The Summer of ’22

In general, Zed thought that John was a bit of a pussy for his retreat into the coffin, following the New Year’s Eve of 2013. As time went by, however, he began to occasionally, reluctantly, understand. It had been Gangnam Style, that godawful trend, that had sent John tumbling over the edge from drunken fury into absolute terror, at the fact that he could no longer understand the modern world.

“I have no place here!” he’d moaned into Zed’s neck, in the back of the taxi home. “I don’t understand these people! Why were they all dancing like that? Why is the whole fucking world dancing like that?!”

Admittedly, Zed hadn’t really helped – though he was a lot younger than John, Gangnam Style was utterly lost on him too – all he could point out was that it was just a trend, another fleeting trend, over and done with in a matter of months, and what did months mean to an immortal? But John had groaned in despair, replying, “Just a trend…that’s even worse! Trends following trends, and don’t you see them getting more completely insane with every year that goes by? I can’t bear it anymore! I can’t bear another fucking second of this repulsive planet! I’m going to sleep! I’m going to sleep forever!”

Zed had been pretty sure, initially, that John was just being his usual melodramatic self, when he’d threatened to sleep “forever” – as soon as they got home, John had stomped into the kitchen, drained three bags of A-positive, then stormed off upstairs, crawled into the coffin that had previously been nothing more than an artistic coffee table, slammed the lid into place, and after an hour of quiet sobbing, it all went silent. Zed had peeked inside the next night, and found John utterly dead to the world. When there was still no change two weeks later, he’d given John a hopeful poke, but John might as well have been a corpse.

After that, Zed resigned himself to a bit of a wait, but just a bit – six months, maybe. A year at the absolute most. But the years had rolled past, and if Zed had been told in those early days that it would be near enough five decades before John finally returned to him, he probably would have staked himself. Sometimes it was better not to see the future.

In the year 2022 though, Zed had managed to rouse John from his slumber, albeit just for a groggy hour that John would later write off as nothing more than a surreal dream. The catalyst behind Zed’s decision to drag his tormented lover from the grave had been – ironically – another mortal trend. In 2022, Zed began to feel that John might have been right, drunk and slurring in the back of that long-ago taxi. Trends stacked on trends, slithering into a yawning abyss of absolute madness. The humans were going completely demented, and he felt that he might finally be losing his foothold in sanity.

Back in the 1950s, when Zed had been made immortal, rock n roll had been the trend that terrified the old folks. Elvis Presley’s sexual gyrations were the most lewd and dangerous thing they had ever seen in their lives, and preachers all over America, that foreign land he was washed up in, were decrying the satanic blackness, the End Times, brought on by nothing more than lively songs with mild sexual undertones. Zed and John had surfed that wave with abandon – it had been a good time to be alive, and an even better time to be alive forever. The music had flowed on, sometimes becoming interesting, sometimes appalling – but the human trends had just gotten weirder and weirder.

By the time John retreated into the coffin, leaving Zed to face the world alone, there was really no such thing as music anymore. Occasionally Zed came across a rockabilly band that warmed his heart, but in general even these seemed so recycled, so artificial, or worse, a depressing reminder that those days were forever gone. Even the young mortals of this awful new millennium knew it – all over the internet they bitched and whined about their shit luck, in being born now, in this vacuum of plastic-wrapped crap, when all the real stars, made of blood and sweat and drugs and fury, had burned out in the sky or drowned in the chemical soup that had become the world’s toxic oceans. The ‘End Times’ those ancient preachers had prophesised really did seem to be upon them.

