church, Jesus Christ.’
“Good,” Howie says plainly. He unscrews the bottom piece from his grinder, revealing a pillowy mass of herbal flakes which reek loudly and proudly for all to hear. “So you won’t mind waiting a second so I can light my joint.”
“FINE, Howie. Fine.” John watches Howie sniff the weed. His eyes roll up behind the top lids and the bottom lid of his right twitches. “What if you light your weed but I can’t light my fire?”
“I’ll be high,” Howie informs him. He takes Roscoe out of his mouth and starts to funnel flakes into the open end of the paper rolled around his pipe. “Fuck your fire. How about that? What do you think of that, John Kerry of the Deck of Cards? No – John Kerry of the Ashen Wasteland.”
John doesn’t think very highly of that at all. Nor does he say anything. His body language, however, translates to, “Fine.”
It takes Howie twoish minutes to finish preparing his glasscrutch joint. Usually he has a tool to pack the pot down after he’s funneled it into the roll, an unsharpened pencil or a pen cap or something, but this is post-Rapture America so he has to make due. After going against his better judgment and ripping off the top third of the paper (at first he considered that he’d run out of papers, but then he realized how idiotic of an anxiety that is), Howie got to sliding the paper up and down, capping the mouth with his finger to pack the flakes down as tight as they’ll go while still retaining enough capacity for airflow as to be smokable. If the nug weighed one gram – it didn’t, it was closer to several grams, okay? – then Howie packs about a quarter of a gram into his glasscrutch joint by the time he calls it finished. There’s much more than a quarter of a gram in there, in fact Howie bets there’s nearly a full gram and a half stuffed into his advanced happystick, but what Howie’s trying to avoid is that he’s about to sacrifice a quarter of the last pot he’ll ever smoke on this planet, right here and right now.
“There was so much more…”
“What’s that, Howie?” John Kerry asks from the other side of the fire pit. He shakes his wrist out, it’s sore from holding up his head. “You all good over there, bud? Can I get that lighter yet?”
“There was so much more pot in the bag when I put it in the safe,” Howie cries at him. “I know you didn’t take any out, but I just don’t know who did.”
John Kerry doesn’t know what to say.
“It couldn’t have been my Yahn, I never gave him the combo to the bathroom safe. But… I guess it had to be him, didn’t it? It had to be Yahn.”
Failing to understand why Howie would have a safe in his bathroom, John almost asks who Yahn is. Then he decides not that he does not want to know, but that he does not care to know. “Yeah man, guess so.”
Neither of them speak for a moment, both inspired by different muses.
“Can I get that lighter yet, Howard?”
“Yeah, hold on a second.”
It is time, then. Howie, clenching Roscoe in his mouth like a lioness would its cub, picks up his electric lighter and raises it before him like it’s a flash drive with proof of extraterrestrial life and he’s about to plug it into his computer and leak that sweet data all across the world that hasn’t been cremated alive so the governments can cremate the world alive before the masses ban together and rebel against their tyranny. ‘Hey Hootsie, remember the governments?’ Hinging the cap open with his thumb, Howie stares intently at the four prongs with their little metal teeth waiting for a current to conduct. He looks at the button on the side of the lighter, how it glows a blue that looks almost arcane to Howie’s actively uncivilizing eyes.
“This is the first piece of technology I’ve seen since I woke up,” Howie tells John as if it’s a groundbreaking discovery. John rolls his eyes without trying to hide it. “It’s… it’s so beauti–”
“Dude, light your weed so I can get this fire going. I’m fucking chilly.”
Howie presses the ignition button. Nothing happens. Inferiority creeps into John’s face, but Howie thinks he knows what the problem is. The blue light turned off, as his lifted finger reveals, and there’s only one way to get it back on.
Howie closes the lighter and opens it back up. The four prongs with their little metal teeth hiss spitefully as two arcs of searing purple plasma cross over each other, forming a stable X.
“Howie…” John says, the hissing of the plasma music to his ears. “Dude, that’s…”
“Beautiful, I know,” Howie remarks around Roscoe. Bringing the crossed arcs up to the end of his glasscrutch joint, all the girth of a blunt with the discretion of a one-hitter and the nested bonus of being extremely sexy to use, Howie ignites the mass of pot and inhales deeply, nearly getting a hard-on at how soothing the burn of the smoke is against the salivic ash caked to the back of his callousy throat.
Can’t hear ya, John. The Forbidden Fruit is too loud.
