Night was falling, but you'd never tell with boxes blocking all the windows. Henry knew it was dusk because the timestamp on the security feed kept impeccable time, and he was sure that meant something. There mustn't be any doubt. The time was absolute, as certain as anything. Henry suddenly remembered--as he watched Homer pinch acid tablets into their sodas--the moment he'd set foot in this apartment. It appeared in his mind's eye with hallucinogenic clarity: the shock of such a cramped space, and the paper hoarding--ten years worth of newspapers stacked up like gravestones. And this ex-physics professor, some dude foraging through Market, explaining: "Time doesn't chronicle itself, brother." And how Homer had hacked into Station A's security camera (they watched for hours, a little yellow population bouncing down the same gilded hall). And Henry himself, sitting, wanting to leave, nowhere to go, and walking, walking, walking. . .
"Cheers, brother!" They must have clicked soda cans, because Henry's arm was raised and Homer was making a toast. Homer swirled the pop around, deliberating, then, finally, said, "May tomorrow bring those buffoons crashing back down to Earth, and may civilization make a swift recovery!" And they knocked the acid and soda back and sank into the sofa.
The trip eased into Henry's peripheral, first in the colors, then in the sounds. Lights became soft-edged and gooey, a collage of smeared pastels. A gentle rapping noise went to the forefront of everything, something like bones breaking. Then Henry began smelling the newspapers, their entropy and decay, and the stink of Homer's peach-face, and it all barely missed nausea. He studied the security feed.
"Hey. . .Homer?"
He stirred next to Henry, "Yes, dear brother?"
"The tape. It's flowing backwards."
Homer laughed, but offered nothing.
Henry leaned forward, compelled, until his eyes touched the screen. A man in a yellow jumper bounced across the tunnel and kept floating forward until his eyes touched Henry's. They locked. They had locked. They'd always lock. Through him, Henry saw a small flame, just a mote of fire, and around it a dark, whipping wind. The pyre whirled around in utter darkness and absolute silence, brightening in increments, never quite stifled. Its motion was effortless, intuitive, perfect.
"How is God these days?"
And then a feeling of being pulled back, of the world being torn away, and suddenly Henry was just a man with his face pressed to a television. He turned and found Homer staring.
"Because you were talking to God, right? You look as if you were."
Henry said, "No one could be sure of that," and reclaimed his seat next to Homer. The security footage went on as before, except the timestamp was frozen. For some reason, this didn't concern Henry, and he closed his eyes and let the purple lights dance themselves into miracle images of exploding stars and gas clouds. Beside him, Homer was burned and spaced out (probably the first time he'd dropped the stuff, Henry figured), and wouldn't move save a finger twitch or slow, methodical blink.
A rumbling, stifled sob began creeping into his visions, and Henry didn't have to open his eyes to know Homer was crying. He had expected the moment to come, ever since the beginning.
"Homer, what's the matter, what's wrong?"
Homer cried from the darkness, "Henry. . .Henry, please see the night through with me! Please, brother of mine, see the night through with me. . ."
More crying. The tears manifested themselves in Henry's lights as huge chunks of star material, bursting around the sun--crack, crack, crack--and the noise irritated him.
"No," said Henry, "I told you I wouldn't. You've always known that. You've always known because I always told you. It was stamped on my sleeve from the get-go. I want to be alone tonight. We've shared our time together, and now I want to be alone."
The sobbing intensified for a minute or two. Henry tried his best to ignore the sound of crashing symbols. Then Homer whimpered out completely. "True enough," sniffed Homer, "Alright, brother, alright. I guess this is goodbye until tomorrow. I'm just afraid. That's it: I'm afraid. But I'll pull myself together, and I'll see you tomorrow. I'll see you tomorrow, brother, if that's what you want."
No more tears. No more crack, crack, crack like cluster-bombs on cityscapes. Henry sighed, and his purple universe exhaled into a sphere. On his right side lay the physical construct, and on his left the reflection, as if he were the crux of a mirror. The blinding light that crossed his body turned Henry darkly, and he could only feel. And from those radiant matrixes of stars he felt the cool touch of indifference No more tears. "Right, that must be it." Henry whispered.
He left Homer slumped across the sofa, and the timestamp--at last unfrozen--kept count the ringing of silence in their ears.
Is this. . .? thought Henry. Is this purgatory? Do we just walk across this cloud cover half-blind and full-dumb for an eternity? I have sins to confess, people to remember. Who do I confess to? When do we repent? And Homer, does he even deserve purgatory? Poor devil. . .
