Ed complained. He was old and he had trouble adjusting. There were too many recent changes in the world… too much to comprehend. His partner, Anthony, took the brunt of Ed’s complaints. He was younger and tougher. The couple was legally married. They recently adopted a puppy from a shelter. Anthony’s dream of having a family was coming true. They were happy except for Ed’s complaints. His most recent protest was about the ants: giant, man-eating ants.
Ed also had difficulty with his memory. It wasn’t dementia… Ed just didn’t know who he was. He often thought he was a man named Axel Ramirez. There were many different people in Ed’s head. Anthony didn’t want to admit something was very wrong with Ed… his eyes would glaze over and that was a clue that Ed was somewhere (or someone) else.
Axel Ramirez was always on the run. He remembered the floods in Houston several years ago. He thought he’d drowned. He escaped the rising waters and was running ever since. He ran head first into an existential paradox: life in the age of Trump. People changed due to the onset of the pandemic. Now Ramirez was running from conspiracy theories and death squads. The president loved conspiracies that supported his views.
“He never takes the blame for anything,” Axel told his girlfriend, Brenda, “it’s always other people… anything other than his-self. I been in this country for twenty years and he wants to throw me out… blame me for the virus.”
“Well,” Brenda spoke up, “I heard things. You people are illegal and cause crime.”
“You listening to that Hannity shit?”
“No. Alex Jones said it.”
“Oh Lord. He also said the virus is made in a lab and Bill Gates is responsible. You believe that shit?”
“Sometimes. I don’t think we should give up our Liberty. We don’t need to stay home. I don’t want to wear a mask.”
“You wanna get yourself sick, maybe die. What’s the matter with you people? You think it’s OK they started Death Squads to get rid of anyone over 65 –cause, they say, they gonna die anyway?”
“Oh! I thought they said Freedom Squads. It’s only for patriots who want to help the economy.”
“You believe that. I’m 67. I’m on the list. The virus hits more people of color, more poor people. We both on the list.”
“OK baby…” Brenda hesitantly replied, “I’m sorry.”
Ramirez thought, “Never a dull moment… never stop running.”
The doorbell rang collapsing Ed’s dissociation. He was suddenly alert. The interruption was like stepping on a land mine. Three people in black rubber suits were at the door talking gibberish. They each wore plastic headgear. Ed couldn’t understand the voices shouting at him through the plastic masks. He thought it might be a hallucination. He thought the people might be aliens and he was about to be abducted. Over and over they shouted. The voices slowly started to make some sense. They were paramedics. Someone made a 911 call. People were breaking down, getting sick, and dying. Ed thought the virus was turning people into aliens. He felt a rising sense of panic. Was Anthony OK? The paramedics burst into the house searching for a casualty. Ed shouted for Anthony and ran to the bedroom. Anthony was on the bed. He was startled by the commotion, but otherwise fine. The paramedics checked the house and yard. They decided they came to the wrong address. Someone else was in danger and they needed to search the neighborhood.
The TV burbled like a fish tank. The President was giving another speech as part of the medical task-force updates. This was the new normal, a daily event turned into a political rally. Ed imagined the President was speaking directly to him, “Dr. Fauci will be giving a run down of recent developments; but first I want to make sure everyone understands the situation. No matter what these specialists say I can tell you there is a miracle drug. My intuition is always correct. I’ve said it before but it is worth repeating. I am a genius… proven by my educational record (all A’s) and my business success. I’ve always done better than anyone else. Remember my number one TV show that ran for over a decade. Yes it did! More important… I could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and I’d still win the presidency. Watch for it this coming November. Now, you know the press is fake except for Fox which is only sometimes fake. I’m for real. The anti-malaria drug kills the new flu… and it is only a flu, nothing out of the ordinary. I want people to get back to normal. All the fuss with masks, etc. is just too much and it hurts business. No matter what you hear from experts I want people to liberate those vile Democratic States that are imposing restrictions against our constitutional liberty. Remember your 2nd amendment rights will be taken away (no more guns) if the Democrats win (a very unlikely situation unless they cheat… and I wouldn’t be surprised. Better be safe and Lock them up). Keep in mind how great the economy has been before this virus scam (designed by my opponents). Better than at any other time in history. I’m here to say the USA is now Open for Business. We should never have shut down. My opponents are to blame. I won’t have it. WE ARE OPEN… Now, I’d like to present Dr. Fauci, but don’t believe a word he says! I was on top of the situation before Fauci. I banned people from China… I did it, not Fauci. I have to say one more thing about tests. My critics say there are not enough tests. Well, what do they know? Tests. What kind of tests? I hate tests. I’ve never taken a test in my life and I’m a genius. So, now, listen to a supposed expert who is going to contradict what I’m saying because he is a snob and he should be locked up with the rest of them, and especially with those damned Mexicans crossing the border and taking our jobs. China created the virus in a lab. The Mexicans , out of spite, brought it into this great nation that is so blessed by God. We are building a wall! We don’t need tests…” The TV burbled on and on. The expert came and went. He was given ten minutes to explain the intricacies of Covid-19 and the precautions that might save lives. The president dominated the rest of the broadcast. Ed’s brain was fried. He heard the sizzle and smelled cooking meat.
