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Saturday, May 2, 2015

The World Was on Fire


As I rounded the corner from crowded Fourth Street to the dark and narrow alleyway I realized I was being followed by three men attempting inconspicuousness and failing. They looked exactly like what they were: cops trying not to look like cops. She called them; I was sure of it, called them and told them where I’d be. But it was too late to do anything about her, or her paranoia, so I ran through the rain. It was cold and miserable, and I was already soaked through my clothes. I ran on. If I wanted to save the Manuscript I couldn’t let her hired security thugs stop me. And if I couldn’t save the Manuscript from the encroaching darkness, the whole world would soon feel it.

All I know is what I’ve heard, and what I’ve heard recently is that dark strangers are moving in, coming in from the forest, riding tall horses. They come in after sundown and congregate at pubs and inns, sitting together, drinking pints of ale, but speaking to none but those like themselves. Folks round these parts are getting nervous. We don’t much care for strangers and these particular strangers especially.

 The streets were ruled by dealers–heroin, grass, cinnabar, Ouroboros-Benzene dream pills, mercury shots, contraband fireworks and firearms–you could get it all for the right price. And it was King Louis who ruled the streets of our neighborhood. His name wasn’t really Louis. It was Larry. Larry Allan. I knew him from grade school, back when we both lived off Fifth Street, down past the Polish bakery.  But once he dropped out of high school in the middle of our junior year, and took over the Revelators–a lousy, piss-ant street gang-he began fancying himself as some sort of urban royalty, even if the entirety of his kingdom was only a few square block and his subjects were nothing but hookers and junkies and thieves. He insisted that anyone who wanted to do business in his neighborhood call him by his full title: King Louis, the Sun King, dealer of light and ecstasy, supplier of desire and joy.

In those days it was all quick and nasty scrambling for a brief moment of relief, a few spasms of pleasure. There was little actual joy. People were hungry. They were slaves to needs that they couldn’t even begin to articulate. They were people whose dirty, little lives were bought and sold by powerful men on far away estates. And King Louis was content to rule over this squalor, playing puppet to these more powerful men. He ruled like a rooster, strutting about with a cocksure swagger, wearing a riotous combination of colors like any pimp street dealer. He squawked and flounced about, confident of his place on top of the heap.

He ruled and reigned until the day he forgot that the ax is always ready for the rooster’s neck.

In those days of 200 kilometer wide crude oil spills and perpetual forest fires, eco-disasters failed to garner any attention. The media had already moved on to the sexual misadventures of the thirteen year old princess of Wales. Amoral paparazzi celebrity stalkers feeding the insatiable habits of comfortable, old ladies who pretended to be shocked by, but secretly envied, the stories of sex, and drugs, and bondage by the pre-teen royalty. The world was burning. Thick, oily smoke choked the skies and snuffed out the sun, but no one was watching. No one cared. They snorted another line of coke, and screwed another 11 year old boy. They bought and sold guns and carpet bombed another developing nation into complete commercial submission. They twittered and texted the whole thing. But no one cared.

The Manuscript could have saved us.

I ran out of alleyway before I could break away from her street-clothes goon squad. I could hear their foot falls closer and closer. I needed an escape that I couldn’t find. The trio of coppers closed in on me.

“Hey guys,” I ventured with the lopsided grin that my wife thinks is cute and everyone else doesn’t think about at all. “How’s tricks?” They didn’t laugh. I think one of them said something in Russian. I really don’t remember. The beating lasted a few minutes, but I can only recall the first few seconds. A punch to my stomach followed by another into my left temple and I was out before I could tumble to the ground.

I do remember that the strangers from the forest wore hoods. “They look like the Unabomber,” my wife joked. But when one of them turned towards where we were sitting, she muttered an apology and we got up and left. We didn’t want any trouble with these strangers. It was enough to work our little jobs and to live in our little home without being molested by street gangs or squashed by the militaristic, neocon government. We didn’t want to compound our lot by messing with the inexplicable strangers.

We didn’t have the power to control our own lives, ruled as we were by various and competing forces. The reactionary Tea-Party government won the last free election by the slimmest of majorities, but used their ascendance to power as a public mandate to decapitate the nation, and to deliver its head on a platter to transnational corporations and the military industrial complex. Local and Municipal Police forces were outfitted with assault rifles, rocket propelled grenades, armored personnel carriers, and Blackhawk helicopters-all in the name of national security. And, just like that, the new arms race was off. The gangs responded by driving captured tanks through the streets of Los Angeles.

I never actually saw the Manuscript, though it was in my possession for a short time. It was wrapped inside a waterproofed oilskin pouch that I kept it in the inside breast pocket of my coat. But it was taken from me before I ever had a chance to examine it. And I would never persuade the police to investigate. How did we ever come to this?

How did we come to such a state of antinomian lawlessness? How did we get to a place where executives at entertainment conglomerates would dictate who our children’s heroes would be? How did we come to desire sexy vampires? Sexy?  Like ticks and leeches? Vampires are parasitical creatures that gorge themselves on the blood of their hosts and then fall away to digest. They use a combination of mucus and suction to keep themselves attached to the host's body, and secrete complex anti-clotting enzymes into the blood of their hosts so the blood will flow freely. How is this sexy? Why would we desire something like that?

I woke up several hours later, my face aflame even though I was laying face down in a puddle of muddy rain water, and what hoped was my own vomit. My wrists and ankles were tied, but only very loosely. I managed to stretch the loops of rope enough to pull my wrists through. The knots were poorly secured. Her coppers must never have been boy scouts. When I stood, I realized that my pockets were empty. I felt the absence of familiar weight. While I was unconscious they took my wallet and the handgun I’d bought from a couple of teenage punks that used to hang out on the stairs in front of my building.  I bought it from them for 50 bucks plus the promise that I would drive them to the cinema show every now and then. But the wallet had been empty anyway, and the gun was a cheap Chinese job. It probably would have backfired on me, and blown off half my face if I’d actually tried to use it. The worst of it was that her plain-clothes coppers had relived me of the Manuscript.


The Manuscript was gone, and the world was on fire. Who cared about going to the cinema show anymore?   

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