They were coming from beyond the horizon. Jonathan Rangle saw them through the Ultra-Lens he purchased from a Con-Arts Website: giant, voracious ants devouring everything in sight. The dream fragmented and shattered like a delicate wine glass. Jonathan was fifty and he still had comic-book dreams. The little boy inside the man refused to grow up. He was immature, unable to accept reality.
Jonathan couldn’t adjust. He tried (sometimes desperately) to control circumstances. He was convinced something was wrong (a spanner in the works). He was driven to discover the true nature of reality. Doctor Zosomo Kulio told him, “your behavior is part of a vicious circle: you reject reality only to create another version that you also reject as being inauthentic — and the cycle starts over.”
What Zosomo said made sense, but it didn’t really matter. Something really was wrong, terribly wrong!
Rufus, a rat that lived in the wall, told Jonathan Rangle that people around the country were very upset. Rufus was Rangle’s best friend. He sat on his haunches and ate cheese. Together, the rat and the man, sipped wine and talked until delirium set in and the morning sun ignited the world.
“They want more,” the rat said, “TV isn’t enough. The world is changing too fast. Old jobs are being replaced with technology. Only movie stars and billionaires can afford the life that TV promotes. Ads are everywhere. Buy more. Eat more. Get more any way you can. Privacy is a thing of the past. Computers invade brains with slogans and enticements. Free credit. Free everything!”
“Yes,” Jonathan ruminated, “it wasn’t like this in the 1950’s. It was pleasant and easy going, or so I’ve been told.”
“Wrong,” the rat sneered, “it was lily white and the world was under the threat of nuclear annihilation. Today, people are running scared cause they are being replaced. The alien threat is real, but it has nothing to do with immigrants or minorities.”
Jonathan knew what Rufus meant. His own father was a white-nationalist. He was an angry man who blamed other people for his own failures.
Rufus commiserated, “you have to be a failure in America… that’s how the rich get richer. Poor people are brain-washed to buy what they can’t afford so they go into debt. It’s a vicious circle. Believing the rich man is the biggest mistake of all.”
The news of the election-results was very upsetting, but not unexpected.
Unhappy voters gave the reigns of government to a New Faction. Traditional politicians with their empty promises were no longer acceptable. Outright lies were easier to digest. Fables on gold platters were more palatable than cold facts and reasoned debate that forced people to think. Thinking was considered hard work. No one really wanted to work except for “stupid immigrants who were stealing jobs” (quote taken from the New Faction website). Most people wanted the leisurely life that only the new President and his cabinet could provide.
The New Faction took control. Jonathan was bereft. Rufus took it all in stride. At first people were dismayed, but eventually what seemed so unnatural became acceptable. The press and congress wanted to give the new team a chance; they couldn’t be worse than other administrations.
The New Faction was very different. Working to fulfill great expectations, the President and his cabinet made an effort to appear human. Inevitably, nature took its course and the president slipped back to his old ways: wallowing in swill. The members of the new cabinet were relieved to discard the clothes they were forced to wear in order to fool the public.
“the world will never be the same,” Rufus commented as he ate his cheese and sipped his wine. Jonathan nodded.
Eventually everyone got used to pigs in the White House. Soon it was “business as usual” having barnyard animals rule the country.
Gordon “Snaptrap” wondered if that was his real name or a pseudonym. He wondered if he was an investigator or a journalist who wanted to keep his real identity concealed. Of course, it no longer mattered because he was enjoying his most recent lobotomy. He was under the knife and loaded with drugs.
Gordon sat in a high-powered dentist chair while a computerized Bum-Bot took control of his brain. It was all for the best. This wasn’t his first lobotomy. Every operation had benefits as well as unpleasant side effects. The Robo-Doc assured Gordon that benefits would outweigh the pain. Gordon briefly recalled inconsolable sobbing, but the pain had subsided considerably since his last lobotomy.
The current operation was given as a bonus. This time the lobotomy would free Gordon from all his doubts, depression, and negativity. Before the lobotomies Gordon was, indeed, an investigator. He had damning evidence of government corruption. All the facts, names and dates, were locked in the safest place he could find: in his mind. Political hacks authorized the “operations.”
