by Joseph Farley

“Probability. That’s what it comes down to, isn’t it?”

“That what the prophets wrote.”

“Right. How does anyone know they really exist? How do they know they really are here?”

“We know when others affirm our existence. We cannot trust our own thoughts on the matter.”

“Sounds silly when you think about it. A lame excuse for philosophy.”

“We have all felt that way at one point or another, but…”

“...But reality is what it is. I’ve seen it happen. You’ve seen it happen. An individual begins to doubt their own existence. No one intervenes, and, puff, they disappear in a cloud of dust.”

“It is so unlikely that any of us could exist. It boggles the mind that we are here.”

“Only if you think about it. That’s why we meditate. That’s why we laugh. That’s why we go to wild parties, drink too much, do other things, and wake up in strange places.”

“Yes. It all helps. But when you wake up a day or two after the party…”

“It’s twice as bad. That question of meaning. The pondering of existence…”

“I’ve lost so many friends after a crazy weekend, and not just from accidents.”

“Still, we are what we are. We think what we think. And, sometimes, we do what we have to do.”

“It’s a pity there are so few of us left.”

“There used to be billions of us, running about, distracted by work, hobbies, entertainment, the pursuit of pleasure.”

“It was a golden age.”

“You can’t put off the big thoughts forever, no matter how high you get. It had to catch up with the world sometime. Heavy thoughts.”

“It was as if it all accumulated in the atmosphere over generations then rained down on ours.”

“Not just our generation. It has been going on for many generations before ours. We just had the opportunity to notice because we were goofing off at the time. Before then it was just ‘Where’s Harold gone?’ ‘He must be on vacation’ or ‘Maybe he called out sick’ or “He’s been talking about moving to California, maybe he finally did it.’”

“The absurdity of it. Who would want to move to California?”

“I’m talking about before the eruptions, before California turned into a volcanic wasteland. No one would want to live there. California is strictly a tourist thing. Now where was I?”

“You were talking about the world before people realized that every moment was a matter of chance.”

“Before people realized that they could suddenly disapparate.”

“That too.”

“Fortunately you are still here.”

“As are you.”

“What? What? Why am I fading?”

“Sorry. I still have my doubts.”

“You little bugger. Two can play at that game.”

Fewer than two hundred remained. All were members of the order. It was the only club around.

They stayed together all day, every day, in the great hall, giving each other hugs, telling jokes, reassuring one another that they mattered, and that they did, in fact, exist. It was a tough sell. Even the Grand Master and his Chief Acolyte had succumbed to the blight. Their dust had joined the swirling clouds outside. 

Ungla was tired of the jokes. They had grown old and stale. There was nothing new to amuse her. Meditation no longer worked for her. It just made her fall asleep. She began to doubt. The doubts grew.

A figure saw what was happening before the rest of the survivors. Mugwum jumped over a row of chairs, ran to Ungla, and put his arms around her. 

“Don’t go,” he said. “You exist. I love you. You exist. I need you. You exist. I want you.”

It did no good.

Ungla’s final words were, “Ew! Get your filthy hands off me, you spotty bastard.”

Ungla turned to dust, a small swirling cloud that blew towards the door, quietly opened it, closed it behind her, and merged with the storm outside.

Mugwum wept as the dust ran from his fingers. 

“What’s the point?”

He too turned to dust, fumbled with the door knob, but eventually got out of the Great Hall and joined the storm.

Those who still lived patted each other on the back and passed out certificates of appreciation.

Panglot refused to accept his certificate.

“Sorry,” he said. “Have enough of them. Don’t know what to do with them. I only have a small cell. Barely enough for a cot.”

“You need one. It proves you exist. You are not ignored.”

“You could burn it when winter comes to keep warm.”

“I’ve got enough already to burn for the next ten winters,” Panglot said.

This was not a lie. Thanks to greenhouse warming winter only lasted a few days before the weather returned to searing heat. Winter was, at most, a mild chill in the air. With proper training, you did not need a fire to stay warm. You could be naked through it. Or put on a sweater.

“You could smoke it,” said an encouraging voice. “Hemp paper.”

“No thanks,” Panglot said. “Got plenty.”

Panglot stared at all the well-meaning faces. He was tired of the hugs, the pats on the back, the participation trophies. Meditation bothered his knees. And none of them understood his humour.

The more he thought about it the more he realized he really did not like any of them. Never really had. He’d just gone with the flow, followed the crowd, what little there was of it. So he had joined the order. What else could he have done? Outside was nothing but heat and the dust storm. There were times when he wanted to disappear like so many others had, but he could not, no matter how hard he tried. He believed too strongly in his own existence, whatever that was. He wasn’t so sure about the rest. 

Doubt is contagious. A shudder went through the Great Hall.

Come to think of it, I would probably be happier by myself. Probably get along nicely.

Did I think that or say it out loud?

This was ultimate blasphemy. Its sinfulness sent out ripples. People began to wonder and disappear.

This made staying in the hall with the rest of the order even less appealing.

“I think I’ll just go outside for a bit and walk around,” Panglot announced.

People clung to him.

“You cannot go!”

“It’s too hot!”

“You’ll turn to dust!”

“Fine with me,” Panglot said. “Better than being stuck in here with you lot.”

He shook hands and bits of dust off his arms and legs and walked to the door. He ignored the pleas and puffs of dust behind him. He opened the door, went out, and closed it behind him. Panglot smiled and walked into the dust storm. He disappeared.

For a long time there was only dust. Then the dust thinned out. Panglot emerged from the storm. The sun was out. It was mild. There was grass. Green grass. And trees. An amusement park stood in the distance. There were no ticket takers or security guards at the gate. The rides were running. Best of all, there were no lines.

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