“Ellie! Ellie! Come in here, quick! I think the pandas are about to fuck!”
Ellie scurries in, her orthopedic shoes going clomp clomp clomp across the concrete floor. She leans over me and looks at the monochromatic computer screen. I can feel her breath against the side of my neck. It smells sweet. Like bananas.
On the monitor, Oreo and Bandit playfully sniff at each other. I scribble notes feverishly. What is their body language trying to tell us? Are they lustful? Libidinous? Is he flirting with her? Is she playing coy? Have their inhibitions been lost? Are the fires of unbridled, animalistic passion erupting like magma from their furry loins? There are so many variables. So many nuances. With each twitch of an ear, wrinkle of a nose, blink of an eye – what are the pandas trying to say to me?
Oreo takes a shit. Bandit eats it.
“Goddamn it!” I say, throwing my clipboard down on the table. A metal spring pops off of it. The clipboard no longer clips. It’s just a board.
“Great,” I huff. “There’s another expenditure we can’t afford.”
“But Alan,” Ellie says to me, “we’re going to need clipboards.”
“I suppose I’ll have to give the commissioner’s son another kidney.”
Our research facilities are criminally underfunded. We currently rank 1,346,482nd on the government’s annual expense report – sandwiched between the Mongolian Deathworm Liberation Front and Concerned Citizens for Celebrity Nose-Jobs.
When I first started UPROOT (the United Panda Repopulation Offensive Of Tomorrow) I had but one lofty goal in mind: to save these beautiful, gentle creatures from the brinks of extinction. These pandas need a person like me. They need a savior. They need a messiah. And I have made it my life’s work to become that messiah. Are you even aware that there are less than one thousand pandas left in the wild? And that number is dwindling every day!
With my help, my influence, my blood, sweat and tears, my undying conviction, hopefully that will all soon change. I can picture it so clearly in my mind’s eye – the not-too-distant future – there’s millions of pandas. Billions of them. A panda for every man, woman and child on Earth. We can even teach them to do things. Imagine a panda driving your taxi cab, serving you at a restaurant, or delivering your mail. The possibilities are endless. It could be a world where pandas and people live together in harmony. Forever. Oh, what a glorious sight that would be! Just like Heaven! And it all starts here. In this lab. Today.
Just as soon as soon as I figure out how to get Oreo and Bandit to have sex.
Today I read the pandas erotic literature.
I had spent several hours in the train station terminal, traveling from magazine stand to magazine stand in search of the hottest panda-centric text I could find. I eventually settled on a steamy little book about a zookeeper and a rhino poacher and their forbidden love.
I read it out loud to the bears, enunciating every salacious syllable. I even did voices for the characters. The imagery was palpable. I could almost taste Fabian’s sweat. I could almost feel Genevieve’s soft, supple breasts. When I finally finished the novel, I returned to the lab. Ellie and I watched…
Research Note #1,542: Pandas don’t like Harlequin romance.
Question: What is world without red hot panda love?
Answer: Not a world I want to live in.
Panda aphrodisia is a complex science, and an expensive one too. Our $300,000 in unpaid dildo bills can attest to that. Fake dicks fill the laboratory – a thousand different cocks in a thousand different colors, lining the shelves like a rubber rainbow. But we’re not in the business of true love.
We’re in the business of S-E-X.
I’m like the Panda Jesus, here to save these wretched creatures from their prudish, destructive ways. I even went so far as to show them how to do it myself once. Late one night, long after Ellie went home, I snuck into their cage, undid my belt and started jerking off in full view of both of them.
“You see?” I said, spastically tugging on my own shriveled manhood with impassioned resolve; every stroke, every squeeze, every tickle, yank and squish a desperate plea for their salvation. “Your sexuality is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s natural and beautiful and a part of life!”
I continued masturbating for another 30 or so minutes, but I never fully reached orgasm. I’m a scientist, for God’s sake, not a goddamn porn star.
“I think I’ve got it!”
I hold up a clear glass vial filled with a neon green liquid.
“What is it?” asks Ellie after clomping over.
“What is it?” I scoff at her. “It’s only the most potent synthetic pheromone that pandakind has ever known! Serum #306. I call it Lightning Panda Fucksauce.”
