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Love story. Comedy. Political satire. Brooding political thriller. Holistic polemic and anti-pharmaceutical screed. Hearty, well-thought-out challenge of both Left and Right. . . This is actually a funny, sassy, urban love story humorously sketched over Walls-Kaufman’s unique take on political gridlock and how two sides can find mutual resolution in – of all places! – the lessons of Holistic health and how it bathes and nourishes the cells of a body just as they might represent citizens in a society. These lessons the author artfully and convincingly extends into the fields of politics and the common law. And once he opens the box it ain’t as far-fetched as you might think. Walls-Kaufman pulls no punches with our own Twitter-world incivility, and he definitely has a unique view worth taking stock of. His perspective on how to be more civil to one another winds us down some dark and threatening turns as he reminds us what political turmoil has done to us in the past, even as his superlative dialogue and elegant character development lead the reader along the story of a presidential campaign. Walls-Kaufman has a brilliant sense of humor and irony. The reader easily enjoys the great deal of fun he is having at the expense of the current political class.
By Dr. David Walls-Kaufman
THE FOLLOWING ARTICLE IS CURRENTLY BEING SHOPPED AND IS AVAILABLE FOR PUBLICATION, please handle with this in mind. The history and backstory on vaccines is compelling; feel free to share and quote from the extensive sources. Contact the author for further information or appearances.DAVID
The dark side of vaccines has been all but expunged from the modern record by the $100 trillion the medical industrial complex has earned from drug-first and hospital-first healthcare since 1900. It doesn’t take a mathematician to see how easily billions can be peeled off by drug companies for the $280 million each year spread around Washington according to the Senate Office of Public Records, among 1,400 lobbyists, as compared with $30 million by Apple, Google, Facebook and Twitter combined, and $11 million by the NRA.
Don’t forget the $22 billion each year for advertising, the highest in advertising, to twist the arms of the news media. Dr. Alan Levin, Adjunct Associate Professor of Immunology and Dermatology at the University of California, makes a profound statement that we all should take to heart: “Pharmaceutical companies, by enlisting the aid of influential academic physicians, have gained control of the practice of medicine in the United States. They now set the standards of practice by hiring investigators to perform studies which establish the efficacy of their products or impugn that of their competitors. . .” More than this, drug companies have controlled medical and nursing education since the 1920s. Drug company money has created a false reality in many respects that has virtually blotted out more natural concepts on healing, precisely because these methods work, and because these methods form a slippery slope away from drug dependency.
Nothing threatens the medical industrial complex today. But one hundred years ago, the concept of chiropractic’s brain-first healthcare threatened it like no other, and was proportionately targeted to make the field the object of ridicule. Saul Alinsky noted the effectiveness of the nonstop ridicule of chiropractic and made use of the same technique in his famous Rules for Radicals. This little-known cultural backstory plays into why chiropractic today stands as one of the few front runners in telling the dark side of vaccines. The sensitivity drug manufacturers show for their vaccines shows up in how they have erected an aggressive protective scrimmage around them that has made frank discussions of vaccine damage as emotionally problematic as discussions of politics. The damage vaccines do to health are the centerpiece for drug company market share for the rest of this century, as we shall see. Skepticism from pro-vaxxers should admit that nothing is perfect, not even vaccines, and that every authority that drug companies assemble to discredit anti-vaxxers have financial ties directly or indirectly to manufacturers, and that the current practice of funding disclosure for presenters at scientific conferences only needed to be started because of these extensive compromising affiliations. Anti-vaxxers have no such trillion dollar commercial incentives.
First off, we all love our doctors and nurses. But they mostly only know what they have been taught (by drug companies) in their schools, since drug companies have been the hand that rocks the cradle since the 1920s. Drugs don’t heal, they mask symptoms and problems. Drugs used to “cure” one problem cause 150 problems, according to the warning label. Mild OTC medications kill about 200,000 people a year. But vaccines are the holy grail of public faith in the MIC business model, damaging the health of tens of millions and serving as a sort of gateway drug for future market share.For this reason, the medical cartel has put all their eggs into emotionalizing and confusing this basket.
To begin with, only four vaccines really work at all well historically, i.e. over 80%—rabies, smallpox, hepatitis and tetanus. All other vaccines are much less certain of conferring immunity for any length of time, which is generally two or three years, whereas natural immunity confers advantages for life. Why aren’t you dead from that same disease after your vaccine “wore off”? Two reasons: First, you have a brain and immune system that are powerfully immune capable ever from the scariest germs. Second, a 1963 study by the CDC shows that modern society had an improving baseline of health from nutrition, city cleanliness, and programs for poverty, that diminished collective susceptibility of the population to infectious disease so that vaccines were increasingly pointless. Drug companies omit this fact from their narrative.
Additionally, chiropractic claims that the human body structure is like a musical instrument, and when this structure is precisely tuned, it opens a portal for directly de-stressing the brain and nervous system, the master system of the body, for a brain-first model of health. This makes vaccines all the more obsolete and ill-thought. The chiropractic perspective is that, without this improvement, individuals and societies stand at a level of “half health” at which our immune system and brain still are extremely effective against germs. For example, the most dangerous germ on the planet, Anthrax, kills only 42% of people exposed. Rabies—20%. Whom do these terrible diseases kill? —the unhealthy, those of us even below half health. To conquer all germs, we need to raise our health from half health to full health. We cannot do this without our brain. Look at the definitions of the words epidemic and pandemic: an epidemic claims between 1% to 3% of a population, and a pandemic claims over 3%. At full health rather than half health, we are naturally protected from everything.
Besides the CDC 1963 study, and “half health” being the real problem of our era, let’s look at why vaccines are so traumatic in of themselves: The Sabin oral vaccine was completely safe and even more effective than injected vaccine, because it used the vehicle of natural exposure and did not traumatically “sneak attack” the immune system in bypassing all modes of immune radar. Similarly, the father of modern vaccines, Edward Jenner, in 1795, gave smallpox vaccine protection to milk maids by simply scratching their skin with the puss of the cowpox pustule. This is another perfectly safe, effective method because the brain and immune system are so exquisitely alert to every change that they easily respond to such prompts that operate through the pathway of normal immune radar. Another exposure method congruent with immune radar would be to puff material to introduce it to the nasopharyngeal immune array. All of these methods are far superior to shots, and have none of the permanent immune scarring side effects avoided by addressing the evolutionarily prepared channels. Some researchers have said these immune responses do not last as long, but this is not the real reason, and more short term immune responses are easily, and safely, offset by simply repeating these perfectly safe vaccine exposures.
So why did the medical industrial complex in the late 19th century insist on the hypodermic stick and squirting compounds requiring mercury preservatives (Thimerosal) and extremely toxic aluminum adjuvant boosters that make shots last up to two years instead of only a month or two? The answer is that medicine earlier in the century legally defined itself as the healing art that diagnosed disease and broke the skin. This barred any other health specialty from using a scalpel or giving a shot. And nothing wows the public like the drama of vaccines and surgeries. Sticking hypodermics in arms is sexy, and affirms the lofty status of the MD, while scratching a hypodermic across the skin of a milkmaid is something any acupuncturist or mom could do. And so, for medical profit and ego, and space-age wow factor, the super-toxic hypo load is shot deep into an artery past the immune array so that it is pumped everywhere inside the body in two beats of the heart. And the level of mercury in a single vaccine for a child is 6x the level the FDA says is safe for a full-grown man.
This unforeseen toxic atomic bomb launches the adverse immune chain reaction that lasts a lifetime, and sets the table for the “unexplained” explosion in chronic inflammation, such as allergies and asthma, that will require people buying far more drugs, products, tests and visits than if they did not have hyper-active immune function. The mercury and aluminum payloads together act 10x more toxic than either one alone. Our brain and immune system go into hyper-response, leaping away from the normal igG cascade, to the igE cascade, the emergency pathway, that recruits all of the immune system with the histamine response for extra clout. This igE response is what causes all allergies and asthma, including peanut and food allergies, that debilitate millions of children and adults annually, and which are all unknown in the unvaccinated population. This is also the suspected cause behind the onslaught of chronic inflammatory disease that has sprung on America since the 1980s. This explosion in diabetes and the entire family of autoimmune disorders, including more cancer, is not explained away by diet alone. This tidal wave of immune hypersensitivity has more than replaced infectious disease as the scourge of modern society. Without the highly toxic adjuvants in today’s vaccines, vaccines only last a few months. Our immune system does not like being artificially scrambled and throws off the harmful effects of the vaccine without them. It is the heavy metal poisons in the vaccine that make them last. It is these same poisons that cripple our immune system and open the door to this floodgate of awful consequences.
The short life span of vaccines shocked early vaccine makers in the 1920s, and they quietly realized the charade they had played on the public respecting vaccine potency. They went about covertly searching for ways to give their shots more kick, which led them to the Faustian Bargain of aluminum adjuvants.
Research at the University of Christ Church has shown that the 21% and 25% of the vaccinated population respectively suffer from asthma and allergies, with asthma killing about 4,000 people each year in America, while both conditions are unknown in the unvaccinated population. Peanut allergies and nut allergies only occur in the vaccinated population because peanut oil is a cheap liquid suspension for the vaccine load. The peanut oil (a fat) is harmless because the immune system is only concerned about foreign proteins, the basis of life. But if micro-grains of peanut protein leak past lab filtration into the oil in the shot, then these foreign proteins ignite the igE cascade and all the rest. Bee sting allergies are also examples of foreign protein sensitivities that only come from immune damage caused by vaccines. The igE cascade (think “E” for Error, and “G” for Good) is the abnormal pathway that is provocative, unbalanced, exhausting and stressful, moving us toward a life of measurably worse health, and more need for drugs and medical intervention. But perhaps one of the most horrifying results of vaccines is when a baby has an adverse response and exhibits the hair-raising “dying bird cry” that only comes from the particular convulsion of their nervous system to the ingredients in the payload.
Critics of vaccines such as the human rights activist Barbara Loe Fisher have pointed to the anomaly in modern public health that seems to correspond to the suspicious rise in the vaccine schedule. These are the flood of autoimmune disease, diabetes, inflammation, poorer pain modulation, cancer, Alzheimer’s and dementia, chronic inflammatory conditions of the brain that are involved in ADHD and other learning disorders. This mysterious explosion in inflammatory disease corresponds with the vaccine era, and significant research has mapped out why traumatic vaccine leads to these conditions, and why non-traumatic vaccines would not. The burden of chronic metabolic disease can be seen to climb like a staircase each time the pediatrics community has responded to drug company pressure to raise the vaccine schedule, four times since the 1930s. In the 1950s, the recommended schedule was 5 to 10 vaccines. Since then, the drug manufacturers have prodded the American College of Pediatricians three times to increase the vaccine schedule. Today, children receive 48 doses of 14 vaccines by age six, and 69 doses of 16 vaccines by age 18. Given the 1963 CDC infectious disease report, what is the College’s argument for nearly quadrupling the vaccine schedule? Are there more diseases now than before? Are the old diseases more virulent? To date, none of the four vaccine makers has addressed these glaring incongruities, especially in lieu of the 1963 CDC report.
Three stair-steps standout in the vaccine schedule. The first was 1981 when drug manufacturers received a key report on the central importance of vaccines for long term market share for drugs and medical procedures. Soon after this report, the American College of Pediatrics more than doubled the vaccine schedule. This led to the explosion in chronic inflammatory disease and learning disorders in American children, and more vaccine damage lawsuits. In 1986, the drug manufacturers went to the Reagan administration and cautioned that the barrage of vaccine damage lawsuits since 1981 were killing their profits to the extent that they might have to shutter the industry. This was probably an idle threat, with the pump already primed, but it worked. The government gave the vaccine makers near-complete indemnification, including a near-total blackout on the records in the newly formed special vaccine courts where court records would not be made public, unlike regular court. This begs the question, if vaccine damage is reasonable and proportionate, why would drug makers want court records and settlements buried?
After indemnification and the creation of the special court, vaccines became so profitable that the drug companies turned again to the American College of Pediatrics, who doubled the vaccine schedule again. This quadrupling of the mercury-aluminum load in the life of American children corresponded to yet another louder outbreak in learning disabilities, chronic disease and nut allergies by 1992. But this time, the hands of American parents were tied by the special courts, and parents were operating in the dark to recognize what vaccines might have done, given the blacked out records.
The outbreak was so obvious, and the rumbling became so dangerous, that the medical industrial complex lowered the amount of at least the mercury in vaccines. This softened the incidence of mercury-aluminum-related learning disabilities by about 30%, although health statistics show they have by no means disappeared in a disease that was first discovered in 1936 in an otherwise healthy boy from affluent parents who made sure he had received all of his vaccines.
The MIC also seeded money to grow a frontline of Autism advocacy groups that claim to be searching for the cause of Autism while they raise funds for further research for drug cures for Autism. The MIC added to this circle fest a skirmish line of top experts in pediatrics, child psychology and vaccinology, all on generous payrolls as “consultants,” and as beneficiaries of grants and prizes, typically paid for by drug companies, who busily assure the trusting public that vaccines create absolutely no problems worthy of concern.
One of the most telling chapters in the story of vaccines is organized medicine’s claim to have conquered polio in the 1950s. One insight on this oft-repeated epistle on heroic vaccine was given by Dr. Robert Mendelsohn, famed author of two international blockbuster best-sellers, “Confessions of a Medical Heretic,” and “Male-practice, How Doctors Manipulate Women.” At a Palmer College of Chiropractic faculty lunch in 1979, Mendelsohn explained that the disastrous live-virus Salk vaccine actually caused renewed Polio outbreaks when the natural course of the epidemic was in decline and removing the disease in the natural cycle. This second wave was so virulent, and so destructive of the vaccine myth, that the medical industrial complex huddled up with the Centers for Disease Control and talked the Center into changing the diagnostic parameters of Polio, to tighten them up, so that, overnight, only the most extreme case of Polio, Quaternary Polio, would be diagnosed as Polio, thereby slashing the polio numbers and hiding a scandal of the most monstrous proportions. (This sort of tampering with diagnostic parameters would seem unheard of by most Americans before similar tampering during Covid, but now seems believable.) Meanwhile, the far safer Sabin oral vaccine chugged along bolstering immunity, along with the natural forces of the elevation in collective human health. It should also be noted that chiropractic work in polio victims, even after paralysis, had set a new standard, as in the Gardella case, the six-year old girl who had been the national polio poster child. The book “Chiropractic First” retells the case, where the paralyzed girl, appearing in March of Dimes posters everywhere with her crutches, is pictured a year later walking happily hand in hand with the chiropractor that saved her.
The record shows that drug companies have been cognizant of the problems with their vaccines since the 1970s and the complicating factors with America’s calorie-rich, nutrient-poor nutrition. Many doctors and experts inside the drug companies and research have been willing to talk and write about these terrible conflicts of interest and “regulatory capture” in healthcare that reach directly into the highest offices of public health. Dr. William Thomas, and a group of CDC whistleblower researchers who call themselves SPIDER, have offered numerous accounts of this runaway corruption. These stories get such infrequent coverage because the American media seems content to violate any ethics of public service by remaining as captured as federal and state regulatory agencies from the $22 billion in annual drug advertising. The media is America’s only lynchpin to the truth and hope that this reprehensible collusion could ever be revealed and the record set straight to pave the way to more rational models for national health. But it appears American media is as cold-hearted as are America’s four vaccine producers.
