Submitted into Contest #60 in response to: Write a funny post-apocalyptic story.... view prompt


Funny Drama Adventure

Safe is a relative term in Baghdad. Najim’s was the closest thing to being absolutely safe in a place smack in the middle four sets of people, each with their own funny hats and dead-serious weapons, who hated each other. The habitues of the joint were the cashiered-out vets running hustles, expats who would rather be in the fire line rather than where they originally came from. The sort of people who knew how to set a watch for terrorists and malcontents and could smell c-4 or ammonium nitrate from 300 meters. It was a place a man could get a drink and a woman, or the other way round. Also, they did a mean Sauce Ancienne chicken. The dozen or so hardcases at the three front tables had been fed and watered, so Haji Bill, the MC, climbed onto the stage to introduce the entertainment.

“Ladies and gentlemen, camels and horses, doves and falcons, let’s have a big hand for Mystery, Beast, and the Four Horseman!” Those with two intact hands applauded with moderate enthusiasm, the rest pounded tables or stomped feet. Their own feet, not other people’s.

“That’s a pretty ballsy move, doncha think, Buddha,” Sergeant Richard York asked his drinking companion after the first set. The former Stone Gray contractor had mightily strong opinions, and liked to have them validated. Bud Mehlman, formerly a fighter pilot in the Coalition of the Willing, had briefly dated a wing-wiper; someone spotted her teaching him yoga, and the “Bud” became Buddha.

“You mean covering BLUES FOR ALLAH in a bar in Iraq? Why not? Great lyrics.  ‘What good is shedding blood, it will not grow a thing,’ and ‘Whichever way tour pleasure tends, if you plant ice, you’re going to harvest wind.’ Pretty good advice around here. And I think in Iraq, if you’re not ballsy, you’re the ball.”

“Well said, Buddha. At least they moved back to safe territory. Everybody likes Springsteen.”

The former non-com was correct, and everyone cheered both times ‘suicide’ came around in the lyrics. The drummer, presumably one of the four horsemen, kitted out in white, and presumably the conqueror, walked to the front of the stage and took the measure of the crowd.

“Is this it? Is this all there is? Don’t you people know what’s going on?” Crickets, confused looks, and eventually grumbles and calls of ‘More Floyd’ did their best to fill the venue with incensed noise.

White cued the lighting engineer in her booth and she put up a PowerPoint slide thick with Biblical verse citations, charts and graphs explain weeks of this, years of that, half-weeks of the other thing, with details of differences between Masoretic and Septuagint dating, corrections for the Gregorian calendar, the kind of things people carrying signs that say ‘The End Is Near’ are prone to say if you talk to them, all leading up to Thursday, January 21st, 2021. Red, presumably the bastard that gets folks to kill each other, joined White downstage.

“Four horsemen, a Beast, don’t you understand yet? You’re getting graded in four months, and you’re nowhere near ready. There’s going to be a war. Your grades have not been at all good over the last two thousand years. This may be your last chance. Wheat, chaff. Gold, dross. Get with the program, people!” The mention of war did the trick. As if a thresher had combed over the room, civilians and hustlers had to quickly be at just-remembered engagements, while the possible PTSD cases gravitated toward the tables nearest the stage. White marched over to them with a proper roll-up map case. His salute was a clenched fist to the heart. York, more or less in uniform, actually more less than more, returned a smart Paris Island special. White unrolled a chart on a central table. Buddha, York, and Nancy Terry immediately recognized it as a star chart of the piece of the Milky Way’s spiral arm that contained Earth’s solar system. One other star system was circled. Nancy recognized it as Kapteyn’s Star, a tiny red dwarf with newly-discovered planets.

“This star system is in what your scientists call a satellite galaxy, a tiny galaxy orbiting the Milky Way. It’s now 12 light years away from your solar system, headed galactic north at a pretty good clip. Five thousand years ago, they were only four light years away. They wanted to disassemble your planet to extract your rare earth metals. This other solar system is ours, a few dozen light years back up the spiral arm. One of our survey ships dropped a probe and determined that there was complex, more or less intelligent life here. We consider it poor form to destroy somebody’s planet for their rocks. These tiny people are nasty motherfuckers; they’ve been active and technological for seven billion years. When you read ancient texts about ‘War in Heaven,’ our blockade was that war.”

“You’re a guy with a fancy map and a good line. There are plenty of treasure maps on Craig’s list, each with its own provenance and history. What makes you think we’ll believe you,” Buddha asked.

That must have been black’s cue to come out from behind the instrument stands; seven horns of assorted types, ten drums, each with its crown of skin. He tossed out some dinars, Euros, and a whole bunch of dollars. And immediately all of the food vanished from every plate in the place.

“Nice trick, drummer boy. What else ya got?”

“Come up to the roof bar, bring some of your friends.” The whole slightly defective, somewhat off crew came up.

Black pointed to a star about halfway between the horizon and the bottom of a waxing crescent moon. “Keep your eyes on the bouncing ball. Sergeant, pay special attention please.” The star started blinking, sometimes short, sometimes long. “What did that spell, Sergeant York?”

