Trevor Moore and the best of WKUK

Image by the Whitest Kids U’ Know via wkukplus.com

For the last couple of days, I’ve found myself grappling with the death of Trevor Moore, a comedian and co-founder of the Whitest Kids U’ Know, a sketch-comedy troupe that had a show on IFC in the late oughts. It’s a strange feeling, one that differs from other celebrity deaths. I don’t think I’ve felt one this profoundly since Robin Williams’s passing, and even that was different; Williams was a capital-S star, while Trevor and the rest of the WKUK lived in a liminal space in between stardom and indie successes. 

There was a quality to their work that made it feel like they were some friends of friends you knew who had made it big, and something about their camaraderie drew you in. To watch their show was to feel like you’d been invited to hang out with some of the funniest guys you knew, the kind of guys who didn’t let success change their relationship with their friends nor mock you at your own lame attempts to be as funny as them.

The skits themselves avoid easy classification. They eschewed topicality and rarely aimed for satire, instead honing in on the absurd. While other actors were used, most of the characters, children and women included, were played by a member of the troupe. Part of the fun of an episode of the show was that each sketch would be totally different from the next–save for the last season, where the back-half of each episode was taken up by a multi-part film called The Civil War on Drugs

In recent years, I had fallen away from their work; I discovered them in my freshman year of university and quickly became a fan, but their show ended soon after that and I foolishly assumed that they were done. I feel now like I missed out on a lot. Trevor and the others did a lot of solo work following the end of the show. I didn’t listen to any of it, which I now regret. They began a Twitch stream in order to help fundraise for their next film, Mars (you can donate here), and had recently finished a stream when Trevor passed.

The last time I felt this way was when I discovered the Tragically Hip following their farewell tour (an embarrassing admission for a Canadian), but before Gord Downie’s passing. But that, too, was different. There was a nation behind the band. The WKUK were the kind of group whose existence was passed around between friends in dorm rooms and basements, forging bonds not dissimilar from those that brought the troupe together in the beginning.

The work is still there, of course. In the coming days, I’ll be listening to Trevor’s solo work in an attempt to make up for lost time. For anybody who might want to get started, I’ve listed ten of my favourite sketches below. The episodes are all on YouTube on the official WKUK channel

My sincere hope is that the skits below demonstrate Trevor’s enthusiasm and passion for comedy. His comedic persona is an endearing blend of guileless and acerbic, and I cannot think of anyone else like him.

May he rest in peace.


Below are some of my favourite sketches that prominently feature Trevor. It should go without saying that the show is for adults, so don’t watch it at work or at church or something. There’s no real order to these, and I’m not going to write anything further. Apologies in advance for the varying levels of video quality — 2008 was a rough time for all of us.

1 ) Lincoln

2) Cat Hunting

3) Dinosaur Rap

4) Classroom


5) Saturday

6) Gallon of PCP

7) Slow Jerk

8) Grapist

9) Illegal to Say

10) Opposite Day

And, as a bonus, Kitty History, which has been stuck in my head since the moment I listened to it.

The Last Gardener

[Begin log]

April 9th, 2437

I’m an endling. The endling, I suppose. 

An endling is the last living member of a species. 

It’s a word that wasn’t used much, but then it started cropping up a lot more. I think it came into common parlance around the turn of the century, when the storms got real bad. I was still young then, but I remember the way that the skies seemed to rage. Like a dam fit to burst. Sometimes it did, and rain and hail would streak down to whomever dared witness this final Godly wrath. 

That wasn’t what killed us, but it was a part of what brought us to the edge.

Now there’s just me. The endling of humanity.

It’s a dubious honour.

April 10th, 2437

I suppose I should properly introduce myself to anyone who might read this one day. Or hear it, considering I’m dictating some of it. I imagine even those faint waves are broadcasting to the universe. 

My name is Dr. Marvin Weyburn. Well, you can probably just call me Marvin. My speciality is biology, which matters only a little. My title matters even less. It stopped mattering a long time ago. Even names, I suppose, mean nothing now. 

Recording this wasn’t initially my plan. It was meant to be a log of daily tasks; checking the capsule doors to see if the seals still worked, preparing meals in advance, taking time on the treadmill to keep my bone mass stable. You know, in case I actually made landfall.

But then Exodus failed. Their last communication came in a burst of static and a streak of light some two hundred days ago. I thought I heard a scream, but maybe that was just me anthropomorphizing the shouts of a computer. 

I hope it was.

After that, I knew I was the last. And so I keep this log, in the hope that it all might matter one day.

April 12th, 2437

I considered abandoning my mission for a while, but there was nowhere else to go.

The Venusian colony was gone long before Earth, and even the icebreakers of Europa went dark about a year back. Not that I’d trust those guys to save me from extinction, especially once the ice melted.

When the funding for Genesis came, I don’t think they knew exactly where it would be sent. They just needed a curator. Someone to manage it. A gardener, if you will. 

It wasn’t supposed to be me. Lucy was supposed to do it. 

