Of course, there was anger at first.
Fair. To be expected.
But the powers that be knew we’d come to understand.
And they were right. Once the rioting rescinded.
Because… *gestures at everything*
Enough was enough.
The show must not go on.
The only point of difference, the splitting point:
How to end it all.
8.23am. I was late. A late night of preparing, years of work, coming down to the final stretch of the doomsday clock. The US government were hellbent on the atomic end. All weapons at the ready, each square foot accounted for. Noting my destination, the uber driver saw my frazzled rush and asked ‘truly, what’s the worry,’ his malaise infectious, but I steadied myself. He must’ve been religious, certain his deity would come swooping in at the last second to save the day. Or he was just a regular fool, happy to let everything slide.
I asked him where he stood on leaving the planet’s animals free to regenerate after we’re gone. He singled out my use of ‘stand’ and said he was ready to lie down. The hell with the animals.
The committee for a cleaner apocalypse anointed me as their spokesperson after the last one, my boss, self-immolated outside the very entrance of the UN building I rushed through.
Since the Decision, our bid had undergone several evolutions. Originally, we advocated for careful deconstruction of our cities, a final spring clean, if you will, to leave the place tidy prior to a global Jonestown effort in grass fields that would eventually absorb us. This was set upon by the demolition contractors of the world as too costly. It lacked the wow factor too, and instead all the attention went to Japan, who announced the building of a mechanical Godzilla, the completion timeframe scraping just within the doomsday clock. A peaceful kumbayah with biodegradable kool aid cups wasn’t going to cut it.
But I couldn’t just give up.
Our new corporate sponsor, an energy conglomerate, believed in our message and had pivoted its production line to community gas chambers. While carbon emitting heavy at first, emissions were forecast to drop immeasurably once the project matured.
The walls and halls of the UN had no doubt seen better days. A relaxing of rules around indoor smoking and an absence of cleaners were bound to degrade the prestige over time.
Menacingly, security was the only the support department that had seen its budget bloat since the announcement. A wall of peacekeepers, their blue helmets marked with symbols of death and other lamentations of peace, greeted me at the entrance, nodding approvingly when I placed a tenner in their large tip jar.
I visited the main assembly only once before, accompanying my former boss on his fateful final day. We’d been scheduled to present toward the end of the day, between global fentanyl synchronisation and roast dinner in the cafeteria. Our speaking time had slowly been whittled down as the speakers throughout the day had been egged on by the raucous ambassadors while the drinks flowed and the translators lost much in translation.
By day’s end, he had less than six minutes to present his life’s work to a paltry portion that remained, some slumped over their desks.
Instead he chose self-immolation and our speaking slot was later rescheduled out of respect.
What good could the UN do in their current shambles, I’d asked my boss once. I knew he held the same concerns, but desperation had forced this shambled bureaucracy into being our last hope; the G8 were not taking requests at this time, too invested in their own deals of destruction. The UN, inebriated or otherwise, could shake the world powers from the brink—IF the case was compelling enough.
A long shot, but one worth taking, nonetheless.
I waited backstage and nervously fidgeted as the tech team discussed cues for my film reel (endangered beauties of the world, across landscapes already facing collapse, holding on.) Imagery that would make the late Sir David Attenborough swell. Emotion, that’s what we were counting on. Limit the stats, they’re too drunk to remember the finer points, no matter how sobering such figures could be.
Commotion in the general assembly triggered a scramble from us backstage as we peeked beyond the curtain. A quick check on our phones revealed that the Palestinians had retaken Jerusalem. The sympathetic nations howled and cheered like it was a goal in a world cup final. Ever since the Decision, an unfounded—and I emphasise unfounded—rumour spread that whoever held Jerusalem by world’s end would gain the ear of the heavenly powers above. Rarefied air for the final king of the hill.
Nonsense of course, and they’d reduced Jerusalem to rubble with heavy fighting since.
