'Point Nemo' by CJ Laity is a sharp and funny satire of the insanity that passes for contemporary
American political and media sensibility in all of its collapsing imperial goodness. A great beach read . . .
--Larry Winfield, author of Banjo Strings
Joseph Engel is convicted of treason and strapped to a gurney in the Terre Haute federal death chamber. When the warden asks him if he has any last words, Joe begins talking non-stop, telling the strange tale of how he ended up there, challenging the warden to quote him a law that puts a time limit on a prisoner's final statement. What happens when a populated island called the Sovereign Nation of Aurora is discovered at Point Nemo, the point in the ocean farthest away from any land? What happens when the king of the island, a dreadlocked man named Harmon, hacks into the entire American communications infrastructure with a video stream offering a trade proposal? What happens when an America controlled by an insane government plots to invade the island and turn it into a military base? What happens when a senator's cook named Joe unwittingly finds himself the American Ambassador to the island? Joe is going to tell you what happens, as he stalls his execution as long as possible. Can Joe talk his way out of the death chamber? .
Order Point Nemo: $12 even PayPay ** $12 +ship CreateSpace ** $12 +ship Amazon
Help Fund Point Nemo's printing with $20 or more and get a signed copy, wow!
*click to order a book*
* KING HARMON *
18:00 in the death chamber.
On a rainy Saturday, July first, the curtain was pulled away and I could see the shapes of the witnesses behind the tinted window of the asparagus colored death chamber in Terre Haute. I reclined on a black gurney, strapped in, covered to my neck by a light gray sheet under which a heart monitor was connected to my chest, the IV waiting to carry the deadly three-drug combination into my bloodstream inserted into my leg. Warden Harvey Pickett stood at attention at my side facing the window and U.S. Marshal Andrew Freeman stood near a bright red phone that was on a metal tray next to a door. There was a white analog clock on the wall in front of me and a closed-circuit video camera watching me from the ceiling.
“Do you have any last words,” the warden hailed without facing me.
“I certainly do,” I said, my eyes desperately scanning the room. “I wish to make a final statement. First, I would like to say that if the Chinese had granted me asylum six and a half years ago, I wouldn’t be in the fix I’m in. I was picked up by a Ching Chiang class patrol ship, you know, after the helicopter that took me off the island crashed in the South Pacific. I was held in a brig with a Chinese prisoner who had brown birthmarks on his cheeks and who had an ear bigger than the other. He lay on a cot, his hands chained to the wall, and I sat on another cot across from him, my body free of restraints. I asked him if he knew what had started the international crisis and he merely smiled a mouthful of gray teeth at me. Amazed that he had been kept so ignorant, I began to tell him how it all began.
“‘The Sovereign Nation of Aurora sat in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean for weeks,’ I told him, ‘unnoticed by the other seven billion people of the world, while Murray Goldberger, the student from the University of Pennsylvania who discovered the island while studying cloud patterns, wrote a career making article that he easily got published in a leading scientific journal. That article was then republished in National Geographic, but still, nobody paid it any mind. It wasn’t until bold headlines at the supermarket checkout lines shouted “Prehistoric Island Surfaces” and “Atlantis Appears In South Pacific!” that I paid attention, and even then it was just for a laugh while waiting for the new kid to figure out how to properly scan a barcode. Of course, I assumed, the headlines were a joke. The buzz eventually moved from the tabloids to National Public Radio talk shows that featured experts debating the existence of “Point Nemo Island.” The loud and obnoxious cable news anchors weighed in next. They had photos taken by NASA satellites that seemed to prove that there was indeed an up until that point undiscovered island somewhere near the oceanic pole of inaccessibility, previously considered to be the point in the ocean farthest away from any land.’
“The Chinese prisoner’s glassy eyes blankly stared at me.
“‘Things in the world started to get hairy,’ I continued, ‘when Robert Rush, host of the cable show Oh Really! theorized that the mysterious Point Nemo land mass may not be an island at all, but maybe it was some type of giant warship, because its coordinates radically changed with each satellite photo taken of it. When Robert Rush’s touch of fear was added to the equation, everyone perked up and attached the letters WTF to a link on their Facebook pages.
“‘Scientists attempted to calm the American people. They enlarged a satellite image and showed us a forest and a massive mountaintop peeking up through the fog. They argued that the land mass could not have been manmade because it was about the size of Tokyo. They also debated Mr. Goldberger’s theory that it recently formed by means of a volcanic eruption, arguing that there were all sorts of foliage growing on the island and certain shadows in the photos, they said, suggested that wildlife existed there. What they couldn’t explain was why the island seemed to shift in location, and so far, despite the photos of bits and pieces of it appearing through the fog, nobody had actually set foot on it. So the wild theories persisted.’”
