Portillo, TX – Present
Heather Slown and Rex Janneter sat together in his apartment, watching TV on a Saturday night, sharing Kung Pao chicken, as they might have several weeks before. They had been giving each other some space, and Heather had initiated the détente, bearing dinner and a rental VHS of Back to the Future Part II. On this night, there was an extra sweet’n’sour. They dipped their eggrolls respectively, observing a discreteness of condiments. The meal conversation was awkwardly sparse, but they were both enjoying the company.
“You’re looking well,” said Rex understatedly, as the credits rolled to a strain of Silvestri. Heather hesitated to reciprocate. Rex had stopped shaving when he was laid off, and was cultivating a ginger horror across his jawline.
“It’s good to see you. Really good,” said Heather. They were each desperate to avoid an argument, to simply be together, for a little while, like they used to be.
Rex stopped the VCR, and TVTO News at 10 was starting. It opened on a wide shot, with the anchor desk flanked by large cameras on automated pedestals. They glided, with smooth autonomy, across the soundstage floor, little LED’s blinking as they activated.
“We should watch something else,” said Heather, “this is just going to upset you.”
“It’s OK. I’ve moved on from depression to acceptance. People get jobs, people lose jobs. I lost my job to a robot. Welcome to the ’90s!”
Heather smiled at him, in spite of herself. Six weeks before, Rex’s job had been to move those cameras to those same marks, adjust angle and focus, respond to the director’s commands. It was a fairly robotic job, if he was honest with himself, but it was his, and he did it well. Technological progress and streamlined budgets had conspired to excuse him from the payroll of TVTO. Rex did not designate himself unemployed; rather, working freelance for a little while.
“Jerry the Floor Director is still there, I guess they haven’t invented a Robo-Prick.”
“Please, Rex, try to be positive.”
“I’m sorry, you know I’m joking. I’ve actually got some work lined up this week.”
He almost started to tell her about the wedding he was shooting the next day, but weddings and marriage were a conversational minefield at this point. Rex smiled at Heather, silently.
“That’s wonderful! See, you can build up some clientele, maybe make it as an independent operator.”
“I’ll never earn enough, that way. I can’t be living like this when I’m 40,” Rex said, raising his hands into the stale air of his modest abode.
“One day at a time, you have to be optimistic.”
“Don’t worry, be hoppy, mon,” said Rex. He refrained from slapping his chest and vocalizing abstractly.
“You know I’m right.”
“You sound like Dr. Momo. You still seeing her?”
“For a little while longer,” said Heather, “she’s helped me so much, you have to understand that.”
“She’d better, for what she charges. I should get some wind chimes and a mail-order degree and have a try at that racket.”
Heather did not reply. She knew Rex was just attacking Dr. Momus because he was unhappy with himself. He resented that she would share her personal damage with a New Age quack and not with him.
Rex knew immediately he should row back from insulting Dr. Momus. If there was to be fighting, he was not starting it.
“Hey, I – thanks for coming over, it’s really good to see you,” Rex said, mustering his sincerity, “I’m gonna get through this. Each day better than the next, right?”
“Turn it up,” Heather interrupted, pointing at the TV. Rex got up and adjusted the volume on his aging set, leaning over the cheap coffee table and takeout boxes. A depleted Lone Star fell with a clatter. Heather shushed him.
“Is your child getting DeMoLished?” blared investigative reporter Angela Thomas, with shrill sensationalism. “Coming up, VDML, a new drug epidemic, and the steps being taken on Capitol Hill to keep it from invading your home!”
Rex, having worked with Angela, was compelled to share a stinging bon mot about her unpleasant demeanor, but he thought better of it. He gazed, for a long moment, at Heather’s striking profile, and let his eyes fall closed.
“I’ve heard about this at school. This stuff is really getting around. It’s all over the nightclubs in Dallas. Like candy.”
“Mm-hmm,” Rex grunted.
TVTO’s Angela Thomas barked on, “The Office of Diversion Control has filed an emergency application in the Federal Register to place VDML in Schedule 1, the highest level of restriction on controlled substances.”
That’s it, thought Heather, in 30 days I become a criminal, just like that. I have to stop. She knew this was coming, but the certainty of it shook her.
She turned to Rex. He had dozed off; a soft snoring stirred his rusty mustache. Convenient, she thought. She was anxious about how they would part, after this uneasy reunion. Nobody got embarrassed this way. She retrieved Marty & Doc from the VCR, put the unfinished Chinese food in Rex’s dingy fridge, and quietly slipped out.
In his hypnagogic reverie, Rex envisioned her sliding far away from him, like one of the robot cameras moving to Position 2, a red Active lamp flashing in her mouth.
