Friday, July 18, 2014
As far as Janice was concerned, the devil never showed up as she would have expected—blistering red skin with a goatee, a harpoon tail and a pitchfork that would make even Neptune covet his neighbor. Instead, he wore blue jeans with a faded circle in the back left pocket, the leggings frayed where they met the heels of his Tony Lamas. The devil also wore a t-shirt he found while filling up at a truck stop, the shirt sporting larger than life letters and announcing a profound snippet of philosophy: THE PURPOSE OF LIFE… ME. And though the devil carried the same maniacal laugh as she might have expected, deep and phlegmy, it wasn’t from a sadistic pleasure in torturing poor souls who made wrong choices in life; rather, he laughed at idiot shows on the tube. Like the one tonight, How to Train Your Monkey.
The show was just one more in a recent rash of pseudo-reality programs, this one purporting to shadow trainees during their first day on the job. The job never really existed, though, the trainee the only person kept in the dark. Built more on the contrived, the show focused on awkward moments and facial expressions that told viewers everything. Tonight’s program followed a bright, young man by the name of William, who in turn followed his trainer around The Plaza Hotel. The elevator doors opened, and the two men stepped off, the trainer pushing a cart of food. At one point in the discussion Young William frowned, not quite sure he heard it right. Did his trainer really say to ignore all the screams from Room 704, that it was common for their “special” guest to have under-aged women inside?
Sitting in his recliner, the devil laughed.
Janice’s smart phone buzzed in her lap. She glanced down and read the text.
PMT CONF. WHEN? PLS ADVISE.
Janice thumbed the touchscreen keyboard.
On the television, Young William followed his trainer down to Room 732. The trainer knocked once, but then didn’t wait for a response. He simply opened the door. Once inside, Young William discovered that they had just interrupted the hotel guests, a semi-covered man and woman, who were thoroughly enjoying each other’s company. As if he were a waiter at a luxury restaurant, the trainer proceeded to tell the guest about their dinner, lifting the lids from each steaming plate of food. The guests nodded their approval—the woman even cooed over her pecan-crusted lobster tail—and the camera panned to Young William, whose eyes danced around the room, at anything but the naked guests.
In the recliner, the devil slapped his leg and howled with laughter. Janice frowned and watched as he lifted up his own cell phone and started typing. She imagined the text he was sending to his buddies, probably something about how fine the actress looked with nothing on but a smile. Janice rolled her eyes and looked away.
Back when they stood at the altar, citing their vows before the rent-a-priest, Janice imagined things much differently. She imagined the better, not the worse. She imagined the richer, not the poorer. They were reasonably well off—the devil owned and operated a construction business—but their relationship had been bankrupt for years. Nowhere in those dreams did thoughts of endless fighting ever enter the picture, him screaming that she was a nag, a bore, a drain on his emotional and financial needs. Nowhere did she ever see the countless episodes of adultery, real and electronic, his attempts to escape the reality of their wrecked marriage.
Her phone buzzed again.
IN 2 HRS. CONF.
She typed back.
Clicking the SEND button, Janice felt a brief sense of regret, like maybe she shouldn’t do this. After all, what did it say about her? But it was too late now. The money had already been transferred.
Janice couldn’t take credit for the idea. Her friend at work, Sheree, gave it to her.
“Here,” Sheree had said from the cubicle next door at the office. Janice heard a few clicks from Sheree's keyboard, and a moment later a message appeared on her monitor that a new message had arrived.
"What is it?" Janice asked.
"Something called Craig's List. Check out the Personals. You'll find all sorts of people looking for people. Maybe you can find something. It may cost you, but it'll be worth it. After all, a woman's got to have some living to do as well, right?"
Janice searched and searched, but she could never work up the nerve. Then one day, a personal caught her attention. Without realizing what she had done, she had already grabbed her phone and texted a message. It took only a few minutes for the man to respond. One message after another, and things went from there.
The show on the television continued, Young William now down in the kitchen as the cook picked his nose while working up the next order. William flinched, and the devil laughed some more.
The show finished, and Janice grabbed the remote control. She put the television on mute.
"Do you mind going to the store?" she said.
The devil looked at her, his eyebrows pinched.
"But the next show's about to come on."
"I'll record it for you." When he didn't immediately respond, she added, "Please. We're out of beer, and I forgot to get you some."
He sighed deeply, but grabbed his keys and stood.
She waited for the front door to shut before grabbing her phone.
HUSBAND LEAVING. AM WAITING.
A moment later, her man responded back.
ACCIDENTS HAPPEN. HAVE A HAPPY LIFE.
