My people once lived in castles as white as pearls, with great ivory towers, and spires that drilled into the clouds. We rode lifts on floss cables over waterfalls of twinkling blue paste, and rivers of green antiseptic.
Every surface of our fortress had a healthy gleam. There were no stains, cracks, or cavities. We all did our part to keep it that way. Adults fitted their shoes with bristles and glided across milky walkways. Children rode mint sleds down streets paved with bone. Jolly chimney sweepers cleaned the plaque from the gutters.
We danced beneath the long sharp roots that lined our roofs without fear of them ever falling.
The kingdom was sturdy. The infrastructure was strong, because we had a steady supply of the mineral our society was built upon.
I was a human ivory dealer (or Tooth Fairy if you prefer). My job was to procure the precious commodity we needed to fortify our city, and leave a sufficient payment for those who supplied the materials.
It was the last semester of senior year and all the cool kids were boycotting prom in favor of something better.
Why rent a limousine when you could make an entrance in an art car shaped like a pumpkin? Why break the bank on a pastel dress when you could wear a piece designed by one of your friends? Why go to a twerk-a-thon in a hotel ballroom when you could go to a masquerade in the Hollywood hills?
Moira promised carriage rides around her estate, vaudevillian cabaret dancers, and a hard rock cello quartet. She promised sword swallowers, contortionists, and devils on stilts. She promised a magician with body modifications who did tricks with his magnetic hands, a pain proof man that hammered nails into his nostrils, and a death defying woman who escaped coffins buried underground.
She promised memories worth making, which was more than our school was offering.
Moira came from wealth and fame. She was the queen bee of our hedonistic hive. If she wanted to live out her Victorian carnival fantasy us drones had, to lace up our corsets, and come a-buzzing.
When a highway patrol officer asks, “Do you know why I pulled you over,” they’re inviting you to incriminate yourself. This is not the case with the state trooper in this story, he has his own reasons, ones that turn out to be pretty insane.
Like my previous short Headbleed this excerpt is another peek at a dark work in progress. It stands on its own as a fun dialogue driven exchange.
Why I Pulled You Over
Cameron leaned out the window to feel the summer breeze against her skin. It smelt of wheatgrass and wildflowers. The air freshener had nothing on it. Giving up on a radio signal, she embraced the steady whooshing of the wind. There was something surreal about the view, the sheer flatness of the plain. With the clouds touching the horizon, it felt like she was driving into a painting.
Checking her reflection in the side mirror, Cameron watched her jet black ends flow from the bandana concealing her blond roots. The sun made the Beetle’s orange paint job glow. The additions she’d made to the bonnet flapped with each gust, more distractions than hazards.
Cameron shift her gaze to the rearview mirror. Nothing but prairie in both directions. Reaching into her purse, she dug out her phone, setting it on the horn.
The lock screen was filled with a rainbow coalition of alert icons: the Snapchat spook, the Reddit robot, and the Twitter turtle dove. With her hand up at two, Cameron unlocked the screen with her thumb. The mail icon’s notifications were in the triple digits, it would have to be priority number one.
She held down the home button until she heard a chime. Cameron said, “Read my last e-mail.”
The phone’s monotone modulation said, “On June 1st, Kat Carey sent you an email about A Guest Blog Opportunity.
I discovered your blog through a comment on a piece I wrote on eliminating exposition by modeling scenes after movies. Turns out you beat me to the punch by several months. You showed up early in the same dress, and by all accounts, wore it better. Jealous as I was, I’ve been lurking on your site ever since. My page reaches twenty-thousand readers a day, and your snark to wit ratio is exactly what I’m looking for.
I have an opening for Monday the thirtieth. I’d love for you to contribute.
Catching a billboard of an ultrasound out of the corner of her eye, Cameron chose to ignore its text, and the vehicle beneath it.
Pressing the home button until it chimed, Cameron said, “Reply to this email. Thank you for thinking of me, period. I’m covering an art car festival until the end of the month, period. We’ll see if I can get a moment to write something clever for you, comma, and a good enough signal to upload it, period. I’ll let you know by the end of the week, period. New Paragraph, Your consultant in crime, comma, Cameron Mandex. Send.”
Watching the grass sway along the highway, Cameron imagined herself floating above the road, with no wheels or engine, wishing this stretch of highway was her workspace. She saw herself coming back this way, far from the thumping speakers, the bickering couples, and the howling frat boys, she’d switch on cruise control and just let go. She’d finish her thesis out here.
The thought passed at the sight of the blue and red lights flashing in the rearview mirror.
Rolling down the window, Cameron held her license and registration at ten and two.
The highway patrol officer took his time ambling to the door. Through the mirror, Cameron watched him crack his neck from side to side, roll his shoulders, and stretch one arm across the other, a boxer preparing for a fight.
Standing in front of the sun, he snatched up her license. “Where’s the ball, Cinderella?”
Cameron squint, “I wasn’t speeding.”
The officer craned his head to take in the green stem atop the orange Volkswagen Beetle. “Can you think of another reason why I might have pulled you over?”
“Because you have a quota?” Cameron said flatly.
He rolled his eyes. “Try another?”
Biting her lip, Cameron sighed. “My tabs are current, my tires are full, my lights are in perfect working order.” She tilt her head back, “And even with the addition to my roof, the car is only eight feet tall, which is five less than the state maximum.”
“Can you think of any other reason?” The officer cocked his chin toward the raised teeth, framing the Jack-O-Lantern paint job beneath the windshield. “Maybe something obstructing your vision?”
Cameron glanced at the crooked smile just past her dashboard. She shrugged. “What do you want, an artist’s statement?”
