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April 15, 2024

Apocalypse Right Now, Please

By Jeffrey Carl Jefferis

Adam was driving north through Ohio. He was resenting how easily he had allowed himself to be talked into taking a pointless road trip by his friend Bert. Bert had been nagging him for months to go to Detroit. Something about visiting a dying city, a city that may no longer exist in a decade, appealed terribly to Bert's deviant intellectualism. For the time being, however, Adam was happy to be driving silently. His happiness did not last long.

Bert finally spoke as they were driving down the largely deserted interstate. He had noticed a hot air balloon festival taking place to their right in the distance. The interstate was elevated above the festival grounds and so it did provide an ideal view. Bert insisted that Adam pull over onto the shoulder so that he could take a closer look and maybe even a few photographs.

Already resenting himself, Adam figured why not keep up the habit. Besides, it did look like a sight. And there was no reason to not pull over.

As the car came to a stop and Adam put it in park, Bert started to open his door. At that same moment, Adam looked forward. He hadn't noticed anything before. But then, he did. "Wait! Bert, wait a second," Adam insisted. Bert stopped his exit and angled his head to see what Adam was seeing.

They had inadvertently pulled over fifty feet behind a beat-up pick-up truck with a white t-shirt hanging from the front window. A man waved excitedly and then turned and opened the truck's driver's side door. He pulled out a gym bag and started reaching for other various items.

"Oh, no. Was he hitchhiking?" Bert asked.

"I suspect so," Adam responded.

"What's that bumper sticker say?" Bert asked.

Adam focused on the bumper sticker. He read it to himself. And then read it to himself again. He started shaking his head from side to side.

"Well, Bert, dear friend, whose idea this trip was, and whose idea stopping at this exact spot was. It says, 'Don't ask me why your wife's asshole is bleeding.'"

"That is somewhat disturbing," Bert responded dryly.

"Yeah, well, forget the somewhat. His shirt says the same thing," Adam pointed out as the man had started to walk back toward their car with a giddy smile on his face.

The man approached Bert's window and tapped on the glass. Bert did not move. He simply stared back at the man through the glass. It was becoming awkward. Adam took the initiative and electronically lowered the window, halfway. Surprised by the premature halt of the window, the man, no less eagerly, rose higher than he figured need be and said, "Hey there, thanks for stopping."

"Where you headed," Bert said, hesitantly.

"Oh, umm, well, north. As far as you go, if that's ok with you."

"How far north," Bert asked.

"Well, Detroit, but I doubt that you fellas are . . ."

"Sounds good," Bert responded truthfully, to the utter disappointment of Adam. "Hop in."

The man jumped in the back seat like an excited child on a rollercoaster ride. After the jolly hitchhiker seated himself, Adam pulled back onto the interstate. Things had become decidedly uncomfortable.

"So, umm, actually, what's your name," Bert asked.

"Oh, right. Hey, fellas. I'm Brad. Brad Bosten."

"Nice to meet you, Brad. I'm Bert. That's Adam there driving."

"Hey, fellas. And thanks again for stopping. My truck crapped out on me. Driving up to Detroit from Florida. I guess that was too much to ask of the old girl."

"Well, you know," Bert started, "I'm a triple A member. We could go back and call. I get free tow service up to fifty miles."

"Nah. Thanks, but forget it. That truck is done. Whoever finds it can have it. I just need to get home."

"Oh, yeah? Why is that," Bert asked.

"Well, for my job, of course. I was on vacation in Florida. I live and work in Detroit."

"What is it that you do," Adam asked, finally joining the interrogation.

"Well, technically, I'm a cop."

"Fuck off," Bert said without thinking, surprising everyone in the car, including himself. "I mean, it's just that, you know, you don't look like a cop."

"No sweat, buddy. I don't look like a cop, now. Being a cop is just what I do. It's not what I want to do. I'm working on a second career."

"Oh, yeah," Adam asked, relating to the sentiment. "What is it that you want to do?"

"Isn't it obvious? I design bumper stickers. And t-shirts. I was on vacation in Florida, but also down there trying to stir up some business."

"Holy shit," Adam stated without emotion.

"Uhh, what's wrong with being a cop?" Bert asked, trying to maintain the momentum of the innocuous conversation.

"Well, I'm not sure I would say there's a problem with it. It's just, well, it's like this. Being a cop is ok. It pays the bills. It's respectable. You do good. But it doesn't add up. See, most days are boring. And the good days are pretty good. But the bad days are really bad. After awhile, that doesn't add up. So, I'm looking for something new."

Adam and Bert were silent. They were each reflecting on the fact that this hitchhiker, who looked like a felon but claimed to be a cop, had touched the most sensitive of each of their career nerves.

"And, well," Brad Bosten continued, "bumper stickers is my second favorite passion. It allows me an opportunity to be creative while making money."

"Your second favorite passion," Bert asked.

"Well, yeah. It's my second favorite passion. Unfortunately, my first favorite passion doesn't pay."

"And what's that," Adam asked.

"Well, the apocalypse, of course."

