RIFFF - Winner Announced


The number of entries to my contest was a tad disappointing.  I felt like an English professor, with the amount of excuses I received just prior to the deadline.  I thought the prize alone would cause more than five people to enter.  I guess a Dayan Viciedo T-Shirt, a copy of Thomas Pynchon's 'V' and a twenty dollar bill isn't enough to motivate a bunch of slackers to enrich a RR that is in a severe downward trend in quality.  Perhaps everyone is fattening up on the content that is spoon-fed to them everyday by Jim and the boys and forget that their voices are being missed.  However, five slackers fought the pull of the thousands of distractions that modern humanity gets bombarded with and spun a few good yarns.  All of which I will post.


The winner of the Rhubarb's Inaugural Fan Fiction Fray is…greenlight!  His story is an exercise in post-postmodern excellence.  I won't give my thoughts on the story until the comment section because I don't want to spoil it.  It is a story that must be read at least twice concurrently.   greenlight, email me your t-shirt size and your address and I will order your shirt today, I am just going to have it shipped directly from FansEdge.  Your book will come in a separate package.

There was a tie for second place, TP wrote a story that firmly grasped the woes and realities of this season.  It demonstrated how manically depressive this team has made many of us.  It was an exercise in bleakness and should be commended, lauded and read by all.  Nordhagen wrote a piece that was a lot of fun to read, his character was derezzed into a gamethread due to pop spilling on a keyboard, fucking hilarious.  I would like Nordhagen to expand on this story and I almost feel like stealing the idea.


Mechanical Turk wrote me a twisted stream of conscious excuse as to why he did not have a finished product even though at the end of the email there was a modicum of a depressingly raucous tale.  It was such a trip that I will publish it in its entirety.  The consummate college student slacker, BOS, despite many warnings, decided to hand in his homework an hour late after having damn near two weeks with which to finish his story.  It was a worthy attempt but it was past the deadline so it was not considered as a winner.  BOS you should work on it more and post it as your own fanpost once you think it is finished.


Without further ado, greenlight's winning story…which will be followed by TP's, Nordhagen's and mechanical turk's.  It will be a fairly long post.  I renamed greenlight's story from Game 163 to…



Citizen Dunn by greenlight


Game 163 July 2011


10:53 pm

"You did this to me!"

A final sickening blow was inflicted on Walk’s head before the bat split open, revealing a hollowed cavern that had been partially filled with mercury inside the now-useless bat. Walk crumpled to the ground holding his head as Bacon, AJ, and Pauley rushed to restrain Donk. Herm and Oz ran to Walk’s side, offering to help him up. As Walk accepted their offer, he noticed the splinters from Donk’s bat on the floor and noted the peculiar name at the end of the bat, "Rosebud." Walk succumbed to the concussion and blacked out. The final detail that registered with Walk before losing consciousness was of a mysterious white powder scattered about the floor of the locker room and at once, everything grew dark.


10:27 pm

Cod pointed up to the ceiling of the locker room and explained to Oz that something wasn’t right. The support frame of the ceiling tiles looked strangely bent. He also pointed to a swath of white powder on the floor underneath the bent frame. In his 20 years as the locker room manager, Cod had taken great pride in the pristine, almost antiseptic condition of the players’ home at The Cell and now it had a defect, a defect that wasn’t there a mere three hours ago.


10:03 pm

The crowd noise was deafening. They had forgiven him a horrible start to the season and now, he feared, he was about to fail them again. The bases were loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning, the White Sox down by one run with two outs, and Donk couldn’t forget his previous at bat. The bat that had helped to win the home town fans back to his side had been shattered. The new bat, the one now in his hands, had felt a little "splashy" in the on-deck circle. Walk had suggested a slight opening of the grip to compensate.


As he stepped into the box, the umpire reminded him of the one and two count. He swallowed hard, trying to focus on what was sure to be a change-up from the southpaw. As the wind-up reached the end of its cycle, the white sphere emerged from the hand and, at that moment, Donk’s brain slowed the universe down, ready to unload a monstrous swing on the slowed pitch. Donk soon realized he had guessed wrong and his body became a spasm of reactions trying to catch up to the fastball that crossed the plate well before the bat. As Donk went through the trivial follow-through of his swing, his mind already knew the game was over and the sick feeling re-emerged in his gut that had not been felt since early in the season. The universe returned to its normal speed and the cascade of boos began descending on Donk like a waterfall from the upper deck.


The opponents mobbed each other near the mound as the base runners made a final trek back to the dug-out. Donk stayed in the box and absorbed the moment. The sick feeling soon turned to blame as Donk reflected on the slight grip adjustment. Blame begat rage as Donk anticipated the breadth and depth of scorn he would soon be enduring, an experience he thought was forever banished to the past. Walk had suggested the grip adjustment. Where was he? Donk left the batter’s box determined to find revenge. His eyes darted about the dark figures in the hometown dug-out. Where was he?

9:21 pm

The crowd noise was deafening. They had forgiven him a horrible start to the season and now he was riding the crest of their adulation. Two home runs earlier in the game had brought their adoration of Donk to levels unfamiliar to him during stops in Cincinnati, Phoenix, and Washington D.C. He could now put the game practically out of reach with a home run hat trick. The bases were loaded, so the opponent had no option of giving him an intentional pass. It would be strength against strength. Before he could settle in to the box, the catcher yelled for time and made his way to the mound as a dark figure moved in toward the mound from the outfield. The Shadow whispered something to the pitcher, pointing to his hand as he finished revealing his dark plan. Donk thought it peculiar that a player would sprint in from the outfield for a mound conference. He looked closely at The Shadow and thought he saw an evil grin veiled within the shroud of darkness.


The umpire moved toward the mound to break up the conspiracy and Donk readied himself for the battle. The first pitch looked like the two that Donk had deposited over the outfield wall earlier in the game, now resting as treasured souvenirs next to their new owners. Donk began a monstrous swing and his brain noticed that the white sphere deviated from its expected trajectory in a way that it began to tail inward toward his hands. The swing could not be stopped and the ball sawed the bat into two large pieces, with splinters flying upward and the ball suddenly rolling sideways in foul territory toward the backstop wall. Donk looked at the small dagger of wood in his hands and at the severed barrel lying several feet away. He took a step toward the barrel and saw the inscription "Black Betsy" as the bat-boy picked it up carefully from the ground. The stadium was now as quiet as might be found on a mid-winter day. "Black Betsy" had seen Donk through the terrible early season struggles. He had grown so confident in the bat, perhaps arrogant, that he had forgotten to bring the extras from his locker. It took the bat boy a few minutes to run through the tunnel to grab a new "Black Betsy." The new one had not been his companion through the bad and the good. Donk’s mind raced as he took some practice swings with the new bat.


He forgot the batting circle routine he had used to help crawl out of the early season pit. Besides, the new bat had a strange feeling. It could be convinced to start its arc, but was reluctant to stop. The umpire expressed his impatience and Donk strolled toward the box. His mind continued to race and he was late in recognizing the hanging curve that made its way across the plate for strike two. The strike bark of the umpire snapped Donk’s focus back to hitting. He adjusted his batting gloves and settled in to the box, no longer confident of the hat trick. As the wind-up reached the end of its cycle, the white sphere emerged from the hand and, at that moment, Donk’s brain slowed the universe down, unleashing the start of another monstrous swing on the slowed pitch. The pitch began to break low, headed for the dirt, and Donk strained his muscles to stop the bat. It would not. The hat trick would have to wait for later in the game.


8:58 pm

The metallic taste of the flashlight made The Gentleman nearly gag. How had it come to this, that a potential Hall-of-Famer would be reduced to sneaking through a ventilation shaft with a flashlight in his mouth and a tampered bat in his hand? Vanity, The Shadow had appealed to his vanity in their conversations about reaching 700 career home runs. And now The Gentlemen was trying to extend their season by invading what had once been a familiar home, to trade the flawed bat for a potentially lethal one. Lethal in the sense that it could end his season, making it less likely, by The Shadow’s complicated calculations, that The Gentleman could pass the magic 700 threshold, making it more likely that The Gentleman would be voted a mere mortal by the judges of the baseball supreme court.


He found the proper vent and peered through to see if Cod was at his post. The excitement of the game had tempted Cod out into the tunnel to watch if Donk’s home run streak would continue and extend their season for at least five more games. The Gentlemen briefly forgot about the indignity of his circumstances as he pretended to be Jason Bourne. He unfastened the vent, slipped into the locker room, traded bats, and quickly pulled himself and the lethal bat back into the ventilation shaft. A sickening shriek of failing metal was released as his weight was borne by the ceiling tile frame that had never been designed to support so large an object. The shriek scared him so that he slowly and deliberately re-fastened the vent, producing a brief white cloud of asbestos and gypsum powder that fell onto the floor below. His self-preserving deed was finished.


8:07 pm

Gardie had seen rookies lose their composure in the play-offs before. Their minds succumb to the change in pressure and the symptoms become manifest in actions unbecoming of their skill. The Prospect was now the latest rookie to be crushed by the pressure of the increased scrutiny brought on by the play-offs. A single game play-off was an extreme pressure cooker. The Prospect’s symptoms or reaction to the intense pressure were a painful loss of bat speed and control during his first plate appearance of the game. He had flailed spectacularly at a fat pitch, bringing laughter from the Chicago crowd. Although he complained on his way back to the dug-out that his bat felt "splashy," Gardie attributed the statement to the desperation of The Prospect trying to convince his new teammates that he needed to be in the game and could still help extend their season. Gardie admitted to himself the blunder he had committed by starting The Prospect over The Shadow. He had started The Prospect too soon. Gardie briefly looked at the dark end of the dug-out and called for The Shadow to pinch hit for The Prospect. He didn’t have the luxury of giving The Prospect more plate appearances to adjust to the elevated level of pressure and scrutiny. The game had to be won tonight and The Shadow had enough experience and poise to prove an asset rather than a liability. Gardie peered back out onto the field. However, before moving his glance away from the dark end of the dug-out, Gardie briefly detected a flash of the vilest grin he had ever seen.


6:02 pm

The Gentleman was tightening the laces of his cleats, listening to The Shadow speak about career home runs and home run pace projections, when he noted the approaching distinctive shuffle of their manager. Gardie motioned for The Shadow and said something that caused The Shadow’s countenance to change dramatically to what looked like a silent, broiling rage. The Gentleman was relieved to be freed from The Shadow’s home run diatribe. He continued to watch The Shadow out of fascination, wondering about the news that Gardie had communicated to him, and noted a peculiar exchange when he slipped the equipment manager something that looked like a folded note or a wad of cash.

3:31 am

What good can come of an exchange between two men very early in the morning in a dark alley on the south side of Chicago? This exchange was no different. The short fat man, holding the four tampered bats, spoke in a voice too loud for a transaction that could land each of them in jail for a long time. As ordered, the ends of the bats had been cut, hollowed, mercury added, and the ends re-glued. The fat man took great pride in showing the second man how impossible the cuts were to detect without special analysis equipment. The second man grabbed the bats in disgust, almost throwing his cash at the fat man. The second man took a swing with one of the bats, noting how difficult it was to control with the partially filled cavern. The sloshing motion of the mercury moved the bat in an erratic arc. The inscription "Rosebud" reflected under the vapor light of the alley street lamp.

The second man had been driven to this desperate act by the recognition that the skills of his early career were quickly fading. The expanded play-off roster had produced his successor sooner than had been anticipated. Kenneth Wofford Rosebud (a.k.a. KenWo or "The Prospect") was a young player that had been nipping at his heals for nearly three years and was recently called up to provide a young outfielder in possession of an increasing skill set with a ceiling measured in light years by the minor league scouts. KenWo’s nipping had now turned to deep cuts and the second man had to take drastic measures to keep his waning career alive. From The Shadow emerged a player who had kept the team of 10,000 lakes afloat early in the season, a player whose declining skills threatened to reduce him to the irrelevancy of the Lutheran pew, a man known as "Kubes."


As I Play Losing by Teahenny Penny


It’s a day game, and the opaque sky settled on the South Side gives almost no shadow definition. The temperature is unnoticed; there is no wind. The flags do not fly, but hang listless and drab on the center field poles. Accordingly, this is not Chicago, or even America. POWs are forgotten. There were no previous White Sox teams. Hot dog wrappers adorn the thinly-cracked cement concourses, piling together near corners of unwashed brick, despite the gates opening recently. Pigeons wander at will; no need for wings with this crowd, this team, this season. The grass is mercifully green, not emerald, but trimmed and watered enough to provide respite from the oppressive sameness and mediocrity. That first glimpse is the image everyone remembers from childhood, then adulthood when there’s nothing else worth the effort. It’s also the possible highlight of today’s contest for everyone involved.

The fans arrive in small herds, or rather hauntingly just appear, their ashen faces refusing to tan. There is promise of juicy sausages topped with generic ketchup on yesterdays bun, and also of cheap beer with a high price, the entire plastic bottle warming to ambient immediately after the first sip. Mustard is only provided to strangers for spillage upon otherwise-pristine road grey Konerko jerseys. The people file in as a tinny Carlos Santana recording plays softly over the loudspeakers. "We are going to watch a game of baseball," a slender Downers Grove fan mumbles to himself, casually aware of his surroundings. He is not alone, neither physically nor in his fandom, but he is also not in the company of greatness. Or passion. Or emotion. A vendor offers, "Programs, just programs. Here." The fan refuses while bowing to avoid eye contact, continuing on to his seat.

A seasoned man from Midlothian, searching for meaning, eats only the shells of his full-price peanuts in section 158. The seeds themselves drop precisely into an overflowing Miller Lite, the displaced and over-valued contents dripping down into the 23rd row. The patron’s unfocused eyes draw themselves to the bright flash of a rapidly moving ball, a tick behind present time. The path of the ball and pin-striped 34’s machine limbs are a blur. Gavin Floyd warms mechanically, rhythmically, in the pen. The bullpen catcher, gape-mouthed, stares through his pitcher, gives no signs and takes fastballs off of his side-cocked mask, his unpadded chest, while curve after curve hits the dirt and caroms over the wall. No attempt is made to stop these wild ones. Each errant missile follows the same high trajectory, each striking the same Orland Park woman on the crown of her head, repeatedly, tediously on target. Gavin Floyd does not mind. Gavin Floyd does not think. The catcher and the woman feel no pain; the balls leave no bruises. They are completely numb in body and spirit.

In the third base dugout the players wait. They are stretched and warm enough, feeling okay, unknowing half-grins only just apparent to spectators. The players wear unfocused gazes that lazily scan their workplace, seeing the field for what it is, these Regular Joes putting in hours. Most will summon no external fortitude, display no panache; they will play in a game today because they did so yesterday and the day before that. In baseball they hold a whispered semblance of purpose: respect. Respect is given to repetition, to the ability to hang with the club, to those playing the game correctly. Barring injury, workplace respect is seemingly guaranteed, pleasantries mandated by faded yellow memos tacked to clubhouse walls.  Long-term reflection is flatly denounced and not a soul would think to complain. There is no nervous twitching, no talk of the day or the opponent. They play ball today and they will do so tomorrow. These pinstriped grinders are silent, content. The time is summer and also stopped.  

To draw spectators the introduction video played on the Jumbotron is of an energetic cat chasing, and catching, the sharp red dot of a laser pointer while the theme from Cabin Boy happily swells. Ticket receipts have shown a volume uptick in response to the change. The home team is announced as the starters begin to shuffle individually to assume their positions. Theoretically someone watching with a seven-second delay, immune from the eggshell haze and the indignity of live-action, of a Wednesday afternoon in the tubes, gives a shred of a shit. That person, in Homewood, could polish silver or vacuum an area rug to distract from what was once a distraction. There is a person, yes. Even people, a concerned group. There must be, and so there is.

The Random Midwest City Royals come to bat first, and no one in the stands can muster a tantric crap about their averages, or what analysts would ever consider a line-up. These facts, celebrated and poured over by basement baseball addicts with no attachment, just add a small reminder to few that maybe the attendees should care. Knowledge and engagement should be held in high regard. There’s a different world, in which outcomes matter, results are meaningful, a teams players and their abilities bespoken with vigor. That world seems distant, Martian. There is one man on the premises that knows otherwise. Attainable salvation can be found here.

Floyd is thoughtlessly perfect through the first, handling the Royals with ease.

"Leading off for something called the Chicago White Sox, Jean Pierre," Gene Honda mutters bluntly, amplified for some reason so everyone can hear. The scattered crowd sits quietly in their below-face seats while Pierre, sitting fastball, swings at the first pitch. He makes contact, as a Frenchman should. The unnameable Royals second baseman easily handles the ball, tossing nonchalantly to first with meters to spare.

With the constant facade of slow-witted optimism it begins. Another day at the ballpark. All promise and expectation, every play, every win and loss that has lead up to this point in the season is at once recalled and subtly embedded in the attendees’ frontal lobes. A general consensus of silently forced apathy is peaking. No one speaks, and no one can speak. The internal conflict is finally becoming palpable, each fan trapped, alone, in a maze of ungratifying homerism. This sewer grate of a team is beginning to clog. The concept of fandom is altogether questioned but those same questions are rapidly dismissed. However, the scourge of memory seeps through the uncloseable cracks of consciousness. There may be no going back for these fans. The facade, spackled with denial and propaganda, begins to gently crumble.

Gavin Floyd gives up three runs in the fourth inning. A world rife with famine, disease, disaster and widespread corruption has nothing over the situation at 35th and Shields. Some problems are surmountable, and some are not. An elderly man from Carol Stream moans, followed by an audible release of breath by a bro from Bolingbrook. More and more, expressions appear on the faces of spectators. Down-turned and tight-lipped mouths replace slacken jaws. In the sky above, a dark virga is faintly noticeable to those with craned necks. A flag lifts from the mast, showing stripes of white and red. A drop of sweat forms and falls from a North Auroran. A Berwyn native, previously investigating a booger, is now reticent to continue, flinging it to the already-sticky cement.

In the left field seats, the woman from Orland Park wonders why her head aches.  

An offense regularly featuring such recklessly impotent hackers by the names of Rios, Teahen, Morel, Lillibridge and Beckham is still cheered throughout the game. The players choose not to hear; they continue their work. The clock is running, and there are still outs to be made. The steady stream of leadoff walks and ground-ball double plays continues, with the fans’ every remote positive emotion tempered by the inevitable.

Finally, in the 8th inning, something of substance occurs on the field. With no outs, Teahen walks. Beckham, wisely bunting him over, reaches on a throwing error by the Royals third baseman. While Pierre fills his role by flying out, Morel grounds a single through the left side. Each base holds a man. There will be no advancement unless Teahen goes home.

The virga dissipates; cloth stars in both white and red appear; the Sears Tower and the vivid blue lake are visible through the lifting haze.

As Adam Dunn steps to the plate, the properties and virtues of meaning rest firmly on his shoulders, in his hands, within the sweet spot on his bat, which is now a mere line in the grain. Dunn knows all of this. He has been quietly observing for months, waiting for his select moments. Swatting nearly nothing, that was his plan. Hold on to respect, do not make excuses. Drag himself to the batters box day in and out. Hold things in place, wait for the right time. Test the team. Test the fans; let the naysayers out themselves. Eventually they will earn their place back in hell, with their own raucous chorus of boos for voyage accompaniment. These rumblings of distress by more mainstream fans, however, will not stand. A balance must be struck. Fans must show up, they must feel a certain amount of valence in Black and White, ying and yang, equal action and reaction. Good and evil are everywhere and nowhere, especially true in The Cell. If understanding requires numbness, then it requires total numbness. The deep roots of White Sox fandom will be tantalizingly watered. Dunn is the anointed, and now is the time.

The swing produced by 32 has never left him. It is timely and pure in both stroke and intention. The ball lands fair in the right field seats, violently knocking over a cup of foamy beer. The owner, an Elmhurst citizen, remains stoically ambivalent concerning the subjects presented. Each of the three men on base exhibit just the smallest bounce in their steps as they stride toward the plate. The score is tipped in the Sox favor. Adam Dunn knowingly remains the perfect teammate.  

The home team holds on to the lead, winning this contest four runs to three. Hawk Harrelson army-craws along the outfield superstructure, tearing his bright sweater vest on chipped paint, to light pre-positioned sparklers in celebration. The fans below clap rhythmically, again mechanically. The pacing is set back to normal. Within the division, the White Sox remain middle-of-the-pack, while their record lazily hangs around .500. In twenty years not a single attendee will remember this game in its specifics. Most will have forgotten the entire season. They will still care for the team, they will still pound their hearts and energy into this same organization. It will be validating and heartbreaking. It will be at once unfathomable, destroying, profound and affective toward health and living quality. The doubts will creep out and be stuffed away, usually. Baseball and the White Sox will remain of vast and varying personal importance, the whys of the matter never quite settled but neither stirred. The 19,734 apparitions cluster then float down the ramps.

A Gold Coast man wears silk pajamas in the dull fading light of his 29th floor condo, their quality matching that of the fresh 18-year Scotch held in hand. High-Definition Garfien recaps the days events in unwavering moronic optimism, a curly-haired background while the man steels himself for yet another detached evening of wanton imbibing. "I knew they would pull it off," he states emphatically, confidence in his team ever unmoved. "Bring on the Twins."


The Loose Thread by Nordhagen


The soulless room became stifling as the A/C ceased its whoshing.  The shadows that appeared outside my window were unfamiliar to me, as I had rarely stayed this late at work.  People, free from their toil, whizzed past on bikes while I stayed stationary.  Indoors, imprisoned by uncooperative emails, reports, issues.


But it was gametime!  Actually, it must be the second inning by now.  The tedium had caused me to miss…..  well, I probably missed nothing.  I typed "south" into the Chrome URL bar and hit enter, knowing it would take me directly to the Spirit of the Sox…


Begin the game with a friendly voice, a companion unobtrusive…


I enter the gamethread with a deft "click," while reaching for a Code Red with my Danks hand.  More like a Betemit hand, as I fumble it, dropping it to the desk with a clank.  As I jump up to get my crotch out of the splash zone, I see my laptop awash in a sticky red sea.  As the sound of the fizz fades, there’s momentary silence.  Then a strobe-like beacon, and a pop that sounded like a mix between a Thornton fastball slamming into a catchers mitt and a Rios foul tip ticking the ground.


Invisible airwaves crackle with life, bright antenna bristle with the energy…


I awaken to a musty, dimly-lit dungeon.  Around me are scores of people, engaged in wildly different activities.  Some are in groups, some are alone.  As I watch perplexed, I notice that they seem to be reacting to some sort of unseen stimuli.  Their moods and actions seem to mirror each others, even though many of them are not interacting with anyone else.


A man appears shouting hellos.  Enthusiastic hellos come back to him.  I attempt to stop him.  "Excuse me?" I croak.  But he ignores me, and joins a circle of others.  They chat and laugh happily, but I cannot hear what they say.


I move now, looking for a friendly face.  I see many, but they all appear to be very involved in conversation or thought, and I don’t wish to intrude.  One woman is wearing a shirt that reads something about "depressed fucked-cake eating."  It takes me a moment to try to recall the origin of that.  When I realize she also has a brass nametag reading, "homesickalien," I know who she is.


Ah, this is a goddamn meetup!  But what are we all doing in this depressing basement?


Now I see recognizable names of people from all over SSS.  Emboldened, I move to join the happy group, but suddenly the room absolutely DETONATES with anger. 







"Wait, is the game on somewhere?" I ask, my head on a swivel.  Someone blurts out a URL in my direction, then turns away.


I grab someone in a Sox hat.  "Sorry, I’m lost, is this the Cell?" 


Sox Hat Guy is not wearing a tag.  He laughs and says "Seems like it sometimes."  Sensing my confusion, he adds "First time in the gamethread?"


"No, I’ve been…"  Looking around, I change my answer.  "Um, yes."


He spreads his arms wide.  "Well, welcome to the Land of Fuckenwoo!"




"Yeah, here, I’ll show you around, noobie.  Fuckenwoo is where the Sox fan community congregates to share in the game. "


Just then another explosion rocked the room.  This time, jubilation.








"Paulie went deep.  Sox only down by one now," announces Sox Hat Guy.


"Hey, where’s your nametag?"  I ask.  Before he can respond, a rally car comes out of nowhere and zooms right by me, missing everyone, but thrilling them just the same.  I pause to breathe again, realizing I was almost run down by a speeding race car, yet no one considered it out of the ordinary.


