by Derick Varn
“Anyone can be an Anti-Christ”
“Anyone can be an Anti-Christ,” Sharon said as a girl’s face hit the glass panel. Two lesbians had been exchanging blows outside of Papa John’s for nearly a half hour. Until this point, I had managed to continually throw pizza dough, watch it spin for a second as corn flour dust sauntered onto my head. This was my way of ignoring the two girls outside. A half hour and there were no blue lights, no sirens, and no costumers.
Blood splattered on the window from one of the girl’s lips. Sharon turned and stopped topping a pizza as my hand slipped through the dough. It spun around my hand, grazing my arm. A smile cracked the black marble that is Sharon’s face. The dough twirls into my mouth and Sharon laughed as I tore it away. After I tossed the mangled lump into the waste bin, I realized that Sharon had laughed. For the year I had worked with the high school English teacher who moonlighted in pizza delivery, I had only heard her laugh once. In all our conversations about Jonathan Swift and William Faulkner, I’d never registered even a giggle.
My supervisor bolted out the door to clear the two girls. The bigger one was now throwing herself on the hood of the other’s Honda Civic. Her dread locks flung about as my supervisor ran and pulled her away, his truck of a body heaving as the girl kicked about like a live beetle pinned to a board.
“Now ain’t that a sight to been seen, Chris,” Sharon said still laughing, but her tone shifted as she spoke. “All this discussin’ we’ve been having about St. Paul, and those two are bashin’ each other’s heads in over a break-up. Sinful, isn’t it?”
“You know I don’t claim to know anything about sin,” I said as a tried to throw another pie into the air. There were six pie skins on the rack already; none in the oven.
“I know you don’t, buddy. Both as my boss and as lover of English, I’ve rarely heard you speak about what you don’t know.”
I nodded. The broken-faced blonde had gotten out of her car. She was screaming so loud I could hear her over the hum of a double-decker oven. I looked at her meat-pie face through the window. Her slight stature contorted as she elbowed through the parking lot with passion force. She limped, yet moved at a near run. She was no older than seventeen. Her eyes gleamed and glared as she approached my monolithic supervisor.
“I respect that about you, Chris. But,” Sharon’s teeth ground on the last ‘t.’ I stopped fumbling the dough. “You should know about sin.”
“Why is that Sharon?”
“Because anyone can be an Anti-Christ,” Sharon steadily spread sauce on each pie, slowly turning the spoodle counter-clockwise. “You see Chris, anyone can hasten the apocalypse.”
“Chris, put some gloves on.” My supervisor pulled open the door. I flicked my head to get a clear view of him, but he stood where I couldn’t see his face, the dusk light playing shadows on my eyes.
“Buddy, remember those Arabs who hit the twin towers? They were Anti-Christs. Those two girls, Anti-Christs. Sin is all it takes to bring about the apocalypse. Sin unveils things that shouldn’t be seen.” Sharon laid the spoodle down.
“I’m taking over your station, Chris. Get that shit cleaned up.” He pointed to the door. “Wear gloves. I don’t want one of my best shift managers to catch nothin’ on account of two crazy lesbos.”
“Yes, sir.” I left the dough table, padded the corn flour off my uniform. Looking around to make sure no costumers heard my supervisor, I slipped on two latex gloves. They clung too tight and seemed to choke my skin.
“Why are you wasting product, Chris? These pies are going to dry out and be useless if we don’t have a slew of customers in the next two hours.” He paced through the kitchen as he talked. The phone rang as I pushed open the door. “Thank you for calling Papa John's.” He turned his attention away from me.
Sharon started tossing pepperoni onto the pies as I walked out of the store. In the dry heat of July, I scrubbed congealing blood off warm glass. As I tried to make sure I left no purple smudges, I saw blue lights reflect in the window.
“The Apocalypse is Dead, Long Live the Apocalypse.”
Sitting at my desk, in the dim light of a computer monitor, I was gut-punched by a friend’s article as I sipped a glass of iced tea. It was July of 2002. Jonathan Penton, a friend and editor of mine, had declared open war on what he saw as the nihilism and fatalism of my generation. His tongue in his cheek, he entitled it “The Decline of Western Civilization.” Reading his diatribe, I became dry-mouthed. Jon and I had worked together for four years at his on-line Unlikely Stories: A Collection of Literary Art, before he published: “Several of these Gen-Yers expressed an opinion that I found very surprising: that the American system of government would cease to exist in ten to twenty-five years.” Knowing he was not attacking me did not make the blow any easier to accept; he indirectly mentioned a significant portion of writers who came from my generation, and had similar aesthetics.
