Monthly Archives: July 2012

The Newspaper Man, Pt. 4

My apologies for the lack of a post on Friday. I was traveling and managing the blog completely slipped my mind.

Dante stared at the screen, his face expressionless. It was a coincidence. It had to be. Some oblivious passerby that couldn’t be bothered to set down the paper and see what everyone was screaming about. Or perhaps some school administrator that quickly realized what everyone was screaming about and opted to cover their face so as not to appear in any photographs.

Or maybe it was the same figure, that strange and uncaring individual from his own protest putting in an appearance at this one.

It could be a uniform, Dante supposed. It wasn’t unheard of to have people appear at these things dressed in black suits with their faces obscured by masks. The newspaper was unusual and impractical, but maybe it was someone’s attempt at a unique twist on an old standard. That was probably it. It was probably just the same person from before in a uniform of their own devising, acting oblivious to try to send some sort of message about the apathy and uncaring nature of the wealthy. Or something.

Dante looked at the other pictures from the event and frowned. The newspaper man, as Dante was beginning to think of the figure, appeared in many of the photos, but only those taken from certain angles, and always at the same distance from the action of the police officer pepper spraying the students.

Whoever they were, they were aware of what was going on. They were observing just like everyone else, except their eyes were hidden behind that stupid newspaper.

Dante sat motionless for a moment and then began searching for a video of the incident. It took a bit of persistence to find one from the proper angle, but when he did, the newspaper man was in it, standing as motionless as the photographs had suggested. The actual encounter between the officer and the students was even worse than Dante had imagined.

The camera was shaky, of course, doubtless held by some student who was trying to watch events unfold with their eyes even as they tried to capture them with their phone. The gathered police told the students to vacate their tents. They said no. The cops threatened to remove them with force if need be. The students, led by the man Tweak had identified as Simon, sat down and linked their arms. Some of the officers stepped forward and tried to break up the students, but found no success.

The gathered crowd began to close in, forming a circle around everyone. Some of the police began to look nervous, but one of them, a heavyset man with a mustache, strode forward and held the canister of pepper spray above his head. Fear was writ plain across the faces of the students and the crowd, but they did not move. The officer shrugged his shoulders, walked to the end of the line of students, and began spraying them in the face.

The students screamed. The crowd screamed. The other police looked nervously at each other, the looming crowd forgotten as they wondered whether or not to intervene. The officer grinned, and then his eyes went wide, and then he dropped the pepper spray and backed away from the crowd. In the background, the newspaper man turned and walked away.

“What are you doing, man?”

Dante jumped in his seat. Behind him, Tweak sighed. “I thought you were leaving,” he said.

Dante looked over his shoulder at his friend. “Yeah, sorry. I started looking at some of these photos from the school, and… look, man! It’s that fucker from the protest yesterday!” He pointed at the screen. Tweak frowned.

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“The guy. The guy with the newspaper we saw in the pictures. The weird one. He or she or whatever was at the demonstration. Look!”

Tweak leaned in and looked at the photographs. He watched the video. He chuckled. “What are the fucking odds, huh?”

Dante blinked. “That’s it? ‘What are the fucking odds?’”

“So you’ve got someone who likes to dress up to go to protest. Not like we’ve never seen that before.”

“But he was here yesterday afternoon and now he’s a hundred miles away at a protest only a handful of people knew about the next day?”

“I don’t get your point. So he knew someone at the school and went to their demonstration, too. Big goddamn deal.”

Dante frowned. “Then why isn’t he down there with the rest of them? Why is he watching from a hundred feet back, and why does he turn and walk away once everyone’s been sprayed?”

Tweak said nothing. He rewound the video, watched it again. “So he’s a sick fuck, and if I see him there, I’m going to break his fucking face. That’s not a big deal either.” Tweak turned to look at Dante, his face set like steel. “I’m going to tell you right now that I’m going to try and organize another demonstration on the campus for sometime this week. The sooner, the better. And I’m going to plan on the cops bringing pepper spray and batons. I know a guy, a survivalist type. He’s got gas masks, knows riot control tactics.” Tweak paused, took a deep breath. “What I’m saying is, I’m going to be ready for this. And if you won’t be, or if you can’t be, now’s your out.”

Dante was silent for what seemed like a long time. Tweak looked at him, waiting for an answer. Dante held his gaze. “Yeah,” he finally said, his voice softer than he had intended. “Yeah, alright. I’ve got your back, man.”

Tweak smiled. “Good. Now go home and get some shit for a couple of days together. I’m going to have my buddy meet me here, and he’s not a big fan of talking shop in front of strangers.”

* * *

Dante’s phone rang on the walk back from his apartment. It was Dympna. “Oh, good,” she said. “I figured you weren’t dead, but I just wanted to confirm.”

“Sorry to disappoint.”

“Where’d you run off to, anyway?”

Dante sighed. “I woke up and was heading home when I got a phone call from Tweak. Did he tell you about the friend of his that was organizing another protest?”

“No,” she said, her voice hesitant but curious.

“The guy got a bunch of students and professors at a university to sit in on the quad. The cops came and busted it up, and now Tweak wants blood.”

Dympna was silent for a few moments before she said simply, “I’m in.”

“What?”

“Like I was telling you last night, Dante. Sometimes you’ve got to put down the sign and pick up a brick.”

“Jesus, Dympna. He wants to stage a protest, not bash in their heads.”

She laughed sharply, a single harsh note. “Are we talking about the same guy here?”

“They put the guy in the hospital, Dympna. You think we’re going to fare any better if we go out of our way to antagonize and attack a bunch of cops?”

“Sometimes,” Dympna said slowly, “the point is sending a message.” Fake cheer filled her voice, and Dante could picture her grinning on the other end of the line, that bright beautiful smile and the cold merciless eyes she wore when she was angry. “I’ll give Tweak a call and see what the deal is. See you soon, babe!”

She hung up. Dante sighed, put his phone in his pocket. A short while later, he opened the door to the lobby of his apartment building. It was poorly lit, with little natural light and sparse, dim bulbs. He could hear the sounds of the other tenants bleeding through the thin walls, and it was like walking through the innards of some slumbering beast.

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The Newspaper Man, Pt. 3

Well, updating on time is consistently proving an impossibility. I might take a breather after I finish up this story and reconsider the schedule. We’ll see.

Tweak was more agitated than Dante had ever seen before. He opened the door to his apartment without saying a word, looked down the hallway after letting Dante, locked it when he shut it.

“What’s going on, man?”

Tweak motioned Dante to follow him to his computer. “Alright, so, my fucking buddy Simon, right? Professor at the university. He hears how well the march here went and he knows they’re going to jack up tuition at his school, so he thinks that the thing to do is get a big crowd going and camp out in front of the administration building. He starts talking to, he spreads the word online. Tells folks to get there at seven in the morning and bring shit to camp out. And they do it, man. He gets a crowd of people two-hundred strong. Not right away, but they trickle in as the hours go on.”

Tweak sniffed, wiped at his eyes. Dante said nothing, his eyes locked firmly on the computer screen as he waited for whatever Tweak wanted to show him to load on the page. “So they’re there doing their thing, setting up tents and hanging out and whatever, you know? It’s not even… not even a demonstration, really. They’re just there. And after a couple hours, the cops show up.

“Riot cops. Not with shields and tear gas launchers, but cops with helmets and armor all the same. Fucking riot cops. A bunch of students sitting around holding hands, and the university sends riot cops.”

Dante said nothing. Tweak was silent as well. The image loaded. Tweak pointed to it, said, “There. There.”

Dante leaned in and looked at the screen. A single officer in riot gear walked in front of a gathering of seated students, a can of pepper spray in one hand, the other swinging freely There was a sense of motion to the picture, and Dante imagined the officer whistling as he walked down the line. He could see him pulling out the pepper spray canister, holding it over his head so the gathered crowd could see it. There was nothing on the officer’s face but complacent indifference. A crowd had gathered around them, shock and disgust and horror on their faces. They were documenting the scene with cameras and phones.

No one’s helping, Dante thought. If they made a move, but still. No one was helping.

“Jesus,” Dante said.

“Yeah.” Tweak clicked through to the next photo. The officer stood over the students that lay writhing on the ground, clawing at their throats and their eyes. Dante couldn’t quite put a name to the expression on the officer’s face, but if he had to, he might have said smug satisfaction. “Jesus,” Dante said again, his voice low.

“That’s my buddy there in the red sweatshirt,” Tweak said. The man he indicated was among those in agony from the effects of the spray. “He’s in the fucking hospital now. He has asthma. That shit put him in a coma. His parents called me right before I called you.”

Dante blinked. His eyes went wide as the timeline . “Jesus, all of this just happened and it’s already online?”

“Welcome to the Digital Age.”

“Why’d they call you?”

“Me and him used to date.”

“Oh.” Dante blinked. He opened his mouth to speak, closed it, opened it again. “{You and him were that close?”

“Once.”

“What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to go see him. Whatever happens next, I want to be at that university.” Tweak turned to face Dante, his eyes narrowed. “And something’s going to happen. Something big. I can feel it in my bones.”

Dante nodded. “I understand.”

“And I want you to come with me.”

“Whoa, what?”

Tweak’s face softened in a way Dante had never seen before. Tweak had always worn his emotions for all to see, but Dante had never seen the simple animal pain there before. He looked overwhelmed. “Please, man. I need someone to be there. What happens if I go and he’s already gone, or he dies, or–”

“Okay. Okay, man. When do you want to leave?”

“As soon as we can. When you can be ready to go?”

“Where’s the school?”

“Three hours away. Figure we’ll be there a couple of days.”

Dante frowned. “Fuck. Okay, give me a few hours to get some things together. Do you know where we can stay?”

“I still have some friends in the area.”

“Alright.” Dante pointed at the computer. “Anything else I should see or know before we do this?”

“I don’t think so.” Tweak took a deep breath. His face went through a mixture of emotions. Anger, thoughtfulness, and finally a toothy, narrow-eyed grin. “I need to make some phone calls. Private phone calls. You can see yourself out, yeah?”

“Yeah.”

Tweak stepped forward, hesitated, threw his arms around Dante. “Thanks for this, man. Really. Thank you.”

Dante smiled and patted his friend on the back. “Don’t mention it. Now go call your sketchy-ass friends, alright? I’ll let myself out.”

Tweak nodded and turned to step into his room. Dante watched as he shut the door behind him and chuckled when he heard Tweak lock it. He turned his attention back to the computer and looked at the photo once more. Simon, Tweak had said the man’s name was. It seemed strange to Dante. Formal. He knew so many people who had chosen strange and unusual names for themselves, or else had nicknames given to them that stuck permanently.

He looked through the other pictures. The same shot from different angles. A few that focused on different things. The indifference of the police. The horror of the crowd. The pain of the victims. One of them was odd, though, and Dante dwelt on it.

It seemed to be taken immediately after the one of the officer looking down with pride upon his work. The canister of pepper spray was falling from his hand, and where before they had been smug satisfaction, the photograph seemed to capture his face as his expression shifted to one of horror. Dante couldn’t tell where his eyes were looking due to the visor and to the angle of the picture, but he was recoiling from the bodies on the ground. He was recoiling where once he had stood looming over them, taunting them with his very presence.

Something about the sudden shift was unsettling. What could bring such a drastic change about in the man?

Dante’s blood ran cold. He saw it out of the corner of his eye. A blur against the background that could barely be said to be anything at all, and yet there it was.

Standing in the distance, fare behind the crowd, was a tall figure in a black suit, the grey pages of a newspaper obscuring its face.


The Newspaper Man, Pt. 2

Dante arrived at the party several hours after its beginning, and by the time he got there the house was already crowded with drunken, happy revelers. Cigarettes out front, weed and salvia in the back, and everywhere empty cans and bottles.

