The Apocalypse

Ever since I was a child, I’ve had a healthy fear of the apocalypse.

My parents sent me to Sunday school but didn’t have the heart to reinforce any of the dogma. So when I’d tell the lords of the church (ministers? priests? scary robe men?) that I didn’t believe in that big bearded dude in the sky, they’d kindly explain that well in that case I was going to Hell.

And when you’re just a kid, the Hell thing is a rather daunting prospect. There’s all this burning and general unpleasantness that, in my minor experience with burning, seemed like it would not be nearly as much fun as, say, playing in the jungle gym.

I never understood why parents send their kids to these fire and brimstone churchy things. I guess maybe it helps turn their offspring away from sin, but in my case, all I gained was the certainty of eternal damnation. If you’re as frequent a sinner as I am, there’s really no hope, and as far as I can figure, eternity lasts a pretty long time. It’s a concept that can freak anyone out, let alone someone who gets scared every time he commits to going on vacation for a whole weekend. When will I get my writing done?!

James Joyce has this incredible passage in Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man that goes something like, “Imagine that once every hundred years, a bird flies to a beach to pick up a single grain of sand. Now imagine that this bird has the beak-control to perform such a task, and that it can live forever so it can complete said task a lot of times. And imagine that it has some important reason to continue doing this, like, say, it made a promise to its dying wife. Now that you really understand where this bird is coming from, what’s driving it, think about how long it would take the bird to clear the entire beach of sand. A long time, right? After it had cleared a thousand million cajillion beaches, not even one single instant of eternity would have passed. So you have to wonder, why does the bird take only one grain every hundred years? I mean, it can live forever, so it must not have to forage for food or anything. What else has it got to do? If I’m this bird, and moving the entire beach is my only goal, I’m taking at least one grain every thirty, thirty-five years minimum.”

That’s one of my favorite Joyce quotes. I can really relate to the way he so masterfully examines the ineptitude of birds. Anyway, the point of the matter is that eternity takes forever, and if I’m going to be stuck experiencing it, I’d rather it be pleasant. And after having suffered through Dante’s Divine Comedy, I know that Hell, whether it’s fiery or icy, is not a place I want to end up. Although, no matter what it’s like, it probably won’t be as bad as reading Dante’s Divine Comedy.

Still, whenever I close my eyes, I see images of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse riding through the sky and running amok. I was never clear on what they did exactly, so it always came down to “running amok.” Do they attack you? Or are they just there to look scary while all the good people are taken up to Heaven? Do they simply stop by earth to enjoy a game of polo? I don’t know.

I spent most of my childhood and teenage years and present day considering every possible Apocalyptic scenario, debating the likelihood of each. Aliens were a frontrunner for a long time, especially after I saw Independence Day. I was sure they’d come down through some wormhole/slipstream thingy and enslave us all, or at least do a good deal of probing. But then I took a physics class and my professor convinced me that space travel was impossible, and even if some aliens somehow managed it, they’d probably be disinterested in probing. So I switched to zombies.

The television was always convincing me that humanity would create some virus that turns us into the walking dead, and if I can’t trust that magical talking box in my living room, what can I trust? Or would we recreate dinosaurs? Or would radiation make cockroaches into giant, people-eating monstrosities? Or would we create artificial intelligence so powerful that our robots would turn on their masters? There were so many ways it could all end!

Despite this neurotic and never-ending fear, I still manage to cope…mostly. But there was one day in high school when I lost it, sure that the world was ending and I’d soon be saying hi to nice Mr. Satan.

It was a Friday night, and my friend Tom had a football game. His parents were on vacation, so he was set to spend the night at my house. Sleepover! Yay! But like, for dudes. It’s an exciting game (he’s playing running back), but on this play toward the end, he just gets blown up by one of the defenders. Suddenly he’s on the ground and his face is bleeding everywhere and he can barely form sentences. The game ends and now he’s in my care. He clearly has a concussion, and I’m completely unprepared to handle the situation. Are concussions life-threatening? Or do I like, get him an ice pack?

