Gulf of Dead-Eyed Laughter

One of his earliest memories was back in elementary school amid a semi-circle of his classmates sitting cross-legged. Enthusiastic art projects adorned the walls and taken at a glance the whole room looked like a rainbow. While the teacher was off in the far corner and everyone waited, he stood up and put on a show. He was pretending to be a character of his own invention: an elephant made of tornadoes named “Cyberia.” His memory of the moment and the nuance of the character were biased in his favour, but he vividly remembered having the entire room in the palm of his hand.

My reflection looks like a crust. I read an article once that said when you touch your hand to a mirror, that’s your reflection trying to hold you back from passing through. I don’t know about that.

He stared intently into the mirror in the sole washroom at work, fixated on the background. A single unadorned lightbulb buzzed overhead, illuminating the aged wall tilework. He noticed abrupt movement near the door, but he couldn’t say one way or another what world it hailed from. He touched his finger to the spot on the mirror and it felt warm. Hard; coarse and damp. He sliced his finger on the reflection as a sharp pain in his stomach caused him to buckle forward for support. His ribs snapped outward unevenly and ejected confetti from the pain cauldron. Tears streamed down his cheeks and we begin again.

Everything was going according to plan. He washed his hands and returned to work, out there in the tiny restaurant. It was narrow and long like a shipping container bathed in green and yellow, serving food from a country that no longer existed. There was a single elderly couple in the dining area. He held sentry at the register by the bar, gazing across the narrow seating and out through the large windows opening onto the downtown street. His uniform felt like flattened pylons coated in wool from World War 1.

It was late afternoon and the matter at hand was to singlehandedly prepare for the dinner rush which, as every day, remained largely hypothetical. He took to this task with the gusto of a pear-headed slave. There were flies swarming the street outside the front doors, a fact which occurred to him later than it should have. A couple of them breached the window pane; fast and impossible to predict. One darted into his mouth. He grabbed his neck and coughed violently as he felt it multiply around his Adams apple like a time-lapsed honeycomb. He choked out a cry as an orgy of insects overpopulated his intestines. They was a membrane of them between his muscles and skin when the rest of the colony jettisoned from his concealed tapestries for room, so they kept it hovering in the air as wet, black liquorice belched down to the ground and we begin again.

Everything was going according to plan. The day started out shook when he arrived at work through the back entrance. Sitting upright on the floor, peeking just above the cash register, was a giant white egg covered in large purple spots. He approached the egg with hesitation, eyeing the doorway and surrounding area for evidence of as prank or art project. Crouching down, he handled the egg cautiously, tested it for consistency, and finally proceeded to lift it with both arms. It was the size of an adult in the fetal position and as heavy as two watermelons. It was also extremely slippery, coated in a gelatin membrane.

He trudged it back behind the counter in the event someone from the night before came in looking for it. It balanced perfectly on its own. As he went about his daily tasks he glanced over at the thing. Nothing was rolling around inside it when he picked it up; not yolk nor embryo nor treat nor IED. Was there supposed to? He should hold an egg in his hand when he went home, he thought; to test it his hypothesis. Or, he could go do it right then and there; go and grab an egg from the walk-in fridge after getting some bread from the freezer. For science.

He was a man on a mission, alone beneath the watchful eye of the rarely-reviewed security cameras. Fetching the bread, the door on the freezer shut tightly behind him, as it was designed to do. A sharp static hiss crept in from the outside, slicing through the growling of the wall-mounted motor. He struggled to open the door but was unable. The hiss wobbled in and out on a sine wave, lulling him to sleep as he slowly succumbed to hypothermia, frozen by force before frozen by the chill. Before his eyes glazed terminally, the door shunted open and a tidal wave of black water flooded in and we begin again.

Everything went according to plan. Home was a basement bachelor apartment beneath a trash-mortified lawn hosting several discarded lawn mowers. The old white limestone house was accessible through an alley connected to an inconvenient parking lot. Low ceilings and bruised walls gussying up an utterly punished infrastructure. No insulation. Bats, probably.

