“What does that kid think he’s doing?” Trip asked.
Ellis followed the Captain of the Guard’s gaze down the line of laboring detainees to where a youngster of ten or eleven knelt, hands limp at his sides, staring up at the wall before him. He looked high on something and Ellis knew it was possible if not probable, even inside. His hand dropped instinctively to the hilt of his taser as he and Trip walked down the row of teenage boys busy scrubbing graffiti off the internment camp’s north wall. Most of the graffiti was typical: Viva la Revolucion, Viva Angelo, Free Occupied Mexico, Azteca Brigade, and the all too familiar LAX: Terminal One with its stylized skull and crossbones. The slogans were interspersed with and sometimes incorporated bold geometric shapes. There were squares within circles within rectangles, quartered circles, spirals, cubes and crosses, pentagrams, prisms, and diamonds. Such designs were becoming more and more common in the camp. They made Ellis uneasy, for he saw in their stylized barriotype an echo of the mad mosaics prevalent at the Mazzeh prison in Syria just before the ‘troubles’ there. Looking at them triggered an all too familiar headache.
The boy knelt before a crude but beautifully executed Virgin Mother. She stood on a white crescent within a sky blue oval surrounded by a golden halo.
“How do they do it?” Trip asked Ellis.
“I don’t know,” Ellis said. “It’s beautiful.”
“No, how do they get the paints?” Trip snapped. “How do they get out of their blocks at night? How do they do this?”
“I don’t know,” Ellis said softly.
“You can bet your ass that’s going to be the first question Secretary Heller asks when he gets here tomorrow.”
“No doubt,” Ellis said. “I served under him in Syria. Have you ever met him?”
“Nope,” Trip admitted.
“He’s not bad for an MI man. He’s pragmatic. He cares about results.”
“Well this ain’t Syria,” Trip said. “It’s harder to get results here, these assholes bein’ American citizens and all.”
Ellis nodded. As stark and oppressive as the Eden Falls Internment Camp was, it was certainly not Syria. He’d left the force after his second tour of duty in the prisons there. The re-education tactics employed in theater were a bit more heavy-handed. Ellis didn’t like thinking about those years, and managed to avoid doing so, but with the impending arrival of the Undersecretary of Homeland Security that would be difficult.
Trip prodded the kneeling boy between the shoulder blades. “Wake up, amigo, it’s time to get back to work,” he said.
The boy stared at the wall entranced, unresponsive.
The surrounding detainees watched out of the corners of their eyes, as puzzled as their guards. Open resistance, while rare, was not unprecedented; but was this resistance?
“I said move it,” Trip ordered, pushing the boy harder, rocking him forward. The others ceased even pretending to scrub the wall. Anger and resentment threatened to break though their institutional placidity. Ellis had seen that look before.
“Ease up, Trip,” he said softly.
His superior shot him a look of poorly masked anger the equal of the detainees. Ellis felt his pulse quicken as all around him rage and hatred crackled, and the maelstrom that roiled just below the surface buffeted against the membrane thin veneer of civilization.
“We can’t afford to start anything,” Ellis said. “Not with Heller coming.”
Reason reasserted itself in Trip’s eyes. He nodded.
“Somebody clean this off,” he yelled to the nearby workers. “I’m calling the infirmary, this boy is obviously sick.”
The work detail returned to their tasks. Someone sprayed acrid smelling solvent over the Madonna and her colors bled down the wall. Ellis’s headache ratcheted up another notch. The pain seemed to emanate from the hairline thin scar that ran from his temple to the base of his skull, a souvenir of his last days in Syria; days he could no longer remember. He dug the prescription bottle out of his pocket and tapped two pills into his hand.
Beside him the kneeling boy sighed and nodded. “I will, Mother,” he whispered, just loud enough for Ellis to hear.
“What did it look like?” Ricky asked him, leaning eagerly across the round bar table, unstable on its legs so that the beers sloshed.
“I don’t know,” Ellis said, “it looked like the Virgin Mary, I guess, in a kind of an egg with a halo around it.”
“God I wish I could have seen it.”
“It was no big deal,” Ellis said. He attempted to mop up the spilled beer with the little square cocktail napkins. “How did you even hear about it?”
“It’s all over camp,” Ricky said. “The kids told their parents when they got home and someone sobered up Father Sandoval and he called the Arch-bishop. I heard Commander Murphy talking to the guys in Denver about the kid’s ‘vision.’”
Ricky worked in Commander Murphy’s office. Once a Special Forces commando, Ricky, who couldn’t be 23, was now a desk jockey. He lost his left arm and leg, as well as his face, on a roadside in Iran during the Tehran Offensive. The robot prosthetics were first class and his new face- perhaps a little older than it should be, suited him well enough.
“Who said he had a vision?” Ellis asked.
“The Commander interviewed your buddy Trip,” Ricky answered. He inclined his head across the sterile bar to where Trip sat at an identical table with a trio of polite but disinterested nurses. One of them was Colleen. She acknowledged Ellis’s attention with a smile and a discreet wave.
“God that man is an ass,” Ricky said, eyes closed, jaw tight.
“He’s harmless,” Ellis assured him.
“Bullshit.” Ricky’s eyes snapped open, eyes, Ellis thought uneasily, from a different face. He wondered what Ricky really looked like, before the war. “It’s assholes like him who are the problem,” Ricky continued. “He’s never seen the war, never been in combat. Not like us. You don’t see combat vets behaving like that, all bluster and swagger, too loud and cocky, too goddamned stupid for words. And if a vet does act like that you know it’s bravado, you know it’s a mask he’s wearing because he’s scared or scarred or just plain tweaked and he’s trying to readjust but the fine tuning in his brain just doesn’t work anymore. That asshole never left the states, never patrolled a street where every car just might be the one that blows up in your face, every kid that asks you for a stick of gum might be wearing a suicide vest, every corner you turn might be your last. Fuck him.” Ricky ran plastic fingers through his short blonde hair, over the barely visible scar that framed his borrowed face.
“It’s OK, man,” Ellis said, embarrassed for his friend. How could Ricky let himself get so emotional? Ellis searched himself for a similar anger, or fear, or any emotion. He found only the apologetic embarrassment. “Let’s go outside and have a smoke,” he said.
Ricky looked over at Trip, now standing at the bar talking to some poor sap. “I could use a smoke,” he said. “It’s too close in here for me.”
Outside, Ellis took a long drag on his cigarette, tilted his head back and slowly exhaled a plume of blue-grey smoke. The heavens above were held at bay by the glow of klieg lights that made the internment camp an island of light in the remote Montana foothills. He’d worked at Eden Falls almost a year and never explored those hills, never even saw the series of waterfalls that gave the camp its name. He remembered when he was about five and his dad took him camping in the Sierras, miles from the nearest city. He’d been awed by the uncountable stars that first night. A kid didn’t see that many stars growing up in Los Angeles. That was an LA of simpler times, of course, before the domestic terrorism, before the Azteca Brigade turned their separatist rhetoric into action, before the assassination of Governor Collins, before the mass deportations, before the dirty bomb in Terminal One of LAX, and before the backlash that led to Homeland Security’s creation of the internment camps. Yep, Ellis thought, life was simpler when he was a kid, the enemy was over there, and war was something that happened far away.
“I have to get out of here,” Ricky said. Ellis eased back into the present. “I swear to God, Ellis, I’m going crazy here.” Ricky crossed the narrow street in front of the camp’s prefabricated Officers’ Club and sat on a swing in the little playground at the park there.
“When’s your contract up?” Ellis asked, following him. He sat on the stationary merry-go-round.
“Fuck my contract,” Ricky said, pumping his legs, setting the swing in motion. “People break their contracts every day.”
“Where would you go?”
Ricky’s borrowed face smiled morosely. “That’s just it, isn’t it? Where would I go?” He dropped him feet and brought the swing to a wrenching stop. “No one is going to hire a chopped up sewed together gimp like me except some government subcontractor who has a quota.”
“You’re getting upset about nothing,” Ellis said.
“You know, I used to get laid all the time. Before the war,” Ricky said, swinging softly. “I got plenty of pussy. Not anymore. Seems the girls around here don’t have a quota. You know, two pity fucks a month or something. That asshole Trip probably gets laid all the time.”
Ricky fished another cigarette out of his pocket and lit it with the remains of his first. He dropped the butt and ground it into the sand with his good foot.
“They said it was a monster IED,” Ricky said, looking at his artificial hand. “I’m lucky to be alive.”
“Me too,” Ellis said, dropping his butt to the sand. “Guy next to me took the worst of it. He didn’t make it.”
