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Funny Fantasy

The drive to the estate was horrific. I came down into the valley and I was sweating by the time I arrived at the tennis club. I’d never seen anything like it. They had warned me about the coast. Well, you know. You saw it on TV.

I was never much of a tree climber, being the portliest of my class. As a child birds had annoyed me. Always pecking at my windows in the morning. I didn't miss those. I did make a mental note to ask the first fellow I saw what to do about the slow decline of my automobile tires along the way. Nothing is as atrocious as melted rubber.

The Senator Julia Barnard’s valet met me at the driveway and I gave him the keys. “Good to see you Mr. Murphy,” he said. My name is Stevens, but I went with it.

“We’re glad you arrived,” he said. I had never seen a valet wearing khaki shorts and carrying a tray of ice packs, but I understood, and I took both as he handed me a face covering as well. In my middle-upper class life would this have passed for the crème of service? But I had started to reconsider what I knew. “If you've not yet finished having children, then you’ll need this if you’re outside for more than thirty minutes,” he said after I looked at him quizzically. Gratefully I accepted the mask. I do enjoy learning about the customs of those unlike myself.

I started to walk into the foyer and he stopped me with his arm. “May I offer advice?” he said. “Have you met madame before?”

I admitted I had not. The senator had just been appointed undersecretary deputy of the Environmental Protection Agency. I had been invited to the party because of a donation my uncle had made ten years ago. The late Mr Bernard had been a playing card enthusiast and my uncle, the Mr Jackson of the Jackson Coffee Filter clan, had donated a lifetime supply of cards for a long forgotten political favor. In return he, and then I, his last remaining ward, had received an invitation each year to the Barnard Christmas soirée, and I think long ago anyone connected to Mrs Bernard had first long forgotten my uncle and then long forgotten me. Both men were gone, my Mr Jackson sadly deceased by killer bee swarm and Mr Bernard in the inland hurricane of ‘25, but my lifetime invitation - as yet unanswered- had lived on.

“Let me advise you,” said the valet, sweating profusely. “When you meet Senator Barnard, talk about whatever you like, but don’t discuss -“ and he ducked as a cloud of locusts zoomed directly overhead us and then landed on the last red petal of a rosebush - “don’t discuss any of this. It won’t take well even in jest.”

I had to laugh. “But she’s to be-“

“It's a hoax. Quite clearly.” A bird fell out of a tree to its death, landing on its head, from a withered oak immediately behind us.

“Well hoax or no I was going to ask about keeping the tires inflated-”

“It's a problem for everyone. You should check the pressure before you leave. I can take a look.”

“But the melting-”

“Two words to remember. Forestry management. It's what the lady of the house needs and desires. You won't last long without speaking of it. Clear the underbrush, remove the shrubs. It's how things are to be done.”

I was starting to cough so I went in, ignoring whatever else the valet had to say.

Inside the floors were exquisite marble with windows floor to ceiling and a beautiful fountain in the center of an enormous drawing room. The windows were meant to reflect natural light, and did so as they brought the foretelling of combustible disaster clearly into view, with the dangerous flames I had driven through certainly clear on all sides. It was a definite, welcome relief to walk in from outside. Three men were in the fountain, which was dry, looking down the gaping maw of Bacchus and trying to coax water to come out of it. The guests were in various costume which I had not expected. A man dressed as a gorilla, his face safely covered, pinched my buttocks as I walked by and I assume smiled beneath his simian entourage. Not favoring the pre-humanoid sexual persuasion I walked on by.

I met the lady directly in the parlor . She was wearing a giant shawl and enormous heels, a true giant of a woman. I came up to her directly to make a proper greeting. I nearly tripped as underfoot a wretched ghost of a cat weaved its way inbetween my legs. Diseased and depressed, it looked me over as though I brought news of a better life. Sensing reality, it moved on.

“Never mind Chuckles,” said Mrs Barnard. “He’s just fussy.”

“The cat looks close to death,” I said.

“A small cat as all Pekingese are,” she said. “Are you enjoying yourself?”

“Most definitely, though I did have a problem with the tires of my car, do you think your valet could-”

She didn’t have a chance to answer as the room was plunged into sudden darkness. Terrified, I considered the likelihood that I would be trapped in mass panic, and I heard whelps of excitement from the gathered club goers, but then I realized they were in fact elated cries. I suddenly noticed gaps of light that seemed to be moving between pockets of darkness, in a crawling distribution.

“Hooray!” someone shouted, “a locust storm!” And the rustle of phones being unleashed filled the room and then the clickity click of digital phone cameras snipping and snapping. Everyone gathered together. The gorilla-man was particularly too close to me. I backed away, or tried to, but a giant hairy arm corralled me in place.

The servants brought out games and flashlights. I have to admit a certain charm to playing euchre by flashlight, which I never had before done to the rhythm of angry locusts. We were given snacks and comfortable chairs, and I fact found out the delicious crunch of what I assumed to be fine Belgian wafers was in fact delectable locusta, crisped and toasted. So the best was being made of it. We actually had a fine time, all of us, in the dark, in costume.

I had a notion to ask the Senator if perhaps my auto had been repaired for travel, this being after several hours of amusement, and thinking of the journey home. I stood to seek out the valet. The hairy hand of the gorilla-man pushed me to a seated position again, quite firmly this time.

An announcement was made that it would be hours, days perhaps before anyone could leave. We would receive the best accommodations until that time came. Everyone cheered and resumed euchre.

“There's no sense in leaving,” the gorilla-suited man said, whispering in my ear. He had a very sensible voice.

Certainly I had a moment of panic but nothing that didn't pass quickly. The locusts, when properly prepared, were quite charming. The gorilla-man wrapped his arms around me for warmth and comfort. It was getting a bit chilly. The heat was coming from outside, but I enjoyed watching the flames through the giant windows, much as I had enjoyed Christmas by the fire as a child. Chuckles the cat came back to my lap, purring softly. A fine family we were, gorilla, cat and I. In the dim light I decided to share my locusts with the mongrel feline, and the gorilla-man placed a few of his crisps on my tongue, and I began to feel safe and at peace. If my tale has a moral, it's perhaps that in a difficult situation, you can rise above your selfish nature by learning to give of your resources to others. Or perhaps the moral is the value of animal life, animals being in my mind the same as humans, and how we ought to preserve every species equally and discriminate against none, feline, homo sapien, homo erectus erectus, the great circle of life.

In this way I warmed to the charms of the coast, though it took me some time to differentiate life among the elite from my previous notions of the apocalypse.

September 19, 2020 00:59

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1 comment

Vanessa Marczan
03:44 Sep 25, 2020

Hey Matthew, I really enjoyed reading this. I'm digging this absurdist, end of the world vibe, made me think of Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle. Great work depicting climate change on steroids!


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