Galveston, TX – 1929
Alton Barbeur found himself sitting in a vehicle, which seemed at once antique and new. The seat creaked as he shifted in it, turning to discern his whereabouts. His perceptions occurred with slowness and stillness. He heard the movement of water, gripped the wooden dashboard in front of him. He smelled saltwater and rum. His surroundings were cast in either bluish moonlight or red neon. Suddenly, all was lit up by a brilliant golden light, which originated at Alton’s right, forcing him to look left, toward the water, and finally realize another man sat in the driver’s seat. This stranger held a small pistol in his right hand, which he thrust upward into the humid air. The gun seemed to luminesce in its reflection of the mysterious radiance. The driver pulled the trigger, which Alton perceived across a full minute, or perhaps an hour. He pondered the meaning of it. A signal? An expression of jubilance? His eyes fixed on the movement of the finger, then the hammer of the revolver. It pivoted forward, deliberately as a pendulum, glinting in the penetrating light. As it finally came to rest, Alton heard the keen sound of a bell, elongated ludicrously in time. This, too, may have endured for a minute or an hour, ringing out with a sweet, clear tone. Then, he awoke, the memory of the strange experience as distinct and permanent as the shrapnel scar on his forehead.
In the years that followed, this strange vision he had received, the night he emerged from his coma, guided his every action. After he completed his recovery, and left Red River VA, sharing this experience became his mission. His greatest desire was to re-create it, to let his life become illuminated by the light, and his thoughts tuned in harmony to the sound he heard in that moment of revelation.
“I recall the work I did for Mr. Barbeur. He brought in an Iver-Johnson top-break revolver and requested some rather peculiar modifications. First, I removed the cylinder and replaced it with a thin hollow one, which produced a chiming bell-like tone when struck by the hammer. Second, I plated the entire piece in 12 karat gold, and installed pearl grips, with a custom sunburst inlay. The finished product was a thing of beauty, but no longer a weapon. Even so, I had to insist Mr. Barbeur refrain from ‘firing’ it – as it were – indoors, if only for appearances. He was squeezing away before I could allay his obvious delight with my handiwork. It sounded like a cuckoo clock at midnight!”
Owner, Hub City Gunsmith and Pawn
From Light Reading – The Newsletter of
The Receivers of the Shining Message
Portillo, TX – Sunday Morning
RJ arrived at the Channel Breeze Shopping Center under a bright sun and a clear sky. He stepped out of his Econoline and adjusted his tie in the side mirror. RJ strode past the stylized Vid ‘Em All logo, emblazoned on the van’s side panel, toward the retail space which was presently home to The Receivers of the Shining Message. RJ came here, every Sunday, to attend the service. He felt like he stood apart from the world when he came here, entering a realm of peace and acceptance. A few congregants stood outside, chatting under the strip center’s brightly colored awning.
Sis. Evelyn was holding a BB pistol, with little amber rhinestones hot-glued to it, a swatch of ivory satin wrapped around the handle. RJ paused, looking closer. A bicycle bell was affixed in such a way that it was rung by flicking the trigger. Sis. Evelyn ding-dinged it, and the Sisters standing around her clucked with delight. RJ nodded, smiled, shook a few hands, and entered the Receiver’s Hall. The service was beginning shortly.
Prelude music and murmuring – of a respectful volume – filled the air. He took a seat on a folding chair, among several rows, before a small dais and lectern. Behind that, a partition stood about 8 feet tall, with an opening restricted by a small ornamental gate. Beyond that, only certain members were admitted.
Regular attendance, and communion with his RSM neighbors, meant a great deal to RJ, but he desired to progress, to have a chance to receive a message for himself. To that end, he had made his entreaty to Bro. Dennis, who RJ now saw helping Bro. Alton into his seat on the dais. Even at his advanced age, Bro. Alton was bright and charismatic. RJ kept his eyes on Bro. Dennis, trying to elicit an acknowledgement. RJ finally got a genteel nod from Dennis, as the prelude music ceased. A pair of speakers, hung from the ceiling, crackled as Sis. Karen switched her Yamaha to a different sound patch, and started playing the hymn that began every service. RJ joined in unison with his brothers and sisters:
The Golden Report
Rings true, with a clue from beyond.
If ye seek earnestly,
Then the Light ye shall see.
The Golden Report tolls for thee!
Portillo, TX – Present
I am Kyle Blyte. I’m about to watch Viddi Moliddi perform live on Arsenio. I am in the dogpound tonight. Actually, I don’t really care about the first part of the show. I sit in bed, looking out the window. I can’t see the Air Today plant from here, but I can tell that flare is still going. Its orange light flickers on a nearby water tower, making it a giant pumpkin. I wanna smash it with a bat, like it’s the day after Halloween.
I can hear train brakes across the freeway, as a Tough! Smart! Lawyer! glares at me from the secondhand black-and-white TV sitting on my dresser.
Arsenio introduces the VM, holding up their album sleeve and pumping his be-ringed fist. I turn it up as Vin and Mo take the stage. Their clothes are outrageous. If I wore bicycle pants and a lady-blazer to school, I’d be laughed out. I might could pull off those buckled Postman’s shoes. They dance and sing in perfect alignment. It’s almost like two people are the same person – amazing. I will never l love a song more than this one.
Wait, what’s happening? The music sounds like a skipping record. Morris runs off the stage, but Vincent keeps dancing, adapting to the weird shuffle created by the fractured rhythm. It continues another minute, and the audience starts laughing and woofing.
Suddenly, the show is interrupted by a Gallery Furniture ad.
“What?!” I cry out loud. I can’t understand it.
My mother yells through the door, “it’s late, go to bed!”
I turn off the TV, right at -Saves You Money! Are Viddi Moliddi some kind of phonies? I’ll never believe it.