FLASH FICTION: “Pestilence” (reprinted; originally published on the eve of the 2016 election).

I wrote this piece after the 2016 election, full of rage and despair. Now that the results of the 2020 election are known, I have decided to post it again. One of the fascist groups came to my city to protest the election results this past weekend, leaving a path of destruction and violence as they pasted through.


(Case Studies in Paranoid-Empathetic-Selective Telepathy)

The symptoms of PEST are different for everyone. 

For some, it is exclusively a visual phenomenon, and the world becomes covered in living and breathing memes. The image of a Smug Willie Wonka starts uttering hate speech or the 3D dancing baby makes rude gestures.

For others, it is auditory. Messages hidden in pop songs or riding blasts of static. 

Like fibromyalgia or Morgellon’s disease, Baldwin’s Psychosis or Paranoid-Empathetic-Selective-Telepathy is a controversial medical diagnosis. Many clinicians are skeptical of BP/PEST syndrome (as known by the more common lay-term “unveiling”), doubting its existence. 

Because of this, many BP/PEST-affected have formed peer-based support groups to share resources and stories, with little to no official medical expertise.

“My name is Lucius and I’m Unveiled.” The bald, heavy-set man stands up, sweating nervously.

“Hello, Lucius,” the group says in unison. Twenty pair of eyes look at him expectantly, waiting for him to share his story.

“The first Unveiling episode was with a cop.”

Lucius was Unveiled on a Monday morning, the time when all bad things seem to happen. It was during the rush-hour commute to work, when the police car turned on the flashing blue-and-red and pulled him over. 

Lucius had been pulled over before. He knew the drill. He would have to wait for five to ten minutes as the cop ran his license plate number and radioed in. He waited the length of a song on the stereo—Nina Simone’s epic “Sinnerman.”

At the dramatic conclusion of the song, to the rhythm of the handclaps and the cadence of the call-and-response vocals, the portly cop exited his cruiser. 

Damn. He’s white.

The last time he’d been pulled over—a year ago—the cop had been Latina. White cops, especially male ones, made him reflexively tense. So many of them had the high school jock mentality. Lucius loosened up, let his shoulder muscles relax. He thought, #notallcops, hashtag and all, and turned down the stereo and rolled down the window.

“Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to step out of the car.”

They didn’t have faces. With their rounded helmets and ever-present shades, most white male cops looked like bobble-headed robots. He had a thick mustache, like a hairy boomerang and wore mirror shades, making him look extra douchey.

“May I ask why I’m being detained?” He put on his best bougie accent. 

Robocop had the ultimate poker face. Is that something they teach in training? Lucius wondered. He heard the chatter of the officer’s walkie-talkie spit out random dispatch codes.

“Please step out of the car.”

He complied, hoping that Robocop didn’t pick up on his reluctance. They seemed to smell Attitude, as if it were a distinct odor. Lucius considered trying to engage in a little respectability politics. He could casually let it drop that he was assistant professor of Film Studies at the University, do the ‘aw-shucks’ laugh…. 

Robocop examined his proffered Driver’s License, as if it were a document in a foreign script. Lucius could swear that he was sounding out some words. He saw people in their cars, rubbernecking to see the dog and pony show. Nothing here to see, folks. Just another Robocop dealing with a Scary Black Man from Central Casting, keeping you and your property safe.

He heard it, through the static.

The  deep, dulcet voice of a woman, not unlike the voice of Nina Simone, which was still streaming through the stereo. Her voice rode on the waves of dissonance.

Nina said, through crackles and hisses, “It won’t matter that you’re one of the Good Ones.” Then she sang the words, “The House of the Rising Sun.” 


Robocop said, “Sir, do not speak unless I ask you a question!” Every word was underlined, and had an exclamation point. In spite of his badge and the gun holstered at his side, Robocop seemed nervous. His voice wavered beneath the bark and the bluster.