But the little time I had for religious extremism oceans away would nevertheless take up an extraordinary amount of my own time today and threaten to derail everything, as nations supportive of the current land holder now pushed hard for a quick resolution.
‘What are we waiting for? Let’s end this madness!’ they cried, while only a week ago had urged for calm.
After some consultation with management, my speech was pushed back to the afternoon.
‘We will give you an extra five minutes, for a total of fifteen,’ the sheepish messenger offered, her face maxing out the empathy, concerned I would follow in my boss’ footsteps yet unaware I was originally offered twenty.
I couldn’t help but allow my soul to visibly sag.
‘Sure, no problem.’
For lunch, I sat down at the cafeteria alone. Got my tray and filled up on butter chicken. Vegetarian for nine years, vegan for two. A risk for my stomach on a day of endless nerves, but what the hell.
I called my partner, Joni. I’d be lost without her. She would have joined me in the assembly, if she didn’t have to be out of town trying to stop the burning of the last sequoias in San Francisco from a tech billionaire who wanted to light them up as background entertainment for his last birthday bash. All the while seeing one of her exes, another eco warrior firmly committed to the fight.
‘Babe, you’ve got this!’ she offered. Rob, her ex, echoed the sentiment.
‘Thanks guys,’ I said. ‘I’ll do my best. Love you, Joni. Can’t wait to see you again.’
‘Oh, Abe, I forgot to mention—Rob’s going to crash at ours before he deploys again to Africa.’
‘Great. Sounds good.’
One day, love will be the last thing we have. The last thing we give.
* * *
‘Ambassadors, we have a very special guest speaker today. Deputy to the late Vincent Carrouso—he was the one who tragically passed last week outside the General Assembly—yes, if we could have quiet please, I know the situation is critical in Jerusalem right now but if we can mute the volume on your phones for the next ten minutes, thank you. Here is Abe Forrest.’
My hands shook. Each word must be precise. The lives of billions of plants and animals at stake, species that have coexisted for aeons now the impending victim of a self-aware cancer, unmoved by the collateral damage of their self-destruction. These creatures are only well regarded because we regard them, a nuclear war hawk advised me one day at a small symposium. A nuclear bast will wipe cities out the proper way. No stone left un-irradiated. A permanent clean slate. If we did things your way, sure, the cities will crumble on their own, given time. But given time, those animals you so covet, could turn into something resembling us, doomed to make the same mistake, OR even worse, eclipse us. We must not let that happen.
‘Ambassadors, almost five years ago, we consigned the futures of the children to the dustbin. Many will be old enough to yearn for that first love, but not be able to find it. All those milestones of life, the one’s we took as regular, yet cherished when it was our turn— our children will never know that. And we’ve accepted this. Reasoned that it all ends up the same anyhow.’
I had graphs illustrating the wonderful bio-diversity that could thrive if we used the EXONN Mobile gas chamber global human completion initiative. But these did not capture the left-field detour I was about to drive headfirst into.
‘But you know what will survive a nuclear holocaust? Never mind cockroaches, the real threat is Ants. The Argentinian ant has collaborative super colonies in over 16 different countries, spanning from the South America continent, all the way up and across to the Mediterranean. They will become the dominant survivors AND frankly you don’t want them ruling the world. We have this great opportunity to let cats, dogs and other diverse members of the animal kingdom rule the land. I would argue dogs are already better than us; they will not become the greedy monsters we became, nor will their feats overshadow our achievements. They will be peaceful custodians. Ants, on the other hand, will evolve into a society that will far outshine our feats, eventually. We must allow these diverse creatures to live, to keep the all-conquering ants at bay. They may evolve with the cooperative discipline of ants, but they won’t be no damn insects. Dogs alone will be the worthy heirs.’
What, were you expecting some well-reasoned scientific argument? This world had dispensed with such a thing when they made the Decision. Irrationality must be met with further Irrationality. The largest of Egos all have a soft little underbelly of insecurity, and I thought maybe. Just maybe…
The general assembly had not expected such a ridiculous angle. Not from someone as serious looking as I. Here we all were, the doomsday clock shaving off precious moments of our lives, and I had the audacity to waste it with some nonsense about evolved ants taking over.
