Short Story: A Confident Man
They say having a kid gives you a new perspective and they’re right. I began to see things much more clearly since the birth of my first child - Jeremiah. Mine was not a flash when I first held Jez in that hospital flannel but a slow dawning throughout that first year from so many late nights spent cotside. I wanted to be the responsible partner and let Sam sleep. Society heaps expectations on the mother. I wasn’t working so it wasn’t like I had morning looming up with its demands and calculations. We were living with Sam’s mum, Debra, so there was no rent to pay and I could just be a dad. Plus, it was peaceful in the guest room, just before first light - the distant honk of a car, the ding of the first tram grinding down the tracks.
I had listened to an audiobook about micro-habits. You can become the person you want to be - one small habit at a time. I figured that while watching Jez lie there in his newness, I could rock him back and forward but I also could be learning too - that’s thanks to my Bluetooth headphones - perhaps my second most important investment - after the crypto Sam and I will retire on.
Little Jez would lay in his cot, hand clutching in the air, dreaming whatever babies dream, while I sat there, one eye on him, and the other on my phone screen propped against the switched off baby monitor.
The first, most important step on my path was taken one night. I had put YouTube on autoplay and started with one of those 50 Greatest Moments in History video. 9/11 was number 1 (which is ridiculous and American-centric - but hey this is the world wide web we live in). I blinked and somehow Jez and I ended up on a channel with an old guy explaining how the whole thing was a hoax. The presenter was the usual suspect - talking from a windowless room, an american flag pinned to a wall as the backdrop, he had white hair and looked like he could have been a professor if he had not made some wrong turns.
He spoke slow and methodical - like a donkey plodding along on a long path. I mean I saw 9/11 on the news back when I was in first year university. I was a real late sleeper back then. Dad had got me out of bed at 4:30 in the morning to tell me how important it was. That the world would be different from then. The picture beaming from that television looked real to me - the office workers faces’ masks of encrusted dust, tear lines extinct rivers, they ran terrified before being overtaken by an immense cumulus of dust and smoke. Buildings can disappear in New York. Copperfield made the statue of liberty vanish for a night but the next morning there she was, back on her plinth. The World Trade Centre stayed gone.
I sat next to Jez and tried to watch this conspiracy theorist with an open mind. Slowly the professor plodded like a donkey from one thought to the next: Why had the buildings collapsed from within? Where was the plane debris? When steel melts at a temperature the fire could have never reached without some sort of accelerant. What was there in common with the second crash at the Pentagon. There were diagrams, freeze frames of footage from the crash both from news but also from amateur footage. None of the facts elicited so much as a raised eyebrow from the professor, his voice remained as steady as a stealth bomber over Baghdad.
On he plodded - from his forensic exploration of the crashes he changed theme. Why had the Bin Laden family mysteriously been allowed to leave while all other flights were grounded? Apparently because of their financial connections to the Rothchilds.
I had woke up that morning with Sam shaking me. The phone had been playing right through to late morning - it was in battery conservation mode - the screen dull. “What on earth were you watching?” Sam asked smiling holding Jez who cooed and tried to grab her nose. From the phone came a video, the voiceover had moved on to the seven seals of the apocalypse, the video dodgy stock footage of Georgian monks and a dark ages painting of the devil before running dead with a buzz. “Turns out 9/11 was a conspiracy - the Rothchilds planned the whole thing” I had said with a laugh.
After that first night, I started to receive notifications about new videos from the YouTube app - especially early the next morning, around the time I had been rocking little Jez back and forth. The second night I got up and watched a video about Hilary Clinton’s connections to global media, then how they faked the moon landing on the third and finally about this flat earth to round out the week. Each morning Sam would find me hunched - we’d get up and have breakfast with Debra and I’d explain all about them. Sam was just happy to get the sleep.
I began to bring in my laptop - so I could see the videos more clearly. Sometimes they would have subtitles if they were speaking to someone in Russian or Arabic or they would display documents. Occasionally the video or the notes in the comment section would link to a website. I became fascinated by the people devoting their time and limited video editing skills to producing these. Each one seemed like its own self-contained chapter of history. And the amount of research that went in - it was mind boggling. Sometimes you’d could see the loony jump in the chain of logic - to end up in a flat earth but often they were quite compelling - there’s something about detail early in the morning - your mind just absorbs it.
