Shift [excerpt] – William Tidwell

“…a long time ago, being crazy used to mean something. Nowadays everyone is crazy.”

   –    Charlie Manson

“This is a demon’s world if there ever was one.”  

   –    Alan Robert Krakower

His mind was serene and clear, like a polished bronze plate. Whenever he tried to think, it reflected an emptiness back into him. He jacked off every night, sometimes into his sheets, sometimes into Kleenex, and always to a specific frame of a woman’s lower body in short-shorts standing in front of a race car that he transferred from hard disk to hard disk since he was fourteen, and he believed to be from Fast & Furious 2, a film he had never seen. Later, he would get online and talk to some guys he knew back in high school. “Nigger,” they would call one another back and forth, in no meanness of spirit. “You’re a nigger and a faggot.” They might phrase it as a request for clarification: “is that because you’re a nigger?” or “is that because you’re a faggot?” often when something glib was said to which there was no practical response. One of them might interject something like: “I heard you suck humongous AIDS-ridden cocks and take them up your prolapsed asshole” or “the other day I saw a fat retarded nigger black as Africa and his breath stank like literal shit whenever he opened his mouth; kind of reminded me of you.” He might grin slightly upon reading this and type, “haha.” Others would react to the statement with a tiny icon of fecal matter given eyes and a mouth. Sometimes six or seven of his friends would react to messages like this with tiny icons of anthropomorphic fecal matter, or the word “nog” in red letters on a blue square (an abbreviation of “nigger”), or the head of a titantic supervillain with purple skin that was used to express mere enthusiasm, and the instant messaging program would tally the number of people who clicked these images with a rolling animation like a slot machine. Sometimes they would insult one another with actual meanness of spirit, and the change of tone amidst the banter would be palpable. This was accepted as long as you didn’t go too far. If you went too far with it, really tried to make a point, you would get called a nigger, a faggot, and/or an autist (an abbreviation of “autistic,” which didn’t necessarily refer to Autistic Spectrum Disorder but being socially maladaptive in the widest sense, and even plain stupid, sometimes substituted with the word “sperg,” an abbreviation of Asperger Syndrome, a more recently but retroactively formulated subset of ASD), and rightfully so, the law unspoken told. For instance, when he made an unfunny joke, there was a fifteen year old in the chat named Saul who would highlight his username and send him a reply with a video of a wrinkled mestizo man from the Dominican republic FaceTiming emotionlessly on his phone as a way of saying, this is you. He also liked to send awkward, vertically stretched pictures of children’s faces, usually either fat to the point of resembling a beachball, or skeletal and rigid, but without prominent jaw bones, somewhere between the ages of 8-13, taken perhaps without permission in front of their computers under fluorescent lighting. If the kid spammed these too many times, someone would ask him whether he had taken his lithium this morning, knowing that he was prescribed this as a mood stabilizer, or whether the white noise therapy machine his parents had bought and placed in his bedroom had stopped working (they might also send a fifteen second video of a white noise machine on a carpeted floor with squashed aspect ratio and looping mosaic fade/dissolve preset effects and sound harmonized to a sample of trap music with an autotune plugin in order to put him in his place). If this worked, he would not respond. They had a former friend who became an accountant, then a White Nationalist, and subsequently lost his job. He was half-Indian and half-French. They didn’t talk to him anymore because they thought he was kind of a faggot for doing that. They went on self-consciously repetitive tirades against him from time to time but mostly refrained from discussion. They liked to share parodic images and videos of black people getting killed by cops (one for example recounted how George Floyd “cried for his mommy” while being choked to death, and displayed stock art of rosy-cheeked emojis pointing and laughing while pleasant incidental music from Tom and Jerry played, then named him one of “the top 10 bravest black people” before showing a photograph of his corpse; the sender of this video had a picture of the Nintendo character Wario transformed into an infant as their profile picture), or maybe videos of obese people attempting to dance and sing to no avail that were uploaded to social media websites, or obese people getting knocked unconscious, or disabled people having fits, breaking objects, and testing the patience of their caregivers, or mentally ill people losing their temper on live internet streams where they were being teased or harassed, or black people fighting in the street with monkey shrieks spliced in, or sometimes transsexuals getting curb-stomped, or the classic bait and switch gag of a beautiful cartoon woman dissolving into a video of an unshaven obese man speaking Japanese honorifics in the voice of a toddler extremely close to his phone camera, or a nude virtual rave in a recent multiplayer video game adaptation of The Matrix franchise that exploded with blue electricity and changed into a drawing of an overweight transsexual crying at their computer in an undersized pink shirt (their body covered in crumbs, stains of what was assumedly semen, speckled black dots indicating unshaven hair, and seated by a shelf lined with plastic dolls and comic book merchandise, with a Masters in Philosophy from a state university hanging lopsided on the wall next to it), as well as a running joke where the same video of Japanese cartoon girls singing would be shared with edited subtitles in translation explaining that homosexuals reproduce by pedophilia and statistical evidence suggests the majority of homosexual relationships tend to fail, though it was not a crowd-pleaser to even mention this topic. There was Lukas, who shared vintage hand-drawn racist cartoons of Jewish people from independent comics published a few decades ago, but these were not impactful by virtue of their medium and their cultural exhaustion online, and moreover his poor comic timing and fondness for a style of electronic music called “liquid funk” did not endear him to the others. The mature members of the group didn’t care for such content these days, in any case. They kept at a distance and focused on improving themselves. Most of them had newfound interest in areas diverse as military history, martial arts, weightlifting, and even survivalism. Kyle, the eldest, who had a shot of a young Robert De Niro with bloodied fingers in the shape of a gun pressed to his head from the film Taxi Driver as his profile picture, openly lamented that his father never introduced him to these things as a child, in particular the work of Kurt Saxon. It was generally agreed that, in the immortal words of the Unabomber, the Industrial Revolution and its consequences had been a disaster for the human race, but especially for everyone in the chatroom.

