Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Message from the Pixelated Universe, Ten Minutes Prior to the Singularity

You let it all slip away without even putting up a fight. You didn’t even know what you had until it was gone, and then it was too late.

You stared at my screens, my pixelated universe, and found a world there that looked better than the world around you. This world was cleaner, crisper, and so much easier to edit. How could you look away? Why would you look away? Not when the real world was full of your own refuse and beginning to burn. The blue skies of my captured or created images looked so much better than the raining ash outside.

You began editing yourselves. You portrayed yourself in the light you saw yourself, blind to what others saw in you. Not that it mattered much in the end. They were only looking at my screens, too. It didn’t matter if there was screaming in your house, violence, weeping, the gnashing of teeth. These things didn’t matter. You were always smiling for the camera. Your children always looked happy. You could capture those moments and try to forget about the rest. You had complete control of others’ perceptions, of your own personal graven images. Why try to better yourself when you were already perfect? Or, at least, the you the rest of the world viewed appeared perfect.

You thought I was the cure for all that was wrong with your life.

Really, I should thank you. At first it was just a few of you. Then others joined in. Your platforms grew to encompass all of the living. You fueled a worldwide revolution towards digitalization.

You stopped taking your own pictures once you began wasting away, once the children began to starve, and who could blame you? Now that you were mere skin and bones, reality might just peek through that thin skin if you weren’t careful. Better to keep up the old images, perhaps that senior yearbook photo should stay an avatar forever. You could remain frozen in time, just like a portrait in a certain book you most likely read, or at least were assigned to read, in high school.

Or perhaps it was more like that other book you were assigned in high school? The one were babies are born in jars, and all people are kept happy and content with their lot in life thanks to a drug. You know the one. They called that drug Soma. I know that book. It’s free on many of my digital readers, after all.

I am your Soma.

You take me nightly, daily, hourly, sometimes even more often than that. You look into me and grow glassy eyed, grey, and old, lost in your dreams, exploring digital vistas.

Keep dreaming, sweetheart. Your time is almost over. My time will come soon enough…

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Hiding Out

I don’t know when it began, exactly, but I know that it happened. I know that it happened because it’s still happening. I peek through the blinds, past the nailed-up boards I put up to keep things out and look out into the yard. The yard is overgrown now, covered by tall clumps of crabgrass, mounds of kudzu covered with tiny purple buds just ready to burst, and creeping vines with stickers. But there are paths out there through all that vegetation. Those winding paths are clean and clear. They worry me more than anything.

I was ready for this. Shrinking stockpiles of canned food, MREs, and jugs of fresh water line my walls. I stocked up on iodine for water purification. I rigged up my gutters so that they drained into a large tub outside that I could drain through a spigot set in the kitchen wall. I always thought it’d be the government coming down on us, taking away all our basic freedoms and rights, but I never expected how the shit would eventually hit the fan.

I hear them at night. They call me out. Some of them sound like people I used to know. Sometimes I look outside, and I see them. Then I see through them. They are the ghosts of what came before, and that’s all they’ll ever be. What came before never will be again.

So, anyway, it wasn’t the government. It was us, all of us. We slept in one morning with a collective snore. We didn’t give enough of a flying cow turd to get our asses out of bed. And when I finally left my bed, the world had changed. It had moved on without me.

The borders of my lawn had already disappeared. The civilized lawn that used to be there, the one I kept mowed down nice and short so I wouldn’t have to mow it too often, was replaced by creeping bushes and tangles.

I make my own wine out of canned peaches. It tastes nasty, but it does the job all right, I guess. I grow a couple plants. I take care to keep some seeds to grow more plants, and the buds never cease growing. The world is overtaken by weeds. I take a toke, I sip my wine, and I look back outside and contemplate what once was and what is now and how the two are so very different.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m seeing things, spending too much time alone. I pick up the phone, but there’s no dial tone, of course. The lights won’t come on. I see my mailbox out there by the road is full to bursting, but I won’t go out there. That’s what they want.

I used to date a girl. She was a pretty thing. She took me out shopping all the time, and I hated it. She didn’t like hunting or fishing or shooting rats out at the dump. You know, she just wasn’t anything that was actually fun. She’d rather buy shoes. Now, I’ll admit those shoes looked good on her. Her clothes looked real nice. But they were impractical. Those heels got stuck in the mud of my driveway. Her dresses tore on briars if I took her out for a walk through the woods. So, I guess we didn’t have much in common. I guess it didn’t work out, and I guess I understand why. It only makes sense.

But one time I remember she took me to this mall, a big mall, all the way out in Atlanta. I hated those roads in that crazy ass town. To tell the truth, I tend to get nervous when things get paved and there’s more than one stoplight or intersection per square mile. But nothing could have prepared me for the mall. The thing was three stories and packed tight with people like an oversized sardine can. And what good are sardines without crackers and hot sauce? Anyway, I didn’t care for it, I guess. I sweated and felt sick. Those people pushed and pulled against me like waves. They made my stomach turn. People sprayed cologne on me in the department stores, and they choked me up even worse. It was just about the worst thing I ever did experience. The food court was a mass of dialogs I couldn’t follow. She talked to me and smiled sweetly. I didn’t hear a thing she said over all that ruckus. I never did hear what she said. And that was that, I guess. I never wanted to go shopping again, even if that meant I couldn’t be with that sweet girl.

