SUBTOPIAN MANIFESTO VII. by trevor d. richardson I do have a vision for Utopia. I’m not just blowing smoke here. This magazine isn’t just some vague, hipster, trendy attempt at playing word games with the fate of civilization just to gain a few readers. Okay, it is that, but it isn’t just that. The truth is, I see Utopia every time someone stands up and says no to the status quo. I see Utopia in every act of civil disobedience, in every street artist posting his vision and going rogue, in guerilla marketing, in small businesses, and in every sentiment that has the underlying current of “The system is wrong, so I will make my own system.” The reason I have little belief in a coming Utopia, at least any time soon, is because those willing and able to take the kind of initiative Utopia requires are few and far between. Most of us are content to live, work, sleep, eat fast food and watch television. Most of us are actually uncomfortable with the thought of having to create a resistance through self-reliance. And for this reason, when the pendulum does sway out of this inbetween time, I fear we’ll see it swing toward darkness instead of the hopeful alternative. For anyone that has been following this magazine for more than a few issues, you have likely seen a trend in the stories we cover for “Utopia.” We cover stories about people uniting against corporate or government corruption, grassroots movements, artists cooperating to discover broader resources, or people that have started some kind of organization to help create the change they want to see in the world. I see a potential future in which people look to institutions less and less for whatever it is they need to survive. They look to each other, their neighborhoods, families, communities and even themselves. I see governing forces taking an increasingly behind-the-scenes approach, regulating less, dictating never, and, perhaps someday, being gone altogether. I see people giving to one another, not because it is Christmas time or it’s tax deductible, but because they are in close proximity to someone in need. But above all, I see a future where Americans, and even the world at large, stop asking governing bodies for the change they need and, instead, simply create it. If you want to eat food that is free of pesticides then grow it in your own backyard. If you want to see cars with lower emissions or that run on alternative fuels then invest the money and build one, the technology is there, you’re just waiting for it to be built into the infrastructure, but consider that you are the infrastructure. If you are looking for better education for your children then find the time each day to teach them something they are not learning at school. The idea is simple: Reagan had it wrong. No, that’s not right, that’s not what I want to say. Reagan had it backwards. It isn’t trickle down economics. It’s from the bottom up. It’s the water cycle, the climate causes water to change form, to react to the atmosphere, vaporize and rise up, and then do you get rain. It is the same with us. The climate has shifted and it is time for us to change form, to phase from one kind of citizen into another, and to bring the rain that this nation needs. I’m talking about culture from the bottom up, economy from the bottom up, ethics, morality, literature, intellect, and spirit from the bottom pushing its way up through the mainstream consciousness and wiping it clean like a storm. How would I describe Utopia?
Easy, “If you want something done right, you gotta do it yourself.”
The Crackpot Files: Part Two
Existential Approached by a scientology guy in Boston, winter of ‘68. Walking down the street near the scientology center in Kenmore Square, with holes in my shoes, cold and hungry. Guy walks up and starts talking to me, giving me the pitch. He cares about me, wants to improve my life. Right then we’re passing a burger joint called the Fatted Calf. I said, “You want to help me? Buy me a burger in there and I’ll listen to what you have to say.” Oh no, he says, I can’t do that. I said all right, see ya later. In Boston I had read The Book (On the Taboo Against Knowing Who Are) by Alan Watts. The title alone was a revelation. It was anarchy. It was also a cursory introduction to Zen, and a different way of seeing things. It was the 60’s, after all. Zen, so I’d heard, was a form of Buddhism, so when I was approached by a team of tiny Japanese ladies in Times Square, inviting me to come hear about the “real, true Buddhism,” I bit and went along. What can I say, I was a rock & roll guitar player working at the Electric Circus, but there had to be more to life than having sex with Italian girls from Far Rockaway. Didn’t there? I had curiosity about deeper things. The 60’s, remember? The tiny Japanese ladies led me and a few others up to an apartment just off Broadway. The place was crowded and soon one of the ladies got up and talked about the Buddha and chanting. The trick, the secret, was to chant Nam Yo Ho Ren-ge Kyo. This would put you in touch with the current of the universe, which you could then manipulate to your wishes. You just had to chant. What I remember next was a guy, a regular American guy like Archie Bunker, getting up in front of the crowd and giving us a blazing testimonial about chanting for a refrigerator - and getting one. It was as if the universal current just pooped out a Frigidaire for this guy. That’s when I left. I was an only child, so fate had it that two of my best friends came from huge families. One with 1
nine kids, and another with eleven. Eleven kids! What an impossible mess their house was. Their mother was the most harried woman I’d ever seen, not a moment’s rest. Yet she seemed somehow peaceful in the chaos. One day my dog attacked the milkman. (There used to be guys who delivered fresh milk with the cream on top to your door in glass bottles, which they took back. Later in the 70’s or thereabouts some genius invented recycling). There was broken glass all over the kitchen floor. The dog was bleeding badly from the snout. The only person I knew to call was Mrs. Shortell, the harried mother of eleven kids. And she came right away and drove the dog and me to the vet. I have to mention that the Shortells were not, like many people in the area, Catholic. The Greshes were Catholic but only had nine kids. I think maybe they just ran out of juice after the ninth, the last of three girls. All six brothers had saints’ names as proper Catholic men should. And equally proper was that one of the brothers went into the priesthood. I was their more or less official orphan, and it was decided - without my participation - that I should become a Catholic. So we all piled into the family car, and drove from Unionville CT to visit brother Ted at Maryknoll seminary in Ossining, NY. Maryknoll, I soon learned, was where missionaries were trained, and sent all over the world to convert the savages and prevent them from using birth control, so they could make more Catholics. Just when I wondering why I was there, brother Ted appeared and invited me into the library. And gave me the pitch. You can’t get into heaven if you’re not Catholic, and so on. I wasn’t buying it, but tried to be polite. And then came the heavy artillery, books. Three or four of them appeared before me on the table. Ted asked, would I be willing to read them. Sure, I said, thinking that accepting the books would get me out of there faster. But then, he named a price, he was trying to sell me the books. This was worse than being refused a hamburger, they wanted my money. The truth was, I didn’t have a dollar to my name, and I told him so. So he offered to lend me the money, like he was a real swell guy to be so concerned for my soul. I turned down the loan and once again, money ruled the moment in a religious pitch. Existentialist is a word I first heard from a musician in Boston, 1967. He was playing some free-form stuff on piano and said it was existentialist music. He asked if I knew the term and I said no. He said existentialists were people who “just don’t give a shit.” A week later he crashed a small airplane and died. Years passed and I related this to a friend in Sausalito who said, “Did you give a shit?” 38 2
the power of the adam appear in books, movies, and philosophy.
Warning: The following may include a possible spoiler to Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
Key to the archetype is that for every fallen Adam, As an entertainment-mongering society, we both eat
there’s a fulfilled or redeemer Adam to come after. In
up and lament any lack of originality. Even as we
the Christian tradition, this role is played by Jesus,
complain about recycled plotlines and outright re-
whose title “Son of Man” roughly means “Man2.0.”1
boots, they continue to be made because we continue
The prevalence of the archetype is then easily at-
to consume them. Yet, there are instances when revert-
tributed to its promise of us surpassing our perceived
ing to archetype is not a bad thing. Rather than a stag-
failures, our hope that somehow a first of many better
nation of culture, the renewed application of an arche-
tomorrows may somehow come about.
type means doing what we do best: taking something old, making it new, and ensuring its place in human
Of course, my case can’t be based solely on the Bibli-
experience. In this vein, I pose that a character named
cal account, or else it wouldn’t be as engrained in hu-
“Adam” is of great etymological importance.
man experience as I claim. To measure its prevalence, we don’t need to rifle through medieval tomes or even
“In the beginning…” there was Adam, which literally
modern philosophy lectures. Rather, we need to go to
means “man” in Hebrew and refers to mankind in gen-
the low-brow medium and language of the masses:
eral as well as to the individual. The fall of Adam then
comics and video games.
wasn’t just his, it was ours. It’s this duality that makes “Adam” timeless and applicable. Though he may have
For exhibit A, I present Black Adam from the Captain
been the first man of creation, there will always be
Marvel universe. This Adam was a prince who was
other firsts to come after him, and so he continues to
offered great power by a wizard. Though this wizard 3
regulars intended better for him, Adam’s imperfect self was
haven’t introduced this story’s “Eve,” Morgan Reed.
corrupted by his new powers and he became a super
She is the scientist and former romantic interest of our
villain. Compare this to the Biblical Adam, for whom
hero, and it was she who discovered the world-altering
eternal life was intended, but instead the knowledge
quirk of his genes. However, with the new technologi-
of the forbidden fruit caused him to fall from grace.
cal possibilities it possessed, she willingly developed
Where Jesus redeems the original intent of perfect
a virus and vaccine so that the illuminati could coerce
eternal life, the gifts of the wizard are redeemed
the masses. Not that she was megalomaniac per se, but
through Black Adam’s successor, Captain Marvel, a
in her desire for knowledge (forbidden fruit) she didn’t
true hero of pure heart.
care whose purpose she was serving (the serpent). The clencher to this account of Adam? The fulfill-
Exhibit B involves the video game prequel Deus Ex:
ment of the wondrous promises of Jensen’s genetics
Human Revolution. In a future where humans will-
occurs in JC Denton in 2000’s Deus Ex, who is the
ingly replace limbs with high-tech prosthetics, the
perfect infusion of nanotechnology in the human body.
question of what it means to be human runs rampant.
JC also redeems the sins of Morgan Reed, thwarting
Does being human mean progress at any cost, or does
humanity’s reliance on the vaccine and its servitude to
it mean never choosing to cross certain boundaries?
the broken illuminati.
The protagonist whose journey you participate in is
Jensen, a first man though he is, is lost amidst a tide of
Adam Jensen, the head of security at a high-profile
forces he doesn’t understand, a contributor to both the
prosthetics company. When an attack on the lab leaves
fall and redemption. Like most of humanity, he hopes
him in critical condition, his body becomes outfitted in
in a better future, but if he’s like us, the fact that the
artificial limbs and cybernetics in order to save him.
hope exists is only because it lies in a protagonist not
The hitch is, these prosthetics are normally rejected by
of ourselves. We share in “Adam’s” misery in a fallen
the body, necessitating the use of a highly expensive
world, and with him we hope in a better Adam tomor-
and addicting drug. Adam Jensen, on the other hand, is
row. This is an archetype worth repeating. pp
the first man to not require this drug. Like the Bibli-
Rachael Johnson, a fresh voice in the Seattle writing scene, offers her regular column,“Stuck On Repeat,” which puts a unique spin on current news stories by taking a look back at other moments in history where the same thing went down. It’s true what they say, history repeats itself.
cal Adam whose fall was passed on through his genes, Jensen’s genes ushered in a new era of drug free prosthetics made possible in the game’s sequel, Deus Ex (2000). If that doesn’t seem like much of fall, it’s because I
1 “The rendering for the Hebrew “ben adam,” … expressing also the larger, unlimited implications of humanity as differentiated from limited (e.g., national) forms and aspects of human life.” http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/13913-son-of-man 4
S nowflakes fell. They drifted down to land on his lips, nose, and the l a s h e s o f
h i s ey e s . T h e i r touch was angel-soft on his upturned face, a kiss of flitting chill a n n u l l e d b y t h e h e a t o f his skin. Valentine looked down, glanced at the assessor without m a k i n g e y e c o n t a c t . T h e man was fat and well-dressed in a fine fur coat and bowler. Ban k n o t e s ri ffl e d i n h i s f i n gers as he counted th e m. The soldie r a t his side stood stiff but b o r e d , f ing e r s t a p p i n g t h e stock of his musket as he watched two young women skid and s l i p d o w n t h e p o w d e r e d c obblestone street.
T h e a s s e ssor looked up and smiled at Valentine. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Well. I can tell that your t e n e m e n t
a p p e a r s s a f e e n ough, just from standing here. No need to waste anymore of our t i m e i n t h i s w e a t h e r. A good day to you.â&#x20AC;? He tipped his hat and turned away, the soldier t r a i l i n g in his wake.
Va l e n t i n e nodded curtly and watched the pair tromp through the snow tow a r d s t h e i r
carri a g e . T h e f a t official and his thug would f ind some one e lse to bothe r now, w h o w o u ld b ri b e h i m i n t u r n and send him on to the ir own ne ighbor s. Thus did things ge t d o n e b en eat h t h e r u l e of A rkaydis, the T hird in his na me , Sove r e ign of Te r ovia .
R u b b i n g his hands together for warmth Valentine climbed back up the fron t s t e p o f
t h e t e n e m e n t . Through weathered doors he passed into a dank foyer, forsaking th e c o l d g r a y o f n o o n f or the cool dim interio r. A wooden stair hugged the wall on one si d e . O n i t s l o wer m o st st e p sat a child, dressed in r a gs a nd holding a puppy. The little c r e a tu r e w a s i l l , r i b s b l a t a n t beneath thin skin and patchy fur. Valentine did not think it woul d s u r v i v e the week. 5
H e m o v e d past the urchin and climbed the stair. Each step groaned as he t r o d i t ,
c o m p l a i n i n g l i ke only old wood can. The banister under his hand was smooth, po l i s h e d f r o m d e c a d e s o f constant pressure and the caress of greedy hands, the wood blac k f r o m g ri m e a n d g r i t . Valentine could not reme mbe r a nyone e ve r c le a ning it. He c e r ta in ly h adn ’t , a f t e r p urchasing the place.
T h e st a i r well held him close in his a sc e nt. At e a c h f loor the noise of e ve r y d a y liv-
i n g e c h o e d a l l about, m uted only faintly by c he a p wa lls. He he a r d a f a the r shout d r u n k e nl y a t h i s w i f e o n the second, a child wailing on the third, and the cacophony of a t o o - l a rg e f a m i l y i n t o o - s mall an apartment on the fourth. Decrepit and run-down, the plac e w a s a n api ar y, w i t h c h e ap w ood for its w ax a nd the a ngr y poor f or its be e s.
Va l e n t i n e stopped at the fifth floor. The steps climbed no higher, ending a t a s m a l l
l and i n g w i t h a s ingle door. N o noise e c hoe d into the sta ir we ll he r e : he ha d spe n t a g o o d d eal o f m o n e y t o m ake certain of that.
H e k n o c k ed on the door, a staccato rap with a special cadence. After a mo m e n t i t
o p ene d a h a i r.
“ W h o i s i t?” asked a gravelly v oic e within.
“ Va l e n t i ne,” he answ ered.
T h e d o o r widened just enough to reveal a face with skin like heat-cracked m u d a n d
eyes a st a r t l i n g green. T he man held a f lintloc k blunde r buss in one ha nd, its f a t b a r r e l ai m ed a t Va l e n tine’s belly.
“ Yo u a r e late,” he rasped.
“ I r a n i n t o the S overeign’s A ss e ssor. Ha d to ma ke pa yme nts. The se a r e my a p a r t-
m ent s I v a n . L e t me in.”
T h e o t h e r m an stepped back. Va le ntine pushe d the door wide a nd ste ppe d th r o u g h
i n t o t h e r o o m b eyond. O nce through, I va n shut the door a nd thr e w a ba r a c r oss i t.
T h e w h o l e fifth floor was one great space. Every interior wall had been re m o v e d t o
f o r m a w i d e a n d airy loft. Great bay windows looked out onto the rest of the cap i t a l c i t y o f Be r e n i n , a n d also provided illum in a tion. No f ur nishings de c or a te d the r oom as id e f r o m t h e su p p o r t p i l l ars and a few benches in the corners covered in arcane apparatus . Tw o m o r e m e n s t o o d in the center around a low, dark object. All of them wore heavy c l o t h e s , t h o u g h t h e m a n n er and cut differed for e a c h.
H i s h e a r t quickened at their sight: He inz l, c our t physic ia n, tr a ine d in the f o r e ig n
c i t y o f P r a l u s s . And Korkovod, the agitator and reactionary, their leader. With I v a n ’s 6
w o r k e r s a n d Va lentine’s properties they formed the Cabal, the four heads of the n a s c e n t Rev o l u t i o n a g a inst A rkaydis and his r e gime .
T h e w e a t her had taken a turn for the worse during his climb. Beyond the w i n d o w s
t h e w o r l d n o w glow ed w hite. R eflecte d da ylight f ille d the r oom, outlining the th r e e .
“ Va l e n t i n e!” exclaimed Korkovod. Their leader strode over, the light from o u t s i d e
c a s t i n g a l o n g shadow before him. He was tall, handsome, energetic. “You are he r e a t l a s t . E x c el l e n t . ” H i s breath puffed white as he spoke. No fire burned in the hearth he r e : t h e ro o m w a s c o l d .
“ I a m h e r e,” replied Valentine. “But why? Has something happened? You k n o w t h a t
i t i s d a n g e r o u s for all four of us to me e t.”
T h e o t h e r m an smirked. “T his is a spe c ia l oc c a sion.”
Va l e n t i n e raised an eyebrow.
K o r k o v o d smiled at him. But h is grey eyes were... odd. Fixed on somethin g e l s e ,
s o m e w h e r e e l s e. He looked more haggard now than he had been the last time the y h a d s po k e n , so m e m onths ago. L ess com p ose d.
“ C o m e , ” he said. “Let me show you.” He took Valentine by the shoulder a n d g u i d e d
h i m i n t o t h e r o om. Heinzl the physician frowned and swallowed constantly, his w e a k c h i n d i s ap p e a r i n g i n to his jow ls as he did so. He c le a ne d his gla sse s r e pe a te dly, a nd o n ly mu tt ered a g r e e t i n g to Valentine at their a ppr oa c h.
T h e y w e r e standing vigil around a low black box: a heavy coffin with a da r k s h e e t
acro ss i t s t o p . The rest of the room wa s ste r ile , sme lling of little but old pa int a n d H e in zl ’s p i p e . H e r e though, Valentine dete c te d a f a int c he mic a l r e e k.
“ G e n t l e m an,” said Korkovod with an expansive gesture. “The fruit of our l a b o r s i s
at h a n d . To d a y, the tyranny of A rkaydis c ome s to a n e nd.”
Va l e n t i n e sighed in relief. It was time. Finally.
“ O u r p e o ple are in place,” he continued. “Ivan, your factory-workers and l a b o r e r s
are h i d d e n , l e d by sym pathetic soldie r s in the a r my. All thr oughout the c ity, in Va le nt i n e ’s w a r e h o u s es and buildings, they wait. They wait for our leadership, for the c a l l t o ri s e u p . ”
Va l e n t i n e felt a rush of pride, o f e a ge r ne ss. I t wa s he r e . The time wa s f inally a t
h and , a n d a l l t h e plotting and planning of the la st ye a r wa s a bout to blossom into s o met h i n g w o n d e r f u l. S omething great.
R e v o l u t i on. 7
“ L e t u s w ait not another minute ,” sa id Va le ntine . “ Se nd the wor d.”
K o r k o v o d held up a finger.
“ S o o n . To day even, yes. B ut w h ile our me n a r e in pla c e , the y a r e not quite r e a d y. ”
Va l e n t i n e frow ned. “What?”
“ T h e y a r e not ready,” repeated Korkovod. “But, with my labors, and those o f t h e
d o ct o r, t h e y w i ll be.” H e clasped his ha nds be f or e him. “ Te ll me . We a r e a pe ople , a n g r y a n d s t r o n g . We are a movement dedicated to bringing down the corrupt regime th a t r u l e s u s . We h a v e a plan. B ut is that enough? ” He shook his he a d. “ No. Our move me n t h a s n o thi n g g r e a t e r b i n ding it beyond the needs of today and the hopes of tomorrow. To o v e r c o m e t h e S o v e r e i g n w e need to be m ore.”
