Scientists had no explanation for it. Nor did they have a plan. But as our little society on Pacifica Island gathered on the pier to stand side by side and witness the miracle with our own eyes, we all agreed on one thing.
“It’s beautiful,” Suzie said. She hugged her husband, my closest friend, around his arm.
“It sure is,” Scott said.
I thought they were a little young to be married, but… truth is, if my twin, Reggie, could have been there, I would probably have clung to him somehow. But aside from Scott and Suzie, I was alone in that vast crowd of fishermen, cooks, dock workers, stock brokers, drug dealers, and cops. Reggie was locked away in the asylum, unable to witness the miracle firsthand as the waves crashed before us.
“But what is it?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” Scott said.
That was all there was to be said, and our eyes remained fixed.
Just a huge hole, floating beside the sun. Purple rays pulsing from the center and fading into the clear Pacific sky. The edges were visible, like rotted lips grinning down, with nothing inside. A dark space where starlight couldn’t reach. Yet it was definitely in our atmosphere, maybe, I don’t know, a little higher than most planes can fly? Closer than the sun, within our reach, had we the wings to do so.
And at first, we wanted to.
It was inescapable. There was not a single vantage point on Pacifica Island where this vast void did not stare down upon you, as if it were following you, watching you. You see, even with our island’s clear night sky, you could still see this void within the darkness, blocking the stars. And darkness is not nothing, it is something. The heart of this miracle was nothing.
It should have been our first clue.
By the next morning, we gave it a name. The nothing was now the Blackhole. And because we still thought of the Blackhole as nothing, we didn’t realize it was the end of everything. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
If you’re even around to hear the words on this cheap recorder, to understand the language I’m speaking, then you already know about how we all died. I’m not recording this to tell you how we died. I need to tell you about how my brother died.
It’d been a week, and things had changed. The Blackhole started its hunger gradually. We marveled as the small things began floating first. An appetizer of weak plants, cicadas, grasshoppers, tin cans and bottles, cancer medication and pain pills, spiraling toward it like a tiny galaxy. And the constant, dull pull. A summer breeze that never ended left our hair waving and our Hawaiian shirts rippling.
It was still a wonder then, though an increasingly disconcerting one. The panic still gestating, waiting in the backs of all our minds, all of us in denial, waiting for an answer, a sign from the rest of the world that everything was going to be ok.
It was that first week that Scott insisted Suzie stay home and take time off from the pre-school. The parents kept their kids home anyway. And Reggie was safely trapped in the institution, away from the Blackhole.
But Scott and I continued our morning tradition, sitting on the pier, watching the calm world of Pacifica Island slowly pick up pace, sharing our rolled cigarettes. We’d never smoke our own; I’d roll one for him and he did the same. We talked about the old times, riding bikes and waves, diving for clams and no regrets of living our whole lives on this tiny little paradise. Yet our eyes had left the ocean, fixed on the Blackhole.
The second week, our little society descended rapidly.
The smaller the things we lost, the stronger the Blackhole became. Larger things began their ascent. They didn’t just go rocketing into the abyss, they’d float, an inch or a foot depending, just coasting over the pavement and sand, and the people began to lose it.
You see, as we lost our hold on the small things, it seemed natural that the larger things would slip as well. But it never quite followed a clear pattern. There’d always be the odd pushcart floating, or even a tree. Our desperate communal attempt to fix logic to this thing, to impose order and logic to the hunger, was constantly subverted.
Now it was cats and dogs, but also steel street lamps slowly wavering against the pull, telephone wires dancing as if in a storm. People walked the streets aimlessly. Cops didn’t notice pierced thugs pissing in the middle of the streets. Parents’ hands clasped to their children’s like handcuffs.
It was then that panic over took over wonder. It was then that I brought out the old voice recorder and felt the need to leave something behind. For me it's this audio diary chained to the steel foundation in my basement, chained to cinder blocks, chained to a weight lifting set covered in dust.
We clung to anything. Scott and I clung to our pier.
“How’s business?” Scott asked.
“Greater than ever,” I said.
