Here is the opening to something I’ve been doing in between job searching. Like all my creative exploits I’ll probably get a hundred or so pages in and then just stop. No doubt I’m ripping someone off, end of the world fiction seems popular these days. This one will involve The Gods, all of them, even the ones that you never thought existed.
Chapter 1: Everything’s Broken
One was unemployed. The other was a freelance musician, which was very much the same. How they managed to keep the flat around them was a constant mystery to them both, but they had an unspoken agreement that they must never question it lest it disappear and render them homeless. The room was lit by that dampened orange sort of light that can only exist when cheap beige curtains are drawn. Jacob scratched himself in idle contemplation as he regarded the living room. The patchy sofa stood as an island amidst a sea of take away treys, pizza boxes and beer cans, lots of beer cans… and bottles, and in one case a lady’s high heeled shoe.
There was a flat screen television, whose face was forever dead. It hadn’t been switched on for some time, on account of it costing money. It was a quiet Saturday afternoon, Jacob reasoned as he counted the days away on his fingers. He knew it must be Saturday because three days ago it was Wednesday, and the night before Billy had been playing a gig down at the Three Horseshoes[*]. Billy’s real name was Justin, but he disliked Justin, and when he and Jacob were young they had both agreed that Jacob and Justin sounded too much like the name of a Sit-com or an afterschool children’s television series. So he had decided to go by the name of Billy.
It was very quiet.
Jacob rubbed at his steadily growing stubble. He had not shaved for several days. If he gave it nine weeks he might have what would pass for a beard. Although the longer it got the more it resembled some sort of skin infection. He found his book amongst the mess, The Beautiful and the Damned by Fitzgerald. It was a dull book, immensely dull. But that was not the point. You weren’t supposed to read for pleasure, you were supposed to read to look like an artistic intellectual. He began reading to distract himself from his own hunger and the realisation that the fridge was empty, not to mention not working. They had recently discovered that if you don’t pay your electricity bills the electricity god would seek retribution. They had only just managed to get the smell of old cheese out of the flat.
‘AARRG!’ Came a startled scream from nearby. There was fear etched into the sound, fear, pain; and sorrow. Billy came staggering into the room holding his head. He was a distinctly average looking man. Which was good. Average looking men, romantically speaking, had far more success than the average man. They weren’t prone to vanity and narcissism, unattractive qualities to most, nor were they intimidating, and of course nor were they ugly. And not being ugly was far more important than being attractive.
‘AARRG!’ he screamed again. His thick black hair in a waxy mess, his bare torso was as hairy as a bowl of porridge at ‘Graham’s Café’[†].
‘Told you the last whisky would be a bad idea.’ Jacob scolded him. Jacob prided himself on being a consistent drinker. He could drink to the point of drunkenness and then stop. He could get the optimum amount of confidence gained from alcohol, the wit it bestows upon people and the general fuzzy happiness it instilled, and then he could stop.
Most people reached a point of no return, before vaulting over it naked into a bog of despair.
‘You bought it for me! It’d be rude not to have drunk it.’
‘No you bought it, I simply handed it back to you once you’d finished urinating in the pot plant.’ Jacob reasoned.
‘Oh. At least I rocked the place out last night.’
Jacob allowed his friend this. Not because it was true, but simply because he hadn’t the heart to tell him that he had played in front of twelve people, seven of whom were in their late fifties and regarded him with a look of disgust that only men in their late fifties listening to music released in the last decade can.
‘God this place is a dump.’ Said Billy as he dropped onto the sofa next to him.
‘Hmm, we should clean it up.’
‘Not with this hangover.’
‘Hmm, would be easier to just burn it down and start again.’
‘You know that hmm, you do is really annoying.’
‘Yeah well, it’s less annoying than climbing into your flatmate’s bed and trying to fondle his breasts.’
‘I didn’t did I?’
‘You did. And apparently ‘Laura used to love that sort of thing.’ I had to get quite physical to show you I wasn’t Laura.’
Billy suddenly looked reflective, in a melancholy sort of way. His face was pale, dark shadows under his eyes which in turn looked fit to vomit. He rubbed his nose and sniffed.
‘Yeah… I miss her.’