I v a n w r i nkled his brow. Valentine frowned in sympathetic confusion. “Our p l i g h t i s
eno u g h , ” h e sa i d. “It has brought us to this point ha sn’t it? ”
“ E n o u g h ? ” asked K orkovod. “I s it? The Duc he ss Ka te r ina ’s c oup tr ie d to b r in g
A r k ay d i s d o w n two years ago. And it failed. I know why, and we will not repeat t h e s a m e m i s t a k e . I h a v e the answer that she lacked. I have created something that will le t u s b e . . . g reat e r. ”
“ M a k e se nse,” said Valentine ir r ita bly. “ Don’t give us mor e que stions.”
T h e r e v o lutionary knelt and pla c e d a ha nd on the side of the c off in. “ He r e. A s y m-
b o l . A r e m i n d e r of everything we are and everything that we can be.” He grabbe d t h e b l ack sh e e t , st o od and yanked it back. “ The symbol of our r e volution.”
T h e c o ff i n had no lid. A figure la y inside , unc onsc ious or de a d. I t wa s a c h ild , n a-
k ed a n d u n n a t u rally pale. H airless, with no e ye br ows, e ye la she s, or pe lt of a ny k in d . D e lic a t e l y f e a t u r e d , Valentine could not tell if it was a boy or a girl or even guess at a n a g e o t h er t h a n “ y o u ng.”
I n v a s i v e surgery had obviously been performed. Its sex had been cut or sm o o t h e d
aw ay. T h e m u sc les in the chest and shoulde r s we r e bulky a nd str a nge . I t ha d no a r ms . Th o se l i m b s h a d been amputated and r e move d. I nste a d the la rge wings of some ra p to r, e a c h t w o f e e t l ong, were sutured into place. Their feathers were lustrous brown. T h e s c a r t i s s u e a t t h e sh oulders w as thick and ugly.
S i l e n c e r eigned.
A c h e m i c al fog pooled in the padded depths of the casket. Disturbed by th e r e m o v a l
o f t he s h e e t , i t rose over the edge of the container and began to disperse. Valent i n e c o u l d t as t e i t , b i t t e r a nd actinic. 8
“ I s i t a b oy or a girl?” asked Valentine, when he could speak again. He co u l d n o t
l o o k a w a y. T h e taste of the fog was harsh, and he rubbed his tongue against the r o o f o f h i s m o u t h t o t r y and undo it.
“ I a l t e r e d the features as reque ste d,” sa id He inz l, voic e c a lm a nd quie t, pr id e e v i-
d ent b e h i n d t h e nervous rapidity w ith whic h he spoke . “ But or igina lly- ”
“ I t d o e s not matter,” interrupted Korkovod. “It is both male and female. It i s e v e r y
m an a n d w o m a n w ho has ever been wr onge d by the Sove r e ign.”
“ W h y d o e s it have... w ings?” puz z le d I va n a f te r a mome nt. “ Do the y wor k ? ”
“ W h y d o es it have wings?” interrupted Korkovod. “So that it can fly, of co u r s e . S o
t h at i t c a n t e a c h us to fly.” H e shook his he a d. “ The r e is no mor e r e a son tha n th a t. ”
Va l e n t i n e noticed something else wrong with it now. Its throat was swolle n , r i b b e d
and h e a v i l y m u scled. “What about tha t? ” he sa id, pointing. “ W ha t is wr ong with its n eck ? ”
“ Vo c a l a ugmentation,” said H einz l, he sita nt to ta lk ye t e a ge r to e xpla in. “ T h e h u-
m a n c h o r d s h a v e been replaced with that of a Pralussian Banshee. It has no rang e , b u t t h e i m p a c t o f t h e v oice should be-”
“ I t s c r y i s the cry of the people,” said Korkovod. “Every sound it makes, t h e o n l y
s ou n d i t m a k e s, w ill be the rage and a nguish tha t we ha ve suff e r e d unde r Ar ka yd is . ”
Va l e n t i n e turned away, from th e thing and from his co-conspirators. It was n ’t j u s t
t h e a i r i n t h e c offin: the Symbol stank of hard and acidic chemicals. He could n o t b r e a t h and f a c e i t .
“ D o e s i t live?” he heard Ivan a sk.
“ Ye s, ” sa id H einzl. “Sedated, b ut a live .”
Va l e n t i n e turned back, stared at it, disgusted anew. He’d thought the thing o n l y a
g ro t e sq u e m a n n equin, to this point.
“ K o r k o v od,” said Heinzl. “I do not know how the sedatives will react with i t s n e w
chem i st r y. I t c ould be dangerous to lea ve it- ”
Va l e n t i n e sneered, threw an arm at the casket. “This is what we’ve been w a i t i n g
fo r? S o m e f r e a kish experiment? We’ve wor ke d ha r d to ge t things to this point, o u r p e o p le i n p l a c e . I ’ v e p aid bribe after bribe t o see that madman taken down! Heinzl shou l d h a v e b een a m o n g st t h e w orkers. H e could ha ve be e n he a ling the injur e d, pr e pa r ing th e m f o r th e u p ri si n g ! H o w much time and money ha s be e n wa ste d on this... this thing? ”
“ I t w a s i mportant,” said K orkovod. “ You will se e .” 9
“ I m p o r t a nt how ?” shouted Vale ntine . “ This a dds nothing- ”
“ I t ’s a w a ke,” said Ivan.
“ T h i n k f or a m om ent,” said K o r kovod. “ Tr ue unity be yond Ar ka ydis- ”
“ I t ’s a w a ke,” hissed Ivan.
E v e r y o n e fell silent and looked at the casket. The Symbol peered up at the m . I t s
eyes w e r e a b r i g ht and brilliant blue.
Va l e n t i n e watched it spasm and swallow. The powerful neck muscles stretc h e d a n d
f l o w e d a s i t d i d so, and the action reminded him of a circus strongman flexing h i s b i c e p s . T h e t h i n g t h e n rested the tips of its wings on the edge of the casket and tried to p u l l i t s e l f u p r i g h t . B u t t h ey were not strong or substantial enough. The makeshift limbs we r e n o t a r m s , a n d d i d n ot move like a healthy pair would. The Symbol fell back onto the p a d d i n g aft er t r y i n g t o j erk upw ards.
H e i n z l f u mbled in his pocket and produced a syringe, its glass tube filled w i t h a
w h i t e l i q u i d . Morphine, most likely. Korkovod waved him back. The doctor subs i d e d , b u t h i s l o o k o f d i st r ess did not encourage Va le ntine .
T h e S y m bol tried to sit up again, the musc le s of its smooth be lly f le xing u n d e r its
p al e sk i n . T h i s tim e it w orked.
S l o w l y, c lum sily, w ith the false sta r ts a nd f a ilur e s ine vita ble to a body bo th
d ru g g e d a n d i n vasively w recked, it stood.
L e g s s h o ok. Knees quavered. The wings flexed upwards, backwards, came t o r e s t
h e l d b a c k f r o m the body in an avian parody of military discipline. It looked incr e d i b l y aw k w a r d a n d u n comfortable, but the shoulde r s of the thing r ounde d, swe r ve d f ar th e r a r o u n d t h a n w o uld that of a man, and it did not seem to mind.
T h e c r e a t ure was short. Still just a child. Its angles seemed to make the th i n g
h u n c h e d , t h o u g h it stood straight and ta ll. The sta nc e ma de Va le ntine unc omf or t a b le : th e j u x t a p o si t i o n w as jarring.
T h e S y m bol flexed its shoulders, spr e a d its wings. I t unf ur le d the m a nd f u r le d th e m
a g a i n . T h e s t r e tches hinted at something, a physical desire to move barely repre s s e d b y chem i c a l st u p o r. T he S ymbol smiled.
“ A h , ” i t said quietly.
T h e w i n d ow s rum bled in their windowpa ne s. Ale mbic s a nd be a ke r s vibr a te d o n th e
b ench e s i n t h e corners. T he syringe in the doc tor ’s ha nd sha tte r e d.
T h e C a b a l fell back to a man. Valentine felt like something had kicked him i n t h e 10
g u t s . H i s b o w e ls tightened and his vision wavered. Barely a sound, yet it had th e s t r e n g t h o f a c a n n o n . T h e moment passed and he r e c ove r e d. The othe r s se e me d to a s we ll .
T h e c r e a t ure, the Symbol, just stood there. It looked from face to face, stu d i e d t h e
p i l l a r s n e x t t o t hem, the walls and floors and ceiling. Occasionally it quavered, w h e t h e r fro m i t s a l t e r a t ions or from the chill, Va le ntine did not know.
H e sw a l l o w ed. “It tried to speak,” he sa id. “ I s it inte llige nt? ”
“ N o , ” s a i d Heinzl quietly. “It is simple now. A lobotomy, and suturing of t h e
am yg d a l e . To g ive a desire for... fligh t.” The doc tor gla nc e d a t Kor kovod. He wa s s w e a ting in the chill.
T h e i r l e a der smiled, turned to them. “See? You felt its power. Isn’t it won d e r f u l ? I t
i s eve r y t h i n g w e can hope and dream to be . My f r ie nds, this isn’t just our c ha nce f o r f r e ed o m , i t ’s t h e d awn of a new era, a ch ance to move beyond the dross of what we a r e n o w. ” He t o o k a st e p closer. “O ur movem ent will go be yond the Sove r e ign, a nd othe r t h in g s to o . T h e p o w e r- h u n ger of the nobility. The petty irresponsibility of the landowners a n d t h e b ank e r s. ”
Va l e n t i n e stared at K orkovod. “ W ha t a r e you ba bbling a bout? The only e n e my is
A r k ay d i s . T h e nobility and the landowners are funding our movement. I am fund i n g t h i s m o v e m e n t . A r k aydis’ taxes are crushing, a nd not just to the c ommone r s.”
“ M o v e b eyond that,” said their le a de r. “ Think! I t c a n te a c h us so muc h.”
“ We n e e d to be quiet,” said H einz l.
“ T h i s w a s n’t the plan,” said Va le ntine .
“ Wa i t , ” sa id Ivan. “What he’s sa ying ma ke s se nse .”
“ H o w t o b e sim ple?” sneered Va le ntine , ignor ing the othe r s. “ We ’ ve a lr e a d y g o t th a t
i n s pa d e s. Te l l me K orkovod, w ho w as it be f or e ha nd? W he r e did it c ome f r om? ”
T h e r e v o lutionary looked at him, ta ke n a ba c k. “ W ha t? ” He shr ugge d a f te r a mo-
m ent . “ I t o l d y o u. T hat doesn’t-”
“ P l e a se q u iet,” insisted the doctor.
“ W h o w a s it?” continued Valentine . “ Some poor house wa if ? An or pha n no o n e
wou l d m i ss? ” H e turned to Ivan. “G ive me tha t c a r r ia ge - gun, I va n. I a m e nding th is a b o mi n at i o n r i g h t n ow.”
“ N o ! ” sh o uted K orkovod.
“ A h , ” sa i d the S ymbol, excited a t a ll the noise . The windows vibr a te d lou d ly. Va l-
ent i n e st a g g e r e d , as did all the rest. He f ought down the pa in a nd lunge d f or the b lu n d e r11
b u s s , g r i p p i n g it by the barrel. The Symbol looked back and forth, watching wit h d i s t r e s s as v o i c e s r o se .
I v a n w a v ered, confused, still affected by the Symbol’s voice. He coughed a p r o t e s t
and p u l l e d b a c k the w eapon. Valentin e f e lt some one gr a b a t the ba c k of his c oa t.
“ A h ! ” sh o uted the Symbol.
T h e w i n d ows exploded, shattering and crashing to the floor. Cheap plaster o n t h e
wal l s c r a c k e d a n d fell from the ceiling. Some thing c r unc he d in Va le ntine ’s he a d b a c k b eh i n d h i s e y e s , a nd he could no longer hear. A great force hit him, moved through h i m . H i s m u s c l e s t o r e a nd his bones shattered. He c olla pse d, stunne d a nd in a gony.
Va l e n t i n e saw the others fall w ith him. He inz l vomite d blood. I va n sc r e a me d b e-
n e a t h h i m , t h e vibrations of his plight only felt, not heard. Korkovod dropped an d d i d n o t move.
T h e S y m bol stretched w ide its wings. I t did not look a t the m, e ithe r unc on c e r n e d o r
u n com p r e h e n d i n g of the carnage around it. The wind ble w into the lof t now, br in g in g w ith i t t h e c h i l l o f t he winter outside. It touched the Symbol, played with the feather s o n i t s wi ng s.
T h e c r e a t ure turned, smiled at the wind. “Ah,” it said. Valentine felt the d u l l t h u m p
o f i t s v o i c e w r eak further damage all a bout him.
H e w a t c h e d, breath grow ing co ppe r y a nd thic k, a s it took one f a lte r ing step to w a r d s
t h e o p e n a i r, a nd then another. Jerkily, ha ltingly, it r a n ove r the br oke n gla ss a n d th e n l eap t i n t o t h e sk y. It flew, free for a mome nt of the c onf ine s of the e a r th.
T h e n g r a v ity took hold and the wings f a ile d mise r a bly, sna pping upwa r ds. I t f la ile d
t h em a n d sc r e a med. T hen it plum m ete d out of sight.
T h e sy m b ol of their revolution. --J o n a t h o n B urgess haunts the Pac ific Northwe st. You c an find him c ountin g d u st m o t e s and chronicling the spac e s be twe e n raindrops ( the re are n’t ma n y ) . Wi n n e r of the 2010 G allivan Writing Award, and author of the Dawnhawk Tri logy, learn m ore abou t his work at www.jonathonburge ss.c om.”
KEEP IT IN CHURCH, PAL A Morally Outraged Analysis of Utopia Versus Dystopia by Arthur Brand So recently our man Dave Renton had a little piece about religion being the source of the coming Apocalypse. Or something like that, I don’t know, I didn’t really read it. I mean, frankly, Rent’s kind of a prick and I try not to encourage him. Okay, so I might have read a little of it. Don’t tell Rent. The point is, he was trying to express the concept that religion, being legalistic by nature and offering little to no wiggle room, is a source of negativity in the world. It inspires judgment despite the fact that its deities say not to. It pits one group of people against another. More importantly, it is used to create political pressure in order to ensure a particular outcome. If you have any doubt that religion plays a role in politics just look at the history of our presidents. First up, they’ve all been Christian. More importantly, until Kennedy they were all Protestant Christians. JFK was the first Catholic president, which isn’t really saying much in the way of political diversity, I mean, Jesus is Jesus, no matter what kind of costumes his followers wear. Another, more recent, example is President Obama. He actually had to ensure the nation he wasn’t Muslim, not just because America hates Muslims, but because he needed us to know he was, in fact, a Christian. He went to great lengths to prove this fact in the early days of the primary season back in ’08. It was, at one point in time, as big a talking point as that whole birth certificate fiasco. When Clinton was going through that whole intern thing you probably almost forgot about he made sure that America saw him going to church every Sunday. During the impeachment trials entire hoards of reporters would wait for him to emerge from his hometown church back in Arkansas and I guarantee that was all just political posturing. Let me cut to the chase. Separation of church and state might mean that the government can’t tell you how to worship, but it unfortunately does not mean the church can’t tell the government how to act. To reiterate Dave’s question: ever wonder what the world would look like if everybody was an atheist? That isn’t an attack on God. It’s meant to say that religious people totally suck. They’re major party poopers, they’re self-important and too blinded by faith and doctrine to see it, and they are incapable (largely due to the aforementioned faith and doctrine) of seeing anything beyond their own perspective. I ran across this story recently and it seemed too good to pass up. It’s Utopia vs. Dystopia at its finest. Subtopian’s stance on Utopia is something to the effect of “People creating their own world,” and our current take on Dystopia, given the confines of what I just laid out, “The church makes the world in its own image.” And what did I find? A story in which a church has created a nonprofit based on one cause: clean up Portland by removing street art. Sticker art AKA slap tagging in particular. Art vs. Church. Amazing. 13
Please tell me how stickers ruined your day? Portland, Oregon Portland, Oregon 2012 really portland? please tell me how stickers ruined your day? To gather up a group of christians from bridgetown inc who didnt even live in this city to come into the art districts of the city and try to sterilize portlands amazing sticker/street art scene by buffing everything from signs to boxes by painting or scrapping it all off.... if you dont agree with these people that dont even live in this city coming in and trying to force their way of thinking on the portlands art scene give them a call 21065 SW Stafford Rd. Tualatin, OR 97062 503.664.0653 or visit there site and tell them how you feel bridgetowninc.org/about-us/contact-us/ you can also tell the portland graffiti abatement people that they shouldnt use religion to try to influence city codes no one cares about 503-823-9666 ask for dennis or marcia or shoot them an email email@example.com Artists SKAM Just one Starheadboy Sleep Jazz mans needle Narboo 13FNGRS Skrumpy Dr. Rasterbator
Check it out: (From street artist SKAM’s Flickr page http://www.flickr.com/photos/skamsticker/7875137192/in/photostream) I follow SKAM on a couple of social networking sites because I think his stuff is really good. So when I saw him post this I just had to step up and say a few words about it. I feel like the few sentences from SKAM kind of sum it up better than I can, but let me just say this: The Christian community, largely by choice, is so far removed from the spirit, interests, style, lifestyle, and beliefs of the people around them that they actually think this is a public service. This idea would be like some guy from Brazil flying into Hollywood, seeing all those handprints in the cement at the Chinese Theater, and deciding to repave the whole lot because it looked like a dirty sidewalk. I went to the Bridgetown Inc. website and they seem to think they’re from Portland even though their address clearly says Tualatin. So, that’s point one against them. Second, let’s take a good hard look at this religious angle. The site, under a page labeled “Environments” indicates a project called CityServePDX (http://bridgetowninc.org/environments/cityservepdx/) and it features a Bible quote centered at the top of the page:
Jeremiah 29:7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers you too will prosper. Now, here’s my thing, I really hate the way Christian people use the Bible, a religious document from thousands of years ago, to relate to a modern world that doesn’t even believe the way they believe. That is so warped I don’t even know how to begin. First, quoting scripture at nonbelievers makes about as much sense as using HTML code to start a campfire. We don’t care and we won’t respond the way you want us to because it does not compute to us, we’re made from different materials, we’re from different worlds (pick a cliché). You get the point. Next, the notion of trying to arbitrarily apply the words of God directed at one man to an entire world or city is logistically flawed if not outright stupid. Let’s say I did believe this was the Holy Word of God. I still wouldn’t use something God said to Jeremiah or Paul or Abraham to apply to anyone other than Jeremiah or Paul or Abraham. The main reason I say this is, if you read these stories (which I have) you will see that God often gives unique instructions to each of his prophets and they are sometimes even contradictory to one another. One man is meant to go off into the wild and be alone like John the Baptist, another is meant to go into a city and preach like old Jeremiah here, and still others are meant to go into a city and do nothing but sit as we see in the Book of Ezekiel where he literally sits with his back to a scale 15
model of Jerusalem for like a year or something. The point is, what’s good for Jeremiah may not be good for Portland (surprise, surprise, since it’s like the 21st Century). Finally, using the Bible to say you’re meant to go somewhere and clean things up to fit some mainstream, neo-fascist suburban concept of what a city should look like is totally messed up. What gives you the right? I mean, this to me is a screaming example of Christians taking the scriptures out of context to suit their own desires or ambitions. It happens all the time, wherever a Southern preacher wants to burn the Koran or a homophobic right winger wants to spit on a gay or some nut job acolyte protests a funeral there’s somebody present, waiting to quote scripture out of context so they can make-believe God is on their side. Rant almost over. My final message here is this: Portlanders like their street art and their telephone poles fat with flyers and their skateboarders and their funny parades and pub crawls. Leave it alone. God doesn’t care. If he’s real he should like it and if he’s not (infinitely more likely) you’re just being a tool for no reason and making the world a worse place. Mind your own business and, in the words of Christ, “Let the dead bury their own dead.” In the words of Johnny Cash, “I wear the black for…the thousands who have died believing that the Lord was on their side and I wear it for another hundred thousand who have died believing that we all were on their side.” Peace. pp ---
Arthur Brand says you’ve read his bio before and it hasn’t changed. He suggests you look up more info on one of our new writers. This Taylor Dwight guys seems pretty good. And Jonathon Burroughs had that cool Revolution story this month. You should read more in general. Have you ever read Phillip K. Dick? Or Douglas Adams? Milan Kundera?
