(from Wikimedia Commons) Photo by Pittigrilli (2014) Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International
“Our contest is not against flesh and blood; rather, the authorities of the world and the spiritual hosts of wickedness” (Ephesians 6:12)
Mortified, I looked at the sullen, jowly individual with sunken eyes in the mirror. He was a world-weary, jaded and life-beaten stranger. Not the young man once filled with verve and positive belief in the potential of humanity. I was plummeting towards fifty, with no parachute to resist the velocity of time. As I aged, memories of my younger self were blurring and darkening, becoming a swirling, ephemeral phantasmagoria. None of it seemed real. The conversations I’d had, the people I’d known and the things I’d done. All of my lived experience was melting into myth. Time was the subject and I the reluctant object of its terrifying, phenomenal power. At this age, I was troubled constantly by Shakespearean metaphors: which of Jaques’ seven acts was I now living?
In this middle-aged atrophy, I had lost all control over my attention span. Although, as a Generation Xer (a person with experience of the slower analogue life of the past), I was a reluctant addict of the digital opium that the technocratic cabals had relentlessly mainlined into humanity’s psychic veins. I had surrendered my cognition to digital media, allowing it to become my surrogate memory and pilot of consciousness. When I recalled now, I recalled only web pages, video sequences and animations. True images of my past were disappearing. I was one of the docile ones now, no better than the living dead receiving their beliefs from the misleaders, celebrity cheerleaders and YouTube oracles.
I had stopped reading books years before. I could no longer go beyond a paragraph until the endorphin cravings had me clicking YouTube uploads and reaching for the HD television remote and sessions on the Netflix hypnosis couch. I watched one movie after another with my mind locked into beta mode. After each film ended, its meaningless, drivelling content vanished from my mind only to be replaced by another generic replica of its predecessor of exactly the same length, with the same distribution of heroines and villains, sadism and cruelty, vapid dialogue and nauseating soundtracks. I just couldn’t stop watching. After punishing my senses for hours with this rotten entertainment, I switched to serialized ‘dramas’ populated by charismatic psychopaths and clever murderers presented as desirable with their cynical smirks and coded dialogue written to code our minds and support their hideous values. Within this endless procession of two-dimensional fantasy—I found it impossible to switch off, to stop engaging with this intoxicating content—there seemed to be a deliberate force reversing morals and inverting positive beliefs.
On a daily basis, I was locked into a digital opium dungeon, obliged to inhale the paralysing fumes of this corporate narcotic. When I had sated my appetite for the banal dross of the dramatic genre, my attention was directed to ‘reality’ television episodes. My right arm raised itself habitually and my fingers pressed the rubber padded buttons of the remote of their own accord, like the components of a mechanism in an operational cycle programmed for repetition. For a mind coma routine that kept the patient laughing and grunting with happiness. I went from one reality television show to another, becoming the long-distance voyeur for monetized extroverts, attention thieves, scripted pretenders and purchased, franchised souls ready for brand-name instant fortune after signing their Faustian promises. Each show blended into the next, and the tedious, shallow, self- absorbed gargoyles from the show that had finished simply merged into the bodies of the next ‘big personalities’ obliged to entertain and drive ad revenue. There was Bruce, the central personality from Real Male Strippers of Atlanta having his customary lamentations with close-ups and pieces of tense music as he bemoaned his lack of ‘respect’ and ‘recognition’.
“Once upon a time, you actually needed talent to be famous,” I told the screen with disgust. Bruce responded by snarling and giving me the middle digit. These media demons insulted me often, but I was too numbed to react and tell them to go to hell. This is because as I spent my days fastened to screens, watching these gruesome parodies of humanity hypnotize me with their distorted pictures of life and felt my life-force, every joule of my energy, being sucked out of me through transparent tubes into the ports of the computer monitor or television screen. Certain shows were particularly greedy for my elan, with the most ravenous being Keeping up with the Kartrashians, a profitable vanity vehicle for the show’s ‘star’, Trish Kartrashian, a bodacious woman who had gained digital notoriety five years earlier for fornicating in public places with tattooed and belligerent individuals and videoing the footage with GoPro cameras, Google Glass and other high technology devices. She shared the footage through her website free of charge first, and then monetized the downloads when a fanbase emerged. Her piece de resistance was convincing a group of imprisoned ‘gangsta’ rappers to participate in a graphic orgy inside the jail itself, right under the surveillance cameras and within earshot of the guards. A brilliant, ground-breaking piece of guerrilla performance art that celebrates women’s sexuality gushed lead-piece feature writers online, duplicating the video and sharing it on until it went truly viral, infecting the sense of a generation of youth who wanted to be just like her. At 24 she was a millionairess, ruling over her money-for-nothing realm from the prime-time court of this ‘show’ where viewers were treated to sixty-minute instalments of her family members’ musings on sex, shopping and plastic surgery within the bizarre confinement of this televisual exhibit cage with a conspicuous fourth wall.
During one episode that centred around a fierce argument between Trish and her younger sister Britney about whether Trish should have a course of anal bleaching, I felt perilously close to losing too much energy. My vitality was surging through the tubes and the suction from the television was too great. Too greedy to be safe. I was haemorrhaging life force by the pounds per square inch and as I did, the volume of Trish and Britney’s shrill shouting match intensified.
“Listen, I know what’s right for me and my body. And only me, it’s my right to do what I want and make my own informed decisions. God gave me this body to share with world, right? It’s my gift. My treasure and not you, mom or anybody else is going to tell me what to do!” Trish said this with such vigour and determination that the camera closed in on her tanned, symmetrical cheekbones.
“If you livestream the bleaching, I’m never going to talk to you again. It’s an embarrassment. You’re bringing shame on the family,” declared Britney, oblivious to the dense irony in her words. “You’re going to actually do this? Livestream the bleaching for your Only Fans channel? That’s just so selfish. You’re going too far!” Trish’s jaw dropped, and her eyes flared wide and indignant.
“Huh!” snorted Trish, getting off the scarlet living room sofa emblazoned with a golden skull motif. “You’re one to talk! What about Jared’s live tongue-splitting op. on his next episode of My Face, My Art?” Jared was Britney’s fiancé. A former crack addict turned body modifications celebrity who’d found patronage from the networks who’d given him a twice weekly show in which he catalogued the mutilation of his face and body. His goal was to look like Satan, and he already had horn implants, blood-red eyes, sliced ears, hollowed out cheeks from which saliva dripped and a silicon-filled cavity where his nose had been. The tongue splice was next. His fans multiplied with each episode and his grisly visage confronted you on YouTube commercials for demonic fantasy games and garnered screams of approval from daytime talk-show audiences agog at his great cultural work.
“You are such a bitch sometimes!” said Britney. “You know that’s not fair!”
“I’m badass. I just don’t take shit from people when they start trash talking,” replied Trish, defiantly tapping her sternum.
I felt dizzy and weak as I not only felt my life being sucked out of me but saw it spiralling through the thin, wiry translucent tubes attached to the television. If I couldn’t ‘disconnect’ right away I could be drained entirely for a long time and left a shrivelled, dry husk of a near corpse for the week. A useless, lifeless, passive creature unable to act. The device slurped the force and the entities on screen grew in power.
“Leave my time and attention alone you monsters!” I cried at the screen. Trish and Britney turned to the camera, giving the fourth wall their most arrogant sneer.
“No way, host! You don’t stop feeding us—ever!” With this, they turned back towards each other and resumed their quarrel. My thumb reached the remote’s power button just in time and I was spared any more of the sisters’ dialogue. The suction tubes vanished. I collapsed onto the floor and was unable to stir for at least five minutes. I crawled to the chair and hoisted myself up, needing a few minutes more before I was strong enough to stagger to the bathroom. When I went to the sink to splash water on my face, a withered, gaunt, sunken-eyed stranger stared back with concern from the mirror. I looked sixty-nine, not forty-nine. The hair was greyer. The eyes more forlorn and resigned, as though reconciled to the path I was compelled to follow.
I opened the front door of my apartment which I couldn’t remember leaving for a while and the breeze that caressed me was refreshing, pure and uplifting. I needed more of this. More of nature’s timeless, gratis gifts…but I needed my media, or it needed me. Looking down my neighbourhood’s street, I saw traffic. The cars made their fleeting acquaintances with my sense reality and the sound of their engines was a comforting assurance that a familiar normalcy still existed alongside the freakish high-tech realm I was trapped in. Then I saw people walking along the pavement with faces transfixed on their phone screens or talking loudly and rapidly to no-one visible through their ear-pods. In both types of media consumer, I noticed the same thin tubes, wispish and diaphanous, extended from the devices and latched onto the base of the people’s skulls by some kind of suction pads.
“Don’t they see it? Don’t they feel it?” I asked the outside world and closed the door. I was determined to go out soon: I needed groceries but, when I struggled to recall the last time I had visited GLOBE MART, I had the vague memory that there hadn’t been much on the shelves to buy anyway. Something about food shortages I’d heard or read a while ago. Then I noticed the unopened protein supplement box on the floor, and everything made sense: the government posted us protein supplements in leu of food, so I didn’t need to go out.
I went into the kitchen determined to have a coffee. A pounding headache that usually accompanied these prolonged screen sessions had arrived on cue, and coffee and aspirin were the best medicine. If that failed to give relief, there was always the complimentary opium or Prozac to reduce the pain and lighten the mood. How did I get these drugs again? More government freebies perhaps. I had my coffee and felt instantly better but was momentarily preoccupied by the concern of work. I was certain I had a job, either an online teacher of something or marketing ad copy writer. Again, I couldn’t get my memory to cooperate. Whether I still did or had stopped doing the job I did not know. When I furrowed my brow and massaged my forehead in an effort to remember, all I got were fleeting traces of internet knowledge. There had been a global virus, a persistent and stubborn one that stopped people and economies breathing. Few people worked now. The government paid us and fed us, and the devices entertained us. Was this correct? I couldn’t know for sure and needed to go to Yahoo News or the BBC to check. Only problem was I couldn’t retain information for longer than thirty minutes.
I soon began to shake, and agonizing tremors went through me, which were media withdrawal symptoms. Now recovered, and ready to sacrifice more of my life force, I approached my desk and booted up my laptop. The device’s flexible, transparent tubes popped out of its ports and attached themselves to me. I went to various news sites and got updates on wars that were either the same, eternal conflict or a variation of another war that had been exported and monetized by a government or cabal. The war justification rhetoric was almost identical from both belligerents and seemed identical to speeches and soundbites from the past I couldn’t quite recall. The story links clicked themselves, anticipating my craving for information novelty. One lead to a story about an architect of one of these deadly wars being knighted, thrown high paying jobs and lavished with attention at global leader forums. Another story triumphantly reported how a serial killer had been compensated for the emotional trauma of imprisonment. Another reported the passing of a law making it illegal to use the words man, woman, boy or girl.
“Are demons in control now?” I asked the screen. KEEP BROWSING. KEEP CLICKING. KEEP WATCHING AND ENJOYING. STOP THINKING appeared on the monitor and I complied, selecting YouTube and watching Tik Tok synchronized fart orchestras followed by endless looped videos on celebrity dating and rehab updates. Links to monologues from celebrities announcing their sexuality, their plastic surgery regrets, mid-life sex life assessments and frequency of bowel motions clicked themselves and I was helplessly unable to resist engaging with the content.
Then I was tied up with a movie channel for several hours, compelled to watch a series of outlandish ‘blockbuster’ fantasy films featuring violent, androgynous protagonists tearing their opponents to pieces and carrying out a repertoire of sadistic punishments to the now familiar approving tone implicit in the imbecilic plot and hackneyed dialogue. As the action scenes reached their predictable crescendos, I winced as the energy was sucked out of multiple points in my body and through the familiar, wiry tubes. I shuddered as one particularly ugly scene played out. The aching pain in my sides caused by the suction was incredible, and more intense than any I’d experienced before. It was as though the marrow was being sucked from my spiritual bones.
I shut down my computer for a while to recover, but then enabled the tube reconnections and continued my marathon donation of energy to the system. First, I visited the internet to consume a fresh menu of hideousness. Atrocious news items about murders, wars, riots, viruses and disintegrating cultures cascaded down the monitor. A story link that clicked itself opened a report about a virus manufacturing centre, but when I looked away the story had vanished. The stories cannibalized others, taking elements of some and discarding others. Some mutated hideously across web pages. Trish Trashian was becoming a Global Youth Ambassador for the United Nations in one story and receiving an honorary doctorate for contributions to society and culture when the same link was clicked elsewhere. Pictures of familiar tycoons, demagogues and figures of power appeared at summits and conferences playing like an orchestra in a recital of rhetoric that seemed to have been playing for centuries, although nobody had been listening to their nefarious music, what ever it was. Whenever they spoke, their words were always forgotten.
After this, it was back to YouTube where I heard Stacey, another of Trish Kartrashian’s siblings, talk about her plans to monetize her orgasms through the launch of a new Only Fans channel which she planned to cross-market and promote with The Devil’s G-Spot, her new perfume.
“This is where I can really get to know my fans and they can really, you know, get to know the real me,” said the Botox-lipped Stacey giving the interview wearing nothing but a thong and with only her glossy, straight ebony hair covering her breasts.
“You mean get to know their bank accounts, you charlatan,” I remarked disdainfully. The video paused and Stacey scowled at me, shaking a fist at the camera and telling me to f off. Feeling fatigued already, I wanted to disconnect, to switch this soul-sucking session off and recover but I couldn’t stop. I exposed myself to more mind-suction media content, watching shows about people watching shows followed by shows featuring panels of experts discussing the conversations of the people who’d watched the shows. Their discourse descended into cycles of nauseating, crippling insignificance which caused excruciating pain in my temples.
“Aggh!” I cried, and the gabbling, opining faces on the screen turned to me and laughed cynically in sync. The pain intensified, and the next thing I saw was my carpeted floor getting closer and larger in my field of vision as I collapsed, and my face smashed into it.
I could not establish whether I was conscious, unconscious or simply hallucinating. I wasn’t in my apartment anymore, but in a different place that was suddenly familiar and much more appealing than the repetitive, unimaginative, digital media addicted world I knew. I was in a beautiful park with lush green plants, bamboo groves, tall coniferous trees and an enchanting stream that meandered through it.
“Hey, Billy! Come on. Let’s jump the stream again!”
I couldn’t recall the last time a person had called my name. It seemed a lifetime ago, but I realised I was now back in that very lifetime for this was my past and the voice from the freckle-faced young boy calling me in the distance was Victor, my closest friend since childhood. There he was, standing on the grass, with his button-nose, basin haircut and juvenile expectation filling his face. I was immediately elated, for Victor had spoken these words and now they were restored from the past. I actually had memory again. It was as though stolen property had been returned: access to recollections and experiences of a different life and reality from the parasitic, digital syringe that had been stuck into me for longer than I could recall.
“Boys! Your sandwiches!” The high, anxious voice was unmistakable. It was my mother, imploring us to return to our lovingly prepared comestibles before flies or seagulls got to them. She was sitting on a blanket with Beryl, who was Victor’s mum. It was a bright summer’s day, and the park was full of neighbourhood faces. There were the older folk having parochial conversations on benches, clusters of restless, boisterous youths loitering around the flower beds or climbing trees and young lovers intoxicated with the sight of each other strolling dreamily around the park’s perimeter. My sense of sight, my sense of smell but most of all my sense of hearing was heightened in this dream, or fugue. I actually heard the people. Their voices, words and emotions coalesced beautifully in a sublime harmony. Their communication was real, their feelings were genuine and there wasn’t a screen or computer monitor in sight. People were free of technology: there were no transparent tubes attached to them.
A vicious sound vandalized this sense sanctuary. It was a pounding, thumping, high tempo beat that tore into its victims, causing them to clasp their ears and scream in agony. Blood streamed between the fingers of some unfortunates unable to protect their ear drums in time. The noise incinerated the elderly people nearby, burning their bodies with an unearthly speed and chemical energy. Others scarpered, falling into the park’s stream which was now flowing backwards and drowning them. The ground trembled and cracked as huge fissures opened, revealing pink, flesh-coloured strata. Nearby buildings crumbled and trees groaned when their roots were torn apart. Victor was gone, and the spot on the lawn from which our parents had called us was now scorched earth.
“The Archons are here! The Archons have returned!”
The scream carried across the traumatized land. From the fissures in the earth scaly, serpentine creatures writhed and emerged. Some were Gorgons who grabbed the helpless ones that tried to flee and sank their fangs into their necks as the nested vipers on their heads squirmed. Dragons rose out of other smoky earth trenches, with their red eyes glowing and foul-smelling, acrid smoke wafting from their vast almond-shaped nostrils. There was a deafening rumbling, and the ground shook tremendously. Then a strange, three-dimensional pyramid-shaped stage rose out of the ground. Standing on it was a giant, muscular rapper covered in tattoos and wearing a serpentine necklace and clasping a phallic microphone. There was a posse of backing rappers behind him in badass boy uniforms, with flipped baseball caps, matching serpentine necklaces and phallic microphones. A turntabling DJ positioned to the side made a pair of gigantic speakers snarl into life and the grotesque ensemble, whom I now realised consisted of the same men from Trish Trashian’s self-promoting prison orgy, drawled out the following in deafening monotone:
we’re taking control
gonna rape your soul
in a black hole
lose your mind, we got you confined
here we go, slap you like a ho
you can’t say no
we’ve been reinstated, get you mutilated
The rap started massacring those still trying to flee the park. The words were deadlier than bullets, puncturing the delicate senses of the people just as they reached the gates at either end. They perished, clasping their ears in agony. Then, there were shrill, coordinated cries.
