Friday, February 22, 2013

Black Box Chapter 7

This is the last chapter I'm going to publish on the blog. If you've enjoyed what you've read so far, there is more to come--I'm publishing Black Box in one form or another. Visit here for any further info.

Chapter Seven
I tried to take Gordy’s initial advice and ignore the dream. I tried to rationalize it as simply a particularly vivid nightmare, albeit one that flashed its surreal scenes in my mind whenever I closed my eyelids. Sometimes dreams stick with you, I told myself, although I knew from experience that they almost always vanished from memory as soon as I awakened. But then the next night the dream happened again, only it was different. I had the same sensation of melting into the earth, but there was no apple and no orchard. The landscape around me was charred and burnt, and the sky was a sickly grey, and thunder reverberated in the distance as ash and carbonized particles wafted through the air. No life was visible in the immediate surroundings or on the horizon. Nothing crawled in my innards, no moles or annelids or roots. There was death above, below, and all around. What I saw contradicted what the voice had said about mankind being unable to destroy the planet. Maybe the voice didn’t know what would happen. Maybe it said things and made promises and sent people on random destructive quests for its own sick amusement. But the wasteland started to change in response to my thoughts. Pink phallic tentacles began to poke through the layers of carbon, jutting up like fungi out of the decay. Something that resembled a cluster of thorns rolled through the dust like a tumbleweed, leaving a black trail in its wake. In the sky a bat-like creature appeared and swooped down after the ball of thorns, its translucent wings full of veins and crawling pests. It hovered before its prey and then shot out a gummy prehensile tongue that webbed itself around the thorn ball that it sucked into its tubular, protruding orifice. Lower toward the ground it sank, weighed down by its meal, the outline of which I could see writhing within its gut. Yet before it could achieve further lift, the tentacles had stretched into the sky and wrapped themselves around the bat-thing, dragging it down into the multitudinous layers of ash.
            I woke up drenched in sweat with my sheets sticking to me. Inside my apartment the atmosphere was tropical, and every unabated breath was laborious and heavy. The AC must have cut out in the night. I threw back the sheets and flipped on a light and walked to my kitchen naked to pour myself a drink.
            Sipping my unplanned nightcap, I examined the air conditioner in the living room and found it beeping stupidly. Something was wrong with it; the filter was clogged or the compressor had burned out, and I lacked the cognizance at the moment to determine what exactly the problem was. I opened a window and found the nighttime air to be sufficiently cool. Crickets were chirping; frogs bellowed from a nearby pond. Life was out there, thriving. An owl hooted from a hidden roost, and I welcomed the noise. YETI would bring about the apocalypse; all the things out there, singing their simple songs, would vanish along with us. They’d perish in the nuclear winter and the subsequent collapse of the botanical system. All because of a computer game. I couldn’t believe it.
            The ice in my glass had melted in less than a minute. I sat in front of the window and drank my watery bourbon. Why was Rodrico not having these dreams? YETI was his project and everyone else in the company knew nothing about it. It was his scheme and the governments’. Did Congressman Stevens sleep poorly? Was his rest interrupted with macabre visions of the future?
            I decided I couldn’t sleep the rest of the night for fear of enduring another nightmare. The clock said three a.m., but I figured Art would be willing to talk to his boss and friend even if I interrupted his sleep.
            When I arrived at his apartment I saw a light on in the window, so I felt better about knocking. I hadn’t even thought about waking Maria. She was the one who answered the door.
            “Louie,” she said softly. She was wearing nothing but a shirt that stretched down to her knees. Obviously not one of Art’s shirts. He was a small man.
            “Hey,” I said, trying to put on my best smile. “I’m sorry about the late hour. Is Art home?”
            “No, he’s not. He’s visiting his brother Dwight in Cincinnati.”
            I tried not to stare at her bare legs and failed. Rather than fetishising a particular body part, I’d always been more of a big picture guy when it came to admiring the female figure, but Maria’s long, smooth, curvy legs made me reconsider.
            “What uh, are you doing right now?” I asked. “Do you want to talk?”
            She looked at me with those emerald eyes. “Someone’s over here right now. But he can go.”
            He? I wondered. A big guy with a shaved head and a goatee emerged behind her. He was shirtless and his bare torso was covered in tribal tattoos. I recognized him as a patron of the Angry Bear. One of the two-time dealers who dealt in the back alley. She’s been fucking a local?
            “Bryce, put a shirt on and leave,” she said in a flat, dry tone. Bryce gave me an empty look and turned. On his back were long, deep cuts as though a tiger had clawed him. Those aren’t love scratches, I thought. What was going on here?
            Bryce, now clad in a flannel shirt (Maria kept on his undershirt), pushed his way past us and paused at the door. He started to bend down to kiss Maria, but her hand shot out and grabbed his chin and then he was against the wall with a loud thud.
            “Get out and don’t come back here again,” she told him. I watched as he stumbled down the stairs drunkenly.
            “All right. Come in.”
            Inside I noticed a familiar musky smell. My nostrils quivered with its strength, but I didn’t find it repulsive. Pheromones were in the air, messing with my insides. I felt a tingling in my pants that I ignored. Long had I lusted after this woman, but the strangeness of this environment coupled with the knowledge of her previous visitor made me wary.
            “So who was that?” I said as casually as I could.
            “It’s none of your business. It’s not what you think, anyway.” I was sitting on a chair and she was across from me on the sofa, her naked legs curled up beneath her. Between us was a coffee table and on it I noticed a single drop of blood.
            “You’re right. It’s none of my business, and I don’t really know what to think. I just need somebody to talk to.”
            “About what?”
            “I can’t sleep anymore. I have a reoccurring nightmare. But it’s more than that. It’s…do you have anything to drink?” My words weren’t forthcoming.
            “You can get us some wine in the kitchen,” she said. “Pour me a small glass of Shiraz.”
            On the white linoleum of the kitchen I saw traces of a scuffle. Rubber marks and a broken dish and a knife emerging from beneath a table. I picked it up and examined it. A little bit of blood on its tip. Had she cut him with it? No, those wounds were wide and jagged, the product of curved talons, not a utensil made for slicing. I glanced into the darkened hallway that pulsed with unknown menace. The bedroom was back there, where horrors lurked. I washed two glass cups in the sink and poured the wine.
            Warily, I placed Maria’s glass on the coffee table and returned to my chair. She took it and sniffed the rim and then drained it quickly. I sipped my own glass slowly, my peripheral vision searching for clues as to what exactly had taken place.