The backstory on the doubling of the vaccine schedule in 1981 is telling: This surge in recommended vaccines came about because the manufacturers in the 1970s assembled a commission to study how to expand drug company sales into the next fifty years. The commission found a social pattern of crucial significance: if children were takers of drugs by age 21 then they tended to remain unquestioning, compliant drug takers for the rest of their lives. If they were unused to taking drugs by age 21 then they tended to be the most resistant to taking drugs for the rest of their lives. The commission said in no uncertain terms that vaccines were the gateway drug by which the drug companies could tool die American healthcare for generations. High vaccine schedules were as good as standing on an assembly line stamping out children who would be lifetime customers made by vaccine damage. And their own doting parents would offer them up on a silver platter to develop conditions from allergies to Autism needing medical intervention all the rest of their lives. Vaccines give drug companies the double bonus—billions for the vaccines, hundreds of billions to treat the carnage they make. The American Pediatric Association did the rest, turning the wealthiest nation on earth into a Frankenstein of drug users consuming pharmaceuticals on a level that can only be described as experimental. America by any measure is now a drug-gobbling machine that is not looking back, who’s top health agencies and experts, since Covid, show an unbroken pattern that has lain the entire nation into the lap of the medical industry. Top authorities are counting their money and looking the other way as this mugging is taking place. In 2019, a Wall Street report warned investors that the public showed an appalling lack of even basic knowledge about Covid and immune health, and that the blame for this lay squarely at the feet of the media and government oversight. The consequences economically of this ignorance, they advised, could be disastrous.
History has forgotten how the family doctor’s opium-heavy pain killers in the early 20th century spawned America’s long dark journey into drug abuse. NSAIDS in the 1970s were supposed to be the non-opioid miracle to replace opioids, but then NASIDS brought serious harm. They were replaced by the new miracle painkillers, Vioxx and Celebrex, when the hailstorm of side effects chased NSAIDS off stage. The same deadly pattern occurred with Vioxx and Celebrex until new opioids and fentanyl were introduced as the saviors, which then shaped a full scale national massacre. As of 2016, American lifespan is going down for the first time in her history from drugs and the obesity that is a primary feature of chronic inflammatory disease. And don’t forget how Statins played across the headlines for a single day after they were finally deemed useless for preventing heart attacks in 2018. Four decades on the market, after being found “some of the most dangerous drugs ever produced” by in-house researchers at the FDA in 1986. Their recommendations to reject approval were ignored by the top echelon, called “revolvers” by drug company insiders. These highly prized specialists rotate from public to private sector and are bid on for their ability to coordinate regulatory capture. The drug companies to date have paid $250 million in fines for $250 billion in fentanyl profits. And yet, where vaccines are concerned, the force-feeding program remains Teflon, because drug company credibility remains untarnished on vaccines.
Drug companies have paid handsomely, and worked ruthlessly, to keep Americans unskeptical about shots. They have made the issue as hot as a MAGA hat. Vaccines remain the center post of Drug-First Healthcare and the Germ Model of disease. But times are a changing. An April 2020 open letter from Robert Kennedy Jr to Dr. Sanjay Gupta at CNN calls out the network for it’s shilling for the four vaccine manufacturer’s annual scare campaign to boost flu shots by flat out lying about the numbers. Federal sources are cited to show how drug companies frighten consumers by inflating annual flu deaths from less than 100 to from 50K to 80K by counting them in with pneumonia deaths, a far more deadly disease that hits the elderly especially in hospitals and for which there is no effective vaccine. Multiple studies from top medical journals in virology and vaccine are referenced in the letter to show how flu vaccines are not only ineffective, but that also repeated immune trauma from vaccines actually permanently damages far superior natural immunity pathways so that multiple flu vaccinated individuals actually become more susceptible to all infectious agents. Kennedy cites the landmark 2004 Institute of Medicine conference on vaccine damage in which one presenter admitted how manufacturers saw rising consumer awareness posing the greatest threat to future vaccination efforts. This author attended the 2004 IOM vaccine conference, and saw strong data showing the vaccine link to Autism, yet The Washington Post claimed no such evidence, and ever since the erroneous Post article is referenced so frequently that the falsehood has become fact. A 2010 study published by Skowronek in PLos Medicine found that repeated vaccination “effectively blocks the more robust, complex, and cross-protective immunity afforded by prior [natural] infection.” A 2011 study published in Journal of Virology confirmed that regular seasonal flu vaccine undermines our ability to develop far superior natural immunity.
Kennedy’s letter refers to depositions from top CDC researchers stating how the CDC pressured them to “destroy” facts that showed a link between vaccines and autism. Numerous official government studies and publishings are quoted, including the January 2018 Journal of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which found that individuals acquiring the flu vaccine spread more flu than unvaccinated individuals because they aerosolize six times as much virus. A January 2020 Pentagon Study found that flu shots increased individual’s susceptibility to corona virus by 36%. This Pentagon study joins other studies that find vaccines create highly undesirable “virus interference” where the immune system afterward shows significantly increased difficulty dealing with other viral attacks and respiratory conditions. A paper published in the Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal on healthy Australian children found that seasonal flu shots increase the risk of flu by 73% and doubled the risk of non-flu respiratory infections.
The letter hit CNN for scaring the American public about measles and quotes the 1963 CDC review that said measles was eradicated by 1960 except for the few cases that still occur at a frequency on par with being struck by lightning, and that measles now occurs almost exclusively in malnourished children usually with intellectual disabilities. The letter cited multiple comprehensive federal investigations and whistleblower declarations that documented the corrupt relationship between the CDC’s Vaccine Branch and the four vaccine makers: Merck, Pfizer, Sanofi, and GSK. These include a 2000 report by the US Congress Government Oversight Committee, a 2009 report by the Federal HHS Inspector General, a 2014 letter by David Wright, Director of HHS Office of Research Integrity, and a 2011 letter to Carmen S. Villar, chief of staff for Tom Frieden, from the organization of CDC scientists calling itself SPIDER. Here, CDC researchers described in detail the level of corruption at the CDC. In 2014, CDC’s senior vaccine safety scientist, Dr. William Thompson, said in a series of depositions, and public and private statements, that his superiors in the Immunization Branch had “systematically ordered him and other researchers to destroy data and falsify study outcomes to hide CDC research linking vaccines to the exploding epidemic of childhood chronic diseases including autism.”
The drug companies have created a hall of mirrors around their vaccines. We did not make their reputations, they did. The best “revolvers” in DC belong to the drug companies. They network between the universities and research labs, the Food & Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control, its Vaccine Branch, and even the US Congress Government Oversight Committee, the Health and Human Services Inspector General’s office, and the Office of Research Integrity for HHS. From these vantage points they hold down the entire frontier of vaccine force-feeding, and the media help the “bodies stay buried” seemingly without any thought to science, or the public fate, or the truth about how a healthy body works. Every indication is that drug companies have made generous use of their $100T in profits since 1900 to make public health their plaything, with the most egregious example being the vaccine imbroglio. In this ground, the drug czars have determined these bodies will stay buried.
by David Walls-Kaufman
A template of Innate Ethics has been a preoccupation of mine for decades, and I’m hoping to complete a book on them soon. The God Gun came from that idea, and blended with ideas of some sort of serious civil confrontation. All of which I feel is nullified by chiropractic answering the call on medical and social welfare spending, and therefore taxes.David
The Political Officer got up very slowly from behind his desk, staring at the heavy rifle case lain on his desk as if it contained the death of him. He came around with the same stiff edge of caution and dread, switching hands on his long red lacquer cigarette holder. He never took his eyes off the bulky plastic case that obviously held some sort of weapon. The Political Officer, Shirley Folk, had taken up the filthy habit of smoking again, brought on by the stress of the War that had gone on far longer than anyone anticipated. But the old stigma attached to the smoking habit now was mostly gone, since a few higher ups had come to be known to do it again.
Shirley Folk stared down at the case the two soldiers had carried in. A plain plastic hardshell case. Surprisingly light weight.
“Open it,” Folk directed.
After a second’s hesitation, one of the Homeland Security officers unsnapped the chrome cleats. Deep embossed on the lid was the Octavian Arms logo. Just the sight of the logo stirred some animal dread in Shirley. There it was. What the entire upper echelon was talking about. Shirley almost doubted the rumors.
The gun appeared made of flimsy military green plastic like a toy. Two elongated rectangular pieces with a crude sight array, a rifle stock and a pistol grip. The business end didn’t even have a hole for a bullet or projectile.
The gun looked so toy-like that it seemed all the more sinister.
“That’s it?” Folk curtly asked the two soldiers.
“Yes, sir. That’s all he brought.” The DHS officer said, feeling stupid.
Shirley held his cigarette holder in both hands. “Bring him in.”
The DHS officer brought in a plain-looking man in a denim jacket and older jeans and a lovely new pair of Ferragamo loafers that were certainly rare to see these days. Shirley almost scowled. They were the only ones allowed to put on airs with their dress anymore. Their women could wear real fur coats.
That’s okay. Their time will come.
The man glanced around the room uncertain who was in charge. He realized it must be Shirley, beside the gun. Shirley noted how everyone in the room was on pins and needles, waiting on his lead. Gone were the days of loose joviality.
“This is a Psyche-Pulse weapon?” Shirley asked him. The screens on his wrist and his pad winked on. He impulsed them into dormancy again.
“Yes, Political Officer, it is.”
“How did you get it?”
“I was an engineer at Octavian Arms.”
“Why did you steal it?”
“Because I am loyal to our side.”
Shirley’s eyes returned to the object.
“You know it looks like a toy?”
“I’m well aware of that, Mr. Folk. But it is the real McCoy.”
Shirley touched the nib of his cigarette holder to his lips and took a careful, probative sip. “So—how does it shoot?”
“It doesn’t shoot a projectile per se; it shoots a perfectly tuned electromagnetic signal.” The engineer watched the Political Officer digest this. “I’m told that the signal poses a simple question to the target.”
Shirley leveled his gaze. “A question?”
“Yes, sir. A question.”
“—How does it do that?”
“It is my understanding it is same as an old-time radio signal.” He hesitated; it seemed so queerly fantastic. “The signal is so perfectly calibrated to the amygdala as to make it past all other biological chatter. And the query is made.”
Shirley pinched the nib tightly, staring.
The Psyche-Pulse God Gun. Just too f-ing unreal.
The next question opened to the dark behind an anonymous door. “And what does it ask the target brain?”
The engineer hesitated. He cringed at answering out loud. You never knew what insulted these higher ups. “It—asks a moral question. Sir.” He had known this would be the toughest part of the sale.
Shirley felt the dread again. This is what the intel implied, but never said. As if no one in Intelligence wanted to know the answer. Because how could the other side have this weapon if this were true? People in the Party had chuckled it off. But then, all the horrible disfiguring. The photos were quickly eliminated. Before they demoralized anyone. There was talk that the enemy had been first to make alien contact. This could be disastrous. It could end the war. If only our side had gotten there first. This weapon would stop the Fascists from waltzing into New York or Chicago or Seattle and setting up kangaroo courts for war crimes. Who could explain those injuries?
Shirley sat on his desk beside the case. “You don’t seem to be all that confident in telling me precisely how this thing works.”
The engineer coughed into his fist. “Well, sir, Octavian keeps all departments separate. I worked on what looked like calibration. The most difficult part.”
“How so? Why—would that be?”
“Well, the difficulty in getting the full attention of the subconscious. In making it see that a decision must be made.” He knew this was hard to follow. And that doubt could not be far behind. “You see, the entire theory behind this weapon is that there is a universal right and wrong, Good and Evil, and it is in this context that the gun allegedly makes an inquiry past the individual’s preferences.”
Shirley squinted confusedly. “But that’s bullshit. That can’t happen.”
“I don’t believe it either, sir. I’m just reporting what is said.” No one interrupted, so he went on. “The target is made to ask themselves if they have led a worthy life, if the causes they support are moral—” He could see flame creep into Folk’s neck.
Shirley waited for the part that had dropped off. “And?”
The engineer screwed his head sideways. “The gun asks if the individual is not making the world a better place, then why not—get rid of themselves?”
Shirley painfully let out a breath he’d held for a minute.
Did that explain the wrenching disfigurements?
“They get rid of themselves?”
The photos had been only too vivid.
“And—where does the bullet come out?”
“I don’t want to be held responsible for wild war rumors, sir.”
“Well, how do you test it?” Shirley demanded. “Do you use animal subjects? They don’t do anything evil.” Shirley’s mind pushed away the images.
“They say the brain rebels against itself. I have no idea how to test it, Mr. Folk.”
Shirley leaned over his desk, stonily uncomprehending. He looked around as if for his cigarette holder that was still clenched in his left fist. “Mr. Okonye, I’m sure you’ll be well compensated by stealing this little device. But I’m beginning to question your entire story here. How could this thing do what you say?”
“There is an assumption on the other side about an internal moral construct. For example, if you remove politics from a situation it becomes clear what the moral thing to do is.” Okonye could see Folk needed more. “If we fail to live a healthy lifestyle then the body drives us toward breakdown and faster aging. Their claim is that all of that is accelerated somehow with the gun, sir. That’s all.”
“I see. That’s all,” Folk repeated.
He thought about what the other side said about moral relativism.
The engineer shut up. He let the Political Officer rummage among the pieces for those he preferred. Folk sank into his desk chair. He looked over the gun case at his Captain by the door, wondering what he made of all this.
The Captain said to Okonye, “But where does the power come from? It looks like the bodies are exploded.”
“It comes from the person.” Okonye paused. “Our body uses fantastic amounts of energy to run itself. Something like—a person could light up New York for a year. I figured we could duplicate the weapon, and program it with our moral code, then we could tip the war back in our favor.” He realized suddenly what he had said.
Shirley straightened himself deliberately. What reason did Okonye have for thinking they were not winning the war? Did it look that bad from the outside? Was it the rumors about this gun? Shirley started to wonder if he believed this entire story. “I just want to know how you managed to steal this.”
“I snatched and grabbed it.”
“So, they know you took it.”
“Now they do.”
“Any way it’s not the real thing? A plant?”
The engineer shook his head. “They would’ve had to suspect me. And I’ve just never given them any shred of reason to.”
“What is the power source?”
The engineer made a sheepish face. “A 9 volt battery.”
Shirley’s sneered. “A 9 volt battery? I’ve seen what this thing can do!”
The engineer didn’t know how to respond.
“Then how are you sure of any of this?”
The engineer’s shoulders twitched. “Mr. Folk, I did the best I could.”
Folk put up his hand to shut him up. He pulled out the stub of his cigarette and laid it in the heavy amber ashtray. “Mr. Okonye, have you tested it?”
The engineer didn’t budge. He hadn’t dared.
Folk regarded his two Homeland Security officers. “Go to the stockade. Round up some POWs and bring them in.”
The Captain hesitated. “But, sir—”
“Are you reconsidering my order for me?”
“Well, sir, it’s just that, when the war ends—”
“They used the weapons on us!”
