Pictured above in a screenshot from a viral video: “B**ch, kill yourself! I’m a f***ing teacher! I work in schools! I teach students, my students’ families are dying!” A woman screams at anti-lockdown demonstrators in Bend, Oregon on December 6, 2020.
Friend, The Spirit of Evil walks among us. True, there is always some mischief, some witchcraft at work. But right now, evil is an immanent miasma, taking on a body, a form, a figure. It masks its hideous face, veiling nose and mouth from the foetid odour of its own corruption. It’s as palpable as a cold shoulder, as intimate as a wheezing breath. It emits the acerbic odour of a shrivelled gut, seeps and simpers like a clotted heart.
Though it hasn’t the drama of cholera, inducing one to weep blood; and though it hasn’t the elbow grease of small pox or proper bubonic plague to scrub out whole communities household by household; though it’s the mild mannered half-brother of Influenza, Covid-19 is attended by a train of masked demons rubbing elbows with us all, involving each and every one of us in its shadowy waltz with Baron Samedi, Aleister Crowley, the Bogeyman and Beelzebub.
No literary magic is required, no transport to gothic, torch belit passageways, through saltpetred catacombs, or down dank, cobwebbed passageways. No such transportations are necessary to enhance the terror of this stark tale. No, we remain right here in the mundane, the pedestrian, the unpoetic twenty-first century over which the dark beast Baphomet most comfortably presides.
Picture a spacious, wide-aisled pharmacy, clean and clinical, the bright neon overhead gently undulating. It all begins here among the gum and junk food strategically placed to tempt and poison those in queue awaiting their turns at the cash register. It all begins here with an utterance, a scrambled item of speech requiring brain time to reconstruct: “Two metres.” Grumbled and garbled, the words issue from a mask. A figure cocks its head autistically sideways. The manner resembles that of a bird, the way it jerks its little skull to look at you with just one eye. Picture that gull eyeing you as you take your lunch on a park bench, the way it indirectly sidles in your direction while you eat. Picture Norman Bates.
Throughout the encounter I am about to describe, the mask in question dealt with me sideways. I wouldn’t be surprised if those suffering from Covid Rage in fact believe that engagement at a right angle minimizes their risk of exposure.
It was about seven months into the Covid-19 lockdowns. If one was a radiohead or a news zombie who bathed long in the eerie blue light of television and computer screens and believed in government authority and the long defunct integrity of the free press. . . if one was this sort of blue-face, the messaging had been relentlessly monomaniacal and without journalistic inquiry. There was only one news, only one story, and any questioning of state policy was immediately suppressed and branded “fake news.”
The information feed was a continuous ticker tape of fear mongering that followed two alternative formulae: either (a) lead the covid editorial with Covid Dread; that is, news of how many have died, regionally and worldwide since the earliest onset of the virus in Wuhan, China, late November 2019; or (b) save the grotesque but juicy morsels of death-counting for the end to be sure and leave the viewer (or listener) infused with irremediable Covid Dread. Either way, the strategy was to rationalise the latest suspensions to basic civil rights, like the right to congregate, to do business, to play sports, to visit family and friends, to celebrate holidays and successes, to mourn the passing of your loved ones. . . the right to walk side by side with a friend, the right to hug in public. The consequences for violating lockdown were unclear. What was clear, however, was that the police state, which had already been developing for well over 20 years, was finally asserting itself. Police could now obtain insta-warrants to kick in the door of a private residence based on a call from a snitch.
The goal of these reports was to induce panic and intimidation. To this end, the death counts were given without context, without informing the populace of “excess deaths”—of whether we’d exceeded the average annual count. In fact, once death counting became unhelpful to the covid narrative, the subject was summarily dropped and exchanged for case numbers. That said case numbers represented largely innocuous cases along with a hefty number of false test results (97% false) was of no concern to scare slingers. What was important were covid numbers, whichever numbers looked biggest were the ones deployed.
For many, such continuous focus on memento mori caused necrosis of the heart. Many, from overload of fear, turned savage and simply abandoned the dictates and protocols of civility and human decency. Some hoarded toilet paper and canned goods and hid under their beds. Some watched their neighbours through the curtains and turned to snitching on folk they deemed disobedient to the new draconian dictates, and some vanished into social media and lost themselves in the blue fog of pixel town. That’s how the Spirit of Evil crept through the static and insinuated its way into High Definition.
