Radio Man I, or: A Man Wakes Up Any Morning

(Originally published as “A Man Wakes Up Any Morning” in Sanitarium Magazine, Issue #38.)

Radio Man I, or: A Man Wakes Up Any Morning

 

He woke up, again, to the same alarm as always: static hiss of radio underscoring the accentless newsman as he said, “…he went to the gun locker, opened it, and took out the rifle.”  He slapped the radio off before he heard the rest of the story and pushed himself up out of bed.  Sarah shifted on the mattress next to him, an airy sigh slipping from her lips as she curled up in the covers.  She never heard the newsman, no matter how many times he said the exact same thing.  They’d had a fight about it, once.  She always heard a rock song, from Oceanrest Rock & Blues Radio.  The same song, every time…something by Nine Inch Nails, but he couldn’t remember the title.  He only ever heard the news report, the same news report, over and over again.

“Steve?” Sarah’s voice was sleepy-soft.

“Yeah?” he asked, pretending not to know the question.  Pretending not to have heard it every day for as long as he could remember, going back more days than he had any reason to keep counting.

“Could you make breakfast for the kids?  I had a late night.”

“Sure.”

The form of her was invisible beneath the sheets, but he knew she smiled.  It was a small smile, no teeth showing.  He’d maneuvered a glance at it on one of the hundreds of days that were all exactly alike.  Within minutes, she’d be back in the depths of sleep.

*****

He scrambled eggs in the frying pan.  They spat oil and sputtered as he chopped at them with the spatula.  The dog, Shep, wove between his legs excitedly, as if expecting a helping herself.  He stared at the pan, listening to the sound under the sizzling eggs.  Radio static, in crescendo.  The clock on the stove blinked to 7:35 AM.

The television flickered on in the living room.  The news anchor sounded exactly the same as the Radio Man, sounded exactly the same as his boss, sounded exactly the same as how many other people he’d met living the same day over for months on end.  The anchor leaned toward the camera, “His wife, author Sarah Clarke, was still sleeping when the slaughter began.”

He walked over to the set and turned it off.  He stared at the blank screen until the smell of burning eggs brought him back to the stove.  He swore he saw something move behind the black veil of the dead screen, but he could never make it out.

*****

He didn’t remember buying the gun.  He remembered the code to the safe, the number he punched into the keypad to unlock it, but he didn’t actually remember buying the thing.  It was as if it had always been there, waiting, whispering in his dreams.

The safe was in the closet of their bedroom, on the opposite side of the house from the twins.  He remembered it being there when he brought them all home from the hospital.  Had it been there when they’d moved in?  Had it been there when they bought the house and he carried Sarah over the threshold like a second wedding?

The question hurt his head.  He walked back to the kitchen, closing the door quietly behind him.

*****

Amy was up, first.  She came out of her room so fast she would’ve crashed right into the wall if he hadn’t been there to catch her.  He’d learned that from the first few times the day repeated: same time, every morning, Amy careened out of the room fast as a bullet right into the wall.  Being there to catch her saved him twenty minutes of crying.  It saved her a nasty knot on the side of her head, too.

“Watch it there, kiddo,” he said, smiling down at her.

She was very small and young and knew little about pain.

She pulled herself out of his hands and ran toward the kitchen table.  “You’re coming to the play tomorrow!” – not a question, a statement.  Amy had a role in the school play, and had been increasingly excited about it during the lead up.  She was bubbling over.  Except tomorrow never seemed to come.  All her enthusiasm was trapped in the present, imprisoned in the same endless morning.

“You bet,” he whispered back, knowing she couldn’t hear him.

Charlie came out of the room next, rubbing his eyes.  “I don’t wanna go.”

Steve reached down and ruffled his son’s dirty blond hair.  “Too bad, Chuckie man.”

“It’s a stupid play.”

“It’ll only be one night.  You’ll be fine.”

Charlie grumbled his way into the kitchen and sat down at the table.  He poured too much ketchup on his eggs.

*****

He brought them both a glass of milk and half of an English muffin with peanut butter and jelly.  It was what they had in the house: milk, eggs, English muffins, peanut butter, jelly, and four cans of tuna.  Groceries had been tight.  Everything had been tight since they’d discovered they were having fraternal twins instead of a single child.  It didn’t help that Sarah hadn’t had a successful book in four years.  Or any book at all.  A sales job in telecomm wasn’t enough to feed a family of four.

