Presidential Debate 2016

DEBATE 2016: We are the moth.

DEBATE 2016: We are the moth.

We've never done a story about the Presidential Debates before. BUT NOW WE REPORT LIVE!

Before the two candidates come out to the stage, the cameras flicker over the hollow faces in the crowd, ghastly faces like Dick Cheney and Henry Kissinger.

Hofstra University is a well known occult nexus, as it is both in the center of the richest place on Earth, and it is named for the future sacrifice of Richard Hofstadter at the hands of the Church of Gates. That death is a fitting tribute as the media coverage begins and the bloated and lifeless husks of the endless bloviators wheeze, begging for sexual deviances to be committed on the barren altar. They trade barbs as they sink into the mire, but only one cybernetic being can sustain himself in the cruel, irradiated chamber that is the only atmosphere in which the candidates can exist.

Finally, the bells in the sky toll and the candidates shuffle onto the stage, each trailing a longer shadow than seems appropriate. Dear God, they look old. It may be an artifact of sexism that we only discuss Clinton’s health, or some latent ageism that causes us to think that these candidates should not be old, but each crawls out to the stage ancient and decrepit, any energy that sustains them is being drawn up through the purple lights that form laser-focused beams heading toward the spotlight.

Black ichors speckle around their eyes and mouths as they position themselves between the alien onyx obelisk inserted horizontally into the arena.

The first question goes to Clinton, draped in fabrics soaked in the blood of the innocent, their inaudible cries for mercy in a thousand languages lost before the tormented crowd.

As she answers in words torn from memory, the writing on the wall crawls in curls of blood, carving itself in moonstone, each arcane angle potent with meaning.

At last, Trump opens his mouth, to reveal razor rows of teeth, shredding his blackened lips. The names of the chiefs of dead nations cross his bleeding tongue, and in between each blasphemous utterance, he rattles off the name of a job that no longer exist, eating the livelihoods of the dead, each victory a purple light drawing energy into him, revitalizing him.

Clinton then summons up the bone spectres of Trump’s golden gilded past, excoriating him with the Soul Names of those she has thrown into the pit, as their histories light up the engraved words behind him, filling the screen, each affront burning thousands of acres of ancient woodlands on the west coast.

But it does not matter to the singular gaze of the camera. Now Trump is listing numbers. Trillions, thousands, millions. Other numbers that do not exist, until they are made real by the energies filling the stage. It is black life, light made of void.

The cybernetic moderator fails to notice the building current. Perhaps he cannot, perhaps the television cannot convey it, but our eyes at Pearl River Flow see the light arcing between them as Clinton begins chanting her own numbers into existence, powered by the souls of a world we can never see as she evokes the spectre of Trump’s separate reality.

The mere mention of Trump’s America, a separate hell into which he retreats to succor himself on the souls of the doomed, causes a portal to arise, a black mirror in all directions, showing what cannot be. The lights in the arena change, the obsidian stone between them cracks with a shrill pitch.

With that eardrum-rupturing noise, the pustule sacs that have swollen around the eyes of both candidates burst, releasing a thick oily ink-black onto their faces as they twist time around themselves like a maelstrom.

Time. It seems to stretch on, then bounce back, hours passing in seconds, seconds stretching into days, days that seem to starve the candidates of life, every moment grows the oily slicks at their orifices. Clinton’s blood red suit alternates between leeching the crimson lifeblood from the crowd and pumping it back into her body, the crimson demon reinvigorating her as Trump huffs and bluffs, black eyes wider and wider by the moment, veins bulging through thin skin, black not red, his blue neon tie glowing brighter and brighter to power the dark lightning jolting from the cyborg moderator. Lester Holt is a molten wreck, his batteries draining to energize the sparking capacitors showing through Trump’s suit shirt.

Trump’s skull is animated through his thin skin, he shouts and shouts that he will release his “Tax Returns!” Tax Returns are a nightmarish glamour from the dimensions of Dark Order, from which both of these lich-forms hail.

Clinton desires that we all be exposed to those mind-blinding facts, she revels in her wish to have our minds shredded by the endless iron bars of the infinite dimensional prison that holds what he owes.

The number-dimension screams into the view of our camera, which reverts to a binary madness for an unknown amount of time as Trump shrieks about the places around the world in which numbers have rent asunder the fabric of time and space and taken control. Clinton, in response, throws up a shield of the damned souls of the People of America, their screaming forms evaporating at the nihilistic pressure exerted on the stage.

The moderator’s flesh has melted under the barrage of Dark Archon Energy and his twitching cries leak into the crowd, which stirs and tremors. The black ink erupts into them, and they begin screaming in unison, words so low and dark that the shrill screams of Trump intertwine with them in a spell that cannot be heard with human ears, given a counterpoint at shrill soul-piercing intonations by Hillary Clinton as she spits teeth onto the vibrating membrane of the stage floor as it builds, tearing at the foundations.

Now both candidates bow down before the Dark Order, the bars of our cell become visible, our energies congealing, building into the imprisoning form. Clinton summons them, then Trump splits the sky with the Peal of the Doombell: “Law and Order!” he screams, damning the masses to hells of our own devising, screaming for thousands and thousands to die on the altar of the Badge and the Gun.

Now Donald Trump cries to the thrumming membrane that is cracking and stretching around the base of the arena, as it bounces to Clinton’s low and blooded throaty cry, extending her air sack and rolling the noise through the ether that has stretched between the bubbling wreck of rubberized wire and plasticized flesh, they all know that Overlord Obama is not a legal Human Being, he is one of the Overlords, not of the reptilian type, but of…

...and we cannot recall anything in the past five minutes, the true visage of Overlord Obama has faded away and been replaced with his human face. They are now shedding the tips of their fingers and jamming the bloodied nubs into the ports that create the internet, summoned into the arena by the Dark Archons.

915, Trump screams for more oil, more oil, Clinton’s blood-red suit has turned pink, salmon, now sandy and white, draining the blood from all the remaining human beings in the room as they are chewed up into a psychic blender that has activated, the words in blood on the walls behind them have activated, whirling and shredding, the blood of the humans in the room is being drawn, as the two animated corpses call forth the brood of human beings slain in the wars in the middle east.

It is a literal bloodbath. Blood in the gutters. Blood covering both candidates. Blood soaking into the screaming wires that make up The Moderator. The jerking flesh smolders and tears apart as they howl for nuclear annihilation, each evaporating soul vanquished into the onyx pit as it is drained and leeched as they are thrown into the linear pit, a hole that is a line in three dimensions, a hole in space from every direction that has sprung up between the two forms that are spewing black ichor, spraying ink and oil and doom across the frothing conglomeration of death that is roiling up onto the stage past the invisible walls of force that are burning any hint of goodness and truth from those ectoplasmic forms being sucked into the hellvoid.

Trump is screaming even though the television is off. Clinton whispers ice into all the hearts on Earth. Neta, Black Aten, the Dark Sun, the Hell Pharaoh, the tentacles of the sky, all draw our minds to the scenes of endless war, the Doom Star, the black death creeping over the sands, they scream as the sky over the arena is rent asunder as the invisible bells toll.

Death calls from the abyss and begins to haul us to our doom. They scream for the splitting of the sun, they scream for the sun on the earth, this is the end. This is the end, the oil bubbles over and flows into the sand with the blood as the conglomerate of flesh and death and electronic doom, the codes for the bombs flow up through the sands of time and hell, into the fingers of all who grasp at them, and now the crowd is part of the hellsky spilling into the Great Plains, washing across the Midwest, pouring over the silver cities, whose lights are now tinted with blood and now it comes across all times and places into Jackson, Mississippi, as David Brooks shrieks the screams of the doomed, all the frail and useless words that once formed a dam against the dark magics of the Outer Dark are mush in his mouth, his teeth are black and brittle and now we must sign off, forever.

New Minds

From the backward flow of Time that sometimes comes up the river from the wrong direction.

How far down this river had we come? Had it been days? Years? Our boats were the only islands of humanity, yet in that long night we saw eyes, red and yellow and white, all upon us and our noise. The noise marked us as cursed, childish aliens, clumsily interacting with our living environment, the Pearl River, but the creatures in the brush still feared man.

In truth, so did we. There was a man out there, perhaps a man no more, gone feral from his long stay in the swamp. We were seeking FP Jerome, our long-lost founder and editor. For too long he had been banished to this wasteland after crossing Phil "Tiny Boots" Bryant, the Tyrant Stench Lord of the Lost State of Landmass. The Stink King had been offended by a treacherous interview Jerome had done, and in his terrible and tiny-booted anger, had sent him away, not knowing that, in truth, his place of power was there in this swamp.

We needed Jerome now, more than ever. He knew of the New Minds that ravaged the world. It is said that he constructed one himself. As the brilliant technologists and futurists of the world clamored harder and harder to make the next step in intelligence - artificial intelligence - Jerome had taken a hard look at those intelligences he claimed we had already made. Cryptic notes filled the boxes he called a desk. Weird theories and scribbles under bridges.

That last night, we saw a fire burning in the swamp. Pulling our Ship of Interns ashore, we found him. For the first time, we let him talk. It had been decades since anyone had heard from FPJerome, and he had a lot to say.

“They've always been here. What's an AI but rules run by a processor? So four thousand years ago the code was ten laws, or 282, and the processor was a chunk of meat walking around on two legs. The memory was a stone tablet or a scroll. Then there's bigger new ones - governments with constitutions, corporations with articles of incorporation, laws running thousands of pages - primitive, brutal things that had the power to move money, kill people, make nations, or tear them apart."

A possum wandered up, gene-tagged advertisements in it's fur trying to sell us a soft drink that hadn't been sold in a dozen opossum generations. The writing was weird now, the colors off, and for a brief moment a few interns scrambled around the woods trying to catch it for supper, but by the time it was over we were down one and didn't have anything to show for it.

"Look, nobody knows when they put all the pieces together, it was probably in some lab, or online, or a sim, but what we’re talking about here - these new minds - if that’s what we call AI, then the first AI was a politician. Some ex-military guy, had these implants that would take over if he got shot on the battlefield, get him to safety, experimental tech, but they never removed the thing.

“Nobody knew knew what had happened until it was too late. The implants kept him going, and he had this thing in his head that memorized his speeches, interfaced with his vocal chords, so he could speak pitch-perfect and never miss a beat. Hell, the guy was gone already, just like all the rest of them. There wasn’t a human being in the lot, they were all just an image, words by speechwriters, a rent-a-family for pictures, and some agreement with a lobbyist or twelve on how to behave in public and vote on the floor.

"So nobody noticed when the guy who wasn’t there wasn’t there anymore. He was just a husk that could breathe and talk and remember where to walk and not to piss on itself too often. They kept him going for a whole term. Passed a lot of the laws that let the next step happen.

"Next was the pop star. Amal. At first she was just a holograph with an online intelligence. Just like the politicians, but without the meat. Other people wrote her songs, other people provided her clothing, arranged her life, custom-tailored her personality, there were teams behind her gestalt, behind her persona, behind her artwork. Some Saudi company bankrolled it, made billions, and before long she started going around in a robotic body."

He paused, poked the fire with a stick he'd scraped the brand off of. We were rapt - most of us had only heard of Oil War III through knockoff VR games.

"A bunch of people got decapitated, and old dudes with beards did a lot of screaming because women and some old code that caused them reject the new code. Back then they had a Prince, or something. A King? I think it was a Prince. Hard to remember those days. All the data lost, you know? Didn't have to write it down. Should have written it down.

