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. 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. 17

(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: …)

I try to run away, but I don’t get far.  Between the cruel bonfire of the cultists and the Scanners, my ability to maneuver is, ah, limited.  But I do my best.

I make it about fifteen feet.  Maybe twenty.

Hey, I give myself credit for even getting that far.  These things are super-cops, remember.

I’ll skip the more embarrassing description of the “confrontation” (I can’t call it a “fight” on account of how terribly one-sided and brief it turns out to be) — but suffice it to say it’s largely composed of me screaming in a pitch that is not necessarily “manly” while multiple officers strip my man-bag away from me and get me into a pair of cuffs.  The actual choreography of this action is graceless–a blind fumbling–much like two teenagers trying to make out for the first time ever, but considerably less pleasant.

And with a considerably larger amount of tentacles.  I assume.

Needless to say, I end up in the back of a cop car.

They don’t even bother to cuff me.  Maybe protocol changed while I was blacked out, but I’m pretty sure handcuffs are generally favored by the Law & Order set, but I’m guessing they don’t expect much of an escape attempt from me after the pathetic display I mustered up when I first saw them.

I wonder how to explain this to my comrades-in-arms–that I’ve been arrested and am therefore no longer quite capable of accomplishing my mission.  Not that it had been going well, to begin with.

One Scanner watches the road, guiding us to whatever destination awaits, while the other keeps its camera eye planted on me.  I shift in my seat.  For the nth time in the past few days, I ask that damnable question, the one that’s haunted me ever since I first laid eyes on these creatures from beyond our keen: “What do you see?”

The camera lens whirs and focuses.  The beady little eye inside shrinks.

It replies with one word: “Weakness.”

I wait for more, but no more comes.  “Man, I could’a told you that.”

The Scanner looks away.  If it knows more, if it saw more, it says nothing.  It makes me think: is that all there is?  I know I’m a man of weaknesses, but I’ve always assumed I had more going on than merely weakness.  Do I have flaws, or I am merely flawed?

The rest of the ride is quiet and uneventful.  We drive for a long time.  I couldn’t give you specifics, but it’s nearly dawn before the vehicle comes to a halt.  The door opens and I’m hauled out by the shirt collar.

“Citizen Hughes,” a new Scanner stands before me, this one garbed in nicer clothes.  “Your bail has been automatically subsidized by JPMorgan Chase Bank.  To receive this privatized subsidization you must agree to be released into their recognizance and to serve the time until trial as an employee at McArbyKing’s.  Do you agree to receive this subsidization?  If not, we have forwarded your headshots and resumes to other, more senior inmates in holding.”

Yes, these are the grim options I am given, held aloft by a dozen tentacles.

“You know,” I say, “I have some experience in minimum wage work!”

“Let it be shown that Citizen Hughes has agreed to the terms of the Employment Camp and is now being processed as an employee until such time as a trial is able to be held before a Judge of the Great Dark Ones.”

And without much further ado, I am handed a W-666 form to fill out.

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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. 14

(The New American Apocalypse

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

Part Fourteen:…)

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

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

It would’ve been so easy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What?”

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

“So leave.  Just run.”

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

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

“Please.”

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

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

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

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

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

A single tear streaks her face.  She nods.

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

“Please do something,” she whispers.

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

“I’m so hungry.”

“NO COMPLAINING!”

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

“UNIONS WILL DESTROY THIS REALITY.”

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

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

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

“WE SAID NO CRYING!”

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

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

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

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

I don’t notice.

I’m too busy screaming.

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The New American Apocalypse, Pt. 13

(The New American Apocalypse

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

Part Thirteen:…)

The streets are empty.  New York is silent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How do we get through?” I ask.

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

Then he, too, is gone.

The manhole cover grinds back into place.

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