“I occupy a room on the rim of the world,” he said to no one in particular. Leonora sat by the bedside reading the news on a digital screen. She was a mirage, a figment of his over-active imagination born from the womb of his loneliness. He led a long life; now, he was retired. He reclined on the memory-foam bosom of Time collecting the residue left from unfulfilled dreams.
The man in the White House kept throwing twitter-bombs at Frankie Bernbaum, an innocent bystander. Frankie was a third-rate comedian on the virtual Borscht Belt in the Catskills. Frankie’s shtick was not very funny – it was more therapy than comedy. Frankie needed therapy. He stood on the “realer-than-life” stage and confessed to being a hypochondriac with obsessive-compulsive tendencies and mother issues. A few people thought it was funny enough to keep bringing him back. But, Frankie was getting worse. His agent, Frosty Dick, thought Frankie should be committed to an asylum. Frosty had issues. He worshiped the man in the White House. Bernbaum’s criticisms and exaggerations infuriated Frosty.
Frankie had a new shtick, “Oy Vey, I got a hernia,” he told the five people tuned into the Velvet-VR-Lounge at the Mogen David Motor Lodge. “It’s such a pain,” he said, “but pain is all I got. I named it… I call my hernia Donny after our beloved presidente’.” No one in the audience laughed. Frankie assumed they were all supporters of the president. Frankie was upset. He began to rant. “Dumb schmucks,” he yelled at the audience.
“Goddamn dumb schmucks!” He believed the audience was spying on him, sent by the government to take him down. He had visions of Nazis.
Two security guards wrestled Frankie to the floor of the make-shift stage. Frosty Dick arranged to have Frankie admitted to the Cold Stone Infirmary for the Disturbed.
Years ago Frankie Bernbaum had delusions of grandeur. When his dream of fame and fortune was crushed by reality, Frankie became a bottom-feeder, just barely hanging on. Nagging pains convinced him to see a doctor. Dr. Zosimo Kulio revealed some interesting results, “Frankie you are the direct descendant of a catfish living in a Louisiana Swamp.” Bottom-feeder, indeed. It was odd news, but Kulio was an odd doctor. “No… I’m joking. Can’t you take a joke?” Frankie wasn’t laughing. The doctor’s real diagnosis was just as astounding. “Frankie, you got a hernia. In my opinion this is not an ordinary hernia. It is developing. X-rays revealed a head. I’m afraid you had a twin when you were born, but the twin didn’t make it. At least that’s what we thought at the time. Seems like… your twin developed inside your body so now you have a hernia with a human head.” Frankie was overwhelmed. He’d always wondered why his mother gave him up at birth. She must have felt the pain of the unborn twin. “Be careful,” Zosimo advised, “your hernia is still developing… maybe a body. We can’t remove it because the hernia is rooted to your spine. For now it might be better to give it a name and try to make friends.” Frankie felt resentment toward his unborn twin. In a storm of sarcasm he named the hernia after the president… and laughed. Changes began almost immediately. Donny started to complain. He became a real nuisance. He took the role of president seriously. He made unreasonable demands based on lies and exaggerations. Donny drove Frankie crazy and that led to the outburst at the Mogen David Motor Lodge.
After the incident at the Lodge Frankie was sedated. He woke-up in a white room. Dr. Zosimo Kulio stood over Frankie with a twelve-inch hypodermic needle. The doctor jabbed his patient with a mixture of psychedelic drugs. Frankie had to confront the monsters in his head.
Donny sat on a stool and smiled. The hernia sported an orange comb-over. Frankie was horrified, “what are you,” he sputtered.
“I can see you are in complete awe because you are standing in my presence.”
“I’m gagging. Talk about ugly…”
“Hey, buttercup, I’m in charge. Treat me with respect or I’ll make your life hell!”
“This is crazy. You’re a piece of my lower intestine, a hernia.”
“I shall call you stupid because that is what you are. I was your extremely mistreated twin; then, I became President.”
“I called you Donny as a joke.”
