Today is the day he decided to fossilize himself. Fossilize in a very real, dinosaur bones in the ground kind of way. It isn’t suicide, this much he is sure of. No, Caleb wants to “be” forever. And now he is waist deep in concrete in his bathtub. It began as a dream.
On the night of the dream, Caleb blogged about his day. School was horrid, and he was particularly angry at the slow progress of the economy. How will he get a job fresh out of college like this? The internet heard him. To wind down, he wrote a small poem. He thought he was pretty good at this, and maybe he could publish some of them. The internet listened.
Caleb was satisfied after speaking to the masses, and he pulled off his pants and brushed his teeth. Caleb worried that he was balding, and spent ten minutes staring at his scalp. There were no text messages on his phone. His sardine-can apartment was chill, and he dove into his bed to squirm uncomfortably until his sheets were warm. Caleb took a sleeping pill and turned on his TV. It was a Discovery Channel nature special on…
Caleb stood on a thickly weeded shore at the edge of a pond, fishing with his ex-girlfriend. In the dream she looked part platypus, but he knew it was she. It was dusk, and they were both looking towards the opposite bank.
“I think you don’t have much of a chance catching fish here,” said his girlfriend off-handedly. She scratched her rubbery muzzle and pointed to the reeds near a willow tree. “They like to hide in the shadows—the brush.”
Caleb sighed and didn’t speak, shifting his weight from one leg to another. Finally he said, “Are you done fishing? I’m spent.”
His ex, Dana continued to stare forward as if she didn’t hear him. Her six nipples wobbled with her impatient breaths.
“Did you hear me? Let’s git.” Caleb touched her on one furry shoulder this time, and she looked at him with a start. “What?”
“Let’s go.” He said.
Dana shook her head and pointed to her ear hole, indicating she couldn’t hear him. So he yelled. None of the birds in the trees startled. He was mute.
Easy. Caleb whipped out his cell phone to text Dana. The battery was dead. No problem. Caleb pulled his laptop from the weeds and tried to e-mail Dana. It was also dead. Dana looked at him for a long time, trying to gain some kind of understanding from him. Sadness filled her eyes, and she slowly turned and waddled into her burrow. Caleb started sinking then, being sucked slowly into the marsh. No one would ever know he was there. Or even was.
Caleb woke screaming, “Let’s get out of here!” The internet didn’t hear him this time.
From this, Caleb decided two things. Firstly, that platypuses are loveless creatures and weird looking, and second, that Dana had more in common with those creatures than he at first realized. Caleb tried to shake it off, but the dream clung to him for the rest of the day like a heavy fog.
After classes he came home and turned on his computer, slipped off his shoes, and got out bread for a peanut-butter jelly sandwich. At this point he drove his foot into a heavy metal cabinet. Shortly after quite a bit of hissed profanity, Caleb realized none of the lights in his apartment were working. Nor was his computer. Walking outside, he found that the entire complex was out of power.
He peered down the hallway at the icy mess on the street. Caleb brightened. This is different! With no power comes no responsibility! Classes will surely be cancelled! What a wonderful distraction, thought Caleb. Now that he had free time, he could just watch TV all night and not feel bad about it.
He actually hit the power switch before remembering there was no electricity. Caleb felt dread spread across his body like a damp wool blanket. He looked at his phone: one bar of battery life. Caleb jumped up with a yelp and ran through the front door, across the hall, up the stairs, and knocked heavily on room 215. “Chill!” came the muffled reply.
The door opened with a sigh. “Hey man. What’s your rush?” Mark’s steely rebuke softened when he recognized his best friend. “Dude, you got me, knockin’ so fast like that.”
“Sorry,” Caleb panted, more from stress than effort. “I just—uh, the power’s out.”
“Yep, noticed.” Concern entered Mark’s eyes. He stepped back and left the door open, “You OK, Caleb?”
“Yeah, uh, yeah just…” Caleb followed after, shutting the door and shaking his head. “I had the feeling that I was completely disconnected. You know, like, if the power just stayed off, and I just died or broke my leg or something. No one would know.”
