Thursday, July 31, 2014

Unsung Classics: Fitz James O'Brien

One of the interesting things about Irish literature is it's informed by a folk tradition full of magical thinking. This goes back to when the first Celtic tribes showed up on the islands and found the ruins of the neolithic Beaker People civilization - who may also be the reason behind the Germanic Substrate Hypothesis but that's for another time. Seeing all those ruins developed an idea in the early Irish of the Otherworld, a parallel land of spirits and fairies existing alongside but invisible to the everyday. It's a common belief in primitive cultures, being much closer to the feral realities of this world which civilized peoples try really hard to forget, but it's persisted in the Irish consciousness for generations.

Which brings us to Fitz James O'Brien, the progenitor of all American science fiction.


You've probably never heard of him, even if you went to college, because he died early in the Civil War. A volunteer from New York, he would just be one of the many Americans who died to end the horror of slavery if not for his enormous output of poetry and short stories, all marrying the feral folk beliefs of his boyhood with the optimistic scientism of the 19th century. The former providing a critique of the latter.

If you want - and you really do - you can see this in one of his more well known stories, "The Diamond Lens." It's a confessional piece, like many of his stories, relating how an inquisitive narrator delved deeper and deeper into the hidden world of microscopy - a new and exciting discipline at the time - until he discovered a subatomic fairyalnd. The story not only marries occultism with science, forming a proto-sci-fi-horror genre in its own, but also predicted the reality of subatomic particles by a generation!

Or there's his other stories, "The Golden Ingot" and "The Bohemian," all about resorting to the dark arts for material gain. Like "The Diamond Lens" and the later work of both Lovecraft and Alastair Reynolds, these stories lay out in visceral detail the tragedy that occurs when finite humans attempt to seize control of the infinite, shape it to their will. Similarly, "What Was It?" presents a world easily quantified by science but haunted by nightmarish, invisible creatures - "shaped like a man, - distorted, uncouth, and horrible, but still a man... Its face surpassed in hideousness anything I had ever seen. Gustave Doré, or Callot, or Tony Johannot, never conceived anything so horrible... It looked as if it were capable of feeding on human flesh."

And it all carries through because O'Brien was a master storyteller. In the hysterically racist "The Wondersmith," he describes a cunning gypsy testing his new army of little murderous puppets on a store full of birds in such a way as to make you weep. The doomed last stand of a mynah bird, in O'Brien's hands, resonates with all the glory of Cuchulain. His stories weave in details and build up characters so vivid that you'll never forget the decrepit Blakelock or the fascinating and menacing Philip Brann.

O'Brien himself was just as much of a character. Born Michael O'Brien, he changed his name to the much more Irish Fitz James upon emigrating to America. At a time when anti-Irish sentiment was at its height. And like all the best American authors he wrote widely and vigorously, producing a lifetime of work in the amount of time it takes modern "literary" writers to squirt out their first overwritten manuscript.

Then the Confederacy killed him. As if there weren't enough reasons to hate those wretched bastards...

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Rand Paul Whitewash

In a culture with any sort of short-term memory, the sight of Rand Paul calling for ending the systemic racism of America's criminal justice system would be gross slapstick. Fortunately for Randy, nobody remembers anything from more than a day ago. Sometimes not even the same day, as all the articles on Politico and The Hill are so perfectly compartmentalized, never addressing how issues as diverse as climate change, immigration, and drone murders all tie back to the same moribund technocratic hierarchy.

And Rand Paul sure won't change any of that. As pointed out here previously, he's all in favor of traditional hierarchy. For those who don't want to go to YouTube, here's Mister Liberty's exact words defending the right of private businesses to be racist:

" And I think that’s a valid point, and still a valid discussion, because the thing is, is if we want to harbor in on private businesses and their policies, then you have to have the discussion about: do you want to abridge the First Amendment as well. Do you want to say that because people say abhorrent things – you know, we still have this. We’re having all this debate over hate speech and this and that. Can you have a newspaper and say abhorrent things? Can you march in a parade and believe in abhorrent things, you know?"


This is why Rand Paul is so popular with the libertarian demographic - he's the apotheosis of the clueless white guy. Supporters have defended this gibberish on the grounds that technically Randy is taking the principled route. Sure all that racism was deplorable but Rule of Law! How can we claim to be a free country if we circumvent the Rule of Law to reach that freedom?

