Sometimes I would have one of those days when nothing went my way–one of those days when my boss criticized me for my productivity levels, my cat meowed at me all afternoon, my best frienemy and I had a falling out. When it was that kind of day and everything felt wrong, I would sit down at my laptop and go to my favorite social media sites. And then Fakelina would flutter up to me, tap me on the forehead with her magic wand, and she would make it all better.

Fakelina was a news fairy, and she was very special. Anything you wanted to believe was true, no matter how much of a stretch it was, she could make it so.

“Fakelina, is chocolate good for me?”

“Naturally! You should eat as much of it as you can. The more you eat of it, the lower your chances of cancer!”

“Fakelina, I wish I didn’t have to go to the dentist.”

“You shouldn’t. Have you heard that the anesthesia they use can cause dementia?”

But then I got greedier and the wishes got bigger.

“Fakelina, I wish all these awful school shootings were just a reality show.”

“They are. I can show you the video which proves that the kids are all paid actors.”

“Oh, good! That makes me feel so much better. You know…I really hate thinking about that Trump guy, too. The things he’s doing to the EPA…our judicial system…”

“Shush…don’t think about any of that. Did you know he peed on a prostitute once?”

“No way! Tell me more, Fakelina!”

“Yep. Somebody somewhere is supposed to have evidence of that, or so I’ve been told. And did you hear what he tweeted last night?”

“Ugh! I’m not sure he’s even human. Do you think he might be one of those lizard people?”

“Nope, not a lizard person.” Fakelina shook her head. “It’s even worse. He’s a fungus which has taken on human form. He’s from a different planet. Watch this–it shows where his disguise slips for a second, and you can see a little bit of the mold coming through.”

“I knew it,” I mumbled.

“The world is controlled by alien fungi. Here’s another one about Barack Obama…”

I paused. What? But I liked President Obama! This couldn’t be true. Or…could it? The theory did make sense… They were all a part of the elite, so they were all fungus.

And the videos were undeniable. Oh, God… President Obama was fungus… Prince William was fungus…

I sat motionless, taking it all in. Fakelina was scratching one of her glittery wings.

“Amazing, isn’t it? You have just found out the thing they don’t want you to know. You were courageous enough to research it, and now the secret is yours. You’re not like the sheeple who believe everything the media tells them.”

She was right. I felt special. Like I was smarter than everyone else.

“You have to spread the news,” Fakelina commanded me. “The people of this country don’t know what’s being done to them. But remember–you’ll get a lot of blowback from those who haven’t yet seen the light.”

I did not shirk my duty. I spent the following weeks delving deeper and deeper into the archives of secret knowledge on the Internet, and becoming more frightened as I went. The leaders of Black Lives Matter were aliens. The leaders of the Women’s March were aliens. All the Hollywood actors and popular singers and rappers were aliens, too.

I shared as much as I possibly could with my friends and family online. I tried to warn them. But just as Fakelina had said, the people I once thought I loved and cared about turned out to be blinded sheep, who bleated at me about “rational thought” and “credible sources.” There was a deadly international conspiracy going on, and all they could think of were my sources? It was painful for me, but I had to accept that they were not ready to wake up, not ready for the enlightenment I had experienced. So I blocked and unfriended them, one by one. I would have to walk this path alone.

Or…not alone, actually. I had new friends–better friends. People who were fellow alien fungus researchers. They understood me. And whenever I got too discouraged and was about to give up my quest, I could feel Fakelina perched on my shoulder, whispering in my ear: “Keep going! Keep watching Youtube videos! You will find the answers!”

So I kept going. Months, or maybe years, passed. And as I spent more and more time studying the conspiracy theories, I shrank–first my mind, then my heart and the rest of me, until I became a very shrivelled little creature indeed.

One night, I woke up around 2 am, curled up next to my laptop, and I noticed that I had grown a pair of sticky, glittery wings. They didn’t help me fly, though. I could only flap them listlessly.

Fakelina was slouching on my sofa, smoking a cigarette.

“Am I magical fairy now, too?” I asked her.

“I guess so.” She shrugged. “Oh no, don’t give me that look. It’s not like we’re going to be fairy BFFs or anything. Time for me to take off.”

“What?? But…but you gotta keep helping me! What about our mission of bringing knowledge to the masses?”

“You have learned enough to continue the mission on your own, gullible grasshopper.” I heard a “ding!” and a tiny, sparkly suitcase appeared in her hand. “Besides, I sold all the data about you to Cambridge Analytica and I need a vacation.”