I was the greatest chef Pacifica Island had ever seen. Never had to work in a restaurant, always hired as a private chef by the wealthy tourists, though I did volunteer in soup kitchens here and there. My skills were hampered only by my clients' creativity. Fried flies stuffed in a turkey, stuffed in swordfish, draped with syrup slathered spinach.
I was particularly well known for my herb encrusted Chilean sea bass, stuffed with Scandinavian mussels and snail entrails, draped with caramelized onions, served on a bed of elk filet. I called it the “Engorger.” In those final days, everyone wanted something. Some wanted the “Engorger,” but some had very strange, very specific tastes. Honey dipped raw lobster. Clam cakes with barbequed stallion liver. If they could get the supplies… I could handle it all, no matter how strange it got. And believe me, it got strange.
“Suzie’s pre-school is empty.”
Now the small things rocketed away, and us larger things felt the tug. It was in all our eyes, a fear glazed over with denial that I often saw in Reggie during my visits. You could even see it in the local fashion. We went around wearing iron boots instead of sandals. My god, did those sell well. Hawaiian shirts and chains around our waists and the thickest, heaviest pants you could find instead of shorts. The best was cargo pants filled with bricks or stones, anything with weight.
I started carrying the recorder with me. To hear the sounds or the vacancy of sounds, the terrible screaming called silence on a street once humming with life, now choked with zombies who didn’t even crave brains. Sometimes I’d sit where a pothole had crumbled into a crater, and record the day's events, sometimes try to report them as they were happening. At the very least it added more weight.
Anyone who could find an actual ball and chain wore them at all times. Scott joked that if he could get Suzie to hang onto his ankles he’d be safe.
Our morning pier smoke took on a new meaning. Comfort beyond comfort. A great shield of denial that kept me taking the jobs and Scott going home to cling to Suzie.
“On the way over I saw this old man handcuffed to his fence,” I said. “And pieces of the stupid wooden fence were vibrating around him. I saw the mistake in his eyes. He was bent over searching in the grass for the key.”
“Did you help him?”
“Of course not,” I said.
I’m afraid to interfere in other people’s choices. I can’t judge them anymore. I have no right. Even when they ask me to cook disgusting, weird things, which happens more and more frequently every day.
“That poor senile bastard,” Scott laughed. He handed me a cigarette.
I sat down and wrapped my heavy iron chain next to Scott’s, tight around the pier leg. I clasped the padlock shut and put they key in my pocket. It wasn’t needed yet, not yet… it just felt better that way.
I handed him a cigarette. His face was sunburned. No more daily sunscreen. No one wore it anymore. Hot as hell, and still Scott shivered.
“For the first time, I’m glad we don’t have any kids,” he said.
I remained silent. Blew a smoke ring and marveled at how quickly the Blackhole sucked it away.
“No change,” I said. “Still no answer.”
Reggie cut his wrists a year ago. And I don’t mean teenage-girl-just-got-dumped cuts. I mean huge, jagged, lightning bolt cuts, carved deep from wrist to elbow. Now I’m no doctor, but I can see how maybe you could do that to one arm, but how the fuck do you then use that mangled arm to cut up the other one? It looked like Zeus himself tore my brother’s forearms open.
So I come home an hour early, sick of sautéing shrimp eyes, and find my genetic twin lying in a deep, brown, pool. Instinct. Call the paramedics. Save him. I never bothered to ask his opinion. Didn’t even think about what he wanted, what pushed him that far.
Maybe he wasn’t making a mistake. Maybe he had a reason to make his own choice. Maybe my instinctual judgment was…wrong.
And I still haven’t asked, because I can’t. Reggie died that night, but I still visit him at Saint Pacifica Mental Health and Wellness Center, where his body walks aimlessly in circles, his eyes white and glazed over, his veins pumped with so many meds, and meds to help the side effects of the meds, and other meds to medicate those meds… there’s no Reggie in there anymore.
I look at him and where I once saw a long ignored mirror, I now see the future. My own pale white corpse, useless and vapid and empty eyes, and no ability to care otherwise. I guess that was always my best shield. Not caring. I was always running around with Scott, or cooking when I got older, and I didn’t even know our parents died until Reggie told me and I still had nothing to say at the funeral.
So Reggie only has me, and when I ask “Why?” I get nothing in response. Because I’m not asking Reggie anything, I’m asking a moving piece of meat, something I could grill and serve at a wedding.
