George had raised bears his whole life, but this one was different. He never named the bears actual names – this one was called 15767, or “15” for short. The numbers were some arcane blend of the birthdate, breed, and sex of the bear, a special code that made sense only to George and the people who worked for him.
15 was trying to kill George, but to the photographer it looked like playing. At first George thought 15 was playing too, but he quickly realized things have gone south when 15 started bouncing up and down on his head. This wasn’t a game anymore, but he couldn’t let on to the photographer. Not only was his pride in jeopardy, his entire career was on the line.
The photographer was there for the ad campaign for his business – Bear Protection Services. He needed to get more people to buy his trained bears for their home protection. “Have a bear outside? No burglars inside!” was their motto. The idea was that you’d get a bear to prowl around your property and it would maul anybody who tried to get into your house without your permission. There was a month-long acclimatization period to get the bear to recognize the homeowner and his family. It wouldn’t do to have one of George’s bears kill a client.
But that was exactly what was happening right now. George was getting mauled. The bear was using every move he’d reinforced. It wasn’t like you could teach a bear to do anything that wasn’t in its nature. You just used the parts of its nature that benefited you and reinforce them with treats. But that was part of the trouble. You couldn’t get a bear to stop doing something you didn’t want him to do. Yelling at it or hitting it on the nose just made it angry, and an angry bear was an unpredictable bear.
15 was very angry right now; George could see it in his eyes. They were darker than normal, with no catchlight. It was as if the light had gone out of his soul. Not like there had been a lot of light in this bear to begin with. His temperament was what made him interesting to George. But that very temperament might mean his death.
Fortunately George had years of martial arts training and even more years of backalley brawls behind him. He knew how to kick out from under an attacker, even one who outweighed him by at least 300 pounds. Of course, the first rule was never to let your opponent put you in such a position in the first place, but sometimes that couldn’t be helped. He had planned to let the bear pretend to maul him as an example of what the company’s trained bears could do for their clients. It all started off well. But then everything shifted and got real, very fast.
Now, 15 wasn’t exactly the friendliest bear George had ever worked with. It was a hard balance to work out. Too friendly and the bear wouldn’t attack the assailant. Too mean and he attacked the family. The sweet spot was somewhere in the middle, but that was difficult to gauge with bears. It wasn’t like you could put them through the Myers-Briggs or the Enneagram. George had found some small success in going by the bear’s horoscope, but he never told that to clients. He had a reputation to uphold.
He finally managed to get out from under the bear thanks to a streetfighting move he’d learned in Pittsburgh. If that hadn’t worked he would have resorted to putting his fist in the bear’s mouth to make it gag. He didn’t want to do that in sight of the photographer for fear of seeming to abuse it, but he was desperate. It wouldn’t do to let the bear win this fight, or else it would have been the end of his business, and of George.
The day came when finally nobody was responsible for their actions. It was law. You could now sue your parents for not teaching you how to eat healthy and exercise. Your obesity was no longer your fault. You could sue your classmates in elementary school for making fun of your weight by calling you “Porky” or “Blobbo”, instead of pretending you didn’t take up two chairs. Whether people acted or not made no difference. You could blame them for your obesity, saying that they made a bad situation worse or that they didn’t show you a better way.
“Fat shaming” was now an offense punishable by fine or imprisonment, or both. There was no need for a trial, since enduring that would cause more stress for the larger person, and probably lead to more stress eating of comfort foods. It wouldn’t do to have the situation escalated to the point that the judge, jury and attorneys all ended up in jail too.
So nobody said anything, because the fine for sins of omission were worse than the punishment for sins of commission. So the chairs in doctor’s waiting rooms got wider andstouter to support the people who were wider and stouter.
Half of Americans were on medicine for diabetes or cholesterol, or both. They even managed to lobby to get the medicines for free, saying it wasn’t fair to punish them for diseases that came with being obese. The two went together like steak and potatoes. And speaking of food, the newly formed Big Americans organization was also lobbying for special food stamps for all their members so they didn’t have to pay so much for their drug of choice. So far it hadn’t been approved, but they hadn’t given up.
Gyms went out of business or cut their hours way back because they couldn’t afford to stay open. No longer was it fashionable to be slim and have visible muscles. Likewise, all clothing manufacturers were expected to make outfits up to 20 XL available in the stores. Nobody was that large, yet, but it was deemed wise to be safe just in case. Most of the people who were over 10 XL couldn’t walk into a store anyway because their knees and hips couldn’t handle the strain, but sometimes they used to scooter or had a special robotic exoskeleton they wore to assist their bodies. These exoskeletons were first made for people who had been in accidents and were unable to walk, but it wasn’t long before Big Americans saw how useful they would be to their members.
Yes, now is the best time to be alive. You could eat all you wanted, never walk further than you wanted, get everything delivered, and blame everyone else on your condition. In fact, you could quit your job and get paid to stay home, and nobody would dare to say anything at all, until you became the elephant in the room.
He thought he had the upper hand. He had the gun, after all. He was only eight years old, but he had been trained all too well by his father and uncles. Women were to obey men, no matter what. If they didn’t, they had to be forced to, or killed.
His elders hadn’t told him exactly when he need this knowledge, but he figured now was as good as any. His younger sister was annoyingly taller than he was, and annoyingly got better grades to0. Their parents seemed to like her better, as well. He was sure it couldn’t have anything to do with the fact that she never caused any trouble, never talked back, always gave more than she took. Because if any of that were the case, then he’d have to change his own behavior and that wasn’t going to happen.
So he decided today was the day he would make his sister pay for his mistreatment. She had to understand that he was in charge, simply because he was male and he was older than her. Somehow talent and ability were irrelevant. Somehow the fact that their parents were actually in charge escaped him too. Now was the time to assert his dominance, and if she didn’t accept it, he’d be forced to kill her. It was for her own good, after all. If she wouldn’t submit to her brother, then how would she act around her future boyfriends? Best to get that train headed in the right direction early or else there was no telling what trouble could happen. It would be an embarrassment to the family name.
Little Susie smiled at Bobby when he pulled out the gun that Sunday afternoon in their backyard. She’d just gotten through cleaning out the birdcage for Mr. Peepers, their three-year-old budgie. She was the primary caretaker of the bird, even though it was Bobby who’d demanded the pet. After a week of owning it, when the novelty wore off, their parents realized he wasn’t taking care of the bird so they assigned the chore to her. For some unknown reason they didn’t insist on Bobby picking up the slack. It was his pet, after all, the one he’d begged and pleaded for all those months. They could have told him he’d have to care for it or they’d give it away to another family, but that never crossed their minds.
This injustice never crossed Bobby’s mind either. It told him he could do whatever he wanted with no repercussions. If only their parents could have looked into the future and seen how this lesson would warp him, resulting in a string of divorces and bankruptcies and get-rich-quick schemes that never quite seemed to work.
That Sunday was the final straw. Susie had gotten a gold star in Sunday school, while he got nothing. He’d not done the worksheet, so of course he got nothing, but the truth didn’t phase him. He was angry at her because he hadn’t gotten a gold star and she had.
So when he pulled a gun on her, she wasn’t surprised. She laughed at him, as she had learned to do. It wouldn’t do to get upset or frightened. That was what he wanted after all. Or so she thought. This time, he didn’t want the upper hand. He wanted all the cards. He wanted her dead. Only then will he reign supreme. No more being compared to his sister, always unfavorably. There would be no more competition because there would be no more her. Today was the day where he would prove he was better than her once and for all and no longer would he have to look at her smirk.
And then it happened. He pulled the trigger. And just like that she was dead. For once in his life he’d done something right the first time instead of halfway. There was no trip to the emergency room here. This was a one-way trip to the morgue.
Bobby thought all his troubles were over. Turns out they had just begun. Of course he had to go through counseling. Jail wasn’t even considered, since he was so young and the family assumed it was an accident since he was so feckless in every other situation. There was no way this was intentional in their minds – he wasn’t clever or determined enough.
But even though he was never punished physically he was punished metaphysically. Susie came back, but only for him. She first appeared in his dreams, with the same gunshot wound to the chest that had killed her. He could see right through her. Every night she appeared, and every night she looked a little more sallow, the blood around the wound a little more crusty and black. He never told anyone about this. On the year anniversary of her death she began to appear in front of him while he was awake as well, but only he could see her. She never left his side. Instead of being rid of her, he saw her more in death than he ever had in life. He ended up having to be institutionalized. Everyone felt sorry for him. Well, everyone except Susie, who knew better.
The ladies of the 32nd St. Temperance League knew it was time to do something. No longer could they trust in just leading by example, it was time to take their show on the road. People weren’t taking charge of their lives, weren’t connecting the dots. They knew better, but they didn’t act better.
Simply calling people out on unhealthy actions didn’t work and they knew it. They’d not participated in such activities themselves, but they’d watched and learned. It was helpful that others had made their mistakes for them.
But this was their flaw, or even their Catch-22. They didn’t know what it was like to feel the temptation and not yield to it, or more – to yield and then learn how to recover. It was easy to tell folks to stay on the straight and narrow if you’ve never strayed. But it meant more if you’d wandered off the path, got lost, and then found your way back. Who wanted a tour guide who had never visited the country they were touting?
But there was the rub – people didn’t trust people who had taken a trip through crazy-land. Whether it was just garden-variety mental illness or that with a side of substance abuse, they didn’t feel easy around those folks, even if they’d recovered. There was always an unspoken fear they’d relapse. It was the same old problem that had plagued Mary Magdalene – the woman who had seven demons cast out of her. Everybody focused on the past – that she used to have seven demons tormenting her – and not the present – they are gone. Her present wholeness was discounted while her past troubles were highlighted.
It wasn’t fair, but it was human nature, and these ladies needed every advantage they could, no matter how unreasonable. Because it was serious now, no time for talk. Lives were on the line. The only trouble was nobody knew. It was just like with Noah, building an ark in dry weather, on dry land. People mocked him the same way they mocked these ladies. It didn’t deter them. They had to share their message but the people didn’t have to listen.
That was the deal. In fact, nobody had to be rescued at all. Nobody had to be saved. The ladies had to tell the story, but the people didn’t have to listen. It was hard, of course, knowing so many folks would perish in the upcoming tribulation, but that couldn’t be helped. In fact, that was part of the test. If they were mature enough to heed the instructions and follow them, they were ready for the evolution. Otherwise? Who needed them? Layabouts and slackers who refused to be responsible for their lives didn’t need to be rescued. Everybody as a whole was better off without them. The tribulation (nobody was sure whether it was going to be with a bang or a whisper) would weed out the blamers, the entitled, the arrogant. All those who expected others to take care of them – or blamed others for their situation – would be wiped off the map.
For the ladies, that day needed to come soon. They were exhausted with the laziness that surrounded them.
He had to keep at it, Even though it was turning him into a monster. The years of the 12 ounce curls had transformed him into something and someone unrecognizable. Was he even human anymore? He had the basic shape, but his skin was more reptile than recognizably human. Green and bumpy, he looked alien, foreign, and in reality he was. He has transformed himself into a creature that existed to feed its ego only. Anything he wanted he got – begged, borrowed, or stole. He wasn’t ashamed to guilt trip or manipulate. He used every trick in the book, and even added a few pages of his own.
Now he had gotten the council to give him an assistant to follow him around to cater to his every whim. Sometimes that was walking him to the pub and holding up his pint for him since he could no longer see for himself.
His eyes had swollen shut in a vain attempt to protect him from further harm. They figured if he couldn’t see, he wouldn’t want. So much of human “need” comes from what pours into the eyes. It is why people who give up watching TV (either voluntarily or not) end up saving money. It wasn’t just the cable bill they were doing without. They were doing without all the ads telling them what they were missing out on, telling them they would find love and acceptance and community if only they bought this thing that they didn’t even want or knew existed 10 minutes earlier.
And now he was part of that industry, that machine, cranking out 1000 widgets a minute, creating the supply first and then the demand. He was a spokesman for these fellow monsters, who weren’t yet ugly on the outside but were certainly ugly on the inside.
The air raids continued, but so did the entertainment. When the war had finally crawled to their shores, finally climbed in fits and starts over their borders, the citizens knew that life as they knew it was over. The first few weeks they stayed inside, huddled around the television for news of where the riots were. They planned excursions based on these reports. It wouldn’t do to go to the grocery store or church and run into a firefight.
Work was quietly canceled for the first week. Who could be expected to even try? Work then was all about staying alive in the moment. Who could take the time to worry about spreadsheets or stockrooms? But then the reality set in that this wasn’t a temporary thing. The invaders had settled in for the long haul. They planned to take this land no matter what – even if that meant destroying everything and everyone on it.
After a month of living under siege, the citizens knew they had to keep on going with their lives. They had resumed going to work – they had to once the paychecks stopped coming – but it was only now that they understood there was more to life than work. Entertainment wasn’t simply a distraction or diversion – it enriched life. Perhaps it could be said that they worked so they could afford to play.
And play they did! Movie theaters were re-opened, converted into cabarets and live theater And symphony halls. Colleges were converted into lecture halls for everyone, not just the paying students. All were welcome, and there were no tests or papers to write. People carried on with their lives, not in spite of, but perhaps because of the violence in the streets. They had no control over that, so they celebrated even more when they were able to make it through a complete performance. Many were the shows they got cut in half, with the cast or audience having to disperse because of insurgents coming too close. Rarely would the violence spill inside but it wouldn’t do to risk it. So the people left rather than draw the attention of the fighters to their secret.
And it was a secret, these diversions and entertainment. They were carefully curated and prized. They weren’t random. They had to be planned for and scheduled. It wouldn’t do to go a week without a gathering of some sort so it was important to make them good.
The people had come to understand that the source of their joy wasn’t how much money they made, or what football team they rooted for. It was in being together. Groups of like-minded people together – united by a common interest – were happier and healthier. Something about simply being together made them whole in a way they could never be alone.
But the gas masks still needed to be worn. It wouldn’t do to undergo a chemical assault while they were communing. Because that is what was happening – communion, union-with. Only together, with others, could they feel the peace of union, where they were no longer torn in two, fragmented. They needed each other in a symbiotic, inter-dependent way.
That was why all the mass murders from the past had happened in densely populated arenas. Those who felt alienated, excluded knew down in their core that the people who were gathered together had something they missed. Jealousy clouded their hearts to the point that they couldn’t see that they didn’t have to kill anything – except their “need” to be alone. Their cure would have taken place if only they had sat down with all these people and joined the group. Instead they had swallowed the poison of the message of independence, which taught them to be lone wolves, leaderless, a pack of one.
This message was taught to them by billboards and television and magazines, and stories and in songs, because the pushers of this drug also sold their version of the cure – to be found in pills, or alcohol, or retreats, or yoga, or a diet, or a religion or even spirituality. They caused the dis-ease in order to sell their “cure”, because true health was free and that wouldn’t do in a culture that saw money as its God.
So in a way, the war had healed this community. It had showed them what really mattered.