Born on the Fourth of the Flies

In a pink and salty green desert town in one of the new states, adobe Spanish churches thrust their steeples heavenward, the tips vaporously scraping against the cold blue veil and its cotton-ball clouds glued there like a childhood art project about life.

Down one of the hot, dry, and murderous streets named Olive, a man sits in a flat white house with a carport watching a movie about the Vietnam War. The police are across the way in the gutter drawing a chalk outline around a bent and defeated body.

A woman suddenly steps out of the shadows and into the room where the man is watching the movie and rudely wants to know, “What are we going to have for supper then…? Since you’re being so moody and antisocial.”

He pauses the war movie, sighs, and says to her without looking at her, “It’s called dinner.”

“Not where I come from.”

“Then go back to where you came from,” he snaps, and starts the movie again.

“I think we should go to the family cookout. It’s the 4th of July. Don’t you want to celebrate our wonderful country?”

Annoyed, he thrusts a thumb into the pause button on the remote. “It’s called a fry out.”

“What?” she mockingly laughs. “A fry out? You’re not frying anything. That’s just stupid.” She waits for a reaction.

“What the hell are you going to celebrate?” he wants to know.

“Um, America… The greatest country on the planet – our freedom, our liberty, our justice for all, our way of life that God has blessed us with.”

He scoffs, laughs for a moment. “I don’t want to be around people,” he says. “Especially those people.”

“My family!?”

“Yes. They’re annoying and fake.” He restarts the movie, and a jungle is carpet bombed in a blaze of orange overflowing balls of burning fire and light.

“Could you at least turn that crap off while I’m trying to talk to you!” she yells, hands on hips. There’s gunfire spewing from a dark green helicopter. Then the screen suddenly goes dark. “Thank you,” she says. “And my family is wonderful. They’re wonderful people.”

“They hate me.”

“Of course, they do. You’re a loser, and they don’t like losers.”

The man gets up out of his chair, goes to the large picture window, and pulls the curtain aside. “Did you see that someone else has been killed?”

She goes to the dining room table and rummages through her overstuffed purse looking for her car keys. “It’s no wonder, considering the neighborhood you force us to live in because of your inability to succeed in this world. When are you going to get a real job so that we can live somewhere better? That house next to my parents is still for sale. Wouldn’t that be wonderful if we could buy it?”

“There’s a dead guy lying in the street,” the man reminds her.

She scoffs. “I don’t care. It’s probably just another one of those damn immigrants that come here to strain the system, commit crimes, and steal our jobs… A job you should have!” She makes her way to the door. “This is America, not Mexico.”

“You’re leaving?” he asks her.

“I’m going to my parents’ house. We’ll celebrate our freedom without you.”


When the movie is over, the man removes the videotape from the VCR and replaces it in its box. He walks out of the house and locks the door. Across the street, a black body bag is being loaded into a white van. A cop turns to look at him. The man turns away and starts to walk. It’s late afternoon.

As he makes his way through the neighborhood of sad houses and old trees, people are in the street cheerfully hopping around exploding firecrackers, waving sparklers in the air, and sending bottle rockets into the sky. Someone has a round grill set out in their driveway. A man wearing a tee-shirt with the words BBQ, Beer, and Freedom emblazoned on the front is flipping burgers in a cloud of smoke. “Hey mister, you want a burger?” he asks the man clutching the videotape box.

“No thank you. I have to get to the video store.”

“Well, surely you have time for some delicious Freedom fries?”

“No thanks. I must be on my way.”

The man flipping the burgers is immediately offended. “Seriously? Don’t you want to celebrate America?”

“Not really.”

“Huh? Are you some kind of socialist asshole?”

“I think you mean communist.”

“What? It’s the same damn thing.”

“Actually… Never mind. I need to get to the video store before they close.”

“Do whatever the hell you want, traitor. I’m going to have myself a delicious burger and enjoy my freedom! Whoooo yeah! America!”


The man stood in line at Silver Screen video. The place was annoyingly crowded. When it finally came to his turn at the counter, the man set the videotape down and looked at the clerk. “I would like to return this video, and… Would you have any movies about the French Revolution?”

