Church of the Holy Platypus

Content warnings: suicide

In physics, “displacement” is the movement of an object. Many people, particularly teachers, choose to display it on a coordinate plane. If someone were to move to the same position they started from (marked by the point at which the x and y axes converge) the displacement would register as “zero.”

For example, Gary, an object made from flesh and bone, displaced himself 30 feet toward a car and stumbled inside with the grace of a three-legged bull.

LED neon lights festooned the car’s interior, illuminating the car with shimmering orbs of green. A fuzzy dice bobbed rhythmically and almost came loose from its tether when the driver slammed the gas. The car sputtered and lurched forward. The driver yelped, slamming his palm against the steering wheel out of frustration. He muttered a few swears under his breath.

“I guess they outlawed hitchhiking for a good reason,” Gary grumbled.

The driver twisted his body to meet Gary’s eyes. He was burly, with viscous, licorice-black hair that reached the top of his cheeks. A mask covered his mouth. He was a dead ringer of Cousin It from the Addams Family.

“Sorry, didn’t catch that. Did you say that the AC is too much?”


“Ah, ok. Where are you going anyway?”

“The convention hall in Cranston.”


Next to Gary lay the disheveled remnants of a newspaper which Gary almost mistook for a heap of dried papier-mâché. Bemused and bored, he picked the scraps up daintily and scanned it. The paper was yellowed and folded numerous times, forming a spider’s web out of crinkles in varying reliefs. Certain letters were inscrutable because the ink flaked away. Gary fixed his attention on one page, frowned, and fiddled with his stubbled chin while reading. It was part of an op-ed.

“A recent CDC study verified that the novel strand could spread through air particulates, touch, and coitus. All are to abstain from participating in large, social gatherings…”

Gary, quenched of his curiosity, drifted his gaze toward the windshield. The sky shimmered marvelously with the movement of clouds and braying birds. Not a single person was in sight.

This was the town of Goolia. Quite a few years ago, the population of Earth spanned billions. In the US, where Goolia resides, the population spanned well over three-hundred million individuals.

Now, there were fifty million left alive, most of whom were crammed into micro-homes, or, if you were poor, tenement housing. The micro-homes were affordable but cumbersome to move around in. The tenement homes were constructed out of wood and caught fire frequently. 

Gary was lucky. His family managed to snag a suburban home at the heart of Goolia. People abandoned their previous lives in their suburban slices of paradise to find jobs in cities. This large-scale migration freed up prime real estate that was far-flung but adequate. As a consequence of living miles from school, Gary hitchhiked. While by no means rich, Gary possessed enough money and intellectual curiosity to pursue higher education. Nobody in his family had a car though.

The driver saw Gary flitting through the clumped newspaper absentmindedly.

“So, what did you think of the paper? Pretty neat, right?”


“I still remember the original pandemic scare.”

“Do you?”

“Mhh hmm, my family moved to some parish in Louisiana when Georgia faced the brunt of the virus.”

“Why did you move to Florida?”

“More money down here.”

“Really? What do you do?”

“I’m a professor at the University of Calish.”

“What do you teach?”

“I teach American History, mainly.”

“How’s that going?”

The professor sighed with ennui.

“Everyone hates each other! I haven’t seen a single professor, student, or member of the custodial staff talk to each other at all if it wasn’t related to work.”

“Do you think it’s because of stress?”

“No, It’s just the culture. It encourages students to be horrible. Do you know the motto of the college?”

“No, what is it?”

The motto stuck to the back of the driver’s throat like coagulated mucus. Half retching, the professor spat,

“To the victor goes the spoils. To the rest goes the leftovers.”

Gary recoiled in his seat.

“That is a bad motto.”

A silence descended upon the car for a few minutes. Gary fished a crumpled piece of paper from his pocket and reread it.

“Type a 10-12-page report on the political event taking place at the convention center this Friday. Attached, you will find your tickets.”

Gary wanted a position at the Center for Effectual Governance, a non-partisan think-tank funded through donations. To apply, he had to attend one of their events and pen an essay about it. 

