There weren’t too many things that Claude could think of that would be worse than the Japan Tragedy. But they were out there according to the online group he’d just joined. Apparently there were asteroids, UFO’s and aliens, economic collapses, volcanoes, sinkholes and all sorts of terrible, nasty, horrible things that were about to befall the Human race, and it was all happening…THIS YEAR!
(Cue dramatic music)
Claude Everest was not scared of anything he could research and being a moderately-educated man, he plopped down at the clean dinette table in front of his moderately-priced laptop in his gray-striped-roommate-infested-moderately-priced apartment and settled in for the long haul. Claude researched and researched, and did calculation after calculation. After his roommate Pete (Just returned from his three week expedition in Madagascar) coaxed him out from the fortifications he’d built behind the kitchen sink (near the end of the third week of his research), Claude decided that he was going to start his own website and call it The Tinfoil Hat Society. Just as soon as he took a shower and put on some pants. Preferably clean ones. Nearly a month’s worth of research in one sitting (not counting the times he passed out in the chair or behind the sink) had left Claude smelling pretty ripe. Pete said that smell was the only way he even found him, so he figured it was time for a scrub.
Claude figured the shower might convince Pete he hadn’t completely snapped. He padded down the hall to the blue bathroom, dragging his trusty ratty navy shower robe with him, and stood under the shower head a full ten minutes before washing. The steaming water rushed over his sore muscles with reassuring regularity. Finally after taking what would probably be his last hot shower ever… Claude forced himself out of the shower and in front of the bathroom mirror. He’d lost some weight after his supply of granola bars, Cheetos and Pepsi ran low. Now, as he looked into his medicine cabinet mirror, his piercing blue eyes stood in stark contrast to the scraggly beard and unkempt hair that were so well beaten into shape only weeks before.
Christ, he thought, I look like the end of the world’s already started. Maybe with a little trim; I could pull off the rugged field researcher look. A little Indiana Jones meets arctic expedition.
So Claude trimmed his hair and beard, resolved he was never actually shaving again. The near-social-conformity that was his norm back in place, Claude shuffled to the bedroom for clothes and back out to the kitchen to find Pete still leaning on the counter patiently awaiting his friend’s explanation of what the hell was going on.
Claude placed the neatly folded cargo pants and tee-shirt on the arm of the now clutter-strewn black couch, leaned on the opposite side of the counter and regarded Pete’s new suntan with the usual amount of cool aloofness, met by the same in return. After the two men stared at each other for a few moments, each coming to the conclusion that his friend was in fact intact, Claude reached over the counter and popped up the pack of cigarettes Pete had in the breast pocket of the charcoal gray tee shirt he wore just far enough to snatch a smoke out along with Pete’s cherry-red flaming aces Bic lighter that was his prize possession. Pete watched him light his cigarette with his lighter, take three quick puffs and hand it back to him. Taking it from Claude, he set it in the ashtray on the counter as usual to let it cool down a bit. Claude then proceeded to tuck Pete’s cherry red flaming aces Bic lighter back into his pocket. Claude didn’t really smoke; he just needed a few drags now and then to loosen him up. The ashtray never even got used unless Pete was home.
Then wordlessly Pete rounded the counter, and they stood shoulder to shoulder and strode toward the door. There was no need for words. It was video store time. They hadn’t done a proper marathon for the three weeks Claude had his head stuck in the computer and Pete was abroad. Tinfoil Hat Society momentarily forgotten, the two men entered the elevator just in time to realize Claude had also forgotten to actually put on the pants. When he went for the door though, it closed. Taking three (very quick) baby steps back to make sure nothing got stuck in the door, he rounded on Pete.
Panic made his eyes look fantastically huge in his gaunt face. Worse, the head rush from the nicotine hit him at the same time as the raise in blood pressure, making him swoon. He grabbed the handrail and held on for dear life, but it was no good, he fell in a rolling heap as the elevator slowed and gravity caught up. His friend watching him with an odd mix of discomfort and sympathy, as the elevator doors swung open in the lobby and Claude’s navy- bath-robed form sprawled uncouthly exposed on the elevator floor. Then there was another expression that was harder to read. Perhaps it was because he was looking at him upside down, but for a moment Claude thought he saw Pete stifle a chuckle.