The clerk looked at him, puzzled and smacking gum. “The French Revolution?”

“Yes.”

The clerk scratched at his head and looked around the busy store. “Uh. I don’t think so… But hey, what about Days of Thunder? We just got it in.”

“Days of Thunder?”

“Hell yeah,” the clerk said. “It’s got Tom Cruise in it and there’s race cars and hot chicks and all kinds of cool shit. It’s really good, and a true celebration of the American spirit.”

“I don’t think so,” the man said.

“Why not?” the clerk wanted to know, hurt and suspicious. “You don’t believe in the spirit of America?”

“Not really.”

“Then get the hell out of my store and don’t come back!” the clerk yelled, and he pointed his big finger toward the door.

“What? Why?”

“Because you don’t believe in the spirit of America and that’s bullshit, man! Only true Americans are allowed to rent videos here. Now get out!”


When the man got back home, he walked across the street and looked at the asphalt. The chalk outline of the body was still fresh. There were splotches of blood within the lines. The cops were all gone. Everyone was gone. The street was hot and empty. He glanced across the way at the crappy house he lived in.

He unlocked the front door and went inside. It smelled musty. An air conditioner achingly whirred. He walked around the dark house, went into all the rooms. The place was a mess. Unopened boxes and piles of clothes and paper littered nearly every horizontal space. He went to the kitchen and began to work on cleaning up the mound of stinky, dirty dishes in the sink. Halfway through he stopped. He suddenly became seriously depressed about the state of his life and the world he lived in. It came on like a bolt of lightning and froze his bones and mind.

He made his way to the living room chair he called home within his home. He sat down in the silence and pointed the remote at the boxy TV. The screen filled with a snowy static. He tried to change the channel but every single one, all 57 of them, were the same – snowy static, and that low fuzzy buzz that went with it.

The man just sat there for a long time, falling into a catatonic daze, broken only by a sudden and frantic knock. His heart was pounding when he jumped up and went to the door. He pulled it open and there was a tall man with white hair dressed in a suit and a top hat, all resembling the American flag.

“Yes. Can I help you?”

The tall man with the white hair and dressed like the American flag spread his arms out in front of him in an imitation of fanfare, a gesture of ta-da. “It’s me!” the patriotic man exclaimed. “I’m Sam. Uncle Sam!”

“I thought you were just a made-up creature,” the man straightforwardly said. “Like Christopher Columbus.”

“Well, that’s just foolish,” Uncle Sam said. “I’m real!”

“What do you want?”

“Well, a little birdy told me you were being pretty glum about the 4th of July. I’ve come to cheer you up and help you realize what a wonderful day it is.”

“Don’t waste your time. It’s my least favorite holiday.”

Uncle Sam sighed in quick defeat, and then stepped inside the house without an invite. He took off his hat and held it in a headlock as he slowly studied the messy home. “You need a housekeeper,” he said. He moved closer to the man, looked around to make sure they were definitely alone, and then spoke to him in a secret whisper. “I’ve got a gal I can recommend. Don’t say anything to anybody… She’s kind of under the radar if you get my drift. See, she’s from Guatemala, but does a hell of a job for me. A hell of a job. And she’s cheap. Do you mind if I sit down?”

“No. You can take my wife’s chair. She probably won’t be back… Ever.”

The two sat there, quiet, and just thinking about life, dust dancing in the toasted beams of end-of-day light now fingering its way in through a slit in the curtains. They could hear fireworks popping outside in the neighborhood. Dogs were barking. Children were screaming with joy. Police sirens wailed in the distance.

 The man glanced over at Uncle Sam. “I think your beard is scary,” he said.

Uncle Sam returned the glance and humbly smiled and nodded his head. “I know. I was made to be scary.”

