Glyphics by J. Richard Singleton
“The Earth is a farm. We are someone else’s property.”
Charles Fort (1874-1932)
“JFK was killed by a nun,” Ethan said as he looked out at Smith.
“John Kennedy. He was killed by a nun—or a cop, or a priest—someone who would not be suspected—because it’s just always the last person you suspect—in life.”
“But a nun?”
He thought about it for a moment, and knew that the hit team was starting to sound Village People-y. “Alright, maybe not a nun, but you get my idea: He was killed by someone who wouldn’t be suspected—someone whose presence at Dealey Plaza would go unquestioned and who would be allowed to go about their business unbothered—that’s how it normally is, you know.
“So many people think it was someone hiding behind a fence or something on the grassy knoll—not a chance. The gunman—or woman—intentionally stood out on the knoll and then fired the fatal shot with a small caliber rifle hidden in an umbrella or a cane—which is also why so few people heard the additional shots.”
The town laid dark aside from the streetlights and the occasional home that was not hip to the attitude of the rest of the town. The town as a whole was in a state not so much sleep but of restlessness—a state only someone unaccustomed to it would notice. On the outskirts of town stood the Monolith Oil Refinery, its two giant holding domes jetting out like a pair of huge bulging eyes looking upward at the clear September sky. A large billboard with a troika of super-powerful halogen lamps at its base pointing upward proclaimed:
a branch of ChemCorp
Creating a better world with science!
Next to the lettering was an animated owl wearing a tasslecap and bifocals—ChemCorp’s creepy-as-hell mascot. It clenched a slide rule in one talon and a beaker in the other; its wings were outstretched in a peculiar gesture of victory. The lamps and the position of the billboard made it the most visible aspect of the town’s night skyline. Hollywood had its sign; Smith had a giant-ass cartoon of an owl-scientist.
Beyond the refinery lay hundreds of miles of white desert. But the desert was more than desert; it was a world within itself. A world alien to most. A world where hostile plants grew to gigantic proportions, its thousands of spikes prepared to spear anything that ventured too closely. A world where hairy arachnids the size of men’s faces ate birds and small mammals. Where the littlest creatures—just red dots against the ground—were the most feared, its danger being in the communal mind of the colony. And some of the ugliest, most violent birds on God’s not-so-green Earth awaited something—anything—to curl up and die, so they might continue their own survival. Truman had always hated the fire ants for their conformity (yes, “conformity”—those ants were total robots), always hated the vultures for their scavenging. And people who kept tarantulas as pets were even bigger freaks than he.
The rangers would bring in a corpse from the sands, every once in awhile—typically a fool hiker who’d underestimated how much water would be needed for their walkabout. Sometimes a local.
Outside of the Amazon, the American Southwest was among the most hostile terrain in the western hemisphere.
Ethan, a teen extraordinary only in how ordinary he looked, wore khakis and a light colored shirt—unaccustomed to the climate, he looked like a tourist. His face was pale and sweaty. He held a tinted bottle in one hand and a lit cigarette in the other—he alternatively puffed and sipped to keep that special blend of tobacco and cheap booze in his mouth.
Truman was in sharp contrast to him: tall, burly with black hair. His skin had a slight tan to it, suggesting nativity to the Southwest. Dressed in black cargopants and a pitch black duster (worn either out of habit or a dullenly to the heat), he blended into the night as much as humanly possible. He was holding a tinted bottle too.
But the number of empty bottles at the their respective feet—almost a 3-to-1 ratio—made it evident who’d consumed more of the sauce. And if there was any additional doubt, one only needed to sample Ethan’s drunk talk, which was as insane as when he was sober, but with sobriety, his ramblings were at least accurate in syntax.
Ethan mused: “Have you ever looked up at the sky and asked yourself if that crap they taught us in Sunday school was true?—I mean when you look into the blackness of space, the seemingly infiniteness—infinity—infinesses”—he had no idea what he was saying at that point, his mind in autopilot—“infinite of the dwellings of the gods and felt obliged to ask yourself about the true meaning of the beginning—and the possible end of our existence as we know it.” Ethan, making it abundantly clear he was a “philosophical drunk,” walked to the edge of the bluff and looked up at the indescribable beauty; millions of stars looked down. He was transfixed by the universal portrait of beauty. Like he’d never seen the stars before.
A ball of fire streaked across the sky, dragging a tail that seemed to cut through the fabric of time-space itself—a meteor skimming the atmosphere. Probably.
A minute later Ethan doubled over, placing hands on bent knees and trying to slow his anxious breathing. “Now I feel nauseas.”
“You’re drunk,” Truman stated as if it was some mind-blowing insight.
Ethan thought about this for a second. Then he proudly delivered the answer that was so obviously perfect for the moment: “Yes I am.”
After another pause, he continued, “Different societies,…they call it different things. Ours calls it the Apocalypse—the end of all things, when the gods shall descend from the heavens and divide mankind between the worthy—those who’ve served them faithfully—and the rest, who will perish by their powerful hands…and fire and…yada, yada, yada.” He took another sip, and added with a great degree of certainty, “There’ll definitely be fire involved.”
