Short Story of the Day, Flash Fiction, The Last Man on Earth Looks for a Friend—A Mini-Novel by John Guzlowski

“What is there in our nature that is for ever urging us on towards pain and misery?”
― Mary Shelley, The Last Man

Untitled (Sprawling Octopus Man), by Thomas Houseago Nasher Sculpture Center Dallas, Texas

From my blog (I called it an “Online Journal” then), The Daily Epiphany, Tuesday, May 20, 1997

Morning from hell

Last night, driving home, I needed to stop for gas. As I was pulling up to the Texaco a good song (Nightswimming) came on the radio, so I kept driving. I knew I had enough fuel (barely) to get home, I’d buy a tank before work the next day. This was an omen of am impending morning from hell.

Candy and I left for work at the same time; she had the kids to take to school. I walked out to the piece of crap Mazda and turned the key. Nothing. Now this weekend the battery in the van had gone out (as my faithful readers know) and I had left my jumper cables in the van in case the problem was more than the battery. So out of my car I dashed, across the two inches of leftover stormwater covering my yard, around the house in time to see the van’s taillights make the curve from the alley into the street.

No problem, I have a battery charger in the garage; I’ll hook it up to the Mazda, charge the battery, get on my way, worry about what’s wrong later. But the extension cord was too short, it wouldn’t reach halfway across the front yard. My neighbor was leaving for work, she asked if she could help, but she had no jumper cables either. I thought for a minute and realized I have a longer cord up in the attic. I had left it there from the last time I was working on the cable TV. The end of the cord was hanging down in the attic access panel in the garage, I climbed up, grabbed it, and pulled. About two feet of cord came down along with a big wad of fiberglass insulation, but no more.

So I pulled out the aluminum ladder and leaned it up to the hatch. Our house is of the more or less modern construction using roof trusses. Instead of grand beams supporting the roof, leaving plenty of headroom; a truss of 2×4’s fastened by metal plates in fractal triangles fill the attic. Cheap, light, strong, and almost impossible to move through. I’m way too old and fat for the climbing, kneeling, crawling needed to get through the maze of beams. But I had no choice.

I tied a snakelight to a beam and fought my way through; realizing too late that I needed to turn a corner and the flashlight wouldn’t reach. So back I crawled to get the light, twisting it around my neck. I clambered through the dirty labyrinth around the corner clear back to the end of the house where I’d tied the cord to an old lamp I once used to work on the coax; it was caught on some wires. I untied it and began to work my way back to the garage.

I had to stop for a minute to get a grip. I was so frustrated – late for work, a dead car – claustrophobic, stuck in the dirty, hot, cramped attic trying to get a stupid extension cord that may or may not help me get my car started and get to work. I shook for a minute with emotion and paranoia. I felt completely alone; there was no one to help me. It was still only seven thirty in the morning and I had had all the crap I could stand.

But as always, I realized I had no other choice, and continued crawling through the beams back to the garage hatchway, flashlight around my neck, pulling the extension cord with me.

I set up the charger on the long cord and attached it to the terminals. The ammeter showed the battery was low, it quickly went to fully charged; and the car still wouldn’t start. Something wasn’t right. I removed the terminal clamps from the battery and noticed that the posts were black and corroded. Back to the garage for some sandpaper which I tore in little strips. I used these to clean the terminals and the clamps. Presto, the car starts right up. I called in to say I’d be twenty minutes late and drove to the gas station and on in to work.

All day I couldn’t shake that moment of fear and panic in the attic:

Car problems again, I had already lost half a day on Candy’s van, now another battery, those zinc plates soaking in sulfuric acid, the same thing again.

The terrible time pressures, I have to be in to work. I want to sit down, take some time off, I don’t want to go. I’m behind, the clock’s ticking, I can’t be late – primal, childhood images, late late late, sent to the office, walking through the quiet, empty hall, feeling – no being – out of place, looking in through that little window at the kids seated the teacher talking – the dreaded walk from the door to my seat.

Discomfort. Cramped, fighting back the welling claustrophobia, dark, dirty, hot, I have to balance on the edges of the ceiling beams or I’ll crash through the sheetrock, itchy – a world of fiberglass insulation. How did I get here? What the hell am I doing? What sort of terrible mistake is this?

Alone, lonely. Nobody to call. Candy has patients, she can’t leave work, isn’t even there yet. I have to figure this out myself. Once, I want somebody else to handle something. Take care of it. Fix it for me.

And the screwup guilt. Why did I oversleep? Why didn’t I get gas last night? Why didn’t I get jumper cables for the van and Mazda? Why did I leave this extension cord up here in the attic? Why haven’t I cleaned those terminals on a periodic basis?

So I’m a screwup; that’s why I’m being punished . But this is only a random bad day isn’t it? The fates or whatever; are they , out to punish me? To extract payment for every transgression? Or is this paranoia? That’s not important, nobody cares if you’re paranoid. What really matters is if they really are out for you or not, paranoid or no.

Another day.

So lets belly up to the bar, mates. Get that cute barmaid to pour us up some mugs of icy foam. We’ll put our arms on each other’s shoulders and Maria’ll play a tune on the Farfisa while we stamp out the rhythm with our feet on the peanutshells and sing:

We losers, we happy losers – hear us saying;
time is passing us by,
there’s a party ’round here somewhere,
we can hear the band playing

but we’ve lost our invitations.
The stuck in the muds,
the if only ifs,
the full ‘o lamentations.

Don’t laugh now, ’cause I’ll wager
you are one too.
Don’t ya worry, there’s plenty of room,
Plenty of floor, plenty of lager

now everybody….

And now, a piece of flash fiction for today:

The Last Man on Earth Looks for a Friend—A Mini-Novel by John Guzlowski

from Flash Fiction Online

John Guzlowski Wikipedia

John Guzlowski Twitter

Guzlowski’s personal blog – about his parents and their experiences

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