Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Quadruply Infected

I had been shuffling around the house for a few hours and already felt tired. The doorbell rang. I opened the front door and saw a figure striding away from the house, quickly and purposefully. I looked down and saw a bulky envelope. I picked it up. The handwriting was smudged and cramped, and I could only make out a few words.(Splotchy)

I looked up and down the street but didn’t see any delivery truck, or any car for that matter. No FedEx, no UPS , no creepy-looking porno'd-out conversion van with a half-assed delivery service sign taped to its side. Nothing. It's like delivery man just disappeared. I stepped back inside, re-set the deadbolts and took a closer look at the envelope.

Mentally I ran through the checklist of letter bomb warning signs. The handwriting on the envelope, smudged and cramped as it was, was laid out in a tiny, obsessively neat block lettering. It practically screamed recently-de-institutionalized loner with time on his hands. No ticking or whirring sounds, that’s good. No odd smells, no leaks or stains on the package. Check. Weight seemed evenly distributed, that’s good too. I decided to open it.

Inside I found a plane ticket to Pensacola, a business card for a lawyer in Niceville, five crisp $100 bills and a four page handwritten note. Well. This was different. I poured a cup of coffee, threw some meat to the dogs to stop em barking, and sat down to read.

The handwriting of the letter was different than the envelope. It was more rushed, erratic. And it was all in Russian. I could speak a little Russian because of the company I used to keep, but couldn't read it to save my life. I knew some people that could translate for me, but I wasn't about to see them again. Or did one of them write the note? Was it Dimitri the Finger? Petrov? Ivankovich?

I looked at the lawyer's card -- "Tom Ely" -- how whitebread, how American. The address said Niceville, but the phone number's area code was New Jersey. I dialed and waited. My dogs fought over a leftover bone outside, growling.

"Hello, this is Tom Ely, I am sorry I have missed your call..."

I didn't recognize the voice. It had the barest trace of an accent. Most people wouldn't pick up on it. But I did.

The Russians. What was I in for? I hung up.

Was I just going to sit here, waiting? Or was I going to be a good little dog when some person unseen rang my bell?

The ticket was for today. I could make the flight if I left immediately. I packed a bag and caught a cab to the airport.


The pressures of today's economy. Flight cancelled. Airline out-of-business. Three months ago. Something was out of sorts, here. Why would someone send me a ticket on a defunct airline? I was starting to feel exposed, out in the open, like prey in a valley.

First order of business was to hit the head. I needed to collect myself and not draw attention. I forced myself to walk, even with the hairs on the back of my neck bristling, uncertain if, even now, someone was following. Had I walked into some kind of trap?

The men's room door opened just a little too quickly, the screws loosened from constant use. That sticky smell hit me as that horrible men's room air shot into my nose.

Something was wrong.

I felt heavy and thick, and saw the world go askew. I was off balance before it even registered that something hard had been jabbed into the back of my neck. I raised my hand against the wall to stop myself, but the back of my head exploded in pain, I saw a flash of light, and then nothing.


When I came to, I was no longer in the men's room; I was in the back of a moving vehicle, a walk-through panel truck - a delivery van, perhaps. My feet were free, but my hands were bound securely behind my back. Care had been taken not to cut off my circulation, so whoever it was knew what he was doing.

"Hey!" I yelled to the two men in the cab. The passenger looked back at me, his face impassive under a Denver Broncos cap that was a size too small for his head.

"No talking." He turned forward again, saying something in a language I didn't understand to the driver.

"Where are we going?" I said, struggling to a sitting position. I tested the ropes binding my wrists, but my name not being Houdini, there was no way I was going to undo them. When I looked up, Broncos Cap was staring at me again. So was the business end of a 9mm automatic.

"I said for no talking."

I decided he might have a point, and sat back to enjoy the ride and wonder about where I was being delivered...

(Captain Incredible)

A Review of the Viral Story

Splotchy’s second viral story, started several weeks ago on the blog I, Splotchy, shows no sign of abating. The sheer length of column inches dedicated to the general phenomenon is growing, and the number of articles on the subject are too numerous to count, let alone discuss here. A few do stand out, however, and interested parties would be well advised to seek out Christopher Hitchens’ Splotchy’s Viral Story: A Game of Consequences for the Blogosphere (The Atlantic, May 2008, p 28-34). Also worth a look are John Searle’s article for the journal Mind, entitled Splotchy’s Viral Story as Evidence of Jungian Collective Unconscious (May 2008, p 3-7, with an opposing article by Douglas Hofstadter and Daniel Dennett in the same issue, p 8-10), and Julie Birchill’s article for the May 18 Observer, No Vaccine Required: A Virus Worth Having. Given the multitude of writers commenting on the viral story as a whole, I thought I’d turn my attention to a particular offshoot, which I have entitled The Russian Story.

As with all versions of the story, we begin with the receipt of a mysterious package, as told by Splotchy himself. The address is smudged, and it appears to have been hand delivered. This is good; there is much scope for advancement of the story. As Christopher Wise writes in Diacritics, the basis for a well-realised viral story is open-endedness. Here, Splotchy has left a variety of readings available for the situation at hand (proof of this is to be found in the myriad of ways in which the story has been taken from these beginnings).