            “Privacy is a vanishing luxury, Louie,” said Maria after a long silence. “I don’t think we realize how fast it’s disappearing. In the past if you couldn’t get a hold of somebody, you accepted it. You didn’t drive to their house or call their phone or email them on the Internet. People let relationships die instead of prolonging them indefinitely. We desperately want to be constantly connected to people; we want to know what they’re doing and what they’re thinking and how they’re feeling. But we don’t want to get too close. We don’t have to keep up physical conversations. We don’t know how to converse without checking our mobile devices every goddamn minute. We’ve lost the ability to have liaisons. There are cameras in the walls. The TV is watching me instead of the other way around. I won’t touch the computer or your games.”
“There’s an exchange made when you live in society. A social contract. Hobbesian law.”
“It’s not Big Brother who’s doing it, Louie, although you’d know more about that than I would. It’s us. The common folk. The poor, the living, the moderately well-to-do. We're the distracted ones. I await the return of older forms of existence.”
I took a bigger sip of my wine. “I guess this is sort of related to what I wanted to talk to Art about. I keep dreaming of a wasteland full of monsters that seem impossible. Animals with thorns for skin and prehensile tongues.”
            “So…the first time I had this dream, I spoke to God.”
            “And he gave me quest to find a piece of him on Earth.”
            “A ‘piece’ of him?”
            “I suppose that means a person. The human manifestation of God.”
            “Why do you need to find a piece of God?”
            “I’m supposed to make a case for humanity so that the world won’t end prematurely.”
            “I’m glad you were picked rather than Art. He’s become misanthropic of late.” She got up and walked over to a closet. She opened its door and gestured like Vanna White. Inside were shelves filled with canned food and liquor. Cases of bottled water were stacked in the corner with ammo boxes resting on top of them. A shotgun was propped up against wall.
            I got up and joined Maria for a closer inspection. There were cans of soup, spaghetti, ravioli, beans, peaches, corn. A few jars of peppers, barbecue sauce, and ketchup. A cardboard cylinder containing various types of seeds to start a garden. There were tools in here too; spades and hoes and a rather nasty looking machete. I’d never seen Art touch natural dirt. I’d never seen him dig his hands into the earth.
            “Come look at this,” said Maria. I let her get ahead of me as she sauntered to the kitchen, her hips swaying back and forth like a pendulum. She paused by the refrigerator and I almost came up behind her to seize her in my arms. But then she swung the freezer door open with a violent movement, just missing my head, and I got the impression that she’d known of my desire and had responded accordingly.
            The freezer was filled to the brim with oblong pieces of white-packaged meat. I studied this meat with Maria, lingering a short distance behind her, trying to pay sufficient attention to whatever she was trying to show me. Yes, Art was a little crazy; I knew that. Was she trying to justify her cheating by giving me evidence of his instability? It wasn’t necessary. The man had a storage closet at work filled with survivalist provisions. He drank constantly. He’d been known to carry concealed weapons.
            “That’s a lot of meat,” I said.
            She turned to face me. Her hair was a frizzy mess. Her cheekbones looked swollen. I couldn’t see much of her beneath the enormous shirt. But I was immensely aroused standing in close proximity to this woman. There’s something in the air, I thought, and just then she was jumping on me, was throwing her arms around my neck and wrapping her legs around my waist. I kissed her and felt electricity in her tongue, actual live sparks; then I was clawing underneath her shirt, running my hands along her smooth sides, sliding them up her lower back while we staggered backward, eventually toppling over the back of the couch and onto the floor. I was pinned by her; she was on top and kissing me fiercely, her thin arms pushing my own limbs down with unnatural strength.
            “Wait,” I gasped, in-between her lunges. “Let’s just stop this for a minute.”
            In response, Maria thrust her pelvis into my own, and I instinctively reciprocated with my own thrusts, and then her left hand started to unzip my pants.
            “No,” I pleaded as she pulled my jeans off. I couldn’t cheat with her on Art; if she wanted me, she’d have to leave him. “Maria, I’m serious, we’re not doing this.” I put my hands on her shoulders and pushed hard. She was off of me for a second, but then her eyes narrowed and she was on top of me again and I couldn’t move. She’s going to rape me, I thought, wondering where the power in her thin body came from. Feeling her strength and looking at her nails, I realized she’d made the deep gouges in Bryce’s back with her hands.
            “All right, Louie,” she said, suddenly leaping off of me. I backed away from her on my hands and knees. “If you want to deny yourself what you really want, then go ahead.”
            “You can’t be with me while you’re with Art,” I said, using the wall to stand. Something was tremulous inside me, vibrating back and forth like a guitar string. “And how are you so strong?”
            “Maybe you just need to work out,” she said, disappearing into the hallway. She came out dressed in jeans and a shirt that fit her. “I can’t leave Art. Not without killing him.”
            “I’ve seen how you two talk to one another. It’s a dying relationship. The breakup needs to happen eventually. You’ll both be happier.”
            “Are you sure you want me? There’s a lot you don’t understand.” She sat down on the couch. “There’s a lot I can’t tell you. You’d just have to find out for yourself.”
            There’s no intellectual way to approach desire, I thought, watching her from a safe distance as she lounged with her legs spread out, her bare feet sending disturbing signals to the wrong parts of my brain. You simply have to have someone, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
            “You should leave, Louie. I’m sorry I couldn’t help you with anything.” Her voice carried not so subtle overtones.
            “Just think about what I’ve said.”
            “There’s no thinking about it,” she said quickly. “I’m not killing anyone.”
            “It wouldn’t kill him. I know Art. Have a good night.”
            I drove the old Grand AM around the outskirts of Hillsdale for a couple of hours. I took it out on 272, a nauseating road that coils around the hills like a python, because it was a very rural ride and also because I felt like making myself sick. The forest alongside me looked surreal in my headlights, and I kept expecting to see something monstrous looming out from behind a patch of foliage or a tree. There was something bizarre about Maria, I finally admitted. Her uncanny strength, her comments about killing Art, the cuts on Bryce’s back... all these facts should have affected my desire, yet I found myself extremely regretful that I hadn’t allowed her advances to progress. Before me the road curved and curved, and my stomach curled with every turn of the steering wheel, and I’d just about had enough of 272 when an object darted across the road; in my exhausted state, I swerved into it rather than away from it, and then my brakes were squealing and something was sliding up onto the hood, and my nose was filled with the repugnant odor of wet baby shit and an airbag slammed into my face, and then it all went dark in one jarring frame.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Black Box Chapter 6

The epic tale continues...

Chapter Six
In the Huerto offices, Larry Stevens sat at a desk and cowered. His uncle Lamar, who had gotten him his job, was dropping by, and Larry had myriad reasons to fear and loathe his seemingly harmless kinsman. I shouldn’t have accepted his terms, he thought, as he slowly peeked over his cubicle wall. No sign of him yet. He pulled open his desk drawer and removed a flask and poured some of the amber-colored liquid into his third cup of coffee. It had been stupid to drink so much caffeine, and now he’d have to water down the effects with Kahlua and then someone would inevitably notice, gossip would circulate, and his reputation would plummet even further, along with his morale. 