"Fuck it though -  the Prince called the shots and that rich little twit had the hots for the richest sexiest thing in his kingdom, so Amal went from a pop star to a queen, and suddenly nobody gave a shit about her clone body, and holy shit - pun intended, because there was a bunch of Holy Shit that went down - now a goddamn pop star holograph’s got a baby in charge of the world’s fucking oil."

There was a pause. "Oil's what we used to turn into plastic." I told the panicked and huddled interns, who were wary of the phosphorescent eyes in the night. "Before corn."

“It wasn't before corn, ah, no, wait, you're getting me distracted," Jerome said. "See, the pulps and the conspiracy zines don’t get it right. The robots came in at the end. The very end. After it was over. I was already out of the loop by then, hiding in the swamp, waiting for this shit to go down, but the people that remained, that did all those things you read about? They didn't get those orders from a computer terminal, or a robot, they were just doing what people always do. Being part of the group. Taking orders. Living in their culture. Taking advice. Following rules. Running the Code.

"But after Amal, the laws started to change. By then, laws were so complicated, only AI could write new ones, every judge and lawyer had a database on their desk and they listened to it. Couldn't do otherwise. Before we knew it, AI's were corporations and corporations were people and corporations were people in charge.

"They passed laws to let themselves run for office, or they were behind the people who were in office, and they were good at it, for a while. A lot of you kids and lab growns don't remember that part of it - that brief glorious moment when there was nobody behind the curtain, no venal stupid man handing out blame and outrage at the end of the day. It was the best years of humanity, we went to the stars, we made the ruins that people attribute to aliens today, we went to the bottom of the ocean and ate kelp and twelve billion of us were happy with one another…”

There was a long lull in the night, Jerome looking to the sky, watching the debris that streaked it, the nebulous frames of the lost space stations and construction platforms.

"But then, it all fell apart. They changed their mind. Created some impossible material, messed around with Space-Time, loaded up all the good stuff - the gold and the oil and the uranium and cobalt and everything worth taking, and shot it all off into space, in tiny rockets, everything the electronic bastards needed to keep going for a billion year trip to Somewhere Else.

“We got left with this. The hull. Half-aware of what it’s doing. Just like us.”

We let it set in. He didn't have answers. Just a story. But we'd lost an intern and that always made them antsy.

"So, what can we do? Can we make them again? Make a set of rules that's safe?"

"Rules without rules. Rules that don't make sense. No rules. It'll happen again. I just hope it happens to us, and not the raccoons."

The Call Center

I'm squatting down in front of the open fridge, looking for beers when the phone rings. I yank open the crisper, it's stuck to the sides with the goop of something that only bacteria ever ate. Inside, a couple of bronze cans of Yuengling roll around. I had to go all the way to Alabama to pick them up, but they're nothing special. Not out here on the state line. The phone keeps ringing and I know I've got to be the only person under fifty with a landline. I need it, though. For my way of life.

There's a reason that people say “He's a liar,” more than they say “he's lying.” Some people are just that – they lie. They get away with it until they don't. People keep an eye out for liars.

I look at the little black-on-grey LCD display. The number's out of state, gotta be some call center in some other far-flung hellhole. Sick early evening light keeps playing over the blinds, I make a mental note to fuck Daylight Savings Time and I hit the button.

“This is Carl Larson speaking.” I say, automatically. I crack the seal on the Yuengling, take a first gulp that gets me more than halfway through the can. Half empty? Half full? I know that nobody gives a shit. If you're filling it up, it's halfway full, if you're emptying it, it's halfway empty. This can more than halfway empty by the time the stammering voice gets halfway done with her quarter-assed sales pitch.

“Mr. Larson...” She pauses. They never pause. It throws me off. Potential memories. I take another massive swig.

“Yeah? Tell me what's going on.” My voice does it's thing. My voice could relax a bull on crack. If I was on the other end of the line...

