He heard the chirping of birds and knew it was his time… time to go. The dark man who was little more than a shadow stood in the doorway and waited patiently.
The Inspector General was due for a visit. He was interested in crimes and misdemeanors… particularly crimes against the state. He was armed. A person could be shot on site if he-or-she was considered guilty. The Inspector General carried out the wishes of the Boss.
Everyone was given a gun, but it was just for fun like a game on the computer. The game started in pre-school. It was called, “War Zone: USA.” Everyone played. The Inspector General had the biggest gun of all. He used Dreamers for target practice.
The big, white house was in disarray. No one could hide from the reigning terror. All factions were aligned with chaos… worse than a soap opera… worse than a B-movie.
Retirement and old age are pushed together back to back. The need for control becomes an issue when life is foreshortened.
We were together for several years; but becoming a couple was still an issue. It meant sacrificing an old identity for a less certain future. We weren’t alone in our distress. The world broke free from its axis and hurtled into the dangerous Unknown. We awoke in a quantum entanglement, virtual-world.
The Halloween Dance at the old-folks home was the event of the year. It was a scene from an old, science-fiction movie. Monsters and aliens collided on the dance floor. “I did the Monster Mash…” Blasted from speakers, creating a wall of sound. The scene became a psychedelic dream fueled by adrenaline and a concoction of pharmaceuticals. An ancient recording of the Bee Gees, Staying Alive, pumped new life into the celebration. Everyone was old, frozen within webs of wrinkles, age spots, and goiters. Wigs, make-up and costumes were part of the fun, creating a layer of fantasy where anything was possible from vampires and witches to a momentary illusion of youth and good health. No one was unwittingly fooled in the Home for the Aged & Assisted Living. The elderly were revered on Halloween. They had no need for costumes. The senile (the bent and crippled) could be themselves without shame on Halloween. The hall where the event took place was decorated like a ghostly swamp. A White, Federal Style Castle floated at the edges of the deceit. It was sinking into the swamp. Mr. D, the perennial angel of death stood on the sidelines playing a violin.
The nation plunged ahead on promises of gold. Tariffs were imposed. Walls, bunkers, and bomb shelters were built with American Steel. Spousal abuse and infidelity were awarded Medals-of-Honor (even as the controversy set tongues wagging). Climate change was denied as coal and oil were promoted as clean, new energy sources.
The Executive Branch was in disarray. The man at the top shouted misogynistic insults and pushed for a more aggressive stance. North Korea was either friend or foe depending on the executive’s mood. Predatory relationships were established with old enemies. Self Interest was the new modus-operandi as typified by Quid-Quo-Pro contracts.
The Inspector General carried out the President’s plan. The secret society was finally revealed as an extension of the NRA. Culture wars ignited into Civil War. Everyone owned a gun. It was essential: own a gun or die.
It was time for a Golden Parachute and the man in the White House clapped his hands with glee over the benefits he had accrued.
“Another day… Another mass shooting…” Flashed across every digital-screen. It was the current headline from News on Fire. Eddy Slaybock was addicted to the news. There was no avoiding the news after The Man in the High Tower declared a new war (once again). Everyone was addicted. Watching the news was healthier than taking drugs. The news was scripted like a daily soap opera. Artificial Intelligence (AI) was the fiction-writer, creator of Breaking News. It was wildly entertaining. Eddie was on a crusade. He suspected something significant was happening, hidden from the public. Recently he felt Reality beginning to unravel.
Eddy’s disquiet began shortly after he bought a small painting he found at an estate sale. He went to the sale with Anthony, his life partner. Anthony loved to shop and Eddy enjoyed indulging in his partner’s whims.
“You don’t need that,” Anthony complained. “It looks like a stupid scribble.”
“Hey, dear,” Eddy replied, “It’s only three bucks.”
“Oh, that’s all? OK!”
It was an unusual purchase. Anthony was right. It looked like a scribbled line… But it spoke to Eddy. The line drew Eddy into the frame of the painting. Images seemed to emerge.
The couple lived in a condo close to the apartment where Eddy’s mom resided. Ruth Slaybock was ninety-four. She was fairly healthy for her age and fiercely independent. She did not want to live with her son and his partner. She knew the truth although Eddy never came out to her. She was tolerant, but not happy because she always wanted grandchildren from her only son. It was an odd twist of fate when the health-care agency sent Anthony to be her attendant and nurse. Eddy also assisted as an obedient son. He resented it. He always felt abused as a child; but he was never certain if the memories were real or fake. His memory never included his father – the man was always absent.