END

Shopping List Lost

The fair light peaks at dawn
this heart flattered by the rush
another perilous tick tock
another band of blue
in a seemingly endless veil of gray

say something for once
say something that is real

There’s a motion in the air tonight
as souls weave and collapse
through American freedom Tees
the land of liberty
stitched up tight
with fenceposts and signs
restricting passage

I am Trish
I am Robert
I encompass every soul
and every broken bone
I’ve penned every sad song
with a pair of scissors
and a blowtorch
cutting, yet mending
every carnival lights
reflected in her eye
the sound falters
from a laugh, to a whisper
to an eternal sigh

Gasping breath in some lonely dream
until I land alive beside her
when the fair light peaks at dawn
and with it
a brand-new day
making her more beautiful
than the one before –
but where do I land anymore?

So back down in the shadows of the Pines I troll
the bleeder bell tolls
I am running over the land
as cold mysteries of life
lunge ever closer with outstretched claws
and where would I be
if I did fall off that mountain?
Not here, not anywhere
hiding my fear in a bell jar
pasting it shut with hoarfrost
a crystal icing so cold and clean
a white glaze with her imprint
frozen, forever

The complicated clock
ticks recklessly
tossing time into a volcano
feeding Buddha bedtime snacks
cold strawberry cobbler
mad, hot liquid drinks
Have I done anything remotely close
to what the Red Soldier has done
I think
smoking cigars at a toy train station
bring me my luggage
I am going home with her

We smoked our last cigarette
on the train ride to New York
it was 3:35 in the P
and the sky was losing its shape
and I was losing mine
returning to the womb now
to feed on mother’s blood
I’ll come back out
and start all over again.

The Amoopikans (Last part)

Sally and Mary Jane were huddled around a candle in the kitchen, whispering.

“I think you should call a doctor,” Sally said. “There’s obviously something very wrong with him.”

“Look, he’s got this mental thing, it’s not a big deal,” Mary Jane said, trying to deflate the issue of Jack’s state of mind.

“Not a big deal?” Sally protested. “I’m afraid he’s going to kill me for that Francisco remark.”

“He’s not going to kill you,” Mary Jane assured her, and she put her arms around Sally’s delicate frame and hugged her. “I won’t let him kill my best friend.”

“Thanks,” Sally said, and a few tears came out of her eyes.

“What’s wrong?”

Sally suddenly moved her hands to Mary Jane’s frightened face and kissed her on the mouth.

“What was that all about?” Mary Jane asked, a bit bewildered, a bit turned on, as she stepped back a bit.

“I’m sorry Mary Jane. No, I’m not. Look, this may be our last night on Earth, and I wanted to kiss you. I just did. Like I wanted to kiss Ollie. Oh my. You must find me crazy as well, but it’s almost as if I want to say goodbye.”

“It’s okay Sally. I think I understand… And I kind of liked it.”

“You did?”

“Yes, I did.”

Mary Jane moved closer to Sally, ran her fingers through her long, blonde hair, and passionately returned the kiss.

“Where’s my dinner!” Jack suddenly blurted out from the other side of the wall.

Mary Jane broke her embrace with Sally and stormed into the living room.

“All right Jack, I’ve been nice up to this point, but you really got to stop being a complete A-hole, okay?! Everyone is under a lot of strain and stress right now… Please don’t add to it.”

“I want a meat pie! Make me a meat pie! Make me a meat pie now damn it!” Jack screamed.

“I don’t have any bloody meat pies, so if you want a meat pie go down to your own place and make yourself a meat pie! And stop acting like a little schoolgirl!” Mary Jane scolded.

“I don’t have to do what you tell me! I have my rights! I have freedom of speech!” Jack crazily retorted.

Mary Jane moved toward the telephone and picked up the receiver.

“Do not call anyone!” Jack screamed.

“Damn it. The phone’s dead,” Mary Jane said, and she slammed the handset down on its cradle.

“What’s going on in here?” Sally asked as she threw herself into the couch.

“I want a meat pie and she won’t make me a meat pie!” Jack screamed.

“I’m trying to call the police, but the phone’s dead,” Mary Jane said with utter frustration.

Sally stood up and pointed her finger at Jack.

“Now listen here Jack, the party is over. You have to leave now, or you’ll be in big trouble! We’ll get the police.”

