Peter Falkenberg Brown
 
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The Epiphany of Zebediah Clump

Jul 5, 2011

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.

Reading the 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.

Venus TransitHis 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 planet.

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 here.

Image of Conceptual Venus Transit
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab
Animator: Walt Feimer

Peter Falkenberg Brown is passionate about writing, publishing, public speaking and film. He hopes that someday he can live up to his favorite motto: “Expressing God’s kind and compassionate love in all directions, every second of every day, creates an infinitely expanding sphere of heart.”

~ Deus est auctor amoris et decoris. ~


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“The Epiphany of Zebediah Clump”
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