A Day in the Life of an Endless Night Spent Under Dangerworld in the Time After the Cataclysm

by Troy Blackford

“How does that song go again? The one about killing everybody?”

I sighed. This was the fifth time Henrietta had asked me that question, and I was sick of giving her the same answer over and over. I decided–out of boredom and a growing disrespect for her ‘condition’–to mess with her, and began to sing in the crackly baritone bark which I seldom inflict on others:

When too many people are alive nearby,
Pick up a cudgel and bash their eye!
Far too many people in this world, as is:
Slash their tires, then their throats,
Stuff their bodies into moats!

Not bad, I thought to myself. Who knew I had it in me? All made up on the spot and everything. Henrietta, however, would have none of it.

“Not that song, dumb-a-plodicus,” she reproached. “I mean the one about ‘Men with tire irons, men with fury…’” Her own voice had a breathy lilt to it that I found disarming. But the words she sang rang up a big old blank for me.

“I think you just made that up,” I said. I heard the chain around her neck jangling in the darkness, and knew she was shaking her head vehemently.

“Nope, nope, nope. It’s a real ditty. A true modern day classic. I think it’s a screamer.”

Henrietta made me nervous. I would never dare to tell her that, but there it is. “A regular club banger, eh?” I responded, somewhat at a loss.

The chain started jangling again, with a different sound. She was nodding, and like everything else she did, she nodded with shocking and pointless vigor. “I hear there’s a remix album coming out soon with a version of that song featuring Sparky Montreaux,” she added in a wise-sounding tone. I shook my head. No jingling locket gave my actions away in the pitch darkness.

I can only keep up this sort of thing for so long, and I felt that my limit had been reached.

“Look,” I said, shifting gears. “I think it’s time for me to go.”

“No! No Danny-Wanny Boo-Boo! Don’t go!” She dragged the last vowel out into a long and ear-wrenching whine–verbal fingernails on a sonic chalkboard. Her screeching plea had an effect exactly opposite to her intentions. Sticking my tongue out at her playfully before realizing she couldn’t see it, I backed swiftly out the door and locked it behind me. Instantly, her small fists began to reverberate against its thick metal.

“Lemme out of here, Danny-Dum-Dumb!” Those sorts of appeals wouldn’t work on me–they hadn’t for a while. My heart had hardened to the sounds of my wards’ woes and sufferings. It took longer with Henrietta than it did with the others in her situation, I’ll admit that.

But still, no matter what form human suffering takes, it pays to learn to ignore it.

#

Before you go and think me some kind of monster, I should point out that there are only a few people like Henrietta in this place. Okay, that’s sort of a cop out-–nobody but Henrietta is like Henrietta. But you know what I mean. Most of us inside here aren’t shut up into little rooms like her. Just a few people, really, in the scheme of things. And it’s for their own good.

Most of them even believe that.

It’s just that lots of the folk in (we don’t like to say ‘down’ about where we are, we say ‘in’) here had a harder time adjusting to the big change than others, starting all the way back when we had to go underground. The people locked away in the rooms are the ones that didn’t quite mentally survive the Cataclysm that sent us in here. Some of them have gibbered away over time until there was nothing left of their minds inside them, only leaving a quacking, remnant voice.

Lots of us are fine though. Like me, for example. I’m just as fine and normal as you could hope for.

Another thing: it wasn’t always so dark down here. I know a lot of people act like it was always dark, but they either don’t remember or are deliberately trying to forget. Take it from me, me foine buckos–-this used to be a place of relative brightness. Don’t ask what happened. Nobody can remember.

Could have been something as mundane as not keeping up repairs to the light mechanisms, or something as profound as a noxious spume of agglomerated spiritual malaise oozing from the very pores of the universe to blacken out all. I’ve been around enough to realize that there are both mundane and profound explanations for everything, and both are usually true.

People don’t like talking about it–because they don’t like to admit that things were ever any different–but they had a hard time adjusting when the lights went out. Everybody, that is, except me.

I was just fine. After feeling around for a day or two, I could move through the hallways with a feline grace I could never quite muster when I could actually see where I was going. I’m one of those who can depend on feel alone–especially when there’s none of that pesky light confusing my body with conflicting sensory input. I have a theory that a lot of the world’s problems result from conflicting sensory input.

My role expanded considerably in this ol’ rabbit hole of ours right after the lights went out. You see, all the graceful kinesiological bounty vested in me came rather in handy by then, setting me quite apart from the others. Nobody else would even touch the ladder. And the ladder was our one sure path to food.

The blocks of ice in the freezer mechanism would last about twenty years if we completely lost power today. But the actual storage bins were up the ladder. No ladder, no food.

We rely heavily on food around here.

So I gradually became the ‘leader’ around these parts. It wasn’t overnight. It wasn’t as though they said ‘Oh heck, the lights went out! Make Danny-boy the boss!’ They went from ‘Oh, do be a dear and run up to the pantry and get my lunch for me, could you?’ to ‘Oh, merciful Daniel, thank you for the abundance we are about to receive by thy hand’ over the course of a half a year or so.

I doubt they really think of me as their spiritual provider, or whatever. I think they just got bored with being polite. Since rudeness wasn’t an option–lest they starve–they opted for deification. Which is fine, I guess.