But the thing that did it, the thing that really drove Zed over the edge, in the summer of 2022, was the fucking noses. Over the past decade, facial features had been getting bigger and bigger. First it was the eyes – women were blinding themselves with huge plastic contact lenses that made them resemble sad little anime characters, their artificially enlarged eyeballs fringed with a million false lashes. Then it was the cheekbones, injected with fillers, contoured and bronzed and highlighted until they looked like David Bowie had mated with a sexual alien. The eyebrows came hot on the heels of this trend, bigger and bushier and angrier, and then along came the lips, a million children bruising and slicing up their mouths as they attempted some ridiculous charade known as the ‘Kylie Jenner Challenge’. Even the teeth were getting bigger – Zed spent many a horrified evening drinking whiskey and watching grisly Youtube videos of veneers being fitted, a person’s perfectly decent-looking teeth filed down to tiny, painful, useless stubs, before being stuffed into vast, neon-white porcelain tombstones. By the end of the 2010s, humans barely looked human anymore. And then, in the early 2020s, there came an abrupt parting of the ways when it came to noses. For many years, noses had been getting narrower and narrower, almost disappearing in the midst of those swollen, accentuated features, the huge round eyes, the bloated lips, glowing white teeth and furious werewolf brows. But finally, as with all trends, this look became cliché, it became so basic bitch, as they all used to say, and a new trend sprouted in its place.

By 2021, you could hardly find a single adult human who didn’t have fillers somewhere in their faces – in their cheeks, their wrinkles, their lips, and finally, the humans seemed to decide that their noses had been overlooked for way too long. The anime look was out – the manatee look was in. Some of the humans went for a perfect, wide triangle, bloating out their rounded nostrils and applying a perky blob of pink blush to each swollen extrusion. Others went for the ‘Roman dignitary’ look, and had fillers applied to the central bridge, to give a haughtily downward-sloping nose. And then, of course, as always, there were the kids who just wanted to be the next internet sensation, and they went the whole damn hog. Their entire nose would be filled with up to 50ml of Juvederm filler, until it was the size of a baby’s arm. For maximum effect their lips would be blown up to similar proportions, and painted royal blue, a jaunty pop of colour peeking out from beneath the vast, dangling sausage of their oversized nose. Fashion bloggers of the time raved about the sexual connotations of this cosmetic enhancement – these vast, blubbery noses often turned mildly purple and veiny, resembling an engorged penis. Just like Elvis’s hips, it made you think of sex, and sex always sold. More than this, it was a status symbol – these kids were carrying around near enough $6,000 of liquid filler in their faces, and the kids of this era, Zed had long since learned, liked to flash their cash in the most grotesque of manners.

Zed’s horror at the ongoing mutilation of human faces continued to grow, day by day, week by week. By 2022, John had been asleep for nine years – Zed had long since moved the entire coffin into a dusty storage room, and resigned himself to living life with the awkward, tentative freedom of a guy whose partner had as good as authorised him to sleep with other people…but not without crippling guilt. All Zed really wanted was John back – they’d been together for over half a century, and Zed was stuck in his ways almost as much as John had been – a creature of habit. He loved nothing more than listening to Elvis and watching Lonesome Dove on an endless repeat, and he loved nothing more than being with John – the one person on Earth who he could reminisce with endlessly, about anything. Their whole lives had been shared, lived together – until now. Until the point that John had got so crazy, so infuriatingly irrational, about nothing more than that stupid goddamn song, he had abandoned Zed completely, sulking in his coffin like the worst vampire cliché on Earth. There were a lot of times that Zed got seriously pissed off with John, late at night, all alone, drunk on whiskey, adrift in this crazy human world. At times like these, he often found himself storming out into the night in his most melodramatic trenchcoat, and disappearing into the humid embrace of a gay club.

The first nose-related disaster Zed suffered, happened at a gay club just a few blocks from his apartment. Already a long way past drunk, Zed was rapidly befriended by a young, cute guy with bright purple hair, who had offered him a small white pill. Zed was too pissed off with the world to even bother asking what it was – he just swallowed it, and rolled on top of his new friend. They’d ended up on the dancefloor, and for a modern-day club, Zed was reasonably satisfied with the music, but the boy, who had introduced himself as Fish, was getting sulkier and sulkier, until finally Zed allowed himself to be dragged out into the night, and into the back of a taxi. Everything had taken on a mildly surreal tinge by the time they reached their destination, the sweaty neon-lit depths of another gay club – the décor slicker, the music even louder and more obnoxious. Fish had gone to the bar for a round of drinks, and Zed had lost him completely. By this point, he was definitely feeling weird, and he couldn’t make his mind up yet whether it was a good weird, or a bad one – he felt a bit like an alien spy, slipping unseen through this demented Gomorrah, and the feeling was pleasingly mischievous. At the very least, it made a change from feeling like a depressed, abandoned vampire whose boyfriend had been replaced with a fleshlight.