The debt had worried him until the calendar stopped moving.  Now it seemed like a funny joke.  If a collector called, he would cheerily give them all the appropriate information and hang up the phone, knowing nary a dime would go missing from it.  Another of the fringe benefits of not having a future.

“Never put off till tomorrow,” he muttered to himself, watching his children eat.  It was a joke he’d made, before.  It wasn’t funny and it wasn’t aging well.

“You’ll break,” the dog had the Radio Man’s voice.  Its mouth didn’t move, but Steve could hear it in his head.  “They all break, eventually.  One way or another.  What do you think you have in you?  A couple more months, maybe a year?  How long can you make the same breakfast every morning?”

He glared down at the dog and found it jumping up and down around the kitchen table.  Charlie slipped it a palm-full of egg and ruffled its ears.  The animal glanced back at Steve with mischief in its eyes.  Charlie loved the dog, of course.  Charlie couldn’t hear it whisper in his head.

*****

How many times had he done this?  How long had he fought?  How many ways could he avoid doing it?  How many times could he wake up in the same bed and hear the same news report and decide not to let it happen?

Over.  He just wanted it to be over.

*****

The bus picked the kids up a few minutes late.  8:39 instead of 8:30.  Of course, after the first few times Steve had just started taking them out to the curb at 8:35ish.  He waved them aboard the yellow bus and watched it drive away.

There was one thing he hadn’t tried, yet, but he didn’t want the kids to be home if it worked.

*****

Sarah was still sleeping when he tip-toed back into the bedroom.  He went to the gun locker, opened it, and took out the rifle.  It was a 30.06 and held five bullets.  He loaded it up and listened to the safe sing static in his ears.  It was always static.  Static and the radio voice, out of every pore of the world.  The dog had the voice.  The stray cat had the voice.  The birds had the voice.  The mouse scurrying across the sidewalk had the voice.  He could hear the news report shivering beneath the earth’s skin.

But problems do have solutions.

He left the bedroom with the gun and walked out to the backyard.  It was a quiet neighborhood.  The only sound was the pop and crackle of the thing living inside the air, the rustle of leaves scratching each other like record needles.  He took a deep breath.

His teeth felt strange against the barrel, like biting into a piece of flint.  It was cold and hard and it made his enamel itch.  He closed his eyes and fumbled for the trigger with his thumb, awkwardly hunched over the gun.  He tried to block out the gritty texture and the coppery taste of metal.  He struggled not to gag.  His thumb found the curved edge of the trigger, and he heard himself whimper.

He squeezed.

*****

The radio man said, “He killed his son, first, splattering blood across scrambled eggs like watery ketchup” and Steve reached out and slammed his hand on the alarm clock.  He rolled over and pulled Sarah close to him, feeling her body ease into his.  She helped his lungs expand.  The alarm clock turned back on.  “His daughter tried to run away, screaming for her mother, but he shot her in the back of the throat before—”

He turned away from Sarah, grabbed the alarm clock, and wrenched it from the wall.  He pushed himself out of bed and threw the clock on the floor, watching its plastic pieces break apart to reveal electronic guts.  He picked up the remains and threw them down, again, watching them shatter and spin away from each other.  The floor was covered in debris.

“What the hell are you doing?” Sarah sat up in bed.

Steve swallowed air to drown the fire in his chest.  “I’m sick of it.”

Sarah seemed small in the center of the mattress, caught in the whorl of sheets.  Her voice seemed smaller still.  “My parents said…if we have to…”

He shook his head at her, bull-like, “No.  That’s not—I’m not living in a basement with two kids, the dryer banging around all night, living behind walls we make out of shower curtains.”

Moving would be a waste of time, anyway.

“Just until I finish the book,” she offered.

He took a deep breath and started picking the shattered radio pieces up from the floor.  “It’s fine,” he muttered.  He bit his tongue to stop himself from talking about the news report, the Radio Man, the repeating day.  She never believed him, anyway.  “Keep writing.  I’ll figure it out at work.  We’ll figure it out.”

He hadn’t even gone to work for months.  It seemed pointless, now.

“I’m sorry,” he dropped the radio innards into the bin at the foot of the bed.  “Just…work stress.  The boss.  We haven’t had a cost-of-living raise in years and…nevermind.  I’m just sorry, okay?”

She nodded, not replying.

“I’m so goddamned sorry.”

“Come here,” Sarah reached out with open arms, “let me hold you.”

