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Monday, February 10, 2003
By Paul Ford
Pop star Michael Jackson's son Blanket has already made headlines because of the bidding war for his story, with //300 million new credits paid by Sony House for audio, film, 3v, interactive, game, expert system, and prose rights. While the book won't be released until next month (except for privilege copies for the Masters), we were able to secure several tantalizing preview sections. Read on!
My father Michael wanted to protect us, to give us inauspicious, normal lives free of the media spotlight. He accomplished this: by allowing documentary filmmakers to record our childhoods, by dressing us in feathered Mardi Gras masks and gauze when we left the ranch, and by dangling me out of a window with a towel on my head. In retrospect, the logic of his parenting was ambiguous at best. Nonetheless, I had my own giraffe.
My name was a problem. I had no regular playmates, aside from my siblings and the occasional busload of orphans. But on the occasions when the ranch had any visitors my own age or slightly older, they would call me Pillow, or, if they were French children, Duvet. When I was 9 I developed a bedwetting problem that would not subside, and the housekeepers nicknamed me Wet Blanket, and then, when the special anti-bedwetting system was installed, Rubber Blanket.
From observing the children my father invited to the ranch, I assumed that everyone outside of my family had a terminal disease. I desperately wanted to be as ill as them. When I was about to turn 10, he asked me what I wanted for my birthday. I said, “chemotherapy.”
I realize that many were surprised to learn that, as a man in his 40s, my father liked to cuddle and hold hands with 12-year-old boys. In my house such behavior was the height of normalcy, and it is my belief that it never had a sexual component (although my father's demands for attention from children were certainly out of the bounds of appropriateness).
What was not clear was whether the populace was so shocked by his behavior because the contact was inappropiate, or because 12-year-old boys are so repulsive that it is sheer perversion simply to enjoy their company.
Uri Geller was my father's close companion during my childhood and after. His presence was dreaded by Prince, Paris, and I. His constant spoonbending meant that we only had forks for our cereal. And Uri brought awful visitors, like the doddering Ariel Sharon, who talked endlessly of his own Sycamore ranch in Israel, and, too often, a notorious freeloading sham artist known to the staff as “Sixpack Chopra.”
It was Geller who worked with my father to arrange for the design of the device which became known as the “Soul Harvester,” and who arranged for the shipments of orphans.
I spoke about going to college and having a life of my own, like my brother Prince. I wanted to study veterinary medicine. But my questions fell on dead ears. Finally he erupted. “No one else is leaving the ranch! No one!” His legs were shaking, but he steadied himself and walked across the room to a statue of Apollo, flipped open its marble head, and pressed a keypad hidden in its neck. Sirens went off. The sound of deadbolts locking echoed throughout the room, and great mechanical noises came through the window. In the distance, a hippo lowed.
At the end of the clanking, a moment of total silence. Finally, my father said, “We are a happy family, Blanket.”
He went to the window and looked out at the dwindling light. I heard a crunching noise, then there was a moment of darkness, and finally the window filled with light once more. “At last,” said my father, “the dome is complete. No one can see in, no one can see out. We're safe.”
He turned back to me. “Now Blanket, come here and blanket me.” From force of habit, I did as I was told. I was 25.
“When they complete the Peter Pan robot construct, I will have my brain neuro-transmitted into its crystal matrix, and I will live forever,” he explained. “But, as Uncle Uri explained, before that, there must be much Soul Harvesting in order to have enough energy so that we might control the flux in the time grid. I will need your help, Blanket.”
He ignored my silence. “Deepak and Uri assure me it has worked before, many times. I have obtained a contract for our supply.” He held up a sheet of paper. “The chronically ill orphans will enjoy their time in the park and at the zoo. Then we will harvest their happy souls. Happy souls are so much better.”
He paused. “I see the look in your eyes,” he said. “But Blanket, I would never hurt children. We are helping the orphans, freeing them from the cruelty of memory, and in exchange, we gain eternal life.”
With every orphan soul I harvested under the artificial domelight, I felt something die inside of myself. How could I escape this hell? My father grew younger and younger, preparing for the ultimate transformation. The orphans themselves we released to wander through California, ghosts in the half-light, unable to explain where they'd been or what had happened, speaking only of a ferris wheel that went impossibly fast. At the ranch, we saved that ride for last. It was called the “Soul Centrifuge.”
As the last bit of oxygen drained from the tank, leaving the remains of my father to float in the orange neural-induction fluid, I turned to leave. Blanket! boomed his voice inside my mind. Where are you going? You must not leave me! Blanket! Who will enter the body of Tinkerbell? He laughed harshly. You can't leave. You don't know the codes.
But months ago, during the few hours a week he slept, I had entered his synthetic mind to retrieve the codes for the dome and memorized them. Even then, it had hurt to betray him, but I knew it was the only way to ensure my own survival.
That day, as the robot surgeons transformed his flesh-and-blood body into the biomechanical Peter Pan construct he had so long coveted, with its promise of infinite power and eternal life, I hastily packed a bag and ran for the gate. No one followed. All ranch energy, even for the security drones, was diverted to the operating theater.
Using the passcode I'd gleaned, I pressed several buttons and a small opening appeared in the 6-foot-thick metal wall.
“Goodbye, Father,” I said, and I walked out into bright sunshine, the light warm on my skin. Real light! I was 38 years old. I had not been outside of the dome in 13 years. Taking a swig of water from a bottle, I stripped out of the Tinkerbell costume I had been forced to wear this last decade, rubbed the eyeshadow from my eyes with my hands, and changed into the jeans and a polo shirt I had stolen from a janitor's bedroom. I began walking north, and left my transformed father to fly around his Neverland alone.