Zed began taking a tour of the club, slipping through the shadows, quietly making spaceship noises to himself, becoming more and more convinced that he was a sinister, invisible entity, sent to discover the culture of these peculiar young mortals. When the bass dropped and the whole place went insane, he’d managed to strand himself right in the deepest depths of that awful place, and this was when it all went wrong. Suddenly the strobes were going crazy, the flailing bodies jolting between beats of light, and Zed was equal parts hypnotised and terrified by their faces. This club, it turned out, was very, very hip, or swag, or on fleek, or whatever the fuck all the jumped up internet tossers were saying these days, and that meant that every face in the room was down with the manatee trend. Zed found himself staring into a glowing sea of hideous, mutated faces – bulbous, veiny, dick-like noses bouncing wildly up and down, until he felt as though his mind was under attack from a dangerous colony of aggressive neon penises. Artificial teeth were glowing under the blacklight, and the music sounded like the scraping of a million dental drills, grinding Zed’s teeth into terrifying raw-nerved stubs, his mind flashing up gruesome images of dental surgery, plastic surgery, syringes stabbing into swollen lips, plastic lenses being prodded horribly into the jelly sacs of eyeballs, the strobe flashing madly and the purple penises bouncing and the alien race he was studying had seen him now – they knew he was an outsider, and they were going to get him, going to mutilate him, chop off his dick and staple it to his face – for all eternity he’d be trapped in this godforsaken hellpit with stumps for teeth and a dick for a nose, and what came next, what came next, he didn’t know, but he had the ghastly sensation that his nuts were trying to crawl inside his body cavity and he was pretty sure that he was about to puke everywhere, and the lights were driving him crazy, and those faces, those fucking faces!

Zed had no idea how he got home, that night – it was all a hideous blur of vomit and headlights and warped, swaying faces, but finally he was home, with a blanket over his head, watching Lonesome Dove and alternating between a sense of soaring peacefulness at being safe in the sanctity of his flat, followed by sudden waves of paralysing dread that those nightmarish creatures would find him and come for him and crash down his door at any second.

After that, Zed avoided the gay bars for quite a few weeks, but inevitably the loneliness returned, and the resentment returned, and out he went once more. He managed a few quiet drinks this time, and a bit of a dance, before he was aggressively hit on by a guy whose once-attractive features were now marred by the most monstrous of dick-noses. It was a bizarre experience for Zed, being chatted up by this absolute mutant, whose self-confidence was sky high purely because of the monstrous abomination he had grown on his own face. Finally, when all attempts at subtlety failed, and Zed couldn’t get the guy to just go the fuck away, he told him flat out that manatee noses really turned him off. The guy watched him with a calculating gaze, whipped out his phone, and snapped a picture of Zed. Before Zed could be entirely sure what was happening, the guy had tapped and swiped and tapped some more, and then he flipped the screen around to show Zed the result.

“You’d be so much hotter!” Dick-Nose yelled over the music. “Big is beautiful, man – ain’t no need to be jealous! I can hook you up, yo – I know this guy, works strictly on the down-low from a hotel car park, and he’d do you a pretty sweet deal! We’d put in 20ml for starters, then-”

To Zed, his words filtered through a red haze of disbelief, fury, and nauseous dismay. Glowing from the screen in front of him was a picture of himself, looking mildly shell-shocked, with the most gigantic dick-nose he’d ever seen in his life. Worse than this though, it was so realistic – the image was burning itself into his brain forever more, until the ground seemed to sink beneath his feet and he had the horrifying sensation that he was staring into a mirror, and it was all too late, too damn fucking late. The strobes were flashing again, the guy yelling in his ear about prices and sizes and internet-purchased self-injection kits, and Zed just about managed to pull himself together enough to shout,

“I HOPE IT ROTS RIGHT OFF YOUR FUCKING FACE!” before he whirled around and stormed out into the night.

