The baby never wakes up, no matter how high he throws it, how far he punts it into the strange lunar twilight of Hell. No, it never stirs, despite the whirls and twirls. Through the chops and knocks, baby sleeps on. And Sisy walks his way through the dust, toothy mountains standing sentry in the impossible-to-reach gloom of the distance, sharp and grey-black like chiseled pencil tips.
He’s tried to give up the baby, for sure for sure, but it doesn’t work that way. He’ll get a few feet away and a hand will seize his heart, squeeze once for measure then again to kill, shredding sheer panic along the edges of his nerves. Until he goes back and hugs that sleepy thing like he cares about it, like it cares about him. He used to try to give it up more often, he doesn’t much anymore.
He’d once found a thought bubble with a ramble inside it, that old thing about the definition of insanity being doing things over and over and over again. He thought it was interesting, that it might be a clue as to why he trudged around an ashen desert schlepping a baby this way and that. He thought he’d keep the idea with him forever, long after he’d inhaled it as curling blue smoke leaked from a nice little fist-sized blue pearl. And like all the other thoughts and thought bubbles he’d found, all the other ideas calcified and floated down from whatever world dwelled above, Sisy forgot. Over and over and over again he forgot.
And now thinking these things, trying to recall which idea was what again and what it was about, he places the baby on its little butt and marches ten big steps away, each step pitching up a nice little plume of lustrous charcoal dust. When he feels the familiar kick in his aorta he turns back and stretches his leg, sights a path, closes an eye, sprints forward and kicks, foot making meaty contact with the baby’s lumpy midsection. He coughs through the cloud he’s mussed up and watches the little thing tumble end over a good fifteen feet, plopping hard and skidding through another little cloud of fine particulate. Dust, so much dust everywhere, the kind that gets inside your meat and itches your lungs.
Sisy walks to the baby. Picks it up and fluffs it clean like a pillow. Pat, pat, pat.
“New record?” He asks the baby, or himself, or maybe nobody. After an eternity of wandering, the idea of baby, or himself, or maybe nobody, is disorienting.
The world flickers black, a universal eye-blink. It’s a thing that’s been happening recently, although recent from Sisy’s perceptive might be millennia. And even though Sisy knows what’s about to happen it’s still an uncomfortable experience all the same. A few more stuttering blinks and the dim yellow sky whines like something up there is powering down.
What about when over and over and over again is the only thing doing? Sisy thinks to himself, bouncing the little baby just a bit. It’s the last thing he thinks for a while. Because the world turns off. But it doesn’t matter, chances are he’s thought it before.
When the world turns back on, Sisy is down by the dried river bed. Charon is leaning against the till of his massive black rowboat, talking about the sexual appeal of cartoon characters. As per usual he’s a combination of two skeletons jumbled underneath a dark robe. As per usual the skeletal combination is arbitrary and random. Today Charon is extra tall, a skeleton sitting on another skeleton’s shoulders, bones fused together in melted lumps of calcium.
“I’m just saying,” he goes, “It used to be people would make fun of you for liking anime babes. Now you mention it and dudes are like, ‘Yeah which one.’ Know what I mean?”
“What?” says Sisy, measuring his disorientation, squeezing the lumpy baby against his chest in a moment of panic. The baby squeezes out a deflating fart. Still there. Sisy lets anxiety whisper out of him in his own little fart.
“Like, the Little Mermaid, she’s hot, objectively hot. I mean she’s sort of a member of the itty bitty committee, but that doesn’t change the rest of the package, and I, personally, I go for that. Big titties need bras to look right, but itty bitties? Oh man, you put those under a vintage t-shirt and shwing! Better yet, a B-cup, oh man that’s the best of both worlds.”
“What?” Sisy reiterates, confused by his recent teleportation, or whatever it is that happens when the world loses power. Charon’s rant isn’t helping matters. Despite the second-hand nature of his thoughts, the big skeleton tends to run hot about every wayward thought huffed up from the ground. For Sisy, the current moment is a salad of nonsense. He looks up into the wide cavernous sockets of the boatman’s skull and remembers that he’s never quite sure where the voice comes from. Asides from the skeleton stuff, it’s the creepiest thing about his only friend.
“What do you mean ‘what’? We were talking about chicks my dude.”
“What’s a little mermaid?”
