Pyramids and Ziggurats (2)

Here’s the opening sequence of the new story, whose outline is here: there’s been a body found at a regional Burning Man.

“Build a giant statue, set it on fire, dance around it naked.” Inspector Mustapha Alawi guided the Lexus off the country road and into the ruts hundreds of cars had made in the red Georgia clay underneath the grass. “Am I missing anything?”

Detective Diana Siddall was slumped in the passenger seat, looking green. They’d been partners long enough for Mustapha to know it wasn’t carsickness, but rather Diana being out of the city and in clean country air that mostly smelled of cowshit. “They’re all tripping out of their minds,” she said.

“Well, duh. Come on, we did this when I was young. Three days of peace and music.”

“I thought you were killing Viet Cong, in the jungle?”

“Generational thing. And it was North Vietnamese Army: the Viet Cong were done for by the time I got there. Only difference is, I bet these kids are streaming the whole thing on the Internet.”

“We’re in the middle of nowhere.”

“We’re like sixty miles from Atlanta.”

The track felt bumpy even through the Lexus’s suspension. They turned a corner and emerged into a large fallow field where hundreds of cars were lined up neatly under the hot spring sun. The track ran through the center of the field, where in the shade of an enormous solitary tree a few shirtless people sat in camp chairs. As they approached the tree, a woman stood up and walked to Mustapha’s window. Cheerful, thirtysomething, flabby, topless, $5000 worth of tattoos, mostly mermaids. She produced as if from thin air a barcode scanner. “Y’all need to have your wristbands on before–”

Mustapha showed her his shield. “Atlanta Homicide. You want to point us to Sheriff Marconi?”

She stood up, blew out a sigh. “Yeah. They’re waiting for you. It’s going to be way easier for y’all to park and walk in.”

She waved them over to a spot in the shade. As they were parking, Mustapha was momentarily distracted by a vision walking toward him: a much slimmer, rather younger woman, lovely, smiling. No obvious tattoos, but her skin was mostly covered with body paint: amateurishly applied yellow and green sunflowers. “Hi,” she said to Mustapha through the still-open window. “Welcome to Euphoria. I’m Peaseblossom. I’ll take you to the effigy.”

“Nice to meet you,” said Mustapha as he started to exit the vehicle.

“You might want to put it in park,” said Diana.


Pyramids and Ziggurats (1)

Last May, before I unwisely took a hiatus from this blog to get involved in the election, I posted this story idea, created from when a friend told me the story of their experience at a “regional burn” or mini-Burning Man, and recapped here:

  1. In the woods in rural Georgia gather a thousand people, 5% real artists, 20% half-ass artists, 20% middle-class people whose idea of a great four-day weekend is camping and watching a shitshow while on big drugs, 10% skeevy dudes who want to ogle topless women, and 45% broken, traumatized hippies.

  2. Most of these people gather in prearranged groups of about 20 people, usually with some kind of theme, but there is an area set aside for people camping solo or in small groups. This area is a bit sketchier. It should also be noted that the parking area is well away from the camp: people drive their cars on a one-lane road into the camp, dump their stuff, take the car back, walk to the site and set up.

  3. The event is carefully privatized: sympathetic landowner, distant neighbors, wristbands and entry fees: the point is that local law enforcement can’t just show up and get in without probable cause, because this would end up with 995 people getting busted for drugs. The volunteer security patrol has to be really euphemistic over the radio because law enforcement is monitoring it.

  4. During the (very hot) day, a hippie girl passes out, so an ambulance is allowed in, followed by a sheriff’s car. But the girl is clearly just suffering from heatstroke, not intoxication, so no probable cause.

  5. Late that night, a man is found dead from what looks like an accidental fall. He was a solo camper, someone who a few people recognize as a decent guy peripheral to the scene. But dead is dead, and now the sheriff’s team gets to come in and investigate. But some of the campers are attorneys, and the organizers are well-versed in the law, so while the sheriff can cordon off the event, they can’t ransack anyone’s camp, especially since the death appears to be misadventure.

  6. The next morning, however, the local medical examiner fingerprints the dead guy, and he pops right up as a person of interest in an Atlanta homicide case. Also, the injuries aren’t consistent with an accidental fall.

  7. Diana and Mustapha drive down to RuralWorld, meet the sheriff. talk. The dead guy was an important witness in a homicide case: anyone who knew him in Atlanta knew he liked to go to these giant burn parties. Sheriff wants to bust in and sort through everyone; D/M convince him otherwise. Wait, no: the sheriff is a woman.

  8. They meet with the sheriff and the organizers of the burn, and once they explain to the organizers that they think there are murderers loose in their camp. the organizers reluctantly agree to let D/M into the burn undercover, set them up as volunteer security people and let them roam.

  9. Each of them is paired up with a more experienced burner and starts to patrol. Both the burners are of course batshit crazy like foxes, so this is occasion for infodump and comic relief. Throughout these scenes, we play against type: Diana the kinky liberal is like WTF this is stupid, and Mustapha the old guy is like the 21st century rules. “Acidheads STILL like pyramids!”

  10. Each of them separately explores the area of the camp near where the dead guy pitched his tent. We find out from hilariously vague witnesses that there were three guys, who appeared out of place, camping near that spot, but that they have since moved.

  11. The climactic moment for most of the campers arrives: the giant structure is ceremonially set aflame. D/M are observers and are pressured to participate.

  12. Almost immediately thereafter, it starts to rain, not very hard. This is good, say their companions, because it will make for people tripping under tents instead of going balls-out outside. It’s a quiet night, except for dueling techno and bad karaoke.

  13. Mustapha’s partner leads him into the woods because tripping campers often wander up there and get lost. Diana’s partner helps her find people who might know who the mystery campers were.

  14. Up in the woods, a call comes through on the radio that there’s a car in the camp trying to get out. Mustapha’s partner panics: “This usually means the people driving it are tripping way too hard, and we know the sheriff’s out there someplace.” They go running through the woods, Blair Witch style.

  15. They’re too late, but Diana and her partner are right there. Diana waves to hippie guarding one-lane road to freedom to back off and let the car through, relying on the sheriff, but the hippie misunderstands and tries to block the car. Driver shoots hippie, Diana shoots driver, Mustapha catches up, Diana’s heretofore trippingly useless hippie partner does something awesome and takes down one of the remaining thugs. Mission accomplished: they had come because they knew the witness would come, and they thought they could get away, but they didn’t know that nobody’s supposed to bring in a car at night, so they alerted “security”.

  16. We end with Diana wanting to go home and Mustapha wanting to enjoy the party. “I think that girl liked me.”

    I’m bringing this one back up because I intend to write the story over the next two weeks, and I want to hold myself to it. If I’m going to do it from the detectives’ point of view, the chronology is going to have to get mixed up. It has to start with #7, and with Diana being the one with a romantic view of an event like this and Mustapha very skeptical. From there, we get the rest of the background.