The New American Apocalypse, Pt. 16

(The New American Apocalypse

Table of Contents: Part One; Part Two; Part Three; Part Four; Part Five; Part Six; Part Seven; Part Eight; Part Nine; Part Ten; Part Eleven; Part Twelve; Part Thirteen; Part Fourteen; Part Fifteen;

Part Sixteen:…)

 

I run.  I don’t remember for how long.  I also don’t remember in what direction…my natural sense of direction is pretty shit.  I usually rely on my friends to point out the right way to go or, barring that, I try to use streetsigns to orient myself, but the streetsigns are impossible to read in the new darkness of Manhattan, where the only light comes from a photonegative glow wafting up from patches of alien fungus and spots of darkness so deep it seems infinite.  Some of these spots of darkness seem to open up in the middle of the street, where they’ve swallowed everything around them.  Miniature black holes?  Wounds in reality like the one I saw in the fast food joint?  It doesn’t matter.  I avoid the hell out of them in any case and just run, run, run…

I know what we’re all thinking: didn’t I have a job to do?  Am I not, in small part, responsible for this madness?

Well, yes, technically.  But I’ve pointed out many times that courage is not one of my virtues and, having seen what I saw in the fast food joint, I’m in no mood to push my way through the shifting horde of the zed populace in search of even more dangerous enemies.  Though the drugs and booze and the support of my friends and loved ones might have given me a temporary boost of the nerves, these things are no match for the soul-splitting horror of this new American terrain.

Ms. Bradbury was right.  This is indeed a Lovecraft-scale emergency.  And, like most protagonists in H. P.’s old tales, my options seem limited to three choices: (1) flee in terror, (2) lose my mind, or (3) die violently devoured by the darkness around me.

What the hell would you do, if you’re so brave?

Eventually, after so much running that I can barely breathe (I am uncharacteristically fit for a broke writer-type, I’ll have you know), I see a glow in the distance.  This is not the black-purple glow of the great darkness hanging over Manhattan, nor is it the neon-halogen glow buzzing like a bee hive around Times Square.  No, this is a much more normative, natural glow.  Orange and yellow.  I heave a sigh of relief–is this a sign of real humanity?

Ah, to be so young and foolish, again.

I approach cautiously.  I am ill-prepared for confrontation, I’ve now realized, and the single weapon I’ve brought with me seems increasingly useless.  In a world so populated by monsters and possessed by darkness, what the hell am I going to accomplish with a knife?  In the darkness of what I’m hoping is not an eternal night, I roll my eyes at the naivete of my past daylight self.

It’s a bonfire.

No, that doesn’t capture it.  It’s a blaze.  A conflagration.  A whirling inferno reeking of burnt plastic and kerosene.  It burns evil and throws its sinister light across the fierce faces of the cult that revels around it.

I keep my distance.  The stories Anna Bradbury told me make much more sense, now.  Now that I see the Cult of M’Ra first-hand.  Now that I can behold their barbarism with my own two eyes.

The blaze they’ve lit feeds off of pride parade floats and piles of sex dolls.  Used porn magazines provide extra kindling.  There are brutalized effigies mixed in at random– the warped features of Ruth Bader Ginsberg transformed by hungry tongues of fire.  The smell makes me cringe, makes my eyes water and my face burn.

The cultists themselves are naked.  Well, almost naked.  They wear masks.  (As an aside: have you ever wondered what it is about cultists and masks?  Why do these kinds of people always wear facegear?  I’m not trying to imply that there’s latent fetishism among all cultists, but it’s certainly a strange kind of trend, isn’t it?) — in the case of the M’Ra cultists, the masks seem to be of anyone male.  Well, anyone male that Halloween stores carry masks of…Nixon, Bill Clinton, Elvis Presley, etc…though some people seem to have made their own homemade versions, various masculine figures whose identities are thankfully unknown to me.  I recognize a porn star, but I can’t recall his name.

How many of them are there?  It’s hard to tell.  I’m overwhelmed by so much nudity, so many erections and naked male bodies with the words ‘No Homo’ painted across their chests like team names at a sporting event…

They revel madly.  There are songs and more effigies and–are those pinatas?  I believe so.  A dozen of them, at least, with prominent women’s faces applied over the heads.  Anita Sarkeesian?  Taylor Swift?  Amanda Palmer?  Hillary Clinton?  bell hooks? — and more, too many more!  The cultists beat at the pinatas with massive rubber dildos.  Dozens of flopping multi-colored sex toys smash against papier-mache.  What’s inside?  What waits within these sacrificial effigies?  What prize do the cultists seek?

(The irony is also not lost on me that men in Bill Clinton masks are attacking a Hillary Clinton pinata with rubber dildos…but there are more important things to address:)

I am shocked to see that there are women in this cult.  It takes me some time to recognize them, due to their accoutrement.  They wear the same iconic Halloween masks as the men, but also wear body-suits that mimic pregnancy and, below the stuffed bulge of their false fullness, strap-ons of the most realistic variety.  Each of them flagellates herself with…and please, forgive the description…with what I can only think to call a “cat-of-nine-dicks.”

Consider this image, if you will: President Richard Nixon with pendulous breasts hanging over his pregnant belly, his massive veiny cock waving in the air.  Nearby, Elvis Presley attacks an Elizabeth Warren pinata with a double-ended neon-pink dildo.

Such a scene of horror no human is meant to behold!

Why?  Why had I bothered convincing Ms. Bradbury to leave her fortress?  Lightless though it was, at least it was safe shelter.  Out here in this madness, who could possibly survive?

I decide to flee before they notice me.  This, I think, is not so much cowardice as common sense.  A decision I made very early in life not to be beaten to death by sex toy wielding maniacs.

Unfortunately, I fear I paused for too long in surveying the madly reveling cultists before me.

Because when I turn around, I come face-to-face with three Scanners, their camera-lens eyes already focused on me.

“Citizen Hughes, you are under arrest.  Please submit to our will before we are forced to make things extremely unpleasant for you.”

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The New American Apocalypse, Pt. 15

(The New American Apocalypse

Table of Contents: Part One; Part Two; Part Three; Part Four; Part Five; Part Six; Part Seven; Part Eight; Part Nine; Part Ten; Part Eleven; Part Twelve; Part Thirteen; Part FourteenPart Sixteen;

Part Fifteen:…)

I don’t even bother picking up my food.  By the time my wits are back about me, the zombies are moving.  At least they’re shufflers, more Dawn of the Dead than 28 Days Later, at least these drooling fast-food-fed carcasses.  I’m up and over the serving counter before any of them can get a hold of me.  I almost slip on the blood spattered on the floor, but I manage to get a hold of myself before I go tumbling to the ground.

“NO CUSTOMERS IN THE BACK!” the voice from Beyond Reality shudders through my bones but I’m not about to start listening to rules, now, goddamn it, not by a long shot, not with my face still spattered in droplets of the poor cashier’s blood.

A long, purple, spidery appendage swings out from the hole in reality and I duck under it as I haul ass into the kitchen proper.

“STOP HIM!”

“Unions provide collective bargaining abilities to otherwise powerless workers!” I scream in response, shoving my way past the fry cook, whose arms and face are scarred from too many encounters with hot, sputtering oil.

He turns toward me wild-eyed, “Shhh!  Do you know what will happen if It hears you!?”