As I read the following section, my stomach pitted:
“It's a bit disconcerting to think that a significant portion of the 21-year-olds in America believe America is about to crumble. It's even more disturbing to learn that many are surprised to hear others have no such intuition. On the one hand, there's the least likely possible scenario: they could be right. They could be receiving cosmic vibrations that help them understand America's impending doom. . .This leads me to the second possible cause of their intuition: sheer laziness. If one believes that America will soon be destroyed, one is excused from the process of American politics. . . It must be significantly easier to damn it all and assume we are near the end. Just look how well it works for the Christians.”
After finishing those paragraphs, I quickly e-mailed him and asked if he’d publish a response to his work. He responded with a simple “of course.” Starting work on an article I intended to call “The Apocalypse is Dead, Long Live the Apocalypse,” I planned to defend my peers against the accusation of laziness and nihilism. I suspected the claim that we were infused with fatalism could be easily debunked. After all, we had survived 9-11 and Y2K with emotional scar tissue, but few open wounds still lingered on the collective psyche of people under the age of 22.
Looking at the books stacked by my bedside didn’t help my case: a New American Bible, Fight Club by Chuck Palahnuik, Atrocity Exhibition by J. G. Ballard, various translations of the Qu’ran, several Buddhist sutras, At Home by Gore Vidal, Empire by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, and the Apocalypse Culture anthology by Feral Press. This couldn’t really refute claims of fatalism. Each book had an apocalyptic vision: a means to an end politically, morally, or mystically. I shrugged and wrote ten different opening paragraphs, feeding each to the garbage can.
After four completed drafts, I reread Jon’s article and shrugged. The weight of what he had levied against the younger artists of my generation which he worked with was more than I could heave off my shoulders with the ease of a few type strokes.
That night I gave up on the response. A dream came quickly:
A haze and silence, then the haze manifests into the figure of a blonde woman with a cracked face. I tremble, each cell in my hands seem to move painfully about in the air. My digits burst into flame. As the girl slowly moves closer, spreading out her arms to embrace me, I recognize the girl from outside Papa John’s only a few nights before. Her body is adorned with spiral scars and she mouths the letters “Alpha” and “Omega.” Looking at her hands, I shiver at the thickness of her calluses.
I hold back a scream as the calluses start to melt, her hands flaming like my own. I look up and the blonde has been transmogrified into a small girl with spiked blue hair. Her green eyes pierce me, and I know she is familiar with me. Familiar to a point that frightens me more. The haze shifts again, I am in a warehouse I remember from South Atlanta. Homeless, again. “This is the end,” she says as a drone fills the air.
I woke up with my sheet damp from sweat. My girlfriend nudged me. She whispered, “You’re were screaming.” I kissed Sarah on the forehead and closed my eyes.
“I am an Antichrist.”
--Sex Pistols, “Anarchy in the UK.”
At age fifteen, I shaved my head for the first time. After purchasing The Sex Pistol’s Never Mind the Bollocks and reading the Dalai Lama’s mediations on his Indian exile, it seemed like killing two symbolic birds with one fashionable stone. When classes ended, I would pop on my earphones and blast “God Save the Queen” until I was screaming, “No future, No future, No future for you.” The voice cracking as I tried to keep tempo with Johnny Rotten. As the chorus climaxed, the passion of Rotten’s voice neared that of a revivalist pastor.
“No future.” That was our mantra, although neither my friends nor I truly understood it. While Judy and I where allowed the dignity of real names, everyone else in our circle had punk names: Sandoz, Sativa, Zealot, Glob, Jolt, and Twitch.
“Nice hair, Chris,” Zealot said as she rubbed my scalp. “You look like a Nazi.”
“That ain’t cool.” Glob pressed his finger deep into Zealot’s shoulder. “Fascism is not cool.”
“Whatever, Glob.” Zealot moved to a bench to smoke a clove cigarette while she waited for the school bus.
“I didn’t do it to be a Skinhead, Glob.” I took off my earphones and stuck them back in my backpack. “Buddhist monks shave their head.”
