The Visitors (part 12)

The company thought they were making improvements to the population. They created chemicals that created a strong psychic ability in lab monkeys. After that, it was simple to add the chemicals to breakfast cereals for kids. Sure, they had to cover up the taste by adding more sugar, but it seemed like a good trade-off. Clairvoyance for a few extra pounds, perhaps?

They didn’t imagine the kids would stop playing outside, stop exercising almost entirely. Their parents were terrified of strangers kidnapping and killing them, so they plopped them down in front of the TV and let Bugs Bunny do it instead. The effect was the same – their minds erased by hours of TV, their health gone from years of inactivity.

The children ate the colorful cereal, marketed to them with cartoon characters just like those on the TV that served as a surrogate parent. Their parents thought it was good for them because the cardboard box said it was fortified with vitamins and minerals. They just didn’t know what else it was fortified with. Over the course of a few years, the chemicals in the cereal altered the DNA of the children enough so that when they were old enough to have their own children, they had the trait the company was hoping for. The only problem was that society wasn’t ready for it.

The children were almost too sensitive. They knew far more than they should have at early ages, because their brains were closer to crystal radios than carbon-based structures. They received all sorts of signals, all the time. They were flooded with information, with no way of filtering it or turning it off. Everything was too much. All of their senses were working overtime.

Some went mad. Some had to be institutionalized. The company managed to get some of its researchers hired on as aides at the long-term care facilities across the nation wherever the cereal had been sold. The worst cases came from parents who had eaten four times the serving size of the cereal as children, or had continued eating it into adolescence and adulthood. They were beyond hope, of no use to anyone.

Some of the others were very sensitive, but without too many adverse effects. Regular doctors labeled some of the children as having autism, or Asperger’s, or simply sensory processing disorder. The children’s difference was seen by them as a disease rather than an enhancement. The medical professionals kept trying to medicate them or assign therapy to make them act like regular children. The company never said a word, never let it be known that they’d dreamed of this day.

The company began hiring these children once they reached 18. The public and the press were delighted. Finally there was a business that not only was willing to make accommodations for this new and unusual generation, but actually seemed to want them. Little did any outsider realize but the company wasn’t being enlightened. They actually sought them out, not to appear benevolent but to further their own secret project.

Under the guise of new employee orientation, these unusual workers were assessed for their psychic ability. Those that had the highest scores were given up to three hours of specialized training every day. The other employees simply thought it was because of their special needs. Like all other employees, these new hires were sworn to secrecy. They had no idea that what they were learning wasn’t normal.

It wasn’t normal at all. In fact, no one had even tried to tap into the psychic ability of a group before. Each employee was trained to link up with each other, in series, creating a synergistic effect. The net result was far greater than the sum of the parts. It turned out to be more than the Overseer could have ever imagined or dreamed. It turned out to be the worst nightmare ever.

Strong emotions concentrated the results. The teachers had the group focus on their parents, thinking that they would have nothing but love for them. They were wrong.

They had not accounted for years of suppressed rage of being ignored, discounted, and ridiculed. They hadn’t realized that the vast majority of those in this group were seen as a being a burden to their family, an embarrassment. It was worse for the boys.

They were expected to carry on the family name, to provide grandchildren to dote on. The latent feeling of grief that their parents felt, especially their fathers, was profound. It was never talked about to the children, of course. It didn’t matter. The parents never knew that their hidden resentments were being broadcast directly to the very people who would most feel hurt.

Unknown to the researchers, the boys as one force shaped their rage at their parents into a ball of hatred, and then reached inside, shaping it. Like how a potter expands a vessel on his wheel, it became ever larger until it surrounded all parents, not just their own.

In a blink of the eye, all the parents were gone.

The Visitors (part 11)

Rob had stopped writing actual maps in his notebook after the second time he’d gotten caught. The police had confiscated his satchel along with his notebook and figured out too much from it. If he’d just had the usual things in notebooks – poems, stories, a few sketches, then they might’ve let him go, thinking he was a student of a sort.

That alone could have spelled trouble because schools had ceased to be in the years after the Disappearances. But it wasn’t uncommon for people in their early 20s to cobble together some kind of curriculum for themselves. The police didn’t mind that, seeing it as a harmless way to spend their time. They knew it wouldn’t, it couldn’t, lead to anything. But if they suspected his notes were about Walks then the whole plan could have unraveled overnight.

The police couldn’t go on Walks, of course. If they could, they would. Who wouldn’t? The ability to travel from Room to Room, discovering new buildings from the inside was quite a feat. It was like having a master key to every house. “Open house” events took on a whole new meaning if you were a Visitor.

The problem was, some Visitors worked for the police. Not willingly, mind you. The only “pay” they got was being set free. They’d been caught on a Walk, often helping themselves to something in a member of the Quality’s house. Visitors didn’t think of it as stealing, but the Quality sure did, and the police were notified.

How can it be stealing when the items weren’t even bought by the Quality? The concept of “possession is 9/10 of the law” still held true even in this time, because the people who did all possessing had all the lawyers on their side. Hell, half of the Quality were lawyers, those that hadn’t had time to settle down and start a family.

Visitors who were caught had two choices if they wanted to go free. Pay a fine or rat out another Visitor, which sometimes meant decoding their maps so the police would know where to catch them. It wasn’t much of a choice because most Visitors didn’t have enough money to make the police happy. Too little and they couldn’t pay. Too much and they were liable to face yet more charges, including burglary or robbery. It was seemingly easier to be a snitch. But it also carried a penalty. Snitches didn’t tend to last long. Once word got out among the Visitors, a snitch would often get shoved into a Room whose closest Door was at least 100 miles away.

Those kinds of Rooms were why Visitors made maps. Some things were too unpleasant to want to have to do again. They’d exchange information whenever they could about Doors that were useful and ones that were less than. Someone else’s misfortune didn’t have to be yours.

Rob had decided on his own to transform his maps into sketches of leaves and flowers. This way it looked like he was going on nature walks rather than going on Walks.

A darkened bit of leaf here, an apparently inchworm chewed bit there, and nobody was the wiser. His marks made sense to him, and that was what mattered. He used actual plants as his basis for the sketches to have verisimilitude. He didn’t have a good enough imagination so he didn’t try to make them up. His Gran had taught him quite a bit about plants, albeit unintentionally. He was her garden helper and had to know what was weed and what was vegetable. He thought of it as slave labor at the time, but he was grateful for it now.

His leaf maps were starting to make more sense. Now that he’d had time to compare notes with Mickey and Julia, some of the missing areas were filling in nicely. There still were areas that didn’t appear to have any Doors at all. He compared these areas against a large topographic map of the state at the local library. He and Julia agreed that more and more evidence pointed towards the problem starting with all three areas called Rayon City, and it didn’t take long for the two of them to convince Mickey that they were on to something.

The three Rayon Cities were built hundreds of years ago by a chemical corporation to house their employees. The cities, more like large villages, were built in short order along with the plant. It was an added incentive to have a ready-made place to live for young impressionable potential employee.

The same people who were drafted to go overseas to fight the Germans were the same kinds of ones who took up jobs in that labyrinthine, windowless complex of a plant. Both groups barely out of high school and with no marketable skills other than day labor. Both groups were average (or worse) students. Both groups were from poor families. They didn’t have many choices.

The military or the plant was the same as far as a choice went. They both paid well, had good benefits, and were dangerous. People took their chances going to work for either of them. With the military, you could die or come back missing a limb or your mind. Death or dismemberment wasn’t a great risk with the plant, but mental illness couldn’t be ruled out. Cancer was a strong contender, too.

Both groups thought of themselves as lucky, as above average when it came to the odds. In short, they didn’t think the bad stuff could happen to them.

Something bad happened, but not what anyone could have expected. All those years of “not me” Pollyanna optimism, all that time being surprised when the bad stuff actually did happen, all those people who cheated themselves out of their own future by borrowing against it with wishful thinking – it all mixed together somehow with the secret experiments that were going on at the plant.

The three plants were privately run but government controlled. It was a weird sort of marriage that had happened before. It had begun with the post office and ended with the auto manufacturers. It was an experiment that resulted in an odd hybrid of the two – good benefits from the government side, better management from the private industry side.

It wasn’t perfect, however. Employees had to commit an actual crime to be fired. Plenty of people who would never have gotten hired in private industry got to not only keep their jobs but often got promoted. It seemed like the more inept you were, the more you got paid.

Another feature of this corporate chimera was the secrecy. Regular private businesses were supposed to be transparent. The government was as transparent as a brick wall. Even the Freedom of Information Act couldn’t be used to pry open the company’s files on its less-than-normal experiments. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway even if someone had tried. They didn’t write any of this experiment down. It was too important to risk being exposed.

The company had divided all of the workers into tiny groups that never spoke with each other. Sometimes the left hand didn’t even know the right hand existed. Each workgroup had its assigned task and were told nothing about how it related to the whole. At first they were told it was for the benefit of national security.

The company made a lot of material for the war effort. They were involved in anything that involved chemicals. Rayon, that miracle fiber that was invented in their laboratory, was used in making parachute cord. Chemicals normally used in fertilizer were instead used to make bombs. The workers understood the need for secrecy – the less they knew, the less chance of the wrong information getting into enemy hands.

The war was long over but the secrets continued. It had become habit to not ask questions, become a matter of fact that you just didn’t even think about what other groups did, even those that shared your area. The metaphorical cat wasn’t even curious, so he stayed alive and safe.

Until everything went wrong.

The Visitors part 10

The disappearances didn’t cause the electricity system to fail. That happened about two years after. Plenty of other bits of what they thought of as civilization had started to disintegrate years before. The disappearances just furthered things along.

So many people had gone off the grid by homesteading that it all finally fell apart, like a gyroscope wobbling to a stop. Without enough people paying for electricity, there simply wasn’t enough money coming in to repair the substations.

The upper management did what upper management has done since there were managers. They laid off all the actual workers, and then stayed on until the bitter end, collecting a paycheck but not doing anything. They didn’t know how.

The end came faster that way, because the people who knew how to do the work were gone. What is the point of managers if they can’t manage to figure out how to do anything themselves? Being able to write up schedules and delegate is a pointless exercise when you don’t have any warm bodies to do the dirty work.

Homesteaders were motivated by fear that the authorities were going to take everything away from them. They figured they can’t take away what they don’t have. Perhaps people also just longed for the good old days, forgetting that if the good old days were so good they would’ve kept them.

There wasn’t a central education system anymore, either. Pretty much the same amount of people who had been homesteading had also been homeschooling. They felt like they could do things better themselves. They didn’t want to give away their power to someone they didn’t know.

This feeling of mistrust of authority had gone on for a long time, in part fueled by repeated warnings of an impending apocalypse. Whether it was brought on by zombies or Jesus or the final battle of the Vikings, people were worried. They turtled in, stocking up supplies and shoring up their defenses.

The times to stretch out and trust were over.

It didn’t make sense how a six-month supply of canned vegetables and tuna was going to help if the world fell apart. It seemed like it would simply delay the inevitable impending slow death. Plus, it might attract unwanted visitors. You know, the ones who didn’t get sucked up in the rapture, or had saved up any food.

One thing it meant was that people who weren’t experts were now in charge of their own lives. Simply being a parent did not qualify them to teach their children. Why they thought that they could do better than someone with a Master’s degree in education made no sense. But they were allowed to do it.

The government thought of it as self selection. They thought of it like this – if you give them enough rope, they will hang themselves. All the educated people will be able to rule over the home-schooled, or the newest fad, “un-schooling”, where the child directs his learning. Who ever thought up that idea? Like a child is going to want to learn how to do anything other than play. They’ll never learn how to read or do math because they won’t know they need it.

The city-zens still paid taxes, so their money still went to the education system their children didn’t participate in it. The government made more money and spent less. It was genius. The city-zens thought they’d gotten out, but in reality they were still buying in.

Similarly, what makes an accountant or a mechanic think he’s suddenly a farmer? Sure, with homesteading he’ll know exactly what goes into his food. He’ll know whether there are pesticides or not. But when his crop fails because he didn’t rotate his crops or add enough phosphorus he’ll be starving and just as clueless.

It was a perfect mess, a confluence of confusion.

Those who were left, who’d survived the crumbling of civilization, were those who knew enough to band together. The lone wolves, the dread pirates of the times faded out, forgotten and forlorn. Those who learned how to share what they had, be it cucumbers or Calculus, they made it.

Of course, they couldn’t be obvious about it. Banding together was forbidden for any group larger than 20 was seen as a threat. The mass protests of the early 21st century had taught the government that. People would suddenly appear in the city streets, banners and drums at the ready, faces obscured and mouths open, shouting slogans in unison. They were flash mobs, no doubt, but they weren’t dancing to a pop tune. They were marching, and marching against austerity, against, authority, or just against.

Sometimes they didn’t even know what they were marching or drumming or shouting against. They just did it, and their numbers stopped traffic and started the government thinking. Any group that was larger than 20 got shut down, no debating, no questions asked. Shut down with water cannon or tear gas or drones. Shut down, shut out, shut off.

The Visitors had to be subtle when they got together, but get together they must, and did. With no social media to communicate their meetings in advance, they hid messages in magazine ads, scrawled slogans in graffiti. Those who knew the code knew it all.

It was time to meet. Now, to find the place.

Jewelry inspired by The Visitors story

stopped watch
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prayer beads – three characters, three beads.
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prayer3

prayer5

There aren’t jewelry stores in the time of the Visitors. Things have to be assembled out of what is available. People don’t quite remember how to make prayer beads anymore, so they make what they need with what they have. They follow their own internal ideas rather than institutionally-imposed ideas.

The Visitors, part 9

Mickey was doodling. If he felt like being fancy about it, he’d say he was sketching, but doodling was more honest, and more fun. People expect something from you if you are sketching. Doodling is for yourself. Nobody has to see it.

He didn’t know how other Visitors could document their Walks by just writing about them. How could they recognize similar places again? Without cameras, drawing on pen and paper seemed the next most logical solution.

There were still cameras these days, just no film. Film hadn’t been made along with many other things in many years. It just wasn’t seen as necessary. So many non-essential things were simply just not produced anymore. What with there being no electricity, and over half the workforce gone, only what was really needed was made these days.

There was still a lot of stuff around, anyway. It wasn’t like anybody was really hurting for material possessions.

Nothing material disappeared when the people did. Even their clothes stayed when they went. Wherever they went, they arrived there the same way they arrived here when they were born. Sky clad, his older sister would say. She didn’t tell him much more about that. Younger brothers can get so embarrassed. It wasn’t worth teasing him. They had enough to worry about.

Mickey went back to his doodling of the last Room, and how he got there. He didn’t care much for words on paper anyway. A pen and paper were made for drawing, to his mind. You saw so much more when you drew it anyway. Much better than writing it down. Of course, sometimes there wasn’t a lot of time to draw at all.

He’d fallen, stumbling into this Room while escaping from the last one. Another warehouse. This was the sixth one in a row. Maybe it meant something? He, Rob and Julia had decided a month ago to look for coincidences, knowing there was no such thing. While they all referred to the Divine by different names, they all knew that coincidences were how (it/she/he) got their attention.

Coincidences were like the annoying alert signal the weather radio used to blare out – “Pay attention!” it would scream in its plaintive warble that went on too long. “What follows next is the real stuff. Your life may depend on it” it was saying. There wasn’t a radio now, but the message was the same.

“Okay so I’m in a warehouse. What is there to see? What am I supposed to notice?” Mickey mused to himself, knowing he was part of the Divine. Talking to himself was really talking with (it/her/him).

The world had slowly adapted to the idea that the Divine wasn’t a He, or even a She. The Divine just was. Somehow, the word “It” wasn’t really seen as polite or respectful though, so somebody had come up with this unusual way of referring to The One, the Creator, etc. After all, who needs gender for someOne that doesn’t have a body or a need to reproduce? The Divine is eternal, and complete. It is us who need mates.

That got Mickey thinking about his girlfriend. Not like Visitors had much time for settling down. Maybe when this mystery was sussed out. Maybe. Life had been put on hold for so long.

The Visitors, part 8

Rob was starting to come to the same conclusion. The connection had to do with thread of some sort. He always wondered later, after Julia and he had compared their notes, if they were able to read each other’s minds. They were forever finishing each other’s sentences. He would often notice she would start talking about the very thing he was contemplating. Apart or together, they seemed to be on the same wavelength.

Perhaps it was something even bigger than psychic phenomena. Maybe the answer was that there was in fact a Creator who was giving them clues and nudges in the right direction. Maybe instead of being connected with each other, they were connected with the One that created it all.

Rob had never really been much of a believer, not like his Gran. Fortunately you don’t actually have to believe in God to be Jewish. He was starting to become a believer now. It was about the only thing left he had to believe in.

It came to him while he was writing. He, like many other Visitors, had a journal of all the places he been. Sure there were some random locations, but the thing that seemed to come out the most was that the towns with the most Rooms were also the towns that had a suburb named something like “Rayon City”. Rob knew from his travels before the disappearances that there were at least three such Rayon Cities in Tennessee. He suspected there were more throughout the country. He needed to know more information.

There had to be a reason for this repetition. His Gran always said that patterns weren’t accidents. “Random is natural, my boy,” she always said. “Patterns are a sign. It pays to read ’em.”

So now he needed to read up on these signs.

Normally he would look it up on the Internet but the Internet didn’t exist anymore, what with the electricity being gone. Time to walk to the library. Every town worth calling itself a town had one. It was one of the few places you could trust for information these days.

