BOSKO MEGGS WAS AN INDOOR MAN. He lived in a two-room walkup. He used to like to go outside, before the sun turned mean. But now going outside meant buying sunblock, a luxury that Bosko could no longer afford. The rich fuckers owned everything now, even nature.
“Fuck ’em,” Bosko muttered, closing the blinds again.
It was morning. Traffic was picking up.
Bosko Meggs liked to drink coffee and stay up late. He worked from home, and it was easier to get work done at night. He preferred to sleep through as much of the daylight as possible, so he didn’t have to look at the sunshine he could no longer afford to enjoy.
In the late afternoon, which served as his morning, Bosko liked to drink wine and do crossword puzzles. After his favorite newspaper stopped running a crossword puzzle, Bosko succumbed to the telemarketers and subscribed to the Los Angeles Times.
Every day at 6 a.m., the newspaper hit the front door, rousing Bosko unpleasantly, for he’d only just fallen asleep.
Now it was 6:30. Bosko couldn’t get back to sleep, and had fetched the paper and moved to the living room. A semi drove past, shaking the building’s foundation; Bosko couldn’t help sloshing half a glass of Châteauneuf-du-Pape on today’s puzzle, and the other half on Scallop, his albino cat. Scallop took off running, pissed.
Bosko called out a weak apology, stood and tried to refill his glass, but the bottle kept jumping around on the table and the plants shook and the walls swayed and a chorus of car alarms sang and echoed for miles and the floor opened up and, with crossword puzzle in one hand and empty glass in the other, Bosko Meggs fell and kept falling.
KENTUCKY BLUEGRASS CARPETED a lush rolling meadow for miles in all directions. There were creeks. There were tadpoles. There was fog and morning dew. At the meadow’s edge was a run-down chalet, surrounded by dogwoods and pussy willows, eggplants and lime trees.
Inside the chalet, houseguest Olivia Schechner woke up beside her host, Erik Cheeseburger, in a big soft bed in a sturdy maple loft, eight feet above the cool cement floor. Olivia stretched and rolled over to observe the lightly snoring Erik. Two of her hairs stuck to his lip, rising and falling in the snores.
Erik was Olivia’s first romance since her divorce had been finalized, and this was the first night she’d stayed over. Erik was a strange but gentle man, who held odd jobs but claimed to be close to a cure for Alzheimer’s. Olivia put on Erik’s pale-blue yukata and climbed down to the kitchen to make coffee and snag yesterday’s newspaper, for the crossword puzzle.
With fresh coffee in hand and the puzzle in her pocket, Olivia carefully ascended the ladder to the loft as the paper lanterns overhead began to sway, then the house shook violently, the windows burst, and a fissure opened up below.
Olivia kept climbing up, up, up while falling down, down, down.
BENJAMIN BEN-JACKSON WAS UP all night and into the morning, on the verge of discovering cures for AIDS, cancer, diabetes, influenza, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, when the telephone rang, interrupting a crucial thought.
“Who’d be calling at this hour?” Ben-Jackson thought. It better damn well be important.
“Hello! Mrs. Jackson?”
“Mrs. Ben-Jackson is deceased,” said Ben-Jackson, lowering his already low voice, for gender clarification. “This is Mr. Ben-Jackson. Who is this?”
“Is this Mr. Jackson?”
“This is Mr. Ben-Jackson, yes. And who is this?”
“Mr. Jackson! My name is Lysol Sinclair, and I’m calling from the Los Angeles Times — and how are you today — with a special offer for you to take advantage of right now by subscribing to the world-famous Los Angeles Times at a new special low rate now!”
“I already — ”
“We’re now offering new-subscription customers a special low rate as incentive to subscribe! This special low rate is currently unavailable to anyone except new subscribers who want to take advantage of this special offer by subscribing at a new special low rate to the Los Angeles Times! Mr. Jackson!”
“It’s Ben-Jackson, and I already — ”
“Because as a local Los Angeles resident in these exciting times you demand an information source that is local and profitable, and we at the Los Angeles Times are now willing to allow you to spend considerably less to subscribe to the Los Angeles Times right now than at any other time, and — Mr. Jackson! — I’m talking about a subscription that would begin tomorrow morning with a fresh copy of tomorrow’s world-famous Los Angeles Times on your crisp white doorstep at a substantial savings over the rate currently enjoyed by current subscribers who have been paying considerably more than the special offer that the new Los Angeles Times subscription office is offering people like you right now, Mr. Jackson, so that you can sign up and receive that first fresh copy on your crisp white doorstep tomorrow morning at substantial savings now saving you more money than ever before, Mr. Jackson, and if you’ll just verify your address, I can take down your credit card and we can . . .”
Benjamin Ben-Jackson hated to be impolite. He held the telephone at arm’s length for several minutes, waiting for the voice to stop. When it would not, he placed the telephone inside the microwave, closed the door and returned to his work, currently stacked and spread across the dining table.
BUT HIS PEN JUST ZIGGED AND ZAGGED as the walls shivered and the bookcases collapsed like dominoes. The carpet parted, and Benjamin Ben-Jackson rolled forward and plummeted into the depths, down and down and down, quickly and for several hours.
Down and down until at last he landed, comfortably, in a dime-store chaise longue. The chair floated in magma that glowed red but was unexpectedly cool. The air, too, was surprisingly fresh — better than up top. Around Ben-Jackson, as far as he could see, were hundreds or thousands of others, all drifting contentedly in identical aluminum-frame chairs. Every few seconds, a shaft of light would open from the lithosphere above, and someone else would join them.
To Ben-Jackson’s immediate left, Olivia Schechner sat drinking coffee and doing yesterday’s crossword puzzle, and to his right sat Bosko Meggs with his clean white cat, Scallop, on his lap and a full glass of wine, doing today’s.
“Ben-Jackson!” said Bosko Meggs. “I didn’t know you were a Man of Faith!”
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“Meggs,” said Benjamin Ben-Jackson, nodding. “And Ms. Schechner,” he said, facing her. “What a small world. I just had lunch with Erik Cheeseburger yesterday.”
“Yes,” said Olivia. “He mentioned.”
“Is there any coffee left?” said Ben-Jackson.
“Plenty,” said Olivia. “Always.”