“I’m no joke, asshole. You were envious of the power wielded by a great man. You wished me into existence. Now, I’m in charge.”
“This is not happening,” Frankie moaned.
“It’s happening funny-man – I mean washed-up hack.”
Frankie felt a sudden jolt of pain and heard laughter like the sound of a buzz-saw.
“That’s right Frankie-boy – you are Out. Fired. I’m in charge and there is nothing you can do about it.”
Leonora Vetch missed Frankie. She hadn’t heard from him in over a month. They had a short-term affair (two nights on a waterbed not worth remembering). The affair quickly cooled down and became an awkward friendship. She was happy about what happened, how it all turned out… Leonora prized friendship more than sex. It wasn’t always easy dealing with Frankie’s obsessions and ideation. Still, Frankie was a comforting presence when he wasn’t rambling on about politics or philosophy. In truth, Leonora didn’t have a lot of friends and Frankie was dependable. She was a newspaper reporter working for the Daily Grind. She met Frankie Bernbaum while doing a fluff piece about the Virtual revival of the Borscht Belt. Leonora liked Bernbaum’s act. He reminded her of Lenny Bruce… only Frankie was not nearly as intelligent or daring.
Frankie always turned up or called every week. If he planned to be away he left a message. Leonora heard about the blow-up at the Mogen David Motor Lodge. She knew Frosty Dick had Frankie committed to Cold Stone; but they could only hold him for twenty-four hours. Frankie would have shown up on her doorstep after his release. Leonora decided to investigate. If necessary she would turn this case into a hashtag frenzy or meme attack. She had the skills.
Leonora went to Bernbaum’s apartment. It was empty. She searched the Virtual Archives for information: leftover bits, ramdom bytes – clues with Frankie’s psychic signature attached. Leonora realized she needed help. She found no trace of her friend, but she found something else: the one person who could solve the mystery, Adamine Krator. He was the legendary Detective-Inspector who was incarcerated by the authorities in Red City. He was framed of course, but that didn’t matter in the arcane, digital jungle. Krator was entombed in the One-Zero VR Archive.
Leonora uncovered the digital codes that could give Krator limited virtual-freedom. The codes worked like an electronic monitoring-devise. If Krator strayed too far off course (as described in the compliance-plan set forth by Leonora) he would be pulled back like a rubber-band, back into prison.
The great Inspector was so relieved to be out in the cascading Virtual World that he vowed to solve the case and discover what happened to Frankie Bernbaum.
As usual he went about his work with exactitude. Krator was hyper-vigilant (a characteristic that could be described as a personality disorder; or the defining behavioral trait of a Genius).
The detective followed a routine starting with the onset of events that led up to the disappearance. He researched the places where Frankie was last seen. He recreated the pivotal moments that occurred leading up to the time when Frankie was missed. It was necessary to become Frankie, necessary to walk in the man’s shoes. It was a technique that Adamine virtually invented. In so doing the Inspector found a few clues, very few at first; but every clue told a story and led to larger discoveries. At last, Frankie Bernbaum was found; unfortunately the comedian was not himself. He was found in an alley next door to the White House Bar & Grill. He was cut to pieces and very dead.
The great Adamine Krator put the pieces together to answer the question, “what happened to Frankie Bernbaum?”
Upon release from the Cold Stone Infirmary Frankie went to his apartment. He needed to put everything in order because he did not plan to return. He was in severe pain caused by his hernia. Donny continually badgered and mocked Frankie. There was no let up. The hernia intended to wall off Frankie. There would no longer be communication with Frankie. He would be imprisoned as the enemy. The comedian launched his own attack against Donny: weight lifting, squats, and extreme exercises… all to cause pain to the volatile hernia, to make Donny stop. Of course the pain he caused Donny doubled back on Frankie. Unbearable pain. Frankie staggered into the White House Bar where he proceeded to get blinding drunk. The drunker he became, the crazier Donny became: attacking and swearing, trying to grind Frankie into the ground beneath his feet… the seething hatred could be felt by the patrons in the bar. They were wary of this crazy comedian who sobbed and ranted about the filthy man who was president. A fight broke out. Heads were cracked open spilling brains across the floor. The comedian was yelling and sobbing. He couldn’t take the rising pain. He could not let Donny take control (Donny’s words echoed inside his skull, “I’m in charge and there is nothing you can do about it.”) There was something Frankie could do. He backed into the alley behind the bar and unsheathed the knife he took from his apartment. There was something… and Frankie proceeded to attack Donny, sacrificing his own life in the battle.