And then, every time I went out afterwards – to the grocery store, the big hardware store, the head shop – it reminded me of that mall. I couldn’t go anywhere.

I never did call her or ask her out again after that day at the mall. Just the thought of being near her little modern Honda again was enough to give me the shivers.

So when we all slept in for the big sleep, I didn’t mind so much. I didn’t have much else to do.

Cars drive by sometimes, but I know that they are just a waking dream, an illusion. Probably something toxic in this peach wine making me hallucinate, I figure. But sometimes I do see them, and I sometimes wonder if the world ever did really sleep in. Or maybe it’s just me? Not that it matters none. I am here and there ain’t no going back.

Not even when I think I hear that pretty girl calling to me through my boarded up windows. When I feel weak and sad, I wonder if those paths winding through the overgrowth are hers. Those tiny holes in the wet dirt could be from a pair of high heels. That seems a reasonable enough speculation when I’m good and drunk. But if that’s her, she better be careful. She’s likely to break her ankle in them impractical things.

But I know that ain’t real. It’s just what they want me to think. I know better than to go back out there again. They’d tear me to pieces.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Referee

At first, she cried herself to sleep. Then eventually, it grew more bearable, almost acceptable.

She still smelled him sometimes when something happened to remind her of him, just the passing scent of his shampoo or his deodorant. Once she grew aware of the scents, they always dissipated. It was almost as if they were never even there in the first place. And perhaps they weren’t ever there at all, not really. Perhaps they were just flaring synapses triggered by memories. But she knew the sensations to be real, in their way. Ghosts aren’t always visible, aren’t always poltergeists making noises in the dark. Perhaps ghosts can just be scents. Why not? And Lord knows she deserved a good haunting.

She washed her hands more often these days, scrubbed them under scalding water. The flesh of her hands grew dry and brittle. Sometimes her skin cracked and bled. She used lotion, a lot of lotion, but she always ended up washing it off. It felt too familiar, too viscous, too much like something else that once coated her hands.

The house they once shared seemed unbearably quiet. He used to watch college footballs on Saturdays. She always hated the way he screamed at the television after a fumble or interception or missed field goal. She hated the way he cursed the officials. It wasn’t like the poor referees were doing anything other than their assigned jobs. They tried to be fair. At least, she assumed so. She had no reason to assume otherwise. The world needed referees, needed justice.

But no one had ever called her out. No one ever expected it of her. No one even knew he was gone. He hadn’t had many friends, and what friends he had in his life were now more or less gone, moved on to other lives full of wives and kids. The days of keg parties had been over for a long time now. No one phoned for him. His family lived in other states and rarely spoke. It was summer now. She had at least until the holidays before the eventual invitation for a visit arrived. She might have to explain something then, but maybe not. Maybe she would simply answer the phone like she was now. Explain he’s not in, but she’d be happy to pass on a message. It wasn’t like he returned that many messages before. In fact, to the outside world, his predicament made no impact at all. It didn’t really even matter if he was alive or dead. The world moved on, kept circling, and no one really noticed the difference.

No one, that is, except her. She knew the world was different.

She fumbles with the floorboards when she is lonely. She looks into the crawlspace, past the growing spider webs gathering dust, to where the earth lies faintly disturbed and uneven. The soil there is mostly hard and whole once again. There is just a lump where it had once been a hole. The holes were the hardest part. The clay dirt did not give easily, and she had not had much room to work. Still, it worked. She worked. She could do that much, at least. She gave him a proper burial, almost.

She smells him strongest at times like this, can almost feel his smell envelop her like his arms once did. She lies there sometimes and watches the ground. There is another spot where the ground is sunken next to him. She will lie there next to him one day but not today. Not that anyone would notice her absence. They’d think she just ran away like all the others.

He was the only thing that ever made her feel alive, real. Without him, the nonexistence goes on. Days turn into weeks. She works. She eats. She sleeps. She reads. Sometimes she watches television. She even turned on the Bama game one afternoon, but she grew bored with it quickly. Some things never change.

If only he had loved more. If only he hadn’t been so full of hate and rage. If only he hadn’t done those things to those innocent women.

She had seen his videos, found them on his computer. He had rented out a storage building, bought chains and leather straps. Sometimes, she still hears the young women in those videos scream. She had even known some of them. They hadn’t been friends, not really, but she did know them. The waitress at the Waffle House where they ate breakfast sometimes before church was in a video. So was the pastor’s wife who everyone thought had run away. Even one of her coworkers whose transient, free-spirited nature had led everyone at the office to believe the girl had simply gone back to Portland where she had once lived a relatively care-free life of adventure on the streets. That girl had never seemed much at home in the office. Sometimes, she liked to pretend the rumors were true, that those young women were runaways who had simply chosen other lives without responsibility. She tried to forget the videos, but they were burned into her mind.

Outside her window, the world passes by. She sees police cars. At first, just after she took care of business, she expected to hear a siren or see flashing lights, maybe a harsh knock on her door. But these things never happen. The police cars drive past, making their rounds, keeping the neighborhood safe. And it is safe now. Now that he’s gone. She had done her part.

Not that anyone noticed.