For hours the ocean interrogates the wooden vessel but receives no answer.
The air on the deck is empty, as if the soul of the boat has seeped through the cracked boards and been lost at sea.
It is neither hot nor cold, neither fair nor stormy. The sky is smeared with fat, and the sea is a cup of rinsed paintbrushes.
At last, a murmur. It spills into the void, descending from the high and creaky crow’s nest.
“I’m Popeye… the Sailor-Man. I live… I live…”
A shriller voice interjects from somewhere below. “You live in a garbage can!”
Popeye seems not to hear. His good eye fixes the middle-distance. He scratches under his cap.
“Do I?” Popeye asks the ocean. “No, that can’t be right.”
On the deck below, a rat wanders out of an overturned barrel.
“Well blow me down,” Popeye says suddenly, staring out. “Wimpy old pal! Find a hamburger? Hope so! Hamburger shamburger, you can have ‘em.”
The scrawny rat waddles toward a pile of fly-specked bones, begins nibbling.
“Watch out for ol’ Bluto, Wimpy,” Popeye continues, gnawing a smokeless corncob pipe. “Real mean one, I’d like to eat HIS lunch, see?”
A tall, emaciated woman appears on deck. Her skin is old leather, her hair wild. “Popeye!”
“Yes, that’s it. I’m Popeye the Sailor-Man. I live… no, not live. But I’m strong see? Strong where? Strong to… the finich! Cuz…”
“Popeye!” the woman calls again, louder this time.
“…cuz why?” Popeye continues. “Because I fight? No, all wrong. What do I do? I… eats? Yes! I strong to the finich, cuz I eats my—”
“POPEYE, LOOK!” the woman howls.
Popeye blinks his eye and leans over. “Well shiver me timbers, Olive Oyl.”
“KILL IT, POPEYE!” Olive Oyl shrieks, pointing to the rat, which goes on worrying a rib bone.
Popeye returns to his thoughts. “That’s not it at all, Olive ol’ gal. That’s not what I eat, cuz I’s eats my—”
“Oh Popeye, you’re dreaming!” Olive moans. “DREAMING while we STARVE!”
Popeye points at the sea with his pipe. “Starve, yeah, I starve if I don’t eats my—”
Olive creeps toward the rodent on her tippy-toes. She reaches for something on the deck.
“My—” Popeye repeats, searching for the word.
With two hands, Olive lifts the something.
“My—” Popeye says again.
Olive raises the something high above her head.
“Friends!” Popeye concludes.
With all her strength, Olive Oyl brings the skull crashing down onto the rat.
* * *
Night falls, but as on all the nights since The Fall, the stars go unseen.
Olive Oyl picks her teeth with a rat’s clawed foot. Popeye’s good eye reflects the fire.
“You shoulda eaten, Pop-eye,” Olive says. “You needa keep up your strength!”
“No good, see?” Popeye says. “No good at all. Wimpy had food but couldn’t make it. Then WE had Wimpy.”
“Don’t talk like that, Pop-eye!” Olive whines. “We did what we had to. Fooey!”
“Amazed his skull worked,” Popeye says. “Thought I caved it in. Always was a hard head though. I mean that i-ronical, Olive. I-ronical.”
From the ocean, somewhere nearby, a boat horn emanates. Olive continues screaming even after it has stopped.
Popeye, veteran seaman, is unphased.
“Visitors eh,” Popeye says. “Bout time, big sea but bout time.” He toots his pipe twice.
Two lights stare back like eyeballs. The ship emerges from the fog, a hulking patchwork of scrap metal.
A voice booms across the water. “AHOY!”
“Ahoy,” Popeye mutters. “Ahoy. We’re rescued, hooray.”
“Hello!” Olive Oyl cries. “Hello! We’re here! Oh, please help us! Over here!”
Soon the ships are side-by-side. Popeye catches a rope that whistles out of the other boat’s blinding on-board lights.
“Oh thank goodness,” Olive is saying. Popeye strains to see the other sailor, whose silhouette bobs with the waves.
Popeye ties the rope. “We were so worried,” Olive is saying. “We thought—” Olive’s voice stops. She screams.
Popeye looks up. He sees the fist coming. At long last, he sees stars again. Everything goes dark.
* * *
Popeye opens his eye wide. There is steam everywhere. His hands are tied. He is standing in water. Olive Oil moans somewhere close by.
He looks down. A metal vessel— a pot. He is standing in water in a big metal pot. The water is hot, steaming.
He tries to open his mouth to breathe, but can’t. His lips sting. He looks down again, at his rippling reflection. He screams in his throat.
His lips are stitched together.
He looks around frantically, his legs tied too. He hops toward the side of the pot. The rim burns his chest. Something hits his forehead.
Popeye thinks he is going to die.
“Alright, hoist him!” The voice is like a clap of thunder. Popeye feels a yanking at his back. He rises slowly out of the water.
