DEAD YET?

“Surely you can see him, hiding behind that bush. That big bush, near the wall. He’s looking back at us through binoculars. You can see the lens reflections when he scans the scene. There!”

Alton agreed that he could see the man hiding in the bushes.

“He thinks he has hope of escape, but he doesn’t. No hope at all.”

Alton didn’t know whether to be happy or sad that the man had no hope of escape. For that meant that he, Alton had no hope either.

“What’s the matter, you feeling sorry for that guy?”

“He’s just a kid. A teenager.”

“He’s one of them. They breed like rabbits. Give them an inch, they’ll take a mile.”

Alton nodded, knowing that nothing he could say would change the man’s mind in the least.

They brought him in with a guided probe, and after the initial shock the man/boy offered no resistance. They tied his hands and feet with plastic tape and called in his location for the retrieval van. There was no hurry to pick him up. He had already stopped breathing.

When they got back to the barracks, Alton went to his bunk to be alone. He was realizing that his chances of escape were much lower than he had previously assumed. No one knew what happened to boys who suddenly weren’t around anymore, but there was a chance they hadn’t escaped, but were simply killed, or taken away in the middle of the night to some other place even more horrible than this one.

Before the mass conscription occurred, a lot of Alton’s friends and peers were enrolled in school. They weren’t exactly working hard, but they were occasionally applying themselves to their studies. All that came to a sudden end after the Easter Rising. The schools emptied overnight. Camps like this one took their place, constructed on vacant land that had once been the locations of factories which had closed many years ago. Nothing was made here any more. The only enterprise was the trading of services, health care, sex, market investing.

Alton had hoped to be a music teacher with a sideline in concert performing on the piano. There wasn’t a great deal of money to be made in this his chosen career, but it was something he was good at and enjoyed. Forced conscription ended all that. Now, just six months later, music seemed folly. Who cared about anything that didn’t result in profit or death?

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TOO HOT

Somewhere near the Equator

It’s too hot to think. The rains come in relentless succession, a break of a few hours and then the sky darkens again. There’s no thunder or lightening, just a downpour, followed by hours of sprinkling. No wonder everything is so green.

All the food has spoiled. Even the rice has sprouted and the white beans have turned black.

There’s something odd about being hungry when you’re surrounded by fertility. Every other creature is well fed. Snakes, bugs, birds. And I’m getting thinner by the minute.

Not that losing weight is something I shouldn’t be doing. I admit it, I’m fat. Another few weeks of this and I’ll have to change my self image. I’ll surely have to change my pants and belt. Believe it or not, they sell American used clothes here. When Goodwill gives up on selling their donated clothing, they pack it into bales and ship it overseas to third-world countries like this. Most of the pants are too big in the waist and long in the leg for the locals. I’ve been buying good-quality canvas pants for less than a dollar for as long as I’ve been here. Seven years this month.

How was I to know that the government would turn against us? They used to welcome foreign retirees. Now they’re hunting us, tracking us down like arthritic prey. Losing weight has been a blessing for my knees. Suddenly, I’m spry as a fifteen-year-old. If this keeps up, I may take up jogging. Running for my life has been great training.

I used to have a lot of friends, all ex-pats like myself. We’d meet for coffee every morning and stay at the table for hours, complaining, bragging, scheming. Now there’s nothing to complain or brag about. We’ve all lost everything, and our only plans would involve getting back to somewhere safe. Or maybe I should say “safer.” I’m not sure anyplace is safe anymore.

Nobody wants migrants, unless they’re very rich. Even then, the host government will find some way to extract as much of that wealth as possible. When visa on arrival disappeared, I should have seen that as an omen. The next step down is for your home country to confiscate your passport. Your bank freezes your credit and ATM cards. Suddenly you’re nobody.

All these measures are justified as “security.” They’re only fighting terrorism, right?

Nobody wants poor people around, especially if they’re foreign poor people. It’s hard enough to tolerate your own citizens languishing in poverty, but some other countries’ citizens is more than you can take. Dirty, smelly, needy humans with nothing to offer. There are too many of them. They breed rapidly and harbor disease.

I’m not poor. In fact, thanks to my social security pension I’m better off than the vast majority of the local populace. But that’s not enough for the super rich who are in charge of this country. They want to court the super rich from other countries so they can have their impoverished country all to themselves.