————

After about an hour of reading, he learned that Rayon cities were the cities created by the DuPont plants. The plants seemed to have sprung up overnight and the builders were farsighted enough to realize that it would benefit them to build housing for their workers close to the plant at the same time. This insured that their workers would not have a long drive to get to their job site.

That sounded all well and good, but it also ensured that the workers were indebted to their employer for more than just a paycheck. Their employer was also their landlord. Sure, they had a choice of living wherever they wanted. They didn’t have to live in “Rayon City”. But the deal seemed too good to pass up. No money down. And a certain amount deducted every month from their paycheck.

But what does this have to do with anything?

Maybe when he got back with the others, they’d have the other pieces of this puzzle. It was like creating a jigsaw when you’ve lost the box. Not only are you not sure if you have all the pieces, you certainly don’t have the picture. It was hard to know if what they were putting together was right.

While walking to the library, he recognized this town from his previous Walks. He consulted his journal. Two more Doors and he should be back to a stable Room. He’d wait there for them.

The Visitors, part 7

Julia walked until she found a library. The only people who went into libraries these days were the homeless and the curious. Some people used the library as a place to hide from the real world. This has always been true, but even more so now in these lawless days.

There was law, of a sort. There were police officers, and judges, and lawyers. Not as many as there were before the disappearances, sure. And not a one of them Visitors. All Quality, or so old they weren’t really either. So the scales weren’t balanced. Not like they ever were for the weaker members of society.

Libraries were a bit like holy ground. Everybody understood deep in their bones that the libraries were safe for everybody. The really questionable people didn’t go into libraries anymore. There was no longer any electricity. That had gone out about two years after the disappearances. With no electricity, there was no reason to check out DVDs. The shaky people had to find another way to feed their addiction to unreality. Reading, even fiction, was too active a way to spend their time.

Julia walked up the sunlit marble staircase to the third floor landing. There was a long low bench there that looked perfect for a nap. No librarians were around to wake her now. The bench was wide and padded with gold velour upholstery. It was meant for either waiting on the landing to catch your breath or for waiting for other members of your party to catch up with you.

These days, Julia decided she was going to use it to catch up on sleep, or perhaps just to daydream. Sometimes her best ideas he came to her when she was “thinking sideways” as she called it. It was like the best ideas were elusive wild animals that had to be snuck up on, rather than approached straight on. She needed some of those wild animals now.

What was the connection? What was the reason for the disappearances? Why did it affect just the parents of a certain age? It just didn’t make sense. Maybe there was some connection with that and the sudden ability of the Visitors to go on their Walks. Surely that wasn’t just a nice bonus. Being able to travel like that was fun, make no mistake about it. But did it have a purpose? Was it related to the disappearances? Did the solution come with the problem?

Julia was raised to think that there was order and purpose to the ‘verse. It helped her, anchored her in a world that often seemed storm-swept. It helped her especially now, when nothing made sense at all.

Think. What are the connections? Julia always thought best when she was daydreaming or writing. The two were the same to her. One looked passive and one looked active, but deep down they were both ways to connect to the Source. She could learn more from writing in her journal than she ever could from asking someone else. That was always a waste of time. They always put their own two bits in, and often those coins were counterfeit.

She pulled out a pencil and her trusty pad of paper from her canvas messenger bag and started to write. She wrote a little bit about her day to start with. The real writing, the real knowing, would come a little later. It always does. But you can’t just jump in. You have to warm up. It had taken her years to learn this. So she started with the usual – places she’d been, Doors and Rooms she’d visited. She might want to make a map later. Not like it could be a usual flat map. Maybe if she could make one that was like a Moebius strip?

Now was the time to ask the question, when the daydreaming and creating had started. All the answers came from the questions.

“What is the connection between the disappearances?” she scribbled on the lined notebook paper. She wrote for a few paragraphs and nothing helpful came. Maybe it would make sense later. She often reread her journals months later to see if there was anything she missed. She was rarely disappointed.

Trouble is, she needed an answer now. She didn’t have time to wait months. This had already gone on too long. She started writing the words that came to her, hoping that something would jump out. Sometimes writing synonyms helped.

Connection. Fiber. Webs. String.

The image of spools of thread, huge reels of it, kept coming to her. The connection had something to do with string, with binding. This seemed too easy. The thing that tied it all together was literally something that ties stuff together?

She wrote a little more, and nothing else came to her. This had to be it. But what did it mean?