Frankie Bernbaum gasped for air. He was finished telling his story. Dr. Zosimo Kulio bit his lip. It wasn’t easy seeing his patient in such a state of decompensation. The man was under undue stress. The sickness was all in his head. The country would get back to normal one of these days and it would all seem like a dream… at least, that was everyone’s hope. He had to admit nothing was easy anymore. It wasn’t easy having his clinic turned into a prison for dissenters and aliens. But, he felt confident it would change… it had to change!
“This is my bed of lies,” Miranda Monologue wrote while reclining on her memory-foam mattress. She was recording recent events: celebrity news, politics and gossip. It was a depressing occupation. Although she tried to lighten her task with subtle humor there was no way to soften the effects of “breaking news.” Screens (computers and TV’s) never lied… only the clandestine power-brokers behind the screens told lies. Miranda had to sift for the truth, but to survive as a mid-level journalist she had to create lies of her own. Her room was a pod constructed from computer-glass that linked all her devices and screens. She was bombarded by layers of images and information-archives. Miranda was contemplating her next text message when her I-pad barked, “you in the wrong place, bitch!”
“Not again,” she thought as she slipped back into the storm.
Timothy Hardwick was thin, but years at sea hardened him into an iron-spike of a man who could tackle any seafaring job. He was a merchant marine aboard the USS Porpoise. He was part of the crew in 1838 when the expedition confirmed the existence of Antarctica. Currently the ship and crew were circumnavigating the globe. The Porpoise was an old sailing ship that was recently refurbished, but the storm tore into the hull like a raging demon. Timothy braced himself with several gulps from the flask he always carried. The liquid burned like a blue flame. He picked up the habit when he was 14 on his personal maiden voyage. Now, he needed the blue flame more than ever as the ocean became an impenetrable wall of fury.
The screens showed documentaries about the past along with visions of the future. Sometimes history became confused, unhinged. Virtual Reality facilitated the multi-sensory experience of events and interpersonal relationships. Promotions and ads were the common thread that stitched the Virtual Worlds together into a seamless spectacle.
Miranda Monologue was back in her perch above High Castle. She was screwing a platinum-blond octogenarian known as the Stone Man. He giggled with rapture as he plunged his bloated libido into her pink pussy avatar. She was seeking leaked information as she wrapped her cybernetic legs around Stone’s overblown ego. “Roger, Roger,” his I-phone bleeped. It was an emergency message in code directed at Stone’s avatar. The thrill of high stakes espionage coupled with Miranda Monologue’s sexual virtuosity triggered a mental orgasm and Stone verbally exploded, “HARP!” The truth vomited from Stone’s mouth about a shadow government and experiments to control both the weather and people’s brains, HARP. Stone cut the virtual connection. Miranda slide helplessly back into the beckoning sea.
“Ru Paul’s Drag Race” and “The Bachelor” were playing on screens above the bar. Another screen showed a commercial about “Manna,” an artificial food substance manufactured by Heaven, Inc. One ad followed another: face creams, fat removal, Mega-Max Cars and McMansions. The biggest screen showed a large, blustery man at a podium who yelled, “family is off limits.”
“Too much attention is given to that guy,” Axel Ramirez spoke to his fifth whiskey-sour who he named, Harvey. His words ran together in a mumbled slurry.
“I couldn’t agree more,” the whiskey-sour replied. Axel felt a strong sense of empathy emanating from his drink. It was an antidote to the gloom that pervaded the bar as it slowly sank into the flood. It was only the beginning. Irma was in the wings along with her whole family of weather related disasters.
