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Headline: In Devoted Rage, Football player Shoots Sixty-Six, Self.

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The End Of Days

I was losing, as usual. Every Wednesday night I come to this game and every Thursday morning I wake up regretting it. Matkowsky's Cuban cigar was jerking through the air like an excited dog tied to a tree. He'd had that damned thing for ten years now, and he still hadn't taken it out of the wrapper. I could tell by the way it was hovering over his beer that Matkowsky was about to say something profound.

"The world will come to an end in two weeks," he said as he called Sukenik's last raise. Of the two chips he threw toward the pot, one rolled off the table and the other landed in Winkelman's beer.

"Why two weeks?" queried Fishbein as he cautiously folded with Aces over Jacks, drawing one of his smelly foreign cigarettes from the special pocket he'd had sewn into his ancient fedora.

"Because Noodleman has predicted that the world will come to an end in a month, and he's usually about half right," Matkowsky stated calmly, his head framed by smoke, stained wallpaper, and the fuzzy halo that appears around objects whenever I have too much cheap beer. Even his cigar took on a solemn air. "Noodleman is the closest thing that we have to an apocalyptic prophet, and I think we should begin to evince a little more faith in this otherwise godless age."

"In that case you should have raised me," Sukenik said, mopping his brow with a tattered old Holiday Inn face-cloth. Winkelman mumbled something unintelligible through a mouthful of toothpicks, and fished Matkowsky's chip out of his beer, plopping it wetly onto his own pile.

Matkowsky had a point. Ours was an age without faith. We didn't believe that a benevolent creator watched over us and rewarded us for our good deeds. We scarcely believed any longer in the ability of the telephone company to bill us correctly. Times were indeed desperate. I admired Matkowsky's simple trust in Noodleman. It was an affirmation of belief over logic, of feeling over thought, of intuition over reason. All in all, it seemed a faith bordering on stupidity.

Sukenik also had a point. Matkowsky should have raised him.

Yet I realized that Matkowsky's expression of trust was not entirely without foundation, for Noodleman was something of a prophet. He once accurately foretold of the fall of a souffle that Winkelman had prepared for our fundraiser supporting repeal of the Law of Diminishing Returns. He once predicted to the hour the rise in price of decaffinated coffee at the local supermarket. His most triumphant sooth, let it be said, was his forecast that Fishbein would burn a cigarette hole in Mrs. Matkowsky's newly upholstered sofa and the very words that Mrs. Matkowsky would exclaim in Lithuanian! Such talents are not easily accounted for without recourse to extralogical principles.

Unfortunately, Noodleman rarely seemed to foretell anything of genuine consequence. Perhaps his most substantive forecast to date was that the insurance company would fail to recompense Sukenik adequately for the theft of his raindrop collection. This, of course, was not to deny Noodleman's potential. There was no barrier that I knew of to the transference of Noodleman's powers to matters of greater import such as the prediction of the end of days.

Noodleman's own claims were never modest. He insisted that he was born on a cross and would die horribly in a manger at the age of thirty-three. This was something of a problem as Noodleman had recently celebrated his forty-ninth birthday. He also maintained that he had been given a guided tour of the nether regions by Virgil himself and noted that the inscription over hell's portals actually read "To Remain Unlocked During Business Hours." Noodleman asserted that God spoke to him directly, calling him regularly over the telephone. These communications had once been frequent until the Almighty had taken to reversing the charges. Unfortunately, Noodleman's meager budget could not withstand such numinous encounters, especially during peak hours. He purchased a phone answering machine in the hope that God would occasionally leave a thirty second message at his own expense. It was then that Noodleman's revelations had become fewer and farther between and of more restricted consequences. But I had not seen Noodleman in over two months. Perhaps there was something to this latest portent. Perhaps the Lord once again had taken to dialing him direct.

There were some who attempted to dismiss Noodleman as a mere eccentric, but I always maintained that they placed too much emphasis on the fact that he wore only one sock, chewed almost constantly on his single locomotive decorated tie, wore a cowboy hat with a plastic crown-of-thorns headband, and was almost always seen carrying the two-volume edition of The Morphology of the Seneca Language. All of these characteristics could be easily explained, however; they seemed entirely superfluous to the understanding of the real Noodleman and his extraordinary powers.

Certainly one could not argue with the extent of his influence on contemporary religious thought. His contention that Leonardo's Last Supper depicted the exact moment when it was learned that Simon Peter had forgotten the dessert was now widely accepted. I must confess that it scarcely compared with the pandemonium that erupted when it was discovered that Fishbein had forgotten the cheesecake for our own annual celebration commemorating the invention of the adjustable showerhead. His recent translation of the Dead Sea Scrolls into Pig Latin had received enthusiastic praise from scholars and theologians in Monte Carlo. It was Noodleman's research in ancient Hebrew that led to the retranslation of "Let there be light!" to "Lights, camera, action!" Except for an embarrassing moment on a local TV talk show when he identified a neighborhood Toyota salesman as a reincarnation of the prophet Habakkuk, his religious opinions and judgements were generally respected.

I suddenly knew that Noodleman was right. The end of days was fast approaching. I knew it in the way a philosopher knows something; with utter conviction, but without being able to make it clear to anyone. The realization was staggering. A chill ran down my spine through my legs, leaving an uncomfortable itch in my left foot. An end to life as we know it; although life as we don't know it might persist for months or even years. The cessation of thought, the termination of human creativity, the obliteration of art! On the other hand, no more struggling to find an empty parking place at the bowling alley. Nothing was all good or all bad.

Suddenly all the things that I had left undone flashed before my eyes. My 30,000 line epic on the life of Samuel Gompers was not even half completed. There would never be time to obtain the divorce Beatrice had promised me for my forty-sixth birthday. I would never begin to make adequate use of my new dental plan. I gave silent thanks that I had an appointment with Dr. Klein the following afternoon to replace a temporary filling.

Despair, however, quickly gave way to nobler feelings. I would live my last moments to the fullest. Carpe Diem! I would eat fish daily. Where I had been weak and cowardly, I would now be bold and audacious. I would act where I had merely observed. I would grasp where I had merely desired.

I shook myself from reverie to find Winkelman finishing the deal. I picked up my cards and stared at them. I could not believe my eyes. A Royal Flush in Hearts. It was unbeatable. I immediately knew that it was a sign from God that my faith in Noodleman was justified. The Lord was rewarding my faith and helping me to live my last weeks to the fullest. I recognized that the flush was in hearts as a symbol of God's love for me. Tears flooded my eyes in thanksgiving. I cautiously bet one dollar in order to draw my comrades into the game, hiding the devastating power of my hand.

Everyone promptly folded.

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