New York – The Quiet Earth

Posted in Uncategorized on December 21, 2012 by tianfraser


New York was always the place of everything. Whatever little folksy thing you think belongs only to your rural backwater, they’ve got two of them, and one of them’s open all night. It’s nothing special really. Strip away the architecture, the crowds, the hundreds of years of massacre after massacre after Macy’s Day Parade and what do you have? What’s for sale? Everything in the rest of America. And then some. And more of all of it.

So, in fitting New York fashion, they have more of the Apocalypse. I came by to make sure my editor was still getting my copy and I noticed it was quiet. Like really super quiet. Like a missing 8.2 million people quiet. Everyone in New York is gone.

But don’t come here. Don’t ruin it. Right now, it’s perfect. All that’s left is silence and treasure.

No idea how they went. The ground is wet. The Waldorf is in flames, but just it, crackling like it belongs in a hearth. Streams of light are rising out of Queens. And there are four riderless horses grazing in Central Park.

I honestly don’t have a clue what happened here, but frankly, I don’t care.

I mean, does it matter? Does it matter how it ends? Zombies or aliens or cancer, it’s what comes next that matters.

Heaven is what you make. You get there whenever you say you’re going to make it. It’s populated with all the people you keep near you.

All the Apocalypse did was kill History. Now we have all of History’s stuff. Fuck the old connotations and the old deeds and the old titles.

There was a book I read as a child. The Mystery of Harris Burdick. Picture book, really, so not a whole lot of reading. Just a bunch of surreal pictures. I looked at each one of them and I swore, someday, that’s where I would live. I wanted to run off into a world where the act of running off was all that I needed to do. Where one spectacular magic moment was the only moment that counted. And then it would all be gone.

I’m going there now. Who’s with me?

Whoever is left to read this, wherever you are, good job. You made it as far as anyone could be expected – as far as anyone, in fact. We’re all proud of you. Now you get to relax. In the bones of New York, the fantasies of Orlando, the soil of Savannah, the crisp air of Boulder, the marvels of San Francisco … Every inch of this is yours to explore. Open all your drawers and discover the shiny riches you’ve tucked away. You decide what it’s worth. You decide what you’ll trade, what you’ll keep. You decide how to be the protagonist in your own story.

Take a deep breath. Smell that? That’s the flavor of the End of the World. It’s got all the old ingredients. Now you’re the chef.

Austin – The Coziest Day Ever

Posted in Uncategorized on December 14, 2012 by tianfraser


One night, there was a power outage in Austin that knocked out a solid, let’s say, 80 percent of the alarm clocks. In the morning, it was just a little rainy, just perfectly gray and cool outside and drizzling against the window, so everyone decided call in since they were waking up late anyway. The people who didn’t wake up late looked outside and saw the streets were empty. They thought something looked off, surreal. They called in too. They all left voicemails at the various pizza parlors and craft beer bars and hackey sack factories (called “hactories” in the industry). Then everyone curled back under the covers to grab another hour.

Everyone woke back up really late, like 8:45 p.m.. And everyone had that same reaction of, like, whoa. I haven’t done that since college or whenever. If someone was with them, they made some tea and put on some music and watched the rain hit the window. If they were alone, the got one of the books they never read off their shelves made of cinder blocks and planks. Or they got out their crates of vinyl and really listened to the funk they’d been using for samples. Or they fiddled around with their banjos. Then everyone, surprised they were still tired, went back to bed, like, an hour later.

Some people woke up at 3 a.m., called in again, and went back to bed. Some people woke up late again, saw the sky had cleared and the early morning sun was reflecting orange of the water in the street, smiled, and went back to bed. Some people just didn’t wake up.

Then some became most.

Then most became all.

Austin slept in. They just kept getting up to pee and get some water. Then they would lie on their couch and be out again. And every time they opened their eyes, the day was one of those perfect days for staying inside, napping on the loveseat or wrapped in their sheets.

Austin slept in. After a week, it was a permanent condition. After a month, it was the End of the World. And Austin slept on, kicking a little as they dreamt.

St. Louis – The East St. Louis Holy War (Second Horseman – Technically First)

Posted in Uncategorized on December 12, 2012 by tianfraser


The St. Louis/East St. Louis Holy War began when Ike Turner declared the Gateway Arch to be East St. Louis’ most sacred monument. The backlash from St. Louis was civil at first. “While the Gateway is in the eastern portion of the city,” proclaimed the mayor, “there is no doubt that it is a part of our fair city.”

The civility did not last. Rev. Arthur White, minister of the First People’s Eccupentacle Church of East St. Louis, stoked the fire at a sermon delivered on a barge. “For too long, the world has sat silent as St. Louis expands its settlements on the West Bank of East St. Louis. Well, no more!”

