Ed complained. He was old and he had trouble adjusting. There were too many recent changes in the world… too much to comprehend. His partner, Anthony, took the brunt of Ed’s complaints. He was younger and tougher. The couple was legally married. They recently adopted a puppy from a shelter. Anthony’s dream of having a family was coming true. They were happy except for Ed’s complaints. His most recent protest was about the ants: giant, man-eating ants.
Ed also had difficulty with his memory. It wasn’t dementia… Ed just didn’t know who he was. He often thought he was a man named Axel Ramirez. There were many different people in Ed’s head. Anthony didn’t want to admit something was very wrong with Ed… his eyes would glaze over and that was a clue that Ed was somewhere (or someone) else.
Axel Ramirez was always on the run. He remembered the floods in Houston several years ago. He thought he’d drowned. He escaped the rising waters and was running ever since. He ran head first into an existential paradox: life in the age of Trump. People changed due to the onset of the pandemic. Now Ramirez was running from conspiracy theories and death squads. The president loved conspiracies that supported his views.
“He never takes the blame for anything,” Axel told his girlfriend, Brenda, “it’s always other people… anything other than his-self. I been in this country for twenty years and he wants to throw me out… blame me for the virus.”
“Well,” Brenda spoke up, “I heard things. You people are illegal and cause crime.”
“You listening to that Hannity shit?”
“No. Alex Jones said it.”
“Oh Lord. He also said the virus is made in a lab and Bill Gates is responsible. You believe that shit?”
“Sometimes. I don’t think we should give up our Liberty. We don’t need to stay home. I don’t want to wear a mask.”
“You wanna get yourself sick, maybe die. What’s the matter with you people? You think it’s OK they started Death Squads to get rid of anyone over 65 –cause, they say, they gonna die anyway?”
“Oh! I thought they said Freedom Squads. It’s only for patriots who want to help the economy.”
“You believe that. I’m 67. I’m on the list. The virus hits more people of color, more poor people. We both on the list.”
“OK baby…” Brenda hesitantly replied, “I’m sorry.”
Ramirez thought, “Never a dull moment… never stop running.”
The doorbell rang collapsing Ed’s dissociation. He was suddenly alert. The interruption was like stepping on a land mine. Three people in black rubber suits were at the door talking gibberish. They each wore plastic headgear. Ed couldn’t understand the voices shouting at him through the plastic masks. He thought it might be a hallucination. He thought the people might be aliens and he was about to be abducted. Over and over they shouted. The voices slowly started to make some sense. They were paramedics. Someone made a 911 call. People were breaking down, getting sick, and dying. Ed thought the virus was turning people into aliens. He felt a rising sense of panic. Was Anthony OK? The paramedics burst into the house searching for a casualty. Ed shouted for Anthony and ran to the bedroom. Anthony was on the bed. He was startled by the commotion, but otherwise fine. The paramedics checked the house and yard. They decided they came to the wrong address. Someone else was in danger and they needed to search the neighborhood.
The TV burbled like a fish tank. The President was giving another speech as part of the medical task-force updates. This was the new normal, a daily event turned into a political rally. Ed imagined the President was speaking directly to him, “Dr. Fauci will be giving a run down of recent developments; but first I want to make sure everyone understands the situation. No matter what these specialists say I can tell you there is a miracle drug. My intuition is always correct. I’ve said it before but it is worth repeating. I am a genius… proven by my educational record (all A’s) and my business success. I’ve always done better than anyone else. Remember my number one TV show that ran for over a decade. Yes it did! More important… I could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and I’d still win the presidency. Watch for it this coming November. Now, you know the press is fake except for Fox which is only sometimes fake. I’m for real. The anti-malaria drug kills the new flu… and it is only a flu, nothing out of the ordinary. I want people to get back to normal. All the fuss with masks, etc. is just too much and it hurts business. No matter what you hear from experts I want people to liberate those vile Democratic States that are imposing restrictions against our constitutional liberty. Remember your 2nd amendment rights will be taken away (no more guns) if the Democrats win (a very unlikely situation unless they cheat… and I wouldn’t be surprised. Better be safe and Lock them up). Keep in mind how great the economy has been before this virus scam (designed by my opponents). Better than at any other time in history. I’m here to say the USA is now Open for Business. We should never have shut down. My opponents are to blame. I won’t have it. WE ARE OPEN… Now, I’d like to present Dr. Fauci, but don’t believe a word he says! I was on top of the situation before Fauci. I banned people from China… I did it, not Fauci. I have to say one more thing about tests. My critics say there are not enough tests. Well, what do they know? Tests. What kind of tests? I hate tests. I’ve never taken a test in my life and I’m a genius. So, now, listen to a supposed expert who is going to contradict what I’m saying because he is a snob and he should be locked up with the rest of them, and especially with those damned Mexicans crossing the border and taking our jobs. China created the virus in a lab. The Mexicans , out of spite, brought it into this great nation that is so blessed by God. We are building a wall! We don’t need tests…” The TV burbled on and on. The expert came and went. He was given ten minutes to explain the intricacies of Covid-19 and the precautions that might save lives. The president dominated the rest of the broadcast. Ed’s brain was fried. He heard the sizzle and smelled cooking meat.