“I thought it was morse code. Madeline.”

“And your mother’s name is?”


“Anybody still on the fence?” Nobody raised a hand, and the group headed back down, where White unfurled another map.

“This is us, right here, in Bagdad. What used to be part of Sumer.   White drew a fat ellipse with Islamabad and Sophia as the foci. Bagdad is in the middle. This was our base of operations. The bubble goes from India to Sweden. Inside the bubble, people’s gods were human. To the west, people worshipped spirits. To the east, people were philosophical. Here in the middle is where writing, astronomy, and the wheel were borrowed by people copying from us. You found evidence of us. Five kilometers from here an archaeologist found a jerry-rigged battery. You know, like E.T. Phone Home. You found statues of people in space suits, models of spaceships which can fly if built and scaled up.

“We had one of our people right a script for your Star Trek television show. Gary Seven. People from thirty thousand years ago were picked up and brought to our home. Their descendants are no longer primitive, and they can operate in your world because they are you. We spelled it out for you. You didn’t bite. And now you’ve got the all-nighter of all time to pass the test.”

“Alright, Mr. White. Are you really expecting us, as a planet, to all get on the same page after thousands of years of conflict, in four months? What happens if we don’t?”

“It’s too late for that, Ms. Terry. People following the clues we dropped shouted from the hills about what was coming. We made an apocalypse especially for John, his own personal Revelation. He was toasted from living on carob and clams washed up on shore in the blazing sun. We gave him every detail in language he could understand. A billion people have read the book of our revelation to him, but we expected a fair number of people would be waiting where it all started. Looks like nobody cared, except for people who were already as nutty as John. We gave up trying to convince a whole world of their true reality. All you have to do is win the war.”

“You came to the right place, Mr. White, if you’re looking to fight an off-book war. You’ve got two platoons, a squad and a patrol right here in the bar. What’s the order of battle and rules of engagement? We’re not the type of folks who follow rules, and I’m sure you figured that out, but it would be good to know what they are.”

The sergeant began raising his hand, but thought better of it. “Before any of us sign up for what I’m sure is a hashish hallucination which I’ll wake up from tomorrow, how much...”

Buddha cut him off mid-question. Don’t ask that, Dick. Mr. White, I think it’s time you introduced the shy rhythm guitar guy hiding behind the drum kit.” Somewhere along the line, getting nick-named “Buddha” genuinely garnered him a decent-size hunk of eschatology. He knew who the last horseman was.

Pale was frocked in all the decorator colors that people want when they want white, but not really white: cream, champagne, bone, light toast. None of the misfits paid attention, but each had a shiver of the paleness of death in all it’s forms; torn asunder by beasts, run through by swords, besieged in a famine shrouded city.

“Mr. Pale will be tagging along with you. Sort of bad luck charm. For the opposing side,” White explained, even though no explanation was necessary. Keeping to himself, in the back close to the men’s room, an old GTFO Brigadier could no longer tolerate whatever was happening by the stage.

“I love the smell of bullshit in a barroom. It smells like endless, unachievable possibility. You folks planning a war or what? War ain’t easy ‘round here. You sang it yerselves just now, ships of state sail on mirage but drown in sand. You there, the guy in white. Lay it out for your new friends. Make a case, I might even pitch in my ownself.” White accepted the challenge and unsealed the last and largest map in the case.

“We, and by we, I mean you, with moral support and some resources from me, won’t get anywhere without being prepared. Some parts of the test can’t be snookered. We’re here in Baghdad. We have to get to Babylon. Then find a whore named Mystery, pay her, take off everything purple and scarlet she’s wearing, and drop her in the pit. Then you all need to get tattooed, all with the same tattoo. That’s the easy part. The less easy part is convincing 144,000 people to attend a concert in around Mt. Megiddo in Israel. Har Megiddo, the Mountain of Skulls. Armageddon. And then you’ll see them disappear. Rapturously.”

“Well now, you ackshully got something’ I might could do for ya’s.” Rod Stewart is my second cousin, once removed. He appeared in front of the General Assembly of the United Nations in a dress. That’s drawing power.” General Halftrack took out his phone and pulled up satellite images of the mountain in question; actually a little range of mountains. “Looks like the range is a natural amphitheater. People could camp out and see the act. I’m gonna give Cuz a call. We intersected at two weddings and three funerals, shared good vibes. He hasn’t been on the charts in a while. Mebbe he’d like to be the headliner of The Concert at the End of the World. Phone call couldn’t hurt. But listen, Whitey. What’s the downside in this? Got an expected casualty report?” 

“It’s the third part of everything. People, animals, fish in the sea, water itself, even the sun and moon. That’s if you win. Also, you get Faithful, who will judge and right the wrongs”

“And if we lose, or if we decide this is a cover for picking up some hard folks and gettin’ them to run a terrorist attack they din’t even know they was runnin’?”