I was thinking about my 401K account back in the States when the snake bit me. It was green and as big as a garden hose. It quickly bit me above the right ankle and then slithered away. It hurt, and I was startled by how suddenly it happened. I had not been expecting this. I guess I’m lucky it didn’t bite me again, or return to coil itself around my body and suffocate me, but then maybe it wasn’t that kind of snake.

I knew something was badly wrong when I began to lose all feeling below the knee. The numbness then spread above the knee, halfway up the thigh. I found that I could not easily walk, with the affected leg pretty much useless for propulsion. I looked around for a branch to use as a cane and found one that although too short, helped a little. Where should I go? I recall seeing a building a few minutes ago, behind me on the road in here. Maybe they could help me.

By the time I got back to the main road, the numbness had been replaced by searing pain and at least the illusion of heat. I became deeply frightened. Maybe this was it. All she wrote.

I lay down in the road, hoping that anyone driving by would see me before they ran over me. Suddenly I was very sleepy. I would close my eyes and rest a bit. When I had napped for a while, I would formulate a plan…

I woke up riding in the back of a truck. We were driving fast and there was a girl in the back of the truck with me, making sure I didn’t bounce out of the truck, because it sure seemed like we were hitting a lot of bumps. Suddenly we stopped in front of a building. Was it a clinic? I sure hoped so.

It was a clinic, but a very rudimentary one. There was no doctor on call, just a middle-aged woman who looked tired and a bit malnourished. She examined the wound and, after splashing it with alcohol, cut a large X with a scalpel. That hurt even more than the bite. She began to use a large hypodermic syringe with no needle to suck blood from the wound. Lots of blood. I either fainted or fell asleep.

When I awoke, I was in a room with another patient. He was an old local man who looked like he had no where else to go. Come to think of it, neither did I. I got the impression he had been here for weeks and was used to staring off at nothing in particular. Since he made no attempt to communicate with me, I reciprocated. Maybe someone articulate or in charge would enter the room. I waited.

Night fell and no one came. I fell asleep again, and woke having the urge to pee. Since I could not get my leg to work, I decided it would be too dangerous to try to get out of bed by myself. So I wet myself and went back to sleep. That was actually harder than you would think. Years of conditioning had to be overcome to allow me to let go and empty my bladder.

The next day I heard loud voices outside. Soldiers or police came into our room and started speaking to us in angry voices. I don’t know if my roommate could understand them, but I sure couldn’t. They probably assumed we were halfwits and left after a few minutes. Then, almost miraculously, two women came in and started the long process of cleaning us up and getting us out of bed. The smell made me think my companion had overcome his fears of fouling his own bed a while ago.

We were being made ready for discharge, but nobody had yet told us where to go or how to get there. It was obvious that neither of us could walk. We were taken outside. The day was warm but not yet overly hot. Two men on motorcycles pulled up and motioned for us to climb on back. Neither of us could easily do so, but with the help of the women, I was able to. I wrapped my arms around the driver, terrified of falling off. We sped away. I don’t know what happened to the other vehicle or my roommate, but I hope he made it away safely.

We rode down a sand road in between banana trees. Coconut palms lined the main road, but where we were, it was simply banana trees and some sort of fruit tree, maybe mango. I got the impression we were heading towards a city, for the number of buildings gradually increased, as did traffic. We arrived at a gas station that also seemed to be a bus stop. My driver consulted with some men and bought me a bus ticket, which he gave to me with a shy smile. I smiled back and thanked him. Then he helped me find a spot on a bench, which previously had held a man who seemed to not mind being forced to squat on the ground so I could sit in his place. I waited, wondering where we were headed. Hopefully a place without snakes.

When it rains this much, there are always more mosquitoes than you think are possible. Even if people try to spray poisons, it merely makes the blood suckers laugh. They will get you eventually, giving you what they gave your closest neighbor. Dengue, drug-resistant Malaria, Zika, Japanese Encephalitis…well, the list goes on if you’re interested in knowing all the ways you could succumb to mankind’s most ferocious enemy.

When dusk falls, the swarms of mosquitoes become clouds. A person can actually disappear inside one. I’ve seen it. Imagine a fog that sucks your blood! The man who I displaced on the bench smiled and handed me a handful of small mushrooms. He motioned that I should eat them. I hesitated, then thought, why the hell not and did. They didn’t have much a flavor. Someone else offered me a sip of water from a bottle. I took him up on that offer, as well.

Twenty minutes later the bus arrived. When I stood to begin the tedious process of climbing into it, three people helped me and I was inside in an instant! Never before have I felt such gratitude, such generalized love for all mankind. It was then that I wondered if the mushroom hadn’t kicked in.

Psychedelic or not, the journey was delightful. Four hours of crawling along muddy roads, dodging potholes and watching the setting sun through streaked windows became an amusement park ride! Just when I began to tire of the experience, we stopped and everyone got off.

Not only did I not have any idea of where we were, I had no money. Even if there were a hotel, how would I pay for a room? It was then that I heard someone call my name.

“Mr. Coffey? Mr. Daniel Coffey?”

“Present and accounted for, sir!” I replied, grinning madly and saluting like a crazed boy scout.

“I’m Jeffers Peterson from the Coca Cola Corporation. We’re glad to see you made it. If you’d missed this bus, the next one might not run for a week. Damn rains.”

“How did you know I was coming?”

“Four years ago in Sri Lanka you entered a contest. “Why I prefer regular Coke to the new Coke Light.” We were impressed by your essay and we used your photo in a billboard campaign that was quite successful. So when we heard you were in Surinam we got ahold of your management and swung a deal. Now we’d like to do it again, only this time with the new coffee flavored Coke. You can either praise it or find it lacking. Doesn’t matter. Either way we’re confident sales will rise.”

“As far as I know, no one knows I’m here. You say this is Surinam? I thought it was Sarawak.”

“You can’t hide from the Internet. Google knows where you are within a meter or so, any time of day or night. You look tired. Let me take you to your hotel.”

Smart Coca Cola Executive. I was more than tired. I was completely depleted. We stopped at a drug store to buy me a proper cane. The stump I had picked up in the forest was too short and covered with a green fungus. At the hotel I drank two liter bottles of water first thing and then asked for four more, which they promptly gave me. Then I fell asleep for long enough that it was the middle of the next day when I awoke.

It always surprises me how many Muslims there are in the world. Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world, but most people don’t know that. They think of the Middle East when they think of Islam. Here, the streets were full of women in burkas and men is dish dashes, which always remind me of nightshirts.

I was impressed by how white everyone’s teeth were. I felt utterly and completely alone and yet totally comfortable with that. I am most at home when I’m nowhere at all.

Now that I was pleasantly refreshed and my leg was almost healed from the snake bite, I felt a new sense of gratitude. It turned out that I was not a lost soul, nor forgotten by the world entirely. My friend from Coca Cola showed up around dinner time and suggested we dine together at an air-conditioned restaurant with cloth table cloths, perhaps the only one in the city. Surely it was no place I would have ventured on my own.

It turned out he had a business proposal for me.

I represented a class and age group of soft-drink customers they would like to woo. True, we were not their main audience, but an important one. There were still a lot of us baby-boomers around. While we no longer drank a quart a day, we could still be counted on to drink a quart of some soft drink per week.

They had gone so far as to test focus groups of people over sixty-five, and despite the fact that there are many more choices for soft-drink brands and flavors than there were say, sixty years ago, Coca-Cola still tested at the top of the range. Even Alzheimer’s patients prefer Coke.

They were considering an ad campaign. Previous slogans had been The Real Thing and Coke is It. Now they were contemplating Coke Is You. There was some concern this last slogan would confuse Alzheimer’s patients, but statistically, they were still a small slice of the pie.

Every Day is New

Even though I’m the Greeter here at Wal-Mart, my position is classified under “Security.” I tip off the store detectives if I see somebody suspicious. A lot of times the professional thieves work in pairs, one pushing a baby carriage with a blanket draped over it. The other fills the carriage as fast as she can and then they skeedaddle. You get to know that there are all kinds of thieves and perverts, and after a while, you get so you can spot them a long way off.

My name tag says “Carl” but my birth name was “Carla.” I decided to declare myself a man three years ago, and I’m glad I did. It suits me. I was always short and wide, big chested became barrel-chested when I stopped wearing a bra and strapped with down with an elastic wrap. I even have a little mustache which I accentuate with eyebrow pencil. Always had it. Grew it in eighth grade and had to shave every few weeks until a few years ago when I decided to stop trying to be someone I’m not.

I love my job. I like getting out of the apartment and having somewhere to go. On my breaks I go to the aisle that holds all the inspirational plaques. I’ve memorized them all. “God Grant Me the Serenity…” “These Colors Don’t Run” “Invention is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration” Sometimes I tear up thinking about how great our country is and how lucky I am not to have been born in some shithole. I amuse myself by adding some more that aren’t there. “Gas, Grass or Ass, Nobody Rides for Free.” “I’d rather have a Free Bottle In Front of Me Than a Prefrontal Lobotomy.” I had to look that last one up to see what it meant.

I’m well aware that everything we sell is made in China. That’s why we have so many American flags on display. It’s called “overcompensation.” I might be a Wal-Mart Greeter but I’m not stupid. I know some of the Greeters are retarded. That’s OK! Doesn’t take a lot of brain power to smile and hand someone a shopping cart.

I tell you, the Walton family sure has been good to Fayetteville, Arkansas. They got a public library that would put most European cities’ to shame. Facilities for sporting events, public swimming pools…all world-class.

They’ve got Wal-Marts in different parts of the world. Mexico is full of them. You can send money from one Wal-Mart to another for almost nothing. Cheaper than Western Union.

Once you realize that we’re all in this together and everybody is just doing the best that they can, you can relax and join the human race. Nobody’s taken what’s yours, we’re all being taken care of even if we can’t realize it, and we’re all gonna die eventually so the time to start enjoying life is RIGHT NOW!

Sometimes I miss the motivational speakers of yesteryear. Paul Harvey and Zig Ziglar just had a way of making you glad to be alive right here, right now! Too bad they’ve both passed on. The rest of us still have our journey ahead of us.

I don’t tell many people about my gender change. Nobody needs to know. I don’t miss having sex with men, not that I ever had much of it. He always seemed to get more out of it than me, so it’s just as well. Heck, I’m a man now, and no woman is going to throw herself at me, which is fine. Pick your battles. Most of them you can just walk away from. As Zig Ziglar said “You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.” For me, every day is a new start.

A Tragic Joke

KEN HOLDS NOTHING BACK

Everything is either suction or pressure. There is nothing else. Oh sure, they want you to believe it’s more complicated than that, but that’s just mind games they’ve created to trick you into surrendering your power and reason. I’d ought to know, I used to be a college professor. Though I never wrote my dissertation, I completed all the course work for a doctorate. But those are bitter memories, and I want to move onward and upward, toward the light of freedom in the present moment.

Suction draws us backwards, and pressure propels us forward. Sometimes you need both, other times only one. Hence the spiral, the form that describes all movement that’s not zigging or zagging. The famous Fibonacci sequence is but one form of spiral. The Golden Rectangle, the Pentagram of Opposite Resonance, the Four Sequences of Adequate Compensation, the Center of Nothing and Everything…these are the tools that should be taught in our schools from day one! But how many know of them?

Sometimes I feel like I should take drastic action, like one of those guys who barricades himself in a government office and claims to have a bomb strapped to his waist. If not me, who? If not now, when? If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

If I think it through, I can see that nothing more will come from such actions than me losing what little freedom I have left. I’ll be institutionalized, a kindly nurse handing me my pills every morning and watching carefully that I take them. “Open up,” she coos after I swallow, and then examines my mouth with a flashlight.

Some nights I lie awake and think I hear a humming sound coming from my window. Could it be a flying saucer hovering nearby? No, it’s simply the neighbor’s air conditioner. How I wish that it were a saucer, coming to take me home. Back to where I really belong, and have always belonged. This life of mine is a tragic mistake, a sick joke.

Something’s got to give, right? Maybe not. Maybe nothing changes for the better. Maybe the future is just more of the same, only gradually worse. If that’s the case, I don’t want to hang around. Maybe I should buy one of those AR-15 rifles they sell at Wal-Mart and go down in a blaze of glory. Come and get me coppers! Top of the world, Ma!

The thing I like about Wal-Mart is that nobody’s any better than anybody else. It’s a level playing field. We’re all just Wal-Mart shoppers. The people that work there are nobody special. You’ll find a sixty year-old man who used to own the hardware store in town that was put out of business after Wal-Mart came and undercut with lower prices on the only items that were making him any money. After his store failed, which had been in business for three generations, he went to work for Wal-Mart, making minimum wage, and being supervised by a nineteen-year-old management trainee who didn’t know anything about hardware, or how to fix things. It’s the perfect metaphor for America. And here I am, who paid graduate school tuition and almost broke even by teaching undergraduate introductory courses to nineteen-year-olds who had the attention span of gnats, sitting at the snack bar, wondering why I’m still sucking air.

Wal-Mart is all of us. It’s the greeter who hands us our cart and wears a blue name badge that reads “Hi, I’m Carl!” Carl would rather be here than sitting in front of the TV at home, watching reruns of Gilligan’s Island. Besides, he’s already seen every episode twice.

I’m too intelligent to watch TV. It doesn’t hold my attention. TV shows are made for people at the mental age of twelve. If you have the mental age of a seven or eight-year-old, then you might find TV show challenging and somewhat profound. If you can actually read and write, you’re out of luck. As TV star Carol Burnett once said in reply to those who criticize the low level of TV, “Television is for shut-ins, for people in nursing homes and hospitals. If you’re not in that group, then why aren’t you out doing something productive with your health and intelligence?”

She did all right for herself. I’d like to think I still have time to break through whatever has been holding me back. I was not put here by mistake. There is a plan for me, though it’s unfolding so slowly I haven’t been able to notice, much less learn much about it.

Is it cold in here or is it just me? I’m covered in goose bumps. One moment I’m freezing, the next I’m sweating buckets. I’m worried that it’s a electromagnetic ray they’re beaming from satellites. It’s the way they brought down the World Trade Center in 9/11. Dustification. Doctor Judy Wood. Read about it. The people who jumped out the windows were in agony from the ray. We’ve had this technology since the 1990’s. I don’t know why they would be targeting me, but then there are a lot of things a guy like me isn’t privy to. I don’t travel in the right circles.

YOU PEOPLE

You people are what’s wrong with this country. If something could be done about you, there might be hope. Every time somebody gives you a break, or cuts your some slack, it’s an insult to the rest of us. We’re God-fearing, hard-working folks, and you all are parasites looking for a host to feed on.

Do you remember a time when America made sense? When Walter Cronkite told you the news and night and you could believe he wasn’t just making shit up? When the office of the President commanded respect? When a boy could get a rifle for Christmas and it wouldn’t cause liberal tongues to wag?

I remember that America. I was once that boy. Now, I’m heavily medicated, on permanent disability, and although my religion tells me to love the Negro and the Jew, the Muslim and the Communist, there’s almost nobody I believe or respect any more. Paul Harvey is dead. So is Earl Nightingale. They made the Boy Scouts admit queers and give them a merit badge for butt fucking. That’s the America I live in now.

I always worked, always had a job. When I was ten I was a paper boy. When I was fourteen, a bus boy. Sixteen a dishwasher. Eighteen, I worked construction. Today what do I have to show for it? Nothing more than that immigrant who showed up last week expected three square meals and a roof over his head. He’s getting what he expected, and more. Me, I got the shaft.

I rent in a one-bedroom, cookie-cutter apartment near a Mega Wal-Mart that costs almost half my monthly disability check. There’s nothing to look at but the parking lot, which is full of RV’s half the time because they let those people park for free, guessing that they’ll buy something on their way to the bathroom. Scum of the earth lurk around there. If I had a wife or daughter, I wouldn’t let them wander over there any time of day.

Even though nobody wants to admit it, America is full of bad people. Some of them are even Americans. Some of them are white. Some of them have guns. All of them have lawyers, and if push comes to shove, you’ll go to jail and they’ll get house arrest or probation. Their kids will go to good schools and rub shoulders with important people, while your kids hang around with future prison inmates. These people have each other’s backs, so there’s no easy way to bring them down. If you can get a cop drunk and get him to talk, he’ll tell you all about it.

Sometimes when I can’t sleep I go to Wal-Mart because it’s open 24/7. The aisles are mostly empty, but there are a few people walking up and down, mostly meth users, tweakers, talking to themselves. You can tell who they are because their eyes bug out. Then there are the workers, usually Nigerians or Mexicans, restocking merchandise. They do that kind of stuff at night. There’s usually only one cashier on duty. Any time of year you can go to Wal-Mart if there’s no place else open. Last time I was there I met a guy named Ken. He’s older than me, but I sort of enjoy talking with him, at least until his negativity gets to me.

Ken is one of those guys who never fits in, no matter where he lives. He’s still burned up about stuff that happened fifty years ago. The girl that went off with another guy in 1970. When I think about the prison he lives in, I vow not to get stuck in that spot. Even if I don’t know how I’m going to move on from this place I feel stuck in now, I know I’m going to do everything in my power to do so.

I used to think someone was holding me back from being all that I could be. At first I thought it was rich white people, then Jews, then black people on welfare, but at last I realize that no one has been stopping me from reaching my personal best. Once I figured that out it got easier and it also got harder. I need to get rid of the parasites in my life. Gotta call them out and name them. Stop pretending they don’t exist and they’re not sucking the life and energy out of everybody around.

Damn, you’d think a relatively good-looking guy like me from a good-enough family could have gotten somewhere by now.