The End of the World, or something like it, happened on a Tuesday night between the hours of 4:00 and 9:00 PM. I was not around to witness it because I was eating a sandwich.
But most other people on Earth did witness it, or so I would assume. They witnessed the raining balls of fire, the floods, the earthquakes, and/or the widespread plague or disease that managed to wipe out much of civilization. Or as much civilization that was left for me to discover decaying on my apartment landing.
Mrs. Goldfarb’s face had melted like a wax crayon left on the radiator. It really was an unpleasant sight, which is why I try to put it in terms that I can handle. If I liken Mrs. Goldfarb to a crayon, I thought, chewing a slice of dry toast that I forgot to butter, then maybe I can manage to take the whole day in a stride.
Hers was the first dead body I had ever seen. The first real dead body; I had seen my grandpa’s body at his funeral, ramrod stiff stuffed up in a box, but they do so much work on dead bodies at funeral parlors who’s to say? Makeup, stitching – by that time he could have been more paint than person. But Mrs. Goldfarb was very very dead. The reality of it hit me in the face like a hot fart, and I repeated one word to myself to ground my mind: crayon.
I scooped the morning paper up from under her soggy thigh and slammed the apartment door behind me.
The front page went far enough toward explaining what had happened … some photo of a smiling scientist on page seven and a shot of the lab where he perfected a crazy process to make giant insect soldiers or graft human heads onto cattle or to program dressmaking abilities into embryos, something like that. I wasn’t too concerned with the accomplishment – just kind of pissed off that no one had consulted me. Across the planet, in millions of privately funded research labs and publicly funded universities, socially handicapped eggheads were smashing chemicals together in the hopes of creating the next wonder drug/weapon of mass destruction, never bothering to send out a poll or a questionnaire asking the people of Earth “is this okay?” When I was in college and I had a roommate, I couldn’t change the TV channel without asking her say-so, but somehow the geniuses of the planet Earth were allowed to glue Mrs. Goldfarb’s head to the landing without so much as giving me a heads-up.
Well, here was my heads-up, I thought, buried on page seven behind the entertainment news and an ad for a family sedan that offered more leg room in the trunk and adjustable power lock window brakes on the … roof … or something … what was that smell? At any rate, no one would want to buy a car today, but I thought I would give Gary a call at the lot to tell him I would be in.
The phone purred in my ear as I split a chink in the blinds to survey the damage. It was typical – entire buildings collapsed to rubble, some sliding into big fissures in the ground … human remains peppering the pavement everywhere like some unwholesome spice and in the middle of it, legions of giant iron-clad bees carrying automatic weapons ushering the survivors into bloody whirlpools of …
The answering machine message cut in – there was no answer at the lot. Gary must not have made it in today. I snapped the blinds shut and dug between the couch cushions for my pants. Somewhere in the pocket there was a notepad, and in that notepad was Gary’s home number. I dialed it while double-checking the number on the sheet, even though I remembered the second half before I’d found it. Gary answered almost immediately, screaming.
“Oh GOD! Who is it? Who is it – help me!”
“Gary, it’s me.”
“Oh God, they’re all dead! Sweet Jesus everyone’s dead! Sweet Jesus God! Sweet L-”
“Gary, I -”
“-ord they’re dead … and the rest of them are coming to get me .. they’re coming! Don’t let them get me!!”
“Gary, I’m not going to make it in today.”
“Nnooo! No don’t!!”
“Gary? I’m not feeling so hot.”
It was a lie. I felt fine.
“I’m going hang out here for a while.”
“Don’t leave me! Don’t hang up! They’re here! Sweet Lord don’t hang up the ph-”
It was no use reasoning with Gary when he got talking like that. I decided to just have a quick shower before figuring out what to do, when Mrs. Goldfarb’s semi-skeletal hand punched through my front door.
I had never had much experience dealing with zombies, I thought, unless you counted Grandpa, but by the time the funeral home’s done with them they’re more paint than zomb-
No time to finish the thought, I thought, because Mrs. Goldfarb’s icy grip was around my neck and it looked like she was about to gut me with the fingernails on her other hand, which now reared up behind her ready to strike. Without really thinking, I wriggled out of her grasp and backed up a little, as though she was that girl in high school with the head gear who tried to kiss me after the dance but I had this crush on another girl … but it was a long story, so I threw my piece of toast like some kind of ninja star. I was never much of a fighter, and it showed, because the toast just kinda winged off Mrs. Goldfarb’s shoulder and scared the cat, who up until that point had been pretty cool about the whole thing.
I guess she wasn’t a particularly strong zombie, or whatever, because a lame punch to the chest pretty much floored her, and though I don’t like to think about it, I guess I stomped on her face for a while when she went down, because she was a lot easier to manage on the floor.
I left my place pretty quickly after that, making some excuse to myself about having to do laundry, even though there wasn’t much point in it now that stuff was so wrecked. Before I went, I grabbed a coffee can from the counter that was mostly full of money – I had been saving up to buy a lamp, or something, but it didn’t seem important now that the sun burned bright black in the sky and everything was pretty much lit up like a fluorescent haunted house in some cheap midway. Maybe that money could be put to better use buying me a cool leather jacket like the Road Warrior had, only with a nicer lining because … well, that was all moot now, since money would probably be ineffective in a new world order run by mutated insects and slave zombie assassins and whatever God-awful abominations of nature headed my way, like that three-legged wolflike pig-dog beastie staring me down in the middle of the street … looked like it was licking its lips after snuffling the entrails out of that dead third-grader next to the telephone pole. Looked like it was going to rear back and jump at me, too … probably suck my eyeballs out of my face and chew on one of my nipples trying to get milk out of me, and then snort around in my gaping mouth hole while it sits on my chest and grunts like the demon hell-spawn it is …
“Crayon,” I said, and patted the beastie on its head.
Yes, things would probably be different now, I thought, and slid a few quarters into the slot of that vending machine outside my building, the fourth floor of which had just imploded. I would probably have to move now, and maybe find a new job. But things didn’t need to get too out of control. I just had to keep a level head and frame things in a way that made them more bearable. I pressed A-1, and the metal coils spun slowly until my favourite candy bar slid out and hit the bottom of the machine. I kicked what remained of someone’s hand out from the metal slot and grabbed the candy.
I sat on the driest part of the curb and tried to shut out the sounds of sizzling flesh as one of my neighbours ran past me, being chased by the pig-dog who, quite surprisingly, could now breathe fire. The foil wrapper came off the candy bar as it always head, and just this once I thought it would be okay to toss the wrapper on the sidewalk.
Yeah, things would change. Sure they would. But with its fresh-roasted peanuts bathed in rich caramel nestled within a coating of pure milk chocolate, the delicious taste of Nutty Wonder would always be sure to satisfy.