Collapse – a novel by Joel Nickel
[a short story by Joel Nickel]
People scurried around her in the shadows of the television set. Rupert Jones was sitting at his desk in front of the backdrop, taking a sip from his On Winnipeg with Rupert Jones coffee cup. He was speaking quietly to the panel of three women sitting opposite him. Their mics weren’t on and Phoenix couldn’t make out what they were saying.
She was on right after the next segment.
A woman came by and made some last minute touch ups to her make-up job.
“I should put a little bit more here to hide the bags under your eyes.”
The make-up woman finished up and then retreated back into the chaoic set.
Rupert Jones turned to face the camera, “I wish we had more time, but we’ve got to go to a commercial break. I’d like to thank Sandra Jensen, Kate Smith, and Janet Morris for joining me tonight. You can pick up Janet’s book Being Quiverfull and Kate Smith’s God’s Mighty Warriors, which are available online and in bookstores now. And catch Sandra Jensen, Wednesday nights at 7pm on TLC for the new reality show, Quiverfull. Next my guest, soap star Phoenix Eversong, talks to me about her return to the Winnipeg filmed, daytime soap, Alls Faire, and what brought her back to reprise the role of her award winning character, after this.”
“And we’re clear,” The man by the main camera yelled, “Back in 5.”
The make-up woman came around again, “Okay, we’re gonna set you up in that chair over there just as soon as the Quiverfull ladies get un-mic’d and then we’ll plop you up there,” She swatted Phoenix’s face with a soft brush.
She saw the three ladies stand up and walk off the set to the green room.
The stage manager motioned for Phoenix to come up on stage and sit down to be wired up for a mic.
“How are you doing tonight?” Rupert asked her and she turned to see the man she’d watched so many nights on television, sitting right in front of her.
“A little jetlagged,” she said. “And I have to fly back to Winnipeg as soon as I get outta here.”
Rupert didn’t laugh.
“We’re live in 5 . . . 4 . . .”
The music bed rolled and the cameras moved in closer.
“Welcome back, I’m here with actress and soap star Phoenix Eversong, best known for her role as Elizabeth Alls on the Winnipeg filmed, daytime drama Alls Faire.”
Inside, Phoenix was rolling her eyes. Best known for . . .
“I understand you had been killed off on the show earlier last year, why did you decide to leave Alls Faire and what was it that brought you back?” Rupert looked over at her with shrugged shoulders, his arms on the table.
Lie or tell the truth? No one wanted me as Phoenix Eversong. All my offered roles were just Elizabeth Alls clones.
“I . . .”
“Actually, before we get into those questions,” she thought of something brilliant. “I would be remiss if I didn’t comment on your previous guests.”
She heard a muffled voice behind the cameras sternly call her name. It was the studio publicist, Maxime. She’d briefed her only moments before on exactly what to say. She would not happy about this diversion.
She ignored the voice.
“I have to say that listening off stage . . . it was kind of frightening.”
“Frightening, really?” Rupert gave his signature eyebrow raise again.
“Phoenix!” This time the voice was a little louder and she was sure that people watching at home would’ve heard it.
This is perfect. She thought. A scandal, maybe they’ll fire me and I can sue ’em.
“I was thinking that, as it is the Christian right has an inordinately large amount of power in politics today. And if this Quiverfull thing actually takes off we would see an even higher percentage of the population perpetuating archaic ideals which throughout the centuries have proved to be antagonistic towards free thought, to women, and to anyone else who doesn’t fit their esoteric mold.”
“You’re saying Christianity is a bad thing.”
“Not at all, Rupert. I’m saying that following biblical Christianity too literally is a bad thing,” Phoenix shifted in her chair and brought her elbows down on the table to look more relaxed. “Listen, the basic views of Jesus are ones that I wholly agree we should all adhere to or at least aspire to. But somehow in translation it gets wonky. ‘Treat others as you would have them treat you’. ‘Love your enemies’. But where are those teachings when it comes to passing legislation banning homosexuals the opportunity to live in loving, committed, legal relationships?” Phoenix asked.
Rupert just nodded, knowingly.
“I also believe that a religious mindset only escalates this ideological conflict between us and them. Listen, I’m the first to admit that I don’t really know a whole lot about the wars; but from the way it’s being presented to me in the media and through conversations with people I meet, it seems to me as though it’s being promoted as a war between Christianity and Islam rather than a war between America and Afghanistan or America and Iraq.”
“Phoenix.” The voice was louder.
“So if it were up to you, would let religion continue?” Rupert asked.
“Of course, Rupert,” she smirked. “I’m not saying that we should abolish religion. Religion has a huge place in history and in art and in personal development. But I think that when we start drafting legislation based on religious views, it can be very harmful to the general population. Think about the witch trials!”
“You’re equating the Quiverfull movement with witch burnings?”
“Well, of course not directly. But I don’t think you can argue against the fact that it was Christians that went seeking out freethinking, outspoken women and executing them as witches. When any group of people is allowed to exercise extreme prejudice on another group of people, unchallenged, it’s never good. That’s all I’m saying.”
“That’s a little alarmist don’t you think. You’re making it sound like having a majority of Christians in power will somehow bring about an apocalypse.”
“Well, of course Christians wouldn’t think that because they’d be the ones in power; but what about people of other religions, and for that matter what about homosexuals? What about women?”
“I really don’t think that Christians are against women,” Rupert said.
“The woman in your last segment said it herself that it’s a Patriarchal system. And maybe right now there’s the illusion of equality, but if you’re saying that it’s a Patriarchal system there’s the idea that the male is somehow superior to the woman and they must be subservient towards the male gender. When more and more people subscribe to that ideology, that illusion will wear away and we’ll be left reverting back to the 50s.”
“I think that might be a little over exaggerated, but I’ve got to go for a break. Ms. Eversong, it was interesting to say the least, to have you on the show. Not at all what I thought we’d talk about,” he smiled. “You can catch Ms. Phoenix Eversong on the daytime drama Alls’ Faire, everyday at 2pm.”
* * *
“What the fuck were you thinking?” Maxime, the publicist, exploded into Phoenix’s changing room.
“What?” The woman’s voice grew shrill. “What?”
“Calm down,” Phoenix tried to hide a smile, “It’s not that bad.”
“Not that bad?” She shouted. “Not that bad? Do you even know who your fucking target audience is?”
Phoenix rolled her eyes.
“Christian, stay-at-home wives,” Maxime shook her head, disbelievingly, “Fuck, I’m going to be fired.”
“You’re not going to be fired,” Phoenix said, reapplying her lipstick in front of the mirror.
“Yes I am. You were supposed to talk about your return to the show. About how happy you were to rejoin the cast and . . . Jesus, we’re fucked.”
“Calm down. We’re not fucked. Do you realize how much media attention this is going to win us?”
“What? Are you crazy? No one cares about some stupid fucking soap actress except for the stupid fucking Christian, stay-at-home wives who watch her everyday at 2pm.”
“Hey,” Phoenix shot him an angry glare.
“Am I fucking lying?” she scoffed and began pacing, angrily, back and forth, “This is bad! This is really bad. I have to call the network.”
The woman took out her phone and began dialing. She realized that there was no reception in the room and abruptly left.
I hope I am fired from that shitty soap. Maxime was right. No one cares about me as an actress except for stay-at-home wives. But hopefully now I might find a larger appreciation for Phoenix Eversong the person and not, Phoenix Eversong the actress who plays Elizabeth Alls.
His favorite was Revenge Porn, though Josh Dunnigan used the photos for a slightly different reason than the uploader intended. He didn’t like the revenge aspect of Revenge Porn, which to some might seem counterintuitive. To Josh though, he saw the photos in their earlier state, a state that, to most viewers, was veiled in dark voyeuristic misogyny. But that’s not how Josh saw them. The malicious, slut-shaming messages that were fastened posthumously to the photos were in reality the result of the entropy created out of their respective break-ups.
The thing that coaxed Josh into to his fetish of choice was his awareness of the immortal preservation of an intimate moment. In that solid, whole section of space-time, cemented in place by the millions of pixels, there existed a nonreplicable moment of intimacy; sometimes even love.
Her eyes. Her smile. Her lust. Her passion.
Josh was already hard and he hadn’t even opened up the browser. He excitedly entered his favorite Tumblr feed and squirted a handful of lotion into his left hand; scanning and clicking with his right. Immediately afterward, Josh would always feel creepy and lonely and pathetic, but in the moment his whole body was charged with the familiar voyeuristic rush aided by the warm pulsing of anticipation. As he tethered himself to the intimacy confined inside the two-dimensional boundaries of the photos, he began to stroke.
He didn’t read the headlines of posts since he found them terribly demeaning and exploitative: cum slut ex takes my load, skanky bitch likes it in her tight ass. Josh tried to pretend that the words didn’t even exist. Instead, he melded with the point of view of the photographer, imagining that he was living out that moment.
Stopping on a photo of a tattooed brunette with loving hazel eyes, he began to stroke faster. Behind the girl, the room was draped in haphazard layers of assorted clothes and he began to cobble together an image of her personality. He was assuming it was her room and not the boyfriends, or maybe they lived together, but in his mind they did not. This was her apartment and she was wild and kinky and messy and passionate. The look in her eyes confessed the desire she felt for the photographer, now Josh. He pulsed even harder. He imagined whispering loving words to her as the moments, birthed by the solitary still photograph but expanding inside his mind, began their imaginary movement. She would talk back to him. They would feel connected to one another.
He was close; too close. So he started scrolling again. There were a bunch of photos in succession that were more sad than they were erotic. He hated ones that featured women who were clearly coerced into the pictures by their significant others. He could always see it in their eyes, that unwillingness, and it hurt him and prematurely started those feelings of being creepy and pathetic and exploitative that usually only presented themselves after he came.
And then he found a girl in her home bathroom. She’d taken the photo herself in the reflection of the mirror and was smiling; beaming. It filled him once again with that longed for feeling of affection, connection, and desire. She had wide realistic hips that he assumed meant she was a mother.
That turned him on too.
She was playfully pulling open her green and black flannel shirt to reveal her, probably milk-filled, breasts that he wanted to caress and snuggle into. Her pastel purple panties hid most of the hip tattoo that was some kind of Chinese symbol. He imagined stroking her womanly hip as he jerked himself with his left hand. He panted and whispered to the image of the woman in her bathroom. He imagined the photo was intended for him. He imagined she loved him.
He stopped again and resumed scrolling and then the anger took him.
It was her!
How could it be her?
He wiped the lotion off his left hand with some tissues by the computer. He pulled his chair in closer and stared calculatingly at the image to be sure. He blew the image up to inspect more closely and then he saw the birthmark.
Anger replaced his lustful voyeurism and he scanned the image for clues.
He knew that apartment. It was that guy he’d warned her about. Josh was sure of it. She’d invited him to that apartment not long after she’d moved in with that asshole. He’d never liked him and now he was overwhelmed with a need to avenge the desecration of someone so important to him. He’d warned her and she’d discounted it as simple jealousy. Of course his concern for her was potently imbued with his unrequited longing but he had been right not to trust that asshole.
He’d heard that they’d broken up recently and that she’d moved to her own place but now she was also on a Revenge Porn site, blowing this repugnant monster.
Josh felt sick.
Should he call her? Let her know that there were photos of her on the internet sucking hungrily on an undeserving cock? He thought and thought, staring into the pixels of an image he’d imagined for years in his mental fantasies. And then he decided what he was going to do. What he had to do.
He pulled his pants up and threw on a shirt.
* * *
He kept buzzing the apartment but it was over 10 minutes before a tired voice answered: “Seriously, what the fuck?”
Even the man’s voice caused the charged darkness to pulse, larger and larger, stronger and stronger from Josh’s insides.
Josh couldn’t bring himself to say his name so he just said, “I need to talk to you.”
“Who the fuck is this?” The man’s voice held it’s own disdain. “It’s fucking 2 in the morning.”
“I saw the pictures you posted,” Josh was pressing the talk button so hard that the bed of his fingernail was a sickly white. “That was wrong. She loved you. I saw in her eyes how she loved you and you fucking posted it for everyone.”
“What the fuck are you talking about?”
