Three years ago, he found a baby in a trash bag about a mile off the road. A young couple from Indianapolis adopted her in a storm of media a year later. He walks past the spot every weekend on his way to the river. He stops and looks and takes into account how time and growth have changed the geometry of the shadows under the scrub. He wouldn’t have seen the bag if it had happened this year. The grass is too tall. The rotten log has collapsed. This spring has been overcast. That baby girl would have died this year. A lot of things would be different if it had happened this year. The train is roaring through the valley. The wind rattles the poplar leaves above him. He would’ve been consumed in other thoughts if it had happened today. He never would have seen it. All he would have seen was the past. His wife. The tubes in her nose. He’s crying now, consumed in the slow grind of his past.
Three boys of various heights stood in stilted shock staring at the wadded lump of the pilot’s body as the deputy stood over it, speaking into the radio clipped to his lapel. The distorted tail of the small plane jutted from the jagged opening in third floor of the courthouse above them. Smoldering bricks, glass, and lumber granulated the verdant lawn of the square. An undulating intestine of black smoke bent over the top floor, the singular clue of the event for the townsfolk who had begun arriving by foot and vehicle. The deputy returned to his truck where he again directed the trio of youth to move across the street to the vacant store front. Sheriff Connery’s voice leapt from the speaker near near his ear. Jackson? Yeah, Sheriff. Tell me there ain’t a crop dusting rig on it. There is Sheriff; there’s a rig. Goddammit. Yeah, Sheriff, and Wally’s body is out here in the open, all broke up. Goddammit. I’m grabbin a sheet right now. Don’t bother, Jackson. But Sheriff—. I said leave him! he wanted this; he deserves the embarrassment! But Sheriff, there’s kids and women out here. Grow up, Jackson, just keep em off the grass!
A white raptor wing stretched from horizon to horizon. Uncle Frazier sat on the dead oak trunk, kicking at a column of red ants flowing just out in front of his foot. I think I should take time off, Uncle. His head bobbed at the sound of my voice. Not a nod. Just movement in recognition. He wiped the apple juice from his knife across a dirty pant leg. I already told you what I think. Yeah, you did. Don’t do it; you had a whole bunch of time, kid; I know it don’t feel like it but you did. He tracked the cloud from end to end with his eyes then gave me a serious glance. Go back to school; forget about anything but the present and buckle down. I wanted to point out the paradox in his worry over my future as he pressed me to stay in the present. But I could see that was exactly what he was contemplating. I wasted so much, he said, I wasted a lot of time not sticking it out when I was your age, boy. I get it, Uncle. You better. He handed me half of the apple and I took a bite. I don’t have any left, he said, all I can do is commandeer yours, you see? I hear you, Uncle. If you’re not careful, you wake up one day with memory of the time you spent and none left to spend on anything that means anything, you see? I see. You better.
Let’s consider time. Time.
The word demands a capital T.
We argue over it. We agonize over it. We long and lust for more of it. Even those of us who are told every Sunday that our Time will go on after we die frown at the thought of losing it before we die. Time is everything. I myself have argued that Struggle is all but in reality, if there is no Time on which to anchor that struggle, there is nothing at all. Without Time, our physical world ceases to exist.
“Till the end of time” is our truest cliche, our truest truth. The end of Time is The End. Each of us must realize that Time ends every day. Every hour. Wrap yourself in it. Clothe yourself in your Time. Remind yourself until it is involuntary that you must remain one with your Time. It is all you have. Spend it wisely. Time will not allow you any more than you have at this very second.
Do something with it. Use it for good.
Spend it on those you cherish.
Spend it on improving yourself.
Don’t squander the Time you have on some phantom of eternity that if truly considered is an actual horror. Mundane. Unchanging. Pascal feared we might gamble on there being no eternity. I fear we gamble there is. Trust me. Eternity is not real. Not for me. Not for you or anyone. Now is all you will ever have. Right this very instant is all you will ever have.