One link took me on to a forum and that was a real eye-opener. Page after page after page of conspiracy theories but not just connecting historical events - but new analysis. Stuff happening right at the moment.
“You can’t believe anything you read. So thankful you guys are here to help make sense of it all and show us how we’re being duped. It’s time to rise up. Let me know when and where.” was how LockHerUp2016 signed off from an 11 page conversation about Bird Flu being an experimental bio-agent produced by the OECD countries.
Broadly speaking the conspiracy universe (or conspirasphere - I’ll call it) had a central hub from which thousands of spokes - each one a conspiracy - ran. One big spoke had the flat earthers at the end, the anti-vaxers on another, the faked the moon landing spoke, JFK. All those usual suspects. But the central hub had a core set of vague and suspicious beliefs that got you entry to the whole club - these were of the omniscience of the deep state, complicity of the lamestream media and world leaders being controlled by some malicious entity. Basically, if you were on there and you believed you couldn’t trust what you read, the voting system was rigged and the government had been taken hold by a foreign power, aliens or lizard people - you qualified.
On it went. I began to look at the world very differently too. Walking around with Jez, I became alert to the inanity of normal life. Back at Debra’s we used to watch the news each night on tele but I struggled to sit through it now. I suppose watching YouTube conspiracies meant that I gained a critical eye when before I had just passively drank it in. It was clear that commercial news was so free of context that it became impossible to put the pieces together - a car crash here, Trump acting like a baboon there - just a chain of events designed to elicit an emotion - then cut to ads. ABC and SBS were not much better - you could say what you want about the conspiracy theorists but they knew how to provide context.
Neither Debra nor Sam were very responsive to my news critiques. The went quiet when I began to question the reliability of stories and provide a bit more context to stories during the ad breaks. After one segment of the business news, my explanation of the global economic system went down like a lead balloon while the camera gratuitously panned around the Colonel’s best fried chicken on mute. Out the corner of my eye, I caught Debra and Sam exchange a worried look.
Then one night in particular I was deep in a video produced by Russia Today about how the East and Western wings of the Christian church had broken off and only the Russian Orthodox church was the true inheritor and soldier of the Christian empire now the Western version had become corrupted. Sam burst in and picked up Jez. I took off my headphones to hear Jez in full flight.
“Can’t you hear her crying?” Sam asked
“Sorry I had my headphones on” I said. I felt flustered. Sam took Jez to bed with her. I shut off my laptop and followed her.
“It’s ok mum - he’d just fallen asleep” Sam said as she passed Debra’s room all lit up.
I remember holding Sam as she held Jez while well tried to sleep that night. There seemed so much to protect my partner and child from. Out there dawn broke, with the building commotion of trucks reversing and barking construction workers. It all felt infiltrated and broken. We slept.
Breakfast that morning was tense. The day had arrived too early, in an untidy state. Sam and Debra looked very tired. Debra fussed by the kitchen sink - the miscellaneous drawer - sorting through pens and pencils to untangle a needle and thread. The baby monitor sat on the kitchen table - Jez was sound asleep making up for lost time.
“What are you watching night after night?” Sam asked over the jars of spreads. Her tone had the ballast of accusation.
“Well conspiracy theories. I don’t believe most of them of course. Some are clearly bonkers. But some are very hard to refute.”
“Well some conspiracies are true - IBM did build machines for the Nazis, Nazi scientists did contribute to the American and Russian space programs. Maybe some are happening now and we just don’t know it. Well some people do.”
“Oh yeah… like what happening right now? What like Hitler is still alive and walking around learning Zumba in Argentina?”
“Zumba is from Brazil. But like the Americans using NGOs to stoke up anti-regime anger in Russia or the Bin Ladens were allowed to leave the US against a travel ban after 9/11 or JFK was killed by the CIA.”
“Sounds like crap to me.” Sam said as she got up putting her plate in the dishwasher. “I’m going to have a lie down.”