“Get ‘im out of the steam,” the deep voice says, with a big sigh. Popeye levitates into the sudden coldness of the room. His eye waters.
“There you are!” the voice chortles. Popeye recognizes the massive toon at once.
“Brr-brw” Popeye manages through his stitched lips. His chin tickles and he wonders if it is blood.
“HA HA HA!” The big toon leans back, slapping his belly. “Brr-brw? That’s not my name at all, Popeye!”
The big toon nods to someone unseen, and Popeye begins levitating back. Backwards toward the pot.
“You look like a worm on a fishing line!” the big toon crows. “Wriggling on that rope, you look like a stuck worm!”
Before the steam curtain conceals it, Popeye sees the big toon open a door. In the room beyond, Olive Oyl lays tied to a bed, struggling.
Popeye screams and struggles against the ropes. He starts swinging back and forth, a desperate pendulum. “Take his knees!” Bluto shouts.
The clubs breaking his knee caps knocks Popeye out. He reawakens as his limp feet touch the now-boiling water.
“How’s that song go, Popeye? ‘I’m one tough Gazookus who hates all Palookas?’ Not so tough now, are ya boy?”
Popeye squeezes his eye. He thinks he may be screaming. Bluto continues to sing. “Oh I biffs ‘em and buffs ‘em! And always out roughs ‘em!”
Up to his thighs now, Popeye sees another, smaller pot overturned into his. The splash sends molten droplets against his face.
Below him, vegetables bob in the water like loose buoys in a squall.
Passingly, between those vegetables, he once more sees his reflection. And his sewn lips.
Popeye strains to break the stitches. He must tell Olive Oyl goodbye. He must curse Bluto one last time.
Massive jaw throbbing, he pulls. He pulls until the blood gushes into the boiling tempest below, until his upper lip begins to tear.
Just as the water reaches his chin, with one last heave, Popeye pulls his upper lip free, stitches and all, and opens his mouth to scream.
…too late. The water rushes in, choking his words. He feels it coarse down his throat, filling his stomach. Popeye begins to drown.
Bluto sings above Olive Oyl’s moaning. “If anyone dares to risk my fisk, it’s boff an’ it’s wham, un’erstan?”
Popeye floats motionless.
A long fork is pointed at the pot, prods Popeye’s forehead. Whispers rise with the steam.
And then Popeye wakes up.
His hand, flesh hanging, darts from the steam, finds a throat. As the toon backpeddles, Popeye is pulled from the cauldron.
Pushing himself up, Popeye kneels on his broken legs. He sucks the last of the green seaweed-like goo past his lip-less yellow teeth.
Seeing it on the floor, Popeye flings the long fork into the toon’s right eye. It sails clear through the skull, brain matter skewered.
Popeye crawls forward, grabs a tablecloth. An oil lamp explodes on the floor as silverware clatters all around. He finds a knife.
Bluto sings, panting, voice husky. “So keep good be-hav-or, that’s your one life saver, with Popeye the Sailor Man.”
Trailing blood, skin puckered like paint on an old boat, Popeye raises himself to his knees once more, and throws himself against the door.
Popeye lands, looks up, cocks back with his huge forearm, and lets fly.
The spinning knife cleanly severs Bluto’s turgid penis, mere inches from Olive Oyl’s screaming face. Blood escapes in a crimson pillar.
With great howls, Bluto falls off the bed in a paroxysm of pain. Popeye is already crawling. He heaves himself onto the larger toon.
Popeye’s fingers dig through layers of fat to the windpipe. Bluto’s eyes bulge. Popeye seethes blood.
“I strong to the finich,” Popeye croaks. “Cause I eats me spinach.” He squeezes as if breaking rock, waiting for Bluto’s life to drain.
At last, with a parting seizure, Bluto goes still. Popeye rolls away, and Olive Oyl’s face appears above, covered in blood, haloed by smoke.
* * *
At the prow of the boat, Olive Oyl cradles Popeye. They watch the smoke billow up from cracks all around.
“Oh it’s better this way, Pop-eye,” Olive is saying. Popeye takes the pipe from his teeth to cough blood. “Yea shiver me timbers, Olive.”
As the boat sinks, the old sailor looks to the sky. Not a star. He looks to the sea, to the fiery reflection on the waves and the circling fins.
Popeye toots his pipe twice.
Huey dabs the rag to Pluto’s bloody wound. “Big Pete, that son of a bitch,” he says. “…no offense to your mother, Pluto.”
Goofy, last penny dissolved in a long-broken bottle, had sold Pluto to Big Pete on a chilly winter’s eve.
“Goodbye boy!” Goofy had called after the big orange dog. Then Big Pete jerked the chain and Pluto whimpered.