He sprawled out upon the mattress on his cold bedroom floor and stared up at the ceiling, a kaleidoscope of stucco painted by tiny hands. A pile of clothes on the floor, air vents that had been unscrewed from the ceiling, loose nails pushed to the creases. Every corner flecked with museum’d cobwebs, vectors of wretched carnival tends filling in the pockets between knick-knacks anchoring him to his past. The broom was only there for morale. He wondered what his ancestors would think of him. A quote popped into his head: in hell, everybody has a throne. Where did that come from?

Somewhere out there in the winter, there was someone responsible for the good people crying themselves to sleep. Somewhere back there, the truth is articulated through mythology. The fool that becomes the saviour. The class clown who dominated his time and place. A master in his wrong time waiting for his story to be told.

The following morning as he left the house he found a second egg waiting outside his apartment; same colour, same size, same balance as the one in the restaurant. Once again he was careful to check the surroundings for evidence of jest, as that is standard practice for witnessing anything out of the ordinary. He picked up the egg same as the first and leaned it up against a brick wall beside his front entrance, clearing the walkway. As he turned to leave, he obeyed his instinct and artfully placed his ear to the thing. There was certainly movement; squishing, grinding, sloshing around in a fixed rotation like a churning machine. A factory sound.

At the end of the permanently-dim alley connecting his apartment to a parking lot, a gigantic tube of white meat passing by slowed down and poked its business end towards him. A glistening maggot the size of an SUV stared him down, freezing him in place.

All he could think of was inhaling. It dashed at him and squeezed its way between the alley walls, thrusting garbage and dirty papers ahead of it. Cans and gravel grinding towards climax. Coated in the slime of the year, it flexed in the clearing leading to his doorstep and collapsed on top of him. It pressed down into his eyes and head, pulsating like an exposed heart, smothering him in slick reek. The stench was as oppressive as the flesh. It ballooned into his eye sockets and breathed him in and we begin again.

In high school, the teenage ecosystem was one where con artists and clumsy lateral authorities and this was where he thrived. He had made a name for himself by covertly recording teachers and releasing remixed videos making them say preposterous things. These went viral throughout the school; just amusing enough to not be nerdy, and just technical enough to be impressive. He put on a show. The world was a show and he had the charisma of momentum. He was a star.

Everything was going according to plan. Back at the restaurant, the egg had hatched sometime during the night. The shell lay in large shards on the floor, slime and crust spread out like a blurred and spackled net. The video would surely fill in the gaps, he reasoned.

The security cameras caught the choppy video of a black fungus composed of tiny hands spreading from the egg, across the floor, and up the wall. It was extending to the ceiling by its own exerted force, then slinking towards the back door in a single gesture. Awkward, uncertain movements. The leading edges that spread collected into extraterrestrialian arms outlined by tiny, excited fingers twitching quick. Spastic gaps in the goo exhaled frosted air into the temperature controlled room. Smeared mouths on the old monitor.

It scaled the wall, fell down, tried again, failed, and then finally an unbroken stream of successful movements. A trail of filth remained in its wake. He watched the video seven times before picking up the phone. It felt like a day off.

The police arrived and inquiries were made. Unspoken paranoia abound. Nobody had anything in particular to say about it. They looked over their shoulders to try and spot recording devices, or chuckling teens. Each time they reached for their guns.

My manager was very superstitious. She didn’t want to come in at night so she passed those duties on to me. That is how I got promoted. It felt like less of a 12 hour workday that way. I forgot to ask about a raise. I knew her in high school and people used to think I bullied her, but they didn’t understand the relationship we had.

He went home that day with a story to tell to nobody in particular. As he walked the pathway to his apartment, he saw that the eggs had multiplied; where there was once one, there were now seven, clustered in an even grouping. He scanned the area and noticed another one across the street, planted beside a telephone pole.

