September 30, 2010

Drone Wars: Torture Chamber


            The loud clatter of a billy club drawn across metal bars and the barking guard dogs awoke Sam Spikone.  It was black under the canvas hood.  He didn't know how long he had sat there naked, except for the sackcloth over his head -- hours, maybe days. 

"Maybe you aren't the big man on campus her pimp is," a male voice allowed, as he shoved Sam Spikone along, "but how could she choose a shit-for-brains like him over you?  You can't figure it, can you?  Everyone knows the man is a lowlife scumbag who sells drugs to under-aged minors and has to get a young woman drunk and high to get her into the sack.  Heck," the voice sardonically insinuated, and pushed Sam Spikone into a chair, "he's the kind of guy who probably doesn't even like to fuck a girl unless she's passed out unconscious." 

            The concrete floor was icy cold under Sam Spikone's bare feet, as was the hard bench he was forced to sit down in.  It made him realize how utterly exposed he was.  A cumbersome object was dragged across the room, and he was told by the male voice in the room with him to place his hands palms down on the Formica desktop. 

            "She's with him now," the voice asserted.  "At the club he deals out of.  Can you picture her there with him, fresh as a lily of the valley, more beautiful than ever, unaware of what kind of monster she's taken up with," the voice advanced the proposition more forcefully, until Sam Spikone could actually picture a young woman in his mind's eye.  Not the hell spawn demon with the black wig and peculiar garage he had hooked up with a few weeks prior, but a little girl on a swing whose resemblance to the older teenage version of herself was uncanny -- a radiant vision as seen through tears: fresh, wholesome, and doomed.  "Her pimp has probably already given her the tablets.  Think of her with him.  You can't get the picture out of your head, can you?  Think of him with his hands on her prepubescent, naked body."  A small object was pushed across the metal table towards him.  "Call her," the other man guided Sam Spikone's hand to the portable electronic device.  "If you call her right away, maybe this time you can save her, save your own pathetic conscience."

            An older woman whose voice Sam Spikone didn't recognized picked up at the other end.  He asked to speak to Tammy Mori, and was told to hold the line.  When she took the phone, she sounded annoyed.  "Didn't I tell you not to call me anymore?" she complained.  "Can't you get it in your head, I'm in love.  You're acting like an infantile child," she huffed, like a kid that tries to sound more grown up and mature than she really is.  Nothing he said, she sternly informed him, could change her mind.  He had tried to kill her.  Why couldn't he move along, like she had?  The call lasted all of about two minutes.  Sam Spikone pleaded with her to come to her senses.  He told her he hadn't tried to do what she said he had, he could never kill her.  He knew, all along, the kid in the park was a doll.  He told her the man she was with was nothing but a child-molester parasite and a murderous psychotic who filled her head with lies.  The voice inside the basement room with him told him to tell the little girl how much he loved her.  "Tell her the drug dealer could never love her half as much as you do," it suggested.  Sam Spikone did not put up a struggle, or argue the point with his jailer.  He dutifully did what he was told, scared for himself, fearful for the safety of the little girl. 

"If only the human psyche was as clear as a glass aquarium," the voice in the room lamented, and gruffly took the handheld electronic device back from Sam Spikone, as if he couldn't contain his disdain, and contempt for the prisoner.  "If only all we needed to do was look inside at the little, colorful fish that swam around in the water and every secret impulse and desire would be illuminated and revealed for us, but sadly that's not the way it works, is it?  Every once in a while, we have to resort to more blunt deceits to shine some light into the abyss of the unconscious," the voice almost sounded apologetic.  "I had your basement apartment searched.  No mannequin parts were found.  There was no mutilated doll at the playground.  I'm sure you're a smart enough kid to comprehend the full significance of what I'm saying.  It was never really a question of what you did, or did not do.  The little girl on the other end of the phone was not the child on the swing.  Sorry, kid.  She was nothing but a hired stand-in, an actress paid by the hour."

            "The little girl," Sam Spikone almost chocked on the word, "dead."

            "There are worse recollections than those of innocent lives wasted," the voice in the room with him clarified.  "Even worse phantasms plague the dreams of war veterans than the butchered faces of the innocent slain.  You may never know whether the murders you have committed were fact or fancy.  Not knowing will no doubt eat away at your conscience for the rest of your waking hours, but," the voice asserted, "what will most likely trouble you far more is whether, or not you were forced to lash out, or you ultimately did so of your own free will.  To the little girl on the phone you claimed you would, no matter what your orders were, never have harmed her, that you only brutalized what you believed was an old ratty doll.  Be that as it may, it doesn't even begin to account for the savagery of your assault.  Psychopaths don't concern themselves with why they kill.  Law enforcement officers can always believe they did so out of self-defense.  Not so with you.  You need to believe your flimsy excuse for a conscious mind held out as long as it could, played it's part valiantly, and only in the face of an indomitable, insurmountable will forced upon it by outside instruction did it snap, give way.  You can't accept responsibility for what happened in the park, and would rather blame it on anything, or anyone other than yourself, as if it was all Dr. Fenster's fault you went haywire in the practice field.  I feel sorry for you.  People like you are the worst of all, they want to do right, but all they end up doing is screwing things up worse."