“You’re going to worship some fat, bald Chinese guy,” Twitch snorted as he took a sip of Pepsi. “Religion is the opiate of the masses man.”
“Don’t be quoting Marx at me, bro.” I said, planting my index finger in his chest. “Buddha was neither Chinese, nor fat, nor do I worship him.”
“Man, I don’t worship nobody,” Jolt weaseled into the conversation as he thumbed the upside-down crucifix he wore around his neck. “I am a nihilist.”
“What the fuck is a nihilist?” Glob retorted; the black scars that traced his blood vessels were apparent as he raised his hands in confusion. I had learned not to ask questions, so I hummed as I waited to see the yellow of my school bus.
“A man who believes in nothing and wants to bring everything down.” Jolt sneered as he spoke. “Sid Vicious was a nihilist. Darby Crash was a nihilist. Kurt Cobain was a nihilist. So I am a nihilist.”
“Bullshit, how the hell do you believe in nothing?” Glob’s eye was slightly bloodshot. I noticed that Jolt was wearing a Swans t-shirt. On the back it read: Visualize Total Annihilation. Great Annihilator Tour.
“Nothing man. We got to watch it all burn. All this shit. School. Cops. Jobs. Our parents. God. It’s all bullshit.” Jolt ranted and his face reddened. He began to sweat.
“God bless you, Jolt,” Judy said, chewing on a stick of spearmint gum nervously.
“No future,” I sang as the Sex Pistols played in my head. The bus arrived with its breaks squeaking to the distortion of imaginary guitars.
“We’re Gonna Party Like It’s 1999"
At 11:30 PM, December 31st, 1999, I drank three long-island iced teas while a brunette friend of mine pulled off clothing as she gyrated in the center of the living room. Contemplating a few friends stockpiling bottled water, condensed vegetable soup, and actively removing computerized gadgets around their house in fear of the dreaded Y2K, I stared blankly at the television screen. I had contempt for the superstitious nature of the whole event; the way CBS and CNN broadcasted the fear of a full blown technological shutdown into a near cliché. Programmers at Georgia Power, and many other national utility operations racing to update streams of binary code because of an oversight on a simple date. The inability of two numbers to change on each motherboard’s timer was going to send all of Western civilization spiraling in a new Dark Age. Images of long streams of 1's and 0's flashed in my head in brilliant monochromatic green. Each strand began to split from their screens and eat their bleary-eyed computer scientists. The television flashed pictures of Dick Clark and several thousand drunk New Yorkers standing, some without shirts, in Times Square.
It didn’t seem to stop the girl from taking off her top though. Her black lace bra was barely keeping the exposure legal, but from the look of Eric, who was sitting beside me with his mouth beginning to salivate, no one seemed to care. I took a shot of vodka as Eric began to chat at me.
“The world’s going to end soon, man. Not tonight though. Even if the computers fail tonight, it’s not going to be over for another six or seven years.”
“Why?” I looked over to Eric, trying to hold my face up. Howard, the host, clicked off the TV and hit play on his boom box. Out of the speakers thudded Prince’s “1999.”
“The champagne will be ready soon, everybody sign the bottle,” Howard turned to recline on the old Victorian sofa in his living room. Looking around, I noticed that everyone in the room had a drink in hand.
“It’s something I heard at the Temple.”
“No, Mormon. One of our elders was explaining the discrepancy between the Gregorian calendar and when Christ died.”
“Oh.” I watched the brunette pulsing on her knees, sliding a bra strap down her shoulder.
“Armageddon isn’t likely to happen until 2006 to 2008.” Eric swigged the Budweiser he’d been nursing for at least two hours.
“How can you drink that piss?” I checked on my dancing friend and all I made out was flesh. A guy hooted, and a flock of women descended upon her with a jacket. The brunette looked down and instantly realized that the only thing between her flesh and the rest of the world is a pair of cotton panties. Then she cried.
“Fuck,” I whispered, “She’s had too much to drink.” Pushing myself off the floor, I stumbled flat on my face. Eric pulled me up and all I can feel are the calluses on his fingers. The ridges of his hand scraped my soft palm.
“What makes you think the world is going to end?” I gauged my bearing against the wall, letting the texture of the wallpaper guide my hand. Eric shrugged and gawked at the girl as her friends pulled her into the bathroom, sobbing.
To be continued...
Derick Varn is a poet and longstanding contributor to Unlikely Stories. Check out his literary works at this site.