Nina sang, through the garbled dispatches, “Good one, or bad one. Doesn’t matter. To him, you’re just a nigger with a degree. When will I be free….?”

After Robocop finished studying the license and handed it back to Lucius, he said, “Do you know why I pulled you over?”

Crackle-hiss-hiss-crackle: “You know why.”

Lucius said, “No.”

“This is a 55 speed limit zone. You were going 60.”

Lucius paused, trying to get a read on the situation. On one hand, everyone was going over the speed limit. He saw vehicle after vehicle whisking down the highway.  On the other, Robocop was tense and edgy.

Robocop’s radio crackled and the voice oozed out of it, over the sound of dispatcher chatter: “This is not the hill to die on. Here is what he sees. I made wine from the lilac tree….”

Lucius heard the twang of a steel guitar and the baritone voice of a country and western singer, but he couldn’t make out the words. Then he heard the shrieking voice of a pundit whose voice he sort of recognized (Beck? Limbaugh? Alex Jones?) screaming about BLACKONBLACKCRIME and rattling off statistics about FATHERLESSCHILDREN  and RIGHTTOCARRY. The music, the voices and music collided together into jagged ambient noise. Beneath this, like a chant, he heard NIGGER-THUG. Lucius had heard about the mythical Brown Note, a resonance that shattered control of  the bowels and the mind. He thought he was hearing, now. If shit was a sound, what he heard now was the aural representation.

“Sir! Are you alright?” 

Lucius snapped back. Robocop had removed his mirror-shades, revealing deep-set brown eyes that were flecked with green. They were kind eyes, eyes that radiated warmth and concern. Lucius would have never guessed the swirl of dark thoughts writhed just behind the mask of Robocop’s pudgy face.

“Yeah. I was just… Yeah, I’m cool.”

Nina Simone never sounded the same afterward.

“It’s a curse,” says Lucius, and sits down.

A woman with long dreads, glasses and a maxi-dress with a kente cloth pattern stands. Red wooden beads encircle her neck, and garnet studs glitter in her ears.

“My name is Lorraine, and I’m Unveiled. I think Unveiling is a gift. It’s a tool of survival.”

Ryan Hobart had light blue eyes, smooth paper-white skin and hair that had obviously been bleached blond. He looked like a deer caught in the headlights as he entered the office.

Desiree from HR gestured to the desk opposite Lorraine’s, with its pristine new black computer. “This is your office,” she said, unnecessarily.

Ryan said nothing. He just stared at Lorraine, as if she were some kind of oddity, like a sentient squirrel. She thought, I don’t bite.  His eyes were wide with something. Terror? Amazement? Desire?

Lorraine stood up from her desk, and extended her hand. Even smiled at the kid. Hobart stared at her hand as if it were a strange object. He took it quickly. His grip was bloodless, a brief touch of his pale palms and then his hand slipped away. She introduced herself to him. He nodded then turned his back to her, and began booting up his workstation.

Ryan barely spoke to her that first week. He barely spoke to anyone, in fact. Lorraine told herself not to worry about it. Her last officemate had also been quiet, preferring to work with her headphones plugged in. But Ryan’s silence was different, somehow. It was a heavy silence. Some invisible tension emanated from the kid in a way that was different than just social awkwardness. 

Lorraine tried not to let it bother her when, for instance, Ryan would ask other people for important work-related information. One day, he went to (Ryan) Wilson to get the number to the IT department. Another time, he asked Bryan Dubois, who was on the other side of the office, for the copy machine code, even though Dubois was in another department and wouldn’t have used the same code anyway. Lorraine tried to ignore the fact that Hobart only spoke to white men and women in full sentences. He spoke to her in fragments. Maybe she was imagining his gruffness.

Lorraine discussed her new officemate with some friends of hers over a Friday happy hour.

Phoebe said to her: “Just because he looks like Draco Malfoy doesn’t mean that he’s evil. You know, he could just be gay. Because how many straight dudes bleach their hair who aren’t in bands? Wasn’t there a meme a month or so ago — Gay or Hitler Youth?”