As he strode furiously through the rain, Zed’s phone vibrated in his pocket, and when he reached the shelter of his apartment building, he pulled it out to find that the hideous picture was now saved to his phone, complete with the message,

“2-for-1 deal on 2mrw, bring a friend. Back of Red Lake Motel, noon!”

Zed snarled at his phone, feeling another wave of horror and confusion – he certainly hadn’t given that dick-nosed wanker his phone number, but the stupid devices came with so many apps installed these days he couldn’t keep track of what was possible anymore. Apparently dick-nose could now harass him throughout eternity with nose-job deals, and this really was the final straw. Zed marched into his apartment, grabbed a bag of A-positive, and crashed into the storage room, flinging off the lid of the coffin and staring down at John. Something inside him relaxed immediately, just a tiny bit, at the sight of that sleeping face. John’s black hair was a tangled, dusty chaos, his pretty young face smooth and untroubled, over a foot of empty air between the top of his head and the end of the coffin. Seeing John’s face was like coming home – always, but tonight it was particularly soothing to Zed, to gaze upon the one face that would never change, a face bereft of bizarre mutilations, a face that had never been stabbed with syringes and pumped full of crap. The face that was reflected in every one of his favourite memories… But as Zed sat there, that sense of peace rapidly faded into loneliness, just as it always did. John was nothing more than an empty shell, just like he’d been for the past nine years. He might as well be a faded photograph, the urn of a loved one’s ashes, for all the comfort he brought. And as Zed sat and stared, the unfairness boiled inside him once more, that he had to deal with this shitty, shitty world, all alone, while John sat it out completely, nestled inside his satin-lined coffin, stubbornly oblivious. As this thought crossed Zed’s mind, John smiled peacefully in his sleep, and Zed lost his shit completely.

“Wake UP!” he hissed, grabbing John’s shoulders and violently shaking him. “Wake the fuck up you lazy little arsehole!”

John remained limp and lifeless, still smiling, and Zed shook him all the harder, snapping,

“If you do not wake up this fucking second so help me god I am going to piss all over you! You can spend all eternity in a coffin full of PISS for all I care, you lazy, self-centred, obnoxious, selfish little shit! I AM GOING TO-”

“Wha’ th’fck…” mumbled John, beginning to frown sleepily. “Wha’…wha’?”

Zed stopped shaking him, and attempted to pry John’s eyes open. Finally a bleary green eye stared back at him, and John mumbled,

“Wha…whass…goin’ on? You gon’…piss on me?”

“Yes,” said Zed, grinning widely. “If you don’t wake up right now and keep me company, I am going to piss on you. Right in your hair.”

John let out a grumble of disgust, opened his other eye, and stared at Zed with a bemused frown. When the silence stretched on, Zed broke open the IV tube on the bag of blood, and stuffed it into John’s mouth. John sighed happily, and drained the entire thing in seconds. When it was gone, he clumsily tugged it out of his mouth, yawned, and mumbled,

“’s a bit early…f’me…”

“It is not fucking early!” Zed snapped, “You’ve been asleep for nine years!”

John shrugged, and closed his eyes, lapsing back into corpse-like stillness. The sight of it sent a shiver of absolute terror down Zed’s spine, another nine years of abandonment crashing down on his head, and he pleaded desperately,

Please, John – just wake up for a little while, just for an hour or two! I need you! Everything’s so horrible, and I can’t bear it anymore!”

John opened one eye, and surveyed him like a haughty cat. Finally he let out a dramatic sigh, opened his other eye, and sat up, giving Zed a hug. Zed wrapped his arms around John’s small, dusty body, and never wanted to move again, but finally, John asked,

“What’s so horrible? Are they still…doing that dance?”

“No,” Zed told him. “It’s the noses… I just can’t stand the fucking noses anymore…”

“Think…” said John, “You’re going to have to explain…”

.

.