The Captain hung by the door.
Folk exploded. “You can be my test subject, Mister!” The Captain nodded and the two soldiers hurried out. Folk stewed over their conduct. This War.
Folk, his Captain, and Okonye waited. Folk stared at his platinum cigarette case in his hands. Okonye refused to lower his eyes and look suspicious. He wondered if he would have done this all over again had he the chance. Would the blasted thing even work? The last two years of the War, he had longed for this day to get back with his own side and steal something for them that would get him noticed. A cottage on the Hudson. Even just a car. Really, he had hoped for much more. Now, he felt you were better off never bringing yourself to their attention.
They heard the approaching scrape of heavy chains and boots on the scarred wood floor. Into the office stepped five POWs, American GIs. All of them had bruises and cuts on their faces from going through it. One fellow’s eye was puckered fatty white with a rind of purple. Their skin and hair were dense with muck and stink. The smell of long unwash and thick adrenaline from uncertainty stabbed the room with vile putridity as they were forced in front of the desk.
“Oh, ho-ho!” Shirley Folk laughed, covering his mouth against their smell. “Enjoying your restful stay, gentlemen?” He mocked them, but a part of him cringed at the conditions for these POWs that were never going home unless they lucked out on a prisoner swap across the DMZ. The worry hole crept into Shirley’s gut again of the wrong side winning, of holding people accountable for what they had done.
What we’ve done. And they know us now.
And now they had this weapon.
The American GIs looked around, gauging the situation. A Political Officer with full Party insignia and bars. The cigarette holder from Hogan’s Heroes and the flesh of the Party elite with well enough to eat every night.
Shirley saw the soldiers spy the weird plastic gun. He also saw how the dingus fazed them a bit. He hitched up his hip and placed it on the corner of the desk. The name tag said “Bailey” barely legible under grime on the battle jacket of the captain. “I want you gentlemen to help me with something. If you cooperate, I can arrange for you to be separated from the other political prisoners and given special quarters.”
Captain David Bailey had whispered to his men coming down the hall to stand up straight; don’t slump. Your last weapon was the look on your face. It was the last “fuck you” you could lay your hands on, after all they’d done.
“You’ll have more to eat,” Folk added casually.
“You can spare more roaches?” Bailey said.
Bailey had thought every day in captivity about another captain in another war. Every day, they beat that guy. They crushed his hands and fingers so that he would never be able to hold a pen right for the rest of his life, and how the turncoat press working for these guys back in the day had mocked him for it, like they always mocked you, when he ran for political office. David Bailey always wondered what he would do if they gave him that same offer like that guy, to get out of the POW camp if he left his men, him an admiral’s kid. That other guy never folded. He gave them the finger every day. And they beat the shit out of him for it.
Bailey had never known precisely what he would do or say. Since he figured his “countrymen” were most likely going to kill him anyway.
“We’ll stick with our guys. We do think you should let us all go and end this stupid war you started.”
“We didn’t start it. You did. You racists!”
Folk wondered which way to go with this guy. He could have the useless piece of shit taken out and shot. “What are we fighting for? We’re countrymen!” He patted his hand casually on the plastic top of the dingus.
Bailey shrugged, not looking at the gun. “Maybe because we won’t kneel?”
Folk smiled as if he liked this guy. But he didn’t. Something in him could not stand it when they said something clever. “Do you know what this is?” Folk watched Bailey look at the weapon for the first time.
Bailey got a quizzical look. “A God Gun?”
“That’s right. I want to test it on your men.”
Bailey noticed how the civilian in the Ferragamo’s stiffened at the idea of playing witness to something like this. “You want me to pick my own men?”
“You’re afraid of it, then?”
“No. I’m not afraid of it. Why would I be?”
“So, you don’t know that much about it, do you?”
Bailey half squinted at the Political Officer.
Folk nodded. “What does it do? Genetically recognize you all?” Shirley stopped. That was a good idea. He saw Okonye snared by that idea too. That made more sense than the other thing. But then, how would they know if you were a traitor switching sides? And the other side also believed that they had scientific proof that ideological decisions, just like everything else, trickled down to DNA.
Is that how this thing works?
Creepiness crawled up and down Shirley’s spine. That must be it! That made more sense than there being a real God with real good and evil imprinted on the world. That crap was just to demoralize the enemy. Well, two could play at that game.
“Pick out two to test it on.”
“You think I’m going to help you?” Bailey said. “No matter what I do from here on, you’re swinging on your own noose for this one, pal.”
Shirley felt his anger boil. He couldn’t stand it when they thought they were smarter than you. He snatched the weapon up and threatened the POWs with it, feeling ridiculous since he didn’t even believe the thing worked. The POWs looked at him in the same way, wondering what they should do. “What is it called?”
“It’s called a Psych-2,” another POW said.
Folk pointed at the door. “Let’s go outside.”
The group reassembled in the parking lot. Shirley saw the houses down the block where people might be watching. Two sandbagged machine gun emplacements and razor wire atop the high fence guarded the headquarters. Three troop trucks stood in the lot. Shirley directed the men to head behind the troop trucks where no prying eyes could see. He didn’t even trust the men behind the sandbags.
“You POWs, stand against the wall.”
Bailey and his men ranged along the wall.
Shirley studied the gun, confusedly. “This is how I shoot it?” He’d never been to a basic training. He’d been meaning to learn ever since the election was suspended due to tampering. But they had been fighting ever since.
“May I?” Okonye said. He made his way over, reaching for the safety.
Shirley watched with keen interest as the switch clicked.
“You’ve got it ready now.” Okonye stepped away.
“This is the trigger?” Shirley directed the toy gun at the soldier on the end. The soldier stood in antique leg irons and manacles found in the basement. He looked at Bailey and thought of his wife and four kids in Indiana in case this went very wrong. From the first day he had feared leaving his kids without a dad. He thought of his oldest boy, Jacob Jr., not knowing for six months now where his father was, or whether he was even alive or dead, because these guys used everything on the hog but the squeal to mess with their enemy.
“I miss you, Jake,” he said aloud. “I love you, son. Know that I woulda come back, if I could. I love you all. Rayna. Lester. Miller. Honey.”
Shirley jerked at the trigger.
The God Gun gave three indications that something had happened—the plastic trigger clicked, an orange light blinked, and it vibrated.
The soldier stood, unharmed.
Private Jacob Javitz heaved a huge sigh and shut his eyes. I’m still here. He felt inside for anything. He was okay except for his left knee jangling from fear.
Shirley jerked the trigger again. Click, buzz, slow orange light. He rattled the end in disgust. “What the fuck? Look!” He squeezed the trigger again. “It is a toy! It’s a freakin’ toy or a plant for a stooge like you!” He said angrily to Okonye. He aimed at the next POW in line, who put up his hands. “Look! Look!” He jerked the trigger. Click. Buzz. Slow orange light. “Nothing! Fucking nothing happens!”
Shirley laughed. He shook the toy worthlessly.
“It ain’t shit! . . . It ain’t dick!” He pointed the dingus at Okonye’s feet, who put up his hands and took a step back. “Look at this stupid thing! Are you the stupidest asshole that ever lived?” Shirley shook the gun like an empty water pistol. He chuckled in relief that the weapon wasn’t real. “A 9 volt battery.” Maybe it doesn’t have a battery? He opened a slot on the pistol grip. It had a battery.
“Watch me kill myself!” he said.
Shirley Folk brought up the business end to his jaw and squeezed the trigger.
Everyone heard the cheap plastic Click!
The ground bounced. A flash-corona of red-purple vapor replaced the top half of Shirley Folk’s body, knocking back the men around him. The explosion was muffled like a stick of dynamite in a safe. The black dress uniform had stretched and torn in wet, searing pieces around a trunk that had popped like a massive popcorn kernel. A hissing lump with legs slumped where a “man” had been.
The “God Gun” hung from a pustulant hand.
by David Walls-Kaufman
This story went into the “Overmorrow” sci-fi anthology in 2020. I developed it from chapter seven in “Robot, Archangel”, and liked it so much that I included it in the final version of the novel.DAVID
“Do you want to fly to dinner, Jason?”
The boy couldn’t believe the luck. “Sure! Hell, yeah!”
“Alright. Take it easy with the tough language,” Aras warned.
“Where are we going? Can I pick?”
Ginger came around the corner from the expansive, gallery-white living room with a deviant smirk on her mouth for her teenage son. “Why are you editing his language?” she said to Aras, her husband. She goosed her son’s bony ribs. He clinched to escape her thumb. “Let this growing boy cuss all he wants! Right?”
Jason tittered at his mom’s patronizing. “Yeah.”
“Don’t encourage ugly behavior,” Aras told his wife.
“Oh, please. Screw ugly. Right, buddy?” She made to goose Jason again.
“Yeah. I guess so.”
“‘Ey! I’m on your side! Gen Fed, baby!”
“So, where are we going?” Jason asked his father.
Ginger wondered why she tried so hard with this kid. No matter what she did or said, he always seemed to look up to his father.
“Luigi’s. It’s sunset. Sit outdoors.” Aras glanced invitingly at his wife. The roof deck had been one of their date spots since before Jason was born.
“Can we leave after I finish my game?”
Ginger hooked her arm over her son’s neck and smooched him on the cheek. “You bet. And don’t forget to wash up. You reek.”
The family gathered at the lip of the living room over a clear evening rich with scarlet slashes in the sky. Jason had his learner’s permit, and leaned out awkwardly over the lip of the living room floor. “Wha-hoo!” Jason hollered as they dropped. He was copying verbatim the move his father used quite a bit. Aras, uneasy in the virtual passenger seat, said, “Alright. Not too fast. Not too much drop. . . . ”
Ginger razzed her husband. “You hilarious prude!” Wasn’t she the one always trying to give Jason more slack?
“Dad! You do this all the time!”
“And I’ve been flying a lot longer.”
“Dad. Tech won’t let anything happen, jeez.”
“You want me to upchuck down your neck?”
The family flew out into the twilight, climbing unevenly back around the girth of the building toward the golden onion domes of Center City half a city away. Jason enjoyed the flight even more since he was the one doing it, and lowered them down to Luigi’s Tuscan where they got a stone table under the hanging lights.
“So, Dad,” Jason said, “some of the kids are talking about there being a secret plan to wipe out the waste. Is that true?”
Ginger grinned around a bite of pizza.
“Uh. Who’s talking that up?” Aras asked.
“There’s been talk like that for four hundred years,” Ginger said.
“Some of the kids. Like Felix. He says he has a robot idea to do it and do the environmental clean up. He also says he has a way to glimpse food into our stomachs so we don’t have to eat any more. Isn’t that a cool idea?”
Aras shook his head impatiently. “So guys, I have a surprise.”
“That idea was dropped long ago because people enjoy eating,” Ginger said to her son. “Tell Felix I said he’s stupid.”
Aras found it interesting that even school kids were thinking about the issue. But then, why wouldn’t they? “So—guys, we’re going on vacation.”
“Yeah!” Jason barked. “Where to?”
“Buffalo Safari,” Aras said.
“Yeah, baby!” Jason crowed. “When are we leaving?”
“I’m assuming this is okay with you?” Aras asked Ginger. Ginger could have glimpsed up any request he made for leave or for safari or anything. But if she ever did she would only have spoiled the surprise. “We’ll leave tonight, if it’s okay.”
Ginger shrugged, touched by the effort. “Cool with me.”
“Yeah! Buffalo Safari! Can I invite any of the guys?”
The family rose up from Luigi’s and Jason omitted the dive since they had just finished eating. He could have had Tech buffer it but he didn’t want to because it might aggravate his dad. They soared west over the great featureless expanse of territory outside of the metropolis. Pittsburgh came up on the right. Chicago would be next. Ginger grew annoyed at how long the flight was taking since Jason could not fly as fast as his father was able. And the unevenness.
“Baby, let your dad or me take over,” she said to Jason.
“He’s got it. He’s got it,” Aras responded gently. He gave her a look to be more patient. She rolled her eyes at him.
Jason got better, but there was only unending dark below. “Are we there yet?” Ginger carped. Finally, Aras told Jason to descend, into the massed twilight. The grassy prairie came abruptly into focus like a threat, and they gently landed beside bundles of equipment that Tech had pre-stationed. Jason’s nose immediately caught the sharp, damp, woolly odor of the great herd nearby. He heard grunts and quiet squeaks of grass ripped up by blunt teeth. He smelled the loamy black earth. He ordered Tech to raise his retinal sensitivity. The herd was just thirty yards away! Aras, grinning ear to ear, hand-signaled Jason and Ginger to be sure to stay quiet. Tech would not let them be hurt, but it was so much more fun and raw to keep Tech to a minimum. “Oh, my God!” Ginger whispered the words to Aras.
Aras signaled them to follow. They tiptoed right into the massive disheveled creatures with towering shaggy humps. Jason saw their eyes in the infrared enabling. Buffalo safari was his new favorite thing. Smells and memories from the two other trips tumbled back, but they were knocked aside by the new sounds and sensations of being in with the herd. The Ngorongnoro was so cool—but bison. Their smell. The dust, the sweated mounds of wool—his Dad was the greatest.
Jason made out fleet shapes of wolves! The herd had not sensed them yet. Jason jabbed his finger to show his father.
Ginger felt a wave of fondness for Aras. She liked him trying this way. But recently, something had been gnawing at her. Everyone had always said they were crazy. But they were having Jason. They hadn’t cared about convention. They had felt in their gut that a child needed both parents, although that was not the belief widely held in their society. But this lurking question had been stalking. Now, next to the godlike primitiveness of these beasts, the emotion leaned out of hiding just enough. Milton Aras was hunky, he dressed well, he was relevant, he had the rarest thing in the world—a job that wasn’t fake. He was Deputy Chief of Security on his way to being Chief one day. The sinecure bureaucrats in a pointless bureaucracy looked up to him because he cared, he actually did things. . . . But, there it was. Ginger watched him grin at her for this crazy shared thrill. This was incredible, but he had been oblivious to her doubts, amazingly. She thought about how Tech scanned the minds of these beasts and etched out any realization about her and her family intruding on their space. It pushed their minds to keep them from stepping on one of them. Ginger waved to Aras flirtingly. She didn’t like that he was a stickler for the rules. She could have glimpsed up the Rules of the Great Wichita Game Preserve for herself, or Tech would just block her if she did something against the rules. But she didn’t give a rat’s ass. The reckless boredom for her marriage made her want to touch a buffalo. Boredom could do that; like a saline drip of grey poison. She reached up for the mane of the bull towering next to her, and pouted naughtily at her husband, who gawked at her. Her fingers disappeared into the stiff carpet of coarse hair that echoed the warmth of her skin. Ginger yanked down hard as if she intended to climb up and ride the thing. The brute swung his massive black head around, his weak eye trying to pierce the dark. His huge wet nostrils snuffled wet and cool against her knee, then he went back to foraging. Ginger marveled at the massed muscular energy pent up under the wall of hide.
Aras thought, “What the hell!” Tech seemed to shave hairs in these encounters sometimes, as if to keep people on their toes. He and Jason shared a sober glance over how crazy mom could be. Ginger slapped the bull dismissively. Tech blocked the sensation, or made it into a horsefly, and the beast moved on.