Not long after, the beatings began. Huey Dewey and Louie kept awake as their giant neighbor unleashed abuses untold on the gangly canine.
Huey remembers the first time the ducklings jimmied the lock on the dog house while Big Pete slept. Pluto stumbled out, tail wagging weakly.
Pluto had then vomitted and collapsed. Later, when they returned him to the dog house, the whimpering was like the whine of an old train.
That was before The Fall. And if Big Pete was cruel then, he was a monster now.
Big Pete had made plans for his own theme park, “Pete’s Place.” One night the ducklings had overheard him plying Uncle Scrooge for capital.
“It will be HUGE!” Big Pete had boomed from under a cloud of smoke, as Scrooge stacked coins. “Make us free businessmen, away from Disney!”
“Listen Pete,” Scrooge McDuck had begun. “Mickey is a good—” Big Pete stood and swiped the desk clear. “TO HELL WITH MICKEY FUCKING MOUSE!”
Like many dreams, the final death of “Pete’s Place” came on New Year’s Eve. Now Big Pete was trapped, and Pluto took the brunt of his rage.
Huey looks at Pluto, bloodied and beaten once more, and chokes back tears. “Someone needs to stop Big Pete.”
“No,” Dewey says. ” Someone needs to KILL Big Pete.”
“Kill him dead!” Louie says.
* * *
That night, the ducklings set their trap. They crawl through a grimey, bug-flecked window into the darkness of Big Pete’s shack.
The swords they’d taken from suits of armor in the palace. The bows and arrows from Robin Hood’s quarters.
Shoe polish makes the ducklings resemble victims of an oil spill. Quietly they merge with the midnight stink of the dilapidated hovel.
In the darkness, they wait. With thoughts of Pluto’s mangled snout, they hold vigil.
Shortly after 2 a.m. there is a jingling of keys, and the wooden door creaks as Big Pete, wreathed by smoke, enters.
Louie is the first to strike. His sword meets Big Pete in the right knee. Huey feels a piece of something, maybe bone, bounce of his cheek.
Big Pete screams, his lost cigar trailing sparks. He falls, a mountain collapsing, and his head ricochets on the hardwood floor.
Dewey aims down, releases his arrow. In the dim light it enters Big Pete’s shoulder. Pete howls. The carpet under the cigar begins to smoke.
“Who’s there?!” Big Pete demands, his first words, as he scrambles away. Huey walks after him, raises the sword…
…and brings it down on Big Pete’s left wrist. Pete’s severed hand falls away in a geyser of blood.
Time seems to slow as Huey hears Big Pete’s howl echoed by Pluto outside. The rug erupts in flame.
Dewey leaps down from a table and smashes a lamp over Big Pete’s head. He shakes Huey from a trance. “It’s on fire!” he says. “Let’s go!”
Huey follows his brothers out. Louie has Pluto on a leash. Huey gives the now-burning shanty one final look.
“Burn in hell, Big Pete,” he says. “Burn in hell.
* * *
The final droplets swirl into Goofy’s mouth. He drops the bottle from the high steeple. “Gorsh!” he says. “Such are the days of our lives!”
Slowly, from somewhere inside his drunk, Goofy focuses on a far orange glow below. “Big Pete…” he begins.
When Goofy arrives, the shack is a conflagration. “PETE!” he screams. Then he runs in, through booze-doubled vision and torrents of smoke.
In the furnace, Goofy sees the hulking, beached whale-like Big Pete. Bolstered by adrenaline and liquor, Goofy begins to drags the body.
As he is pulled, Big Pete stirs. Goofy sees a trail of blood. Big Pete’s right hand grabs onto something. Goofy heaves until he sees sky.
For a long time Goofy coughs, then vomits, then gasps for air. His eyes sting. Finally, he looks up.
BIG PETE IS STANDING UP, eyes wide, scorched, smoking, bloody, pointing a long sword. “You…” he gurgles at Goofy.
“Pete,” Goofy hiccups. “What—”
“YOU DID THIS TO ME!!” Big Pete shrieks. As if on cue, Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck run up beside Goofy.
“What’s going on?” Mickey says. Big Pete squints at Mickey. “You…” Pete growls. “You little…”
“Don’t even think about it!” Robin Hood cries from a nearby tree, aiming an arrow. “Drop that blade good sir!”
“YOU’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER!” Big Pete screams, clutching his gory stump. He runs toward the backyard.
“Wait!” Mickey calls after him. Goofy gives chase. “He’s heading for the perimeter wall!” Donald cries. “Shoot him!”
Goofy pushes through the billowing smoke. Too late. Big Pete is clambering up the stairs, almost atop the wall. “PETE! DON’T—!”
With a scream that becomes a roar, Big Pete leaps from that wall, disappearing into the dark outside the Magic Kingdom.
* * *
“So you didn’t find ANYTHING?” Mickey is asking Robin Hood. It is a rare warm morning. “Neither hide nor hair,” comes the reply.