She floated up to me and tapped me with her wand one last time. “I now endow you with the power to not only share fake stories, but to make up your own shit as well! If you spin your web of lies well enough, you can play on people’s fears and prejudices and fanatical obsessions. And then you can do all sorts of things. Influence elections….sell useless nutritional supplements…”

My shoulders slumped. “Wow. Not quite the fairy tale ending I imagined.”

Fakelina laughed. “If you wanted a happier ending to your story…you should’ve used your brain!”

I could still hear her cackle long after she was gone.

 

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No matter how skillful I am with my words, someday I am going to trip over them, and I know that when I do, you will be there, waiting.

You embrace me.  “I’m so happy to see you here today, sister!”

We are sisters–not through blood, but through purpose.  We’re part of the same community.  Working together to make the world better.  Or are we?

Or are we happier when we get the opportunity to cut each other down?  Tear each other down in the name of…what, exactly?  Not in the name of power.  Lord knows there isn’t any real power in our little activist groups.  No real money to be had from this, either.  Oh, but there certainly is the chance to look morally superior.  To feel virtuous.

You’ve already got an advantage over me when it comes to that.  You’re younger, so the forces of history are on your side.  The story of our times is flowing your way, while I’ve turned into The Man (or The Woman, in this case).  Someday you will be The Woman, too, although you can’t imagine it now.  Because you’ll never be like me!  Right?

Your other advantage is that you’ve got sharp eyes.  As well you should–this is politics, after all.  They don’t miss the slightest flaw, and so of course you will catch me when I stumble.  And you will not be forgiving when you do.  We’re a bunch of perfectionists on the left–one flawed cookie spoils the whole revolutionary batch.

Hell, I grew up in a world in which lefties regularly informed on each other and sent each other to prison.  I’ve got no illusions.  I know we’re not anymore tolerant or forgiving than the other side–except we’re that way for a good cause.

At least in this case, I won’t be sent to prison–not by you, anyway.  Instead, our group will get caught up in the infighting, and it will become even smaller and more laughable as we exclude more people.  Our opponents will love it, and will mock us mercilessly.  You will be praised for your rock-solid principles, and will advance to greater personal success, even if the community as a whole loses out.

But I really do believe in the higher purpose of what we’re doing here. So I will do my best to outmanoeuvre your all-seeing eyes, and will keep doing my work.  And even if someday I commit the unforgivable sin of being human and tripping over myself, regardless of what you may think of me, I will still be here.

The Professor winced when he got out of his flight capsule.  He had to keep reminding himself of how crucial his assignment was, that every little bit counted.  No matter how hopeless it seemed.

“Remember, you’re doing sacred work, Henrik,” he muttered under his breath.

A rag-tag crowd of natives was already beginning to gather, gawking at his ship. A few of them cheered and applauded, but most just stared, stone-faced.

Naomi bounded out to meet him.  She looked energetic as ever, no matter how much human misery she witnessed on a daily basis.

“Thank you for agreeing to come here, sir,” she said after hugging him. “This is a rough area.”

“Rough areas are my job,”  he replied, his Swedish accent making the word “job” softer. Not all of his colleagues at World United agreed that the charity missions to Merka were worthwhile. He couldn’t blame them.  Visiting a place like New York wasn’t too bad–it was quaint with all the red brick, and the traffic-clogged streets and old-fashioned subways, but one still felt connected to civilization.  Out here, though….

“What part of Virginia are we in again?”  he whispered to Naomi.

“Western Virginia, sir,”  she whispered back.

The Merkans continued to eye him with suspicion, but they also started quietly lining up, knowing that a World United flight meant food and aid packages for them.  It was a heart-wrenching sight: a long line of silent, ragged figures, pretending to be too proud to care about the hand-out they were waiting for.

But Naomi was beaming at him. “We’ve got something very special lined up for you today, sir.”

He gave her a weary smile.  She led him carefully down the steps from the landing pad, and then down a narrow, uneven sidewalk, manoeuvering him past a large pothole.  On the other side of the street was a row of the typical small shacks Merkans lived in, holes covered with blue tarp, walls stained by the smoke from the town factory.  He could sense the residents peering at him from their doorways, but they were blocked from approaching him by a mix of local police and World United security.

They stopped underneath a flashing blue sign which read Debbie’s Cafe.

“We wanted to treat you to the best Virginia has to offer,”  Naomi said, showing him to a table on the side patio of the cafe. A server immediately jogged up with a styrofoam tray of greasy fries.

He would never admit it to anyone back in Europe, but Henrik enjoyed some of these exotic Merkan foods quite a bit. They never did switch to the health service diet over here. Of course, they never did get a decent health service, either.

Naomi interrupted his fascination with the fries when she tapped him on the shoulder and pointed to a red-headed boy who had climbed a small podium and positioned himself behind a cheap portable keyboard.

After an announcement by a community center music teacher which Henrik didn’t pay attention to, the boy began to play.

It was a halting but graceful version of the old Cohen classic, Hallelujah. As the sounds melted away into the humid Merkan afternoon, Henrik was once again overcome with wonder. It was here, among these simple people in their slums, that he could find something akin to spiritual enlightenment.  He breathed it in.

The kid was talented.  He listened for a while with his eyes closed.  After the song stopped, the teacher and Naomi clapped with great enthusiasm.  Henrik walked up to congratulate the young musician, and the gaunt and nervous mother hovering behind him.

Henrik shook the boy’s hand. “Excellent job!  That was amazing!”  he said.  “Would you please give me your contact info?  I could get you a visa for anywhere in the Northern World Region.  You could study music at a real university.  What do you think, huh?”

The boy blushed and gazed at the ground.

His mother looked even more nervous. “I don’t know about that, mister,”  she said.  “I listen to the radio news and they’ve explained all about World United.  It might not be so good for him.”

He should’ve known. He had heard this so many times before. “Surely he won’t be able to get any real music training here, is he?”

“If we work hard and we save our money up, we might be able to get there,”  the woman said.  “At least here in Merka, we have the freedom to try.  My child isn’t going to be oppressed by a one world socialist government.”

“He wouldn’t have to live there forever,”  Henrik explained.  “And he would be free to make his own choices…”

“Yeah, if he chooses to be a gay snowflake,”  the woman shot back. “Look, his teacher wanted him to perform for you today, so I let him perform.  But I’m not letting you take him anywhere. We’re still the best country in the world.  I don’t care what anybody else says.”

The professor suspected that he was getting at least some of this hostility courtesy of his dark skin. The white Merkan natives always seemed to have an issue with that.

“That’s right.”  An older man standing nearby nodded vigorously.  Henrik couldn’t tell if he was a father or a grandfather. Most of his teeth were missing, his body bent from a lifetime of grueling labor.  “That’s right.  I thank God every day that I was lucky enough to be born in Merka.”

“Living in the rest of the world is not quite the nightmare you imagine it to be,”  Henrik said.  “We lead very normal lives.”

“Nope.  Nice try, but you can’t fool us,”  the woman said. “I listen to the Han Stannity show every day.  Good man.  He gives us all the information about what really goes on over there–how they tax you to death, how the only way you can get medical care is through the government…”

Her son stared at her, wide-eyed.

“We know the truth!”  the woman finished triumphantly.

Henrik bowed to her and her son.  “I suppose if you’ve found out the truth about us, there’s not much I can do to persuade you otherwise.  I wish you all the best for your future, young man.”  For a moment, his mask of politeness slipped.  “With all due respect, though, Han Stannity is a complete moron.”

He turned and slowly walked away.

“You can go fuck yourself!  You and your country!”  He could hear the woman screaming after him. “We will bomb the shit out of you!”

That would have been a scary threat, Henrik thought. A scary threat…about fifty years or so ago.

Naomi was waiting for him, her face drawn, her hands folded together.  “That was so disappointing, Henrik. I’ll have one of the event organizers speak to them.”

The professor waved his arms. “No, no, don’t.  It’s not necessary.”

He sat down and went back to sipping his beer. Now that the woman was done screaming, she and her family began making their way to the World United food and medicine distribution point.  There would also be doctors available there to give them free medical and dental exams.

He didn’t feel any anger as he watched these fiery warriors for liberty rushing to claim assistance from the institution they so hated.  He realized their fist shaking fury was a symptom of their total powerlessness.

He smiled at Naomi across the table.  “Please, don’t look so anxious, my dear.  I have never lost faith in the value of our mission.”

“It just breaks my heart that a man like you, who only wants to help others, gets treated like this.”

This would be the perfect time to hop on his return flight back to Stockholm.  In fact, it was way overdue.  He was done with this place.

“Naomi, this isn’t all about me helping them.  The truth is, these people help me.  They help me find gratitude–gratitude for what we’ve got in the rest of the world.”

And as she waved a tearful goodbye to him and he climbed back up to his flying ship, he added to himself:

“Where else could I go to feel this superior?”

