The End of the Whole Mess
by Stephen King


'Bees don't sting unless they have to, because it kills them,' Bobby said matter-of-factly. 'You remember that time in North Conway, when you said we kept killing each other because of original sin?'

'Yes. Hold still.'

'Well, if there is such a thing, if there's a God who could simultaneously love us enough to serve us His own Son on a cross and send us all on a rocket-sled to hell just because one stupid bitch bit a bad apple, then the curse was just this: He made us like wasps instead of bees. Shit, Howie, what are you doing?'

'Hold still,' I said, 'and I'll get it out. If you want to make a lot of big gestures, I'll wait.'

'Okay,' he said, and after that he held relatively still while I extracted the stinger. 'Bees are nature's kamikaze pilots, Bow-Wow. Look in that glass box, you'll see the two who stung me lying dead at the bottom. Their stingers are barbed, like fishhooks. They slide in easy. When they Pull out, they disembowel themselves.'

'Gross,' I said, dropping the second stinger in the ashtray. I couldn't see the barbs, but I didn't have a microscope.

'It makes them particular, though,' he said.

'I bet.'

'Wasps, on the other hand, have smooth stingers. They can shoot you up as many times as they like. They use up the poison by the third or fourth shot, but they can go right on making holes if they like ... and usually they do. Especially wall-wasps. The kind I've got over there. You gotta sedate em. Stuff called Noxon. It must give em a hell of a hangover, because they wake up madder than ever.'

He looked at me somberly, and for the first time I saw the dark brown wheels of weariness under his eyes and realized my kid brother was more tired than I had ever seen him.

'That's

why people go on fighting, Bow-Wow. On and on and on. We got smooth stingers. Now watch this.' He got up, went over to his tote-bag, rummaged in it, and came up with an eye-dropper. He opened the mayonnaise jar, put the dropper in, and drew up a tiny bubble of his distilled Texas water.

When he took it over to the glass box with the wasps' nest inside, I saw the top on this one was different - there was a tiny plastic slide-piece set into it. I didn't need him to draw me a picture: with the bees, he was perfectly willing to remove the whole top. With the wasps, he was taking no chances.

He squeezed the black bulb. Two drops of water fell onto the nest, making a momentary dark spot that disappeared almost at once. 'Give it about three minutes,' he said.

'What-'

'No questions,' he said. 'You'll see. Three minutes.'

In that period, he read my piece on art forgery ... although it was already twenty pages long.

'Okay,' he said, putting the pages down. 'That's pretty good, man. You ought to read up a little on how Jay Gould furnished the parlor-car of his private train with fake Manets, though - that's a hoot.' He was removing the cover of the glass box containing the wasps' nest as he spoke.

'Jesus, Bobby, cut the comedy!' I yelled.

'Same old wimp,' Bobby laughed, and pulled the nest, which was dull gray and about the size of a bowling ball, out of the box. He held it in his hands. Wasps flew out and lit on his arms, his cheeks, his forehead. One flew across to me and landed on my forearm. I slapped it and it fell dead to the carpet. I was scared - I mean really scared. My body was wired with adrenaline and I could feel my eyes trying to push their way out of their sockets.

'Don't kill em,' Bobby said. 'You might as well be killing babies, for all the harm they can do you. That's the whole point.' He tossed the nest from hand to hand as if it were an overgrown softball. He lobbed it in the air. I watched, horrified, as wasps cruised the living room of my apartment like fighter planes on patrol.

Bobby lowered the nest carefully back into the box and sat down on my couch. He patted the place next to him and I went over, nearly hypnotized. They were everywhere: on the rug, the ceiling, the drapes. Half a dozen of them were crawling across the front of my big-screen TV.

Before I could sit down, he brushed away a couple that were on the sofa cushion where my ass was aimed. They flew away quickly. They were an flying easily, crawling easily, moving fast. There was nothing drugged about their behavior. As Bobby talked, they gradually found their way back to their spit-paper home, crawled over it, and eventually disappeared inside again through the hole in the top.

'I wasn't the first one to get interested in Waco,' he said. 'It just happens to be the biggest town in the funny little non-violent section of what is, per capita, the most violent state in the union. Texans love to shoot each other, Howie - I mean, it's like a state hobby. Half the male population goes around armed. Saturday night in the Fort Worth bars is like a shooting gallery where you get to plonk away at drunks instead of clay ducks. There are more NRA card-carriers than there are Methodists. Not that Texas is the only place where people shoot each other, or carve each other up with straight-razors, or stick their kids in the oven if they cry too long, you understand, but they sure do like their firearms.'

'Except in Waco,' I said.

'Oh, they like em there, too,' he said. 'It's just that they use em on each other a hell of a lot less often.'

Jesus. I just looked up at the clock and saw the time. It feels like I've been writing for fifteen minutes or so, but it's actually been over an hour. That happens to me sometimes when I'm running at white-hot speed, but I can't allow myself to be seduced into these specifics. I feel as well as ever - no noticeable drying of the membranes in the throat, no groping for words, and as I glance back over what I've done I see only the normal typos and strikeovers. But I can't kid myself. I've got to hurry up. 'Fiddle-de-dee,' said Scarlett, and all of that.

The non-violent atmosphere of the Waco area had been noticed and investigated before, mostly by sociologists. Bobby said that when you fed enough statistical data on Waco and similar areas into a computer - population density, mean age, mean economic level, mean educational level, and dozens of other factors - what you got back was a whopper of an anomaly. Scholarly papers are rarely jocular, but even so, several of the better than fifty Bobby had read on the subject suggested ironically that maybe it was 'something in the water'.

'I decided maybe it was time to take the joke seriously,' Bobby said. 'After all, there's something in the water of a lot of places that prevents tooth decay. It's called fluoride.'

He went to Waco accompanied by a trio of research assistants: two sociology grad-students and a full professor of geology who happened to be on sabbatical and ready for adventure. Within six months, Bobby and the sociology guys had constructed a computer program which illustrated what my brother called the world's only calmquake. He had a slightly rumpled printout in his tote. He gave it to me. I was looking at a series of forty concentric rings. Waco was in the eighth, ninth, and tenth as you moved in toward the center.

'Now look at this,' he said, and put a transparent overlay on the printout. More rings; but in each one there was a number. Fortieth ring: 471. Thirtyninth: 420. Thirty-eighth: 418. And so on. In a couple of places the numbers went up instead of down, but only in a couple (and only by a little).

'What are they?'

'Each number represents the incidence of violent crime in that particular circle,' Bobby said. 'Murder, rape, assault and battery, even acts of vandalism. The computer assigns a number by a formula that takes population density into account.' He tapped the twenty-seventh circle, which held the number 204, with his finger. 'There's less than nine hundred people in this whole area, for instance. The number represents three or four cases of spouse abuse, a couple of barroom brawls, an act of animal cruelty - some senile farmer got pissed at a pig and shot a load of rock-salt into it, as I recall - and one involuntary manslaughter.'

I saw that the numbers in the central circles dropped off radically: 85, 81, 70, 63, 40, 21, 5. At the epicenter of Bobby's calmquake was the town of La Plata. To call it a sleepy little town seems more than fair.

The numeric value assigned to La Plata was zero.

'So here it is, Bow-Wow,' Bobby said, leaning forward and rubbing his long hands together nervously, 'my nominee for the Garden of Eden. Here's a community of fifteen thousand, twenty-four per cent of which are people of mixed blood, commonly called Indios. There's a moccasin factory, a couple of little motor courts, a couple of scrub farms. That's it for work. For play there's four bars, a couple of dance-halls where you can hear any kind of music you want as long as it sounds like George Jones, two drive-ins, and a bowling alley.' He paused and added, 'There's also a still. I didn't know anybody made whiskey that good outside of Tennessee.'

In short (and it is now too late to be anything else), La Plata should have been a fertile breeding-ground for the sort of casual violence you can read about in the Police Blotter section of the local newspaper every day. Should have been but wasn't. There had been only one murder in La Plata during the five years previous to my brother's arrival, two cases of assault, no rapes, no reported incidents of child abuse. There had been four armed robberies, but all four turned out to have been committed by transients ... as the murder and one of the assaults had been. The local Sheriff was a fat old Republican who did a pretty fair Rodney Dangerfield imitation. He had been known, in fact, to spend whole days in the local coffee shop, tugging the knot in his tie and telling people to take his wife, please. My brother said he thought it was a little more than lame humor; he was pretty sure the poor guy was suffering first-stage Alzheimer's Disease. His only deputy was his nephew. Bobby told me the nephew looked quite a lot like Junior Samples on the old Hee-Haw show.

