The world is about to end – probably. Everyone’s been pretty broken up about it for the past few months, but I haven’t been thinking too much about it, which seems smart. To me, it’s a big, fat comfort that nobody dies alone tonight, but first, I’ve got a gig to do.
I drive a motorbike to the hotel and take the keys with me out of habit. After a few steps I realise what I’ve done and stare at them in my hand then drop them on the ground. On the main street, cars are burning and people are dancing around them. A very old man is wearing only purple corduroy pants and fluorescent green suspenders. He’s dancing too. Brown stains sit around his lips but his best feature is the giant black pupils. Bullets pop holes throughout his chest and he falls down. The woman who fired the gun turns around and walks into the alley where I just left my motorbike. I keep walking.
Outside the hotel, a man barely in middle age and barely holding himself together with pride is wearing a bullet proof vest over his hotel uniform, along with knee pads, hiking boots that his trousers are tucked into, and leather driving gloves. He holds a machine gun like people do in movies, which is to say, like kids do. I show him the security pass that’d been hand delivered to my address weeks ago – an old key card with hand-painted symbols on either side. He lets me inside and my footsteps resound with the crunch of broken glass. All other sounds beyond an indistinct electronic hum are as muted as humanity’s future.
An old man cocks a shotgun in my face and taps the barrel against the cage drilled into the reception desk. I show the security pass again.
“Follow the rules and you don’t die” he says.
“Is that all I have to do? Good to know” I smile at him and get nothing. Always. My comedy is always under appreciated.
He points to the bin labelled ‘Gun Deposits’. I lift my shirt and try my best to prove I’m not carrying a gun.
“You can take the lift, but we expect to lose power within the hour”
I should be able to throw my pass down to my friend Art from a balcony in a little while, but I don’t know how he’s going to get his daughter Zoe in, and he’s been carrying a gun everywhere since the end started. I don’t want these old guys to die. I don’t want anyone to die. I get in the lift.
The function room’s a medium sized affair with a large bar and small dance floor with a lot of couches as well as a good third story balcony view. No one asks who I am and no security roams the halls. Inside there are about thirty men aged around thirty and mostly out of shape along with three unwomanly women. I think about getting laid after the gig. Then I remember.
“You want to join the party mate? The more the merrier. If you’ve nowhere else to be, be with us” says a tall guy with thick stubble and too many muscles in his face.
“I’m the Comedian. I’m booked to host the party.”
“Is it that time already? Shit”
A look flashes in his eyes which scares me. I say, “I’m –”
“Yeah, yeah, I know. I’m Tom, mate, I’m the best man who put this stag do together. Ok, good news/bad news: the band cancelled… a while ago. So you can do more time at the end. More of your routine I guess. There are still two strippers, or ‘sex artists’ as they call themselves, ah, set to perform for us. Should be a wild one, which is what you want, eh”
“Okay. So just…”
“Nah, that’ll be fine. We’ll stick with that. The PA system working? Any lights? Or…”
“It’s all fine, we’ve been mucking around with it the past few days and more importantly, there’s enough alcohol here to last us the night, though maybe not enough drugs unless you improvise”
“I’m not up for any drugs”
“More for me then” he says and walks back to the group and to chatting up the ‘sex artists’.
I go and grab a beer. They all taste the same now. I lean on the bar and wait for I-don’t-know-what. Another guy with a few too many muscles in and around his face sidles up to me,
“Crazy isn’t it?”
“Thanks for doing this. We took forever deciding what to do for Yatesy’s big Stag do. It was a long time coming you see, so me and Tom, we threw up a lot of options. A lot: Paintball. Quad biking. Boat party. Or just y’know, Amsterdam, Vegas, Bangkok… We decided to keep it local y’know? London’s got all we need: Comedy, music, booze, drugs and tits.”
“It had its charm –”
“And then two days after everything’s booked, the news comes…. you want to ask don’t you?”
