S P Jenkins
The Dollar Store'sMercury Rises
S P Jenkins
The Dollar Store's
The Dollar Store's Mercury Rises
The Dollar Store's
Content by S P Jenkins
by S P Jenkins
Upon the death of Philligree Emerson-Proctor III, while his ashes lay smouldering in the crematorium furnace, all those concerned circled nearby for the reading of the will. His sixteen bitter children, whose nearest encounter with work was filing endless lawsuits and countersuits against their father, scoffed, huffed, and tutted as the old oligarch's last testament was read aloud by his faithful lawyer. The brief was a dispassionate nub of a human composed only of what was necessary to exact his duties; all desk and suit topped with a pair of glasses to indicate a face.
Each of the Proctor progeny expected no other mention than insults veiled in legalese, but still, they waited keenly to receive them. The wives fared no better and displayed their disappointment unashamedly; swooning in turn like a team of synchronised swimmers peeling into a pool.
The whole affair was televised because, at this time, the rich were tolerated only for their value as entertainment. Miles Dansk jeered up at the courtroom sport from a leaning position against the bar of 'The Insufferable Boar', his local watering hole-cum-drowning pool. Proctor’s wailing wives blared orange light into the gloomy pub from a greasy old colour TV above the spirits and liquors. Miles snarled at them, regurgitating into a disinterested room extracts of manifestos he’d read in his youth. Once biting indictments of society from a young man in a second-hand sweater, now bitter indications of insecurity from a middle-aged middle manager in a loosened tie.
"Werp! lookout, here come Goebbels and Goehring!" he slurred, to nobody in particular, as two stern-looking suited sentinels filled the screen above the bar, their bald red heads shining off the bottles of thinned out liquor.
They were two of the many heads of Proctor Corp (Construction and Media divisions), their positions of elevation within the company aided, like all bodies travelling through space, by a lack of resistance; characterised in this instance by an absence of compassion, shame, and imagination. They were producers only of scarcity, the defining product of the age.
"And to my Senior Vice Presidents of both Media and Construction divisions,"decreed the nub. "I, Philligree Emerson-Proctor the third, being of sound body and mind bequeath my final instructions. Exact them precisely as directed for it is to be my magnum opus. My legacy to eclipse all other disappointments, all sixteen of them. And then it says laugh in parentheses.” The nub murmured a quavering giggle and adjusted his glasses.
With a solemn nod, Goebbels and Goehring stepped forth, and each retrieved a thick black folder.
"'Sprolly love letters,” Miles Dansk sniggered into his drink. "Bourgeois pigs."
Dansk was a Regional Implementations Executive, though he told drug dealers and bartenders and prostitutes (who did not ask) that he was a visionary creator of spontaneous public agitprop, more commonly understood as a performance artist.
"A provocateur of Imponderabilia," he yammered through feverish sniffing.
"A sower of sedi...tion," he gulped through stifled gas.
"I was almost arres ... ted for incitement to riot ou'side the hou...sses of parl’ment," he hiccuped through a hooker's hair.
"And I was almost a famous singer," she replied with relief as he slipped into unconsciousness in the driver's seat of his mid-range sports car. "So much for almost."
She sneered at his limp body, his trousers undone, shirt transparent with sweat, and watched him snore; vulnerable and pathetic. At that moment, she pitied this man who seemed more desperate than she, and so only robbed him a little.
* * *
Within a week, the giant screens went up. They slotted uncomfortably between plinths and statues, appearing like burnt toast in a twisted rack. There was one for every major city around the world. Great black rectangular slabs grew tall and wide and soon glowered over ostentatious skyscrapers as if the night sky had sent down a piece of its mind. So deeply dark were they that staring at them for too long was reported to induce vertigo. That was until they were illuminated by the misty white mane and ghostly pallor of Philligree Emerson-Proctor. The immense monoliths projected his digital ghost like open gateways from hell. His ancient white leather wrinkled the pavement as his mile-wide grin cracked his face in two.