“Lightning Panda Fucksauce?” Ellie says in disbelief. She leans over me and peers through my microscope at a sample I’ve mounted. A wisp of her strawberry blonde hair tickles my nose.
“Hmmm. Interesting cellular disbursement,” she says without looking up. “Though the enzyme pairing along the fifth helix seems a bit shaky…”
“Nonsense.” I brush her off. “The enzymes are fine. This serum? This is the one.”
“That’s what you said about serums 1 – 305.”
“Yes, yes, but this one is different. I can feel it. You’ve got to have faith, Ellie. A new page in history is about to be turned, and guess what? I’m the one who’s writing the book!”
Ellie rolls her eyes.
“Come on,” I say. “Let’s test this stuff out.”
Ellie follows me into the cage, documenting my every movement on our does-not-clip-board. I fix Oreo a fresh bowl of water, dosing it with a few droplets of Serum #306. We rush back into the lab to watch from the monitor. I’m so excited I can barely breathe. I’ve waited many bloodshot, coffee-addled years for this moment. I am ready to ascend my throne. To accept my fate. To become the messiah I was born to be.
Oreo slowly walks over to it. Our eyes widen. He sniffs at the bowl with trepidation. Finally, his pink tongue unfurls and he starts lapping up mouthfuls of Fucksauce water. After getting his fill, he sits back on his hind legs. Ellie and I lean in closer to the monitor, both of us afraid to even blink. Oreo looks down at his fuzzy crotch. He flicks his limp wiener, yawns, and then decides to take a nap.
Serum #306 doesn’t work.
I am devastated.
“I thought I might find you here,” says Ellie.
I’m at the bar in the building next to UPROOT’s headquarters, six whiskeys deep in my sorrow. Failure! Failure! Failure! The words echo over and over in my head. I take another sip and the voices get just a tiny bit further away.
Ellie sits down in the stool next to me.
“Whatdaya havin’?” the crusty old bartender asks her.
“Just a water,” she goes.
“All I wanted to do was save the pandas.” I take another sip and sway in my seat. “Is that too much to ask?”
“I know you probably don’t want to hear this, Alan, but have you ever thought that maybe pandas aren’t worth saving?”
I don’t respond.
“I mean, you see how fucking stupid they are,” she continues. “Honestly, how difficult is it to have sex? It’s supposed to be built in. If a room full of rubber dicks can’t do the job, what hope do we have?”
I polish off whiskey number seven.
“I never asked to be the Panda Jesus, Ellie. Sometimes I even feel like the Panda Jesus doesn’t really exist. Like I’m a fraud, or something.”
“You know there are a bunch of other animals that need saving too,” she consoles. “Have you ever thought about saving some Bactrian camels? Or caribou? Oh! What about condors? Condors need a Jesus too.”
“What are we talking about?” I drunkenly and resolutely shake my head. “This isn’t a debate. Being the Panda Jesus is not something you can decide. It’s something you’re born with. You can’t just turn it off like a light switch or dump it down the drain like we did with all that fucking useless Fucksauce. We all have a destiny, Ellie. We can deny it. We can fight it. We can pretend like it doesn’t exist. But in the end, destiny has a way of sorting things out. I will save the pandas. I will save them all.”
“Okay.” She nods. “If that’s how you feel, we can keep on trying again tomorrow.”
She takes a small sip of her water and her face wrinkles up around the glass.
“What?” I ask.
“This water tastes funny,” she says.
“Well, it’s from the sink in the bar,” I go. “It’s not exactly Evian.”
“It’s making my tongue numb.”
“The water is making your tongue numb?”
“Yeah. I think so. Or maybe it’s a bug bite or something.” She starts fanning herself with her hand. “Is it hot in here?”
“Um… not really. Normal, I guess.”
She pulls off her glasses and unbuttons the top button of her blouse. Between her cleavage I see a gold chain and a tiny gold crucifix. I knew she was a believer.
“Are you sick or something?” I ask her.
“I don’t know.”
Her cheeks are turning flush and her pale skin seems to glow.
“You know, my apartment is only two blocks from here,” I say to her. “Maybe you’d want to go there and lay down while I call you a cab?”
“Yeah,” she goes, letting her pineapple hair fall out of its uptight bun. “If you don’t mind.”