They killed a dude in front of my kids last week. The guy was standing in the street with this short aluminum bat. He was yelling and pointing the thing at them as if he knew each of them by name, had some unrelated beef with each of them. Before I heard the commotion, I had been sitting in the living room of my de-electrified house. Bored out of my mind, waiting for Cheryl to drop off the kids. I was gonna meet them at the curb so I wouldn’t have to argue with her about why the electricity was shut off. I was waiting at the front window, amusing myself with a flat raisin between two peanut halves, imagining it was a burger. A fat juicy angus patty burger. Then the shouting started and I made my way to the street with my neighbors. There he was. Nothing but a pair of gym socks and the bat. We all jolted back when the cops unloaded on him. It took a few moments for me to realize Cheryl’s sedan was first in the line of cars held back by the emergency vehicles on the other side of the intersection. She’s right. The neighborhood really has gone to shit.
The stink. The dark. The weight. The moment it creeps in I let it pass and I am vapor. Until it returns again. And I let it pass again. This black is comfort. Ubiquitous. Swaddling. Like a bag cinched around me. Restraining me. Restricting possible explosion. This comfort develops opposing valence when it happens to speak. I wish it wouldn’t. The fact that it whispers doesn’t help.
i wonder why they put you here?
where is here?
you’re in the singles. you must be special.
i suppose that makes you special too.
syllogisms? i should have known. i have already misled you.
i know who you are. everyone knows who you are.
who am i?
you’re the American. the cop slayer. asesino de poli.
catchy. who are you, mr special? who do you slay?
i stole a lot of money from the wrong person. then i tried to move that money through the wrong people. then I answered the wrong door. much like you, i am struggling under the weight of my own decisions.
that could be said of anyone in here. we’re not so special after all.
now, now. maybe i’m not that special. i’m rotting in here because someone—a very specific
someone—wants me rotting. you are here because everyone—aside certain people in the government—wants you dead.
you know an awful lot about me. how is it you speak such good english?
a leftover from a complex childhood.
too many riddles, special. i’m going to sleep.
you will grow lonely very quickly in here, cop slayer.
The black was here before this place. Woven in a different texture. It’s face pressed against mine like Uranus against Gaia. I was sick then. I have no idea how long I had been there although my memory of how I got there is clear. Clear as hotel mirrors. But those memories don’t linger now. And they didn’t linger then. My hands cuffed behind me. Bound to a chair. My lips cracked. My teeth loose. No sleep. I had lost weight. I had no idea if Penrose was in the next room. I had no idea of there was a next room. I had no idea if this was a place with rooms. Throughout my life I wondered how I might endure this sort of confinement. Many times and places, many scenarios and people bore odds this might happen to me. It happened to others. People I knew. People I heard about. No need to wonder anymore. I was holding my own.
I’ve always had a knack for focused resistance. Endurance is a hobby.
Then someone opened that door for the last time. Before this they had forced liquefied nutrition down my throat. Poured water over my mouth with haphazard aim. This time things changed. Removed from my chair. Dragged. A hallway. A doorway. New air. Humidity. Heat. Urban osmyrrah. The hard rug and rumble of a vehicle. Traffic. Speed. Things had changed. I shrugged the persistent time travel brought on by the jostle of the road. Bullets. Fists. Broken bones. I kicked them aside. I caressed the movement of the wheels beneath me. The darkness squirmed. The black struggled. But I held tight.
Until I couldn’t. Until it was cleaved from my grasp as if my fingers had gone with it. The light pierced deep. Burning. Cauterizing. Blood from the glare would have consoled me. The grating flame brought only anger. The gradual materialization of heads and faces hovering over me stoked my anger further. But I wouldn’t thrash. I was more than aware of the futile rewards of thrashing. I closed my eyes in an effort to reconjure the darkness.
Another chair. The cuffs rearranged through the splat. Dirt beneath my naked feet. I smelled flowers. Cleaner air but still pregnant with heat and moisture. Tropical. My closed eyes proved a delinquent replacement for the bag and I slowly allowed the light its due.
i wonder if i’m headed for the same fate as you, cop slayer.
we’re both facing oblivion, cop slayer. but i’m nagged by this feeling that maybe my fate is worse than yours. you have the luxury of staring it in the face. squaring up to it like a bull.
i on the other hand might live in fear, i think. even if i live through my sentence, life outside might be even worse. at least in here i have a reliable compass. i know the possibilities. still very dangerous but much simpler. out there, it could move on me at any moment at any time. do you know how fortunate you are, cop slayer?
fortunate? wanna know what would be fortunate? not having to listen to you equivocate things you don’t understand.
as you can see, cop slayer, you are able to tumble off to sleep at a whim while my anxiety rattles this cage. i think i’ve called it correctly. you are a most fortunate man.
