Sunday, May 27, 2012

Kat Brooks: Post-Apocalyptic Bieber Hunter

A lone figure walked through the devastation of the wasteland. Before the Great Upheaval, this might have been a verdant field, or a picturesque town with white picket fences. Now it was just a craggy plain of nothing.

The woman surveyed the land around her cautiously as she moved. Her legs moved confidently in their black leather knee-high boots. A black mini-skirt and a dark brown bodysuit covered the rest of her body. A shiny leather cuirass held in her ample bosoms, fastened with many straps and buckles. Holstered pearl-handled revolvers and sheathed blades hung from a belt around her hips, and a large automatic rifle and a longsword were shouldered on her back. The woman's face was obscured by a turban-like scarf that draped over her head. A shock of brown hair found its way out between the cloth and a pair of darkened goggles. The only strange thing about the walking woman was an odd headset that protruded from the scarf over her ears.

The woman walked as if she were on a mission. And she was. Kat Brooks was trying to save the world.

* * * *

In the early years of the 21st Century, governments all over the world experienced a problem: The people of the world were too free. A sense of benevolent anarchy was settling into the internet-using, free speech-indulging cattle that government felt the financial duty and almost sexual need to control. This new world culture in which information was shared freely everywhere without government control was something they could not allow to continue. But how to wrest control back from the people?

It is believed that in the year 2013, that the U.S. Government made the first attempt to bring the people back to them. It started simply, with an advertising campaign. They contacted a number of popular performers for this campaign: Nicky Minaj, Lady Gaga, Beyonce, Jay-Z, Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus. All six performers were spirited away to Nevada's Groom Lake, the legendary Area 51. At first, a revolutionary mind control technique was tried, having been given to the authorities by force from aliens picked up at Roswell in 1947. Unfortunately, since these subjects were pop stars, they had no minds to control, and the process turned them all into gibbering idiots. Luckily, the American public would never know the difference.

Scientists at Area 51 took DNA samples of the performers. One of the scientists has just watched Star Wars: Attack of the Clones and, much like George Lucas himself, came up with a truly horrible idea. Using alien technology, he created the first true human clone. There were now two Justin Biebers. Then four, then eight, then thousands. These Biebers became the new face of the American Armed Forces, armed only with a hypnotic ability to lull people into addled sycophancy with syrupy pop numbers.

Unfortunately, the government hadn't reckoned on the true power of this new Army of the Bieber. Rebel scientists now believe that something in the pop star's Molson and back bacon-damaged Canadian DNA was altered during the cloning process. Much like the Wendigo of legend, the Army of the Bieber became a shambling, cannibalistic, almost-listenable force that ravaged the North American continent.

Biebers now out-number humans one hundred-to-one.

* * * *

Kat Brooks stopped. Pensively, she turned her head slightly and listened, as she had thought she had heard something above the rush of the hot wind that pushed across the wasteland unabated. She pushed her darkened goggles up to her forehead and surveyed the area. About a hundred yards away, ahead of her in the rocks, Kat saw the briefest flash of movement. She unslung her rifle, a modified AK-47, and slowly moved forward, her eyes constantly moving.

After about fifty yards, she heard something. It was faint, over the noise of the wind. It could have been almost musical. But it was definitely not her imagination. She moved more cautiously toward the source of the noise. Suddenly, a shape moved at her, leaping from one of the crags of the low arroyo. Kat turned and pressed her trigger in one fluid movement. The noise of her rifle split the silence like a gunshot.

Kat cautiously moved to her target, which lay crumpled about five feet from her, a human-like creature lying on its side. She kicked it over with her boot. She saw a dust-covered sports white jacket, ripped chinos and a t-shirt that had some sort of saying on it that was now unreadable because of the blood. The creature's head was framed by long bangs that look liked they had been cut with a mixing bowl.

A young one, Kat thought to herself. But that means the rest of the pack isn't far away.

Suddenly, from behind her, Kat heard an inhuman noise.

"If I was your boyfriend, I'd never let you go..." came a chorus of high-pitched voices from behind her.

She spun to face five Biebers, all dressed in torn, tattered and filthy white outfits, like a sacrilegious Blink-182 with bad haircuts. "I can take you places you ain't never been before..." they sang in unison.

Oh no, Kat thought. The Bieber pack! She stood there, stunned for a moment, as the insidious lyrics began to weave their spell.

"Baby, take a chance or you'll never ever know," the Biebers continued, dancing around here in a carefully choreographed plan of attack. Kat could feel herself starting to sway to the bubble gum beat and the saccharine words. Her rifle began to droop in her hands.

"I got money in my hands that I'd really like to blow," The Biebers pirouetted around her to the staccato rhythm of the song of attack. "Swag swag swag on you!"

Kat's rifle dropped to the ground in a clatter that could not be heard over the hypnotic trill that was being created in her head.

"Chillin' by the fire, why we eating' fondue..." The Biebers began to slowly move in for the kill. "I dunno about me, but I know about you!"

Unknown to even herself, the word "fondue", being such a moronic word to be in a song, triggered a post-hypnotic command in Kat's mind. Without conscious thought, her left hand reached up to her headset and pushed a button. Suddenly, a hard bass line rebounded in her ears.

"If you like to gamble, I tell you I'm your man," the gravely voice in her ears intoned.

Rebel scientists, after many experiments that had resulted in many valiant deaths, had determined that only the music of Motörhead could reverse the loathsome spell of the Biebers' mesmerizing force. Lemmy Kilmister was the Anti-Bieber, and the leader of the resistance movement all over the planet.

The music in her ears broke the spell instantly. Her hands unsheathed the two large knives from her belt. With a swift and powerful motion, she plunged the blades deep into the throats of the two Biebers on each side of her. Biebers don't have a proper brain, so hitting them in the larynx was the only way to properly kill them.

"You win some, lose some, it's still the same to me!" the song continued, as Kat released her blades, which would allow the creatures to bleed out and die quickly.

"The pleasure is to play..." Kat rolled to her right side, Unsheathing the longsword as she stood up. Two more of the Biebers advanced.

"It makes no difference what you say!" A single long curving slash of the blade caught both Biebers in their throats. They fell to the ground, gurgling what remained of their songs and their lives in a fountain of red and white foam.

The final Bieber turned to run. Kat dropped her sword and took her time drawing one of the pistols from her holsters.

"I don't share your greed, the only card I need is..." She took aim at the retreating and soulless pop icon copy.

"The ace of spades! The ace of spades!" Kat's shot struck the Bieber in the base of his spine, rendering his spindly legs useless for dancing. Or running away.

Kat flicked off the switch of her headset and slowly walked up to the still-living Bieber. She stood in front of the creature as it tried to crawl away, flailing his arms on the rocks like they were a child's snare drum. When it saw the toe of her black leather boot, it looked up with a look on it's face that begged for mercy.

A harsh, croaking whisper told her "I'd like to be ... everything ... you want ... hey, girl ... let me talk to..."

Kat Brooks put a bullet in the throat of the creature before it could finish the chorus. And a second one into it's head, on the off chance it might bounce off something in the skull and hit the rudimentary brain. Kat allowed herself a satisfied smile.

She picked up and cleaned all her weapons, restoring them to their proper place on her lithe body. Straightening her mini-skirt. She once again started moving forward into the wilderness of destruction.

Soon, she thought to herself. I will find the hive. And then I can finally rest after the Prime Bieber has been rendered speechless.

The sun began to set over the fragmented devastation. Kat Brooks continued to walk on into the gloom of the burgeoning twilight.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Self-pity, ennui and two moments in a life.

It's a feeling that comes on quickly. What do I call it? Self-pity? Empty wastefulness? There's a scream inside building and building but never reaches that cathartic moment of release.

I look around my immediate room. My little information center rules one corner of it. Shelves of  books. CD binders full of DVDs. A little brass cat on a shelf that I like. Stacks of index cards I've never gotten around to entering. A box of old cereal boxes. A tote of ancient magazines. My dilapidated recliner. The pleather coating of the cushions and arms has been peeled off. I peeled it off when it started cracking and splitting. It became a bit of an obsession for awhile.

Another corner of the room has a desk that has our old PC on it. My wife uses that now, since I have my laptop and I can't sit up that way for any length of time without my damn knees giving my problems. I only use it to make DVDs, since my laptop's DVD burner isn't all that fast. She had all of her craft stuff there, and in a re-purposed printer cart that I use for a table sometimes.