Taking her piece in, the officer shook his head. “I wouldn’t go so far as to call this rig an ‘art car.’ With all this crap hanging off, it’s more of a mutant vehicle.”
Lowering his sunglasses, he peaked inside. “Christ, even the upholstery is orange? That’s dedication.”
He leaned over the window. “Are there any weapons in the… pumpkin, I should know about?”
Cameron looked to the long tube of pepper spray dangling from the ignition. “Nope.”
The officer rolled his head from shoulder to shoulder. The motion carried from one raised eyebrow to the other. “If I were to check the glove compartment, I wouldn’t find anything interesting?”
Cameron felt the sweat pooling beneath her bandana. She glared at the officer. “You mean, if you had a warrant to check it?”
Shaking his head, he waved the notion away. “I’ve got to run an inventory if you want to get your stuff back.”
Looking back and forth, Cameron processed this statement. “Get my stuff back? No no no, you’re not towing me.”
The officer threw his hands up. “This rig isn’t exactly street legal. Suppose the stem breaks off and hits another motorist.”
Cameron dug her nails into the wheel. “Suppose an eighteen wheeler pops a tire and the rim goes flying.”
The officer rapped his knuckles down the frame. “Suppose these papier-mâché teeth come unglued from the hood.”
Cameron snapped at him. “First of all, they’re silicone, not papier-mâché. Second, they’re caulked on, not glued, and third, this is a Beetle. That’s not the hood, it’s the trunk.”
The officer shook his head at the road. “I’m sorry, but semantics don’t make it safe. I’m going to have to ask you to step out of the vehicle.”
Cameron mouthed a vulgarity with no breath behind it. Slinging her purse over her shoulder, she reached for her keys.
The officer smirked. “Leave the pepper spray, I’ll get it for you.”
Stepping out of her pumpkin carriage, Cameron took it in one last time. Raising her phone, she positioned her modest creation into the frame; months of planning reduced to a single snapshot. Who knows how much of it she’d get back.
She remembered how she justified the investment to her parents, “People don’t open up to bystanders like they do to participants.”
She could already hear her father’s reaction to this development. “This is fate redirecting you to a path with a future at the end.”
Pausing at the patrol car, she got an odd feeling. There was something off about the coloring. Something foreign about the font for “STATE TROOPER.” She pointed to the text beneath it. “You’re a little ways outside of your jurisdiction.”
Opening the back door, the officer tipped his hat, “We cover every street statewide.”
Cameron froze. “Is there a Humboldt County in this state?”
Putting his sunglasses on, the officer cocked his head. “Sounds like your speech is slurring. You sure you haven’t had anything to drink?”
Opening the driver’s side door, he fished a breathalyzer out of the compartment.
Cameron squint, “No, and you never asked me if–”
He cut her off, “Better breathalyze to be on the safe side.”
The officer shoved the device in Cameron’s mouth. It happened so fast she didn’t have time to consent. She had to tilt her head back just to avoid chipping her teeth.
The playful tone fell out of the officer’s voice. “I’m going to need you to take a deep breath, then I’m going to tell you to exhale.” He squeezed the breathalyzer, “Alright inhale.”
Cameron flared her nostrils. An oder came off the device: the head smelt sweet, the body stunk of alcohol, and the tail was pure antiseptic.
The officer looked beyond the breathalyzer, locking eyes with Cameron. His lips shrunk in. Somehow she knew, he was gritting his teeth beneath them.
He tilt the breathalyzer. The odor intensified into a taste, industrial soap spilling down Cameron’s tongue. It overpowered her senses, the sound of wind faded, the sun dimmed. She felt weightless.
Woozy, Cameron teetered away from the breathalyzer. Lowering it, the officer ignored the results. Stepping forward, he positioned himself to catch her. Throwing a punch, Cameron found she hadn’t the strength to sustain her fist through the motion. It felt like it broke off her wrist and flew away.
Falling into the officer’s arms, the world fell out from under her.
Someone is abducting college students, yet no one knows they’re even missing. That’s because they’re still posting status updates, Tweeting trending hashtags, and snapping selfies. Their friends and family don’t see the guns barrels just outside the frame.
Cameron wakes up in a town that’s all but abandoned, apart for the stables filled with captive residents. She needs to figure out what her fellow prisoners have in common, and what their abductors plan on doing with them, while she’s forced participate in their social media schemes.
Net neutrality is the principle that all internet data should be treated equally, that no service provider should sell preferential treatment to the highest bidder, and that no company can discriminate what sites their users see. It prevents wealthier sites like BuzzFeed from being the fastest things on the net. It prevents Comcast from charging WordPress more to reach their readers at a decent speed. It prevents streaming services, like NetFlix, from passing these new expenses to their customers. It evens the playing field for established corporate entities and promising young entrepreneurs.
Over the course of two elections, this administration ran on the platform of preserving net neutrality. So, how could the President’s appointment for the chairman of the FCC propose its end?
If you’re like me, you suspect secret societies and Satanic rituals are somehow involved. The following is a dramatic reenactment of how I think the whole thing went down.
The Esoteric Order of Internet Service Providers
From the stairs, the underground lair looked like a wolf’s den. The pack was positioned with their fur to the ceiling. They knelt in a circular formation around the podium. With pelts quivering in the midst, they looked like beasts digging, but it was fingers, not claws that held their sacred rings.
Stepping onto the floor, the Alpha broke the fog, dragging a fur robe behind him. The silver mange of his wolfskin hood blended into his hair. Its frozen ears were raised in a permanent state of alarm. Its furrowed brow framed the rubies in its eyes. With its snout jutting out, its canines cast shadows down the Alpha’s face.