I tried to continue, with the pre-prepared solution of my corporate sponsors, the EXONN Mobile gas chamber, technical specs of dimensions and how many each chamber could fit (the floor opens into a crematorium pit!), but the uproar of their voices and the hurling of half-empty beer bottles ended my plea.
I was escorted out by security forces, who were surprised my unassuming self had caused such vitriol.
* * *
Later that night my news made a splash and was roundly mocked by nuclear advocates, mechanical Godzilla supporters and the artificial asteroid coalition. Every religion denounced my ant theory; God would not allow a lowly insect to better our mark on this world. No thumbs equalled no artistic feats or technological marvels. MichaelANTngelo, they would not be.
Joni said she needed some space (though less space with Rob, I intimated). I said I understood before hanging up and crying like a baby the rest of the night, my heart breaking, as if for the first time, or moreso for the last.
Career-wise, EXONN Mobile, immediately dropped their sponsorship of our non-profit think tank. Rather than routine dismissal from my post, the non-profit would also rebrand itself, to the name of my former boss. His act of self-immolation acting like a phoenix rising from the corporate ashes.
With nowhere near enough in savings to comfortably run out my remaining days, I determined to drink myself into oblivion like the hundreds of millions that had done so since their fate had been assigned an expiration. But to my dismay, all the liquor stores had closed in my neighbourhood. Supply issues decimated by demand. I’d been toeing the straight edge line for so long, believing I could help save the innocent animals of the world if only I remained sober and sane with all my wits intact, like Noah and his ark. Suffice to say, I swore deep and loud in the indifferent street.
Heroin then? No heroin.
Cocaine? No more Columbia.
Coney Island Euthanasia Roller Coaster? I’d just lost my health coverage.
Government issued euthanasia kit?
I guess this would have to be the case.
* * *
I had passed my local clinic every day on my commute to the non-profit. They could do in-service or provide kits, ensuring maximum comfort at home. When the Decision first came to being, some did not want to wait, and sought an orderly end at the hands of the state rather than botching a personal attempt. I had contemplated working for such an environmentally-friendly department, but the threat of nuclear Armageddon spurned me to think bigger.
I walked into the 8th Avenue clinic an ally, somewhat elated for my first experience.
Trisha manned the counter.
‘Hi, I’d like to get a test kit for home.’
Her brown eyes lit up in recognition and she squealed like a fan girl meeting their celebrity crush. Instantly I knew I’d made a mistake.
‘Oh, you’re the guy! Ant-man, you a real crack up, hon—Maxine!’ she called out to her colleague, serving a family at the other counter. ‘Hold up just a sec.’
Maxine walked over and I needed no introduction. ‘Oh, hon, wow. You definitely came to the right place.’
A family waiting for a tour of the in-house service piped up at the commotion and joined in once I’d flashed my embarrassed head in their direction. ‘Ant man!’ the youngest chanted, his siblings and eventually his parents joining in.
All my life, I’d been a timid man, courteous to a fault. But I would not stand for this rudeness. My dignity had been debased and degraded by the masses, and now this…
I would spare the family, but Trisha and Maxine were supposed to be empathetic professionals. I determined to reduce them to dust.
‘Who is your manager?’
‘Why?’ asked Trisha.
‘I’d like to make a complaint.’
‘Speaking,’ said Maxine.
I faltered, but recovered all the same. ‘I want to leave a complaint directly, with your manager, Maxine.’
Maxine pursed her lip. Stared daggers. I did my best to return serve, but she was well trained.
‘He’s not in today.’
‘Does he have a phone number? Get him on the phone then. Now.’
‘Trisha, hand me the phone.’
Trisha handed Maxine the landline. Maxine dialled and all she said was ‘customer complaint.’ She threw the phone at me, and I almost fumble it.