Aras squatted Indian style right there among the unbreakable legs. He snickered over at Jason and Ginger at the craziness. Ginger lay all the way back on the grass, suddenly feeling every mile of the trip. Or maybe that internal release when the toxin from the boil pops out. She sensed her son and husband close. Her thoughts traveled back to this new feeling of finally realizing what had been in her mind. A shadow leaned over her. An enormous hoof came down beside her face. She touched it, the hard, cornified dermis. She edged off toward sleep, aware of the tiny islands of space carved out around herself, her son, and her man.
Ginger started when Aras whispered in her ear to wake her.
The herd was a mass beyond Jason, tails pricking.
Aras indicated the canvas box tent he had already set up. Aras had Tech start the fire. A Dutch oven slowly cooked a stew of bacon and beans. Aras had let his family sleep while the problems from work nosed into his mind again. There really had been no good options with the paroles for four hundred years. Like the plan for letting them rot where they fell if they killed them all and let the immune system of the planet clear up the mess in it’s own time. The worry here was the concentrated release of toxins built up from coal smoke, dung smoke, dust and whatever was left in the soil from ancient times that would be re-introduced to the environment. Proles ate their rats and their rats ate them. All those billions. A nonstop cycle of concentrated toxicity for half a melenium. The prole revenge would be their own die-off. Aras unhooked the heavy pot from the iron cross rail, pushing away the thought. “Well, how was all that for starters?” he asked his wife and son, licking stew off his thumb.
Jason shrugged, grinning noncommittally. “I’m going to ride one.”
“Are you really, baby?” Ginger said, smiling.
Ginger directed Tech to uncork the wine. It emerged with a crisp snap. “Let me ask you something,” Ginger asked Jason. She took a seat in a rickety camp chair. “Don’t you think that eating is fun? And you’d like to keep doing it rather than be injected with your pizza by Tech?”
“Pizza was earlier, Mom,” Jason said. “This is stew. And it wasn’t my idea! And!—you can’t have Tech inject you with food!”
Jason’s tone reminded Ginger of some old movie she couldn’t remember. She poured two glasses of wine to the top. Tech made the best damn wine. “Be sure and tell Felix I said he’s stupid.” Every bottle flawless. And it knew exactly what you loved. Her mouth watered. She took a hefty draught. The full flavor cocooned splendidly around her tongue. Bullseye. This was going to be a two bottle night. She wouldn’t finish both, but she was going to talk to Millie about what had come up, before it turned.
“All the guys think it’s a good idea, Mom!”
“God, you’re at that stupid age,” she said with tired affection.
“We’re not stupid, Mom. You don’t have ideas!”
“I know I don’t want to be injected with pizza.”
“I told you that’s impossible!”
Aras felt his mind towing him back to the slums. Why? How many millions of unmarked square miles did he have around him now? He watched Ginger refill her glass. Was she going to hit it hard tonight? What was going on with her? Should I look it up? He decided he would. . . . Oh. Oh, yeah? Ginger looked over guiltily at him. He pursed his lips at her and nodded in understanding. What did she expect? After sixteen years. Ginger frowned at him in remorse, and took another swig. Aras glimpsed in to see if she wanted a divorce. She didn’t.
“You want to go for a walk?” he asked her gently.
Jason knew something was up. “Are you guys going for sex?”
“No. You little idiot,” Ginger snapped. “And don’t look!”
“I’m not!” Jason didn’t want to look. He sensed already his father had blocked him, just in case. Tech read every thought in order to guard the State. “I’m fifteen!”
“It’s parent stuff,” Aras assured him.
“Are you guys getting a divorce?” Jason immediately regretted asking as soon as he let the question go. But he realized he never would have asked if he had thought it was true. He was just being catty. “Don’t have sex! Wolves can smell it!” He had no idea if this was true, but the worry occurred to him.
Ginger and Aras walked out from the box tent. He laced his fingers inside her’s. He was surprised she was this far along with this idea. He felt deceived, and not. Her shape next to him felt strange, their shoes in the grass. The herd was an indeterminate distance away against the bottom of the night.
“I don’t know why I felt it,” Ginger said absently. “It’s not anything you did.”
“Baby, by any measure—we have a great marriage,” he said. They walked on. “You might as well speak your mind,” Aras offered. “We’re about the only young married couple we know. Nobody’s going to help us.” An abrupt hill loomed ahead like a buffalo hump against the pricks of stars along the horizon. They headed toward it like a sacred relic from the Indians six centuries ago.
Now, Ginger felt stupid. He is a good man! You can’t ask for better. “Are you looking?” she asked him, smiling shyly. Their boots met the rocky bottom of the hill. Lumps of grass mounted steeply to the top. A coyote popped up above and dashed toward the summit with ears pinned.
“No. I’m waiting for you.”
Ginger had said nothing by the time they reached the top. Aras took both her hands while Ginger stared at the ground. “We got married for our son. He needs us.” He tried to find her eyes. Ginger would not look up. The breeze plucked a strand of hair over her face that she turned away from. “We change things up,” he said. “You know we do. If you’re bored then you know it’s only psychological. There’s no end to what we can do and how we can change things up. If you’re trapped it’s in your own head.” He shook her hands to let her know he meant it, that he was with her, that he would do whatever she needed. “If you want to take some time off, feel free. But you know this is a psychological inevitability that people run into with each other. And I don’t think you should wipe it. Keep it. It’s real. Don’t make it easy on yourself. That’s not living. People do it too much.” He rubbed his thumb over her fingers. “Why don’t you start your bronzing again? Get refreshed.”
They could see the dark of the herd from above. Ginger did not make a sound as they looked off. Once, she moved another strand of hair.
Next morning, Jason opened his eyes to the sun blindingly gilding each grass blade as if they were made of metal. He stayed in his sleeping bag listening to his old man make breakfast. He smelled the eggs popping in the skillet. Jason stood and stretched and saw the herd far off. He asked Tech if there were some edible Indian fruit or plant and it showed him a few tiny strawberry-like things that the herd had missed. He added them to the pancakes and they tasted delightfully of licorice.
“I think Felix still likes Cassie,” Jason said while eating, “but she thinks she’s better than everybody else.”
“Hey,” Ginger said. “Our family on both sides were editors and publishers of The New York Times. This world would never be what it is without the press. Remember that. Tell Cassie that. Your family is as important as her’s.”
“I know. Cassie is conceited. Just because her family had three Chancellors.”
“No way, baby. We made this world.”
Aras watched his wife and son. “Ready to find the herd?”
“I might go off on my own,” Jason said. “Can we hunt, Dad?”
“Our permit covers it. You want some steaks?”
“I might. I’ll have Tech handle the mess. But it might be cool. I could get like a buffalo skull, and a big ass buffalo robe!”
Aras had hunted twice before. He remembered the time Jason saw the open water buffalo with fly-blown bowels, killed by a lion pride lazing nearby. Hunting was nasty business, but didn’t people need to know where their food came from? Civilization had been jolted when they learned food could not be made from inert materials. They had wanted not to kill so desperately. At least not animals. They had been sobered by the discovery that nothing ate if it didn’t kill something. Now, people didn’t care. Strange, how different ideas came and went.
Jason glimpsed Tech and had himself lifted up. Ten feet off the ground he saw the dark cloud stretching to the horizon. Jason saw two bald eagles way up, slicing though invisible drafts. He went up to them. Tech, how many buffalo are in this herd?
This is the Wichita River Herd. It has 2,503,256 members in population.
Jason did want to ride one.
He swooped down and floated, looking for the biggest bull. He found an old warrior with a particularly thick, pitted cape. Jason came in tentatively and straddled the broad back just like a rodeo cowboy. A dull rimmed eye looked back and the black tongue stuck out. The bull stopped dead at the unknown sensation. Jason felt the muscles gird. The beast exploded. Tech read the neurological telegraphing and appropriately confined the muscle firing in real time to keep Jason safely aboard. Jason clenched deep into the cape and directed Tech to lay off 5% more. Jason felt himself losing it and Tech rescued him by instantly restricting the jump.
“Whoa! Whoa!” Jason laughed crazily. “This is wild!” The bull jumped and whirled furiously, tossing his head and legs. Jason raised Tech control by 20% because his arms were suddenly turning to noodles.
The other buffalo panicked away from the bull wondering what was the matter with him. They did not see Jason riding him because Tech actively wiped his image from their brains so they would not stampede.
Then, suddenly, Jason felt under him the unchecked mania of the animal. He was off—upside down, high up. “Tech!” Up he went, in reverse. How could Tech have let this happen? “TECH!” Jason screamed, as he dropped. Flashing hooves slashed like combine blades. He bounced off the ground and one walloped him, sending him sideways. He tumbled in a ball, dust and grass in his teeth. His miraculous appearance romped the cows and bulls away from him. Jason could tell he was broken up. A dark wall of shaggy heads and bovine eyes enveloped him.
“Oh, my God. Tech! Tech, get me out of here!”
Nothing. No comment, no action.
—I could die here!
Jason couldn’t use his right arm. He leaned his weight and staggered up. The old warrior slashed menacingly with his horns, one of them broken like a beer bottle. “Tech! Tech! Please, somebody! Mom!” The old warrior lowed, slop falling from his black mouth. He lowered his rack and charged. Jason dove. The warrior missed, hooking his snout and yellow teeth in passing. He wheeled on Jason again. Jason limped away as best he could. Luckily, the wall of bison gave. But more were beyond them. Jason flailed and cried out, and the bison kept giving ground.
What if they stop?
“Yah! Yah! Let me out!”
God. His arm had snapped in two places.
“Fix my arm, Tech! . . . Tech! Please!”
The enormous bull followed him out of the herd, his mouth open to take Jason’s scent. Jason squeezed together all his strength to get away.
Ginger and Aras ran from camp. The herd shouldered together curiously with the old warrior. Ginger grabbed her son around his slender shoulders, panicked.
“Tech went out! It’s not helping me!”
Aras grabbed his wife and son. “C’mon. Back up!” He hurried them ahead. “Tech! Tech! . . . We need help!”
“It isn’t on?” Ginger said. “What’s wrong with it?”
The hill stood forever two hundred yards off. The herd began trotting. They lowed in unison. The hard earth drummed from hooves. Aras made the bottom of the hill and pushed his little family ahead of him. The loose grass and earth gave, and Jason’s arm hung limp, and the herd of massive skulls closed in behind, led by the bull. Ginger didn’t want things to end this way. Aras had been so good. Aras pushed his family higher, hoping. “Tech! . . . Where the hell are you?!” The angry bull glared with a white-rimmed eye, unwilling to climb at first. Then he lunged, cape dropping dust, on his way up, eyes insane. He reached the top and slashed so fast that his horns disappeared. He tossed Aras, Ginger and Jason in the air one at a time like snatches of turf. Scattering the enemy, he turned and carefully descended the hill.
Aras huddled over his battered family. Jason groaned, Ginger wept, her face and chest abraded from rocks. The Tech came back on an hour later. What the hell happened? Tech never answered. The family stayed another two days, telling people back home what happened, testing the Tech. Ginger refused to let go of her men. Aras would go back to the camp for food. Finally, they flew down slowly from the hill, flying low over the ground in case of another failure. Aras wondered now if maybe the Security Council would let him do his investigation.
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Book One: Wazku Vanishes
by David Walls-Kaufman
This was a short story submitted to Liberty Island and it was rejected because there wasn’t enough to it. I disagree. My vision of the story was to show a hopeless future where ordinary people had no chance. The LI editor suggested it became a larger story. At first I thought this was a dumb suggestion—then suddenly I imagined Robot Archangel and thought what a cool story it would be. The opening with Milton Aras was kept even though it was not part of the original short story.DAVID
Your worst enemy was your own nervous system.
—-George Orwell, 1984
Milton Aras did not know how to respond.
How isn’t this Man’s Inhumanity to Man in the eyes of our God?
Aras revolted instinctively.
“Wait! Stop!” he yelled.
Rage crept into his voice. “You say our god? Aren’t you machina? You aren’t even alive! What’s this talk of any god being your god?”
The orange-red Aztec skull blazed silently.
“You have no say in this! This is a fight between people!”
What do you do, Aras, when one bad animal torments others?
A hot pain burbled in Aras’s gut.
Say it, Aras, if we are so unkind!
A sound welled up. A whistling, shaking, tearing roar. It quaked out of the very bonds of space and time around them. Somehow Aras knew this was the sound of every prayer ever uttered since the moment the first man became more than a beast and believed there was a god that might be spoken to for relief from wrong. Aras heard the team shouting and ducking under desks and chairs behind.
But Aras knew all the technology in the world was no protection.
They were coming for him.
The sixty-year-old citizen stepped down from the dray cart into the rain and into the cold puddles in the empty road and felt the rain pellets drum across his hat and shoulders and fire off the canvas roof of the cart. The city sky had wept rust-smelling rain all day into evening. He walked up the broad stairs to the ornate bronze doors of the closed and dark government building, and turned. The cart driver snapped the reins, the lines sprinkled white rain drops in the streetlight. The brace of mules shook their long-eared heads and rattled the cart away over the cobbles into the dark.
The citizen waved thanks. He did, indeed, feel helped by the driver’s mantra of prayers. The driver had said what he thought of this odd nighttime appointment beyond First Gate, and prayed for him, many times. The driver had asked:
“Dost thou think thine art to see the one they call The Jolly Man?”
Did the driver speak in the old dialect because he was uncertain of Wazku’s fate? “I have never heard of a ‘Jolly Man’.”
“It is said He is the one thy dost not wish to see!”
“I have no trouble with the government.”
“Yes. But who ever does?”
“I am a simple pawner.”
“I am a simple driver of mules!”
They had been silent, again.
“Let me see again.” The driver examined the papers more carefully under the next arc light, leaning his broad hat away from the light, droplets pelleting paper.
“One cannot tell what trouble is or not,” the driver said again. He handed back the letter without looking at the citizen. “There is no trouble for you, citizen. And yet, I will pray for thee and thine family.”
The citizen entered the high gloom of the government building lobby. Under the grand geometric cornice sat a stocky guard with black hair at the reception cell. The citizen brought his damp-softened summons to the cell. The guard barely looked up. “Please?” said the citizen. The guard made no real sign of what the citizen should do.
The citizen crept past toward the huge bank of elevators.
“If thine stance with our officials was truly dour,” the driver had said, “then they would have come for you with The Robes.”
So, how bad could it be?
His finger trembled at the button. He glanced again at the office number. The 632nd floor. His chest hurt. His heart was very timid these years. The elevator whooshed down and compressed wind from the shaft pushed the dirty tails of his long coat. The grand bronze doors yawned. Inside, the citizen heard faint pleasant flute muzak. He had never before heard recorded music. Such delights!
The elevator closed and whooshed up, and up. He felt it in his heart, rushing up to Heaven, or God, if God existed over these places.
Ding. A gentle bell rang sweetly.
The citizen stepped into a low lit empty corridor that peeled off down an endless hall in both directions. Room number 632-146. A wall plaque pointed right for even-numbered, left for odd. His breathing hurt more.
He thought of his three-year old grandson, left with him and his wife after the death of their son after the poor lad was kicked to death by a horse.
