John Russel stood at the window of the shack, rifle ready, looking down from the advantageous perch high up above the rest of the mine. The small band of refugees from the stagecoach robbery sat or paced, too worried to talk.
Russel watched and waited for any sign that Cicero Grimes, the Mexican, and the other Anglo may have seen them and followed them there. While Russel had killed two of their party, Grimes and the other two remained a deadly threat. They wanted the saddlebag of money that Dr. Favor had stolen from the San Carlos Indian Reservation, but which Russel had now in his possession following the melee of the gun battle a day before.
Then an unexpected figure appeared walking down the dirt road. It was Dr. Favor—stumbling in the desert heat and near death. At the point of a gun, Russel had driven him out of the group after Favor—at the time brandishing Mendez’s shotgun—attempted to take not only the money but water as well, then set off to supposed freedom into the desert, separating himself from Russel and possible retribution for both this crime and his previous one.
Russel showed no reaction. But Jessie saw the figure below and rushed closer to the window. “Dr. Favor!” she exclaimed to herself. She turned back to the rest. “It’s Dr. Favor!” She looked back out the window, down at the decrepit figure below, as in vain he frantically worked the handle of a dried-out pump, desperately urging it to produce water.
“He doesn’t know we left water behind,” Jessie said. “We have to tell him.”
“We don’t do anything,” said Russel.
“What do you mean we don’t do anything? Look at him, he’s dying of thirst.”
“What did you think would happen? You just thought you’d never see him again, so yesterday it was alright, huh?”
Jessie stepped toward Russel. “No, it wasn’t alright, I should have said something yesterday. Now I’m saying it now.”
“Lady,” Russel replied, calm yet stern, “they could be anywhere out there. Don’t press our luck.”
Her sense of human compassion directed her to ignore the order. “Dr. Favor!” she called from the window. “Dr. Favor! We left water behind in the mineshaft!”
Favor looked up, trying to locate the voice and comprehend its meaning.
“In the mineshaft!” Jessie yelled again and pointed to the location of the water bag that was left hanging on a timber at the beginning of the shaft.
Favor heeded the instruction and found the water bag and its salvation.
Cicero Grimes and the other two came out on their horses, now having located the shelter of their prey.
Favor saw them too. Hurried though feeble he climbed the stairs to the shack. Jessie rushed out and helped pull him forward until he was in the safety of the decrepit one-room wooden shelter. He looked at Russel and arched himself upright, proudly. “You’ll learn something about white people,” he said, so as to cure Russel of his ignorance on the subject. “They stick together.”
Russel took note of it. “They better.”
It was just to be a waiting game now as Grimes and his accomplices below had the expanse and the ability to come and go as they pleased, be it for food or water. Russel and his band of civilians, on the other hand, were trapped in the abandoned shack above with nothing other than a rifle, shotgun, and revolver.
Grimes had been insightful at the time of the robbery and taken Favor’s wife as a hostage—this just prior to Russel’s having responded with the Winchester from the top of the coach which resulted in five bandits being reduced to three. And as the present broiling day progressed with little parlay resolution between Cicero Grimes below and John Russel above, the Mexican brought Mrs. Favor out and bound her to the mine’s rail track, where she could be observed roasting to death under the sun as the hours passed. She screamed for her husband to help her. He was unmoved. Seeing this as evident, Jessie moved toward Russel.
“You have to give them that money. I think you know that,” she said.
“Like you had to give that one water, huh?”
“People help each other.”
“People kill each other too.”
“I’ve seen that.”
“You’re gonna see some more.”
“If you wanna say that it’s my fault we’re stuck up here go ahead.”
“No, what I want to know, is why you help?”
“Because he needed it. Just like that woman needs it. It’s not for us to decide whether she deserves to live or not.”
“We only help, huh?”
“Do we have another choice?”
“Just let her die,” Jessie said, sending Russel’s perspective back to him.
“That’s up to Grimes.”
“You mean you’d sacrifice her life for that money? Is that what you’re saying?”
“You go down there, and you ask that lady what she thinks of life. Ask what she thinks life is worth to those Indians in San Carlos when they’re out of meat.”
“She didn’t take the money, Favor did.”
“She said those dirty Indians eat dog. And she couldn’t eat dog no matter how hungry she got—go down and ask her if she’d eat dog now.”
“I don’t know what your gripe is against the world. Maybe you got a real one.”
“Lady, up there in those mountains there’s a whole people who lost everything. They don’t have a place to have to spread their blankets. They’ve been insulted, diseased, made drunk and foolish. And you call the men that did that Christians, and you trust them—I know them as white men and I don’t.”