Never before in my 45 years had I seen such incompetence and dereliction of duty on the part of our politicians. Perhaps one could have seen it coming. After all, Covid-19 was not the first rage-inducing dread promoted by inept authorities and a corrupt press in recent years. Climate Change had been top of the agenda just prior to the popularity of SARS-CoV-2. Early on, indeed, sinister attempts had been made to argue that Climate Change had caused the virus, but the wily pharmaceutical industry had this bug in the bag, and this dirty bag was all theirs (except for what greenbacks leaked out to their hired husks on key medical boards).
What Climate Change did was set the grim stage of our damnation by establishing a rhetoric of immanent doom: “The world’s on fire,” announced the posters; “Our house is burning,” was another poeticism. The “sustainability” propaganda was adeptly handled and extremely well funded. Climate Change was the first clearly misanthropic doctrine to take hold of the collective soul. Climate activists managed to popularise the term “Anthropocene” to lend a scientific air to the notion that humanity had radically impacted and upset our serene and fragile blue planet with our pollution. Human industry and ingenuity were branded “colonialist,” and the crumbled and mouldering outposts of colonialism were read as cause for grievance, which was a sly corruption of reality, for in actual fact the decay and waning of the colonial enterprise was clear proof of positive progress.
It was that ancient paradigm of Man versus Nature, but diabolically turned on its head. The original version insisted that Nature is evil, so humanity must free itself from Nature (including one’s own Nature). The novel version proved a rather less coherent cousin, asserting that Human nature is unnatural evil, and that Nature must therefore be saved from evil humankind. It was a cheap cannibalisation of the doctrine of original sin.
There was still more to the psychology of the public hysteria. Seething behind the Climate Change Weltanschauung and the doctrine of the “Anthropocene,” at a barely subconscious level, lurked the taboo of mother rape. You’ve ravished Gaia, and because of your sacrilege, you are a reprobate and a sinner. Shame on you.
The Scroll of Shame had been gaining parchment for decades. Some say all the trouble started as early as the 1960s, but that’s a stretch. It was the ‘90s when all the trouble truly began. That’s when the radical phantasmagoria began to issue forth from the universities, pathologizing all aspects of human intercourse, moving us ever closer to self-loathing and the grim call of Thanatos. When this literature (think Judith Butler et al.) first began its mildewy creep, it seemed toothless enough. It was so damn ridiculous, surely, it was purely academic bafflegab and would remain on the high shelf without utility because it was too theoretical, too refutable and too socially destructive. Consequently, this body of insane misanthropy and misandry was permitted to grow like blood mycosis in a condemned slaughterhouse.
By 2013, as the ubiquitous thumbs of social media began casting their long jittery shadows, the hand of Leninist Puritanism took hold. Shame!—chided the well-manicured hand. Shame on you for speaking with confidence. Shame on your heritage and on the pigmentation of your skin. Shame on you for your manhood and your attempts at becoming a man. Shame on you for slavery. Kneel! Repent! Shame for being heterosexual. Shame on you for hoping you might raise a family. Shame on you for stealing land from the First Nations. Shame on you for the oppression of women, for wanting to have sex with them, for starting a conversation with one on a bus or for even checking out a woman with your horrible, patriarchal eyes. Disgusting, loathsome creature: shame on you, you rapist of Gaia, destroyer of worlds.
That had been the public programming for over two decades, the messaging from the most reputable and mainstream papers and news networks. The same influence campaign echoed in the hallways of the schools, in the corridors of government institutions and corporate towers as issued by HR offices, the smooth, intrusive fingers of the state.
Inevitably, the denizens of our bustling world were absorbed into what can only be described as a malevolent cult that instilled one with a sense of himself as a toxic bag of sin and biological iniquity. This was the prevailing mood when the Covid Masquerade began its lurid waltz through our city. It became a sign of virtue to express a sense of one’s shame for being a contaminated organism shedding contagious bacteria and viruses of death in its wake. Goodman John, Goodwoman Jane and Goodperson Them not only went about the streets bemasked on windy days, but also sprang aside into curbs and dodged behind trees at the approach of other bipeds to preserve maximal distance lest some dislocated wickedness should leap like a Dybbuk into one’s skin. Of course, none of it was so colourful. It was all couched in scientific terms. Not demons, but droplets were to be feared. Droplets flew out of the lungs carrying plague. The trick was to duck and take cover wherever the droplets might be riding the air or sitting like microscopic gargoyles on doorknobs, elevator buttons, countertops. Kill them with alcohol, bleach, peroxide. One community in California bleached the grass where children had played leaving their filthy droplets willy nilly all over the park. Signs warned that touching one’s own face could be deadly. Many jumped into traffic to avoid the mephitis of droplets.
