Voltoon Walks Through Town
[This is an excerpt from my novel, They Who Are Having A Bad Day. This passage is abridged from the opening of Chapter 2.]
Every stellar empire must have a home world, intentionally or not, and for They Who Are Having A Bad Day, Cruciatus is that home world. This large gray planet defines Bad Dayhood by its very being. Even the orbit of Cruciatus is a bit disturbing, although no one there can quite put their finger on why.
Every home world must have a capital city, for this is the way of home worlds, even clinically depressed ones. Cruciopolis is that city. It is a city of bad dreams, a city whose streets are paved with goldbricks, a city with a million stories, most of which involve back taxes. It is down the streets of this city that we find a tall, thin man walking.
There are obviously lots of other people walking up and down the streets of this particular city on this particular morning, but at the moment we’re only interested in this particular old man because he’s one of the main characters in our story. Don’t worry about all the other people walking around, they’ll probably be discussed in somebody else’s book or something. Anyway.
Date: Monday morning, March 27th
The man we see walking down the streets of Cruciatus has long white hair and a long flowing white beard. The many deep lines on his face reveal his advanced age. There is a sadness in his eyes that goes beyond that of anyone around him. He wears the faded brown uniform of a Bad Day infantryman, stained in places with green and pink blotches. His garrison cap is pulled down almost to his ears and the collar of his greatcoat is turned up against the cold.
The Great God Voltoon does not like to visit the city, but then, no one does. He walks past the large gray stone-like capitol building where the Emperor of the Bad Days toils in his tiny cubicle amidst an army of office workers. He walks past gray windowless schools, sad gray shopping centers, gray bagel shops that sell only gray bagels. Cruciopolis is one of the relatively small number of cities in which the Tourism Board is responsible for keeping people away but doesn’t actually have to do much to fulfill its mission. This is all bad enough, but The Great God Voltoon particularly does not care for walking through the park in order to get to the Bad Day Military Headquarters Building and Expo Center. As if to make matters even worse, we must now switch from present tense to past tense.
It wasn’t so much the trees that were painted battleship gray that made the park such an unhappy place. It wasn’t the park benches covered with flypaper and barbed wire, or the wading pools filled with brake fluid. It wasn’t even the sad chattering of the paint-splattered squirrels begging for money to buy lottery tickets, although that was pretty pathetic. It was the whole ambience of the city that said, in effect, “Don’t bother despairing, we’ve already got that covered.” That ambience seemed to be doing double duty in the park.
All that said, Voltoon didn’t mind the park itself as much as he disliked the protesters that gathered there constantly. He dodged around the cluster of demonstrators demanding the death penalty for authors who couldn’t keep track of the differences between Greek and Roman mythology, side-stepped the protestors asking for the legalization of passive voice, and headed towards the area reserved for religious zealots, since that part of the park seemed less crowded on this particular morning.
“Voltoon loves you!” said a young man wearing a suit and standing on a phone book.
Voltoon stopped and stared at the man closely. “Do you know who I am?” he said.
“It doesn’t matter who you are,” the young man replied with a big smile, “Voltoon loves everybody.”
“No he doesn’t,” said Voltoon. “I have it on pretty good authority that he doesn’t think very highly of you.”
The man stood gaping, speechless. Voltoon turned and strode briskly off. He pulled the collar of his coat higher around his ears and wrapped his arms tightly across his chest. The cold wouldn’t have been so bad in the winter, but it just seemed wrong in the middle of the summer. A cold wet wind stung his cheeks and burned his eyes.
“Voltoon doesn’t exist,” said a voice behind him.
Voltoon turned to see a man with long hair and a beard, wearing a long linen robe.
“I wish,” said Voltoon.
“No, man, there’s no such thing as Voltoon. Religion is all about control. Voltoon is dead, man.”
Voltoon opened his mouth to reply, but thought better of it and kept walking. “One less follower to worry about,” he thought to himself. He hurried past the last batch of protesters who were calling for an end to the war with the Dweasels or the beginning of a war with the Irvanians or increased taxation for people with not enough vowels in their names, whichever was most cost-effective. Out of the park at last, Voltoon reached the street in front of the headquarters building. He stopped to look both ways before crossing.
“Sign a petition against people who switch from present tense to past tense in the middle of a narrative?” said a man who shoved a piece of paper under the Great God’s nose. Voltoon punched the petitioner in the face and threw him into a shrub.
While waiting for traffic to clear, Voltoon saw a car change lanes without signaling. The driver of the car behind that one stepped out of his car, pulled a bazooka from the back seat, and opened fire on the first car. The driver of the first car jumped clear just in time, rolled on the pavement, pulled a submachinegun out of her handbag, and opened fire on the second driver. A third car pulled up and the driver stepped out with a chainsaw.
Helicopter gunships appeared overhead and strafed up and down the street, catching a few areas of the park bordering the road in their indiscriminate arcs of fire. A cruise missile skimmed the treetops of the park, climbed up sharply, then dove steeply into the middle of the street, leaving a huge crater where the cars had been. Somewhere far off, intercontinental ballistic missiles launched from underground silos and destroyed the home towns of the people who had been driving the cars, while genetic engineers began working on removing all traces of the drivers’ families from the gene pool.
“Wow,” Voltoon thought to himself, “the police are really cracking down on traffic violations.”
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