W.I.T.C.H. Fan Fiction ❯ My Niece ❯ Day 5 ( Chapter 5 )
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Day 5I woke up feeling a bit better than I had the previous few days. Looking back at it, I was quite sure that the rowing exercises had released the tension built up since I had come across Wilma. After I made my bed, I made my way to the kitchen and dining area. Though seeing Sven eating was no real shock, I was surprised to see Wilma was up and about in the kitchen, gathering up some of the breakfast necessities. She seemed quite absorbed at the tasks at hand – she didn’t notice me coming out of my bedroom – so I said, “You seem energetic this morning, Wilma.”
Wilma turned over to me and said, “I’m not energetic, Arthur. I’m just like I’ve always been in the morning.”
“That may be true from your perspective. But from my sight, it’s something else.” Wilma chose not to respond and returned to gathering up the foodstuffs. Hoping that I didn’t cross a line, I simply walked into the kitchen and collected a pair of bowls, cups, and spoons. I then brought them all to the table and sat down at almost the same time that Wilma did. After I let her get served with her cereal, milk, and juice, I then did the same. As I did, I said to Wilma, “So, did you sleep well last night?”
“Actually, I did sleep better than I had the previous few nights.” Wilma stated. “How about you?”
“Perhaps. I don’t feel as tense as I have been feeling. But I don’t know if it was due to my sleep or the rowing I did last night.” After a short pause, I then said, “So, have you made up your mind about the swim team issue?”
“Eh, not really.” Wilma responded quietly. “You made a very good point back at the pool last night, and I would like to enjoy swimming in a less competitive nature. But if I leave the swim team, everyone will think I’m a quitter.”
“And what’s wrong with that?”
“If I’m seen as a quitter, then everyone will think automatically that I’m a failure.”
“Wilma, don’t be concerned with what everyone else thinks. It’s what makes you feel the best that matters most.”
“Maybe. But if I do leave the swim team, how will I explain it to Cornelia?”
I stopped for a second in order to gather my feelings. Hmm. Wilma seems to talk about this Cornelia a lot. I thought as I took a bite of cereal. And Susan said that this was one of her friends? Something doesn’t add up; perhaps it’s time I try to poke around her social group. Once I had swallowed the chewed-up cereal, I then said to Wilma, “You seem to be talking about this Cornelia quite a bit, Wilma. Is she like a bully?”
“What? Cornelia? Oh, no, no!” Wilma sputtered. “She’s not a bully!”
“Then if she’s not a bully, then what is she to you? You talk as if she’s some sort of scab, and by that definition, she’s certainly NOT a friend.”
“That’s not…” Wilma stopped to think for a bit, much like I did just a minute or two earlier. Wilma then said, “You know, Arthur, I don’t really know what Cornelia is. I wish I did, though.”
“Well, maybe if you could explain her a bit better to me, maybe I can help sort out the feeling about her, provided that you want me to hear about it.” I said.
Wilma took a sip out of her cup of orange juice, looked down at the cereal bowl, and said, “I’m really not sure who Cornelia is, even though I’ve known her for the last few years.” Wilma said. I noticed that she had become a bit depressed while she was saying this. “I never know what to expect from her outside of the ice skating rink. Sometimes she seems a bit sweet-hearted, but more often than not she’s either overly aloof or overly blunt towards the world around her. Perhaps she gets those traits from her parents, both of which come from Europe.”
“Which parts of Europe?”
“Her father is British and her mother is French.”
“That’s an odd combo, owing to the histories of the people speaking those languages. Eh, how is the relationship more directed towards you?”
“It’s much like with everyone else, though I think that she seems particularly disappointed in me, likely because of my lack of athletic accomplishment. She’s also very stubborn in the way that once she sets her mind to something, she won’t change it, much like that stupid sweater issue.”
“You mean the thing in that paper you wrote to me a few nights ago was in regards to Cornelia?”
“Yes. And the weird thing is that the sweater I borrowed from her was spotless when I returned it, and yet she crabbed and complained about a fruit punch stain that wasn’t there! Believe me, I checked that sweater inside and out, and there wasn’t anything on it!”
“I see. Maybe it got onto the sweater while it was in her place.”
“It’s possible, but I’ve been to her place before, and it’s almost like a museum in there.”
“You mean like there’s a bunch of really old, valuable stuff at her home?”
“No, I meant that the place is virtually spotless. Her mother is a neat freak. So I doubt that Cornelia or anyone else in her household would’ve created the stain.”
I took a break on the discussion to focus on my breakfast, as I didn’t want the cereal to get soggy. With more of the cereal, milk, and juice in my stomach, I then said, “Well, regardless of how the stain got on there, couldn’t you go off to someone to help you resolve this issue?”
“To who? I can’t talk to my mother about these sorts of things; they’re completely irrelevant to her. And even if they cared enough to stand on my behalf, my former friends wouldn’t be of much help.” Wilma responded.
“What did you do to get their ire?”
“I don’t know. But for the past two weeks they all have been ignoring me, and for no good reason. Even Taranee was ignoring me, and she was my closest friend!”
Ah! Maybe I can help answer her question in that E-Mail from yesterday. I thought. I then said, “Who is Taranee?”
“Oh, she was the first person back at school that made me feel welcome, and we became very close friends afterwards, in spite of the fact that she’s almost perfect.” Wilma said.
“So, in other words, she’s a snob.”
“No, that’s not what I meant. When I said perfect, what I am implying is that she’s got it all: she’s incredibly smart, she’s athletic, she’s hospitable, you name it, she’s has it. About the only thing she doesn’t have is the best eyesight in the world, so she wears glasses. But that’s still a minor point owing to all she does have.”
“I see. What was causing so many problems between you and her?”
“Like I said, I don’t know. Recently, whenever I tried to talk to her about something, she said that she was busy and cut me off, and she never explained to me what it was she was doing. And she always told me what she was working on in the past.”
“Hmm. Maybe it was something that she needed to do by herself.”
“If that was the case, she’d say so. But she didn’t. And it’s not like she had a problem with me that she didn’t tell me about; she’s very forthright about what bugs her.”
“I see. What about the other former friends?”
“Both of them were doing the same thing that Taranee was doing.”
“So there are two others.” I said. Of course, I knew beforehand of their identities, but I tried not to say anything more that would spill the beans. “Provided that they were still your friends, could they have been any help to you?”
“I don’t know. It depends on who stood up for me.”
“Well, perhaps if you tell me a little bit about them, if you want to do so, I might be able to give some insight on how they might approach the situation.”
After looking down at her bowl of cereal for a few seconds, Wilma said, “Fine. My other ex-friends are named Irma and Hay Lin. I first met them at my high school’s Halloween party the first year I was and I became friends with them a few days later. They also introduced me to Cornelia, and they also did the same for Taranee.”
“Ah, there’s something to work with. How do they do with Cornelia?”
“It depends on who you refer to. If you talking about Irma, it’s really hard to tell: sometimes they get along fairly well, but other times they have a hard time seeing eye to eye.”
“And why is that?”
“I think it’s because they live in very different worlds. Irma couldn’t care less about athletics, even though she can swim the backstroke faster than I can swim freestyle. She’s very witty and at times can be considered the school comedian. And she’s a bit impulsive about things, though she’s very intuitive.”
“Do you think that she would be any help with the sweater issue?”
“I don’t think so. She would likely do something that would make things worse.”
“And what about Hay Lin?”
“Well, Hay Lin would probably handle the situation a bit better, since she’s closer friends with Cornelia than Irma is, even though she’s closer to Irma than anyone else.”
“Do you think that you could tell me a little more about Hay Lin?”
“Well, for starters, she’s one of those overly perky, sorority type girls that one might think of as an airhead. But she’s smarter than she appears once one gets to know her, and she’s also super-artistic.”
“In what ways?”
“Nearly all ways, though she prefers pencil sketching. She also is a big fan of science-fiction, and she makes much of her own clothing.”
“Oh, there we go. Maybe all that’s needed is for her to make a new sweater for Cornelia, and that it would solve the problem.”
“I doubt it. I actually talked to Hay Lin about making a sweater for me a year or so ago, and she said it would likely take her several months to complete it. She also thought it would cost too much in terms of materials, so I wound up dropping the subject.” After a short break in order to eat more of our breakfasts, Wilma said, “Of course, as they were both ignoring me these past two weeks, they wouldn’t be of any help even if I had asked for it.”
“How were they ignoring you?”
“Much in the same way as Taranee. But I also saw Irma talking to my former boyfriend a few days ago, and neither one of them was willing to allow me into their conversation.”
Right there, I thought, Former boyfriend? Susan said that she had one; what was his name again? Maybe I should implore a little deeper. After eating a little more of my breakfast, I then said, “Hm. I see. Was this your former boyfriend’s way of saying ‘it is over’?”
“No.” Wilma said.
“So you broke up with him earlier?”
“Then, how is this boy your former boyfriend?”
“I don’t know. All I do know is he’s stopped talking to me and ignoring me along with my other friends.”
“Maybe he’s just busy, like most people are around this time of year. Do you think you can tell me more about this former boyfriend?”
“I guess so.” Wilma stated, though with significant hesitance. “His name is Matt Olson. I met him a few years ago during a birthday party, and we used to be very close. But recently, things have stagnated between the two of us, and I’m beginning to think that he might be seeing someone else.”
“What makes you say this?”
“As I already said, he met with Irma a few days ago and wouldn’t let me in on their conversation, and few days before then, he was milling around with two or three other girls after band practice.”
“That’s weird. I didn’t think that most girls around your age would be attracted to band members. Just out of curiosity, what instrument does he play?”
“Eh, that doesn’t sound like any band I know of…”
“Matt isn’t part of some marching or concert band. He’s the lead guitarist and lead singer of a local band called Cobalt Blue…”
All of a sudden, I began to realize exactly what may have been the problem in terms of their relationship, and all I could do was snicker while trying to keep a straight face. In consequence, I missed hearing everything after the band’s name. Wilma obviously noticed this and said, “What’s so funny?”
“Oh, you should have told me earlier! No wonder your relationship with Matt has so many problems; both of your interests are completely incompatible!” I said, trying hard not to totally crack up.
“What are you talking about?”
“Just think about it, Wilma. Throughout the history of modern music, nearly all music acts, especially rock groups, attract groupies more efficiently than the strongest magnet can attract to metal. It’s almost part of their job description to attract as many of the opposite gender as possible. And then there’s your participation in swimming. All members of swim teams get lots of double takes from the opposite gender, both in the pool area and in the stands, during the practices and meets, especially when they come out of the pool all wet…”
This little description must have crossed a line for Wilma, for a split second after saying the word ‘wet’, she stood up from the table, leaned over, and shouted, “WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU, YOU SICKO!? ITHOUGHT YOU WERE MORE GROWN UP THAN THAT!”
“Oh please, Wilma.” I said, trying to calm Wilma. “I’m just trying to explain what I know when I was growing up. They may not be pretty or appropriate, but it’s worth saying as a heads-up.”
Wilma did calm down somewhat, but she was still a bit mad at me. “Well, I don’t know where you get that nonsense, but I’ve never noticed any boys staring at me, either during the practices or the meets.” She said, looking away from me. “And as far as I know, you know nothing about either swimming or the music industry, so you shouldn’t be saying those sorts of things.”
“Really.” I said, looking at her. That last comment kind of tinged me, as I knew much about music: it was my major muse during my adolescence. She looked back at me, and her face began to soften a bit; perhaps she thought that she had crossed a line. After she sat down, I then said, “Wilma, once we’re both done with breakfast, I have something to show you.”
“And that is…”
“I want to keep it a surprise for you, Wilma.” I then went back to my cereal, and after a few bites, I then said, “Anyway, getting back to your problems with Matt, I don’t necessarily think that he’s dumped you. He’s just probably busy with his things, much like with anyone else this time of year. And even if he did dump you, it’s not a major disaster; most people, me included, go through more than one relationship throughout their lives. Besides, I bet there are plenty of boys about your age that wouldn’t mind spending time with you.” After a short break, I said, “Do you know of any other boys you are interested in?”
“The only other boy I have shown interest in is named Neil Weber.” Wilma said.
“How do you know him?”
“He’s part of the boy’s swim team. He’s a really nice guy and he’s always supportive of me, even when I’m not having the best day. We don’t see each other too much outside of the pool, though.” There was another short break, she then said, “Maybe I should have spend more time with Neil before Irma starts taking an interest in him.”
I kind of winched when I heard that; it reminded me too much of Tony’s behaviors around Wilma’s age. After recovering, I said, “I take it from that and your previous statements that Irma is a flirt, if that’s the right word.”
“It’s a good descriptor of her. She seems to have a different boyfriend every month. I hope I don’t wind up like her.” Wilma responded.
“I doubt it.”
From that point on, breakfast was a very quiet affair. We both finished our cereal and juice, and then we took to putting stuff away and cleaning the dishes. Once everything was done, I said to Wilma, “The thing I wish to show you is downstairs. Follow me.”
“OK Arthur, but can I go to the bathroom first?” Wilma asked.
“Of course. I’ll be in the basement.” I replied. With that, we went our separate ways.
I went down into the basement area, and went into my office, where I retrieved a pair of keys for the nearby vault room. Once I had them in tow, I walked out of my office, closed the door, and sat down on the bench press bench. A few minutes later, Wilma was walking into the basement area. Geez, I can’t remember the last time I opened up my vault room. I thought as I heard Wilma’s footsteps. Wait a minute. The last time I opened the door was to load up the vault! Oh well, as long as she doesn’t blab about my past to the rest of Whitesage, or anywhere for that matter, I’ll be fine. My thoughts ended when I saw Wilma come fully into my view; she had changed into a daytime ensemble, which looked much like the previous outfits. “All right, Arthur. What are you going to show me?” she asked.
“It’s behind the door with all of the locks behind it.” I said, pointing to the door. “But before I open the door and show you inside, you must promise me that you won’t tell ANYONE about this. Not anyone here, not anyone back at home, not anyone in Canada.”
Wilma got a little concerned when I said that, and kind of made a face before saying, “Is it something illegal?”
“No, but it’s something that I don’t want other people to know about, because it’s shameful. In fact, you are the first person, besides myself, to see inside the vault room. So you have to promise not to let others know about this for my own sake. Do you understand?”
“OK Arthur. I promise that I won’t tell anyone.”
“Good. I’m going to undo the locks now.” I then got up off of the bench and walked over to the vault room door. I first undid the padlock, and then turned my attention to the doorknob lock. Apprehensively, I opened the door. But as I entered the vault room, I immediately thought, Why I am doing this? All it’s going to do is make me miserable again. It’s making me miserable right now! I quickly felt resentful towards myself and depressed.
Inside the vault room contained all of the little things I had tried to bury out of sight and out of mind, which was a lot of stuff. But the primary things placed inside this now dusty tomb were mementos of my days being the lead singer of a local rock group known as Thundersnow. Wilma at first didn’t seem too impressed by the large stacks of unwanted mementos, but then she spied one of my old group’s promotion posters. “Hey Arthur, this guy on this poster looks a lot like you.” She said, picking up a poster from the stack.
I took the poster from her and wiped the dust off. After examining it a bit, I then said, “That’s because it IS me, Wilma.”
“Yes, right around your age, Wilma. At the time, I was the lead singer of a local rock group named Thundersnow…”
“Hold on, Arthur. There’s something I can’t see very easily here.” Wilma said. She had picked up another one of those posters and was trying to examine it. She then said, “This is a promotional poster for the Amateur Canadian Popular Music Contest. That’s something that Matt has always been talking about ever since I met him. You and your group participated in that?”
“Yes, we did. Though looking back, we shouldn’t have competed.”
“Oh, you didn’t do very well, did… hey, what’s that over there?” Wilma then walked over to a pile of boxes and began moving them off to the side. I knew exactly what she was going for, and I couldn’t bear to look at it. She then exclaimed, “Oh… my… your group won the contest! This is the…”
“Trophy for the musical act who wins top prize, yes I know that.” I said, not feeling all that great for finishing her sentence.
“You don’t seem overly happy about it Arthur.”
“No, I’m not.”
“Because it did two things: first, it ruined one of the other competitors. Second, it ruined Thundersnow.”
“How? You get a contract opportunity for winning that contest, and…”
“Wilma, I really should explain why I say things got ruined.” I said.
“OK, I’m listening.” Wilma said.
“The formation of Thundersnow began around the time I was your age. At the time, I was looking for a diversion to deal with my own adolescent problems…” I said.
“What kind of problems?” Wilma asked, interrupting.
“Eh, that’s a discussion I’d rather not into depth with, but I will say that I was having the same sort of problems you were having.” I answered. Wilma realized that this was something deeply sensitive to me, as I saw a bit of shame on her face.
“Anyway, I was a good singer, having sung along with a number of the day’s rock groups over the radio, and having a number of school plays experience. During my junior year, I came across a few students who were also inspiring rock musicians. After we got the chance to know each other and conduct a few informal practices, we decided to officially form a band, which we called Thundersnow.
For a while, we were just content being street musicians and playing a few gigs at area theaters and the like. But we entered our senior year, I made the fateful decision to enter into the ACPMC, once I got the vote of confidence from my band-mates and got enough money to enter the contest.”
“So, what was it like being a part of the contest?”
“It’s divided into three distinct levels. First, we had to go through a regional tryout, much like in Stupidian Musicana, but without the TV cameras and the infamous judges. If you get the vote of confidence, you then move on the provincial level, where you have to perform in front of an actual audience, and that they provide a vote in addition to the judges. The winners of the provincial rounds go onto the national level area, where it’s much like the provincial level but on a bigger scale.”
“I see. And Thundersnow won the title. What does the winner get?”
“$100,000 and the chance to be the opening act of the Canada Music Festival Tour at each of their stops. Second, third, fourth, and fifth place receive 75,000, 50,000, 25,000, and 10,000, respectively.”
“Wow. No wonder Matt wants to participate in the ACPMC. I would want to partake in the contest, provided that I had any musical talent.”
“That’s what I initially thought when I got involved in the contest. But it didn’t take long before the euphoria was sucked out of my soul.”
“It happened the day after our victory. The whole band had left the hotel where we had been staying at, and we were having breakfast at a local fast-food joint, when we heard sirens, both police and ambulance. We then saw both types driving into the hotel parking lot. After we finished our breakfasts, we walked back to the hotel to see what was going on. What we found was horrific: one of our competitors in the ACPMC had committed suicide over the evening.”
Wilma was in shock when she heard that, as evidence when her jaw dropped and eyes got real big. “Are you serious?” she said, exasperated.
“I am, Wilma.” I said.
“How did he die?”
“Well, he first consumed all of the toiletries in his hotel bathroom, hoping it would poison him. From the police records, it didn’t work, so he then stole a fire extinguisher from the hallway, disengaged the safety, inserted the nozzle into his mouth, and pulled the trigger. He quickly died from multiple causes.”
“Oh, that’s… terrible.”
“It was. But the worst thing was about the suicide note he left behind, specifically for us. He actually left two; the first one was a request to donate his earnings to a music supplies charity. Ours was a bit different. In our note, he said, ‘Promise me that your group will be successful; only then will my life have meant something’. Though it was a bit of a mystery on why he wrote this at first, we would later learn that his life was a giant mess.”
“In short, he had lived a life of destitution: his parents had died early on in his childhood, and had spent the remainder of his childhood in an orphanage. His adolescence was spent between two foster families, neither of which had much money to support him or a higher education. His only outlet for success was music, which he was very good at, and he needed the large award money prize in order to pursue a college degree. Unfortunately, he didn’t score well enough to make the top three places. And with little prospect of getting a scholarship, he felt it would be better to die than to live what he saw as a pathetic life.”
Wilma started looking a bit sick after hearing that. I didn’t blame her for feeling that way, as I felt terribly sick right now for explaining the incident. But I also noticed that Wilma face, beyond the sickness, was hard to read. Maybe she was realizing what I had told her back at the swimming pool last night; if so, then in an odd way I was doing her a huge favor.
After what seemed like a long time, Wilma looked up and said, “Does the death of this artist have anything to do why Thundersnow is no longer active?”
“In a way, it did.” I said. “It kind of sucked the fun out of music for me. Every time I tried to sing, it reminded me of that suicide note, and it made me feel very bad that his life ended because of such a setback. It wasn’t like he didn’t have a shot at musical success beyond that point; music executives attend these performances and sometimes they sign up some of the lower ranking performers to contracts. Not big ones, obviously, but it is still work. I never fully recovered from it, and it was always on my mind. My band-mates certainly didn’t help the situation: they began to act like the famous musical acts you probably have heard of. Mainly this was quaffing down obscene amounts of beer on a daily basis, but they also ‘connected’ with groupies after performances. All of this was quite stupid to my mind, since we weren’t a big act yet, but it also embittered me towards the music industry, as I doubt that dude who had killed himself had wanted it this way.”
“Did you try to talk some sense into them?”
“I did, but they were often so drunk that they barely even noticed. Eventually, about a month before the big concert tour, I decided enough was enough, and I quit the band. I would concentrate on my accounting and marketing degrees and never looked back.”
“Well, I don’t blame you for feeling like that.” Wilma said. “But you shouldn’t let one bad experience get the better of you. If that was the case, I wouldn’t request to go the pool last night. Besides, most people are willing to forgive mistakes. I bet if you talk to them, they would probably be a more repentant.”
“That’s part of the problem, Wilma. They aren’t alive anymore.” I blankly told Wilma.
“They’re all dead?”
“Yes. Well, almost all of them.”
“Well, back in the day, the concert series for the winner of the ACPMC took place in mid-winter. And the winter for that year was harder than it normally was. There were a lot of technical and logistical problems that occurred during the trip, and it looked as if Thundersnow was suffering from more of their fair share than some of the other, more famous acts.”
“Just the general stuff, Wilma. Vehicle maintenance was a big issue, as they had rented out one of those moving vans to get about. And at least from what I had been told, it was in need of repair. But they also made a lot of stupid, easily avoidable mistakes, like reading the maps wrong at one point. And it was a combination of both that led to the demise of my former band-mates.”
“Well, to begin, the group was running behind on its schedule due to road conditions in the Ontario area. There had been a brief but aggressive blizzard that passed through the area, and there had been some significant traffic problems getting out of Brandon. Their next gig was to take place in Regina, but it would be a long, hard drive that would take days with the van, and they didn’t have time to lose. So they decided to gun it on a marathon drive, going both during the day and night without pause, with the exception to get more fuel.
Unfortunately, they had heard over the radio that there were traffic problems on the direct route to Regina, so they decided to take a rural detour in hopes of getting back onto the main thoroughfare. This was not a smart thing to do in the middle of the winter, and especially at night. And by all accounts, it would have been safer, and saner, to cancel or postpone the gig. But the group was adamant to reaching their next gig on time.
At first, things seemed to be going well for my band-mates. But then they got some bad news in terms of the weather: there was another front coming, but this time the precipitation was a sleet and snow mix. It’s hard what anyone would have done in this situation, as one would either choose driving through the conditions and perhaps crashing or waiting it out and perhaps starving.”
“Neither of those options sounds very good to me.”
“Yeah. My band-mates wound up choosing the former. It was the last mistake they would ever make, as they wound up first crashing into an oncoming truck, then spinning out, and then blasting through the guardrails where the rolled over into a shallow ditch. It was made the more painful with the fact that the front wasn’t terribly powerful. Had they waited it out they probably could’ve continued the rest of the way with no problems.
Anyway, the driver of the other vehicle was unhurt and did call for medical assistance, but it took an hour before medical personnel arrived and took them back to Brandon. The driver of the van, who also happened to be my replacement for Thundersnow, got out with only a broken right leg, a broken left arm, and some minor cuts. But the rest of the group was not so fortunate: the injuries were far more severe. One of them was declared dead on the scene, and the other two would die the next day.”
“Oh…my…” Wilma said, utterly shocked and saddened by the story. “That’s… awful!”
“That was only the half of it, Wilma. In the coming days, I was hounded by the local media regarding the death of my band-mates. It was a horrible time of torment for me, trying to answer questions I didn’t want to deal with. But more so than that, it left me overwhelmed by both shame and bitterness for the competition and everything that had happened to me over the past few years. It didn’t help that I inherited the trophy and the remaining paraphernalia of our successes; believe me, I tried a number of times to refuse it, but the persistence of everyone was impossible to refute. I wound up storing this stuff in a storage facility and turned my back towards music, concentrating my time and energy on accounting and marketing. After I had completed my degrees, I then moved here, though I had no choice but to collect this garbage and take it with me. And with no storage companies in either Codton or Gunnersville to dump this stuff in, I’ve had to store it here.
So, now you know why I told you NOT to blabber this out to the world. I don’t want to be a source of pity again, nor do I wish to be reminded of this part of my past.”
“Oh, I won’t Arthur.” Wilma said, looking quite upset at the whole thing. “I… I didn’t know you had such a problem. Now I understand your reasoning at the pool last night.”
“Yeah. But try not to get all caught up in my issues, Wilma. I can deal with them. You still need to deal with your own, OK?”
Wilma nodded, as if she understood. With that we left the storage room, where I shut the door and locked it. I didn’t make any attempts to glance back at that part of my past as we went upstairs.
The rest of the morning was very quiet and uneventful as we began to get ready for the day. Both of us got cleaned up and properly dressed, and then we were off with Sven in tow. It was a bit chilly that morning, which was unsurprising owing to the fact that it was the first week of October. Even so, neither I nor Wilma was totally unprepared for it since the past few days had been a bit warmer than usual.
Eventually, we both arrived at the Howl House. “Well Wilma, enjoy yourself, and I’ll see you this evening.” I said.
“I will, Arthur.” Wilma responded. And with that, she and Sven went through the doors of the Howl House, whereas I went on my way to The Mystic’s Emporium.
The day went by without anything serious happening. There were more shoppers than the past two days, but nothing that Michael and the others, me included, couldn’t handle. The talk during the breaks were mostly about the upcoming Samhain festivities, though there was a little talk regarding outsider news, or all of the stuff going on in the rest of Canada, which there was very little to discuss.
Eventually, my day came to an end, and it was time to return home. First of course, I had to stop by Connections to get the last part of the homework for Wilma. Granted, the last two parts had yet to be completed, but at the very least, I had to get them out and printed for the sake of Mrs. Rickenbacker. But I was very surprised to see that I had a number of other E-Mails, all of which came from Wilma’s friends. Noting this, I went to Mrs. Rickenbacker’s E-Mail and printed out the attachments. After making the payment, I was off to the Howl House to check how things went. Rebecca was still at the desk, and she looked a bit tired. “Hi Rebecca.” I said as I entered the door.
“Oh hi Arthur.” Rebecca responded, sounding every bit as tired as she looked. “If you are looking for Wilma, she said she was going back to your place once her work was done.”
“I see. How did it go?”
“It went very well, though I noticed something odd with Wilma when she was working with the dogs.”
“Well, I don’t get it, but for some reason the dogs seemed to get along with her really well, including Sharpie, which is really strange.”
“Sharpie… You mean that Rottweiler you comment on at least once a week?”
“Yeah, that’s the one. He’s always really stubborn and hard to work with, and for some reason, he really warmed up to Wilma. He was obedient, he never growled at anyone… it was as if he was an entirely different dog.”
“That IS weird. Knowing the number of times he’s growled at me whenever I’ve run across him, that’s something I wouldn’t expect to hear in my lifetime.”
“Neither would I. And also, all of the other dogs here would yap and try to get Wilma’s attention whenever they saw her. It was as if he was carrying along a huge bag of dog cookies, but she never did.”
“Well, I don’t know what to say, Rebecca. I mean, Sven has acted a bit different since Wilma has come to Whitesage, but I have no theories as to why. I usually don’t have time think about it much though, owing the nature of my work.”
“I bet so.” Rebecca said, and she went over to the cash register. I quickly went into my wallet to fish out the money that was needed, and I then presented to her. She quickly swiped the money from me and said, “I guess I’ll see you tomorrow then.”
I was about to do the same, but then I thought that it would be worth it to ask her about any advice on how to better guide Wilma. So I said, “Eh, not so fast. I’d actually like to ask you of something before I go.”
“What about?” Rebecca replied.
“Well, I was wondering, how was it during your adolescence?”
“You mean my teenage years? Oh geez, I haven’t thought about them in a while. Of course, when one gets to our age, that seems like a distant memory most would like to forget, especially if it was bad.”
I didn’t like how she said the last part, owing to the fact that it rang the truth for me. I then said, “Well, what were some of the things you had to deal with? And I mean outside of the school work.”
“I think there were too many things to list. I mean, it was all about appearances, fitting in, whomever you had a crush on and the implications, trying to bend your parents to get at least a little bit of what you wanted from them, club pressures and the responsibilities that came with them. It was just a huge mess, and that’s even before the widespread use of cell phones and the Internet got into the picture. I don’t see how the teenage girls of today just don’t spontaneously combust the moment they become teenagers, knowing how rough it is with this expanded frontier.”
“Then another question is how did you survive it all?”
“It wasn’t easy, that’s for sure. I mean, I guess I had some friends that, for the most part, were willing to help me out whenever things were going sour. And of course I had my family to fall back on. But why do you ask?”
“I guess it’s because Wilma has been feeling a bit down recently about stuff back at home, and I wish to help her out a little. I just wanted to know if there was any advice on how I could do that.”
“I wish I could, but all of my youngsters are dogs. So, I can’t really give you too much advice on that front. The best I can do is just to be patient and listen well.”
“OK. I guess then I’ll be on my way. Thanks again for looking after Sven, and I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Rebecca nodded her head, and I then was off for home.
A few minutes later, I arrived back at home. The lights in the main room were on, and I could see Wilma on the couch, perhaps snoozing away. When I did enter the house, she certainly was, with Sven sleeping on her lap no less. I called out, “Wilma, Sven. I’m home.” Both woke up immediately when I called them, though quite slowly. Wilma looked over to me and said, “Uhhh… What time is it?”
“Around 7:00 PM. I bet the two of you are hungry. I was thinking about some barley minestrone soup for supper. How does that sound?”
“Sounds fine to me, Arthur. I’m starving. And don’t worry about Sven; I already fed him and took care of his business.”
“Oh. Well, thanks. If you want to, you can get the table set.” I then turned over to the cabinets and pulled out a couple of cans of the barley minestrone soup, which was one of my favorite soups, and certainly one of the most popular in Whitesage. With the soup in tow, I got out a pot and then open up the soup into it. As I did so, I heard Wilma rummaging through the cabinets to pull out some bowls, spoons, and cups. Looking back at her, she didn’t seem overly sad or depressed, but I could see that she was still conflicted on the inside.
Not wanting her to stew over whatever was going on in her head, I asked her, “How did the job shadow go?”
Wilma answered, “Oh, it went well. Certainly better than the last gig, that’s for sure. I always like working with animals.”
“That’s good to hear. I take it there weren’t too many problems for you to deal with.”
“No. But I did notice something rather disconcerting.”
“You mean the way the dogs acting around you?”
“Well, that too, but it was the discussions Rebecca and the other workers were having during that time. They were all talking about elections and what it could all mean if the ‘southern empire’ continues on its current course. It… it just made me feel uneasy.”
“Why? It shouldn’t bother you; you aren’t a citizen here, so you can’t vote for the Whitesage Consortium elections. Oh, unless you were referring to a discussion about Stupidia. But that’s something completely different.”
Wilma stopped for a second, perhaps to try and think things over. As I looked at her, I thought, I sure hope she’s not pining over something that doesn’t involve her. She already has too much on her plate. She looked up and said, “You know Arthur, I don’t know what they were referring to. Maybe it was both.”
“Probably was, knowing the current cycle of ‘elections’ in Stupidia.” I responded. We then got back to our business of getting the table set and cooking up the soup. It didn’t take long for either to get done. Soon enough, I brought out a medium-hot pot of soup to the table, and I began to serve it into the bowls. The soup tasted as good as it ever had, and I was quite pleased to see that Wilma was enjoying the soup, at least from first impressions.
As we continued to consume our soup, Wilma then asked, “Arthur, I’m a bit curious about something.”
I looked up at her and said, “What is it?”
“I’m wondering about the Whitesage political system. I mean, with the way the conversations back at the Howl House, they were talking in such a way that discussed the election of judges. Now, as far as I know, I don’t think judges are elected. They are appointed, right?”
“Not in Whitesage. They are elected.”
“Well, if that’s the case, then what is the structure of the Whitesage government? Was it that Consortium you were talking about the same thing?”
“Yes Wilma. And I guess I can explain it to you, if you are willing to listen.”
Wilma nodded her head, and with that, I started.
“When Whitesage was first formed, many of the hippies wanted to create a government that was free of corrupting influences, or at least having them severely limited.” I said. “They obviously hated the Stupidian model of democracy, which was clearly nothing more than a dictatorship on how it was set up. But they didn’t necessarily want the British Commonwealth model either, mainly because they saw it as too similar to the Stupidian model, but also because there were functions that didn’t make sense to the times. So when it was determined that Whitesage would go from a hippie commune to a semi-autonomous entity, a number of people proposed a different form of democracy. It was said that, in less than a week, they came up with what is referred to as the Whitesage Consortium, or as it can also be called, the Whitesage elected oligarchy.”
“Oligarchy?” Wilma asked, seeming a bit confused. “What’s that?”
“It’s essentially a small group of people that share in the running of something, much like a board of trustees at a college or bank. After going through a number of ideas, it was determined that was the safest model to work with.”
“So how is this oligarchy set up?”
“Originally, there were just nine individuals, split three ways between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. But that number expanded to fifteen in the 1980s, twenty-one in the 1990s, and twenty-seven in this decade; everyone has been told back in 2000 that this will be the last expansion of the Consortium. Members of the oligarchy would be allowed to serve only one three-year term at any one branch, and in normal circumstances, an election would be held every year involving one of the three branches. The system is in constant flux, and thusly it prevents corruption.”
“I see. And does it work?”
“Compared to Stupidia and many other countries, we have one of the lowest levels of corruption in the world.”
“But what happens when circumstances aren’t normal?”
“That only happens when the citizenry of Whitesage are dissatisfied with the Consortium. Therefore, every spring a pre-vote is taken to determine whether the whole Consortium should be put up for a vote, or just the predetermined branch. In those cases, the incumbents campaign to hold their seats, whereas the branch in the official election determines who takes those seats as per normal.”
“There are actually TWO votes every year?”
“But, don’t people get tired of always having to be involved with politics by voting every six months?”
“To outsiders like you Wilma, it does seem that way. But the truth is that most are quite happy with it, and it helps keep corruption down; the politicians are less likely to do moronic things when they are constantly worrying about their job security.”
Wilma just slumped down in the chair, apparently deep in thought on what I had told her. This surprised me, since I didn’t think she would think too much about politics. But then again, I didn’t know her that well.
We continued eating our soup for a minute or two, and then Wilma asked, “Is there anything else about the government of Whitesage you mind telling me about?”