Ricky nodded. “The truth is,” he said, his voice dropping to conspiratorial tones, “what we’re doing here bothers me. On a human level.”
“All the courts have cleared the camps,” Ellis said.
“For what? To detain the families and relatives of domestic terrorists?” Ricky started pumping his legs again. “To re-educate the at-risk population? Oh, it’s a proactive strategy. But the courts didn’t clear us to play with their minds. No, that never comes up in the courts. They didn’t clear us to deconstruct and recreate people.”
“You lost me.”
“Come on, Ellis, don’t be so naïve. You served at Mazzeh, don’t tell me you don’t know what went on there; the drugs, the ‘conditioning.’”
“They gave the prisoners drugs to pacify them,” Ellis said uneasily, feeling his headache creeping up on him again. He lit another cigarette.
“Bullshit,” said Ricky. “They gave them drugs to make them receptive to our re-education techniques.”
“Now you sound like one of those conspiracy theory nuts.”
“Oh, so you do know what I’m talking about then.”
“Brainwashing,” Ellis said. “Only it doesn’t work, everyone knows that.”
“Be careful about believing what ‘everyone’ knows. The government, the military, and the CIA have been working on this stuff since WWII. They’ve had 75 years, Ellis. And the war on terror provided them with plenty of new subjects, conveniently outside the protective umbrella of the Geneva Convention. We also got an influx of new ideas and techniques from the ex-Soviet doctors who ran our secret prisons in Eastern Europe.”
“And what are we brainwashing them to do?” Ellis asked.
“Washing the brain doesn’t make them ‘do’ anything,” Ricky said. “It’s the new program that you overlay that does that.”
“It’s like this. Let’s say your brain is a canvas. All your life you’ve been painting on that canvas, every experience is a brush stroke. It’s a masterpiece. It’s you. Now, I can take you and I can paint a new picture on top of that one, it’s called over painting. That’s the easy way to go about it. First, I soften up your brain with psychotropic drugs to make it receptive to suggestion and then I paint a new personality, new experiences, new memories on it. Over painting works pretty good with willing subjects, people used to taking suggestions, or orders. People who trust authority. Like children, or soldiers. This takes a lot of time, however. It’s faster and less risky to strip the original painting from the canvas entirely, to truly ‘wash’ it, and then paint a new personality on top. You see, with over painting the original is still there and, in the right light, shadows of it bleed through, or sometimes something bumps the new painting and it’s chipped or scraped and the old painting shows beneath, and maybe you have to find out what it was, what it is, and you start picking at it.” Ricky stopped, his face contorted, his incongruous eyes wide.
“No, it’s better to strip the canvas bare and start over. There’s only one thing they haven’t figured out about that, though, the question that baffles them.”
Ellis waited and when Ricky didn’t go on he bit. “What’s that?”
“When you strip away the personality and leave just the brain, what is in it?”
“Does it think? Does it see? Is it really a blank or is there a master program that we can’t imagine? What language does the brain use when it is stripped of cultural language? What are you underneath your personality?”
“Do you actually believe all of this, Ricky?” Ellis asked.
Ricky stopped the swing. “What went wrong in Syria?” Ricky asked him.
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“You were there, at Mazzeh during the uprising,” Ricky said. “What happened?”
“I don’t know,” Ellis said. “An IED blew up on me two days later. Three weeks after that I woke up in the hospital by Ramstein Air Base in Germany. I had 68 stitches in my head and I lost all my memories from a week before the attack. And I know what you’re going to say,” he added with uncharacteristic anger, “but that’s pretty common for a severe head wound, it isn’t a conspiracy.”
“I know,” Ricky said. “I was in Landstuhl for a month and then Walter Reed for six more.”
“There you guys are.”
They turned. Trip stood in the door of the canteen across the street. “I should have guessed. OK, which one of you is gonna bum me a smoke?” He crossed to the park.
“I got it,” Ellis said, producing his pack.
“I’m going to call it a night,” Ricky said.
“Hey, Ellis,” Ricky asked over his shoulder as he turned to leave, “did I tell you that I quit taking my meds? Yeah. Tell me, how are your headaches doing?” He didn’t wait for an answer, but turned and walked off in his seesaw fashion.
“What was that about?” Trip asked, the cigarette in one hand a juice box marked “Screwdriver” in the other.
“Nothing,” Ellis said.