The girls in the lobby stifled nothing. There were gasps and squeals and giggles and “oh my gods” and a few other things Claude was too busy covering up to catch. Once upright and covered, he crammed his finger into the fifth floor button repeatedly and quickly until the doors grudgingly closed. Drained, Claude leaned on the railing, still holding on firmly until he was able to get off on his floor. Upon reaching his floor he gave Pete a look and exited, flinging open the door to his gray pinstriped apartment angrily.
Pete followed gamely; sure his friend was going to spit every obscenity he could think of once the door was closed. When the door closed, however, Pete found only silence. His friend looked like he was ready to implode for wanting to talk, but said no word; he simply walked over to the kitchenette, filled a bowl with water and set it in the microwave. Then Claude reached under the counter behind the sink, drew out a tinfoil hat and put it squarely on his head, as if to say, “Ha!”
With the silly looking accessory firmly upon his head, Claude proceeded to reach back under the counter and produce a second tinfoil hat and hold it out to Pete. Pete looked at him as if Claude had just grown a second head, but such a look of impatient begging came over his friend that Pete felt obliged to put it on. With a look that said he was probably going to regret it, Pete put the hat on his head.
Claude let out a whoosh of relief and began to spill the entire contents of what he’d learned online over the last few weeks. He told Pete all about the aliens, conspiracies, coming natural disasters, and how the only way to keep them from reading your thoughts was to wear tinfoil hats, and the only thing that could interfere with all their high-powered listening devices was the humble microwave oven, which had been invented for that purpose in the seventies, but to make it household practical and disguise it’s true use, the inventor had made it to where you could cook stuff with it.
Pete watched his friend go through all of this with careful reservation. He said nothing when the microwave dinged and his friend dumped the newly boiled water into a gallon jar with some tea bags, and proceeded to fill the bowl again with water and turn on the microwave. Claude would not speak during these times, as if someone were already listening, and what he was sharing was likely to get him killed. Claude told Pete how there were terrible things about to happen and they would have to get mobile and learn survival skills and how he’d made a list of things they needed from the hardware store and electronic shop. And how if they really wanted to have a fighting chance they needed to get guns and learn how to shoot.
The microwave dinged again and while Claude was busy pouring off the water into a second jar and a couple of bowls of ramen he’d prepared, Pete walked over to the table, unplugged Claude’s laptop and took it over to the couch below the big window that looked out over the street. Setting it down on the cushion, Pete lifted the heavy sash, letting the crisp December air rush in and cool his face. It made the foil on his head incredibly cold. That done he picked the computer back up and promptly pitched it out the window. Closing the heavy sash, Pete could hear the clatter of the machine hitting the sidewalk, the shouts from angry people who were pissed because somebody was trying to kill them, and the screech of tires on the cars from dodging people who were dodging the computer falling from the sky.
Claude’s face was frozen in shock when Pete finally looked at him. The microwave dinged, but Claude continued to stare at Pete as his face grew red with obvious anger. Pete calmly walked over to where Claude was standing and turned the microwave back on. “Now they can’t hack your internet history.” Claude appeared even more shocked at first, but seemed to be thinking about it. Finally, his eyes widened a bit and he gave a slight nod of acknowledgement, then when the microwave dinged again, Claude popped Pete’s pack of cigarettes out grabbed a smoke and Pete’s cherry red flaming aces bic lighter, lit a cigarette, took three puffs and handed the cigarette to Pete then tucked the lighter back into his pocket. Claude then went over to the spot where he’d placed his pants earlier, and proceeded to pull them on, fastening them securely around his waist. Then he went over to Pete, the two seemed to come to some unspoken agreement, then Claude reached up and took the cigarette out of his friend’s mouth and took a long luxurious draw. Maybe it was a good day to start smoking. The two men went out the door, down the elevator and out into the street, both of them still wearing their tinfoil hats and Claude smoking Pete’s cigarette.
They got into Pete’s van, and after stopping at the hardware store and electronics shop they wound up at Pete’s apartment. There Pete retrieved his own laptop and mobile WIFI and took it to Claude out in the van. While Pete was getting the rest of the stuff they would need from the apartment, including camping gear, water and loads of blankets, Claude hooked everything up in the van and began setting up the blog. When he was nearly finished, he called Pete over and was just about to snap a picture of both of them in their tinfoil hats, when Pete shifted angles of their hats, so that their eyes and the tops of their heads were hidden and all the camera got was the hats and their jawlines. The two looked at each other for a moment, and then as understanding crept over him, Claude hooked the camera up to the laptop and uploaded the photo. And so the tinfoil hat society went live. Remembering something he’d forgotten at his own apartment, Claude requested they go back.
