Dogs, they barked differently tonight. It wasn’t the usual wrangling over morsels strewn around the garbage dump standing by the lone rustic light pole across the street. It was something else, like something sinister lurked.
He didn’t give a damn. Rest, was important. The imaginary pen in his mind scribbled an imaginary note reminding to wear ear plugs to bed hereon. Poor dogs couldn’t be blamed.
Sleepy eyed, he tumbled through the darkness of his cozy living room. The cozy living room on whose floor he slept every night. His hand slithered across the wall, fumbling for the light switch – was it third from the left or right? He never did remember, he never did get it right at first attempt.
His eyes strained against the bright light as he reached for the half-filled bottle of water by the kitchen window. Menacing, guttural noises rose and fell outside. He peered through the window; beyond his unkempt garden, across the street and saw him.
A haggard old man in a grimy winter coat with frazzled remnants of fur stood aimlessly staring at the garbage dump. The street light flickered over his disheveled bowler hat. Absent to the feral gnashing of sets of teeth around him, the old man appeared disoriented. If not for a feeling of something familiar about him, he could have easily been mistaken for an ageing tramp.
“Hey!” he called out to the old man, flinging open the door. “Come in!”
The dogs were ready to pounce as he trudged to the boy waiting at the door. A few seconds later, they stopped following him. The kind boy who fed them every night from his garden seemed to know this strange man.
Apples, beer and milk were all he could offer. The old man chose beer. The boy observed the wrinkled face as the old man gulped gluttonously; a dense mat of greying beard clung to his jaws, far-away eyes blue and squint bordered by boomerang shaped brows, a sharp nose with a dented ridge and fender like nostrils. An eluding familiarity made itself evident…. He tipped his empty beer mug in want of a refill.
Then, it struck him.
“You’re Karma!” he exclaimed, “Aren’t you?”
It was difficult to say where he was looking. But he nodded, “How do you know?”
“I’ve seen a lot of you…”
He tossed a can of beer into his wrinkly fingers. “Figuratively,”
“You look the part,”
“I’m Karma… The agent of justice, the harbinger of providence, the the…urm” he staggered.
“I know who you are,” he cut him short, opening himself a beer can “Alright?”
Old man Karma simply shrugged,
“So, tell me… What’s ‘karma’ all about?”
“What goes around comes around, haven’t you heard?”
“That makes no sense,” he dismissed, “At all,”
“Well there’s good Karma – Your good deeds come back to do you good at an opportune moment,” he spoke gruffly, like an aging professor addressing his students.
“Yes, which I decide.” Came the reply. “ Then there’s bad Karma… opposite of ‘Good Karma’”
“So when a plane crash or a calamity at a particular location kills hordes of people…is that you at work? Is that a shortcut you employ to deliver Bad Karma all at once, like how we send bulk mails?”
“I don’t send bulk mails,” he dismissed with a wave of his wrinkled arm, “Besides, that’s not bad Karma,”
“Why, that can’t be Good Karma!”
“It’s not Good Karma either.”
It perplexed him, “Then?”
“‘Unfortunate Karma’. Not many know about it.”
“What’s the theory behind this ‘Unfortunate Karma’, is there one at all?”
“There is,” he explained, “Shit happens,”
The boy opened another can and swigged aggravatedly, “But man, Karma… tell me, are you doing alright man? I mean look at you, you look so worn and done with whatever you’re doing. You don’t look too well… I just know something’s wrong. I am a firsthand witness to this… I’ve been a decent human being all my life, yet, i see so much shit coming my way even when I know I don’t deserve it…” He paused, “What ever happened to good Karma?”
The old man’s heavy head slowly lifted to gaze up at him. And for the first the time, the boy saw intent in those blue, squint eyes. There was a tiny bit of something else… was it disappointment? The shoulders arched and dropped emphatically, like a school boy admitting mistakes.
His hand slid to the underside of his winter coat, reaching at something concealed at the waist line.
“Well, son…” he shrugged again, “There have been… misfires lately,” his eyes dropped remorsefully and at the same time urged the boy to look at something. His hands gingerly moved the weather coat at his waist to reveal an object.
‘That’s a fucking gun!” the boy exclaimed, ready to throw himself behind the refrigerator for cover. “What’s up with you, man?”
