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The Compassion Project, Only Compassion Defeats Dehumanization

Compassion doesn't have to be a "deep sorrow", just the willingness to be moved to ease the pain of another, the w...

Monday, March 21, 2016

Dude! Excerpts from the work of a close friend


Prologue

'The Absurd may make more sense upon review'

The swirls of darkness absorbed the light. Flashes filling the sky above the tower where only one constant pinpoint of light shot outwards. Ravenous crows fled, fearing the evil within. It was common knowledge that all bones would be picked clean here before they were discarded. The source of that light, was a room filled with five men born into their seats of power, previously held by their ancestors. These men answered to no one, and laughed at those who thought they knew power. Combined they controlled a third of the world’s wealth, leaving the Muslims and the Chinese to fight over the rest.

This room, which sat at the top of a tower, the highest in the city, wasn't always occupied. Tonight, however, a full meeting of The Star Chamber Cabal had been called. Rupert Von Klaussen, the media mogul; Robert Klein, the Banking Lord; Sir Richard Evermore, the wealthiest land owner in the world; Francisco Vocelli, the Prince of Venice; and Manuel Juarez Ricardo Juan Lupe Fernandez, The King of the Cartels sat at the star shaped table. The ebony wood had been coated with thirteen coats of lacquer to give it the appearance of having been dipped in glass. In the center, the world's only fully functional, four-dimensional holographic projector, capable of predicting the future within ninety percent accuracy. It rose from its hidden compartment inside the base of the table.

The Gothic-inspired room was shaped in the same star pattern as the table, each triangle decorated to represent the family who held the seat. Above the table, a crystal dome looked out at the stars above with contempt. Five gas-lit lamps ringed the room, burning away, never varying, never flickering, a constant glow.

Each year the chamber shifted, spinning seventy-two degrees. The chair facing magnetic north was the reigning chairperson for the next three hundred and sixty-five days. Rupert Von Klaussen held that position now, this the first day in that role. He had come fully prepared, ready to present his agenda to the other members. It was the seventh time that he had the luxury of having the North Pole at his back since the death of his father, and as always he had a brilliant, professional package put together.

“Welcome brothers. Again we have reached another milestone. A year of prosperity beyond expectations thanks to Brother Manuel and his effective take-over of Argentina's drug trade. Now that we have all of Central and South America fiscally aligned we can proceed once again by turning our attention towards that troublesome Russian President. As you can see by examining the portfolio in front of you, oil prices have been lowered considerably, thanks in part to our flooding the market with stores from our abundant reserves. Now if this does not rattle the bear’s cage, nothing will. It's about time Russia joined the program. I know Yuri Chenkov, (the Russian Mafia boss), would like nothing more than to get a seat added to this table, but until his worth tops a trillion it wouldn't be worth our time. I believe it is better to own a man like that, than to have him eating at your table, no? Well, I know we all agree on that. In addition to poking the bear we have also effectively bankrupted the last of the U.S. Federal Reserve. Many economists are worried about the Chinese calling in their debt, but imagine what they would think if we called in ours?” He allowed a chuckle to float around the room before continuing. “We now dictate the policy decisions being made, no matter which party holds the seat of power.” Again he let a ripple of chuckles pass before continuing.

“So where Brother Manuel left off, I propose we continue forth by allowing the slow legalization of drugs permeate the U.S., so that we can successfully wrestle that last stash of unchecked money hiding amongst the lowly cartels, and triads. This will force the small players to join in our ventures, investing their money with us, in hopes of staving off irrelevancy, but we all know nothing is going to change that inevitable fact.” Again another round of laughter. “With legalization comes taxation, creating even more corruption than these libertarians could have imagined. After a couple of years of letting the government control things they'll wish that their vices were illegal again, which brings me to the next point. Prostitution. We are all set to get that ball rolling within months. We've got the right cases coming up in court, with the right judges presiding, and soon enough we will have the Statue of Liberty selling her stuff on Broadway during Macy's Parade! Again the taxation, and government control will leach the last of that money out of the streets.”

