Global Population Crisis

Bang. Bang. Bang. A thunderous knock at the door startles Chris to his feet. He edges toward the door. The worn floorboards creak beneath his bare feet.

“Who is it?” He asks.

“USCPC sir. Please open up,” the voice answers sternly. 

Chris slowly cracks the door open and peers out. Standing on his small front porch is a short, balding man in a black nylon jacket and khaki pants. He taps his right index finger on the white block letters USCPC printed across the left breast. 

Behind the short man’s left shoulder stands a tall expressionless soldier in an all-black special ops uniform. His clean shaven head glistens in the sunlight. An M-16 rifle is slung across his chest, while a handgun rests in the holster on his hip and the large knife is strapped to his thick, powerful leg.

“How can I help you gentlemen?” Chris asks.

The short man assumes, “Chris Jackson?” Chris nods his head down once to the affirmative. “Mr. Jackson, name is Detective Strauss with the United States Center for Population Control.” He motions to the other gentleman with him, “This is Officer Smith. I have a warrant to search your home, but I’d like to have a short chat first.” He holds up a piece of paper stamped in official government seals, “Will you please let us in?”

Chris hesitates for a moment, then opens the door the rest of the way, allowing the men to enter. “Please come in. Let’s have a seat in the living room. It’s more comfortable than standing in the doorway,” Chris says as he leads them into the room directly beside the front foyer. “Have a seat,” he says, motioning to the armchair beside the fireplace. Chris flops down on the couch. The detective sits in the armchair facing Chris. Officer Smith stands silently by the doorway of the room.

“Would you like something to drink?” Chris offers.

“I would love a glass of water,” says Strauss. He turns to his partner, “Smith?” Officer Smith remains motionless. “I suppose that’s a no?” Strauss assumes.

Chris yells over his shoulder to his wife in the kitchen, “Honey, we have some guests. Can you please fix us each a glass of water and maybe a snack?” Chris turns back to the detective, “It’ll just be a minute. So what can I help you with, detective?” 

“Mr. Jackson, I am sure you are aware of the government’s new laws on population control,” Detective Strauss infers.

Chris puts his feet on the coffee table. “Please refresh my memory,” he replies. 

Chris’ wife, Ellen, enters the room balancing a tray with four glasses of water and some chips and dip. She hands one glass to the detective and one to Chris. She places the snacks on the coffee table between the two men.

“Honey, please take your feet off the table,” Ellen insists.

Chris pulls his feet off the table and sets them back on the floor.

Ellen turns to Smith, “Would you like a glass of water officer…?” 

“Smith,” he answers. “No thank you.”

“Well I’ll just put it down here in case you change your mind.” She says as she places it on a small table beside the officer. “How about a chip?”

Ellen lifts the bowl of chips off the tray to offer to Smith. He helps himself to a single chip and raises it to his mouth.

“Wait,” Ellen says, “You must try my famous dip.” She places the chips on the table and picks up the small crystal bowl of dip. Smith helps himself to a generous scoop. “There you go hon’. It’s good, isn’t it?” Smith nods, his mouth full. Ellen flashes him a smile, places the dip on the table and walks back toward the kitchen.

“Honey, will you please join us?” Asks Chris.

Ellen stops and turns back to face him, “Just a moment, my love. I have to get something from the kitchen.” She leaves the room.

Chris turns his attention back to Detective Strauss, “So Detective, you were saying?”

Strauss takes a sip of his water, “Wow! That’s very good.”

“Reverse osmosis,” Chris informs the detective, “It removes the chemicals and many of the unnecessary minerals from the water.”

“Very well,” says Detective Strauss as he places the glass on the table. Chris leans forward and reaches under the coffee table. Officer Smith aims his M-16 at the back of Chris’ head.

Chris lifts his hand up from underneath the table. He places a coaster on the table top and slides it toward Strauss. “Don’t want to ruin the finish,” Chris says as he flashes a wink at Strauss and places his glass on the coaster. “As you were saying?”

Smith lowers his firearm. 

“Yes. The new law set in place by the US government stipulates that every child born in this country must be assigned to an adult at a one to one ratio.”

