In Paradise, the snooze button gave you six minutes. Jim hit his again. He’d lost count. Maybe two hundred hits, maybe a thousand.
Outside his window the sun was shining and the birds were chirping. Every goddamn day with the sun and the birds and the breeze. He buried his head in the pillow.
His phone rattled and chimed. He grabbed it and squeezed out an eye. Cherry.
Happy hundred! Wanna party?
Had it already been a hundred years?
Na. Let’s skip it.
He drifted. The alarm sounded and he snoozed it. Another rattling chime.
Oh come on. Me and the girls made plans . . .
Great, Jim thought. Free holes: empty, wet, dark, used.
No pie, I promise.
Let’s do it tomorrow.
I want you to nuke my pussy.
That almost got Jim out of bed. He’d pumped a lot of things into a lot of holes, but he’d never seen a clit go nuclear.
I don’t have that kind of energy.
Haha. Are you Mr. Bummy Pants today or what?
I’m just tired.
I know just what you need, Mr. Bummy Pants.
Happy Hundred, Jim. Good luck!
His door banged open. A wild man with a beard and shining eyes grabbed Jim by the ankles and pulled him off the bed. His head bounced on the floor.
“Art thou Jim?”
Jim sat up and rubbed his head.
“I art,” he said.
The man picked up the bed and threw it out the window. Glass shattered. The frame clattered on the walk below. The mattress clung for dear life, impaled by a shard.
“I am Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton, and you are fortunate in the company you keep.” He kicked over the nightstand. “I am neither cheap nor easily persuaded. And I’m the best.”
With a fist like a rock he made three neat holes in the wall. He unzipped his fly and began to piss in the corner. He spoke over his shoulder.
“You have exactly three minutes to dress yourself and pack one bag. The bag may not weigh more than a stone. It ought to contain knickers for all seasons and terrain.”
“I’m not packing a bag,” Jim said. “Did Cherry send you? Tell her she owes me a bed. I’m not going out, I don’t want to go out. I don’t care about the years and I just feel like sleeping for a while.”
“Two minutes,” Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton said. He zipped up and kicked another hole in the wall.
Jim groaned and put his head in his hands. He wanted to cry. He listened as the Sir furthered the destruction of his bedroom.
“Alright,” Jim said. “Alright, I’m getting up. I’m up. Just give me an hour or so. I’ll take a shower and get my shit together. You hear me? Let me get sorted, you British psycho.”
“Too late,” Sir Shackleton said. He grabbed Jim by the shoulders. “Look at this place. It’s unlivable. I’ve scheduled it for demolition.”
But Sir Shackleton walked out the door without another word. Jim hopped after him, one leg in a pair of jeans.
“What does that mean, demolition? You’re not serious. I like this house. What’s wrong with a house? People live in houses. Sunnuva bitch.”
He got his pants on just in time for the front door. A tank rolled through his fence and onto the yard. Shackleton gave it a thumbs up. Jim yelled stop! but it fired a shell and his house exploded. It fired another shell and the house fell over. Jim was pretty sure the third shell was just for fun.
“This isn’t funny!” Jim said. “I was just taking a few days off. A few months maybe. Years. It doesn’t matter. Is it fucking crime to have the blues? I had stuff in there!”
Sir Shackleton’s eyes clogged his throat.
“Was it the stuff of dreams, Jim? The stuff of adventure? Did it smell like the dead salt of acrid seas or the sour sweat of the jungle? Was it a fist raised against winter and the hot blood of glory?”
Jim swallowed. “Uh, no. It was, like, albums and stuff.”
“Art thou a man?”
“What is it?”
Jim signed it.
“Good. My starship is down at the bar. We’ll have to take a cab.”
Olympus was a mountain in orbit around a red giant. Ten thousand miles from base to peak, with no planet to support it, the mountain spun like a top that the giant had flicked into motion.
“I have to climb that?” Jim said.
“You’re going to conquer it,” Sir Shackleton said.
“Listen, I get what you’re doing and I appreciate it, but can’t you just drop me at the top? You go tool around for a while and come back and pick me up. I won’t tell anybody.”
