Sunday, May 17, 2009

CONSPIRACY! Excerpt: "Stuart"

This excerpt from my serialized eBook CONSPIRACY! contains a spoiler of sorts, so if you're already following the book you might not want to read it. Even if you aren't following the book, you also might not want to read it.

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picture by smohundro on Flickr

From CONSPIRACY! Chapter Eleven

"Hey, Toddy-bear!"

Stuart quickly led me from the porch through the rooms and up the stairs, never looking back, never engaging in small talk, his only acknowledgment of me his extended arm behind him. I always had to call Stuart right before I arrived, so he could hustle his mom out of the way and answer the door himself. Stuart liked his family life and friend life separate, like the food on his plate and the publishers of his comic books on his shelves. The Thickness would never be near Iron Man, for instance. He just didn't believe in full-on alphabetical.

I assumed that somewhere in the house -- maybe the dining room, maybe the bathroom, maybe the den -- Stuart's mother waited, unseen. She would hear a door shutting, a lock turning, and she'd know it was her time to get out, to help keep her son's world separate, to prevent his brain from short-circuiting. I had no idea what she looked like, or even sounded, but her personal effects were everywhere. There was nothing in the house that indicated a 38-year-old comic book fan, computer programmer, and gun enthusiast lived in that house; nothing on Stuart's door gave any indication that the room was his.

He ushered me in with an elaborate waving of his pudgy, freckled arms, closed the door, and slid a small latch in place. Stuart suddenly became alive, in his element. An open Priority Mail box rested on his floor, packing peanuts trailing out of it. On top of his immaculately made bed rested a dark gray gun; its weight made it sink slightly into the mattress. A wiry orange-and-black cat delicately walked past my feet, stepping over my sneakers; then it doubled back and aggressively rubbed itself on my legs.

"Sheila!" Stuart scolded, scooping the cat up. He regarded the mass of flossy orange fur his pet deposited on the bottom of my pants. "Sorry 'bout that, bro."

"Don't worry about it." I was way past worrying about natural animal deposits. The lighter fluid in my Chicken McNuggets gave me far more pause these days.

Stuart took a stack of comic books out of a folded-over brown bag, I had a seat on his navy blue desk chair, and we discussed the week's offerings. It was so rote, so predictable, our conversation; our stated dissatisfaction with the state of the comic book industry, our belief that the publishers had left us behind, that our tastes and interests and even values were not being taken into consideration anymore. We asked the same question we always asked: "Where were the real heroes?" We were sick of being force-fed stories starring scumbags and assholes, as if their amoral adventures, their fucked-up rationales, their wretched personalities were worth any sort of narrative whatsoever.

Despite all this, Stuart kept dropping about sixty dollars a week at the comic book store; over a hundred if he decided to purchase peripheral items. I could have borrowed his comics if I really wanted to, if I promised to be very careful with them. But years previous I had reached a point where the only stories I wanted to read were the ones I created myself.

Our ritual comic book bitching over, I began to talk to Stuart about Zaius. More than Zaius: I gave my friend a rounded picture of everything I went through over the last month. I told him things in detail that I had only glossed over before. I went into detail about Dr. Mengele and the Pacifax. I gave him a recap on Hyman Lidge, and how my eyes were opened to his folly by sweet Edith Snider. I explained to Stuart about over-population, about how things would never be what we would consider "normal" in twenty years, no matter what we did; that the best we could expect were food shortages, excess solar rays irradiating our skin. That cancer would be more and more certain, if not from the unabating sun then from the poisoned water. That our only hope was Science; not the science of Monsanto and Microsoft, but natural science. That we had to wake Nature fully up, so She could run on her own the way she used to, the way She did before we fucked it all up.

I told Stuart that I had reached the point where I could no longer go on "as usual." That I was throwing my support fully behind the Zaius Project, behind New Amsterdam. That I acknowledged there might be risks, but that I was willing to take them, because I found something bigger than me, something I was willing to sacrifice for. And then I told him that I respected him, and invited him to accompany me. That we could save ourselves.

Stuart was very silent as I told him all this. The only other sound in the room other than my voice was the cat rummaging through a Taco Bell bag on his computer desk. Stuart was sitting on the edge of his bed, one leg propped up on the other, looking serious but not angry. Sometimes he fidgeted with his bedsheet. I had no idea what he thought. I was baring my soul to him.

He was still silent for a good five minutes after I spoke. The air was thick, I could hear a gentle ringing after awhile. No, not a ringing. A buzzing. I wasn't sure if that sound was in the room itself, outside, or just in my cochlea.

Then Stuart said,

"I believe you."

And then he said,

"But I can't go."

*** *** ***

"I mean honestly, some of the stuff you're telling me is pretty far out there," Stuart continued, "but this world is so shitty that I don't doubt what you're saying. It makes sense to me. It explains things. It explains a lot. And anything that can bring a radical change to this world -- I mean a radical, profound change -- is fine with me. And I mean anything. I do not care. 'Cause we're due, and I've felt that way for a long time. But I can't leave. It's impossible. I'm glued here, and I know it. It's a mental sickness, I'll be the first to admit it. When I stop and really think how I'm glued here, how I can't leave, I pretty much want to eat the hot end of a rifle, you know what I'm saying? My dysfunction -- I'm aware of it, it tortures me. But it's too late."

"That's not true, Stuart..."

"No, it sure as fuck is. I'm doing my best to tolerate life. It's really the best I can do. And I'm glued, Toddy-Bear. I'm glued here. I don't like it. But at least I know it."

"But you were talking about moving out like what, six months ago? You sounded so excited. You had a plan. You had the newspaper with the listings."

"Naw, I'm glued. I'm glued."

Silence. Then,

"But I'm sure as shit excited that you're finally getting out. I mean seriously, this really cheers me the fuck up." And: "But I just can't fight the feeling that you are potentially in some deep shit." And: "I feel like, you know, emotional. Like you're going away."

Stuart grabbed the gun.

*** *** ***

"Nobody will ever think to look in here," Stuart said as he folded a fajita wrapper over the gun and placed it in the brown Taco Bell bag. "They'll think it's just garbage." Then he handed the bag to me.

The gesture touched me greatly, but also filled me with sudden dread, a dread that I had not experienced during my entire involvement with Edith and Zaius. Why would I need a gun, my mind rather forcefully inquired. And yet it made perfect sense. I was a revolutionary. The goals of New Amsterdam ran completely counter to what the Illuminati hierarchy had established for us. Were they going to loosen their grip on our lives without a fight? My god. This was happening. This was really happening.

But most dread-inducing of all was Stuart's behavior. He was absolutely mournful. He was sniffling. He puttered around his room like an Alzheimer's patient, starting out with some sort of purpose but then forgetting; walking around in circles. And all the time I sat on his chair, gripping the Taco Bell bag with the gun in it in my right hand, my fingers tight and sweaty around the rough brown paper. It was like Stuart was processing something, and all I could do was wait until he was through. There was nothing I could say, nothing I hadn't said hundreds of times before. No more reassurances, no more supportive words for his impending escape from that house, from Middle Village. It had all been an elaborate script, words spoken out of kindness, because it sounded like the right thing to say. I felt an incredible finality in that moment, and I knew Stuart felt it too.

"I always knew you'd get out, Toddy-Bear," Stuart said, finally stopping his pacing and wiping his red nose with the meaty part of his hand below the thumb. Then he knelt, unzipped my pants, and went down on me.

I didn't know what to do. So I let him finish.

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