“Only through unity can the proletariat overcome the accumulated power of the plutocrats!” and I dive out of the way as someone bursts out of the manager’s office with a face full of fangs and six malformed arms sprouting from his/her/its back.  One arm swings at me with a mace (really it’s just a large club with a dozen nails driven through it and what looks to be broken glass superglued to its head, but in the parlance of the story we’ll refer to it as a “mace”) and I barely dodge out of the way.  The manager’s face peels open like a banana to reveal even more teeth lining all of its many-folded visage–I mean just jagged rows of them going all the way down a too-broad throat, just so many teeth you’d never be able to count them–and it emits a terrible shriek.  I clutch my ears at the sound of it and struggle to keep running as my head fills with the image of five thousand fingernails scraping one thousand chalkboards.  I stagger and crash into a stainless steel countertop, rebounding to face the monster head-on (unwillingly.)

“THE CORPORATION BELIEVES IN THE GOOD OF ITS WORKERS!” the Unreality Voice bellows, the basso accompaniment to the Manager’s awful treble.  “THE CORPORATION PROVIDES NECESSARY EMPLOYMENT FOR THE UNEMPLOYED!”

“You are all galley slaves chained to whims of a great darkness!” I backpedal away from the mace-swinging manager, my voice hitting a pitch I haven’t hit since I was six years old.  “Feudal peasants forced to labor under a wage that allows you no mobility and no future!”

The walls shake with the roar of the Monster from Beyond Reality and the screeching wails of its open-faced management underlings.  Where the hell is the back door!?  I spin away from another blow from the Manager and scramble across cracked tile to the very rear of the burger joint, praying to every deity in history to provide me with a waiting alleyway.

Luckily for me, the zed out front seem to be set on the rules.  Since no customers are allowed in the back, the drove of flesh-eating brain-dead half-people remain clustered at the cashier counter, unable or unwilling to pursue me through the kitchen.

See kids?  Breaking the rules just might be your only hope of survival.

The humor of the situation is quickly lost on me, however, as something the size of a pipe hits me in the side with the force of a very small car.  One of the Manager’s over-long limbs strikes me in the ribcage and sends me rolling across the tiled floor.  I can’t tell which limb did the damage (save for knowing it wasn’t the one holding the mace, thank the stars) but it hardly matters since I’m on my back clutching my aching body a half-second later in any case.

I groan and whimper in blind pain, rolling to my side and trying to push myself up.  I can hear the slavering Manager coming for me, and as I rise to my feet I now see tongues protruding between its fanged, banana-peely face, three tongues like stamens sprouting from its throat.  I reach for my man-bag, going for my knife, and I realize it came off during the struggle–my booze, pills, water, and weaponry are all zipped shut in a satchel (and/or murse) about ten feet in the wrong direction, and all I have to fight with are my weak human hands which, let’s cut the bullshit, aren’t going to be very helpful against a mace-wielding monster from another world.

And then: a miracle.

Twin waves of bubbling, sizzling oil crash into the Manager, searing its flesh.  A screech like a swarm of cicadas fills the kitchen as its flesh cooks.  My nose fills with the odious stench: imagine, if you will, a desiccated carcass stuffed with rubber and covered in shit being set suddenly ablaze.  And the gentle undertone of lilac.

I stand stunned for a second, until I see the fry cook panting by his vat.

“You’re a real American hero, you know that?” I say.

“What you were saying, about unions–”

“Yes, yes, of course, you should get to work on that!” I’m already walking past him, collecting my satchel and goods, eyes wandering as close as they can back to that tear in reality as something new starts to force its way through.  “I think if the whole lot of you worked together you could see some real changes around here.”

“You think so?”

“Oh, yeah, definitely.”  I get my bag over my shoulder and unzip it to check my supplies.  The scotch bottle isn’t broken, or is the water bottle, and my pill phials are intact…the knife is in fine condition, though I realize now it’s somewhat smaller than I thought when I first packed it.  I re-zip the man-bag and turn back to the fry cook.  “Where’s the back door?”

“Right over there,” he gestures with his head, his hands holding fry cages.

“Great.  Good luck with the union.”  I can hear the thing slithering out of the Reality Gouge–this one doesn’t have spider-legs, no, this is a different beast entirely, more traditionally Lovecraftian, part-aquatic, tentacled and slimy.  I don’t want to be here when it finishes its entrance.  “Anyway.  Ah.  Cheerio.”

Cheerio?  I’m American goddammit.  But that’s what I say as I rush off toward the back door, leaving the fry cook and his fellow employees behind to deal with whatever dark monstrosity is crawling its terrible way into the world.  Another envoy of the Great Darknesses…or, I guess, just the Middle Management of the Great Darknesses.  Either way, really, I’m out the back door as quickly as I can be, and slamming it shut behind me.

Unions, in this cannibal economy?  Best of luck.  It’s zed-eat-zed out here in Apocalypse County, one loud, awful meatgrinder churning brains into beef, and if the best armament these poor souls can get together is a vat of boiling oil and a few spatulas, well, whatever’s left of their humanity will be gone by the morning.  Eldritch abominations don’t have the best civil rights track record, after all, no matter what kinds of lies they utter behind the dreams of man.

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The New American Apocalypse, Pt. 14

(The New American Apocalypse

Table of Contents: Part One; Part Two; Part Three; Part Four; Part Five; Part Six; Part Seven; Part Eight; Part Nine; Part Ten; Part Eleven; Part Twelve; Part ThirteenPart Fifteen; Part Sixteen;

Part Fourteen:…)

I’m not ashamed to confess: I almost abandoned them.

I stood there at the gate of the glowing pit for a long time and considered running.  I could easily retreat, return to my apartment and call the Beast and say “yes, I’ve decided to join you, now, where shall I go to punch the clock and start work?  And has the girl calmed down enough to speak to me, yet?” and that could’ve been that.

It would’ve been so easy.

But that would only buy me time.  I’m not one of the Beast’s chosen demographic…and I’m about as far off from the Market’s golden ones as a man can get (without being homeless which…which…where the hell are they, after all?).  Eventually, one day, maybe in a week or a year or a decade or half a lifetime, someone would knock on my door and tell me it’s over.  And who the hell would be left to speak for me?

I take a deep breath and turn back to the mass of writhing bodies before me…and I step inside.

The murmurs, their unholy prayers…they make my ears itch:

“For thine is the Big Mac and the Whopper and the Frosty…”
“For thine is the Prada and the Gucci and the Fendi…”
“For thine is…”

This is the way the world ended.
Not with a bang,
but a commercial.

The zombies jitter around like bobbleheads.  They shuffle into and out of stores.  The cannibals pack into steakhouses and chain restaurants.  I can see them through the windows feasting on the dead.  In the Hard Rock Cafe, they dine on the meats of old artists, maybe Jim Morrison’s freezer-frozen flesh.  Later, they’ll shit his artistry into a meat grinder and repackage it as the soundtrack of a car commercial.  Black Polished Chrome, indeed.  You might have missed the point.

I push my way through the crowd.  If you’ve ever been to Times Square on a busy day, you know choice is an illusion.  Trying to maneuver through the shuffling bodies is impossible.  I make it a couple blocks before I’m diverted by the overflow of foot traffic through the nearest set of open glass doors.  Tile floors greet me.  In the harsh fluorescence, it takes some time for me to figure out where I’ve ended up.  A fast food joint.  Behind the counter, dead-eyed people in matching uniforms punch information into a register.  Their skeletal arms twitch and convulse with each motion.  The fingers are worn to the bone.  Several of them have been taking orders for so long that their index fingers are nubbed and bloodied, the nail peeled off.  Behind them, beneath the only unlit bulb, a gouge in reality vibrates.

I won’t go into detail about what a gouge in reality looks like…mostly because I can’t quite remember.  It’s something that, when you try to look directly at it, gives you a searing headache.  It’s something you can never quite look directly at.

