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They Saw That It Must End

By Harrison Gatlin

I walked down the road to my friend Chloe’s new castle, a gift from some anonymous benefactor of the arts, to see if she couldn’t spare a bit of Internet. She gave me a tour of the moat, the drawbridge (RC!), the ramparts, the turrets, the abbey (monk-less), the peacocks, the sake cellar, the pineapple garden, the palm forest, and the poker tables (so unlike her!). The tour ended at the bouncy castle out back, an exact miniature of the stone castle we’d just toured. It’s where the poets bounce, she said. I leaned against an enormous bonsai tree to make my request seem more casual. 
            “now Clo, with all these wonderful things u have amassed here n and around yr stately castle, and g, it really is stately… u don’t happen 2 have any xtra Internet lying around, do u?”
            “r u trolling?” she said. “i can’t tell if yr trolling.”
            “im not. i am deadass.”
            “[feminine️ shrug],” she said. “well in that case yr out of touch, probably due 2 a lack of Internet, haha! the Internet is coming 2 an end lol.  They r phasing it out. replacing it w something new. They started w our province 2day.”
            This was all news to me, depressing news, because I really wanted to order some Axe body wash and send a couple romantic emails to my Caroline in some other part of the globe, but now there would be no body wash, no emails and no Caroline, perhaps ever, since I didn’t know what other part of the globe she lived in. Our courtship had not crossed that moat.
            I didn’t want to be alone on a Web-less earth, so I stayed at Chloe’s and watched the poets bounce.
            “i’m pregnant,” said Chloe.
            “so that’s why yr not bouncing,” I said. Chloe was a poet too.
            “i guess.”
            “Ralph, don’t u have anything 2 say? a congrats, mayb?”
            “sure, it's just, when u say i’m pregnant like that, apropos of nothing, while we r standing here alone, watching the poets bounce, it makes it seem like yr implying… that I’m the father.”
            “Ralph! r u crazy? we’ve never even had sex,” she said. And she had a point.
            “o ya, i um, guess i wasn’t rly thinking. just reading the tone… congrats! 🎉”
            “he doesn’t wanna move n w me tho. says he’d feel 2 much like a serf. but i like him and we make it work. here he comes.”
            A tall bearded poet bounced off the bouncy castle onto the grass. He strode over with outstretched arms in a floral print blazer and graphic tee with green pants. A human bouquet.
            “Ellis, i present u my antiquated neighbor Ralph,” Chloe said.
            “antiquated?” I said.
            “well ya,” said Chloe. “u didn’t evn kno the Internet was cancelled. tht’s old news. and yr still carrying tht laptop around like it’ll jst come back.”
            “u said it only happened today! how is any1 getting the news w/o Internet? dae feel like Patrick Star, re: home/social life?”
            “check this out,” proclaimed Ellis. “i jst took a fuckton of Ambien. ask me a Q.”
            “ok Ellis,” I said. “what is happiness?”
            “happiness is partying yr dik off and still being able 2 sleep @…“
            He passed out standing up. Normally I would’ve laughed but without the Internet it was just sad. Chloe left him there by the bouncing poets and we climbed to the top floor of her treehouse, the penthouse suite, which was not in the bonsai or the palm forest but its own synthetic tree made of recycled cardboard.
            “…” said Chloe.
            “have u seen God l8ly?” I asked. “i’d really like 2 speak w Them.”
            “last i heard They were n Tibet, disconnecting tht part of the Internet. They should b back any time at all rly, u k how They are.”
            “[thumbs up],” I said. “i have sum ?s 2 ask Them.”
            “what do u think this will b like?” I asked. “the Post-Internet Age.”
            “well,” Chloe said, [feminine shrug]ing again. “we have nothing 2 compare it 2. it might b like nites when u can’t c the stars bc they’re behind a cloud. or it might b like coming home after being at the store 4 a long long time. or it might suck.”
            “we will b bored in new ways. that could b interesting,” I said.
            “it will b,” Chloe said. “til it’s not. then we will have 2 find hobbiez.”
            “wut r those?”
            “hobbiez are where u put yr attn when there’s nowhere else. they used 2 b a source of great joy, n earlier times.”
            I felt the urge to search ‘hobbiez’ on wikipedia, but of course that was out of the question, so I tried researching in person. “could u give sum e.g.s of hobbiez?” I asked.
