I. Das Opium des Volkes
“Every night on the 24th o’ December people hang the red star on top o’ their pine trees, leave out a plate o’ fish & chamomile tea, & giggle in the dark as they lay in their beds, pretending to sleep, waiting for Santa Marx—also known as Karl Kringle or Father Frost—to fall down their chimneys & share the means o’ production with them.
“That is, if they had class consciousness & were properly proletariat. If they were bourgeois, then he’ll transform into Santa Lenin & send them to his inhumane workshops located somewhere in the snowy wilderness o’ Sherbet Slopes—a place no GPS has e’er been able to find.”
Edgar begun to shiver under his thick blanket as Dawn read on ’bout the working conditions o’ Santa Lenin’s elves.
Autumn, who was blocked by the closed bathroom door, said with a slightly muffled voice, “So, ¿what rubric does Santa Marx use to decide who is ‘proletariat’ & who is ‘bourgeois’?”
“It’s a story for children. We assume the parents tell them what ‘proletariat’ & ‘bourgeois’ is—usually the latter is being greedy or ungrateful or something like that. ’Sides, it’s not as if parents aren’t going to give them their gifts, anyway. It’s just a way to convince kids to be good,” said Dawn.
“Ah, so it’s an instrument for parents to instill obedience into their children. See, now I thought there was a purpose to this story.”
Dawn rolled her eyes. “Yes, you could say that.”
Then she blurted, “¡O!” & checked her ticking owl clock on the opposite wall. “The specials will be on soon. Tonight they’re showing the Static Marxmas Special, when the black & gray pixels have a truce for Marxmas & share greetings & food & e’en play football with each other. Then they go back to killing each other afterward.”
She switched on the TV; but when the commercials had ended, ’stead o’ seeing pixels in tiny red caps, she saw the local news begin.
“Augh. Not TV news. That’ll just make me e’en dumber. ¿What’s this doing on?”
“You still forgot to turn back that clock for daylight saving’s time, ¿didn’t you?” said Edgar.
On TV, an anchor was standing in front o’ a typical urban area with naked trees & dusky sky.
The anchor said calmly, “Well, Marxmas is almost here, & you know what that means”—the anchor threw his arms out & his eyes lit up:—“prices are dropping like crazy @ stores such as Fred-Mart & EverythingCo,”—the scene switched to said stores, 1st outside & then in—“& people are swarming to take advantage o’ these new deals.
“We talked with a few o’ them, ’cause we know you’re terribly interested in that.”
Dawn slowly shook her head & mouthed the word, “No…” with a wince—though that didn’t keep her from watching, ’course.
The anchor stood next to an nervously smiling citizen in an “Opiate o’ the People” sweater with his microphone leaning toward said citizen.
“So, ¿are you excited ’bout Marxmas?”
“O, yeah,” said the interviewee. “You wouldn’t believe the deals they have on Che Guevara shirts. It’ll be great getting the family new clothes for once—they need them.”
The scene abruptly switched to the front o’ a Fred-Mart with crowds walking round with signs. The anchor continued, “Not everyone is excited by these shopping sprees, however. Retail workers are stepping up their efforts to strike gainst what they claim are too-low wages, which retailers warn may lead to shortages & raising prices.
The reporter continued, “Let us talk now with our ‘Programming Sensei,’ heh…”
Dawn & Edgar were distracted ’way from the TV by a creak & turned to see Autumn emerge from ’hind the bathroom door, now garbed in a slightly wrinkled work suit & short black boots, with fewer hairs sticking out o’ her head, both noticed.
“Hee hee hee. Well don’t you look cute & professional.” said Dawn.
Autumn’s stiff frown neither moved nor changed a pixel. Then she muttered, “Thank you for letting me use your apartment,” & started walking toward the door.
But before she could make it to the door, Dawn asked, “¿What’s the place?”
Autumn stood @ the door without looking back @ Dawn. “Don’t know. Well, I know the address; just not the name o’ the company.”
“¿What’s the job?”
“¿What’s that?” asked Dawn.
“I don’t know. I think they go through dungeons & areas like that & escort people who got lost in them out,” said Autumn.
“¿You’re interested in that?” asked Dawn.
Autumn’s brows furled & her lids rose a centimeter. “I’m interested in earning money, & this is what I’ve estimated to be the soundest option. I would surmise that the company that placed the listing is interested in it, since they’re paying money for it. If I were interested in doing it myself, someone would probably not be prepared to pay me to do it.”
“Huh.’ Autumn checked the clock. “Anyway, I think I’d better be heading out now.”
“I s’pose if I offered to let you stay here tonight, you’d decline, e’en though it’s snowing out…” asked Dawn.
Autumn nodded. “Winter doesn’t affect the storm drain much. Edgar & I spent every night under there quite a few times before our spontaneous enrichment.”
Edgar nodded grimly.
“If you say so…” Dawn said as she watched Autumn zip up her coat, open the door & leave.
Dawn stared down @ the mug o’ cocoa she’d forgotten she still had in her hand & sighed.
“I don’t know what’s going through that mind o’ hers…”
Edgar didn’t answer. He only stared down @ the carpet.
Then Dawn announced, “¡Ooo! ¡The Static Marxmas Special is on!”
Dawn turned up the volume & she & Edgar gazed into the flashing mix o’ gray & black while the sound o’ a million seeds scattering gainst a linoleum floor swarmed through their eardrums.
II. Misère de la philosophie
Atlas Tower brimmed with festive fare: dodging bird poop under a phone wire, unlocking doors with funny-shaped keys, & shooting fruit with grenades. All done with burnt drinks & electric laughter.
This formed a colorful contrast to the morose gray inside Mayor Chamsby’s office,—curtains closed & covered with dust—where he grumbled as he scribbled slowly onto his paperwork, constantly distracted by the jungle hijinks outside his door. He could see spots from the perpetually staring he did @ the thin blank ink on yellow paper, & had black lines under his eyes from the exhaustion o’ many sleepless nights—a contrast to the 10-hour sleeps with afternoon naps on the side he was accustomed to before becoming mayor.
But this was different: he was a man on a mission. He had transcended his tedious body & evolved into a human spirit far greater than mindless religion or pathetic altruism: the mechanism on the quest to perfecting the city through perfect economics.
Finally, his patience’s coil snapped so much that he got up & threw open his door. When they heard this, his minions immediately stopped their antics & turned frosted-o’er faces in his direction.
“¿Don’t you have work to do?” he said as his eyes glided ’cross every 1 o’ them.
1 o’ them—Agent Razzmatazz—finally built the will to reply:
“Aw, don’t be a Grinch, Sir. It’s the Marxmas holidays.”
“It’s Gold Saturday; it’s not e’en December yet.” Lance’s face was a bone valley. “’Sides, I also know what Marxism is & don’t see anything much to celebrate ’bout it, ’less one for some reason views the former Soviet Union, Cuba, & North Korea as the height o’ society. ’Cause that’s exactly what you get from it.”
“Aw, come on, boss; it’s just some nice mindless tradition,” said Razzmatazz. “Nobody actually pays any attention to the political stuff.”
“Well, I do,” said Lance. “& I won’t be celebrating sentiments so antithetical to humanity. Augh. It’s e’en worse than the holiday celebrating that other raving socialist, Jesus.”
Suddenly, they all stared down morosely, streamers hanging loosely down their chins like sad dog ears.
Lance raised a stack o’ papers with a satisfied grin.
“Well, that’s OK, ’cause I have a Marxmas gift I plan to give to this great city, so long as the parliament don’t suddenly shatter their spines—my magnum opus: ¡a massive list o’ spending cuts that will save the city millions, effective just in time for the holidays!”
There was a collective groan.
“¿On the holidays?”
Chamsby held his arms in jars & glared @ them. “You know, the demand for employment in this economy is very high. Those who don’t think their demand is quite high ’nough for this job could easily be replaced by those with mo’ will.”
Suddenly, everyone’s tart face become moldy with horror.
“Now, if you’re all done whining, you can do the minimal work o’ calling up the rest o’ the lay’bouts in parliament & tell them to get o’er here so we can hold this vote.”
1 o’ his minions raised his hand.
“Agent Purple Mountain’s Majesty, ¿what is it?”
“¿Won’t they be a li’l… sour ’bout being dragged here so late, on a holiday weekend?”
Chamsby crossed his arms. “Yes. I’m sure they’re afflicted with the same laziness virus that everyone else catches round this time. Those are the consequences o’ the kind o’ moral deterioration a city like this goes through to celebrate a holiday dedicated to an antihuman scoundrel like Karl Marx. Unfortunately, there are mo’ important things for us to do than sit @ home by the fire, sip our cute li’l mugs o’ cocoa, & curl up to some socialist holiday specials. We’re the government for Mises’s sake. We need to get the trains running on time, ¡& quick! & unlike what that raving socialist Mussolini claimed, this is done by giving that power to the superior Taggard Transcontinental, not to Boskeopolis inc.”
His henchmen’s heads dipped low with half-shut eyes & a few drowsy snorts.
“¡Wake up, you slouches!” shouted Lance.
“Sorry, Sir,” said Agent Atomic Tangerine. “You seemed to be going into ’nother 1 o’ your John Galt speeches.”
Lance punctured them with smelly eyes & muttered, “That speech would be a gourmet meal to the dog food you deserve.”
Cringing & leaning back, Agent Purple Mountain’s Majesty continued, “Well, it’s just that… ¿don’t you think they might be less likely to vote in your favor if you anger them?”
“Only the most retched human beings would alter their morality based on such slight dispositions,” said Lance.
“Right: so, parliament.”
III. Die Ausdehnung der Maschinerie
OK, let’s just hope this all goes well… e’en if I don’t technically have any occupational skills—’less thievery truly is transferable to the business world.
Then ’gain, if I were good @ thievery, I wouldn’t be in the situation I’m in now, so it’s all nugatory, anyway.
’Sides, plenty o’ people don’t have any skills, anyway. Hell, the sheer # o’ those who haven’t e’en graduated high school must be higher than the # o’ unemployed, or a’least those destitute ’cause o’ it. I’m hardly some extreme outlier, ¿right?
But then she noticed mo’ & mo’ people sitting on curbs as if conspiring to mock her fantasies, all shivering, some huddled under thin blankets. No, none o’ them looked as if they were waiting for busses—probably ’cause o’ the boxes next to them that said, “We’re not waiting for busses; ¿could you give us some change, please?”
“Hey, Hawthorn. ¿What you doing here?” Someone asked as she walked by on the opposite sidewalk. “¿You get laid off, too?”
“No—nice to see you ’gain, too, Heather. ¿How long has it been?” said 1 o’ the people on the curb—though without any box. “Anyway, they lowered my wages, the gits. Well, that just lowered the value o’ working so that the value for working to ensure I don’t starve to death became lower than the value for leisure time.” He stretched his arms out & leaned back. With half a yawn he said, “After all, ¿who needs food or shelter when you can have pure leisure?”
“¿How’s it feel?” asked his acquaintance.
“O, it’s horrible. Absolutely horrible,” he answered. “I’m freezing so hard it feels as if a million swords are stabbing into me. I’ve gone without food so long I feel as if I can barely think or move & my face feels as if it’s going to melt off my face.”
“Well, a’least now someone else’s demand will fill the supply o’ jobs your quitting has recreated, moving the demand e’er closer to the supply & toward equilibrium,” said Heather.
Hawthorn nodded as he shivered. “Yeah, I hope the lucky bastard enjoys it.”
Maybe not all o’ them are truly destitute. Maybe some o’ them are just clever & are using the increased empathy caused by the holidays to gain unneeded extra funds, Autumn assured herself.
No matter how much she tried to force this idea, her brain wouldn’t accept them.
She quick-walked out o’ that block, both to distract her from this unpleasant reminder o’ what was @ stake & to avoid being late after such a long delay.
As she went, her attention dithered ’tween the city & the map in her hands, lit on-and-off by streetlamps she passed. Every so oft, she’d gaze round just to distract her mind from the millions o’ ways she could fail this interview. She frowned @ what she saw was a lot o’ waste: blinking neon lights on signs & firs & tacky posters depicting jolly painted Santa Marx guzzling down a bottle o’ Hero while a polar bear held its arm round his shoulders as if they were good buddies.
The urge to check the time was impalpable, & she kept digging round her pockets for a phone that was no longer there.
No matter. I calculated the time needed with plenty to spare; e’en a short delay shouldn’t make me late.
She squinted @ all o’ the details o’ the city before her, making sure she didn’t miss a turn. The million flakes o’ snow scattering all round her like a million childrens’ hands waving round in her face didn’t help. She obviously hadn’t had time to draw all o’ the details from the online map onto her paper map, so hers focused mainly on directions. The problem now was remembering what counted as a turn & what didn’t.
’K, that turn leads to a dead end, so it probably doesn’t count. That’s an alley, ¿right? That doesn’t count. But a few blocks forward, she began scratching her frost-covered head. But this turn doesn’t look like any turn I remember on the map…
A voice began to creep from the bowels o’ her head, Come on, ¿you can’t e’en handle simple directions anymo’? ¿Have you lost your stems this quickly?
She exhaled. No time to shake bushes. It’s always better to make your choice & stick with it e’en if wrong than do nothing @ all. My memory is mo’ likely true than the assumption that all alleys don’t count as turns; thus I’ll take the previous turn.
She felt her chest ease as she entered the past turn, remembering ’nough o’ the scenery—the fir standing right next to the fence like a perpetually anonymous neighbor, the white plastic sign waving wildly in the wind advertising ’nother bland marketing firm that will bless the city with its presence—to feel confident ’nough that she was going in the right direction.
Operating in life has billions o’ switches & just 1 switch wrong—1 true where there should be false, 1 false where there should be true, just 1 combination wrong out o’ the quintillion possible—& it’s all o’er, she thought as her eyes swung side-to-side, e’er alert for the next switch she’d have to flick.
She passed many stores on her way, their windows still glowing with yellow light, presenting their rainbow collage o’ useless doodads. The sight reached its hand out & tickled under Autumn’s nose as the wafts o’ a fresh-baked pumpkin pie to a diabetic or the smoke from a fresh-lit cigarette to an addict.
She thrust her head in the other direction in the vain hope o’ forgetting ’bout it.
That career’s o’er. It’s not worth the health risks. We’re going fully legitimate now.
Still, she stared down @ the crumpled leaves smothered in piles o’ snow & sighed.
Then she reached where her map said was the end. Looking @ reality before her, she saw a parking lot holding a building shaped like 2 + signs glued together.
She looked up @ the sign just ’side it. It said, “Level 1,” & below that, “7029 W. Honey Plaza.”
This is it, she reaffirmed as she walked up to the front door.
However, when she pulled on the handle, she found it wouldn’t budge.
She shrugged. Must be ’fraid o’ thieves.
She knocked a few times before quickly shoving her hands back into her jacket pockets, shivering. She hadn’t noticed till now how much cold was shed by constant movement, as if she were outrunning it &, now that she’d stopped, it had finally caught up.
After a minute or so without answer, she tried knocking ’gain. Then she checked round the windows, only to see that all o’ the lights were off inside.
¿What’s this? ¿A truly shy firm or the business equivalent o’ being stood up?
She exhaled deeply in annoyance, unsure o’ what to do with this unexpected event.
Maybe the interviewer’s the 1 who’s late. Maybe I just have to wait for him to get here.
So she sat on the small snowless spot o’ the short stairs & stared off @ the rest o’ the city, eyes alert for any car to drive in. Already she saw a few sitting in the parking lot, but didn’t see anyone come out o’ any within the next few minutes. She did see some enter their cars & drive ’way, making no signs o’ acknowledging Autumn’s existence.
After what she felt must’ve been a’least 10 minutes, she stood up ’gain & checked through the window ’gain just to be sure.
This can’t be chocked up to a li’l error on the interviewer’s part. She sighed. I should’ve known some contrived problem’d emerge. They always seem to in my stories.
She checked the sign ’gain. Well, this is the right address… ¿Maybe I need to check ’nother door? But this door has the sign to the place, Team Cheery,—she thought the name with disgust & a smirk—right ’bove. That clearly means this is the front door.
But when she checked the door to the left, she saw a sign with an arrow pointing toward the door she already checked, saying, “Use door down front.”
She tried its handle all the same. It wouldn’t budge. Through its li’l window she could see the lights were off in there, too.
I’m sure this is the right day & the right time & the right address, she thought with bubbling blood as she stormed back to the front.
Then she tried the right side & saw a few mo’ places, the signs saying “Team Grumpy” & “Team Indifferent,” respectively.
She slapped her forehead. ¿How many rescue groups do they have in this city?
She looked @ the 1 closest & saw the lights were on inside & someone was sitting @ a desk. Then she looked through the other & saw the same.
Well, ¿which 1 is it? All I have is the address & these all seem to have the same address. I bloody well can’t just come in & ask, “Hey, ¿is this the company who’s s’posed to be interviewing me? I don’t actually know the name, you see…”
+, I’m surely already late. I might as well box it @ this point.
She hesitated in the space ’tween the 2 doors.
No… I came here to shred the last shred o’ dignity I have left. I might as well go all the way. The alternate is to lose completely, anyway.
She tried the door on the left. She poked her head, trying to push as much dread off her face as possible, & said, “Um… Hello. ¿Is this… are there interviews going on here?”
The man @ the desk looked @ her funny—not Looney Tunes funny, but British comedy funny.
“Yes. ¿Are you Madame Autumn Springer?”
Autumn stepped all the way inside. “Yes.”
“You were s’posed to be here 20 minutes ago.”
Autumn nodded. Then she blurted, “Erm, yes. Sorry. See, I mistook you for the place back there & I didn’t see it open, so I waited…”
“That’s fine,” said the interviewer. His eyes were listless. They gave no extra info to this already desiccated phrase.
He handed her a clipboard with a sheet in it. “¿Would you mind filling this out?”
Autumn nodded. Her disposition began to brighten. ¿Paperwork? This’ll be easier than I imagined.
She sat & quickly filled out everything. After checking it all a dozen times, she stood & held it out to the interviewer.
He stood & took it & then reached a hand out for her to shake. She couldn’t help marveling @ the precisely moderate grip he had. This was someone with a high hand-shaking stat.
“I’m Alex Vanilla,” he said.
Autumn merely nodded ’gain & let Alex decide when the hand-shaking would cease.
They both sat back down in their respective chairs, Autumn with her arms awkwardly resting on the bony chair arms. The interviewer, meanwhile, sat back & checked through the sheet, eyes as still as a Sphinx’s.
“So, you don’t have any experience, ¿is that correct? You’re only level 1.”
“Um, yes,” she replied, unsure o’ a proper way to ’splain this obviously problematic fact.
“Mmm hmm…” he murmured.
He looked up @ her & asked, “¿& what skills do you have that would make you particularly fit this rescue team?”
Autumn froze. Her eyes jumped all round Alex’s desk for some muse—anything but Alex’s penetrating eyes.
“Well…” she began in a futile attempt to mask stalling.
¿What skills do I have?
“Well…” she repeated. “I am… I’m good @ following directions. I almost ne’er get lost.”
Alex nodded. “OK.”
When she didn’t reply to this—a’least not quickly ’nough—he added, “¿Would you also say you’re good @ finding things?”
After a short pause, so Autumn’s mind could process what he said, she answered, “Yes,” with vigorous nods. “You could say I could a diamond in a mountain o’ trash.”
Technically, Edgar did, & ‘twas on accident; but I doubt he’ll e’er discover that.
He gave her a curious look, but then nodded & said, “¿Anything else?”
“Erm, I have a lot o’ endurance.” She said this almost as a question, unsure o’ whether this was relevant or if he’d believe her. In fact, she wasn’t quite sure she understood the point o’ this aspect o’ the interview, since she wasn’t sure how he could judge whether these claims were true or not.
“Mmm hmm…” Alex repeated with ’nother nod.
Then he ’splained the details o’ the job—the hours, the work, the training—every piece o’ which Autumn’s mind frantically tried to grab, ’fraid o’ missing some other vital piece & being ruined ’cause o’ it.
Remember, every switch must be flicked in the correct direction.
& yet so many have been flicked wrongly already, this’ll turn out to be just a random splash o’ pixel vomit.
They shook hands ’gain, & then he said, “Well, I don’t have the authority to hire you or not, but we’ll call you Tuesday @ round 1 PM.”
“Um… ¿call me?”
He nodded. “Yes.” Then he looked back down @ the clipboard. “You put down your #, ¿right?”
“Uh… ¿What if I don’t have a phone?”
“O…” he said with an embarrassed frown.
He looked back up @ her & said, “I’m sorry to say we require all employees to have phones with them, in case o’ emergencies. You know, you get trapped in a cave-in in Tangerine Temple & need to be rescued immediately.”
Autumn nodded, trying to hide her misery, & failing miserably @ it.
“But when you do manage to get 1, feel free to apply ’gain,” he said lightly.
“Yeah… I will. Thanks,” she said as she got up.
“Have a good night, & Merry Marxmas,” he said with a quick wave before returning to his papers.
“You, too,” she said just before leaving.
Outside, the wind seemed to have become e’en harsher. However, Autumn was so distracted, she hardly noticed.
As she walked through the parking lot—the start o’ a long trek back to her subterranean home—she mused with a sigh, Well, that went splendid.
IV. Ein Ausschuß, der die gemeinschaftlichen Geschäfte der ganzen Bourgeoisklasse verwaltet
The members o’ parliament scanned through the fat stack o’ papers handed to them in their designated seats while Lance sat @ his mayoral center chair & ’splained it in as much detail as he could squeeze in an hour’s reading.
’Pon finishing, the leading minister, a Gold named Earl Gray, cleared his throat & said, “Yes, this seems good. We should read this in finer detail next week & hold a vote on our 1st January meeting.”
Lance’s grin collapsed into a frown.
“¿Why can’t we hold the vote now?” Lance snapped. “We have only a few days to implement it before we have to wait a whole ’nother month—if you all plan on taking till after New Years to return, as I’m guessing you will.”
A few o’ the ministers looked @ each other uneasily.
Finally, Minister Matcha Cornflower, a Silver, said: “Well… it’s just that… it’s just before the Marxmas season…”
She could tell by the way his eyes twisted—as well as the giant anime vein that appeared o’er the side o’ his head—that he was annoyed by this question.
“Yes,” he said. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t believe your blessed communist holiday starts in just mo’ than a week, ’less it’s decided to ripoff Hanukkah, too, & is mo’ than a week long. That leaves you plenty o’ time for you to vote on this bill &, if it passes, implement it before the 15th.”
“O, it’s not that,” said Cornflower. “It’s just that… ¿Don’t you think a lot o’ people might get particularly irate @ having their livelihood cut just before the holidays?”
“Yes. I s’pose if I were a leech, I’d be particularly peeved @ being yanked off my free government teet, too. On the other wrist, I’m sure those few diamonds ’mong the dregs o’ our public—you know, the ones who make the money that we steal to pay for these hand-outs—will be quite pleased not to be robbed. They may e’en work harder to create these jobs people keep pretending they want while conspicuously not finding 1, rather than scare them all ’way to a city that doesn’t worship the father o’ totalitarianism. I don’t think you understand what we’re working with here. Socialism isn’t some… something you can work with. It’s a virus that leeches off anything it touches. It’s something we must pull out by the roots. In fact, you’re lucky I believe in personal freedom—let the idiots do idiotic things if they want if it doesn’t harm others, I say—or I’d try banning this reprehensible holiday completely, as I did for Atlas Tower. We don’t have much time before some socialist sneaks back into mayorship. This bill isn’t e’en the raison d’etre; it’s only the beginning.”
All but 1 o’ the ministers’ heads dipped low with half-shut eyes & a few drowsy snorts.
“¡O, Minsky!” Lance started snapping 1 o’ his fingers. “¡Wake up, you fogeys!”
“O, sorry. Sorry. We thought you were doing ’nother 1 o’ your boring John Galt speeches,” Earl Gray said just before failing to stifle a large yawn.
The minister who hadn’t fallen asleep, Jasmine Carnation, the only Pink in parliament, said with irate eyes staring down @ the bill still in her hands, “I think those who had to live through Clay would have different ideas for what the origin o’ totalitarianism is, Mayor Chamsby.”
Before Chamsby had a chance to blow up @ Carnation for the 20th time since they both joined parliament, Cornflower cleared her throat & said, “¿Mayor Chamsby, Sir?” Chamsby turned to her, the fury @ Carnation still latched onto his face. “I think you know I’m a big supporter o’ the free market, I think it’s the best economic system e’er created, & I know ’nough from history how destructive command economies are. Believe me, I don’t want Boskeopolis to become mo’ like Cuba any mo’ than you. I’m saying this ’cause I want you to know that I—& many others here, I’m sure—want to protect capitalism &, Mayor Chamsby, Sir, @ the risk o’ sounding rude, I don’t think you’re succeeding @ doing so. I think what you’re doing is counterproductive. Ironically, your extreme attitudes are pushing mo’ people gainst capitalism”—she glanced o’er @ Carnation for a second—“& toward radical economic solutions. I don’t know if you’ve read, but sales for Das Kapital has increased immensely in the past year, &, you know, I’ve been in parliament for years, & I’ve ne’er seen the public protest with such hostility as they have been recently—granted, we also haven’t had a depression till a few years recently—but it’s exacerbated this year. There didn’t used to be all this conflict—in the public sphere or in parliament.”
She had expected Chamsby to blow up @ her, but ’stead saw him calmly sit back with his arms crossed.
After a second to see if she’d finished, he said, “The Constitution says that I can keep you here for 3 hours to ensure my bill gets the proper attention it deserves—& I plan that it does. You can quickly vote on it, quickly set it in motion tomorrow, & have your tyrannical-loving holiday off, or you can waste 3 hours doing nothing, & then waste mo’ time in January doing the work you could do right now. Your choice.”
Many ministers looked as distraught as a child being forced to spend the summer cutting weeds ’stead o’ skateboarding with friends @ the park, going to 8 Flags to ride the Soaker Coaster, or sitting in bed making sprite comics ’bout Goombas & Boomerang Bros.
Gray shrugged. “I’m sure it’ll be fine. We might as well get it o’er with.”
“I must say, I’m all for this bill…” Lance breathed heavily as he restrained his glare from Minister Cyan. There’s the golden “but…” waiting, as there always is from this sad ’scuse for a Gold. “But I must ask if I could get an exemption for my district.”
Lance slammed his fist gainst the table. “¡No! ¡We can’t have some free market with a li’l socialism on the side as if we were a fucking all-you-can-eat buffet!” Lance moved a squeezed-in hand to the side as if setting up this invisible socialist side dish.
Many o’ the members looked ’mong each other with confusion. Lance could faintly hear 1 mumble, “That doesn’t e’en make sense,” & ’nother mutter, “I’ve always said that mayorial elections always bring out the crazier voters in droves.”
So they held the vote, the bill barely failing @ a tie with 8 yeses gainst 8 noes—the former including Earl, the latter including Cyan, Carnation, & Cornflower. Considering voting in the past, Chamsby would’ve expected a’least 10 yes votes. As he surveyed their faces, he could see not a few pursed lips & creased foreheads.
Agent Purple Mountain’s Majesty was right: these cockroaches do care mo’ ’bout their moods than fixing the fucking city.
V. Der Ursprung der Familie
Dawn’s apartment glowed with mo’ electricity than a red dwarf.1 No corner could ’scape the grasp o’ cords as tight as licorice, dangling rainbow bulbs @ every few centimeters—& most were also susceptible to red, green, silver, & gold tinsel, too. Nor was the ceiling neglected, strewn with hanging clown-bat ornaments on string with the customary mint-green mistletoe.
Meanwhile, the apartment strummed with jolly holiday classics like “Killing in the Name,” “Rich Man’s World (1%),” & The Smurfs’ theme song.
It also swam with the scent o’ various spices & sugars enmeshed. Dawn was in the middle o’ mixing a special brew o’ IQ-enhancing sugar syrup when she heard the doorbell ring.
“Well, that can only be Felix & Violet,” Dawn said as she got up, wiping the pink powder off her white jacket. “Autumn ne’er uses that thing.”
She opened the door to see Violet in a brown wool jacket & black slacks gently pushing Felix forward & whispering “—the main guest; you have to be—” only to turn to Dawn, reach a hand out, & say, “¡Oh! Merry Marxmas, Madame Summers. My recollection is vacant on whether I have heretofore delineated my cognomen, but if this lacks accuracy, permit me to specify that it is Violet Ajambo.”
Dawn grasped her hand & shook it vigorously. “You already did—& Merry Marxmas to you, too. You can just call me Dawn, by the way.”
Violet nodded. “On condition of your insistence.”
Dawn pushed the door back & said, “Please, come on in.”
“I must explicate my appreciativeness in regards to your magnanimity of permitting us access to your abode.”
Dawn laughed. “It’s no problem @ all.”
Felix slowly walked nearer to the door with a small wave & said quietly, “Hi, Dawn.”
“¡Felix!” Dawn spread her arms out & embraced Felix. “¿How have you been?”
“Come on in,” Dawn said as she pressed Felix through the doorway & closed the door.
“I must elucidate my…”
But this voice was so far ’way that ’twas muffled by the boom box’s “¡Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me!”s.
“¿What’s that?” Dawn said loudly. “Here, maybe I should turn down the music a li’l.”
She twisted the dial downward so that the “Fuck you”s were whispers & said, “¿What was that ’gain?”
Violet was standing in front o’ the tree, which, in addition to the usual wooden & plastic ornaments, was spray-painted with splotches o’ pastels.
“I stated that I must elucidate my admiration for your eclectic bedizenments. Marxmas always imbues my person with a saccharine disposition—even if we must ignore its pseudoscientific elements. After all, history has shown heavily-regulated market economies to be superior in regards to serving people’s needs.
“Anyway, I must confess my adobe’s inferiority in comparison to yours.”
“’Twas nothing, truly,” said Dawn, scratching ’hind her head with sweat falling down the side o’ her face. “Edgar helped a lot.”
She pointed @ him standing by the oven in his chef’s hat & Violet & Felix turned to him. He gave a li’l wave & a quiet “Hello,” which was met by 1 o’ Felix’s own.
“¡Oh, gerizekalı! I am immensely contrite in regards to my unconscionable neglect toward you, Sir Edgar.”
She rushed o’er to Edgar & shook his hand so vigorously, she looked close to yanking his arm off.
Then they heard a knock @ the door, causing Dawn & Edgar to turn their heads toward it.
“Ah, so she did come,” Dawn said as she dashed toward the door.
Sure ’nough, ’pon opening the door she saw the wiry figure o’ Autumn, still shivering in her job suit, but now covered in flakes o’ snow. Typically, her arms were slumped, stuck to her sides like tongues to icy steel poles & her eyes had that look as if they’d been screwed in far too tightly.
“¡Merry Marxmas! ¡Come on in!” Dawn practically shouted @ her.
Autumn nodded & stepped inside. As she did, she quietly mumbled, “¿You mind if I use your internet?”
“You’re not actually going to try applying for jobs on Marxmas, ¿are you?” Dawn said as she closed the door. “I know you’re trying to make up for lost time, but you’re just wasting your time trying to find any takers today.” She smiled. “Didn’t you e’er hear the tale o’ how businesses that insist on running on Marxmas have their businesses socialized & the owners boiled in their own pudding—which sounds gross by the way.” She wrinkled her nose. “’Course, this doesn’t apply to pet kennels & stuff, since you can’t actually expect li’l doggies’ bellies to take Marxmas breaks from eating.”
“No, I hadn’t,” said Autumn. “But I have other activities I must do, anyway. One should ne’er put all o’ their files in 1 storage.”
Suddenly, Violet rushed up to her with her arm held out.
“¡Salutations, Madame! I do not purport that we have had the delectation of rendezvousing. I operate by the cognomen of Violet Ajambo. I am a recent close acquaintance of Felix’s.”
Autumn blinked for a second before limply lifting her hand high ’nough for Violet to grab, & then crank up & down.
“¿Would it offend you if I inquired you as to your own cognomen?”
“Merry Marxmas, Madame Autumn.”
Felix gave Autumn her patented shy greeting, & Autumn replied with a short wave & a curt hello.
Autumn sat on the floor by the tea table where Dawn had been making her syrup, dragging her laptop out from ’neath. “So, ¿did you say yes on the internet question?” she asked dully & quietly, without daring to meet Dawn’s eyes with her own.
“If you insist,” said Dawn. Then she looked @ the tree & said, “Here, since we’re all here, you can all open your presents.”
“¿Presents?” Autumn & Violet said almost in unison, but with opposite tones.
Dawn walked back to the table with her arms full o’ presents o’ various colors & picture patterns.
“Oh, ¿do you require assistance?” Violet asked as she stood from the couch.
“No, I’ve got it,” Dawn said as she dropped them on the table, causing 1 o’ them to topple off. Violet bent down to pick it up.
“I, um, also baked cookies for everyone,” said Edgar, jolting Autumn up from her computer.
“O, hello,” she said hoarsely before turning back to her computer.
“Hello,” he said. “¿You want to pick 1 1st?” he asked as he leaned the tray closer to her. He began to pick up each cookie to show them. “See, this bearded ol’ white guy is Marx, this other bearded ol’ white guy is Engels, this other bearded ol’ white guy is Bakunin, this other bearded ol’ white guy is Kropotkin, this other bearded ol’ white guy is Proudhon, &, O, here’s Emma Goldman.”
“No thank you. I’m not hungry,” said Autumn.
Violet raised a hand as if in high school.
“Is it not veritable that Sirs Marx & Bakunin were acrimonious adversaries, ¿or has my recollection of history failed me?”
“That’s OK, ’cause we can make them kiss & make up,” Edgar said before tapping the mouths o’ each cookie together.
“OK, this 1’s for you, Felix,” Dawn said as she held a present in purple paper covered with a black cat paw pattern & pink ribbon to Felix.
“O, you didn’t have to get me anything,” mumbled Felix.
Dawn laughed. “We already have a perfectly functional Autumn; we don’t need ’nother. Now open it already.” Autumn wanted to point out that “perfectly functional Autumn” was a paradox, but couldn’t will it.
Felix carefully cut open the ribbon & paper as if trying to minimize the hurt she had to cause to the poor present. ’Eventually she unvealed the blue cover o’ a Wordsworth dictionary/thesaurus.
“O, you truly didn’t have to go through the effort o’ getting this just for me,” said Felix.
Dawn laughed. “It’s just a dictionary.”
“It’s exactly what I wanted,” said Felix. “Now I can finally learn all o’ those big words Violet uses & be able to use them myself.”
“And, with your sanction, Felix, I could utilize that aforesaid dictionary to potentially study lexemes which are a modicum more approximate to a breviloquent quality.”
“OK, ¿what was the word that had ’said’ @ the end ’gain?” Felix asked as she quickly flipped through the pages.
“Here’s your present, Violet,” Dawn said as she handed a starry cyan, goldenrod-ribboned present to her.
“I am consummately obliged,” Violet said as she began opening it, only to struggle with the ribbon.
With the help o’ a pair o’ scissors Dawn handed her, Violet was able to open it & see that ’twas a thesaurus, too.
“I cannot communicate the…” Violet flipped through the thesaurus. “Level of… gratitude in which I… feel within this… current… moment. I cannot comprehend how such multitudes of you can communicate so curtly so spontaneously. I must confess it is utterly arduous for my person.”
“& here’s yours Autumn,” Dawn said as she handed a red present covered in green $ signs to her.
Autumn paused, her hollowed eyes staring blankly up @ the present. Dawn shook it & Autumn finally took it.
“’Scuse me for any unintentional rudeness, but in the interest o’ utility, I must warn you that you shouldn’t waste your precious money on objects that won’t help me.”
“Perhaps I should’ve gotten you a thesaurus, too,” said Dawn.
Autumn hesitantly opened the present to see a wool blanket inside. ’Pon closer examination she saw the words, “You can always be safe for the night,” sewed onto it.
“This was actually from Edgar,” said Dawn.
Autumn nodded, though her expression didn’t brighten. In fact, it appeared to deepen—not become angrier; just lower.
VI. Nichts in ihr zu verlieren als ihre Ketten
Snow continued to spray all o’er Boskeopolis, blurring the already-messy visual cacophony o’ blinking neon lights, shining streetlamps & windows, speeding headlights, & movie-screen-lit billboards. Autumn half stumbled through the menagerie without any idea o’ where she was headed, just that her feet wanted to move her somewhere. Her eyes were aimed straight @ them, to stifle the headaches already caused by the jumbled medley o’ simplistic jingles from stores, the muffled growling o’ heavy music blasted from passing cars, & dozens o’ voices o’ people all round her, no matter where she went.
Finally, she stopped @ a quiet brick bridge, its emptiness a bold contrast to the rest o’ the city. She gripped its edge as if she would’ve fallen o’er from exhaustion if she hadn’t & stared down into the river below, which under the night sky was now a poisonous black, saving for a few specks o’ white reflecting off the sickle-shaped moon. During the day, Autumn might expect to see her reflection in it; but now she only saw the equivalent o’ a thick wall. She preferred it that way.
We may need to finally face the reality you’ve been dodging for years: that the world has no demand for what you supply & that the economy would be made mo’ efficient if you just cut your losses & throw ’way your supply to save the world on future costs—not to mention minimizing future loss to your dignity. After all, ¿what do I have left to lose but chains that strangle me & whip gainst those near me?
She gazed down into the lake & mused o’er how bearable the last minutes under would be when she heard a familiar voice call from ’hind her, “¿Autumn?”
“Don’t bother trying to win any wings from saving me,” grunted Autumn. “I ne’er saved any poor people from having their homes foreclosed or saved any kids from being poisoned from some bitter ol’ koot.”
Autumn sat gainst the bridge’s wall.
“I suppose I can’t expect you to stay with Prozac & have a Merry Ol’ Marxmas without me.”
Edgar sat next to her. “No. I can leave if you want, but it won’t be very merry for me.”
“& you think that’s an absurdity, ¿don’t you?” asked Edgar.
“¿On your part? No. You have no control o’er your neuroses any mo’ than I have o’er mine.” She turned to Edgar. “I take it my assurances that nothing you do or don’t do will help me won’t help you any mo’ than Prozac’s insistence that I should learn how not to worry & love my incompetence.”
“Go on. Take your time,” said Autumn. “You know, hanging out with Prozac—someone who enjoys having her voice heard, for some reason—actually improved your speech a bit.”
“Well… I guess I’d feel kinda like a hypocrite, which I already feel like too much, anyway.”
“Well, I mean… just consider what the holiday’s ’bout…”
“Right. I forgot,” said Autumn. “Wouldn’t want to upset the scriptures o’ some bearded religious nutjob.”
Then she frowned. O, ¿who am I to make fun o’ his silly superstitions? I still can’t e’en figure out the riddle to success in this city’s mess o’ inconsistent rules. For god’s sake, I thought… still think thieving is the proper way… & now I’ve been trying to succeed by doing the same thing 1 o’ the poorest classes do—& still have had less success than through theft. ¿Who wouldn’t cling to superstition as a levy gainst Boskeopolis’s incoherent mindfuck o’ an economy?
But to her surprise, he went on.
“No… None o’ it’s ’bout some particular words some bearded guy wrote o’er a hundred years ago.”
“It’s ’bout… family & love & goodwill to all & sticking each others’ dicks in our mouths, ¿correct?” Autumn said with heavy breaths, hoping the rudeness might be subtler this time.
Edgar shook his head. “Not that either.”
“I… I dunno… I guess it’s ’bout… putting real human lives ’bove… ’bove unproven, invisible systems meant to judge whether you deserve such & such or not. I mean, ¿don’t you think it’s a li’l extreme to… judge your life on such a subjective measure? I mean… I played a part in you losing your money when I fell, ¿remember?”
“That’s bullshit. That wasn’t your fault—& you found the golden ass hat, or whatever ’twas called, in the 1st place.”
“By luck,” he said.
“By luck. Exactly,” said Autumn.