I’m herded into one of five separate lines.  I whirl around, looking for the exit, but my sudden movement seems to draw the gaze of several slow-witted zombies.  They groan in my direction, a single rasping phrase: “did you see last night’s episode?” and I realize it’s in my best interest not to attract too much attention.  I nod.  “Yes, it was very good.”  The zombies, in unison, shrug.  “It was okay, I guess,” their hoarse voices chorus.  I shrug.  That seems to end the conversation.

I reach the front of the line and a woman with terrified eyes peers up at me from behind the register.  “How can I help you, today?” she asks.

“I’m still deciding,” I answer, only then looking up at the menu.  Maybe I’m not so different from the zombies, after all.

“Help,” she whispers, her voice a bare rasp under the cacophonous fast food sounds.

“What?”

“Help us,” there’s an urgency in her quiet, a despair.  The touchscreen of her register is smeared with blood.  “They won’t let us take lunch breaks.  They won’t give us a cost-of-living raise.”

“So leave.  Just run.”

She shakes her head.  “They’ll eat my children.”

“Yeah…” I scratch the back of my head, suddenly at a loss for action.  Being grievously outnumbered and coming face-to-face with a rent in reality itself does that to a guy.  “They do do that.”

“Please.”

“You know, I think I’ll just have a chicken wrap and a, uh, a diet soda…”

Her hand jerks forward and jabs at the screen.  A whimper sticks in her throat.  Her eyes glass over with tears.  She swallows.  “Do you…do you want fries with that?”

“FASTER!” a voice bellows from the hole in reality.  “FASTERRRRR.”

“Do you want fries with that!?” she yelps out in response.

“I think I’ll have a coffee?  Are you still doing that $1 promo with the coffees?”

A single tear streaks her face.  She nods.

“NO CRYING!” the voice bellows.  “SERVICE THE CUSTOMER!”

“Please do something,” she whispers.

“Yeah, so, a coffee definitely…no diet soda, I guess, that’s just too much liquid.  I don’t want to have to stop every few minutes and look for a public restroom, not in this environment.  I bet the lines are excruciating.”

“I’m so hungry.”

“NO COMPLAINING!”

I clear my throat.  “So, um.  I don’t know.  Isn’t there a union or something?”

“UNIONS WILL DESTROY THIS REALITY.”

She shivers and doesn’t answer my question.  “That’ll be $4.87, sir.”

“For a chicken wrap and a coffee in this shithole?  You’re kidding me.”

She shakes her head.  More tears are starting to roll down her cheeks.

“WE SAID NO CRYING!”

I’ll admit, I’m starting to feel guilty.  These poor humans…were they even still human?…and did it matter?  Should any creature be made to suffer the way these creatures suffer?  I purse my lips.  What then must we do?  Digging into my pockets, I decide that what I must do is pay for my meal and stay focused on the objective at hand: fixing my own fuckups.  I’m not Ms. Bradbury or Mr. Swift, after all.  I’m not a Save-The-World Type.  So I put a fiver on the counter and nod to her.

She starts sobbing.  “Please, please, please…my children, they need their mother, my children–”

And that’s as far as she gets before the creature comes through the gaping wound of reality.  I can’t see its body, can’t quite focus on the main mass of the thing, except for a massive vertical mouth that is, I swear, almost entirely made of teeth.  But I see the extremities, a dozen limbs like kinked spider legs, thick with cilia and tipped with claws and gaping suckers.  They reach through the gap and latch onto my cashier, digging into her flesh as she sobs and shrieks.  Before I know what’s happening, she’s been hauled back into the rift, sucked through reality itself, into the waiting maw of…of…whatever waits beyond.

Someone puts a paper bag in front of me, presumably loaded with my order.

I don’t notice.

I’m too busy screaming.

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The New American Apocalypse, Pt. 13

(The New American Apocalypse

Table of Contents: Part One; Part Two; Part Three; Part Four; Part Five; Part Six; Part Seven; Part Eight; Part Nine; Part Ten; Part Eleven; Part TwelvePart Fourteen; Part Fifteen; Part Sixteen;

Part Thirteen:…)

The streets are empty.  New York is silent.

This is dead land, this is city land.  Here the gold images are raised, here they receive the supplication of a broker’s hand under the vacuum of a halogen sun.

We keep to the shadows, fugitives in a skyscraper wasteland…except for me.  I’ve been given an out.  I already threw my lot in with the Beast and the Market and all the Devils who’ve crawled out of the bottom of the cracked world.  I could turn around whenever I wanted and pick up my phone and punch in the monster’s own phone number and tell him where we are right now and It might let me off the hook…for a while.  For a while, and then eat me later.  I can’t forget that.  I can’t let myself forget that I’m damned either way.  Once a coward like myself begins to fantasize about making it out in one piece, making it out alive…that’s when he begins to do foolish things…just as Dr. Faustus.

Ms. Bradbury is explaining how it all happened, but I can’t keep focus on her hushed and whispering voice.  I’m distracted by the hollowness of the streets, the echo of wind between skyscrapers, the distant glow of advertising visible from Times Square.  I catch tidbits: “…legalized mass shootings…” and “…registering atheists for advanced surveillance…” and “…M’Ra itself erupting from the heart of America, balls throbbing under corn fields…” but the story itself is lost on me.

The only long weave of the tale I hear: “…last of the free clinics still operating on an old aquatic research vessel off-shore.  The rest are all bombed-out or abandoned.  Before the M’Ra cultists hit Jezebel they tore hell across the country, outfitted pick-up trucks with spike-lined fenders and mounted the skulls of pro-choice activists on horns they stuck to the grilles…”

At some point I rouse myself out of my stunned, dizzied silence to say: “I didn’t vote for this.”

“Pardon me, Mr. Hughes,” somehow I forgot Ballard is still with us, until he speaks, “but if I may…you know what Mr. Swift would have to say on the subject.”

“What?”

“Mr. Swift would say that you did vote for it.  You voted for it by not voting for anything else.”

We all fall silent.  Goddammit.  Mr. Swift would certainly say that and, what’s more, Mr. Swift would be right.  The lot of us never rallied ourselves to the voting booths at the proper moments.  It’s almost a relief to know I’m not the sole proprietor of this foul business.  I might’ve penned the last words on the matter, but there were certainly signs of its coming.  How many of us allowed the opportunities to pass us by?  How many of us elected not to stop it?  Were we so absorbed in our social media feeds and our Reality TV that we forgot we could change them?  Thompson was right: we let them rob the whole store and tear it down and build their own and completely forgot we owned the deed to the property.  We were too distracted to stop them.  Now we’ve got the Apocalypse we so richly deserve…

We head downtown.  None of us say where we’re going, exactly…but we all know.  We know the nature of the city.  We know that whatever doomed us all lies somewhere between 30th and 49th streets, in the glowing heart of all Fear, in the throbbing skyscraper cocks of Advertising and Marketing, in the core of all Lies…the economic Heart of Darkness.

The glow of the place infects the empty streets as we walk.  It gets bright and brighter, and all around it is that purple-black silhouette, the void outline, the Event Horizon of Consumerism.  We aren’t yet able to see the specific details, not yet able to read the coiled text of the neon signs, but we are already warmed by its false-sun glow.

And the sounds!  We hear the sounds minutes before we come upon it.  Mumbling prayers.  Shuffling feet.  A low, threatening hymnal.  Every muscle fiber of my being wants to run in the opposite direction, but Ballard is behind me and Ms. Bradbury is next to me and they would catch me before I got ten feet.