Ah. I suppose I haven’t mentioned Lucy before.

It’s. . . I can’t right now. It’s not the time. I’ll save it for when I need to say it.

Signing off.

April 19th, 2437

It would have been my cat’s birthday today.

I know, that’s a strange thought. After all that’s happened, why care about that? 

It’s a valid question. Another question might be: after all that’s happened, what else is there to care about? Equally valid, I think.

Anyway, my cat’s dead. I put her down before the atmosphere burst. The radiation would have done for her quick, and the UNSA didn’t seem interested in pouring funding into cat-sized radiation suits. 

I know, I know: What the hell other point was there in paying taxes?

Maybe after all that we’ve lost—all that I’ve lost—there isn’t much point in mourning a cat. 

But I loved her, dammit. So I mourn her with all the rest.

April 30th, 2437

There was an issue with one of the solar sails today. I can’t get out and do a spacewalk. Genesis has a door, but its airlock is fairly rudimentary and isn’t meant for space EVAs. 

I suppose I should go over what Genesis looks like, in case the schematics aren’t clear or salvageable when this is all over. 

Picture a long tube, like a cylinder. At either end are viewports, but they are also spotted throughout, like portholes in a submarine. 

Along the length of the tube, which is only about fifteen metres, are compartments with all the scientific equipment one could want for a voyage like this. It’s spread out for redundancy purposes; if something were to go wrong at any point—whether it be power-related or some other disaster—it’s good to have some distance. 

Outside, there are four solar sails, erupting from either end of the tube. They’re utterly massive, and they have to be; in order to carry Genesis away from the sun, they need to be large enough to collect the sun’s light and the pressure it emits. Yet, they also need to be light enough so as not to limit the speed of the vessel. I don’t know how they did it, but the UNSA managed to create graphene layers that were only millimetres thick, coating them with some sort of ultra-light alloy in order to protect them.

The good news is that the solar sail works. I’m currently shooting away from the sun at dozens of kilometres a second. Awfully handy when it comes to getting somewhere in a hurry, but space is still huge. It took a few hundred days to cross Mars’ orbit. That was years ago. Now, I’m somewhere in the outer planets, between Jupiter and Saturn. 

The bad news isn’t the speed. I’m in no rush. I’m just hoping for a chance. 

The bad news is that the material is incredibly fragile. Any loose space debris can puncture it. Provided it’s not anything obscenely large, the damage should be easily patchable. . . If I could get to it. But since I can’t, I just have to accept the reduction in speed, and hope that it doesn’t delay me too much. 

It could be worse, I suppose. It could have been a big rock. There are a few out here, but there’s little chance of running across those. Despite what the movies might tell you, asteroids don’t cluster together unless there’s some kind of gravitational anomaly. If you stood on an asteroid in the belt between Mars and Jupiter, you might be lucky to see another one in your entire life. 

I know. Pretty neat. And it means that I should be fine.

Facts may be reassuring, but they’re awfully lonely, too.

May 7th, 2437

One thing they drill into you during training is that space travel is awfully boring. Travelling on roads is one thing; you have a frame of reference, as it it accedes or recedes into the distance, you know that you’re moving. You see the road, or trees, or landmarks or whatever as they whiz past. You don’t have that in space. When the distances are so impossibly large, it feels like you’re not moving at all. 

When your only frame of reference are bright white points in the sky that are so unfathomably far that our ancestors thought they were fixed in the roof of the cosmos, it makes for a pretty slow trip. 

The good engineers at UNSA thought of this, and loaded a culture’s worth of film, games, and other media onto Genesis. It was kind of them, but I don’t find myself that interested. Something about being alone for the rest of my life makes spending it watching movies saddening.

I think it’s the people. Movie-watching is social; people go in groups, even if they don’t speak. People go on first dates to dinner and a movie, and it’s not just so they can get handsy in the dark. They go because they want to share in something that moves them, that brings them joy, or that makes them feel safe. I don’t have anyone to share with, and so the screen stays off most days. I think it’s better that way.

There are a lot of stars to count.

May 9th, 2437

I thought about amending my previous entry, but considering that this is meant to be a record for whomever comes after, it might be worth preserving it as is. 

I made a mistake when I said that space travel is boring. 

I mean, it is undoubtedly boring. Once you’re past the first launch and you see the grey trail of the Earth’s moon disappearing behind you, it slows down real quick. There’s a shot of loneliness, but once that fades, you’re left with an emptiness, punctuated only by some of the grandest sights you’ll ever see. 

I didn’t pass by Mars on my journey. It was on the other side of the sun from me. I wouldn’t have liked it anyway; it was beginning to slowly roast by the time I crossed the Martian orbit. I heard it was beautiful, though. The carbon-ice caps at each of the poles, the ruddy-red of the soil. Even its great scar, Valles Marineris, spoke to the deep history of a tormented world. 

I could be wrong, though. Maybe it wasn’t beauty that humanity saw in Mars. Maybe it was like seeing an old neighbour on the last farewell drive around your neighbourhood. The first and last marker of home. 