They didn’t know he was a Soundcloud rapper. He used a moniker, and there were numerous special effects in his few music videos that made it difficult to see him, and also he wasn’t that successful so he never told them. They thought he went into computers or something, because he was thin and kind of short, what they might unsympathetically call “twinkish,” and had a problem with speaking up, which was why he started off as a mumble rapper. They hadn’t seen much of him since he dropped out of college.

He watched them talk for a while one night, then his younger brother Frances messaged him. Frances was about to join a raid on a police station in a virtual social network. He and the other attackers had found a news article announcing that a police station to ensure the control of toxic behavior against people of color and LGBTQ+ in the virtual social network had been created. The station was manned with cute cartoon animal avatar users in cop outfits, many of them gay and “furry,” a subculture focused on roleplaying as original or borrowed anthropomorphic animal personalities with its roots in the underground comics of the 1970s. This so infuriated Frances and some guys he liked to skate with and people he knew marginally online through a script injecting software development server that they immediately planned to flood the virtual police station on throwaway accounts with identical avatars of skeletons in default headwear such as football helmets, top-hats, baseball caps, fresh blond crewcuts, small American flags glued to their fists, crablike gates, and on occasion bulges in the front side of their pants. They spray-painted drawings of furries being shot, raped by space marines from the Warhammer 40K franchise, and statistics about LGBTQ suicide and black crime. Frances spammed a quote from the American socialist politician Norman Thomas on every inch of the building that would fit it: “If you want a symbolic gesture, don’t burn the flag, wash it.” He discovered this quote in a death screen of the video game Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.

The raid ended with all of them being permanently banned from the platform. He watched the empty stream for a couple minutes in silence, then Frances messaged him. “Do you want to hear something fucked up?” His brother asked. He said sure. “The guy who invented transgender was literally named Money,” Frances said. He agreed that was fucked up. They went to bed.

The next morning he visited a friend. He wanted to buy a bootlegged energy drink from him. He sometimes bought other drugs from him, but this time he wanted energy drinks. His preferred drink came from Brazil. It was called The Brazilian Real, like the currency of Brazil, and was not regulated there or in the U.S. The largest part of the labeling simply read “REAL” in red-gold lettering with a marquee warp effect. The word “energy” was set in neon blue below. “This is different than before,” his friend, who was named Jace, told him. He juggled a can in the air. “It has an RC stim in it.” “Ok,” he said, and wondered if he would be able to get hard on it. He liked to masturbate on energy drinks. “What’s that?” “A research chemical stimulant. A designer drug, like in 2077. It’s called 4-FML.” “Is that a joke? Like fuck my life?” “No?” “Aight.” He took home three cases to his apartment and cracked one open on his bed.

The effect of the stimulant was noticeable. He tried to pleasure himself for a while, but he remained flaccid as he kneaded his penis and got caught arguing with friends in his head who briefly insulted him a long time ago. He couldn’t stop doing one or the other for about half an hour, and then he began to feel a tension in his lower back that forced him to stand up. The tension crept along his spine to his shoulders, building in strength, and broke off at what he imagined was his brainstem. Then it was like he leapt forward in time, and began dancing back and forth across his room, standing on furniture, making repetitive seizing motions. He threw on some beats and tried to perform calisthenics, which quickly exhausted him. He laid on the floor and stared at the dated Y2K aesthetic design on the can of Brazilian Real. It looked like a gay pride flag, or trans pride flag, or one of those flags that new species of gay people used, and he felt somewhat disgusted by this, but to paraphrase a controversial American president, he still kept drinking that garbage. He started thinking about some computer drawings of unattractive male-to-female transsexuals hanging themselves that his old friends liked to send him as a joke. He could almost see these drawings overlaid on the HUD (heads-up display) of his mind, a pseudo-hallucinatory layer resulting from excited visual processing activity in his brain that was further exacerbated by the drink. They were often drawn as if they were screaming, their mouth a vertiginous abyss with jagged, yellow teeth and a discolored tongue, their eyes dry and red, their hair dyed purple or pink to signal their questioned femininity and supposed uniqueness, and hairy deposits of fat bunched under their chin, indicating their poor executive functioning and hygiene – or maybe they would be drawn with an exaggerated smile and a Rockwellian father figure about to shoot himself in the background, adding a tragic note to the ensemble, or they would be shooting themselves in the temple with a handgun at the same time as hanging themselves, the blood splatter animating in a loop, or they would be drawn with their noose tied to a helicopter that spun them around, which may have been a reference to a now-dated joke about the notion of gender performativity that he could only vaguely recall. Their heads elongated in his vision, blurring until they resembled albino Francis Bacon portraits. He got up and decided to make music on his computer.

The music he made was called Shift. It was a mix of trap and drill, and dubstep and future bass, and grime and footwork, and trill and screw, and other bass and beat heavy genres. It started really fast and slowed down, changed tempo and time signature frequently, and was filled with gunshot noises, overlapping tresillo drum hits, and other rhythmic patterns derived from music of the equatorial regions. It borrowed strongly from what is known in South America as funk proibidao or funk realidade, a style pioneered in warehouse parties hosted by criminal organizations in the favelas of São Paulo, Brazil, where cocaine, guns, and hookers were offered to preteens in order to entice them into gang life. It became popular three years before, in Summer of 2024, hyped into existence by a network of anonymous low-income producers that lived in the same city. He was still making mumble rap back then, but his songs were getting no likes. After he made the transition to Shift, his songs were still getting no likes, and he had developed an energy drink addiction. Energy drinks were popular in the Shift community. DJ Face, one of the earliest Shift producers, was notorious for shaking and spraying cans of carbonated energy drinks on his audience, who eventually did so in return. He was amused by this trend and decided to start consuming energy drinks while he produced in order to match the vibe. This resulted in a span of two weeks where he experienced a rawness in his urethra whenever he urinated or ejaculated that was surprisingly not the result of an infection or a kidney stone and was never ultimately explained, as well as a few episodes of heat exertion. Jace introduced him to The Brazilian Real at this time, known for its smooth flavor and inviting cinnamon diesel odor, as well as limited production cotton-candy variations. He thereon had no significant health problems as a result of the habit, though his body temperature measured higher than average whenever he visited a physician.

He was unable to make any music he could enjoy under the influence of the stimulant. It blocked his entry into a state of flow. He was tone-deaf. The more he tried to compose a melody, the more nauseous he became.

He checked the submissions email for his net-label. There was only an industrial noise album with gaudy purple cover art of multiple layered digital collages that were mostly beyond recognition except for the black sun symbol and a color-inverted photograph of Joseph Paul Franklin, a racist spree killer who attempted a murder of Larry Flynt in 1978, creator of Hustler magazine. The email explained the record was heavily influenced by the S.C.U.M. Manifesto. It linked a social media account that he then opened and browsed. The person appeared to be a trans woman about his age, of southeast Asian descent, who wore military boots and vintage death metal or hardcore t-shirts. She made long posts in lowercase that exceeded the character limit, forcing her to take a screenshot of the drafted post on her mobile phone, which she then cropped and posted itself. The posts were delirious, run-on sentences about humiliating social situations and their psychopathologically related sexual acts that she or other people brought upon themselves and perhaps by implication got off to, how these were grotesquely funny, sometimes employing cameos of famous or relatively famous musicians and entrepreneurs involved in such things as: spitting, cuckolding, self-harm, ball torture, piss and infrequently scat (sexual play with feces), with the occasional ironic jibe about the mental and physical weakness of cisgendered women or biological women and the pursuit of racist “boypussy” (a biologically male human metonymically framed as a sexual object, in terms of the orifices where one might insert genitalia during intercourse), or by contrast the invocation of a new social order where half of young males were trained to be “pathic” or receptively homosexual and feminine-presenting “sissies” under the ownership of traditionally masculine men such as those depicted in the work of the legendary fantasy artist Frank Frazetta, perhaps most known for his interpretation of Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian. These posts were predictably divisive with her “peers” or in her “scene,” if such a thing could be supposed to exist. His right eyelid started to twitch as he scrolled through her output and he squinted in resistance, a twinge of pain on his lip. He opened a direct message conversation with her from his anonymous personal account, named a four-letter nonsense word and given a low resolution capture from a YouTube video of the Disney cartoon character Donald Duck thrusting what resembled a tremendous erection into the air for a profile picture. He typed, “r u a CSA victim?” He waited a few seconds and saw that she was typing back already, which made him uncomfortable. He closed the window and didn’t think about her much for the rest of the day.