            “gardening,” said Chloe. “jumprope, scuba diving, comp prgming.”
            “ah i c. and who invented hobbies?”
            “tht is unknown,” Chloe said, and we sat in this unknowing for a moment.
            Then God appeared in the treehouse wearing Their traditional garb, a royal blue tee with a white apple in the center, one bite missing. Their hair was stacked on Their head in a truly Immaculate bun. A white ID badge on Their neck declared: Genius.
            I wanted to speak but could not speak. The intensity of Their Beauty was overwhelming. Cloistering. It was as if I was algorithmically bound to silence. Every if-then had the same then. In times like this when you come face to face with your hero, or even a wildly famous celebrity of whom you don’t happen to be a fan, you want to engage them in regular conversation, to let them know you know They’re human, even when They’re not, but you don’t want to revert to small talk, and all talk was small in the face of God.
            Aaaaaaaaand They were gone. But I had the sense They were still lurking somewhere, like in the Dark Web.
            I looked at Chloe. Her expression was placid, indeterminate, like a loading screen.
            “Can I get 1 o those Ambiens?” I said.
                                                                  *     *     *
            God committed some miracles after that. The first was that I made it down from the treehouse in my sleep, because I woke up on a pile of air that became the bouncy castle. The second was that the poets were gone, and I could finally think.
            Thus, I thought. In the Internet Age I could presume to live on forever as zeroes and ones passed through an eternal chain of requests, always needed or wanted, which was pleasing. But now that the stars were gone or hidden or whatever that meant I too would one day be gone or hidden or whatever. Like a man of religion, I wasn’t cool with that, and it made for some loopy thoughts [e.g.  y(faith(faith(faith(faith(x)))))] that crossed my mind just to get to the other side. For those thoughts, in the Post-Internet Age, there was only one cure, I thought: books. I would need books.
            Despite having an arboretum, an aquarium, a cinema, a fairgrounds, a mausoleum, a petting zoo, and one of those soda dispensers that lets you combine all the soda flavors into one soda, the castle had no library. But I did find, in a chest in the dungeon, an issue of Popular Mechanics. The lead story was “Hiller’s Aerial Sedan: Your Flying Car for 1967” and it had a picture of a red and yellow automobile-shaped object that had, instead of wheels, four fans blowing air that held it above a landscape of mountains and evergreens. It cost 35 cents (the issue.)
            When Chloe found me stretched out on the dungeon floor the boredom was causing her psychic pain and so I read to her, as in the time of hobbiez:
            See those two levers? The one on the left is the climb control. Push it up and leave it there. Now we are rising. Easy isn’t it? There’s no big thrashing rotor overhead, no churning propellors. We just ascend with no apparent effort. We are higher than the rooftops now, so let’s head across town. Turn the wheel to the right, in the direction we want to go. Now that second lever, push it ahead. Sure our nose dropped a bit. That’s what the lever’s for. It took some of the power off the front fans and tilted the machine. That’s the way this thing flies. Air speed is up to 50 miles per hour already. If you want to stop in midair, just move the lever back again.
            I sat up. By this point Chloe was lying in my lap, smiling up at me and my magazine. In her gaze I saw an attention alien to my generation. Her eyes were fixed, determined, glassless. Not once did she glance away or shift her head with distracted thoughts. It was beautiful, regal. In that holy moment she became the Queen of the Here and Now, and I, her subject. All I could do was regale her.
            How can engineers be so sure about something that hasn’t been flown yet, or even built? For one thing, the flying fan is nothing more than four ducted fans that are held together by a framework that supports the engines and cabin. A ducted fan is a shroud or duct that is placed around a propellor. This duct has a wide flange or lip around its upper edge. When the propellor forces air downward through the duct, pressure above the lipped surface is reduced. An extraordinary amount of lift is obtained as compared to an unducted helicopter rotor.
            “tht sounds loud,” she said. “and wut difference will a duct make, rly, when there’s no Internet?” Her beatific focus broke. I lost the roots of her eyes.
            “r u irritated bc we lack Internet, or bc flying cars never became a reality?” I said.
            “i want 2 go somewhere, Ralph. not somewhere n the sky, somewhere new, somewhere no 1 has ever thought of, not even Reddit.”