“This might be a bit rude of me, but why on Earth do you want to see this thing? It’s going to be miserable.”

Gary snapped to attention and told the professor about the internship.

The professor responded with a muted “ah.”

“Do you not like the organization?”

“Well… they’re not Christian.”

Gary raised an eyebrow.


“They don’t place value on the creations of God. They think that we descended from apes. From apes! Can you believe that? They think you and I are no smarter than monkeys!”

Gary snorted.

“Well, one of the center’s donors will be there. Maybe you should come along to boo him?”

“Bad idea.”

“Why not?”

“Too many people. The virus isn’t gone.”

The professor wasn’t wrong. The novel renovations to the Convention Hall where the meeting was to take place were far from adequate to prevent the disease from spreading.

Straddling the Cranston Convention Center was a stadium. Displaced a few hundred feet below the stadium was a warehouse of reinforced glass domes that could be accessed through the Convention Hall’s elevator. Each glass dome rested on a platform that could surface from under the crust of the Earth at the click of a button. When the event started, the domes would emerge into the stadium, and the speakers would gather at a podium. There was no safety measure that could have prevented people in the queue to the elevator from coughing. The disease was free to displace itself from person to person.

The professor piped up.

“You’ll find the affair to be a bit… glitzy? Something like that. It’ll be different from what you’ll be doing as an intern.”

“What do you think I’ll be doing?”

“Oh, you’ll write, fetch coffee, and beg for a decent stipend.”

“Is that it?”

“You know, since one of the donors is going to be there, you could ask them.”

“I guess.”


A car is an object composed of various metals. It was with such an object that Gary displaced himself by 30 miles toward the Cranston Convention Hall.

The 30 miles of travel yielded Gary a newspaper and a conversation. When the car parked at a nearby gas station, Gary absconded, leaving a 10 dollar note behind as a tip folded into the newspaper. 

He arrived out of breath at the convention grounds after walking for 20 minutes, but it took well over 2 hours before Gary was confined to his personal dome on account of the queue to the elevator. When he entered his pod, at last, he slunk to the floor to catch his breath. 

The inside of the pod was cool and austere. Plastic tubes lined the dome and spurted a milky liquid into the air.

The dome contained an office chair and a table. A television display, with tangled wires snaking their way to an outlet, loomed above the desk. Gary hoisted himself from the floor and limped toward the chair. He plopped down and noticed a touch screen embedded into the table. The screen displayed snacks and refreshments. Gary’s body sagged with lethargy, as if a pair of double-decker buses rested on his shoulders. He rested his eyes, only to be awoken moments later by a shrill buzz.

The dome displaced itself upwards.

The television display inside of the dome flicked on.

The crust above the dome swung open like double-doors, allowing the pod through. The pod surfaced in the stadium outside the convention center.

A group of suited pundits congregated around a podium. One began to speak in a baritone drone.

“Welcome folks. We’re going to get started soon. Please remain seated.”

The congregation of suited pundits left sans two people. Both carried handheld microphones. One of them started speaking. As the camera panned over to the speaker, Gary noticed something.

“Is that… Tweed?”

Conway Tweed took his spot at the podium. He was a balding geriatric with a rhino’s countenance and a cantankerous attitude. He feigned amity, but it was a paper-thin façade belied by frequent name-calling to score invisible “points” for his home team. Tweed was a malignant tumor that was blessed with an unfair portion of savoir faire.

In truth, Tweed hated his job. Despite his lavish pay and public image, he felt no pleasure from his work. However, without his position, Tweed thought he would evaporate. He imagined himself an object composed of space matter, one that Gary thought of sneeringly at this very moment:


“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, my name is Conway Tweed, and I have been asked by the Center for Effectual Governance to come to the Cranston Convention Hall and debate with my friend and colleague, Malachi Jameson. This debate is set to be the first Center for Effectual Governance event that is broadcast to the public at large, and I am honored to be a part of it.”

Applause reverberated through the stadium.