            Larry wasn’t respected in the office. Everyone knew he had received his position because of his uncle, who was an influential Texas Congressman, and of course that sad fact fostered enmity toward him. But that wasn’t really it; after all, Art Howard was beloved, despite being unqualified for his job. But Art could be fun and self-deprecating; Art could make a joke of himself with a goofy laugh and a few crude words. Art, the hillbilly greaser, the alcoholic raconteur who was bound to a gorgeous succubus. “What did you do this weekend, Art?” they’d asked. “Oh, the old lady tied me to the ceiling with chains and some meat-hooks and drained me of my energies. You know. The usual.” They’d laugh and laugh, with Larry alone wondering what exactly the maniac was talking about. Little Larry, who at the age of twenty-six still looked like an awkward teenager, the kind who kept to the basement and smoked too much pot and devoured too much porn. The type of kid who had no friends, not even nerdy ones. The sort of adolescent that everyone assumes must have had something terrible and damaging happen to him as a small child.
            “I never should’ve agreed to his terms,” Larry whispered as Rhonda waddled past just as he was putting the flask back into the drawer. His shoulders slumped as she glared at him. So she’d seen him drinking—big deal. They’d seen him drink before. They’d seen him hiding in an alcove, out on one the many catwalks that wrapped around monolithic building, lighting a joint. Art had found him once in his doomsday closet, drinking and eating cold soup straight from the can. Larry couldn’t blame them for disliking him—hate was probably too strong a word—not after all the things they’d witnessed. But they didn’t know—they never could know—all the horrors he’d endured. They didn’t understand what it was like to be held utterly in the grip of a powerful and sickly twisted old man.
            He eased back into his chair and tried to concentrate on his work. Louie let him proofread dialogue written for The Game, since Larry had finished college with an English degree. He was a good proofreader, even while drunk. They’d tried to get him into coding, but he’d never made any progress. Trying to learn C++ brought Larry back to his college days. He’d barely managed to complete French, despite taking it for two years. Learning a programming language was just as difficult, and he’d never harbored much affection for mathematics and logic. So he proofread, and he got people coffee sometimes, and he’d even written a couple of quests. He did do his work, they couldn’t argue that.
            He half-stood up and looked about the office. Uncle Lamar hadn’t specified at what time he was arriving. Larry had only received an ominous text message—I’m coming by today—so he had taken plenty of precautions. He’d smoked a joint in his car before coming into work, and then there were the cups of coffee and the liqueur. But still, he knew it wouldn’t be enough. The psychiatrist hadn’t helped—in fact, Larry had a sneaking suspicion that he’d been in league with his uncle—and no matter how many depressants he consumed, he couldn’t get over the past, in which his uncle loomed like an entropic shadow.
            A hand clasped his shoulder and Larry let out a tiny scream.
            “Larry, Christ, what the hell,” said Louis Arlington. “What are you so jumpy about?”
            Larry wasn’t sure how much Louie knew about his uncle or the YETI project. But Louie was the closest thing he had to a friend at Huerto, so he decided to tell him.
            “My uncle is coming by sometime today.”
            “Congressman Stevens?” He furrowed his brow. “Coming by to talk to Rodrico, I assume. You know anything about it?”
            “No.” His lank hair fell over his eyes and he knew Louie could tell he was lying.
            Louie grabbed a chair and pulled it up next to Larry. His desk was covered with action figures—vintage Transformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, X-Men—but there were a lot of people at Huerto who chose to stay closely in-tune with their inner child, and Larry’s toys were nothing out of the ordinary.
            “You have anything special? Anything you wouldn’t take to work?” Louie motioned toward the toys.
            “I have a 1979 Boba Fett Kenner figure, mint condition. Worth around two-thousand. I’ll sell it to you if you're interested,” said Larry suddenly. “I don’t like Star Wars anymore.”
 “No, I don’t either.” Louie grabbed a Transformer and idly fingered it. “What’s this guy’s name again?”
“Gridlock. He transforms into a T-Rex.”
“What do you think about the company’s new direction? Do you like what The Game has become?” Louie put the toy back on Larry's desk and gave him an impassive look.
“We have nearly one-hundred million subscribers,” said Larry, showing his boss that he kept up on the figures. “We’re doing something right.”
“I know you don’t talk to a lot of people around here. That’s why I’m going to tell you something confidential. I have insomnia. I’m plagued by horrible nightmares. Every time I go to sleep, I have a terrible dream. Do you know what that’s like?”
Larry did know what that was like, to an extent, except his nightmare continued while he was conscious.
“Anyway, tell me if you hear anything interesting about YETI from your uncle, okay? I’m sorry if I’m making you uncomfortable, but I wouldn’t ask you to spy without a good reason.” Louie opened Larry's desk door and seeing the flask, grabbed it and looked at him.
“That’s not mine...” stammered Larry.
“Don’t worry about it, all right? You’re a good guy.” Louie patted him on the shoulder and then left.     
They were keeping Louie out of the loop then—Rodrico, his uncle, and that creepy psychologist Dr. Frasier—but why? Louie really ran the company. Louie was responsible for everything decent that went on around here.  That’s why, of course.
Larry took another sip of his cold coffee and decided to forget about his uncle. The quest dialogue he was proofreading was expository. Go to Fort Dragonbreath and retrieve Goldmonger’s sword. Do not be seen. Ten-thousand gold will be your reward. Step and fetch. The editing toolkit (especially the mapmaker), as well as the ability to seamlessly combine custom-created content, was what kept the player’s experience fresh, not the insipid drivel he was reading.
He was about to retreat to the catwalks to smoke when he saw him. Lamar Stevens walked briskly through the elevator door, two muscled men in suits on each side. No one in the busy workplace noticed him striding past the cubicles. These people wouldn’t recognize their own State Congressman, let alone one from Texas. Why did his uncle need bodyguards? True, Lamar had made many enemies during his long tenure in Congress. But they were unlikely to be located in Hillsdale, Indiana.
            Larry considered hiding in the bathroom, but the thought of standing on a toilet for hours didn’t appeal to him much. I should’ve called-in sick. But it was too late for that.
