A lime green Chevy Camaro, glistening in the sun: reality. Speeding down the highway, through cherry fields and apple orchards. The world feels like it’s about to explode at any second, the air spontaneously combust, but I check the rear view mirror and see the same white SUV behind me, Virginia license plates. We’re all going about 80 mph around a bend in the road; well, I’m pushin’ 90 now. But nothing happens, no car crashes, or sudden explosions, and so I just keep on going.
Rectangular green signs jutting out at me from all angles as I zoom by Contemporary country homes with wooden decks and sylvan arches: cardinals and blue jays darting among the scraggly pine trees. The land perpetually rising and falling alongside the road. And the mountains, looming in the distance, a giant tidal wave, frozen in time, threatening to sweep across the desolate, resource-strapped valley. The radio is on:
"Yeah, it's funny," a man's voice says in a charismatic and laid back tone "people ask me all the time, they're like So are you Okay? What are you doing now? And I'm like, yeah, um, I read, I go on walks, I, uh, make Lime Habanero Salsa with my homosexual friends."
“Yeah, that’s real interesting,” a woman’s voice replies in a calm yet excited manner. “Tell me more."
“Yeah, well, not to brag, but it's awesome, incredibly exhilarating. I mean, you’re really living from second to second, due to the sheer number of bullets that are flying at you, and the amount that you’re sending back at them, it’s a lot of intensity--you have to respond without hesitation, in order to preserve the lives of the people that you’re working with, that you love. So you just say, ‘alright, well, now is the time to duke it out, now is the time to, you know, exchange gunfire, and there are potentially lethal consequences . . . but you can't think about that, you can't let it phase you, you treat it like it's just another walk in the park. . . . "
I’m so distracted by the man’s words that I momentarily forget about the road. The sound of the speed strips on the shoulder ripping up my tires brings me back to reality. I check the mirror again for any sign of the police. Still, the same white SUV. I exhale a sigh of relief. But that's the cops for you, always trying to make you admit to things you didn't do; indeed, things that didn't even happen in the first place. Things? What things? Do things even exist?? I decide I need a break. I feel dangerous.
I stop at the Walmart near Strasburg, end up browsing the women’s clothing section. It's organized in quadrangles across from the food aisles. I love to see the variety in monotony: leather black skirts, red bustiers and fishnet stockings--with the black lipstick! It’s organized just slightly differently than any other Walmart I’ve ever been to.
As I walk out, I see a 7-11 across the street, nestled in between some white plastered buildings, the kind that look as if they were built during the Civil War. It has a blue roof. I go inside and buy a pack of Marlboro Reds, because that’s what I’m smoking right now. Yup, puffin’ on those cowboy killers. I must have a suicide wish.
When I’m done, I get back in my car and leave: reality. Back on the highway, it’s business as usual. A never-ending stream of multicolored cars indelibly engraved like state quarters with the footprints of past peoples. No sir, nothing out of the ordinary going on over here at all: no funny business whatsoever. Time? What is time? Does time even exist outside of the human consciousness?
I meet up with Frogman at some restaurant, or bar, in the middle of a shopping center. For some reason, things seem unreal to me. The venue has velvet carpets and is packed with people. Frogman and I are sitting at the bar. In front of me sits a single Heineken on a palm tree shaped coaster. Just a single Heineken, no more, no less. I drain the last sip and push it back, adjusting the empty bottle ever so precisely so that the logo is facing me. Then I frame it with my fingers and call it art.
“You want another one with that cowboy?” A woman’s voice asks. I turn around and see a brunette dressed in a French maid outfit staring back at me. Something about her isn’t right, and I start to get that feeling again, like I’m being played, as if things aren’t what they seem, and everyone is in on the joke except for me. “Excuse me,” I say to her, “Do you work here?” She gives me a startled look and shakes her head: “No.” All of a sudden Frogman is in a big damn hurry to leave. He gets up and heads outside. I follow him. The barmaid follows me.
It’s night now and the street lights beat down on an empty section of the parking lot. “Where are you going?” the barmaid asks, pulling on my arm. But I pay no attention to her. My eyes are trained on Frogman. He runs across the street and goes through a small red door belonging to a concrete building with stained glass windows. It’s all very suspicious, and I decide to investigate.
But first I stop and turn back to the barmaid who is still clutching onto my arm and crying as if we’re in some sort of old fashioned movie. I still have no idea what’s up with her, but there’s something fishy about her too, although I don’t have time to put my finger on it. “Do you want to come with me?” I ask her.
“No,” she says, “because you’re just going to get me drunk and high and take me to Maple Street.”
“Maple Street,” she says, turns on her heels and marches off. Wait, I say to myself, what did I forget at Maple Street?: what really happened that night on Maple Street!? For a moment, I consider going after her, but I am drawn to the red door that Frogman entered—it really is some bad business for him to be acting like this, and I want to get to the bottom of things.
As soon as I walk into the place, I’m no longer sure where I’m at or who anyone is anymore. The room is cloudy. I catch sight of a vampire in a corner of the room and overhear him talking about some deadly plan. There’s also a black guy in a suit with a cowboy hat smoking on a big cigar; and a busty blonde woman, dressed in a burlesque outfit. She is leaning against a pool table with green felt. The bartender is bald and pouring drinks. Behind him, the liquor display is lit up by hot pink neon lights. To my left, I see Biggie Smalls staring at me, his glance indecipherable, unreadable. The dark, right-wing bar frightens me and I flee outside and into the parking lot.