“Oh she’s a fox dude. I think. I’m not really sure. I think she was a movie star or something. I found some thought bubbles about the whole thing.”
“What’s a movie star?”
“Huh?” Charon says, clicking a bone finger against his bone chin, “You know I’m not sure, that information wasn’t there.”
“Yeah. I know what a regular star is but I don’t think the two are related. Wouldn’t make sense. You good man?”
“Yeah I guessed it. You got that look all of a sudden. Those things are weird though amiright? I mean I saw you walk up here. We’ve been talking since. So there’s, like, one thing happening to me and, like, a different thing happening to you.”
“For sure, for sure. It’s like sometimes we’re on the same groove, and then…bam! One of us skips but only to ourselves. It’s like sleepwalking.”
“I guess. Why do you think?”
“My dude. Don’t even bother. I stopped thinking about it. This place is broken as hell. You remember that time I found you making little dust angels with that baby of yours?” Sisy turns his mind over for this event, vaguely remembering it or something similar happening on many occasions.
“No idea how I got there. No idea why.”
“For sure, for sure.”
“But you know what?”
“I just rolled with it. One minute I’m on the boat, smoking a tasty cig, looking for thoughts to think and stuff, next I’m with my good old pal doing some weird shit with his baby. Do I care? Hard no. Because what’s the point?”
“You were saying what the point was?”
“No I—Sisy, it’s a rhetorical question. Never-mind, you want a Chesterfield?”
“Yeah, I’ll take one,” Sisy mumbles, receiving the chalky cigarette in his left hand, throwing the baby over his shoulder with the right and letting it rest there against his back, the stretch producing an audible pop in his shoulder. Charon produces a packet of matches from somewhere within the cavernous recess of his robe and strikes it lit on his orbital ridge.
Sisy takes a drag and pulls the musk into his lungs. It tastes like nothing, a bland special effect conjured by this strange neutral place.
“How’s it taste man?” Charon asks, fitting the butt of his cigarette between his pearly whites, the smoke looping slowly up and away without lungs to pull it down. Still the big skeleton seems to enjoy it, “It’s a classy brand right?”
“Umm,” goes Sisy, pretending to savor what isn’t there, “Mmmmmmmhhhhhhmm.” He snorts two nostrils of nothing-smoke, “The classiest.”
“I knew you’d like it man. I bet I was classy, back when I was…well whatever I was before this. What’s that thing called?”
“Yeah me too. Bummer. Mega bummer. This bums me out. You wanna play catch with the baby?”
“Yeah,” goes Sisy, slinging the baby back around and testing its bean-bag heft, “Yeah let’s play catch with the baby.”
Minutes or hours or years later. Sisy is back in the desert, giving the baby a piggyback ride, curling his toes into the dust with each step. On a whim he lets the baby fall, drops to his knees and takes a big bite of the ground, letting the fine particulate of Hell sand cascade from his slack jaw. With a wheezy huff he coughs the remaining dust out in a fun little billow. Then he repeats the process over and over and over till it’s no longer fun or interesting in any way. This is the process for everything.
More walking. More nothing besides an endless flat expanse of carbon-grey desert and unreachable black mountains. The sky is an uninspiring gloom of frozen yellow cloud. No wind. No song. No time. Just the shuffling wanderer and his ever-slumbering charge in a silent, waveless place.
Sisy breaks the monotony by doing a cartwheel even though he can’t really do one. By howling like a dog. By pretending to be a shelled creature drawn from faint memories. By chewing off a tasteless pink finger. Not to worry, it’ll grow back with the next blackout. He does not question why he has no pain, the concept of which is a distant dull corpse of a memory. No bodily feeling other than the soft, clammy warmth of the ground pushing back against his weight and even that might just be a suggestion, an imagining. It’s been so long, anything can be real, or nothing.
It hits him then, as it does every few hours, year, decade, century or millennia. The sheer, unknowable scale of his predicament rolls in like panicked weather. Ages of nothing behind him, ages before him. He starts hyperventilating, body flooding with sharp chemicals, squeezing the baby first in comfort, then rage. Now slamming, squeezing, gnawing at the little thing’s tender calf muscle which, surprisingly, shatters his teeth. He tries tearing the baby in two pieces from the middle. No good. Exhausted, he weeps, curls into a ball and remembers the rule, the one rule to better survive: this is an exhausted place, to meet it with anything but exhaustion is to invite madness.