Jack lifted Copernicus’ head to his ear and was acting like Copernicus was whispering secrets to him.

“Uh huh, yes Copernicus, she is a bitch, I know,” Jack said in a mumbly wumbly childlike voice. “Uh huh, yes Copernicus, she is ugly. Uh huh, oh Copernicus that’s terrible, but I bet you’re right, she does look like a street walker.”

Sally angrily rushed at Jack and snatched the stone head from his hands.

“Hey!” Jack yelled. “Give me that back!”

“You either get the hell out of here or I’ll throw Copernicus right out that damn window, and you won’t be too far behind!” Sally screamed.

“Do not throw Copernicus out the window!” Jack commanded in a robotic voice.

“Then leave!”

Jack glanced over at Mary Jane with a sad and confused look on his face.

“Please leave,” she said sternly. “We’ll talk tomorrow. Maybe you’ll feel better then.”

“But there may not be a tomorrow,” Jack said, nearly beginning to weep. “We could all be nothing but cinders by the morning. That makes me a sad panda.”

Jack reluctantly got out of the chair and walked toward Sally who was now standing by the open front door of the apartment cradling Copernicus’ head in her hand. Jack snatched it from her and barked in her face like a dog as he walked out. Sally slammed the door behind him and then there was this terrible yelp and the sound of Jack crashing down the stairs.

“Oh my God!” Mary Jane yelled. “I think he fell down the stairs!”

Mary Jane grabbed a candle and went out into the hall.

“It’s too dark. Grab another candle, Sally!”

Sally came out into the hall with another candle and together they carefully went down the stairs, saying: “Jack, Jack, are you okay?”

There at the bottom was Jack. His body was cocked in all kinds of unnatural positions. It looked like his neck had snapped. They looked closer and there was blood, and they looked closer again, and there was the head of Copernicus cracked in half just like Jack.

Sally and Mary Jane just stared at each other in the glow of the candlelight.

“It’s my fault, you saw it,” Sally said, tears starting to roll down her face. “I slammed the door, and it must have hit him and knocked him right down the stairs.”

“It’s not your fault. It was dark. It was an accident.”

“Oh my God Mary Jane, I killed someone.”

“Come on, let’s go back upstairs and wait for Ollie, he’ll know what to do.”


Ollie Oxenfurd stuck his hands in his pockets as he walked down Castlebury Street, now dim, quiet, and desolate with some ash whirling around. All the shoppes and restaurants seemed to be shuttered and he worried his favorite Chinese joint, Bamboo King, would be as well.

He turned right at Bonberry Street and jiggled the handle. The door opened and he stepped inside. The bright lights were a burning contrast to the dead of the streets. A neatly groomed Asian man came out of the back wiping his hands on a towel. He pumped some hand sanitizer in them and rubbed.

“I’m so glad you’re open,” Ollie said. “Looks like everything else is shut down, and you’ve got power too.”

“We always open. Even when war come. Everyone else scared, not me. I got generator. I’m an animal. People still need to eat. So, what you like?”

“Pork and snow peas. Veggie Lo Mein. And… I’ll have the orange chicken.”

“No soup?”

“No soup.”

“What kind rice?”

“Fried rice… And throw in some crab rangoons too.”

“Okay, you wait. I go cook now. Won’t be long.”

_____

Mary Jane sat with Sally on the couch, and they smoked some more grasspot to try and calm their nerves. Sally kept wiping tears from her puffy, blue eyes and saying: “I killed someone. I killed someone.”

Mary Jane didn’t know what to do. She tried the phone again. Still dead. “Where the hell is Ollie?” she wanted to know.

They heard fighter jets roaring overhead.

“I’m really scared Mary Jane. I mean, what if this is it? What if tonight is our last night on Earth, and I killed a guy.”

There was another explosion in the distance.

“Then, I guess it doesn’t really matter, does it,” Mary Jane answered.

____

Ollie nearly dumped all the delicious Chinese food when he tripped over Jack’s lifeless body at the bottom of the stairs.

“What the bloody hell?! Mary Jane! Sally! Get out here!”

The girls rushed into the hallway with their candles.