            A hand untied the sackcloth hood, and roughly pulled it from Sam Spikone's head.  Throughout the psychological torture, he had desperately grasped, like a drowning man, onto the belief that there was an evil external world he could somehow hold out against, resist.  He held onto the idea of a world outside of himself, as if it was a life buoy, as if without it he would no longer be a separate entity with his own ability to decide right from wrong, and would succumb to the blue and green waves of his unconscious, waves that crashed over him with no intention other than to swallow him up in their roiling depths.  Only after the hood was removed did he realize the life buoy was actually a dead weight around his neck. 

The wrathful man who stood above him was not some faceless fascist interrogator.  The face he looked into was like his own, scarred and pocked from bad acne.  It was not some inhuman sadist who kicked his chair out from under him, and inflicted blows on him, but a person not unlike himself.  All the while, he realized, throughout the ordeal of his interrogation, the voice of the heartless prosecutor was neither his own, nor that of the insane government scientist who chaired the department. He was, as it turned out, not in some dark musty cell in the nether region of his mind, cast adrift on a stormy sea and helpless in a bad dream composed of his own making, as he had imagined.  Sam Spikone was at college.  The sarcastic voice that addressed him was Buddy Alexander's.  Tammy Mori stood next to him. 


-- Daniel Mendel-Black, copyright 2010

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Drone Wars: Vacant Stare


            Two spoiled brat blond kids loudly hassled their Hispanic nanny with backtalk.  From where he stood behind a tree, Sam Spikone was impressed with how easily the woman diffused the situation.  Rather than reply to their smart aleck sass in English, she spoke to them in Spanish.  The children stopped almost immediately.  They didn't understand a word she said, and had no ready comeback. 

He was fairly confident the threesome was not really there in the park with him, that they were figments from his memory, and, from what he could see of them, it was even possible the woman was his own childhood nanny, and the little blond girl, his baby sister.  As for the precocious tike, the boy could easily have passed for him at that tender age.  At any rate, he had seen her and the kids somewhere else before -- in another place, at another time.  The likelihood they were more than a fragmented, dislocated recollection was slim, but he remained hidden behind the tree, just in case, until well after they passed out of sight. 

            The young girl on the swing looked so sad and forlorn, all alone without anyone to play with her.  "What kind of sick demented mind would want to harm such an innocent and beautiful creature?" Sam Spikone wondered.  "Who wouldn't want to adopt the pretty child with the long eyelashes, take her home, feed her, clothe her, paint and decorate a little princess palace for her to frolic in, and give her, as presents, all the toys she could ever wish for?  Who would want anything other than to see her face light up with pure joy?"  Cardinals and Orioles sang in the trees.  A brown squirrel darted from under a bush to nibble on a small pinecone.  Up 'til then, it was the most perfect, gorgeous day since he started school, sunny and warm, but with a cool breeze out of the north.  All he wanted to do was take a long nap under the shade tree he stood behind.  "What kind of fiendish intellect would want to ruin such a bucolic pastoral?"

            Of course, the tree wasn't really a tree.  Sam Spikone seemed strangely unaware that its trunk was made of wire and papier-mâché.  He seemed not to notice that the leaves were plastic.  Nor was he in any way affected by the fact that the red and orange birds weren't really birds, either, and neither was the squirrel a squirrel.  It seemed not to register with him in the least that springs and gears operated their plastic feathers and synthetic fur.  Anyone else would have recognized that even the little girl on the swing looked phony.  They would have seen that there was something clearly vacant about her demeanor, like someone had set her out there in the middle of the playground like a decoy. 

Not him.  He saw what he was told to see, mesmerized by the inspired, colorful descriptions that assailed his inner ear.  What he saw was the way the sunlight poured over the little girl's long flowing hair and flowery dress.  To him it was inconceivable that a voice that painted such a loving and adoring picture inside his head would ask him to harm a single raven hair on the helpless child's head.  "Why?"  He took a step backwards.  "What possible good could come from such a senseless, heinous act?"  The instruction he received was so vile and contemptible he was overcome with sickness at its first mention, and leaned into the tree, gray-faced, like he was seriously about to heave. 

            Every step he took down the shallow embankment filled Sam Spikone with a greater sense of dread.  He would rather have walked the final steps to his own death than enter the sanctuary of the playground and approach the little girl to ask her where her parents were, and if she was lost and needed help to find her way back home.  Once again, it felt to him like his body began, albeit reluctantly, to honeycomb in all directions -- until his limbs were firmly merged into a hybrid of organic material and architectural geometry -- partly human -- partly jungle gym, seesaw, sandlot, and swing set -- until he was like some kind of sticky, dripping mass of modular design that enveloped the child, and cut off all her options for escape. 