*****

One day, to kill the monotony, he told the kids to skip school and go to the zoo with him.  He snapped at Amy when she tried to turn on the car radio, smacked her hand harder than he wanted.  She didn’t cry, but she looked up at him with wide, scared eyes.  The tape deck grinned at him, spat out a tape like a tongue.  He grabbed it and threw it out the window, watching it shatter against the road behind them.

The day was muffled and distant inside his head.  The kids jumped around and took photographs on disposable cameras, snapshots of big cats and exotic birds.  Steve tried to keep his eyes on his feet, feeling the gaze of every animal branding his skin.  Monkeys howled at him, teeth bared, “His daughter tried to run away!  His daughter tried to run away!”  Their laughter chattered in his head.  One of them threw crap at him, spattering his slacks with their shitstain.

The kids got tired and grumpy and started to whine, so he took them to lunch at a cheap burger place down the road.  His wallet was out of cash, so he paid on a credit card.  The kids’ faces got gross with condiments, their fingers sticky.  Steve wiped them off with sanitary napkins despite their arguments.  Amy was particularly against it.  “Daddy, stop!” she yelled, drawing the attention of parents at another table.  As if they were any better.  As if their children were so polite.  He wrangled Amy still and wiped her mouth with the moist towelette as she squealed.

The overhead speaker snickered at him in Radio Man static.  “The only way out is through.”

“Come on, let’s go,” Steve muttered, angrier than he wanted to sound.  He grabbed his children by the wrists and ferried them out of the restaurant.  He sat them down in the back of the car and locked them in.  He paced around the parking lot for fifteen minutes before he joined them, begging God or the Universe or anyone for an answer, for a tomorrow, for something to do.

A young woman, maybe fifteen or sixteen, walked around the side of the lot.  Bleach-white hair sat mop-like on her head, the sides shaved clean down to the scalp.  She was fatally thin and smelled of unwashed summer heat.  She scanned the parking lot until her eyes fell on him.  “Sir…?”

The stench of her made him recoil.  He fished a couple crumpled bills from his pocket.

She took the money and ferreted it away in the folds of a tattered, XXL hoodie.  “Thank you.  But that’s not what—”

He was already walking away, unlocking the driver’s side door of the car and sliding into the seat.  She stood outside the burger joint staring at him, something behind her eyes making him think about police detectives or psycho-analysts.  He turned his keys in the ignition and tried to clear her smell out of the back of his throat.

“Daddy?” Charlie asked.  “Who is that?”

“Doesn’t matter,” he mumbled.  It didn’t feel like a lie.

*****

One day, he told Sarah, and she didn’t believe him.  He told his boss, and he didn’t, either.  He told a therapist and she prescribed him drugs.  He told a cop and spent the day in a cell.  He told anyone that would listen and nobody did.  There was no point in keeping it secret, day after same-day.  The Radio Man didn’t seem to care, either.

“Tell everyone!” fifty televisions called out inside a Wal-Mart, “Tell everyone and maybe they’ll start tuning in to the same channel!”

*****

Shep slept on the floor in front of the dead TV screen.  Steve stared into the flat black and drank espresso.  Something moved behind the screen, inside the darkness, he was sure of it.  He just had to see it.  It was part of an answer.  It had to be.  Because there had to be an answer and he had to find it.  He finished his fourth coffee of the morning and heard Sarah open the bedroom door.

“What are you doing out here?”

“Called out for the day,” he answered, his words caffeine-sharp.  “Needed time to think.”

He could feel the words she wanted to say, feel them like static around the hairs of his arms.  You shouldn’t skip work right now, maybe, or: we really need the money.  But she kept the words to herself and set about making her own clone of the kids’ breakfasts.  Eggs, English muffin, milk.  The tuna sat in cold cans uneaten.  He refilled his mug while she ate and sat back down in front of the screen.

“I’ll go back in tomorrow,” he said, feeling her eyes still on him.  “I just needed a day off.”

“You deserve one.  I’m sorry about…” a pause, more words unsaid, “I’ll start freelancing again.”

“We’ll figure it out,” he waited for the screen to pulse, for something to writhe inside it.

Shep roused with the smell of food.  The squeak of dog-yawn made Steve wince.  Radio Man came through Shep’s mouth: “Police won’t comment on what the man said, but one local neighbor said it was ‘disturbing.’”  The dog panted a couple times and trotted to the kitchen.

Steve kept staring at the screen.