“And now we can turn our attention now on the Middle East. China can wait, we will need something to do in ten years’ time.” Laughter. “As for the camel herders, well I can safely say that it’s been fun, but it’s time to castrate the males before they completely ruin Europe. As much as I love my home, as do you, Sir Richard, and Francisco will agree: it's almost an embarrassment to acknowledge where you are from these days. So what I have in mind is turning the media loose on this whole idea that Saudi Arabia has really been behind the Jihad movement all along, and that they have worked intimately with the Syrians. That should really stoke the fires, and get us some foreign troops back on the ground. We can move towards befriending Iran, but only enough to let them waste their resources bringing the other Sunni states down. Once we have them killing off each other, Israel can partner up with Turkey and complete the overhaul of the region. We all know this is desperately needed to stem the flow of refugees entering Europe. The combined power of those two regional countries, should be enough to bring some form of peace to the land. This will allow Israel to gain upper hand, as everyone else around them will have depleted their armies, funds, and goodwill with the rest of the world. I believe a few bombings here and there should get the whole thing off the ground and running.

“Back here in the U.S., we have a few interesting ideas, other than the ones mentioned previously. We were toying with the idea of letting an animated film win best picture. Have the Cubs lose in the World Series, and for shits and giggles have a Democratic president come out as openly gay. That should really fuel the fires in the south, knowing their president likes to munch on carpet. This of course will be part of the set up towards the next civil war, the one that has been in the works for some time. Of course, it would not be wise to launch that ship until we finishing cleaning the rats out of Europe. We will need a safe place to establish our new headquarters.”

The four dimensional holographic projector fired up, showing the gathered members the unfolding of time, and their well-orchestrated plans. Nothing was left to chance, and their finger print was stamped on everything people in this world considered important. They could zoom in on a production line in that was producing herbicides in West Kentucky, or to the state assembly meeting in Oregon where the legalization of marijuana passed. They zoomed into an Israeli market two days from now where a pro-Palestinian reformer was assassinated in broad day light, with hundreds of onlookers, by an American mercenary posing as a Syrian Islamic Fundamentalist. Scrolling across to China they watched another environmental disaster unfold as torrential rains caused severe flooding on the Yangtze River, erasing a whole city from the map. Lastly they looked in on the Pope in Rome, making decree after decree that threatened to bring the Catholic Church into the twenty-first century. It was an impressive presentation when all was said and done. Then Rupert rolled out his coupe de grace.

Three hundred and twenty-two major news outlets around the world were a day away from a simultaneous link, in which all stories would be doled out from a central hub in Los Angles, California. The makeover was an attempt to invigorate new life into much maligned industry that had watched the governments of the world stand on the sidelines, as hunger, war and global warming threatened to put an end to life as we know it. The new conglomerate had hired Disney's chairman, who had so successfully revamped old movie franchises into modern works of art. His task was to make news hip again. Of course, it was all a ruse. Rupert's empire was just a smoke screen for the Star Chamber’s true objectives.

They knew from long years of domination that controlling what the people believed to be happening was the key to complete control, and made it so there was little anyone could do.

Or so they thought.

Chapter 1

'It is scary to put yourself out there, to chase that dream, but if you don't you will never realize it'

It was a quake, but not the earth-rumbling phenomena that occurred along the seams of the vibrant Earth ship. A deep cold had penetrated into the strata, hence forth heaving the upper layer, creating a deep rumbling resonance that traveled exactly at the speed of sound. Those who had never experienced such things before, were caught completely off guard, and a touch frightened. To hear the Earth ship moan in such pain could weaken even the strongest of folk.

Thankfully it was the women, the strong protectors of the realm, who comforted the frightened men, telling them that everything was going to be okay. The Earth ship would be fine, and what had just happened was a natural occurrence. The meteorologists named it an ice quake, the result of a sudden harsh freeze to the surface that had been enjoying an overly warm fall season. The experts agreed that this was normal, the Arctic powers were just flexing their muscles.

No one among the common people had ever heard of such a thing, but many common people had forgotten that such was the way with life on the Earth ship. New shit happens and new shit gets newly named, just like twerking. Prior to Miley Cyrus doing her thang at a televised music award show, we just called it shaking your ass.

Am I wrong?

The descending deep freeze had crept down from the farthest reaches of James Bay in Northern Ontario and had spread across the invisible line into the United States, catching the populace unaware. The Niagara Falls had frozen overnight, one massive sheet of unmoving ice now releasing clouds of ice fog into the air. Homeless people in Buffalo quickly discovered just how fast a person can find shelter when in dire need, and the road crews in Ohio realized that the repairs scheduled on their snow removal vehicles had been scheduled for an inappropriate time.

Oh, the cruel Mother that housed this calamity of people liked to flex her muscles once in a while to remind these ungrateful guests that there were some things you could never be quite prepared for.
The boom from the ice quake could be heard over an eight hundred mile radius, as loud as the strongest thunder clap. Windows in tall apartment buildings in Toronto were rattled by the force of quake; thankfully, though, none broke to expose the people inside to the harsh realities of the world around them.

Sensitive car alarms had gone off, some squealing away for hours in parking lots far away from their owners, who were busy toiling away in the caverns of progress that were erected to make a better world.

In a hospital room on the tenth floor of Scarborough General, amid all the alarms and general chaos following the sudden shock of the ice quake’s bothersome boom, an old man woke from a month-long coma. As unsettled doctors and nurses and frantic hospital administrators scurried by in the ensuing pandemonium outside his door, the old man’s cobalt eyes slowly fluttered open to reveal two points of intense light that scanned the unfamiliar room with the utmost scrutiny. His weakened arms raised up from beneath the blankets with several leads and thin plastic tubes attached, distributing fluid to his organs, making it difficult to get clear of the blanket. It was at this moment, thirty-three seconds exactly after the loud boom, that the old man realized he was able to see out of two eyes. It had been a very long time since he would have been able to claim this feat.

Unable to sit up, the old man gazed at the strange room in which he found himself. He knew that he had been asleep for some time, but had things changed so drastically? Had the future caught up to him after all those years of avoidance? It had been so long since he had the visions showing him the end of his world, and the beginning of this heathen paradise. A groan escaped his lips as he struggled to comprehend everything that was happening.

Minutes passed like hours, and hours seemed like days before the incapacitated man finally had a visitor. After the general commotion settled down after the big boom, a portly woman in a purple two piece uniform with a stethoscope dangling around her neck, entered the room wearing comfortable shoes. As she entered her head was down, not anticipating a wide awake patient, and when she did look up, she took his present condition in stride, without missing a beat.

“Ah, Mr. Olsen! I see that you have decided to return to us.” The nurse mentioned as she came close enough for the old man to smell her fragrant perfume. Lilacs and jasmine he guessed.

“Returned yes, but not as you may perceive.” He responded as the nurse adjusted some of the leads and tubes attached to his arms, allowing him more free movement. His voice crackled like tinfoil being dragged over sheet metal.

“Oh, that's nice,” the nurse replied. “Hopefully feeling better than when you went down! Your vitals look good and you appear to be coherent.”

With less grace than a castrated bull, Mr. Olsen raised his arms up in a slow sweeping motion. “The man before you is not any mere mortal, young lady,” he intoned. “The man you see before you is none other than Odin, father of the Asgard and seer of visions.”
The nurse nodded without even looking at Mr. Olsen. She was writing some things down on a sheet of paper and checking the watch at her wrist. Her pen moved faster than her thoughts, and she had to correct herself twice.
“Oh, is that so! So you are still not feeling quite like yourself then? Hm?” Now she looked at the withered figure, studying the intense blue fires that burned in his eyes.