“Nothing. Nothing changes. You go on doing whatcher doin’, just like you were doing yesterday and this morning. Except that you won’t have our Gary Sevens to keep you safe from the Kapteyn forces that want to mulch this nice planet you have here. I can reveal to you this: If you fulfill the signs, you cannot lose. Your twos and threes will easily wipe out the Hosts of Gog and Magog.”

“Who and Ma-Who?”

“Gog and Magog from the far north. About 1200 klicks due north of Jerusalem,” White answered. Halftrack took a look at the map, even though he knew what he was going to see. Twelve hundred kilometers north of Jerusalem was Moscow.

“Listen, Whitey Ford. We have ourselves a bunch of talented clowns in this circus, none of whom have ever trained together. Do you expect us to fight Russian regular forces?” The closer to a complete battle plan he got, the less corn-pone got into the General’s communications.

“Fulfill the signs, Amos.” Nobody had mentioned the senior officer’s given name. “Follow the signs and you will get to where you are going.”

# # #

Able Platoon liberated four Toyota technicals and painted them red, white, black, and high-albedo desert camo. They disassembled the 50 calibers and covered them with farm produce. Spaced at random intervals, they headed down to Babylon. Astoundingly, they passed through Shia Marsh Arab country without trouble. Even more astoundingly, once they reached Babylon, they couldn’t find a sex-worker of any kind. Sergeant York went over to Nancy’s technical.

“Your family name is Terry, yes?” She knew where this was going.

“No way, Dick. Not a wiener’s chance at a Girl Scout cook-out.” The Sergeant was already signaling the knuckleheads to dig a hole.

“You are Ms. Terry. The Whore’s name is Mystery. I think that’s close enough. Pick out one of these morons. He’ll give you a sawbuck. Talk dirty to him, cop a feel, anything. You were airborne, weren’t you? They’ll drop you in the pit. Same amount of force as a parachute landing. Then we pull you out and get back to base.” Nancy was good at the silence of acquiescence, and she gave a little credit to whatever steaming pile of eschatological mess, probably closer to scatological mess, that saw to it that she dressed that morning with purple socks. The two of them were thinking the same thing. The Najm Al-Zawiya was now the base. This was really happening.

# # #

General Halftrack, remaining in Babylon, was trying to squeeze more information out of White.

“When you say ‘Rapturously disappear,’ what exactly does that mean?”

“It means that 144,000 people will be rapturous , and you will no longer see those people. Because they’ve disappeared. I hope that answers your question, because that’s the only answer I have. The mechanics of it are above my pay grade. Pshaaww, I’s jes a poor ol’ cowboy good fer nuthn’ but a-pickin’ and a-griinin,” White replied, throwing Amos’s Song of the South corn-pone back at him. It’s in the book; all you have to do is follow the book and you win.”

White sent Black over to see Haji Bill to negotiate accommodations for the night before the main event. Bill secured six hide-away rooms on the upper floors and eight tents around back on the condition that he be assured that whatever nonsense was going on, it also applied to the Mahdi. The technical pulled in at one in the morning, thumb’s upping a successful mission. Hopefully. They were awakened at 06:30 by Bill’s offer of breakfast, pita with yogurt and honey, fresh fruit, and mud, which the Haj described as coffee. At 08:00, the four technicals and the band’s tour bus took off for a long drive through Jordan. One of White’s resources was the ability to provide U.N. passports, travel documents, and vehicle registrations and plates. At every checkpoint and border crossing, they were cleared for crossing, and they pulled in at 23:30. They set up the tents Bill had given them when he blessed their mission.

“Sergeant York, I have news for you. Gog and Magog are ahead of schedule. They’ve come by ship. You have time yet before the concert in four days, but you must hurry,” the musician said, and then disappeared. Not rapturously.

“May I ask, Mr. White, how we are supposed to take on the CISy Navy with four technicals and a gaggle of losers? You want a Collection of Inebriated Solders to go up against Russia’s Commonwealth of Independent States.”

“Richard, you have a General among your host. He got paid for coming up with plans.”

# # #

The first Horseman was correct. Amos had been thinking ahead and was expecting an attack from the sea. He ordered a roll call for everyone to state their name, branch, and position. There were four combat engineers in the bunch. It would be Gallipoli in reverse. The engineers collected every mirror they could find and arranged them atop the Golan Heights in a parabolic array. When the Russian sortie left Tartus Station in Syria and crossed Tyre in Lebanon, they let the sun do the work of disabling the outdated destroyers, the first use of Greek Fire in centuries. Then they came down and engineered a performance space for multitudes.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, The Four Horsemen,” Billy announced. The crowd at the free event was treated to a Leonard Cohen cover from Everybody Knows to Hallelujah. Then Amos’s cousin Rod enraptured the audience. Finally, the team let loose their best hope of following the book; Isaiah to Ezekiel to Daniel to John: Nickelback took the stage, and 144,000 people just disappeared.

“Anything seem different to you, Nancy?”

“Not really, Dick. Maybe a bit brighter. Cleaner and fresher. The Horsemen are gone. Maybe we’ve passed the test and have another millennium before we have to wonder about having a third of everything destroyed.”

September 25, 2020 00:03

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