Scarab All-a-Fulminatin’, Explody & Oh Shi— (I/I)

Video:

The warhead strikes Central. It explodes! The explosion freezes. The scarab beetle catches it. It begins to roll up the explosion into a clever little ball.

The picture freezes.

“This,” the monster says, “is a scarab of explosions. It’s an infallible defensive measure in event of bombings, since it uses explosions both as its food and as the containers for its eggs.”

It is 2002 the year of our Lord. The monster is speaking to a Prince of men; a Prince in white, with a small black beard.

The Prince is not entirely convinced.

“Why?” he asks.

“Why?” the monster repeats.

“Why should there be a beetle that contains explosions? The Star Wars missile defense has been called fanciful, fairy-tale, fantastic; this defense, then, cannot even qualify for those names.”

“Ah,” says the monster. He closes his eyes. “Why should there be a beetle that rolls the sun across the sky? That dies at the end of each day, and is reborn from its own semen, shot into a clod of dung? Why should there be beetles that carry the souls of the dead away, to be judged in unhallowed courts? Why should there be beetles at all?”

Sir,” says the Prince. He is angry.

“People don’t want to explode,” says the monster.

He opens his eyes. His voice is a little sad. “They look for something they can do. There isn’t anything, though. God won’t save them, Highness. Science gives them nothing. So they turn to coleoptera.”

The monster starts the video up again.

“How does it live?” the Prince asks. Perhaps, demands.

“Shamelessly,” says the monster.

The video shows little scarabs scrambling out of bursts of flame. It shows the battles and power struggles of the children. It shows Melanie, laughing, with three tiny little bomb-bursts crawling along her skin.

“They die, constantly,” the monster admits. “But they come back. They’re like roaches. Or that—”

He doesn’t know whether saying ‘that Jesus dude’ will offend a Prince of Saud.

“Or Cary Grant. They’re beetles.”

The screen goes black.

“It’s what they do.”

[The Frog and the Thorn – CHAPTER TWO]


May 28, 2004

Melanie has no time to react. It is all instinct. She is horribly exposed: she can tell that much. She is standing in the middle of a battlefield without an aegis. She’s face-to-face with Micah, who is very dangerous, and she has a scarab of explosions at her side.

Threnody is hurling the lightning.

Melanie slams down the walls around her heart. She sets everything aside. She bites the head off of every question in her being, like a mantis with its mate, and she is open, she is empty, she is floating and groundless and without origin or endpoint as the lightning strikes.

That is how it has to be.

She knows the rule of lightning: that it begins with that which is struck.

So she asks not the question to which lightning makes its wild answer. She does not lower the lens of her perceptions or preconceptions down to see the world. For a long moment, as the lightning falls, she floats there, rootless.

It slams into Micah, and she is safe.

It crucifies him, blasts him head to groin and flows down into the ground, spreads his hands apart and agonizes him—and she, demanding nothing, is safe—

Is—

Is—

What the Hell, Micah, she thinks.

She stares.

The sands dripped through the hourglass
And the hour of the wolf closed in at last
And life is sweet and the sun is high
But the flesh and the fire are born to die.

He is screaming. Oh, so terribly he is screaming. But she is not safe at all. She is, instead, astonished, for he has caught the lightning.

He is burning. Oh, so terribly he is burning. But he is not letting go.

He is not letting it dissolve. He is not letting it ground through him to the earth. He is holding it.

She whistles, long and low.

It is possibly a mistake, she realizes, suddenly, to let Tina go around torturing gods with electricity; working it into them, branding them to their bones with the lightning-pain, making them know it as they know their eyes, their hands, their hearts, their thoughts, their fate. It is possibly a mistake to let that become a part of somebody, a core of their life experience, if you might ever need to blast them with lightning later—

It strikes her as a subject worthy of a monograph, at the least. On the wearing thin of the judgment of Heaven when used without discrimination, perhaps, or Recidivistic considerations related to the galvanic treatment of captive gods . . .

The lightning is burning him. It is melting him like a candle, but he is not letting the liquid flesh drip from him, he is holding it on the surface of his hands by will alone.

He is holding the lightning and he does not let it go.

He is turning towards her, oh, so slowly, and his teeth are white and his eyes are white and the screams have stopped and his face holds such enormous pain—

Oh! she whispers, in her mind. Such pain!

—and he whispers, “Shall you know not justice?”

” ‘Should,'” she corrects him, absently. SHOULD you know not justice?

It would have derailed any other god. It should have derailed him, should have made him fumble, made him lose his grip, but Micah just smiles whiter. His teeth are sweating in the heat.

“Should you know not justice?” Micah asks, “You who hate good and love evil? Who tear the skin from my people and the flesh from their bones? Who eat my people’s flesh, strip off their skin, and break their bones in pieces? Who chop them up like meat for the pan, like flesh for the pot?”

She wants to laugh. It’s brilliant.

“You can’t be serious,” she says. “That’s from a verse about the sun setting for the prophets, and the day going dark for them. That’s about God’s vengeance on people like your sister, Micah, and her fastness becoming a heap of rubble, and this hill a mound overgrown with thickets—”

He isn’t listening.

He isn’t listening to her at all. She stares.

“Should you know not justice?” he asks again. “Because the thing is, Melanie, the thing is? What you do?”

She owes him this much. She maps the terrain around her, quickly, with her eyes, and then she meets his burning gaze and she says, “Yeah?”

“It’s wrong.”

It fountains from him then. It overflows. He does not hurl the lightning, but rather bursts with it, loses it, runs over with it like a clogged sink struck by a sudden flow. It shatters from him like the waves from a missile that falls into a lake. It cries out thunder. Lightning arcs from him to the scarabs, to the crayon creatures, to the footsoldiers and the dog. It dances in frustration around Melanie like a braided rope, like a hoop from a crinoline skirt, like a halo forbidden and restless to lay itself upon and brand an angel’s brow.

It is hungry for her. It grinds its teeth around her but it cannot bite.

She sees what is coming. It unfolds in her mind, and there are two paths for her, two roads that she may walk.

There is a flying god that is swooping past. She can take its tail and be away; may float past as it floats; she has timed it, she can do it, she can leave him there to wail, and be safe

Or—

There’s a girl in the sun
And there’s girls in the sea
And in Elm Hill’s cages
There’s a girl like me.

The scarab of explosions bursts. It becomes a string of fireworks. It becomes a bang, and then another bang, and then another. It cannot contain itself. It cannot bind its own explosion. If it could then scarabs would be immortal, rather than always dying and always rising up again.

It is just a beetle. Beetles don’t know not to think the kind of question that the lightning answers. Beetles don’t know to let themselves loose from expectations and from preconceptions when people are throwing lightning here and there. Nobody hires beetles as meteorologists, and that’s half the reason for it; the other being, now and then, if there’s an errant spark or whatever, a beetle will explode.

And life is sweet and it loves the sun
But we’re born to die when our hour comes.

He is howling. The howls and sobs are ripping themselves from him, heavier than the whole of his chest and body, and he is scrabbling at the ground, and his eyes are burning and the world is throbbing and shivering with great bursts of light.

Cool hands touch his face.

They burn his melted skin all over again. He whimpers.

Melanie pulls his head up to face her.

“Look what you have done,” she tells him.

He cannot comprehend. Not killed you, he thinks, in absolute frustration.

“You’ve killed fourteen,” she says. “And that’s not even counting Vincent. That’s awfully good, dear.”

Not you.

It’s like she’s heard him. “Not me never me,” she agrees, sadly.

His vision swims. She picks him up.

“It was my very own dear beetle,” she says. “I raised it from the egg. And so I thought, ‘It will not kill me.'”

The doors of the facility are shattered.

“The fire will burn all around me, and shards of stone and shell fly past, but it will not touch me.’ That’s what I thought.”