The view: every store is open 24/7, spilling light onto the sidewalks; every neon sign hums with energy, grinning cursive letters down on the braindead populace; every video-billboard plays rapid-fire snippets of sexualized imagery in no particular order, just a chaotic jumble, random frames of porno stitched together by a blind child…below the constant stream of light is an endless circus of the damned.  Zombies and Cannibals and wretched, wretched Monsters.  This place is a small Hell.  Here, hollowed souls shuffle under neon and halogen, hands bound in prayer position, mouths rasping out meaningless slogans as they bow in prostration to Azathoth consumerism.  Overseeing the throbbing pulse of the place, aberrations of reality stand atop columns of broken electronics, their smiles made out of children’s bones.  Their many eyes, hundreds of them, blink like LEDs, and their tentacles drape from them like willow branches tipped with razors.  My mouth falls open.

“How do we get through?” I ask.

A manhole cover scrapes asphalt behind me.  I whirl around to see Anna drop into the darkness below.  Ballard peers up at me with sad eyes.  “I’m sorry, Mr. Hughes.  The Scanners will kill us on sight.  You’re the only one who can make it through the crowd unnoticed.  I’m sorry we had to deceive you like this.  We’ll be waiting on the other side.”

Then he, too, is gone.

The manhole cover grinds back into place.

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The New American Apocalypse, Pt. 12

(The New American Apocalypse

Table of Contents: Part One; Part Two; Part Three; Part Four; Part Five; Part Six; Part Seven; Part Eight; Part Nine; Part Ten; Part ElevenPart Thirteen; Part Fourteen; Part Fifteen; Part Sixteen;

Part Twelve:…)

Mr. Swift drops us off by the bridge crossing Roosevelt Island into Manhattan.  I watch as the Blue Whale passes under streetlights, vanishing in the distance.  Now it is only Anna, myself, and Mr. Ballard…at least for the time.  For a while, we listen to the ululations of the East River, the mumble of its waves.  It sounds hungry.

“Well, then,” Mr. Ballard says.  “Let’s get moving.  Mr. Hughes, if you will…” he gestures for me to begin along the bridge.

“Excuse me?” I scoff.

An uncomfortable beat.

“As our resident Straight White Male, you’ll be in the least danger taking point.”

Son of a bitch, he’s right.

I take a deep breath and plaster a smile on my face that is nowhere near believable.  “Great,” I lie.  “This is wonderful.  Sure.  Why not?  Ms. Bradbury, would you be so kind?”  I offer my arm.  “A woman oughtn’t to be walking around alone, at this time of night, after all.”

She wrinkles her nose at my arm.  “I’ll walk next to you, then.”

“Fine by me.”

The bridge is dead quiet.  There is no traffic, there are no cars.  I head toward Roosevelt Island.

Even from here I can see Times Square.  It glows at any distance, a sun in miniature, a constant burning engine of advertisement and blind, Azathoth consumerism.  It is the only light visible along the Isle of Manhattan.  All else is darkness, or something even darker still.  All along the edges of Times Square’s glow I can see absence, a great vacuum, darker than dark, impossible, a photo-negative reality.  I shiver to look at it.  I avert my eyes, bringing my gaze back to the bridge ahead.  So far, I see no danger.  Well, no immediate danger, at least.

“Do you know how many are left?” I ask.

Behind me, Mr. Ballard’s voice answers: “In Manhattan?  Not many.”

“How fast did it all happen?”

“Very,” Anna chimes in.  “Over days.  The details are still unclear…but something rose up from the sea, something dark and only half-real.  Millions heard its call.  Everything went to hell pretty quick, after that.”

“It devoured the Statue of Liberty immediately,” Mr. Ballard explains.  “The whole of it, gone overnight.”

“Jesus…” I turn my gaze southward but it’s too dark to be sure.  Still, I believe him.  “And we have no allies left in Manhattan?”

“Anyone with half a brain fled.  Brooklyn, Queens, Jersey…and then who knows where else.  The monsters fell on them so quickly they didn’t have time to pack.  The ones that did got on as many boats as possible and fled to the Atlantic…”

“But no one will take them in.” Anna interrupted.

“Right.”  Mr. Ballard cleared his throat.  “Assuming the things beneath the waves haven’t devoured them, already, it’s only a matter of time before they have to come back.”

There is no wind, tonight.  The very air has died.  I’ve never heard the city so quiet…so (and I cringe to use this word to describe my fair city, I cringe to use it to describe any of the five boroughs–cringe, I say!)…so tame.

We pass over Roosevelt Island.  I gaze down at the sprawl of it, dozens of buildings all looking alike…a glimpse of the future?  Good lord.  Imagine it: the same building, cloned, for as far as your eyes can see, each as quiet as the grave.  The tombstones of humanity.  The death of fun.  Zombie eyes watch behind picture windows, dreamless, hypnotized by TV, moving from the rectangles of their offices to the rectangles of their homes.

The bridge slopes down to Manhattan.  There is no graffiti, anymore.  Murals have been pasted over with advertisements.  Street tags have been replaced by brand names.  The three of us descend to 3rd Ave with no traffic fighting us.  White Jesus smiles down on us from a billboard.  The billboard next to him reads: “Could the terrorists be YOUR neighbors?  If you see something, say something.”

No birdsong.  No rolling tires.  No car horns.  No pedestrians, no cabbies, no car services, no tourist SUVs.  No drunk twenty-somethings stumbling down the boulevard.  No bar signs flickering neon.

And a thought that puts my teeth on edge, like I just bit into a hollow copper pipe: …with the exception of my earlier play-acting, my hobo-theatre performances…no homeless people.

None.

Where the hell did they go?

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The New American Apocalypse, Pt. 11

(The New American Apocalypse

Table of Contents: Part One; Part Two; Part Three; Part Four; Part Five; Part Six; Part Seven; Part Eight; Part Nine; Part TenPart Twelve; Part Thirteen; Part Fourteen; Part Fifteen; Part Sixteen;

Part Eleven:…)

Goddammit.  I should’ve seen this coming.  I really should’ve seen this coming.  There are a lot of reasons why, to be honest, ranging from the basics of classic genre story structure to…well, to taking a good hard look at myself and realizing that in my darkest moments, the people I love are the ones I tend to destroy.  But isn’t that true of everyone?  Isn’t that true of all of us?

I clear my throat, aware that the rest of my party of Tarnished Knights is staring at me.  “Um…um, hello?  Yes.  Ah-ha.  Ha.  Excuse me, I think I must have dialed the wrong number, ah-heh, heh, heh…could happen to anyone…”

“But you didn’t,” the Beast replies, its voice so foul it feels like a long, nasty tongue in my ear.  A long nasty tongue attached to a bottomless bank account and a face that would drive someone insane just to look upon.  “You dialed the right number.  You’re looking for the girl, right?  You warned us this would happen.”

“Oh, I did?” my voice ratchets up a whole octave, I swear, and I’m very happy that I didn’t put the call on speakerphone.  “When did I do that?”

Mr. Conrad rolls his eyes, his body following suit–yes, it’s a whole-body eyeroll, an expression of such pure and complete exasperation that your average man will never have to see it.  I see it, myself, merely on a weekly basis.

“Five days ago,” the Beast answers.  Oh, God, it sounds almost as bad as The Market.

“Oh?  Ah-heh.  Five days, well, well, well…” I can feel the first hint that the pill is working, the beginning of a hard-edged buzz under my perception, “You know, I wasn’t really in my right mind, at that time.  My wits were not about me.”

“I beg to differ.  You were smarter, back then.  You knew how to play the game, how to bet the winning horse, so to speak.”

Oh, shit.  Ohshitohshitohshit.  I fucked up.  Man, I fucked up.

Better not to let the others know, right?  Maybe this is something we can keep close to the vest.  Or maybe not.  Maybe this is something I should share.  I don’t know.  I don’t know…

“Well, um, look, is she there, at least?”