Jameson was a bookish man in his late 50s. He looked like a well-used broom, with hair like a congregation of dust bunnies. His voluminous beard tapered off into a row of beads, resembling a stick of grey cotton candy. His body was thin. Jameson fixed his eyes on Tweed, expressionless.

Jameson hated his job too. He possessed no savoir faire. In fact, his communications skills were so reprehensible, he had his political aides write his speeches. There was a well-known ironic factoid known to Jameson’s political aides and colleagues. Despite pursuing protections for workers on Capitol Hill, he underpaid his speech writers. This was to save money, which he would soon have an abundance of. His speech would garner him four million dollars from the Center’s coffers. Without this money and prestige, Jameson surmised that he, too, would be a black hole.

The blackholes on stage radiated palpable, mutual loathing. Tweed introduced the topic,  

“The debatable topic we will be exploring today is the continuing threat of the virus. I will be taking the side that the viral strand can be eliminated through no government interaction, and my opponent aims to prove that government intervention is necessary. Unfortunately, the moderator of this debate is absent from the proceedings due to a last-minute check-up he forgot to tell us about, so it will only be us two up here. The rules are simple though. We will start with an opening statement, then we will move to a rebuttal speech, and then, finally, we will both deliver closing statements. Without further ado, I turn the floor to my honorable opponent, Mr. Jameson.”

After some shuffling of paper, Jameson took to the podium to deliver his address.

He read off a sheet of paper. There were livelier elegies.

“With the death toll’s volatile spikes and troughs, it has become more important than ever that the government offers some reprieve to the millions of unemployed persons occupying these great states. The founding document of this nation asks the legislature, a body that I have the privilege of occupying, to promote the general welfare of the people. The scourge that has infested homes, cities, and entire states has worsened the general welfare of the many while propping up the few that are manipulative and informed enough to notice the subtle cracks in the tax code. The infestation has allowed affluent business-folk to stick vacuums into peoples’ wallets, diverting money from small businesses and other fruitful ventures. Tax law is the principal vacuum, but there are many others.

They use the largesse of their purloined tax dollars and thick profit margins by employing lobbyists to halt the progress of measures that would enrich the people while facilitating the passage of laws that benefits those already at the top of the socio-economic ladder. We have, in short, grafted the Gilded Age into the modern world. And frankly, that is a world I wish we not revisit.

Tweed, my opponent, would ascertain otherwise, that the Gilded Age was a wonderful time in America. This is only because he is rich.”

Applause rippled throughout the stadium.

Tweed, after waiting for the applause to die down, took to the podium.

Tweed peered at his audience of domes, cleared his throat, thanked the Center again for sponsoring the debate, and started his response. Tweed’s face was a ripe, bulbous tomato and his eyes were patches of fuzzy mold. Tweed thundered.

“Mr. Jameson has failed to explain how the government is supposed to help anyone. I say the only solution is to appeal to the one who controls the universe, the one, true God who gave life to all and can take it away.”

Rapturous applause broke out, baffling Gary.

“It should be known that the government already has a vaccine that is being kept secret from you. You’re all being duped!”

This time, the crowd booed.

“My donation to the Center” continued Tweed, “will be used to pressure Capitol Hill to release the vaccine to the people. When we uncover the vaccine, I promise that everyone can have a dose! In the name of God, our countrymen, Jesus H. Christ, and the founding fathers smiling on us in heaven, we will all become healthy and happy.”

Gary stared, mortified. Mad whooping enveloped the entire stadium.


Tweed employed a clever tactic to curry favor with the crowd. Gary called it “marathoning.” There was a person with a difficult-to-pronounce name who displaced himself twenty-six and twenty-two-hundredth miles to inform the people of Athens that the Persians were defeated at the Battle of Marathon. After sprinting for so long, he died the moment he entered Athens’s city gates. The gravediggers displaced him six feet underground, but really, it would be more accurate to say that the displacement-ticker in his head registered a zero. 

Tweed was “marathoning” against the fact-checkers. He was so verbose and swift that the fact-checkers could not keep up with Tweed’s fabrications. Sometimes, even when politicians were slow of speech and verbally deficient, they skirted the fact-checkers’ scrutiny because the facts made for less interesting television. 

