Current Affairs

A Convenient Way To Promote Happiness

The Disappearance

FICTION: A story from California…

Tom Nova has stalkers.

38 stalkers, to be exact. 25 he knows about, 13 he doesn’t. The 13 unknowns all want to murder him. Half the 25 do too, but only after long elaborate years where he saves them from an out-of-control car or something and they marry in a splash of white oleander on glossy magazine pages but then he betrays them with some air-thin model or pretty prop boy, and well, your honor, what did he expect, he drove me to it and I had no choice but to bash that beautiful head in poolside and watch him startle, watch him stumble and fall backward into the blue depths, and even in death he fell beautifully, Oscar-worthily, and the star of his blood darkened the water into shades only the moodiest cinematographer could capture.

Tom Nova plays the amiable best friend in the Vacation Nation series, the unlikeable boyfriend in Exit Serendipity, and the fire-breathing villain in Dragonbourne 2: Skylark Rising. He earns his first stalkers after Exit Serendipity. They’re mostly arthouse quasi-intellectuals, with full Criterion Collections displayed in tower shelving the height of their tiny apartments. They wish somebody cared about them enough to hate them the way Tom hates the protagonist of Exit Serendipity. The movie won an Audience Award at Sundance for being so much about obsession and contempt and the impossibility of kindness. These are very artistic subjects, and appropriately painful to witness. Not many people actually enjoy the experience of watching Exit Serendipity.

Dragonbourne 2 is an August joke. Tom’s villain falls hissing and spitting into the ether of internet memes. The arthouse lovers spurn him, despising the inauthenticity of taking bad work instead of no work at all, which is totally what they’d do, absolutely, it’s just that they’ve never been in that kind of situation. Life is tremendously unfair, when the creatively-inclined but artistically unproductive have no opportunity to make hard choices, when they can never suffer enough to be interesting.

Tom Nova fires his agent. He struggles to find another. Soon he slips into obscurity, which is a condition similar to death, but worse. A person who is invisible to everyone, but nonetheless exists—that’s a nightmare, that’s a ghost. Many of Tom Nova’s friends from his former life stop talking to him, in hopes he’ll go away. Before long he even stops receiving unsolicited emails with a fawning desperate subject line and a screenplay attached.

Tom Nova moves to a small apartment with a roommate in Westlake. The film year moves on, without him. It repeats, and repeats, and repeats.

Then the teaser posters drop for Perseus: Storm and Steel. There he is, Tom Nova, rising 100 feet high on billboards in every major city. Naked and shining to the newly muscular waist except for artful hints of blood and dust and leather.

The movie is satisfying. The box office returns are legendary.

That’s when the horde descends. That’s when the teenage girl smuggles herself into Tom Nova’s hotel bed, hurt kitten eyes peeping above the sheet. Tom decides to hire protection. He chooses Billy, an old friend who was a Marine until he got blown up too many times and they sent him home. Billy’s brain has splintered in interesting sections—there’es a confused Billy and a hilarious Billy and a needlessly confrontational Billy. A Billy who can destroy you in poker and a Billy who cries during children’s cartoons if the characters’ outlines are drawn too raggedly. But most of the time, Billy’s reliable. He has a service dog, Mona, a wolfish mix with an evil bark. She’s a friendly lapping lump, really, but her face and her voice scare the fans who get too close, the giggling selfie-seekers and the professional friends-of and the quiet sidling type with the cool glazed look that says don’t disappoint me Tom, I can’t stand it if you disappoint me.

Then Tom Nova becomes Jack Thorne in Superjack: Death’s End. It’s the fourth reboot of Jack Thorne, but most critics agree that Tom Nova is the absolute best, a fiery revelation from above, purely electric as the former CIA agent endowed with superpowers in an unlikely experiment. Even before the movie opens, grossing 200 million in a single weekend, domestic, Tom’s social media replies are a torrent of love and abuse. Both interns quit under the deluge. Tom can’t take over—he never looks at his accounts. He doesn’t have access. The moment his new agent hired interns, Tom traded in his smartphone for an ancient flip model, soft yellow numbers and a greenish-black screen, softly luminous as treasure found under the sea.

The phone’s so old it doesn’t have GPS, which makes it harder for stalkers to find him.

But not hard enough.

Illustrations by Mike Freiheit

They grab him off the street. His smoothie splatters in a wild arc. Green globby smoothie, silver sun, black van. Windowless and shoved inside, scraping his shins. They’ve caught Tom in doofy khaki shorts and a slim black t-shirt that cost more than his parent’s monthly mortgage. Sunglasses that cost more than their car. Sunglasses on the floor and a black boot, trying to smash the sunglasses, but the springy frame resists—it’s a special fiberglass alloy, Tom Nova is clumsy. All the magazines report this fact, it’s so charming and relatable. The sunglasses won’t break. The kidnapper kicks the shades into a corner of the suddenly accelerating van.

“Calm down. Tom—Tom—TOM!”

They wrap him up in scratchy blankets. Tom struggles, uselessly, thinking exactly that: Tom struggles, uselessly.

“Tom! Tom! We need you to calm down. Calm down! We’re from Strabo Solutions. We’ve identified a stalker on your trail. In the OriJuice shop, right behind you. If we hadn’t grabbed you he would’ve shot you in the back.”

“Oh,” says Tom. He stops struggling, uselessly.

“The stalker’s name is Greg Horkins. He carries an unregistered 22 and a homemade silencer—don’t ask us how we know. We know.” The woman—it’s a woman, talking. Short and broad all over, dressed up in military-style green pajamas, which contrast nicely with the fall of red hair on the right side of her face. The left side is shaved, asymmetrically. It suits her. “We’re good at finding things out. We’re here to help you.”

“Where’s Billy? And Mona?”

“Your army buddy and the dog? They’re still in the fucking OriJuice shop. They should’ve been outside securing the perimeter. This Horkins guy—you wouldn’t know, but Horkins is notorious. He once mailed Celena Johnson a finger.”

“Whose finger?”

“Does it fucking matter? A finger, Tom! Could’ve been your finger.”

Tom’s fingers, along with the rest of his body, have been insured for several million dollars. His manager insisted on it, before the filming of Superjack. Tom is pretty sure his fingers are worth about 1.6 million apiece, slightly less for the pinky, but he didn’t actually read the contract.

He looks from the redhaired woman to the man. “Why did you step on my glasses?”

The man grunts. “Coulda been bugged.”

“Really?”

“Well…maybe,” Red cuts in. “You see—”

“Standard procedure,” the big man says. “Keep you safe.”

“Lonnie’s very committed to his work. It’s hard for him to shut it off. You know what that’s like, don’t you, Tom?” The woman smiles. “You’re the real thing. Not just the face, but the talent. You can be anybody you want.”

“No,” says Tom Nova in the passionate yet disaffected growl he developed for Exit Serendipity. “I could never be you.”

A short laugh. “Such a charmer.” Sarcastic, but her eyes get warm and sparkly, like champagne in sunlight. Charmed, in spite of herself. That’s all Tom does, and he knows it—he draws people into emotions they never would have had, realms they never would have visited, all in spite of themselves. Sometimes this makes them very, very angry. It used to make him angry, too, especially when he failed.

When Tom slipped into obscurity so did his talent. His approach became choppy, forced, over-thought. With every line he was saying please, somebody, get me the fuck out of here. But then he started studying with Sarah Mo, the Lifethought® coach. With Sarah’s help, he unlearned his rage. He unlearned his despair too, and doubt, and resentment, and competitiveness, and everything he thought he knew. He became an empty cave where the sea breathed in and out. Sarah Mo—who with the rise of Lifethought® has become quite famous herself—claims she’s never had a better student. No one else has ever possessed a better talent for unbeing, dissolving, reconstituting into a distinct persona only when necessary, only as a response to outside needs, the pressures of the moment, the expectation of the camera flash.

SLAM.

