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An Exercise in Apocalyptic Dreaming

By Melissa McDaniel From Issue No. 3


Directions: Read each section below. Connect each apocalyptic point to its counterpoint. Next, write whether the paired sections describe a cause (x), an effect (y), or an alibi (z). Then, circle all nihilistic contradictions.

Finally, list the matched letter-number pairs in the correct order of events. When you are finished, fold the worksheet into a hexaminigon and mail it to your instructor.

For help, ask the nearest stranger.

(1) He decides to write about the apocalypse. This way, if there ever is a world to come back to, the people there will know what happened. More importantly, they will know that it happened to him.

He turns to the first page and writes, The apocalypse is boring. But as soon as the words are written, he knows there is nothing else to say.

(b) She is still pretty sure that Sam is the reason she survived.

Sam was a ten-year-old goldfish who lived with her through all of high school, college, and two different apartments in cities that didn’t want her. He waited to die until the day her life really fell apart. She was eating breakfast when she noticed the orange flake drifting at the top of the bowl. How long had he been floating there?

Now, when she hears that faint sizzle spidering across the sky, she remembers his flat body in her palm, lighter than paper, and her roommate walking into the room, asking, Do you hear that?

(2) At first, no one wanted to admit what was happening. They hid their confusion behind nervous laughter and closed doors.

Until at last the cloud (the dust) (the sky) overcame everything, and children looked at parents without knowing them.

His girl was driving when the storm hit. A neighbor said they saw her at a gas station on the outskirts of town. She was taking things out of her purse and throwing them away one by one. Lipstick? Don’t need it. Wallet? What was that?

He didn’t blame her. She left because she didn’t remember there was anything to leave. This is the kind of freedom he envies.

(a) The tape is called ‘1996.’ Through a haze of static, a yellow-haired boy eats a birthday cake. The camera scans the faces of seven children in party hats. They smile with chocolate teeth.

She watches this video repeatedly, until the face of the boy becomes the circuit that her mind races around. She dreams of a fullness as round and pure as this.

(3) Three days after the sound came, the president gave an emergency speech. Approximately fifty percent of US citizens had already forgotten who the president was. They’d also forgotten that United States was even a country. They had forgotten most things other than the smell of bacon in a hot pan, the way the sky looked just before morning, a daughter’s face. Some of them had forgotten more.

The president said that the FBI had everything under control. No need to panic. But in the middle of saying, We believe the effect of the sonic interference is only temporary, the president’s eyes glazed over, and it was clear that the game was up.

(c) Sometimes, when she is walking to retrieve food or water, a voice wraps its cold fingers around the humid air. Someone’s name, repeated endlessly, as though the speaker didn’t want to be forgotten.

At the end of days, there was a brief period when people still had enough sense to realize what was happening to them. In particular, there was an outpouring of memory-preservation software. If you could back up your files to the cloud, why couldn’t you store your mind there too?

The most popular solution was an app that sent out self-reminders every fifteen minutes. It told you who you were and reminded you of the things that needed remembering.

For weeks, they were everywhere:

Your name is Thomas Scott. You live at 459 Victoria Avenue. You have two kids, Mark and Anna.

Or: Alex is a fucking bitch. You are never getting back together with her.

Or: No more cigarettes. You haven’t smoked since 2005, so let’s keep it that way. Smoking is what killed Aunt Alicia.

It almost worked, until people forgot to charge their phones, and the voices went silent.

In a gas station in Tennessee, she hears the words echoing from the stubborn desktop computer, miraculously still working despite the months of quiet and dust. She reaches to turn it off, then changes her mind. The words keep churning on, a ghost’s grocery list echoing in the stale air.

(4) The van is shrouded with a veil of pollen and faded leaves. Hungry vines encircle the airless tires. The vehicle has sunk two feet into the ground, like the earth claimed it for her own.

He thinks of a dragon’s nest and approaches with caution. He’s hoping for treasures: beer, maybe, or even some granola bars. He doesn’t really expect to find company, even as he calls out, Anybody home? The words are thick on his tongue, his voice hoarse. He’s surprised to hear how his voice sounds more like his father’s than his own. That cheerful drawl.

How long has it been since he’s spoken to anyone? Nine, ten months?

It is the stillness that gives the figure away. None of the mindless ones can be that still for that long. There’s someone there.

Please, dear god, he thinks, Let it be a woman.

(d) Sometimes the Forgetfuls say things that almost make sense. Knock knock, they say, and she asks, Who’s there? Then they take her hand, shove her fingers between their teeth, and bite down hard.

(5) Part of him thinks that now, without language, without memory, people are reduced to what they always were to begin with: selfish, hairless monstrosities, all limbs and needy orifices.

The women he pursues now are wild, unsightly, occasionally vicious. He misses the way girls used to be, when there was still something of a girl in them.