Sadly, our hearts were ripe for this final nail in the coffin of Love. “Never again,” authorities proclaimed, will we kiss each other upon the cheeks by way of greeting. “We will never shake hands again,” the elbow-rubbing politicians told us. Sex should be conducted through a hole in the wall, one spokesperson enthused. Maintain your distance even when dating: the covid awaits the sinful. The covid is caused by the sinful. The covid is the scarlet letter and emblem of your complicity in poisoning history and the living Earth. It might not sound atheistic or especially scientific, but I assure you, friend, the Scroll of Shame was understood to be bolted to the cement of science and fact by the staunchest atheists. That this so-called science and fact did not agree with reality was of no consequence.
In a world that criminalised “misgendering”—calling someone “he” when said citizen identified as a she; in a culture where discomfort was deemed equivalent to feeling “unsafe” (not threatened, merely unsafe); in a society that actively set out to do away with all forms of adversity, Covid-19 did not have to be much of a bug. It might as easily have been an itch.
So, a nos mouton, as Rabelais put it; back to our story: it was a hoarse whisper the mask had uttered; it was mechanical, as though tripped by a laser scanner and triggered like a computerised voice from a small, built-in speaker lodged somewhere in the infrastructure. So much was sideways in how the message reached me, it took a few seconds for my brain to register that the muffled sound had been directed at me. “Two metres,” came the garbled message.
When I’d cottoned on that something had been blurted gruffly my way, I looked up to assess the situation. Before me stood a couple in tired-looking, black masks. She was very short, dark carré, probably in her 40s. He was six feet and maybe about 50 years old, dark hair, narrow eyes. I glanced down at the floor. It was true. I had overstepped the rubbed out two metre mark, and was now roughly 1.5 metres from these two masks.
“I’m not a bag of contagion,” I replied with a resigned, judgemental tone. Then pausing. . . to give it a moment to sink in, I continued: “I’m a human being.” I added this quietly by way of explanation, to indicate that he might demonstrate some civility. Judging from the body language of the figure before me, however, it did not seem that my comments had quite reached their intended mark.
Then raising my voice as I saw the mask begin formulating his reply, I interrupted what appeared to be a stammer with, “You know the best way to keep the virus numbers down? . . . It’s to keep your mouth shut.” This was harsh, I admit. It was a provocation. I admit that. But in the moment, stupidly, I actually wanted to end the conversation, and naïvely, I figured that statement would do the trick. You might say I felt Beelzebub’s hand on my shoulder and couldn’t stop myself. Something territorial had taken hold of me. It was like the Gestapo were at my door, and there was no way I was going to be bullied by a Black Shirt anywhere, and certainly not in an empty pharmacy. Given the circumstances, if he’d wanted that extra half metre so desperately, he could easily have taken a step forward. This mask was simply fixated on the floor markings. It was reminiscent of the classic bubble gum wrapper cartoon of some beach bully drawing a line in the sand to establish grounds for a fight.
“Oh, you’re just trying to pick a fight,” the shorter mask muttered mouthlessly.
“I’m not trying to do anything of the kind. I just wanna buy a few items and get out of here. You’re the ones picking a fight.”
“You know what?” He growled. “It’s because of people like you. . .” There was a thuggish and husky gruffness in his tone. You could hear him suck back saliva behind the mask. . . but he was too emotional to find the words to complete that truly shameful thought. (Who were people like me, exactly? And what precisely had we done, my people and I?) So he tried this: “You’re just an angry person looking for trouble.”
“Wow. That’s rich. Do you even hear yourself? I’m not the angry one.”
His body began to look a little contorted as he turned slightly and bent dangerously toward me. This mask was clearly at the end of his chain, at the extremity of what appeared to be a choker, and that choker was the kind with spikes, pointed toward the throat, the kind made for massive, potentially vicious dogs. More baffled verbiage issued from the straining mask twisting unnaturally toward me. The voice went grizzly:
“You invaded my space.”
“Excuse me? You’re the one who invaded my space,” I reminded him. “I was minding my own business before you bleated at me.”
