Thursday, April 17, 2014

Truthenasia: Part 2 of 4

Title PresWinfrey

Part Two: Whose Mark is it, Anyway?
Click here to begin the story

 

I am glad I called though. He said he was too. We agreed that whatever was going on, that night would be our night. He arrived late, however, which made me begin fearing that he would not be honoring that decision.
-------We’d agreed on eight o’clock, and I made preparations for a meal involving seafood, a healthy green salad, and my roasted potatoes that he always loves.
-------
It sat cold until just before ten. The food was not what I was hungry for, so my portion rotted beside his. He had been held back to brainstorm some crazy plans for future publicity stunts or such based on these news developments. If they’re not stealing our right to be together in the eyes of their own God, they’re stealing our time to be together on our couch. Thanks, prophecy nuts.
-------
Something made me leap from my seat. I had slid into sleep, and still further, into a nightmare. I was in a chamber—stone, cold, with eerie chanting monks singing something in Latin. I’d swear it must’ve meant Resist the anus of man in English. Although I’d never taken Latin, so it’s just as much chance that it meant Swallow the pudding of the mayhem planet if anything at all. The sound of it grew more intensely into a sort of O Fortuna fervor, like Wagner was having marijuana induced paranoia, as I found myself being forced to shoot myself in the head against my will, by absolutely nobody. I was alone in the room. I felt force making my hands grip the gun and point it to myself. I even shouted and kicked and screamed, but still placed that gun to my head. I was in struggle with the trigger, resisting with all my might, when I awoke.
-------
The chain that kept the door held fast sounded with a rattling not unlike the slamming of my heart. I was still in fright. They found me. It took a few seconds to realize that my life isn’t interesting enough to have a they who’d want to find me. Nobody’s after a laundry-slaving stage light technician.
-------
Besides, it was Ken’s voice cursing at the chain.
-------
“I’m coming.”
-------
“Are you okay? God dammit!” he said, dropping his keys.
-------
“I’ll get those.”
-------
You could see the fatigue in his eyes. They looked as though they were ready to plop right out of his head if he so much as squinted too hard. It chilled me. Broadcasting came as naturally to him as farting, so I knew something more than just heckling as a talking head had to have taken place all day.
-------
“What did you think?”
-------
“About?” I was clueless.
-------
“About? About all the bullshit that’s going down. About all the bullshit that’s about to come down on me. You had to have seen that.”
-------
“I’m sorry, baby,” I told him with a kiss, “but I must’ve crashed as soon as I got dinner finished.” The television was still on his station, talking at that very moment about what would come down on us.
-------
Ken Owens, star of Butting Heads, announced publicly that he was sick of the Christian world and would take the BITES chip first if they’d have him, to show his public endorsement of the new biological implant.
-------
“Oh for fuck sake, I didn’t say I was sick of the Christian world. I said I was sick of prophecy nutcases!” he answered with a voice so disdainful it could’ve shattered the television screen.
-------
I turned to him and chuckled. “That’s my troublemaker.” Then I kissed him again, more passionately than before. He received it, but then looked at me as though angered.
-------
“I can’t believe you missed it.”
-------
“Well, I’m sorry. It’s been an insane day.”
-------
“Then you don’t know, do you?”
-------
I shook my head. Then I sat back down on the couch as he started giving his speech about what else had happened, and I’m sure that he didn’t feel any more encouraged when I obviously had to fight sleep off again the second I sank into the cushion.
-------
“I’m going to be hosting a special about this so-called fucking BITES program, including a crossfire argument between our UN representative for the program, and your old boyfriend.”
-------
I was dumbfounded, and not because of being tired. “What?”
-------
“Lindon Moss wants to be on the show to present an argument against participating in the program.” He stripped his shirt and sat beside me, which always destroyed any defense I had if any argument should arise between us. I confess: I am an addict to furry chests and an incurable snuggle-aholic.
-------
“Jesus, you’re going to be between my old college roommates. That’s seriously fucked up.”
-------
Yeah, I spent some time to tell him about my former association with the senator. I figured it was a good enough time to break out something previously unmentioned. I also admit, I’m an opportunist who takes advantage of his husband’s fatigue.
-------
He stroked my hair and rubbed my back. Then he must’ve read my mind, because he lifted the back of my shirt so that he could rub it. I melt with his bare-hand on my skin. He has opportunist methods too, you know. I didn’t push the conversation any further.
-------
“Let’s get to bed,” I said.
-------
“Absolutely.”
-------
We did. If you’re wondering whether we had sex, the answer is only if you consider synchronized snoring sexual.
-------
Which I don’t.
-------
Okay, I kind of do. Don’t judge me.

*------*------*

If you’d ever wondered, before BITES hit the news, of how serious people still took this whole antichrist bullshit, the answer would be clear to you once you realize the speed with which the media responded to the announcement. And the churches took absolutely no time in arranging entire marching demonstrations in various places the very next day. Work and production nationwide was at a standstill within half a week. And my seven year relationship seemed to come to a screeching halt in just a couple of days.
-------
Well, it really hadn’t. I felt like it had because of all the time he spent working and all the secrecy I thought he’d been keeping. Okay, yes, I overreacted, but in my defense, I’m hardly a drop in the nut bucket of those days.
-------
I couldn’t tell what Ken was up to, but I knew it was clear he did not want me involved. Or even to know why he was supposed to be so incredibly busy. So as the world went berserk, I got to watch it all. Alone. On television. I got the distinct impression that the reason the station never seemed to need my services on the lighting of any of the shows was because Ken had arranged it to be so. So much for unionization.
-------
I didn’t know if he was protecting me or if he was up to something screwy. And since I came to resent, distrust, and even despise him for it all, I can’t say that within this time I was actually in love with him at all. I even swore that I wasn’t sure I even had a relationship.
-------
That’s about as much on that topic as I feel like saying, so you’ll have to forgive me if I don’t talk about it anymore than this. I didn’t move out or anything. I just spent all my nights alone. And my days. Pretty much the entire so-called tribulation time. I called a friend or two every now and then, but you’d have to understand, gays weren’t exactly en vogue during these insane times. So many people felt Christianity had been completely verified just because of this one supposed sign of the apocalypse coming true. If the big judgment was coming, even the other gays didn’t want to be too close to other gays, lest they should be damned by association.
-------
So the next several weeks I can only tell you by what I heard, watched, and listened to on the radio, or absorbed through conversation by people who apparently didn’t realize I was one of those unclean fags they shouldn’t be talking to. I’m sure you saw the big BITES implant special my Ken did, just as everyone else did.
-------
But just in case…

*------*------*

“This is the doctor who is going to give me my implant, on my left hand. Planet earth, meet Dr. Burger.” Ken greeted Burger, Burger hied back, and the questions were under way. “So why do you insist the left hand. Is it because that’s Satan’s favorite?”
-------
The doctor laughed with him, clearly not taking the accusation serious at all.
-------
“Yes, that’s precisely it. Satan prefers to wipe with the right hand, so I figure all who wish to be marked by evil would prefer not short circuit their credit cards while having a bowel movement.”
-------
The two chuckled for a moment. Probably longer, but that’s the magic of editing. One second they were cackling over Satanic toilet paper comments and the next, we were listening to Lindon Moss give a lecture, for equal time, about how the world would be marked for either salvation or damnation in the end times.
-------
“So as you can see,” Lindon said, pointing to the PowerPoint presentation screen behind him, “…this mark brings bad things and a horrible judgment onto the people.” The camera took time to focus on the multiple verses, while some weird Jars of Clay song played:

A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: "If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand, he, too, will drink of the wine of God's fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath… – Rev 14:9-10

The first angel went and poured out his bowl on the land, and ugly and painful sores broke out on the people who had the mark of the beast and worshiped his image. – Rev 16:2

They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. – Rev 20:4

-------“But you said earlier about taking on the mark of Christ instead,” the reporter asked him. “All that you have here are mentions of marks of the beast.”
-------
He had already begun nodding before she ended her question, as though expecting this. In fact, the acting behind it was far from Oscar worthy. Add to that the fact that the next slide went straight to the answer to her question, it seemed ridiculously staged. I doubt that believers would notice. Why should they, when they’re being shown only what they want to hear anyway?
-------
“Yes, well, did you read the Left Behind series? There was a part in that story where a mark of the Holy Spirit was only visible between those who had it.” As he asked this, and she mmm-hmmmed her response, the camera showed the slide that had popped up with a strange slowness. I stopped feeling like I was watching the news and more like I was being indoctrinated:

And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit… – Ephesians 1:13

-------“Is that what it’s going to be like?” she asked.
-------
“I’m not sure,” Moss admitted. “I think that the authors of Left Behind took some liberties there. But it gave me an idea of how we might get through these hard times with at least some ease, or at least those of us who are believers.”
-------
And that’s the first time I saw the damned thing. The camera panned to the fashion accessory that was to become the most insidious, as well as hideous (and I promise you, I didn’t mean to rhyme those): The ChristMark™. It was plastic-looking, and about the size of a quarter, or at least the round part was. As expected, it was a cross with the sun-ring around the center, and it had an exaggerated pearly white hue with silvery accent marks. It was as tacky as virtually every piece of cheap angel kitsch you’ve ever seen, and worst of all, it was going to become more ubiquitous than those pathetic gel shoes.
-------
“You see, Amy, Revelation tells us of a time when business everywhere will only be allowed and conducted by those who wear the mark of the beast. But up until that time, I think we who are strong in Christ and brave enough to wear this mark instead can show the world our convictions by running our businesses and only trading only with others who wear it too.”
-------
“So you’re taking a more pro-active approach. Do you intend on thwarting prophecy?”
-------
“Well no, you can’t thwart prophecy. What’s ahead is solid. But until then, we can show solidarity. We have only a short time to win souls to Christ, Amy. May I ask you if you should die tomorrow, do you know what you’d wake up to?”
-------
“I’ve been Methodist since I was twelve,” she replied shyly.
-------
“Make sure of it while you still have a chance,” he said with every bit of charisma he had. Which, to me, was zero. That’s not the man I called a roommate. He actually disgusted me with twice as much power as the lust I once felt for him.
-------
No matter. The world was about to lose its absolute mind in a race to wear marks on their heads, and the only thing going through my mind is that the world’s new religious leader used to brag about how much he could deep-throat a python without gagging. Well, that and how much I’d still like to try the same feat on him, for some sick reason.
-------
I know. Priorities.
-------
Senator Kramer came on next to explain some of the opposing viewpoints for the BITES program: “I don’t know how this is supposed to be from any ancient prophecy. It has no similarity whatsoever to evil empires forcing people to worship and wear a three-digit number. Lindon Moss and his ChristMark seems to threaten more of a scenario.”
-------
“I know,” my Ken said. “If you look at the chip, you will see nothing that has anything to do with anything with any beast or with six hundred and sixty-six, or sixteen, or even thirteen, or even my personal favorite: sixty-nine.” He paused for a laugh.
-------
“Nobody is even so much as asked to worship any god at all. For all they care you could worship your own nipples.” This actually caught Ken off guard, considering it was from a senator. He looked like he was about to choke.
-------
“But isn’t it true that the implant will replace money, forcing people to take the BITES mark in order to be able to trade.”
-------
“No, not at all. It isn’t even designed to replace money. The program was designed for the sake of security reasons. Credit cards can be easily stolen and then decoded, but a biological implant is not as easily stolen. The person who uses the chip will have complete authority over the use of it and all monetary functions.”
-------
“Would this then mean thieves of the future will be cutting off hands in order to use the chips?”
-------
“Impossible. The chip will be biologically fueled. It will not work if the person is harmed, because it ceases working if there’s an interruption in heartbeat.”
-------
“But is it really even necessary,” Ken persistently asked, “when monetary transactions are already password-protected and electronically—”
-------
“It’s no more or less necessary than credit cards ever were. That’s the thing. It is simply a new option, which will not replace any other already existing option. There are many who have desired this choice. I would let you ask them why they want it. We’re merely supplying it. If you don’t want it, don’t get it, period.”
-------
That’s when another reporter, who had apparently been on the scene the entire time (though I hadn’t noticed), suddenly asked: “If it’s of little consequence, and in fact, senator, if it’s no large issue, then why is the United States sending someone to the UN at all to make it a reality? Why not simply just implement it and offer it to the states?”
-------
News, as I’ve always known it, must create a grand illusion. If any reporter is able to chip a revealing piece of that illusion away, by asking too unsettling or exposing of a question or surprising their prey, they score points. Even in a country of controlled media, a reporter surely hopes to chip away at this illusion and gain the points that come with such an accomplishment.
-------
This is what I thought must have happened next.
-------
Kramer stumbled for a moment, nervously. The entire rest of the world would have seen this and known that he had just been caught in a question for which he was either not prepared, or had hoped to avoid. But not me. For a former roommate who, because of sharing drama class with him is all too familiar with his tactics in acting, I knew that even this was a ploy. When he stumbles in a lie, he winces as though he’s got a migraine. When trying to pretend at anything, he just stutters like it’s natural for him to do so. Which it is not. And in this interview, he simply stuttered, as though pretending to be captured.
-------
“I… I think th-that’s something you reporters must… must be blowing out of proportion. It’s just… I’m just… My job is just to help synchronize the program with American banks and financial institutions. It’s not like they’re sending me to—”
-------
“So why would they need someone who recently publicly admitted to being an atheist if, as you say, the White House is not concerned about, at the very least, the potential for this to be seen as prophetic?” I could see Ken giving a wince of submission, as though he had lost control of the interview. I know that look. At this point the management made the decisions and he was being forced to go along with something.
-------
“My… my religious views are not why I’m here.”
-------
The power of television editing took us straight back to Moss.
-------
“The only reason he’s there is because no other senator, congressman, or even cabinet member of the Winfrey Administration would touch the program with a ten foot pole. They know Satan’s hand is on this. Kramer thinks Satan doesn’t exist.”
-------
“Isn’t President Winfrey a devout Christian herself?” Amy asked.
-------
“Winfrey a Christian? I couldn’t tell you that, honestly. That would be something for her to answer between her and God. As a president, she no doubt has to be advised on the project first before making a choice, even if she’ll turn it down. But I know her own pastor falls in disbelief about prophecy, leaving many of us to wonder if she’s not really a new-age believer disguised as one. After all, simply skim through much of the programming she offered when she was merely a talk show host.”
-------
And then back to Kramer, whose stuttering seemed only to have gotten worse:
-------
“Look, it’s… just know that it’s not… this didn’t come from some devil. The rest of… the rest of the world can’t all be evil. That’s a… xenophobia that we have practiced far… far too much in religion. It has no place in this.” Kramer seemed more uncomfortable now. That is, if you did not know him.
-------
I could tell he was enjoying the spotlight as though fishing for an Oscar.
-------
“So will it hurt?” my husband asked Burger. Suddenly editing’s witchcraft took us back into the office where he was about to take the BITES chip. “It’s not going to throb or burn like the hellspawn that they say it is, will it? Because if it is, I need to know if Ibuprofen will take the bite off.”
-------
“No, the hand will be entirely deadened. You can even be completely put under if you’d like. Through a simple incision—”
-------
I cut the doctor off by muting the screen. I don’t really know why I didn’t turn it off all together. I missed him. It was all I could do not to cry. The face on the screen was enough to barely pacify me. The voice on top of that was over the top, so I guess muting was the option I unconsciously chose. I should have opted for voice over face, however, as watching open-hand surgery and faces of mild disgust and pain did little to make me feel better.
-------
I decided to go for a walk. The city is rarely safe for that kind of thing in non-tribulation times, so I was curious to see what they’d be like now. That’s a lie. I just needed outside. If I were to be robbed, mugged, gang-raped, or tied down and dressed like a poodle, it would be of little consequence. I needed out. No reason was given.
-------
And while outside, that’s when I could hear the distance thundering of applause, shouting, and more. Following the noise, I found myself face-to-face with a party of people who were marching to denounce the BITES mark program and warning people not to take it. I saw in their eyes an act of rejoicing for the near end of things. But I also saw in many of them a hidden, frenzied terror that I only remember seeing in old black and white horror films involving zombies.
-------
That’s kind of how I felt when I saw them. I didn’t want to deal with their questions. I didn’t want to see how they’d react if I told them I thought they were insane, nor did I want to be stuck in their mob and assumed one of them. To be honest, I feared them. I’d rather have been gang-raped by mugging murderers or facing zombies. They’re not as scary. Nowhere near.
-------
I hid from them. When they were gone I tried to continue on my trek, but there was enough insanity to drive me back into my home, feeling like a prisoner. With no further interest in the show or the rest of the television’s selection, I fell into my bed and slept.
-------
I dreamt of God coming out of a cloudy sky to tell everybody to knock off the racket because he was trying to sleep, and all the praying people were disturbing his peace. I don’t know why he looked so much like one of those monsters from Aliens. Maybe I shouldn’t eat frozen burritos before I go to sleep.
-------
I awoke and saw the clock read 3:26 a.m. and that the windows were still darkened by night. I had apparently slept for 12 hours. Then I realized that I was awake, which is the only reason I could see that the clock read 3:26 and that it was night. What woke me suddenly became apparent. It was a toilet flushing. I looked over and saw my lover removing his clothes. He crawled into bed with me, apparently not realizing I was awake.
-------
He kissed me on the shoulder and fell snoring seconds later. I felt like wiping the kiss off, but I didn’t know why. Something made me feel like taking on the raping mugger/murderers and the zombies rather than endure another kiss from this man.
-------
That’s when I started entertaining the idea of finding a new place, or at least a place to hide for a few days.

*------*------*

I read the papers. And unlike the news stories on the television that I cut off, I read them all the way through. I understood what was going on all too well. I knew the biblical verses they used by heart. I often caught myself saying them in my head, but in that nyah nyah voice that kids use when they mock you.
-------
I think I preferred the newspapers. Even though it seemed like every news facility was pandering to the Christians’ warnings, it seemed easier to swallow it when you didn’t have to hear the tone of their voices. Though they seemed to think some great persecution was supposed to come their way, with over 85% of the world believing in their god, that persecution seemed so entirely small. It was hilarious to me that nobody seemed to notice such a statistic.
-------
And the 15% who did not believe as they did, well . . . they sure did have an intoxicating story ahead of them. You could hear amongst them the conversations where they were wavering, quite terrified that there might be something to the hell myth. It seemed many would be pulled into belief out of terror and cowardice.
-------
It was strange, however, that there were no riots that I’d heard of. There was no crime as I’d expected either. No expected news at all, other than about the mark. Perhaps everybody was cramming for their finals to get into heaven. Perhaps any crime was simply not being reported at all because of the Mark obsession. At one point I looked out the window and notice marching mobs of believers had drawn crosses on their foreheads rather than waiting for the one Moss had handled on television.
-------
At some point fear can’t keep you in an apartment anymore. I couldn’t take microwaved food from our apartment’s stash any longer. So at one point I sat reading that newspaper in an IHOP over crepes where there were no televisions at all. Service still existed but it was expectedly accompanied by talk of Jesus. I still could not escape the madness, it seemed. While I was eating there, that was the moment when the other big announcement hit. Someone rang the IHOP on the phone, and our head waitress who had answered it evacuated damned near the entire restaurant with one announcement:
-------
“Everyone, may I have your attention!” she shouted, her waddling neck quivering in such a way that I could just see her going t-t-t-tsk at my every sin like the southern Baptist she practically screamed to be. “They just announced that the Christmark is going to be distributed at the Wal-Mart on Covington and Chance, and they’re handing them out for free. All of the staff are heading down there now, so don’t even worry about paying. We’re going now!”
-------
The entire place emptied out faster than a concert hall would if it were announced that  Sinatra couldn’t make it and Yoko Ono would perform in his place. I looked up and noticed seven people remained—all customers who, like me, fumbled with the idea of simply finishing our food and leaving without paying. I noticed one guy left a tip. I did too. There was just a weird guilt I’d have if I hadn’t.
-------
The IHOP was next to a department store, equally abandoned. I figured I’d check to see if there were any merchandise I needed but didn’t want to pay for. I admit it.  I took advantage of the apocalypse for free stuff. But the entrance took me through the entertainment and electronics. The televisions all seemed to be broadcasting the announcement of Wal-Mart’s ChristMark distribution.
-------
Salvation. At Wal-Mart. I couldn’t wrap my head around this one. Their slogan kept going through my mind, except it was changed to Watch for falling morality standards.
-------
I noticed one television, however, was on my station. Apparently just enough staff continued to work to keep some broadcasting going. It wasn’t Ken, so I couldn’t help but wonder why he was gone so much if he wasn’t being put on air. However the second I noticed the station was broadcasting something different from the others, the program disappeared and suddenly the footage switched to the frenzy going on at Wal-Marts. Insanity at Wal-Marts all across the nation flashed before my eyes.
-------
I stepped to the set and turned it up. That’s when I noticed it was Ken’s voice, being as whimsical as ever, making fun of the mobs and the very concept of it all.
-------
“I’ve heard of blue-light specials, but this is ridiculous,” he said. “If you’d shown me this before all this ChristMark and BITES business, I’d swear I was seeing Wal-Mart handing out free porn and lube! I don’t think Beanie Babies were ever this popular.”
-------
I had missed his irreverence. I missed his body beside me at night too. I broke down crying. I felt like such an idiot thinking about leaving him, but still angry that I wasn’t working beside him. I know he was protecting me from the craziness that was out there. But I didn’t feel protected being alone at home.
-------
“…in a frenzy worse than any Black Friday you’ve ever seen. And this just in: Justin Bieber is starting to feel jealous. He apparently hasn’t been mobbed in days now because everyone’s at Wal-Mart. Yeah, well, suck it Justin. Jesus is coming. He’s a little more popular than you, and by equally crazy people.”
-------
“Well you know we’d better get down there and get one of those ChristMarks before they run out, Ken,” the station’s anchorman, Cal Rifkin, added in jest. He frequently joked with Ken about the nonsense of the religious world.  “I’d sure hate to think we missed our chance at salvation because of the lack of supply.”
-------
“Well I didn’t rush into the insane crowds the day the Deathly Hallows came out, and you know something, Cal? I got a copy just fine that next day without having to decapitate any nuns to get it.” The two laughed and continued on in their banter.
-------
I was feeling the tremendous weight of depression for the fact I was alone. Not an emptiness for the lack of Jesus, or any religion, or God. I tried all those things out with Moss, years ago. The emptiness remained. My loneliness came from realizing just how insanely occupied everybody was all the time, too busy to really sit and listen and get to know one another. Too swept up in crazes and finding new, fashionable ways of avoiding each other.
-------
I missed Ken. He had been the only one who ever truly got to know me.
-------
They tell you that we all feel an emptiness in our hearts until we have God. Well, my emptiness vanished alright. Not with baptism. Not with Hail Marys. It only vanished with a good old fashioned holding of hands, kissing with tongue, and butt sex, from someone with depth and genuine interest in me. It was no wonder I felt so alone the past few days. He was the only person who ever truly let me in and this was the first time he’d ever shut me out.
-------
I stared into the television screens, one by one. Chaos reigned. I didn’t want to be alone in a world this full of frenzy. I wouldn’t stand for it anymore. I was going to put my foot down to him to let him know it.
-------
I hadn’t even done anything naughty in the deserted department store, and already I couldn’t think of anything I’d rather do than leave it and find my husband and demand that we be together no matter what happens.
-------
So I left for home, to begin my search. But on the way out I stepped beside a stack of copies of books by religious people: T.D. Jakes, John Hagee, Pat Robertson, and several other holy blowhards. I unzipped my pants and peed all over them. I still have my principles after all.

*------*------*

Ken was not home, of course. I showered and changed my clothes, readying myself not a moment too soon. I had just splashed cologne on my chest and started to button my shirt. It was then that the vibration in my pocket told me what my ears could not. I had a call. From work.
-------
With all the crazed believers gone, the station was in desperate need for staff. I was asked to return to work, despite Ken’s desire to keep me away from the station. I was there almost immediately.
-------
Just knowing he was nearby was enough for me. His smile betrayed that he in fact missed me as well. No time to share sentiment one on one, but one glance said everything we needed.
-------
Much of what had been broadcast that day had been sent out to virtually nobody. Everyone was occupied with getting their damned ChristMarks or getting together in mobs to celebrate being saved. With little else to broadcast, the networks had a choice of shows done by left-out people like us, or reruns of old syndicates. Our network obviously chose us. Ken’s program aired on.
-------
“—with all of the mayhem, I am reminded with what Charles Kimball wrote about in his book, When Religion Becomes Evil. That there were five warning signs of any cult becoming dangerous. Like drinking the Kool-Aid, or going on witch hunts. And one of them, obviously, involved a warning of, and preparation for, an apocalypse.”
-------
“You already know that those warning signs refer to silly cults, right? But Christianity is different, because it really is the only way to God,” Ken had said in laughter.
-------
“Oh exactly. All of them are real. All of them know all the rest of them are not real. None of them think that the fact they think like this makes them just like all the others who think like this, because all of them truly think they’re different.”
-------
“No, they know they are.”
-------
“Exactly,” Kramer sat up and sniffed, as though incensed by the topic. He seemed to be on laughing, first-name basis with my partner now. It was a huge change. “It’s exactly the blind conviction that makes self-fulfilled prophecy. The BITES program was simply in answer to, as I understand it, a need for higher-trusted monetary security transactions amongst those who would otherwise be targets for severe fraud and identity theft. But suddenly it’s the antichrist coming to town.”
-------
“That’s because they’re starving for their apocalypse. They want it so badly that they’re willing to push for the end of the world to get to it. But I happen to love this planet, thank you very much,” Ken had said, slamming his fist into the table, though he merely mocked acting serious, “and if they’re going to go, I’d rather they leave this world in good enough shape so that the rest of us can live on a world worth living on.”
-------
At this point, Kramer shook his head, exasperated. After a pause, he finally conceded, “That is not logically going to happen. Insane suicidal behavior almost always wants to take others out with them. In this case, 85 percent—plus! Of the billions of people alive today. They don’t have any objection to taking out this planet.”
-------
“You know,” Ken said, “I’m reminded of when my uncle’s little boy was dying. He was a staunch atheist, my uncle. Like most of my family. But when his own eight-year-old son was dying in a hospital bed, he was surprised by him. His son asked him about if he was going to see God and go to heaven when he died. My uncle told him, oh sure, absolutely. And I know he was letting him die with his last moments of consciousness being one of peace.”
-------
Ken had stopped himself, feeling choked up. It had always been a tender subject for him. Kramer did not interrupt.
-------
“That’s what religion is for,” he finally finshed. “I guess. But not this. Not insanity and terror and threats and war.”
-------
“Exactly,” Kramer finally said, loud enough to startle him from the moment. “These people want to leave this world. If I could, I’d let them all die out in the same way, thinking they’re going up in their apocalyptic rapture thingie. And then it’s good riddance. Nobody would be hurt, and these people who are so miserable on earth could die happy. It would be a win-win situation. Give them the apocalypse they want and get them out of here. And then maybe the planet could heal from the harm we’re doing to it, and the creatures going extinct won’t have to. Maybe humanity can move on and become worthwhile stewards of the planet again.”
-------
The entire studio became silenced. It wasn’t just that the topic was so harsh.  It was more like it was what virtually everybody else in the room was coming to think too, but couldn’t quite put into words. The synchronicity of our minds, especially on such a vicious thought, was a hell of a shock.
-------
And it was not lost on me that Kramer seemed the most convicted of this than anybody else in that room.
-------
The studio had chosen to edit the comment out, which is why it was missing from all the looping streams. I thought I understood why. Although to be honest, I didn’t give it much thought. It was one of those questions you’re asked that goes on the back burner, really. I had no idea. I didn’t worry about it or even notice until now, to be honest.
-------
Eventually it was decided I could go back home and not return, if I wanted to. I didn’t want that, but I did want sleep. Ken needed it too. So I insisted we would both be back. Ken seemed relieved.
-------
We went home together, but were too exhausted to manage more than a little spooning. I was terrified that in the short time we’d become strangers to each other, because when he put his arm around me the hand felt strange to me. Then I realized it was the bandaging from the implant surgery. I relaxed. I almost woke him by laughing at myself. It really was a relief.

*------*------*

I guess you could say they handed their little trinkets out quickly and efficiently, because things returned to their normal state of manic in no time. The ChristMark-wearing population grew like wildfire. And because many Christians were so angst-ridden about the coming apocalypse, even the previously tolerant ones became too driven by the heat of the moment. They began to take over and sell only to other Christmark wearers. The calls came in about stores refusing business to the unmarked. The irony seemed lost on all except the 15%.
-------
Like Moss said, they weren’t going to take these tribulations lying down. They’d even go against prophecy if they could, and feel victorious over their ability to do it. As though to suggest Jesus did a better job converting people than they’d originally thought when the prophecies were made, they pre-empted the apocalypse by acting likek the antichrist they feared, but for Jesus. Not a one questioned that this, therefore, nullified it as a prophecy. Why should they? They’d never thought to question their own beliefs.
-------
The extremely unpopular minority of people suffered pretty badly. There were even those who not only refused to wear the Christmark, but who began to write 666 on their foreheads in magic marker, as a joke to mock the craziness. We had a few on the show.
-------
“So you’re all evil and vile and vicious and want to take over the world, I take it,” my Ken asked three of them, who sat giggling on the couch. “That’s the mark that’s supposed to take over the entire economy and force everyone to worship as they do. Ironic, isn’t it?”
-------
“Exactly!” the cutest one, an Asian male, started to say. “It’s not just irony. We’re seeing how these people have become everything Jesus preached against. It’s like they are their own antichrists.”
-------
“But you were telling me you believe in Christ too?” Ken asked him.
-------
“I was raised Christian. I can’t say that I’d call myself one now, but I remember his teachings well. I also remember nobody in my church acting like he talked about at all! In fact, if you did start to act like Jesus, everybody got on to you and called you a liberal. So I don’t call myself a Christian. I’d rather follow his examples than follow a religion with his name merely stamped on it, if you know what I mean.”
-------
“But to be fair, according to the gospels, everybody got onto Jesus too,” the only lady of the trio said. She had chosen the bloodiest red color for her mark. “Especially, if you notice, the religious people of his day.”
-------
Ken’s head shook violently in agreement, as though he were about to explode for being so happy to hear somebody say that.
-------
“Why did you three choose to, you know, to mark yourselves?”
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“Because everybody’s freaking out!” the final one said. “It’s terrifying! “Not because there’s anything to be afraid of, but because everybody is anyway, if that makes sense.”
-------
“Perfect sense,” Ken said.
-------
“Thank you,” he blushed. “We’re just trying to show that we’re not afraid. Somebody has to. Although now we are afraid. But of them!”
-------
“There is one thing that this whole incident is showing us, however,” the Asian spoke again.
-------
“What’s that?” Ken asked him.
-------
“Well, the world had only seemed to move on from its archaic superstitions. Only seemed to. But the first sign of mere possibility that apocalypse might have some truth, even a pathetic so-called sign as this, and these humans scurry like roaches. Like you’d just turned on a lightswitch. They rush back to them. Nothing about them had ever really changed.”
-------
“And if nothing about them has changed there, in that fear” said the girl, “Or should I say, if their fear hasn’t changed, then I’m willing to bet neither have any of their bigotries, nor their willingness to violently uphold them. In fact, I’m scared our joke marks are probably going to get us killed for real.”
-------
“That’s really frightening,” Ken said to him. “Considering didn’t the prophecy say that they would be the ones killed for not wearing one?”
-------
“It really shows you where everything has gone, doesn’t it?”

*------*------*

There weren’t that many who dared draw 666 on their heads, of course. Their scarcity even outnumbered the scarcity of those who, like me, did not have a Christmark yet. And by yet, I mean many still struggled with the idea of getting one anyway just to be safe.
-------
The show had ended and Ken and I needed to take some much needed time to rest and relax for the next big day’s schedule. That’s when I finally remembered to bring up what he’d said with Kramer the previous day.
-------
“You know, I never thought you’d talk about the time your nephew died on the air. You almost never mention him at all since it happened.”
-------
He delayed so long in acknowledging what I’d said that I began to think he hadn’t heard me, or fear that I’d just offended him in some way.
-------
“I know. It’s like a part of me that died.” He paused again and took a heavy breath. I could feel some deep thought in that breath, and I actually wondered for a moment if he was considering taking the ChristMark too. It’s crazy. He was so convicted about atheism that if you’d told me this would all end with him being marked by it, I’d have said you were crazy.
-------
“I guess everybody’s really taking stock of their lives right now,” he finally finished his thought. “Even heathens like me.”
-------
His nephew’s name was Edward. I never knew him. It was the first hardship Ken and I faced together, losing him. We got the call about him dying, but we’d only made it to the hospital in time for Ed’s last moments. Ken decided to go in alone. By the time I’d seen him, he had already passed away.
-------
Edward’s death was strangely similar to these so-called tribulation times. Even if these aren’t really the last days, they still get you thinking and reflecting. Everyone. Even Ken’s sister had a change of heart as her son was dying.
-------
She had completely shut Ken out of her and her son’s life because of his sexual orientation. He hadn’t even known Edward was sick. Finally Ken had received the reluctant call from her. She wasn’t being nice, but her son wanted to see him. For her son, she even paid for our plane tickets. Both of ours. She still spoke to him with venom as she did it, until that night when he was hanging on in the end. That’s when the guilt that she had in not letting Ed even know his uncle seized her beyond her religious beliefs.
-------
Death broke her and tore down her religious bigotry. That’s what mortality does to us. It reminds us we have only each other to hold onto. That’s not what happened from the threat of apocalypse. That threatens you with painful immortality. It makes you reinforce your bigotry and despise this life. It’s insanely the opposite effect.
-------
“Why do you think you’re thinking about it now?” I asked Ken, knowing the answer already. In fact, I just sort of told you the answer. He did not answer me. He did not need to. I simply held his hand while his eyes misted over. How could even a world of insanity make me think I could leave him?

*------*------*

We slept, again, like the dead. This time we were worn out from more than just work. If you’re wondering if lovemaking was part of that, I’ll plead the fifth. I’m talking about the emotional exchange he and I had just from talking about Edward and me holding him as he cried and thought. It was enough to wear us both out.
-------
The explosion, however, was barely enough to make even a dull thud. It wasn’t enough to wake Ken, who was still laying in the position I’d left him in. I was on the computer looking up a very strange assortment of news stories, because emotion makes me incapable of sleeping, no matter how tired.
-------
But even if I had been asleep, what the explosion lacked, the woman’s screams had in abundance. That even rocked Ken so hard he leapt to the window, forgetting he was unclothed. Grabbing a robe, he and I both rushed next door to find our neighbor, Mrs. Barron, in nothing but her nightgown, covered in blood and in hysterics. I’ll spare you the several minutes of panic, and nearly futile efforts to calm her. Long before she stopped screaming, Ken stepped out of her home to announce Mr. Barron was lying dead on their bedroom floor.
-------
“What happened?” I asked.
-------
He merely shook his head as though he didn’t know, but minutes later he finally answered: “It looks like he decided to blow his brains out.”
-------
Mrs. Barron hadn’t been in the vicinity to hear that, thank god. We’d already left her with others. By the looks of her, she either found him and held him, or he did it in such a way that the shot sent blood all over her. It was impossible to say. But since the screams, and her exit from the house, came immediately after the dull thud, the latter seemed more plausible to me.
-------
It took forever for us to get the situation under control. When we finally got proper authorities in our neighborhood so they could handle it, we were both wiped out.
-------
My last thought before sleep was brief, but it haunts me now. It was how I had just been reading the stories of such suicides all over the country. Just like with Moss’ Exile suicides. They were all the same. They were all gunshots. It was as though humanity had forgotten any other way to kill themselves. It was such an insane thing that my mind could only dismiss it as too absurd to be true.
-------
I had no idea what it meant. Other than insanity.

 

To be continued...------