Resident Evil 7 : Review

Why would an author write a Resident Evil 7 review?  It’s a video game, after all.

Because this author plays a lot of video games.  More on that in the near future.

(Also because I have access to a blog platform and the absurdist millennial belief that anyone cares a spit about my banal thoughts.)

The TL;DR version of this review is as follows: purchase this game.  If you’re a fan of the franchise (which I’m not, really) or a fan of survival horror (which I am), you’ll love it.  I might recommend waiting for a sale (I didn’t), since it comes in a bit short for its price point.

Alright, now for the long version.

Selling Point 1 : You’re Not Helpless.

I’m pretty sick of helplessness as a game mechanic.  If a game is only scary because the player is helpless, it’s secretly not a very scary game.  Anything can be scary if it’s done in low light with tense music and ALSO YOU’RE HELPLESS.  This entire trend is even more absurd because, very often, the player character is walking around an environment often littered with weapons.  Look, Outlast scared the shit out of me, despite having some of the most eye-rollingly ‘shock’ moments in gaming history, but at a certain point I started rooting for the monsters.  The player character may be a journalist, but he’s a journalist walking through halls full of possible improvisational tools!  Pick something up!

People and, by extension, fictional characters, have a tendency to create tools and even weaponry with pretty much whatever is at hand.  They don’t call it ‘The Stone Age’ for fun, they call it that because the tools and weapons were made from stone.  Human beings are so desperate for tools and weapons that we literally made them out of stone.  But apparently our frightened avatars in modern horror games are too busy panting from terror to stop for a second and gather tools.

[/rant]

Resident Evil 7 assumes your character wants to make and use tools and weapons.  That assumption changes everything.  The environment is littered with resources, from big fuck-you-up guns to various chemicals and herbs to garden tools.  It creates a more interesting dynamic than helplessness.  Holding an ax gives you a sense of possibility, of strength.  Swinging it gives you a sense of power.  Whacking it into someone’s neck in a moment of desperate terror gives you an inch of control.  Turning around to find the corpse mysteriously missing…

One of my favorite horror games ever was FEAR (and its sequel, FEAR 2.)  It armed me from the start.  The game handed its player a series of awesome, fuck-you-up guns.  And then it peeled away the frail veneer of your confidence and dropped you into a situation far beyond your depth.  Resident Evil 7 does something quite similar.

Selling Point 2 : A Dreadful Sense of Intimacy

The primary setting of RE7 is a sprawling plantation estate in rural Louisiana.  It’s a family’s property.  A fucked up family, but a family nonetheless.  And the banality of that fact, the familiarity of a house’s interior, serves to create an unsettling intimacy.  Family photographs, sports paraphernalia, book shelves, kids’ trophies, etc… the details of a family history are all there.  There are even receipts and passive-aggressive sticky notes.  And the player is pressured by game mechanics and curiosity to check everything, to look into every corner, to experience as thoroughly as possible this maddening juxtaposition of the familiar and the grotesque.

Perhaps this is what I like most about the game: the minimal scope.  You are a lone human maneuvering through a minuscule slice of the globe.  The massive, overarching lore of the franchise is missing.  The vast scale of backstory is unimportant.  This is a game about the protagonist and the antagonists and very little else.

Franchises tend to bloat.  Scale expands and exposition piles up.  This game, ‘reboot’ or not, solves that problem with a sharp, indifferent knife.  It delivers what it needs: a tightly-focused story.

Selling Point 3 : Something For Everyone

Horror is lush with sub-genres.  RE7 does its best to tap as many as possible.

Supernatural horror is immediately dangled in front of our faces.  Body horror is omnipresent.  Sci-fi horror is the franchise staple.  RE7 even incorporates moments of splatterpunk and, of course, general action-horror.  Oh, I almost forgot, there’s a whole SAW-inspired puzzle-solving section, too.  Not to mention shades of Chainsaw Massacre throughout…chainsaw very much included.  Which also reminds me that southern gothic archetypes and references are everywhere in RE7.  There are also cosmic horror references, though that particular sub-genre doesn’t make any real appearances in the game proper.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that there’s something for everyone.  And though the run-and-hide mode of helplessness horror isn’t an expressed requirement of the game, running and hiding is often the wisest course of action.  So they’ve got that, too, if you like it.

One might worry that the ‘dash of everything’ approach might overclutter the game, but it doesn’t.  It provides different levels to the gameplay and, what’s more, always seems in service to the story.

Selling Point 4 : Sadistic Antagonists

I saw an article online lamenting the ugly gameplay necessity of key gathering, narratively lampshaded with the idea that the antagonists want to make it hard for you to escape.  The article pointed out that the antagonists didn’t bother reinforcing the walls, blocking the doors, or bricking up the windows.  I imagined that such measures would take away some of the ‘fun’ for the antagonists.  As much as they claim they don’t want to chase anyone down anymore, they seem to get a wicked joy out of doing just that.  If they made it too hard to escape, they’d lose the ecstasy of chasing down the desperately hopeful escapees and butchering them!

Such is the rabid sadism of our front-and-center antagonists.  Quite early in the game, during my second playthrough, I discovered myself gravely wounded by my pursuer.  Instead of finishing the job, he set a healing kit down on the floor and cooed at me to use it.  Once I’d patched myself up, he even gave me a headstart before coming after me again.  So, in my mind, the key hunting has nothing to do with making it difficult for me to leave; it has everything to do with providing the antagonists with entertainment.

These batshit crazy sadists provide the main antagonism.  Hordes of faceless monsters provide secondary, supporting antagonism (the ‘nameless goon’ variety, mostly.)  And then, behind it all, there lurks a vast, faintly-inhuman force (oh, wait, I guess those cosmic horror references make some sense after all).  Each layer of antagonism serves a purpose both to story and to gameplay.  The front-and-center villains are charmingly psychotic and extremely terrifying.  The nameless goons provide tense, strategic combat.  And the terrible intelligence behind the whole show creates a layer of moral and intellectual questions the game would otherwise lack.  It’s quite an exquisite array of enemies.

The Downside : It’s a Bit Pricey.

