The Flesh

The Flesh
Bite my lip and close my eyes. Take me away to paradise.

A raven-haired woman seized his hand and led him to the hot tub overlooking the City of Angels. Her bare feet fell silent on the polished travertine tile of the outdoor patio. The lazy, midday sun reclined in the heavens, casting warm, gentle light on the frothing surface of the water. Perched high above the magnificent sprawl of the City, the secluded patio was a private oasis amidst the encroaching Desert.

The woman eased herself into the water and rested her arms on the edge of the hot tub. Tepid foam bubbled to the surface, caressing the ample surface of her breasts. She cocked her head and stared directly at him with quizzical, Byzantine eyes. Golden hoops clung to her ears, bobbing erratically with the motions of her head.

Come inside, darling. Don’t be shy.

He searched for a response but nothing came to mind. His legs began to twitch. She continued to stare at him, bemused.

What’s the matter, baby? Don’t tell me you haven’t done this before.

His chest grew heavy and it became difficult to breath. He felt as if he were about to fall over.

It’s okay. There’s a first time for everything.

The woman reached behind her back and began to toy with the clasp of her purple bikini top. With the clasp undone, she started to raise the top off her chest, centimeter by agonizing centimeter. Her supple flesh revealed itself to him and the entire world went dark.

God damn it.

He sprung up from his tiny mattress and couldn’t see a thing. He waved his hands in front of him until he felt the cold plastic of the VR headset affixed to his face. With a deft motion, he flung the headset off and onto the mattress beside him. He stumbled to his feet and tore open the drawer of the adjacent nightstand. The charger wasn’t there.

He made his way down the stairs of his apartment building and into the dim lobby. The walls of the lobby were filled from floor to ceiling with bright orange lockers. A central kiosk with a touch display sat in the middle of the rows of lockers. The queue for the kiosk stretched out the door and around the corner of the building.

He took his place in the back of the queue, some two blocks from the lobby. Another queue, a mirror image, could be seen across the street. The people stood silent with their eyes affixed to their mobile devices.

An hour passed. Then two hours. The queue didn’t seem to move. Above, small orange drones flitted between the towering apartment buildings. Some carrying bright orange boxes wafted into the lobby of his building. Others emerged from the lobby and disappeared into the grey sky.

Another hour passed. The line began to move. He looked up from his mobile device and turned around. The queue stretched as far as he could see. A meek, mousy looking girl stood behind him staring at her mobile device. She looked young and had a dull brown color to her hair. She didn’t look up.

He thought of saying something to her, maybe even asking her name. She was cute in a bookish sort of way. Nothing that inspired ravishing lust but cute enough. He thought for a long time what it would be like to talk to her. Would she like him? Would she laugh? Would she cry? An orange drone buzzed by his ear and he turned around and inched forward in line.

He couldn’t stop thinking about the girl behind him. She hadn’t looked up from her mobile device. He turned his head around again and looked at her. He wanted to say something, anything. He would ask her how the weather was. That would work. It was always cold but it would at least get her to respond to him.

He turned around fully and began opening his mouth. She didn’t seem to notice. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see a rainbow colored police cruiser careen down the street. He turned back around and pulled out his mobile device. The cruiser rolled by the expanding queue outside of his apartment and down the street.

It was time. He reached the front of the queue and typed into the touch screen his order for a new VR charger. An orange drone drifted into the lobby carrying a small bright orange box. He keyed the code into his personal locker and procured the bright orange box. He walked with great haste up the apartment stairs to his room.

His door wouldn’t open. He entered his code again but the door was stuck. He could hear hideous, inhuman noises emanating from his room: a grotesque cacophony of yelling, screaming, and moaning. He pushed the door to his room once more and it swung open.

Writhing, shrieking flesh poured out from his apartment. A horrible homunculus of squirming reproductive parts bound together in an ungodly mound of oozing, reeking anatomy emerged before his virgin eyes. The abomination groaned in both male and female voices, pulsating on the carpet before him. Its fleshy tendrils of diseased genitalia, undulating orifices, and putrid skin screeched and creeped forward.

He tried in vain to shut the door but the thing had escaped. He sprinted down the hallway for the stairs and threw open the door. The stairs had turned to flesh. Slamming the door, he turned around and came face to face with the hulking monstrosity. He screamed and the entire world went dark.

Catapulting up off the tiny mattress, he reached into the darkness in front of his face and cast off the VR headset. He sat in the darkness alone for quite some time. Hours went by and his nerves were beginning to calm. He looked through the drawer of the nightstand but could not find his charger. He got up and started for the door. The door swung open and on the carpet before him rested a small bright orange box.

PEP Squad

PEP Squad

An iridescent glow reflected off of his mirrored aviator sunglasses. He exhaled a plume of white vapor and studied its ascent into the clear, black night sky. The wharf was cold this time of year, too cold. A writer, one of those many conventional men no longer studied in schools, once wrote that the coldest winter of his life was the summer he spent in San Francisco. Some things refuse to change.

