Monday, April 14, 2008

The End of Days

Donald wakes, startled. Cold sweat dripping from his brow, panting to catch his breath. He walks to the bathroom, takes a shower. Most days, Donald will sing in the shower, but today is not most days. Today, Donald fears, is the End of Days.

Donald brushes his teeth, little circular motions, just like his dentist taught him. Donald goes through his closet, removes a green polo shirt, a pair of Dockers. Donald sits at his kitchen table, drinks coffee, reads the paper. All the while trouble hangs heavy on his mind.

Dreams had never been of much concern to Donald. Usually they were fuzzy little things, abstract and comical. He would be naked while waiting in line at the DMV. He would ride a dolphin to the office and all his coworkers would be in clown makeup. He would pick his nose only to find a cheeseburger on the end of his finger. Then he would eat it. There was never much narrative, never much clarity and Donald never gave his dreams much thought.

Last night, all that changed. Last night Donald found himself in a very strange place. It was dark and hot and far more vivid than anyplace he had ever dreamt before. Donald sat in this strange new place, listened to a strange new sound. It was the sound of moaning and it was soft and eerie and far more vivid than any sound he had ever dreamt before.

Then, “Donald, my son.” A voice boomed through the darkness, over the moaning. “The time has come. Prepare for the End of Days.” A towering figure stood before Donald, cloaked in red. Two eyes glowing like ember. And despite the suffocating warmth of this strange, new place, Donald felt a piercing chill. “Prepare,” the figure repeated. Then Donald awoke, startled.

* * *

Donald sits in a booth at a corner diner. He’s distraught, confused. Dreams are but dreams with no bearing on real life. This is what he tells himself. But would it not be prudent to at least give some credence to the vision. After all, it was so real, so unlike any dream before. And, surely there’s something to be said for being the Antichrist.

So here is Donald’s dilemma: if the End of Days indeed comes, he would like nothing less than to be on the bad side of the Supreme Ruler of the Underworld (if there is any other side, Donald cannot be sure). But if his dream was only that, he does not wish to appear foolish. Or worse, completely batty. So, he must ready for the Apocalypse but he must do so discretely.

Baby steps, Donald decides. He has gone his entire life diligently avoiding any overtly malicious act, badness for the sake of badness. So he will start small, baby steps. But he will start right away. He must be bad.

The waitress arrives at Donald’s booth, takes his order. “Bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs and hash browns. Buttered wheat toast, no make that white toast. And cheese, yes cheese on top of it all.” All fatty, greasy food. All food devoid of nutritious merit. Indeed, all bad food. This is a start.

Donald eats. Donald eats and eats. Donald finishes, satisfied. But now poor Donald is left with a harsh realization: while all that food was very bad indeed, it tasted oh so good. Yes, this whole being bad bit is going to be a little more difficult than he had imagined. And then a second harsh realization: having ordered far more food than originally planned, Donald is left with a bill nearly as bloated as he is.

But after a brief panic, Donald has a moment of clarity. Being bad, he realizes, is far too ambiguous a goal. He must be something worse. He must be cruel. Life has given Donald lemons and he will make…well, he will just pass along those lemons. Neatly piling cash upon the bill, Donald leaves a one nickel tip. This, he imagines, is crueler than no tip at all. Then, he calmly rises, walks out of the diner into the street beyond.

* * *

Exhilaration. Donald skips down the street, thinks this whole Antichrist gig is really growing on him. Imagine the look on that poor waitresses’ face. Count the bills, the coins, quick math. Oh, if he could have stuck around for that. Still, to give her the satisfaction of a confrontation would have taken away from the base cruelty of the act. But what fun, what fun.

Before he knows it, Donald has pranced his way down three full city blocks. He stops to catch his breath, compose himself. Looking up Donald sees the mountainous concrete steps and towering marble columns that adorn the public library. Ah, than this shall be the site of his next mischievous deed.

Inside Donald peruses isle upon isle of shelf upon shelf of book upon book. Mystery and science fiction. Biography and cultural study. How to and self-help. Donald grabs a volume here and a volume there. His plan: to check out the maximum of ten books with absolutely no intention of ever returning them. Cruel indeed.

But Donald stops, has second thoughts. No, it’s not his conscience catching up with him, quite the contrary. Donald realizes that, if he is to usher in the Apocalypse, he must continue to up the ante. Baby steps. A cruel deed is just not enough, now he must do something genuinely evil.

So, Donald scraps the ten-book limit. He will pile the books on, as many as he can hold. Instead of checking out, he will run out. And Donald scraps the mystery and science fiction. He scraps the biography and cultural study. He scraps the how to and the self-help. When all of his previous selections have been neatly returned to the shelves from which they came, Donald skips merrily to the children’s section.

Arms loaded with picture books and pop ups and every last copy of Good Night Moon, Donald eyes the exit. He creeps and sneaks and is completely inconspicuous until he passes the checkout desk. Then he runs. Like the wind he runs. “Hey,” yells the librarian. “Hey, stop it you,” yells the librarian. “Hey, somebody stop him.” But Donald has run out of library into the street beyond.

Exhilaration. Donald runs. Donald runs and runs. He doesn’t look behind to see if anybody has followed him. He doesn’t look both ways as he sprints across the street. He doesn’t look up when the bus honks, barrels down the boulevard. Then he doesn’t look at anything, not anything at all.

* * *

It’s dark. Dark and hot and moans come from all sides. Donald sits up and this strange new place is not quite as strange and new as once it was. “Donald,” a voice booms. “Donald, this is how you spend your last day?” Eyes like ember.

“Uh…” is all Donald can say.

“Usually,” the voice continues, shakes the bones deep within Donald’s flesh. “Usually, when I tell someone their days are at an end, they spend time with family. Or they smoke an expensive cigar and drink fine scotch. Or they watch a favorite film, they look at an old photo album, they have some sex. They do something they will enjoy or something that provides them with meaning. But you Donald, you ran around acting like a complete asshole.”

“Uh…” Donald says. “I think there’s been a misunderstanding.”

“A misunderstanding? Are you telling me you were not acting like a complete asshole?”

“It’s not that. It’s just, when you told me it was the ‘End of Days’ and I was supposed to ‘prepare’…well, I thought we were going to usher in the Apocalypse. I thought I was the Antichrist.” And then, almost an afterthought, “It was kind of nice.”

“Ah,” booms the voice, the Price of Darkness, the Devil himself. “Ah Donald, maybe you got it. Maybe you got it.”

And Donald sits. He sits in the dark and in the heat and with the moaning. He thinks about his dream that was not a dream and he thinks about the diner where he left no tip and he thinks about the library where there are no more copies of Goodnight Moon. He thinks about his time as the Antichrist and he thinks about the end of his days.

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