(apologies to those who will notice: my verb tense in pt. 1 was past-tense and now I’ve switched to present-tense…present-tense recounting of past events, a method of writing I’ve never employed before and so expect to screw up. Don’t hate me too much. Just buckle up and get ready for some flaws.)
(The New American Apocalypse
Table of Contents: Part One; Part Three; Part Four; Part Five; Part Six; Part Seven; Part Eight; Part Nine; Part Ten; Part Eleven; Part Twelve; Part Thirteen; Part Fourteen; Part Fifteen; Part Sixteen;
Times like these, I wish I had a car. But I’m just a lowly starving artist, bank account limping its way month to month supported by a trickle of royalties, survival jobs, and the consideration of strangers and heavily-abused friends. So when I see those fatcats bibbed up to eat the youth of the Lower East Side, aging suits and young professionals gathered for a feast like maggots writhing under the skin of the world, I run not to my car (the everpresent symbol of the American Dream) but to the subway, where I take filth-encrusted stairs down to a horrorshow station…
I realize I’m surrounded by zombies! They pile through the turnstiles, shambling beyond death!
They’re not zombies in the traditional way of being zombies, with the flesh all hanging down and arms dangling by worn tendons like lepers and black plague victims, no!–they wear the same clothing they’ve always worn, t-shirts and jeans and button-ups with ties like nooses wrung around their necks. The zombie-factor (if you’ll allow such a thing to exist) is in their mindless shuffle, their dead, hollow eyes and groaning useless tongues. They speak to each other in something that used to be language, but now is only absurdity, only the shallowest and most meaningless gibberish:
“God, it’s hot, today…”
“Wish that fucking train would get here.”
“The MTA is useless.”
“I’m going to be late for work.”
“We’re all going to be late for work.”
“We’ve all always been late to work.”
“The MTA is late to work.”
“Did you hear about Kim Kardashian?”
“Kim Kardashian should take control of the MTA.”
“She has a baby.”
“The baby will eat the MTA.”
“…and it’s so humid, too…”
None of them seem to know that the future of our country is being cannibalized outside, or if they know, they must not care, they must have more important things to talk about (like Kim Kardashian and how good she looks even after the baby). I pull strands of hair out of my head and grab one of the zombies by his shoulders. I shake him. “Haven’t you seen what’s going on out there!? Don’t you hear the screams!?”
He looks at me with stupid corpse-eyes, confused and dumber than a brain-damaged chihuahua, “Is there a celebrity out there?”
I stamp my feet down the length of the platform looking for some sign of intelligent life, but there isn’t one. Something has gotten its tongue into their skulls and licked out their brains, cleaned the plate, and now their minds only run on the local line. For a second I worry that they might come for me, might use the mass of their mindless horde to seize my limbs and tear me apart and devour my soul, but luckily for me I smell like the shit that shit shat, and that seems to give me some breathing room.
It is, for the record, both hot and humid. Gross sweat steams from my skin and hangs in the air. I feel less confident about the breathing room as I inhale all the dead grime coming off of me. I smell like exhumed graves.
The rails rattle with the train’s approach. The zeds were right about that.
I hear the metal growl deep down the dark tunnel. The train sounds like some ancient wyrm snarling out its hunger. FEED ME. I step into the yellow-painted caution area out of habit. Sometimes it’s good to feel the train whip by, the air against your face, the steel body inches away — a momento mori for the underground set. Those that can’t afford the luxury of collectible funerary garb and stolen death-shrouds and trips to museums of the exhumed dead in Italy.
The train is the color of oil stains when it rumbles in. It howls monstrous through the tunnel and the brakes scream as it comes to a stop. Doors roll open like heavy-lidded eyes and a polite machine-voice announces “This is a Queens bound Death Train. The next stop is 14th Street, Union Square, with transfers to the 4, 5, 6, Q, R, and Hell trains.” I push my way onboard into a crowd packed shoulder to shoulder sweating together on their way to whatever personal hell they’ve chosen to destroy themselves with.
In an effort to make some space around me, I decide to put on a show. “‘scuze me, ladies and gentlemen,” I say, doing my best to fill my voice with as much phlegm and human despair as I can, “I am not homeless, but I am very, very broke. Actually, I may be homless. It’s hard to tell, since I remember nothing of the past two weeks. In any case, I am taking donations!” I maneuver my way between tight-packed shoulders and hold out my hand (dirtier than I remember it being, to be honest, with something like ink soaked in around my nails), “Alms for the poor!? Alms for the poor!?”
People make a lot of space pretending not to see me. They press themselves against the walls, against the screaming body of the train, and suck in their guts to avoid getting too close. To touch me would mean filth, a kind of human dirt they’d have to bathe in alcohol to get rid of. They stare at the floor. They tuck their legs in under the subway benches and hug their bags to the their laps. The bodies part like the red sea around me, all the zombies preferring the snug embrace of a stranger’s armpit to the idea of acknowledging me. Ah, yes, and now there’s the breathing room I was looking for!
I walk up to one of them and wave my hand in his dead-eyed face. Either he is a very good actor or he is truly, truly vacant inside, for he doesn’t even blink. I lean in close so he can catch the stench of me breathing from the collar of my shirt. “You with me, man?” I ask.
“You’ll just use it for drugs and alcohol!” he screams back.
“What were you going to use it for!?” I snarl indignantly.
He doesn’t respond, but he lifts his copy of The New York Post in front of his face and starts muttering to himself in a language I don’t speak–a language I don’t think anyone speaks, except for the child-hungry old men in the park. The newspaper headline says nothing, but the photo on the front is an infinite darkness drooling tar and I can feel something alive pulsing beneath it. Oh, it’s the end, alright.
We stay like that until the subway bursts out of the dark underground onto the elevated track running through Queens.Share This: