The cult section of the literary world


Darik made us shower. He didn’t ask why most of my body was black with compost. He sneered at Jeff and shook his head, pointing to the shower stalls that lined the back fence.

He said, “You can’t make soup without salt and pepper,” and walked away.

I was too frustrated and slimy to even think about what he meant.

As I lathered up, I said, “Jeff, what do you mean you smoked weed? Can we do that?”

Jeff sighed.

“I mean, do you smash it up, or what? What do you smoke it in?”

“Shut up, Shacklemate.”

I wrung out my shirt and shorts, after stomping on them for a while in the shower, and put them back on. We still had a few hours of work left to do.

We went back to our rows and picked burrs.

The burrs were used to make furniture for Third World Countries. Because America helps the whole world. Even the poor ugly people in crappy countries.

Anna and her shacklemate Maddy walked past the end of our row. I smiled and waved at her, but Anna nodded and raised her left eyebrow at Jeff.  Maddy waved a low, slight wave. Neither of them looked at me at all.

“Huh,” I accidentally said out loud.

Jeff looked at me all meanly.

I just went back to work until Trump came over the speakers.



Not much happened during dinner.

We sat around in the recreation space. Jeff whispered a little to some old farmers. I’d noticed that all his friends had unpatriotic tattoos. So gross. I looked at my eagle on Trump’s shoulder in front of the flag tattoo. So cool. So normal. Why did people have to be different?

I tried to catch Anna’s attention, but she was flitting around like a gorgeous little fairy, giving out gifts to friends. She always had a bunch of small satchels made from big leaves, all tied up with vines or flowers. She’d give out nuts, or fruit, or a note with a smiley face. She was so sweet. But busy.

Darik came over with a plate of fajitas. He ate what the guards and warden ate. “Looks like good steak, right?” he asked Jeff. “Fuck yes, it is. So much better than whatever paste and potatoes you’re eating.”

Jeff ate a bite of paste. It wasn’t bad. I think it was chicken.

Darik picked a piece of dripping steak off his plate and held it up like a fish he’d finally reeled in. He took a bite from the bottom. Juice dripped down his chin. He looked so gross.

I mean, he looked bad, anyway, with his weird googly eye, and barrel chest and sort of womanly hips. But in that instant he looked monstrous.

He smacked the meat and said, “I’m having this delicious dinner with visiting dignitaries. You might think it’s because I’m better than you, me being an Alpha Male and all, right? I don’t think that. But you might.”

He walked away.

I was happy when Trump told us to go to sleep and have great dreams and maybe dream about him and the ladies maybe dream about sex with him, like he said every night. I was soon fast asleep, forgetting all about my shitty day with Jeff.

I awoke with Jeff’s hand clamped over my mouth and his face in mine.

“We’re leaving, Shacklemate. Right now. And if you give me a single sign of trouble, I’ll fucking kill you and cut off your foot.”

I whisper-hissed, “What?!”

“Get up. Shut up. Do what I say. Stay close.”

I got up. I slept in my clothes, like everyone, so I just slid my shoes on and ran behind Jeff through the dark.

It took me a few minutes to realize that it was dark. It was never dark on the farm. There were lights everywhere. When I first arrived, I had to sleep with my arm over my eyes.

“Jeff! Why is it dark?”

“I told you to shut up. I’m serious. Not another word.”

We were crouched behind the command post. There were no guards. Looking around, I realized there wasn’t a single guard at any regular positions.

Jeff tugged on our cord, stood up and ran toward the west end of the field. I stumbled behind him, noticing that there were several other couples slinking through the night with us. I saw Anna’s wild kinky hair outlined against the kitchen tent for a brief moment.

I ran faster to catch up with Jeff. As I closed the gap, pulling the cord to take up slack, I realized that Jeff had a gun. He had two guns. He held a pistol, and a machine gun was strapped to his back. I thought, Holy crap, I’m going to die.

Workers gathered at the fence-line as we approached.

“Take a count,” Jeff said.

Old John started counting. “We’re all here,” he said as six more joined us.

Jeff asked, “Fence cut? Trail clear? Traps set? Transportation?”

People answered yes after each question. Mostly older workers. Workers with guns.

“Blow it, Maddy,” Jeff said.

I looked around in the dark for Anna and Maddy. But soon Maddy’s face was illuminated by whatever device she held in her hand. Beside her, Anna lit up with a pretty blue glow.

Maddy was smiling as she pressed some buttons.

The field exploded behind us.

A few of us yelled. I ducked.

There was no escape from the brilliant orange light, deafening blasts, and the heat wave.

We all stood staring at the plumes of fire as the first explosions died out.

Jeff yelled, “Go!’

Everyone took off running through a wide gap in the fence.

Jeff waited until they’d all disappeared into the shadows in the red-flickering forest. He said, “Let’s go, Shacklemate.”

We bolted through the trees, me holding our cord, and keeping as close as possible to Jeff.

Fire heated my back, and more explosions made me falter each time they boomed behind us.

The trail was a glowing red path or pitch black strip through the woods, and filled with escaping workers.

I couldn’t think more than, Holy crap, I’m going to die. But I ran until my lungs hurt, and we broke from the trees into a wide meadow.

A row of junked vehicles lined an old road ahead of us.

People gathered around Jeff and me. Well, they gathered around Jeff. But I was standing there, wondering what the hell had just happened, so I ended up in the center of a panting circle of workers, none of whom looked as confused as I was.

Jeff smiled at Maddy. Actually smiled. I’d never seen him do that. He said, “Good job with those explosives, Maddy. I knew you’d get it right. And Anna, sweet placement. You two made the whole thing happen.” He looked around at everyone. “Let’s get out of here.”

Workers smiled. They even cheered a little, in hushed, happy voices.

Jeff walked toward a junked car.

“Where are we going?” I asked. “How are we going?”

Jeff opened the old car’s door. “Get in,” he said.

“Why? These can’t possibly go anywhere. There’s no solar panels on any of them. They’re just old hunks of scrap metal.”

“Get in, Shacklemate. And shut up.”

“But why?”

Jeff shoved me inside the dusty, beat-up hunk of crap. I fell into the backseat.

“Scoot to the other side,” Jeff said, getting in behind me, and crawling into the driver’s seat, slinging our cord around and smacking me with it.

Anna and Maddy got in behind us.

“Hi, Anna,” I said.

“Hi,” she said. She sat in front.

Maddy scooted in beside me. “Hey, Shacklemate,” she said. “How’d you like the fireworks?”

“Uh. Um. They were scary.”

She smiled.

Jeff started the car. It started. I heard other cars starting up, too.

“How is this running? There’s no solar panels. Cars can’t run without them. Nothing can! What the hell is going on?” I was really starting to freak out.

Anna turned in her seat. Her face was shadowed menacingly by tail-lights. “Cars don’t use their solar panels. Why do you think you still fill them up with gas? It’s just a Trumpism, Donnie.”

“It’s what? Anna. What? Who are you? I thought you were normal. Jeff, let me go back! I have less than two years. This is crazy. We’re gonna get killed. Cars use solar panels! Everything does. We use solar power, because it’s good for the environment. This is wrong. Take me back. Take me back!”

Jeff drove forward.  “Maddy,” he said.

Maddy stuck a rag over my face. I tried to get her off me, but then Anna helped her hold it over my nose and mouth. I tried to ask her why, but I think instead I said, “I love you.” Then she turned purple and dazzling lights burst from her eyes. Darkness fell on me like a predator.


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