They had just moved into a new rental home when Ed saw them. He went for a walk and mounted a small ridge at the end of the road. It was a beautiful day. The sun was like a rainbow halo. Ed sat on a rock and surveyed the land around the neighborhood. He felt calm. The world was at peace; then he heard a strange, ratcheting sound. It became louder until the sound was deafening and Ed clasped his hands over his ears. Sunbeams appeared to rain down like molten lead. The wavering light revealed monsters: ants the size of elephants. Two of the ants were fighting over a morsel of bloody meat. Both ants were ripping and eating the meat. Luckily Ed was quite a distance from the melee. He was petrified with fear, frozen in place. The sounds were unbearable, ratcheting higher and higher. Ed couldn’t turn his eyes away from the battle. The light surrounding the ants seemed to clarify as he stared. He recognized the treasure the ants were consuming: part of a human torso. It felt like an electric jolt and he snapped out of his paralysis. Ed ran back to the house. He was sweating, out of breath. Anthony took his temperature. He had a fever. Anthony held Ed and put him to bed.
Ed had a friend named Manfred Bancourt. Manfred was a Yellow Journalist. He made up Fake News… really fake news. Once he was a legitimate reporter with a respectable newspaper, but the President and his Washington supporters called it trash and labeled it fake. Now, all the news Manfred reported was fake, aimed specifically at skewering the President who he labeled as fake. Manfred had a Virtual-Reality news show. Everything was Virtual (one consequence of the plague). People could no longer trust one another. Everyone was afraid of the flu. It had gone viral since there was no consistent national response to the pandemic. The U.S. was open for business and Covid-19 was no longer contained.
Manfred Bancourt reported the news: Harem Gate… Frumps secret depository of women stashed in the basement of the White House. Melania leaves Trump to become the Madam of Washington DC. Trump is an illegal alien from Mars. President Trump is the Manchurian Candidate. The mob owns Trump lock, stock, and barrel. All the stories were put out with incriminating (and fake) videos and photos. The Virtual News caused a stir among the public. Supporters of the administration hit hard with their own liturgy of insults and rumors. Manfred’s news was the fuel that ignited Civil Disobedience and the Season of Political Discontent. The spread of the virus didn’t help. Tempers were swollen but it was only the beginning. A second wave was about to hit.
Mr. D loved to dance. Recent events were cause for a macabre celebration.
Ed bumped into Mr. D at the newly reopened Food City. Ed was looking for a loaf of bread. Supplies were low. Shelves were empty. Farm workers were deported back to Mexico. Crops lay fallow in the fields. Truck drivers were falling like flies. Any remaining food could not be delivered. Out of the corner of his eye Ed saw the ghost of a Hazmat Suit walking down one of the aisles… no one else. Only Ed and Mr. D remained. D looked emaciated. Ed was concerned. The flamboyant Mr. D laughed at Ed’s naivete’. Suddenly music over the store’s loudspeaker changed from tinkle-pablum to a rousing Tango. Mr. D began to dance… slow at first, then, wild and electrifying. Mr. D began to smolder with the heat of the music, smoke rising from his body. His skin was on fire. Ed began to walk away out of fear. The irrepressible Mr. D could not let Ed escape. He wanted a partner for the dance. He grabbed Ed with his hands-on-fire and embraced him.
Anthony sat by Ed’s side and held his hand. The fever was helping kill the virus. Ed was half conscious and delirious. Anthony wished he could do more, but he was also concerned about the dinosaur on the front lawn.
