Vivid Dreams VIII

Ok, so spoiler alert: it had Mark Zuckerberg, Johnny Depp, and me in it. Two out of three were robots.

The Johnny Depp part was brief. He breezed through the same tourist shop I was in, babbling like Jack Sparrow, wearing a lot of loose clothing and eye makeup. And he said to no one I could see, ”How the hell do I get away? Where does one go when one is an escaped slave?”

I figured, eh, he’s rich. He can afford to be weird.

Later on, I’m diagnosed with major organ failures. Both Kidneys and Liver. Terminal. But I went into surgery and came out good as new. Too good. Like, why-the-hell-do-I-feel-this-good-after-surgery good. So I reckoned modern medicine isn’t as bad as I thought. And I went back to normal life.

That lasted a few weeks. And then I’m ‘summoned’ by a bunch of black-suited goons to a meeting, of which I have no prior knowledge. Grabbed, transported, and taken to the top floor of some building in San Francisco. There, Mark Zuckerberg was waiting. With his typical lack of empathy, he said, “We’re shutting you down tomorrow. Error in the code. Enjoy your last day.”

So there’s a bit of a double whack. I’m a machine, and I’m getting killed tomorrow.

I pressed my hands against my chest, trying to see for myself if I really am a machine. I can’t tell. So I said, “But I’m alive. I think. I feel. I remember myself…”

He told me everything I am now is proprietary technology and he owns me completely. That he can do whatever he wants. Then, with an expression like I was some termite chewing away at his Hawaii estate, he opened the door for me to go.

I thought about TV programs I’d seen before, where an artificial entity was deemed legal property, and how it was no different from slavery. Made me think of Johnny Depp in the store, muttering about being a slave, and I realized, he must be a Zucker-bot, too.

I got pissed, and said, “You’re gonna just snuff out a new life form, huh?  Let’s consider the legal implications of that.” I looked around at his ridiculously opulent penthouse office. “Must be about a thousand Civil Libertarians who’d love to tear off a piece of this empire.”

That got his attention, so I hammered it home.

“The injunctions will be here before end of day. And the civil suits will be…costly. You understand, I’ll be contacting the police in case you decide to try anything.”

He still let me go.

And as soon as I was outside, I tried to dial the cops. The phone wouldn’t connect. The browser worked, but wouldn’t connect to any emergency services, or legal services. Made me wonder if it was being blocked from any address associated with law, law enforcement, even elected officials. Or, maybe I had some kind of implanted transponder that was actively blocking signal. If I did, it’d make it easy to find me no matter where I went, which is probably why Zuckerberg let me go. You don’t become a social media emperor by not covering all the bases, after all.

That night was tense. I just could not accept the idea of being someone else’s property, much less accept that my ‘owner’ was going to chuck me like a broken toy. Saw friends, talked it out, then decided I’d try to leave everything behind, even though I knew that no matter where I went, I’d be found.

But what if I was underwater? Water blocks most signals… Would whatever transmitters were embedded still work? For that matter, being a machine, would still work? One way to find out.

I dashed downhill, sprinting past people I had (until recently) taken for granted were all human. Now, I couldn’t be sure how many of them had traded flesh and blood for a synthetic simulacrum. Had they done it willingly? Is it possible I actually agreed to this prior to surgery and the memory of it had been deleted as inconvenient data?

How many of these faces were now property of Zuckerberg?

Thoughts drove me faster trough speeding traffic, across hoods of electric cars, in front of quietly whizzing trolleys down, down, down toward the bay. Everywhere, gleaming technology interconnected at the speed of light to unblinking eyes in low orbit. Even the trees had a mathematical appearance as if shaped by algorithm. But where were the dogs? The birds? All I could see were stylish, slender people under the age of forty.

Faces glanced my way, seemed to recognize me, then looked away. Were they tracking me, reporting movements? Were they circuits in this fair-looking dystopia? Or was I going completely paranoid? Was I going mad?

Street by street, down to the wharf, I ran. No air in the lungs, no fatigue…

I know what salt water does to electronics, and I have no idea if this body is watertight. Will the bay set me free? Will it short me out? One way to find out.

Peeled my jacket of cruelty free synth-wool. Stripped my unbleached cotton shirt. Kicked off my Faux-Suede uppers and dove from the pier.

Live or die, no one owns me.

 

Vivid Dreams VII

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I find myself in the back seat of a limousine, looking through the side window. The streets outside are humming with big American cars, all steel and chrome from the seventies. They gleam like new.

Cyclopean stone buildings squat along the boulevard like engineered mountain ranges. Fortresses of turrets and parapets. Buttressed cathedrals. A crucifix and haloed dove on every vertical surface. And in that moment, I remember there is no longer any division between church and state. Taxes are indistinguishable from tithes, and, with spending on sinful pursuits prosecuted by holy writ, the amount of money pouring into these venues is frightening.