And so he gets up, keeps on trudging like a turtle, reciting from rotten memory the form and sound of every thing he half-remembers:
Turtle: A small lizard that wears its house on its back. Sometimes green. Sometimes brown. Sometimes both? Maybe. Found in water. Found on land? Maybe. The house on its back is not made of bone, not made of rocks either. What it does with its home I do not remember. What I do remember is: when I was little, which I believe I was once, when I was someone else small and soft and not in this colorless desert, I used to roll my tiny penis up into itself and say, “Just like a turtle.”
Penis: The thing in my groin. Used to have strong opinions about stuff. Doesn’t anymore. Have a faint inclination it used to be my best friend. Sometimes I smack it around and pull on it.
Best friend: Charon.
Charon: The dude with the cigarettes and boat. As of what I perceive to be…yesterday? Today? Likes the little mermaid in a way that is uncomfortable.
Yesterday: An amount of time? Things that happened opposite from the direction I am turtle-walking in.
Turtle: A fat green animal that wears a rock on its back. Lives inside of the rock. Thought of recently.
Time: A thing that used to exist but does no longer. Or exists here strangely. Or the thing that separates one thing from the next. Or does not exist at all.
Exist: The act of being forced into consciousness without cease. Punishment?
Punishment: What’s happening to me and my buddy Charon.
Charon: Dude with the cigarettes and boat. Talks a lot.
Boat: Wooden funnel Charon is fond of.
Cigarettes: Smoke sticks that taste like nothing.
Taste: Hard to describe. Kind of like feeling for your teeth.
Teeth: Face bones. Currently broken from chewing on baby. Baby is surprisingly tough, feel like it’s filled up with pebbles.
Bones: Do not recall.
Face: The thing that used to watch me.
Sisy: The thing being punished. Turtle walks everywhere. Goes crazy every once in a while because of being forced to endlessly exist with nothing to do.
Turtle: A slow green frog that doesn’t hop. Walks slowly everywhere perhaps due to being overweight, punished to live where it is.
Is: A thought that connects other thoughts together.
Thoughts: A part of Sisy. Or the entirety of. The thing being punished, or the form of the punishment? Sometimes found on the ground as shiny blue thought bubbles that leak out as blue smoke. These ones don’t seem to be a part of Sisy, until they are huffed into nose, after which they are.
Bubble: Kind of like a circle you can hold in your hands.
Circle: A line that curves to connect with its origin.
Line: No idea.
Origin: Who I was before endless punishment.
Who: Another thought to connect other thought forms indicating another person or thing. Also, maybe a sound that comes from the trees at night made by a fat bird with big eyes that likes to tilt its head and cast spells.
Spells: Unsure. Kind of like a force that isn’t understood. Perhaps the spirit of this endless desert. Perhaps the reason the baby never wakes up. Perhaps the reason my body regenerates and cannot die.
Baby: The thing I am forced to carry. Maybe a part of Sisy. Maybe a thing I care for a great deal. Maybe a curse.
Care: A feeling that has disintegrated so much that I can no longer recognize its detail.
Degraded: What the desert, punishment, and perhaps time do to Sisy and his thoughts.
Sisy: I. Me. The who making these thoughts.
Who: The sounds made by fat magical birds.
Birds: Do not recall.
Tree: The thing that is in front of me. Out of place, except for occasionally, when it is in place.
Sisy stops trudging. There is a tree in front of him, stark and chalky black, bark so featureless as to be silken to the touch. The thing is almost entirely made of leafless branches, hooked and crooked arms exploding from a trunk several times wider than Sisy’s starveling torso. With no frame of reference other than himself, Sisy determines the tree to be gargantuan, determines it to be the single largest thing he has ever come across in the desert. Only he’s been here before hasn’t he? Yes he’s been here. The crisscrossing finger scrapes gauged into the trunk say it all: Sisyphus wuz here. Only the memory has been sandblasted down to nothing. So still exciting, a simulacra of new. Which is cause for celebration.