“It’s amazing what they did with that guy,” Trip said. “Putting him back together like that. I should invest in the company that makes those prosthetics. With the war on and no end in sight I’d say that’s a growth industry.”
He drained his drink and grimaced. “Damn the orange juice in these things sucks. It isn’t even real juice, you know. Sometimes I wonder what the hell is in the shit they give us around here; I swear it isn’t any better than what they give the damned detainees.”
The dawn peaked under the drawn blinds of Ellis’s room and found him sitting in his underwear in an overstuffed chair in the corner. At least he thought it was the dawn, it was hard to distinguish between morning’s blush and the camp lights, but the digital clock read 5:23 so he believed in the dawn. He’d forgotten to sleep again. Or did he forget that he slept? Who knew?
Colleen lay in the small bed beneath the window. Her soft young body looked out of place in the Spartan environs of his room.
She lay on her back, innocent and trusting, one marvellously large breast exposed Artemis-like in the tangle of the sheet, and a leg as well, slightly plump, soft, and playfully bent with the foot tucked beneath the blanket. Even in sleep she was inviting. Lost in dreamland she still smiled mischievously, her hair a carefree riot of red curls splayed on the pillow. Her genial youth made him feel old.
A half drained bottle and two shot glasses stood on the table beside him. Pepper vodka, her favorite. He always kept a bottle in the tiny freezer compartment of the room’s small refrigerator. 5:32 and he wanted a shot. One shot. He had to be at work at 7. One shot wouldn’t matter. It couldn’t numb him anymore than he already was.
The phone rang. Colleen winced and pulled the sheet over her head. The phone rang again.
“Ellis?” It was Cameron at Dispatch.
“I hope I didn’t wake you up, but Commander Murphy wants you to come in early. We have a situation.”
Ellis looked longing from the naked girl-woman in his bed to the bottle of pepper vodka. “What is it?”
“It’s back and Secretary Heller is due within the hour.”
“Son of a bitch.”
“And there’s already a dozen or more, uhm, worshippers, there,” Cameron said, panic creeping into his voice.
“I’ll be right there.” Ellis said.
He hung up.
“What is it?” Colleen asked, sitting up and wrapping the sheet around her.
“I have to go in early.”
“Is there trouble?”
He considered lying but didn’t see the point. “Someone painted another Madonna,” he said.
“Shit. This place is turning into a regular freak show,” she said. “Sometimes I wonder what the hell I’m doing here.”
“Me too,” Ellis said. “I mean, I know why I’m here, but what are you doing here?”
“I’m here for the free booze and casual sex,” she quipped. “And just what are you here for anyway?”
“It’s a job. The pay is good.”
“Not that good,” she said.
“It’s what I know how to do,” he said.
“What, guard people?”
“I guess so,” he said. “Why are you really here?”
“Two years of service in the Patriot Corps and I get my student loans forgiven.”
“There are a lot of ways to fulfill your service,” Ellis said. “You didn’t have to apply to a detention camp.”
Colleen considered him. Her face took on a serious cast. “I wanted to see them first hand.”
“The terrorists,” she said. “The ones who bombed LAX.”
“These people didn’t bomb the airport.”
“It was people like them,” she said. “I was going to school in LA when it happened. I volunteered at a hospital where some of the victims were brought.”
“I didn’t know that,” Ellis said.
“Well, what do we really know about each other?” she asked. “We’ve been doing… this… for six months, but we never talk about ourselves. You’re a blank slate to me.”
“I know,” Ellis said, getting up. “But I really need to get to work.”
Colleen grabbed a framed picture from the nightstand. It was a young man in a cap and gown. “I’ve woken up to this picture dozens of times,” she said. “Who is it?”
Ellis took it from her. “Hayden,” he said. “My son. He’s, well, I guess he’s about your age.”
“He’s cute,” she said playfully. “What’s he like?”
Ellis smiled sadly. “I don’t really know,” he said. “His mother and I split up when he was just a kid. I was in Syria when this picture was taken. Hell, he probably wouldn’t recognize me if we passed on the street. I called him on his birthday last summer. We were a couple of strangers exchanging pleasantries.”
“I’m sorry,” Colleen said.
“Yeah, me too,” he said, placing the picture back on the nightstand, adjusting it slightly so that it was in the exact position as before. “Listen, I really do need to get in.”