"Greetings, and welcome to my studio," he wheezed. "My studio and my screens are bound by no laws of decency, no restrictions of content, and no censorship of opinion. Here, I can say whatever I wish, and more importantly, so can you!"
The meaning of the late magnate's words was indecipherable to ears within a five-mile radius of the screens, interpreted by the senses only as a deep, bone-rattling hum. It could, however, be understood by automated sub and surtitles and later in obnoxious pop-ups that smothered the internet.
"I cordially invite you, all of you, to my Island off the coast of Costa Rica,” he continued,”known by the locals as Isla Del Arcangel Raquel. The Island of Archangel Rachel in English."
A satellite image of the island's geographical position captioned with the studio's exact coordinates appeared briefly on the screens, providing the slightest respite from the blinding whiteness of the dusty old tyrant.
"Behind me are two doors. The one to my right is the entrance. When the door is opened and then closed, the camera before me begins to transmit to my magnificent screens across the planet. Anything that happens in here goes directly on air unfiltered and uncut. Once you have completed your business, for which there is no time limit, you must leave through the exit to my left. When that door is opened and then closed the broadcast is repeated until the next broadcaster enters the studio. Please note that if the room is occupied, neither the entrance nor exit can be opened from the outside. Furthermore, once you leave, you may never come back."
The old man glanced wistfully towards the exit and then turned quickly back to the camera and said:
"So, come and shut me up!"
With that, he vacated the studio, and the message was repeated. It was repeated again. And again. And again for hours, booming yet shrill like a baseball bat with a nail in it for days and then weeks and almost a month and then,
"Ohma'god! Is this on?"
It was a tanned young man with bright teeth and a dim expression. He wore a t-shirt emblazoned with the slogan "Pura Vida" strategically torn to expose his tanned and muscled arms.
"Ohma'god! Can't believe I made it. Right, Ohma'god! Right, here goes. Big love to Big P, Jazzy B, and the rest of the San Rafael crew, big up "Dawgs" for life."
He made three loud whooping sounds like an asthmatic hound.
"Oh yea, Mami? I love you, and Tata, and mi Hermana I guess and... Um, yeah, um... that's it. Peace!"
He then kissed two fingers, held them out towards the camera, and left the little black room. The moment the door closed behind him, the young man's profound message began again, and when it was finished, it started again. And again. And again. And for one whole week, the young San Rafael crew member, friend of Big P and Jazzy B, who had vowed his life- long allegiance to a sports club known colloquially as "Dawgs," was the most famous person ever to have lived. No other human in existence could escape the field of his influence. People everywhere tore their shirts and whitened their teeth, and supermarket magazines professed "Dawgs for Life" in their headlines and then...
"Oh, it's smaller than I’d expected."
A turnip-shaped old lady entered the room.She wore a sweltering assortment of sun protection, an elasticated support bandage on each wrist, and cradled a detailed charcoal etching of a cat set inside an ornamental frame tightly against her considerable breast.
"Hello, I'm Brenda, or Bren is fine. Oh, I'm a little nervous,” she said as she waddled timidly towards the camera, spreading like melting ice-cream across the screens.
"This is Mr. Butterworth." She presented her etching. "I mean literally, I had his ashes made into this lovely work of art."
She gazed lovingly at her dead cat and blotted a tear against her wrist.
"I'm here today to talk to you about the devastating consequences of feline pancreatic cancer..."
And so she did, at length, and after three and a half hours in which she opined about the scourge of the age as she saw it, frequently deviating to recount meandering anecdotes featuring the late Mr. Butterworth, she tottered over to the exit, wiping her eyes on her elasticated wrist supports, and left the studio.
For days Brenda's message repeated, and she quickly usurped the young man with the bright teeth. Feline Pancreatic Cancer became the latest hot topic, and people wore elasticated wrist supports to signal their support for the cause. Others took an opposing stance bemoaning the plight of the canine pancreas, and for nearly a week it was the most important thing ever to have happened until the next broadcaster entered the room.