So it’s gone. The one place I could walk the dog in the city without a leash. The one place I could stand in relative silence and look at the stars or the moon, the flashing lights on the jets. The one place where the rabbits might run past me as I moved through the caliche flats. Gone. Covered up with tiny homes, tiny lawns, tiny fences and tiny for-sale signs. Soon to be bought by tiny people for tiny sums. I feel small now too. Compressed. Depressed. The dog is bigger, though.
A teenager down the street has answered your Facebook post regarding a long term babysitting job at your house. You and your spouse have a night and morning of long needed luxury planned in a local hotel. Boy-howdy do you need it! Now, these kids of yours are pretty special. I know, I know. Everyone thinks their kids are special but the uniqueness of this pair is undeniable. Twins. Both scored perfect on the WISC-V and the Woodcock Johnson III. Their physical beauty confirmed by that modeling contract you just signed last month. After an experience at a playground this weekend, they have together expressed interest and participation in charitable activities for less privileged children in your community. As I said, these are special kids.
Back to that babysitting candidate...
Lisa is 16 years old. As teenagers go, Lisa’s online persona appears as vanilla as one of those soggy cookies you find in her grandma’s banana pudding. The hair, the clothes, the selfies, and Instagram stories. She looks no more radical or dangerous than any of your nieces or nephews. Her parents give a similar impression of average late thirty-something banality. The ski trips, birthday parties, dinner pics, and open garage door get-togethers. Dad sells cars. Mom’s a hairdresser. These folks seem safe—one might say harmless. And they are just down the street. Perfection.
There’s something else here. What’s this religious affiliation?
Second Book of the Zook "In the year 2019, preordained by the prophet Zookeophira… a set of twins will appear on the planet Earth. They will be like diamonds in the dust, comets in the blackness of night. They will appear kind of heart and sharp of wit. They are imposters and implements of the Dark Lord. The Beast has sent them to deceive you. They must be destroyed. The key saving our people from the coming destruction of this planet is the ritual murder of this evil double seed!"
On second thought, you should probably go with that trucker’s pimple-faced band geek living another block over… right? It’s obvious, right?
Now to squeeze this analogy into the real world. Here are some names you might recognize. Mike Pence. Mike Pompeo. Rick Perry.
Mike Pence – Vice President of the USA
Mike Pompeo – US Secretary of State
Rick Perry – US Energy Secretary
These three men sit on the cabinet of the current “President” of Donald J. Trump. Pence, second in line if Mr. Trump were to resign, suffer conviction of impeachment, or sadly die while in office. Mike Pompeo travels the world as the United States preeminent diplomat to rest of the world. Rick Perry, among other frightening duties sets the policies concerning the storage of nuclear waste. What characteristic aside a cabinet position do these gentlemen share? All three believe with whole hearted gusto in a theological event call The Rapture. I’m sure you’ve heard of it and have a vague pop cultural understanding of it but allow me a brief history and significance of this idea.
In 1827, in Dublin, a group of Christians interested primarily in prophecy contained within the Bible met on a semi regular basis to celebrate the Lords Supper. As leaders and speakers popped up in the group the ideas concerning pre-tribulation bubbled to the top of the group’s focus. One of the more learned and outspoken members of this group, one John Nelson Darby, concocted the idea of The Rapture from a couple of seeming disconnected passages. One from 1 Thessalonians and one from the Gospel of Matthew. In the interest of equal time with Zookeophira:
1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 ASV “15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord (παρουσίαν Parousia), will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.”
Matthew 24:37-40 NIV “37As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming (παρουσία Parousia) of the Son of Man. 38For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming (παρουσία Parousia) of the Son of Man. 40Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left.”
Mr Darby and his associates decoded the words “catching away” (or “caught up”) and a few other discombobulated salads of verbs and nouns to a farfetched conclusion even the most ardent heretics of old would find laughable. The risen Jesus swoops down to our world right before a time called The Great Tribulation (when the Anti-Christ, probably either Barack Obama or the current Catholic Pope, rules the planet) and gathers all the true believers up to Heaven or some celestial tent city then the rest of us suffer all manner of tortures and disasters before Yahweh Junior finally opens his last can of whoop-ass and the credits roll on the Universe.