Harry, who actually was gay, said, “Phoebe, that’s so wrong. But not untrue. I hate to say this, Lorraine, but people in your field aren’t exactly examples of social decorum. How many actuaries does it take to change a lightbulb? No-one knows; the actuaries are too busy calculating the risk…”

When Lorraine went back that Monday morning, she saw that Hobart was already at his desk working, and, like her former officemate Abby, he had his headphones on. Hobart didn’t acknowledge her, but then, neither did Abby.

Lorraine turned on her computer then left to get a cup of green tea as it booted up. She sipped her tea as she checked her work emails. She opened up an attached spreadsheet sent from her supervisor.

At first, she didn’t know what she was looking at. It was technically a spreadsheet. It had gridlines, lettered columns and numbered rows. It had different color-coded tabs. But the data was strange.

The first tab was visible. It had no label. The columns were headed :

A – Asian

B – White

C – Black

The  rows were labeled:

1 – Intelligence Quotient

2 – Sexual Promiscuity

3 – Criminal Activity

The cells were filled with numerical data.

“What the hell,” Lorraine muttered. She moved her mouse, intending to write an email questioning Diana about the attachment, but, the information changed, right before her eyes. The spreadsheet was filled with data pertaining to the Innsmouth Insurance account.

She started to work on the account, ignoring her discomfort. She opened up her web browser, and signed into Pyewacket Associates, which complied information on insurance companies. The website loaded, and Lorraine gasped. Instead of the usual interface, there was an image of a gorilla a wearing dress. And not just any dress. It was the dress that she had on. The ape had a dark purple, houndstooth-patterned flounce dress and had two Hunger Games mockingjay earrings dangling from its (her?) recessed ears. Just like the ensemble she’d picked out this morning. Lorraine stared at the expertly photoshopped image, which had somehow scaled the contours of the dress onto the gorilla’s physique. Then she turned. She saw Ryan Hobart with his headphones on, concentrating on his screen.

She tapped him lightly on the shoulder. He flinched, then removed his headphones. 

“Sorry to bother you,” she said, “but I think my computer is acting up. Do you mind taking a look?”

He wordlessly shrugged, stood up, and glanced at her screen. He said, “What’s wrong?” Lorraine realized that these words were the first time he had addressed her directly. 

“Can’t you see that….” Her voice trailed off, because the image was no longer on the computer. The screensaver had come on. “What the….” She moved her mouse, and the normal Pyewacket Associates interface of hyperlinked lists of companies appeared.

“Never mind,” she said. “Apparently, it fixed itself….”

Hobart walked back to his desk without a word and put his headphones back on. Lorraine shook off the weirdness she felt and started her research.

Maybe fifteen minutes had passed when she got a ping on her iPhone. She opened up the messenger app.


There was no attribution to the message, no name or phone number or email.

Lorraine texted back: <Who is this?>

She could feel the texter on the other side, as he considered a response. It was an irrational feeling, she knew, but she felt the ice-blue eyes staring at the screen, the brain synapses beneath bleached blond hair firing and crackling with malice.

The image of a green-skinned, goggle-eyed ghoul appeared, over which a wall of text crept. The words crowded. Smashed together, with no kerning or space between the letters.

MOTHERCUCKERS/#whitegenocide/FEMINISM IS CANCER/ homo erectus is among us/ n!ggers/ (((insert jew name)))….

Lorraine stopped reading. Her eyes burned, as if they had been sprayed with acid. The words, symbols and letters were made of flame. The frog-faced ghoul had tears leaking out of his pop-eyes. Crocodile tears.

That is when she knew that she had been Unveiled.

Demographically, the PEST-affected are members of minority groups or the traditionally disenfranchised, which may account for the medical establishment’s disinterest. 

More and more cases of PEST have been reported. No treatment plan or cure is currently available.

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