West East St. Louis became a disputed zone, and the governor of Illinois immediately began collecting taxes from it. This prompted residents of West County to don the Cardinals’ 1979 road uniforms, intercept a truckload of Budweiser, drink it, and throw some Clydesdales in the river. Admittedly, this plan was not well thought out.

The first 25 shots fired in the war were actually shot in East St. Louis by East St. Louis residents at East St. Louis residents, but the 26th shot – which has not conclusively been shown not to have been a ricochet – hit Albert Pujols in the thigh. Thus began the war.

I arrived only to be yanked into a trench by a haggard but pleasant survivor. He made small talk about his kids and the Rams while leading me to their headquarters in the zoo at Forest Park. St. Louis was fading quickly since East St. Louis had acquired daisy cutters and taken the Delmar Loop, thereby choking off St. Louis’ supply of margaritas and alpha males. Yet according to the gruff – though still pleasant, this was, after all, the Midwest – sargeant running things, East St. Louis wasn’t faring much better, despite their victories. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch had been successful in sowing misinformation in the east, causing a miniwar to break out for control of the Martin Luther King Bridge.

While all this was being explained, I saw a horse and rider clopping through the park. The rider had a long red beard and long hair tied back in a ponytail. He wore a horned helmet and an ancient breastplate, marred with battle scars and inlaid with an intricate gold filigree depicting the head of a lion bursting through thorny vines. He had a golden axe on his hip, but it was more a sigil than a weapon.

I asked the sargeant who he was. The sargeant glanced at him, said he didn’t know, and went back to discussing the tactical advantage of pushing down Olive Street.

I left the trench base and walked over to War. “You did this?” I asked.

“Who are you?” he replied.

“No one.”

“Well, No One – a warrior’s answer would have been Nobody – no, I didn’t do this.”

“But you’re -”

“Yes, but that’s not how we work. Think of all the wars before this one. You don’t need a muse to start a war.”

“Then why are you here?”

“It’s the End of the World, son!” he laughed. “I’m a foreman; an overseer. I’m here to make sure the job gets done. Why are you here?”

“I’m here to make sure people know how bad their cooking is.”

“Then we have the same goal.” He patted my back from his horse and rode away.

When I left, the Midwesterners were charging into No Man’s Land.

Phoenix – Fear of a Zombie Planet

Posted in Uncategorized on December 11, 2012 by tianfraser


As far as I can tell, there was – maybe – one zombie. Zombie might even be too strong a word. Meth head who got off an emergency stretcher is probably closer to the truth. Unfortunately, the shambling corpse-like person had the bad sense to do this in front of St. Luke’s Medical Center in Phoenix.

Why was this such a bad move? Because Arizona was just dying for an excuse to go apeshit on everybody.

The “zombie” made it about seven disjointed steps before an EMT pulled out a 9mm and exploded his head. What’s that, you say? EMTs don’t carry guns? No, not as a rule, but in Arizona you don’t even need a Concealed Carry permit if you’re over 21.

When the cops arrived, there was no question as to whether the medical professional had made the right call. The only information anyone needed was to know how many people might have become infected. Everyone waiting in the ER who had anything that resembled a bite or a deep cut or a rash or a stomach ache was taken outside. No time to verify the symptoms. Summary executions were more merciful than becoming a monster trapped between life and death with an unholy appetite. And, if there was some collateral damage, well, those folks wouldn’t have wanted to be around for the end anyway.

The last line of reason was Sheriff Joe Arpaio, so of course, no one stood a chance. When he got word, he immediately razed Tent City. Can’t have criminals going undead. They’d be, like, way worse than normal undead.

He made the announcement in front of the Korean War Memorial. “They’re here,” he said. “They look like us and you don’t know who to trust. Probably came in from Mexico. Good night.”

And with that, everyone disappeared. Holed up, as it were. They tucked themselves into well fortified rooms, barricaded their doors, and kept only a single window open to shoot out of. The streets of Tempe and Mesa and Glendale and Chandler became eerie long cul de sacs of silent cookie-cutter houses. Occasionally, a single shot would ring out when someone who hadn’t heard the news would come outside to get the paper or mow their lawn.

Some took the roofs of malls and convenience stores. Some invaded the retirement homes to take over the towers, though the residents of the Park Regency and Sunrise at Gilbert and the Friendship Village were only too happy to be handed weapons and told to aim between the eyes.

Obviously, there were more than a few bunkers around town. There was canned food and armored trailers and gas masks for whatever reason. And ammo. Like immeasurable shit-tons of ammo.

It wasn’t long before the survivors had managed to isolate themselves completely. Of course, by survivors I mean 97 percent of the population, but that still meant about 44,000 dead in a week, so not bad. The bodies didn’t so much pile up as trickle across the streets as one person or another would brave going for a walk. But soon there were no more ventures. No one that wasn’t part of humanity’s last stand. Everyone was locked away in their own private paranoia, growing ever more suspicious of their families and waiting to go out in a fiery blaze against a mindless Hispanic … I mean, undead horde.