That's their argument and it reflects why Randy will never walk back this particular "principle" of his - it strikes a chord with the deep down cruelty that animates American conservatives. Lots of them call themselves "libertarian" whenever a democrat is in the White House but turn right back into the lickspittles of empire when the GOP takes over. The transition from the Clinton to the Bush years should have spelled that out for everyone but, again, no collective memory.

For all their noise about "liberty," libertarians are more than willing to play along in this stifling technocratic system. They start businesses - something only possible through state capitalism - and style themselves as "disruptive" for not filling out all the forms. They declare freedom from big government the most important issue, and then vote overwhelmingly for the half of the two-party system that produced Gitmo, the Patriot Act, and two failed wars. They are, in a word, schmucks.

And Rand Paul appeals to them, not through principle, but because he speaks their craven language. His latest stunt even reflects their deeply held racism - that making the blacks come over to their side is just a matter of letting them smoke their crack in peace, rather than addressing the endemic inequalities of this totalitarian capitalism where Flatbush is within spitting distance of some of the richest real estate on Earth but looks like a third world country. This makes perfect sense because libertarianism, as a long con by the ruling class, explicitly ignores or embraces the inequalities of this rigged game. And it's only possible with people so coddled by middle class existence that they've forgotten what desperate tastes like.

So while his attempts to blunt the prison-industrial complex are admirable, it's unlikely Randy will sweep the black vote anytime soon. When you've been the designated underclass so long, you don't fall for the sentimental lies quite so easily.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Fiction Friday, Now on Thursday

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I marched ever westward after... No more stomach for war or soldiers or whatever may have crawled out of that shallow grave. I followed a trail of displaced peasants for a league or so, picking at their elderly and infirm in the night. Helped to disguise my predations but Coña Maria - how thin and oily their blood tasted! How relieved I was upon waking one night to smell that thick odor of civilization on the breeze!

Besancon wouldn't have the peasants - at least I assume so, as so many remained outside the walls. But walls, dear Doctor, are but an inconvenience for me - I bounded over them that first night! Had to cross some water first, leading to the happy discovery that I can't drown. After thrashing around for a bit...

Ah! A French city! But still an Imperial city - un Ville Libre d'Imperial, as they were so proud of declaring, even to each other. Frequently. Though quite different from all those other imperial cities I'd known before, both day and night. Much cleaner for one, much more varied peoples - more flavorful, if you will permit me Doctor. I took a room on the Rue de Savoie, overlooking Batten Bridge to the east and the Citadel with its gleaming white walls - gleaming even in blackest night! - visible from the roof.

I am rather fond of clambering over rooftops, I must admit...

A good house with a good proprietress. She left me to a small room near the top and even supplied me with heavy curtains upon request. She never asked why I should need them, nor why I never appeared downstairs until after dark and returned just before dawn. A rarity - an old woman who does not go about sticking her nose into the business of others!

I shared the house with some other drifters and vagabonds. Madame Boulin, the proprietress, held no prejudice against race or creed so long as there was hard coin in the bargain. A delightfully mercenary old woman - she also offered hot food and mending and the services of her sickly daughter Amanda. All for a price!

She needed to be so enterprising. Counting myself, only half a dozen boarders ever called that heap of a house a home. Always felt like more though, what with Amanda's own children getting underfoot. Three of the buggers with a fourth that thankfully ran away. All from different fathers too, their mother being such a loyal and hard worker...

Read the rest of the excerpt here!

~   ~   ~

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"We've got another group meeting in fifteen," Stephen said, stretching out on the cot. He muttered something.

"Hmm?" David asked. His vision was starting to focus more easily now.

"I said I'm fucking sick of this!" Stephen snapped. "Jesus, I shouldn't be here at all, I -" He saw David's bleary eyes. "How much of that shit did they give you this time?"

"Mmm," David held up first three, then two, then corrected himself again and held out three fingers. "Think it's wearing off now."

"You know those are fucking horse tranquilizers, right?" Stephen dropped his voice, "I started palming them just last week. You should too, makes everything clear up." He added, with a vicious look to his eyes, "Makes it harder for those bastards to mess with your head too."

David shook his head. "Don't want to get in trouble."

Stephen laughed. "Dude, you're in fag rehab! You're in enough trouble already! Little more won't hurt you. Besides," he sat up, leaning closer to David so he could whisper, "They don't check to make sure you take 'em, y'know?"

David shook his head again. He'd promised his mom he'd try. He didn't really want to be gay - he thought. He liked Brad but didn't want it to go beyond that - even though it had already. "Gotta stop while I'm ahead," he completed the thought out loud, then laughed like a hyena. "I said head!"