The rest of the room is filled with junk. Barristers full of knickknacks planned to be put up for sale, comic books I planned to scan, movie posters and lobby cards I never got around to hanging up. My wife's old crystal. A ladder. An ironing board. Several box fans. A sewing machine that always tangles when I try to use it. Six pairs of pants that I haven't hemmed because of that problem. Our old air conditioner which we haven't yet put back in the window. A roll of gray deerskin, or some sort of hide, that my wife plans to use to cover her Native American and New Age craft tables at the flea market. Two bureaus full of clothes we never bother pulling out. I wear the same few pairs of pants and a bunch of sleeveless t-shirts constantly. Since I don't work, I can't see the point to getting dressed up. I do try to switch from the pants I sleep in to another pair. One does have to have some sense of accomplishment now and again.

There's a fold-up futon against a set of shelves that face into the living room. Most damn uncomfortable thing I've ever sat or tried to sleep on in my life. The cats use it as a scratching post. There's an exercise machine on the landing going upstairs. Never been used. The how-to video that came with it was a VHS tape, and I never got around to converting it to a DVD. It seems pretty self-explanatory, but we've just never got it out and tried it. It's been sitting in this room for about four years now. Behind it, several big pieces of white styrofoam that we plan to make a light box out of so Mona can photograph her crafts better when she posts them on-line. And behind that, an old framed movie poster that I tried hanging on the wall. It fell down, but amazingly, glass didn't break, so I've just let it sit there. Bunny Lake is Missing. Good movie, too. You get to watch the Zombies perform a song I don't think is still available anywhere else.

There's a Dali-esque clock on the wall, looking melted and misshapen. I never read the damn thing right through the gooey haze of morning vision. Along with that, an antlered deer skull that Mona adorned with Native American-style regalia. Definitely a piece of art. By the desk, there's still a reproduction of a Gamera poster, hanging next to my last piece of original comic book art. A page from Doom Patrol. Grant Morrison and Richard Case, the master deconstructors.

That's what I see day-in and day-out. By my own choice. There's a sense of ennui that has hit me, particularly since I was forced to go on disability. I've never been much for traveling around. The great outdoors hold no particular allure for me. For all the apparent chaos of the room, this is one of the few places I feel in control.

Until that feeling hits. What the hell have I been doing with my life? I never took anything as seriously as I should. School was a game, and a bloody expensive one that I never bothered to finish. There was always something more important to take care of; another glass to life, another tab to eat, another record to zone out with, another friend to hang out with because it was the cool thing to do.

I try to put my finger on the problem. There is no problem to strike out at, only excuses that my inner self has to listen to maintain balance. When I was a child, I once had to go see a psychiatrist, because there was a possibility that I was going to be put into a foster home. I can't remember the exact circumstances why. I only remember a doctor's office, and later a conference room in the courthouse.  The psychiatrist gave me an I.Q. test, and for some reason, he told me what that number was. It was pretty high.

Soon afterwards, I was in the courtroom sitting next to my mother at this table. There was a sheaf of papers in front of her, so I took a gander at them. Reading through the top sheet, I discovered that the whole proceeding was about determining my mother's competency to be a parent. After her name, it gave her age and said she was mildly mentally-retarded. I read that phrase over and over and I asked the woman who was acting as her lawyer how that could have gotten in this report, since it was obviously wrong. My mother couldn't be mentally-retarded. No fucking way. She made sure there was food on the table. She could drive. She could hold down a job. How could she be mentally-retarded?

I don't remember much of the rest of that conference, other than that I went back home with my mother (we lived with my grandparents).

Whenever the feeling comes on me, I look at myself now and what I have and I think back to those two particular moments. I'm so very thankful that my life has turned out the way it has. I have a wife who loves me. I have a cadre of adoring pets (who are adored in return). I have a roof over my head. I have good friends, both in real-life and in cyberspace. But that feeling makes me wonder: Could I have been more? I often justify that question internally with what I learned at the conference: How could I have been more? Was it because I had no inspiration, or because I had no way of recognizing inspiration?

Shouldn't a person be more than the sum of his experiences?