Over the next half hour, Zed sat John down in front of the laptop, and took him on a tour of mutilated human faces. John stared in quiet awe at the whole thing, then demanded a cigarette. Zed got him out an old stashed-away pack of Luckies, which was probably stale and revolting by now, but John sucked up the smoke delightedly regardless. Zed showed him the grisly Youtube videos of veneers being fitted, and John wrinkled his nose from within a cloud of smoke, before carefully poking his own teeth as if to make sure nothing terrible had happened to them during his absence. Eventually, when John seemed to be more or less up to speed, sniggering at an Instagram feed of one of the darlings of the manatee scene, a dark-haired boy with a veiny purple sausage-nose dangling right down over his lips, Zed sighed, and asked,

“Are you ready to see the thing that really fucked me up tonight?”

John glanced at him with a frown, and said,

“You mean…there’s more? More than…that? What else can they possibly do to themselves?” He paused, apparently considering this, then went on in speculative tones, “I think toes could be quite interesting, really. I think they might be the next big thing. These people are going completely crazy, but they’re definitely being innovative. So…what about toes? Lots of people in the world have foot fetishes, don’t they? And everybody has more toes than they need, probably. So…I think the next thing will be cutting off a toe, and just…sewing it onto your face. And then, instead of kissing, the people of the future will just suck on each other’s nose-toes…” He trailed off, and they both shuddered in unison.

“No,” said Zed, trying to banish that gruesome visual from his mind, “Nobody’s sewing toes onto their faces. Not yet, anyway. But…a few weeks ago, I took some…well, fuck, I don’t even know what I took, it didn’t exactly feel like acid, but no one does acid now anyway, it’s all this synthetic crap, but I was depressed, and angry, so I took this stupid pill, and I ended up in this godawful nightclub full of these dick-nosed wankers, and I was tripping hard, and it really…it just…scared the shit out of me, and then, tonight, I-”

“You’ve always been fucking lousy on acid,” John interrupted, lighting another cigarette. “Why haven’t you learned that yet? We don’t trip, or, well, you don’t trip, without a pocketful of valium and antipsychotics in case of an emergency. And in a gay club? On your own?” He shook his head in despair, exhaling a cloud of cigarette smoke.

“Yeah,” Zed muttered, cracking open the nearest whiskey bottle, “It was stupid. But as I might have mentioned, you’ve been asleep for the past nine fucking years, and you’re the one with the mysterious ability to summon up any drug known to man at a moment’s notice. I can barely get weed without you…”

“Apparently you can get synthetic LSD. That sounds interesting…”

“It wasn’t. I mean, it really, really wasn’t! It was even worse than that time in ’69 when we tripped with your ‘harmless hippies’ who turned out to be the Manson family. Worse than that.”

“Bummer,” John mumbled, yawning. Zed watched him with a frown – his eyelids were drooping and he looked half asleep. How in hell a person could sleep for nine years and still be tired was absolutely beyond him, but he could feel his time with John slipping away by the second.

“Look at this,” he commanded, pulling out his phone, suppressing a shudder as he brought up the edited picture, and thrusting it under John’s nose. “Just look at this fucking thing!” John stared at it in groggy bemusement for several long seconds, before asking,

“When was this taken? You…you did that thing? To your own nose? Ohhh, it’s hideous, Zed, thank god it’s gone away now!”

“I didn’t do that thing!” Zed snapped, rolling his eyes, “I’m not completely fucking mental! I went to a club, tonight, and this dick-nosed wanker started hitting on me, and then he…I dunno, he photoshopped me into…into this, and now he’s trying to make me get it done for real! He wants you to get it done too, this ‘two for one offer, bring a friend, you can both get mutilated into total twats together’ thing! This is what I’m dealing with, John, every fucking day! This is what life is like now, and you’ve just left me, to deal with it all by myself! It’s not fair, and I can’t-” He broke off as John’s head nodded forward, and just before he fell off the sofa, John woke himself up with a jolt, beginning to blearily rub his eye. Zed watched him dubiously – John had had the occasional dalliance with heroin since the eighties, and this was an all too familiar sight. But when John met his gaze, his pupils were perfectly normal, and besides, he hadn’t left Zed’s side for a second since he’d stumbled out of the coffin…

“’m really sleepy…” John mumbled, by way of explanation, flopping over and burying his face in Zed’s chest. “The noses’re…awful, but…’m jus’ really sleepy…”

How?” Zed asked. “How in fuck’s name can you possibly be sleepy?!”

