Desolation with Strange Camels

Another installment in the weekly Chuck Wendig’s terribleminds flash fiction challenges.  Up to bat is “Uncharted Apocalypse.” 1,000 words on a new kind  of Armageddon that we don’t usually see (nuclear holocaust, oil shortage, weird monkey evolutions, etc.)  What follows is my bullshit:

 

                And like that I was in the desert. 

                Eyes open, a nice Sunday drive with the misses.

                Eyes shut, fucking boom.

                Eyes open, alone in a desert.

                What in the fuck?

                A cold wind is howling through desolation.  White sands slip over black rocks.  There is heat, and frost, and loneliness.  I am confused, drawn out and empty.

                Where is my fucking wife?

                There is nothing out here, just swirling dust and in the distance a few hills.  The incessant wind carries a fragrance of rotting meat, of decay, but it is far away and old.

                I am not hot.

                I am not cold.

                I am not thirsty.

                I must be dreaming.  I have to be dreaming.  I reach down and grab a handful of sand, and watch it slide through my fingers.  It feels like silk.

                I have to find my wife.

                I run to the hills in the distance, oddly not feeling any effects of sprinting a distance in ankle-deep desert terrain.  As I crest the dune, I can see in the distance a caravan of sorts, tents and wagons and weird not-quite-right camels dozing in the blazing, but rather comfortable sun.

                I trudge cautiously towards the camp, I hope they speak English.  Where in the fuck am I?  As I get closer, I see that the people are mixed, whites, blacks, and all different creeds and cultures just cohabitating here in the middle of fuck all. 

                It had to be that meatloaf for dinner.  A brick of bread and meat in my stomach would trip me out come sleep time.  But hey, no sense looking like the crazy guy…

                “Uh, excuse me…mister?”

                “Mister Moor, if you please, how can I help you?”  The tall man I had singled out was covered in linen and scarves and left little of his coal-black face uncovered, except for his piercing blue eyes.

                “Moor?  My name is Tom.  Where are we?”

                “Where do you think we are?”  Even though his mouth was covered you could tell he was smirking.  Delighted that he could draw the confusion out of me, to be fed on questions.

                “I am in a nightmare.  What do you call it here?”

                “We call this the Wastes and this is all that we have left.”  He moved towards one of the not-quite-right camels and stroked underneath his chin.  “May I ask you something personal,  Mr. Tom?”

                “Uh, yeah.”

                “What were you doing before you blinked?”

                “Driving in Los Angeles with my wife.”

                “I see, then you woke up standing alone on the other side of that hill.”  He stuck a long gloved finger in the direction I had just ran.

                “How did you know that?”

                “Because we all did.  I personally was in an alleyway in Paris, when I heard some less than gentleman run up behind me.  Blink and I was here.”

                “Everyone, in this camp?”

                “Everyone in this world that I have met or heard stories, at one moment ended up here.”

                My mind was racing, what could I make of all this.  Was I really dreaming this?

                “Mrs. Anderson over there by the red tent, she went to sleep in a hospital, riddled with cancer and surrounded by loved ones, woke up here.  Al Jacquar Ha Salam, the man sitting by himself on that rock was sitting in a McDonald’s in Dubai, then here.”  Moor continues pointing out individuals as he leads me through the camp.

                “Wait a second, Moor, I’m starting to get the idea.  Did a nuclear bomb go off?  Are we the survivors of Armageddon?  Did the Rapture actually happen, I’m Jewish so that might explain things.”

                “Mr. Tom, you hear but do not hear these stories.  What is the date?”

                “Uh, July 18, 2011.”

                “Mrs. Anderson, my dear, what is the date?”

                The beautiful cancer woman, that is full of life and vigor turns towards us, “August 2nd.”

                “And the year?

                “Nineteen Eighty-five.”

                “Ha Salam, what is the date?”

                The solitary Arab will not meet our glance but I can hear him mutter, “Ninteen seventy-nine.”

                “So you see Mr. Tom?  I myself was in that alley in 1162.  Yet we are all here.”

                “So what are you saying?”

                “This Wasteland is it.  You have made it to the end.  That sun that does not burn you, the cold wind that does not freeze you, the absence of hunger, thirst, and fatigue, this is your eternity.”

                “I’m dead?”

                “I’m afraid so, it takes awhile when you first arrive to comprehend.  That is why I started this camp, as a…how do you say…welcome.”

                I sink to the ground, my wife, the desert it all was too much.

                “This can’t be heaven, is this hell?  What the fuck, I was a good person, I was Bar Mitzvah’d.”

                “This is in between.  This is where you go when you were a basically good person but didn’t make the cut for the domain above.”

                “The cut?”

                “It’s a lot stricter than you would believe, Mrs. Anderson was a preacher.”

                “What did she do?  Adultery or something like that?”

                “Ate meat on a Friday.  Turns out my new bewildered friend, all those commandments were meant to be taken very seriously, the heavens do not open if you have failed any of them at any time.”

                “So who gets in?”

                “So far, during my travels….You said you were with your wife but you did not arrive together, you were alone?”

                “Yes…”

                “Then congratulations, she did not die with you, but she will eventually, and she will be coming over that hill soon.  That’s what the others are here for,  waiting for others to come.”

                “How can you be sure they will end up here and not in heaven.”

                “During all my time, I have never met anyone here that is still waiting for someone.  Everyone comes here.”

                “What does that mean?”

                “Here on these wastes, is everyone who has ever breathed air in life.  My friend, this desert is unending, full with billions upon billions of souls…

                Heaven is empty.”

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10 thoughts on “Desolation with Strange Camels

  1. That was a zinger. Very entertaining! And I was feeling for Tom all the way, a tough thing in flash fiction. 🙂

    By the way, is it better if you start with ‘And just like that’?

  2. Thanks for the read, I will return the favor.

    “And just like that…”

    I don’t know, flash fiction trying to hit a word count, seemed like a quick and dirty way to get into the story

    • You don’t need to feel compelled for a quid pro quo! 😛 Would be great if you could find the time to read mine, but it’s perfectly all right if you can’t. 🙂

  3. After I died, St Peter was giving me the tour of Heaven. “Ssshh. Be quiet as we pass this door.”
    “Why?”
    “That room is Pentecostals. They think they are the only ones here…”
    Good story, man. Good ending. Bummer, though–

  4. That Moor wasn’t going to find a gentleman in a 12th century Paris alley way. That thought of Heaven being empty left me with visions of St. Peter sprawled asleep at the Pearly Gates and God sitting around, sighing. Waiting for someone, *anyone* to play Parcheesi with….

    Way cool story.

  5. Thanks everyone for the good words.

    @oldestgenxer I always heard that joke with the mormons as the punchline

    @lesann This is the second story I wrote with heaven empty theme. The first I wrote for my wife was this idea that all the dead people in heaven were standing outside the gates looking down at their family members below, and the golden streets were empty. Sort of theme with me I suppose

    @Bob. I always pictured God as a lonely old man feeding bread crumbs to birds.

  6. Oh hell, that was fantastic. The buildup was great, all leading up to that last suckerpunch of a line.

    “Heaven is empty.”

    It’s 97 degrees here and I just got chills. Great stuff.

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