Then he turned and staggered over to his drinking buddy, who was sitting on a log—at a safe distance from the edge—and pondering how anyone could “yada, yada” after the fire. He plopped down beside Truman on the log, almost giving him an impromptu lap dance by about nine inches to his right. The two boys had grown close these preceding months, and neither wanted to ruin the bromance with overt homoeroticism. “I’ve uncovered information thought secret on the Internet from a man who identified himself only as ‘Miscreant.’ It will finally reveal a vast conspiracy of global proportions and provide the Justice Department with sufficient evidence to prosecute all those involved. I’ve kept this information coded and hidden—”
“What kind of conspiracy?” Truman asked in amusement, and took a large swig himself.
“One that reaches into every man, woman and child on the planet: Aliens—visitors from a distant world—are plotting colonization,” Ethan sat up, walked to the bluff’s edge again, and began to pace back and forth alongside it. “Scientific experiments against Americans in numbers greater than anytime since World War II—experiments to create human weapons, and new weapons—weapons greater in power than any nation’s conventional, viral, chemical, bacterial or nuclear arsenal.”
Truman walked over to his babbling bud. Ethan, approached by him, stopped pacing. They stood for a moment, looking out into the night. Two things a small desert town in the middle of jackshit had: heat and panoramic views.
Ethan took a final drag of his cigarette, then flicked it out over the bluff. The little red burning tip faded away into the darkness. He stood staring down the bluff. In his eyes was a look of hopelessness that would have made Sisyphus’s appear optimistic by sheer comparison. “A lot of crazy shit is going to go down in the next couple years, man,” he told him in all seriousness, and by the tone of the guy’s voice, Truman could tell it was his prophecy. “This country—this state—this town—our school. I have a feeling this is gonna be ground zero.”
“So…‘Fight the future,’ ” Truman told him condescendingly. Underrated movie. Greatest movie ever based on a great show; hadn’t been so great in the end when the main actor was replaced with the T1000.
There was a moment of reflection for Ethan. However inebriated he may have been, he probably knew he was being mocked. He looked like he was about to cry, of all things—not that the “alien-boy” from the city was used to being mocked. And he was suddenly very tired. Though he was also very plastered. Ethan Howe was also a sleepy-drunk, turned out.
“C’mon, bud, school starts tomorrow.” Truman gave him a soft push in the general direction of his car, a ‘68 VW Bug convertible. Loved that car.
The ride had an outsider cool to it, but it was basically built like a ride-along lawnmower; only less durable on rough terrain. The underside of the body had been scrapped up real bad. Once fire-engine red, it was now a dirty shade of burgundy, sporting an amazing coat of dust—the handiwork of the wipers was visible. The thin tires had shitty traction, and two hubcaps were gone—the front left, the back right. Someone had once scrawled “wash me” on the window; Ethan in turn had scrawled “fuck you” beneath the snotty missive. So Truman had been driving around his conservative burb with the words “fuck you” on his passenger side window. Soon he’d decided to do a slightly better job at washing his windows, it being a better idea to light a candle than to curse the darkness.
Ethan staggered toward the vehicle. Halfway to the car, he dropped his beer bottle.
It shattered on the road, the sound being carried several miles up that midnight road in either direction.
Truman watched him for a moment, until Ethan entered the passenger side and apparently passed out—a thud came from the car, which Truman took for his friend’s head hitting the dash. “Man, he’s gonna have one bitch of a hangover tomorrow,” he told himself, containing the rising laughter.
Ethan always could make Truman laugh—if not always for his sense of humor as his joy de vi. (The high schooler had learned that word over the summer. Liked it. Didn’t think it sounded gay at all.)
He took one final look at the sleeping town with the little houses and still streets—from way up there, it all looked like a scale-model of a town, or a number of dollhouses built along a series of obsessively plotted streets. Some inextraordinary town where, with the exception of the occasional family trip when he’d had a whole family, he’d spent the entirety of his existence. “ ‘Fight the future,’ ” he repeated irrelevantly, this time to himself, and hurled his bottle out over the bluff.
It broke on a jagged rock somewhere, and the white foam bubbled and sunk into the sand. The sand absorbed everything.
Truman drove down the twisted two-lane road back into town. A single error would cause the car to strike the guardrail—go too fast and they’d pull a James Dean. His slight inebriation only worsened the situation: The stars would streak by with every sharp turn, creating an even more perilous situation.
Ethan was asleep, face resting on the dashboard. His mouth open, drool gushed out from both sides. Trying to maintain his concentration on the road, Truman managed to take his hand off the stickshift, and closed his jaw, quelching the gush of saliva, because protecting his friend’s dignity and his dash seemed more important at the time than dying. Ethan’s eyes opened a little—not much—a little. He began to breath heavily and mouth what might have been words. Truman didn’t notice that, his mind again committed to navigating the winding cliffside road.
“Truman…”—he finally managed to get out. “Truman, if I don’t make it, I want you to take the folders to the Justice Department—you can trust them, you can trust the Justice Department. They have ‘Justice’ in their name, and I find that fun-ny.”
“Yeah”—he was still amusing Ethan—but now Truman was kinda annoyed as he was trying to keep them from dying and he’d never considered himself a risk taker. “Where are these folders?”
“Where they belong,” Ethan replied cryptically, as if that had attached to it some significant meaning. With that, he slipped back to sleep on the dash, and he slept all the way back to his house.
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