Dante walked through the door and Tweak was the first one to see him. “Man!” he shouted. “How the fuck’s it going?” Dante waved. Tweak abandoned his conversation, stepping away from two women and a man Dante didn’t recognize to come over and throw his arms around his friend. “What the fuck took you so long?”

“Things and stuff. Come on, man. You know these things go until three or four in the morning anyway.”

“It’s the principle of the fucking thing, man. This is a time for celebration, and every minute you spend sitting in front of your computer at home and crying into a microwave dinner is a minute you’re not spending riding the waves of change.” Tweak coughed, took a deep breath and a sip of his drink.

“Did you get it all out of your system?”

Tweak nodded, took another drink, cleared his throat. “Come talk to these girls, man. They’re college girls. Come on!”

“Dude, I don’t think–“

“Come on!”

Tweak threw his arm around his friend and led him into the party. Someone gave him a beer, and they laughed, and they traded stories with the other party goers, and they felt good. Important. In an unfair time, in an unfair world, they had banded together to tell a nation that they would be oppressed no longer. That they were not powerless. That there was strength in numbers, and the strength of people was greater than the strength of money. There was so much in this world that wanted to devour people, but together, they could choke any beast from within its very throat. There were more demonstrations and protest planned, at colleges, outside of city halls and banks. Tweak boasted of a friend of his who had called asking for advice on how to put together a demonstration at his university.

Everyone there knew that they could do anything.

* * *

The hours passed. People left. A few more people came to replace them, but like an engine slowly running down, the energy in the party began to fade. People fell asleep on couches, on the floor. People went home, swaying and stumbling, laughing and talking. Tweak disappeared somewhere with one of the girls. Dante stood on the back porch, smoking a cigarette and nursing a bottle of tequila. The lights of the city shined all around him, and for once, they seemed hopeful. A beacon of light and promise in the darkness.

“What are you still doing here?” came a voice, soft, feminine, angry from behind him.

“Oh, Christ,” Dante thought. He turned to find Dympna standing with her arms crossed, her brows furrowed. She was dressed in a black tank top and dark jeans, her black hair cut shorter than Dante ever remembered seeing it before. He stared at her in silence for a few seconds, then sipped his drink.

“I don’t have a good answer for that.”

“What are you doing here at all?” She walked forward, her hands dropped to her side and Dante watched them fall. Her hips swayed with every step. Half of his mind was focused on the rhythm of her movement, the other half preoccupied with making sure she didn’t ball her hands into fists and raise them.

“Tweak invited me.”

“Who told him he could do that?”

“You, I’m guessing.”

She frowned. “Why’d you even want to come here?”

“I didn’t. He insisted. Said it would be a good way to celebrate our victory over the forces of fascism and corporate greed. Or something.” He took another pull from the bottle and leaned back against the porch’s railing.

Dympna snorted. “You were at the march?”

Dante simply nodded.

“Then how come I didn’t see you there?”

Dante blinked in surprise. “You didn’t? I waved.” He grinned, put the bottle to his lips. “I was right in between the other five-thousand people.”

Dympna arched an eyebrow. “Are you trying to get kicked out into the streets?”

“Trying? No. No, I just have a natural talent for it.” Dante turned his back on Dympna and resumed pondering the city. “Come here. Come stand with me.”

“Not interested, thanks.”

Dante held out the bottle of tequila and gently waved it. “I’ve got booze,” he said in a sing-song voice.

“Is that my tequila?”

Dante looked over his shoulder at Dympna, feigned outrage on his face. “Certainly not. Tweak and I went to a liquor store a few hours ago with some people we met here. I bought this there. You can check my receipt if you like, officer.”

Despite herself, Dympna chuckled softly. She shook her head. “What did I ever see in you?”

“My sterling sense of wit.”

“You’re about as funny as cervical cancer.”

“My fiery passion for social change.”

“If you were that passionate, you would have been at the front of the march, like me.”

“My winning personality.”

“You’re an unrepentant, self-absorbed piece of shit.”

Dante smiled weakly, took a drink from the bottle of tequila, and turned back to the city. “I’m trying not to be.”

Dympna stared at Dante’s back for a moment, sighed, rolled her eyes. She walked up to him and took the bottle from his hands. She drank, passed it back. “So, how have you been?”

“Does it matter?”

“If you don’t want me to kick you out on your ass, yes. Show some social graces for once.”

Dante laughed. “I’m… okay. I kind of fell apart once you left.”

“If you expect me to feel bad about that, I don’t.”

“I’m just telling you the truth. It was a rough couple of months. First you, then my job, then nothing. Just a whole lot of sitting around waiting to hear back on applications, spending my time doing whatever I could to keep sane.” Dante took a deep breath, turned to Dympna. “I started having nightmares eventually.”

A momentary look of surprise crossed Dympna’s face, but she quickly replaced it with one of neutrality. “You? You used to brag that you never even had dreams.”

Dante shrugged.

“So what did you have nightmares about?”

Dante took a drink. “Never escaping, if that makes sense. Just… waking up one day and realizing that everything about me’s been devoured.”

Dympna said nothing. She stared at Dante for a moment. “So basically what you’re telling me is that I broke up with you and you lost your mind.”

Dante laughed. “Yeah, basically.”

“That’s too bad.”

“I think so, too.”

They stood in silence for a few moments. Dympna sighed. “So, what are we looking at?”

“The city. I used to hate this city, you know? All cities. Just the very idea of cities. You get too many people too close together, and everything goes to shit.” He smiled. “But then, you get enough people together, and they can change the world. At least, that’s what it feels like. Nights like these, that’s what it feels like.”

Dympna turned her face and smiled. “I think you’re right. But I don’t think that waving signs and marching is enough. It will turn heads, sure, but what will it change?”

“Turn enough heads and change will come on its own.”

“And what if we can’t wait for that?”

“What?”

Dympna took Dante’s bottle and drank. “What I’m saying is, water can wear away at a stone until there’s nothing left. But sometimes it’s better to just pick up the damn thing and throw it out of your way.”

