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Vol. 2, No. 1

Public Burning
by Joseph Clark


  A fall Saturday and Ted is home alone repairing holes in the sheetrock, running speaker wire through the basement. Standing on a stepladder, he shines a flashlight into a corner not meant to be illuminated. The sound of his fingers rubbing along Carter's expensive minicamera is thunderous through headphones. Carter sees animals in Ted's angry and out-of-focus face. An owl screeching and a small falcon about to swoop in, now something vaguely reptilian. The image goes to static, so he switches over to another unit situated near the furnace. Ted walks over to his workbench and turns on the fluorescent light. The cameras are a single unit with combined microphone and tiny, wireless remote receivers. Very expensive and state of the art. Ted turns it over and over in his hand. At one point he puts it down on the bench and goes back over to the corner spot and tries searching for wires. The animals come back into his face as this reckoning settles in. A bird in his mouth tries flapping its wings and then a tiny vibrating tongue comes out and smells the camera. All this flashing by in milliseconds as he understands the coldness on his skin is really how it feels to be naked. The hammer hovers above the alien probe before Ted repeatedly brings it down, yelling, "Greedy bastards, you can't do this to me!" Plastic and metal from the camera ricochet around his face and splinter against the cinder-block walls. "This is America, goddammit!"





To: (Guy Steiner) Thursday October 13, 1:31 AM
From: (Jonathon Carter)
Subject: I Broke the Prime Directive!
Attachments:7min/vidbitmassStrongHoldIIMac/os:ArcCovenant.DOS(DIN A/mdos)00005fcc


  Where in the world is Jonathon Carter? Clues are as follows: egg-shaped modules create dysfunctional model. Observed subjects discover surveillance but attribute to alien operatives. No trace possible and purity of model now compromised. Interzone penetration comes as complete surprise but within statistical certainties and risk factors.

  What the hell is a good Federation officer to do? Observe the Tedster dispatching the alien probe with primitive tool. So far he has said nothing to the other visual subjects. No change in their daily family routines or subcultural activities. Suggestions? Should I take off in the shuttle and set the controls for the heart of the sun? Do I keep the cameras whirring on this entropic failure?







To: (Jonathon Carter) Friday October 14th, 2:30 AM
From: (Guy Steiner)
Subject: Ouuch!

  Fearless researcher,

  Sorry, been in the lab writing code for new program. Let's sleep on this problem. I say you wait. What if he does nothing? If he doesn't tell anyone else, the study goes on. Six months worth of data under these pristine conditions is absolutely godlike. You knew it would find a natural end. The sheer ballsy audacity. Can't decide if you're the biggest fool or the most brilliant. Fine line, huh? Hang in there. If he blows, then try and pull out the cameras and call it a wrap. Be patient. This could also lead to unexpected new subcultural and symbol-based constructs. From my previous observations of the downloaded files of the Meachums I detect more than a usual bit of potential for both the daughter and father to be candidates for splinter activities such as antigovernment underground and militia contacts. Already the daughter's taste in music and pop-culture posters suggests a possible "Death Cult stage" where she will make a break in radical opposition to the values of her parents. The father already gets the Pat Robertson newsletter and has a copy of the Anarchist's Cookbook sitting on his workbench and the sticker on the toolbox that says "I'm the NRA and I'll Kill You" (you never noticed them did you?). Could open up coded linguistic communiqués and lead to deep-cover cells. A supernova of potential data. Imagine--you start out in the white Republican suburbs and end up in the very smallest and purest form of autonomous subculture. Baudrillard clearly states that the only "true" avant-garde act left is terrorism. The artist most guaranteed to effect immediate and irrevocable change, and Ted Meachum could go over that statistical edge. I double-checked the Liebnietz-Calley graph and there is a high probability that an IRS audit will bring on some familial catastrophic event with Ted following popular culture models into "Hero Modality." You never make bets on things like this do you?

  Over and out,


  Digital Dog:-)





  All he can hear is heavy metal whirring. The fight started without warning. Gabby and Morgan retreated meekly to the top of the stairs where they watched the developing action in the kitchen.

  "Don't tell me to be quiet. You're the one screaming!" Ted has the bird back in his mouth trying to take flight. Something mindlessly insect about his eyes.

  "What are you so paranoid about?" Iris's lip is curled back.

  "Someone's been in the house."

  "Who, Ted? Who's been in the goddamned house?"

  "Whoever's watching us. Whoever's trying to get the information."

  "What information?"

  "The information they need. I know someone's been in this house. I can smell it. I bet you even know who it is."

  "Are you accusing me of something?"

  "Any strange calls from people, hang-ups, wrong numbers? Any strange men come to the door lately? What about that washer-repair guy? Did he wander around the house?" She looks at him, now frightened that he is playing some sophisticated game of cat and mouse. He gets close to her and tries smelling her breath with the smelling tongue. Iris is reeling backward, trying to get away, but Ted has her pinned against the refrigerator and is whispering something into her ear with his lizardlike tongue. He releases her, and she looks lost and suddenly magnetized against the enameled surface.

  Ted turns the stereo up until the windows rattle. Iris counters the stereo noise by turning on the garbage disposal, blender, and the small television in the kitchen. In the six months he's been observing them, they have never fought with this much intensity and violence. Carter tries reading lips but gets his cues from the distended faces and gesturing arms, the hands and pointing fingers. When they stand very close they seem to be deliberately whispering into each other's ears, trying to isolate themselves within a wall of noise. On playback Carter will try everything to enhance their voices, but only fractured consonants and vowels will break through the din. Whatever they said to each other during those twenty-odd minutes will be lost unless he can manage some more sophisticated analysis in the future. Stapleton in Linguistics told Carter he was able to read lips. The audio on the children came out fine.

  "What's it all about?" Morgan said to his sister.

  "The IRS."

  "What's that?"

  "Parents have to pay things called taxes and Daddy doesn't like to do it."

  "Parents don't have to do anything they don't want to."

  "Morgan, if I tell you something, you have to promise me you won't tell Dad. Promise?"


  "Scout's honor?"

  "Scout's honor."

  "Make the sign!" Morgan reluctantly makes the three-fingered sign.

  "Mommy likes Chet Moritz."

  "So, Daddy likes him, too."

  "She's in love with him. Do you know what that means?"

  "Chet has an HK MP5 that's fully automatic. I bet you don't know what that means."

  "Don't be a mongoloid."

  "What's a nongaloid?"

  "Shush, I want to hear what they're saying."




Time: Nov. 12@3:27 PM Size: 48K Type: Microsoft Word doc. [Meachum Notes]

  Morgan has been dressing in military gear every day for a week. He has set up elaborate war games with his various GI Joes and Sonic Raider dolls. He mostly plays by himself, but sometimes plays with up to ten other boys in schematized bonding rituals using war as the central motif. The players stalk and "kill" one another with sophisticated "Terminator" water guns. The victors usually end up at the Meachums's house to watch violent cable movies together while consuming highly sugared and caffeinated soft drinks. Liebnietz-Calley graph confirms "normal" activities within this age group and plots an average response to cultural and market pressures. It can be surmised that Bascom graph intertext assessment finds relational probabilities between father's subcultural activities and son's attempts at ritual bonding and intricately structured socialization and assimilation into dominant cultural normalities. Percentile ratings for him include a 52 percent chance for a professional-class marketing-manager position. A 78 percentile certainty he will drive a luxury import sport utility vehicle with power functions. Liebnietz-Calley asserts participation in amateur football (a whopping 98.5 percentile) as normal ritualized bonding and introduction into patriarchal hierarchy. Chances are that he will die drunk in an automobile accident after being rejected by upper-class female (61 percentile rating). I say good luck, little guy.





To: (Jonathon Carter) Wed. Nov. 16th, 10:30 AM
From: (Edward Adams)
Subject: Thesis draft way overdue! You must contact dept. readers ASAP!

  Mr. Carter:

  You must conform to the minimum requirements to remain in this program. We have tried repeated attempts, faxes, e-mails, snail mail, and phone calls. In your last transmission you stated that you are, and I quote, "deep undercover in an ongoing research program." This is fine, but I strongly advise you to get pre-approval and written authorization to continue your study. And be sure and follow all the well-documented guidelines in the thesis manual we gave you when you entered this department. I've come to the realization that you might not have been joking about your plans to monitor a family without their permission. Carter, I implore you to contact me and discuss this issue before you get yourself into very serious trouble with the university and possibly the authorities. Some things are still illegal. Even the FBI and police must get a judge's permission for wiretaps and surveillance. Please come back into the fold and discuss this.


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