“Come on, CNN! Bring me there!” Elroy said, flipping to channel 742, CNN-Plus-Plus, which was entirely devoted to plague and pestilence. The week before had been Bubonic Plague Week, which was approximately ten times better than Shark Week. The old tube TV glowed and hummed. It was ever-so-slightly too green and he couldn’t seem to fix it, no matter how much swearing and slapping he applied to the problem.
Beside him, on the TV tray, was Allow Me to Cough Gently Into My Closed Fist: Selected Emails by Jonathan Franzen, a book created by Franzen’s Internet provider out of confidential emails he’d sent to his closest friends, other writers, and his editor, mostly trashing his closest friends, other writers, his editor, and his Internet service provider. Michiko Kakutani from the New York Times called the book, “…a triumph!” and “a cautionary example for all of us who blindly click on ‘I agree’ when installing software.”
He sat on an overstuffed, plaid-cloth Sears Barcalounger left over from his bachelor days. It reeked of spilled beer and piss from that time he fell asleep in it and his old college roommate–a business major who’d answered an ad on Craigslist for a quiet, studious student (he was none of those things)–stuck Elroy’s hand in a bucket of ice water. He woke up to drenched pants, a wet hand and a shirtless group of post-pubescent boys wearing tighty-whities on their heads and making devil’s horns with their hands, tongues lolling out joyously. “Got you, motherfucker! Got you!” No amount of cleaner could get the smell out, so his favorite chair was consigned to the basement after his marriage.
“Elroy! Your supper’s getting cold!” Liddy shouted from upstairs. Didn’t she realize that basement time was sacrosanct? That the annoyances of the day should remain upstairs? “Supper”! Who still said “supper” anyway? When would they ever have sex again? he wondered. It was up to her. Why was it at her discretion? She caught him jerking off in the shower the day before and wept in front of him, leaving the shower door open so he could witness all her despair over the state she’d placed him in.
“You’re not even thinking of me, are you?” she gurgled through all the tears.
The sad fact of the matter was that he was imagining Discovery iD correspondent Tamron Hall wearing a leather bustier, cracking a whip, in stiletto heels, hollering, “I know what you’ve been up to in your basement! Our cameras were on the scene!”
CNN-Plus-Plus did not disappoint. Somewhere in the third world, some brown people were vomiting up their own entrails, crying tears of blood, some yellowish stuff oozing from their foreheads. This was new. This was definitely new. Elroy sat up involuntarily, in a position that was sure to give him a slight backache later on. Somewhere in his subconscious mind he knew this, but he was mesmerized by all the wonderful death on screen.
The florescent tube above his head flickered and emitted a strange hum. Without taking his eyes off the screen… actual dead people, stacked in a pyre, kerosene was being applied… he picked up a broomstick next to his chair and used it to poke the light box overhead, which temporarily stopped the hum. He’d fix the thing one of these days. It was on a list that Liddy kept upstairs, tacked to the refrigerator with a magnet she’d bought at that tacky resort they’d stayed in during their honeymoon in the Dominican Republic. The best part of the holiday was walking along the chain link fence at the edge of the resort where the ragged children begged for food and change, pustulating boils raised on their limbs and faces, wearing t-shirts for championships that never happened.
“It’s going to get cold!” she shouted from the top of the stairs. Ugh. It was like having another boss. His boss at work kept catching him on his Samsung Galaxy looking at MassMurderWatch.com, his favorite news aggregator. He couldn’t work all the time, could he? Jesus H. Christ! His boss would give him this whole tsk, tsk business, how he should only look at that shit during designated break times. Fifteen minutes every two hours, and forty-five minutes for lunch, was hardly enough time to enjoy anything like a break, especially when he had to come home to Liddy, who was doing some sort of nesting bullshit now that she was preggers.
He thought about having to deal with the fucking kid once the little bundle of joy popped out of Liddy’s uterus. It was a girl, too, (thanks ultrasound, you killer of surprises!) so his daughter probably wouldn’t want to watch The Government Is Hiding Serial Killers in Secret Labs in Abandoned West Virginia Coal Mines with her old man. Of course not.
Elroy often contemplated his misery. The wallowing felt good in its way.
“In a minute!” he shouted. He turned back to the screen. The pile of bodies was on fire. He’d missed the moment of the lighting. Fuck! And no DVR down here in the funky basement either, so he couldn’t go back ten seconds to see the flames’ initial bursting upon the disease-ravaged carcasses. Goddamn, his life!
The light box buzzed again. For the millionth time, he bashed it with the broomstick, this time more violently than ever before. The broomstick smashed the tube and crystal particles rained down upon him. It was lovely. But he wasn’t alive to appreciate it. The broomstick jammed in the socket once occupied by the tube and an electrical pulse ran down through it into his body, electrocuting him and setting the old cloth Barcalounger ablaze, the cleaning chemicals saturating the cloth turning the fire as hot as a kiln. Poof!
From behind the washer/dryer combo, the ghost of Rod Serling appeared. “I love irony,” the black-and-white apparition said. “Consider this… a man… ah, fuck it.” He lit a Pall Mall using the flames off Elroy’s burning corpse, and then warmed his transparent hands over the body. It was cold being dead. Cold and lonely.
The tiny wisp of soul that Elroy’s body once contained flew up and away like a bottle rocket, off to haunt Tamron Hall.
In the years that followed, Elroy’s death was written about extensively in The Journal of Spontaneous Human Combustion.
Liddy remarried a few years later. And their girl didn’t turn out to be a jerk. Liddy was finally happy. So this story has a happy ending, right? Right.