I decide to drive him home and reassess with the aid of adults, but on the way to the car, we run into some huge guys from the rival team, and they start taunting us.

“Hey stupid!” they yell, cleverly. “How’d you like that loss?”

I respond the way I always respond to this sort of thing. “It was the best!” I like to be overenthusiastic and as genuinely excited as possible. “Losing is my favorite!”

“Hey shithead, you messing with me?”

“What? Why, I never! Me? Mess with you? It couldn’t be.”

“Listen, buddy—”

Tom chimes in. “Russ,” he says, woozily. “These guys could kill us. We have to get out of here.”

This sparks my fear of death, so I wrap up my pleasant conversation and stuff him into the car.

That night, after much worrying on the part of my parents, Tom and I finally manage to fall asleep downstairs in our sleeping bags.

The next morning, I awake to the Apocalypse.

It’s just past dawn, and something isn’t right. Tom is missing, and I’m hoping he hasn’t wandered away in a fit of concussion madness. Then I see him outside, arms extended, head facing the heavens, as if he were embracing an oncoming tidal wave. Or as if he were enjoying a bout of concussion madness.

I join him and immediately understand. The heavens are alight with brilliant color. This is no sunrise; the entire sky, once blue, has turned to blood and fire.

The air is filled with ash, floating down upon our shoulders, swirling through the daylight, landing on the pool, burning our lungs. It might be my imagination, but I’m pretty sure I see some horsemen just above the tree line.

I immediately begin remembering everything I’d ever done wrong and wondering if it adds up to enough to warrant eternal damnation.

Tom hasn’t said anything, trapped in similar contemplation. The world is utterly silent. Maybe everyone else had already been taken to Heaven and Tom and I are the only two left. This strikes me as odd, since Tom had always seemed such a decent fellow. Maybe Tom’s concussion has somehow rubbed off on me and neither of us is seeing clearly. Or maybe those guys really had beaten us up and now I’m in some sort of coma.

In the midst of our silent introspection, the crowing began.

“Bckaw! Bckaw!”

The chickens had somehow escaped their pen, perhaps driven mad with a desire for freedom by the tearing of the sky. And thanks to some primal instinct, they had flown to the highest point they could find, the peak of our roof. There they stood, beckoning the end with their demonic cries, silhouetted upon a backdrop of fire and uncertainty, the unholy harbingers of the Apocalypse, there to judge you and, with their beady eyes, measure your worth.

Turns out this was the morning of the devastating San Diego fires, and not, as I thought, the end times. Rather than the entire world being destroyed, it had only been a gigantic swath of the wilderness and a few hundred houses. And instead of the horror of eternal damnation, I got to skip school for a week. Still, being confronted with the possibility of divine retribution makes you think, you never know when that day is going to come, so I’d better go try to be a nice person, or if not that, maybe a funny one. Does blogging help offset sinning? I sure hope so.

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45 Comments

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45 responses to “The Apocalypse

  1. It’s so sad that the bird lives forever and his wife is dying!

  2. That must be the slowest death ever. At least, in the realm of birdlife. Awesome post, as usual. Cheers.

  3. “…That’s one of my favorite Joyce quotes. I can really relate to the way he so masterfully examines the ineptitude of birds….” Glad SOMEONE out there finally realized the real point Joyce was trying to make! Great post, and loved the illustrations, especially the black hole / disloyal robots vertical diorama…awesome!

  4. Rae

    I actually read the Divine Comedy for FUN when I was in the 9th grade. I got a lot of enjoyment figuring out what circle of hell to place my most hated high school enemies. Yes, I was a weird kid.

    I’m going to have to reread “A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man.” I remember enjoying it, but I read it in college which means I dedicated approximately eight hours tops to speed reading it.

  5. Does blogging help offset sinning?

    I’m almost positive that it does.

