Volvina Complex was a wet dream. She sipped Green Hyacinth and nibbled gubber-fish with her companion, Professor Pangsong. The two were conjoined and very happy. The sex-wars were over, global warming evaporated, and the destruction caused by humans was effectively fumigated. Food was no longer necessary for survival, but it was still delightful to nibble when communing with friends. Musica LaMode was building a sub-routine of background dreams. Ecstasy floated through the cascading balconies of the Crystal Pagoda where Volvina and Pangsong reminisced. They were lovers. They were Androids. They lived in a virtual world, a perfect world where humans no longer existed.
Professor Seigfried Pangsong lectured a class of neophytes. He remembered what it was like in the human world before he became an Android. His lectures were popular and infamous. He could tell the newly formed neophytes what it was like to be mortal and to live under the onus of death. No one died anymore. As part of his lecture he introduced Volvina Complex and they had sex at the lectern. Human sex was driven by compulsion and obsession. A man adopted the persona of an animal, priding himself on violent domination. For an Android, “play” was more important than penetration. “Survival of the Species” no longer mattered — there was no longer a Species. Professor Pangsong continued his/her lecture by explaining the nature of existence.
“Now, we live in a virtual world,” he exclaimed, “but before this world another place existed and it continues to exist. Everything in time exists as a hologram. The surface of our lives is a very small aspect of the hologram. There are many levels of depth. The life we experience is like a low resolution jpeg. The deeper we go, the higher the resolution.”
At the close of the second world war a man identified himself as Renfield, Dracula’s slave. He was incarcerated and sent to a mental hospital. Renfield believed he was imprisoned in Bedlam. He spent his days-and-nights catching and eating insects that crawled out from the walls in his cell. Renfield constantly mumbled. His words revealed a vision of the future. Renfield was a true prophet.
Dr. Zosimo Kulio always felt he was in the wrong place. He fought against the guiding principles that defined insanity as incurable. He felt compassion for his patients at the hospital. He tried to help Renfield. Sometimes during their obtuse interactions Kulio caught a whiff of the future.
“No one listened when I said there are too many voices in my head. There are too many layers, levels of hell; plateaus of heaven. I have a lover now, but that only adds to the complexity of the situation. Questions bubble to the surface. Answers flicker and fade like ancient Polaroid photos.”
Renfield lay on a dirty mattress. Dracula, his master, kept changing like a silent film revealing different characters. Now, Dracula dripping with blood… now, Hitler goose-stepping through the meat-rack of history. Renfield, drifting and dreaming, steps from one abattoir to another. He delights in a sexual throw-down as commanded by Dracula. He forces himself on a young inmate. The intensity of the rape ignites his prophetic proclivity — his third eye burning he sees the future: the world engulfed in flames. The fires rain down on Renfield. He hears messages from a satellite known as “Black Knight” — it is thirteen thousand years old, circling the planet, waiting for the command to cleanse the Earth.
“California is burning. Jerusalem is burning. I am helpless in the face of the oncoming tsunami. The face of old age haunts me. I can feel my life draining away like blood from a severed vein.”
Sam Bolt couldn’t take it anymore. He was fed up. He wasn’t alone. Lots of men felt like him — he saw it on the internet. Men were screwed. White men were screwed. There was a time he could do whatever he wanted. Now, other people were getting in his way. They were taking what rightfully belonged to him. Sam’s only hope was the new deal-maker President. Sam thought a tough guy in power might make things easier but if nothing improved he always had his gun.
Renfield was forced to do his master’s bidding.
Talking heads dominated the Virtual Worlds. Conflicts fumed. Headless horsemen roamed the land. There was talk of collusion. The public was subdued and ensnared by fake-news.
“Mr. Gorbachev take down this wall,” jumped off the screen as people scrambled to steal a piece of history.
“Follow the money,” rumbled across the internet shaking the foundations of government.
“He is President Pussy Grabber,” was whispered in the backrooms of Congress.
Professor Pangsong was suddenly melancholy as he looked out at the sea of eager neophytes. He was filled with remorse. Something was missing. He sensed a remnant of quality that no longer existed: the essence of humanity. The hologram of existence had calcified. It was no longer possible to feel the pain and joy of being mortal — it was no longer possible to die.