“What is this then?” Ollie asked from the bottom of the stairs.

“There was an accident. He fell,” Mary Jane answered.

“I’m coming up.”

____

The three of them sat at the kitchen table in Mary Jane’s groovy pad on the Isle of St. Manitou quietly slurping away at their Chinese food.

“We ought to call someone, we just can’t leave him there,” Ollie said, breaking the silence.

“The phone is dead.”

“Well then I’ll walk down to the police station and tell them,” Ollie said, stuffing a piece of delicious orange chicken in his mouth.

“No!” Sally blurted out. “No police.”

“What? Why? You said it was an accident.”

“It was no accident,” Sally said, and she began to cry again. “I slammed the door on him and that made him fall down the stairs.”

“I’ve been trying to tell her it wasn’t her fault, but she won’t listen to me,” Mary Jane said, slamming her fork down in frustration. She got up, walked into the other room, and lit up some more grasspot.

“Well, if you ask me, he had it coming to him. That bloke was a real A-hole.”

“Ollie! That’s a terrible thing to say, even if it is true.”

“Whatever. The only thing I know is we can’t leave him there. Why don’t we just move him into the street or something.”

“I won’t have anything to do with such a horrible thing,” Sally pouted, crossing her arms.

“Fine!” Ollie yelled, and he stood and threw his napkin down onto the table. “Mary Jane and I will do it.”

____

Ollie peered out onto Castlebury Street. It was eerily quiet and still; there was a strange-smelling soft breeze in the air.

“OK, are you ready?”

Mary Jane nodded and then they lifted him.

“Good gravy he’s heavy,” Ollie said, “must be all those damn meat pies.”

“Hush now. Let’s just get this over with,” Mary Jane scolded.

They got him out onto the sidewalk and had to set him down.

“Why don’t we just stuff him back in his shoppe?” Ollie suggested, breathing hard.

Mary Jane looked over her shoulder.

“That’s not a bad idea,” and she went to jiggle the handle of the gallery shoppe door. “It’s locked,” she said.

“Well, look in his pockets. I’m sure his keys are there.”

Mary Jane reluctantly rummaged through dead Jack’s pockets going “Eww” and “Gross” while she searched.

“Got them.”

She went to the door and unlocked it and they carried him into the gallery and laid him out on the floor.

“Well?” Mary Jane asked, wiping at her sweaty brow with her forearm.

“Well, what?” Ollie asked.

“Are we just going to leave him here on the floor?”

“Yes, we are. It’s too dark in here to be messing around. We can figure something out tomorrow. It’s getting late.”

“Wait, we forgot something,” Mary Jane said, and she went out the door and then came back in holding the two halves of the stone head of Nicolaus Copernicus. She set them down near Jack and they went out, locking the door behind them.

____

The air raid sirens began to wail before Mary Jane and Ollie could get back inside. There was thunder in the sky, but it was not natural.

The three of them sat quietly in the darkness — the only light being from the scattered candles, the orange glow of the grasspot in the pipe, and the sparkle of bombs bursting outside in the air above the Isle of St. Manitou. The sirens were still roaring. The Amoopikans were coming.

“Wait, what is that?” Ollie asked, suddenly perking up and shifting his head around.

“Stop it Ollie, you’re scaring me,” a tearful Sally said.

“No, I think there’s someone in the street. I thought I heard voices.”

“Please Ollie, just stop…”

And then there was a loud banging on the front door.

“Amoopikan Marines! Open up!”

Sally screamed and then the door was kicked in and men with guns in their hands and lights atop their helmets and waving the Amoopikan flag came storming in.

“Nobody move!” the Amoopikan captain yelled, and he motioned to his troops, “In! In! In! Take a look around, see if there are any more.”

A moment later, a young trooper came up to the captain and saluted.

“Sir, they’ve been smoking grasspot in here.”

“Whaaaaaat!” the captain screeched. “I thought I smelled something illegal.”

“I have the device right here sir,” and the young trooper handed the captain the glass pipe they had been using to smoke the grasspot.