The sound of metal slamming into metal is actually a slam, and a crunch, and a deep vibrating percussion in your bones. Tom falls into Red. Red falls into Lonnie. Lonnie falls on the floor. Tumbling dark confusion. The van tilts drunkenly—rights itself—pitches hard in the other direction—rights itself again and swerves into open space. Skidding badly in a heart-thumping bloody-iron in the mouth sort of way, then—down bang bang over a bumpy embankment—stumbling, lurching—lurching again and rolling, quivering, to a stop.

Light.

Sudden flooding sunlight. Tom Nova can’t see. He reaches for the sunglasses which aren’t in his pocket. Blankets tangle up his legs. Elsewhere Red and Lonnie are shouting at their driver—something about guns—but a hand’s reaching through the open door. A hand, and then a face. Silhouetted against the light.

Tom blinks and the face resolves into a face. Blunt, fierce-looking, weathered and rocky. The mouth opens. It’s going to say something like: “Come with me if you want to live,” or at least a generic: “Let’s roll.”

The mouth shuts. The hand drags Tom out of the van while Red and Lonnie are still scrambling and screaming for their guns.

Another car. A Lexus with a throaty thrumming engine which means some extra horsepower’s been added, or something like that, Tom doesn’t really know. He doesn’t know much about cars, though he owns six of them. He knows the AC in the Lexus is on with full violence and it feels good on his aching face.

“Who—”

“Shut up.”

Tom Nova shuts up.

“Do you have any idea,” the man says, “how much danger you were in?”

“Uh—no? They said they were protecting me from a stalker. Strabo Solutions?”

“Bullshit.” The man has an ash-and-coals sort of voice. “They work for Korbarov. You know him? Russian billionaire?”

“I don’t—”

“Makes his own movies? Kidnapped the Astrakovs last year? Actress and her screenwriter husband, yeah? Then Anya Astrakov wouldn’t do her nude scene and he helicoptered her off to Siberia. Left her out there in the tundra. Naked.”

“That—didn’t happen.”

“‘s that right? It didn’t happen, because you don’t think it happened? Guess nobody in news got the approval of Tom fucking Nova, arbiter of all fucking reality.”

“Wait—sorry.” Tom Nova fumbles around in his memory. “Did you say Anya Astrakov? Yeah. Sorry. I did hear about that.”

He never had. But it’s much easier to agree than to admit, and at this point in his life Tom Nova can pretty much convince himself of anything. In the fog of affability that makes up his consciousness he sees the photo of Anya Astrakov, all tense blonde Russian haughtiness, with icy eyes and sultry lips. Her husband is less attractive, curly-headed, nervous—unless he’s jowly, balding, likeable? A dry man, with a sudden laugh that could shatter glass, said the article Tom Nova didn’t read, at least until the kidnapping. The article would have said something like that, anyway.

“It’s so horrible, what happened to the Astrakovs. But—”

“Would’ve happened to you next. Korbarov’s got ambitions. He likes your movies. And he wants a menagerie to perform for him on demand.”

“But that was Russia. That was Russians kidnapping Russians. It doesn’t mean—”

“What?” the man roars. He twists to face Tom, driving with one hand and not looking at the road as he swerves around the traffic on La Cienega, every car bleating at him in outrage. “You think because you’re American, because you’re rich, you’re white, and you live in L.A. that nothing bad can happen, that you’re safe?”

“Well,” Tom says. “I mean, yeah.”

The man mutters under his breath. He turns back to the road.

A snarl of traffic ahead. Hundreds of lights blinking, red and slow and incredulous. Can you believe this traffic?

Why are all these cars here? Tom wonders, not for the first time. Who’s in them? Where do all these people even come from?

“Listen,” the man says. “The point I’m trying to make is—there are a lot of dangerous people out there. You’re not safe. You need help. You need to be protected.”

“I was protected. Billy—”

“Billy, huh? G.I. Billy Bob fucking Joe who let you get kidnapped by goddamn fucking Strabo Solutions? Listen—”

Tom is listening. That’s why the explosion hurts his ears so much.

Three cars ahead. A blue Miata goes boom, in the air, riding a cloud of black and orange smoke and flame. Flipping over and over and it’s funny almost, the flipping and then the sideways smash into an SUV in the next lane. Glass everywhere and oooh, the leap of adrenaline and wowwww, the spectacle, it’s amazing but the sound system’s turned up way, way too high, and Tom can’t separate noise from noise, it’s all one vast endless scream.

Running through undersea silence, through broken glass and twisted metal. The rockfaced man is ahead of him, looking back with mouth gnashing and mashing in silent fury. Someone turned the volume down, thank God. Someone’s turning it back up, slowly. “…climb! Here! No, here! The fence! Motherfucker! Put your goddamn foot on the crossbar, then lift yourself up! I thought you did your own stunts!”

“I don’t!” says Tom Nova, startled into honesty. “My agent makes me say that.” It’s so weird, admitting things. It’s the opposite of agreeing and it feels exposed and awkward but also freeing, like running down the street wearing filthy clothes covered in dust and grime. “I mean I do a little—like, leaping from green-screened roof to green-screened roof, that kind of thing. For Perseus I did this backflip—”

“For fuck’s sake, shut up! Follow me!”

Tom Nova follows. What else can he do? Behind him there’s only running feet and lots of screams and whooshing fire. He must be on set, he decides, only he’s so damn tired he’s hallucinating. That happens sometimes after a 16 hour day of shoots and reshoots and re-re-shoots. This director’s crazy—he wants the effects to look as real as possible instead of just dabbing it all in post-production. It’s the only possible answer. It’s why the air’s so hot and throbby and full of so many unpleasant particles.

Racing down a shopping street, Tom realizes people are staring. Of course, he’s used to people staring but the look of shock and horror is new and disturbing. The rockfaced man slams people aside. He knocks a woman down, screaming, on top of her toddlers. They’ll edit that out later of course. Rockface may be rough around the edges but he’s still a hero, he’s Tom Nova’s grizzled mentor/sidekick, and good guys don’t—

“Here! In the bank!”

Tom Nova dutifully races into the bank. Thank God for Gustav, his trainer. Tom’s mind may be exhausted but his body isn’t. His calves feel smoothly exercised. Real muscles, not showhorse muscles! Gustav likes to yell. Look better on screen.

Rockface is demanding access to the vault, and there’s a gun waving around, which is a bit unusual but not impossible for a good guy. More people are screaming. Static buzzes in and out of Tom Nova’s ears. He really wishes they would stop all this fucking screaming, who do these people think they are, these nobodies, these filler people, drowning out his buddy Rockface like that?

Into the vault. Rockface orders the manager to lock them in and she does, with a lot of stuttering and are-you-sures. “There,” says Rockface in the cold metal quiet. “We’re safe for a bit. Gonna get weird when the cops show up, but you’re famous, you’ll get us through it.”

“I will? Oh. I guess I will. I’ll explain about the Astrakovs, then—”

“Forget about the Astrakovs. Forget everything I said.” Rockface throws down his gun. It skitters away across the floor like an insect. “Listen, this whole thing—you’re not in danger. Not from Korbarov, anyway. This whole thing…it’s a bidding war. For your approval.”

Tom stares, open-mouthed. He thinks, Tom stares, open-mouthed.

“Approval? Approval for what?”

“Your security. You’ve got thirty-eight stalkers, Tom! Thirty-eight! You’re a gold mine. To us, I mean. And all you’ve got guarding you right now is a messed-up G.I. Joe and his dog. So we’re all trying to prove we can protect you. From the mobs of people who want to destroy you.”

“Why do people want to destroy me?”

“Why? Because they’re insane, Tom. Because you make them insane. You represent—who the fuck knows. Whatever people want. Whatever makes them crazy. All the lives they don’t get to lead…and they get mad, because why you? Why not them? Why do you get to be a living god and fuck supermodels while they’re stuck in their crappy houses in their shithole towns where nobody gives a fuck about them? They can’t stand it. So they go nuts. They can’t let you be a god, unless they also get to kill you.”

“Oh,” says Tom.

“Or something like that, anyway. It doesn’t matter. I’m a simple kind of guy, Tommy. I don’t care about motives. I don’t need to know the whys and wherefores. Just the whos and the whats and the hows. That’s who I am. That’s how I do my job.”

