IN 2048, THE CORE TENET OF COSMIC ETERNALISM can be found at the Apex. [Photo by Richard McCaffrey]
Matthew Derby , author of Super Flat Times: Stories, The Snipe, and various stories and essays that have appeared in The Believer, Guernica, and other publications
The congregants formed a line at the entrance to the ziggurat and waited for the dawn appeal. There were hundreds of them already, rag-clad murmurers in motorized wheelchairs with small dogs in their laps or just quadpacks of coffee-flavored Boost, and their numbers were growing by the moment. The line wound down Main Street and pooled by the jersey barriers that blocked off the bridge over the Blackstone. The bridge had been closed off after the City Hall riot. There was a sign on the fence with an artist’s rendering of the reconstructed bridge leading to a lush, re-graded park that would surround the Slater Mill projection. The sign said the bridge would be complete by 2035 and would feature amenities like a motorized wheelchair lane, but beyond the hurricane fencing there was just the jagged trapezoidal remnant of the old walkway extending out over the river, which surged over the falls as it always had. Used body condoms snagged in the twisted rebar fluttered in the cold breeze, and the ground was littered with micro nips and simgette cartridges, but the congregants did not seem to mind. This world was just a rest stop on their cosmic voyage through eternity.
A boy in a Cumberland Farms smock paced up and down the line, shouldering a heated cab that made taquito breakfast rollers. A smaller boy followed behind, shadowing and serving the rollers on edible skewers. There were four skewer flavors that Cumberland Farms was still making, but the most popular by a wide margin was Strawberry Rape Cave. Taquito rollers were foodstamp-eligible, so there were lots of takers. The congregants rolled up their sleeves and the smaller boy scanned their stamp. Two hot rollers would drop into the basket that hung from the cab and the smaller boy would stab them with the skewers and hand them over. Congregants gummed the chewy rollers and waited for the doors of the ziggurat to open.
The market didn’t crash so much as come slowly unwound like an old clock. Things stopped working the way they used to, but it was hard to distinguish the global decline from what was a normal part of life in Pawtucket. It wasn’t until the March Seizure that people began to notice a change. Some speculate that this was what prompted the population surge and the subsequent housing shortage. The city had already weathered a century of economic decline, making it resilient against the global falloff, where places like Barrington and Bristol had become nothing but murder squats for Wildings and Pep-Heads. Two women in purple gowns opened the doors to the ziggurat, and the congregants shifted en masse into drive, their wheelchairs lurching and shuddering as they made their way into the building. Some still assert that the ziggurat was actually once a shopping center, and that the word “Apex” was the name of a local corporation and not the core tenet of Cosmic Eternalism, one of Pawtucket’s 25 most popular faiths. We are headed toward our personal apex, the faith’s creed states, that highest point of our consciousness where we can literally see God. Why else would such a structure have been built but to illustrate the congregants’ eternal yearning toward the heavens?