Zebediah Clump was doomed. Knowing this, his interest in
life had taken a sharp left turn into the toilet of resentful destiny. All that
was good was flushed away.
He had never been a happy man. Aging, overweight and bald,
Zebediah had spent decades drinking from a glass that was half empty. Every
bird dropping that fell on his fine new automobile convinced him that Chicken
Little was a depressingly prescient bird of death.
newspaper was an agonizing experience for Zebediah; a flagellation of drooling
and wild eyed anxiety about events beyond his control. The world was
collapsing, and Zebediah was sinking with it.
His spiral into gloom accelerated in the year 2012. Watching
doomsday films cemented his opinion of the future into a certainty of bitter
resignation that life would end within the year. He pored through scientific
tomes that were priced by the pound, but found nothing to alleviate his grim
despair. He cursed in an unfamiliar tongue when he found that he wouldn’t even
live until December 21st, the Mayan date of the end of the world.
As was his habit, he had expertly discovered information
that was worse than he had expected. He had thought that the winter solstice
might be a relatively cool way to die, bundled up in a blanket, waiting for his
blood to slowly freeze as he fell asleep. But no, life was cruel; cruel and
mean and dastardly. He, with all of the souls lost in the tracks of the mortal
coil, would not even last until the summer solstice. Death would arrive early,
on June 5th, 2012, as the
planet Venus meandered its way across the face of the sun.
His spiritualist sister attempted to convince him that he
was wrong; that the Venus Transit was a time of expanded communication; a time
of awakened consciousness. He argued and shouted, and banged the phone on the
table top, ignoring her ministrations. He felt sorry for his sister, and her
pathetic attempt to feel hopeful. He knew better, because he knew that a planetary
alignment of such magnitude was Very Bad News. He didn’t know why he knew, but
knowing why was unimportant for a man whose glass was half empty.
With the confirmation of his fate, Zebediah descended into
a fog of resigned ennui. Each moment of every day resembled the last and the
next; puddles of grey befuddlement that splashed across his unwashed clothes;
leaving an aroma of disgust trailing behind him as he stumbled from room to
room. Zebediah had become blind to the beauty of a day.
Flowers meant nothing to him. Admiring his favorite tree
was something he might have done before; now he kicked it, and muttered
imprecations. Standing by the kitchen windows, he spied a bird happily pecking
for seeds on the railing of his porch. He scowled at the bird, peeved that his
sister had put out more seeds when global destruction would soon obliterate the
Squirrels came and went, and flicked their fluffy tails,
but were regarded without a single smile.
In Zebediah’s world, cuteness was thoroughly dead.
In the darkened mind of Z. Clump, the tiny and seemingly
insignificant movement of the planet Venus across the face of the sun was an
event that reduced his body to a quivering jelly of unkempt terror. He spent
the day of June 5th curled on his bed in the fetal position, whimpering.
He didn’t see the planet Venus that evening. He didn’t
sense the ripples of its transit curling across his body; loosening the grout
lodged in the fluting of his heart.
Instead, he waited for the morning, and death, and the
final depletion of his half empty glass. As he waited, he growled. And wept.
But nothing happened at all. Death failed to arrive.
After waiting for quite a considerable time, the fetal
position became very uncomfortable, even for a man who was determined to be
depressed. Uncurling his stiffened limbs with a groan, Zebediah stood up and
limped downstairs to the kitchen.
He felt dazed to see the morning light, and didn’t know
what to make of the fact that he wasn’t dead. He stood at the kitchen window,
wondering what had happened to the planet Venus; and the sun; and the earth,
for that matter.
Sipping a glass of water, he stared at a squirrel nibbling
seeds on the railing. It was a very cute squirrel, with an exceptionally bold
tail. The squirrel looked at Zebediah, and he looked at it.
They exchanged glance after glance; back and forth and
back again, until Zebediah suddenly realized that he was having give and take
with a squirrel; something that depressed individuals rarely found worthwhile.
He wasn’t sure how the chuckle started, but quite
suddenly, a short little chortle slipped out of his mouth, rather like an
embarrassing burp. It surprised him so much that he opened his mouth and
started to laugh. He found his laugh so amusing that he decided that he would
continue with the strange phenomenon, and laughed again, and then again.
Soon, the kitchen was filled with the sound of Zebediah
Clump laughing. He had to lean against the counter to stop himself from
spilling his water glass. It was the strangest thing. He scratched his head in
confusion, not knowing why he laughed. It might have been relief that he hadn’t
died as Venus traveled in its orbit across the sun. But then... perhaps
doomsday was still on course, honing in on his tremulous existence as he sipped
his water and looked at a squirrel.
Then, as he rubbed his temple, he realized that it didn’t
matter any more. Doomsday, shoomsday. What could anyone do about it?
Taking his water glass with him, he decided on a whim to
check his mailbox. Was it the influence of the Venus Transit that inspired him
to go outside? He didn’t know, but as he stood on his porch he noticed that he
was breathing. Breathing was good.
Breathing was good even when a bird christened his lovely
new van once again with a loud plop. Zebediah Clump stared at the offending
spot of white on the windshield and just breathed.
Breathing was indeed a fine activity. He was turning to
enter his home when he paused, and noticed the tree; the lonely tree; the tree
that might have been sad when he kicked it.
He was quite surprised that he felt sympathetic toward the
tree, and almost ignored his feelings. Instead, he walked to the tree and
kissed it. Yes indeed, Z. Clump kissed a tree, right on its gnarly bark, in
plain view of the neighbors, under a sky filled with birds that loved his
automobile far more than was good for it.
As he raised his water glass to salute the tree, Zebediah
noticed a very curious thing. Even though he had taken many a sip of water on
that fine summer morning, his glass was still half full.
The short film version of this story
has now been released!
You can view it in our new film section.
Image of Conceptual Venus Transit
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab
Animator: Walt Feimer