“Russel, if nobody ever lifted a finger until people were deserving the whole world would go to hell. We better deal with each other out of need and forget merit. Because none of us have too much of that—not me, not you, not anybody.”
“Ehhh, if it bothers you, why talk about it?”
The phone in Alvin’s room rang. He paused Hombre and went to answer.
“Hi Alvin,” Rika said. “I just want to remind you now while I’m thinking about it that we have the student-faculty thing tomorrow night at Professor Horn’s house.”
“I haven’t forgotten.”
“Okay. You need to look nice.
“I always look nice.”
“No, you always look comfortable. Focus on nice and the fact you’re going to a professor’s house and not the Burning Man Festival.”
The Horn’s had a very nice, very roomy, large, Tudor kind of thing, one that allowed you to go from one room to the next discreetly and disappear once having gotten bored with whoever you were talking to, without the fear that they would find you anytime soon.
“Nice, huh?” Rika said, sipping her chardonnay.
“Extremely. I could live here,” said Alvin.
“Yeah really. Maybe someday. Did you mingle?”
“I’m mingling with you right now as we speak.”
“With other humans besides me.”
“You need to schmooze. You should go schmooze. It’s highly productive. Go schmooze.”
“Not really my strong suit. Did you see this Jackson Pollack?” Alvin asked, glancing to the wall. “I like this. I like his wife’s stuff better, but I like this one of his.”
“Yes, very splattery. Okay, let’s go for a walk. I want you to meet someone who’s only ten yards away. You can come back here to the safe zone when we’re done. Come, this will be healthy and probably financially beneficial in years to come.”
She grabbed his arm and hauled him along to where Professor Horn and a colleague were in conversation by the fireplace.
“Mato Tipila is its name,” Horn said to the other. “Devil’s Tower is a European corruption of the original name. We were successful in getting stupid Mount Whitney changed to Denali, which should have been done decades ago, and so the same needs to be done here. It’s a matter of respect that should be accorded to the members of the First Nation.”
“Dr. Horn,” Rika said, “I’m sorry to interrupt but I just wanted to tell you how great it is to be in your Native American history class. You’re great. And your house is great! Really. I’m Rika Knudson.”
“I know exactly who you are, Rika. I’m so glad you came out tonight. And thank you for the compliment on the house.”
“And this is my friend, Alvin Zaronsky,” she said nudging him forward.
“How do you do, Alvin,” the professor said, extending his hand.
“Very nice to meet you, sir,” Alvin said, extending his hand to the other’s.
“Ow!” the professor exclaimed, pulling his hand away but then laughed. They disengaged the intended handshake as a spark of static electricity went from Alvin’s hand to Horn’s just as they graced the other’s skin. “Sorry,” said Horn. “You seem to be fully charged.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” said Alvin.
“No, that’s okay, probably the carpeting or something,” said the Professor, looking down in search of a visible carpeting flaw, which of course doesn’t exist any more than a problem with a car engine is obvious to the naked eye. But it was a polite way of smoothing things over and making his guest not have to feel guilty about shocking him. He put his hand out again and the two concluded the handshake.
“Professor Horn’s going to be on television tomorrow night,” Rika told Alvin with excited pride.
“Really?” Alvin said to the professor.
“Yeah, it’s just local, you know, no big deal. But tomorrow is ‘Columbus Day’—geez don’t make me throw up—and they want me to talk about how we’re in the process of changing that to Indigenous People’s Day.”
“About time,” said the other colleague.
“Damned right,” said the professor.
“That’s great,” said Alvin. “What station?”
“Fifteen. I forgot what fifteen is. W-something something.”
“We’re definitely going to watch,” said Rika.
Alvin actually found this interesting. He’d never met someone who was going to be on television the next day, or ever, and he looked forward to tuning in. He and Rika departed cordially from the fireplace conversation and returned to Alvin’s safe zone ten yards back.
“I’m gonna mingle,” she said.
“You know where to find me,” Alvin said, as he turned back to the Jackson Pollack for further study.
The dot of light on the monitor made a slow, relaxing upward trek toward the top of the screen. A tail of light followed it. The dot made an arc to the right, reached the point at wished to go no further upward, then descended in a curving graceful fall. It arrived at the bottom, and then bounced upward again. It didn’t go as high up this second time, just about half way up the screen before it started falling back downward, but in the same casual and lazy motion. The pattern looked like the St. Louis arch. It was a soothing motion. Some might find it hypnotic. Sort of the same way a Lava Lamp is hypnotic. It would arc, then come down, then make a littler arc, then a littler one than that, then bounce and go way, way up high on the next one like it was trying to reach the top of the screen. Over and over again. Sometimes there would be big arcs, and sometimes little ones. But to that there was no predictable pattern. It seemed to have its own mind in regard to how big or small any subsequent arc would be. Kind of like a monkey playing with a rubber ball.
