Episode 15 from Must Not Sleep, a new novel which takes place in shamanic space, a realm of shapeshifting and trance. Check out episodes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, and 13, and 14. A free download of Michael Brownstein reading from the novel is available on Podiobooks.com.
Then she opened her eyes.
The sun had gone behind a long, dark cloud and I was shivering.
"My fingers are numb in spite of these gloves. Aren't you cold, Georgia? Let's go back to the cabin and start a fire."
Beating my hands together, I said, "Your father."
"But my father's name is–"
"No, your father is Dick. Vice-President Dick. The Vice-President of the United States."
She burst out laughing. "What are you talking about?"
"Listen, I've spent hours with him. He's a complex entity, multi-layered, you might say. But you know he's your father because that's what you called him. And he's the Vice-President because I've seen him on TV. And I've been to his, what do you call it? His official residence."
"Isaac, my father was an oilman. I grew up in a big house on the prairie. He was there day after day, year after year, except when he travelled. Yes, he disappeared for weeks and even months at a time and never told us where he was going. He was two-faced with my mother, there's no doubt about that. But the Vice-President? Of the United States? It's true I never paid any attention to the news but still…"
"The very same. Think for a second. If he disappeared, why does that have to mean he was aimlessly philandering? Couldn't he have had another life in another state with another wife and child? His official family, so to speak, with the wife writing romance novels and the daughter growing up to be an equestrian? Couldn't he have run for Congress? And worked his way up in government?"
"Oh, come on."
"Because I'll tell you something, Georgia. If you have trouble accepting that, you're going to have a big problem with the rest of it."
"The rest of it…"
"He wasn't just leading a double life, or a triple life, or whatever you want to call it. He was a master of deception. Deception's not simply a matter of dyeing your hair or getting plastic surgery, it means roaming free in time and space. It means being in two places at once if need be. He was doing what he had to do, regardless of appearances. Like why was he holed up in that crummy apartment underneath yours? Price fixing, corruption, a business deal gone wrong? Hiding out from the law? I doubt it. Or maybe you think he couldn't afford something better."
"I don't understand," she said.
"What don't you understand? You begged me not to go downstairs. Why? Because your father was down there, right?"
"No…I don't know…I just had this overwhelming feeling of dread when you–"
"Of course you did. He set the whole thing up. He was waiting for me to lose my temper and knock on his door because he needed me…Look, Georgia, we can say this much. He's been involved with some very powerful people who believe they're entitled to plunder the Earth's resources for their own benefit. Are you with me that far?"
"Sure. That sounds like him. In fact, I told you about his various entrepreneurial escapades, didn't I?"
"Yes. And they were true, as far as that goes. Except it goes much farther. It–uh…How can I explain this? His identity, who he really is–it jumps out of category. A completely different order of being. A whole other frame of reference."
"I guess I'm getting cold too, Isaac," she said dryly. "I lost you there."
But I barely heard her. "Because think about it. What a perfect cover! He's the unprincipled capitalist, only interested in trumping one deal with a bigger one, not caring about the consequences of his actions. And then he's also a ruthless politician busy instituting policies which make those who bankroll him richer and richer. But isn't it curious–to put it mildly–that those very policies, which include encouraging a state of perpetual war on this planet, to say nothing of environmental meltdown, also serve to endanger the future of the human race?"
"Meaning that his overarching identity leaves the human far behind. Dick's not just an oilman, Georgia. He's an alien. An extraterrestrial. He and his kind are destroying life on Earth so they'll be free to move in and take over. In a way, you could say that it's impossible to know who Dick is, or how many Dicks there really are. You could also say that the more we know about him, the less we know. Maybe there are endless Dicks in the universe, morphing from one tyrannical father figure to another. He's not alone, that's for sure. I've seen his kind on the streets of New York City. No doubt they're elsewhere too. You can spot them by the bar codes on their foreheads. You know, the universal product codes..Those who've been turned…And their numbers are increasing, as far as I can tell. But there's one thing I know for certain. I've discovered what makes Dick vulnerable. He's incapable of love, although I don't understand why yet except that his condition seems to go with the territory. You see, his heart's no good. It's a black hole. He only gets by with some sort of implant which doesn't really work right. You could call him the man with the frozen heart."
Finally I stopped. While I'd been speaking, the expression on her face had gone from bemused irritation to sarcastic disbelief to fear.
"My father," she whispered. "He always had a problem with his heart."
She grew still for a moment.
"What are we going to do?"
"Well, one thing we're not going to do is return to your apartment. That part of our life is finished."
Chilled to the bone, we made our way back to the cabin and started a fire. Filling three buckets with snow, we crowded them on top of the stove.
Beside the breakfast dishes was a pile of hundred dollar bills.
"Wow, she's so generous."
"Right. Maybe some other time, yes?"
"And it'll come in handy. For wherever we're going. But what about the ID Janine tried to obtain for you, Isaac? I thought I was the one who got cold feet."
"Yeah, the ID. I doubted myself," I said sheepishly. "I doubted my ability to shapeshift, to walk right through the toughest security in the world like it isn't there. I forgot that it's only there as a result of being dreamed into existence. Every dream can be changed. Reversed. Obliterated."
