As the universe draws to an end, someone’s got to lock up and turn out the lights. That man is Joe Eschaton. Last Closing Time, the clock signaling that the universe’s time is up started tolling, and the Madhi arrived on his white spaceship. Meeting him at Joe’s bar was no other than the universe’s creator… God.
The Big Book of Universal Loose Ends
God stands up and knocks back the last of his Bloody Mary, and you know it’s God because there’s not a bit of tomato juice in his heavy white beard when he puts the glass back down.
“Madhi, it’s been a pleasure,” he says to the twelfth Imam, who has stumbled to his feet respectfully. “Joe, you’ve got the list of loose ends to take care of before you pull the big switch?”
Joe looks at the old man, gobsmacked. “You’re leaving?” he asks.
“I’m in the creation business, Joe. Not demolitions.”
This time it’s Terri, Joe’s waitress, who doesn’t like what she hears. “Wait, demolitions? You’re blowing up the universe?”
“No spoilers,” God says, nodding to THE BIG BOARD POOL and the standing bets on how the universe will end. “But Joe’s the guy with the keys. I’m sure he’ll give you fair warning before the lights go out.”
“Joe?” Terri asks, a worried line of tension bifurcating her otherwise perfect forehead.
“It’s going to be fine, Terri,” he says, putting a hand on her shoulder comfortingly. It’s just enough of a distraction that when he turns back to yell at the old man, God has pulled a Batman and he’s no longer there.
“He said something about a clock? How much time is left?”
The Twelfth Imam, Madhi, pipes in here. “I do not know the full answer to that question, dear lady, but I can tell you that it won’t be until after my final battle with the Masih ad-Dajjal… and I haven’t even started gathering my army for that.”
“Everyone’s got an apocalypse,” Joe says, only somewhat dismissively. “But yeah, we’re looking at weeks instead of days. Universes don’t shut down by themselves.”
Terri looks slightly comforted, but the wrinkle is still there.
“Tell you what,” Joe says. “Let’s bring the clock out, we can put it up somewhere where everyone can look at it.”
“Yeah, that’ll be cheerful,” Madhi says.
It takes almost an hour and an extendable ladder for Joe to clear out the storage room enough for him and Madhi to haul the wooden clock out. The thing isn’t huge, maybe the size of an old black and white Panasonic counter-top television (which is, coincidentally, what’s on the shelf next to it, hence the choice of metaphor.) What it is, though, is a hell of a lot heavier than it looks.
“What’s this thing… gnnk… made of?” Madhi asks as they bend at the knees to lift it from the floor.
“It’s just wood and clockworks,” Joe says. “It’s heavy because of its cosmological importance. You know, like ‘whoa, that’s really heavy, man.'”
“I thought maybe we were looking at some kind of density parameter, an omega constant?”
“I’m not going to tell how the universe ends, even to you, Madh. Stop trolling for hints about the geometry of spacetime.”
“Can’t hurt trying,” Madhi sighs, and on three, the two men lift with their legs. It only takes a few minutes from there to transport it from the Catering Supplies room to a previously-unused shelf on the bar wall under a mounted trombone. The clock’s tolling, now that people are actually paying attention to it, has receded to a dull rumble, like a vacuum cleaner running on a carpet four rooms away.
“That is the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen,” Terri says. “It looks like my… um, like someone made it in shop class.”
“The angles do seem all wrong,” Madhi says, frowning at it. “And not in a creepy Lovecraftian way.”
“I made it,” Joe says.
Everyone else shuts up then.
Finally, “Well,” Madhi says. “I’ve got a false messiah to do climactic battle with. Probably better get on that.”
“Let us know how it goes,” Joe says, patting the twelfth imam on the back as he heads out of the saloon doors towards his white steed of steel.
Terri leans relaxedly against the bar now that it’s empty. She never complains about working, but even as the universe ends, it’s nicer just to hang out with Joe, shooting the breeze that didn’t exist in a bar built on an asteroid in space.
“Okay,” Joe says. He’s behind the bar now, pulling down a wide three-ring binder from between Gary Regan’s Joy of Mixology and Tenzil Kem’s Best Tasting Cups for Favorite Cocktails and opening it on the bar between himself and Terri. “Let’s see what to start with.”
The binder is full of sheets of loose leaf paper from a variety of worlds, psychic business card holders, clippings from newspaper comic pages with funny strips about bars, bags of data-rice, far more bar napkins with notes and phone numbers than any finite space should be able to hold, an empty DVD case of Tom Cruise’s Cocktail, and most importantly (though barely noticable) an Ace Archer Fan Club keyring with two small silver keys on it.
“You pick,” Joe says, gesturing extravagantly at the binder contents.
“Okay, boss,” Terri says, and she closes her eyes, reaches out and picks up a bar napkin with something written on it in wicked pen ink. (That’s “wicked” as in “the napkin wicked up the ink,” not wicked as in “the pen ink was particularly malevolent,” nor “I’m from Boston and that is some wicked pen ink, chucklehead.” Sadly, while Boston is long gone this late in the universe, there are still a few people who talk like they’re from it.)
The door to the bar swings wide before she can read the napkin, and an eight-foot tall blue humanoid with four arms wearing a cross between a kimono and a football jersey walks in. Well, he doesn’t walk in, he sort of glides in, his wide elephant-like feet surrounded with dozens of long, prehensile toes that slide him into the bar like he was walking on caterpillars. His arms are liberally polydactylated with cyanotic fingers, each of them sporting rings so garish and kaleidoscopic that looking at him requires some sort of saving throw or sanity check against gaudiness. He meanders to the bar, taking a seat on the stool next to where Terri is still holding the fateful napkin.
“Good evening, fair remnants of the odious human race,” the blue finger guy says from both his primary and secondary mouths, giving the pronouncement both an echo and a particularly patronizing harmony.
“Hi, Fraz,” Joe sighs.
“Please, my dearest servitor of libation, you are quite aware I prefer to be addressed by the fullness of my name and title!”
“Good evening, Imperiator Fraztrinique the Eighteenth. What libation would you like your humble servitor to prepare for you this evening.”
Terri stifles a giggle. She loves to watch Joe deal with Fraz.
“I am of the minds tonight of imbibing something complex and difficult to prepare,” Fraz said. “Something with vermouth. And heavy metals.”
Joe is about to rub his head like he has a headache even though he doesn’t when he notices the clock out of the corner of his eye. An idea forms.
“How is the Imperiator paying tonight?” Joe asks as he doesn’t start pouring any such drink.
Fraz rolls several of his eyes in a variety of directions in a show of exasperation.
“It will be put on my tab, of course!” he declares in close harmony.
A smile spreads across Joe’s face and he gently takes Terri’s hand with the napkin and lowers it to the bar.
“Hold that a minute, Terri,” he says. “I think I’ve found my first loose end.”
© 2013 by Douglass Barre, All Rights Reserved.