by James R. Drew

I pledge my fealty to Chieftains of the American Syndicate
And to the Union for which they stand
One ambitious and profitable corporation under the dagger
With unfettered enterprise, free for the taking.



  A quarter million miles away, Charles Morrison swears to everyone looking toward Earth that he can see Upstate, New York billowing with smoke. War between the law and the lawless Lust Market has exploded in Rochester. “The Lust Market?” He says, drawing the perplexed attention of his Lieutenant Governor. Local and national news transmits continual coverage a battle spanning a thousand city blocks.
  “For those just tuning it. You are advised to stay off the following thoroughfares, West Main Street in Downtown. State and main are cordoned off down through the Lake Ave to West Ridge Road.  Avoid Mount Read Boulevard as it is also under dispute between the RPD and the Lust Market Union. Our Eye in the Sky, Pat Robinson provides aerial coverage.

  “As you can see, hovering over the center of the Lust Market, the city’s criminal underbelly is inflamed. The Lust Market and RPD appear to be exchanging artillery fire.”

  How the hell can that be? Charlie asks himself. The city is used to the militant police force possessing that kind of fire power but even the news- casters are asking themselves how the Lust Market got a hold of it.

  “Pat, we have a serious problem!” Still on live television, the camera man hands him his camera.

  “There’s an RPG coming at us! Pilot! Move us or its going to hit!”

  The miss-happened rocket tears through the back, sending the chopper tail spinning onto Dewey Avenue, the road between the busiest district of the Union and its northern border, along west Ridge Road.
  “We gotta bail!” Sounds and images spread across the city as the helicopter plummets to the burning street where whoever shot the RPG awaits their fifteen seconds of fame.

  “No Goddammit! You keep shooting! If you throw that camera and we survive the Syndicate will hang us by the balls on a Christmas Tree!”

  A hundred feet from the ground he throws the camera over his shoulder to the picture of a berserk mob. Seconds later silence and darkness.

  “Pat, come in.” The anchor says, insisting with his finger to his Bluetooth earbud. “Well, we’ve lost contact with our Eye in the Sky. To recap, the city known to Rochester’s Lust Market Union district is on fire and in a state of war. Rochester is blocked off from Main Street, up Lake Avenue and Mount Read. The police have cordoned off the east bound lane of West Ridge Road, State Route 104.” Off camera, the reporter is handed a digital pad. “Jesus!” Turning back to the camera, his back, straightened, he does his job. “This just in. The LMU has broken through the police line at Lake Avenue. I repeat, the anti-riot repulsion force is in retreat toward Genesee River.

  Watching from the moon, Charlie realizes the implications. The river runs all the way to Lake Ontario. If they can’t push back, All the RPD will have only a steep hill to fall back to. Law falls to the lawless if the RPD can’t stop the LMU’s advance.

  How can this be happening? Charlie worries, hoping to hell this dirty mob doesn’t push out of the city limits to the suburbs. Worse still, his wife Michelle works as a nurse at Strong Memorial Hospital.

  Clothing stores looted, they burn on Lake Avenue and Driving Park. as police reload and reign hell fire, leaving looters caught in the crossfire, they flee back into the district. Behind district battle lines five finger discount shoppers descend upon each other like rabid zombies.
  Hooker, Lana Todd scoops up a police issue dollar dagger, defending the clothes she’s stolen from a store she’s only been able to window shop. Poverty and drug dependence pushed her into the Lust Market. She escapes in the night when too hungry. She can usually count of the kindness of one man who understands. Though pity and are taboo, there is one police officer everyone can count on to help them live another day; just one free meal a week lifts their spirits and fills their bellies enough to give them a chance to rise above their circumstances.

  Lake Avenue is no man’s land, and Lana is one of the few with the reflexes to push through. Her dagger already dripping in blood she reaches her home street. Still holding her new dresses and skirts, she’s attacked by a fellow hooker. She thrusts the knife into her spleen. The woman hangs onto her looking perplexed into her eyes.

  “I’m sorry Sis.” She says, whispering in her ears.

  “I understand. It’s just the life.” Laughing and kissing Lana on the neck, her head slumps slowly down Lana’s tattered breast. “I love you.”
Lana lowers her gently to the sidewalk. They aren’t blood related. Sharing the same trap house, they see each other as family. Used by men to meaninglessly satisfy their needs, the only satisfaction they find in sex is between each other. She’s killed her lover. 

  Richard Barnes pushes up the gears of his squad car, as his partner Leif Paxton sits on the passenger’s windowsill lighting the wick of his automatic rifle from the roof of the car. Brick commercial builds cave in on themselves, glass windows shatter as their store merchandise explodes onto the crack headed LMU army. Backs and heads shatter by Barnes push bar, miscreants fall, eaten and spit from fender wells.

  “Hundreds of people slaughtered on national television.” Charlie’s lieutenant laughs. “The Syndicate News Service’s sponsors have got to be spoogeing their pants.”

  “Excuse me?”

  “Well, someone has to pay to keep the news going.”

  “No, no: that’s not what I’m asking! What the hell is the Syndicate?”


  “Really!” Charlie says, slamming his employee to the disinterest of everyone else against the wall monitors.

  “You know!” He chokes, Charlie’s eyes hot with confusion and angry. “Half the world: Wall Street ring a bell? Red, White and Green?”

  “You mean the Red, White and Blue?”

  “Not unless they changed the flag since I’ve been up here.” The man gags, released from Charlie’s grip as a moon lander sandstorm outside the window.

  “Where the hell am I?”

  “I’m through playing!” Zeek, boss of the neutral trap on Plymouth and Lyle steps onto Lake Avenue with AK-47 in hand.

  “So, we’re calling it official?” Victor Costello says.
  “The Pigs wanted me! Can’t think of a better introduction to a city than some good old fashioned urban warfare.” Zeek tosses Victor a dime bag. “Just a little snack?”