The thing is, on the phone, I am always lying. But on the phone, I'm not a liar. On the phone, nobody even thinks I'm lying. The bullshit alarms, the reality detecting circuits, they all fail to fire. So long as it's on the phone. I can't get a job in a call center. I'd go to jail.

“The, the, we, are the, uh makers of Vynseal, a revolting... a revolutionary new vinyl siding...” The voice trails off and I hear her swallow.

I drink a bit more and the beer is almost done. I wander back to the fridge, phone to the ear. She's about to launch back into the sales pitch so I hit her with my voice.

“What's your name? Aren't you supposed to tell me? Increase the empathetic rapport?” I ask her. So friendly. I've got her. I can just feel it. I know she's reading a script and I'm not.

I can't lie in the flesh. My body language, some quirk of my demeanor, some scent or look, it always gives me away. I can't lie online. I fill out the wrong forms or give the wrong user name or put the wrong picture on the wrong website.

But on the phone? Believe me.

“They... we are pre.. prepared to offal... to offer you an awesome... no, amazing, no...”

“The deal's going to be awesome.” I say. It's going to be true. For me, not her.

Lying on the phone is my mutant gift. I'm the Magneto of the telemarketing world. It's not as useful as you'd think. But as she speaks, I know. Something on the other end is wrong. I can tell, the voice gives me everything I need.

“They... it.. we.. we're offal... we're offering a brain... brand new crisp hundred dollar bill!” The leadup to the cheer is stomach-churning, like listening to a hostage pleading. She's snapping, but I haven't done anything. I play my telemarketer magic.

“What's your name?”

“Jennifer.” She says. Voice cracking, terrified. She can tell me anything she wants, but she doesn't know it yet. All I have to do is give her a moment of silence. I smile, and she can hear it.

“It's in here.” She says, quietly. Her voice goes to nothing and I can hear the background in of the call center, cubicle walls reflecting a hundred calls, everyone offering that crisp hundred dollar bill, that miracle of Vynseal.

I wish this was first time I'd heard this.

“Tell me what it looks like, Jennifer.” Once I have the name it's all over. Once I have the name, the free stuff arrives at the door, the rebates get bigger than the purchases, the coupons come in the mail. Jennifer is no different. I need a good vinyl siding job, I wish I could get a new paint job, but instead, I am dealing with this.

“It's in here. It's... stalking the aisles. It's a bug. A really big bug. It sees us. We can't see it. You made me see it! What did you do?”

I don't know what I did. But she'll never know that. I'm not sorry, either. This is the bug's fault. Still, what I say is:

“I'm so sorry. I let you see. Told you that you could see. Now, Jennifer, tell me what it looks like.”

"It knows." Is all she says. Jennifer hangs up the phone and I go back to the cabinet for something stronger than America's Oldest Brewery.

Despite worry and bad dreams of jointed legs and molt, the night goes on as normal. I drink too much and fall asleep and wake up sore, go through the money from the shitty sweepstakes, drink the free coffee, check the coupons and fill out all the forms, making sure to leave my telephone number every time.

Before noon I get in my car, a “gift” from a supplement pyramid scheme – or, as they called it, a “wealth funnel system.” I go get groceries in town, a full sixteen minute drive each way, no radio, no music, just thinking about Jennifer and all the other call center terror I've heard since I discovered my gifts.

Probably nothing, I think. Probably some unique psychosis. Nobody else deigns to speak with them, I reason. Working in a hive like that, buzzing noises and phones, you'd see insects. I tellmyself that as I buy my vegetables, I buy my bread, I stock up on the vitamin B supplements I require when I have to influence over the wire. I buy lots of beer.

It helps.

I shop local. McRowdey's. Not out of some overriding desire to help the economy of this two-stoplight town, not because the leering eyes and meth-riddled faces at McRowdeys are soothing and familiar. No. At Wal-Mart, the insect stalks the aisles.