The wall is shattered. The ground around them is broken.

Melanie stands in the great brooding gap where the doors should be, at the entrance to Elm Hill.

She grins.

She tilts her head.

“Sometimes you have to trust,” she says, “you see, in those you love.”

[The Frog and the Thorn — END OF CHAPTER TWO]

The No-Good Bird (I/I)

Sing, muse, of Melanie, beloved of the gods, and how she came at last, and with her army, to Elm Hill. Tell us how she led unto that place a tattered host of women and of men; of humans, and of gods; and among that host a black dog and a flying god and the Keeper of the Wheel; and Threnody, who held the thunderbolt in this degenerate and broken age; and, for now, and for the shortest time to come, the grangler. Tell us how the footfalls of her soldiers beat down on the asphalt way. Tell us how the wind blew all around them and grey the storm clouds came. Tell us of the laughing joy that filled her, despite the darkness of that day; and tell us of the grangler, that old ghost, and how it died.

At Elm Hill there is a building old and rank, and in its basement many cages, and it is abandoned now, but once—not so many years ago—it was a place of suffering for Liril and for Jane.

At Elm Hill is a facility.

As Cunning Melanie leads her army to that place, she sees an omen, and it comes upon her thus. From a copse of trees by the building’s gates there flies a bird, and the bird flies out over her host, and the number of its wings is four, and it is growing larger as it comes, and it holds the grangler in its claws, and the grangler holds it, and the bird—to all appearances—is dead.

She stares at it as it flies.

The omen is elaborate. It takes her a long moment’s stare to decide that she is seeing a real thing and not a vision sent her by the gods.

“Threnody,” she says.

Threnody looks up. Her eyes seethe with the whiteness of the storm. The bird is struck by lightning, from clear sky.

It shrieks.

It does not fall.

Threnody’s expression grows tight with anger. “Dead things ought not shriek,” she says.

She stands in a javelin-thrower’s stance. Her hand begins to burn with light. Then it is as if the sky has hurled the fire of the sun directly to her hand; the thunder roars across the hill; and the bird is shattering, splaying out and sundering into bits, falling like a gross and gobbet rain, and the metal chains with which Threnody weights down her hair do her no longer any good, for it has fluffed out like a cloud.

A chunk of bird hits the ground between them, rolls like the debris from an explosion, bounces from a rock, and jumps past Melanie’s right leg.

A drop of filth would have touched her cheek, but doesn’t.

Before the end of its trajectory it decides to swerve, instead. For she is Melanie, cunning Melanie, beloved of the gods.

The sands dripped through the hourglass
And the hour of the wolf closed in at last
And life is sweet and the sun is high
But the flesh and the fire are born to die

They gather around the ruin.

The creature’s heart is beating. It’s stuttering in its fear. It will continue to beat—this is Melanie’s guess—for three more darknesses and three dawns.

Where the chunks of the bird have struck the ground the earth is bursting forth in life—grass and grains and trees are exploding upwards, and new elms are already building-height.

As for the grangler, he’s broken.

He oughtn’t really be able to be broken, since he’s a ghost and all, but the thunderbolt passed too close to him before he fell.

She squats down beside it.

“So,” she says.

It reaches for her leg. She shakes her head, and its hand falls back.

“Now it came to pass,” Melanie says, “after the death of Moses, that the Lord spake unto Joshua, the son of Nun, saying, ‘Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, thou, and all this people, unto the land which I do give them, even to the children of Israel.’”

“It’s so,” the grangler concedes.

“And to Jericho he sent two men to spy secretly, and determine the nature of its readiness; and they took shelter with the harlot Rahab; and when the King of Jericho learned of the spies’ presence and their purpose, she preserved them, kept them safe, if only they would promise that Israel would spare her family and their possessions when Jericho’s walls came tumbling down.”

And the story is a pleasantry amidst the grangler’s great pain, a coolth inside its fire, and it says, “It’s so.”

“And they said: tie a scarlet cord, a grangler, to the window when we come; and by that bond of blood shall we be held to you and yours, and you to we, and never to let go.”

It occurs to the grangler that it is dying.

It is impossible to imagine it—to die, and after so very many years.

“And it tangled you up in that red, red cord, and bound to a sacred trust; but—oh, grangler. Oh, grangler. Look upon you now.”

He is a very old ghost, is the grangler. He’s a god of hanging on. But the edges of the world are fraying for him, just like the untwisting of a rope, and her words have loosened a string wound round his heart.

She lets him touch her, then, though he cannot hold her.

He rests his claw upon her hand.

“It was a no-good bird,” the grangler says.

“Was it?”

It is struggling to rise, but it cannot rise. It is struggling to look at her, but her eyes are far too kind. It is desperate with a sudden need of justification, and it pulls its claw back to its chest and hugs it there and says, “It was a Liril-bird, milady, it was a bird-god made by Liril, oh, milady, she is there, she unleashed a growing god.”

Melanie blinks at the grangler.

Its words confound her. She cannot quite grasp them.

“Liril,” she says.

“She is encamped there, I could smell it, I could taste it on the bird.”

“Liril,” Melanie says again.

“She is.”

There is no reason for it that Melanie can possibly imagine. She knows where Liril is. Liril is in Santa Ynez, guarded by her brother Micah, protected by him from humans and gods alike.

Liril is not in the cages beneath Elm Hill.

That was before, Melanie thinks, clearly. That was back then. The facility is abandoned. The cages are empty. Liril cannot possibly be there.

She looks up.

She stares blankly at the facility at Elm Hill.

She is not here for Liril. She is here for a temporary base of operations. She is here because she has no other place to go, her and her ragged army, driven from their homes—

“More valuable than frankincense,” she says.

It’s from a song the monster sang to her, a long, long time ago.

“More valuable than gold.”

Children like Liril are the source of granglers and thunderbolts, of flying carpets, angels, fiends, and killing gods, after all.

[The Frog and the Thorn – CHAPTER ONE]


May 28, 2004

Does she know we’re here?” Melanie asks.

She is angry at herself.

The question is wasteful. She discards it. She asks the only question that has relevance.

Is she afraid?

But the grangler is dead.

Reading Nearby Manuals

Sometimes you want a Canon copier.

Other times you want a Deuterocanon copier.

The standard Deuterocanon copier is based on the Book of Tobit. It works as follows.

Put the paper in the slot marked Tobit.

Seven printer cartridges explode. Finally, one survives long enough to start copying—but the printer jams!

The user wails, asking for death.

The user does not die and so Deuterocanon faces no liability. Instead, the Archangel Raphael shows up. He teaches a mysterious nearby bishounen to exorcise the copier.

Voila, copies!

It’s an affordable business solution based on sound, deuterocanonical, Biblical principles.

Countdown to Annihilation! (Genesis 2 – 11:00AM)

Previously, on Countdown to Annihilation! . . .

. . . the sun blew up!
. . . ruining the chances for Lizard Cops to become a breakaway hit!
. . . also, Charles and Iphigenia were trapped in the Eden Sphere
. . . as Snavering Lavelwods rampaged through his factory!

But can Charles pull sweet chocolate victory from the grinding jaws of defeat?

Will the mass of the animals clinging to the Eden Sphere render Charles’ careful ballistic calculations useless?

And just why are the first two books of the King James Version subtly incompatible?

The eleventh hour is upon us!

The Lizard-Peoples’ Prayer

The world was full of promise then.
When we evolved our thumbs.
We thought that we would rule
The world and bring an end
To all that’s cruel
But then the cold
And then the snows
And one by one the lizards froze
And so the end, ere it began
Of our great world
Preceding man’s.

We dwell in deeps
And ancient sleeps
And on TV when it’s not sweeps
we find we’re often mentioned
And Lovecraft knew a thing or two
But misjudged our intentions.