'Put those two guys in a Pennsylvania town similar to La Plata in every way but the geographical,' Bobby said, 'and they would have been out on their asses fifteen years ago. But in La Plata, they're gonna go on until they die ... which they'll probably do in their sleep.'

'What did you do?' I asked. 'How did you proceed?'

'Well, for the first week or so after we got our statistical shit together, we just sort of sat around and stared at each other,' Bobby said. 'I mean, we were prepared for something, but nothing quite like this. Even Waco doesn't prepare you for La Plata.' Bobby shifted restlessly and cracked his knuckles.

'Jesus, I hate it when you do that,' I said.

He smiled. 'Sorry, Bow-Wow. Anyway, we started geological tests, then microscopic analysis of the water. I didn't expect a hell of a lot; everyone in the area has got a well, usually a deep one, and they get their water tested regularly to make sure they're not drinking borax, or something. If there had been something obvious, it would have turned up a long time ago. So we went on to submicroscopy, and that was when we started to turn up some pretty weird stuff.'

'What kind of weird stuff?'

'Breaks in chains of atoms, subdynamic electrical fluctuations, and some sort of unidentified protein. Water ain't really H2O, you know - not when you add in the sulfides, irons, God knows what else happens to be in the aquifer of a given region. And La Plata water - you'd have to give it a string of letters like the ones after a professor emeritus's name.' His eyes gleamed. 'But the protein was the most interesting thing, Bow-Wow. So far as we know, it's only found in one other place: the human brain.'

Uh-oh.

It just arrived, between one swallow and the next: the throat-dryness. Not much at yet, but enough for me to break away and get a glass of ice-water. I've got maybe forty minutes left. And oh Jesus, there's so much I want to tell! About the wasps' nests they found with wasps that wouldn't sting, about the fender-bender Bobby and one of his assistants saw where the two drivers, both male, both drunk, and both about twenty-four (sociological bull moose, in other words), got out, shook hands, and exchanged insurance information amicably before going into the nearest bar for another drink.

Bobby talked for hours - more hours than I have. But the upshot was simple: the stuff in the mayonnaise jar.

'We've got our own still in La Plata now,' he said. 'This is the stuff we're brewing, Howie; pacifist white lightning. The aquifer under that area of Texas is deep but amazingly large; it's like this incredible Lake Victoria driven into the porous sediment which overlays the Moho. The water is potent, but we've been able to make the stuff I squirted on the wasps even more potent. We've got damn near six thousand gallons now, in these big steel tanks. By the end of the year, we'll have fourteen thousand. By next June we'll have thirty thousand. But it's not enough. We need more, we need it faster ... and then we need to transport it.'

'Transport it where?' I asked him.

'Borneo, to start with.'

I thought I'd either lost my mind or misheard him. I really did.

'Look , Bow-Wow ... sorry. Howie.' He was scrumming through his tote-bag again. He brought out a number of aerial photographs and handed them over to me. 'You see?' he asked as I looked through them. 'You see how fucking perfect it is? It's as if God Himself suddenly busted through our business-as-usual transmissions with something like "And now we bring you a special bulletin! This is your last chance, assholes! And now we return you to Days of Our Lives."'

'I don't get you,' I said. 'And I have no idea what I'm looking at.' Of course I knew; it was an island - not Borneo itself but an island lying, to the west of Borneo identified as Gulandio, - with a mountain in the middle and a lot of muddy little villages lying on its lower slopes. It was hard to see the mountain because of the cloud cover. What I meant was that I didn't know what I was looking for.

'The mountain has the same name as the island,' he said. 'Gulandio. In the local patois it means grace, or fate, or destiny, or take your pick. But Duke Rogers says it's really the biggest time-bomb on earth ... and it's wired to go off by October of next year. Probably earlier.'

The crazy thing's this: the story's only crazy if you try to tell it in a speed-rap, which is what I'm trying to do now. Bobby wanted me to help him raise somewhere between six hundred thousand and a million and a half dollars to do the following: first, to synthesize fifty to seventy thousand gallons of what he called 'the high-test'; second, to airlift all of this water to Borneo, which had landing facilities (you could land a hang-glider on Gulandio, but that was about all); third, to ship it over to this island named Fate, or Destiny, or Grace; fourth, to truck it up the slope of the volcano, which had been dormant (save for a few puffs in 1938) since 18o4, and then to drop it down the muddy tube of the volcano's caldera. Duke Rogers was actually John Paul Rogers, the geology professor. He claimed that Gulandio was going to do more than just erupt; he claimed that it was going to explode, as Krakatoa had done in the nineteenth century, creating a bang that would make the Squirt Bomb that poisoned London like a kid's firecracker.

The debris from the Krakatoa blow-up, Bobby told me, had literally encircled the globe; the observed results had formed an important part of the Sagan Group's nuclear winter theory. For three months afterward sunsets and sunrises half a world away had been grotesquely colorful as a result of the ash whirling around in both the jet stream and the Van Allen Currents, which he forty miles below the Van Allen Belt. There had been global changes in climate which lasted five years, and nipa palms, which previously had grown only in eastern Africa and Micronesia, suddenly showed up in both South and North America.

'The North American nipas all died before 1900,' Bobby said, 'but they're alive and well below the equator. Krakatoa seeded them there, Howie ... the way I want to seed La Plata water all over the earth. I want people to go out in La Plata water when it rains - and it's going to rain a lot after Gulandio goes bang. I want them to drink the La Plata water that falls in their reservoirs, I want them to wash their hair in it, bathe in it, soak their contact lenses in it. I want whores to douche in it.'

'Bobby,' I said, knowing he was not, 'you're crazy.'

He gave me a crooked, tired grin. 'I ain't crazy,' he said. 'You want to see crazy? Turn on CNN, Bow ... Howie. You'll see crazy in living color.'

But I didn't need to turn on Cable News (what a friend of mine had taken to calling The Organ-Grinder of Doom) to know what Bobby was talking about. The Indians and the Pakistanis were poised on the brink. The Chinese and the Afghans, ditto. Half of Africa was starving, the other half on fire with AIDS. There had been border skirmishes along the entire Tex-Mex border in the last five years, since Mexico went Communist, and people had started calling the Tijuana crossing point in California Little Berlin because of the wall. The saber-rattling had become a din. On the last day of the old year the Scientists for Nuclear Responsibility had set their black clock to fifteen seconds before midnight.

'Bobby, let's suppose it could be done and everything went according to schedule,' I said. 'It probably couldn't and wouldn't, but let's suppose. You don't have the slightest idea what the long-term effects might be.'

He started to say something and I waved it away.

'Don't even suggest that you do, because you don't! You've had time to find this calmquake of yours and isolate the cause, I'll give you that. But did you ever hear about thalidomide? About that nifty little acne-stopper and sleeping pill that caused cancer and heart attacks in thirty-year-olds? Don't you remember the AIDS vaccine in 1997?'

'Howie?'

'That one stopped the disease, except it turned the test subjects into incurable epileptics who all died within eighteen months.'

'Howie?'

'Then there was-'

'Howie?'

I stopped and looked at him.

'The world,' Bobby said, and then stopped. His throat worked. I saw he was struggling with tears. 'The world needs heroic measures, man. I don't know about long-term effects, and there's no time to study them, because there's no long-term prospect. Maybe we can cure the whole mess. Or maybe-'

He shrugged, tried to smile, and looked at me with shining eyes from which two single tears slowly tracked.

'Or maybe we're giving heroin to a patient with terminal cancer. Either way, it'll stop what's happening now. It'll end the world's pain.' He spread out his hands, palms up, so I could see the stings on them. 'Help me, Bow-Wow. Please help me.'

So I helped him.

And we fucked up. In fact I think you could say we fucked up big-time. And do you want the truth? I don't give a shit. We killed all the plants, but at least we saved the greenhouse. Something will grow here again, someday. I hope.