The Alpha’s flesh glistened, a pallid mask of skincare products. A pair of black, sunken eyes, hid behind his spectacles. When he looked to his followers, they skittered back with their tales between their legs.
The plumage from a flock of cardinals lined his robe, clasped together with fragments of antlers. Peacock feathers shot out from his shoulders, casting shadows on his snakeskin sleeves. His was a technicolor coat of death and nightmares. Standing over his followers, he was an apex predator.
The Alpha approached the podium, to find a wolf’s paw. A remote stuck out from the amputated limb. Looking to a projector on the ceiling, his gaze followed the beam to a towering curtain. Pinching the paw until he felt a click, he watched a blood red moon flash onto the screen.
“Arise my brothers.” The Alpha’s voice boomed with seasoned authority, a refined tongue that had no qualms with giving orders.
Ever have that dream where you stumble into the middle of a black mass with nothing to sacrifice? Ever crash a red ritual with nothing but casserole? Ever realize you’ve entered a black robe and hood affair when it’s too late to go home and change? That’s dream logic for you, never sure whether it’s more important if you feel afraid or embarrassed.
In the dream, cultists chant incantations with midwestern accents. Beneath their masquerade masks, they might just be your friends and neighbors. Perhaps that’s the little league coach drawing a propane pentagram, and the leader of the Boy Scout troop setting it aflame. Perhaps that’s the head of the PTA, drawing a dagger from her sleeve.
Your subconscious got tired of high school settings, of locker rooms and hallways, it wanted try it’s hand at a new landscape.
This is a story about what happens when your subconscious forgets its plotting a nightmare only to resort to the oldest dream cliché in the book. Come for a scare. Stay for a punchline.
Valentine’s Day is here. For some it’s the biggest date night of the year, a time for hard won reservations, and subpar service. When collective expectation is at a fever pitch. A time to feel put on the spot by romantic peer pressure. A day when one-upmanship makes lovers jump through flaming hoops to prove their feelings.
For some it is a day to abuse social media with forced romantic sentiment, a day for contrived vows that could only feel genuine if delivered in person. Some clog news feeds with couple’s selfies, while others clean house with mass-unfollowings.
After Christmas and New Year’s, Valentine’s Day is the last note in a overwhelming chord. For some it’s a victory lap, a day to celebrate the love they’ve been given. For others it’s the last stretch of a gauntlet of loneliness. V-Day is when they cash the last of their resolutions in.
Permit me to speak from the heart, with some help from the gut, with a little bit of bite, and a twist of the tongue.
My volatile Valentine’s vendetta derives its viewpoint from a bevy of vulgar visuals. Vapid vagrants with malevolent intent, visiting taverns to vocalize a variety of vacuous vows, proverbs with vanilla verbiage voiced verbatim, inviting victims to venture beneath their duvet for a vigorous vault through venerial viruses.
Avoiding reverence, evasive lovers veto verses, and revoke overtures. Vexed with a variety of vultures vying for votes, vixens avert involvement. My vehement vows provoke vagabonds to vanish. My devotion advances vamps through a vortex. Their verdict delivers a violent vivisection of vital vascular valves and vessels, leaving a vacated void, a victory for the villainous, a vasectomy of the virtuous, a vestige of St. Valentine’s venture.
A memory memory for the 14th of February, the Saint beaten beheaded, left to rot, I see no reason, the real reason for the season should ever be forgot.
This year, I’m one of those bah-humbuggers. To quote Placebo, “I’m killing time on Valentine’s. Waiting for the day to end.” For me the day completes a trilogy of unhappy holidays. Some days I believe in love at first sight, sometimes I want to tell Cupid where he can stick his arrows. Today is one of those.
If you’re at home reading blogs on Valentine’s, then I think I know which camp you’re in. If you’re looking for something to read, that hits that bittersweet spot then I’ve got you covered. Be you a hopeless romantic or a ceaseless cynic, I’ve got something for you.
May I present my best posts on romance, be they short stories or blog entries, poems or podcasts, I’ve got something to make the time pass.
Have you ever had a job interview that went to hell? This one goes there literally. When I say I write Twilight Zone fan fiction, this is what I’m talking about.
The Great American Tell Off Speech
Wind blew through the office. Lunging after a stray envelope, a mail clerk tripped over his cart. There were no walls to stop it, only pillars. The floor was arranged like a banquet hall, with a series of long tables. There were laptops in place of plates, phones in place of silverware. Sitting with the other applicants, Stewart felt like he was waiting for a reservation, not an interview.
Without walls, this was a hive with no honeycomb, a swarm that never sat still long enough to be a colony. The worker bees were at a constant hum. They buzzed into phones with fingers in their ears. Some fashioned borders out of folders. Some marked their perimeters, putting their hands up on their cheeks, and angling their elbows. Others ducked under tables.
Clicking buttons, they mistook each others’ mice for their own. Passing reports, they made bumper cars of rolling chairs. Waving their power plugs, they played musical outlets, jabbing at each other for juice.
Stewart leaned over to peak into a conference room. A facilitator hopped back and forth, armed with a set of markers and a smile. Pointing to someone out of view, the facilitator leapt up, spun around, and wrote a bullet point on the whiteboard. Giving a thumbs up, he jotted down the word: COLLABORATION. Employees raised their hands, kindergarden students waiting for their turn.
Stewart scanned his cover letter. Words like DISTINCT, INDEPENDENT and SELF-RELIANT stood out.
