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Prologue to As Though Before A Vengeful God

I have been writing a novel entitled As Though Before A Vengeful God. It was intended to be a nanowrimo project but I failed at that because November 2016 is the month that will be spoken of in hushed tones as “the point of no return” by our children as they paddle styrofoam junkrafts through the watery ruins of Manhattan. Anyway I will persevere and publish it directly to kindle unless somebody finds the following prologue so compelling that they have the sudden urge to give me a lucrative book deal.

What follows is almost entirely historical fact.

PROLOGUE

The island was officially populated by ten men and a dog named Explosion. That was not enough to have any effect. The men were assigned to the island by drawing slips from a hat. The dog was assigned to the island by the man who the hat belonged to. All the ships on the ocean had gone silent since the war started. The weather moved from west to east, and the men were stationed thousands of miles west of their homeland. On their small island the ten men did what would have been suicide on a warship, and they reported the weather.

Continue reading Prologue to As Though Before A Vengeful God

Assimilation

  When I changed my phone number I felt it was a clean break. For so long I had been carrying around the area code of a town that I hadn’t called home in many years, and I was finally shedding that remnant of a past life. There was the usual hubbub of informing the people I called most often of the change, so that when my number appeared on their screens they would not allow their apathy to usher me off to voicemail. The confusion was a small price to pay for everyone to see my proper geographical location indicated when I rang. I did not lie to people when I called them on the phone, and I did not want the first information somebody got before even answering the call to be a lie. Thus, I eliminated the discrepancy.

    This reassured me greatly, knowing that my first impressions were now properly geographically labeled. The old area code had displayed a location that resulted in people who did not already know me commenting on how I did not have an accent. Usually such a flat, unadorned voice would not draw comment, but the location displayed was correlated with a thick and distinct accent in the minds of others.

    My father had an accent from his homeland and worked hard to eliminate it, his voice becoming so clean and featureless over time that he eventually made his living by reciting simple phrases into recording devices to be rebroadcast in public places where they needed to be widely understood. My father’s voice was even available to be the voice of the phone I owned, but I used the feminine alternative. If I wanted to hear my father’s voice come out of my phone, I could simply call him.

    I would occasionally have thoughts of my homeland which were a mixture of nostalgia and revulsion. Yes, I had been raised there, but even as a child I felt I did not belong. As a child my voice was halfway between the flat affect of my father and the peculiar enunciation of my homeland and the children in school would comment upon how oddly plain my voice was, though whenever my father’s work allowed us to vacation abroad I would receive comments on my ambiguous half-accent. My homeland is a massive place where the spectacular oblivion of the earth and climate threatens to swallow men whole, which resulted in a culture of individualism and self-sufficiency that manifests as a style of dress, voice and body language all designed to loudly assert one’s presence in the face of an uncaring and hostile terrain. This bravado against nature’s indifference is perceived everywhere else as arrogance and unseemliness. Some of us decide that a life spent endlessly battling a vicious natural entropy could be better spent by simply moving to more hospitable climes. This is made difficult by the preconceptions the the outside world has towards us and is why I worked throughout my youth to make the movements of my tongue and palate precise and crisp and as regionally undefined as possible, while still clearly sounding as though I am from this continent.

    My proudest moment came when I once left this continent as a younger man and ventured across the ocean to the top of a famous landmark. Standing there, looking over the radiating lines and circles of an infrastructure older than my nation, observing the organic flow of human bodies through stone arteries, I felt soothed. Then I heard a woman’s voice behind me and clearly identified the accent as one belonging to my homeland, or perhaps even my hometown. The woman responded that she lived in a town directly adjacent to where I was raised, and stated that it was good to find someone who spoke the same language in th is foreign land, even if I was clearly from some other part of the continent. That I could remain undetected by someone from my homeland flooded me with an awesome, thrumming calm as I realized my successful destruction of everything that once defined me.

    Upon moving the city I consciously shirked the sartorial aspects of my upbringing along with the accent I had already begun to scrub away. I looked like everyone else, and this pleased me— to see someone across from me during the commute who looked like me made me feel as one with a whole greater than myself. Everyone I know gets their corrective lenses from the same retailer, and I do the same, because their value and aesthetic truly make them an excellent product worth telling your friends about. Additionally, I carry my daily possessions that are unfit for pockets in a popular model of backpack that was originally designed for nordic schoolchildren. Its simplicity and durability made it popular among people in my age group and industry, so I purchased one as well.

    Shortly after I changed my phone number I began to receive calls from people I did not know. These calls all asked for the same person, presumably the man who had owned this number before I did and had not been as fastidious as I was in making sure all of my contacts were properly informed of my new situation. These wrong numbers were odd, however, because the previous owner of my new phone number had the same name as I did, and invariably the people who called for him worked his name into their greeting. They were intending to be unambiguous in who they were contacting, and I did not lie to people on the phone, but when they asked if the man was there, and I heard my name, I would respond yes and inadvertently lie to them before either of us realized the mistake. Most peculiar of all was that the callers never acknowledged their mistakes. When they went on with information that did not apply to me at all, or referred to other people I did not know, I would inform them that they had a wrong number. They would argue with me, disbelieving, saying that I had answered to my name, that it was clearly my voice, that this was exactly the kind of prank I would pull, classic me, and then they would continue on with the conversation as if my vehement insistence upon mistaken identity were a throwaway gag.

    Throughout this time I continued without much concern for the wrong numbers. The people in my life who knew me now had the pleasure of seeing the correct location indicated by my calls, and I drew the same kind of solace from this as I do from watching videos of industrial machines turning raw material into finished products: the joy of chaos turning to order. As my work frequently required me to make calls to people who did not expect me to call them, and to attempt to persuade them to perform actions and make purchases they had not intended to before I called, it was a welcome relief to be separate from the stereotypes of my former home. The comments about my lack of an accent fell away completely, and I was frequently complimented on the cadence and tenor of my phone voice without any hint that they were comparing me to the preconceptions my place of origin inspired. A few times, they said unprompted that I sounded exactly like the automated assistant on their phones.

    In this time I was prosperous at work as my freedom from any implicit association with my homeland allowed my sales to grow unhindered. The product I represented was a useful one, but not obviously so, and I felt it was an honorable duty to inform others who may have been unaware of its benefits. Thus the job came easily to me, and my new phone number accelerated my career. Yes, my employer did insist we use our own phones, but this was simply because the corporate number caused people to react with disgust and rejection seemingly without fail when they saw our caller ID and location. By allowing the employees to use their own phones and subsequently reimbursing us, they added a personal touch, and our conversion rates soared.

    Unlike our competitors, we did not have a set script that we were forced to recite to the potential customers. We were allowed to engage them freely and fully, spending as much time as we felt necessary on each lead. While I still had the usual problem of my profession of people hanging up without comment the moment they realized my intention, I almost always closed the sale if someone allowed me to finish my first sentence. However, one day I was dumbstruck when the lead answered the phone and called me by name and asked how I was doing before I had begun to speak. Somehow, one of the people who had been calling my phone by accident had been on my call list for the day. They asked what I was doing calling them during work hours, and I asked if they had heard of the product. They had not, so I earnestly told them of my belief in its efficacy and utility, and they bought into it without hesitation because I was their trusted friend. The call was recorded for quality control purposes, and upon its review I received a special commendation for my apparently preternatural ability to emotionally engage with the customer.

    One day while commuting to work, on a silent reverie to myself about the glory and utility of the product, I sat next to someone on the train who could have been a mirror image of myself. In unison, we removed our bags and placed them on the ground in front of us, and stared forward across the car, only looking at each other in furtive glances through the reflection upon the window opposite us. I felt so warm and accepted to be in a place where I could be like those around me that I almost forgot my bag, and stood up without it before remembering and reaching back to grab it. I walked to the office, and when I approached the building I placed the part of my backpack holding the proximity card against the security sensor. The door did not beep or unlock. I looked inside to find the card and found nothing familiar, though things were kept in similar places. It pleased me to see that he also carried the product. I looked at the wallet— a leather bi-fold similar to mine but in a distinct shade— and tried to determine its provenance. I was momentarily thrown when I opened it and thought it contained my own driver’s license until I saw that the man pictured was born a few days before me. He had my name. By this point, the doorman to the office had taken pity upon me and opened the door. I was reprimanded for the loss of my employee ID, and the cost of its replacement was docked from my pay.

    That day at lunch I ate a perfectly triangular sandwich from the vending machine instead of the imperfectly triangular sandwich I had packed for myself, which the other man had likely taken off with. I resolved to find the man with my name and return his bag, for this seemed the likeliest chance of finding my own possessions again. That day my conversion rate was average. After work had ended, I checked the address on his ID and set off to find him. The address was unfamiliar, but a consultation with the map told me it was in a part of town that I was aware of but had never visited. When I left the office I descended to the sublevel that joined directly into the train system and set off.

    The train ride was long and by the time I emerged to the surface again it was dark. I made my way to the address indicated and found a slender, vertical structure, like a brownstone with an encircling yard. I knocked on the door and waited. A stunningly beautiful woman answered and welcomed me in. I stared at her and did not move. She saw my reaction and commented that she was happy she could still get that kind of response from me. Still speechless, I held up the bag as if for explanation as to my intended purpose there, but she simply took it from me and placed it in a closet near the door. I walked inside and she called me by name, said I was acting funny, and asked if I were drunk. I said no, and in response she popped open a bottle of beer, handed it to me, did the same for herself, and clinked her bottle against mine. She took a sip and I did not. I stared at her with an expression of confusion, which she noticed, and asked what was wrong.

    I could not get the words out. My confusion at the situation and my tendency to get tongue-tied around beautiful women combined to reduce me stammering out incoherent syllables. I stared at her as her face fell into an expression of concern. She approached me and tried to put her hands on mine but I pulled away. She continued to ask what was wrong, why I would not talk to her, what was going on. I looked at her and could not speak, and I became angry at my own inability to communicate, which led to subsequent attempts to talk taking on a hostile and vaguely accusatory tone. She went to another room, and I followed, but at the door she told me that I could come to bed if I would speak to her, if I would come clean about whatever was bothering me, but otherwise I would have to sleep on the couch. I asked her if she actually wanted me to stay on the couch, and she just looked at me and closed the door.

    I awoke the next morning with a sore back, blinded by the sun blasting in through the expansive windows of the living room. It was early, but she was already gone when I checked. Nobody else was home. I showered and borrowed a fresh pair of clothes. I picked up the backpack from the hall closet and checked the cards for the location of his work. I wondered why he had not come home. Hoping to encounter this man and recover my bag, I left for his workplace.

    I arrived at the studio intending only to drop off the bag on the way to my office, but stopped in my tracks when I walked in. There stood the head of my company, the inventor of the product. I had never talked to him in person. I had only quietly admired his genius from afar and indirectly attested to it over the phone to clients. Yet he approached me with a confident smile and shook my hand and said it was good to finally meet me, having heard so much about my work. He asked me if I used the product, and I smiled, opened the bag, and showed him. He nodded and asked to review the designs one last time before the shoot began. Before I could object, an assistant took my bag and I was ushered to a table covered in concept art illustrations of an advertisement for the product. They were stunning. The product had always been a hard sell. It worked so well that people were inclined to think true statements about it were hyperbolic lies, but these images perfectly conveyed its use and necessity in a way that had never been done before. I expressed my enthusiasm about the product to the inventor, and he said he was glad that I was a true believer in my, and his, work. I was handed a camera and told to do my magic.

    I was unfamiliar with the specific workings of camera technology but my understanding of and passion for the product guided my hand and allowed me to find the angles that would make others feel as I did. The inventor was enthralled with my work, and said that advertising of this quality would make the costly and inefficient direct-sales cold-call marketing department redundant. He said it was a shame they would have to be let go, but they would certainty find employment again rapidly in another call center. The designer shook my hand, thanked me again for my work, and wrote me a check with many zeroes and my name on it.

    I took the train home smiling ear-to-ear that my work had been so well received. When I came home I apologized to my wife. I told her I knew I had been distant, and that I was sorry for how I’d acted before. I told her I wanted to just talk. We drank together and she told me about her day at the clinic and I smiled and commented with a bit more of the accent of my youth than I intended, and she said it was funny how that accent always came out when I’d had a few. That night we made love like we never had before.

    The next day I reported for work at the studio a bit earlier than usual, just to be on the safe side. The day’s shoot went well, thought I had a nagging feeling I was forgetting something. My fears were assuaged when the client assured me the images would be more than suitable for their next campaign. The client shook my hand and told me I had done it again.

    Nothing much happened for the rest of the week.

    One evening I went home to my wife and we had a quiet night in together watching her favorite old movies, those technicolor musicals from just after the war where the colors are too bright and the last thing anybody wanted was realism. We sipped wine and I fell asleep holding her in my arms.

    I wake up to the sound of glass breaking downstairs. My wife stirs. I tell her to stay there and I grab the .38 from the nightstand. With the gun and the flashlight I head downstairs with my heart pounding. In all my time in this house I have never had to use this gun. Downstairs, there is a hole int he window next to the front door, right where somebody could reach through to the lock and open it. I hear a crunch and point my light at the source, only to see a man who looks like a scruffier version of myself. He is wide-eyed and unshaven and holding my work bag. He screams that I am a thief, which confuses me so much that I hesitate for a moment before killing him. I am still pulling the trigger when the gun is empty and he is on the floor. He invaded my home and I will not allow anyone to hurt my wife.

    The police come and I am vindicated in my actions. The detectives on the scene indicate from the contents of the bag that the man seemed to be violently unstable and intending to steal my identity completely. He had apparently forged ID cards with my name on them.

    In the wake of this invasion I am investing in greater security for our home. I have also purchased a new phone with greater encryption and identity theft protection features. I love it, except for the default assistant voice, which is a woman who sounds vaguely condescending. I have changed it to the male alternative, which I find reassuring and familiar for reasons I cannot quite place.