Not sure how long it’d been by this point, but we finally got our answer from the government. Finally gotten our safety net.
Pacifica Island couldn’t communicate with the outside world anymore. Between the land lines and every other form of internet connection getting bits of vital machinery and wire torn into the air, some half connected and flailing like whips above, the inevitable fear we shared in our hive minds finally descending. There’s no going back.
Government funded Complacent Carts rumbled past, blasting us with a healthy dose of clonazopium diflouride. We take deep breaths, letting the smog evaporate our cortisol ravaged minds. This was the government's answer to mass panic in the face of Armageddon.
The Complacent Rigs. Common slang, the Happy Trucks. Huge oil tankers full of some secret extra strength valium gas, clouds of uber-opium billowing acceptance and complacency into our faces. Numbness is better than panic, I suppose. Comfortably numb, yes, as hamsters, newspapers, skateboards, and mailboxes floated into oblivion. Homes shook.
As the Happy Truck faded around the corner, Scott said, “There’s our proof.”
“That it’s not just Pacifica,” Scott said. “It’s the whole world. It’s all getting sucked away. Imagine how much money and shit it takes to build and ship those things here. Think they’d bother with us if wasn’t happening everywhere?”
“You know… I’ve never even seen a ship bring them in. Where’d they come from?”
“Just snuck in while we were distracted,” Scott said. He pointed to the sky. “Like that.”
“I kind of like them,” I said.
“Everyone does,” he said. “How could you not? That’s the point.”
“You feel any different after we get hit?”
“No… not really. No.”
“I don’t either.”
I glanced down the street behind us. Everyone in the gas moved a little slower, talked a little lower.
“What the fuck is wrong with us?”
I wondered about the guys driving those things. If they were getting gassed too, wouldn’t they stop caring, and stop doing their rounds? Come to think of it, the windows are super tinted. I’m not sure there’s anyone in there at all.
“Shit, I gotta go,” I said, unshackling myself. “Gotta go see Reggie today.”
I’d kill him myself if I could. The Happy Trucks rumble past, and they’d keep anyone in the security wing from giving a shit about the gun in my hand, but they’d also keep me from giving a shit about pulling the trigger. If I could, I’d save him. But I lost that chance when I dialed 911. Or I lost that chance when I waited too long to even ask anything, any questions at all, to show I cared, to give him a reason to avoid the lightning cuts. What did I miss? I spent my whole life with him. Am I that stupid, that self-centered, or did he just snap? As random and inexplicable as the black hole?
Scott tells me it’s not my fault. I punch him in the face. He tells me it is my fault. I hug him.
It had been almost a month when the shit finally hit the fan, just before I took on my final client. People were finally joining the shacks, shingles, fifty dollar bills, chunks of road, and coconuts in their cruelly slow drift to the great Blackhole. Screaming. Clinging. Happy Trucks. Gas. Grips slack. Smiles float into the sky.
It was just as common to see a baby orbiting above, parents swimming through the air toward it, as it was to see parents just stand there, like Reggie, just watching. Not seeing. The Happy Trucks did more frequent rounds, puffed out higher clouds of gas that left us feeling like a tower had just collapsed down the street.
My final client was one of the very wealthy, and she’d sought me out specifically for the Engorger, so I took the job. On the slow, heavy, walk there, I saw my neighbor trying to lasso his puppy out of the sky as it floated away. It was really funny, this perplexed little ball of fur and love just leaving. And then the Happy Truck rumbled past and he dropped the lasso.
The rich fortified the towers in odd ways, building new layers of wall around them, double buildings, anchors, but the construction equipment was flying away with the crews. I guess the gas kept us working, using money, clinging to the old, normal, world. A world where the inevitable was known but not seen, and a fancy car could quiet the knowing.
But all the gold Lexuses in the world couldn’t drive away from that black hole. Eventually you’d see a bike and a fruit stand, pineapples, mangos, bananas, orbiting around some kind of small yacht, or 70-inch 1080p plasma screen TV, and this day I saw a Mercedes. I smiled when I saw the driver still inside, honking wildly. He opened the door to jump out and just floated up even faster.
His time had come. Nobody could pay for my services with time. But I couldn’t stop taking the jobs. The money was worth shit. Yet even to the end we still used it like it meant something, like it was a measure of value in a time and place where nothing mattered more than time itself. And nobody could pay for my services with time.
Yet I couldn’t stop charging to cook, it just felt right, just like I couldn’t stop meeting Scott at the pier, tying ourselves to our past and passing our cigs every morning. While I we smoked, while I cooked, I didn’t think. Just acted.
This final client was really losing it. I was in her kitchen, top floor in one of those towers, cooking up the Engorger, and she couldn’t stop showing off her special cat. She’s certainly god rich, with the fees I’m charging these days. But this cat… genetically engineered to not only avoid her allergies, but to mush together the most aesthetically pleasing traits of felines.
It’s small like a house cat, but has weird ears like a lynx, stripes like a tiger on its back and sides, but spots on its belly and legs. Fur so yellow it’s almost gold.
And then the fucking thing jumps onto the stove.
Apparently Mr. Ramses Scruffles was bred purely for convenience and looks, not brains. The thing lit up like it was doused in gasoline. My client is screaming like a banshee and actually burning her own hands trying to get the dying thing off the stove, screaming for her absent husband (who might have been that guy in the Mercedes).
But I just stood there, dumbfounded, letting my Engorger overcook. I couldn’t take my eyes away from this rich old woman, screaming, letting her burning cat set her on fire as she tried to smother the flames with her flabby body. By the time the sprinklers turn on, they’re both charred corpses, and I’m still standing in the same spot, my spatula hanging limply at my side.
She just wanted her final meal to be perfect. It’s like she got a final “fuck you” from god. No, my blessed and meek, not even in the end, you can’t have it your way.
What a strange end.
The two of them, flesh singed away, smoke rising, fused together and melted into one form… it looks like love. And then curiosity takes over, and I cut into Mr. Ramses Scruffles and take a bite.
“You ate the cat?” Scott asked, an look of actual surprise and concern on his face.
“Just a piece.”
I spit off the pier, feeling the old wood starting to slightly vibrate below us, knowing this thing is eventually going to splinter apart and float away.
“Was it good?”
“Yeah, actually. Who would have guessed? Wish I had the time to have them bred on a mass scale. I could make a killing cooking those bastards up.”
Right when the word “killing” leaves my mouth we hear yet another horrified shriek behind us. It echoes away as the screamer floats higher into that black hole. Looks like someone got too much happy gas today, maybe forgot to wear their steel underwear or something.
I checked my leg again. Still securely locked to the pier.
Scott and I dangled our legs off the pier as chunks of the city burned behind us. But I’m watching a swimmer desperately dive deeper and deeper to survive, most likely clutching at a coral reef that shreds her hands. The water is increasingly bleeding red around her each time her face bobs to the surface.
In the pre-Blackhole world, a shark would smell the blood from miles away and come racing for an easy meal, but we both know that the shark will only end up floating toward the black rip in space that hovers over us, constantly mocking our lives with its vast nothingness. Scott points at a surfer, clinging to his surfboard for dear life as he floats toward the black hole.
“Isn’t that funny?” Scott asked. “He’s acting like if it he lets go he’s gonna fall.”
“Why is that woman in the water?” I asked. “Does she think it will protect her from the pull or something?”
“Maybe she got immune to the happy gas,” Scott said.
I can’t help but laugh, but tug on the chains connecting our ankles to the pier, wondering when it’s our turn. A Happy Truck crawled past, blasts us, lets us stop wondering why the firefighters are working so hard behind us. In a normal world, we’d be doing… something. Anything.
“You see Reggie lately?”
“I’ve been going by as often as I can,” I answered.
Every fucking day.
For a year.
“It’s a wonder some sick fuck up there doesn’t just throw the whole place open and let the crazies out with the rest of us,” Scott says. “You think they’re all bobbing against the ceiling? You think they even notice what’s going on?”
“I think it’s too late to ask them.”
I stared out to sea. The water was making this weird spasm, like the black hole might actually start taking more than faint drops soon. I stared at Scott’s face. He hadn’t shaved in a week.
“Growing a beard?”