Giving his outfit a once over, Stewart found his yellow tie full of creases. He struggled to smooth them, only to find he was smearing ink down the length. Checking to see if any of the applicants were watching, he licked the silk clean. The nearest door was made of tinted glass. Stewart stuck his tongue out at his reflection. It was black. His cowlick stood straight up. Spitting into his hand, he tried to weigh it down.
The door opened to reveal a linebacker in a pinstripe suit, square-jawed and broad shouldered. He wore two bluetooth earpieces. They jut out like a pair of tusks. His brown hair had a reddish tint. It clashed with his silver eyebrows. His cheeks were tan and moist, a mannequin brought to life.
“Martin Williams.” He extended his hand, a catcher’s mitt full of class rings.
Stewart wiped the spit on his pants before offering his hand. “Stewart Smith.”
“Of course it is.” Martin winked.
The man had a vice grip. Stewart felt it in his arm socket.
Before Stewart could reclaim his fingers, Martin went in for a second pass. Giving the applicant’s palm another good squeeze, Martin tilt his head, a dancer singling for his partner to follow. Stewart squeezed back, quickly relinquishing his grip. When he withdrew his hand, it was clammy.
Ambling to his desk, Martin positioned himself to sit. Bending his knees, he froze.
Stewart mirrored Martin’s position in the chair provided. They were in a game of chicken over who’d be the first to sit. When Stewart’s footing shift gravity made the decision for him.
Martin raised an eyebrow at this development. Smoothing his blood red tie, he took his seat.
Stewart’s chair was anything but ergonomic. It dictated his posture at a ninety degree angle. With his hips shifting out of the seat, he became painfully aware of the position of his limbs. He crossed his legs, rather than sit spread eagle. He crossed his arms, rather than let them dangle like an ape.
Martin scanned him, a curator appraising the authenticity of an acquisition. His finger hovered over his speakerphone. “Would you like a coffee?”
Stewart didn’t care for what the chair was doing to his bladder. “No. No thank you, I’ve had too much already.”
Martin raised his eyebrow a little higher. “Let’s get right down to business. Your resumé says you’ve been out of work for sixth months now. The next guy coming in has the same qualifications. The only difference is he has a solid job. Why should I hire you instead of someone who’s stable?”
Stewart found his attention drawn to the waste basket at his feet, overflowing with 5-Hour Energy drinks.
He shift his butt in his seat. “Because I’m not stable.”
Martin raised his chin. “Care to elaborate?”
“No, but I will.” Stewart’s seat creaked as he moved to the edge. “Anyone can maintain a nine to five job, but it takes a particular type of person to hold out until they find a place where they’re needed.”
Martin rubbed his chin. “Needed, you say?”
Stewart scanned the bookshelf: Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince, and Steve Jobs’s autobiography.
He nodded. “Absolutely.”
The wall was filled with certificates, an Entrepreneurship degree from Columbia, an International Business degree from Harvard, and a slip certifying the completion of a weekend seminar in something called, “Neuro-Linguistic Programing.”
There was a photo of Martin covered in mud, a general whose army conquered a wall, letting out a battle cry. Ropes dangled over the side. Climbers grit their teeth, struggling to catch up with their agile leader.
Plucking the bluetooth tusks from his ears, Martin set them on the desk. Fishing a hand grip tool from a drawer, he gave his wrist a workout. “And what is it that makes you so vital to our business?”
On the desk, a pendulum drew figure eights in a Zen sand-garden. Stewart flicked it. “I’m here to change the flow of things.”
Martin quoted Stewarts cover letter, “And just how does an ‘independent’ ‘self-reliant’ ‘freethinker’ go about doing that?”
Martin slipped his copy of Stewart’s cover letter across the desk, a monologue waiting to be performed.
Stewart slipped it back. “I know what it says, it’s what it doesn’t say that matters.”
Setting the workout tool down, Martin smirked. “What, like the notes a musician doesn’t play?”
Stewart tilt his chin, committing to neither shaking his head, or nodding. “It doesn’t say that I’m a people person. It doesn’t say that I thrive in groups. Nor does it say that I’m passionate about communication, marketing, or social media.”
Martin pinched his pendulum to a stop. “You do realize the position you’re interviewing for is Brand Ambassador? It doesn’t get anymore social than that.” He wiped the Zen-garden down, making sure every grain was right where it belonged.
“You’ll learn that when it comes to emerging markets, none of us are as smart as all of us.”
Martin pointed to the group portrait on the wall. The staff stood in the parking lot with their arms outstretched, gnashing their teeth, lions eager to be fed. No one was smiling. No one was saying, “Cheese.” This was a warring army preparing to charge the enemy.
Stewart leaned forward to break Martin’s sightline. “You have too many initiatives competing with each other.”
“Life is a competition.” Martin blurt out.
Stewart nodded, as if that was a rational response. He took a deep breath. “The firm seems to think that if it throws a bunch of advertisements at the wall, some of them will stick. They need someone like me to offer users something worth seeking out. Someone who knows the difference between begging and branding, between panhandling and marketing, between crowdsourcing and true inspiration. It doesn’t take a village to represent a brand. It takes a delegate, someone to keep the message simple and consistent, someone to embody all the traits the customer is looking for.”
Standing, Martin wiped the last grains of Zen-garden from his hands. “I’ll be frank, you’re not it. I knew this before you even crossed my threshold. I feel like I’d be doing you a disservice if I didn’t tell you why.”
Martin circled to Stewart’s side of the desk.
He made a square with his fingers, a director framing a scene. “Your posture tells me you’re closed off. You look like a marionette laid to rest, legs crossed, arms over your chest. You have none of the bravado to back up your selling points.”