At first Gordon disparaged himself for being careless. After the first lobotomy he forgot all the details and no longer blamed himself. He forgot the evidence he hid in his mind. All that remained were flashes of memory: manipulators, roving Proctologists, and military drones.
Gordon was decommissioned — body parts farmed out. His brain was deconstructed. Reality was hijacked, crowd sourced, and replaced.
Frank Larson boarded the Aero-Jet and disappeared. No one noticed. No one saw him come on board. He was gone in the blink of an eye.
Larson, a lanky fifty-year-old with receding hair, was a detective doing field work for Internal Affairs. The department had gone viral, federalized and in charge of several agencies throughout the nation.
He was investigating the case of Emmy-Mae Parsons. She was supposedly a defenseless bag lady who was shot and killed by a fellow officer. Frank followed orders and did his job, but he always fudged in favor of the officer being investigated. This case was different, involving national security because someone blew up Hoover Dam. The lucky survivors inevitably adapted seeking rafts and house boats instead of McMansions. The bag lady was never a suspect, but strings were pulled to nullify the situation and lessen the damage to the police department (two birds, one stone). This current case smacked Frank in the head like a rotten mackerel.
Johnny Jackcraw was in stasis in the holding compartment of the Aero-jet. He wasn’t worried. His brain was being massaged and cleansed and his ninety-year-old body was undergoing artificial rejuvenation. Johnny needed his prepackaged good-looks because he was the main witness for the prosecution in the Emmy-Mae case. The government was willing to pay Johnny for information.
Johnny told authorities he witnessed the murder when he was a prisoner, confined in a jail cell with a view (he was imprisoned for the crime of petty theft — he was addicted to shop lifting even though he had a pod-load of bit-coins). He claimed he saw Emmy-Mae murdered by Officer Inola. He spied the crime while star gazing through his prison window. Nobody on the force liked Inola, Johnny said he was a witness, and the gun that killed the bag lady was discovered in Inola’s belongings. The cop-cam that every officer had installed was no help in this case — it was melted from the back blast in the explosion of Hoover Dam.
Johnny hated jail. He was a Star who loved to wear rainbow caftans and perform at the notorious Blue Nail on 126th Street in lower Manhattan. He couldn’t really sing, but audiences loved his amazing variety of colorful caftans (some of which were stolen from high end boutiques). He elaborated the story he told about Emmy-Mae so he could get out of prison. it wasn’t a total lie because he actually knew Emmy-Mae and she was a bitch who deserved to be killed. The condemned police officer was the cop who arrested Johnny so revenge was definitely a strong motivation. If the dark plan worked, Johnny would receive a new lease on life with an improved brain and a new, teenage body.
“There is no question that this case was a turning point in the mise en scène of events contributing to the Future,” Orlow Fabricatum stated with aplomb. (Kind reader, you might remember that Orlow is The proverbial fly on the wall — in this case, a robotic fly who has appeared in several stories & diary entries. Orlow was hired as a reporter for the net-blog, Future Days). Orlow continued his snide remarks, “the human tendency for gross infidelity and inaccuracy is only exacerbated by greed-and-ego resulting in predictable catastrophe.”
The club was sweating bullets when Johnny Jackcraw (now known as Livia Trash) gave his comeback performance at the Blue Nail on the same day that Detective Larson disappeared (it was previously reported that Johnny was in stasis on the Aero-Jet, but that was a cover story). He wore a lavish caftan created from purple haze and he sported large D-cup breasts to add to his youthful allure. He sang like a banshee much to the discomfort of the anesthetized audience. Johnny’s already dreadful voice had been augmented during his surgical procedures (when doctors discovered he was carrying a baby that had been conceived 60 years in the past. In his youth, Johnny was a poor, unwed mother, a bag lady, with no prospects but a shopping cart. Of course the baby had to be aborted against the prevailing laws of the land, but since this was a national security case abortions could be religiously performed).
Much to Johnny’s chagrin, no one watched his performance. No one was interested. His fabulous caftan was completely overlooked. His jack-hammer voice echoed like the death throes of a dying swan with no one in the forest to hear. The realization stung like an infected hangnail.