 The only places to touch your feet to the ground beyond Mars are rocky moons and failed dwarf worlds. Leaving without saying goodbye was hard, especially because I knew what was in store for Mars.

4,000,000 people lived on the Martian colony. Most of them lived in Sojourner, but there were scattered colonies across the flat northern hemisphere. Great wind-breaking shields protected these cities from the rusty storms that raced across that world. Terraforming had helped settle them to some degree, but there were still tempests that could rage for months. 

It was a different storm that destroyed Mars. After the seeding of the atmosphere in the late 21st century, Mars had finally begun to stabilize. The paper-thin atmosphere of carbon-dioxide had been replaced with a heavier layer of nitrogen and other precious, life-giving gases. It wasn’t quite breathable, but soon it would be home. Or would have been, anyway; the cloud layer had peeled away like shed skin in the path of the cosmic storm. 

I think it happened quickly, at least. I hope it did. I knew some people who lived there. 

But they were dead now, and so was Mars. 

May 24th, 2437

I woke up this morning and felt very alone.

I sat there in the bed for a while, watching the cold grey ceiling of the pod above me. A distant whirring noise saved me from the terror of absolute silence. I don’t know how long I laid there for. I tried to slow my breathing, but that did me no good. I never had the patience for anything like that. I cracked my knuckles, a sound like split wood in the gloomy quiet of the Genesis capsule. Eventually I got up and checked all of the day’s numbers. This took me four minutes, tops. 

Then I stopped, wondering what came next.

Another day begun.

July 1st, 2437.

Haven’t written in a little while, I know. It’s been a hard month. I just haven’t known what to do with myself.

What did people used to do when they wanted to pass the time? I know some would watch movies, play games. They might work on a personal skill, something they’ve always wanted to accomplish. Some people may have been content to spend their post-work evenings waiting to die, but I never was very good at that. I always had to be working on something. This led to a lot of half-finished projects.

I could tell you the three most common chords on the guitar and how to play them. I could draw a near-perfect cube, maybe even shade it. I could even tell you my name in Spanish. 

I guess it turns out that spending my whole life trying to be good at something just led to me not being very good at anything. There’s a certain irony there, I suppose. 

For me, it doesn’t end there. What’s the point in learning a new skill if you’re not going to have the time to become a master, or if no one else will be around to witness it? What’s the point in learning a new skill when you know you’re going to die? When people found out they were going to die back home, they wouldn’t spend their remaining days watching movies. They would do. 

But I can’t. I just have to wait, watching these impassive stars keep on shining. 

This journal might be all I have. 

It’s the closest thing there is to talking to someone.

July 2nd, 2437

I’ve tried counting the stars again lately. 

It was something Lucy and I used to do. Even as the sun began to grow and the days became hotter and longer, we would find time to retreat to the field behind the observatory, where the night sky was clearest. We’d lie down, spreading a blanket. I still remember the way it felt beneath my hand as I threw it open. I remember the feeling of her taking my hand and then me holding her close as we watched those unblinking specks of light shine through a cold and black universe. 

Watching stars is a test of patience. It takes time for your eyes to adjust to the night and to the light above. Once it does, it appears as though the sky itself is heavy with the weight of so much brilliance. 

When those moments came, we started playing the game. We’d start counting the stars, seeing how many we could rack up. Trying not to count the same one twice. Invariably, there was an argument. There were only so many stars we could see, and we eventually became convinced the other person had double-counted. It didn’t matter to me, though, and not just because I always won.

It was a silly game, in truth. It’s amazing how weak the human eye really is. To try to quantify the number of stars requires the use of absurd, made-up sounding numbers like “sextillion.” We might be able to see ten thousand of those, a fraction of that total, one that requires more zeroes than I’m willing to write. All of those are located within the Milky Way. We can’t see anything outside our own universe with our naked eyes. 

It didn’t matter, though. There was enough to go around. A single galaxy might carry hundreds of billions of stars. An unimaginable number.

I’d count them all for her if I could.

July 4th, 2437

I checked the monitors today, for the first time in a while. I’ve found that it’s become easy to let things slide. One of the benefits of my position is not having a boss to tell you to get back to work. 

It seems as though I’m closer to Saturn than I realized.

Four years passes very quickly when you know you’re going to die at the end of them.

I’ve seen it through the viewports, of course. Gas giants like Saturn have the tendency to be awfully reflective. Having giant ice rings definitely increases its albedo too. 

Jupiter always keeps me up, but I try to block it out with the shading built into the viewports. They were made for the sun, but they helped with Jupiter, which has only gotten brighter after all of this.

 Saturn was always there, though. Like a beacon in the black. I hadn’t noticed it growing bigger before now, but it almost seems alarmingly close.

I’m still speaking in space-distance, of course. It’ll be another couple of months before I arrive. Another couple of months in Genesis

Don’t blame me if I’m not excited.

July 7th, 2437

Sometimes when I watch the stars, I think of Exodus, and of that last scream of static over the coms. 

