Edwin loved a spring evening after rain. He loved the way the soaked earth glowed beneath a reddening sky, and how the buds and fallen flowers lay slashed and wounded upon the pavement. The whole world was warm, wet, and disheveled. Scenting a hundred other dogs, Skipper tugged on his leash, his brown fur bristling and snout held high to the wind. Fog gathered in the low places, pooling in the ditches alongside the road and hanging over the stream which gurgled through the valley behind Edwin’s apartment.

The first one he saw was a millennial dandy with his plump girlfriend in tow. He had long hair pulled back in a bun, a tasteful amount of beard, a canvas jacket, and slim gray slacks. The words “enterprising faggot” flashed through Edwin’s frontal lobe like a lightning bolt. Skipper wagged his tail as they passed. Edwin smelled the girl’s perfume and allowed his thoughts to wander. The world was full of bug-people who belonged in glass cases, little insectoids who crept over the face of the Earth hunting for morsels of sugar. Edwin loved them, actually. He imagined the millennial dandy arriving in his office every morning, making a cup of coffee, polishing his horn-rimmed glasses, bending his lithe frame before a computer screen, and drafting love letters to his plump girlfriend on company time. They were headed home now, Edwin imagined. Perhaps they would put on a Netflix show, eat chips and queso, and make grotesque coitus on the cloth-upholstered couch in his studio apartment. All in all, the millennial dandy was a success, at least more of a success than Edwin.

It was a long time before Edwin encountered any other young men with which to compare himself. He took Skipper down into the park, went around the gazebo, and climbed up out of the valley and onto the heights, where a cemetery clambered up a small hillock. Three teenage boys passed clad in dark colors, thin and gangling like withered corn stalks. They had lush hair that fell a bit over their faces and reddened cheeks, and seeing them before the neoclassical stonework of the cemetery reminded Edwin uncomfortably of ancient Greek pederasty. Skipper ignored them as they passed.

Toward the end of his evening walk, as he headed back to his apartment, he passed an obese young father pushing a stroller. He wore a Chicago Cubs ballcap, tennis shoes, and had a red T-shirt which stretched over his jiggling paternal gut. The baby was fat as well, slumbering contentedly in its stroller. Skipper took great interest in the baby, and Edwin found himself tugging back at the leash to keep him away. This Chicago slob had managed to procreate. The endless chain of being, stretching back to time immemorial, had not ended with him. He had met a woman, courted her successfully, and they had poured out their souls together. Miracle of miracles! New life, impossible, magical, pulsing with energy, had been brought forth from the cthonic mystery of her womb. This fat bastard, who looked as though he hadn’t even shaved today, had managed it all. The universe deemed him worthy.

As he approached his apartment, a mood of enchantment fell around Edwin and Skipper. Orange streetlamps blinked on, bathing the world in shadow and soft light. The hum of traffic faded to almost nothing, and the rhythmic croaking of the nighttime frogs rose to replace it. Skipper stiffened like a piece of iron; his fur stood on end. The leash snapped taut, jerking Edwin’s arm forward. Edwin recovered his balance while Skipper pointed manically at the edge of the woods. After a moment, a whitetail buck emerged from the undergrowth, chin high and triumphant, trotting across the road. His hooves clapped the pavement gaily. Then, as quickly as it had appeared, it vanished into the suburban night. Edwin watched the stag burst from the thicket and cross the road again in his memory. How his antlers gleamed in the fading light. How black and severe were his eyes. How his muscles rippled across his great frame.

After the hart disappeared into the wood, the Lady in White arrived.

Modern life is dreadfully explicable, so there is perhaps no way of framing chance encounters to capture their gravity and fragility all at once while still retaining the mystery they hold for those who experience them. Suffice it to say that the Lady in White appeared from somewhere, at this moment, in Edwin’s field of vision.

She, too, led a dog. Hers was a Great Dane, large and white, larger even than she. Her body was slight and her white blouse pockmarked with red flowers. Her hair fell in black waves over her shoulders and her full pink lips pouted in a magnificent bow, which Edwin found painfully arousing.

When Edwin went home, he thought about the Lady in White. He reheated some leftover chicken and potatoes, imagining her sitting across the kitchen table from him as he ate. He took in a couple of episodes of The Office while doing the laundry, imagining that she was with him watching and laughing and helping fold the underwear. Edwin made himself a cup of decaffeinated tea, thoughtlessly boiling enough water for two. Later that evening, as the clock passed eleven, he sipped it as he read a few pages of contraband PDFs relating to improvised weapons, then shuffled off to bed.

Edwin’s evenings went on like this for some time, minus the apparition of the stag and the Lady in White. Still, he followed the same nightly path, as if his repeated movements might conjure everything again. They did not.

