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But to be well-adjusted in an insane society is to choose insanity yourself. No, it won’t be the kind psychologists define, the kind you find in the DSM-5 or similar texts. It’s much worse than that. It’s to become spiritually insane. It’s to make every effort to kill your soul—all so you can live in that big house or buy that new car or climb the cog ladder or marry that golddigger or beg, borrow, or steal some yearned-for status. I have fought the endless pressure to become one of those cogs, those herd animals, my entire life. It has been a pitched battle in which I have not emerged unscathed. Not by a long shot.
No person with a functioning soul can look upon the world as it is today and not be damaged by it, not be outraged by it, not be astonished and infuriated by it. No person with a functioning soul can look upon the world and not be compelled to make changes in his or her own life in order to extricate oneself from the herd. No person with a functioning soul can continue on as before. It’s that simple.
But to do so is to put yourself directly in harm’s way. Oh, you won’t be herded into a line waiting for the ovens. But hold on: you damn well may be. It has happened in the past, and there are no indicators whatsoever that suggest it won’t happen again. If anything, the opposite is true. Humanity is, as fast as we can, working as hard as we can to turn this world into an oven—literally. Humanity is, as fast as we can, working as hard as we can to destroy the biosphere. No truly sane person can look upon this madness and not see it for what it is—self-destruction. And no sane person can emerge from the battle against that overwhelming herd unscarred.
To that end, these visits make complete sense. The madness without boils and simmers within. The scars swell. The battle injuries become infected. The soul cries out.
I believe I’d visited the White City before, three, maybe four times previously. But those visits were mere glimpses, like I’d been beamed to a spot for a few seconds before beaming back out again. The feel of them was similar, and very familiar to typical Slum visits (if you can call any of these visions typical), but I hesitated calling them Slum visits because of their brief duration.
That isn’t unique to the White City; it’s happened before. These visits I struggled with because the environs were different than others.
The residents do in fact call it the White City.
I come to next to a large chain-link fence, one at my back. I’m leaning against it. It stands at least fifteen feet tall and holds back garbage piled at least as high. A lot of the trash is predominantly white, or various dirty shades of white: plastic spoons and paper plates; trash bags ripped open or still tied neatly and unmolested; clear plastic containers once full of food; old plastic buckets used on construction sites, ones caked with crumbling concrete; clothing, bedding, plastic chairs, faded orange laundry detergent containers—“NOW WITH 33% MORE!”; empty tin cans, most with labels missing; thick virgin-white plastic bags with BIOHAZARD in big red letters on the side with the odd same-colored Klingon-ish symbol that goes with them; part of what looks like a medium-sized car engine torn apart and resting on the ground. I spy rats running into it.
A loud double-honk jerks me around. I stand up straight.
Driving up the corridor to my left (there’s an equally tall chain-link fence maybe twelve feet across also holding back a mountain of trash), a middle-aged man with dirt streaks on his narrow, unshaven face waves from behind the wheel of an old RV. He’s slowly making his way up the corridor, not even walking speed, as he negotiates the trash and pot-holes. What looks like a discarded dishwasher is in his way; he stops and comes out the side door and makes his way to the front, squeezing between the RV and the fence.
“Wanna give me a hand with this?”
“Uh ... sure.”
I go to him. I discover that the middle four feet or so of the corridor is broken asphalt covered in clumps of dead grass, and is much easier to walk on than the side, which is mushy, occasionally causing my feet to sink. The dishwasher is on its side in the middle.
We get to it, bend and grab a hold. “On three now. One ... two ... three!”
We lift it.
“Where to?” I demand when I see there isn’t any room on either side to put it—not if he wants to get his rig past.
“Back behind you. Fifty feet, no more.”
I glance over my shoulder. The corridor ends up there.
Grunting, we haul it there, dumping it just right of the right corner. It falls with a loud crash, the top metal covering separating, exposing its guts.
“Wanna lift?” he asks. “I ain’t got nothin’ like money, but I can drive ya somewhere. Sound good?”
“Uh, yeah, sure,” I say before thinking. “Thanks.”
We walk back to the vehicle. I fall in line behind him to keep from stepping in more mud. There are puddles here and there. Most are filled with oil and unidentifiable chemicals, and smell terrible. The remains of a crow lies half submerged in one, its head and beak lying on the puddle’s bank, its eyes empty. Maggots swarm over what’s left of it.
“Nice day today,” he says as we get to the vehicle. “Nice sunshine. Good for huntin’.”
We get to the side door from which he emerged. He opens it as I squeeze around him, ready to follow him inside. The odor issuing from the rig’s dark depths is hideous, and I genuinely wonder if I’ll be able to hold my lunch in. Instead he motions to the back. “No room in here for no one ‘cept me. I have trouble enough gettin’ in and out. Climb the ladder back there n’ ride on the roof.”
Before he slams the door, I catch a glimpse inside. Though gloomy, I can see that junk is piled so high and tight in there that he is indeed telling the truth.
I mount the bumper and begin climbing the ladder. Halfway up the engine turns over. A gray-blue cloud of exhaust rises into the bright monochrome sky. I get to the top and, on all fours, scramble to the middle of the roof just as he puts it in gear and the rig lurches forward.
I hold on to the big air conditioning unit to keep from spilling over the edge. Though he’s going slowly, the road is dotted with puddles and the RV rocks back and forth, sometimes violently.
I gaze up. The sun is a barely brighter spot in the lower center of the sky, towards a mountain range of trash we’re driving away from.
As mentioned before, it’s not all white, the trash. In truth, it ranges the full spectrum of colors. But the white of garbage bags and paper and things that aren’t white, but are close—discarded sheets and drapes, appliances, toilets, piping of various lengths and girths, concrete slabs ... gives the White City a distinctly bleached appearance.
We get to the end of the corridor. “I’m goin’ left,” he yells. “You okay with that?”
“Sure!” I call back.
He pulls the rig left, the engine complaining as he has to gun it once or twice to get out of particularly deep holes. The exhaust is acridly sweet and sometimes overwhelming.
I’m almost grateful for it. The odors of the White City are varied but always disgusting. Sewage seems to be the base stink. Mixing with it are chemical solvents of every type, rotting food and dead animals, discarded fresheners, perfumes and disposable diapers, among a myriad of other stenches. They come and go with the breezes. The air is warm bordering on hot, the roof just bearable.
The crossroad is significantly wider, but no less cluttered than the corridor. If he wants to continue, he’ll need to stop to get various bits of junk out of the way, including, first off, what appears to be half of a cabinet set of some kind, one painted, no surprise, white. It’s lying on its side some hundred feet on. Beyond that the road descends gently before leveling out. Maybe a mile distant, on the right, is what appears to be an oddly shaped building, like a drive-in diner from the 50s. An A&W, perhaps.
I climb down when he stops at the cabinet. A far-off horn sounds. It isn’t a horn from a car, but something much larger. He’s gazing up as I get to him.
“That’s not good.”
“What is it?”
“Somethin’ you don’t want anywhere near you,” he warns as he bends over. He grabs a corner; I grab another one. “Goddamn scatterbars.”
“What’s...?” I go to ask, but he says, “Here! Lift! Damn! Fuckin’ thing is heavy!”
It is. The partitions inside it are made of thick glass. Most of them have survived whatever indignity the cabinet as a whole hasn’t to this point. We grunt and groan, straining and hunched over, dropping it with a loud clatter just out of the rig’s way.
“You’re a big help,” he says as he heads for the door. “I’d’ve had a heckuva time getting that to the side. Thanks.”
“Let’s go!” he says brightly, and disappears inside. I hurry back up the ladder to my spot on the roof. The RV lurches forward.
That’s how it goes the next mile or so. We ended up stopping eight more times before we get to the building. I climb down as he kills the engine.
The building is painted a fading, chipping, stained baby blue and indeed looks like an old drive-in restaurant—all weird angles, a flat roof, and a large jutting wing of some kind that reaches almost to the road. It’s much larger than it appeared from a mile off, and is windowless.
There’s just one door, a rust-colored metal rectangle near the dark corner where the wing and the building meet. There are people in the corner’s shadow. They appear Hispanic, their clothes tattered, eyes vacant. They peer at us lifelessly. They’ve got a small campfire going near the building. They’re cooking something that smells vaguely pleasant, like a barbecue.
“What is this place?”
“Hell if I know,” he shrugs. “Always been here as far as I remember, and I’ve been here for-fuckin’-ever.”
“What’s inside the door?” I ask as a crying child, a little girl maybe nine or ten years old, opens the door, steps in, and closes it behind her. From what little I saw, it looked like the sterile-white interior of any fast-food restaurant bathroom, which is what I guessed it was.
“Nothin’ I’d ever be interested in seeing,” he says. “Tell you what. You gimme a hand for a few more miles up the road, and I’ll feed you some fresh mac and cheese. Whaddya say?”
Macaroni and cheese sounded really good. Before I could stop myself, I nod. “Sure.”
I climb back on the roof. He goes to get back behind the wheel, but just before closing the door, returns to the people at the campfire. Hands on his hips, he speaks to them well out of earshot.
Looking up at him with those vacant, sad eyes, they respond. A large, bald man wearing a filthy bloodstained white T-shirt under a heavy butcher’s apron emerges out of the white interior behind the rusty door, holding a large, white trash bag, bloodstains all over it. The blood looks fresh, the bag heavy. Gripping it with both hands, he clumsily makes his way to them, dropping it next to them. He says something to the driver; the driver responds before turning and walking back, closing the door and turning over the engine. He throws it in gear, and the big vehicle lurches forward once again.
I gaze back through the exhaust to watch the man with the trash bag reach inside it and pull out what looks like a long, bloody cut of steak, handing it to the man sitting closest to him. The sitting man, tears running down his cheeks, sets it before him and lovingly begins wrapping it in cloth.
That all-encompassing horn sounds out again, closer this time. Whatever it is, it has to be fucking enormous. The sound seems to echo off the garbage mountains and settle like sonic lead into the valleys.
It was then that I notice them. Thousands of them. Tens of thousands of them.
They’re all up and down the mountains of trash, wandering in and out of the valleys. They had crouched with the horn’s blast; once it echoed away, they stood and got back to work.
They’re mining the garbage, digging through the bags, occasionally fighting off thousands of gulls that I’d just noticed as well. Almost all are wearing trash bags, and use them to stow whatever they feel is worthy to keep in elaborately jury-rigged pockets.
The gulls are fierce. I watch as one attacks a little girl near the top of a garbage mountain. She collapses amid a flurry of white wings and pecking beaks. There are no adults nearby.
The rig brakes, the engine stops, and the driver steps out. I’m already making my way down the ladder, struggling with the horror of what I’d just witnessed. A few feet away is another ladder, this one shiny silver aluminum, fully extended, maybe twenty feet.
“Damn nice one!” he comments, bending over to inspect it. “I’d take it, but I’ve already got two! No more room, which is a shame, because they fetch a fuckin’ high price!”
“What’s a ladder doing out here in the middle of the road?” I wonder aloud, then immediately regret it, because he gives me a glance that tells me it’s a stupid question.
“Seriously?” he chuckles, gesturing at the tall chain-link fence keeping the garbage contained. The fence—all of the fence—is topped by razor-sharp coil wire; I notice it at the same time I notice the corpse at the foot of it. I help the driver move the ladder back to the fence, leaning it against it, then go to the body. He follows.
“They get over sometimes,” he says, shaking his head sadly. “Sometimes they ain’t got nothin’ to cover the razor wire up there. It cuts right through garbage bags, so they sometimes use one of their own to cover it. Bet if we turn this poor devil over, he’ll spill out all over the place.”
The “poor devil” must have perished recently. I can’t smell him, though the parts of him not covered in filthy trash bag are covered in flies. But then this entire place, its persistent rank odors, made my guess iffy at best. It’s so bad at times that my stomach turns over, as it does then.
He watches me. “You’ll get used to it. Hell, if ya stay even a day, you won’t smell nothin’! Promise!”
I unbend when I’m sure I can keep my lunch down. “You’ve got all sorts of room on your rig’s roof. We can pop the ladder up there, no trouble.”
He shakes his head like a knowing father would at his ignorant son. “Won’t work.”
He throws a stiff thumb at the rig. “I get about two hours of sleep every night. The rest of the time I’m sittin’ facin’ the door with a loaded twelve-gauge—the only one in the entire goddamn city! The driver’s-side door is welded shut; and the windows are all military-grade tempered glass I got offa Sector Chief after his rival got scatterbarred! But that roof ...” he shakes his head “... no damn way I can guard it. I’ve thought about it a million times, tell ya, but ... no. Can’t do it. A buddy of mine tried it with his rig. Still haven’t found what happened to him. I saw his RV tool on by coupla years ago, but didn’t dare stop the fuckhole drivin’ it!”
I gaze past the wiring to the trash mountains and the brown trashbag-covered people digging about on them.
He slaps my shoulder. “Hell, it’s a nice day today and I’ve got some tradeables up the way. Ya ready to head on out?”
“Yeah ... sure,” I reply unsurely. “Let’s ... go.”
“Damn nice havin’ a little company, don’t mind sayin’,” he says as we make our way back to the vehicle. “We’ll pop the circuit, and then I’ll feed ya. Sound good?”
I think of the mac and cheese again and am instantly famished, which is remarkable when, just a few seconds before, I was green to the gills with nausea. It’s as though when I think of the meal, the foul odors go away. But that doesn’t make matters easier or more comfortable, because I quickly began drooling as though I have lost control of my mouth. The sensation of hunger becomes overwhelming, biting.
We get to the rig. I wipe my chin with the bottom of my T-shirt and climb back atop the roof, and we are off.
The great horn blares again. It seems to fill every nook and cranny, every trash valley, as though it were the sky itself trumpeting. I gaze around fearfully, but still see nothing. I notice the trash miners have stopped working. Many of them are pointing in the direction we’re driving. I look, but heaps of garbage at least several hundred feet tall block the way. Some of the scavengers make their way to the fence. As we pass they call out to us, waving. But they aren’t waves of welcome or joy, but ones of terror. They want us to pull over and help them.
Why can’t they escape? Have they been sentenced in there for crimes? Why am I not in there, or the driver? Why are some allowed to be in these corridors and roads, and others aren’t? Are the “free” ones parolees?
I gaze ahead. Looking at them is heartbreaking. They’re emaciated and filthy. I can’t do a damn thing for them.
The road descends another hill. At the bottom it splits. One road bears left, cutting through a truly enormous refuse range; the other angles right through a large black puddle, almost a pond, that crosses the road and looks impossible to get through.
I expect him to go left. He doesn’t. “Hang on!” he hollers, and guns the engine. The rig shudders and accelerates.
I hug the AC unit as tight as I can as we launch into the puddle, which splashes high on both sides. The RV swerves dangerously, nearly throwing me off the left side, then fishtails right. I just hang on. I hear him whooping with joy over the growling engine. We must have been doing forty miles per hour!
Somehow we make it through. He drives on another couple hundred feet or so, stopping where the road curves sharply right. A giant white sign with chipped red lettering hangs unlevel with rusty wiring on the fence ahead. It reads:
SMACK DAB IN THE MIDDLE
AIN’T GOT NO EXCUSE
“Could use some help cleanin’ this!” he yells. “Ya mind?”
I climb down, jumping near the bottom so as not to get covered in whatever liquid he’d plowed through. He’s next to the RV on the left side, inspecting the splash that has covered most of its back half. It’s oil ... but it’s also ...
“Yeah,” he grunts. “If you let it dry it’ll strip the paint right off.” He reaches for what looks like half of a baby’s finger and pulls it off, throws it on the ground between us.
“How did all this blood get here?” I demand, once again sickened to the point of barfing.
“Shit if I know,” he chortles, walking around the vehicle to the door and stepping inside. He reappears a few moments later with an armload of old clothes, dropping them on dry earth next to the fence. He throws me an old denim shirt, long-sleeved; he’s got a huge XXXL T-shirt, orange.
We hurry back to the rig. “There’s no water, so we’ll have to work fast—”
The horn blares even louder.
“Let’s go!” he yells, and urgently begins wiping.
I’m not sure I can hold my lunch in, but join him after taking a deep breath and swallowing. The liquid slops onto the cloth but doesn’t soak easily into it. It slops on my hand and up my arm. It smells as bad as anything here. I have to stop on occasion to get hold of my wits.
He’s five times as fast, but doesn’t hold it against me. “Get your wind and get back to work!” he says with a compassionate grin and nod.
“Why’d you pick this way?” I demand as I get back to wiping. There are body parts in the goo, including what looks like half a human kidney splattered against a back window. “Why not pick the other route?”
“That way’ll dump ya on the interstate headin’ into the city,” he answers, running back to the clothes pile and grabbing more. He hands me what looks like ripped black yoga pants once worn by a grotesquely obese woman. “There’s typically plenty of swag on the way, sure, but then you’ve got to swing all the fuckin’ way back around to get to the entrance. We’re talkin’ hours!”
He wipes oily gore out of a hubcap. It pours thickly on the ground.
“What do scatterbars do?” I ask, noting that all we’re really doing is leaving a purple-black film on the rig, which will dry and attack what is already chipping paint. We’re not really doing anything productive, I reason—so why bother? I think I might ask, but he answers my first question with a dark chuckle: “They ... let’s say ... redistribute the wealth. We’re good here—let’s get the back and get the fuck out of here.”
I find my mouth speaking before my brain can turn it off. “This is worthless, dude. The rig’s still covered!”
“It’ll stick, yeah. Might have to do some touching up, sure. No worries. All this cloud cover—we’ll probably get rain tonight! That’ll help!”
We begin cleaning the rear. It hasn’t slopped much here, only the bumper, where I’m wiping, and maybe a foot above it. I take a long wipe and strike something solid.
It’s the top half of a child’s skull partially covered in tattered black hair. A lifeless brown eye hangs from a sinewy bit inside a socket, staring at me.
I back away, tripping and falling on my ass. “Jesus fucking Christ!”
The driver stops and follows my horrified gaze. It’s a miracle I haven’t puked.
He goes to her and gently picks her up with a dripping pair of ripped jeans.
“Hmm. I think I knew her,” he says in all seriousness, smiling sadly.
“What the fuck happened to her?”
He laughs without humor. “This fuckin’ place happened to her!”
I get to my knees. I can’t stop looking at her. “Who ... I mean ... who the fuck would have kids in this place?”
“Great question” he replies, walking “her” to the fence. With a heave, he sends it over the razor wiring. It lands with a bony plop atop a washing machine. The eye swings sadly back and forth, staring out at nothing, the hair arranged almost artfully over the machine’s gleaming surface. “Who the fuck would have kids period?”
He walks back. “We’re nothin’ but stock. Or an infestation. Nothin’ more. Let’s go.”
I have a little trouble climbing the ladder back to the top, because the lower rungs are still wet and I slip when I try to mount them. He comes up behind me and gives my ass a hard shove. “Best not have a conscience,” he says as I get a knee on the roof. “’Specially here.”
Without waiting for me to respond, he climbs back in and kicks the engine over. A moment later we’re making our way.
This stretch is much smoother, so he speeds up a little. It’s difficult to tell, but I guess we’re doing 30, maybe 40. The few potholes he hits rattles the rig and my teeth, but are relatively infrequent. The road is deadpan-dry, cracked, and fairly clean, the view beyond a hazy panorama of waste in all directions.
We begin climbing, the mountains of trash suddenly much closer to my right; to the left a huge gorge with a sprawling valley leads away, away, away ... to barely discernible skyscrapers hidden by yellow and brown smog. Slum.
He pulls over at a turnout, one that overlooks the valley, and stops. A clean-cut family is there, standing at a telescope, oohing and aahing as they take turns looking through it. They glance at us as we pull over, then return their attention to the scope. The driver gets out; I climb down the ladder to join him.
“How is this a scenic lookout?” I demand when I get near. The father has an old-style camera; he steps back to photograph his family as mother puts her arms around daughter and son, their smiles wide. “Say cheese!” he calls out, and the family responds, “Cheese!”
“Couple more!” he says. “We don’t get this way often! And dear, I’d like a couple with the kids too.”
“Of course!” she replies with a sparkling smile.
The driver and I watch from fifty feet away. He glances at me. “This is one of the best lookouts if you wanna get a photo of the city from a distance. The smog ain’t too bad today, and you can actually make out some of the skyscrapers! Doesn’t happen too often.”
It’s then that I notice: the family is white. I didn’t see a single white person in the trash. All were brown or black.
Is that why I’m allowed here, along the roads, not in the garbage—because I’m white? Because the driver is too?
No, I reason, that can’t be it. There was that brown family or what looked like a family back at the campfire in the shadow of the wing of that weird building miles back. I leave him and go to the edge of the turnout. It isn’t a cliff, but damn close: the ledge drops at a very steep angle down several hundred feet to a copse of dead trees shadowing a filthy stream or river. There are people in it, bathing. All appear brown or black from here. They too are hemmed in by razor wiring, though it’s distant; and the trash down there hasn’t been piled too high.
The son and daughter have picked up rocks and are chucking them over the edge—at the bathers. “See if you can hit one!” says the boy.
“Ooh! I think I did!” laughs the girl.
I look. A woman is lying face down in the stream, blood curling around her head. An infant is floating away, crying and drowning.
“Hit it!” cries the girl gleefully. “Hit it! Hit it! Hit it!”
“I’m trying!” replies the boy, chucking more rocks.
One of the stones strikes the baby, which disappears under the black water and doesn’t resurface.
“Got it! Yaaaaay!”
“Just a couple more throws, kids, and we should be going,” calls out the mother.
I start for them. I’m so disgusted that my urge is to chuck both over and laugh as they are crushed when they hit the ground. But they’ve already grown bored with their casual murder and are running back to the car, which I notice is a stationwagon, the exact kind my family had back in the late 60s. It’s gleaming reddish-tan with white trim.
The kids pile into the back, the engine turns over, and the car pulls away, raising dust as it goes around a near bend.
I go back to the driver. He can see my rage. “It’s just the way it is, dude. You can’t do nothin’ for them.”
“The fuck we can’t!” I yell. “Let’s chase ‘em down! I’ll take care of them; you won’t have to do a goddamn thing!”
He considers for a minute while I stew. Valuable seconds pass; they may already be too far away to catch up to.
“They did have some nice chrome on the car,” he says, nodding. “And those kids, even one of ‘em ...”
He decides. “Yeah! Let’s go!”
“Fuck yeah!” I yell, and run back to the RV. He’s right behind me; he turns the engine over before I’ve summited the roof and throws it in gear and pulls out. I hang on to the ladder for dear life as he gains the road and accelerates.
The road narrows, the curves tight, forcing him to slow down. We go over a pass, trash and trash-miners to the right; to the left several heart-stopping drop-offs. I begin to lose hope. But as we go around another bend, I spy the stationwagon. It’s half a mile ahead on a descending straightaway that leads, so says a sign, back into the city.
The driver guns it. We accelerate. I’m guessing we’re doing eighty. If he slams on the brakes, I’m a dead man. I find that funny and chuckle insanely, the image of the baby floating away and then getting struck burned in my brain.
We catch up quickly, just before the road goes left and away from the White City. An off-ramp splits from there back into the mountains of garbage. The driver swerves to cut off the vehicle, which honks. The father is glaring at me. I’m glaring right back. But he slows as we slow, pulling over to the shoulder. I jump down to the asphalt just as we stop.
The father steps out. “Do you mind telling me what you—”
I go to strike him, but a huge blast from behind makes me duck. The man’s chest implodes scarlet, his blood spattering all over the windshield. His wife and kids shriek.
