Psycho Island

Psycho Island

A Story by Kyle B. Stiff
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Humanity finally achieved the impossible. Utopia was no longer a dream, but reality.

"

My name is Amos. My story takes place thirty or so years after your time. My world looks much the same as yours, and I sometimes wonder what I would have been in your world. A cop? A soldier, maybe? Or maybe a vice principal always on the lookout for bullies? I guess it’s no use speculating. Today, in my world, I carry a gun and a fancy badge and I’m currently hunting down a young man - a boy, really - who has been marked for death.

You see, in our time we solved a problem that you did not. The news on the television is no longer an endless series of frenzied pronouncements about the decline of mankind. We took care of that. We solved the problem as mankind has always solved problems: Through hard work and the spilling of blood. People rest easier now, but they only rest easier because of people like me.

I drove thirty miles per hour down a wide highway in the middle of a losing battle against entropy. I continually glanced at my gas gauge. That’s one difference between your world and mine: Gas is prohibitively expensive, a luxury rather than a necessity. It’s not the end of the world, but we’ve had to change the way we get to and from work. There’s still plenty of oil sitting underground, but the bike business is booming all the same.

I pulled into a residential area and made my way to a playground. The shadows were long as the sun set early this winter. School had just let out and kids were everywhere. I could see many of them walking alone, and even though it would be dark in a few minutes, the streets were safer now than they’ve ever been in all of human history.

I slowed down to a crawl as I scanned their faces. I worried that I’d lose my target in the crowd, but fortunately my intel was good and I saw him standing by the swings with his little sister. Apparently they did this every day after school. The falling sun was red and angry and it framed the boy with his reddish-brown hair tied back as he looked directly at me. His little sister continued swinging, oblivious as I pulled the car onto the grass and gunned the engine. It’s been my experience that you can’t pussyfoot with a wolf; they only respect you if they fear you, and the only thing they really fear is death.

I braked in front of the boy and stepped out. His eyes slipped to the gun at my side before they settled back on mine.

“Are you Ferris Black?” I said.

The boy’s eyes stabbed through me. His little sister’s swing came to a gradual stop.

“Who are you?” he finally said.

I didn’t need confirmation of his name. I already knew good and well that he was Ferris, but I wanted to see his reaction. I wanted to know if he was going to play it defiant, or fawning, or obtuse, or any of the other predictable strategies that wolves like him use over and again. I ignored his question and pulled out my badge. I flicked it open and I saw the orange and gold light reflecting on my wrist, and I knew that the sight of the eagle insignia hologram was a lightning bolt of pure terror striking Ferris’s heart. His jaw clenched and his eyes darted here and there. If he was going to run, he’d do it now. I was more than capable of running him down. I could have also pulled out my gun and killed him right here, in front of his sister and everyone else, and it would all be perfectly legal. He knew that, too, and he was wondering if running would be smarter than biding his time and looking for an opening.

“I’m a Shepherd,” I said, ending our staring contest. “I’ve been cleared by the people to bring you in. Get in the car, son.”

The little sister began crying, a soft, long wail with eyes tightly shut. Ferris saw an opening and said, “Sophie can’t get home without me.”

“Your uncle’s a teacher. You wait out here every day for him to get off work and give you a ride home. She can wait for him without you just fine.” I tried to put enough force into my voice to let him know I wouldn’t put up with any delays. A wolf will find any chink in your armor and exploit it; that’s what they do. I opened the back door of my car and looked back at him.

Ferris looked at his little sister, whose head was buried in her hands with her little shoulders shaking quietly. “You’re going to just leave her here alone?”

I looked at the back of little Sophie’s head, and I understood that she had already been imprinted, as we called it. Ferris had manipulated her in such a way that she truly believed she loved him. She had no idea what he was, had no idea that he was not like the rest of us and never would be like the rest of us. I wasn’t trained to break imprinting, but I certainly didn’t want her to feel any worse than she did now.

“Put her in the front seat,” I said. “You get in the back. I’ll give her a ride home.” I stepped away from the car and put one hand on my gun. I wanted him to know that he wasn’t pulling anything over on me. I wanted him to understand that he might still die within the next few minutes if he got out of line.

The little monster did as he was told. I got in the car and noticed a long line of children watching us from the distance. They did not protest, nor did they cheer, but only watched. I’d seen that time and again, too. They weren’t like me, and they weren’t like Ferris, either. They knew to stay out of our way as we went through the ritual that sustained utopia. Ferris only stared ahead as I pulled out of the playground and rejoined the road.

I turned my siren on. It was the opposite of a policeman’s siren, which is usually a loud alarm designed to tell people, “I’m going somewhere important, stay out of my way.” A Shepherd’s siren is a slowly rotating green light accompanied by a dull, bass-filled hum. We only turn our sirens on after we have our prey. It is strangely comforting, because it effectively says, “I am carrying something dangerous so that you no longer have to. Do not interrupt this process.” People stopped on the sidewalks and watched. Some waved, and some even cheered. They didn’t know if I was carrying a rabid murderer handcuffed in the back or a good-looking, charismatic serial rapist. They only knew that I carried something that should not be among other people, and they were glad.

“What’s this about?” Ferris said suddenly. “I don’t even know what’s going on.”

“Don’t play dumb,” I said, then I shook my head, disappointed that I’d let him engage me. If he was older and his tools were sharpened by experience, that would be a big mistake on my part.

“I seriously don’t know!” he said. His voice squeaked in imitation of childish panic.

“You remember crossing Tilley Memorial?”

“What?”

“The bridge.”

Ferris paused for a long time, then said, “I used to all the time, when I went to a different school.”

“Well, we’ve got a video of you throwing a cat off that bridge.”

There was deathly silence. He knew I had him. I glanced at Sophie and saw that she still held her face in her hands, but she was obviously listening. She didn’t protest, and I knew it was because, on some level, she had to know. On some level beneath her conscious awareness, she knew that her dearly beloved brother was a wolf.

“How can you be sure it was me?” said Ferris.

“We’re sure.”

I trusted the other Shepherds who did their homework. The guy who passed the intel on to me had footage from a security camera that was a couple of years old. We didn’t have a huge database or anything like that; it was only by luck that someone passed the video on to him, and that it was even analyzed, because we mostly went after higher priority cases. But I’d seen the video myself. It clearly showed Ferris crossing the pedestrian bridge with his little Spider-Man backpack. He passed by a kitten that was hanging out on the bridge, and the two didn’t even appear to notice one another. Fifteen minutes later, Ferris returned and stared at the cat. He left again, but returned yet again two minutes later, looked left and right, then picked up the cat and threw it off the bridge. He watched from one side, then crossed to the other side and watched from there until he was satisfied, then he left.

“You’re kidding,” said Ferris. “This is retarded. You’re kidding me! You’re going to send me to Psycho Island because some idiot threw a freaking cat into a river!?”

“You won’t go to Psycho Island,” I said.

“How can you possibly know that!”

“Because you’re too young. And you don’t stand out. Only big personality-types go there.”

“This is retarded. This is beyond retarded, man. I’m not a psychopath, I’ll tell you that much right now. In fact… you know what? This is just stupid.”

“It’s not stupid,” I said. “It’s just the way it is.”

I may not have presented a great argument, but I was right " it wasn’t stupid. This was what our civilization was built on. It was why people could feel safe at night, and why the news wasn’t terrifying, and why people no longer felt that politicians and corporate executives and celebrities were some kind of strange, hostile, alien species wholly different from everyone else. They weren’t different from us, not anymore they weren’t - because we killed them if they were.

It was all thanks to Doctor Greenfeld. Before my time, before there were Shepherds, everyone had their own idea about how to save the world. Those ideas were all immature, or hopelessly reactionary, or naively idealistic, or simply hand-me-down ideas from sources that weren’t trustworthy in the first place. There were seven billion ideas on how to save the world, but the world was still falling apart. Third-world countries were warzones or poverty-stricken sweatshops for first-world countries that had more than they needed, but the citizens of the best countries died from stress-related diseases and they couldn’t sleep at night without triple-locking their doors for fear of criminals. People without power dreamed of having the power to save the world, but people with power swore up and down that they were doing everything they could as they went to play golf. Consensus opinion was that power corrupted because we were a broken species. If I ever get sick of the blood on my hands and think about calling it quits, all I have to do is watch a video about how you people lived in the early twenty-first century.

But Doctor Greenfeld, he gave us a solution. The answer had already been staring us in the face for a long time, but he showed us what we needed to do to get there - and showed us the consequences for all of us if we didn’t.

In your time, you already knew about psychopaths, I think. You even knew that one in a hundred people was a psychopath. You also knew that psychopaths came in different forms: Sometimes charismatic, sometimes brilliant, sometimes mindlessly violent, sometimes consummate liars, sometimes thrill-seeking, sometimes hopelessly stuck to routine and angry when their routines were broken. But behind those variations, they were all the same: Sadistic, unable to empathize with their fellow man, and greedy with a bottomless hunger that could not be sated even if the world was handed to them cooked and carved on a silver platter. Within the human species, Doctor Greenfeld showed us that there was a shadow-species, a powerful minority that the rest of us obeyed or defended or covered up for because we believed that they were ultimately just like us.

We were wrong, he said. They were born different from us, born missing something innately human. There was no cure for their condition, and because they had quietly taken over the world, the world would not last much longer. They were not only our dictators and serial killers and rapists, they were also our presidents and celebrities and corporate managers.

The world had to be taken back from them, but the system could not adequately deal with them. The truly dangerous psychopaths tended to be wealthy, and they already owned all the judges and lawmakers. They feared nothing… except death.

Kill them, said Doctor Greenfeld. They are rabid. You must kill them. It is the only way.

So we did.

As a kid, I remembered watching the news as our media outlets developed a schizophrenic split. One channel would show the first Shepherds fighting and dying, hunting down men in suits and firing at lackeys in riot gear, while another news channel talked about Greenfeld’s crazies being rounded up before their terrorist plots could bear fruit. Over and again I saw the Shepherds firing and falling and continuing on. They did not seem to care when one of their own was killed. Apparently they had gone to the place where no psychopath could go: They did not fear death.

It was funny, but the psychopaths in your day always talked about “the next big thing”. They showed graphs with the declining amounts of time between the Stone Age and the Iron Age, then the Industrial Revolution, then the Machine Age with the Information Age following hot on its heels. Man’s glorious arrival at an era of omniscience and luxury and ease was only just around the corner, and every new gadget was touted as a harbinger of that coming age. As far as I’ve heard, they really ate that stuff up in your era. Products marketed as techno-religious iconography with down payments given and interest accrued on a coming Singularity. It was all hogwash, of course. Whether they were high priests overseeing human sacrifices or marketing geniuses packaging shiny garbage, they’ve all secretly hated humankind, and they’ve only ever wanted to do one thing: Turn you into castrated versions of them. They wanted to turn human beings into robots repeating slogans they gave them, or into vampires without teeth desperate for the next product to consume.

Doctor Greenfeld didn’t just show us the enemy. He showed us our heroes, too. He showed us how some men and women had both the conscience of a normal human combined with the ruthlessness of a psychopath. The Shepherds were far outnumbered by the wolves, but we have an advantage in that we won’t immediately turn against our own kind when things don’t go our way. As intimidating as he is, a psychopath is a coward. Once the Shepherds stepped in and things started getting better, a lot of lower-level psychopaths with grudges to bear started working for us, turning in their own kind for pay. I may worry about money all the time, but I’ve never once considered taking a bribe from some shifty-eyed termite.

We owe our new world to Doctor Greenfeld. He gave birth to us and made it possible for normal humans to live decent lives. When the first Shepherds got curious about how the good doctor could afford to arm and equip his revolutionary army and found out that he had a history of taking money from large pharmaceutical companies, and had hatched an elaborate plot to use us to get back at some other white-collar psychopaths who had insulted him, the Shepherds killed Doctor Greenfeld as they would any other psychopath. But his legacy endures.