It’s sort of fun.

But, like politeness, it can get old. That’s why I like Henrietta. In small doses, anyway. She never treats me with any kind of respect at all. However, even violent contrast can get old, and while her singing is lovely, her speaking voice is sort of screechy. I never spend too much time in her room before I leave again.

But it’s those little moments that ‘charge my batteries’ and help me get through my day, and my next, and the next after that.

Say, speaking of: I heard something last night from that yammering Jeppers about trying to find some batteries, maybe get the lights going again someday. That’s laugh-riot city, as far as I’m concerned. I keep telling those schmucks that there are no batteries. I looked and looked for them and I can’t find them. If I can’t find them, I tell them knowingly, how the hell are they gonna find them? They can’t even make it down the hallway without bumping into each other.

I’ve been telling them there are no batteries for so long that I’m worried they believe me. Of course, I want them to believe me, but the fact that they might kind of worries me. It’s one of the last games we can play together, in (down) here, basking in our boredom. When Jeppers and the others honestly stop looking for the batteries, I know things are going to dull up pretty durn fast.

That’s the thing about the whole battery business–it’s really almost cruel of me. You see, there were batteries. Plenty of ‘em. Not your liddle bitty cylinder batteries, but big honking car batteries. More than enough batteries to scout around in the dark for whatever you like, for as long as you want. More than enough for even a clumsy clod like Jeppers to see his way up that damned ladder.

I didn’t like that idea. By the time I stumbled across the batteries, I had already grown kind of used to being in charge. To being special. I mean, this whole place needed me. If we weren’t all trapped in this endless night, trying to make the best of a crappy situation, we’d be–I dunno–right back to just living again.

I already tried that. I don’t mind saying that I never actually enjoyed anything until I had the chance to be bored with my own power and self-importance. That’s why I had to do what I did, and it’s why I don’t feel particularly bad about it.

When I stumbled across that secret cache of batteries, I knew sure as shoot what had to be done. I took this hand drill I found and I sort of held each of those big blocks with my foot and kinda drilled into it, cranky cranky cranky. Each of those plastic thingamajobbers quite gushed nasty fluid. Some got on one of my shoes, but I couldn’t see if it did anything bad to it. It was too dark to see.

I do everything by feel, you’ll recall, and I didn’t want to touch any battery acid.

Those batteries may have got my shoe, but I got all of them. Now they are just like hollow empty boxes with holes in them. I feel bad about it, some of the time–it was a rather dirty trick. I’m sure the others would be quite peeved if they knew what I did and why.

Still, it was a lot of fun.

Most of the time, I don’t feel anything about it though. Or about anything else. As far as feelings go, I’m usually just like those batteries–an empty version of myself with all the stuff drained out. Everything that burns away at the skin drained out, sure–but also missing everything that makes me useful and able to make things work.

Kind of funny, how that worked out. I turned out not to be like that drumming pink bunny at all, except that I guess I keep going and going through life in an empty shell. Did that bunny ever feel anything? I imagine so: why else would he keep playing that drum so loud?

I sort of envy his lapine joie de vivre.

But every time Jeppers talks about finding those batteries, I can’t help but remember gritting my teeth and cranking that hand drill and letting all the nasty fluid out of those babies–gloosh gloosh gloosh. You know, that feels good for a minute, that memory. They can ‘look’ for the batteries all they want, but they won’t find them. Except they can’t even really look.

That’s sort of the crux of the matter, isn’t it?

Anyway, I can hear this weird commotion down the hallway. I really wonder what it is. The last commotion we had down here was this sort of big ant thing that managed to worm its way into our shelter here. All the little crawly things ‘out’ there in the Dangerworld have apparently gotten pretty big since we all had to come in here, deep underground. I know my gramma would have been surprised to see an ant that size, if she had made it through the Cataclysm.

Almost nobody did make it though, you know.

Anyway, I’ve been so busy telling you about my day and how things have been going for me, I lost track of the time. Now there’s this big to-do down the hallway. I should really stop gabbing and go check on it, but I’m starting to get worried. Yes, I said it–worried.

You see, there’s this sort of pale glow coming from under the door. That isn’t good. I feel less special already. And the brighter that glow gets, the less special I feel.

It’s really too bad, how things come to an end, but they always do. My gramma’d have agreed with that. Especially considering what happened to her.

Still, I thought things had been going pretty good. Why did they have to find a way to make the light come back? I had gotten pretty used to the way things were. I had grown quite accustomed to feeling special.

It would be pretty easy to run out there and bash their excited little brains into mashed potatoes and take whatever it was they had that glowed, come to think of it. Take and shatter it into jagged glass snow that never melts. Rub their faces in the flakey shards until they know never to tempt fate by robbing an anti-god of his anti-power.

I think that’s what I’ll do. I still have that hand drill, and I have this long piece of whatchyamacallit-–metal or whatever. I think that’ll work. I think I’ll just run out there right now and get this over with.

I’m not ready to stop feeling special. I’m not ready for everybody to treat me the way Henrietta does.

Now how does that song go again? You know… the one about killing everybody?

The End