A wall of fog inched across the bay. It was late and the streets were empty aside from a few tired tourists meandering back to their hotel rooms. In his three years on the force, Officer G. knew the city well. Nightlife was restricted to a few well-known locations and it was rare to see a native San Franciscan wandering about after dark.

Officer G. leaned on the door of his squad car. The infamous pier stretched out before him and faded into the swirling black depths of the bay. An observant tourist could still see the shrapnel scars left on the outer walls of the adjacent buildings.

A wedding. A bloodbath. Thick smoke from the ensuing fire billowed for hours. Some type of bomb. The bride and groom were consumed in the blast at the moment of their eternal vows. Until death do you part. That was the old saying. While the rest of the country mourned, the people of the city saw it as a new beginning.

Later that evening, they stormed the office of the mayor. The mob, in its insatiable frenzy, tore through the corpulent bureaucrats with ease. The government had given them everything but their own lives. A familiar multicolored banner of every visible hue, ubiquitous around these parts, ascended and the mob cried out in prideful joy.

The vibrant standard ushered in an untold era of progress for the city. Subsequent weeks of looting and pillaging gave way to a nascent new order, an order founded on true equality. San Francisco became once again the shining beacon of light in the medieval darkness of the nation. Likeminded individuals of all breeds flocked to the golden city.

Fog crept onto the pier and Officer G. sauntered to the water’s edge. In the distance stood a foreboding island fortress. Churning, icy currents surrounding the fortress provided a formidable deterrent to any who dared escape internment. Citizens apprehended for reeducation were whisked away in the middle of the night and brought to the solitary island. Little was known about the curriculum, but educator positions attracted some of the brightest minds from nearby universities.

Officer G. glanced back at his squad car. The tourists had cleared the streets and a persistent silence fell upon the wharf. Behind him stood glimmering skyscrapers, graven monoliths of progress against the unbearable cruelty of nature. Tiny shards of light adorning their edifices housed the denizens of the proud city. Officer G. strolled back to the vehicle.

The car started with a meek electric hum. Officer G. backed out of his parking spot along the wharf and turned right onto Embarcadero. Night patrol was routine. Few emerged from their well-lit domiciles on these cold nights. Fewer still emerged during the day.

Since universal basic income had been signed into law under Governor Mark Z., there was little reason to leave one’s apartment. A living wage, thanks to the philanthropy of Silicon Valley benefactors, could be earned by viewing one dozen or so hours of targeted ads per day on a smartphone or tablet. Violent crime had dissipated throughout much of the state. However, San Francisco maintained a sizeable task force.

A shrill, crackling static noise from the car radio split the silence. Officer G. jumped in his seat and fiddled with the radio. A deep female voice filled the car.

Dispatch. Officer G., do you copy? Over.

Copy. What’s the situation, Captain? Over.

Battery in progress. Suspect was last seen on foot heading north on Hyde. Exercise extreme caution. Over.

Copy. Over and out.

***

A lanky, awkward man was climbing a steep slope somewhere around Russian Hill. At his side was a squat, rotund girl panting in strenuous effort. The two had been walking together for several minutes after deciding to leave the bar where they met that night. The man arrived at the door to his apartment and waited for the girl to catch up. She spoke to him in a hushed tone.

Thanks for bringing me out tonight. I really had fun.

Y-you too.

The girl giggled and stared into the man’s eyes. She moved closer and embraced him. He craned his neck, and with a great deal of nervous apprehension, brought his lips towards hers. Right before their lips met, the horrible cacophony of screeching car tires caused them both to snap their gaze up the street.

Officer G. slammed on the brakes, and flinging the door of his vehicle open, drew his Glock 22.

Freeze!

The man stumbled away from the girl in shock and raised his hands. In the confusion, the girl ran with surprising speed down the street from the scene.

I said freeze!

The man placed his raised palms on top of his head but it was too late. Officer G. double tapped the trigger of his Glock 22, sending two .40 S&W rounds square into the groin of the suspect. The man keeled over, clawing at his crotch in agony before losing consciousness. Officer G. lowered his weapon and produced a portable radio from the pocket of his hot pink squad uniform.

Captain. Officer G. reporting. Suspect is down. Over.

Copy. Report to HQ for debriefing. Over.

Officer G. strolled back to his squad car, its standard issue rainbow paint job sparkling under the bright light of the nearby streetlamp. Slamming the door, Officer G. started the vehicle and pulled out from the curb. He switched the car radio on and tuned into his favorite music station. The Village People’s “Y.M.C.A.” started playing and he drove off into the dark San Francisco night.

The Trial

Franz Kafka The Trial

It was a bright cold day in April, and a disheveled man lay dead on the floor of an empty courtroom. The court had been adjourned just an hour ago and the deceased man was all that remained in the aftermath of what had been a quick and decisive trial.

The trial began early in the morning. The Prosecutor, drawing from decades of legal experience, arrived before the courthouse had even opened. In his hands he carried a grande Starbucks dairy-free latte and a synthetic patent leather briefcase. Inside the briefcase was a meticulously crafted legal case, the rhetorical equivalent of a high-caliber rifle. His arguments had been honed to perfection the night before. His evidence was foolproof. His dry-cleaned suit was immaculate and his silk tie shimmered with a confidence found only in the most seasoned of legal professionals.

The court convened and the jury filed into to their ranks. The Judge seated himself at the head of the courtroom. The Prosecutor strode into place and neatly arranged his notes on the oak podium. Silence befell the courtroom. The Prosecutor produced his case, a two thousand page opus of remarkable logic and insight. Every line had been personally written by The Prosecutor, every image, chart, and graph hand-selected.

His case was a masterwork of legal knowledge and expertise. A graduate of the esteemed Harvard Law School, The Prosecutor was a formidable opponent in the courtroom. In thirty years of criminal investigations The Prosecutor had yet to lose a case. He excelled at debate. For every argument, he had several counter-arguments. For every counter-argument, he had several more counter-arguments. He was a master of both logic and emotional appeal. Juries were said to have regularly been brought to tears from his heart-rending soliloquies.

The trial began and The Defendant was nowhere to be found. The jury grew restless with boredom. The Prosecutor remained collected and determined. Attempts were made to call The Defendant, each attempt resulting in the call going straight to voicemail. After forty-five minutes had passed, the doors of the courtroom swung open and The Defendant shuffled to his podium.

The Judge was furious. Hushed, nervous whispers could be heard from the jury. Banging his gavel, The Judge called for order and the courtroom fell silent once again. The Defendant carried with him no briefcase, no folder containing a legal defense. The Defendant, in an unprecedented decision for this type of criminal investigation, had selected to represent himself. He wore no suit, wore no tie, and instead wore a simple t-shirt and jeans. The Prosecutor eyed The Defendant with an air of superiority. It would be a short trial.

The Prosecutor stood up and began to pace. The evidence was clear. Fourteen years ago the accused party was found to have been in possession of illegal image macros with intent to distribute. Federal investigators had confiscated The Defendant’s hard drive from his childhood home and uncovered over nine thousand contraband images and animations saved to the disk. More incriminating, however, was The Defendant’s Internet history.

The Defendant’s Internet Service Provider had disclosed that during a span of roughly six years The Defendant had frequented hate sites, whereupon he first encountered the aforementioned illegal image macros. Under executive order of former president C. Clinton, the possession and distribution of illegal image macros, known colloquially as assault memes, was a capital offense. While such hate sites had long ceased to exist, their ugly mark had been left on the Internet.

The Bureau had since been tasked with finding and destroying all traces of illegal image macros. Numerous raids had been conducted on flagged individuals; individuals who had frequented hate sites in their youth and were thought to have once been in possession of digital contraband. The Prosecutor strutted to the projector, and producing a flash drive from his breast pocket, showcased a curated selection of images confiscated from The Defendant’s hard drive.

A crudely drawn cartoon frog appeared on the screen. The frog smirked at the jury, a Mona Lisa smile of mischievous intent. Members of the jury began to shout and scream. One woman even began to cry. The Prosecutor looked away from the projected image and stared at The Defendant.

The Judge called for order. The crying woman had collapsed onto the courtroom floor and had entered into a spasmodic fit. She was escorted out on a stretcher and the trial resumed.

Harvard Law School had prepared The Prosecutor well for such gruesome cases. Cybercrime prosecution was the fastest growing and most lucrative field of law. Possession with intent to distribute illegal image macros was a capital offense in all 193 U.N. member states, and a war crime in the United Kingdom.

His fate sealed, The Defendant stared down at his podium and avoided eye contact with The Prosecutor. The Prosecutor switched the projector off and turned his gaze to The Judge.

Your Honor, the evidence is unmistakable. The Defendant is a sick and twisted individual. For six years, he collected such ghastly, repulsive images. For six years, he spent his nights on vile websites. For six years, he festered in a pool of bigotry and hate. Men like him do not deserve to see the light of day.

The Judge prompted The Defendant for a closing statement. The Defendant had not uttered a word since the trial commenced. The Defendant, without speaking, walked from the podium to the projector and pulled out his iPhone 12 S Space Gray Edition. The smartphone connected wirelessly to the projector, and after a short loading time, displayed a single image on the screen.

An unshaven, obese version of The Prosecutor appeared clad in an over-sized black suit and a black fedora. The man in the photo held the tip of his fedora down with his left hand and clenched a replica samurai sword in his right.

The jury howled with laughter. The Judge couldn’t contain himself either, and after hastily acquitting The Defendant of all charges, joined the sonorous chorus. The Prosecutor, humiliated at his staggering defeat, pulled a small derringer from his suit pocket and shot himself in the head.

The jury laughed even harder.