            “Chloe,” I said. “after the Internet what’s new is what’s right n front of us. the Internet Of Things w/o the Internet is Of Things. idk, bc i’ve never been interested n them, but isn’t it possible there’s beauty n the Things themselves?” 
   “it is possible, yes.”
“go c. go 2 yr pineapple garden, go 2 yr weight room, 2 yr mechanical bull, yr organic bull, yr french fry factory, yr extravagant soda dispenser, yr 16th century Spanish galleon n a bottle of Crown Royal, yr Ellis. have u ever truly looked @ these Things? have u taken them n fr?”
            “those Things don’t make me happy,” she said.
            “me neither, esp not yr Ellis. i 4 1 must find my Caroline, find her n the supple flesh, hear her curious way of spelling tn, as n, i wish u were here w me tn. n the hierarchy of Things she is 1, her sentences a range like musical scales, her tones indecipherable over txt. she is eloquent w/o pomposity. her emails come secs b4 i need them. she is a story-teller and a knowledge-seeker. n the 2nd grade she disproved the tooth-fairy via a series of elegant syllogisms. in the 9th grade her legs were broken by a baroque 8 car accident in a crowded thoroughfare. she feels great pain. we discuss this. her wheelchair has a screen from which she writes me. wrote me.
            “i kno her lines intimately, yet she is a stranger. i wan 2 kno what she looks like. i wan 2 see pics. and i wan 2 show her pics, like The Immaculate Lactation of Saint Bernard and Slim Fast Silhouette.”
            “where will u get the pics?”
            “idk. idc. but i will search until i find them. then i will search until i find my Caroline and i will show her the pics adorned n wreaths of Things i’ve 4gotten the names of. and mayb this will ease her pain.”
            “and then will u b happy?” she asked.
            “who’s 2 say? but then i will kno what my Caroline looks like, irl.”
            Chloe pondered this. “u shld make her a meme,” she said. “a meme of yrself. u shld make a meme of yrself, for Caroline.”
            Oh Chloe, Understander of Things, Queen of the Here and Now. She even had a castle. A blunt, pewter Thing filled with ten thousand Things. She was right. I would make myself into a meme. But until then, there was grieving to be done. I set aside my pulp about aerial sedans and sang a soft dirge for the World Wide Web.     
            She kissed me. I hadn’t even gotten to the good part, the part about the buoys in the shipyard of Flavortown, yet she kissed me. She kissed my neck, to be exact. Now, I knew where neck-kisses led, and I wasn’t having it.
            “/?q=what+the+literal+fuck+are+you+doing?=web”  I said.
            “u have such a soft singing voice,” she said.
            “i fail 2 c how tht warrants a neck-kiss.”
            She went to bed, and I to what remained of my dirge, which wasn’t as interesting without her to listen.
                                                                  *     *     *
            Ellis ran off to be poetic somewhere else when Chloe had her baby, a pink wailing Thing called Minton, and I stuck around the castle to help feed it and wash it and read it Popular Mechanics. There was nowhere else to go, really. Without the Internet I had no clue where Things were, I would’ve had to wander, which is no way to find one’s Caroline. I decided the best thing for me would be to hover in place, so I pulled the lever back, as the good mag sayeth.
            In Internet and Pre-Internet Age society the commonplace manner of receiving a baby into the world was to shower it. (With water, praise, gifts, I wasn’t sure.) But I thought it might be nice for everyone’s quite shaken sense of place and time if we held one of these “baby showers” for young, princely, good Minton. I enlisted the help of some of the neighbors to string lights in the palm forest and build a fence around the alligator pond, so we could all hang out amidst the trees at night without getting torn limb from limb. It was the first time we had all gotten together since the end of the Internet. And to my surprise, people talked. Most commented on how plump and jolly Minton was, even though he wouldn’t stop wailing, an indicator of not jolly in most of the world’s cultures. Some made funny jokes, and some made jokes with awkward landings, where the joke’s parachute got tangled in the palms. 
            I had a ball myself, filling the guests with my visions of flying cars. It was a success on all accounts except the account that mattered most, the account on whose account this whole thing had been ordered, reserved, and paid for, Chloe’s. All party she stared gloomily into her vodka-pineapple (in an actual pineapple, my idea) and I worried she found the party too contrived, or that she missed Ellis.