Just beneath the monitor screen, on a metal plate, inscribed in a plain lettering all in capitals, it said DORA ONE.
“This is so boring,” said Mil, as she sat watching the arcs over and over.
Abesset, sitting one chair over in front of the console, scrolled through his information pad looking for some current event of interest. “Why don’t you ask to do something else?”
“What did they say?”
“They said they’d talk to Taus about it. See if there was an opening somewhere else.”
“I wouldn’t hold your breath.”
“Yeah, I’m not. I don’t know why they don’t have JM-4 do this. I mean, really.”
“I don’t think JM-4 was designed to do something this stupid.”
“Neither was I.”
“Yeah, well, we all have to do our part. It’s not really a meritocracy. Everybody’s got to have a job, even a job they’re highly overqualified for.”
As Mil turned away from her partner and looked back at the monitor, she saw a spark come off one of the arcs. She sat up rigidly in her chair. “Geez! Did you see that!”
“A spark, like a spark! Like a little lightning bolt or something.”
Abesset rolled his chair over to the screen. He watched the gentle arcs continuing. “Play it back,” he said, and looked to the secondary monitor just above the primary.
Mil backed the transmission up and then tapped the controller so that recording progressed forward increment by increment. “There!” she said as the still image appeared. And it did look like a lightning bolt. The arc light came down, then just as it was about to hit the bottom, exploded in a jagged though single-lined burst that went all the way to the edge of the screen.
“What was that?” Mil asked.
“I don’t know. Some kind of burst. An energy burst?
“Like,” Mil started, but then paused to figure out the next right word, “a leak?”
“I don’t know.”
“Should we call somebody?”
It was midnight. Nick felt for the wall leading into the kitchen as all the lights were out. He flicked on the kitchen wall switch, went to the fridge, and hunted for the cucumber salad. He put a little plate on the island that looked into the living room and spooned out enough salad for a snack. Then he looked up and into the darkness of the living room. He was startled to see a barely perceptible figure sitting on the couch: barefooted with heels on knees, hands relaxed and pointed open-palm upward upon the feet, body slightly hunched forward.
“Alvin?” Nick asked.
There was no response.
“Alvin?” Nick asked again.
“Yes,” Alvin replied though didn’t look toward him.
“What are you doing, sitting the dark?”
“Are you meditating?”
“You alright?” Nick asked.
It took a long time for Alvin to answer the simple question. “I feel,” he started, then took a satisfying breath with eyes closed, “unusual.”
“Are you sick?”
“No,” Alvin said, and turned this head toward Nick. “Quite the opposite. I feel wonderful.”
“But I don’t know why. Well, I do know why, but I don’t know why I know why.”
Alvin turned back to his intense study of the coffee table in front of him, though there was nothing on it.
“Rika!” Nick called again.
Rika came rushing from her room in her pajamas. When she arrived in the kitchen, Nick just pointed a finger toward Alvin.
“Alvin, you alright?” Rika asked.
“Did you ever know something?” Alvin asked, addressing the coffee table rather than her. “And knowing something was like the greatest high you could have? Just knowing something?” He relished the rhetorical question. “Knowing something is everything. There is nothing better than knowing something.”
And then it hit me, like a diamond bullet, Colonel Kurtz said in Alvin’s mind.
Alvin turned away from his roommates and gazed at the floor. Rika went over to him and put her hand gently on his shoulder.
“Don’t!” Alvin warned.
Rika pulled her hand away quickly.
“touch me,” he concluded in a softer tone.
“Alvin,” she said, “do you know where you are?”
“In the living room,” he answered.
“Whose living room?”
“Ours. Mine and yours and Nick and Tristan’s.”
“Okay. Good, well—”
“I have to talk,” Alvin said.
“That’s fine. If you want to talk, that’s fine.” Rika lowered herself to Alvin’s eye level.
He turned and looked at her. “Not to you.” He abruptly swung his legs out and placed both feet on the floor. He studied the carpet. He then rose and moved quickly to his room. Rika followed after him but he shut the door in front of her. Nick followed as well and stood behind her.
“This is weird,” he said.
“Should we call somebody?”
“I wouldn’t know who.” Rika tapped on the door. “Alvin, can I come in?” There was no response. She turned the knob but it was locked. “Alvin, unlock the door, I want to come in.”