            Like Larry, Lamar Stevens was a short man with a small build. He was balding and always wore a pair of big-framed spectacles. There was the musky scent of aftershave about him, and it lingered long after he was gone. Just as the scent of cloves follows the devil, Larry thought. The Congressman’s main claim to fame was his sponsoring of PIPA, the Protection of Intellectual Properties Act, which advocated the installation of a government firewall. Under PIPA, foreign web sites suspected of piracy would be blocked for United States users. Copyrighted terms—song titles, movies titles, video game trademarks—could not be printed or spoken without the consent of the copyright holders. Bad reviews, homemade cover songs, user-created modifications to games—all were in possible violation of the law. Individuals could be prosecuted on the basis of their IP address, which would be stored, along with their personal information, in a criminal processing computer. Download a song and face twenty-five thousand dollars in fines. It was a bill built by the RIAA and Hollywood, and his uncle had profited greatly from their relationship. PIPA had met strong resistance, but its provisions were tacked onto other pieces of legislation, passed in the evening. The great firewall was in place, and no one knew any better.
            Lamar paused, looking about the office, and Larry ducked. His uncle had a fabulous memory. He didn’t understand technology—the media had quoted him saying “I don’t comprehend the Internet and I’m proud of that”—but that didn’t mean he was stupid. Aides edited his Wikipedia entry daily, and they kept supporters informed via his Twitter and Facebook feeds. His uncle was a manipulator, a man after power, pure and simple. He believed in double-think. Democracy, the Constitution, he proclaimed to respect these institutions, while he did everything in his power to transform the country into an oligarchy. Larry hated him for his hypocrisy the most.
            He hunched down and crawled beneath his desk. The only reason his uncle still took an interest in him was out of perversion. It wasn’t beyond Lamar’s means to engineer an accident, and for all he knew his uncle could be planning to do him in. But Larry suspected that his evil heart received too much pleasure tormenting him. Lamar was like a cat, and he was the pet mouse, ever nervous and cowering, waiting for the final blow.
            “Cats are sadistic animals,” he heard himself whisper. He clamped a hand over his mouth. No telling how close Lamar was.
            “Excuse me, ma’am. Do you know where a Mr. Larry Stevens can be found?” That was Lamar’s voice, from somewhere only a few feet away.
            “Larry’s desk is over that way,” said the voice of Rhonda. “But he might be out on the catwalk smoking if he’s not there. Mr. Arlington can help you find him if you have trouble. Larry’s always off somewhere.”
            Goddamn bitch. At least she didn’t mention the kahlua.
            He heard the soft plod of feet and then six black well-shined shoes appeared before him. Larry sucked in his breath.
            “Well, he seems to have left the buildin’,” said Lamar. “Why don’t we give him a ring?”
            Oh damnit my ringer is on. Larry fumbled in his pockets, desperately trying to remove his phone, but the space was cramped, and as soon as he got it out, it began to ring.
            One of the bodyguards crouched down and Larry was soon staring into the obsidian lenses of sunglasses.
            “He’s down here, sir.”
            “Well, whatcha doin’ down there, Larry?” said his uncle, now squatting. “Why dontcha come on out and join us.”
            Larry crawled out and stood up semi-straight. It was impossible for him not to sulk in front of Lamar.
            “You need a haircut boy, don’t he, Jerry?” The bodyguard on the right nodded. Both guards had buzz cuts; his uncle had a comb-over. “He’s lookin’ like one of them homo rock stars. Don’t quote me on that now, anybody,” he said, looking around.
            “Jesus, Lamar,” Larry mumbled. “This is the twenty-first century...”
            “Don’t you take the Lord’s name in vain, you little shit,” hissed his uncle. “You’ll call me ‘uncle’ as well. I don’t care how old you are. Lewis, why don’t you help Mr. Stevens here come with us.” His uncle smiled like a crocodile. “We’re gonna go up and see the big boss.”
            One of the bodyguards stepped forward and took Larry’s arm firmly.
            “Uncle Lamar, this isn’t really necessary...”
            “You was hidin’ under a desk a minute ago, how am I supposed to know what you’re liable to do?”
            “I’m not going to jump out the window.”
            “You better not. Not yet. I still have use for you. Besides, suicide is a sin.”
            The elevator had plenty of space, but for some reason they were all pushed closely together. Larry could feel the sour breath of his uncle on the back of his neck, and he wondered what the old man was going to do to him. You can work through your past, he remembered his therapist saying. I want you to just come out and say what exactly happened to you. You need to hear the words. You need to acknowledge the pain and the shame. Ignoring the hurt hasn’t worked so far, has it? But you couldn’t tell your therapist everything. There were secrets that you had to keep bricked up alive.
He’d never been up to Rodrico’s offices, and the elaborate décor startled him. The marble floors, the chaise lounge, the harpsichord. The antechamber seemed vaguely familiar, and he was just about to put his finger on it when his uncle interrupted his train of thought with his usual vulgarity.
            “Woo wee, this is a nice office, ain’t it boys? It almost looks like a palace room or a movie set. This whole building is strange and out of place, but this room tops it all. You ever seen one nicer, Jerry? Well, besides certain quarters in the White House and various other mansions and châteaus we’ve visited.”
            “It is an impressive room, sir,” said the emotionless bodyguard.
“Yes, that’s well-put. Jerry has a way with words sometimes. He cuts out all the bullshit. I guess Lewis does as well. Neither of these two is suited to be politicians.” Lamar snickered like a gnome. “Don’t have a room in the ranch like this, do we, Larry?”
The Stevens’ family home was a sprawling dwelling filled with gaudy things and enormous televisions. Animal heads were mounted above every doorway.
“No, we don’t.” There wasn’t a trace of elegance anywhere near the place.
            They stepped up to the partially-open French doors and Larry could see Rodrico hunched over his enormous desk, his hands clutching his curly-haired head. He’d heard stories about his boss’s many ailments, and it was obvious that he was suffering from a migraine. Lamar rapped his knuckles softly against one of the doors. Rodrico waved them in without looking up.
            They stood in front of his desk for at least a minute while Rodrico continued to face downward, still cradling his head. Lamar cleared his throat loudly, and an animal moan uttered up from somewhere deep within the man before them. Gooseflesh prickled all over Larry as the cry grew louder. Has he gone insane? he thought, and the bodyguards beside him stepped back and reached for their weapons. It was the kind of noise one feared to hear beneath a full moon at night, the kind of howl that clawed and gnashed at primordial parts of the brain. It was the throaty, plaintive wail of a monster.
            “Oh, hello,” said Rodrico suddenly, having just ceased his disturbing noise. His eyes were red but the face staring at them was calm. “I left my pills at home and this pain I have, it’s simply unbearable.” He massaged his temples. “Forgive me if I don’t stand to greet you. Large movements must be mitigated. Please, take a seat, gentlemen.”
            “That must be one hell of a headache. You got some lungs on you, Rod,” said Lamar.
            “Please, please, call me Rodrico. My father called me ‘Rod’ and if there’s one person I don’t want to be reminded of often, it is my deceased progenitor.”