“So they say,” replies Chris.

“They do,” says Strauss. “I am also aware that you currently have three children. A son named Caleb that is registered to you…” 

“Correct,” says Chris.

Strauss continues, “A daughter named Rachel that is registered to your wife, Ellen?”

Chris confirms the statement, “Also correct.”

“And a second son named Chris that is registered to a… Kristina Jackson?”, asks Strauss, implying he’d like a further explanation.

“Yes,” Chris confirms, “Kristina is my sister. She is, um… barren. To her credit she was overjoyed when little CJ came into our lives, and even happier that we chose her to be his sponsor.”

“Well that’s just fantastic. And what you say corresponds with the information I have here,” Strauss confirms.

Chris jumps to his feet, “Splendid! Well gentlemen, thank you very much for the visit. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some chores to get to.” 

Strauss interrupts, “There is one more thing that we have not discussed.”

“And what might that be?” Asks Chris.

“Your wife, Ellen. She’s pregnant isn’t she?” Pries Strauss. Chris’ slack jawed reaction comes as no surprise to the detective. He motions to Chris to have a seat. Chris begrudgingly sits back down on the couch. “She’s pregnant and there is no one to register this baby to, correct? Your parents are both deceased, are they not? Ellen’s parents are also deceased, is that correct? Neither of you have any more friends or family to whom you can register this child?”

“That’s correct,” Chris’ words fall out of his mouth like a sack of marbles dumped out onto the floor. He takes several deep breaths.

“Do not worry, Mr. Jackson, you have a number of options. First, as you may have heard, you can move north to Canada. Their government has been generous enough to set up settlements in the northern prairie provinces to take in families with unregistered children. It’s by far the most humane option and I urge you to take it. You won’t have to move until the baby is born, however, I recommend making the journey before your newborn comes along. It’ll make it easier on everyone involved.”

“And what are my other options should I choose not to move to the frozen tundra?” Chris asks, snidely.

“Well,” Strauss heaves a long breath, “Option two is to hand over the unregistered child to the government.”

“What will they do with a baby?” Chris worriedly asks.

“I can’t tell you, as I am not privy to that information,” Strauss admits. “And the third option is that one of the children is destroyed. In this case, I can have a doctor here in the next week to perform an abortion so as to avoid any unnecessary bloodshed of one of your other young children.”

Chris places his head in his hands. His body heaves as he sobs, releasing his frustration and fear.

“I’ll be honest with you Mr. Jackson,” says Strauss, “While it may seem extreme, at least you have the option to relocate. Two other, much larger countries, are simply hoarding and massacring children and the elderly. Many other regions are completely war torn. Tens of thousands of bodies are being incinerated everyday. Billions of people around the world don’t have the opportunity that I’ve presented to you. So… what would you like to do?”

Chris ponders for a while. He stands back up, “If you’ll excuse me, I must speak with my wife.” He leaves the two men in the living room and walks down the hall to the kitchen.

Detective Strauss shoots a look at Smith. “Seems like a fairly reasonable guy. I think he’ll do right by his family, don’t you?,” he whispers as he scoops some dip onto a chip.

Smith takes a deep breath, “I don’t feel well.”

“What?” Strauss asks. 

Smith switches off the safety on his firearm, “I think there’s something in that dip.” Smith turns a pale grey and begins sweating profusely.

Strauss drops the chip back into the bowl. 

Smith violently bends over at the waist. His blood filled vomit hits the floor with a splat, spreading across a two foot radius.

Ellen creeps into the room from behind him. She presses the barrel of a loaded glock to the side of his head. “Easy there, soldier. Just drop the rifle.”

Smith swings toward Ellen as she pulls the trigger, painting the walls with a shiny new red coat. Smith’s large body hits the ground with a heavy thud. 

A second gunshot is fired by Strauss straight into Ellen’s chest. Strauss stands up out of his seat. He creeps slowly toward Ellen’s body. As he steps out of the room and back into the foyer, he lifts his head to see Chris standing at the end of the hall. Strauss points his gun down the hallway. 

