THE CHARLIE EFFECT
by Keith Campbell
Behind Vons, beneath an exterior light, in a garbage
that had once been rectangular, "Wierd Andy"
Cappola sat down do a
dinner of a soggy sandwich and
some bruised peaches. He
tried other dumpsters at night, but this was his
favorite. The Vons
was the best store in town, and their deli, salad bar
and bakery meant
that there were often good pickings in the dumpster.
unfortunately, the sandwich and peaches were a bit of a
disappointment. The other reason he preferred this
dumpster was that
it was well lit from the exterior floodlight above,
searching easy, and made it possible for Wierd Andy to
read. He had
once taught school, after all, and he liked
to keep informed.
Tonight, he found a crumpled paper in the box with
that made some interesting reading from last weeks news.
finished the paper an tossed it over into the corner, he
something else at the bottom of the peaches box. It was
colored little pamphlet, in excellent condition. Andy
was pleased, for he
knew a religious tract when he saw one, and he was an
The inside pocket of his brown coat contained a very eclectic
assortment ready to be passed out to those who passed through
park, where Andy still taught his "classes",
of more normal
days that he had difficulty remembering now. He
himself at being able to match the personalities
with those he met
to the pamphlets that they "needed". There
were ways to spot a potential
Jehovah's witness, Baptist,
Scientologist or Mormon, as he had explained to himself again
And so Andy picked up the pamphlet and eagerly began
the process of
classifying it. First, the back page. They never tell
you who they are
till the back page. But there was no organizational name
and no credit
at all. Ok, try the back cover. Nothing... Very well, he
it the hard way and start at the beginning. He looked at
the cover closely
for the first time. "The Testimony of
Charlie". Nothing definite
there, so he began to read.
As Wierd Andy sat shielded by the dumpster's walls
and read, a look
of engrossment possessed his face. For five deliberate minutes,
poured over the book intently. Then, as he finished the
back page, he
looked up with a start. With fascination and disgust he
dumpster around him. Standing up, he wiped the debris
and garbage from
his clothing with finality and then grabbed the edge of
to hop out. But then he remembered, and he quickly
and snatched the pamphlet
that had fallen from his hands.
Smiling, he tucked in into the pocket of the old
coat, gave it a pat, climbed
out of the dumpster, and strode off purposefully into
* * *
Down the middle of the studio ran an imaginary line
very different universes. On this side of the line,
where "weird" Andy
Cappola (Dr. Anthony R. Cappola for this occasion) sat, everything
was beautiful. Colors harmonized with the impeccable furnishings
of an elegant sitting room cut inexplicably in half. On the
other side of the line were lights and steel poles and
and equipment and cameras. Two visions of reality.
Across the table
from Dr. Cappola sat a formidable opponent in Dr.
William Roth, bestselling
author of "Mindbenders" and several more scholarly
mass psychology. In the middle, the moderately moderate
Larson. His ratings were
sinking, and a show on the "Cosmic Charlies",
as this had been billed,
would be a sure boost. Doing his shows live had sparked
but it was quickly ebbing. Dr. Cappola had received invitations
from other networks and shows, but Ken had gotten there first.
It was fair to say that no hot-button had been left
promoting this encounter in the most sensational manner.
Charlies are growing by the millions" screamed one
30 second spot.
"Are your children being influenced? How many high
are already under their control??", and so on...
As the hum of activity increased, signaling the
immanent beginning of
the show, Tony patted a small pamphlet in his coat pocket.
He no longer needed the physical booklet, except as a
Every word of it was completely committed to memory.
whole drama was beginning. The three of them now
talked and moved and
thought under the incredible intensity generated
by the knowledge that
the small circular piece of glass at the front of the
camera was now
vicariously the eyes of millions of people.
"Good evening and welcome to 'Larson Live'.
Today we'll be getting
to the bottom of what one university president has
called the most
significant threat to American pluralism in the history
of the United
States. Are they a cult? Are they master hypnotists?
What's at the bottom of the movement that has come
to be called
'Cosmic Charlie'? My guests tonight are Tony Cappola,
behind the 'charlies', and his most feared critic and opponent,
Dr. Bill Roth, author and exposer of religious abuse,
and my guest
on several former occasions. Welcome, gentlemen.."