By 1860, the term “The Rapture” had arrived in the United States. Since then, the theology of The Rapture has become a mainstay of prophetic literature and lectures across the evangelical landscape. Most of these dive into ludicrous numerological and coded messages which twist the melons of anyone listening with any sincere attempt to understand the explanations. Needless to say this notion of a Second Coming followed by a second Second Coming is not espoused by the majority of Christians in the States or anywhere.
Yet, here we live in a United States where at very least three of Russian Asset in Chief’s cabinet members believe with everything they hold that dear that this scenario is preordained and awaiting us right around the next temple construction site. Seriously. Mike Pompeo is even reported to have mentioned The Rapture in meetings at CIA when he was in charge of that fine institution of conivery. Mike Pence was instrumental in moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, a cornerstone of modern end times prophecy.
I want you to pause for just a moment and ruminate on this. The second in line to the leadership of the Free World not only believes in a Star Wars style end to the Universe but he feels obligated—as many Christian evangelicals do in their voting decisions—to make it all happen in the name of the Lard. Think about what this means. This is the sort of stuff that Christians fear and yet scoff at when they hear of other death cults like ISIS trampling the Middle East in search of their own Middle Earth-esque end of creation. It’s scorned and stamped out by decree.
Now, let me qualify my description of your kids…
I know your kids. Let me give you a slightly more objective description of these jewels. Outside their newest discovery of social altruism, they have been accused of selfishness in school. They once called a black girl a mud person. Someone accused one of them of theft of a trinket. Teachers have complained of rudeness. Since the birth of their burgeoning modeling career, they’ve been called conceited by their peers. Your kids aren’t perfect. But that’s no reason for those of us around you to look the other way if you allow this Lisa bitch access to them.
The United States is not perfect… but seriously… you guys are letting Pence and Pompeo babysit your kids.
Michael Shermer appeared on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast this week and within minutes he explained his approach to driving in LA. He knows the speed limit on a particular highway is 65 mph yet he drives a consistent 75 to 79 mph. He knows this is a safe speed—safe from police intervention. It’s the culture of that stretch of road. When Shermer turns off the main road near his house, he must make a left turn across traffic, requiring a yellow arrow. He doesn’t wait for the yellow arrow. He knows “no one is watching.” At that specific place in the world, the rule does not apply. No one is there to stop him and likely no one cares.
We all experience and engage in these sorts of discretions. We know the rule and we know the world in which that rule resides. The two things have no relationship to one another except when that relationship flashes through our mind at the moment we reach that place in the world. Otherwise, the rule and the action live on different planes. Different dimensions.
These miniscule pairings represent the most common forms of anarchism. There are no rules, no laws, no statutes until you fear them. Until you succumb to the fear of the consequence of infraction, legislated restrictions mean nothing.
I’m glad I found you. You’re glad? Yeah, I called you but some stranger answered and hung up. I sold my phone. Sold it? Yeah, pretty cheap. Why would you—? I don’t read anymore. You don’t read? No. What does that mean? It means I can’t stand all the garbage. Oh. You should stop too. Stop reading? That’s what I said. I can’t stop reading. Sure you can. The world is—. The world is shit and you know it. You’re just being dramatic. Dramatic is wailing and flailing which is kind of what you’re doing. Oh shit. O shit yourself. You can’t be serious. I am serious; I don’t even listen that much, anymore, either. What are you talking about? I play foreign films on my television without the subtitles. Huh? I don’t even watch it, just let Russian fill my apartment while I clean or draw or sleep. Russian? Or French or Scandinavian or whatever; anything I don’t speak. Are you okay? Am I okay; what the fuck does that mean? Are feeling okay? I feel great. Uh-huh. You should try it. I’m worried about you. There are other things to worry about. Like what? I thought you said you couldn’t stop reading?
Chrysalis, a growing collection of very short fiction.
That Night Filled Mountain
episodes post daily. Paperback editions are available.
My newest novel River of Blood is available on Amazon or Apple Books.
Unless noted, all pics credited to Skitz O'Fuel.