            But I was wrong.
            “i feel God watching,” she said after the last guest left. “yet They do nothing. They have all the technical skills necessary 2 repair the Internet, or 2 not have disassembled it in the 1st place. why have They cast us n2 a dark age?”
            “well wut abt the whole thing abt God having a plan? do u believe in tht? i mean, mayb They’ve got sumthing even better than the Internet in store. mayb They’re hooking us up 2 a neural network as we speak, connecting us sensually as well as mentally.” I said.
            “i dont believe in tht now,” she said. “i would like 2 c good Minton gro up n a brighter world, but how can we assume it’s coming, when all we see around us is darkness? when he goes off n2 tht darkness, how will we stay n touch, if he can’t send me updates?”
            “mail?” I said, even though I knew it was facetious. No one used the mail.
            “o stop it Ralph. i rly need sum answers. idk how 2 live anymore. and i shldn’t have had a child.”
            “do u want me 2 read u Popular Mechanics?” I asked.
            “yr useless, u kno tht? don’t u realize yr Caroline is lost 4ever?”
            Well, that one broke me into a million pieces of pre-Internet porcelain. I cried. So did Chloe. We cried together and we cried apart. Our sobs in rhythmic counterpoint. Hers: huh, huh, huh, huh, huh. Mine: huh … huh … huh … huh ...
            Right then, as if summoned by uncertainty, God materialized in Chloe’s vodka-pineapple, in miniature, sitting on the rim of the halved fruit with Their legs crossed intellectually. In addition to the badge and the blue shirt with the white apple, They now wore gold-framed aviator glasses (lensless, Their vision is 20-20).
            God and Chloe spoke in some private language I couldn’t decipher—in fact, I believe God appeared just for her, to her, in her very own astral corner, and I was only seeing Them by accident, through some gap in the layering of infinite realities, a cosmic peephole, though God isn’t known to make mistakes. I tried to follow the conversation by their gestures. Chloe shook her head. God nodded. Chloe shook her head again. God nodded. Chloe, obstinate, wept and swung her head back and forth, sending her tears, each one bigger than God, flying in a semi-circular spread, like a sprinkler. One tear passed straight through the body of God, who nodded. They continued this way until I very nearly lost interest, at which point a great and, in my opinion, unrealistic sigh fell from Chloe’s mouth, and she lifted up her pineapple and drank God down with the remainder of her drink.
            Her body glowed, naturally, for the Spirit was inside her, but what surprised me was the shape of the light she gave off. It was never angular, straight, or jagged, but curved, undulating, as if the very waves of light, its form, were visible. It’s hard to describe. How does one see light? Perhaps I observed it more in the Things the light illuminated. The pineapples, the palms, the intransigent stones of the castle softened, became wavy. Their edges were smoothed, intersections eliminated. In Chloe’s light the right angle did not exist. She banished it back to the theoretical realm from whence it came. Then she shone on the tennis courts, the fire escape, the flying cars, scrambling their lines into scribbles. She circled squares, made mounds of the mountains, a sea of the grass. She deleted cracks, dissolved countries, bled sun into sky.
            Everywhere you looked, her effulgence was redescribing the visible world. It was as if all this time we had been watching the earth through a window that was now open, with us on the other side. I felt the vibrations of a new age playing on my organs. Even sounds were reshaped by the light. Minton’s wails became the laughter of a child; the Canadian geese stopped honking and started humming; the whistle of the breeze on the palms dropped an octave. I had the sense, no, knew that her light, if it could touch sun and sound, must be infinite. And that somewhere, on the other side of the planet or down this windy road beneath my feet, the light entered my Caroline and lifted her up by her spine, rolling out her pain and carrying her to an ecstasy which could never be communicated, one that would lock her in a singular and rapturous isolation in her tower of dreams-fulfilled, a tower no being, able-bodied or otherwise, would climb, not because they couldn’t, they simply wouldn’t, because they’d have their own, built as uniquely for them as Caroline’s was for her, and from all these towers rising up from the countryside like foxgloves would come the same joyous song, a celebration of the twinned fates of individuality and solitude, sung everywhere at once, in unison.
            But sometime later the light faded and became like most memories: dark.

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