Bert turned his head and looked at Brad. Adam simply stared at Brad in the rear view mirror.

"Now, come on, fellas. You guys don't think about the apocalypse? You don't find it fascinating? You don't want to be a part of it? You don't want it to happen right friggin' now?"

Adam and Bert looked at each other. Considering the fact that it was a hitchhiker who was speaking such thoughts, they were each initially internally terrified. But, at the same time, he was touching a shared nerve of theirs for the second time.

"Yeah, actually," Adam responded, "I've always dreamt of being a survivor of a semi-apocalyptical event."

"Me too," Bert contributed.

"Well, boys, it seems we're on the same page. The thing is, I would love to be the one to tell the story."

"The story," Adam questioned.

"Yeah, fellas. The story. Indulge me for a few minutes. Just listen. I've been over this rant in my head many times. Here's how I see it. Sadly, religion is still a dominant force in the world. Most ideas about the apocalypse stem from religion. Apocalypse will result from the doings of God. Yet most movies and programs regarding the apocalypse now focus on purely scientific explanations -- disease, global warming, meteors. We find scientific explanations for the predictions of the Bible.

"Concerning the apocalypse, if you are religious, you find explanation for the end of the world in the behavior and sins of the people. We motivate God to end it all. If you are scientific, you find explanation for the end of the world in the behavior of the elements, in the changes of the Earth. Either way, people find explanations.

"No one seems to bother with the idea that there might be no explanation, because what fun is there in that? You can't prove or disprove it. There is nothing to hold onto. Ideally, the story would be that one day in the future, for irony's sake let's make it after December 2012, people simply start dying. It starts in the East, Asia, and works its way west. At noon in each time zone as the Earth rotates every living thing just falls to the ground, dead. Religious prophets start preaching. Scientists examine all options. They are both misguided.

"The thing is, God is just bored. There is no explanation. And there was no explanation for the dinosaurs' extinction. God is simply like a kid with an etch-a-sketch. He creates a world for his entertainment. Watches it evolve. And when he gets tired of it, he starts again. Believing in God was not the mistake. Believing that God was altruistic and that we were created in his image was the mistake.

"The problem with that story, however, is that there's no way to tell it and have people figure out what is happening during the story. How could the characters possibly understand it? And that would be ridiculous. So, there is no turning point. There is no climax. Everyone on Earth would simply die. Not much of a movie. That disappoints me, a lot, the fact that I can't tell that story. But, it is what it is. So, here's the story that could actually be told.

"One day a homeless man in Paris wakes up on his typical park bench. He thinks he is still drunk or at least hung over. Though there are very few people outside, he believes that he sees them disappearing. He is not mistaken.

"For whatever reason, everyone who is spoken to face to face by another human being feels and excruciating pain in their ears and then simply vanishes. By afternoon, society has descended into chaos. People frantically running around. Everyone hiding and covering their ears. Others running down the street constantly yelling. Some try to hide to protect themselves. Others try to talk to other people first and fast, eliminating their threats.

"The homeless guy, oblivious to the whole thing for a while, inadvertently walks past a storefront that announces the phenomenon. He suddenly realizes his fortune. Nobody ever talks to him or recognizes his existence. And on that day it was paying off.

"He escapes to an old storage closet built into the wall under a park overpass that he frequents when it rains or gets cold. He has a couple of cans of food and blankets hidden in the closet. Seeing the world start to panic, he runs through the door and barricades it behind him.

"He hears something rattle. A female, who also looks homeless, is huddled in the corner with a shovel. The homeless guy puts his hands up and then puts one over his mouth. The girl nods in recognition. She understands what is going on. She places her hand over her mouth.

"The two sit in silence, of course. They occasionally hear screams and panic outside. And every so often they even hear someone banging on the door. The homeless guy uncovers his stash of food and he and the female ration it. As it gets cold during the nights, the two share blankets, and eventually start to share body warmth. They cuddle and shiver. They think and feel frustration. They ignore the outside world. The homeless guy even has to physically stand against the door and re-enforce it against the pressure of people outside.

"Though they have no news about the state of the world, two days pass without hearing a sound from outside as they run out of food. Death may wait outside, but it certainly awaits them if they stay inside. They have to leave.

"The two cautiously exit their bunker. They slowly walk through the park into the city. They see and hear no one. They find food and spend days walking around. The city is empty, perhaps the world. The city is theirs, perhaps the world. They have no idea if they can speak to each other. If the curse had been lifted. But they can't risk it either. At the end, they are sitting in the lawn next to the Eiffel Tower. The sun starts to rise. They stand to witness the spectacular sight. The female grabs the homeless guy's hand. He looks at her and mouths the words, 'I love you.' She mouths the words back to him. They had fallen in love. And they have the world to themselves."

"Wow," Bert couldn't help but utter, sincerely caught up in the tale.

"Now, I kind of hate that my apocalypse story turns into a love story. But, at the same time, in many ways it would be the greatest love story ever told. Love forged in silence and realized in an empty world, where they literally are the last two people on earth, as the joke of goes. That's something, right there. With the added bonus of an event apocalyptic in nature.