            Sam Spikone's conscious mind wanted to tell the little girl not to cry so.  It wanted to assure her everything would be all right, not to worry, he wouldn't injure her in any way, and, if she simply told him where her house was, together they would go there right away.  His conscious mind wanted to tell her he had everything completely under control, the maniacal, unconscious voice inside his head could shriek its orders all it wanted, he would never in a million years allow anything bad to happen to her, she was completely and perfectly safe with him.  All these things his conscious mind wanted to say to the child, but the voice of the doctor in his inner ear was shrill, impatient. 

            Afterwards, he wanted to believe the hypnotic suggestion that his body morphed into the landscape of the playground had failed to fully claim his imagination, that his conscious mind had won out, if only briefly.  He wanted to believe it wasn't until he reached out to the little girl -- with every intention of walking with her out of the park back to her home -- and her small hand came off her arm at the wrist that he had yielded to the unconscious voice inside his ear.  He wanted to believe if not for the fact he was holding a detached pink, plastic doll's hand in his, they would have made it out together, everything would have worked out fine, and to hell with the government scientist and his sadistic experiments.  He wanted to believe, if he hadn't been tricked, he would never have reacted the way he did.  He wanted to think, if not for the betrayal, he would never have repeatedly stabbed the little girl in the eyes with the big carbon steel kitchen knife blade until her sockets were nothing but shredded black pulp.  All these things he wanted to believe, but what Sam Spikone needed to believe was something quite different. 

The characters and staging were undoubtedly helped along by the guidance of the government scientist, but there was no way for him to ignore how deeply he was implicated in the crime, make believe or otherwise, the degree to which so much of the scenario was of his own construction, a product of his own sick artistry.  Before then, Sam Spikone had never fully grasped his penchant for self-abuse and the remarkable degree to which he was filled with self-loathing.  What he needed to believe was that he couldn't possibly hate himself as much as he did.  What he needed to believe was that he could not possibly have brought this upon himself -- that in no way, shape, or form was it possible that there was a flesh-and-blood child bleeding out at his feet horizontal in the sandbox of the mock elementary school inside the Interan Corp. Tetragon at Fortean College. 



-- Daniel Mendel-Black, copyright 2010

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September 26, 2010

Drone Wars: Kill, Kill, Kill!



Street level was a cloudless, clear blue sky, and heaven above was a concrete and asphalt jungle of sidewalks, buildings, and streets.  It was like Sam Spikone was nothing more substantial than his upside down reflection in the black puddle he barely managed to sidestep on the way across the parking lot to the mall.  Like his mirrored image was his true self, and he was in reality no more substantial than a ghostlike facsimile, a formless body that inhabited another airless dimension set adrift from the litany of rules and regulations that bind human existence in the corporeal world. 

In the inverted city inside the Tetragon at Fortean College the blacktop wasteland outside of the superstore was practically abandoned.  It was as if he arrived a moment after the fact to some inconceivable holocaust that had befallen the shopping center, as if he could make out the echoed forms and shapes of cars and shoppers just beneath the thin membrane of the wet ground, like life went on as usual on the other side of the divide, but it was a world he no longer had any access to, a world he was permanently cut off from.  Where he was it smelled like piss and fast-food vomit.  Where he was no one survived the terrible, destructive firestorm that had overtaken the entire precinct.  People in the department store were like faceless, nameless suggestions from some prior existence, traces from his former life, nothing more than the obscured, gray hint of a long forgotten, happier time. 

She was in kitchenware.  When Sam Spikone saw her it was hard to describe his emotional and psychological state of mind.  To him it felt like his body honeycombed.  Like, limb for limb, he morphed with the geometry of the architecture around him, until he and the spider-web-like contours of the mall were one and the same, a sentient, inseparable, sticky, threaded net in which the girl who was not a girl, but a vision of a girl, was unknowingly ensnared.  The store's one-way mirrored glass, and surveillance cameras were his eyes.  Electronic sensors were like inputs plugged directly into his brain.  Every step she took, it was like the vibrations were transmitted throughout the network of his nervous system, amplified in his head like the footfall of a heavy-metal god.  Every time the girl who was not a girl, but the reflection of a girl batted her eyelashes it was like the beating wings of a huge butterfly. 

In his mind he dipped his hand into a puddle and stirred the image of the mall all around in a vain attempt to erase her from his memory.  An urge to flee the place before she turned around overcame him, but, no matter how much he struggled with his conscience, he remained frozen in place, incapable of distinguishing himself from the immovable building around him.  

