Author's Note: I wrote this story specifically with the intention of sending it to a magazine in the hope of getting it published and becoming a 'real' author. Unfortunately I discovered that being paid for writing could summarily terminate my private disability benefits. Since I don't fancy being a starving artist, you readers at FictionPress can reap the benefits; they can't stop me from publishing for free! Hope you enjoy the story. I sincerely hope that no one is offended; my goal was to be an equal opportunity bigot – with no group getting preferential treatment nor escaping ridicule.
I also wish to publicly apologize to Jackie, my beloved Ch'Weenie dog, who has spent many hours keeping my lap warm while I write. Though after all, he's only half Chihuahua!
I love the really weird news stories; the crazier the better as far as I'm concerned. You know the ones I mean: "Man Bites Dog", "Class Ring Returned to Owner After 50 Years in Lake", "Co-Workers Are Twins Separated at Birth". That kind of thing. Now, don't get me wrong, they've gotta be at least a little bit believable; none of this "wild-sex-orgy-in-the-flying-saucer-after-the-aliens-abducted-me" crapola. Puh-lease. You should be so lucky.
Weird science stories are the best, though I like 'em better when they're a step above two-headed calfs and Killer Bees carrying off the family Chihuahua. Personally I'm rooting for the bees; Chihuahuas are nasty-tempered yappy little creatures. I surf the web many nights looking for that kind of stuff and then drive my own co-workers (who, as far as I know, are not long-lost relatives of any sort) crazy the next day telling them about the latest gem I've unearthed.
That's how I got wind of what was coming, though of course I didn't realize it at the time. I found this headline: "Body Rocked in Coffin by Waves". Now that's my kind of story! It was from some little burg down on the Louisiana coast; a family had gone to visit a relative's grave and heard a funny noise coming from the coffin. They'd called the cemetery people, who in turn called the scientists, who eventually came to a conclusion. The ground's marshy there near the ocean and the water table is high; it was some kind of freak resonance from the waves that seemed to be moving the body around in the coffin. I'd have sued the cemetery – lots of mental anguish and suffering issues there for the lawyers to work with. They could get a bundle if they played their cards right.
My co-workers were less impressed than usual with this little tidbit when I related it Friday morning. Carole thought it was gruesome, while Ted laughed at the explanation. Hey, I never said I believed it. It was just outré enough to catch my attention.
It didn't take long before I found similar stories from all over the country – indeed, all over the world - and apparently it'd been going on for awhile. Quite understandably most folks were more than a little hesitant to speak up for fear of being laughed at and branded crackpots; but once the news started leaking out they were eager to jump on the bandwagon. The scientists did laugh, calling it a case of keeping up with the Joneses' mass hysteria.
They might've known their attitude would only drive people to prove them wrong. Suddenly outings to the cemetery became popular; take a picnic lunch and listen to Aunt Freda thump in her casket while you ate. By the end of the first week it wasn't enough to have an active grandparent; to really impress anyone you had to have whole branches of the family tree rolling around six feet under. Orphans took to claiming untended graves just so they didn't feel left out.
Obviously at this point the wave-action theory no longer held water. You could tell by the tone of their comments that those Men (and Women) of Science were just as mystified as the rest of us, and moreover they weren't happy about it. They took it as a collective personal affront, and threw themselves into the challenge with a vengeance. They measured everything you could think of, and some things that most of us never heard of. Every night the news channels had another self-proclaimed expert in for a chat, patiently expounding their theory while managing to disparage the ideas of the other so-called authorities.
Talk show hosts were quick to pick up on the controversy, and often had several specialists on the same show. I don't think anyone actually learned anything from what they had to say, but it sure was fun to watch. Not a one of 'em could keep their big fat mouths shut while the other spoke; every show had some type of conflict, which of course was the whole point. Here's an example:
Rocky Hill was expounding his geological theory on Letterman one night when Wendy Currents called him a (bleep)ing idiot. She looked surprised upon hearing the volume of her opinion, so I don't think she realized the mike would pick up her whisper. But she used it to her advantage by continuing to murmur, effectively talking over Rocky, standing up and waving her arms in an attempt to demonstrate her own atmospheric hypothesis. In the meantime Bea Crawley took the opportunity to scuttle over to Dave's desk carrying several little wire cages of insects and, squatting beside his chair, put the bugs through their paces in an effort to show how their activities might explain the underground movement.
Rocky tried valiantly to ignore them both, though he ever-so-casually shifted the easel supporting his visual aids in a manner carefully calculated to hide Bea from the camera. But he could see on the monitor that the cameraman was focusing on Wendy's antics rather than his color-coded diagrams. Perhaps that was because her low-cut neckline showed her personal hills doing plenty of quaking from her wild gesticulations. When she drifted closer and 'accidentally' knocked over the easel he'd had all he could take and shoved her off the stage. Unfortunately the large cardboard charts flew backwards and slid across Dave's desk, pushing the caged creepy-crawlies ahead of them like a snowplow.
The lids popped off when the cages hit the floor. Bugs variously flew, crawled, and jumped according to their wont as they escaped into the depths of the studio. Bea screamed in alarm for her pets, while offstage the crew just plain screamed. Some of those critters were poisonous. They went to commercial as guests, staff, and audience alike ran headlong for the nearest exit. The show resumed with the earlier-than-scheduled appearance of the next guest, a lovely young starlet. I noticed that she tended to brush at her arms and legs a lot.
"Out of the mouths of babes", or so they say. Yet it was a six year old girl whose innocent remark finally solved the dilemma. You know she was just repeating what she'd heard her parents say when she told them that Great Uncle Henry was spinning in his grave. She made the rounds of the talk-shows once she was proved right, and I bet her folks made a bundle too.
The scientists were not pleased. Oh, they were sure that was what was going on all right; they just couldn't explain it. What they could explain, albeit reluctantly, was the effect this mass spinning had on the weather. The restless dead all over the world were turning night and day in a generally eastward direction; it affected both air and water currents by sending vibrations through the ground. Hey, I didn't say I understood it, but finally all the putative experts in all the various specialties agreed on something. Far be it from me to say they were wrong.
An international conference (almost) unanimously declared that the mass spinning of the dearly departed was the real cause of rising temperatures and the increase of major weather phenomena. At last fluorocarbons could once again hold up their heads as useful chemicals, and smog returned to its former status of big-time irritant. Sales of SUV's skyrocketed, and three carmakers immediately announced a return to Freon-based air-conditioning in next year's models. Consumers were pleased, while ecologists were torn between frustration and anger.
Now that we knew what was causing the problem, the $64,000 question was why the dead were spinning. Everybody and their dog had an opinion, and they were all sure they were right. They were also more than willing to share their erudition with the rest of the world, often loudly and forcefully. The unprofessional conduct of the scientific community was nothing compared to what happened next.
Every wacko in the world began shouting their pet conspiracy theories from the rooftops. Depending on who you listened to the cause of the spinning was EM radiation from an overabundance of cell phones, ruination of rain forests, population control via chem trails, acid rain, or any number of other crazy theories. Many of them were quite insistent that it was somehow the fault of the current government, though that was mostly here in the States as protestors in some foreign countries had a marked tendency to disappear. Predictably religious zealots showed up on every street corner wearing sandwich boards foretelling the end of the world but happily accepting donations nonetheless.
It didn't take long before people realized that they'd never believed that horse-pucky before, and it wasn't making any more sense now. Some crowds tried to shout down these doomsayers, which only wound them up all the more. The general public response was even more lethal; most people simply ignored the idiots or worse, laughed in their faces.
The scientists had faded into the woodwork without a word or a diagram.
I guess they figured they hadn't exactly helped, and couldn't take any more blows to their egos. So, human nature being what it is, everyone started trotting out their own particular causes. We all have some complaint about what's wrong with the world so I guess it was pretty natural to feel that surely that must be what was disturbing the dead. After all, the phrase "spinning in his/her grave" is understood to mean that those who have passed on are pissed about something the living are doing.
The more predictable beefs surfaced first. Racial issues abounded; black vs. white, Serbs vs. Croats, Tutsis vs. Hutus, etc, ad nauseum. The fighting was atrocious, with thousands of casualties on all sides. The Kurds seceded from Iraq, while illegal aliens all over the word demanded immediate citizenship. Native Americans ordered whites, blacks, and Hispanics alike to leave North America. Age became an issue when Sexy Senior Citizens declared it was the fault of lazy young whippersnappers, while thirty-somethings lobbied Congress to repeal Social Security and make the old geezers go back to work for a living.
The Ku Klux Klan paraded through the streets of Atlanta one fine Saturday afternoon. They wore their best white robes and those pointed hats with the eyeholes so they could see to walk but there would be no possibility of identifying their faces. Their leader went only by the name of Jack S. As they spouted their hate-filled rhetoric the crowd listened in near-silence, probably wondering if they'd somehow managed to travel back 50 years in time. Then a group of good ol' high-school boys decided to have a little fun by throwing lit firecrackers at the marchers.
At first it was just a few that they'd probably found in the floorboard of their pickup truck. But they must've used their radiation-emitting cell phones to call for reinforcements because suddenly the Klan was under all-out attack. It looked like a medieval war movie with fire-arrows raining down upon the enemy. The campaigners could no longer swat them aside, and Jack S.'s snow-white robe went up in flames. Instead of rolling on the ground or whipping off the burning outfit (and thus revealing his identity), he ran pell-mell back toward his troops. They tried manfully to put out the flames, which promptly spread to their own long gowns.