Sarah did her writing outside, that day.  In the quiet neighborhood with the nice grass, blissfully unaware of the thing vibrating under the skin of the world.  Steve just sat in front of the television, eyes glued to the blank, endless black.  The kids came home, troubled their mother, and went to bed.  Sarah came back inside, laptop under one arm and children’s toys under the other.

“Nice show.”

“Trying to meditate.”

“Okay, then.”

She vanished into the bedroom, where he could still hear her fingernails clack against keys.  The clock ticked forward.  9:30pm, 10:00pm, 11:43pm…it rolled over to 12:00am, 12:15am, 12:23am.  Steve felt his breath get short.  It was tomorrow.  A smile crept across his face and he started giggling.  1:17am. He jumped up off the couch with a laugh and—

“…but his behavior had been bizarre leading up to the incident…” he turned over in bed and shut off the radio.  A sob wracked through his body, and something hot lashed back at it.  He stood up.

“I’m going to kill him,” he muttered, pulling on a pair of beaten sweatpants and a t-shirt from under the bed.  “I’m going out there and I’m going to kill him.”

It was such a simple solution, he couldn’t believe he hadn’t tried it, already.

*****

He walked out into the front yard and the grass smelled like disinfectant and absence.  He wasn’t sure if Sarah would follow, and it didn’t matter anyway.  In less than 24 hours she would forget anything she’d heard him mutter that morning.  For her, a rock song would play on the radio and she’d curl back up in bed.  He crossed the lawn and reached the sidewalk.

Shep was there, waiting, staring up at him.  A stray cat sat next to her, staring with the exact same eyes.  Their mouths opened at the same time and a rush of static washed through his head.  Radio Man came out of their mouths: “You can’t kill me, here.  You can’t die.  Haven’t you figured it out?  Go to the gun locker, open it, and take out the rifle.  It’s easy when you do it.  Wake up and it will be tomorrow.”

He rushed the animals and they scattered, running along green grass in different directions.  He roared after them.  When he turned back around, he saw the blond homeless girl staring at him from behind a tree.  Her hood was up, but the look and the smell were unmistakable.  “What the hell are you doing?” he snarled, stalking toward her, hands balled into fists.  “Did you follow me?  Did you follow me to my house?”

She retreated as quickly as the animals had.  Something about her didn’t make sense, but he couldn’t place what.

*****

Oceanrest Rock & Blues was in a tiny building on top of a hill northeast of town.  It took him four hours to walk there.  He could’ve taken a car, but he didn’t.  The time gave him space to breathe, to brood, to let the answer solidify in his head.  He had to kill the Radio Man.  That was the only other option.  Then it would finally be over.

He expected to find a reception desk when he threw the door open, but there wasn’t one.  There wasn’t anything.  The place had been torn apart.  A dented air vent hung from the half-collapsed ceiling, exhaling cool, sweet air into the dusty room.  The remains of four destroyed chairs lay scattered across the floor like limbs after a bomb.

His loafers were quiet against the floor as he made his way into the station.  Broken wires like nooses hung from everything.  Ceiling tiles had been pried away to reveal leaking pipes and busted vents.  Something had come through here and destroyed the place.  He found no one waiting in the hallways as he went.  The building was catacombs-empty.

The window that looked in on the recording studio dripped with opaque gray sludge.  Steve reached out and touched it, feeling it cool and mud-like oozing around his fingers.  He wiped the viscous residue on his pants and turned the corner.

The door to the studio hung open.  Static crackled from inside the room.

Steve walked in.

The Radio Man stared at him from the center of the room.  He had microphone heads as eyes and a smile that anyone in America could buy into.  He tilted his head to one side and spoke in the same voice Steve had always heard, “Do you think you’ll wake up and it will be tomorrow?”

Steve charged him and put a fist in his everyman smile.  His skin split around the Radio Man’s teeth.  Radio Man stumbled back and crashed spread-eagle on a small, worn table.  Steve rushed forward and hit him, again, this time in the throat.  Electric feedback warbled from Radio Man’s mouth, loud enough to make Steve grab his ears.

“His wife was out of the room two seconds later with a small pistol from the same safe.  She fired and hit him in the stomach.  He returned fire, spilling all her love out of her chest,” the Radio Man was back on his feet, his voice deafening in Steve’s head.  “He was found strangling his dog on the front lawn, screaming.”

