Friday, November 30, 2018

Fiction: A BAG FULL OF GOD by Jeremy Void

Fiction by Jeremy Void

Andy, what a meathead, said he could cook the cocaine into crack. No problem. He said he could, but he cooked the crap out of it and now we’re left with this minuscule bag of powder and Andy gets none. Sara, she’s screaming her face off at Andy, calling him shit-for-brains. David, he’s pacing the room, talking to himself, like he’s the only one here. He’s really worried. What’re we gonna do? I hear him say over and over again.
Kristina is saying the same, though not to herself, but to me, sitting on the couch beside me, pestering me and yelling and saying why don’t I fuckin listen to her. I hear her, I do, but I don’t care.
I stand up and reach in my pocket and pull out my cellphone and make a call. I can barely hear the ringing over the ruckus Sara’s making. I look over at her and shush her with my finger.
Don’t you shush me! she yells and storms around the counter and out of the kitchen and waves a bony finger at my face.
I grab her finger and twist it in my hand, and she cringes just as someone says, Hello?
Tony, I say into the phone, holding tight to Sara’s finger. A forty bag.
He says okay, and Sara and I are now in the truck riding to Tony’s place.
My teeth grind. Crackling.
Sara doesn’t speak. The radio plays quietly, and I think it’s the Circle Jerks.
We’re almost there, she’s thinking. Yay, we’re almost there. She looks at me and smiles and it looks grotesque the color of her teeth, so green and gross and capped with mold and scum. She looks away and jerks the wheel to the side and the truck dodges a parked car and we glide up an incline and slow to a shuddering stop in three parking spots in the lot outside of Tony’s place.
She honks the horn, and my stomach churns with the annoying sound.
She honks it again, and I can tell she’s not too happy with the noise, either, but still she honks one more time and the door opens up and a beam of light shines through and crafts a fabulous glowing rectangle that stands out against the darkness and in the bright doorway a dark figure materializes, just a silhouette, and starts down the steps. He has a skip in his step, and a glide to his stride, and his face comes into focus, it’s Tony’s face, and his knuckles come down on the driver’s side window, with a clunk-clunk-clunk.
Sara rolls down her window, passes him the cash, and he chucks a bag of fine, white powder in through the window and it lands on my lap. I hold it up and the light from the door makes the bag sparkle and little glittery beads flicker and I feel like I’m holding a bag full of God himself.
As Tony walks away, Sara stomps on the gas and the truck tears out of the lot in a surge of glory. The excitement makes me horny.
Sara looks at me and smiles again, and this time I see past the horrific grin and she looks so beautiful now, my stunningly hot girlfriend.
I stare out the window and watch the apartment buildings shoot past in a yellowish red blur of light, and watch through the front windshield the traffic lights changing from green to orange to red and then cast a green glow on the windshield as we float beneath.
I can’t wait, I say to Sara, who turns the wheel smoothly to the left, and the truck bounces and lands softly and we go up and over a small hill and then stop.
My gaze circles the lot in which we’ve stopped, and in front of the truck is the back wall of a McDonald’s, just a wall made of bricks with a dumpster to the right. I watch customers appear from the side and enter their cars and drive away. Their head and taillights carve smudged lines into the night.
I then hear a shrill tapping, and my eyes find the source: a mirror laid flat in between our seats, with cocaine piled in the center and a razor blade slicing through the chunks and softening the powder. My heart picks up its pace when I see this. It starts jackhammering in my chest, and in my arms and legs I feel the force of my blood pumping and flowing faster, my pulse pounding harder, the blood speeding through my veins with sharp perseverance. Sara cuts the coke with perfect adherence. She looks like a pro as she slides her ATM card along the mirror and carves out four tasty lines. I touch the tip of my tongue to the tip of my pointer and press my pointer finger to the end of a line, really rub it in, but only the end, coating my finger with that delicious white powder. I rub it along my gum and my gum starts to feel tingly and soon goes numb and I smile watching Sara do the same, slathering her gum with cocaine.
I crane my neck and look out the rear window, and into an empty spot across the lot rolls a police cruiser and its headlights bounce off the fence and then shut off. Darkness eats the cruiser and I can only see a silhouette of the cop exit the car and he starts straight for us.
5-O! I shout.
What? Sara cranes her neck and says, Shit.
She slams her hand on the mirror’s edge and the flat piece of glass jumps and flips over and the cocaine scatters like dust.
I look over there, and the cop’s almost here, so Sara dumps the bag out of her slightly open window and rolls it all the way up and wraps her arms around me and rams her lips into mine and stuffs her tongue inside my mouth. It feels its way down my throat and swirls and weaves and wrestles with my own tongue, dancing with it now, and it feels so good the way it swirls around and caresses my tongue.
My dick fills with blood, and I feel it hardening in my pants as she moves her hands up and down my back, and then come the clunks and she stops and turns and the cop is out there staring at us.
The window eases down inch by inch and the cop looks in very sternly at us, and when I maneuver my gaze back to the rear window I spot another cop on his way over, and the one who stands outside the window has a nametag with the insignia KANE. He crouches down and then rises and his stern features sharpen.
What’s this? he says, and brings a small plastic bag into view.
Uh…. Sara fumbles with her words, unsure of what to say or if she should even say anything at all, so I chime in with, That’s not ours.
The cop shakes his head and the second cop joins him and Kane says, Get out of the truck.
Sir, it’s not ours, I repeat, regretting that we’d wasted the blow, for the second time tonight, because if he lets us go, we’re out of dough and can’t exactly get more, not until the morning. Really, sir, we’ve just come to make out.
Get out, the second cop says, smiling.