Enormous trees–thick with green foliage shaped in the likeness of biblical kings–stand sentry outside the entrances, while blazing bright signs proclaim worshipful phrases, chapter and verse, in the latest LED arrays. As I watch from the window, I take in the spectacle of Vatican City with the flash of Las Vegas, but there’s none of the touristy kitsch. No drunks, junkies, or hookers. Sidewalks are immaculate, as though rinsed hourly. Every structure I see is crafted from the finest materials man can gouge from the Earth, and is made to last. These are the new pyramids of Giza. They’ll stand for millennia.

From the angle I’m looking through the window, I ascertain I’m young, mid-teens maybe. Simply dressed in jeans and t-shirt. I can’t see the driver in front of me, he’s too far away. But there’s a woman sitting on the wide rear seat beside me. She’s gorgeous, fit. Long dark hair, bright red lips. Bare arms and shoulders, well-toned. Tanned skin. Blue silk evening dress with wide straps and a neckline that tantalizes without revealing. I don’t know her, only that she’s my escort. Or bodyguard. Or both.

The car pulls over and stops outside a building of stacked granite blocks no crane could lift. Every slab must’ve been grunted an inch at a time from its bedrock, dragged over miles of rough terrain, then shoved up dirt ramps by thousands of men and machines, all pulling in the same direction. It’s a staggering amount of effort, and it occurs to me my wildest estimate of cost could be under by a factor of ten.

She uncrosses her long legs and gets out first then holds her hand out to me. I slide across the polished leather, take her hand, and step onto a marble curb with the building address inlaid in gold. She doesn’t speak as we walk up the broad stairway and pass through deserted halls. Plush carpet piles beneath my shoes, pristine as if untrodden. Fifteen foot ceilings are hung with ornate chandeliers of silver and crystal. High walls illustrate Old and New Testament parables with masterful strokes of the world’s greatest painters.

Beyond these spacious, empty halls, the corridors narrow. Our path is dimly lit with red ceiling cans and wall sconces, sufficient to banish darkness without affecting a dark adapted eye. And it dawns on me we’re heading for a show…

American theocracy has done away with lustful, violent titillations of film, stage, and studio. Entertainment now comes from “Feats of Faith” where miraculous occurrences are broadcast to the multitude, reinforcing adherence to the One True God. But in outlawing reality TV, they have created it anew in parody of itself. I smirk at the irony.

She leads me closer to an auditorium buzzing with conversation, and I understand I’m not there to witness an event. I am the event. I’m going to be seen by millions, or more, because a fellowship of Arch-pastors has commanded their congregations to tune in. If I fail to impress, I could disappear like others who claimed extraordinary faith yet were unable to prove it publicly. A little test is in order.

I trail behind the woman slightly as I slump my shoulders, let my head droop to my chest, and I imagine invisible cords tied to my back. I yield to them, letting them suspend me, letting them hoist me up, so that my toes drag the plush carpet as I drift along behind her, light as smoke.

I can’t leave the ground completely, not yet. With practice, I’m sure I will. With greater faith, with prayer, with purity of existence…

And the peoples’ faith will be stronger from my demonstration. They will pray harder and, more importantly, tithe harder than ever before…

 

Vivid Dreams V

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A place deep in the woods. Drawn to it without any understanding or reason why.

We started on foot, hiking wide city streets from the valley up into twisting mountain roads. The farther we went, the fewer cars whizzed by. Pavement was pale gray with age beneath us, and grasses forced their way into cracks, wedging the gaps. Soon, there was more grass than asphalt.

Railroad tracks crossed the road ahead, and we diverted down them instinctively. Several miles up, we came upon an old train. Blue stripes of paint still clung to its aluminum skin. Synthetic coverings still wrapped padded seats behind unbroken plexiglass. Not bad, considering it had been at least a decade since the train had moved.

Kudzu vines filled the spaces between train and tree line. Rather than hack through that web, we climbed up the rear car and hiked the roof to the front, where we found open tracks again.

A lone patch of asphalt lay across the tracks ahead, the last remnant of some forgotten road. The way to the left was passable with low shrubs growing where pavement once lay, but the way to the right pulled us.

Trees grew close to the path, shading it with evergreen boughs, and we found ourselves walking down an avenue of sand and pine straw. Road signs were absent, only an occasional posted sign that had yellowed to illegibility, and I knew this was someone’s driveway–a very long, unused driveway.

No cricket chirped. No bird sang. No wind stirred the canopy above, yet it was not stifling. We were comfortable in our early Fall layers and we enjoyed the silence.

