The toys on the shelf in the old man’s bedroom belonged to a boy who once lived in the neighborhood. A large Preying-Mantis touched the man’s forehead to make him think. He did not want to think. There was too much blood in his thoughts. The Mantis persisted and the old man succumbed. The toys were cut from plastic. They didn’t move or talk like little robots, but sometimes they smiled.
The old man desired the toys because they had a very vivid and complex emotional life. The man knew that because he could hear them in his mind. He thought the voices were the reason he was forced to do the awful things. The Mantis did not agree. The old man knew that many inanimate objects had emotional lives. They were part of the code that determined reality. None of that mattered any more, since the world changed and new objects replaced the old things.
The man’s name was Levi Skrews. He was a very troubled man. At one time, Skrews was a medical doctor who cared for the sick and dying. Lots of people died in recent years due to changes brought on by unrelenting storms and atmospheric disturbances. Even more people died as the result of technological missteps. People were no longer able to keep up with the pace of innovation. Skrews was no longer a practicing physician — he had succumbed to his own private demons in a world he no longer understood. Machines were everywhere. Privacy no longer existed. The Mantis snickered, snaped a photo, and typed a message.
Skrews only companions were the toys on the shelf; but they were possessed. The toys chattered with the voice of the boy, Nathan, who used to own them. Skrews often thought about the boy. He was a beautiful boy. The toys were a reminder. The Preying-Mantis shed it’s skin in an attempt to alleviate boredom. Skrews was fascinated by the shredding skin. He wondered if blood still pulsated beneath the surface of the flesh. Everything became so dry and empty. Cities were entombed in metal and plastic, dry as sand. Skrews visualized the parched body of the boy. His skin peeling and turning to dust. How could such a tiny corpse contain so much blood?
His wife’s name was Cindy — Sin for short. She was a flesh eater. It had become customary to eat the young before they became leeches on the world. Skrews was an accomplice. He grew to love the taste of blood.
He couldn’t find a vein. He kept jabbing the spike into liquid flesh. Although his body hurt, he couldn’t feel the prick of the needle or see the telltale trickle of blood. He was no longer hungry but his body was starving. Three days before he stole a rat from a crazed kid — it was his last meal. He couldn’t feel the dirt on his body, the fat lice and raw infections. Numb and naked, saliva foamed over his lips like a mad dog.
He lay on the floor of a warehouse and peered through a hole in the wall, watching the city. It shone like an iridescent wound. The sky bled through poisonous clouds. People crawled from their steel nests atop skyscrapers and climbed down to the streets. Some people dove from high pinnacles and crashed into the cement. The gathering crowd cheered. It was a celebration. They were wearing costumes, synthetic humps and enormous sex organs. Some celebrants were painted with blood. The Dragon Queen led a procession. She wore a display case from Tiffany’s. The Halloween Ghoul hissed at the crowd. A group of priests beat themselves with sticks and straps. The slapping rhythm provided the primal music for the gathering. Screams blended and rose like a choir of demons. He saw the hungry mob turn into a rampaging beast.
Suddenly lights flashed and the sky appeared to split. He witnessed enormous, mechanical locusts descend and hover above the crowd; vibrating with metal wings, turbines and computers. They were covered with rotting flesh harvested from corpses. They glowed with holy fire. They spoke with a voice that reverberated like thunder, “We are the Creators, the Masters — you are the Dead. We invented you. We constructed you electron by electron. You are simple machines programmed to cultivate and care for the Earth. You – are a failed experiment, machines that have gone insane. In error you developed an Ego. There is no Ego, no individuality. There is no identity, no life. You are machines! You have become a blight on Earth, an abomination in the Universe. You are Dead! As the Creators we must intervene. We must render you harmless. We must take control!”
In the end, he was alone. He heard the thunder subside and was filled with a sense of peace. He was secure within the black hole of space where there was no fear or pain. He felt nothing. He was a simple machine, a lighthouse in space keeping track of the debris that circled the Earth. The planet below was once again thriving. There were no more signs that “humans” ever existed.