Currently, the game goes for $59.99, not including DLCs or soundtrack.  My first playthrough took 10 hours, my second took 7.  There’s an in-game achievement for managing it down to 4.  Though it’s a bit replayable, if only for the sheer moodiness and the awesome realization of its setting, replayability isn’t its prime directive.  I’ll certainly be prancing through it a third time, but I’m a particular sort of person.  In the main, I doubt most people will go through it more than twice.  So what that settles down to is that the base game provides, say, 10-20 hours of gameplay for a ~$60 price tag.  No thanks.

It was worth it, for me, because I love the genre and I’m utterly sick of helplessness horror.  I’ve played through twice and will be playing a third time at least.  I enjoy the game from a gameplay perspective and from a horror theory perspective.  I also sprang for the DLCs, not yet available for PC, which I hear add significant replayability–but we’re not discussing the DLCs, are we?  No.  We’re discussing the cost of the base game.  And the cost of the base game, unless you’re a weirdo  like me, is simply too high.

But I guarantee it’ll be on sale in the near future.  So if you’re the patient sort, you’re in luck.

Final Thoughts

RE7 provides an excellent experience.  It’s nerve-wracking, unsettling, frightening, and fun.  In my original 10-hour playthrough, I sweated and panicked through the first 2 hours like a man on the edge.  For the few hours after that, my mood shifted between anxiety and joy.  Anxiety at every door, every corridor, and every corner; joy at my increasing competence at solving my dilemmas.  Most of the last hour was spent in full action mode, all sound and fury and laughter.  It was an incredible emotional journey.

In my second playthrough, I was more confident.  My relatively eased anxiety allowed me to appreciate the setting and the art of the game more deeply.  The narrative flow, the peaks and valleys of fear throughout the story, etc.  It was during my second playthrough that I really fell in love with the game.

So, yes, it’s an exquisite game, an excellent bit of interactive horror media, and a decently written (if also unevenly written) story.  My only dismay is at the price tag, a number I think is a bit high for people less fanatical about their devotion to horror media and video games than I am.  But I suppose that’s for them to decide.

 

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Ghost Towns, Economics, and Horror

Hey there fellow humans *nudge-nudge, wink-wink* — as I’m no longer writing weekly-ish fiction to post on the blog, I’m transitioning into writing about process, theory, etc., as I work on non-blog projects.  Today I’m writing about ghost towns, economics, and horror, as the post title suggests.  Also, there will be a writing prompt at the end, for anyone who wants one.

Witness: The Ghost Towns All Around Us

The United States is littered with gutted towns and ex-cities and places of complete, desolate abandonment.  This relates intimately with, surprise surprise, economic opportunity and geographical marketshares.  That is to say: when Detroit was rich with middle-class jobs, Detroit was a metropolis, and when those jobs fell apart and vanished, well…what is Detroit famous for, today?

A personal anecdote: once upon a mid-day dreary, I found myself on the outskirts of what looked to be a vast stretch of empty and derelict buildings.  I urged the man in the driver’s seat of the car to pull into the emptiness so I could take photos of the buildings in decline.  As we drove down cracked, uneven streets and ogled block after block of ruined architecture, we slowly came to realize that the place was not, in fact, abandoned.  In the center of the far-reaching desolation, we found an actual population.  A white-haired man, shirtless, smoked a cigar in a lawn chair.  A gas station had its hours painted in white on its front door; it was open three days a week.  There was something that looked like a convenience store, where a handful of graying residents spent money primarily on canned goods.  We discovered, just on the outskirts of this population center, a building with four brick walls, no floor, no ceiling, and no doors or windows.  A bog had settled across its bottom.  The fellow who came with me discovered that it was full of fire ants.  He’d worn sandles that day.  We fled after this discovery, leaving this haunted place in our rearview mirror.

The vacated properties suggested that thousands of people had once lived there.  Now, it seemed, the population hovered somewhere in the low triple-digits at best.

Or, in 1986, in an introduction to Studs Terkel’s Hard Times:

Smokeless chimneys. No orange flashes in the sky. Empty parking lots. Not a Chevy or a Ford to be seen, not even for those with 20-20 vision. An occasional abandoned jalopy, yes, evoking another image of the thirties. Ours was the only moving vehicle for miles around. A stray dog; no humans. And it wasn’t that cold a day. In fact, the weather was unseasonably mild, accentuating the landscape’s bleakness.

Written about South Chicago, of course.

And places like these?  They’re everywhere.  I think the one I mentioned above was on the road between Pittsburgh, PA and Cincinnati, OH.  But there were similar places en route to Louisville, KY, too.  And I’ve seen smaller examples clustered around the Amtrak line between NYC and Rochester, NY.  Everywhere.

Desolation and Cosmic Horror

Cosmic horror is making horror literature great again (AHEM).  According to many literary critics and essayists, we are currently in the midst of a “horror renaissance,” and the horror genre is once again “good.”  I roll my eyes every time I read this allegation, but I’ll save that reaction for a different blog entry.  The real point is that the people who write book reviews and vote on awards and etc. seem to think that the horror being written today is better than the horror that was written 20 years ago.  Why?

Well, cosmic horror is having a pretty big comeback.  The list of well-respected and even well-known cosmic horror authors seems to be growing yearly, and hints of cosmic horror eddy around the edges of plenty of new urban fantasy and dark fiction, as well.  The fear of the vast unknowable and, even moreso, of forces acting on us beyond our control of comprehension, seems to be scoring big points right now.

Gee, I wonder if these things are related.

Here we have towns and cities gutted and demolished and sundered by vast conceptual forces their denizens can’t control and almost nobody seems to completely understand.  Would I relate globalization to Cthluhu?  Would I relate the complex worldwide politico-economic system to Azathoth?  Well, yes, of course I would.  Huge, unstoppable forces that grind away at entire populations without seeming to care about or even notice them?  Duh.

The anxiety of being destroyed by forces we can’t stop is, well, highly prevalent in today’s world.  Whether it’s government, economics, war, poverty, terrorism–these vast, powerful concepts seem, from ground level, to be tearing us apart as if we were meat fed to a grinder.  And how to combat them?  Our mouths gape for answers, but we are silent.  And all around us, miles of rusted sheet metal and slouching brick buildings shuttered by particle board.

