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An Etiquette Guide to the End Times

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Chapter One-In the Land of Victory

My superhero power is definitely not sleeping. When I was looking for a house, my realtor rhapsodized about this bedroom's perfect southern exposure, about the tastefully herbaceous wall treatment and charming old-world feel. Right now my room could be more accurately described as a floral-wallpapered sauna, full of an impossible heat, like three Julys stuffed into one. It isn't helping.  

I watch the overhead fan stop again, gyrate, and then restart before I roll over, the sheets coming with me. After a minute I shift to the other side, flinging the covers away with a sigh. The fan finally grinds to a halt, probably the victim of a wiring problem I haven't been able to pin down, although lately I've been thinking it might just hate me.  

I relocate to the living room and angle the pedestal fan my way. God, it's hot. I close my eyes and lean back on the couch for a minute, hoping sleep will take me. The sofa is a faux leather hand-me-down that's supple after years of wear, smelling faintly earthy, soft against my skin.  

Eventually I switch the TV on. Our cable hasn't worked properly in months, the service so erratic it's like the people running the company are legless, as my grandfather Fred would say-a charming Irish way of saying spectacularly drunk, even though my grandfather hasn't seen Ireland since he was a child. My eyes land on Fred's easy chair, a pale green monstrosity he could barely squeeze through the front door when I finally convinced him to move in with me. His pipe, his books, and his old-man slippers are still where he left them. 

After flipping through a bunch of static, I shut the TV off and switch to the radio, which promptly announces it's five-thirty in the morning. I ponder what to do next, discarding juggling, mind-reading, and origami, although I spend more time thinking about mind-reading than I probably should, considering I'm the only one here. Finally I pull my computer tablet onto my lap and turn it on. I write an etiquette column for a spunky arts and culture website, and my latest instalment is due on Friday; other people's problems are always a delightful way to get my mind off my own. I start to page through the letters, which all start with Dear Olive. Dear Olive, I'm convinced my neighbour is milking my goat. Dear Olive, my neighbour's windmill is keeping me up at night. Dear Olive, my wife is hoarding solar panels. What do I do?  

Three crashing noises erupt above my head, each more ominous than the next. I wait for it to stop, but twenty minutes later I'm clinging to the side of my house, staring down a pair of raccoons who seem intent on defiling my solar array. For a long while it's just the three of us, locked in visual combat, but it's my roof and unless they start paying rent, they've got to go. Eventually they get spooked by the noise of the six a.m. domestic surveillance drone overhead, which would make this the first time I've ever been happy to see a drone. I watch as it starts its first pass of the morning. They're smaller than the military version-sleek, modern, ever-watchful. Rumour is they're even biodegradable, although that hasn't exactly endeared them to anybody. 

After the raccoons finally lumber off I pull myself onto the roof and take a look at the solar panel they've sullied, the wires connecting the array to my house almost stripped. It's not easy to carry out rooftop repairs quietly at six in the morning, and it definitely wouldn't be polite to wake anyone up, but I don't want to be back up here tomorrow, either. If I leave the panel like this, they'll come back and finish the job, I know it. They're organized. 

I look up when a new-fangled Town Car, still boxy and authoritarian but now electric-powered, turns onto my street. I watch it as it goes; there are almost no cars on the roads these days, and the sight makes a faint sense of unease pulse through me. I hope whoever's in that car isn't carrying bad news for one of my neighbours. 

After it eases past my house I try to concentrate on how to get myself off this roof. I've brought my very last roll of duct tape with me, and after a moment of conflict I wrestle a piece off and start to fix the panel, but my foot slips and my right hip ends up bouncing off the shingles. I pull myself into a sitting position to gather my wits, my stomach clenched into the size of a peanut, my breath suddenly ragged and shaky. I don't want to go splat on the driveway beside my house. It's a bungalow, true, and not that far to fall, but it's still a worry.  

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