Before starting Part 2, you can read Part 1 of DRI 5154 which was published here
Junior United States Senator of California, Kane Woodbridge, emerged into the golden sunshine of downtown San Diego from his chauffeur driven blacked out SUV. It had been an atypical day for him, certainly a slightly different one from his normal routine of shaking hands, kissing babies and passing laws. Woodbridge’s decorated career as a lawyer and politician had been a hugely successful and rewarding one. He had served as the 28th District Attorney of San Francisco for a period of 8 years and then as Attorney General of California for a further 4. Today had been momentous though, he had officially announced his campaign to run for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States in the 2024 election.
It had been far from the normal reaction. Woodbridge was the poster child for a future America which would no longer be split by blue or red. He was America’s golden boy. Democrats and Republicans alike gathered to cheer for this shining ray of hope for America. After years of prejudiced hate-filled campaigns and Presidential reigns, Woodbridge represented a shift for many Americans. A shift to an attitude of unity, of grabbing the two petulant American children by the scruff of their neck and telling them to get along or else. Let’s sort it out together. The public lapped it up.
Woodbridge was considered to be the top contender for the 2024 Democratic nomination for President. He had been coy to begin with, refusing to rule anything out but maintaining that he had a job to do for the people of California before he could think about anything else. He had published his memoirs soon after, detailing a life of dedication to seeing the good in people. His parents had raised him to see the value in everyone and he’d very much implemented those principals to the fullest as a young man, through college and into his professional career. The memoirs were a huge hit, a New York Times Bestseller which couldn’t be stocked fast enough.
So when he officially announced his candidacy, the country had rejoiced almost as one. In a country as large and fractured as the United States of America, that was literally unheard of. By the following night he had obliterated the record for the most money raised in the day following an announcement. Over 50,000 people had been there to see him announce his formal campaign in his hometown in Oakland, California. His support continued to meteorically rise day by day. There was no question as to who would be the next President of the United States, it was just a matter of time.
As he sat down behind his large desk in his US Senate office, he paused for a breath. This was something of a rarity for a man who felt like he hadn’t stopped to smell the roses since he had left college. Today though, those roses smelt like a beautiful summers day, the most beautiful of summer days. He got back up, closed his office blinds, shut the door, kicked off his Salvatore Ferragamo Italian calfskin shoes and threw his feet up on the desk in front of him. He closed his eyes and took a deep, revitalising breath.
And just as quickly as the moment had transpired, it was over. He was in his shower, the hot massaging water beating down on his aching shoulder and back muscles, relieving an ounce of the tension he’d built up over the last day, week, month, year, life. He was in his Tom Ford Navy Checked Wool Suit and in the back of the SUV again. This time he would address 2,000 wealthy potential campaign supporters, he would assure them of his policies, he would smile, shake hands and treat each and every person in that room like they were the only person there. Woodbridge had the wonderful ability to shine a light on whomever he was speaking with. It was very rare that a person would come away from personally speaking with Kane Woodbridge and not feel like the belle of the ball. Army veterans, football players, US Congressmen and women, musicians, foreign diplomats and leaders alike- they all talked about his charm, his genuity and his intellect.
As he stood behind the navy blue curtain by the side of the stage, he wiped his brow with a handkerchief and placed it back in his pocket. He smiled at the chief makeup artist who gave him one last touch up and thanked her politely. She giddily skipped away biting on her lip like a schoolgirl who had just spoke to her latest crush. He was introduced on stage to a rousing, flag-waving audience, they hung on his every word. He addressed his policies, he joked about the LA Rams who had a few representatives in the crowd, he discussed his childhood citing his parents as his heroes, the two people he said who had helped him to believe that everyone matters and that everyone deserves a chance to just be. An “everyone matters” chant began t0 buzz across the crowd, very quickly the whole audience were on their feet chanting it at him. He stood back to take it in and applauded them, indicating how much this all meant to him.
As he scanned the rapturous crowd, blowing kisses and patting his chest his gaze stopped on a solitary man stood at the back of the room. He didn’t clap. He wasn’t chanting or singing. He was just stood there, fixed on Woodbridge. He stood out for many reason. He was tall – 6 foot, at least, thought Woodbridge. Unlike his fellow audience members he was in a white muscle t shirt and combat trousers, the thought that this was strange attire for a formal event flicked across Woodbridge’s mind. He appraised the tattoo sleeves and shaved head. Despite his appearance, the main reason that this man stood out from the rest of the crowd was the M24 Sniper Weapon System he had just removed from the black briefcase which lay discarded at his boots. Woodbridge strangely pondered if he was the only one who could see this man. Was he a figment of his overly worked imagination? A demon from the back of his mind here to remind him to get some more sleep and drink less coffee?
The crowd continued their ovation, during this time Woodbridge nonchalantly waved. Smiling and acknowledging the praise. But he couldn’t take his gaze away from the man at the back of the room. He considered addressing him personally but feared the ridicule he would receive if this was in fact a figment of his imagination. However, he had no choice when the man raised the rifle to his shoulder though. “NOOOO!!” screamed out Woodbridge. The crowd, unsure of what this part of the performance was, followed his line of vision. Gasps and screams erupted, people threw themselves from their chairs to the floor or trampled their way towards any door which could conceivably represent an exit.
Only a matter of seconds had passed from the point that Reynolds had lifted the rifle to his shoulder to the point at which Woodbridge’s vision had faded and his brain matter had decorated the podium and stage. But it was in those tiny few seconds that the future of America had shifted on a dime and history had been changed forever. Or so Reynolds, Kellerman, Pendergast and Watson hoped.