What monsters lurk in the bones of our dead cities?

And So Your Editor Says “Use It”; Or: Fictionalizing Anxiety

Show somebody emptiness, and they will find a way to fill it.  The night sky is mostly void, but we apply it a meaning that fits us.  To some, awe; to others, anxiety.  The same goes for abandoned factories, gutted warehouses, long tracts of empty suburbs, and eternally-unfinished housing developments.

Horror authors have long excelled at creating environments that, themselves, feel hostile.  Whether it’s Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness” or literally anything Laird Barron has ever written, hostile settings and landscapes cloaked in dread have been key facets of horror writing since forever.  In olden tymes, when people read stories by candlelight and shifting shadows danced on their peripheries, authors tended to take it a bit too far (looking at you, Poe), but the tradition has always been there.  And as cosmic horror becomes more popular and more acclaimed, it seems it always will be.  At least for a while.  If we survive that long.

Which brings me to the “process” part of today’s blog entry, and a “fun” writing prompt for anyone who cares to partake in it.

In my Oceanrest writings, soon to be expanded, I’ve created a fictional city in Maine that has suffered much the same fate as dozens of other towns and cities in the United States.  Once, it was important; now, it wheezes on an iron lung.  Boom town, bust.  And while I’m not trying to write much cosmic horror in the vein of Lovecraft or Ligotti or Aickman or any other huge name in the genre, I enjoy the concept that my stories take place in a similar setting.  That is: the setting is one of cosmic dread and unknowable forces, but people still have to pay the damned rent and that seems more important.  And so I try to use words to express these inexpressible anxieties.  In Oceanrest, economic depression is a monster eating the town from the outskirts inward.  Its teeth are trees and its tongue is the ground itself breaking the streets into gravel.  Squatters live between its fangs like plaque bacteria.  To the wealthier people in city center, this is unnoticeable.  To the poor people on the fringes, this is terrifying…but there are more pressing concerns.  Like where to beg the next meal.

Of course, in this fictional world, there are also more literal eldritch deities squirming under the skin of reality, but that’s neither here nor there for the most part.  They are a far less immediate issue than the very real poverty that is eroding the town of Oceanrest.

That’s that for this “process blog”-slash-“horror theory” entry.

Enjoy a writing prompt: write a page (at least) in which the setting, itself, is the monster and/or primary antagonist.  Perhaps begin with Studs Terkel’s line, “Ours was the only moving vehicle for miles around.”

 

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Happy Podcast Day!

I learned that today, September 30th, is National Podcast Day.  That’s a thing, now.  This is the world we live in.

Also, tomorrow is October 1st.  We’re heading into October Country.

In celebration of these twin events, I’m going to make a little list for those in search of dreadful podcasts.  I would say these are my favorite horror podcasts, but, it turns out, I only have 1 podcast in my entire library that *isn’t* a horror podcast…so these are my top 5 favorite podcasts period.

If you’re an avid podcast listener, you will not find any of these entries surprising.  If you aren’t, however, maybe some of these will suck you in.  Let’s get started.

The NoSleep Podcast.

This somewhat came out of left-field for me.  When I first heard of the podcast, originating from stories posted in reddit’s NoSleep section, I kind of rolled my eyes at the idea.  I thought to myself: “I’ve read a bunch of those stories and most of them aren’t very good.”  But then, one day, I boredly decided to give it a shot.  As it turns out, the NoSleep Podcast is pretty damned good.  Talented narrators give well-acted voice to some of the better NoSleep stories ever posted; and the stories aren’t actually limited purely to reddit’s NoSleep section.  Of course, not every story is brilliant, but there are some real gems in there, and the skill of the voice-over artists lend credence and quality even to the weaker tales.  NoSleep also introduced me to several other podcasts, most notably Pseudopod.

Award-winning, good quality, and run by one of the damned friendliest group of human beings on earth…the NoSleep Podcast is worth a mention on any list.

Lore.

Myth, mythology, urban legends, folk tales…every horror story we tell is our attempt at explaining what seems, to us, to be inexplicable.  Our monsters are secret motifs, totems for the real evil lurking in the world around us and, frighteningly moreso, within us.  Lore is a podcast dedicated to exploring the roots of our scary tales.  I highly recommend giving it a listen.  I’m only seven episodes in, myself, but I’ve been having a great time.  If horror theory is of interest to you, or if you just want to hear some terrifying true stories, I highly recommend giving Lore a listen.

Welcome to Night Vale.

What?  I’m a fan of one of the most popular Weird podcasts in history?  SHOCKING.  Who would’ve thought?!?

Welcome to Night Vale, of course, isn’t really dreadful or horrific.  It’s, at times, creepy.  And sad.  And uplifting.  But, mostly, it’s bloody funny and extremely weird.  Well-written and well-performed, there’s a damned good reason this podcast is as popular as it is.  I’d be surprised if anyone reading this hadn’t yet heard it, but if that somehow happens to be the case…change that.  Change that, now.

The Black Tapes Podcast.

Fun stuff.  I blazed through the first season at light speed and have nearly caught up through the second.  I ache, waiting for more episodes.  I’m putting off listening to the last 3 of them, making them last the way a junkie might: scraping off a line only when needed, hoping to find a powdery surprise at the bottom of a pocket, some forgotten baggie lost in the laundry bin.  Like the junkie, I hope against all hope: I know there’s no hidden stash secreted away, but toss my room over searching for it, anyway.

The Black Tapes follows the lives and work of several interesting characters as they argue, fight, and compromise; as they deceive each other and themselves; as they help each other.  A paranormal mystery?  A story of faith and belief?  The application of scientific method to a series of unrelated incidents?  These questions clash and conflate throughout each episode, and the darkness eddying around the edges is both real and surreal, both concrete and…maybe not-so-concrete…

Straight up: get on this shit.

Alice Isn’t Dead.

Written by part of the same creative team behind Welcome to Night ValeAlice Isn’t Dead is a brilliant ride through bizarre America, a paranormative road trip through the vast emptiness of our country…and that emptiness has a lot to hide.

Alice Isn’t Dead was, by far, my favorite podcast experience ever.  Ever.  And, for a third time, for emphasis: ever.