Did you even look at the nug when you put it into the backpack? ‘Of course he didn’t, Hootsie Babey! He’s John Kerry, he’s a Goddamn plebian!’ True enough. Let’s look at it now, just so we can catch some of what John Kerry was missing.
As the smoke flows out of his mouth in cottony puffs, Howie picks up the mylar bag and looks at the remaining three quarters of his nug of Forbidden Fruit. It’s about the size of his thumb, but not his whole thumb. Just from the bottom knuckle up. Howie heard somewhere that the human thumb is actually a whole lot longer than it looks, that it actually starts at the wrist, and Howie believes it. He probably heard it from the same folks who told him that you can get to Wuester Central if you follow along Cannonball Road long enough.
From the outside the nug looks a dirty green, a very deep, down’n’dirty green, but of course it’s not actually dirty. The darker hues are just purples, ladies’n’germs, as Jack would be able to clearly see if he looked at the nug from the ass end instead of dead-on like the momo he is. Yeah, that’s right, look at it like it was up a woman’s skirt, there y’go Hootsie Babey, that’s Yahnny’s little boy. The purples are much more pronounced on the inside of the nug, especially around the stem. The stem is so purple-green it’s almost brown, which is just a dark shade of orange in and of itself.
“Howie, what is it? Answer me, what’s going on?”
And the smoke, the smoke, Jack! This smoke could cure the world of Armageddon, were it given the chance. This smoke is eloquent, it’s enriching, it’s… enlightening.
John takes the lighter out of Howie’s hand without Howie noticing. A lot’s happened to Howie over the past two days, a lot more than he can process right now. By the time he finds his way back out of his head, John’s fire pit is pumping wine-scented smoke into the atmosphere. Howie tokes on Roscoe as he watches the smoke rise and thinks about how much he loves smoke, how everything about it is perfect down to the hue of the billowing gray. Howie hates the color gray, the ashes, clouds, sky, all of it, but the gray of the smoke? The smoke from John’s fire, the smoke from Howie’s fire pot, the smoke that is the combination of the two? The smoke is hazy nectar, the smell of the flowers a violet ambrosia. Howie could make it to next week, he reckons. Howie might just see those Sisters again, too.
“Howie,” John says when he accepts that throwing the lighter at Howie just isn’t enough to get his attention while he’s smoking. “I think we should get going soon, man.”
“Going?” Howie asks as if John suggested they go out for sundaes like he and Jhan used to do before the world ended overnight. “We ain’t going yet, the fire just started.” He takes a long puff from Roscoe, choosing to not exhale it. Not just yet.
“Yeah, I started it,” John reminds him. “Do you know why I built that fire?”
“You were fucking chilly, if my memory serves me. Which, less often than not, it does.”
“I was,” John admits. “But that’s not why.”
“A’ight, Cryptic John Kerry of the Ashen Wasteland,” Howie castrates verbally. “Then why did you build us the mighty fyre, laddie-O?”
The two survivors of Armageddon stare at each other from opposite sides of a roaring campfire fueled by wood stained with the odor of fermented grapes.
“Because I needed a distraction. I needed something to do, something to take care of so I could clear my head. A campfire was the easiest thing. Fire makes me warm, fire makes me plan.”
“Monkey make you master,” Howie says in a plume of smoke. “Now bitch go cut my grass.”
“I heard it in a hip-hop song, I think. Dude who wrote it was a killer, but he died. Ironic. Show some respect.”
Air muscles its way through a crowd of ash waiting in a line inside John’s sinuses. “A fire is just good energy, man. It makes y–… it makes me think, makes me plan for the immediate future, makes me take a moment to stop and watch the flames dance. Makes me think how we’re all just dancing when it comes down to it, y’know?”
Howie sure as shit doesn’t know, and he makes no move to enunciate as much.
“Life is a big dance, Howie, and this shit?” He doesn’t gesture to the fallen world around them, yet somehow Howie knows John Kerry is referring to the fallen world around them. He tokes heavily on his glasscrutch joint, not thinking to share. “This apocalypse, this Rapture, this whatever’the’fuck that went down the night before last, this is just a change in the tune. This is just the Dee’Jay flippin’ the record over.”
“You really think so?” Howie asks seriously after a moment’s wonder.
“I do,” John says, nodding blindly like a monk who hasn’t eaten in weeks.
“I think that’s a terrible way to live.”
John’s eyelids slowly rise over his eyes.