“Oh, she’s here, alright,” like being licked by something that could eat me, I swear I could feel its sandpaper tongue grind my face, could feel its breath, the reek of all the bodies it ate….  “She’s not in the mood to talk, right now.  She seems angry with you.  Seems to think you’ve betrayed her trust.  I’m sure she’ll come around after the re-education…”

“The–the what?  Ah, heh, ah, it sounded like you said…”

“Re-education?  Oh, I did.”

I make a sound like a crying animal, which I’ll admit is very embarrassing.

“Don’t worry, Mr. Hughes.  You just remember to bet the winning horse and I’m sure everything will turn out just fine.”

It hangs up and I’m left clutching the phone to my ear, white-knuckled and sweating.  Everyone else stares at me.  I can see the questions behind their eyes.  After a couple seconds I set my phone back down and swallow.  “Well.” I say.

“Well?” Mr. Swift asks.

“Well.” I repeat.

“Oh, stop that,” Anna finishes the last of the scotch in the first bottle and gestures to me with the butt of it.  “What happened?  What did you do?”

“Well, you know the story.  I was reckless with a brilliant woman’s heart, et cetera…had an existential panic about the breadth and length of my life, did something stupid, made someone cry…the usual sort of thing…”

Anna sighs.  She’s heard this story, before.  On more than one occasion.  She even played one of the roles, some time ages and ages whence.  She rolls the empty scotch bottle around in her hand and I think I see her consider hitting me with it, for a second, but she opts not to.  “Well.  We’ll add that to the long list of things you screwed up, these last couple weeks.”

Why did I lie?  Why?  There’s no going back, now, is there?  I could clear my throat, change my story, tell the truth, tell them I’d somehow betrayed this young woman to forces so dark and mad that I can’t fully comprehend them, that I’d not only thrown them and the American Public under the bus but also the girl, for fuck’s sake, that I’d thrown the whole world under the damned bus–yes, I could tell them that, I could, but, but…

As I mentioned, I’m something of a coward.

And, like a coward does, I lied.  Too late to look back, now.

“Anyway,” I continue, feeling the drugs ramping up in my system, feeling the impulse to act scratching at the inside of my skull and at all the muscles running through my body, “tonight we strike out, right?  We begin the Good Fight.  We take to the streets in the Blue Whale and make a run for Justice or something like it.”

“Right,” is the general din of agreement in the room.

“Then let’s get to it!”

We head down the stairs and back to the streets.  The screams have died down, now, and I wonder if the daily slaughter has really reached its end.  Are the Cannibals satiated?  Have they feasted to their fullness on the zombified civilian populace?  How many apartments have changed hands, tonight?  How many converts has the Beast scored?

Mr. Swift opens the doors of the van.  “We’ll have to split up for the first leg, I think.  Some of us will need to head out to connect with whoever’s still running The Feed…Conrad and myself, if I had to choose.”

“And what do the rest of us do?” Ballard asks.

“Well, Spencer will need to head into Manhattan to destroy the Poems of the Apocalypse.”

“He’ll need backup.”

“Right.  You and Anna accompany him.  I’ll take you as far as the river, and then Conrad and I will need to head out…we’ll maintain radio contact whenever possible.”  Mr. Swift, Esq, ushers Mr. Conrad into the passenger seat before opening the sliding door for the rest of us.  “I don’t think I need to remind anyone, but failure is not an option.”

“No it is not,” Ballard agrees.

I nod and smile.  Nod and smile, yeah.

I think about rocks and hard places.

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The New American Apocalypse, Pt. 10

(The New American Apocalypse

Table of Contents: Part One; Part Two; Part Three; Part Four; Part Five; Part Six; Part Seven; Part Eight; Part Nine; Part Eleven; Part Twelve; Part Thirteen; Part Fourteen; Part Fifteen; Part Sixteen;

Part Ten:…)

Mr. Ballard breaks the silence: “We need to unite with whoever remains alive, outside.  Whoever is keeping The Feed running, whoever’s shooting the footage…whoever is still awake and unzombified.”

“We need to rile up the proles,” Mr. Swift adds, “we have to cut off the mind-numbing drugs being pumped through everyone’s eyes and ears.  We have to wake them up.”

“We have to stop the forces of darkness from advancing,” Ms. Bradbury finishes her scotch and punctuates her sentence by placing the empty glass on the tabletop.  “We have to meet them in the field before they swarm us all.”

I nodded.  “Good.  All of that sounds like a very good plan.  I’m glad it’s settled.”

“Just one second,” Mr. Conrad holds up a slender finger and turns his head toward me.  “We also need to destroy the Poems of the Apocalypse.”

“Hmm?  What?  Oh, right.  That.” I clear my throat, my feigned innocence unbought.

“And that,” Conrad continues, “is on your head.”

What did I hope for?  That they forgot?  That I could worm my way out of the action at the last second, that I could retreat to my apartment and barricade the doors and live on canned food until they either won or lost the day?  No.  The conversation was destined to play out this way.  I have to own up to my mistakes.  I have to fix them…a process I’d never been very good at, to be honest.

“Well.  So.  I think we’ll start in the morning?”

They all exchange a long look.  Finally, Mr. Swift nods.  “They’ll all be at work in the morning…that will be our best time to strike out.  We’ll have safe lines of travel and communication in all directions.”

“Except during lunch,” Conrad says.

“Right.  Except during lunch.”

“What if they take an early lunch?” I ask.  “Or a late one?”

“Well…we’ll have safe-er lines of travel and communication, then.”

“Safety’s an illusion I don’t think we can afford to have,” Anna pours herself another scotch and leans back.  “Remember, not every member of the M’Ra cult or every armchair neophyte of the Church of the New American Jesus has a job.”

“I still vote we wait until morning,” I say, “because I, for one, am drunk.”

Which is true.  You try splitting a twenty-ounce bottle of whiskey and another half-liter of scotch and see if you feel like fighting a revolution.  The fact of the matter is neither Anna nor myself are in any position to take up arms against a sea of–sorry, that’s Hamlet–but we’re not in any position to take up arms, I’m sure of that.  And by morning we’ll have at least sobered up enough to understand exactly how grim our situation really is…

“Actually, I’m changing my vote,” I say, “because I, for one, am drunk.”

“Excuse me?” Conrad asks.

“If we wait until we’re all sober, we’ll never do it.  We’ll be too scared.  We’ll turn on The Feed and see the masses of the zombified public praying to enormous, veiny masculinity and we’ll chicken out.  We’ll lock ourselves up and turn off the Feed and turn out all the lights and hide.  Our only chance is to strike while the iron is hot!  To get our rum up and move like we’ve got a purpose!”

“Do you remember what you did the last time you acted on your drunken thoughts?” Mr. Swift plucks the scotch from the table and drinks straight from the bottle.  “Or do we have to remind you?”

“But this is different!  I was by myself, then, depressed, sitting in a dark room with nothing but liquor and a keyboard for company.  Now I’ve got you!  Heroes!  Frontline soldiers in the war against the Great Darknesses!”

“That’s a bit dramatic, isn’t it?” Anna quaffs her drink after the question, eyebrows furrowed at me.

“No,” Mr. Ballard says, “it isn’t.  Mr. Hughes has an excellent point.  Right now we are feeling courageous.  Mr. Swift rammed a cop car with his van not four hours ago.  Mr. Hughes, you mentioned you stared down a Scanner to buy time for Ms. Bradbury to escape?”

“I did,” I say, a little proud of myself.

“Then maybe this is the time!” Mr. Ballard continues, “And what better time than now?  Tomorrow?  The next day?  Next year, next decade, next century?  If we don’t act now, we act never.”