Are you reading this?

My gears are starting to get a little sticky. For the first time in years I'm having to think about what I'm doing. The motor-movements of writing. Should have hurried more at the start.

Never mind. Too late to change things now.


[ NOTE from ESL-Bits: The writing begins to deteriorate as the mind of the narrator, Howard Fornoy, begins to deteriorate ]


We did it, of course: distilled the water, flew it in, transported it to Gulandio, built a primitive lifting system - half motor-winch and half cog railway - up the side of the volcano, and dropped over twelve thousand five-gallon containers of La Plata water - the brain-buster version - into the murky misty depths of the volcano's caldera. We did all of this in just eight months. It didn't cost six hundred thousand dollars, or a million and a half; it cost over four million, still less than a sixteenth of one per cent of what America spent on defense that year. You want to know how we razed it? I'd tell you if I had more thyme, but my head's falling apart so never mend. I raised most of it myself if it matters to you. Some by hoof and some by croof. Tell you the truth, I din't know I could do it muself until I did. But we did it and somehow the world held together and that volcano - whatever its name wuz, I can't exactly remember now and there izzunt time to go over the manuscript -it blue just when it was spo

Wait

Okay. A little better. Digitalin. Bobby had it. Heart's beating like crazy but I can think again.

The volcano - Mount Grace, we called it - blue just when Dook Rogers said it would. Everything when skihi and for awhile everyone's attention turned away from whatever and toward the skys. And bimmel-dee-dee, said Strapless!

It happened pretty fast like sex and checks and special effex and everybody got healthy again. I mean.

wait

Jesus please let me finish this.

I mean that everybody stood down. Everybody started to get a little purstective on the situation. The wurld started to get like the wasps in Bobbys nest the one he showed me where they didn't stink too much. There was three yerz like an Indian summer. People getting together like in that old Youngbloods song that went cmon everybody get together rite now, like what all the hippeez wanted, you no, peets and luv and

wt

Big blast. Feel like my heart is coming out thru my ears. But if I concentrate every bit of my force, my concentration

It was like an Indian summer, that's what I meant to say, like three years of Indian summer. Bobby went on with his resurch. La Plata. Sociological background etc. You remember the local Sheriff ? Fat old Republican with a good Rodney Youngblood imitashun? How Bobby said he had the preliminary simptoms of Rodney's Disease?

concentrate asshole

Wasn't just him; turned out like there was a lot of that going around in that part of Texas. All's Hallows Disease is what I meen. For three yerz me and Bobby were down there. Created a new program. New graff of circkles. I saw what was happen and came back here. Bobby and his to asistants stayed on. One shot hisself Boby said when he showed up here.

Wait one more blas

All right. Last time. Heart beating so fast I can hardly breeve. The new graph, the last graph, really only whammed you when it was laid over the calmquake graft. The calmquake graff showed ax of vilence going down as you approached La Plata in the muddle; the Alzheimer's graff showed incidence of premature seenullity going up as you approached La Plata. People there were getting very silly very yung.

Me and Bobo were careful as we could be for next three years, drinke only Parrier Water and wor big long sleekers in the ran. so no war and when everybobby started to get seely we din and I came back here because he my brother I cant remember what his name

Bobby

Bobby when he came here tonight cryeen and I sed Bobby I luv you Bobby sed Ime sorry Bowwow Ime sorry I made the hole world ful of foals and dumbbels and I sed better fouls and bells than a big black sinder in spaz and he cryed and I cryed Bobby I luv you and he sed will you give me a shot of the spacial wadder and I sed yez and he said wil you ride it down and I sed yez an I think I did but I cant reely remember I see wurds but dont no what they mean

I have a Bobby his nayme is bruther and I theen I an dun riding and I have a bocks to put this into thats Bobby sd full of quiyet air to last a milyun yrz so gudboy gudboy everybrother, Im goin to stob gudboy bobby i love you it wuz not yor falt i love you

forgivyu

love yu

sinned (for the wurld),

 

 

HTML layout and style by Stephen Thomas, University of Adelaide.
Modified by Skip for ESL Bits English Language Learning.