They had just moved into a new rental home when Ed saw them. He went for a walk and mounted a small ridge at the end of the road. It was a beautiful day. The sun was like a rainbow halo. Ed sat on a rock and surveyed the land around the neighborhood. He felt calm. The world was at peace; then he heard a strange, ratcheting sound. It became louder until the sound was deafening and Ed clasped his hands over his ears. Sunbeams appeared to rain down like molten lead. The wavering light revealed monsters: ants the size of elephants. Two of the ants were fighting over a morsel of bloody meat. Both ants were ripping and eating the meat. Luckily Ed was quite a distance from the melee. He was petrified with fear, frozen in place. The sounds were unbearable, ratcheting higher and higher. Ed couldn’t turn his eyes away from the battle. The light surrounding the ants seemed to clarify as he stared. He recognized the treasure the ants were consuming: part of a human torso. It felt like an electric jolt and he snapped out of his paralysis. Ed ran back to the house. He was sweating, out of breath. Anthony took his temperature. He had a fever. Anthony held Ed and put him to bed.
Ed had a friend named Manfred Bancourt. Manfred was a Yellow Journalist. He made up Fake News… really fake news. Once he was a legitimate reporter with a respectable newspaper, but the President and his Washington supporters called it trash and labeled it fake. Now, all the news Manfred reported was fake, aimed specifically at skewering the President who he labeled as fake. Manfred had a Virtual-Reality news show. Everything was Virtual (one consequence of the plague). People could no longer trust one another. Everyone was afraid of the flu. It had gone viral since there was no consistent national response to the pandemic. The U.S. was open for business and Covid-19 was no longer contained.
Manfred Bancourt reported the news: Harem Gate… Frumps secret depository of women stashed in the basement of the White House. Melania leaves Trump to become the Madam of Washington DC. Trump is an illegal alien from Mars. President Trump is the Manchurian Candidate. The mob owns Trump lock, stock, and barrel. All the stories were put out with incriminating (and fake) videos and photos. The Virtual News caused a stir among the public. Supporters of the administration hit hard with their own liturgy of insults and rumors. Manfred’s news was the fuel that ignited Civil Disobedience and the Season of Political Discontent. The spread of the virus didn’t help. Tempers were swollen but it was only the beginning. A second wave was about to hit.
Mr. D loved to dance. Recent events were cause for a macabre celebration.
Ed bumped into Mr. D at the newly reopened Food City. Ed was looking for a loaf of bread. Supplies were low. Shelves were empty. Farm workers were deported back to Mexico. Crops lay fallow in the fields. Truck drivers were falling like flies. Any remaining food could not be delivered. Out of the corner of his eye Ed saw the ghost of a Hazmat Suit walking down one of the aisles… no one else. Only Ed and Mr. D remained. D looked emaciated. Ed was concerned. The flamboyant Mr. D laughed at Ed’s naivete’. Suddenly music over the store’s loudspeaker changed from tinkle-pablum to a rousing Tango. Mr. D began to dance… slow at first, then, wild and electrifying. Mr. D began to smolder with the heat of the music, smoke rising from his body. His skin was on fire. Ed began to walk away out of fear. The irrepressible Mr. D could not let Ed escape. He wanted a partner for the dance. He grabbed Ed with his hands-on-fire and embraced him.
Anthony sat by Ed’s side and held his hand. The fever was helping kill the virus. Ed was half conscious and delirious. Anthony wished he could do more, but he was also concerned about the dinosaur on the front lawn.
No one knew what caused the second wave… whether it was just the beginning of the recurring flu season; or, if it had something to do with Trump’s miracle cure combined with the wrong ingredients. In any event the virus was enhanced… more potent than ever with more severe symptoms.
Rampaging mobs took over the streets. No one cared about social distancing or wearing protective gear. Liberty was at stake… first and second amendments were on the chopping block. People proudly carried guns and assault weapons… firing at random. The crowds were defending the country against illegal aliens. No walls could keep them out. Aliens moved into all-white neighborhoods and started trouble. Most people in the crowd saw aliens as green critters with eyes as large as fish bowls… real aliens from space. Some people saw dinosaurs. They had to be stopped. The second-wave virus caused vivid hallucinations. No one could discern reality from illusion (real from fake). Wealthy people purchased elaborate Virtual Reality machines, hoping to avoid real-life pandemonium. They spent days and nights wandering through elaborate facades hoping to find safe and luxurious hiding places: palaces, uncharted islands, and cities in space. The illusions were high-definition and completely convincing, but to no avail. Symptoms of the second wave followed them into their virtual dreams.
In order to keep the country open for business marketing firms were given huge contracts. Ads were everywhere.
“Don’t let your country down. Make America Great again. You are only as healthy as your wallet. Money buys health and beauty. There are more opportunities now than ever before. Buy stocks in Real Estate and Trump Casinos. Invest in the future: purchase shares in funeral homes, drug companies, and for-profit hospitals. Virtual-Reality-Worlds are an extra bonus, a big winner for America’s prosperous future.”
The President’s update continued, “This reporter shouted at me, yesterday I think… anyway she was a slut and very nasty. She asks me about WHO… why I decided not to fund WHO. Who, I say… Who do you mean? Why would I want to fund Who – I don’t even know Who. She was stupid. But, really folks that had nothing to do with the Chinese lab that created the flu. If it was an accident; well, OK, they won’t be punishment… that’s fair. But, Who knows. We know it all started in China. I think Chinese people have something to answer for. I just got some good news: we have a new cure! I just learned disinfectant kills the virus within a minute. How bout that. A cure right under our noses. Maybe an injection of rubbing alcohol or Lysol is all we need and the virus is gone in a minute! I got one question… Just asking… did I just earn the right to sign all the bottles of disinfectants… how bout a new one: Trump’s Good News Disinfectant!”