And so it went, the repetitions of each broadcast decreasing in number as fame-chasers flocked to the island, and soon the messages did not repeat at all. An endless stream of empty content blaring across the planet both day and night. As soon as one left another entered, having waited in a queue that spiralled out from the studio at the centre of the island and ended knee-deep in the unusually choppy waters.Those who had "completed their business," as Proctor had put it, squeezed their way between the lines of people like chyme through the bowel and were secreted into the irritable sea.Eventually, the Costa Rican Government intervened to restore some sense of order to the chaos, but without curtailing the lucrative influx of tourist currency.
* * *
"Prole Sheep!" Miles Dansk muttered into his coffee as the gigantic flapping lips of an exuberant young broadcaster named Vivaria filled his office window.
Her automated captions extolled the virtues of cosmetic surgery as she demonstrated her various adjustments. Dansk adjusted his ear defenders, closed the blinds, and removed his sunglasses. He took another sip of the acrid black liquid and placed his mug on his desk. It teetered obliviously towards the edge, carried by the merry rhythm of Vivaria's voice. Dansk stood in the doorway of his modest box room office and surveyed his subordinates on the call centre floor, resenting them only for numbering fewer than his superiors. He resented himself for caring and scowled at the worker bees as they strained futilely to hear their callers.
Regional implementation executing or Executive regional implementing, or whatever the verb was for his particular vocational appointment, had never been the plan long term. He had taken a job at the company to appease his wife, who he later discovered was unappeasable even after his third promotion. That was two wives ago.
Suddenly, he felt a tiny vibration against his thigh amidst the great shuddering broadcast frequencies he had become accustomed to. At first, he thought it might be some physiological harbinger of an impending heart attack. What scared him more was the vaguest sense of disappointment at discovering that it was simply a message alert from his smartphone. The message read,
In light of recent developments, we will be dissolving regional implementations in your sector and merging much of the workforce with online fulfillment effective immediately. We regret to inform you that, as such, your services will no longer be required at the company.
The base of the quaking mug scraped across the tipping point. It plummeted and bounced clumsily against the thin blue carpet tiles, spewing its indelible contents across the floor. Dansk gawped at the black pool seeping slowly into the fabric. He stepped into it, splashed it around a little, and let his phone drop onto the toppled mug, assuring their mutual destruction. He went over to the window and opened the blinds, wincing from the light of a screen that was over a mile away. He forced himself to look at it, unfiltered, even as bright spots bloomed across his vision. The words of the merciful call girl returned to him — I was almost a famous singer.
"So much for almost,” he said.
* * *
Within a week Miles Dansk had chartered a boat from Punta Arenas with a young skipper named Jesús Romero. Dansk had made the faux pas, during their negotiations, of referring to his newly appointed captain only as Jesus.
"Actually, is Jesús Romero,” the young man rebuked. “Like the Mexican singer, not the niño Dios. If she sink, we pray to the Jesus, but actually am Jesús Romero. You know what? Jus' call me JR.” He was lying topless, arms folded behind his head, on the sunny deck of his little tub.
"Ok, JR it is. How much to the island?"
"Depends, which island you talking about?"
Dansk peered over his shades at the young man's sea hardened smirk.
"Which island do you think?" he said, gesturing emphatically at the thousands of wannabe broadcasters that milled around the dock.
"Oh, you mean La Isla del Arcángel Raquel?"
"Yeah, catchy name, whatever. Proctor's island, with the studio, how much?"
"Actually is no belong to Proctor, is belong to Arcángel Raquel. You know who is he?"
Dansk was in an unusually tolerant mood, aware that he was negotiating within a seller's market. He shifted the duffle bag he was holding from his left shoulder to his right and waited impatiently for an explanation.
"Is the Angel of Vengeance. You want some vengeance, mae?"
Dansk threw his bag onto the boat, sending a flurry of crisp new bills across the deck.
"Will that cover it?"
"Jueputa!" cried the young skipper, leaping to his feet. "In that case call me what you like!"
They approached the shore in a kind of slow decaying orbit, owing to the strange swirling currents that swept around the island.Jesús Romero weaved the little boat between those of other ferrymen and permanently stationed coast guards that jounced upon the frothing waves.
"You really want to be famous huh, mae?" he yelled over his struggling motor.
Dansk gripped a threadbare slither of plastic rope that was masquerading as a handle, his pale knuckles threatening to burst from his fists.
"Actually, I think you do!" The grinning captain kicked his new duffle bag and the crisp bills rustled inside.
"I'm going to shut the whole thing down."
"Right, how you gonna do that?
"I'm a performance artist."
"Maybe I'm in the wrong business. Performance artist seems to be very lucrative."
"It's not about money."
"I can see that!" JR cackled.
His laughter sounded to Dansk like a choking buzzard; he did not enjoy being mocked."You never thought about going to the studio?” he asked.
"I thought about it."
"Last chance, I'll let you go ahead of me."
"What do I need to be famous? I'm rich!" JR kicked the bag once more and performed his choking buzzard impersonation.
A hundred metres from the thin crowded strip of shoreline, Jesús Romero shut off his engine and threw out his anchor. The pistons whirred low with relief as the zealous tide buffeted the flimsy fibreglass hull towards the island.
"What am I supposed to do now?"Dansk stared incredulously at the choppy wash below them.
"You supposed to..." The captain performed a passable mime of wading through water,equipped with his current client's perpetually irritated expression. "But don't worry, believe me, is midday, you gonna get dry."
His passenger squinted at him.
"I'm sorry, mae. She can't go any further without gettin' stuck. I tell you what, I take you back free of charge. I see you back here in about three days?"
"Don't bother. I'm not going back." And with that, Dansk leapt from the boat and into the waist-deep water below. He was almost swept under by the current before JR's rope-strong young fingers clutched at the former exec’s white collar from above.
"Careful, mae!" he said as Dansk regained his footing and cringed from his rescuer's grip. "Wait a second, you don't have no food, no water, no nothing?"
"I don't need it."
"The line alone take about two, three days!"
"It doesn't matter. I just need to make it to the studio."
"You won't last a day in this heat with no water! Here..."
JR threw his fare a canteen. Dansk caught it reluctantly.
"No, thank you, mae! I never forget you. I name my first son after you. Hey, what is your name?"
"Miles Dansk,” he announced with haughty pride.
"Well, maybe just the middle name."
With that, the captain left, scored by a symphony of sputtering exhaust and choking buzzard.
At the shore, expectant broadcasters indicated the back of the line with passive-aggressive enthusiasm. For three days he edged towards the unassuming black studio building, sipping sparingly at his water and flatly refusing to interact with the irritatingly gregarious, “brainwashed Proles” that surrounded him.
The vicious Sun bore down like time; it withered his skin and bent his back. The thick, hot night smothered him like poisonous gas and insects drank his thickening blood. As the entrance drew closer, the few remaining drops of water turned to steam on his tongue and his thoughts wandered back through the line, over the sea, in and out of lifetimes, and came to rest at the lap of his first wife. Number one he called her now. Why not change her name? She had changed his, after all.
"Wow! You're beautiful!" he murmured.
"And you’re high," she replied.
"Nope, I'm Miles."
"Ok then, Smiles,” she laughed. "It's nice to meet you."
She was indeed beautiful, a lucky guess, as from his position, her head eclipsed the sun, obscuring her face in darkness. Strands of her hair danced in the corona-like solar flares, and she looked, to him, like the goddess of black holes.
He was in the prime of his performative powers. As an artist, he felt ithis duty to find ways to enhance his perceptive abilities, and he often found them in chemicals. He trusted chemicals because they always knew what to do. They were never clouded by indecision in the way that sobriety was. In this instance, he had taken something that insisted he lay down. He happily complied, allowing his spine to unfurl and planting his head quite naturally into her hemp-lined lap. He had come to the protest for the hippies (hippies always had something on them). She had come to enrage her father, and over the years, Miles believed, she had moulded him after the old bastard like a voodoo doll. They did work for a while, believing they could change the world with their bodies. Living off of love, art, protest, and resistance, all of which they believed to be synonyms. However, their marriage was their greatest performance; a scathing indictment, indeed.
Suddenly, she cocked her head, sending shards of blinding sunlight into his eyes. A door slammed behind him and he was inside Proctor's studio. One cold white lamp shone behind a single camera. It was like looking at daylight through the blowhole of a whale.
Dansk composed himself, let his canteen fall to the sweaty floor, and stepped up to the shining black lens to begin his performance. His drug dealers and bartenders and whores and former subordinates and children and wives and all the world craned their necks in anticipation, and with a deep breath, he began...
He simply stood before the camera and sent a haughty smirk along its shaft, through its connected wires, into its transmitter, over invisible waves, out through the colossal screens and into the eyes of the world. Minutes passed and people began to remove their ear protection, celebrating with cheers of gratitude at being able to once again hear their thoughts. Minutes approached hours and spectators peeled from the screens and began to resume their lives.Hours stacked up into the next morning and the viewers returned as Dansk began to waver. They made lowing sounds as he faltered and cheered as he stiffened his resolve. When he smacked his lips from thirst, street vendors sold water. When he winced from hunger they sold hotdogs. By the end of the second day, Miles had to bite his lips together to prevent himself from talking to the ghosts that slinked out from behind the brilliant white lamp. Pimps and pushers beckoned him home, Number one scolded him and Jesús Romero mocked him with his peasant's logic — What do I need to be famous? I'm rich!
Dansk did not acknowledge them, even as Philligree Emerson-Proctor III himself condescended to make his acquaintance. The timeworn tycoon appeared, leaning nonchalantly, beside the exit. Miles tensed his neck against the impulse to look at him.
"Congratulations, young man. You have performed admirably!" Proctor's reedy voice was like a harsh wind whistling through gravestones.
Dansk's only reply was to bite a little deeper into his shrivelled lips.
"You are, indeed, a formidable opponent, but you know as well as I that you cannot win."
Dansk glowered with indignation at the lens before him, certain that he could see Proctor's mocking ghost reflected in it.
"You're thinking, and I know because I reside inside your mind, that there will be one of two outcomes to this endeavour. Either someone will force the entrance and remove you, rescuing not only your life but your faith in humanity and subsequently putting a stop to this whole tawdry affair, or... you will die. In which case the world will see themselves reflected in your rotting corpse."
The haughty smirk returned to Miles’ face. This was to be his finest performance; his legacy to eclipse all other disappointments.
"A fine and noble endeavour indeed; it would be the dressing down that society deserves. However, your arrogance blinds you to the third possible outcome."
Dansk's head was pounding, his stomach twisting as his ghosts began to swirl into the merciless lens like galaxies into a singularity. He swayed to and fro and his viewers around the world swayed with him; lowing from side to side. Proctor's voice boomed inside his skull.
"The third outcome is that you give up!"
The former Regional Implementations Executive’s legs buckled and he crumpled to the floor. The world gasped. He could sense death creeping into the room, its cold fingers stroking his toes. He thought of Number one, her face in shadow, and her crown of sun fire. How he longed for her scorn, to speak with her, to speak at all, to cry, to sweat, to salivate.
“You could go to her. It's not too late to try again. It's not too late to live!“ the decrepit old baron hissed.
The exit was open, she was standing in the door way holding a glass of water so clear that it could only be seen in the way it distorted the image of her hand. The glass sent prisms across the room that sang of the outside, of freedom, of salvation. He began to crawl to her.
“If you die in here, they will learn nothing. They will find a way to continue and perhaps they will step over your body. You will become a mascot to the brainwashed Proles.”
He clawed at the concrete floor, inching ever closer to the door, and the world began to cheer him on his way.
“You've made your point. Nothing will ever be the same again.”
He heard billions of people chanting his name.
”Dansk, Dansk, Dansk!”
He saw them hug each other and cry as the scales slid from their eyes.
“The world needs you to live!”
With all of his might, he pulled himself up to a seated position. He saw the people banding together, singing songs of unity and gratitude to their emancipator as they tore down the screens, digital monuments to their oppression.
“The world needs a provocateur of Imponderabilia, a sower of sedition!”
With his last ounce of strength, he pushed the door open and flopped into the outside. The deafening cheers faded as he lay on his back staring up at the burnt sienna of dawn.
* * *
"Hey, mister, you're holding up the queue," said an impatient wannabe broadcaster as she helped him to his feet. She offered her canteen and Dansk absorbed its contents greedily.
"Hey!" she protested and pushed him down the line.
Dansk staggered and crawled and slithered between the concentric lines of broadcasters until he was spewed into the ocean. Quickly, the jealous sea embraced him, pulling him down into its bosom, turning him over and over and smothering him with briny kisses until he felt the relief of unconsciousness wash across him.
Then there was only nothingness, as black as Proctor's panels without a single ounce of content. Blissful stillness and an absence of himself, of his many layers of presentation; father, son, artist, consumer, servant, served, outsider, insider, pleb, rebel, lover, avenger, old, young, thirsty, sated, aggressor, aggrieved; and all of their feelings and consequences fell from him like petals. No, they didn't fall. It was him that was rising. Rising towards a shimmering light. He could feel the wind, rushing into the space where his lungs once were and the sensation of moisture evaporating in hot sun.
"Don't worry, mae. I gotchu'!"
"Jesus?" Miles sighed.
"This time, I guess so!"
Miles was carried back into unconsciousness by the sound of a choking buzzard.
* * *
In his dreams, a chirpy young lady brought him water and chastised him for his cracked, dehydrated skin. She continued to talk at him as he revived, demonstrating the correct way to moisturise the face. He tried and failed to blink her into focus, but her beauty shone through the haze of semi-consciousness. She was on the television. No, not the television, there wasn't one inside his hospital cubicle; he tried to sit but was restrained by hypodermic tubes and agony. The young woman's face was divided by titled blinds. Was she outside?
The cubicle curtain swished open.
"Good, you are awake. I am Dr. Hidalgo." He was a kindly older man whose chest domed into his belly, gaping his white coat and exposing his bright red braces. "You are a very lucky man, Mr..." He consulted his clipboard. "Dansk?"
Dr. Hidalgo adjusted his glasses and peered at his patient over the mottled brown frames.
"Your friend, he saved your life. Paid for everything, even insisted on giving you the best seat in the house." He indicated the window with a twitch of his chin. "He said, you like the screens. You've been on them. A famous ’performance artist,’ he said."
"Screens?" Dansk murmured, peering bleary-eyed between the blinds.
The pretty, young, moisturised woman was bisected by skyline. She was talking to him from a screen sixty miles away in the city of San José.
"But, the screens came down. The people, I saw them, they tore them apart."
"Well, that would be quite something, but no, Mr. Dansk. Love them or loathe them, the screens are here to stay. And besides," the doctor shrugged, "who even looks at them anymore? As for the noise, I hardly notice these days. It has become the new silence."
"But, but I almost died!"
Despair and indignation pitched battle across Miles' withered face, eliciting an expression of well-practiced sympathy from Dr. Hidalgo. The doctor placed a hand on his patient's shoulder, leaned in close, and in a low, solemn voice he said,
"This is true, but I'll tell you a secret. I almost failed medical school." His plump bottom lip and deep brown brow threatened to meet for a moment in a scowl of sincerity before broadening, once again, into a mischievous grin. "So, so much for almost!"