UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION
Outside And Contiguous to
Butterfly wings over Indonesia and then thunderstorms over Akron, yes, yes, but let us dispense with nonlinear this and
Paco Cedebaca had spent only six months of his thirty-eight years of life in Truth or Consequences before abruptly finding himself living in plain old Consequences. Taking the change philosophically, he boarded his windows and oiled his shotgun and waited out the looting in his darkened living room. After the federal government declared martial law in his new town, he risked scuttling to his pick-up early one morning and driving to Tex Texerson’s oil fields.
Paco was a day foreman of Field 9, one Tex Texerson’s twenty-one fields in the area. Paco knew desert drilling. He’d spent most of his life sweating in Texas scrublands and badlands, in the hardscrabble buffalo grass of other men’s wealth. He’d once spent a year on a rig in the Gulf, but one afternoon after a fourteen-hour shift he’d caught himself dangling his legs over the platform and counting the waves sending spray off the pylons. He’d gotten to just over six thousand eight hundred (one for each year of creation) before deciding to return to land.
Out there, alone in the Gulf, he’d lost his faith in God. The ocean had taught him that Noah’s ark would’ve been a waste of wood because no man has a mate or a shared kind. Any rainbow of covenant, he had decided, would have segregated sunlight over a drowned world and a bobbing funeral boat, each corpse curled unto each. That day, he put in for a transfer to New Mexico, where a man didn’t need to believe in God.
Six months after the National Guard had started shooting calm into Consequences, Rig 13’s drill started geysering red oil. Once or twice, Paco had seen oil come out of the ground some color other than black, but it had always turned out to be tricks of soil or air. But this oil stayed red, and so, as Paco sent his men to cap the gusher, he again found himself a believer. He didn’t expect God to be kind, just consequential, and making the earth cough constant blood was proof enough for Paco.
Tex Texerson’s convoy arrived at the fields early the next morning. The company flag fluttered from the hood of Tex Texerson’s vehicle, a massive SUV slung low by bulletproofing and by lead installed to reduce its gas mileage. Dust rose as Tex Texerson stepped down.
Tex Texerson walked straight to Paco. “Blood red?”
He asked Paco but studied everyone’s faces.
Paco shook his head and pointed to the guard towers scattered along the razor-wire fence.
By this time, Paco’s boss had run over from his office trailer. “Very good, sir. Light crude sweet.”
His lined face hard and beautiful like molded steel, Tex Texerson squinted into the horizon-hung sun, its light on his face the color of his newest oil.
“Any of the other wells pumping red?” Tex Texerson asked.
“No, sir,” Paco’s boss said. “All normal.”
But that didn’t last long. One per day, three new wells gushed open with the same color. Then even the established wells began to change color, and Paco knew God was great. Occasionally, he wondered whether the new oil was blue until it hit the surface.
The domestic press pounced on the story. The Handwringing Leftist and The Fistshaking Leftist dispatched writers immediately. (Six months later, The Knuckleshuffling Left Review published a sternly rhymed sonnet sequence.) More sympathetic publications also sent representatives. The foreign press followed suit.
A few people managed to be surprised that all this scrutiny did nothing to improve the political situation in Consequences. The Governor had long since declared the town a disaster zone, and he showed no signs of undeclaring it. The National Guard dug in. After they no longer needed to shoot looters, they contented themselves with firing warning shots at jaywalkers and helping Truth’s civil engineers raise and reinforce the wall separating the towns.
Then, not long after the established wells transmuted from black to red, nocturnal groups of masked men and women appeared in black ski masks, tossing hand-grenades indiscriminately and absconding with pedigreed pets. In the first night of the attacks, the Johnson family lost both a Rubbermaid portable shed and Pfaffner, a Jack Russell terrier still basking in the milkboned glory of his first Best in Show.
Terrorist groups, mostly foreign, claimed credit for the attacks. The President launched a retaliatory strike against the British Virgin Islands. “The Rape of the Virgins!” bellowed The Fistshaking Leftist. The Marines tasked to establish that beachhead considered beach sand a major upgrade over desert sand, and they approached the invasion with good cheer. Many wore floral swim trunks as their amphibious assault vehicles puttered unopposed toward shore.