What we can’t claim
We will not claim
The world belongs to humans now
And afterwards
When you’ve moved on
We’re kind of rooting for the cows.

But please! Kind humans in your homes
And if there is a merciful God
We ask that you not leave the Earth
To the hated
Snavering Lavelwods.

Charles stands there, staring at his watch for a moment. He is performing mass calculations in his head.

After a moment he looks up at Iphigenia.

He smiles.

Then his smile grows broader.

It is now a grin.

And Charles laughs.

“It’s going to be all right,” Charles says. “It’s going to be all right! I can jettison the television receiver! Lizard Cops won’t be on!”

He rushes among the trees. He pushes buttons. He flips back panels. Iphigenia watches in some startlement as an iris atop the Eden Sphere opens and a peculiar-looking television tree launches itself through the gap like a rocket. Then the iris closes tight.

“Yay?” says Iphigenia.

But Charles is not paying attention. He is still racing about. He stops and stands for a moment beneath an apple tree. “Is this the one?” he says. He stares at it for a time. Then he shakes his head. “No! It was the pears.”

Charles charges to the pear tree. He stops. He stands very still, like a man at attention. If his watch is correct, it is now 10:59:58, on Saturday, July 16. He is practically quivering.

“Now!” he says. He pushes the knot. He reveals a button.

There is a sighing, all through the world, as the last light of the sun touches the Earth, then fades away.

Charles pushes the button.

The world ends, wrapped in wings of darkness and of flame.

And Charles slumps.

“There,” Charles says. He leans against the tree. He smiles at Iphigenia. “There. It’s all done. All of it. Every last bit.”

“What is?”

“Anyone else would be dead,” Charles says. “No one else could have worked out a way to survive the extreme conditions at the very end or beginning of the Bible. But my marvelous Leviticus-Luke gyroscope will. It buffered us against the end of the world and it’ll protect us against the beginning. Don’t you see, my dear child? The only way to survive The End is to flip the Bible back to front and use an Apocalyptic Slingshot effect to hurl ourselves back to the second book of Genesis! Kapowie! Suddenly the world’s not quite so over, is it?”

Iphigenia blinks at him.

“The second book?”

“It’s too inconsistent with the first book of Genesis,” says Charles. “Clearly, someone traveled backwards in liturgical time. So, why not us?”

Charles looks at her seriously.

“But we can’t be greedy,” he says. “That’s why it’s so important that you choose the thing you care about most. When you’re working with inventions, greed never works. I could have gone back naked and alone and I’d have lived with that. But that’s too cruel for anyone else. So I decided long ago that I’d break all the rules of time and theology, if I had to, to make sure that anyone who came with me got to pick one thing. One comfort from the final days of the world to carry with them into Eden. I couldn’t have brought you here without knowing you’d picked one. I would have had to kill them. I was ready to kill them. But now I won’t. Now I don’t have to. They can stay in the future on a frozen Snaverer world, and we can live!

“. . . I don’t know if I’m ready to . . . to rebuild . . . the species . . .”

Iphigenia is blushing bright red.

Charles laughs.

“Dear, dear. No one did that kind of thing back then in Genesis 2. They just . . . begatted. That’s why I made the marvelous Begatting Gun. It uses the power of ribs—nature’s genetic batteries!”

“Oh,” Iphigenia says.

Then she grins.

“Okay, then.”

Charles smiles. “So, what will you keep?”

Iphigenia looks embarrassed. “What are you keeping?” she asks.

“My marvelous Apples of Knowledge,” Charles says, firmly. “They’re caramel! But we shouldn’t eat them.”

The apples are, in fact, labeled “Apples of Knowledge—DO NOT EAT.”

“Wow,” Iphigenia says. “You know that we’re going to get in trouble for that, don’t you?”

Charles waves a hand. “What’s the worst that could happen?”

Iphigenia does not know how to answer that one.

“Come on,” Charles says. “It’s your turn.”

So Iphigenia reaches around behind her back and pulls out her choice. She blushes. She holds up the one thing she is keeping. Charles looks at it for a bit.

“You know those are desperate to destroy humanity at any cost, right?” he says.

The thing she is holding hisses. It coils unhappily around Iphigenia’s arm. It looks with a cold calculating cunning towards the apples on the tree.

“I know,” says Iphigenia, hugging the Snavering Lavelwod to her chest. “But they’re so adorably fuzzy.

“Score one for inerrancy,” Charles says.

As recorded in Charles 1-18 of the Dead Sea Scrolls, viz., “Countdown to Annihilation—DO NOT APOLOGETICIZE!”

Fin.

Countdown to Annihilation! (10:57:28 – 10:59AM)

Previously, in the first four installments of Countdown to Annihilation! . . .

. . . the sun blew up!
. . . so did most of the people!
. . . Snavering Lavelwods swarmed through Charles’ factory!
. . . Charles and Iphigenia found themselves on the brink of destruction!

But will Charles use the Snaverer-Killing Bomb?

Will the Lavelwods break the Eight-Minute Hourglass that holds back the end of the world?

Can the Book of Luke survive the insane pressures of temporal acceleration?

And just what is the one thing that Iphigenia would keep, if she could keep one thing, and only one thing, to last her all the empty years?

The Snavering Song (Traditional)

Snaver, lavel, what can you do?
Our hour nears: we don’t care about you!
It’s great that you lived and it’s great that you’ll die!
Out of our way! Our hour is nigh!

Lincoln was shot and Jesus spiked up
Herbert the Nudist exposed in the buff
Socrates—poison! Angela—bees!
And everyone left
They will die in the freeze!

Snaver, lavel, what can you do?
Our hour nears: we don’t care about you!
We’re glad that you lived but it’s time that you died.
Out of our way! Our hour is nigh!

“Here!” shouts Charles. He points at an airlock. Iphigenia turns sharply right and drags him through it. They wait inside while the doors cycle. Then they enter the Eden room.

Charles turns off his hovershoes and settles down onto the ground. He beams at her. “Isn’t it wonderful?”

The Eden room is a self-sufficient biosphere. It is contained within two rapidly spinning translucent candy shells, each more amazing than the other—but it is not this confectionary accomplishment that prompts Iphigenia’s answer.

“It’s a garden,” Iphigenia says in awe.

Iphigenia stares around. The Eden Room is beautiful and grand and full of trees, and it has its own little sun circling in the sky above.

“It’s marvelous,” she says. “It’s the most marvelous garden.”

“It’s built entirely on Biblical principles,” Charles boasts. “For example, the whole room is suspended in a Leviticus-Luke gyroscope rotating at a constant 70 verses per second. And the artificial gravity is provided by psalms!”

“But why are we here?”

“It’s the safest place in the whole factory,” Charles says. “Listen. Can you hear that?”

Iphigenia listens.

Then she frowns. “Little . . . squiddish thumps.”

“Snavering Lavelwods,” hisses Charles. “God promised them that they’d get the Earth after humans did, if they were good. So they were good for a very long time. But now darkness is rising and the Fimbulwinter is coming and the Snaverers want their due. We left the door open. My fault. Not yours. But we left the door open. And now they’re going for the Hourglass.”

He hands Iphigenia his marvelous See-Through-Things Prism. “Look through this,” he says.

Iphigenia peers through it.

“I can see right through it!” she says, with amazement.

“It’s all in the focal length,” Charles says. “Hold it farther from your eye and you can see through more things! Please keep an eye on the Lavelwods for me. I’m going to try to engage the auxiliary defenses. Incidentally, what did you choose?”

“Choose?”

Iphigenia moves the See-Through-Things Prism closer and farther from her eye. She shrieks a little as she can suddenly see the Lavelwods in the factory halls.

“As the one thing you’d keep,” Charles says.

Iphigenia frowns at him. “You are very strange.”

Charles beams at her.

