I was staring over the seat of the person sitting in front of me on the airplane flying back to the Land of the Balding Eagle. I watched with interest as he flicked so rapidly through very brief, though vivid and vehement discussions-that ranged from the exploits of wealthy American football players to how to fix a car to investing in bitcoin Ponzi schemes.
I knew I should not be spying, but I found it unbelievable how fast he flipped from post to post, subject to subject-until he froze upon a single image... that soon became a horror show...
On the telephone screen before him, a six-foot-high cactus-de-rooted from the midst of its waterless four corners former atomic bomb habitat of desert sand, cacti, rattle snakes, beetles, and ants-had been placed with its thick oblong branches and protective spines in the living room of a family's red brick sub-urban dwelling.
The giant plant now stood before a broad windowpane coated in the grime of auto exhaust that nevertheless reflected the plush green growth of rhododendrons. In a few split seconds, the broad-armed specimen started to quiver repeatedly-until it exploded and a myriad of extremely venomous critters landed like hissing parachutists throughout every nook and cranny of the spacious living room.
The family was not at home at the time, but upon returning from the local shopping mall, the mother had enough presence of mind to call the fire department after nearly fainting at the sight of those tiny critters with their devil claws and tails writhing beneath her. The firefighters in full protective gear then searched every nook and cranny for the venomous beasts to prevent them from being able to nestle in for good.
No one could rest for fear that the firefighters had not been able to find them all. Perhaps some of the critters had been able to hide. Perhaps they would soon reappear with their tiny red claws held upward and their pointed forked tail raised in an arch, ready to strike at any minute without warning without apparent purpose-except that which only the great unseen father above all could know?
The man in the seat before me appeared mesmerized, unable to move. I too became haunted by wakeful nightmares that one of the poisonous creatures might strike me in my sleep or when I was walking barefoot through my own home when I returned.
All this, as the narrator proclaimed with bold subtitles, should raise the god-fearing, superstitious fears of the household that was now quivering in turn. It was some form of warning: an alien plant possessed by the evil spirits of the desert that had come to haunt this poor family for no apparent reason. Whatever it meant, the people of America had to be on their best behaviour!
And just as the venom of the scorpions began to fall upon the rest of the country, there appeared from out of the darkness the snarling face of a heavy-set man. Much like an apparition of Medusa, but with the hair of red scorpions and not of black snakes, the man's head and huge body were lifted high into the heavens by the millions of fans who praised him—but without truly looking at what he really was. It was at that moment that his laser-beam eyes began to zap one scorpion after another, but only at his own leisurely pace-as if to show that only he alone could eliminate the menace!
Against the person narrating, I yelled out in the midst of the flight, "This is not some secret God-sent message! There is no greater unseen power with his own algorithmic brilliance looming over our sleepwalking days and nightmares-whether white bearded or not, male, female, or not. "And the heavy-set agent orange-haired man is no Messiah locked in mortal combat with evil red beasts and other infernal creatures that operate in accord with demonic intelligence-and he is not about to take over the country!"
Somehow, I could then see myself talking from beyond myself in the 5-G nether-verse, wondering how anyone could believe such baloney. "The whole thing, the uprooting of scorpion eggs from their habitual habitat, has been caused by a very different kind of humankind’s egotistical stupidities-different from that of the obstinate religious belief that divided the world into clearly good and evil forces... The real cause is the effort to tear up and destroy the self-generated cosmos and planetary environment in accord with humankind's own selfish designs for private profit-and not in accord with the greater local, national, regional, and international good.
I unexpectedly awoke from my nightmare after I had unfortunately glued my eyes to the man's telephone screen. I hope that I did not actually yell out any such idiocies after having fallen asleep. Nevertheless, I trembled, thinking that I might have said something not entirely acceptable aloud, as a number of people were looking at me and snickering. I could be locked up. It can happen here!
The visuals on his phone were so convincing that the man in front of me appeared to be having a heart attack. I saw how he watched in fear as the populations who had heavily praised the agent orange-haired man were now snickering forever from high above, safe inside their heavenly clouds of power and influence, while those who had most strongly condemned the agent orange headed man could do nothing but weep in self-pity as they lay prostrate in fear upon the quaking ground below...
I tried to calm down and prevent myself from also having a stroke. At first, I thought that we had both been staring at such ridiculous social media messaging that was blinking back and forth, up and down, on his iPhone for far too long. An urban legend about a cactus had become an AI-generated nightmare! What was a deep fake had become real! And what was real had become fake-with no way to tell the nightmarish difference...
As I continued to peer over the man's shoulder, a picture suddenly appeared of the family: five daughters, a wife, and a husband. All were smiling together in the front yard, without a male offspring. Behind them was the agent orange-haired man. As he stared intensely with his demonic eyes, the white edges of the photo began to burn spontaneously.
It was then that I realized why the man in front of me had been freaking out in rage. The whole video was a deep fake based on facial recognition and images taken from the internet. The portrait still burning was that of his own family, with him standing in the center!
Who was it who devised such a fiendish video? Who was it who appeared to be stalking him and his family? And what would be the impact of the AI-generated propaganda of the agent orange-headed man? Would the unofficial and fake soon become official and real? Or reveal itself as lies?