            “I beg your pardon, Rodrico, I meant no offense,” replied Lamar with a shrug. “Assuming familiarity is something I do unconsciously. I wasn’t aware you had issues with your daddy. I must say though, I had Lewis here jump the fence over by the parking lot and grab me a couple apples from some of those old, wizened trees, and let me tell you, they were delicious. Some things you have to eat fresh. There’s just no substitute. By the way, you got anything to drink? Something for my boys too?”
 “Help yourselves,” he said, motioning to the mini bar Lamar had been eyeing. “You may have a drink as well, Larry, although I hear Louie has been pacifying belligerent employees by letting them imbibe from his private stash.”
“Loose lips sink ships, Rodrico, I’m sure you’ve heard that before,” said Lamar. “Go get us three Scotch on the rocks. You just take a little now for yourself,” he said to Larry.
“It’s a non-issue. Section B34T has been explained to all employees in detail. Besides, no one wants to risk losing their job in this economy. I treat my workers well. They have no legitimate cause for complaint.”
            They heard the ping of the elevator and the subsequent steps of someone walking on the marble floor. “That should be Dr. Frasier,” said Rodrico. “You might as well get out the cigars, Larry.”
            Dr. Niles Frasier was a tall, lean man with hollow eyes and a gaunt face that he ornamented with a well-groomed beard that encompassed much of his lower jaw. Like Lamar, he was nearly bald, but instead of a comb-over, he’d elected to let his remaining hair grow to create a wavy ridge around his shiny dome of a skull. His suit was grey and ugly, and Larry caught the mingling scents of mothballs and ammonia. An old confidant of his uncle’s, he’d been a constant presence around the ranch, and Larry had learned to fear him nearly as much as Lamar.  
            “Well howdy, Niles,” said Lamar with a Texas-sized grin. “Did you fly from Dallas to Cincinnati? How was your drive?”
            “It was scenic and uneventful, although I was held up briefly by a combine moving at a lugubrious pace.” Larry passed out the drinks and extended a cigar to Frasier. “I see you’re bringing young Mr. Stevens into the fold.”
            “He don’t need to know everything,” said Lamar. “And if he refuses, why, Jerry and Lewis will take him up to the roof and see how he likes the view of the parking lot while dangling by his heels from one-hundred feet up.”
            “No, nothing like that will take place, Lamar. I’m surprised you’d even suggested harming such a fine employee of Huerto as your nephew,” said Rodrico, narrowing his eyes at Larry. He got up from his chair and started to pace around the room. “What has your uncle told you about YETI?”
            “He said its intention is to make good citizens through gaming,” replied Larry. He was unsure of how much more to say.
            “Brief, but yes, that’s YETI’s aim in a nutshell. These are volatile times, and it’s in the best interests of everyone that the government runs smoothly. We don’t need protests on Wall Street. We don’t need children sleeping on legislators’ lawns. We don’t need threats of violence against the rich and successful. People need to be out there buying things, goshdarnit. They need to be replacing their televisions and computers and gaming systems; they need to be driving new cars and looking to build new houses. Now I know the wallet of the average American consumer is shrinking. I know his wage has remained stagnant for years. But it’s a matter of work ethic, honestly. People are spoiled. Forty hours a week is nothing. You want to get ahead? Then work fifty hours a week. Get a second job. Life is a pyramid, and we all can’t live at the top. I didn’t start out as CEO of the world’s most profitable video game company by working forty hours a week.”
“Well-put, my man, well-put,” said Lamar. “You’re preachin’ to the choir, however. We don’t need to justify ourselves. Larry needs to know what we require of him.”
Rodrico stood before his expansive windows, seemingly gazing out at the tinted parking lot below. “The eighth floor knows about YETI. They know its aim and they don’t approve of it. There was no way of hiding it completely from them. But they don’t understand YETI. They think the jumbled code I’m giving them is nonsense; they think the symbols I have them hide in the arenas of the Game are just Easter eggs. Excrement from a deranged mind. They think I’m crazy and trying to pull a fast one on the gullible government.”
“They should know better,” said Lamar.
“Should they?” questioned Rodrico. “I suppose this is a world filled with superstition. People believe in ghosts and UFOs and Bigfoot, but they don’t believe in laissez faire capitalism and trickle-down economics.”
“When it comes to all of those, I prefer to both believe and disbelieve in them,” added Lamar. “Doublethink is crucial to success as a politician.”
Dr. Frasier smiled. “The human mind is a curious thing. It is prone to irrationalism and fancy, yet it is undeniably grounded in the real and the substantial. But what you need to know, Mr. Stevens, is that we made a discovery. Ancient tomes were uncovered that led to the finding of a unique ore with peculiar light-emitting properties. The books were given to us by a certain party that I’m afraid shall remain anonymous, but that is no matter. What you need to comprehend is that the chief aim of YETI is within our capabilities. We can change and mold the human mind without the subject’s knowledge, and we shall accomplish this unprecedented feat through Mr. Rodriguez’s phenomenally popular piece of electronic entertainment.”
“You’re the one we had to bring in, Larry,” said Rodrico. “At least one member of the eighth floor has to be onboard. You haven’t been with the company very long and your job so far has consisted of unimportant busy work. You also haven’t formed any strong bonds amongst your fellow workers. Seeing how you’re Lamar’s kin, the choice was simple.”
“What am I to do?” asked Larry. He failed to keep his voice from stammering.
“You are to handle the last bits of the puzzle,” said Rodrico. “The code and symbols that might lead to unwelcomed questions. You’re the one who will pull the switch, so to speak, when YETI goes live. You must participate in a ritual that will require courage and steadfastness.”
“I wish that I could do it,” said Lamar. “But I don’t know much about computers or sorcery.”
“We’re in undiscovered territory,” replied Dr. Frasier. “There is a certain amount of risk involved, young Mr. Stevens, which is why you shall be our instrument. Are you willing?”
“It’s an easy job, Larry,” added Lamar. “You just got to type what we say to type. And they'll be some blood-letting, but just a little. Nothing to get your panties in a wad about.”
“It’s more involved than that,” said Rodrico. “But Larry is highly capable. What do you say?”
Larry looked at Jerry and Lewis and imagined falling one-hundred feet to the pavement below. They’d call it a suicide. Poor Larry Stevens just couldn’t take it anymore. Coke would be found in his system, hard drugs in his pockets.
“Okay,” he said with a sigh. “I guess I’ll do it.”

Friday, February 15, 2013

Black Box Chapter 5

Chapter Five could probably use more editing; sometimes, you're never happy with a piece of writing, no matter how many times you've rewritten it. I think I'll publish up to chapter seven on the blog.