"Jesus, you're high," muttered Stephen. "Can't say I blame you..."

They sat in silence - except for David's snickering - until the booming voice announced the next group session. David and Stephen shuffled down the hall along with the others, most of whom were still a little groggy from the medicine. It was a necessity, they were told. Their urges had to be suppressed somehow until they could purge them. Otherwise, who knows what they would get up to with each other when the lights went out?

David and Stephen were in the same group, along with some six other boys. They took their seats at one of the dozens of round tables in the main hall - which also doubled as the cafeteria, which doubled as a clinic when the councilors wheeled in privacy screens. Their councilor - in group and individually - was Robert, an orange-tanned and upbeat character with the habit of calling everyone "brother." Like all the other councilors, he was a graduate of the program.

"Grace and peace, brothers!" Robert said once they were all seated, smiling with those perfectly white teeth. "Everyone have a good visit? Brandon, what about you?"

He always did that, singling one of them out to guarantee someone would answer. "M'okay," Brandon said. As Robert kept looking at him, he hastily added, "My mom, uh, said there was this girl asking for me and, um, everyone at home's praying for me?"

That was a popular answer. Robert liked it so much he would leave whoever said it alone for the rest of the session. "Well amen to that! The support and prayers of your family are always needed in these difficult times. But it always comes down to you to get yourself right with the Lord!"

It always came back to the Lord with Robert. Same with all the other councilors but Robert liked to be very loud about it. "- Because only through the Lord and the sacred blood of his only Son, Jesus Christ can you be purged of your wickedness... Along with the Exodus Inc. program."

The program actually came first in Robert’s formula. First, they all had to admit they had a problem. Next, they all had to identify their “wound” – some moment from childhood that turned them from the straight and narrow, as it were. David had never really believed that psychobabble crap, but at Exodus he’d soon found himself blaming his own quiet, agreeable mother for being the emasculating force behind his own turn to wickedness. The things he’d said about her...

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Case for Impeachment

Today, we're gonna discuss some of the legitimate reasons for impeaching Barrack Obama. This is a purely hypothetical exercise, since the House Republicans have pretty much ceded any possibility of actually going forward with such proceedings. After raising a fuss over Benghazi, Fast and Furious, the dreaded national spread of Romneycare, and some made up thing I'm probably forgetting, the loyal opposition party has settled for a lawsuit. Because settling for a lawsuit is what craven Americans do.

So we're gonna ask the question no career pol will: How does one go about impeaching Obama?

"Bring it on, bitches."

The NSA is the first obvious choice, if only because it's still in the news and the internet libertarian man crush on Edward Snowden. Nevermind Chelsea Manning revealed systemic war crimes in both Iraq and Afghanistan, incidences of not just mass murder but also blackly comic incompetence on the part of the US military - no, what really concerns Americans is if some other office slave was reading their private emails.

While this would be the first option, it's also the trickiest. When the NSA was caught data-mining in the Bush years, it was doing so without a FISA warrant. That's the secret court that issues the secret warrants for secret surveillance, so the government can get its snoop on legally. The PRISM program exposed last year may be technically legal, depending on what secret documents of the secret court get de-secreted. Further, connections to Obama could prove tenuous as he went on record as being unaware of the program, like a good lawyer, when the whole scandal kicked off last year.

So you're not going to impeach Obama over the NSA monitoring your porn surfing. What else is there...

Oh! How about them drones? Admittedly, I'm not an opponent of drone warfare - as I'm under no illusions that war can be moral - but it has killed a number of American citizens under Obama's watch. While a captured Awlaki could quite easily have been convicted of treason and then executed, our legalistic society declares it a bad thing that he was just zapped outright.

And this is a matter of public record. Obama has never shied away from admitting that yes, he gave the order to kill an American citizen. No, there was not a trial. Here, look at the rationalizations the DOJ wrote up after the fact. This here is an abuse of power that practically prosecutes itself!

However... Kamal Derwish. Not many Americans know him but he was the first American citizen to die by drone. In 2002. Also in Yemen, coincidentally. It was little commented on at the time, likely because it was little reported, but his ghost would haunt any impeachment trial based on Obama's use of drones. A sad jihadi ghost, wailing "What about Buuush!" in the middle of the opening statements.

So while legally a good option, impeaching Obama over drones would not be feasible politically.

Now what else does that leave us with? Well, Gitmo is still open - but that brings us right back to the Kamal Derwish example. Detainees may be getting tortured but that started in the Bush years. While it's not explicit in the Constitution, there's likely a gentleman's agreement between Congress and the White House to grandfather in immunity over crimes against humanity committed by the previous administration.