On a whim Sisy punches the tree as hard as he can, feeling his knuckles drift and separate with an interesting squish. He tries to make a fist and can’t. He drops the baby and smashes the other hand for equal measure then works on his feet and shins, the game finished when he can no longer stand and the interior of his extremities are sleeved shards. No longer able to walk, Sisy slithers around on his back. After a full three-sixty around the trunk, Sisy settles, using his farting, sleeping baby as a pillow. He stares up through the branches, scanning the yellow doom sky for hints of movement, any indication that the frozen canopy is capable of churning. He has vague memories that it once did, that it once roiled with evil fire that twisted his eyes while screams echoed from every corner of this dark realm. Souls on the rack and the like. There was that one poor bastard chained to the rock, his neighbor or something. Always had something eating out his insides.
Was it worse then? He wonders. Do I wish I was getting my insides eaten right now?
The baby rips a wet one that vibrates through the back of Sisy’s skull.
He twists his broken slug body onto his back, clamps his teeth around the infant’s earlobe and drags it onto his chest.
“Let’s just stay here awhile,” he says to the baby’s dusty head.
Minutes, hours or days pass. Over and over and over again. At some point Sisy realizes he’s not been thinking, which means for a brief moment, he’s beaten the odds. Alas, the realization is also the breaking point. He tries to turn himself off again but the want for it distracts him. The spongy impotence of his limbs makes his body feel like a tomb.
Tomb: A place where you go upon death.
Death: The thing that makes you come here. Hard to escape but it is possible.
You’ve done it before, the baby says.
“What?” Sisy mumbles, a jolt of surprise kicking through his gelatinous corpse. The baby doesn’t talk. The baby never talks, just sleeps and farts.
I said you’ve done it before. Twice in fact. Back then there was always someone to carry you back. But now…I mean, just look at this place. Big hole amiright? the baby continues, voice rumbling from the entirety of its little body, male and female intonations layered over each other.
Sisy nudges the creature to make sure these aren’t just long, complicated farts he’s hearing.
Stop doing that.
“You can talk?”
“Of course I can talk,” goes the baby, only it’s not the baby anymore, the voice is different, dry and cracked, coming from somewhere just beneath the packed dust.
With max effort Sisy rolls away like a beached seal, landing face down, the baby squished beneath him.
“Fuck!” goes the underground voice, “took you long enough you fatty.”
Sisy squints his eyes and makes out a loose impression of a buried face, the layered dust covering the eyes and mouth a dirt mask, particles shifting with each shallow breath.
“Uh sorry,” Sisy says, “I thought you were my baby.”
“You thought I was what?”
“Well I’ve got this baby that I carry and-”
“You know what? Check that. I don’t care. You’re above ground, yeah?”
“What do you mean you think?”
“Well I think this whole place might be underground. In a general sense. I’ve been here a while and I seem to recall that-”
“Not important. Is the tree still there?”
“Fuck. Does it still have grapes on it?”
“Are you sure?”
“No. What are grapes?”
“Damn it. Well better to be safe then. Can you kick a little more dirt on top of me?”
“Because I’m hiding from the tree you doofus.”
“Alright Aristotle, just kick the fucking dirt.”
“Okay, okay,” Sisy defers, deciding against bothering the cantankerous underground man any further. With difficulty he uses his flipper hands to shovel a few waves of dirt onto the buried face.
“Good, good that feels better. You can go now.”
“Hey, uh, we’ve met before right? I think I remember you. Tony? Tanta? I’m pretty sure I clawed your tree once or twice.”
“Nice. Good on you man. Fucking tree. But yeah, I don’t know. Let’s not dwell on it. So you know, fuck off.”
“Sure,” Sisy says, “See ya.”
He clamps one of the baby’s feet between his teeth and proceeds to inch worm away, pausing after a few seconds, or minutes, or hours to say, “Real nice guy huh?”
Yeah, the baby replies in its telepathic God voice, total sweetheart.
“Hey,” Sisy spits, “C’mon what’s the deal? You playing tricks on me?”
The baby lapses into silence, the moment so remote as to be unbelievable seconds, minutes, or hours later.
Tricks, Sisy thinks, inching along, inching along, the flat grey expanse rolled out before him, not a destination in sight.
Trick: A cunning little bit of look at the birdie. Gets you into places like this. Also, maybe, gets you out. I used to be pretty good at them-
A sudden, heavy pressure at the back of his skull snaps Sisy’s thought in half, literally, as there’s now a fist-sized blue orb embedded inside his brain.
“Oh,” says Sisy reflexively.