Silence hovers in the air, again.  I can feel something change.  Yes.  Now we’re ready to be heroes.  Now we’re ready to get back out there and defeat the Great American Nightmare, to battle the Darknesses and push them back, to fight off this invasion of all that is just and right in the world.  Now we’re bloody ready!  Hell yes!  We can still change the future!  We can still change the world!

“But first!” I declare, “Another drink.  And, if we’re really serious about this, we’ll need something to keep us lively and awake.  Something to get our nerves steeled and our bodies able.  Something to put us on the very Edge, to keep us sharp and hard even through the blurry courage of liquid heroism…” I gesture to Mr. Swift, “in my handbag there is a bag of pills.  We’ll need one each.”

And this may be one similarity between the mad artists and strident activists of the 50’s and 60’s and those who live today: we really believe we can fix things, we really believe we can make the world a better place, or at least the country, we really believe we can save the day…but we also recognize that we have to be half-crazy and at least slightly high to get away with believing something so obviously insane.  We know the Vegas odds and we’re choosing to blind ourselves against them, to pursue Truth and Justice and Righteousness despite the overwhelming evidence that the whole game is rigged, anyway, because, dammit, we just refuse to give up.

So we each take one of my potent little pills and we finish the first bottle of stolen scotch and we wait for the Need to come upon us, the itching, undeniable desire to get to action and, while we wait, I pick up my phone and announce: “I’m going to call the girl, make sure she survived.”

If you know me, or any other crazed, whiskey-soaked writer type hammering away madly at a keyboard, you know there’s always a girl.  Or a guy, I don’t know, choose your poison.  In my case, girl.

And you might also know, if you’ve read any amount of pulp, hardboiled, noir, or any of the classic genre works, that the girl is usually where things go wrong.

Well…for once on this mad journey, I won’t disappoint you.

Because I pick up my phone and punch in the girl’s number and guess what happens.  Take a wild guess, a shot in the dark.  Throw your bet in on the roulette table and see what comes up.  I’ll give you a second to consider it, but I think we all know way down in our bones way down in the pit of our souls the only way this phone call can go in such a story as this…and that’s with the Bad Guys picking up on the other end, their voices carrying their ugly smirks all the way through the phone line and into my ear.

“Why, hello there, Mr. Hughes,” the Beast says, sounding like money and expensive cigars and thousand-dollar bottles of scotch.  “How nice to hear from you, again.”

And for a second, I think my heart might explode out of my chest.

And I’m a little disappointed when it doesn’t.

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The New American Apocalypse, Pt. 9

(Have you stopped the check out No Reflection and No Grave, yet?  Please do!  You already read them?  Oh, I see.  Well, then…maybe you wanted to write a review?  Please?)

(Also, check out Issue #38 of Sanitarium Magazine, featuring one of my short stories: “A Man Wakes Up Any Morning.”)

(The New American Apocalypse

Table of Contents: Part One; Part Two; Part Three; Part Four; Part Five; Part Six; Part Seven; Part EightPart Ten; Part Eleven; Part Twelve; Part Thirteen; Part Fourteen; Part Fifteen; Part Sixteen;

Part Nine:…)

 

And this is the truth: we’ve always been heading in this direction, since the inception of the nation, a delicate curve of roadway getting tighter and tighter up until now, until it became a spiral, a corkscrew turn downhill into madness, abomination, destruction…death.  And I threw caltrops and oil over the asphalt in front of the car, in front of the half-blind American public squinting through the windshield, and the car lost control.  It spun out, careening in squealing 360s right up until it crashed through the guardrail and plummeted into darkness…and as if all that knowledge isn’t enough, as if knowing now what I know isn’t enough…I also have to accept the knowledge that the public at large, the great mass of the American Republic…don’t care.  That they, for some reason, imagine the car tumbling through darkness into endless cleavage and some aberrant mutations of Truth and Justice nobody in their right minds would recognize.  The truth is, Mr. Swift is right.  I only ever added the straw.  The rest of it, well, we did it to ourselves.  Staring into my scotch, the Feed playing on low volume in the background, I know nothing so well as I know this.  We did this to ourselves.

So now what?  Is there some emergency parachute in the trunk of this Great American Car, a Ford of some metaphysical, archetypal variety–or are we truly lost?  Can we be saved?  And if so, what are we being saved from?  Is this what we really are?  Is it all we’ve ever been?

I imagine the future, as directed by the Great Darknesses:

In this future, the streets are patrolled by mutant cops, Cthulhu from the waist down with big badges and giant, blocky guns clutched in their six-fingered hands.  They scan into our souls with their camera lenses, they read our minds with their sensors, they stand at the ready with truncheon and tentacle to act on the merest hint of sedition.  They fall upon protesters and under-privileged youth with ravenous bloodthirst, fanatical in their devotion to the ‘Greater Good.’   Remember: your enemies walk among you.  They could even be your neighbors.  They could even be yourself.  Remember: you are only safe if everyone else is dead.  Remember: you can trust us.

In this future, the great priests of the Church of the New American Jesus lead us in Megachurch Prayers for a small pittance, a tax-exempt tithe taken from our corporate-controlled bank accounts.  They have bombed out all the abortion clinics and banned sex for any purpose except for reproduction.  Gays and other sinners are lynched by the dozen in the name of the new American Christ, whose blond-haired blue-eyed John Doe visage gazes smilingly down on us from towers of opalescent wealth.  Muslims and Atheists soon join the queer fruit hanging from the trees, but eventually other sacrifices will be necessary, too.  The Jews, again?  Or the Buddhists?  Or will the New American Jesus soon demand the blood of a different Christian sect?  One whose teachings are less in-line with the Corporate-Approved Scriptures?  The Quakers, maybe.  Unitarians.  Anyone who strikes out against the booming declarations of the morally Right American Jesus and his Hobby Lobby Apostles.

In this future, the Eldritch Abominations strut through board rooms in crisp suits, their unreal faces ignored by the numb, mindless population.  They smoke cigars and drink $5000 cognac and carry suitcases made from leathered human skin.  Their bank accounts are padded by selling children into sex slavery after the poor kids lose too many fingers trying to put sneakers together.  Exploitation after exploitation, not unnoticed but simply unpunished.  Because nobody cares, mesmerized by reality TV and celebrity gossip.  They don’t even glance up from the screen as the Cannibal Class and its Dark Masters devour their neighbors, more meat for the market, more food for the horde.  The middle-management types, the zeds with a little extra brain in their skulls, tell the toiling workers that if they try hard enough, they, too, might one day earn a comfortable living.  In the meantime, it’s toil, toil, toil, and pray to New American Jesus that you keep your job until your debt is paid off (and it never will be, the Abominations have seen to that–at your current interest rate, it will take the rest of your natural life plus twenty years paying from the grave.)  The homeless and other inferior economic specimens will be shuttled to work camps, yes, like Gypsies in the old days.  They’ll be housed, of course, and given cots on which to rest their weary heads, so that should be an improvement over a park bench, shouldn’t it?  Never mind the fact that the showers aren’t connected to running water…

Never mind that, at all.

In this future, the Cult of M’Ra persists through allotment.  It has found a brother organization in the Church of the New American Jesus and so its teachings are allowed to filter through to the docile public.  Women will be ushered out of the workplace.  It will be taught across the nation that their brain power is diminished by the blood requirement of menstruation.  And with all the calculations going on in their tiny, adorable heads in search of an appropriate mate, how can there be room for extra maths?  These things can’t be helped–it’s just the way we’re built, biologically.  It’s not sexist, remember, it’s science.  And they will teach these things instead of Evolution, a silly theory if ever there was one.  Remember: men have challenges, too, and they shouldn’t be ignored.  The Cult of M’Ra has several pamphlets regarding prostrate cancer.  They haven’t put any money into research for a cure, and they haven’t exactly assembled an awareness council or even staged a march or a marathon…they just want you to know that it sucks, that they have to deal with it and you don’t, that their problems are very pressing, more pressing than your own concern over safety or privacy or rape culture or the breast cancer eating you alive from inside.