The captain looked it over carefully; he sniffed at it. Then he looked at the three of them, Ollie, Sally, and Mary Jane, being restrained by other troopers, bodies shaking and faces looking scared to death.

“Well, well, well,” the captain said as he strolled around the place. “Looks like we got a bunch of grasspotheads here.”

“It’s just grasspot sir,” Ollie spoke up, “This is the future and it’s allowed everywhere here in our part of the world.”

“Well, it’s not allowed where I come from punk, and you know why?”

“Why sir?”

“Because it’s evil. It’s devil’s lettuce punk. It makes people go crazy in the head and want to kill other people.”

“That’s not true sir, it does nothing like that at all,” Ollie said.

“I don’t care for your ways in your part of the world, and that’s why we came here — to make our ways your ways because our ways are the right ways and if anyone tells me different, I’ll just blow their fucking head off.”

The captain turned and walked toward the door.

“Boys, you know what to do.”

And then Mary Jane Hankerbloom’s apartment on Castlebury Street in a quaint village on the Isle of St. Manitou was suddenly filled with a relentless barrage of gunfire directed straight at Mary Jane herself and her two friends, Sally and Ollie.

When the firing finally stopped, their bodies had been reduced to ragdolls askew and full of holes. Their eyes were open wide, for they were still in shock; their lifeless souls stared upward at the skylight, and the bones still rained down upon them.

“We’re done here,” a young Amoopikan soldier said, and he stomped on the grasspot pipe with his heavy boot and crushed it into the floor before walking out.

The Machine Man in the Wheat

It was on a Tuesday when the sun became different.

I remember it clearly because Tuesdays I visit with the doctor because I have a hard time walking in a straight line.

“You’re difficult to conform,” he says.

He also thinks he is smarter than me, but I know better. The questions he asks don’t seem very bright to me. He lacks, say, electricity. So like I was saying, as far as the sun goes, I had come home and went to the back of the house and drew the long green drapes away from the large window there. I looked out and there was a bright spot on the fence where the sun was shining and it drew me in, the color of it, like golden metal pressed up tight. It was a cold color, flat, indecent yet proper. And so I looked up and even the whole sky itself looked different. There was a deeper blue confusion about it. The clouds seemed edgy. There was turmoil in the air amid the subtle change.

The house is hidden in the hills surrounding a city. It’s an urban estate of modern aesthetics – tall glass, sharp edges, white and clean as snow and just as cold and empty and lonely, especially in the shadows. The furniture sits rigid and straight. Everything is strictly kept in its place. My home looks as if it has never been lived in.

I have seven bedrooms and don’t sleep in any of them. I have four bathrooms and use only one. My kitchen is always clean. It hums in the dead of day, the big metal appliances stewing in their pipes and electrical cords. There is a window over the sink and I can look out into my yard – a trapezoidal patch of bright green grass surrounded by jungle. A small pool sits empty. There’s some lawn furniture but it’s all scattered about now because of the strong breezes we’ve had lately. The yard is as deserted as my home.

I sat a drink down on a glass end table and the subtle sound of it echoed through the room. Then the telephone rang. It was Fred. I knew this because he was the only one whoever called.

“Hello.”

“I’m always amazed that the telephones still work.”

“I’m glad for it. At least I can call my doctor.”

“Not feeling very well? Is it the crooked walking again?” he asked.

“Yes. He doesn’t know what to do about it.”

“I’m sure it’s nothing. Would you like me to come by tonight?”

“No. I’m just going to stand here and not move for a while.”

I hung up. Fred hung up. I knew this because he was the only one whoever hung up on me. Fred used to be an accountant of some sort, maybe a lawyer too. But not anymore. I used to be a geology professor. But not anymore. There are many things that are no longer the same. I used to have a wife and twin daughters. But not anymore. I used to park a car in my garage. But not anymore. Walking is all we can do now. If I need something from the city, I have to walk. I walk to the doctor, the grocery, the bar. I even walk to the post office and occasionally send a letter to someone I don’t even know – but no one gets mail anymore.