I don’t know exactly what happened to it, of course. I have ideas. It could have been a cloud of particulate debris, just dense enough to tear through Exodus’ hull, shredding it in the process. Maybe there was a malfunction, some flaw in the design that led to its disintegration. In the early days of spaceflight, pieces of loose foam had led to catastrophe, a danger that is just as present even now. It could even have been a bomb, smuggled aboard by some religious fanatic. There were a lot of those in the final days, people who turned to their god or gods as the end approached. Maybe someone worked to hasten it, or maybe they just saw Exodus as defiant. 

In the end, they were right. Exodus had been envisioned as an ark, a vessel crafted to escape annihilation. It had been plan A. 

I was Plan B, and not a very good one at that. Even if I succeeded, no one would ever know. 

It’s a grim prospect. 

It’s also the only plan left.

July 17th, 2437

Another difficult set of days. Saturn grows ever closer, but I know it’s still a month and a bit away. There’s a long way to go yet. 

It’s my birthday today. I’ll be thirty-eight years old, and as old as I’ll ever be. The collective human life expectancy hasn’t been this low in millennia. I decided to celebrate with cake.

It took me a while to find it in the cooler. I had to move the vials out of the way, but it was still there. Lucy had made sure that there was enough to last me the trip. I pulled the bag out and dumped it all in the blender. Poured in some freeze-dried milk, and mixed it with water. I suppose even milk is about to run out. The blender whirred and it occurred to me, just for the briefest moment, how much of my final days were spent waiting. Waiting for the blender, waiting for the cooling cycles to run, waiting for the stars to come closer. Then I realized that maybe that wasn’t all that different from what had come before.

When the blender finished, I poured it all into a sippy cup. Subtle centripetal forces keep me and everything else locked to the floor, but I didn’t feel as though a proper glass was worth the risk. 

I took the sippy cup to the control console, and set it aside for a moment. I slid a pack of cigars out from underneath. They were old, but were almost as fresh as the day they were rolled. The brass at the UNSA would have thrown a fit if they knew, but they were all dead and I was soon to be, so I decided it was worth defying the regulations. I flipped off the smoke alarm on the console, then sat in the chair and watched the stars scroll imperceptibly by. 

I drank my milkshake. It tasted like birthday cake. I think there might even have been sprinkles in the mix, but the blender had got all of them. I puffed on the cigar. It was good.

July 18th, 2437.

With my destination nearing, it’s hard for me not to be bitter about how I ended up here. 

It’s one thing to anticipate death; to know that the world is ending and that you’ll end with it. It’s a far different trauma to watch the world end, to know that your end will come yet after. 

It wasn’t supposed to be me. It was supposed to be Lucy. 

We had agreed on it together. As funding was diverted to the Genesis project, the one-in-a-million failsafe to Exodus, we agreed that she would handle the loneliness better, the tedium. That she would be able to say good-bye better. 

We struggled for a long time, knowing that Genesis couldn’t accommodate the two of us. Solars sails work best when the vessel is as light as possible, and we were short on time. Doubling the crew meant doubling the payload. So we decided that she should go. 

She was smarter than me, knew more of the science than me. Was more cautious than me.

[Records indicate that writing ceased for approximately six minutes. Reason unknown.]

But then she got sick. She got sick and was told that she would not survive long enough to see out the voyage. So it fell to me, the last gardener. 

That was a hard night, when we decided. At first, I wanted to stay with her. I wanted to stay home and watch the world end together. I wanted to face oblivion with her, but she wouldn’t let me. She was level-headed where I was not. She knew that the mission was more important. 

I didn’t even try to argue that someone else could do it. We both knew that it wasn’t true. Biology and botany and xeno-metereology were just a few of the skills required for the mission, and they were in short supply. It had to be me. 

Exodus had launched three weeks prior. Episilon Eridani is a star system less than a dozen light years from here. Construction had started earlier, in space where gravity wouldn’t threaten the solar sails as it would planet-side. The crew was all very young. Ten and twelve years. They would grow up together as family. Each understood the burden they carried. It would still be the better part of fifty years before it made it to Epsilon Eridani. There was a planet there that we believed to be Earth-like. 

I know what we’ve done. It was the best chance we had, and I’d do it again if I had to.

You can’t know how desperate we were. 

[Another break. Records indicate that much was deleted.]

The day of the Genesis launch was stormy, with the skies roiling like wracked seawater, the stuff of sailor’s nightmares. I, a sailor of a different breed, was about to leave on his maiden voyage. 

She met me at the mountaintop that day. The techs gave us a minute, or maybe it was several. I just know that it wasn’t long enough. 

I still remember the way she embraced me. I can’t describe it, not truly. I’m not a poet or anything, and besides, I don’t know if they could describe it either. I believe that all of us know that feeling—the feeling of saying good-bye to someone we love, knowing that it is the last time. 

We held each other for a long time on that mountaintop. She spoke to me, and I her, but those words are for us alone.  