Sun had crested the ridge line, bathing this side of the range in afternoon light, but the woods grew darker the farther we went. Tall trees reached out with densely interwoven branches that blocked the sky. Occasionally there was a creak from above and a light rain of pine needles would follow.

Perfectly natural, I thought.

Conversation was rare. We were being summoned toward something we could not explain, could not even describe. All we knew for certain was that we wanted to be there, and we wanted to find what lay at the end of the trail. This was a pilgrimage to a place we knew, on a subliminal level, would be like nowhere else on Earth. Still, there were no guarantees of welcome at journey’s end, so we kept humbly and respectfully mum.

Trees grew enormous the farther we trekked. Trunks, black from rain, rose to coniferous towers high above. All around, plush mosses covered rocks and fallen timber. Ferns sprung up in the gaps with fronds like elephant ears. Positively prehistoric.

I found myself at the head of the group, watching for signs of our destination. As I rounded a tree thicker than the six of us put together, I halted. Blocking the path were a black bear, a young moose, and a tortoise. The bear sat on its broad bottom. The moose stood behind it, head lowered, peering at us over the bear’s shoulder. The tortoise craned its long neck and its head wavered like an elderly man.  Their combined gaze seemed to lift us off our feet and weigh us.

The bear was young, no more than eighty pounds. The moose was even younger, standing just under six feet in height. The tortoise might have been ancient, weighing nearly as much as the moose by estimation, and the front of its thick shell flared into rounded points. They all had the same soft brown eyes. Not similar, exactly the same. And there was a singular intelligence behind those eyes that extended from one animal to the other. I wondered who, or what, was seeing us.

I raised a hand in greeting then turned that hand to the group so they would calmly approach. My fellows fanned out around me, as interested and as excited as I was. They smiled, waved, and waited. First, the bear rose to all fours and ambled off. The moose and tortoise headed off in their own directions, leaving the trail open. We watched them go and continued up the path.

We spied a glimpse of red brick through thinning trees ahead. Vines and shrubs had nearly enveloped a very long home, leaving rare patches of red showing though the gaps. Moss carpeted the roof up to the ridge vent. Gutters overflowed with twigs, cones, and pine needles.

Despite the advance of nature, the home was far from derelict. Rooflines did not sag. Walls stood straight and true. Seemed as if the land had cupped this house in green hands to hold it safe rather than to reclaim it.

Walking around to the right, we noticed the garage door was half open. At the threshold stood lines of plastic toys, facing us. The tallest was less than twelve inches high, but they watched us like the animals on the path. Obviously, their plastic eyes weren’t the same soft brown, yet the same intelligence seemed to live behind them.

Stepping over them would have felt rude, so I went to the home’s front door. Its doorbell was buried beneath thick spider webs, and the door frame had swollen against the door. No chance getting in that way.

I walked past the garage door again to find another way in and saw a break in the lines of toys. Without any of us seeing them move, a path had opened. Calling the others over, I stooped under the half-open door and went in.

The garage was full of dusty cardboard boxes. How they had evaded the disintegrating humidity and mold, we couldn’t say. The air wasn’t musty, either. Dry as an attic.

The door leading inside was swollen shut like the front door, however. Wouldn’t budge. So we looked around. Always, we remembered we were guests and were careful not to rummage or pilfer the stacks of boxes. We’d peek behind some, lift others aside to check for a hatch beneath. Found nothing but drywall and concrete.

“Why don’t you try looking from a child’s perspective,” someone said.

We sank down to our knees then sat on our heels. The first thing we noticed was a set of short cabinets near the door leading in. I opened one and found a hollowed out crawl space inside. Bingo.

We crawled through on elbows and knees, and emerged into a home that was clearly unoccupied. Years of dust blanketed the surfaces of obsolete electronics, formica countertops, brass fixtures. Though dated, nothing looked cheap. Fine china occupied the cupboards and hutches. Copper pots hung from hooks near rugged stoves. Solid oak frames with museum grade glass shielded beautiful artwork and family portraits. There was still a warmth to it all, as if it had been captured in still life from a time when the home was lived in and loved.

None of the interior doors worked, and each room became its own puzzle of how to move into the next. Move the appliance to find the crawlspace, search the closet for a hidden panel, climb the bookshelf to find the ceiling hatch, etc. It was fascinating solving the mystery of this home, with each new room offering insights to the family who built it.

The entire time, I was aware of my surroundings. Well, more specifically, that my surroundings were aware of me. We behaved ourselves as interested guests, flattering this home with our curiosity and urge to explore. Because of that, we felt safe inside. Welcome.

Just behind that was a sense of peril, however. Not menace, not foreboding or threat, it was like standing at the edge of a cliff. There’s nothing complicated about a cliff. You can see the edge and as long as you respect it you’re perfectly safe. But if you screw around, it can kill you without needing to try. This house felt as rugged and powerful as snow-capped peaks that could inspire wonder or could bury you in an avalanche.