Our narrator leads us on a journey through love and fear, through desolation and determination, through the big empty and the things living within it.  Small towns.  Bizarre events.  A lurking horror wheezing rank breath through a mouth full of twisted teeth.  Thrilling, touching, and affecting.  Once, while walking along Central Park South, someone ran into me when I froze mid-stride while listening.  I stuttered an apology and didn’t hear the man’s response over the more-important sound of my headphones.

If you listen to one podcast ever in your entire life, I would recommend this one.

Obviously, if you listen to multiple podcasts, I would recommend all the other ones, too.

That’s how lists work.

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The New American Apocalypse, Pt. 23

(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; Part SeventeenPart Eighteen; Part NineteenPart TwentyPart Twenty-One; Part Twenty-Two;

Part Twenty-Three:…)

Day 40

The universe is going to end.  Ultimately, everything does.  Species go extinct, eras come to a close.  The apocalypse happens…not with a bang, and maybe not even with the over-quoted whimper.  The apocalypse is a mundane thing.  It happens every day.  An old man halfway across the world closes his eyes for the last time and takes everything he might’ve done next week with him.  A young woman overdoses on pain medication.  A species of insect is just discovered the day before it vanishes.  A billion lightyears away, an old star finally gutters out.  The apocalypse isn’t flashy.  It doesn’t brag.  It doesn’t drive a nice car or pour overpriced champagne into its hot-tub.  It just waits and, eventually, it wins.

Bummer, right?

But you never think you’ll be there for it.  You’re vaguely aware that one day you, personally, won’t exist anymore.  You’re vaguely aware that a distant future happens without you in it.  But the whole shebang?  The end of mankind?  No way, right?

This apocalypse was slow, too.  The New American Apocalypse was decades in the making.  We just didn’t notice it because, most of the time, the apocalypse isn’t flashy or bright or particularly fast.  Most of the time, the apocalypse is boring and dull and takes an incredibly long time.

Where did this one start?  Well, it was long before I wrote my shitty poems, I’ll tell you that.  Before the Cult of M’Ra or the Church of the New American Jesus.  But when?  I stay up at night, too tired to move and too scared of my own thoughts to sleep, and wonder…when?  When?  WHEN?

But I can’t find a date.  Can’t even figure out the era.  If someone asks me “where did this all get started?” I’d have to shrug my shoulders and mumble something about inevitable entropy or maybe the cruelty of human nature or the absolute resourcefulness of the Great Darknesses.  I think that scares me more than everything else.  If I could point to an event, or a decade, or a moment, or something, if I could point to something in our shared history and say “here, it started here,” then maybe it wouldn’t feel so inevitable.  But it’s like people keep telling me: I just put the straw on the camel’s back.  Everything else was already there.  Added slowly, over decades, maybe even over centuries, by so many people with so many different ideas that it’s impossible to narrow it down.

Nobody in history woke up and said “well, time to start the apocalypse, I guess.”  Nobody wakes up and decides to be the bad guy.  They just kind of…do it.  It’s only evidenced in retrospect, in the vast archives of history.  Vanderbilt was a cruel, self-righteous criminal.  Pullman was a heartless money-grubbing monster.  They didn’t wake up and decide to be assholes.  That’s just the best that they could do with the beliefs that they had.  With their priorities.  With their perspectives.

So it goes, I guess.

Same thing with the Cult of M’Ra.  I bet every single one of them, from the Grand Penis to the lowly Scrotophyte, believes that they’re doing something that has to be done.  Talk about delusions of fucking grandeur.  But there’s something there, right?  They didn’t wake up in the morning and pray to their Mighty Veined Deity to be assholes.  They do it because they believe in something, they legitimately believe in something.  They do it because they think there’s something wrong with the direction things were going in before the Great Darknesses rose up.  They have faith in their own goodness.  Faith in their Cock God and the moral structure of its hairy testicles.

Yeah, well.  I think this world has seen enough of what faith can do.

“What’s got you up so late?” Mr. Baldwin asks.  His wounds are recovering admirably, but we’ve all had to continue covering for him.  I’m waiting for those interned psychos to come knocking.  Or worse.  The Scanners.  Surely they’re looking for him, by now.

“Thinking about inevitability.  About the way people act that makes these things happen.  About maybe how this is just the path human nature takes us down, that there’s never been another way to go.”

“You really think that?” he’s on the bunk below mine, bandaged and salved, and his voice has a quality that makes me think that the Earth, itself, is speaking.

“I dunno.  Maybe.  It just makes sense, sometimes.”

“You think the Cult of M’Ra makes sense?” he asks, as if reading my mind.  “You think a bunch of crackers wearing Halloween masks and walking around with longsword-sized dildos makes sense?”

“In the context of the human species?  Maybe.  Maybe this is just what we are, you know?  What we’ve always been.”

“Jesus, no wonder they got you so easy.  Programmed you to forget their agenda, made your eyes blind to the structures of their systems, your ears deaf to the evils of their scriptures…then they waited for your nihilistic foolishness to do the rest.  Instant patsy.”

“But am I wrong, though?  The Great Darknesses made this all possible, but the people did it.  The Cult of M’Ra, the Church of the New American Jesus, hell, even the zed middle management types and the cannibal class chasing everyone out of their apartments in Queens–they’re all just humans, living or recently deceased.  They were just waiting for some squid-faced monster to give them the go-ahead.  That’s all.  They just needed permission.”

There’s a long pause.  I can hear him think.  He can hear me, too, I bet.  The two of us just stewing in the darkness.

He breaks the silence.  His voice has the strength of coiled roots drilled into the soil.  “Long is the way and hard that out of darkness leads up to light.”

I furrow my brow, though he can’t see it.  “Is that Milton?  Are you quoting Milton at me?”

“Don’t be weak,” he says.  “Don’t be a coward.  Don’t look for an excuse to give up.  You want the truth?  The truth is that the world can be shit.  People suffer.  People are always going to suffer.  Some more than others, and for reasons that won’t make any sense.  So you have to make a choice: you either give up, turn a blind eye, tell yourself there’s nothing you can do about it…or you can do something about it.  The world doesn’t need another asshole like you in the first category.  That’s what it is.  The path is long and it is hard as all hell, but it’s the only path leading up.  The only path running against the one you’re so afraid is your only option.”