Sox Hat Guy casually responds, "I’m not logged in.  I’m a lurker, but I’ve been here forever.  I was here back when Fuckenwoo was a really wild place."


"A race car just about ran me down.  Inside.  That’s not wild?"


"Well, true, you don’t see them much anymore.  They used to go through here like crazy though.  Oh, and you should have seen the sexy girls in here.  Sexy girls left and right.  Chicks flashing boobies.  It was fuckin bananas.  Then someone took a dump on the floor, and they tightened up the rules.  The last guy who tried to let a sexy girl in here got de-rezzed."




"Yeah, erased.  Deleted.  The users call it ‘banned’.  Another guy got it worse.  He was spouting off during a really bad FUCK moment against the Twins.  De-rezzed so bad it left a little black spot on the wall.  See, right over there."


I’m back to being puzzled.  "Users?  What users?"


He stares blankly, engrossed in the game, I imagine.





The expletives go on for minutes.  And suddenly people begin to disappear.  I mean, really disappear.  Poof, and they are gone.  Including my guide.


Soon, its fairly quiet.  Aside from the drunken shouts of the few remaining people, I can only hear the whirring of some machine, moving around the basement.  It’s sweeping the floor, and it reminds me of MO from the movie WALL-E, except its label reads "Jim Margalus.".  I step back as it goes by.  Its working very hard, but its labor appears to be fruitless, as the grime left by these "people" is unabated.


I follow the maid robot through a door marked with four R’s.  Behind it I find another room, filled with all manner of idiots.  I’m sure I know those idiots, so I approach to introduce myself.  I step in the room, but I go ass over teakettle.  On my quick trip to the floor, I notice what upended me.  A GODDAMN, FUCKING SOCCER BALL!  WHO LEAVES A FUCKING SOCCER BALL IN THE DOORWAY!  The ground meets me, and the stars go to black in Fuckenwoo.


All this machinery making modern gamethreads can still be openhearted…   


The black turns to a slightly brighter black.  I’m back in my office with the lights off, and there’s no evening twilight from the window.  The soda has indeed made it to my lap, and the desk is tacky, and stained red. 


I blink, and command my eyes to focus on my screen.  I log on to SSS, and click on the gamethread.  Six hundred and fifteen unread comments.


For the words of the prophet were written on the gamethread wall…


Shift – A.


 For they were more than all read.


Yahoo mail? I mean, come on, really, is it still 2004 and no one bothered to tell me?  by mechanicalturk


I tried, Rhubarb, I really did.  I had plans, made notes, wrote words.  But time is a fickle mistress and she makes fools of us all and so on.  Today, she puts me here, in this awkward position, hand in hat, like a school boy who hasn't done his homework.  I have failed you.  Perhaps ambition is my downfall?  I guess Missile Spies 2: Clinical Strike, the sequel to Frank Thomas' hit political thriller (A Choose Your Own Adventure tale) was not a good idea in this time frame.  It would have been a tour de force, I'm sure, had I been able to make Frank Thomas sound like Frank Thomas and not some other player who happens to have been playing really well in 1994 when the US Government (those bastards!) cut short the baseball season to send him on a secret mission as a Nigerian surgeon, infiltrating a soviet sleeper unit who apparently hadn't realized the cold war ended.  he didn't want to do it, Rhubarb, but they made him.  The season was already lost, thanks to them! What was he supposed to do, take the moral high ground and refuse to cooperate while the soviets win and the government keeps threatening to move the team to Tampa?  Who wins there, Rhubarb?  Who the hell wins there?  Don't you see, he had no choice!  Well, he had some choice, as you could choose your own adventure, but if you chose wrong often enough I was just going to redirect you to twinkie town.  Oh, yes, it was a web-based choose your own adventure.  I got my friend mocksession to give me more server space (though having mechanicalturk in the URL may have hurt the competition.  Who can say for sure?).  I even wrote the basic page code.  It was very basic, but all I had to do was cut and paste.  It would have been great.

But the Big Hurt didn't feel like the Big Hurt.  He just felt like some guy.  And also I had no ending, which is always rough.  I probably would have only gotten a few chapters down anyway.

