I awoke, still in a haze yet aching to register what I had just experienced. I was Bevilacqua, and yet now I was myself again. The whiplash of conflicting existence dulled as my mind began to settle into itself once again. Mental and bodily systems booted up like a list of applications. I had apparently zonked out in front of the giant Zenith TV, which moaned on as it approached its presentation of the 11 o’clock news. Funny. I didn’t remember turning it on, but I certainly wasn’t turning it off now. I had caught the 7-o’clock teaser promo which pitched late-breaking developments from those psychics in Wisconsin and wherever else, just before flying out the door to the Our Lady. The large floor-unit screen was warm from over an hour of already playing and my mind had just reached full consciousness to absorb this news report, which went like this…
“Good evening, everyone. Be on the lookout for a ‘God-creature,’ as Kenosha, Wisconsin tarot card reader Shrirley Surely puts it. Yes, that’s right, one of the named psychics, who is said by experts to have control over her ‘time gene’ has fast-forwarded to the point when the Internet, in fact comes alive. Reporting from Shirley’s Kenosha home is our field reporter Misty Proper. Misty?”
“Thanks, Tom. I’m here in Shirley’s kitchen as she spreads out her tarot cards over the table. In just a few moments, we should be able to ask her what she sees. Our news team was fortunate enough to arrive here, at her house, a few hours ago, when she was performing some preliminary readings. So I’ll bring viewers up to speed, while Shirley collects for her latest vision. Shirley says that she can see the Internet Itself taking on a personality entirely of Its own. Now whether this is divine inspiration or perhaps the assimilation of some pre-existing persona—meaning an actual person marries their existence with the Internet itself—remains to be seen. The issue here deals with our freedom. Imagine if—” The reporter was interrupted by her producer who signalled for her to lend the camera’s attention to the medium now waving her hands over the carefully placed tarot cards on the kitchen table.
“I’m being told that Shirley is now ready for her reading. Let’s listen in.” The camera panned to the Psychic Surely, wide eyed and waving over her cards in some sort of a mastered hysteria of mystical focus. She looked to be in her mid-60s, although she had aged well (Bevilacqua may have called her a “retired coug”). Short, curley hair sat atop her gaunt face. As she meticulously lined the rows of cards, her technicolored baggy blouse with wizard’s sleeves shook with the windy movements of her bony arms. And then she spoke.
“This first card here,” She pointed to the Emperor Card. “This card indicates the emergence of a single consciousness, be it a person or some other form of intelligent life, taking control of the entire World. And these cards,” she pointed the index and ring fingers of her left hand in an upside-down V to both the Death Card and the Star Card, “these cards when placed side by side in the shuffle mean a shift in the very guidance of light, or in our modern age, a shift in information. Naturally, everyone nowadays invests so much of their trust in the Internet; the Interent, in effect has become our modern-day constellations. If someone or something could harness the entirety of this information, they would become all-knowing and, thus, a God-creature.”
I threw an empty water bottle that sat by my side on the couch at the upper-right Zenith console and achieved a direct hit on its knob. The TV abruptly shut off. This report seemed too ominous to take right now, at this late hour. I lied back down, staring straight up at the white ceiling of my tiny studio. In an otherwise silence, the bubbles from the fake fish tank babbled and blubbered through the digital water, encased within plasma, 27 inches of flat-paneled nature hanging on the wall across the room. With minimal space, I had elected to loop a 5- or 10-minute video of fish swimming around an aquarium to create the illusion of some depth and activity in my sardine can studio. They usually soothed me through the confined silence. Yet now one word incessantly repeated in my mind—not unlike these bubbles forever breaking at the water’s surface across the room. Except, this bubble of a word would not wipe clean at the end of the digital loop. It would remain. It would fester and build pressure until achieving a breaking point of my very sanity. Unless, I did something about it. Based on everything I had learned from MACHO at that point, from my own research and now from the news report I had just cut off in haste, this word hit all too close to home. Everybody’s home, that is… Schmuckersburg.
I awoke in a cold sweat, covered from head to toe in a salty film that soaked my clothes and left me shivering underneath the loosely knit blanket that doubled as a comforter when I passed out on the couch. It was 3 a.m. After changing into some dry clothes—a warm pair of sweatpants and my lucky, broken-in Jägermeister t-shirt—I elected to finish watching that news report. If I was going to enact any kind of coup against an enemy as formidable as Schmuckersburg, I would need all the information I could get. I stumbled half-consciously up to my antique floor-unit and clicked on the knob. As the large, grey tubular screen warmed and tiny flecks of static electricity crackeled all about its glass, surging with the floating particles of dust in the immediate air, I surfed through the news channel’s archives on my handheld tablet. I had always found it elegant the way a mid-20th century TV married with the late 21st-century technology in the touchscreen tablet; it availed the unique option to plug into the grid, only when necessary, instead of feeding from a continual ambilical cord of fiber optic nourishment. For the majority of attention spans (legitimately 99-percent of the known populus) had withered over the years from this instantaneous connection with the Mother Board. Less and less memory was held in the mind of the individual; people were lending more and more intimate memory to the impersonal collective unconscious of the “all-inclusive” Internet. My Zenith allowed me to keep some things to myself.
I found the (now) yesterday’s late-night news report and fast-forwarded to the point when the butt of my water bottle had ended its transmission. I laundered the corrupt WiFi waves through my impartial tablet and permeated the mahogany floor unit’s innocence…
“—they would become all-knowing and, thus, a God-creature.”
“Any idea one who this person is?” prodded the reporter.
“Too soon to tell,” said the psychic, but I knew; with the intel that I had, you didn’t need psychic abilities. “I can elaborate on my second prediction, however, that this overabundance of information we are currently enjoying will eventually lead to another Dark Ages.”
“Well, I have seen one possible future not too far off from when we are now, when all creativity becomes, for the most part, extinct. There’s even current science that backs me up on this. They’ve done studies on students’ attention spans for the past 50 years. The results show that their ability to maintain focus on a single thought has grown weaker and weaker—in the early 2000s, students could hold focus for upwards 120 minutes, some several hours beyond that; now, with literally all information at their fingertips, students can barely hold a thought for several seconds. And for original thoughts to bloom, for true inspiration to enter into a person’s mind, they must let go of the outside and look within; they must forget the everyday to remember the eternal. Yet my visions foretell of an overwhelming “wired-inness” that will entirely ensconce the mind, as it starves our truer and more natural realms, cut off from the supply of our attention. I am not an activist or some sort of whistle blower against the shortcomings of our all-powerful Internet; I can just report what I see. And what I see is the death of our innate originality.”
“Tom, you’ve heard it here first. We’re all becoming inauthentic clones, ruled by a modern-day king of sorts. Back to you…” on that note, the anchor’s side of the split-screen monopolized the display as he once again acquired the show’s floor.
“Wow. That’s some wild and crazy stuff, Misty. Thanks for your diligent reporting. That attention span stuff sounds fascinating. If I can remember, I’ll have to look further into that myself (though I think I’m one of those ‘few seconds’ guys)…” the anchor let out a manufactured chuckle. “Alright, well that’s it from your News Channel tonight. Join us right here again at 5 a.m. for Marvelous Marty on the weather and the ‘Sam & Diane Early Morning Report.’ Until then, Goodnight, Godspeed and happy surfing…”
I quietly got up from the couch and clicked the knob to its off position. The heaviness of this report made me drowsy once again, yet I was conscious enough to make it to the comfort of my queen-size sheets. My head hit the crisp pillow and, before long, I was deep in the healing sleep, entirely separated from the harried cacophony of society’s circuitry. And I dreamt, not as Bevilacqua or anyone else, but myself. I dreamt of earlier times in my own life, when things seemed brighter and golden. They say the thought of “good old times” is an illusion in the present-day mind, but as I dreamt, they seemed more real to me than anything I had encountered, while awake, in years. Deep down in the seemingly infinite abyss of my id, I had returned home…
— OFF THE BOOK —