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. 19

(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:…)

[Day 14]

I wake up furious and by the end of the day I am too exhausted to do anything about it.  I am beginning to think this is how the place is designed.  It is easier just to wait and die than it is to fight.  On the plus side: I have found drugs.  If I corral enough of them, potent pills in particular, I might be able to draw something similar to courage out of them.  I may need it.

Imagine me, courageous.  What a change of pace that would be.

For now, though, I bide time.  Wake up hateful and fiery, full of the passion that revolutions are sparked from, work until the passion is drained out of me, and return to my bunk to collapse in defeat and forfeiture.

It seems there are few here who have the inner spirit to rise to Mr. Baldwin’s level.  I was surprised, at first, to see so few men and women in the spirit and soul of protest, so few angry faces screaming out for more.  After my first weak I felt beaten, yes, certainly, but it has been this second week that has taught me the meaning of defeat: to give up.  How easy it would be just to subsist, here, to let the banks wear me to my bones and brainwash me with the mindless TV images constantly berating my fellow workers, to let them pump me full of numbing, thoughtless bliss and let it carry me into a sleep as dark as the bottomless guts of the eldritch abominations who run the place.  How easy it would be to sag my tired bones into the dimple of a couch and let the flickering re-runs stretch my time into oblivion…

But Mr. Baldwin is there to remind me.  He and his small crew of secret rebels meeting in the quiet corners of this damnable place…they keep me awake and thinking.  They remind me that I am not…that we are not cattle.  We were not bred to work and slaughter.  And, yes, the fight is grim, and we are not winning, but there is still a fight.  To listen to him speak, even at a bare whisper, is to listen to the voice of revolution.  Of suffering given hope.

He brings in news from the front.  How it travels all the way here, I don’t ask.  He wouldn’t tell me anyway and considering my weakness against fear and interrogation…it’s better if I don’t know.  The news is as follows: it seems Mr. Swift and Mr. Conrad have joined a group in DC.  They’re limited to guerrilla tactics and have thus far been unsuccessful in dismantling the abyssal hold the Dark Ones have over the Capitol.  Ms. Bradbury and Mr. Ballard were last seen only days ago, alive, in retreat from a horde of rampaging zombies that have invaded the western coast of Queens.  One of them snapped a photograph, uploaded to Instagram with the tags #nofilter, #undeadgentry, and #TheEndIsExtremelyFuckingNigh.  It shows dozens of shuffling creatures flooding the streets, each wearing an off-the-rack suit and many holding bottles of craft beer, as they batter down apartment doors to claim their new residences.

I deflate at the news.  My old apartment is likely reclaimed, now.  I think of my roommates torn asunder, devoured by the zed onslaught, their bones bleaching in the New York sun.  Or worse: perhaps they joined the Cannibal Class.  Perhaps in the fight between the human spirit and the Great Darknesses, they elected to join the Great Darknesses…to exchange their threadbare lives for a wealth of status symbols and mindless servitude to gibbering, unknowable Gods.  In either case, I doubt my keys will still work.

Making the blind and foolish assumption, of course, that I ever get out of the particular hell I’m living in, now.

 

[Day 20]

I’ve accrued a solid collection of drugs.  Enough to keep me unafraid of death and debt for a week or so, should I delve into heavy use.  Which may be necessary, considering that my latest paycheck has come in with the ‘Owed’ line in big bold font, alerting me that not only have I failed to make a dent in my debt, but I’ve somehow grown it.  An attached letter from the bank CEO (a form letter, naturally, and the copy likely written up by some zed assistant who was happy to take on the work in exchange for an extra sliver of gray matter offered him by his masters) — it accuses me of not working hard enough, of failing to produce the numbers required to make good on the gracious loan they’ve made to keep me out of prison, of being a leech on the body of their goodwill.

This letter, combined with the general sense of anguish aching in my bones, has driven me to meet with Mr. Baldwin in discussion of certain ideas I’ve been toying with, ideas that his own inspiring voice has planted in the previously fallow trenches of my brain.

He has a network of informants and messengers, of course, though I stay clear of the details — which means he is able not only to bring news in, but to get messages out.  What he’s been using these means to do, thus far, is not on my mind.  I assume he’s acted as an intermediary between groups, the middle man of a small, quiet rebellion… but there are other methods.

“You know what I’m talking about,” I whisper.  We stand inches away from each other in an ‘Employee Lounge’ the approximate dimensions of a coffin.

“You would risk the lives of dozens of men and women.”

“But you know!  You must know the sway such things can have!”

He looks over his shoulder–an unnecessary and paranoiac reaction considering the claustrophobic confines we meet in–and purses his lips.  “You’re talking about making art.”

“It may be the only weapon we have left.”

“It will not work, alone.”

“You think I don’t know that?  I’m not proposing a solution, here, dear sir, I am proposing a step.”

“A dangerous step.”

“The good ones always are.”

He considers this for some time, his serious eyes boring into me somehow even further than the Scanners’.  What does he see?  What does he see that the monsters do not?  What does he see, at long last, that makes him nod?  And when he nods, he says: “I thought you might have it in you.  And you’d better not squander it.”

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The New American Apocalypse, Pt. 18

(The New American Apocalypse

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

Part Eighteen:…)

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

[Day 6]

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

Well, baby, here we are.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The New American Apocalypse, Pt. 16

(The New American Apocalypse

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

Part Sixteen:…)

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ah, to be so young and foolish, again.

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

It’s a bonfire.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The New American Apocalypse, Pt. 15

(The New American Apocalypse

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

Part Fifteen:…)

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

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

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

“STOP HIM!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then: a miracle.

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

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

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

“What you were saying, about unions–”

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

“You think so?”

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

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

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

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

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

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The New American Apocalypse, Pt. 12

(The New American Apocalypse

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

Part Twelve:…)

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

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

“Excuse me?” I scoff.

An uncomfortable beat.

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

Son of a bitch, he’s right.

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

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

“Fine by me.”

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

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

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

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

“How fast did it all happen?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

None.

Where the hell did they go?

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The New American Apocalypse, Pt. 11

(The New American Apocalypse

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

Part Eleven:…)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Re-education?  Oh, I did.”

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

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

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

“Well?” Mr. Swift asks.

“Well.” I repeat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Then let’s get to it!”

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

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

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

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

“He’ll need backup.”

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

“No it is not,” Ballard agrees.

I nod and smile.  Nod and smile, yeah.

I think about rocks and hard places.

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The New American Apocalypse, Pt. 10

(The New American Apocalypse

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

Part Ten:…)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Except during lunch,” Conrad says.

“Right.  Except during lunch.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Excuse me?” Conrad asks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The New American Apocalypse, Pt. 9

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

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

(The New American Apocalypse

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

Part Nine:…)

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Never mind that, at all.

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

This future:

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

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

To hell with that.

“What are we going to do?” I ask.

For a long time: silence.

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