In a showcase of Nick Mamatas’ thought-provoking and topical THE PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF EVERYTHING, Tachyon presents glimpses from some of the volume’s magnificent tales.
Under My Roof
by Nick Mamatas
Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands,
the black flag, and begin to slit throats.
—H. L. Mencken
name is Herbert Weinberg. I know what you’re thinking. That
sounds like an old man’s name.
It does. But I’m twelve years old. And I know what you’re
fact, I’m sending you a telepathic message right now.
it’s about the war. And yes, it is about Weinbergia, the country my
father Daniel founded in our front yard. And yes, I have been missing
for a while, but I’m nearly ready to go back home.
I’ll need your help. Let me tell you the story.
was Patriot Day, last year, when Dad really went nuts. Thoughts were
heavy like fog. Not only was everyone in little Port Jameson
remembering 9/11, they were remembering where they were on September
11th, 2002, September 11th, 2005, 2008, on and on. The attacks were
long enough ago that the networks had received a ton of letters and
email demanding that they finally re-air the footage of the planes
slicing through the second tower, because nobody wanted to forget.
Schools took the day off. Banks closed. Some cities set up big
screens in public parks to show the attacks. I was excited to
finally see the explosions myself. Nobody else could really picture
them properly anymore. I drew a picture in my diary.
mother Geri had forgotten pretty much everything except how beige her
coffee was that day. She had been pouring cream into her blue
paper cup when she looked up out of the window of the diner and saw
the black smoke downtown, and she had just kept pouring till it
spilled over the brim. She found my father later that day and told
him that they were going to move to Long Island immediately.
they did. Every year since, she forgot a little bit about that day.
What was the name of the diner? Did she order a bagel with lox or
just the coffee? Did she think it was Arabs or did the liberal
centers of her cerebellum kick in to say, “No no no it could have
been anybody”? Did she want to kill someone? Drop an A-bomb on the
entire Middle East? She didn’t know anymore. All she remembered,
and all I plucked out of her head, was her off-white coffee.
father Daniel, on the other hand, didn’t remember anything but the
nuclear weapons. Dirty bombs, WMDs, suitcases filled with
high-tech stuff; that was all he could think about. He took a job
mopping floors at SUNY Riverhead so he could take classes for free.
Physics. Mechanical engineering. His head was like an MTV video—all
equations, blueprints, mushroom clouds, people running through the
streets, and naked ladies, in and out—flipping from image to image.
With every war Daniel got more frantic. The president would say some
stuff about not ruling out nuclear weapons, and I could tell he
wasn’t kidding. My father would stay up all night, just walking
around the dark kitchen and smacking his fist against the table. On
the news, they kept showing more and more countries on a big map,
painted red for evil. All of Latin America was red now and even the
normal people in California died when someone ran the border with a
bomb or shot down a plane over a neighborhood.
read the newspapers, spent whole days in the library and all night on
the computer. He was getting fat and losing his hair. He was a real
nerd though, so nobody really noticed that he was slowly going mad.
Actually, the problem was that he was going mad more slowly and in
the opposite direction from everybody else. At night he dreamed of
being stuck on an ice floe or on the wrong side of a shattered
suspension bridge. Mom and I would be drifting off to sea on another
ice floe or sliced in half by snapping steel cables. Then Dad would
see the ghosts of firefighters and cops, white faces with no eyes,
and they would point and laugh.
Daniel studied. Researched. Thought of a way out.
waited until I was out of school for the summer to make his big move,
because he knew I would make a good assistant. He was laid off by
SUNY because of budget cuts—Mom blamed his erratic behavior, but
Daniel wasn’t really any more eccentric than his other co-workers.
He sold his nice car and bought a ratty old station wagon even
junkier than mom’s Volvo hatchback, and spent all day tooling
around in it, while Geri clipped coupons and made us tuna fish with
lots of mayonnaise for dinner. They didn’t send me to genius camp
that summer (I’m not really a genius, I just know what smart people
are thinking) so that’s how I ended up being Prince Herbert I of
woke me early one hot day, just as the sun was rising. He looked
rumpled, but was really excited, almost twitching. I half expected to
see a little neon sign blinking Krazy! Krazy! Krazy! on his
big forehead like I did back when Lunch Lady Maribeth went nuts and
started throwing pudding at school, but he was actually normal.
Lovebug, I need your help,” he said, shaking my ankle. He hadn’t
called me Lovebug since fourth grade, and his mind was going three
thousand miles an hour, so I didn’t know what he wanted.
going to the dump to look for cool stuff. C’mon, we’ll get
waffles at the diner on the way back.”
always wanted to go to the dump and look for cool stuff. I was really
hoping to find something good like a big stuffed moose head or a
highway traffic sign, but then in the car Dad told me that we were
going to look for the ingredient that made America great.
fact, they call it Americium-241. It was isolated by the Manhattan
Project, Herbert.” Daniel loved to talk about the Manhattan
don’t think we’re going to find that stuff at the dump, Dad.”
detectors, son. Most smoke detectors contain about half a gram of
Americium-241,” he said with the sort of dad-ly smile you usually
just see on TV commercials.
many grams do you want?”
750 grams is necessary to achieve critical mass, but we’ll want
more than that to get a bigger boom,” he said. He was thinking
about turning on his blinker and how much smoother the ride in the
old car was, not about blowing anything up. “I guess we’ll
need about 5000 smoke detectors.”
worry. I don’t plan on finding all of them today.”
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Cover by Elizabeth Story