Expectations I was born believing that I’d be something great. I would catapult oceans to destroy heaven’s gate. I would unite Babel and challenge the fates. I would circumvent mortality by transcending this state. But sadly, I know that I’ve yet to create something special enough to bypass restraints, and I’ll vanish quickly for completing deeds too innate, for the regrets of tranquility condemn us too late.
A hundred cried who knew you while the rain fell like crystals of ice. Ice, coy and condemning, landing on their faces and deluding their tears. And finally this mixture of bitter sweet mother nature crashed into your roach colored, five thousand dollar, second mortgage, widower parent coffin.
The preacher proclaimed wonderful words in his black shirt and white collar. He held a red umbrella, its color slightly darker than your knees were on nights when you were working late, damning me to solitary chills after I had the privilege of taking our son to movies and ice cream and tucking him in at night, wishing you could join me in the joy of watching our child as he innocently rests.
So Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll fake this smile for your family, friends, and the mysterious visitors Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve never met but who knew you so well that when they heard the news, they cried too and made me wish I could feel the pain of losing a mother, friend, whore, and daughter. But the only tears that ever fell from my eyes came after the cologne and smeared lipstick revealed sixteen years of lies when you were here.
Skyline Fractured The sky fell twice & twisted its limbs on the mourning you were born. It wept and bled and shook and raged for the souls youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d come to scorn.
It carried its weight against the waves and blinded its children in darkness. Partially torn upon creation so light could manifest in cracks and mock us.
You looked so well in white, before the devils possessed your cunning. You rested upon the fields that burned while I cowered and kept on running. And every day I dare to dream that weâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll find eternity within our embrace. The sky rose violently in the aftermath, Leaving the devastation of summer in its place. Jordan Blum has an MFA in creative writing and he currently teaches at various colleges. He is the founder and Editor-inChief of The Bookends Review, an online literary/multimedia journal. Jordan is also a progressive rock musician and journalist. His work has been or will be featured at several places, including The Lit Pub, Flashfiction.net, Bong Is Bard, Eunoia Review, Connotation Press, Used Furniture Review, Emerge Literary Journal, Delusions of Adequacy, Examiner, Sea of Tranquility, Popmatters, and FictionBrigade. 19
The time of the season had come and gone. Nothing
she trolled the Highway for hours, looking at things
was given away for free and there had not been a bird
that made her laugh and sending very short messages
in the sky for at least 13 years. Everyone was paired
to strangers. Jasmine did this for hours at a time, it was
off two by two and both held full-time jobs, 9 to 9.
her main activity besides eating, sleeping, and going to
There were no festivals or cultural events. Leisure in-
volved taking Plus 1 upgrades while watching Fight Challenge on the redscreen.
Eddie Givens was one of the few remaining people who worked off-hours and wasnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t paired up. He lived alone
Jasmine Fisher was a teenage girl. She liked boys,
in a 2 bedroom apartment with an old German Shep-
Top 20 music, and the color orange. Her parents were
herd, and spent his spare waking hours on the Highway.
always at work and her best friend spent all her time
Eddie had 2,031 Highway friends. Quick-witted and
with her boyfriend these days, so Jasmine found her-
charming, he could establish a new connection in 3.5
self with a lot of free time on her hands. In her room
seconds or less. 20
Summer came late every year and lasted only two
obsessed with their own self-worth based on looks and
weeks. Mistletoe was replaced with gifts of monetary
the clothes they were wearing and they used you. Eddie
exchange. Sleigh rides and canoeing had become ex-
wasn’t a bad-looking guy, he had maintained a long-
tinct, joyriding limited to brief sojourns in one’s small,
term relationship or two with women in the past, but
practical automoto. All outdoor activities were publicly
he’d also experienced his share of rejection. The High-
owned and cost a minimum of 10 credits.
way was easier.
Maridell Barton was cheating on her partner. Tired of
Snow fell up above, over the dome of the subterranean
his lack of interest in anything she considered impor-
colony, but no one saw it. The stars aligned in patterns
tant, she had joined around a dozen Highway clubs for
that would alter the fates of men and went unnoticed.
people with shared interests—her favorite shows, fash-
Animals romped through mountains and forests with
ion, and recipes for eating healthy. She’d met a woman
abandon, swam along the ocean floor and made mis-
on one of the discussion turnouts who’d taken a special
chief just for fun. Children from another time and place
interest in her—she praised Maridell’s “exquisite taste”,
laughed in delight, arms flailing as they fell repeatedly
and told her she’d been “the first person to get it right in
on soft grass. Boys with twinkling eyes teased girls who
a long time”. They’d started sending intimate messages
occupied their dreams at night. The sun rose, the tide
to each other, and eventually arranged to meet once a
came in. The sun set. The tide went out.
week at a hotel on the West side. --Valentine’s Day gifts were mandatory. Marriage was determined by location and social status. At least 2
Corin Reyburn enjoys single malt scotch and the use
children were required for every household to maintain
of unconventional instruments in rock n’ roll music,
their lease on their housing unit. Housing units could
sometimes together, and is working on a specula-
not function without the power grid. Meals were con-
tive fiction novel about underground waste. Corin
sumed 2x a day, the max amount of time allocated per
currently resides in Los Angeles, where sunsets take
meal was 30 minutes.
place indoors on 4.4 trillion-color screens, and has had work appear in Clutching at Straws, Quantum
Eddie maintained a Highway friendship with both
Muse, and MBRANE-SF. Reyburn works as a free-
Jasmine and Maridell. He knew how improbable it
lance web designer when the thought that one might
was that he’d earn either of their friendship in the real
need to earn some money strikes. More work can be
world, and felt a smug satisfaction in his ability to draw
found at infrastratos.wordpress.com.
women in with just a few keystrokes. It was enough for him. Women in the real world were cruel. They were 21
Culture of Hate
a thought essay by David Renton
There is a culture of hate in America. It permeates our media, influences our conversations, seethes below the surface of our retail stores, and directs traffic with a f l a m e t h r o w e r. L o v e T h y N e i g h b o r w e n t out the window with free enterprise, stock t r a d i n g a n d t h e m o r t g a g e . We h a t e e a c h o t h e r. We h a t e o u r s e l v e s . We h a t e o t h e r nations, other races, other ideologies, and e v e n o u r o w n l e a d e r s h i p . We h a t e a s a rule, as a habit, as a pastime and as a release from our own bilious social frustrat i o n . We h a t e . Our legal structure is built on a framework of enforcing goodwill toward men w h e r e n o n e e x i s t s n a t u r a l l y. We ’ r e k i l l ers, thieves, anarchists and liars by instinct and we require a firm hand to keep u s i n l i n e . We h a t e t h e f i r m h a n d t o o . The hand that grabs you and pulls you to the shoulder of the road when you’re cutting off families in traffic, or speeding through residential neighborhoods with yellow signs depicting children playing with silhouetted rubber balls and running into the street, or when you just aren’t paying attention because that text
or phone call or pimple is more important than regarding your surrounding peers w i t h a n y m e a s u r e o f s a f e t y. Yo u j u s t h a t e the cop that pulled you over and damn h i m , h e ’s w r o n g , e v e r y t h i n g h e s a y s a n d r e p r e s e n t s – w r o n g . We h a t e . We h a t e t h e lawyers, the courts, the politicians, the reporters, everything that represents “the man.” In the media we watch and we listen as people walk a tight line between what can b e s a i d a n d w h a t t h e y w i s h t h e y c o u l d s a y. We w a t c h t h e s l i p u p s . O b a m a c a l l i n g t h a t guy a jack ass. Romney saying London s u c k s o r w h a t e v e r. T h a t A k i n g u y ’s r e mark about “legitimate rape.” The Freudian slips and inappropriate remarks of our leaders are motivated by the hate living just beneath the surface that it is their job t o h i d e , n e g l e c t , o r d e n y. B u t i t i s n ’ t j u s t coming from the top. This isn’t Reaganomics and we aren’t talking about trickle d o w n n e g a t i v i t y. I t ’s e v e r y w h e r e . Yo u can read up on the remarks coming from the right. Ann Coulter is an easy target. Remarks like, “I think [women] should be armed but should not vote…women have 22 23
It comes from the left too, an easy examp l e b e i n g S e n a t o r A l F r a n k e n ’s b o o k R u s h Limbaugh is a Big, Fat, Stupid Idiot in w h i c h h e a t t a c k s a m a n ’s d i f f i c u l t y w i t h obesity and deafness.
no capacity to understand how money is earned. They have a lot of ideas on how to s p e n d i t … i t ’s a l w a y s m o r e m o n e y o n e d u cation, more money on child care, more m o n e y o n d a y c a r e . ” O r, “ M y o n l y r e g r e t w i t h Ti m o t h y M c Ve i g h i s h e d i d n o t g o t o t h e N e w Yo r k Ti m e s b u i l d i n g . ”
There are those people out there that are f o r t h e d e a t h p e n a l t y, v e h e m e n t l y, p a s s i o n a t e l y, t h e y d o n ’ t e v e n c a r e a b o u t t h e particulars of the case, they just want the fuckers to die. They say things like “If they let me I’d throw the switch.” They’re the ones dreaming of the civilized world collapsing so they can go play “The Most Dangerous Game” or kill some C o m m i e s o r w h a t e v e r. O r m a y b e i t i s n ’ t even that dramatic. Maybe they’re just so miserable in their daily lives that the mere notion of someone getting put to death offers them some kind of release. Nevermind the people who want justice f o r c r i m e s a g a i n s t t h e i r o w n f a m i l y, n e v e r m i n d t h e f a c t t h a t e v e n i f y o u c a n u n d e rstand where they’re coming from they are still feeling that hate, the real focus of this paragraph are those people that rally and lobby and fight for the death penalty to stick around. Some of them are from the South. Some of them aren’t. Many of them become leaders of states, or nat i o n s … f o r m e r Te x a s g o v e r n o r s , f o r e x a m p l e . Yo u g e t t h e p o i n t .
One more, just for good measure, “I just c a n ’ t i m a g i n e a n y o n e n o t s e e i n g 9 / 11 a s a really good reason for wiping out Islamic totalitarians.” There it is. Hate, often masked as satire, o r h u m o r, o r e v e n g u t s i n e s s , b u t i t i s s t i l l united under a flag of general enmity toward another person or people. It comes from the church on the regul a r. We s t b o r o B a p t i s t p r i c k s p r o t e s t i n g a t funerals. “God Hates Fags” is an actual name for an actual denomination with an actual congregation. People harassing y o u n g w o m e n o n t h e i r w a y o u t o f a n a b o rtion clinic, or lonely Goth kids getting berated by Jesus Freaks for wearing an upside down cross or pentagram, or those telling the Jews they killed Jesus – hate. T h e i r r e l i g i o n , a t i t s c o r e p h i l o s o p h y, i s a message of self-loathing, hatred toward t h e a c t i o n s o f y o u r n e i g h b o r, a n d a g e n eral disapproving glare at the world at large. Their method of reconciling their h a t r e d a g a i n s t t h e i r L o r d ’s r e q u i r e m e n t o f love: an overused cliche, “Don’t hate the s i n n e r, h a t e t h e s i n . ”
T h e n t h e r e ’s u s , t h e l o w l y c o m m o n e r s , who look up at the “fucking one percent e r s ” o r “ t h e m c r o o k s o u t i n Wa s h i n g t o n ” o r y o u r b o s s , o r Wa l l S t r e e t , o r M i t t R o m ney and his lackeys… any of it, you see t h o s e t h i n g s a n d y o u f e e l r a g e . I t ’s a c u l ture of hate, my friends, even if you feel
B u t , i t ’s s t i l l h a t e .
I’m not even going to try to analyze pol i c e b r u t a l i t y, o r r a c i s m , o r t h e p e o p l e o u t t h e r e t h a t w a n t t o b o m b a n d b u r n A m e rica just for existing. The point is this: whether you’re talking about religion, p o l i t i c a l p e r s p e c t i v e s , m o n e y, i n j u s t i c e , a b o r t i o n , t h e d e a t h p e n a l t y, r a c i s m , i m migration, and all the blah, blah, blah that m a k e s t h i s n a t i o n s h i t , i n t h e e n d i t ’s o n e thing – we hate each other and we think we’re entitled to that.
i t ’s j u s t i f i e d , i t i s s t i l l t h e r e , e v e r- p r e s ent, boiling like a virus under your skin. I would even go so far as to say that there is a hateful motivation behind the way we go after people who we think are being hateful. The short word for this is “ p o l i t i c a l c o r r e c t n e s s . ” Yo u k n o w w h y i t makes you feel icky when someone says something isn’t politically correct? Because they’re being hateful. More than t h a t , t h e y ’ r e b e i n g g i a n t Te x a s - s i z e d d o u c h e b a g s , b u t t h a t ’s o f f t o p i c . T h e r e
B u t I a m s t a n d i n g u p , r i g h t n o w, t o p o i n t
was a recent story where George Cloon e y t o l d a j o k e a b o u t C h a r l t o n H e s t o n ’s Alzheimers and was ridiculed beyond m e a s u r e . H i s r e s p o n s e , c o o l a s e v e r, w a s s o m e t h i n g t o t h e e f f e c t o f , “ H e y, i t w a s a f u n n y j o k e , I ’ m n o t s o r r y. ” B u t t h e r e are other times where people are just so gung ho, so determined to find any reason to hate and criticize someone that they’ll nitpick every word. Obama made a joke on Jay Leno about his bowling game looking like the Special Olympics and had to apologize to the director of that organization. Democrats used the term “mentally retarded” in the new healthcare bill -- the b i l l , a l o n g w i t h t h e w r i t e r s p e r s o n a l l y, were attacked and scorned. The point is, there are innumerable instances when somebody does something not all that serious or even important, but the people in the world that want to bring them down (or even destroy them in the case of the healthcare reform), fueled by hate, will dive on any faux pas just to drum up negat i v e p r e s s . We h a t e .
this out once and for all. I am here to say that the reason you can envision an apocalyptic future easier than a paradise is because you have too much hate in your h e a r t . M o r e o v e r, U t o p i a w i l l n o t c o m e u n t i l w e l e a r n t o l e t t h a t h a t e g o . We w i l l a l w a y s n e e d a u t h o r i t y, l e a d e r s h i p , t h r e a t of force and recriminations, and martial protection to keep back the proverbial wolf at the gate so long as we continue to contribute to the culture of hate. It has been stated in Subtopian before and I will reiterate it here: there is no such thing as a Utopian form of government. Utopia is w h a t c o m e s f r o m m a n k i n d ’s e v o l u t i o n o u t of the beastliness that makes you want to c r y, p u k e , a n d s c r e a m o n y o u r d r i v e h o m e e v e r y d a y. T h i n k a b o u t t h a t . We ’ r e e a t ing ourselves alive from the inside and we’re doing it for a paycheck that is always too small and too late. My advice, if I had any at all, look for the hate in your life and cut it out as aggress i v e l y a s y o u w o u l d a s p l i n t e r, o r a b u l l e t , o r a t u m o r. W h a t e v e r p a r t s o f y o u s u f -
fer for it will thank you in the long run. What did that Jesus guy say? If your eye causes you to sin gouge it out and cast it away from you. I say if your life causes you to hate you’re better of dead. pp
--Hunter S. Thompson We ’ re s t i l l h e re t r y i n ’ t o g e t t h e w o rd o u t t h a t 3 3 0 f a r m e r s a re q u i t t i n g e v e r y w e e k . - - Wi l l y N e l s o n
Here are some quotes that I found uplifting, despite the potential hateful undertones:
I n m y l i f e t i m e , w e ’ v e g o n e f ro m E i s e n h o w e r t o G e o rg e W. B u s h . We ’ v e g o n e f ro m J o h n F. K e n n e d y t o A l G o re . I f t h i s i s evolution, I believe that in twelve years, we’ll be voting for plants.
We a re a n a t i o n t h a t i s u n e n l i g h t e n e d b e c a u s e o f re l i g i o n . I d o b e l i e v e t h a t . I t h i n k re l i g i o n s t o p s p e o p l e f ro m t h i n k i n g . I think it justified crazies. -- Bill Maher
--Lewis Black When girls go wild, they show their tits to people. When women go wild, they kill m e n a n d d ro w n t h e i r k i d s i n a t u b .
Aw a rd s a re m e a n i n g l e s s t o m e , a n d I h a v e nothing but disdain for anyone who actively campaigns to get one. -- Bill Murray -- Louis CK P o l i t i c s i s t h e a r t o f c o n t ro l l i n g y o u r e n v i ro n m e n t . * I d o n ’t re a l l y k n o w h o w t o n o t e t h i s , b u t
D a v i d R enton is a church brat by he ritage only. As a man he firmly bel i e v e s i n the im portance of ske ptic ism, me ntal and spiritual e duc ation witho u t i n d octrination, and is a c onspirac y the orist only whe re the Catholic c h u rc h is concerned. D avid is a struggling nov e list and work s a day jo b w h e re h e watches people trea t retail workers like second class citizens a n d loses more faith in humanity by the day.
Decaying jaws of porno flores-
cence preside apathetically over an
They pay good money you
oil spill current. There isn’t a tooth-
k n o w. O n e b u r g e r c o u l d m a k e a n
pick big enough.
hour of my time. Forty burgers could get you chemical burns to keep the
They wouldn’t think – not from
o n e s f r o m t h e f r y e r c o m p a n y.
chitter chatter static of keyboard
atrocities – that their lives are just
as rigorously engineered as the bi-
n a r y c o d e t h a t s u s t a i n s t h e i r l u x u r y.
Isn’t that what we all want?
A n d t h e n t h e r e ’s t h i s l i t t l e b o x .
Fifteen floors down and three
b l o c k s a w a y, p a s t t h e s t o i c m o d e r n
It spits out target demographics
art of corporate indulgence, a sweat
while we work. The fruitful reaping
leaden hell osculates in the distor-
of a million ties repackaged as art.
tion of residual heat waves.
Sometimes the subliminal messaging
is loud enough to drown out the end-
Not that you’d see it. They hide
less drone of dissatisfaction.
the grill most places. People bitch
enough as it is. They have impor-
Not such a good deal.
to know about the draws full of dead
I guess that good money wasn’t
quite medium rare enough. Not to
tant blogs to check. Nobody wants
w o r r y, w e c a n r e m a k e i t . N o e x t r a
*I did actually see a photo of a piece
c o s t . Yo u c o u l d h u r t y o u r s e l f r e m o v -
of graffiti that said “Slavery has
ing a slice of tomato.
e v o l v e d i t ’s c a l l e d a n u n p a i d i n t e r n ship” I don’t know how to properly
Te n m i n u e t s o f p a i d v a c a t i o n .
site it. I have no intention of ripping
Yo u h a v e t o c l o c k o u t f o r t h i r t y.
the dude who made it off, and I want
Fucking slackers. They take all the
to make sure credit is given where
money away from hard working head
i t ’s d u e , b u t i n m y i g n o r a n c e o f t h e
honchos, don’t they? How would you
formal rules of literature this little *
pay for your hemorrhoid cream? Sit-
f o o t n o t e t h i n g i s t h e b e s t I c a n o f f e r.
ting on your ass is hard work, especially when there are lots of glowing numbers to look at. And those ipads,
they’re so bad for your eyes. Not like the florescent lights. They’re a Ta y l o r D w i g h t g re w u p i n C a l i f o r n i a .
good substitute for sunlight.