Back in Consequences, the National Guardsmen groused enviously about the Marines. The Guardsmen lost sleep as the guerrilla decanification attacks continued unchecked. They lost face-time as three-quarters of the reporters abandoned them to interview soldiers defending democracy poolside in Tortolla. They lost face when the guerrillas kidnapped Spike the Bulldog, Joint Command’s mascot, and then shipped him to the FOX affiliate in Truth with a lily shaved around its anus. And of course they, along with almost everyone else, gradually lost interest in the red oil that continued to bubble upwards in the oilfields at the edge of town.
Paco Cedebaca stayed interested in the red oil. In fact, he became more interested each day. Every time the chemists tried and failed to find a way to blacken it during refining, Paco gave thanks to God. Tex Texerson, of course, also stayed interested. All his fields in southwestern New Mexico had turned red, so he had a public relations problem because focus groups indicated that they would pay up to 19.6¢ a gallon more for basic black.
So Tex2 used New Mexico to test a new strategy. They called the red oil “Red Gold” and reshuffled the Full- and Self-Service signage to make room for the Red Gold islands. They ran a series of TV ads featuring a famous NASCAR driver who called Red Gold “car blood” and gave the camera a cocksure thumbs-up while saying, “Red Gold—Get Your Heart Racing.” Tex2 sold Red Gold for 19.7¢ per gallon less than basic black, and the customers quickly came around. Tex2 went national with the plan. Red Gold dragged down the demand for basic black faster than the company’s analysts had suggested, but that didn’t bother Tex Texerson—by that point, three-quarters of his oil wells had turned red. And his local and global competitors soon stopped crying foul when their wells also began splooshing forth red crude.
Nobody’s chemists had better luck turning the red black, though Shell’s did, to Paco’s satisfaction, determine that the oil was indeed blue prior to oxygenation.
One headachy afternoon, Tex Texerson ordered a team of scientists to put his secret nightmare to rest by checking whether red oil was a good substitute for cow and/or human blood. Soon thereafter, the scientists shook their heads, buried the dead, and washed their hands of the experiment.
Soothed, Tex Texerson shrugged and raised the price of Red Gold to basic black’s old price. He then renamed all his remaining basic black Original Gold and raised its price 19.6¢. Tex2 had its best fiscal quarter in two decades.
Meanwhile, the Mayor of Truth entreated his cousin the United States Senator to entreat his friend the President to do something about Consequences, from which, despite the patrols and the razor-wire atop the wall, refugees continued to escape and make demands on Truth’s social services. The President had the Governor send in more National Guard troops and convinced Congress to annex Consequences to the District of Columbia.
Paco considered fleeing Consequences. But he liked his work, had gotten a raise, and had found a local woman who couldn’t have gotten an exit visa. He felt closer to God than ever and felt that his destiny must lie in the red oilfields and the bullet-pocked streets of Consequences, New Mexico.
In this, he did not err. A year later, Shell chemists found a way to turn red oil black, but by then it seemed unnecessary. The various Leftists had tired of wringing, shaking, and shuffling about not only red oil but also the Rape of the Virgins and the subsequent Easters Crucifixion. That same day on which the Shell chemists announced their findings, Paco’s saliva turned red. His wife was worried. Paco, however, had never felt better and interpreted his new spit as a sign that God had singled him out for a blessing, that he was partaking of the Lord’s reordering of the earth and heavens.
With this error, Paco proved himself human. His red spit was simply symptomatic of an aggressive mouth cancer, which metastasized before the doctors noticed it. The tumor would have killed Paco, but it didn’t get the chance. Instead, his new wife’s impeccably pedigreed Schnauzer enticed a guerilla attack during which a grenade returned Paco to the arms of his God and placed his wife’s Schnauzer into the arms of black-masked rebels, who hurrahed these developments as a glorious victory for the one true cause.
© 2008 Underground Voices