I nod, though he can’t see it.  “Guess so.  Just…why bother?  Because…extinction, you know?  If not the Great Darknesses, maybe just bombs.  Or a plague.  Or the sun eating the Earth.  Or–”

“Excuses.  Philosophical bullshit.  Academic nonsense to make you feel better about not wanting to do shit.  You ever hear the story about that photographer?  Uh…what’s his name?…Carter?  The guy who took the photo of that starving kid and the vulture?”

“Yeah.  Yeah, I know that one.”

“Yeah, well.  Look at that shit and tell me about how the sun’s going to eat the Earth and nothing matters, huh?  Existential depression.  You’re lucky to be in a place where existential depression is the shit that you’re worried about.  Extinction.  Meaning.  Maslow’s damned pyramid.  Do me a favor, alright?”

“Uh-huh?”

“Feed the kid, when it happens to you.  Just feed the fucking kid.”

A long pause.  I say nothing.  I can’t think of anything to say.

He speaks, next: “Tomorrow, by the way.  The attack happens tomorrow.  We’re going to open a portal, again, and this time you’re going through.”

“Oh.”

“Don’t fuck it up.”

I would say ‘ye of little faith,’ but I’m not a man of much faith, either.

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The New American Apocalypse, Pt. 22

(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; Part SeventeenPart Eighteen; Part NineteenPart TwentyPart Twenty-One;

Part Twenty-Two:…)

[Day 31]

The sky rumbles.  The bosses lumber around with whips.  Tentacled things in three-piece suits writhe around the perimeter.  Do 12-legged monsters dress to the right or to the left, do you think?  It hardly matters.  What matters is this: they have shown up.  That they would even deign to show their faces around here speaks volumes.  Well, I say “faces,” but only about half of them have a “face” in the way that humans traditionally think of them.  Perhaps the word “visages” is  more apropos?

Mr. Baldwin smirks at me.  “They’re scared.”

“No they’re not.”

“As close to it as they’ve ever been.”

I hope he’s right.  Having seen the leader of these vile forces, ‘hope’ may be all I have to go on.  I think back to the phone call last month, trying to ascertain the fate of The Girl, being greeted by an ominous voice instead.  An emissary?  Surely not the Beast, itself.  I don’t believe that monster does much in the way of talking.  Its maw exists only to feast.

“What are they nervous about?” I ask.

“The coming siege.”

“Wait, you mean this shit is actually working?”

Mr. Baldwin merely nods.

Is it so impossible to imagine?  Art, culture, rhetoric…are these things inspiring rebellion?  Revolution?  Has our simple aid lent strength to the guerrilla revolutionaries fighting back against the tide of darkness?  Perhaps.  Mr. Baldwin seems to have more faith in the matter than I do.  Maybe he knows something I don’t.

“When the time comes,” he tells me, “you still have your job to do.”

“What?” I ask, having all but forgotten my previous mission.

Poems of the Apocalypse.   Your own personal Frankenstein monster.”

“Did you read them?”

“I did.”

“What did you think?”

Mr. Baldwin chuckles.  Shakes his head.  “I think you’re low down.  Way low down.  Maybe you stared at the Abyss too long.  Hell, maybe you took the Abyss out for a few drinks and spent a night shacked up in a motel with it.  You wrote the book as a black hole for hope.  It was a spell.  The words were magic.  People who were Fighting the Good Fight gave up when they read the thing.  People who were on the edge of madness took the leap.”

“Well, yeah.  I figured that part out.  But I mean…was the work any good?”

“The poetry?”

“Yeah.”

“Passable.”

“Passable?” I ask.

“Passable,” he confirms.

And wouldn’t it just figure that my most important piece of work was merely passable?  Isn’t it almost predictable that the most important thing I’ve done in my life is something I did while brownout/blackout drunk, hammering dumbly away at my keyboard in a state of depressive nihilism and Azazoth lunacy?  That it would be ‘passable,’ at best?  Of course it is.

Why did I ever get into this business?

 

[Day 36]

I can’t believe this shit.

Technically, the camp workers aren’t slaves, per se.  Not even wageslaves, really.  They’re indentured servants working to pay off an unpayable debt.  So, not ‘wageslaves’ but ‘interest-slaves.’  Debt-slaves.  Old fashioned indentured servitude, gussied up by pretty corporate language and finance law-speak.  Our shoulders are yoked by red-penned debt.  By impossible interest rates.  By fines and nickel-and-dime strategies imposed by our bosses.

And, apparently, some of the workers view that as a fair thing.

Now, I’m familiar with the ideology of a Temporarily Embarrassed Millionaire, but this takes it a step too far.  There are people bound here who believe the tentacular, faceless, void-worshiping bosses might actually promote them.  There are people here who believe they might one day start their own void-worshiping business!  They think that they might be able to lease out a loan to an even poorer person at an even higher interest rate than their own and turn that weak-tea concept into a bustling void-worshiping bank!

Fools, at best.  Monsters, at worst.  Humans, nonetheless.

Some of them attacked Mr. Baldwin last night. They brought mostly fists and feet to the assault, supported by an assortment of words. They called him a “rabble rouser,” a “commie,” a “union-loving scumbag,” and, of course, a “nigger.”  Not to mention all the other usual epithets and reprisals one might expect a red-blooded American debt-slave to call the men trying to fight on their behalf.  The list is endless and repetitive.  The creativity of its inventors extends only to finding more nonsense syllables to string together in insult.  I’m sure whoever reads this is already familiar with the vocabulary.

After he’s brought inside half-dead, he rests.  His face is marred with bruises and his lips are rouged with blood.  We have to find someone to cover his morning shift censoring library books and his afternoon shift of skinning the dead for consumption.  I guard him through the night and one of the other inmates–er, employees–takes care of him while I work the early afternoon away by revising history books to suit the needs of the Great Darknesses.