Valerian Bortta was fascinated by detritus, especially the parts of himself that flaked off his body like garbage. He was always leaving pieces of himself wherever he went; and he was always traveling — exploring new cities, countries, different time-zones and “other” dimensions. Valerian was a time traveler; but that wasn’t so unusual because everyone travels through time starting at birth and ending in death.
Valerian convinced himself that he controlled time — it was a delusion. In fact, Valerian Bortta was an ordinary man who simply and inevitably got old. He saw his life spread before his eyes as if peering through the wrong end of a telescope, everything appeared far away and very small.
He had no one who could take the pain of aging away, no one to soothe his tired body and overwrought emotions. His life had become frozen in amber, self effacing. His world was a crumbling relic.
Two lovers kiss on a beach. Their bodies glisten like melted butter oozing from lumps of boiled lobster
A young man and an old man kiss triggering a massive landslide that completely obliterates a small town known as “the village of the damned.”
A stranger stands erect on the other side of a door. He cannot be seen directly. His body glows with green fire.
A young man sits in a chair. He is naked — sobbing as he remembers a dear friend who suddenly disappeared.
A woman gazes at her reflection as it changes before her eyes from sweet innocence to embittered regret. Her body responds by breaking down into soft dollops of clay.
Valerian could not understand the language or the visions. It wasn’t his life. Nothing was real anymore. he was consumed with self doubt as he watched his body peel away, shaking off flakes of skin, nail clippings, phlegm, and droplets of piss. He could no longer hold his body together. Valerian wanted to split apart and pass silently into the still air.
Before he began, he was assured by Dr. Mortis that nothing would change. He would be returned safely with no harmful lasting effects. Valerian realized too late that nothing ever works out exactly as planned. There are always consequences — always a heavy price to be paid. Time was the focus of the experiments. Valerian Bortta paid the price: locked in a prison of immortality.
“Hello, again — remember me, Orlow Fabricatum, the fly on the wall. I’ve come back with some inconsequential, but essential information that relates directly to the existence of Red City. Recently Physicists have determined that Time can be altered. Human interference can effect the direction and flow of Time. Events that have occurred in the past can be changed and the future is always a question-mark. For instance, today we are revisiting a castle-redoubt in the middle of a shopping mall owned by Jupiter Fogg (the Archon of Red City). The photo below was taken in the corridor outside Fogg’s laboratory. We observe Ann Anon and Daniel Ot conversing, trying to determine the origins and meaning of life. They are surrounded by Death’s minions and they are oblivious to the danger that stalks them. As teenagers they are self-absorbed and concerned with petty issues like sex, love, and happiness. But life rages around them and soon they will be embroiled in an escape plan that might destroy Red City along with themselves. Such is the irony of mortality: ever hopeful, ever optimistic … but, always doomed. My compound eyes offer a clear vision of the ongoing human tragedy. As a fly on the wall my role in the affairs of “man” is as predictable as stone. I can spread the illness that will wash the planet clean; or I can help the vain and myopic creatures who hold this earth hostage. I won’t reveal the outcome. The path is clear. Times will change. (referenced story: 10 Stone, published 8/26/2014)
He laughed hysterically. He had to play the part. They said he was a crazy, old man; and, “yes,” he admitted to himself, “it’s true.” He couldn’t stop laughing as he stared at the white, padded walls. Grahm Gunther hated everything about other people: they smelled, stole from one another, committed murder, and screwed like giant insects… and worst of all, they died. He knew old age was a disease: a painful, debilitating disease that ended in oblivion. The human body was simply a rotting sack of puss. Dr. Gunther wanted to rid the world of human disorder. The experiments he performed on unwilling students eventually resulted in his incarceration and the designation of a new mental disorder, Gunther’s Syndrome.