  “Is this Snow White?

  “Don’t worry, Bro. A taste of that and you’ll be running this city!” He nods for his henchmen to bring forth a pair of strips. “Police issue spike strips. Taste of your own medicine, Dick.”

  RPD issued Dodge Charger jumping over the medium, Leif is pissing led into the determined onslaught of Crackheads, pimps and pushers wanting to make Rochester their country. Seeing the stripes, Barnes intentionally jackknifes hard left.

  “Vedas se puta, Dick.” Zeek smiles as the spike strip unfolds taught across the four-lane road.

  “Get your legs out the window and get ready to tuck and roll!”

Uneasily impressed, Zeek looks to an oncoming three-thousand-pound cannon ball. Barnes crosses his arms across his chest, a role cage not nearly enough to held back brick and glass, with no helmet protecting his head.

  Tumbling fender over fender, undercarriage over hoods like spinning coin against southbound commercial buildings, the engine mounts loosen more dangerously with ever tumble. Innocent residents of an apartment complex meeting like a beak at Jay, Lyle and Lake have seconds to see the catastrophe coming. The poor old man did what the news told him to. Picking up his pet, about his age in dog years, he regrets not taking him pee when he scratched at the front door. 

  The dog whimpers, obliterated along with his master by the car’s engine block. Bricks of the pre- civil war built pelt the LMU battle front sending whoever survives Barnes’ falling car scattering back on the defensive. Entrails explode from crushed bodies. Skulls crack like eggs and shoulder decapitate from loose wheels ricocheting to and froe, between the auto body shops at the corner of Lyle and Lake. 

   With Paxton’s 47 tucked into his chest he rolls well over 100 mph along the pavement and across the median of Lake Avenue. His uniform tattered at the shoulders, thighs and ass, his elbows throbbing, He stumbles to his feet opening up on shocked LMU forces.

  Barns climbs from the inverted cockpit of his squad car, pissed off. Zeek is in his sight, but he realizes he’s forgotten something. Adrenalin pumping into the back of his eyes and ears he doesn’t smell or hear the gasoline draining from a large hole in the gas tank across the upended undercarriage of the car.

  Object in motion tend to stay in motion: especially heavy object. Falling back, Costello stumbles over dead hookers. His store front, a chain link fence separating the Capitol trap collapses as innocent houses burn from drooling gasoline and the rampant sparks of machine gun fire. With the squad car on its roof, and barely escaping its tumble, Victor doesn’t notice the loose engine block is it falls from the sky. Iron turns to shrapnel, shit into his torso and shoulders.

  Fire plumes behind him, throwing him into the enemy. Too disoriented to know who they are fighting, Barnes dollar dagger plunges through, chests, abdomens, throats, and eyes. Stomachs, brains and ruptured heart spill on the asphalt of the infamous street and concrete sidewalks. Covered in blood and some intestines Barnes broad shoulder right themselves as his brothers push the lust market deeper into their own territory. 

  The Transmission housing is a second behind the engine and should be the death blow. Tossing a white capsule into his mouth, Victor can see the back of his eyes. Lightning bolts flash in his soggy brain until he reaches a fork in a railway station. He knows one way is where he came from, and the other is where he’s going. Better still, the guy he’s supplanting is in for a gruesome surprise.
  Sargant Victor Costello has had an average day. It’s been the daily day to day droll. A few of his boys knocked down a drug house but all that means is they’ll bail themselves out and delegate their business to another trap till the kingpin gets the cops back off his ass. Other than that: a few domestics and a few gun and drug possessions. Running through the lists, he rolls his eyes at the pattern: location Lyle Avenue. Rolling his eyes, he wishes he could burn the place to the ground. He never does stop rolling his eyes. His legs are gone. He’s cut in half at the waist. A fence that shouldn’t be there on Plymouth and Lyle collapses onto him.

  “We tore it up, hah boss?” Saxton says meeting him below the interloop and State Street bridge slapping Barns over the shoulder. Barnes twists Saxton’s wrist.

  “Yeah.” Backhanding handing Paxton, he wrist-twists his hand behind his back. 

  “Let me go!”

  “Remember how to solute next time!” Barnes says, growling to remind him of his place. He misses working with equals and handshakes for that matter, but he can’t chance letting him or anyone touch him. Discipline is a synonym, a mirror for dominance. 

  Parting ways, Paxton offers a Roman-fist-chest bump. removing small intestines from his vest and wiping his mouth of blood before sheathing his blood-soaked dollar handled dagger.

                              The Flower City

  The battle coverage over, most of Charlie’s staff resumes their tasks. With the Carnage turning to Law enforcement’s side, the news shifts its focus on world news.
  “The Syndicate received assistance from Lunar Valhalla today on the orders of Chieftain Charlie Morrison. These images show what is left of the Russian aided Ukrainian resistance.”

  This must have happened before I ended up here.

  “Did you order the attack for personal or patriotic reasons?”

  “We all do what we do for profit. That’s why they call us Loots. Russians claim they’re fighting for Ukraine’s freedom, but she wants the same thing we do.” Charlie shivers at the soulless image of himself and a world burning in the distance.

  Rochester is a poor city, but with a rich history. An elderly man steps from his beak nose apartment building with his eleven-year-old Pomeranian. Barking at the Lake Avenue early morning traffic, the rickety old does mindless circles, optimistic and hopeful of the day ahead as any American. The old man has lived in Rochester for forty years. When he was born, the wealthy lived in the city. Kodak was its economic spine. 

  Today most of its buildings are empty. Still, he breaths in the Flower City’s smog as if man had never discovered fire. The sun risen above the gargoyle monument, the white City Bank Tower and the half a dozen, hideous apartment high rises, he scoops up his morning newspaper, encouraging his best friend to follow along.


