Detroit, British America
“The upkeep’s shambolic, to say not the least of it, and if man or beast were to drop a spark, the whole township would be engulfed in flame.”
The Board of Trustees snort and mock.
Ben Flanders’ top lip quivers for a few seconds as he reins in his emotion. “Gentlemen, if this town were to perish—”
“This place is built of wood, Flanders,” Grant Holbein laughs. “What do you propose we do, wake early each morning to sprinkle water all over it?”
“No. But the simple inspection of all township buildings thrice-fortnightly—”
“Thrice-fortnightly! And who do you expect to volunteer themselves for such an errand?”
“If each man plays his part—”
“Flanders, this is a Board of Trustees, not a traveling theater company.”
Flanders fumes as the Trustees laugh. “This is a body of men sworn by royal and divine oath to God, King, and Country, to protect the settlement of Detroit from all threats, be they native, elemental, or French—”
“French!” Holbein scoffs. “Do you propose to take up arms on our behalf now? Besides natives, fires and Frenchmen, are there any other threats to our continued existence that you feel better qualified to insure us against than any of the fine gentlemen who make up this board?”
The Trustees grumble in agreement.
“Then it’s settled!” John Clark declares, slamming the hammer down. “Flanders will inspect all dwellings within jurisdiction of Detroit thrice-fortnightly!”
The Board cheer their approval. Flanders sits down and seethes quietly for the remainder of the session, taking no notice of what else is said. When he returns home, little Ellie’s sitting in the rocking chair, nursing baby William. “How were the meeting, Bampy?”
“It were fine, love,” he lies, his burden his own. He looks at little William’s bright blue eyes and walks across the stone floor of a cramped living room to a tatty chair stitched together from sacks.
“Any important goings on?” Ellie asks.
“Nothing worth worrying about. The usual – natives, fires, and Frenchmen.”
“Meg Kelly said the natives burned a settlement over north somewhere. Half the town folk burned alive. Then they killed what were left of the men and took the women and children off to live with them.”
“You take no notice of nothing that Meg Kelly says.”
Little Ellie looks glumly at the rocks in the fireplace. “You not feel like taking your coat off, Bampy?”
Ben Flanders glances at his home’s timber beams. “Not tonight.” He hears her staring. “It’s almost summer, girl.” Her stare is deafening. He stands up. “Now, listen here, you: I will not be decreed to by a young girl in my own home! Do you hear me?”
She stares silently for a moment. “When Mam were alive, you’d light the fire in May.”
“Past is past, girl.”
“Father Richards says we’ll carry the past with us, keep it all our lives. Carve it up into turkey with us.”
He stares at the poor dumb child, that sweet young orphan of four-score months and ten.
37 Miles Above Detroit, British America
“The fuck was that?”
The crew’s panicked eyes flash around the inside of the space-bound vessel, looking for the source of the sound.
“One of the engines blew!”
Detroit, British America
“Carve it up into turkey with us?”
“Something like that,” Ellie says, not interested in getting the words right, more worried about the dread they’d filled her with.
22 Miles Above Detroit, B.A.
“We’re losing altitude, fast!”
Control panels bleep; warning lights flash.
“…Santificado sea tu Nòmbre…”
“Carry it with us for all eternity, he means,” Flanders says, shaking his head at her. “And that’s a nonsense and all.”
.Her silence is deafening.
16 Miles Above D.B.A.
“Twenty-two meters, descending fast.”
“…Denos hoy el…”
“I love you, Cathy.”
“You listen here, little Miss Knows-it-all, you won’t be carrying no burdens into eternity. No turkeys, neither.”
“I’m so sorry…”
The bleeps of panicked gauges intensify.
“…caer en al tenacíon…”
“…cae saeki… ssibal saeki…”
All hope of survival is lost.
“…by the dawn’s early light…”
“All’s that’s awaiting us in eternity’s absolution.”
Ellie lifts her eyes to look at her grandfather.
“What were that?”
Flanders follows his granddaughters eyes to the door.
Silence. Then he hears it; crackling.
Flanders strides across stone floor and throws the door open: the whole township’s engulfed in flame.
Copyright © 2015 Haydn Wilks/Dead Bird Press
Dead Bird 003
All rights reserved.
“Ladies and gentleman, please welcome the next President of the United States, Robert Sanchez!”
Sanchez’s supporters whoop and holler as their candidate strides on stage, throws a little wave, and takes to the podium. The huge press pack at the back of the room ready pens and cameras.