Iphigenia stares through the Prism. “They’re swarming through the factory,” she says. “Snavering everywhere. I think they’re shouting something.”

“Shouting?”

Charles goes to a tree. He presses a knothole to reveal a device labeled, “Factory Universal Translator—DO NOT LISTEN!”

“You’d best not listen,” Charles says.

He activates the device. He tunes it to Sneezle. There is silence. He tunes it to Morphum. The silence remains. He tunes it to High Lavelwod.

“Bleep!” snarls the device. “Bleep! Bleep! Bleeping humans! Bleep! Bleep!”

“Ow!” says Iphigenia, who couldn’t really help listening. “Too much bleeping!”

“However,” snarls the device, “we concede a reluctant admiration for your many fine inventions.”

Charles is blushing.

“Bleep!” shouts the translator again, as the Snavering Lavelwods swarm.

“Too. Much. Bleeping,” emphasizes Iphigenia.

“Oh,” says Charles. He reluctantly turns off the universal translator.

“It hurts my ears,” says Iphigenia. She looks through the prism. “There’s some kind of silver door in their way.”

“That’s my first line of defense,” says Charles. “It’s made of Invulnerable Crumpium!”

“They’re crumpling it with their tentacles!”

“Yes, well,” Charles admits. “It’s invulnerable, not uncrumplable.”

Charles has opened up a panel hidden in another tree. He is triggering various buttons.

“Huh,” Charles says. “There’s a spider on the outer hull. I hope it’ll be all right.”

“Probably safer than anywhere else on Earth!” Iphigenia says.

Charles laughs.

“That’s true! That’s true. But it adds to the mass calculation! Not much weight budget for spiders. What’s happening now?”

“Now—”

Iphigenia peers. Then she looks awed. “You built a giant self-scratching blackboard?”

Charles looks modest. “It’s the latest in nonlethal defense technology.”

“It’s definitely annoying them,” Iphigenia says. “The scraping and scratching of the fingernails on the blackboard—it’s driving them mad! Except . . .”

“Except?”

“They’re not giving up,” Iphigenia says. “They’re drowning out the noise by singing!”

Charles flicks his hands over buttons and levers. Then he frowns. “Dear, dear, we’ve got a goat out there now, too.”

“A goat?”

“It must be so afraid of the sun blowing up that it fled right through the Snavering Lavelwods to cling to the side of the Eden Sphere! What a heroic, sticky goat.”

“We have to open up the airlock!” says Iphigenia. “And let it in!”

“No time,” says Charles. “No time. Have they gotten through the Giant Golden Bowl?”

“Through and past,” whispers Iphigenia, in terror.

There is a thump. A Great Gallumphing Uniplex has attached itself to the side of the Eden Sphere.

“No idea what that is,” whispers Charles. “Stupid animals and their pack behavior! Don’t they realize I have strict mass limits?”

Then he blushes.

“No, that’s not fair. I’m sorry, animals! I’m sorry! I won’t insult you again.”

Iphigenia shrieks. “They’ve broken through the defense of last resort!”

Charles looks nervous. “Are you sure it’s the last resort?”

“It was labelled ‘Defense of Last Resort—DO NOT BREAK THROUGH.'”

Charles hides his face with one hand. “Why doesn’t anyone ever read?

His voice is taut, but there is humor in it. Even at the end, he is laughing at the world. Iphigenia can tell.

But then the humor leaves him.

Charles grows glum, silent, and dark. “I don’t know if we’ll make it,” he says. “Not with all the extra mass pressing on the hull. These animals better pull their own weight.”

“Make it?” Iphigenia asks.

There is the distant shriek of a hawk coming in to land on the Eden Sphere.

Then Iphigenia beams.

“You’re going to trigger the Snaverer-Killing Bomb!” Iphigenia proclaims. “Then this whole sphere will bounce and roll through the empty Earth driven by the force of that explosion. If the animals aren’t too heavy for your compensation thrusters, we’ll land exactly where you planned—at the birthplace of a new sun!”

Charles gives her half of a smile. “That would be pretty cool.”

But then his voice goes flat, and he shakes his head.

“I’m not going to kill them,” Charles says.

“Oh,” says Iphigenia.

“I was so afraid I would. To save you. To save me. But I won’t.”

They are silent for a while.

Then Iphigenia smiles at him. Just a little.

“That’s okay, then. It’s okay if we die. I don’t want to. But it’s okay, if it’s to keep us from killing. The Lavelwods are adorably fuzzy little monsters.”

She looks again through the See-Through-Things Prism.

“Just . . .” Charles says. “Just give a moment, for regret. And fear. And mourning. Just a moment. Then I’ll smile, and say that everything will be okay. And it will be.”

In the distance they can hear the snavering song.

The Snavering Song (Modern Arrangement)

Snaver, lavel, what can you do?
Our hour nears: we don’t care about you!
It’s great that you lived and it’s great that you’ll die!
Out of our way! Our hour is nigh!

Rasputin was shot and Rasputin drowned
Poisoned and stabbed and laid in the ground
Joan of Arc—burned! Henry’s wives did not please!
And everyone left
They will die in the freeze!

William to plague. Sian to starvation!
And millions on millions who died for their nation.
Vlad—now a vampire! Jekyll—a beast!
And everyone left they will die in the freeze.

Snaver, lavel, what can you do?
Our hour nears: we don’t care about you!
We’re glad that you lived but it’s time that you died.
Out of our way! OUR HOUR IS NIGH!

Thundering through the factory in accompaniment to the song’s last words there is a crash.

The See-Through-Things Prism drops from Iphigenia’s nerveless fingers.

“What?” says Charles. “What did you see?”

“They’ve reached the hourglass,” says Iphigenia. “They’ve broken it. The sand is falling.”

The room is very still. The animals stare in through the candy shell. The snake flicks its tongue. The spider shifts uncomfortably from leg to leg, never sure which six to stand on on occasions like this. The goat goes, “Beeeee!”

Charles’ wristwatch alarm goes off.

“Oh, dear,” Charles says. “It’s 10:58.”

Then he laughs. It’s a wonderful, terrible, horrible laughter. “I’d forgotten I’d set that,” he says. “I wanted to tape Lizard Cops.

Iphigenia stares at him. Then she joins him in laughter.

“Me too!” she says.

And as they laugh, the last rays of sunlight race frantically towards the world.

Tune in tomorrow for the shocking conclusion of . . . Countdown to Annihilation!

The Chaunt of the Wolves

bonus content in the world of Countdown to Annihilation!

There are many legends of the ending of the world. The Snavering Lavelwods tell one tale; the wolves another; and the humans have ten thousand.

And there is, of course, the tale the elephants tell.

That is a tale that shall not be repeated here. The elephants punish outsiders who recount it with a stern and loving trampling; stern, because it hurts quite a lot when one is trampled by an elephant, and loving, because it is the kind of trashy Chaos/Sky/Time slash that humanity is better off not repeating.

But we will speak of the wolves and their legend. And touch on the legends of others as well.

In each of these tales there is a victory. The peoples of the Earth will not succumb to entropy, their legends say.

They will make new meanings from the ruins of the old. The ending will not win entire.

And this much is so.

But when the world goes cold there shall also be a darkness, and a great shape like an angel that rises over every horizon. Its wings shall be as soot and its hands as fire; and many legends will end that day.

Shaggy Wolf stalks the streets.

Lean Wolf follows behind him.

Humanity is gone. The cities belong to the wolves. Yet Shaggy Wolf is not content.

He tells himself that he is happy, chatting with Lean Wolf about the weather and complaining about how hard it is to get a taxicab.

But he is not happy. It is a lie. And Shaggy Wolf is not the best liar of the wolves.

So he cries: “Liar! Liar! Speak to us!”

And Lean Wolf cries, “Liar! Liar! Speak to us!”