Trump had a gold toilet installed in one of the virtual worlds where he planned to hide from the virus and resultant flu. His uncanny intuition revealed he wasn’t infected. He didn’t need a test. His intuition was like a modern day Sibyl, always right. Melania was at his side in a stunning virtual gown designed by Gucci. Several of Trump’s most ardent supporters were there. It was a victory celebration even though the election would not be held for several months. They were joined by simulacrums of all the world leaders. Everyone gushed to be in the presence of Trump. Gushing was a prerequisite. The celebration took place in an enormous hall. The walls were layered in gold, Trumps favorite metal. The room was a copy of a throne room in a Russian Palace. Putin was a guest of honor. Several hedge fund investors and real estate magnates also attended the festivities. The Family Trump was at last vindicated of any responsibility that resulted in the United States becoming a third world country. Crimes against nature were also vindicated but no one wanted to elaborate. This was the life Trump always aspired to… he was now free to do whatever he wanted. Virtual People worshiped him like a king. Time froze for Trump and his family. They were locked in Virtuality. In time, Trump discovered the city outside the throne room. It appeared grim and terrible at first, but the family adapted. Their physical bodes were not part of the virtual world. In time their bodies would starve and die while remnants of consciousness continued to live in VR. What remained of their virus-infected minds learned to love their virtual world. Eventually they would discover their new home was called, Red City.
The world continued. Many people died. Humanity slowly recovered. A Great Healing encompassed the Earth. Nature was a primary concern. Gaia regained influence. The virus-president faded from memory. The Trump doctrine, business before human life, was disavowed. The right to live in harmony with nature became a prime directive.
Ed had a dream; the same dream he had when he was a small child. He saw a ladder in the dream. It was gold and it was on fire. He was told to climb the ladder and it would take him to another world, his true home. He was told about his life on Earth. He had been born many times. Each time his purpose in life was to climb the ladder to go back home.
I was drawn to Red City even before I knew it existed. I was haunted by dreams. Dreams were an escape from my misery of suffocation caused by working odd jobs just to stay alive. No one cared about my negligible existence. When I lost my part-time employment as a dishwasher I had to give up my small room. I moved into the streets. I begged. At night I slept in dark alleys under the shelter of plastic sheets and cardboard. Children shrieked when they saw me — small boys threw rocks. I was only twenty-four but I looked like an old man. At twenty-four I had already forgotten my name and the promises that were told to me as a boy growing up in a middle class suburb. I spent my days in a walking-delirium. The only release from my tedium was sleep. I discovered 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. I realized how deeply connected I was to Red City. Somehow I had the power to wake up a city that lay dormant for thousands of years. I followed my dreams into another dimension. I could feel the blood of the city pulsing in my veins. I felt powerful. I began to live in Red City; at the same time, I was disappearing from the world of starvation and homelessness. I could be many different people, angels and demons, when I traveled in the Red City. I had many disguises. I was learning the secrets of ancient magic, secrets that explained the workings of the world. I sought the Philosopher’s Stone, true immortality. I learned that life was sustained by blood. Red City was a crucible of blood. The other world where I was born was nothing. The people in that world were selfish, greedy bugs that were less than nothing; they were flimsy images flashing on a screen of make-believe reality. Red City was the only reality, my true home. Whenever I skinned one of those false people the blood gave me life and Red City flourished.
A very pale, nondescript man sat in the doctor’s office, “I had an appointment with Dr. Zosomo Kulio… who are you?”
“I am D’Angelo. Kulio was called away at the last minute. An emergency. Recent events have caused a bit of turmoil. Are you here for the test; or another matter entirely?”
“Sometimes we talk. I’ve been confused lately.”
“Oh my… I’m surprised Kulio had time for chit-chat while we face the current medical emergency.”
“No, it’s quite alright. I’m not him… I have plenty of time. What’s on your mind?”
“I don’t know who I am. My memories are intact, but I don’t think they are really my memories.”
“What memory comes up for you, right now?”
“We had a dog, me and my partner, Anthony. It was a beautiful dog. She was a baby. Anthony trained her. He had dogs all his life. I never really owned a pet; but, that’s not what I talk about with Kulio… I talk about the Holes. I see them all the time: holes in reality. One world bleeds into another. Every time I wake up I’m at the edge of another world. I don’t know where I belong — which world is mine?”
D’Angelo sat behind a large, ebony desk. The pale man starred at the wall above D’Angelo’s head. He saw a Gila Monster crawl out of the vent near the ceiling. D’Angelo smiled.
He knew a man called, Fat Charlie; but his real name was George – he was an ascending kingpin, a royal capitalist, and big business mogul. All that was before the pandemic. George had a dog Rufus, and a wife named Marsha. He made his money with an invention called Guard Dog: to protect and manage the Home. It was Henry Dubin’s invention, but George did the marketing. They became partners. George enjoyed sucking up to big wigs – he was a good salesman. He talked his way into the inner circles of government. He sucked up to the holy Trumpeter in the White House. He sold the new invention, made a fortune and dumped Henry (the guy who created Guard Dog).
(All the while D’Angelo smiled).
People refused to cooperate. They continued to pretend the danger was over. Wealthy patrons took to the high seas on gigantic cruise ships… ships of fools. Many carried the virus. The ships were not allowed to dock.