But the loneliness still eats at him, and he can’t help himself. He lures the women to his campsite with food and water. They always come. They always oblige. And afterwards, they always let him cry into their hair.

(e) She goes to the lake to get fresh water. Hears what sounds like a dog in pain. It’s actually two Forgetfuls fucking in a clearing, their faces knotted fists. The man is much younger than the woman. He holds onto the woman’s hips.

She watches the couple with a detached interest. She isn’t even disturbed when the man locks eyes with her before barking out his climax.

After they are done, the couple scratch themselves, watching the sky idly, without recognizing its darkening. When the first drops fall to the ground, the couple screams like the sky is falling.

(6) They say it was terrorists who released the sound that licked away every memory, good, bad, and indifferent. It started by mangling thoughts and speech, but gradually grew worse, a rippling atomic mindfuck that drove deep nail scratches into the back of skulls. The devil’s screaming turned the sky cotton candy pink.

(f) She calls them the Forgetfuls. For them, life is continuously new. An eternal carnival of rich novelty.

She finds them oddly beautiful. Sweet like fresh milk.

She sleeps all day, waking only at night. Her mind becomes crisp. Her hair grows long and mangled. Berries bleed on her tongue.

(7) He finds an old phone. Somehow, miraculously, it’s still charged. There are a few garbled text messages.

His reply: i miss my mom.

Last time he saw her, she was fighting a neighbor for a graham cracker in the middle of the street.

There is an error message–The message failed to send–and then the screen turns black.

(g) She makes a home for herself in her dad’s rusty camper van. Here, she has everything she needs: canned goods, water, Coca-Cola, even a TV with a VCR. Most nights she stays up until dawn, watching old movies. Right now she’s into the 80s again. She watches them on mute, so as not to attract visitors. Her whole world is mute now, so it seems appropriate that her entertainment should be that way too.

But sometimes even this gets to be too much. The expressions on the faces of the actors sting tender parts of her memory. A wrinkled brow or a sideways grin is a sharp stab in the chest. She thinks, I’ll never see anyone make that expression again.

(8) He memorizes the King James Bible, sentence by sentence. He’s already made it through most of Genesis. He has a new appreciation for the repetitive, neutral tone of the stories. He loves Cain and Abel, and everyone else whom no one names their children after.

But it’s the tree of knowledge that really gets to him. Now, he believes the fruit was never sweet, but always rotten to the core. Worm-ridden.

(h) She grows soft towards the Forgetfuls. Occasionally, she thinks she sees a straining flicker of recognition in their eyes.

She opens cans of food for them. It’s like feeding an infant. Juices running down the chin. If the food is very good they smile, letting it spill out of their mouths. She does the same, wondering if she might be one of them after all.

(9) Past lives unravel in dreams. Words and phrases caught in the slivers of an almost silent everyday life. The sheep says. The cow says. Liar, liar, pants on fire. Lovely Rita, meter maid. Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight, night night, sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite.

These fragments of memory follow him around like little gnomes, staring, clacking teeth.

(i) When she hears the voice, she thinks that she must have somehow un-muted the TV by accident. It must be a televised spirit, concocted by her brain and sent through the static. It wouldn’t be the first time she’s heard voices of this kind.

The voice that says, Anybody home?

A new flame leaps up inside her. Slowly, she takes out her knife, holds the blade close to her side.

(10) He spends months drowning in fantasy. About the same old things, of course, but mostly about a soft touch and a figure emerging out of a grey dawn. Someone saying, I’m here. You don’t have to be alone anymore.

(j) At first, she was scared she would become one of the Forgetfuls. She spent months studying the faces of the people she loved.

But eventually it became clear that she wouldn’t forget anything. Somehow, she was immune to the sound. When the shrill note echoes over the landscape, it gives her headaches. But her memory stays firmly put. She wishes it wouldn’t.

(11) A girl steps out of the camper van. She’s clutching a carving knife with a white-knuckled fist.

They stand, studying each other. Their eyes speak universes.

Inside him, something old and new, awakening. He extends himself towards it. He lets his hand reach out.

(k) She steps outside of the van and looks at the man. He is bearded, half-dressed, in a faded flannel robe he drags across the dry leaves.

They do not speak. A bird says, Chiroo. Chiroo.

She blinks, Who are you?

His mouth twitches, A friend.

She thinks of Sam the goldfish, lying lifeless in her palm. In one swift moment, she drops the knife, takes the man’s dirty hand in hers. It’s nice to meet you, she says.

Answer Key: 1(g)y, 2(f)z, 3(b)x, 4(i)y, 5(d)y, 6(j)z, 7(c)y, 8(h)y, 9(a)x, 10(e)z, 11(k)y

About Melissa McDaniel More From Issue No. 3