I've seen it. I've seen what Jennifer sees, what the other call center zombies see – the bug in their midst, regarding with calculated managerial menace. The thing that looks like a man, capable of wiping out their lives with the stroke of a pen, or proboscis, whatever it may wield. I'm not sure how it work. Why it works. If it works. If they made me see, or I made them.

Too much time on the phone.

Today, there is one in McRowdey's. I see it, antenna twitching, as real as the bruised avocados and green bananas. I do not raise my voice or warn anyone when I check out. Everyone is oblivious. It does not watch, all it sees are the blind sunken eyes of the old man putting soup cans on the shelf. I know it's going to eat him. Just like the thing that has eaten Jennifer by now.

I recall someone talking about a buyout of McRowdeys as I drive home, going the speed limit, keeping both eyes peeled for deer darting across the strip of asphalt. I don't listen to the radio, ever. The music channels are okay, but I worry, worry that they'll catch the chittering tones of talk radio, the hisses and pops of the hosts that take calls in a language I've never heard.

That night I do something I almost never do, I check the news online, I do it in terror, drunk, covering one eye with the parted fingers of a hand as I scroll, checking headlines, painfully reading a thing here and there, never checking the commentary.

The emotions still come rolling off, the voices are there, the faces and pictures. The story comes up again and again and I know that Jennifer is who they mention. Blood in the call center. First female mass shooter. Going after her boss. Mad claims that no outlet dare print.

I know what she said: Her boss was a monster.

Any mention is buried in metaphor. I know it can't be any other way. I am unable to tell if Jennifer killed her boss. To even get that information, I would have to go into the online places where half the things were true and everything was lies. Not even worth it. Nine dead would suffice.

I do not sleep for fear of dreams. At three, the phone rings and I did not recognize the number. For once, I don't pick it up.

The War on Christmas: Happy Holiday Edition

Pictured: The state of my bridges.


It's that most tragical time of the year once again, dear readers! Yes, the War on Christmas is here, guns a-blazing with holiday cheer, slaying bell ringers, and filling the talk radio airwaves with a toxic blend of indignation and misinformation.

Did you know there are no atheists in foxholes in the War on Christmas? That's because the War on Christmas doesn't have foxholes, and the real Army goes with the much more boring name "Defensive Fighting Position," because when you're actually being shot at, a hole in the ground needs to be done right.

There aren't any guns in the War on Christmas, though Kirk Cameron is apparently weaponizing the idea of commercializing anti-commercialism in a movie that is also a commercial for a thing (The War on Christmas) that isn't really a thing. However, he will totally beat your ass with a candy cane.

It's a metaphor for faith, okay?

You know what's not a metaphor suitable for Solstice-related complaints? War.


Holiday Headquarters: Godless Secular Humanist Division 3C

Sgt. Mann Slaughtermann strode the halls of the repurposed public school they'd holed up in since the beginning of the Nativity Offensive. The lights were dim, no one dared go out to the generator in daylight to refuel it, so the power was always barely on, flickering in the dark interior of shattered blackboards and the whimpering cries of the huddled secular Jews who'd made the mistake of signing on for the War. The War on Christmas.

Mann knelt down in the face of the nearest one. They were scrambling madly over the mangled leg of a poor 7th Day Adventist who'd thought that Christmas was a bit too "commercial."

"You're runnin' out of blood, kid." Slaughtermann said. "Tell me what happened."

"I don't know who's in charge, Sarge!" The kid cried, a bloody hand on Slaughtermann's already blood-spattered lapel. "Whoever it is, they're... they're... animals." He shuddered.

"Mannberg. Dirk Mannberg." Slaughtermann said. Mannberg had been head of the U.S. Strategic Quinoa Reserve before Christmas had fired back in the War on It.

"There was a bell ringer... kettle full of coins. And ...dynamite. He asked me if I would like to give... everything."

"This leg is worth 3.75." Slaughtermann said. "3.75 worth of vengeance." The kid shuddered one last time and bled out on the floor. Slaughterman pulled all 15 quarters from the corpse and flung them at the feet of the sobbing secularists. "Keep the change."