This future:

Don’t vote.  It doesn’t matter, anyway.  When has one vote changed anything?  Come and sit down.  Read a Bible.  Watch Keeping Up With the Kardashians.  Do you see what’s on Bravo, now?  Aren’t these Housewives hilarious?  Take these pills.  What do they do?  Oh, it’s nothing.  They make you feel good.  Isn’t this a funny show?  Don’t you feel better about life, now?  Oh, those people?  They’re your friends.  They live in your apartment.  Sorry, did I say your apartment?  I misspoke.  It’s their apartment, now.  You’re going to go live in one of the labor, er, Employment Camps with the other welfare recipients.  It pays minimum wage.  No benefits, but you’ll get cable TV.  Voting?  You won’t have time to vote.  No, no, no.  You have to work.  To pay the bills.  You only make minimum wage, after all.  Do you really want to take time off to register a vote that hardly matters?  Of course not.  Don’t stress about it too much.  There’s always Kim Kardashian.  Look at her little baby.  Look at her oiled up ass.  Take these pills.  No, I’m sorry, there’s no running water in the showers, but if you’re tired of feeling dirty all the time if you’re tired of all the sweat clinging to your pores if you’re just tired, tired, tired of the whole filthy world, I can turn one on for you.  There we go.  It’s not so bad, is it?  Shhhh.  Shhhhh.  Just close your eyes and let go.

I finish my scotch.  This is the Great American Dream, huh?  This is where we’ve all been headed.

To hell with that.

“What are we going to do?” I ask.

For a long time: silence.

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The New American Apocalypse, Pt. 8

(Have you been enjoying The New American Apocalypse?  Feel like helping a poor author?  For only ten cents a day–paid for a couple months in advance–you can feed a starving artist.  All you have to do is purchase the paperback or eBook copy of either No Reflection or No Grave!  And, if you’ve already read them, why not review them?  Isn’t it worth it to know you’ve saved a young adult from starvation?

And, if you’re interested, you can also check out Issue #38 of Sanitarium Magazine, featuring one of my short stories, “A Man Wakes Up Any Morning.”)

(In the meantime, please enjoy The New American Apocalypse, a semi-improvisational foray into the genre of Political Horror.

Table of Contents: Part One; Part Two; Part Three; Part Four; Part Five; Part Six; Part SevenPart Nine; Part Ten; Part Eleven; Part Twelve; Part Thirteen; Part Fourteen; Part Fifteen; Part Sixteen;

Part Eight:…)

 

Of course, we all always knew that reality television was a sedative, didn’t we?  But the concept that it functions on this magnitude, that Mutant Super Police could prowl the streets while M’Ra Cultists chop up journalists and the Church of the New American Jesus conquers DC and…and people are still sitting there, asses glued to seats, watching celebrities pretend to cry on camera?  Watching clever editors cut the world together into trite sound effects and misleading dialogue?

“How did this happen?” I ask, on my second glass of scotch on the rocks.  “How the hell did this happen?”  (I wish I could say I say it half-exclamatorily, but at this point my energy is deflating, my hope shriveling up like a man’s balls after a dip in ice cold water.)

“It was always happening,” the Voice, Mr. Ballard, tells me.  “The People have been hypnotized by daytime television for so long it’s hardly worth noting.  Come.  We’ll talk in the Liberty Den.”

Generally, we refer to this room as merely The Den, because it is just that: a den.  But every team of heroes, however motley, needs to have a fancy name for their headquarters, especially in times of strain and conflict.  So, ‘the den’ becomes ‘the Liberty Den,’ though its inherent function doesn’t change.  Some couches, a couple chairs, a large, beautifully sculpted coffee table topped in crystal, etc… the decor and purpose of the room isn’t changed with its title.  It’s just a den.  Don’t get too excited.

In the Liberty Den, we find the Sleeper Agent (Mr. Conrad and, once more, there’s no relation insofar as I’m aware) staring at the television, mouth agape in consternation.  He is slender and lean, wearing a tailored suit and a silk scarf.  Don’t let his appearance fool you!–he’s just as much at war with the Dark Powers That Be as any of the rest of us, he’s just approaching from a different angle.  Espionage.  Infiltration.  Et cetera.

“What’s on the Feed?” Ballard asks.

“I can’t…I just…” Conrad shakes his head, buries his face in his hands.  I turn my attention to the screen and see what has him so wearied: in DC, the Church of the New American Jesus has built crosses out of old CRT television sets and the M’Ra cultists are showing a constant stream of veiny cocks being jerked off.  Cannibals and zeds stand in the glow of the screens, praying.  I sputter on my drink, only managing to choke it down by reminding myself how much a single sip would cost, had I not stolen them.

The horror, indeed.

“One must imagine,” Ballard says, “that these are curated cocks.  Surely not every member of the M’Ra cult can have such massive equipment.”

“I’ve seen enough curated cock to last the rest of my natural life,” Ms. Bradbury plucks the open bottle of scotch from my hand.  “Turn that shit off,”

The shit is turned off.  There will be no cumshots tonight, ladies and gentlemen.  Not if we can help it.

Conrad, Sleeper Agent and Man in Havana Supreme, turns his eyes toward me.  “You blacked out?”

“That I did.”

“So you…you have no idea what you did?” he continues.

“That I don’t.”

“We thought it better to consult you before we dumped it on him,” Ms. Bradbury pours herself a couple fingers of scotch and takes a sip.  “Considering his state…sorry, honey, but it’s true, you’re a mess…it might be a little much for him.”

“I was just going to leave him to the Scanners,” Mr. Swift shrugs.

“Stop,” Anna huffs.  “Really.”

I drain the rest of my glass and clear my throat.  “So,” I say, “I propose, then, lady and gentlemen, that I very quickly have another swig of very nice scotch, and you tell me what I did that was so…was so…”

I can’t find a word to describe the magnitude of the situation.

The Poems of the Apocalypse,” Anna replies.

“The what?” having never heard of this bit of work, myself.

“You wrote a shitty book.”

Another shitty book,” Mr. Swift contends.

“Hey now!” I start, but then…I’m not exactly cranking out masterpieces, am I?

“Anyway, it was just the straw that broke the camel’s back or whatever,” Anna goes in on her drink, apparently quite thirsty (or trying to avoid a hangover after her earlier drunkenness…hair of the dog or the dog entire or just the parts of the dog most useful to her).

“So you’re mad at me because…because I wrote a shitty book of poems?”

The shitty book of poems,” Mr. Swift picks up, “a book of such awful poetry and prose and utter nihilism, a work of such searing cynicism and senseless rage, of such hopelessness and helplessness, lacking all substance, in such fragmented, nonsense verse that it just…well…” he gestures at the dead-black television screen.  “Now we’ve got that.  Nobody fighting back, nobody voting, nobody bothering to stand up for their neighbors, their community, their basic civil rights… while these new monsters trample all over them, while these dark forces tear us apart.”

I sit down next to Anna.  On the one hand, yes, this seems like a relatively small change, a minor footnote in America’s acceleration toward The End, and yet…I was supposed to be the scribe of the group!  I was meant to play the Bard to those Paladins who Fought The Good Fight…and instead I’d betrayed them, thrown them under the bus in one of my moods, turned away from them to offer supplication to Dark Forces and Evil Entities…to support the Heart of Darkness pulsing in the center of our nation.  The camel was huffing and puffing over the dunes, to begin with, and I, for one reason or another, felt it necessary to shower it with blackened, poorly-edited poems of the nihilistic apocalypse?  What had possessed me during those two blackout weeks?  What awful things had I turned to?…

The answers will all have to wait.