Some folks, he knew full well, were blessed as if touched by some cosmic charity.  No matter how badly they screwed up, they profited.  They might bankrupt a fortune five hundred company, but instead of suffering the sharp slings of the board like anyone else, they got kicked upstairs to cushier higher paying jobs.  With some people it was like The Emperor's New Clothes.  Even though there was nothing to see, their fantasy achievements were rewarded, even touted and celebrated as an example for everyone else to follow, like they were sorcerers who had used colorful and sweetly perfumed potions to cast a spell on the crowd of country bumpkins gathered around them. 

Not so with him.  He had absolutely no power over other people, no magic incantations to direct the forces that controlled their lives.  If anything, it was as if the exact opposite was true.  It was like, no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't do anything right, like he was the pathetically cliched cartoon character with the black cloud that followed him around all the time -- it didn't matter where he went, even seated at the kitchen table, the black cloud was always there above his head threatening thunder and rain.  It was as if there was an ironic voice inside his head that directed his every move.  Like there was an insult comic up there with a sick sense of humor that wanted nothing more than a good and hearty laugh at his expense.  When he saw who the girl at the end of the aisle was, it was this malicious voice -- filled with so much cruelty he could hardly stand it -- this voice that meant him nothing but harm that insisted he not turn tail and run as fast and far away as his legs could carry him. 

Since he last saw her naked and bound in her garage, her hair had turned to straw, her eyes were hot and wet, and her skin pink and flushed, like someone who burned up from within with a chemical, pharmaceutical intensity.  He noticed a wedge shaped scar on her wrist, and a shaky uncertainty to her gait he didn't remember from before. 

His conscious mind wished to embrace her, to take her home with him, to care for her, and nurse her back to health.  It wanted to restore her to her former glory, to the beatific semblance of a fallen angel nailed to a liquor cabinet, to the shiny bust of the harlot Mary lovingly placed atop a punk geezer's altar to rock stardom.  His conscious mind wanted to restore her to the jailbait who had taught him to love fire as much as he loved pain. 

His unconscious mind had other plans.  His unconscious mind was filled with directives, instructions, top secret documents that put forward a plot so dastardly it could only have been hatched in the darkest recesses of a paranoiac nation state.  It was not his conscious mind that taunted him.  It was the rational, scientific unconscious of a technocrat insane with power that echoed inside his head, the voice of Dr. Fenster that incessantly assailed his inner ear with the command:

"Kill, kill, kill!" 

The edict always came like a summons from on high.  Sam Spikone felt the same sense of panic in the pit of his stomach he would have felt were he ordered to appear before some absolute authority like the magistrate of a shadow court, or the chief enforcement officer of a secret branch of law enforcement.  No reason was given.  No reason was necessary.  Guilt or innocence was immaterial.  Failure to act was an indictment.  He looked around the department store desperate to find another person -- a customer, or mall cop -- in the hope that a possible witness might forestall the inevitable.  In the honeycomb of his mind he scanned every camera and one-way mirror on every floor in every dressing room and rest room of the yawning concrete structure for life signs, but there was no one to call out to, no one to stop him from what he was about to do, to tackle him and throw him to the ground when the time came to intervene on the young woman's behalf.  They were alone. 

Gristle and gore sprayed across his face.  Sam Spikone wiped the blood, meat, and bone fragments off and lowered his clear protective plastic mask.  The blade of the laser guided duel compound miter saw was jammed in her thighbone.  He pushed the spinning blade back, like the stentorian voice inside his head instructed him to do, pulled a second, and third time, until the limb finally came free, then placed it in the stainless steel cart among the others.  Atop the upside down apartment tower in the inverted psychological city inside the Tetragon at Fortean College, Sam Spikone's dark basement was like some kind of weird penthouse. 


-- Daniel Mendel-Black, copyright 2010

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Some stills from Maniac! (1980) Directed by William Lustig.  Mannequins courtesy of Tom Savini who also had a small part. 







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September 16, 2010

Drone Wars: Forty Stories Down



            Deadbolt locks clicked open, the little brass safety chain snapped taught, and a young woman peevishly peeked out of her murky apartment into the dark, musty hallway. 

In the dim yellow light, her features looked mannequin-like to Buddy Alexander, as if someone had cut a masquerade ball mask from a glossy picture of a strikingly beautiful fashion magazine model's eyes, and then affixed the cutout to the face of a fiberglass doll. 

The reason for the young woman's safety latch entirely eluded him.  It struck him more like a decorative object than anything else.  Anyone who really wanted to gain access to the premises could easily shoulder the door open. 

Buddy Alexander checked his notes to make doubly sure he had the correct address.  "Is the Buddy Alexander who currently resides in Apartment 4018 presently at home?" he politely inquired. 

The young woman shook her head in the negative and started to close her door. 

At Buddy Alexander's signal, Tammy Mori, who had positioned herself out of sight of the peephole, wheeled around, and, metallic pink pistol firmly gripped in both hands, blew a hole through the door.  The shot did not kill the mannequin-like young woman outright.  She writhed on her living room floor, badly wounded and incapacitated. 