But I didn't, did I?  And that's why I'm here, making excuses.  The story I turn in, as the Italians say, she's a-not so fresh.  I wrote this last year while watching the White Sox lose to the Twins, and it seems appropriate now.  It's not really about baseball.  It's more about, hell, who knows?  And it's probably 10 months old. I don't know if it even qualifies for eligibility.  Probably not helping my case: I only wrote this in the first place because a guy I know (I'd call him a friend, but he's a Yankees fan.  At least he's from New Jersey, but still, ew gross.) asked jokingly if I wanted to write him an essay on the Age of Anxiety for some class he was taking.  He never turned it in, so I think I'm good.  Again, your call.  Ignore the product placement- those commercials were on all the time.  It could probably work as the worst advertisement for anything ever.  Does that help my chances?  I'm sure it does.  You'd have to be some sort of cruel, sadistic madman, seizing the power of hosting a writing competition to manipulate others to your own evil ends to not say that helps my chances.  You don't seem like that sort of malevolent force, someone who casts a cartoonishly dark shadow across the landscape.  You seem cool.  You're cool, right, and not totally horrible?  Great, I knew you'd give me a point bonus for product placement.  That is, of course, if my thing qualifies.

But I thought I owed you this much.  If I can't deliver on the lofty promises I made to myself at the very least I can make you spend time reading this assortment of words.  Also I spent 18 minutes writing you an email.  Time I'll never get back, lost to the ages.  So thanks for that.  Now you REALLY owe me.

Almost forgot!  Here's the thing, which I have now suddenly decided I am passing off as what it feels like to be a White Sox fan at this moment (because you chumps will believe anything):

[The actual story begins here. Editor's note]

What does it feel like to dream?

I can barely remember having dreams.  It’s been a long time since I stopped, so long.  Back then, things were possible.  But no more.

I haven’t slept.  I don’t know how long it’s been, too long.  What does it feel like to sleep?  I can’t remember the last time I slept.  Everything is a daze; everything is clear.  One of the benefits to never sleeping is never having to close your eyes.  I see everything.

Not sleeping leaves a lot of time for reflection.  So much of the insomniac’s time is spent waiting for sleep, hoping that when you close your eyes time will pass and when you open them again, things will change.  I used to dream of having dreams, but these too passed long ago.

So I think.  My eyes don’t close anymore; every sight I see is burned into the retina, scorched into my memory.  The images never leave, overlapping, blending together.  I see horrible things.

I see my face.  Reflected in the window, staring at me, illuminated by the sparks falling from the L tracks.  Every twelve minutes, like clockwork.  I count the trains to pass the time.

Everything is ugly when you don’t sleep.  They say I can’t see the beauty in the world; they’re wrong.  I see it.  I look past it, at the truth.  It’s all I can see.  The city is ugly.  Every passing train digs the scars deeper.  The buildings litter the earth.  This entire city is one big festering, disease-ridden sore.

People are always eager to blame someone else.  Business, politics, religion, they all project the problems away.  But I see the truth, I see the people.  I see everything.  I am always watching.

No one else will do anything in this world.  Humans are the cause of everything, yet they do nothing.  When you never sleep, you have a lot of time to plan.  I do things.

This city is litter.  When they’re finished with anything, they throw it away.  The west side is a ghost town.  Not even the bums go there.  Emptiness.  Countless warehouses, side by side, empty shells.  But I see the truth: they are prisons.  Holding cells for their stock, their employees, now shackling the earth with their presence.

I will put them to a better use, one by one.

No one misses me when I am gone.  I am free to do as I please, free to create some beauty in this world.

Tonight, I visit a storage house abandoned by a defunct electronics company.  In the middle of the warehouse, among piles of empty boxes abandoned by the previous tenants, sits a lone chair, occupied by a man.  I have tied him there.

Ugliness, filth, all of them.  I do not remember his offense.  I have lost track of these piece of litter among litter.  I will remove this piece of ugliness from the world.  I will make it beautiful.

I reach for the straight razor in my pocket, and gaze at the filth filling this man’s warehouse before my eyes rest on him.  He doesn’t know what is about to happen.  He doesn’t know what he is about to become.

You’re going to like the way you look, I tell him.  I guarantee it.

--A George Zimmer original



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