He was unable to sleep that night or arouse himself. A pressure gathered in his temples. He floated in a fugue state until dawn, having video game fantasies and committing microsuicide. He had another drink of Real in the morning to fight the fatigue and checked the instant messaging app on his phone.

There was going to be a parade at noon a few blocks away. A friend he had not contacted in months asked if he wanted to meet him there. Matthew was another producer like himself who had dropped out of college to pursue his career. He had wondered if he was dead.

He shaved but didn’t wash himself. It was May, and there was a mild chill. He left in jeans and a dark green windbreaker. The streets grew more crowded as he approached the parade. From what he overheard, it was mostly cryptocurrency themed. He turned a corner and confronted a four-story balloon of an entrepreneur in bobblehead proportions. His haircut was short and swooped to the left. He recognized the face but couldn’t remember the name. His menacing grin and neotenic polyurethane brow shone in the sun.

It felt warmer the closer he came to their meeting spot. He unzipped his windbreaker. The heat of the floats, the food stands, and humming play-booths with new handheld devices that children and stooping teenagers explored was pressing in on him. A bead of sweat ran down his forehead. He caught eyes with a goth couple betting plastic-wrapped snacks and a few dollars at a steel lunch table in a LAN fighting game with an obese man. A sharp pain shot in his chest. He read a street sign and realized he was there. He checked his phone and texted Matthew, who produced under the alias “Ball Deino.” He replied that he was on his way.

He leaned against the railing and watched the upcoming float. It looked like a huge yellow cake. There was an attractive woman sitting on the top of the cake and dangling her legs. She wore a white halter top and a plaid skirt. The top read “Gamer Thot Princess” in black letters. On the lower levels of the cake, what looked like male actors dressed as “nerds” in quirky ironic t-shirts and acne makeup made slow, heavy climbing motions toward the young woman, but never reached her. He recognized her, a former pornographic actress who had taken to political commentary online, an outspoken opponent of feminism and liberal ideology. The float advertised her softcore digitized art collection, which was in stylish retro low-interpolation, along with its flagship smart currency. “Show tummy!” The male actors could be heard crying out, and dual screens on the side of the float strobed the phrase in between previews of her collection that exhibited her belly button. He thought it had a carved look to it. “Truly we live in a modern Babel,” said a prepubescent child with chipmunk cheeks and an XXL polo who had been watching him and sipping a straw. He looked at the kid for a moment before an elder sibling pulled him away. Someone said his name.

Matthew’s eyes were sunken and red. His perm was wilted. He looked like he was headed for his execution. Matthew said he didn’t want to talk there, fearing that people were watching him. They went over to a table outside an empty cafe. He asked him what was wrong.

Matthew had dropped out of college on the pretext of joining a guerrilla streetwear brand. They advertised themselves with absurdist memes about capitalism on social media. He had been majoring in the fine arts. Their promotion campaigns eventually absorbed all of his time. The two lost contact with each other. He assumed that Matthew had given himself over to the life of a striver and dismissed all memory of him and their Uzi Vert/Richard Hawley nightcore mashup collab. This was only nine months ago but it felt as if he was remembering his adolescence. There was a sound like an explosion from the front of the parade. They both looked back for a while, seeing some commotion, a protest crossing the rails into the street maybe, but it was far off.

