The Veep is an Alien
Episode 9 from Must Not Sleep, a new novel which takes place in shamanic space, a realm of shapeshifting and trance. Check out episodes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7, and 8. A free download of Michael Brownstein reading from the novel is available on Podiobooks.com.
When we awoke the next morning, Janine's eyes were still shining. There was no trace of the Goddess, but I remembered that sweet, strong voice saying she would heal me.
In fact, maybe she'd already begun. Because heavy metal music blasted up from the apartment below, loud enough to rattle the floorboards. The new tenant no doubt. Yet I listened calmly, free of reactivity.
Incredible. There's no anger left inside me.
"I've got a lot to do, Janine," I said, sitting up in bed. "I have to find Georgia. And there's somebody else I'm looking for too. He needs my help but it's tricky, he might freak out and try to kill me. I don't want to explain the situation any further--what you don't know can't hurt you--but it's a real kick in the head. Needless to say, I'm preoccupied."
"Don't send me home alone," she said.
"No, stay in your strength. That's your true self. Besides, we can see plenty of each other. Come over whenever you like. I don't have keys so the door will be unlocked. There's just no time right now for me to hang out. But I have a favor to ask of you. Georgia and I cut loose from the past. We went all the way. We had a ceremony here, burned our IDs, bank cards, driver's licenses, everything. I need some cash now. I also need a winter coat. White. It has to be white."
"Only if you understand. The thing is, I need help. If not from you then from someone else. Of that I have no doubt."
I snapped my fingers twice. "Whoever it is will materialize quickly enough, believe me."
Before we left the apartment later that morning, Janine presented me with her gold cross.
"It looks great on you," she said, fastening it around my neck and kissing it. Then she gave me five crisp hundred dollar bills and her cellphone number.
"If you need something, just call me. Tell Georgia I miss her -- and I love that name. It fits her perfectly. I can't wait to see both of you again. And listen, if you ever need to leave town I have a cabin upstate. In the Catskills. You're welcome to stay there whenever you want."
Together we carried the dead ficus tree down the stairs to the trash cans in the back of the building and then emerged onto street holding hands.
"Your smile," she said, "it's wonderful. Don't ever lose it, Isaac."
She hailed a cab and I turned east into a biting wind, heading for the clothing stores along lower Broadway.
The city looked gorgeous in the cold. Storefront windows glittered like diamonds in the brilliant sunlight. Thin, hard clouds stood motionless in a vivid blue sky. The temperature must have been in the upper twenties but the wind made it feel like zero. Again I played with the cold, bouncing it off my body as I walked, sending my energy rocketing.
As long as I ate enough I could have gotten by without a coat, but keeping the freezing wind at bay would have taken up all my intention and I had other uses for it. I went into one store after another until at last I found what I wanted, a beautiful, puffy goosedown parka. Snowy white.
"You're stealing it," the salesman said. "Our winter sale just started. This polar bear was more than four hundred dollars yesterday. You only have to pay one thirty-nine. Thank me."
"I do thank you."
In the dressing room I slipped out of the embroidered blouse. The parka was a size too small but I loved the way it felt against my skin. My eyes dancing like flames in the mirror, I watched my bare chest expand as I unzipped it part way.
Now I could relax.
Stuffing the shirt into the big inside breast pocket of the parka, I left the store and continued up Broadway. And it was like I entered a dream, when I turned into one of the side streets above Washington Square the light became totally different--thick, viscous, almost palpable. My gait slowed as if I were making my way underwater. Figures from the past approached--long-vanished friends from my childhood, old lovers, college buddies. And then I saw my mother struggling toward me in the heavy light, her arms weighed down with shopping bags.
"Oh, God, there's my Mom!" I cried out.
How long had it been? The trip into Westchester County where she'd moved after my father died took less than an hour on the train but I'd seldom visited her. Family history was something I'd tried to put behind me, even before my big dream. But now I felt a surge of guilt.
I waited in the middle of the sidewalk until she stood directly in front of me. She'd dyed her hair a peculiar copper color. And how miraculously smooth the skin on her face was. No wrinkles, no sags. The skin of an adolescent. I laughed incredulously.
"Mom, I can't believe it. You're Botoxed out!"
"What did you call me? What did you say?"
She noticed my beard and the big gold cross on my bare chest.
"You're meshuggah," her feisty voice rang in my ears. "Get out of my way before I call the cops."
"But it's me, Mother. Isaac."
Staring into my eyes, testing my voice in her memory, when the moment of recognition came she dropped the shopping bags and shrieked, "What have you become? A Christian in female clothing? What are you trying to do, give me a heart attack?"
Then she fainted, collapsing onto the sidewalk. A crowd gathered around us. As I stared down at her waxy, taut skin I flashed on Abe and Sarah's unrelenting attempts while I was growing up to sacrifice me on their kosher altar.
I love you, Mom. I really do. And I feel terrible about bailing out on you like this. It's just that there's nothing here for me. If I buy into the past I'm a goner.
"Before Abraham came to be, I am," I crowed, stepping around my mother's inert body. I pushed down the sidewalk, straining against the heavy light until finally I turned a corner and pinched myself awake. Instantly the weight lifted.
Laughing and singing now, ecstatic at my escape, I wandered the streets peering into cafe windows, studying the faces of passersby.
That's when I noticed something I couldn't process, something I'd seen once before: several figures approaching me had what looked like bar codes on their foreheads. Shimmering black and white rectangles. But as soon as my line of sight shifted, the bar codes disappeared. I turned and gawked at their receding backs until they were swallowed up in the crowd.
Eventually I entered Washington Square Park. The police were everywhere, stopping men with swarthy complexions or facial hair, demanding identification.
"Thanks for doing your part in the war against terror," they said before sending people on their way. "Remember, we're on orange alert. Report any suspicious behavior."
Smiling, I can't stop smiling. Smiling at an old lady bundled up in her wheelchair, her shrunken legs wrapped in a plaid blanket. Smiling at two giggling little Chinese girls with bright flying-saucer eyes. Smiling at sullen black teenagers in logo skullcaps, their eyes daring me to connect. Smiling at foxy NYU students spilling out of their classes into the frosty air, excitedly finishing one another's sentences. Smiling at the stern-looking cops as they passed me in pairs, their holsters bulging. Smiling at the world.
"And what about you," a big, raw-boned guy dressed up as a policeman demanded, his eyes darting from my beard to the gold cross glittering on my bare chest. "Let's see some ID."
I paused, attempting to let the silence expand, but he wouldn't permit that. Impatiently, he said, "Yeah. Now."
I sighed. "But there isn't any."
He turned to his partner, a blond woman with protruding eyeballs and very red cheeks. "Fuckin weirdo," he said under his breath.
"You gotta have some form of ID. Let's see it."
"No. I mean that in the larger sense there isn't any."
"In the larger sense?" the woman screeched. "How about in the sense that if you don't show us something, your ass is going straight to the lockup?"
"What I'm saying," I went on imperturbably, "is that we're all just here on the big round Earth. We're all brothers and sisters. We don't even have last names, if you think about it. So how can we have IDs? We're children, basically."
"Children?" the big one erupted. "Does that include Saddam? Is he just children?"
"Yeah," his partner said, "and the Al Qaeda bunch. Are they children too?"
"Of course they're children. They're mechanical children. Wind-up dolls with the wrong tapes playing inside their heads. Insane but also innocent. It's our duty to change those tapes but we have to do that skillfully, otherwise they'll just keep manifesting. After all, Islam's been around for centuries without suicide bombers. Haven't you ever wondered why?"
I considered that with these words I was free to go.
"Thanks," I said. "Have the best night ever."
I held his glance for a moment.
"Now I understand. Who am I -- that's what you're really asking me, right? Like some laminated card is going to tell you who I am. Well, I don't have any ID but I can still answer the question."
"So who are you?"
"I AM the universe."
They looked at each other.
"I AM the Cosmic Christ...And so are you."
I turned to the woman.
"And you too. And everyone else on this planet, so convinced their way is the only way. But we're all the Christ, we're all divine. How could it be otherwise, if God is in everything? We all have love in our hearts. What's missing is the courage to show it."
"You sound like a terrorist to me, you greasy bastard," the woman said. "Trashing my faith."
"Your faith? But see, with all due respect, your faith is just one among many possible tapes. It just happens to be the one playing inside your head right now. I'm not saying it's a bad one, but it's totally arbitrary."
She snorted dismissively.
"But who are you?" I continued. "Underneath all the tapes, I mean. Think about it."
"We ask the questions," her partner said. "Open that coat and raise your arms."
He went through my pockets, separating the hundred dollar bills from the rest. "These are brand new. Where did you get them?"
"My lover gave them to me. We made sweet love for hours. Nonstop."
Putting a hand on my crotch, I licked my cracked lips and sighed. "For hours."
"Jesus," she said. "This is just a piece of crazy New York trash, Terry. I'm getting sick to my stomach."
The smile I was wearing stretched so wide in the freezing air that my jaw began to ache.
"I AM the universe."
"We heard you already, asshole. Get lost in outer space. We have work to do."
He gave me a shove.
"What about the hundreds?"
"You won't need them where you're going," he said, and for the first time they laughed.
