In the summer’s heat, after the rains had abated, and the flooding had receded, and the paths had all dried up, they unchained the picnic tables and brought them down to the banks of the Charente once again. Three days later, Alabama Turk would run by and see, for the first time since midwinter, his favorite spot under the willow tree was uncovered and untaken. Slowing to a halted canter and finally a bedraggled saunter, the young man popped down on the bench for a good sit.
This particular picnic table, peeking out from within the confines of a billowing willow, offered the best skyline anywhere within or without the somnolent French town. Saint-Pierre burst forth from the bulwarks and market square, blooming over the town like a stone perennial, a gothic sentinel tasked to watch and protect its citizens from unrest and malignant hoodoo. Fun fact: inside the cathedral, Alabama had even found a postcard picture taken a few feet away from his favorite spot. Another testament to the merits of said view.
As he watched the water flow lazily on either side of the bifurcated river, Alabama Turk came to terms with a simple, sour truth: he was nearing the end of his magnificent adventure abroad. With soggy eyes, he thought of Tenor Abernathy and the Resonant Beast, the twin titans who had dueled upon the Gelded Gully. He remembered ridding himself of the stinking Grimoldge, that filthy gunk-critter living in his bile. Alabama smiled as he thought about the wedding reception, after the marriage of Pallow Brarro and Alowa Skybrindle, the pair of whom subsequently rode off into the sunset in their decorated Minnie Winnie. How was he supposed to return home with a bleeding heart so thickly laden with nostalgia?
Mr. Turk awoke from his daydream at the moist plodding sounds of an approaching behemoth. The man, if he was indeed a man at all, lurched forward on the offbeat as though his melted, mushy brain-bag was set to a coked-up, crooked metronome. One after the other, his legs would manifest themselves from within the many folds of his portly personhood. His petulant, putty face was riddled with blisters, glistening in the summer’s sun as his saturated, oily dough-skin fried orange in the heat. Boiled and braised, his flesh strained under the immense tension, looking ready to peel away layer-by-layer until gargantuan pustules erupted, turning his body into a baking, vacuous lagoon of vulgarity. It should be no small wonder if anyone had ever written this sorry sod a clean bill of health.
Alabama watched the goober lumber over and present itself at his picnic table with a wet belch.
“Would you like to take a seat?”
The creature sat and the bench groaned morosely in protest. His overlong tie lay impotently upon the grass, sliding like the sorriest sausage in the slaughterhouse between his grimy, muck riddled suit lapels.
“What, ah…,” Turk was trying to look the beast in its eyes, but kept getting distracted by its gaping, fetid mouth hole. Teeth roosted sparsely along the cavern walls like furry bats in a grotto, “What brings you to Saintes?”
Whether the monster belched or flatulated, Alabama didn’t know, but between gaseous emissions the gargoyle conveyed that he was indeed a foreign diplomat.
“I… ughhhh… I’m the best, most bestest even… uhm… lord, uhm, uh, president that my people have, hm, have ever seen. Um. Yes.”
He had garnered the favor of his fellow countrymen apparently by appealing to the inner cannibal in all of them. Riding a wave of high-protein, zero-ethics nationalism, this cellulite-in-a-suit rose to power and lead his nation into a fear-driven frenzy. Among many other things, Alabama picked up a distinctly Anti-Muslim sentiment from him.
Alabama was not the least bit perturbed by Cannibal President’s apparition. Should the fiend have shambled over a year ago, sure, the lad would’ve run screaming in the other direction. But a year of odd characters and magical happenstance had weathered Alabama into the seasoned veteran of the abnormal he was today. Now he recalled the day that Farabella Fagglebonk appeared before him, recruiting him for battle against the villainous warlord, Magna-Kmar Everlasting. For that quest, he’d traveled three continents and a couple higher dimensions to track down the criminal scourge and drive the feathery brillow through Magna-Kmar’s gaudy mane.
Cannibal President smacked his lips and lolled his sluggy tongue around his mouth to wet his terrific maw. He stood; his tiny, meaty mittens still poised upon the table as he sniffed the air furtively. Catching a delicious whiff on the wind, he lumbered off down the lawn toward a family of four. The parents were laughing and cooing over a five-inch display trained on their youngest nugget rolling around in the grass with a puppy.
Alabama scratched the back of his neck uncomfortably. Surely they saw him coming, right? But, low and behold, they did not, and Cannibal President scooped the boy up in his paws by the scruff of his neck and sunk his infected incisors into the nubile flesh. The couple stared in abject horror at their screen as the carnage unfurled. In sumptuous HD, they looked on as their highly rendered child’s limbs were gnawed on, the Cannibal President looking to lap up that sweet, sweet child marrow. At a truly awesome 60 frames per second, they watched at least 240 frames in which the ogre gargled their baby’s blood and flossed with a mat of his hair.
The whole scene was awfully upsetting, but after half a minute of gratuitous violence, Alabama got up from his bench, dumbfounded, and wandered around the ordeal to the sidewalk for a better sideline view. The parents were wracked with grief, the wife having fallen to her knees, barely able to hold up her cellular phone between trembling fingers. The increasingly crimson glow of the screen reflected in the father’s waterfall eyes. Still:
The bright red stop-record button glared, unpressed, on the righthand side of the screen.
On a personal note, Alabama noted they were filming landscape. These people may have been monsters, he reflected, but they weren’t charlatans for God Sake.
A six year-old kid tugged at Alabama’s sleeve.
“Hey,” said the kid.
“Hey,” Turk said dismissively before suddenly double-taking, “Hey, wait a sec, isn’t that your brother over there?”
“That he is,” sighed the child, rocking back on her heels, “Getting a little face time with big Donny. Do you have any water? I’m dying in this heat.”
“Oh. Yeah, sure,” Alabama unscrewed the lid on his bottle, moving to pass it along to the kid before pausing, “Hold on, who’s Donny? And — ,” he added, after a moment’s pause, “ — why aren’t you freaking out about all this?”
“Oh, are we still in character?” The girl was asking me, the author, by way of Alabama Turk, the character, “Look, I’m not on camera right now, and I don’t play games for free. Can we both just be professionals for ten minutes while running this featurette? Besides, anyone that’s reading and didn’t get the ‘Trump-as-a-cannibal’ gag can stuff it. It’s 2018, what else is anyone writing about?”
She’s probably right, so we’ll go ahead and put a pin on this whole third-person narrative for a minute while we unveil the rest of the story. Buckle up.
“I guess you’re right. I don’t know if conventional forms are gonna cut it in this day and age.”
“You’re still gonna try?”
“The form will always fit the function. We’ll figure it out, but in the meantime, let’s Q&A this pony.”
The kid shrugged, “Weird turn of phrase for this day and age.”
Across the lawn, we were accosted by one loud Sweet Baby Jesus!, as the mother called up in agony to high heaven, while still looking down her nose at her phone screen. Simultaneously onscreen and a couple meters away, Cannibal Prez was twirling a femur around like he was lead color guard in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
“So… tell me about this whole situation,” I said, indicating the girl’s parents, still bawling at their digital baby’s death while the real one was still fighting tooth and nail to save it’s remaining two and half limbs.
“Well, I was born first, and that was three-hundred likes,” she took a quick breath and another swig of water, “Not a lot, but it only takes a spark to get the fame train rolling. By the week’s close, I was swaddled in a comfortable following across three platforms. A month old and we were dealing in the thousands each post, getting reposted, releasing sponsored content, and getting big name guest-post features.”
She was nodding to her own beat, the soundtrack of memories gone by played over her brother’s massacre. While her brother’s carotid artery was opened up like 4th of July fireworks, she related:
“I think I peaked somewhere between my first-steps livestream and the potty-training tweet. By then, Mom and Dad were pulling in substantial royalties each month, but by three they saw my numbers weaning and got busy cooking up my baby brother over there.”
“Huh,” I nodded. I wondered idly which social network was watching the young star’s entrails cascade form the cannibal’s mouth in real time. Snapchat? FB livestream? InstaStory?
“I still make cameos, though,” continued the girl, “I was scheduled to reenact my first bike ride next week. I mean, I’ve been pedaling around the neighborhood since last fall, but they bought this poor bastard a puppy ‘round the same time. That’s when you know you’re on your way out — when they start getting gimmicky. It doesn’t match the brand, but it’ll hold the ratings till they can get a permanent fix.”
The child star in question had lost the remaining half limb, rounding him down to an even two appendages. Donny had concocted a new solo blood sport involving some of the boy’s vital organs and was now trying to best his latest PR. The boy’s mother and father carried on, doing the same useless shit as before not ten feet away. From their fruitless wailing, I picked out the boy’s name: Mango.
“He would’ve started preschool in the fall, so as you can see, Momma over there’s already got another A-lister locked and loaded. Baby Bogart probably started feeling the heat once the tummy-timelines and ultrasounds hit Instagram.”
We sat down at a bench a few feet away with a good view of the now surfeited murder scene playing out in front of us.
“You got a cig?”
Asked the kid.
“I’m mostly retired, and I’m only six,” she shrugged and raised both her palms toward the sky, weighing two imaginary possibilities, “Either this planet is going to find a cure for cancer by the time I can rent a car or it’s going to be halfway underwater anyway. What is that, Norwegian shag?
“Uh-huh, can you roll?”
I lent her a lighter and she took a couple long hits before launching back into it. She was totally cloyed by the wall-to-wall, non-stop stimulation of post-millennialism and yet she still seemed to feel something for the poor kid. She emanated a sort of general mourning, not for the spectacle at hand, but for her brother’s very existence.
“He’s had a tough go of it,” she admitted, “Being born a boy didn’t do him any favors: Steve, our social media analyst, estimated that that’s a 15% lifetime like-reduction right off the bat.”
“So, that’s why they named him Mango?”
She nodded and bobbed back and forth while conceding, “It was a smart move, I suppose. Probably offset that 15% for at least a year, between the claims of cultural insensitivity and an unexpected boost from the feminists,” she’d softened her gaze, looking past the bizarre carnival of gore towards the gently whispering water as she mused, “I mean, the rents were banking on the cultural appropriation claims to catapult them into the limelight, but as fate would have it, they also caught that gender neutral naming tailwind. With #MeToo on the horizon and feminism gaining wider acceptance, they would’ve landed on Ellen if our handlers played their cards right.”
She shook her head and pushed out a long, weary exhale.
“Honestly, this is probably the best thing for him. He’s going out in his prime.”
At a certain point, entropy had its way and Mango resembled a sort of uniform, reddish-brown paste. Big D, having eaten his fill, waddled off to the stream to do whatever he was going to do. Honestly, there was no use speculating; everything was reactionary with the Cannibal President, so who knew what he thought he wanted to do. He certainly didn’t. You’d have had more luck asking Mango’s puddle.
“What’s your name, anyways?”
The little girl took a long, pensive drag off her rollie.
“Coconut,” she said, without a hint of irony.
“Are you serious?”
“Yeah. I go by Coco, but on official documents it’s Coconut Brown.”
“That’s quite a name.”
“Sure, for a crayon. Sounds more like a colorful description Conrad would’ve used to describe the savages in Africa.”
“You read a lot of Conrad, Coconut?”
“Shut the fuck up.”
Time lapsed, minutes banded together and formed hours, the flies descended, and odors rose up from the bloody mire. The sun lit the water on fire as it tucked itself in for bed.
“Before we wrap this whole thing up, can I ask you a question, Coconut?”
“Where are we going? I mean, where is all of this…,” I gestured at the poor, dumb giant, now hunkered down by the banks. He watched as the bloody tendons trailed from between his fat, varicose toes and giggled simply. My waving hand encompassed him and the two monsters now editing the video of their child’s death, trying on different filters and writing, rewriting captions, “…going?”
“The scene? Or…?”
“No, not the scene. I’ve got a handle on that, just, like, the ubiquitousness of technology, the nonstop filming, the incessant, minute record-keeping… what’s the endgame?”
“I’m not sure I follow. I mean, I am six years-old, but also, what are you getting at?
“I dunno, I feel like we’re leading up to something. Like, we’re standing on the shore, with our feet halfway in the water, about to take off. About to move on to the next big thing. It’s like, here’s technology: so miraculously advanced and adept, infinitely powerful and nearly universally accessible. And then here’s us. Here’s what we’ve decided to do with it.”
Coco raised a shoulder halfheartedly. Eh.
“It might just be us letting go.”
The Charente babbled quietly on.
“Can I ask you a question, Zack?”
“Go for it.”
“What do you think you’re going to change by writing this?”
“To be honest, Coconut, until I get through a few more years of this, I don’t think I’ll know. I don’t know that writing is ever going to change any of this, any of this real world business. When I look at Meyers, Colbert, Noah, SNL, Glover… I guess I’m just cashing in like everyone else? Preaching to the choir. Maybe that’s all that you can do, and then maybe you make some money off it, and also maybe you can do something with that money. I don’t know that we’re ever going to art our way out of this situation. But, you know, I’m new at this.
I’ve got to try.”