From here on in the story takes a variety of intriguing turns, involving a note from within the package, Russians and a trip to the airport that ends with our loner waking up, drugged, in the back of a cab. The caretakers of each avenue of the viral story – Bubs, Splotchy again, SamuraiFrog and Captain Incredible – have done a marvellous job in following on from where the previous author left off. There is cohesion, yet each voice remains intact, individual. Here lies another benefit of the viral story as an art form: The ability to write in numerous voices is much prized in today’s literary market, and what better way to achieve this than to have numerous writers? Sometimes, the best answer is the most obvious.

But all good things must come to an end, and, while the previous custodians of the story are to be applauded for their additions, they are sadly let down by the next bearer of the viral story torch. The Imaginary Reviewer, a blogger whose sole ability seems to be writing reviews of things that don’t exist, takes the baton from Captain Incredible, and, I regret to say, undoes all the good work done by his predecessors.

The Imaginary Reviewer’s section doesn’t really fit in with the rest of the story’s aesthetic. Problems begin when the unnamed main character finds himself transported to an abandoned warehouse. For someone who seems to pride himself on their imagination, The IR has picked the most obvious and trite location possible! A train station, a suburban house, even a small cafĂ© specialising in brunches would be more interesting than an abandoned warehouse! But no, The Imaginary Reviewer presumably has used up his imagination reviewing hats.

Next, The Imaginary Reviewer has his character tied to a chair – how original – and after a short wait introduces a new character, presumably the instigator of the whole affair. Things do start to improve here; it appears that the bad guy of the piece is a well-known children’s character called Desmond the Dinosaur (in actual fact a guy called Gerald in a large, fuzzy, green suit). Our hero knows nothing about Desmond, and has no idea why the TV ‘star’ has captured him. He asks about the package and the money, and it seems Desmond has no idea what our hero is talking about. Our character’s receipt of the package and his kidnapping would appear to be coincidental.

And so, with that, The Imaginary Reviewer allows the story to be carried on by someone else. I pity the poor soul who has been left with this detritus after such promising beginnings. (For his sins, Splotchy has been tagged again, but how he’ll manage to salvage anything from the Imaginary Reviewer’s mess is beyond me). I mean, the whole story has been ruined by the IR. The dinosaur character, while presumably added for levity, just looks like the writer is trying to claw back some interest from a story that he has spoiled beyond recognition. The coincidental element of the package arriving the same day a stranger plans a kidnapping is harder to swallow than a razorblade sandwich. All in all, I think the Imaginary Reviewer should be ashamed of himself for the injustice he has done to Splotchy’s story, and viral stories in general.

(The Imaginary Reviewer)

I dropped the printout. I tasted something metallic. I raised my hand to my face. My lip was bleeding, my teeth still sunk into it. I unclenched my jaw, but my whole body was still tense, my forehead damp with sweat. There was no doubt -- the virus had leapt into the metaverse.

There were other signs, too. I had a fast food menu from a Mexican restaurant that inexplicably had an expired airplane ticket to Pensacola printed on the back. I had a travel brochure for the Ukraine with a phone number for a Tom Ely in New Jersey. Even worse, the Ten Commandments statue outside the courthouse in this very town, had an eleventh commandment now -- "I had been shuffling around the house for a few hours and already felt tired."

Was this the intent of the virus creators? I had worked on the project for several years. I was confined to working on twists and causal links, and thus never got the big picture or its overall purpose. I still didn't know. But it seemed evil. It seemed dangerous. Was the virus going to absorb everything, every thought?

How could I stop it? How did it even work?

I emptied my bag of groceries on the counter. First, food in the freezer.

Next, I picked up the black marker and the envelope. I stared hard at them both for several minutes.

I placed the envelope on the counter and uncapped the marker. I deliberately wrote in a tight, cramped style. Before the text I had written had dried, I used the side of my hand to smudge it, rendering much of it unreadable.

I sat down, lit up a cigarette, eyes on the envelope like it was going to sprout legs and walk out. If it were that simple... I stuffed the printout into the envelope. I dropped a loaded .45 into it. I scribbled a note and popped it in as well. "I can fix this," I thought to myself. "I can fix this. I can fix this."

And with these words echoing in my head, over and over, I walked out the door, wandering the streets for several hours. Picking a house at random, I approached and dropped the package at its front door. I rang the doorbell and quickly walked away.

When I got home I headed straight for the refrigerator. I opened up the freezer and pulled out a jar of frozen applesauce.

I tag no one, but welcome continuations of this strain of the virus.


The Imaginary Reviewer said...

Wow, I wasn't sure if it was possible to carry on from where I left off, but kudos to you, Splotchy. That's a seriously quality ending, right there.

Randal Graves said...

Does this mean the Matrix is one colossal jar of frozen applesauce?

Captain Incredible said...

Applesauce? But that goes back to -

Oh darn*...

*I am a PG-rated superhero, after all...