“Christ, what?” he would often ask as he awoke, sliding around on or (on a day) stuck to the upholstery cover his mother had put on the couch because he kept soiling himself. She objected to what he was doing, but never verbalized it. Billy hated her for that. It was the same passive-aggressive crap his ex-girlfriend pulled the night they met, when it was plain she didn’t like what he doing yet still grunted an assent that paved the way for statutory rape.
Drawing any parallel between Billy’s mother and a woman he had sex with (the only one, which was neither here nor there) upset him even more. The mere eventuality of a terrorist raining death upon him was no longer good enough. Billy wanted to know when.
He didn’t need it to happen right away, but the date and time were important so he could plan accordingly. It was mandatory that he be in her presence when it all went down. He would have to make sure she knew what was about to occur because it would spoil the fun if she were caught unawares. Fear of impending doom would inspire her to embrace him, a show of affection and bonding too little too late.
“Joke’s on you, Mom. I want to die,” Billy would say, pushing her away.
Billy hoped by thinking hard about the issue, an answer would come to him so he made a pact with himself to do just that. Any time not spent drinking, sleeping, or watching TV was dedicated to this task. That time added up, sometimes topping an hour in a single day. Even so, days turned into months and months to years without a breakthrough.
He came to realize he had no talent for predicting the future. If he had, would he have allowed his life to turn out like this? Probably, but it still would have been nice to have had a heads up.
There was no shortage of mystics and seers who claimed to have the gift of prophecy, but few of them were reliable. If they had any real talent, they would be soothsaying hot stock picks instead of operating in dingy offices above pawn shops and porn outlets.
If you measured by personal success, Christianity was the way to go. Sure, there were some shabby sidewalk prophets predicting doom on their sandwich boards. Those were the outcasts. The established churches had done very well for themselves, commanding a huge flock who filled their coffers with donations and provided a formidable voting bloc lest any politician try to curtail their racket.
Few Christians called themselves psychics and have historically caused all kinds of unpleasantness for people who did. The answers about the End of Days, and everything else, they claimed, was in the Bible.
There was a New Testament in the house where Billy and his mother lived. It had belonged to Billy’s father, who bought it so he could have it in hand when the cops arrived on a domestic-disturbance call.
Billy started reading it to look for answers and wished he had the CliffsNotes. It was the King James Version and Billy scratched his head over the word “begat.” He had no idea what it meant, which bothered him because there seemed to be a whole lot of begatting going on. Realizing he was never going to be a biblical scholar, he decided to let the History Channel find the answers for him.
‘It was 2009 and the show “Decoding the Past” had just run its course, but the network that once had the reputation of being “all Hitler, all the time” was not abandoning its recent focus on serving up paranormal speculation to the credulous. “The Nostradamus Effect” was now airing and there would be many others.
Billy vaguely remembered Nostradamus from “The Man Who Saw Tomorrow,” a 1981 movie narrated by a bloated and cigar-smoking Orson Welles who wheezed out dire predictions for humanity when the third Antichrist came to power. World War III was scheduled to light up the planet in the late 1990s. That never happened, but Billy admired this Nostradamus character enough to give him another chance here in the 21st century.
It was the “The Nostradamus Effect” that introduced Billy to the Mayan prediction that the world was going to end on December 21, 2012. This made a lot of sense to him. Along with the ancient Egyptians, the Mayans were pretty much air-traffic controllers for extraterrestrials. They had to pick up some insider’s knowledge on the job.
The Mayans didn’t actually predict the end of the world, but the show said they did and that was good enough for Billy. His mother could give him as many disapproving looks as she wanted and it wouldn’t bother him. He now had a real date to look forward to. It was his Christmas.
For the next three years, Billy drank contentedly and let time tick down. December 21, 2012 finally came. Then December 22 came and Billy was still here. So was his mother. He hated the Mayans for lying to him and was glad they were all dead.
Billy spent the next four and a half years drinking and watching television. The History Channel failed to come up with any concrete predictions and the “Not if, but when” often uttered by the show’s solemn narrator had long since failed to comfort him. The situation became so dire that he began watching actual news programs.
