Monday, October 19, 2009

Forecast- Chapter 28

Forecast is being serialized semiweekly across 42 web sites. For a full list of participants and links to live chapters, please visit
Previous chapter (27) here at boundoff.



.....Blain had no trouble talking. Helen spurred him on with short questions that demanded long explanations, and he seemed happy to oblige. Within the first half hour she learned in exhaustive detail how difficult it had been to create and support these underground caverns (something of a miracle); she learned that many of the antediluvian building facades weren’t real (carefully designed images projected through “tiles” similar to those used for the sun); and she got the bitter side of how this underground reflection of Seattle was being gentrified in much the same way the city was above ground (the rich first taking root in areas at a safe remove from the seedy central urban rings, but working their way in over time, wanting to be “close to the culture.”) Though not feeling overly unsafe, Helen held a few steps back with Rocket by her side. They stole looks at one another while the carefully designed facades made ever greater attempts at authenticity, complete with broken windows, crumbling brick, overgrown vines and general dilapidation. The buildings weren’t abandoned yet, but that was clearly the direction things were headed if they kept on as they were. The people, too, Helen noticed, were no longer dressed for business. In fact many of them showed signs of neglect analogous to what Helen was witnessing in the architecture. The most telling sign of the economic trend along their hike, however, was that a greater percentage of the people they passed wore AS-Masks. Though she was, of course, wearing one as well, it made her feel uncomfortable to be among so many people with so much to hide. Blain was clearly leading them out beyond the bourgeoisie in its race toward the culturally rich center of social collapse, and this did nothing for Helen’s comfort level (nor mine), but she was committed (as was I), so continued to watch the buildings go slowly by like time lapse photos meant to illustrate entropy. Uh huh, yeah, she kept saying, listening for pauses in Blain’s monologue, though her guide now seemed to need no prompting, instead just yapping away, saying the air quality this, the sun fell on a Sunday, entropy in full force, uh huh, yeah, moving forward, until Helen realized, just after she’d said it, that her most recent “uh huh” had escaped in response to nothing. At some point Blain had stopped talking.
.....“What?” Helen said, as people do who’ve missed a beat. She looked ahead and saw that Blain had turned around.
.....“Here we are,” he said.
.....“We’re here?” Helen asked. She suddenly felt nervous. She wasn’t ready for Asseem. She hadn’t prepared at all. She hadn’t even thought about him. Her destination had become a sort of casualty of her excitement about exploring this unfamiliar terrain. She knew they were going somewhere, but just as she’d thought when leaving her Neighborhood™, it was about the journey. Besides, hadn’t they said it would be above ground? Hadn’t they said it would be a couple hours? Hadn’t they—
.....“No no,” Blain said, intuiting her mistake. “The shortcut. We’re at the park.”
.....Helen looked past Blain and saw tall, wrought iron gates. Beyond those she saw an enormous clearing. The sky hung above it like a big blue hug, and Helen noticed that one bird seemed to be caught in some kind of stutter. It flapped its wings but didn’t move, and blinked in and out like a banner ad. She could see a few rides through the trees—there were trees!—but they looked like they’d been dismantled, one small arch of Ferris Wheel buckets barely cresting over a particularly gorgeous maple. Helen had never actually seen an amusement park in person, but she’d seen pictures of them. She’d read about them in books. They stood together with other tantalizingly electricity-sapping spectacles that generations before Helen’s had been able to enjoy, but that had been entirely out of reach for her own. When kids in her neighborhood had wanted to go on a ride, they’d had to settle for piggy-back. The more adventurous would dangle and swing from old power lines, long since run dry. The dumb would climb onto roofs and jump.
.....Helen felt Rocket nudge her leg.
.....“Too bad it’s all broken down,” Helen said.
.....“Broken down? It’s not broken down.” Blain turned and began to fiddle with the gate’s lock. “I mean, the park’s out of use, but all those rides still work.”
.....“Oh yeah? Are there plans to put them back together?”
.....“Put them back… I don’t understand what you’re saying, Helen. I just said… Fuck. Hold on.” Blain was struggling with the gate.
.....Helen looked down at Rocket and shrugged her shoulders. The dog nodded, dipping his head. His eyes were wide.
.....“Come down here for a second,” Rocket whispered.
.....Helen crouched down. “What’s up? Why the whispering?”
.....“Helen, I’ve heard bad things about this place.”
.....“You’ve heard about this place? Jesus Rocket, where do you get all your information?” Helen whispered too. She felt like they had some kind of secret. “First that whole thing about Knuckle’s son, and now the underground—”
.....“I’m serious, Helen. You know why they closed this place down, don’t you?”
.....Helen rocked back and forth on her haunches. She considered standing back up and looking through the gate. She felt a little excited, now, about the opportunity to go to an amusement park. But Rocket seemed to be in need of some attention. He was a dog, after all.
.....“Okay, okay. What do you got.”
Rocket looked back and forth like he was about to cross the street. “One of the park’s Disaster Directors got a little carried away,” he said. “and decided to try extending the definition of “natural disaster” to include terrorism.”
.....“Oh good grief,” Helen said. “How typical.”
.....“He hired a bunch of thugs to kidnap a group of families as they stumbled out of the Earthquake Machine, already disoriented, with the idea that they’d all learn a valuable lesson about hostage negotiation.”
.....“Let me guess, it became a real—”
.....“Real?” Rocket paused for dramatic effect. “Honey, it got surreal.”
.....“In an underground natural disaster-themed amusement park? I can’t imagine how.”
.....“The thugs had been instructed to bring everyone into the Tsunami Chamber so it would feel like they were avoiding police snipers, and—”
.....“Exactly. And the Director’s plan was to let the families sweat a little. He wanted to see if being backed into a corner would force them to create their own escape.”
.....“But let me guess, they—”
.....“Helen.” Rocket broke character. “Would you just let me tell the story? I know you want to move it forward and everything, but I’m telling you you’re not going to somehow guess how this turned out.”
.....Helen looked back at Blain, only to find him gone. The gate was not open. She felt a small moment of panic, but caught sight of him a few yards away, walking along the park’s wall. He turned back and held up a finger like wait a minute. She turned back to the dog.
.....“Alright Rocket,” she said. “You win.”
.....“Thank you,” he said, slightly turning up his snout. “Where was I? Oh right, the Tsunami Chamber. So the thugs are all wearing kufiyahs but apparently, after eyeing him for a while, one of the captives recognizes one of the kidnappers as his older brother who’d run away from home years before. The story goes that at first his family had been able to keep tabs on him because he’d come back and borrow money or steal various things from their home but leave nice little notes—the guy was something of a poet, apparently—until at some point after the Brightening he’d gotten into REMO and soon disappeared entirely. Anyway, during all this, the younger brother had been going through his own changes and learning that his parents, after you started to enter adolescence, were actually pretty oppressive and judgmental, and he’d been coming to some of his own conclusions about the rationale behind his brother’s elopement, and had over time become pretty sympathetic, though he didn’t…ow.”
.....Rocket reached his head around to snap at a spot right at the base of his tail.
.....“Anyway, he’d kept all this inside because his family wouldn’t have taken it too well. And, in general, he was going through some unhappy growing pains himself. He’d developed horribly bad acne in late adolescence when everyone else’s was already clearing up, and frankly his face looked a little like hamburger meat and was a little hard for even some of the doctors he consulted to look at directly. They preferred, the younger brother had noticed, to look into his mother’s eyes in a vaguely flirtatious way. So suffice it to say, Helen, that this kid had some anger inside him at the time. I’m just introducing this idea because it becomes easier, I find, to understand his actions in this context.”
.....Here Rocket paused and it became clear that he was inviting Helen to participate in the story by asking for clarification, or saying something that would advance Rocket’s recounting thereof. She chose the latter option. “His actions?”
.....“Well, the older brother had recognized his parents of course, so he was trying to avoid eye contact and keeping, generally, to the far side of the group, which happened to be where the primary electrical relay circuitry for the whole building was, and he was hoping that his kufiyah and his facial hair, which, having no need to “appear” one way or another while going through the cyclical and ever-deepening emotional catharsis that REMO apparently is, he’d simply let grow, and—”
.....“Hey, what happened when you licked that REMO back at the—”
.....“Oh it just makes dogs really happy.”
.....“Yeah. It was fun. But don’t get the wrong idea. I don’t often indulge because, Helen, I like me drug free.”
.....“Way to be, Rocket. Way to be.”
.....“It’s just a matter of personal cleanliness.”
.....“I completely understand.”
.....“I thought you would.”
.....“So the older brother was…”
.....“Right, the older brother recognized his parents, but, significantly, he didn’t recognize his younger brother at all due to the advanced facial acne. Anyway, he was on the far side of the Tsunami Chamber and was trying to be professional with the whole operation. He was giving it his best. Because ironically this was the first baby step in an attempt on his part to get a legitimate job and regain some connection with society. He thought that if he got in on the ground floor, perhaps he’d be more likely to be trusted with a clean-up crew position, for instance, or maybe even work a concession stand. But so anyway his parents hadn’t recognized him at all, and the younger brother was holding on to this knowledge like a little secret, and honestly, he was feeling more than a little bit of pride in his older brother, mistaking his actions—which as I’ve said represented a movement back in the direction of society—as actually a final departure from a culture the younger brother was beginning to seriously loath, or at least to acknowledge and internally articulate as a vast philosophical gulf that separated himself from the world. So he sat there—the thugs had made everyone sit down with their backs along the low wall in the middle of the room that represented the first in a series of dykes that were obliterated by the water in each “facsimile” of the Tsunami that was used for this particular demonstration—he sat there with his father and mother, and he listened to them murmur judgmental and oppressive things about the situation, and the criminals behind it, and he grew more and more defensive and sympathetic and his face was scrunched up so that many of the pustules were bursting and sending trickles of bloody puss down his face which only added to the hamburger-like appearance and further obscured his true identity.