Everyday Ruth sorted through her memories trying to understand. Ruth was always self-reliant. She owned and managed an old-fashioned haberdashery for twenty years. The shop was part of an amusement complex called “America Great Again.” She was the breadwinner in the family. Once she turned eighty-two, she gave up the business. She saw the writing on the wall: the slow decline in physical and mental health… A winnowing of the spirit. She retired. At first she tried to adjust. She went to the local senior center and made a few friends. She played Bridge. It was never enough… It wasn’t like being a successful business owner with a strong voice in the community. Ruth earned enough income to provide her son with a college education. Thanks to her, Eddy had a decent job as a computer technician. He never seemed grateful. He always wanted something else, something she could never understand.
Now, everyday was the same for Ruth: TV, Solitaire, and Virtual Reality… “Boring, boring, boring,” she thought. Ruth often welcomed the pain that comes with an aging body. It relieved the boredom: Arthritis, Sciatica, and shortness of breath. Often her blood pressure was too low and she felt feint. Her short-term memory seemed shorter and more infuriating. She was pretty certain she wasn’t dealing with Dementia, not yet; but so much of what she used to know alluded her: names, recipes, addresses. She lost things – it never happened before. She was no longer allowed to drive (she couldn’t afford a self-driving car). Her eyesight was deteriorating and surgery was too dangerous. She wanted to scream, but realized it wouldn’t help. Nothing helped any more. Anthony was a dear – he tried so hard to please. Eddy came and went, but his heart was not in it. Ruth could see the truth.
She spent most of her time in VR watching News on Fire… One crazy incident after another: a rollicking roller-coaster of tragedy to make people forget their own insufferable lives. “All lies,” Ruth whispered, “paid for by incessant ads for health-aids that don’t help and fast-foods that make you sick!”
Eddy stared at the painting he recently purchased trying to find some meaning. It looked like a scrawl, a line painted in black that came from nowhere and continued to infinity. It seemed to resonate like a nuclear generator about to explode. He saw dark clouds and fire-storms breaking across the city… Natural forces erupted in pandemonium.
“Honey,” Anthony called from far away. “I’m making pasta for dinner.”
The images from the painting dissolved. Eddy thought, “It was just a line, after all.”
Eddy wanted to know the provenance of the painting. He could make out part of a signature at the bottom. The name looked like Mortimer. He’d heard of a painter named Mortimer Field who mysteriously disappeared. “Could this be the same artist?” He wondered. He learned the last person who owned the painting also disappeared. He was declared dead after ten years; then there was an estate sale where Eddy found the painting.
The painting of a line from nowhere was fascinating – it reminded Eddy of a loose thread from an antique tapestry. Once, Eddy saw a different world while staring at the painting. It was like a postcard from another dimension. He saw lights, colors that dissolved, melting together like wax to become one color that looked like twilight. From far away he heard music, an old refrain, “I’ll take you there…” Whenever Eddy followed the line he heard music. Once he heard a soft voice. He could only make out one word, “No.”
After dinner Anthony was upset. He didn’t like the way Eddy treated his mother. “I’m more of a son than you,” He shouted, “she doesn’t even know we’re married. Are you embarrassed?” He accused. Eddy was tongue-tied. It was partly true.
“I didn’t want to confuse her. She’s ninety-four,” he countered. It was a lie. In truth Eddy just wanted to keep his life separate from his mother. He wanted something of his own that he didn’t have to share; but he didn’t tell Anthony. The argument got worse. Anthony resented Eddy’s obsession with the painting. He was feeling abandoned and thought the painting was simply crazy. That night they slept in separate rooms. Eddy was trying to convince himself everything was all right and the argument would blow over. He told himself he loved Anthony, but he was no longer certain it was true.
One event often triggers another unrelated event. Quantum Mechanics describes an Entanglement where particles smaller than atoms influence one another even though they are not connected.