With his useless hands he tries and fails to scoop the wayward thought bubble out of his pulverized grey-matter. Changing tactics he flops over onto his back and bangs his head against the pliant sand, over and over and over again till the smoking orb finally slurps out of his skull the way it barged in.
Flopping back over, Sisy uses the soup of his remaining brains to instruct his nose to breathe in the curling smoke, taking a moment to help the smoke out by mouthing and licking away spongy blood and ichor coating the bubble’s cracks. Sisy’s slurpy mind sparkles with the inhaled thought, words and ideas announcing themselves on their own volition:
Hello? Hello, are you getting this? Uh, I’m sure you’ve realized but uh, this is for you. First off, don’t get your hopes up. We’re not, like, letting you out or anything. So you know, keep enjoying Hell and stuff. This is a PSA type thing. Ahem: You may have noticed that things are getting a little broken down there. I just want you to know that everything is OK. Things are getting a little broken up here as well, but rest assured, we are working on it. You may have noticed little parts of the living world falling down on top of you. Kind of like this message, only this one was AIMED on top of you. Sorry about that, but also, not sorry. Because of the Hell thing. Anyway, ignore the falling stuff, it’s a normal part of the process. And keep up the good work. Maybe try torturing yourself for a while. Just know we’re fixing it and you’ll go back to enjoying your eternal damnation presently. Or not enjoying, whichever is worse.….you know what?.…my supervisor is away, I’m just going to level with you, it doesn’t look good. It doesn’t look good everywhere. It’s not just above and below, it’s the living world man. You have never even seen this many tidal waves dude. I mean, I just saw a tidal wave get struck by two bolts of lightning. TWO! I won’t say which small pacific nation got hit but just know that it’s not a nation anymore. Anyhow, things are going to go dark for a second. You and everything around you may experience extreme existential disorientation. Gonna try another reset, just a quick unplug and then replug kind of thing. You never know. Anyway, fuck you and stuff you dirty hell bastard but secretly, fist-bump my dude. We’re all in this together.
So there it is, a revelation, although most of it goes through one end of Sisy’s head and out the other. Literally and figuratively. Sisy does his best to chew on what he’s learned as the world starts blinking around him, a process that would be much better off had the orb made a hole through something less integral to thought and identity, say a large intestine. As it stands, poor Sisy is chewing on one strand of spaghetti when he runs out of time. The yellowed doom sky starts in on its death keel, Vwum-Vwum-Vwum-Vwwwwuuuummmm, before he can take another bite.
When the world clicks back on, Sisy is at the tail end of a secret handshake with Charon, his palm flat out while the skeleton does sparkle fingers. He forgets or never knew the rest and Charon ends up punching his limp hand with a closed first.
“Dude! Now we have to start all over!”
“Ummmm,” goes Sisy. Looking around for his baby, he hears it fart behind him and a reflexive step backwards puts his naked sole onto the infant’s mushy head.
“Don’t tell me bro, blackout?” Charon muses, the bone giant now jumbled into a skeletal capital Y, a random ribcage and shoulders jutting out at a sharp angle from his chest like an unfinished Siamese twin.
“Yeah,” says Sisy. He scratches at the back of his head, surprised to find that it’s not shattered. It feels like there’s something locked inside there, an itchy pearl of some significance.
“Hey dude,” he continues, “Can you like, do me a favor?”
“Anything for a bro, bro.”
“Can you use your skeleton claw hands to open the back of my head? I feel like there’s something in there.”
Charon nods and inspects his talons for sharpness, “Sure why not, sounds gnarly.”
It takes a few hard pokes for Charon to make his way through the bone, a few more to pull enough of the skull away to get a good look inside.
“You want I should keep these?” he asks, tossing Sisy’s skull fragments up and down, up and down.
“Maybe let’s try to put them back after. See anything?”
“I see your brains dude.”
“Anything that shouldn’t be in there? Maybe a thought bubble or something?”
“It’s kind of hard to tell dude. There’s a lot of blood and stuff. It is weird though, some parts look a little bit smooshy, only that could have been me that did that.”
“Bummer,” Sisy sighs.
“Yeah it’s a wash dude.”
For the next few seconds or minutes or hours Sisy listens as Charon describes the tropes of workplace comedies, the skeleton struggling to complete the jigsaw that is the back of his skull.
