Sybil Saga: The Gap in the Wall That Franny Made
No one asked me to write this. No one has asked me to write anything, so why do I do it? That is something I have wondered quite a bit about. In all the years that I have been writing, I have not made any money from it, and I suppose I am willing to continue at that rate for however much longer I have the ability to put pen to paper or finger to keyboard or a hoarse dictated whisper to a machine as I lay paraplegic in a hospital bed, although I hope it never comes to that.
Why do I write? Because the human animal is a storyteller and always has been, although writing is only one of countless ways to tell a story. Why did I write this trilogy, in particular? Frankly, I didn’t mean to. I was feeling frustrated with the current Presidential administration, and wrote a bit of satire titled What to Expect From Sybil in 2018. In it, I did some worldbuilding, and left too many loose ends for my own liking, so, with no one asking me to, I decided to write a follow up, and then I was really enjoying dreaming up a follow up, so I decided to make it a trilogy before I even wrote the second part. And here we are, at the finale. The ending is bound to disappoint some of you and for that I do not apologize. Some questions will go unanswered. Who is Bessie and Franny? They are fictional characters who have taken these code names from JD Salinger characters because the name Sybil was taken from a Salinger story after much debate. They are not based on anyone. Sybil has no benefactors (although, on that front, we are open for discussion).
Without further ado, I present to you, the final piece of the Sybil Saga:
Although the tightly censored internet contained no news stories covering it, Operation Climate Change had struck The Wall in Brownsville and leveled it all the way to McAllen, Texas. Hundreds of political prisoners escaped in the confusion, including two of the Sybil 3. Agents of the Office of Unspecified Services have been tasked with tracking them down as well as discovering those responsible for the attack.
The suspected mastermind, one Franny Glass, is dead. News spread via the People’s Fiber, the free internet project which connected south Texas to San Antonio. It briefly became a hashtag, but then the fiber was discovered and cut by agents of the Office of Unspecified Services. In McAllen, South Padre, and Harlingen, several arrests were made, but in San Antonio, the name Franny Glass reached the ear of a Banana Fish who was staying in the home of a Communist loyal to Stephen Spencer’s vision. They drank to her memory and spread the news along.
Franny Glass is dead, but she blew The Wall to bits.
Franny Glass is dead, but the giant does bleed.
In Mexico, where the internet was more free, word reached the capital city and a group of surrealist poets began to write of a woman named Franchesca.
Outside a bar in Fairbanks, Alaska, a federal agent arrested a drunk after watching him crush a piece of ice beneath his boot, and say “It breaks like Glass, but in the morning it will melt to water and be whole again.”
The name spread into Canada where protests were underway in both the American- and Russian-occupied zones and it became a source of inspiration.
Unable to contain the name, Trump began to Tweet about the supposedly non-existent attacks, saying they were Fake News, but if they had happened then Franny Glass would be a TERRORIST undeserving of praise.
Around that time, the Great North American March began:
In northern Canada, indigenous women drifted away from their homes and began to form groups and walk south. In Guatemala, Mayan women headed north, aiming for the gap. The continent between them shrank one step at a time. In Berkley, the students walked out of class at 11:11 am, women and men, and they headed southeast. In New York City, the remnants of Occupy Wall Street came together and old t-shirts and banners were dragged out from dusty boxes and the word Street was cut out or marked out and they began to march towards The Gap in The Wall. In Flint, Michigan, they marched south. Across the country, Walmarts and Amazon Warehouses were trashed by unhappy employees and then they, too, marched towards The Gap in The Wall That Franny Made. Makeshift camps were set up along highways, houses were opened to all. Fishermen in the Caribbean pointed their vessels towards South Padre and began to sail, protected by the rebel fleet, now headed by Bessie Glass, the former captain having fallen alongside Franny in Operation Climate Change.
Boo Boo (AKA DM Rice) had been given their own boat and granted permission to break away from the fleet in order to land in Mexico on a rescue mission. Bessie intercepted transmissions stating that Jake and Stephen were being unknowingly observed by a Federal Agent, and, in the confusion of the attack, had wound up in Mexico.
The Gap began to fill up with people as Trump Tweeted furiously. Agents of the Office of Unspecified Services were tasked with arresting the marchers, but there were too many and they were chased away by armed protesters. Eventually, the military was called in and all across the country standoffs began. Drones dropped tear gas and worse into crowds. No one was sure how many were dead. Fences were erected and masses of marchers corralled off, but there were too many leaks and The Gap continued to fill. Putin suggested a mini nuke. The European Union threatened to intervene and Trump coined the nickname Moaning Merkel. The right wing message boards took the meme and ran with it and the most powerful woman in Europe was quickly reduced to a Harry Potter joke.
A standoff ensued. Demonstrators continued to arrive at The Gap every day. Bessie’s rebels struggled to control their hard-earned port. Protesters were arrested daily by the hundreds and carted down The Wall to fill the prisons and new Department of Interior Entertainment Parks. The first operational park, Castle Black, opened amidst the protests and, despite the turmoil, it surpassed expectations. As soon as tickets went up for sale, they sold out for months in advance.
I have yet to describe Obadiah Elihue despite his long involvement with Sybil. He is a hawk-faced white man. Still young, not quite forty. Tall, but not overly physical. Rather, he is a gaunt man with the air of an intellectual. In his days as a journalist, he often put on a rather amicable persona which fostered trust among his subjects. However, since obtaining his new post, all such acts have fallen away and only the man’s piousness remains. To celebrate his appointment as the Secretary of the Department of Interior Entertainment, he had an image of the Byzantine Christ tattooed across his back.
Obadiah stood atop The Wall with his back to Mexico, weepy Christ looking on. Below him, the Department of Interior Entertainment’s Castle Black was in full swing. Rudy Martinez, in Jon Snow regalia, stood before a group of kneeling children.
"Night gathers, and now my watch begins,” Rudy said solemnly and the children repeated his words. “It shall not end until my death. I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children. I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. I shall live and die at my post. I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the shield that guards the realms of men. I pledge my life and honor to the Night's Watch, for this night and all the nights to come."
Swarms of parents cheered as their children were sworn into the ancient order. They snapped pictures with their cell phones as Rudy stood obedient and stoic. Then the kneeling children got up and formed a line. One by one, they approached Rudy who gave them a piece of paper certifying their place in the Night’s Watch. Many of them posed for a photo. Rudy did not smile. His hair had grown into shoulder-length curls and he wore a wispy beard. His glasses had been taken and disposed of.
“Mr. Jon, Mr. Jon,” one boy sang as he tugged at Rudy’s black cloak. “Are there really white walkers on the other side?” he asked, pointing towards The Wall which had been painted to look as if it was made of ice.
The boy’s father snorted to himself as he squinted piggishly beneath his red hat. “There’s far worse than ice zombies on the other side of this wall!” he called out to his son.
“Oh, there are white walkers alright,” a passing ranger affecting a rough Irish accent warned. “I’ve seen them, I have. Leaving soon on an augmented reality tour if you’d like to see for yourself! How bout it, boy?”
“Dad! can we?”
The boy’s father scowled at the salesman’s dirty trick. “We can’t. No passports.”
“Oh, but you don’t need any passports beyond The Wall! As long as you stay with your ranger guide, that is.”
“Dad, please! Please, please oh please!”
“Oh goddammit, fine. How much is it, huh?”
“Fifty a head, my good man! and it all goes to protecting the realm!”
Rudy watched as the ranger ushered the pair towards The Wall where they would be fitted with their augmented reality glasses. The tourists would travel out with their ranger and search for people trying to cross over illegally. The glasses they were given would morph those crossing into wildlings or white walkers for the wearer’s pleasure. And the tourists would cheer as the rangers beat the shit out of the enemy with their blunt swords.
“Rudy Martinez!” Obadiah called loudly as he approached.
“I’m afraid you are mistaken, my lord,” Rudy said. “The name’s Snow, Jon Snow,” he finished gruffly.
“Oh ho, and so it is. My mistake. A fine new lot of men you’ve just sworn in,” Elihue said, prodding at the corners of the character, trying to find a chink in it.
“Boys,” Rudy spat. “I ask for men and I get boys.”
“But Lord Commander, is it not your job to turn them into men?”
“I know my job.” Rudy turned stoically and stared at The Wall. A weak wind tousled his oily curls.
“Say, Snow, you’re not much of a writer, are you?” Elihue asked, watching closely.
He turned back slowly, glumly, his lips held partially open, his eyes slightly droopy, and there was a long delay before he shook his head. “No. Never been much of one for that.”
Obadiah stared into Rudy’s eyes, looking for the glint of a lie, but only Snow stared back. “Well that’s alright,” he said warmly, unable to contain his happiness with the complete transformation. “I need a letter written, but I can find someone else. Carry on.”
Elihue left as Rudy began the swearing in process of the next wave of children. The line for the attraction stretched hundreds of meters and Rudy would spend the rest of his day performing the ceremony and taking pictures with the new members of the Night’s Watch.
The shackles around the escapees’ ankles had worn at their skin for days and blood filled their shoes and soaked their socks. Thirst and hunger left them weak and delirious. The dry air sucked the moisture from their lips and knuckles which were chapped to the point of cracking. Their heads ached and their tongues swelled in their mouths. Death, they believed, could not be far away. Not one of the three had uttered a word in hours. They trudged along across the unkind landscape. Cactus and rock and hardly enough dirt to bury a body, muchless three. The coyotes would have them. The buzzards would scatter their bones. The ghosts of long dead cannibals would suck their marrow.
But no! There was a house! A dilapidated shack shaded by a dead tree. They approached it without discussion. They had no choice. What could the occupants do to them that would be worse than what was already happening? They knocked on the door.
“Hay, dios mio,” a woman gasped as she creaked open the door. She was short and thin, but not unkindly looking. “Miguel!” she shouted into the house.
“Water,” Stephen croaked. “Please. Water.”
A man approached from the interior of the house and looked them over seriously before waving them in and quickly shutting the door behind them. He began to question them in a quick Spanish that they were unable to understand.
“Ingles?” Jake asked feebly, but they shook their heads. The three, unable to stand any longer, fell on the floor.
A child appeared from another room and his mother quickly instructed him. He disappeared and moments later was back with a pitcher of water which the three drained quickly.
“Gracias, gracias,” they said, feeling the water gurgle into their parched innards. The boy brought another. They drank four between them before they were able to do anything else. The boy brought a fifth, but they only took sips from it. Miguel continued to ask them questions in Spanish.
“I think he is asking where we came from or maybe what happened to us,” Third said as life returned to them.
“Muro,” Jake tried in timid Spanish. He tapped his chest and indicated the other two. “Uh, escaped el muro.”
The couple nodded.
“Lo siento,” Third interrupted, “pero tenemos mucho hambre.”
Again, the mother instructed the boy and again he disappeared, this time for a bit longer.
“Tengo comida,” the patriarch spoke slowly and simply, trying to communicate his point across languages, “y tus no tienen comida,” he said and stopped and shook his head and waved his arms as if to cancel out what he just said. “No, no, no. Tenemos comida,” he said, but this time he swept his arms to indicate that everyone in the room was contained within his nosotros.
“Si,” he said with finality as his son appeared with a plate of food. The rations were rather meager, but the sentiment itself was almost enough to sustain them and the three quickly devoured everything.
As they ate, Miguel fished a hammer and a railroad spike from somewhere and went to work splitting the chains. Then his wife treated the raw wounds and supplied some wool to fill the space between steel and skin as the shackles themselves could not be removed without risking ankles.
“Gracias,” the three said again and again, unable to express much else.
“Donde?” Jake asked before trailing off. “Uh, donde estamos?” he tried.
“No,” the wife and husband looked at each other with concern. “Mexico.”
A sudden exhaustion came over the three escapees. Watered and fed, they fell into a deep, dreamless sleep, and were covered by thin blankets.
A long time later, Stephen and Jake awoke to find that Third was gone.
Feeling groggy from too much sleep, they walked outside where the sun was only beginning to rise. They sat down together on a large rock in front of the house and watched billows of smoke rising from the wreckage of The Wall many miles away and discussed what might have happened. Next, their talk turned to Rudy, and then on their current situation. What were they to do in a foreign land where they didn’t speak the language? And finally, they discussed the disappearance of Third.
“Where do you think he went?” Jake asked, realizing that somehow, even after two days together wandering the desert, he never got the man’s name.
“I don’t know, but maybe we should leave.”
“And go where?”
“I don’t know, man, but think about it. We don’t even know that guy. What if he’s a spy or something? He could be reporting our location right now. We have to go or else we are putting this family in danger,” Stephen said.
“What if he just went out to, you know, take a shit or something?”
“Spy?” Third asked, suddenly standing behind them. He laughed as both the writers jumped and nearly fell from their stone. “I ain’t no spy, man. It’s like he said. I had to take a shit.”
“Shit, man. I’m sorry. It’s just-”
“Look, don’t worry about it. I never gave you my name because I figured you knew it already, like I knew yours, but now that I think about it, that doesn’t make any sense. You two would have been on The Wall already by the time I wound up on President Judge Trump. Couldn’t’ve seen me like I seen you. Name’s Jude. Why didn’t y’all just ask?”
“I guess because you never asked us,” Jake said with an embarrassed grin and the three laughed.
“We should go, though,” Jude said. “I don’t like being this close to The Wall. I mean, you can still see the fucker. Come on. Let’s find out where this town Reynosa is.”
“What about the family?”
“No one’s home. They left real early, probably for work, that’s what woke me up.”
No word from the outside world reached Rudy’s ear. In fact, nothing reached Rudy’s ear. Rudy Martinez, for all intents and purposes, no longer had an ear. The ear which once funneled the sounds of New Wave French cinema, American rap, British post-punk, the squeal of basketball shoes against the court, vulgar jokes made by friends, the click of a lighter before a cigarette, the voice of professors lecturing on philosophy, the hissing steam of an espresso machine, lively debates over race theory and politics, the scratch of pen on paper, birdsong and traffic during his daily walks, the soft laughs of heart-eyed women, and then death threats, judge hammer, and chains, had been rewired. It now served a new master.
Jon Snow lived in a haze. He had vague memories of a wintry home in an ancient castle, but he couldn’t grip them tightly without the memories turning to smoke. This confused and upset him greatly, so he took out his frustration by training with his sword. That activity took up any amount of free time he had, of which he did not have much.
He slept in the barracks which were only marginally better than his prison cell had been. He ate with the other brainwashed men of the Night’s Watch, all of them prisoners, but not all of them political prisoners such as himself. The only thing they all had in common were their life sentences. The government couldn’t be sending people back into the civilized world thinking they were medieval soldiers, after all.
As for the brainwashing procedure, the Department of Internal Entertainment owed much to the CIA and their MKUltra program. It was not a perfect procedure. Those who went through it lost autonomy. They had to live in highly structured systems in which they followed orders, and they couldn’t be given too much down time or they’d become depressed, so Rudy was kept busy. Sometimes he performed the interactive ceremonies, like the swearing in of the new members, other times he performed for an audience, such as his reenactments of famous Jon Snow fights: Jon Snow vs. Ramsay Bolton, Jon Snow vs. white walker, Jon Snow vs. pack of wildlings.
The fact that his life followed no chronological order, that he relieved the same scenes over and over, seemed to go unnoticed by Snow. He could shift between King of the North, Master Commander of the Night’s Watch, lowly steward, and self-loathing bastard. He could kill the same man a dozen times without batting an eye.
Only in those few moments of down time did he question anything. Sometimes, it was as if something jumped out at him from the dark and his heart raced and he reached for his sword, but then he would look around confused and couldn’t remember what had caused the panic. His dreams were watery and ran away from him as soon as he woke.
Obadiah stayed at the park for its first month to keep an eye on things, but then, feeling quite pleased, he moved on. There was trouble further down The Wall and nationwide protests. Although the park was frequented by Trump’s supporters, Russian tourists, and the few remaining apolitical citizens of the United States, anyone left of center seemed to be boycotting all of DIE’s programs, slowly starving the government of its funding.
A government shutdown had to be put in effect and Trump tweeted that Democrats were destroying the country. The shutdown froze all Medicare/Medicaid, food assistance programs, National Parks, NASA, EPA, all forms of welfare, and the FBI. Student loan interest rates were tripled and border patrol was absorbed by the military.
The protest along The Wall persevered, even with the siege stopping anyone or anything from coming in from the north. Arrivals from the south, mostly Mexicans and Guatemalans, brought food and water to replenish the dwindling supplies, and then the protest became an international affair. Military police began to arrest anyone who stepped over the boundary line or handed food or water across the line.
In the end, Mexican police sealed off entry from the south in order to protect their own citizens, but fans of CF Monterrey who were on the scene continued to shoot food into the crowd using their t-shirt cannons.
Within the ranks of protesters, food and water running scarce, tensions increased. It was a wide array of participants with representatives from any social justice organization imaginable. Among them there were also trolls stirring the pot.
A group of environmentalists from El Paso had come to protest The Wall’s effects on wildlife. One man, early twenties, white, wearing Birkenstock's and a vintage Columbia sweatshirt, college-educated, had been telling the story of black bears in Big Bend National Park. By the early twentieth century, bears had been hunted to extinction in the area by ranchers, but when the land became a protected park, black bears wandered in from Mexico and repopulated the area. His point being, with a wall in the way, that never could have happened. However, the painted cardboard sign he held above his head read: Humans Drool, but Bears Rule!
He was accosted by a troll who began yelling at him, saying the man cared more about bears than the human lives The Wall would destroy. Immigration Rights groups began to turn on the environmentalists and the rift grew from there. Communists crumbled into factions: Maoists, Neo-Marxists, posers, the Texan Spencerists, and even Communists for Christ. The Young Republicans who had come to protest the frivolous spending were attacked from all sides while an extremely ill-informed young woman screamed at a group of BLM members, saying “If only black lives matter, then what do you care about Mexicans?”
Trump tweeted happily, saying things were falling apart, and soon the protesters would be cleared out and The Wall rebuilt, stronger than ever. He said that liberals can’t come together because they don’t stand for anything, only against everything, and he cited Occupy Wall Street and the October Revolution as past failures of the left.
In Reynosa, Jude, unaware that Boo Boo had been listening in on the transmissions between him and the other agents of the Office of Unspecified Services and had beaten the trio to the cafe that Jude was slowly flushing them towards, argued with Stephen, who couldn’t see the point in going to a cafe since they didn’t have any money.
“We’ll offer to work for it!”
“That only happens in movies.”
“You go, then.”
“We shouldn’t split up,” Jude countered.
“Okay, then don’t go.”
“What else are we going to do? We have to eat!”
“I don’t know. We’ll beg or something. Maybe Bessie can wire us some money.”
“Bessie?” Jude asked, his ears perking up. The long coveted Bessie Glass. He calmed himself and then said, “Yeah, let’s see if she can do that. That your girl or something?”
Stephen laughed high and loud and Jake chuckled to himself. The two exchanged looks and, it seemed to Jude, transmitted something telepathically, as they then turned serious.
“Just a friend,” Stephen answered shortly and they made their way to a bank where they contacted Bessie via an emergency number she had made then memorize. Unsure of the mechanics of the process, all they knew was to give the number, and $2,000 would be given to them, “at any bank in the world,” Bessie had promised, and sure enough they walked out of the bank with the money.
“Quite the friend,” Jude said, disappointed that he hadn’t been given an opportunity to learn more. If only he could be the one to finally locate Bessie Glass, he sure as hell wouldn’t be assigned these jobs working undercover as a fucking prisoner anymore.
DM walked into the cafe and took a seat. A waitress came over and Boo Boo asked for a beer even though it was not quite eleven am. Everyone else in the cafe had a beer, it seemed. She nodded and walked away. Boo Boo looked around, trying to spot the federal agents, which was not hard. This was not a place where a cop could easily hide and Boo Boo quickly picked them out, a pair of middle-aged men with pot bellies, sitting by the window, pink-faced and doughy. Boo Boo wondered what to do. There wasn’t much time. DM noticed the cops perk up as they looked out the window. Stephen and Jake were approaching the restaurant with the undercover Jude.
For a moment, Boo Boo thought it would be a fair fight. 3 on 3, but then it dawned on them that the cops would have guns. Maybe not the one with Jake and Stephen, but surely the other two. Quickly, without thinking much about it, DM made a dash towards the table where they were sitting and fell to the floor beside it and began convulsing. The two men looked down at the writhing form with confusion. Boo Boo stopped moving and lay completely still. One of the men kneeled down beside them. Through a squinted eye, Boo Boo searched the man for the bulge of a gun. They spotted it and a hand shot towards it, latched on, and pulled until it came loose. Just then, Jude, Stephen, and Jake walked in through the front door. Boo Boo scrambled up and kept the gun pointed at the sitting cop.
“Jude’s an imposter!” DM shouted and Stephen, lightning quick, swept a leg, in a move he’d once seen in an anime, and took Jude’s feet out from under him. Then he and Jake pinned him down.
Boo Boo slowly backed away from the cops, keeping the gun pointed, as the cafe turned deadly quiet. When Boo Boo reached Stephen and Jake’s side, Stephen confirmed that Jude was unarmed, but did have a cell phone which he'd snuck away to use that morning when he'd been taking a shit.
“Go,” Boo Boo told Jude, signaling with a nod that he was to join the other two cops. Jude crawled towards them. “Sit,” Boo Boo said and he sat in the booth. “Stay,” he couldn’t help but say as he backed towards the door, Jake and Stephen doing the same. He held the gun pointed until they rounded a corner and then the three began to sprint. They took off down an alleyway and moments later there was a sound exploding from the end they’d entered. The cop was shooting at them. Boo Boo fired back without waiting to see if the bullet made contact. They scrambled down alleyways without knowing where to go. They turned one way and then another, cutting every which way, their feet pounding the pavement loudly. And then more shots. One nearly clipped Stephen’s left arm and one whizzed by Boo Boo’s ear. They were on too crowded of a street now for them to tell where the shots were coming from, so Boo Boo did not fire back. They crossed a busy street, narrowly missing being hit by a truck, and then ran up a hill on the other side. They were out of downtown now, it seemed, and running through a neighborhood. There were no more shots and it did not seem they were being followed anymore, but they continued to run. Their breath burned sharply in their lungs and stitches stung their sides, but they ran until they were clear out of the city and back into the desert surrounding the city where they collapsed and tried to catch their breath. Finally, Stephen rolled over and embraced Boo Boo.
“Dude!” he shouted. “How the hell did you find us?”
“Bessie sent me.”
“I found her, or she found me. They came after me, too. Obadiah did.”
“Obadiah, the journalist?” Jake asked.
“He’s not a journalist anymore. He became a cop, a federal agent, and they raided a Banana Fish meeting.”
“Wait, a Banana Fish meeting?”
“You all have missed a lot,” Boo Boo exclaimed. “Sybil’s supporters. It formed during your trial.”
“Wow,” Stephen said, trying to soak everything in. The adrenaline from the chase had not worn off yet. “What happened?”
“I don’t know what happened to the rest of them, but I escaped. I’m sure others did, too. I jumped in the river and floated for days. I don’t know how the hell Bessie knew where to find me, but she was waiting for me.”
“Wait, you saw her in the flesh?”
“Yes. I’ve been with her since after the trials. You’re not going to believe this, but she is with your old communists buddies. They’ve amassed a ragtag fleet of ships and are hiding out in the Gulf.”
“What does she look like?”
“Bessie?” Boo Boo thought for a long time and then said: “Like God’s mother.”
“What a fucking story, man.”
“There’s more,” DM said and began to tell the other two of everything going on, about Canada, the attack that had freed them, how it’d been Franny’s plan, about Franny’s death, the protests going on in The Gap, the Department of Interior Entertainment and their parks, and that Bessie was pretty sure that’s where Rudy had been taken.
“That’s where we have to go,” Jake said.
“I sure as hell didn’t come to just save two of the Sybil 3,” Boo Boo confirmed.
“The Sybil 3,” Stephen repeated, “Is that what they are calling us?” he asked, unable to contain his smile.
“Don’t get a big head. You guys are old news. The protest is all anyone talks about now.”
“The Sybil 3,” Stephen said again, rather dreamily. “Rudy would love that shit. I guess we better go and tell him. I only have one edit to make,” he said looking at his old friend. “It’s the Sybil 4 now.”
“This isn’t going to be easy,” Boo Boo warned.
“I expect not.”
“Even if we do somehow manage to get him out, Bessie thinks they may be brainwashing people at these parks.”
“Brainwashing? What the fuck?”
“He might believe he’s Jon Snow.”
For forty days, the trio made their way across the Chihuahuan desert. Drones passed overhead like Nazgul on their winged mounts and they would have to take cover. They passed through small desert towns where they were given food and drink which kept them going. In one town, the three stopped in a cantina where Stephen bought sandwiches and beers and they sat in the shade out back where someone had spray painted a quote attributed to Nietzsche: Wer mit Ungeheuern kämpft, mag zusehn, dass er nicht dabei zum Ungeheuer wird. Und wenn du lange in einen Abgrund blickst, blickt der Abgrund auch in dich hinein. Swastikas had been added by a later artist.
“Ungeheuern means monsters,” DM said, “but that’s the only German word I know.”
“The only German word you know is the word for monsters,” Stephen guffawed and they rolled on the ground laughing together.
“Fucking poets,” Jake sighed as he sipped his beer.
Before they left, they asked the man working at the bar about the spray painted message, who only told them that it wasn’t written in Spanish, which they knew already, but couldn’t get any further in the conversation because of language difficulties. Then they carried on, walking towards the vague point on DM’s map where the park was supposed to be.
For weeks, they slept during the day and walked at night. The days were hot, but the nights rather cool. They hid from narcos, drones, wild dogs, and border patrol. One day, they came across a group of pilgrims from Arizona, come to gather peyote. An old woman among them taught them how to identify the cactus, how to pick it, and how to prepare it. Then she warned them that it was very powerful and sacred and deserved respect. It was not a party drug like alcohol. They nodded respectfully and as soon as they were away from the pilgrims, they began picking the cactus, which grew abundantly in the area. The next day, they ate the buttons they had collected, and in the distance The Wall became a mountain and it looked as if the mountain was on fire. They walked parallel to it, with several miles between them. The world began to swim softly and colors became more vibrant. They kept the burning mountain out of their vision and looked ahead, and shortly they forgot the burning mountain was there at all. Their feet crunched against the dry ground and their skin felt clammy, cold yet sweaty, and their stomachs flipped. It felt as if there was a rope through their center that tugged them forward, like they couldn’t stop walking if they wanted to, and then it was like their skin slid off and they were walking skinless, muscle and soul exposed to the elements. Their dicks and balls fell off, too, and then they felt very light and, without saying anything, they all three began to run at the same time, and they continued to do so until their bodies were exhausted. They found a cave in the rocky hills they were making their way through. To get out of the sun, they went inside and they ate more of the buttons which Boo Boo surprised them with, and they explored the small cave, which must have not been visited in centuries, because they found a human skeleton, clad in dulled armor of a Spanish conquistador. They sat down beside the skeleton and were not scared. They’d forgotten the burning mountain and their skin had grown back, it seemed, but their brains were chaotic, as if metallic jumping beans had been released inside their skulls and were ripping everything to shreds, but then, in calmer moments, it seemed to mend and become better than it had been. They looked at each other, and, briefly, fell in love, and then fell out of love, and they were brothers, and then sisters. They foresaw each other’s deaths and began to cry. Then, completely exhausted, each laid down and the shared journey split in three directions, each very narrow, with some dark passages which each had to go through on their own, but in the morning, as sunlight came in through the cave and warmed them, they awoke and saw the skeleton had actually been a rock and they began to laugh because they’d known it was a skeleton, and when they looked outside, The Wall was not a mountain on fire, but just a huge wall that had been built along an imaginary line which split the land into two distinct, yet imaginary zones.
On the fortieth day, they reached the place designated on the map and saw something strange. They spotted them far away, a group of people, three or four of them in strange, medieval costume, the rest wearing virtual reality glasses. They watched them for awhile, and then they walked out to greet them. The costumed men charged towards them screaming and pulled swords from their scabbards. DM, Stephen, and Jake held hands as they waited for the charge to reach them. They knew this was their only way into the park, and they prepared themselves for it. The blades of the swords were hard, but they were dull, more like narrow clubs than swords. They crashed against arms, legs, chest, head. The group of vagabond writers were beaten to the ground and all they could hear was people cheer and laugh and applaud the costumed men's efforts. The pain became unbearable and eventually they passed out, first Jake, then DM, and finally Stephen.
Obadiah returned to Castle Black when he heard the news and his was the face they saw when they regained consciousness. They were in a cell. Someone had removed the shackles from Jake and Stephen’s ankles, treated their wounds, and then dressed them in Dark Age era peasants’ clothes.
Elihue was standing on the other side of the bars and Rudy stood slightly behind and to the right of him, one hand on the hilt of his sword.
“Rudy?” Stephen gasped as his eyes focused on the figure in the dark room. His entire body ached and he winced when he moved, but he forced himself to sit up and get a better look.
“Is that why you are here, to save your friend?” Obadiah smirked. “Brave, but pointless. Your friend is gone. I would have thought you’d go crawling to Mommy Bessie. That would have been pointless, too. Thanks to your little financial transaction, we now know where she is. She got herself a fleet of ships. I have to say, she has done quite well for herself, but she is being taken care of as we speak.”
“Rudy!” Stephen shouted this time, but Jon Snow did not flinch.
“Yell all you want. There is no Rudy in this room. This here is Jon Snow, now.”
Stephen yelled again and again. He rattled the bars of the cell and Obadiah stood by patiently. When he’d worn himself out, he sat down alongside Jake and DM and Elihue continued his monologue:
“You know, we’re not so different. I guess that’s why Bessie chose all of us. Did you know that? That I owe all that I am to Bessie Glass, though, of course, she went by a different name back then. She wasn’t onto Salinger yet. She had religion and Flannery O’Connor and she thought that was how we would save the world. An idealist, just like I was, just like you lot.
“But do you know why revolutionaries have failed over and over? Do you know what progressives just don’t get, with all their science, all their reason, all their facts. It’s that people don’t want facts; people want story. Facts can’t mitigate the chaos of the universe like story can. Black holes are fact. Death is fact. Cancer is fact. Suffering is fact. Dying in an unexpected car wreck and leaving everything unfinished is fact. It doesn’t matter that none of it makes any sense; it’s still fact.
“But story,” Obadiah grinned like a grackle with teeth, “now people like story. It takes things as they are, shaves off some here, enlarges other bits there, and it makes sense of the world. Everyone is living as the center of their own story. We are all heroes, but you know what, the most of us aren’t Hercules or Achilles. No. We are David. The underdog. Everyone is out to get us. That’s how people like to live their lives. Even those on top, even Donald Trump sees himself as David, and any facts that challenge that story are ignored, have to be ignored, because they challenge our own image of our self, don’t you see? And if our self image is rattled, well, then everything falls apart. The world is Goliath and we are just scrappy enough to get along.
“Facts, pfaw! There are people who believe the world is flat. There are people who believe anything you can imagine. People want story!” Obadiah roared. “Heroes, villians, meaning! If we are the hero, then our opposites have to be villian: If we are conservatives, then we want to believe liberals are baby killers. If we are liberals, then we want to believe all conservatives are racists. If we are atheists, we want to believe believers are imbeciles. If we are believers, we want to believe atheists are immoral! Do you see this?” Obadiah asked, unbuttoning his shirt and then flinging it to the ground. Standing before them, chest heaving, he turned around.
“Jesus,” DM gasped as the tattoo bore into them.
“That’s right, but I am not the weeping God. I am the reason he weeps.” Suddenly, he wheeled around and slapped Rudy across the face as hard as he could. Rudy fell to the ground for a moment and then stood up as if nothing had happened, but blood flowed from one nostril. Then Elihue slapped the other cheek as hard as he could and again Rudy fell. The jailed writers yelled, but Obadiah just laughed. He turned to face them again.
“Trump is a fool, I see that. But do you think that a new government will truly save humanity? You think capitalism is the problem? No. Humans are the problem; it doesn’t matter what system they’re in. The problems with humanity are far older than politics and far deeper than tribal. They’re in our core. You idiots got that much right, our DNA is an abomination. We want to fucking eat each other. If someone cuts us off in traffic, something inside of us wants to see him smeared between two semis. We hate and we hate and we hate. We need to be caged. Perhaps, in the end, it is not our fault. We are semi-rational beings thrust into a completely irrational universe. We have tried to sort it out with stories. We told ourselves the story of God to make us feel better and to try and keep ourselves under control, but that story is over. People don’t believe anymore.
“Why are storytellers and dictators mortal enemies when we both want the same thing, when we both just want to make order out of the chaos?”
Obadiah took a deep breath and let the question hang in the stale air of the stony cell. He calmly bent down, picked up his shirt, and covered the strange Christ of the East. Then he turned on his heel and left the room.
“Come on, Snow. We have work to do.”
On the 100th day of the protest at The Gap, Trump threatened to arrest anyone left in the area after twenty-four hours. The Wall was ready to be rebuilt and those in the way were obstructing progress.
Meanwhile, a battleship sailed into the South Padre harbor and began an assault on Bessie’s rebel fleet, which consisted mostly of fishing vessels and stolen yachts that had been souped up for light combat. They had no defenses against such a weapon and began going down quick. She signaled a retreat, but the battleship followed and the rebels were forced into shallow waters where they were under a continuous barrage. The flagship, a stolen luxury cruise liner, was hit and began going under. Other boats were abandoned and Bessie and what remained of the rebels fled to shore and fought their way towards The Gap where their forces were able to push their way through the siege line and join the protesters.
Obadiah evidently left Castle Black shortly after his first visit with the imprisoned writers, or at least he did not make another appearance before them. He’d spoken his piece and left them to rot. They were fed and watered by costumed men of the Night’s Watch and sometimes tourists came and stared at them.
“At least you’ll have plenty of material for your next vision of hell,” Jake muttered to DM one day as they were allowed a quick walk along the top of The Wall. They could see Rudy far away, leading some sort of ceremony, but they were not allowed near him at any point, nor were they given any news of the outside world or introduced to any other prisoners. It was just the three of them in a cramped cell day after day.
“Do you think they’re trying to drive us crazy and then do to us what they did to Rudy?” Stephen asked one day.
“Shit, I do now.”
“There has to be some way we can get through to him.”
“How? We can’t even talk to him.”
“What do you know about Jon Snow? You’ve read it, right?” Stephen asked Jake.
“I have seen the show.”
“Good enough. What’s the character like?”
“What are you thinking?”
“Is he rebellious or anything?”
“Not rebellious, exactly. He is very honorable, but he does sort of follow his own morals and ends up taking the side of the people who were supposed to be his enemies.”
“Do you think we can tap into that part of his character?”
“I have no idea. We can’t do anything without getting close to him.”
“I have an idea.”
The next time a guard came into feed them, Stephen approached the bars, and declared his desire to join the Night’s Watch, reciting carefully what he’d practiced with Jake.
“I want to protect the realm!”
The two guards looked at each other. Their eyes looked glazed over and unfocused. They didn’t say anything. Then they unlocked the cell, grabbed Stephen, one at each shoulder, and walked him out of the room. He was led away from The Wall and into the yard where Rudy was swearing in a group of tourist children.
“New recruit, sir,” they said before tossing him to the ground. Rudy looked down into his friend’s eyes and showed no recognition.
“What is your name, son?”
“Zooey,” Stephen answered, “Son of Bessie, House Glass.”
“House Glass,” Jon Snow said, “never heard of it,” but Stephen thought he spotted some brief flare of familiarity, so Rudy was in there after all, and he wanted out.
“We are a small house, but we are a proud one.”
“You will have to give it up to join the Brotherhood.”
“I am willing.”
The protesters called Trump’s bluff and were not arrested on the 101st day, whether because there were too many of them for any form of arrest to be practical, or because Bessie and her forces provided some level of protection, no one could say. They were not arrested, but they were moved back, out of The Gap, rather forcefully, and made to watch as The Wall was reconstructed.
At night, small groups shot across the line and demolished much of the progress the construction crews made.
Under the larger threat, most of the faction disputes died down for the time being and Bessie began doing what she did best: building order out of chaos. There were Banana Fish among the protesters who sought her out and she assigned them roles to play. She sent representatives to different groups to open a wider dialogue and she gave speeches at night.
The battleworn communists of the fleet mixed with the different factions and ate away at the differences between them.
Bessie had a higher view of things. She had been through a lot in her long life and felt exhausted. She missed Franny terribly and worried for her other children. The Glass children were supposed to be her last act, her chance to fix past mistakes, and now she might outlive them all. She tried to push away her own miseries and threw herself into the work of shaping up this group of protesters, but visions of Obadiah Elihue returned to her again and again. He was out there amongst the siege line, she knew. Her first creation, come to do her in. Man turning on its creator. His skullish face haunted her dreams, so she did not sleep. She wore herself thin breaking down the skirmishes and rivalries of people who were supposed to be on the same side. It was hard. No one wanted to compromise and people were too thick skulled to understand that other people had different experiences than themselves. They wanted to argue as if their opposite had been brought up in the same exact circumstances as themselves, yet had somehow reached the exact opposite conclusion. They wanted to theorize endlessly and nitpick and nitpick and turn tiny disagreements into schisms. They wanted drama. She was so tired, so tired, but she would not sleep. She knew Obadiah was out there in the dark, circling her camp. She tried to bring them together, but it was like trying to contain water in a smashed vase that she was holding together. It came apart. Water leaked out everywhere. And the edges cut her hands and blood mixed with the leaking water and then it all, clay, water, blood, fell to the ground where it was smashed up even more. She tried, she tried, she tried, but she was an old woman, and she was exhausted. Her eldest son was circling her like a hungry lion. She could see his skull shining through his skin. He wanted her. He would have her and it would all shatter like glass. This was pointless. What was she doing? She had been born rich, she could have gotten married, she could be a grandmother now and everything would be fine. She was rich and white, why fight? Why fight? She asked herself and screamed internally Because I don’t deserve shit! I deserve the same as the worst thing I allow to happen to someone else when it is within my ability to at least try and do something about it and I do nothing. Come get me, Obadiah! I am an old woman, but I’m not dead yet. Come get me you heartless bastard and I will die with my nails under your skin. And I will not die but live and live and live. Just like Franny. You killed her, you killed your sister, but she is not dead. Look what she has done. We stand here in The Gap in The Wall of your master. And you may not see him as your master. You may even be biding your time to replace him, but he is your master, and we smashed up his wall. We stand in The Gap in the Wall That Franny made, god dammit, and I will die here, she thought, as she stared into the faceless wall of riot police that kept the protesters quarantined.