It was an okay place to be, but it was
kind of a suburban hell. Just super
S o i t ’s t o 7 11 f o r M i c k e y ’s a n d
p a r l i a m e n t s . Yo u c a n b u y i n t o y o u r
monotonous, everything down to the
own death these days. Low monthly
weather was the same. Like being
o n a t re a d m i l l m a d e o f c o f f e e c u p s a n d c re d i t c a rd s o r s o m e t h i n g . S o h e
tried to get as far away as he could,
In the shifting uncertainty of
hangover sunrise an odd evocation of
a n d e n d e d u p i n N e w Yo r k f o r a b i t .
c l a r i t y o v e r c o m e s t h e w e a r y l a b o r e r.
After about a year he decided he
It says this: “ I should quit.” Un-
wanted to work, work like everybody
heeded advise for def ears.
else did and like he knew he should. S o h e m o v e d t o P o r t l a n d , O re g o n ,
t o w o r k o n b i k e s . B u t t h a t d i d n ’t re -
I saw a photo. This viral shit,
ally pan out, so he wound up working
it really kicks. It said: “slavery has e v o l v e d , i t ’s c a l l e d a n u n p a i d i n t e r n -
as a grill cook for an unnamed cor-
ship.” I propose this. Slavery has
p o r a t e a t ro c i t y. B u t w o r k i n g i s j u s t
e v o l v e d , i t ’s c a l l e d m i n i m u m w a g e .
a c c e n t u a t i n g h i s re c o g n i t i o n o f t h e
If you disagree, quit your job. See
distinction between social economic
how far you can get. The air you
c l a s s e s i n t h i s c o u n t r y. I t m a k e s h i m kind of disgusted.
breath is privately owned, and yes, they will press trespassing charges. 27
vs. Citizens United
and the Sale of the American Government
by Trevor Richardson Everybody rips on Facebook, and I’ll admit, it’s pretty silly and kind of boring most of the time. Moreover, it’s sort of becoming a promo machine for guys like me that want you to learn about a magazine or a book or a party, etc. However, there is this random guy that I “friended” (remember when “friend” and “text” and “message” were just nouns?) and this random guy found me just because he likes my book, which is neat. Anyhoo, the random guy is really interesting. He always posts stuff about politics and the election and what dumb thing Mitt Romney just said or how bad the environment is getting – basically, things I am interested in but don’t always know how to go about researching. So I’ll log on to see how things are going and there is some little gem he put on his “wall” (another weird one) and then I get to have something new to think about. I really owe him a big thank you and, by association, Facebook as well. So, go easy on ‘em, there are useful applications and your hipster rage doesn’t make you original, it makes you cliché.
Obviously, I’m already hooked, right? I mean, you are too, right? You’re probably thinking, “Screw this Trevor guy, let me go read that.”
In fact, you should. It’s cool, I’ll wait.
http://www.politicususa.com/bernie-sanders- exposes-26-billionaires-buying-2012-election. html
(whistle, whistle, la, la, la…)
Done? Pretty cool, right? I especially enjoyed the part where Mr. Sanders says, ““My guess is that number is really much greater because many of these contributions are made in secret. In other words, not content to own our economy, the 1 percent want to own our government as well.”
For those who don’t know, Senator Ber So, moving on, old Random Guy brought nie Sanders is the junior Senator in Vermont and, this article to my attention that was on the web- more importantly, he is the first Senator to come site politicususa.com. Here’s the headline: forward as a Socialist. That’s right, his term is “democratic socialist” and his ideas are largely “Bernie Sanders Exposes the 26 Billionaires based on those of European democracies, which who are Buying the 2012 Election” is cool, but what’s really cool is that he not only admits it, he’s taking the offensive. In a time 28
utopia where “socialism” is a term thrown around in a broad sweeping attempt to quell any new ideas here’s a guy who is not only saying he is one, but is also addressing Congress with a report he’s calling “America for Sale.” Can I just throw my own term out there? Bad ass. That’s all I have to say. No, wait, “cojones.”
donated $15.2 million to super PACs this year. 5. Peter Thiel is worth $1.5 billion. He has donated $6.7 million to Super PACs this year. 6. Jerrold Perenchio is worth $2.3 billion. He has donated $2.6 million to super PACs this year.
Okay, I’m done now.
7. Kenneth Griffin is worth $3 billion and he All right, in all seriousness, this really has given $2.08 million to super PACs in 2012. helps my general outlook on things. Here’s a guy that is working from inside the system to fight 8. James Simons is worth $10.7 billion and he back against things we all know are wrong. Not has given $1.5 million to super Pacs this year. only is he stating publicly, for the record, that what is happening goes against everything Amer- 9. Julian Robertson is worth $2.5 billion and he ica is supposed to be about, he’s naming names. has given $1.25 million to super PACs this year.
10. Robert Rowling is worth $4.8 billion and he has given $1.1 million to super PACs.
From politicususa.com and Sen. Sanders:
1. Sheldon Adelson, owner of the Las Vegas Sands Casino, is worth nearly $25 billion, making him the 14th wealthiest person in the world and the 7th richest person in America. While median family income plummeted by nearly 40% from 2007-2010, Mr. Adelson has experienced a nearly eightfold increase in his wealth over the past three years (from $3.4 billion to $24.9 billion). Forbes recently reported that Adelson is willing to spend a “limitless” amount of money or more than $100 million to help defeat President Obama in November.
11. John Paulson, the hedge fund manager who made his fortune betting that the sub-prime mortgage market would collapse, is worth $12.5 billion. He has donated $1 million to super PACs. 12. Richard and J.W. Marriott are worth a combined $3.1 billion and they have donated $2 million to super PACs this year.
2. The Kochs (David, Charles, and William) are worth a combined $103 billion, according to Forbes. They have pledged to spend about $400 million during the 2012 election season. The Kochs own more wealth than the bottom 41.7 percent of American households or more than 49 million Americans.
13. James Davis is worth $1.9 billion and he has given $1 million to super PACs this year. 14. Harold Hamm is worth $11 billion and he has given $985,000 to super PACs this year. 15. Kenny Trout is worth more than $1.2 billion and he has given $900,000 to super PACs this year. 16. Louis Bacon is worth $1.4 billion and he has given $500,000 to super PACs this year.
3. Jim Walton is worth $23.7 billion. He has donated $300,000 to super PACs in 2012.
17. Bruce Kovner is worth $4.5 billion and he 4. Harold Simmons is worth $9 billion. He has has given $500,000 to super PACs this year. 29
utopia 18. Warren Stephens is worth $2.7 billion and he has given $500,000 to super PACs this year. 19. David Tepper is worth $5.1 billion and he has given $375,000 to super PACs this year. 20. Samuel Zell is worth $4.9 billion and he has given $270,000 to super PACs this year.
question is this: do we really believe petitions work? Do we believe protests work? As I have said before, we are too easily ignored because we no longer have authority in our democracy, maybe we never did. The truth is, when our representatives were representing us things might have been a little crappy, but overall we got by. Today, in a world where the rich elite are richer than ever and the lower classes are going broke or losing jobs and homes – in a time where the financially drowning majority stand on equal footing to the faceless affluent corporations – our chances for change are rapidly diminished. Still, I find hope in this report, in this singular moment in US history, and in this one man who is likely being ridiculed or even ignored, but is still trying to do right by his people instead of by those people using their influence to buy an election.
21. Leslie Wexner is worth $4.3 billion and he has given $250,000 to super PACs this year. 22. Charles Schwab is worth $3.5 billion and he has given $250,000 to super PACs this year. 23. Kelcy Warren is worth $2.3 billion and he has given $250,000 to super PACs this year. I don’t know why the list stops at 23 instead of 26, but the point is made regardless. These are people who are using their enormous wealth to purchase the political outcomes they desire. Bernie Sanders says they are trying to buy the government, I think the only place where he and I differ on opinions is that I believe most Americans would say they already have. A few issues back Subtopian had a piece about overturning Citizens United. Not only does this bill grant corporations the same rights and privileges as individuals, but it has also radically altered the way businesses can interact with elections. They are given privacy as a basic human right because they are “persons.” This means that their dealings, their donations, and expenditures are protected by law. This further means that they can pretty much operate anonymously and we as the general public are helpless to do anything about it.
I did a quick search on Mr. Sanders and found a few notes on his political beliefs: Health Care He is a staunch supporter of a universal health care system, and has said “[I]f you are serious about real healthcare reform, the only way to go is single-payer.” Free Trade Sanders opposes what he terms “unfettered” free trade, which he argues deprives American workers of their jobs while exploiting foreign workers in sweatshop factories. Media Freedom
Sanders has been a leader in calling for media reform and opposes increased concentra If you went to the website you would have tion of ownership of media outlets. He appeared noticed that it is literally blasted top to bottom in Orwell Rolls in His Grave and Outfoxed: Ruwith ads for a political petition against Citizens pert Murdoch’s War on Journalism, two docuUnited. You can click on it and sign your name mentaries on the subject. if it’s something you believe in, I did. But my 30
utopia ers also wants to repeal a federal law that he says leaves the taxpayers to pick up most of the costs Sanders is a vocal advocate about the ram- of a major nuclear accident. He says, “In a freeifications of global warming. In a speech on the enterprise system, the nuclear industry should be Senate floor on July 26, 2012, Sanders addressed required to insure itself against accidents.” claims made by fellow Senator Jim Inhofe; “The bottom line is when Senator Inhofe says global I don’t know about you, but when you add it all warming is a hoax, he is just dead wrong, accord- up, health care for all, raging against corporate greed and corruption, supporting gay rights, and ing to the vast majority of climate scientists”. wanting everyone to have a fair and equal shake in this country, I think I might be a “democratic U.S. Federal Reserve socialist.” I don’t care if it’s unpopular or goes Sanders introduced a Senate companion against any traditions. I truly believe that if anybill to H.R. 1207, which would conduct an audit thing is going to change in this country it has to start with a shift in vocabulary and we are far too of the Federal Reserve. scared of certain words. Civil Rights Sources: He is a vocal supporter of gay rights, same-sex marriage, and pro-choice legislation. Easley, Jason. “Bernie Sanders Exposes the 26 He voted against the Defense of Marriage Act as Billionaires who are Buying the 2012 Election.” a member of the House of Representatives. PoliticusUsa.com. 24 July 2012. Web. 21 August 2012. http://www.politicususa.com/bernieNuclear Power sanders-exposes-26-billionaires-buying-2012 Following the 2011 Japanese nuclear ac- election.html cidents, Sanders called for a moratorium on the licensing of new nuclear plants and re-licensing Bernie Sanders. “Bernie Sanders.” of existing ones, in an effort to slow down what’s Wikipedia. 15 August 2012. Web. 21 Aubeen touted as a nuclear renaissance in the United States. Sanders wrote to President Barack Obama gust 2012. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bernie_ asking for him to appoint a special commission Sanders to review the safety of U.S. nuclear plants. SandEnvironment
--Trevor Richardson is the author of American Bastards and the founder of The Subtopian Magazine. His second novel, Dystopia Boy, is currently under review for publication, but his real focus, his main passion, is seeing the people and philosophies behind Subtopian flourish. Trevor wants to know you, he isn’t some inaccessible editor/writer, he is just a dude and he wants to hear your ideas. Email him at trevor@americanbastards. com with questions, event ideas, dreams or pumpkin pie recipes. 31
land and refilling the well in the process. I
These days, I seem to walk about in a
get much of this reading done at the gym.
haze, but I know why. I spend much of my
I get on the elliptical and I just use it and
time now at the gym. I haven’t written too
read at the same time. I’ve become famil-
much lately and haven’t really thought too
iar with Patricia Highsmith and Raymond
much about it. I don’t seem to have the en-
Chandler and I have reconnected with the
ergy. It’s good though, to take a break and
short stories of Stephen King (some of
walk away for a while. I spend more time
which I like, some of which I don’t).
reading than I used to and that is certainly
beneficial, like a fine rain coming over the
I go to the gym at my work; it’s
situated in the basement of the hospital. 32
I get there in the early morning some-
try to tell myself to just keep going and
times, before the day shifters show up and
stay focused, which is hard to do some-
do their half hour workouts on the stair
times, so late at night.
climber or bike. I find I really hate morn-
ing people more than any other type of
to stay awake, today alone I’ve taken two
person. I work out until around noonish
naps. Some of the sleepiness may have to
and then I leave, just in time to skip the
do with me recently getting my wisdom
influx of lunch hour folk, coming to do
teeth removed. It’s hard to eat and there
their workouts. I walk home, nap, eat, and
is a good amount of swelling now, but not
then go back. I stay late into the evening,
much pain. I’ve been smoking still, which
sometimes burning four thousand to five
I shouldn’t do as it makes me more prone
thousand calories. Some may say this
to infection and likely slows down the
is unhealthy or obsessive, but the truth
healing process. But being so late at night
is I don’t really know what to do with
it’s rather difficult not to light a cigarette.
my time these days and I’d like to lose
weight. I’ve never really been the healthy
on my walk down mil-plain I get stopped
sort of guy I should be. I usually end
by someone wanting a cigarette or some
up leaving the gym late at night, around
change. I have no change to give. I can’t
mid-night, and walk home. I think about
even make change for myself, let alone
things as I walk passed the closed stores
along mil-plain, all broken thoughts
of course, none of which really matter.
where I currently stay, and both my par-
Mainly I just feel lonely. I’ve taken to
ents are asleep, my mother in her chair
calling these my Travis Bickle years. The
in the living room and my father in his
time in my life when I don’t want what
room. I move quietly as not to wake my
I have and can’t get what I want, a time
mother. I make something small to eat
when the newness of the adventure is
and when I’m done I go out into the ga-
gone and I’m still too far from the end to
rage for three or four cigarettes before
be excited about almost being finished.
the night is over. Only one of the fluores-
It seems like I’ve been doing this forever
cent lights in the garage works, but it’s
and could be left doing it forever still. I
a good thing. The lighting is low and the 33
I work out until I’m too exhausted
After the gym I walk home. Usually
I return to my parent’s house,
reviews partial to women with darker hair.
shadows give a good space for plenty of
thinking. I visited a friend today and told
hours, I’ll get phone calls or text mes-
him I haven’t been getting out much. He
sages from girl’s I’ve known. Some times
said that was unhealthy and I should get
their drunk, one in particular is always
out and he’s right of course. I keep finding
drunk and since she left her husband she
I have less and less to say to others these
has been calling me more and more. I’ve
days. But it’s all only temporary.
slowly stopped answering my phone when
I have to say that the hours between
she calls. I’ve never claimed to be a saint,
two and dawn in the morning are my
but sometimes you just have to close the
favorite hours. These are the hours when
door, or rather, turn off the phone. A few
no one counts calories, only something in
times I went to see her during these hours.
styrophome or a brown bag, food covered
They consisted mostly of driving around,
in grease, will suffice. Between two and
once we walked through a park and on a
dawn are the romantic sentimental hours
short concrete wall we found someone had
where people like me reflect and write
picked several flowers and arranged them
epitaphs in their heads for love affairs
into a heart shape. The girl smiled at it and
asked if I had a phone with a camera on it.
I get most of my writing done in the
I said no and she shrugged her shoulders
early morning hours, if there is to be writ-
and wiped the flowers away.
ing to be done. There doesn’t seem to be
too much these days. I think I need some
“Why don’t you want to be with
her?” friend of mine asked me, when I
sort of adventure, to go some place new
brought up this particular girl. “For some
and be around other new people. I don’t
reason she cares about you, whenever she’s
Sometimes, during the two to dawn
in town she wants to see you. Why don’t
Late at night as I smoke my ciga-
you like her so much?”
rette I dream of a woman. Maybe a woman
is all I really need, something fast that
“I don’t know,” I say. And I end up
feeling guilty. The woman I do want walks
burns, a girl who’s got long tanned legs
all over me and I can’t really have her. She
that walks around barefoot in my kitchen;
doesn’t know what she wants and there’s
someone with dark hair. I’ve always been
no way to make her happy. The mechanism 34
of loneliness: not wanting what you have
watch the smoke roll up and into the air,
and not getting what you want.
out into nothing. Sometimes I’d walk a
few blocks to the wal-mart and get a soda
Hell, here I am evaluating and judg-
ing broads left and right. Don’t be fooled
from the machine. I’d walk back, looking
by my words. I’m nothing special myself
at the empty parking lot and all the night
and when a woman is interested I often
that seemed to stretch out into infinity, but
haven’t the faintest idea of why that is.
likely only stretched to the length of my
I’m fat and poor and don’t dress too well,
most of the time I don’t even have a whole
lot to say, mostly because a majority of
so different. The emptiness of the noises,
people baffle me.
everything so far away and hidden. The
land of the lonely. These hours between
But in the early two to dawn hours,
The sound is what makes the hours
these thoughts are just that. Nothing more
two and dawn, when most of the world
than mere memories and half dreams cast
is asleep in their beds except for the few
out into a waking world. What goes on
souls who mop the floors, or drop off the
beyond the night of these hours doesn’t
news papers, or wander the streets look-
matter much as I sit in my parent’s garage
ing back over the ever growing expanse of
and light another cigarette.
time, like me, hands in my pockets, ciga-
rette smoke on my breath.