The door opened, but just half a foot. “I’m busy,” Alvin said.
“Okay,” Rika said. “Can I come in anyway?”
Alvin considered it. “Alright.” He let her in, then closed the door on Nick, and locked it. He went to his desk, turned on the computer monitor and pulled the keyboard forward. Rika stood and watched. Then she moved to his desk and picked up a deck of cards.
“Can I borrow these?” she asked.
“Yes,” Alvin said, though, without giving a glance to what she was picking up.
Rika sat on the floor a few feet from the desk and started a solitaire game.
Note to the Mother Ship
I think it’s beyond the scope—the capacity—of any human being to understand the world—the Earth—and so at an early age they stop trying, and simply exist within its grasp the best they know how.
Joan Didion came to the conclusion that writing had no point. I don’t necessarily disagree. Taking a physical step back, say, onto the Earth’s patio and looking up and down at the house, which is the Earth, as it falls apart, one reasonably can come to the conclusion that all the writing, comedy, art, and music cannot positively affect the dilapidated structure and ultimately prevent the collapse of the house. Because it’s a house; it’s immune to comedy and art. It neither laughs nor appreciates. Brick has no fancy to be tickled. Didion’s realization was to note that the social contract has become broken, and it cannot ever be repaired. My perspective was that the contract never actually existed. Should I be required to come up with a pithy remark on my perspective, I’d be inclined to say, “You can’t change the world, all you can do is make fun of it.”
Evil is ever present on Earth. And when I say evil here, I’m not talking about lunatics who suddenly go off and blow something up or plant bombs on subway cars. What I’m talking about is the people who actually run things. They’re far more dangerous than the random loony toon. But evil is like a virus. By itself it is incapable of doing much damage. What it needs is a host. Weakness is that host. Evil can only control a country if encouraged or allowed to do so. The abominable hired overlord cannot exist without permission and subsequent sustenance from the body—the volunteering corporal host. Evil is not the problem, weakness is. Evil is nothing more than a microbe in jar until the curious and dependent weak decide to open the lid and let it out.
I’m not the first to suggest this concept, though. I know Edmund Burke and John Stuart Mill both put forward something similar. Burke had an interesting thought on democracy too. He was against it. Interesting. He had three reasons, summarized by Joseph Hamburger in 1995, and in referencing Burke’s view said of it: ‘First, government required a degree of intelligence and breadth of knowledge of the sort that occurred rarely among the common people. Second, he (Burke) thought that if they had the vote, common people had dangerous and angry passions that could be aroused easily by demagogues, fearing that the authoritarian impulses that could be empowered by these passions would undermine cherished traditions and established religion, leading to violence and confiscation of property. Third, Burke warned that democracy would create a tyranny over unpopular minorities, who needed the protection of the upper classes.’
I agree with the first two points, but the third is dubious at best. I can’t say I’ve come across much if any evidence of the people at the top ever looking out for those at the bottom especially when those at the bottom were culturally, religiously, or sexually different than the people at the top. Kind of the opposite really. Ferdinand and Isabella threw the Jews out of Spain and there’s a million Uighurs presently in “education” camps in China, so, the beat goes on. Being gay or an albino in Africa is ill-advised, despite there normally being just one guy who’s supposed to be keeping tabs on everything. Things in America remain a never-ending crapshoot as the pendulum swings with unbridled gusto to and fro as they continue to try to figure out the difference between popular fashion and morality—a much grayer issue than one would expect. The message here simply being: Don’t be the wrong thing at the wrong time.
I don’t think most Earth people have any concept of how absolutely evil their leaders are. I don’t think they have any idea what machinations these people are capable of and what travesties of immorality they set into motion for no other purpose than their amusement. Essentially the Earth is controlled by psychopaths. You would think that there would be enough horror—with actual diseases—that might instill in these occasional pop-ups a desire to lessen the horror by actually contributing to the well-being of the planet, but no. They give no thought to people in other countries or even their grandchildren. They are obsessed with only one thing, and that is themselves. While people are aware of the big-time bad guys because they read about them in history books fifty years after it’s been determined they were bad news even though nobody was aware of it at the time, they don’t realize that this is actually the norm. Evil is ever covered in a cloak of invisibility. It’s sort of its magic act.
But while I don’t think the masses know this consciously, I think their id does—that thing that is a thoughtless entity that is one part a person’s stomach and one part their soul. They know it subconsciously. Or at least they feel it, if not absorbing it into their being. I think this is why they focus on getting good jobs, listening to a song they like, reading a book, watching a movie, getting laid, and getting drunk or doing drugs so they can avoid acknowledging the horror around them that is ever present. And always has been. I think if they did acknowledge it, they’d be left with no other choice than to do themselves in. I think this is why funny movies are very popular.