The scene inside the apartment was gruesome.  The half eaten body of a young man lay on the floor, his gory insides piled on the shag rug next to him.  Buddy Alexander winced at the butchery, watched unaffected as Tammy Mori put one in the young woman's ear, and crossed another name from the white pages. 

The best way to assault a psychological tower, according to the good doctor, was to start from the uppermost floor and work down to street level.  Two floors down Tammy Mori didn't even wait for the person behind the door to open up.  She fired three rounds from her metallic pink pistol at the first sound. 

The apartment was tiled floor-to-ceiling, like some kind of twisted fright chamber.  A young woman, who was dressed in the same outfit as Tammy Mori, lay dead on the floor.  She was heavily pierced with all kinds of spikes and pointy objects that jutted out of her face and body.  His first run through of the premises revealed nothing that would indicate another Buddy Alexander lived there, no clothes of his in the bedroom closet, nothing in the medicine cabinet.  In fact, there was no bedroom to speak of, much less a bathroom, only a large refrigerator.  No proof another man lived there now, or had ever lived there before, until Buddy Alexander peeled back the tinfoil from a large stainless steel baking pan he removed from inside the icebox, and examined the contents of the dish closely. 

Music poured from the cracked doorway of the apartment down the hall in staggered waves.  At first Buddy Alexander didn't recognize the tune, but, the closer he got, the clearer it became, until he finally made out the light rhythms of the higher registers, and placed the song as one of his high school favorites. 

No one was in the first room.  The two of them quietly moved to the second room, but, once again, found no one.  A dull clatter in the bathroom, like a heavy metal implement dropped on a hardwood floor, made him turn.  Tammy Mori went in first.  A young man with crazed eyes, he recognized as himself, was hard at work dismembering a dead girl's body with a large pair of garden sheers, her bloodstained cheerleader's outfit draped over the sink.  Buddy Alexander had to stop Tammy Mori from shooting the youth before he had a chance to ask the guy if he was the Buddy Alexander who currently resided in Apartment 3812 at Beacon Tower. 

Ten stories down they repeated the same routine for the near hundredth time.  The young woman who answered the door was knocked backwards by the impact of Tammy Mori's round, but this time the bullet meant for her shot wide of the mark and blew a chalky divot out off the rear wall.  Buddy Alexander pushed past the shards of shattered wood, and ducked just as the young mannequin-like woman inside the apartment leveled the nose of her sizable weapon and fired back at her attacker.  Behind him, Tammy Mori clutched her throat, fell to her knees, and spit up a great deal of blood that ran down her chin and neck.  The woman with the collaged eyes, he wasn't surprised in the least bit, also had on a black wig with severe bangs, and a powder blue leather pantsuit with a wide, retro collar. 

"That bitch is crazy," she snarled angrily.  "What the fuck are you doing runnin' around with trash like her!" she yelled at Buddy Alexander.  "'You got some kind of sick death wish, or something?  That dirty slut eats little boys like you for lunch.  She's totally psycho!" the young woman quickly dislodged her clip and reloaded the gun.  "What the hell are you doing poking your nose around here, anyway?" she wanted to know.

"I'm looking for the Buddy Alexander," he checked his notes, "who currently resides in apartment 2806," he informed her.  "Is he available?"

"Buddy!" the other Tammy Mori sharply called to the back of the apartment.  "You have a visitor.  There's someone here who wants to see you."  She sat down on the couch, and looked up at the young man.  "Oh, this little bit of theater I gotta see," she crossed her legs, and folded her arms across her chest. 

"Is your name Buddy Alexander, and do you currently reside here in Apartment 6 on the twenty-eighth floor of Beacon Tower?" he asked the young man who looked remarkably like him after the fellow entered the living room, sank into the plush recliner across the coffee table from the doll-like Tammy Mori, and hung a leg over the ottoman. 

"Yeh," the man lit a cigarette, leaned over to unsheathe a pistol from his ankle holster, and shrugged. "What's it to you?"

Buddy Alexander pulled out the sawed off, pump-action twelve-gauge he had concealed under his coat.  "I am here to kill you," he declared without the slightest hint of emotion, and pulled the trigger. 

The building reminded him of seedy arcades he had gone to when he was a kid, the kind they have at beaches, or run down amusement parks.  He splashed cold water on his face and wondered if he wasn't really in some kind of mirrored maze in a House of Horror in the shape of an inverted apartment tower.  Were he and Tammy Mori actually shooting at their own fun house reflections?  He hoped so. 

How many times had they already died a terrible death in the apartment tower?  Not counting all the other Tammy Mori's she'd killed, she'd already died at least a half dozen times he knew of.  How many times had he already been slain at the hands of another Buddy Alexander?  He couldn't remember.  Sometimes he died.  Sometimes she was killed.  There was even the rare occasion when they both died during the commission of the shootout.  In those instances, their doubles would, without comment, suit up, and weapons at the ready, advance on the next apartment, as if possessed by different souls. 

