The New American Apocalypse, Pt. 14

(The New American Apocalypse

Table of Contents: Part One; Part Two; Part Three; Part Four; Part Five; Part Six; Part Seven; Part Eight; Part Nine; Part Ten; Part Eleven; Part Twelve; Part ThirteenPart Fifteen; Part Sixteen;

Part Fourteen:…)

I’m not ashamed to confess: I almost abandoned them.

I stood there at the gate of the glowing pit for a long time and considered running.  I could easily retreat, return to my apartment and call the Beast and say “yes, I’ve decided to join you, now, where shall I go to punch the clock and start work?  And has the girl calmed down enough to speak to me, yet?” and that could’ve been that.

It would’ve been so easy.

But that would only buy me time.  I’m not one of the Beast’s chosen demographic…and I’m about as far off from the Market’s golden ones as a man can get (without being homeless which…which…where the hell are they, after all?).  Eventually, one day, maybe in a week or a year or a decade or half a lifetime, someone would knock on my door and tell me it’s over.  And who the hell would be left to speak for me?

I take a deep breath and turn back to the mass of writhing bodies before me…and I step inside.

The murmurs, their unholy prayers…they make my ears itch:

“For thine is the Big Mac and the Whopper and the Frosty…”
“For thine is the Prada and the Gucci and the Fendi…”
“For thine is…”

This is the way the world ended.
Not with a bang,
but a commercial.

The zombies jitter around like bobbleheads.  They shuffle into and out of stores.  The cannibals pack into steakhouses and chain restaurants.  I can see them through the windows feasting on the dead.  In the Hard Rock Cafe, they dine on the meats of old artists, maybe Jim Morrison’s freezer-frozen flesh.  Later, they’ll shit his artistry into a meat grinder and repackage it as the soundtrack of a car commercial.  Black Polished Chrome, indeed.  You might have missed the point.

I push my way through the crowd.  If you’ve ever been to Times Square on a busy day, you know choice is an illusion.  Trying to maneuver through the shuffling bodies is impossible.  I make it a couple blocks before I’m diverted by the overflow of foot traffic through the nearest set of open glass doors.  Tile floors greet me.  In the harsh fluorescence, it takes some time for me to figure out where I’ve ended up.  A fast food joint.  Behind the counter, dead-eyed people in matching uniforms punch information into a register.  Their skeletal arms twitch and convulse with each motion.  The fingers are worn to the bone.  Several of them have been taking orders for so long that their index fingers are nubbed and bloodied, the nail peeled off.  Behind them, beneath the only unlit bulb, a gouge in reality vibrates.

I won’t go into detail about what a gouge in reality looks like…mostly because I can’t quite remember.  It’s something that, when you try to look directly at it, gives you a searing headache.  It’s something you can never quite look directly at.

I’m herded into one of five separate lines.  I whirl around, looking for the exit, but my sudden movement seems to draw the gaze of several slow-witted zombies.  They groan in my direction, a single rasping phrase: “did you see last night’s episode?” and I realize it’s in my best interest not to attract too much attention.  I nod.  “Yes, it was very good.”  The zombies, in unison, shrug.  “It was okay, I guess,” their hoarse voices chorus.  I shrug.  That seems to end the conversation.

I reach the front of the line and a woman with terrified eyes peers up at me from behind the register.  “How can I help you, today?” she asks.

“I’m still deciding,” I answer, only then looking up at the menu.  Maybe I’m not so different from the zombies, after all.

“Help,” she whispers, her voice a bare rasp under the cacophonous fast food sounds.

“What?”

“Help us,” there’s an urgency in her quiet, a despair.  The touchscreen of her register is smeared with blood.  “They won’t let us take lunch breaks.  They won’t give us a cost-of-living raise.”

“So leave.  Just run.”

She shakes her head.  “They’ll eat my children.”

“Yeah…” I scratch the back of my head, suddenly at a loss for action.  Being grievously outnumbered and coming face-to-face with a rent in reality itself does that to a guy.  “They do do that.”

“Please.”

“You know, I think I’ll just have a chicken wrap and a, uh, a diet soda…”

Her hand jerks forward and jabs at the screen.  A whimper sticks in her throat.  Her eyes glass over with tears.  She swallows.  “Do you…do you want fries with that?”

“FASTER!” a voice bellows from the hole in reality.  “FASTERRRRR.”

“Do you want fries with that!?” she yelps out in response.

“I think I’ll have a coffee?  Are you still doing that $1 promo with the coffees?”

A single tear streaks her face.  She nods.

“NO CRYING!” the voice bellows.  “SERVICE THE CUSTOMER!”

“Please do something,” she whispers.

“Yeah, so, a coffee definitely…no diet soda, I guess, that’s just too much liquid.  I don’t want to have to stop every few minutes and look for a public restroom, not in this environment.  I bet the lines are excruciating.”

“I’m so hungry.”

“NO COMPLAINING!”

I clear my throat.  “So, um.  I don’t know.  Isn’t there a union or something?”

“UNIONS WILL DESTROY THIS REALITY.”

She shivers and doesn’t answer my question.  “That’ll be $4.87, sir.”

“For a chicken wrap and a coffee in this shithole?  You’re kidding me.”

She shakes her head.  More tears are starting to roll down her cheeks.

“WE SAID NO CRYING!”

I’ll admit, I’m starting to feel guilty.  These poor humans…were they even still human?…and did it matter?  Should any creature be made to suffer the way these creatures suffer?  I purse my lips.  What then must we do?  Digging into my pockets, I decide that what I must do is pay for my meal and stay focused on the objective at hand: fixing my own fuckups.  I’m not Ms. Bradbury or Mr. Swift, after all.  I’m not a Save-The-World Type.  So I put a fiver on the counter and nod to her.

She starts sobbing.  “Please, please, please…my children, they need their mother, my children–”

And that’s as far as she gets before the creature comes through the gaping wound of reality.  I can’t see its body, can’t quite focus on the main mass of the thing, except for a massive vertical mouth that is, I swear, almost entirely made of teeth.  But I see the extremities, a dozen limbs like kinked spider legs, thick with cilia and tipped with claws and gaping suckers.  They reach through the gap and latch onto my cashier, digging into her flesh as she sobs and shrieks.  Before I know what’s happening, she’s been hauled back into the rift, sucked through reality itself, into the waiting maw of…of…whatever waits beyond.

Someone puts a paper bag in front of me, presumably loaded with my order.

I don’t notice.

I’m too busy screaming.

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thesrhughes

I'm a writer of horror, dark sci-fi, and dark fantasy.