Somehow the end they always dreamed of was way less satisfying in person.

Kansas City – Rapture

Posted in Uncategorized on December 10, 2012 by tianfraser


You know, as a food critic, I’ve never been much of a fan of “comfort foods.” A full stomach is the cheater’s way to contentment. Try being satisfied on the tongue of a nightingale served on a perfect square of bibb lettuce. But the waffles at this Waffle House outside Kansas City may be the single most delicious experience of my life.

It was the column of smoke that made me stop. Well, during the day it was a column of smoke. At night, it turned into a column of fire, but not fire like you’re thinking; a golden fire burning in a contained line right into the black sky. It’s like a spear of dawn.

I saw it first as white smoke from Highway 71 as I was driving north. For a while I thought it was an illusion that I figured I could never get any closer to. But it does have a point of origin. Judy told me while she was refilling my coffee. “It’s coming out the roof of the IHOP down the road.”

The IHOP to which she’s referring is not her chain rival. It’s the International House of Prayer. It offers 24/7 prayer rooms and ministries. It’s pretty much the modern evangelical American equivalent of a monastery for insanely uninteresting tourists. The other day, according to Judy, the light just appeared, and anyone standing in the light got sucked into the sky naked.

“So it’s the Rapture?” I asked.

“That’s what people thought,” she explained. She couldn’t talk for long. She’s one of 17 waitresses they had working the floor right then and she still had 25 tables of her own.

See, ever since the light showed up, that Waffle House has gotten very popular. By very popular, I mean the population of anywhere in sight has huddled there to debate whether or not they should go into the light.

“But, if they’re Christians, wouldn’t it already be taking them?” I asked.

“It doesn’t just take Christians.” Judy seemed to sigh after everything she said. She was exhausted for many reasons – not the least of which was having to repeat this story to every new face – but she couldn’t stop telling it.


“It’s not just Christians. Herb Gutman got taken up and everyone knows he’s a Jew. And then this one guy who flat-out said he was an atheist got in the light and up he went.”

“Could it be a tractor beam from aliens?”

“One of the ministers thought of that, but he says it ain’t.”

“How does he know?”

“Because he stood in it and looked up and he said he could see God.”

“Huh,” I said and ate another waffle. When she came back I asked, “Did the minister go up?”

“No, and that’s the other thing.”

“What’s the other thing?”

“Well, that light has taken everyone – literally everyone – except that minister. And he’s a minister,” she pointed out.

“That does seem odd.”

“But a lot of people have tried since and every single one has gone up.”

I stared out at the light from my table. My table was actually well outside the restaurant with the other hundreds who don’t fit inside.

“So the crowds here are just …”

“Working up the nerve,” she said. “On the one hand, if they go and get taken, well, then what? On the other, what if they’ve got whatever that minister got? Who wants to find out that God doesn’t want them?”

I shrugged. “Are you a Christian?”

“Lord, yes,” she said. “I take my kids and everything.”

“Why haven’t you gone?”

“Oh, honey, they’ve had me working doubles everyday since that thing appeared.”

She walked back into the crowd. She eventually returned to check on me and I ordered another waffle. “Is anything else open?” I asked when she returned.

“Nothing. It’s us and then emptiness until the light.”

“How have you not run out of waffles yet?”

She cocked her hip. “Huh. You know, I hadn’t thought about that. Just haven’t, I guess. Somehow the batter canister keeps giving up batter.”

The crowd was silent as we ate. Clinking forks and slurping coffee, but no conversation above a whisper, and even that was only about condiments. Three miles north of us was the path to Heaven. People would take a bite and look over at it, see if maybe it was flickering out or getting bigger. The light just shined, and kinda hummed.

I finished my six or seven waffles and paid. I took 71 straight to 470, because I hate driving through downtown.

Minneapolis – Fate of the Gods

Posted in Uncategorized on December 9, 2012 by tianfraser


Some places live so close to the edge, they can’t tell when they’ve gone over. The annual snowfall in Minneapolis is more than 45 inches a year. They have an average of more than 100 days a year with an inch or more.

So it was hard to tell when snow kept falling in July if the last snowfall was coming later or the first was coming early. For three years, the snows ran into each other until finally someone said, “What happened to all the tornadoes?” It took three years for the panic to set in, and the people of Minneapolis to stop wearing shorts and saying this was nothing. Three years of the Mississippi as an ice skating rink. Three years before they found themselves huddled in their homes, fearing that they were the epicenter of a new ice age, and worried they would be bound into a single glacier with St. Paul.

Fortunately, that didn’t happen, because Black Surt rose up from Muspell and took a flaming sword to the place.