“Life is a dance, sure, but it’s not the act of dancing. I see it more as an actual dance, like a good ol’ grade school dance in the gym.” Howie tokes gratefully on his Roscoe. Were his bad foot not rapidly filling with fluids of varying viscosity, he wouldn’t even be aware that he–
‘got stepped on by the Yahn-thing’
‘it let me live to kill me later’
‘it’s still out there’
‘the lightning is a costume, Roscoe said so himself’
–nor would he be aware that he’ll have to drain it out again before too long. Oof, that’s not going to be fun, Jack. Might want to close your peepers, ladies’n’germs, Hootsie Babey’s going to get a little freaky later on down the road, a little moist if you’re tokin’ what he’s blowin’. “You hang out for a little while, find a girl to dance with, take her to the punch table, maybe get a couple cookies, too. Dance some more.” Howie tokes with his eyes closed, as if sight could only take away from the ethereal experience. “And sometimes you get tired. Sometimes you take your girl outside into the open night air to cool off a little, to spend a little time looking up at the sky and bullshitting on stuff that makes you feel distinguished just thinkin’ about it, and then when you’re about ready to go back inside you look down and you’re standing in the driveway, there are cars all around but at the end of the driveway there’s a little patch of flowers. And you take your girl over and you get her to bend over without standing behind her to watch the show that ensues because it’s the night of the school dance and you’d prefer to be a gentleman and so you smell the flowers together. And then you go back in and you keep on dancing.” Howie takes another long toke and notices how intently John is looking at him. Howie hasn’t been looked at that intently in a long time. “See, because life is the dance, and you’re gon’a dance when you’re there, but dancing gets tired. You dance ‘cause you want to dance and then you stop when you don’t want to dance anymore, then you go outside and you smell the flowers, and… look, John, you don’t go to the dance to sit around holding up the wall and you don’t go just to dance yourself into a coma, either. You go to… you go…” He sighs, feeling suddenly lost on this fallen Earth where all the pot’s gone away. “You spend half the time dancing and the other half wanting to dance, and then you go home. Because you have to go home.” Howie tokes deeply then. A cough tries to interrupt. He doesn’t notice. “Everybody likes to forget that, but you have to go back home at the end. Ain’t no avoidin’ it, Jack. You were home before you went to the dance, so you go back home after the dance. That be the way the charcoal crumbles, ladies’n’germs, that’s… that’s the way, that…”
There’s a moment of the fire crackling and popping, and for a moment Howie feels like he’s home. Not in his apartment in Wuester, not even in the apartment he lived in before Johannes came into his life, but home. In his backyard as a boy with his folks and his folks’ friends and even some friends of his own, everybody sat around the roaring fire with tilted bottles and pass’ed jammers, everybody laughing and smiling and having a good time. Everybody enjoying what it means to live a life where you fall asleep in your own bed at night and wake up in the morning still living your American dream. Then he hears the silence in the background and the good times gently waft away like pot smoke into the windless air.
“Howard,” John says, his voice unsteady. “That… that was–”
“Don’t worry about what that was,” Howie scolds him. “You think we should get goin’, John?”
“I do,” John Kerry says softly. “If–”
“Then go. Yourself, by yourself.” Howie tokes on his paper blunt. His eyes do not leave those of John Kerry. “You get goin’, you go to the church, and you ask them if I can come back. It’s on Madison Avenue, all the way at the end. It’s pretty ashy up there, but–”
Howie stops so he can cough. John does not like how busy that cough sounds, not even a little bit.
“But you’ll see it. Y’go to the end of Madison Avenue and you’ll see it, I promise y’that. Get yourself some food and water, get yourself washed up. Some clean clothes.” A toke. The pot’s almost all smoked now, gon’a need a re-up pretty soon. “Even get some sleep. You followin’ me here, John?”
“I am, but I’m not going alone,” John states factually.
“You are, John” Howie rebuts, then inhales more pot smoke. It’s going to start coming out of his ears pretty soon. “And you’re go’n’a ask the Sisters Three if they’d accept me back in their hallowed halls. If they say yes – and that’s a big if, I do expect them to deny me entrance back into their church for what I did – then you’re go’n’ come back here and we’ll figure out a way for me to get from here to there. Sound good?”
“Howie, you’re coming with me,” John says bluntly. “You’re not going to be turned away by the Sisters, they’re servants of God. Of course they’ll let you back in. You’re not making any sen–”
“I’m making perfect Goddamned sense, John!” Howie shouts. They’re both quiet for a moment. The fire’s not as big as it was before Howie decided that John should get goin’. “Now hush up and let me finish speaking so you can get out of here, we’re burning daylight.”