“So you…” Tom’s slower and foggier than usual. His ears still ping and fizzle out. “You—and Strabo Solutions—”

“And this third group now. With the rocket launcher. Not sure who they are. Formidabor, probably. Crazy motherfuckers. A rocket launcher? That’s some next-level bullshit. Yeah, sure, we’re competing for the contract, but there’s a goddamn limit. There are professional standards, for fuck’s sake. So.” Rockface looks suddenly sheepish, a freshman asking a cheerleader to prom. “Who’s it gonna be?  I think I’ve proven myself. I know I’m a little rough, but I got heart, Tommy, I hope you see I got—”

BOOM.

Grey snow, falling. Grey snow, and grey silence. When he was a little boy in Tennessee there was an incident at the soap factory one day and tons of greyish-white flakes spewed into the air, rose up high, so high and then fell, softly, coating everything they found. An inch of snow that wasn’t snow but they cancelled school anyway. He played in the slippery muck until well past dark, until his mom called him across the hills, desperate. “Thad? Thaaad?” His name was Thad Novicek then. His mom kept calling and calling and he didn’t answer because he was so busy, so lost in his frenzy, throwing fastballs of dirty fragrant snow at Billy, Billy in the days before his brain got broken in. Billy his oldest friend—his only friend, if he subtracts out the people he pays to train his body and his mind.

Men all around him, in uniform. None of them are Billy. Their uniforms are black and bulky. A SWAT team, fully armed. There’s ringing in his ears and buzzy panic in his head, but it fades into a hymn of safety as Tom’s escorted out of the bank. Jack Thorne was backed up by a SWAT team at a critical moment in Superjack: Death’s End. A couple of real SWAT guys came in to consult, and eat croissants from the catering truck. Tom Nova shot the shit with one of them for a while. He even invited the guy to the premiere, but then he forgot the guy’s name, and never forwarded the tickets. Hopefully, thinks Tom, that SWAT guy isn’t one of these SWAT guys. But he can’t tell. They’re wearing masks.

Seated safely in the SWAT van, bumping along the unseeable street. He wonders what happened to Rockface, to Red and Lonnie. To Billy and Mona and everyone else trying to protect him. Everyone wanting him to be safe, worry-free, minutely documented, never forgotten. They’re talking to him. The masked SWAT guys are talking to him. They’re asking if he’s all right.

“Yes,” says Tom. “I’ve been in an exploding bank before.”

He hasn’t. They did the scene for Superjack but changed it up in reshoots. The studio signed a promotional deal with KMF Bank that involves a scene in a branch office before the third turning point, but when KMF’s ad agency reviewed the cut they kiboshed it, not liking how the bank exploded. “We’re afraid any association with disaster might erode consumer confidence.” So the bank didn’t explode after all. Tom Nova had a pleasant interaction with a pretty bank teller and got blown up in a nameless shop down the street.

“Yeh’ve been blown up a lot t’dai,” says one of the masked men sympathetically.

Australian accents. Why would they have Australian accents?

“Oh,” says Tom. “You’re the third group.”

“Formidabor. Guilty as chahged, mate. Had to protect yeh from that nutcayse. And Strabo Solutions? Buncha losers, they ah.”

“I want to get out,” Tom says suddenly. “I want out. I want this crazy bullshit over—”

“Now Tom. Tom. Listen, mate. Listen—”

“I’m Tom FUCKING NOVA!” Tom roars. “I am TOM FUCKING NOVA, and I want out of this truck—right—fucking—now!”

Who is this person? Tom wonders. Who is yelling, who is standing, who is beating on the grey interior of the van with his fists? Not Tom Nova. Not agreeable Tommy Boy, so blond and charming in all his interviews. Not Tom who takes all those supplements and endures the side effects because Gustav tells him to. Not Tom who dates the actresses his publicist picked out for him, like his suits and his house. Whoever this is—whoever’s wearing Tom’s skin today—he’s a total brat. A psycho. Frothing at the mouth. It’s disgusting.