I love you, Lucy. Always will.

August 13th, 2437

I’ve reached Saturn. It fills the screen and seems to overpower my senses. Looking at it for too long leaves me tired. 

At the vector I’m approaching, it appears tipped on its side, the great rings arcing high around it. Having something to see after all of this time inspires me. Even though I know the end is close, it gives me the strength to carry on, to do what must be done.

I need to make a few revolutions of Saturn before I reach Titan. Luckily, Saturn’s largest moon lies well outside its rings, leaving me a great deal of space. I don’t want to mess up Genesis more than I already have. This ship is the last chance we’ve got.

August 15th, 2437

I went through the ship today, gathering everything I would need for the end. Even the vials.

I don’t know why I kept them. Maybe it’s just a mislaid sense of duty. They can’t be salvaged, I knew that from the moment I saw the broken seal on the cooler.

At least, I hope it was broken. I hope it was broken because that means that the extinction of the human race was not my fault. That it wasn’t carelessness that brought us to this end. 

I’ve replayed finding the door ajar every moment since. 

Remember the deepest, most abjectly horrific feeling you’ve ever encountered. The moment when your stomach seems to plummet, when your heart seems to stop. The feeling of wanting to go back. The hope, however futile, that it is, somehow, a dream. Maybe it’s the moment when you found out your partner has been having an affair. Maybe it’s the feeling of committing a crime by accident. 

I once read about a woman who accidentally killed a child. The child ran in front of her vehicle. There was no fault to her at all. But it reshapes your life, your psychology. You can’t carry on– not as the person you were before. 

That’s nothing compared to what I’ve done. 

I hold a vial in my hand now. We carried so much hope in them, and now they’re useless. I don’t know why I’m keeping them, opaque tubes that bear the seeds of humankind. All kinds of people, dead once more. 

Because of me. 

August 24st, 2437

Only a few days until Titan.

I’m scared, I’ll admit it. It’s one thing to go into the grave, another to know you’re turning the lights off on the way out. 

I don’t know what comes next. I was never the religious type. Most weren’t, at the end. The decline in religiosity that marked the new millennium carried on through the twenty-fifth century.  

Some turned back to it. I think I initially dismissed them as scared, as wanting to believe that they wouldn’t be travelling into some great dark. We spend all of our lives existing, so much so that the thought of not existing is inconceivable. 

I get it now. When faced with all of that, I understand the urge to pray. Not just for fear, but also for hope.

I pray out of hope that all of this matters one day.

August 26th, 2437

Titan.

It looks almost featureless from here. The only moon in the Solar System with an atmosphere, it represents our best hope. It was close enough that someone could make it in a light craft, and it bore the potential to carry us forward. To start over. 

The descent in the atmosphere might be rough. I can’t breathe it. It’s mostly nitrogen, too rich for the Earthborn. Even though I expect it’s warmed up some, it’ll still be quite cold on the surface. For now, anyway. 

I need to go. I need to buckle-up and get ready for entry. I’m trying not to think about what walking on the surface of a world will feel like after all of this time. 

It might just hurt. I took my supplements, did my exercises, and yet I know I’ve lost bone density. Gravity won’t be as strong as it would be back home, but it will still hurt.

I don’t care anymore.

August 27th, 2437.

[Final Log]

I landed on the surface of Titan. 

Entry went well, for the most part. The solar sails detached correctly, and what didn’t burn up in the atmosphere fell away from me as I descended. Genesis‘s chute almost didn’t deploy, which caused me no end of panic. I didn’t come all this way to die in a crash. 

In the end, it fired correctly, and carried me to a berth on the edge of a cliff. In the valley below is a dark lake, likely of methane. The surface is totally placid, undisturbed by any kind of life. Titan itself is mostly smooth, protected from debris by the atmosphere, and shaped by cryo-volcanoes of ice-methane. 

I look around the capsule one last time before I go. I knew this was a one-way trip, yet I still find myself reluctant to acknowledge that I’m here. That this is it.

This won’t be a long excursion, but it’s one I have to make. I don’t intend on coming back. I’ve suited up and pushed the button already. I’ve done what I can, what I’m supposed to do. 

Now I just get to die.

[The remaining record is in audio format, broadcasted back to the Genesis to be saved.]

I hope this all saves okay. I just gotta do a few things before the end, but I’ll be as descriptive as I can. Apparently the brains at the UNSA didn’t seem to think that video imaging was necessary on a EVA. 

I closed the door behind me to the capsule. I don’t know if it’ll last a long time or not. Usually the kind of preservation that you’d hope for requires a vacuum, and Titan is far from that. If I’ve done my job right, it’ll be getting farther each day. 

I’m walking down the hill now. Above me, I see the Sun. Far bigger in the sky than it used to be. 

Pre-red giant, Titan was too cold for any shot at life. Once the Sun put on a few solar masses, it warmed up quite a bit. Enough so that we figured it was worth a shot. 