“Howie, I can probably get there and back within the day, within an hour even; you don’t need to–”
“I said hush, John,” Howie says tiredly. Howie is very tired. His head hurts. His guts hurt. His foot hurts. The sunlight hurts his eyes, the ashes hurt his lungs. Howie is so, so tired. “You’re going to go, you’re going to check with the nuns, and if they say yes then you’re going to come back. I won’t go back there before I know I’m good and welcome, a’ight, because I know it’s going to be a trial getting me anywhere with this foot.” Howie clears his throat into the ash. He doesn’t look at the color of what was in his throat, but he knows it wasn’t black like it was earlier. Black snot wouldn’t get that kind of reaction from a human like John Kerry, wouldn’t drive a twitch into the muscles of his neck like that. “All right? That sound good to you, John Kerry?”
“It doesn’t, honestly,” Kerry exhales as he stands up. “But I suppose it’s the best I’m going to get.”
“You suppose right,” as Howie watches John sling the larger of the two backpacks – the backpack Howie didn’t take from the church – onto his shoulder, the shoulder covered in a real leather jacket. Quite possibly the only leather jacket left. “And one last thing before you go.”
“What’s that?” John asks, already knowing what crap Howie’s going to pull.
“You go into that cellar and get me more firewood,” Howie says as he brings Roscoe to his mouth. The pot is smoked, the ash is flicked; all that remains of the latest rendition of a dead species’ greatest smoking apparatus is the gunky shit stuck to the mouth of the pipe, but that’ll come right off on Howie’s fingers. That’s just fine. “I’m hoping to not see you until tomorrow, tell you the truth, John. I want you rested and spry so you can carry my fat ass up Cannonball Road without having to set me down, we clear on that?”
“Crystal,” John tells him, fully prepared to lay Howie down in one of the beds he’s hoping the church will have before John lays himself down in his own before the sun has a chance to set over St. Wuester’s Church up at the end of Madison Avenue today. “You’re still go’n’a be here when I get back, right?”
Howie looks at John for a moment, almost as if he’s not sure what the man said.
“I’m not going to go collect firewood for a ghost, am I?” John continues to ask. “Pretty damn convenient that I heard you carrying on as I just happened to be passing by in the middle of the night last night, Howie. And I just watched you smoke a fat joint in the apocalypse, mind you.”
“What’re you try’n’a say?” Howie asks nonplussedly.
“I’m still not sure that you’re real, hombre.”
“Nor am I you,” Howie elucidates as he breaks more nugglets off the last of his pot. “Fire’s getting low, John Kerry. I’m fucking chilly, in the irreverent words of some asshole I know.”
John Kerry smirks at Howie “Hoots” McGee. He then walks back behind the house, down into the wine cellar, and takes his time breaking more wine racks apart. He amasses a blatantly impressive pyramid of wine bottles next to the bottom of the concrete stairs, all of them full, most of them half John’s age (whatever John’s age may be), and as he’s picking up the last splinter of firewood so his bepotted friend Howie can keep warm, John thinks to himself how happy the Sisters Three will be to know that there’s a whole cellar full of the blood of their Lord’s baby boy just ready for the sipping.
“I hope you’re all ready for Communion, Sisters,” John Kerry says to himself as the ash starts puffing up around his feet again, “because it’s about supper time, though I don’t think it will be the last.”
Coming around the corner, John can almost see the fire pit being deserted. He can almost see the empty spot where Howie isn’t sitting, can almost hear the absence of Howie’s labored wheezing, can almost smell the acrid scent of the ash over the deliberate reek of the pot smoke. Howie’s still there, of course, he still has his backpack on his lap and dude’s already smoking again (although the worm of pot sticking off the end of his pipe isn’t nearly as long as the first one was). His hands are closed in fists, though, which John can’t find a reason for noticing, yet he noticed it all the same.
Yet he noticed it all the same, ladies’n’germs. Yet he noticed it all the same.
“A’ight, Howie,” Kerry says formally as he bends over and puts the generous bundle of firewood next to Howie. “That should do ya until tonight, at least, but I’ll be back before then.”
“I bet you will,” Howie tells the dancing flames. He then looks up at John. “You goin’ now?”
“Planning on it,” John tells him, tightening the straps on his pack. “You sure you don’t want to come with me now? It’d save me a whole lot of time.”
“I’m sure,” Howie says. He looks to the fire. He looks back at John. “There’s one last thing before you go, uh… one more last thing.”