  Michelle Morrison is a mother of two children. She can’t recall a nightmare in her thirty-three years. A nurse, she’s seen the nightmares of others, pushed, and pulled on stretchers. Her dreams are of her son, daughter, Charlie and occasionally her brother. She often feels as though her brother is a phantom. She has a brother, but she doesn’t. She’s slept with that same feeling about half the night. 

  Still asleep, she’s aware that something has changed. Sailing through a tunnel of memories, reaching a junction, she is met by her brother and startled awake. Her heart races at the shock of her husband’s best friend, jail warden Tom (Leif) Paxton laying naked next to her on the floor of a dank and dirty loft. Wiping off his sweat, she scrambles for whatever clothing she can find and searched desperately for a way out. Reaching the stairs pointing straight down she vomits before herself.

  “You ok, Mickey?” Lana says, exhaling a cloud to Michelle.

  “Where the hell am I? What smells like rotten leaves. Why is there sugar spread across the table?”

  “I knew you’d take the taste eventually.” Zeek says. Laughing as he drops small chunks of “sugar” into bags so small she can’t imagine what they were good for. “You seem a little confused. Mirror, Mirror on the wall.” His unhinged smile turns her cheeks red with horror.

  Looking into his eyes. Her mind won’t store the image of his face. His eyes are lustful, predatory, malevolent like a cobra. Scars dug deep into his face discolored by spots; his skin is callous like snake scales. 

  Realizing her best friend is genuinely confused and frightened, she takes her gently by the hand and leads her into the dark, empty living room.
  “The white sugar and the must leaf smell is crack cocaine!”

  “Last I seen you was at shifts end at strong. You weren’t smoking cocaine! You were my best friend! You would never do this!

  “You’re right, Michelle and what I’d give to be that woman, but I can’t be.”

  “What are you talking about?” Michelle’s face contorts, a combination of anger, confusion, and disgust. “You still haven’t answered me. I was a nurse, and you were a tech. What are we now: hookers?”

  Lana’s face bruised, her clothing tattered and covered in blood, she moves Michelle in front of a mirror. They live the same violent lifestyle but though, Lana is always bruised or broken somewhere, Mickey’s face shines like porcelain. Her skin is as smooth as the day she was born, her eyes, cheeks and mouth with a short beak nose punctuating plush facial features.  to be about twenty-five years old. Running her hands from her eyes, down her cheeks to her neck she confirms she’s not wearing makeup.

  “I don’t know how else to say it because, it sounds crazy.” Stroking her chin, running a dirty hand through her black hair she paces in small steps before finally shrugging her shoulders.

  “Ever ask yourself what your life might be in a different culture, in a country with completely different values? Who might you be in a police state for instance?” 

  “I suppose when I’m scared or ambivalent. We all regret some of our life choices, but I was content with what I had.”

  “You’re in an alternate universe, Michelle.”

  “That’s ridiculous!”

  “Maybe so, but it’s the truth and the only way you can survive your time through the looking glass is accept it till the effect wears off.”

  “I’ve taken the drug; seen your America. You kissed me goodbye at the end of our shift not three days ago.” Alana says, consoling Michelle.

  “So, we’re best friends in both universes?”

  “We’re best friends; your husband’s best friend is his worst enemy here. Many things are the same while most of America is completely inverted.”

  “If the rest of America is like this then it’s completely perverted.”

  “It’s worse than you think. I am a hooker. You’re a genetically engineered sex goddess. Here sex and violence are a commercial for everything this country stands for. You’re commercialized sex and Charlie is commercialized violence.

  “Let me get this straight. I’m in a mirrored universe. Anything goes as long as it makes the country money.” Lana shrugs in awkward admission. “I’m a glorified prostitute. I just fucked my husband’s best friend, who is his worst enemy in this universe.” She sniffles on the verge of a panic attack, no longer able to verbalize the guilt and horror. “How big an asshole is this, Mickey?”

“Pretty big:” Lana urges her friend into a hug, stroking her shining, ruby red hair. “Listen to me. I love that bitch to death but everything she does is a power play. The rest of us turn tricks for drugs. Some are just trying to provide for their families, but we all take advantage of each other and whoever else we can bait. You need to understand that you transposed your soul into a nearly soulless body. You didn’t betray your husband. Mickey looks like you. She may have a few personality traits in common, but your similarities end there. We’re empty shells: zombies.”

  “Where is Charlie, Alana?”

  “He probably isn’t your Charlie. I’m not completely surprised Mickey would do something like this, but Chuck is a hard ass, not a jackass.”

  “Where is he!” She says, her roar shaking the room.

  “He patrols the neutral zone; the only person able to cross inside and out of the LM without scrutiny. Not even the cops have the authority he does.”

  “He has as much power as anyone can have. You say everything Mickey does is a power play then she isn’t with him for love.”

  “You aren’t Mickey, and he isn’t your husband.”

  “Unless my husband is over here too. I’m not going to stay here anyways. I’d rather take my chances out there.”

  Lana’s shoulders shrink. Mickey isn’t easy to convince either.

  “You’re not going out there alone.”

  “Wouldn’t you rather stay here and get high?”

  “Yes, I would but you’re my best friend!”

  Stepping onto Plymouth Ave Lana is shocked to find the receptacle fence destroyed, in pieces amongst residential houses, completely innocent to the debauchery occurring at that fence. The fence whines, clinks, clanks, and crumbles, consumed by the hell of war. Searching through plywood for weapons and jewelry, Lana kneels deeply enough to laugh at the guy who’d ordered her back to work with her mouth wide open.

  “Who is he?”

  “A spineless, conniving weasel. I think he wanted Zeek’s job.”

  “What happens along this fence?”

  “Not all of us are as fortunate as Mickey. A hundred girls work for hours on their knees. Some nights this fence waves, writhing with…”

  “Ok! Ok! I get it! Gross!” Opening her eyes, she finds her friend crying in shame. “Lana, I’m so sorry. “I’m so sorry, Lana! I didn’t realize! You live this every night?”

  Lana wipes her nose, rarely allowing herself to feel remorse or any emotion.
  “How could you realize? The truth is that I don’t do this to keep the lights on. It’s a cycle. This life is nightly trauma. The ironic thing is that we do it for drugs that suppress emotions we can’t afford to feel.”

  “Don’t you see what you’re doing to yourself?”

  “I suppose.” Bringing her shoulders up, she smiles. “Fortunately, it doesn’t matter anymore. There is absolutely no going back.”

  “You have my pity.”

  Lana shrugs. Her face turns black with quiet, unspoken resentment.
  “Don’t say shit like that. I suppose you mean well but meaning well won’t get you very far here.”

  “I’m sorry.”

  “Don’t say that either. If you want to survive, you’re an asshole. The minute someone sees you’re not, they will rape and rob you.”

  “How does Mickey survive?”

  “I told you that Victor wanted Zeek’s job.”

  “That guy is like a bad dream. I looked straight at him. It’s like I was in a trance.”

  “You saw his face but it was fleeting? That’s cause he’s a fucking god! It isn’t his job he’s after. The Syndicate pays you, not your employers or your customers. All we’re left with are three things.”

  “Power, respect and love.” 

  “That’s how Mickey survives. That’s how Zeek rules the LMU. He’ll control the whole world if he can. Her sensuality brings her power and infatuation. A thousand blocks of the city, dependent on the vices he distributes makes a sub-culture of men and women lining up to suck-- for another hit.” 

  Lyle Avenue’s streetlights are out or laying on the ground. A Rochester Transit System bus is crashed on its side with the driver slung, impaled over a broken windshield. Michelle covers her face for the smell and taste of human beings, cooking in diesel fuel. A half-moon in a clear cool night is Rochester’s only light source. Looking straight up she finds the city her husband governs on the terminator between the Moon’s night and day.

  “What are those shimmering lights, those lines? It looks like a connect the dots puzzle.”

  “Valhalla City. You don’t have cities on the moon?”

  “No one has been to the moon since the early Seventies.”

  The Syndicate has been at war since the early twentieth century. Histories are mirrors of each other. The union turned on itself not for the argument of a strong Federal government verses state’s rights or slavery. It ended for the same reason as in United States. The North needed the South’s sugar and tobacco. The syndicates agreed their economic system had grown too complex to sustain a slave class so corporate executives put an end to it. The Syndicates agreed on the ancient policy of global rape and pillage engineers learned to sore, dropping bombs on South America, turning its attention to bullying England and France.

  “Now we have a city on the moon.” Michelle shakes her head in awe, briefly forgetting the “Not much to rape and pillage up there.”

  “You’d be surprised. Odon is on the light side. You’ll notice if you survive that we don’t touch each other unless we’re in bed together. Where you, have neighbors, you’ll always have something to covet.”

  The United States was founded by Plantation owners tired of giving England its cut. Loot ancestors raided England stripping it of its treasures and culture. What is left of the free world knows the Syndicate population as loots as they sarcastically nickname the United States people as Yankees.

  Syndicate ancestors honored ambition above all. They worshiped the Norse gods like the United States worshiped Jesus Christ. Now the Syndicate sails to the moon worshiping only themselves and their ambitions.

  “Your counterpart is a devout Christian. Your America outgrew its gods, but ours outgrew savage, callous violence like what we’re walking through. We’ve fought some pretty devastating, but we grew from it.”

  “Your wars pushed you to the moon but that isn’t enough for a Viking or a Loot. We settled it.”

  “What is there on the moon worth pillaging if you burn the world down? I’m not allowed to say that I’m sorry. Can I say your culture sucks?”

  “Viking culture values honesty above all. We annihilated the Christian moral code a long time ago. We don’t touch each other or lie to each other. Honesty and love are all that’s left of both cultures.”

			The Red, White and Blue

  Mickey’s eyes flutter, awoken by the sound of playing children. It sounds like two of them. Unaccustomed to sleep, she is startled by the reflex to involuntarily stretch. It’s a nice bedroom, not even comparable to the loft and trap house she’s left behind. He counterpart must have been sleeping when the Snow White took effect. 

  Casting off her comforter, she dangles her feet over the edge of her king-sized bed. There is a bathroom, already lit within the bedroom. She walks to it finding a mirror surrounded by movie makeup lights; a loving personal touch, built by her husband. Looking into it, she finds the porcelain of her face is a little faded and her eyes drooping. She’s noticed this from her friends after they’ve slept.

  How ugly. My life should be perfect compared to what I left. Her life is perfect. I stopped aging at twenty-five. I look thirty-three. 

  There are no more flowers in the Flower City. Charlie stands under the United States flag covered in fifty stars and thirteen red and white stripes. Both cities are built an impressive water fall and rapids. Water jumps over huge rocks and dead tree. Charlie’s vision focuses on the archways of the subway abandoned since the 1950s. With no Lust Market, the city is gentler. The city was loved by its people on both sides of the looking glass. Strolling the streets, he notices a pattern on the utility boxes opposite that of his Rochester’s. Here, rabble rousers Fredrick Douglass and Susan B Anthony are revered as social revolutionaries.

  “You on your lunch?” 

  It’s difficult to tell who you’re talking to wandering between cities: the opposite sides of one infinite coin. He hates Tom Paxton. He knows he wants Mickey. Fortunately, Charlie is the most powerful man in the city so there is nothing Paxton could offer to sway her.

  “What can I do for you Leif?”

  “Shh. They call me Tom here. I’m running the jailhouse! Can you believe it?”