Here the guests exchanged pleasantries and wary
"Before we get Tony Capolla's defense of his
organization, let's hear
what the 'prosecution' has to say. Dr. Roth, what do we really
to fear from Tony here? Isn't this just another cult
Dr. Roth looked confident and well rehearsed as he
was given his first
opportunity to talk to the little round lens.
"Well, Ken, I only wish
this were just another cult. Many movements, of course, have
psychological manipulation techniques with great effectiveness.
But the success of the 'Charlies', as we are now calling
them, has been something of an entirely different magnitude.
detailed some of their methods in my new book, _Torn
simply, this man, Mr. Capolla, has developed techniques
a certain response from people through emotions so powerful
to be virtually irresistible by the untrained. The average
respond to Mr.Capolla's methods as irresistibly as he
kick if his knee is tapped with a hammer."
Tony Capolla interrupted the interview, "And
would you yourself be
vulnerable to my manipulation, Dr. Roth"? Roth
smiled evenly. He had
anticipated the "demonstration" request,
especially on this type of
show. "No." he said quietly. "I have
certain psychological safeguards
against that." Tony nodded, "And would Ken
here, or our audience,
be endangered if I were to attempt to influence you?
"Not at all",
said Roth reassuringly. "Only the person on whom
were attempted would be in danger, and I could interrupt
if you attempt to influence anyone but myself."
Methodically, Tony took a pamphlet out of his pocket
and began to
read. He knew the words, of course, but he thought it
would raise less
initial suspicion if he were reading instead of looking
at Dr. Roth
directly. For about five uninterrupted minutes, Tony
read the pamphlet
* * *
The other experts and networks, of course, were quite
sure that both
Dr. Ross and Ken Larson had been part of the plot all
denials by the wives and friends of these newly-changed individuals.
However it happened, Dr. William Ross, Ken Larson, the technical
crew on the set, the network execs who were monitoring,
20% of the viewing audience who were watching were all
part of the
movement now. Viewers who had stepped out of the room
for a snack or
bathroom-break returned to completely different families
and a very unusual
talk-show. Naturally, all the rest of "weird"
Tony Cappola's interviews
were promptly cancelled...
* * *
Lumbering like a mechanical black shark, the limo
glided to a spot
directly across from the array of reflective glass
doors. The top of
the car boasted a strange array of what appeared to be
of many varieties. The door opened and the fish vomited
squad of identical secret service men surrounding a fat
bearded man with
two decrepit briefcases, papers protruding. All
the escorts, as well as the fat man, wore identical
and what looked like complex sets of stereo earphones
connected to anything in particular. Thus protected
visual and audio assaults, they shuffled quickly into
the well- guarded
The group soon passed both the first and the second
and were expertly guided into the conference room, where
man joined the ranks of the occupants of several dozen
limos at the CIA all-government briefing on the Charlie Crisis.
Bill Worthington, who didn't really feel as fat as
his description, looked
up at the monitor in front of the conference table and shuddered.
always inwardly. The glasses helped, but being a Charlie
at this conference was still a terrible risk. On the
Cappola lay in carefully monitored medical oblivion,
surrounded by technological terror.
Careful not to move his head, only the eyes behind
the glasses, Bill
tried to penetrate the emotions of those seated around
the table. The
room was simply alive with fear. Fear of something worse
- the annihilation of the old self. A fear that bore as
a determined, calculating aggression fueled by a
And it was so stupid, Bill thought for the hundredth
time. All he
rage and paranoia and aggression directed at people who
simply had found
a way to solve their personal problems, and, with them,
of the whole society in one fell swoop. What carrion vultures,
he thought in black mirth, to so revel in defending
and despair. But what was the point of dwelling on the obvious?
Bill's mission was clear, and his heart content.
required such patience, to listen to the briefing now in
The reports on the failure of new "Charlie
testing" devices, new
TV, radio and phone protection devices to guard against
the pirate Charlie
signals that had been broadcast nearly everywhere. Then
of the new emergency measures proposed by Congress for containing
the Charlies, and the latitude which had been promised
those measures. Hardest of all, perhaps, were the interrogation
reports from the sessions with Andy Cappola. They had learned
everything - and nothing. In his pain, Andy had invented
fictitious plots and methods and explanations for the
all nonsense. The inquisitors were finally coming to
he really didn't know.