Scarville, Iowa has a creepy, Disney villain-themed, name. Unfortunately the truth to it is less extravagant than the name suggests. The town is named after Ole Scar, a local landowner in the 1800’s. It’s a small, old fashioned town where everyone knows everyone and local businesses depend on their customers for survival. The name of the town might be less than remarkable, but the incidents which occur within this quiet, isolated American town could be described as nothing short of terrifying.
“Hey Annieeeeeee, want to come an adventure?!” The cheeky face of Perry “Pop” Johnson stuck his head in through the window of Annie Hardy’s front porch. He swivelled his head around to see if anyone was around. “I’ve told you before Perry Johnson, the next time you appear through that porch window will be the last time, you done made me spill my coffee!” Janice Porter, Annie’s mothers’ live-in carer, chuckled as she laboured her way through to her favourite chair in the weathered looking sitting room, before she sat down she turned and said “Annie’s upstairs, go on up and see her son”.
Pop dashed in through the front door and flew up the stairs, taking them two at a time, he slammed against Annie’s closed bedroom door, landing face down on her carpet. “Ouch” he muttered. He picked himself up and looked around the empty room. “Annie?” he peered out her bedroom door and tiptoed along the dark corridor, standing for a while to regard the only other closed door upstairs. “Annie?” he inquired, quietly. He placed a tentative hand on the door knob and began to turn, just as he did the door flew open and Annie slipped out of the room into the hall. She made a “shhh” noise with her finger to her lips and they walked back to her bedroom and closed the door. “Sorry” said Pop “Janice said you were up here, I just thought…” . “It’s OK” said Annie, her back was turned to him as she opened her double-doored wooden wardrobe and threw on a coat. “How’s your mom?” he asked. “Fine” was all she could muster. She turned, keeping her awkward gaze on the bedroom carpet. Just as quick as the awkward encounter had started, it ended. “I’ve found something crazy cool” enthused Pop.
Although having just turned 15, Pop looked around 12. He was short for his age and his baby face didn’t do him any favours at making up for it. His mother always told him he’d welcome it when he hit her age but he had never understood.
“OK” said Annie. She was quiet but, as was often the case, Pop’s enthusiasm for whatever new idea was that day warmed her up. Although some of the teenagers in Scarville thought of him as childlike, Annie enjoyed the distraction his little schemes and adventures brought her. “Where are we going then?” she asked him. His excitement radiated throughout the room, he was speaking so fast he was incomprehensible but she got the gist. “…shediedandsomekidswereatherhouseandfoundthismirrorand….” “Cool”, she said “lets go”.
They said their goodbyes to Janice and promised to be back for dinner. They made their way through the football-pitch-sized fields of corn which were adjacent to the back of Annie’s garden and stopped at the precipice of the old railway line. “How much farther?” she asked him. “Only over the line and then through the tree’s, that’s where the house is” he said. He was still in a state of complete excitement.
He’d explained to her as they were walking that he’d been out for one of his “recce’s” and had come across old Mrs Samson’s abandoned house. When he was there he’d met two older kids who had told him that they’d been checking over the house for anything ‘cool’. “They had backpacks of it, mainly old jewellery and stuff though” he’d said. Annie had thought this was pretty gross but Pop didn’t seem to notice as he was bubbling over with his excitement to tell her the next part. The two kids had told him that in the loft of Mrs Samson’s house they’d found a mirror and when you stood in front of it, it showed you your biggest fear. “Bullshit” she’d laughed. “They were having you on Pop! There’s probably nothing but rats and mice in the loft, maybe some dusty china that was kept for a special occasion that never came.” But he’d protested, the two kids had told him what they’d seen. “The first guy, Marlon, he’d saw himself standing on top of a high rise building, a huge gust of wind had hit him and he’d fallen from the top. He said he could feeeeel the cold air as he was hurtling to the pavement Annie.” Pop’s eyes bulged and Annie was slightly concerned they might actually fall out his head. She laughed again. “Pop, you ever wonder why it is that you end up in these sort of weird situations with people telling you odd things that have happened to you?” “NOPE” he replied marching with purpose onwards to the abandoned house. “So, the other guy, he’d saw himself trapped in a cage with massive snakes, he said he could feel it biting him!! Can you believe that?!” The two boys had explained how they had had to pull each other away from the mirror to stop the terrifying ordeal continuing. “Right, sure” said Annie sarcastically. She rolled her eyes at Pop but he was too caught up in his own thoughts to notice.
They finally arrived in front of the old house. They stood together looking at the front door, which rested open. The house sat alone in front of the the old commuting road which linked Scarville to the rest of American civilization. “Right, let’s go find this magic mirror” snarked Annie. She was willing the sarcasm to dominate the fear creeping over her back and crawling into her ear. She’d thought this was just another one of Pop’s usual silly adventures, something to do on a boring Sunday afternoon. But when she saw the house sat on it’s own in the middle of nowhere, crooked old front door sat open almost beckoning them in, something felt a little off to her.
They made their way in through the front porch and into a dark creaking hall. The wooden walls were bare and a small table with an old looking telephone next to it lay knocked over on the floor. “Through here” whispered Pop. His excitement had been usurped by fear and in the dark of the hall his pale complexion looked ghostly.
They came to a set of wooden, makeshift stairs, 10 or so high which disappeared off into a pitch black square hole in the ceiling. Pop turned to Annie, half smiling, half terrified and nodded his head. They both clambered up, one after another into a dusty, murky loft. Pop pulled out a small torch which illuminated the immediate foreground. Cobwebs and dust dominated their vision. They held hands, creeping into the darkness. Just as Annie was about to declare it was time to abort this particular adventure, she bumped into the back of Pop who had stopped dead in front of her. “Look” he whispered. He shone his torch in front of them, lighting up a giant mirror. It must have stood 7 foot tall and was facing away from them at a 90 degree angle. “Holy shit” Annie whispered. Pop began to nervously laugh.
They had decided that if they were going to do this, that they needed a plan. Sat on the dark, dingy floor of the loft, whispering as they conspired, they had agreed that if either of them looked like they were in danger, that the other would grab them and pull them from in front of the mirror. As a failsafe they had agreed that if they couldn’t pull them away for whatever reason (Pop had offered the example of him being seduced by a female Vampire who looked like Angelina Jolie) then they would smash the mirror using a brick they had found lying on the floor.
“OK, here goes” said Pop. His voice shook nervously. He left go of Annie’s hand and walked to face the giant mirror. For the first few seconds he stood staring, his face unchanged staring deep into it, as if he were looking way into the distance. Annie, feeling as though she were sat alone on a deserted island, sat holding her breath only a few feet away. She couldn’t take her eyes off him. Just then, Pop’s face contorted in horror, he let out an ice tingling shriek, flicking at his face as though he’d just disturbed a bee hive. He began to run on the spot, looking over his shoulder at nothing. He screamed. “GET THEM OFF ME, JESUS CHRIST, GET THEM OFF” he continued to run on the spot, picking up his pace. It looked to Annie as if he was running flat out but uncannily he stayed on the spot, thumping on the wooden floor beneath him. “ANNIE!!” he screamed “PULL ME OUT, IT’S COMING!!” Annie was frozen to the spot, she tried to speak but her voice caught at the back of her throat. Regaining some control over her body, she slowly approach Pop and just as he screamed “NOOOOOOOO” and covered his hands over his head she pushed him as hard as she could. He thudded to the floor out of the mirror’s vision and the room fell silent.
“Pop?” asked Annie, in whispered tones. He groaned as he pulled himself to his feet. “I really hate spiders Annie” he said, fixing her with the most serious look Annie thought she had ever seen from him. “Spiders?” she asked. “They were all over me and this massive one was chasing after me, it was 8 feet tall with gigantic fangs!!!” his haunted face burst into an electric smile and he shook with elated laughter. It echoed all around them. “That was AWESOME” he shouted to the sky. Annie realised that her whole body was sore, she had been rigid with fear. As Pop excitedly recounted the giant spider chasing him through a jungle, his face and body covered with them, all shapes and colours, she exhaled and relaxed slightly. “That sounds horrible Pop, how can you even be laughing at that?” she asked him. He was giddy “Honestly Annie, it was awesome, really. Come on, I can’t believe this thing works!!” She shook her head and proposed they leave, they’d tried it, it had worked and now it was time to go, she should get back for dinner. Pop was having none of it. “Come on Annie, it’s your turn. It’s not that bad at all and we can end it any time, I’ll either push you or use the brick.” He’d won her round. “OK” she conceded “but please, push me away from it as soon as I say” He held his hand to his head and sarcastically saluted her “aye, aye captain”. She took a deep breath, turned her body and stood to face in front of the giant mirror.
After a few seconds of peering into the mirror, staring at her own reflection her vision became water-like, as if looking into a whirlpool, she felt dizzy as the mirror started to swirl round and round. She blacked out and after a few seconds she slowly opened her eyes. She was lying on her back in a brightly lit room. She thought she was in bed which was confusing. Must have been a dream, she rationalised. Something niggled away at her hand, she grabbed at it to feel an IV tube snaking it’s way beyond the side of the bed, looking down she could see she was wearing old looking traditional pyjamas. “Mom?” said a voice. She looked up to see four adults sat around the bed, two men and two women. They felt familiar to her but she couldn’t place them. “Who are you?” she asked, she jerked up and sat facing them “Where am I?!” “Mom, it’s me, Toby” said the oldest looking man, he took her hand and stroked it. “We’re in the hospital remember? You’ve been here for 3 years now Mom, it’s Mothers Day so we thought it’d be nice to have lunch with you.” She was panicking now. “I don’t like this Pop” she screamed. “NOOOOO!! POP!!!” I DON’T LIKE THIS!! NOT LIKE THIS” “There she goes again” sneered the other man “always talking about goddamn Pop, who even is he?” he was shaking his head and looking at the others around the bed. “No-one knows” said one of the women “the nurses told me that she shouts for him at the same time every day, something about pulling her away.” Annie felt faint and thought she was going to pass out, she screamed at the top of her lungs “POP!!! SMASH IT!!! SMASH IT NOW, POP!!”
Pop, stood in the dark loft, had watched this whole ordeal unfold. He had watched her lie down in front of the mirror, pull out her hand involuntarily as if someone else was holding it and he’d watch her scream in horror, shouting his name over and over. He had tried to push her but every time he got next to the mirror he saw himself with a spider on his face and had gotten scared. As she began to scream for him to smash it, he about turned and made for the brick. He picked it up and with all his might he threw it as hard as he could at the mirror.