After the snow melted we emptied the steaming buckets into the tub and took a long bath, luxuriating in the hot water while outside the windows snowflakes fell through frigid twilight. By the time we climbed out of the tub it was so warm in the cabin we had to crack open the front door.
"That stove works like a charm," Georgia said as we sat naked on the sofa. "I tell you, I'm in no hurry to leave this place. I just want to rest and go for walks, listen to the wind in the trees."
"And watch television," I said, suddenly restless. "I used to think TV was the enemy. Now I'm realizing it's all there is. Or at least it's another doorway into the mystery. American television is an intentional medium. It's up for grabs. Dick showed me that."
"What do you mean?"
"You'll see. We'll start at the surface and work our way in. Where's the remote?"
I got up and searched the cabin, finally locating it under a pile of books beside the stuffed chair. The Paintings of Piero della Francesca caught my eye and I turned the pages until I came to "The Resurrection."
"Check this out."
I carried the big art book to the sofa and showed her the picture of Christ rising from the dead, his body preternaturally erect. He gazed right through us as he stepped forward into the human realm represented by the soldiers supposedly guarding his tomb. But they were all asleep or drunk except for one man who fell backward in amazement, the lone witness to this miraculous event.
"See, this is exactly what I was talking about. We don't need IDs, we don't need alibis, we don't need disguises. We can do what's necessary and if we're impeccable no one notices. Look at how awake Jesus is. That poor soldier's no match for him. He can't fit what's happening into his mindset. It's blowing his fuses. And why? Because Christ has no mindset. There's nothing restricting him. He simply is…I AM the universe…I learned that too. But let's watch a little TV first."
We made a pot of chamomile tea, lit as many candles as we could find and stuffed more wood into the stove. Not bothering to get dressed, we sat on the couch naked, facing the tube.
The evening news had just begun and we skipped from one channel to another.
Toby, the British Prime Minister, his hair blowing picturesquely in the wind, his suit coat unbuttoned, stood outside 10 Downing Street and declared, "The time for questioning and soul searching has passed. A great and necessary battle is about to be joined. We must all band together now for the good of the civilized world."
Silent footage of Iraqi citizens preparing for war–digging trenches, piling sandbags across intersections, loading their possessions onto rickety flatbed trucks–was accompanied by a voice intoning, "Even though the war may be weeks away, the people in Iraq are taking no chances. They respect the firepower aimed in their direction and know the consequences of lingering a day too long. They are realists, unlike those perennial peace marchers whose agenda amounts to nothing better than a denial of the inevitable. War is coming, regardless of how many millions of misguided souls may clog the streets of cities around the world next Saturday."
"I'm losing track. Is this the news or someone's opinion?"
"They're sort of the same," I said, changing stations.
Now a newscaster–a fresh-faced blond male with wary eyes whose figure barely emerged from a computer-generated field of pulsating American flags–announced, "Today the Butch administration put the nation on high terror alert for only the second time since the September 11th attacks. The elevation of national threat levels comes in response to a surge in intelligence reports concerning the threat of biological or chemical attack."
Looking meaningfully into the camera, he added, "Also today, the F.B.I. announced that several hundred Islamic militants with ties to Al Queda are thought to be in this country. And the director of the C.I.A. testified before a Congressional committee about powerful evidence showing a connection between Iraq and Al Queda."
We saw a grainy satellite photograph of a complex of buildings. Arrows pointing at various rectangles were labelled Chemical and Biological Facility and Mobile Labs for Lethal Materials.
"But those rectangles could be anything," Georgia protested.
The newscaster went on. "The Secretary of State addressed the U.N. today in–"
I switched channels.
Overweight musicians dressed in black flailed away at their instruments while one of them sang disdainfully, "Fuck you, you asshole, and your mother too/ I hate your fuckin guts/ If you wanna pick a fight/ Well, it'd be just like you to try/ But I'm gonna hit up on your girlfriend instead…"
Georgia groaned. "Do we have to listen to this?"
I hit the remote.
Shots of a large hall filled with cheering people–"in Tulsa, Oklahoma earlier this afternoon," the ribbon of words at the bottom of the screen informed us–gave way to a close-up of the figure onstage, a portly, avuncular man with a bent smile who stood at a podium surrounded by dozens of American flags.
"Pay attention, sweetheart," I said. "It's Papa."
Georgia stared intently. "That's not my father. My father's a vital, energetic person, not heavy and embalmed-looking."
"Dick could have had plastic surgery or whatever. Don't get hung up on appearances. Just close your eyes and listen to his voice."
"–and we know that Saddam has resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. If left alone, he will acquire those weapons soon. We also know that Saddam is a master of deception. Nothing the U.N. inspectors can do will stop him from delivering weapons of mass destruction into the hands of the terror network. Such a turn of events would clearly be unacceptable. No matter how many Iraqi lives may be lost, it will be a small price to pay to guarantee our freedom. The welfare of our great country demands nothing less. We must be prepared for the fact that this war–the war on terror–will last for the rest of our lives."