It all seems like a ridiculous plan in hindsight: To preserve our genome, then terraform another world, hoping that somehow we might be restored by whatever species rose up next. They weren’t embryos. Those would never last long enough, and that ethical quagmire was deeper that it had been with Exodus. No, they were just inert strands of DNA, hopefully enough to one day revive humanity. It’s stupid enough that I wish all the credit was mine, but Lucy helped. I just wish I hadn’t screwed it up. 

Goddamn, this suit is heavy.

The hills are pretty smooth here. I don’t know exactly where I landed. We hadn’t mapped it out too well. Titan was too far to be of interest to us. Once Mars and the Galilean moons were settled, we didn’t think too hard about the rest of the Solar System. It was too remote. I think they were considering the logistics of interstellar travel near the end. Based on Exodus, I’m guessing we didn’t quite get there.

It’s not fully our fault, you know. Nobody ever figured out why the Sun started to die so quick. It’s one of those questions I wish I had an answer to. Not that it really matters.

God, that was a long walk. You’d think it’d be more relative after a few billion kilometres, but apparently not.

There’s the lake. It’s not too idyllic; I wish there was a palm tree or something. I saw a few oases like this on my way down, spots of blue-black amid the orange-yellow light of the surface. Here’s hoping that changes with the atmosphere, cause it’s a bit depressing to look at.

Shit. Here I am. This is the spot where I’m going to die. 

It’s not really one of those things you think about. Most people probably die in bed, right? Does anyone ever wonder if this is the last time they’re going to crawl into bed, or is that just too damn morbid? 

Can’t help it now, I guess.

Looking around, I see Genesis on the ridge. If I squint, I can see a faint mist leaking into the sky. It makes me happy. I may have killed my crops, but I can still save the field.

I take the bag off of my shoulder. I hear the vials jangling inside. I hope I didn’t break them. Everything inside is already dead, but I need to give humanity a proper burial.

[For some time, silence. Laboured breaths are the only audio of record.]

It’s not a very deep hole, but it’ll do. I don’t exactly have a shovel, after all. 

I’m laying out each vial, one by one. We got them from all over the world. We wanted them to represent every part of humanity. Lucy and I had to rebuff a few of the ultra-rich who demanded that a part of them be allowed to travel away from catastrophe.  There was no prioritization for race or class or anything else. None of that mattered, because we were all human. 

I’m really sorry I let you all down.

[Silence again, save for the sound of unknown droplets]

The burial is done. I’m sitting on the edge of this lake and I’m running my hands along the edge of my helmet. The lake is deep and dark. Part of me wants to throw a stone into it, but I decided not to. I’ve disturbed this world enough. 

I didn’t do a eulogy. I couldn’t think of anything to say.

I glance back towards Genesis. The mist still comes steadily out from the exhaust ports.

It’s for a good cause, right? Seed a dead world with the chance for life, and hope something comes of it? 

I hate that I’ll never know.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m just bitter. Maybe I’m rambling because I’m scared to die. Lucy and I knew this would happen in the end. It was always a one-way trip. Aboard the ship, there’s a needle filled with enough morphine to let me sleep forever. 

I left it there. After all of this, I’m not going to die on that ship.

Which brings me back to the side of this lake, where I’m fiddling with the latch of my helmet. 

I guess I need to do this. 

What else is there to say? I’m thinking of so many things. I’m thinking of how afraid I am. Of how beautiful Saturn was. How beautiful you were. I’m thinking of all the stars that shone my way here, and I’m thinking of my odds of success. 

No, I need to focus. I can’t think of how humanity will die today. It’s not about us anymore. If life takes hold on Titan, maybe that’s enough. Maybe whatever it is will find Genesis, and maybe they’ll look at the stars themselves. Maybe they’ll wonder who we were, or maybe they won’t.

[A long pause, punctuated only by shallow breaths.]


My head is finally quiet. I’m not thinking of any of that shit anymore. I swear, I’m not.

You know why? You’d laugh if I told you. Since you’re not here to tell me no, I’ll just say it:

I bear on my shoulders the collective lives, dreams, and memories of two hundred billion people, and all I can do is think of you.

[End of log.]

“Survivor Song” and the Love at the Core of Male Friendship

Courtesy of HarperCollins.com

“We will not intrude on Luis here, not for much longer. His past, particularly his regrets and recriminations, belong to him. We know enough and we will never know enough to understand what he will do next.”

Last year, I read Paul Tremblay’s Survivor Song. I consider Tremblay one of the best horror writers working now, but it is not a particularly frightening part of his latest novel that I choose to write about today. Instead, I want to take a look at a part that I fear most readers might glance past; a literal interlude in the story of the two desperate women making their way across a New England town ravaged by a super-rabies virus.

I was turned on to Tremblay by Stephen King’s Twitter recommendation of A Head Full of Ghosts, which remains one of the most frightening novels I’ve ever read. Following this, I read through Disappearance at Devil’s Rock, and The Cabin at the End of the World, both of which might be more properly described as thriller than horror. With that in mind, I was excited to hear of the release of Survivor Song, which marks a return to novel-length horror for Tremblay. I was perhaps a little trepidatious though; unlike the horrors in A Head Full of Ghosts, which deals primarily with the question of whether a young girl is possessed or deeply mentally ill, Survivor Song’s horrors are much more personal for me.