Something about his snide smile doesn’t sit right in my gut, but still I do as I’m told and the cops shove the both of us against the side of the truck, read us our rights, bind us in cuffs, and shove us away toward the cruiser and push down on our heads as we duck under the roof and settle in the backseat. Sara sits to the left of me.
The cruiser rolls backwards and does a one-point maneuver that brings the front end forward and then we all are off, out of the lot, and in the front the two cops talk and laugh and joke and laugh and the numbness in my gums fades and becomes itchy and I scratch it with my tongue as stores whiz by and the sirens come on and we soar under a traffic light, with an array of red and blue lights flashing all around, and then the sirens go off but the cruiser keeps forward and the cops in the front talk and laugh and joke and laugh and their voices irritate me in a way I can’t articulate, just a nuisance of noise that nags at my brain and my eardrums thunder in pain.
My teeth grind. Crackling.
I watch the gas station attendant feed gas into a blue Subaru and then see the lights in a Starbucks shut off all of a sudden and watch a hooker stand on the corner and she walks down a side street when she obviously sees us and the cops I can tell saw her too because in the front they crack jokes about this derelict woman, and about what she is, and this makes me mad as she probably needs the cash, maybe to feed her two crying babies she’s got at home, but then she shouldn’t have had the babies in the first place but at the same time I feel guilty for thinking so negatively about her and I wonder what her name is and I know I’ll never know and then the cruiser stops.
I shift my gaze nervously and to our sides, out the windows, are boarded-up buildings, and through the front windshield I see a dead end, blocked off by a short fence and beyond it are woods and what the fuck!
This can’t be good.
I, for the first time this whole ride, look at Sara and her jaw is moving, I know this from the way her bone pokes through her cheek and then her cheek deflates and she does it again, and I look in the front, but… where’d they go?
I hear a click which steals my focus to the door and it opens on my side and on Sara’s side and the second cop is standing right outside, still smiling like a madman.
I look over at Sara and past her is Kane and he says to her, Get out.
Sara’s jaw moves faster and I hear the sound of her teeth grinding, or maybe that’s mine, I don’t know.
Get out, the second cop says to me, and, unlike Sara, I obey right away, nervously though, and over my shoulder Kane drags her out by her hair and then she’s gone.
My line of sight bypasses the roof and I don’t even see her across the cruiser, and that’s when it comes—the BANG!, my head clanging into the steel fender, and then the WHOMP!, my neck snapping and my head smacking the concrete, a CRUNCH!, a boot barreling into my ribs, and I fold, try to fend off the next shot with my hands, but in my ring finger I feel a stabbing throb when the boot cuts through and connects with my gut.
Tears roll down my face and feel like ice.
The cop reaches down, lifts me up, shoves me against the cruiser, and drives his bony knee into my stomach, and I fold and he throws me down and my body dives headlong and the top of my dome whacks the ground and my lights go out.
When my lights come back on, my sight wavering, with blurry lines of static jumping and weaving and fading in and out of focus, the world turning upside-down and coming back around and flattening—when I come to and the world stops moving, I realize I’m sitting up against the cruiser, my butt on the ground, blood distorting my vision so everything is tainted with a crimson shade, and I feel a thin line of fluid drip past my nose, and the two cops, I see now, are smoking cigarettes and talking in muffled voices I can’t make out.
I look around for Sara but don’t see her anywhere. They could have killed her, I wonder, but then she comes into view when I peer underneath the cruiser, and she looks dead, lying dull on the ground, and I have to do something now.
The cops aren’t paying much attention to me, maybe they assume I’m out for the count, but they’re wrong because I surge up to my feet and tear the gun from Kane’s holster with amazing speed and agility and this heroic act grabs their attention and directs it toward me.
Don’t move! I shout, clumsily holding and waving the gun in both hands, and they take a step back and then another and a third.
I said don’t move!
The second cop reaches for his holster and I take aim and fire and try to hit him in the leg, but instead the bullet hits the ground and dings and bounces and goes somewhere else. I look that way, then through my peripheral vision I see him reach for his gun again and I take aim again and hold the pistol firm.
Their hands drift up cautiously.
We can talk this through, says Kane.
I shake my head no.
Put the gun down, the second cop says, demonstrating what he means by pushing down with his hands, as though pushing down the trunk of a car.
I step forward and stab the air with the gun. Keep your hands up!
We can work something out.
Just put it down.
It’s okay, you’ll see, just put it down and we’ll figure this out.
No, I bark. Gimme the keys!
Kane reaches for the set dangling from his belt loop and I get nervous and fire at his leg again but miss again and the bullet sails off into the distance.
His hands fly up fast.
Now the keys, I say. Toss em to me.
I wave my fingers in a beckoning motion, indicating to hand them over, and I hear a grunt and turn and the cops advance and I turn and they step back.
I said don’t move!
Kane flings me the keys and I reach out to catch them but they bounce off my hand and I accidentally squeeze off another shot, this one high, and when I look up, blood is squirting out of where the second cop’s ear should be. Fuck me! I pick up the keys and jump in the cruiser, behind the wheel, and the cruiser goes forward and almost crashes into the fence … but I catch it before it connects, shift it into reverse, ride the gas as the cruiser backs out, shift into drive, floor it, and the cruiser roars as I sail away.
But I forgot Sara.
I look out the rearview mirror and lights appear everywhere, red and blue splashes sprinkling the darkness, and I realize I can’t turn back now.
I speed down a few blocks and take a few turns and end up back where it all started, outside Kristina’s apartment, where Andy fucked up big, and the lights are still on and I wonder what they’re doing up there.