He walked and walked. Finally, a door like the rest. He knocked. No answer. He swallowed; he had no spit. Did this mean he had fulfilled his obligation? No. Surely, they would come for him. In the way the driver had said. He tried the nob. It turned. He let go, startled. His heart ached like misery in his chest, but he walked in.
“Master Wazku?” a happy voice said from beyond an opaque screen. “Don’t stand on ceremony, dear sir. Enter, Master Wazku! Enter, by all means!”
Beyond, the most handsome space for bureaucrats! Dormant visuals hung over the desks unmanned at this late hour. The citizen had never seen such wonders and thought they were jewels hanging by invisible wires in the air. Behind the desk on the right sat a fleshy man in an old-fashioned business suit and tie before a huge window overlooking the lake and the most incredible vista of the Tall City beyond the First Gate. The citizen had never even imagined the Tall City from this perspective. It was petrifying to be walking around up so high. It was so beautiful he thought he might cry! He knew of no one with any relatives who worked for the government or who lived beyond the First Gate. He had heard stories, but he could not believe he was actually here. The fleshy man at the desk was youngish with jet black hair and a black beard that offset uncanny white teeth as he smiled and indicated a chair for the citizen. White the shade of those teeth existed nowhere in the citizen’s world, not even in porcelain kitchen tiles in buildings from the ancient times. “Please, for cheer, Mr. Wazku! Be unfeared. I have little bad to tell you.”
Again, the laughter, the hand, welcoming.
The citizen crept forward, unable to look from the view.
“Mr. Wazku. Why do you act like a man afraid?”
“I am not afraid. I have nothing to fear.”
He lied. The height was incredible. Would the building fall?
“Oh, but we all have something to fear. Yes? It is a part of life. Yes?”
“I am untroubled. I have done nothing wrong.”
“Of course you haven’t! You are a good man! This, we know! But, when you say it like that, so suredly, then I know you have done something.”
“I am a simple pawner.”
“There. You see? A money-lender! This is trouble for you, yes?”
The citizen shook his head stubbornly. “I am a simple pawner, and my wife runs a four-table coffee shop, Monsieur.”
The official’s smile changed to one of sharp comprehension. “I see in you a man who knows how to talk to a public official, oh, yes.”
“Oh, no, I do not. I never wanted the pleasure.”
“We are both men of God, and, oh, yes! You do know how!”
“But, I have never been called up in my life. I am never trouble. I am a simple pawner who helps other Sons of God with small money problems.”
“That is what your neighbors told you to say, yes?” The man grinned warmly, as if it was no problem; no big deal, everybody did it.
“No, no. I was embarrassed; I spoke to no one. No one coached me how to talk because I did not want to be shunned, and my family.”
The bureaucrat maybe did not believe him so much. “I think maybe you are lying to me. But—what does it matter? Who does not lie to the government, yes? Ha-ha.”
“I would not lie to the government. I do not want the trouble.” The citizen held his hands as if to presume to lean them on the front of the desk, then thought better of it, and folded his hands in his lap.
“Make yourself comfortable,” the official urged.
The citizen stayed where he was.
“Mr. Wazku, I am Alfred Wah, Official Sub-Altern at the Bureau of Theological & Civic Maintenance, at your service.” Manicured fingers politely touched his midriff. “And you are here in our Al Hariri Branch Office, First Gate.”
The citizen was not overly bright. He had accepted this of himself since his early schooling when he decided to favor wrestling over book study. “Do you want me to take a poll of some kind, if you read it to me? I am always quite satisfied!”
The official laughed louder. “Of course you are! You are a model citizen!”
“I am grateful you think so. No record is of me complaining.”
“Do you have any complaints at all, Mr. Wazku?”
“No. I do not believe I do.”
“How old are you, Mr. Wazku?”
“In my sixties.”
“Really? You look much older. You and I are close enough in age, actually. Look at me! I look much more vigorous! And you have no complaints with your whole life?”
“No. Not really, no.”
“How about with your wife?”
Was this it? His wife? Had she done something? He bumped his glasses up his nose. He was in queue for a watery eye operation, and had been for four years. His wife had been more angry about it than he, but she never dared say anything outside the shop. “No, I am unangry with my wife. She seems to be a good person.”
“’Seems’ to be, Mr. Wazku?” The smile, forgiving all.
The official turned in his chair and smiled out the window at the vast space of the dark lake and the cityscape across. The night was the color of char, and the lake the color of ashes, and the buildings that ringed it rising up to three and seven hundred stories, with more buildings beyond, unending.
“The truth is, Master Wazku, you are here not because of your conduct, but because of the conduct of your people five hundred years ago.” A visual leapt up, and he checked himself. “Yes, five hundred years ago.”
Wazku flinched in fear from the abrupt appearance of the visual. He knew not what it was. “My ancestors did something wrong a long time ago?”
“Yes. Sadly so.”
“What did they do?”
“He was a writer.”
The citizen said nothing.
“He wrote about political things. About the government.”
“What is ‘politi—?”
“Things to do with power and government.”
“About the government five hundred years ago?”
“Yes. But it does not matter. That was the beginning, you see? And he, your ancestor, was pointedly critical of everything, even the Religion of the State.”
“What did he say?”
The official shrugged. “He was uncomplimentary.” He pouted. He glanced up at the visual again, checking a detail. “Yep.” He frowned. He leaned back in his chair and joined his hands behind his head, twisting.
“That is all you have for me?” Wazku thought how ironic all of this was. He remembered the summons coming in the pink envelope, and his wife, Indira, holding it up for him to see, the fear and surprise registering only in her eyes. How they carried it to the neighborhood scribe to have it read. “He was ‘uncomplimentary’?”
The official pushed his mouth sideways. The Tech alerted him now to let him know that the citizen approached a Threat Level 3 from a Level 2. The official saw Wazku sense the danger and respond to bring his anger down.
“What has that to do with me, sir? It was so long ago.”
“Yes, but must we not deal with such things?”
“But,” the citizen sighed, “I never even heard about him. And even you do not know much about him.”
“His name was David Wazz-Koffu-man. He was a writer. Your name, you can see how it derived from him.” He sniffed. “You are his blood.”
The citizen put the fingertips of both his hands together to plead the absurdity of this blot against him. “How would I know? All I know is what you tell me.”
The Tech again alerted Mr. Wah to the Threat Level status change because Wazku not a minute before had hit a 2.68. Now he was at 2.2 headed to 2.4.
“He encouraged others to resist what now is.”
“And so, he wasn’t even successful?”
“It is needed for Rightness & Instruction.”
“Was he critical of The Religion? But my entire family have been faithfully of The Religion since our conversion long ago.”
“Four hundred years ago.”
“There. You see?”
“But there it is! Thou ist not Original, ist thou?”
The citizen smoothed his fingers over his lips like drawing them to a fine point. That was it. He had no answer.
The official said, “I just came back from vacation with my family. We went to Lake Mire-gan. Do you know it up there, Mr. Wazku? So lovely. So unspoiled. Buildings only thirty or forty stories tall around the lake, you know. My family always has a good time. I too have a boy.” The official leaned down onto his elbows as he gazed with some vague emotion of sympathy at his guest.
“Do you want to know what your sentence is?”
“I do not want to know.”
“See? You are a smart man; a brave man.”
“Given my crime, the penalty surely is equal to it.”
The official made a fingertip bell-tapping gesture. “See? You still have the defiance of the writer in you, so is it not the Will of God?” The official up-glimpsed to see that Wazku remained flatlined at Threat-Level 2. Not that it mattered. He was merely curious about the man’s psychology.
“What of my family?”
The official glanced up at the visual. “To be determined.”
“Can I say goodbye?”
“I’m sorry, not for this offense. They come for you now.”
The official nodded.
Wazku sighed. He could not believe this would be his fate after a life lived such as his. The Robes! “Will we be punished, together?”
“No. Not for this offense.”
“They had less to do with this than I!”
“People can be trusted to do stupid things if they do not periodically see another face the Portraiting.” The official raised up his thumbs and protruded his lips to make a faint popping bubble sound.
The citizen felt hot weeping crawl up his throat as he thought of his grandson.
“I know it is a sad thing with thine children.”
“You cannot imagine how absurd; how cruel.”
Wazku went up to a 3.
Again, the upraised thumbs.
“We are 25 billion, sir. It hardly makes a difference.”
“It does to him.”
A faint shrug. The gesture carried with it the extent of feeling by so many in this hard and strange world.
“Paradise is nigh, Master Wazku.”
by David Walls-Kaufman
The rise of Socialism in America has always fascinated me. Two key public figures typical of what many must have considered and gone through philosophically before and during the 1930s were Hemingway and Dos Passos, two good friends. Their friendship was damaged by the excesses of the Soviets during the Spanish Civil War and the murder of one of their good friends.David
Hemingway and I first crossed paths in 1918 as ambulance drivers in the Great War. I was an ambulance driver on the French side, and he was on his way to drive for the Italians fighting the Austrians. It took six weeks of training to learn how to operate all the levers and cranks in those old jalopies. I graduated Harvard cum Laude in 1916, and it was there that my politics became radicalized. I was the bastard son of a distant, rich New York corporate lawyer, and I felt then that the world could only be made fair for the poor through Communism.
Hem and I met again when we were both expats in Paris. He arrived in the Latin Quarter with his bride, Hadley, eight years his senior, with a small pension from her family that would help a struggling writer. Hem was a strapping matinee-idol with unbelievably straight white teeth and confidence that would make life just too easy. His lack of appreciation for others was going to be hard for the rest of us. I was medium sized with owlish eyes and e.e. always said no one looked more “foreign” at Harvard than did I.
If you charmed or pushed your way into our clique of Paris writers and painters, you became aligned in drink and bullshit with James Joyce, Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, Picasso, Gertrude Stein, Scott Fitzgerald, e.e. cummings, Sherwood Anderson, and others. I lived on my small trust even after my first novel One Man’s Initiation in 1920 made me one of the new voices in fiction. Hemingway never went to college, became a cub reporter on the best paper in the Americas, the Kansas City Star, then went to Italy to get in the fight. He promptly got himself blown up by an artillery shell that made him an Italian war hero, then landed in Paris with all that momentum of story to slay us all with enviable charm, and fit right in with a crowd that had also read just about every book ever written. Hem read everything to compensate for his lack of a college education. I did because people smarter than I said a lot worth hearing.
“Dos, let’s sit at the Rotund again tomorrow and read to each other,” Hem said to me when he and Hadley and I parted ways at the Seine book stalls. I remember his smile that freezing day because he and I both liked to wear berets.
“Passages from the Bible again?” I said. “Yes, let’s.”
“I’ll write at The Dome until three then meet you.”
“How’s yours going?”
Hem browsed the Bible with an eye for titles to his work. He came up with great titles. But that’s why his titles tell you little about the story: The Sun Also Rises. A Farewell to Arms. For Whom the Bell Tolls. Across the River and Into the Trees. His titles bring lovely poetry, don’t they? Mine are more functional: USA, Three Soldiers, Manhattan Transfer. A lot of my early work was critical of free economics. Some of this was my father supporting me and my mother, but never acknowledging me, until the warmth opened up just before he died in 1917, as it often does in an outburst of emotional prescience from those with the shadow of the shadow on their faces.
“I’ve got some of ‘My Old Man’ for you,” Hem told me excitedly one day. He held the pages, written in thick pencil. I remember them shivering in the breeze as we sat at the Lilas with two Pernod between us. “Did you bring something?”
“I’ve got something.” I could see in Hem’s eyes the envy for me because I was already a published novelist.
“From the novel?”
“Actually an essay for a new Communist sheet.”
“Oh, Dos . . . That’s great!” He grinned as if I was silly. “Paying you anything?” Again, the smile over the deuce. He knew those Red sheets didn’t pay anything.
Hem and I got on so well partly from my plan to see the world by walking tour. Hem and Hadley loved to go along with me. I introduced him to Spain that way. I introduced him to Key West too, after my Florida walk in 1925 and I hopped a train for Key West that rolled over causeways on cerulean seas. Hadley and Hem came along on a walk through the Pyrenees ending in Andorra. Over 200 miles. A lot of that in the rain. Poor Hadley was miserable but uncomplaining, and Hem was sweetly upset for her discomfort. But that would change, as Hem loosened his hold on his appreciation of Hadley too.
Hem’s journalism made him great at grilling you about your expertise. He’d grill you for hours about roses or mending a sail or Roulette. I could tell he feigned interest while really he didn’t give two shits about you. He’d grin at me, knowing I saw through him and how we both enjoyed the writer’s hunt—for information, for wonderful, simple stories kicked over like a clod of manure in the paddock of life. My interest in people was made by my father’s disinterest in me. I understood Hemingway, and so he and I never got into awful fights like he had with everyone else. Until Madrid that is, in 1936. You don’t need perfect friends. Christ, if your family isn’t perfect, why hold your friends to a higher standard?
Everyone in Paris knew my politics. Communists were rare in the 1920s when money flowed like booze. The War made the United States the world’s money colossus. Europe was smashed, and Paris was so cheap we literally couldn’t afford to leave. Besides, we were busy pushing for the overhaul of language. We all felt it coming. We wanted to write like people spoke. The posing in writing created a huge emotional gap. Our desire to democratize language, the shock of the War, our dislocation as artists from our institutions—it echoed America throwing off England after the Revolution: Rejecting knee-breeches, the powdered wig, cutting our hair and shaking hands instead of bowing. All of us sought to capture a new immediacy and vitality in our writing. We knew one of us in Paris would get it.
I tried to interest my friends in Communism. It’s an easy sell. “Don’t you want to help the poor?” And they saw it. But they also saw the great strides made for the poor with unions and rising wages naturally following competition to keep worthwhile employees.
Attitudes didn’t change until the Great Depression. The explosion of poverty woke us up to the desperate need for Communism. People rushed to all us Communists, joining The Movement and infiltrating America and Europe with their new insight to bring fundamental change for the sake of the Have Nots.
Every university campus jerked awake with students flocking to Socialist radicalism. They went from lazily absorbing the classics and brooding longingly over their self-involved poetry to galvanized youths throwing off frivolity to grasp the controls of political power and undermine every institution that had lulled us to sleep regarding equality for all.
We saw it in the exciting election of a Socialist in Franklin Roosevelt. We winked at each other as we whispered stories about Roosevelt opening his Cabinet meetings with the warm salute of “Good morning, my fellow Socialists!” Communist Party USA members were appointed to prominent White House positions. And we knew what Stalin was doing blazing a trail of health and wealth for the impoverished of the Soviet Union.
Hemingway would sit and grin stupidly as we talked around him. It was the only time I saw him look stupid and doubt himself on what to think. This was because the fibrous ball of his soul, his art, was rooted in the enduring American reverence of the strong individual conquering a better life. Hem writhed in hatred for Roosevelt and how his vast welfare programs gradually turned vital people and families into cowed dependents of a numb bureaucracy.
“How does making people obligated to handouts help them in the long run?” he bristled. “We all know what’s down that road. It’s flat-out bribery!”
“It’s only temporary,” I argued, “to give them a leg up.”
It took me years to see past that one.
