The After Is Upon Us

@theo

“Make fun all you want, but I’m onto this guy.” Ernie starts arranging his things on my bed. “Mark my words, he’ll be sorry he ever screwed over Myron Deathkill!”

“Who?”

“My Hella War berserker—ah, never mind. You’re a Nintendo fanboy.” Ernie ruffles my hair. “Nice sex head, by the way.”

I swallow. “Honest, we didn’t actually do anything.”

“Wait, what?”

“Huh?”

“What are you talking about?”

“What are you talking about?”

“I asked you first.”

I swallow some more. “Asia Afrodesia had me, uh, help announce her pregnancy. She’s blaming it on your El Cassetto meme.”

“Finally!” Ernie guffaws. “Some mainstream media coverage!”

My instinct is to send Ernie home as usual. This is all just a publicity stunt staged by Asia’s management. I know better. I know I know better. But it’s the what-ifs that get you. I feel like a turd nugget for even thinking this, but…what if El Cassetto is the real deal? I’m not so much worried about getting pregnant myself. That’s silly. But what about Eva? Mom? Summer and Lily and all their gal pals? Is it colder in my room all of the sudden? Darker? Creepier?

Do I really want to be alone tonight?

My question is answered a short while later, when late-night power hour is up. My room is darkened, and I’m crammed together with Ernie in my bed. He’s sitting propped against the wall with my phone and several open honey bun boxes; I’m trying to settle in for the night while quietly lamenting the invention of SuperMegaNet. And yet, despite the inherent discomfort that comes with ultra-virile cassette tapes and your fat, obnoxious friends never being more than a download away, I can’t imagine life without SuperMegaNet. It’s a double-edged sword kind of thing. For old-school kids, harm’s way was outdoors, in the real world. It was in dark alleys, shady neighborhoods, tinted vans—you had to leave your parents’ house to hurt yourself or get stranger danger muff crammed up your butt. For modern-day kids, it’s all online. Wherever there’s a wireless signal, there’s a way for trouble to find you. If El Cassetto is real, then that means it’s now possible to get pregnant via the Internet, and if that’s possible, what’s stopping, say, the flu from going epidemic? Coronavirus? Zika? AIDS? For the first time since becoming a SuperMegaNet user, I’m scared. Like, really scared.

But that—and Ernie’s consistent flatulence—isn’t the only reason I’m lying wide awake tonight. A lot of other things have been on my mind, too. Dosequisvirus. The Fundoshi Mandate. Growing up. At the tail end of twelve, I’m also at the tail end of being a kid. I should be excited about thirteen, fourteen, fifteen…but instead I just feel like this is the end. I can’t imagine anything beyond twelve. It keeps me awake nights, the wondering what—if anything—could possibly come next? What kind of world do I fit in if not the one I’ve been quietly cultivating for the last decade and change? I’m on the cusp of teenagehood, and I’ve got absolutely no idea what’s to come in the After.

I guess I kind of had that “The End” feeling at the start of the school year. Which is weird, I know. Most people would be bummed about everything staying the same, but with me it’s the opposite. That’s how my brain works, fretting over endings despite new beginnings. I felt like my life was ending, and that I had no business taking on what was next. Then I met and became part of the Runt Squad. Ernie, Eva, Jan, all middle-schoolers like me, all of us fast-forwarded into high school before the age of thirteen. Our guidance counselor set us up on day one with an assignment: learn five things about each other. We ended up becoming best friends. I can’t imagine life without the Squad—even though right now I really, really want to be without Ernie.

In my bed.

Snacking.

Messing with my phone.

Doing God knows what.

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El Cassetto: a SuperMegaNet novel by Jesse Gordon

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Dookie, a cheesy horror novel by Jesse Gordon

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Jesse Gordon

Geek. Writer. Supreme overlord of the SUPERMEGANET pseudoverse. Author of THE OATMEAL MAN, DOOKIE, and other such wasteful nonsense.