“What’s thah–” John starts to say, but then stops. He knows what that one more last thing is, it’s laying flat in Howie’s palm. “No man, it’s all good, keep it for yourself. I’m not a smoker anyway, I don’t–”
“John,” Howie says patiently, trying to hold his smile. “It’s the end of the world. You, me, and three old women of the church are the only ones who survived, and more than half of us don’t even know about you yet. You saved my life, ‘man, you came to me in my time of need and you helped me out. You made sure I kept on living, so… and, and, God kept us all alive, right? You can’t argue that; God decided that it would be preferable for you, me, and the Sisters Three to survive the apocalypse, and for all we know, John, me giving you what I have to give you is the one and only reason God kept me alive. So you’re going to take this, John.”
“You’re going to take this and you’re going to smell the flowers, John.” Howie raises the joint he rolled while John was collecting firewood level with John’s waist, yet the ‘man who saved Roscoe still doesn’t take it. “I think you spend a lot of time dancing, John. I also think it’ll do you well to remind yourself why you love to dance so much, all right? So take it.”
John doesn’t take the joint, even though Hoots rolled it just for him.
“John, take this joint or I swear to Christ I’m not going back to that Goddamned church with you, even if you’re stupid enough to come back and try to get me.”
“Why?!” John screams kindly. “Just why the fuck not, Howie? Are you out of your fucking mind, guy? This shit ain’t a game! We have the opportunity to go somewhere and live, the chance to thrive when we shouldn’t even be surviving. Why are you acting like this, like…” He shakes his head and blinks his eyes real fast, as if to confirm he’s really awake. “Like a Goddamned lunatic?”
“John,” Howie says slowly. “Take the joint and get goin’. The Sisters Three are waitin’ for you and they don’t even know it yet. Go make ‘em aware.”
“Fine,” John says, snatching the joint out of Howie’s hand and angrily shoving it into the inside pocket he was keeping Roscoe in before Howie woke up. “Fine, I’ll smell your fucking flowers. Happy?”
“Thrilled,” Howie shrugs.
“Good,” John shrugs back. “Tell you what, Harold. I’ll take this joint to the church and back, but you’re keeping the lighter.”
An eyebrow from Howie to express that he already knew that but he doesn’t know why he knew it.
“Then I’ll bring the joint back with me when I come to get you. We’ll smoke it together here at the fire – I’ll relight it if I have to, it’ll be easy even without more paper – and then we’ll go back to… what’d you call it?”
“The First Stand of New Civilization,” Howie reminds him. “Say it back to me now.”
“The First Stand of New Civilization…?”
“Good. You make sure they call it that down to the last letter. Can you do that for me too, John?”
“Yeah, Howie. And if they ask why, you’ll explain it to them by tomorrow afternoon the latest. We clear?”
“We clear,” Howie says noncommittally out the side of his mouth. The side facing away from John Kerry.
“You sure about that? Don’t have anything else you need me to do before I leave?” John takes a step towards Vhykus Path then, as if to prove he’s really going to go, as if he wasn’t the one who brought up the idea of leaving in the first place. “Are we all good, Howie Hoots McGee?”
“We’re all good, John Kerry. Now get goin’.”
John nods. There are no more words on the subject. Not until…
John turns around in the middle of Vhykus Path. He’s standing in footprints, but he’s not sure if they were made by him or Howie. He can’t remember which way Howie said he came here from, it feels like they’ve been dicking around with this fire for days now.
“One last thing, John!”
“What?” John calls out, having heard Howie perfectly fine the first time.
“One last thing for you to do for me, John!”
John starts walking back towards the house on the bend of Vhykus Path. Then he stops, as Howie hasn’t said anything more.
“Howie!” John shouts across the side yard.
“What do you need me to do before I go? What’s the one last thing?”
John sees Howie stare at him for a few seconds. “I’m high as a kite, John, I forget what I was going to say!”
Although he fee–
“I forget that I said anything in the first place! Hah! Now you know why they call me Hoots¸ I’m owl right!”
Although he feels like being irritated by that would be the proper reaction, John just doesn’t have the energy. He used it all dancing, it seems, and now he’s tired. Not as tired as Howie is, but tired all the same ladies’n’germs. Not as tired as Howie is, but tired all the same. John turns and walks west towards Rosebud heading away from the bend in Vhykus Path. He holds a thumbs up over his head and though he doesn’t see it, Howie gives him one right back.
This is the final interaction our Howie “Hoots” McGee will ever share with John Kerry, but not the other way around. You tokin’ what I’m blowin’ on, ladies’n’germs?
Roscoe’s smoke, gray as the ashen wasteland, dances in pace with the pit’s roaring fire.
Hello Commons, this has been the last 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~