In 1935, Hemingway weathered the terrible hurricane and made his way from Key West on his new fishing boat, the Pilar, to Matecumbe Key where a Roosevelt public works program had lured over 800 hundred war vets with their wives and children for a government paycheck. The government knew how high a wall of seawater this awful storm might throw and lifted not a finger to get them north. Was it because the vets had angered Roosevelt in marches on Washington demanding he make good on Woodrow Wilson’s pension promises to them? Hem told me how he drove up to Matecumbe and came across the hundreds of bodies bloated into great, mottled pigs of corpses face down or face up in the water, like balloons with hands. The flies and the stink. The pop of bodies. Hem was livid. He wept. Those vets, their families, men who sacrificed so much in our War.
Hem roared at Roosevelt with the pen too. The article got a lot of attention from the Left, that thought this might be the chance to peel Hemingway from Capitalism. I couldn’t go so hard on Roosevelt since you can’t do that when you’re in camp with other Socialists. You see, it’s you and The Movement against the entire criminal world, the greedy, selfish nature of Man. The epochal struggle of history demands you can never weaken The Movement by criticizing a single member of it. Only our enemies can ever be made to look bad. If you don’t keep the story simple, stupid people might think we’re no better than anybody else.
Seeing Hem roil, my Communist friends watered at the mouth to score Hemingway, the top author in the world. Antonio Gramsci was piecing together his ideas on how to take down the West from within by The Movement subsuming control of education, the arts and entertainment to maneuver behind the credibility of these institutions to grow our crops in their fields. Already, anti-Capitalist messages emerged from Hollywood, and anti-Capitalist is switched in the human mind to pro-Socialist without our having to say a word. That technical divide between Silent movies and the Talkies is a fairly good timeline for when we began growing the prejudices against wealth and letting human nature steer those emotions. Movies from the 1920s portray an American morality on poverty and social evolution that says “The most robust Freedom grows us faster and better past human want.” After our takeover, movie morality insinuated: “Greed and racism have made the United States the most despicable nation ever, and only fundamental transformation and punishment of the old thinking will achieve the best expression of our humanity.”
I helped Stalin’s New York handler, Goros, study and ponder on Hemingway and other authors. Hem’s code name was “Argo.” I talked to them at length about ways to appeal to Argo’s personality and ego, and we all agreed Hem’s reaction to the hurricane might open a way to exploit his sympathy for the worker. I helped form the League of American Writers (a Communist front group), and then put them in contact with Hem, and this led to him writing a piece for New Masses about the Matecumbe Key vets, and this led to an invitation for Hem to speak on Spain at the convention in New York. Hem accepted all of these offers, even though New Masses had savaged him a few years before for not writing “proletarian literature” that we were making all the rage in literary circles.
And, of course, as is ever the case with the superior preparation and coordination on the Left, with its vast Left-wing conspiracy, these Hemingway pieces were pre-arranged to unleash an army of imbedded Socialists to jump in ovation for Hemingway’s outstanding “conscience”, so to seduce the writer’s vanity, and demonstrate the built-in audience waiting for them if they will only say what we want them to.
All of us artists, critics, writers, celebrities in the 1930s got the word from Moscow that we should exploit the explosion in support we received from the Depression. We were told by very smart people to talk as if our ownership of the arts was a fete a complis. “You’ll lose all your friends,” is what people were saying. Our psychology was blunt. It was the same entry fee for urban Democrat politics. We were the smart ones.
I had been the early beneficiary of some of this. In the 1920s, the literary world was still actually liberal so that dissenting views like mine were published and appreciated. Each of my books showed “important” work: In Three Soldiers I attacked fighting for America by undermining the credibility of the American military brass. In Manhattan Transfer and my USA trilogy, I mocked an establishment built around material comforts. I had been out front on these Communist themes, and now arts and letters was catching up and respecting me for my pioneering.
Hemingway, on the other hand, starting in the 1930s, began tasting the shitty end of the critical stick. His themes of frank individualism, his leisure travel to Europe and Africa and Key West for sport fishing, bullfighting, for safari bwana big game trophy hunting—left critics unstirred for the first time. His treatise on bullfighting, Death In the Afternoon, was all but ridiculed when only three years before, in 1929, they called A Farewell to Arms the greatest love story ever told. I hated to see it. I took no good from this. He was a genius. Hell, A Farewell to Arms knocked All Quiet On the Western Front finally off number one on the bestseller list.
Hemingway had to at least take stock of the assets we had so quickly amassed on our side and how stingy we were with them. And what the hell—The Depression made us all sharply aware of the condition of poverty. Hoover hoped that the engines of commerce would rekindle and tow the country out of the ditch. It didn’t work. The vehicle was too terribly stuck. And Roosevelt rode in with a spectacular plan to prime the pump with Socialist money-throwing. But the shock and fear from The Crash exceeded even Roosevelt’s naivety. It wasn’t Roosevelt’s fault. This was a head blow like no other. The psychological impact of the first hit is always the worst. Roosevelt was at fault for his unwillingness to admit that Socialism’s above-down methodology had failed when by 1940 it still had not rekindled the engines. But intransigence is the essence of Socialism-Communism. The Depression was an economic coma, and a coma takes its own time to heal. No doctoring performs a miracle with it.
And so, we had a lot to think about after the War, and then the Depression. Our walking tours made us all fall in love with Spain, Hemingway especially. The Spanish poor were the most noble in his eyes, and the Left in Spain was rapidly bringing hatred to a boil. The high color of poverty in Spain sharpened a picture for Hemingway just as he saw how his writing would have a built-in audience if he just gave more thought to the concerns of labor and the Left. I didn’t like how canned all of this was. Why weren’t we fair and open if we were so good for people? The very idea of militarizing enlightenment is antagonistic to the human soul, to our curiosity, to the role of our imagination. I saw how the Moscow workbook was used to trick people into believing our ideology was flawless. But why pretend such a thing? Because you think people are so stupid that this makes them feel safe? Because you want to trick them into thinking governance or life appear simpler than they are? Isn’t there something reliably innate in our draw to a thing of worth that affirms our revulsion for lies? Won’t the need for propaganda prove we’re off the mark? Enlightenment is the last thing that should require bullying, force, lies, cover-up and propaganda. If it isn’t, life isn’t worth trying.
And then came the Nazis. The “Fascists,” repellent for encouraging division among races, rather than what I was doing which was division based on politics. And the chessboard was Spain. Just when Hem saw the Spanish poor as the best people in the world. And Hem also liked war, and a fight, and he loved feeling superior to other people maybe more than any of us do. To me, that’s the problem in so much of this. The word “Fascism” became a sort of incantation that gave ready access to that deep desire to think ourselves superior to others. Impossible-to-handle emotions crept up in short order all because Stalin feared Hitler for his rival designs on Europe. The Nazis were Socialists who hated Commies and had no illusions about who they were, and they had wiped out Stalin’s cells in Germany and would do the same everywhere else. Worse, the economic crash caused by Communism impeded Stalin’s military build-up, while the economic miracle Hitler brought Germany raised a nightmare for Stalin. And so, Stalin sent down marching orders for all of us to bully our home governments to hold off the Nazis to help him. It was detestable, for we were no longer patriots of our own countries. We were now patriots of World Communism, and we would sacrifice even our own homelands to protect Communism, which was Stalin.
We rallied as befit the threat to Stalin. Our verbiage and energy were so effective that the Nazi stigma lasts to this day, while the Communist monstrousness slips by with a hall pass. Hemingway, spoiling for a fight, spoiling for better reviews, became particularly spirited. This was when he talked to Goros, and Goros got him to agree to the lowest level of cooperation with us—to give us information, always the first step. In return we lured him with what Hemingway relished—inside dope, access to top political people and circles, where he could feel self-important and listened to. To his credit, Hemingway never completed the loop.
In the meantime, political hatreds so poisoned Spain that it was clear the fighting would be odious. Because Franco knew what the sides were capable of, and if Spain fell over the cliff to the Left then genocide would ensue. Franco sat in the middle with Stalin and Hitler on either end of the board, each seeing the chance for a trial run with all sorts of guns and tanks. We knew Stalin had already murdered 20 million even though the New York Times wouldn’t print it. Their reporter, Walter Duranty, a Communist, had even won the Pulitzer for hiding the truth about the genocide in the Soviet Union. Hitler threatened the Jews, while we Socialists were well on our way against all who wanted free enterprise. Hitler was the bad guy, Stalin the good.
Jose Robles and I were there in New York when Hemingway appeared with his new lover, and Communist, the red hot journalist Martha Gellhorn, to warn the world about the rise of the Nazi threat. “The democracies need to wake up to the Fascist threat!” His incongruous, squeaky voice grated in the cheap acoustics of the hall. “The Fascists will use Spain as a springboard to the rest of Europe!”
I didn’t look at Jose Robles standing next to me in the stage wings. I had already gone too far with him saying my piece about how Nazi Fascism hated all who opposed its agenda to gain German conquest over the world, while our Global Fascism hated all who opposed our agenda to gain Communist conquest over the world. Jose was my Spanish translator and fellow Communist. I had risked making this joke after two times when our eyes met and we both recognized in the other a doubt about a person or a slogan someone repeated.
I remember searching for a sign in the way Jose’s hands clapped for Hemingway at the big speech to the North American Committee for Spain, a front group. I tried to decipher his mental state from his clapping, how hard he clapped. I wondered if Jose had said anything about my joke. Waiting in the wings for my turn to speak, I wondered. Me, one of the most valuable Communist assets in the United States.
And then war opened in Spain.
I went there, Hemingway went there, Gellhorn went there. All we Commies flocked to Spain to be part of it. Gramsci was daring to call out Stalin and say that his Socialist genocide in Russia was not the method Communists should use for conquest in the future because the genocide wasn’t working. Communism was failing, Gramsci said, because of Christianity. Communists needed to take over the Means of Education in countries to supplant the Christian values with Communist values and, as I said, grow our crops in their fields. Gramsci showed the way to make elementary schools and entertainment our beachheads as we hid ourselves there to pivot from battlefields and firing squads to focusing the minds of their children on our truth. This peaceful approach gave me hope, because this strategy said to me that we were going to win by peaceful means rather than our usual means of fostering political bigotry, leading to intimidation.
Stalin talked about murdering Gramsci. But Gramsci was only talking these ideas at the time and his thinking mirrored the concerns of many who were afraid to speak out. And all of us in Spain waited on pins and needles. Remember, Stalin had called to Moscow the Swedish experts on race differences and Stalin listened intently to their findings. He asked them to stay in Moscow three days while he weighed their research that so fascinated Hitler. On the fourth day, Stalin announced his decision that Soviet-style Global Socialism would reject the race theories and that Global Socialists were superior to other people not by virtue of our race, but by virtue of our Marxist views. Acceptance of Marxism should determine who wins or loses, lives or dies, not race differences. All of us breathed a huge sigh of relief, because now we still had this clear distinction between us and Hitler’s Nazi Socialists. And Stalin, with his usual flourish, finalized his decision on race by executing all the Swedish experts whom he had invited to Moscow.
My orders from Moscow were for me to travel and write to raise American money for the war effort. I called on American Communists to join the “Lincoln Brigades” to go and fight in Spain. The name was another Soviet masterstroke.
The war in Spain set brother against brother, neighbor against neighbor. Russian and German military advisors rushed in. Stalin’s atrocities from the Ukraine surfaced in Spanish towns and cities with the wholesale slaughter of prisoners even after they surrendered. So much for old fashioned chivalry and love of countrymen. As if they weren’t defenseless countrymen and children of God at all, but dried weeds to be scythed and burned from a field. But that’s what “class warfare” looks like. Wasn’t “Capitalism” the goiter Marx told us must be burned from the human corpus?
Our genocide was soon answered in kind by Franco. Franco was militarily brilliant, and desperate to stop us, and the war didn’t go well for our side. In Madrid and Barcelona, I saw the Soviet NKVD start rooting out the “wreckers”, “traitors” and “spoilers” who were causing our side to lose. In my travels, I saw the Soviets begin using techniques that pinched our troops between two forces where maybe the most ugly might very well be the ones at their back. This, in the Soviet mind, would cow civilian resistance. Our terror gave rise to what the other side called a “fifth column,” where civilians kept their true feelings in deep check to keep from being swept up in the Socialist cyclone of salt and burn. Soon enough, what emerged was that the war machines built by fifteen years of Soviet purges and Socialist Five-Year Plans were plainly inferior to the German. And in outrage, the Soviets kept rounding up the little people.
A sack of disgust came up in my innards, while I saw my old friend Hemingway falling more into admiration for the Soviet no-nonsense. Maybe he could detect a difference in the two Fascisms. I think he was smitten by raw Russian pugilism on the battlefield and behind it.
“The Soviet’s are the only ones who can beat Hitler!” he roared at an English journalist innocently repeating arguments from back home on staying out of the war. “It’s the Fascists, goddamnit! We have to beat Fascism!”
“Fascism, fascism, fascism,” I said. “It’s all I ever hear.”
I left Spain to raise more money. When I returned to Valencia, Jose had vanished.
I knew the Soviets had picked him up a couple times to talk to him. His face was pretty beat up after the last. But why did they suspect Jose of anything? Back in Madrid, I made demands after Jose at The Chicote, the bar-central for The Movement:
“Where’s Jose? Who last saw him?”
You know something’s wrong when, each time, you get a different answer. The sinking light in the eyes. The withdrawal of the pupils. Finally, I got this:
“You should quit asking, Dos.”
I got this point-blank from a world famous lady journalist.
“What do you mean I should quit?” I was amazed; Robles was a close friend to us all and a loyal Communist.
“You should just quit snooping around about Jose,” she repeated. Her pupils didn’t even budge. As if Robles’s life had been only a shadow.
“It’s not important to you when one of our friends just disappears?” I challenged her.
“The Cause is more important, John.”
“He’s part of The Cause!”
Her lips tensed into a frown. She gave me a shrug. “Jose came under suspicion, Dos. They brought him in a couple times for questioning.”
“Suspicion of what? Jose’s as solid as any of us!”
Again, that arrogant insinuation with the mouth. Again, as if a life is a shadow.
“Look. This is shit. Where’s Jose? Everybody in this goddamn bar, everybody in Madrid, will vouch for Jose! He’s solid. . . . Is he here? Is he in Valencia? Who has any proof that he did anything, and when can I talk to him?”
She looked around uneasily. “Don’t make a scene!” She bumped her arm into mine like this was a performance. The bar was packed as usual and rife with cigarette and pipe smoke.
“I don’t give a damn who’s watching!” I glared around at the crowd. From the glances all around I knew I was not alone in my fear about what happened to Jose. Those of us who had been around knew what could happen. “Is he here? Is he in Valencia?” Everyone with whom I made eye contact did not look down because they seemed to be staring at something other than real life. “Do the Russians have him in the basement?” The basement was the headquarters of the NKVD. I looked past my lady friend because she was obviously choosing to lie for them. “What if it was one of us? Do we want to be so easily forgotten?”
The only thing that moved was the cigarette smoke.
