CLOSING TIME, like RESUME GOD before it, was a fan favorite from the old CHIMERICAL COMICS website back in 2000-2001. A late addition to the imaginary comics company, it only “ran” eleven issues. Still, the idea stuck, and I feel that in today’s world full of cosmological angst, it’s an important message that the end of the universe can be kind of funny.
The Clock Starts
It is a quarter to end times when the clock starts ticking. Maybe ticking isn’t a strong enough word. The clock, from its dusty perch on an unreachable shelf, under a blanket, behind several cases of Munden’s Best, and in a room so unused that the sign on the door said “Catering Supplies,” didn’t so much tick as it did toll. Since it’s tolling every second, it becomes necessary to invent a word even more ominous to describe each hour. Seriously, the clock is that bad. It’s the clock of Doom, and it signals that closing time has begun.
Out in the bar, Joe Eschaton doesn’t so much hear the clock ticking–sorry, tolling–as he feels it. Joe’s been waiting for the clock for more years than anyone can count (not that there are that many people left) but nonetheless, it’s a sigh of sadness he breathes out.
Joe’s got a watch, a nice silver disk with a leather band. He checks it, and the time on its face is 9:32. Realizing that knowing what time it is when the end of the universe begins is a rather pointless bit of data, he shakes his head and takes a glass down from the rack above his head. He scoops a few cubes into the glass. Joe doesn’t drink (and it’d be rude to ask why of a bartender as good as Joe) but he takes a can of pineapple juice from the minifridge behind the bar and pours it over the ice.
Before he can drink, the bar door opens, and a tall, dark-skinned man wearing a loose white cotton shirt and a pair of black vacs from a environment suit walks in. Joe recognizes the guy, but doesn’t remember his name. Still, his gut tells him that the guy and the clock are on the same schedule.
“Madhi!” waves an old man sitting at a corner table, and Joe remembers the newcomer. He’s an old one, one of the immortals. It shouldn’t surprise Joe that as soon as the clock started tolling these guys would start coming out of the woodwork.
“Terri!” Joe yells, even though last he knew she still hadn’t clocked in yet. Terri is usually pretty responsible, and Joe knows this… it’s just that lately she’s been off her game. Joe would be worried that she’s in a bad relationship or something, except that the universe just started ending.
Terri doesn’t pop up at his half-hearted summons, so he puts the juice on the bar, grabs an order pad, and heads over to the table where the Madhi is sitting with the old man. Outside the bar’s window, he sees a white spaceship with a big number twelve double-parked on the surface of the asteroid. It irks Joe a little, but there hasn’t been anyone enforcing parking laws for several hundred thousand years now.
“Can I get you something to drink?” he asks the two men.
“White wine spritzer?” the man called Madhi asks. Joe nods and turns to the old man. For a minute, he tries to remember how long the old man has been sitting at this table, but the thought swishes between his brain fingers like a fish in a pond. A brain pond. The old man mutters something from beneath his heavy white Dumbledore beard but Joe doesn’t catch it.
“Pardon?” Joe asks, still trying to get the metaphor of the brain pond to parse correctly in his head.
“Bloody Mary for me,” the old man says. “Thanks, Joe.”
As he walks back to the bar watching his shoes as he walks (he knows the layout of this bar so well that he could walk around it with his eyes clothed) he similarly fails to remember where he knows the old man from.
“I’m here! I’m here!” squeals a young woman in a black dress and zebra-print hose. Her hair is so curly that there’s something Mandelbrotian about it, and it extends her height upwards as much as her heels extend it down. This is Terri, the bar’s waitress, and she’s just run into the bar from the side door.
Joe has poured the mens’ drinks, but only just, so he puts them on a tray to let Terri do her job.
“What now?” he asks, meaning “what is your excuse” not “what is about to happen.”
“I’m so, so, sorry. I was running late.”
“Your excuse for being late is that you’re late?”
“Yes,” Terri answers with a defiant smile. She’s been working for Joe long enough to know that he isn’t really that mad at her. Except this time he is, what with all the tolling going on. But then again, he isn’t, because it’s Terri, and she’s like the little sister he never had. Well, he had a little sister, but she was awful, and that’s a completely different and mostly irrelevant story, so being not awful makes her the one he never had.
Terri picks up the tray, taking the drinks over to the two gentlemen. The Madhi guy seems to be going to some effort not to look overlong at her immodesty, but the old man smiles as she sets the red drink in front of him.
“How’s it going, Terri?” he asks.
She sighs and smiles with such equal proportions that there should be just one word to describe it. Smighs. Or sighles. Take your pick.
“You tell me,” she sighles, “I just started shift.”
“That you did,” the old man says, and puts a twenty down on the table. “Is the Big Board still taking bets?” he asked.
Terri glances over at Joe, who suddenly remembers who the old man is and why he’s here. Then he looks at the white poster board tacked up next to the restroom hallway. “THE BIG BOARD POOL” it’s titled, and down one side run the categories: freeze, rip, crunch, bounce, bang ii, fire, ice, and lastly, written in a different hand, bopper. Names and numbers follow, indicating who’s bet what on the cause of universal destruction. There’s a grey metal lockbox chained to the console table beneath the sign.
“No, no, no!” Joe yells at the old man, coming out from behind the bar. “Nice try, but all bets are closed! You know the clock has started! I don’t allow cheating in this bar!”
The old man shrugs. “Can’t blame a man for trying,” he says to Madhi.
“Wait, what?” Terri asks. “What clock?”
The old man raises one eyebrow, enjoying how he’s put Joe on the spot.
“The end of the universe clock,” Joe says to his only employee, and probably the last human being drawing a paycheck in the universe. “I’m afraid it’s last call. Time to put the chairs on the table and turn out the lights while we lock up.”
“So wait, I didn’t need to come in today?” Terri asks a little angrily.
“It’s not that quick,” the old man says. “Joe’s got a few things to do to get the universe ready to close up.”
“Wait, how come he knows about this when I don’t?” Terri asks Joe.
Joe sighs, no smile.
“Because he’s God, and he owns the place.”
© 2013 by Douglass Barre, All Rights Reserved.