“The Wasters got ‘im,” Donald says. “And good riddance to bad rubbish!”
“Let me know if you find anything, OK?” Mickey looks at Goofy. “Goofy, you knew him best. Will you say a few words tonight, old pal?”
“Gorsh Mickey, I don’t know.” He takes a swig from a brown sack. “I’ll try!”
That night, for the first time since the world ended, fireworks are fired not in violence, but as a signal. A peace offering. A beacon.
And somewhere in those crags beyond, amidst the desolation, two bloodshot eyes look up. Then squint. And a vicious laugh is heard.
“GETONTHEGROUNDMOTHERFUCKERDOITDOITDOITNOWCOCKSUCKER!!!” said Papa Smurf, tiny AK-47 at the ready.
The old Smurf’s forearms bristled with old, sinewy muscle ready to pull the trigger worn shiny from use. “Give me an excuse, cat.”
“Turn this piece of shit over,” Papa Smurf barked to a few underlings. Two camouflaged smurfs scurried around Tom and kicked his ribs.
It didn’t hurt, they being so tiny, but Tom obliged. The rifles looked real enough and he’d been through too much today. He turned over.
“BombBombBomb!” screamed a Smurf. They all backed away…all except Papa. He ran up Tom’s chest and shoved his rifle up the cat’s nostril.
With his free hand, Papa grabbed the thing around the cat’s neck. It was a doll, roughly in the shape of a mouse. “Where’z’detonator, cat?”
Papa pushed the rifle furthur up the cat’s nose. “Aggh!” screamed Tom, “S’not a bomb, I swear!” “…the fuck is it then?” spat Papa.
Tom’s eyes misted. His breathing got very quiet and he spoke as if from the bottom of a well. “S’Jerry. Jerry…my mouse.”
* * *
“You’re in some shit now, Tom.” Tom opened his eyes. Jerry lay casually on the branch from which Tom been hung, 125 feet above the ground.
“That’s a hell of a drop, even if you could get your hands free,” said Jerry. Tom looked down to see his feet dangling over open space.
“Just the same, cut me free, huh? For old times sake?” said Tom. Jerry replied, “Do you know how crazy you’d have to be for that to happen?”
“That’d be one hell of a hallucination, Tom,” said Jerry. “That’d be loco.” Tom snapped his jaws angrily at the mouse, who had disappeared.
Tom looked down to see his necklace was still around his neck. He sighed, relieved. Jerry was still here. Then he noticed the blood.
The Smurfs had carved the word ‘Waster’ into his flesh. There was a bright pool of blood on the ground below him. He’d been left as a snack.
“Won’t be long til they smell that, huh?” Jerry was back. This time he wore a tropical housedress and bright pink lipstick. “No,” said Tom.
>Night was already falling. “I wonder, Tom. Will you miss me?” asked Jerry. “I’ll be dead,” replied Tom. His wrists had started to bleed.
“I’m dead, Tom. And I’m still here,” said Jerry. Tom thought. “That’s because I’m imagining you,” he said. A snarl erupted from the bushes.
“Well, I’ll imagine you, Tom,” said Jerry. “Will you?” asked Tom. It was almost too dark to see. Several Wasters were gathering below.
“Sure thing, pal,” replied the mouse. “Thanks,” said Tom. The tree shook as the Wasters started to climb up to Tom. They barked and howled.
“Does it hurt?” Tom asked his friend, “…to be eaten?” Jerry looked Tom in the eye. “Yes, Tom,” replied Jerry, “more than you can imagine.”
They tugged at his feet. “Jerry?” The mouse was gone. “I’m sorry I did that to you,” Tom gasped. The first bite came like a shock of water.
“Jerry?! … I’m scared!” Tom screamed to the trees. A filthy hand ripped the necklace from him. More teeth bit into him. “Jerry!!”
Far below, the little mouse-doll smiled cheerfully from atop a pile of leaves, wet with blood.
“Gee willikers you guys, don’t leave!” Mickey was saying. “Everyone loves you two— you make us laugh! And besides, it’s scary out there.”
“Mickey ol’ boy,” Timon had replied. “We’ll be FINE. We’re natural scroungers!” “Life on the road,” Pumba declared. “The good life!”
Now the memory of these words splash upon Timon’s mind like acid rain. Life outside the Magic Kingdom had not proved “Hakuna Matata.”
“Any luck?” Timon asks Pumba. “Not a grub in sight!” comes the doleful reply. Timon scoffs. “They said the cockroaches would survive!”
Pumba’s stomach growls. “I’m hungry too, pal,” Timon says. They pass a metal sheet and Timon sees himself: an emaciated, spidery creature.
“A little worse for the wear, I’m afraid.” In reply, Pumba only snorts, and they walk on through the grayness of that starved country.