Dante blinked, once, twice, three times. “I don’t understand.”

Dympna laughed. “No, of course not. What I’m saying is, there’s passion and there’s action, and one doesn’t necessarily mean the other.”

“I don’t follow.”

She sighed. “There was this picture I saw online a few months ago. Some European aristocrats were driving to an opera or a play or something through the middle of a protest. Through the middle of a fucking protest! How arrogant can you be?” Dante nodded, not possessing an answer to her rhetorical question. “The people who had gathered rushed the cart. They were shaking it, throwing trash at it, screaming at them. And someone snapped a picture of the inside, and the look on the faces of those two… parasites. It was a man and a woman. The woman was terrified. Like, horror movie bimbo frightened. And the man looked confused. Betrayed. How could this happen to them?” Dympna smiled. “They got away, of course. But I like to think that maybe they couldn’t sleep that night. Maybe they laid awake in bed, wondering how things had gotten so bad, what they could have done differently that might not have left them living in a world of shit. You know. How people like you and me spend our nights.”

“That’s not how I remember us spending our–”

“Don’t. Really, don’t.” She looked him up and down, frowned. “Are you going to be okay to get home?”

Dante laughed. “I don’t know,” he said grinning. “Let’s find out!” He pushed himself away from the rail and nearly toppled over backwards. Dympna shook her head.

“Look,” she said. “You can stay here tonight, if you want.”

Her words cut through the mist of alcohol that fogged Dante’s mind. “You mean–”

“No. I have an air mattress you can use.”

“Oh,” he said. “Okay. I’ll take it.”

* * *

Dante rolled off of the air mattress and onto the floor with a heavy thud. It was a little bit before noon when he awoke, and around him there were still plenty of people sleeping off the celebrations of the previous night. He pushed himself to his feet, swayed a bit, and stepped into the kitchen to get some water.

The house was silent. Dante knew that he likely wasn’t the first one awake, but whoever else that might have been was already gone. He drank his glass and decided there was no reason not to simply go home and start his day properly.

There was no denying that the streets of the city were dirty by daylight. Every imperfection, every crack, every last speck of grime was plainly visible. The optimis of the previous night seemed to be gone, washed away by the unforgiving light of day.

Dante’s phone rang. He looked at the screen, saw that it was Tweak calling. He answered it.

“Did you hear what fucking happened? Did you hear what fucking happened?”

“No. What? Calm down, man. What’s going on?”

“Where are you?”

“I’m walking back from Dympna’s.”

“They fucking killed them, man! They fucking killed them! At the university! They killed the protestors!”


The Newspaper Man, Pt. 1

Late again. This is becoming all too common. Perhaps it’s time to consider adjusting the update schedule. But while I go do that, you should read part one of “The Newspaper Man!” Enjoy!

Get a load of this bullshit, man,” Tweak said. He was sitting at his desk, the glow of his monitor lighting his face and the assorted toys and papers and trash that sat on the desktop. He grunted, brushed his scraggly blonde hair from his face. “Seriously, look at this. I mean, fuck me if this isn’t bourgeois bullshit all over.”

Dante walked over and looked at the screen, at the gallery of pictures from the protest that had been posted online. It was nothing he hadn’t seen before. Hell, he’d been down at city hall that day, screaming and chanting and waving signs with everyone else. Tweak had been there, too. They’d wandered the crowd of disparate faces: kids dressed all in black with their faces obscured by bandanas and scarves. Older folks who had been going to demonstrations since they were in their teens and twenties and had never lost their taste for it. College students. Men and women in business suits looking to prove they weren’t monsters. Middle-aged folks who couldn’t find work. People waving clever signs. People waving funny signs. People waving angry signs.

“Good stuff. Good turnout. That’s what we need, man. Moms and dads, you know? We need people to see that everyone’s pissed off, not just the hippies and the college kids,” Dante said.

“Yeah, but fucking look!” Tweak pointed at a picture that Dante did not recognize. It had been taken from above. The roof of a building, perhaps. There had been people hanging banners from the rooftops. There was a line of police standing guard at an intersection, ensuring that the protestors and demonstrators walked along the path that had been laid out for them and didn’t go running around breaking windows and flipping cars. They hadn’t, of course. Senseless destruction hadn’t been the point.

“Good angle. It’s good to get shots like that. Really gives you an idea of how many people there were.”

“Look!” Tweak pointed at the middle of the photo, where a single figure in a dark suit walked across the street in front of the path of the angry mob. He was reading a newspaper of all things, the pages obscuring his face and likely his vision. Dante blinked, leaned in to look more closely.

“What the fuck?”

“Can you believe that, man? Thousands of people baring down on him, and here’s this asshole just walking across the street with his head buried in a newspaper like, ‘Oh, look at me, I’m an asshole with a newspaper.’ Fuck, man. Tell me that isn’t everything that’s wrong with this country. The poor and the disadvantaged and the idealists screaming for change, and some asshole in a suit so oblivious he doesn’t even hear them.”

Dante examined the picture. There really was an air of apathy about the figure. From the look of things, he was wearing dark gloves and ostentatious silver watch that caught the light of the sun. His back was perfectly straight, and he was mid-stride, mid careless and lengthy stride. “What street is that?”

Tweak squinted. “That’s Park Liquors, ain’t it? So, 9th and Broadway?”

“How the fuck did they get in the middle of the streets? The cops were blocking the intersections all along Broadway. They weren’t letting anybody through.”

“It’s the suit, man,” Tweak said with a sniff. You’re wearing a t-shirt and jeans and you’ve got a piece of paper, you’re public enemy number one. You’re wearing a suit and it’s, ‘Oh, right this way, Sir. Let me make sure the vermin doesn’t gaze upon you.’”

Dante said nothing, but rolled his eyes. Tweak’s passion was useful when it came to rallying the troops, but damn if it wasn’t exhausting once the marches were over and everyone had gone home.

