The world ended while Ernie was on the toilet. Literally ended. Life ceased to exist. All around the world billions of humans, trillions on insects, multitudes of mammals, avian, reptiles and all other forms of life just stopped what they were doing, looked around in mild confusion, and then died.
Ernie had no way of knowing this. A particularly malevolent bowl of Mexican chili eaten only hours before had abruptly decided that Casa Ernie was no longer a viable habitat and decided to move to better housing in the porcelain throne room. Truth be told, Casa Ernie was a sorry sort of domicile for any food, let alone the spicy magnificence of Mexican chili. Standing only five and a half feet, Ernie weighed a hefty two hundred and thirty pounds. His face was marred by the remnants of teen acne and his glasses rested heavily on his pug nose. His curly hair had a perpetual greasy look to it and his thighs rubbed painfully together when he walked.
That was what Ernie saw ever morning when he looked in the mirror. He had, over the course of twenty-five years, actually grown accustomed to his appearance. On the evenings spent with Jack Daniels, he occasionally managed to convince himself that he was handsome in a big-boned sort of way.
Unfortunately, Mexican chili didn’t have the enlightened perspective of Mr. Daniels. It wanted out – and it wanted out now. And so, when the world ended, Ernie was on the toilet paying homage to the superior willpower of Mexican Chili.
Playing a suitable tune on his ass-flute Ernie bade farewell to the chili and decided that it would be a long time in the future before he embraced such repast again. It was always thus, Ernie mused as he pondered which act would be more dangerous: to light a scented candle in the bathroom or to not light a scented candle in the bathroom.
It’s not that I’m unreasonable. Self-pity for himself at this moment caused him to sigh loudly; which was a very bad mistake as in order to sigh a person must first inhale. Eyes watering, Ernie fled the last port of call for Mexican Chili and took his self-pity to the living room.
I’m open to new experiences. I like to shake things up a little bit. Just last week Ernie had, in an unexpected act of societal rebellion, driven all the way to work with his left turn signal on. He rather enjoyed frustrating all of the drivers behind him as they were never quite sure when he was going to turn or switch lanes. All was going fine until an old lady in a beat-up Cadillac had pulled along side him, rolled down her window, brandished a small handgun, and had shot out his left turn signal. In complete shock, Ernie had slowed down and allowed the old bat to pass him by, with her right turn signal flashing in his face all the rest of the way into the office.
Why, then, were new experiences like Mexican Chili out to get him? It was an undeniable truth; fate conspired to keep him from enjoying new experiences. It was almost as if the forces of nature had passed judgment against him and decided that all new things would henceforth be unpleasant to him.
His life seemed destined for mediocrity. His experiences were unremarkable. He was unremarkable, in a big-boned sort of way. His car was unremarkable. Even his goldfish was unremarkable. It was a fish. It was gold. It swam in a bowl.
It could be worse, he supposed. He was struggling to think exactly how it could be worse when a nagging thought began tickling his brain. He hated nagging anything – so he ignored it and continued to ponder his unremarkable plight.
He supposed it might be worse if he had suffered some disfiguring accident. Nope, he decided – having an accident would be remarkable, so he knew he would never suffer from one. An accident would invariably leave a scar and scars are mysterious, remarkable, things. He closed his eyes and wistfully imagined himself with a scar.
His nagging thought was becoming more persistent, demanding attention of some kind. Rude, Ernie thought, to have a thought that wouldn’t wait its turn. He would have to do something about that as soon as he figured out how to properly chastise wayward thoughts. There was nothing for it; he would have to pay attention to his errant brain impulses.
It’s too quiet.
That’s it? Ernie thought impatiently. His bout of self-pity interrupted by such a small insignificant thought? It figures, he accepted it with as much dignity as he could muster; even his interruptions were unremarkable.
What kind of thought was that anyway, Ernie sullenly let the thought speak again, “It’s too quiet.” No answer was forthcoming from the thought itself, apparently. It had delivered it message and was determined to fade away.
Not so fast. Ernie grabbed the thought and held it tight, refusing to let it go away. You don’t just walk into a crowded room, drop a stinky fart, and walk out. No, no – there was a mystery here and he was going to keep this thought, against its will, until he figured it out.
Speaking of noxious flatulence – mayhap Ernie had forgotten to flush Mexican Chili. Maybe that was what the thought was all about. A quick, closed-mouth, held-breath check of the porcelain bowl proved that theory false. All clear there.
Slowly it dawned on Ernie that none of the normal sounds of civilization were creeping in through his paper-thin walls. No honking of horns, screeching of tires, screams of fighting couples. No sound of drug deals being made across the hallway of his apartment. No giggling of the prostitute next door. Nothing.
Curious, Ernie opened the door to his apartment and walked outside. He had to step over a sleeping dog and a two or three sleeping people. Not too uncommon as the local winos often passed out in the building before they were removed by the authorities. What was uncommon was what he saw when he reached the street.