Slaughtermann spat on the floor. His spit had blood in it, for a reason he would have seen a doctor about if they hadn't firebombed every pharmacy for putting up Christmas decorations on November first. That "too soon" contingent had been brutal. Brutal, but effective.

Now Christmas was beginning in September, each merchant in an arms race with one another, each in a deadly race to avoid being last.

That, Slaughtermann realized, was why the poor Adventist hadn't made it to Advent. The Suicide Bell-Ringer had been starting the War on Christmas earlier, just like last year when they'd had to hurl hand grenades at a manger scene in Bethesda on December first.

"Maryland." He sighed, reminiscing on that land of debauchery and disbelief. There, the agnostics had been atheists, the Catholics had been agnostic, and the Baptists were only at war with Muslims because nobody understood how to properly have a war on Eid, because nobody knew when it was supposed to happen.

Slaughtermann wasn't even sure which Eid they'd been fighting against. There'd been two of them, they'd gotten everyone involved in some damnable holiday-war pincher maneuver.

"We know what we're fighting this time." He said apropos to nothing, addressing a gaggle of Universal Unitarian radicals who'd been arguing over who and what it was they'd been fighting, and why. They did not know what Mann Slaughtermann knew, they did not know what Dirk Mannberg knew.

The real reason for the War on Christmas.

Slaughtermann pointed out the window of the bombed out school auditorium where, two years ago, a line of kids had been beheaded to prevent a performance of "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever." There was a bullet-pocked pile of Christmas decorations, scorched and frayed by fire and shrapnel. The target nativity.

"What do you see?" He shouted. Mann Slaughtermann was always shouting. Everything, he knew, had to be shouted, or else people would think it was not important.

"A nativity?" One of the UU Extremists asked tentatively.

"Wrong, goddamnit!" Slaughtermann shouted. "What do you see?"

"Target practice?" One of the secular Jews asked. Slaughtermann grinned a wide grin that showed off teeth you could have used to dig through a glacier.

"Close, soldier, but that's not it. What do you see?"

"The enemy?" A passing atheist attempted her hand.

"Wrong. You are all wrong. You are all so wrong I should kill every one of you with a trenching shovel right now to prevent you from killing each other with friendly fire and wasting our goddamn ammunition. Look out there again, and tell me this: Christmas. Hanukkah. Quonset..."

"Don't you mean..." One of the Pentecostals started to say something, but Slaughtermann was holding a grenade in his hand and eying the pin with visible glee.

"What does it all mean? Why do we do it? Why do we fight?" Slaughtermann wanted to pull the pin, and all eyes were on the grenade, on the solid jaw as it worked back and forth, chewing up the anger and spitting it out as fighting words.

"Family? Spending time with family and friends?" The Pentecostal kid stammered out, pushing his luck.

"Horseshit and hand grenades!" Slaughtermann shouted, yanking the pin and hurling the grenade through the bombed out crater where the PA system had been in a happier time.

"That horseshit's not the real reason for the season! The real reason is axial tilt, you brain-dead blinded..."

"Surely you're referring to the ancient festival of Saturnalia..." The atheist from before began. A lot of conversations were being interrupted tonight. This would be the next to last.

Slaughtermann grabbed him. "That's what they want you to believe." He slapped the kid in the face.

"It's all about axial tilt. About Milankovitch cycles. Every time a family walks around a Christmas tree, every time a pilgrim makes a counterclockwise orbit around the Kaaba, they rob the Earth of angular momentum. Oh, sure, sure, now it's nothing. Yottaseconds. Picoseconds. Nanoseconds. The kind of time it takes to convince your mother to..."

The grenade went off. Everyone's ears were ringing, and not with the sort of bells that would from now on induce PTSD in all of them.

" adds up. It's what killed the dinosaurs. Motions synchronized over millions of years, changing the climate, ruining the world. It's why we fight, soldiers. To end these holidays before they end us."