  “This America is gullible, naive. They think people have good intentions and its fiends like you that make whatever this Snakeyes terrorist is supposed to be.”

  “It’s worse than that!” Leif laughs. “Everyone gets treated the same.”

  “I hear crime doesn’t pay.”

  “You’ve heard wrong.” Tom laughs. “Cigarette? There’s a filter on the business end but the Newport’s aren’t so bad. Most people like the mint flavored.” Charlie accepts along with his lighter. “You’re a
 smart guy. A parole officer among other things. What happened to the technology here?”

  “I don’t take your meaning.”

  “The highest paying jobs are fast-food restaurants. It’s highest grossing product is made in a country the Syndicate has owned since the Forty’s.”

  “I told you that I don’t want to know, and I don’t want to know!” Taking a respectable drag, Charlie shakes his head returning his attention to the river. “I liked you better as a cop; a lot less political.”

  “You’re already one of them!  It’s all a big melting pot where we all get along. We greet each other with a handshake and a glossy smile. They lie to themselves just like you! You tell yourself you belong, and you don’t! You tell yourself you love her, but you don’t!”

  Grabbing Paxton by the vest he dangles him over the bridge. Paxton laughs, knowing that murder in this America will cost him this America’s only sincere commodity: freedom. Rage reddens his eyes as he contemplates his words. Does he really love her? Worse still, does she really love him? His gaze is drawn to the abandoned subway station as his grip loosens slightly. 

  “Listen to me, you racist jackass!” He’s never felt this. He isn’t meant to feel this. His face trembles in debilitating agony. Unable to find the words he wants to say, he releases him. “Go back to your jailhouse! Go back to Plymouth Ave, and don’t let me see you again or I swear I WILL kill you!” 

  “With what? You don’t have a gun or a dollar dagger here.” Cracking his neck, he straightens his tunic. “See you later, my friend.” Almost a block away, Paxton turns to deal one last jab. “By the way! Mickey is a demon cobra in bed!”

  Genetically engineered or not, Mickey is a glorified hooker. Rubbing his nose in it is dangerous. Paxton’s brain splashes from his brow onto the handrails of the Genesee River. On a sidewalk full of pedestrians, but no one notices the murder. Murder is more a subjective term. Staring into the face plates of their phones and their earbuds, no one notices the murder until Paxton’s body is found chalk outlined, his blood drizzling into the sidewalk cracks.

   "F&^%$!” He says with one last drag of Tom’s cigarette before flicking it into the rapids. The abandoned subway calls to him. Reorienting his eyes, a dozen cars roar through, like ghosts. It must have been something he dreamed. The workday is nearly over. He doesn’t bother to look back as frightened pedestrians gathering around the dead body. Tom Paxton is still smiling with the satisfaction he’d taken a taste of the most valuable thing and person in his life. He smiles but his eyes are empty. Leif Paxton is dead, and he’s left Tom Paxton forever trapped in his body.
  Driving home, he looks forward to another day with this Universe’s Mickey. She isn’t a sex symbol here, but she is precious. They’d had sex regularly in the Lust Market but never made love until he transposed to the United States. The only question is that with different life paths do they share the same souls.

  Now Mickey has supplanted Michelle. The dream is over.  She granted her lover’s worst enemy free rein of her body as she did only for the richest and most powerful men and women in the country. Snow White is an opportunity to seek out, manipulate and maneuver a new field of chauvinist suckers. 

  This is the power play she’s wanted for twenty years. The syndicate has sold her like a commodity since she was thirteen. Women have rights in the United States, and she is a hungry, angry wolf in the fold. Dismounting Paxton, the dime bag in his uniform pants pocket. A switch flips visible between the hemispheres of her brain and now she’s here.

  Her daughter looks just like her. Blond hear, beak nose, freckled lightly into her cheeks. Genetic engineering screened out the freckles. She’s enjoyed a day with her children, having never anticipated the joys and rewards of motherhood. Playing with her daughter’s dolls on the floor, Charlie’s heart softens at the end of every workday. His son, a miniature version of himself greets him every evening with his latest Lego project.

  Mickey enjoys the loose garment hanging from her shoulders, banded around her waist. She’d heard about this style, but in a universe where women are little more than subservient pets and sex toys dresses were left behind for tight fitting pants and something the television called miniskirts. They only wore the latter on the streets of the Lust Market. She never did. Girls are safer in the Lust Market than outside of it. Rape is a capital offense in the Syndicate. Sex is for sale. Rape is also robbery and as much a personal violation as in the United States

  “How was work?” She says, with a mysteriously scornful expression.

  “Just another day.” He says flatly. 

  “I didn’t go in. Wanted to spend some time with the kids.”

  “What did they say when you called in?”

  “Oh, I didn’t.”

  “Mickey!” He stumbles, remembering she doesn’t go by that here. “Michelle, you’re a nurse. You can’t just not show up to work.”

  “Can’t I?” She says, crossing her entire face. “I’ve had some time to think, and you know what I realized. I don’t need you, and I certainly don’t need to answer to you.”

  Well, this is disappointing.

  “Women haven’t needed men for quite a while. Turns out that we have control of our own finances, our own bodies and here comes the best part: our kids.”

  “What is wrong? What has he been doing to you?”

  “Twenty years, I’ve tried to show you what we could have. Thirty-three years I’ve tried to show the world that women are more than incubators. All the sudden I learn that we have rights. We’re free! You know what else I learned?” She laughs in hysterical mania. “There are two words we have to say to put you on your knees: get out.”

  Charlie realizes the problem. They are vulnerable to all their traumas without their enhancements. This is Mickey. She’s supplanted Michelle but a lifetime of shame she wasn’t aware of, buried in the glory of the States’ lie of celebrity has driven her mad. She didn’t realize the depth of rage buried in her subconscious. She was told all her life she was special. All the abuse she’s taken has broken her soul. Without knowing it, this life is her dream. She is experiencing love, but her ambition is still a powerful instinct.