A week after he was taken away, Stephen reappeared in the cell, in the middle of the night, with keys. He was wearing a similar costume as Rudy. He opened the cell door, woke DM and Jake, and ushered them out. They came out along the top of The Wall and Stephen explained that he knew where Rudy slept, and he thought they could knock him out and escape and figure out how to help him later.
“What if we kill him?” Jake asked and then quickly explained to the shocked faces. “Obadiah is a sucker for story, right? Well in Game of Thrones, Jon Snow dies, betrayed by his own men, and then is brought back to life. Maybe he wrote that in somehow and if we can kill Jon Snow, then Rudy will come back to life.”
“Okay, but how do we do that without, you know, actually killing him?”
“He’s from some sort of medieval world, right?”
“Yeah,” Stephen answered.
“Well, then he wouldn’t know what chloroform was. We wake him, two of us holding him down, tell him this will kill him, and then put a chloroform rag over his mouth. He passes out, Jon Snow part of his brain thinks it is dying, and Rudy wakes up.”
“I guess it’d be worth a try, if we had chloroform.”
“What if we just hit him really hard in the head? That stuff works in the movies.”
“That stuff causes brain damage in real life.”
“Let’s just grab him and run and figure it out later.”
All their whispered discussion came to an abrupt end when a guard approached and Rudy himself stood before them, sword drawn. Stephen drew his in response and without a word the two old friends began to duel. Rudy was the superior swordsman, having trained a lot in his free time over the last few months, but Stephen was quick and had longer reach, and so kept him at bay.
“Fuck it,” Jake said, feeling helpless as he watched the fight, he began to yell: “Kendrick Lamar! Agnes Varda! Paul Thomas Anderson! Spike Lee! Susan Sontag!”
“What the hell are you doing?” DM asked as they both stood by.
“He’s got to be in there somewhere. Maybe we can help draw him out: Thomas Pynchon! Jean-Luc Godard!”
“By shouting artists he likes at him?”
“I don’t really know what else to do.”
“Sarte! Simone de Beauvoir! Albert Camus!
Stephen parried a blow aimed for his head but it jolted his arm and, pained, he struggled to keep the fight going. He, too, joined in the barrage of people they knew their friend to love: “Malcolm X, Karl Marx, The 2006 Miami Heat!” Stephen shouted in a whirlwind combo which caused enough of a flinch that he was able to land a hard blow with the broad side of his dull prop sword. Rudy fell and Jake jumped on his sword.
“For the Watch,” he said, holding him down, and Jon Snow’s eyes closed. When they reopened they were more clear than they’d been in a long time and Rudy Martinez stood up.
The Sybil 4 escaped the park in a Jeep and flew into the Mexican desert. A news report was discussing the protest taking place in The Gap and they knew where they had to be.
I wish I could say that there was a happy ending. I wish that there was a ring that could be tossed into a volcano that would put an end to it all, or seven horcruxes to destroy, or that throwing the Emperor into a bottomless pit would bring an end to the evil empire, but those are stories, and much of the chaos has been left out on purpose, to give the illusion of order.
The Sybil 4 arrived at the protest in high fashion, that much can be said. The Wall had been partially rebuilt, but it hadn’t yet surpassed four feet, and there just so happened to be a ramp-like slope on the Mexican side and it was Rudy’s turn to drive as they neared The Gap. Seeing no other option, Rudy floored it towards the ramp and launched the Jeep over The Wall and the siege forces, back onto American soil, and back into the fire. They exited the Jeep and flew into the crowd, Stephen and Rudy still dressed in the black cloaks of the Night’s Watch.
Bessie recognized them instantly and ran to them.
If only she was as powerful as she seemed from afar. If only she could clap her hands and bring down The Wall, but this world is not gifted with Gandalfs, Dumbledores, or Yodas. Luckily, neither do we have true Saurons, Voldemorts, or Darth Vaders. What we do have is a bunch of Gimlis, crazy motherfuckers ready to run into the heart of Mordor with no more than a battleaxe, and Hermiones, incredibly intelligent, able to solve any number of problems.
I wish our heroes could draw their lightsabers and take on Obadiah, Trump, and Putin and the story could end with good triumphing over evil, but remove Obadiah, Trump, or Putin and there is another to take their place. They are products of a system and the system can pump them out with incredible efficiency. You can stand at the end of an assembly line, hacking down products all day long, but what are you really doing?
Writing is something. It is certainly not everything, but it is something, but as much fun as it would be to write otherwise, Sybil cannot take on all the evils in the world alone.
What, then, are the protesters, corralled together in the desert, kept separate from everyone else, ignored at large, mocked by those in power to do? We must count the small victories and stick together, look past petty differences, and abandon the walled ideologies which have all let us down.
The world is capable of becoming a utopia for all. Not a gluttony for few resting on the backs of the rest and not a gluttony for everyone. A utopia in which all have enough, meaning no one has too much, and no one has too little. In which everyone is willing to do their part. No one gets to do nothing, but no one is asked to do too much. But how do we get there? How do we get from a ragtag group of heroes in the desert, closed in on all sides, fractioned even amongst themselves, to a utopia for all? Sounds like a pretty unbelievable story, doesn’t it?
Well, good thing we are all such natural storytellers.
And, maybe the Department of Internal Entertainment was right about one thing: We’ve had enough of just watching our entertainment; it’s time to live it.