Monday, August 17, 2020

A Piece of Your Mind by Ryan Collins

Ryan Collins' character tests the limits of his colleague Randy's whacky conspiracy theories.

"It tastes just like chicken, they say," Randy said as he climbed back in the truck.

"What tastes like chicken?" I asked even though I was pretty sure I didn't want to know.

"Cats." He pulled the door shut. The old delivery truck rocked and squealed.

"Who says that?"

"The fucking orientals, man. Who else?"

We just dropped off a pallet of restaurant supplies to The Golden Dragon, an all-you-can eat Chinese buffet - a damn good one - on the west side of Burton. I nodded at the hunched over old man who'd just signed for the delivery. He was still looking over the invoice. "Mr. Xiu told you that?"

Randy winced. "Naw, man. He wouldn't tell me that. I'm talking about people on the internet. I'm telling you, check out my message boards, man. You'd learn some shit." He punched in the delivery as complete in our tablet and poked his chin at Mr. Xiu. "You ever eat there?"

It'd been a long time since I'd eaten at any Chinese buffet, but as far as I could recall, I hadn't eaten any cats. "Nope."

"You'll never catch me dead in there."

"You think there was any cat meat in the pallet we just gave him?"

Randy considered it a moment before shaking his head. "They wouldn't order that shit through us."

I nodded like it all made perfect sense. "I guess not. Say, how do you go about ordering cat meat?"

Randy looked at me like I was the biggest fool on the planet. "They got markets for that shit out of China, man. Jesus, ain't you listened to nothing I've said? There are black markets that traffic in all kinds of crazy shit. Shit you wouldn't believe. Fucking cat meat ain't nothing. I'm talking freeze dried mammoth and human baby parts." He tisked and shook his head at me like a disappointed parent.

"What does baby taste like?"

"Pork."

"Pork?"

He made a face like I'd just farted. "Fuck, man, I ain't never tried any. I'm just telling you what I've read."

"On the internet?"

He pursed his lips. "The dark web. Order anything you want. Just like Amazon, man. You can read reviews of all that shit. I heard one said baby is better than heritage-raised pork."

"You read that?"

"Not me personally. I don't get on the dark web. I ain't got my VPN set up right just yet. Fuck, the FBI and DHS are already watching me. I don't want to give them a reason to knock on my door."

Mr. Xiu, satisfied with the invoice, gave us a wave and a warm smile. Randy and I waved back. He fired up the old box truck. It roared to life like some ancient monster.

"So how do you know about the review, heritage pork and all that?"

He backed up the beeping truck, craning his neck from side to side to see out the sideview mirrors. "Cold Truth."

"The podcast?"

"Fuck yeah! Plus, there's a contributor to my message board who's on the dark web all the time. He backed it up. One-hundred percent verified, my friend."

I shrugged. "Can't argue with that."



I had spent the last three days descending the deepest depths of Randy's paranoid world. I'd come back to Burton after having been away for a long time and got a job with Burton Distributing as a delivery driver. The boss had teamed me up with Randy so I could take over his route, the West Burton route. Randy had been driving for almost twelve years and was getting ready to take over the coveted Uxbridge Campus route. Soon, he'd said, he'd have nothing but pedestrian traffic and pretty college girls to deal with.

Randy seemed normal enough, at first. Just an old, lanky dude whose white hair had stopped growing on the top of his head but didn't want to quit growing down the back and sides. He was thin as a flag pole, the denim coveralls the company gave us hung off him like a hospital gown, and those big eyes that popped out of their sunken sockets gave him the look of a mad scientist.

At first, it was cordial between us. We shook hands and shot the shit like a couple of normal human guys. He asked me where I was from, and I told him I'd just gotten an apartment out in Fairview. He'd lived in Burton his whole life and never married. "I can't put nobody at risk," he'd said. I didn't know what that meant at the time, but I figured it was just a line he gave to cover the fact he'd never met anybody. He seemed like kind of a loner. I asked about friends and family, nothing too prying, just small talk, and he'd spilled out his whole life story - deadbeat dad he never knew, an overprotective mother who'd passed away eight years prior. He'd lived with her up until the end, taking care of her and the house as she lost her mind and memory. By the end, she didn't even remember his name, but he still kept on mowing the grass and fixing the gutters. No real friends, either, save for some crazies on the internet. I was well on my way to feeling sorry for the old, lonely fucker.

Then we stopped for lunch.

"Hey, man," he said, swinging the truck through the trailer yard of a tool and dye company we'd just delivered a couple pallets to. "You hungry? We can stop up here at the Dixie Diner for lunch if you want."

"Sure, we can stop for lunch. I packed mine though."

"Packed your lunch?" He said it like he didn't understand the concept.

I shook my book bag. "Yeah. I'm a serial packer. I could grab a coffee though."

He narrowed his eyes. "You got allergies or something?"

I didn't know where this was going. "No."

"Vegetarian?"

"Not really. It's just cheaper, you know."

"So you don't like to eat at restaurants, huh?"

By his tone, I was starting to think maybe Dixie Diner was owned by a cousin or a close friend. "I mean, it's not a principle or anything. I just like to know where my food comes from. A lot of the stuff you find in restaurants is mass-produced, factory farm stuff." I thought for sure I'd pissed him off somehow the way he chewed his lip. "Look," I pleaded. "I'm not a snob or anything. I mean, I have a weakness for junk food just like everybody. I just got to work up to it first."

Silence. I shouldn't have said junk food. I figured this is where things got weird between us. And it was. Just not like I'd expected. "I hear you, brother," he said. He dug around in the breast pocket of his coveralls. Whatever he got a hold of in there, he kept it concealed in his fist. "You can't trust none of the shit the government tries to give us."

I kept my eyes on his clenched up fist. "I didn't say nothing about the government. I was talking about factory farms -"

"It's all the same shit, man. The fuckin' USDA, Monsanto, Big Agra, they're all heads of the same hydra. They're just trying to fill us up with their GMOs and mind-control shit. Fuckin' sterilize the population."

I laughed and he gave me a look that could have sliced my head off. "I mean, yeah." I swallowed. "I'm no fan of GMOs. Know your farmer, right?"

"You fuckin' got that right. You can trust the folks at Dixie, though. They're good people." He tapped his temple. "In the know."

"That's a relief."

He glanced at me sidelong, like he was sussing out whether or not I was a spy. "You know about Baiyao?"

I did not, but something told me I was about to hear all about it. "A little."

He stuck his fist out. I flinched, but he just held it out there. It took me a heartbeat to realize he was offering me something. He was puzzled by my hesitation. "Come on, man. I wouldn't do you wrong."

He could have dropped any damn thing in my palm, a dead mouse or a used snot rag. Considering how things ended up, it would've been better if it had been some regular kind of weirdness. Instead, he dropped a little green capsule in my palm. I brought it up close to my face to examine it. It was homemade, just a little capsule that looked like I could have pulled it apart. Inside was a greenish brown powder, like cumin or coriander.

"Baiyao root," he said, proud as shit. "It's kept me alive this long. You should try it."

I had lots of objections to just popping an unidentified, homemade pill into my mouth, but I was starting to feel like bringing that up just now was not the safest of ideas. "What is it exactly?"

"Herbal compound. One-hundred percent natural and organic."

How to tell him that didn't answer shit? "Randy, rattlesnake venom is one-hundred percent natural and organic. That doesn't mean I'm about to start taking venom tablets."

"What the fuck you talking about? It's a dietary supplement, man. You don't eat snake venom. Everybody knows venom's topical, just for lotion and chapstick."

"Right."

"I just take one pill for breakfast, one for lunch and eat a light dinner and it keeps all that toxic shit from taking hold in your system. I steam-distill all my water, too. Can't trust that municipal stuff. Too much fluoride and who knows what else?"

I held the pill up to the light, stalling in every way I could think of to keep from taking it. "Where do you get it?"

That was the first time I saw him smile. He looked like somebody stretched a piece of leather over a skull. "You heard of Arthur Stone?"

I suppressed a sigh. "The podcast guy?"

"The fucking Truth Bringer, you mean! Yeah, he ran an episode a few years back about Baiyao -"

"Uh, let me guess, he sells it on his website?"

"That's right. He's got a supporter out in China that hooked him up with one of those traditional herbalists they got over there. Fucking Communist Party's been trying to shut him down for years. And you know what that's about, right? Word is Baiyao also interferes with all the RFID trackers the communists are using to track people over there. It's only a matter of time before they catch up to him. That's why I've already got my stockpile at home."

"That's good, man," I said. As discreetly as I could, I slipped the capsule in my pocket. I've still got it in my trophy case back home. "That's real good."



Over the past three days, I'd learned more about how this world works than I ever thought possible. There were the obvious ones: 9/11 was of course an inside job orchestrated by Bush 2 and oil sheikhs in Saudi Arabia; school shootings were false flag operations conducted by the Obama Administration; Soros and his gaggle of demons; and Islamists meant to justify the disarmament of the American People; the flu shot was just Big Pharma's way of making us all sick so we'd spend more on healthcare; the fluoride in the water was not really fluoride, it was a radioactive isotope used to sterilize Christians - but then sometimes it was fluoride because fluoride was used to activate the 'gay gene' in adolescent boys. "That's why so many young people are going fag and tranny and everything in-between," he said. "You can't blame them. It's the fuckin' government, man. Population control."

I enjoyed prodding him on. I felt like an 18th-Century sailor fathoming uncharted waters. There be dragons and krakens and unimagined horrors in the depths of his delusions. I brought up JFK just for fun, and I wasn't disappointed. "Man, JFK was fuckin' amateur hour. The government and the mob were like a bunch of blind babies stumbling around in the dark. I mean, look how sloppy that shit was. Everybody and their brother can see the official story is just a crock." He lowered his voice, the way he always did before he dropped the real shit. "Now, if the Big Guys had really been involved, nobody'd know anything other than the official story."

"The Big Guys? What, like the Illuminati?"

He grinned like an imp, tapping his temple. "I guess you could say that. The Illuminati, the Freemasons, all of them answer to The Big Guys." He waggled his eyebrows and pointed up to the sky.

I couldn't help myself. I feel bad about it now. "Aliens, you mean?"

He pursed his lips, nodded slowly. "The goddamn Grays. Those fuckers are behind everything since the goddamn Tower of Babylon."

"Babel," I said by reflex.

"You got it!" We pulled up to a place that made custom signage for businesses. It was my turn to take care of the paperwork so I got out and walked around to the back of the truck. When I was sure he couldn't hear me, I burst out laughing. "Aliens," I whispered, wiping tears from my eyes. "The shit people believe these days."

Despite his bigotry and paranoia, I started to feel a little sorry for Randy. He was a deeply lonely man who'd lost most everything in terms of personal connection. In a way, I could relate. I'd just made a huge change and was still adjusting to a new situation. I didn't know anybody in Burton, and I wasn't the best at making or keeping personal connections. Yet here I was poking fun at this old man who genuinely thought he was doing some good by sharing his truth with some young guy he'd decided to trust. It was obvious the guy just wanted someone to share with, some real, warm body to bounce his crazy ideas off. He was out of his mind, but at least he wasn't being a dick to the guy sharing a cab with him. That was all on me.



"Take everything that just happened with the coronavirus. I mean, you know what that was all about?" We were at a rest area off the interstate. It was a nice spring day so I'd asked Randy if we could stop so I could eat my lunch at one of the picnic areas. He'd already taken his Baiyao root, so he just watched me eat my quinoa and kale salad and went on and on.

"I mean, I thought I did."

He scoffed and crossed his arms. "Man, ain't you been listening? The official story ain't never the real story." He watched the interstate traffic hissing by, shaking his head like he'd never been so disappointed in anything in his life. "You heard of 5G, right?"

I covered my mouth with my hand so no quinoa spilled out. "Like for cell phones?"

"Yeah, cell phones, data, all that shit."

"It's supposed to be super-fast. Should let you have autonomous cars and stuff like that."

"Yeah. Robot cars and a fuckload of leukemia."

I stopped chewing.

"That's right! Chinese government developed the technology, promising all this stuff about data speeds and high-speed connectivity for everyone all over the world. Truth is, it's all about making their enemies weaker. It's a radioactive weapon, man. They put those towers up and anyone under eighteen will start getting sick. Eats up your insides with cancer and shit. Bet you didn't read about that in The Atlantic."

"But what does that have to do with the coronavirus?"

He slapped the table. "What doesn't it have to do with it? Jesus, man, where did the coronavirus come from?"

"China?"

"Of course it did. They fucking engineered it, man!"

"But, I thought 5G was what was making people sick."

"Would you listen? They let the virus out on their own people, scorched earth-style. It was all a cover so they could just say it was a natural thing, nobody could help it. Their people get sick, spread it around the world, our people get sick and the governors and the president all shit a brick and tell everybody they got to stay home and it's a fucking two-for-one Chinese buffet: not only does everybody get sick, so it thins us out a little, but it also tanks the economy, makes China a little stronger."

"Didn't it tank their economy, too?"

"Who gives a shit? They all knew what was going to go down, so they shored up their markets."

"That doesn't sound right -"

"The point is, while we were all locked up inside our houses, essential businesses were all allowed to keep going. And what's an essential business?"

I said nothing. What was the point?

"Utilities! That's right, man. We were all inside watching that fuckin' tiger documentary, meanwhile you got all these unmarked white vans putting up 5G towers all over the country. The coronavirus was a cover for them to put up their cancer towers, man. Right under our fuckin' noses."

"Randy," I said with the same tone you might use with a kid whose pet just died. "Come on, you don't really believe that shit. I mean, a lot of people died from that virus. Don't you think that's a little ... disrespectful?"

He shrugged. "A lot of people are going die from all the cancer raining down on us, too. Won't you ask the Chinese if they think it's disrespectful."

I started packing up my lunch. "I just mean - don't you think if the Chinese wanted to put up cell towers they would just put them up? Why all the secrecy? It's not like our government is exactly unfriendly to big corporate operations."

He flinched. "You can't just do this shit out in the open, man. If the people of this country knew what I know, there'd be riots in the streets, a goddamn revolution. You think the Powers That Be want that?"

I found myself in a precarious position, like a glass blower who's trying to apply enough pressure to shape the piece without shattering it. "Would they, though?"

"Would who what?"

"The people. Would they really riot in the street? I mean, if recent history is any indication, the people of this earth have been almost eager to give up more and more of their freedom to authoritarians. Shit, throw some cheap, high-speed internet on top of it and there'll be people lined up around the block ready to slice off a finger or two for good measure."

He made a face like he'd tasted something bad. "Don't kid yourself, bud. There are powerful people spending lots of money to keep all this under wraps. Why don't they talk about this stuff in the Lame Stream Media? 'Cause they don't won't you to hear about it."

I should have just dropped it. I only had one more day of training left with the guy and then we'd probably only ever see each other at the time clock. Why pick a fight? I didn't think I'd change his mind about any of this stuff, but sometimes my curiosity just gets the best of me. I had to see how his brain sussed this stuff out, how he parsed the real world with all these narratives in his head. What kind of cognitive processes were going on in there? "Randy," I said. "They don't talk about it because it ain't happening."

A long pause, then he stood, snatching up his thermos of steam-distilled water. "I thought you was alright. But you ain't ready." He stormed off toward the truck.

I sighed and started after him. "Randy. Come on, man. Don't get all pissed off. I was just talking. I didn't mean nothing by it." The truck roared to life. For a second, I thought he might just leave me there. When I climbed in, his jaw was working and he was gripping the steering wheel like it was my neck and he was wringing the life out of me. "I'm sorry, man. I wasn't trying to tease you."

"Fuck you, man. You're just like everybody else, like them politicians and newspaper people. I oughtta give you a piece of my mind, brother - give 'em all a piece - but don't nobody want to listen. Not even my own mother would listen. I'm trying to help people, and they just spit in my face." He let go of the wheel and looked out the window away from me. "How can you say it ain't real when the evidence is right there?"

I thought a long time before I made up my mind to answer him. Part of me still wishes I'd just let it all drop. Randy would've been better off if I had. Hell, maybe I would've been better off, too. "In science there's this idea called falsification. What it means is you come up with an idea about how you think something works and then you set out to prove yourself wrong. That's how you find out if things are true. It's a lot easier to come up with stories to explain things. Humans see patterns everywhere. You look hard enough, you'll see evidence all over that proves you right, but you got to ask yourself what would it mean if that story were untrue. Like, if this podcast were true, why wouldn't the government shut it down? It ain't hard to shut down a podcast."

His chest was heaving, and I swear there were tears in his eyes when he said, "Because if they shut him down, that would just prove he was right, and you know it would."

I tried using his own logic against him. "Okay, but what about The Grays?" I tried my best to keep a straight face. I think I did. I didn't want to hurt the old dude's feelings. "According to you, they could just wipe all our memories, right? Why even let anybody know about any of it?"

He gargled up some disgust from the back of his throat. "The Grays can do whatever they want."

I shook my head and gazed out the window to the bright blue sky. "No. They can't." I could feel the weight of what I was about to do to this man pressing down on me. Yeah, he was a kooky old fart, but he wasn't mean. He was just a well-meaning, lonesome man who didn't have any friends and looking for some meaning in life. Here I was, less than a week in town and already falling back in to my old ways. "Randy, these conspiracies are just a way for you to make sense of the world. I mean, you got it all figured out from the sounds of it. If all this crazy shit about 5G and RFIDs is true, if these podcasts and message boards are full of inside secrets, then, buddy, you know The Truth, and you can use that knowledge to protect yourself.

"But ... if it's all made up then that means a lot of bad shit just happens in the world for no good reason and you ain't got no control over none of it, and that's fuckin' scary, man. I feel you." I gave a little comforting squeeze to his shoulder. "But that don't make it true."

A long time passed before either of us spoke. He just kept working his jaw and fighting back tears. The way he clenched his fists, I worried he might take a swing at me. But I knew inside he was boiling over with doubt and conviction and fear. I guessed, he'd been at this threshold many times in his life. He knew what direction to go, but he also didn't want to leave that warm bed of certainty and understanding. Finally, he looked me in the eye, boiling over with rage, and said, "I sure do hope you're proud of yourself, man."

"Nah," I said, my voice all full of disappointment. "I'm not." For what it's worth, I think Randy was on his way to changing his mind. It's a shame I had to kill him.

I paralyzed him first by pinching the appropriate never clusters on his neck and shoulder. His eyes sprang wide before he let out a little sigh and went rag doll limp. I cradled his head in my hands and lay him gently in my lap. He was still alive at this point, and that's critical. You don't want to deny the brain any oxygen before the transfer. I detached the proboscis from my soft pallet. It unfolded from my mouth like the leg of a giant spider and plunged into into Randy's skull, sliding with ease into the space between his left eye and the bridge of his nose. He gargled involuntarily as the last of his gray matter transferred from his skull to my internal storage sacs. I tell you what, that's bioengineering perfected!

Now, before you hate me too much, you should know once I'm done here, I'll upload a digital copy of Randy's mind to our quantum archives back home. His unique way of looking at things will probably make an interesting case study for some xenoanthropoligist someday.

After I retracted my proboscis, I glanced around the rest area to make sure no one was watching. The vaporizer gave off a bright flash, and I didn't want to attract any attention. And once the last of Randy's atoms were dispersed, I slid into the driver's seat and backed the truck out of the parking spot. The Grays, I thought, chuckling to myself. Those dumb shits couldn't find their assholes with both hands and a map. The idea they could orchestrate any kind of conspiracy was laughable, even if my people hadn't already taken them out. I'd already taken too long for lunch, and didn't want to push my luck any further. I checked my blind spots, threw on my signal and pulled the truck out on to the interstate, merging with the rest of the traffic.

8 comments:

  1. What a terrific story! So many amazing lines, especially in the dialogue. Impressed with the narrator's explanation that "conspiracies are just a way for you to make sense of the world" vs "a lot of bad shit just happens in the world for no good reason." And then that twist at the end. Wow.

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  2. This is amazing! Great job. Such an unexpected twist at the end! Love it!

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  3. A very funny and absorbing tale. The character of Randy is spot on. There's a lot of Randys around these days, the alien has his work cut out for him.

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  4. Great story! I wonder what poor Randy was thinking as he was being killed!? If only he had a chance to prove his theories...

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  5. That was awesome! Totally unexpected ending.

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  6. That twist slapped me in the face, didn't even have a whiff of a hint it was going to turn in that direction! Quite a masterful job of misdirection.

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  7. I have to start being more careful who I tell my theories to. Great story. Thanks for sharing.

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