And the wolves of the pack take up the call, and it echoes over the empty towers, the empty parks, the empty public restrooms that humanity has left behind.

And in the distance, an old wolf answers, and this is the story that he howls across the empty lands.

“In the beginning there was no world.

“In the beginning there was only chaos, inchoate and empty. There was the firmament. There was the sky. There were things and there were states. But they meant nothing. They were not a world.

“And into that darkness splashed the sphere named Eden.

“And all around it, clinging to its sides, their noses pressed against the glass, were the makers of the world.

“The elephant. The hawk. The wolf. The spider. The goat.

“The cranium beaver. The unicorn. The platypus. The noid.

“The Great Gallumphing Uniplex, with its three proboscises and its bright red eyes.

“And each of them dreamed very well.

“It is through dreams that we make the world. Dreams and stories. Not the little lies but the large ones. It is through the gall of these first few dreamers that the world was made.

“‘I have a trunk,’ said the elephant. ‘I can use it to blow water at my enemies. Then they shrivel up with embarrassment and run away.’

“And it was so.

“‘I can fly, you know,’ said the hawk. It’s very casual about this. ‘It’s like jumping, only I stay up there. It’s because of Earth’s yellow sun. If there were a red sun, I would probably lose this ability.’

“‘Beeeee,’ agreed the goat. That’s the hawk’s tragic weakness!

“Then it was the wolf’s turn. ‘I am the hunter,’ said the wolf. The wolf’s tongue lolled out.

“Then they feared the wolf. All of them edged away, every last one, except the spider.

“The spider whispered, ‘You don’t want to eat me. I’d bite your tongue!’

“And it was so.

“‘Beeee,’ says the goat. The goat was not quite so good at worldmaking as the others, but it had a certain clumsy charm. ‘Beeeee.’

“And the greatest of these dreamers was the man named Adam. He strode through Eden, crying out, ‘So many animals! Where did you come from? Why are you here? I’d better name you all with my Animal-Naming Device!’

“Then everyone was very consternated. Everyone ran in circles and was much afraid. For to name a thing is to take power over that thing.

“But they could not escape the Animal-Naming Device.

“So that is why Adam’s children lived in cities, while we hunted caribou.

“Why Adam’s children built empires while we had a rudimentary pack organization.

“Why Adam’s children lived in riches while we ran on injured feet.

“That is how we lost the world. Because our dreams could not stand before the fire in Adam’s mind.

“But the Lavelwod burned in its own dark way. It said to the wolf, to the goat, to the spider, to the hawk: ‘Fear not. The time of man shall pass, and the world grow cold.’

“Then we knew that the wolves would take the world. Then we knew that we would remake it. That we would dream our dreams where once dreamed man.

“We had only to wait.”

Then silence follows on the ending of the Chaunting of the Wolves.

And when the world goes cold there shall also be a darkness, and a great shape like an angel that rises over every horizon, and its wings shall be as soot and its hands as fire; and many legends will end that day.

Shaggy Wolf and Lean Wolf wander.

“What will you dream?” says the Lean Wolf.

“Hm?”

“I mean, when we stop waiting around and get to dreaming. What will our angle be?”

“Ah,” says the Shaggy Wolf. “We will dream: ‘the things of man are ours.’ We will have their ships and their tailored suits and their situation comedies, but not, of course, their baths.”

“This is good,” says the Lean Wolf.

“And we will say: ‘we are the hunters,'” says the Shaggy Wolf. “When the sun grows weak we will eat its husk. When the stars grow weak we shall drive them from their constellations and hunt them down. The universe is great and vast and we shall know prey in every corner of its deepness. Also we shall have special sub-humans adapted to rub our bellies and make our legs do the thump-thump-thump thing.”

“That is especially good,” says the Lean Wolf.

There is a sudden horrid lurching in the world. There is a shifting and changing. The end is nigh.

“But is it true?” asks the Lean Wolf. “Will it really happen?”

Then the Shaggy Wolf is biting at the Lean Wolf’s throat, and the Lean Wolf is falling over, showing his belly, oblivious in his fear to the exact nature of his offense.

And when he has humbled himself, and the Shaggy Wolf backs away, the Shaggy Wolf says, “I know it is only a dream because I cannot bear it if it is not true.

“It must be a dream. A ‘truth’ is a thing that could possibly be false.

“This cannot be false. This is a dream that burns.”

On Saturday, July 16, at 11am, the world ends.

“Quickly!” says the Shaggy Wolf. “Howl!”

And there is a sound driving on the wind as the wolves, they claim the world.

And there is also darkness, and a great shape like an angel that rises over every horizon, its wings as black as soot.

“We are the hunters,” chaunt the wolves. “The things of the world are ours.”

“We’ll bite you!” cry the spiders, in their webs. “See if we won’t! Then we’ll inject you with venom and your insides will dissolve!

This has always been a lie. Spiders don’t have any such venom. It’s all done with mirrors.

“Sometimes we just find peanuts,” say the elephants. “Just, you know, laying about.”

And the Snavering Lavelwods sing the Snavering Song.

The wings of the darkness close around the world, and the rising chill whispers these words: “I am truth.”

And that is the moment that many legends end.

But the wings of truth are full of holes, through which some scattered legends shine.

Wait! Did we miss the end of Charles and Iphigenia’s story? Is it all over for humanity, or will the factory pull out a final surprise? Let’s back up to where we were and play out the final minutes of the world—when the Countdown to Annihilation! continues . . . TOMORROW!

Countdown to Annihilation! (Still Life, with Charles)

Previously, in the first three installments of Countdown to Annihilation! . . .

. . . the sun blew up!
. . . the era of the Snavering Lavelwods drew nigh!
. . . Iphigenia wandered a devastated world,
. . . encountering Charles,
. . . an eccentric inventor whose devices hold the end at bay!

But has he really saved the world, or simply delayed the inevitable?

Will Iphigenia save him or destroy him?

Or will the Snavering Lavelwods render every question moot?

What Would You Keep?

If you could keep just one thing—one thing to last you all the empty years, what would it be?

Think on it. Decide. And when you know, if you are still alive, come to the factory, to Charles’ factory, where hope may find you.

The world nears its end. It is held back from destruction only by the marvelous Eight-Minute Hourglass that stalls the passage of time.

It occurs to Iphigenia, as they race through the halls of Charles’ factory, Charles dragging Iphigenia behind him, that the man’s desire to invent a companion Hourglass that speeds time up might—under the circumstances—be the least useful invention ever.

“What would I use to make an hourglass that speeds up time?” Charles says. “What? What?”

He drags Iphigenia into the room with his Invention Bench. He stares around wildly, then stomps his foot.

“I don’t have any mandrake eggs,” he says.

He shakes his fist.

Curse you, asexual mandrakes!

Then he pauses. He shakes his head.

“I shouldn’t curse. It’s not their fault. I’m sorry, mandrakes! I’m sorry! But hm. I do have some sperm whale ova. I could use one of those!”

Iphigenia opens her mouth. She closes her mouth. Then she says, “Are you—I mean, just out of curiosity, as a matter of abstract interest, are you quite mad?”

“Would you mind that?” he asks her, plaintively.

“No,” Iphigenia admits.

She is too grateful that there is another human still alive.

“I mean, I’m not,” Charles says sincerely. “Not quite mad. Not really. But I’ve got a good head start! It’s the years of loneliness and the aching knowledge that the world is dead. Plus I was quite immersed in eccentricity before. Head-down, of course. That’s what my godfather always said. You have to immerse yourself head-down. Eccentric feet never got a man anywhere! But I always thought that they probably would, because they’d always be running places all the time.”

Charles looks seriously at her.

“So if I seem a little mad,” he says, “that’s why.”

Iphigenia giggles. She can’t help it. He’s just too sincere!