Back when I had been writing the
first draft of my book the hours between
two and dawn had been the hours when
thinking of the things that have come and
I had been most productive. The house
gone, friends mostly, people. I also think
where I had been living would be dark
of where I might be heading in the fu-
except for the black and red lights in the
ture, if there even is a future for me. It’s
ceiling outlets of the kitchen. They made
become a habit over the years, wander-
the room glow so late at night. My room-
ing around late at night thinking, often
mates would be asleep and the house
when things seem bleak and the hours
would be all mine. I’d walk out onto my
seem lonely. I’ve gotten used to it, seen
patio and have a cigarette, standing in the
it many times and notice the road signs of
light of the orange street lamps that fell
change coming. Like Travis Bickle said
through the trees in my back yard. I’d
in the movie, “everything is the same and 35
I spend a good amount of time
reviews then one day there is change.” Now I’m just
and, with her left hand, throw the news-
waiting for the change to happen, wait-
papers out the car window and onto the
ing for the hump to be jumped or the page
porches. The news paper making a loud
to be turned. Maybe it will come when I
thud against the front door of the house.
lose enough weight and feel okay in my
Strange stories, mundane nothings some-
skin, maybe it will come in the follow-
times, come from the hours between two
ing months working on my various writing
and dawn. I didn’t take the newspaper job.
projects, maybe it will come when I move
The amount of gas I’d use in my truck
out. It’s hard to say, everything is up in the
would be more than I made every month,
air. Maybe the change will come when all
but it had been an adventure.
of these things culminate into something
worth more than salt.
ly hours, where lonely people find solace
in the dark, romantics on one end, murder-
Change is happening. I can feel it,
Between two and dawn are the lone-
like slow roots moving through soil. It’ll
ers and madmen on the other. I stand on a
come without warning really, as least to
street corner, outside of a bar, few people
everyone but me, because I can feel it. I’ve
walk by in the lateness of the night, or
gotten used to the feeling, it comes between
the earliness of the morning. I draw off
the hours of two and dawn on lonely nights
the cigarette and watch the smoke float
up and away. I watch the street lights, the
occasional car pass. I watch the still night
I once had a job delivering newspa-
pers, well I only worked for one day, but I
stretching out to the length of my sight and
counted it. I arrived at this place out near
listen, waiting for change and the inevi-
Battleground, here in Washington. In a
table dawn that will come. pp ---
small warehouse, myself and several other people bagged copies of the Columbian and
Despite popular misconception, Kirby
loaded them into our cars. A middle aged
Light isn’t real. He’s an illusion. He’s
Asian woman with red painted nails and
been published in various online and
a chain smoking habit showed me how to
offline magazines and you can find
deliver them and to where. She would race
his ebooks “Cheap Thrills and Night
through the night streets at three in the
Terrors” and “No Solace for the Inno-
morning, pulling quickly into driveways
cent” on the Kindle store. 36
The Subtopian Magazine presents the final installment of
part four of four
serials Maybe thirty children attended my fifth grade class. We all sat in groups of four, desks pushed together in little clusters, facing each other. We kept the desks clean and the insides neatly arranged. The room was very organized. Rulers, crayons, markers, poster paper, construction paper, and other assorted items that have slipped through the cracks in my memory were stacked and lined up on the counter by the window or stored in the cabinets at the back of the room. We hung our coats neatly to the side, on hooks fashioned into the walls. We hung our backpacks there also. Our teacher made sure of this. He would kick backpacks and coats around that students left on the floor. “Who’s is this?” he’d ask. “You need to come and pick this up.” Sometimes, on bad days, he would sweep all the papers off the top of a kid’s messy desk and make that kid clean it up in front of the class. He’d say, “You think you’re going to make it in life being disorganized like this?” And Leanne looked up and saw the dark Cowboy standing in the doorway of the farmhouse. His eyes caused spiked ice to form down her backside. He gazed at her with colorless eyes and she knew that this was not a pleasant visitor passing through the prairie. Next to the chalk board hung a poster covered in packets. In each little packet sat four colored slips. The first color was blue, the second was green, the third was orange, and the last was red. If a child misbehaved, let’s say he left his coat on the floor, or he talked when the teacher was talking, or was loud, or didn’t do his homework, or did something the teacher didn’t care for in general, the child had to go up to the board and change the card. Green was a warning, orange meant the child had to stand in the corner; sometimes they’d stand there for a long time, almost completely ignored and forgotten by the teacher. Red meant the child had to stay behind after school, for what? I never found out. “In life there are rules,” he’d say. “It’s best you learned now how to follow them.” The classroom was very white and bare of things you might find in other fifth grade classes, posters, student art projects, those long strips of paper that had the alphabet in cursive printed on them. “What do you want?” Leanne asked. “Take out your math homework,” my teacher said one day, as he had done many times before. The cowboy smiled, sneered, crookedly. His teeth were yellow and brown. He stepped forward and his jacket moved, revealing the axe. Nine year old Joe saw the man out of the corner of his eye, heard his mother scream and the loud thud as the cowboy brought down the axe on her. Joe thought to run to his mother but instead turned and slid under the bed as she screamed and another loud thump sounded from the falling axe. Our teacher had heavy wrinkles on his forehead and no smile lines. Everyone got into their desks and took out the math worksheets they had received the day before. I didn’t. I sat at my desk writing a little story on a single sheet of paper. In the story a traveler in the Wild West slaughters a homesteader family. I sat at my desk writing down the details of the traveler. He stood, tall and dark, with grey stringy hair. He had skin like leather, made that way from hours in the prairie sun. I called him the Skeleton Cowboy and he was thinner than thin, hardly there at all. He peered out from under his beaten cowboy hat with a cold gaze. He wore just tattered pants and a long tattered jacket. He wore a necklace laced with teeth. The cowboy used an axe to kill the family. With each blow he slung streams of blood over the bare wood of the farmhouse, a dark crooked grin across his face. “Take out your math homework,” my teacher repeated. 88 80
serials Joe’s mother stopped screaming. Only the sound of the falling axe remained. “Momma!” Joe heard his brother say. Joe heard his older brother’s footsteps. Then a loud crash and more thuds and cracks and grunts from the cowboy as he worked the axe. The sound reminded Joe of when his father killed and butchered one of the pigs the previous fall. I wrote on and on. The story was just a child’s story, bad, but good in a way, for me as I wrote it. A creature born of late night horror and western movies I watched after my parents went to bed. In writing the story, it was as if I had found some strange room in my house that no one knew of and it became like my own little exit off to the side. I could smell the prairie, could see the man in the tattered clothes, feel the coldness of his gaze, and know the fear of the boy under the bed as that was also the fear I sometimes felt when my father was angry. The sound of the axe ended and Joe lay under the bed, frozen with fear. He worked up the courage to look. He leaned over a little and peered through the doorway of the bedroom. The room beyond was red. Of his mother, Joe saw only her outstretched arm, the white sleeve of her dress stained with blood. Across the room near the front door the Cowboy knelt over Joe’s brother. The cowboy had his back to Joe and was fiddling with his brother’s head. Joe could see his brother’s forehead peek around the Cowboy’s shoulder and wiggle. Joe looked to the front door. He climbed out from under the bed and ran. He heard the Cowboy yell: “Goddamnit!” and then something else. But little Joe was running quickly into the night and thought not of listening, only of fleeing. The teacher said my name. After my name he said, “take out your math homework.” He had said my name with emphasis and punctuation, but I hadn’t heard him. I sat writing. People shuffled papers about and sat their homework in front of them. I wrote that the boy in the story reached the river and felt the cool mist coming from it. I wrote that he raised a fist into the air. Just at the moment where the boy vowed revenge against the killer, my teacher came over. He grabbed the sheet of paper I was writing the story on and jerked it away. My pencil made a long black scar across it. I looked up at him. “You’re wasting your time,” he said, “take out your homework.” He crumpled up my story and threw it in the trash.
2 Then, fourteen years later, I caught the reflection of myself in the large dark windows of a bar. In the reflection a cigarette hung from my mouth, strands of my hair had come unfurled from my pony tail. My gut poked over my belt. My beard needed to be trimmed. I stood there, drunk, staring, holding the flame of a lighter halfway up to the cigarette. For a split second, in my drunken haze, I wondered if this was going to be the rest of my life. “Hey,” someone shouted. “You kissed my girl!” I turned from my thoughts. A tall guy stood at the entrance of the bar, glaring at me. He was about six four and his chest probably measured two good feet across. His arms resembled logs and they were covered in thick black hair. A Darwin short image flashed in my head. He marched over to me, passing Elliot, Brent, and Charlie. “You kissed my girl!” the guy shouted again. 90 82
serials “Yeah I did,” I said, my unlit cigarette falling from my mouth to the ground, “got a hold of one of her big floppy titties too.” Still too angry about being laid off and Holly not talking to me and too drunk to be scared, I continued talking. I simply needed to blow off steam. “She tasted like butt hole, man,” I lied. “I can’t believe you would hump a dime store cunt like that,” I shouted. After saying it, I tried to recall at what point in time I started using my father’s words. “I need to smoke a cigarette just to get her taste,” I began to say as he reared back and then smashed a fist into my face. Charlie, Elliot, and Brent stood there as I hit the ground behind me. I brought my hand up to my mouth. I pulled it away red. I felt the blood flow over my chin and down my neck. “You hit like an old fuckin woman, dude,” I said. The guy swore and then kicked me repeatedly in the side. He got on top of me and brought his fist down on my head several times. I remember thinking that this guy smelled like beer and stale sweat. Strange, the things you think when you’re drunk and angry. This man’s rage reminded me of when my father and I would fight in my teen years. I got my legs under the guy and flipped him over. I kneed him in the crotch twice and punched him in the face. I’m sure he ended up with a black eye. We rolled around on the sidewalk for a few minutes. My blood streaked across his white shirt. He got back on top and punched me three more times before I lay limp and he stood. “If I see you in this bar again I’m going to rip you in half,” the guy said and then stomped away. I laid there for a moment. The clouds that hung in the night sky were orange from the light pollution of the city. They seemed like rusted clouds to me. The girl had smelt like peaches and tasted like rum. Elliot, Charlie, and Brent came over. Charlie kneeled down and helped me sit up. “Jesus, man,” Charlie said, “are you alright?” I brought a hand up to my face. My left eye swelled. “I’m going to have a black eye,” I said. “I hope it goes away before my job interview.” “Sorry, man,” Elliot said. “It all happened so fast. I was a little too stunned to step in. Wanna go in there and go a second round? We’ll be right behind you.” I shook my head. “It’s cool. This’ll give me something good to write about later,” I said. I looked up at Elliot and winked at him with my good eye but it probably just looked like I was blinking. “Besides,” I said, raising my hand. “I got his wallet. Let’s head up to Shanahan’s. Next rounds on him.” I dropped the wallet. I looked at it lying on the concrete between my legs and again I wondered if this was going to be the rest of my life. I wondered if my father had also pondered this same thing about his life when he was my age. After that, I passed out.
3 “Mr. Dempsey,” the circus man said, “I’m giving this opportunity to you because you are different.” The circus man strolled a few feet in front of Shane. He twirled his cane around with his fingers. As they walked, Shane took in the sight of the back stage circus area. 92 84
serials A midget in clown make up juggled bowling pins off to their left. To their right, a man held up a sick with a flame at the end; he blew something into it and a fire ball exploded into the air. A gorilla and a bearded lady sat playing cards. Shane scrunched up his shoulders and rubbed his left elbow with his right hand, “Mr. Devinski,” Shane began. The circus man looked over his shoulder and grinned. “Please, call me Dib,” he said. My alarm clock rang. I rolled over and turned it off. I climbed out of bed and walked to my bathroom. I turned on the shower. As I waited for the water to get hotter I brushed my teeth. I rinsed with Listerine. I trimmed my beard. I clipped my nose hairs. I tried to think and prepare my mind for the interview. “Dib, I still don’t understand,” Shane said. The two men walked around a post holding up the tent. A large muscular man with green scales for skin went walking passed. He smiled at Shane. His mouth contained two rows of sharp pointed teeth. “You’re different,” Dib said. “You are just a vagabond, like us traveling circus folk, and yet special. The world has tried to make you bitter and yet you are not. So I am giving you this opportunity to change your life in exchange for a little something.” The two men walked outside, through an opening in the tent. Just passed the opening, were crates and a horse. A naked woman with a bald head and horns sat on one of the crates. A man stood talking with her. He had an eye in the middle of his forehead and smooth patches of skin where the hollows for his eyes should have been. “How do you know that? We only just met,” Shane said. I got in the shower. I soaped up. I washed the cracks and crevices. I washed my hair, pulling out the tangles. I washed my feet. I got out of the shower, toweled myself down. I got under my sink and took out my Tinactin. I sprayed my feet, getting between my toes. I sat while they dried. Dib turned around and began to walk backwards. He spun his cane, bringing it to rest against his shoulder as if he were holding an umbrella. “I’m the ringleader of a traveling circus,” Dib said. He lifted his hand. With a flick of the wrist he suddenly held a deck of cards. He fanned them out. They were all aces. With another flick of his wrist all the cards disappeared. “I’ve learned many things in my travels, including how to see the lives of men and what’s in their souls. You could say I know a lot about souls.” The two headed towards a circus wagon. It had windows and stairs at the back, leading up to a door. A man walked by. From the waist up the man was a man. From the waist down he had fur. His legs bent backwards and ended in hooves. “I don’t know what I have that you may want for something as big as you’re offering. That is if you can do it,” Shane said. “I’m not going to have to give you my soul, am I?” Dib laughed. He went up the stairs and opened the door on the back of the wagon. “Oh course you won’t have to sell me your soul,” he said. “At least not yet.” Dib smiled. Shane frowned. Dib saw this. “Jesus boy,” Dib said. “I’m only kidding.” I put on deodorant and splashed on some cologne, keeping it light so as not to smell too strongly. I put on my best button up shirt, thought about wearing a tie but decided against it. I put on khaki pants and my boots. I decided against putting my hair in a pony tail and instead combed out as much of the curls as possible. I turned to my clock and saw I had a good hour before my interview. I sat down at my desk and switched on my computer. I opened up Microsoft word and started to write a story. I hesitated, looked at my clock again and then decided it was a bad time to 86 94
The Critic’s Critic
Stop Saying “Ironic” An Angry Rant by Arthur Brand
I have only one thing to say and it isn’t about any movie in particular. Sorry if that breaks form here, sorry if I’m not following the Critic’s Critic formula, but this is important and needs to be said.
with looking good, not embarrassing ourselves, remaining poised, or never having a difference of opinion with the accepted cultural bias that we’ve become afraid. I’m here to tell you that I couldn’t care less which is more critically acclaimed or which has a higher rating on IMDB, I’d rather be watching Hudson Hawk or I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead or The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou than anything the Academy says is worth my hard-earned money.
Stop saying “ironic.” Overlooking the fact that half of you don’t even use the word right, I’m tired of all the hipster snobs who want to qualify their movie choices with, “Well, we just watched it ironically.” I know that most of you out there say you’re watching Independence Day or Jurassic Park or Con-Air ironically, but I know the truth, you’re secretly enjoying it and you just don’t have the balls to stand up to your snob friends and tell them how it is.
The way I see it, the movies that are well-received all look the same, the characters develop in the same ways, the drama breaks in at predictable moments, and the mood, the tone, the atmosphere of these flicks all look alike. If I want diversity in my entertainment I actually have to venture into a world of B ratings or worse. I have to watch what the critics tell me is a waste of time, but that’s where the fun is.
Those movies are awesome. I don’t care if the critics say they’re not believable or your friend thinks it’s dumb because it’s a movie instead of a “film.” Not everything has to be an Oscar-nominated wank fest just to be worthy of your verbal support. The fact is, these movies you’re bagging on actually hold up, they are a blast to watch, they’re cool, funny, and a great way to spend an evening. Give me the choice between Die Hard and The Squid and the Whale and I’ll pick Die Hard every time. Put me in a hallway with two doors, one for Midnight in Paris and one for Lethal Weapon and I’ll give you one guess which door I choose.
All I’m trying to say is, to hell with your friends and their stuck up opinions. If you like Con-Air or you still think the greatest film president is Bill Pullman then you should say so. Stand by your feelings, don’t qualify or apologize by saying, “I know it’s bad, but it’s ‘good bad,’” and just tell us you think it’s good. I’ll be right there with you, to say that even if the critics tore it to ribbons when it first came out, I think Clue is one of the funniest damn movies ever made. And fuck Avatar. pp Arthur Brand doesn’t want you to know anything about him. He believes strongly in the power of people as individuals and has zero faith in the power of people in large groups. He is suspicious often, angry always, and dumbfounded regularly. He dreams of a free America and hasn’t seen it in his lifetime.
Here’s my point: we have become so helplessly superficial as a society that some of us can’t even be honest with our own loved ones, coworkers, or dates about what we find enjoyable. We’ve forgotten how to laugh till we spit or snort. We are so consumed 87
The Critic’s Critic
Tyler Fisk takes on
Casablanca and Its Early Reception
Have you ever heard of Casablanca? Apparently it’s like soooooper famous or something and everybody really likes it. There’s this guy and he’s all like “Here’s lookin at you, kid.” Whatever that means. And he has some line about beans. It’s really funny. I recently read that these guys that are like “professional movie watchers” say it’s a perfect movie. Or others at least say it’s a perfect script. Did you get that? “Perfect.” I always thought nothing was perfect in this world, but apparently nothing is except for Casablanca. “Hill of beans,” that kills me. What a kidder. Yeah, there’s this one part where this chick that’s been trying to get the tough guy to like her again is like ready to stay with him and he tells her to fuck off and get on the plane. She flies away and he goes to hang out with his pal. Totally pimp. It’s hilarious.
warner bros. pictures The New York World Telegramdecided that Casablanca “is not the best of the recent Bogarts.”
Okay, seriously, they say it’s perfect, but did you know that when it came out in 1942 it was really poorly received? Yeah, like tons of people totally crapped all over it. And when it won the Academy Award that year, guess what? There was this unanimous gasp that went through the whole audience. Like everybody went “Oh, damn, no way…oh, seriously, okay…” then started to clap politely. I mean, like everyone hated Casablanca and now they say it’s a perfect movie.
I don’t think I need to talk about how it’s good and those guys were wrong. I don’t think I even need to go into what all those dozens of dudes have said about the movie since 1942. I just want to point out one thing and be done with this. The most highly regarded experts in film at the time of Casablanca’s release were one hundred percent against the movie and were shocked to see it not only nominated but the winner of an Oscar. I can’t think of a more glaring piece of evidence of how the critics are not really a reliable source than that. It’s why we do this, why we have this little experiment in film writing, and why you should remember that any institution of thought should be handled with care. I wish there was a way to tie that back in with that hill of beans line, but I don’t feel like it.
Here, I was doing some reading on the topic on the Turner Classic Movies website in this little section called “The Critic’s Corner,” not to be confused with “The Critic’s Critic” despite the shared alliteration. Here’s a couple sample quotes from original Casablanca reviews: “The love story that takes us from time to time into the past is horribly wooden and cliches everywhere lower the tension.”---William Whitebait, New Stateman, January 16, 1943.
Read everything I read at http://www.tcm.com/thismonth/article/71610%7C71614/The-Critics-Corner. html 88
Thought Chip Record: Agent Emmett Anders #42error :: 000error3049 PM
I follow Joe toward the house.
“Hey, look,” I say, “is that… is that a retinal scanner?” “Splinter Cell?” Joe asks, “Sweet, we just need to find a…” A shadowy figure turns the corner, before I can react Joe has grabbed him from behind like a ninja and the man drops an assault rifle. He’s wearing military fatigues and moves robotically as Joe pushes his face into the scanner. Some lights flash, there’s some computer beeps and the sound of a door unlocking. Joe slams the guy’s face into the wall, knocking him out instantly. The body slumps over landing in a heap like a pile of laundry and Joe says, “Sweet, let’s get going.” On the other side of the door is the field out in front of Joe’s high school. There’s Johnny Green, sitting on a bench while all the teenagers stand around and talk in tribal cliques, their backs turned out to their peers as they stand in huddles like football players. Johnny is by himself. I can’t see the kid version of Joe, but he must be nearby. Grown up Joe looks around with a weird expression that’s simultaneously wistful and angry. Johnny is drinking a Pepsi. He’s wearing a Nascar tee shirt of some driver named Rick Manning whose car has Pepsi for a sponsor. I sense a theme here. Big Joe sits down next to Johnny, unnoticed like a guardian angel or a ghost in movies. He leans in real close, as if studying the boy as he sits there drinking his soda dumbly, and says, “Autism is fascinating in its morbid dedication. There’s a kind of honesty in this kind of obsession. A kid like Johnny doesn’t just like Rick Manning or enjoy the taste of a Pepsi. He lives for it. Plain and simple. It’s in his being, every bit as much as those damn high fives and 90
the way he could bring joy out of anything for anyone.” Joe stands up suddenly, glancing behind Johnny toward the school. He says, “I don’t want to see this again. Aw, man – shit… I hate this.” Some thug type strolls up and plops down beside Johnny on the bench. A few of his buddies snickering quietly nearby. The bully says, “Hey, Johnny B. Goode, you hear the news?” Johnny, in that sort of half-yell tone of people with his kind of ailment, somewhere between a child and a deaf man, says, “No. What happened?” The thug looking kid says, “Rick Manning died. died today in a racecar crash.”