“I’d like to begin by thanking you all for coming out here today. I know Detroit isn’t exactly the center of the universe anymore.” Polite laughter. “But it used to be. This was the heart of American industry. This was the powerhouse of global capitalism, the workshop of the world. Now you’re sitting in what’s left of it. The Packard Plant.” Sanchez pauses for dramatic effect, glancing up at the ceiling of the cavernous room in the old automotive production plant. “This place is huge. Three and a half million square foot of manufacturing space. But this place has been a ruin since the Sixties. Other plants opened, took its place; now they too have fallen into disuse, disrepair; despair. Sixty miles away, in Flint, you can’t even get a clean glass of water anymore. In America, in the twenty-first century, you can’t get a clean glass of drinking water. And I think that’s says a lot about where we are right now. This three and a half million square foot of disused space says a lot about what life’s like for three-and-a-half-hundred million Americans. Disuse. Disrepair. Despair. Three words that sum up the country three-and-a-half hundred million Americans are now living in. Disuse; five percent of the adult population of this country is unemployed. That’s eight million people out of work. Disrepair; this country was once the brightest, the boldest, on Earth, but now we’re a county that’s collapsed in on itself, fallen into fighting one another, fighting about religion, fighting about politics, fighting about lifestyle choices. And despair; there were over a thousand mass shootings in this country last year, one thousand three hundred and forty-seven folks dead, three thousand eight hundred and seventeen injured. Over a thousand more Americans shot dead by police officers.”
At the back of the room, Police Chief Kellerman’s nostrils flare. His eyes narrow. A Washington Post reporter taps his photographer on the shoulder and points him in the Police Chief’s direction.
“But without a thing, you cannot have its opposite; without despair, you cannot have hope. Without darkness, there is no light. Without ruins, there is nothing to build. This is a town that was once destroyed by fire. Almost two hundred and fifty years ago to the day, Fort Detroit in British America burned to the ground. When that happened, Father Gabriel Richards, a wise man and a hero, a man who founded the University of Michigan, that wise man looked over the ruins of Detroit, and he said: ‘Speramus meliore; resurgent cineribus. We hope for better things; We will build them from the ashes.’ And we built them. We built Detroit.”
Erica’s watching Sanchez’s speech from the side of the stage. Some commotion distracts her from it; the blonde, whisper-shouting at some suited aide: “Was that Latin?”
The suit mumbles something.
“Where are those two speech-writers of his,” the blonde snarls, “the hipster and the vegan? Tell them I want to speak to them! The next President does not speak Latin on stage. He’s not Fidel Castro. He’s not Hugo Chavez. This is not Latin America. This is the U.S.A.. We speak American here! What are they thinking? We’re trying to get America to swear in the first Latino President! They might as well have had him start speaking in Arabic up there.”
The blonde continues ranting; Erica’s attention drifts back to Sanchez on stage.
“We built the 20th Century. We built the world. We did it. America did it. And now Detroit is in ruins once again. Not because of fire: because of finance. And as Detroit rose before, it will rise again. Once again, a wise man is standing in the ashes of Detroit, and he is saying: ‘We hope for better things; We will build them from the ashes.’ And that’s why I’ve called you all here today; to witness the laying of the foundations. On the ruins of Detroit, on the ash heap of the 20th Century, I’m here to introduce you to the new American century. No more corruption and vested interests. No more unemployment. No more disused car factories. No more dirty drinking water. When I’m elected President, I will recall Governor Synder. I will rebuild Michigan. I will rebuild America. It will be a new dawn – a new day – a new light – a New Deal for America. I will bring in a new kind of Governor, a new kind of politics, a new America, by learning from our history, from listening to the great men of our nation’s past. That’s why, when I’m elected President, I will be joined in office by a Vice President America can believe in; a Vice President America did believe in. My fellow Americans, allow me to introduce to you, the next Vice President of the United States, the thirty-second President of these great United States: Franklin D. Roosevelt!”
Confused whispers echo around the room as a man in a wheelchair rolls onto the stage, thin white hair matted over a long serious oblong of a face, suited arms pumping the wheels, pushing him forward, until he reaches the podium. Sanchez looks over his stunned audience and smiles.
“America built the 20th century on being the most innovative nation on Earth. And once again, technology will propel us forward. The finest minds in Silicon Valley have designed a new kind of artificial intelligence; an artificial intelligence which can study and educate itself on the decision-making and the ideals of all the great Presidents of America’s past. An artificial intelligence which can recreate those great minds, bring them back to life. An artificial intelligence that will bring America back to life.”
Roosevelt slowly steadies his hands at the side of his wheelchair and forces himself upright. He steps slowly to the podium.
“Mr. Sanchez, thank you for giving life to me once again. And thank you for giving life back to America.”
Gasps rush out as George Washington walks on stage and stands proudly beside FDR. He’s followed by Abraham Lincoln, then John F. Kennedy, then Ronald Reagan.
“When I win this election, a coalition of the greatest President’s America’s ever had will rule alongside me,” Sanchez beams.
A suit sidles up to the blonde at the side of the stage and whispers words of panic in his ear.
“You’re kidding me!”
The blonde takes his phone from his pocket and stares into the screen. Erica moves beside him and looks over his shoulder at a news feed, images of chaos in downtown Detroit: a swarming crowd on Seven Mile Road, an overturned police car, fire, panic.
“No more grandstanding and playing to the press to impede progress in Congress; no more weak willed men with loose morals embarrassing themselves and the office entrusted in them by this great nation; no more divided America, no more bipartisan America: this technology will bring us together again. This technology will make us whole again. This technology will make America the greatest nation on Earth again!”
