It's that Super Flat Times




Psychological/Patriotic Tests on Subject Matthew Derby

as administered by Pitchaya Sudbanthad, 27th Medical Regiment




In our ongoing attempt to understand the nature and behaviors of subversives, especially those of the writing persuasion, the Ministry of Truth and Information deemed it fruitful to perform evaluations on detainees rounded up by the issuance of the 63rd and 64th Patriot Acts.


We ordered a battery of tests for a fugitive subject recently captured in the woods of the Northeastern Property of Rhode Island.  Below is the transcript of the proceeding:


State your full name.


Matthew David Derby


Derby, is it? Well then, Mr. Der-by, let us begin our examination with some questions. Tell us, you seem to have a fascination for dystopia, genocide, the works. People are killed off in masses. Wherefore this obsession, Mr. Derby?


Well, I hope it doesn't come across as a lurid fascination, although, in reviews, a bunch of people had referred to me as a misanthrope.  That surprised me a little.  I actually really love people.  I want to set the record straight on that.  People are #1.  I can't get enough of people.  Huge, meaty clusters of them, crowding around me.


Basically, the landscape of the book came out of the notion that, for most of the world, genocide is more of a fact of life than an abstract political concept.  Think of all the people that have been killed in the last century.  How can you not be obsessed with that, on some level?  In the midst of the unfathomable horror, though, we're still having affairs, or worried about what our kids are saying about us behind our backs, or looking for drugs.  The selfish heart is a bit of a showboat - it manages trump the terror of the world with its own acrobatics.  Or replicate it, even in the most challenging of circumstances.  Maybe, in messing up our own lives, we're trying to confront, or apologize for, the larger mess.



Yes, we think genocide is a fact of life, too. That is why we love it. We will be starting a Presidential campaign to promote after-school genocide programs very soon. But you seem somewhat dissatisfied, Mr. Derby. What is your idea of the present? What is this mess that you speak of? Do you dare say that we are not living in the best of possible ages?


I do wish the present were a little better.  Mostly, I wish we were a little less full of ourselves.  I mean, have you seen the look on someone's face as they work their iPod on the subway?  You'd think they were examining an illuminated manuscript from the middle ages.  Man, in about four years those people are going to be using those things to prop up their windows.  We're not that cool.


Your response is here noted on record. We will kindly forward your views to the Ministry of Consumer Gadgets and Thingamabobs. So now, Mr. Derby, as one who writes, what is your idea of truth? Who do you believe to have authority over truth?


I don't have an answer for that.


Your refusal to answer this question will get you nowhere, Mr. Derby. Do remind yourself that we are the Truth. There is no other. Now, one word responses to the following:








sweat-ass (is that two words?)










Very well. Are you happy, Mr. Derby? What are you feeling at this moment?


I don't really know how I feel, which is why my therapist had me buy The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook.


It is a popular title among your writing kind, despite the ban on anxieties and phobia that we have in place. Now we will begin our tests. Are you ready, Mr. Derby?


I think so.


Mr. Derby, these tests are of the highest scientific value. You cannot lie to these tests. They have been proven extremely accurate by years of clinical research. Nevertheless, we will allow you to have your say on the results, as we are interested in your self-opinion, as delusional and wrong as they may be. I shall have my assistant put on the electrodes now. Stay calm. Breathe deeply.





Oh.  Damn.  I am sort of embarrassed that I got 'paranoid.'  Maybe because that is a fairly accurate assessment of my worldview, and it's embarrassing to think that a JavaScript command was able to parse that information based on five questions.  While I was editing Super Flat Times I noticed that an alarming number of characters shared this embarrassment - not that they took online psychological examinations with result graphics that featured Christina Ricci (although this will certainly play a major role in my next book), but that others knew more about them than they themselves knew.  Which is its own sort of paranoia, I guess, but I feel like it's an earned paranoia, which is better, or more refined, than normal, run-of-the-mill paranoia.  There's actual evidence involved.


Yes, your characters are borne of you. Your records show a long, habitual history of snooping with sound retrieval devices. Next test.



This can only sound staged, but the badger is truly one of a handful of contemporary animals that I admire.  I've always felt that our present animal kingdom is a major letdown in comparison to the age of the early mammals, but the badger is a real standout.  Did you know that badgers can dig through asphalt?  I actually couldn't dig through asphalt, even armed with a laser or a diamond-tipped drill.  I can barely lift a corrugated cardboard box, so in that sense I feel that this is an inaccurate assessment.  My wife, though, will take great delight in the accuracy of the evaluation, in which the words "grumpy," "cynical," and "bulk" figure prominently.


Not surprising. Our records show that in your writing you praised the badger for its “sheer strength and connection to the earth.” You described it as “a stealthy, hideous creature, banished to the dark woods.” As you can see, our tests are incredibly accurate. Proceed.



Uh, ahem.  I may not have completed this portion of the test correctly, partially because I have no sexual appeal to begin with, but also because I believe that it was intended for a female subject.  I guess I am as close to a female subject as one could come, though, so it may end up being more revealing than I am allowing for here. 


Sexual appeal is something I think about a lot.  When I see another ugly person, I try to stare for as long as I can until that person starts to achieve an incredible beauty.  It doesn't always happen.  Some people are just too profoundly hideous.  But I like to populate my stories with ugly people.  I think I feel more comfortable hanging out with characters that are at least as ugly as I am.  That way, I don't feel so much like abusing them.


Additionally, I do often wish an evil old man were searching for me.  Although I would settle for an indifferent old man with an oxygen tank and a case of Bell's Palsy.


Dennis Hopper figures into many fantasies that we’ve recorded.  We do not yet understand this phenomenon, but in time, as with all questions, we will. Next.



Wow.  This one is pretty off-base.  I don't know how I achieved 'hooligan' status.  I'm honored, I think.  Is that an airplane-size bottle of liquor on the bear's chest?  I don't even drink.  Drinking is so 1994, isn't it?  Maybe drinking out of really small, doll-size vessels is the new thing.  I could actually really get into that, I think.


The closest I ever came to hooliganism was that, in high school, my four friends and I would play Killdozer tapes through a dilapidated boom box in an abandoned barn and attempt to crowd surf, a feat that was not easily achieved with three people and one surfer.  Often, our sessions would end when someone fell and bled, and everyone else would skulk home.  Then, in college, I got a hematoma in my left shin from a pit at an actual hardcore show, and my leg became so swollen that I couldn't even wear pants.


In my adulthood, I once punched a hole in my bathroom door in a stone-sober rage.  There may be other, sporadic instances of random violence and mayhem.  But only in the most unfulfilling, unappealing way possible.


The test is now over. We appreciate your cooperation with us. It will be duly noted on your Lifelog. Any last thoughts before we send you back to the holding area?


My hand smells like dog.


Goodbye, Mr. Derby. We will be watching you.


Oh, don't be such a tease.



Matthew Derby lives in Providence, Rhode Island. He is an associate fiction editor at 3rd bed, and his stories have appeared in Conjunctions, Fence, and Failbetter. His short story collection, Super Flat Times, was published by Back Bay Books in Spring 2003. It rocks. 

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