In Survivor Song, a mutant strain of the rabies virus begins to spread rapidly through small-town Massachusetts. For those who aren’t aware, rabies in its current form is already an incredibly horrific disease. Once contracted, failure to receive a vaccine will result in a virtual one-hundred percent chance of dying horribly. There are exceptions, but those number in the single digits. The catch? By the time you know you have it, you’re dead. Once the disease has gone symptomatic, there is no applying a vaccine. There is only the knowledge that you will die, likely within a matter of weeks. You will die terribly, muscles aching, afraid of water, and losing your mind.

From 2017-2019, I lived in an apartment infested with bats. While neither myself, my partner, or my cats were ever harmed, there were multiple instances of bats in the apartment. They entered through holes underneath the radiator, a gap underneath the front door, or simply scratched and squeaked in the ceiling or in the walls. Sometimes my cats would run to the door late at night, and I’d peer through the peephole, seeing the flash of brown-and-black flying erratically around.

Landlords are useless under normal circumstances, of course, but legislation against the killing of bats (which, however I may have felt at the time, I understand), prevented anything other than efforts to remove and exclude them. This situation caused a great deal of anxiety for me, to the point when I still brace myself looking through the peephole at night or feel a rush of panic when one of my cats sniffs around at the base of my apartment door.

Returning to this disease in Survivor Song was therapeutic, in a sense. Seeing people confront this virus and fight for every minute of life they can get helped me recover from my own anxiety. In Survivor Song, it’s a matter of hours, not weeks, before the victims become symptomatic. The unreality of it contextualized my fear.

The book itself concerns the attack of a pregnant woman, Natalie, by a rabid man. Her husband is killed in the assault, and she is bitten. She quickly gets in contact with an old friend, Ramola, a doctor in town. Ramola meets her and ushers her to hospital, hoping to act quickly enough to prevent the virus.

I won’t spoil the rest of course, but much of the book concerns their journey and their friendship. And yet, at the core of the book, there is another friendship. It is covered in fewer pages and is not Tremblay’s focus. But there are sections of the book–interludes–that remind the reader that “this is not a fairy-tale,” even as the pages are decorated in such a way that evoke The Brothers Grimm.

One of these sections follows Luis and Josh, two friends who meet up with Natalie and Ramola midway through the book. They seem thrilled by the violence taking place around them; with mammals of all kinds susceptible to the virus, people are catching rabies from animals as innocuous as passing squirrels, who leap violently toward them, driven mad by the disease.

Luis and Josh clearly have watched The Walking Dead, describing the events as akin to a zombie apocalypse. They are excited for the adventure of a post-apocalyptic world, where society has collapsed and you are forced to make hard choices to survive. Ramola, of course, knows that, while tragic, the events are hardly apocalyptic; a virus that kills within hours is hardly likely to spread very far (conversely, part of the reason our own pandemic is so long-lasting is because it kills relatively infrequently and spreads easily), and as such, containment and protection of the survivors is the next task; not societal collapse.

Luis and Josh recognize that Natalie is hurt though, and so they band with Ramola and Natalie to help them get to help. During the course of their travel, they are attacked. While they are able to fight off their attackers, Josh is bit on the head by a dog. They part ways from Natalie and Ramola then, and this is where the interlude begins.

“You are not supposed to go back, you can’t go back, and if you attempt a return you will be forever lost.”

One thing that I think fiction often has a hard time portraying is male friendship. It exists, of course; there is certainly no shortage of fiction featuring men. But so much of it feels obligated to depict male friendship as this hyper-performative display of machismo, where men talk about what they ate or how much they can bench or who they fought or fucked. Ironically, perhaps, one of the better examples I’ve seen recently is The Sopranos, which I’m watching with my girlfriend currently. I’ve never seen it before, and while the show certainly has a reputation for all of the above, one of the things that has struck us the most is how deeply these characters care for one another. When was the last time you gave your friend a kiss on the cheek when you met up?

What Tremblay understands is that the core of male friendship is love. This is true of any friendship, of course, so this this might seem odd to read. And yet, years of conditioning have taught us to see open admittances of love between men as taboo — whether it might be some latent homophobia or simply cultural norms that have taught men to conceal their feelings, the end result is the same. How many times did Chandler and Joey embrace on Friends, only to awkwardly realize what they were doing, then separate to the hooting and hawing of the audience?

Josh has been bit on the head. It is a death sentence. Even if he had a vaccine, which he doesn’t, it’s far too late. Rabies is a virus that needs to reach the brain. It was delivered almost directly to it. Josh is a dead man riding a bicycle.

Still, he and Luis ride on.