The next morning, I air my grievances to him.  Do these fools not realize the tremendous fight he’s undertaken on their behalf?  Do they not see the risks of the mantle he’s borne for them?  Can they possibly believe these undulating aberrations reaping the rewards from their labor have their best interests at heart?  (If they have hearts, that is.  I’m uncertain about the specifics of their grotesque anatomies.)

“You don’t have much experience rallying folk, do you?” he asks.

“I’ve written a couple pieces here and there.”

“Uh-huh.  They get much of a reaction?”

“Not really.  One guy called me a white-knighting faggot mangina.  Y’know, on the internet.  Before.”

He stares at me.

“Yeah.  I guess it’s not really the same.  Another guy said he would fuck me up if he ever saw me, but I didn’t really take him seriously.  It was all online.”

He continues staring.

It’s awkward.

“I used to go to rallies and stuff when I was younger.  Less afraid.  You know, peaceful protests and stuff…large groups…” I clear my throat.

He laughs.  It seems to hurt him.  “That all?”

“Uh.  Yeah.”

Still laughing, he says:  “Thank God you only got the one job to do, then.”

 

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The New American Apocalypse, Pt. 21

(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; Part SeventeenPart Eighteen; Part NineteenPart Twenty;

Part Twenty-One:…)

[Day 26, Cont’d]

I read the words of the Dark Ones, in the tongue of the Great Darknesses, yes, I spake!:

“A woman’s place is in the home! The Lord himself seeds all wombs! Abortions shall be performed only with hooks and hangers! A child of rape is a beautiful creation, deus vult!  Hupadgh’fhalma!  Goka gof’nn!  Damn the sluts to a thousand squirming young!  Damn the prudes to barren wombs!  Serve!  Serve!”

My mind clouds!  My vision dims!  Oh, forgive me!  Ms. Bradbury, especially, forgive me!

But I go on!:

“He was a troublemaker!  He stole something!  Look at his social media photos!  The police are endowed with the right to decide what constitutes reasonable force!  The burden of protecting the citizenry is a heavy one and wears on their nerves!  De-escalation is an impossible option!  All lives matter!  Mnahn’orr’e!  Bow!  Bow!”

The starless cosmos glowers in my periphery!  Mr. Ballard, Mr. Baldwin, Mr. Conrad, ah, I swear though my mouth betrays, my heart is not in it!

A portal forms in the center of the room, small and growing, purple and photo-negative light coils around us…the spell continues:

“The great Phallus M’Ra, worship!  M’Ra’fhtagn!  Rise up hard and vast, oh massive godlike Phallus, rise up and into our spirits!  Come into our hands!  Give us strength, M’Ra, strength of hand to silence, strength of grip to serve, strength of finger to spread the gospel wide!  Ia!  Ia!”

Neverending gospel of the Great Dark Ones!  My lips seem to peel away from my face as I speak!:

“Uln’Vanderbilt!  Uln’Pullman!  Uln’Reaganomics!  The worms and slaves beneath shall serve as meat for the monster of industry!  Chew between the white-collared teeth those back-broken wretches, hunched in inferiority!  Chew against lean muscle and fatty gristle, burn their calories empty, devour their spines!  Hain’t I got the money?  Hain’t I got the power!?  Vanderbilt’fhtagn!  Robber King of Gutted Economy, rise!”

The tenebrous portal devours all light as it opens like a vast maw in the earth!  I lose my voice and it is Mr. Baldwin who smacks me over the head and keeps me speaking, even as the words I utter turn my guts and raze my weak and harrowed soul:

“Plug in!  Download the Hollywood programming: yea, first we believe in the bootstrap mentality, that all men and only men and maybe a couple very attractive women are created equal and have access to equal opportunities and therefore any failings are failings of the character; yea, and second we believe in the doctrine of the meaningless, that no story shall afflict the brain with questions, no story shall drive us to act, all tales exist for the sole purpose of entertainment!

“Yea, and download the News Media Add-on: that third we believe in the news cycle, we adhere our attentiveness only to a spread of five-to-seven-days before moving on, that all problems not solved in the time frame are unsolvable, that the entertainment ends and curtain falls, that out of the camera’s focus nothing exists; yea, that fourth we believe that class does not exist, that wealth is a byproduct of competence, these men and primarily men and maybe a couple acceptable women with the right parentage are pillars of industry, Messiahs of Commerce striding among poor shriveled indigents, worthy the vault of fortune they possess; yea, that fifth we believe in Fair and Balanced reportage as labeled by articles set forth by the blinded gods of chaos chirping in the far reaches of space, that our duty as journalists rests on strong research, on finding the most disarming photographs available of white killers and most alarming photographs available of the black and brown ones, that our duty as journalists rests on adherence to the principals of the party, the writhing chaos gibbering around our meaningless lives;

“Yea, and download the Fast Forward Tube Feed: that sixth we believe in strict overabundance, that fatted bodies cannot fight and fatted minds cannot think and so we must stuff the mouths of the Cattle Class with all the cheapest feed available; yea, and that seventh we believe in the blinding flash of overly compressed frames in every minute, of pumping out a kaleidoscope of entertainment and reportage instantly overwhelming, of generating sensory overload on a scale that cannot be contained, cannot be expressed, cannot be understood except in the glibbest, blithest, most meaningless of observations delivered in under 140 pithy characters!”

And so the portal opens wide its endless mouth and down the throat of that terrible maw we see the hideous truths.

There: the American Heart of Darkness.  There: the pulsing balls of the Great Darknesses.

This is dead land; this is city land.  Moonlight crawls along broken columns.  A horde of human flesh is fed to a machine tyrant.  It devours factories full of four-fingered children.  It devours poor neighborhoods and low-income housing.  It devours streets and counties and parishes and dead-end towns miles away from the nearest grocery store.  Its innards roar like the mouths of a thousand garbage disposals.  It defecates money and meat, both equally bloody, and leaves a trail of half-digested bodies still twitching in its wake.  Its eyes are black holes.  Its mouth is a black hole.  Its hunger is bottomless.  It feasts forever.  It feasts not with agenda but out of blind idiot instinct.  It feasts because it can.  It feasts because it feasts.  There is no ‘why’ and maybe there never was.