“You’re a total nut-job yourself,” Ferris said, waking me from my daydream. “You would have shot me on the freaking playground if I hadn’t played along. You wouldn’t have cared.”

I didn’t feel like responding. I’d heard that line before, too, and there was actually something to it. When I was a kid, I stabbed another boy with a pencil. This put my name under the watchful eyes of the Shepherds. There was another incident where some of my neighbors were looking at a snake, and without a word I picked up a garden hoe and killed it. By this time, most of the high-profile psychopaths had already gone underground, so the Shepherds had time to investigate a kid like me. I didn’t know it, but they watched me for years. Once they were satisfied that I had normal human relations with normal human friends, they decided that I had only stabbed the boy because he was a bully and killed the snake because I didn’t want it to bite anyone. Once I was old enough, I was told what I was and taught the means for hunting down monsters who had nothing in common with humanity save physical appearance. I was turned into a Shepherd.

Sophie pointed out her house. I stopped and said, “Your parents can come talk to me if they want. Ferris can’t leave the car, though. Tell them they don’t have to say anything to me if they don’t want to.”

Sophie nodded and left without another word. The neighbors watched as we sat in silence. Fifteen minutes passed and the parents never came. This was not as surprising as you might think. I wasn’t a cop who was going to guilt them into giving a stern talking-to to their kid. He’s being charged with mishandling a mammal over an aquatic environment - that sort of thing. No, I was a killer, a final solution, and while nothing had been proven about genetic inheritability of psychopathic tendencies, most parents who raised wolves tended to leave well enough alone when it came to arguing with Shepherds. They must have suspected that their son was a wolf. They were probably putting on a show of anger but breathing a sigh of relief that he was out of their hands. Ferris began to cry and muttered something about his mother. I ignored him and drove on.

We arrived at the nondescript brick building that was the headquarters for this chapter of the Shepherds. I saw a van in the lot that belonged to some of our brothers south of the border. They called themselves Cleaners rather than Shepherds, and I sometimes referred to wolves as termites because I grew up near the Mexican border. We worked with them often, and I looked forward to seeing them and hearing their stories.

We entered the dimly-lit headquarters and I saw others of my kind, some in plain clothes like me, some heavily armored and carrying assault rifles and automatic shotguns.

“What’s going on?” I asked no one in particular. “What’s with all the heavy gear?”

“Got a whole nest of termites southwest of Houston,” said Stacey, a friend of mine. “Lots of big-paying heads in a bunker. A bunker, you believe that? We’re leaving in an hour. You want in?”

“I’ll have to think about it. I was going to pick up some easy heads tomorrow morning.”

“They can wait.”

“Yeah, but I was going to sleep, I mean.”

“It’ll take hours to get there. Sleep on the ride if you want.”

“I’ll have to think about it,” I repeated. I left Stacey and dragged the kid behind me.

I ignored Ferris as he began to complain again, then I stopped dead in my tracks as I drew near the lounge. A handful of Shepherds, most of them already armed for the ride south, were sitting around our big television set watching Psycho Island. I couldn’t believe it; tonight was the season premiere and I had completely forgotten. I was numb with shock.

I watched as one well-known character, Grieves, subtly bullied a character I had never seen before. Both of them were filthy and dressed in rags. They looked like something out of a post-apocalyptic Mad Max style movie, except they lived in a green wilderness rather than some kind of wasteland. Psycho Island was in its thirteenth season, and I had vowed that I would begin watching the new season as it aired rather than waiting for it to come out on DVD as I usually did. Instead, I’d been out wasting gas and time on a sixteen year-old little psychopath that I should have chucked off a bridge.

Everyone in the lounge laughed as the character Grieves punch-lined some kind of insult that went over the other character’s head. Psycho Island was much, much better than it used to be. When the first Shepherds finally found their cultural foothold and ended up trapping more wolves than they could possibly kill, they started filling up the old prisons with them. But even in America there were not enough prisons for all the psychopaths (one in a hundred out of seven billion, you do the math), so they ended up dumping the worst ones on an island. Financing has always been a problem for Shepherds, so someone had the idea to place cameras all over the island. Thus Psycho Island was born. The first few seasons were little more than random clips of psychopaths with few resources trying to scam or kill one another. Around season five they started using better cameras, plus they found psychopaths that audiences liked seeing and followed them. A narrator even helped the audience keep up with the various dramas that followed in the wake of these monsters.

During the last season, season twelve, the producers took it a step further. They equipped the strongest gang, Community, with medieval weapons and plenty of food. The Community no longer had to farm, and could spend their time bullying the other gangs. But then, in an amazing season finale, the producers air-dropped a load of medieval weapons in the territories of the weaker gangs as well. One of my favorite psychos, Solo Billy, gave a speech right out of an ancient presidential playbook and united the other gangs against the Community. They swore revenge against their oppressors.

Fortunately, it looked like they were going to drag things out, which was not uncommon on Psycho Island. It was common for them to end on a really suspenseful note, but then just mess around with the opening episodes of each new season. So I hadn’t missed any huge battles, but now I was left with the question of whether or not to jump into season thirteen without having seen the first episode " or, once again, wait until the whole season came out on DVD.

I dragged Ferris toward a detainment area, a dark little cubbyhole with rotting chairs.

“Sit your a*s down there,” I said.

“If you guys are going to kill me, why don’t you just get it over with?”

“We’re not going to kill you. Just sit down. I’m going to look for a place where we can stick you.”

Ferris fell into a chair and crossed his arms. He looked sullen and pouty as he considered whether to work up more tears or play it defiant.

“Can you watch him?” I said to a servitor, a young Shepherd in training.

“You got it, boss,” said the youth. He turned back to refilling the snack machine.

I crossed the hall and came to a row of aging computers. I looked up institutions that housed psychopaths, but I was distracted about having missed the new episode of Psycho Island. As if on cue, I could hear everyone in the lounge break into laughter. I could dimly make out that MacReady, one of the characters that everyone hated, was freaking out over something or other. I was mentally kicking myself, then I kicked myself yet again when I saw that the only facility with any room for wolves who didn’t come from money was all the way in Oklahoma City. Unless a van was already heading there with a mess of psychos tied up in the back, I wasn’t going to be able to afford that much fuel for the ride.

Another Shepherd, a short man built like an ape, came in. His name was Clives and he had been one of my mentors.  He was a fatherly, kind old man with a gentle soul, and he had killed more psychopaths than anyone else in our time as far as I knew.

“Amos!” he said, looking at his papers. “You brought in that wolf Ferris, did you?”

“I did, sir.”

“Good, good. Okay, let’s see, looks like you get pay for a small-head, minus two finder’s fees, so that makes the total…”

Two finder’s fees?”

He stared back at me. I must have looked like I’d seen a ghost.

“Yeah, two,” he said. “One guy worked on the video, but he got the video from another Shepherd. That’s two finder’s fees going out of your pay.”

“Damn,” I said. Then the emotion bubbled over, and I shook my head and gritted my teeth. “Damn it all, man, s**t,” I finally let out.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing, nothing. It’s fine. It’s fine.”

Clives cut me a check and I immediately made my way to the dead room. If I counted the amount of money spent on gas driving little Sophie home and added in the chunk that went out for finder’s fees, it practically put me in the hole. There was no way I could jerk around tomorrow hunting down small-heads. I was in a bind, no two ways about it.

I dug around in the fridge and found a vial of Mortenol, then found some syringes and filled one. With syringe in hand I stopped by the snack machine and got two drinks.

I returned to the detainment area, where Ferris was still sitting with his arms crossed.

“You want a drink?” I said, handing him a can.

“What’s that? You’re giving me a shot?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Good news: I found you a spot, but it’s way out there. They’re going to hold you in Fort Worth a while, then fly you out to an institution in Catalan. You’ll like it, it’s full of people like you.”

“Catalan? What’s… uh…”

“It used to be a part of Spain. Like most of Europe, Spain’s still run by psychopaths. But Catalan is one of our places. There, they call people like you vampires. They call Shepherds, um, Caçadors, I think. That means hunter, as far as I know.”