Josh’s riding is erratic. He weaves and abruptly jerks his bike at hard angles when the road is clear. He shouts at shadows and he shouts at trees. He lists until Luis calls out his name, then he lists some more. Luis knows Josh will not be Josh for much longer. Perhaps he already isn’t Josh, or the new non-Josh is growing, metastasizing, laying claim. Regardless, Luis will follow Josh and follow him until he cannot lead anymore.

We know how this story ends. As Tremblay reminds us, this is not a fairy-tale. But, even as he insists it is a song, the story takes on aspects of fairy-tale. Luis and Josh leave the road, travelling into the woods. Perhaps emulating Michonne in The Walking Dead, Luis ties up Josh on a lead, wrapping a bandanna around his dying friend’s mouth to prevent him from biting. His friend’s mind is not yet gone, and so Josh acquiesces to this. They walk together through the woods, unable to ride any further. From the trees emerge all manner of mammals, driven mad by the virus; squirrels and rabbits and bats and bigger animals still, all homing in on the two friends.

Courtesy of Image Comics.

Even though his friend has already been bit, and even though he is already doomed to die, Luis will not let them have him. He wields the makeshift staff he carries like a trained warrior, snapping away at legions of creatures which swarm them.

“The teens more than endure the tiny terrors, they revel as though there never was and never will be a sweeter time, a greater moment. If not an apotheosis, this is them at their best, and they laugh and they boast and they shout and they live and they know there is no future.”

There is a surreality to this part. The thought of suburban teens expertly wielding a staff to fight off hordes of rabid animals is almost silly when you envision it. But Tremblay makes it work. This is not a fairy-tale, he reminds us. This is a song. It has no happy ending.

Surreality can only be stretched so far. The animals soon grow to be too much. They overwhelm Luis, and Josh pushes him to the ground. He shields his friend with his body, giving him everything that he has left. The bats rip and tear and bite and yet he does not leave his friend.

When at last it is over, they rise and come to a clearing. A rock with a split in it sits at its centre, which fans of Tremblay might recognize. It is here that the inevitable happens.

“Josh stops walking. He turns, and he has turned. This is the reveal of Zombie Josh, the zombie teen wth red coyote eyes, lips a ragged drawn curtain, foam and saliva faulting from his gagged mouth. Luis cannot help but stare at his friend’s teeth, as though he’d never really seen them before, seen them for what they can be. Hands still tied together, Zombie Josh rushes at Luis. Thus begins a dance that will last into the night. Luis will not hurt Zombie Josh, even though he’’s seen all the movies and knows all the rules. Instead, he will duck and he will dodge and he will sidestep and he will run.”

Luis refuses to hurt Josh, but he also refuses to leave him. They dance like this until the virus in Josh’s head rages through him, removing his ability to fight and bite. Josh is tired, and sits back against the rock. He no longer is conscious. His body is barely functioning. It is here that he will die.

And what does Luis do? What happens next is something I’ve never experienced in any kind of zombie or zombie-adjacent fiction. It is utterly novel and incredibly perfect and impossibly tragic. I will not summarize it, for it deserves to be read:

“Luis slips his hands under Josh’s head and ties the gag. The sopping wet bandanna slides easily out of his slack mouth. . . Luis rolls up his right sleeve.  . . Placing a thumb on Josh’s chin, Luis pulls down the lower jaw, opening the mouth. He takes the thumb away. Josh’s face and body tremors, but he doesn’t wake and his mouth stays open. Luis places the soft underside of his forearm into Josh’s mouth, the inside of which is as hot and damp as a sauna. Luis positions his left palm under Josh’s chin and pushes, closing the mouth, forcing his friend’s teeth against his skin. It hurts, but he doesn’t know if the teeth have broken through yet. He pushes harder and Josh convulses, perhaps because the body’s main airway is being blocked. There is still a spark of life within the engine. His jaws contract once, and hard.”

Suicide in post-apocalyptic fiction is nothing new, and it’s true that this is a suicide of sorts. And yet, it doesn’t read that way. It reads as an act of love; the desire from one friend to another to not let him travel into the dark alone. Instead of leaving his friend, or facing the now-clichéd moment of agony as he’s forced to kill his former friend, Luis chooses something different. His choice is made all the more powerful by the fact he cannot let himself be bit; he has to force the empty vessel of his friend to do it. It is his friend who sends him on his way.

Tremblay understands horror, because he understands what scares us. Certainly Survivor Song scared me in a way that most horror doesn’t, reminding me of some of the darkest moments in my own life. But Tremblay also understands that horror is not horror when there is no humanity. How many people, realistically, are afraid when Jason Voorhees machetes another interchangeable horny teen? We don’t root for the teen. We root for Jason. We want to see what he does. Like any work of art, the best horror compels the audience to care. If we care about art, then we can be moved, whether it is to tears or to screams.

It is this same gift that allows Tremblay to capture the love at the heart of male friendship. It is something that I wish more writers understood. We care about Luis and Josh because we’ve all been the stupid kid, wondering how we’d do in the zombie apocalypse. But more than that, we know what it is to love our friends.