About seven years ago, if my math is correct, under the combined influence of the Year Zero mythos and a compounding interest in some pretty bleak films and books, I tinkered with a half-baked story concept about people left alone at the end of the world. That’s really all I had. No aesthetic, no voice, not even a clear idea of what the point was. Only the starting point — fifteen minutes pass in a blink, and when eyes open again, the world’s a wasteland. The mystery was the best part about it, but I suppose I wasn’t at a point where I could hammer it out. Two years ago I revisited the idea, trying to draw on themes of important cultural/spiritual tales like Journey to the West. That framework became essentially a shallow analogue of Xuanzang’s pilgrimage, and I don’t have to tell you why that was a problematic concept. It was scrapped.
Last Sunday the power to our apartment went out in the fuck-all middle of the night and everything was black and quiet and unearthly for a few minutes. That suddenly brought an old concept rushing back to me, and when I say the notes started flowing from me like a stuck faucet, I mean it. I had something I could work with!
Over the following week I kept making notes, and wound up writing not only several paragraphs of freewriting to get a handle on the voice of the narrator, but also a blurb to tease the concept. Here it is:
They were all at the diner when it happened. In fifteen minutes — in the blink of an eye — the world was a wasteland and no one remembered themselves. Where they’d come from or where they were going, or evern what their names were. None of the five — correction: the four — that remained.
This is how Natalie (the name pulled from the ID card in her wallet though she doesn’t feel like a Natalie and doesn’t even see much of herself in the awkward, smiling photo) meets them -: the limping girl, the movie star, and the conjured man. The letter on the dashboard of her Challenger, replete with apologies and vaguely terrible things, says she’s going to California. The two duffel bags full of cash in her backseat say the going is more like fleeing. And then there’s the body in her trunk.
With no other direction, and a strange lack of curiosity regarding what’s happened, the group agrees to follow Natalie, to accompany her to California unsure of what they’ll find there and what their survival will require along the way. Memories lurch to the surface on a slow collision with the present day and closer to an understanding of the reason they’re alive.
Here’s the brief narration piece. Spoiler alert, I guess. Though not really. Hopefully no one will remember this too clearly.
Nevin died a killing sort of death, still twisting and mutating on theatrics in the final bow, a death that was grindhouse arterial spray, an act of violence in and of itself. He left no mess – a clean, attractive corpse – and I left him behind only to carry him the rest of the way. He stuck himself like a knife in my gut but of course I couldn’t pull him out or else I’d leave a trail of blood to the West, leading all the way to the coast, before I dried up, convulsing. Inside, in warmth, enveloped, protected, but still invading, proclaiming, tearing where there was never room for him in the first place. There’s never room for a man in a woman and indeed there’s never room for anyone inside of anyone else, which is why we meet in frenzied little bursts of hyperbolic piston-pump, making pretty frames of psychology to place around everything that happens more politely, emotion and necessity as reasons to draw together, conflict so petty to mask the deeper, the more pointed, knives we can’t excise without bleeding out until it all becomes theatrics, it all becomes a set-piece and script, and the only reality is intrusion.
I made it to the West and when I made it to California it had been swallowed by the sea. No story from there to tell that isn’t tragedy, proving bleak and proving nothing. Knowing all along that the great catastrophe shook the Earth and took with it all destinations, the blink and the catastrophe one in the same, that makes little difference. Knowing that the destination of death was a prize to be won, that demons do not sleep but must be slain. No others to crownd the coffin, I stand at the cloven shelf of barren rock, soul five feet from the Earth, frothing waves of silver-white and murk churning endlessly, noisily beneath me, below me, behind me and forever, forever, indomitably against me.
As the last evening light made a break for Yosemite and the wind rushed in to cool the healing balm of shock clung like anointing to the back of my neck, I suddenly understood.
I’m going with the working title “westing.” Who knows, maybe this is the first step of a strange new journey…