In the meantime, Edwin pursued other romantic interests. One evening, his efforts culminated in a pleasureless orgasm with a medical student named Maria. Afterward, they shared a bottle of wine in Edwin’s bed and watched a movie on his iPad until two in the morning. When they had made love, Edwin thought of the Lady in White.

Summer arrived fat and hot, and Edwin found that his evening walks with Skipper now occurred in complete daylight. He had begun to despair of seeing the Lady in White ever again, and set his hopes on the summer concert in July. The park near his apartment had a natural amphitheater cut into a hillside. A few hundred people would likely attend. Edwin loved the park and loved acoustic guitar rock, and felt as though his life was finally beginning to have purpose. One moonless night, he snuck out of his apartment and stowed some equipment up above the ceiling paneling in the park’s restroom.

Two weeks before the concert, the Lady in White reappeared to him. Edwin was sipping tea in a coffee shop before work, staring out the window onto Main Street, when the Lady in White passed, turned, and entered. At once, Edwin became aware of the mournful ballad playing on the shop’s sound system, the flecks of dirt on the windowpane, the tiny wrinkles of his own hands, and the stretched black fabric over the barista’s ample bust. Time slowed.

Having been given a second opportunity, Edwin engaged the Lady in White in a moment of conversation. He asked her to sit with him as he finished his tea. He learned that the Lady in White was named Amelia, and that she worked as a librarian for the county. She painted (birds, mostly) in her spare time. Her Great Dane was called Leopold. Edwin chose not to reveal that he was a certified financial planner, instead telling the Lady in White that he was a historian working on a series of books about the anarchist movement in early twentieth century China. The Lady in White named Amelia stared at Edwin throughout the conversation, periodically adopting an expression of hungry infatuation. Edwin felt electricity and invited her to dinner later in the week.

That Friday night, Edwin and the Lady in White met at a restaurant called the Country Punch, which served a barbecue-inspired menu for over-monied yuppies, divorced losers attempting to recapture their glory years, and other fashionable human detritus. The dining room had exposed wood beams, one wall was brick, and the whole tableau made Edwin want to slit his wrists. He had worn an adventurously patterned wrinkle-free shirt tucked into slim fit slacks, and the Lady in White wore a red floral dress that sent Edwin’s libido into overdrive.

“The real condemnation of our whole society,” said the Lady in White, “is the proliferation of these twee bars and restaurants everywhere.”

“You’ve been reading my blog,” Edwin said, laughing.

“Oh my God, you’ve got a blog?”

“Every madman has a blog. Anyhow, you’re exactly right. Look at the way, for example, this restaurant attempts to evoke a farmhouse kitchen. The exposed brick and timber. The cast-iron serving plates. What is it about a farmhouse kitchen that appeals to all these people?” Edwin gestured around him to the other diners. “They live in glass and concrete boxes in an utterly sterile city, working in air-conditioned buildings staring at computer screens for twelve hours a day. There is nothing further from these people’s lives than a farmhouse kitchen. Take a look at that guy over there. The last time he had dirt under his fingernails, he was three years old and his mother scolded him for it.

“Their lives are devoid of meaning. That’s why they cling to the faux ‘authenticity’ of places like this. Brick, wood, iron. Oh God, a tactile experience for once. They live smooth, digitized lives and their human relationships, when they occur at all, are entirely subsumed within the cold domination and subordination of capitalism. If it wasn’t for money and contracts, these people might never make eye contact with another being. Look at them. They go to restaurants, they do drugs, they have sex, and this is supposed to make their lives interesting. But it isn’t, it isn’t interesting, it’s just a puerile life with all the grit and grime and friction smoothed off; it’s boring as hell. In every other century, the struggle for existence itself was so immense and so heartbreaking, it had to be sublimated into scientific investigation, conquest, or artwork of unbearable beauty. Now, people are too bored to investigate their universe and too divorced from authenticity to make good art even if they did. The greatest crime of the 21st century is universal boredom.”

“Since I was a little girl, I’ve been worn down into a smooth interchangeable unit,” said the Lady in White. She had begun to dig into a pile of delightfully crisp roast vegetables. “I know it’s trite to complain about how society makes you conform and all that, but it’s deeper. It’s having all your quests for authenticity and meaning captured and appropriated by consumer culture before you get a chance to leave the gate. Everything that isn’t geared toward hedonic consumption is simply destroyed. What’s left for a woman?”

“Similarly,” said Edwin, sawing through brisket, “Modern life leaves a man with no opportunity for heroism.”