That would certainly explain the GOP's silence on the legality of bombing Libya. They'll yell about Benghazi until they're blue in the face, but Obama's initial attack of yet another Islamic Third World nation is treated as standard operating procedure. Which it is, since it easily falls within the loose confines of the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists. And Congress can't really go after him for not attacking Syria since they never voted for that - which Obama didn't even need to take action, legally speaking.

One could argue that Obama trading a couple of battered victims from the Cuban gulag for Bowe Bergdahl constitutes "giving... Aid and Comfort" to the Taliban, a not-exactly-declared enemy of the nation. Except prisoner exchanges are perfectly common in war, as is "negotiating with terrorists" like Obama did to free Bergdahl and Reagan did to free the embassy hostages in Iran. You just know a slick Chicago lawyer is going to have these precedents memorized before the House can even introduce the articles of impeachment on this one.

Which leaves us with... Nothing. Zip. Nada. No impeachable offense.

At least not one that wasn't already business as usual.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Realpolitik versus Jihad

The antics of those 10,000 Sunnis calling themselves ISIS or ISIL or ASSHAT has really done a number on all the Beltway insiders. These middling careerists are still trying to figure out how to maintain a unified Iraq - as if one ever existed - or looking for ways the Almighty American Presidency can respond. But all this kvetching is couched in the delusion that these 10,000 irregulars are rational actors.

Delusional, that's the view the pundits and the politicians have of everything outside America. They assume everyone wants to live the American Dream of 2.5 kids, a sensible car, and six figure consumer debt eating out their insides. Hell, there are plenty of people right here in America who don't want any of that - I'm one of 'em and I married another - but, like Anglo-American philosophy professors who go about their work like Nietzsche never happened, this same political class keeps trying to find some neat, American way to explain what is essentially Islam's Thirty Years War.

Like that unified Iraqi government. Kerry, the poor bastard, had to travel all the way to the sand pit and personally tsk-tsk Nouri al-Maliki for not accommodating the Sunnis. "How dare you not give your blood enemies a big ol' hug!" It's willfully ignorant, not just expecting Maliki to sit down to tea with people who wish him dead - and mean it - but in assuming anyone in Iraq wants that congenial, civics class crap.

No wait -  a few people do. You'll see them mentioned by name in solemn Politico and New York Times articles, some harried nuclear family in a Baghdad apartment who are scared to go to the corner for hummus 'cause they might trip over a dead fella. That these are such cloistered, Westernized Iraqis should tip you off they ain't the norm - for starters, where's the dozens of other relatives? Sure, plenty have died in the turf wars since 2003 but only a million. The population has around 26 times more where that came from and Iraq, like most Third World nightmares, has a high birth rate.

When you don't see all the cousins and elders of the family in these little heartstring-tugging articles, it's telling you that these are the urban, modern sorts of Arabs that Western media love to talk to, love to celebrate whenever they have one of their little "Spring" moments, and never ever end up in power because they are a slim and marginalized minority. It's why so many of them live as expats in Europe and America.

If these Progressive Arabs were actually a player in the Iraq-Syria conflagration, the Beltway brainwave might make sense. These would be people with rational agendas - meaning business agendas. Peace and security and boredom are the favorite conditions of business, because it means money. These mellow, non-religious Arabs are conducive to that, since they've grown out of the belief in fighting and dying for a cause. Like their American fans.

Among the majority of Iraqis today, Sunni and Shia alike, fighting and dying is culturally normative. Religion is a matter of life or death for them, like it hasn't been for gringos since about the 17th Century (except for Ireland). For Wahhabized Sunni militias like ICECREAM, the entire point is to bring not just Iraq and Syria but the entire world of believers, the Ummah, under a single religious law. All other concerns are secondary. The Shi'ites, so far, have the slightly saner position of maintaining their own little tribal homesteads against these evangelist jihadis who think they're all kuffaar. And if that means war, bombings, and the forceful partition of every country west of Iran than so be it.

The talking heads in the American media and their muddling masters in American government could see this - it ain't exactly a secret - but it would conflict with the deep commitment to craven self-enrichment that is their true faith. The true faith of every American, even the hardest core Southern Baptists. And because not one of these fools can understand a position of "To the death!" they've blithely sat back while the Saudis set the world on fire.