He looked out the kitchen window.  Light flashed in the apartment directly across from him twice in rapid-fire succession.  Another team was training in the next building over. 

How many more times would all of them have to die before Dr. Fenster felt satisfied with their progress?  The thought of it distressed him.  He decided not to preoccupy himself with the prospect.  Things weren't as bad as all that, he figured.  At least the new mannequin-like Tammy Mori hadn't already killed and mutilated her Buddy Alexander before they gained access to the apartment.  When he toweled off and left the kitchen to return to the living room, he wondered, would the dead bodies of the old Tammy Mori and the other Buddy Alexander still be there?  He hoped not.  There were still twenty-seven stories to go and he wanted a fresh start. 


-- Daniel Mendel-Black, copyright 2010

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September 12, 2010

Drone Wars: Inverted City

Inverted city.jpg

            "What's your name?" Tammy Mori hopped off her swing. 

            Something about the young man who sat on the steps of the Tetragon struck her as familiar, as if she might once have known him, but how, or from where, she couldn't quite place.  When she first saw him she was tempted to shout out a name, but it escaped her.  It flashed in her mind, and was gone before she could get it out. 

            "My name is Tammy, Tammy Mori," she said.  "What's yours?" she asked again.

            He brightened up a bit when he looked up into the young woman's face.  A certain something about her made him happy to see her.  Her naive, girlish demeanor was entirely at odds with her appearance.  Although she seemed completely unaware of it, the young woman looked like road-kill, like some mythological figure that had seen hell and was sent back as proof it really existed.  Her black wig was knotted, her cheeks cut, and her powder blue leather pantsuit chafed and torn, like she was forced to suffer at the hands of a gang of fiendish sadists for days on end, held hostage by psychopathic degenerates who had taken turns at her, then left her for dead, like a dog's carcass on the side of a road. 

            The young man shrugged.  "I'm not really sure," he answered.  "Buddy," he said, "Buddy Alexander, I guess.  At least that's the name I'm registered under," he added somewhat apologetically.  He uttered the name as though it was a bit strange to him, like he hadn't quite got used to it yet, like maybe it was somebody else's name, but he didn't want it to sound like he had made it up on the spot.

            "Buddy Alexander," he repeated again to the bruised young woman in the rumpled outfit, afraid that otherwise he would have to answer more questions about himself, questions he knew he didn't have adequate answers for.  The problem wasn't whether he knew who he was.  His personal dilemma was more like some paranoid whodunit out of a seedy old noir.  Like any half decent private dick, the first thing he had done was to check his social network to see who had most recently looked at his personal profile page.  Every day he sat in his dorm among all his dead appliances, the Venetian blinds half shut to cut down on the glare from the sun, and every day, according to the spy-ware program he had set up, the same mystery guest had checked up on him as the day before.  Every day, like any shoe gum worth his salt, he made cold calls and knocked on doors throughout the Tetragon shooting gallery in search of the unknown interloper.  After each failed attempt he ran a line through the suspect listing with a ruler and pen.  The problem wasn't whether or not he knew what his name was.  The problem was that there was some anonymous someone else on the Interan Corporate Campus who was showing an unwanted interest in him, and he didn't know who they were, what they were after, for what reason they had targeted him, or why they were using his name.  He held out a couple of printouts he had downloaded earlier in morning to show the young woman. 

            "Are all these people whose names you've crossed through dead?" Tammy Mori examined the first page.

            "They are now," he matter-of-factly confirmed.

            The air was crisp and fresh, the sky perfectly blue, like after a rainstorm.  Tammy Mori's dark knotted hair trailed in the warm breeze.  She giggled with girlish glee.  Buddy Alexander was the first boy she had seen at school.  He was, in fact, the only other person besides her many selves she had seen for many days. 

"Come on," she beckoned him to follow her. "Don't be afraid.  There's something I want to show you, a place I go sometimes, another training facility inside this one."  She switched on the floodlights in the cavernous warehouse hanger-sized soundstage.  The floor was painted light blue.  Above them apartment and office buildings loomed upside down from the ceiling, like giant menacing geometric stalactites.  "The inverted city," she announced.  "Dr. Fenster had it specially built because he believes psychological tenement and corporate towers are where the most difficult and hard won internal battles are fought.  It's a full-scale composite model based on the Manhattan skyline.  See the Chrysler Building?" she sat down on the floor and pointed directly overhead.  "I like to lie down here and stare up at the buildings, like I'm up in the sky, perched on a rainbow, surrounded by clouds, and I've got a god's eye view down on the world."

