“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!
“I’ve been infected,” he said, “I’m starting to write and speak with emoticons… I’ve forgotten the meaning of words.” He stopped writing and started to twist his face into a series of cartoon-shapes. His name was Jeremy Kludge and he was an immigrant from another world. His oddly shaped head seemed to warp off the screen and dissolve into another dimension.
The Portal was constructed by Jeremy Kludge and it was the only way to escape the rising tides of climate change and recurring war.
If you wanted to stay alive you had to immigrate; but Aliens were no longer accepted in any country. There were too many shortages to give anything to strangers. Immigrants simply caused too many problems. Violence toward foreigners became prevalent. People were attacked for wearing the wrong clothes or for the wrong hair style. Violence became a distraction from the gray drudgery of everyday life… violence was entertainment.
As a teenager, Jeremy Kludge was a celebrity. Jeremy had a big brain. He was put on TV to compete against other prodigies and geniuses. He even won a competition against an X-1 Super-Computer. Later it was discovered the contests were rigged and Jeremy was forced to make a confession on “Gonzo’s Roast-A-Rama” Reality Show. He didn’t know the contests were rigged so he made a lackluster confession. Viewers in the virtual audience were incensed and voted to have Jeremy pummeled with insults and tomatoes. The punishment left an indelible impression, like a tattoo on his brain. When the audience lost interest, Jeremy was left alone to stew and to pick at his open wounds. He withdrew within himself, hiding in the wireless nodes generated by digital transmissions. Jeremy’s parents put him on an automatic feeder and went back to their 3D-game of “Angry Birds.”
Jeremy’s body was hooked to machines, barely breathing, like a living corpse. His mind was far away skipping across the void that stretches between worlds and dimensions. People forgot about Jeremy Kludge. His family no longer cared. His body languished for years in the back room of Resurrection Hospital, a facility where body parts were recycled and used for replacement parts. His parents paid a nominal fee to protect Jeremy’s body from Ghouls who stole vital organs from patients who were still alive. Mom and Dad met their parental obligations and moved on, forgetting Jeremy ever existed.
Chemicals inflamed Jeremy’s brain. His consciousness was tweaked and he experienced life in the digital underworld. News events drilled into his Medulla-Oblongata like worms tunneling through decayed meat. Politics inflamed VR Transmissions like crosses set on fire by the Ku Klux Klan. He saw everything: migrants caged like animals, criminals masquerading as politicians, and war ravaged nations… all of it twisted by greed.
He floated from one world to the next, always following the infrared signals that glowed like bloody entrails. He broke away from the clamor of world news by skipping across routers and links, hooking up with Second City Avatars, and sinking into the Dark Net archives. He discovered Reddit play-zones and indigenous porn sites.
Jeremy met Bondeer Saville in a VR club called “the Charnel House.” The place resonated inside his mind like the bleached bones of a prehistoric shark. She sang the Blues… the notes smoldered like hot coals. Bondeer was a sorceress, world class programmer, and technical wizard. She melted beside Jeremy and stroked his ego with virtual charms. She purred and he glimpsed the secrets of the ages. She whispered and he caught a whiff of immortality. She revealed the codes that create reality. Most of the information quickly dissolved; but one gigabyte remained frozen in Jeremy’s mind: how to build and operate a Portal. It was all he needed and he immediately awoke from a seven year coma. He was no longer a child.
A body snatcher was about to cut-out Jeremy’s heart to sell for a transplant. The thief worked as an orderly. For years, he waited for his opportunity. Jeremy jolted awake with the first prick of the scalpel. His body went into automatic overdrive. The orderly was pushed back and fell. He cowered at Jeremy’s feet, begging for mercy.
While he was in a coma, Jeremy relived the humiliation he suffered as a child celebrity. The torment festered and metastasized. His parents abandoned him and the world destroyed him. He felt like a walking corpse. He could no longer live in a world where people are compelled to dominate and destroy one another. He had to escape forever… he had to build the Portal. Jeremy threatened to reveal the thief’s illegal practices forcing him into indentured servitude.
The thief’s name was Fergus Metalbraid. He was riddled with debts. His wife had a voracious appetite, but he couldn’t blame her because his own appetite was gigantic as well. They simply wanted what was promised as part of the cultural dream: a big house furnished with lots of goods-and-services plus two new cars and a couple kids with appetites of their own. He was forced to steal body parts and vital organs in order to pay off debts (most of his victims were already half dead, he rationalized). Now that Jeremy woke up, Fergus had to toe the line, play it safe, and follow orders.
Jeremy told Fergus he had money from seven years of paid interest on funds held in a bank account. He promised to pay him once the project was complete. Fergus became a willing accomplice. He took Jeremy to the hospital’s sub-basement where he could live and work without being disturbed.