Sometimes I walk to the city with Fred. I really don’t want to because I don’t like him that much even though we consider each other to be friends. I would even say he is kind of boring, but not boring in the way of going to sleep, rather, boring in a way that makes me want to avoid him at all costs because I have better things to do. And the things he talks about are so pointless. It almost makes my stomach hurt when he starts in on how poorly the sidewalks were made.

“Just look it all the cracks,” he always points out, his long arm nearly touching the ground.

“There have been a lot of earthquakes,” I tell him.

“Even so, they should make better sidewalks.”

“They did their best,” I remind him. “The world was a mess.”

Fred picked up a small stone and threw it. It hit a light post. The sound echoed down the street.

“It’s still a mess, Frank. C’mon, you’re hip to it. You know it will never get better than this.”

I stopped and looked at him. I blew into my hands to warm them.

“Damn it’s cold. I thought we lived in California.”

There weren’t too many people at the grocery store. There were never too many people anywhere. I liked it like that, even though the place reminded me of a morgue with sparse shelves.

Fred strolled off to the produce department, but there wasn’t much there. The stores are never stocked that well anymore. I followed him over and together we looked at a handful of oranges as if we were visiting a zoo for fruit.

“They don’t look very fresh, do they?” Fred said, cocking his head and studying the oranges with a bent eye.

“They never are,” I listlessly noted. “I’m going over to the pharmacy.”

“More pills?”

“Yes, more pills.”

“All right then, I’m going over to the meat department,” Fred said. “I want to look at a piece of chicken.”

I walked down the main aisle in the front toward the pharmacy. I knocked on the glass.

“Hey. I need to get my pills,” I said to someone, somewhere.

There was some sort of person fidgeting around in the darkened back. I had to wait. We still always have to wait.

“Your name?” he asked when he came to the window – a little man in a white lab coat all alone with the medicine and a broken heart.

“Frank Buck. Why do you always have to ask? You know who I am.”

He blinked his eyes and barely smiled.

“It’s just procedure sir. It’s company policy. It’s a corporate rule and I cannot break it under any circumstances.” He looked around to make sure there wasn’t anyone else nearby. “My life depends upon it.”

The corporations still have all the power.

“All right. I guess you can’t break the rules. I understand. You need this job. Not everyone has a job anymore.”

“Did you know that being a pharmacist is the best job a person can have these days?” he boasted.

“I believe it. You’ve got 14 bottles for me, right?”

“Yes. Any questions?”

“Do I ever have any questions? Does it even matter if I have any questions?”

“Sorry. I have to ask. They’re watching me. They’re listening to me, too.”

“Sounds like you’re trapped.”

“I am,” he tried to whisper through the glass, and I only turned once to look back at the poor old soul as I walked away. 

“Do you think we should buy that last piece of chicken?” Fred asked me in the Something Resembling Meat department. “We could have a fry out.”

I peered into the glass case at the lone piece of raw chicken breast sitting dead and gross in a bloody wet tray beneath a bluish-green light. I stepped behind the counter and slid a door open and flipped the piece of chicken over.

“It doesn’t look too pale,” I said.

Fred was hungry and wanted the chicken.

“Go ahead and wrap it up. I’ll pay for it.”

I wrapped up the hunk of chicken like I worked there or something and we made our way toward the front of the store and through the sliding doors. Something scanned us from above as we walked out.

“When they come for the money, we’ll tell them the chicken was mine,” Fred said to me.

“Absolutely.”


The chicken sizzled on the charcoal grill I had out back. Fred and I went to the yard and plucked two toppled chairs out of the lawn. We set them up on the patio. We lit some torches. I poured Fred a strong drink. He watched me suspiciously as I withdrew a cigarette from my pack and stuck it in my mouth.

“I thought you quit those damn things.”

“I did, but why bother now?”

“I suppose you’re right. Not much to live for anymore is there?” Fred agreed.

“I don’t like to talk about it. Why is it we always end up talking about it such horrible things?”

“I don’t know,” Fred wondered. “What else is there to talk about?”

“Tell me about your dreams.”

Fred thought for a moment.

“I don’t dream anymore.”

