“You may not always see us, but you must always know we’re there.”
“The unavoidable fact of the matter, ladies’n’germs, and Jack, too, is that there shall always come the time when a man has to smoke the last of his pot.”
The fire is all but dead. Smoke rises from the ashes in the pit. The pile of broken wine racks stands just as tall as it was when John set it down a short while ago. The Earth defiantly spins. The wind refuses to blow.
“You can bitch and moan all you want, Jack, you can ask me over and over why the pot’s gone, where all the pot’s gone, why’s all the pot all gone, but when you get to askin’, be prepared for me to answer.”
John’s probably not at the church yet. He might be, but probably not. The Sisters Three probably have that place all sorted away and ready for… what? Regardless, Sister Letty’s probably just about ready for another dose of THC by now, bless her heart. Maybe they’ll have some matches so John can smoke her up. John Kerry of the Ashen Wasteland, the ‘man who saved Howie’s life.
“Because I know the reason why all the pot’s all gone. Hootsie Babey, Hootsie knows, Jack. Hootsie smoked the pot, Hootsie and Roscoe took good care of Lady Cannabis. Reigned this apocalypse in right. That’s why the pot’s all gone: it belonged to a man. A man who smoked the last of his pot, ‘cause no one else would smoke it for him.”
Howie watches as the last wispy tendril of the fire’s smoke thins out into nonexistence.
“Nobody to smoke it with him, nobody to smoke it for him.”
The deaded land makes not a sound.
“That’s the way the charcoal crumbles: right into the soil from which the flowers grow.”
Roscoe floats to Howie’s dry, cracked lips. The lighter scorches the roach with its plasmic X. Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.
Howie tosses Roscoe’s bent form into the fire pit. The embers lap up the small piece of paper still attached to him, sparking a tiny flame for an insignificant amount of time until it smokes out, snuffed.
Then, nothing. Just stillness, just silence, just like the rest of the world.
“Bet it’s not all like this,” Howie says to himself. “Bet it’s not ashy in Central Wuester.”
Nothing happens, nothing at all.
“In Wuester Central.”
The mylar bag which once held the last of Howie’s pot is pathetically empty. He sneers at it with disgust.
“I bet everything is fine and dandy down in Wuester Central.”
“I need a fucking smoke.”
Howie stands up. On both feet. He doesn’t feel a thing. His foot does; judging from the vile centipede of blood and puss crawling out of it, Howie’s right foot feels a whole lot of things right now, but Howie himself doesn’t feel a single one of them. It makes him wonder: what is Howie? Is he his mind, a culmination of thoughts and feelings which change more frequently than the weather but with even less reason? Is he a spirit and his body no more than a meatsuit he pilots around the planet, ‘The dead, ashen planet, this forsaken place where sinners dwell,’ or is he just his body, a semi-hairless monkey who accidentally slipped through the cracks and woke up when all the rest of the world tucked in for that long spell of shuteye? Is all semblance of spirituality he feels purely a hallucination coupled with delusions of grandeur? Is he just a puppet to the whims of a higher power, or is Howie “Hoots” McGee something else entirely, something beyond the realms of human understanding?
“No way to know,” Howie reminds himself. Then he takes a step. Then another step, with his right foot this time, and though his stomach does a flip watching all the ashen gore pour out of the hole poked into the top of that foot, he does not feel pain. So he takes another step, then another step, then another step, and suddenly he’s at the edge of the clearing in the ash that John Kerry made for him. Then he steps up on the ash and it doesn’t break. It holds him. It’s just like walking on snow that was left to freeze for a week, except the ice on the top don’t break under his weight. The shards of ice don’t shred Howie’s ankles, it just holds him.