After awhile they come to a highway overpass, huge and collapsed like a fallen dinosaur. The area beneath is shadowed even in daytime.
“Should we go around?” Pumba asks. “Are you kidding?” Timon replies. “Bugs love the dark!”
They set out. Rubble litters their path, and twice Timon falls. Pumba shudders as they pass the dessicated skeleton of some massive beast.
Underneath at last, Timon’s eyes scan the dim tunnel. Pumba’s stomach growls, only this time much louder.
“Colder than a hyena’s soul in here,” Timon says.
“You have no idea,” comes a new voice.
The companions spin on their heels. There, a creature on all fours: hyena. They turn to flee, but a second one blocks the opposite end.
“Now felllas, let’s talk this out,” Timon quakes. “Surely there’s—” “No talking,” says the hyena mirthlessly. “Not here. Only dying.”
Suddenly the cavern is consumed by a bone-chilling roar. Timon and Pumba turn to see something hurling itself onto the second hyena.
All is a frenzy as the two hyenas attack the new animal, momentarily forgetting their onetime prey. “Let’s go!” Timon says, and they flee.
Outside again, the friends sprint in a freefall of terror. The howls of the fight fade in the wind. Then: “Hey guys!” comes a voice.
Timon turns and his voice nearly catches with joy. “Simba!”
Simba the lion walks toward them. “Hey fellas!” “You saved us!” Pumba says, trotting merrily toward their lion friend.
Then Timon sees the blood-stained maw, the jutting ribs. Simba, though recognizable, is starving. “Hey, Pumba,” Timon begins. “I think—”
But Timon is too late. In one graceful motion, Simba runs, leaps, lands on Pumba, and bites into the boar’s neck. Pumba lets out a squeal.
“NOOOOOOOOOOOO!” Timon screams. “PUMBA!”
The boar’s head lolls toward Timon as Simba bites down again, drawing a high fountain of blood. Pumba spits out a last gurgled word: “Run!”
And so Timon runs. He runs until his feet bleed, until the dying screams of his best friend lay miles behind. At last he falls near a river.
He sleeps for hours, awaking to the sound of laughter. He looks up. “One out of two ain’t bad,” the hyena is saying. “Hakuna Matata!”
It is the first rain since The Fall. Pools of water, made black with ash, collect everywhere. The fog lays heavy on this broth of death.
Out of this comes a pitiful creature - hair matted black, paws septic with infected lesions, one eye plucked out by hungry squirrels.
She’s never had a name, save that given her by her stalker in the time before - “Cherie” he called her when he could get his paws on her.
She’d begged him to let her be - through letters, email. But to no avail. The skunk would have his prize and he dogged her steps to the end.
If there was one soul who welcomed The Fall, it was Cherie, for to her, life had become a series of near-rape attempts, meted out daily.
Though she wandered this hellscape a broken, mangled thing, a cat, barely recognizable as such, she rested easier that Pepe le Pew was gone.
She stumbles through rural desolation, whole forests turned to strokes in a Japanese drawing, until she comes across a cinderblock bunker.
She raps on the foot-thick steel door with bloodied knuckles. It’s too faint to be heard through the storm. She looks up to see a camera.
“Please!” she gestures, for she has never been able to speak in the human language like the others. The red light turns to green.
The hiss of decompression is deafening as the door opens allowing the sealed environment below to become tainted with air from the surface.
Cherie clears her good eye, sees the open doorway, feels the warmth and safety, hears strains of music soft on the warm air. She collapses.
* * *
Cherie dreams of a summer she spent in Monaco, having followed a tomcat named Phillipe, a scoundrel, but no less beautiful, to those shores.
They’d eaten delicious trash, the finest, and fought and made meow under the chiffon moon while music caressed them from every doorway.
She wakes now to the same tune as it echoes from somewhere through the underground passageways, ‘Le Temps de Cerises’ - ‘the cherry season’.
“You were out there a ling time, sister,” a voice, soft, Parisian? it’s been so long since she’s heard the dialect. She nods ‘yes’.
Then a warm paw strokes her head, scratches between her ears. It is intoxicating to be touched again with such care. She opens her eye.
She sees a female cat, black and white like her, so similar, in fact, they could be littermates. Cherie tries to rise. “Rest, sister”.
The cat’s paw is so insistent, but so gentle, Cherie falls into sleep as if drunk on catnip. Something about that touch…
She dreams of a row she and Phillipe had had once over the advances of a calico. Phillipe implored, “I’m trying to protect you!”
This dream is different, though, and Phillipe comes to her in the burnt forest, the open door of the bunker yawning warmly in the offing.
He stands, bloodied, before her, his fur singed and torn. “Turn away, Cherie!” he uses the name he never called her. She ignores him.
She floats through him like a moth drawn to the doorway of golden light. Behind her she hears him, “I’m trying to protect..” but he is gone.
