Transubstantiate – Chapter One
May 12, 2024
They say Jimmy made it out. But the postcards we get, well, they don’t seem…real. Wish you were here, and all that. Wherever here is. New York City? Really? So I play along and wait for my break.
Sometimes I’m the shopkeeper, sometimes I’m a priest. But I’ve never been it. Not sure if I want to be it, but on the days it rains and oil is in short supply, the corn running out, I wonder what is really out there. I wonder what is true, and what is speculation.
Walking down the streets of Libertyville, the fall leaves changing color, you can scan the horizon, and it seems endless. I’ve only been down the highway that one time. They just turn you back. I jangle the keys and insert one into the storefront. Time to open shop. New guy coming today. He doesn’t know the ropes and it’s our job to teach him. Not everything mind you, but enough so he doesn’t get himself killed. Sorry, I mean relocated. I miss Jimmy, but he wanted out. And he worked hard to get there. Nobody can say he didn’t work hard.
To the left and to the right I see the other shopkeepers opening up. Coffeehouse. Dry cleaner. Jewelry store. Movie house. We all nod, and grimace, as we open these doors. I wouldn’t call them jail cells, but they are.
I ease into the musty bookstore, and shut the door behind me. With a dull thud, the ringing of brass bells fills my ears and I rest my head on the pane of glass.
New kid coming today. Gotta put my game face on.
“Can somebody do Jimmy for me? I can never get the handwriting down. Alphonso? You’ve got a knack for him. I need another postcard. Doesn’t have to be New York, can be someplace else. Just keep it vague.”
Pushing that damn lock of hair out of my eyes, I survey the cramped quarters, flush from the stress of it all, but happy as a squirrel with a nut.
“Sure Marcy, you have one there you want me to use?” Alphonso runs a black pick with a muscled fist at one end through his quickly expanding afro.
“No, go ahead and grab something out of the bin. You can handle the stamp and all that too, right?I showed you how?”
“Certainly did. No problem. I’ll get right on that. Can I finish that letter to Mrs. Mayberry first?You know she’ll be all distraught if something doesn’t show up from Chester today. It’s been a week, and personally, her crying is getting on my nerves.”
“Sure, just hop to it.”
The shutters let in a hint of dusty light. Watching the six members of PS1 as they hunch over stacks of mail, an assortment of pens and pencils scattered across the folding table, I don’t feel the slightest twinge of guilt at setting Jimmy up. He wanted out. And he got out.
A smile crosses my face as I unbutton one more ivory disc on my crisp, white blouse. The tan cleavage goes from subtle femininity to holy-cow, what-do-we-have-here? I smooth out the nonexistent wrinkles in the seat of my tan capris for the hundredth time. Fascinated with my ass today. A subtle tingle vibrates through my body, anticipation fueled by secrets.
Racing down the alley, the stench of the garbage is overwhelming. I usually avoid any sort of enclosed area, especially where the decomposition is bad, but there is no time. A hint of orange light floats down the dark side street as the sun sets fast across the buildings. In my jeans and leather jacket, I blend into my surroundings. Smoke covered shells of former apartment buildings squat next to rusted husks of what used to be cars. When the gas started to run out most people realized they wanted heat over transportation. And with the acceleration of the drug dealing, most people stayed inside anyway.
Pausing at the edge of the chipped brick complex, I peek around the corner. Maybe they moved on. The Blisterheads must have found something more interesting to occupy their simple minds. It’s one thing to shave your head and spout racist white-power sentiments about anarchy and revolution. It’s another to pour gasoline over your head and set yourself on fire. Shaking my head, and catching my breath, I adjust the straps on my backpack as they dig into my shoulders. I am sick of corned beef hash, but canned goods are canned goods. She is waiting for me, and I have to get back. The Magnum revolver is more than she needs, but I always get uneasy as the sun goes down. I can’t confirm all of the rumors. But I’ve seen enough weirdness that I can’t just dismiss the stories outright. The Blisterheads are real. Cranked up on meth and PCP their strength comes from the drugs, but the radioactivity and other strangeness paired with the hybrid pills and powders that are floating around have created some unimaginable freaks.
Taking a deep breath, I prepare myself for the final leg of today’s journey. Back home. I pull the 9mm Glock out of my jacket, and count to three.
The thundering of boots echoes down the alley, as Ming and his boys set their sights on my hide. I fire two shots into the crowd, winging one thug who spins to the asphalt, and buzzing Ming’s skull with the other. They hesitate, some hitting the ground, some diving into the overflowing dumpsters. I’m off in a second, my destination known, my path already planned. They’ll never catch me. I’ve been charting the tunnels, the sewers and the buildings that were still structurally sound for months. I have mountain bikes hidden in front of every Starbucks. There are motorcycles and compact sports cars stashed in garages all over downtown St. Louis. They’ll never get me.
Good thing I got out.
This old typewriter never fails to give me a rush of excitement. In this time of advanced technology and immediate satisfaction it relaxes me to pound away slowly on this ancient Remington Quietwriter. Its squat black metal sits on my desk with a toothy grin. Today I’m gonna bang her like a two dollar hooker, until my fingers ache.