The case was finally solved by the “surrogate” Judge Franchisum, in the courtroom of public opinion. The judge consulted with Orlow Fabricatum to get the facts straight and assess the situation. This was no ordinary trial. There was no lawyer, prosecutor, or jury. The trial was conducted on the Virtual Web and every person, avatar, and robot was invited to participate in the proceedings. Hoover Dam still existed somewhere, but it no longer mattered. The Judge concluded no crimes had been committed. First came the screens, then came the head-gear; then, the world disappeared. Virtual Reality replaced everything.
Dana Otell saw his welfare manager on Thursday. The interrogation was a monthly routine in order to qualify for continued assistance. He took the subway to the government building. The train careened through the black hole like a missile loaded with bombs. The machinery whistled and moaned. Light-and-dark flickered like snapping flashbulbs and smeared faces stared from beyond the car’s windows.
The train screeched to a stop and ejected Dana along with the other passengers. He passed through metal shutters to a platform; he went up florescent stairs and exited a mechanical gate into the chill afternoon. He walked a block to his appointed destination.
The welfare complex was an immense steel construction that descended below ground where numerous files could be stored in subbasements. Dana received a number from a box and waited to be called. He filled out five sheets of personal questions, the same questions he filled out every month. Resignation was forced on him like a plastic body bag. Everyone looked embalmed, waiting to garner another month of food and shelter. Hours passed, but finally his name was called.
He walked down a metal corridor until he came to the designated partition. He waited for the machine to recognize him. The world was run by machines. People were second class citizens. The only diversion was virtual reality, a world of ghosts. Dana lived in a virtual dream. Even his visit to the welfare complex was a dream. The machine that greeted him was a ghost in a dream. There was no end to the layers of dreams … and there was no way out.
The wind plucked me like a harp
made from fish bones.
It was a letter from mother that tore into me.
She never loved fish but was drawn to the bones.
If bones spoke they might resonate
like purple violence etched on skin.
Sister Kim recognized the reference
she was an artist. That added to mother’s ire.
We all sat like statues.
Meat was lumped on pink plastic plates
mother’s choice when she was angry.
Sister Kim’s eyes glazed over like candied yams.
In the next room the television burbled.
No one knew how mother would respond.
“Is this real?” young Hank moaned.
just the wind playing across the bones.
The tots were shot with amphetamines and sent out to play. “Speed” made it all happen: playtime for toddlers. The whole city was a reenactment of the old west. Parents taught children to be part of the action. Loving parents made costumes and helped kith-and-kin choose exciting roles to play based on western history. “Return to the good ol’ days,” was the government motto along with, “Teach ’em while they’re young.”
Every Saturday toddlers (ages two through five) lined up at the OK Corral. The boys wore cute, cuddly cowboy suits – the girls wore long, modest dresses like pioneer women. Some girls worked at the Swinging Door Saloon. A few “rough” girls totted six guns. All the boys had guns half as big as they were tall. It was an inspiring sight watching the tots bearing guns or rifles (dragging them on the ground as they tried to walk).
At high noon the action started. It was an enactment of an old cowboy movie. Two groups of toddlers faced off like rival gangs. Usually no one was killed. Toddlers are notoriously bad shots. For the most part, the guns were too heavy to lift; but each tiny tot tried. It was miraculous that any shots were fired at all, but even impossible feats occur when people have faith. That special kind of faith that Jeremy Finkel had when he was pushed into the arena at the OK Corral. Jeremy was small for a four year old. He shuffled into the street dragging his gun behind him. The opposing gangs were milling about, trying to start the gunfight but having a hard time lifting the guns. Jeremy was timid, but he had a fierce alter ego that wanted to be free. The other tots hardly noticed Jeremy as they were too busy with their guns. Jeremy’s alter ego decided to teach everyone a lesson and show them who was boss. He was smart … he hefted the barrel of his gun onto a boulder. He sat on the ground and took aim. He couldn’t pull the trigger so he wedged a stick inside the finger grip. The more he worked the stick, the more it pushed on the trigger. Suddenly his gun fired. Jeremy was knocked over, but the stick was wedged against the trigger and the gun was an automatic with an extra large cartridge filled with bullets (parents often fudged on authentic details because modern weapons were more fun).
When the smoke cleared, little bodies were scattered on the ground. Jeremy stood in the center of the street. He proved he was boss, but it no longer mattered. He felt a growing sense of remorse. He sighed, “so much killing.” Jeremy turned and walked toward the setting sun. He could no longer hold back the tears.