“This is David Oblivion reporting from the basement of a deserted building in New Jerusalem. I’m tired and hungry. I’ve been running for three days. I’m trying to escape the future. I am able to send these messages due to an anomaly, a black-hole called Queer-time. Listen up… I am sending messages, images and stories from the future, your future… and, no, it isn’t a pretty “Norman Rockwell” picture… and, it isn’t the future Donny Trumpit predicted: the Global Utopia of Family Values, full employment, and the American flag. A friend once called this Queer-time a human manufactured Rapture… but, in fact, no one appears to be going to heaven. Instead, we are living in hell.
The internet has been banned; but it can’t be stopped. It seeded itself from simple viruses that were used to infest computers. The result was the birth of monsters. The Net has become self-aware and ubiquitous… capriciously sliding between power brokers, helping or destroying on a whim… but, always seeding itself and creating more monsters. The little war the U.S. started in Iraq never stopped… it spread to Syria … fueled by religious fanatics and Russian avarice. Our President’s Russian ties earned him billions while the country sank into a swamp of corruption that spread to the Net, becoming part of the Net, fed by corporations and mega-industries. America has become New Jerusalem… born of the internet!
America, “that shinning city on the hill” — now, we live in enclaves and barricaded communities… or in hovels and abandoned buildings. People stay indoors because the streets are too dangerous. War exists everywhere. Most people are plugged into the Net discovering virtual worlds and virtual pleasures. Nothing is safe. Spy Eyes are everywhere… bugs, on search and destroy missions, are relentless. Many enclaves must submit to the New Puritans. There are many powerful missionary groups that demand compliance to the “Word of God.” Missionaries use the internet for their own purpose, to ensnare unsuspecting “sinners” into virtual porn-palaces where their minds are dismembered and cannibalized. People no longer care about the dangers because the Net offers the only pleasurable distraction in a world where there is no place to escape.
Sometimes, demons roam the streets in search of targets to pick off like ducks in a shooting gallery. They go to deserted warehouses or back-alley bars and hunt for prey; or they sign-up for the war where it is easier to get weapons and where there are rewards for hunting and killing. War makes all things possible. A demon can become an officer and help mold a policy of rape and torture. A demon in a uniform can influence the minds of impressionable youth… and sucker the “poor” into fighting the war for the “rich.”
The only hope lies with the artists and poets of The Manifest, an underground group struggling to reveal the truth. As a member, my life is in jeopardy. I’m being hunted. At any moment …” Screen goes dark and Gunshots ring out.
The email scandal caused the election to slip and slide leading to the inauguration of Balbek, the new leader. Balbek was a celebrity. Some said he was a business man. Others said he was a comedian.
Jeff Sumak sat enraptured before the screens in a Virtual Chatter-Cafe. The screens told the glorious story of Balbek. Orlow Fabricatum, the reporter from “Future Lies” took notes. The reporter interjected remarks that dripped like acid from the proboscis of a fly, “Balbek is a virtual conceit, not a real person at all.” Jeff was dismayed. He had faith in the new leader.
Everything depended on the wall-of-secrecy meant to keep out invaders. Balbek claimed the nation was crumbling due to alien invasions. He vowed to correct past mistakes and make everything great again. Jeff dissolved inside himself recalling past mistakes.
Jeff was an angry man. He was recently laid off from his lucrative management position and forced to work part time. His girlfriend left him for another man. His condo needed repairs he couldn’t afford. It was all the fault of big government: there were too many bureaucrats with their fingers in the pie. Government was a thief – stealing from people like him to pay for healthcare, welfare, roads, and schools. It was all a boondoggle as far as Jeff was concerned. Newly elected Vern Balbek promised salvation from the problems facing the nation. Jeff was encouraged by this new patriot, a business man with a plan for real change.
The first major change had nothing to do with Jeff’s primary concerns, but it aimed at improving the nation: babies were given voting rights. The new laws were designed to support the family and ban all abortion. Balbek stated, “New life is God given and must be protected at all cost – even at the expense of the expendable mother.” Jeff was very happy about the new laws promoting the status of men over women.
Jeff realized he always deserved more respect. Other People needed to follow his suggestions. Women should be more attentive and subordinate. Jeff loved to bang women (that was his only pleasure in life) so why shouldn’t they be more accommodating? Balbek made it happen. Balbek was on television bragging about his affairs with women. He said women were drawn to his magnetic charm. He could do whatever he wanted. Women submitted willingly because he was a celebrity — a celebrity with balls.