"So, what do you guys think?" asked Brad.

"Well, uhh . . . wow," Bert responded again. He was dazzled.

"Hey, how about some food? You up for a burger, Brad," asked Adam. He was suspicious and anxious.

"Food sounds good," responded Brad. "But no burger for me. I had a dream when I was a kid that a hamburger I ate came to life and took a shit in my stomach."

"Well, uhh . . . wow," Bert responded again.

"Actually, fellas. If you don't mind. I know a little diner about thirty miles up the road. I can call and just have my partner meet me there."

"Your partner," Adam asked.

"Yeah. I'm a cop, remember?"

"Oh, right, of course," answered Adam. "Just let me know where to pull off."

Adam and Bert were relieved that, for the most part, the rest of the drive passed in relative silence. It wasn't that they disagreed with Brad, or that they didn't find him interesting, they were simply terrified by him in a vague and odd way. Ultimately, Adam pulled the car into the dirt parking lot of what appeared to be a closed restaurant. But it was not closed, simply dilapidated.

"You fellas comin' in? I owe you a beer at least," commented Brad.

"Wow, uhh, that's a kind offer," responded Bert.

"We might," interrupted Adam. "We're gonna talk for a minute or two. Figure out what our plan is from here. We're sort of making it up as we go."

"All right, fellas. Suit yourselves. I'll save you some seats just in case." Brad exited the backseat and headed for the run down diner.

"What do you think," Bert asked in such a way making it clear what he thought.

"I say we get the hell out of here," confirmed Adam.

"Yeah, he was kind of creeping me out."

"Yeah, right. You were into him. But something is off. That's for sure."

As Adam was preparing to put the car in gear, they heard the distinct sound of gunshots from inside the diner. Adam and Bert looked at each other as if their suspicions had been legitimized. At the same time, it was a bit exciting.

Adam and Bert watched as a man ran out of the restaurant and jumped into a rusty, white van. He sped off wildly. Immediately thereafter, Brad Bosten charged through the door and was nearly run over by a car driving up to the entrance. Brad collected himself and quickly ran to the driver's side door, apparently not noticing that Adam and Bert were still sitting there. The driver, a large man, had already started to exit his vehicle before Brad appeared to have a chance to ask him to do so.

The large man looked very confused, for good reason, particularly in light of Brad's wardrobe. As he saw Brad start to get into the driver's seat, the large man reacted. He placed his right leg behind Brad and viciously close-lined Brad across the throat, knocking him awkwardly onto his back, with his neck and head landing first. In a great deal of pain, Brad scrambled to his feet. His hand covered his damaged throat and he looked as though he wanted to explain to the large man what was happening, but Brad could not speak.

The large man, seeing Brad as a continuing threat, performed some sort of crane kick. He lifted his left leg into the air to help him gain momentum. He then leapt off his right leg and used it to kick Brad squarely in the groin. Brad crumbled to the ground and was not moving. The large man cautiously knelt beside Brad. He started searching Brad's pockets. Eventually, the large man found Brad's police badge.

He panicked, again for good reason. He had just pummeled a cop. Adam and Bert leaned down in their seats as the large man started to look around for witnesses. He got back in his car and just as the probable felon had minutes earlier, the large man sped off wildly.

"Wow," Bert finally spoke up, "Do you think we should . . ."

Before Bert could finish his thought, a third man hurriedly exited the restaurant. He was bleeding from his forehead.

"Bert," Adam said softly, "look at that guy's shirt."

Bert focused on the third man. He was wearing a t-shirt that read, "I think I crapped my face."

"Oh, shit," Bert responded. "That's Brad's partner. Adam, he's looking at us. Drive, Adam. We can't let him take our car."

"I'm already on it," Adam exclaimed. And, for the third time in three minutes, a car sped wildly from the dirt diner parking lot.

Though they assured themselves that they had done nothing wrong, nothing illegal, Adam and Bert were paranoid and frightened. Adam regretted pulling out in the same direction as the probable felon and the large cop-basher, creating an odd quasi-caravan surely being pursued by the police. But he and Bert decided that it was better then turning around and heading in the direction of the surely pursuing police and the scene of the crime, or crimes, who knew at that point.

It was not long before the pursuing cops reached Adam and Bert. Their lights were flashing and sirens sounding. Despite Bert's repeated insistence, Adam would not pull over. He felt confident that he had done nothing wrong, and he was determined not to give the police reason to think that he felt that he had.

To their immense relief, the pursuing police vehicles pulled into the left lane to pass Adam and Bert. As the second car passed them, they both looked out Adam's driver's side window and into the eyes of the man who they had correctly assumed to be Brad Bosten's partner. He simply stared back at them, with disgust. Adam read Brad's partner's shirt a second time, and it actually made him start to laugh.

"You know," Adam said, "we should have asked Brad for a catalogue."

"Yeah," Bert agreed. "It's pretty funny stuff."

Article © Jeffrey Carl Jefferis. All rights reserved.
Published on 2010-05-24
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