“I guess you could use fun,” Iphigenia says. “Then. Like beach balls and video games and whatnot. To make time pass faster.”

“Fun!” cries Charles. “Beach balls! I have a vial of beach ball extract right here.”

He seizes a vial from a shelf. It is labeled “Beach Ball Extract—-DO NOT POUR.” He pours it into the trough in the Inventing Bench. He adds some miscellaneous scraps of paper and the ur-thing of a grue.

“Brilliant,” he says. “Brilliant! Keep going, my marvelous post-apocalyptic muse! I need more ingredients!”

“Snapping your fingers?”

Iphigenia snaps her fingers. It’s kind of fun.

“I can’t snap my fingers,” says Charles. He snaps his fingers. There’s no sound at all. There’s just kind of a faint hollow ticking. “But I can snap turtles!”

Charles adds turtle-snapping lotion to the mix.

“Talking,” says Iphigenia. “Laughing.”

Suddenly Charles is crying. It’s a weird convulsive sort of crying mixed right in with the laughter and smiling and running around looking at his vials and his mixing machinery.

“Talking,” says Charles, through the tears. “Laughing. I built someone to talk and laugh with me but she fell in the incinerator and melted.”

“I’m sorry,” says Iphigenia.

“I thought there had to be other humans left,” says Charles. “At least one. I mean. I mean, once I figured out that someone built an Origins Bomb, I knew there had to be a few. Nothing’s ever totally wrong or right, not even Creationism! But none of my Marvelous Hunter-Seeker Chocolates returned.”

Iphigenia experiences a brief personal flashback involving a hunter-seeker chocolate. It makes her mouth water and her heart pang guiltily. She shakes it off.

“It’s okay,” she says. “I found you now.”

“Now?” he says. He laughs. “Now? Don’t you see? It’s too late. We’ve only got three or four minutes. If we were right next to the sun, we’d already be dead! Crisp as toast and frozen solid. And probably eaten by a Sun Swiggler, to boot. No, it’s too late. Humanity’s hour is past. ”

“It’s okay,” Iphigenia says. “You’re not alone.”

Suddenly Charles sits down.

“I wanted to invent for people,” he says. The tears are brighter now. “I wanted to make them better. But it was too late. I couldn’t help them. I didn’t have time to help people become good, and generous, and hopeful, and able to look outwards towards love and others and the sky. They evolved over thousands of years from unicellular organisms and in the end their souls just burned up, just burned up, and they were gone before I could make them good.”

“Oh,” Iphigenia says. “Oh.”

“And I—I left the door—oh God. No. Nevermind. It’s not important. It’s all gone. It doesn’t matter. I’m no better than they were, really.”

Iphigenia sits beside him. He is sobbing now. She pokes at his arm. Then she leans against him.

After a while, she says, “I did see the flyer. I mean, I never got a chance to say. But I did see it. The one asking me what one thing I’d keep. And I did think about it. So it wasn’t wasted.”

“You did?”

“I did. I know what I’d keep.”

Charles stares at her.

“You do?”

“I do.”

Charles is on his feet again. His tears are gone. He is beaming at her. “Oh, thank Heaven. Oh, thank God. I won’t have to kill them— I won’t— Oh thank God. Quickly. Good. Quickly. Come on. We have to hurry.”

“What?” Iphigenia says. “Why? Where?”

“Sorry!” Charles says. “Going deaf, you know. It’s all the excitement. I always have hearing trouble when the world’s ending. Come on!”

He seizes her hand. He runs.

“This isn’t fair!” says Iphigenia.

Charles stops dead. He blinks. Then he smacks his forehead in horror.

“You’re right,” he says. “I’m so sorry.”

He leans down. He pushes a button on his shoes. They begin to expel a steady stream of compressed air that lifts Charles right off the ground to bob lightly in midair.

“Right, then,” he says. “You race through the halls of the factory this time, dragging me along. I’ll give you directions.”

“Uh . . . okay.”

And as they speak, their voices echo through the halls, around the corners, through the vents, out into the vestibule of the factory.

There are coats hanging there. There is a mat where people can wipe off their shoes. There is Charles’ umbrella.

And all through the vestibule, entering the factory through the carelessly left-open door, the Snavering Lavelwods are swarming.

Will Charles use the Snaverer-Killing Bomb?

Will the Snavering Lavelwods destroy the Eight-Minute Hourglass and end all human life?

What is the one thing Iphigenia chooses to keep?

And just how literally true is the Bible, anyway?

The Countdown to Annihilation continues . . . Thursday!

Countdown to Annihilation! (10:57:28)

Previously, in the first two installments of Countdown to Annihilation! . . .

. . . the Origins Bomb destroyed most of humanity!
. . . also, the sun!
. . . and some random aliens.
. . . the Snaveling Lavelwods poised themselves to inherit the Earth!
. . . Iphigenia wandered an empty post-apocalyptic world
. . . finding another human at last!

But why hasn’t the world gone dark yet?

Why hasn’t it frozen?

How can anyone live on, when the sun is dead?

Fimbulwinter

The sands dripped through the hourglass
And the minute of the end closed in at last.
People dance in the hour of the sun
But we’re born to freeze when that hour’s done.

Iphigenia runs to the door. She cannot stop. There is a glee bubbling in her. It is practically leaking out her nose and ears. She hammers on the door. “Let me in! Let me in! I’m people too! You’re alive! Open up!

Charles opens the factory door.

Charles is a man. He looks about thirty years old. He is the first person Iphigenia has seen in quite some time.

Charles blinks at her congenially. “Well,” he says. “Hello!”

“You’re alive!” Iphigenia says. “You’re human!”

“I am!” says Charles. He pats himself, confirming it. “I have bones and skin and meat and hair and over ten thousand individual intellectual potencies! That’s my humanity at work!”

Iphigenia hugs him. Charles squeaks.

“Thank you,” Iphigenia says. “Thank you for being real.”

“It is my honor,” says Charles, who is quite humble about being real, “and my privilege.”

“But how did you survive?” Iphigenia asks. She lets him go. She pushes him back to arm’s length so she can stare at his face. “Everybody blew up but me!”

Charles blushes. He takes a funny little step back and spins around.

“It’s only the people who evolved from lower animals that the Origins Bomb blew up,” he says. “A few rare humans were made directly by God. Like me! That’s why I don’t have any introns or junk DNA. And that’s why I’m alive!”

“Oh,” says Iphigenia. She blinks. “That must be why I didn’t blow up either.”

Iphigenia sighs.

“What a weird way to find out you’re adopted,” Iphigenia says.

“Oh, dear,” says Charles. Then he beams at her. He rubs his hands together. “Did you get my flyer?”

This is the flyer that Charles means:

What Would You Keep?

If you could keep just one thing—one thing to last you all the empty years, what would it be?

Think on it. Decide. And when you know, if you are still alive, come to London. Come to the place of lights.

And Iphigenia has in fact seen the flyer, but she isn’t expecting questions about flyers right now.

So she just blinks at Charles blankly. “Pardon?”

“Oh.” Charles looks disappointed. “No, never mind. Never mind. It’s not important now. You’re people! I’m people! We’ll talk about it later.”

He cranes his neck to look past Iphigenia out the door.

“I take it that your parents were descended from lower life forms? You’re alone? That’s terribly tragic. Or were they older than ten thousand years? All the really old things blew up too. It’s possible, you know. Suppose you postulate reincarnation. Then their souls could come from previous bursts of Creation! That’s how that would work. So they wouldn’t have to have been descended from animals—not if their ancient souls blew up inside them and disintegrated their bodies! Not that that’s much help to them or you, I suppose. No, no, it’s not.”

Then his eyes twinkle.

