There was a total eclipse of the sun … at the moment when the moon devoured the light sepulchral events were triggered. It became more difficult to rationalize one’s life, and easier to accept death.
The tall-man stood on a bridge that spanned a crack in the earth. He smiled. The bones in his throat rattled like the engine in a broken-down car. He was a ruler: King in the Land of the Dying Sun.
Arthur Rambluster was having a grim day. His best friend, Veronica Delfacto, was dying. She developed Septicemia, a blood infection with no known cause. Arthur did not want to think about Veronica so instead he thought about his name. He never liked the solemnity of his given name — he preferred to be called by his nickname, Artie. His mind kept shifting back to Veronica. Artie was feeling guilty because he didn’t want to visit his dying friend. He had his own problems to consider.
First off, he thought he was prematurely dead. He’d been trying to concoct a more powerful cleaning-formula to attack the dirt he saw everywhere in his one bedroom condo. People often called Artie a “clean freak.” It all began when he was a child as a way of coping with stress. Symptoms continued to get worse as he grew older. Without thinking Arthur mixed several products that combined to produce chlorine gas. The smell was like a blast from an acetylene torch. He thought his eyes were dissolving in acid. He ran screaming from the house. The cool air revived him — he no longer felt dead. This was a reprieve so he decided he’d better visit his dying friend.
Arthur was upset by mendacity, lies everywhere. Everything was fake. There was no escaping the news. Computer screens never shut down. Arthur grappled with chaos. He wanted the world to be as clean and white as porcelain. Everyday he had to face disasters: hurricanes, wars, and massacres.
Veronica Delfacto lived in an old house that was left to her by an unconventional aunt, Mademoiselle Felicity. At one time the house was a ravishing, rainbow-hued beauty. Now the house reeked of remorse for better days and lost lives… it had fallen into itself like the carcass of a butchered cow. Veronica was an artist. Although she was mediocre at best, she was intent on acting as if she was a genius who created masterpieces. The drama, the fiction, excited her to no end. She pretended to devote every living moment to her art. Nothing else mattered. Housecleaning was the least of her interests. Repairing the roof or rebuilding the ramshackle porch did not concern her in the least. She owned two cats for company, Ezma and Cora. The cats took care of the house.
Artie always felt tortured when entering Veronica’s house … but she was dying and time was running out. The stench repulsed him. The moth eaten drapes covered with cob webs nauseated him. Veronica’s paintings reminded him of moldy food covered with worms. How, he wondered time and again, did he ever befriend this mad woman.
They met at the Homeopathic display-rack in Pieta’s Health Emporium. They were both interested in staving off death for as long as possible … both seeking better outcomes than what life already provided. Both were hypochondriacs.
The Land of the Dying Sun comes closer everyday. During the total eclipse, the Dying Sun slipped its’ moorings and began to drift … drawn like a magnet … across the bulkheads of Time and Space.
Arthur sat with Veronica, holding her hand. “I’m dying,” she spoke through a haze of green smoke. Her voice was weak, but filled with drama. The old drugs, prescribed by doctors, never worked. Veronica preferred the promises offered by marijuana and psychedelics. In her mind she was painting a masterpiece. It was called, The Last Gasp. Veronica vaguely registered Arthur who frantically held her hand as if he were clinging to his very own life.
Artie was upset and still feeling guilty. He couldn’t take it anymore. He had to leave. There was so much to do … so much cleaning that had to be completed. If he could put things back in order, sanitized and dirt-free, he would feel better. He had to clean himself as well, especially after visiting the hell hole where his friend was dying. He had to attain purity.
Weeks passed. Artie no longer heard from Veronica, perhaps, she passed away. It didn’t matter anymore. Things were getting cleaner. Arthur tracked every speck of dust and mopped it away.
