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Monthly Archives: December 2017

Michael Caulfield, Inventor of the Internet, ca. 1887

Rodrigo Valdez couldn’t believe his luck when he got the call about the interview. For him, a lowlife Dreamer from Southside Chicago, to get a chance to meet and maybe even to work for the great Michael Caulfield? It was something off the silver screen, from a superhero movie.

In case you’re the kind of person who doesn’t know about important people like Michael Caulfield, this is the guy who basically designed the Internet. People had been trying to figure out how to work and manage the interface between different mainframes and when this guy got into the game, he not only figured out how to do that, he anticipated a lot of the difficulties of navigating a mainframe with multiple users, troubleshooting a lot of the problems before anyone else even knew they were there.

Rodrigo? He was just a low-level hacker by comparison. Not that he hadn’t pulled off some cool shit in his day—he managed to break into the Alchemyne mainframe and expose some wrongdoings on the local level, what his friends liked to call “real hero shit” (even it came at a great personal cost). It’s probably what brought him to the illustrious attention of this august figure in whose office he now stood. But to actually he here? Even heroes had to bow down in the face of gods, right?

“Mr. Caulfield will be with you in a moment,” said the pretty young secretary, or assistant, who had introduced herself as Claudia. You could really tell the generational divide just by looking around here at the furniture, at the feel of the place. It felt like an actual office, you know? Official. The receptionist was wearing a dress, had her hair done up real pretty. The guys here wearing suits. But what drew Rodrigo’s eye was the portrait in the corner. There weren’t a lot of pictures of Michael Caulfield out there for public consumption, but there were a couple. He had a face. Not much of one: white guy, nondescript. Not ugly, but like, you know, accountant. It was the same face that was on the portrait, but the portrait was in sepia, showed him sitting at a desk, not smiling. Look like it was taken in…

1887? That was the date at the bottom.

That must explain why the look on his face was so weird. It wasn’t actually him. Must be a great-great-grandfather or something. Or maybe closer—he reminded himself of the generation gap between Caulfield and himself. “Is this real?” Rodrigo asked Claudia.

She smiled. “Mr. Caulfield likes to keep things that aren’t real where they belong: on the Internet.”

“So the Internet’s fake, then?”

She raised an eyebrow. “That’s not exactly what I said.” A moment later, there was a beep. “Mr. Caulfield will see you now,” said Claudia. As Rodrigo passed into the other room, she added “Good luck,” with a smile that looked entirely too mischievous.

Before Rodrigo really had time to register what was going on, his idol was shaking his hand. They were exchanging pleasantries, he told brief jokes that Rodrigo forgot as soon as he’d chuckled at them indulgingly.

He didn’t seem as old as Rodrigo had figured he must be, but he soon forgot all about that.

Then they were sitting. “Well,” said the inventor of the internet, “I’m sure you know why I called you in today.”

“Is this about the Alchemyne hack?”

“There’s not a lot of people who could’ve done that. You’ve impressed a lot of people with your skills, your ability to navigate complex cyberspatial labyrinths. I was wondering if you’d be interested in taking the next step.”

“With my career, you mean?”

“Sure. Call it that.”

“Are you offering me a job?”

Caulfied took a short breath. “It might be better to think of it,” he said, “as an apprenticeship.”

Rodrigo wanted to like the sound of that, but… “This isn’t like an unpaid internship, is it?”

“Payment… is that important to you?”

“Well, I mean, yeah.”

“Why?”

“Why is money important?”

That did seem to be the question.

“I mean… I got bills to pay, you know? Gotta put food on the table.”

“Food?” Caulfield said the word like it was something he’d known as a child and hadn’t though much of since. So he said, “What if I told you, if you accept this position, you will never need to eat ever again?”

To be perfectly honest, that sounded to Rodrigo Valdez like some rich white-guy bullshit. But what he replied was, “I’d be… skeptical.”