The four adults were attempting to sooth her as she spiralled further and further into a terrored panic. Just then, a huge crash of glass rang out in the hospital ward and all four adults jumped in fright. “Sorry everyone” said a nurse as she slumped to her knees and began to pick up large shards of the test tubes she had dropped. “POP?!” shouted out Annie. “POP!!! ANSWER ME!!!” The four adults shook their head and slouched back down into their chairs. “man this is hard” said one of the men. “I know” said one of the women “But she looked after Grandma when she had the same, it’s just something we need to do”. Annie was crying, blubbering for Pop over and over through shallow breaths. “Mom, we’re going to go now” said the oldest man “I’ll come by next week” Annie looked up, feeling caged in a body she couldn’t escape. “He said he would smash it” she repeated to them, over and over. “love you Mom”. They all took turns to give her a kiss on the cheek or cuddle and turned to leave.
As they were walking to the ward entrance she screamed at them with all her might. “HEY!!!!” they all turned, their faces stunned at the outburst. “Where’s Pop?” she whispered “we agreed he would smash it.” Their heads all dropped as one and they turned away towards the entrance.
“He’s had an illustrious and decorated career. Enjoying stints with Kerrang, NME and Mixmag. He was senior editor at Metal Hammer Magazine for many years and mostly recently he’s occupied the same position with us. Congratulations on a wonderful career, Jamie, we’re really going to miss you. Friends and family, please raise your glasses to a wonderful journalist and an even better man, here’s to Jamie.”
I was never a fan of these sort of things but this was momentous, I thought I may as well savour it. Anyway, it was just a nice little gathering – my wife, kids, family and colleagues new and old. It was great to catch up with some of the old faces from the past. I hopped up onto the stage of the Bowling Club function room and took the microphone from Catherine, my old boss.
“Wow, thanks Catherine and thanks everyone for coming” I started. It was lovely to look out at all the beaming faces. “As you all know, I’m not great with words….” that got a few chuckles “..so I’ll keep this short and to the point. I love music. I could not live without it. It has the ability to take you on a journey back in time, to plop you back in your teenage bedroom dreaming of your first kiss or transport you across the world to a sweaty beer hall in Sweden full of hulking, head-banging Vikings….” even more laughs “….so to have been able to write about it for the last 35 years has been such a privilege. I want to thank everyone that’s joined me along the way, I love you all, thanks!”
I wiped the trickling tears from my cheeks and took in the applause of the room. My wife, Grace, was in bits, bless her. This was perfect, a perfect way to go out, I thought. Just as I was about to hop off the stage, my old buddy Mike Hargreaves shouted out “any regrets mate?!” he chuckled in a jokey manner. His wife, Janet, elbowed him, hard in the ribs and scowled. “What?!” he protested to those round about him, scowling at him as well. “No, no, no, no, it’s OK Janet, I don’t mind.” Addressing the crowd again I said “I don’t have many regrets, I’ve had an amazing career. Maybe I only have the one though.” I noticed a few groans and matters from the crowd but didn’t think anything of it.
“Regret is maybe too strong a word though. You know, if I inspired him to write that song, then I’m happy about that. It’s a fantastic, successful song. It’s just the sentiment, you know? I’ve been around bands all my life. I’ve had many a pint with Robert Plant, a few wild nights with Ozzy and done a fair few other things with Tommy Lee” This one got a good few laughs, phew I thought, got them back onside. “But, we really clicked. With the exception of Grace I don’t really think I’ve ever been so close to someone. That year that I travelled with them round the world was the best year of my life. By the first month we’d forgotten I was even there working. We did everything together; we shared breakfast chatting about music, morning walks discovering whatever city we’d landed in, sat sharing coffee chatting about our childhoods. I loved that man, I loved him and I know he felt the same. How could he say he wanted to SHOOT ME?!” I was aware I was now shouting but I couldn’t control my voice. “I wanted that tour to go on forever but I had a job to do. When I got back I needed to write something about it. I couldn’t “tell it like it really” was. I’d have lost EVERYTHING!! So, to answer your question Mike, yes I do have bloody regrets and they all involve that bastard Kelly Jones, he ruined my bloody life!!”
I looked out at the desolate faces, heads shaking, muttering to each other, some looking at me with utter disdain. My wife’s whole body seemed to be convulsing as she sobbed into my daughters shoulder. “Anyway…” I said, “who’s for cake?”
“Be careful what you wish for, you might just get it” – Unknown
Years ago our former President had wanted to build a wall to resolve the “crimewave” that was coming over the border from Mexico. The guy even tried to get the Mexican Government to pay for the damn thing. Well, like the old saying goes “be careful what you wish for, you might just get it”. Under Trump, the building of the wall had started. Under President Harris, the rest of the world finished the job.
In scenarios like this you often hear different rumours and takes on how the end of the world began. Not here. With 24/7 TV coverage and the hive mind of social media broadcasting every little human movement in real time, we all knew how it started. The whole world did. It started with him, Harris. It was always going to start with Harris. After Trump I thought that things would turn on it’s head, I thought we’d get our feet firmly planted on the ground as a nation and get back to a ‘traditional’ Presidency. I was wrong. So wrong. The campaigns were torturous. The candidates were former pop stars, movie stars and social media ‘influencers’, whatever they were. Career driven professionals, lifelong philanthropists and storied war heroes were now scoffed at and ridiculed. Apparently America no longer cared for values and policies, you know, the essentials when running one of the largest nations on earth. Instead the currency these days was online ‘clapbacks’, fashion sense, chat show appearances and social media followers. The Presidency had become a damn recording contract, $50k or whatever else reality show ‘winners’ walked away with. Harris took things to another level.