Most members of the audience knew this. The knowledge was not enough to stop an uproar. People rattled against their domes. Some broke out with violent tumult and took to slamming against other peoples’ domes. A robotic announcement sputtered through the domes’ audio equipment.

“Please, remain seated so that the debate can continue. Thank you for your cooperation.”

Gary made like the person with the hard-to-pronounce name and displaced himself past the crowd. He accessed the elevator, but instead of pushing the button that would send him to the ground floor, he pushed the button to the tenth floor.

He stepped out into the corridor. His legs and feet ached from waiting in line. He sported a grim frown and a migraine. After a series of deep breaths, Gary slinked into one of the conference rooms.

The lights were off, but the sunlight shining through the window made it so Gary could see the dust particles dancing in the air. A circular table laid in the middle of the room with some rolling office chairs pushed underneath it. Exhausted, Gary slumped into one of the chairs.

Gary took a pen from his pocket and some of the lined pieces of paper he planned to take notes with and started writing. 

Gary S.

Essay Concerning the Debate at the Cranston Convention Hall

I always knew that the study of power and its distribution (that is, the defining feature of politics,) was and will always be a loathsome business. All those that choose to study it are either criminally insane or lifelong masochists. I join the ranks of the latter.

Given the assignment’s instructions, I am supposed to record the event that I witnessed moments ago. There are no words in the dictionary profane or insulting enough to use against the people responsible for this travesty. Here is my futile attempt to describe it.

Imagine that a hypothetical train crashed into another train. Now, pretend that on both of those trains, there were nukes set to go off the second that they collided. 


It’s a puerile analogy, but I refuse to put in any more effort than the people who organized and participated in this thing, whatever it was. It wasn’t a debate, no matter how insistent the participants are. If I had to be honest, the presentation was more akin to professional wrestling. Political professional wrestling. 

I’m supposed to write about what I learned from this event. Here goes:

Society has been trailing the circumference of the drain for a while, and no matter how hard we push in the opposite direction, we continue to trail the circumference. What have we accomplished over the past 50 years? Greater rights for members of minority groups? Greater protections against government malfeasance? It only takes one demagogue to throw a wrench into all of it, and then we’re back to square one. People have lived, fought for justice their entire lives, and then died with the hope that their proverbial sandcastle, formed from their assiduous efforts, won’t immediately be toppled by a mischievous sibling, or crashing wave. Then, sure as the waves or mischievousness of siblings, the sandcastles are demolished.

I said earlier that political scientists must be masochists. This is true. I lied when I said that political science was the study of the distribution of power, though. My definition was close. Political science is the study of how power is distributed and then abused with no recourse. It is the study of vital sandcastles being destroyed, taking us back to square one so we can try to ascend Escher’s staircase again.

There was a professor who drove me here to the Cranston Convention Hall who believes it is horrible that humans are thought to have evolved from ape-like ancestors. What malarkey. Why would God bless us out of all his creations? What makes us so special? Humans are just as churlish as any ape. Yet, we have the churches, not the apes. What arrogance we possess.

Any objective analysis would suggest that the zenith of God’s creations would be the platypus. Platypi are unique; they have their own genus and family. Humans, on the other hand, are dime-a-dozen apes. We are churlish, brutish, and unabashedly resourceful. Perhaps the virus could rectify this. It’s hard to be churlish, brutish, or resourceful when you are dead. 

In any case, I’m done playing Sisyphus. 

Gary folded the pamphlet of paper and wrote “read me” on the folded side facing upwards. 

Gary, an object made from flesh and blood, displaced himself by ten feet toward a window, and then by about one hundred feet as he fell from a ten-story building.

One hundred feet below the building, the exact location that Gary fell, laid the rear end of a pickup truck which was bearing stacked mattresses.

Even so, Gary’s displacement ticker registered a “0.”

Bennett Aikey is a student at the New College of Florida who studies political science and writes fiction. When he isn’t writing fiction, he’s probably drinking copious amounts of caffeine, reading a Kurt Vonnegut novel, or keeping abreast of current events.