VCO: Chapter 21

"VCO" image

Chapter 21

“What are we offering?” Everhet asks.

Cryptic as usual, I ask for clarification. And he responds with the same question.

“What are we offering?”

So I go with the quick pitch. 

“We’re providing access to marginalized work. To uplift hidden voices. We believe—”

“We believe?” Everhet says and smiles dubiously. “We believe. Okay. Explain this then.”

Everhet’s disposition is not one of gratitude which infuriates me. Not Hooray! Finally, my dream has been realized. How grateful I am to you, Sullivan but It’s about time. It’s as if he expects interest to have accrued during the long wait of his genius to be recognized.

He rotates his laptop around. His screen’s desktop has an open window on the new PPL site, under the games tab.

“It’s solitaire.” I say flatly.

He moves the cursor over to the top right corner where a dollar amount of $5.19 shows beneath his profile name indicating how much money he has to cover the next game fee.

“It’s gambling.” Everhet says

I point at the dollar amount, “You gambled.”

I was just testing to see how it worked. Didn’t think it’d be as simple as a casino game, but unfortunately, I was wrong.”

Everhet has a strong sensitivity to activities that he deemed exploitive, due to what I assume is from a low-income upbringing which I know very little of, or if it actually happened. Everhet claims these video machines target people of income-deficient backgrounds. And insults their intelligence by thinking that you can trick someone into spending what little expendable money they have on a chance opportunity that statistically will never happen, just because it is bright, colorful, and plays music. But it does. This doesn’t mean gambling is only for the financially-challenged. Wealthy people gamble too, just differently. Typically by underwriting municipal bond offerings. A visual aesthetic that is the opposite of Las Vegas.

I’ve prepared for this. After previously believing to be a creative myself, I have now assumed the role of the wrangler. I’m essentially his agent, brokering his behavior to Joselyn and Morgen, as “business essential” and his contributions as “potentially profitable”. I’m the reason he gets a check every quarter that is five times the size of his annual salary a few years ago. He should be thanking me. But this was technically his idea. And there’s no way to definitively prove I could have done all this without him.

“This is a way to engage another demographic. All of that money,” I point to the $5.19 balance on his screen, “can be donated to an artist, or you can use it to purchase items in their store. But people aren’t going to be as drawn to the kind of stuff we like off the bat, so you have to offer something to everyone.”

The idea is that just from being on the same website, even in an entirely different category, by some form of internet osmosis, users will develop a palette gradually without noticing it happening.

“I’ve never heard of a library letting their authors sell their merch.” He looks up at the ceiling and puckers his lips, “But they should.”

Everhet seems more open in his posture but needs to put up a little more fight so he didn’t look like he went back on his strong stance too quickly. So his overall vibe was diva.

“Can we please go now?” I ask.

With all of his eccentricity and despise of selling out, Evy had no problem looking extremely cool getting into our all black SUV with a personal driver.

The ride is awkward. 

When you have a driver, it means you lose your excuse of being preoccupied with driving so you can’t have a conversation. Now, we’re just not talking because we have nothing to talk about. And that is fine. I’m at peace in my spirit. I don’t need to talk to feel comfortable. I only wish my parents could see the person I’ve become.

As we go over the Bellarose Bridge, Everhet pipes up, “So what have you been doing?” 

I imagine the muscles around my heart being suddenly yanked to a tautness on the verge of popping, repeatedly on an irregular schedule. It had been almost three years since the initial meeting with Joselyn where I took the second degree. And since then I’d been called out to the cabin a minimum of twice a week. I never knew when Butler would enter whatever room I was in and say, “You’ve been summoned.”

Just like the first time I never knew if I was being brought to be killed. The jig could be up and Joselyn would finally procure a spiritual procedure that would call for me to be the offering. I would think about this as I strode to the cabin. Each walk I treated as my last walk. Every ritual was approached with sacred awe. And after the first six months of this I felt my mind pass a threshold of lightness that I haven’t recovered from (and not sure I’d want to recover anyway). I aim to keep myself in a perpetual state of awareness of the moment. It’s not that I don’t care about dying, I don’t want to be sacrificed. But I can appreciate the side effects of this type of perpetual unsteadiness. The only way to remain sane is to care less. But even after years of practice I can still be pulled directly out of this mindset, back into a world that isn’t capable of any endings at all. I hear one thing, see one thing, one thing goes wrong, and the illusion vanishes. Every horrific moment is going to last forever and every wonderful moment never lasts as long as it should. Sometimes chewing gum helps. I haven’t given it up completely yet.

I want to tell Everhet of my progress but do not know how to describe my newfound view of the world in a way to the uninitiated.

In spiritual work it is important to use the proper tools. Joselyn has shown me this. Not physical, although there were totems and objects to use as representations to manifest the metaphysical work being done. Tools in this respect were the calling for the aid of the proper forces. 

What I discovered was that having faith, in anything, gave health to one’s spirit. Until now I had only opinions, which are exciting and entertaining but nourish almost nothing and exhaust energy rapidly, secretly starving you by suppressing your appetite for wisdom like amphetamines for the soul.

This has completely rearranged me as a person. And there’s no way to translate that to Everhet.

I got used to reading words like “lyuynge” as “living”.

Joselyn displays herself someone who was living outside of time. Since the space she occupies does not intersect with consumerism directly, she did not pursue anything but the accrual of power and virtue for the Artos family. For the most part, Joselyn does not display characteristics, but highlights traits within myself that I find increasingly heinous. She is my black mirror. I fill silences with questions not for the sake of scholarship but because in the quiet moments when I am near her I interpret the silence as a dislike for me. I feel in my core that if you are not constantly talking while in close proximity with another human that some failure has occurred. But the worst was that I laugh compulsively. When returning to the city, as I am today to pick up Everhet, I can feel these qualities have dimmed. One downside however is now the bustle of a city is not so much energizing as it is oppressive to my spirit. Immediately upon arriving at the café I wanted to go back to the forest. 

Coffee is much better in the city though.

My fear of bringing Everhet to Joselyn is that she will inherently see his implanted Marxism. After the first utterance of a pseudo-scientific rationalization and oversimplified solution to a widespread issue that could never be truly resolved, his credibility will be lost entirely. And I would have to listen to him try to discredit her the entire ride home.

But I didn’t have to worry about that.

We tread the roots of the forest all the way to the open area where Morgen led me the first time.

After looking across the open field I don’t see the ominous cube.

Joselyn isn’t here. Neither is the cabin.

This it’s precise location. Took the exact path taken the last time. All of the physical markers of the surrounding area were copied and pasted from each previous occasion I traveled out here whenever I was called. Even the open square within the tree line was still cleared of trees. I can literally see marks in the ground from its foundation. As if the cabin had been lifted into the sky.

The sky.

Oh shit.

“We have to go back to the house.” I say as I turn around.

“Are you serious?” Staying in place, arms crossed and vexed, Everhet asks, “To what house? The one we just came from?”


Still walking.

“Why?” He says, following me.

“I don’t know. But we go.” I say, “Now.”



James Jacob Hatfield is a displaced engineer, a painter, and many other contradictions. His work has appeared in X-R-A-Y, Maudlin House, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Barely South Review, Chaleur Magazine, Havik, and others. His ekphrasis poem “torrents of lahar, No. 36” was anthologized by the North Carolina Museum of Art. He is a Sterling Fellow and a Weymouth Fellow. He is the creator and curator of the Gemini Sessions Substack. He lives in Durham, NC.

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