Brett Petersen Brett Petersen writes because it is more fun than mopping floors and running cash registers. He obtained his B.A. in English from the College of Saint Rose in 2011, and his fictions have appeared in journals such as Polychrome Ink, The Offbeat and Leopardskin & Limes. He is also a cartoonist, drummer and singer/songwriter whose high-functioning autism only adds to his creativity. He lives in Albany New York.
Below is Part 2 of 2 monthly installments for Visitant.
◄ Read the first installment
Summoning the Memory Eaters | Part 2
At the dawn of this century, a question I had never considered began to nag at me. Was I the one who caused the apocalypse and summoned the worms? I’m not positive, but it might have been my longing for the past combined with the emotional outburst in front of my dad and hitting my head on that rock that caused the hands of Heaven to crank open the portal and let the worms through. These same hands snuffed out humanity and tossed my ghost 207 years forward in time. Could being stranded on an empty world as a consciousness without a body be a punishment from God? The apocalypse … triggered by me … all because I couldn’t stop thinking about youngsters in harnesses, swinging on ropes, joking and dreaming about going to college, hallways that kept me alive, kept my heart fresh and vitalized.
The worms are all over the world now. It is the same as it was 2,222 years ago. They’re crawling up the steps of the Capitol building to feast on the fancies of the Founding Fathers. They’re climbing into the orifices of the Eiffel Tower to dine on Derrida’s différance. They’re lapping up the legends of Terra Cotta Army soldiers. They’re scarfing the campfire stories of tribesmen in Africa. They’re dancing around teenage banshees sitting cross-legged on the volleyball court contemplating suicide. They’re preparing for the Merge. I hear the tooth-beings rattling in their imaginary cavities like lottery numbers. Their atoms jiggle along to the chime of school bells. 4:44. Has the fated hour finally arrived?
I feel the Inverted Wolf Fang rotate 180 degrees and prepare to plunge into the spongy membrane of the dimension-next-door. The worms cock their heads toward the West. The enamel harvest has been interrupted. The tooth-beings honk like injured geese. The worms experience a fleeting flicker of worry, but they let it slide and resume their consumption of psychic morsels.
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The school bells ring for the thousandth time. No, it’s my alarm clock! I jolt out of bed and check my phone. 4:44 a.m.? Sweet, I’m up nice and early for a change.
I heat up some soup, eat it, brush my teeth and take the pill I was supposed to take last night. My head is gonna feel foggy all day because I screwed up my sleep schedule with diet Mountain Dew and crappy novels about human cloning written by some fuckhead from America’s heartland. Oh well. I just hope that when I take the same pill tonight, it doesn’t turn me into a fiend clawing at the walls of my bedroom or a shrink-wrapped pallet in a warehouse where emotions soil everyone’s lives with coffee shits and bad breath germs; where there aren’t enough mops in the world to clean the insults I spouted at that guy who worked at the Distribution Center.
I take the bus from Thrushcross Mall to the Heldeberg Valley library. It is the same library in which I spent hours reading Joyce, Faulkner and Austen only to fall asleep after two pages. As I open a Word document and prepare to write, I begin to wonder if I’ll ever have a job again. Believe me; I am trying to cope with life now that the structure of school has been lifted from my chest like a chunk of Adirondack granite. Will I be able to gather the work ethic to plow through the edits on a story I wrote back in 2008 about a boy haunted by a particular species of bird?
The answer to that question is moot because in reality, it’s the year 4444 and I’m a sentient ghost watching the human race’s memories being eaten by worms. I sigh and imagine my throat swelling up like a worm’s when it finds it necessary to mimic emotions like sadness. Sometimes I like to imagine I was never a terrible person. What did I want to be when I grew up? No one in 1995 would have thought ‘janitor’ was a good answer. That’s one of the things I did before I worked at Bethlem. Thank Heaven I found the courage to sleep on the job that day and get fired. After two weeks on the psych ward and three of putting CDs in boxes at the Distribution Center, I landed the job at Bethlem. It was the only job I ever enjoyed. But like every other good thing to come into my life, it was temporary. I remember wanting to be a teenager again so badly. Sometimes, I would forget I was twenty-five and my psyche would regress to that of a seventeen-year-old learning about DNA, Apartheid and the motivations of Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye. The only problem was that many of the female students looked like adult women. I had to be extremely careful about where my eyes landed while glancing casually around the room.
I suppose I was jealous of how few responsibilities these kids had hanging over their heads. The little fuckers had the power of 20/20 hindsight at their disposal; hindsight gleaned from the failures of my generation. Learn a trade. Don’t bother enrolling in an expensive private college. Get a two-year degree at a community college if you must, and immediately enter the workforce as a cook or roofer. Whatever you do, don’t study the arts or humanities: it’s a trap!
Even the student I worked with, who picked his nose in class and got in people’s faces like a cartoon animal ended up having a better future than me thanks to the trials and errors of us millennials. I hope you’re enjoying your existence as a blissfully unaware hologram, kid.
As soon as I think this, twenty-five-hundred worms spill out of a stop sign and plop onto the gravel. This brings to mind a haiku a friend once read to me:
How was I to know
That my actions during life
Would kill mankind’s ghost?
—Fomo, the Japanese poet whose only fear was of missing out.
The bell chimes one final time. Every worm on Earth begins to vibrate. They spread their forms outward and gel into a single entity. Satiated on memories, the worm-sphere tears a hole in the fabric of spacetime with a bolt of lightning. It separates from the Earth and floats through the hole which zips itself closed.
Back in its native land, the worm-sphere coils around the Perpendicular Line and becomes the Great Ellipse once again. The Ellipse sheds its skin and the tooth-beings slurp it up. With their bellies about to burst, they void their bowels in unison. The Ellipse extends a feeler, scoops up a dollop of enamel and rubs it all over its body. The survival of the Ellipse and the tooth-beings is ascertained for the next 2,222 years. As for me, I will continue to exist as a ghost on a dead planet, lamenting the passage of my high school years for the rest of eternity.