Uncrossing his ninety degree angles, Stewart stiffened up.
Martin nodded to himself, confirming his assumption. “I knew it the moment I felt your slimy handshake, with your ring finger shorter than your pointer, this isn’t the man I’m looking for.”
Scooping up the workout tool, Martin slipped his finger through the loop. He spun it like a gunslinger.
“From then on you kept confirming my instincts. Staring at the bridge of my nose to avoid eye contact. Not taking the coffee. Being easily distracted by the pendulum on the desk. You do realize that was a test, don’t you?”
Martin squeezed the hand grip, like he was ringing a neck.
“But really, I knew all this the moment I spotted your yellow tie. Yellow is the color of cowardice, of betrayal, sickness and disease. A man who wears a yellow tie to an interview doesn’t want the job. This makes me wonder why someone with no confidence is trying to sell me on his penchant for insubordination. You’re running some kind of unemployment scam, aren’t you? I ought to offer you a mailroom position just to fuck it up.”
Stewart bit his lip. His face went cold. The pendulum began swinging on it’s own, drawing a shape in the sand. Stewart squint. Guided by an invisible force, the pendulum traced a glyph; the hook of a question mark, the zigzag of lightning, and the three points of a pitchfork.
The certificates shook. Photographs slipped out of their frames and slid across the floor. Standing, Stewart stepped on Martin’s muck ridden portrait.
“I too would feel like I was doing you a disservice if I didn’t tell you something.” Stewart’s voice echoed through the building, a message delayed by a loudspeaker system.
His cowlick shot straight up, followed by the rest of his hair. The brown follicles turned bleach blonde. Smoke spiraled off the bangs. Stewart’s loafers grazed the carpet. Levitating off the ground, his posture corrected itself.
Rolling over his computer, Martin ducked for cover behind his desk. With the flick of the wrist, Stewart sent it through the wall. The screeching of its feet trailed off until it crashed. A sheet of dry wall collapsed into a pile of pebbles.
“Now it’s an open office.” Stewart’s voice boomed over the screams of panicked workers.
The Zen-garden came down in a heap. The hand grip tool spun end over end, landing in the dirt.
Martin hugged his rolling chair, a shipwrecked surviver with a floatation device. Making a pinching motion, Stewart plucked it free. Catching it, Martin rolled it back. Stewart found himself playing pantomime tug of war. Tugging the chair, he made Martin face plant into the Zen-garden. Whatever he’d slathered his skin in, gave every grain of sand a surface to stick to.
Stewart rose until his shoulder blades dug into the ceiling tiles. The chair rolled into his shadow. Coming in for a soft landing, Stewart took his seat, an emperor on his new throne.
Stewart crossed his legs, blowing the sand off the armrest. “Now that’s more like it.”
Pinching the air, Stewart pulled Martin up by his tie, forcing him into the modified cobra position.
Stewart glanced over his shoulder. “Of the four conference rooms on this floor, you’ve filled each of them. That’s half of your workforce passively listening, while the other half tries to pick up the slack.”
Through the window behind him, Stewart saw the facilitators poking their heads out, their smiles had flat lined, the pep had gone from their steps. Some of the staff stood frozen, while others ducked down, turning the spaces between the tables into foxholes.
Snapping his fingers, Stewart closed the blinds. “Punctual as I am, I had an opportunity to listen in on these meetings. Rather than tell your employees to respect the speaker, the facilitators asked for suggestions on how to do so. The meetings couldn’t start until the group stated the obvious: put your phones away, wait your turn, and stay on topic. The facilitators spoke the least. They drew out answers by asking questions. They confirmed nothing, offered no conclusions, and came to no ultimate ends.”
Twirling his finger, Stewart raised a tiny tornado from the remnants of the Zen-garden. He flung it at Martin.
“I actually knew Socrates, and there was a lot more to his method than that.” Stewart shook his head. “Whenever an employee realized the only way to get the ball rolling was to answer every question, the facilitator stopped calling on them, shutting out the very people who should be leading these meetings.”
The fluorescent lights flickered. Bulbs burst. Martin covered his head as glass rained down. Stewart cracked his neck. There was a flash of lightning, followed by a series of pops trailing off into the distance. The only lights that survived were in the exit signs.
Martin cupped his hands in prayer. “Oh Jesus, oh sweet baby Jesus on Santa’s lap, protect me.”
Stewarts eyes turned white. Sparks flowed from his gaze. His voice rattled the windows. “This company needs my omnipotence to look out for its interests. It needs me to sniff out the time thieves that schedule these meetings. You see, I eat waste. I devoir redundancy, and I am very hungry.”
Quivering, Martin tried not to look at the deity that had invaded his office. Stealing a glance, white streaks washed through his hair. Looking away, he saw the wheels rise off the floor. The rolling chair ascended.
Grains of sand took orbit around Stewart like rings around a planet. He sat in the lotus position. “Employees can only maintain social relationships with about one-hundred-and-fifty coworkers. This team has one-hundred too many. My belly growls just thinking about it. I’m here to pick the group-thinkers out of the herd, whether they’re grazing the carpet or standing watch from a corner office. I specialize in team dismantling.”
Martin groveled. “I didn’t mean to insult your tie, my lord, my-my master. Had you led with this level of confidence, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”
“But we are having it.” Stewart’s voice echoed from all sides. The rear window shattered.
Martin’s hands shook uncontrollably. His skin was awash with moonlight. Turning to the open window, he found a trinity of orbs floating in an unfamiliar sky.