            Many-storied towers that seemed weightless right side up hung impossibly in the air.  Inverted as the city was, Buddy Alexander was aware of nothing other than the mind-boggling tonnage of steel, concrete, and brick suspended from the rafters.  Even, as he lay down to watch a subway rumble across the ceiling, the buildings looked to him like spikes that jutted from the underside of a lid incongruously painted with crisscrossing streets, boulevards, and avenues.  The titanic Iron Maiden, he felt certain, could slam shut on them at any moment.  What did it matter to him if Dr. Fenster had replaced his brain with an evil clown brain?  What did he care which Buddy Alexander among all the many Buddy Alexanders he was?  All that mattered to him in that instant was that he was not skewered by the rocket-nosed, massive, Deco chandelier that swung overhead, otherwise known as the upside down Chrysler Building. 

            "Your so tense," the young woman who introduced herself as Tammy Mori leaned over him.  "Want me to make you feel better," she unbuttoned his shirt collar, and gently kissed him.  She trembled like a little bird when he touched her, but her movements were expert, practiced, like she had already undressed a legion of men before she met him, a real pro.  Her tiny hands and fingers moved quickly, with animal like dexterity, as she unfastened his belt buckle, unbuttoned his pants, and buried her head in the small of his stomach.  A hunger she struggled to resist grew inside her -- as if a dormant spirit stirred her deep within, another Tammy Mori, who, after years of famine in a small village town, had been sold into sexual slavery by her parents, and forced by her new masters to fuck for the camera. 

            Buddy Alexander looked into her feline eyes.  As she ran her fingers under the elastic band of his underwear, he examined her slashed and studded leather outfit more closely.  She was definitely not the helpless, childlike, street urchin she sounded like when she spoke.  Her cuts and wounds were probably not the result of any abuse she had suffered at the hands of others.  If anything, he reconsidered as she made a trail of soft kisses down his abdomen, they were much more likely acquired during the merciless dispatch of those would-be assailants. 

            There was a third Tammy Mori inside her, she realized with concerned trepidation, not only the angry young girl who was raped by her father, but a far more deranged creature, a young woman who had become entirely unhinged by her terrible experience in the sex industry, a girl who was possessed, as if by the devil, a blood-sucking fiend let loose on an unsuspecting world.  The other woman was no longer a human being, as much as she was a feral beast.  She was more closely related to a cannibal zombie than to any normal person, a grim, craven wretch that yearned for nothing better than a post-coital banquet on Buddy Alexander's flesh. 

He watched, paralyzed with fear, as the young woman raised herself up on his chest, hissed, and curled the knuckles of her extended fingers like the claws of some silent-movie era monster.  If the shot had not come then, Buddy Alexander knew the young woman could easily have eviscerated him with her talon-like nails.  Instead, a high caliber round entered through her cat-like eye and, as it exited, it blew out the back of her cranium.  Her head violently snapped back and her body slumped over dead. 

            "Get up," another Tammy Mori yelled.  "Of all the Tammy Moris to screw, you really picked the runt of the litter," she holstered her metallic pink pistol in the waistband of her powder blue leather pants, and grabbed him by a forearm to help him up onto his feet.  "She's by far the worst of them all," she grinned.  "A real rabid, mongrel mutt, that one.  I can't tell you how many times I've had to put her out of her misery."  She looked up at the inverted city.  "I like to come here sometimes," she mused.  "I like to lie down here and stare up at the buildings, like I'm up in the sky, perched on a rainbow, surrounded by clouds, and I've got a god's eye view down on the world." 


-- Daniel Mendel-Black, copyright 2010

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September 05, 2010

Drone Wars: Inside The Tetragon



            Inside the Tetragon Tammy Mori's life began all over again.  The place reminded her of schools she might once have attended long ago.  Not any single learning institution in particular, but all of them combined all at once into some horrible Baroque architecture, as if the designer who built the place was totally insane, like he or she had set out to build these various structures vaguely recalled from memory, without any clear plan in mind, had inexplicably lost interest in one edifice three-quarters of the way through, and simply went on to the next one without any rationale the young girl with the black wig and severe bangs could fathom. 

A high school gym ended for no apparent reason, walls left unfinished, exposed two-by-fours with plumbing and electrical wiring that jutted out into empty space, and before she knew what had happened she had walked into what she could only surmise was the beginning of an elementary school assembly hall, the stage of which, much like the interior of the previous structure, quickly devolved into the raw chaos of a construction site.  It wasn't just what these rooms and hallways, somewhat familiar as they were, were supposed to remind her of -- with all their dark corners and quiet nooks where she might once have suffered through her youth, adolescence, or early teens.  Their dimensions also seemed all wrong, invariably too large, or too small.  You could have landed a small Cessna propeller driven airplane in the waiting room at the vice principal's office, and the door to the A/V room she kicked in, as it turned out, opened up into a bright and sunny playground. 

             She tried to remember if the place had any particular special personal significance for her, if she had fallen in love or had her heart broken for the first time there.  Was it where she had first smoked drugs or gotten drunk?  Had she experienced her first French kiss here, or had sex here?  Tammy Mori sat on the swing and glumly looked around for some little detail that might spark a connection with something she could place as a genuine memory, as a memory that was hers and hers alone, some kind of incontrovertible evidence that she had, in a conventional sense, known a past. 

            On the Interan Corporate Campus at Fortean College the killing began all over again.  Psychological warfare, Dr. Fenster explained to the gathered government officials, was not at all that different from urban warfare.  Many of the same stratagems applied.  That was why the shooting ranges of the Tetragon training facility were built to resemble a generic memory space.  In order for the subject of the demonstration to protect her single happy memory of herself as a little girl on a playground swing from the false memories of herself as a serial killer whore, the government scientist tried to impress the gathered audience with his latest theory, she would have to learn how to clear and hold each and every room she had occupied in her youthful innocence from the suicidal and determined fiendish enemy who sought with unwavering single-minded purpose to rob her of this, her last and only vestige of sanity. 

            Tammy Mori kissed her metallic pink pistol on the muzzle and held it out in front of her with both hands as she edged up against a wall.  Time, inside the Tetragon, it seemed to her, played by its own peculiar rules.  She couldn't, for example, remember going to sleep at night.  Nor could she remember waking up the morning after.  Nothing separated her gunfight in the playground, from the gunfight she had fought in the playground the day before, from the one she had waged the day before that, and so on, like, of all the lousy moments in her whole entire stinking existence -- and there were too many to count -- this one was somehow the one caught in the infinite receding reflection created by parallel mirrors.  Crouched behind the wall it seemed to her like every day she hunted the same shadowy figure through the same fragmented memories of her childhood schooldays to this same playground, and every day when the time came to round the corner and squeeze off the rounds she closed her eyes, because if she didn't, she fully expected to see a little girl who looked remarkably like she had looked at that age, yellow flowers in her hair, her suicide vest packed with explosives. 

            Inside the Tetragon, the Fortean College campus was a vast soundstage.  Quadrangles were painted on giant theatrical flats.  The geometry of the place was dreamlike, like an interior cerebral space.  Tammy Mori dropped to the plywood floor, rolled onto her back to return the rooftop fire, and, once again, closed her eyes tightly before she squeezed off the rounds from her metallic pink pistol, fearful what she would see this time around if she had not shut her eyes tightly was an adolescent version of herself, an early teenage version of herself with pimples and braces, and an older, heavily painted version of herself as a street hooker, the two red laser beams from their high-powered, semi-automatic rifles trained on her forehead.  She was afraid if she kept her eyes open and saw them perched on the roof she would, at the last second, hesitate, unsure of which of them to take out first. 

            The young woman in the powder blue pantsuit with the wide signature lapels was in no rush to get back to Dr. Fenster's creepy clown-puppet show.  There were still multiple personalities from her supposed past left to kill.  The mail-order-bride, slut serial killer who had fucked her good-for-nothing husband to death was somewhere in the Tetragon with a bullet with her name on it, and, she felt fairly certain, there was another doppelganger who lurked in the shadows of the unconscious architecture of the campus training ground, a young woman from a former past she could barely recall in which she was a high school cheerleader who dated the star quarterback.  Every day Tammy Mori went room to room, building by building, block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood throughout this ghostly city within a city, to root these ugly apparitions from her mind before they had a chance to destroy her, because, if she didn't get to them first, her death, according to the good doctor, was the only possible outcome, and every time after she had killed them all, snuffed the life out from every manifestation of herself she could remember, there was always one last one she forgot, the one who always got to her in the end.  Tammy Mori raced along the bombed out street and dove for cover behind a pock ridden parked car.  She had no intention of getting her head blown off by a cheerleader.

            The young woman in the black wig with the severe bangs kneed her bartender self in the back and sliced the woman's throat open with a box-cutter.  She left her bordello self in a heap on the floor, put a hole in her eight-year-old self just after the girl blew out the candles at the birthday party.  She squatted and aimed her metallic pink pistol.  Her fetish self lay crumbled in a corner.  She twirled and fired again.  Vampirella never saw it coming.  Tammy Mori was on a mission.  She blew the smoke from the business end of her gun, fired high and low and in every direction in between.  Her tomboy self fell over the banister.  Her sexually repressed self crashed backwards into a wall of mirrors.  All around her, her alter egos dropped like flies.  There was one object, and one object only.  Success, Doctor Fenster did not leave any doubt in her mind, meant she had to destroy every last vestige of herself other than the little girl from the playground. 

"Stay focused," the misshapen government scientist repeated over the intercom.  "Remember the little girl on the swing," he sternly directed. 

Only the cheerleader was left unaccounted for.  Tammy Mori cocked the hammer of her metallic pink pistol and guarded the swing set like her life depended on it.  If she was successful, she knew, the little girl she remembered would, in one moment, forever scream with delight as she leaned back and kicked the sky with the toes of her black Mary Jane's, and would, in the next, laugh with the kind of ecstatic pleasure only a child at that age can muster, as she leaned forward and almost kissed the ground. 


-- Daniel Mendel-Black, copyright 2010

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