Joe, big Joe, is kneeling down and rubbing his temples. He sort of just mutters, “Superman Part One. When Lois dies in the earthquake.” And right then, just like that, Johnny screams to high heaven. His muscles tense to the point of convulsion. He falls on his knees, punching the dirt. Johnny weeps and howls as if his own mother was just murdered right in front of him. And Joe was right, it’s just like that scene in Superman when he screams so loud it echoes into space and then he takes off and flies around the earth, turning back time. If Johnny could fly he would have done just that. The thug laughs, falling backward onto the grass and says, “You fucking retard, it was just a joke. That guy’s still racing. Still sucking it up and needing to retire.” The kid’s friends are all cracking up and then, out of nowhere, like a blur, there’s somebody on the main kid, still laughing on the ground while Johnny sobs, confused. At first I think it’s Lee, but it’s not, it’s Kid Joe. He lands this flying kick right into the side of the bully’s head and crouches, knees on his chest, pounding him with his fists. Big Joe says, “It was Anthony Whitetree all over again. get that, right?”
I tell him I do and he tells me he’s not proud of how far it 91
went, but he doesn’t regret doing it. Sometimes people deserve a good kick in the head, no matter what the law might have to say on the subject. The bully’s friends try to get involved, but Lee shows up, just in time to pull Joe off of the bloody mess of punk lying in the grass and help him fight off the other three boys. It’s a quick fight and the kids run off while the rest of the schoolyard cliques cheer and clap. Next is the always too-late arrival of the teachers and what is likely to be suspension, detention, and God knows what else. “Let me sum up so I can spare you the research, Mr. Watcher,” says Big Joe, “Three day suspension, detention for Lee, a forced apology to the kid and his parents and, it goes without saying, a huge lecture from my Bible thumping mom about loving your enemies and turning the other cheek.” Big Joe bends down and picks up what looks like a credit card. He says, “That was nostalgic. “Get out of here? going on?”
Ready to get out of here?”
I don’t even know where here is – what’s
Joe says, “I told you, your mind is made up of levels, doorways, exits from one stage to the next, like a video game. The bully my younger self just thrashed was a sub boss. He dropped a key card, see?” He holds up the bit of plastic and says, “It’ll open up the next door. Your mind will be full of them from here on in, we just gotta watch out. I imagine some of this might get kind of weird, but we’ll do our best. It’s the only way you’re going to wake up.” “Wake up?” “Yeah, you’re here because of your little download experiment and now you’re stuck with me. The only way you’re getting out of this is if you get to the end of the story. That’s where I come in, now come on.” He leads me to the front of the school and a text box appears in glowing green letters on the double doors. “To 92
open this door you will need a keycard.
Joe says, “Yes,” and the doors open. We walk through to another scene. It’s Joe’s trailer. We’re outside and I watch Kid Joe sliding out of his bedroom window quietly. Big Joe says, “I remember this. Mom might have been right, but the fact that I was already grounded kind of loosened my tongue, you know? I told her Christ was wrong. The turn the other cheek mentality has only empowered the world’s villains and made the would-be heroes too scared to act. Society needs people to stand up for the Johnny Green’s of the world.” “Can’t argue with that,” I say. Here comes Audrey. She runs, full board, toward Joe and they practically slam into each other in what should be called a hug, but might as well have been a tackle. Audrey touches Joe’s face and I notice a swollen black eye. She says, “Wow, they got you good, didn’t they?” “This?” Joe asks, “No, nobody got me at all. to that. This was her.” “Her? Your mom? Jesus, Joe, why? know why. What are you gonna do?”
Lee helped see
I mean, duh, of course I
“Nothing,” he shrugs, “It’s life until I can get out of here.” “Not soon enough,” she sighs, sitting down on the curb, pulling Joe down by the hand. Audrey says, “It may not have been what Jesus would’ve done but I want to thank you for standing up for Johnny. We all love Johnny but some of the kids at school think it’s okay to pick on him just because he’s gullible. They don’t think it’s bullying. They just think they’re joking around…” “But they’re wrong. They really hurt him today. And I don’t care how innocent you want to make it out to be, it’s still a bunch of assholes picking on a retarded kid. That’s not okay. Not ever.” “I know,” Audrey says, “I just wanted to say thank you. 93
and I were never sure where you were on the Johnny issue. You’ve always been kind of standoffish, you know? But today you proved how you feel. You love him too.” “I do. He’s the best person I know. The way I see it, if we’re supposed to ‘come to God as a child,’ then Johnny is the only one really getting it right. No need for study, analysis, theology, or breaking topics down into bullet points and doctrine. Just love, just existing for the moment with no other vision beyond the things you love and the things you want to be around. That’s Johnny.” Audrey gives Joe another big hug and kisses him quickly on the cheek. He seems embarrassed and says, “So, listen, I’ve had a lot of time to think about this and I want you to know something about me.” There’s a little pause and they lock eyes dramatically. doesn’t say anything.
Joe says, “See, for a long time now I’ve been trying to understand why I always have bad dreams. I started exploring spiritual reasons and that’s where church came in. Recently I’ve started looking at Native American stuff. I want to learn the power of dreams the way they do in the Blackfoot myth.” Audrey smiles and says, “You really learning Blackfoot myths?” “Yeah, well, I wanted to know more about that side of you since you’re always bringing it up and all.” Audrey’s shoulders kind of go up and down the way girls do when they think something is cute. She smiles and Joe acts like he doesn’t notice. He says, “What I’m trying to say is, something bad happened and it makes me kind of feel crazy sometimes. I’m older now and it’s hard to remember what’s what. Maybe I dreamed it all. Or maybe it’s because I was already so afraid of them my brain somehow substituted one image for another, you know, like PTSD stuff or whatever. I can’t be sure.” “Just tell me, Joe.
It’s okay if you aren’t sure.” 94
“I am sure about one thing. I know I was taken. I know because I went to bed in the hospital and I woke up in a field. I was in a hospital gown and the ground was wet. I remember that. I didn’t escape, they took me out. Somebody did something to me and when they were done I was just in this field. I got scared and I ran to the only place I could think of where they wouldn’t find me. I went to the Box. I hid there for days before… before I came to your window and they caught me.” “I could tell her a lot,” Big Joe Vagrant says, “But I couldn’t tell her about Mr. Smiles or how I ran from him. That part was still too weird.” Kid Joe says, “I believed it was alien abduction. I can still see it, inside my head. It’s a white room. I can’t feel my body. There’s these big-headed figures with glassy eyes and they’re working on me. I don’t know what they’re doing. But I think they took a part of my brain out. When I woke up I had an incision on the side of my head with these jagged staples holding it shut like a zipper. The doctors told me later that I had fallen and hit my head. They said the staples weren’t there until after I was hospitalized, but I know that’s not the truth.” Audrey grabs Joe’s hand and squeezes it, she says, “I don’t know what’s out there or what isn’t, but it doesn’t matter, Joe. All that matters is right now. You’re you. You’re right here. And you are the best boy I know because you fight to protect people that need it. Johnny, Lee, I know you’d be there for me, for all of us in a heartbeat. What else could matter?” The Vagrant says, “I wanted to tell her ‘us.’ It was on the tip of my tongue, but I couldn’t do it. I wanted to say, we matter, we’re in love and you know it. But I just thought about Lee. I saw him walking up to say hey and there we are, holding hands, being a couple, and feeling left out. Him turning around and walking the other direction, you know? I couldn’t lose him. I couldn’t take his girl even if I was sure she was mine.” “Come on, Joe Kid,” I say, “Let’s get out of here. nothing for us here.” 95
“There’s nothing here at all,” Joe says. I lead him to the front door of his trailer and say, “Things exist here. It’s your childhood. You and Audrey being kids together. That’s gotta count for something, right? You’re the philosopher, not me, but who’s to say what’s real and what’s not? Maybe we’re all just Thought Chip glitches in the mind of God. Maybe God is just some guy in a hospital bed dreaming up our whole world.” “If that were true,” Joe grins, “That would kind of make you God of this world, wouldn’t it? Or maybe Jesus since you’re here, walking among us.” “Shut up, you get my point.” I open the door, letting the screen slam closed behind me. Joe screams, “Hosanna, Hosanna in the highest,” and follows me through. It’s solid black, pitch dark, but I hear something breathing. Joe says, “It’s a boss fight, Anders. Whatever it is, we’ll probably need to find a weak spot. Watch out for things flashing red or possibly health bars over the limbs.” “You don’t even know if it has limbs, dumb ass.” It’s an obese clown with black blood oozing down its chin. It’s blindfolded and swinging a chainsaw wildly. Joe screams, “What the hell is this, Anders? That ain’t mine. I didn’t bring that here. Is it Resident Evil?” “Worse,” I say, “it’s the thing from my closet when I was three.” We don’t have any weapons. All we can do is dodge the chainsaw when it comes our way. After what feels like an hour of just jumping aside and trying not to fall over each other in the dark Joe gets lucky. He ducks under the chainsaw blade and trips the blindfolded zombie clown. The thing falls on its weapon and its head goes rolling across the floor like a basketball. We both let out long sighs and the body disappears in a bubbling pool of green and brown. Joe picks up an antique key and says, “What do you think?” “Yeah,” I say, “Key to my closet. 96
I take it and feel around in the shadows. I find a doorknob and put the key in like I had a thousand times before. The door opens and it’s an industrial looking part of a town I haven’t seen before. It’s night but the sky is green and purple like a toxic cloud. “It’s September 30th, 2026,” Joe narrates, “I’m fifteen. We skipped school today. Just me and Lee. Audrey wouldn’t come. We didn’t go home. We just rode our bikes, around and around for hours like we used to before Lee started driving. We ended up down by the train tracks and hopped a train. It was pretty stupid, I guess. You can get yourself killed doing that shit, but we did it. We ditched our bikes and hopped on a train. Rode it down to the next town feeling like Kerouac and Neil Cassidy or something. When we got off the train we realized how dumb it was. We didn’t know how to get back at all.” He leads me to his younger self, Lee at his side. Joe Vagrant laughs and says, “Here they are, look at these two assholes.” Kid Joe and Lee are standing on the side of the road, empty brick buildings and strange colored clouds all around. They’re walking sort of aimless, but I can’t hear them yet. We get closer and I hear Joe say, “What about hitchhiking back?” “Yeah, maybe, but it’s late and nobody picks up hitchers anymore,” Lee grunts, “We’d wind up just hoofing it back and it’s been miles.” As if from nowhere the sky cracks like a whip and the strange clouds peel open letting out a flood of sharp rain moving in sideways. The boys swear and break into a run. Their shouting is oddly panicked for just a little rain. Seems weird until it hits my skin and it burns like someone’s tearing it back and pelting it with rock salt. Me and Big Joe start running and screaming too. The four of us, phantoms and people alike, find a corner truck stop, barely lit and I see the potholes filling with piss yellow rain water like sulfur. Lee says, “Hell with this,” and runs to a payphone. 97
They use the payphone to call Brother Beau collect. My Joe, Big Joe, says, “It was three in the morning by the time he made it, said he got lost. When he got there he told us the bad news.” The scene changes, payphone is back on the hook and the boys are off to the right, embarrassed and scared, with Brother Beau standing there leaning against his Jeep “We’ve been looking all over for you two,” Brother Beau says, “What were you thinking pulling a stunt like that?” They don’t answer. “Well, whatever, I guess I kind of get it, but… Lee, there’s something you need to know. Johnny, your cousin Johnny, he’s gone.” “What do you mean, gone?” Lee asks, “Did he get out again? It’s my fault, isn’t it? I wasn’t there to watch him. Mattie left him alone and he got out, right?” “Mattie wasn’t there to watch him, son. You’re right. She told the police you were supposed to be at home. You were supposed to babysit.” Joe Vagrant says, “He always had to babysit. Mattie was never home. Never doing her job. Not ever.” Brother Beau puts his hand on Lee’s shoulder and says, “Son, he’s gone. He came home on the bus and tried to take his medicine. You know how he is with his routines. There were bottles and pills everywhere, but he must’ve taken too much or, I don’t know…maybe he took the wrong thing.” “Wait? What?” Lee says, pulling back, “What do you mean? He’s gone? Like gone, gone? That’s impossible.” “I’m afraid it’s true, Lee.” “It can’t be true. How can that be true? How could God let that… how is… how am I supposed to accept that?” He falls apart pretty quick after that. Screaming mostly, more angry than sad. Muttering about how it’s all his fault. He should have been there for his cousin. He says “brother” a few times – he should have been there for his 98
brother. He’s dead because of him. in the Jeep and they drive away.
Brother Beau gets them
Vagrant turns to me, his eyes a little watery, and says, “Lee never forgave himself. Three things happen next. Lee and I stop going to church. We start the band. And Audrey…” The scene changes again. It’s outside of the school, almost the same spot where Joe got in that fight for Johnny. Joe is sitting on a bench with Lee, but things look different. They don’t seem like friends anymore, not the way they used to be. Vagrant says, “I know. We weren’t. It’s like we were just in the habit of being together at this point. We didn’t know how to change. What else to do. Lee blamed me. I took him away. I got us on the train. Johnny died because of me.” “That’s not true,” I say, “Johnny died because of Mattie not being responsible. She wasn’t at work, she wasn’t with the church planners or any of that shit, she was getting banged by Brother Beau over the baptistery. They just let you two take the fall.” “How’d you know that?” Joe almost shouts, spinning around to look at me. “I’m God in here, remember?
I know everything.”
“I guess you’re finally starting to get comfortable with this memory upload,” Joe nods, “About time. Well, you’re right. They pawned their responsibilities off on Lee. Brother Beau, well, we were only just starting to realize who he really was. It was his idea to blame Lee to cover up the affair. But we don’t know any of that, not yet.” Audrey walks up behind them quietly and touches Joe on the shoulder. She says, “Joe, can I talk to you for a minute?” He follows her to a different bench and sits straddling it so he can face her. She sits with her feet up on the bench looking small. After a little silence Audrey finally says, “I have something I need to tell you, Joe, and I wanted you to hear it from me first.” 99
Joe looks over at Lee, sitting with his back to them. He smiles and says, “There’s something I want to tell you too, Audrey. But go ahead, you go first.” “There’s a chance we might be leaving, Joe. My family. My dad. He got offered a good job in Omaha. Daddy said he has a bad feeling. Ever since the government passed that bill that made the Blackfoot Nation free or sovereign or whatever you call it he’s been feeling like things are going bad.” “Bad, how? Isn’t that good, the Blackfoot are their own country now.” “Yes, but only because America couldn’t afford to keep them anymore. And things are going to go from bad to worse there. There’s no stable economy or anything. Still, Daddy tried to go back but the gates are sealed, you know? The border is closed. Then this job offer came his way. He’s going to get to use his education and everything. It’s been going to waste for years because of the economy and him and my stepmom trying to make ends meet. You know the stories. Everyone’s right on the edge. Anyway, somebody he knows came through for him, but we have to move. He says we need a fresh start. There’s lots of reasons why we need a fresh start. It’s great news for him, but he said he had to pray about it first. He said he wasn’t sure if I was ready to give up on… well, on something going on here.” Joe Vagrant says, “This was a turning point. I had made up my mind to tell her how I felt about her. I was going crazy. All of the feelings I had were boiling up inside of me, building pressure, and I felt like if I didn’t get them out I was going to explode. Lee and I were growing apart because of the Johnny stuff. I didn’t have anything left to lose. I was going to say, ‘Audrey, I’ve loved you from the first moment I saw you. You aren’t just the perfect girl, the one by which all others are judged, you’re the kind of person I wish I could be. You have a dedication to life and truth that burns out of you as beauty and I envy it so much I want to be around it for the rest of my life.’” “You were going to say that?” I ask. “Those exact words.
I had it all planned out, but then this 100
happened.” Kid Joe says, “I won’t lie to you. I will miss you more than even I realize. But you should go. It’s a clean start. I know your family has been having a hard time since Johnny died. I know Brother Beau has been depressed and sick. And I’ve heard the rumors. People have said all kinds of bad stuff because we called him instead of our own families. We love a good scandal, and a man driving to a truck stop in the middle of the night to meet two underage boys is perfect material for a local clergy scandal. I’ve heard people saying the same stuff about you, how he gives you rides home and all.” Audrey flinches but Joe doesn’t seem to notice, he just goes on, “Things are going to hell here. You should move on. But more than that, it’s just the adventure you deserve.” “What do you mean?” she asks, her face almost breaking into too many emotions to track, like he just said more than she knew how to process. “You’ll be in unfamiliar territory. You’ll have to see yourself in a new setting and when you do that it’s like the first time you ever really see yourself at all. You can change anything, but you’ll also see the stuff that’s great and worth keeping. You might even get to see yourself the way I see you. I never told you this, but when I was in the hospital I would think about seeing you when I got out. And sometimes I would imagine you being gone when I got to your house, moved on to some other place where people live bigger lives, lives almost big enough to measure up to you, and that you would become an actress or a musician or a dancer. I imagined that people would know you and you were happier. I hated missing you, but I was so proud. Anyway, this is it. This is that dream finally happening and you have to go.” Her eyes swell with tears and she nods. She takes Joe by the hand and says, “Okay, Joe. If that’s what you want. If you think it’s the right thing, then I won’t try to stop it. I won’t tell my dad I can’t go. You just promise me you’ll take good care of Lee for me.” Audrey gets up and walks away, wiping tears out of her eyes. 101
She walks to Lee and they leave together, out of Joe’s line of sight. He just sits there, pouting on the bench, staring at the grass and dead leaves on the ground in front of him. Big Joe stands over him, hands in his pockets, looking disappointed like a father. He says, “You’re a piece of shit, you know that? You’re bullshit. You aren’t just full of it. You are it. You let her go. Maybe you thought it was out of love. You thought you were releasing her, setting her free to go do bigger and better things with her life. Maybe you thought you loved her so much you couldn’t bear to watch her languish here with you and Lee and never amount to anything. But that shit ain’t true. You were just too chicken to tell her the truth. For all your talk about being seekers of truth together, about looking for it in God, and looking past God, trying to find the real heart of truth in the universe, for all of your bullshit sermons, you couldn’t tell the woman you love the truth.” “C’mon, Joe,” I say, “Let’s get going.” “It’s not over, you know,” he says, “There’s more.” Through the woods, north of the school, there’s a river and a bridge, the same bridge Lee Green tried to jump off of when he was a kid. It’s famously rocky and shallow at this point, pretty much instant death. The scene changes and we’re suddenly by Lee’s bridge. Joe is looking for his friends. In what seems to be a regular practice for him and Lee, he has left school and headed off into the tree line. He finds them near the river. Lee stands with his back to him, his pants down around his ankles. Audrey’s on her knees in front of him, head bouncing back and forth rhythmically. Joe’s mind floods with images from his childhood, his mother going down on the doctor, her knees in that shabby carpet. The fear of alien invasion, heavenly damnation, sin punishable by fire from on high and the destruction of large buildings by death rays, so buried beneath the certainty of faith, the inspiration of music, the love of a girl and the curiosity of a young half-Indian kid looking for an102
swers in his heritage, explodes to the surface and in an instant everything he knows is gone. He’s a scared kid again, snatched from his bed by alien invaders, afraid of everything, of God, life, his mother, his absent father, afraid of his future. And he breaks into a run. His thoughts are back in that Box. He’s that kid who ran and hid in the place of his own shame and pain. He’s running just like Lee ran all those years ago and before he knows why or how it’s happened, he’s standing on the edge, glaring down into the river with eyes full of tears. A voice, calling his name, it must have been behind him. Shouting after him in a panic, but he can’t be sure it was real. For a brief instant he sees Mr. Smiles out of the side of his eye. Grinning like a madman and waving, trying to get his attention. But Joe blocks him out. He pushes him back down and gulps, ready to take the plunge. The voice is still there, but it isn’t Mr. Smiles.
