The New Generation of Classic Short Stories

Vol. 2, No. 1

Public Burning

by Joseph Clark


  Just before the mail arrives, usually at 1:45 PM or a bit after, Iris Meachum gets into her bed and quietly masturbates. Carter has watched her do this a couple of hundred times, and the rhythms, the precise tonal pitch of her climaxes, are soothing counterpoints to a hectic day in front of his multiple surveillance screens. It is the quiet time of the day just after lunch, when there are few callers or delivery trucks. There are muffled sounds and sighs as her hands move toward the edge of the wave and into the ecstatic. Then she is quietly staring at the ceiling, or she talks to herself just below the threshold of microphone enhancement. She showers, changes clothes, then walks the dog around the development's maze of culs-de-sac and möbius streets. This is Carter's favorite time to enter their house and repair a microphone or adjust the position of a hidden camera. He keeps indexed records in his daily log: brand names of the products they eat, the titles of recently purchased CDs, and return addresses on bills and letters--all the things that are difficult to focus on with his limited camera angles. The Meachums have been using 175 more gallons of water a month, and he suspects it has to do with Gabby, their fifteen-year-old daughter's obsession with cleanliness. He suspects the landscaping company is billing for more fertilizations than it is actually applying to the scorched and yellowed lawn. He knows the PIN numbers for their various bank accounts and has a recent copy of their credit report. He knows they are spending a thousand dollars a month more than they make. Last month's mortgage payment was never sent and the telephone bill is overdue. Most of the losses he can account for in overspending and cash advances, but there are several hundred dollars a month that he can't find, as if they were being siphoned out of the bank accounts and deliberately hidden.




Time: June 25@4:34 PM Size: 192K Type: Microsoft Word doc. [Meachum Notes]

  I spoke to Ted Meachum over the phone, then met the entire family to give them a tour. A sunny but cool late-June day. The lawn is freshly mowed, and a cleaning company has just given the place a good going-over after months of neglect. I inherited my mother's old house after she died last year, a stock-model ranch in a placeless suburban neighborhood, but perfect as a controlled constant to place my study subjects in.

  The Meachums were the seventh family I interviewed. The first six applicants were not appropriate as study subjects: two single mothers with their live-in boyfriends, a Pakistani dentist, a Japanese flower specialist, and two families looking for a better neighborhood for their teenagers who already had arrest records. The statistical analysis said that my study group needed to be white and middle class in order to stay within the parameters of the suburban majority. Besides, these were the people I was fascinated with studying. These were the consuming subjects most targeted and tracked, the absolute and undeniable ground zero of the majority, and no one outside of Madison Avenue seemed to know the first goddamned thing about them.

  When the side door opened and the Meachums piled out, I couldn't believe my luck. A minivan! I spotted the soccer ball right away. They were absolutely banal, nothing abnormal or out of place. It was a commercial for just about anything: lawn-care products, real estate, laundry soap, an HMO, side-impact air bags, recycling, or the Republican or Democratic parties. I had a lump in my throat, a real Hallmark moment. In the Meachums I had found my living, breathing statistical model. Bland, white, and wearing strip-mall haircuts and polyester-blend clothing made in China. Even the Meachums's dog was blond and perfectly formless. I chose them according to a statistical probability that they represented a common denominator: a normal. Married working parents living in the suburbs with two children. Republican in local and state elections, they are unpredictable in their choice for Congress and president. Ted had inherited just enough money to place a down payment on the plumbing supply storefront he'd recently opened. Iris worked part-time at a corporate drugstore as a fill-in replacement counter person making minimum wage. She's home most of the time. Ted wore white socks and khaki work clothes, his hands were callused and his face showed some bimorphic anomalies. Of course, I didn't see it until it was far too late, but Ted Meachum was frazzled and paranoid, his desperation nearing the point of no return. Iris is a willowy woman still holding on to some of her college beauty. She prefers slinky, flowing clothes and Indian jewelry that is vaguely erotic. There is a delicate and compelling sadness about her eyes, some continual disappointment that has turned inward and showed up on her face in the form of crow's feet and a slight grayness beneath the blush. Iris was unable to look away in time, to avert her eyes from seeing through the surface of the plastic and veneers, from seeing the particle board hidden beneath faux period pieces and hearing the flat, false notes filling the gaps between silences. She would be the one who always filled the house with sounds; from room to room she had the multiple televisions tuned to the same romantic black-and-white 1930s movie. The Meachums are very clear about their reasons for moving into Blackmoor Heights. Property taxes are low and the school system has high academic ratings with almost no reports of guns or violence. They had done their homework and cared little about the details, the stripped-down, out-of-date interior of my mother's quaint little ranch. They were mobile and quietly fleeing. My statistical normal radiated contentment and polite charm, and they would consume within predictable and orchestrated patterns, primed to fulfill their market-tested and prepackaged lifestyles. They were already paying in time-installments for the overpriced funerals and bland headstones that would be their final home. Here lie our beloved so-and-whats. They died as they lived.

  The two children said nothing. Morgan, who is ten, was obviously excited to be moving. He surveyed the neighborhood skateboard ramps, the hodgepodge of tree houses, and sized-up the adjacent wooded lots he might take over and later fortify. His sister, Gabby, was visibly disgusted by everything but the tops of her shoes and barely looked at me during the introductions. She kept her head down, hands resolutely stuffed in the pockets of her oversized field jacket. Her disdain for the new neighborhood was a palpable charge hanging in the damp air. When she was shown her potential bedroom, she mumbled an obscenity under her breath, and her mother said, "Honey, you have to start thinking about the positive things." Gabby looked over at her father, eyes lighting up and leaning into her words as she spat them out. "Dad, I'll have to have my own phone line. I can't live without it." Everyone smiled and she recrossed her arms and I saw tears welling up.





To: (Jonathon Carter) Thursday July 21, 8:30 AM
From: (Guy Steiner)

  Hey BMOC,

  Your study is time bomb--yeeow!

  Is it true, you're really doing this thing, not some elaborate fantasy a frustrated fellow grad student has come up with? PH-fucking-D! Forget about getting a job unless you are splitting atoms among transsexual aborigines. You are a white man studying white people. Very uncool and uninteresting. But this idea you have could make you famous. Download something at web site. Suburban Real World. Go man, go-go! Something nasty to prove you really did go so far as to prewire this house next door with cameras and microphones. Show me a shower image. How old is that pretty girl, anyway? Visual Anthropology didn't have you in mind when they set down the rules. You are The Man. Later,

  Digital Dog:-)





To: (Guy Steiner) Thursday July 21, 9:03 AM
From: (Jonathon Carter)
Attachments:14min/vidbitmassStrongHoldIIMac/os:ArcCovenant.DOS(DI NA/mdos)00005fcc

  Yo cave dweller,

  Not a hoax. I've really done it and will download some pix. Also, audio if you want mating rituals, too. Girl is only fifteen and no, I won't send you pix of her. I'm already in over my head. Purposely put only microphones in the bathrooms and that's often bad enough. It's my mother's old ranch house. Remember we had Thanksgiving dinner there? I sold it to a family I picked using the Gordenstein method. I've rented another house whose backyard faces theirs. The cul-de-sac camouflage. What I can't see with the internal cameras I can see right out my windows. Hell, I even have cameras in the trees. There are two adults, Iris and Ted, and the two children, Gabby and Morgan, the ten year old. You know what happened with the Louds in An American Family? The presence of cameras and crew alters the ritual, the subjects conform to the gaze and the dormant subcultures self-censor, and fail to evolve. Study subjects mimic popular representations and atrophy within the received ideas. Are you with me? And keep this confidential or I'll sacrifice your lamb. For the first time I have total omniscience. Damn the puritanical American restraints. This is the fucking Wild Kingdom here! Michael Apted, eat your heart out!

  Talk to you soon, pal.




Time: Aug. 9@1:51 PM Size: 70K Type: Microsoft Word doc. [Meachum Notes]

  Iris enters the bedroom, closes the blinds, then removes her clothes and carefully puts them on the vanity chair. She's thin like a long-distance runner, her hair a mass of natural honey-brown curls as she arranges herself on the pillows. She closes her eyes, runs her hands over her breasts then across her stomach. There is almost no noise. After ten minutes the phone rings and she lets it go and go before picking up.

  "Hello?" Her tone is muffled and irritated.

  "Hi, it's me." A male voice low and breathy. It's not Ted but the voice sounds familiar. "Sorry," the voice continues. "Sorry to interrupt anything."

  "Guess where my hands are?" The man guffaws, the kind of laugh that makes loud parties get suddenly quiet. Something tells me he's brawny and went through boot camp. There is a deep bitterness mixed with his joy, like a man in love with a good paradox. His cigarette habit has given a slight bass tremble to his already cottony voice. I wouldn't trust him to change a light bulb.

  "And you were thinking about Mount Saint Helens? About Old Faithful?"

  "Of course I was." There is noise on the line, another person speaking, and the man says, "Okay, I'll be in in just a minute."

  "Well, I've got to go to a meeting," the voice whispers. "Let the lava flow, babe. I expect a new island in the chain next time we meet." Iris laughs and lets the headset clunk insouciantly back onto its cradle. I was holding my breath, hands and feet clenched together. Why do I feel so hot, so deranged by this exchange? Is my normal drifting away from probability or is she following again? I was worried when I looked into those eyes of hers. She's got to try and tear them out of her head one of these days.




Time: Aug. 16@4:34 PM Size: 94K Type: Microsoft Word doc. [Meachum Notes]

  My favorite viewing time is laundry day--a silent ballet of folding and stuffing and the laying out of shirts. Iris likes to have the television in the kitchen on with the sound down, preferring the old black-and-white movies with romantic leads. Somewhere in the middle of the third week I noticed that she was talking to herself beneath the roar of the machines. When I played back the earlier edits she was doing the same thing. It took some enhancing, some adjustment, but I was able to isolate her words. It seems that Iris Meachum hates almost everything about her life at 227 Cabot Court View. She focuses on her family's faults and failures, the onslaught of her invective barely smothered beneath the churning and throbbing machines. During these long tirades--sometimes hours go by--her lips curl back over her teeth and her nostrils flare and her face is illuminated by red highlights. It's made me fall in love with her a little. Stupid little boy is the bane of my life. I should have flushed him out before his weak little mind took over my life, sucked the life right out of my body. All of them--vampires and parasites, sucking and silencing and slowly taking my life from me. Don't want to, Mommy. Get me this, Mommy. It's too cold, Mommy. It's too hot, Mommy. It's not good enough, honey. Why are the clothes wrinkled, Iris? Why did it shrink? Why is my life a total blankness? My darling Clementine, my darling, darling Clementine. A rain of bile will come. A rain of blood and mud. The sound of millions of insects crunching under my bare feet. Someday a real rain will come and wash all the bile off the streets. Someday my prince will come. Someday I'll be suspended in the Rapture--bathed in the light of heaven. Someday soon, I hope. She giggles, laughs at how absurd she sounds, then pounds her fist on the top of the washer three times and the scene is done. She walks offstage. The children come home and everything in the house changes pitch and tone. She's blissed-out and evanescent in her children's presence.

  "Mom, you're acting strange."

  "I'm just happy, honey, so happy to see you both."

  She's standing transfixed in the middle of the kitchen, looking right into my hidden camera. I focus in and see a shadow cross her forehead, the indelible mark still lingering there from having just called out the beast.


To: (Jonathon Carter) Tues. Aug. 23, 9:32 AM
From: (Edward Adams)
Subject: Your thesis ideas & the missing first chapter?

  Mr. Carter,

  I received your cryptic note and I have to admit to being confused at first. I assumed it was filled with cyberjargon and only needed proper translation. It finally dawned on me that this proposal of yours was ironic. I do remember your charming and sophisticated sense of irony and will consider this "proposal" a form of satirical camp on methodology and subject analysis. I must admit that I did laugh. If I might, I would like permission to send this around, levity being in short supply these days in the hallowed halls. And while I'm remembering, where's that first chapter you promised me by this date? Just give me some ideas. Don't agonize. I expect a very rough first draft.


  Edward Adams


  P.S.: If anyone could pull off a good hoax it would be you. I expect one could get famous for a well-done parody like the one you propose, but I wouldn't try it until you have tenure!




Time: Aug. 23@12:45 PM Size: 63K Type: Microsoft Word doc. [Meachum Notes]

  Man calls again. Iris and man engage in conversation about heat wave and sweating. They again discuss Mount Saint Helens and I cannot figure out reference. Is this a place they have been to together or are going to in the future? Children arrive home by bus. Argument over homework. Video games played. Iris talks on phone to best friend for forty-five minutes. Gabby talks on her private line from 3:05 PM until her father forcibly pulls the phone out of her hand and slams it back on the hook--6:22 PM. Gabby fails to eat her dinner of pork chops, frozen corn, and mashed potatoes. Iris and Ted argue about Gabby's behavior. Ted goes into the basement and paces and calls his daughter "a spoiled little princess and it's probably all my fault." Iris follows her daughter into her room and says, "Young lady, you have very few rules to follow. Why can't you just be reasonable?" Morgan takes the opportunity to play more video games. Phone call from Chet Moritz for Ted. Iris answers and puts Ted on the line. The voice is definitely the same as the one who has called her during the day. It's Ted's good friend and shooting buddy Chet. Good ole Chet. Ted, Iris, and Morgan watch HBO from 7:30 PM to 9:30 PM. At 10:47 PM Ted reads his Lighthouse of Liberty magazine. He reads an article about paramilitary training activities in Mississippi, then an essay "Why the Government Wants to Take Away Your Guaranteed Rights." Iris finishes the crossword puzzle from Sunday's magazine section of the newspaper. Iris and Ted fall asleep during the late-night news weather report.




Time: Aug. 27@11:51 AM Size: 42K Type: Microsoft Word doc. [Meachum Notes]

  The Liebnietz-Calley study plotted the consuming subject and came up with a model for predicting subcultural activities and potential proclivities. For instance, I factored in Gabby's posters of teen-meat boy idols and divide by the number of stuffed animals and unicorn posters. Then I keep detailed records of her food choices and note signs of weight loss and gain, and come up with a very reliable model for predicting her possible foray into Death/Goth or speed/techno culture (a surprising 67 percentile rating!), or rate her chances of developing pre-bulimic and pre-anorexic pathologies (a whopping 81 percentile rating). Her chances of getting pregnant by another teenager driving his father's General Motors midsized sedan (47 percentile). Her choice of unsweetened morning cereal and fresh fruit (all very surprising choices) helped balance out her natural leanings and perhaps keeps her from a complete decline into radicalized alienation and disaffection from her family, neighborhood, and school. Somehow she manages to plow ahead on a steady course. Truly remarkable considering the Liebnietz-Calley trajectory as I have graphed it gives her a 60 percent chance of making it to college.




Time: Sept. 3@11:43 PM Size: 62K Type: Microsoft Word doc. [Meachum Notes]

  The monitor shows them both in bed. Iris is reading a biography of Grace Kelly and Ted is pretending to read The Wall Street Journal. Gabby is in her room wearing headphones blasting Hole as loud as she can stand it. Morgan is already asleep with his feet sticking out from beneath his covers.

  "Why have you been so grumpy tonight?" she says, letting her book down and turning her head to the side. He's staring into the Mutual Fund page.

  "Guy from the IRS calls up today asking if I'm the owner of the business and whether I filed a tax form last year."

  "What do you think they were really after?"

  "I asked him point-blank, `Does this have anything to do with an audit?' He said it was routine file updating. He wasn't sure why my file had been given to him. Sometimes it means an audit and sometimes it only mean a file update."

  "Oh, god."

  "I expect a certified letter any day."

  "Are we in trouble?"

  "If they went way back the penalties could add up. We'd have to file for bankruptcy, and they could take away the business and the house. They can do anything they want to because they follow their own rules."

  Iris crosses her arms in front of her chest and they stare at each other for a moment.

  "Tell me the truth," she says.

  "The books are a disaster. The only way I've made any profit at all is to doctor them. Everyone does it."

  "We are in trouble then?" He says nothing, looks away. "Ted?"

  "Like I said, they could take everything."




Time: Sept. 10@2:02 AM Size: 115K Type: Microsoft Word doc. [Meachum Notes]

  I woke up in the middle of the night and turned on all the monitors. The house was quiet and dark, and I sat there listening to the buzzing screens and actually missed the Meachums. Sent a note over to Davis in Geology requesting information on those damned volcanoes. Caller has also mentioned Mt. Kilauea, Mt. Vesuvius, and a Mt. Onanius. I do suspect a possibility of an affair. It's 3 AM and I'm pacing, wanting to wake them up to get rid of the quiet. I turn on my television, which is still hooked up to cable, and find it too terrible to bear. The Meachums have become the only drama able to keep my attention. The only way to get back to sleep is to replay some of my favorite study sequences, my very own high-concept trailer of their life together at 227 Cabot Court View. This only makes me feel worse, the reruns look pale and stripped of some ineffable but vital essence. I sit here watching and watching, like a predator, a parasite of real life. Bascom graph predicts economic/relational event within ten days. It has been wrong before.

  Saw Gabby naked today. She was alone in the house and inexplicably wandered from room to room trying out gestures, mimicking persona. In the living room she pretended to smoke and drink and carry on an animated conversation with imaginary friends. Even though naked, she managed to convey a sophistication, her body surprisingly mature. When she walked through the house, she moved in a purposeful and calculated attempt to induce a lulling trance in her audience. She tried a swagger at first, half runway, half school-yard strut. Then she slowed everything down, began stripping away the flourishes, cleaning up the lines, and focusing down to the subatomic levels of total self-possession--a seduction perversely effective in most of the population. She is still working on training wheels and will soon learn to take the curves at high speed. She began to skip, first one foot then both. This evolved into an arms-out twirl through the kitchen, her face showing a child's joy at being inside her own mind. She moved into the hallway doing wobbly cartwheels, then teetering-on-the-edge handstands that pitched dangerously close to lamps and collectibles but never disturbed more than the stagnant air.

  In the kitchen she climbs up onto the dining room table and lays on her back. She puts her knees up and stares at the ceiling. This most neutral and banal family space has now been consummated and marked with an eroticized charge.

  Gabby has started ritualized scarification by using white makeup, black eyeliner and jet-black hair dye. The tattoos are only temporary and she keeps them hidden beneath the Army-surplus field jacket. Has started calling both her little brother and her father "asshole." Liebnietz-Calley trajectory keeps her within 72 percentile for runaway attempt and possible alcohol intoxication via liquor cabinet. Bascom graph intertextuality scale correlates a 58.5 percentile rating for potential unprotected sex with a boy driving a late-model sport utility vehicle.





To: (Guy Steiner) Sunday October 2, 8:07 AM
From: (Jonathon Carter)
Subject: Is this normal behavior?
Attachments:34min/vidbitmassStrongHoldIIMac/os:ArcCovenant.DOS(DI NA/mdos)00005fcc


  The clips show Ted and Morgan, and occasionally Chet Moritz, using some new device to manufacture ammunition for various guns. Another big surprise. Ted has a huge gun collection: rifles, shotguns, pistols, revolvers, some cap-and-ball black-powder muskets, you name it. As you can see, father and son are happily going about the business of loading brass shells with gunpowder and god knows what. Any ideas on how ordinary this has become in the white suburbs? They've set up some sort of short pistol range in the basement. Since it is an unpartitioned space and well insulated for sound, they've stacked a wall of old steel doors and sandbags and use crude silencing devices. There is nothing overt--all the targets are merely concentric circles and they keep score. Have detected no overt racist or ideological references. Liebnietz-Calley graphs place this within normal levels of American hobbies. When cross-indexed into Gordenstein's probability method there is a whopping 67 percent margin of a gun event. Most of these are statistically accidental but 41 percent are actual attacks by one family member on another. This is using the one-hundred-thousand-to-one scale and this city is already low on the margin for that sort of event. Perhaps I've discovered a thriving but dominant majority who do this in private. What could be the cultural antecedents and overall strategy? Liebnietz-Calley predicts a "libertarian" viewpoint and a 64 percentile chance of decline.







To: (Guy Steiner) Monday October 3, 10:01 AM
From: (Jonathon Carter)
Subject: Are you out there?








  Strange camera angle and very low light.

  Carter reminds himself to go in ASAP and change the settings and reposition another camera if they begin a pattern. Chet Moritz pulls into the driveway at noon and brings two baskets of laundry into the house. She says to him at the door, "Oh, your machine broke down, how convenient." Somewhere during the second load of wash and the first load in the dryer, they start kissing big, full tongue kisses. Even with enhancement the images are reduced to faded silhouettes in Carter's camera angle. The sound is perfect and devastatingly primal. Iris hikes up her skirt, removes her panties, then sits on the lid of the spinning dryer and says, "It's so hard on my ass!" Chet drops his blue jeans about his ankles and is already hard. Iris laughs.

  "What are you laughing at?"

  "I've never seen one that looks so much like a banana."

  "You think it's weird looking?"

  "No, I'm not saying that. They're all just so incredibly different that it gives me a kick. Nothing personal." Chet leans forward and Iris helps guide him in. They fuck slowly at first then faster as the washing machine rattles itself into a violent spin cycle. At the end he pulls out and covers her stomach, filling her belly button with semen. He leans over her for a minute, balanced there, hyperventilating and sweating.

  "Are you okay?" He's unable to answer and she pushes him gently off her and asks for a towel to clean herself off with. Chet goes off to the bathroom, and when he is out of the laundry room Iris leans back on the top of the dryer and laughs in an unrestrained way that Carter has never heard before. She is happy and weightless and her lips move silently beneath the roar. She's going into her gooba-dust rag, eyelids fluttering and body settling into the rhythm of the dryer. Letting in the world. I'm riding the waves in my own beautiful laundry room. My wonderful, wonderful sanctuary from the house demons.


  A fall Saturday and Ted is home alone repairing holes in the sheetrock, running speaker wire through the basement. Standing on a stepladder, he shines a flashlight into a corner not meant to be illuminated. The sound of his fingers rubbing along Carter's expensive minicamera is thunderous through headphones. Carter sees animals in Ted's angry and out-of-focus face. An owl screeching and a small falcon about to swoop in, now something vaguely reptilian. The image goes to static, so he switches over to another unit situated near the furnace. Ted walks over to his workbench and turns on the fluorescent light. The cameras are a single unit with combined microphone and tiny, wireless remote receivers. Very expensive and state of the art. Ted turns it over and over in his hand. At one point he puts it down on the bench and goes back over to the corner spot and tries searching for wires. The animals come back into his face as this reckoning settles in. A bird in his mouth tries flapping its wings and then a tiny vibrating tongue comes out and smells the camera. All this flashing by in milliseconds as he understands the coldness on his skin is really how it feels to be naked. The hammer hovers above the alien probe before Ted repeatedly brings it down, yelling, "Greedy bastards, you can't do this to me!" Plastic and metal from the camera ricochet around his face and splinter against the cinder-block walls. "This is America, goddammit!"





To: (Guy Steiner) Thursday October 13, 1:31 AM
From: (Jonathon Carter)
Subject: I Broke the Prime Directive!
Attachments:7min/vidbitmassStrongHoldIIMac/os:ArcCovenant.DOS(DIN A/mdos)00005fcc


  Where in the world is Jonathon Carter? Clues are as follows: egg-shaped modules create dysfunctional model. Observed subjects discover surveillance but attribute to alien operatives. No trace possible and purity of model now compromised. Interzone penetration comes as complete surprise but within statistical certainties and risk factors.

  What the hell is a good Federation officer to do? Observe the Tedster dispatching the alien probe with primitive tool. So far he has said nothing to the other visual subjects. No change in their daily family routines or subcultural activities. Suggestions? Should I take off in the shuttle and set the controls for the heart of the sun? Do I keep the cameras whirring on this entropic failure?







To: (Jonathon Carter) Friday October 14th, 2:30 AM
From: (Guy Steiner)
Subject: Ouuch!

  Fearless researcher,

  Sorry, been in the lab writing code for new program. Let's sleep on this problem. I say you wait. What if he does nothing? If he doesn't tell anyone else, the study goes on. Six months worth of data under these pristine conditions is absolutely godlike. You knew it would find a natural end. The sheer ballsy audacity. Can't decide if you're the biggest fool or the most brilliant. Fine line, huh? Hang in there. If he blows, then try and pull out the cameras and call it a wrap. Be patient. This could also lead to unexpected new subcultural and symbol-based constructs. From my previous observations of the downloaded files of the Meachums I detect more than a usual bit of potential for both the daughter and father to be candidates for splinter activities such as antigovernment underground and militia contacts. Already the daughter's taste in music and pop-culture posters suggests a possible "Death Cult stage" where she will make a break in radical opposition to the values of her parents. The father already gets the Pat Robertson newsletter and has a copy of the Anarchist's Cookbook sitting on his workbench and the sticker on the toolbox that says "I'm the NRA and I'll Kill You" (you never noticed them did you?). Could open up coded linguistic communiqués and lead to deep-cover cells. A supernova of potential data. Imagine--you start out in the white Republican suburbs and end up in the very smallest and purest form of autonomous subculture. Baudrillard clearly states that the only "true" avant-garde act left is terrorism. The artist most guaranteed to effect immediate and irrevocable change, and Ted Meachum could go over that statistical edge. I double-checked the Liebnietz-Calley graph and there is a high probability that an IRS audit will bring on some familial catastrophic event with Ted following popular culture models into "Hero Modality." You never make bets on things like this do you?

  Over and out,


  Digital Dog:-)





  All he can hear is heavy metal whirring. The fight started without warning. Gabby and Morgan retreated meekly to the top of the stairs where they watched the developing action in the kitchen.

  "Don't tell me to be quiet. You're the one screaming!" Ted has the bird back in his mouth trying to take flight. Something mindlessly insect about his eyes.

  "What are you so paranoid about?" Iris's lip is curled back.

  "Someone's been in the house."

  "Who, Ted? Who's been in the goddamned house?"

  "Whoever's watching us. Whoever's trying to get the information."

  "What information?"

  "The information they need. I know someone's been in this house. I can smell it. I bet you even know who it is."

  "Are you accusing me of something?"

  "Any strange calls from people, hang-ups, wrong numbers? Any strange men come to the door lately? What about that washer-repair guy? Did he wander around the house?" She looks at him, now frightened that he is playing some sophisticated game of cat and mouse. He gets close to her and tries smelling her breath with the smelling tongue. Iris is reeling backward, trying to get away, but Ted has her pinned against the refrigerator and is whispering something into her ear with his lizardlike tongue. He releases her, and she looks lost and suddenly magnetized against the enameled surface.

  Ted turns the stereo up until the windows rattle. Iris counters the stereo noise by turning on the garbage disposal, blender, and the small television in the kitchen. In the six months he's been observing them, they have never fought with this much intensity and violence. Carter tries reading lips but gets his cues from the distended faces and gesturing arms, the hands and pointing fingers. When they stand very close they seem to be deliberately whispering into each other's ears, trying to isolate themselves within a wall of noise. On playback Carter will try everything to enhance their voices, but only fractured consonants and vowels will break through the din. Whatever they said to each other during those twenty-odd minutes will be lost unless he can manage some more sophisticated analysis in the future. Stapleton in Linguistics told Carter he was able to read lips. The audio on the children came out fine.

  "What's it all about?" Morgan said to his sister.

  "The IRS."

  "What's that?"

  "Parents have to pay things called taxes and Daddy doesn't like to do it."

  "Parents don't have to do anything they don't want to."

  "Morgan, if I tell you something, you have to promise me you won't tell Dad. Promise?"


  "Scout's honor?"

  "Scout's honor."

  "Make the sign!" Morgan reluctantly makes the three-fingered sign.

  "Mommy likes Chet Moritz."

  "So, Daddy likes him, too."

  "She's in love with him. Do you know what that means?"

  "Chet has an HK MP5 that's fully automatic. I bet you don't know what that means."

  "Don't be a mongoloid."

  "What's a nongaloid?"

  "Shush, I want to hear what they're saying."




Time: Nov. 12@3:27 PM Size: 48K Type: Microsoft Word doc. [Meachum Notes]

  Morgan has been dressing in military gear every day for a week. He has set up elaborate war games with his various GI Joes and Sonic Raider dolls. He mostly plays by himself, but sometimes plays with up to ten other boys in schematized bonding rituals using war as the central motif. The players stalk and "kill" one another with sophisticated "Terminator" water guns. The victors usually end up at the Meachums's house to watch violent cable movies together while consuming highly sugared and caffeinated soft drinks. Liebnietz-Calley graph confirms "normal" activities within this age group and plots an average response to cultural and market pressures. It can be surmised that Bascom graph intertext assessment finds relational probabilities between father's subcultural activities and son's attempts at ritual bonding and intricately structured socialization and assimilation into dominant cultural normalities. Percentile ratings for him include a 52 percent chance for a professional-class marketing-manager position. A 78 percentile certainty he will drive a luxury import sport utility vehicle with power functions. Liebnietz-Calley asserts participation in amateur football (a whopping 98.5 percentile) as normal ritualized bonding and introduction into patriarchal hierarchy. Chances are that he will die drunk in an automobile accident after being rejected by upper-class female (61 percentile rating). I say good luck, little guy.





To: (Jonathon Carter) Wed. Nov. 16th, 10:30 AM
From: (Edward Adams)
Subject: Thesis draft way overdue! You must contact dept. readers ASAP!

  Mr. Carter:

  You must conform to the minimum requirements to remain in this program. We have tried repeated attempts, faxes, e-mails, snail mail, and phone calls. In your last transmission you stated that you are, and I quote, "deep undercover in an ongoing research program." This is fine, but I strongly advise you to get pre-approval and written authorization to continue your study. And be sure and follow all the well-documented guidelines in the thesis manual we gave you when you entered this department. I've come to the realization that you might not have been joking about your plans to monitor a family without their permission. Carter, I implore you to contact me and discuss this issue before you get yourself into very serious trouble with the university and possibly the authorities. Some things are still illegal. Even the FBI and police must get a judge's permission for wiretaps and surveillance. Please come back into the fold and discuss this.