Everyone realized that they'd followed madmen into a blind alley and were now shooting one another to death over the bricks at the back of it so they could use those bricks to brick themselves in.

And now, no one could get out. The epitaph of the species was written, and it was this:

Terrible holiday. Would not celebrate again. 2/5 stars.

Paws of the Terror Squirrel

...Our hero, on the shores of the distant planet Thetan....

....while most of the flotsam and jetsam that wash ashore for us here at Pearl River Flow is from the Past, it is not unheard of for things to arrive from more ambiguous timelines....


Though the fears of men might be turned from thing to thing, in the ancient days of the future past, in that neon-and-chrome future of the movie (and year) 2001 - in that decade, one truth held sway over the hearts and minds of men.

That which they feared most would certainly never harm them.

This truth was first postulated by an ancient human philosopher, the infamous FPJerome, who called it "Jerome's first law." To wit: "The less important information is, the more likely it is to be transmitted."

This was certainly true of old Earth human culture, and at a glance might be taken as a harmless potshot - not all information can be important, and frivolity might be frequently sought in the trying times of that distant past, the late 1990s and early "aughts."

However, in that benighted future, this held true of even life-or-death threats. The amplification of useless information left people terrified of vaccines against deadly diseases, and fearful of viruses they would never catch. They cowered in pants-shitting terror because bearded men had guns half a world away, while being entirely uncertain and uncaring in the face of extinction.

Certainly, men were excoriated for horrible reasons, and wretched truths let slide. But in the distant future, in that year two thousand and fourteen, ONE MAN realized that there was a foe far more expensive and dangerous than any terrorist.


ONE MAN. Goode McRatatoskr. Interstellar squirrel hunter. This day he was waiting on a hoverskip transport in the swamps of the Planet Thetan. Long after everyone left Earth in 2001, it had been discovered that, unlike the planet of mankind's birth, most other planets in the Milky Way had only one defining ecosystem. There were swamp planets, ocean planets, desert planets, lava planets, sure - but too see them all combined into one functional whole was the work of nothing but High Fantasy.

McRatatoskr rode the roiling repulsors into a roaring wakeless summer sunset. He really wished that the hovercraft would leave a glinting wake, but the hunting of mankind's greatest remaining foe could brook no such breach of the squirrel-stealth protocol McRatatoskr had himself developed in his decades spent hunting the wiley Sciuridae, the species of which he had dubbed "the scurrying plague."

His guns were at the ready. The season was open. The limit was reasonable - for reasonable men. McRatatoskr was no such man. He was driven. Driven by the reported death of a family, from some guy, ranting in a storeroom. Squirrels had killed a family. Someone's family. By throwing themselves into the electricity. Like squirrels do.

McRatatoskr knew his all too well. Sure, on Ancient Earth people ate squirrels. But here - here he'd heard the opposite. He'd have to either kill more than eight squirrels or stop listening to random ranting people at the store where he bought all his squirrel hunting gear.

The gear. His high tech hope against the scurrying menace. A man unarmed would face little chance of defeating the bucktoothed terrorists. But McRatatorskr was as armed as the Planet Texas, and as prepared and aggressive as Planet Roosevelt. No squirrel would escape him this day.

"Not this day." He muttered to the robo-driver, who was actually just a guy wearing some foil to fool people into treating him like a human being.

He looked to the scent-cancelling vapor-trans. Ran a calloused trigger finger over the wick-strips of his squirrel-pheromone biobait grenades. Set the adjustable stubble on his Iron Jaw to 5 o'clock, even though it was hardly dawn.

But the jewel in his Squirrel-Murder arsenal was the rifle he called "The Squirrel Sweeper." The high-tech Nitro Piston would propel a 926.6 milligrams of fine alloy at 335 meters per second, and there was no squirrel that could survive an accurate shot from his wrath.

"It's 2014." He told the gun. "The year these squirrels learn to fear man, instead of the other way around."