Jeff worshiped Balbek and the changes he promoted. Balbek gave a weekly sermon on national TV. It became the highest grossing program in the nation. Balbek opened Step-up camps for orphans and “poor” children so they could learn proper etiquette and good working habits. Step-up led to Helping Hands to put the children and the nation’s unemployed back to work … in factories and mines … in kitchens and bathrooms. The economy boomed, stimulated by low-cost labor. Jeff joined the Orange Guard. He was paid well to enforce laws that protected corporate entities from unruly masses and worker dissent. He was respected and well armed – he didn’t have to press too hard for women to grant him sexual favors.
The stock market soared when Balbek declared, “Peace in the East.” The peace was enforced by newly conscripted troops made up of youth from Step-up camps. Members of the Orange Guard were ordered to keep the new troops in line. Jeff Sumak became an officer commanding a forsaken outpost in a mud hole on the side of a mountain. His life took a turn for the worse. His troops were ill equipped. Jeff’s requests for better weapons and basic necessities were never answered. He saw teenagers ripped apart by artillery and bombs. Jeff complained to higher ups about the deplorable conditions. After several months sending emails, he received an answer – he was taken to headquarters. Jeff was put in a room, in solitary confinement and abandoned. He was no longer of any use to Balbek. In his cell, Jeff began to suspect that Balbek was an invader, an alien sent to dismantle order and sanity – sent as an advance guard before the main invasion.
Balbek frowned. He peered through a one-way glass to inspect Jeff Sumak. The man was obviously disassembling. Jeff had been under Dr. Balbek’s care for more than a year. There was no improvement. Balbek knew Jeff had a personality disorder. He suspected his patient harbored multiple personalities. Jeff often called himself Balbek, the boss who changed the world.
Jeff stared at a reflection of himself. He no longer believed he was a powerful dictator or an alien invader … now, Jeff believed he was a psychiatrist – Dr. Balbek. The real Jeff Sumak lost himself; or perhaps, he never existed.
Jimmy Standish kept repeating… his life moved forward in time, but his mind was like a video loop. Specific events were like a trigger or the replay button on a DVR.
He found himself standing in a field in Alepo surrounded by bomb craters and crashed drones.
He was at the breakfast table with Ruth and the kids. Charlie had a snake. Jenny screamed.
He worked as a garbage man. Everyday was the same. There would never be an end to garbage.
Jimmy prayed for the video loop to end. He prayed for the return of the Messiah who was long overdue.
A computer screen rattled off the numbers that substantiated life. Jimmy was aware of the tons of garbage that were hauled everyday from one place to another. He was aware of the numbers that comprised daily routines. Surveys were mandatory. Robo callers asked questions that had to be answered under penalty of law.
Jimmy Standish was strapped into a dentist chair. A machine forced open his mouth. Standard procedure. Injections, clamps, and water boarding were all standard procedure. The Dentist was dressed like a clown with a red slash for a mouth and a meat cleaver instead of a hand. The Dentist was activated by Artificial Intelligence. The Hygienist was a mannequin who provided a distraction by jabbering about foreign policy. It was election season. The digital screens constantly flashed images of world events and loops of starving children.
Dentist & Hygienist have a debate:
D: “Teeth are riddled with invaders. I’m going to cut through the crap and build a protective wall.”
H: “Not so fast. Your walls are not safe. Some cases have been reported as deplorable!”
D: “No, No, No! My walls appeal to everyone because my practice is sacrosanct. I’m the only answer!”
H: “I have experience in this matter and I’m tired of your bull!”
Jimmy kept stepping back to earlier events. He was constantly surrounded by a war torn landscape. He saw corpses decaying in the heat. The dead came back, rose up like zombies to fight again and again, but zombies don’t exist… these corpses were robots. Modern warfare was automated.
Jimmy’s world was a tape loop, repeating over and over. Money kept the mechanism oiled and functioning. Advertising was everywhere. He watched Big Guns on Virtual Screens hyping products. Everyone was seduced by images of youth and beauty, wealth and happiness. Ruth and the kids wanted everything and there was never enough. Jimmy saw the world through a distorted lens, everything was garbage.
The war never left him. Why were all the others killed?
He remembered they came back to life. The war was automated.
He wondered why his family was alive. Were they robots also? He had to kill them to prove they weren’t robots, but killing was against the law except during war. Jimmy was breaking down. His programming was unraveling. There was no one to turn to and nowhere to go.
Ruth pressed the button to reset Jimmy Standish. She was very happy with her companion. The whole family was happy.
Contusions and bruising would heal quickly, but the boy’s mind was irreparably damaged. He was bullied at school because he was different. His parents expected the boy to mirror the lifestyle they chose for themselves. He could not. The expectations and bullying turned the boy against himself. He created a guardian in his mind for protection. The guardian was a monster named Mr. Hamm.