It was a poor line. A gruff man barked, ‘whaddid they do?’
‘They were being extremely rude and said I had definitely come to the right place.’
‘Why’s that? You some loser?’
‘I’m not, I’m just ready to go peacefully and I they were being unsympathetic and laughing at me.’
‘Something you ain’t telling. Who was being rude? Trisha?’
The gruff manager let out a sigh, and slowed his rabid speech. ‘Shame, Trisha’s on her last warning. Put Maxine on.’
‘It was Maxine,’ I reaffirmed, in case there was any doubt. Maxine folded her arms in my brief glance.
I handed the phone back to Maxine and she listened. I waited for her face to distort, to feel some kind of wrath, a tenth of the mass ridicule the rest of the world had heaped on me. And the longer it went on, I felt sorry for Maxine. This was no way to go. No way to spend the rest of our days caught up in the pettiness of the world. Neither of us should be in this clinic, we should be far from the muck of Manhattan, the grotesque monolith of human failure. We should be out in nature.
And then Maxine shatters my breakthrough. ‘He’s the ant man, the guy from the UN. Yeah that one.’
And then laughter—a goddamn cackle. What on earth. This encouraged Trisha and the family behind me. They too joined in, relieved.
Maxine smiled as she said her goodbyes and put the phone down. ‘Trisha, please give this An—Sir, two kits.’
‘What is the extra one for, what did your boss say?’
‘Customer satisfaction,’ she smiled, ‘and in case the first one doesn’t work.’
Trisha retrieved two kits from out the back. They were the size of a small cake assortment box. On top of the boxes, precariously loose, was a hand gun, which Trisha casually handed to Maxine, who while not aiming at me, kept the gun by her side at the ready.
‘On the house,’ Maxine added, generously, as Trisha handed me the boxes.
I left the clinic in a daze. The world had truly gone mad.
* * *
Last supper in front of the TV at home. Homemade lentil bolognese, a return to my meat-free lifestyle, finishing the race with my morals slightly intact.
Outside, the sounds and vibrations of the city suggest nothing of distress, the world carrying along as normal, certain of their destruction and perfectly fine with it.
I had been making furtive glances to the kits placed on my coffee table, their presence looming, a gravitational vortex sucking all the focus into its promise. An elephant waving hello with its trunk.
What will it be like to be no more?
Eventually I grabbed one of the kits, thumbing through the instructions. Take the sedative and you will have about 15 minutes, but before you do, make sure you get your affairs in order. All manner of property and last will and testament must be settled and the landlord notified, lest a fee be deducted from assets.
My parents were gone and I had no relatives left on speaking terms. My Joni was no longer mine, yet I would be leaving a dump of final goodbyes in her DMs, which I had typed up that afternoon while the melancholic tidings of the Walkmen, LCD Soundsystem and Henry James jnr. accompanied my thoughts. All washed down with some homemade gin my neighbour had distilled and I paid my last dollars for. I wanted to apologise in advanced for the impending smell but that would give the game away—plus he’d also made fun of my speech at the UN.
I muted the TV. I did not turn it off. Not quite ready for total stillness.
I took the medicine, a simple oral procedure. My heart pumped in fear at first, a cornered animal, but I corralled it to peace with my soothing rationalisations. Fifteen minutes. I took a breath and hit send to Joni…
Life, flash before my eyes.
Do I want the good, the bad, the ugly?
I think not.
Cut the years of inadequacy, the uncertainty, moments of missed signals and rejection of the mortifying kind.
Give me the good.
The shining light through trees, hiking the Appalachia. Diving in Thailand. Times entwined with Joni, Kelly and Reyna. Mum’s lentil bolognese and dad’s corny jokes.
My eyes drooped. And I drifted into peace.
The phone pinged.
I forced my eyes wide open and mustered enough strength to reach for the phone.
Joni, my love.
Babe we did it! Gov r delaying nukes until they deal w Ants!! 2 more years!! Love u so much. Will never 4get you! Xxx