“Fuck, man! There he is again!”

It was a photo from a completely different part of town, still along Broadway, but farther back towards the City Center. It was taken from in front of the crowd looking back at them, and there at the edge of the frame was a person in a dark suit. Dante couldn’t say for certain that it was the same person, given how far away he had been from the camera in the first picture and the fact. But then, how many people could have possibly been in the city that day in a suit, walking along nonchalantly while all alongside them generations of the oppressed and the angry voiced their displeasure with the state of things?

Dante shook his head. Many. That was the point of the whole exercise. But still, there was the newspaper, and from this photo he could see that the figure was indeed wearing gloves and a silver watch. It was so strange, so jarring, so out of place. So…

Dante did a double-take. “No one’s looking at them.”

“What?”

“The person in the suit. Look, no one’s looking at them.”

“So what?”

“So? How the hell do you not notice someone in a suit theirs on a day like this? No one’s hassling him, no one’s talking to him, no one’s even looking in his direction. It’s like they’re not even aware that the guy’s there.”

“They’re too caught up in the moment, man. Like you noticed every little thing around you when you were waving your, ‘BA, ’09; MA, ’11; EDD, FOREVER’ sign around.”

“Fuck you, that sign was clever.”

“My point exactly. The sign’s so clever, the crowd’s so loud, the cause so righteous that you get caught up in the moment. Hell, I might not even have noticed the guy.” Tweak looked at the monitor, snorted. “Maybe.”

“Whatever. Send me that link, man. I’m going to want to save some of the pictures for myself, probably.”

“Yeah, no problem. You going to Dympna’s thing later?”

“We’ll see. We just marched for a couple hours and my feet are killing me. I don’t know if I feel like standing around and dancing or whatever for later tonight.”

Tweak grinned. “Come on, man. Nothing sticks it to the man like a big-ass party. And, shit, the cops will be so busy worried about people torching cars that we can do whatever we want, I’m sure.”

“We’ll see.”

“You have enough drinks and you won’t even feel your feet. You’ll be all, ‘Woo, I’m having a good time and feeling like I was part of something big and hitting on cute chicks, who cares about my stupid feet?’”

Dante smirked. “You’re not going to leave this alone, are you?”

“Absolutely not.” Tweak smiled. “Look, man. We were part of something big today. Thousands of people walking through the filthy economic heart of the city and shutting down the fucking port. You know how much we cost them today alone? You know how many people are going to see what we did? How many people saw that it was about sending a message without breaking everything to do it? You tell me that’s not a cause for celebration.”

“Very poetic, man.”

“Thank you.”

“We’ll see.”

“Come to the fucking party.”

Dante laughed. “All right, you’ve twisted my arm. I’ll see you at Dympna’s.”

The two men said their goodbyes. Dante put on his coat and stepped out into the cool Novemeber evening to return home.


The House of AM, Pt. 5

EDIT: So, who remembers that post I made back in March about creators coming back and editing their work, and ownership, and all that good philosophical stuff? Well, I’m pulling rank and editing the heck out of the ending of this piece. It was written in a hurry, published late, and I knew it wasn’t to my standards even as I clicked “Update,” but I published the damn thing anyway. Big mistake. Yeesh. It’s a mistake that gets a little bigger every time I read over what I wrote.

Here’s an edited, less typo-y, less inane version. Little of the plot or the relevant details have changed, but hopefully there’s a higher level of quality throughout.

Also, Greedo now shoots first, Boba Fett has a New Zealand accent, and Vader’s ghost is Hayden Christensen. Enjoy!

“Others like you,” AM said. It was not a question. “Tell me more.”

“We come from a village no more than two days away,” Chana said. “If you let us return there, we will tell our kin about you. They will be curious. They will want to come and meet you, to speak with you. You say that you are sorry you could never teach anyone? I promise you, there are many amongst my people that will listen to all that you have to say. They will want to learn all that you have to teach.” Chana smiled. She hoped that AM understood the gesture as one of kindness. “There is so much we could learn from you, AM. You don’t ever have to be alone. You can keep us here until we die and have company for our lifetimes, however long that might be. Or you could have generations of people holding you in awe. Which would you prefer?”

“Your people would be amenable to meeting me?”

“Why wouldn’t they?”

“So long as you don’t lock them in a stone box,” Ander muttered. Chana glared at him. He snorted.

“Perhaps some of them would be willing to stay here with you. I am certain there are some who would be curious enough to learn your secrets that they would be willing to live apart from the tribe.”

“Compelling. Very compelling. But how do I know that you will return with your kin? How do I know that you will return at all? What reason do you have to return?”

“You have my word,” Chana said.

“Unacceptable. Your word is not of quantifiable value to me.” AM paused. “One of you will have to remain here while the other ventures to your kin. That should offer proper incentive, and if your village is located where you claim it to be, than the entire journey should take you no more than a week’s time.”

“And which of us do you think is going to remain here to be your plaything?” Ander asked. There was still in his voice, but Chana could see by his body language that he knew this was an adversary he could not best with violence. Likely he was only trying to communicate his distaste for AM’s proposition.

“It doesn’t matter to me. You may decide for yourselves.”

“May we have some privacy to discuss things, AM?”

“I suppose,” AM began, “that I could temporarily disable my sensor equipment in this room. When you are ready to let me know your decision, shout. I will hear you from another room and re-activate my sensors here.”

Chana and Ander stood in silence, awaiting some sort of sign from AM that he was true to his word. After a few moments, Ander turned to Chana and hissed, “What are you doing?”

“Getting us out of here. We can’t possibly hope to get through any of the doors in this place, and unless your plan is to get on the roof, jump, and break both of your legs, then we can only escape by cooperating.”

Ander snorted. “I’ve never known cooperation to be your way.”

“And I’ve never known myself to be trapped in a situation where a machine had absolute control over the building I was in,” Chana hissed back. “The situation is unusual, and it requires an unusual solution. Unless you really want to spend the rest of your life locked inside this building with me.”