“Fuckin’ deep, Nietzsche,” said Mark. He went to the refrigerator and grabbed two Coronas. “Get ‘em while they’re cold.”
“Sorry, I just got freaked out for a moment. If someone needed me at this moment, and my phone is dead too, what can I do, yano?”
Mark deflated into his futon with a huff. “Yeah. Makes you wonder how people survived without all this stuff.” He took a swig and looked thoughtful. He was an art major, and prone to this behavior. “Or maybe they actually did live life, right? All we do is so, I don’t know, intangible.”
Caleb sat across from him. “Any lime?”
“Refrigerator, crisper drawer.” Mark sat up and said, “But seriously. Do we have real photo albums anymore? Like, stuff you can flip through? Facebook. Or, uh, books, yano? We’ve got Kindles and online books and shit. Give it ten years and we’ll be living Fahrenheit 451, man. Burning the books so we can be green, but it’s all down the tubes.”
“We don’t need to fear the nuke anymore dude. EMP.” Mark looked at home in this topic, as if he had rehearsed it in the mirror. He made his hands wide in a mock explosion and his eyes widened. “Boosh! Phwap, that’s it. All our computers are fried, our phones, our power grids. Years of information, click. Gone. Goodbye civilization.”
Caleb didn’t feel better after this. Mark might as well have been the great platypus prophet, wobbling his nipples and pointing Caleb out among the crowd to be struck by God’s vengeful lightning.
From this, Caleb decided two things. Firstly, Mark wasn’t the guy to go to if he wanted to be calmed down, and second, he needed to make a mark on this earth; something real and palpable. Someone needed to know he was.
The power came on after two hours. Caleb turned on all the lights, his computer, the television and the microwave. He warmed a ham and cheese hot pocket. Then he set to work on his blog. Typing furiously, Caleb wrote one of his best works. Nuanced, clever, and hardly preachy, he smiled proudly as he went to post it. He also wrote a poem:
Behold the rock amidst the plain
He is a solid gray blue stain
A spot against his time and age
Bookmark inside season’s page
‘Gainst eraser war he’ll endless wage.
Caleb liked this poem. Maybe it could get published. Caleb was beaming, pushing the mouse along its path to posting. Then the internet went out.
Furious, Caleb ran into the kitchen and finished making his peanut butter and jelly sandwich. He paced back and forth, tearing his sandwich violently with his teeth. “I had… it was…” He tried desperately to remember what he had written, even a speck of it, but it was no more in is mind than his computer. All was lost.
Suddenly he looked up from his sandwich carcass. That was it! Caleb could simply go back in time and do something very archaic. He could write his thoughts on paper first, with a pencil, no a pen! Permanent marker, even. Like a man in a trance he drifted back into the bedroom. Caleb’s sandwich laid, broken and bleeding jelly, on the counter.
Caleb landed in his room with a thud as he looked for a pen, a pencil, a stick, anything for him to make a mark with. He found a blue Sharpie in his sock drawer, and an old Dinotopia college ruled notebook beneath his bed under a shirt behind an over-due Spanish textbook.
“This is Caleb,” he spoke as he wrote, his eyes a shiny sort of crazed. Caleb did not duplicate his online epistle. He bested it.
Tepid ocean green, I am the moon.
Rise because I say, fall because I am gone away.
This Caleb wrote in large block letters at the top of the page, mainly because he forgot how to write in cursive. Its thick mark bled through the pages. With his statement made, Caleb decided to have a celebratory macaroni and cheese. As many college students know, peanut butter and jelly and macaroni and cheese are akin to a thick steak and nice bottle of merlot.
Caleb strutted into the kitchen with his first journal entry and turned on the stove. Pot, pan, boiled water, macaroni, cheese packet, thick flowing black smoke… Caleb paused. There was something not quite right about that list.
Too late Caleb realized that the wrong burner was on. By the time he had put out the fire, his prize notebook was well done. This was a cosmic joke. This was a malicious force. No, Caleb decided, this was exactly what should be expected.
The kitchen was filled with smoke, and Caleb barely had time to pull the batteries from his smoke detector before it screamed at him. Mark pushed the door in just as Caleb carried his poor notebook to the trash.