I left the Chicote and strode up the street to the Hotel Florida where we smiled all year about how the Russians ran their political terror operations from the basement. It had all been very hush-hush and “politically” exciting knowing that Russian friends we drank with, and that gave Hem caviar and vodka, were going the distance for the advancement of civilization. I was too angry to be afraid. They had pinched a good man, twice, maybe three times. It wasn’t Robles’s fault the war was going badly. Who were these Stalinist fucks to steal the authority from thin air to snatch a man off the street or out of a bar and play games with his life and limb?
“Is Orlov here?” I asked the NKVD soldier who cracked the rear door. Alexander Orlov was the Madrid Station Chief who was chummy with Hem.
“No,” he lied in heavy accent. “He is not in.”
“Tell him John Dos Passos wants to talk to him again.” I had already spoken with Orlov about Jose. Now, I knew he’d probably lied to me.
The soldier fumbled a shrug and shake that emphatically promised nothing.
“Is Jose Robles in there?” I pointed within. He gave me a bullshit half-shrug and upward eye tilt as he faked going through the Rolodex of people brought into our torture rooms. “You’ve questioned him, though, right?”
“No. No. No one by that name coming in.”
“I know you questioned him twice already. Right? You’ve questioned him?” I spoke accusingly to make the leap over the wall of his bad English and bullshit. He kept faking me off, and so I left angrily. I wanted to think, so I headed back to my pension and sat on the bed, my khaki uniform shirt soaked with sweat. The army-style shirt served rugged double duty in the field, and under a tweed suit jacket for speeches in front of gawking intellectuals who love anything wrapped in English tweed. My face and chest howled in damp heat as I thought of these bastards stonewalling me like I’d never done anything for them and their cause.
A polite knock arrived on the foot-thick oak of my door. “It’s open.”
Martha Gellhorn stepped in meek and mild with Arturo the owner of the Toledo bar. They were stuffed with empathy for my feelings for our missing friend.
“We all know how you feel, Dos,” Martha whined, hand wringing. She even sidled up her sex appeal by slipping onto the flouncy mattress next to me. She set both her hands on my hairy right wrist. I watched our wrists and forearms together under the soft reach of my bedside lamp, our shoes on the rag rug on the floor. “Sometimes people lose their way. They break ranks and turn on the side of right.”
“You and I both know how these people do things, Martha.” We knew, unlike Hem, because we’d been around. I knew Jose was no traitor because I had expressed my own doubts point blank and his eyes remained sympathetic yet rock steady. “They rounded him up a few times, and we all know the Russians are over-cautious, over-zealous. They—talk to a lot of people.” I chose “talk” instead of a more impolitic verb. “This is all breathlessly fun and exciting, the world of spies. But now its time to join ranks and get our friend back.”
For some unfathomable reason, Gellhorn hated this idea. “We can’t do that, John. This is war. We’re fighting for something important!” Martha’s blue eyes urged me to see. Arturo was right there with her, but rather more understanding with me.
“Why does our fight mean we give up our friend, Martha?”
“We can’t question—”
“If we can’t question, is it worth serving?”
Martha slapped her hands angrily onto her meaty white knees. She was unwilling to even consider my point. She puffed out any more arguments she was going to waste on me, stood up, patted me patronizingly on my shoulder and strode to the door. She was pissed the old honey pot sex ruse hadn’t softened me. But I knew the game. That’s why we so badly wanted Hollywood, and celebrities. “We’ll leave you to recompose yourself, John. Make sure you see the larger picture, and quit making everybody upset.” Arturo crept behind her and lightly brought to the brass latch in the door.
I got up and swung toward the tall window, and suddenly thought of Hem. He hated the Fascists and wasn’t a Communist and this stuff with Jose’s disappearance had to drive him crazy too. Together we had star power that the Madrid and Valencia NKVD and no one else on the Left could stand up to. I rushed up the Paseo Del Prado to the Palace Hotel where Hem held court in his double-room suite paid for by his North American Newspaper Alliance expense account. The usual round-the-clock gang filled the suite with talk and cigarette smoke. The “gang” consisted of international journalists, visiting celebrities, and officers from the Brigades. On the antique console table stood the bottled goods and the huge canned ham with the top pried up with ragged edges so that anyone passing could use a field knife to cut a big slice and stick it between bread.
“Hem’s in Barcelona,” Walter Duranty told me. He had just arrived and looked a little out of it as he held a bottle of Hem’s Jim Beam for himself. “Martha just left to drive all night to catch him there.”
I was annoyed. I wondered if Duranty would make his New York Times 1932 Pulitzer-winner influence of any help. I quickly caught him up on the story. At first he looked stricken and concerned, but then when I put Jose last in the Russian’s hands, his feelings congealed. He wanted no part of this. . . . Duranty, hero of the little man.
“Jose could be down in that basement right now, Walt,” I said.
“This shit happens.” The bottom of the bottle flashed coldly as he tilted it up.
I returned to my room. During the night I started to fear if our old friend was even still alive. In the morning I was making a plate of bread and cheese when one of the old waiters we all knew from the Chicote leaned in at the door and jerked his head for me to come along outside.
“It’s already over,” he said regretfully. He removed his smudged wire spectacles and wiped them with the end of his necktie, one side of the lens at a time. “I hear he disappeared for good over a week ago.”
The news was so abrupt, and he was so casual, I wanted to choke him. “On whose orders?”
The slouched shoulders lifted high, begging off. “They took him in four times. They had—” He didn’t want to say what they did. “They say they began to fear he knew too much of their tactics. Maybe he was too upset to remain a good comrade.” He shrugged meekly and looked off through his half-smudged lenses up the street. Not with paranoia, but in the way of an elderly boulevardier. “So, they—”
“When? When did this happen?”
He shook his sad face. “I haven’t seen him since ten days ago. I heard things right around that time.” He appraised me all over my face with deep sympathy. “I’m sorry, Comrade. He was a good comrade. With so many friends it shouldn’t happen.”
“But why Jose? Did someone denounce him?”
“No one denounced him. Because they cover it up, it must have been for nothing, yes? Which is worse.” He lifted his fingertips as if wanting to brush my sleeve, but he left the gesture upright like a flag of sad futility over the whole affair. “I’m sorry, Comrade.” He shrugged goodbye and made his way back toward the Chicote and I knew he would stay below the Gran Via to avoid the sniper fire. The Chicote would be crowded with soldiers and journalists at this hour. And they maybe would question where he had gone off to. He didn’t want to get himself denounced.
I got no reply when I cabled Communist friends in New York and Paris exposing how I was being obstructed and lied to. I wanted at least to claim Jose’s body for his family. Orlov was avoiding me and so I knocked on the NKVD door to make a nuisance. Orlov finally talked with me in the door, blocking the way. He claimed his men never saw Jose after they questioned him the one time a month ago. He said no one denounced him and Jose did nothing wrong that he knew of. The usually friendly NKVD officer didn’t smile at me flatteringly now the way he did with us literary lights. His grey eyes were petulant, impatient, resenting having to hold my hand over this stupid political rumor.
Two days later, Hem was back and took me aside at a public conference the Russians were throwing. His wide, handsome face held indulgent irritation for my meddling. He averted his eyes a lot as we walked for privacy to the Plaza Mayor which was filled with tents for the Brigades. Hemingway closed his eyes and squinted with acute regret, though I sensed his feelings were not so much for our friend.
“Are you a coward, Dos?” he said, palm open. We had stopped away from the smoky cook fires. Around us, we could make out the rubble and holes punched in ancient buildings from artillery. “You know these guys! They have to protect us!”
“How does what they did to Jose protect us?”
He squinted again, not wanting to hear it. “Come on. We’ve been in two wars, you and I. You know what we’ve seen. This is the way strong leadership is. We have to be tough!”
“Hem. They don’t give a shit about civil liberties!”
“They’re the only ones helping win this war! They’re the only ones who can beat Hitler!”
“And is this what we’re left with after Hitler?”
Pebbles crunched as Hem spun on his foot like a man shot, trying not to hear me come out against the Party. “Dos. Come on. We can’t say stuff like that.”
“We’re all better than this. Our loyalty deserves more than this. We both know what’s been going on, and we didn’t say anything. We kept our mouths shut for the important work part, and we kept hoping things would get better. But they’re getting worse. These people fool you with chants about helping the poor. But I’ve been to Russia. They aren’t helping the poor. And if they go this long showing no basic affection for giving the benefit of the doubt, for plain decency—then what is this all for?”
Earnest listened, and heard. “It’s war, Dos. And if you turn your back on this—every critic in New York will lay waste to you. You’ll lose all your friends! How are you going to make a living as a writer?”
“I don’t think war ever stops for some people,” I said. And, yes. Maybe we were headed into another Dark Age when artists could only portray what The Religion let them.
“What if we were in Germany having this discussion, Hem? Would you be telling me to shut up and just keep helping?”
“It’s not the same thing, Dos. Please. Please see it.”
“Frankly, I don’t. And I’m disappointed you don’t.”
We stood in the sandy lane of the park soaking in the brutal effort of each of us trying to make the other see. I fixed on trying to catch his gaze, desperate to win his talent and name so that we could denounce this garbage for what they were. All the years hiking trails, Key West, showing each other the world, flooded back. I could see his heart was pinned by the camaraderie in the violence that men and women can sometimes find a rationalization for, and become addicted to. And, he knew the easy glory and fame they had ingeniously stockpiled to bribe whomsoever stood silently by their sexy new take on Man’s Inhumanity to Man.
A horn raked my insides thinking that Hem might stick.
I tried a last time. “I’ve been piecing it together for awhile: They introduce the Good by claiming to be against the death penalty and poverty; but you find in time they are simply for using the death penalty on only one crime—challenging them for political power; and they support poverty so long as it’s for anybody and everybody but themselves. This is too much, Hem. It is so big and damnable that it defies seeing when so many ordinary people don’t know it’s behind them.”
Hem gave me a clever, cold look for a very long awhile, then said:
“Don’t be such a cry baby, Dos.”
When I walked out of the park he called after me:
“They’ll hate you, Dos. You’ll never publish another word.” The last thing he said was, “I can already read the reviews on your book! . . . You want to hear?”
I packed up my room, my typewriter, my socks, a sandwich, and left Madrid. I hitched rides to our lines where I knew of another writer-thinker I wanted to compare notes with, named George Orwell. Orwell, loyal to the Socialist ideal for a long time, was now having a tough time himself as his own group was being accused of being traitors by the NKVD. The charge was based solely on a power squabble. Yet Orwell and his wife were now hiding out. Reluctantly, I parted ways with him, and the two of us joined in a fight to expose a threat that always lurks when people refuse to question. Thankfully, Spain won its war over the Left, probably preventing the bloodbath for a million Spaniards, yet somehow putting the war forever in the column of misdeeds until what prevails is a more objective take on Twentieth Century history. I will know that day has come when I see genocide by the Left count for something, when Fascism is Fascism, when Stalin and Mao are history’s worst villains, with Adolf Hitler third or fourth behind Genghis Khan, or maybe even fifth, behind the Tai Ping Rebellion. Orwell went on to write classics on the monolith. Regrettably for us all, his talent blinked out just after 1984 was published.
Hemingway feared for his reputation when in the 1950s America briefly woke up to the takeover, and the FBI and J. Edgar Hoover uncovered the extensive effort to rewrite American education and entertainment, and American scientists thinking it was a good thing to give Stalin the bomb. Hem lost his beloved farm in Cuba to Castro in 1959, and didn’t trust them enough to stick around even after all he’d done for them.
Publishing changed more each year as I heard the voice of modern society fall in synch with too-familiar slogans. The new moral message could be read like the map of a losing war by anyone who knew what to look for. The movies went from framing universal truths to framing tired political truths. Traditional America was now “courageously” depicted as the demon. The new “hero” always exposed Old America to The New York Times, and together they breathlessly exposed the “hate and hypocrisy” to the hippies who were unwittingly helping the gigantic reptile egg of a new, political One Percent birth from America’s own ass.
To me, it was humanity lifting the revolver to its own brain. But, in this case, the patient never dies. They wake up and see what they’ve let their unquestioning do. Each day I lived after Spain, I moved more to the Republican Party and the side that knew how to evaluate freedom until one day when the patient woke up again.
by David Walls-Kaufman
Liberty Island wanted a story for Halloween and what came to mind was my wonderful Grandmother Lloyd and my childhood visits with the family every year to Puerto Rico to see her. She was always a bit mysterious and more than her share of bad things piled up in her life before she died of cancer in 1980.DAVID
We never knew some things about my gentle Grandmother Loyd. She kept those things secret. Darkly secret. Black secret.
Halloween stories are ridiculous. And I say that as a man who has had probably four run-ins with ghosts, not including this one. But this all happened.
My earliest memory of her was of her sweet, loving face beaming at me when I was three and leaving with my friends to Trick or Treat down Southwood Road in Austin. She wore a 1950s pleated sleeveless, collared dress and waved goodbye to me and said, with music light as a wind-chime in her voice, “I’ll see you again after you go around.” Only years later, after the unlikely deaths in Puerto Rico around our vacation home, her old home, did the prescience in those words strike me.
My grandmother was born on the rolling Kansas prairie in the town of Ellsworth. Her father’s last name was Wolf, and he was an odd turnabout. Kind of a ghost, since he spent a lot of time away working various jobs in the 1910s. But my grandmother adored him and she knew without a doubt that the bright smile on his handsome taciturn face meant he was the sort of father that would hug his little girl all day long if he could.
But then he died when she was only four and her mother had to marry the local sheriff in the neighboring town of Black Wolf. This sheriff was a widower with two small kids his own, a boy and girl, that he already didn’t much care for. Turns out, the sheriff was a bastard to all, my grandmother in particular. Anyway, something terrible happened at Christmas, something so awful my grandmother would go dark over it, saying not a word. The thing was terrible enough that Christmas was ruined for her every year after for the rest of her life.
She was a pretty girl and bright at school, but her home-life with the sheriff shooed the smile permanently from her fine features. You can see this in the only picture of her. Only one photo. How many snapshots do you take of your kids?
My mom later after my grandmother died went into the county records and tracked down this stepbrother of my grandmother. Grandmother Loyd told us he had run away from home at age 12 or maybe 13, which would have been 1917 or so. “Yes,” he told my mother over the phone, in 1990, “I run off at 13. My father was bad. Things were rough for your mother. She was nice, and to her he was especially rotten.” My mother never asked for specifics. People from Kansas wouldn’t. My mom was too afraid to really learn what might have happened to my wonderful Grandmother Loyd.
She shined in my eyes. Her tenderness, her love, the way she tipped forward and laid her hand over her heart when she laughed as if to keep it from spilling out, I have never forgotten. How she beamed the nights we flew in to Puerto Rico. How could anything have really gone wrong in the life of such a happy, loving woman? And her generosity. Like when my parents had difficulty buying the house of their dreams and my grandmother gave them a Christmas envelop with a $5,000 check for the down payment. A fortune in 1970. My step-grandfather, Breedlove, put no hand in that. That was her money. Money from her Aunt Gert.
Grandmother Loyd I think maybe thought I was gay because I loved art so much and was so good at it that once my whole second grade class gathered over my shoulder to watch me draw a herd of horses descending a path along a waterfall. I was nine years old when she told me about her closest little friend back in Black Wolf, a playful boy that she knew even then something was “different” about him. Out of the blue she told me about him. I knew she loved him. I was nine. I didn’t know what a homosexual was, and she never mentioned the word, but all these years later I know what she was telling me—“If you’re different that way, it’s okay.”