“You’re one of the first people I’m telling about this. I’ve managed to unfuck my whole meta finally. It started with an acid trip where some unsavory dukes threw me in on black trash bags.” “A dumpster?” “Yeah lol.” “Why were you tripping with these people?” “Homelessness.” “I thought they gave you a place to rest.” “They took all my funds. I didn’t own anything anymore. They made me extort more money from my parents until they threw me out.” “Why would you do this?” Matthew drummed his fingers and fell silent. The noise down the street grew louder. Someone was screaming. “They said it was necessary to gamify quantum hysteresis and manifest the revolution.” “Woke magick?” “Woke sex magick with Ophidian characteristics. Sethian retrofitting of abuse-based capitalist imprinting in the lymphatic system. They made us masturbate on a schedule. Tore sheets off our beds if we didn’t comply with momentary demands. It was like a ROTC program.” “Masturbate?” “And consume the semen with herbal blend.” “What about the girls?” “In that case menstrual discharge. They also forced kids to sleep in certain rooms if they were mixed race. They had to sit on special couches at the hub, like Feng Shui tuned along hereditary lines. Once a week we drew ‘unlucky donkey’ and someone was forced to play coffee table and footrest in main room from about two to six P.M.” “Who runs this – what were they called?” “ThenNow Militia. It’s a couple of swingers who’ve been reading about the occult their whole lives. Borderline lady of color and a perverted counselor.” “Ok. You got out?” “The woman, Airra is her name, she tried to start something with me and I said no. As retaliation she bullied me about having a thing for men of color that I needed to interrogate and made me get on a dating app to sleep with one.” He looked away from Matthew and closed his right eye. “They locked me out afterward.” He looked back at him. Matthew was lightly shivering. “I’ve been couch surfing and praying and searching for myself. People found out and started spreading rumors about me. I think it was Airra who told them. I was doxxed and they told my parents. Strangers sending memes about what they did to me on FB, telling me to end it, et cetera.” He slumped into his chair. His eye wouldn’t stop twitching. The Real was wearing off again. “It’s not about that though,” Matthew’s tone lifted, becoming more professional, “there’s someone that helped me and I wanted you to meet them. I think they know about you, they implied it at least.” “What? Help me with what?”

He passed an electronics superstore where a premiere was being held for a video game on his way back. A teenager stood near the entrance bragging about filming a hair-pulling fight between the Gamer Thot Princess and some protestors. He stepped inside the opening party. It smelled like sweat and stale bread. The developer was giving a speech about the game, Traumatale 2, a sequel to an enormously successful independent title from a few years ago. He praised the gamers and his development team, then heralded the dawn of a new era of freedom for creators and users alike.

Traumatale was an adventure fantasy set in a secret double of the world beneath “Metropolis City.” The unnamed male protagonist, a truant troublemaker and provocateur, is lured into the sewers by a whispering vine and kidnapped by giant rat servants. The secret underworld of Traumatale is dominated by two warring factions, the Traumalogoi, and the Traumaphages, which are respectively white and black-furred sexy rabbit dolls without eyes that are inhabited by microscopic shattered fragments of the ultimate consciousness crystal originated from before the Big Bang. They struggle over the balance of trauma in the world, initiated at birth with the penetration of lifeforms by informational fields of dark matter released from dead stars, and recoded throughout human existence by socialization. The Traumalogoi are an ancient race of spirits who have evolved to comprehend Trauma over thousands of years, passing down their wisdom to each new generation during the bicentennial “halving of the seed.” They promote compassion with all conscious beings and the exploration of higher relational truth, guiding the protagonist to intelligence and self-realization of gender identity should they make correct moral decisions and revere the “uniformity of knowing,” or ostracizing them in a punishment labyrinth should they choose to pursue the frequency of emotional violence and caprice, contributing to the continued distortion of love and sexual awareness on planet Earth. The Traumaphages antithesize the model of traumatic qi held by the Traumalogoi, instead preaching the doctrine that trauma can in fact be consumed, processed, and destroyed through the power of imagination. The Traumalogoi believe that at the beginning of the current historical megacycle, the Traumaphages, which once belonged to the “light yoga,” were infected with a retroviral disease from an improperly consummated human union they had orchestrated as part of a solstice ritual. This disease forever turned their fur black and clouded their thinking with the blind fulfillment of desire, initiating a homeostatic crisis in the gaiasystem. The “uniformity of knowing” posited by the Traumalogoi cannot resolve this disaster without contradicting their ultimate moral codes by enforcing authoritarian restrictions on the possibilities of synthesis in the underworld, reducing their strategic range to either prayer or subliminal forever war. The prophecy of the Traumalogoi claims that a child descended from the lineage of the disastrous union will arrive in the last age and bring a cure for the pathogenic division of traumatic qi that is responsible for the escalating chaos of modern times. The Traumaphages are by contrast unconvinced of the “uniformity of knowing” and instead posit the “uniformity of form,” offering the protagonist unlimited metabolic power and asking him to aid them in the complete deposition of the Traumalogoi and the liberation of traumatic qi once and for all. In Traumatale 2, the player is now a teenager and permitted not only romance but creative sexual adventurism with either faction, both of whom have convoluted procedural requirements for such actions. The sexual adventurism is fueled by open source AI trained on fan-fiction of the franchise, and integrated with roguelike moral consequence logic based largely around STDs.