“Well, ¿you think we’re the only ones?” asked Edgar.
“¿The only ones who happened to find a 50-million-₧ top hat in a landfill?” said Autumn.
“No. I mean, ¿you think we’re the 1st to gain & lose by luck?” asked Edgar. “You don’t think I made the apartment I live in with my own hands or bought it with my own money; Dawn didn’t make the restaurant she inherited from her parents or Lance the money he inherited from his parents; you don’t think Felix got out o’ homelessness by herself…”
“You 3 earned yours—& you can be assured that in a just world, Mayor Chamsby would’ve already starved to death with as much he’s done on his own.”
Edgar shook his head. “None o’ us did anything on our own…”
Autumn tightened her grip on her knees, lowering her chin.
“Thank you for the after-morning-special lesson, Sir,” she said. “I should just shut up & learn to love metaphorical prostitution. If I wanted that, I’d try smooshing with the government for superior results.”
“Well, I mean… that’s just the point I’m making: you can’t insist on winning through fairness if life isn’t fair, ¿can you?”
Autumn raised a brow. “So, ¿what… you’re advocating that I cheat? ¿You?”
“You yourself said you can’t win a rigged game without… rigging yourself, or something like that.”
Autumn pressed her chin mo’ tightly to her knees. “It’s 1 thing to cheat strangers; it’s ’nother to buddy-buddy with people & then take from them. It’s…”
“¿Wouldn’t make any sense?” Edgar asked. “¿Illogical?”
“Well, that’s just the thing,” said Edgar. “You can’t expect life to make sense if it doesn’t. That’s just the way it works: some people lose their jobs ’cause they got an injury; somebody films their hands doing a puppet show as a joke & somehow makes millions…”
Autumn rose to her feet. “That’s bullshit.” She threw her arms out. “You can’t just say, ’society’s just illogical, we have to accept it.’ If it’s illogical, by definition it’s wrong.”
“Illogic shouldn’t be tolerated.”
Edgar stared @ Autumn. She was still focusing on the concrete under her.
“¿What do you mean?” he asked.
“Illogical scoring systems must be made logical,” she murmured.
Edgar gazed @ her silently.
I’m babbling nonsense ’gain. Perhaps Edgar is wrong: perhaps most o’ the world & I simply have different systems o’ logic that are incompatible. 1 must go—& since I’m the weaker entity, it’ll inevitably be me.
Still, must keep myself ’live as much as I can.
Autumn looked down @ him. “You carry books with you, ¿right?”
“O,” Edgar said, leaning back. “Uh, O, yeah. Though, uh, you probably might find them kinda juvenile or something.”
“Well, I’m desperate, so I’m looking for 1 by the beard’s-nest-bearded looney himself.”
“I, uh, don’t know who that is.”
“O…” Edgar paused, perhaps to gauge Autumn’s rationale from her expression. If that was the reason, Autumn made it as difficult as possible.
“I, uh, don’t have anything he wrote,” said Edgar. “I, uh, I have to admit that I’m not smart ’nough to understand any o’ it.”
“Pumps his books full o’ technical jargon to feign brilliance, I presume,” Autumn said. “Those kind o’ people do that all o’ the time. Most o’ the books Lance ne’er shut up ’bout do, too. Understand that ‘intelligence’ isn’t ’bout true intelligence, but the appearance o’ intelligence, which can easily be feigned through prolix diction—a trick both o’ us exploit.”
“O well,” said Autumn. “I doubt I would’ve gotten much out o’ it, anyway. Is it true he has a hard-on for government or whatever, ¿or is that just bullshit Lance made up?”
“Uh… I don’t know,” Edgar said. “¿Why? You… you’re not thinking o’ trying to run for anything, ¿are you?”
Autumn cringed as if sprinkled with battery acid. “No. Don’t be ridiculous. I’m not 1 o’ those rich bastards. No, quite the opposite: I was thinking that, if so, his diagnosis is backward nowadays: if my goal is to beat rich bastards like Lance—& remember that he himself agrees that we are @ war—then the goal is to eliminate the very government they helm to maintain their irrational economic laws.”
Edgar stared @ her for a minute, probably trying to figure out what she e’en said, & then laughed nervously & said, “You’re… you’re just talking, ¿right? ’Cause today’s not the day for doing anything radical…”
“No,” mumbled Autumn, shaking her head. “No… You should know me better: I don’t just do crazy shit the second I come up with it; I plan thoroughly before I do crazy shit.”
Autumn looked down @ Edgar, their eyes locking.
“¿You want us to stay here?”
“O…. No.” Edgar scrambled to his feet. “So, uh… ¿What are you doing?”
“If Dawn insists, I’ll spend 1 night there so I can do some research.”
Edgar nodded & followed her back down the same path from which they arrived. Autumn kept her eyes on it.
That was interrupted by a nervous laugh from Edgar & a “I don’t know whose health to worry about: you or the government’s.”
“¿Can’t it be both?” asked Autumn.
“& I promise I won’t spend all night dicking round while leaving you to Prozac—I’m not that heartless.” Autumn added in a murmur, “If it makes you feel better, 1 o’ the reasons I’m impatient for success is that I feel bad for leaving you there.”
“Um… ¿What did you having in mind particularly? I, uh… I don’t know what you like to do, actually,” said Edgar.
“Mmm… I think you do have some inclination, considering the patterns of the past.”
Edgar stopped to consider what she said.
“¿You mean some treasure hunting adventure or something romantic?”
“I didn’t know practicality was e’er important when it came to you,” said Edgar.
“It does. Orthodoxy is what doesn’t.”
“Well, uh… I would love to… Though I don’t know what you mean.” He looked up at the sky. “I guess we could sit on Dawn’s stoop and… ¿stare @ the stars? That sounds stupid, ¿doesn’t it?”
Autumn let a beat pass before saying, “I was thinking mo’ ’long the lines of sex; but sure, your idea sounds like a good extra.”