“There’s this one bit that’s in a lot of them,” the would-be boatman babbles, letting one shard of bone fall, bringing the rest down with it. He stoops to pick up the pieces from the dust. “There’s always this one dude who’s an asshole or a weirdo or both, and because of those things they get sent to a basement office. Once they’re there, they’re the only ones, nobody arrives, nobody visits. Everyone upstairs forgets about them. Years go by. The asshole weirdo grows a big ass beard and lives like a shipwrecked cannibal, lost and alone and utterly forsaken. It’s consistently hilarious.”
“What’s a cannibal?”
Charon makes one final attempt at solving Sisy’s sticky cranium puzzle, giving up with a shrug when the nearly finished product collapses inwards, a few pieces tumbling back out and into the charcoal sand. The big skeleton hesitates a beat and kicks the fragments away, “All finished.” He lights up a Chesterfield, horror movie hands still slick with blood and gelatinous brains, and takes a seat next to Sisy, joining him in staring at the frozen middle distance, smoke curling around his bleached, whichaway teeth.
After a few minutes or hours or days Sisy breaks the silence. “What’s a workplace comedy?” he asks, watching his friend’s sphinx-still skull-face.
“Ah I guess I should have led with that. I don’t really know.”
“It’s like a thing where all these dudes and dudettes pal around and get into light-hearted mischief, all under the guise of a crushing day-to-day existence.”
“Yeah, but even that doesn’t mean anything to me. Just stuff I ate off the ground, you know?”
“No doubt,” Sisy agrees. He hoists his baby onto his lap and starts toying with the arms and legs, forcing the baby through a series of funny walks. Something sputters inside his porridge brains, a strange sensation about the non-child, some instinctual hunch that the dead thing has something to say. Only that’s impossible, isn’t it?
“Let me tell you something, best buddy. I might not know what I’m talking about. I mean, I never do, nothing here makes any sense. But I feel like that dude, I feel like I’m in the basement office and everyone else has forgotten about me.”
“Oh yeah?” Sisy turns the baby upside down and shakes it, listens for some sort of rattle, expectation continuing to tingle its way up his spine. He reaches a hand into the back of his skull and roots around for something missed, the build of this emerging certainty.
You can escape. You’ve done it before. Soon escape will be the only option.
“For sure. For sure,” Charon continues, lost on his own tack. He places a bony hand on Sisy’s shoulder and gives it a fraternal squeeze, severing a tendon on accident, “Let me tell you buddy, I’m glad we’re in this together.”
The skeleton offers Sisy an up-down into explosion fist bump, followed by a reverse explosion into a rocket ship high-five, leading into a parachute float and a double Newton’s cradle.
“Dope,” says Charon.
“The dopest,” Sisy responds, still only half present. He squeezes the baby’s mouth open and takes a look inside, finding the recesses of the throat to be a solid plug of grey stone, the emerging milk teeth little grey pebbles.
I’ll miss you.
“Let’s add a John Henry at the beginning and a parallel park at the end this-” Charon is cut off by a thunderous crack, by the loudest sound Sisy has ever heard rattling through this nothing wasteland. His body hunches painfully, levitates a few shocked inches from the ground. He clutches the baby. Nearby, Charon is a clattering, Chesterfield smoking maraca.
“Wh-wh-wh-wh-who-oa-oa-oa-oa,” the big skeleton vibrates, “What was that?”
On queue a crack blooms in the yellow sky hanging over the toothy mountains, a crooked mouth growing into a smile. Sisy realizes the dull, dingy, yellow sky is not, in fact, a sky but a firmament, a heavy, sedentary crust of cooked post-apocalyptic stone.
His response to this revelation is, “Ummm.”
Something heavy thuds into his shoulder and tunnels a good foot into his torso, blood welling to fill the newly formed fleshy crater followed by the tell-tale blue wisp of a thought bubble.
“Oh dang,” goes Charon, peeking into the cavity, “I can see your lung and stuff.”
“Help me get it out.”
Another crack screams into existence, spreading up from the horizon line and bisecting the false-sky along the vertical, passing over Sisy and Charon, running all the way to the mountains behind them. Drops of rain fall along the fissure’s narrow path, much to the surprise of the two damned souls.
“What is this?” Sisy wonders, holding a palm out, “It’s like outside blood.”