“But I could invent you new parents, you know. I have all the ingredients. Come in, come in. Close the door. Must keep the Lavelwods out. That’s absolutely critical. So come in, close the door, and we can get right to work.”

Iphigenia just stares at him blankly.

“Invent . . . new parents?”

Charles pulls a set of blueprints in scroll form out of his pocket. He unrolls them dramatically. There are at least twenty feet of blueprints sprawling now across the floor, labeled, “Parent Replacements—DO NOT CONSTRUCT!” Charles then flicks his hand and the blueprints roll themselves back up. He tucks them back into his pocket.

“I,” Charles says, “am an inventor. A most marvelous inventor, if I do say so myself. Most likely the marvelousest inventor left in all the world. Possibly the only inventor left in all the world. I made the marvelous See-Through-Things Prism and the Eden Room and even the Eight-Minute Hourglass.”

Iphigenia frowns.

“That’s not very useful,” she says. “I mean, if it only has eight minutes on it.”

Charles looks shocked. “What? What? What?”

Charles shakes his fist. He hops up and down. He gestures expansively.

“My dear,” Charles says. “You offend me! Well, you would, if I were not drinking up the sight of another living human. In other circumstances, you would offend me! It is the most useful device.”

“But why would you want it to run out in eight minutes?”

“Run out?”

Charles blinks. “Why, that’s brilliant! An hourglass that runs out in eight minutes. You could cook a Thanksgiving turkey in thirty-two minutes. Or fail to build Rome in three hours and a fifth! Come on! Come on! We’ll go to the Inventing Bench!”

Charles seizes Iphigenia’s hand. Before she can so much as startle or shift her balance, he drags her off at a run through the hallways of the factory. Most of them are dark and scorched with the marks of people descended from animals blowing up. Some have flickering lights. Occasionally Iphigenia will see an open door that leads into an invention room containing some incredible wonder. There is the flower made entirely of lambs. There is the Snaverer-Killing Bomb. There is the perfect replica of Eden. There is a hopping Tesla Coil with a most amusing face, singing along to karaoke in the Tesla Karaoke Lounge. She wants to gasp and stare but he’s running too fast!

“But no, no, no, no,” says Charles, as they run. “The hourglass I meant wasn’t that kind of hourglass at all. This is an hourglass that delays time, not an hourglass that speeds it up. That’s not something I’d have thought of on my own, what with Fimbulwinter coming!”

“Oh,” says Iphigenia.

“It was just a few minutes ago,” Charles says. “10:52am. That’s when the sun blew up! Pfft! Just like that. Some people are entirely too careless with their inventions. Everything older than ten thousand years blew up! Everyone descended from a lower life form, too.”

“The Origins Bomb,” Iphigenia says. Somewhat lamely, she adds, “It was meant to prove Creationism right.”

“Half-right! Half-right! After all, the Earth survived, didn’t it? And we did? But it blew the sun right up. And most of the people. Blew them right up! That’s when I leapt into action.”

Here Charles stops in his frantic rush. He stands still and beams at her. He takes her other hand in his other hand. He squeezes both her hands in joy. “And it’s a good thing, too! Otherwise, we wouldn’t have met until we were dead! That wouldn’t have made anyone very happy.”

Iphigenia stares at him. Then, reluctantly, she grins.

“Also,” Charles says, “please remember to think about what you’d keep. I mean, if you could only keep one thing. It could be very important.”

Charles lets go of one hand so he can resume dragging her towards the Inventing Bench.

“The bomb went off. Everybody died. The Oomps blew up around me like so much kindling. Even the old dog himself! But I knew what I had to do. I rushed to the Inventing Bench, just like we’re doing now. I speculated on what might have caused the explosions. I tasted a bit of the boom. I recognized the sinister work of an Origins Bomb.

“So I made the Eight-Minute Hourglass! It’s an hourglass that never runs down its first eight minutes! It hasn’t even run down its first minute yet. That’s why the world hasn’t gotten dark. That’s why it hasn’t gone cold and dead. It’s the same principle as waiting in lines—it might just be a few minutes until the world actually ends, but it’s guaranteed to feel like forever. It’s the Hourglass that gives us all the time we could possibly want, even though the dread minute is just around the corner. We can live and breathe and get things done before the dark comes in, before the cold comes in, before humanity dies and the Snavering Lavelwods inherit the Earth. It’s all thanks to my marvelous Eight-Minute Hourglass!”

That’s about when the realization hits Iphigenia.

“The sunblew up?

Her voice is plaintive and sick. Iphigenia likes the sun. It’s her favorite celestial body.

“It was the final pyrrhic victory of heliocentrism,” Charles sighs.

The door to the factory is open, gaping, like a wound. The first of the Lavelwods has found it now, drawn to the smell of captured time.

Tune in tomorrow when the COUNTDOWN TO ANNIHILATION . . . continues!

Lizard Cops

bonus content in the world of Countdown to Annihilation!

Sometimes a show just breaks your heart. You know it could have been really good, the kind of show you’ll think of fondly for forever. But then the network cancels it, or shuffles it aimlessly through the time slots, or maybe the whole world blows up. And the show never gets its chance!

That’s the kind of show Lizard Cops was. It would have been a hit, except its audience all died. That tanked its projected ratings something awful, and it never really recovered.

The lead characters were the last two survivors of a primeval race of lizard-people that had lost the ecological competition with humanity. One was a wisecracking jokester, the other a lizardy prophet. These were Tobias . . .

OFFICER: Freeze! Police!

TOBIAS: I am cold-blooded and unable to freeze in the human fashion!

OFFICER: . . . you look human.

TOBIAS: It’s the silky softness of our convergent evolution! Duck!

OFFICER ducks.

TOBIAS leaps over the officer’s shoulder in a velociraptor jump and knocks down a SKULKING CRIMINAL who was standing behind the officer with gun drawn.

. . . and Cooper!

COOPER: Lo, I am Raphael Cooper, one of the last two survivors of a primeval prehuman race, and I say unto you, be not afraid;

COOPER: For I have emerged from my sleep of ages not to harm you but to bring you great tidings;

COOPER: That you are loved by that God that sleeps in the dark places, in the lizard places, in the deeps of the Earth;

COOPER: By the God of frogs and amphibians; of squelching and the damp;

COOPER: By that God who has chosen thee over we to precede the Snavering Lavelwods as lords of all the Earth.

PASSERBY: Your words . . . they have torn through my icy New York reserve! Thank you, lizard prophet! Thank you! Thank you for ceding us the world!

In the premiere, the two of them are invited to join the New York Police Department by its brusque human police chief, Ragin’ Claude.

CLAUDE: Look. I know you two don’t want to get involved in human affairs. But 9/11 changed everything.

TOBIAS: How so?

CLAUDE: America isn’t safe any more. New York isn’t safe any more. If we’re going to stop this terrorist before the Department of Homeland Security does we’re going to need every prehuman lizard cop this force can get.

But the terrorist they hunt is more cunning and clever than even the lizard cops could imagine.

WEEPING WOMAN: He killed my husband! And then I remarried and he killed my next husband! And then I remarried and he killed my next husband! It just keeps happening!

CLAUDE: My God. He’s reenacting the Book of Tobit.

COOPER: Terror has never been so . . . personal.

TOBIAS: . . . Sara, snap out of it. Listen to me. Sara. You have to stop marrying. When he kills your seventh husband, it’s his sinister Biblical exegesis that New York will die!

WEEPING WOMAN: But . . . I joined the Abstinence Until Marriage campaign! I don’t want to be a virgin forever, officer!

CLAUDE: Cooper?

COOPER: It is time to call the Mayor and make prayers unto him;

COOPER: For if the city is to live, he must suspend the abstinence campaign!

The struggle gets ever more intense as Cooper and Tobias come to the terrorist Az’mod’s attention. Az’mod doesn’t like Western society—but he’s practically JIHADIC about ancient prehuman lizard peoples!