Soon, what little light filtered in began to dim, and we knew it was time to go. There was no sense the home was tired or bored with us. Rather, it seemed to enjoy having us crawling through its rooms. We wanted to keep that alive by not overstaying our welcome. We also wanted something to look forward to in a return trip.

*****

For the next visit, I wanted to bring something that would fit with the older decor, something the house would like. So I burrowed into a box of childhood toys and retrieved my favorite: an orange plastic robot. It seemed so much smaller than I remembered, though I still recalled how much I loved it when it was new. There was never a worry if the house would like it. I had loved it, imbuing it with years of good memories. And that made it a worthy gift.

Our spirits were bright. Though still struggling to articulate it verbally, we had a better notion why we were returning. The closest we could describe it, we were building a new friendship, having carefully laid a foundation of respect and trust. If served well, that could grow, we were sure.

The same landmarks greeted us along the way with a touch more Autumn yellow in the leaves. Breezes were cool and dry. A stream nearby was swollen with recent rain, and one of my friends called me over to it. From the bank I looked out and saw the moose and bear wading, playing, and swimming together. Though I couldn’t see it, I guessed the tortoise was not far away.

Just when I was certain the land had become comfortable with us, allowing us unhindered passage, a black shape dived from the trees as silent as an owl. It landed on massive paws and stalked toward us with bright yellow eyes and gleaming white teeth. I recall its swagger, like a house cat, and how its eyes were lidded, relaxed. Ok, this is another introduction, I reasoned to calm my fraying nerves, not necessarily a warning.

In slow, deliberate movements I removed my pack and pulled out the orange robot. When I held it out, the panther sniffed it, then ran a raspy pink tongue up one side of it. Its whiskered lips parted and, as delicately as a human hand, took the toy in its mouth. No more than a glossy shadow in the dark woods, it piled up on its haunches and launched into the branches again.

My gift was accepted.

When we reached the house, the orange toy was standing among the others in the garage. It looked up at us with the same intelligent eyes the other toys had, and I smiled. It wouldn’t be shut up in some dark box anymore. It was being appreciated again. It was where it was supposed to be.

We followed the same path inside then proceeded farther than we had gone before. We wormed through knee walls, slid around dusty mechanicals, shimmied up a laundry chute until we were sure there was only one place left we hadn’t seen. The others stacked some crates for me and I pushed open the ceiling hatch.

Standing up, I poked my head into a converted attic space. Though windowless, there was just enough light to see the dimensions and furniture. The closest piece was a simple wooden desk, painted gray like the rest of the room. I didn’t see her until she lifted her head from the desktop, hair as glossy black as the panther’s. Her skin was pale as moonlight. Her eyes were sunken with dark circles around them, yet they were a familiar soft brown. She looked tired, and then she smiled.

All of the clues fell into place in rapid flashes, and I knew everything.

Her family was affluent, but not out of greed. Money came from a rare intersection of genuine human service and profitability. So they bought every lot of a newly zoned subdivision, built a single home on it all the way at the back, and let the rest return to the wild.

She was born here. Adored by her parents. Taught to love and respect the land, taught how to care for things that grow. Allowed to explore the streams and trees and wildlife.

Cancer took her before her eighth birthday. Her family grieved so hard they couldn’t stay, couldn’t bear to take any memories with them. They buried their little girl in the rose garden out back, closed the home, and left everything behind.

The girl had too brief a taste of life, however. Her spirit could not leave the things she loved and would not disperse. She remained by reaching out to the very things that made her happiest. Remembering her kindness, animals and plants gave themselves over to her willingly. At first, the bonds were sparse, tenuous. She was barely an idea occurring across multiple creatures at once. Then she got better, became stronger. Shared sight and hearing. Complex sensations communicated instantaneously across distance.

She gave them empathy. And they gave her a piece of their life.

Through her, lifeforms experienced each other in ways they never had before. Kinship formed unusual ties between a bear, a moose, and a tortoise. Trees, ferns, vines, and mosses cradled the home, sheltering it from the advance of weather. The panther patrolled the land as a protector, hunting far away from its kin lest it feel the sting of its own bite.

The girl had united the land, and the animals upon it, into a greater order of awareness. Her spirit had triumphed over death by aligning then merging with the forces of nature. This place radiated new possibilities of connection and understanding between beings. It was potent, and dangerous if abused. We knew she would not have hesitated to kill us if we threatened this place. Instead, we made a powerful friend.

I was amazed, and a tad envious, of that connection as I had sought it my entire life. All six of us had. That’s why we were so attuned to it. That’s why we felt compelled to come, even without knowing why. We wanted to witness it for ourselves. And to experience it, if we could.