Debra who had overheard the whole thing - kept untangling the twine - “Maybe you should take a little break from those videos?” she said manufacturing a tone of good cheer before leaving an empty space in the kitchen.
Sitting up at night next to Jez’s cot I began to spend more time in the forums and comments sections of conspiracy theories, than with the theories themselves. It was enthralling - the work and effort to put together a single cohesive version of reality was enormous. Of course they were hardly watertight - some had contradiction and clear fallacies or fudging facts - but each time somebody voiced an objection or identified an inconsistency - someone else would come and plug it up - “well yes the Bin Ladens had been out of the country when 9/11 happened but they had sent their emissary and long family confident Muhammad al Jaffah - a close family friend that could just as well have shored up the coffers in their absence.” They were crowd testing their alternate realities in a way far more dynamic than any brand had tested any product or any film had been tested on any audience.
Around that time, I began to read more about a small virus started to take root in China named after its appearance under a microscope - that of a sun’s halo - Corona. Apparently it was manufactured by the Chinese government to reduce the Uighur population - “Ha like they need anymore reason” I said reading the comment. Yet the virus kept spreading and became the cause celebre within conspiracy circles. Soon the regular media caught up and began reporting on it. Seamlessly in the conspirasphere the narrative shifted from the Chinese to the Illuminati to push for another wave of repression of people’s population, together with George Soros and Bill Gates. A vaccine would be invented that contained a tiny radioactive signature, from which, each person injected could be tracked via satellites and, better yet, the injected substance could be used to alter moods. It seemed totally insane.
But as COVID spread through the world - the conspirasphere began to amass evidence based around a grainy clip of Bill Gates talking about the need to vaccinate whole of the earth’s population. By the time it reached Australia the media began to shriek about the demand to discover a vaccine as the only way out. As we began to go into lockdown, secret documents had been leaked from the WHO reporting a need for medical stocks of the vaccine - KU8 - for a test within the small Pacific island nation of Federated States of Micronesia. Reproductions of the wire transfer were leaked from offshore account to country’s Treasurer. The documents stated that it had already reached mass manufacture in the Altai mountains of China - all that was left was to stoke up more hysteria. The media continued to have a field day oblivious to all facts save for “there is a virus.” They were playing for fear because fear kept people tuned in and the media had been training to play on people’s fears from day one - if it wasn’t foreigners of human scale it was microbiological ones.
When the shops started going bare I decided it was time to ship Jez and Sam out. My family live inland up north by Wagga Wagga. It ain’t pretty but it’s home. Melbourne was keeping its nerve but the veneer grew thin. There is a quote by Ghandi:
Journalist: What do you think of Western civilization?
Gandhi: I think it would be a good idea.
I thought about that quote a lot once when the man in front of me walked as casual as can be - one arm sweeping all the pasta from the shelf into one of two trolleys. People behind him glared but said nothing. There was only so long people would remain polite - approximately the same time as it took them to get hungry. Soon fights in other supermarkets were on the news.
On the internet the survivalists began to infiltrate the conspirasphere. Talk of bunkers, water supplies and weapon stashes became the only sensible response to a world on the brink of anarchy. Government testing of COVID was just them building a massive database of population DNA for later surveillance and control. They were scared too. The news and the youtube channels I had subscribed too began showing the same footage. It was just the interpretation that was different.
At the same time came the talk of building sanctuaries - communities where people that knew the truth about the corrupt workings of the world could start again. This time avoiding the old mistakes. There were tonnes in New Zealand that were well known. There was one in Australia too. Near Armidale - run by a man called William Thorn.
It was around that time I began to look into getting a gun. A young family needs protection whether they believed we were entering a new phase or not. Official ways would take months and the way COVID was moving we might not have months. I logged onto the dark web - Alpha Bay. It wasn’t cheap but it took all of about 2 weeks to get a Chinese QSZ-92, one piece at a time. Australia Post and customs had much more to worry about.