Ellie enters my apartment and does that look-at-everything-on-the-walls-and-mantle thing. There’s photographs of me at various zoos across the country. One of me hiking the hills of the Shaanxi province in China. A couple of Oreo and Bandit when there were just cubs, looking so happy and innocent in their adolescent fur coats.
“You really love these creatures, don’t you?” she says. She doesn’t appear to be sick anymore.
“They are why I was put on the Earth,” I reply.
She picks up a handcrafted ceramic statue of Puff-Puff, the world’s most famous panda.
“That was given to me by Puff-Puff’s trainer, Professor Jim K. Dickenson,” I tell her. “To me, it was like meeting The Beatles and having John Lennon hand me his guitar. It was Professor Dickenson’s research that inspired me to get into pandas in the first place.”
She puts the statue down.
“You’re a very special man, Alan,” she says, placing her arms lightly around my collar. “Has anyone ever told you that before?”
“Um… I think my grandma used to say something like that,” I go, suddenly realizing how strange she was acting.
“Did your grandma know that I’ve always had a bit of a crush on you?”
“How would my grandma know that?”
“Watching you work these past few years…” she continues, leaning in closer. “Your passion. Your intensity. It’s enough to make any girl… horny.”
I gulp. She leans in and kisses me. Her lips are soft, almost like silk. They feel so nice against mine. I kiss her back. Our tongues entwine.
“Shall we go to the bedroom?” she coquettishly says.
“Okay,” I reply, hypnotized. She takes my hand in hers and leads me. “No wait,” I say, pulling away. I walk over to the closet and open the door. Inside are two plush panda costumes, like something you’d see at a second-rate amusement park. One is sized for a man and the other for a woman. “I bought these so long ago. I’ve never had an opportunity to use them.”
I give her an awkward smile. I’d probably be more embarrassed if I wasn’t still drunk. She just smiles back.
“Oh, Alan. I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
The Next Day
I awake to the sound of an ambulance wailing. Like acid, the screech of the siren soaks into the sponge of my brain, shattering my whiskey-induced sleep like it was a pane of thin glass.
Oh, my aching head! I am HUNG-F’ING-OVER!
I reach out next to me, but Ellie is gone. Just the plushy panda costume remains, crumpled up and discarded like a used condom. Last night was definitely… unexpected. I always figured Ellie was a lesbian. Or at the very least asexual. Like an amoeba. Aside from the occasional “weird dream,” I’ve never thought about her in any carnal way. But let me tell you, those “weird dreams” were Saturday morning cartoons compared to the depraved sexual gymnastics that girl performed on me last night. I can’t even recall the last time I had gotten laid, and truthfully, I’m a little relieved to know that that thing between my legs still works properly. Of course, they say you never forget how to use it. Like riding a bike.
A sexy, sexy bike.
The ambulance continues wailing. I drag myself out of bed and hobble over to the open window just in time to see it speeding down the street. Close behind, about a dozen naked men are sprinting after it. The paramedic behind the wheel takes a turn a little too tight and loses control of the vehicle. It flips over on its side and slides into a building. The naked men, all fully aroused, catch up to the wreckage and start humping it. And I mean they’re really humping it – they’re not kissing, seducing or flirting with the ambulance. They’re not asking it out to dinner. They’re not trying to wine and dine it.
They’re fucking the shit out of it.
The paramedic kicks open the door and makes a run for it. He only manages to get a few steps before the naked men seize him and subject him to the same fate as his vehicle. By the time they’re done, he’s totally naked too. Just one of the crowd, roving the streets for the next thing to hump.
Hmm. Must be the Pride parade or something, I think.
By the time I reach street level, the crowd has dispersed. I’m anxious to get back to the lab. I have to talk to Ellie about what happened last night. I must assure her: red hot panda love – that is still our number one priority. Fraternization, fornication, and that thing she did on my balls with her tongue will have to remain, respectively, priorities two, three and four.
Aside from the catastrophic ambulance accident and the Gay Pride Parade, the city is unusually quiet this morning. Actually, it’s a little more than quiet. I look up and down the avenue. Not a single car purring, nor a businessman hurriedly making his way to work. It’s empty. Completely, soberly, eerily empty. I stop walking. Stop breathing, even. I focus all my energy on my ears and listen.
