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The Homecoming Dance

This was the last thing I gave to Heavy Metal Magazine, a little more than 4 years ago. It always bothered me that it could not have been better worded, so here I go.

“This is the excellent foppery of the world, that,
when we are sick in fortune,–often the surfeit
of our own behavior,–we make guilty of our
disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars: as
if we were villains by necessity; fools by
heavenly compulsion; knaves, thieves, and
treachers, by spherical predominance; drunkards,
liars, and adulterers, by an enforced obedience of
planetary influence; and all that we are evil in,
by a divine thrusting on: an admirable evasion
of whoremaster man, to lay his goatish
disposition to the charge of a star!”
– from King Lear, Act 1, Scene 2

Blame it on the black star!
– Radiohead


We waited as long as we could.

Our town lost its power grid three months ago. The cell, WiFi and satellite signals were the first to go, so everyone freaked out over suddenly being shoved offline. But then the cable television, telephone landlines, all of the electricity- it all went down. There had been lots of news stories in the weeks running up to that day, of riots and lawsuits and politicians from different countries threatening to blow each other the hell up. It was a clusterfuck of angry voices, but I wish I had paid closer attention to the details. To the fine print, like Jacob would say. When mom and dad died a week after the blackout, that’s when I started listening more to Jacob. He’s my big brother.

I never really listened to anyone else before, not even the folks. I’d lost interest in school the year before, I guess, around the time Jacob was sent off to juvie for 9 months over assaulting the Vice Principal at our high school. Everyone thought he’d turn out like those Columbine shooters. But he was way smarter than that. I didn’t realize how much until one night, when the neighbors broke into our house after midnight looking for food. They had guns. My dad tried to talk sense into them, but everyone panicked so much bullets went flying. Jacob had pulled me into the attic, which saved me from being another corpse like the rest of our family. In the span of loud minutes we were all alone.

After a few days of camping out at home, laying low, we finally set off into the downtown district. Jacob said there’d be generators. Days flew by like dreams. All we saw were car wrecks along the way, and lots more dead bodies and whole buildings burnt to bones. Jacob said he had a plan for this sort of thing, that whenever the fit was hitting the shan, his boys were all supposed to meet up in the woods behind the school. Considering who his friends were, I was amazed they even knew how to find the school. Almost like a “who’s who” of every guy and girl who’d been expelled across the county in the last 4 or 5 years, and so many more dropouts, like me, they were all there. Most of them anyhow. We’ve all been staying here at the high school ever since, scouting for food and supplies around the ghosts screaming through town, but tonight we are leaving town, for good. And these young rejects were going to throw a party at the school, the last homecoming, they called it.

I got drunk for the first time tonight! That’s why I’m writing everything down. I feel so alive! Jacob’s girlfriend Gwen and her brother Craig both showed me how to fire the guns they’d swiped from their uncle (and which had come in handy when bandits had tried to crash our safe zone of Daniel Boone High). Their family was dead too, but Gwen said her mom had killed herself months before the blackout earlier, when the banks all collapsed and locked up shop one weekend. Everyone had a story to tell. Our party at the school had wanted to wait til help arrived, but after weeks spread thinly into months, eventually we all had to accept the facts. Outside of the school grounds, the only life we saw were the sorts who deserved to be locked up in prison. And the strange boats flying ominously through the late night sky. The library had stuff that described them as The Wild Huntsmen. But what we saw wasn’t giant warriors flying through the air or alien gods foxtrotting down their own memories; what we saw was in mourning. A viking funeral, with players so vast in grief that it would take the rest of our lives for them to fully pass.

Jacob says that the world is different now. We won’t have to get jobs or go to college or anything like that, because now the human race is in full-on survival mode, and only the strong will survive. Everyone here listens to him, because Jacob is never really wrong. But he’s growing antsy. He pumps his fists a lot, and doesn’t seem to ever stand still anymore. I don’t know about tomorrow, but I think that the world is getting what it asked for. Or at least what it deserves. It’s not a politics thing or a religious thing or a culture thing. It’s not even a money thing, really. Everyone wanted to blame someone else for the state of the Fall. I don’t know the details, but I know the big picture. We did it to ourselves. We are the bad guys, every one of us who ignored our nightmares.

And tonight, in celebration, my old school is on fire. We hiked out to the fields behind the school, watching as the flames take down the whole building, easing their flickering way on over unkempt, overgrown yards into the houses across the street. We turn to leave after a long, long time, knowing that eventually the rest of the town will burn as well. It is the last homecoming for this rat-hole, and the only thing dancing is the flames.