There was some hope there, but not much. Billy learned about North Korea, who had nukes, and other nations who just wanted them. The old-guard nuke havers like Russia and China had too much to lose to start World War III. Kim Jong-un, on the other hand, ruled a garbage nation and therefore had nothing to lose. Billy developed a serious man crush on the North Korean leader, but no missiles were launched so his love so far was unrequited.
Billy was more depressed than he had ever been. His fiftieth birthday was approaching and doomsday was no closer than when he was 18. Just when he thought his life could not get any worse, his mother brought home a dog.
The new arrival was an affable mutt from the animal shelter and if had been anyone else’s dog, he would have liked it just fine. It wasn’t just any dog though. It was his mother’s dog and she named it Billy.
“You’re such a good boy, Billy,” his mother would often say. “I love this Billy. This Billy never makes me cry. This Billy never makes me feel ashamed.”
Billy the human started thinking up different ways of killing the dog. Poison, beating with a hammer, and throwing from a freeway overpass were all briefly considered then rejected. It wasn’t a moral objection. Billy simply did not have it in him to be a killer.
Then in early December, an idea came to him. While his mother was at work, he grabbed a jar of peanut butter from the cupboard and went into his mother’s bedroom. He then kicked over the clothes hamper and started spreading the peanut butter on the crotch of all of his mother’s panties. He made sure to slather plenty on because he figured the dog didn’t want a mouthful of that nastiness any more than he did.
Billy’s mother said nothing, but two days later the dog was gone. There was no mention of it during dinner that night, which was not all that odd because Billy and his mother rarely spoke while eating. Billy wanted to bring it up, but he could wait until Christmas. His mother may not have loved her son, but she did love Christmas dinner. She cooked a big ham and everything.
Christmas night came.
“So Mom, what did you do with the dog?” Billy said, slurring his words and talking with a mouthful of food.
“I killed Billy,” his mother said. “Or rather the veterinarian did, but I was the one who asked him to be put down. I tried to love him, but he crossed a line and proved himself unworthy. I thought it would make me feel sad, but I found the experience liberating. It turns out that killing Billy was the best decision I could make. A little poison and Billy was gone from my life forever. So tell me. How does your food taste tonight?”
“You’re poisoning me?”
“Why shouldn’t I?”
Billy did not know how to react, but picking up the Christmas ham and hurling it through the living-room window was the first thing that came to mind so he did that. The hole it made was not big enough for Billy to jump through and make his escape like Chief Bromden in One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest so he ran out the front door instead.
You can’t outrun poison that is already in your body and if Billy had thought this through, he might have reconsidered. However, Billy was not forward thinking. He was also not poisoned, which explained why he was able to keep running instead of collapsing and dying on the sidewalk.
Meanwhile, his mother giggled into her napkin.
Billy did not return home. If he did not live in California, he might have frozen to death on some park bench. Instead, he stayed warm and alive enough to deal with alcohol withdrawal. Once an accomplished panhandler, Billy’s brush with what he believed was attempted murder rendered him too agitate to ask for spare change with screaming obscenities.
Rescue missions and nondenominational soup kitchens kept Billy fed, but what he really wanted was a drink and for the first time in his adult life, he was unable to get one. Going home was out of the question. He welcomed death, but did not want to give his mother the satisfaction of doing him in.
After a week or so on the streets, the physical symptoms of alcohol withdrawal began to subside. That did not kill the cravings though. Billy had spent so much of his life hammered that the sober world was an alien and terrifying place.
Opportunity presented itself in early March. It was a damp, cool evening and Billy was wandering the streets with his donated sleeping bag and looking for a place to bed down. He spotted a snoring figure curled up in an overcoat and clutching a half-drunk bottle of Royal Gate vodka. Billy was more of a bourbon man, but these were desperate times.
He reached down to liberate the bottle from its owner. As he tried to pull it away. The hand holding the bottle tightened and Billy felt a punch connect with the side of his head. Billy hit the ground and the next thing he knew, he was being kicked repeatedly in the head. He covered his skull with his arms to protect himself, but one of the kicks hit home and it was lights out.