Warden Pickett grunted and his eyes rolled briefly toward me.
“‘The fog closed in around the land mass one day and no one could find it anymore, so stories ran about the elaborate hoax that was Point Nemo Island, and poor Murray Goldberger was about to kiss his fame goodbye; until, three weeks later, the fog dissipated completely and there it was, at a new set of coordinates, shaped like a 40 mile long banjo, with a thirty mile peninsula leading into a pyramid-shaped mountain of lush vegetation circled by sand. There wasn’t a newspaper in the states that didn’t have an image of the land mass taken from outer space on its front page,’ I told the Chinese prisoner, pretending to hold a newspaper in front of my face.
“‘The cable news anchors shouted at each other about whether the island should be preserved or turned into a military base. America became divided on this point and hysteria about the subject became contagious.’ The Chinese prisoner coughed. ‘People insulted each other on internet comment boards, calling each other “fascist right wing neocons” and “lefty liberal moonbats.” Somebody in Holly Pond, Alabama plucked someone’s eye out with a spoon in a diner as the two of them argued about the island and the incident made national headlines. The hysteria was isolated though, as no other country besides America had yet been able to confirm the existence of the island. Foreign news sources were giving it little attention, some even shrugging it off as yet another invention of the American government to justify a military invasion of some sort.
“‘President Nolin,’ I said, ‘you know, President Nolin?’ The Chinese prisoner smiled and shrugged his shoulders. ‘She addressed the nation during a live broadcast to assure us that an expedition of our top intellectuals led by the United States Military would soon be under way and that by the end of the week, America will have had set foot on Point Nemo Island. “There’s no telling’ what we’ll find but I’m bettin’ on a bunch of trees and not much else,” Nolin said. “This thing must-a been there all along. It seems impossible that with all our technoligy nobody noticed it before but that's just what musta happened. It’s a ginormous ocean you know.” President Nolin then went on for some time about how she planned to hunt down and kill terrorists wherever they hid and then she said a prayer and her little show was over.’”
The warden shifted his weight and grumbled, “If you’re holding out for a last minute stay, you should know that the judge who signed your death warrant has passed, so you’re only stalling the inevitable.”
“Warden,” I said, “what state was I convicted in?”
“You were convicted in Utah,” the warden answered with a slight sneer.
“Isn’t it true that, even though we’re in Indiana, pursuant to eighteen United States Code three five nine six, the method of execution to be used on federal prisoners is that of the state in which the conviction took place?”
“That is the law,” the warden barked.
“And isn’t it true that the ‘method of execution’ applies not only to the means, lethal injection, but to the method in which that means is carried out?”
“We have gone through painstaking efforts to proceed under the laws of Utah,” the warden assured me.
“Isn't it common practice in Utah to allow a capital offender the chance to say his peace before his execution?”
“What part of Utah’s code of criminal procedure puts a time limit on a prisoner’s last words?”
“What’s the law on that?” the warden huffed.
“I’m not sure,” said the marshal.
“Until you quote the law that stops me, I plan to proceed.
“‘Something extraordinary happened next,’ I told the Chinese prisoner,” I said as the warden turned and gawked at me. “‘Immediately following President Nolin’s speech, every television transmission and every internet connection in America was taken over by a broadcast of a speech from a happy looking brown man with dreadlocks, big white teeth and bloodshot eyes. He sat on a park bench over a bed of sand in front of a wall of multicolored rock, wearing a wrinkled and weathered shirt with palm trees printed on it. He blinked a lot and flung his locks out of his eyes with the back of his hand as he spoke. His speech appeared on every laptop in every internet café, on the big screen in Times Square, on fifty-seven different televisions at the local electronics store, even for those with digital converter boxes and rabbit ear antennas. His speech trumped all radio broadcasts and if you were on your cell phone during those few minutes, he spoke into your ear.’
“The Chinese prisoner seemed to be dozing off so I spoke up. ‘“People of America,” the happy man said, shaking his head and waving at us. “Please let me introduce myself. I am King Harmon of the Sovereign Nation of Aurora. For many centuries, the Nation of Aurora has existed in secrecy, independent of the rest of the world, because ours is a land of abundance and to be honest about it,” he winked an eye and a gold tooth glimmered from somewhere deep in his mouth, “there hasn’t been much you could offer us. We’ve always been a happy and peaceful nation without a care. Sadly, the time has come that our resources have run low, so we can no longer remain invisible to the world. So here we are, America,” he announced with formality, “self-proclaimed land of plenty, we make ourselves known to you in order to peacefully trade with you.” King Harmon flipped his hair out of his eyes and inhaled and exhaled with a firm nod of his head. “You will find that our needs are small compared to the vast resources we can offer in return.”
“‘A slender, dark skinned woman with braided hair briefly entered the frame to wipe some sand off of the king’s cheek with a little brush. One of her breasts plopped out of her kimono and it dangled there for a second before she disappeared into the sideline. King Harmon cleared his throat loudly.
“‘“American people,” he proclaimed, “we show ourselves in peace, and we anticipate the arrival of the expedition that your, uh, president talks about. Please however,” he said with a shrug and a grimace, squinting his eyes as if reading a cue card, “I am obligated to inform you that approaching Aurora without permission is impossible. No foreign vessels are allowed access to the shores of Aurora. We ask that your expedition rendezvous with the Royal Auroran Forces, where we will graciously pick up your council of representatives for, shall we say, a preliminary diplomatic meeting of the minds. If you’re down with that, please announce your intentions on any source of communication. We have access to it all.”
“‘King Harmon cleared his throat again and he looked straight into the eyes of each and every American. “We look forward to meeting and negotiating with the American people. Thank you and we now, how do you say it, resume you to your regularly scheduled programming.”'"
“Are you finished?” the warden pressed.
I ignored the warden and continued talking. “‘That evening’s news was dominated by the FCC promising to track down whoever was responsible for hacking into America’s communication infrastructure,’ I said as the Chinese prisoner yawned. ‘Diplomats and scientists assured us there was no populated island in the Pacific pole of inaccessibility, that the broadcast was a hoax. Raving talking heads speculated that since the broadcast only appeared within the United States, that it was the work of a foreign terrorist entity. Images of Osama bin Laden carrying a machinegun were aired while the talking heads talked, even when they weren’t talking about Osama bin Laden.
“‘On the other hand,’ I said, reaching over and tapping the Chinese prisoner’s knee, ‘the footage of King Harmon went viral on YouTube. Someone doctored the pitch of King Harmon’s voice to make his words sound as if they were sung to the theme to Gilligan’s Island: “People of America, introduce myself. King Harmon of Aurora. For centuries Aurora has exi-isted. In seee-eee-crecy.” The video received over one million views during its first day. Within a few more days posters and stickers of a likeness of King Harmon that resembled in style the work of Andy Warhol appeared on light poles and on abandoned buildings. By the end of the week, a riverboat casino in Illinois launched an advertising campaign: “Come and see the Aurora that really exists!”
“‘Some weeks later, as the buzz was dying down, President Nolin decided it would be wise to send Damodar Bhatnagar, her Chief Science Advisor, to CNM to be interviewed about why Point Nemo Island could not be located by anything other than a satellite. Damodar’s face was like an infant child, bloated with a too tight shirt collar, with bushy brows over deeply set eyes that seemed not to really look at anything.
“‘“We aren’t dealing with anything very mysterious here,” Damodar assured the anchorwoman who wore thick makeup and long, stiff hair. “The weather in that part of the world is atrocious. And the discrepancies in the island’s actual location are caused by magnetic fluctuations caused by solar flares playing havoc with our satellites. Once these conditions rectify themselves, which they naturally will, America will be setting foot on Point Nemo and we will proudly plant our flag there.”
“‘The anchorwoman pursed her lips and held her hand up to her ear, listening to a device that was in it. “Am I hearing this correctly?” she asked. “Do we actually have King Harmon live on video?”
“‘“What is this?” Damodar protested as he found himself on a split screen to the left of King Harmon, who was wearing a spectacular tie die shirt and jewel studded sunglasses, standing in front of a line of palms trees that flapped with a breeze.
“‘“I beg to differ,” King Harmon protested. “The weather here is quite lovely as always, as you can see,” and King Harmon’s camera strayed for a moment to show two children, a boy and a girl, who were completely naked, happily throwing stones into the foamy ocean waves with a beautiful blue sky beyond them.’”
“I’m really not sure what the time limit is in Utah,” the marshal quacked.
“Could you please find out?” the warden yapped.
Marshal Freeman picked up the red telephone receiver and he whispered into it.
“‘The broadcast swung back to King Harmon,’ I told the Chinese prisoner, swinging my arms at him as the patrol ship rocked. “As for our location,” and the king made a silly face and pointed downward at a caption that read: “Forty-eight degrees, fifty-two minutes, thirty-two seconds south; one hundred twenty-three degrees, twenty-three minutes, thirty-three seconds west.”
"'“Those are the coordinates, dude. Get a map,” the king laughed, “and draw a line from Ducie Island to Easter Island to Maher Island and back to Ducie and then plant a dot at the center of that triangle and that’s where the Royal Auroran Forces will meet you.”'"
“Hold on a second,” the marshal said with his hand over the receiver.
“‘“Hold on one second!” Damodar butted in, but King Harmon would have none of it,’” I said loudly over the marshal. “‘The king raised his voice as he continued!
“‘“Simply let us know when you intend to rendezvous with us and we’ll pick up your council for a preliminary meeting of the minds.”
“‘“Sir,” Damodar shouted back, “are you aware of the trouble you’re in?”
“‘“Mr. Bhatnagar,” King Harmon calmly said. “I am King Harmon of the Sovereign Nation of Aurora. I merely wish to discuss the possibility of a trade agreement. What possible trouble could come out of that?”
“‘“Sir, you are a phony and a fake!” Damodar raged as he flustered about. “You are an opportunist, perhaps a very talented hacker but nothing more. You’ll find yourself behind bars soon enough!”
“‘“Calm down, man,” the king said, clenching his teeth, his flat nostrils vibrating. He let out a long sigh. “Sheesh. Okay. I get it.”'"
“Do we have to stand here and listen to this?” the warden complained.
“‘“I’m not going to participate in this!”’” Damodar cried.
“They’re going to get back to us,” the marshal urged, slamming the phone down with a "Bangbing!"
“‘“To your eyes, we weren’t here yesterday, but now we’re here today. It all must seem like magic. How can that be, you want to know.” While the king spoke, behind him a topless, dark skinned woman in a dazzling gold head wrap, wearing a skirt made out of strings of beads, picked fruit from a small tree, putting them into a bowl that she held snugly under her arm.
“‘“Oh for heaven’s sake!” Damodar cried,’ I said to the Chinese prisoner,” I told the witnesses behind the tinted window, jinxing the warden.
“‘“I can’t give you all the answers, lickety split, just like that, man. At least have the courtesy to meet me face to face. I’ll tell you what, come to the coordinates and then send out one of those drones that I keep hearing about,” King Harmon proposed with inspiration. “I’ll let it enter our airspace,” and he flew his right hand over his left hand making propeller sounds with his lips, “to perform one single flyover—”
“‘“Are you on drugs?!”
“The Chinese prisoner jolted as if he thought I was about to strike him.
“‘“—during which you can snap as many photos as you like to prove to yourselves that we are indeed a nation of peaceful people. And then,” the king nodded his head, his locks swinging, “get back to us about when we can meet to discuss trade negotiations. Peace brothers.” King Harmon stuck up his hand and gave the peace sign, but I swear I saw his eyes express a bit of disgust behind his sunglasses, before his side of the screen went blank.
“‘The ticker tape at the bottom of the screen reported “King Harmon Invites U.S. Drone To Fly Over Point Nemo.”
“‘“Will the U.S. Government accept the offer?” the anchorwoman enquired.
“‘“This was an ambush,” Damodar objected.
“‘“Mr. Bhatnagar, will the United States be sending a drone to inspect Point Nemo Island?”
“‘“That’s not up to me. But I will say this person you are dealing with is undoubtedly a cyber terrorist and the United States of America does not negotiate with terrorists. Judging by that broadcast, that you should be ashamed to have aired, we should all be disturbed by the images of those nude children. I’m very, very concerned for their safety. It’s our obligation as Americans to protect those children from this madman.”
“‘A few days later,’ I said, winking at the Chinese prisoner, ‘a slender white drone was launched from a navy vessel toward the coordinates. As it flew away into the horizon, it undoubtedly faded into a sudden fog beyond which were waves of red and green light. The navy lost track of the drone and I imagine there was a lot of frantic manipulation of instruments and panicky voices shouting, until the drone reappeared and landed safely upon the vessel without a hitch.
“‘The photos taken by the drone were promptly leaked. They showed small villages made up of huts and tents, with some frame houses and stone structures as well, unpaved roads occupied by ox drawn carriages ridden by men and boys in triangular straw hats, as well as a few rectangular, rusty sedans and flatbed trucks of no known make or model. The photos also showed farm after farm with vast, healthy crops growing. Some photos showed populations of barely dressed people performing activities of work and play. One photo showed women washing fabric in a creek, and another, a man waist deep in water casting a fishing pole into the ocean. Some of the people appeared to be waving up at the drone with huge smiles on their faces.
“‘Most of the photos were taken over the five mile wide rolling jungle that stretched thirty miles from south to north. At the northernmost part of that peninsula, the land rose until it hit a gigantic four sided mountain circled by white beaches, piers and various boats.
