This is an original essay from one of the best unknown writers on the planet, Rob Moska. If you look up the term “tortured genius” you will find him listed, but not defined. History will do that for us.
I was extremely moved by this piece, as I am by many of Rob’s observations. Happy Atlanta Burning Day.
Hello and welcome to Terminus. As of today, September 1st, it will have been one hundred and forty eight years since the first burning of my adopted city. Confederate General Hood, looking vaguely like a blond Van Gogh and high as hell on laudanum for his recently amputated left leg, withdraws the Army of the Tennessee away from the defiantly well fortified city. He also orders the destruction of any remaining military supplies or installations that could be of use to Union forces. In the process of this command an ammunition train is ignited across the street from where the current Gold Dome now sits. Terminus trembles violently under the percussion of unrelenting explosions. The sky lights up in a pyrotechnic spectacle of terror and beauty. A blaze ignites the early morning hours to devour the dark and herald an even more terrible inferno to come.
At the time of the first burning Terminus hadn't reached its thirty-eighth year. Yet she had already grown from a humble rail settlement of a handful of families into the industrial heart of the Confederacy. But ultimately it would only take a matter of months before she being reduced to a ghost city of skeletal buildings and empty boulevards. One ruthlessly patrolled by desperate scavengers and wild hounds under a viciously cold winter. A crippled giant with its backbone of rail iron torn from the earth that spawned it. As if all that raw energy that fed her swift transformation into a thriving metropolis was suddenly released in one great, sudden burst. A genii that had upon escape revealed itself to be a phoenix all along, and in its fury incinerated the shell of its bottle beneath the spread of its hungry wings.
Today is September 1st and a hundred and forty eight years later sees the city hosting the inaugural day of the 25th annual Dragon*Con. The streets of downtown will soon swarm with revelers, drunk and lascivious, most costumed in the pop culture mythologies of our collective daydream empires. A 21st century take on the Eleusinian Mysteries; a ritual celebration of the dying Sun King and the coming of Lord Winter. All filtered through a hypersexual geek psychedelia and held here in the metropolitan epicenter of the Bible Belt. A rite that sees Persephone's banishment into the Underworld played out in the countless norms wandering through a living, sweating maze of the subconscious gone wild. As certain cultures have ceremonially donned masks to take power of the gods they venerated, here instead we become the heroes or the monsters of anime fairy tales and CGI fueled epics. We become Star Fleet Captains or Space Barbarians, Lightsaber wielding paladins or black knights. We become superheroes or supervillains. We become who we really wanted to be when we grew up. We become who we secretly were on those all to brief summer vacation days that were snatched away by autumn before we were marched off into the orientation factories of our education system.
Sometimes I can imagine that on that last morning General Hood spent in Terminus, how while entranced under the spell of opiates he was given a brief vision of his city's future. He is mounted on his steed, an arm rendered useless in the Battle of Gettysburg hangs from him. His lone leg struggles to keep him in the saddle of the shock of the apparitions staggering around him. He finds himself but a helpless specter stranded in a land of stone towers so monstrous they reduce the very sky above to an emaciated river. Around him throng a legion of inebriated demons, voluptuous revenants , savage barbarians and the countless soldiers of a thousand wars - some so vast as to stagger the imagination what lands they were fought in. And somehow in this vision the General realizes that this isn't some ring of Hell he has been whisked off to, but rather he spies the single word that frightens him even more than the staggering masses around him - Terminus. Written there perhaps on a passing shirt or scrawled on the side of the horseless wagons employed by the local constabulary. It is then that he realizes that this is the great city he has been defending these last few months. And it is then he glimpses what Terminus will become - there in the openly held hands of multi-racial couples, there in the hustle of this strange pageantry the sight of two men kissing without repercussion, there in a world where the very way of life he has cherished has given way to a liberty so vast as to render his greatest nightmares possible.
His scream startles him out of the vision and Hood's men stare at him with muted concern. No one will hear his next words though they'll resound across the centuries - "Let it burn!"