Steve dove at the man and tackled him to the ground.  He was deaf and blind from all the sound, but he didn’t need to see or hear to keep punching.  He lashed out with his fists until his knuckles were broken and all his skin was flayed by splintered bone.  The Radio Man laughed through it all, bursts of static snicker and radio-persona crack-up exploding from his mangled face.  He never fought back.

When the sound died away, Steve stood up.  All the pain shrieking in his hands seemed like a distant, foggy memory.  He staggered back through the empty radio station and walked out the front door, leaving twin trails of blood in his wake, dripping off his fingers.

Outside, a bird peered down at him from the boughs of a tree.

“The only way out is through,” Radio Man’s voice teased from its beak.

*****

Amy’s play never came.  Charlie never wanted to go, anyway.  Steve ran lines with her every morning, a rehearsal for a show that would never go up.  There were always eggs and English muffins and not much else to eat.  The safe whispered static in his dreams.  The world whispered static in his daylight.  The night ate the day and yesterday ate tomorrow.  Amy and Charlie never grew older, never grew up, never complained about dating or learned about unemployment.

They smiled and laughed and sometimes they ran into walls and that was as bad as things got for them.

*****

Static sizzled under the burning eggs.  Steve’s knuckles were bone-white around the spatula handle.  How long had it been, now?  How many times had he cooked the same breakfast?

“He went to the gun locker, opened it, and took out the rifle.”

Was it a threat, or a promise?  Was it the end, or the beginning?

*****

The eggs sputtered on the pan.  Shep wove between his legs.  “Go to the gun locker!” the animal yipped in Radio Man’s voice, “go to the gun locker!”

Steve picked the dog up and threw it against a wall.  It landed with a whimper on the kitchen counter.  “What the hell do you want from me!?” he screamed, grabbing the furry animal in his hands and shaking it.  “What do you want!?”

“His wife, author Sarah Clarke, was still sleeping when the slaughter began.”

He smashed the animal down against the countertop, hearing more bones splinter.  “Why are you doing this to me!?”

“You’ll break,” Radio Man’s voice was quieter, distorted, coming from a broken speaker inside the dog’s body.  “They always break.  The only way out…the only way…”

He lifted Shep’s body in the air and brought it down again, until the Radio Man stopped talking and the animal’s corpse painted his hands red.  Amy and Charlie went to stay with their aunt in Portland, and he spent the rest of the day in one of the police precincts.

*****

The voice got more persistent.  He unplugged the alarm clock and the birds outside would sing the report for hours.  The dog would bark it, the stray cat would mewl it.  The eggs started talking to him, the voice whispering beneath the sputtering oil.  The television would flick on and the Radio Man’s voice would come out of the news anchor, children’s cartoons, Tony Soprano’s mouth.  It was all he heard all the time every day.  It was in his head like a brain worm, eating his mind.

*****

He opened Sarah’s laptop and typed:

He went to the gun locker, opened it, and took out the rifle.  He loaded it with five rounds and leaned it against the fridge as he cooked breakfast for his children.  He walked back to the bedroom and kissed his wife on the forehead.  She smiled faintly and turned over in bed.  The walk back to the kitchen took the longest.  It was time.  There was no way out but through.  He ruffled his children’s hair and opened the fridge to reveal empty shelves.

His wife, author Sarah Clarke, was still asleep when the slaughter began.  He killed his son, first, splattering blood across scrambled eggs like watery ketchup.  His daughter tried to run away, screaming for her mother, but he shot her in the back of the throat before she could make it to the bedroom.

His wife was out of the room two seconds later with a small pistol from the same safe.  She fired and hit him in the stomach.  He returned fire, spilling all her love out of her chest.  He was found strangling his dog on the front lawn, screaming.

Police won’t comment on what the man said, but one local neighbor said it was ‘disturbing.’  His neighbor alleges he was screaming at the dog, sobbing, “Is this enough for you?  Can this all finally be over, now?” when the first cop cars pulled up across the street.

Neighbors say Steven Clarke is a good man, but his behavior had been bizarre leading up to the incident.  He’d written a grim short story on his wife’s laptop depicting a similar scene to what happened that morning, and hadn’t been to work for two or more days.  Was it a psychotic break from reality?  One witness might know the truth: a young homeless girl found on the sidewalk across from his home, crusted white hair cresting her otherwise shaved scalp…

*****

He hit ‘snooze’ and climbed out of bed.  He pulled on a pair of boxers and a dirty t-shirt.  He went to the gun locker, opened it, and took out the rifle.  He loaded it with five rounds and prayed, hands so tight around the barrel he hoped it might break.  Heat burned his cheeks as he begged the universe to intervene.  Maybe someone would remember something: maybe Sarah would find the document he left on her laptop, or his boss would remember him screaming in the office, or the cop would remember locking him up—they’d remember, and they’d stop him.  But he couldn’t keep doing it, anymore.  It had to be over.