At roughly the same time that Sister Etty woke and caught the first glimpse of the world after Rapture, so too did John Kerry rise from slumber all alone. John Kerry quickly came to grips with his surroundings, John Kerry got locked and loaded, and then John Kerry got a’walkin’. Howie “Hoots” McGee woke up late that fateful morning. He smoked some pot, went back to sleep, woke up again forgetting that he had smoked the pot (mostly because of the joints he kept pulling out of his pockets, where did they all come from?), he helped three kindly old women so he could take some of their stuff and abandon them, he wandered to his old apartment, almost killed himself looking for his dead… ‘Whatever Yahn was to me, still not sure about that,’ and then he met John Kerry. And then, when John tried to save him, Howie let John walk away.
Now Howie, who feels more awake than he ever has in his life, who feels like he just rose from slumber, is all alone. Howie’s come to grips with his current situation, Howie’s locked and loaded. Now, Howie gets a’walkin’.
He walks down Vhykus to Rosebud, and from there he cuts through the ashfall back to Cannonball. Howie feels a vague amazement at how, rather than collapsing it or even soaking into it, all the blood and gore that oozes from his sickly purple foot simply falls through the ash. It just passes, just phases right through, as if there was no ash there at all. As if there was no road there at all. As if there were no world there at all, as if this entire reality hosted on the fallen Earth was just a simulation…
But that would be ridiculous, wouldn’t it? There’s no simulation. The humans just blew it. “We had Earth, and we lost Her. So She lost us. See ya when I see ya, have a nice afterlife. Peace, no love though. No love.”
Step by step Howie goes a’walkin’ down Cannonball Road. He passes the few streets he knows and a whole lot more he doesn’t. He gets on John’s old tracks and follows them until they turn off Cannonball Road. Then he keeps on a’walkin’. And a’walkin’. And a’walkin’.
“Wuester Central,” Howie says to himself after hours, days, mayhap years of walking. The sun does not set, the light does not change, the wind does not blow, and Howie does not die. He does not age. He does not think. He does not smoke. He does not smell the flowers. He just keeps on a’walkin. “I’m goin’ t’Wuester Central.”
“Wuester Central?” asks a familiar voice from in front of Howie at some point on his never ending trip into the center of town, a trip not taken for the journey but solely for the destination, a trip taken for that which lies in wait at the end of Cannonball Road for the few good travelers who keep steadfast and make it all the way there. “I hear that right?”
The only problem is that Howie doesn’t have his eyes closed. He’s not looking to either of his sides, not looking over his shoulder to see if he can still see the church, not looking at his eyelids for the portal–
‘the portal with the beings’
–with the beings–
‘who beckon, they beckon to me’
–who beckon to Howie, as if they could see him–
‘to bring me into their world’
–even though they’re not real–
–but actually just a complex hallucination caused by, I don’t know, waking up in the apocalypse–
–and all the stressors that came with it. Suddenly not having pot to smoke probably didn’t help either, nor did falling back and cracking his skull on the ground–
‘ashen ground everything is ashen Hootsie Babey’
–but oh well, what’s he going to do? Hootsie Babey’s made it past that point of his journey, Howie’s stepped up onto the weightless, soundless ash without breaking it, without feeling any pain in his gangrenous foot, and he got a’walkin’ and kept a’walkin’ until he finally started hearing a voice that wasn’t his own coming from the air right in front of him, and for some reason he still turned around to check over his shoulder, just in case the voice that came from in front of him really came from behind him. Then he turned back around, and for some reason even dumber than the reason he turned around in the first place, that’s when he saw them.
Yes, them. All three of them standing in a row in the middle of Cannonball Road, all three of them standing on the ash, all three of them dressed in such a way to make Howie wonder about a few things, neither of the three of them even remotely known by Howie “Hoots” McGee.
Yet he does know them; he’s never seen these three men in his life, yet Howie knows them. He knows them all too well.
“Well?” asks the one in the middle, the one with the fedora on his head. “I hear that right? You’re lookin’ for Wuester Central?”
“I… am,” Howie tells the triad of apparitions. “What of it?”