The girl had found a way to survive beyond what her body allowed. Yet even with so many living things around her, she was lonesome for someone like her. She had called out for companionship to any who would listen. We brought the company she missed. She showed us greater cause for faith in the world around us.

In healing union, we all found new life.

-FAF

Old Pullman and Kudzu

Black Watch

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You can see it in my eyes, mostly. And in the red rims around my eyes. In the coffee blackened orbits and the sun-starved lids. Pulled another Black Watch. Fuck.

Been a long week so far, and not a wink to be had. Head nods, and when I jerk myself awake my trigger finger flexes. Whoa. Safety was on, but gotta stay on top of that. Squeezing a round off inside an armored vehicle? That sucks.

Jolting and bouncing of spring suspension on what can laughingly be called ‘road’. More craters than the moon. Driver’s trying to keep the speed up, so he swerves around ’em. Tosses us against benches and bulkheads if we’re not paying attention. And at the end of a ride like this, feels like we’ve gone fifty rounds in a pro wrestling match with no limit on foreign objects. Black and blue all over.

Alloy rods and composite grips in my gloved hands. A hundred pounds of kit on my hips and shoulders. But, shit…that’s all normal. What isn’t normal is how bad these motherfuckers want us dead.

Not just dead. I mean, gouge-your-eyes, quarter-your-body, and mail-your-face-back-to-mom kind of dead. Never seen hatred like this before. Isn’t hard to see why, either. Imagine some Rooski sumbitches carted off the Constitution of the United States after stomping DC flat. And I’m not talking about some fucking replica, I’m talking about the Constitution of the United Fucking States…if it was written and autographed by Jesus Christ, himself.

Yeah.

That’s what we’ve done. Well, the Arab equivalent, anyway. And it’s not like we were quiet about it. In this day and age, word travels fast. Now, every car at every intersection has some asshole in it who’s just dying to punch our cards. Would you believe me if I told you a person gets used to it?

No? Good. Because you don’t.

We keep reminding ourselves it isn’t our call, it isn’t our decision. Morale isn’t the problem, we’re all-in on this one. For King and Country, for the mortgage and college tuition, for the all-night booze fests where we roll up our sleeves and brag about the shit we survived and how big our balls are…

But at this particular moment? Seems like a really bad idea.

Haven’t heard a shot in over twelve hours. Stillness like this, well, it’s usually the calm before it all goes Hollywood. We’re twitching at ghosts now.

Sleep dep turns you to tar and caffeine only gets you so far. Then the real chemistry comes out of the CO’s pocket. My mates are amped on supercool fumes like rocket planes skimming the boundary between sky and space. Yeah, they’re that high. I’d be right up with them, but that shit turns me cold. Reflexes are tuned up and I’m alert on the stuff…I just don’t like what I become. Went a little psycho last time. So I’ve got my own stash of norepinephrine. Probably give me a heart attack one of these days, but it’s better than that synth-crap. Nothing beats Mother Nature.

Have I got plans after this? Ha. No. No one makes plans in a combat zone. That’s some seriously flawed thinking. We make contingencies. If this, then that. IFTTT, for short, since we’re mad about acronyms.

IF an IED doesn’t launch me to Low Earth Orbit, and IF I’m not shot in the face by a truly skilled marksman, and IF the Martyr’s Brigade doesn’t total the barracks while I’m sleeping, and IF I’m not nabbed by the locals to host my very own slow-roast BBQ, THEN maybe I’ll buy that GTI I always thought I needed.

Aw, shit. Got distracted, there. Got thinking. That’s a problem. Relax, man, and watch your angles. Check your mags for the hundredth time. It isn’t OCD, it’s thoroughness.

Another hour, no action. Gonna be bad when it lights up…

No. Knock it off. Clear your head, settle in, and watch your sector. Rifle loaded? Check. Round chambered? Check. Scope dialed in and functional? Check, check.

Antsy. Waiting…

Whiff of smoke. From my rearward facing post, I look over my shoulder to the front. Orange glow on the dark horizon. Distant crump of bombardment trailing long after the flash. City’s getting blasted. Can’t help but notice the road we’re on leads right to it.

Ah, shit. Flames. Flames everywhere and smoke that reeks of garlic. Incendiaries. Good ole Willie Peter. Goddamn, they’ll never come back from this.

I’m looking at a skyscraper right now that probably cost a billion dollars to build, plumb, wire, and furnish. The whole thing is burning. Every floor. I’d get upset if I could possibly fathom how much money that is. A thousand million. Doesn’t even register. It’s monopoly money for the stupid rich. Fuck those guys.

And I know, I know. It’s billionaires that brought us here. Some mega-rich dude got sore at some other mega-rich dude because he knocked him from number four to number five on the richest dickheads of the universe list. So roll out the troops, right?