.....“Meanwhile the older brother was getting more and more nervous because the Director had not been responding in the way they’d planned the whole thing and for all intents and purposes seemed, the Director, to have simply vanished. The older brother, having built this up so much as his “way out,” was growing discouraged and fearful that perhaps he wouldn’t, when this was all over, get a shot at further employment with the park, and his dreams of one day possibly operating one of the rides, even – all this seemed now in jeopardy. So he was even more nervous, therefore, and jumpy, than he might have been otherwise.
.....“And so this is how he was feeling when out the blue he heard this shout and turned and saw this meat-faced guy running right at him, full speed, screaming ‘It’s me! It’s me!’ while all of the other thugs just stared, not knowing what to do now that someone seemed to be actually doing something. Suddenly it occurred to the older brother that this guy was going to ruin everything, was going to crush his only chance to escape the downward cycle of addiction and social disgrace that he’d nearly succumbed to but was trying, heroically, to pull himself up and out of, boot-strap-wise. He was thinking this, and also, because of the particularly disgusting state of the quickly approaching man’s face, that he might be experiencing some kind of hallucination due to REMO withdrawal, which he was also experiencing a mild case of, having not ingested any for hours now, and he was more than a little freaked out that if something didn’t happen soon he might go into full-blown meltdown, which could get ugly, and that, too, would completely destroy his chances, here, in the amusement park. But before he could do anything about this the meat-faced monster guy who might not even be really real literally pounced on him, grabbing him in a bear hug and spinning him around and trying, to the older brother’s horror, to rub his face on him, it seemed.”
.....“Indeed. But so all of this made him understandably less rational than he may have been otherwise, though really, who’d be rational in a situation like that.”
.....“Not I.”
.....“Nor I. So, the long and the short of it is that the older brother, in a feat of incredible, almost superhuman strength caused, no doubt, by his conviction that this moment was pivotal in his ability to live the life he hoped for, pushed his own younger brother off him and flung him against the wall, which happened to be the exact location of the afore mentioned electrical relay box for the building, which caused a short circuit, which cut the power to the place. The younger brother, whose head had hit the box quite violently and who had sustained quite a concussion because of it, not to mention some degree of injury—though it was difficult for the older brother to tell what was due to this injury and what was simply more bleeding and oozing from the acne—the younger brother, in a daze, called out to his older brother by name, and only then did the older brother recognize who this person was, and why he’d been sitting with the older brother’s parents, who were now yelling and very disturbed along with everyone else in the room. The older brother rushed over and delicately lifted his younger brother’s head, and the younger brother told him how proud he was of him, and the older brother, a little light headed and confused himself, thought he must be talking about his attempt to get back on track, and became very emotional, and they embraced, and the older brother tried not to think about the disgusting and quite viscous fluid that he could hear glopping against the side of his head, and the younger brother felt, finally, that he’d possibly escaped, for good, the torment of living in a society that couldn’t look him in the eyes.
.....“And then the electrical locks on the doors of the Tsunami Machine shorted and the water rushed in and collided with the low wall against which everyone was either sitting or standing and the whole group, both the kidnappers and the kidnapped, learned a lesson about environmental catastrophe.”
.....“Yeah. This place gives me the creeps.”
.....“I can see why.”
.....“Besides,” Rocket added, “I hear they’ve been running secret REMO experiments down here now. Trying to make people emotionless. The perfect soldier, all that.”
Helen looked up and saw Blain, now on the other side of the gate, busy with the gate’s lock. The sun was now directly above them so there were only the tiniest slices of shadow here and there, and everything was exposed and raw. It was fun to indulge the dog, but she decided to draw the line at secret REMO labs.
.....“What happened to the Director?”
.....“He’s working for the EPA.”
.....Helen stood back up. She’d been crouching the whole time and her knees were stiff. She hobbled over to the iron gate.
.....Blain was intently focused on the lock, but he raised his hand to shush her. Then he looked up, smiled, and Helen heard a loud click.
.....“Ta da!” Blain said.
.....The gate swung open, and she turned to Rocket, who was still sitting where he’d told his story. He cocked his head to the side.
.....“C’mon Rocket,” she said. “It’s safe.” She turned to Blain. “He doesn’t like parks.”

Read the next chapter (29) here.

1 comment:

Richard Thomas said...

I've always enjoyed the relationship between Helen and Rocket. He's so much more than a dog.

“Real?” Rocket paused for dramatic effect.
“Honey, it got surreal.”
“In an underground natural disaster-themed amusement park? I can’t imagine how.”

Hilarious. Great work.