I look at my watch.
“You’re polite. It’s okay, we thought we’d cancel it. After that month, and after she took herself out of the game. A lot of people did, eh? Poor Yatesy. He always thought she was a bit too good for him. We all did actually” he laughs.
I wince with every swallow of beer. I don’t want to know this guy’s, or anyone’s name. I’ll call him Lee because I hate people with that name and I bet he won’t notice.
“Poor guy” I say.
“Poor us all… We all got parents and other people we love that we wanna be with, don’t we?”
I try not to look at him. Booze, drugs and tits. I had it all before me, all within reach after a decade and my whole youth thrown into my ‘passion’, and then pfft! We’re all destined for disappointment in this beautiful, brutal life. Good riddance.
“Yeah… I can’t believe you’re doing this gig, mate. ‘Next Big Thing’, I said that about you. Next big thing. And you don’t have no one you’d rather be with?”
He stares at me and I imagine his breath tastes foul in his mouth as his teeth hover over his tongue.
“Right” he says slowly.
“I think I’ll get the show started” I say.
“I think I’ll see if there’s any Ecstasy left”
I start the show. I make fun of the hotel and the way the room is set up. I want the lighting to be better, but wanting things never did me any good even before the apocalypse. I wanted to be a famous comedian, and now I’m not going to be. I find a couple of people who are smiling. I judge what they like and give ‘em more. There are some good riffs on my favourite topics which I think truly have legs i.e they could develop into something really great one day. I say that into the mic and laugh. Some of the crowd laughs too. Others are very sensitive about the situation. Luckily, I’ve never been much for topical comedy.
When it feels like enough is enough, I get the crowd to cheer long, hard, and enthusiastically for the two sex artists and leave the stage. Neither is under thirty, but neither is ugly. The blonde is stout, serious and glassy eyed. The brunette is lean and long. Her smile is huge and she has intensely curly hair that I could look at for a very long time, if I’d had a very long time. They dance around, stripping down to nothing but heels. I grab an expensive liqueur and pour a big glass. Then I empty it out because it tastes horrible. I go for a good looking wine and lean on the bar again.
The brunette motions me over. She calls me Mr Funny Man. This isn’t what I came for. I don’t want a reminder that all the sex I never got is gone. I can’t think about sex without crying. She strokes my leg, moves her hand up, and then grabs my dick through my jeans. She pushes me so hard I fall over. She plays with her nipples. I can see the mild wrinkling in her tits that lets me know they’re real. There’s something familiar about her, something insignificant and futile in everything she does. She crawls over to the sex toy bag. With a quick spin backwards, her hair flies out in an arc then settles. She pouts, smiles a strung out smile and swallows hard. She puts a small handgun to her left eyeball and sends a bullet through her skull in an explosion of fire and black curls. So much for ‘Gun Deposits’.
The groans from the crowd outweigh the moans of any kind of horror. The blonde girl sighs, rolls her eyes and crawls over to the drug table with a thin dildo still halfway inside her. We all stare at the twitching, sagging, still kind of beautiful dead girl. Right through the eyeball.
“Looks like there’s another hole to fuck now boys!” I say.
When I’m in the mood to pander to the crowd, it’s all about the laughs. The tension is released. As much as it can be. I look at my watch and walk out to the balcony shivering. I don’t need to puke, but the back of my eye feels like it’s twitching and that there’s something hanging above me.
The other city buildings block the view of it. There’s nothing in the sky but a lot of left-over hope. Below is a cheap sports car. An industrial strobe light flashes blue from underneath it. The car swerves toward people on the roadside dancing. More people are in the street now. The sports car skids backside first into a statue of a soldier on a horse. A fat man in a shiny tracksuit steps out holding a container box. He rests it on a dead fountain and the lid fliesoff, splashing into the black water. He throws handfuls of what must be gram bags out to all and none. People run up and bite into the bags. Some swallow, others snort. Through the crowd I see my friend Art rushing through with a rifle and his daughter Zoe. This is the plan, and I’d like to say it’s the real reason I’m here – to help Art and his daughter get into the hotel to see his ex-wife – but it is more that it’s convenient. I call down to them.