 

It was true what they said–snooping doesn’t pay off.  You get more pain than satisfaction out of it.  But I just couldn’t help myself, could I?

I sit at the breakfast table, picking at my plate of eggs and sausage.   He shuffles towards the coffee-maker, rumpled and yawning.  The man I love.  The man I know.  The man I thought I knew.

But then I remember that I’ve seen his browsing history.  The websites he went to late at night.  Those pictures of strange men.  I have to ask, even though I realize it will wreck everything.

“Honey, did…did you vote for Trump?”

He turns around and stares.  “What?”

“Don’t lie.  You’ve been reading Breitbart.”

“And you’ve been checking up on me.”  With a sudden burst of energy, he strides out of the kitchen.  “That’s an invasion of my privacy.”

“This is for your own good,”  I plead, getting up and following him.  “You’re only hurting yourself.  The first step is to admit you have a problem.”

“I don’t have a problem.  Conservatives have a right to their opinions, too, you know.”

Conservatives?  But he’s a progressive!  Or…I assumed he was a progressive, because, because…this is the twenty-first century!  Everybody’s a progressive…right?

“What about the horrible things Trump said?  About Mexicans, about…”

“Oh, come on.  The things he said weren’t racist.  He’s only getting bashed for saying them because he’s a white man.”

Oh, dear God.  Not this shit.

“You don’t really think you’re oppressed, do you?”

“I’m not sure.  I do know that everyone gets offended if I speak up about something.  Does that qualify as oppression?”

Somehow, I should have seen this coming, and yet I’m so confused.  “Okay, I promise I won’t get offended if you’re honest with me.  Why did you vote for someone like Trump?”

“Well, all you hear about him on the fake media is the bad stuff.  There are a lot of good things he’s doing.”

“Like what?”

“He drove the media insane, didn’t he?  And the mainstream politicians.  I loved the way he gave it to that one annoying guy on Twitter, what’s his name…”

“Those are not achievements!  Attacking people is not an achievement.”  I look down at the napkin I’m tearing into little pieces.  “Would you ever attack someone like that? Call them names?  I can’t imagine it.”

He shrugs and turns to the window.

I take a deep breath.  I have to hear the very worst of it.  “What about his comments about grabbing women by the pussy?  Are you okay with that?”

Exasperated sigh.  “Stupid boys talk…”

“He was talking about sexual assault!”

“Women are so sensitive.  Everything is sexual assault these days.”  He turns to face me for a moment.  “Look, I don’t want to talk about this right now.  And I’m not going to let you tell me what to think.  I’m not a fucking cuck.”  Then the bedroom door slams shut behind him.

We live in the same house.  We sleep in the same bed.  We’re a family.  How did I miss this?  What didn’t I notice?

Maybe we’re no longer really talking to each other, each of us focused on our own personal screen, posting our own version of the world.  Too busy telling our story to listen.

I want to scream at him to go fuck himself.  I want to walk away, but I can’t.  Neither one of us can make it alone.  We’ll have to find our way back to each other somehow.

Sooner or later, I’m gonna have to knock on that door.

I, too, am an immigrant.

I may not be brown-skinned, but I’m still here to take your job.  My parents took your jobs, too.  I’m not sure if these are jobs Americans just won’t do.  All I know is that we’ve worked our butts off to build the life we’ve got in this country.  And I know undocumented immigrants who work even harder.

I may not wear a hijab, but I know what it’s like to be a refugee.  I know what it’s like to fear the government of my old homeland, and to hope and pray that I will be accepted in my new one.  And yet what my family experienced is nothing compared to those fleeing their bombed out houses and lives in Syria.

I’m lucky to have white skin, so I don’t stand out too much.  Unless I speak and you hear my accent, you may think I’m one of you.  Even if you do hear my accent, you won’t mind, because a European accent is sexy/cute.  I’m just another fortunate person enjoying the fruits of this country’s success.  “God bless you!  Welcome to America!”

But I can never allow myself to feel too comfortable.  Because in a society which needs scapegoats, nobody is ever really safe.  And you need scapegoats.  You’re angry and frustrated.  Things haven’t turned out the way you hoped they would, so you’re looking for someone to blame.  This will not end well.  Today the scapegoats are the people coming across the southern border.  Tomorrow they might be anyone who speaks a foreign language in public, or anyone who doesn’t salute the flag quickly enough.  Someday, the scapegoat might be you–the person who’s pointing the finger right now.