Glowing neon yellow, the orbs pulsed with Stewart’s words. “With all the blood that passes through these teeth, I would never wear something so garish as a red power tie.”
Martin turned back to find Stewart’s tie had grown longer. With Stewart floating in the air, the tie hung down past his ankles. It stretched toward Martin, bobbing back and forth, a silk snake hypnotizing its prey.
Stewart’s big white eyes turned gold, “Yellow is the color of cowardice, and I’ve made you cower before me. Yellow is the color of sickness, and I am the plague that eats excess. Yellow is the color of treachery, and I am the knife that cuts the wheat from the chaff.”
Martin teetered back and forth, afraid that at any moment the tie might strike. “Please dark lord, spare your humble servant, and he shall make sounder assessments in the future.”
Raising his chin, Stewart sneered. “A worshiper once mispronounced my name whilst offering tribute. I squeezed his wrist until it burst.”
Extending his arm, the hand grip tool flew from the sand into Stewart’s palm. Working it around in his fingers, he reduced it into twinkling specks of dust.
“Do you really want to experience the full strength of my handshake?”
Martin shook his head. Tears streaked down his cheeks. Snot bubbled from his nose. Drool spilled from his lips.
The yellow tie coiled around Martin’s neck. Wedging his fingers beneath the silk, he couldn’t stop it from lifting him off the floor, up to Stewart’s eye level. The deity gripped the air. Invisible talons dug into Martin’s torso, offering slight relief to the strain on his neck. Stewart pulled him closer. The hiring manager and the applicant were face to face.
The whites of Stewart’s eyes filled with downward line graphs. “Your earning reports prophesied the fall of your profits, yet you continued to employ the same methods. You did the same things and expected different results. Lacking inspiration you tried to spark creativity through brainstorming.”
Martin struggled in his silk bonds. “But it’s a democratic process, we defer criticism, we welcome all ideas.” Martin kicked the air. “Quantity breeds quality.” He cried.
Stewart waved his finger, an animal tamer commanding his pet. The tie looped through Martin’s armpits, crisscrossing over his chest. Stewart would see him mummified for his mockery.
Stewart’s eyes filled with a pair of slides featuring a college campus. “In 1963 a group of research scientists, at the U of M, were asked to brainstorm, first together and then on their own. They produced better results when they were left to their own devices. They found that even in a welcoming environment, the fear of judgement persists. The outspoken dominated the conversation, while the soft spoken kept their ideas to themselves.”
Stewart blinked. His eyes filled with a landmass Martin didn’t recognize.
“I could’ve told them this. My followers in the Mediterranean tried to pool their resources to meet my blood sacrament quota. When they failed to deliver every last drop, I sunk their island to the bottom of the ocean.”
Martin’s face turned purple. His eyes bulged out. “You want blood?” He coughed. “The Red Cross is a client. They’re overflowing with donations. I can get you blood.”
Stewart’s irises returned long enough to allow him to roll his eyes. “I have been summoned by your overlords, called across distant shores, to make an example for your fellow employees. All of you hear me now.”
The building quaked. The staff cupped their ears. Blood trickled through their fingers.
Stewart addressed his flock, “I am the lord of layoffs. The father of phasing out. The demigod of downsizing. I make Anubis look merciful. I make Hades look like a humanitarian. I make Satan look sympathetic in comparison. There will be no bargains. There will be no mercy. I know all your sins. St. Peter doesn’t have shit on me.”
Stewart’s eyes filled with a set of scales. One rose, the other descended. “I find you guilty of tearing down the borders between cubicles, of running meaningless meetings, of over simplifying the Socratic method, of flooding your boardrooms with brainstorming sessions, of misreading micro expressions, of making assumptions based on the shape of an applicant’s hand.”
Pillars of lightning crashed around them, blasting holes through the marble tiles. Smoke shot through the gaps. Shrieks echoed through the building. The room shook as the floor fell out beneath them.
Stewart pressed his finger into Martin’s chest. “Indeed my pointer is longer than my ring finger, and it’s pointing at you now.”
Stewart breached the pinstripe coat. Martin’s flesh sizzled. Smoke billowed up his collar. His red power tie caught fire. His spray-on tan dripped down his cheeks. Hair product bled from his bangs. The yellow tie tightened around its prey. Cinders sparked through the gaps. Ash spilled from Martin’s cufflinks.
Stewart raised his eyebrow. “I deem thee unworthy.”
Unhinging his jaw, the applicant made a lasting impression on the hiring manager.
How far are you willing to go to gain new readers? My plan for getting on the bestsellers list through the watch list.
As an aspiring author, I’ve done some shameful things in the name of self-promotion.
Convincing someone I dropped a capsule in his drink, I told him the recipe for synthesizing an antidote was on my main page. Of course, the crucial ingredient was blacked out, until he signed up for my mailing list. One fifth degree felony later and I’d scored a solid hit. Not too shabby.
Calling in an anonymous tip, I said there were glitter bombs planted throughout the city. Thousands of citizens would have to explain why they looked like they had just come from a strip club. I said the only way to find my powder kegs of pixie dust was to listen for clues hidden throughout my podcasts.
Breaking into the morgue, I slipped letters under corpses’ fingers. I kept reloading my stat counter, waiting for the pathologists to spell out my web address. Shopping for a lawyer, I hoped to drag the trial out with the old “alternate reality game” defense. Spending the afternoon with my mother, we put together an outfit we felt a jury would really like. Alas, there was no arrest, no national news coverage, no excuse to model my fancy new duds.
Desperate for a retweet, I played Russian Roulette with one of my followers. Too bad I didn’t realize a victory meant he couldn’t deliver on his side of the wager.
