Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Danny twisted the burning coal from the cigarette butt. Out of habit he reached for the pill bottle in his pocket in which he saved them: he recoiled a little at the unpleasant feel of the patchy, nylon fake fur of the raccoon coat he’d forgotten he was wearing. Disgusted, he slung the butt away. Lifting his gaze from it on the ground he saw them.

From the rise where he stood they approached from about the same angle and distance on his right as the big tent, the focus of their attention, on his left: a few dozen of them with stragglers still coming up over a hillock. One of them was carrying a bullhorn and wearing on their head what looked like a columnar bearskin hat.

He started walking slowly with unconscious wariness toward them. He had not yet seen these protesters in real life. He joined a group of performers standing nearby.

“Hey Danny.” He almost didn’t recognize Sheila the Slut out of makeup; she looked matronly in a housecoat, wearing old-fashioned curlers under a bonnet.

“Hi. Almost thought you were Alice, for a second there.” He grinned. Alice the Housewife was not among them at the moment. Sheila chuckled.

“I’ll take her gig any day.”

“What’s the big deal?” Danny asked, nodding at the demonstrators.

“They want us out of town.” Hank the Handyman interjected. For his part he looked little different from his character in costume or out; over time he had taken to wearing the same flannel and jeans from his act. His facial expression too had adapted gradually to his character, Danny thought, looking at him. Why he mused on it now he didn’t know, it could just be his perception, but at the moment it occurred to him that all the Show’s veterans seemed to take on physical traits and characteristics of their characters. He as well, no doubt; he cringed imperceptibly.

“They say we’re committing normalization. They filed against us with the local dice this morning.”

“The what?”

“Come on Danny, the Diversity Inclusion and Equity Committee. Haven’t you been paying attention?”

“I try to avoid it.”

“Anyway, if the Committee deems us normalizers we’re eighty-sixed from town in per-pe-too-ah-tee.” He drew the last syllables out comically, mimicking the grandiose speaking style of the colorful and combative director of DIEC.

“Good. I hate Cleveland.”

The protesters collected outside the temporary gate and chain-link fencing around the camp about thirty yards from Danny and the others, paying them no attention. Danny wondered, just short of worry, if the demonstrators might realize they’re performers. Would that enrage them? The protesters were directing their attention to the big tent, which was about fifty yards away, where work had stopped and the anonymous figures of the laborers stood or sat by in small clusters, watching.

As they drew nearer Danny saw the one with a bullhorn was a woman, and appeared to be their leader–there were no other clues as to who was in charge. Her hair–not a bearskin hat–was a cylindrical, impossibly tall afro that could not keep erect; it tilted in surrender to gravity and swayed limply away from the slightest turn of her head. He smiled, amused, as it bent gracefully in response to a light breeze.

Her skin was creme-colored with a tint of grey. Her features were sharp, a narrow head with pointed chin and nose; no hint of African ancestry there. He couldn’t help thinking she would be perfectly cast in as a colonial American Puritan in a skit the show used to perform, a failed routine, what with her sharp, severe Anglo features. Her windswept African locks–her pride, he could see–wouldn’t even necessarily have to go. He smiled again thinking how she might force a pointy puritan hat over her totemic pride, how it would emerge after formed into a point; they would tease her gently and she would tease her hair back into proper form. Under stage lights the skin tone would pass off just fine, and he was sure she was at the moment using a “darkening foundation”–he hated his acquired expertise in makeup–to veil the extent of her white parentage, as was common. But those features–permanently cast in a pained expression of which they were partly to blame–would not be escaped.

She attempted speaking through the bullhorn to no avail and, exasperated, called to someone in the midst of the now thickening crowd–Danny figured now there were around a hundred of them. Someone emerged, a white man it appeared, short and round; he took the bullhorn from her extended hand and began fiddling with it. The white man handed the bullhorn back to the Princess and slunk back into the mass.

She put the bullhorn to her lips and spoke, stopped, lowered it and turned it on, then began:

“Whitism is No Joke” she said, a little timidly.
 The crowd responded:
“Whitism is No Joke”

Then, with a little more confidence:
“Whitism will not be revived here”
“Whitism will not be revived here”

Then, the anger growing with the confidence in her tone:
“Normalization is Death”
“Normalization is Death”

Danny noticed a pattern, he thought: the darkest among them took up the front rows but didn’t seem to lead; a few pale Blacks–such as the Puritan Princess–seemed to be directing their actions. After them making up the bulk of the group were people of the brown eggshell color that constituted a plurality of Americans at the time. Then came the white people, or mostly white, chanting louder than the rest, out of greater enthusiasm or the necessity of being heard–they collected in the back. Ironically they were the more colorful section, as the darker ones all dressed in black red and grey while the whiter ones wore bright colored, slogan-bearing clothes or costumes. Just as Danny recognized a clown costume among them Hank said:

“Hey look that guy’s here for your job Danny!” The group laughed.

“Fuck you.” He responded good-naturedly.

They went on chanting for five minutes before lapsing into an enthusiastic cacophony of jeers and slogans, still not taking notice of Danny and the group of performers. They might as well be invisible there, he thought with a bit of relief.

Then the crowd parted up front. Through the breach came the protesters from the back, the whites, and they set to work on a section of the fence to topple it by rocking it back and forth, struggling to set a steady rhythm.

“Oh no, don’t do that.” Danny said in concern.

“Here come the drones.” Hank said dryly. “That was fast. They must have been waiting nearby.”

They appeared from over the hill, a diamond-formation of four on either flank of the crowd of protesters. Seeing the drones most of the group backed away from the fence, individually taking up “the posture”–the standard down-on-one knee posture, identifying oneself as harmless and compliant to a law enforcement drone, which everyone knew.
Those at the gate did not stop; they kept up their assault.

One of the drones broadcast over a loudspeaker:

“Desist. You are engaged in unlawful activity. Assume a non-confrontational posture. Desist, you are–“

Someone among the rabid dozen assailing the fence turned and threw something at the nearest drone. The group of performers groaned a little together, as if watching a bad turn in a sporting event.

“Oh no, don’t do that.” Danny said again.

The drones deployed their anti-riot lightweight percussion grenades, which weren’t seen until they flashed around the feet of the defiant protesters; they all collapsed in the rising smoke. The rest of the group, maintaining the posture, hissed and wailed. More drones appeared and laid down a red, pulsing laser grid pattern, the “shock fence”, all about them.

“Peaceful protest!” Someone shouted, and they took up the chant.

By the time the robotic paddy wagon arrived and opened its rollup garage-door of a maw, they had run out of energy. The protesters lined up to get on board as if ending a work shift. Those knocked out by the percussion grenades were lolling about and coming around, a few sitting up, a few still lifeless on the ground.

Danny saw the Puritan Princess, lining up to board the wagon. She looked back in his direction. She appeared to look him in the eye across the distance.

The robot paramedics, the “medicals”, appeared, two of them, attending to the remaining incapacitated protesters, moving them into the wagon one at a time.The event had taken little more than an hour, Danny figured.

“Well shit.” He said.

One thought on “Revival

  1. Pretty good. I’m re-reading parts of Norman Cohn’s, In Pursuit of the Millennium, and your story reminds me of various sects in northern Europe, basically the Brethren of the Free Spirit. They had Beghards (Gnostic initiates to the impersonal One) and Beguines (middle class women), heretics in late Medieval Europe. Rather colorful characters who were burnt. But, the same spirit seems alive today and your story captures it in a contemporary manner. Supposedly, Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights is based on the Brethren’s beliefs.


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