I keep running and after a while, I come back to the restaurant, or bar, where I am greeted by a crowd of people who are gathered outside. It seems like there is some sort of parade or political rally about to happen. “Hoo-mans,” I proclaim. “Thank God!” I follow them into the restaurant, which is now completely stripped of tables and booths. All that remains is the bar counter. Everyone sits down on the hard wood floor in front of a large flat-screen TV mounted to the ceiling, their legs crisscrossed, Indian-style. I sit down next to a red-haired girl decked out in gothic clothing. She seems surprised that I am sitting next to her. “What’s wrong?” she asks me. I whisper in her ear that I am scared because, earlier, I saw a real vampire. When I say this, her pupils dilate.
Suddenly the TV overhead flickers to life with the image of a clean-cut man in a suit speaking behind a podium: “You See," he says, "Capital, although created by man, has developed into a Sentient force of its own, just like Robots with Artificial Intelligence . . ."
A blood curdling scream slices through the air and our heads turn to determine the source of the commotion. The front doors burst open and a bunch of men in suits with AK-47’s pour into the room. A man in an orange Tommy Bahama shirt steps out of the throng of attackers, an oozie in his hand. “Surprise,” he says. He fires a couple rounds into the ceiling and the crowd scatters, ducking for cover. I jump up and start to run too, looking for a way out, but, while the majority of the crowd stampedes into what seems like a storage room at the back of the building, I slip into the bathroom.
In the bathroom I run into a stall, step on the toilet, and push up a ceiling panel. I manage to climb up into the ventilation shaft just as one of the attackers bursts into the bathroom. I hold my breath as he checks each stall one by one. Finally he leaves.
Then all becomes silent and I begin to feel the onset of a deep slumber. The last thing I remember as I drift out of consciousness is the sound of tools at work--saws, hammers and drills. . . .
When I wake up, I'm still in the ventilation shaft. I strain my ears but am no longer able to perceive any further sign of commotion, and so I climb down. The front of the building is deserted, and, to my consternation, there are now iron bars and grates blocking the windows while the front door is chained and bolted shut with a giant padlock.
Unable to exit from the front of the building, I rush for the storage room where I saw everyone run to earlier. As I push open the double doors, a massive warehouse stretches on as far as the eye can see; there are furnaces and factory equipment, giant piles of cardboard boxes and semi-opened pallets. People are everywhere, chained to machines. I recognize them. They are the big group of people from earlier.
A burly man with a nametag that says Mike approaches me. He seems to be overseeing the work of the others. I ask him what they’re doing. He further explains the situation: "We are being forced to make robots," he says, "And once the robots are finished the smaller party will kill us all and subsist on the labor of the robots!"
I look at the robot parts, which are essentially metal rods of varying weight and thickness, and determine that they should be sufficient to break through the windows at the front of the building. I tell Mike that I’m about to escape and he asks me how. I unloosen a bundle of rods and hand one to him. He starts to speak, but is interrupted as the intercom overhead crackles to life: “Leader is your friend, and a great visionary, he only wants what’s best for you, he realizes that some of you are savable, and is ready to spare those who work the hardest. . . .”
Mike and I continue to discuss the escape: "There should be no opposition in the front, for the smaller party are all busy in the back of the warehouse having a meeting right now."
“There is no time to waste,” I tell him, and we begin make our way through the gangs of labor, urging the others to join us in the process.
On the way back to the double doors, I catch sight of the red-haired girl from earlier whom I told about the vampire. Around her neck is a black collar with silver studs. “How did you end up like this?” I ask. She tells me that V--------, the leader of the smaller party, had done this to her. I take out my knife and cut the collar in two. “The rest is up to you,” I say. Then I proceed out of the warehouse with Mike and a few others.
When we arrive at the front of the building, I take one of metal rods from Mike and smash a pane of glass; it shatters, exposing the first of several layers of iron bars and mesh. The air resounds with sirens. Frantically, I work through the grates of mesh, using the metal rod like a crow bar to jerk them out, until, at last, I reach a thin screen composed of fabric. “Hurry up,” Mike shouts, “they’re on to us!” The screen is thin and I am able to easily push it out of the way, creating a hole small enough for a person to fit through. I can see the Real World through that hole. I turn around. By now a large crowd is gathered behind me, also eager to escape the building. But I go first, falling ten to twenty feet and landing in a small parking lot.
Many others escape too, and we begin to gather a short distance from the warehouse. All of a sudden a cacophony of screams is released from the building, and all of us who have escaped know that it is the sound of the others who hadn’t been able to escape and are now being slaughtered by the smaller party. Someone hands me a longboard, and I skate off. As I do this, large crowds of people begin clapping and nodding in approval. Not too long after that, I see my poster placed next to those of the other legends: “David Ashley Crann,” it says, in big letters under a couple pictures of me—a short kid in various chill postures. There are also several quotes underneath my name that read: “I ain’t no skrilla, shoobie,” “New York Times Best Seller,” and “MVP.”