“Well except for the fact that I now have two working eyes, I haven't felt more like myself in sometime. Centuries perhaps by the look of things.” Odin answered.

“Yes, well, um, I'm gonna give you a little shot from my magic stick here to ease your transition back into the here and now, okay?” the nurse said. “Don't worry, you won't feel a thing, I'll just put it right in this tube we have here that has been feeding you while you slept. In about ten minutes you are going to feel better then you have in decades, okay? Yeah, just a minute here.”

The purple-clad nurse took out a needle and stuck into the intravenous tube, pushing the plunger in all the way until the magic potion flowed through his veins.

Meanwhile, two time zones west of said hospital, a Toyota hatchback loaded with three dubious characters was racing down the Yellowhead highway ten kilometers west of Edmonton, bound for an unpopulated region in the foothills of the Rockies.

The ensemble huddled together in the red car included an amateur musician, an internet blogger, and a yoga instructor from Winnipeg who enjoyed the scent of lavender mixed with tea tree oil. In the same order their names were, Julius Hawk, Carl Carlson, and Willow Leclerc. All three had received The Call to assemble, and all three had willingly left their homes to embark on an urgent quest of the utmost importance.

Julius Hawk had traveled the farthest, coming all the way from Halifax, Nova Scotia, and the red ‘98 Camry belonged to him. He was the dreamer, prone to bouts of mania and mischief. By day, he was a bakers assistant and dishwasher at popular local diner. By night, he became Jack Clash, the savior of rock and roll in the digital remix, Hip Hop world. The quest, set in motion from the west, had begun far in the east with two scheduled stops along the way. The first, Montreal, to pick up Carl, the smoke-savvy, often high, writer of the internet smash hit, One Hit at a Time, a page dedicated to everything pot related and ways to grow your own without ever arousing suspicion from your neighbors. In his one-bedroom flat above a pizzeria, Carl claimed to have four hundred plants growing, all natural, all without the aid of hydroponics. When he wasn't blogging, he was delivering pizzas and selling pot to a select group of regular clientele. The Supreme with olives and anchovies got you enough food for two meals and enough weed to keep you going for a week if you were conservative in your approach.

Willow Leclerc, a half-Metis/half-Icelandic lass, grew up listening to blues music while spending most of her childhood in between her mother’s house and her father’s. She had never traveled outside of Winnipeg except for once to go to India after her high school graduation, where she wanted to meet a real-life yogi, experience enlightenment, and become a teacher of the art herself.

Unfortunately, India didn't turn out to be such a good idea as every man with hands appeared to have more worldly interests. They tried desperately to grope the light-skinned woman’s body and touch her blonde hair. Her yogi, a sex-crazed man who didn't believe in bathing, made continual advances on her that eventually led to a late night escape back to the nearest airport, and back home. Since that experience, which was more disillusioning than enlightening, she never had the desire to travel again. In Winnipeg she lived amongst the artsy-fartsy folk who appreciated living the life of counter culture. Tattoos and piercings, poetry and dissing the man, were all acceptable ways of proving you would never conform.

WHAT HAD BROUGHT THEM TOGETHER IN THAT RED CAMRY WAS ANSWERING THE CALL TO A QUEST SET UPON THEM BY A MYSTERIOUS DUDEIST MONK THAT THEY HAD MUTUALLY MET ONLINE IN A DUDEISM FACEBOOK GROUP. THIS MONK, WHO CLAIMED TO ROAM THE WILDS OF ALBERTA TENDING SHEEP AT AN UNDISCLOSED LOCATION OF COURSE, HAD CRYPTICALLY ASSURED THEM AND THE REST OF THE ONLINE GROUP THAT HE WAS IN POSSESSION OF THE FABLED Dude See Scrolls, AND THAT HE WAS IN NEED OF THREE BRAVE SOULS TO GO OUT INTO THE WORLD AND FIND THE AUTHOR OF THE SCROLLS. APPARENTLY HINTS OF NEW REVELATIONS WERE HIDDEN WITHIN THE CODED TEXTS, AND ONLY THE ORIGINAL WRITER KNEW THE CODE TO UNLOCK THE SECRETS. THESE SECRETS WERE SUPPOSEDLY GAME CHANGERS, AND HE HAD PROVIDED ENOUGH EVIDENCE TO THOSE WHO WERE WELL CONNECTED WITHIN THE DUDEISM CIRCLES TO SUPPORT THE CALL FOR SUCH A QUEST.

The slowest growing religion in the world was attracting all kinds of 'slackers' and relaxed folk, who were just looking for others whom they could relate to, and share their beliefs with, without all the trappings of conventional religions. It was all about taking it easy, going with the flow, and not being a dick.

The online community held a fundraiser, raised a modest amount of money, and selected three willing participants from two hundred and twenty volunteers across Canada. No one with a family, or any other religious affiliations, or with a criminal record preventing them from the crossing of national borders, was to be considered. These preconditions narrowed the number down to thirty five, of which the names were drawn from a bowling ball case, live via internet on the April the fourth, 4:20 pm. mountain standard time in the year of our Dude, two thousand sixteen. Strangers in reality but familiar in the virtual world, the three had packed lightly, had sworn oaths to uphold the standards of Dudeism, and abide as best as possible. Sixteen hours from Winnipeg and the vibe still remained positive amongst the chosen.

“Do you think he really lives in cave?” Julius asked. “I mean I have heard that there is a small monastery somewhere out in the foothills, but I also heard that he lives in a cave and only visits the monastery to make sure the acolytes are abiding.”

After five days of driving he was beginning to get that crazy gleam in his eye that came from monotonous repetition.

“I don't know, dude,” Carl replied, passing a newly lit joint to the driver. “What do you think, babe?”
He asked Willow.

Willow sat in the back seat. She had insisted upon it. Not comfortable with traveling—especially with stranger, and even more especially with two strange bros—she remained in her zazen pose, legs crossed, and eyes closed as the brown grasslands passed by on either side.

“First of all, I am not your babe,” she said, as if imparting the eternal wisdom of the ages to them. “I am to be addressed by my name. Not by sweetheart, toots, honey, sugar, and certainly not babe. Your chances of scoring with me are zero, and the driver has a three percent chance. He only has that because he hasn't stared at my tits yet. So if you wish to include me in your conversation, please do so in the specified manner that I clearly outlined in my email to you both, otherwise I am going to tell this monk we’re en route to meet, that you are both totally unacceptable as traveling companions.”
There was an awkward moment of silence as Julius looked at Carl, with Carl looking back at Julius. Nodding, Julius passed the joint in between the opening of the two front seats. “A peace offering, then.” Opening her eyes, Willow relented when she saw the joint’s inviting warm glow and smelled the sweet fragrance of its incense-like smoke. She accepted the offering and took a long haul off of it.
“Now that we have cleared the sexual tension from the car, what do you think about the cave theory Willow?” Carl asked receiving the joint back and inhaling.

“A cave? Are you serious?” Willow responded. “He started that rumor to make himself sound more mystical. I'd be surprised if we didn't find him holed in a mobile home, completely off the grid except for a telephone line and internet connection. No one lives in a cave anymore.”

“I don't know about that,” Carl noted as he continued to pass around the sacred offering. “There is this tribe in Borneo, or somewhere like that, and they are still all primitive and shit. They even believe white people are gods.”

“Where did you here that? On the internet?” Willow asked. They had picked her up in the middle of the night, so she had slept the better part of the journey so far. As it stood, she was having a hard time finding a way to warm up to these two strangers, even with the relaxed mood the week put her in. Guys in general were usually so preoccupied with sex that she had found little time to engage them, but these two had gotten her message and were doing their best to make her feel at ease. She wanted to feel that way, but just didn't know how.

Chapter 2

'When you embrace the Dude in you, the amount of fucks given decreases dramatically in the first minute of transformation.'