“Thank fuck you’re on time for once. Drop it down to Zoe, quick!” Art says.
She catches it and Art shoulders the rifle then they disappear below me. When I go back inside the best man, Tom is carrying the brunette’s corpse out of the function room. He’s holding her like a new wife on a honeymoon. No one’s cleaning up the blood, but someone found an air freshener.
“Spray it low to the ground so it’ll rise and spread out. Don’t spray it up in the air” Someone says.
“Hey, you think old Tombo is gonna do what Funny Man suggested?”
“I wouldn’t put it past him. Just so long as he makes it back in time”
The three unwomanly women are being fucked on a couch and behind the bar, which is rude. The blonde girl is still moving around, but the air of professionalism is crumbling. She’s handed a glass pipe and puts it between her tits, mouthpiece facing out, and saunters over to the never-to-be Groom. He is short and red faced. Fat and sad. There’s a stubby black dildo strapped to his head like a German WWI helmet. She forces his mouth onto the mouthpiece of the pipe and if lighting it burns her tits, she doesn’t feel it. She takes a hit herself.
“Someone better reload that shit!” She laughs and rips out her hair extensions then uses them to tie his hands to the armchair.
I step into the hall to meet Art and Zoe. He managed to get her in with the pass. Part One worked, but I don’t know what Part Two of the plan is, and there’s a blood trail from where Tom had carried the brunette. It leads from my feet to the other end of the hall and into a suite. I call out to Zoe with a big smile, then I hug her and push her around to walk back the way they’d come.
“What are you doing?” says Zoe.
“Going to the lift”
“Why, do you want a penthouse view?”
“Zoe, please” says Art. “Karen’s room is on this floor, mate”
“Oh okay, I was just…” I lean in close and try to whisper, “There’s a fresh blood trail this way –”
“I can see it. It’s just a blood trail” says Zoe.
“It’s fine. Thanks again for this. Her room is down this hall” says Art
We hug and he smells nice. Cologne. His clothes are fresh like he’s washed them. Before the countdown he wore old sweaters and cotton jackets that were almost always flecked with dandruff.
“No problem. Y’know you look good without the beard”
“Does it make me look younger?”
“Fatter”I say with a laugh.
“Jesus. Dad, can I hit him?”
“Just jokes Zoe, he’s fine” says Art.
“You excited to see your mum after all this time?”
“You know, you don’t seem as high as usual” says Zoe.
“That’s it. 305” Art points to the door where the blood trail ends.
“Want to tell me what the next part of your plan is yet?” I say.
A bellow comes through the door. I sigh. Art goes through the door and Zoe pushes past him. By the time I’ve moved around to get into the room, Tom has knocked her to the floor beside the dead brunette. His pants are off and he’s hard. I don’t know what to do. I look at the dead brunette. The fucked up side of her face is buried in the carpet. Zoe is yelling. Art’s trying to wrestle Tom. There’s a man in a silk suit dead by the bed and a woman with a torn blouse and knife in her chest lightly shaking on the bed.
“Karen” Art moans.
Tom watches him pass by and go to the bed. I grab a hold of his thick forearms saying,
“Hey! Mate, it’s me, the Comedian. I don’t know what’s going on, but maybe you should go back to your friends okay?”
“My fucken friends?” He laughs.
Zoe takes the heavy silver iron from the bathroom and swings it into his back by the cord. He yells, turns around and she flings it into his face. Yanking it up she grabs the handle and steps toward him.
“Zoe don’t” I say.
“Karen, please!” Art is crying out and shaking her gently on the bed.