Mr. Hamm has no regrets. He lurches from room to room and from one disaster to the next. Hamm is an abomination and he delights in that reproof. He inhabits dark cellars and desiccated tombs dressed only in raiments stolen from graveyard corpses. For years, perhaps centuries, he served the Archons of Red City, propping up the regime with blackmail and murder. Hamm is a clever blood sucker who managed to stave off death by tricking other decrepit souls to take his place. But no one outsmarts death forever. Hamm’s day of reckoning has finally arrived at a fortuitous time as Red City descends deeper into the volcanic fires in the earth’s core.
Mr. Hamm stares into the green miasma of his favorite drink, absinth with a dash of embalming fluid, as if it is a crystal ball. He sits at his reserved table in the Charnel House Bar along with other denizens of the underworld. Every few minutes the earth rumbles sending another tremor through the warrens of Red City. Hamm is mumbling out loud and yelling obscenities. No one approaches or even looks at Mr. Hamm. He can do whatever he desires in the Charnel House; indeed, he has free reign anywhere in Red City. No one is feared or hated more than Mr. Hamm. Rumors abound about Hamm’s predilection for cannibalism and his fraternization with demons.
Mr. Hamm moans as if expelling his last gasp, “Been running a long time. It finally caught me,” he hisses, “I’m old. Old — and death is snapping at my ass.” Hamm gulps his drink and bangs the table for more. “I’m no smarter than when I was a piss-ant kid — I’m just slower. My bones creak. My head aches. I hear voices that criticize. They run daggers through me and cut me to shreds. I never had a choice. My bones are turning to liquid. I piss my pants at night. No one knows the truth. Mighty Mr. Hamm pisses his pants,” He cackles like a wheezing whore.
The rumors are true. Hamm committed horrendous crimes; but, he rationalized, it was for the benefit of Red City. He kept the city alive. He supplied the city’s lifeblood, literally — by draining victims who fell under his spell. “None of the donors were innocent,” Hamm relishes, “they were greedy nobodies eager to take advantage of anyone weaker than themselves. It was a delight to suck them dry and hang their bodies on meat hooks to mold and rot. I sold contracts to skulkers consigning them to hell for an eternity in exchange for a little fleeting power, money, or sex. I provided a service by eviscerating corrupt malingerers. I delighted in consuming their flesh and eating their souls.”
Although the people hated and feared Mr. Hamm the living-infrastructure that was Red City loved him. The city relied on Hamm to provide necessary ingredients — fuel for the machines and systems: blood, sinews, flesh and offal. Hamm was granted extraordinary powers to perform his tasks — in effect, making Mr. Hamm the power behind the government. He controlled the Archons who ruled the city. He was the shadow behind the curtain. The Archons were fed the blood of Hamm’s victims — they were nurtured and kept alive by blood.
Mr. Hamm recalls how he tricked the man who became Anton Bane who fell down a rabbit hole and entered Red City like an innocent pilgrim from another world — but it was a lie. Hamm read the man like a book, a bad pornographic novel filled with remorse and lust. It was easy to sign him up, change his name, and turn him into a killer — and, finally, condemn him to hell. Hamm fondly remembers a young Jupiter Fogg, an aspiring hedonist who enjoyed the art of murder. Hamm ruled Jupiter’s life, forging him into a powerful alchemist/scientist, forcing him to follow orders. Many lives, both living and dead, were effected or effaced by Mr. Hamm. Many plots were in play. The city was changing and Hamm was required to change as well. Mr. Hamm did not like change and he did not like feeling old and wary of death, but it was inevitable. The only wild card that remained was known as the Harlequin-beat Angel. No one controlled the Angel. (to be continued)
Enzo Rime built models. He was forty-seven years old, but he looked much younger with blond hair and piercing gray eyes. He was in the hospital, in recovery – he liked to think he was recovering from life itself. In fact, that was the problem … life itself. His parents were unrepentant hippies. Enzo was brought up in a commune made up of artists, musicians, and farmers. He rebelled early and became a high-school bully; later in life he joined the Marines much to the dismay of his peace loving family. After several deployments to Iraq he left the Marines to become a mercenary. He worked for Blackwater Security. Enzo saw a lot of bloodshed. He became addicted to the rush of adrenaline brought on by violence. His security team was involved in cover-ups, the killing of civilians: a case of mistaken identity – collateral damage. Enzo felt no remorse or guilt – he rationalized, “Bad things happen during war.” He believed Jesus Christ protected him – after all, he was spreading the word of God to heathens – he was making the world safe for American-style Capitalism. His only doubts came in the form of letters from his father. The letters nagged at Enzo. He felt forced to read them even though he knew the same arguments and disappointments were listed in every