Saturday, September 11, 2010


In the near future, after our precariously balanced civilization of comfort and individualism has succumbed to the ravages of nuclear war, we will find ourselves desperately trying to survive and rebuild within a tribal society of raiders and looters. There will be no iPhones or iPads or wi-fi networks or anything at all that allows you instantly to get step by step directions from Fallbrook to Brawley.

It will not be complete anarchy. There will still be rulers of sorts. They'll call themselves whatever they want--chieftains, sheiks, kings--but no one will have any greater rightful claim to power than any other. Muscle will matter a great deal more than it does now. Intellect will not appear to matter any longer, although this will be an illusion. The real leaders will still be those with brains, but it will be all the more necessary to cultivate more immediate forms of personal protection.

At least, this is the way it will be where I end up.

When I arrive in the community where I eventually flourish, the local ruler will call himself a King. His Queen will already be dead by the time I come onto the scene. How she has died, I will not at first know, though I expect that sooner or later that detail, presumably an important one, will become clear.

In this community, like every other, all of the men and boys will care only about practicing their fisticuffs and wrestling and occasionally their trash talking. I will be the single solitary exception. Some of the other men will attempt to take advantage of me.

They will wish they hadn't.

I will belong to the brainy minority. I'll spend my time observing the others to find their vulnerabilities. I'll search for ways to circumvent the immediate need for muscle. I'll make them understand that though my frame is slender and my demeanor makes robbery tempting, I am not to be trifled with.

I will also understand on some rudimentary level that the extreme winds are produced as a direct or indirect side effect of the radiation from the war. I will not understand the details of why this is, but I'll understand enough to know that it can be reversed.

I will find a long red blanket in the wilderness. The strong winds will seem to think that it is a sail. I'll let the wind take the blanket from me, and miraculously it will return directly to me with another blanket in tow. This one will be at least four times my own body length. Why the men of the future will determine to make blankets so much longer than they are at present, I do not understand now, nor will I understand it later.

I will go inside the campsite with my blankets, and a lady of the King's court will try to take the longer one from me, but I'll wave her off, saying, "No, I've got it."

I will make my way around the group of boys practicing their fighting, rhythmically circling each other with fists clenched and chanting on their tongues like a song and dance from an age long gone but now returned, a dodo rising from the ashes of an eagle. I'll turn a blind eye to their absurdity. I'll understand the necessity of their foolishness. Every machine needs cogs and wheels.

I will stop at the entrance to the central keep. I'll listen at the door, for I'll suspect that the lady just inside is talking about me with one of my brothers. Satisfied that no foul play is afoot, I'll enter.

The King--he'll remind me of the King from the Wizard of Id--will ask for wood. The brawny men, obedient as they are, will bring him a heap of scrap lumber that they'll find scattered all over the wilderness. One man in particular, a large, bald, shirtless, hairy man, in fact a craftsman of some sort, will push the heap onto the central fire.

A cloud of smoke will explode from the fire. A chessboard will emerge. Another miracle.

One of the rooks on the board will have a red tag that reads, "Private." The men will try to touch it, but it will evade their grasp, darting footlessly about the board, between pawns, along the lines dividing rank and file, outside the boundaries. No one will be able to seize it.

I will approach and perform another miracle of my own. I will take the rook in my hand.

I will not be surprised or caught off my guard. The King will be angry. I'll see it coming.

"I will give it to you," I'll say, offering the rook to him. He won't hear me in his fury.

"I will give it to you," I'll say again. But again he won't hear.

It won't matter. The final miracle is still to come.

The departed Queen will coalesce from wisps of smoke and hover over the chessboard.

"No," she'll say, "it belongs to me." She'll challenge the King to a game of chess. He'll approach the chessboard to defend himself, but his time will soon come to an end.

Why will the rook be subject to me? I won't understand it at first. All I'll understand is that I am something special, that there is something extraordinary and terrible about me. The others will fear me, and I'll even come to fear myself. They'll begin to call me King. This, I'll understand, is and always was my destiny.

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