At that point they abandoned the parade route altogether and headed into the crowd in a frantic search for water. This of course only spread the fire among the onlookers who also began running. Fortunately the Chief of Police had had the foresight to request that a fire engine stand by in case of emergency and the firemen were able to hose down the entire flaming swarm with only minor injuries.
Liberal, Kansas (an oxymoron if I ever heard one) was treated to two protest rallies on the same day. Gay Merriman and a mixed-gender group in flamboyant dress carried signs demanding full acceptance of homosexuals. A few blocks over Barb Strait had gathered the members of her Sunday school class to stump for a Defense of Marriage law.
It didn't take long (those cell phones again) for each group to hear about the other. They both set out on the warpath, intent on mayhem. The two columns met in the middle of a busy street and shouted at each other while stranded motorists laid on their horns to no avail. Yelling turned into personal insults, which were responded to by open-palm slaps. About three seconds later the catfight began; faces were scratched, hair was pulled, and clothing was ripped off. The police hauled them all to the nearest place big enough to contain the mob, the high school gymnasium. Before the cops could sort them out and take names the throng thinned; the assumption was that the students, mortified more than usual by their parents' behavior, were sneaking them out the back door and smuggling them home, covered by a blanket, in the backseats of their SUVs.
Concepción Santos and her like-minded cronies staged a sit-in in front of Planned Parenthood in Charleston, blocking access to the facility. The local reproductive rights group, led by Iva Wright, was immediately drawn like moths to a flame, arriving a full five minutes before the cops. They were armed with air cannons and proceeded to shoot pages of various appropriate literature at the seated protesters; copies of the Constitution, Roe vs. Wade, and local ordinances pertaining to un-licensed public demonstrations.
Their enthusiasm was excellent and their aim even better. The anti-abortionists were surrounded by a blizzard of paper, though they were a bit busy dabbing at paper cuts and wiping airborne grit from their eyes to be able to read any of it. As the barrage lightened they brought out their own weapons – naked baby dolls dipped in cow's blood. They'd intended to use them as a graphic exhibition, but quickly realized that the effect would be greater if the dolls were thrown. The news crews got a particularly good video of Iva being beaned by a life-sized plastic baby, though it was hard to tell if the blood on her forehead was bovine or human.
Environmentalists got into the act too, stung by the sudden reversal of their long-held beliefs but still insistent that lack of adherence to their policies was the cause of the commotion. Treesa Greene's merry band invaded an oil field armed with dynamite and intentions of blowing up as many oil wells as possible. (There aren't many trees to hug in West Texas.) They also carried with them cages of white doves to signify the peace of nature and the purity of their mission.
Derek "Pumper" Riggs, owner of that particular oil field, arrived just in time to see a cloud of dust appear at the base of a well. Even without his binoculars he could see the platform topple, but he didn't wait around to determine how much damage had been done. He jumped into his shiny new red Chevy Silverado, pointed the cow-horn hood ornament toward the supply yard and stepped on the gas. He heard another explosion while he was putting his plan into action.
The anti-pollution types sneered when they saw Derek pull up in a water truck. After all, the clean water would only wash off the dust and sweat they'd accumulated in the course of their work. Imagine their surprise when "Pumper" let go with the thousand gallons of crude he'd loaded into the tank. They began running as fast as they could, but the exertion shook the doves something awful. By the time they reached the safety of their hybrid and electric cars they'd learned the horrors of being tarred and feathered.
Stone Broekemeier began walking around in front of his bank in L.A., carrying a sign calling for a boycott of the bank on account of unfair lending practices to poor whites. Having lost his latest job he could afford to spend several days at this endeavor, and by the third day word of mouth had drawn a large and unruly crowd. Bank president Rich Buckhalter personally locked the front doors and posted his own sign to the effect that the main lobby would be closed in order to assure the safety of its customers. Stone and his new-found friends promptly re-opened the establishment via bricks thrown through the plate-glass windows.
As the maddened mob surged through the broken windows intent on mayhem, and not incidentally taking as much cash as possible, Stone paused as he felt his cell phone vibrate with an incoming call. It was the current Mrs. Broekemeier, letting him know she'd just made the mistake of opening the front door to a process server. Damned if the bank wasn't calling in their mortgage effective immediately, and here they were only five months behind on payments. She couldn't understand it. Film at 11 that night showed Stone and his five kids sleeping in their Cadillac Escalade; the missus had gone home to Mama.