There was more. Alongside the congregation of gurgling eggs was a six foot tall white rabbit up on its hind legs, proud as a chieftain from a foreign mythology. Its head locked onto him as he approached. Its eyes black and dead, he could see his own reflection in them. Even as he stood within whispering distance, it stood motionless; breaths frosted in the air at that time of year, but nothing exhaled from its mouth. Weak and steady puffs came from its belly, however. He leaned in close to its stomach and heard labored breathing in its stomach. Something was alive in there, exhaling fast and shallowly. The rabbit didn’t look down.

I would stuff my face when I got home but nothing could stop my stomach from churning. It felt like a cold hand was squeezing it gently every few minutes, followed by sharp pain. In the past, hunger leads to dizziness, but I could think perfectly clear. I thought I might have stomach cancer.

Members of the community were beginning to connect the dots, noticing how these strange objects were collecting at his apartment and tracing his route to and from work; the only place he seemed to visit regularly. At first people assumed they were pieces of installation art. Cell phone photos were being taken regularly. Drunk people licked them. Sober people grinded upon them.  It had the ambience of a farce.

The most exciting and important moments in his life were happening when he wasn’t around. Someone had been rifling through his garbage cans by his front door and voided them. The bags were ripped open and an unbroken line of trash water lead to the cluster of eggs, drawing an erratic circle around them. No matter remained; only the juices, squeezed out and sprayed with force.

He was so invested in the investigation that he didn’t notice that the world had gone silent. He rose to his feet and flexed his jaw, attempting to trigger some sort of sensory response, or pop his ears. Then came the shortness of breath; shallow gasps at first, followed by a full-fledged vacuum and panic attack. He collapsed to the ground, bracing his hands on the concrete and overcome by the pain of his dry eyes refusing to blink. Every vein popped and his bones cracked like plaster and we begin again.

Everything was going according to plan. The rabbit stood as a silent sentry in the trashy yard all throughout the night while more eggs appeared throughout the neighborhood. He slept sloppily that night as every night, tossing and turning while his dreams put up a vast carnal house for his fears to smash the lights out in. He dreamed that he was his own reflection, watching himself go about his day while unable to communicate. The mirror was warm when he put his fingers to it.

He had trouble breathing when he wasn’t staring intently through the portal, but every time he did he could feel cold tendrils slithering up and down along his spine.  It molested him the more he stared at himself. He was excited. It made him look forward to the next moment.

His mother, in a state of drunken bravery, once told him that he had a twin brother but he had been consumed in the womb. He had absorbed his brother but it was impossible to know when. Her breath was an unending cone of dankness ferrying cruelty, talking him up about how much of a winner he was for surviving while lambasting him for being a freak of nature. He was so competitive. No other parents had that story. There was something extra inside of him, and had been there all his life. He felt his sibling’s corpse somewhere down in his guts. Inbetween them. It felt dirtier when he said “sibling.”

The following day, the local news was alarming: dozens of people were killed the previous night, and left mutilated in the streets. Tragedy, panic. Desecrated corpses that beggared belief.

Legs strewn across the road, bodies torn in half, severed heads uncountable as frozen fireworks propelled like darts. Communities were upended by unwrapped citizens flung upon doorsteps. There were more eggs, of course. There had to be. What started as rumors ended up being true: the eggs were to blame, and it didn’t take long before the source could be triangulated to the largest congregation: his terrible yard.

He could barely leave his apartment the following day; so many eggs had collected by his door. Strange clothing littered the ground. Lively humans emptied, thrown to the wind and then consumed mid-flight. It took longer than expected for gunshots to ring out, but they surely came.  They had to. More rabbits were out there and there weren’t many dots to connect to complete the big picture. Striking from the shadows, they devoured those attacking the unhatched eggs, hoisting them in the air and fragmenting them like carousels expanding outward. They couldn’t be stopped; everyone aimed for the heads but that didn’t kill them. They were so powerful. Cars were sliced in half.

The first few hours were inert from the confusion. It was total psychological blackout. Most people went to work. It took so long for people to come to their senses and realize it was real. It wasn’t a prank, it wasn’t a movie, and it wasn’t hysteria. Every network was streaming photographs and videos of these things making decorations of prey. How many videos do you need of the same thing?