“Look! The demons are descending!”
I was squashed into a mass of helpless people and their hands pointed upwards. The blue sky was dotted with giant drones and the combined whining of their rotor blades was so deafening it drowned out the destructive racket of the rap. There were piloting platforms on each of these craft occupied by creatures operating controls. As they descended, their forms and faces became clearer, and I gasped when I saw Trish Kartrashian in control of the largest craft. She had fangs and had grown a tail. Britney was to her left in the formation, and she had also acquired monstrous features while Bruce, the prime-time Adonis and darling of entertainment podcasts, had pulled away and was now looping into an attack pattern like a plane intending to strafe us. He passed over us at speed at low altitude, simultaneously urinating and taking aim with a harpoon gun. His acid urine burned the flesh of all it touched and attached to the spear tips of the harpoon he fired and reloaded as rapidly as a machine gun were the thin, transparent tubes that pierced the flesh of everybody they struck and started sucking. Trish, Britney and other smirking familiars of the screen world who’d fed on me for years landed and as they did tendril coils reached out from their torsos and attached themselves to dazed and paralyzed victims.
More and more of these appalling creatures dropped from the sky or emerged from the ground. Reality television zombies, actors, talent-show winners, DJs, internet influencers and politicians were surrounding us with their tendril coils reaching out from their torsos and attaching themselves to each helpless victim within range. We offered no resistance as the pointed tips of the tendrils pierced our skin and sucked out our vitality to the sound of a sickening slurp.
We had become the paralyzed, helpless quarry of these predators as incapable of defending ourselves as river-crossing zebras surrounded by crocodiles. We were a herd of psychic food they could feed off at will. I looked at the gaunt, emaciated faces of my fellow humans in the remains of the park with extreme terror. Everything was starting to burn, and the eyes of these beings glowed amber. There were more tremors and the ground opened again. From a narrow fissure in the earth about ten meters in length a massive flat-screen, high-definition television rose up. It was bigger than the industrial sized screens that had once been used for showing major sports events in public, back in a time that I could barely recollect or reconstruct from the shattered debris of my experience. The television screen dazzled us with a flash of bright red light and then we saw on it the scene of a ritual human sacrifice in progress with Jared the mangled, devilish freak and favourite of light entertainment producers raising a large, serrated knife over the exposed chest of a victim. Jared hissed, poking out a forked tongue and twelve archons circling the poor man on the death stone murmured incantations as the thin wiry tubes sprouted out of their fingers and eye sockets.
I was in the open boxcar of a train traversing an arid landscape. I turned my head and was astonished to see it was an endless train, snaking across and around the contours of the land to the horizon. It was like a Nazi concentration-camp transport, with iron bars criss-crossing the windows and the carriages were cages packed with the punctured and the drained. Their skeletal faces could haunt anybody unfortunate enough to see them to their day of death. The train came to an abrupt stop, and the tops of the boxcars opened. We were scooped up by giant machines and deposited onto a conveyor belt which moved us into the mouth of a factory-like building with a large neon sign above it that read The Mind Banqueting Hall. Once inside, what I saw made me faint. The conveyor belt led to a giant circular tray on which the bodies of the dead or barely alive dropped. Creatures surrounded us that were more hideous than the celebrities, the gorgons or the dragons. They had the faces of ancient gods, and the dreaded, transparent wispy tubes sprouted from their bodies. There were thousands of us, helpless and supine, staring at these ravenous, haughty giants. One of them produced an unearthly and horrific sound that was a signal to begin the feast, and their multitude of tubes reached out to us.
I still live for the screens that beckon me daily, and I gladly offer up my faculties on their sacrificial altars of binary code. All sense of linear time has vanished, or been removed, from my awareness. There are no longer minutes, hours, days, weeks, months or years. There is just the constant infotainment that feeds off me while my memory is a destroyed museum whose wrecked artifacts will never be restored.Aha! There’s the theme music for Keeping Up with the Trashians! The monitor is bright and here come the tubes!
Titus Green was born in Canada but grew up in the UK. His fiction, non-fiction and prose poetry have appeared in numerous online and print magazines, including The Collidescope, Adelaide Literary Magazine, The Bosphorus Review of Books, HORLA, Literally Stories, Sediments Literary Arts, Fear of Monkeys, Stag Hill Literary Journal, The Chamber, S.A.V.A Press, The Rye Whiskey Review, Empty Sink Publishing and The Font. He teaches English as a foreign language for a living. His published work can be found at http://www.titusgreenfiction.com
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