Once, his parents sent him to a therapist to get to the bottom of his obsessions. Dr. Mortis Hem was a tall man, a gaunt man. He had pictures of the End Times on his office walls. Artie was withdrawn; but Dr. Hem cracked his shell and sucked him out like a boiled lobster.
When Arthur was four he was traumatized by the sight of a black rat rummaging through the garbage that spilled on the kitchen floor. The trauma was burned in his subconscious and became the root of his obsessive behavior. The doctor told Artie he could never avoid rats. He said Artie could never avoid dirt. The natural world was dirty and filled with rats. Arthur was traumatized even more. He felt threatened. He felt cursed.
Veronica never called again. Artie dreamt his friend was laid out on a large table. She was the banquet. Rats consumed her body. Artie woke up screaming.
Synchronicity played a horrible trick. Perhaps it was the shifting of light that caused the ensuing events. When Arthur woke from his nightmare he went into his spotless bathroom. A rat sat on top of the toilet tank. Fear froze both rat and man like a wall of impenetrable ice. As unexpected as a snapping icicle piercing flesh, Arthur was shocked back to his senses. He ran from the bathroom, slamming the door behind him.
He could not reconcile reality. It couldn’t be happening.
The exterminator was quick and efficient. Arthur no longer had to worry. He was pest free.
The months that followed were like fleeting images in a dream. The Dying Sun sucked color from the world. Everything turned gray and dirty.
Arthur began to change. At first everything seemed better. He felt more relaxed. He had more energy. His appetite improved. He enjoyed taking long walks. Objects seemed to glow as if he was seeing the world through infrared lenses. He no longer sensed the Dying Sun.
Soon Arthur noticed something peculiar. He became enthralled with the night. He craved small, dark places where he could hide. He stopped cleaning his home. He reveled in the dust. He enjoyed garbage.
He no longer recognized himself. His eyes were small, beady coals of incendiary red.
He couldn’t find a vein. He kept jabbing the spike into liquid flesh. Although his body hurt, he couldn’t feel the prick of the needle or see the telltale trickle of blood. He was no longer hungry but his body was starving. Three days before he stole a rat from a crazed kid — it was his last meal. He couldn’t feel the dirt on his body, the fat lice and raw infections. Numb and naked, saliva foamed over his lips like a mad dog.
He lay on the floor of a warehouse and peered through a hole in the wall, watching the city. It shone like an iridescent wound. The sky bled through poisonous clouds. People crawled from their steel nests atop skyscrapers and climbed down to the streets. Some people dove from high pinnacles and crashed into the cement. The gathering crowd cheered. It was a celebration. They were wearing costumes, synthetic humps and enormous sex organs. Some celebrants were painted with blood. The Dragon Queen led a procession. She wore a display case from Tiffany’s. The Halloween Ghoul hissed at the crowd. A group of priests beat themselves with sticks and straps. The slapping rhythm provided the primal music for the gathering. Screams blended and rose like a choir of demons. He saw the hungry mob turn into a rampaging beast.
Suddenly lights flashed and the sky appeared to split. He witnessed enormous, mechanical locusts descend and hover above the crowd; vibrating with metal wings, turbines and computers. They were covered with rotting flesh harvested from corpses. They glowed with holy fire. They spoke with a voice that reverberated like thunder, “We are the Creators, the Masters — you are the Dead. We invented you. We constructed you electron by electron. You are simple machines programmed to cultivate and care for the Earth. You – are a failed experiment, machines that have gone insane. In error you developed an Ego. There is no Ego, no individuality. There is no identity, no life. You are machines! You have become a blight on Earth, an abomination in the Universe. You are Dead! As the Creators we must intervene. We must render you harmless. We must take control!”
In the end, he was alone. He heard the thunder subside and was filled with a sense of peace. He was secure within the black hole of space where there was no fear or pain. He felt nothing. He was a simple machine, a lighthouse in space keeping track of the debris that circled the Earth. The planet below was once again thriving. There were no more signs that “humans” ever existed.