Daunte Harris was a former child rapper (Lil Vanilla), singer, author (“Lil V’s Guide to Life” was a New York Times Bestseller) , fashion designer and tequila company owner. His policies? he only had one: “Peace, Love and Positivity”. #PLP trended on twitter daily, weekly, monthly and annually ever since his campaign had begun. The irony of his message was that this man essentially battle rapped his way to the White House, his team digging up every little misstep and controversy his opponents had ever made. He of course used this to publicly decimate them one by one. America ate it up, we love a scandal. Some gossip to feel like we’re getting a peek behind the curtain. Harris shovelled scandal after scandal into one giant online heap and set it alight.
Once he got into the White House “Peace, Love and Positivity” became hard to maintain on a daily basis when the majority of the world despised the country you’re running. The economic structure of the country was in the toilet, 65% of the population was overweight and with the introduction of AI to the majority of manual jobs, unemployment rates were the highest they’d ever been. That’s without mentioning the damn climate. People were literally cooking on the street on a weekly basis.
In what I can only imagine was his way of boosting morale, our esteemed leader’s social team had begun posting about a very special scheduled broadcast. These broadcasts had become a norm for the Harris administration since his Presidency had begun, they were streamed live automatically to any device with a screen and an internet connection. I wasn’t the only one who had become tired very quickly of these broadcasts which mainly spewed faux positivity or even worse became thinly veiled advertisements for the First Lady’s latest venture into fashion or the fragrance market or even worse a promotion for the First Dog’s Instagram page (5 million followers and counting). This broadcast, we were told, was to be a major groundbreaking event. I’d normally have found myself a good paint to watch dry during these broadcasts but I have to admit, even I was intrigued by this.
With a small sense of apprehension and a large spoonful of skepticism I hopped onto my exercise bike and waited for my television to jump into life. After cycling a few kilometres, my TV screen jumped into life with the usual graphic:
THIS IS A PRESIDENT HARRIS PRODUCTION. PEACE, LOVE AND POSITIVITY TO YOU ALL. #PLP2025
The graphic faded out into a beautiful blue sky, not a cloud was present, just pure blue tranquility. The familiar drums and piano keys of Empire State of Mind by Jay-Z bounced into life as the camera snapped down, spinning slowly to show a beautiful panoramic shot of the New York City skyline. This seemed to be being filmed from the very top of the Empire State Building. The camera panned right across the Hudson River, zooming into the Statue of Liberty. I admitted to myself that it looked amazing, as with all of Harris’ productions, the guy knew style. Just as Alicia Keys hit the crescendo on the chorus the camera peeled back to the top of the Empire State Building to reveal Harris, arms wide open, a movie star smile aimed directly at the camera. With his shaved head, shades, open necked white shirt and tattoo sleeves you would be forgiven for thinking you were watching a music video or movie trailer. His tanned skin glistened in the sunlight. He was stood alone next to a square glass structure. The glass structure looked a bit like an old telephone booth, almost 6 foot high with the Presidential Crest emblazoned across it. The glass was clouded, no doubt to arise interest from his adoring public.
“What’s up my fellow Americans!” he announced. “Today, you join me in the birthplace of my hero, a true inspiration of mine: Shawn Carter, otherwise known as the rapper, Jay-Z. I have some major groundbreaking news to share with you my fellow countrymen and I thought to myself, where better to unveil it than in the city that never sleeps.” He smirked to himself, like he was the only one in on a private joke he was keeping from the nation. He moved to the front of the phone booth. “As you know, I preach Peace, Love and Positivity wherever I go. I believe it’s the key to us as a human race finding our purpose. But, just like I found out when I entered the music business as an enthusiastic 13 year old, not everyone welcomes a new fresh outlook on life. When I dropped my debut album “Not 2 Young to DM” all the top rappers in the game laughed at me. They had fun dissing me, they said I was their son – that they’d fathered my whole style and that I’d be forgotten in months. What happened? oh yeah, that’s right, I broke every single streaming record there was. When I unveiled my “Albuquerque Tequila” business the industry laughed. They called it corny, a rip off, they said it tasted like pisswater.” He raised a small shot glass , toasting to himself and, as he downed the drink, proclaimed “Well who’s laughing now?” He laughed theatrically, smashing the shot glass on the ground and, opening his arms out wide, he looked to the sky and screamed “I’m literally on top of the world!”
In an instant he fixed his gaze back on the camera “I’ve encountered unprovoked aggression and unfair judgement from world leaders wherever I’ve went since I started this project…” Wait a minute, I thought, did he just call the fucking Presidency a project? like it’s a damn concept album or a bit part in a movie? Jesus. “….just because I’m an American. A successful American leader. These attitudes have lead me to today’s major announcement. For the last few months I’ve been meeting with the nations top scientists and weaponry experts. The objective I set was to develop a deterrent for anyone, ANYONE, who will even consider trying to take away from us our peace, our love and our positivity. I want my countrymen to live a relaxed and secure life with no concerns about your future….” I scoffed. This guy was unbelievable, he could sell snow to the eskimos. . “…now we have that deterrent.”
By this time I’d stopped pedalling the bike and was now firmly fixed on the screen. Icy trickles of anxiety slithered up through my stomach and crept into the back of my throat. Where on earth was this going?
He disappeared off screen for a moment, reappearing with his smug smile beaming into the camera. He was pulling along a heavily chained up person by their shackled hands. The person shuffled along, their legs bound together by chains. Their face was hidden by a black bag which had been taped over their head.