A third gunshot rings through the air. Strauss examines the pistol. He ponders momentarily about whether or not he has pulled the trigger. A sharp heat fills his gut. He presses his hand against his belly. Bright red blood oozes out of the hole, soaking his clothes and hand, dripping onto the hardwood.

Strauss glances down the hallway. Chris has disappeared from sight. Tilting his head upwards, he sees Caleb, the Jackson’s eight year old son, sitting atop the staircase that leads directly to the front door. His small pistol smokes while the bullet lodged in Strauss’ gut wears him further down by the second. Strauss fires frantically as Caleb takes cover.

Chris steps back into the hallway and fires one shot from his .44 Magnum, ripping Strauss’ leg wide open. The detective takes a step backward, slipping in Smith’s vomit. The hardwood jars him as it becomes closely acquainted with his tailbone. Ellen kicks the gun away from his hand from her lying position. Chris slowly approaches and helps Ellen to her feet. They stand together hovering over Strauss.

“These new vests are great, honey,” Ellen says as she taps her chest. “Frontline tactical. Got a great deal,” she says with a giggle.

“We need you to do something for us,” says Chris.

Strauss slides his body toward the door frame and sits up against it. “What do you want?”

“You are going to give me the password to your phone,” says Ellen as she rifles through Strauss’ pocket.

“What are you going to do?” He asks.

“We’re going to report this as a false alarm,” she replies.

“No.” Strauss heaves a breath, “What are going to do with me?” 

“Would you like to see?” asks Chris, deviously.

Chris grabs Strauss’ legs. He drags the detective down the hall, flings open the door to the basement, and pulls his bleeding body slowly down the stairs. Strauss’ head bounces off each step, one by one until it finally hits the concrete of the basement floor. Chris flips on the light, revealing a four foot high stainless steel tub, a long stainless steel table and an industrial bandsaw. He drags Strauss to a pole in the middle of the room and leans him up against it.

The ceiling joists creak as Ellen drags Smith’s body down the hallway.

“Strong. Isn’t she?” Chris asks rhetorically.

The loud thumping of Smith’s body crashing down the stairs worries Strauss as if the whole house is about to collapse. Ellen follows slowly behind. She steps over Smith’s limp body, approaching Strauss. She crouches down beside him.

Ellen whispers softly in Strauss’ ear, “You see, detective Strauss, this is where we dispose of nosey law enforcement agents, shitty neighbours, and basically anyone who threatens our family.”

Chris slides on long, black rubber gloves, and steps into a full hazmat suit. He straps a pair of swimming goggles to his head. He opens a large door in the corner of the room, removing a solid frozen body. The victim’s highway patrol uniform clings to his frigid corpse. Chris lays the body on the table beside the band saw. He and Ellen lift Smith’s oversized body and force it into the freezer. Chris shuts the door and confirms that it is well sealed.

Chris flips the switch on the bandsaw and the loud whirring drowns out all other sounds. He cuts the body into several pieces, rolling each one off the end of the saw, into a large plastic bin.

Ellen, crouches beside Strauss again to yell in his ear, “You see, detective, we have to freeze the bodies first. Otherwise the blood will be everywhere. We cut up those bodies on a band saw cuz they’re easier to handle that way. Then my darling love will put the pieces into that stainless steel tub. It’s  filled with acid to dissolve the remains.”

A weak cough escapes Strauss’ mouth. He winces and passes out from the pain.

Chris smashes the big red killswitch on the saw. The blade slows to a stop. He removes his gloves and places them on the table. He walks over the unconscious detective. He wakes Strauss with a hard slap to the face. “Welcome back,” Chris says with a chuckle.

Ellen whispers into Strauss’ ear, “Try to relax,” She slides behind the detective, “It’ll all be over soon.”

The rough texture of a thick rope presses against Strauss’ neck, scratching and cutting the skin. His eyes roll back in his head as his breathing slows. His limp body slumps to the floor.

TOOL: Fear Inoculum Tour

In my 23 years of being a TOOL fan and having seen the band live eight times, I can confidently state that the Fear Inoculum Tour harboured their best performance I’ve ever been fortunate enough to experience. And an experience it was.