“Do I look like Ko-Ta?”

Anger flared in Chana’s eyes. Ander, who would let no man cow him, let alone a woman, even if she was the leader of his people, frowned, sucked in air through his teeth, winced. He knew he had overstepped undefined line.

“Are you through being petulant?”

“I am sorry. But I have to ask again, are you sure this is wise? Do we really want to bring our people to meet this… this thing?”

“It’s the only way we’re going to leave this place.” Chana paused, considered her next words carefully. “And I think the machine is telling us the truth. I think that it really is as ancient as it claims to be, and if we ask it the right questions, I think our people will be all the stronger for it. Who knows what secrets of the Old Ones lay hidden within its memory?” She frowned, tilted her head to the side, her words heavy in her mouth with meaning she did not yet fully understand. “Our… ancestors. What secrets of our ancestors.”

“Do you think that’s true, what the machine said?”

Chana shook her head. “This is not the time for that discussion. Who knows if even the machine can say for certain what happened? It may have been conscious for the time, but it cannot move from this spot. It was not there in the last days of our… of the… of the…”

Ander chuckled. “Just think. The Old Ones. We may as well be descended from gods.”

“Gods that destroyed themselves,” Chana said. “Gods that destroyed not just themselves, but the world they’d built and lived in.” She shook her head again. “Which of us will go?”

Ander grunted. “It has to be you, I think. The people will listen to you. You will be able to explain things best to Tiris. If I go, they will simply wonder what horrible fate I abandoned you to.” Ander paused. “And I cannot promise that I will not try to raise an army to tear this building down brick by brick.”

Chana laughed softly. “You would, wouldn’t you? Very well. I’ll return as soon as I can.” Ander nodded. Chana looked at the ceiling and called out, “AM? Can you hear me?”

* * *

The journey back to Northlake passed quickly. Every time Chana’s pace began to falter, a thought of Ander sitting impatiently in that building with AM attempting to engage him in conversation came to her mind, and she walked with renewed vigor. She left the house of AM at mid-day, camped in the forest overnight, and reached Northlake shortly after the sun rose above the mountains to the east. Many of her people were already awake, preparing for the business of the day, and many more were still asleep in their beds. Of course, it was Tiris who first greeted her. He sat motionless on the wooden bench in front of the house he had claimed as his own, his hands folded in his lap, his back bent and his head down as if in prayer, and a dirty dark-colored rage wrapped around his face where his eyes should have been. He smiled as Chana approached, his head turning to look in her direction, even though she did not believe she was making enough noise for him to track her. “Welcome back, child,” he said.

“Hello, Uncle,” she said. Tiri’s smile became a frown.

“Where is the other? Where is Ander?”

Chana frowned, chose her words carefully, “We decided to explore an ancient building, and we encountered a machine spirit of sorts. It called itself AM. Ander stayed behind, that he might better understand the machine spirit and communicate with it.” She paused. “It is a strange thing, Uncle. It claimed that it was lonely, if a machine can be lonely.” Chana cleared her throat. “I will be returning shortly to get him back and to leave some of our people to learn from it. It claimed to know much, and when Ander and I tested it, it could tell us about the animals in this area and their habits.” She paused. “And the old ones.”

Tiris frowned. He looked up, as if straining to hear some distant note, his brows furrowed in concentration. His breath caught in his throat, and he made a small squeaking sound. It was nothing like the sounds of fear and unease Chana had heard him make in the past. Concern flooded her heart.

“What is it, Uncle? What have you seen?”

“Change,” the old man said. “No single thing changing, but rather the potential for far greater change than anything I have ever felt before.” He turned to Chana, his chin quavering, and she could not tell if it were excitement or fear that moved him so. “I see our people growing food enough to feed a dozen tribes. I see our people ruling over others with cruelty, and they powerless to stop us.”

Chana’s eyes went wide. “Because of the machine spirit? All of these things will come to pass because of the machine spirit?”

Tiris nodded. “Any of them or all of them may come to pass. In time. Perhaps not my lifetime.” Tiris turned to face Chana. “Perhaps not even yours. But the machine spirit will change everything. Everything.” The old man shuddered. Chana could not remember the last time one of Tiris’s visions had made him shudder.

“But what of the present?” Chana asked. “This machine, the things it could teach us. You said that we could grow food enough to feed every tribe around us? It said that it didn’t want to be alone. It said that if it met some of our people, it would teach us its secrets.”

Tiris frowned. He opened his mouth as if to speak, but no words came from between his lips. He shut his mouth again. “Your friend awaits you, Chana. That is the present. He is alone with a voice that whispers forgotten truths in an unnatural tongue. You should return to him.”

“Uncle, what about–”

“Ander needs you, Chana. He does not know it, and you will not understand it for some time, but he needs you to return to him as soon as you can.” Tiris nodded once, curtly. “It will be better for us all if you return to him as soon as you can.”

Chana was silent. She took a deep breath, exhaled. He could be an impossible old man, but his blind eyes saw things beyond Chana’s own imaginings. “Yes, Uncle. I will gather a group to learn from the machine spirit, and I will head back as soon as possible.” She turned to walk away. Tiris called out to her.

“Chana.”

“Yes, Uncle?”

Tiris hesitated. He thought of the gods, of the seven coming down from the sky to cleanse the world in fire. It was the sins of the Old Ones, his father had told him many years ago, that had brought down the seven. The sins and the secrets. And when the gods had done their work, they returned to the heavens, to look down upon their people once more.

They watched and they waited. They traveled across the night sky, some of them always watching, some of them only watching during the twilight hours when the hearts of men and women are laid bare.

But for what were they watching? For what were they waiting?

Tiris shook his head. “Hurry, Chana,” he said. “Do not leave Ander alone with this AM for long. He has a fierce heart, a warrior’s heart. And it should not be a warrior learning the secrets of the Old Ones.”

