“Post-Solar” by D. Harlan Wilson

9 min read

Once again, the insects begin to cry.

This has nothing to do with the sun.

Nobody knows why it stopped shining, but everybody agrees that it’s still there. Moonshine is the proof. 

The insects appear to have special wisdom. I call for help.

By the time the limousine arrives, I have more or less retrieved my wits and forgotten that I had contacted anybody. There is a brief interrogation, but the driver claims to know me. He’s used to my unreliability.

We get into the limo. I take my medication and pass out.

When I awaken, I make myself a drink and roll down the partition. “Insects don’t feel pain,” I tell the driver. “They merely sense danger if they encounter something too hot or too cold. They recognize damage to their bodies. They’re bona fide robots. They don’t experience emotions. And yet they cry all the time. Listen.” I roll down a window. The sound of infinite grief hums like a turbine in the wind. “Can you hear that? I wish I were an insect. Where are we going now? Watch out!”

The driver makes no effort to swerve around the cow in the road. He just blinks the headlights.

The cow explodes when we crash into it. The gore is as remarkable and unexpected as it is impossible.

We veer into a ditch.

I try to revive the driver.

I remove his body from the limo and try to drive away.

Staring at the moon and listening to the darkness, I explore my recent history. It occurs to me that I don’t know where I am, who I am, or what I’m doing.

I remember who I am.

The driver begins to decompose.

I get a shovel from the trunk and dig a hole. The ground is hard and I get tired. I strip the driver to his underwear. I throw the shovel aside and drag his body towards the hole, but he’s fat, and I get tired again.

I go back to the limo and retry the ignition. It grumbles to life. I lean out the window, clean the cow guts from the windshield with my sleeve, and drive away.

In the rearview mirror, I see that the driver isn’t dead. He’s gotten up and he’s running after me. His belly sways awkwardly as he shouts and gesticulates, but he’s spry and moves fast. I pull over, roll down the window, peer outside. “Hey!”

“Stop! Stop! Help! Help!” bleats the driver. 

“I am stopped. I thought you were dead. I’m surprised you’re alive. I probably need some more medication.”

I take a dose and pass out just as the driver trips and falls forward, breaking his neck on the rear bumper with a cinematic crack of bone.

When I awaken, the sun is shining. It’s a dream.

When I awaken, I’m in the back seat. The partition is up and won’t roll down. I make myself a drink and pound on it. “Hey! Open this thing up, goddamn it!”

No response. The windows won’t roll down either.

It feels like we’re going faster than the speed limit. I decide to drink too much and see what happens.

The moon roof explodes out of the ceiling. Sunlight floods the interior of the compartment, setting my skin on fire. Another dream. Possibly a hallucination. By the time we arrive at the awards ceremony, I can’t tell if I’m drunk, high, or unconscious. That’s the way I like it. That means everything’s going to be ok.

Halfway down the red carpet, I get in a fight with the sentinel commissioned to protect me. We punch, roundhouse, and bodyslam each other, then pull handguns and start shooting as airborne paparazzi record the skirmish, darting back and forth overhead like mosquitos. It’s a grisly scene with multiple casualties.

Afterwards, I find a microphone and deliver a long apology to the crowd. The apology culminates in this improvised assertion: “At the end of the day, the image of an object is really the subject of an object.” 

I don’t know what that means.

The crowd senses my ignorance, sees it in my counterfeit gaze.

I shoot my way back to the limo, dive in, and tell the driver to take me to church.

The partition is still down and everybody’s pounding on the vehicle and calling for blood. I assume the driver died again.

Rocking from the turbulence, I pour myself a drink and manage my expectations, planning to die myself.

We speed away.

The inability to control every aspect of my being and experience sinks me into a deep depression. This happens all the time, without warning or cause, and there’s no breaking out of it. The depression must run its course as I fail to forgive myself for all of the people I’ve wronged since childhood. I cringe at the memory of a derogatory glance delivered to a youthful peer. I rue the idle beatdowns and murderous riots that I incite on a weekly basis to promote my social brands.

The partition rolls down. Instantly, I feel better. I can’t get a good look at the driver. I think it’s somebody else, but I’m not sure. “Are you who you’re supposed to be?”

“Yes,” says the driver. “Do you really want to go to church?”

“Church?”

“You said to take you to church.”

“Oh. That’s just something you say, like.”

“Where are we going?”

“I don’t know.” I find a towel and wipe the booze from my suit and pants. “Find a cathedral in the weeds. I’m in the mood for a Southern Gothic mise.”

“Fine. How should we manage our expectations? Should we plan to be bored or harrowed?”

“Something will happen. It always does.”

Another cow appears on the road. This time, the driver swerves out of the way. We crash into a telephone pole, and he launches through the windshield like a missile. The insects cheer as the driver sails across the metallic sky in slow motion and disappears into a cornfield.

I didn’t have my seatbelt on. Surprisingly, I’m only a little banged up.

I assume the driver’s dead. I pour a drink and go look for the body.

There’s no body.

I get lost in the cornstalks.