Eddy was working on his computer at home when the Internet was suddenly interrupted. It was an impossible event that only occurred in the distant, primitive past. The primary wireless connection failed. All services stopped. All information short-circuited. No TV. No VR. Nothing. People were cast into the void of non-existence. Everything ceased. Ruth thought she was having a stroke. She was paralyzed. Even if she could move, she could not call for help because all services were connected to the Internet. Eddy was unable to breathe for several minutes and almost expired. Anthony did slightly better because he practiced survival skills in the only National Park that still existed. He knew how to move efficiently without virtual enhancements. The black-out covered all the remaining States in the Union. It lasted exactly three minutes and fifteen seconds. Those minutes almost destroyed the world. Luckily the glitch was corrected by AI-Minders. Some people died in the lapse, but most survived. An Emergency was declared and AI proceeded with the Amnesia Protocols. Survival depended on memory erasure. No one was allowed to remember the event that triggered the emergency.
At first Ruth didn’t want to go. Mr. D’Angelo was obviously a con man. She surmised there were already too many con-men running things in the world; but Eddie and Anthony were insistent. “A night out will be good for you,” they asserted. They were more curious than anything. No one knew very much about D’Angelo. Rumors persisted. Supposedly he was a faith healer who raised the dead.
The amazing Mr. D’Angelo presents Miracles, Healings, and Revelations! One night only. The Veil will be lifted and you will SEE. Be among the chosen few. Refreshments will be served.
Not everyone was given an invitation and that made the event especially intriguing to Eddy and Anthony. Ruth reluctantly agreed to go. She hadn’t been out of the house for ages. She thought stepping out would be an interesting change.
There were only twenty people in the audience. The theater was virtually enhanced to appear like a Gothic Cathedral. Organ music swelled and synthetic angels glided just below the vaulted ceiling. Neo-Pop Hymns were sung by an invisible choir. Ginger-ale and crackers were served from floating drones. Ruth, Eddy and Anthony sat together on a luxury pew near the front of the auditorium. Ruth was beginning to feel excited. This was something different from News on Fire. This was interesting.
The stage lights dimmed. A skinny, bedraggled man stepped out of the shadows and onto the stage. He looked like a homeless derelict. Murmurs rumbled through the audience, “could this be D’Angelo?”
Ruth smiled… the man on the stage was certainly a con man just as she suspected. People were offended and got up from their pews to leave the theater. Suddenly the auditorium was filled with blazing light. Everyone was momentarily stunned like birds caught in the draft of a giant wind-turbine.
The homeless man laughed, loud and boisterous. He seemed to grow taller in the light. His clothes no longer looked like rags – they were faded, but still stylish, raiments from a bygone era. He jumped from the stage onto the floor among the stunned audience members who were still standing. He called for calm, “please take your seats. Relax.” His voice resonated with warmth and sincerity. No one wanted to leave. Ruth was confused by the changes, but her suspicions were allayed. Eddy and Anthony were eager to see what would happen next.
Mr. D’Angelo spoke, “folks, welcome. I’m not here to judge or proselytize. I’m here to help. People are suffering silently. Everyone here feels pain (whether it is physical pain like Sciatica or mental pain like Depression; people are in pain). I can tell you that drugs don’t help. TV and Virtual Reality are distractions, but the pain lingers. There is only one cure for the pain. I have that cure and I’m willing to give it to you free of charge. I have to tell you something we all know but refuse to recognize. It is a simple truth: life is not easy. Expectations make it hard. Everyday we are sold images and lies. We are told to buy homes, cars, and the newest gadgets. But, those things cannot stop the pain of life. That is the simple truth and that is Also the simple solution. If you want to stop pain you have to give it away… give it up.
“I can take you to a place… a place without pain and suffering. I’ll take you there, but only if you are ready to go. We are all children and I am a child as well… but I can take you there. Hold hands, one and all… and, I will take you there.”
Everyone felt elated as if a miracle was taking place. It felt as if all pain was lifted… all cares and worries dissolved. People began to hold one another, hand in hand, amidst the sounds of ethereal music and the flutter of angel wings.
The one word spoke in Eddy’s mind, “no.” He held Anthony’s hand. He wrapped his arms around Anthony. It was an affirmation of their love. They were together, but everyone else was gone. Ruth was gone. The world continued, but nothing was the same. Reality was unraveling. The sun was beginning to dim. Night and day melted together like wax crayons… Twilight engulfed the world.
He had to relieve himself, there was no question about it. He used his hand until he felt satisfied. It no longer worked with another person. He was old and nothing worked easily anymore especially if someone else was involved. He didn’t mind as long as he could still function on his own. Even when he was young nothing was easy. Harrison Vincent was half Jewish and half Italian. He was hammered by guilt from both sides of the family. He was proud of himself for surviving. It would have been easier to succumb to drugs and alcohol… or to any of the vices of the modern world. He survived; but now he had to face a new danger: a changing world and the collapse of everything he knew.