Chapter Five
My evening routine was simple. I’d put on some Tom Waits or Nick Cave, and pour myself a glass of mostly Jack with just a little bit of Coke, which I’d take to the sofa and sip while thumbing through a collection of pornography Art had let me borrow. Maria had forced him to get rid of his magazines, and he’d dumped the enormous library on me, saying that he’d retrieve it after a while, “when it’s safe.” I didn’t know what that meant, and I was half-tempted to throw his big box of smut into the garbage, since it was my aim to keep my apartment relatively classy for any female visitors. But I’d been unable to throw the stuff away, and for some reason perusing the collection while moderately intoxicated was just the relaxing experience I needed after a mad day’s work. After the whiskey was finished, I’d have a beer and smoke some dope. Then I’d turn off the music and do a little reading until I started to nod off, which meant it was time for bed.
My dreams have always been very vivid and bizarre, and the purpose of my routine was to alleviate any distress they caused. Ever since puberty, my sleeping mind has taken trips through extraordinary and terrifying dimensions, viewing images pieced together from disparate nightmares, one horror leading to the next, with no logical progression or pattern discernible. I’ve dreamt that I was back in high school, pantsless and with the face of a pig, withering beneath the harsh laughter, only to find myself seconds later sinking deeper into a fathomless abyss, the stomach of some planet-sized creature. In another dream I was alone on a raft in the middle of the sea, cool tropical air billowing all around me, when I spied a shapeless monstrosity growing enormous below, all tentacles and lunar eyes. I’d never seen the sea, yet it was often a prominent player in my dreams. Horrors were dredged up from its depths, monsters incapable of description, terrors primal and alien like the kind H.P. Lovecraft pulled from his dark subconscious.
I dealt with my nightmares by sleeping in two to three-hour segments. I didn’t even have to use an alarm, since my body soon adjusted. Using this strategy, the dreams occurred rarely. R.E.M. sleep was seldom achieved, but that was a price I was willing to pay. Sleeping pills produced a similar effect, but they were pricey and addictive.
After coming home the evening after confronting Rodrico, I went about my normal routine. A quarter of Jack Daniels was consumed while listening to Grinderman’s first album. Like Cave, I had the no pussy blues, and combined with the dark turn of events at work, my romantic malaise was frustrating. I thought about Maria. There were other girls out there, not in this dying town, but in the world around. But I never ventured outside the city limits. I wasn’t a commuter and had no desire to become one, so I was left lusting after a taken woman, although it didn’t seem like she’d be with Art for much longer. He wasn’t intellectual enough for her; that was it. I was into art and literature; my library was extensive and eclectic, filled with classics and pop bestsellers alike. I followed the news out of habit, even though I was apolitical. I was the VP of Operations for the world’s most successful video game company, for chrissakes. Between Art and myself, there was no contest.
I thought about calling her, but then I thought about Art and decided against it. She never used her cell phone, I remembered. She was behind the times, according to my friend, which made her more attractive in my eyes. Modern society was draining me; Luddism had taken me in the past few months. Maybe it was simply Rodrico’s reclusive and secretive behavior, but something had soured regarding my attitude toward work. We were no longer just making games, and even if that were our only purpose, would we be contributing to society? Like Rodrico, as an adolescent I’d found a refuge in gaming. I’d discovered a way to escape my nerdy, awkward self, and in the process also discovered a career. With The Game, I’d reached the pinnacle of achievement; there was nowhere else to go but down. The psychology behind it all depressed me, and the fact remained that I no longer enjoyed what I did. I didn’t want to provide people with escapism. Somehow, it felt dirty.
“Well, what do you want to do?” I said to myself. I was on my first beer now, my whiskey glass containing just a shallow layer of melted ice. “What do you want to do with your life?” I could continue on to the dope and maybe get an answer. Maybe it wasn’t wise to view things in the grey area between black and white.
There was a pomology book lying on the table next to me. Perhaps that was the path for me. Apple, pears, and peaches. Rodrico’s unclaimed legacy. Farmers’ markets and the company of the Goon.
I dialed the number of the Angry Bear.
“Gordy,” I shouted into the phone. “I’m afraid I’m in love with Maria.”
            “What are you doing drinking alone?” he said. “You’re supposed to be supporting a local business.”
“I’m not quite a local, but I’m no outsider either. Are there any decent-looking women currently drinking in your establishment?”
“Define what you mean by ‘decent-looking.’”
“That’s right. I can’t trust your own standards. I want someone who’s at least five-foot seven, thin but not skinny, with gorgeous eyes and long flowing hair who can carry a conversation.”
“If I lie will you still come down here every once in a while?”
“I was serious about Maria.”
“We’re all in love with her, Louie. Welcome to the club.”
I hung up on him. A small part of me wanted to go down to the bar and hit on any willing female, but my chair was too comfortable. Out came the pipe, and after finishing smoking, I eased into a deep sleep.
 My method should have worked, as it almost always did, but when my dream started, I knew something was very different. This was not one of my vivid excursions in surrealism; this wasn’t like a dream at all, except that the normal rules that governed reality were being bent and annihilated right before me. I was dirt; I wasn’t entombed, I was the actual grains and bits of organic matter that make up topsoil. Worms crawled through their soft tunnels, and I felt their movements like one feels one’s own fingers. It was like being able to stick your hand into your chest and pull out your heart. I felt the white roots of grasses taking in my nutrients; a light drizzle began, moistening my contents. Grubs curled up inside little pockets, and I kept them safe while moles dug blindly through my innards. I had no bones; I was dark brown skin and liquesced flesh. My organs were the tiny life-forms churning my wheels, furthering my processes. It was a new way of life.
Then I felt myself becoming a man, piece by piece. Bones were rendered from the earth; they came together from microscopic grains of sand, each grain fitting alongside the next perfectly, forming a white solid structure. My nervous system came from the grass roots, and all the roots that wove their tendrils through me. They grew together and created a labyrinthine maze of feelers, and then the circulatory pathways emitted out like tree branches, each a twig growing leaves and swelling fruit. Muscles came next from the dark earth; their darkness drained into the fluid that soaked into my fresh veins, leaving behind layered levels of red meat.
When skin had clad my exposed flesh, I started to walk. I was in an orchard; apple trees hung heavy with fruit, and off in the distance, I could see the soft-ball sized shapes of Asian pears. The trees I was traveling in-between had massive trunks, and I knew from my experience with Pasteur that they had to be very old. The apples looked like ornaments; they were large and rotund, waxy and purplish-red like a fresh blood bruise. I reached out and grasped one in my hands, and it came off gently from the tree. On my shirt I shined it and then proceeded to bite into the fruit.
The taste was like nothing I’d ever experienced. There was a rush of sweetness and saltiness, followed by a tart tanginess that caused my taste buds to shrivel and then expand to absorb the cold, refreshing juices. The flesh was crisp in my mouth, and every chewing motion brought forth new sensations. It was like consuming every delicious fruit one after another, until the final bite unleashed a climax of flavor surpassing any eating or sexual experience one could ever have.