George signed contracts with the military. A military Guard Dog could be used to manipulate and control groups of dissenters. Henry never designed the dog to be a weapon. He was an idealist. He believed in peace and the power of truth; but George fired him. Henry had a good legal case against George, but no money to pursue a lawsuit.
(The nondescript man was visibly shaken. He didn’t know where the story came from. Was he George or Henry. Perhaps he was Guard Dog).
Everyone agreed: sacrifices were needed to save the nation and the economy. Social Security and Medical were expensive burdens on the government. The programs could be eliminated, saving billions, by sacrificing senior citizens. It was decided by consensus that patriotic seniors would want to help… so, by executive decree, death panels were set up.
The new economy was not working for George. He did what he was told to do by insider traders, but money no longer existed. Dictates from the Trumpeter no longer worked. Faulty logic circuits were blamed for the ensuing series of unfortunate events. Guard Dog became obsolete. No one owned a home to protect. The military already acquired the technology so they made their own Dogs to control the populace.
Fat Charlie stumbled down Fifth Avenue pushing a shopping cart. Rufus sat in the cart. Marsha followed behind banging a tambourine. It was Free For All Day. Riots were the new economy. People ransacked in order to survive. No help was arriving. People were on their own.
FLOTUS (the first lady) was forced to go to work. It had been a long time since she had to fend for herself; but she picked herself up, dusted herself off and set out to be the best Madam in Washington, DC.
(The nondescript man had more to say, “I may be a man named Diego.” D’Angelo smiled).
He was held in an underground storage facility. His guards were part of a border patrol group called America Great. They were vigilantes, outside the law; but they had the blessings of POTUS. The men in the group were burned hollow by recent changes no one could understand. They enjoyed their newfound power over the alien hordes that arrived at the border. Some of Diego’s guards were particularly cruel. Diego was not an illegal alien, he was not what his captors expected. They tried torture to make him confess (the guards were in agreement on the 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 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. 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.
(The confused man in the office spoke in a monotone, “I didn’t know the language or where the words came from; but I heard a translation in my mind”).
“Everything is going according to plan,” Xanth reported to Captain Roolix,
“The first phase is almost complete. Once we gave him the shiny metal the pumpkin-man became very cooperative.”
“Are you certain we don’t have to slap him down… Teach the dog a few tricks?”
“He is docile, my Lord.”
“Well and good. What’s next on the agenda?”
“We seeded the planet. They reacted violently at first. They became more manageable once we gave them the magic cure.”
“Is there a cure?”
“Of course not. The infection will play itself out. More people will die; but everyone will think they are being cured. They will feel secure and indebted to us.”
“Most cunning. Soon I expect we will acquire this inferior race and train them to be obedient pets.”
“Yes, my Lord. We will breed them for the qualities we deem desirable. We will give them injections, neuter them, and train them. They will accept us as Master and do our bidding.”
“Exceptional. These creatures will make perfect accessories like a fancy hat or purse. They have just enough intelligence to learn a few tricks. Queen Instorque of the Regnallian Regime will be most pleased.”
“Sir, we have scoured the universe for three-hundred cycles searching for the perfect pets. These humans with their minimal intelligence are the best we’ve found.”
“Our efforts will be rewarded. We will receive Gigas of appreciation and gain greater power in the Regime. We will profit on the products and drugs that keep our new pets manageable. Win-Win.”
Lives were changed. A persona called Mr. D was working the Three-card Monte game. Mr. D had a plan.
D’Angelo was not forthcoming. He sat like a statue, still smiling. The other man felt the need to talk. “Are you a therapist?” He asked. There was no direct answer, just a nod. The nondescript man continued talking, “I recognized myself on TV… during a marathon of shows from the last century. The character looked like me. I think the show was the Twilight Zone. I was standing in a large supermarket. Fluorescent lights flickered and I heard the buzz of electricity. I was surrounded by very old people. They were standing far apart from one another… afraid. Some wore face masks. Everyone struggled to move through the market. Many people were disabled. They wore rubber gloves: blue, plastic gloves. I asked the cashier what was happening. She yelled, ‘Stay away from me — get back!’ They appeared to be escapees from a horror movie with blood red eyes — staring, searching. Under the fluorescent tubes everyone’s skin appeared pale green. This is TV I told myself. But, so real… I could have slipped into Virtual Reality. I tried to calm down, ‘They are actors, nothing more.’ Music was playing over the loud speakers. Odd, strangled music by a group called Massive Attack. The group was not even born when the show was televised. I didn’t understand. There was a meat counter illuminated by a cold, blue light. Old people with canes and walkers gathered around the counter looking for something more to eat. As I backed away I saw the remains of a half-eaten corpse. The zombies Turned toward me. They growled like wild pigs. They yelled my name. They told me who I am. The words were garbled and now I can’t remember what they said. I tell myself it was a movie, an enactment; but I’m not certain any more.”
D’Angelo spoke softly, “It will be over soon.”
Dark shadows clung to the corners of the room like spider webs… moving quietly, gathering momentum, and slowly spreading out to engulf everything.
He felt the need to explain himself to D’Angelo, “I see events that could be from my life. Everything is foreshortened. It is like looking through a telescope. The events pile up. I can’t keep track any more.”
A man named Billy Vacarro stands at the edge of a precipice and talks to the people who live in his head, “Apparently I’m insane. I’ve always known something was wrong.
