Friday, July 20, 2018


Fiction by Ben Fitts

They came for my vinyl copy of Captain Beefheart’s “Trout Mask Replica” the other day. Records are all I have left since they took streaming away from us. I used to sit in my living room, spinning that album on my turntable for hours on end. When it would end, I’d flip it back over and start it again from the beginning. I knew every note of that album by heart. Sometimes it felt like all I had left of the world. So much else had been taken.

When the album got added to the list, I started listening to it on headphones so the tightly packed neighbors wouldn’t overhear Zoot Horn Rollo’s guitar riff on “Moonlight On Vermont” or the Captain hollering his way through “Ella Guru” and call the authorities on me.

But somehow they found out anyway.

The record was old and scratched, but the priest officers didn’t care. It was still on the list. They went through my apartment a bit longer after snatching the record from my turntable, but didn’t find anything else worth confiscating.

The older of the two priest officers got right in my face before leaving. I could smell the coffee on his middle-aged breath.

“You’re real selfish son, keeping this record,” he told me. “The earth is dying because of people like you not thinking of the greater good and holding on to things like this.”

Then the pair strapped back on their gas masks, looking rather like the trout-faced man on the album’s cover, and left my littered apartment, leaving me to cleanup their mess. I suffered no criminal penalty. People are far too busy with more pressing issues to deal with that sort of thing anymore.

Everything felt empty without that record.

Sure, I still had other Beefheart records. “Clear Spot”, “Lick My Decals Off, Baby” and even “Safe As Milk” (“Trout Mask Replica” was the only album that made the list). And yeah, I still had all my records by other artists to listen to, CAN, The Birthday Party, Throbbing Gristle and the like, but none of it was quite like “Trout Mask Replica”. Nothing ever made was ever quite like “Trout Mask Replica.” That album has a special magic all of its own.

I tried to listen to my other records, but nothing quite filled the void left by “Trout Mask Replica”. Nothing ever could.

A couple days later, depressed and alone in the world without The Captain’s growling voice to keep me company, I turned on the live vision feed on my wall computer. The president was making another address.

He must have arrived late, because he walked onto the podium still wearing a gas mask as if he had just been outside. He pulled the mask off and handed it an aide, who made the equipment vanish off camera.

The president then walked up to the microphone and looked directly at me through the screen on my wall computer.

“Hello, fellow Americans,” he addressed. “Today we have gathered the last of the things deemed too good for this world. Apparently, some asshole in a cramped little apartment in Brooklyn was holding onto to an LP copy of “Trout Mask Replica”, which was perhaps the final straw indicating our unworthiness.”

The audience made disgruntled, angry sounds at this last remark. The president silenced them with a wave of his hand. 

“But now, fellow Americans, we can rest easy,” he continued. “The album, along with all of the other items Americans had tried to hide that were too good for humanity, have been successfully loaded into an unmanned rocket that will be sent into space and then detonated.

“I just returned from the rocket myself, to make sure that the item had truly been loaded onboard. Maybe then, once we have finally rid our planet of the last of these undeserved luxuries, The Great Old Ones will finally show us mercy and lift the toxic fog that afflicts our atmosphere away from our planet, or at least from American skies.”

The crowd erupted in applause and cheers. The camera cut to the feed of the rocket launching. I watched it soar through the green, hazy sky. The disembodied voice of a news anchor made comments the entire time the rocket was in flight, mostly about how now The Great Old Ones will finally be appeased that humanity is no longer taking more than it needs and restore our damaged atmosphere back to the way it used to be.

I don’t buy it though. I don’t think The Great Old Ones have anything to do with Earth becoming an inhospitable, toxic inferno. I think humanity sealed our own fate after years and years of pollution and over industrialization. It’s not a popular opinion.

After The Great Old Ones returned to this world, many people readily attributed the current disaster we called life to these long lost cosmic deities. It took responsibility off ourselves, plus meant that we didn’t have to cut back on any capitalist activities. It wasn’t the oil industry that broke the earth, it was Yig or maybe Cthulhu. Soon this idea became so popular that a presidential candidate ran his entire campaign on appeasing The Great Old Ones into restoring Earth to the way it was.

Somewhere down the line, the president got the idea that the people of Earth were being punished for undeserved indulgences. He started confiscating all the things humanity didn’t deserve and having them destroyed, culminating in things like my Captain Beefheart record and butterscotch pudding. But that wasn’t until the current administration had done away with more basic luxuries, like medicine and clean water.

On my wall computer the rocket, now in space, exploded. The camera cut to two news anchors sitting in a studio.

“Well, we have no reports so far of the toxic atmosphere clearing up,” said one of the anchors, never breaking her media friendly, professional smile, “but President Archer insists that the rocket did in fact contain the very last of humanity’s underserved luxuries, so the atmosphere should be clearing up sometime very soon.”

“That’s right, Karen,” said the other news anchor. “The Great Old Ones must surely be appeased now.”

I don’t think they are though. It’s not that I think they’re displeased with us. While I’m pretty certain they had nothing to do with ruining our planet, I don’t think that they’d fix it even if they could.

It’s not that they’re punishing us. It’s just that I can’t imagine creatures as paramount as them would ever bother to care about anything as insignificant as us, no matter what we do.

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