John just sighed, but after a long silence, he dragged himself upright, and mumbled,

“I toldjoo ‘m not ready to…wake up yet. ‘m sorry, but…’m just not. So…put on some…Lonesome Dove, or somethin’, ‘n just…hold me, for a while… before I go back to sleep…”

Zed frowned, torn between misery and sexual frustration – nine damn years he’d been waiting, and apparently he wasn’t even going to get a five minute fuck before John sodded off back into his coffin. But John was crumpling sideways onto the sofa, and Zed sighed, grabbing him and hauling him to his feet. They plodded a weaving path into the bedroom, where Zed zapped on some Lonesome Dove, and curled himself around John’s slim body. John tangled his fingers into Zed’s hair, rolling over and sleepily biting his neck, mumbling,

“’m sorry… I guess y’could just…sleep…with me, in my coffin, f’r a…few years, or somethin’…”

“I can’t,” Zed said quietly. “I can’t just…crawl into a box for decades, wake up not knowing what’s going on. One of us has to keep up with the world…”

“S’pose…” John conceded. “Sorry ‘m so shit…”

Me too, thought Zed, but instead he kissed John on the forehead, and they lapsed into silence. Zed tried to soak it up, every second of this – every slow, steady breath John took, every tiny movement of his fingers, lazily stroking Zed’s hair. John was still here, and still himself, even after nine years in a coffin. Dead to the world, but not dead. Never dead – not really. However long it took, Zed decided, he could wait it out, keeping up with all the demented trends of the mortal world, until finally, some day, when John was ready, every night would be like this, just like it used to be – John’s small body nestled into Zed’s, Lonesome Dove on the TV. No more loneliness, no more depressing masturbation, no more soulless gay clubs. Someday…

Even the noses didn’t seem so terrifying, now he’d shared them with John. Everything he went through, battling this hideous modern world, he would store it up in his mind, nothing more than a strange tale to tell John, when he finally emerged from the coffin. Whenever that might be…

Zed had just about resigned himself to this fate, when John groggily raised his head, and said,

“Make me some coffee, Zed… N’one’s fucked me in…nine years…or somethin’…”

Zed laughed, asking,

“Really? I think it might traumatise me for life if you go into corpse mode with my cock in your mouth…”

John gave him a serene smile, and promised,

“I’ll stay awake…prob’ly. I’ll risk it…f’you will. Coffee?”

“Coffee,” Zed agreed. “Strong fucking coffee.”

“For fucking with,” said John, sniggering.

 

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5 Responses to “The Summer of ’22”

  1. Brava! A wonderfully sad, sweet story.

  2. Oh God, your writing is so good. Are you trying to make me fall in love with you?!?! Seriously though I love this sad little story that in its brevity seems encapsulates the full meaning of life…PS in some probably fucked up way reading this story at the beginning of the year is somewhat motivating, so thanks I guess pps this story was so fleek haha sorry couldn’t help it 🙂

    • Hehe, thank you! Zed & John have been in a couple of stories before, and I think someday in the next couple of years they’ll probably become a novel, because they’re so much fun, and I really enjoy the crass, obnoxious, ghastly futuristic setting, which just gets worse and worse with every passing decade 😉

      (G.O.D is the other Zed+John story currently live on here, it’s a bit wordy and heavy and not so readable, since really I think it should’ve been saved up as novel fuel rather than trying to make it a palatable short thing, but, meh… The other one, Beef Elvis, was published in a magazine last Halloween, and will definitely be heading up the listing when I finally get the short story collection out there 🙂 )

  3. Oh God, your writing is so good. Are you purposefully trying to make it impossible not admire the heck out if you\!!!! Seriously though this sad little story in its brevity encapsulates a meaning of life that is so tragically common in modern society… Thank you, your humble Texan admirer

  4. This story is hilarious and also seems frighteningly realistic…I really hope penis noses don’t become a thing.

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