John Strausbaugh, Stories


Illustration by Takeshi Tadatsu
(click image to enlarge)







After the Big Ones







 Here's how it began. After all the big ones dropped those closest to the ground emerged. The quick, the mean, the ones with the shortest span from impulse to action. The last of the big ones was tripping over his feet not to step on anyone's toes. He took it well in his big, shambling, goodhearted, slightly patronizing yet slightly embarrassed way.

Life was like that for an eon or two. Like the Flintstones without the Flintstones. We sat around carving the circuitry for blowdryers into stones and waiting for the invention of hair as we know it. Life was not yet vertical, it spread in a thin film over the skin of the planet. The night rang with the bark of the protozoan and time was just a hum in the air on the first crisp, clear day of autumn, when there was an autumn. The leaves, of course, did not change, or did so only over a few million years. The sun was much larger but did not get as high and set pretty much where it rose.

The last of the big ones drank bacardi and coke. He was learning to rumba. An ark of papyrus was deposited on the highest peak of the steepest mountain available at the time. There was only one land surrounded by one big ocean, which was the color of iron and many miles deep. "How many fingers am I holding up?" the last of the big ones asked. He cracked himself up every time.

Sometimes the sun and moon appeared together and we were in a shitting panic. Mad for conversation, we sat on the shore and wished the single-celled organisms would hurry up and develop. We were quite unaware that they were babbling the whole while. When you pulled up a plant it screamed and got convulsions and this is why we ate meat, which at least tried to defend itself.

The last of the big ones developed a taste for sloe gin and sweet, musty port, which discolored his breath. The vertical epoch dawned and we spent eons stacking ourselves in piles to see how high we could go. Real estate depreciated and we were in a shitting panic. One of us invented the candle and stood there waiting for lightning to strike. We were not as impressed with death as you are today, nor did we feel the need to talk about sex every time we had it. We learned how to fill our bladders with wind and float out over the ocean, though then as now we wanted to turn back as soon as we got beyond sight of land.

There was only one movie playing, and it ran and ran until it was like looking at a dirty window. Someone pointed out that the last of the big ones was earless.

The nights got larger and we took turns sucking the candle for warmth. In the dark all the plants tiptoed off to the other side of the continent and founded Africa. New rivers were springing up daily, until we ran out of names for them.

The last of the big ones crossed the Urals and we didn't hear from him for some time. We counted our teeth and made body prints in the wet sand. Someone remembered to look for the ark of papyrus but by then we had forgotten where we'd put it.

Time passed and passed again. By the third time it went by we were convinced it was hopelessly lost. This gave the optimists among us a sinking feeling. To cheer them up we invented greeting cards and stuffed them in bottles and tossed the bottles into the sea when the tide was coming in. The mountains shifted from foot to foot. We noticed the air was getting thinner and smaller and in our shitting panic some of us hoarded it and wanted to trade it to the rest of us for goods and services and the rest of us kicked their asses. We forgot more circuitry than you'll ever invent now. We chose up sides but as the game progressed it became obvious that though the rules were cruelly simple everyone was cheating and so, our feelings hurt, we lay down under a flat rock for a numberless few eons.

Everything that has gone on subsequently has occurred, as it were, behind our backs. Which is why to this day we refuse to accept the responsibility.


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All material on this website is copyrighted and may not be republished in any form without written permission. Copyright © 2009 John Strausbaugh

All material on this website is copyrighted and may not be republished in any form without written permission. Copyright © 2009 John Strausbaugh