“This man” said Harris, now with a fire and passion in his eyes, “is an enemy of this country. This man is a murderous, despicable, cowardly criminal who has broken law after law, harming good American men, women and children. This man will today pay his debt to you and I by helping me to demonstrate what will happen to those who want to act on their negative feelings about the United States of America. He moved over to the clouded glass door, slowly opened the door and pulled out a large syringe, the contents of which were a yellowy green colour. He grabbed the man by his chained up hands, raising the syringe to the sky. The song “Takeover” by Jay-Z clapped through the speakers. Staring into the camera Harris expertly rapped along. It was pure theatre.
” We bring knives to a fistfight and kill your drama, we kill you muthafuckin ants with a sledgehammer”
With that, he injected the contents of the syringe into the mans arm. The music cut to silence. Harris let the man go and, what seemed like in slow motion, he fell to the ground like a chopped down tree, landing face down with a thud.
The camera panned in on the slumped, seemingly lifeless body. After a few seconds it started to shake uncontrollably. The whole body was flopping around on the ground like a newly caught fish, it might have been comical had it not been so damn frightening. The exposed areas of the mans skin turned a putrid shade of grey. Eventually the shaking stopped. Harris, now in picture, looked at the camera. As he opened his mouth to say something the body sat bolt upright. Harris began stuttering, trying to berate someone behind the camera “Hey…hey, asshole!! You! yeah, you! You said he would disintegrate! Cut the fucking feed, cut the feed!!” He looked panicked. There was a commotion going on behind the camera with shouting and swearing overheard, the camera jostled and shook as though the cameraman was unsure whether to keep filming or not. Just in the corner of the screen you could see the body begin to pick itself up off the floor, very slowly. It began advancing on Harris. More shouting, screaming erupted and then the deafening undeniable sound of a firearm being discharged rang out. The feed cut immediately followed by some muzak plinkety plonking over a black screen.
I leaned over and grabbed at my glasses sitting on my bedside table. The facial recognition automatically logged into my twitter account and I began using the motion-detecting hands-free lenses to scroll through my feed. The reactions were polarised. There were the usuals “WTF’s” and “holy shit”s mixed in with political opponents accusing Harris of using tax payers money to promote a forthcoming horror movie. Needless to say people were confused. The few journalists I followed could only merely speculate about what had transpired, however when I looked at the trending topics all I saw was one word:
I laughed, yeah right. Of all the things it could be, that would be bottom of my list behind the apocalypse and the Spice Girls reforming for their 800th tour. I winked my right eye onto the trending topic which opened up a new screen on my lenses with millions upon millions of posts. As I scrolled and scrolled through the mountains of them I noticed that a video file was increasingly being tweeted and retweeted over and over. It had no subject line, just a video file attached to a blank tweet. I blinked on one of the posts and waited for it to buffer, a fifteen second clip popped up in my lenses. I watched it. Then I watched it again. And again. It showed a mans feet shaking on the same ground where Harris had been stood, that much was clear. Another man seemed to be crouched over the top of him. As the crouched man pulled away from the body on the floor, it turned towards the camera. The face was crooked and grey but more obvious and much more alarming than that was the deep scarlett mask of blood he wore. He turned methodically and then suddenly lunged at the camera. That horrible trickle of anxiety I had felt before became a thunderclap which began in my feet and rose to hit my lungs like a cricket bat. My heart rate flew. I wanted to run, it didn’t matter where, I just wanted to run. I threw my glasses across the room, jumped down from the bike and paced my flat. There was no doubt about it, that blooded thing in the video clip was President Harris.
These events take place in 2022, following a positive vote for Scottish Independence. Having left the UK, Scotland is now operating it’s third successful year as an independent country in spite of Westminster’s scare-mongering.
After the now famous “Pinkie Cleugh” riots which followed the vote, the British Prime Minister, Morris Johnstone, introduced UK Martial Law. The subsequent Parliamentary debate saw Westminster consider many options on how to bring peace back to the country. Following a fly-in visit and speech from John Stanford, leader of the New Founding Fathers of the United States of America, the Houses of Parliament marginally voted in favour of introducing an annual “Catharsis”. The Catharsis was considered to be the UK’s answer to the US Purge, where all criminal activity, with the exception of murder, was legal for 12 hours one night a year. It was argued that this would allow UK citizens (now Northern Ireland, Wales and England) to release their frustrations with everyday life in a healthy, cathartic way.
Despite the clamours from some minority groups, Scotland did not follow suit leaving it exempt from the annual Catharsis. The Scottish Army patrolled the border, with an agreement made between Scotland and the UK that anyone attempting to gain entry past Hadrian’s Wall after the commencement of the Catharsis would be, according to the Cross-Border Act (Scotland) Act 2020, “considered a mortal enemy of Scotland” and legally could be met with “extraordinary punishment”.
The sweating, red-faced official in the high-vis vest was visibly stressed and was speaking in double time. “I’m sorry sir” he blurted “I do understand, but it’s affecting more than just you I’m afraid. No trains have come North all day.”
“So that’s it then?” I said back to him. “That’s me stuck is it?”
“No, of course not” he laughed, struggling to convince himself, “we’re working hard to ensure there’s a minibus in place to take you back to Scotland before the curfew.”
I thanked him for his help and went and grabbed a coffee. I’ve never been a believer in fate but this was bloody typical. Stuck in Lancaster for the bloody Catharsis whilst these crazy English fuckers take out their daily frustrations on the closest poor bugger who gets in their way. I’m sure when they hear my Scottish accent they’ll not hold it against me, nope, course not.