It disgusts the Australians. They stop the truck and let him out.

“Din’ even want ah help,” one shouts as he hops down. “Din’ even want ah protection! That’s fucking gratitude for yeh. ‘Ey Tom! If you din’ want this kind of ‘tention you shouldn’ta become faymous!”

Tom starts limping home.

Dirty, bloody, he aches all over, though no worse than after a training session with Gustav. There are bees in his ears. He thinks about calling a cab, but his phone fell out of his pocket somewhere. And he doesn’t have his wallet. Billy was holding it at the OriJuice. Poor Billy must be panicking, maybe having a public meltdown, maybe throwing things and screaming that he’s a veteran and one of his men is in danger. And if he doesn’t stop screaming he’ll get arrested, or the cops will panic, and shoot—and they’ll shoot at Mona too, protecting her master.

The only people Tom really loves, has ever loved. A broken man, an ugly dog.

Tom starts to run.

He runs for what feels like days. At least no one can recognize him in his torn clothes, his patina of ash and dust and blood. He doesn’t know where he is. He doesn’t want to ask in case someone looks too hard through the mask of filth and shock and recognizes him after all. And then click, too late, that’s his battered face all over TMZ and the tabloids, headlines wriggling in erotically appalled delight.

Eventually Tom turns and runs toward the sun. He’ll go west, he decides, until he hits the ocean. When Tom was obscure he used to wander up and down the beaches for hours, through the long evenings and into the cooling night, alongside the ocean that meant nothing and was nothing and didn’t know who he was and didn’t care who he was because it didn’t care about anybody or anything at all. When Tom auditioned for Perseus, crawling up the imaginary rock between the imaginary waves, calling out to chained despondent Andromeda, the casting director actually cried. “It’s like you’ve been there before,” she said. “It’s like you’ve seen her in the sea.”

Blue, in the distance, under the blank gold mirror of the sky. Then Venice Beach, the vivid unmistakable boardwalk. Not too far from Tom’s house in Santa Monica—he could run there, call Billy, call the police until he finds Billy, hopefully still raging somewhere, hopefully still alive.

But he’s so thirsty.

Tom slows down, approaches a pair of pretty girls. Starlets-to-be, or just wearing the L.A. uniform to match their L.A. bodies, heavy black eyeliner, long legs and long shining hair, and water bottles of clear pink plastic.

“I’m sorry,” he says to the blonde. “I know this is a weird question, but—can I can have some of your water?”

“Oh my god,” says the brunette.

“Okay,” says the blonde. “I mean…I guess. Are you…?”

The brunette cuts in. “Are you Tom…fucking…NOVA?!”

“Yeah,” he says. “I’m sorry. I’m having a very weird day. Listen, I’m really thirsty—”

“TOM FUCKING NOVA! OH MY GOD, CLAIRE! IT’S TOM FUCKING NOVA!”

He takes a selfie with both of them. Then one with Claire. Then another with the brunette. Only then does Claire surrender her water bottle. Tom finishes all of it in a single go and leans over, panting, suddenly cramped.

“Uh—are you ok?” Claire asks, leaning over. Her hair is a platinum curtain, screening him from view.

“OH MY GOD!” the brunette screams. “HE’S DYING! TOM FUCKING NOVA IS DYING IN FRONT OF ME!”

Cramps? Gustav sneers in his head. Itty bitty baby Tommy is all cramps up? Can’t run? Too bad. He runs!

Tom runs. He runs toward the sea because the crowd’s behind him, he thinks, or at least he feels them behind him, screaming, begging for selfies of his sick and battered face. He can’t tell how many people might be there, if anyone’s behind him at all. He still can’t hear very well. There might be 1,000 people running after him, or nobody at all.