I fell to the ground with the core in my hand, the pleasure writhing through my naked body. As I lay there, I heard something crashing through the orchard, something ponderous and graceless, inexorably pressing forward.
“Good, isn’t it?” a voice said, its cadence smooth and quiet, so unlike its approaching cacophony. “We know how to make a fruit.”
I was paralyzed, so the speaker remained anonymous. “What is it?” I managed to mumble through near-catatonic lips.
“The fruit of knowledge, of course,” replied the voice. “Do you not feel enlightened?”
“I feel pleasure, to the point where it’s almost pain.”
“That’s what you’re working toward,” said the voice. The words came out deep and resonant, layered like multiple persons speaking together.
“You, and almost every single human on earth, desires to obtain a lifestyle of satisfaction. You seek to amplify your personal pleasures. You want to sleep with a beautiful woman or man, you want to have the perfect job where you’re responsible for the lives of many people, and you want to live in a perfect house, with perfect children running about. Maybe you just want the first two, or just one of the three. You want to accomplish things on multiple levels, all while having the best of times. You want to feel like you’ve conquered the world. Are we right?”
“I don’t know,” I replied, my lips moving more freely. “I don’t give a shit about the job anymore, and I’m not sure if I want the girl.”
“Yes, yes, because what then will you want? Do you realize that you’ve been engineered to never find contentment? You’ll never be satisfied, not one-hundred percent. Evolution couldn’t succeed otherwise.”
“Evolution? Don’t you mean intelligent design?” The voice sounded like God, after all.
“Fuck intelligent design. We mean, what the hell, of course there is an intelligence behind the evolution of life. But if mankind was meant to know what was going on behind the scenes, we would’ve made it a bit more obvious.” The voice sounded tired. “We don’t desire worship or respect. The Old Testament has it wrong: there is no jealous God. Hell, there's not even really a God."
"What do you mean by that?"
"There's no sky wizard sitting atop the clouds staring down at mankind, striking down the wicked and uplifting the honest of heart. It's a little disingenuous of us to claim that there isn't a God, but there really isn't, in the sense that there's one entity guiding creation's progress. The superior being is more like a series of beings and their decisions. Think of God as a decision tree where every tree has its own limbs, and these limbs have their own limbs, and so on and so forth. God is sort of a composite being, that is, if you chose to think of God as a singular person/place/thing. You get what we're saying?"
 "So God's a committee? A congress? His Will is basically the result of some democratic vote by angels, or whatever?"
"Yeah, kind of, we guess, although determining the Will (nice term, by the way) is not quite a democratic process. The stronger opinions survive, is what we're saying. There is no vote, except the vote of force."
"God's Will is decided by force?"
"Uh, well, uh...maybe the decision tree analogy was a bad one. God is sort of like a cosmic immune system, with various bodies being responsible for tending to the heart, the brain, the digestive organs, etc. Everything is interdependent and if one organ fails, then a stronger one takes its place."
"That's not how organs work. If my heart fails, I die."
"Well, yeah, you're right. Let's just accept that the system is hard, if not impossible, to explain to such a crude creature as yourself. Which leads us back to our original point: Why would we care how humanity viewed us? Do you care how the ants consider you? What about your cat? Your dog? We were before you, and we will be after you have vanished from existence.”
“That’s not very comforting,” I said. "Are you going to continue to refer to yourself as 'we'? Because I'd prefer it if you didn't. It's kind of discombobulating."
“Fine. I it is. Your response is evident of my big fuck-up. You’re a little too independent, you humans. You think everything’s about you, which isn’t true. Yes, you’re pretty important, I wouldn’t have given you god-like powers of reasoning if that weren’t true, but you don’t have to go and destroy the planet just because I’ve given you too much freedom.”
“We can destroy the planet?”
“No, you can’t. You can destroy yourselves, but after you’re gone, the planet will heal itself. It’s pretty resilient.”
“Well that’s kind of a disappointment. I’d like to think that everything will cease after we’re gone.”
“You selfish motherfuckers.” The voice was hushed. “You’ve taken off and formed your own gods. I suppose such behavior was inevitable. You think of Plato and the cave, and you believe that reality functions dependently upon you.”
“Reality is an illusion,” I said, beginning to recover my feet “That’s what I got from Plato.”
“Well I want you to know something, Louis Arlington. A piece of us, me, whatever, he/she/it is currently on your planet. He/she/it is evaluating the situation, and if need be, he/she/it will end the world. The apocalypse has to come at some time, you understand. Perhaps you can talk him out of it.”
“Why me?” I wasn’t the most dependable of persons.
“Because this project your boss has started, this YETI, it can bring about the end of the world. Do you think life can function while people are held captive by virtual worlds? Do you think you can take another fascist system? With your internet and your cameras, and your cellular phones sitting snug in your pockets, such a development would be fatal. Democracy has already proven to be a complete failure. If I see another despotic regime, I swear, it’s over. The whole shebang.”
“If you’re so pro-democracy, why has a representative government been such a rarity throughout human history?” The writhing had ceased, and I was becoming philosophical. “Why don’t you give us a little helping hand, a small push in the right direction?”
“I really don’t interfere with human development, despite what half of the idiotic populace believes. I’ve stepped in a couple times, I’ll admit, but only for big-picture stuff. I helped you during World War II, and my actions consisted of a bit more than a ‘small push.’ But the apocalypse would’ve come too soon, and the subsequent cultural changes, the vast technological proved me right. Things were getting interesting. There was promise of progress, of real transcendental change. You were built to be a social species, but for so long all you did was trample over each other. There was brilliant change after World War II. But look where you are now. The global economy is crashing. Oil is running out. Environments have been ravaged. Sea levels are rising. Nuclear weapons will be launched. Plague, famine, approaching asteroids. Billions will die, and the remaining people will call a moonscape home. The last thing I want to see during this period of crisis is a good portion of the population placid and uninvolved because of the hypnotizing effect of mass entertainment. Do you get what I am saying?”
“Don’t you love destruction? Isn’t history and life full of death and bloodshed?”
“No. Entropy is the force that wears down the universe. Life is designed to combat it. That’s why there have been extinctions and meteorite impacts and particle decay, and yet, life still exists.”
“Then why end it?”
“What do you mean by ‘it’? I will end you, not life itself. Humanity is but a speck on the geological time scale. The dinosaurs did a lot better than you. Man was a different approach. I can try again and again and again, until time and space have reached their limits and everything becomes estranged in the cold void of the cosmos.”
“So you don’t have control over entropy or time. And you think that entropy will triumph through the actions of mankind, and you can’t bear to let that pass. I don’t know if I buy your reasoning. Sounds like you want us to quit the game before it's really over.”