Two events had taken place to leave me in this absolute worst-case-scenario. Firstly, after a really busy period I’d been on leave from work, having myself a week off to chill out, play Xbox and get reacquainted with sleeping beyond 6am. My boss had decided in my absence that I was in dire need of a “development opportunity”. That opportunity was, of course, a trip to Lancaster the day of the Catharsis to speak to a bunch of UK Civil Servants about my experiences working in the Scottish Parliament post-Independence. I’d been chuffed to read that email when I sat down at my laptop on my first morning back. Bastard. Secondly, some fud had rattled his Mini Cooper into a telegraph pole in Carlisle whilst checking his Facebook likes and had managed to take down all train services North of the Border, rendering Virgin trains and the Transpennine Express completely useless.
So at 4pm, I sat at Lancaster train station drinking a large latte, munching a Jaffa Cake and deliberating how I was going to get home. With 4 hours until the town shut down I was beginning to wonder if I couldn’t get home, where was I going to stay to avoid getting the shit legally kicked out me?!
The tannoy system was providing me with some really useful quarterly updates that I was essentially fucked. 6pm and went and I was fairly sure that this Minibus chat had just been a ploy to make sure all the Scots didn’t react hysterically. Of course there wasn’t actually any other fucker daft enough to even think about planning a return trip down South the same day of the Catharsis, so I was the lone Scottish idiot left to fend for himself. Fuckin development opportunity indeed.
By 6.30 I decided I needed to buckle in and prepare for the worst. I took off in search of a hotel. As I walked out past the doors the sweaty red-face gave me what I’m sure he thought was a sympathetic acknowledgement but it was more of a “sorry you’re gonna get your face rearranged” smile. It was starting to get dark and the streets were already really quiet. All the shops had their shutters down and there was pretty much no-one going about. It was eerie as fuck. I felt like Cillian Murphy in 28 Days Later wandering about London with no-one to be seen. By 7pm after a panicked walk along the cobbled streets I passed four different B&B’s all in a row that had the same “Closed for Catharsis” sign. Having tried to speak to the first three proprietors, I gave up having the same conversation with the fourth. There were no hotel chains in the town and things were looking pretty dire. I couldn’t even hole up in a 24 hour supermarket or garage. The hatches were well and truly battened down for Catharsis. At 7.45 I was sat in a park at the other end of the town when my phone chimed:
“Customer J Brown, a Minibus is Scheduled at Lancaster Train Station. 9pm. Press 1 to Book a Seat.”
I hadn’t replied to a text faster. I thumbed in 1 immediately. My phone chimed again instantly:
“Thank You for Your Booking. Departure is Scheduled for 9pm. Lancaster Train Station.”
OK! So that was it then. I had an hour to make my way back along to the station – probably a half hour swift walk – then I’d be back in Edinburgh in a few hours time. Thank fuck! As I contemplated my next move I was suddenly paralysed with sheer panic. What sounded like an air raid siren cut through the cold, dark night completely overwhelming my senses. For a second I was completely discombobulated, then I realised, it was 8pm. Catharsis was underway. Fuck.
I can remember sitting watching my first purge when I was younger. Me and my older brother had been looking forward to it for weeks. “Purge night, 10 days” we’d text each other countdowns like it was the Scottish Cup Final. When the night arrived we were set up with pizza, popcorn, juice, ice cream – all the essentials. We got logged onto our favourite Youtubers feed and sat back to watch the carnage. Carnage, is exactly what it was. I don’t know what it is about a young mind that is so attracted to watching something they know they shouldn’t be. This was madness. Chainsaws, people being set on fire, groups of hulking guys wearing crazy masks, souped up muscle cars running people down. Absolute madness. It was exactly what we thought it would be. But that was then. As you grow older you realise that this isn’t some entertainment show. You’re not watching the pizzazz of the Superbowl. This was real life, this was people literally being murdered in the street for your entertainment. It was morally corrupt and an absolute disease. Then we got independence and the Catharsis was dreamed up. Johnstone. What an absolute tool. In what world would you think that giving people a free pass to run riot and go mental for one night is going to further society? They only help themselves that lot. Jobs for the boys as usual. Catharsis Clean Up Services all across the UK funded by Downing Street and if it just so happens to rid the population of some of the burden on the health and welfare system in the process then that’ll be jolly good old chap. Wankers.
I made my way to the gates of the park in the pitch darkness. I knew which way I’d come and knew the town well enough to know the best way back up to the train station. I walked with a purpose but really didn’t want to attract any sort of attention, if there just so happened to be any young Lancastrians out for a stroll. Of course, as I got to the gates and out onto the dimly lit street I spied two men wandering down the street maybe 100 metres away, walking away from me. I cursed my luck and kept to the darkest parts of the streets, trying to maintain a quiet, but good pace.
I should make clear now that I am not a fighter. With the exception of primary school, when I swung Derek Bell round and round by his backpack into that wall, I don’t think I’ve ever been in a fight and if I ever was you could probably measure my confidence by the volume of urine running down my legs. I was hoping if it came to it, the fabled ‘fight or flight’ mode might take over or even better I would make like Bradley Cooper’s character in Limitless and unlock something in my brain from all the UFC I’d watched in my 20’s – of course I’d forgotten to bring my NZT pills with me, silly me.
As I got closer I could see that the two men had black walking sticks and Clockwork Orange masks on. Wonderful. They were swinging them round and round in their hands and walking arm in arm. To be honest I thought the extent of the Catharsis would be a bunch of chavs kicking wing mirrors of off cars, this was a bit too American for my liking. As I moved to within 10 metres of them but on the opposite side of the road I didn’t take my eyes off them. This felt like a great idea until I stumbled over a random can of juice lying on the pavement. Both of the Malcolm McDowell’s spun round on a 10 pence piece and ran towards me. At that point I did the manliest thing I could think of. I ran. Like fuck.
Running in work shoes isn’t an Olympic sport (yet) but if it was and the Scottish running in work shoes coaching team were watching Lancaster CCTV that night, I’d be living a different life right now. As it was, I managed to outpace my new friends, despite them screaming in unison “left two three, right two three” and “WON’T YOU COME AND WALTZ?!” as they ran after me. These guys really seemed to like A Clockwork Orange. Fair play I suppose, it’s better than watching Geordie Shore Season 16. They gave up after what seemed like a marathon but was apparently only about 5 minutes. I heard glass smashing and a car alarm blaring as, thankfully, it seemed they had decided to take out their frustrations elsewhere.
Sweating my ass off with my feet pulsing in agony (maybe the Olympic sport was a bad idea) I made my way towards the cobbled stoned main high street. I was probably about a twenty minute walk from the station now, I tried to slow my breathing down and get my head back in the game. If that was the worst the Catharsis had for me, I’d happily take it. Under street light I stood at the bottom of the main high street taking in the road ahead of me. The streets were clear, Lancaster seemed to have decided to give the Catharsis a miss this year, great news for me.
“Ye arite mate?” I spun. Someone was stood vaping in a darkened doorway only 5 metres away from me. If you hadn’t known they were there, you’d never have seen him. The smoke (vapour?!) looked incredibly cool in the darkened light. All I could see was the outline of this person. “em, aye” I mumbled. It was all I could manage. Oh nice one mate, I thought, real confident and imposing, bet this boys shiting himself now. He stepped out of the shadows into the street light smiling. He was a young lad in his twenties, bearded, long hair, dressed casually. No masks or black walking sticks to talk of, good start. “Been watching ye” he drawled in a deep voice. Weegie then, this was getting better and better. “Who ye running fae?” he sniggered. “Oh just these boys, chased me for a bit” I said “they had fucking walking sticks and masks and that. Mental.” I looked at him and he chuckled. “Aye this is fuckin mad like. I punted some daft wee cunt in the baws doon there earlier, didnae seem like he felt that cathartic after it” he pointed towards a statue in the centre of the high street. A man was lying in a pool of blood at the base of it, he was very clearly lifeless with his hands cupped over his balls. “Fuck me” I whispered to myself. “So” he said “you gaun on the minibus tae Edinburgh?” “Aye” I replied, pulling myself together. “Sound” he says smiling again “lets fire up to the station then”
We walked together quietly for a while at a good pace, it was a 5 minute walk to the station when the next treat arrived. “Good evening gentlemen, WELCOME!!” shouted a woman’s voice. We both glanced at each other, I probably looked like I was shitting myself, he had a wry smile. I assumed me and my new best violent friend had telepathically agreed to keep walking but when I dropped a gear and started walking faster I realised I was alone.
I heard a rousing “HOW’S IT GAUN LADIES?” and glanced over my shoulder to see my travelling companion standing with his arms wide open, illuminated in front of 12 women dressed in what seemed to be pagan ritualistic robes holding burning lanterns. What the fuck was this now. At this point in time I’ve never wanted to ride in a minibus so much in my life. I checked my watch, it was 8.40. I was torn between turning round into the inevitable turmoil or legging it to the station. I had a free run. I guess ‘fight or flight’ kicked in for me and it chose the former, much to my displeasure.
“WE ARE THE PENDLE WITCHES” shrilled the middle woman. Her features were sharp and it felt like she was looking directly into my soul. “WE WILL GIVE YOU SAFE PASSAGE IF YOU BEND YOUR KNEE AND PAY TRIBUTE TO OUR WITCHCRAFT.” Fuck me. Witchcraft now? I was a little stunned to be honest. I was standing staring at all 12 of these scary looking women when I heard what sounded like running water. “BEND YER KNEE INTAE THAT YA FUCKIN BOOT” shouted the Glaswegian. He was standing taking a pish right in the ‘witches’ direction. Course he was. “CAAAAAAAM AAAAAAN” he shouts and runs straight towards them. As he was running he pulls something shiny from his pocket and goes straight for them. I thought the only way I was getting back to my bed was if I join in so I went for it too. These witches had hammers, spanners, they had big fuck off bayonetts and chains. Adrenaline took over, my mate had set at least three of them on fire. I was punching, kicking, head down and smashing into everything. When all was said and done I looked up and the weegie was pummeling a body over and over and over. He turned and smiled at me. “Right chief, Minibus time”. We both laugh hysterically and run like fuck.
I’ve never thought a shitty white minibus had looked so good in my life. We jumped straight in and the driver slammed the door shut. “You’re the only two” he says, “lets get the fuck out of here”. He explained to us that the Minibus was immune from the Catharsis and therefore it was plain sailing to the border. I drifted off for a while but was awoken by the driver shouting. “Passports lads”. The massive gates opened at the Carter Bar and the border security popped his head in, his face immediately lit up at the Glaswegian. “Heeeeey Davie!!” he shouts “another year another Catharsis eh? Where’d you end up this year?” “Ach, Lancaster mate, was quite pish this year” the bearded nutter says in response. I look at him in disbelief. Is this a thing?! I think to myself. He shrugs his shoulders and gives me a wink. Mad bastard.
“John, if you could write me up how that meeting went in Lancaster last week by close of play today, that’d be great” my boss gives me his usual smarmy condescending look.”No worries” I say “it was definitely a learning experience….thanks for volunteering me”.