It looked more of a toy gun as old man Karma placed it on the dining table, next to the three emptied beer cans. “See?” he grinned, “It’s not the gun you thought it was.”
The boy breathed in relief, “What misfires were you talking about?”
“This,” he lifted up the barrel of the gun and spun it deftly, like a cowboy action hero, “Is a Karma gun.” He said, snatching it to stop as he said it.
“I know, I know. Bows and arrows, Magical reindeer and flying sleighs. Cupid and Santa got the fancy stuff. God screwed me on the deal.”
The boy gulped, silently attempting to regain composure, “And?”
“I use this Gun to send the good and bad Karmas to earthlings,” he held the gun upturned in his palm, urging the boy to take a look. The boy peered down nervously. He saw a small, broken knob diagonally above the trigger. It seemed to have had intricate designs on it. Three calibrations were marked above it: ‘good Karma’, ‘Bad Karma’ and ‘Apocalypse”. The boy couldn’t tell which of the three calibrations the knob was pointing at.
Karma spoke, “You see, I seemed to have broken the knob while I was…” he paused to recollect his thoughts, “I don’t seem to remember,” He scratched the back of his head. “But the problem here is that the darned knob is jammed… and I don’t really know what kind of Karma I’ve been shooting at you.”
“Great!” the boy arched up his eye brows and clapped in mock excitement. “Is that what you meant when you mentioned ‘misfires’?”
He nodded resentfully, “And there’s nothing I can do about it… I can’t tell god I need a new gun. He’ll have me flogged, the old fellow.” He shuddered; a hint of loathing became evident.
The boy stroked his chin, realizing he needed a shave and that the floor felt like ice below his bare feet, the skin on his bare arms had risen like bread. “Let me try and fix that!”
“What, how?” he handed the gun to the boy, looking dazed.
“There’s a method to everything,” he traced the outline of the broken knob, the impressions of the intricate carvings felt delicate against his thumb. It refused to shift as he gradually exerted pressure sideways. A cranking, straining noise indicated the old man shifting uncomfortably in his chair.
“This needs some tools,” he said, reaching into the refrigerator to bring out to pull out a thin edged screw driver. After holding the gun pinned hard against the floor, he poked at the joint of the knob, trying to pry it loose- it wouldn’t give way – he jabbed at the joint harder, and harder.
“This won’t work,” he said, standing up. “Perhaps, something harder?” He asked Karma who nodded agreement.
the refrigerator door was flung open and a hammer taken out.
One…two…three smacks. The gun spun and crashed against the floor. The knob, still remained jammed. his breath had swelled. “Man, what is this thing made of?” he gulped.
“Crap,” he cursed, “I’m going to give it one last try.” He heaved the hammer above his head dramatically, held the position for a second, gathered every ounce of energy left in him. His grip tightened.
The kitchen walls vibrated with the sound of metal crashing down on metal. A tear shaped bead of sweat hung vulnerably at the tip of his nose, “Man, this god metal echos funnily.” He breathed hard.
“Look! It’s working!” Karma held the gun in his arm and moved the knob back and forth to demonstrate
“Good god!” the boy was overjoyed, “Now we can set things right in my life.”
“Yes, now quickly… stand directly in line with the barrel and close your eyes.”
“Alright!” he said, moving into position, “Shoot me,”
“Wait a minute.”
“The knob just fell off.” Old man Karma pointed at a glimmering chip of metal in his lap, resting on the folds of his weather coat. “You struck too hard boy…”
The boy winced; an avalanche of thoughts stormed his mind, eventually reaching a certain sense resolve. The eyes formed horizontal slits of contempt. “Screw it!” he spat, jaws clenched. “Shoot me.”
“What? Wait! I don’t know what I set it to… this could be a mistake! I could be sending you a lot more of bad Karma to your already bad situation…it could mean a disease, or an accident… even gruesome, instant death!” his eyes were wide with cross-eyed consternation.
“Screw it,” he hissed again, “I have nothing to lose.”
“Are you sure? Are you willing to take this leap of faith?” His tone had suddenly calmed to a solemn mutter.
The boy simply nodded his head. The air outside felt ominously calm, the dogs had fallen silent. Karma brought down his eyelids… darkness.