Death and tears

My grandmother died when I was eight. So at least I know all of the stuff I previously mentioned happened before then. She died of liver cancer after a lot of apparently bungled tests and diagnoses. I remember walking out of school to get on the bus and seeing my mom in her red car waiting for me behind the bus, which was where she usually parked if she was picking me up early.

“I’ve got some bad news for you.” She told me in a shaky voice. “Your grandma passed away today.”

I remember the feeling was like getting the breath knocked out of you. I don’t even remember what I said to her. I do remember not wanting to cry.

Several days later, I still hadn’t cried. My mother was concerned and asked “Don’t you miss your grandma? Don’t you feel sad?”

My insides were twisting, but I would not give into the tears. “No” I said, shaking my head.

I went in the funeral home the next day for about a minute. I saw my grandmother in the coffin from a distance, and couldn’t go any closer. I stayed in the car, and did the same for the funeral the next day. I’m sure my family, at least my mom, thought I was callous and unfeeling. But I did not think I could or should let myself cry.

It happened again about six years later. My mom was in the hospital and I had walked down to the Post Office to wait for the mail to be sorted. I was standing there, watching them through the open upper half of a doorway as I often did, and the next thing I knew, my grandfather was walking though the door.

“I’ve got some bad news for you, little buddy.” I had never seem him shaking so and looking his age as much as he did at the moment. “Your mother’s dead. She had a heart attack in the hospital.”

The world went instantly cold and my breath was gone again. I ran over to my grandfather, who looked like he was going to fall down.

“It’s okay, Grandpa. Let me help you.” I helped him out the door and down the concrete ramp and headed back up the street to his station wagon.

“You’ll have to come live with me. Oh Lordy, I can’t believe she’s gone. This is going to kill me!” He grabbed a street pole for support as he wobbled.

I got him back to my apartment and did my best to hold him together in one piece, at least long enough to make the arrangements for the funeral. The funeral home was just two doors down from my apartment, and I took care of most of the arrangements myself. My grandfather was in no condition to do so, and I felt one of us had to be strong. Once again, no tears. I couldn’t allow myself that luxury.

I had to be at this funeral, simply to make sure my grandfather didn’t fall apart. It was a quick service but there were a lot of people there. All I really remember of the preparations was choosing “Amazing Grace” as one of the hymns. No tears.

About twenty years later, my grandfather was in a nursing home. There was really no choice. I had finally gotten my own place a few blocks away from him and went over to see him one winter morning. I found his door slightly open, and he was sitting in his pajamas in a chair watching TV. I went over to ask him why the door was open and he couldn’t tell me. He wanted to, but he no longer had the ability. A massive stroke took away his voice. This man had at least seven strokes that I was aware of before this; one time, while I was visiting a friend for a weekend, he knew he had one and tried to drive himself to the hospital. Luckily, a friend of ours saw him having difficulty driving, stopped him and took him to the hospital. He was a very stubborn man.

But this last stroke did him in. Once he lost his ability to communicate, the light in his eyes started to fade. He had a progression of mini-strokes while in the nursing home. I was working at the answering service for the local doctors the morning the nursing home called to say he was failing. I went to see him one final time and said my goodbyes and caught the bus home. About an hour after I got home, I got the call he was dead. The last member of the only family I ever knew at that time, and still the tears wouldn’t come. They wanted to, on several occasions, but I couldn’t or I should say I wouldn’t let them.

There really haven’t been any tears, yet. Whatever wall is holding them back is still there. It’s been so long that at times I wonder if there really is anything behind that wall; is that wall all that there really is of me? The wall has been fractured at times, and some of the tears do escape, primarily in times of inspiration or self-pity. I’ve nearly lost it all while watching fictional characters die. It’s utterly insane that I can feel more emotion for, say, Mr. Spock dying than I could for my own mother. What kind of monster am I? What kind of a kid doesn’t cry when his grandma dies?

I’m somewhat disabled now, and my legs don’t work like they used to work. If I fall down, I often have a hell of a time getting back up. There have been times when the sheer futility of such a situation has overwhelmed me and I start wallowing at the trough of self-pity. A chink in the mortar lets some of the tears out then. But like a little Dutch boy and a dike, I plug that hole as quickly as I can, for fear the entire wall will simply crumble.

I don't think that I'm prepared quite yet to find out if there’s anything there, anything more to me than just those tears.