Matt Samet

     Bloggs was anti-Taliban. Bloggs was anti-Taliban. Bloggs was sure of this. It was all he had come to know.

     In light of recent events . . .
     A day we will never forget . . .
     Anthrax scare at post office turns out to be powdered vanilla pudding . . .
     A bioweapon of that magnitude would certainly . . .
     Air raids suspended to respect this day of Muslim prayer . . .
     The Taliban is still refusing to turn over Osama bin-laden . . .

     Bloggs recalled when things had been better, when turning on the television had been a choice, not a moral imperative. His television had been on constantly since September 11, 2001. He had called in sick to work that morning and hadn't been in since, holing himself up in his rag-tag domicile -- apartment #201 – at the optimistically-named Chateau Village. He had dragged a mattress onto the floor in front of his TV and there he rested, pausing only for the occasional glass of water (was it safe to drink?) or a quick phone call to the Chinese take-out down the block (could he trust those wogs?).

     Eventually his mother came around looking for him. His foreman, Larry, had called Mrs. Bloggs, concerned that her son, already seen as a bit "queer" by the guys at the jobsite, had gone missing. Not that Bloggs, with his clumsy hammer and blown-out work boots, was essential to the process of throwing up tract houses. Only that Larry, out of some misplaced sense of blue collar solidarity, feared for the young man's mental state. Bloggs seemed the type to shoot up a Mc Donald's (Spat! Spat! Spat, bullets skidding off molded plastic tabletops and neckless white trash dropping face first into their special sauce.). Larry sure as shit didn't want that on his conscience.

     Knock. Knock. Knock. It was Mom.

     "Bloggs? You open up right now. It's Mom. I've spoken with your boss Larry and he said you haven't been in for the last month. Are you OK in there?"

     Bloggs craned his head toward the door, rolling his bulk off the mountain of pillows that he had propped beneath himself. "Beat it, Mom," he murmured, turning back towards the television, "the news is on!"

     Mrs. Bloggs rooted through her handbag, a velveteen paisley affair covered with coffee splotches and grease stains that she had been toting around since her hippy-dippy Flower Child days. She produced a Bobby pin and proceeded to pick the flimsy lock on Bloggs' door, which opened upon a scene of distressing squalor.

     Bloggs lay in a flabby heap atop a soiled mass of rumpled sheets, his dark, puffy eyes glued to the blue beacon of the television set, where two white-maned pundits argued heatedly about the efficacy of imposing a mandatory body cavity search on all airline passengers ("But the embarrassment, Bob, of having to display your delicates to a room of perfect strangers . . ." | "Prudishness is no excuse for compromising national security, Bill!") Discarded take-out boxes littered the floor around Bloggs' feet, the feet themselves flecked with bits of soy-soaked rice and moldy bok-choy. A bucket brimming with urine and feces sat in the corner opposite the television (Bloggs would empty this into the toilet every third day or so, but only during commercial breaks). The blinds were not only drawn tight, but taped fast around the edges of the room's lone picture window, casting a dull orange-brown glow that failed to compete with the insistent blue-white pulse of the television. A sawed-off shotgun and a slightly damaged military issue Israeli gas mask lay next to the television remote, all within arm's reach of Bloggs' ersatz throne. He picked up the remote and turned down the volume.

     "What do you want, Mom?" Bloggs asked, idly snapping the tired elastic band of his graying jockey shorts, his only visible garb. "You're interrupting my info-tainment."

     "You look like you've gained weight, son. I'm worried – and Larry is too – that you've stopped coming to work. You know that your father and I can't let you back in the house if you're evicted again. . ."

     "In light of recent events, Mom, I'm finding it hard to give two shits, much less one, about anything you have to say." Bloggs looked down at his uninspiring waistline; it was true, all that greasy wog food was starting to catch up with him. His gut hung sadly over his underwear and he had lost most of the workman's muscle tone in his shoulders and forearms. It seemed a secondary consideration at best. "I need television right now, Mom. More than ever. You of all people should understand that."

     "Now listen, Bloggs. Just because I couldn't be home for you every day after school doesn't mean you can blame me –"

     "I can and I have. Now get the fuck outta' here," he said, picking up the shotgun and leveling it at his mother's gut, "before I turn you into the FBI for being an Arab."

     "Bloggs! It's not television you need right now, it's family."

     "I have no family."

     "But Bloggs –"

     "Make no mistake, I can and will gut-shoot you. Family or not, you're getting on my nerves, Islamic sympathizer!"

     "But Bloggs, I'm your mother!"

     "Whatever, you seditious traitor! You enemy of freedom! Crawl back into whatever filth-ridden, Muslim-choked sand pit you came from, you slatternly backdoor concubine of that most heinous of Islamic extremists, Osama Bin Laden! May you suckle the unctuous beards of a million unwashed crypto-terrorists! May you be passed around the Great Mosque in Mecca like some indifferent sex toy, a human pincushion upon which the teeming, unclean masses of Jihad-spouting dune coons might disport themselves as they see fit. May you –"

     "Enough, Bloggs, enough! I'm leaving now, and I won't be back –"

     "May you be infinitely violated as would a 12-year-old Muslim lad, considered both a woman and public sexual property by the mustachioed, boy-pussy starved hordes of –"

     "Goodbye, Bloggs."

     "Goodbye, Mom." She shut the door silently behind her and began to cry, alone in a dingy hallway in a crumbling apartment building on the uncertain surface of a dying planet. Bloggs stood up to lock the door behind her, and as he did so, turned the volume back up on the television.

     An airplane is believed missing over the Black Sea . . .

* * * * *

     Workers on the 3rd floor are being given Cipro as a prophylaxis . . .

      After a month Bloggs had finally had enough. The news had reached a sort of stasis – neither worsening nor improving – and nothing big had either collapsed or blown up since the initial attacks. He was beginning to question his own paranoia, to think that maybe the constant media exposure was feeding into it (this despite the media's admonition that one not watch too much coverage of the terrorist events lest it begin to effect one's mental health). For the first time since the surprise attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Bloggs turned off the television.

     The room went black -- suddenly devoid of press conferences, sound bites, testimonials – eerily silent. Bloggs realized it was now night, but he couldn't remember the day of the week, much less the date. October something . . . what, 12th? 11th? Did it really matter? Probably not, he thought, fumbling about for his gas mask. With expert fingers, Bloggs strapped the mask over his greasy mop and cinched it down over his face. Al-Qaeda cells were still operating in the U.S.; he knew this because Attorney General John Ashcroft, a rubber-faced security monkey, had told him so. No, they weren't in his apartment, but they could easily have infiltrated the ventilation system in Bloggs' run-down building, poisoning the air with their milk-white anthrax spores.

     Constant peeks out the small square of window over Bloggs' toilet had confirmed that security had yet to be beefed up at Chateau Village. As the President had said, Homeland Security was the responsibility of every single American. Bloggs realized that he had been remiss in holing up; as a Jihad-fearing citizen of the United States of America, it was his duty to be proactive – to be vigilant. Paranoia was simply another word for preparation. Bloggs needed to make a perimeter search.

     Bloggs double-checked the mask and stepped into the hall with his shotgun, making for the exit. A few dust motes, kicked up from the red-brown carpet by the passage of Bloggs' heavy feet, floated across the surface of the mask. Aha, anthrax! Bloggs paused, unsure whether to dash back into his apartment and alert the authorities to this latest outbreak or to continue with his perimeter search. A bit of cotton fluff -- a seedpod blown in from a distant grove of cottonwoods -- landed on Bloggs's arm. He leapt, as if jolted by electricity. Anthrax was everywhere! Why, even now there were surely Taliban Terrorists in the parking lot, gleefully casting handful after handful of white, airborne death into the innocent American ether from their ominous manila envelopes. Bloggs would make the phone call after the terrorists were apprehended, dead or alive . . .

     His underwear stuffed with bright red shotgun shells, Bloggs stomped out into the parking lot. No terrorists, but an ankle-high drift of white fluff had collected against the side of the building. Side-stepping the fluff, Bloggs crouched behind a dumpster in the corner of the parking lot closest the building and waited, thankful for his gas mask.

     Soon a car pulled up. It was a dark sedan with tinted windows, a terrorist vehicle. Bloggs sidled around the dumpster, training the twin apertures of the shotgun on the driver's side of the car. A young woman stepped out; she was short with mousy brown hair and Bloggs kept the firearm trained on her as she shuffled gracelessly over to the building's side entrance, a pair of gunmetal gray doors that gave way onto a poorly lit stairwell and a well-manicured interior courtyard with a faux-Japanese motif.

     The woman fumbled with her keys, a black handbag held close to her side by a crooked elbow (Is this the source of the toxic fluff? wondered Bloggs). The jingling noise agitated Bloggs, much in the same way that his mother's acid voice had. A nervous tic shot through his right arm, a rapid misfire of a flexor tendon that originated in his shoulder and rippled down into the flesh of his forearm. He jerked backward in response, squeezing the trigger of the shotgun in a quick clenching motion. The tension released from his arm in a tight, muscular spurt not unlike a male orgasm.

     Pop! Bloggs heard shooting. He smelled burning twigs and cordite. The Taliban was everywhere! Those dirty, rag-headed bastards were running amok, smoking their foul cheroots and waving Soviet-issued Kalishnikovs with impunity in the faces of God-fearing Americans! Bloggs ducked behind the dumpster again, his heart hammering dully against the meat of his ribcage. He waited, listening for further gunshots. There were none. Bloggs set the shotgun down on the uneven surface of the blacktop, oblivious to the slight curl of smoke issuing from the barrel, and peered around the battered edge of the dumpster. The woman lay crumpled against the door, sideways and slightly supine, her face smashed against the building. He couldn't make out her features from where he stood but her garb, a black dress and a white blouse now torn to bloody shreds, smacked of the Middle East. The woman gave off a low moan and began to twitch.