“Well it’s not real, Hootsie Babey,” says the man to the left, the one with the purple sunglasses and facial hair for days. “Is it real, Brained?”
“I doubt it, Maned,” answers the one on the right, the one draped in a cloak with the hood up. Howie can see hair under that cloak’s hood, blonde hair, endless blonde hair, it’s growing and growing and growing up into… up into what? Why doesn’t the hood of the man’s cloak move as his endless blonde hair keeps growing up? “I’ve never been there. You ever been there, S–”
“I’ve never been to Wuester Central, I don’t know that it exists.” The man underneath the fedora looks at Howie, lowers his sunglasses in doing so. His eyes are beyond description, those terrible vortexes of blinded sight. “How about you, Hootsie Babey? Have you ever been to Wuester Central?”
“What about Central Wuester, Howie?” asks the one called Maned by the one called Brained.
“What about the center of town, Howard? Have you ever been to the center of town?” It feels as though they’re mocking Howie simultaneously, all three of them, even though only one of them speaks at a time. “I think I heard somewhere that if you stay on Cannonball Road and take it allllll the way down, you get to the center of town.”
The other two, the ones called Maned and Brained, also think they heard that somewhere.
“But see, I have a secret,” says the one in the middle. “I alone know what lies at the center of Wuester, Howie Hoots McGee.”
“You do?” Howie asks, and is he weeping? Are those tears falling down his cheeks? They must be.
“Oh he does,” says the one called Brained by the one called Maned.
“Ohh how he does,” confirms the one called Maned by the one called Brained.
“Would you like to know the secret, Hootsie Babey?” asks the one in the middle, the one whose name was cut off at the letter S. Saned? As in cured of insanity?
“More than anything,” Howie pleads. He’s fallen to his knees, he weeps thick, burning tears of swirling amber tetrahydrocannabinol. They flow in slow globs like stale molasses. “Please, tell me, plea–”
“There is no center of this town, Howie Hoots McGee,” says the suited one in the middle, his voice cracking like stepped-on eggshells.
“There is no center,” says the one called Brained.
“There is no center,” parrots the one called Maned.
“There is no center,” finishes the one unnamed. “It’s a bottomless town.”
“It’s a bottomless town!” cries the one called Maned, his voice enraptured with all the love of God Almighty.
“It’s a bottomless town!” yells the one called Brained, his voice seething with all the hatred of the Devil in Hell.
“It’s a bottomless town!” sings the one in the middle, opening his blazer to let rip the doves of ashen wing.
“What are you?” Howie asks, scraping his ass against the crystalline surface of the corrupted ash behind him. “What is this, what in Hell–”
“Nothing so remedial as Hell, my boy,” says the one unnamed. “You don’t know any of us, Hootsie Babey, but we three know you.”
“You…” Howie says, voice trembling, as he swallows a hardened chunk of ashen mucus. “You know me?”
“We know all of you,” the one called Maned explains.
“And we know all of I, as well,” the one called Brained adds, confusing Howie further.
“We’re always there when The Father must mediate between Mongrel and Perception, Hootsie Babey,” the one unnamed piles on top, ruining Howie’s final moments of life as Howie “Hoots” McGee. “You may not always see us, but you must always know we’re there.” He pauses, and during that pause Howie receives a vision of unbridled power, a maddening vision of entire universes colliding again and again in a vast emptiness until they shatter, echoing vicious calamity throughout the many worlds they hold. Existence weeps. Grains of Sand give birth and die and spiral forever forward into the boundless limits of infinity and, “Hootsie Babey. You must know it, Hootsie Babey, you just must.”
“Or what?” Howard asks the triad of men standing there like they’re pillars. The lofty jazz music playing in the background until this point cuts off with a scratch. “I must know it or what, you fedora-wearing phantasm?”
“Or this,” declares the suited man unnamed, and thus ends a novel about a man who smokes the last of his pot.
Hello Commons, this has been the last subchapter of the last 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~