A thick, grey fog had splashed down overnight. He didn't remember anything after leaving Homer's apartment. The dive surrounding him was abandoned, the groaning walls supported only by an overgrowth of vines. Something--a smell in the air--told Henry the place was frequently used, probably by drifters and drug addicts. Something else--like the creaks in the floorboards--triggered some neuron, some form of nostalgia, and Henry recognized this dive as his dive, and that familiarity made him feel like a drifter and drug addict.
Fog, so heavy it burned Henry's eyes, was pouring through the shattered roof, and outside was just as grey as inside. Henry pushed blindly through the streets and back alleys by instinct, the broken moisture pulling across his body. Direction was only a vague motor reflex, but he knew the destination. Henry wanted to find Homer's apartment. He wanted to find Homer breaking open a bottle of foraged champagne, laughing at the security feed in that gross laugh. Most of all, he wanted to tell Homer he'd been right, always had been right, and how could Henry have doubted him?
Henry reached the courtyard of cobblestones, the clock tower keeping view like a prince above the stone-gray curtain. He hadn't seen anyone stir, and wouldn't hear anyone over his own labored breathing. Lost in that fog, stumbling over vines and upturned stones, not seeing an inch in either direction; it all lent the impression of boundary, of bouncing off the walls of a closed palm. But finally he reached the clock tower, and he heard the flap of crows' wings as they flew above to higher places. Henry went flush to the tower and inched his way to its northeast corner (he knew it by the broken statuette sitting at eye level), then stepped gingerly across the courtyard.
Feeling the cracked plaster of the apartment building, he found the entrance and fumbled with the knob, then fell into the lobby and slammed the door shut behind him. A flush of fog swept in then shriveled at the heat of working pumps. Henry's clothes stuck to his body and stunk of sweat and humidity and swamp water, and he peeled his shirt away before following the red wave on the ceiling and taking the stairs.
He didn't bother with knocking, just rumbled into that cramped dive without thinking, without preparing himself. What Henry saw he would not process. What Henry knew he could not process, not with that frayed knotted-rope brain of his.
Homer lay as he did before, curled across the sofa. Only. . .
Henry knelt over his friend, and he seemed awake: he was staring at the security feed with big, brown, dilated cow eyes. A big, doughy, wide-eyed grin, except--!
On the tiny television, the strangers in yellow jumpers were crying and hugging and looking down on Henry and shouting joy, joy, joy.
Homer's fingers were curled around a pistol, inexplicable, impossible.
"How did this get here?" wondered Henry, and he pried it from Homer's hand and placed it on the table.
He found a letter, addressed to "Dear Brother," and promised Homer he'd keep it safe.
It clicked after Henry exited the building, starting as a hard pressure on his neck, then all the thoughts that were boiling in his brain burst out, clawing at the cloying fog, in exultation and exhaustion, at God or the Devil or whatever and whoever would listen:
"Homer was never my brother! We met at Market and struggled together and leaned on each other, but not brothers! Never brothers! We banded together and scraped together the way wild dogs do! And you up there screaming joy, don't you understand you've escaped nothing? You've avoided nothing! You've no more chosen your fate or spared yourselves than an insect. . ."
The humidity was choking him, and Henry folded to the ground. His arms shook as he propped himself up against the cobblestones. Out of the silence swelled a song he hadn't heard before, or a song he had ignored, to spare himself this final trauma, the music Homer had appropriated days before. . .
This is the End
This is the End
My only friend, the End
Of our elaborate plans, the End
Of every thing that stands, the End
No safety or surprise, the End
I'll never look into your eyes, again
Can you picture
What we'll be?
So limitless and free. .
Crack, crack, crack. All around Henry the fog whirled and hissed, and when it lifted the sky seemed turned on its ear, upside-down clouds cleaved in half. The stations were plummeting through the atmosphere--crack, crack, crack--a cascade of fireballs, the nodes of civilization. An old world was returning, and a new world was forming, and all Henry wanted, to feel less miserable, to feel less dead, was to fall into their open arms and find forgiveness.
Thank you all for reading. As always, please leave your feedback with the poll or in the comments. Contrary to popular belief, I read every reply and take them into account during the editing process, so each one helps!
Poll: Good or bad or what?
In Between (0)
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In Between (0)
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Poll: Understand what's happening?
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Your vote: Understand what's happening?