  “So, you see Charlie. Men are completely declawed, weak and helpless.”

  “Just like your sisters in the lust market?”

  “Oh, shit…” Her face slumps realizing this is Chuck.

  His fist clenches tightly. “You finally get to rescue all those victims of the male gender. First, not all women are hookers and not all men are pimps and johns, not even in our universe. Like honest Abe once said as he divorced his wife. Might makes right. I’m sorry to teach you the reality of your new empowerment the hard way.”

  “You won’t hit me, Charlie.” She backs away, stumbling over her children’s toys. “You can’t!”

  “Can’t I? You’re forgetting something my love. We’re not indestructible anymore and I am still at least twice as strong as you are. Negating all that.” Her terror grows as his eyes turn black with focused and determined rage. He genuinely feels this needs to be done. “We’re only here temporarily. You can call the police. They may show up in time. What then? How far do you think you’ll get when we get home? Maybe your brain chemistry is different here, but I can’t have you taking this bullshit back with you. I really hope I don’t have to do this again.”

  She’s never taken a blunt force impact to the head. Her first backhand knocks her to the floor, arms and legs splayed across the carpet. She’ll be ok in a few hours. Michelle has never been hit, so her head isn’t accustomed, and any injury whatsoever is completely alien to Mickey in either body so either way she is going down for a nap.

  Charlie has the answer to the question he asked himself above the rapids. It’s their souls that have been transferred into far more fragile minds and bodies. One day in a much less harsh environment, encased in fragile, imperfect brains and bodies and he’s hurt the woman he’s cherished since childhood. Their first day in this universe; a mirror of theirs has turned them both into insane, abusive and codependent monsters. A light stream of blood drips from Mickey’s lip as he feels a new emotion: guilt. Then he spots his children standing in confused horror.


  “Alert: You are now entering hostile, Lust Market territory.” A voice from the dashboard snaps to life. “Confirm mission parameters.” The dashboard is a touch screen computer with a flowing digital data feed.

  “Search for Zeek in the carnage.”

  “Orders confirmed. Officers cleared to proceed as they see fit.”

  “Thanks Alexa.” Barnes says, tapping the application icon, tactilely confirming his answer to the artificial intelligence.

  “I like the sound of that; especially after the other night.” Barnes’ new Katrina says, looking out the window at the carnage. The sun just rising, Katrina spots someone stumbling alone through the rubble. “Dick? Is that who I think it is?”

  “No… that can’t be Mickey.” 

  “Looks like her. Her clothing is scorched, and I’ve never seen her crying. I think she’s bleeding.”

  “I’ve seen her climb from a wrecked car smoldering from her shoulders. Not a scratch on her, with the driver shredded like roast beef.” He pulls to the side. Katrina forces her door open catching Michelle as she stumbles from the curb.

  “It’s ok Sweety.” She ensures her. Cradling her right flank as she urges her into the passenger seat, she finds Michelle’s blood on her hands. 

  “Looks like you’ve had a rough night, Mickey.”

  “Like I’ve told everyone I’ve seen.” She winces. “My name is Michelle.” Wincing again, she realizes that she recognizes the slender, olive-skinned police officer. She isn’t a cop though. She’s a history teacher and her brother’s wife. 

  Barnes has known about this for almost seventeen years. Investigating it is what got him into this hell. Celebrity or not, Mickey is a skirt rat. This woman is no hooker. Familiar with Mickey, having cleaned up her wakes of destruction, he can tell this isn’t her. “I came out here with my friend. I’m looking for my husband, Charlie.”

  “Well, if it helps, Charlie is on the moon.” Katrina says, immediately realizing how weird an answer that is. “Things aren’t what they were a few hours or days ago, are they?”

  Looking around she shakes her head.

  “I’ve never stepped foot on this street.”

  “Did your friend go back to the trap?” Michelle sniffles and nods. 

  “She said some guy named Snakeyez was calling her. If she had a phone, it didn’t ring. It was like she’d caught a scent. She couldn’t resist.”

  “You say, you’ve never been on Lyle Ave. Where were you when you noticed your surroundings had changed?”

  “I fell asleep in my own bed next to my husband. I woke up in a trap house next to Tom Paxton. Lana and I left that blue house, a couple doors down from the gas station.

  “Behind the gas station?” Barnes smiles. Crushing the LMU’s infrastructure gives the police the temporary right to raid whatever house they see fit. “Sounds like Plymouth.”

  “Did you get a look at the trap boss?” Katrina says.

  “I did, but I don’t know how to describe him.”

  “Try Michelle.”

  “Eyes like a snake obviously. He wore a black vest wrapped with bullets. He had scars to the bones of his face and head.”

  “What else?”

  “He felt malevolent; like a demon or a king cobra petrifying his prey. I could swear that he could unhinge his jaw and eat a man alive if need be. His voice was a hiss, but I’m sure he could roar if he had to.”

  “Who is he preying on?”


  “This sounds more like a monster than a criminal or a terrorist.” Katrina says, tending to Michelle’s open wound. “Can I see your hands, Michelle?” Still trembling she offers them up. Katrina holds the urge to gag for Michelle’s shake. Scorch marks run across her palms like grilled hotdogs and now she realizes where the smell of barbeque is coming from. 

  “How long have you been out here, Michelle?” Katrina says, tending her 

  “Almost four days.”

  “You’re a lot tougher than I’d have guessed.” Katrina says in admiration.

  “What makes you say that?” Michelle reflexively yanks her burned hand back as the salve steams from her.

  “Mickey is indestructible.”

  “Is she indestructible or just a self-confident survivor.”

  “If that’s true, then that’s one thing you two have in common.

  “She’s likely home with my kids. Are they safe?”

  “Michelle, Mickey does a lot of shitty things, but to shitty people but.” Barnes says, crouching beside her as the blister recedes. “One thing I’ve never seen her do is take advantage of an innocent or helpless person. She has a generous spirit. Sometimes I think she wishes she’d had a different life and…” A spark of realization freezes Barnes’ jaw.

  “And what, Dick?”

  “If she’s well enough, we need to look into a lead I just thought of.”

  She wishes she could have had kids.


  Turning onto the local Rochester east-westbound interstate 490, Barnes and Kat look to find Michelle dosed but wrestles in the back seat.

  “Four days… I’ve been your partner for three.”

  “When the smoke billow slowed down, we raided as many rats nest as we could; took a big chunk out of the Lust Market as we could before the city told us to stop.”

  “So, what happened that I’m here?”

  She isn’t asleep. She’s sitting on a bench seat. Looking up from the floor, she finds her brother sitting next to her. Neither says anything. Reading his mind, she stands with him. 

  I have something I need you to see. Follow me.

  Her feelings are flat. This is one of those disturbing dreams about her brother that doesn’t feel like a dream. She feels, lost, floating alone in a murky. She knows a dream. This the first time her brother has noticed her. This is the first time she’s noticed where she is.

  Is this a dream?

  No. You know your dreams.

  “What is this place?“This is a sinkhole. This is where we go to forget ourselves. You’ve been looking for me. Following me." 

  Paper flutters in the stale air. Rats screech along the walls of an abused catwalk. She’s never seen poverty until now. Families cuddled dead, covered by lice infested blankets, the last of their remains fed upon by red eyed, monstrous rodents. Finding a hole dug into the ground, her brother points the flashlight at what he wants her to see. Nodding for her to touch it, she finds the grey, long dead face of a man. He is holding something. It looks like a baby doll. Looking to her brother, he nods for her to remove it from his petrified grip. Freed from the dead man’s grip, she cradles a once living baby girl in her arms. 

  What is this? She says, horror of the baby’s arms, legs and limp head dangling and spread lifeless.

  We’re the junction between universes. I found this and couldn’t live with the guilt. I gave myself for you, now you’re giving yourself for me. 

  I don’t understand, is this me or you?

  I lived down here for seventeen years. I found you. Your skull collapsed in my hand. At first, I thought you were my older sister. I was wrong. We are 
twins. Our parents had to choose between us during delivery. It drove our mother to drugs and alcohol. Our father eventually committed suicide.

  There is a whole other me and you in the other universe. Why do we have to choose in this one?

  That’s why you need to let me go. You’re fixating on me without realizing it. 

  What about Mickey? What about you in that nightmare of a Universe. 

  Without you, Mickey is a soulless monster. As for me…He gave me the means to save you and our family.

  What means is that?

  You have to forget about me. I have to stay here or the universe you’re in will destroy itself.

  I can’t forget about you! I won’t. The baby crumbles to ash in her arms. There has to be another way! We can both live! There’s always hope!

 I never existed Michelle. 



                  Christmas Trees

  “What were you looking for in that raid: Snow White?” Katrina asks Barns as they turn onto Culver Road and into the Cobb’s Hill Christmas Tree Farms.

  “No. There’s a lot of people in this city looking for a different way home. People who are stuck here with hijacked bodies, dead in the United States.”

  Michelle awakens, her brother’s words echoing in her mind to the sound of screaming and electrical charges. Static electricity leaves men and women levitating above a copper ground. The incarceration per capita ratio is much lower than their counterparts with this site of brief but agonizing public torture a much better deterrent. Attempted murder of a fellow police officer will leave Paxton hanging like a Christmas tree ornament, without food, water, or sleep for quite a while.

  “Feeling better?” Katrina says. “You’ve been out for a while. We decided to let you rest before we proceeded any further.”

  “What the hell is this!”

  “This is called a Christmas Tree farm. It’s the Syndicate’s way of expediting the behavioral rehabilitation process.” Barnes says, gently easing her to her feet. 

  “Jesus, this city sucks.”

  “This section tortures all the known Snow-White distributors in the city, and Leif Paxton. Do you recognize any of them?”

  Michelle looks closely at the naked man hanging at the front. Static electricity pushes them in agony off the ground. Electrodes hooked to their hands, feet tied together, they are electrically crucified. Screaming in agony, he looks down to Michelle, now in twice as much pain, his shame dripping from between his legs. She points a shaking hand to the man who betrayed Barnes.

  “No one gave me any drugs, but I do recognize him.”

  “Who is he to you?” Katrina says in passive surprise.

  “Tom Paxton: he’s my husband’s best friend. Let him down. Please officer Barnes.”

  “Alexa, disrupt pad number one charges and lower the prisoner.”
  Lowered to the ground, Michelle runs to his aide. Before she can touch him, he vomits, pees and loses control of his bowels. Shaking, she grabs for his shoulders, zapped away from the static electric charge of his body hair. His waste fluids purged; she lays him down on his back.


  “Yes, it’s me. How did you get here?” 

  “I was touring the jail and I felt dizzy. I could see my own brain for a second like I’d reached a junction. I must have passed out. When I came too, I was cuffed hands to feet in the back seat of a police car. Someone told me I’d tried to kill my partner and about twenty minutes later, I was strapped to a bunch of electrical coils, and I’ve been here ever since.”

  “Can you tell us anything else?”

  “I’d heard some rumors going around the jail of a bizarre plan to break out. I ordered an investigation, but nothing came of it. I’m starting to think that was deliberate.”

  “What else?”

  “All these people went up with me insisting they didn’t understand where they were, what they’d done. I’ve been transposed and I suspect they have too. One thing I can assure you is that if the rumors are true, there is an attack coming on this country. Rochester will just be the beech head for something much bigger.”

  “Did you hear anything about a drug?”

  “No, but I heard a lot of talk about a doctor. I do know he was part of the plan.”

  “Did you hear a name?”

  “No, the medics found the letters REM carved into the weaker inmates backs.”

  “That mean anything to you.” Barnes says, turning to Michelle. Michelle nods. “What?”

  “They’re my brother’s initials. He’s a psychologist. He literally, wouldn’t hurt a fly. He yells at people for killing bees. Says we need them for the echo system. 

  “That’s all very good Michelle.” Katrina consoles her with a gentle hand on her shoulder. “Remember that you’re in an alternate universe. Your brother could be a completely different person.”

  “Alexa, shut this section of the tree field down. Hell, shut it all down. Call in every available paramedic.” All at once the buzzing quiets, lowering the prisoners to the ground. “Michelle, when and where is the last place and time you remember seeing your brother?”

  “Now that I think about it, I can’t remember.” Digging into her mind she realizes all the memories of her brother are like fleeting dreams. She knows he’s a real person but suddenly feels like a ghost. She’s only ever seen him looking into a mirror. “I don’t know.”

  “Take Paxton to the hospital and see if you can find this REM.”

  “Where are you and Michelle going?”

  “City Hall.”

  “What for?”

  To find her brother.”

  She’s never felt so sad pondering that a waterfowl pond could be filled in and used for such horrors. Turning onto Monroe Avenue, she realizes that she’s rarely seen the streets of Rochester.

			The Subway

  She’s passed through Main Street with Charlie a few times but never looked around. She’d heard Rochester once had a subway like New York City. It was just a passing historical reference that Charlie made as they drove across the river Main Street bridge. Looking to Barnes, she peers into the dark tunnel. A headlight plunges through the darkness, heading in the other direction followed by ghostly train cars.

  “Stop the car!” The squad car screeches to a halt. She jumps out feeling the wind fluttering papers and pop cans. “Take me over there!”

  “To the subway? What for?”

  “Did you see that train? I know where Russ is!”

  “Russ? Your bother?”

  “Yes! He’s in the subway tunnel! You have to get me down there!”

  “Michelle, once we’ve cleared up whatever is going on I’d be able to look through the tunnel with you. Hell, I’ll bring a whole squad into the tunnel looking for your brother, but we need to get to City Hall before shit hits the fan!”

  The tunnel cleared, she sits in the passenger seat and buckles in. Back on the move, they turn left onto Exchange Street. Barnes parks in front of the metered parking.

  Pulling his pistol from his belt he pops the trunk and slings his highest caliber automatic weapon over his shoulder. The usually bustling street is silent like the absence of bird’s moments before the touchdown of a tornado.

  Walking across the street to the back ally of the Blood Dome Arena, air rushes tugging him over the handrail. Catching himself as the Train 14 eastbound caboose vanishes. His intuition flares. That isn’t normal, but neither is this Snakeyez monster they’ve been chasing. Something is coming.

  “Go into the police station, Michelle.” Pulling his CB from his chest, he tunes the channel to reach every squad car. “I need all units at City Hall! This is a red level terrorist warning! I repeat! This is a red level terrorist warning. An attack is imminent! I repeat!”

  An explosion rocks the sports arena. Barnes draws his pistol, shooting against a hail of automatic weapon’s fire. Ducking behind the car, the carnage is the same in both universes. Officers flank him, shooting blindly. Most of the criminals converging on the dying police resistance have a duplicate. Barnes finds it easier to cut them. 

  State Street, between Lake and exchange is RPD’s Alamo against the attackers, picking up the few automatic weapons that do fall in hopes of gaining a fair fight. With almost all of Rochester’s police force destroyed, Barnes empties one machine gun after another. His end is imminent. No man can resist this level of onslaught by himself.

  Surrounded by smoke, he can no longer see anything, and his only advantage is that neither can his enemies. The ground shakes from the East. Both sides look to the ground. The rattling of machine gun fire yields to crashing iron, steel, and something burrowing form beneath. City hall’s parking garage crumbles. Windowed walls shatter around Michelle as a spiral stairway nearly consumes her. Running for the outer stairway, she looks to the desk guarding police officers overtaking her with their own automatic weapons, only to be crushed by the second floor and beyond. Something is exploding, crashing beneath them. 

  The enemy tossed like Legos, some fall onto barricading squad cars, others into the river, leaving Barnes to dodge the rest mostly face-planting into the pavement. The destroyed arena falling into Exchange Street while Michelle is pushed toward him, thankful that she didn’t stay in City Hall.
A train caboose climbs over the ramp made by eleven other trains, drops to its side. The remaining police force converges on the hole left from its plunging escape as a man emerges, warn and haggard from turmoil and deprivation of nearly twenty years. The man smiles as if not having seen another human face in a generation. 

  “Russ! Russ, I’m here!” The haggard man is her brother.

  One wheel still spinning on the caboose, the thirty-nine-year-old man, missing patches of hair on his head, with an unkempt dirty face relaxes as if an ongoing nightmare is finally over. Michell’s brother vanishes just as she pushes through the crowd. Ghosting into the wind, he never sees her, leaving his sister and two identical cities with the same questions. Mirrored cities on the face of an infinitely sided coin burn.

Sergeant Victor Costello, now the city’s highest-ranking official in the United States Rochester stands on a pile of rocks. A tattered flag of Stars and red and white stripes grips a struggling pole after a terrorist attack not seen by the United States in over twenty years. Costello fields a few last questions from local and national media.

  “What measures does the police force intend to use to determine the terrorist’s intent.”

  “Whatever it takes.”

  In times of war, the law falls silent.

  “Sergeant, who is running the city?”

  “I am.”

James Drew is a local author and playwright.  U$A is a continuation of his previous story, Train Station.  He is planning on staging his play, The Sound of Silence, this winter at the Central Library in collaboration with GenX Productions and Drusba Theater.