“I know. I don’t either. Why is that?”

“I suppose it has something to do with that brain evolution stuff they’re all talking about. You know… What they say about us being able to survive when the others didn’t. They say we don’t need dreams anymore.”

“Leaves the night awfully blank though, doesn’t it?” I said with a downcast head, sad about it.

“Yes,” Fred moaned with a slight nod of his head. “I don’t sleep as much as I used to… Wait. I think the chicken is burning. Flip it over.”

I got up and flipped the meat and there were deep dark burn marks on the side already cooked.

“It might be a bit well done by the time I’m finished with it,” I said.

“That’s okay,” Fred said with a quick laugh. “Chicken is chicken and I’ll take it any way I can.”

The doorbell rang. I went through the house and opened the front door. Two officers from the Debt Police were standing there in a cloud of threatening menace. They had come to collect the money for the chicken and the pills.

“Wow,” I said. “It’s been only two hours or so and you’re already here. I swear, it seems you guys get here faster and faster every time.”

“Just give us the money, sir,” one of the officers said. “We don’t have time for idle chit chat.”

I stuck my hands in my pockets and dug around.

“Is there a problem, sir?” the other office asked as he stepped forward a bit. “Do you have the money? Yes or no?”

“I know I have it somewhere,” I said as I began to panic. “It’s in the house somewhere. But look here, that man outside, he has the money. The chicken was his idea. It was all his idea.”

The officers pushed beside me and well into the house. They went out onto the patio and Fred quickly stood up. I went to help him.

“This guy says the chicken was all your idea. Is it your chicken?” one of the officers wanted to know.

Fred shakily adjusted the eyeglasses on his face.

“Yes. I was the one who wanted the chicken. He just walked to the store with me to get his medicine. I told him I’d pay for the chicken.”

“Then give us the money,” the other officer demanded.

Fred nervously dug into his front pants pocket and pulled out some dirty cash. He flipped through the bills with his fingers.

“How much is it again?”

“Fifty-five dollars for the chicken and four-hundred and twelve for the pills,” one of the officers snapped.

Fred glanced over at me. “I’ll take care of it all,” he said, and handed them five 100-dollar bills.

“The rest is your tip,” Fred said.

One of the officers made a disappointed face. “Not much of a tip,” he said.

“But thanks,” said the other. “We’ll be going now. Make sure to lock all your doors and windows and load your guns. There are lots of creeps out there milling about in the night.”

We watched as the officers quickly moved back through the house and out the front door. I sank down in my patio chair, sighed and looked at Fred.

“Where do you get all that money?” I asked him. “You’re not a pharmacist or a cop.”

“I saved my money,” Fred said. “As I worked and lived my life I also saved money… For the times like these that I always knew were coming. I funded my survival.”

“Do you have a lot left?”

“No. The Men of the Wars took most of it.”

I glanced inside at the banner on the wall. It was the banner we all had now – and in big capital letters of red, white and blue, it read: True Freedom Has a Price Tag — and there was a big green Uncle Sam with devil eyes on the banner, and he had his big fists in the air, and he was clutching money in one and a pair of women’s high-heeled shoes in the other. And in smaller capital letters near the bottom, it read: In Greed We Trust and In God We Wonder.

I didn’t really like the banner, but we didn’t have a choice anymore.

After the chicken, some more drinks and a cold handshake, I said goodnight to Fred and closed the door behind him. I locked it just as the officers advised. It was a big cold deadbolt and it made me feel safer even though I knew deep down inside it didn’t really matter anymore.

I walked crooked through the rest of the house turning down lights and making sure the other doors and windows were all locked up tight. I went to the bathroom and brushed my teeth. I looked in the mirror and my face looked old. I ran some water in a glass and washed down a handful of pills. I flicked off the light and quietly closed the door. I turned on the ceiling fan that runs right over my bed and sat in a chair by the window. I knew I wouldn’t sleep. What good is sleep without dreams? I looked out the window but all I saw was dark punctured by a few painful points of light. It was my personal jungle surrounding me. I liked it like that. I didn’t want to know everything about the world on fire out there.

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