The Karma gun’s shot lasted less than a second; the sound of a wet balloon splat against hard tarmac. Then nothing.
The old man felt a deathly calm around him as he opened his eyes gradually. It was all a blur. He rubbed his eyes to break the blurry vision.
Still standing, the boy smiled sheepishly. “I’m alive. I feel different… different in a good way… it’s a warm feeling…You shot me with good Karma!!” he exclaimed, slapping his chest in jubilation.
Karma breathed a sigh of relief, “That was dangerous,” he shook his head.
“I’m happy!” the boy exclaimed. “But what next? I see all good things happening to me here on? Like I get lucky or something? Or will I get back everything I’ve lost so far?” he popped questions excitedly.
“Ha ha!” he laughed, “ Yes son, you’re going to…” they heard a rumble, just across the street. It stopped. A dog barked and fell silent.
“What was that?” Karma asked.
“Dunno, screw that. Answer my questions!” he prodded.
“Oh well, the good things in life…..” another rumble, this time loud and dense.
“My my,” Karma whispered.
“What?” the boy asked as the earth began to tremble. An empty beer can on the table rolled to the floor. The refrigerator shook minutely.
“What the fuck, man?” the boy cried, “ What’s happening?”
“Goodness me…” the old man was muttering to himself. “The knob was turned at apocalypse,” a wave of terror spread through his body.
“What’s going to happen now?” the boy asked, confused, “Apocalypse means the beginning of the end… is it the beginning of the end of me? Why is the earth shaking then?”
“It’s the beginning of the end of the world…” his breath dropped with each sentence.
“What? Why was that in your gun?”
“God couldn’t fit it in cupid’s bow… nor in Santa’s sleigh… his immediate choice was me.”
“What does that mean? The world’s going to end?” a loud thunder broke out, strobes of blue light flickered sinisterly.
“No,” he said, “Look out the window.”
The boy glanced at the kitchen window, the lights went out. With only flashes of lightning for illumination, he walked cautiously across the shaking kitchen floor.
He saw strong winds blowing through the neighborhood, sheets of paper and plastic from the dumpster swirled in the invisible air currents. The dogs had vanished. But he could still hear them bark from somewhere, hidden out of sight.
Then, a few yards across the street he saw a silhouette… of somebody thin and frail. A brief flash of light revealed the figure to belong to an ancient looking man; he wore a tweed coat and thin pants. A radium, glow-in-the-dark tie fluttered across his chest. Barefooted, he was light on his feet, moving quickly towards the boy’s home- almost floating. As he walked, he made little adjustments in his pants; like he was trying to achieve the perfect shirt tuck-in. something about him seemed extremely awkward. Weather it was the uncharacteristic deftness or his mere presence outside the house, the boy couldn’t tell… something was awkward.
The boy turned back, “There’s a freaky, old man walking towards my door. You want to tell me what the fuck is happening?” he demanded.
Karma had begun to gasp for breath, his body convulsing in ripples, “The world is not going to end…. It’s god outside… he’s coming to review my decision. He’s going to demand explanations… I’ll have to justify my decision to end the world before he approves and forwards to the concerned department…” he stammered, he looked to be staring at a gory death, “ And I don’t have a reason to give to him… he’s going to smite me… he’s going to punish me to death… oh my.. the tortures!”
“Man, karma, relax…” the boy said,” I’ll prevent that… now let me get that door. Alright?” he consoled without asking for a reply. Turning around, he walked to the door.
“Howdy, I’m god,” said the ancient man- sprightly in his demeanor. The light flickers had become more intense. Recreating an electric light show in night sky.
“Nice to meet you Sir God,” the boy said, smiling his best smile. “I’m your creation.”
God merely smiled with curt nod of his coconut shaped head. “Would you be so kind as to lead me to the man you have in your kitchen?” he asked.
“Sure,” the boy said. A plan had begun to form in his head as he lead god to the kitchen table.
Karma was not on his chair. The boy’s eyes scanned the room in search of him.
And then, under the table he saw a dark figure cowering against the wall. Karma was shivering uncontrollably. The light flickers and the thunderous noises only seemed to frighten him more.
“You! Karma?” god called out, “Is that you Bitch?”