“Why the fuck not?” he answered. “Why the fuck anything?”
I shook my head and shrug. “Suzie like it?”
“She doesn’t care. Those trucks come around, fart out their drugs, and neither of us give a shit. And we all know we really do give a shit, and still don’t give a shit. Figures.” He lights a cigarette. “You know, you’re never going to get an answer.”
“I… I know that. But I have to keep asking,” I said. Stared at the ocean again. Then up at the giant pulsing hole that’s eating our world. “Is it getting bigger?”
Scott looked up and squinted. “Yeah, I think it is.”
Scott’s laughing as a Happy Truck comes down the road toward us, huge plumes of gas billowing out behind it. They’ve gotten stronger. The black hole is taking too long to eat us all, and people are developing a tolerance.
“You know, they probably got a rocket ship to get out of here,” Scott says.
“Yeah, you know. They. The mysterious them. Always got some secret survival plan they don’t tell us jack shit about. Like bomb shelters or cures for cancer or something,” Scott says.
“Well, here they come,” I say, thumbing toward the Happy Truck.
It crawls past, its dark windows hiding the driver. This model looks bigger, heavier. Of course. Why do we even bother? Why don’t we all just accept the inevitability of oblivion and set ourselves free? Drop the shackles, the chains, the fear, and go willing into that sky?
No. Some do…
“So, no answer from Reggie. Sucks, bro.”
“You’re right. I’m never gonna get one. I missed the chance to ask,” I said. I looked at the chains.
“Lost it a long time ago. And I keep asking. Nothing. I spend hours talking to him about things he used to love. Heavy Metal. Black Sabbath. Role playing games. Tits. He just stares back. Sometimes says a word about being tired or something. There’s just… there’s nothing there.”
“Reggie’s already gone, man,” Scott said.
But I am going to see him in an hour.
With half of Pacifica floating above us and someone requesting human flesh drizzled in raspberry sauce, I decided the previous melted cat woman was the correct time to draw the line. There really wasn’t anything to buy anyway. Booze, drugs, sex. More weights. I spent most of that day staring up at the world staring back down. Trees and chunks of sidewalk, pipes, grass, small animals and people, sides of houses, shingles, little planets slowly orbiting their way toward the black hole.
Had my morning smoke with Scott down at the pier and the oddest thing happened. He had his back to me as I approached. And he sat completely still as the shaking wooden planks finally started breaking apart, hovering in front of us for just a moment, and then rocketing up, faster and faster. I was a little alarmed but Scott just sat there the whole time, splinters of wood whirling in the air around him. Didn’t look like he even noticed. I put my hand on his shoulder. He didn’t look up.
I sat down and hoped I wouldn’t get a giant splinter up my ass. He still wasn’t looking at me as I wrapped my heavy chain around the pier leg.
“You alright?” I asked.
“No, not really,” Scott said, staring vacantly at a water tower that had finally begun spiraling up. Far in the distance, framed by black clouds, like the finger of Poseidon reaching up to plug the black hole. “Suzie’s gone.”
I didn’t know what to say. I hung my head.
“I’m sorry, Scott.”
“It was inevitable,” he said. “I just wish… I was there. I had no idea. Looked for her all morning and then… I heard my name being screamed down from the sky. I only looked up once.”
One of the Happy Trucks started rolling around the bend toward us. Yesterday the view would have been blocked by a bodega, a tree, a fire hydrant. I glanced around us. Chunks ripped out everywhere. Like living on a tropical moon.
“Here comes the brain police,” I said.
He remained silent as the truck got closer. And as it passed us and began hissing out euphoria, Scott took a deep breath, cupped his hands over his mouth and nose, and curled into a ball.
“Hey! Hey what the fuck are you doing?” I shouted. I stood up and grabbed his wrists, trying to pull his hands away.
The gas was so thick now, our tolerance against happiness so strong, that I could barely see him as I shook him violently. Panic rose. He bobbed up and down like a giant fleshy ball, but I couldn’t move him.
A flash of something in my head… brown pool… a telephone… numbness… blind judgment…
I let go. He relaxed.
When the gas fully dissipated he uncurled and took a huge breath.
“Jesus Christ, Scott, what was that about?”