I can also never allow myself to point the finger, because that would make me an ugly hypocrite.  I am grateful to be able to live here, and I can’t close the door on others who want to come in, only because their culture is different or their religion makes me uncomfortable. After all, we immigrated from a country which, at the time we left it, had a Communist political system.  What if my family was automatically suspected of wanting to spread Communism?  Everyone from that part of the world could have been a radical Communist, right?  What if we were considered too high-risk to be allowed into the States?  Doesn’t matter that my family actually opposed Communism.  Many refugees today are running away from ISIS-style fundamentalism because they hate and fear it, but we are suspicious of them anyway.

So when you talk about how we should keep “them” out and how “they” make us unsafe, I can’t help but feel a little anxious.

I was once one of “them”.  I still remember what that’s like.  And no matter how Americanized I become, I will never be exactly like you–I will always be an immigrant.

“Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again.” — Luke 6:30

For all those who complain about how much the deficit went up under Obama and other Democrats (although it’s usually the Republicans who increase the deficit, anyway)–can you imagine how much the deficit would go up under a President Jesus?

Just think of what his policies would be.  A President Jesus would immediately get impeached or assassinated–by Christians.

It should really be called the Department of Desperate Losers, he thought.  Losers because they were not from America, and Desperate because they so badly wanted to get here.

He rubbed his hands together.  He loved this part.  It was the beginning of a fun new game.

In front of him sat a stack of computer file printouts, personally selected for him.

He grabbed the first one and started reading through it.  Her name was Maya.  She was a 15 year old girl from Syria.  She liked mathematics and soccer.  He looked at the file in shock.  Who could have possibly picked this one?  After a moment, he finally noticed the Post-It note on the cover sheet.  “Just kidding,” it read.  He made a mental note to find out who was responsible for this joke.

The next one was better.  She was Vietnamese, and she was past the legal age.  Very thin–he liked that.  But while skimming her bio, he found out she was politically active and had been part of the opposition movement in Vietnam.  In fact, this was why she was trying to leave the country.  He shook his head.  That sort of thing only caused problems.

There was the file of a Colombian girl who was much too athletic for his tastes.  Once again, he congratulated himself on his decision to make full-body photos mandatory with all immigration applications.  “You’re fired!”  he said as he placed her application on the reject pile.

He didn’t want a woman to wrestle him.  He wanted someone who would be as perfect of a wife as Melania.

Ah, Melania.  What a woman.  Always so quiet, and when he gave her permission to speak, always so classy.  And a knockout–that went without saying.

She looked a little sad at that last party.  He could understand how she was feeling.  It was bittersweet for him, too.  They had such good times together.  But he was a realistic man.  And reality was that Melania was past her expiration date.

It wasn’t all bad.  He would get to pick out a fresh new babe.  And Melania would be fine. She would go on to do…well, whatever it was that older women did.

More ladies–from Mexico, from Somalia.  He suspected that his staff was trying to be politically correct and do that whole diversity thing with the candidates.  He breathed a sigh of relief when he got to the women of European heritage.  Finally…this was the good stuff.

Oh, yes.  A blonde from the Czech Republic.  Gorgeous face.  And those knockers.  Talk about merit-based immigration.  She would be getting extra points for sure.

And then a bombshell from Sweden.  A brunette this time, with legs for days.  Definitely a ten.  But not pretending to be someone she wasn’t.  No weird hobbies, no PhDs.  Just solidly feminine.  He could appreciate that kind of honesty.

He would gladly save her from the terrorist hellhole that was Sweden.  He felt a tiny twinge.  Was it sympathy?  Maybe it was an erection.  Whatever.

Might as well end it right here, he figured.  Could it get any better?  Who knows, but he didn’t have the attention span.

And then he was hit with another one of his brilliant ideas.  Why not have both the Czech chick and the Swedish chick come over here and fight it out?  The lucky winner would get his hand in marriage and American citizenship.  Of course the entire thing would be filmed.  It would make a fantastic TV show.  They could wrestle in…in something.  He would figure it out later.

There was a light knock on the door of the office, and Seth peeked in.

“Having fun, Mr. President?”

The President spread his fingers over the desk.  “This is so great, Seth.  So great.  Thank you for this.”

“Excellent.  Take your time, Mr. President.  We’re discussing some policy issues in the other room.”

“Good job, Seth.”  This was his genius, he reflected–he had such fabulous people working for him.

The door closed again, and Donald went back to ogling pictures of hot girls.

“Being President is seriously the best job ever,” he thought.