“Should lock this,” Mark said, motioning absently to the door. “The fuck’d you do, Bradbury? I mentioned 451 as a caution, not as a blueprint, dumbass.”
Caleb looked up at Mark with red rimmed eyes. “I’m cursed. Everything I do is erased. Everything… I… do.”
Mark eased up a little. “Hey man, relax. You got shaken up and now you’re just getting ahead of yourself. These things happen in threes, dude.”
“I had a dream,” blurted Caleb. His words mocked him once they left his mouth. Mark simply blinked. “And?”
Caleb sighed heavily, “Well it was a dream and it had Dana in it, except she was this platypus thing, and we were fishing and I thought it was about her being a bitch,” Damn straight! chimed Mark, “but I think it was about being completely without connections and powerless and helpless to do anything but disappear and just be gone.”
Mark blinked again. “Are you taking the sleeping pills again?”
“Yes, but that’s beside the point. I need to be heard. I need to have something really real, like my own Stonehenge or my own Easter Island heads or something.” Caleb tried really hard not to look crazy and failed.
“You could always fossilize yourself.” Said Mark. He laughed, and looked around the room. “Dude, you need to get out of here. Find a girl or something. I’m serious.” Mark turned and went for the door: “Text me later, we’ll play some Xbox.”
Caleb stood still and silent. A Fossil. Like a damned Tyrannosaur for the ages. Here lie the stone bones of Caleb Meisk, creature for eternity. Melodramatic, but not half bad.
Caleb brought a fan from his room, opened all the windows, and put on a coat. While the smoke cleared he went to his computer and Google searched fossils. Wikipedia was the first entry to show up. Caleb clicked on it and smiled: Mark called Wiki the “hive-mind of our generation.”
Yes, these were. Insignificant plants, fish, and shells, known for all eternity. They were markings for their time and age. They were here before computers and the internet and Wiki, and they’ll be here when all of that is gone and the powerlines are just mysterious black lines in the earth. Caleb googled concrete.
Caleb turned off the fan, shut all the windows, looked sadly at his crispy notebook, and fit his shoes back on. It was time to make a trip to Lowes.
And so we find Caleb sitting in a bathtub, pouring quickcrete in gallons around his body. No note needed. This isn’t a suicide, but a preservation. Caleb was very sure of that. He had cleaned his room and put away his shoes, hiding the dirtiest of his socks in a corner of his closet. Fossils shouldn’t have cluttered rooms.
Once the messy gray stuff started to flow over the lip of the bathtub, Caleb threw the final package at the trashcan in the corner. Missed, dammit. A fossil who is a bad shot.
Caleb slipped slowly under the surface, first his belly button, then his nipples. The cement was heavy, and made it hard to breath. Caleb was in past his shoulders, up to his neck, and with one final hard-fought breath, he pulled under entirely.
This was a necessary step. Even with all his connections, Caleb would be utterly lost, just another zero or one in the binary code.
And when his signal went out at the end of his life, Caleb would be just an electronic memory, like an angel: never seen, only whispered about at the edges of the internet. Who’s dry dust is this? ‘Caleb’s’ His leftover dirt would answer. But no one would hear. As a fossil, surely Caleb would stand as a mark of society. Scholars would pore over his stony remains.
“This boy was from 2009,” dissertations would begin, “He is truly a lasting impression from the generation we like to call the invisible years. After the great electronic collapse of 2304, centuries of data were wiped, and this young male homo-sapien is one of the only remains of his time.”
That is why Caleb was initially very disappointed to be pulled from the tub. Air burst from his mouth, and he coughed violently as he threw out an arm to stable himself. His right hand landed on the rubbery nipple of the platypus prophet. Condemner, savior, egg laying mammal.
“Hey!” shouted Dana, slapping his hand off of her boob. “What the hell?”
“Caleb, Caleb buddy,” said Mark, holding him by the chest. He was panicked, “Hey, wake up man.”
“I dizzo hav’t.” Caleb thought the words were much more sensible in his head. He couldn’t see anything, the heavy sludge weighed his eyes. “My eyes, I can’t see.”