‘It’s been three months.’ Said Jacob unenthused.
‘It takes a life time to get over true love.’ Billy replied.
‘Oh brilliant, so I have more of that to look forward to do I?’
‘Oh don’t pretend you don’t want some, everyone knows you’re a big bag of gay.’
‘Well when you put it in that PC way, yes, yes I do want some, I like men, therefore I enjoy being groped by any man that so happens to climb uninvited into my bed.’ Said Jacob as sarcastically as he could manage, which was incredibly sarcastic. When he put his mind to it, he could become sarcasm incarnate, a big wobbly creature with three legs. There was a slight pause where Billy was trying to work out whether he should be ashamed, and Jacob was trying to work out just how offended he should be.
‘What have we got for breakfast?’
‘Some dry pasta.’ Said Jacob with a shrug.
‘How long does it take to cook?’
‘About ten minutes.’
‘I’ll be dead by then!’
Jacob discarded his book, he wasn’t really enjoying it anyway. He waded through the knee deep layer of filth and made towards the balcony. Though it was only a balcony for lack of a better word. It wasn’t a grand ornate thing that Juliet might lament and be wooed by a young Romeo. For one thing it was four stories up, so Romeo would have to shout quite loud. No, a balcony it was not, it was more just a metal ledge clinging precariously to the side of the building.
‘We really should clean this place. It’s disgusting. We really ought to do something with our lives. We’re twenty three with no career prospects ahead of us. I don’t want to reach my thirties and still be –‘ Whatever he was going to say was cut off as he threw the curtains aside letting in a sheet of light that threatened to blind him. The city that waited for him outside was not how he left it. Something had gone horribly wrong.
Black tendrils of smoke twisted into the air like the phantom tentacles of a mythical squid. One tall building lay significantly more horizontal than it had done the night before. Everything seemed to have fallen over or be in the process of falling over; and anything that wasn’t appeared to be on fire.
Jacob retreated back to the sofa with a dream like feeling enveloping him. He didn’t immediately go to the cliché that he must bein fact dreaming, if he were dreaming he’d feel slightly less hungry and not so full of self-loathing. He flopped back on to the greasy sofa where Billy still massaged his temples.
‘The City’s been destroyed.’ Said Jacob flatly.
‘Eh?’ Billy rose and moved over to the window. ‘Blimey… how drunk did we get?’
‘I don’t think it was us.’ Jacob replied.
‘I didn’t hear anything.’
‘Double glazing for you.’ Jacob sniffed. He heard the clack of the balcony door key being turned, and then the door was pulled open, rattling a number of beer cans and bottles. The flat was instantly enveloped by a cacophony of noise. Sirens wailed and whined, fires roared and distant screams drifted in like an ornamenting piccolo.
Billy shut the noise away and retreated back to the safety of Sofa Island. They sat in contemplative silence for some time. Billy dug out his phone from some hidden crevice and swiped his fingers across the screen.
‘According to Facebook it’s not just here that’s broken.’ He said.
‘You’re checking Facebook? The city is being reduced to rubble and you’re checking Facebook.’ Jacob said in disbelief. He was one of those people who swore himself off of social networking. He had a moral objection to it, but mostly it was to seem intellectually superior.
‘Shit….’ Said Billy rubbing his hair. It had a remarkable quality that whatever shape he rubbed it into it maintained until the next assault.
‘The Anvil’s fallen down. I was going to play a gig there tomorrow.’
‘That is a bummer.’
‘And most of Paris has been destroyed too!’
‘How can anyone tell?’ Jacob laughed at his own joke, perhaps a little too hard. He had never been to Paris, but that didn’t make it less funny. Had Billy said any other name he’d have made the same joke. It was odd. The world was apparently meeting its end and he was sat there making jokes. It was all rather unsettling. Was that the state of youthful apathy? The world could end and no one would care?
[*] The Three Horseshoes being approximately the second most popular pub name in Britain, Red Lion being the first. Owners of pubs had a distinct lack of imagination. If they had their way their pubs would be called ‘My pub’ or ‘A Place Where You Can Purchase Alcohol.’
[†] Which is incredibly hairy, but is so cheap you’d be slightly disappointed if it wasn’t.