No more work. He put on his most extravagant collar because the whole world felt like it was a long weekend and he had a spring in his step. He loved drawing attention to his neck; ties, big collars, necklaces; the bigger they were, the more he felt like a lion. They weren’t after him. For whatever reason, he had been chosen. He could get as close to them as he wanted.

The lace and gold was a magnet for blades and desire. Died in visual prestige, that’s the best way to go. Maybe that’s why the monarchs did it, too. Maybe they did it to hide their depressed posture and sorrowful shoulders. He, like all cool people, desired to be murdered.

He walked to the corner store as the civilized world was rallying against him. It didn’t take much to light a fire under a vigilante, circulating his photograph and photos of his apartment through social media. The mob coalesced into a single murderous opinion. It didn’t help that the very first rabbit was following him around, as well; far enough to fail as a protector, but close enough to arouse suspicion. It also didn’t help that the hatchlings were becoming more brazen, more of them emerging into the daylight before retreating to the shadows to grow. More shots rang out, aha soaked child’s car seat was sitting in the street beside a car wrapped around a streetlight. His eyes wandered and caught a glimpse of the familiar slithering black fungus lurking by a malnourished cat, arcing its form in a clumsy parody of the creature. It repeated the mimicry up until he left.

At the corner store, he slid dried noodles, a can of stew, and a package of cake frosting towards the register, waiting patiently for the owner to pry her eyes from the overhanging screen. Conflicting reports were coming in regarding egg sightings across the region, but at least half of them could be attributed to social media reports from people who were convinced it was part of an experiential marketing campaign, and hoping they would win something if they played along. Across the store, a young girl pocketed an ice cream sandwich. There was a bass reverberating in the air and the rest of the day would certainly be a mulligan.

He approached his shadowing rabbit with unheard of confidence and proceeded to inspect it thoroughly. He ran his hands across its fur, he put his ear to the back of its neck, and he even prodded at its arms. He was soon drawn to a curiosity on its back: a black thread poking out from its skin. When he pulled at it, the skin separated and bloomed apart. As he pulled, a pin of light emerged which grew to a blinding beam as it opened further.  He shielded his eyes and pivoted away, thereby catching a glimpse of it as it blasted upon the adjacent wall. A film projected from the opened back.. It showed a man with yellow sharpened teeth staring back at him with starfish pupils. A face covered in baffling tattoos. A booming muffled voice muttered ‘no.’

The man continued staring for a minute before it cut to black and the rabbit zipped up on its own to swallow the light. A boy with half a face shuffled forward, his overalls covered in a thick white fluid. The boy raised a heavy revolver with both hands and aimed it squarely at him with uncertain hands. One of his eyes was bright yellow. He murmured something about his mother, then opened fire like amateur hour at the holocaust museum and we begin again.

They were traveling in packs by that point, five or seven at a time ambushing people who turned around corners. Their mouths were never wet or open. They just vacuumed up all the matter and left the debris. They weren’t going into houses yet. Our state-sponsored TV said they were looking for something. Everyone was wondering what I was going to do.

Everything was going according to plan. He bolted from his apartment and ran for as long as he could, making a concentrated effort to ignore the gruesome tableaus streaking by. The air was cold and made his lungs feel like they were compressing cotton balls. He ran down the street and up into the hills, headed as far away from downtown as he could. He ran through red lights, through back yards, over empty cars and over scattered shoes of every size.  Sirens and car alarms were ringing all around him, a cacophony that propelled him like a buoy up through the ocean depths.

A passenger airliner cut across the sky on an acute trajectory and collided with the ground a few blocks away, the catastrophe shielded by a row of houses. He became a simple carrier for panicked breaths. A piece of flying shrapnel as long as a forearm cut through the air and sliced one of the rabbits in half. Everything above the hips fell away, revealing a compacted pile of ash that disintegrated into the wind, howling like a rapidly decelerating comet of pain. A couple stood in their driveway screaming at each other unsure of whether to stay or go. They were crying and seething through gritted teeth. Betrayal. He did it. We know. Everybody knows. But he continued on, as far away as he could from the sirens.