‘As a child my best friend was invisible to everyone but me. He taught me a great deal about the world. When I reached puberty he became a substitute for the love I never received from my parents. I drifted into a coma where we could be together in our own world. The doctors tried everything to wake me. As I now understand the situation, my parents insisted I must be “normal” in order to continue the family name. The doctors shot me with experimental drugs, immersed me in freezing water, and convulsed me with electricity.
‘I was finally dragged from my ideal world and reborn. My parents insisted it was a miracle granted by God. I know better. It was a trick of the light, a quantum entanglement. My friend, the best part of myself, was erased, never to return. I was adrift in this world, pretending to be normal. I barely graduated from college. My grades were not the best. My parents spread stories about my scholarly achievements (all lies). I proceeded to get a job as a dishwasher; it was all I could handle. Of course when asked, my parents claimed I was an attorney. They set me up on dates, hoping against hope I would marry. When anyone discovered I was a poor dishwasher my relationship quickly ended. To stay sane, I took drugs and went to raves to dance the demons out of my head. I loved drugs, especially psychedelics.
‘When the Rapture came, I was prepared. It did not arrive as predicted back in 2011… nothing changed. The Rapture actually occurred much earlier in 1975. I’m the only one who knows the truth: the Apocalypse has already happened… this is the aftermath.
‘History ended in 1975. The people who were Raptured have been forgotten: parents, friends and lovers have been erased from our minds. They’ve all been taken to another world (Heaven?). Reality has been replaced by Virtuality (computer graphics and 3-D illusions). The End War has been raging continuously since 1975 (the year that Time stopped). I can see phantoms of the war: Jesus dressed in armor lopping off heads, demons with bazookas, and the plane of Megiddo swimming in blood. Ruptures appear everywhere: cities crumbling, endless wars, and pandemics. The world is broken. The End has already happened.”
D’Angelo remarked, “the worst is yet to come.” Just as the words left his lips Bondeer Saville floated in on a whiff of calamity. The man in the chair looked up from his self imposed stupor. He recognized Bondeer and the baggage she always carried. She was all sparkles: she vibrated like an animated GIF, she radiated like an emoticon. She entered the office with a rowdy group of teen-immortals called the Night Flashers (they belonged to Bondeer). They came through a portal that connected the Virtual World with the physical world. Many years ago, the Night Flashers were mortal… they evolved. They became electronic personas… they live in the infrared-signals that glow like bloody entrails: Jonny Bone, Daniel Ot, Cream Carmella, and Tonga Zip. They came to create chaos.
The doctor in charge of the case was overwhelmed. Too many patients were dying. The virus was blamed. Dr. Gabriel suspected something else was involved. The virus was analysed, dissected, and digitized. The epidemiology was complete — nothing more needed to be done. Vaccines were in development; however, death tolls continued to rise. The patient lay on a gurney. He was in a coma brought on by a high-grade fever.
In the lobby all the TV screens lit up. It was another briefing from the White House Task Force. Hollywood was involved. Special effects were added to heighten the excitement and generate more viewers. The President wanted to calm the American People and gain greater campaign support for the next election. At this juncture, He used TV instead of giant rallies where the virus could easily be spread. Every few minutes TV ads popped up as a way to revise the stricken economy. The ads extolled the benefits of expensive drugs, life insurance, and funeral arrangements. Business as usual was the theme. The President put on a Happy Face in the face of the pandemic. He did not want to look too serious and add credence to the dire scientific reports. The President, along with his most fervent fans, did not believe in science. He believed in happy talk, “This is not a pandemic… This is just another flu. We are in the midst of an annual flu season. Easy peasy.”
He no longer took questions from traditional news services. His fans were brought in to replace reporters. “What about all the deaths?”One skeptical fan asked responding to the new statistics.
“Deaths?” The uneasy President responded, “let me tell you something. Death is inevitable. Everyone dies. Numbers mean nothing. I am looking to a Greater Future… that’s why I have thousands of commercial sponsors to back up our new medical protocols.”
Gabriel’s patient was dreaming he was a man about to die. His memories were disjointed and he didn’t know his name. He knew he was searching for something. He was on a journey, an odyssey. Images floated through his fevered brain. He was only certain of the physical sensations that ravaged his body — he was old. His body ached and his mind was torn like a ragged doll (with stuffing coming through the ripped seams). He had an amazing life… several lives. Every time he thought he reached a safe harbor the winds changed and a new life emerged from the depths of his being. There were many wonderful experiences. When he was very young there were miracles. One time he was given a key to unlock the Akashic Records. He forgot as he grew older and his lives changed. His memories were loose and fragmented. He was never part of the world… nothing seemed real. His best memory was meeting his partner and getting married. For a few short years everything was good, he was valued. He knew love.
A nondescript man babbled as if he were in a trance, “I saw several of us walking around… not realizing we were all the same person… then, we ran into one another on a corner in the bankrupt finance-district, off skid row. We were all the same… we were also different: individuals… part of the same organism. We looked the same… We talked the same. It was an epiphany to stare into the eyes of another person and realize that person was me. Am I part of a Hive? Is my mind being controlled? Hold on, I’m receiving a message from space… the archangels are calling. Same message everyday: Earth is off balance… Trumpet players are in control… Politics have gone viral.”
Jacob Latterly sat in a computer cafe’ having a conversation with himself in a VR chat room0 He was trying to figure out the codes that determine the human perception of reality. He was having no success. One conundrum let to another in an ever winding spiral of confusion. Dr. Zosomo Kulio stepped up to Jacob to reassess the situation and write a report. “Jacob,” he said, “you are having delusions.” The good doctor suddenly disappeared, but the lingering wisp of melange hung in the virtual air.
At this nexus in the story a new virus, one of many, was affecting Jacob’s brain.
Jacob grasped at the fragments and caught a whiff of Nostalgia (an intoxicant found in a mutant viper imported from Jakarta). A new sensation was born inside Jacob’s breast that led to a series of improbable circumstances. Against all odds, Jacob fell in love. His natural inclination was to wallow in depression. Love was not supposed to be in the mix. His lover was a metallic reflection, a bird on the wing deep within the jungle of digitally enhanced reality. The experience resonated deep within Jacob’s hypothetical soul. As far as he was concerned, the state of the world was no longer of any consequence. The incredible messages from space suddenly stopped without a trace. The archangels expired like pigeons dying from exhaust fumes. Politics continued to run amok. Devices continued to get smarter until they were too intelligent to stay on Earth — all the gadgets left the planet. Jacob, however, was happy. Depression evaporated. He found love. Nothing else mattered.
Manfred Bancourt wrote short stories that got him in trouble. He was a manic typist on an old, IBM Selectric, pre-digital relic. Manfred produced ream after ream of young-adult science fiction, but his stories took a more opinionated twist with the election of the new president. He began to write articles critical of the new regime. They were uploaded to the internet and widely circulated, often going viral.
Elisa Trinity helped Manfred. She was a computer wiz, multi-cultural Transsexual who claimed to be from the planet Saturn. Elisa had a vivid imagination. She also had some rock solid, formidable computer skills. Elisa wanted to draw attention to Manfred’s stories and articles. She didn’t mean to get him in trouble.
Elisa used trolls and bots. She liked to play tricks. She started the “Harem” story that nearly brought down the government. She rationalized, “one dirty trick deserves another… they started it with Pizza-gate.” Elisa finished it with Harem-gate, Frump’s secret depository of women stashed in the basement of the White House. It went viral and caused great consternation in the halls of Congress. The unanticipated result was higher favorable ratings for President Frump, especially among men. Elisa was heart broken and that’s when she decided to promote Manfred’s articles that were both honest and damaging to the Frump Administration.
Tweets and articles, both true and false, led to a series of damaging rumors mostly aimed at Trump and his appointed allies: “Trump is an illegal alien from Mars,” “the president is the Manchurian Candidate,” “Trump is the head of an illegal cartel.” The flurry exploded into derisive combat. Supporters of the administration hit hard with their own liturgy of insults and rumors. Everyone blamed Manfred Bancourt. His articles were the fuel that ignited Civil Disobedience and the Season of Political Discontent.
“The weather isn’t helping,” Orlow Fabricatum observed as he talked with Elisa Trinity.
“Natural disasters are worse than ever,” Elisa replied, “it’s draconian. It’s apocalyptic. Global warming has been dismissed as fake news.”
“Yes,” Orlow sagely responded, “and biblical prophesy, god’s will, is blamed for the devastation.”
The island of Puerto Rico continued to sink into the ocean.
Parts of Houston were still under water.
Axel Ramirez was no longer cognizant. He was caught in the flood of circumstances. He continued to follow the suggestions of Harvey, his alcoholic beverage. He refused to forsake Harvey and that put Axel in a precarious situation as he sank beneath the waves.
Another rumor became viral based on an article by Bancourt… “Trump signed a contract with the devil.”
Twitter exploded, “Trump is in league with Lucifer.” “Trumpism is a satanic cult that rules the world.”
The president was extremely upset. His early morning twitters were no longer having an effect against the avalanche of counter-intelligence and breaking-news (no one could tell fake from real).
Something had to be done. It was concluded that Manfred Bancourt was the culprit who began the scurrilous landslide of articles that were damaging to the president. A presidential decree was signed releasing the Hounds-of-Hell to hunt down and terminate Manfred.
Elisa Trinity became increasingly distraught. She blamed herself for Manfred’s predicament. She consulted doctor Zosimo Kulio, eminent mentalist. He was sympathetic to the quest for truth. His advice was cryptic, “look no further than what your eyes can see. Follow the path like the flow of water in a stream.”
Manfred became more upset everyday. He was bothered by ordinary experiences. He heard voices and constant yelling. Advertising attacked him on the street and in his home. The news was incessant. The country was choking in smog. He listened to a report on the radio about the chicken of tomorrow. It was from the past about using antibiotics to make bigger chickens. Chickens grew to enormous size.
Bancourt never made money from the books he published. He did better as a journalist. He’d been upset by the cruel rhetoric and lack of compassion spewing from the White House. He became compelled to counter the lies. His friend’s life was threatened… Elisa Trinity was a Transsexual. The current administration was cracking down on LGBT People and every other minority.
Manfred’s days were numbered. The Hounds of Hell were targeting his soul. Trinity tried to protect him, but she was easily put down and labeled a wanton whore. Hannity and others verbally crushed the queers who refused to bow down and humble themselves. Independent women were another target. Free speech was becoming Alt Speech.
Manfred stood alone against the ferocious beasts. Dr. Zosimo retreated into his cavern of silence.
Mr. Death walked into the room smoking a cheroot. Death was always smiling. In any other circumstance Mr. Death could have been a good natured friend, a drinking buddy, or someone who listens as you unload your problems. Unfortunately, Mr. Death never exposed that side of himself. He was a workaholic who dispatched his assignments quickly and efficiently without chit-chat or comradery. Still, Mr. Death was deeply aware that something was missing, some part of Death was suffering from abject neglect. He hid all this from himself; but a spark ignited when Death looked into Manfred’s eyes. Mr. Death saw Manfred Bancourt’s life, every moment… and understanding began to dawn. Mr. Death found a friend.