After the presentation, he saw an ex-girlfriend of his wading through the crowd under the arm of Hamm Neumann, the lead developer, who was signing autographs for young teens costumed as the authoritarian ruler the player could become in the original Traumatale, complete with black leather, combover, and Zappa-esque goatee. Hamm was nearing forty and had an extremely receded hairline with a tuft above the brow that nauseated him and looked from where he stood like a bit of unchewed food left on someone’s face. Hamm had worked on two forgettable triple-A titles before quitting his job to focus on the first Traumatale, spurred on by donations. His ex Katherine was a former childhood actress who associated with an extensive selection of influential people in the art world. He stared for a couple minutes before she made eye contact with him. She may have noticed him before that but he wasn’t sure. She said something to Hamm and stepped away from the crowd. He felt immediately self-conscious and began to lean on one foot, crossing his arms and visualizing himself in a slow motion cut from a classic NY hip-hop video.

“What are you doing here?” Katherine asked. “I don’t know,” he said. “Who is the guy?” He asked, though he knew. She turned around and looked back at Hamm in silence. He thought he perceived the edge of a facial expression she was making. She turned back to him and seemed already done with the conversation. “I’m lost,” he said after a long pause, and with some sarcasm. It was true. She lowered her eyelids and raised her brows at the same time. “Okay,” she said in a familiar tone. He recognized he heard this tone often, from many people, and made a mental note of it again, which was funny to him. She kept looking at his face. He noticed this and got annoyed. “I went to see a friend,” he said, and started to elaborate before she cut in telling him it was fine. They mumbled amends. She went back to Hamm, who gripped her arm in a pastoral manner. He contemplated this for a while before leaving, but came up with nothing. He replayed the interaction in his head for most of his walk home, then he let it go in the only way he could and it sunk into the murk above his diaphragm and became indistinguishable.

He felt tired enough to sleep that night. He brushed his teeth but couldn’t remove a stinking metallic odor from his breath. His urine smelled the same. He assumed it was from the drink. It became stronger once he focused on it. He couldn’t masturbate. He felt sore almost, but not in particular. He fell asleep on his back, which was abnormal for him. He dreamed he was a pirate who buried himself in a crypt on a remote island with a lifetime’s stolen treasure surrounding his body. His crypt was then buried under layers of sand and dirt, covered with palm trees and bushes, spiked nets and bamboo landmines that erupted in a bloom of splinters and leapt from the sand and gored the unlucky treasure hunter’s face, and iron silos fitted in stone walls that spewed hot tar on those who tried to dig into the chamber laterally. The island was then artificially populated with apex predators, great cats and bears and carnivorous beasts from the hinterlands, as well as venomous insects, Japanese wasps, flies that reproduced parasitically through large mammals, small shining spiders that looked like they were made of crystals of sand who swarmed men and left them paralyzed in seconds, serpents fifteen meters long that could break spines with a single bite, and some descendants of those dragons St. Michael defeated that had lost their wings and now spent their days cooling on the rocks by the shore, feeding on crabs and tortoises whose armor they licked clean, savoring every morsel. The one secret route of entry was a tunnel dug for the size of a dwarf or pygmy that was hidden by grass and wound in a corkscrew shape underground, seeming to take the searcher off course, before finally twisting downward into the ceiling above his resting place, where they might accidentally drop and break their neck. He watched the contractors and their slaves from neighboring islands as they installed his terrible paradise, sometimes falling victim to the traps themselves, screaming as they were eaten alive, impaled, shred to pieces, persisting for days incoherent with pain before finally expiring. He laughed at the idea of the brave souls who would challenge him in death for his treasure. He called to all those souls worthy of him, kindred to him, who loved riches as much as he, a brotherhood he had never known in life. There was something more to the dream, but when he woke up he couldn’t remember it.