He fell asleep in a small cave that night, up there in the hills outside of the city. Through the trees and over a ravine, tucked away in a place children used for secrets. His hands were pressed against his ears as the havoc from the city below reached a crescendo around 4:00 AM. He looked at a reflection of himself in a dark pool of water encircled by snapped cigarettes and graffiti. The ground was still but the darkness behind him was vibrating. He lay on the ground, rested his head on his bicep and laid his arm over his head like something fragile. Quivering breaths. It caressed his back as he slept. He became cold. He was excited.

The dawn made the silence unignorable. He emerged from the cave and gazed upon the city; chaos had washed over it leaving every human being vanished. Metropolis-sized fires raged in the distance triggered by falling planes and miscalculated self defense. And then an army of rabbits – tens of thousands – stood at the base of the hill staring up at him. Their eyes darkened the air around them like tiny chimneys.

He descended from exile and walked towards the ravine polluted with blood and gnashed tissue. His reflection was blackened by churning smoke, pulsating from the inside with invisible explosions. Every building had been emptied and the utilities were running themselves down. All that remained was the slush draining into the soil. Black and billowing clouds gathered in the far distance, promising a final cleanse of the city.

It was him and the rabbits, trailing far behind him as he traversed every building he was never allowed into. In a war zone, thrones come easy. He stood atop a car and scanned the horizon. He called out. There was no response. The chosen one toured his domain. There were guns on the ground and, from afar, a towering curtainwork of torn clothing unfurling in the wind like a grand flag attempting to eat itself. Who would write songs about this?

Every night, off in the distance, out there in the upturned roots and twisted metal and scorched Earth – out in the thickening dark – he heard muffled laughter.

He sat on a throne of smashed debris, staring off into the embers. The rain felt unreal when it fell. He no longer feared the next day, but the promise of a future was hollower than ever before. The gore and detritus unceasingly flowed past. Who would write songs about him?

Many of the rabbits had cracked themselves open and spilled their entities beneath a greying sky, and they set to work on their craft. They wove their black forms into the flood of carnage like rebar and twisted it up towards the sky in giant flat monoliths. Impossible red reflecting pools that dwarfed the abandoned skyscrapers. Lightning struck frequently and ran through them like wicked veins. They arranged themselves around him like vast standing mirrors, the lightning revealing constellations of images within them.

He had just nodded off when his army of still anomalies came for him, surrounding him patterned like a ritual. They hoisted him up on their shoulders and carried him out of the city the rain pelting his weakened body. He didn’t fight back, drifting in and out of consciousness.

He snapped to attention as he was tossed face first into a pinewood coffin. Thick wood, polished but no interior lining. It took every bit of strength in him to shift his body so he was facing upright. He opened his mouth to protest but nothing came out. The rain obscured his vision as the coffin lid slammed shut over him, secured with a length of chain. It clattered against the lid and their feet drummed against the sides. He limply laid his palm against the floor.

What followed was a day’s worth of marching, then a moment of weightlessness. Then the coffin hit the water. Then he began to sink. His body had already started consuming itself. The tightly sealed coffin sunk slowly into the depths of the lake, settling finally on a bed of green weeds.

His body expired long ago, the aftermath of which the evolving bars of a constant prison for hallucinating mind encased down there in the filthy water. A fallen star. Every time he drifted off to relive his last days, he was shocked back into reality by a droplet of dried vomit falling back on him, or a maggot emerging from his cheeks. Grand manifestations. In hell, everybody has a throne.

He glared inexplicably through popped eyeballs, having full signal strength of his senses but lacking the agency to do anything about them. He has plateaued there in a box that reeked like an open equatorial abattoir, his dreams a jerky slideshow of his distant ancestor. The laughter remained, but it came softly from his stomach.

Every once in a while it whispered the exact same words he said as he sat there upon the throne of debris, the last man on Earth.

How did they know this is what I wanted?

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