“An Apology (of Sorts) from the Doldrums”
A dispatch from the apocalypse from Ronald Malfi
Ah, good children: We are here, together, in the thick of it, staring at our quaking palms, sweating, casting sideways glances at a darkening sky, suddenly distrustful of the crude proximity of our fellow humans. Are we all going to die? Yes; eventually. Soon? Some of us, yes. You or me in particular? Hell, anything’s possible. But maybe not likely.
This, friends, is a dispatch from a universal Ground Zero, an S.O.S. flare-gun burst charging through the night sky of this most unforgiving (and unforgiveable) year. It’s also, dare I say, an apology of sorts. Because you’re a prisoner. You might even be my prisoner, though I assure you, this was not my intention. Even if it’s my fault, it was not my intention.
Back in March, we were unceremoniously shepherded, in one form or another, to our homes, our lofts, our grottos, our caves, grounded like a country of juvenile delinquents, waiting on a sign of normalcy on the horizon. We became these insular things, confined within the walls of our individual abodes, stinking in our filth, wincing at the sharp javelins of daylight like vampires. If you’ve been in a dark place these past several months, let me assure you I am doing my best to wrench you out, singlehandedly, a Fauci-esque figure who wears not a tweed sport coat, blue shirt, necktie, but a ratty Poltergeist T-shirt, basketball shorts, and a backward Towson University baseball cap. Seuss it with me now:
My hair is long
My odor strong
My faith in man
Is sadly wrong
Why do I owe you an apology, you ask?
First, let me tell you about art.
Art seethes. It lives. Sometimes, it connects with the greater universe in inexplicable and influential ways. We are now several months into a pandemic that, I fear, I have caused. You see, I’ve always been a writer, and back when I was a dim-witted, myopic mook of suspicious design—a teenager, in other words—I had amassed a sizable assortment of manuscripts, most of them horror stories. I would foist these on my unsuspecting friends who would feign interest and pretend to read them. To make the tales more enticing to them, I would sometimes make them characters and even utilize the backdrop of our hometown as the setting for the stories (it’s how my novel December Park came to be). After a while, I noticed things happening—elements of my stories which had been formulated solely within the flashing synapses of my gray matter had begun to materialize in real life.
(It’s here you’re probably wondering, is Malfi spewing fiction even now? Isn’t this supposed to be a guest article, a nonfiction piece? Well, friends, I assure you this is nonfiction. Scary as it sounds.)
I once wrote about an abandoned car that was discovered by a group of boys in the woods of their hometown. Sometime later, my friends and I discovered that very same car in our very own woods, right down to make and model. After that, I noticed other such coincidences—coincidences, I fear, that weren’t coincidental at all. Things and events I had written about ingratiating themselves into the real world. I found it humorous, fascinating.
I was careless.
In 2016, I published a book called The Night Parade, which is about a father and daughter on the run in the middle of a novel pandemic. My fictional disease, Wanderer’s Folly, manifests as a series of hallucinations until the brain essentially malfunctions and the host dies. In writing this book, I contacted the WHO, the CDC, and a personal acquaintance who was an epidemiologist. I asked for death-toll numbers that would essentially drag polite society toward the brink of extinction. What they gave me—what no one realized at the time—were COVID numbers.
Was I satisfied? Did I stop there? No, friends and neighbors, I did not. There is no hubris like a writer’s hubris. So…
Not satisfied with poisoning the world with my books, I decided that it was perfect timing, midway through The Night Parade book tour, to join a rock band. Playing in bands was something I had done as a teenager and into my twenties, but kids, I’m a middle-aged dude now and it didn’t seem likely I would ever sling an axe on stage again. So what drew me back into the fold? Some beckoning of fate that was bent on world destruction? Perhaps.
During The Night Parade book tour, I became obsessed with the idea of the end-of-times, and wrote a series of songs for my band, VEER, dealing with such morbid cogitations. Tunes like “Power Drive,” “Breathe,” and “Come Clean” may sound poppy in that alt-rock kind of way, but the were all dark. In December 2018, VEER released our debut album—Apocalyptic, Baby.
So, you see, I owe you all an apology. I’ve been careless with my art. I’ve haphazardly tossed my dross into the ephemera of the cosmos only to have the cosmos strike back at all of mankind with a vengeance.
This is all my fault.
So then how, you may ask, do I plan to fix this problem I’ve so carelessly caused? Why, friends, I plan on doing it in the very manner in which I caused it. Namely, I will write our way out.
I have set aside, mid-scribble, my manuscripts of doom and gloom and have opted to consider healthier, safer options—comedies, perhaps? A book of love poems? Surely that should get us back on track. Similarly, as I toil away in the songwriting process, VEER’s sophomore album, perhaps titled The Antidote, promises to be an uplifting meditation on the human condition. Maybe I’ll ask Brian Wilson to play some theremin on some record.
I do this for you—for all of you. You’re bitter, sure. You mumble nasty things about me behind my back. Okay, fine, I deserve it. But understand this—any criticism that follows the release of my next book (or books) or my band’s sophomore album should be doled out with a grain of salt, because, friends, I’m doing it now to save lives.
September 2, 2020
The Doldrums, Maryland