That’s right; Ragnarok played out in Minneapolis.

It all started when the Timberwolves won the playoffs, which a drunken Odin took as the sign of the Wolf Age and said, “Alright, let’s do this thing.” When people saw an enormous serpent encircle the city, they just figured it was a particularly good art installation from the Walker Art Center.

The 10th Avenue Bridge suddenly became a giant glowing rainbow, which I guess means Asgard was in Dinkytown. The Aesir came pouring across Bifrost armed and armored and screaming for the blood of Loki’s children and the armies of Muspell and Hel. Unfortunately, this coincided with an ill-timed hipster fad of dressing up ironically as frost giants, taking a heavy toll on Seward before everything got sorted out.

Jormungand wrapped itself around the Skyway, and Thor had a devil of a time trying to pull him off of that. Fenrir and Odin went at it on the roof of the Metrodome. The Allfather was consumed and Vidar ripped the wolf’s jaw off tossed it into the river. Heimdall played a pickup game against Loki, which was the death of them all.

Then it got really bad. Sun got eaten, Yggdrasill shook, Bob Dylan moved back. Finally the banks of the Mississippi rose up and swallowed the ground.

The place is pretty wet right now. But as I understand it, things are going to get good again. The land will come back and Prince is going to do a benefit show in Prospect Park. Lif and Lifthrasir will come out of their hiding place on Boom Island and watch the daughter of the sun. They’ll have kids who’ll have kids, which isn’t as creepy as it sounds for some reason. Anyway, Minneapolis will come back and everyone will go on like nothing really happened.

Just really cold for a while, but they’re used to that.

Chicago – Supervillainy

Posted in Uncategorized on December 7, 2012 by tianfraser


Of all the assets a death ray offers, probably the greatest one – well, the most effective one, as Chicago learned – is the lack of reloading.

Before becoming Supreme Mayor of Chicago, Dr. Julius P. Destructo had made several attempts at taking over the city. He built nuclear-powered robots with CannonArmsTM whose only weakness, it turned out, was bacon-wrapped hotdogs. He bred an army of wolfcobras, but they were apparently easily hypnotized by amplified Delta blues. He built a repulsor beam with which he managed to spin the moon around to face the other way, but it failed to raise tidal waves in Lake Michigan. He tried graft, but the Daleys were just better at it.

In the end, Dr. Destructo decided to finally use his very first invention. “It had always just seemed too obvious,” he said. And maybe it lacked the art, but it sure had it where it counted.

The death ray fired a red beam that made anything that wasn’t water or air … I don’t know, I’m not a scientist. But if it was solid, it wasn’t there anymore. This had all kinds of benefits that made it hard to defend against. For one thing, you literally couldn’t defend against it. Someone at the National Guard figured out it didn’t disintegrate water, so they hosed down their battalion before sending them against Destructo and his Destructo-tons (as he called the angry White Sox fans that had joined his cause). If the Guard had been smarter, they would have realized that we’re made of water, and that’s why, when the death ray hit a person, it just left a puddle on the ground. A wet battalion just made a larger puddle.

Another side perk: no prosecutions. Sure, when he announced his new position as Supreme Mayor at Grant Park, his wiped out a crowd of thousands on live TV to demonstrate his power. But no one could prove it. Writ of habeus corpus demands bodies. The puddles don’t even have DNA left in them.

So his takeover was a breeze this time. Daniel Burnham’s masterful city plan made it easy for the Destructo-tons to round the people up, push them through the axial street grid, and gave them plenty of civic art to look at as they were marched to Buckingham Fountain every morning to hear whatever new endeavor they were to embark on. First it was the construction of a ladder to the moon to spin it back the other way. (He had broken the repulsor beam.) But he abandoned that to build a giant voice recorder to play insults at New York constantly.

The problem was that people didn’t like working under threat of death ray and there are only so many crowds of thousands you can eliminate before you don’t have crowds anymore.

And this is where the constant-fire mechanism came in. It’s very hard to get the drop on someone who doesn’t have to worry about ammo, but the dissent kept coming. Everywhere he turned, there was a new group or a new building or an old monument that needed to be vaporized. Sometimes he felt like his finger didn’t leave the death ray trigger for hours. During a particularly heated argument over break times with a fairly courageous union boss, he accidentally erased all of Canaryville.

Time came when the Destructo-tons got uppity about when he was going to get on rigging the AL Central Division. As he took them out, he realized there was no one left. Not a whole lot of standing structures either. He pulled the trigger once and just spun around in a circle for 15 minutes. When he was done, he built a studio apartment with a drill attached and bore his way into the planet.

The saddest part of the story to me is that he had originally designed the death ray as an unlimited energy source. Do you know how awesome an unlimited anything is? He really did want to help people. Just, apparently, not Chicago.