* * *
She wakes next at a lavish dinner table. She is at the head, sitting up on a cat-sized gurney, her wounds bandaged. She tries to move.
Straps are tight across her. “For your protection, sister,” says the cat from before, or maybe it isn’t. For there are 12 such cats at table
“Silence!” comes the shrill command in a bourgeois accent. The cats, all identical but for small differences, all identical to her, freeze.
“Welcome home, mon Cherie,” he says, filling the room with his scent, that horrible smell that was impossible to wash away.
Across the golden finery, across the candles and ornate bowls brimming with tuna, out of the darkness He comes…le Pew, in the fur.
“We’ve been waiting for you a long time,” he says. “And you’re in time for the main course.” His eyes glowed as he put his hands on her.
As he fills her with his poison, as the others look away, Cherie thinks she sees Phillipe’s disapproving scowl in the approaching darkness.
In a craggy depression, a filthy blanket stirs. Gurgles give way to syllables. “Ooooo,” the heap says. “I hates varmints.”
* * *
“O-K boys, hit it!” A hundred floodlights burst to life. Three perfect circles, the head of Mickey Mouse, form a shadow over the Wasteland.
“Gee fellas,” Mickey says, “That looks swell!” From behind, a high and cheeky voice. “That’ll show them lousy Wasters!” says Donald Duck.
A mouse in a dress sits nearby, legs dangling from the rampart. “But what about others?” Minnie says forlornly. “Other toons?”
“We can’t go helpin every good-for-nothin—!” Donald begins. Mickey quiets him. “Minnie,” Mickey says. “We may be the only survivors.”
Big Pete steps into the light. “We ARE the only survivors!” he booms. “It’s Big Pete…” He lights up a fat cigar. “…versus the world!”
“Listen here Pete!” Donald retorts. “MICKEY’S the boss here! You do what he says or—” Big Pete almost shouts. “Or WHAT?!”
“That’s enough,” Mickey says, hand on Donald’s puffed-out chest. “We’re all on one team.” Big Pete blows smoke. “Watch yourself, Duck.”
A shout comes from overhead. “WASTERS!” Mickey feels a chill. He turns, pulls Minnie from the ledge, and scans the illuminated perimeter.
“There!” Mickey counts five of them. “Where’s Robin—” “Huzzah!” cries an orange fox in forester’s garb. In a flash, the fox has a bow.
“Wait…” Mickey says. “Waiting,” the fox says. A small rabbit in an oversize hat stands below Robin’s bow, match and matchbook ready.
“Wait…” Mickey repeats. “Waiting,” the fox echoes again. Out in the bright pool of light, the tattered Wasters scream.
The fox furrows his brow. The little rabbit gulps. Minnie bites her fingers.
“Oh just light it already!” Big Pete exclaims, pushing the rabbit aside and touching his cigar to the arrow fuse. Startled, Robin lets fly.
The arrow looks like a sparkling insect through the lambent atmosphere of the floodlights. It runs on a long, slow arc, a shooting star.
“Damn!” cries Robin Hood, slender face pointing at Big Pete. “We don’t have too many of those!” Mickey’s heart drops. “It missed,” he says.
As if on cue, the glowing circus ring created by the floodlamps explodes into fire and color.
“Huzzah!” Robin cries, doffing his hat. The little rabbit does likewise. “Yahoo!” Mickey exclaims. “Burn em alive!” Donald shouts.
“Look at em run!” Donald continues, as the ragged Wastelanders lope into the dark beyond. “AND STAY OUT!” Big Pete snorts and walks away.
“Even on my bad day, not shabby,” Robin is saying proudly. From a corner of the rampart, a hiccup. Goofy, hidden, watches Big Pete go.
“You’re lucky,” Big Pete grumbles. “Lucky this time, goddamn mouse.” Goofy takes a swig of an amber liquid. In his stupor, he whispers.
“Watchin you, Pete,” he says. “Goofy *hiccup* is a-gonna be watchin you.” He points at the rapidly-blurring bottle. “And you’re gonna help!”
* * *
That night, Donald returns to the rampart. Second-in-command, but he serves on guard duty every night. “Move along, soldier!” he barks.
“Not a soldier,” comes the reply. The figure turns. “Cinderella,” Donald says in an awed tone.
“How are you Donald?” Cinderella says. She steps forward and sets her hand on Donald’s head. “Why, why I’m fine, Cindy,” he manages. “You?”
“Well,” she says, turning away with a sigh, her diaphanous gown like a pale after-image in slow motion. “I am well.”
“I miss you, Cindy.” Donald can feel himself begin to plead. “I miss—” Cinderella turns. “Don’t speak,” she says, and lets the gown drop.
As peaceful silence falls on the Magic Kingdom, the Wasteland outside roils in madness. Touching her now, though, Donald doesn’t care.