Okay, maybe I didn’t do any of those things, but those are the claims I need to make to attract my target audience.
I’m drawing out people who scan for keywords like lives depend on them. There’s more than one way to grow your SEO. That’s why I’m baiting the NSA to investigate my blog, in the hope of gaining new readers. The patriot act guarantees me a captive audience of inadvertent promoters, provided I use just the right words.
Sure none of my threatening language has any teeth, but it’s not like the government’s surveillance has produced any solid leads.
Isn’t it about time someone found the rainbow at the end of the PRISM program? Isn’t it about time someone gave those agents a break from playing World of Warcraft all day? Isn’t it about time someone Rick Rolled the government?
Getting on their radar is phase one of my master plan. I’ll have to hook them with national security-centric stories. I have a number of social media shorts in the pipeline. If I can get them to comb through my words, a few might find my writing compelling. If a small fraction of the agency starts following me, I’ll skyrocket to the top of everybody’s WordPress feed.
Most bloggers would think I’d be better off putting out quality work, but they’re just jealous because they didn’t think of this first.
With the explanation out of the way, I’d like to address those of you who are members of the National Security Agency directly. Before you go crying, “Obstruction of justice” remind yourself who’s stepping on who’s fourth amendment rights here. Now that I’ve got you searching and seizing, I might as well show you something. I’m not committing a crime. I’m not wasting your time. I’m taking the initiative. I’m thinking outside the box. Way outside the box.
I figure, if you’re sifting through everyone’s emails, then you’re bound to know a few publishers. Could you put in a good word for me? Sure, I believe that speech should be free, but I’ll leave a PayPal donation button incase you feel like paying a fee. Check out my Amazon wish list while you’re at it. When you’re done transcribing my posts for the record, don’t forget to hit “Subscribe” while you’re here.
If I can turn my pursuers into promoters than I’ll have a street team with more reach than anyone.
I’m taking the tape off my webcam, the gum off my microphone. I’m dialing the operator and leaving the phone on. Talking to myself, I’m letting you in on the plot. I’m waving “Hi” to my Playstation Eye. See anything that you like? Ignoring the flashing red light in my shower head, I’ll strut around naked wearing nothing but a smile and a tattoo of my web address. I’ll leave my iPhone on my pillow in case anyone wants to watch me sleep.
Privacy is dead. We live in public. I’m not hiding my shame, I’m inviting you to look at it.
You can listen to me sing If I Only Had a Heart in my tinfoil hat. Watch me try to fashion my tie into a pinwheel knot. Watch me lip sync Lorde’s big single. This is your intelligence empire, and we’ll never be royals in it, but maybe you could grant an audience to one of us commoners.
Waiting at the bus stop, I expect to see well dressed men, reading newspapers, constantly itching their ears. I expect to see reel to reel equipment carted into the neighboring apartment. Watching the ceiling, I’m waiting for drill dust to fall into my hand.
I hear snapping, but I don’t see a fiber optic lens.
I expect indiscriminate delivery vans all the way up the block. Peaking through the blinds, I expect to see red dots on my chest. Taking the dog for a walk, I expect to see drones circling the apartment.
If you can’t be bothered to break out the surveillance scope, then I’ll get the megaphone. If your satellite doesn’t have a clear view, I’ll bust out the chainsaw and make one for you. If you can’t put a tail on me, then I’ll give you FourSquare updates for everywhere I’ll be. This is the information age people. How hard is it to stalk someone?
Come on! Haven’t you been reading my search history? I’ve been looking up, “How to turn napalm into orange juice concentrate.” Why isn’t anybody investigating me? My mom says I’m surveilable.
I’m calling in an anonymous tip on my sparkling wit. How many Guy Fawkes masks do I have to order to get some attention around here? How many times do I have to say, “Snowden” in front of the mirror to get an audience to appear? I’m yelling “Crowded theater” in the middle of a fire. I’m threatening bombs with wire cutters. The president and I, are threatening Death with his own scythe (the bald personification of Death as seen in The Seventh Seal and Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, not the condition).
If that paragraph doesn’t get your algorithm’s attention, nothing will.
Come on and get your snoop on. I’ll even give you a reason. The First Amendment has limits, and I’m skating on the edge of them. The time has come to settle up my tab with the Bill of Rights. My stories meet all the requirements for my freedoms to be regulated. Watch I’ll prove it.
I direct hate speech, at colorful adjectives and purple prose. I show religious intolerance, to warlocks from parallel dimensions. I issue true threats, to fictitious characters. I use inflammatory language, to describe the swelling of their limbs. I bring about a condition of unrest, as a plot device. I use words that wound, beloved supporting cast members. Treasonable talk, comes from my villains’ tongues. I use sexual harassment, as a cheap trope to get my audience to root against underdeveloped men. I use slanderous, obscene, fighting words, in my dialogue. My verbal attacks, often come without character attribution so I don’t have to break up the pace. Imminent lawless action, gives me a great cliffhanger to end my chapters on.
I’m exactly what the Supreme Court had in mind when they rendered that decision (for those of you who didn’t major in Constitutional Law and English Literature, the preceding paragraph had a lot of inside jokes in it).
I will wave to my oppressors. I will link bait Big Brother. I will troll the secret service. My path to the bestsellers list will start with the watch list.
I’m putting in a surveillance request on my novel, bug that thing inside and out, and then tell me which parts you liked the best. You can be the Gawker Media to my Quentin Tarantino. Take a sneak peak at my first draft. You have the technology to give some feedback to me. I mean, what else are our tax dollars paying for?