Time: Nov. 20@2:09 PM Size: 26K Type: Microsoft Word doc. [Meachum Notes]

  Iris broke her pattern and failed to turn up in the bedroom at 1:45 PM. I panicked and searched the entire house, the usual rooms and angles, but found nothing. I used the motion sensors and found her alone in the basement packing boxes with clothing and photo albums. It signaled a catastrophic event, or a possible run from her family with Chet Moritz. Something big is about to happen and I feel helpless to keep my study subjects in their places. She and Gabby have been taking load after load of boxes away to some secret location. I will put a Landsat receiver on the minivan tomorrow to track her exact location.




Time: Nov. 20@6:35 PM Size: 27K Type: Microsoft Word doc. [Meachum Notes]

  Gabby and Morgan meet secretly in the garage. They are whispering.

  "Where are you and Dad going?" she asks her brother.

  "Away in a submarine. The kind that stay underwater for years and years."

  "Be serious!"

  "It's true. That's where Dad says they can never find him."

  "You mean the IRS?"

  "Um, yeah.... Where are you and Mom going?"

  "She won't tell, but we have a motel room full of clothes and stuff. I'm sick of moving."

  "You didn't take any guns?"

  "We don't need any guns."

  "Girls can be so dumb. Of course you need guns. When you go on an adventure, you always have guns."

  "You're a TV head."

  "Am not."

  "Are too."

  "Am not."




Time: Nov. 22@5:30 AM Size: 43K Type: Microsoft Word doc. [Meachum Notes]

  Iris arrived at 9:00 PM in a white rental car. I used the GPS device to do a Lo-Jack search and traced the car back to a motel on the outer interstate loop. She and Gabby left after telling Ted and Morgan they were going to a movie and have yet to return. It's almost dawn. Ted has been up all night running around the house with a device that he keeps pointing into the corners where my cameras are hidden. I never see him do anything, but five different cameras have stopped working since he began his sweep. His face is distinctly canine, a terrier or one of those inbred English ratting dogs. He's been set in motion, is smelling blood and baying at the trees. The smelling tongue and the bird are gone, but the insect eyes remain. Could be some cheap store-bought device he's using, but my cameras were supposed to be impervious to detection. I don't know what to do and frankly I'm getting scared by the look in Ted's eyes. Tomorrow his face will certainly have lost most of its human qualities.





  The Meachums's minivan idles in the driveway with its sliding door open, lights off, and wipers snapping back and forth in the mist. Out of twenty monitors only three show any images. The three cameras that are still working show a house brightly lit but everything is now at weird angles and disheveled looking. The shelves are empty of knickknacks, and books, bits of paper, and debris litter the carpets and hallways. A pile of cornflakes sits in the middle of the kitchen where the dining table used to be. For a second Carter flashes back to the image of Gabby lying naked and alone on the table. At the edges, just out of camera range, the periphery whirls with the sounds of violence. The figures with the gas cans are veiled with sport-logo bandanas, and it's painfully obvious who they are. He turns up the volume but there is only the sound of gasoline sloshing against the sheetrock walls. A low humming noise comes through the speakers, which turns abruptly to a hissing, like a soft rain is falling inside the house. The screens show a jump-cut slice of flames racing throughout the house, taking unexpected turns, jumping furniture, and following the haphazard line of liquid. Carter's room echoes with snapping and sizzling static. He can see out his own windows that there is nothing strange going on with the cameras, no sabotage or Mission Impossible-type trickery--the house is really burning down. The largest of the masked figures raises his fist and shouts at the camera mounted in the foyer.

  "Fuck you, IRS and FBI! And those ATF and CIA motherfuckers can kiss my lily-white ass. Same goes for the NSA and NSC and all of the rest of you watching out there in TV land."

  The bandana has fallen down and Carter can clearly see the bird trying to fly out of Ted's mouth. His skin is red from rage and he clenches both fists and throws them toward the camera.

  "And fuck JF-fucking-K!!"

  The wall of monitors in his basement room shows bright orange-and-red, just-like-on-television flames. A suburban dream in a dog-barking peaceful republic. Tomorrow morning will dawn with a crater in a cul-de-sac, a smoking cinder-block shell with melted aluminum and plastic shapes. There will be completely intact consumer products, free of soot and ash, which neighborhood boys will carry off as talismans of the real and unfathomable world of chance. There is a bright flare and the sky from the windows illuminates his dark basement like daylight. When he opens the curtains to look, the real flames have broken through the roof and reached the tops of the trees. There are silhouettes running into and out of the darkness. Carter sits down on the floor, closes his eyes, and rubs his hands over his unshaven face.

  The sound of sirens begins to come through his speakers.