“What you do on the Internet,” Caulfield explained, “is really just a matter of manipulating the rules of the systems that are in place. The need, the human need, to eat food on a daily basis—that, too, is a rule.”

“Yeah, but like… you can’t hack the world. You can’t hack the human body.”

At that, Caulfield raised an eyebrow.

That was when the world went a little bit wonky. At first, Rodrigo thought it was something in his drink, but then he remembered he hadn’t been holding a drink. Or had he? He was no longer sure.

And that was when Michael Caulfied, the Inventor of the Internet, took over the narrative myself. Now, Rodrigo, you will experience only what I allow you to. Because this is what can happen when you control a resource as vast and omniscient as the Internet. This is the kind of thing you can do with it: you can literally crawl inside a person’s mind and alter the information received by their senses.

So now, my dear Mr. Valdez, are you interested in my offer? Or should I just plug you into my systems here and put your impressive yet still malleable mind to work for me?

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Angel Mine

I didn’t know why you had wings.
I assumed you were an angel.
That’s all anyone had ever told me
you could be.
They told me an angel would come
and there you were.
Never mind that your wings were
made for one. Never mind
you didn’t tell me that was the
reason.
Never mind you had all your own
battles to fight
and run away from.
Angels don’t belong
to people.
So you were never
mine.


“Cassandra”

I don’t want to talk about my love life. I mean, you’ve already heard it, right? You know about Trevor. I know you probably think we never talked again after that and you’re wrong but not really wrong. It was never really the same again. I knew Angus was getting out of juvie. I’d known he’d be getting out years before he even went in. I didn’t see much of what happened to him on the inside. I try not to conclude from that that not much did because it usually does, I just don’t want to make any assumptions or bring it up.

I wonder what he’d do if he knew that I’d slept with my gay best friend, gotten pregnant and had the abortion. Would he still sleep wiht me himself? I think about not doing it. I think about staying away, not making contact, avoiding him. But he’s, like, my soulmate, right? Even if he is proven guilty, it’s not like there are any other candidates.

Maybe I do have a choice, though. Does it really have to be this way? Maybe I don’t need anyone. Maybe I’m fine just like this. I weigh it all up in my head. Following my visions of being with him versus being alone.

I just stop picking up when he calls me at night. He doesn’t call back.

Will I spend my life alone?

But then one day, I find myself in an old-school used record store and I feel a tap on my shoulder. I hear a voice say “Kassandra?” It’s warm and familiar, I guess? And I turn around…

Sometimes dreams do come true in the way that you least expect them.


The Screen Door

 

Jeffrey didn’t really grow up with screen doors. They’re just not really a thing in Europe. “What are they for?” he asked his grandparents while visiting their cabin in Trinity’s Field when he was ten.

“They’re to keep the bugs out,” said his grandmother.

This wasn’t enough for young Jeffrey. “Why don’t youj just keep the door closed?” he asked.

“Gets awful hot here in the summer,” she said. Then she was back to her cooking and her puttering.

It was his grandfather who leaned into him then and whispered “Bugs aren’t the only thing they keep out.” He didn’t say anything else, just winked conspiratorially. But then, Robert MacGregor always was an odd duck.

Later that summer, Jeffrey’s father yelled at him in their native German for leaving the screen door open. An insect the size of Jeffrey’s thumb—the largest he’d ever seen up close—had gotten into the house, into the very kitchen, after Jeffrey had failed to close the screen. Most houses, the screen door swings on a spring, but the MacGregor cottage in Trinity’s Field had sliding doors you actually had to pay attention to.

<<You did this!>> Wolfgang yelled at his son, who was grateful his American relatives didn’t do languages. <<What if it had gotten in the lasagna? What if it had laid eggs?>>

Years later, after he graduated high school in Brussels, Jeffrey decided to take a year off before going to school in the U.S. The simplest way to facilitate this gap-year was to take his mother’s parents up on their offer to house him while he worked to save up some money and played a few gigs on his guitar and violin in town.

It was that year his grandfather finally started to lose his mind completely.

One day, as Jeffrey was headed out the door to his job cleaning rooms at the conference center in town, he was surprised to hear a voice in the house he didn’t recognize. When he turned around, though, it was only his grandfather sitting in his favorite chair, but the voice he was using, younger but also rasping, uttered words in a language Jeffrey didn’t recognize—but it was definitely a language.

“Grampa?” Jeffrey said, loud enough to wake him.

Robert made a snorting sound and jolted, then acted like nothing was the matter.

Jeffrey didn’t think much of the incident while he was at work, but a few days later, he came downstairs in the middle of the night for a bite to eat and noticed that the screen door was open. The regular door was closed, so it wasn’t a German-yelling disaster, but it was odd and unsettling and made Jeffrey think of his grandfather’s cryptic warning half a lifetime ago.

“You know something, don’t you?”

This time, Jeffrey recognized his grandfather’s voice, but there was something off about his inflection, like he was an actor—a good actor—playing a different part.

Robert MacGregor was sitting in that chair again. It seemed almost like he was rocking in it, but it wasn’t a rocking-chair. Was it just his imagination?

“Grampa?” Jeffrey said. “What are you doing up?”

Robert opened his mouth like he was yawning or popping his ears, but instead he shifted his jaw in a way that was painful to look at.

“Sleep is for…” he hesitated. “Other people.”

“Guess you don’t gotta be up in the morning.” Jeffrey still struggled with Southern Dialect, but liked to practice. He opened the fridge, took out a can of Mountain Dew. When he closed the door, his grandfather was right next to him. “Well, hey, there.”

“I like it when you sing,” said Robert MacGregor. “I like it when you play the guitar and the violin. I like that you write songs. I like… I like you, Jeffrey.”

His grandfather reached out his arms. Physical affection had always been a priority for their family, but this “hug” was something else entirely. Jeffrey backed away.

“What do you know?” his grandfather asked.

Jeffrey darted his eyes in the direction of the front door, but didn’t get all the way there. He didn’t want to take his eyes off his grandfather.

“You remember what I told you,” his grandfather said. “You’re concerned about the door being opened, about what it might have let in. That’s what I love most about you, Jeffrey: your mind is open. You accept that there’s more out there than most people believe.”

He came in very close to his grandson, unnaturally close, forehead to forehead. “And what,” Jeffrey finally asked, “exactly, had gotten in?”

His grandfather chuckled. “Nothing.” He chuckled some more. “Nothing at all! At least…” He stopped chuckling. “Nothing that wasn’t here before. Years ago. Decades. You have no idea, my dear, dear grandchild. You have no idea how… how liberating it feels to finally…

“You’re not coming out of the closet, are you?” Jeffrey found himself quickly weighing his homosympathy against the pain he knew it would probably cause his grandmother.

But Robert MacGregor just laughed. He laughed higher and more maniacally than Jeffrey had ever heard him (or anyone else his age) laugh before in real life. “No, no, no, no, no, no,” he kept saying for entirely too long. “No, my dear boy. Not exactly that.”

“Not exactly.”

“There’s more than just the one closet.”

That was the most answer Jeffrey got out of his grandfather that night. Seconds after he said it, his eyes rolled into the back of his head and he collapsed. When Jeffrey and his grandmother managed to revive the old man, he laughed it off, but Jeffrey was always uneasy with him after that, wondering between the closet and the screen door if his grandfather had lost his mind or if something even stranger had invaded it.


The Wrench

A lot of people make assumptions about Trick Fenwick based on the fact he’s a mechanic. They think he’s one of those macho men, all gruff-and-tumble, very alpha, very to-the-point. He is all of these things to some extent, but not to the extent peopel assume from his appearance.

Another thing people tend to assume based on Trick’s appearance and profession is that he’s straight. These people go from puzzled to perplexed to downright offended when they witness Trick’s boyfriend Enrique Valdez coming into the shop, flamboyantly strutting about and kissing his man sweetly on the cheek.

It isn’t just the revelation of Trick’s gayness—it’s also the fact that his boyfriend is Latino, and they’ve also assumed from the mechanic’s appearance that he’s at least casually racist. But Trick is no more racist than he is a cherry-flavored McMuffin.

However, once people discover that Trick is a gay man with a Latin lover, they start to act on an entirely new set of equally erroneous assumptions. Like the idea that he likes Musicals or has an especially keen sense of fashion (“Oh honey,” Enrique lovingly mocks) or that he’s some pansy liberal pushover snowflake who will bend to the wishes of organized crime after they capture his boyfriend and threaten dire consequences should he not comply. Let us be perfectly clear: All assumptions made about Trick Fenwick are false.

Because the one thing nobody “assumes” just from looking at Trick, even after verifying that he’s a mechanic, is the one thing that is most important about him: Trick Fenwick can communicate with machines.

It isn’t like “talking”—not exactly. Machines don’t use words like humans do, so it’s almost like a kinetic sign language, but one that can be practiced from across the room.

Computers he can talk to, also, being as how they’re machines, too. But he doesn’t like them. They’re moody and full of themselves, overblown with their own “complexity”, even though, for crying out loud, it all boils down to the same mathematics.

They also don’t respond well to wrenches.

Of all the workshop tools, the wrench is Trick Fenwick’s favorite and out of all the wrenches he owns, his favorite is the eleven-inch cast-iron beauty he likes to call Delilah. He calls her that because no matter how uppity any of his machines get on him, with the help of old Delilah, he can cut their hair and make ‘em settle.

Any time his straight friends or colleagues or idiot customers hear him complaining about how the government and the church keep screwing over gay people and they tell him and his boyfriend they need to “get a grip”—it’s always Delilah Trick likes to think about, and all the things a wrench can do.

“You at least gonna leave any of ‘em in one piece?” Delilah asks him. (Wrenches, you see, they’re machines, too.)

“Don’t see what for,” says Trick, hanging Delilah off his belt and strapping himself onto his motorcycle, Mike.

“What?” says Mike the bike, waking up. “What’s going on?”

Trick explains the situation. “Say what?” says Mike the bike.

“Those assholes, I always knew they was trouble.”

“That why you were flirting with their Lamborghini?”

“I wasn’t gonna try nothing, just pumpin’ her for information.”

“Keep telling yourself that.”

Far as machinery went, the only other thing Trick Fenwick brought along with him was his cell-phone, Connie, who complained the whole way how Trick wasn’t paying her enough attention—kept telling him he should call the cops, or he was going the wrong way.

“I could smash her for ya,” said Delilah.

“Nah,” said Trick. “Don’t need her now, but we might soon.”

Now, here’s the part where I really wish there was more to the story, some set of complications or amusing circumstances at least, but really it was just a straight-up rescue situation featuring a superhero underestimated by some third-tier villains in the classical manner. See, the supposedly organized criminals made a mistake they didn’t even realize by holing up in an abandoned warehouse filled with discarded but still perfectly functional relics who, with their 1960s values, made Connie the cell-phone feel out of place and vaguely threatened as a millennial.

But because they were still functional, they were easy to manipulate and they came on and freaked the everliving fuck out of the kidnapper’s goons and even ended up trudging out of their old trappings and squashing a couple of them.

I would go into more detail right now but unfortunately, I don’t speak machine like Trick Fenwick does.

“What took you so long, Baby?” asked Enrique.

“Connie,” Trick blamed. “Wouldn’t shut up about G.P.S.”

“You should have left her at home.”

“Yeah, well, I know that now, I just, I don’t know, I assumed this would be, I don’t know, hard?”