“Water,” the big pile of bones whispers, tilting his skull face towards the leaking heavens, letting his dark sockets fill and run-over till rivulets stream down the beveled edges of his alabaster cheekbones like tears, “It’s water my dude.”
With a distracted claw Charon yoinks the smoking orb from inside Sisy’s ruinous midsection. He holds it under the torrent and lets the shimmering thought curl out, the gleaming smoke pummeled and refracted by the stampeding droplets:
Hey. Me Again. Okay. Wow. Uh…remember that thing I said about electrified tidal waves being an Earth problem? Well consider it a you problem as well because you’ve got incoming. Few of them actually. Turns out all that hard resetting I was doing wasn’t good for Hell’s integrity. Not my fault but also maybe, kind of a little. But rest assured Dog still cares about you, wait no….GOD still cares about you. About you suffering that is. But while he’s away shredding the evidence I’m in charge, so suffer in place for a while and await further instructions.
A flash of blue ignites the distance. Thin crackling fingers of white lightning slip through the leaking fissures overhead and in the distance, like a thing prying the world open to get inside. The tips touch down on the mountaintops, splintering into a web of arcs jumping downhill, an avalanche of hyper charged electrons. And with an explosion, the dam cracks, a great slab of the yellowed dome-sky tumbling loose against the fathomless pressure of a biblical gout spilling from the crust of the world like a mortal wound. Another piece falls and another, and then the entire western horizon crumbles inwards like the back of Sisy’s broken skull, a wall of water consuming the mountain range and racing across the desert, towering from the bedrock to the dome of the sky, serpents of white-blue lightning writhing inside, changing direction with staccato fury.
And what is it that Sisy feels with this first bit of novelty in so long rushing onwards to throttle him? This majestic act of dark miracle, caused by the farcical inversion of God’s design?
“Pretty cool huh?” he mutters.
“Neat,” Charon agrees.
“What do we do?”
Charon leans backwards to crack his many, many joints, unfurling the entirety of his boney structure with the racket of a twenty-one gun salute. He swivels his skull towards Sisy and stares, any and all comedic timing swallowed in the impassive stillness of his face, the black holes of his eyes. Even still, Sisy can sense the smile.
“We ride my dude. We get to the boat and we ride.”
“Cool. Let me get my baby.” Sisy picks up the would-be infant only to find that it slips from his arms, its weight somehow no longer magnetic to his body. Sisy tries again, and again the little homunculus slips, its stony weight thudding into the ground, heavier than before.
“C’mon dude!” Charon urges from the prow of his massive ebony row boat, standing tall, the wind forced ahead by the coming flood billowing his robes like a flag in a hurricane, an endless supply of cigarettes streaming from the dark recesses of his pockets and dancing away.
Sisy drags the baby with his one good arm, the other side of his body a useless crimson slush.
Leave me, the baby thought-speaks into Sisy’s head, you can escape now.
Sisy drops the child’s arm, picks it back up, reconsiders, picks it up again. He feels panic welling, a different form than the existential variety that has plagued him from time to time in his futile wanderings. He makes a crying noise he doesn’t understand and puts his back into it. He can make it, if he could only use the other arm. He tries to, only for the damaged appendage to sheer from his body with a wet rip.
“Dude!” Charon hisses, he’s got his oar ready, so ready he’s already practicing paddling, he’s been waiting to do this for so long.
Sisy tries to gather himself, physically and mentally, finding that the only thing he can do is pick up his arm. There is no way to solve the knot of things in his head, his heart. The baby-thing looks so small to him, so in need of his protection.
Go, the baby says, and thank you.
“For what?” Sisy asks, voice tremulous, eyes making their own rain.
For telling me all about turtles. For showing me so, so much life.
“But I didn’t,” Sisy moans.
No, but you did.
And Sisy does the only thing that he can do. He throws his arm as far as he can and gets in the boat. He curls down for shelter with his hand over his head, like a shell, like a turtle. And not knowing yet, while learning how, he starts to cry.
Charon whoops and the wave hits, a would-be obliterator with nothing in its wake save two best buddies and a little stone baby. It hits like the nuclear center of the sun, throttling the vessel forwards at impossible g-forces, speeds that would sand down mountains in seconds. Only this boatman is un-killable, and so is his passenger, and this boat, well it’s got a little bit of that Hell magic. So after the one great punch is thrown, once the water’s no longer a wall but a rush, a rapid to circle the globe twice over, Charon is still at the helm, still whooping out surfer slang for all that he’s worth. Because finally, finally he’s doing his thing, riding this apocalypse right out of the dissolving dome of Hell and into whatever strange ruin awaits, poor Sisy sitting cross-legged at stern, lugging the souvenir of his broken heart.