There aren't any good guys here - except maybe the Kurds - but the House of Saud has got to be the worst guys of all. Already sitting on obscene oil wealth, already ruling a totalitarian state that makes North Korea look like New Hampshire, and they have to go and fund every Sunni whack-job with a grudge, from the Maghreb to Chechnya. And as though that weren't enough, they have to spread their toxic Wahhabi ideas too - where everything is forbidden and will get you stoned. Wahhab himself was expelled from every city he ever lived in by other Muslims because he was too stone-happy.

The Saudis have been infecting the brains of the faithful with their medieval madness for years, while filling up their bank accounts, all because of this "To the death!" religion stuff... and what do Americans do about it? The world's most powerful empire, and they argue over which president should have bombed the madrassa zombies, rather than attacked the root. But see, Saudis are also good for business because they got the oil. And rationally, you want business to run smoothly. So you look the other way while your business partner spends his billions on remaking the world into a crazier, meaner place.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Vampires Are Cool Again

Only Lovers Left Alive is a brilliant trick on audiences. It's two hours examining the ennui of an aged bohemian couple, but it gets away with such a tired plot by making the couple in question of pair of vampires. Also, they're a joy to watch.

Tom Hiddleston plays Adam, a vampire rocker living as a recluse in a decaying Detroit suburb, fiddling with fifty-year-old recording equipment to craft space rock anthems that would make Godspeed You! Black Emperor jealous. Rather than go out and gorge on groupie blood, he sticks to a blood bank where he's guaranteed a drink free of disease and pollutants, something he and the other few vampires frequently lament as being the new normal among mortals.

And those infrequent shopping trips are the only time he leaves his old house. The rest of the time is spent brooding and plucking at guitars twice the age of his unsuspecting manservant. He's every romantic cliche about the tortured heroic vampire... except he's not tortured over his horrid and forsaken existence but over how said existence has been going on so long that he's just plain bored. 

Enter his wife, Eve, played by Tilda Swinton. A walking inversion of Adam in every way - lively where he is broody, joyful where he is morose, pastels where he is perpetually garbed in black. She takes it upon herself to shake Adam out of his funk and you get the impression she's done this before. Maybe several times. Though it takes more than dancing and blood popsicles to cheer Adam up.

Here's where the film enters a very slow point. Deliberately slow, as it follows Adam and Eve through an endless night in Detroit, chatting about everything and nothing while enjoying the sight of urban entropy. There's a lot to read into these bits, particulalry the stop off at the grand old opera house that's been transformed into a car park. Adam broods over this undead city he's settled in, contrasting with Eve's sunny optimism of the future - "When the southern states are burning, this city will live again." As if the polluted blood wasn't enough of an enviro message...

But just before people can get bored with all this meditating, their "sister" Ava shows up. A happy, irresponsible child who keeps breaking into Adam's stash, you know she's going to mess up the good thing they have going, necessitating the two flee back to Eve's home in Tangiers. Eve handles all the travel arrangements, Adam being too romantic to worry about the drudgery of logistics.

It's a brief, simple story carried through by fantastic performances and brilliant camera work. Tom Hiddleston, the poor bastard, is popularly known as Loki from the Marvel summer money suck but here shows that he was born to play cinema vampires. It makes you wish they'd hurry up and do another film adaptation of Dracula. Coppola's version was over twenty years ago, that's forever compared to their regularity in the Hammer Horror glory days.

Tilda Swinton, despite looking like his mother, easily overshadows Hiddleston for the time she's on screen. This isn't just because Swinton is on of the best things to come out of England since Ted Hughes, but as stated above her character is the real dominant force in the relationship. She handles their worldly travels, she pulls him out of the house to see the world again, she even decides for him whether or not Ava stays in his house. And Adam accepts all this, seemingly relieved to have someone taking care of such things so he can just focus on his art. Despite his dismissal of Byron as a "pompous ass" he sure does reflect all the aspects of the clubfooted poet.

All of this would just be another stage production if not for the cinematography. Detroit at night is sadly haunting, row after row of abandoned buildings and houses, a very post-apocalyptic world of darkness and decay. Adam's house has a cluttered and cloistered feel, his whole "life" spent in a sprawling studio cobbled together from the past half-century of recording equipment. Living in the past, inside and out.

This forms a stark contrast to the heat and fecundity of Tangiers. While Adam moons around a mausaleum, Eve confidently strides through the orange-lit alleys full of active Arabs and Berbers, still full of life. Travelling to this still breathing city finally invigorates Adam, making eternity interesting again.

And again, there's much to be read into that dichotomy, like how the Third World remains vibrant in a way that the First World can't, but that's just so much film school fappery. This is the best vampire flick since Let The Right One In and the best flick period you'll see all year.