When finally they are done, exhausted, Donald dries himself with his blue cap. “I missed this,” he says. “I’m pregnant,” she replies.
Wile E. Coyote held the Road Runner against the wall by his long neck. Filthy water dripped from the floors above them. The bird writhed.
“Oh, this is too sweet,” said Coyote. He’d been living in the basement of the destroyed department store, trapping survivors, for a month.
“Aww, you must be hungry,” said Coyote as he kicked aside the plate of seed he’d used as bait. “A shame.” “Meep,” managed the bird.
Coyote tickled the bird’s throat with a serrated Acme hunting knife. “As much as I’d love to gut you,” Coyote said, “I’ve an idea.”
* * *
The Roadrunner stood in the debris-covered street. The cable tied around his neck trailed up to a blast-hole in the 5th floor of a building.
Coyote hid there, cable in paw, until darkness, smoking a cheroot cigar. He looked at the trembling bird below and smiled. “Acme, my ass.”
Soon the new sounds of night gnashed and scraped from darkened corners. The Roadrunner pulled against the cable as panic took him.
“Bet you miss those wide-open desert roads now, huh, bird?” called Coyote. “Maybe you can find a painting to run through somewhere?”
“Meep!” said Roadrunner. “No, my friend, YOU’RE the one about to get fucked,” snorted Coyote. A hideous wastelander stepped into the road.
“And our first guest for dinner has arrived! Don’t be rude, bird, shake hands,” Coyote yanked the cable so the Roadrunner fell to his knees.
“Look!” laughed Coyote. “And he brought a friend.” Another Waster stepped out of the shadows. “Oh, this will be a party to remember!”
They were almost upon the bird who dashed back and forth, snapping the cable taught until a wound, wet and deep opened on his neck.
The Wasters were in a frenzy now, having smelled blood. They barked in piercing tones that drove the Roadrunner wild with terror.
One grabbed the cable and began playfully thrashing it to and fro. The two monsters chortled as the bird was whipped around by its neck.
In their sadistic glee they ripped the end of the cable from the paws of the Coyote. A moment’s confusion allowed the bird to dash away.
The Wasters howled with rage at their lost prey. They shot into the gloom, following the scent of blood. “FUCK!!” shouted Coyote.
Now with the bird gone, Coyote realised he had been careless. He was exposed, in an open environment well into the killing hours.
He huddled close to the wall, eyes wide, ears straining. Then he heard the sounds of pursuit as the bird scrabbled through the debris.
A wet, snarling bark would erupt from somewhere. Then silence. Then the “Meep!” of the Roadrunner, closer, as he led the monsters upward.
Coyote wanted to bolt. Evolution screamed in his head to run. But to where? The sounds got closer and closer. Closer and closer. Silence.
Coyote peeked his head out from under his arm. “Meep! Meep!,” said the Roadrunner as he stood over Coyote, lit by hazy moonlight.
Roadrunner spat a wad of blood as he launched himself over Coyote and out the blast hole. The blood sluiced onto Coyote’s face and chest.
The Roadrunner was, familiarly, long gone. Coyote looked to where the bird had stood a moment ago. The Wasters chittered at their new prey.
The Roadrunner threaded his way through the debris until he reached the interstate highway. He looked back. “Meep! Meep!” Then he was gone.
Night comes, if it ever left. Two figures huddle at a woebegone campfire.
“Did you hear thomething?” Daffy whispers, staring into the hard darkness. He hugs his blanket closer. “Hey! Hello! Ith anybody out there?!”
“We’re the onwy ones here, Daffy,” Elmer says, rolling over. “Go to sweep aweady, we have a wong day ahead.”
Daffy makes a hood of the blanket and scoots closer the fire. The wind above their alcove howls. “Thure thing.”
Daffy had long since lost track of time. The days since The Fall (as he had heard it called) were a blur of scavenging and hunger.
But they had survived, somehow, Elmer hanging back with shotgun loaded as Daffy traded tales and supplies with unfamiliar toons.
He listened to stories of Warner Brothers Studios, how its iconic water tower served as a meeting place in the early days of chaos.
“Perhapth we could have gone there too,” Daffy thinks aloud. Gradually, though, the reports from that part of the world had begun to change.
Toons arrived with strange facial tics, jumpy, taciturn… suspicious. On two separate occasions, mention of “the WB” had elicited screams.
“No amigo!” implored one mouse, a bewhiskered Mexican Daffy had known many years ago. The mouse grabbed Daffy’s shoulders. “NO!”
“‘No’ what, my thombrero-fethtooned rodent pal?” Daffy said. Whatever else, Daffy had retained his knack for turning a phrase.
“Loco, señor!” the mouse replied, voice breaking. “THEY ALL GO LOCO!” The mouse had said no more then, sprinting away at a startling pace.