While Pete drove, Claude wrote on the blog all the things he’d learned on the internet. He published every page as he got it done. By the time they got halfway to Claude’s apartment, the blog had already received a thousand hits. Claude had a thought, and created a photo gallery where people could upload their own photos and “join” the tinfoil hat society. He encouraged them to wear their tinfoil hats all the time, even in public. When they pulled up outside Claude’s apartment, Claude got out to run upstairs and grab his journal, the one item he figured he couldn’t live without, especially if the world was going to hell in a hand basket. As he made for the door, he thought he caught a flash of something further up in the crowd of people crossing the street.
Claude shook his head. He must have been seeing things. He ascended in the elevator, ignoring the girls who’d seen him earlier who were busy whispering in the corner of the lobby. Claude hated whispers; you could never tell whether they were good whispers or bad whispers. When he got to his apartment and found the door ajar, he felt his pulse pound in his neck. Quietly he snuck up to his own door and peered around the doorjamb.
Seeing nobody there, he thought at first they might have forgotten to close the door. Once he saw that the mess in the apartment had grown exponentially, though, he knew something was different. His hands now shaking , Claude looked around for his journal and couldn’t find it. Remembering a specific fit of extreme paranoia, he realized he’d taped it up under the counter behind the sink. Reaching into the darkness, he felt the edges of the book and breathed a sigh of relief. Claude pulled the book and it’s tape bindings free, and stood back up. When he did, his eyes fell upon a man in a black suit, and Claude nearly fell back down behind the counter.
“Claude Reiner?” the man in the suit asked emotionlessly. “I have a message for you.”
Claude was no longer sure he could stand up. Cowering behind the counter, Claude waited for the inevitable sound of a gun cocking or something, but heard only a dull thud and a muffled rustling of the papers that were strewn on the floor, and then silence. He’d at least expected the man to finish what he was going to say. Peering back over the counter top, Claude saw Pete there, holding his bloodied horseshoe trophy. The man in black lay on the cluttered gray carpet, unconscious but breathing the deep breaths of slumber. Standing now, Claude hurried out from behind the counter and snapped a photo of the man which he would post to the blog. Pushing a still stunned looking Pete in front of him, made his way quickly out the door and into the elevator, hoping to be well clear of the building before the man woke up.
The elevator made its descent, the muzak striking a chord of oddity with the two men, who looked up at the speakers and then at each other incredulously. Then as the doors opened they stepped out to a scene that shocked them both to a halt. There must have been a thousand people passing by the apartment building as they did every day. But now fully half of them were in tinfoil hats.
Still aware of the man who would be waking up soon in Claude’s apartment, the two men strode to the van and climbed in, accidentally bumping into a few people wearing tinfoil hats. As he shut his door, Claude saw the man in black skid to a halt outside the door, holding his head, and looking around confused by the tinfoil hats all around him. There was a strange expression on the man’s face that led Claude to think maybe he’d been paranoid again. Motioning Pete to pull up beside him, Claude rolled down the window, watching for the man to pull out a death ray or something.
The man reached into his jacket pocket, and for a moment Claude thought he was a dead man. Then he saw that the man was retrieving a business sized envelope. He held it out toward the van, and Claude snapped it up on the way by, as Pete had no intention of stopping completely. As they drove on, seeing more and more people with tinfoil hats, Claude opened the letter. It was a will. He’d just been left a small fortune by an uncle of his from Oklahoma City, as well as an estate in Tulsa. Reading the address, he handed the paper off to Pete, who then proceeded to try to read and drive.
As Pete was reading, Claude climbed into the back of the van and punched a few keys on the laptop. The blog had received over ten million hits! There were pictures of thousands of people in tinfoil hats, many of them quite creative. There were loads of comments and something like two million five hundred thousand likes on Face-space…he’d officially gone viral.