The next day, a Monday, I dressed in my embroidered blouse and white down parka and resumed rambling. Although the air was still cold, the wind had lifted and the bright sunshine made me feel quite warm. Drawn to Broadway again I walked uptown, my mind empty, my awareness resting lightly on whatever I encountered. If someone tried to capture me with their eyes, pulling me into their hunger and disquiet, I would lift my gaze to the sky, deep northern blue and clear as a bell.
But when, with increasing frequency, I started seeing the bar codes on people's foreheads again, I felt some major disquiet of my own. Paying attention to how these pedestrians carried themselves, to the clothes they wore, I couldn't decide if they were alien entities or normal, law-abiding citizens. Or were the two somehow becoming the same?
Were the bar codes a sign of natural selection, of people turning into products in order to survive? They were so evanescent. One moment they appeared clearly on forehead after forehead and the next moment they vanished. I couldn't figure it out. But the bar code entities, whoever they were, never tried to capture me with their eyes. They looked straight ahead as they walked, minding their own business, calm and detached.
By late afternoon -- it must have been around four-thirty because the crowds had thickened -- I was on Fifth Avenue a few blocks above Madison Square Park when I heard a voice cooly insisting, "And we know that Saddam has resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. If left alone, he will possess those weapons soon."
My blood turning cold, I stopped on the sidewalk and looked to my right. There, through the windows of an appliance store, rows of television screens with the same image: a nearly bald, portly, florid-faced man wearing spectacles stood at a lectern which displayed the seal of the Vice-President of the United States. Surrounded by American flags he paused, leaning solemnly toward the camera. One side of his mouth was lower than the other.
Stumbling inside through the store's open door, I walked toward him past shelves of microwave ovens.
Fixing me with his flat poker player's gaze, he continued, "And we also know that Saddam is a master of deception. Nothing the U.N. inspectors can do will stop him from delivering weapons of mass destruction into the hands of the terror network. Such a turn of events would clearly be unacceptable. No matter how many Iraqi lives may be lost, it will be a small price to pay to guarantee our freedom. The welfare of our great country demands nothing less. We must be prepared for the fact that this war -- the war on terror -- will last the rest of our lives."
He finished speaking and loud applause echoed around the store. A caption started rolling beneath his now smiling face: Vice-President Dick, addressing the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Washington today...
As he turned this way and that, acknowledging the audience, a black and white rectangle showed itself on his forehead. Subtle and fleeting, almost subliminal, it came and went in a flash.
I was thunderstruck. Rooted to the spot, I studied his face intently.
It's him. Goddamn it, it's him! But how could the Vice-President of the United States have been living in that dim, airless little apartment underneath Georgia's? This person is so self-assured, he emanates power and control. And even though he's bloated he seems healthy enough, not like the old wreck I encountered. But that mouth, those eyes. And the voice, with its faint Western twang. How could I forget that voice?
"We're masters of deception, baby boy."
The fact is, I hadn't recognized Dick that night in the apartment because for years I'd been repressing the memory of his face. Ever since the 2000 election the mere thought of the interlopers in the White House had filled me with nausea. I had refused to buy into their game. I'd pulled the plug on my TV. I'd stopped reading the newspapers.
"What a kick in the head," I said aloud, backing away from the rows of TVs as the image changed and two newscasters began dissecting Dick's speech.
"I beg your pardon?"
I wheeled around, face to face with one of the clerks in the store who'd also been listening to the Vice-President. Confronted with his distracted, overstimulated eyes, his jaws clenching and unclenching, I smiled and said softly, "Starting this war in Iraq is insane, don't you agree?"
He frowned. "No way. What about 9/11? We're already in a war, a war on terror. Saddam's a big part of it. We have to invade Iraq to safeguard our freedom. Vice-President Dick is my hero."
"Your hero? Please. You're being taken for a ride. The question is, by whom? What is Dick's stake in all of this?"
And that's when I finally understood what was happening.
The hair rose off the back of my neck as I blurted out, "Don't you get it? Dick is an alien. The Vice-President is an alien. An extraterrestrial! Wow, don't you see? He's acting from a place way beyond vested interests or political agendas. He must be stopped before it's too late."
Electrified by my own words, I didn't wait for the clerk's reply but immediately left the store.
Of course...His disdain for the human race, his indifference to the fate of the planet. His paranormal powers, his talk of we...He wants the world to think he's just another greedy capitalist but that's hogwash. There's a whole secret level to this war. He's clearing the way for unnamed entities to move in and take over. Why else would he consciously champion policies leading to our destruction?
I couldn't stop shouting "What a kick in the head!" as I ran down Fifth Avenue, threading my way through the rush-hour crowd in the gathering darkness.
Photo by Shira Golding, courtesy of Creative Commons license.Tweet