Now, rubbish fire crackling, Daffy squints at the sky. Somewhere up there, beneath that cataract haze, the moon.
Something stirs in the dark. “Hey there, Fudd, thomething…” he begins. Then everything happens quickly.
Into the firelight steps something that may once have been human. A short, squat creature, eyes blazing, hair unruly beneath a wide hat.
“TAAAARRRNATION!” the creature screams. “Ooooo!”
Fudd, groggy at first, sees the beast and grabs for the shotgun. “Ooooo!” the beast howls again. The beast draws a weapon.
“Stop wight there!” Fudd begins. The creature fumes, mouth frothy. “I HATES VARMINTS!”
Fudd raises the shotgun; the creature raises his pistol. Both weapons fire.
Elmer Fudd falls to the earth, a hole between his doleful eyes.
The sound of the blast brings Daffy awake from a fear paralysis. Now he recognizes the voice. “Yothemite,” he says, watching Elmer bleed.
“I reckon, I reckon,” Yosemite Sam says confusedly, holding his head. Daffy thinks he can smell the madness. “Doggonit I reckon!”
Daffy doesn’t give him the chance to finish. He flings the heavy blanket and it covers Yosemite. He turns to flee.
A few strides later, Daffy stops. In his mind’s eye he sees Elmer Fudd’s doughy face, bloody and startled.
Daffy turns back, fists clenched.
“Tarnation!” Yosemite Sam is saying from beneath the blanket. “Jumpin’ jehoshaphat!” Daffy reaches the shotgun. He reloads.
Yosemite Sam peaks out from under the blanket. His red eyes go wide. “Why you—”
Daffy clicks the gun back, and discharges both barrels.
Hours later Daffy sits at the edge of a polluted lake, watching some semblance of a sunrise. He wears twin holsters & a drab hunting cap.
“Theeya later, pal,” he says, dropping a match on the funeral pyre. Elmer Fudd’s body erupts in flames. “Until nexth time.”
Daffy looks to the horizon, eyes wet with tears. For a few minutes he forgets it all. For a few minutes, he’s blind to the whole ugly world.
By the end of the second week, shantytowns had sprung up, offering anything a toon could want: liquor, guns, genital-free sex.
The worst of ‘em was called the Devil’s Inkwell. And it was here that Bugs found work of the worst sort.
All knew Bugs made a handsome woman when he was gussied up as such, foolin’ old Elmer in the time before The Fall.
Bugs did a half-ass cabaret set in the makeshift saloon, before spendin’ the rest of the night on his back in the cardboard and tin rooms.
Every disfigured, mutated, wasteland drifter came through, tradin’ water and candybars for a turn with the rabbit with the pineapple hat.
Bugs had changed hisself below his cotton-tail with a jug of whiskey and an eraser, whiskey for the pain and the eraser for…you can guess.
Bugs was a boon for the owner of the Inkwell, Mr. Hatchet, who’d been a Freemare, haunting the dreams of children in the time before.
Mr. Hatchet took his own turn with Bugs most nights, and Bugs paid his rent in misery until the grey sun came up on the wastelands.
Then came the day when Bugs thought he’d trade on his popularity. He went into Mr. Hatchet’s tent to see if he could buy his freedom.
Mr. Hatchet listened thoughtfully and let the rabbit have his say. Then he stood and stepped out from behind the boxes that made his desk.
And Bugs saw that Hatchet had drawn hisself the most revolting, gnarled member any toon had ever dangled ‘tween his haunches.
“Oh, you can go free, wabbit. But you gonna earn it.” Even in that dark town, silence fell through the alleyways as Bugs bought his freedom.
It is the stroke of midnight, New Year’s Eve 2066, and the sky above the Magic Kingdom is alive with fireworks.
“Gorgeous, Mick!” she says, her eyes reflecting the colorful fizgigs above.
He smiles and takes her gloved hand. “So long as you’re here.”
Goofy stumbles along a monorail track, oblivious to the pyrotechnics. A liquor bottle falls. “Gorsh!” he hiccups. “Happy New Year!”
In a high castle tower, a duck watches a princess. His eyes narrow. “Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and days of auld lang syne?”
“Please don’t hit him!” Huey cries. “Not on New Year’s!” “Stay out of it, boy!” Big Pete says, raising the belt above Pluto.
Somewhere, a golden bear hugs a pot marked “HUNNY.” Somewhere, a red-haired mermaid gazes at the revelry and weeps.
The first bomb drops at 12:01 EST.
Afterward there is dust in the air, and silence. Days pass.
The balding hunter, eyes stinging, climbs a grassy hillock. “Wh-what happened?” From out the smoke comes a reply: “Sufferin succotash!”
Meanwhile, the rabbit, who has seen it all from afar, wipes the grime from a carrot and turns his eyes to God. “What’s up, doc?” he says.