"How weird," I said, flashing on shelves full of microwave ovens. "He's given this exact same speech before. The same words and everything. But open your eyes, there's something I need to show you."
I pointed at the screen.
"Look at his forehead. What do you see?"
"My father," she said mournfully, her eyes still shut. "Who was he all those years?"
As Dick turned to leave, his eyeglasses glinting in the light, I shouted, "Look at his forehead! Right above his glasses! Quick!"
Finally sitting up and opening her eyes she said, "I'm sorry. I must have missed it."
Sighing, I pressed another number on the remote.
An alpha male wearing an electric blue tie and a permanent snarl was interviewing a woman in her thirties whose determined expression didn't fully mask her sorrow.
"Your father may have died in the September 11th attacks but you yourself are mouthing a far left position that is marginal in this society. What upsets me is I don't think your father would approve of this."
"Well, actually, my father thought that Butch's presidency was illegitimate."
"Maybe he did but that doesn't matter now. We're at war."
"I also believe that Butch–"
"I don't think he'd be calling this country a terrorist nation like you are."
"Well, I'm not saying that."
"Yes you are."
"What I'm saying–"
"I don't care what you think."
"But why did you invite me onto your program? You bring up 9/11 to rationalize everything from domestic plunder to worldwide imperialist aggression."
"You keep your mouth shut. You have a warped view of this world and a warped view of this country."
"Well, let me give you an example of a parallel–"
"Shut up! Out of respect for your father, a fine American who got killed unnecessarily by barbarians–"
"By radical extremists who were trained by this government–"
"Out of respect for him–"
"Not by the people of America."
Looking off to one side, he barked, "Cut her mike. I'm not putting up with her anymore."
Smiling stonily into the camera, he added, "Stay tuned, folks. We'll be back in a moment with more of The Fear Factor."
Sharpen your intention like a knife.
"Let's find out what's really going on," I said.
I punched the remote and a jowly, imposing black man stood on a windswept plaza, the flags of many countries fluttering behind him.
"I'm here at the United Nations with the Secretary of State," a voice confided and then asked, "What did you tell them inside there, sir?"
"Well, Tim, basically our message to the international community is that this nation needs no permission to defend itself. We can be afraid or we can be–"
I pressed the mute button and his mouth continued opening and closing in silence. Below him, at the bottom of the screen, a ribbon of slowly moving words and numbers revealed a summary of stock prices for the previous week. Led by jumps in the aerospace and munitions industries, the Dow had gained 337 points.
"God, I thought Nolan was supposed to be different. A special Secretary of State. More humane or reasonable or something."
"Like I said, American television's up for grabs. All these figures you see here are stand-ins, doubles, copies of an original that no longer exists. They're demons, sweetheart, although through no fault of their own, maybe. But still, they're demons. Including this ex-general here, no matter how clear-headed he may seem, no matter how charming and sociable he is around the dinner table. Forget for a moment about Nolan, though. Forget about Butch and Dick and Jan and Dan and all the rest of them. Just pay attention to the crawl. The ribbon of words down below. That's the real story."
I snapped my fingers twice.
—gaining 337 points instantly gave way to…Pretend competition…Seemingly competing but secretly cooperating to control markets, mindsets, day-to-day life…Can corporations, like people, go insane?…Is the sanity of a corporation inversely proportional to its size?…Our government–a gigantic corporation in partnership with hundreds of private corporations…Draw your own conclusions…
"Wow, what's happening? How are you doing that?"
"I'm not doing anything except getting out of the way. Haven't you ever heard of remote viewing? We're in hyperspace now. Nonlocal reality. The same space in which the shamans journey. From one end of the universe to the other in this very moment. Don't question what you see. Keep your conscious mind out of it."
The visuals shifted to a gleaming red automobile driven by an expressionless white male in sunglasses. The bar code on his forehead came and went before I had a chance to say anything. Beside the male sat a sexy Eurasian fantasy, her head thrown back in ecstasy, her silken black hair spilling out of the window. We watched as the car twisted through a mountain landscape saturated with computer-enhanced colors. A spectacular sunset hung in the sky.
Cheap American corn and sugar bankrupt fourteen percent more Mexican farmers each year…Global temperatures rise one degree every fifty years…The incidence of skin cancer in Greenland quadruples in twelve years…No fewer than four thousand and possibly as many as ninety thousand species of plants and animals dying out annually…
"Now let's go deeper," I said as the picture morphed into a row of smiling, soundlessly chattering faces. "Deeper into America."
I snapped my fingers again.
A nation of strangers…How can any vision prevail but the fearful, the paranoid?…Chemtrails… Aliases…Dead drops for mail…Multi-billion-dollar per year defense outlays…No traceability and no budget…Hard-core special operatives…Grab whom you must. Do what you want… Latest DNA security installed in airports not fail-safe…9/11 tied to Saudi Intelligence…Say Osama in U.S. for medical treatment: Sighting on Washington Mall…Newest Reality TV show a monster hit: The Last One Left Standing is an Alien…
Image by grufnik, courtesy of Creative Commons license.