Timothy Hardwick slammed against the sea wall and shattered. It wasn’t the end… he came together in pieces like droplets of water drying in the sun. He was frozen on a shelf of ice. The ship and crew were intact, back in Antarctica where their odyssey began. They found something on that first expedition and what they discovered brought them back. A black hole in the ice revealed a dead city, a lost civilization.
Miranda Monologue wrote feverishly on her I-pad screen. The story had a life of it’s own. She didn’t know where it came from or how it entered her brain. She saw Timothy Hardwick enter the ice-castle in the underground city. He moved like a dead man, stunned by the emerging structures surrounding him. He was drawn to a room deep in the bowels of the castle. Lights, powered by some unknown source, flickered in the gloom. The room was a rotunda. Figures sat on thrones lined up against the wall. Timothy felt his skin tingle and crawl in an attempt to escape. The figures were alive, but they were not human! A living movie flowed like acid into his brain revealing armored men with torches bent on destruction. Timothy couldn’t decode the information. Miranda was trying to communicate with him, trying to explain. He was witnessing the Cabal: ancients, aliens who observed the world and judged mankind. More was revealed about ordinary men, government puppets… and about one man who would set up a Patriarchy and make himself king. Insanity was in the works, but if necessary, the Cabal had a final solution.
The nation was shedding tears — torn apart by lies, innuendoes, and tweets. One rumor talked about a tenth planet, Nibiru, heading toward Earth on a collision course. Conspiracy theories abounded about an invasion from space. People sought refuge in social media. Celebrities were worshiped.
World News: “The Mistress glides across the flooded-plane in ten-inch heels like a stork.” — “The First Family leads the nation in both fashion and compassion lending a helping hand to people in need.”
The Stone Man reacted quickly, “What’s the goddamn emergency,” he yelled. He was led into a room at the palace and told to take a chair and watch the screen. He was about to watch events that were recorded within the last hour.
The king was giving a rousing speech to his most supportive troops. The men in the crowd signaled their obedience with raised arms and flaming torches. All members of the Royal Family were on stage showing gratitude to the adoring crowd. Drums beat. Trumpets blared. TV cameras captured every moment. The king beamed, “we will make this country great, again.”
A shot rang out. It wasn’t unexpected. The king had enemies. The shot sounded like a ping: spit hitting the rim of a spittoon. The king was an ardent supporter of open-carry laws to arm all citizens. An angry growl was voiced by the assembled partisans blaming “lefty’s” and foreigners for the deed. Fights broke out as the crowd tore itself apart. The family stood on stage frozen in shock and awe. The king was dead. The family was in crisis revealed before the cameras. The Baron dropped the smoking gun. No one suspected — he was just a child. The boy suffered from too many years of abject neglect at the hands of narcissistic adults. He snapped.
There was a universal sigh of relief. Even the royal family was glad to be out of the political spotlight. The king had become unstable. His deals had gone sour so he lashed out. He put everyone in embarrassing situations and mocked them when they failed to meet his insatiable demands. The first lady was at last free to enjoy her liaison with a much younger and more attractive man. Only the Baron suffered the consequences of his action, but it was a light sentence. He was committed to an institution for privileged delinquents. No one really blamed the Baron. The nation truly loved him and, one day, he was determined to be back in the spotlight… and maybe run for a political office.
The disconnected voice fulminated over the cell-phone speaker, “Our lives are fractured and disjointed, filled with snippets and distorted images smeared across multiple screens. The only unifying element is the necessity to sell something to a mass audience. Everyone is numb to the constant static. At the same time we all feel the necessity to stay connected to digital devices that can only add to deep seeded alienation in a world where “screens” replace people. Our humanity has been reduced to narcissistic desires and obsessions with celebrity and money. This has certainly contributed to the growth of terrorist agencies bent on world domination and to the lone-wolves seeking fame by committing mass murder in the name of a cause based on illusions and solipsism.”