And faintly, I can hear… something.
It’s muffled and rhythmic, like the fanfare of a distant carnival or the thump of a giant heart under the concrete chest of this sleeping city.
I follow the sound, determined to find its source. Determined to find out exactly what the hell is going on. Around blocks, down alleys, through crosswalks, intersections and overpasses. The pulsation gets louder. And louder. And louder still until it’s echoing down these streets so clearly there is no mistaking what it might be. It’s not fanfare, nor the thump of a monstrous heart. Rather, it’s the sound of moaning. Unrestrained, unrepressed, synchronized moaning.
“Uh! Uh! Uh! Uh!”
I turn the next corner and freeze. Ahead of me is a park filled to the gates with naked people, all tangled up in each other so that they form a huge, fleshly ball, eighty-feet tall. I duck behind an abandoned hot dog stand and watch in disbelief. Men, women, children, old folks, dogs even. It didn’t matter. They’re all twisted up in there. In the orgy ball. Having sex.
I can hardly watch. From the side streets more participants emerge. They run full-speed, fully nude and fully aroused, diving genitals first into the massive fuckpile. Almost immediately, they’re absorbed. Sucked beneath its quivering skin. One of thousands, crying out in ecstasy.
“Uh! Uh! Oh yeah! Uh!”
I try to back away, but something has a hold of my feet. I look down. My shoes appear to be stuck in some kind of semi-translucent, milky white substance. It smells sort of like chlorine. Sort of like… OH GOD NO!
I jerk around spastically trying to free myself, but only succeed in losing my balance. I tumble to the ground, taking the entire hotdog stand down with me, spilling all-beef franks all over the semen soaked pavement. The crash catches the attention of some of the orgy ball’s lower-level members. A couple of heads look up and spot me trapped in the ejaculate like a fly in spider web. Lust-filled eyes narrow as a couple dozen spindly arms come out of the ball.
“Want sex? Want sssseeeexxxxxxx?” it starts moaning. More heads and eyes see me. The orgy ball claws across the concrete, digging in so deep its fingers look like squashed cigarettes. It’s dragging itself towards me. Slowly, through the park gates and across the street, as I wiggle helplessly in the stinky spunk. I’m glued to the ground. If I could just get out of my clothing, I might have a chance. I remove my coat and shirt so that my torso is free. I unbutton my pants and start untying my shoes. The orgy ball gets nearer. Nearer.
“Want to love?” “We love you.” “Come to us.” “We loveeeeeeeee.”
It’s right next to me, eighty-feet tall, casting its horrid fuckshadow between me and the sun. This is it. I’m going to die. I’m going to be consumed. I’m going to become part of it…
But no, I’m not being absorbed. I’m not being absorbed because the ball has stopped and it seems to be momentarily engaged in something else. I look down. It’s the hot dogs! It’s distracted by the hot dogs! It must be mistaking the Oscar Meyer wieners for actual human wieners because it’s gobbling up the spilt frankfurters like a bridge-and-tunnel crack whore on payday. Slurp. Slurp. Slurp.
I don’t waste any time. I untie my other shoe and leap away. I run down the street in just my underwear and socks. The orgy balls growls as it watches me escape.
“Come back.” “We love you.” “Want to love?” “Come to pappppppaaaaaaaaaaa!”
I thankfully make it back to the lab without being spotted by any more of those… those… people? I don’t know what to call them anymore. Monsters? Maniacs? Cock-gobbling cum junkies? And what in God’s name were they doing to each other? That wasn’t just sex. Sex implies something sensual. Something natural and loving. What I witnessed in the park was no act of love. Nor was it consensual. The people in that sex ball were out for blood – ripping through flesh, tearing apart appendages, pulling out chunks of hair and scalp, penetrating or getting penetrated in any open wound they could find. They weren’t just having sex.
They were murderfucking each other.
My vision drifts to the nearby computer screen. I can see inside the panda’s pen. Oreo naps in the corner. Bandit is sniffing around her empty water dish. Stupid, benevolent, inspiring creatures – they have no idea of the chaos transpiring outside of these four walls. Eat, sleep and shit; their world is so simple. So pure. There’s no rampaging sex zombies threatening their lives. Actually, there’s no sex in their lives at all.
I hit the button that unlocks their cage and gingerly step inside.
“What’s wrong, Bandit?” I say to the bear. “You thirsty?”
I carry the water dish over to the sink and begin filling it. “I guess Ellie forgot to leave you guys enough water last night after we dumped out the serum…”
I pause. I look from the dish to the hissing faucet and back to the dish again. The bowl overflows, neon green tap water spilling over its edges and falling in huge droplets into the stainless steel basin.
Neon green tap water?
“Oh my God!” I say out loud, the full magnitude of the situation finally dawning on me. The water. The city. The sex. The serum.
Immediately there is a crash behind me. I whip around to see Ellie standing there, completely in the nude. A devious, hungry smirk is smashed across her lips. Man, she looks good, even without the panda costume on.
No! What am I saying? She’s infected. She’s one of them. She drank the water. She’s a sex zombie. A fucker.
“Stay right where you are, Ellie. I don’t want any trouble.”
My words tremble as they leave my mouth. They hang awkwardly in the air like a balloon low on helium. Ellie’s smirk just gets more devious. And hungrier.
“That’s too bad, because trouble is what you’re in for, mister,” she says as she steps towards me, the red vinyl stiletto heels she has on going clomp, clomp, clomp against the concrete floor.
“Please don’t,” is all I can whimper.
I close my eyes just as she’s about to pounce on me.
But then —
Oreo comes charging out of the open pen, knocking me to the ground. He leans back on his hind legs, raises his paw and takes one big swipe at Ellie, tearing off a nice chunk of shoulder and most of her face. She collapses. Oreo takes off, galloping towards the exit. Bandit follows closely behind.
“No!” I scream, clawing my way up the desk. I frantically type the emergency lockdown code into the computer. Alarms honk. Lights flash. The metal fire doors grumble to life. Oreo and Bandit run faster. Faster. Faster. Squeezing out the slowly closing door just seconds before it slams shut with a mechanical crunch.
It’s too late now. My pandas are gone.
“Alan?” a faint voice says.
I turn around. Ellie lays in a pool of blood, only summoning enough strength to whisper at me. I fall to my knees next to her.
“Oh, Ellie, I’m so sorry! I did this to you. It’s all my fault.”
“Don’t blame yourself, Alan. You did your best.”
“But I turned you into one of those… fuckers.”
She coughs up some blood. It dribbles down her skinless cheek, joining the puddle beneath.
“Wha – what?” she says.
“Last night? The water in the bar? The sex? You were right about Serum #306. It wasn’t ready. And after we dumped it out, it got into the water table. It turned everyone in the city into sex-crazy psychos. I should’ve listened to you.”
“What are you talking about?”
“What do you mean, ‘what am I talking about?’ Aren’t you one of them?”
Her left eyeball falls out of its socket and swings gently by a sinewy strand of pink veins. She coughs up more blood.
“Alan, please. I’m not a sex psycho, or whatever you said.”
“You’re not?” I say.
She attempts to shake her head no.
“You mean, you had sex with me because you wanted to?”
“Well… yeah,” she bashfully says, smiling as best as a faceless, mutilated person can. Her breathing get heavier. Gasping. Gurgling for air. A tear runs down the side of my cheek. She reaches up with her good hand and gently wipes it away. The only woman who ever willingly had sex with me, and I’m sitting here like a statue, watching her slip away.
“Please, Ellie. Hang in there. Don’t die. You hear me, Ellie? Please, please, please don’t leave me here.”
But my words don’t heal her. Words don’t do that. Her breath falls shallow now, slowing down. I cradle her in my lap as she sucks in her last labored gasp. And then she’s gone.
For the first time I can remember, I’m thinking about something other than pandas.
That’s what the media called it. Back when there was a media. Before Matt Lauer and Al Roker started buttfucking each other live on the Today Show. Before the Senate Majority Leader organized a filibuster-style circle jerk on the Bill of Rights. Before the economy collapsed. Before the power went out. Before the last human voice cried out for help. Before the world ended. Before all that – it was called the Sexpocalypse.
Now it’s not called anything. It’s just the way things are.
