We roasted the dog, but I think most of the jokes went over his head. He doesn't speak much English anyway, just "sit," "stay," and "Hey, hey stop that!" We only roasted him because we'd already done everyone else-even the cat. The cat got more of the jokes than the dog.
Anyway, the first person to get the idea to do a comedic roast was Sam. She'd never seen one, (none of us had) but we'd all fallen victim to the repetitive commercials on Comedy Central advertising them while watching Scrubs, South Park, and Futurama reruns at random hours of the morning in my dimly-lit living room. The basic idea was clear-spend a couple hours poking fun at someone, laugh for a while, then it was over. There are five of us human-beings, so we decided to do it once a month, space it out a bit.
They all wanted to roast me first. Somehow I became the leader, or something. I think it's because I'm the tallest. Or maybe because I've read so many random books. It made me uncomfortable at first, to be telling my friends what to do, but after a while I kind of settled into the job.
What was I saying? Oh yeah-the roast. McFlufferkins (Sam's dog; she's the only one who'd name an animal that sort of thing) had his roast on a Saturday night. We told jokes about him, many centered around his, ah, eccentric name, and laughed until the sky began to lighten. Aristotle, my pet cat, didn't seem to like all the attention the dog was getting, so he spent the night curled up in a sulky little ball just out of the firelight.
We-that is, me, Sam, Ben, Arnold, and Lex-move around a lot. Most nights we sleep under the stars, since the weather's mild in the areas we traverse. It's as if we've been on a permanent camping trip for the past year. Bonfires, marshmallows, (until our store of those ran out) stories, songs-all of this is ours alone to enjoy whenever we please. It's the sort of life children dream of, a life free of adult supervision. The world is literally our playground.
It gets a little lonely, but we make do. We tell a lot of jokes, and we play a lot of jokes on each other. For Christmas everyone woke me up at the crack of dawn to present me with a large, ornately wrapped gift, saying how they all pitched in and bought something for me at the mall. I opened it to find it was a laptop-a damned good one, too, the kind you pay two thousand for-and nearly wet myself laughing. What could I do with a lousy computer? Surf the Web? MySpace-population: five (or seven if we made pages for McFlufferkins and Aristotle.) There was just enough juice left in the battery for us to boot the thing up, and get this: the stupid computer blue-screen-of-deathed about five seconds after it started running. Vista. The real present was getting to beat the shit out of the laptop with a baseball bat. Oh, sweet, sweet vindication, my friends.
Anyway, that's the sort of thing we're always doing to each other. One time Sam came walking into camp with a cell phone up to her ear, chatting along as if she were talking to someone. I asked to borrow it to text in my vote for American Idol. I think if we weren't able to laugh about all this, we'd kill ourselves. People who can't find something to chuckle at in bad situations end up dying by their own hand. That's a governing principle of the universe, I'm pretty sure. When fate plays a joke on you, you're supposed to laugh-it's bad karma not to.
Back to the roast-what started it all. We finished telling our silly jokes and crawled into our sleeping bags, just like every other day. As I was drifting off, I heard a horrible scream from Lex and Arnold's direction. I was up and cocking my gun in a flash, (we all carried guns; it was just common sense to) but as soon as I saw what Lex was screeching over I knew bullets were no use.
The shadow-spiders were back. Well, one was, anyway. It was scurrying over the ground, zigzagging like it was on meth or something. I couldn't move; it had been about a year since we'd seen one, but now they'd returned.
Flashback time, kids. There were once over six billion humans frolicking about on this planet, but one day-mid-July, the summer before we all went off to college-the (relative) peace of our existence was dramatically shattered by the arrival of the shadow-spiders. They aren't aliens, or man-made-we didn't know what they were or where they came from. They look like something out of a dream, or maybe a Miyazaki film. "Spider" is a loose term for them; they have many legs, maybe dozens, and their bodies are sort of fuzzy, but not from hair
It's like they have a blur filter set on them at all times.
When they first came, there were thousands of them. Each one seemed to have a particular person set out to kill. They would avoid easily accessible people to get to the one they wanted. We-the five of us-saw the shadow-spiders crawl up onto people and into their mouths or noses or ears. No one but us seemed to be able to see them, they just went about their daily business like normal.
In less than an hour they were all dead. It wasn't like the movies at all. No heroes stepped up to fight the Spider Menace. No epic military struggle. Just people falling over dead by the hundreds. Peculiarly, their bodies shriveled and dried and turned to dust in seconds.
As I watched all this happen from the window of Starbucks, (what can I say, I used to be a slave to the Establishment or something, at least when I wanted coffee) horrified and enthralled, I suddenly couldn't think of anything other than that old song, the one that says something about us all being dust in the wind. That one line played in a loop in my brain for hours-all I could do was sit and stare at the empty street. Eventually Sam and Ben found me there.