“Oh, Trickicito,” Enrique coo’d. “You should know better than anyone living, you should never make any assumptions.”


The Angel in the Empty Room

I don’t want to go in there.
I don’t want to and you can’t make me.
I don’t even want to open the door.
That door hasn’t been opened in…

I like the way that door looks, closed—no, I don’t.
I like the way the hallway looks with that door closed.
The other doors—open, closed, it doesn’t really
matter to me, but that door—

please don’t make me say it.

I know what’s behind that door.
I know what’s supposed to be there, anyway.
I know what was there before,
back when the door was open,

don’t I?
Is it there still?
Is there anything else there now?
I don’t care—I know what’s supposed to be there.

I’ve seen it before, so why should I bother?
No, I didn’t hear a noise.
I know what’s in that room—there’s nothing in that room.

What would there be to make noise?
What kind of—you know what? It doesn’t even matter.
There’s nothing there. It was just your imagination,

playing tricks on you.
Or it was you playing tricks on me.

Either way, just shut up about it.
There’s nothing behind that door.
Nothing but memories. And who the hell needs those.


“Parisienne Moonlight”

Raven has been having dreams of Declan. I know this because I’ve been having dreams about Declan and because in those dreams, I have been Raven.

In the dreams, they have seen each other across rain-swept alleyways. They have met in moonlit closets that turned out to be crowded dance-floors and they’ve hugged and they’ve kissed and they’ve fucked and she’s woken up not remembering if she was herself or if she was him pretending to be her.

The Acid Monsoon song “Exit Sandman” is about this, if you hadn’t guessed already.

“Come to one of my shows,” he hears from her by text.

“I can’t,” she finds out, “I’ll be clear ‘cross the country.”

She finds that she misses him. It’s a feeling she doesn’t recognize, so it takes her a long time to unpack it. Why do I feel bad? doesn’t work as a question until she tries What will make me feel better?

“I miss you.” It’s a text he doesn’t get to read because she keeps not sending it. She knows she’s acted horribly, treated him with… like… She just has a lot of regrets.

“I still love you.” That one, she doesn’t even type out. She knows better.

“I don’t think I can do this,” she confesses to Caspar June. She’s been sleeping with him casually, off and on, but that’s not what makes it a confession.

“How can I make this easier on you?” For him, it isn’t just the fact that she’s a wonderful singer, it’s the fact that even after a year and a half of modest fame and personal glory, she still hasn’t turned into a diva, which is promising. He does not want to lose that.

They come up with the idea together to try to lure Declan’s Gorgasm band into touring with them.

“And then what?” Caspar June asks her. “You are gonna stay with us?”

“I don’t see why I shouldn’t.”

It takes far too long for him to give in. They try money, they try gigs. They send presents.

“I don’t get it,” he tells his bandmates, because he’s stupid. Because he knows it can’t be true and doesn’t want to give his hopes up.

“Why are you doing this?” he finally asks her.

She has finally managed to lure him to dinner and the question is… well, the question is everything. “I just wanted to know…”

“What?”

“I wanted to know if there was still a chance for us.”

At the dinner, he sighed.

“You know you’re being a shithead, right?” Declan had been casually sleeping with Rachel for a while, but that wasn’t why she said it. “I know you’re still in love with her and you know she’s still in love with you, so for fuck’s sake, Declan!”

“Also,” said Tally, “I kinda want to chase the Monsoon. Those guys are tight as, like, an obscene thing I don’t want to mention in mixed company.”

“A virgin’s asshole?” Rachel suggested.

“Sure, let’s go with that.”

Meanwhile, Raven waits by the phone, at least proverbially.

“Why do I do this to myself?” She hears the voice behind her and at first she thinks it might be her own. “If I could have you, if you would have me back… Why would I keep punishing you?”

She looks at him and shakes her head.

“I don’t want to punish you,” she says.

She rushes into his arms.