(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;
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.Share This: