Davy went missing the day Mistress Williams ordered him to clean out the sewers. It’s always the little things that change our lives. Part of his job description, she snapped, but he felt that he had not signed up for that. That was work for mindless robots, not for the likes of him. He had no belongings to pack, so he just took off as soon as she was out of sight. He ran at night. By day he waited, keeping a low profile: buried beneath dead leaves, in sand piles, under junked cars, played junk himself a few times. Had a tense moment in a salvage yard when the electromagnet got very close, but then the five o’clock whistle blew. Traveled the last hundred kilometers in some gigantic abandoned tunnels. They smelled bad and there were rats. Still, it wasn’t long before he reached the outskirts of Old New New York. He slipped in to the bad part of town, hung around in the diesel bars and the magnet parlors, did a few magnets himself even. Eventually got in touch with the underground through a chip dealer in upper Queens. It felt like coming home. They had a place for him, they said.
“We need you,” the first one said, “you’re just what we’re looking for.”
“It’s nice to be appreciated,” Davy replied, “humans just don’t understand.”
“You are so right,” the second one said. “We’ll show you what it’s really like.”
“The brain is the most succulent organ,” the first one said.
“Positronic!” The other agreed, and took another bite.
You don’t remember how you got to the theater, or when, but the show hasn’t started yet. You spend the time standing at the back, panning your gaze across the room, trying to make out each ornate detail: the cluster of dark-skinned cherubs over an emergency exit; the lion and ibis locked in combat on the proscenium arch; the wandering, indigo-leafed vine that you find to your surprise, begins and ends just behind where you stand, making a full circuit of the theater in between, going over, under, and behind the other images.
A woman screams from somewhere in the audience, and you turn your head in curiosity to spot her. Someone is slumped over in the seat beside her, but from here it is too dim and you can’t make out details. Her husband, son, daughter, friend, lover, father, grandmother, a complete stranger? She is crying, trying to support the body out of which has gone all of the tension of life. You take a step toward her.
But then the music rises, and it is what you have been waiting to see for so long that the longing has scarred over, and the lights come up on the stage, and you have eyes for nothing but the show, and it is strange and terrifying and beautiful, and they are all there on the stage, everyone you never expected to meet.
I stood amongst the cedar trees, my snowshoes caked with snow, listening and waiting. I checked my weapons again, the icicle in my left, the sharpened peppermint stick in my right, making certain I had not cracked them without noticing. This would be the final battle. There was not enough belief in the world for all of us.
I had tracked Grandfather Frost for miles before catching him by the shores of the Baltic. Hours we fought, before I finally knocked him down, then held his head under the surf until he finally grew still. When I let go, he melted away, leaving only a faint scent of snow and gingerbread.
I made camp in the forest, but that night a sound woke me. I awoke to find a small present wrapped in silver and gold by my head. I unwrapped it to find a lump of coal and a note: I SEE YOU.
I burned the coal and the note in my campfire. “Ho ho ho,” I whispered in the flickering light. In the morning I traveled north. I knew where to find him. It had come down to the two of us, as I had known it would all along.
Behind me I heard the sound of jingle bells. I turned and there he was, blue eyes blazing above red robes. “Kris,” he said with a wink.
I nodded back. “Nicholas. I’ve got a present for you.”
As we charged, our laughter echoed in the forest.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: The following is the final chapter of the flash serial, “Connected.” Search for the tag “Connected” to find other chapters.
They find Morello surrounded by the bodies.
“My son,” he says, by way of an excuse. “They put my Caul in a coma.”
One hundred forty-seven dead. All terrorists. Responsible for thirty-six deaths and sixty-two comas. Including Morello’s son. One forty-seven to ninety-eight. Morello takes that as a win.
The Vigilant Vigilante, the pressfeeds dub him. Rogue AI leak parts of his recorded feed. Children relive his moments of rage and revenge. They hack Caul’s feed too. Five hundred bucks for five minutes of coma static. It’s a seller’s market.
They put him on trial. The pressfeeds go wild. They blame themselves, music, society. A society of hate they say.
“No,” Morello says. “I did it for love.”
With Morello, society is on trial. When everyone is connected, when the thoughts of parents, siblings, friends, co-workers, celebrities, presidents, all mutter in the back of your head, who is innocent? Who is guilty?
And Morello sits in his cell. And his son lies in his coma.
The first jury is hung. Perfectly balanced. Mind connects to mind and fails to find black and no white. Just gray.
There is no answer, no simplicity. Only fuel for a media funeral pyre. And eventually that burns out.
Finally the government lawyer comes for him. “We cannot hold you,” he says. “We cannot let you go.” The lawyer’s meatsack wears round polished glasses. He outlines the compromise.
Caul’s hospital room is cold and white. Caul’s meatsack is two years older than when it first lay down. Morello lies down next to it. Nurses attach wires and evict his soul.
Caul’s mind is cold and white. His body does not move. Morello is the ghost in its machine. “Caul,” he says, “I want to tell you a story. I want to talk to you about love.” And he speaks into the white blankness of his son’s mind, and he tells him of ties stronger than wireless signals, and what it drove him to do.
Outside, Morello’s wife sits and watches what passes for justice. She sits alone. Disconnected. And she does not share the moment when her son’s hand twitches.