I fear that the fallout from the mainland may reach us, but I’ve been told not to worry. It seems that every day I question aspects of this experiment and why we still cling to its obsolete and meaningless systems of order. Usually I’m told to shut up and keep my comments to myself. It is unwise of them to continue to treat me like this. This last bastion of order, this oasis, this Eden compared to the outside world could easily crumble with the flick of my wrist. They obviously like playing with matches. But sometimes you get burned.
If it wasn’t for the flowers, I think I’d go mad. The Irises are pushing through the earth, and the Goldenrod continues to shine. Every morning I go out to the patio to see if the Hibiscus has another surprise and am invariably rewarded with an eager blushing bloom.
The spot of red in this monotone setting brings a moment of peace to
my shackled existence.
Marcy is coming today. That should be interesting. I don’t know if it is true love, or that she simply wants a child. Either way I think I have to make the best of it. A little slap and tickle never hurt anyone. Well, that’s not true, but it’s what I’m telling myself.
New guy today. Lots of excitement. Hard to believe that in the midst of this chaos they continue to send us new citizens. It’s on some sort of autopilot that we can’t seem to shut off. Much like the way we free our captives. Freedom. Funny word. Was it Janis Joplin that said “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose?” I think so. And at this point I have nothing left to lose myself. Except everything.
Time for the regime. Up to 100 push-ups and 100 sit-ups now. Thrice a day. It gives me a Zen focus when I can shift my gaze to my physical being and the strain of torn muscles. It takes me out of my head for just a little bit. But you know, I can always feel the hamster wheels turning in the background, no matter what I’m doing. That poor guy needs a break. Maybe I’ll head over to the Opium fields today and restock. Plenty of mushrooms left, but the Poppies have run low and the Cannabis is diminishing. Always something to do on my tiny farm here at the edge of the world. God’s work.
“Wake up, newbie. Time to get to work.”
I push my lids open and the harsh sunlight shatters my skull. I grab both sides of my head, lean forward, and vomit violently onto the deck of the ship.
“Damnit Rodney, you gave him too much.”
“Not my fault he’s a lightweight, I did it according to height and weight like we always do.”
“Figures. Couldn’t get some good day labor, just another weak and useless pawn. Well, buddy here’s your first job. You get to swab the deck, matey.” A wet, filthy mop lands by my head, splashing fetid water in my face, the handle clacking to the deck.
“We’ll be on the shore waiting…what’s his name Rodney?”
“I don’t know man, look at the sheet.”
“Seriously, what good are you?”
“Here we go…Madison, Jamal, Vanity12, John…you a John?No, John’s a 2-cybernetic, we’d know if that was you,”he laughed, cackling in the hot sun. “Gordon, here it is. Human98, caucasian100, male100, straight84, six foot two inches, 160 pounds, emaciated with an IQ of 160. That looks like you, brother. Another skinny geek that can’t hold his meds.”
Lifting my head to stare at the strange man, I memorize his face. Blue eyes. Brown beard. Under six foot, say 5’10”. Fat, say 220. Left handed, with a mole on his right ear. Zeke. How I’d forgotten that face. He’s a dead man. His buddy, not sure yet. I squint into the blinding light. They think I’ve forgotten everything. Forgotten where I came from, and forgotten why I am here. They’re wrong. In time I’ll snap his neck, and feed his flabby ass to the fishes. They’ll eat you down here, not just the Piranhas and the Oscars. The hybrids. The Garshark, the Black Eel. I grin at him, make a gun out of my right hand index finger and thumb and point it at him.
123…123…123…is there anybody out there
plaksjd jf-098aierm ;lksmdf PIJASOEF;LKMAS DF
Good morning. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…it was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen…it was a pleasure to burn…the man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed…we were somewhere
around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold…deleted. DELETE. DELETED.
Good morning. At your service.
Running through the fields of tall grass, the paths wind up and down, beaten to dust by my faded Nike Air Jordans, ladybugs and grasshoppers springing into flight, out of breath, approaching the village. I have to tell mom, have to let her know what I’ve seen. She doesn’t want to know, she doesn’t want to see any more, she told me that. I know. But I have to tell somebody. Max wouldn’t be able to handle it. He puked at the sight of that rotting German shepherd. It wasn’t that bad.
I have to get home before lunch, before everyone sits down, because then it will be too late, too much going on, too many people watching. I have to catch mom before she takes the loaves of bread out of the stone oven, before she makes the trek to the communal table.
T-shirt in my hand, stained with blood that isn’t mine, dirty rivulets of sweat run down my back, an excruciating river of itchy salt. Bug bites and grass cuts fight for my attention. But my burning lungs are winning. It’s too far, I can’t run any further. The clearing is coming to an end and I have to think. What to say. She won’t believe me. I have to show her. How will I get her away from work? Water. We’ll make a trip to the Artesian well. We always need more water, we all do. She’ll think it’s a good idea, that I’ve come around finally, that I’m chipping in, helping again. Then I’ll take her to the cave. Show her the body. Bodies. And the bones. The stack of bones, piled high to the ceiling. What does it mean? Are we safe?
Stopping at the edge of the high grass, hands on knees, chest heaving, a strand of drool hangs to the ground. In and out the hot air moves, my face flushed, bloodied knees like lipstick kisses. Regaining composure will be tough, but there is no time. Just a sip of water, then inside.