The Show

The colourfully vibrant visual effects rocked the senses beyond that of any previous concert. Mind bending projections and lasers engulfed the backdrop. Moving lighting rigs pulsed like the music’s heartbeat. And an innovative use of ropes that performed like a transparent screen between the crowd and the stage offered a level of depth that perfectly matched the depth of what I call TOOL’s rock symphonies. After many years of evolution, TOOL’s show has finally become a cohesive unit to make one of the most complete concert experiences ever. 

The only downfall would have been for anyone at extreme viewing angles. Since the visually captivating effects are designed from a front-and-centre vantage point, experiencing what the light and stage technicians intended would require a seat from approximately somewhere in front of the stage. The difference between a head-on view and what the people saw at those extreme angles is the difference between just watching and truly experiencing the show.

The Band

Danny Carey was tight as hell, hitting every beat and carrying the tempo on his shoulders as only a man of his stature and ability can. As one of the best drummers in the world today, Carey had no problem executing with pinpoint precision for the entire length of the set. 

Justin Chancellor’s bass didn’t just add subterranean frequencies, it packaged and air mailed them via a drop kick directly to your chest. To hear a slappy bass or just a low end can be a treat, but Chancellor took the instrument’s potential to a new level.

Adam Jones’ guitar sang every song like Luciano Pavarotti, absolutely nailing all intended notes, noises, and nuances. His artistic creativity was on full display and we as adoring fans lapped it up gratefully.   

Maynard was… well… Maynard. Thunderous vocals, angelic melodies, strange animal like movements made him the icing on the TOOL cake. 

The Finale

TOOL covered songs from every album, save for Undertow, providing a more than acceptable cross-section of their musical catalogue. However, the final song, Stinkfist, was preceded by something not normally seen at TOOL’s shows. Maynard allowed everyone to take out their phones, even jokingly calling for the security to “stand down”. Unfortunately, the irony was probably lost on the majority of the audience, since the song is about the ongoing cycle of boredom and stimulus. Nevertheless, fans itching to use their little digital comfort rectangles didn’t hesitate to whip them out and film the entire closer.

While they were busy screwing around with zooming, getting a steady shot, and optimizing their audio, none of which would ever do it justice, magic was unfolding before their very eyes, as was something else. 

The way the band left the stage felt almost like a farewell. Since the new album is advertised as the culmination of TOOL’s evolutionary music, it’s only fitting for this to be the final tour, with all the members open to go on to whatever other projects they’d like. While I hope this isn’t the case, there was an overwhelming feeling of closure. 

TOOL may very well be done, but the music, the community, and the inspiration of their art will live on. Who knows? Maybe they’ll release a new album in 20 years called “Afterlife” or maybe not.

Cheers to Danny, Adam, Justin, and Maynard for all the great music, and to the stage, lighting, and sound crew for the absolutely mind blowing experience.

Writer’s Block: Is it Real?

Over the years, while I was constantly convincing myself that a career in writing was unfeasible, I would hear of successful writers complain of writer’s block. It has been hinted at, expounded upon, and driven plots throughout short stories, novels, TV shows, and movies. But, is it real? Do writers actually hit a wall, are they lazy, or is it just a crap day with no inspiration?

In my short time as a writer, I have certainly experienced days where I just couldn’t come up with something that advanced the story I was working on. However, I have noticed that those are good days to begin or continue another project, unless I am trying to meet a deadline.

If meeting a deadline is the issue and I must get it done in a timely fashion, I’ll take my dog for a walk, call someone and have a conversation, or better yet, I’ll ask someone that I trust to read it and give me an honest opinion. Sometimes, the opinion given sparks an idea or new path to take within the story. Other times, I try to put myself in the shoes of the reader so that I am able to experience it from their point of view. While the latter usually helps with copy editing and finding plot holes, everything that can be done to break up the monotony of staring at a computer screen, eventually leads to getting back on track with my work.

So, back to the original question. Is writer’s block real? For myself, it doesn’t really exist. For other writers, it may in some form or another. Either way, it’s not forever, and keeping your eyes open for the next hint of inspiration should be your main priority.

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