“I know.” Colleen pulled her knees up under her chin. “We should do this more often, Ellis. Talk, I mean. Get to know each other better.”
“I’m afraid there isn’t really much to know about me,” he said. “I’m just another ex-soldier trying to get by. In another few months you’ll have met your requirements for the Corps and go on to your real life. This is my real life.”
“It doesn’t have to be.”
“I’ve known worse.”
He went into the bathroom, shut the door and turned on the faucet. He ran wet hands through his bristle short hair and looked in the mirror. Bloodshot blue eyes looked back. His eyes. He was certain of it.
He filled a cup with tap water and shook two pills into his palm. There were only two more left. Without hesitation he took those as well; it would be a rough morning, he could feel it. He’d have to remember to stop by the infirmary after work.
By the time his squad arrived at the north wall a large crowd congregated before the simple image of the Holy Mother. From what Ellis could tell it was an exact replica of the previous day’s portrait and in the precise location. The same boy, still in his hospital gown, knelt at Her feet. Tears streamed down his face. The rest of those gathered seemed as interested in him as they were in the image of the Virgin.
Ellis let his gaze wander along the length of the wall. He thought he could see shadow images beneath the whitewash; echoes of patterns from the day before. The spirals, the quartered circles and the circled squares were invisible but present. He rubbed his eyes. His head hurt despite having taken the double dose of his medication.
“Do something, Padre,” Trip said. He dragged Father Sandoval out of the cab of the troop carrier. “Do something or I will.”
“What can I do?” the haggard old priest asked. He wrung his arthritic hands, looking from his flock to his warder. “What do you want me to do?”
“Tell them to go home,” Trip said.
The priest laughed despite his desperation. “They have no homes, senor,” he said.
Trip was not amused by the spent old man’s newfound backbone. “I’ll order them all arrested,” he said.
“I’m sure you will,” Father Sandoval said. “I have already phoned the Archbishop. He is no happier than you are. Still, one must be cautious. Of course this visitation is a fraud. But what if, eh? What if the Mother of God is truly gracing this camp?”
“Bullshit, father,” Trip said. “God, or the Virgin Mary or whatever is not visiting Eden Falls Internment Camp. Not on the day that Secretary Heller arrives.”
“Who are we to second guess God?” Father Sandoval asked.
“Tell them to go to the church,” Ellis said.
Priest and guard turned to look at him, neither pleased with the suggestion, both recognizing it as a solution.
“Yes,” Father Sandoval said. “We should go to the church and pray for guidance.”
It was past suppertime before Ellis got to the infirmary. His head ached horribly. He spent the day between the church, which overflowed with worshippers, and the north wall.
Commander Murphy ordered the image of the Virgin Mary retained until Secretary Heller could see it. Trip predicted the worst. The Secretary took it philosophically. He seemed neither surprised nor irritated. “Difficult times encourage religious experience,” he told the Commander. “Perhaps they dream of Exodus in their clapboard church today.” He recognized Ellis among the guards. “Just like the old days in Mazzeh, don’t you think, Ellis?” he asked familiarly. Ellis smiled and mumbled “Yes sir,” but had no memory of what the Secretary was referring to.
“It will pass,” Secretary Heller assured the camp Commander. “Wipe away the image and guard this spot. In a few days, a fortnight at most, they’ll forget this ever happened.”
At the infirmary the pharmacist told Ellis he needed to see the internist before his prescription could be renewed. Ellis sank into a plastic chair in the waiting room and hung his throbbing head. An elderly Hispanic woman sat across from him feverishly reciting her rosary in Spanish, rubbing the beads reverently.
“Who is she?” he asked Colleen in a whisper when the nurse sat beside him with a cup of coffee.
“She’s Nando’s abuela,” Colleen said. “The boy who speaks to the Holy Mother,” she clarified when Ellis gave her a puzzled look. “She’s his grandmother.”
“How is the kid, Nando?”
Colleen hesitated, looked around. “The Commander was really pissed off that he slipped away this morning, so they have him pretty heavily doped up,” she whispered. “Secretary Heller flew in some specialist to look at him.”
Ellis nodded gloomily.
“You should know something else too,” she said.
“They brought Ricky in today,” she said. “He was freaking out, screaming at them. They sedated him and took him into the psych ward.”
Ellis couldn’t think of anything to say. His head pounded and his vision narrowed.
“What’s going on around here, Ellis?” Colleen asked.