Coming back up front Claude pulled out his camera, leaned out the window and proceeded to take footage of all the people walking around in tinfoil hats. He returned to the laptop and posted it to his blog. This elicited even more of an uproar, and Claude got so absorbed in the internettal goings on that he didn’t look up until the van came to a halt.
Pete had driven them to the address on the letter. This was Claude’s new house. They both got out and stood beside the van. Gazing at the huge, elegant house with wonder and, well…wonder, the men simply gawked. Hearing a bike bell behind them, the guys turned and another envelope appeared, this time produced by the bike messenger, who apparently didn’t care who he delivered the envelope to. Claude looked at Pete, who shrugged, and read the name on the envelope. It was Claude’s. Opening the envelope, he found a set of keys, a deed, and the title to a rather expensive sports car. He held them up for Pete to examine. The two of them walked up the drive to check the house out.
Claude unlocked the door and found the house cool, clean and inviting. Not hearing anyone inside he walked right in, after all it was his house, right? The Front room was large, open and airy, with white curtains, Ivory walls, and blonde oak floor. There was another envelope on the coffee table between the two immense ivory leather couches. Sharing another empathic glance, the men retrieved the envelope, walked out of the house, took a picture of it, got In the van and pulled out of the driveway. Claude posted everything that had happened so far on the blog, pictures and all, and asked his followers what he should do. He scanned the responses as they came in.
One commenter wrote, “It’s obviously a trap. If you open up that envelope, the feds will descend on you like locusts.”
Another one wrote, “It depends, if you’re ready to go to the mother ship and face them, fine, otherwise I’d run far, run fast.”
Still another wrote, “You’re a complete nut job for even going there. Do you not know it’s a lure to get you to shut up or where they can shut you up?”
Claude gave Pete a look, and motioned for him to pull in at the next gas station. Pete did, and while he filled up the van, Claude went in and bought a great big atlas. Hauling his giant book and what certainly looked like three weeks’ worth of Pepsi, Cheetos and granola bars, put the stuff in the back, climbed back into the van and indicated by pointing at the bank name where his newfound fortune was, that they should go there. Pete shook his head and pointed at the hat. But everyone was wearing them now. Claude insisted the only way he could without talking, he flipped the bird and rubbed his thumb against his fingertips in the international sign for money. They’d need it to run on. When they got to the bank, Claude went in, and with as little commotion or speech as possible, closed out the account. The bank people wouldn’t let him walk out with all that money (Even in hundred and thousand dollar bills, it was massive), so he had Pete pull the van around back and opened the big side door.
As the bank security people were loading the van, Claude was beginning to get uncomfortable. When he saw the string of black SUV’s round the corner up the street, he decided it would be a good idea to help them. Scooching the stuffy bank employees aside with his hip, Claude proceeded to pitch bag after bag into the van, then grabbing the last one, hopped in himself beating on the back of the seat to tell Pete to gogogogo! Pete was too smart to squeal out of the place and draw attention. Instead he pulled out nice and slow as Claude pulled the back door shut from the inside, making a very convenient right turn out of the parking lot and then a quick left up a secluded street. When the sirens started, that was when Pete stepped on it. Rounding a few more corners and staying on the residential streets, they soon heard the sirens go past them.
Taking the hill out of town, they soon hit the turnpike, and Claude pointed at a page in the Atlas showing Arizona. He was pointing at Sedona, Arizona. Pete looked at him a while. Then he looked at the fortune in the back and shrugged. Nodding, he picked the first route west and steered that way. Satisfied, Claude reached over the center console, popped Pete’s pack of cigarettes out of his pocket along with his cherry-red-flaming-aces-Bic lighter, lit a cigarette, took three drags and handed it to Pete. Then he took out another cigarette, lit it, took three drags and put Pete’s pack back into Pete’s pocket. Pete’s cherry-red-flaming-aces-Bic lighter he placed deliberately into his own pocket, squinting out the windshield like Clint Eastwood as they drove into the sunset.
Six Weeks Later…
Sedona Arizona. It was the coolest place Claude could think of next to Roswell, but apparently in Roswell they weren’t afraid to just shoot you down in the street. Sedona seemed like the next logical choice. Claude sat out on the balcony of the little chateau, and looked west over adobe roofs, watching the morning sun light up the mesas. It was a red-white and blue affair, sunrise in Sedona, as in rocks-clouds and sky.