Diego Arnez was Puerto Rican but vigilantes thought he was Mexican so they locked him in a cage and lost the key. Times was changing! Diego stopped screaming for help. His voice gave out. No one came. He was alone, deep in the bowels of the machinery that controlled the social networks, below ground in one of the many sub-basements used for unclassified storage.
Harrison sat at a table in a rundown Mexican Cafe. He sat with a shadow, a man named Frankie. “How can we ever be together?” Harrison asked. “You are hardly substantial.” Other people in the cafe were used to Harrison’s mumbling. They assumed he was loco, always talking to himself.
“I always loved you,” Harrison’s voice shook with emotion. “It was impossible. You were never real.” A flash of light caught his eye. He looked through the grimy window. Police were harassing people demanding IDs. After several people were arrested, fights broke out. A teenage gang joined the fights. the police used rubber bullets to disperse the crowd. Sirens charged the air with electricity. The police left the scene to the newly arrived paramedics. It was the same every few night like a staged play.
Isabelle Trope, the waitress, looked down at Harrison Vincent. She was waiting to take his order. “Are you OK, Mr. Vincent?” Her presence had a calming effect.
“Yes, yes,” he replied, “it’s just the shadows. They are very real tonight. Thank you.” He ordered a senior-special and continued to talk to shadows.
Isabelle was called Mother Mary at the Church of the Golden Sepulcher where she volunteered. The church was a sanctuary for immigrants who came seeking asylum, but were denied by the new administration. Isabelle helped the children whose parents were deported back to the hell where they came from. She was a woman from another century. Her clothes and mannerisms were archaic. Her belief in Jesus was old fashioned. Her goal in life was to help others less fortunate than herself. She loved a man named Diego Arnez. He should have arrived weeks ago. Isabelle did not know Diego was detained, languishing in a cell below ground.
Harrison Vincent couldn’t sleep. Recurring nightmares kept him awake. He kept seeing an army of half-naked children, broken and crippled, walking through a blistering desert. They were marching to the border preparing to invade. They carried rocks. Soldiers lined up at the terminus. They carried grenades and rapid-fire rifles. The sun blotted out the sky. Everything glowed red like the surface-burner of an electric stove. Vincent was afraid to sleep. Afraid he might have an accident. A few nights before he dream’t he was drowning — he woke in the center of a soaked mattress. He felt humiliated, ashamed. There was no one to turn to for help. Frankie was gone. Did he know? Harrison began to sob.
Tectonic plates were shifting and climate change was having a devastating effect. For fun, Black-water vigilantes tortured Diego Arnez.
TV painted a glorious picture of the new American Economy. Tariffs and taxes boosted growth. The small war with Mexico was an important line in the sand… us against them. The country’s CEO kept his promise by closing the border. A man named Miller assumed the role of “Secret Santa” whispering in the leader’s ear offering advice on purification and social control. Every event resulted in the construction of a new room in the Golden Palace. The grand edifice was like an M.C. Escher maze worthy of hiding government secrets and tax returns. Palace construction led to a new real-estate cycle of boom & bust. The levels of complexity set off a rumbling in the digital-plates, platforms for Virtual Reality and Fake History.
Frankie was much more than a shadow… he was Harrison’s husband. He was much younger, but he was devoted to the life they shared together. Recently Harrison seemed to change. He appeared confused and rattled. Frankie was worried. The changes seemed to take place after the Doctor moved into the house next door. Dr. Cosimo became Harrison’s personal physician. He saw his patient every day and called his treatments an intervention.
Guns on the border were fired at the same time that church bells rang out. The centuries old Church of the Flowers stood like an adobe sentinel, guarding the border, keeping track of death. The church was a Way-station. When it was feasible people were allowed to travel through the gateway that was harbored within the walls of the church.
Dr. Cosimo had no medical training. He was a scientist with three PhD’s in Quantum Mechanics. He pretended to be a medical professional to gain Vincent’s trust. His assistant, Sally Magneto, was a practical nurse and theoretical physicist. Sally was also an amateur actress in the local theater group called Mummers’ Folly.
“I’m feeling upset,” Harrsion confided in his doctor.
“Please explain. I need details.”