“Nothing,” he whispered. “It’ll be OK.”
“Do you really believe that?”
Ellis hesitated. “Maybe. Either way, it’s nothing you have to worry about.”
“What’s going to happen to Nando?”
“They’ll cure him.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You’re the nurse, you tell me,” he said. “Besides, since when do you care, he just one of them.”
Colleen pulled away from him. “That wasn’t fair.”
“Sorry,” he said. “You’re right. I should warn you about the dangers of identifying with the prisoners, it’s a hazard of the trade.”
“Sometimes I wonder who’s really the prisoners here,” she said.
“You have to compartmentalize it, don’t let it get to you.”
“God, I can’t wait to get the fuck out of this hell hole,” she said. “I better get back to work. See you at the canteen tonight?”
“Sure,” he said and managed a mangled smile.
The receptionist led him to an examination room shortly after Colleen left.
“Dr. Carson,” Ellis said when the doctor finally joined him. He was too tired to hide his surprise. So this was the ‘specialist’ Secretary Heller had flown in.
“Hello, Ellis,” the prim and proper old man said with sterile bedside warmth. “How are you feeling?”
“Tired,” Ellis admitted.
Dr. Carson produced a penlight and shone it in Ellis’ eyes. “How are the headaches?”
“I have one hell of one right now.”
Dr. Carson made note of it on his clipboard. “Are they worse at some times rather than others?” He set the clipboard down and ran gloved fingers through Ellis’ hair along the scar.
“They’ve been worse the last couple days,” Ellis said. “I think the paint or the paint remover on the north wall set them off.”
“This is the wall with the graffiti, and the, the… portrait?”
Ellis nodded. Dr. Carson made another note.
“You look good, Ellis, honestly,” the doctor said. “It’s good to see you again. The last time I saw you, you were in a field hospital and I was sewing that head wound shut.”
Ellis smiled wanly. “Yeah, thanks Doc. ‘Fraid I don’t remember it.”
“I hardly imagine you would,” Dr. Carson said. “Any other memories about that time?”
“Nope,” Ellis said.
“Not that I can remember.”
“Good.” The Doctor tore a prescription from off of the sheet on his clipboard. “I’m increasing your dosage until this graffiti problem passes,” he said, handing the slip to Ellis.
Ellis folded it and slid it in his shirt pocket.
“Is there something else?” Dr. Carson asked.
“Yeah,” Ellis said. “A friend of mine, Ricky Palimpsest was brought in today.”
Dr. Carson put a paternal hand on his shoulder. “I didn’t know he was friend of yours,” he said. “I examined him this afternoon. An unfortunate case. He’s been on antipsychotics since his injury. You can imagine how traumatic it was, is, for him. From what I understand he stopped taking his medication a few days ago and as a result he had a severe psychotic episode. I had him flown to the new VA hospital at Andrews Air Base. He’ll be in good hands there.”
“I talked to him just last night,” Ellis said.
“Did he say anything of interest?”
“I don’t know. He talked about some conspiracy theory stuff, brainwashing. He wanted to know what’s underneath the personality when it’s stripped away,” Ellis said. “He sounded a little paranoid, I guess, but I didn’t think it was that serious.”
“I’m sure they’ll be able to help him at Andrews,” Dr. Carson said.
Ellis filled his prescription and left the infirmary. That night he had a good long look into his eyes in the mirror. He held the bottle of pills in his hand. He gave himself a choice, either take the whole bottle of pills at once, or none at all. He took a half a dozen shots of pepper vodka instead. They dulled the pain. Then he fucked Colleen with a passion that frightened her and left her wanting more. Afterwards he lay in bed staring at the ceiling. He saw beautiful geometric shapes dancing in the white void. They no longer frightened him. He slept better than he had in years.
The next morning he volunteered to guard the north wall. He stood there day after day with his back to whitewashed wall, protecting the Holy Mother, patiently picking away at the paint on his brain.
About the author:
R.R. Litwicki is originally from the South side of Chicago where he and his siblings were provided a good Catholic upbringing that prepared him well for a post-Catholic life. He’s worked 25 years in public education in rural Arizona, a brutal place for public education. Throughout this time, he’s written fiction to stay sane. He has a handful of publishing credits in very small magazines and anthologies, enough to keep his hopes up but not provide bragging rights. In the last year, he’s recommitted himself to pursuing his postponed dreams.