Shackleton slapped Jim through the face.
“Thou art Jim! Thou art a man! Every moment in a man’s life is a woman, Jim, a woman with brass legs and wrecking ball chicken-tippers. Every moment is her walking by. There she goes. There goes another one. Maybe the next one will blow your sad chubby a kiss. And they’ll keep walking by, Jim. It’s a doll train to pussy town and you’re not on it. And you won’t be on it until you grab one of these broads by the throat, lift up her skirt, and open up the turnpike.”
Shackleton had both hands on Jim’s shoulders and his eyes were lasers.
“Open the turnpike, Jim.”
“I don’t know what that means.”
“Open the turnpike.”
“Half way, just drop me half the way up.”
Sir Shackleton sighed and released him. He handed Jim a piece of paper. It was the thing he’d signed.
“Read the last paragraph,” Shackleton said.
The undersigned hereby agrees that, upon failure to reach the summit of Olympus in full compliance with the rules stated above, all freedoms shall be forfeit for one year and one day, during which period the undersigned shall be placed in the custody of psychotics and have experiences including, but not limited to, rape, torture, and mutilation.
“I really have to start reading these things,” Jim said.
A foot to his chest and he fell out of the starship and landed on his back at the base of Olympus.
Jim was a quarter of the way up when he heard a foreign but familiar sound. He followed his ears, and sitting against a bare tree a young man played a haggard guitar. Blonde hair hid the edges of his face and the noise he made was brutal and sincere.
Cobain looked up and saw him. Jim felt like a gazelle coming upon a lion in the wild.
“Hi,” Cobain said. It was friendly.
“Hey,” Jim said. He took a cautious step. “I, uh, heard you playing.”
Cobain ran his fingers over rough body of the guitar. It looked like it had been hacked out of a stump and strung with wire.
“I didn’t think I’d ever play one of these again,” he said. He moved some of the hair out of his face. “Something about this place, I guess.”
“Yeah . . .”
Jim found a rock to sit on. He sat with his elbows on his knees.
“It’s funny,” Cobain said. “When you get everything you’ve got nothing. Somebody comes along and takes it from you, then you have something again.” He strummed a soft chord on the guitar. Its imperfections rattled. “You hear that? That’s the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard.”
“It’s raw,” Jim said.
The two of them sat in like posture for a while. The peak of Olympus was shrouded in distance and the vacuum was close enough to touch. It was quiet.
“Can I ask you something?” Jim said. “I guess it’s kind of personal.”
“Why did you kill yourself?”
Cobain looked at his guitar. “You know, I can’t really remember what it was like to be in that space. I remember being there, I remember the thoughts, I just can’t pick up the moment. There was a lot of pain and I didn’t know where it was coming from, and I made a decision and everything was over.”
He moved some of the hair from his eyes. There was a smile playing in them.
“The craziest thing about it was seeing it. I just expected the world to go black, and then I was standing there over my body. Like, the mess never occurred to me – it was all cerebral. It was metaphysical. But when I saw the chunks of my brain mashed into the ceiling, the whole philosophy of it seemed kind of absurd. Less than absurd, like it didn’t exist. It was more embarrassing than anything.”
Jim tried to think of something to say, the right question to ask. He couldn’t. Instead, he shifted his weight and looked at the dirt.
“What really fucked with me was when the angel popped up next to me. He said, I bet you’d have written a kickass song about that.”
“Did you?” Jim said.
Cobain plucked a few notes.
“It’s a little rough around the edges,” he said.
He played a song.
The peak was a fist against the bleakness. Jim pulled himself up the steep wall of the forearm one hold at a time. His arms and legs burned. It had taken a long time to get this far and it was strange to have the top so close.
He wondered how many people had made this climb. How many had gone numb with happiness and come here to feel something again? He wondered if Cobain would ever look down from here, or if he’d work at his song for eternity.
He reached the top and pulled himself up. Ten thousand miles were beneath him, and as many thoughts behind him. He stood up and breathed in. The red giant burned a red hole in the sky.
Jim pulled out his phone.
Stock your shelves, bitches. The nuke is hot.