Author : Janna Layton

Cassandra walked down Lilac Street, past the same WMG Corporation superstores and chain restaurants on every Lilac Street in every city. “When you’re in a WMG City, you’re home!” a billboard declared. As she approached, the scanner read her retina to gather information from the marketing database. The billboard then displayed products WMG’s computers determined she might like.

She ignored the images and continued towards Heartville, one of a few scattered “unincorporated towns” of independent eateries and artist studios where WMG couldn’t do business. Supposedly. She thought of the zine in her purse. It looked inconspicuous, but no doubt WMG could do inconspicuous. One article praised a Heartville coffeehouse. Did the author, who had lived in the town for years, truly love it, or was he a “cuckoo,” an undercover WMG employee hired to promote “cuckoo eggs,” unincorporated town establishments secretly owned by WMG? The idea was hypothetical; they had no proof it was being done. “Why would WMG bother?” people asked. But as small as the towns’ businesses were, they were businesses, and Cassandra was sure WMG’s thinking was, “Why not?”

Condos gave way to shacks in Heartville, clean beige paintjobs to impromptu murals. Cassandra used to feel revitalized when entering it. Here was a place, she had thought, where art was art, where she wasn’t being monitored to determine how she could contribute profits to a monopoly. But perhaps even this sanctuary had been taken.

Once she had seen graffiti stating, “The last art on Earth.” Was she the last artist, with her poetry? No, that was vain, she told herself. Surely there were others. Surely most artists in Heartville were what they said they were.

It was possible, she thought, that a cuckoo had written the graffiti to assure residents Heartville was still rebellious and pure, and art still an escape.

She stopped by Joe’s Organic Bakery for two cupcakes. The flyers denouncing big-business agriculture: a disguise? She couldn’t tell, not even when Joe smiled at her.

A few blocks later she stepped inside a gallery, uncertain if doing so was hopeful or masochistic at that point. She liked a painting of an indigo horse, but immediately wondered if a WMG study had concluded the image would appeal to her demographic. Which was the worse prospect: for such paranoid thoughts to stay with her always or for them to disappear? Was the last art on Earth gone already, or was it right here and she couldn’t enjoy it?

“You okay?”

Cassandra turned towards a girl at an easel. “Yeah.”

A paper sign said bartering was welcome.

“Is a cupcake from Joe’s worth a drawing?” she asked.

“Definitely,” the girl replied, grabbing a pen. “Tell me what you want.”

Cassandra handed her a cupcake and a piece of paper from her writing notebook. She wanted something that she knew came from somewhere sincere. Something that, even if this artist was a WMG employee trying to lower her defenses, was created in her own mind.

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