AZ’MOD, SHRIEKING: There is no God but Alec and Mohawk is his prophet!

COOPER: That is a misinterpretation of the . . .

AZ’MOD: Your lizard people offend against my faith!

COOPER: Seriously, if you actually read the Koran . . .

AZ’MOD throws a flash bomb. It flares blindingly. COOPER looks away. CLAUDE blinks. But TOBIAS does not look away, and his eyelids are nonfunctional lizard eyelids!

TOBIAS: I’m blind!

AZ’MOD: Ha ha ha ha!

AZ’MOD flees.

COOPER: Fear not, Tobias. We shall have our revenge;

COOPER: We shall catch him, and try him;

COOPER: And if the trial goes poorly the DHS shall render him unto Egypt to be bound.

TOBIAS: Is that the will of God?

CLAUDE pages through a handy copy of the Bible.

CLAUDE: Looks like.

COOPER: We cannot know;

COOPER: For, of course, what is canon to the Catholics, and should therefore be the literal word of God

COOPER: Is sometimes apocryphal to Protestants.

CLAUDE is still reading.

CLAUDE: Hold the presses, Cooper! If this is inerrant, then there’s some sort of magic fish whose gall can heal Tobias’ eyes!

COOPER: Then God has sent us a message.

TOBIAS: Where we find that fish, we’ll find . . . the terrorist Az’mod!

It was pretty clear that this was going to be the best show ever. But then the world exploded and the broadcast crew died.

Maybe they’d planned to teach the true word of God, set in a world of lizard cops where the Holy Scripture is the only honest guide through the treacherous machinations of criminals, terrorists, and scum. Or maybe they’d planned to break with the concept of Biblical inerrancy and have one or two bits prove themselves … well … only metaphorically true.

We’ll never know. Not now. But it would have been something to see, don’t you think?

Countdown to Annihilation! (10:52 – 10:57am)

Yesterday, in the first amazing installment of Countdown to Annihilation! . . .

. . . the 11am premiere of Lizard Cops drew nigh!
. . . Iphigenia’s parents built an Origins Bomb!
. . . everything older than 10,000 years old blew up!
. . . and so did every human who’d evolved from lower life forms!

But who will survive?

Will the Bible prove inerrant?

Will the world drown in endless void?

Or is the truth, as so often happens, . . . somewhere in between?

Song of the Apocalypse

Mary drank too much at tea
She jittered faster
Recursively!
The faster she drank
The faster she drank
The faster the pile of tea scones sank!
She could see each beat of a flying bird’s wings
She could see each drop of her tablemate’s sneeze
“More tea!” she cried, but the waiter looked stopped
So she zipped from her chair to the kitchen’s pot.
And her story would have gone on from there
But the bomb tore through
And the bomb didn’t care! Oh

George he cackled George he laughed
George’s machine brought a dead man back!
In defiance of God!
In hubris insane!
“Raar!” said the dead man
Then he died again.
The bomb tore through
The bomb didn’t care.
George had evolved, so he wasn’t spared.
And the dead man, he’d once been Darwin’s toy
He was one more thing for the bomb to destroy. Oh

The Earth was barely nine thousand years
Old. Mad props to Usher! Creationist cheers!
Nine thousand years old! Plus seven days!
So the Earth, it lived on, anyways
Its valleys! Its hills! Its endless seas!
Its glorious plains! Its mountains! Its trees!
It all lived on! And we’re very pleased . . .
But the sun was as old as the scientists said
So the Origins Bomb killed the sun clean dead.

The aliens on Alpha Ceti III
Descend from the cones of evergreen trees
They’re a warlike bunch!
They’d have killed us later
But the bomb took them down
Like Bush took down Nader. Oh!

And all through the Earth just a handful of men
Some women, some children (most under ten),
Lived to see the winter that came
When the fire of the world
Turned a fading flame.

Iphigenia staggers through a savage wasteland. She grows lean and scruffy and lonely.

Every clock in the world that is not broken is stopped, frozen at 10:57am. The computers that she finds do not work. The paper calendars are also stopped, with nobody to flip them.

Iphigenia does not know how long it has been since the Bomb went off. But it feels like many years.

Everyone is dead.

Everything is in ruins.

There are no groundskeepers. There is no electricity.

A flyer flutters down to her from the sky. It looks strangely new, though she knows it must predate the bomb. And on it is written:

What Would You Keep?

If you could keep just one thing—one thing to last you all the empty years, what would it be?

Think on it. Decide. And when you know, if you are still alive, come to London. Come to the place of lights.

Iphigenia laughs. “I don’t know how to get there from here!” she says.

The wolves have come out, since the bomb, to stalk through the streets. They mutter and wolf to one another, and they do not bother Iphigenia. One day Iphigenia finds a Lego Universal Translator set, suitable for ages 12 and up, in an abandoned toy store. She assembles the pieces including two AA batteries and she turns it on and she eavesdrops on some wolves.

“Humanity has become incapacitated!” says a Shaggy Wolf. “It can no longer rule the Earth! It is our honor and our privilege to become Earth’s new guardians. Now we are the city people. Observe as I perform the strange city ritual of ‘rushing nowhere in particular.'”

“Yeah! Yeah!” agrees a Lean Wolf.

Shaggy Wolf looks slyly at one of the stopped clocks. He asks Lean Wolf, “Is that clock right?”

“It’s not just ‘right,'” says Lean Wolf. “It’s actually slow!

Shaggy Wolf pauses for dramatic effect. Then he gasps. He panics. First he skitters in a panicked circle. Then he begins to speed-walk very fast, just barely surrendering the edges of his dignity, in the direction of a distant office building.

“The end is nigh!” rails an Apocalyptic Street-Corner Wolf as he passes. “The Snavering Lavelwods will inherit the Earth!”

“What?” says Shaggy Wolf.

“He’s challenging your presumption of succession!” says the Lean Wolf, shocked.

Shaggy Wolf snarls. The Universal Translator says, “What?” Then it says, “Bleep! Bleep bleep! Bleepity bleep! Bleep!”

“Ow!” says Iphigenia. “My ears! Too much bleeping!”

So after that she does not eavesdrop on the wolves.

Two hundred meals and seventy-nine naps later, Iphigenia sees the flyer again. This time she holds it tightly. She pretends that it matters. She pretends that it is a thing from after the bomb, printed on crisp yellow and golden paper by someone surviving, somewhere, someone somehow not dead. So she finds an information kiosk and she digs through its maps and she heads towards London.

There is a bird in the air. It is a feral parrot. It circles down to land on her shoulder. It says, “Hello!”

“Hello,” says Iphigenia.

“Brawk,” says the bird. “Broderick. Good Broderick.”

“Would you like a cracker?” Iphigenia asks.

Broderick bobs up and down in excitement. Then he bites her ear and flutters away. From a tree nearby he says, “Snavering Lavelwods inherit the Earth. Inherit the Earth. Brawk!”

“Ow,” Iphigenia says.

Seven hundred meals and three hundred naps later, Iphigenia sees a light. She does not understand it at first. Her brain cannot parse it. It is an electric light. It is shining.

Iphigenia’s heart begins to race. It races faster and faster. She begins to hop. She begins to jump. She begins to dance around and glee.

“People!” she shouts.

Then she runs. She runs until she sees a factory. It is surrounded by a ruined fence and a ruined gate and a ruined sign hanging from that gate, reading, “NKA” and “CTOR”. Its lights are on!

She runs to the door. She cannot stop. There is a glee bubbling in her. It is practically leaking out her nose and ears. She hammers on the door. “Let me in! Let me in! I’m people too! You’re alive! Open up!

And Charles does.

Who is this mysterious Charles? Why did his factory survive? The Countdown will continue . . . on MONDAY!