Sam and I had a fight on the way to Wagga - so we drove most of it in silence. She didn’t want anymore talk about conspiracy theories. And the idea of visiting William Thorn made her fly into a rage. We were on a late autumn holiday as far as she was concerned - there to rest and be a family. Times were crazy but they would go back to normal sooner or later. Outside the landscape bushfire blackened landscape wheeled past. You can get to Wadonga on one tank but not all the way to Wagga Wagga. We pulled into a BP by a caravan park, and I hopped out while Sam picked up Jez to feed him and propped the seat back with her eyes closed.
As I was heading to the kiosk to pay for the petrol when there was a roar and a souped up black Hilux came skid to a stop in the next bay, almost knocking me over. Out jumped two rough looking blokes both in boardies and thongs despite it only being about 10 degrees. The one wearing a No Fear cap began to fill up the Hilux while the other headed inside. “Oi grab me smokes for me.”
“What fug off?” said nocap incredulously “You think I’m made of money?”
“Who’s paying for this petrol then?”
At that moment a small Asian man who had just paid his petrol went through the door and glanced No Fear’s shoulder.
“Oi watch it Wuhan virus sam!”
The Asian man had his eyes remained cast down “Sorry sorry” he said.
“I’m fuggen talking to you. Hey Josh!” He yelled at his mate.
“Mr Wuhan Virus here just pushed me.”
Josh - returned the pump to its place and walked over, slowly. The man stopped in his place and kept looking down submissive not responding.
“I’d knock his buck teeth out but I’d get COVID.” Said No Fear leading down to get right in this guy’s face - giving him a menacing snarl.
I holstered the pump and moved over to the back of my Subaru and clicked open the boot. I reached through the baby’s bags and into the small side panel in which I had stashed my pistol. I raised it up and began to walk over.
“Let’s calm down,” I said. “These are worrying times.” Josh looked around with a smirk at having found someone that would react, a smirk that vanished when he was the gun.
“Now get the fuck out of here both of you.” backing up keeping well out of swinging distance. The Asian man looked up, eyes wide.
A few minutes later we were back on a small side road beneath the main freeway.
“What the fucking fuck was that?” yelled Sam over Jez screaming in the back.
“When did you get a gun for fuck’s sake? A fucking gun!” Sam was yelling over Jez. She shook her head and sat back in her chair - silent - looking hard through the windscreen. Sirens wailed on the freeway in the distance. 70 kilometres and we would be there.
When we arrived Mum and Dad were out for the arvo. Their long driveway ends with dark wood pines and is remote from the freeway. A note said they were visiting friends but would be back for dinner and I knew where the spare key was. I grabbed it from under the water tank. The big old place, surrounded by a verandah smelt just like it always did. Sam said she needed to lie down and took Jez. I chucked the keys on the kitchen table and grabbed a beer. The car could wait to be unpacked. I dozed off.
When I woke up in my chair I could hear the Subaru in pain. I ran around the corner to see Sam trying to get the gear into first. She never could drive manual. The gears crunched. I walked over.
“Where are you going Sam?” Jez began crying, strapped in the baby capsule in the back seat.
“You’ve gone crazy! It’s not safe here.” she yelled through the closed window.
“Let’s go inside and talk” I said. Trying to sound calm. She didn’t answer and kept crunching the gears. She engaged then stalled the car.
“Come on.” I said and tried the door. It was locked. So was the back door but the boot was open. I reached back in and got the gun.
“Let’s go in and talk about this.” I repeated calmly through all the bags.
Sam screamed, opened the door. I tried to round the corner quickly but she was always nimble. I chased after her but stopped. She would have to come back. I went back to the car. Jez had stopped crying and looked at me with bulging eyes.
Without thinking too much I got into the car, started it again and reversed it out. “Let’s go for a drive with Dad.”
We’re still a good three hundred kilometres from Armidale. The police are keeping their distance. They know I’m armed and I have a baby in the back. I have been streaming bits of our trip and am getting all the support in the world on the forums. William Thorn says all I have to do is make it to his place in Armidale and he’ll welcome us with open arms. He’s very well prepared he said.
And so there’s not much left but to pop on one of those videos through the car’s Bluetooth and learn about the problems of this world so we can avoid making the same mistakes in the next.