Billy did not know how long he was unconscious. It could have been minutes or hours. Thankfully, his attacker was gone and he was alone on the cold sidewalk with blood dripping from his ear and his head hurting like a thousand hangovers. He had suffered a concussion and possibly something worse, but he felt his thinking was clear and he was absolutely clear about two things: Objects on the sidewalk are more awake than they appear and the exact date and time when a North Korean nuke would hit.
It wasn’t surprising that the truth had eluded Billy for so long. North Korea was never mentioned in the Bible and yet it was now the country most likely to make an American City wear a mushroom cloud as a hat. Billy reviewed the facts:
- The city Billy lived in was the largest target within North Korean missile range.
- Donald Trump recently made a speech reciting poem based on the fable of of a snake who fatally but a woman who tried to help it. Though his speech was widely believed to be targeting immigrants, North Korea was a larger threat so the poem should actually be about them.
- St. Patrick’s Day, a holiday celebrating an eradicator of snakes was coming up.
- Dragons in Korean folklore look pretty darn snakelike.
Billy nodded over his revelation as more blood dripped from his ear. The most strategic time for Kim Jong-un to strike would be right before St. Patrick’s Day began. That would be 11:59 pm on March 16 in Ireland, which would be 4:59 pm in California.
Hot diggity, Billy thought. Billy had it all worked out. He would go meet his mother at her work on the afternoon of March 16 with the pretext of making amends. He would show up a little before 4:59, but not too early because he didn’t want to spend much time around her. Since ground zero would certainly be downtown, he would position himself so she was just a little closer to it than he was. This would give him that fraction of a second of watching her die before the blast hit him. It was not a lot of time, but in that single moment it would truly be the rest of his life.
With the details worked out, Billy decided to celebrate. He wasn’t going to attempt lifting a bottle from another homeless guy. He would go to a corner store and buy a bottle there. He had no cash on him, but he would explain his doomsday scenario to the shopkeeper, who would quickly realize that caring about money was now pointless. Billy got to his feet at set off, his head injury causing him to stagger like a man who was pleasantly drunk.
Billy’s mother died later that night.
When she didn’t show up for work the next day, police were dispatched to her house and found her body at the bottom of a flight of stairs. The trouble between her and Billy was no secret so he was immediately suspected of pushing her.
The suspicion did not last long. Billy could not have killed her because he was in jail at her time of death. His trip to the corner store had not gone according to plan. The shopkeeper was unconvinced that the city was going to be vaporized so he demanded Billy pay for the liquor. Billy had little patience with party poopers so he grabbed the bottle and made a run for it. Fat people are seldom fast runners and Billy was no exception so the shopkeeper quickly caught up to Billy and put him in a headlock while making a cellphone call to the cops.
Billy’s mother fell down the stairs at the exact moment he raised both middle fingers for his mugshot photo.
When Billy’s innocence was established, those who falsely accused him felt guilty about it and asked him to speak at her funeral. Billy was no longer homeless. He had just moved into his mother’s house, which was his house now. He wouldn’t have it for long, which was OK because no one would. Sure, he would speak at her memorial. He told them he would be honored. Secretly, this would be his chance to set the record straight and it was only fitting that the service would be held when the missile was scheduled to hit.
The day had arrived. His mother was laid out in her casket, as dead everyone else would soon be. Billy was invited up to say a few words. It was 4:55 pm.
Billy took one more swig from his flask and approached the podium. He no longer wore the bandage on his head. Unlike North Korea, the kicks to his skull were not life threatening. He cleared his throat and spoke into the mic.
“Bitch weren’t shit,” he said.
The grammatical error was deliberate. Billy knew fully well that “Bitch wasn’t shit” was technically correct, but he wanted to tell a greater truth so he spoke the language of straight shooters who placed blunt honesty above subject-verb agreement. The people in attendance stared at Billy with confusion. They thought he said “Bench Warrant.”
Outside the funeral home, a cloudless blue sky spread out in all directions, empty of everything except a failed promise and a broken dream.