“Joe, oh my God, Joe, what the hell?” Lee shouts.
“I saw you with her, you bastard. thing.”
You ruined every-
Lee says, “Joe, it’s not like you think. I mean, yeah, it happened, but it was just this one time. It was just now. We were crying and I told her I loved her. I told her I didn’t want her to go. I told her she was the only thing in the world that ever made me feel good. Then we started to kiss. I didn’t mean for this to happen, Joe. It just did. But she’s leaving. She’s going away and I had to tell her how I feel. I know we weren’t supposed to, but I couldn’t keep it in anymore. I’m sorry. Please come down.” “If you want me to come down,” Joe says, “You’re going to have to come up here and get me. What the hell is the point anymore, anyway? Audrey is leaving. You hate me. Johnny is dead. No more high fives. No more friends. Everything is dead.” Lee climbs up on the rail and takes Joe by the hand. They stand together, looking down into the river, and Lee says, “I’m still your friend, Joe. I don’t hate you. I’ve 103
just been sad. you.”
I love you, man.
I didn’t mean to hurt
“Yeah, right,” Joe says, “Prove it.”
“Prove it?” Lee says, “Fine, you asked for it.”
Still holding Joe by the hand, Lee leaps over the edge, pulling his friend along with him. Audrey’s scream is the last thing they hear before the sound of splashing water and the rush of bubbles, current and cold over their ears. They break up into the surface, howling with laughter and slinging water around like a couple of kids, splashing and yelling and pushing each other under.
Joe screams, “You crazy son of a bitch.”
“Hey, that’s my mother you’re talking about. of a whore to you, buster.”
Audrey, from up on the bridge with me and Big Joe, shouts down, “You assholes, I thought you were dead. How could you do that to me?”
Joe yells, “Don’t you get it, Audrey?
“Bet your ass, I did.”
“Proved what, you psychos?”
He proved it.”
Lee says, “Friendship means being ready to die for somebody, right? That’s what Jesus said. A true friend is someone that’ll go to the grave for you. But I did one better.” Joe says, “He proved we can’t die as long as we jump together.” The Vagrant says, “The truth is that the climate had begun to shift. Local weather patterns had been off for years. Two summers prior Montana had been hit with the biggest round of thunder storms and flash floods it had seen in decades. This current year had seen more flooding and sporadic rainstorms out of season than ever.” “The river was just at a higher level than it should have been,” I say, finishing for him, “Thank you, Global 104
“Still, it didn’t stop us from feeling invincible.”
Vagrant says, “Ready?” Before I can say anything he’s shoved me over the railing and leapt off after me. Before I hit the water we land clumsily in the mud of the forest that borders Notown, Montana, and the Blackfoot Reservation. We’re still climbing to our feet when we see Lee stomping through the leaves calling Joe’s name like he’s a lost puppy or something. For a closed border these kids sure have a way of getting onto Blackfoot land.
Thought Chip Record: Agent Emmett Anders Q13139CoDE7 :: PM 0030358
He says, “Hey, Joe, I went to see your mom and she said she hadn’t seen you. She said she never sees you anymore and the police have stopped answering her calls. They think she’s a crackpot, which is true, but you have been gone a long time.”
“Joe?” Lee calls out again.
He turns a corner and kind of lets out this grossed out sounding scream. Kid Joe is hanging from two hooks in his skin, stabbed into his sides like a fish or something. He’s 105
just dangling there, his head back, arms out like a religious icon, attached to ropes tied up in the trees. Joe says, raising a shaking hand to his head, “It’s okay. I did this. It’s the sun dance. It’s a Blackfoot rite. I’m trying to have a vision.”
“Vision?” Lee shouts, “ Are you crazy?
“Dreamt that I read a book about the Star Boy and the Sundance, but when I woke the story was not there. The Blackfoot say if you have a vision of the Sundance you are supposed to dance it. Isn’t that neat?” Joe passes out, likely from malnourishment, and Lee grabs his face, calling out to him. He tries to shake him awake. He tries to get the hooks out of Joe’s side but just makes them bleed when he pulls. Instead he cuts them from the rope with his pocket knife and carries his friend out to his rusted out old Gremlin. We follow him and I turn to the Vagrant and say, “Seriously?” “Yeah. I did that. I was distraught, okay? Everything was gone and I needed to do something to make me feel like I was getting somewhere in life. Haven’t you ever thought about it? American boys have no rite of passage into manhood, no elders to challenge them, no hunt or vision quest or ritual. You just ease into it and it never feels like it hits. The closest we have is turning 21 or losing your virginity. Which is probably why so many dudes chase after booze and pussy like it’s going to make them feel like big men. But it wasn’t for nothing. This started something. I finally caught a glimpse of the power of dreams. Hanging there, for all those hours of pain, I slipped into a waking dream, I saw the ghost of my father standing before me as a white wolf and he told me I could do anything. He told me to follow him. I followed him to a road in a desert and he said it could take me anywhere. When Lee woke me up I knew something. I knew I had to find that road and my dreams were trying to take me there.” We get into the backseat of the Gremlin and ride with Lee as he takes Joe to the hospital. The hospital means questions. Police involvement. His mother gets interrogated. She sides with her son saying, “Well, officers, my 106
son is half Blackfoot. He has been exploring his heritage recently, and if memory serves, the Sundance ritual has been deemed off limits by the government as a sacred ritual. So, if you don’t mind, I have a child to take care of.” At first she’s scolding him. Saying the usual dross about how a mother worries and he shouldn’t run off like that and how he promised to stick around to take care of her and blah, blah, blah. But then there’s this change over where she says she’s proud of him. She’s proud that he searches so hard, that he wants to be a spiritual person and wants to connect to his ancestry. She tells him if he ever puts himself in danger like that again she’ll kill him. They laugh and she says, “Someone is here to see you. I’ll leave you two alone.”
“Audrey?” Kid Joe almost shouts.
Lee comes in sheepishly.
“Hey, Joe,” he says, “How ya feeling?”
Joe sits back in his bed and sighs, “Fine, they got me pumped full of saline and painkillers and Christ knows what else.” “That’s good. That’s good. Listen, I didn’t understand. I’m sorry if this was some kind of Indian vision quest thing that I ruined. I know how bad you want to figure stuff out. I know you want to know the truth and understand your mind. Why you are the way you are.” “It’s okay, Lee,” Joe says, smiling, looking not a little doped up, “You couldn’t have known. It’s just, ever since we started struggling with our faith I’ve been trying to find my footing, you know?” “I know the feeling. Faith makes you feel like you can do anything. Like you know everything there is to know and everyone else is wrong.” The television is playing quietly in the background, streaming text along the bottom of the screen while showing images of a riot in Pennsylvania.
Joe says, “The nation is divided.” 107
“It’s on the screen.
Lee reaches up and cranks the television volume by hand.
Here, turn this up.”
The anchorwoman says, “Violence broke out today in Allentown, Pennsylvania, when a rally calling for the end of policies favoring corporations over individuals was broken up by state police. Protestors, occupying the heart of Allentown, refused to be forced out. When police in riot gear began to push the crowd out the protestors retaliated. The violence did not end until the timely appearance of the National Guard.” The screen jumps to President McKinley. speech given earlier in the day.
Clips from a
He says, “These difficult economic times have left this nation divided. In the abrupt and increasing absence of a strong financial presence in the modern world the people of this great country are beginning to lose faith. We feel that we are no longer the leading power in the world, but we are afraid of what it means to lose that position. This is not the first time America has lost faith in itself. There was a time, during the Cold War, where we felt our rightful position as God’s chosen nation being threatened by Russia. That passed with the signing of a peace treaty and now we are all stronger for it. The point is that this too shall pass. “However, in the meantime, the Federal Emergency Management Agency will be imposing a curfew on the cities of America with the largest populations in order to prevent the civil unrest, violence and demonstrations of mass anarchy. If we are to redeem ourselves as the greatest nation in the world it must begin with the citizenry. Furthermore, as threats from outside our homeland from heathens and disbelievers wishing to destroy our way of life increase by the year it has become far too difficult to tell the frustrated American from the jihadist attacker. For reasons of safety and the protection of American citizens, anyone assembling in public space in groups larger than six individuals, or anyone out past the necessary curfew, will be ruled a criminal and summarily arrested. Please forgive these unfortu108
nate decisions, but it is a necessity if we are to rebuild this great nation. Thank you, and God Bless America.” Joe Vagrant says, “Step one in the end of freedom: leadership starts taking away rights one by one in the name of security.” Lee turns to Kid Joe in the hospital bed and says, “That doesn’t seem right to me.” “No,” Joe replies, “I know someone who would say there’s a conspiracy here. He once told me that FEMA is nothing more than a shadow government waiting to take over in the event of a national threat. That once they had the power they wouldn’t let it go, and we wouldn’t have the authority or the strength to make them. Remember Egypt? The youth toppled their government only to hand it over to a military regime. What if the harder we fight this the more we’re paving the way for them to take over?” “Damn, Joe,” Lee whistles low and says, “Who told you that?” “Doesn’t matter. The point is, we’re losing and I don’t know what anyone can do about it. It’s all there, all the vocabulary. Just waiting for someone to put all the pieces together. The Patriot Act, Homeland Security, FEMA, threats, both foreign and domestic, dangerous conspiracy theories, preserve the nation…the list goes on and on.” “Where’d you get all this stuff? It’s like you suddenly know more than the people on the news or something.” “I had a good teacher, I guess. I haven’t thought about this stuff in years. I’ve been too busy with all of this church nonsense, all the Audrey drama and trying to figure out my dreams and… my God, Lee, we’ve all had our eyes shut, haven’t we?”
“What do you mean?” he asks.
“Trying so hard to serve God and find our place in the world and figure out what we’re going to do for careers, we’ve totally overlooked the main thing: freedom. Mr. Smiles used to say nothing is ever done being created. You either create life or you create destruction.” 109
“Is that your teacher?” he asks, “This Mr. Smiles?” Joe freezes, realizing he let it slip. He finally nods and says, “I’ve never told this to anyone, Lee. You have to swear you’ll keep it a secret. Swear.” “All right, I swear.
“Okay, Mr. Smiles is somebody I’ve seen ever since I was a little, little kid. I don’t know what he is, but I think I’m probably crazy or something. Split personalities. Anyway, he always comes and tell me about how the world is ending or how everything in the world is born dying, that’s why it’s always harder to create life than destroy it. You don’t have to try to destroy the world. All you have to do is stop trying to do anything.” “You probably are crazy, Joe,” Lee smiles, fake punching him in the arm, “But it sounds like your Tyler Durden or your Harvey or whatever the hell he is, your imaginary friend – it sounds like he tells you good things. I ain’t gonna worry ‘til I find out he’s telling you to bomb a library or cut up babies or something. Deal?” “Deal,” Joe says. Lee sits on the bed by Joe’s feet and says, “He’s right, you know? We’ve been so busy with these things we let ourselves think actually mattered, but they don’t. There’s no such thing as the right career, or morality, or destiny, or fate. There’s only life. And whether you honor it or ignore it. It’s ironic, but in trying to find God we’ve been ignoring life.” He pauses for a beat and then jumps to his feet. He shouts, “It’s good shit, Joe. Really good. I have to go. There’s a song in there somewhere. I gotta go now while it’s still fresh. It ain’t much, but the right song really can make a difference. Maybe that’s all you and I can do.” Lee runs out of the hospital room looking excited, but Joe broods, sinking low in his bed and staring at the footage of fighting and fires and rifles up on the television. An unmanned drone plane swoops low over the crowd, crop dusting them with tear gas. His young brow furrows. Me and the Vagrant decide to go. 110
Big Joe opens the door and I follow him out. We come to a dimly lit hall with four red doors. Joe opens one and it’s a fire on the other side. He opens another and there’s a dozen ninjas training with weapons. He says, “Hey, Anders. ‘I just always wanted to open a door to a room where people are being trained like in a James Bond movie.’ Get it?” “Yeah, Wayne’s World, I get it.” On the third try we get it right. It’s a maze. A dark one. All there is to guide us is a vague orange light somewhere in the distance. A voice that sounds like Lee’s echoes around us, “Are we tempted for God’s glory or are we sinning as soon as we have the thought?” We wander our way toward the light and Joe says, “I think this is that hedge maze in The Shining, remember that? It looks just like it.” Another voice, disembodied in the hedges, maybe young Joe’s, says, “I’m starting to think that this is all an elaborate conspiracy to get people to stay in line, to follow rules, tow the party line and donate their ten percent.” A scrap of newspaper tumbles by and sticks to my shins. I pick it up and the headline reads, “Honey Bees Declared Endangered Species.” The date is November 8th, 2026. The article says something about honey bee preservations and a new boom industry: manual pollination. Lower class workers suddenly get work pollenating flowers in industrial greenhouses. Is there a time to kill like Ecclesiastes says or is it ‘Thou shalt not kill’ from Deuteronomy? I crumple the paper when Joe calls my name. He says, “The next few weeks were weird. We stopped going to church and started writing songs like mad. Anyway, we started to figure some stuff out. Mattie was being extra nice and it was suspicious. But it was actually my mom that gave me the last piece of the puzzle.” Which is it, preacher? When I look at your wife and think about boning her am I sinning or am I glorifying God for not doing it? 111
Joe says, “Man, sorry for the voice over, the maze is playing sound bytes from our last church visit. We wanted to size up Brother Beau, see if our suspicions were correct, and wound up just railroading him about Bible stuff. Well, one night when Lee dropped me off at the house after practice mom was there waiting for me. She seemed sad that I’d been gone so long, but I sat with her and we drank tea and then she said it. She asked me how Mattie’s solo was coming along. I didn’t think much of it, just kind of said I didn’t know anything about that, but she says, ‘Yeah, I saw her the night Johnny – well, you know… she was leaving the church and Brother Beau was locking up. I just drove on by but we bumped into each other again at the supermarket and I asked her what she was doing at the church on a Tuesday. She said she was working on something to sing for the Sunday service. I just wondered if it was coming along.’” How can we pick and choose which parts of the Bible to follow? One thing is God’s will and another is just cultural differences? What if it’s all cultural? What if homosexuality or saving yourself for marriage is as outdated as women staying silent in church or Leviticus forbidding tattoos? Joe and I take a sharp left through the maze and space kind of opens up. At the end of the row is an black field with trees all around it. In the middle inferno, a building made of brown brick burning like tion. It’s the First Baptist Church.
Joe says, “We obviously got blamed for this.”
“Did you do it?”
the open is an damna-
“No, don’t think we didn’t want to, especially after we figured out that stuff about Mattie and Beau. But it gets worse, believe me. Audrey was still in town, she wasn’t leaving for another week. We didn’t know why at the time, but the police rounded up the three of us for questioning in the matter of the fire.” Joe mutters, “I just need to skip ahead, but… there’s no doors here or, I just need to…” He taps his wristwatch, an old Dick Tracy communicator replica, and another text box appears in white lettering on 112
the black backdrop of the tree line. It says, “Skip Scene,” and there’s the symbol of a pink square. Joe looks at his wristwatch, finds a pink square, and says, “Oh, nice.” Pressing it brings us to the police station. The cops have already been laying into the kids pretty hard, they split them up, bring them back together. There are no holes in their stories, but it doesn’t convince them. They say it could have been rehearsed ahead of time. When the three of them are brought back together and sat side by side in a row of chairs they all flinch. Brother Beau is there looking mean. Audrey says, “Why am I a suspect, Beau? them?”
What did you tell
“The truth,” he says, “I told them you’ve made sexual advances and the rejection might have pushed you to violence…” Audrey screams a protest but the preacher just talks over her, “And as for you boys, I have already informed the police about my indiscretions with Mattie Greene. They all agree it’s a probable motive for arson, especially given your history. The both of you.” They both sort of growl and stand up, but are immediately forced back into their seats. They deny involvement but say they wished it had been them. That church and everything in it is a lie. Probably not the smartest thing to say, but it at least has the strength of regret which implies their innocence. Audrey’s expression kind of caves and she rubs her eyes wearily. It’s been hours. This interrogation probably isn’t even legal in the case of minors. Audrey looks thin, pale, crushed under her own weight. She sighs and says, “It was me. The boys had nothing to do with it. Let them go.” She turns to Joe and Lee and says, “It’s not what you think. It’s not like he says. He’s been making me do things for a long time. Ever since my daddy started working for the church. I tried to stop it. I tried to – I don’t know, I 113
don’t know why I did it, why I let it happen, but it was just so hard to say no. He was so…” Big Joe looks at me, a sigh of relief behind his eyes, and says, “It’s why kissing Lee escalated so fast. You get it? She wasn’t a bad girl, not really, she was just – she was just living out her pain, just like me and Lee. Things happen to you and you get used to the memory. Your body gets used to reacting a certain way. It’s the same reason I’ve always been weird with sex, and the same reason Lee would go on to tell me that the real reason he jumped with me that day was because what Audrey did made him feel bad, it made him feel like he was in the Box again, made him feel like he was me.” “Excuse me?” The people in the police station freeze. him. Waiting for an answer.
I just look at
“Yeah, didn’t you know?” Joe asks. “No, I didn’t.
“Yeah, he did. He apologized for it for years, maybe forever. When Anthony put us in he, well, he put his mouth on me. It was weird, I mean, I couldn’t get anything out of it, I wasn’t equipped yet, but it still happened. He told me it happened because it’s what his dad did to him and so he did it to me. It’s what the nurse did to him and it’s what Brother Beau made Audrey do and it’s what made her do it to Lee and…” “Christ, kid,” I say, “Talking to you kind of makes me feel like all the shit in the world could get reduced down to sex.” “It’s all society is, the repressed sex drives of men, the objectification of women, their paranoia, the posturing, the macho stances, the beauty standard, it’s all just one charade masking a never ending hard on. And it came down on a few kids, ruined all of us, and started a cycle of abuse that didn’t end for almost a decade.” “Fuck,” I sigh, “Can we find the next door. depressed right now.” 114
“No, there’s one more thing.” The police station gets moving again and the head cop, the man asking all the questions, says, “So I’m supposed to believe that you, a cute little Indian princess with straight A’s and her own prayer group, you burned down that church because your fat fuck over the hill preacher put his pecker in your mouth. I don’t care what anybody says, girl doesn’t want to suck a dick all she gotta do is bite down.” “I couldn’t say no to him,” Audrey says, tears and snot pouring out of her face, “We live at the back of the church property, housing is part of my dad’s wage as groundskeeper. If I tried to say no he’d just ask if I wanted to be out on the street. He’d tell me to do this for him, for my dad. I didn’t want to do it, but I didn’t want to say no either. How could I say no? I was just – I was confused, Joe, I’m sorry. It started a long time ago, before you even got out of the hospital, I was so young and…” Kid Joe just holds her hand and says, “I know.” “Did it change her?” saw her?”
I ask Big Joe, “Did it change how you
“Not a bit,” he says, “Still hasn’t. It made her one of us, she was like me and Lee now, you know? But that didn’t make her seem like any less of an angel.” “You got it bad, my friend.” A voice at the door says, “I think I can explain a few things.” The head cop turns to face the new arrival and it’s none other than Dr. Boles.
I turn to Joe and say, “Seriously?”
“I know, right?” he says, “Out of control.”