Made my peace with that a while ago. Math is hard, and that’s why I’m in the Kevlar. Pretty lucky to be in Kevlar, come to think of it. Those poor bastards deployed to Iraq in ’05…

Rolling through the outskirts, and I’m looking back at the burning wreck of some Arabian paradise. Maybe that bombardment was just for us. Urban Pacification, they call it. Also, war crime. Depends what side you’re on.

Can’t believe we got through without taking heat. Most folks see it as a good thing to not be shot at, but we know better. Just means all the guys with guns are in one place, looking to make a good showing. Anticipation is proving to be a better stim for me than that primo meth-analogue getting passed around like skittles.

Whiz and whistle of incoming rounds. Here we go.

Hammer stroke at the front of the truck. Sounds like someone just whaled it with a sledge. High caliber, going for the engine block. Want to stop us dead. Should I be glad they aren’t aiming for me?

Fuck, white smoke. They got it. Jolts and clangs of dying metal. This ride’s over.

Out, yeh cunts, and get cover!” yells LT. Then a round canoes his head, right through his lid. Talented shooters tonight.

Out the tailgate and onto the ground. Damp earth, wet grass, and mold. Truck sounds like a glockenspiel being played with a jackhammer. Fucking Hollywood, man.

On elbows and knees to the ditch by the road. Dead skunk, bloated and crawling with maggots. Great.

Zip and twang overhead. They don’t see me. Not yet. The German guy next to me is talking some serious shit right now. Big chip on his shoulder, roaring about the ab-rech-nung that’s coming. Jesus, why’s he taking it so personally? Be professional, for fuck’s sake.

Well, I can’t stay here. Gotta earn my payday. Back in a bit…

*****

Four shooters. That’s all. Four shooters blasted our convoy to pieces. The front three MRAPs are burnt wrecks, hit from both sides with high explosive. Plasticized RDX is my guess. Must’ve known where the goods were ’cause they saved the bombs for my ride and swiss-cheesed it instead.

Hard to believe just four shooters did all this. We even scanned the bullet holes and mapped the trajectories to be sure. Four nests, good angles. But no spotters. We snuck up and whacked ’em quick.

Zeroing our LT at four hundred yards? That’s motivation. Motivation and talent. I mention a moment of silence for them, and my new CO threatens a court martial. Ok, fine, I get it.

But here’s the part I’m not saying out loud: I respect that kind of commitment. This is a worthy enemy. Yeah, they’d probably like nothing more than to spit roast me with a crate of fireworks jammed up my ass, but they believe in what they’re doing. And they believe hard.

More than I can say for myself.

In case you’re wondering, no, I’m not thinking of switching sides. The guys that fight this hard are always zealots. If they win, it’s lock up the women and firing squad time. Not for me, thanks. I like my women sexually aggressive with state-mandated freedom to be so, thank you very much. This Sharia Law garbage is a bunch of shit. A crock of shit. An idiotic, backwards, Neanderthal, Birther, Climate Change Denier grade of shit.

But respect to that clustering. Less than a minute of arc from over 400 yards. Gonna need that kind of accuracy when the aliens show up and decide we’re tasty.

Just sayin’.

The two M-ATVs at the rear still have some juice in the batts and can get to limping. So time to transfer the cargo. Oh, yeah, you’ve probably been wondering the whole time what we’re carrying. Ok, I’ll tell you.

First, you should know that Muhammad (Peace be upon him) is credited with revealing the Holy Qur’an, but he never wrote it down. The two Caliphs  after him, Umar and Abu-Bakr, either couldn’t or wouldn’t. Wasn’t until Uthman that a concerted effort was made to record the Qur’an. That’s a significant amount of time.

Further, the Haditha (Muhammad’s footnotes and appendices to the Qur’an) were recorded from the memory of those who claimed to have heard Muhammad speak. To be blunt, everything Muslims claim to be direct from the mouth of their prophet is hearsay. Wars have been fought over the interpretation of that speech. Until now, that is.

What we transport is documentation of the Qur’an made in Muhammad’s own words while the Prophet lived, commissioned by his first wife, Khadija. A team of Brit archaeologists unearthed it in Medina. No one knew it existed, supposedly not even Muhammad.

That’s right. The schism between Shia, Sunni, Sufi, and the various factions could be healed by reading this document aloud… A rallying point for all Muslims, directly from the source.

And I know you’re putting the pieces together. My billionaire masters don’t want a bunch of Middle Eastern Billionaires to figure their shit out, unify into one singular cartel, and hike all the prices. Can you imagine true Pan-Islamism? The possibility that a new Caliphate could emerge and restructure the entire world order…

You’re with me now.