Ferris took a sip from his drink, and I added, “But I have to give you this immunization. They got diseases out there that we don’t have here. You know?”

“Okay. Whatever.”

I rolled up his sleeve and was done with the injection before he knew it was in. I threw away the syringe, then sat across from Ferris. He watched me. I opened my drink and took a sip with my eyes on him the whole time.

Some time passed in the small, dark room. Ferris had enough time to realize that he was not getting out of this. I kept my eyes glued to him, and finally the transformation came over him. I’ll never forget the first time old Clives had showed it to me. It was horrifying and fascinating, like a mask coming away. Ferris watched me, and shadows caught in the hollows of his eyes. His features went slack. His mouth fell at the corners, and his eyes became like black portals. They were no longer windows to the soul, but openings leading down to endless darkness. It was clear beyond any doubt that he was not human. He was an empty thing, an angry husk, a ghoulish creature forever cut off from the rest of us. At best, he could have looked forward to a life as a middle-management stooge who sucked the life out of his underlings and licked the boots of his superiors. Had he molested his sister and sworn her to silence yet? I wondered. Had I gotten to him in time? Or had he already left a mark in this world, a scar that would never truly heal?

“You know what, man?” said Ferris. Even his voice sounded different. He was tired. He might have even been relieved that he no longer had to hide among normal humans.

“What?” I said.

He shook his head as he stared at me. “If I could take your face and just… just f*****g smash it, man… I really would.”

“I know you would,” I said quietly. “I know you would.”

Ferris pulled his lips apart in imitation of a smile. His teeth looked long and hideous, the gums a pale afterthought. It was a wonder to me that normal humans could not see him for what he was.

Then the Mortenol kicked in. His head fell back and smacked into the wall with a dull plunk. He was dead.

I sat with him for a moment and finished my drink. It was cold and the bubbles made me feel clean again. When I finished, Stacey returned.

“You’re going with us, right?” he said. “Big hunt, baby, big-heads, you know? Crazy payola.”

“Yeah, I’m going,” I said. “I’ve got my own armor, but do you think I could borrow a rifle from someone? Or a shotgun, even.”

“Oh-h-h! Going in heavy, are we?”

“I have to,” I said. “I’m running tight on money this month. I ended up driving this stiff all around town and now I don’t think I’ll make rent.”

“S**t, man, clearing these wolves out that we got cornered - mmn, damn! I won’t have to hear you bitching about rent all year.”

“Yeah, that’s what I figured, too.”

Stacey stood in the doorway. In the glare of the light from the outer hall, he looked like an angel of the lord armored for war against a plague of demons.

“Okay, spill it,” he said. “I just got you a seat on something that’s gonna make you a legend, and you look like your girl just up an’ left you. What’s up?”

“It’s really messed up, man.” I sat in silence for a moment, shaking my head. Finally I bolstered my resolve and said, “I was meaning to start watching Psycho Island with everyone else instead of waiting for the DVDs. But I messed up and forgot the season premiere was tonight. I need the money, but if I go on a hunt with these guys, they’re going to be talking about that episode the whole damn ride.”

“So?”

“So? I want to see it for myself! Not hear someone else talk about it. Now if I watch the second episode next Friday, I won’t know half of what’s going on, but if I wait for the DVDs, everyone’s going to be spoiling things the whole season.”

“Oh. I see.”

“You know?”

“Yeah, I know, man.”

I tossed the empty can into a garbage bin. “It just sucks, is all.”

“Yeah.” Stacey nodded, slow and somber. “Yeah, that sucks.”

THE END.

 

© 2016 Kyle B. Stiff


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Kyle B. Stiff
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Added on April 10, 2016
Last Updated on April 11, 2016
Tags: dystopian, post-apocalyptic, police, psychopath, creepy

Author

Kyle B. Stiff
Kyle B. Stiff

Louisville, KY



About
I was influenced by the 80s. The bright glow of simple, iconic video games, the inorganic, DMT-flavored vibe of electronic music, a glowing futureworld always on the brink of violent collapse, and mov.. more..

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