Politicians as usual had no viable answers, but were sure it must be the other party's fault and said so as often and as loudly as possible. One Sunday morning "Face the Nation" featured a debate between Senators R. Publius Oliphant and Demetrius Don Key. The issue was supposed to be what should be done to abate the wave of violence and hatred, but by the time I tuned in it looked more like they were too busy blaming each other to speak rationally on the subject. Both men were shouting, red-faced, and waving their arms around in the air when they weren't pointing index (or middle) fingers meaningfully at the other.
Demetrius lowered his head like a bull and with a loud roar charged his opponent. R. Publius jumped out of the way in the nick of time so that Demetrius head-butted the recently-vacated chair which promptly flipped over backwards. Crew rushed in to help Demetrius up, dust him off, and replace the chair. It was only then that they realized that Senator Oliphant wasn't sitting there smugly watching the whole process, but holding his left arm and struggling to breathe through a heart attack. Both were hauled off to the hospital.
The religious community, who IMHO should've been doing their very best to put an end to the hostilities, seemed convinced that every form of worship except their own was the cause. Muslims tried to remove Jews from the face of the earth, but were severely hampered by in-fighting amongst their mixed Sunni and Shiite troops. Christians of all stripes avowed that God was punishing those who practiced Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism – or any other non-Christian philosophy. Protestant sects waged a campaign of nailing accusations on the doors of Catholic churches, while priests like Father Hale Merrey petitioned the Pope for a public exorcism of all non-Catholics. The one note of unity was that Preachers, Rabbis, Imams, and other religious leaders publicly called for the immediate conversion of all atheists without seeming to care which church they actually converted to.
There seemed to be no solidarity within broad classifications, either. Anglicans and Catholics demonized each other from the pulpits, while Protestant sects decried other Protestant sects. Ira Hellstern led his flock in an attack on the temple of the Latter Day Saints in Salt Lake City. A thousand Baptists, arms linked and singing "Onward Christian Soldiers" at the top of their lungs, flowed over the grounds bent on the destruction of the building. Joe Smith was reading scriptures in his office when he heard the commotion. A cautious peek out the window showed him only trampled lawn and ruined flowerbeds; however a sudden loud reverberation caused him to look a bit closer.
The multitude had toppled various statues and were busily using them to break open the doors and windows. Not having his own army available at the moment he did the next best thing. He set up loudspeakers and blasted the attackers with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's rendition of "Come, Come Ye Saints" at full volume, sending them running for cover with their hands over their ears.
Somewhere in Massachusetts High Priestess Blesséd B. Witched was conducting a ceremony at the Coven's sacred grove on her grandmother's private property. She noticed that there seemed to be more lights among the surrounding trees than could be accounted for. It turned out that Helen Brimston and a motley group of what she called "real" religions had followed the Coven and were filming the rite, hoping to catch them all skyclad. That's naked as a jaybird to you and me. The resultant video posted on YouTube showed a great many men (and a few women) slinking off into the woods with the naked witches.
Just when the entire world seemed more confused and violent than I'd ever thought possible a personal tragedy struck. When Mother called to tell me Gramps had suffered a heart attack and wasn't expected to live through the night I rushed to the hospital. The world could go to Hell in a handbasket for all I cared; it wouldn't be the same without Gramps. It never entered my head that I would be present at the solution to the problem of the spinning dead; I was only concerned that my grandfather wouldn't be one of them.
Gramps lay in that sterile bed, hooked up to wires and machines like a human pincushion – unconscious, but still alive. We all took turns holding his hand and talking to him, telling him how much we loved him and wanted him to come back to us. You know the drill.
I was holding his hand, cautious of the IV, telling him how much I'd enjoyed going fishing with him as a kid. Suddenly Gramps opened his eyes and looked straight at me. His lips moved, but I couldn't hear what he said. I leaned closer to listen and though it was difficult for him to speak he kept at it until I understood. He passed away half an hour later, with his wife at his side.
It turns out that Gramps had died in the ER but the doctors had kick-started his heart and brought him back. So he'd been among the dead, even if only for a couple of minutes, and he knew what had them "all riled up" as he put it.
Everyone had been wrong. It didn't have a damn thing to do with race, or religion, or politics, or money, or any of the other things folks were so adamant about. It's the way people treat one another. Some kill, while some lie and cheat and think up clever ways to steal others' hard-earned money. Some are so concerned with themselves they can't think of anyone else. Businessmen see only the bottom line, treating employees as another resource akin to a stapler. Many are so busy with their daily lives they can't be bothered to offer so much as a smile to a stranger, when the smallest act of kindness might make all the difference in the world. They're all far too concerned about things that don't amount to a hill of beans to love their neighbor and care what happens to them.
So I got to make the rounds of the talk shows, telling the world what made the dead spin in their graves. I made a bundle too, but the important thing was that eventually I got the message across and the dead settled down.