May my review section light up with glowing endorsements like, “This book is a clear and present danger to your free time.” I aspire to write intelligent stories for the intelligence community. Something so good, rogue agents will prefer it to stalking ex girl friends.
Many of you intelligence operatives are artistically inclined. You can be my legion of ghost writers. If you can take over my keyboard, I’m open to suggestions for my Highlander fan fiction. If there’s a copy editor among you, feel free to correct me when I use “heel” for “heal” or “decent” for “descent.” Hunt down my adverbs, and take them out with extreme prejudice.
Maybe I harbor a fear that you might take me up on all this, broadcast my shower cam, and send in Seal Team 6 to wash my mouth out with soap. Maybe you’ll have my citizenship revoked, and ride me out of town like Jonathan Swift, just for few modest proposals.
That may be the case, but I say satire that doesn’t take risks is ridiculous.
So to my fans at the NSA, who might black bag me for a private signing, I might go and cry on the shoulder of the ACLU, but at the end of the day you know I love you.
Besides, if you do detain me that could be great publicity.
One of the first things women notice in a man is his shoes, so says the round table of talking heads on day time television. Shoes are a window into a man’s wallet. What better way to put his best foot forward than to have the right kicks on? What better place to evaluate him then from the ground up? Of course, if there are suds dripping down the tongue of his loafers, you might want to pan up to see their source.
There’s something about a bubble pipe that makes you forget about a man’s footwear.
Watching the foam spill over his timepiece, you can’t help but wonder what makes this man tick. The pipe might make him look psychotic, but that soapy water is very hygienic. Mayhaps he’s giving his face a bubble bath. You’ve got to love a man who can luxuriate in public. That prop makes him such a mystery. Even his body language seems foreign.
Why would someone bring a bubble pipe to a champaign party? Maybe he’s just that confident. Maybe he’s crazy. Maybe you’re being pranked on national TV. You dare not ask, for fear the answer could never live up to your expectations, but still, you have to know before the night ends.
Watch another desperate boy work his tired sad little ploy, while just over his shoulder Professor Bubble Pipe is waiting there. You find yourself abandoning your companion mid-come on line. There’s something, someone else, that has your attention. He’s blowing you a path. Standing center stage, he plays his instrument, all tall dark and random.
Sure, he looks like a lunatic, but he’s a lunatic with a secret
Bubble Pipe was one of those pieces from the archives that had me thinking, “I don’t need to share that on the internet,” but I kept coming back to it. It was an inside joke that I was the only one snickering at. People watching at parties, I wanted to mock the mating ritual. I wanted to confuse everyone.
Bubble Pipe is a piece in the spirit of that tao of fuck it. That go for broke attitude that says this is me as I am, take it or leave it. Watch me eat junk food. Watch me sleep until noon. Watch me mock social mores. If you don’t like my attitude, then that’s your problem.
It’s about spending three hours putting an outfit together, only to say, “Screw it, I’ll just wear the sweat pants with the mustard stain again.”
It’s about dropping your flowers on the way up the steps, leaving you to present your date with a bouquet of bent stems. “They’re perfect, you love them.”
It’s about giving up the pretense, but not the ambition.
I’d rather stand out as an honest lunatic than go along with a heard of straight faced liars. To steal a line from The Twilight Singers, “A lonely boy will stand when others crawl.”
So to my fellow lunatics, with pipes leaking soapy water in your breast pockets, I say, “Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em.”
The voice I used in this recording is a sad attempt at a posh accent, if anyone asks I’ll say, “Oh, that? That’s just a typical midwestern dialect, it is no way a piss poor attempt at replicating the tone of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Star Trek: Into Darkness monologue.”
I chose flute sounds for the musical accompaniment because, like bubble pipes, they’re wood wind instruments. I used distorted hip-hop beats to add some weight to my thin premise, a little badassery to go with my B.S.
As for the poem itself, it’s one of those things I had to get out of my system. I wrote it when I was 22. I still think it’s funny, and as it’s turned out, I still have a lot to say about the subject. My original artist description for this poem became a companion piece, called 11th Hour Valentines, if you liked this, then you’ll love that. Check it out.
What happens when you pit a landlord against a tenant that’s possessed by a demon? Find out who is the greater of two evils.
Dean eased the door open. A funk washed over him, ran down his throat, and turned his stomach. The room stunk like a raccoon carcass cooking in the bowels of an outhouse. There was a silhouette on the bed, a lump beneath the covers. He flipped the light switch. Nothing happened.
Patience waited at the door, double-fisting rosary beads, praying into her knuckles.
Reaching into the Velcro pouch between his keys and his tape measurer, Dean produced a flashlight. He clicked it against his thigh, while his free arm cradled a stack of documents.
Ignoring the bed, Dean surveyed the rest of the room. There were splinters, wood chips, and glass shards in the entryway. Fragments of light bulb led to the scattered remains of four wooden blades. There was a twinkle at the foot of the bed; the gold housing of the ceiling fan, several steps from the motor, and the chrome mounting device.
Dean shook his head. “The floor’s going to need to be refinished, and that fan was vintage.”
Patience mouthed the words. “She did that.” Her breath whistled through her teeth in ever increasing intervals.
Dean shrugged. He shined his light on the gap where the fan had been. A pair of wires dangled from it, waiting for a gust of wind to make them whole again.
“That’s a fire hazard.” He thought aloud.
A stain streaked across the ceiling tiles. It was as black as tar at its thickest point and as yellow as piss at its faintest. There was a clear splatter pattern; an arc of bile from the bed to the closet on the other side of the room.
Dean pinched his nose. “That biological hazard is gonna have to be bleached out.”