“Problem is we’re not focused enough, just shooting in all directions…” He waved his hands in the air. “Not caring where the globs land. We need a cohesive mission statement for a full shot in the face.” Brewster was in full team-building mode, rallying the troops before the second half.
“Are you really using porn as a metaphor?” said Penny.
“Don’t be a dirty bird. Okay, what about the guy whose face Lizzie’s mate sliced open when he was unconscious…”
“Uh, yeah, that story’s already grown wings.” Geek #1 and #2 were both gabbling. Lizzie’s style was infectious. “Our diva spilled the guts in a comedy interlude and her friend’s son boasted to some kids that his mum was the one responsible. They, uh, did the same to him…” Giggle.
The light bulb heated up again. “Ok, we have a villain. Child traumatised by brutal attack. Culprit at large. Do we let him get away with it? What kind of town are we?”
“But that’s not… the victim isn’t responsible for further crimes by the…”
“Isn’t he? How many rapists keep going if no-one steps forward? Why didn’t he speak up? No-one’s innocent, we just don’t know what he’s guilty of.”
He always had an answer, Penny realised. Even if it was wrong, the propulsion was intoxicating. We follow people because at least any direction is better than none.
Brewster knew the easiest way to bond and strengthen people was giving them a common enemy. Confidence grew with pitchfork numbers. He clapped his hands and spoke to the room.
“Time to focus guys. We’re the voice of the fucking people, let’s start shouting.”
HE WAS A REAL PERSON, JUST NOT THE ONE ON TV
Dad was screaming again. He’d left him with the TV and somehow the remote had clicked on GB News.
“Need proper justice, need a good vigilante,” said Dad. He was an old Clint Eastwood fan, now watching an opinion piece on a local gay-junkie-stalker-whatever running amok. There were calls for declaring ‘open season’ and ridding the world of such filth.
“That’s what I heard,” said Lizzie on TV, backing up her diatribe.
“Something should be done,” said Dan on TV.
“Something should be done,” repeated Mum.
They were talking about him. He was a real person, just not the one on TV. He heard the alternative fiction of himself and agreed with the punishment – anyone listening would. It didn’t matter how extreme, or ridiculous, or easily disproved the lies were, he knew how it went. It had happened before.
Gossip was part of every community, but once targeted the hooks went in and the half-truths became shaggy-doggers, became outright lies. Malice was self-justifying – the worse people treated someone, the stronger hate grew.
It started with a childish nickname, that grew nastier and more derogatory every time it was used, freely flung insults placed him in a box he couldn’t escape from. Once abuse was normalised, that was it – box for life.
HE CALLED IT A ‘SHITMUS TEST’
He called it a ‘Shitmus Test’ – you could gauge a person’s character by how they treated their fellows. If someone was asked to stop saying a name, phrase or lie, the test was if they continued. Some embraced the insults with childish enthusiasm, others understood the disrespect and adjusted. Overall, many passed, many failed.
Eventually, he gave up trying to speak his truth, backed away, self-exiled into a healthier life. He had responsibilities, new work gave him enthusiasm again, caring for his ageing parents a purpose. It was a shame to let go of some relationships, but knew they could never grow, his box was too tainted.
Yet, watching the TV again, it seemed disappearing had only grown the pariahship. Gaps of knowledge had been filled using whatever mud was handy. It didn’t shock him – he’d learnt not to care what people who weren’t worth caring about said. In doing so, his narrow world had widened, filtering out those who didn’t want him in theirs. Free from slander, the voices dimmed and became irrelevant. He smiled more.
But now, he sensed the holiday’s end was nigh, he just didn’t know how it would appear. As he wondered, there was a screech of tyres and a black pick-up truck rode up on their front lawn.