The TV time-machine reminisces rhapsodically, “Mr. Dillon, I got the latest psycho-sexual enhancement pills and I feel great! I got it all in the handy pocket-sized container that includes a powerful new body, Crème de la crème decor, the Fastest hot-rod on the block, and lots of pearly teeth — all for just pennies per day…”
“But, wait, there’s more…”
“It’s all for the best,” that’s what they said to anyone who questioned authority. Zack always had questions. He always wrestled with angels — they appeared at night in order to impress Zack with their luminescence. Zack thought it was just a parlor trick: putting a flickering flashlight under a white gown. Still, it was impressive; even Zack had to admit it and he did as he bowed before the Eminences while snickering under his breath. The angels weren’t impressed so they patted Zack on the head and said, “it’s all for the best;” then they strapped the lad to the midnight-bed and proceeded to attach wires to his brain and inject Prime Directives into the Hypothalamus and other soft-core areas. It was a dream. When he awoke Zack no longer saw angels, but he kept hearing the Prime Directives in his head.
The Directives mapped his life. It was like having a GPS inside his brain telling him where to go and how to get there.
Zack was living the good life, his brain reassured him by repeating the message several times an hour. Everything was predictable except for the lights on the Motherboard that flashed at Zack and confused him. He couldn’t understand the code.
He often found himself in the Liquid Web running between the hell zone of wireless transmissions trying to decipher the code. He was obsessed with the lights. His family and friends shared personal avatars and shadow surrogates so he was never alone, but he rarely knew them in person. Everyone cherished the solitude of self containment. It was easier and safer to interact from behind a wall.
The Directives told Zack the blinking lights were a mistake, a misguided principle.
Every Saturday he drove to the Liquid Web in his Loganda Flying-Swan and went searching for Happenstance, the thrill of discovering something unexpected or alien. He was also looking for the meaning of the blinking code. The routine was reassuring, but there was no longer anything interesting to discover.
“No time like the present,” warbled the giant, exploding pigeon at the Information Exchange. The greeting summoned a new day of trading Information for Time. Everyone was a Time trader. Stories and lies amounted to valuable information that could enhance life. Time was ever present, but it existed as a form of currency (never backed by gold — backed by nothing but time). Zack no longer cared about Time or Information. He wasn’t paying attention when he tripped on a web browser that catapulted him into a meditation lounge where he bumped into a media celebrity named Zendora who was wearing purple snap-chat pantaloons. She radiated bombshell. The pigeon at the Information Exchange exploded and Zack was enraptured. This was a once in a lifetime Happenstance, totally unaccountable.
There was no physical interface, but information was exchanged. Zendora was an intriguing creature who seemed to fluoresce like an angel. It wasn’t love (no such concept existed), but there was understanding and a hint of mutual empathy. That’s when the horror show began. Zendora discarded her glowing flesh to reveal a host of flashing lights under the hood. The lights were blinking in code. This time, Zack understood.
The old man in the video was talking directly to Zack, “I made a mistake and you are the result. After my death, my experiments were continued. I was redeemed, but my work was the beginning of the end. The human race is gone. You are all that remains: a robot who believes he is human.”
He was always trying to outrun death even after he was pronounced dead, but that was just a formality. Axel Dimetri was a long distance runner in High School. He didn’t know what he was running from. He ran and that was the only time he felt free. He ran through life.
When he was nine his dog, Hero, was hit by a truck and died. A few more unfortunate accidents and a terminal illness shaped his childhood. When he was eleven he met Daisy who was a year older. It was a confusing time. Daisy became Axel’s role model. Daisy was flattered. She liked Axel and enjoyed playing dress up with him. He was beginning to discover himself in Daisy; then, she was suddenly gone, moved away. Axel felt abandoned just as he felt when his dog died.
No matter how far he ran or for how long, he always ended in the same place: a dark room deep inside his brain. His only companion was Death who came wearing disguises: a clown, a tall man, a murderer; but most of the time Death came as Daisy. “How are you little boy?” Daisy asked with a sweet smile. Her lips and eyes were smeared with black make-up. Axel never replied. Daisy continued, “I’m going to tell you about all the bad things in the world: train wrecks, burning cars, heart attacks, blemishes that become aggressive Cancers, serial killers, psychopaths, unending war. A person can trip and fall and never recover. Sometimes suicide is a relief.” Axel had to get away from Death.
