Mute Boy slept through the end of the world. When he awoke, there was only the tile floor of his bedroom, with his bed on it, and him on the bed. The walls, the ceiling, and the rest of the world had been replaced by black and purple sky. Mute Boy would have screamed and cried if he could. An onlooker, if there were one, might have mistaken his silence for indifference. I knew Mute Boy, and I assure you he was stunned.
He stood up and tried to walk to where the floor ended so he could look down, but before he reached the edge, new tiles emerged from the dark and formed a path before him, converging like squares in a mosaic. As fast as he ran, the ground kept growing onward, past his bedroom and into the grass and granite of the outdoors.
He turned around and saw that his bedroom had disappeared into the inky ether behind him. Mute Boy thought maybe the world hadn’t ended, that it was just playing hide and seek. Or perhaps, in the night, he’d been stricken with the worst case of nearsightedness.
Mute Boy fumbled forward in search of others. He’d had a family before the world vamoosed, his Ma and Pa and Sister. Because Mute Boy never spoke or wrote a word, no one, even his relations, ever knew if he was bright or dim. Now I can tell you: not very bright.
I am sitting on a bar stool and serving my own rye whiskey. I whistle the songs I used to buy on the jukebox. I wear a wispy, gray hat and a ten-gallon mustache. Folks, if there were any, would know me as the quickest fire in Limbo. I like to talk of Mute Boy because he was alone and I am alone. And the story never changes as long as no one hears it.
Mute Boy found no survivors. Only wall-less foundations and piles of ash. The ground continued to materialize before him and disintegrate behind him, as if he were making it himself. Mute Boy wished he could point the cobblestones upward. All the empty space around his head confined him more than any room ever had. He couldn’t abide the notion that all this nothing had been here all along, only before it had been filled.
The air he breathed carried more than oxygen, something heavier. A gas is just the ghost of what used to be solid. Mute Boy’s lungs were clouded, crowded with houses, with bank and saloon, with banker and drunk, with sheriff’s station and jail, with lawman and convict, with Ma, Pa, Sister, and with all people who had treated him different for having no words.
He felt like a welt, swollen and wrong. He felt like thumping his chest. Mute Boy picked up a hammer and started striking what little was left of everywhere. He tried to smash the ground to bits. What was the point of this radius in the void? Why suffer this fragment in a world without verticals? He wanted to finish the job of destroying the earth.
I shall sing a song of Mute Boy. O, let me dream a dream of Mute Boy. Ay, I must tell the tall tale of Mute Boy for as long as he cannot speak it himself.
The stubborn rock he stood upon did not yield to the hammer’s head. Still he drove it down and down again. His hands blistered and bled from a grip too tight for skin. His jaw flapped open and shut in futile attempts at a roar. Mute Boy swung and pounded and despaired in his belief that he would summon the strength to split stone if only his mouth could expel the flames in his belly.