“ARG” – Fiction by Anthony Michael Morena

The Cheerleader - Norman Rockwell, 1961
The Cheerleader – Norman Rockwell, 1961

We’re absolutely giddy to present the first excerpt from our Fall 2014 issue today! “ARG” by Anthony Michael Morena is what you’d normally call “flash fiction,” but we think that’s an inadequate term for this explosive, subversive, wickedly enjoyable story. We think it should be called something like “blast fiction” instead.

{ X }

WE ALL HAVE OUR SPECIAL ROLES TO PLAY. Some of us have cameras. Some of us are handing out leaflets. Some of us are in a van idling across the street, waiting for the right moment. Everything has been planned and everything is going according to plan. We are gathered together at the park. This makes sense.  You would want to launch an alternate reality game in a highly trafficked area. Everything makes sense.

The plot of our alternate reality game centers around the fight between aliens who have infiltrated all levels of society, a cult built around resisting them, and our players. The aliens cannot be recognized on sight. There is no way to tell who is an alien and who isn’t an alien. The distinction between the aliens among us and normal humans will be up to the players to figure out. A player might even consider him or herself an alien. The pretense of secrecy suggests that everyone is being watched.

Everything is set. We have a plot, websites, email addresses, hidden objects, puzzles, codes. The flyers we are about to hand out contain an oblique warning that is actually a clue for where players can find out more. We are dressed in black jumpsuits and riot gear. We are dressed as the hidden threats among us, in Giants jerseys. This park is one of the most highly trafficked parts of the city. Its proximity to subway access and retail markets make it the perfect place to introduce our ARG. Everything is going according to plan. Everything makes sense.

Except for cheerleaders.

Fifty cheerleaders are running into the park, waving blue and yellow pom poms. They push by us, the corners of our flyers scraping against their spandex body suits. “Woooooh!” they yell as they pass, “Woooh!” They converge on a point directly in front of the statue of the president on horseback. They start to cheer. From vans they have parked around the park a four-to-the-floor beat shakes the already noisy downtown streets. From the banners it’s clear that they’re here to promote a new TV show about Southern college cheerleaders. The park has been taken over by their astroturf flash mob.

They are not alone.

From the west side of the park: a hundred people wearing red shirts singing along to music no one else can hear. They are all wearing headphones, all of their mp3 players synched to the same track, which they dance to. They are synchronized to the voice that speaks over the rhythm. “Jump up and down” says the voice and all of the redshirts begin to jump up and down. Another group comes from the east side of the park. They are all wearing blue shirts. They are singing and dancing to another song, a different song, another one that no one else can hear. From time to time the people on the east side of the park, the blueshirts, will all throw their hands up in the direction of the people on the west side of the park, the redshirts, wiggling their fingers. The redshirts will then all start making roundhouse kicks into the air. They are doing this for fun. They are “hacking reality.” Both groups are slowly approaching the center of the park.

There, a zombie bar crawl is on its way to the college bars a few blocks away. They have already been drinking for a few hours. They are all in character, moaning for brains, running up to the frontlines of the redshirts and the blueshirts, grasping.

People walk through the park trying to get to work. They are saying “This is annoying.” The zombies are saying “Braaains.”

There is an explosion.

An explosion rips through the park.

Cheerleader bodies flip into the air in a way that almost looks coordinated. For a second, the blast is mistaken for a firework display. The people on the west and the east sides of the park start to cheer, as the explosion happened to coincide with the crescendo of one of the songs on their mp3 players, a club remix of the hit Rihanna song, “Diamonds.” Except it is becoming clear this is not a fireworks display, this is not a part of their social experiment. They can tell that because of the blood and also the smoke. The zombies confuse things. The man trailing his intestines is in fact unhurt. Is a woman running across the park with her hair on fire in real danger or another prank?

Then, improvising, the zombies start to pick up the injured cheerleaders. The redshirts and blueshirts use their smartphones to pull up first aid instructions, and to take pictures and videos of the chaos. And we are there, dressed in the black jumpsuits with black shades and riot gear meant for aliens, and are immediately taken for police, and respond as such. We take people by the hand, we tell them it will be all right. Come with me, we tell them, everything will be all right. We are the police. Everything is okay now.

People are staring at the park from the high windows of the shopping center next to the park. They are doing whatever it is they can think of doing first: calling their parents, their children, putting their hands over their mouths, crying. One of our flyers floats up to their window in the air among the hot ash. It says:

 

YOU’RE NOT THE ONLY ONE WHO THINKS THAT SOMETHING HORRIBLE IS ABOUT TO HAPPEN.

 

The bent corner of the paper catches fire and the game burns in the wind.

{ X }

ohmeANTHONY MICHAEL MORENA is a writer from New York who lives in Tel Aviv. His book The Voyager Record, about the music, images and sounds on board the two Voyager interstellar spacecrafts, will come out in 2016 from Rose Metal Press. He also reads fiction for Gigantic Sequins, a black & white literary arts journal. He wants everything to be alright.

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