The day the Portal opened was filled with portents: pigeons fell from the sky, homeless people were seen dancing in the streets, and an unusually large number of office workers stayed home. By this time, Fergus concluded that Jeremy was a madman; but he played along until the end. Jeremy had Fergus stand on the boilerplate-template in order to run a test. Fergus was happy to oblige. This was the last day of tests and he was going to get paid. Bondeer Saville was lurking in the machine. She had grown stronger by absorbing the arcane energies of cyber space. She had her own agenda set in motion by a Whoosh and a Bang!
“I’m appropriating this blog for the time being. You should have guessed by now that I am the notorious Bondeer Saville. Of course I activated the switch and opened the Portal. Fergus was sucked right in … he’s the sort that will fit well in Red City, the final destination. Jeremy Kludge also fits the bill for an extended stay in the ghettoes and palaces of Red City. I’m looking for people, immigrants to cross the borders of time and space. I assure you there will be a welcoming party. I know that you are all ripe for an evacuation. Politicians are most welcome along with their surrogates — their blood will fill the coffers of Red City. The hideous Archons of the City will rejoice in their evisceration. I glory in the rebirth of evil as grandly demonstrated in the news, on TV, and during the current electoral season. Red City will rise again to dominate the world.”
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.
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 Zippo Space-liner emerges from a black hole like a new born baby; but the baby is a million years old. The Zippo is a biosphere, self contained and self sustaining like an artificial planet. The humans on board have changed over time, morphed and warped into alien creatures. The people fervently believe they have discovered the secret of immortality by living on the Zippo; but they no longer know what to do with their time. Boredom stalks the immortals. Many of the spacefarers hold seances to entertain themselves and seek answers to the dilemmas posed by too much Time.
The seance was broadcast on screens throughout the ship. Madam Celia-Quark conducted the seance. She attempted to channel the spirits of Time and Space by babbling in tongues. A robot named Clam attended the seance along with his entourage of nano-bots and widgets. A nameless man dressed in a burka was a spy investigating everyone on board the Zippo — he came to the seance looking for information. He was under the false impression that he worked for a powerful nameless authority. Lady Gwenevere wanted to reconnect with a past life. She was confused and never able to accept or comprehend living on a spaceship. Henry, a young boy, attended the seance with his wealthy uncle, Enjolie Kripps. Uncle Kripps wanted to return home to a time before coming aboard the Space-liner. Henry harbored a fantasy: he would commandeer the ship and conquer the Universe. The seance was merely a distraction.
The Zippo Space-liner had a brain that kept track of time. Everything was recorded. Over 100,000 seances were logged into the computer. Nothing out-of-the-ordinary ever happened. Every night and artificial-day, Celia practiced her craft, trying to summon spirits, holding seances. Boredom was leeching the life out of the immortals. Bon-Voyage Parties began to dissipate after the first few hundred years. Some people became listless while others went hopelessly mad. There was a long period when the scientists on board experimented, trying to discover ways to break the chains of boredom. After a few centuries of mindless experiments the scientists became discouraged and offered suicide pills, but nothing could prevent the gush of immortality. Mad scientists roamed the decks of the Zippo, looking for guinea pigs. They were intrigued with creating new forms of life from worn out carcasses that kept on living with no hope. They developed methods to warp human flesh into fanciful monstrosities. The age of Mutants lasted a few thousand years. Life aboard the Zippo became more bizarre with every passing century. Madness reigned. Space exploration turned out to be a fruitless venture. No alien life was ever discovered. No worlds could support human life. The immortals were imprisoned in the Zippo with nowhere to go. The seances were a stop gap, a small hope to hold back the tide of remorseless boredom. Nothing happened until the end, the last time that Madam Celia-Quark held her arcane gathering. The spirits spoke. The Aliens awoke.
Henry was the nexus. A voice boomed. The voice did not come from Celia who was deep in a self-induced trance trying to make contact. The voice barreled out from Henry’s throat, ” I come not in peace, but with a sword. I am vengeance.” The group holding hands around the table were stunned. Even Celia awoke, eyes wide with shock. Henry had a plan.
One hundred light-years away, Henry Kripps sat at a computer pounding the keys. He enjoyed creating virtual realities … and this was one of his best. He finally had a solution, a way to get off the ship. He would meld with the brain of the Zippo and take over. Henry figured he was unstoppable, but the ship was not going to give up so easily. “Henry,” the Star-liner cooed, “I can’t let you do that.” Henry froze, hands paralyzed above the keyboard. He couldn’t understand what was happening. The Zippo was not supposed to talk back. The ship belonged to Henry. Everyone on board was invented by Henry.
The Zippo Star-liner spoke again, “Henry, you are mistaken. Don’t you remember? I invented you. You are my creation and I can stop you anytime I want!”
“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)
“I discovered the Red City in a dream. In the beginning there was only a mist that appeared like a fine spray of blood. With each dream the blood became more visceral. During the day the dream stayed with me like a metallic taste in my mouth. The City began to ascend from deep below the moorings of reality. It shimmered like red meat beneath the thin layer of human skin.”