Get your fang on some more with Fiend, in paperback or on the ereader of your choice!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

From the Vault: The Sanctity of Life

What with Independence Day on the horizon and the Supreme Court outsourcing the national religion, I couldn't think of a reason not to repost this:

"And I'm telling you this is the end of the line!" 

And that was final. Tori found herself thrown off the bus six blocks short of her stop. Damn idiot driver, making a pregnant woman walk all that way on her own. Tori'd found more and more dark jokes popping up in her mind of late... 

After pointing her in the right direction, Crystal hadn't been much help. Tori had tracked the story of the phantom abortion clinic through a dozen different people through two schools outside of her own, every time assuring them "Oh yeah, it's for this project on, uh, something." 

It paid off when she found a girl who wouldn't meet her, wouldn't talk on the phone, but was more than willing to instant message the whole story - after some dancing around. The first time Tori tried to contact her, she got bombarded with "you a cop" and "i dont know you" and some gibberish she couldn't hope to understand. She wound up blocked and having to log in under a different screen name. This time she started with that odd password she'd been told to use, "i herd u liek mudkips." Things went much more smoothly from there... 

Turned out she'd been on the cheerleading squad at her school and had gotten knocked up by her boyfriend of the time. She freaked out, crying and terrified of being kicked out of school for breaking the pledge but someone - she wouldn't say it was her parents or maybe her coach but Tori had gotten the impression it was someone in authority who shouldn't have been into these sorts of things - someone had "connected" her with a "group" way out in some ghetto. 

Yep, some ghetto was where the bus left her. Or as close to the ghetto as that driver had been willing to get. Every TV show screamed at her this was a bad idea, especially with the five hundred in cash stuffed deep in her pocket - she'd intentionally left nothing of real value in her purse - but the other screaming in her belly convinced her to press on. She knew she could only be weeks before it started to show and then the questions would come and then she'd be out on her ass and coming back here to make a living. And Josh would keep his scholarship. 

The neighborhood was surprisingly quiet. She'd expected shouts, a little breaking glass, maybe even a few shouts of "Hey, white girl!" But nothing. More surprising was the fact she wasn't the only white girl around. The steps of the decrepit buildings were populated by a seemingly equal number of blacks and whites - even a few Hispanics! How they'd evaded the mass deportations from a few years ago she couldn't begin to guess. The INS had even shaken down her school with dogs and big beetle-looking men in riot gear, all for the one custodian. 

Tori followed what appeared to be the posted bus route the driver had refused to continue down - he had insisted said route didn't exist, or at least not anymore. It brought her past a pawn shop and more liquor shops then she thought were legal on the same block but she seemed to be making progress. At least she hoped so. Every building looked like it was on the verge of being condemned and the street signs not obscured by graffiti were bent out at odd angles, leaving it anyone's guess exactly where she might now be walking. 

She strained to remember the street names around this place. Not that she hadn't written them done, but she feared looking too much like an outsider here. So far she'd kept calm and disinterested enough to pass for a local, but if someone saw her looking at a map — or worse, asking directions... Although she could really use some help finding her way. 

She looked around, seeing the same smattering of tired people as before. Some men, some women, all old and wrapped in clothes that looked in desperate need of washing... it occurred to her she hadn't seen many people her age. Where were the teenagers? Or even little kids? Every block had felt like the times Tori visited her grandmother in the nursing home before she died. 

Not that old people couldn't be helpful but... Looking around again, Tori wondered if any of them would help. They might not be too fond of what she had planned - not that there was any way they could know - or could they? 

No. No, of course not. That was just the hormone-fueled paranoia talking. The paranoia grounded in the very real punishments reserved for her if she got caught. Damn... 

"Excuse me." 

Tori had been so caught up wondering if the locals would be willing to help or let alone talk to her, she hadn't noticed one of them coming up to do just that. 

"I said excuse me," she said again, a stout and middle-aged black woman with thick glasses. "But you seemed a little lost." 

"Oh, well, I mean the bus..." Tori fumbled. 

The woman rolled her eyes. "Left up by the mailbox, two blocks on the other side, down the stairs next to the Seven-Eleven." 

And she was gone, shaking her head and muttering "More of 'em every day." 

Tori watched her leave, absolutely confused. "What? I mean - huh?" What could that be about? She didn't seriously mean...

Read the rest of the excerpt here OR buy One Nation Under God and get the full story of America after Hobby Lobby!