Its world is a shattered grayscape of wasteland.  The subway cars are oil-slicked worms eating their way through the mantle of the earth.  The highways are taut strings clenched in its clawed fingers.  The mountains are the spines of Its brethren.  Smoke gutters its way up from everywhere.  Charred skeletons stare up empty-eyed from mass graves lining the globe.  Tentacled robber barons and zed middle-management types eat the remains of mankind with paired wines behind picture windows. The skyscrapers are great phalluses.

And every radio station and every TV show and every newspaper and every cheap liquor ad with a pouting woman on the poster all say the same thing: This Is The Way Things Are.  This Is The Way Things Are.  This Is The Way Things Are.

No!  No!  This is the way the world ends!  This is the way the world ends!  Not with a bang but an advert!  Between The Way We’ve Always Done It and the Way We Could Change Things falls the fucking shadow!

I am screaming, I realize.  I shriek with horror.

The thing, the monster I now realize is leading the Great Darknesses in their newest assault on our world, the Beast itself, peers up at me through the portal we opened and I see the infinite darkness of Its eyes shift like oozing tar.  Its gaze upon me, It grins.  Its teeth are smeared with blood.  Viscera hang between its many fangs.  It is in sore need of floss.  But worse: Its breath.  Or worse, still: that I can smell Its breath, that It laughs at me, at my smallness and my weakness and my cowardice, that It snickers so giddily and so happily that the reek of Its corpse-enriched breath reaches me.

Mr. Baldwin wrenches me away from the portal, clutching my wrists in his grasp.

He tells me I was trying to claw my eyes out.

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The New American Apocalypse, Pt. 20

(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; Part SeventeenPart Eighteen; Part Nineteen;

Part Twenty:…)

[Day 26]

It begins.  We are a quiet bunch and must be secretive, but we begin.  Let it be put down in the history books that this day the…whatever day it is, now…late summer?  Early autumn?…well, let it be put down, at least, that at some point during this season of growing night, at some point during these dark days, a collection of artists began to hone their craft in secret from within the clutches of the Great Darknesses, themselves.

I am assured, also, that the request for art has been ferried along to every open ear on the east coast.  In the sewer hideouts of the DC rebels and the abandoned subway tunnels inhabited by the terrified survivors of New York’s zombie gentrification apocalypse, people will be making art.  In the overpopulated Employment Camps spread across the northeast, ink and paint and blood will spill from the minds of the dispossessed and indigent and onto canvas and paper.  Those few zed still possessed of enough brainpower to harbor free will…soon their bloodshot eyes will be brought to gaze upon Truth, and if the bare human truth captured in art is not enough to stir them from their corpse-like slumber, then it is already too late.

Their minds have been massaged by rapid-fire images seared through their eyes, projected against them by so many screens that they are uncountable.  They’ve been numbed to questioning.  The afflicted have been comforted and the comfortable have also been comforted.  Sedatives and painkillers have been pumped through their skulls, the sole nourishment for their brains.  Now we will change the picture.  Or so we hope.

It’s a multi-pronged attack, of course.  We still need the guerrillas in DC and the team in New York to stay active, to put pressure on, to make a show of force against the darkness…to prove, really, that there’s another option to take.  We’ll need rebels and revolutionaries fighting tooth and claw every step of the way, bearing the most risk for the least historical reward.  People with backs strong enough to carry the burdensome crosses of this battle.  But while they take the fight to the streets and markets and parks and apartment complexes of this twisted, tormented nation, we will hack our way into the airwaves and distort the images purveyed by the mind-numbing screens until they disturb rather than dissuade, until they question rather than comfort.  We’ll print the posters and post the bills and tag the Cyclopean halls of Wall Street with bright multi-hued graffiti.  We’ll write essays and fictions and manifestos and poetry and multi-genre multi-media works that jerk the veil of comfortable illusion away from the eyes of the zombie class.  We’ll wake them up.

Such is the goal.  We shall see.  I am torn, after what happened last night…I am flush with confidence and filled with terror.  Simultaneously, I believe our victory is possible and impossible.  You will understand when it is done.

For now: as Jim Morrison wrote, we will “[take] pills to stay awake and play for 7 days.”  That’s right.  I’m cranking into my vault of externally-abled courage.  I will rest no more.  Especially after what I’ve seen.  For as long as my drug-induced confidence holds out, I will be unshakable…which I may need to be, considering how quickly these operations are likely to be discovered.  In the battle of propaganda, and also just in literal terms, the Great Darknesses possess many watchful eyes.  The Scanners were only the beginning.

One night ago: Mr. Baldwin approaches me after a 10-hour day of digging graves.  All Employment Camp graves are dug in advance, I should mention, to a depth corresponding to the debt of the person who will one day fill it.  One of my several rotating jobs at the Camp is to dig them.  As you may guess, manual labor is not my favorite thing.  But, hey, when you’re a prisoner in the clutches of Great Darknesses trying to subsist on the questionable leftovers handed down to you by the Cannibal Class, you do what you gotta do, right?

Anyway, Mr. Baldwin approaches me after a 10-hour shift.  (Side note: fairly certain my “lunch” yesterday was a specific kind of morally discomforting veal…not to say all veal isn’t, in some way, morally discomforting, but it’s different when it’s likely your own species) — my apologies for the sidetracking, but there are some details of Camp life I haven’t gone into, as I have been drowning under a sea of existential malaise and general psychological malady.

Anyway, ahem, Mr. Baldwin approaches.  In his hand is a small book, perhaps the size of a stack of 3×5 study cards.  Its binding is stitched out of human skin and bat wings and the title is a symbol my hand can’t reproduce but that has been branded into the flesh with a hot iron.

“What the hell is that?” I ask, rightfully.

“One of the Great Dark Ones’ secrets.  Come on.”

I don’t ask further questions.  Instead, I follow Mr. Baldwin back through our self-dug cemetery to the plot of land reserved for his future corpse.  He leaps inside and I follow.  It seems one of the workers has dug a cramped tunnel leading from the bottom of his future tomb to some tiny earthen cavern.  Once inside this cavern (no larger than, perhaps, two coffins sat next to each other, which makes it still larger than the Employee Lounge we usually meet in), he sets the book between us and opens it up.  Strange designs draw my eyes–impossible geometries and bizarre lines.  Escher animations and hideous Beksinksian landscapes.  My mouth hangs wide.