“‘The photos that were taken of the mountain itself were nothing short of breathtaking. Magnificent waterfalls sparkled among the thick forest of it and winding roads and trails scarred all sides of it. The photos suggested that the mountain communities revolved around individual tasks. In one photo dozens of people gathered around a tremendous psychedelic rug woven out of a long machine made out of wood. Another village seemed devoted to maintaining a giant contraption of tubes and flasks with fires of various sizes underneath it and stacks of wood barrels near the still. Yet another photo showed a valley that boasted an elaborate stage with colorfully dressed people dancing and leaping into the air on it, while a crowd of others gathered on a lawn in front of it to watch.’”
“You could see all of that from a photo,” murmured the warden.
“Actually, when you looked at the photos on the internet, you could zoom in even closer to see all sorts of wildlife—monkeys and lions and foxes among them—in the forest, yes, but mingling about the people as well, who seemed to pay them no mind. You could see flocks of birds flying over the trees and schools of fish in crystal clear ponds. You could zoom in to see bananas and mangos and coconuts growing in the trees.
“‘Toward the top of the mountain,’ I continued with the Chinese prisoner, ‘some igloos could be spotted. The people at the farthest reaches of the mountain were of a lighter complexion and were fully dressed, most wearing coats, bushy hats and gloves. One photo showed about thirty of these fully dressed individuals waiting in a single file line to enter a cave. And at the very top of the mountain, everything disappeared into a barren, rocky peak that seemed to be sprinkled with glitter.
“‘To anyone in America with a pulse, the island was now called Aurora.
“‘But that didn’t stop certain people from yakking.
“‘“I think what we’re dealing with is some type of cult,” one expert professed. “Perhaps this lunatic who calls himself a king is a tax-evading millionaire who’s running a slave trading ring.”
“‘“Quite clearly Point Nemo is not occupied by a technologically advanced people,” another expert testified. “To assume that these natives in their loincloths with their campfires hacked into the entire communication infrastructure of the United States of America is pure folly. What we’re dealing with is a foreign entity, using this discovery as a negotiating tool. Perhaps Iran and North Korea are behind this!”
“‘“This is the real world,” yet another expert insisted. “An island does not move from point to point and it does not disappear and reappear. This isn’t an episode of LOST. If we look beyond the smoke and mirrors the bottom line remains: something is out there. If we increase the amount of vessels in the expedition and use our Air Force to scour the area, we’ll eventually run into this thing. Just get it done already!”
“‘The Sovereign Nation of Aurora was not recognized by the United States of America, which continued to call it Point Nemo. A dozen ships were sent out to find it, but each no doubt found itself wandering around, lost in the wafts and swirls of colorful lights as the island’s coordinates kept changing, and the Air Force no doubt flew around in circles looking down at nothing but glowing white fog. For months the hunt was on, until the New Madrid fault line slipped, giving Chicago one hell of a jolt.’”
“I remember that!” a muffled voice shouted from behind the tinted window.
“‘Then came Bondo Ongimba, President of Gabon, standing on the shore with a big smile on his face as he shook King Harmon’s hand. America turned red,’ I said, giving the Chinese prisoner another slap on the knee, ‘not from partisanship but from embarrassment, when a small African state of rainforests set foot on the mysterious island before it could. What I hear was, CIA operatives in Gabon found out a deal had been struck between the Gabonese and the Aurorans. Aurora would be allowed to retrieve one hundred tons of aluminum ore in exchange for some type of undisclosed technology. As preposterous as it sounded, the powers that be nearly had a collective stroke, and the match was thrown into the gasoline when other nations around the globe began thawing to the idea of Aurora’s existence.’
“I reached forward to tap the Chinese prisoner’s knee and he kicked his foot at me, so I sat back and continued.
I hope you have enjoyed reading the first 4000 words of my 62,000 word fiction novel, Point Nemo. I'm currently offering a limited number of self-published "collector's" editions to those who are interested, while I search for a permanent publisher for the story. The collector's editions will be professionally printed on demand in the form of 160 page, 8.5 x 5.5 books with glossy covers. They will most certainly be rarities after the manuscript finds its permanent publishing house.
Order Point Nemo: $12 even PayPay ** $12 +ship CreateSpace ** $12 +ship Amazon
Help Fund Point Nemo's printing with $20 or more and get a signed copy, wow!
After you read the book, feel free contact me to let me know what you think, because I will be collecting blurbs to help promote the book to publishers. Also, the manuscript has been entered into a major contest, so please wish me luck.
Yours in Poetry and Fiction too,