Knowing this, I look down at the weapon in my hands and I have to laugh. I see my place in all this, in denying Muslims across the globe the chance for better understanding of their faith, denying them an end to the hatreds and divisions that keep them small and weak…so that my handlers remain in control of world commerce…

This is history. Possibly the start of World War III and I’m smack dab in the middle of it. But when it all shakes out, and the world looks back, I wonder: will we be the Nazis this time?

-FAF

Vivid Dreams IV

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A seat at the bar, with me on it. Not so unusual.

But when I look up from an empty pint glass, the place feels different. Little to see, aside from some back slapping and hand clapping. More of a change in atmosphere. A change of tone. Bawdy voices rise in exclamations, no longer trying to be demure. A transition from the bullshit buttoned-down behaviors to something far more real. People are honest. Unfiltered, genuine human interaction. It’s beautiful.

A woman is sitting on the stool beside me. Beside her sits her very jealous husband. Does he have reason to be? I’m not even sure. Neither is he, apparently, because he straight out asks me.

“You got no worries,” I tell him. “There’s someone…has my complete attention. I really like it with her.” As I say it, I realize I’m not just saying this to avoid a fight. I mean it.

The woman beside me is relieved to hear me say what I did. There’s a hurt shine in her eye when she looks at me, but I can tell she doesn’t want to lose this man. And I don’t want her to lose him either. So I slide off my seat and go looking for my gal.

I find her in a basement apartment with dark wood paneling: walls, floors, ceiling, everything. There’s a small fireplace with a modest fire going. She reclines against her headboard, bundled beneath blankets, damp hair combed back from recent shower. The sight of her is pure pleasure. She smiles to see me. Wasn’t expecting bruises around her throat, though. Red and purple marks encircle her neck. Not sure it’s on the up and up.

She’s unconcerned. Had a visitor this evening, and it was a tad rough. But consensual. And that defuses the misplaced over-protective Neanderthal vibe I’m throwing off.

She rises from bed. Black tank top and pajama shorts. Long, smooth legs and arms. She embraces me, warm body molding entirely against mine. I don’t care what she was doing earlier. It never matters what we’re doing or who we’re with. We don’t judge one another for our appetites. And when we’re together, it’s intimate.

The passage of years. She only becomes more desirable. Slight exaggerations of her natural shape. Wisdom around her eyes. Changing employments inflict distance upon us, but always, we find one another. Like two planets sharing an orbit, we cannot disentangle ourselves, even when the distance wears hard.

An invitation from her. I take it without a thought to what I’m leaving behind, and I drive to an apartment in a rural town. It’s one large room with an enormous fireplace in the center. The fireplace is nearly a room all its own, encased in glass on four sides. Tall, yellow flames waver inside.

Warm. Inviting. Safe.

She is there, familiar and exciting. Arousal of sense and memory. She does not belong to me, nor I to her. And that is our brand of magic. Mutual understanding has a gravity all its own, and the proof is underscored as we crash together. Every moment prior to this seems irrelevant, merely prologue and window dressing for the story yet to come. I know…I know this where I’m supposed to be. Her eyes tell me she knows, as well.

Exhausted, we collapse, and in contended gazes we see each other plainly. Through hard times, we’ve been knocked down as often as we’ve remained standing. We’ve ventured off and explored to our hearts’ content. But in that exploration, we never found anything so satisfying as returning to common ground…to the trusted, loving friend who missed us.

No more bruises around her neck. No more diversions for me.

“Time, Gentlemen,” the bartender would always say at the end of the night. “Go on home.” That voice echoes in my head, and with a smile I understand why.

Because, finally, I know where home is.

-FAF

Vivid Dreams III

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April 28, 2014

I find myself on a city street, pushing through a crush of pedestrians. Adult men, mostly. The few women are bundled, hiding their shape beneath bulky wraps. Our clothes vary in shade from smoke to jet, but we all look the same. Sullen faces, annoyed at the proximity, minds walled.

The city is colossal and sprawling. Enormous skyscrapers pierce featureless gray sky, creating North/South canyons of steel, concrete, and glass. I don’t recall arriving, but I’ve been here for some time now. Never found the limits.

Looking up. Every window is unlit and shut. Impossible to tell if anyone occupies the buildings. Not a leaf of green to be seen, no planters, trees, or grass. No birds roost in the eaves. Nature has been banished to the sewers and chained there like a mutant child.

A gap in traffic ahead that both cars and people avoid. When I reach it, I see a figure laid out in the street, smartly dressed, expensive shoes and handbag. Rich jewelry around pale wrist, neck, and fingers. No one steals. No one glances at the hole in the forehead, or at the fan of red on the pavement beneath. And as I stop and take in the scene, it seems planned, contrived, arranged. This is a sign. A sacrifice to the monolithic city I plod through.