This was an odd moment to be sure. His space? My space? Whose space was it? In contention was the Safe Space, the relatively new incarnation of which first appeared in radical form in schools and universities in the early 2000s. I think such spaces had begun decades back as places where victims of rape or physical abuse could spend time without fear of molestation. By 2013, however, the Safe Space had become a designation alerting political non-radicals that they were unwelcome. Such spaces were now zones of intolerance where freedom of respectful expression and freedom of conscience were deemed noxious. It seems my masked interlocutor, an envoy from Baron Samedi’s mausoleum, had come to believe that his aura encompassed such an inviolable space.
He began, however, to lean in toward me, even shuffled away from his designated circle on the ground. The choker tightened on him. I said, “Oi!” reaching out my arm, “You’re in my space. You’re breaking the two metres.”
I’d smacked him down (figuratively speaking), humiliated him badly enough. . . and now, according to the rules of his own petty game, he had to handle the altercation from a safe distance of two metres or more. No doubt, this mask had been ready to pop long before our encounter. He’d been primed by the television and social media for over 20 years, and these last seven months had proven a wicked radicalisation campaign. Who knows when the last time had been that he’d pulled his head out of a computer monitor and put himself in a social situation. For all I knew, this mask had been living in Facebook for a month and had just emerged because he needed some sun block. Was it wise to poke at a startled and frightened snake?
As the air intensified into emotional plasma, one could sense that the mask was beyond stung. He wanted blood, but couldn’t manage to get that flavour of living flesh, of vein and sinew he was craving without foreshortening the state-mandated two metres he was so keen on personally enforcing.
He walked away from me and up to the available cash (where he was separated from the young lady at the register by a thick pane of acrylic glass). From that safe distance, within just a few breaths of time, upon a mere flutter and skipped heartbeat, he finally burst, exploding at full volume and with an air of abandoned aggression: “You’re a fucking asshole!” I looked his way. The dark hair on his head was suddenly dishevelled.
(Keep in mind that each expression cast my way was propelled with especial vehemence through tooth and cloth and with progressively homicidal inflexion.)
“Oh, an f-bomb. Your choice of vocabulary demonstrates true class. So pleasant to see one maintain such civility and equipoise in trying times.”
Upon those words, whatever composure he might have had vanished like a silk tunic in a hurricane. I hadn’t seen a fit of this magnitude since high school. It was a complete and utter abandonment of self-possession.
“FUCK YOU!” he shouted. “FUCK YOU YOU FUCKING FUCKER!” The mask barked this in front of the stunned cashier. The whole silent, covid-empty pharmacy resounded with f-bombs. The pills surely trembled in their bottles; the same, no doubt, could be said of the band-aids in their roomy boxes. The various fluids on the shelves must have rippled slightly. . . and the security guard must have been hiding because there was zero intervention.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t realize you suffered from Tourettes,” I snapped.
I was upset by this encounter. I had not entertained the idea that the mask might become violent. But here I was, faced with a Cro-Magnon, and I began to tremble. I resented the sensation. It was as though I’d been bitten and poisoned by some kind of snake.
Their damage done, the masks finally left. I approached the cash, paid and made my way out. The cashier seemed sympathetic and wished me a good day, but I was too upset and distracted and didn’t reciprocate as I should have. I wish I had been more gracious because that was the point I’d been trying to make: let’s be civil to one another. Perhaps I’d failed at that entirely; on the other hand, perhaps I’d done the right thing standing up for myself.
Now get this. The Covid Crusader is waiting for me outside with his masked companion. But true to distance safety, obedient to state decree (and his own conscience no doubt), he waylays me from afar, begins cursing me from across the street:
“FUCK YOU! It’s two fucking metres! It’s t-w-o f-u-c-k-i-n-g metres. F-U-C-K-E-R!” The mask was flailing his arms, wailing at me with a grim and horrifyingly preternatural voice. I was witnessing an infantile fit with shades of Caligula, shades of The Exorcist. This mask was truly possessed. It is only slightly hyperbolic to suggest his head turned 360 degrees. He was projectile vomiting bile, channelling pandemonium: “You just fucking remember that you fucking asshole fucker.” He was shouting in harsh, hoarse tones at the top of his lungs like a wild escapee in a straightjacket confused and raging in the busy street. No one could tell who he was yelling at. And as I gained my distance, stoking his empty fury further with each step, he sang out with a bloodcurdling and frenzied cry, “PSY-Y-Y-CHO-O-O.” It was a throaty swan song, a hostile howl summoned from so deep in his psyche, he might well have torn his soul right out of his own body. But this fellow’s spiritual centre had been replaced by a slippery, brainwashed mass of fear, and all that noise was the sound of a mask pounding its chest to ward away a monumental sense of impotence.