As I climb the tall stairway to Kristina’s pad on the second-to-last floor and as my lungs start to burn and my heavy breathing gets raspier with each breath and each floor I pass, the smell of crack, which is sweet like black licorice but tinted with something bitter, grows inside my nose, and I know exactly what they’re doing, and when I open the door I see Kristina lying on the floor and Andy lying on the couch and gray, transparent rings rising from Kristina’s mouth as Andy holds a metal one-hitter to his lips and holds a lighter in front of the small bowl and he roasts the rock inside and envy comes at me like a five-ton bus and knocks me back a few feet, when I notice they’re missing their TV.
At that I smile.
When I go over to them and sit down on the floor with my back to the couch, sighing with great relief, Kristina rolls onto her stomach and a pipe drops from above to in front of me, and I take that as my cue to hold the flame a little bit away from the rock and it sizzles and melts as I pull the toxic smoke in and down my throat and I hold the smoke in as long as I can and, when I can’t take the pressure building up in my lungs any longer, let go of the smoke and it pours out like water gushing through a hole in a dam—an overload of pleasure, a release of pressure, my eyes widening, my lips drying, my body rising—and I’m flying now, hovering above the couch and holding out my hand, where the pipe sits on my palm undisturbed.
Seconds go by, and then maybe a whole minute before Andy lifts the pipe from my palm and drops it saying, Fuck, it’s hot.
It is? I say, dumbfounded.
Kristina rolls onto her back and kicks her legs in a spasm of insane laughter.
Suddenly the door swings open and smacks the wall with an earsplitting crack that grabs my focus, Sara standing in its wake, and I remember then that I left her back there and I kinda care but think of it as only a minor mishap and she’s filthy, dirt-ridden, with thick red goo matting her hair, and blood flowing from her nose, and a swollen bottom lip, and a black ring circling her right eye.
She limps over to us, sits down beside me, and says, You won’t believe what happened.
Kristina stops laughing and looks gravely at her friend.
Andy exhales a stream of vapor and hands Sara the pipe and she takes a hit, sitting there beside me, and then she proceeds.
Well, you see. The cops picked up me and him—pointing at me—and brought us to a backstreet, and this one cop named Kane pulled me outta the cruiser and booted me in the head. Everything after that point seems unclear till I heard the roar of tires grinding the ground and I angled my head and saw the cruiser pull away.
We were safe, I thought. I thought we were safe. I called out his name—gesturing at me again, with her head—but he didn’t respond. It kinda reminded me of the time when I’d got picked up for disorderly conduct outside the shopping mall and I called you—referring to me—and you never came to pay my bail, cuz you were drunk and didn’t feel like it was a good idea to drive drunk to a police station and walk inside, remember that?
I nod at her.
You’re such a fuckin asshole, y’know that?
I smirk and a chuckle slips out.
I spent my entire fuckin weekend there all cuz you had to save your face. You fuckin prick!
Her hand flies back and comes crashing forward and I move my head out from its warpath, and it sails by in a flash.
Chill out! Kristina says.
Yeah, calm down, says Andy, passing her the pipe.
She takes a good-sized hit and gives the pipe to Andy, who replenishes the bowl with another rock.
So what happened next? Andy say.
What do you mean? She says it so seriously, not a hint of humor on her screwed-up face.
You came to, Kristina reminds her. You know, after the cop kicked you in the head?
Oh yeah … wait, no … no, yeah yeah … no, wait, hold on a sec. I needa think. The room’s spinning and I can’t focus with all this fuckin noise. Everybody shut up for a sec and lemme fuckin think.
We all stare at her quietly—expectantly.
Okay, she starts up again. So I came to and I heard screaming going on—the crack sizzling as Kristina takes a hit—and when I looked to the side I saw the one cop swatting at his ears as though swatting at a swarm of flies, and the other one was calling for backup. They didn’t much care for me.
She stops talking and Andy takes the pipe and pulls and passes it to me and I pass it to Sara and she passes it to Kristina and it’s not until Andy takes it back that she proceeds with the story.
So I pushed myself up and kinda stumbled away and when I got to the street I stuck out my thumb and the first car to come pulled to a stop at my feet, and I got in.
It was a college kid kinda guy and he expected me to do him favors, which I wouldn’t do, and so he told me to get out of the car, but instead I slapped him hard in the face and shoved him out while the car kept going and I stayed in and slid behind the wheel and all round me there were flashing red-and-blue lights. I thought maybe there was a fire going on somewhere. I turned the car and went in the way of the lights, and soaring past in the opposite lane was a line of cop cruisers, so I did another U-turn, cutting across the median, cuz I had a burning desire to see that fire, and then I…. She coughs, and the raspy sound comes out all nasty.
It’s then when, suddenly, the shame for leaving her behind starts racking my brain, and I can feel beads of sweat starting to bubble on my face. I wipe away the sweat on my forehead with my shirt sleeve, and look to Andy, whose worried expression tells me we’re out of crack, and the fact that his teeth grind gives me the frights, and Sara, she’s still telling the story, but Kristina, I can tell, is not paying any attention, and the story Sara’s telling starts to waver, starts to make no sense, the little events seeming more humdrum with each minute.
Sara’s head weaves, searching for something, as I stand up and start scanning the floor. Maybe someone dropped a piece. It’s possible, it’s happened before. Andy is rummaging through the couch and Kristina is counting her cash—she counts it again and again, double-checking her math. The walls are closing in around me, and I don’t know what to do, I don’t know what to do, I don’t know what to do.
Panic, panic—PANIC!
I reach in my pocket and pull out my cellphone and make a call. The crude ringing sounds like a razor lodged in my brain.
Tony, I say into the phone, the commotion quieting, all eyes on me….

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Full Length Review: BURIAL SHRINE Labyrinth Of Bridges (Saturnal Records) by Serafima Okuneva

Labyrinth Of Bridges
Place of origin: Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Genre: Black/death metal
Release date: September 23, 2018
Returning home from the work you hated, being tired of the city and the surrounding hustle and bustle around you, I advise you to put on headphones, turn up the volume and fly far beyond the surrounding reality with the help of this brilliant black-death metal debut.
The severe sound attack from Canada’s Burial Shrine gives rise to sincere reverence for compositions so stubbornly kept in suspense. The brilliant manipulation of their ability literally rushes into your ears! Furious drums, chaotic structure, a heavy guitar sound, insane virtuoso-like solos and tight bass are brilliantly complemented by belligerent, bestial shout. This sometimes unexpectedly intertwines with a snarl in the spirit of Amebix, as in the track To Glimpse The Absolute. As a result, this eclecticism gives rise to a fresh album in the modern black / death metal scene. The band debuted on the Finnish label Saturnal Records. Finnish fans know a lot about metal and it's hard to argue with that.
As we know from Burial Shrine’s Bandcamp, a host of guest and session musicians were called upon during the recording to add more dimension to the songs. The bass was provided by CM (Spell, Reversed), while the lead guitars were laid down by TS (Ahna, Starvation). The title track features violin by Terence O'Shea (Griefwalker), and a solo written and performed by MT (Paths, Teeth of the Wolf). This track also features lyrics written by Johannes Nefastos. The album artwork was conjured by Casper Macabre. The design is simple, but with a brutal spirit and style.
Recommended for fans of iconic, evil and bold black-death metal with destructive power and feral energy. I hope to see the next release from these Canadian maniacs soon. -Serafima Okuneva

CXM: unknown
EH: unknown
RW: unknown

Track list:
1. To Plough The Depths
2. To Walk The Edge of Infinity
3. To Glimpse The Absolute
4. To See Beyond The Mask
5. To Give Answer (Vincit Qui Se Vincit)
6. To Scorch The Earth
7. Labyrinth of Bridges

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Full Length Review: BLOOD OF THE WOLF Album I + II (Horror Pain Gore Death Productions) by Dave Wolff

Album I + II
Place of origin: Chicago, Illinois, USA
Genre: Blackened death metal
Release date: November 16, 2018
As I mentioned while reviewing their singles With Iron Weapons And Will and Campaign Of Extermination, Blood Of The Wolf features Frank Garcia of Nekropsy, Waking Chaos, Asphyxiator and the solo project Artemortifica. In the brief time they’ve been active they’ve honed and perfected their crossover of death and black metal, and become contenders for well-known indie/underground labels (if anyone from Relapse, Metal Blade or Nuclear Blast is reading, you should consider listening to them). I’ve remained in touch with Garcia since I started checking out his artwork around 2009 or 2010. It may have taken close to a decade with some lineup changes, but Blood Of The Wolf are solidifying and coming close to establishing themselves as one of the next death metal greats from the U.S. The rest of the band don’t lack brutality; Mike Koniglio complements Garcia whether he offers backup or builds on his progressions. The band’s expertise has advanced and sharpened as the two guitarists have grown accustomed to each other’s chops and influences. While the band has yet to compare with God Dethroned and Angelcorpse, the intensity is there in the reissues of their full lengths I: The Law Of Retaliation (released in 2015) and II: Campaign Of Extermination (released in April 2018). It’s this intensity that convinced thrashers to join their cause while they opened for Incantation, Marduk, Belphegor and Inquisition. Rick Hernandez demonstrates how important drums are to death and black metal; I don’t know where he gets the stamina to play blast beats but his speed and precision rivals the speed and precision of Fredrik Widigs (Marduk), Dave Suzuki (Vital Remains) and Flo Mounier (Cryptopsy). The songs recorded for the second album have improved musicianship that's more thought out and some echo in the lead vocals, both of which are nice touches. I can hear some more bass listening to all the songs on both albums; still I’d like to hear Christopher Grimes’ instrument mixed louder on the next CD. The imposing art designed for the front cover is like a cross between the art adorning Marduk’s album Heaven Shall Burn When We Are Gathered and the Sam Raimi film Evil Dead III: Army Of Darkness. Show and merch updates are at the band’s Facebook profile. -Dave Wolff

Mike Koniglio: Guitar, vocals
Frank Garcia: Guitar
Christopher Grimes: Bass
Rick Hernandez: Drums

Track list:
1. Annihilation Overture
2. With Iron Weapons And Will
3. Ours Is The Blood Of Courage
4. Overretaliate
5. The Darkness Of Chaos
6. Bellicose Ethos
7. Of Strength And Valor
8. Reborne Of Wind And War
9. Lex Talionis
10. With Satan And Victorious Weapons
11. Thunder The Drums Of War
12. Campaign Of Extermination
13. Benedictio Ultionis: Their Blood For My Glory
14. Erupting Volcanic Wrath
15. My Light And My Salvation
16. Scorched Earth Ceremony
17. With Fire And A Thousand Flashing Blades
18. A Sermon Of Slaughtered Foes

Monday, November 26, 2018

Fiction: SOUL TEXT by Michael Aronovitz

Fiction by Michael Aronovitz
(Previously Published in Longer Form in “Ghostlight: The Magazine of Terror”, Great Lakes Association Horror Writers, 2015)
Check out Aronovitz's blog The Author's Graveyard

August 2029: The Big Reveal
“Good evening,” the news reporter said. “I’m Katherine Gray, live at the offices of Micro/Tec Industries, where they are about to roll out the device that will make all your computers obsolete and turn your laptops to bookends.” Her eyes sparkled. “This new device is revolutionary because Micro/Tec has found a way to directly connect the Internet with human neurons. We become the power source. I am here with Marty Wallingford, the creator, and I suppose the general public will first question whether or not this makes us slaves to our machines.
“It has nothing to do with slavery,” Marty answered, lab goggles up on his forehead. “On the contrary, it has everything to do with personal liberation. There will be no more lugging around a cell phone or laptop, no more hunting for a charger. Access will be round-the-clock and instantaneous.” He gave a pert nod. “Slavery?” he said. “How about baptism. The only issue our customers will have from this point on is how fast they can take in and enjoy the flood of information available at the tips of their fingers.”
“Or rather, a thumb,” Katherine added, and those behind them in the conference room laughed.
“Yes,” Marty said, “thanks for the segue. The Micro/Tec ‘Thumb Screen,’ model 77AB, and the micro-lens spectacle accessory you need to read it, will both be available tomorrow morning at 6:00 A.M. at your local electronics stores, retail $595.00 for the package. Of course, the 77AB is offered in children’s size and adult’s, both easily grafted to the thumbnail and inter-fused by any primary care physician right there in the office.” He smiled warmly. “And the procedure is covered by most standard health care plans.”
“However,” Katherine said cleverly, “I have attained information from reliable sources that you have not just been streamlining virtual access in the form of this new mini-screen powered by human energy. I heard that you are making certain… “data” available that we never thought possible. Can you explain?”
Marty’s eyes narrowed. It was a “gotcha” question, and he took a brief moment to wonder who went off the reservation leaking this. But he was also a realist, knowing how foolish it would be to go trying to put genies back into bottles. Especially on live television.
“We’re developing a program,” he said, “that will make all the Facebook Premium, Twitter 2, Instagram, Trend Trax, and Follower Files antiquated and most probably irrelevant, to be honest. This bold new platform will allow users, with consent verified by an exchange of access codes and PIN numbers, to join with the minds of their ‘friends,’ experiencing their thoughts, their feelings, and all their current physical sensations for a brief time period…like being a guest in another’s mind, reading his or her story firsthand. We’re calling it ‘Soul Text.’” Marty regained his tone of authority. “But let’s focus on the Thumb Screen for now. Mechanism first. Super-content, TBC.”
The camera zoomed to Katherine Gray’s close-up.
“A few years down the road then,” she said. “Truth and empathy. Full disclosure.” She flashed her signature smile. “For now, however, Internet access twenty-four seven, never on shut-down, powered by pulse in the form of a Thumb Screen. I’m Katherine Gray, here at Micro/Tec Industries, reporting for Eye Witness News.”

November 2036: The Thumb-Screen
“She’s a third grader who can read Shakespeare,” her mother Mrs. Joan Billingsly said hotly, “and you’re telling me she needs special ed. services. It’s not only astounding, but ridiculous. If she gets accommodations of any kind it should for the gifted, not the disabled.”
Dr. Tucker, the Principal, looked at her spec. ed. chair Reba Hatboro and gave a slight nod. Reba cleared her throat and brought out a thick pile of papers from an accordion file.
“Mrs. Billingsly… Joan,” she said, “these tests show that Marla has what we now call ‘severe inter-connective disabilities.’ Her allergic reaction to the Ocular Diamond has forced her into wearing Google Glass headgear, and it was phased out for a reason. It’s bulky, and without constant precision adjustments at the nose bridge and ear contact points, it makes a poor tool for learning.”
“We get it fine-tuned once a week. We’re paying outside of our insurance.”
Reba set down the papers.
“We’re sensitive to that, but our hands are tied. Results are results and the numbers don’t lie.”
Joan looked off toward the classroom’s American flag hanging off its pole by the listening station.
“The Ocular Diamond is a cruel device,” she said.
“Not to most children,” Reba countered. “After the adjustment phase it sits at the edge of the left eye unfelt and unnoticed like an earring or nose stud. Studies show most of the kids forget that it’s there after a month or so.” She sat up straight and folded her hands in front of her. “Please accept the fact, Joan, that Marla has consistent adverse reactions to the instrument, similar to the peanut allergies of past decades. She doesn’t need clunky, outdated technology. She needs individualized instruction.”
“But she can read Shakespeare,” Joan insisted.
“And that is admirable,” Principal Tucker said, “but this is a new age. Reading is a preliminary skill that does not require the depth of mastery we once affixed to the works of Shakespeare and the other literature in the antiquated canons and curriculums. The new state mandate is that children learn to access information quickly and efficiently, gaining the ability to navigate and manipulate virtual data at an impressive rate.” She sat back in her chair. “Simply reading a story or a play and pontificating about subtleties and symbols doesn’t make for a valid education anymore. It’s like being able to build a fire out in the wilderness. It’s a nice ability to have in your stable, but it doesn’t do you any good in the real world if you don’t know how to turn on a light.”
Joan put her knuckles up beneath her nose for a moment.
“It’s as if you’re telling me that because my daughter is allergic to a jewel surgically placed at the edge of her eye, she’s retarded.”
Reba and Principal Tucker eyed each other warily. Joan looked back and forth between them.
“What?” she said. Principal Tucker got a box of tissues and handed them over. Joan took them, set them down absently, and again said, “What?” but this time her voice was mouse-like and hushed.
Reba put her hands in her lap, looking at them. She spoke the rest slowly, carefully.
“It’s more than the allergy,” she said. “Even when the manual eyeglass device is fixed at precise angles, our testing has shown that Marla has trouble manipulating the thumb-data, often lagging behind the rate of expected pagination enough to make the Thumb Screen freeze.”
“I don’t understand.”
“We didn’t expect you to,” Principal Tucker interjected, “it’s a generational thing, but in short, you are aware that finger-touch manipulation of data has been made obsolete, and all gaming controllers and cell phones with texting options have basically vanished. In terms of Thumb Screens, you take in information as I do, Joan, reading the given page and blinking twice in order to access the next one. But what children are doing now is not simply reading their Thumb Screens really fast. They are moving the text with their eyes, a feature Micro/Tec embedded in the program specifically for those with newly developing optic muscles and nerves that can be groomed and trained from a primordial standpoint. In other words, Joan, our eyes are too old for the rigorous training, but the kids can do it, in most cases almost naturally. A child’s intelligence is first measured now by the ‘MEM Quotient,’ which is an acronym for ‘Metacognitive Eye Movement.’ Marla only looks for information in a linear manner, experiencing massive failure levels when she needs to backtrack, go circular, or access a pull-down menu. It is what is popping up on the grid nowadays as a form of severe modern dyslexia.”
“I want her re-tested,” Joan said.
“I would advise against that. Marla’s been tested enough.”
“Well, do it again.”
“No, we will not!”
That came from Gina Barnes, Marla’s classroom teacher, silent so far, but emotional now. “She needs specialized help,” she pleaded. “She can’t keep up with the rest of the class and she’s becoming a behavior problem, jumping up from her desk and running around the room for no reason. She hits other children, scratches herself, and claws at her own eyes, for God’s sake!” The room echoed with it for a moment, and Gina put her hand to her chest just below the hollow of her throat.
“Please help us help her, Joan,” she continued quietly. “Nowadays, the average beginning reader falls off the viewing plane two or three times per minute. Marla has trouble staying on-screen for five continuous seconds.”
“What’s the cure?”
“There is none,” Reba said. “But there are programs for medication that we can try. Side effects might include moodiness, bad dreams, skin rashes, and headaches, but we are willing to—”
Joan put up her hand like a stop sign.
“No,” she said.
“You have to!” Gina spouted. “You absolutely must get her help, tutoring, and accommodations. She can’t continue this way in front of her peers. She’s teased constantly, and I have forty other students in the room I have to attend to!”
Joan’s eyes were wide as moons.
“It’s your job.”
“Then help me do it!”
“She reads Shakespeare . . .”
“It doesn’t matter, Joan! Marla can’t function in public!”
“Oh, don’t beat around the bush, just tell me what’s on your mind!”
Gina opened her mouth as if the hasty retort was right there on the tip of her tongue, but she held it, smiling tightly.
“I’m sorry if this all sounds harsh, Joan. We sympathize. But we are in the world of the blunt and the literal now, information and speed, not poetry and metaphor. Euphemism is death in a modern age.” She reached out and took Joan’s hand, that which the woman surrendered grudgingly. “But I get it,” Gina continued. “I’m an old-fashioned girl like you, so I’ll put it figuratively. When it comes to moving information across the screen with the eye, adults like me and you and Dr. Tucker and Reba have good old-fashioned, fine-tuned pointers. Kids nowadays have the advantage over us, employing high-tech mouse and cursor systems. Marla is trying to do all this with nothing but an old pair of blurry glasses and the end of a busted crayon.”
You could hear everyone breathing.
Joan Billingsly removed her hand from Gina’s and reached into the tissue box.

December 2037: Soul Text
Frank Hall stood in front of her facing away, backed in hard against her, hands spread so she couldn’t move. His expression was one of absolute blankness. He was the Vice Principal at the People First Charter School in downtown Philadelphia, and he thought he’d seen it all. The girl behind him in the stairwell was wearing a winter coat. The coat had slashes in it. If her attacker had come at her stabbing forward or jabbing downward instead of swinging out with wild swipes, this would have been a different story altogether, oh yes, quite different. Frank was a year away from his retirement, and right now he had containment. He was a short, stocky man with a grizzly moustache, a bald head, and a band of fat on the back of his neck. The police would be here momentarily, and he had to keep contain. His face was a blank. The subway came screeching into the tunnel below, and kids passing by were trying to get a look at the girl.
“Move along now,” Frank said calmly. From behind him the girl struggled and tried to do a duck-under. Frank adjusted. She screeched in rage and he ignored it. The open-air stairwell smelled like old rust and urine. It was raining and there were puddles on the concrete by his shoes. He had not had the opportunity to radio security, but he was fairly sure Gerald Richards had run back to the school. That meant reinforcements if the police took too long. Gerald Richards was a snitch and that was a wonderful thing. For now, Frank Hall had contain.
Two girls were clapping up the stairs from the subway tunnel, both in uniform, so at first glance he knew they came from People First and not Franklin across the street. That was good. From what he had gathered there were girls involved from three other schools, but he couldn’t suspend or expel those he didn’t have a file on. One of the girls was wearing sunglasses. The other was in the process of taking out her earrings.
“Turn right around and go back down those stairs,” Frank said. “It’s over.” The one with the sunglasses had tears streaking down her face from under the dark rims, and the moisture had pooled in the creases of her nostrils.
“Bitch!” she spat to the girl behind Frank. “You scratched up my sister and when I get your ass out from behind there I’m gonna fuck you up like you was a ------ with a dick!”
The girl behind Frank Hall went nuclear, punching and struggling, pushing and kicking. He put all his weight into it shoving back hard, and her head clumped the wall. Liability. But it could have been far worse, and her mother would have to understand that her daughter had attacked another girl out on Broad Street five minutes after school let out, coming up from behind and ripping out part of her weave, raking her face and neck with the spike-hook fingernails that were the latest fashion, and punching her repeatedly on the right side of her head. The victim’s friends, two from Franklin and one from George Washington up the street, had been over in front of the Korean hoagie shop, and in a hail of screams and profanity they’d swarmed in like a gang, the one at the forefront swiping the knife.
The girl had broken free and made a run for the subway. Frank had seen the whole thing from the top of the steps and had managed to trap her just behind him on the first landing in the stairwell. To get contain. Her name was Mia Jenkins. She was thirteen years old. And the girls who had attacked her for attacking one of their own were not strangers to her. They were all thick as thieves, a big friendship group including the one with the sunglasses named Paula Butler and her second cousin Melodi, both of whom had heard about the incident down below just before boarding the express train to Market Street and had rushed back up the subway stairs looking for blood. Ironically, they were Mia’s very best friends as far as Frank knew, constantly hanging out with her along with Ashley and Asia and Dominique, messing around in the hallways, practicing pep squad cheers at lunch, and cutting class in the bathrooms, being loud. They were always in a state of relative chaos, talking about one another, laughing, keeping secrets, stealing one another’s boyfriends, the usual. But Frank Hall had never seen anything like this. Not since Twitter got popular—and that was nothing in comparison, not even close.
From behind him, Mia had recovered, gaining back strength, screaming and choking out a string of expletives that were crazed and incoherent.
He should have seen this coming.
He had heard about it through the rumor mill, but he’d been buried with other duties, refusing to believe in the end that the use of the new technology would get so heinous so quickly, especially since Micro/Tec had advertised its product as being directly linked to a package of such heavy and “foolproof” safeguards.
But he’d been around long enough to know that it didn’t take a genius to pick a lock. And he’d just lied to himself by thinking he’d shrugged all this off because he was busy. He had seen it coming a mile off, but in truth he hadn’t known how to run the meeting, getting all these girls in a conference room and letting them hash it out. The whole issue was so grossly inappropriate it seemed even knowing about it could have meant his job, his pension, his sterling reputation. No, sir. He’d opted for pretending that this was kid stuff, none of his business, and something that would simply blow over.
Evidently, Paula’s twin sister Brianna had Soul Texted Mia Jenkins late last evening, faked a sign-off, and ghosted her. Mia had then pulled up her favorite Thumb-Sketch music video, the one with pop sensation Brett Wallace without his shirt on, and she’d masturbated there in her bedroom under the covers. Brianna recorded it, hit “send,” and publicized the experience to everyone in their “Soul Group,” including three thousand five hundred and thirty-nine user-participants. Within minutes it had gone viral, national. By now, it had probably spread worldwide.
Contain, hell.
This was just the beginning.
And he was way too old for this shit.

September 2038: Infiltration
With all the new laws and regulations, a girl would have to be super-talented to gain this kind of access, but please . . . Annie McClinty was all that. First off, she could run a scope of up to three hundred thumb pages in less than a minute, and now that they’d finally squared off the viewing screen it was just too damned easy.
The real trick, however, was her ability to manipulate screen changes without looking, all of it performed with her inferior oblique lower eye muscle like some crazy contortionist. Since it was a misdemeanor to Soul Text outside of the house and an actual felony to do it in the company of others in public domains, it would take someone like Annie to pull this off. Last night they’d toasted her with bong-shots of Purple Gorilla Plus and offered her a half-gram for free. She was a star. So how could she refuse?
Professor Filmore was a total prick anyway, he had it coming. No one in the class had above a C and seven of them were failing, all because he wouldn’t allow them to cut and paste even in their technical programming papers. He wanted them to be “writers” and use “proper grammar,” like out of their heads and shit. He had this theory that the act of lifting script from one source to another in a simple celebration of the rate of extraction was a modern evil, eventually destined to shatter our world because a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy lost its resolution to the point of linguistic manslaughter over time or some such lame horseshit. Who needed Comp 101 anyway? You learned to write for the Heaven Center (once known as “The Cloud”) in all your other classes anyway in blunt declarative sentences of the literal. You only needed rhetoric past 101 if you were going into journalism, and even in community college people had the sense to avoid classes doomed to be dropped from the roster. There was no such thing as “the news” anymore—you just “Souled” right into the “flow.”
“Good morning,” Professor Filmore said. “Today we are going to talk about tense and pronoun antecedent, a couple of issues I keep seeing in your connective drafting.” He was standing beside a small podium. He had on a sweater even though it was 87 degrees outside, and he was a bit ashy between the eyebrows. His gray hair was sticking up kind of wiry, but that was his usual.
In the front row five desks from the left, Annie pulled her feet up onto the chair, sneaker heels at the corners. She was wearing a gray cross-fit half-shirt and pink silk short shorts. Annie was a redhead with a swimmer’s body. She had a lot of freckles, but she knew from hacking Filmore’s school profile and sneaking a split-second soul-probe last night, that he liked texture.
The desks were those old-fashioned things that had the flat teardrop shape to write on and an open area beneath. When Annie pulled her feet up on the edges of the chair oh-so-casually, her shorts between her legs shrunk down to the thinnest of strips. She wasn’t wearing underwear, and she hadn’t waxed. Total beaver-walnut.
Filmore didn’t miss more than a beat, glancing at it briefly, pausing slightly between the words “murder” and “they,” accenting the latter as the offender in the sentence, “If one commits murder, they should get the death penalty,” and then turning to write it on the board.
To hide his erection.
But Annie had hacked him and recorded what he felt looking at her barely covered vagina, briefly imagining himself fingering aside that band of cloth and cramming himself into her, rocking his hips, and pushing those pretty knees back nearly to her ears.
In vivid, living color.
Without looking of course, she twitched “send” and let four thousand nine hundred sixty-four of her followers look at her pussy through the hungry eyes of Professor Ray Filmore, along with the entire student body of the community college and all its staff, including maintenance and food service.
Ray Filmore was put on leave the next day.
Annie McClinty wound up getting an A in Comp 101.

October 2039: Freedom of Soul
There was a massive rally at Temple University out in front of the Johnson and Hardwick dormitories. Participators and observers were jam-packed all along the courtyard going back past the Annenberg building and out front as far as the Liacouras Center and Diamond Street up the other way, north. There were people with signs and glow sticks and beach balls and air horns, people in knots, people with sign boards, people climbing light poles for a view, and others sitting on rooftops. There were people drinking and pushing and smoking and shouting, and someone was blaring music from shitty speakers that might have been coming from the alleyway between Pi Lam and Sigma Pi, but it was hard to pin down with the echo, making everything hazy and surreal. At the center of it all in front of the dorm lobby doors were the virtual purists on a cheap wooden stage, all dressed in army fatigues as if to prove they were in this for keeps, holy war, and they weren’t giving speeches. They were chanting, over and again, louder and stronger, megaphone for megaphone, fists raised and pumping.

“We want to fuck!
We want to fight!
We want the real truth,
that’s in the heart and mind!”

There was a massive group Soul Text, and before the police could fortify their positioning, there were two marriage proposals, twenty-six inquiries for dates, seven hundred fifty-three dirty propositions, forty-six fights, twenty-two rapes, nineteen stabbings, and seventeen shootings.
It streamed to eighty-three percent of the world population.
Neighborhoods emptied into the streets to discuss.

October 2039: Lock Down
“This is a recording. Anyone found doing a soul-trace on this voice will be arrested. Anyone performing a soul-search for the identity of this vehicle’s driver will be arrested. Stay in your homes. Curfew is twenty-four hours and surveillance will be constant. Food rations will be brought to you, so make sure the area by your front door is secure for delivery. Anyone reported making contact literally or virtually with a distribution attendant will be arrested. Poachers will be shot on sight.
“Residents are required to cover their thumb-screens. Articles found to be acceptable are duct tape, electrical tape, and adhesive bandages. You are not permitted to use sports mesh or anything with a degree of transparency. You are required to cover your thumb-screens. There will be raids. They will be random.
“It is your patriotic duty as American citizens to do your part in this emergency campaign of suppression and temperance. The responsibility is yours. This is not a drill. Your immediate cooperation and response is mandatory because Soul Text cannot be shut down.
“Repeat, we cannot shut it down.”