En-Couraged

Audrey Novak kneels in the temple with a human head in her hands, saturated by morning light. She’s flanked by MoneyBuddy founder David Baron on one side and the CEO of SEXR on the other. As she gazes out over the Valley, everything falls away. Her fake identity, her deadline, her dwindling funds. The last six months of meetings and power lunches, reciting a pitch-perfect blend of marketing mysticism and techspeak being fed to her from a basement at UC Berkeley. None of that matters now.

 

Is she going to eat this head? And then parts of the heart and brain? Is she going to follow through and get the story of a lifetime: incontestable proof that some of the most powerful men in the world eat other humans under the pseudoscientific pretense of absorbing their courage? Didn’t she become a journalist for this reason, to take down evil men in positions of power? Doesn’t she want to help people?

 

Baron leans in and whispers, “The cheeks are the best, flavor-wise, but I’ve been assured that the greatest courage concentration is in the...whatever you call it, the throat bits, there."

“The esophagus?” Audrey says.

“Yeah, that. I put in some cinnamon sticks.”

“Oh, nice.”

“Roasted it at three hundred for four hours.”

“That’s so great,” she nods, feeling detached from space and time. It’s just her and the head and Baron’s pinched alto. And the smell of cinnamon-roasted meat.

“It’s basically like a stuffed meat pumpkin with a layer of bone…”

“Okay, here I go,” she says, then chomps into the neck to get him to shut up. Behind her, a woman known as “the Steve Jobs of VR pornography” begins chanting in Ugaritic.

 

Audrey stands at the podium, Pulitzer in her hand. She thanks the people at Berkeley, her parents, and everyone else she can think of, because she knows she’s supposed to. A huge screen behind her displays mugshots of billionaires, something the world thought was impossible before her article and subsequent book. Her indifference to these accomplishments, and this ridiculous pageantry, is almost overwhelming. Hunger burns in her belly and she can’t think of a good reason not to beat the host to death with her new trophy. She leaves right after the ceremony and spends the night alone in her apartment, refusing to accept what she knows is an inescapable truth. Now wealthy enough to never work again, the ocean of free time she faces threatens to drown her.

 

Audrey sits in the corner and sobs, her eyes stinging with someone else’s blood. She can’t stop and she can’t keep going. Dead eyes stare at her from the cutting board, sunk into a face frozen in its final expression of shock. He passed her on the street, said she had a nice ass. It was late, no one was around, and he was a white guy wearing a nice suit so she didn’t feel too bad about it. Hauling him back to her place, she noticed she was stronger. Like, a lot stronger. It felt good until the adrenaline wore off and she could feel guilt again.

 

Audrey’s sick. While she waits in line at a pharmacy, wearing oversized sunglasses at night in a bid to conceal her identity, someone recognizes her. She looks up and sees Sandra for the first time, her heart unfolding just a little. On their second date, Sandra reveals that she’s a mortician, and for the first time in her life Audrey believes in fate.

 

Audrey is staring down a car that barrels towards her on Ocean Ave. Sandra calls out to her from the sidewalk, paralyzed and impotent. Audrey dives out of the way while the car swerves into oncoming traffic. Seven people die in the aftermath, but Audrey’s adrenaline doesn’t budge. Sandra grows sick with worry as Audrey seems to lose her flight response. She’s already had to accept so goddamned much in this relationship, this is a boundary that cannot be crossed again. Audrey agrees, then immediately begins sneaking out at night to start fights with people on the street.

 

After five years, Audrey begins to write again. The words flow from her with grace and ease, more than they ever did before. She’s done in a matter of weeks. Her editor confesses to thinking he’d never hear from her again, but he’s excited to read whatever she’s got. When she tells him she wrote a self-help/diet book, he doesn’t quite know what to make of it. In following years, he’ll tell journalists that he thought it was all some kind of satire. Audrey celebrates her book deal with a tour of international cliff diving hotspots. Sandra stays home and drinks.

 

The New York Times calls it “an remarkable program for weight loss and confidence building that is also an affront to humanity and basic notions of decency.” The Washington Post claims “there has never been a diet that so carelessly throws open the basement doors of humanity’s violent subconscious,” and points out that “Novak’s program yields indisputable results, but at what cost, and what havoc shall it wreak upon our already fragile society?”

 

Audrey leaps from 136,000 feet and feels, at best, a passing fancy for the enormity of planet Earth. She double-checks the cord, only to find it missing. In her rush to finish eating the pilot’s esophagus, she neglected to properly pack her chute. Below her, the world churns as millions of people gain the confidence and super-strength they need to get ahead in life, just like she promised them. Because all Audrey really wants to do is help.