Three years I’ve been sealed up in this lab. Caged like an animal. Cloistered like a nun. I’ve managed to survive on the bottles of champagne and packages of edible underwear we had stockpiled for Oreo and Bandit. But now even those have run out. Pretty soon, I’m going to starve to death.
Written all over the walls are equations, complex algorithmic calculations worked and reworked and reworked again until all my pens ran out of ink. Now they’re scratched onto surfaces with the tips of rusty nails or painted on the floor in feces and blood. The table in front of me is littered with beakers and test tubes. Even though the electricity is gone, the Bunsen burners scattered about illuminate the room, passing through liquid-filled vials that seem to glow against the firelight. One in particular, a neon orange concoction, seems to glow brighter than the rest.
I carefully fill a syringe with it and slip the needle into the pocket of my soiled lab coat.
I realize that no one is going to rescue me. And I can accept that. I’ve never relied on anyone before. I guess I’ve always been a bit selfish in that way. I was destined to be a savior. Not a victim. But even the chosen have their moments of doubt. Perhaps it was my pride that got in the way. Perhaps that’s why I never became the messiah I was meant to be. I realize now that Jesus didn’t save so that a bunch of foolhardy Christians could get together every Sunday and kiss his ass. No! Jesus saved because the people needed saving. With the pandas, I wanted to be the one rewarded for carrying that load. I wanted the praise all to myself…
But now… I get it now…
I run my hands along the edge of the thick, fireproof door that has sealed the world up from me. It’s closed tight. I search the lab for something, anything I could use to help pry it open. All the tubs of K-Y Jelly certainly aren’t going to do the trick, nor are the dozens of VHS tapes filled with 1980s’ pornography.
That’s when I spot our old does-not-clip-board.
I wedge the board in between the door and the frame, pushing it deeper and deeper until it won’t get wedged any further. Then I pull back my leg, gaining as much leverage as I possibly can, and I kick it. And kick it again. And again. And again. The board snaps in half, now a fraction-of-a-board-that-does-not-clip. The board snaps in half and the door moves, just a little bit. Grabbing the tarnished silver handle in both of my hands, I pull. I pull with all my might, every muscle in my body screaming out in pain, from my fingers to my toes, from my brain to my heart, all working together. All pulling on the handle. Until my palms bleed. Until the handle finally snaps off. Bent screws and pieces of metal fall to the floor with a tink and the door slowly slides open on its rusty hinges.
The sunlight pours in like microwaved honey. So warm and sweet and so goddamn bright! Has the sun always been this bright? I can’t remember. I’ve spent too long underground. But now – now I can finally face it. I can let the sun wash over me again. My days of hibernation are gone. I am awake.
I can’t be certain of what I’ll encounter out there in the post-sexpocalyptic fuckscapes of my molested planet. Horny zombies and orgy balls, lakes of semen and vaginal secretions, caressed carcasses, deflowered flowers, defiled human entrails and limbs strewn about like garland at the devil’s Christmas party, and dildo factories upon dildo factories, as far as the eye can see. Is this the world that awaits me?
Perhaps there’s something else happening out there. Something hidden and beautiful, far away from this city’s sex-crazed hands. Perhaps Oreo and Bandit managed to escape. Perhaps they just kept running until they were safe. Perhaps they found somewhere quiet. Calm. Serene. Perhaps there is someplace pure left on our motherfucking Earth. Perhaps they’ve built themselves a den. They fell in love. Nature took its course. Little pandas were born. Perhaps humans and pandas can live together in harmony. Perhaps Heaven does exist, after all.
Or perhaps they’re already dead.
Either way, I must move on. I must accept my fate. I put my hand in my pocket and squeeze the syringe in my bloody palm.
This is it. Serum #307 – humanity’s last hope. The antidote. The cure.
I step out of my tomb.
I have risen.
DANGER_SLATER is more machine than man. He’s an explosion-bot! Handle your Danger_Slater with extreme care. One false move and KA-BOOM! – you’re nothing but a stain on the pavement and a few cancerous ashes. Danger lives in New Jersey. His book, Love Me, is available everywhere RIGHT NOW. His other work has appeared in Jersey Devil Press, The Drabblecast, and the Seahorse Rodeo Folk Revival. His dirty limericks have appeared in truck stop bathrooms and seldom-used freight elevators nationwide. Here is his website: dangerslater.blogspot.com.