He leaned the gun against the fridge as he cooked breakfast for his children.  He wrung his hands in front of the stove and pursed his lips in another prayer.  Shep looked up at him with microphone-head eyes, “After this, everything will be okay,” Radio Man promised.  “It’s easier than you think.  And then you’ll all be free.  All of you.  They’ll be free to dream what dreams may come.  You’ll wake up tomorrow.”

Steve opened the front door and let the dog out into the yard.  He walked back to the bedroom and kissed Sarah on the forehead.  She smiled faintly and turned over in bed.  Amy and Charlie laughed from the kitchen table.  Silverware scraped against plates.  Footsteps crunched the green grass outside, cutting across the front lawn.  Maybe it was a teenager on the way to school.  Maybe it was a cop coming to gun him down.  Maybe it was all in his head, anyway.

The walk back to the kitchen took the longest.

“Daddy,” Amy called, face covered in peanut butter and jelly, “is mom coming to the play?”

“She wouldn’t miss it for the world,” he replied, voice quivering like his guts.

Charlie rolled his eyes when Steve ruffled his hair.  The fridge was nearly empty.  Groceries had been tight for some time.  Everything had been tight for some time.  Sarah’s parents had an unfinished basement they could use for a while, but they’d have to bring their own walls.  Tuna sat uneaten in the pantry.  The sun rose at 6:45 AM and set at 8:20 PM.  Everyone breaks, eventually.

Steve licked his lips and felt a shuddering breath force its way into his lungs.  The children were very small and young and knew little about pain.  At least this way they would never have to find out.  He closed the fridge and picked up the rifle.  The only way out was through.  Maybe, if he was lucky, he would die from the stomach wound and it could all really be over.  Maybe tomorrow could be born without him in it.  Maybe the footsteps crossing the lawn were headed toward the front door.  It sounded like it.

He imagined a young homeless girl, smelling of unwashed summer, swinging the door in.  She would hold a knife in her hand and it would go up into his shoulder, on the inside, finding an artery on the way, and he would bleed out on the floor.  His family would never know why, and eventually they wouldn’t need to know why.  They would just live.

The doorknob turned.

He wrapped his finger around the trigger.

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Cosmic Horror vs. Urban Horror

Allegedly, Cosmic Horror and Urban Horror are different genres…however, as more and more authors genre-blend, genre-hop, and layer thematic motifs on top of each other, the lines have (thankfully) blurred.

They are more alike, my friends, than they are unalike.

Cosmic Horror

Howard Phillips Lovecraft is considered the godfather of Cosmic Horror the same way William Gibson is considered the godfather of Cyberpunk– they might not have invented it, but they sure as hell defined it.

Lovecraft’s main point of terror was that of smallness and unimportance.  In cosmic horror, an indifferent universe manifests itself in the form of aliens, supernatural foes, or other bizarro entities.  The tales recount the cruel indifference of space and time.  Nihilism begets mind-breaking terror.  The human brain can’t process our own unimportance, so we go mad.

Cthulhu isn’t an alien, Cthulhu is a metaphor for monstrous indifference and cosmic vastness.

Then again, monstrous indifference doesn’t need monstrous countenance.  The case of Catherine “Kitty” Genovese proves that.  So does ongoing indifference and complicity in a thousand areas of modern life.  In fact, for many people in the world, “indifference would be such a relief.” (Victor LaValle, The Ballad of Black Tom.)

Which brings us to the topic of…

Urban Horror

Urban Horror derives from Urban Gothic, which, of course, derives from general Gothicism/Victorian Gothic, etc.  We can trace the roots of this particular devil back to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and, arguably, earlier.  The focus of these tales generally resides in dark flaws and sinister proclivities in human nature, usually with a supernatural bent.  Because of the genre’s usual examination of the darker threads of mankind’s cloth, the stories tend to be more personal and character-driven than the machinations of cosmic horror.

Urban Horror focuses its lens on mankind, not on the indifferent universe around us…or, well, maybe that’s not quite true.