Beneath the suburban haze of a lost generation, another ripple of the past flicked its finger on the ear lobe of one Tyson O'Malley, the largest Irishman to roam the streets of Boston in the modern era. He winced in pain, and rubbed the lobe while looking around to see who had the balls to test him. His fists automatically clenched, chest puffed and his feet assumed their familiar, balanced stance, though looking around the street he found it was completely empty. Shrugging it off, he turned the corner, opened the door to his flat and climbed into bed.

Screams filled the night, wisps of smoke, haze and fire surrounded the large Irishman on a field close to some foreign shore line. He turned in the chaos, again finding himself alone and disturbed. At his feet was a great war hammer, runes covering the handle and head. Above him a hole parted in the thick gray smoke allowing a beam of light to descend, encompassing the brute. A dream, he suddenly realized, not a familiar one, but a dream nonetheless.

“If only that was true,” boomed a voice from above the clouds.

Looking up into the light, Tyson raised his hand to shield himself from the unbearable brightness.

“I am in need of you.” The voice boomed again like thunder cracking the sky.

Cowering for the first time since he was a whelp in grade school, the large man tried desperately to awaken. Something was terribly wrong with this dream. That feeling that he was no longer in control, was flooding over, just like when the bullies growing up waited around the corner from his house to beat on the boy who had been separated from his friends.

“It is time now, do not resist.” The voice announced.

“Time for what?” Tyson whimpered, his underwear bunched up in knots.

“Time to go find my father, of course, and right the wrongs that have befallen me.” The voice replied. There was a strong vein of steel running through the words that could not be denied.

The light surrounding Tyson grew brighter, and with it came a fierce gust of wind pushing the giant man down. Again, he raised a hand to shield his face, but it did little, and again the voice boomed.
“Do not resist! The fates have determined your destiny mortal.”

When Tyson awoke, he was no longer himself. He had been supplanted by another soul, a much older, more chaotic sort of soul that came marching down the hall as if followed by a herd of buffalo. Crashing, and banging, chasing away the consciousness known as Tyson O'Malley, and now in its place resided Thor of Asgard!

The God of Thunder and other such noisy things.

The mightiest of warriors, and most feared combatant in the seven realms.

Stretching his mighty arms, Thor rose from the bed to gaze upon the world he thought he would never see again. Instruments of the smallest sizes were strewn about the top of wooden chest of drawers. Thin clothing, the likes of which would never keep a grown man warm on the sea, lay about in piles on the floor. A small, strange looking lizard lay contained in a magical glowing cube, staring at him, flicking its tongue as it lounged on a rock near the edge of a small pool, beneath an unnatural light.

“Well you are the smallest dragon I have ever seen,” Thor mused. “Pathetic, really. Back in my time, long before the breaking of the world, I used to turn your hides into shields for my most trusted of friends. Your teeth I used as daggers, and your spine decorated the beverage halls where tales were sung.”

Thor watched the lizard’s tiny flicking tongue.

“Even an infant could slay you, though,” he said. “Or is this some kind of magical box, holding a spell over you, keeping you in such a small, pathetic state? If I freed you would you grow into some fearsome creature that I would be forced to hunt down? Do not fear, I would let you roam for a little while though. Terrorize the citizens long enough for them to call out my name. Then after I have had my fill of drink, I would call upon my trusty war hammer and hunt you down of course. Slay you, and milk the fire from your veins to heat up my supper. What do you think of that dragon?”

The lizard flicked its tongue again.

“Okay then, it shall be.” Thor raised his hand and brought it crashing sown upon the magic box shattering the aquarium into thousands of pieces, many of which imbedded themselves in his hand. As the blood began to seep out of the many gashes, the little lizard slunk away from the wreckage, flicking its tongue, disappearing under a heap of clothes.

“Gods be damned.” Thor yelled in pain as he examined his wounds. “What kind of fell magic is this?” He reached down in the pile of clothing, and grabbed a Red Sox t-shirt, which became a temporary bandage. He cursed and staggered about, confused by the dwelling and the things it contained. He tied the t-shirt tight to sop up the blood and dressed himself in the strange clothing.
Everything in this strange abode was made of the weakest materials the god had ever encountered. The door to the bedroom went crashing into the wall, creating a hole in the drywall as he flung it open, underestimating its weight. The handrail on the stairway leading to the ground floor came off the wall in his hand. In disgust he smashed it against the stairs where it snapped into two pieces.

Where in the Seven Hells had he awoken?

Outside of the strange house, the world was even stranger. Horses had been replaced with metal machines that emitted a foul odor into the humid air. Houses were crammed together for as far as the eye could see, and the trees that had survived the Ragnarok cried out in mercy as their roots battled desperately beneath the hardened surface that covered the Earth. Odin had warned him that the worlds would change, that their way of life would someday be gone, and that the weak would rise above the strong. He could not have imagined it, and yet here it was.

Now, free from Limbo, Thor knew that in time he would have his vengeance on those who had cast him out. First though, he had to find out if he was the only one of his kind who was freed from that infernal place. He walked past the metal sleeping insects, the glow of hanging lights, and breathed in the foul tasting air.

“By the gods,” Thor moaned. He looked at some of the people walking the streets. Humans, of all shapes and color.

So Earth it was.

He needed a drink.


Chapter 3

'If I bite my tongue, it is to spare me the grief of explanation.'

The destitute huddled around fires that burned through the night, their tales the only entertainment. Conversation, a lost art throughout the world, flourished here, where one could learn just about anything one needed too. Here failure was a badge worn humbly, for there was no shame amongst the destitute. This was no place of pity. This was the shanty town called Reality, USA. The sign marking the entrance into the hamlet had been painted using eleven different colors, drawn forth from cans donated by the street artist named Raver. His works were all over, on the walls lining the freeway into Seattle, on the three separate schools, in three separate districts. Even his mural of the Seahawks feasting on the carcass of a Bronco, which was painted on the side of a public works building just down the alley from City Hall, was revered by many. His pictures had captured the heartbeat of the underground society. The place where the forgotten roamed. So good was his work that plans by the municipal government to cover up these murals with standard coats of conformity were met with protests and violence.

The pictures stayed.

Reality was considered by some to be the safest place to walk these days. The police never ventured down below the bridge unless someone was murdered, and usually the only time someone was murdered below the bridge was when they were fleeing from the police. Here the homeowners protected themselves and their possessions with feverish passion, for this was all they had. There was nowhere else for them to go. Everyone looked out for their neighbor and their neighbor’s belongings, and anyone caught stealing or disturbing the peace excessively was cast out of Reality, forced to roam back above the bridge, into the lands where they were unwanted.

The palaces of men can be erected from the most fragile of materials. Paper, woven fabric, and even cardboard could be arranged in such a way to defy those elements that would eventually seek out to destroy such a lavish abode. Under bridges where these abode thought themselves safe, wind gusts swirled and pulled violently, yet through the sheer force of will, these seemingly flimsy structures would not crumble.

Gerald was quite comfortably asleep, night or day. Time was irrelevant to the man who followed no line up. Even its conceptual existence wasn't worth pondering over. Watches were the most useless thing man had invented, in Gerald’s opinion, right beside the eight-hour work day. His home was one of the nicer in Reality, constructed from two, not just one, large packing boxes that had been previously used to protect new home furnaces during shipping. A dude/plumber/heating expert had saved them both for Gerald, knowing just how much the man would appreciate them. Fully intact, without any exterior damage, they replaced the three banana, two bread, and one Maytag washing machine boxes. The former had served their purpose well, but were made from an inferior cardboard and were in the second stage of deterioration. They would not last much longer in the moist Seattle environment.

The dude/plumber/heating expert knew exactly who Gerald was. He was well aware of his former title, and the contributions he had made to the rest of mankind. Helping Gerald out was the least he could do for the network.

“Well those bastards are up to it again,” Left-Handed Larry announced sitting down in front of the humble abode.

“No riddles, dude,” Gerald moaned from his bed. “You know how I fucking hate riddles, man. Just get to the point or move along.”

“The police man. They just busted up a bunch of people for protesting this whole GMO thing. Heads were cracked, blood was spilled. Total aggression, Mad Man. Total fucking aggression.” Left-Handed Larry lit a smoke butt, one that someone had thrown away even though there were still four five good pulls left in it.

Rolling over and opening his window flap, Gerald threw a brand new cigarette at the war vet. “Some asshole gave this to me yesterday thinking because I'm a street guy, that I was probably a smoker. Fucking shitheads everywhere these days, man.” Sitting up, he adjusted his poncho and pulled on his rubber boots before continuing.

“So these idiots will never learn, eh! Walk right down the middle of the road with bulls eyes painted on their goddamned foreheads, crying for change. No wonder the police let them have it. Stupid fuckers will never learn that you can't beat the game by playing off the board. You got to get some pieces on there first, and then you may have a chance. But when you walk up to these serious players yelling, and hollering at how bad they are, of course they are going to turn their goons on you. Too many assholes have ruined protesting by burning shit and looting. Now the police just wait for the chance to try out their new toys.”

Left-Handed Larry looked at the whole cigarette that lay only inches away from him with love in his eyes. Of course he would finish the butt he was working on now, and then when his hand was free, he would put that baby in his special tin he carried in his coat pocket to protect the precious.

“So you are okay with this GMO shit then, Mad Man? I hear that they cause cancer.” Larry stated as he finished his cigarette.

“GMO, Jesus Larry. Much bigger problems in the world, dude. Hell, farmers have been modifying crops since day fucking one when they left the goddamn jungle and decided to plant crops. Now scientists do it without the fear of having to go hungry because some horrendous failure. Shit, nectarines wouldn't even exist if it wasn't for modifying the genetics of grown food.”

Larry smiled. His big pearly whites shining in the morning gloom of Seattle's constant cloud cover.

“I love nectarines.”

“Of course you do.” Gerald responded, pulling his thermos out and pouring himself a lukewarm cup of coffee. “They are tasty treats and I don't believe for a second this ridiculous crap about cancer. Everyone knows it’s in the goddamned water supply. Jesus mother of Mary, they add all kinds of toxic substances to it, dude, and they have us believing it’s for the best. Guess what is the most important thing on this planet? That's right, water. We should be more careful about the people we elect who back these crazy policies. Honestly, someone who gives a shit about the goddamned environment.”

“Aren't you Canadian, dude?” Larry asked, safely securing the precious away in his tin, and then into his shirt pocket.

“Even Canadians elect dumb schmucks too,” Gerald observed. “In fact, we keep them in power indefinitely if they keep up the charade long enough. There is this asshole in power now, he has turned us from one of the most peaceful countries in the world into another fear monger state. Did you know Canada used to be number one in the world when it came to shipping peace keepers overseas? We are down in the teens now. Hell, we will soon be the fifty-first state if this keeps up.”

With his hand free, Larry helped himself to the coffee, pouring some into an empty jam jar he cherished. It was square one, with a round top which he thought explained life better than most philosophy books. There was no need to ask when it came to grabbing some java, in fact it just made the Mad Hermit angry when you did.

“So is that why you don't go home?” Larry asked.

Turning with that gaze that could penetrate rock, hair disheveled, sticking out here and there like the Mad Hermit, Gerald the Herald smiled.

“I would, dude, you know return to my beloved Salt Spring Island, but that would be too predictable. No, I will remain here in Reality where I can be invisible. The future is full of shady characters and turbulent upheavals. Any day now I fear we will be caught in the middle of a real shit storm and I didn't bring an umbrella. My best bet is to stay put with you, my friend. Here we can ride out the hurricane until the need becomes too great and we are forced into action.”