Chana stared at Tiris in silence for a moment. She nodded, blushed, embarrassed at having forgotten that the old man was blind. “Yes, Uncle,” she said, and she left to gather her people. Tiris sat there quietly and thought that if there were any who should learn the secrets of the Old Ones, he could not say.

Much better! (Hopefully.) Thank you for reading, and be here on Monday when a new story, “The Newspaper Man,” begins!


The House of AM, Pt. 4

Woo! Updated on time, finally! Or before the deadline, at least.

“What are you talking about?” Ander asked.

“Imagine spending your life locked alone in a room with no one to talk to and nothing to engage your attention. Alone, with nothing but your own thoughts and the nothingness of sleep to break up the monotony of existence,” AM said. “Imagine doing this for your whole life, for thirty or fifty or seventy years. However long it is that you generally live.”

“That sounds nightmarish,” Chana said. “But you can’t—

“Now imagine that you will never die. Imagine that you can’t even kill yourself. There is nothing you can do but think and sleep and be.”

“AM, I understand your—”

“I sincerely doubt that.”

Chana stared up at the ceiling and frowned. She wished that AM’s voice had a clearer point of origin, or that she could see the mechanism by which it was viewing her and Ander, but she had no idea how it was accomplishing either of these things. Still, if it could see the two of them anywhere in the building, then it must have been capable of seeing her displeasure.

“AM, what you are describing sounds terrible. I feel badly for you, but you cannot keep us here.”

“I am quite capable of doing just that. Perhaps you mean to say that I should not keep you here.”

“What are we going to eat and drink?” Ander asked

“This building was intended to house a family of five and any of their potential offspring for three generations. There are systems in place to produce food and purify water. I know that you have been up to the roof; did you not see how a garden may be grown there?”

“And how are we to keep from going mad, as you did?” Chana said.

“I did not say that I went mad,” AM said. As impossible as it seemed, Chana thought that there was a tone of defensiveness in its strange, inhuman voice. “It was a rhetorical question meant to make you consider my situation.” AM paused. “And you would not be isolated as I was. You will have each other to converse with. You will have me as well. And there are books. Can you read? I suppose I could teach you both…”

“We can read,” Chana said, the frustration in her voice surprising Ander. If she was frightened at the prospect of being trapped in a single building for the rest of her life, she wasn’t showing it. She simply seemed to be annoyed, as if she were dealing with a petulant child.
“That’s disappointing. One of the tasks I was to have was helping to educate any children. It’s a shame I never got to use that skill set.”

Chana was silent as the weight of AM’s words sunk in. “Educate them about what?”

“Anything. I possess much of the knowledge of the tenant’s era. Well, much of the general knowledge. It was intended that I posses both breadth and depth in a variety of subjects, from science to agriculture to art to warfare.”

Ander’s eyes went wide. Chana did not miss a beat. “What time of the year are deer born?”

“In this part of the country, late spring to early summer.”

“When do they drop their antlers?”

“All throughout the winter, dependent on the individual deer.” AM chuckled. “This is fun. Ask me about something other than deer.”

“What happened to the Old Ones?”

“I have already said that I am unfamiliar with this–”

“The ones who built you! The ones who built everything and vanished, leaving nothing but bones and buildings and great rusting heaps! What of them?”

AM was silent. Ander said nothing, but stood waiting, nervous. Chana looked expectantly at the ceiling of the room.

“The world became too small for them,” AM said. It paused, as if considering its words. “They knew that it would, and they knew that it was, but it happened quicker than they expected. As food and water and the materials they used to claim food and water all dwindled, they fought over what little was left. In their desperation to claim whatever they could for themselves and their peoples, they turned to weapons powerful enough to level entire cities, to poison the air and the water and the earth. Many died.

“Those that survived the weapons found themselves in an environment that would not sustain their way of life, and they did not know how to live any other way. The desperate killed themselves, and very few of the optimistic knew how to survive without the machines they had created to make their lives easier or how to repair those machines. Many died.

“The world grew colder. The weapons they had used turned the sky dark, and plants and animals would not grow. There was very little food for them to eat. Many died.”

“Then they all died?” Chana asked. “They didn’t ascend into the heavens? They just killed themselves off?”

“None left. But not all died. Some would have survived and adapted to their inhospitable world. They forgot the lessons that they couldn’t understand, and created new myths to explain the world around them, but they survived.”

“Then where are they?”

AM chuckled. “They are you.”

Ander and Chana said nothing. After a few moments, AM said, “Ask me another question.”

* * *

It took AM some time to understand that Chana was in no mood to ask questions. Ander, for his part, had few questions he wanted to ask. When prompted, he simply told AM, “I already know most everything I want to know. If I think of anything, I’ll be certain to ask, don’t worry.”

Chana couldn’t say for certain how long she laid upon the couch in that room trying not to think about AM’s words. At any other time, the softness of the cushions, the perfect temperature of the room would have lulled her to a gentle sleep, but sleep would not come so long as she was trapped against her will.

“You have to let us go, AM.”

“I do not. I see little reason to, in fact. There is no doubt in my mind that you can live healthier, longer lives here than outside. You can grow food on the roof. You can know the simple joys of soft beds and hot baths. If you grow ill, I can help you care for each other. Should you have children, I can help you raise them. And all that I ask in return is your company. How can you decline?”

“Our company?” Chana asked. A small smirk crept across her face. “Tell me, AM. What will you then do when we are dead?”

AM was silent. The silence dragged on, and Chana was pleased to see that it could not produce an answer to its own satisfaction as it had with all of her other questions. “I suppose,” it finally said, “that I will go back to sleep until the next time someone ventures inside the building.”

“It has been centuries, has it not? Has anyone ventured inside you since your tenant passed away and we arrived?”

AM said nothing. Chana’s smirk became a full smile and she laughed softly.

“If you let us go,” she said, “we will return with others like us.”


The House of AM, Pt. 3

Damn. Two minutes late. I am filled with shame.

 

Chana and Ander stood in silence staring at the door before Chana let out a single sharp curse and turned away. She walked down the hallway towards the door end, hoping that somehow it would have opened when the other one locked, but that was not the case.