Fatigued, I lay down and fall into a dreamless sleep.

I awaken in the driver’s seat of the limo. I get out and inspect the mangled front bumper and the dented hood. It looks bad, but I’m able to back up from the telephone pole and drive away.

In the rearview mirror, I see the driver emerge from the cornfield. He runs after me, belly swaying back and forth like the pendulum of a grandfather clock.

I pull over, roll down the window.

“Stop!” bleats the driver.

“I am stopped!” My depression returns. “Hold on. I need my wherewithal.” I take a dose of meds and pass out as the driver begins to decompose in mid-stride. When I awaken, the moon has swallowed the sky. It’s not a dream.

I knock on the partition. “You know,” I say, “the sun is still on fire. We can’t see it, but it’s out there. Up there, I mean. Burning. I’m telling you.”

As I make myself a drink, the partition rolls down. “ETA to church: six minutes,” reports the driver. 

“Very well.”

The partition rolls up.

For a moment, I have an out-of-body experience wherein I mistake myself for a shadow. Figuratively, we are all shadows cast by the ghost of history, but I actually view myself—the idea of myself—as a shadow, dark and diaphanous, a forsaken silhouette, cast by nobody. Halfway down the red carpet, I break into a sprint.

I schmooze with the congregation as I pace to the altar, then wrestle a microphone from the minister. He puts up a good fight, but my default pathology enhances my strength. He’s no match for me.

“Greetings,” I intone, maneuvering my crowdstare like a spotlight. “Mark my words: actors should never speak out of character. Invariably, they say the wrong things, and it’s embarrassing. In fact, they don’t have much to say about anything, and even the best actors are bad at acting like they have brains. My message is clear. The only real beginning and end is birth and death. All of the other alphas and omegas that you think you have suffered are an illusion. What remains is the horrific in-between. Amen.” 

I shoot my way out of the church, dive back into the limo, speed away. The partition rolls down.

“What is it?” I say. “I know what’s happening, if that’s the problem.”

The driver groans perfunctorily.

“That’s affect, is what that is. You’re no professional. Take me where I’m supposed to go. It’s dark out, like.”

We crash before I can make a drink. During the crash, we crash again.

I crawl out of the rubble, make myself a drink, and swallow it in one gulp. “That hit the spot.”

I collapse like a marionette whose puppeteer has abandoned him.

In a dream, I dispatch the puppeteer, abduct his family, and make them into my playthings, attaching strings to their extremities and walking them across the tundra of my psyche.

I awake hanging from the hook of a crane.

I must be at least forty feet above ground.

Beneath me, firefighters attempt to crack open the limo with the jaws of life as police canvas the area.

Above me, stars burn with an impossible brightness, as if siphoning futurity’s momentum.

There is no moon.

I climb the wire rope to the top of the crane and take a stance on the jib. “Since I became myself, my existence has never gone out of syndication,” I exclaim, feeling more faint of heart than feint of mind. “Reruns of my actions and reactions are inevitable. It’s not my fault. The Studio’s got me over the barrel. It doesn’t matter that the Studio doesn’t exist. Its minions own me, just as they own Eternity.” I have more to say, but nobody’s paying attention. I’m probably too high in the sky to be heard, let alone noticed.

I sit on the jib and wait to lose consciousness.

As my vision fades in and out, I watch the workers remove the driver from the wreckage. One of his arms is mauled and they have to amputate it on the spot. The score of the insects’ grief complements the amputation and the screams that accompany it.

I’m underwhelmed when the driver shakes the hands of his saviors with his good arm, then gets in the limo and drives away without incident.

Riding the crane’s hook like a chandelier, I swoop to the ground in order to reassure my audience that I haven’t lost touch with my ability to defy reality. A shootout with the police ends in more friendly handshakes as well as impromptu beers.

I help everybody get on their way, as if the crash scene is my home and I’m bidding goodnight to dinner guests.

I return to the wreckage of the limo.

After flooding the engine several times, the vehicle comes back to life. It looks like junkyard detritus, but once I get it going, it drives just fine.

The worn, warm leather of the steering wheel feels like an extension of my skin, my synapses.

I speed down the starlit road.

I open the glove compartment and make myself a drink with the materials I find inside, dodging the cows that gallop across my line of flight.

I fail to preempt the cow that rams into the passenger-side door.

As I sail across the sky in slow motion, miniature liquor bottles revolve around the nucleus of my body like protons and electrons.

The antennae of the paramedics who revive me singe with electricity. “We can’t escape who we are,” I tell them, “no more than we can escape who we are not.”

They inject me with a local anesthetic that floods my limbs, neutralizes my pain, and uplifts my spirits.

“Does it feel funny?” one of the paramedics asks me.

“It should feel funny,” confirms another paramedic.

I say, “It feels good.”

That’s not altogether true, but it’s true enough.

Once I’m able to stand, I start a gunfight with the paramedics and steal their ambulance, recognizing that the limo is finally beyond repair. It’s not the same, though, and none of the medication on board resembles my prescription.

What happens next has nothing to do with the celebrity of my impetus.

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