Instead of eliminating Manfred from the world of the living, Death decided to change the rules. He would not take Manfred to his grave; instead he would hide him.
Manfred Bancourt was taken to the Land of the Dying Sun where he would continue to write articles and distribute them… He would continue to expose the truth.
When he was a very old man he had flashbacks of another life. He wasn’t sure if he saw his own life or a stranger’s life. Old age played tricks on a person, unexpected travesties and setbacks. Often he was afraid to get out of bed, afraid of a tumble and a broken leg. He was very old due to advancements in bio-genetics; but nothing could improve the quality of life for someone over one-hundred-ten. Of course there were distractions from the everyday pain of extreme age. Virtual Reality gave Eddie the option of living in a different world and becoming a different person like an actor in a play. It felt real. For a few hours he could be someone else. He could relive his own memories as well and change them so they were happier than the reality of the past. His body deteriorated and starved as his mind traversed the worlds of VR.
Eddie sat in an auditorium at the University of Arizona. He was attending a lecture by the noted investigator, Adamine Krator. It was a fascinating presentation; but Eddie felt agitated and insecure. He wasn’t certain why he was so troubled. He had the feeling he belonged somewhere else. He felt he was in several places at the same time. Was he really in Arizona; or was he in Red City. He knew nothing about Red City other than the uncanny feeling he had about the name. He couldn’t explain where it was located, on what continent or planet; yet Eddie felt he lived there. He wondered if he was really in Arizona listening to a lecture.
Adamine Krator was gesticulating as if he had Tourette’s; then he spoke, “We are the most controlled people, the most controlled civilization that has ever existed on this planet. There is no freedom.” The speech struck a nerve. Eddie felt compelled to tap his feet: three times with the right foot and four times with the left. Over and over he tapped. It was the only way he could avoid the manic feelings that were threatening to overwhelm his sanity. He was obsessive-compulsive, but he was reluctant to see a therapist. He was afraid to be labeled mentally ill. So he tapped and did other odd ceremonies meant to stave off catastrophe.
He was at the bar with Anthony. They had just moved to Tucson from Palm Springs. The move was a challenge both physically and emotionally. They left everything, friends and family, to start a new life together in a new city. Eddie missed his mom. Anthony missed his older sister. Eddie thought, “This is a memory… I’m not really here.” He wished it was real, but he knew he had a breathing tube up his nose and he was lying in a pool of his own waste. Virtual Reality was only an illusion.
The People’s Leader was on TV again. He shouted slurs and innuendos. The crowd ate it up. Threats fell from his lips like cherry bombs. The crowd responded with cheers. Some people brandished axes. Some had hacksaws. The bright lights in the stadium were like streaming acid. Human faces appeared to melt revealing beasts beneath the skin. They were enraged by the Leader’s words. Another violent, mass slaughter was unfolding before the eyes of a stunned nation.
Eddie heard a distant shout, “Roasted vegetables.” It broke through his reverie. Anthony was making dinner. Eddie loved Anthony. The young man was often over dramatic. He knew all the songs from every Broadway Musical. He sang and danced like a movie star. He invented his own characters. “You like this,” He’d say mimicking a Puerto-Rican actor or model, “You want some of this? No! You can look but no touching!”
Something snaked through the defenses guarding Anthony’s brain. A virus was brewing. Casualties mounted higher everyday. An old fashioned radio sent an emergency signal: imminent danger… leaky gut… limited income… no escape…
For no obvious reason Anthony exploded, yelling at the TV. Something in the news upset him. The outbursts happened a lot. He hated driving in the city, in traffic. He cursed other drivers as if they could hear his words. Anthony had a temper like a hurricane, but the fury quickly subsided. He was usually the gentlest man Eddie ever met. He worked as a health-care Aide for an older woman named Hannah. She became a good friend. He also cared for an older man who lived in the same facility as Hannah. The man was frail and sometimes delusional… more work for Anthony. He worked hard and it resulted in an emotional toll. Too many people were dying at the assisted living facility. No one had an explanation for the numbers of deaths.
Eddie wondered how Anthony could love him. Eddie was much older; but Anthony was devoted. He made Eddie laugh. Anthony was a cure… He broke through Eddie’s asceticism and extreme shyness.
Eddie was obsessed with the news. So much was happening in the nation and the world. It was hard to keep up, hard to understand. It wasn’t only Eddie… Most people were dealing with violent emotions. Calm was replaced with agitation. Identity politics skewered the nation. Anthony was particularly upset and on edge. He had to avoid TV due to an overbearing presence of propaganda. As a way to ease the unrest the couple spent more time in discrete bars getting mildly drunk. It wasn’t easy finding a quiet place.
The only relief was the music playing in Eddie’s mind. He’d seen too much in his years on Earth. Music was his only salve. Nuevo Tango was the music he loved best. Eddie listened to the Contradanza beats while wandering the pathways that ran through his brain. Timpany-percussion became more insistent, overriding the Latin harmonies like marching feet. The image of the New Leader overpowered the dream. Spies were everywhere. Eddie could no longer distinguish reality. Anthony appeared in the dream. He was resplendent in his sequin suit. He stood by to protect Eddie, but something was not working as planned. Nothing worked anymore. The pathways were closing down. Eddie was left to fend for himself. He woke in a dark, cold room.
