When the world is ending, the only thing to do is make slapstick movies

Illustration for article titled When the world is ending, the only thing to do is make slapstick movies

We're all obsessed with the end of the world lately — but at last, John Joseph Adams and Hugh Howey have broken that anxiety down into three distinct stages. They're putting out collections of pre-apocalyptic, apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction. And you can read my story from the pre-apocalyptic volume now.


The pre-apocalyptic volume, The End is Nigh, is available now from Amazon.com, and it includes stories from Paolo Bacigalupi, Tananarive Due, Seanan McGuire and Jonathan Maberry. You can read an interview about it, and an except, over in Wired.


I've got a story about people making slapstick movies on the eve of the apocalypse — because when the world is crashing around you, the only things that make sense are Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, Jackie Chan and Bugs Bunny. And it's been published as a free excerpt, over at Lightspeed Magazine.

It's really about the relationship between Rock, a "splashmanic" performer who's never happy except for when he's falling off things, and his movie director Sally, who enjoys coming up with more and more extreme mayhem — and the social upheaval that threatens to twist their work into something darker and more horrifying.

Here's how it begins:

Earliest I remember, Daddy threw me off the roof of our split-level house. "Boy's gotta learn to fall sometime," he told my mom just before he slung my pants-seat and let go. As I dropped, Dad called out instructions, but they tangled in my ears. I was four or five. My brother caught me one-handed, gave me a spank, and dropped me on the lawn. Then up to the roof for another go round, with my body more slack this time.

From my dad, I learned there were just two kinds of bodies: falling, and falling on fire.

My dad was a stuntman with a left-field resemblance to an actor named Jared Gilmore who'd been in some TV show before I was born, and he'd gotten it in his head Jared was going to be the next big action movie star. My father wanted to be Jared's personal stunt double and "prosthetic acting device," but Jared never responded to the letters, emails, and websites, and Dad got a smidge persistent, which led to some restraining orders and blacklisting. Now he was stuck in the boonies doing stunts for TV movies about people who survive accidents. My mama did data entry to cover the rest of the rent. My dad was determined that my brother Holman and I would know the difference between a real and a fake punch, and how to roll with either kind.

My life was pretty boring until I went to school. School was so great! Slippery just-waxed hallways, dodgeball, sandboxplosions, bullies with big elbows, food fights. Food fights! If I could have gone to school for twenty hours a day, I would have signed up. No, twenty-three! I only ever really needed one hour of sleep per day. I didn't know who I was and why I was here until I went to school. And did I mention authority figures? School had authority figures! It was so great!

I love authority figures. I never get tired of pulling when they push, or pushing when they pull. In school, grown-ups were always telling me to write on the board, and then I'd fall down or drop the eraser down my pants by mistake, or misunderstand and knock over a pile of giant molecules. Erasers are comedy gold! I was kind of a hyper kid. They tried giving me ritalin ritalin ritalin ritalin riiiitaliiiiin, but I was one of the kids who only gets more hyper-hyper on that stuff. Falling, in the seconds between up and down—you know what's going on. People say something is as easy as falling off a log, but really it's easy to fall off anything. Really, try it. Falling rules!

Bullies learned there was no point in trying to fuck me up, because I would fuck myself up faster than they could keep up with. They tried to trip me up in the hallways, and it was just an excuse for a massive set piece involving mops, stray book bags, audio/video carts, and skateboards. Limbs flailing, up and down trading places, ten fingers of mayhem. Crude stuff. I barely had a sense of composition. Every night until 3 a.m., I sucked up another stack of Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, or Jackie Chan movies on the ancient laptop my parents didn't know I had, hiding under my quilt. Safety Last!

Ricky Artesian took me as a personal challenge. A huge guy with a beachball jaw—he put a kid in the hospital for a month in fifth grade for saying anybody who didn't ace this one chemistry quiz had to be a moron. Sometime after that, Ricky stepped to me with a Sharpie in the locker room and slashed at my arms and ribcage, marking the bones he wanted to break. Then he walked away, leaving the whole school whispering, "Ricky Sharpied Rock Manning!"

I hid when I didn't have class, and when school ended, I ran home three miles to avoid the bus. I figured Ricky would try to get me in an enclosed space where I couldn't duck and weave, so I stayed wide open. If I needed the toilet, I swung into the stall through a ventilator shaft and got out the same way, so nobody saw me enter or leave. The whole time in the airshaft, my heart cascaded. This went on for months, and my whole life became not letting Ricky Artesian mangle me.

One day I got careless and went out to the playground with the other kids during recess, because some teacher was looking. I tried to watch for trouble, but a giant hand swooped down from the swing set and hauled me up. I dangled a moment, then the hand let me fall to the sand. I fell on my back and started to get up, but Ricky told me not to move. For some reason, I did what he said, even though I saw twenty-seven easy ways out of that jungle-gym cage, and then Ricky stood over me. He told me again to hold still, then brought one boot down hard on the long bone of my upper arm, a clean snap—my reward for staying put. "Finally got that kid to quit hopping," I heard him say as he walked across the playground.


Read the rest over at Lightspeed Magazine. And if you like it, there might be sequels in the second and third volumes.

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I like the premise. Big fan of those talents you cited, plus Buster Keaton and Elizabeth Streb. There's something poetic and tragic about determined comic figures challenging inexorable forces like brick walls, oncoming trains or gravity.