Into the surf and thrust back by the current. Into the deeper water and swimming now with clumsy overhand strokes. His stomach seizes up and he coughs, vomiting into the sea. He keeps swimming. His overworked mind is a swirl of images. All he can think is he’ll never be Perseus this way, swimming like this, so filthy, so awkward. They’ll go with someone else. He’ll never rescue Charmaine Gray from the rock, in her artfully torn toga (culturally and historically inaccurate, but the studio insisted). They’ll never overthrow her evil mother and retake Aethiopia (Andromeda became a Strong Female Character, because data models projected better returns that way). He’ll never date Charmaine however briefly, however chastely (they couldn’t stand each other but their agents said it would be good PR, so they lunched together a few times in public and laughed during all the correct pauses). And if Tom never becomes Perseus, he’ll never become Jack Thorne next, the greatest Superjack everyone has ever known. Tom Nova will disappear. Only the pretentious viewers of Exit Serendipity will remember his name, and when they’re watching his movie, masturbating as he cruelly mounts the protagonist, they’ll think about Tom Nova, and miss him obscurely.

Tom Nova strikes back toward shore, swallows more water, vomits again. He gags on air. It’s been a long and very messy day. His days aren’t supposed to be messy, not anymore. When he’s not on set he’s supposed to flit from air-conditioned house to elegant boutique to top-flight weight room, all the equipment clean, shining, waiting for him. A whole life of clean shininess, accommodating smiles, camera flashes, happiness. People who love him. They’ll love you only if you remove yourself from the picture, Sarah Mo whispers in his head. If you become the blank slate of their universal projection. Only when you release yourself, surrender to the pure dissolution of all fear, all love and friendship, all that you are and might have been, all that you were, and might yet be—only then will they allow you to be someone else. Only then we will believe you’re someone else, somewhere else, in a more interesting world than this.

Tom turns away from shore. He strikes out for—where? He isn’t sure. He can see it, dimly. A place beyond the unpredictable slap and tumult of the waves. A place where the sea flattens out, a blue mirror of water under a gold mirror of sky. A place that’s wild and quiet, alive with light; warm as a bath, and motionless; empty, and asking nothing. He can see it so acutely it’s as though he dreamed it, like the face of true love in a fairy tale. Another country, a lonely country, a silent joyful landscape. No one will be there, when he arrives. No one but himself. He’ll build a house, he decides, and send for Billy and Mona, when it’s ready. When he’s ready.

He swims toward it, outpacing the roar, knifing through it, through himself, into the blue-gold silence.

Was Tom Nova’s Death a Suicide?

The internet weighs in.

Meet the “Coaches” Who Probably Murdered Tom Nova

Gustav Gamrosh and Sarah Mo are accused of giving Tom illegal supplements that drove him insane and into the sea. The supplements are illegal in the U.S., and while there’s no direct link between pills and madness and drowning, actual proof isn’t necessary. Gustav and Sarah’s careers are over, until they reinvent themselves a few years later, of course. Sarah ends up launching a very successful lifestyle empire, all about de-cluttering, de-stressing, releasing what you can’t control.

Was Tom Nova Involved In the Downtown L.A. Terrorist Attacks?

A grainy CCTV shot of Red and Lonnie next to an equally blurry photo of Rockface. The cameras never got a good view of Formidabor, probably mistaking them for an actual SWAT team.

Tom Nova: Latest Victim of Our Broken VA System?

Billy’s wild mugshot, frozen in a moment of panic and rage. “Idk he looks crazy to me!” tweets @nixatnite683. This is retweeted 4,682 times.

The internet doesn’t forget Tom Nova. His social media replies overflow with grief. Images of flowers and teddy bears are posted as offerings, along with memes and screenshots of Tom Nova as Jack Thorne and Perseus and even the silly villain from Dragonbourne 2. Stills from Exit Serendipity make it into his feed as well, though they’re flagged as pornographic and removed immediately. This sparks a cycle of outrage, outrage at the outrage, followed by outrage at the outrage at the outrage.

In time, the tide recedes. In time only a few people bother to tag Tom Nova’s ghost accounts, with words and images they think Tom Nova would have appreciated. They hope Tom Nova, in turn, would have appreciated them for appreciating how much he was worth appreciating.

We loved you, Tom, writes one despairing fan. We loved you so much. 

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This article was originally printed in Issue 15 of Current Affairs. Get your print copy in our online store.

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