“Awesome my dude,” Charon screams, his howl echoing through the hollows of his skeletal frame, “Awesome to the max.”
But nobody is there to respond to his delight. Because what Charon doesn’t know, what’s going to severely bum him out, is that he’s alone now, because when no one was looking, sad old Sisy bent over the side and tumbled on out, down, down, down into the fathomless churn below. Just a little bit of look at the birdie.
When Sisy wakes his skull has been patched up. His arm, not so much, that last bit of Hell magic spent and gone. It’s not a weeping wound at least, just a pink nub at the shoulder sprouting a few baby carrot fingers.
He doesn’t know where he is, where the walloping waters have taken him. It’s a very green place, large leafy trees and plants hanging out over the knee-high water that extends everywhere, muddied brown with silt and little pieces of hell. There’s a lot of corpses: floating, bloated, stuck amidst ferns. A few of them moan and get up, revealing themselves to be not fully corpses. If Sisy had a mirror, if he could remember his own appearance in any way and shape, he’d realize that all these poor bastards look just like him. The big difference is that all these people are wailing, looking for their keys and wallets, falling to their knees and crying to the heavens for a God that cheesed it in his Oldsmobile after shredding all the evidence.
The sight moves Sisy, a feeling he’s getting closer to the farther he gets from his lost baby. He finds the nearest wailer and pats them on the head.
“It’s okay dude. It’s okay. I’ve got it on good authority that Dog still cares about you.”
It takes about a hundred years for Sisy to become unused to deep time, for years to start feeling like years, days like days. And when he’s finally done searching, when he’s reunited with baby, his body is starting to catch up with the notion, a few grey hairs around the temple, a slight hitch in the knee.
At first he thinks baby isn’t baby, just a mossy boulder large enough for him to fit his arms around. But there’s something about that rock, a spark of that old magnetism. Without Hell magic locking up his mind and memories Sisy half-recalls that baby may have been a boulder to begin with, that all that carrying back and forth eon after eon changed it into what it became. And so he recognizes the little nose, the familiar eyes hidden in the granite curves of what is really any old rock. And all that searching well, it was really something called grief.
It’s hard for him to carry the boulder with just the one arm, so what he does is roll it, focusing on the rotations, the thump of the rock turning over and over and over again. Yes it takes time, yes he crushes some toes, both his own and those of the occasional post-apocalyptic lookie-loo. But eventually he wears the big rock down until he can carry it on the one good side. And eventually he carries it till it starts to look more and more like a little human. Until one day it kicks from his arms and starts to toddle and point at all the things of wonder in this waterlogged world.
Sisy is an old, old man now. His mind has come full circle. He is as lost and confused as he was on his worst day in Hell. Only now he has the Stone Child to help him around. Together they wander the earth, looking at things.
Whenever they run into Charon, the Stone Boy congratulates him on how big and grand his ferrying service has become.
“Thanks little dude,” Charon always says, “How’s your dad?”
And the Stone Boy will do what he always does, he’ll look at his doddering half-mad father, shrug and say, “Doing alright. Doing okay.”
The day Sisy mercifully dies is the day Stone Boy becomes Stone Man.
Unaware that he is about to keel over, Sisy totters over to a turtle. Turtles have done very well in this brand new world; they are quite literally everywhere.
Stone Boy watches his father poke at the slow creature’s chalky, chitinous shell, inspecting the ancient calligraphy hidden in its whorls and grooves. The turtle doesn’t hold an opinion on this interaction, it simply wants to walk forward, maybe find something green to munch. As for Stone Boy, he rolls his eyes and thinks about what a pain in the ass it is to carry his father all around creation. He does not know that all of creation is really the leftover bits of destruction.
Not much goes through Sisy’s mind in his final moment. It is blissful and simple and mysterious like the first moment an infant feels safe.
He looks to his son and smiles, “Thank you,” he says.
“For what?” his son asks, cocking one exasperated mossy eyebrow.
“For showing me so, so much life.”