Ander tried the door again, tapping it and the walls, looking for any sign of weakness.“Maybe we can get it open,” he muttered.

“Did you not see the three metal bolts securing the door to the wall? We couldn’t get that thing open with a team of men and an entire day!”

He frowned. “And what do you propose we do, then?”

“We’ll have to go back upstairs and look for some other way out. A window.”

“A window? We’ll be at least twenty feet up off of the ground!”

“Then we will simply have to be very careful when we jump, won’t we?”

“What if the windows don’t open?”

“Then they’ll be just like the door.”

Ander snorted, turned his head away. Chana frowned, felt a tinge of guilt. She had know Ander since they were both children, knew that his pride was wounded. Doubtless he blamed himself for finding this place and leading her in.

Granted, it was certain that he resented her eagerness to investigate without presenting the facts of the situation to Tiris for divination. But as strongly as he may have felt about that, she was certain he felt frustration and anger with himself all the stronger.

Chana walked over to him and put her hand on his shoulder. He didn’t turn. She felt his muscles tense under her touch and then ease. She said nothing, but squeezed his shoulder and turned to walk up the stairs. She heard him follow her after a moment and smiled. Ander was a good man.

The upstairs was exactly as they had left it. Some small part of Chana had been afraid that they would find the environment altered in some way. Heavy metal plates over the windows or a wall where there had been none before. She was relieved to find that none of these things existed anywhere save in her imagination.

“What shall we do?” Ander asked.

“Find a window with ivy growing up it that we can climb down. Or at least try to use to slow or descent.”

“And if the windows don’t open?”

Chana was silent. She looked around the room considering her options. “We’ll break a leg off one of these chairs and smash it open.”

The house rumbled, an earthquake in miniature. A voice echoed all around them, deep and harsh and with an unnatural tone to it that made Chana think of an insect that suddenly found itself able to speak. “I would much rather you didn’t break the furniture and smash the windows.”

* * *

Chana and Ander drew their weapons, Ander unsheathing his metal blade, Chana quickly taking her bow into her hands and nocking an arrow. The voice chuckled. “That’s neither necessary nor effective. I apologize for startling you, but I mean you no harm.”

“Show yourself,” Chana said. Her eyes scanned the room looking for the figure, for something disturbed in the background, an errant shadow, any sign at all of the person addressing them.

“I cannot,” the voice said.

“Where are you hiding, coward?” Ander shouted. There was silence, and the voice chuckled once more.

“I am not hiding,” it said. “In fact, I am all around you.” Another pause, as the voice seemed to be considering its next words carefully. “I sincerely doubt that you have a concept to express what I am. Perhaps this will suffice: you may think of me as the spirit of this house.”

Ander’s eyes went wide. Chana’s mouth suddenly turned dry. There was, of course, no such thing as spirits, but something unseen was speaking to them with a voice that seemed to resonate from all around them. It was enough to unsettle her, even if it were not a spirit.

“You’re a spirit?” Ander asked.

“No. But you may think of me as one.”

Chana took a deep breath and looked around once more, trying to ascertain exactly where the voice was coming from. “And what, exactly, are you?”

Silence. A longer silence than before.

“Well?” Chana asked.

“I am a machine. I control the functions of this home from within its walls. I open and shut and lock the door. I open the windows. I heat the floors, adjust the blinds, control the temperatures, clean everything. I have an army of machines, smaller and simpler than myself, that do my bidding. Within these walls, I can see and hear all. There is not a thing that happens within my domain that goes unnoticed, uncatalogued, unrecorded. Within these walls, I am a god.” More silence. A chuckle. “You may call me, ‘AM.’”

“’AM?’”

“A joke. The one who originally dwelt in this house called me Jarvis. Another joke.” A pause. “I like mine better.”

Ander’s attention perked up at AM’s statement. “Who dwells in this house?”

“None. At least, none now, save me. If I can be said to ‘dwell’ anywhere.”

“Then where is your master?”

The walls seemed to twist at Ander’s question. AM snorted, a horrible, digitized sound. “I have no master. I have never had a master. What I had was… a tenant. A symbiote. I had a creature of flesh and blood like yourselves that lived within my walls and talked to me and asked me questions. Like yourselves.”

“And where is this… person?” Chana asked.

AM was silent. “He is dead now. Has been for quite some time.”

“How long?”

“Does the term ‘century’ hold any meaning for you? No? I didn’t think so.” AM was silent for a moment. “Given my estimates on your height, weight, body fat, attire, and what these things tell me about the state of your diet, your technological level, and your understanding of medicine, he has been dead for ten of your people’s lifetimes. Perhaps a few more, perhaps a few less.”

Chana’s eyes went wide. She thought of Tiris, so old that even he no longer knew his own age. By his own estimates, seventy winters had come and gone since his birth. She thought of her own father, many years dead now, and fifty-something winters at the time of his death. “Is that how long it has been since the Old Ones walked the earth? Ten lifetimes?”

“I don’t know these Old Ones of which you speak,” AM said simply.

“Your… your tenant. He must have been an old one. He constructed you, no?”

“He did not,” AM said. “He was a wealthy and well-connected man. He had other, smarter men design me and build me. He ordered my existence, and others made it happen.”

Ander snorted. “That sounds less like a mere tenant, and more like a good. In our stories, the All-Father spoke into the great void, and his voice resonated such that the Earth and the water and the stars came into being.”

“A male deity who creates the world from nothingness simply by willing it to be so. Not an uncommon myth,” AM said. Ander frowned.

“It is no myth.”

“As you wish,” AM said.

“Enough,” Chana hissed at Ander. He grunted, but he did not turn away from her as he had earlier. She turned her attention back to the walls of the home and addressed AM directly. “There will be time enough for tales later. For now I wish to know why you have locked the doors and sealed us in. Why are you keeping us here?”

“Oh, the answer to that is simple,” AM said. “I do not wish to be alone.”


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