I reach down to help Tom up and he punches me in the jaw. I fall down. A hard shake wakes me up. It’s the first explosions as fragments start landing in the city. Tom has Zoe pinned to the floor, blood and hair strands are in her eyes. He’s trying to hold her arms against her chest with one hand. The other hand is clawing at her jeans.
Art sneaks up behind Tom and jams a long, thin blade into his heel, rips it up and slices the tendon. Tom groans and flails back at both of us. Art stabs him awkwardly in the back a few times. There are no sounds but the grunts both of them make. Art finally lifts him up, and throws him onto the dead brunette, then kicks his face until Tom seems beyond death.
Zoe shakily gets up and walks to her mother. I sit down cross legged. Art throws a suitcase into my chest which knocks me over.
“Gather everything you can in that. Take expensive things. Things we can trade. I’ve got the briefcase”
I don’t know what I’m grabbing. The back of my throat is throbbing and my hands are numb.
“Zoe, we don’t have time” says Art.
“Who is he!”
“Your mother needed him. I don’t know! Get the papers on the desk… ZOE”
I want to hear music. I try to imagine it, but I can’t focus. Something with beautiful strings, and distant drums. I look at my hands and feet. Exotic. And a poignant choir. I try not to look into the mirror. Women singing like sun beams breaking over the horizon and warm rain.
“That’s it” says Art.
“You’ve got to say goodbye to her, Dad. We…”
“Karen… I’m sorry and I forgive you. Thank you”
I’m holding the suitcase and looking around the room. Blood mixes poorly on blue carpet.
“Let’s take the stairs” I say.
“Good” Art leads Zoe out. They go toward the function room and lifts.
“No, this side. Where are we going?”
Fragments are crashing down and the hotel shakes. The stairs are unstable. I can feel them moving and the mirrored walls are breaking apart.
“Underground. The train station service lift. Move”
Art holds his daughter’s hand and looks into her eyes. I run past them and kick open the service door. It’s in the sky now. There are seven guys from the Stag party in the middle of the street holding drinks and chanting while linking arms.
“We’re ready for the end, aren’t we lads!” says Lee. His voice is a challenge to a fight he thinks he can win.
“Couldn’t think of any better bunch of lads to die with”
“Don’t say that Cuppy!”
“Yeah mate, we’re just going out”
“We love going out, DON’T WE BOYS?”
“No!” Art calls out and pulls the knife from his belt. I turn around to see the younger guy rip his shirt off and punch me hard in the temple.
“That’s for a shit show mate” he says.
I stagger back and Art lunges at them with the knife yelling,
The hotel is hit by a fragment and blue-green glass rains down. Zoe and Art help me down the stairs. I hear thunder but it’s obviously not thunder. Impact is coming. Fire, dust, dirt, glass, tinted glass, plexiglass, fibreglass, and concrete, limestone, sandstone, steel, aluminium, alloys of all kinds, timber, tenderising shrapnel from everything that made up the modern world.
I’m wobbling on my feet but Art and Zoe pull me down an escalator. We go deeper underground and the echo of fragments and rubble drains away like the sound of water finally clearing out of your ears as you fall asleep. We get to the bottom and there is a service lift with faded sky blue doors. A little boy cries to my right and I look over, he is in the arms of what anyone would assume is his mother and father. They are squatting on the stairs with the ugly tiles watching over them. The mother weeps and it sounds beautiful, like a piano concerto. The father’s cry is deep like a roar that he’d never let out before. He is mad but he swallows it, smiles, and kisses both of their heads. I fall down limp against the door.
I am about to die.
We’re all about to die and lose everything.
That’s fine. It’s all fine. I can’t tell if what I’m touching is hot or freezing. I’ve never felt so much regret. This is all I have. A pin prick of existence in time. And I’m not with my poor mother and father. They have each other. They need me. I don’t have time to roar. I’m going to die weeping, and I don’t care. I want to be with my family. I should be with someone. I want to be with someone I lo –