“Dr. John Boles,” he says, extending a hand cordially, “I think I can shed some light on the subject. It was a valiant effort, Miss Lamb, but in the end a fruitless one. I think we all know who is to blame here.” The cop says, “As I was just about to say, you expect me to 115
believe it was the valedictorian when I have a convicted arson in the next seat? “Precisely,” says Dr. Boles, “as I have stated in numerous reports, which I have here for you to peruse, Joe Blake sublimates his feelings of helplessness and injustice with destructive tendencies. You will see that he was involved in several violent encounters during his rehabilitation, all revolving around his unhealthy pseudo-adoption of Lee Greene. These encounters have carried on into his time at school. Moreover, when Lee was pushed to consider suicide do to the mistreatment of several different parties Joe responded with a fire. Now, I have little or no reason to doubt the girl’s story involving the reverend, but that is something to be worked out at a later date. My reason for being here is to say this: either in response to the reverend’s involvement with Lee’s aunt and the subsequent death of his cousin, or because of the inappropriate relationship between the reverend and Miss Lamb, I believe that Joseph Blake responded by starting another fire.” “Thank you, Dr. Boles,” says the head cop, “You’ve been very helpful.” Kid Joe says, “I didn’t, I wasn’t… I mean, I wasn’t even there…” “He may not even remember,” Dr. Boles says, “The boy might not be able to remember. I have reason to believe that Mr. Blake suffers from schizophrenia. In our past dealings he was frequently seen talking with an invisible mentor bearing the moniker ‘Mr. Smiles.’ Moreover his level of paranoia, magical thinking, and fear of extraterrestrial invasion are clear indicators of an evident break with reality.” Audrey shoots a frightened, suspicious glance over toward Joe. Lee nods, as if to say he already knew. He seems calm, somehow unworried. It’s strange, as if anything anybody had to say would never make him question his friend. Mr. Smiles is here now. He stands behind the cop with his tongue out, hip thrusting at the man’s tumescent rear end. Joe almost smiles but contains it. His friend, his invisible guardian, says, “Joe, I got this. Just do exactly what I tell you.” 116
Joe says, “Excuse me, gentlemen. But this is all bull shit. This man has been at me since I was still waddling around in diapers. He’s obsessed with me. And ever since I got out of the hospital he’s been trying to find a way back into my life. He was my doctor and my mom’s boyfriend and I found a way to put an end to both.” “Good, Joe,” says Mr. Smiles, “Now, bring us home, big finish.” “I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if he’s been watching me. If he’s learned what’s been going on with me and Brother Beau and saw his moment. I’m betting he started that fire himself.” “Excuse me?” says the cop, “You got any other suspects out there? Let’s be sure and bring them all in, maybe your mom started the fire, or Lee’s dead cousin, or maybe it was Jimmy Hoffa, or Jim Morrison, or Bigfoot?” “No, I’m sure they were all busy with bigger fires,” Joe smirks, “Look, I didn’t start this fire and neither did Audrey and neither did Lee. None of us did and I can prove it.” “I can’t wait to hear this,” Dr. John sighs. Joe says, “There’s a work shed just off the highway by Cutbank Creek just inside the reservation. Near there is a deer cam they’ve been using to monitor wildlife movements for the past several years. It’s solar-powered and always running. I believe, by the look of it, the thing was designed to record whenever it detects movement. Call whoever you gotta call. Get the record from the time of the church fire. You’ll see me, Lee, and Audrey in the forest. I would give you a camera for the church, but I’m not aware of any in the area.” The room freezes, but not because of me pausing the feed. Joe just dropped a bomb and it takes them a minute to react. The head cop nods at some subservient deputy who gets on the line immediately. It takes a while, but they get the record. I turn to Joe and say, “Mr. Smiles gave you all that? knew you were on the camera. How did he know that?” 117
“I heard him in my head,” Joe says, “I just said what he told me to say.” “You couldn’t have known about the camera. You were just a kid. How is that possible? I don’t understand.” “How is any of this possible? the things he does?”
How does he do or know any of
The cop sees the video feed. It’s the Three Amigos crouched around a small campfire near the burned out husk of what used to be Anthony’s fort. Big Joe, my Joe, says, “Audrey gathered us around the fire and told us how in the old days of the Blackfoot they had a ritual, the Ceremony of the Medicine Lodge. It was the most important Blackfoot ritual and it was offered exclusively by the women. She said that a woman that was afraid of losing a son would offer a prayer and make a vow to see the Medicine Lodge built. She stood and took the vow, stating in a loud voice, ‘Listen, Sun. Pity me. You have seen my life. You know that I am pure. Now, therefore, I ask you to pity me. I will build you a lodge. Let my sons survive. Bring them back so that I may build this lodge for you.’ She kind of laughed after that, like she had just said something silly, and said, ‘I can’t build a lodge but I want our friendship to be our medicine lodge, a place for healing and warmth that will last forever no matter where we go.’ That was when we lit up together, smoked our first bowl, the proverbial peace pipe.” Audrey explains to the cop, “We were binding our souls forever. I was leaving and we wanted to make sure we would always be together. We went to a place that was once evil but turned good through an act of friendship and we built our lodge. It was Joe’s idea.” The cop says, “Deputy, cut ‘em loose. Oh, and, Reverend, you stick around. We’re going to have some more questions for you, I’m afraid. Might take a while.” Big Joe nods triumphantly and says, “Okay, now we can go.” He leads me out the office door. We follow his younger self, his best friend and his girl out through the front doors. There’s a kind of energy in the air, like at a 118
sporting event when your team wins and the whole crowd swells electric. Outside now. Joe says, “Hope you’re ready for this. need to get over there.”
I follow the line of his index finger across a dark street toward the only door visible in the shadows and the purpleblack sky. The door is red, well lit by a neon light. I’m about to step off the sidewalk when the sky erupts into a storm of white lights, fires bursting out of the asphalt road like tiny volcanoes, and the vague silhouettes of Joe’s alien nightmares. “This one is definitely my bad,” Joe says. The kids are gone. Big Joe grabs a trash can and throws it through a squad car window. The glass smashes dramatically and he pulls out a pistol and a shotgun. He hands me the shotgun without looking at me, firing a round into the shadows. Fighting our way across the field of aliens and ray gun blasts and little squashy gray hands and dead black eyes feels like it’s happening in slow motion. I have enough time to recognize tiny sets of red and gold numbers exploding over the heads of these ridiculous bad guys and think, “It’s our score, like in that old game Rampage where you earn points for how much damage you’re doing.” “No, you idiot,” Joe yells, shooting one through the right eye a dozen yards off. 2496 Points. “It’s our hit points. It’s how much damage we’re dealing. Haven’t you played Final Fantasy? I’m surprised at you, Anders.” “Oh, right. Yours makes more sense,” I say, blasting a hole through the middle of a little guy hopping toward me. 3016 Damage. We get to the red door and practically dive through – fire, explosions and extraterrestrial screams behind us. Then silence. Stillness. Joe, already laughing at his own joke, says, “It’s quiet, too quiet.” “You’re an idiot.” 119
Thought Chip Record: Agent Emmett Anders CODE9code9Q:: 00315PM5
The red door leads us back to the trailer. We go inside and see young Joe standing in the living room, his mother is sitting there with Dr. John by her side, beaming with happiness. She tells him they’re back together. That John convinced her that things have only gotten worse for the boy in his absence and his condition has deteriorated. Joe tries to protest. He tries to explain what went down at the police station, that the man is on a witch hunt. He even tries to tell her they had a deal, but his mother is ready for that. She says, “Joe, we did have a deal, but you didn’t hold up your end of the bargain. You’re never here for me. I don’t see why I should have to live alone for you when you’re always out with your friends, playing in that silly band or not even going to church anymore.” “But, Mom, why him? Why does it have to be him? You know he ruined my whole childhood and for some weird reason he’s just been itching to push his way back in ever since. What is it, huh, John? Why are you so obsessed with me?” John just shakes his head and says, “Clearly delusional paranoia.” Vivian squeezes his hand and looks down at her lap, saddened. “Mom, listen to me, there are other men out there, other guys. You just have to try. Find someone, anyone, other than this creep.” “Do you see men busting down my door to be with me, Joe? Because I don’t. John is the last ship out of the harbor. No offense, honey.”
“John only wants to help you, baby. You’re sick. You distrust everything and look what it’s done to your life. Your only friend is a psychopath who practically murdered 120
his poor cousin – that sweet, sweet boy. You’ve alienated your church, given up on God, your grades are slipping and…” Dr. John stands up and says, “And the only thing in this life that you really love is an Indian whore who’s looking to give it to anyone but you. Even the fat, bald preacher.” I remember back when I thought I was Joe, when I learned the phrase “seeing red.” Joe sees red here. He doesn’t think. He just reacts, but his reaction is as poetic as it is destructive, just like his fire, just like his preaching. Joe grabs the cheap Indian feathered oar from off the wall, the one they used to paddle him when he was a kid getting read scripture to and being made to pray with his pants down. It all comes together. All the lies, the hate, the frustration, the sex, the misguided faith, all of it builds to a powder keg and explodes across Dr. John’s face. He goes down like an anvil in an old cartoon, practically breaking through the floor.
Mr. Smiles says, “Go, Joe.
Joe throws the paddle to the ground. He storms off to his room, slams his door and buries his face in his pillow. He sits in silence, praying to himself for the strength. The sound of John waking up and groaning is louder than it should be. Joe sits there, listening to John fill his mother’s head with lies. Telling her he needs to go back to the hospital. Staring at the ceiling, Joe weighs the things he values in his life. His exploration of his heritage only got him scars, bad dreams and a ceremony in the woods that was little more than a fancy way to say good bye. Audrey and God and church and love are gone. Johnny, his high fives and his child’s heart – gone. The only thing left is music – Lee. Mr. Smiles is there. He says, “Joe, you know the answer. What are you waiting for?” “Who are you? Really? How did you know that stuff about the camera? I’m not going anywhere or doing anything anymore, not until you give me some answers.”
“What makes you think I’m really here at all, Joe Kid? 121
What makes you think I ever really was? Maybe I am just an alien hologram or a figment of your imagination or the Ghost of Christmas Past? Maybe I am and always have been your spirit guide and you just didn’t like the look of me. Maybe I’m your guardian angel. Maybe I’m God. I Am That I Am. I have been and ever shall be your friend.”
“The Wrath of Khan?” Joe asks.
“So you get the Star Trek quote but you can’t figure out after all these years the thing that has been staring you right in the face? You’re like a light bulb that only lights on one side, you know that?”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“I mean the way I look. This Mr. Smiles character you created. Didn’t you ever wonder where it came from? It’s a little weird, right? Toddler choosing a grinning, over-thehill redskin for a best friend?”
“What’s your point?”
“The mantle by the television. An old black and white photo. Been there your whole life. So long you barely notice it, but it’s a part of you, just like everything in this trailer.” “No…it can’t… I wanted him here so bad… did I really make up a friend that looked just like him? You were – he was there all that time, in the gray jumpsuit, the airplane in the background, grinning, his hair fixed the same way. I remember now. I asked mom who the smiling man in the picture was and she said, ‘Mr. Smiles.’ I didn’t figure out til much later it was my dad. My God, but how could I make up an imaginary dad and forget something like that? It’s impossible.” “I’ll tell you what’s impossible,” Mr. Smiles says, grinning, “invisible friends that teach you kung fu and how to play guitar and the art of letter writing. Didn’t it ever seem odd to you? Like, if I’m a figment of your imagination then wouldn’t you be teaching yourself all that stuff?”
“Yeah, but…” 122
“But, but, but nothing. The fact is there are things going on here that you don’t understand. You can try to block me out all you want, but I’ll keep coming back because I got a job for you to do and I aim to see you do it.”
“There’s a war out there but the good guys lack basic leadership. They’re scattered out and you need to find them. You need to bring them together if they’re gonna win. You’re going to be the big kahuna of hackers, but you still aren’t ready. It’s still going to take some training. I’ve been trying to teach you the power of dreams, but this Indian mumbo jumbo ain’t cutting it. We’re going to have to find another way.”
Why a hacker?”
“Jesus, did you forget the Hack War? It started years ago. People breaking into the Sony network, the Microsoft Network, so many others. It made the news at first, but they started covering it up when it became a national threat. Now it’s as secret as rendition camps, political assassinations, and torture in military prison. The war went on. You just stopped looking for it. These guys, these great little guys, they figured out that the only way to win was in cyberspace. No weapons or bullets could ever get stockpiled big enough to fight back against the U.S. Military. So they’ve been using the internet to start these little micro-revolutions like in Allentown. They’ve been cracking into the IRS database and expunging records, erasing debt or giving it to people that don’t pay taxes, you feel me, kid? The future, our hope, is in the computers.”
“Who are you?” Joe asks.
Mr. Smiles drops his voice low, holds out his right hand and says, “Joe, I am your father.”
My father is dead.”
Mr. Smiles drops his hand to his side, defeated, and says, “Way to kill the moment, man. No wonder you’re lame with the ladies. I’ve been looking forward to doing that for years. Whatever. Joe, your father is not dead, your father is missing. There’s a difference. I really am him. 123
I’m broadcasting from a secret location on a frequency only you can hear, but They don’t want you to know about me. I need you to do exactly as I say, but keep it to yourself. No one else can know. They’re after you, son, but I am on the inside. I know all about it.” “Does this have to do with my abduction? toring?”
Are they moni-
“Yes, and it’s time for you to go.”
Joe doesn’t say anything. He grabs an old olive-green duffel bag that belonged to his father in Desert Storm, fills it with some clothes and things, and hops out of his own window, climbing onto his bike and booking it down the street like a bolt of rebellious lightning. From behind me, Joe Vagrant says, “Lee was driving, I wasn’t. Not yet.” We follow as Kid Joe makes a bee line to Lee. Knocks on his window in the night and says, “Dude, you still got the Gremlin loaded up?” Lee rubs his eyes and says, “What? gig at three in the morning?”
You got us a
“Not likely. I think it’s time we took our stuff on the road. I mean, what’s keeping you here? School? You and I both know the path to the American Dream through education is dead. The country is pulling the plug on this generation in the name of ‘austerity measures.’ Colleges are already owned by corporations, it’s just a scam to make them more money. You want to be part of the longest con ever or do you want to bet on yourself?” “All this business with Johnny and Brother Beau really shook Mattie up. I haven’t seen her all week. I’m alone here.” “Audrey’s leaving. The church is a lie that’s getting pushed from the highest authority in this country. It’s all gone, man.”
“Are we seriously talking about this?”
I’m seriously doing this. 124
Dr. John is back, in my
house, and he’s trying to get me hospitalized again. He’s there convincing my mom that I’m schizoid right now.” Lee grabs some things, his hands shaking in the moonlight. Joe raids his fridge noisily. They don’t exactly run away. Lee leaves a detailed note saying he’s going out into the world to make it as a musician. After that it’s nothing more than loading their bags up in the Gremlin and pulling down the driveway. Backing onto the road, Lee smiles and says, “I got a great band name. Finally.” “Yeah? What is it?” Joe asks, “Hey, Lee, c’mon, man, what is it?”
“The Johnny High-Fives.”
It’s agreed upon silently and they pull away from their home, chasing their own headlights. But there’s one last stop on the way out. When they get there Joe says, “You mind if I go up by myself, just for a minute?”
“Naw, go get her, man.”
Joe practically leaps out of the car. He goes to her window, taps on the glass. Every sensation is a repeat of a time when he came to her before, the night they got married. She opens the window and says, “Joe? Seeing each other twice in one night, what’s a girl to think?”
“I’m leaving, Audrey.”
“I think we’ve had this conversation before.”
“Yeah, but we were eight before. We’re big now. I’m really going. Everything’s gone to hell and it’s time I moved on. You moving was the last straw. I came here just to say… well, I want you to come with us.”
“I mean it. We’re going right now. If you want to come just grab some things, put them in a bag and let’s just go. Lee still has his settlement money, we’ll be fine for a while.”
Audrey sighs, shakes her head and says, “The Vagrant and 125
the Vagabond, the dynamic duo. Joe, you told me I needed to have my adventure. I’m telling you the same. There’s no place for me in that little car living with two boys. I’ve had enough people insulting my virtue for one lifetime. The last thing I need is people saying I’m your groupie on the road. Besides, I have my family. Maybe you and Lee have lost everything, but we’re still together. I love them and they need me. My daddy needs me. He’s finally getting things figured out, you know?” Big Joe looks at her, his eyes playing soft in the moonlight and he sighs, a modern De Bergerac pining away in the bushes. He says, “I wanted to get angry at her. I wanted to lash out and call her all sorts of things, but I couldn’t. Instead – I was proud of her.” Kid Joe says, “I understand. I really am going though, okay? We’ll find each other again though, yeah? I mean, our chances are maybe better, me and Lee are gonna be on the road for a while. We’ll see you real soon I’m sure.” He turns to leave and says, “Just tell me one thing, will ya? Do you still have it?” Joe pulls something out of his pocket, fiddles around with it for a second and holds up a hand in the moonlight. It flashes green and Audrey smiles like her heart might break and explode from joy at the same time. She says, “It doesn’t fit like it used to, does it?” She disappears into the window and comes back saying, “I’ll do you one better. Here.” Audrey shows him the daisy ring and then holds up her “Can’t Touch This” tee shirt turned night gown turned wedding dress. She says, “It’s been at the bottom of my hope chest all this time. I never touched it until now.” Joe pushes it aside and kisses her, full on the mouth. A real kiss, not that Hollywood thing where you press your faces together. Audrey hesitates, more out of shock than anything, then kisses him back. It lasts longer than you’d expect, but in a sweet way, driven by true affection more than lust or hormones or anything like that. She pulls away slowly, moving back into her window, biting her bottom lip. 126
Joe says, “You know I love you, right?”
“Yeah,” she says, “You know I love you too, right?”
“Not until just now,” Joe says, “I have to go now. see you soon.”
Joe heads back to the Gremlin and climbs in the passenger seat. He lets out a long sigh, a release of tension and angst and want all in one whoosh of air. Lee stares at him, grinning in the blue light. He says, “How’d it go, Romeo?”
“Ain’t you gonna say goodbye?” Joe asks.
“No, I think we’ve goodbye in the forest, a sendoff. Besides, I hate following a tough tle balcony scene back
had enough for one day. We said right? That’s the proper way to have hate good byes almost as much as I act. How could I follow up your litthere, anyway?”
“Were you watching?”
“Didn’t have to,” he laughs, “I knew how that would go down as soon as you said you wanted to come here. So, lover boy, can we go now or what?” Joe says let’s go and there’s nothing left but hitting the road and never looking back. Me and Big Joe, the ghostly witnesses, Ebeneezer Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Whatever, climb into the back seat and tag along for the ride. They explode onto Interstate 95 at top speed howling with laughter, cigarettes in the wind. Joe strikes a match, holds it to the end of an American Spirit and breathes in, warming it to life. He hands it to Lee and says, “Audrey called us the Vagrant and the Vagabond. What do you think?” Lee takes the cigarette in his left hand, drags it, taps the ash out the window and says, “Our whole lives people been trying to make us out like criminals. What do you say we give the crowd what it wants? Aliases. Leave the past in the past.”
Joe says, “Let the dead bury their own dead.”
I turn to Big Joe and say, “Matthew 8:22? talking in references?” 127
“It’s all I ever do,” he laughs, “I just figure somebody else already said it better, might as well try to remember.” Lee says, “Johnny High Fives. Lee Vagabond. Guitar and lead vocals. Joe Vagrant. Drums and backup vocals. I like the sound of it, man.” Joe strikes another match. Lights up and grins so big his cigarette tilts bolt upright, practically touching his nose. Big Joe, the Vagrant, the kid’s future self, grunts and says, “Enough of this mutual masturbation, let’s go. He throws the door open and leaps out of the moving car. I follow him blindly. No telling where we’ll end up next. To be continued in
Dystopia Boy 0.9 >>