The driver leans the 12-gauge against his still-wet bumper and marches past me to the front passenger door and opens it. The mother, screaming, tries to get away, but he grabs her by her kicking legs and hauls her out of the car. She bounces on her back on the road, her conservative floral-print dress up around her head, her starched white underwear tearing under her butt.
I go to the other side, step over the father’s corpse, and throw open the back door. The kids scream. I grab both by their hair and yank them over the seat and out.
“Momma! Momma!” they cry.
The driver has stood her up.
“Just do what they want!” she gurgles from behind his forearm. “Do what they want!”
The driver leads her to the rig. She climbs in. “Let’s go!” he laughs. His eyes are wild. He climbs in and slams the door.
“Climb up! Climb up!” I yell at the kids.
The boy bolts. He’s running for the fence holding back trash across a shallow ditch. I chase him, grab a big rock on the shoulder and heave it. It strikes him dead-center between his shoulder blades, dropping him instantly.
He’s sucking wind between bouts of screams. I pick up the rock and kneel on his chest and bash his skull, bash it until dents and collapses, bash it until I see white-red brains on the back of my hand. I pick up his body and throw it into the ditch. Rock in hand, both dripping with blood as black as the puddle, I loom over the girl, who’s frozen with shock, her face blue.
“Climb up, or the same will happen to you!”
She climbs, sobbing and shaking. I’m right behind her. The engine turns over and the rig pulls back onto the road.
She grabs the AC unit and hangs on for dear life. For some reason I no longer have to, even though the driver is tearing around curves like a bat out of hell. It’s as though centrifugal force no longer touches me. The wind is whipping through my hair and roaring in my ears, and I can feel the bumps we pass over; otherwise, it’s as though I’m atop a lonely mountain somewhere.
She’s gaping at me, her face soaked, her mouth pulled wide. She’s so terrified she can’t speak, can barely breathe.
I hear her mother scream. I can feel a regular rhythm beneath me ... not the road. I scoot left on my butt to glance into the driver-side mirror.
A shock. It’s empty. The rig is driving itself. He’s got her somewhere amid the junk in the back and is raping the shit out of her.
He laughs and pounds her harder. Her daughter can feel the violence of it too. She doesn’t know what it is, but I know she knows her mother is in grave danger. I move back to the center of the roof, cross my legs Zen-style, and resume glaring at her.
Her terror doesn’t soothe my rage. I can’t get the baby out of my face, and her glee when it was struck with the rock.
Random hard thumps from below as the RV turns itself back into the White City. There is no junk in our path. We’d already cleared much of it away. The door opens and the woman’s head flies out. It bounces against the fence and settles. The driver laughs louder.
Her leg follows, then the other. Then both arms, the last of which lands atop the heavy cabinet set we moved. The girl is turning blue from screaming. She must see the body parts past my shoulder as they flip over themselves before coming to a rest. The driver calls out: “When ya come down to it, all ya need is a torso and its holes!”
The regular rhythmic thumping tells me he’s raping the woman’s torso.
The weird building is just up ahead. We must be doing seventy or eighty. We slow and stop at the same spot we did last time.
The great horn blasts. It’s deafening, earth-shaking. The man doesn’t seem to care: he’s shouting with glee.
I couldn’t care less what the fuck it is, what a “scatterbar” is. Rage has claimed me whole. I grab the girl by her hair. She tightens her grip on the AC unit, but she’s no match for me. I heave her off the side and jump down next to her. Such a drop any other time would have broken my ankles. Instead I land soft as a butterfly.
“NO! NO! NO! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”
Her legs are shattered. I drag her past the family sitting at the campfire. They’re staring at her with starving eyes. As I approach the rusty door, it opens. The large man in the butcher’s apron is waiting. I throw her at him just as the great horn sounds again, so loud it shakes the ground. A huge shadow shuts out the light—
The scatterbar looks like a titanic piece of steel pipe half a mile long, with caps at both ends. It falls from the sky at a million miles an hour, slams into the trash across the road, sending an enormous trash tsunami right at me—
I wake up.
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