  6. omicronceti3

    Loved the post and illustrations! But now I can’t stop thinking about that bird…. Maybe his wife was mad because he left his birdseed lying around all over the place? Or maybe she just thought it would be nice to move the beach to an inland location, where it would be warmer, but then she changed her mind. In any case, it seems he should have some latitude on how he does the job. And you certainly have to admire his dedication….

  7. Aja

    Well done. And I hope blogging offsets sinning. You bring so much joy to people with this I’m sure you’re at least in the clear.
    And that is one dedicated imaginary bird!

    • You’re always so supportive. It’s awesome! I guess this means you do a lot of sin-offsetting as well, so maybe it’s at least partially self-serving. That would make me feel better.

  8. I am certain blogging offsets sinning. And I love this part, “It’s a concept that can freak anyone out, let alone someone who gets scared every time he commits to going on vacation for a whole weekend. When will I get my writing done?!”
    I thought I was the only one who felt that way!

  9. “Sleepover! Yay! But like, for dudes.” LOL!!
    Awesome post. And I HATE birds!

  10. tikigod784

    Blogging, a legitimate defensive strategy against damnation?! Sign me up~

  11. Sorry to do this to you Russ. I follow your blog all the time & really like it. But today I am just testing to see if my problems replying are system wide or with just another blog I follow. This is a test. Thanks for your patience.

    • So it’s both a test for you, and a test of my patience! Hey, I say whatever gets people to comment on the blog is good.

      This gives me an idea…I just need to go make it impossible to comment on anyone else’s blog anywhere! Brilliant!

  12. What a useless church, to have failed to communicate a very simple message. Nobody has to go to hell, it’s not about being good, Jesus did that and took our punishment, offering us a get out of hell free card! Not that you get to carry on doing wrong, you don’t want to roll in poo when you’re clean.

    Love the pic of the grim reaper playing polo! 🙂

  13. it's the ha-pocalypse

    the glorious second appearance of my favorite character! and particularly epic artwork/bird philosophy/blendo photo. well done again sir.

    • That Tom guy is basically the best person ever. I don’t know how I’d ever come up with stories without him. I should start giving him a cut of the proceeds or something.

      Nice name, btw.

  14. K How

    Russ, you’re freakin hilarious! I think it’s really funny that you and Peas and Cougars wrote about the apocalypse. I have to wonder who wrote first or if her dream was inspired partially by your blog.
    Ironically I wrote a zombie apocalypse post too. Before I read this one, I was already writing mine, so… weird. And yeah, I’m gonna pimp my blog in this comment. Just a little. http://khow430.wordpress.com/2012/02/09/why-i-really-hope-im-not-at-work-when-zombies-take-over-the-world/

  15. I was raised Christian and whenever I couldn’t find my Mom or a family member I was always afraid the rapture had come and I was left behind.

    Had I known I would have had the chance to play polo with the Horsemen of the apocalypse, then I would not have wept nearly as much.

    • Hahaha. Poor child. That must have happened pretty often. I think maybe I’ll try to instill that fear in my kids.

      And yeah, polo with the Horsemen would certainly be an experience. Too bad I’d only be able to talk to other sinners about it.

  16. Russ, allow me to salve your concerns here. Whether it be alien invasion, a disease which turns us into living dead or robots which decide to roll us, Will Smith has had significant experience in all three of these scenarios and proven himself most able to save us. Fear not Russ, trust Will. Cause where there’s a WILL, there’s a way 😉 HA!

  17. I had fun reading this! It took me back to my earlier years when I got all creative thinking about hell and wondering where I would run to if apocalypse came, (to be honest I still do sometimes), while one can’t probably run away from it, I still think it’s better to be prepared for all kinds of invasions, since well… you never know!

  18. If I was that bird who had to pick up all that sand I’d break the rules and make some kind of device to do the work for me. I’d be living for that long so I could maybe come up with something to help me out with it!

  19. Despite your “knowledge” and ability to write pretty good pieces of literature, I advise a thorough study of The Bible.

  20. You write with such energy!
    Me gusta.

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