The skeleton of Wiltner Dasney (née Wilma Iwerks) sat atop a headstone in a Hollywood cemetery as the neon blue haze faded. After noting with little awe that he knew both past and future entirely, he began to grow upset. The haze was troubling, as was the heat death of the universe, which he had thought might collapse and explode again, but he was hurt by the period of American history between December of 1966 and the end of North America.
“I was not an imperialist,” he said aloud. They were his first words as an omniscient being. His voice had become a deep growl.
The haze was gone. There was a soft pack of unfiltered Lucky Strikes tucked into his ribs. He pulled it out, packed it against his wrist, briefly noticed the boing it made, and peeled off the ribbon. A xylophone rattled somewhere.
Tearing open the foil with skeleton fingers was difficult. That was something he would have to get used to. There was a river nearby. He hadn’t known that. An airplane flew overhead as he pulled a cigarette out with his teeth. He willed it to light and tucked the pack into his ribs. The airplane crashed, and the cigarette grew a red ember. He was surprised that the trick was so easy to learn, then surprised by his surprise. He shook his skull and forgot it. It shook loudly.
“I was a businessman,” he said. “I had to be. Could I have drawn every frame of Winsome Narcoleptic myself?”
He fell silent, biting his cigarette, holding his jawbones with skeleton hands. He was covered in yellow mold and damp earth. A short, red worm fell out of his ankle.
“Cigarettes don’t go boing,” he said at last. “No airplanes have crashed in earshot, that was definitely a xylophone, the rivers in California have shrunk to trickling gutters, my skull doesn’t shake that loudly, and I knew nothing about this.”
He stubbed his cigarette out on the headstone and pulled the soft pack from his ribs. It was sealed again. He packed it. It boinged each time he struck it. He brought the pack close to his skull to listen. The ribbon peeled off with the slick ripping of cellophane. The xylophone’s rattle came from elsewhere.
“That river will make an appearance,” he said.
It did, and the foil took less effort. The airplane came and crashed again. He released a silver breath into the evening.
“That’ll get annoying,” he said.
He stepped down from his tombstone gently, trying not to excite the foley boys. The symphony came in as he started to walk. It was lyrical enough, but more ominous than he would have ordered. It shaped itself around his movements—he didn’t mean to be dancing.
He paused at the cemetery gates and looked back at his headstone. It was tiny in a field of tiny headstones. He knew that it read “Wilma ‘Wiltner’ Dasney,” and he knew that this part of the world had ended before it could be told where it was.
The cemetery caught fire when he stepped past its gates. He had timed his exit, stayed as long as he could. The world shook. Buildings leaned against each other. Real explosions sounded in the distance. A tourist lay bleeding to death on the sidewalk, whimpering. Wiltner stepped over him. The man moaned. No one this far west had vaporized. Almost all of them would be alive for another minute.
Wiltner paused and considered something, then turned to the dying man. His gaze was a thing you could feel upon you, and the man turned his bloody face to see the skeleton standing over him, covered in writhing earth, the source of that death stench. He didn’t react to it. He had no horror left.
“Is it technically diegetic?” the skeleton roared, then cancelled the question with a wave of its hand, took a long drag of its cigarette, and looked at the sky. The man passed out.
Wiltner gave up on walking to Anaheim. He blinked himself to Dasneyville’s Haunted Hotel, where he took a seat inside a reflection. He packed his replenished cigarettes for the third of many times, annoyed by the boings. He’d predicted that much of his own future.
“Could I have drawn a single frame?”
He sat still and listened to the symphony—more ominous now—and settled in for a long wait to talk some sense into Taylor Swift.