SETH USED HIS CUTTERS on the chicken wire nailed to the door. He cut along the top, bottom and the doorknob side. He opened the door and closed it again. Good for now, though some signal would seep through, he thought. He had just covered the walls, floor, and ceiling in this room and the adjacent bathroom with the chicken wire. Seth sighed in satisfaction and put his cutters neatly next to his other tools.
He went back to work on his computer. Of course, with a signal blocking mesh around him now, no wireless signal could get out. Seth connected the landline, which was attached to a server and an antennae in the detached garage out back. Maybe he could make some progress now. After some swift typing, and breaking some lame encryption, the human test records at the Federal Food and Drug Administration flashed across the screen. He found some files on nano-technology used to make mood inhibitor drugs. The technology was a decade old, but it might be useful. He downloaded the files. Then his connection was cut.
"Damn," he said.
He did another wireless search from his garage network, there were still a half dozen wireless networks around. He and Aaron had set up a dozen or so antennae around the neighborhood and he set up another half dozen by himself after Aaron went back to school. It could just be kids, animals, tree branches or any number of things taking out his antennae, he thought, but that many? He got back on his network, then disconnected and checked the files he had just gotten. The files were not damaged by the disconnect so he filed them.
Seth needed food, he headed downstairs. He bounced down the stairs a little. He went to the kitchen and sat down with a cheese sandwich and some cola. He had organized his mother's mail on the kitchen table, bills separated by the creditor and junk mail separated by the products being sold. He had not seen his mother since she met that new boyfriend earlier in the summer. In fact, he had not heard from her in days. I'm sure she is fine, he thought. Everything is fine. The only mail he got was from his father, the letters were from the halfway house his father decided to stay in 5 years ago to commit his life to the Criminals for a Cleaner World organization. These old guys went around and cleaned the streets and sidewalks voluntarily and were paid by local cities. His dad would send the money to him with letters of encouragement in school and be good to your mom type stuff. Quite a turnaround for a guy who used to get drunk and drive the streets looking for minorities to beat up and when not finding any, come home and beat his mom. But that was all better now, he thought, it's all super now. He shook his head and decided to go back to his room. He left his sandwich half eaten.
Seth heard knocking on the door downstairs and he yelled down for the person to come up. Aaron entered and inspected the new metal interior design.
"Nice decor.," Aaron said. "This is to block the wireless signal from the little metal demons in your head isn't it?"
"Yeah, the pattern of this wire mesh blocks the wireless waves pretty well. I have to charge it though," Seth pointed to two wires one red, one black running from the mesh to the back of his computer. "It would be flawless if I didn't need gaps by the damn door."
Seth had probably shared too much of his paranoia with Aaron. But Aaron was the only one that came around anymore, besides no one else was much of a challenge for Seth at the board games they both liked to play so Seth tolerated him. Seth decided a demo would be in order.
"Step outside the bedroom door," Seth said.
"Just do it."
Aaron stepped back into the hall. Seth closed the door and yelled. "Rape, murder, death!"
"You are crazy! I'm going back home."
"Say those words back to me," Seth said.
"I will not," said Aaron.
"Just prove to me you can say those words," Seth rubbed his forehead.
"I'm not saying that stuff, I don't even remember what you said."
"I said murder! Say murder."
"I don't want to, I don't like this Seth."
"Say murder!" Seth shouted.
"I don't want to!"
Seth opened the door. "OK fine, come in here. I say you won't utter the word murder because you cannot, further you cannot verbally form the word with your mouth because you cannot think it," he said triumphantly.
"You get weirder every time I come here," Aaron said.
"I am still proving a point, you will never say those words out there. No one says those words out there. Yet rape, murder, and chaos are very common themes in stories and media up until the last 20 years or so. How do you explain that?" He winced. "Just come in." Seth pleaded.
Aaron walked into the room and Seth closed the door. Seth waited a minute and then said. "Now say murder."
"I still don't want to say murder," Aaron said.
They exchanged glances. Seth thought Aaron understood, he decided to let him in on his full theory. "Look," he said, "this is what I think is going on, You can't say those words because the nano machines in your head, in all our heads, won't allow it. I think our government is controlling the population by preempting any thought of committing a crime.
Aaron was dumbfounded; the eye contact between them on his part had been fear, not understanding. "Why are you the only one with headaches, you are saying you want to kill people or something?"
"No, I don't think so," said Seth, "but I do want to be allowed to think my own thoughts! I don't know why I have these headaches. But they are better when I close that door."
"You want to play Dungeons and Dragons?" Aaron wanted a break from all this craziness. Seth had found this old pen a pencil game online. A game based on fighting, the violence at first really made them both uncomfortable, but it grew on them. They just don't make games like this anymore, Seth thought.
Seth tried to read his friend's dark eyes. He thought, did Aaron want to change the subject because he wasn't ready to accept the nano theory, did he already know what was going on, or is he just afraid of me?
"Yeah, OK," Seth said finally, he had his thumb on one of his temples and his middle finger on the other. "Just turn off that damn cell phone OK, it amplifies the little bit of signal that seeps through the door."
Later that night after Aaron had gone home, Seth's headaches came back. He eyed the cuts he had to make in the chicken wire by the door. He wondered if Aaron would tell the cops about him. He wondered if he really did want to kill someone. Should he kill Aaron? Should he kill himself? He stood up and staggered a bit, he shook his head and it cleared some.
Despite feeling anxious about leaving his room, he went to the garage and found a large box. Would they make him turn himself in while he was outside his shield, control his mind and make him just drive over to the nearest police station? He looked down the driveway and saw a car drive by, two guys inside, both in suits. Cops, he thought. Why would anyone around here wear a suit, this is blue collar area? He ran inside and went back to work sure that those guys would come in and arrest him any second. That night he slept inside his 4 foot by 5 foot box which was covered on both sides all the way around with chicken wire "no gaps" was his last thought before sleeping "no gaps in the wire." He dreamed for the first time since he was a kid. Awesomely gory and sexual dreams.
A few days later Aaron came by. Seth called him upstairs again. Aaron opened the bedroom door and found an unwashed Seth sitting in what looked like a makeshift chicken coop.
"Jesus," Aaron covered his nose and mouth. "Seth what are you doing to yourself. You don't look well, have you eaten?"
"I've never felt better." Seth said, as he unraveled some of the metal around him to come out.
"Listen, I tried to come by yesterday and some guy asked me if I knew you."
Seth's head jerked up, his blue eyes burned into Aaron, "what did you say?"
"I said no and went home. Look you need to go to a hospital or something."
Seth was out of his cage now; he was lean and feral. "That explains why I'm down to two antennas." He said as he moved toward the door. "It's all true you know. I've got real proof from a government database that shows they started putting nanos in depression and anxiety pills. They figured out that they could tap into people's minds. Suggest ideas. Control people. I have it all right here." He held up an old DVD disk. "You didn't tell anyone about our little talk about murder did you Aaron?" He was ranting now. "The nanos are in the water now Aaron! They are in all of us!"
"What? Look Seth, I can't play games in here, it smells like piss, let's go downstairs and talk about this." He made to leave but Seth jumped at him like a wild monkey. Seth smashed Aaron in the head with a heavy ashtray. Aaron was out cold.
Just then the downstairs door crashed in, "FBI!" someone yelled. "Stay calm and come out!"
Seth grinned, reached behind his cage and pulled out a pistol.
Aaron woke to a dead Seth beside him, it looked like his head just exploded. He wiped the gore from his face, his head was pounding. There were men talking and shuffling around in the room.
"Take the computer too." One of the men said. "Is it attached to the wire?" The men were trying to figure out what was going on with the wire mesh.
Aaron noticed the DVD under Seth's shoulder. He snatched and put it in his pants. He sat up. The cops noticed him.
"Christ, better leave the whole thing alone, I'll call the bomb squad, maybe they can figure it out," the cop said as they turned to Aaron.
"Yep, that is the kid we talked to yesterday," the younger cop said.
"Why did you have to kill him!" Aaron yelled. The men in suits looked shocked.
One agent looked around the room again, he rubbed his forehead. The one that had asked Aaron about Seth yesterday looked at him with disgust. He was younger than the rest of them. "Look, couldn't you tell that your friend was sick. He had an aggressive strain of brain cancer, but we could have saved him yesterday, if you would have helped us find him."
"Shut up Jamal!" the older agent said. "Get this kid back to the office."
Aaron jumped up and made for the door. He looked back, the men did not move to chase him. He kept going down the stairs, out the door and into his car. He drove about a block when suddenly, he didn't feel like driving. He stopped the car and got out to stretch. He sat down on the curb. A black guy sat down beside him.
"Hey fella." the black guy said.
"Hello," Aaron said, thinking how nice it was to just sit with this guy and chat. He felt cozy, his head buzzed with a nice low rhythm. It felt like he was remembering one of his favorite songs from a long time ago, but in the back of his mind he thought about Seth. Poor guy, he thought, I'll send some flowers to his mom. What was it that Seth used to say?
"Turn off that damn cell phone," Seth would say. Aaron turned off his cell phone and his head cleared a little. He looked around, everyone around him was just sitting on the curb or leaning on the cars and fences. Everyone smiled stupidly. He saw the FBI agents coming towards his car.
One thing Aaron and Seth did not have in common was that Aaron ran track, he ran a mean 200 meter and right now felt like a good time to get a little run in, he could come back for his car, sure no problem. Everything would work out fine, so Aaron ran. It was a limp and grudging sort of run, like he had just got out of bed, threw on shoes and started running. Luckily, the agents didn't notice him. Then about a block from where he started, it felt like he crossed an invisible barrier and he was able to just sprint. The people around him were moving about normally now, he ran harder.
Aaron checked his coat pocket; he still had the DVD. He wondered where he could pick up some chicken wire.
The Blooming Bead Trees of New Orleans:
by Kristin Fouquet