“I saw them. Let me in.”
“No. Go away.”
For the next few minutes there was no response to Josh’s continued buzzing but then a livid voice snarled: “You want me to call the cops you fucking psycho?”
“Sure. Let’s do that. Let’s tell them how you posted intimate photos online without the consent of all of those involved. How about that?”
“Just let me in. I wanna talk to you.”
“You heard me. I saw them. I know you posted them. I know it was her and I know they were taken in your room. If you don’t let me in I’m going straight to the cops.”
There was silence for a while and then a mechanical click as the door unlocked.
Josh walked inside and started up the stairs.
* * *
“So I posted them. So what?”
Seeing the man in person almost made him finish things right then but no, no he wanted to wait for awhile.
“You had something,” Josh paused, “someone so special and wonderful and lovely-“
The man cut him off. “Dude, if you came here to preach at me over some pathetic obsession you had for her you can just fuck off right now.”
Josh grit his teeth together.
“She loved you and-“
“Blah blah blah, fuck that sappy shit, loser. She was a fucking sweet piece of ass while I was fucking her and now that we’re not I thought I’d spread a little of her ass around to others. What’s it matter to you anyway? I mean I know you wanted her man, everyone knew you wanted her, including her.”
Josh was silence while the man continued.
“She told me how clingy and psycho you were. She was kinda afraid of you man.”
Josh’s face went pale and he felt like his knees might buckle.
No. She wouldn’t say that. He’s fucking with you.
“She’s special and she’s-“
“A fucking pussy. She was good while I was drilling her, but now I’m not anymore. Now I’m pounding some other slut’s pussy. What of it?”
“I saw her feelings for you in her eyes and you just-“
“Wait, did you jerk off to it?” The man laughed. “You totally did you pathetic freak. You probably finished, felt guilty, and then came over here to take the moral high ground by confronting me but you know what? You’re just as fucking guilty for beating off to it you pervy sicko.”
He’d wanted to wait a little longer but it was involuntary. Josh shot his hand out from his pocket and stabbed the man in the throat with the knife he’d been concealing inside.
The surprise on the man’s face was definitely worth the future consequences he knew would follow shortly.
As the life drained from the man’s eyes, Josh whispered: “she is the most special and perfect woman. You should never have been blessed with the intimacy you so flippantly discarded.”
“Let’s order pizza. On me,” Nathan saw the expression on Alex’s face as soon as he opened the door.
Laura leaped over to the computer.
“Let’s watch something trippy,” Laura suggested. “Oh, we should call Seth and see what he’s doing.”
She picked up the phone and Alex was amazed at the speed with which she dialed the number. Although they did have enough practice calling the number.
Seth said he wasn’t doing anything and would be over as fast as he could climb the two flights of stairs.
“I found this amazing documentary on the biggest things in space. It’ll blow your mind,” Nathan said as he set up the DivX player.
The opening of the documentary had a series of quick cuts of flying through space, to entering a Black Hole, to jutting in and out of an asteroid belt.
Alex felt like he was experiencing all of those things and that he was flying through space at ridiculously intense speeds.
“This was made for people on drugs,” Alex smiled.
Laura giggled, “I know.”
“The Cosmic Web,” the narrator began, “is one of the most mysterious and intriguing features of the Universe. Scientists believe that the Universe is held together by a framework of invisible strings of matter with pockets of void spotted throughout. The web is as big as the universe itself, measuring some 14 billion light years across-“
The image on the screen began panning out from our planet, out through the solar system, and out through the Milky Way, and then faster and faster it raced to finally encompass the entire Universe.
It did look like a web.
There were long threads of matter with nothing in the space between.
Alex suddenly had a crazy epiphany.
Another entry in the Philosophy of Mokey Fraggle
Originally posted on Mokeyism:
They made a model of a time machine and Doc suggests trying it out. So he stuffs Sprocket in and locks him inside. Then he begins to shake the machine and says: “and now to press the button to the not so distant future.” But then he leaves. He grabs his hat and leaves with Sprocket still locked in the time machine only to return a few moments later dressed as an old man! He unlocks Sprocket from time machine and says: “Sprocket, where have you been all…
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