Somewhere Over the Rainbow
by Tex Gresham, October 10th 2022

Outside the eating gates, bodies shuffle. Molecules mend back to a time when all was one fetus-shaped gunk of gas. Individual becoming crowd. All noise takes the shape of background noise. This is good because you don’t like the sound of your own heart––and you can hear it almost all the time. It’s like a skincat in heat meowing every time you’re about to fall asleep. But here, outside the eating gates, the sound and self become collective.

 

The drive-thru disciples, tectonic-plate-shaped androids, ration out the day’s eating junk. Bowls filled with clunky slop––and if they don’t have bowls, it’s all about what fills the hands. You remembered your bowl.

 

Faces around you look like melted plastic. A factory of faces inching toward the gates. A bug-faced one says to you, “Word is is that they’re going to start serving us inner flesh. Leftovers and all that.”

 

He’s one of the bodies who act like he secretly knows what’s going on, connected to the ectoplasmic mainframe of every living moment––but are we really alive? All data downloaded and being sifted through like a secret agent. He doesn’t know shit. No one does. You’ve been here long enough to know that nothing anyone says or does is worth anything other than this paper it’s written on. Inner flesh, outer meat, or the guts of the unborn––it’s all true. Us can’t be picky. Us all get to eat, got to survive.

 

A surge throbs us all forward -- the itching pink bell rising heavenly over the eating gates. Does everyone dream this shape or is it just you? and is it just you because it’s a shape they want you to dream? The itching pink bell. It’s all you have left, a cataclysmic religious gunk injected into our guts every time we are allowed to pass through the eating gates and enter the Second Soft. They say it’s a nutrient to cure our weaknesses and to secure our bodies against the corruption in the Second Soft, but none of us know if that’s true. Not yet. Not even Bug Face next to you.

 

You say to him, “They used to feed us newborns.”

 

And he laughs, says, “Din’t they. Times were harder then. After the Drip hit us.”

 

You slap him on the back like you two grew up together and spent time as young snots licking sweat off each other’s blistered skin. His head twitches like a fly and he lets out a hollow hiss. A sneeze of vomit escapes his lips and he burps. He doesn’t want to talk you anymore and you’re okay with that because he isn’t going to be a major part of this––just an NPC to help situate the data brain that’s slugged itself into your mind like a neuro-update virus.

 

Say Hello to the virus. Virus… say Hello back. Go on, say it.

 

Tugging down data drafts, your informations seep out like sick sweat. A smell that infects the bodies around you––and they can feel it, a thrum like queen bee to worker drone. You are a virus. Eyes ooze off faces and crawl all over you cause they know what you are, that you’ve started new and are back at the eating gates for the first time again.

 

Their tongues swell at the virus inside you, infected with the question of if you will survive the Second Soft, if you will make the right choices, or if you will reach the final moment––or give up and unfinish yourself (maybe again). Will you see any of them again?

 

No. Never.

 

When it's your turn at the eating gates, the drive-thru disciple brands your inner wrist with the symbol of the Bell, a dream now etched in flesh. They ease the communion flavor into your mouth, ship it over your teeth and tongue––a food that once held the shape of fastness, wrapped and gifted. Now, through recipes discovered in the residue of the Drip out there in the Second Soft, you are blessed with these pre-Drip flavors. The drive-thru disciple asks you for your:

NAME: ______________________________

and if you are:

     a) slum gimp toughened by years of abuse

     b) corporate espial with militant experience

     c) tech-savvy bordo who just exists

     d) nobody

and tells you to choose your base-level programming meal––not that it will dictate the outcome but will dictate choices you will have to make in the Second Soft. Your choices are:

 

    a) alpha meat (strength)

    b) fetish slop (vitality)

    c) divinity gruel (intelligence)

    d) brown slime snake (luck)

The drive-thru disciple digests your decisions and calculates the best beginners points toward the Open Path into the Second Soft––though you might not be a beginner. You are supplied with a port-o-soul and a nourish bug and a keepsake and an entry-level jackbolt (with extra plasma screws). You throw away the jackbolt because it is the weapon of the Oppressor and only used by the braindead and the genital-stripped. You keep the plasma screws because they can be used to replace teeth that fall out in the radiation. You are blessed by the graces of the pink bell and the clerical flesh and the pre-Drip food coursing through your molecules, contorting you into a shape braced to pass through the gates. The drive-thru disciple processes you through.

Another surge and you are beyond the shuffling bodies. You wade through a thin layer of vomitshitpiss and you step over bodies too thrummed to step into the mysteries and punishments of the pages not yet created. They stop here because they can’t go more, because they don’t pleasure in what has happened so far and what won’t happen in the future. Their viruses have abandoned them, leaving these bodies as empty husks to rot here and be forgotten, tributes to the cowards of the unfinished. Their faces all look like yours if you could know what your face looks like. But you do not stop. Your virus keeps pushing forward, letter by letter until the letters are no longer identified as letters but rather words that form pictures in the mind’s eye, toward the unknown boundaries of the Second Soft. This is where your journey begins.

Beyond is the wasteland, the Second Soft, the land gone bitter by the flesh-colored runoff. Us did this. Us ruined the world forever. Us live the cycle but the cycle is in ruin, never again somewhere over the rainbow. The rainbow is no longer color. A scorched earth bridge with nothing on either side. A shattered past and a mutant zone known as the Future. Breathe it slow.

These are the territories and this is the hub. A plight on the wildness of the planet. Bodies beyond the eating gates wait here to be blessed with their purpose, their destination, a way to strip the skin and bathe raw stinking flesh in the salt bath of cruel experience. Other viruses gather here and would be seen if they allowed themselves to be seen. This is a solitary experience, but you know they are there. Traveling shop to shop in this hub, a mall made of dream matter and burnt garbage. Sodium arc lights burn everything a shade too red for Satan. All these viruses trying to find the perfect blessing that will make their path into the Second Soft not as damaging to their worded avatar. You wade through knee-high layers of trash and viscous fluid that smells like sun-soured mayonnaise. Nothing in these stalls and shops holds your interest––you have faith in the items given to you by the drive-thru disciples. Or maybe that’s not it. You might be on a pre-programmed track, deep-injected coding reminding you that this has already been done and there’s nothing of interest here until––

“You there,” shouts a woman who looks like something a frog shit out. She sits in the shade of her stall erected in structures of bone and dried skin. She smokes from a glass pipe with a bulb at the end and looks at you with eyes filled with carpenter ants. She waves you over. You cannot escape her pull, a camera forcefully zoomed in on her essence. To even try to deny is to eviscerate your innards. She says, “You are fresh. A reawakened. On this side of the gate. Yes…. I can tell. You seek to downscale the Oppressor until it’s nothing more than dead data? Or are you here to obtain, to consume, to gather mass amounts of uncompromising wealth that cannot leave the confines of the narrow frame and pulp? Either way, whatever calls you to this side, to the land of the Second Soft, I see you do not have the important tool for this journey… A red pen. Black or blue is sufficient. A pencil is an idiot’s tool, never okay because who the fuck believes anyone who scribes in impermanance? And I can see you are not an idiot, right? And I can see that you do not have a red pen––or blue or black. So that will be your first true purpose here in these pre-free times. Obtain a red pen and return it to me so that I may install a compatible program onto it for your virus.”

Flame to pipe, smoke ejaculates down her throat and her ant eyes agitate. They no longer see you. And when you try to touch her she shimmers like oil on water.

A red pen. Your first divine purpose. You reach into your flesh pouch and pull forth a sharp tip. Show it to her like a blessing.

She takes it from you. Her knife splits open a fruit that screams, spills translucent bile from its innards. She splashes this bile into a hollowed out fox skull. Spits in it. Sprinkles the dust from a can of pre-Drip drink––a short cylindrical container colored in green mountains. The concoction bubbles and the woman passes a blessing onto it. Dips the pen in the fluid and hands it back to you.

“This will help you on your way. Scribe your viral journey. And might I suggest you set your destination to the Kapitol. You will find everything you need there, including, should you choose that path, a way to confront––or conform to––the Oppressor. Now get the fuck out of my space. You are useless to me now.”

The rest of the hub:

     ––sedatives in piles the shape of car accidents

     ––dogs without legs pulling with teeth to a stall where a man serves slop in blackened skeletal troughs

     ––dibbles huddled in groups begging the viruses for donations of flesh or excrement or unwanted loot

     ––clothing stalls with draped appendages on display

     ––a weaponer selling jagged batwing knives and open-bluss splinterguns and tri-greased junction poles

     ––clusters of bodies, each infected with the virus driving their cerebellum, faces unrecognizable as their data moves too fast

At the center of the hub is the Church: drive-thru disciples adorned with the pink bell logo of their long dead savior. Reptiles scurry through overgrown cemetery surrounding Church. All graves emptied, dead once in the ground now roaming the forests surrounding the hub. The only memories of the dead: a smell like a mouth with rotted teeth. The drive-thru disciples, with their mechanical souls, hand out burritos filled with toxic meat and vegetables lightly cleansed of the radiation still throbbin in the earth. The grub they bestow to the viruses is nothing like the slop at the eating gates. Here, it’s pleasure and divinity. At the eating gates, it was only about quieting the gut that yells eat eat eat eat eat eat eat eat eat eat eat eat eat eat eat eat eat eat eat eat eat eat eat eat eat. The recipe for the burrito, from before the Drip, from when the pink bell existed in abundance. Us worship it now because it is one of the only artifacts from the Before left intact. Reminder of the corruptions of the man mind and how it leads to ape brain and sabotage. Now with the fabric of the world split into two frequencies, each a shimmer not fully whole, a reminder of what not to do is twice as important. The Second Soft is a hatchling reality, less stable––an undercooked egg of existence. So much to explore and discover.

And yet: the Oppressor still emits toxic loathing from the highest tower in the Kapitol. And us breathe it like God. This will always be our world. And us didn’t deserve it to begin with.

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