First came the thunderstorms, then the hurricanes, and then the old man.
Actually, if you believed him, he came before everyone and everything. The old man claimed to have been born at Earth's inception. He'd seen the dinosaurs, he said, saw how they rose and roared and fell. If you asked him how they went extinct, he winked sardonically, tapped his temple with a bony finger, and said it was privileged information. He said the same about Stonehenge, Easter Island, Jesus and Buddha and Mohammed, and every other mystery or ambiguity in history. About Napoleon, he said he was "one crazy bastard", but he didn't say why. John Keats was a "lemon puss", the rainforests "were never that great", Pangaea was "the bee's knees", and he said not to get him started on Richard Nixon.
He had stringy gray hair and a sunken, angular face. His eyes were hidden deep within their sockets and glittered like black pearls. His smile was horrible despite his perfectly white teeth and surprisingly fresh breath; it spoke of volumes of hidden knowledge and even more of cynical lies. He carried a bottle of Jack Daniels with him inside the pocket of his weathered brown coat, along with a pack of Luckies from which he smoked almost constantly. No one knew where he came from and he would not say, except to insist that he was formed right along with the Earth and thus could not pinpoint his place of origin. "Everywhere," he'd say. "Pangaea."
In normal times, no one would pay attention to such an obvious crackpot as this one, but these were not normal times. The storms had become hurricanes, oh yes, and the wars had gone nuclear. People were realizing, far too late, that the leaders they'd elected were nothing but children given access to very dangerous toys. Houses were being razed to the ground by searing fire; tornados hurled trees into hospitals and civic centers where most of the people chose to huddle up. The old man traveled through the storms and falling bombs without much of a care, taking a swig here and a drag there and whistling a fine tune no one had ever heard. Everywhere he went, people asked him to stay, to speak and be heard if he so wished, but for Christ's sake to get out of the chaos of the outside. He shook his head at them and told them that he'd been out in worse, that he'd been born in a goddamn supernova.
"Privileged information," he'd say when they asked him about God.
More and more people were listening to him, even though his words were indecipherable to them. They tried not to listen to what one middle-aged woman called "the crazy bits", and so they never got the message. They wanted cold, hard facts. How did this happen? Has it happened before? Can we save the Earth? To questions like these he shook his head in disgust. They would bottle and sell wind, if they could. What was it about them that made it an anathema for nature to take its course?
When he felt he was done with his preaching, he decided to find a mountaintop, because all good prophets and oracles and boozy old men needed mountaintops from which to get a proper view of the coming ruin. He didn't welcome it with any kind of melodramatic anticipation- the years of these people had been fruitful enough, and he would not have minded a few billion more- but the show couldn't be stopped, so he decided to enjoy it.
There was no mountain, alas. But there were plenty of fallen buildings, rubble and ruin that could not be avoided and would not be mourned- not out of callousness, but simply lack of mourners. He climbed one of these with surprising agility, working his way up with spider-like quickness until he stood at the top of a great spire. Around him there was fire and cyclonic wind and torrential rain. He thought he would like some popcorn.
At that moment, a young voice piped up from behind and startled the shit out of him.
He turned and slipped a little, but kept his footing. A boy no older than four stood with him on the spire. He had a thick mop of black hair and intelligent black eyes. He was chubby with baby fat, but not obese. His overalls were unbuttoned at one shoulder and his thumb glistened with his own saliva.
"What is it, boy? Why aren't you with your mother?"
"She said not to run out here. She said it's dangerous." He pronounced this last dayn-dris.
"She is wise, your mother."
"She said you're a crazy man, but I wanted to hear you talking some more."
The old man took a swig of the Jack. "Oh? Why's that?"
"It's cool," the boy said. "You said that once the whole world wasn't all broken up into cont'nints. You said it was like this-"he pounded a chubby fist into a chubby hand with great vigor- "all one big place."
"What's your name, boy?"
"Pleased to meet you, Jimmy. I am Pan-Tok. It means, one who comes from Pangaea."
"Pangaea. The big place."
"Oh-h-h." Jimmy nodded.
"Would you like to watch this show with me, Jimmy?" A meteor came at that moment and pulverized a bank below them.
Jimmy shook his head. "Mom said I have to go back. Bye, Mister Pan-tuck." He began to scramble down the would-be mountain.
The old man smiled and turned back to his show, but before he could settle back in, the boy's voice came again.
"Hey," he said. "Is it going to be the big place again?"
The old man rubbed his chin. "I don't really know."
"Mom says we're going to an even bigger place."
"I don't know that, either. But don't tell your mother I said that."
Jimmy scrambled down for good, and the old man reclined with a cigarette. Here we go, he thought. What will the dice-throw yield next? First the lizards and then the apes and now.? So much time, he thought, so much time and so much you could have done with it if you'd just known how.Send us your comments on this article