by Chris Barton
Chris Barton's writing has appeared in Hotel, Hobart, Maudlin House, Potluck Mag, and elsewhere. He currently lives in Knoxville, TN.
The end is a seed. He drives a cheap car into an eroding field with the perfect animal who is going to save the world. The field is full of aluminum and sharp, radiated rocks. The soil is painted with the runoff of pharmaceutical opiates and microplastics, and evolves and curves in alien ways under the balding tires. There is a tree that looks like it is made out of actual antibiotics, chalky pastel neon shrub-thing, and a fruity ester smell leaks through the air vents on the dashboard as the car anxiously jerks with speed. The perfect animal who is going to save the world sits up straight in the passenger seat, paws on knees, eyes closed. With incredible posture they practice a breathing exercise. Eyes closed they hum: “I am a real one. I can save this world,” in their mind as the landscape becomes steeper and the seat belt dives into the shine of their soft fur. The driver shivers, can’t remember if they paid their Chase credit card on time. No, their utility bill on time. No, their credit card. What percentage is the late fee again? Ten percent? 25 percent of the total balance? Is rent due too? Maybe no one will notice. Maybe the employee behind the computer calculating fees will be hungover and self-medicating with a new B vitamin-infused sparkling coconut water. Maybe they will feel extreme sorrow, recite a psalm of forgiveness, charge the fee to a made-up account and send a concerned email—subject line: Just Checking In. God, if only. God, you done yet? Do the prayers hit you like mosquitos, God? Dog, do we even understand each other? “That job is obviously automated,” mumbles the driver in stark delirium. One hand on the wheel, the driver is casually shopping online for a mesh-plastic tube to hold the leftover plastic grocery bags in their home with. He is looking for a mesh-plastic tube that is more aesthetically cool. A bigger, sexier tube that can hold plastic bags, but could also be an exciting addition to the bedroom, say something mature about his consumer interests, make a modern eco-aware statement about beauty. A utility vessel that could move a total stranger past tears and towards a feeling of I need that mesh-plastic tube to hold the leftover plastic grocery bags in my life too. “Bleh, bleh,” the perfect animal is chewing on their headrest. With sad orbicular eyes they grab the driver’s phone mid-transaction and frisbee it out the window. The landscape shakes, juts to an insane angle, and just like that the wind flips sharp rocks up into the windshield, and small pieces of glass crack back like popcorn onto the driver’s hands and face. The perfect animal howls bleakly in the passenger seat. The air has the quality of Vidalia onions. Stingy tears hatch from the corners of the perfect animal’s eyes and down their nose. The driver veers. The perfect animal puts a paw on the steering wheel, and the car skids up a mountainous aspic ramp of pariben-infused meat byproducts and glyphosate-marbled rubber mud. The perfect animal slams their head on the dashboard, and now their head hurts and their nose bleeds, and they are depressed for the very first time with death thoughts in their head hole. The perfect animal wants to hurt you, is manic and repulsed. They hate you, vile you, because you have yet to do enough for the people you say you really love. The perfect animal screams, “We are glued to love and ruin. Little moments of loving a little without being loved, little moments of love without loving. Glued to a problem of loving, and a suffering that does not leave.” The driver is bored and bleeding out and craving Taco Bell. The dashboard of the car swells like an overcharged lithium ion battery. “Do you think there are flames where we’re going?” asks the driver, smoke trailing from his nose, one foot really punching the gas. And just like that there is no more landscape. The car ejects upward at a terminal angle, somersaults and gains to a mythic point once thought unachievable. An amazing space just under the sun. “You must be willing to share most things. Even hell,” answers the perfect animal without a flinch. Some children laugh in a nearby park as the car begins to fall. The crust of a sandwich is tossed away. A cat yawns in the shade, content in the middle of their kitty life. A torturer pushes an empty swing. And as the car, full of heat, hits the green water below there is without a doubt a terrible, forsaken splash that the well-intentioned physician may see through the clear windows of the supreme building. Followed by wild cries that the nervous policeman might hear in his dull patrol vehicle terrorizing the street below. And as the sun shines like it has to on the sinking, burnt husk an expensive, dazzling yacht transporting some of the wealthiest innovators of a lifetime, along with all their breathtaking ideas and machines—all of whom must have observed the poetic spectacle: the perfect animal who was going to save the world dropping right out of the sky—has somewhere to go, and calmly sails on.