A work of serial fiction by Noah Sanders
The horizon is not straight, it is deformed by things lumpy and black and rectangular, things stacked side by side and one on top of the other, falling lopsided and upside down in a confused jumble of metal and glass.
A line stretches from this mess. Straight and sharp and black, it cuts through what was land, what isn’t anymore. A road piercing through dirt and trash; plastic bags floating through the air, choking on dust and dead skin, sinking slowly over wires and antennas and lampposts, settling on a patch of grass torn and cut and dry and brown.
And here, right here: black tires turning over black tar beneath a burning blue sky. A blue sky empty of clouds, a blue sky empty of anything to absorb the sun, to cool the earth, to protect anyone unlucky enough to have been exiled to this place.
This place is not a wasteland. It has not been left to die. It was created with intention, was carefully planned, was mapped and built by human minds and human hands. But that does not mean it has order. This place is chaotic. It is deformed and contorted. It is a monument to the powerful noise of inorganic waste.
But it is quiet. It is empty of sound, empty of breath, empty of movement but for Earl. He is scooting along the road, pushing slowly toward the horizon, his scooter whirring softly and incessantly, carrying him from the prison into the city.
In five years, Earl forgot about the world outside his prison. Driving down the road at the scooter’s top speed of 20 mph, a speed he never came close to reaching in the hallway outside his cell and a speed that now, suddenly outside and on his own, felt fast, too fast, pull the skin tight to the bone and tear it off fast.
Earl rediscovered what wind felt like on his face. He rediscovered the taste of dust settling on his tongue, and he rediscovered the sting of sweat dripping down from his forehead into his small, sharp, squinting eyes. The sky above him was cloudless and blue. The sun looked nothing like the 100-watt fluorescent bulbs Earl had spent the past five years acclimating to, and with nothing to stop its rays, Earl could feel the sun burning the skin off the back of his neck.
Earl was overcome by two emotions: anger and confusion. The source of his anger was simple enough to understand. It came from his present circumstance – forced out of the world he knew into one he had left behind, one that did not exist to him because he had stopped thinking about it, had forgotten it existed. His confusion, however, arose from the indirect object of his anger, exactly what he directed his anger at, and this is where things got complicated for Earl.
He blamed his present circumstance on the prison, for forcing him out, literally knocking down the walls of his cell, strapping him to a crane, and tossing him out. But he loved the prison; he only knew the prison. Thus, Earl’s anger threw him into a deep confusion, a confusion that exhausted him mentally. This mental exhaustion, taken together with his long present, always present, physical exhaustion, was too much for Earl to cope with. He had to find somewhere to stop.
The closest building to the prison was Alien Adventures, a small, square strip club with grey concrete walls covered from top to bottom in faded, chipping paint, petroglyphs of green aliens in various exotic poses, dancing on alien poles and bending over in blue and red sequined alien lingerie below flashing neon lights.
Alien Adventure’s quirky, if not crazy, owner and manager was very proud of the fact that Alien Adventures was the only strip club in the Minneapolis/St. Paul greater metropolitan area offering a fully immersive exotic extra-terrestrial experience, from the smoke machines coating the club in a dense, really choking, layer of extra-terrestrial fog all the way down to the stripper’s themselves, forced to paint their bodies green, blue, or some other color deemed exotic and alien enough.
The owner and manager was very proud of this, despite the fact that every comment card the club had ever received – comment cards being another quirky, if not crazy, idea of his – only complained about the fact that it is hard to fully view and enjoy the stripper’s bodies through layers of nauseating neon paint.
Because the entrance to Alien Adventures sits atop three steps, an impossible mountain to climb for Earl and his scooter, Earl was forced to stop at the second closest building to the prison: a bowling alley one hundred yards past the strip club and with an entrance at ground level.
Earl had never bowled before, at least knew he never bowled during his five years in prison and couldn’t remember having ever bowled before his five years in prison, and had no desire to do so now. Earl assumed that the bowling alley had a bar attached to it. Earl resolved to park his scooter in the bar and drink himself into a coma before the bartender realized he didn’t have any money or he was forced to resolve to do anything else ever again.
If he succeeded, Earl figured, he’d die. If he failed, he’d be arrested and sent back to prison. He thought it was a good plan. For the first time since he was forced out of prison, Earl felt something close to happiness.
Earl’s plan failed.
It wasn’t the worst plan in the world. Bowling alleys almost always have bars attached to them, Wild Turkey and tonic water being the official drink of professional bowlers countrywide (Mandate 14b, section 3a, United States Bowling Congress (USBC) Annual Bowler’s Conference and Costume Jamboree, Akron, Ohio, 2002). What’s more, Earl hadn’t eaten or drunken yet that morning which, coupled with the copious amount of sweating he had been doing during his scooter ride from prison, meant he would get drunk substantially faster.
The two hiccups in Earl’s plan were the immense amounts of fat hanging from his body, fat capable of absorbing far more alcohol than Earl calculated for, significantly delaying the onset of his coma, and Earl’s fundamental misunderstanding of the American judicial system, which did not dictate simply a return to the prison he came from, should he be unable to pay for his drinks.
In any event, the plan failed. Before Earl even entered the building, he was assaulted, mugged, and left lying on his back, like an upturned turtle, behind the bowling alley. He regained consciousness just in time to see his assailant in the distance, scooting off towards the city with Earl’s only possession and his only mode of transportation.
Scooterless and immobile, lying splayed on his back behind the bowling alley, inhaling the last scent of his life, a mixture of trash from the dumpster directly to his right, blood from his newly broken nose, and shit from his newly soiled underwear, shit hot and baking in the sun like the rest of him, Earl realized this wasn’t a terrible way to die. It was death, after all, and that had been part of his plan from the start.
He was definitely uncomfortable, something he had never been in prison and something he seemed only to be outside of it, but if he rotated his head to the left and squinted, he could make out the flashing lights of Alien Adventures, lights engaging enough, he hoped, to distract him from his discomfort long enough to die.
So Earl stared at his final sunset, flashing green and blue and red, and waited.
Earl opened his eyes in a white room. White walls, white floor, white ceiling. The ground he had just been lying on, the ground he had died on, was gone; it was replaced by something soft and pillowy and white. The sheets draped over him were white and his clothes had been stripped from him and replaced by a clean white gown.
In all this white, Earl felt nonexistent. His body, white, seemed to fade into the bed below him, white, which in turn faded into the floor, the walls, the ceiling, even the white light falling gently down from above him.
In this environment, his sense of space, his sense of his place in space, was lost. He felt as though he were both floating and sinking, rising and falling. He was a speck of white, weightless, drifting somewhere in a sea of white, simultaneously without order and perfectly constructed.
He was, he thought, inside of a cloud. He was part of a cloud. His last thought, before falling asleep, was how strange it was that this cloud – so soft and clean and white – reeked of rubbing alcohol.
To be continued…
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