It was all very sad for him. This mask had been played. The many years of social indoctrination that had hollowed out his will now made him the perfect instrument of the state. As Hamlet would have observed, here was Fortune’s perfect flute; a thing whose stops were easily learned and played upon. In this case, however, I would say, Here was Baron Samedi’s perfect trumpet, for surely this mask had found a voice to wake the dead.
In the days that followed, I didn’t give the incident too much mental time. Probably due to the inarticulate bluntness of the violence levelled at me, the confrontation failed to lodge itself emotionally. Of course I sketched out the rough contours of the affair to a few confidants for our amusement, but that was the full extent of its psychic reach. It was about two weeks later when I received a text from my best friend, Nicholas: “Hey. Wonder if this is the mask you had that run-in with.” Along with the note was a link to a news piece: Mass Stabber Hashtags ‘Suicide Is the Best Vaccine’.
The article was a bizarre specimen from several perspectives. It described a masked assailant who had gone to Central Park on a sunny afternoon and begun stabbing folk with a steak knife. Witnesses said he shouted “Two fucking metres” over and again as prelude to each attack, but also as conclusion as well as intermittently throughout each assault. “Two fucking metres.” “Two fucking metres.” He stabbed 20 people before cutting his own throat. But the journalist refused to report the piece as Covid Rage. Instead, and even though it made no sense, the stabbings were attributed to the anti-vaccine movement. Apparently, just a day earlier, he had posted on Facebook and Instagram a photo of a page with #suicideisthebestvaccine printed over and over again. It didn’t matter the message was hardly that of an Anti-Vaxxer. Nor did it make any difference to the state narrative that the perpetrator had no ties whatsoever to the movement. The media had its storyline, and so, an obtuse analysis of events was du jour.
Five people died in those gruesome attacks and three were in critical condition. These were among the last targeted when he was in a frenzy, striking his victims over and over again. The first dozen he stabbed a mere two to three times. A few sustained seven deep wounds apiece. But in two cases it was as many as 13 and 15. It requires an effort to properly imagine the blind fury driving that kind of act. Consider for a moment the force required to cut a raw chicken carcass, or to stick a raw lamb roast. And still this imagining misses the psychological element involved when knifing a living creature, its hot blood spraying the hands, spurting into the face, the vocal outcries gurgling and frothing from the struggling victim.
Luckily, the initial leg of his spree was a warm up, so the first ten, though he’d sunk his knife in deep, were only badly maimed. The thirteenth victim had been a man who attempted tackling the mask as he fled a stabbing by the edge of the water near the southern end of the park. This 30-something man heard shouts, and seeing the bloody slayer, gave chase. Events did not transpire in his favour, and unfortunately, he was quickly struck in the nape of the neck, after which, the mask straddled him and began thrashing away with the blade, hacking the young hero’s insides to a pulp.
Most witnesses were shocked and paralyzed, finding themselves unable to move to save themselves. Some fled the scene.
A photo of the maniac was printed with the news piece. I looked it over, covering the mouth and nose with a finger. If it wasn’t the mask who’d had that fit in the pharmacy, he certainly bore a close resemblance. Should I feel guilty that I may have been the catalyst to these horrific events? Should I feel at all responsible?
I once heard of a fellow who’d made a pastime of pulling up railroad spikes from the neighbourhood tracks. He kept a collection in boxes in his basement. Ultimately, this mischief led to a spectacular derailing, entailing enormous collateral damage along with the deaths of over 200 people and the injury of some 250 more. He continued his wickedness even following the debacle, and that’s how he was caught. A passer-by out walking her dog caught sight of him pulling up nails in the fog of a spectre grey and rainy dawn. Apparently he preferred wet weather for gathering his rusty simples. The soaked earth eased his drawing up the points. She reported the sighting, and authorities afterward found his cache of spikes. When brought before a court, he insisted there was no connection between his actions and the derailment. Even after it was explained to him, he admitted no causal relationship. (No doubt, he’d have made a fine politician.) Insofar as the analogy serves, you can see that I was not culpable for the unravelling of this citizen’s psyche, for I’d only pulled up the final peg. The rest had been carefully pried out over years by the machinations of a sinister cult. And so I lay this bloody train wreck at the pedicured feet of a thoroughly corrupt and bedevilled culture.