(The New American Apocalypse
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.”
“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.Share This: