We are surrounded by Evil. Intelligent, powerful, active forces of evil dog our every step. We are helpless to fight them. Our only hope comes from above, and we must ask for it.
This is great news,
but almost nobody believes it anymore. The help of a force more
intelligent and more powerful than evil is ours for the asking. If
you know this to be true, then count yourself lucky. Again, most
people have abandoned the whole notion of Evil with a capital “E.”
Still, even if
you’re a true believer you may not have an easy time of it. Your
role may be to serve as a warning to others. Somebody had to be Cain
and Judas. Armageddon is a battle, not a picnic.
Clara was a sleepy girl, often timid,
and mainly waiting for someone to want her. She could not imagine why
a boy or man would desire her, but knew that in the natural order of
things these things happened all the time, so she had a chance. Once
he wanted her, it would be nothing at all for her to want him back.
Find him would take some time, but once he was found, that would be
the end of the search.
She practiced being pleasant at all
times, and feigning interest in even the most pompous of bores. She
could look you right in the eye and tune you out, thinking about
something else entirely. Even nodding in the right places came
naturally, as a sort of musical rhythm thing. Talk talk talk nod. All
the while she would maintain eye contact, but through the gift of
inattention, not see or hear a thing being said.
She had also mastered the art of
repeating the last word you said, as if contemplating the deeper
meaning of it.
Her only exercise regimen was swimming,
but as regimens go, that was the best. Hard to injure yourself
swimming. Despite her lack of rigor or ambition, she found that she
became better at it over time, and it was an excellent way to develop
her body physically. Inside she was a poet, but on the outside, an
Fifteen was an exciting age to be
alive. Everything was changing so quickly! Like many her age, she was
in love with love itself. Romantic love, love of Beauty, God,
Animals, Nature, and on occasion, all mankind. One night she stayed
up all night just to see what it would be like. When winter turned to
spring and then summer, she took it personally. A June morning could
be so full of portent and meaning it was like being punched in the
stomach. She gasped for breath at all the beauty, drowning in sensory
When one of her classmates was
discovered to have super glued her upper lip back to make it look
fuller, Clara understood. It took a visit to the doctor to have it
unglued. Some snickered, but Clara considered it a courageous act, a
nervy experiment. You do what you have to do to feel fully alive.
Nothing to be ashamed of there.
Sometimes at night when she found it
difficult to fall asleep, she entertained a waking dream, a long
fantasy about her and a group of friends washed up on a tropical
island. There were two cute boys and some awful girls who the boys
avoided because they were both in love with Clara. It didn’t matter
how long it took to finally fall asleep, because the long, delicious
fantasy in which Clara wondered which boy’s love to accept made the
interval between hitting the sack and falling asleep a pleasurable
Clara’s Mother’s Diary
I’m worried about Clara. Half the time
it’s like she’s on another planet. There’s no getting through to her.
I asked the school nurse if she thought Clara might be on drugs but
she said “no, she’s just fifteen.” I don’t think all
fifteen-year-old girls are walking around in a daze, but maybe many
of them are and I’m not close enough to them to see it.
I’ve asked her father to talk to her,
but he says he can’t see the problem. He’s not around as much as I
am, and when he comes home from work he just wants to watch
television and relax. He and Clara watch TV together, but they don’t
talk. I feel like I’m the only one who sees a problem here. Am I
Clara smiled at me today, but then
walked right past and started talking to some girls in our class. I
thought I was going to faint when she looked right at me and smiled.
She’s already beautiful, but when she smiles she’s even more so.
She’s like a goddess! A superstar! And to think she smiled at me!
She wasn’t always this way. Last year,
when we were fourteen, she wasn’t anything special. Like many of us,
skinny and awkward. Of course, she had braces until halfway through
the school year, and those make anybody look dorky.
Now she has grown into a mature woman,
a powerful person who could be a movie star if she wanted. Clara has
more going for than all the other girls in this school combined.
Natalie’s Letter to the School Nurse
Dear Miss Brooks. By now you are
probably aware of Clara, the snob who pretends she is God’s gift to
our school and the world in general. We other girls in her class see
right through her little act, but the boys have been completely taken
in by her and think she’s some kind of movie star. For the sake of
our school and the children involved, please do something. I’m sure
you can get Principal Stevens to listen to you, and if he wants to
have a meeting with us, we’d be glad to.
Natalie, Schuman, 10th grade
PRINCIPAL STEVENSONS’ REPLY
Dear Miss Schuman:
I spoke with your teacher Miss Brooks
and in our conversation together we were unable to ascertain the
exact nature of what offense you think Miss Englert is guilty. You
say she is a “phony” and “all the boys have been taken in by
her…little act,” but I am unaware of any violation of our school
code of conduct this may entail.
While it is normal for girls in your
age group to form “cliques” or groups of friends who are often
tight-knit and critical of other cliques, this situation you describe
demands neither disciplinary action nor medical intervention. So I
think we will simply watch and wait for further developments.
I haven’t been able to sleep much. The
last two nights I tossed and turned thinking about Clara. When I did
dream, I dreamed about her, only she was not doing what I wanted her
to do. She was ignoring me. She even laughed at my attempts to tell
her why I care so much about her, and worship the ground she walks
on. Is this normal? Do I need to be medicated?
I thought about talking to the school
nurse because maybe she wouldn’t tell my parents. She also knows
Clara and that might help her understand what I’m going through.
Chad’s Parents Respond to a Note From the School Nurse
Thank you for telling us about your
visit with our son Chad. We want to make sure we’re not
over-reacting, and we certainly don’t want to ignore this distress
Chad is enduring. We will respect your wishes not to tell Chad that
we’ve talked to you, or know that he sought your help.
This Clara girl seems to be a real
character. She’s like a tornado roaring through the lives of her
classmates. I suppose there’s nothing any of us can do to change her
behavior, but we must say that it’s quite difficult for us to stand
by helplessly watching our son suffer, and we’ve spoken to the
parents of Natalie Schuman about what the other girls think of Clara.
Again, we don’t want to make a bad situation worse or put fuel on the
Clara Talks With the School Nurse
What’s everybody freaking out about? I
don’t get it. I’m just being me, minding my own business, and people
are going crazy to my right and to my left. Don’t they have any real
problems they can deal with? I mean, get a life, people!
who pull and drill teeth, am happiest pulling at and drilling my
dental hygienist, a frosted blond girl of twenty-two, whom I recently
chose over two other applicants for the job, one a fat girl with a
high G.P.A., and the other a horse-faced brunette who always looked
like she was thinking something sad.
wife doesn’t care. Well, she doesn’t know, and even if she did, I
doubt she’d care. She and I went our separate ways years ago. Our
home is so absurdly large now that the children are
grown and gone that she and I can spend a week at home and only run
into each other once or twice. Even then, we have nothing to say to
a while I experimented with the recreational use of nitrous oxide,
most commonly known as “laughing gas.” With careful
experimentation I was able to heighten my orgasm during masturbation,
in a way that left me breathless and speechless for minutes
afterwards. I would love to involve my hygienist in this
hanky-panky, but am afraid that she would be too shocked to relax and
enjoy herself. And then she would tell her friends and eventually I
would wind up in treatment or in jail.
have already divorced two women who stood in the way of my happiness,
so I’m not about to entangle myself legally with any more of them.
Them as in “Them” the movie about giant ants who invade the LA
sewers. My freedom is all I have. And my house. I can’t lose my
practice. All these things cost money!
I think I have a novel in me, hiding, waiting to be brought into the
sunlight. I used to think I had a lot of different talents including
writing, music, drawing pictures…but I had to let all of them go to
complete dental school and start my practice. Now that I look back on
it, the years simply flew by. No matter how much I tried, I never
really enjoyed myself. Now it’s time to change all that.
paid my dues, taken my losses, eaten shit as much as most dentists
who spend their days staring down the open mouths of people who can’t
be bothered to brush or floss. At the end of many a day I’ve had to
drink myself to sleep. Intravenous Valium takes the edge off, as
well. Come tomorrow it all starts over again. Watching the hands of
the clock crawl slowly around, staring at women’s breasts under their
clothing, dreaming, fantasizing, hoping that today will be different.
Something will happen, some fundamental change will occur. But it
I only owned a condo on the sea shore in some third world country
where the women are cheap and readily available. Maybe then I’d be
able to scratch this terrible itch that’s been plaguing me for most
of my adult life.
to think of it, the itch struck when I was about fifteen. From that
point on, nothing equaled girls. Not science, not sports, not money,
not the approval of parents or teachers. Nothing. Since that time, it
hasn’t really changed for me in a fundamental way. Girls are all that
really matters. The approval of girls. Girls willing to have sex with
me, for whatever reason. Girls and their girl bodies.
Call me shallow, color me obsessed. I’ve certainly been called worse. I’ve lost more than most men have earned, and still I haven’t learned my lesson. It’s a hunger, and ache down deep in my soul, and no amount of anything will make it go away for good. It dies down now and then, briefly, and then pops back up like a whacka-mole.
Do you even know what you want? Or are you a compulsive whiner, a
habitual moaner and groaner who expects someone to take pity and
solve your problems for you? If so, welcome to the club. We are
legion, and we’re not going away any time soon.
Coddled as children,
given unearned praise as teens, we arrived at adulthood soft all
over. We’re sure somebody, somewhere owes us an apology for
something. We’re prepared to wait as long as it takes to receive
our recompense. Restitution. We’re not just going to forget about
it and move on!
Our hurt feelings
and self-pity are all that we have, so we won’t be surrendering
them any time soon.
Just as much as the
rest of us, celebrities like to have fun, but sometime the weight of
their public status weighs heavy on them. Their publicists warn them
not to do anything to silly, not to have an unattractive picture go
viral on social media. The stars become glum and withdrawn. Fearful
of making a lasting bad impression, remaining home-bound, finally
venturing forth for only the most closely-scripted media events.
Dwayne “The Rock”
Johnson feels an obligation to his fan base. He wants to appear only
in ways that would inspire and impress. His generosity is legendary,
though the gentle giant has gone to great lengths to keep his acts of
charity a secret. Few know that he donated one of his lungs to a
child who needed one. “It’s OK, you’ve got two!” was all the
Rock had to say on the matter. Doctors barely stopped him from
donating both kidneys in another incident, despite his insistence to
“give until it hurts.”
“I don’t mind
dialysis,” said the highest-grossing movie start on the planet.
“Gives me a chance to slow down and read stories to kids. Or if
there’s no kid nearby, I can inhale pure oxygen to help my
remaining lung do its job better.”
Indeed, the only
photo of Dwayne at a dialysis center shows him with tubes inserted
into his massive arms, an oxygen mask on his face, and an enraptured
child in his lap, listening to a real celebrity read the antics of
Fun comes in all
shapes and sizes, flavors and textures, and for Dwayne Johnson, it
doesn’t get any more fun than this.
“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?
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
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
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.