Janice grabbed the remote and leaned her head back. She flipped over to her home decorating channel, smiling as she did so. No more cheating. No more screaming. No more name calling. It was going to be a happy life indeed.
Friday, July 11, 2014
Tucker watched as the red-headed man walked to the side wall and, shaking his head and muttering to himself, turned and walked back. Thick, matted hair clung to his scalp like an oil slick, and he held a plastic crucifix in his hand, his thumb nervously rubbing over the suffering Christ as if somehow the act would produce a puff of smoke and a materialized Savior would whisk him away, save him from inevitable.
"Please Jesus." Tears filled the man's eyes. "Please give me the strength."
The man reached the other side of the holding cell and the pleas stopped, but then started up again as he turned and walked back the other way.
Next to Tucker, another inmate groaned. It wasn't a groan of agony, though, something common to most of the inmates here; rather, it was the aching groan of frustration. Tucker learned this one's name was Jackson. Only Jackson. In the holding cell, everyone thought it best to keep things on a last-name basis, clinging to the hope that anonymity would provide some protection. Learning their first names, or even where they were from, could only make it worse. Connections were not a person's best friend.
Jackson shouted at the red-headed man. "Shut up, will ya?" He then leaned into Tucker, and his rancid smell, like old shoes corrupted by months of sweaty, sock-less feet, bit into Tucker's nasal passages. "Jeez. The way he goes on, I don't know why they didn't just kill him on the spot."
"Leave him alone," Tucker said. "He's not hurting anyone."
"He's about to drive me crazy."
Tucker sighed. "With what's waiting for us on the other side of those bars," he said, "I think we can all be a little more tolerable."
It had taken years to reach this point. The Christians were first, which came as no surprise to Tucker. As the saying went, what comes around goes around, and the Christians were certainly overdue for their season of retribution. If the Muslims had to endure the Crusades, the Jews the Holocaust, pain and suffering would eventually make their way back to the Christians. They couldn't realistically think their time of persecution with the lions in the coliseum was a one-off. Never satisfied with just one helping, sooner or later the spirits of the world and of men always came back for more blood.
It didn't stop with the Christians, though. Eventually, the government rounded up everyone it considered a threat, which included anyone who didn't agree or support the ruling class.
"I don't know," Jackson said. "I don't think I can stand his rambling any longer."
"Then don't." Tucker nodded his head toward the back of the cell, which was packed with roughly a hundred men, women, and children. Most of the inmates were asleep; a few just stared forward in shocked silence. "Maybe some of them will make room for you."
For a moment, the only sound in the cell was the red-headed man talking to himself. Tucker didn't know the man's name, and that was probably okay, too. Considering their mutual path, there was no need to even get that close.
"When's your hearing?" Jackson asked.
"Tomorrow, I think."
Jackson nodded. "What are you going to tell them?"
"Maybe nothing at all."
"Well, I'm not going to fight it. I'll just give 'em what they want."
"It won't make a difference."
"What do mean?"
"We're all dead anyway." Tucker looked him in the eyes. "Or haven't you figured that out yet?"
When the government picked him up, the men carrying the guns told Tucker he would be held until a panel of inquiry could look into his case. That was two weeks ago. It was their way of sobering him up, make him reconsider his loyalties. The problem was, though, nobody who ever left the cell came back, and the guards wouldn't talk about any of them. If people had changed their minds, Tucker could see it, but not everyone would change their minds; the percentages were against that. So it was clear that, one way or the other, this government had dealt with its issues the way all governments down through the ages deal with issues. It didn't matter how much governments said or promised. Eventually, they all looked alike.
Jackson stood and looked down. He shook his head and flipped a thumb toward the red-headed man. "You're just as crazy as he is, you know that?"
Tucker looked at the red-headed man, who turned and made another pass. Light from the hallway outside cast long shadows into the holding cell.
Jackson turned away, leaning from one side to the other as he stepped in between a few of the inmates. He cursed at one man who didn't move fast enough, and for a moment the air in the cell was filled with the sounds of both Jackson and the red-headed man. Tucker felt sorry for both of them.
As the red-headed man made another pass, Tucker stood up and walked in front of him. The man looked at Tucker as if seeing him for the first time.
"Are you Jesus?"
Tucker shook his head.
"I need to see him. Can you help me?"
Tucker nodded and placed his arm around the man's shoulders. He guided the man toward the wall.
As they sat down, Tucker pointed to the man's hand. "You mind?"
The man looked for a moment at the plastic crucifix in his hand. He then held it out, and Tucker took it.
"Thank you. What's your name?"
"Meade. And yours?"
Tucker nodded. The guards and the inquisition panel would think what they would.
"John Tucker," he said. "From Willow Creek, Iowa."