“You speak their language, right?” Mr. Baldwin asks.

“I–no, I’m just a…a…” but I freeze.  Because he’s right.  I recognize some of these nonsense symbols–entire phrases, even!  Entire paragraphs!  I can’t make sense of every page, or even form a cohesive understanding of what I’m reading, but I speak the language, I know the tongue…how?

“Must have got to you young,” Mr. Baldwin’s voice is comforting, though I know it is an artificial comfort.  It has the practiced execution of someone used to easing people into harsh truths.  “I think that’s likely how it happened so quickly.  The Great Dark Ones had half of America brainwashed before they even rose up out of the sea.”  He shakes his head.  “Goddamn.”

“But…but I’m a writer!” I scramble back into the hard dirt, shocked.

“A path you chose…but think back.  How many messages were burned into your brain before you had a chance to fight back against them?  How much propaganda did the Great Darknesses spoon-feed you before you were even off of Gerber?  How often does your conscious mind have to fight back programmed thoughts?”

I stammer senselessly.

“Maybe that’s how they were able to use you,” Mr. Baldwin continues.  “Playing on sleeping instincts programmed into your brain.  Or maybe they just whispered to you at just the right moment…a moment when you had truly given up.”

I open my mouth to answer, but he cuts me off.

“You don’t have to trust me with the answer.  I don’t know if I’d trust you gave the honest one, anyway.  But just as they used you, so can we.”

He taps the top of a page.

He says: “I need you to read this.  I need you to cast this spell.”

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The New American Apocalypse, Pt. 18

(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; Part Seventeen;

Part Eighteen:…)

I spend a lot of time in the Employment Camp.  I don’t have the constitution to open myself to the memories of such horror, so the next bit will be transcribed from my old journals:

[Day 6]

Nietzsche once said that any civilization whose primary goals were optimism, knowledge, and advancement would necessarily require a slave class.  Sure, everyone wants to be a scientist or an artist or an academic or a philosopher or whatever, but at the end of the day someone has to grow the food, cook the food, and serve the food.  Someone’s gotta take out the garbage.  Someone’s gotta milk and slaughter the cows and someone else has to hold the buckets for all the blood.

Well, baby, here we are.

The Employment Camp is every bit as terrifying as I imagined.  These ramshackle apartments are tenements clustered so tight I have an anxiety attack before I’m even stuffed inside.  Human stench fills the air.  We’re like sardines but somehow saltier.  Men and women work their bodies to the bare bones in exchange for a pittance.  It gets worse.  Payment is made against our bail loans, which apparently have a 16% interest rate, and rent and food and water is taken out additionally, along with any penalties.  After working a week in these hellish conditions, I wake up on payday to discover that I owe the bosses money!

We are wageslaves chained to our basic needs.  The Darknesses know this.  They made a wise bet…they know we will always choose life, no matter how painful and miserable that life ends up being.  And the ones who don’t?  The ones who choose death, nothingness, the ones who go mad or kill themselves?  Fewer mouths to feed.

I exist, here, in a malaised despair.  This journal cost me a day’s labor, and the pencils another half-day.  It doesn’t matter.  Like most of the populace, here, I’ve given up hope of digging myself out of debt.  Until such time that a trial happens, lorded over by a Judge of the Great Dark Ones, I will rot here.  Maybe there are no Judges.  Maybe there are only Scanners and privatized bail loans and Employment Camps where prisoners work themselves to death…maybe this is all life has to offer, anymore…

And the bastards took my man-bag, of course.  I’ve been reduced to moonshine the other prisoners make it bathtubs and toilets.  Pray I don’t go blind…though maybe that would be a blessing in disguise…

I’ve noticed the daylight is retreating.  Every day seems shorter, every night longer.  The sun is dimmer than I remember it being.  The Great Darknesses seem to be winning, whatever that entails.  If they win, what happens to my words?  Losers don’t write the history books, after all.  With these pages mashed to dust, it will be as if I never existed at all.

A man named Mr. Baldwin (no relation) brings in the news from outside.  How he gets it, I don’t know, but it seems grim.  The eldritch abominations wreak havoc across the world.  The M’Ra Cultists ride through city streets on chariots, swinging three-foot dildos like swords at the non-believers.  The Church of the New American Jesus banned heretics from entering the country.  The smarter atheists have already fled to Canada.  Muslims make their way northward via an underground railroad system, hiding in attics like Anne Frank and waiting for a gap in Scanner security to move to the next city.  The Cannibal Class has taken to open safaris, roaming the hellish cityscapes with their zed underlings hoping to scoop out the brains of artists and retirees and homeless veterans and urban youth.  I’m surprised they still feel the need to use code…

There is no news of my old compatriots.  Will I ever learn what happened to Mr. Swift and Mr. Conrad in DC?  Did Ms. Bradbury and Mr. Ballard escape?  What of those other rebels whispering across the airwaves?  Is there hope still to smash this wretched system and rescue ourselves from the hungry abyss?  Or is it too late for foolish hopes like those?

I tell Mr. Baldwin my fears over mason jars filled with moonshine.  He makes no effort to hide his disgust.  “So you would give up?  Lie down and let them eat you?  Be my guest, then.  I won’t go out without a fight.”

How he maintains ferocity in such a place as this, I don’t know.  To toil beneath the will of monsters, to return to our tenements broken and exhausted…and still to find the fire inside with which to fight…he is made from stronger stuff than I.  But that seems obvious.  After all, what lies within me other than “weakness?”  Or the constant self-inflicted “cowardice?”

There must be drugs somewhere in this hellhole…and I shall sniff ’em out.  Mr. Baldwin may get his fire from internal sources, strong of will and spirit, but I’ve always found my courage hidden in the apothecary’s shelves or at the bottom of a bottle of whiskey.  To fight the good fight is easier when it’s done with a little intoxicant…

And I’m not beaten yet.  Mr. Baldwin may look down on me for my weakness, but I’m digging his fire.  I hope to find some of my own, even if I have to scoop it out of the bottom of a toilet bowl.

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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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