In many Urban Horror stories, monstrous indifference is merely part of modern society.  A string of murders goes uninvestigated.  People go missing without anyone looking for them.  Often, agents of the law in such stories are either incompetent or on the take, just as likely to be working for the villain as against the villain.  In Urban Horror, widescale indifference is standard…and where indifference isn’t present, maliciousness replaces it.  In fact, the crushing indifference of cosmic horror is often just as present in its urban counterpart, but whereas indifference is a cause for terror in Lovecraftian cosmicism, it’s barely shrug-worthy in many Urban Horror tales.  Of course the universe doesn’t care–people barely care.

But, unlike in cosmic horror, the villain is almost always human, humanoid, or taking on the glamour/semblance of humanity.  The villains, you see, look just like us.  In many ways, they are us.

The Monster at the End of the Story

There are many commonalities between Cosmic and Urban Horror.  Crushing indifference, monstrous cruelty, and tragic disasters that go unnoticed.

Lovecraft has been dead some 80 years.  Frankenstein is nearly 200.

Times have changed, man.

Let’s look at the biggest difference I considered between these genres: the monster at the end of the story.  In Cosmic Horror, the monster manifests the cruel indifference of the cosmos.  In Urban Horror, the monster represents mankind’s darker natures, our perpetrated evils.  But perhaps even these beasts have more in common than we initially assume…

I’ve already written about the inhuman monsters grinding us away in their teeth, but I’ll go over it again briefly now.  There are vast monstrosities destroying people’s lives, and both the universe and the world-at-large are mostly indifferent to their deeds.  Most people could easily recall at least four of their names: War, Famine, Pestilence, Death.  But what about the hungry Lovecraftian god of Nationalism?  What about the festering, many-appendaged grotesquery of White Supremacy?  What about the crawling, fungal consciousness of Revenge, spreading its power airborne at the site of every recrimination?

Cthulhu is a metaphor, remember.  So is Dagon.

In Stephen King’s It, the monster slumbers for 27 years.  How long slumbers the ravening beast of Misogyny?  It doesn’t.

This is a story, in brief: a cult of killers ritualistically sacrifices victims to a squamous god of Nationalism.  Our protagonists find themselves drawn into the dangerous plot, twisting through a nightmare of localized madness.  The cult is routed.  The cult leader is the monster at the end of the story.  Our protagonists stop the cult leader.  The squamous god of Nationalism slumbers, but not for very long.  Our protagonists observe the night sky, understanding the smallness of their efforts against the vast shadows of mankind’s character.  An epilogue: two cultists escape, driving westward, vowing revenge against a system designed to oppress their beliefs.

Cthulhu, the Darkness of Human Nature

Something roars from an unseen sky and cataclysm rends the earth.  You hear screaming.  Rubble smolders, guttering black ash from outside your window.  An eruption deafens you, and some of the screams die in suddenly muted throats.  You scramble for an exit.  Desperate, staccato gunfire surrounds you.  An apocalypse rages through your town.  This happens, somewhere, almost every day.  The stars don’t notice.  Neither do most people.

Vincent: …you ever heard of Rwanda?
Max: Yes, I know Rwanda.
Vincent: Well, tens of thousands killed before sundown. Nobody’s killed people that fast since Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Did you bat an eye, Max?
Max: What?
Vincent: Did you join Amnesty International, Oxfam, Save the Whales, Greenpeace, something? No. I off one fat Angelino and you throw a hissy fit.
Max: Man, I don’t know any Rwandans.
Vincent: You don’t know the guy in the trunk, either.

Collateral (2004)

He attacked her with a knife at 2:30 AM, to kill a woman.  She screamed, cried out, and ran.  He followed, stabbing her two more times as she shrieked, “Oh my God, he stabbed me!  Help me!”  On the ground, then, he continued stabbing.  He used both a knife and a personal appendage, his existence a force of violence against her.  A man shouted, almost directionless, “Let that girl alone!”  Moseley fled the scene with $49.  Sophia Farrar found the raped and bloodied woman and held her until police and emergency workers arrived.  The exact time of death is unclear, but the woman died either in Farrar’s arms or in the back of the ambulance, unrevivable.  At least 17 people had heard the screams or seen the attack, only 4 or 5 responded.

The earth orbits the sun, waiting to be eaten.  One day, the sun will glower its molten countenance, spread its hungry jaws, and devour the whole world’s history.

The sun is not the monster at the end of the stories.

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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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