It's been just the seven of us ever since. And now the shadow-spiders were back for us. The fuzzy thing darted around camp for a moment longer as we all watched, horrified, all secretly wondering who it would choose-hoping it wouldn't be ourselves.
McFlufferkins got it. It skittered right up into his ear, and with one final yelp, he was dead, turning to ash.
No one moved for a very long time, but eventually Sam burst into tears, and that set us all into motion. We converged by her, holding her and fighting back our own terrified sobs. Suddenly we were all children who'd lost our way and just wanted to go back home.
It wasn't the same after that. Sam never really got over the loss of her dog, and even Ben couldn't consol her. That's when all the trouble started.
About a month later, I was sitting around the freshly-stoked morning fire eating breakfast when Arnold and Lex approached me. I could tell by the way they didn't look me in the eye that they were about to break some bad news to me, and with the superhuman intuition one gets in this sort of situation, I knew before they spoke what the issue was.
After everyone was killed by the shadow-spiders, we'd decided that the human race would end with us. There was no point in carrying on more generations-the genetic pool was just too small for the race to keep going without running into significant negative mutations after a few generations. It would also pose many problems to have to deal with the pregnancy. None of us were doctors-we were just high school grads. How would we know how to deliver a baby? And what if something went wrong?
But Lex was pregnant. I felt the anger rising in me. It was irrational, but I couldn't help it. We'd all made a promise, and now she and Arnold had gone and ruined it. I yelled at them some, and I'm not proud of it. After my outburst the two of them left camp, and they didn't come back until nightfall. Dinner was a bit tense, needless to say.
After dessert, the shadow-spiders came back. Three this time, and I watched, horrified, as two crawled into Lex and one into Arnold.
I don't like to think about the next few days. The three of us spoke little, and we moved our camp about a hundred miles away, as if the spiders couldn't follow. After a few months, though, we were able to laugh again. It wasn't the same, but it was alright. We were used to the pain of having lost so many, but losing two of our group hit us hard.
The dynamics of the group changed drastically, too. I didn't feel like a leader anymore, just a third wheel. Sam and Ben had been together since about a month after the spider-things came to town, and now that it was just the three of us, I felt like an interloper.
I started talking to Aristotle a lot. I'd go off walking through the nearby towns to pass the time, and he'd follow as he always had. He'd walk by my heel and I'd speak to him like a human-being, and he at least pretended to listen. Aristotle was the only one I ever told about how I felt about Sam. I'd had a crush on her since grade school, that cliché story. I'm not sure why I never made a move on her-and certainly if I'd known beforehand how it would turn out, I would've told her much sooner.
On Christmas, the second one since the fall of humanity, I wandered through a small town, my faithful friend at my heel, feeling particularly depressed. I happened upon a liquor store and helped myself to far too much. I don't remember precisely what I said to my cat, but it was along the lines of wishing Ben were out of the picture so Sam and I could have some sort of idyllic life together. Yeah-as if anything could ever be idyllic ever again. As far as we knew, we were the only three human-beings left on the planet. The apocalypse had come and gone and left a few unimportant stragglers.
I got back to camp as the sun was setting. Almost immediately after I greeted the happy love-birds, another one of those damned spiders darted into the firelight and went straight into Ben's mouth.
The world shifted on its axis, and sudden, unpleasant thoughts whirled around my mind. Everyone I was mad at or unhappy with died-died right after I had the mean thoughts. I was suddenly thrown back in time to the day that the world ended. I was in Starbucks, sure, but I was also there to cheer myself up. With all of us going off to college soon, I was bummed that our close friendships were inevitably going to fade away. I wanted the world to stop-I wanted to stay a kid forever. I didn't want to be a responsible adult.
And my wish came true. Just like with Ben.
Now Sam was mine to pursue. Unfortunately, at that moment, when Ben's body was flowing away with the chilly evening breeze, Sam's heart and mind broke. She looked up at me, her face blotchy and red and covered in tears, and screamed in a agonized, hysterical voice, "You did this! You did this!" over and over for eternity.
Apparently she'd come to the same conclusion as I had. Sam was always the smart one.
Finally she stopped shouting "You did this!" Of course, it was only so she could start in with a new mantra.
"I hate you!" she whisper-shouted, her voice cracking with over-use. "You killed him! You killed them all
" Her words faltered, and we both watched the shadow-spider crawl up her leg and onto her torso. She didn't seem to mind; in fact, she smiled almost triumphantly and said, as the thing slid into her mouth, "I hope you're happy now."
And in the space of a breath I was the last man on Earth. I leaned into the winter wind and wished I could stop existing.
Aristotle slipped around my leg like cats do, as if he were trying his best to trip me. I glanced down at him with blank eyes and a blank mind; I stared into his gold-green eyes with their impossibly large pupils.
He smiled back at me. A shadow-spider crawled from one of his eyes to another, then melted away.
I laughed until tears streamed from my eyes, because really, that was the only thing left.