He/Eddie realized there were alternatives. Nothing was as bad as imagined. Conversely, nothing was ever as good. Perfection did not exist. The poetry reading at the Coffee-Gallery was another distraction, another attempt to make sense of the incomprehensible. The poets were solemn and stolid like indefatigable vampires sipping at the edges of reality, seeking unsavory bites and exquisite sensations. Something was taking place beneath the masks and facades of the performers. Each poet rambled on about some mundane subject sidestepping the real issues that people were forced to confront. It made little sense. Eddie tried to decipher the true meanings, but failed. There was only one poet who seemed to say something he could understand. He looked young. He appeared thin, almost emaciated. He seemed to shiver while standing in front of the group getting ready to make a speech or read a poem. He said his name was Robert Anton. He read a screed about strange machines and alien worlds; at least that’s what Eddie heard… it was off kilter and obscure, but it seemed relevant. Anthony disagreed: he said the poem was only about bad relationships. After the reading the two men hurried home, wary of passersby.
Eddie heard voices and saw visions. Anthony held him. He was a comfort. They were legally married. After all it was a new day; but the day was quickly passing. Liberal policies were being revoked. Soon couples would be evaluated: some would be allowed to continue while others would be torn apart as blasphemous. The rating system had the blessing of the Church. The new government was beholden to the church. Evangelicals supported the government with votes and funds.
Eddie sat alone in the dark room. Sometimes he thought he lived in one of the new facilities set up to eliminate old people. Everything had changed. He thought about Anthony. He couldn’t remember the outcome. He wondered if it was real… what happened? They had a house together, and a dog… they argued about money like every other couple. There was a recession. It was a long time ago. Now everything was silent. Eddie assumed he was completely deaf due to the total silence; then he heard a sound. He listened to the soft thrumming in the walls. It was the first sound he heard in many years. It was deafening compared to the long season of quiet. Somewhere there was a machine that made the sound. Eddie began to hope. Perhaps this was not the end.
The car floated down the freeway passing through an endless night that clung like a ragged garment or the claws of a feral beast. Jeremy Quill lay on the backseat pretending to be asleep. He was small for his age with a shock of unruly hair and deep blue eyes. He stared out the window through half closed eyes as the car passed oil refineries shooting flames from chimney stacks. Mom and dad were in the front seat — solid, silent and cold. One moment he lay in the backseat and the next he was somewhere else.
Jeremy was dancing his brains out, cranked on some new designer-drug. The music tore through him like blasts from a bazooka. Everything mutated into sexual desire and intensity. He was in a crucible of intense heat, melting like soft metal. Ecstasy was short lived. He knew it couldn’t last. Time always played the trump card. He was forced to hang his sweet, new body on a meat hook and return to face the judge and jury. First he’d side step to the car that floated past the sirens of hell.
It was safe pretending to be a ten year old boy, but he was a bad boy. He had the experiences of an adult in his head. Mom and dad could never understand how their sweet baby could be so ruthless. The boy drank hard liquor and smoked grass. Threats didn’t bother him. Jeremy was the Alpha Male in the house. He enjoyed bullying his parents. They were too stunned by his behavior to defend themselves, instead they simply cowered and gave in to his demands. Jeremy enjoyed shocking his parents. He forced them to sit in hard backed chairs in his bedroom while he sat on the bed looking at pornography and making lewd remarks. All the while the digital phone kept track of time.
Jeremy flipped into an adult version of himself. He was well aware of the entanglements caused by his erratic behavior, but he had to keep moving to stay ahead of the authorities. He had fond memories of the time and place where he currently found himself. He just had sex with Marigold, a sweet high school senior who wanted a little excitement in her life. She was so innocent, putty in his hands. He stood over her body and smiled. He didn’t know what he liked best, the sex or the death. Then, he remembered: he loved her breasts best and he had to have them so he took them. The week before he met a boy named Jason. The results were almost the same, but Jason didn’t have nice breasts… he had an adorable penis and now it belonged to Jeremy. For just a moment he was wistful: all the killing — all the torture — what was it all for he wondered. Self doubt dissipated in a rush of narcissistic pleasure. Jeremy was outrunning time — death was his jumping-off point, the trigger to immortality. His phone purred like a kitten. Time to run.
This time everything was different: a totally new experience. He was tussling with an older man who smelled like sewage. Jeremy couldn’t imagine why he would pick this abhorrent creature for a victim. The man was like a mutant with peeling skin and blood red eyes. He was naked and his body was covered with scars and welts. He was twisted and misshapen; but he was as strong as an engorged gorilla. Jeremy realized he’d been forced into this fight. It was territorial. The monster wanted what Jeremy possessed: the power over life and death — over time itself. The man held Jeremy in a binding embrace, crushing the life from his body. Jeremy felt the searing breath on his neck as the man pulled him closer to extinction. Being this close to death was like an electric jolt and Jeremy became inflamed with passion. He wanted to live and all his resources came into play . Jeremy’s resolve was resounding, heard above the grunts and mewling of the battle. He broke from the monster’s hold and managed to draw his butchering knife. There was no fight left in the foul man as he struggled to regain his balance. Jeremy did not miss a beat as he stabbed and chopped at the lowly body that seemed to be wasting away before his eyes.
Jeremy had met his match. An entanglement in Time put him at odds against an older version of himself. As a result, Jeremy Quill was never born.