“I’m old. My legs hurt and I get cramps at night.”
The doctor appeared distracted, “umm.”
“I peed the bed two nights ago. I didn’t tell Frankie.”
“Oh… go on. Have you had any dreams?”
“Bad dreams… nightmares about the border.”
The doctor became more attentive, “tell me about the border. What did it look like? Was there a wall?”
Harrison felt queasy. He wanted to change the subject, “I think it was something I saw on TV. I read about the control TV has on our brains… Phones, ads, apps — everywhere. There is no getting away…”
“What about the border, ” the doctor interjected.
“It’s not real… just a dream.”
The doctor excused himself and went into the adjoining room.
Diego Arnez was held in an underground storage facility. His guards were part of a border patrol group called America First. They were vigilantes, outside the law; but working with the blessings of POTUS. The men in the group were burned hollow from daily hardship and violence. They enjoyed their newfound power over the alien hordes that arrived at the border. Some of Diego’s guards were particularly cruel. Diego Arnez was not an illegal alien, he was not what his captors expected. They tried torture to make him confess to the crime of invasion (the guards were bonded in their choice of weapons and ways to induce pain). Diego did not scream… he minimized the pain with self-hypnosis and meditation. He reached across to his captors… His calm voice changed everything. Diego Arnez told them about Time.
What do we know about Time? Some theorize that Time runs in a straight line from past to future. Other scientists believe all Time exists at once without delineations: past, future, and present are within a hands breath away. The study of sub-atomic particles indicates Time does not exist. Displacement exists, negative and positive energy exists; but not Time. It appears that energy and matter have concentrated on this particular aspect or parcel of Time. We are in an Entanglement. Gentlemen… I stepped through a mirror and crossed the border. There is no turning back.
Dr. Cosimo entered the viewing room where Sally was busy with actuarial charts and computer projections. She sat in front of the NODE, a quantum nexus connected to ten other NODE’s. Qubits were fighting for dominance. AI augmented the hypervalence of Quantum Decoherance. The power of one Quantum Computer was one-million gigabytes; but ten connected together was incalculable. Connecting the computers was part of an investigation into Quantum Mechanics; but Harrison was the experiment. Sally was the expert. She recently published a book, The Lady in the Room is Not a Lady. It dealt with differential displacement of sub-atomic particles. She was far more accomplished than Dr. Cosimo. The doctor was fighting to regain his stature in the scientific community. He depended on Sally’s discoveries, but refused to give her credit.
“He’s ready.” Cosimo instructed, “I put him in a trance and attached the Quantum Equilizer.”
“Another trip could kill him. The brain cannot deal with the induced levels of stress.”
“Sally, dear… We have the President’s backing. He wants this. It could benefit his agenda… and we have to know. Harrison is ready for the next world.”
The crux of the experiment was to prove the Many Worlds theory developed by the physicist, Hugh Everett.
Sally remarked, “POTUS doesn’t believe in science.”
“If he can profit from something, he believes it. He feels our work has potential.”
Electricity surged through Harrison’s brain. Memories flickered in his mind like a silent movie. He remembered the protest. Parts of America were up for sale. National parks and historic monuments were on the auction block. Harrison recalled the rally. He was arrested by the New Guard and incarcerated… taken to the Hospital for the Mentally Indigent. Electric Shock was standard treatment (designated as an intervention). Harrison bit down on the rubber mouth-guard as his brain convulsed. He was lucky to be alive. When the treatment ended Harrison was returned to his cell. He was confused. His face in the tin mirror above the sink was strange, unrecognizable. He was younger than expected. His vision was better. The body aches due to arthritis were gone. What happened? Where was Frankie?
Sally advised, “he’s slipping into a coma. He may die.”
Yes. Unfortunate. But the results of the experiment are astounding. Our work proves that Many Worlds exist. We can travel to other dimensions. We can travel through time.”
Mr. D was waiting in the anteroom across the hall. He was disguised as a gondolier. He was getting ready to take Harrison to The Land of the Dying Sun.
As the result of the experiment new technology was developed. Time Travel changed everything. Reports were altered. No disparaging evidence was discovered. Agents from the future crossed the border trying to correct the cataclysmic alterations and reestablish Truth. The border was an energy vortex where all the Ley Lines converged. The Leader of the Nation was determined to build a wall, a great wall, to keep the agents out. Nothing was foolproof. If necessary there was a Plan B… escape to another world.