(Start Reading from the Beginning: The Dead Writer)
(Previously: Yakety Sax)
Five years after Paul Van Kleason’s death, the world was still reliably sociopathic and full of unpleasant soul-destroying surprises. Inflation had reached 23%. More people carried tasers on subways. There were more fights and more hate fucking. Rather than group together, people found knew ways to detest each other. The divorce rate grew to an all-time historical high. More Thanksgivings — at least among those who could still afford to buy a turkey — ended in vicious screaming matches. And while the more optimistic types found comfort in the many cat videos that continued to flourish online, living in America had become so dystopian that there were many who longed for the pandemic days under the Orange Tyrant. The new tyrant was more dangerous and more calculating. More marginalized groups were singled out. And the white people did their best to hold onto their power, but they were greatly outmatched by the fierce resistance of Gen Zers. They were the first generation to finally start beating the shit out of the greedy Wall Street men on the streets and the aging Gen Xers now in their fifties regretted that they had not had the foresight or the courage to viciously maim the right people.
Prisons were overcrowded. Drugs became more frequently shared and even more ubiquitously abused. More people worked from home because it was now clear that staying in your bedroom was safer than going into the office. Mass shootings had drastically increased and everybody knew a guy who knew a guy — and, by 2026, simply knew a guy — who had been hit with a stray bullet. The politicians continued to offer their thoughts and prayers, which continued to be a futile response in solving a systemic problem. And many of them were, at long last, voted out. One was even felled in Foggy Bottom by a neo-Trotsky gang that was running around the Beltway with an ordnance of hammers. Elon Musk had declared bankruptcy after killing Twitter with an increasingly deranged set of policies that made as much sense as the once popular practice of paying more than ten George Washingtons to have someone slather avocado on a piece of toast and most of the smarter people were now flourishing on Mastodon.
There were five hundred new subgenres of EDM, but literacy had declined and, as the literary Daves began to understand that nobody was reading their volumes anymore, two of them had committed suicide rather than face a bleak future of not being the center of attention. Nobody had the money to drive a car because oil prices were out of control and a third of all gas stations had been forced to shutter. You couldn’t keep track of all the new hate groups listed on the Southern Poverty Law Center website, which was filling up like a Rolodex jammed with too many three-by-five cards. There seemed to be some new paramilitary gang of Nazis every week. Some of the hate groups were even given television shows. Under the reckless eye of an aging Dean Baquet, the New York Times continued to publish “Nazis! They’re just like us!” articles that, depending upon your political allegiance, either entertained or infuriated you. A dozen yahoos who had lost their jobs at a chicken processing plant decided to burn down Fenway Park to express their dissatisfaction with the way that America was heading. The horror of seeing such a beautiful stadium reduced to an onyx cinder had radicalized half of the Sox fans against these extremists, causing an unlikely blue wave to hit the nation in 2026 and Boston to emerge as a promising counterpart to the increasingly baleful metropolis of New York. The 2026 blue wave had been enough to save the two houses from the fascists. Everyone was now calling the Republicans fascists and not always disparagingly. Tucker Carlson was now proudly announcing to his vastly growing audience that there was no shame in being a fascist and the white supremacist bile that poured from his vacuous mouth became more meme-sticky. If you tuned into CSPAN during the late 2020s, the screaming matches and brawls of Senators and the grunts of Representatives fucking in the cloakrooms had turned the American experiment into one of the most depraved reality TV shows imaginable. Decorum meant nothing anymore. America remained divided, but the liberals had become more hedonistic, especially after TikTok had removed its prohibition against adult content in a desperate bid to keep its rapidly fleeing user base, and the conservatives had become hardened fundamentalists, scolding the liberals for their free love, which was increasingly spilling into parks and fancy restaurants, but only in cities that preserved birth control and reproductive rights. If you were one of the poor bastards lived in an impoverished red state, then you busted out your ratty lawn chair from the garage and sat on the sidewalk and stared miserably into the hopeless horizon with a “fuck my life” look permanently etched on your face.
This was not an easy time to live in America, but it wasn’t without its fun.
There was an uptick in people walking around urban landscapes in stilts. Some of them wore clown suits, but it became a way of warning people about the violent gangs gathering in the distance. Unfortunately the stilt fad died out after a group of wokesters vociferously denounced their “stilt privilege.” How dare you stand seven feet above everyone else? Didn’t you check your height privilege? One stilt anarchist named Guido Osmond tried to push back against this, but the wokesters of the late 2020s were far different than who they were at the beginning of the decade and they chopped Guido down with axes as he was walking along Palisade Avenue on a sunny December day in Hoboken. “Thank you, climate change,” beamed Guido during a live stream. But the wokesters got him and he lost consciousness and woke up in a hospital with a concussion, a broken arm, and a $47,632 hospital bill. And the stilt movement fizzled out, although there was a disastrous attempt to revive it called Stilt Lives Matter.
If you were sitting in a French bistro on the Upper East Side during the late 2020s, it was not uncommon to see Tinder dates skip over the Netflix part or even the “Would you like to come back to my place?” part, openly spill their clothes onto the floor, and “chill” with thrusts and undulations that no longer shocked people. When the tech entrepreneur Norah Gogarty started the hit website EveryoneFucks.com, she had not expected so many active users to be so exhibitionistic. But after years of anxiety and escalating income inequality, people had simply stopped giving a damn. They became ever more determined to push the envelope. And they still angled for attention, which was now the only pathway to success. It was now difficult to find an apartment rental in New York for under $9,000/month. If you were “comfortably middle-class” during this bleak time in American history, it meant that you only had one or two roommates that you shared your bedroom with.
Many still wondered if they were living their lives to be noticed or noticing that their lives were unlived. And even the seemingly pristine minds grew louder and more cartoonish in their rhetoric. No one had expected Harry Styles to drop an album that was somehow more experimental and committed to noise than Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Metal Music. And then there were all the literary people who were increasingly going to seed. Emma Silverburg had partially funded her divorce through GoFundMe and, after three years of paying back her attorney and living like a pauper for the first time in twelve years, she was now seducing twentysomething writers from her cabin in Maine, a former dacha that she won in her divorce from prominent Russian intellectual Martin Slabak. These young hunks had all made the long bus trip up to Bangor and signed an agreement where they pledged to worship her — and only her — and not sleep with anyone else until the age of thirty. But she had neglected to verify the ages of all her carnal conquests and, when a fifteen-year-old boy and her mother sued her for statutory rape, she was dropped by her agent and her publisher and seemed to disappear into the forest, the home abandoned. One person on Mastodon reported that they had seen her begging for change outside of a Burger King. Brie Attenberg had decided to run for Congress out of boredom. Politics seemed more exciting than writing fiction. And while she lost, she started dating that sad sack Kyle Rittenhouse (practicing celibacy after facing online criticism about whether their relatoinship was age-appropriate: when the literary people turned against her, she began to notice that the Christian nuts would not only listen to her dull and relentless blathering, but that they would pay good money for her merch and that she could make more money this way than with her books) and she became a prominent talking head on right-wing television and she was somehow more obnoxious with her gun-toting and her gasbagging than Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene combined. She was arrested for her involvement in the May 22nd Freedom Uprising in which two Supreme Court Justices had been assassinated. And after the insurrectionists had marched once again into the Senate Chamber (no QAnon Shaman this time) and even some moderate Republicans conceded that yes, this extremism was not what they had signed on for.
Bill Flogaast’s wife had left him a year after the Van Kleason scenario. And he had resigned from the publishing house, settling in his heavily barricaded Rhode Island bunker and awaiting the inevitable zombie apocalypse, which he had also planned for. He was doing more pickling and trying to ignore the increasingly cartoonish news anchors screaming louder these days on his teevee. Subtlety had once been something that people understood, but Flogaast couldn’t believe that he lived in a world in which punching yourself in the face for online laughs was considered an understatement. He kept his television on because he was waiting for someone he knew — a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who had not reported what she had learned about Van Kleason five years before, but who his contacts had informed him was about to publish a barnbuster of an expose. Not even his old pals at the house could get him a galley.
“Coming up next — Fuck! Shit!”
The FCC’s relaxation of broadcasting standards in 2025 had caused most news anchors to become more profane on air. And nearly every newscast now had a studio audience to hoot and holler along. Some investigative stories were actually voted on by the audience. The people were no longer interested in hearing what they needed to hear, but what they didn’t really want to know. You had to subscribe to email newsletters these days to get a true understanding of how America was and, even then, you had to suffer through innumerable spelling mistakes. The innocent days in which Marjorie Taylor Greene had published “quacking” rather than “quaking” on Twitter were long gone.
The camera rushed fast through the studio audience and settled onto a familiar woman dressed in a red seamed flare skirt and a matching cutaway blazer.
“Everybody give it up for Ali Fucking Breslin!”
The applause was more thunderous than a throng of Roman circusgoers watching two gladiators murder each other while munching on freshly baked bread.
“I understand you have a new fucking book!” said the anchor.
“You actually believe that people are going to read a 500 page book?”
“Well, they’ll read this one.”
“Is there lots of sex in it?”
“How often did you use the word ‘fuck’?”
“You’ll find variations on ‘fuck’ on every page.”
“But,” said Ali, “that’s not why I wrote it.”
“What? What other reason is there to write books?”
“I think you’re going to be shocked by what I reported on. It all happened five years ago, but it’s one of the reasons why everything is so fucked up today.”
“Oh shit,” said Blogaast.
“It involves a writer by the name of Paul Van Kleason.”
“Fuck,” said Blogaast, who placed his half-pickled jar onto the basin and rushed into his study. He had some calls to make.
(Word count: 18,468/50,000)