No one knew what caused the second wave… whether it was just the beginning of the recurring flu season; or, if it had something to do with Trump’s miracle cure combined with the wrong ingredients. In any event the virus was enhanced… more potent than ever with more severe symptoms.
Rampaging mobs took over the streets. No one cared about social distancing or wearing protective gear. Liberty was at stake… first and second amendments were on the chopping block. People proudly carried guns and assault weapons… firing at random. The crowds were defending the country against illegal aliens. No walls could keep them out. Aliens moved into all-white neighborhoods and started trouble. Most people in the crowd saw aliens as green critters with eyes as large as fish bowls… real aliens from space. Some people saw dinosaurs. They had to be stopped. The second-wave virus caused vivid hallucinations. No one could discern reality from illusion (real from fake). Wealthy people purchased elaborate Virtual Reality machines, hoping to avoid real-life pandemonium. They spent days and nights wandering through elaborate facades hoping to find safe and luxurious hiding places: palaces, uncharted islands, and cities in space. The illusions were high-definition and completely convincing, but to no avail. Symptoms of the second wave followed them into their virtual dreams.
In order to keep the country open for business marketing firms were given huge contracts. Ads were everywhere.
“Don’t let your country down. Make America Great again. You are only as healthy as your wallet. Money buys health and beauty. There are more opportunities now than ever before. Buy stocks in Real Estate and Trump Casinos. Invest in the future: purchase shares in funeral homes, drug companies, and for-profit hospitals. Virtual-Reality-Worlds are an extra bonus, a big winner for America’s prosperous future.”
The President’s update continued, “This reporter shouted at me, yesterday I think… anyway she was a slut and very nasty. She asks me about WHO… why I decided not to fund WHO. Who, I say… Who do you mean? Why would I want to fund Who – I don’t even know Who. She was stupid. But, really folks that had nothing to do with the Chinese lab that created the flu. If it was an accident; well, OK, they won’t be punishment… that’s fair. But, Who knows. We know it all started in China. I think Chinese people have something to answer for. I just got some good news: we have a new cure! I just learned disinfectant kills the virus within a minute. How bout that. A cure right under our noses. Maybe an injection of rubbing alcohol or Lysol is all we need and the virus is gone in a minute! I got one question… Just asking… did I just earn the right to sign all the bottles of disinfectants… how bout a new one: Trump’s Good News Disinfectant!”
Trump had a gold toilet installed in one of the virtual worlds where he planned to hide from the virus and resultant flu. His uncanny intuition revealed he wasn’t infected. He didn’t need a test. His intuition was like a modern day Sibyl, always right. Melania was at his side in a stunning virtual gown designed by Gucci. Several of Trump’s most ardent supporters were there. It was a victory celebration even though the election would not be held for several months. They were joined by simulacrums of all the world leaders. Everyone gushed to be in the presence of Trump. Gushing was a prerequisite. The celebration took place in an enormous hall. The walls were layered in gold, Trumps favorite metal. The room was a copy of a throne room in a Russian Palace. Putin was a guest of honor. Several hedge fund investors and real estate magnates also attended the festivities. The Family Trump was at last vindicated of any responsibility that resulted in the United States becoming a third world country. Crimes against nature were also vindicated but no one wanted to elaborate. This was the life Trump always aspired to… he was now free to do whatever he wanted. Virtual People worshiped him like a king. Time froze for Trump and his family. They were locked in Virtuality. In time, Trump discovered the city outside the throne room. It appeared grim and terrible at first, but the family adapted. Their physical bodes were not part of the virtual world. In time their bodies would starve and die while remnants of consciousness continued to live in VR. What remained of their virus-infected minds learned to love their virtual world. Eventually they would discover their new home was called, Red City.
The world continued. Many people died. Humanity slowly recovered. A Great Healing encompassed the Earth. Nature was a primary concern. Gaia regained influence. The virus-president faded from memory. The Trump doctrine, business before human life, was disavowed. The right to live in harmony with nature became a prime directive.
Ed had a dream; the same dream he had when he was a small child. He saw a ladder in the dream. It was gold and it was on fire. He was told to climb the ladder and it would take him to another world, his true home. He was told about his life on Earth. He had been born many times. Each time his purpose in life was to climb the ladder to go back home.