Of course, horror movies are very popular too. Old-time famous movie actor Vincent Price was once asked why people like horror movies. He said, “Because we liked to be scared!” I don’t really agree with that. I think what people like is watching other people get done in. It satisfies a blood lust, much in the way people two thousand years ago watched people in the Roman Coliseum get eaten by animals and be forced to battle each other to the death even though they preferred not to battle each other to the death. Such spectacles give one a sense of superiority, or at least a sense of well-being. It’s fun watching somebody get sucked through a toilet while they’re sitting on it by an enormous mutant earthworm, given that it’s not you. Of course, the viewers always root for the hero and heroine to make it through safely, because they know their actual names, and the names of their actual children, and when those two are endangered there is great tension, but the anonymous wino getting his head bitten off by an eighteen-foot bunny is always a hoot. Also, things that are really large and step on littler things and squash them are cool. I think that given the opportunity to be Godzilla, no one here would hesitate to sign up, even though there would be no other similar life form with which to go on a date.
I think because there is this attraction to movie monsters, given that they provide good fun and dispense with all the anonymous and/or known annoying expendables you would have no problem dispensing with in real life, like your boyfriend’s nuisance ex-girlfriend, people are extraordinarily slow in recognizing the real monsters and the damage that they’re capable of, in real life, when they suddenly appear and encourage you to vote for them. But beyond that, beyond this bit of blissful ignorance and inability to separate fantasy from reality, there is the flammable rationalized belief that monsters are people too, duly in need of—and deserving of—understanding, support, and love. All of which only you can give, because you see so much better, you are more clear, thus you are superior. After all, Hitler loved his dog and his mother. And Godzilla once was sad and cried. So, there you go: how different from oneself could they possibly be?
But surprisingly, every once in a while there appears a leader who is actually a normal person. The thing that is startling, though, is not his or her appearance, nor for that matter the appearance of a monster, but the fact that they often come in tandem. The extraordinary swing of the pendulum is what’s concerning. It’s as if Earth people can’t tell the difference between someone who is fit for leadership and someone who is clearly not. And while the monster may be eventually dismissed and relegated to the trash bin of history, the people who put him there ever remain, waiting for an opportunity to do it again. This is a concern. Well, for Earth anyway, not me, because I don’t have to live here forever. I’m assuming. Which brings me to, where are you? According to the details of the contract, you’re late. Hopefully you didn’t get hit by an asteroid or something.
Alvin looked down at Rika playing cards on the floor. He turned his head one way and then the other, as though looking for something. “It’s gone.”
“It,” he said. “The knowing. It’s gone away.”
“I don’t know anymore,” he said desperately. “I can’t remember.”
“Didn’t you just write it down?”
Alvin looked at what he had written. “No. No, it was more than that. Much more. Bigger. Big. All.”
Rika knew the question of what was unsolvable. She moved on. “How do you feel?”
He took a moment to analyze how he felt. Everything seemed normal. The room was normal. He was normal. He looked down at her on the floor. “Imperfect.”
Rika looked up to him without an ability to offer a response.
“How long have you been here?” he asked.
“About twenty minutes. How long do you think I’ve been here?”
“About twenty minutes,” Alvin answered. He considered their agreement on the lapsed time of her presence, and he nodded his head. “Well, that’s one good thing.” He turned back to turn off the monitor but first re-read his closing comment: This is a concern. Well, for Earth anyway, not me because I don’t have to live here forever. I’m assuming. Which brings me to, where are you? According to the details of the contract, you’re late. Hopefully you didn’t get hit by an asteroid or something.
Cathy sat cross legged on her bed, the ceiling of her camper loft just three inches above her head. She turned the twisty parts of the Rubik’s cube. Daylight melted into twilight, but she didn’t notice. She was on a mission. The room got increasingly dark but her mind was too preoccupied to even give thought to turning on a lamp. Having made little headway in resolving the puzzle by twisting and turning its axes, she gave each individual side focused consideration. And in abandoning chance, she summoned all her abilities of concentration and forced them upon the puzzle until she was able to arrive at a resolution.
“This is stupid.”
She put the cube on a shelf by her bed, then with both arms punted her way down to the end of the bed and hopped off. She joyed at having then come up with a far better idea than trying to figure out how a Rubik’s Cube worked.
“Let’s go for a walk!”