“I don’t want that to happen, Mr. Arlington, I really don’t, which is why I am appearing to you. I...”
“Why can’t I see you?” I blurted out.
“The image would melt your soul,” it said quietly. “In some respects, the ancients were correct. But anyway, the entirety of us is simply not able to be seen by one set of eyes. I don’t want to appear as a flaming bush or a blinding light obscured by four-headed angels. I’ve already reduced my speech to your crude vernacular.”
I was silent for a while. My body was beginning to fade back into the earth. Time was running out.
“So what am I supposed to do?” I said, my mouth becoming full of dirt and grass. My bones were becoming their pale white roots.
“You have to find the piece of me and convince him/her/it not to bring about the apocalypse. He/she/it will want solid reasons. Convince he/she/it that you can turn yourselves around.”
“But don’t you know the future? Won’t you already know if we truly can save ourselves?”
“Yes,” said the voice, as orchard started to fade. “I know what will happen. But you don’t. Oh and one more thing: every night, until you find he/she/it, you will suffer through visions of the next world, the creatures and designs that will inherit the scarred fragments of your planet. If you try to avoid these visions by neglecting to sleep, I'll send my emissaries to haunt you. Just a heads up. Now, I think it's time for you to wake up."
“Gordy,” I stammered into the phone. “I just spoke to God.”
“Louie, it’s two-thirty here and I’m about to shut down...”
“It was a bizarre vision, I was the earth and I ate an apple that gave me one hell of an orgasm...”
“Yeah, yeah, that’s great Louie, that really is. I don’t really need to hear about your wet dreams.”
“He gave me a mission. I have to find him on earth and convince him not to end the world. He says Huerto’s current project will bring about the apocalypse.”
“Why would you want to stop it then?” I could hear the yells of a woman in the background. “Art will finally have a reason to keep stockpiling canned food. He’ll go fucking berserk if you tell him the zombies are coming.”
“I didn’t say anything about zombies. I’m talking about the end of the human race.”
“I’ll be right there honey, just give me a minute. Uh, sorry Louie, I got a customer to take care of.”
“This was not a goddamn dream, Gordy. I’m fucking sincere here. What the hell am I supposed to do?”
“Go back to sleep. I had a dream once where I sodomized all the Care Bears. One by one they came, and I serviced them. I did it mechanically. They stood in line and waited like they were at the BMV. What I’m saying is, I’m as sane as anybody else, all right? We just have weird dreams every once in a while. Did you smoke any weed?”
“I did, but that...”
“Mystery solved. It was the pot.”
“It works the other way, Gordy. I hardly ever dream after smoking pot.” I sighed tiredly. “What I want to know is, do you think it’s possible for somebody to talk to God? Is it possible without being insane?”
“How is it possible that Max Payne wasn’t the highest grossing movie of all time? Did you ask him that?”
“It was a horrible movie. A great video game, but a horrible movie.”
There was silence on the line. I’d criticized the work of the great Marky-Mark.
“I’m sorry, Gordy, I didn’t mean that. You know, Boogie Nights is a great movie, one of my favorites. It really is. Can you answer my question?”
“You know I’m religious.”
“I know, that’s why I’m asking you.”
“And to lie about speaking to God is blasphemy.”
“I’m telling you what I believe.
“If you believe that you spoke to God, then maybe you did. That’s all I can say. You’re not crazy, as far as I can tell.”
“Thank you, Gordy. But I still don’t know what to do.”
“Don’t make any decision based solely on what I’ve said. Yeah, I’m coming! Get in the car! Talk to somebody else. Hey, I gotta go, got somebody to take home tonight, all right? You try to get some sleep.” He hung up the phone.
I got up out of my easy chair and went to the bar and poured myself a tumbler of whiskey. I was still feeling that particular mental lethargy that comes with smoking pot, and tiredness weighed me further down, but I still wasn’t sleepy. Did I fear another conversation? A nightmare? As I’d done so often before, I turned on the TV.
“Well tonight folks we have a very special guest!” said the big chinned late-night host. “You know him from the smash hit reality show ‘People Watching People Watching People,’ as well as his diverse and brilliant musical endeavors. Let me introduce Mr. Mitch R. Singer!”  The audience roared with genuine applause. Singer appeared, waved to the camera, and sat down next to the host.
“Thanks a lot, Shay,” said Singer. “‘Diverse and brilliant musical endeavors.’” I don’t think anyone’s ever complimented my work quite so well.”
“I am a big fan,” said Shay with a show-biz smile. “Now you have a very distinct musical voice. I must admit, the first time I heard you, I thought ‘What the hell is this? Why’s this guy caterwauling?’ But it was different, you know, and different is good. You put a lot of attention into your lyrics. You songs aren’t about love affairs or partying. They’re about the darkness in the world, the evil, rotten heart of things. They’re seductive in their own way. Now, you’ve been accused of nihilism and misanthropy. Do you consider yourself a nihilist?”
“I think that’s lazy criticism, Shay, I really do,” said Singer. “I love people. I’m a people person, all right? I love life also. But I think there are certain truths about the human condition that folks have to come to terms with. I wouldn’t host a show like People Watching People if I didn’t have an agenda. It’s fun, sure, to watch people debase themselves for the promise of cash. But different people get something different from the show. I think many are disgusted. And that’s fine as well, although my producers probably don’t want me saying that. I want people to know that integrity is an imaginary thing. I want them to know that they’re surrounded by three-hundred million people that will do anything for money. I want them to know that society is a thing that will eventually go extinct. In the afterworld, we’ll be like beasts. I think we might be more successful that way.”
“That’s pretty nihilistic, Mitch, I have to say. So are you saying that you expect there to be some sort of apocalypse?”
“We’re already in one, Shay, we really are!” said Mitch, his glasses nearly falling off his face. “Resources are running out. Economies are depressed. People don’t know what to do with themselves, and there’s no technological messiah coming to save things. People are going to look to more primitive methods. They’re going to try to talk to God.”
“You know Mitch, we have a lot of viewers of faith, I don’t know if I approve of your wording...”
“I mean no offense, Shay, I really don’t. I myself am a person of faith. I’m a red-blooded American Christian, believe it or not. I believe in God, guns, and virgin sacrifices.”
The audience erupted with laughter.
“I wouldn’t have guessed that from your work,” said Shay. “Well, maybe the virgin sacrifices part. Well folks, stay tuned in, Mitch is performing a number from his recent hit album. I...”
I turned off the TV. Singer must be prescient, and the fact that a person like him knew what might happen disturbed me. Maybe he had dreams; maybe his nightmares were even more horrible than my own.
I kept drinking whiskey until I fell asleep.