That night, Edwin took the Lady in White back to his apartment, hitched up her dress, tore off her panties, and fucked her from behind like it was his last night on Earth. When they finished, they lay on his bed sweating, breaths heaving, staring into one another’s eyes. Then they stripped one another’s clothes slowly and sweetly, tenderly kissing and caressing the bare skin, enjoying the touch of the other’s lips, until they grew overcome with passion and made love once more.

In the morning, the Lady in White asked Edwin if he would like to go to the summer concert together.

“No, I don’t think we should go,” Edwin said, scratching the back of his neck nervously.

“Why? Don’t you like concerts? I think it would be fun!”

“I’ve, um,” Edwin paused for a while. “I’ve got to go visit my parents that weekend. Sorry.”

Edwin fried bacon and eggs for breakfast. The Lady in White shrugged and gave Edwin a blowjob.

Edwin felt it appropriate, if bittersweet, that his last days should be filled with happiness. Many men throughout history have died without ever having been blown; far more without ever having been blown by someone beautiful. He almost regretted that the summer concert had drawn so near.

For not everything he had told the Lady in White on their first date had been true. There was, in fact, a single opportunity for heroism left to the modern man, and a dreadful one. It remained to hoist up the black flag and overthrow the United States of America, and in so doing usher the end of the post-historical period, liberating the world from the grinding tyranny of boredom. No government on Earth had its citizens more thoroughly anesthetized against dissent or more pervasively surveilled than that of the United States. That it might be possible, however remotely, to wage a doomed, one-man guerilla campaign against the American imperial state, Edwin found intoxicating and romantic.

The day of the concert, he staked himself in some thick bushes overlooking the amphitheater. His AK-47 was assembled, polished, loaded, and ready to go. He camouflaged himself from head to toe and believed he would be both invisible and in possession of the perfect vantage point from which to conduct a mass-casualty event. At 7:30 in the evening, after the opening act had finished their set, he would remotely detonate the explosive device he had hidden within the park restroom. This would create a panic and a rush toward the exit, amassing a large crowd of people at a single chokepoint. With the crowd trapped against the amphitheater gates, Edwin would begin spraying bullets down from his invisible nest.

After emptying all his ammunition, he would retreat to a remote cabin established at an off-grid location in the Smoky Mountains. Skipper was already waiting for him. At midnight, an email would distribute a PDF of his manifesto, “Against Systemic Boredom,” to the editor of every major English-language periodical in North America, along with a threat to strike again if it were not published. So far, everything was proceeding according to plan.

At 7:15, he peered down the iron gunsight of his Kalashnikov and surveyed the crowd of concertgoers. There must have been 600 people, bloated on pale ale, milling like cattle, and blissfully unaware.

At 7:22, Edwin began to daydream about what his life might have been if he had made different choices. He should have stayed home instead of going to college. He should have gone to trade school, gone to church, and married a nice homely girl down the street. He could have sired half a dozen children with one of those nice girls whose only goal in life was to love and be loved, to spin and nurse and cook and sing to the green valleys in the morning light. He imagined toiling happily in a machine shop that he would someday own, coming home for dinner every night, helping his little girl learn her spelling words for the next day’s quiz, breaking in a new baseball glove, standing outside in the backyard tossing two-seamers with his eldest boy, holding hands with his beloved wife as they sat in rocking chairs on the back porch with their hair graying, counting a thousand wrinkles from a thousand memories. This is what his grandfather had done, and his great-grandfather, and every man, more or less, from the dawn of time until now, before this accursed era had scrambled the friendly metaphysical radio signals of culture and morality down to nothing but pure static.

Edwin felt the steady prayer of inhalation and exhalation, and the weight of the Kalashnikov. It was 7:29.

At 7:30, Edwin attempted to remotely detonate the bomb hidden in the park bathroom. Nothing happened. He stared at his cellphone. For a week, he had studied Internet PDFs circulated by Islamic militants that explained how to build cellphone-operated explosive devices. The young Muslim gentlemen were frequently charming, lucid, and eager instructors. Assembly had not been difficult. What had gone wrong?

Frantically, he pulled the Kalashnikov back to his cheek and began scanning his surroundings.

Reaching his three o’clock position, he found it at last: a lump in the foliage 75 yards away. In a cold sweat, Edwin eased down the muzzle of his rifle and pulled up a pair of binoculars, rolling the center flywheel for dear life. Someone else was bedded down in the shrubbery, camouflaged, hat pulled low, looking through the scope of a Remington M24 directly at his position. She whispered something in the shadows, and Edwin would have recognized those lips anywhere: the Lady in White.

How could he have known she was in counterterrorism? He pulled the binoculars away from his face, shivered, and felt his eyes well with tears. Her first bullet ripped through his left breast, splintering a rib and shredding the aorta and pulmonary valves completely, and that was all.