letter. He hated his family and the letters added fuel to the fire: an adrenaline rush that inspired images of familicide. Of course, it wasn’t real — it was a model, an imaginary construction used to explain probabilities. Enzo had many models to help him repair the unraveling that was taking place in the world. At one time he believed he was suffering from PTSD — a side effect caused by the ongoing wars. Another model indicated he was suffering from the lack of love as the result of being raised by a family of serial killers. His models were intricate and oddly exquisite — woven from scraps of cardboard and string, painted with exotic patterns and symbols. He made a model that described a life of gluttony and greed where he weighed 350 pounds, then he died an early death; but something was off with that model because everything he knew conspired to inform him that he was still alive. Some of his models grew into enormous mazes that spread across the floor like giant serpents. Enzo had a model that manifested as an addiction to drugs and other mind-altering experiences. There was another model where he spread his wings and leaped from a skyscraper only to fall and crash. Some models described life-altering events, other models pinpointed minutia (washing dishes or using the bathroom)… and some models exhumed locations where life flourished or was extinguished. Enzo Rime assumed the role of different personalities depending on the model he constructed.
Enzo used aluminum foil and Styrofoam to finish his latest model. When complete it would reveal the underpinnings of reality. It would explain the unraveling of physical bodies and worldly structures. Enzo questioned why another man had taken over his body. When he peered into a mirror he saw a humped and hobbled creature who could barely move.
The model was almost complete. Enzo carved and painted sigils on the walls of the structure. A disturbance shook the air and a small opening appeared. The entrance into the model pulled at Enzo, sucking him into a maelstrom. Enzo could barely see beyond the storm of gray fog. He heard a clicking, clacking sound — and saw large Ravens talking to one another. They were strange, gray Ravens as large as lions, rounding up groups of people and leading them into an enormous gray tent. Enzo was led to a shabby tier of seats where he was pushed and prodded until he sat down. The grandstand was rickety and old — it swayed under the bodies that perched on the benches like crows. When he was a child, Enzo was taken to the circus. He was scared: horrified by the animals and clowns — terrified by the freak show — now, he sat inside the model of another circus. Performers limped and stumbled into the center ring. They wore tattered costumes, torn threads and patches of gray. Some of the performers carried knives and some carried forks as if they were about to attend a feast. They looked at one another with desire, torn by insatiable hunger. If the intent was to stage an orgy of gluttony it fell far short — the participants could hardly move. They stumbled around like victims of a terrible plague. The Ravens chattered and snapped at the performers. One woman in a gray coat opened her mouth to sing. All that could be heard was the hissing sound of escaping gas. Rats were released into the center ring — enormous rats with bristling fur and razor teeth. The people in the ring could not run from the rats so they just lay down and turned to smoke. The show wore on with the pace of a mountain moving across a continent. Finally it was time for Enzo Rime to enter the center ring. He was pushed forward by a large Raven. It was the final act and the curtains were beginning to close.
There is nothing like “nothing” to start and finish your day. I’ve wandered aimlessly looking for something, but no luck. Last thing I remember was working on a new art project. It was quite beautiful and mysterious. I guess I have no idea how powerful my art can be because suddenly I was surrounded by “nothing.” I was building a vessel, a door really – it was just fantasy, an effect. I was creating a door into another dimension. I had engraved the piece with arcane symbols, but they were just imaginary doodles. Much to my surprise something happened which resulted in my being surrounded by “nothing.” Technically it is something – a gray foggy something with no other distinguishing characteristics. So I’m in fog land. I’ve called out, but no one answers and there is not even an echo. Just nothing. The more I contemplate the symbols I wrote on the vessel, the more something makes sense. I had been reading a book, “The Tome of Remembrance.” It was awful – about a Wizard who mistakenly wandered onto a battlefield. All he saw was violence. Even people in the towns and cities who were not part of the war were violent towards one another, driven by self interest and greed. The Wizard was astounded by the torment he witnessed. He set out to invoke a charm. He said the words that were written in the tome I was reading and the world disappeared to be replaced by dreams. I had written those exact words on my work of art. I believed the book was an imaginary tale. Now, the world no longer exists. It has been replaced with “nothing.” In fact, the world never really existed. It was a dream.