“The only other thing worth noting about the Whitesage government is the Chieftain. Elected much the same way that the Pope of the Catholic Church is elected, he is the essential figurehead of the Whitesage government, except that he has very little power.” I replied.
“He is mainly in charge of filling out the various agencies of the Whitesage government. But he also acts as our political voice, one who helps guide our decisions and suggests policies that the Consortium can consider. And by the charter, it has to be a Native North American.”
“But beyond that fact, he is like the Governor-General of the Canadian government.”
“In a way, yes. But unlike the Canadian Governor-General, they have a bit more influence on how things are run. They aren’t some glorified position holder for the sovereign. That’s why whenever eras of Whitesage are talked about, they revolve around the Chieftains and their times in power.”
“How many Chieftains have been in charge of Whitesage?”
“Four, including the current one.”
“It is OK if you could tell me about them, and the times they were in charge in? Just out of interest.”
“I guess I can try. I’m not as well skilled about telling this as some of the old-timers, mainly since I’ve been around here for the past five years. But I’ll tell you about what I do know, and if you can find someone who can do it better, then I apologize for my failure.” With that, I cleared my throat, and I began.
“The first era was the one dominated by Robert Red Sage, one of the founders of Whitesage. Of course, you already knew this from a few days back, but it’s worth repeating.” I said. “All of the old-timers will be quick to tell you that, from Whitesage’s official inception to Robert’s death on 3/2/1980, it was essentially our golden age. The reason for me saying this was because there wasn’t much in the ways of troubles besieging the village-state. It was a time where people were about as free as one could get, and where the ideals put forth by our brethren was completely realized.”
“I’d hate to ask, but what do you mean by that?” Wilma reluctantly asked.
“Well, think about everything that hippies represent, as well as their fondest dreams. According to the old-timers, it happened here.” I answered.
That, perhaps understandably, made Wilma cringe a bit. I guess I should’ve expected that. After she had gotten herself together, she said, “That seems totally absurd. No society can be like… that… and have everything go perfectly.”
“Well, you do have a point. There were some dark aspects to Whitesage, much of which was attributed to excessive drug use. It’s nowhere near as bad today as it once was: very few people in Whitesage use drugs. Those that do are mostly the old-timers, and it’s almost always done away from the public eye.”
“Was there anything else worth noting about the Robert Red Sage era?”
“The only notable thing that occurred during his time as Chieftain was the 1977 nudity ruling, in where the government was given its first unsatisfactory vote.”
Wilma looked rather bemused when she heard the phrase ‘nudity ruling’, and rightfully so. She then slowly said, “Nudity ruling?”
“Yes Wilma. Nudity ruling.” After a short and rather awkward silence, I then said, “I think it would be in my best interest to tell you it, so as not to give you any bad misconceptions.”
“Well… Eh… I guess so.” Wilma muttered, perhaps embarrassed about the implications and the imagery.
“OK, now as you might expect, Whitesage was a very liberal place at the time. Granted, it has always been that way, but back then there were some things that people today would find ludicrous. One of those things was public nudity: back during the 1970s up until 1978, it was perfectly legal for people of all ages to be naked in public. This was obviously done only during warm times, but it was hard not to run into someone naked during those times of the year.”
Wilma grew increasingly bemused as I told her the story. Seeing this, I told her, “That was just the cultural mores back then, Wilma. And it’s not like I’m going to put you into a time machine and send you back to those days.”
Wilma then started to relax a bit, but the shock value of the story was still impacting her. She eventually mustered the energy to say, “Then, what’s this ‘nudity ruling’ all about?”
“Much like a lot of things in 1977, things began to change, and in many parts of Canada where the counterculture was dominant, public nudity was beginning to lose a lot of its luster. I can give out some reasons, but I’m pretty sure you can figure them out. In the middle of 1977, Whitesage officials decided to follow in these footsteps, and thus proposed a bill that would end public nudity. But for a community who was so adamantly counterculture, it did not go over very well. The bill was eventually crushed, and by the spring of 1978, a dissatisfactory vote was given for the Consortium. Most of the people were replaced as a result. But the most interesting thing about the whole ordeal was that after the ruling, public nudity began to die out, and pretty rapidly. By 1980, very few people were walking around in public naked during the warm times. So when a similar bill was put up for voting in 1982, most people didn’t complain, and it passed. These days, the only place people can be naked is on the semi-private property locales, like people’s houses and the RCA Centers, and you have to specify your business for doing so. But nudity in any sense of the word is so rarely practiced here that I can’t think up of any times where I have heard of such happenings.”
I couldn’t fully read Wilma’s face, but I think that she was secretly relieved that public nudity was no longer allowed. I had roughly the same feelings as she simply because the subject matter was unseemly by nearly everyone’s standards. But it had to be told, since she requested the info.
We then headed back to our soup, which was starting to get a little cold. Noting this, I told Wilma, “I’m going to heat up the soup again, if you don’t mind.” She didn’t have any real response, so I simply placed the pot onto the burner and put it on low. I then sat back down to my chair and asked Wilma, “Shall I continue?”
“Sure.” she replied.
“Alright. Before he died, he appointed a fellow Sarcee, named Blue Moose, as his successor. Everyone simply called him Barry when he took over, though he never referred to himself by that name. These days, everyone kind of refers to him as Weak Moose.”
“Why is that?”
“Because a good portion of his time in power was considered quite soft, and he did some things that many in Whitesage, especially the old-timers, thought were imprudent.”
“What would be considered weak and stupid by people in Whitesage?”
“Well, for one thing, he was not the type to denounce Stupidian actions and policies, especially since many of them were polar opposites of what ours were. You have to remember that this was in the 1980s, and back then there was a lot of concern regarding conservatism seeping into every crevasse it could find. And while it didn’t take hold as well in Canada has it had in other places, people here were quite adamant to resist it in all of its forms. Another thing was that he was more interested in cultural plurality than trying to preserve what was here. And some of his ideas went over the populace like stale bread.”
“One example was trying to re-create a music festival that doubled as a technology fair, which has been enormously successful down in Stupidia. Of course, he also wanted to add a multicultural element to ‘strengthen the soul’ of Whitesage. However, the public was turned off by the idea, mainly about the technological part, though there were concerns about exposure to heretical ideas. Ultimately, Blue Moose dropped the idea, and such an idea was never brought up again.”
“People hated the idea of a technology and cultural fair? That seems a bit dumb.”
“In many ways, it was. But then again, people were leery about using more electricity than they needed, and with a lack of renewable energy sources around, no one liked the idea of using energy sources that were dangerous to the environment. It still is like this today, though to a lesser extent by each generation that follows the last. And once again, fears about Stupidian influences from the cultural side had to play a factor.”
“I see. I still think it’s a bit dumb. What else happened that made Blue Moose rather… weak?”
“Another thing that happened was the Malcolm Jobson issue.”
“You’re talking about the famous performer, right? What could’ve caused such uproar about him?”
“It was due to his music sales. You see, back then, Whitesage was more mercantilistic than it was today…”
“Mercantilistic? What’s that?”
“It’s derived from mercantilism. It’s an economic model where the government strictly controls the economy, determining what is grown for crops, who has a monopoly on what industries if any, and so on. Often, the government will ban foreign imports, to prevent getting sucked into global competition and/or being corrupted by it. Whitesage up to the mid 1980s would ban anything that had its origins from Stupidia. But in 1983 and especially in 1984, more and more people were bringing in records and CDs of Malcolm Jobson’s Thrasher album. Authorities tried to collect and destroy any copies of Thrasher that they could, but it was an exceedingly difficult task, as it was rumored that for every record or CD of Thrasher that was found and broken, nearly five times as many were getting in via all sorts of ways.”
“Geez. All of this in regards to one of the best, if not THE best music album, of all time? That’s even dumber than the music festival idea!”
“I agree. And in 1985, it was decided, albeit by a minority, to allow sales of Malcolm Jobson records and CDs. A lot of old-timers hated the vote turnout, and a dissatisfactory vote was cast not long thereafter. All of those who had voted in favor of the permission were voted out, but the ruling held in a subsequent vote. This would be the beginning of when we call the Dissatisfaction Period, where it seemed as if everyone was dissatisfied with something, and thus took it out on the Consortium. And one of the biggest reasons for that was the idea of religious expansion, which started in 1987.”
“What was that?”
“It was an incredibly controversial idea that, in Blue Moose’s words, would guarantee proper facilities for all religions that would settle in here. Instead, it caused a lot of chaos and made Blue Moose look like an idiot and a traitor.”
“Yes, Wilma. A traitor. You see, back then Neo-Pagans were extremely protective of their religious status, and thus were very worried about other religions messing up their influences on the community. So when they heard of this, they immediately freaked out and went onto an offensive, both literal and political, to prevent other faiths from taking up shop.”
“Literal? You mean by terrorism?”
“One could say that, though it was more by vandalism than it was terrorism. It was pretty bad, at least from what I was told. Anyone who wasn’t a Neo-Pagan or from the Vedic faiths were instantly considered suspects, and in a way, something like the Salem Witch Trials in reverse took place, though no one was killed or tortured. Eventually, though, the attention moved from all foreign faiths to the Abrahamic faiths, as they were considered the more dangerous threat, and during the early 1990s, it was hard to go a week without something happening to buildings being set up for those faiths.”
“Wow. I didn’t think that something like this would happen in a former hippie commune. What did Blue Moose think about this, and what was done?”
“He did nothing more than trying to appeal to the people to stop their actions, claiming it was blasphemous to act in such a fashion. That message slowly worked for the non-Abrahamic faiths, but it did nothing for the Abrahamic faiths. Perhaps it was the only option he had available, since opinions on the projects were very low, and it would be extremely difficult to deploy security forces to protect the areas and the workers. But whatever the choices Blue Moose had, the happenings going about him were taking a serious toll on his health. Finally, in 1992, he announced that he would resign, and would be handing over the chieftain position to his nephew, Broken Creek. After he resigned, he returned to the Sarcee reservation to spend the rest of his life in quiet contemplation.”
“So how did things go with Broken Creek?”
“Not as well as many had hoped. Things continued to be very chaotic, despite the excessive measures to keep the peace.”
Apprehensive, Wilma asked, “Excessive? Eh… I hate to ask, but what were these… excessive… measures?”
“Well, first and foremost, Broken Creek officially outlawed the Abrahamic faiths from existing and thus put an end to the construction projects for their houses of worship.”
“He OUTLAWED the religions?”
“Yes. But that was just the tip of the iceberg. He also re-instituted the ban on Malcolm Jobson records and CDs, and in 1995, unhappy with the Consortium’s ineffectiveness, dissolved it and for nearly two years, the place lived under a sort of dictatorship, though he did allow for public votes regarding most of his policies.”
Wilma was quite sickened by hearing this. I guess it was to be suspected, but I knew the worst was yet to come. “It wasn’t all bad, however.” I told Wilma, trying to alleviate any internal concerns. “He did help expand key businesses, namely the fuel production plant, and was far more forceful about criticisms towards Stupidia than his predecessors ever were. Those things helped him out tremendously, and thus kept in power until 1996.”
“What happened there?”
“Well, it mainly had to deal with the Sikh furniture feud. In short, there was a sharp division in Sikhism in regards to furniture; Jaspal can explain it in better detail. But in general, there was a lot of violence within the faith, and in 1996 it began to worm its way into Whitesage. Broken Creek was definitely not happy about this, and after a while he tried a number of ways to quell the violence, all of which were ineffective.”
“Mostly, it was to increase the tax rates of the Sikhs and establishing a curfew. But it didn’t do too much to shut down the violence. Eventually, he decided to try and outlaw Sikhism outright. That was a horrible disaster on his part, as it was universally despised, and it started a massive revolt against his rule.”
“A revolt? What happened?”
“People surrounded his offices and tried to set it on fire, among a lot of other things that I won’t get into. It actually got so bad that the Canadian government had to intervene to prevent things from totally going out of control. As for Broken Creek, he wound up committing suicide.”
“Uhh… I… is it just me, or does everyone… eh… Are you telling the truth?”
“Yes, Wilma. He really did kill himself; it was in all of the newspapers and newsletters in Canada.”
Realizing I had touched a nerve, I said, “I’m sorry for bringing that up Wilma. But I have to tell the truth, and I can’t sugarcoat things like this.” I didn’t know if that helped or not, so I just continued on. “After the Canadian government intervened, it began what has been popularly called the Week of Anxiety. During this time, the Canadian government, along with former members of the Consortium, began to reorganize the government. Most of the processes were re-established, but we were forced to allow religions to set up shop here as a basic human right. And furthermore, they gave the chieftain position to a Mohawk native named David Waychka. He’s been the chieftain of this place ever since.”
“What do people think of him?” Wilma asked.
“Initially, everyone hated him. There were many reasons for this, but the biggest reason was because he was not selected by us or was named a successor. He also seemed to be a giant wiener, mostly out of touch with the public’s opinions and our general mores. And he was reluctant to criticize Stupidia on anything.” I explained. “But these days, he’s better liked, thanks to the fact that he’s learned to be more like us and enjoys smacking around Stupidia on annual addresses.”
“I see. Eh, what about the soup, Arthur?” Wilma then asked, eyeing the pot on the stove top.
I half-panicked, saying, “Oh, thanks for reminding me, Wilma! I completely forget about it!” I then rushed over to the stove, and to my relief, the soup had warmed up, but wasn’t boiling. Satisfied that it was done, I brought the pot back over to the table and we finished up the soup without saying much else.”
After supper we got to cleaning up the dishes, which didn’t take all that long, and then Wilma decided to take Sven out to walk about. Naturally, I decided to go with her. It wasn’t terribly eventful, until I ran into Orin. “Hey Arthur.” He said, trying to flag me down. “How are things in your part of town?”
“Eh, not bad. It’s been the same old routine, mostly.”
“Oh, because of the Samhain festival coming up.”
“Yes. It’s always preparation for one festival at the Mystic’s Emporium.”
“I guess…” He then spotted Wilma and said, “Hmm, I don’t think I’ve seen you before. You new to this place?”
Wilma, looking a bit annoyed by all of this, blankly said, “Yes.” To alleviate any possible conflict, I quickly jumped into the possible conversation by saying, “Eh, this is Wilma, a student from outside of Whitesage. She’s doing a series of job shadows around the place…”
“Oh, that sort of thing! Hey, if you want to, you can bum around the fuel facility tomorrow and see how we make fuel. Interested?”
Wilma glared at me, as if I had completely lost it. In response, I said, “You don’t have to accept it if you aren’t interested. It’s you call.” Perhaps realizing how deep she was in with her situation, she said, “OK, I’ll come along with you.”
“Well, let me talk to my boss; he’ll give me the final say.” Orin said. “If he accepts, I will pick you up at the hotel around…
“Actually I am staying with Arthur.” Wilma said.
A bit surprised to hear this, Orin said, “Oh, I see. Then I’ll pick you up at Arthur’s place around 8:00 next morning.”
“Right. Listen, I was heading out to the Co-op to get some more food for the family. Do you need me to pick anything up for you Arthur?”
“No, I’ll pick anything I need tomorrow.” I said to Orin. “Thanks for thinking of me, though.”
“No problem. See you around.” And with that, we went our ways. As we walked on, I said to Wilma, “I didn’t mean to get something set up like this…”
“Oh, don’t worry about it, Arthur.” Wilma responded. “I know I’m in a no-win situation, and I don’t want to be bored to tears, like I was during Saturday afternoon. At least you didn’t go about with that niece nonsense.”
Nothing else was said for the remainder of the walk.
Once we got back into my house, Wilma let Sven off of his leash and then she slumped onto the couch, a bit tired. I went into the bathroom to wash my hands, not sure of what I was to do next. I figured that the best thing for me to do was check on my E-Mails, but as I was heading downstairs, Wilma said, “Arthur, can I ask you something?”
“Sure.” I said.
“Well, it’s been something in regards to some of the comments you made when you described the history of Whitesage and how the chieftains were expected to criticize Stupidia every chance they got. I hope I don’t sound foolish, but has Whitesage always been so… anti-Stupidian?”
“Of course it has been!” I said, approaching her. “In fact, it was written up in the town’s charter that one of the purposes of Whitesage was to oppose Stupidia and all it represents. Though back then, it was known as the Southern Empire; Stupidia came a few years later.”
Wilma didn’t appear too surprised hearing that. She then said, “I guess that was obvious. But it just seems as if it’s a bit… inappropriate to do so today. I mean, what if the Stupidians find out about this place?”
“There is the concern. But then again, the Stupidians are always so preoccupied with blowing up the Middle East that they wouldn’t even bother to consider us anything more than a nuisance.”
“I guess so. Still, this place has been around for quite some time, certainly long enough for them to notice.”
“Ok, maybe a better question to ask is this: has it always been this vehemently anti-Stupidian?”
“It actually waxes and wanes, depending on who is in power. At its best, we’ve had a fairly negative view of the place. At its worst, we’re downright hostile towards it, though it has never resulted in direct violence.”
“What do you mean by direct violence?”
“I guess I can explain, but it’ll take a while, and I doubt you’d be very entertained by the story.”
“If I’ve survived the stories from Whitesage’s history, I can survive this.” Wilma answered. And with that, I began again with Whitesage’s history, this time in regards to what was formerly called the Southern Empire.
“Owing to the timeline of Whitesage’s existence, the history of our hatred towards the Southern Empire, better known as Stupidia, must begin with the first dictator of that country at the time of our reckoning. That, of course, would be the Traditionalist Robert Nitters. Or as many of the old-timers prefer to call him, Bloodthirsty Bobby.”
“I see. He got that nickname from the whole Southeast Asia mess, right?”
“In part, yes. But there were other reasons, which you might know of. If not, I can tell you, but I don’t think you’d like them.”
“Let me think about that. But if I remember quite right, wasn’t that guy elected in part because of the actions of the counterculture?”
“That is true. And that was one of the original reasons why we hated him so much: it was much of a symbol of our overbearing efforts to get what we considered the perfect dictator instead of a dictator that was at least willing to tolerate us. Had all of the carnage not occurred at the Modernist political convention in Chicago, or if there was just as much carnage at both conventions, we would’ve gotten what we wanted. But we didn’t, and Nitters was the result.”
“So, how did you all of the people get by with Nitters in power?”
“Not very well. Virtually everyone knew that he was an insensitive jerk…”
“Much like Derek.”
“Not like Derek, Wilma. This guy was much worse, and even when developments early on in his rulership took place in our favor, notably the Woodmort concert, we all saw it as just a stunt to lure refugee hippies from this place back down to Stupidia so that they could be ‘reformed’ or otherwise locked away and kept from causing trouble. But at first, we tried to ignore the dolt as much as we could. However, that all changed when we got news of what we like to call the College Massacre.”
“What’s the College Massacre?”
“Apparently, you’ve never heard of it. It’s pretty self-descriptive, but to understand it, the event occurred not long after Nitters decided rather foolishly to expand the war in Southeast Asia, instead of trying to draw the conflict down, which was one of his campaign promises. Originally, the war was contained in Vietnam, but Nitters decided to expand the conflict into some of its neighbors. Most of Stupidia, who was sick and tired of the war by now, went ballistic when they got word of this, but none so much as college students. There was a general consensus that the military draft in place would dramatically expand, and seeing it as the moron’s path that it was, they began to do everything in their power to resist the draft and discredit the dictatorship, going in as far as engaging in terroristic activities. It was a very messy time back then, and virtually every college in Stupidia looked as much like a war zone as Southeast Asia did.”
“Wow. That’s pretty intense on what you are describing. So, what’s this College Massacre about?”
“The same stuff I just told you. It occurred in early May of 1970; I don’t remember the exact date of the incident. Apparently, there was a significant protest aimed towards a military officer school on the campus, and out of fear of having the school razed, law enforcement was called in to protect it. No one around here really knows of all the details what happened next, much less cares, but they say that things spiraled out of control and the law personnel fired upon the protest group, killing several of them and wounding several more. It was such a horrible incident that the college where it took place at closed down immediately and stayed closed for over a year. And I won’t go into detail about the personal aftermath of the participants.”
Wilma, once again, was totally shocked by the story I told her. “Oh, that’s… that’s…” she tried to say, but just couldn’t find the words to finish. “You don’t have to say it, Wilma. There are no words that can accurately describe this disaster.” I replied. “It was, and still is, terrible beyond words.”
“So, what happened when Whitesage heard about this… this… incident.”
“Being that there were no traditional media connections in Whitesage at the time, we didn’t get news of the slaughter until two days after it had happened. But once word got into Whitesage, it spread faster than the plague in the Middle Ages. The whole public went berserk beyond berserk when they heard this, and they demanded Robert Red Sage and the Whitesage Consortium to do something about Bloodthirsty Bobby, as they would now refer to him from that point forward. The next day, Robert Red Sage issued the Declaration of Assassination.”
Wilma’s eyes bugged out bigger than anytime I had seen previously before, which, again, didn’t surprise me. She then squeaked, “Declaration of Assassination?”
“Yes. Declaration of Assassination. It said that for whoever exterminates the dictator Robert Nitters will be given permanent citizenry in Whitesage, along with their future kin, and would receive one billion Canadian dollars, to be paid out over the next century.” I answered.
Wilma was maybe even more shocked to hear of the details of the document. She looked very pale and I was afraid that she would faint at any second. I was about to ask her if she felt OK, but she spoke first, saying, “This is insane! I… I thought this was a peaceful community who… who would want to avoid the dealing with… with…”
“I know, Wilma.” I said, trying to put her at ease. “It seems completely out of place knowing the people that live here. But you must remember that even the most peaceful people in the world have their limits, and they do snap if things go sour enough. In this case, the people couldn’t accept something of this caliber of villainy, and this was the end result.”
Wilma did seem to relax a little, though she still looked pale. “So, what was the reaction to this… thing?”
“Initially, the response was beyond enthusiastic. Virtually everyone there wanted to get in on the action.” I said. “But as they let things sink in, it became clear they would likely have to go into Stupidia to execute the plan, the interest dried up pretty quickly. There were quite a few attempts to pull off the hit, but the only serious attempt came from a man named Steven Braake.”
“He was a mechanic that lived in the Baltimore region. He got word of the story from a relative that fled to Canada some time before and who was living in the Whitesage area at the time. It is believed that this relative told him about the Declaration of Assasination in hopes that the two could split the bounty on Nitters’ head. At first, Braake was hesitant to go along with the plan, as he was generally content with his life. But after numerous personal setbacks, namely the loss of his job from the economic recession in 1973, he went full-steam ahead to kill Nitters. His plan was to hijack a plane and crash it into the dictator’s mansion; with any luck, he’d he there and he would die in the explosion.”
“Much like what happened a couple years ago, but only with one plane and towards a different building.” Wilma responded. “I take it that the plan failed.”
“Utterly. The plan was executed in late February of 1974. Braake attempted to hijack a freight plane that was to fly to Philadelphia with a load of industrial supplies. But he was spotted by the loading crews, who quickly alerted security forces. A firefight erupted soon between Braake and the guards, and in the end, three people were dead. One of them was Braake.”
“Wow. I didn’t know that those places had good security back then.”
“Well, the conflict in Southeast Asia was still going on, and so there was a greater need for tight security measures and competent security personnel.”
“I bet then that interest in the Declaration of Assassination disappeared after that flop.”
“Yes, but not for that reason. By the time of the attempt, Nitters and his lackeys were dealing with repercussions regarding what will forever known to everyone in the world as the Watson hotel scandal.”
“Isn’t that the scandal where Nitters tried to sabotage his political rivals?”
“That’s the one. This didn’t surprise any of us in Whitesage when we got word of the deed, knowing Nitters’ non-existent morals. It also didn’t surprise that nearly everyone that worked under him were involved in the whole thing, even if their roles were minor. It quickly became the talk of the town, as many people were anticipating the day when Nitters would be stripped of his titles and sent to prison for his crimes. In mid 1974, we got what we wanted: a formal criminal investigation into Nitters’ involvement in the Watson hotel scandal. But before it could get going, Nitters did the only smart thing he ever did during his rule, and that was he resigned.”
“Yeah, I knew that much.”
“Really? This isn’t part of Canadian history.”
“My mom told me about it several years ago, when we had a tolerable relationship.” Wilma then sighed a little, and then she said, “Anyway, I bet that Whitesage celebrated that news beyond belief.”
“Oh yes. If you talk to the old-timers, they will say that it was like having all of the festivals crammed into one day the mood was so joyous.”
“But what about the Declaration of Assassination? Was it kept active?”
“Yes it was. But it was no longer publically advertised, and there was almost no interest in trying to pull it off. There were two reasons for this: the first and most obvious was that there wasn’t as much symbolic value of killing off a former dictator who was already considered a pariah by his own country. There was a general consensus amongst us that history would be a harsher and more thorough punisher than any one person could ever be. The second reason was security. Knowing how paranoid Nitters was during his time as dictator and the measures he put in place, some of which ironically cost him the title of dictator, the chances of anyone succeeding was astronomically small. It was only cancelled when Nitters’ did die, and the original copy of it is now enshrined in the Chieftain’s office. Since then, we have vowed never to put a bounty on a Stupidian dictator head, no matter how great the temptation.”
“OK. So after Nitters abdicated his position as dictator, who took his place?”
“The man that took over his spot was his second-in-command, one Garth Farris. He wasn’t the original second-in-command; the original person that held the post – I don’t remember what his name was – resigned before Nitters did. He wound up getting the position because he wasn’t directly connected to Nitters and his associates. This was kind of odd, since he was part of the Traditionalist party, and the connections to the party and the Watson hotel scandal basically went across the board. Even now, we haven’t got a clue on how he wasn’t considered tied to the scandal. But he somehow got the position of second-in-command, and from there he became dictator.”
“What did people in Whitesage think of him?”
“Since he was a virtual unknown, we tried to cut him some slack. All we really wanted him to do was to keep the investigation on Nitters going, so that the world could see his evil designs. Even if he wasn’t formally punished for his crimes, we felt that it was necessary to reveal what he did so that such a mistake could be prevented in the future. But Farris didn’t do that. Instead, he closed the investigation and actually issued a pardon for Nitters and his flunkies for the crimes they had committed.”
“He did that? But why?”
“I think that he just wanted Stupidia to move on from the Watson hotel scandal, so that other issues could be contended without the cloud hanging over them.”
“I don’t know about you Arthur, but that seems like an incredibly stupid and shallow explanation for such a move. If he actually worked a normal job, he would have been fired on the spot for something like that.”
“Believe it or not, everyone in Stupidia had the same sentiment, let alone in Whitesage. But to us, it was more than just a cheap move. It was a sign that the Traditionalists were just as interested in protecting their fellow party members from justice as they were in trying to silence others that disagreed with their worldview. For that, Whitesage would from then on show a stronger bitterness towards the Traditionalist party and everything they represented than they did the Modernists, though it can be hard to tell at times. This can best be said by the message Robert Red Sage delivered during the Samhain festival of 1976: ‘Please let the Modernists take over the Southern Empire, or may the oceans swallow it and the nightmares it produces.’ The divine entity/entities thankfully responded to the prayer, as the Modernist Jeremy Claybourne took over as dictator shortly thereafter.”
“So, what was the perception of Claybourne when he became the leader?”
“At first, we were very happy that he had taken over Stupidia, though any Modernist that wanted the job would’ve gotten it, knowing that recent history at the time was on their side. But when we dug a bit deeper into his background, we became a bit apprehensive.”
“But why? He was the type of person everyone wanted.”
“That’s what we thought at first, but we all kind of freaked out when we found out that, by all definitions, he was an evangelist Christian.”
“It’s a fancy way of saying extremist Christian, mostly of the Protestant groups. As is today, there was a huge fear that such a person as dictator would establish a strict Christian theocracy, or government where a sanctioned faith can establish a spiritual monopoly on the populous and can determine whether or not other religions can exist on its territories, and if so, what roles they are allowed. And for a number of reasons, we feared that if such plans were put in motion, our very existence would be threatened. Thankfully, that never happened.”
“I see. Eh, I hate to interrupt you, but could I use the bathroom really quick?” Wilma said.
I replied, “Go right ahead.” She then made her way to the bathroom, while I got a chance to catch my breath. I had not been used to talking this much, and my jaw was starting to get a little sore. I looked at Sven, who was sleeping. I don’t know what you’d do when Wilma leaves. I thought as I pondered my next words.
A few minutes later, Wilma emerged from the bathroom. She sat back in her prior spot and said, “So, we were on Claybourne and the fears of theo… I don’t remember the word.”
“Theocracy.” I said. “Yes, that’s where we left off. As I said earlier, Whitesage was worried about such a thing coming to pass in Stupidia. But that didn’t happen. What we got was a man more cut from our cloth, or a man who seemed to get it.”
“Yes. After the failures in Southeast Asia, Stupidia no longer had the legitimacy to pick a fight with whoever it wanted. Claybourne understood this and began to reshape Stupidia into a normal nation, one that had to play by the rules if it wanted something done in its favor. He also understood that it was not good for Stupidia to be so insular and aggressive, and he sought to correct that.”
“Did he get it, so to speak?”
“At first, we thought he did. During the first two years as dictator, he did much to fix the problems that his predecessors had created or otherwise ignored, and he did so in a way that we saw as positive. This was especially true on the international scene, where his peacemaking efforts showed that one didn’t need to kill someone in order to bring about tranquility, and where he forgave the draft-dodgers for their accurate assumptions. After those first two years, many of us in Whitesage began to feel as if our disgust of Stupidia has been overblown, and even some of the old-timers were thinking that the past failures Stupidia made could be forgiven. Then 1979 rolled around, and it changed everything.”
“I’m taking it was not for the better, Arthur.”
“Not hardly. Over the course of 1979 and 1980, things began to unravel for Claybourne and his desire to make his country into a respectable place, and his efforts to at least stop the onslaught were spineless. There were three things that doomed his dictatorship and soured his reputation with both Stupidia and Whitesage.”
“The first of these was the coming of an economic phenomenon called stagflation.”
“OK, I don’t know much about economics Arthur. Can you explain what that’s all about?”
“Of course. In basic, stagflation occurs when the economy stops growing, or stagnates, and inflation starts to grow. It’s kind of hard to explain it in greater detail to you, being as technical as it is. But earlier in the decade, there had been a lot of bad economic decisions and instances that, when combined, began to drive up prices for goods and services, and it was nearly impossible for employers to match those costs without damaging their companies. And it wasn’t just a Stupidian problem; we too were affected by it, though on a lesser scale. Had it not happened, Whitesage would’ve looked much like other towns of its size. However, once stagflation took hold Whitesage became very much concerned with the consumption of materials. But such a mindset has never been Stupidia’s calling card, and much of the blame landed on Claybourne’s shoulders.”
“Didn’t Claybourne try to at least alleviate the problem?”
“He did. But it’s very difficult to fight stagflation, and despite his best efforts, he was unable to do much to dent the issue. It was best epitomized in a TV address that he said was aimed to try to boost the morale of his citizenry and to provide suggestions to help them get by. This was seen as a pep talk by his allies, but as a malaise speech by his opponents. Something that sort of thing would work for us, but it did little good for the Stupidians, who demands more action than rhetoric. But considering that economic cycles unfairly target whoever is in power, I will say that of all the things that befell Claybourne, this was the thing that was most easily forgiven.”
“I see. So, the other things that hit Claybourne were much worse?”
“Yep. One of those ‘other’ things is a little talked-about incident in Stupidia, but here in Whitesage, it was a sickening display of idiocy that permanently ruined any chance of reconciliation between us and Stupidia.”
“Hm. What was the incident?”
“The incident is known as the Dragons’ Disco Destruction Disaster.”
“Disco? Isn’t that the music people in your age group really liked but in a bizarre, kooky sense?”
I didn’t exactly like Wilma’s response, even though I disliked disco music. It was only for her safety, knowing that it was just as popular as it was in the high times. After thinking a bit, I said, “Wilma, that’s not entirely true. I mean, we can say the same things about your generation’s music. And also, while I think that disco music is kind of dumb, it’s still quite popular around here.”
“But still, why would Whitesage have such an issue with this… event?”
“Well, in order to explain why, we first must understand how disco came to be in the first place.”
“Alright.” Wilma said, half-groaning.
“Thanks for your patience, Wilma.” I replied. “It’s hard to know when disco music came into being, but in Whitesage, it is believed to have been developed by hippies who had been driven into hiding for their views. They combined the music they were used to with other types of music, namely African and Latino styles. A little experimenting later, and disco became the style of music we know now.”
“But why did it ever get popular in the first place?”
“Simply put, it was the type of music that allowed people to let go of their problems and stop watching the world around them. You have to remember that in the late 1970s, there were an awful lot of problems in the world, and after the failures in Southeast Asia, people wanted to do whatever they could to try and wipe it out of their memories. Disco became the unofficial prescription to the disease of sorts as a result.”
“Yeah. That really doesn’t make all that much sense to me. I mean, I listen to music all the time, and it didn’t seem to help fix my problems.”
“That is true Wilma. Disco, like other forms of music, can only hide problems, not fix them. But for a time it was the music almost everyone listened to, at all times of the day. However, like all good things, the craze couldn’t last forever, and when 1979 rolled around, disco became a source of ridicule in Stupidia.”
“Well that’s no surprise. It’s just an overly cheesy style of music.”
“That’s not the reason it fell out of favor. There was a pair of reasons for its decline: the first was that it was a contradictory style of music, in a number of ways. Namely, it seemed too ethnically inclusive and too ethnically challenged all at once, and in Stupidia where racism is accepted to varying degrees, it started to lose its appeal. The second was that it was associated with heavy drug use and ‘immoral’ behavior, and a lot of people became sickened by it.”
“So where does this Destruction Disaster come into play?”
“It came into play during the summer of 1979, in Chicago. According to what I’ve been told, there was a radio personality who, at the time, had connections to the higher ups in the Chicago Dragons athletics group. It was during the safeball season, and the men’s safeball team wasn’t doing very well that year. And whenever a sports team doesn’t do very well, their revenues from ticket sales and merchandise begins to dry up. In an attempt to boost these sales, one of the shareholders approached this radio man, looking for suggestions that would get more people into the seats. He came up with what he thought would be a brilliant idea: a halftime performance where they would blow up what he thought would be a few dozen disco records. They would encourage fans to bring their unwanted disco records to the bombing, and those that brought in a record would get their tickets at half-price.”
“Did it work?”
“A little too well. After the incident, the radio man said that he was expecting about double the usual attendance, perhaps triple at most. I have no clue on what that figure would be, but they wound up getting hundreds of records and filled the stadium, which had a capacity of roughly 60,000.”
“Yes. That many. The stadium workers weren’t expecting that many, especially at that time of year and with the record the Chicago Dragons men’s safeball team had. But getting back to the story: after the 4th inning, the halftime break took place. The crowd cheered as the radio man and a number of stadium workers brought out tables and box after box of disco records, which were placed onto the tables. Then pyrotechnics began placing explosive charges under the tables, enough to totally demolish every record on the field. The crowd cheered even louder as this happened. Finally the radio man took to the pitcher’s mound, and after making a short speech to the crowd, he pressed the detonator. In just a few seconds, the explosives shredded the records and the tables they were sitting on, leaving behind a large swatch of debris. The crowd equally exploded in cheers, and for reasons no one will truly know, they stormed the field and began to riot. It was said that the entire police force in Chicago had to be called in to quell the chaos, which lasted for nearly half an hour. No one died in the incident and there were few injuries, but there were hundreds of arrests and the field and stadium was so badly damaged that the Chicago Dragons were forced to forfeit the game.”
“All that for a dumb halftime show? Golly, that is incredibly shortsighted on everyone’s part.”
“It is. And I won’t go into the personal repercussions about the incident. Thankfully for the Dragons, they would be playing on the road for the next few games, so the stadium could be repaired in time for the following home stint.”
“OK, sports stuff aside, what was the overall reaction to this, as well as its legacy?”
“It depends on the geography. In Stupidia, it was a shocking incident to be sure, but it was quickly forgotten by the populous, as the riot melted into the stew that was the gloomy malaise that grasped Stupidia at the time. But for us, it was far more telling and serious incident. Before then, we were beginning to think that, as I said before, the fear and loathing of the Stupidians had been misplaced and that they were finally getting what we had been saying all this time: that a peaceful society was the only thing that guaranteed trust among their peers. But after the Dragons’ Disco Destruction Disaster, all of those feelings went out the window. We could now clearly see that Stupidian society was incurably and senselessly violent, and thus was beyond our trust. In fact, it was the topic of Robert Red Sage’s last public address. In it, he said that in light of the riot, ‘we citizens of Whitesage must do everything to block the spread of barbaric nonsense that the Stupidians spit out into the atmosphere, lest the future be unlivable for our offspring.’ He also wrote up a new law which made it illegal for those who held Stupidian citizenship status to set foot in Whitesage. That law was passed and put into place within a day.”
“So, that was two of the three things that soured Whitesage towards Claybourne. What was the last thing?”
“The last thing, and perhaps the most famous – or should I say infamous – was the Iranian Hostage Crisis.”
“Oh that. I heard about that in school, though I don’t remember all of the details. It was something about a bunch of crazed college students that overthrew the government and took several hostages of the… particular nationality. Is that correct?”
“Pretty much. But the incident was mostly of Stupidian designs, once again dinking around in a part of the world they didn’t need to be; they were probably doing so to get to their fossil fuels. And as usual, they gave the locals, in this case the Iranians, the short end of the stick for their proposed deals. It could only end one way, and that was badly for everyone.”
Wilma then just looked at me, as if to say, Well duh. It was pretty telling that she knew enough about the incident to allow me to skip some of the finer details, so after clearing my throat a bit, I said, “Anyway, the situation did quite a bit to dim our views towards Stupidia and their imperialistic policies towards the outside world, but initially we all thought that Claybourne would be able to cleanly and peacefully resolve it. But after about six months of negotiations and with little to no progress to show for his efforts, he foolishly decided to end the crisis by military means: he sent in a group of commandos that were sent to rescue the hostages and secure a safe passage out of Iran. The mission, however, was totally derailed by weather conditions.”
“I never heard that. I guess it wasn’t significant enough to be discussed at school, or at least what I remember hearing.”
“To us, though, it was a devastating revelation. It showcased that, no matter who was dictator of Stupidia was or what political affiliation he belonged to, they were always more interested in solving problems by destroying stuff, rather than by diplomacy. In that moment, we lost all faith in Claybourne and his ability to lead.”
“So those were the three things that ruined Claybourne. Well, as least the last two in the eyes of Whitesage. I can only imagine what the people… there… thought about it.”
“Yeah, that was a huge worry. As bad as we thought of Claybourne, it was much worse in Stupidia, and we knew that they would kick him out of power as soon as they could. And since Claybourne was a Modernist, we knew that a Traditionalist would more likely than not take his place. We, however, were not prepared to see who they chose as the replacement: Roy Rodell.”
“Roy Rodell. Wasn’t he that old guy that ruled there in the 1980s?”
“Yes, but to us he was about as close to the personification of evil itself. You have to remember that a fair number of old-timers came from the territory of California, and during his time as the baron of that territory he did everything in his power, and then some, to eradicate our culture. He was more easily able to get away with those sorts of things too: unlike Nitters, who was a sour, mean-spirited crook, Rodell was like a cowboy but with manners, which made him more likeable to most people who in turn became permissive of his actions. But perhaps the most frightening thing was the way evangelical Christians seemed to flock to him. In this case, they acted more like the stereotypes that we had personified of them, believing that the world would rip itself apart if Rodell wasn’t made the next dictator. We could only watch as Rodell easily unseated Claybourne for the title of dictator. After the news reached us, it would begin the Second die-off.”
“I’m sorry to bring this up, Wilma, but it’s something that once again can’t be sugarcoated. Over the course of a month after the news of Rodell’s ascendance to dictatorship, roughly 300 people committed suicide, more than double the number of people who did so when Nitters illegitimately extended his dictatorship, which was called the First die-off. Many of their notes said they feared the destruction of the world, or at least the culture of Whitesage, as a result of Rodell’s rise to power.”
Once again, Wilma looked sick and distraught by the whole thing. I bet that anyone who heard that would feel the same way. Trying to make her feel better, I said, “Listen. I know it’s upsetting and disgusting to hear this, but it needed to be said. I admit that I don’t like it that much too; I would like to think that people here would think these sorts of things over before doing something so permanent. And just so you know, this all took place well before Derek showed up here.” Seeing that it did little to lift her spirits, I said, “If you want me to stop talking about this, I can.”
“No, no. You can continue talking.” Wilma said, her voice shaking. “Just… just don’t mention those sorts of things again, will you? I can’t take so much death all at once.”
“Agreed.” I replied. “After Rodell took power, the public relentlessly prayed that his dictatorship would be a quick one. And at first he seemed destined for that fate. Whilst the theocracy we feared never materialized – we think that what happened in Iran made him reconsider such a notion – it seemed like nothing he did worked out, both domestically and internationally. For the former, he fiddled around with the economic system in such a way that was not conducive to society as a whole and which caused a significant spike in unemployment. For the latter, his idealistic fervor about how the world should be run nearly started a nuclear war with the Soviet Union, though it was they who were at fault.”
“How so? And also, how was Whitesage’s attitude towards the Soviet Union anyway? I’m kind of curious to learn about that.”
“Well, the Soviet Union shot down a passenger plane that came too close to an air patrol and which they couldn’t accurately ID the plane. There was a real consensus around the world, not just here in Whitesage, that the last war ever fought would take place very soon due to this incident. It was a miracle that such a thing didn’t happen. As for Whitesage’s attitude towards the Soviet Union, it was just as negative towards them as it was towards Stupidia. But since they were so much further away from us than Stupidia was, they were considered an afterthought on just about everything.”
“I see. I bet it would be kind of awkward to have a bunch of communists living in your area owing to the times. Anyway, please continue.”
“Right. Well, as 1983 faded into 1984, virtually everyone in Whitesage was confident that Rodell would wind up in the scrap heap next to the other failed dictators who had ruled before him. But as the weeks went by, something strange happened. For whatever reason and with no obvious answer, things started to look up for the Stupidians and Rodell. It was said that the economy began to improve, but that alone couldn’t explain how Stupidia got its confidence back. We may never know, and perhaps we are best off not knowing. All that needs to be known is that when the year came to a close, Rodell had his dictatorship extended.”
“So what happened during the remainder of his rule?”
“Not much that we liked, that’s for certain. Namely, he continued to play around in areas of the world that he shouldn’t have. And he began a serious push for more strident control of drugs, which we generally saw as wasteful and inconsiderate. We did hope that his reputation would be ruined on a scandal involving selling weapons to countries that were on an embargo list, but he never knew anything about the incident and was as deeply disgusted by the incident as we were. In the end, anything that would’ve exposed him for the jerk he was simply made him look better than he showcased himself to be. It was, in many ways, a relief when his dictatorship finally ended, but he probably could’ve continued serving as dictator of Stupidia if he chose to do so.”
“He could have?”
“Certainly. There were a ton of Stupidians that said they would have kept him in that position for the rest of his life. But he kept to custom and left after a maximum of eight years in power, and in any case his health, both physical and mental, was starting to fail at that point. He wouldn’t have stayed in that position very long if he tried.”
“Anything else that is worth noting about Rodell?”
“Not much, though he wound up leaving behind a legacy that we see as questionable. True, he did accomplish a lot during his time as dictator. But most of these things we disapproved of greatly, mainly with his economic setup that was much like those in place before the Great Depression. His other social modifications, namely his ill-advised fight against drugs, has also caused more problems than they solved, though it’s not worth getting into detail.”
“OK, so Rodell left the picture. Who took over for him?”
“That would be his second-in-command, Gabriel Boyd the Elder. When it became obvious that Rodell would not retain his title of dictator, Boyd became the preferred replacement and easily got the job. For him, the work of dictator was very simple: continue Rodell’s plans and policies, but allow more people to have a say in how things were run. It was certainly a good plan on paper, but we didn’t buy it owing to the fact that he was a Traditionalist, and his general background didn’t help that much either.”
“Why would that be?”
“The main reason was because he had been a warrior during the second World War. The other reason was that he came from the deep south of Stupidia, where most of the evangelical Christians reside. Ironically, Claybourne also came from this area, but the cultural truths down there are painfully obvious for anyone of our kin who had spent time there.”
“Oh. So, what were the general feelings about Boyd?”
“Well, by the time he came into power, we were spending so much of our time dealing with our own things that we didn’t pay that much attention to Stupidia. That being said, we were all quite cross when we got word in 1991 that Stupidia had declared war on Iraq, thus beginning the first Mesopotamian war, better known as Sand Spirit. It was done as a way to punish the Iraqi government for invading its neighbor, Kuwait. And while we all despised Iraq’s actions, we also saw it inappropriate for Stupidia to reprimand them through force. Unfortunately, Sand Spirit had deep international support, which included Canada, so our argument was quite moot compared to other conflicts. And the fact that the war was over with in a month’s time, give or take a few days, made us look a bit foolish in the end.”
“Alright. Desert Spirit aside, was there anything else that was noteworthy during his tenure? At least in the eyes of Whitesage, of course.”
“Not really. I mean, I guess the fall of the Soviet Union was something significant, but the overall aftermath wasn’t anything to write home about. If Whitesage had its way, we would do everything in our power to help the Russians, the Ukrainians, and all of the other nations that formed after the fall of the Soviet Union get back onto their feet. And we have tried to help out, especially in recent years. But thanks to the over-competitive stances of Stupidia, they, along with most of their allies, have done little if anything to help out.”
“Wow, that’s certainly inconsiderate.”
“It is. But I guess that’s the way things happen when Stupidia realized that they could virtually own the world. They have little foresight in doing the most good where it is needed most, but when there’s a power vacuum that can be filled, they have no peer in that field.
“So, was there much else to talk about in regards to Boyd?”
“Not until 1992 rolled around. When that year came up, there was a general consensus amongst everyone that he would remain as dictator for another four years. But two things happened that ruined his chances of extending his dictatorship.”
“And what were those?”
“Well, the first one was that the Stupidian economy slipped into a recession thanks to a number of collapses in the savings and loan industry. It was a pretty nasty fallout and recession, and the timing of it couldn’t have been worse for Boyd. But as bad as it was, Boyd made the whole thing even worse by breaking a key promise earlier in his career as dictator.”
“And what was that promise?”
“The promise he made was that we would not raise any existing taxes, nor would he establish new ones. But as the recession gripped Stupidia, he reversed those decisions to try and alleviate the problems therein. Now this would not have gone over very well nearly anywhere in the world, including here in Whitesage. But Stupidians are especially sensitive to tax rates and promises about them, so you can only imagine the outcry that came when they got word of this.”
“I see. But aren’t promises of that sort kind of impossible to keep?”
“I guess, but it’s just better not to make promises one can’t keep. The world in general and politics in particular would be a lot more pleasant if that was the case.”
“Yeah. What about the other reason?”
“The other reason involved a massive riot in the southern portions of California, though it was the aftermath that really messed things up for Boyd.”
“Riot? What do you mean?”
“Well, in late 1991 there was an incident where members of the local police force, all of them of European lineage, brutalized a man of black lineage for a minor crime. The incident got onto video, and ultimately several police officers were put on trial. But in the end, the jury found them all innocent of the crimes they were accused. This drove the minorities of the area into a blood-frenzy if you will, since there had been numerous complaints regarding police brutality towards them in the past at the time. Over the course of a week, if not longer, riots rocked the area so badly that the Stupidian military had to be called in to restore order.”
“Man, that’s just… wrong. On so many levels.”
“Now you know why Robert Red Sage had so little faith towards them. Interesting sub-point to make: all of the rioters who were accused of the most serious crimes during those times were all found innocent themselves months later.”
“So, what was the aftermath of this that made Boyd look bad?”
“It all had to center around a music album that had been released the year prior. Apparently, some music group had released an album that had one particularly offensive song entitled ‘Copper Popper’. Now, copper is just the long nickname for cop, which as you should be familiar with is another name for police. The word popper is a gang reference to something quite self-descriptive. All you need to do is put the two together to get the idea of why it was so controversial.”
Wilma at first seemed a bit confused about what I was trying to say, but after a while she began to make a face of utter disgust. She then said, “How did they get away with putting this on the album?”
“It was all under the freedom of speech clause.” I explained. “Also, the lead singer of the group – I think he works in TV these days – said that it came about from a discussion regarding police brutality and the helplessness that the minorities were experiencing, and things kind of got warped from the transition to the songwriting.”
“I have a VERY hard time believing that, Arthur. And I don’t mean by what you are telling me. I mean by what this group put together. Weren’t they even trying to think this over?”
“I don’t know. Certainly a lot of law enforcement agencies thought that, and they appropriately thought it was wrong to send out a song that… well… I won’t say it. I have to keep my promise. At first, not a lot happened, but after a short time, Boyd and his lackeys decided to jump into the fray on the side of the law enforcement groups.”
“What did they do?”
“On the surface, it appeared to be nothing more than a lot of hot air; one famous instance of this was when Boyd publicly commented that everyone involved with the album was ‘sick-minded’. But behind all of the bravado was a serious debate on what needed to be done. All of our sources were a bit muddled on the details, but at least from what we gathered, it seemed as if Boyd was going to forcibly shut down the record company who made the controversial album and was planning on charging the musical artists and the record executives on a number of crimes, most of which had connections to the southern California riots. Before any of that happened, however, the musical group asked the record label to rerelease the album without ‘Copper Popper’ on the list of songs, and the record label then told music stores to destroy any and all of the old albums they were in possession of. Those actions satisfied everyone enough to end the issue.”
“So why then did it hurt Boyd’s reputation? It sounds like he got what he wanted.”
“Yes, but I think he wound up looking culturally out of sync with Stupidia during the whole ordeal, especially with the generation coming of voting age. In a way, the southern California riots could be seen as the end of the Rodellian era, where his political theories were taken at face value and without any distortions, and Boyd was unable to make the transition.”
“Oh, so it was a generational thing.”
“You could say that. But whatever the truth was, those two things wound up costing him an extension of his dictatorship. The Modernist Blaine Curtis would take over soon after.”
“You mean they guy who got involved in that infamous scandal that was all over the newspapers a few years ago?”
“Yep, the same guy. Though there was an awful lot of other things he did besides… that.”
“The usual stuff. You see, even though we were very busy with our own problems, we did get enough word from Broken Creek about the happenings of Stupidia to know what was going on. As for our initial attitude towards Curtis, we stood guarded towards him; we knew what happened during the Claybourne years, and we wouldn’t get blindsided again.”
“Did that change when David took over?”
“Certainly. During the late 1990s and even up until Emperor Nut-Job started the second Mesopotamian war, David Waychka refused to say anything about Stupidia, so we had to personally fill in that void. There wasn’t much that we liked about him, outside of the obvious. This included him dinking about in other parts of the world that he had no business getting himself into, taking apart elements of the economic web that would prevent future Great Depressions from happening, and letting Stupidian society degenerate into a belligerent mess that led to school shootings and concert riots, thus further staining their reputation as an empire. Thank religion that Canada as a whole didn’t do any of those things. At least what I’m aware of.”
“Yeah, I get what you’re trying to say. I am a bit dubious on the last part, though. I mean, if you saw all of the things that happen, I bet you would want to burn your eyeballs into dust.”
“Well, I didn’t say that it was a flawless avoidance. Nothing ever is.”
“I see. So from Curtis, we come to…”
“Yes, Emperor Nut-Job, known outside of Whitesage as Gabriel Boyd the Younger. He also goes by a host of other names, but a lot of them I shouldn’t say for politeness’ sake.”
“I know this sounds… redundant… hopefully I’ve used the right word… but I take it that everyone here hates his guts.”
“That’s putting it mildly, Wilma. Some of the old-timers consider him worse than Nitters, which says a lot since he was universally reviled for everything he did. And quite a bit of this happened before the second Mesopotamian War started.”
“What it because he is a Traditionalist? If that is correct.”
“Yes, though a better term may be extreme Traditionalist. Even before he became dictator, he was perhaps the worst choice for the position, based upon his efforts as a duke: he was so hands-off on critical points that during the Curtis years, Curtis actually had to FORCE him to take actions. But even outside of that, he is like the hardcore caricature of what we see as a Traditionalist: some backwards-minded hack who sucks up to big business, who doesn’t care about the environment, who believes his general religion should be the only religion in existence and should influence how everything domestically is run, and who threatens to blow up anyone that looks at him funny.”
“I see. The last point seems pretty obvious to that fact. Even I don’t need a description.”
“Good, because it’s a waste of breath. A lot of people around here have become winded denouncing Emperor Nut-Job on everything he’s done, because he’s done so much of it. And it’s become particularly acute as it’s a vote year in Stupidia to determine whether or not he will get an extension of his dictatorship.”
“It is? How likely is that?”
“That’s the hard part, Wilma. There’s so much information floating about cyberspace that we can’t accurately assess the true figures. Some say that it will be a tight vote between Emperor Nut-Job and his challenger, Jared Khoker. Others say that Khoker will win handily. But we can’t tell what’s the truth down there.”
“Who’s Jeremy Khoker? I mean, I’ve heard his name a few times, but I really don’t know the details about him.” Wilma asked.
“Jared Khoker is a Modernist who fought for, then against, the wars in Southeast Asia.” I answered. “He’s respected by a lot of people around the world, but he’s a bit dull and wordy. Still, he’s better than Emperor Nut-Job in almost every way. I hope the Stupidians can use their brains again and get rid of Emperor Nut-Job before he completely ruins the planet. I can only imagine the chaos and complications that would arise if he continues ruling Stupidia, and even we would not be exempt from his wrath.”
“Why would that be?”
“I wish I could tell you, but…”
“Oh. I get it. Is there anything else regarding the Stupidian dictators worth talking about?”
“Not really. I think I covered it all.”
“OK. I think I’m going to get ready for bed now. It’s starting to be quite late.” Wilma said as she got up. I nodded my head, and after getting up myself, I said, “I’ll be getting ready for bed in a little bit. I’ll just be downstairs, taking stock of things. Call out if you need me.”
I walked downstairs to my little hidden office area and locked the door behind me. I then picked up the phone and called Susan. Once again, there was the normal Hello greeting, and then we got to the discussions proper. “How were things today?” Susan asked first.
“Oh, they went well. Wilma took care of a number of dogs at a dog day-care center today as part of her job shadows.” I replied. “It’s hard to tell if she liked it or not, but I think she did.”
“I think she would. Wilma has a major affinity for animals, though it’s mostly connected to frogs.”
“That aside, there wasn’t much else that needs to be said. How are things going in your neck of the woods?”
“OK I guess. It’s awfully quiet around here though. I miss not having Wilma to talk to, even if those talks turn into arguments.”
“Well, just try to hang in there. In a few days she’ll return home.”
“I hope so. I don’t necessarily want her to live out there, if she decides that she likes Whitesage better than Heatherfield.”
“I’ll see if I can convince her out if it if such an idea pops up. Also, have you heard from Wilma’s friends about anything?”
“Not really. I suspect that you’ve gotten some new E-Mails from them. Have you checked them yet?”
“No. I’ll check them in a little bit.”
“Well, I guess I better let you go then.”
“Alright. I’ll talk to you around this time tomorrow. And try not to get too down on yourself; things should work themselves out.”
“Bye.” I then hung up and got my computer turned on. After letting it warm up, I checked my E-Mails. I was quite surprised to hear not only from Taranee, but from most of her other friends. Taranee’s E-Mail read like this:
Once again, I’m checking in to see how things are going. I didn’t get a reply from you with the last E-Mail I sent; hopefully you can send me confirmation that you are getting them.
Everyone else has been let known of your E-Mail address and has probably sent word to you by now. Please be sure to reply to their E-Mails too.
Regardless of what’s being said prior, I hope that Wilma is doing OK. We all miss her greatly.
I hope to hear from you soon.
After reading that, I read the next E-Mail, which was from Irma:
I heard from my father and Ms. Vandom that this is the E-Mail address I should use to contact you.
Is Wilma OK? I didn’t mean to upset her! I feel like a giant turd for making her so sad!
Please tell me that Wilma is doing OK. Only then will I not feel so guilty!
The next E-Mail was from Hay Lin:
If you are the person taking care of Wilma, please let me know as soon as possible.
Above all else, please do what you can to make Wilma feel better. We all feel terrible for making her feel unwanted, and anything that you can do to help patch things up will be greatly appreciated by all of us.
Sincerely, Hay Lin.
Finally, there was one from Matt, Wilma’s boyfriend:
Hello. Taranee gave me this E-Mail address not too long ago, and I hope that it works.
I don’t know what to say. I’m obviously sad that Wilma ran away, and I think we are partially to blame: I was told that part of the reason for the incident may have been the fact that I, along with her friends, had been ignoring her for no good reason. The truth was that we were planning a surprise Halloween party for her, and we didn’t want to spoil the surprise. Perhaps we should’ve make it a regular Halloween party, including her in the processes.
Also, I told Neil Weber, a member of the boy’s swimming and diving team, about what happened when he asked me about Wilma’s whereabouts, and I passed along your E-Mail address to him so he can write to you. Whether or not he passes it along with the rest of the swimmers and divers is beyond me.
I guess that’s all I can say for today. Please help out Wilma in any way you know how.
Sincerely, Matt Olson.
After reading through all of the E-Mails, I decided to go send out an official reply. Once I had all of the E-Mail addresses listed down, I wrote the following message:
I have gotten your messages. Please excuse me for the slow response, as I work long days.
Wilma on the whole is doing fine. I’ve been keeping her busy for the stay she’s in, and while she seems a bit dour, she doesn’t appear miserable. Hopefully her mood will improve in the coming days.
I’ll give future reports on her status as the days go along. And by all accounts she should be back home this upcoming Saturday.
Sincerely, Arthur Addlestadt.
I sent the word out, and then I shut off the computer. I then went about getting ready for bed, and soon enough I was in the sack, ready for another day of craziness.
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