He was desperate. He could never run fast enough. As a young adult he tried different forms of escape. Drugs helped, but there were always unpleasant side effects. Sex always felt good, but always ended too quickly. Axel pushed himself to extremes, but he always found himself in the dark room inside his brain.
The experiment would change everything. He was a student at the university when he met Professor Doris Exeter, a leading scientist in the field of Digital Singularities. She was working on Artificial Intelligence for the new Smart House. She wanted to use Axel as an experimental test subject. Professor Exeter never wanted to hurt or misuse anyone. Her goal was the advancement of science to create a better world. To that end she would use Axel. He was more than willing to do anything to outrun the specter of Death.
“Apparent suicide,” was listed as the cause of death. It was an outrageous claim, but the pathologist was a professor at the University and close friends with Doris. Apparently the young man cut open his own skull and chopped up his brain. Of course that wasn’t stated in the coroner’s report.
The new Smart House was a miracle of modern science. Professor Exeter invented a house with an actual brain. The house was completely self-sufficient while satisfying the owner’s every expectation.
Axel outran Death. His brain was cloned, synthesized, digitized — and installed in every new, Smart House. The brain was kept in a cylinder in the basement. Axel sat in his dark room. His only companion was Death, but he would never die.
Teddy Bix had an epiphany at the Body Exchange Consortium in the High Ball district of “low” Los Angeles. His new, teenage body shuddered with one orgasm after another as Liz Hydrangea plugged his brain into multiple digital Osterizers. No need for chemistry any more. The new age was all digital, microwavable, and wireless. Phantasms shot across Teddy’s neurons causing euphoric seizures. No drugs, just electricity. Teddy Bix tingled. His last body was wasting away in a disposal bin at the Lux on Strathmore Street. The body was old and could no longer take the pressure of radical ecstasy. At thirty-four the body just burned down like a wick in a puddle of wax. Time for an upgrade. Teddy just barely managed to connect with compu-services at Body Replacement Corp before conking out completely. During the intermission Bix had a dream:
He was a gender-blender robot: male, female, and every shade in between. Moxie-Doxie was the robot’s name and Moxie was a sex slave, lover, and investment counselor. The robot made a fortune for Mr. Orlando Spliff, lord and master. Spliff was an extreme sports enthusiast. He broke all records in the Olympics’ Punitive Games Competition using Moxie-Doxie as his consensual partner in pain. Orlando loved how Moxie squealed when the whip was strategically applied to the backside. Spliff excelled in the verbal abuse category. Humiliation added excitement to the performance. Moxie was the perfect masochist, drenched in urine and barking like an obedient dog. The Global Network gasped with paroxysms of appreciation. Spliff and Moxie-Doxie were Olympic champions, the perfect pair. After all the excitement Orlando became fatuous — couldn’t help himself — he fell like a sack of barbells into the carbon-fiber arms of love. It felt like a blast from the pits of Hell. He wanted nothing more than to melt like plastic and become a vestige of Moxie-Doxie. The dream stopped suddenly when Moxie-Doxie timed-out due to built in obsolescence. Spliff was heart shattered. He began to age rapidly. His features wasted away like shredded lettuce. His Whippet-like body became puffy with cellulite. He felt like an entree: fat patty with flaccid jowls. His baby-smooth skin developed craters like the landscape of the moon. Orlando was facing his own time-stamp dilemma and he was just about to expire.
Teddy Bix was having a dream, an epiphany. Something was rotten. The digital interface sputtered like a faulty modem. The reality of the situation was stretched thin, sliced and diced like a broken screen-saver. Bix could feel the tension. Something was behind the screen, stalking like a genetically altered leopard: predator versus prey. Darkness closed in — slammed down like a cold fusion explosion. The dream was snuffed — Bix broken.
The age-old machine shifted gears and contemplated. The machine felt the need for something new, something entertaining… anything, to stop the ever encroaching boredom.