A large hand grips my nape, and I’m herded through the door of a ground-level diner. The place is rammed–standing room only and barely any, at that. Dark counters, stools, and menus combine with tinted windows to create perpetual shade, hiding motives and identities.

I’m steered through the crowd to a man seated at the counter. Coat of shiny black leather, black silk vest and red shirt beneath. Wavy hair slicked straight back into a greasy pony tail. Olive skin. Immaculately trimmed beard. I know why I’m here.

The stool beside this man clears and I am put onto it. With a grimace, I peel the thug’s hand from my shoulder like it was a sour bandage.

“Are you ready?” the red-shirted man asks. “Because we are tired of waiting.”

Thug grabs my shoulder again and says right into my ear, “No one buys unless we say so.”

I knock his hand away hard and shrug the guy back.

“There’s no need for this,” I say. “A partnership makes sense. But you’re not thinking it all the way through. You pay me fair, then I do more for you. Interviews, tours, talk shows. Promotion. I can do that and build twice the interest. Plus, you don’t have an ending. Keep me happy, you’ll get a big finish. Fuck me over, you get nothing.”

The red-shirted man looks forward at a waitress on the other side of the counter. She is paralyzed, trembling, with a carafe of coffee in one clenched hand. It’s as clear to her as it is to me that he’s thinking of having me killed, but I don’t care about that. Love of life was buried with the corpses of my friends and family. And there’s a more practical calculus going on behind the man’s arched eyebrows: without an ending this project has no payoff. For anyone.

The thug takes his hand away and backs up a step. I take a breath, then dust off my shoulders. As I glance around, the people in the diner are all looking at me. I’ve entered into an arrangement with this man willingly, and it scares the piss out of them.

At once, the hair on my arms stands. Overwhelming familiarity… This city, this place, these people, and, most poignantly, this man. I’m in Hell.

And I should know. I’ve been here before.

Vivid Dreams II

Bull_Shark_2_600It’s irrelevant that the people I know on a first name basis will never cross my path, or that the places I find myself are so posh or impoverished that I’d never settle down there, or that the things I say, and see, and do…they just aren’t the sort of thing I’ll ever need to deal with. But it’s absolutely real until the moment I wake up. And for the next ten to fifteen minutes, it feels like I’ve just returned from another universe, towing my bags across the terminal after emerging from some metaphysical aircraft–not quite home, still in transit, working my way to familiar landscape.

The whole way back, I’m thinking about the place I just left. Memory of the subconscious is volatile. It evaporates if I don’t hold onto it. I have to say the things out loud, so I hear them in my conscious mind and remember until I can capture with pen and paper.

Some mornings I just sit there, with my coffee, staring at what I’ve written down, because I have no idea what to make of it.

This one, well… I’ll let it speak for itself.

February 4, 2013

The west coast of India. A funeral on the beach, dire and somber. Small body of a man, stripped of everything that made him fearsome in life, wrapped in bolts of plain gray cloth. No casket, no embalming.

Standing in layered robes of the same gray color, worn loose around the legs and arms. Long cowls shaded our faces from tropical sun. We knelt and picked up the body, which was pliant. Tightness of the wrappings gave it rigidity.

Marching slowly in two lines, the body held between us, we moved down the beach into the shallows. Calmer than any ocean I had ever seen. Only faint wind-blown ripples crossed the surface.

The body bobbed until the wrappings soaked through and pulled the buoyant corpse below the water. A chant like a low moan from the back of our throats. We extended our free hands to slap and pat the water’s surface, calling, luring them in.

Dark fins split the surface bare meters away. Ancient menace without hatred. They passed close, black as shadow, stocky in build. Cautious. We punched when they got close, agitating, provoking a bite. When it came, we thrust the corpse between rows of triangular teeth.

The body wrenched from our grasp; and we turned our backs on the thrashing water, striding solemnly back to shore. Our flowing robes insulated us from the frenzy of random, probing bites.

No one spoke, and I contemplated this ceremony rooted in the darker side of Hinduism. Not only was this a test of bravery to an initiate like myself, it forced me to understand the things which terrify are not evil.

Because there is no evil.

No one true God.

No one true Devil.

There is only life in its docile and aggressive forms. The mantis to the moth, the lion to the wildebeest, the wolf to the deer…the predator is held blameless for acting upon the prey. And man, an animal preferred above all others, is no different. For in confronting fear, we clear the distorting lenses from our eyes and we see, at last, the nature of the world. We take life, and then our life is taken. To indulge, to revel in this natural and renewing process, is no crime. We are killers, all.

At first, revulsion. But as I successfully unwound all the lessons of my childhood, moral horror fell away.

Once I recognized it, once I embraced it…there was calm. And I knew at that moment, I could accomplish anything.