Mark tenderly scraped his face off, muttering foul mouthedly about what a fool Caleb was. Dana sat back in the corner and looked mournful. “Hey, man, I called Dana because you were bein’ a freaking weirdo. She might be a bitch,” Dana shot him a sharp look from the corner, “but she does care about you. Not as much as me, but she does. You got a lot going for you man.”
“It’s hard to move my legs,” said Caleb, looking shakily around the room. Mark pulled off Caleb’s pants and Dana got him a towel. The three of them sat on the floor of the bathroom for a while.
“I’m sorry,” said Caleb, and, as an afterthought, “I had a dream about you, Dana.”
No one talked for a long time. But his friends forgave him, this much Caleb knew. Wearily, Caleb looked from the tub, to Mark, to Dana. Finally, Mark said, “Dude, you can’t use your tub anymore.”
“Were you trying to kill yourself?” The words came out as barely a whisper from beside the sink. Dana’s eyes were filling with tears.
“No, I—I guess I was. I don’t know.” Caleb shrugged noncommittally. “I just didn’t want to disappear is all.”
“Oh, Caleb.” Dana sobbed quietly.
They all sat quietly again for what seemed like ages.
“Alright,” Mark announced. “Up, up, let’s go. We gotta go do something. Dana, you’re in the club again.” He turned with a stern finger pointed at her. “For now. Caleb, you need pants. Mark needs food.”
Mark got Caleb into some pants and a shirt after a shower at his place. Mark then put Dana and Caleb in his car and took them to Steak and Shake. “First things first, we’re gonna act like fuckin’ friends, and not text other people while we talk. Second, I’m paying for this, and that’s final. Any objections? Tweedle-dee? Tweedle-dum?” With this Mark pointed in mock aggression at Caleb riding shotgun quietly.
“No, dad.” Dana and Caleb said together. Caleb liked this. The car was warm and rode smoothly through the sludge. Radiohead blared from the speakers. Art majors were prone to such music. Caleb felt at home, and he didn’t care if this moment stayed his secret forever.
It was two in the morning when Mark dropped Caleb off. “Do I need to bring my sleeping bag and watch you tonight?”
“No man, I’m sorry,” Caleb said, leaning on the door to his apartment. “Listen, could you just pretend this whole thing didn’t happen? I kinda flipped my shit for a second.”
Mark smiled warmly. “Relax man, you’ve had a lot to go through lately. College, Dana, that family stuff you’re dealing with, just take a breath. You’ll beat it. If you need me, I’m upstairs.” Mark stood there for a second or two, trying to think of something else to say. “I… you’re a good guy, Caleb. We all fall down, we just don’t all try and cement ourselves into our bathtubs. Call me tomorrow, K?”
Caleb said thanks, and that he would call. All the lights were still on in his place, and he turned them off one by one. He turned off his computer, and put his phone on silent while it charged. Then he crawled into bed and closed his…
Caleb was flying. Beside him was Mark, just standing in the air like it was normal to do. “We need the catalytic converter if we have any hope of stopping them.”
That made perfect sense to Caleb, and they both dove towards the ground. “There.” Caleb pointed to the warehouse in a craggy red-rocked ravine.
“You know it’s a fucking trap.” Said Mark, foul mouthed as ever, even in dreams.
“That’s why we have to do it.”
When they landed giant cheese people streamed from the doors, and Caleb and Mark grabbed nearby pretzel sticks and started swinging, beating them off in an epic cheesy battle.
When the dust settled, there were three figures standing in the room, which used to be a desert valley. “So you’re the one.” Mark said dramatically.
“Did you ever doubt it?” Dana was sitting in a plush roller chair behind a desk with a stuffed platypus on it. “What you didn’t know is that I was on your side the entire time.”
She opened her hand to show them the converter, which looked more like a bottle of cologne.
When Caleb woke up this time, he couldn’t remember much of the dream, only that it had a sweet storyline and could probably make a good movie if he could remember it. He decided it meant nothing whatsoever, and he promptly rolled over to fall asleep again.