Gehenna

It has been three months since I returned from Gehenna. For three months, I have not told a soul what I found there. Not my mother, though she asks why my eyes seem so empty. Not my father, though he wonders why I cannot bring myself to smile. I can no longer even bear to see old friends for I do not feel there is anyone left in the world who truly knows me. The person they all knew is gone, left behind like the shell of some sea-creature destined to take a new shape and transform into something larger and stranger.

 

There is what my life was before Gehenna, and that person is a stranger even to me. A little girl I met once, who had all these dreams about what was right and what was wrong. There is only the life I’m living now, after Gehenna, and I feel like I am a trillion years old and that even the stars are young in my eyes.

 

It is no longer possible for me to say if what I found at Gehenna is right or if it is wrong, because the scope of it is still beyond my ability to judge. No human could judge it. Yet I feel if I do not answer this question I will never be able to become human again.

 

Another part of me feels that being human was merely something I did when I was a child. That humanity is something for children, and I outgrew it like I outgrew my toys and that I cannot go back. When I was given the responsibility of God, set to judge the wicked, I accepted the responsibility. I ate the hamburger. No child would have eaten that hamburger. Yet, it was satisfying and I laughed to see the cows cry. Maybe all I have been feeling since that fateful moment is an attempt to find absolution for that sin, if it even was a sin.

 

Gehenna cannot be explained outright. Gehenna cannot be defined. Doing so would not let you experience the reality of that place. Gehenna must be experienced to be understood. Therefore, I will explain it to you as I experienced it. And then I hope you will forgive me for helping you to understand.

 

*****

 

“A question, young lady!”

 

A gentle shake on my shoulder woke me. The hands were soft, like old well-used leather or a baby’s earlobes. Kind hands. A grandfather’s hands. I groaned coming awake but the hands made me feel safe so I did not scream.

 

“Focus, please. Yes, time to wake up. Gently, gently. Quite a blow you took to the head. We shall have to get you an ice pack, but you have no concussion. I checked while you were sleeping. I have an important question for you, please. Very important, so try to focus.”

 

I lifted my head, but my vision was too blurry to make anything out in detail. God, how my head hurt. I remember it felt like my whole skull was about to split apart in a hundred fragments. It was like a red wine hangover but concentrated in one angry knot at the back of my head where what felt like an egg was growing. When it hatched, I felt surely a dragon must spring from my skull, all red and breathing fire. A soft hand caressed my cheek, the only point of comfort on my entire skull. It might have been intrusive or offensive had the hands not been so kind. Sometimes I can still feel them there and I shudder to think that the same hands that built something so terrible once touched my face.

 

“If you were to eat the horse half of a centaur would that be cannibalism?”

 

The words were just sounds and I lacked the ability to put them together, but something about the way they were said caused me to jerk my head away. Even if I had understood, the strangeness of the question would have repulsed me. The oddness of it. The way the terror and absurdity of it made an alloy of unpleasantness. The egg on my head collided with the headrest of a heavy metal chair and the room spun. I tried to scream but then I realized there was a rag in my mouth.

 

“Ah yes, the gag. Our Mister Hoffman is being overzealous again. He worries about exposure, you see. Yet I have always planned for this facility to be public. Your break-in only advanced the date. Shake your head yes or no and we shall decide what to do with you.”

 

My captor, a bent-back and wizened old man who I could only assume was Jewish from the yarmulke on his head, sighed when he saw my obvious shock. With a sense of dread, I tried to move my hands and I realized I couldn’t. I was tied thoroughly to the chair. Panic set in and I struggled against my bonds, barely able to breathe.

 

“Young lady, please. We are not the monsters that you suppose.”

 

I had no recollection of how I had come to be in the chair. All I could remember was breaking into the slaughterhouse with my friends and the horror we all felt while videotaping the atrocities that were being committed against the cows. We were out trying to right the world’s wrongs and we’d had no idea of what we’d find. None of us had imagined the horror. I remembered the stink of blood and shit, which I could smell faintly even here. Then I remembered a darkness that came when something had struck me on the back of the head.

 

“Yes, calm now. It’s not so bad as that. Calm please. Calm.”

 

The man’s frail old hands pat me on my shoulder again, somehow slowing my breathing despite the danger I knew I was in. The incongruity of him, the sweetness of his old face in this bare concrete room with only a light bulb overhead, two chairs, and a drain in the middle of the flower soothed me somehow. Like finding an oasis in the middle of a desert. I still do not know if I should have found that oasis to be poisonous or pleasant.

 

“Ah, I understand. ‘Deciding what to do with you.’ Poor choice of words. My apologies. English is not my best language. You are not in danger. We will not hurt you more than you have already been hurt. Maybe we will have the authorities slap you on the wrist for trespassing, yes, but we are not murderers. Far from it. So focus. A centaur. The creature from Greek mythology, are you familiar? Part man and part horse?”

 

His hands were on both my shoulders now and he breathed in time with me, as if to pace me until I had calmed down. I nodded when sense began to return, the action more reflexive than deliberate, heart racing so hard I could feel my pulse in my entire body.

 

“If you ate the horse part of a centaur would that be cannibalism?” he asked again. His eyes, despite their age, were clear and a dark brown the color of fertile soil. I realized he was one of the oldest men I’d ever seen. Almost a hundred years old, I’d say. Maybe even older.

 

I remembered the cows again. The pictures I’d taken on my cellphone. The horrors outside of this concrete room. The reason I’d come to this place.

 

I screamed into the gag.

 

The old man sat down and sighed, rubbing his lower back, frettinging in a language I guessed was Hebrew. He seemed more distressed than diabolical.

 

“I cannot stand this. To be the cause of your screams? Bah! What we have done here is good and I will not have it tainted with these actions. If we remove your gag, will you speak with me civilly? I understand you are… animal rights activist? That is the term? Yes. Good. Morality is very important to you. It is important to us as well. Mr. Hoffman, remove the young lady’s gag please.”

 

I didn’t even know anyone was behind me when the hands came around my face and pulled away the gag. The hands smelled like the cows had smelled. Like sweat, shit, blood and fear. I gagged to have them so near my face.

 

“Young lady, I would like to have you on your way so your friends will not be worried about you. Will you-”

 

When the gag was all the way out, I screamed as loud as I have ever screamed in my life. Unmuffled, the scream was so loud it hurt even my own ears. When I was done, I gulped down another chestful of air and screamed again. A scream so piercing it was like a needle until my lungs were so empty I could see stars. The old man winced and frowned, then gave that characteristic sigh again.

 

“Would you like me to put the gag back in, sir?” the voice asked from behind me.

 

The old man shook his head, emphatically.

 

“We are not monsters, Mr. Hoffman! Our cause is a just one. She is scared. I will not have us be the kind of people who will gag a scared woman.”

 

The old man pointed a finger in the air, signalling an idea had just occurred to him. I thought for sure he was going to change his mind and order me executed. After what I’d seen him doing to those cows, I figured he had to be some kind of sicko. Maybe he is. I don’t know. As I have said, I still can’t figure out if what he’s doing is right or wrong.

 

Fully expecting to die, to my surprise he only rolled up his sleeve and held his left forearm a few feet in front of my face. I saw a tattoo so faded it looked like a blur but I thought there was some structure there, numbers maybe, and what I believed to be a triangle under the numbers.

 

“The numbers, yes. Look. You can see. The numbers. You see? Good girl. Very smart. You know what this is, yes? Your schools still teach it, good. May it never be forgotten. I see it in your eyes. Once I was held captive and hurt. I would like you out of those restraints as soon as possible. It is my sincerest wish. Will you speak with me?”

 

I nodded, mostly because I wasn’t sure I could scream anymore. Then I started crying. I’d never been so terrified.

 

“Am I… are you going to kill me?” I asked between sobbing fits.

 

“So brave,” snorted Mr. Hoffman.

 

The old man snapped his fingers, like you would at a dog, with a loudness that belied his age.

 

Mr. Hoffman went silent again.

 

“No, my word on it. I am in charge here. No harm will come to you. In fact, I apologize for your treatment. Mr. Hoffman said he found no explosives on your person, only pamphlets. You came here to spread your message, to take videos, yes? Not to hurt anyone? You came to protect the animals? I very much respect this. I wish this had been done for me many years ago.”

 

I nodded again, unable to speak.

 

“Mr. Hoffman, please remove the restraints. Do not give me that look! We are not monsters. If you cannot do this work with a just heart, I can find others to replace you! We will not become what we are fighting here.”

 

Slowly, the restraints around my arms, legs and chest slackened. I saw the side of Mr. Hoffman’s face as he maneuvered around me. He looked like Liev Schreiber except bigger and with a few extra pounds. Like he would have been handsome if he took better care of himself.

Most of all, he wasn’t that scary now that I could see his face.

 

I took a full minute to catch my breath.

 

“I… I saw the cows,” I panted, “You do… awful things here. I saw you tearing the skin off of cows that were fully awake. I saw a cow having its eyes burned out with a poker. I saw… I saw… a man rip off a cow’s legs with a…”

 

Bile rose in my throat at the thought.

 

“It was a pneumatic tugger,” said the old man, helpfully.

 

I pressed my head into my hands and let the tears flow.

 

“How… how can you do something so awful? That’s monstrous! You’re going to hell!” I screamed.

 

I found some of my fighting spirit again, now that I knew I was safe. In fact, I almost felt stupid for having been scared. Like I’d betrayed my values. What I had gone through was nothing compared to the suffering of those animals. In another few minutes, I was sure I could work myself up to the level of anger I’d had when I broke into this place. The level of rage that I was then certain needed to be directed at a place such as this.

 

“Jews don’t believe in hell,” Mr. Hoffman chuckled from behind me.

 

The old man shot a disgusted look over my shoulder.

 

“Much as I hate to agree, Mr. Hoffman brings up an important point. Jews do not believe in hell as you do, though the name for this place comes from our closest analogue- or actually, we have not yet been introduced. I am Dr. Abraham Adelmann. Although I’ve been retired for some years I was a neurologist. What is your religion? I normally would not ask so bluntly, but it has some bearing on the situation.”

 

“You’re fucking sick,” I spat.

 

Dr. Adelmann’s kindly grandfather smile didn’t drop in the slightest.

 

“We are not what you suppose, young lady. Those… creatures you care so much about are not innocent. Those are not cows out there. Or rather, I should say, they are not just cows.”

He sounded like he was explaining something simple, as to a child.

 

“What the fuck are you talking about?”

 

I felt the anger coming back. It felt good to be angry. I had never understood people who could be confronted by monsters and sit by idly and let them devastate the world. And it’s that very conviction that now makes me so unsure of my first impressions of the slaughterhouse. For now I am older than I was then, and I understand that hell can be virtuous.

 

“Justice, young lady. Those creatures deserve everything we are doing to them. Jews do not believe in hell. It was necessary for us to create one to find justice. That is what I am trying to explain.”

 

For the first time there was something cold in Dr. Adelmann’s face and it made me think of something horrible my own grandfather had told me. When I was young he had sat me on his knee and told me there was nothing in the world more dangerous than the fury of a peaceful man.

 

“Your name,” the doctor insisted.

 

“Hannah,” I said, “Hannah Arenson.”

 

The doctor laughed, delighted.

 

“I sense you are not observant, but you are Jewish, yes? Through your father’s side at least? What else do I see? Do not tell me. Irish? Good! Wonderful! I can dispense with my questions, then. How silly they must have seemed! A fellow Jew, what a blessing! Do you see Mr. Hoffman? I knew it would all work out! I am quite progressive on this, though. I have hope one day all races might be one. Then terrible men such as the one who brings us here will not be able to make us kill each other so easily. But perhaps, for now, it is better only Jews should see this place.”

 

I heard Mr. Hoffman grunting behind me and I jumped forward in my chair.

 

“Dr. Adelmann, all due respect, this is a threat to the security of the facility.”

 

“Shush, Mr. Hoffman! You have never understood my designs for this place. Why, once the world knows of it, I imagine there might be something like global peace. This slaughterhouse is a deterrent greater than the atom bomb. Who would ever dare commit atrocities again if they knew they might end up here? Atom bombs were meant to deter nations from going to war, but jeopardize the world. This facility will stop the monsters who would lead their nations to war and it targets no one but them.”

 

I stood up, which ended their conversation abruptly.

 

“Hey listen, how do I get out of here? I want my phone and my backpack and I want to go home! Then I’m going to upload those pictures and show the world what fucking creeps you are! I still don’t fucking get it! Are you getting paid for this? Are some sickos watching this on webcams somewhere? Animals deserve better than this. They’ve never done anything to anyone. I want out of here. Now! You sick fucking creeps!”

 

The doctor did not seem disturbed in the least and mister Hoffman only chuckled.

 

“You’re American, yes? Of course, what else would you be with that accent? I will have questions later about how you heard about an Israeli slaughterhouse, but not today. You are American and we will be hospitable. Though I was liberated by Soviets, I owe much to your nation. Those animals, as I have said, are not innocent. In fact, after this, we will have a hamburger. French fries too. They are my favorite.”

 

I gave him the most patronizing look I could muster.

 

“I’m vegan. Obviously. And I wouldn’t eat anything that came off those poor animals even if I wasn’t.”

 

The doctor laughed again, all out of proportion to the situation and I wondered if he wasn’t senile.

 

“I am as well! We are so much alike, young Hannah! I could not stand to eat meat after the Camps. I felt too much compassion with the animals. I have no compassion for these creatures. We will let you go shortly, but may I tell you a story? In fact, I will tell you the story of this place. I will tell you why we do what we do. For your articles and newsletters and pamphlets?”

 

I turned around to get a full view of Mr. Hoffman and was surprised to realize I was taller than he was by a full four inches. And for all his laughter he seemed scared now that I was moving about under my own power.

 

“I want my phone. I want to get someplace where I can see the outside. I want to let my friends know where I am. Then… yeah, I’ll listen to your fucking story.”

 

Mr. Hoffman said several things I’m pretty sure were terrible curse words, but which I couldn’t follow and stormed out of a door that had been directly behind my chair. He returned with my backpack which he shoved into my chest and then disappeared again only to return with a wheelchair.

 

“You’ve already exhausted him enough. While you’re in there telling our secrets I’m going to go talk to the board. Some of them are more practical than Dr. Adelmann.”

 

Somehow, I wasn’t afraid of him. I snapped a picture of him with my cellphone. He blinked and I think he would have ripped the phone out of my hands if the doctor wasn’t staring right at him.

 

“I’m going to make you famous,” I sneered.

 

Hoffman’s face was stone.

 

“I am going to talk to the directors about this, Dr. Adelmann. We can’t compromise this facility yet.”

 

Dr. Adelmann ignored the comment.

 

“Take us up to the visitor’s center, to the tour shuttle. It should be safe enough after the last week of construction. You can talk to the directors while I explain this place to Miss Arenson. That should give you plenty of time. I warn you though that they will agree with me. We are survivors, after all. I am confident the young lady will see our point of view after we explain.”

We navigated several tunnels and emerged in a dewy meadow I had seen on my arrival at this place. I could hear eerily human screaming not far away. And… sounds. Like flesh being ripped apart. The sounds of the slaughterhouse.

 

I was about to scream again when the doctor’s hand was back at my arm.

 

“Patience, Miss Arenson. All will be explained. Everything happening here is moral. And when we are done, you will share a hamburger with me,” Dr. Adelmann laughed.

 

Even the thought of meat made me want to throw up.

 

We walked a few dozen yards more and I began to wonder if I was walking to my death. Except

it all seemed so harmless suddenly. The way Hoffman pushed Dr. Adelmann was so emasculating and pathetic that it turned off all of my internal alarms. Which is stupid, I know. Monsters don’t look like monsters. They look like regular people. And sometimes, in real life, you can’t tell the difference between a monster and a hero.

 

Hoffman had to fight with several tarps and Dr. Adelmann’s wheelchair but after ten or so minutes we finally arrived at something that looked like a roller coaster. Hoffman put Adelmann in the front cart and the doctor patted the seat next to him, signalling for me to join.

 

“What the fuck is this?” I asked.

 

“Justice,” said Dr. Adelmann again, “Justice that has taken me the better part of eighty years to attain. There are no audio recordings yet for the tour so I will provide the narration. One day, we plan that every Jew in the world should be able to come to this place and see what we have done here. Why not be the first?”

 

“Are you crazy?” I asked, too confused to be angry.

 

“Perhaps,” Dr. Adelmann laughed, “you tell me when the tour is done.”

 

I sent a text message to my friends and waited to make sure it had been sent, along with the pictures of Hoffman so they’d know who to look for if I went missing, and then sat down in the seat next to the doctor. Mr. Hoffman must have pressed some kind of button out of sight because the next thing I knew the cart was lurching forward in that somewhat jerky way that roller-coasters do. I felt the pit of my stomach drop as we made a sharp turn.

 

We shot out across the dewy field for only a moment before we came to a stop in what looked like a museum. Everywhere I looked I saw old medical equipment from the the early 1900’s. Glass jars full of God knew what. Old textbooks. Old notebooks. A picture of a young man who looked uncannily like Dr. Adelmann. There were also several half-completed dioramas of medical offices.

 

“Ah yes, the resemblance is strong. Not me, though. That’s my father. He was a brilliant surgeon in Munich before the start of the war. I was not quite five when that picture was taken. It is hard to explain to someone as young as you what hopes we had for science back then. It seems so much of that enthusiasm was lost after the war. The world saw what science could do at Hiroshima and Nagasaki and recoiled. Yet in my life, I saw us go from the horse and buggy to putting men on the moon. I saw us go from gas lamps to electric lights. My father believed that one day even death might be conquered. He was not alone.

 

“I’m afraid the next exhibit is not quite ready. It is mostly just ice. I should have brought you a jacket.”

 

The cart advanced into an empty facility and I shivered with cold. There was ice everywhere. On one wall was a picture of a brain, labeled in extraordinary detail. I looked over to the old man who seemed unaffected. His eyes were less mirthful in this exhibit. Dark like they had been before.

 

“My father was a pioneer in the field of cryogenics. In fact, he made discoveries and breakthroughs in his work that were not replicated until the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. It is a common misconception that cryogenics is not viable due to ice crystals forming in the cells of the specimen. If water were used, it is true that it would cause irreversible cellular damage. However, this was not true even in my father’s work. The key was to rapidly dehydrate a specimen after death and replace the body’s blood with an antifreeze agent. The specimen was then not frozen but vitrified. Turned, literally, into a sort of biological glass. Ice crystals do not make cryogenics nonviable. What makes cryogenics nonviable was that no one had any idea how to revive the specimen after it had been vitrified. At least at that time.”

 

The cart advanced again. We were in another room. This one full of pictures of… him.

 

Everywhere I looked, there were pictures of him. Mad eyes gleaming and his hand raised high. I was speechless. Videos played of his speeches. A whole biography of his life was laid out on all the walls.

 

“The Fuehrer was, of course, attracted to this work although he could not publicly admit that he found value in the work of one of the Juden. All mad men want to live forever. Charlatans have offered immortality to rulers for as long as humans have lived. Yet my father promised not immediate immortality but the only practical path by which it might be attained. Freeze a brain, wait until future science allowed it to be reanimated and the body to be reconstituted. I try to forgive my father for those early entreaties. He was not aware, then, of what was waiting inside of that wicked man. At first, the Fuehrer paid my father to conduct research and left him alone to operate as a free man. This was before the Final Solution. Then, I and my family were sent away to the camps to serve as hostages while my father became something like a slave, forced to freeze the brains of captive Jews to perfect the science of cryogenics.

 

“I am proud to say he fought this at first. It was not until they sent him my mother’s head and my sister’s eyes that he relented.”

 

I put my hand over my mouth.

 

“Oh my God,” I said.

 

Dr. Adelmann only shrugged.

 

“I do not believe God took any part.”

 

The cart rolled forward. We were in a room that seemed to be some kind of replica of a bunker. There were mannequins in uniforms everywhere. Everywhere I turned there were replica figures standing in various locations in full Nazi regalia. Then I noticed one diorama that made no sense. I saw a wax figure that looked like Dr. Adelmann’s father bending over the wax figure of what was obviously Hitler’s corpse. Dr. Adelmann’s father was holding a jar… with a brain inside.

 

“God was not with us during the Holocaust. Perhaps he turned his back for a time, but we were not his Chosen in the Camps. Not in my opinion. Perhaps he came back later when the Americans and Soviets arrived. Anyhow, we could not rely upon God to condemn such a man such as Hitler to hell.

 

“Ah, here is the bunker. Where the body of Adolf Hitler died and where his brain was secured and stored by my father. Yes, I know the story with which you are familiar. The bunker was raided later. My father escaped prior to that under guard. The guards who escorted him and the brain were among the last to surrender after the war. My father slipped away before that, and he kept the brain. He kept it. Do you understand? He got away with it!”

 

Dr. Adelmann hissed the last few sentences, the kindly grandfather eyes replaced by something much harsher now and much crueller.

 

The cart lurched forward and what I saw ahead was worse even than the cows. Everywhere around us were pictures of the Holocaust. A German in a jeep driving over the bodies of Jews. A mass grave. A German soldier throwing a Jewish baby up in the air and spearing it on his bayonet. Every horror of the Holocaust was laid open, bare and explicit in this room.

 

“One man caused the death of eleven million, six million of whom were Jews. Oh, he was helped. Others were also responsible. But his was the will that they obeyed and so the ultimate responsibility was his. One man did all of this. One man killed my mother and my sisters and my brothers and forced my father to kill. One man sought fit to industrialize murder and exterminate a people. One man brought the nations of the world to war.”

 

The cart rattled forward again. This time I saw a modern lab and pictures of Dr. Adelmann a few years younger than he was now, surrounded by a team of researchers.

 

“It took three years for me to find my father again after the war. I was all that was left, and although still quite young, I was already on the path to becoming a doctor. When I saw the brain was intact, I knew then that I had a responsibility. I dedicated my life to reviving it. I was not alone in my efforts to reanimate the brain. It was the work of thousands of scientists, only a handful of whom knew the true goal of the project. We cultured neural tissue. We grew whole brains. We learned how to image the brain at the atomic level and reassemble it. In short, we could reproduce the original. And once we knew how to do this we just needed a place to put it.

 

“A human would have been the easiest but that had certain ethical implications. What if he escaped? Many who claim to revile him would flock to support him if he were to reappear in such a fashion. No, we needed a form which no one would ever follow. Which no hateful man could be inspired by.”

 

The cart rattled forward and now we were in a room where there were pictures of Dr. Adelmann transplanting a brain into… a cow.

 

“The cows are clones. I insisted on this for ethical reasons. I am, as you know, a vegan. We grow the cows without brains. They are never alive, truly. Our current capacity to do this is at about a hundred cows a month. The mothers live out their lives in freedom, I am happy to say. It is all done with the utmost concern for ethics. I chose cows… because a slaughterhouse is what the Camps were. A slaughterhouse is a place where murder is industrialized. It was the most fitting punishment I could devise. I wished to return to him what he had given to the world.”

 

The cart rattled forward and I could hear the screams… the human screams and smell the shit and the piss and the blood and the fear. We were going back to the facility I had been in earlier. The heart of the slaughterhouse. The building where I had been taking the pictures when I was knocked out.

 

“I’m curious that you didn’t question the coloring. We have them marked very specifically to keep them distinct in case one ever gets away. An all white cow with a single black spot on its head and a single black spot on its lips. I am told the resemblance is uncanny from just these details. And the way they speak. Did you not notice? We never planned that they should learn to speak. They are not good at it. Yet I’m surprised you did not realize they were speaking German.”

 

A cow approached us, nothing but skin and bones and it looked up at me and Dr. Adelmann with the most piteous, comprehending eyes I had ever seen on any animal.

 

“Habt Gnade. Bitte. Tötet mich. Es war falsch mich über andere zu stellen. Bitte, ich flehe euch an. Es tut mir leid was ich den Juden angetan habe.”

 

I could hear the words now, distorted though they were. I did not know how I’d misunderstood before as being the sounds of a distressed animal. Dr. Adelmann whistled and a man with a cow prod appeared and hit the starving creature in the face, sending blue sparks everywhere.

 

“As I said, these things deserve all the punishment we can give. They are Hitler. They are all Hitler. This is Hitler’s hell.”

 

Further into the facility, I watched a machine rip off a cow’s skin, leaving a red bulk of muscle quivering where the whole cow had once stood. Lidless eyes conveying terror as the cow’s mouth silently screamed. It walked around for a dozen steps screaming before blowers appeared and blew salt onto the bloody meat. Another machine appeared and whipped the animal until it fell to the ground more pulp than cow, yet still horribly alive.

 

I turned my head. There was the sound of the pneumatic tugger again, ripping off a cow’s feet and leaving its body rolling on the ground screaming, bleeding from four stumps. There were a dozen cows not far away in stalls. They had been propped up and were being anally penetrated to death by spiked chrome pistons so that their insides bled and liquified and oozed out every time the piston retracted.

 

I watched a cow stumble fearfully out into a hot piece of iron that gradually turned red until the cow’s hooves melted in place, only for the plate to grow cool again. A glass cylinder descended and encased the cow, and spiders were blown down as if by a fan, pinching and furious from the treatment and smelling blood. The cow snapped its own legs off trying to flee.

 

“We have the original living in a relatively unmolested place where it can oversee the whole process. We have mutilated it somewhat, of course. It has no tongue. We could not risk some fanatic somewhere being seduced by its words. I ripped that out myself, I’m glad to say. I used plyers and Mr. Hoffman helped me keep the grip. We also amputated its legs although we did so more carefully than what you see below. We intend it should live a long time, watching all of this.”

 

I did not know what to say.

 

I still don’t.

 

And maybe that’s why I’m writing this, because I don’t know if what they’re doing is right or if it’s so wrong that even Hitler doesn’t deserve it. Perhaps humans were not meant to wield the Justice of Hell.

 

“We have told the one in the observation booth that we will do this eleven million times. Once for every person he ordered killed. He will be the last victim and we intend to make that last a decade. After that, who knows? The world has no shortage of genocidal maniacs who deserve this place.”

 

I couldn’t stop trembling. Dr. Adelmann put a hand on my arm to comfort me but I pulled away.

 

“Ah, you must be worried about the waste. Fear not. We utilize all that we can. We have a gift shop full of leather products. Shoes, belts, jackets. Even lamp-shades! We use every bit and we grind down the excess and feed it back to the monsters!

 

“I can also tell you that the old Spanish proverb is quite wrong. Revenge is not a dish best served cold. I prefer mine medium well-done with a slice of tomato, relish and onion between a vegan bun. Would you care to join me, Miss Arenson? I assure you this meat is truly guilt-free.”

Something I’m Not Going to Finish Because of Kiefer Sutherland

So you know how “people” (meaning like a couple dozen people) think the concept for The Purge was stolen from me, except it was also the premise of a Star Trek episode I’d never seen, but it still made me feel really important for like fifteen minutes?

Well, here is a partial for a story I never finished called “The Utopia Boredom” where a ginger systems engineer named Melvin Sninkle accidentally becomes president and then fixes all of America’s problems while interesting things keep almost happening, except he defeats them all by being uninteresting to outsiders and staying on task. As it happens, I wrote this, according to google July 22, 2016 and yet it has a very similar plot to “Designated Survivor” starring Kiefer Sutherland which was released in September 21, 2016. Coincidence? Of course. Because it takes way longer than three months to film something like that, I never shared it with anyone, and I also just realized this is a pivotal plot point in Battlestar Galactica. Anyhow, I’m not going to finish this story now because it’s not distinct enough and the elements that are I’m putting on the back-burner for the Gingerbread American story.

But here it is, because I feel guilty for writing on Family of Fang and Claw stuff you don’t get to see.

 

 

Chapter 1 Designated Survivor

 

 

In later days, when the buildings had been rebuilt and the people who knew the dead were themselves also dead, society wondered if there hadn’t been some sort of purpose to the meteor strike. Wondered if perhaps the three fiery bolides had not been directed by blind chance. Rather, they speculated, a benevolent God or perhaps even extraterrestrials, frustrated by humanity’s lack of progress, had understood what would be gained by the destruction and simply nudged the meteors out of their natural orbit.

 

Whatever the case, on a chilly February morning two years into a disastrous presidential term –85% of all people agreed that all recent presidents were disastrous, but lamented at what could be done when only 85% of the population supported such a notion– a meteor plummeted into the sky over Washington DC, struck the atmosphere at several dozen times the speed of sound and broke into three separate pieces. Later, the meteor would be called Columbus. The three resulting bolides would be called la Nina, la Pinta and la Santa Maria.

 

The resulting collision was both incredibly destructive and… oddly specific.

 

In the immediate aftermath of the impact, it was of course assumed the meteor strike was an attack by an enemy power. What were the odds, after all, that a meteor would randomly break into three separate pieces over Washington DC and simultaneously and exclusively destroy the White House, the Senate, the Congress and pretty much all of K Street? –A large field of debris had been thrown into the air by the destruction of the White House and flew in a parabolic arc for several blocks before obliterating K Street– On the same day that the president and vice president were meeting with fourteen of the fifteen members of the cabinet? And while the Congress and Senate were in session with record-breaking attendance to pass emergency bathroom legislation? And to do so with such little warning that even the aerospace lobby had barely enough time to clear the area?

 

The odds were astronomical.

 

Yet, still, it happened.

 

In a flash of light and a clap of thunder, the entire leadership of the United States of America was wiped out.

 

Good-looking sociopaths in khaki vests -also known as news anchors in this time period- rushed to the area with cameras and made a fuss of standing in the middle of the street and getting in the way of people who were nowhere near as good-looking, nor sociopathic for that matter, but who were actually doing actual things like providing emergency aid.

 

Reporting, in this time, had become a profession of maintaining immaculate hair and waiting around for a government official to tell you what to report. As there was presently no government there was no one to approve an official story. So the press milled around asking after the socio and geopolitcal opinions of people who happened to be wandering in the street and young people with high speed cell phone cameras that had captured the strikes.

 

Exactly 2 hours and 49 minutes confused minutes passed this way.

 

CHAPTER 2 President Melvin Sninkle

 

At 7:30am Hawaii time, secretary of Transportation Melvin Sninkle awoke with a wide grin on his face. He’d had a good dream of spotting several birds he had not been able to sight the previous day and also a fond nostalgia of his childhood stamp-collection. A dream of finding that one elusive stamp of the Queen and placing it in a perfect grid completing his collection. And also a little bit of a nightmare in the middle about the Lieber rates being adjusted 25 basis points beyond what it was supposed to be, but a good dream overall.

 

As the world waited on word of the fate of the leader of the free world, Melvin Sninkle:

 

  1. Did twenty-five push-ups.
  2. Did thirty sit-ups
  3. Did forty squats
  4. Ate two eggs over easy
  5. Ate a piece of plain wheat toast
  6. Drank one glass of orange juice
  7. Showered for exactly 12 minutes
  8. Brushed his teeth for two minutes clockwise
  9. Brushed his teeth for two minutes counterclockwise
  10. Dressed
  11. Turned on the news

 

Upon seeing the destruction of Washington DC, Melvin Sninkle was in shock for exactly 6.23 seconds. During this time he thought to call the White House switchboard, realized the futility of this, and then decided the best thing to do would be to get in touch with his contacts at the major news networks.

 

He began this task, in the only fair way he knew, and thus the only way conceivable to him: alphabetical order.

 

“Hello?” a panicked voice asked at ABC News.

 

“Melvin Sninkle here,” said Melvin Sninkle.

 

“Who the fuck is Melvin Sninkle?” the voice demanded.

 

“Melvin Sninkle, Secretary of Transportation,” said Melvin Sninkle.

 

“Hey! Everyone shut the fuck up! I’m talking to a member of the fucking cabinet! Do you know what the fuck just happened? Everything’s been fucking wiped out. Are we at war?” the voice asked.

 

“I haven’t had time to review the data in sufficient detail, I’m afraid,” said Melvin Sninkle, who suspected a meteor strike from the footage shown on the news but who knew it would be imprudent to tell this to what now passed for a journalist.

 

“Then why the fuck are you calling?” the person barked.

 

“I believe I may be the President of the United States. I was appointed Designated Survivor in this meeting of the cabinet,” said Melvin Sninkle.

 

In the long silence that followed, Melvin Sninkle internally counted to ten and then said: “Hello?”

 

“Hold on,” the voice, more subdued, said.

 

“Yes, I’ll hold,” said President Melvin Sninkle.

 

Chapter 3 To Sninkle

 

President Melvin Sninkle’s first Press Conference went something like this:

 

“Based upon the available evidence, we now believe the destruction of our top level government was caused by a meteor impact. Though this seems to be improbable, we have worked out the orbit of this particular bolide and the following math shows that it was quite, unfortunately, inevitable.”

 

Melvin Sninkle then did something so grossly offensive, so wildly unprecedented, that the press’ term for this would be the creation of a new verb “to Sninkle.” Meaning: to explain something with the exact level of complexity needed to fully encapsulate the actual issue without reducing anything to catchy slogans or analogies that were “close enough to be true for the public understanding.”

 

In other words, in President Sninkle’s first official public briefing, he committed the unforgivable sin of doing math in public. To the collective horror of the entire United States of America.

 

Melvin “Sninkled” the available information about the meteor for forty-five minutes. His infographic charts, it was agreed, were the one truly stellar part of the presentation. They omitted no detail, were totally transparent, and readable at a glance. His penmanship? Impeccable and machine-like. In that span of time he answered every conceivable question any person could reasonably have.

 

Several members of the White House Press Corps fell asleep halfway through this explanation.

 

“Do you think it might be time to declare a war on space?” asked a beautiful blonde woman, who dared this after receiving a text from her boss that ratings were plummeting.

 

“I’m terribly sorry,” said President Melvin Sninkle, “I’m not sure I understand what is meant by that. Can you explain?”

 

“War. On Space. I… think it’s about time,” said the attractive blonde, seizing upon a feeling of confidence that kept trying to escape her when the boring ginger man who had become President looked at her.

 

“I agree! Mr. President, when are we going to take action? The United States has to do something about space!” said a man with a strong cleft chin whose chief skill was doing an impeccable impersonation of a tired and brusque working man. He was, however, a subscriber to several doily magazines, Cat Fancy, and had hands as smooth as a baby’s bottom. He had been born a millionaire and had never known what it was to live without a personal chef.

 

Though this was truly without merit, sensing the power of the cleft chin, other member of the White House Press Corps nodded along.

 

Melvin Sninkle was quiet for exactly two minutes considering the ramifications of this question. Had he not been doing math for the last three hours, this would have been considered an unforgivable failure in a first term president.

 

“That is a fantastic idea!” said President Melvin Sninkle.

 

He spent another two hours sketching out several ideas he had for meteor monitoring satellites, explained the importance of the asteroid belt, Jupiter’s gravity, and re-usable rockets.

 

“This all seems expensive, how are we going to afford this? We already have a capital to rebuild!” demanded a childless man with an untreated drinking problem who nevertheless looked exactly what television told you a responsible father was supposed to look like.

 

Melvin Sninkle considered this for a full seven minutes, slowly doing math and crossed out fully half of the satellites he had sketched on the board.

“I believe we should be able to create a sufficiently advanced system with only a few satellites,” said President Melvin Sninkle.

 

“How can you possibly know that?” demanded everyone.

 

“I deduced it from first principles,” said President Melvin Sninkle, as if confused that this was even a question.

 

“Who are you?” a stupid woman with very dark and communicative eyebrows -which is often confused by most people as being the same as intelligence- demanded.

 

“Oh, right. I was the Secretary of Transportation. Because of the move to autonomous vehicles, it was considered prudent to assign someone with a PhD in complex systems, physics, and pure math. I have several fortunately. My appointment was only supposed to be temporary until some of the more difficult work with the new transportation was completed.”

 

*****

 

Around the world, governor’s were forced to make a number of odious choices. Nearly the entire Senate and Congress had been destroyed. It fell to them, therefore to appoint members of their states to fill these positions for the remainders of the elected terms. Given the number of things needing to be done in the aftermath -and the lack of people on K Street to tell them what to do and to pay them to do the things which were most lucrative for the people on K Street to have done- they were also jobs which no one wanted.

 

Not until they were profitable and less competency-driven again, at least.

 

“Gertrude, it has come to my attention that you have memorized all of the bylaws of the

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Most Amazing Love Story of All Time

 

 

Starts at 13:00

Say you’re a male, liberal, ethnically Jewish, atheist going about your day to your atheist events all wrapped up in talking about philosophical materialism, empiricism, ineffability, etc. It’s all just stuff happening after other stuff in an unbroken chain of cause and effect since the first moment of being… and then one day you see her.

She’s holding a sign that says “God Hates Fags” and screaming at you that God is cursing American soldiers because men are having sex with each other or something.

Something inside your chest skips a beat, but how can it be your heart? The heart has no feeling! You tweet with this ultra religious firebrand, infecting her with your skepticism and soon… you get married?

I mean wow.

Next time I see a protest and two people are really getting up in each other’s faces, I’m hoping one of them shouts “Why are you so angry?” and then someone on the other side yells “Because I love you too much, goddamnit!”

Then they kiss.

I’m agog.