“Fuck them and fuck hiding,” he said. He smiled. He stood up and pulled a little key out of his pocket. “The fear… the panic. When you embrace it, it changes.”
“Roll me one more?”
I took the bag and paper out and began sprinkling the little brown shreds in. I couldn’t look up, my eyes burning, concentrating more on this cigarette than I ever had on any meal.
I handed it to him, eye to eye.
Scott unlocked his chain from the pier, lit a cigarette, and then dropped his pants. As his feet began to float off the dock he squeezed my shoulder and smiled. I grabbed his wrist again, desperate, but when I saw the calm sadness in his eyes, I let go.
“You really want this?” I asked.
He was looking down at me, his arms and legs spread out, his hair waving slowly.
“It was gonna happen anyway,” he said. He shouted as he rose. “Rather it be on my own terms, ya know? I want to feel it! It’s been fun, brother! I’ll see you soon enough!”
I nodded, clutching the recorder, watching my half naked best friend float into the sky, into the dark demon miracle. I sat on what remained of the pier until sunset, and then decided it was time to rest. Tomorrow I would cook one final meal.
There isn’t even a guard at the mental ward. Hell, I’d hardly seen anyone on the streets at all as I dragged myself here. I push the buzzer and let myself in, lurching around through a maze of drooling zombies and screaming madmen. Scott was right—some do float and hit the ceiling, rebound off it, float up again, giggling, drooling, shaking. Others are securely anchored by nothing. Even in here, it’s comforting to see there is no rhyme or reason to the Blackhole’s hunger.
Reggie is sitting in the corner, his back against the wall, staring at the metal mesh covered window. Doesn’t even look in my direction, just stares into the sunlight falling directly on him. Doesn’t even blink.
I put my bag on the table in front of him, then walk over to the window with the screwdriver that I didn’t need to smuggle in. Only takes a moment to undo the metal mesh. I turn around and sit at the table. Open the bag. Mac 'n' cheese. Home cooked, spent all morning getting it just right. Like mom used to make. Bits of bacon, cheddar cheese and mozzarella. I push it over to Reggie with a fork. I hesitate before I slide the unneeded knife across as well. He doesn’t notice it.
But the smell wakes him up. He looks at the food, looks at the spot I sit, but not at me. Just right through, as if I’m another ghost. Then he starts eating. I watch him eat the whole bowl. I pay attention this time. Pay attention to every bite. This time, yes, finally this time, I really pay attention to him.
He’s not looking at me but he smiles.
The whole time he was eating, the food fell from his mouth like the pieces of our world.
I reach out and grab his scarred wrist, gently. He looks at me. His eyes look white, like covered in cataracts. Maybe I’m just crazy too, but… I swear this time there’s something there.
“I’m sorry I never asked,” I said. “Reggie. Look at me. I’m not coming back again. Look at me. Look at me!”
And he did.
“I’m sorry I never asked before, and it’s too late. I don’t understand, and I don’t know if what you tried to do was right or wrong, but… it was your choice to make. I didn’t have a right to... It’s too late. I’m sorry, brother. I wish I knew. I wish I could have given you a reason to avoid this. This is all I can do for you now. I love you.”
I stand up, turn to the window, and then throw my fucking chair through it. The glass shards immediately spiral into the sky. The psych ward freaks out. But in the space between me and Reggie, it’s deadly calm. I turn back, extend my hand.
He stands up, and he walks toward me. He takes my hand. I lead him to the window. He perches on the edge for a moment, like a cat. Blood pools around his hands and bare feet. He looks at me once and makes a strange sound.
And then he flies.
He stares at me in the eye the entire way. I’ll never know if it was the happy gas, if it was the insanity of watching life orbit his ascension until he’s nothing but another small speck amidst countless phantoms. I want to follow him but I can’t. I don’t know why.
I lean on the ledge, the glass cutting into my palms. Some of my blood drips down the windowsill onto the outside of the yellow building. Some small drops float. And my last glimpse of Reggie, with the Blackhole behind him and the sun behind them both… I swear his lips are moving.
[Editor's Note: If you enjoyed this story, an illustrated version will appear in an upcoming issue of Carrier Pidgeon. Check www.doomage.com for details and updates.]