Deep in the Valley of Despair, in the midst of the flame pits and just down the road from Mr Dead's Dead Shoppe, was the chapter house of the Led by the Nose Manic-Depressives Club, Valley Original.
Big Sol Kaminski slouched on the podium, psyching himself into a deep blue funk before addressing the assembled hoards of blood-shot, party-killers, here for the monthly general meeting. He'd remembered to set out the seats this time, though there were a few who preferred to lean their foreheads against the side walls, muttering savagely to themselves, and rubbing their cheeks against the condensation which their breath formed on the slick black paintwork. Someone had brought a boombox and was playing early sixties songs of teenage suicide. but it wasn't cheering anyone up. Not that that was the idea.
"I hereby bring this, the one hundred thousand three hundred and ninety seventh meeting of the Led by the Nose MDC to order," Sol said.
Last Bobby ambled over to the podium clutching a sheaf of papers, and awkwardly leaned over to speak into the microphone. "The meeting started with a general proposal to... look, does it matter? I mean, we'll all be dead in a few centuries, right? I don't even feel all that well today. I've a terrible headache and I think it might be spreading to my lower intestines. My doctor says I'm-"
"The minutes, Bob. The minutes. Remember?" Sol sighed wearily.
"Wait a minute!" came a voice from the audience. "I think Bobby has a valid point."
Sol looked out at the crowd. Mox. Might have known.
"Do the minutes of the last meeting really matter?" Mox continued. "They won't make my life any better. I say, we put it to a vote."
Sol shrugged. Who cared anyway? "So the proposal is that we do away with the minutes? Entirely?"
"Well..." Mox ventured. "We could shorten them. Just list successful motions and suicides."
"Any second?" Sol asked.
"Not half! I'll second that," Last Bobby said. "It really gets me down, having to go over all that old business again. It wasn't much fun the first time around, and then I'm expected to drone on about it again at the next meeting? I get hate mail, you know, My dog has left home, and sometimes I wake up at night for no good reason and can't think why I don't go downstairs and stuff my head in the food processor. On Mince! I get stopped in the street by complete strangers who hurl insults at me and poke me with pointy sticks, just because of my reputation."
There was a silence for several, long, seconds, then a voice from the back of the hall said, "I used to have days like that... God, it was bliss. Now, things are really bad."
"Look, can we address any comments through the chair," Sol said, trying to regain control of the meeting.
"Might as well," the voice said; Sol still couldn't place it. "Sometimes I feel so miserable that talking to furniture is the only comfort I get. There's nothing like a sympathetic kitchen table to keep you from slitting your wrists, is there?"
"I used to talk to my shoes," Last Bobby said, sounding half-distracted, as though he was thinking of far-off coral islands and grass skirts. "It didn't help. We never got to the root of anything. I just couldn't open up to them. My own shoes, and I didn't feel I could trust them with any of the important stuff. Christ... I'm a failure." He began to sob, slumping against the lectern with a crash as the microphone dislodged and fell towards the floor.
Sol watched as the microphone was brought up sharply when the cord ran out, swinging back and forth on the flex. He remembered the last time he'd tried to hang himself. He smiled. It was only the few good times that kept him going.
"Right!" Sol said, "we'll put that to a vote then, shall we?" Nobody heard him. The microphone was still swinging like a phallic pendulum. It didn't matter. Nothing mattered.
Idly, Sol wondered why he bothered. It was the same every month. If he hadn't already been depressed nigh unto death, he might have let it get him down. As it was he felt only mild upset and a slight impatience with Last Bobby, who was now dampening his sleeve.
"This is awful! You can't go on like this!" Another, unfamiliar, voice, Sol mused. "We should call on someone to seek out the Happiness Tree and bring it back to solve our problems, liberate us from the darkness of being, set our souls free, afloat on the raucous helter-skelter of enjoyment."
"Do we have a second for that?" Sol asked. Nobody spoke. "Next item of business..."