Now isn’t the time for self-pity or self-loathing or the myopic pursuit of my blackout memories.  Now is the time to rally.  To set right what I wronged.  To finish this glass of scotch and pour myself another and top off Anna’s glass and slump back down on the couch and shake my head and figure the rest of it out maybe tomorrow morning after we shake off our various hangovers, yes, I think tomorrow is the best place to start, sometime after the sun rises and all the ghastly creatures running amok in the streets have gone in to work…

“Shit,” I mutter.  “I really fucked up.”

Ballard turns a sarcastic eye toward me, “Really?  You think so?”

“Um.  Yes?”

Well, at least I can still make them laugh.

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The New American Apocalypse, Pt. 7

(While you’re enjoying this somewhat-improvisational story, based loosely on my experiences in New York City, maybe consider picking up one of my darker, less-whimsical works, such as No Reflection and/or its sequel No Grave.  If you already read them, why not review them?  Even a couple short sentences would help.)

(The New American Apocalypse

Table of Contents: Part One; Part Two; Part Three; Part Four; Part Five; Part Six; Part Eight; Part Nine; Part Ten; Part Eleven; Part Twelve; Part Thirteen; Part Fourteen; Part Fifteen; Part Sixteen;

Part Seven:…)

 

Johnny Swift slows the car after a dozen or so blocks.  Now that we’re clear of the Scanner Darkly, the air of immediate emergency has calmed.  Now it’s time to blend, to match traffic speed and try not attract too much attention as we make the last five minutes to our destination…

The Cannibal Class is on the march in Astoria, Queens.  The screams, Jesus…it’s the kind of sound you never really get used to hearing.  I stare out the window and watch as a pack of young, bespoke-suited zombies breach the door of a nearby apartment building.  They pull an aged, raisin-wrinkled Greek man from his home and drag him, shrieking, onto the sidewalk.  I look away, turning back toward the windshield, and let my ears do the rest of the narrative work for me.  That apartment is theirs, now.  When they’re done with the Greek man, they’ll have the rest of his family for dessert–an old-fashioned butcher shop feast.  Then they’ll go for the Bangladeshi neighbors.  It makes me wonder…how many real people are left, out there?  And how long can they hold on?

Will the screaming ever stop?

“What the hell is going on here?” I ask.

“Same thing that’s always been going on,” Anna replies, shadowed in the front seat, “just…worse.”

I lean forward, reaching out to tap Johnny Swift, Esq. on the arm, “And you’re saying I’m somehow responsible for this?”

He shakes his head, “You’re not responsible, per se.  I said that out of anger.  What you did was more like the straw that broke the camel’s back.  You tilted the scales at the opportune moment.”

“How?”

“We’ll talk about it later.”

His phone buzzes, the essential Batphone to our battles against Evil.  He and Anna exchange a look, and she ends up picking it up.  I return to my seat (stationed on the bulk of A Brief History of Constitutional Law) and do my best to absolutely eavesdrop on every word.  It’s not that I don’t trust Ms. Bradbury inherently, as I do (in fact, probably more than I trust any other singular person in the world), but after Mr. Swift’s scolding and the strange tension hanging in the car, I worry that I might not be being given the whole picture.  I worry that there are certain elements at play that I have, for one reason or another, been left ignorant of.

Her end of the call is brief: “Hello…Anna Bradbury…I’m out, now…They got where?…Already?…Worse than we thought…We’re already headed over…Spencer’s in tow…I know…I know…He blacked out…” (here, the sound of raucous laughter on the other end of the line, and my assumption that the Voice said something like “Typical Hughes”) “…We’ll be there in two minutes.  Bye.”

She hangs up and turns to Johnny Swift.  “The M’Ra cultists are in DC.  They hooked up with the Church of New American Jesus.”

“Shit,” Johnny says.

“Shit,” I agree, having never dealt with the Church of New American Jesus but having an innate fear of religions.  When you aren’t religious, you see, you begin to think of all religions as being innately cult-like, and my particular opinion on the American interpretation of the Christ Cult is a matter of public record.

Swift puts the accelerator halfway through the floor and before I know it, we’ve arrived at our destination…a small, beautiful little apartment on [STREET NAME REDACTED FOR THE SAFETY OF THOSE INVOLVED].  I mean, it’s a gorgeous place.  The Sleeper Agent and The Voice have incredible taste, and it really shows in the splendor of their apartment.  The interior, I mean.  The exterior is shit.  Utter shit.  And, looking up at it, I can still hear the distant screams of lower-class Queens residents as the new Cannibal Class eats them alive…and that isn’t something that ever adds to the beauty of an apartment building.  No.  I think any Real Estate agent will tell you that the resounding echoes of bloodcurdling screams are bad for property values.

We’re buzzed up to the apartment in short order, leaving Mr. Swift’s massive van tightly parked between two little Fiats.

The Voice, AKA Jason Gerald Ballard (and, again, no relation insofar as I’m aware) greets us at the door.  He’s a hugger.  I am, too, actually, but he’s on a different level, a true believer in the healing effects of the ritual.  At first impression, it’s somewhat uncomfortable, but after a time it becomes comforting, a promise of support so profound it can’t be denied.  We all receive such a hug on our way in–mine is somewhat clumsy, between my manbag and the two bottles of scotch.

“How goes the world outside?” Ballard asks, his voice the precise reason for his nickname–it’s deep and resonant, rich and perfectly enunciated.

“Here,” I hand him a bottle of scotch.  “You’ll need this.”

“Mr. Hughes…back among the living?”

I nod, “Rumors of my death, et cetera.”

“Good to know.”

Johnny Swift clears his throat, “We should get down to business, shouldn’t we?  Is The Feed still running?”

Ballard shrugs, “What little we receive, now, yes.”

The Feed is the alt.news outlet the global network of…well, there’s no official name, per se, because the network is made up of dozens of smaller groups, freaks and weirdos and activists and artists all working toward a better world and largely getting hell in return for our efforts.  Fighting the good fight and paying the price, etc.  In any case, I rarely involve myself with it except in very serious issues, Red Alert scenarios, Code Black and the like, situations in which all members must be called to arms to beat back some dark entity coming either from within or without.  In the day to day, I don’t really play a role…but now, today, in this New American Apocalypse, I have no choice.  Who does, really?  Who can afford to sit back and let this madness play out before their eyes, slouched in a barcalounger while the country, maybe even the world, tears itself apart?

Apparently, the answer is ‘an uncomfortable percentage of the still-surviving population.’

“What?” I ask, following the Mr. Ballard, Mr. Swift, and Ms. Bradbury down a long hallway.  “What do you mean nobody’s watching?”

“Precisely what I said, Mr. Hughes,” Ballard goes on.  “Those people who are members neither of our legion nor the, as you put, the Cannibal Class simply don’t seem to care what’s going on…even as they are eaten alive.”

My jaw drops wide open.  “But…but how…?  I mean, surely, even the mainstream news networks, surely they must have something to say about the Apocalyptic State of the Union!”

He shakes his head, “That’s part of the issue, you understand.  The monsters in question, leaders of the Cannibal Class and those still darker entities that lord over even them, they’ve concocted a perfect sedative.”

“What?  Impossible!  What is it?”

“Kim Kardashian’s oiled-up ass.”

The first nip of scotch that night goes down my own throat.  I feel a sudden need to drown my sorrows.

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