     "Help me," she cried, slowly rolling over onto her back. To Bloggs this sounded like "Jihad;" in addition to the car, Bloggs now had a second piece of evidence against this would-be terrorist.

     Many of the shotgun pellets had passed clean through the woman, and bits of yellow fat poked through the spray holes bedecking her abdomen. Bloggs looked down at his hands. They were shaking, and it was then that he realized that it was he, not the Taliban, who had pulled the trigger.

     "I'm anti-Taliban! I'm anti-Taliban!" yelled Bloggs, sprinting across the 30 feet of tarmac that separated him from his victim, "Call the police! There's terrorism afoot!" The woman gazed up at him in inchoate fear, her pupils dilated to the size of quarters, her breathing a quickening rasp. Bloggs, in turn, noticed the head of his penis emerging from the slit in greying underwear. A few bright red shotgun shells dropped out of the leg holes in the briefs, which had long since lost most of their elasticity. The shells rolled harmlessly on the concrete before coming to a stop.

     "Creep!" she burbled, "You shot me!" Blood had begun to fan out beneath her back. "Plus your willy is showing."

     Bloggs tipped her up with his right foot. As if lashed by an enormous whip, the woman's back had been flayed open, revealing a sub-strata of bone and gristle; much of the bone was cracked from the shotgun blast. He retracted his foot and she flopped back onto the pavement. "Call an ambulance," she groaned. "I'm dying . . ."

     "Are you Taliban?" screamed Bloggs. "Are you anti-Taliban? No medical help until I know where you stand!"

     "I'm anti-Taliban," she whispered, just low enough so that all Bloggs could discern was the word "Taliban." "Aha! As I suspected, a flag-burning, diaper-headed Taliban groupie . . . no ambulance for you, chippie," he said delightedly, leaping from foot to foot in a nervous victory jig. "You can take off the turban but you can't fool Bloggs. I smelled your swarthy stench a mile off, you camel-riding Bedouin hussy. Spawn little terrorists with that sopping squirrel of yours, would you, you Tajikistan trollop? Not when Bloggs has been deployed."

     A siren wailed in the distance.

     "Please," she intoned. Bloggs dropped his gaze to her chest – she wore a nametag (Candice?) from the department store where she worked (Mervyn's?).

     "Who is this Mervyn?" demanded Bloggs. "He sounds like an Arab to me!"

     "No . . . Mervyn's a store . . ." she gasped.

     "Mavin-al-Quor! Why, he's one of the bastards they just arrested in Hamburg for –"

     The woman's breathing became labored, the result of a sucking chest wound that was slowly building up a dense node of pressure in her thoracic cavity. Bloggs could see a faint spray of pink issuing from a pea-sized hole near her solar plexus; he knew she wouldn't last much longer without medical attention. The woman struggled to speak. Bloggs leaned in close.

     "Please. I can't die like this. It's . . . just . . . not . . . current. Crashed into the Sears Tower at 500 miles per hour by some goggle-eyed Muslim extremist . . . sure. Lying on a hospital bed with anthrax spores choking my lungs, maybe. Green with sick after guzzling a glass of toxic tap water, perhaps. But shot? It's totally passé. . . ."

     Bloggs ripped off his olive-green gas mask to get a closer look at his victim. He recognized her as his neighbor. She was the purposeful yet trimly attractive woman he saw each morning in the parking lot, when he would unchain his rusty, red Schwinn from the bike rack in preparation for the ride to work. He had never waved at her, or even smiled. They had shared a few seconds of inadvertent eye contact one morning before the woman turned away. Bloggs had made a point of ignoring her after that.

     Again, "Please." The sirens drew closer, echoing loudly off the monolithic walls of concrete-block apartment that composed Chateau Village. "I'm anti-Taliban . . ."

     But all Bloggs heard was "disease am Taliban." With panicked fingers he re-fastened the gas mask, keeping his eyes fixed on the huddled form beneath him. Though the convex bubbles of dark green plastic obscured his vision, Bloggs could just make out the woman's handbag, which had been shot out of her grasp. He reached for it, experiencing a fleeting moment of dissociation during which the handbag seemed impossibly distant. His outstretched arm became an alien intruder intent on reaching the bag yet in no way associated with his corporeal self. He snatched his arm back, as one would from a poisonous snake. Don't touch it Bloggs! he thought, not unless you want the cutaneous strain too!

     Bloggs nudged the handbag with his naked toe. A white powder not unlike baby powder leaked from a hole low in the side of the bag. It was anthrax! It had to be! Strike three against the terrorist. If only he had been able to intercept her earlier, before she had had a chance to unleash her scabrous spores upon the Arab-free environs of Chateau Village. Nevertheless, it was a small victory, one small battle won in America's New War. With the terrorist neutralized, Bloggs was confident that he needn't notify the authorities until he'd had a chance to watch a bit more CNN . . .

     Bloggs snatched the keys from the woman's enfeebled hand and let himself into the building, charging up the stairs to his apartment. He locked the door behind him and flicked the television back on. More terrorists might be headed for his neighborhood. He needed to stay informed.