Anyway, that poor little boy died of blood poisoning after the kids were teasing him and chased him into a fall-down old building and he got injured somehow and the infection ran away and took his life within two weeks. That night, over my first cup of coffee-milk at my child’s red vinyl folding-table, with grandmother in my room, I saw hurt crowd behind her eyes. I wish I had been older to go into the pain with her.
My grandmother married young to my Granddaddy Howard. I loved him to death too. The quietest, shyest man that ever drew breath. More shadow than man, that way. The whole world scared him so much that, even so young, I was saddened how little ambition he had. He sold paper products out of a series of ancient trucks that changed model every few years I visited him in Wichita. I drove all around central Kansas with him selling a roll of adding machine paper here, a roll of price machine paper there, 25c at a time. How did he ever make a living? He never stopped traveling the road selling paper products from his jumbled hoarder’s warehouse that was formerly a diner he rented in Great Bend.
My grandmother felt he was drifting away from her after they had two children and this saddened and mystified her until she found a desperate love letter in the pocket of his drab-smelling plaid wool blazer. A lady told him she loved him and how gentle his love-making was and how she counted minutes for him coming back to Hays.
My Grandmother Loyd put down the letter and packed up the two kids and left the house and drove straight away to Laredo, Texas. They went so far because my grandmother’s sheriff stepfather had left her in the hard cold one day when she was so young with her tender small fingers. She got so severely frostbitten that her hands suffered Raynaud’s Syndrome every year ever after. Her hands became as useless as porcelain and she shivered in a shawl until the attack passed. His betrayal shut her off of Kansas. She never returned except when her rich Aunt Gert died and she came back for her share of the estate. But she arrived to find that her ex-father-in-law, the banker, and his friends, had cut up the estate among themselves so that my grandmother received little of what Aunt Gert meant her to get of thousands of acres covered with Donkey-pumps bringing up Kansas sweet crude all day long. She took what was left that they said was perfectly fair and never went farther north than Laredo ever again.
Back in Laredo, she met an Air Force Lieutenant named Breedlove, a Texan, because only Texans are ever named Breedlove. He himself was a divorce who had left his wife and young daughter. They married, and in 1955, Breedlove was transferred to Ramey Air Force Base in Puerto Rico with a golf course by the sea that was Eisenhower’s favorite in the whole world. They built a Frank Lloyd Wright house off-base on five acres over a limestone cliff on the shore. The long peninsula of Rincon swept to the left with the lights of Aguadilla harbor twinkling along it, where legend says Columbus landed for fresh water flowing out of the lumpy green hills.
My grandmother’s Aunt Gert money bought the Finca, the farm, since Breedlove’s civil servant salary didn’t reach that far. My grandmother’s passion was art and Frank Lloyd Wright. The low slung, one-story house with glass cubes in the ceiling let in natural light and she surrounded it with sea grape and orchids. The architect warned them to build far back from the cliff because the rust-red soil and limestone couldn’t be trusted. The patios looked out at Rincon and, straight out, the shark tooth island named Desecheo, or Goat Island, where pirates buried treasure and left goats so the pirates could hunt fresh meat.
We went every year and stayed a month each visit. Grandmother’s Finca was paradise. We crawled down the cliff to the rocky beach and never saw anyone besides local fishermen at the crack of dawn because Puerto Ricans in those days never swam. The sea was a grocery store, not a place of recreation.
Each wave at the base of the cliff made a tiny ground-shake that suggested the graceful power of the ocean. I remember cocktail hour for the adults being a respite of rum and fresh lime from the garden, and sunset reaching across grandmother’s perfect repose through the redwood slats into the house. And the lovely stray dog as gentle as my grandmother was, that she named Plumy, for the long white fur on her tail. The Finca became grandmother’s redoubt to make her stand against cancer after her diagnosis in 1960. She had to be strong back then to tell doctors no to chemotherapy. Instead, she fought with her diet, and so she ordered much of her food from Walnut Acres in Vermont. She was the first person I knew to fight cancer naturally. She did fine until the late 1970s. Then she started losing weight, her chest collapsed. Cancer had greedily returned.
Cancer’s return marked another bruise to her life at the time. Dear Plumy was poisoned by local boys with eyes on the Finca when we drove seven hours to San Juan. Finding Plumy’s limp stiff body in the grass by the avocado trees stung my grandmother so badly that I heard her breath catch. She swayed, I think. I could see her fury over the waste, the cruelty. Her health worsened. Breedlove reconnoitered a gravesite for the two of them at a cemetery by the ocean in Old San Juan.
“Oh, Mommy,” Breedlove enthused when he returned to the Finca. “It’s such a perfect spot. The ocean. Sunset. Beautiful! You’ll be so happy there.” Breedlove was well over six feet, straight as a mast, with a crew cut and pencil mustache. His speech pattern and gestures effused a distinctive emphatic rhythm that made every Puerto Rican upon meeting him ask, “—Are you Cuban?”
“Oh, Breedlove!” my grandmother mocked him, putting her hand over her sunken rib cage. “I can hardly wait!”
My mom was there and laughed with her. Breedlove never got the joke.
Crime on the island grew infamously worse. Each year, I watched bars put on balconies climb a story higher on a certain San Juan apartment complex we always passed from the airport. Bars on that apartment building became my barometer for island crime. My last trip back for a while, when I was fourteen, bars reached to the fifth floor. I took this to mean that desperados were scaling five stories up to bust into apartments. When I came back again fifteen years later, the balconies were barred all the way up to the top floor. On that trip I came back to try to talk my mom out of selling her share of grandmother’s properties to Breedlove and his new wife, Virginia, whose greed knew no sentiment even when family was involved.
Grandmother Loyd died in 1980. I couldn’t believe Breedlove had not told us she was this far gone so that we could come say goodbye. I hadn’t seen her in six years. She deserved to have her two grandchildren snuggled by her side to weep and tell her how she was the best grandma that ever lived. Breedlove brusquely told us he would have no funeral. “Because all her friends are gone.” We were appalled. How could he behave like this? I don’t really know how my mom took all this upset. I was away in Iowa at college and I was never much for communication.
As I said, I came back with mom in 1985 when Breedlove wanted to buy out her and my uncle’s interests in both the Finca and the Spanish plantation-style townhouse in Old San Juan, also purchased with grandmother’s Aunt Gert money. I begged mom not to sell. The upsetting thing was that Puerto Rico has the Napoleonic Code. This misogynist decree prohibits the wife from dividing her estate as she wants, even if it’s all her money. All goes to the husband—though the reciprocal is not true if the husband dies first. All other parties receive no more than 1/8th of the estate split between them. Grandmother was not happy with Breedlove by the end, nor with this legal snare. Breedlove had already begun seeing Virginia. So my mother and Uncle Tim only received 1/16th apiece. To make matters uglier, in 1985, Breedlove sat with my mom and I at the bar of the La Mallorquina lunch counter in Old San Juan, a restaurant rich with family memories, and Breedlove went Rambo on my mom, his stepdaughter since she was nine, pounding out of her every last penny he could.
“Don’t worry about it,” my mom consoled me, “Breedlove is only doing it to consolidate the estate for Virginia.”
This grasping, childless Puerto Rican spinster turned out to be devoted to her nephew, a child of privilege my own age. I pleaded with mom to hold out so that we had a tie to the Finca and also, frankly, to haggle with Virginia and Breedlove from a position of strength over consolidating grandmother’s estate. But this was the first my mom showed her spendthrift tendency, and I’m sure Grandmother Loyd spun in her grave over that too. Grandmother had seen what Aunt Gert left her plundered by the Ellsworth Chamber of Commerce, and now Breedlove, with blood and grandmother counting for absolutely nothing to him. The whole business was so disgusting.
Grandmother Loyd was indeed buried in the cemetery by the sea. But she would be there on her lonesome after Breedlove informed us by letter that he would instead be buried with Virginia. That killed me. Grandmother, out there alone. My feelings involuted in ways that made me imagine I could channel my grandmother and her anger. Of course, this was sentimental nonsense except for my own judgment of Breedlove’s weakness.
So, Breedlove skinned mom, and mom soon burned through the little bit of Aunt Gert’s money that fell to her. Had I known how fast she was spending I would have implored that she keep some aside. One of the most painful experiences must be seeing your parents handle their monetary affairs so much more irresponsibly than you would.
Breedlove rented the Finca to a lady doctor who ran a Medicaid mill and the woman let the property go to seed. A chain link fence for her dog glinted around the Frank Lloyd Wright house, and flies and dog shit smell abounded. Then Breedlove sold the Finca for $400K to a Puerto Rican Medicaid neurologist named Pamela Ruiz whom no one in the village could stand, and who’s husband had already made two suicide attempts. Why had Breedlove sold? Why didn’t he ask if the family wanted to buy it? Ruiz’s architect drew up plans for a grand three-story rococo palazzo spanning from grandmother’s house to scant feet from the cliff. The palazzo’s corner turret left only a hair’s breadth to the drop-off over the surf-strewn rocks below. Looking down from the Italianate turret was a camera shot straight out of Hitchcock’s Vertigo.
Wrecking crews walked over Plumy’s grave by grandmother’s old vegetable garden and applied the wrecking ball to the concrete post and lintel frame Breedlove had built with the help of a boy, Manolo, from the village, who stayed with grandmother loyally to the last. Say what I might about Breedlove, his concretework didn’t budge. Ruiz had to call in her San Juan architect, and he could not believe she lacked the taste to see that she should have expanded on the Frank Lloyd Wright concept rather than put her palazzo on top of it.
“I didn’t know this was here!” He looked at her with open incredulity.
He informed her that, since grandmother’s house could not be razed without dynamite, they needed to incorporate the footprint into the palazzo. And so, grandmother’s house stuck halfway out, at an angle, her garage providing the same service for the palazzo, as the palazzo went up like a sand castle with Roman columns and arches. Dark, empty and pointless, the Frank Lloyd Wright house looked like a hernia someone forgot to remove. I slept in grandmother’s bed that October in the late 1990s when I came down for my cousin’s wedding. The exquisite, hand-carved redwood headboard was still in place, a lovely hybrid style between Craftsman and Scandinavian. But the headboard and so many other choice details in the house showed cigarette burns and carved initials from Ruiz’s bong-smoking kids and their friends. The conditions reminded me of a story a friend told who worked at the car dealership where Mike Tyson serviced his cars, and how the burled elm in the consoles of Tyson’s Rolls Royces were defaced by a pen knife.
That night, I saw every pore and delicate silver hair on my grandmother’s face stand out in eery close-up. Her Mamie Eisenhower bob, her narrow lips, always smiling in the old days, now were pursed in grim violation. But her eyes. Her eyes were the thing: the warm blue eyes were removed and in the sockets instead hung two stones the size and color of golf balls. They stared unblinking at all that had been done to her in her life, and to all the things she tried so hard to make beautiful and comforting. I saw through her eyes what savages we were. I saw the garbage and treachery people she loved brought to all her efforts to soften a life that could be so bitter without people like her. I saw her fury. I shared it, even as I felt ashamed to claim that I had been helpless to stop any of it. I saw the flame of hate in those cold stones for all the clumsy hands that had smeared palm prints over the many art pieces of her injured life.
The stone-eyes woke me in the cave dark of one house consumed by another. I sensed trouble was coming because somehow she was going to reach across.
That week Dr. Ruiz became a perfect bitch to us again, treating us like the poor relations trying to horn on her Finca. Millie had tried her best to make friends and keep open the lines of communication so that we could stop by if we were on the island. Millie also told me of Breedlove and Virginia throwing out all the treasures from our past in the San Juan house. Like the charcoal study of an old pine tree I gave grandmother that thrilled her because we both knew this was one of my best. Millie remembered the piece and saw my signature and snatched for the frame, but Carlos suspected something was up and thought the work must be from an artist he could make a buck off of. Millie tried to tell him the story behind the sketch but he wouldn’t believe her.
My cousin’s wedding was Halloween week. That night, my dream of grandmother came back, as well as Dr. Ruiz’s story to me about how she saw one day how fast her kids were growing up. Then she realized it wasn’t her kids, it was that her posture was collapsing because her spine bones were so softened by too many cortisone shots for her back pain. I couldn’t get the images out of my head. And the next day, in the cave of grandmother’s house, odd things happened. Like the living room bookcases trembling when my eye fell on grandmother’s favorite book—a photo collection of black and white snapshots from old Puerto Rico. Then the chair trembling under me when I sat down to look through the book. And then Granddaddy Howard’s old Army fatigue jacket from the War hanging in the closet where nobody ever touched it. The front was slashed to ribbons as if by an old fashioned razor. Millie would find out later that the Ruiz kids insisted this was not their vandalism.
After everyone but me returned home, things got really crazy.
On Halloween eve, Ruiz went into the hospital at Ramey. Her spine had collapsed again. I felt badly for her and went by the hospital to say thanks for letting me stay in the house. The nurses told me that her husband had thrown himself from the turret onto the rocks. He was still alive in another room. She was heavily sedated and the nurses let me look in. She was out of it, slumped forward like the neck of a squash in an utterly gruesome looking body brace with spokes into her head.
How Ruiz’s husband survived his leap makes no sense given the height. And that night, Halloween, back at the Finca, a storm blew in and threw waves against the cliff where he fell like none I’d ever heard or felt before. And on the spot where he had lain when they picked him up in a row boat not a few hours before, the whole cliff came crashing down, taking most of Ruiz’s Medicaid-built palazzo with it. In the storm, the sound came like the crash of an ancient tree or a thunder clap.
I woke to the perfect calm of the next day, and the sun blazed again on the windows and doors on the side of the house covered by the palazzo. In amazement, I opened the old patio doors and stood on what remained of the Finca cliff looking upon the white and black marble rubble below, resembling pieces of a broken chess board. The view from the house looked the same from our childhood days. Rincon, Desecheo, Aguadilla Bay, where a tidal wave made landfall 150 years ago and wiped out the entire town. My eye took in the familiar landmarks, but something was different: To my right on the turquoise water, the shining bodies of maybe fifty surfers curled over the lips of waves.
I had time before my flight, and something made me go back to the hospital. I found the nurses gathered at the door of Dr. Ruiz’s room. They stared in, touching their mouths. One of them wept. I noticed blood splashed high on the walls behind her bed where she was now pancaked flat, the head spokes on her knees. It looked like an explosion.
On my flight home, my paralyzed thoughts stared at what I’d seen: The wall. The nurses. The husband on beeping life support. Him maybe smiling when I stood in his room with pity on my face.
The rest we learned of a month after I got home. Mom got an odd call from Breedlove’s cemetery. Mom’s Spanish was a problem, but the caretaker’s office explained they had sent a bill for repairs to Breedlove’s and Virginia’s gravesite. Either the storm or vandals knocked over the twin grave markers and partly leveraged up both coffins so that the embalmed bodies were exposed. The office apologized for the inconvenience. No other graves were disturbed.
Millie went to San Juan to check on things. She said grandmother’s grave was fine, looking out to the sea.