Finally, Bill's turn came. He gathered his papers
together, made a
passible introduction, and then directed attention the
tape recorder he
placed on the table. He allowed himself only the glimmer
of a smile as
he punched the button that started the high-speed blast
of the Charlie
message encoded and scrambled correctly to bypass the interception
equipment they all wore in their headphones. It was a
developed for this emergency, and it probably would have
on an unprepared individual member of the group. But as
it was, the
bullets destroyed Bill and his tape recording before
they could finish
the critical message. The faces of the group were ashen
national security danger that had so narrowly been
avoided, and, when
the security detail turned over the bloody body of Bill Worthington,
there was a smile on his face that sent chills down the
spines of not a few there present...
* * *
Sergeant Raul Rojas was a veteran of three years of
the Charlie Wars,
and he knew by his instincts he was on to something big.
nest at least, or possibly a regional headquarters. Automated
of the architectural plans of the offices on Lake Street
a recent inspection map revealed a discrepancy, large
enough to be
hidden rooms of considerable proportions. As always, the
trick was to
find the entrance and make entry with enough of a force
A break finally came in surveillance that showed one
of the air-conditioning
units to be a mock-up concealing the entrance. And so Rojas
readied his unit. Each wore the totally enclosed helmets
the latest in Charlie detection and filtering
each carried a battery of weapons ranging from
debilitating to multiply
lethal. Last-minute checks of their equipment were made
shielded recon truck and then the strike began...
It was a calculated 20 seconds from the truck to the
unit, not enough for the Charlies within to hope for escape.
As Rojas and his unit toppled the fake air conditioner
like a juggernaut through the plywood beneath, they saw
efforts of Charlies scrambling to destroy as much information
possible before the inevitable apprehension. Tazers
zinged through the
air, zapping the scrambling men and women into inertia.
In the eternal 5 seconds of first rushing into the
saw on the walls the pictures of the late Andy Cappola
and a smaller
one of Bill Worthington, right next to what he assumed
must be a
complete copy of the Charlie message, since his helmet
his visual perception of it. This was obviously the
and the number of people inside promised a rich haul in information
and further arrests.
Suddenly the building began shaking. At first, Rojas
feared his unit
was about to meet the fate of the Charlie unit 49 in
the Charlie central headquarters had been rigged to bury
information, along with any intruders, through several
explosive charges. But this was not an explosion, Rojas
realize, it was an earthquake, and from the feel of it,
it might well
be the Big One that was 50 years overdue now or some
In any case, Rojas, convinced the building was coming
down, sprinted for
the exit. His barked order was completely lost in the
groan and crash
accompanying the shaker.
And it was getting worse. As Rojas half ran, half
fell, through the
doorway and stumbled outside, he was being thrown around
like a puck
in an air hockey game. Everywhere, buildings where
crashing into oblivion,
and Rojas leg was sliced by a stray shard of glass as a desk,
complete with surprised, well-paid occupant, flew
through an upper
window of the rapidly disintegrating Lake Street
It was a LONG earthquake. Rojas had lived though
several serious tremors
and this was the first time he had time to sit and think
how long it was. And the noise from all around was a
cacophony of destruction.
Clinging to his small piece of intact earth, Rojas said
prayer of thanks for his incredible luck in living
through this one.
Finally, the shaking stopped, although the sounds of
and bursting from the buildings on the street continued
for a few
seconds. Rojas finally glanced at the damage to his leg,
that he could patch it up and probably walk on it
his vision began to fade. Or that's what he thought at
he realized that it was actually getting darker around
Gradually, the sun, which was behind a cloud at the
moment, just seemed
to fade as if a giant celestial rheostat was being
Stars began to appear, and then, as if the whole
thing were a giant hallucination,
the stars all fell out of place like a thousand meteors and
the sky was black like a hole into absolute nothing. And
that blackness came a piercing light, and the deep
silibant, all-penetrating sound of a voice. And then,
unstoppable by Rojas' helmet or
any other intervention, the voice began to read...