Sanchez’s supporters erupt into a scream-strewn standing ovation. Erica peers over the blonde’s shoulder, trying to tune herself into the tinny voiceover echoing out from his phone.
“And we can now show you footage from inside the store where the protests began,” a woman’s voice says, sound-tracking snapshots of destruction on the phone screen. “We warn viewers with weak dispositions to look away .”
“Ohmygod!” another voice squeals. “Did he just bite that woman’s face off?”
“Completely , Karen, and if you look at this video taken from inside the store—”
21 Minutes Earlier
The police cruiser slows along Gratiot Avenue as it nears the intersection with Seven Mile Road. Across the street from a McDonald’s, a crowd throngs the parking lot of City Threads, a one-story clothing store with a battered shop hoarding that looks like it hasn’t been changed in decades. The police car pulls up and a thick-necked cop steps out of the driver’s side. “Move back! Police!” he shouts at the crowd, who stumble aside, still awkwardly holding phones over their heads, pointing them at the store’s entrance.
The thick-necked cop’s younger colleague steps out of the passenger side and touches a nervous hand to the gun reassuringly holstered on his waist; something about the hushed calm of the crowd in the parking lot worries him.
The cops move through the crowd to the storefront and take a second to stare in through plate glass windows, at mannequins decked out in baggy hip-hop clobber. Then mannequins fall aside as a body flies past them, clattering into the window, drawing gasps and shrieks from the gathered onlookers. Blood smears the inside of the window pane as the face of the body presses against it. Thick neck unholsters his gun and steps purposefully towards the entrance.
“Police! Everyone get down on the ground, now!” he shouts inside. “Hit the floor! Hands behind your heads!”
The younger cop fumbles his own gun free of its holster. Trembling fingers tease the trigger as he follows thick neck through the store, to a display laden with upturned mannequins, decapitated and dislimbed. Sweatshirts and jeans carpet the floor. The younger cop glances about the store, hearing voices echo out from somewhere within it.
Thick neck thrusts the gun forward as a man stands up behind the display, a dozy look upon a face smeared with blood, a huge crescent-moon scar carved from the corner of his right eyebrow to the tip of his chin. He’s wearing a black hooded sweatshirt with ‘FTSE Says Collapse’ on it; it looks fresh, probably taken from the store’s stock, little dots of blood on the white lettering the item’s only imperfection. Thick neck stares into the scarred man’s eyes for a moment; they’re blank, emotionless, soulless. The guy’s completely hairless. Thick neck wonders what drug or narcotic cocktail the guy’s on as he points the gun at him and shouts: “Hands behind your head, asshole! Now! This is your last warning! Hands behind your head, or on three I shoot! One…”
The younger cop hears voices rising up within the store; laughing, followed by humans imitating animal sounds: jackals, hyenas, wolves…
Thick neck fires twice, striking the ‘T’ and the ‘S’ on the blood-smeared freak’s sweatshirt. The freak staggers back and drops to the floor. Thick neck strides forward, rounds the display, and sees another body lying beside the fallen blood-smeared maniac: a young woman, early 20s, a shop assistant; a huge chunk of flesh missing from her right cheek, bitten off, exposed bone marrow beneath it.
Thick neck mumbles a request for back-up into the police radio as the younger cop impotently shakes his gun round in search of the source of the rising voices, the laughter and animal sounds giving way to chanting: “Allayah kumbaya! Allayaha kumbaya!”
The chanting repeats, growing louder; the younger cop’s trigger finger twitches, spasms, nerves and anxiety taking charge.
Thick neck touches a hand to the younger cop’s shoulder. He gasps, closing his eyes.
“Let’s wait outside.”
28 Minutes Later
Erica sits on one of two velvet sofas in an anteroom with sheets hung from the ceiling, disguising the Packard Plant’s battered walls. She’s scrolling through Tweets about the chaos across town, clicking links to videos of wild men and women starting fires, throwing bricks and bottles and worse at cops, cops shooting at them, blood and bodies hitting city streets. Then she reaches a Tweet that breaks the #Detroit hegemony:
@AndersonAnderson: I bet everyone at #InciteInternational is pleased to see #Detroit bumping them off the news.
Incite International; John’s company. Erica stares at the phone for a moment, her mind completely blank. Her tiredness starts seeping in, dulling her senses, taking the edge off reality, until a sudden spark of realization causes her eyes to widen and her thoughts to sharpen; John’s company. She taps at the phone screen, Googles the company name, then scrolls through news articles: “C.E.O.’s New York home attacked”; “…employee broke in… the early hours of this morning…”; “…C.E.O. Donald Wolf recovering in hospital…”; “…NYPD spokesman refusing to comment on rumors of a Incite International employee found dead at the scene…”; John.
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Detroit is burning. Crazed buck naked freaks with crescent moon scars carved into their face are running wild, biting faces off. The cops are running out of bullets trying to keep things under control. All the while, the Savior and Libby are lost in the desert, stuck in a time loop. The madness just keeps getting crazier. Americosis Vol. 3: Resurgent Cineribus.