Agency X
by Chad Beattie

       As summer drifts and dies and fall sifts through a bent sky and America is on the tilt of a social revolution, the Baltimore noise scene simmers to a symphony of chirping crickets – the most discouraging sounds to emerge since 2009 when Fossil Teeth left the scene and signed to major label Dirty Bones Records. After the death of an essential underground Baltimore venue, local noise enthusiasts begin to question to likelihood of another experimental wave to crash through the city's distorted earholes.
       The Bank, located in the undertones of West Baltimore, served as a sanction to outsider artists – from painters to poets to performance artists. It was a place for freaks to migrate, come together hand in hand, and experience insanity as one. It was a DIY venue that supported not only local musicians, but musicians from all around the globe.
       “I've seen some really out-there stuff at the Bank,” says local concert-goer Charlie Knox. “From Sissy Spacek to Little Howlin' Wolf to Unicorn Hard-On. It was a venue where you could go and feel a connection to your surroundings – a place where it was weird to be normal.”
       Many locals in the scene who have been giving five dollar donations to house shows for years are deeply saddened by the death of the Bank. But the venue will forever live on through the memories of those that were present – that is unless they weren't too smashed on booze, hallucinogens, or poppers.
       “At the Bank, the air was clear,” says Knox. “People conversed freely. And if they didn't want to converse, they sat in a corner and that was okay too. No one bothered you. No one cared. It was just about music and having a good time. Every show was interesting in it's own way.”
       Many locals would agree. The Baltimore music scene is a scene that defies the formality of normality and questions the anti-progressive state of the populated public. In a clearer sense, the scene doesn't put up with the bullshit of human nature. The goal is to look beyond the horrid state of society and rebel against the acceptance of unoriginality within modern pop culture. It's a scene you wouldn't care to explain to relatives, co-workers, or squares. But to those involved, the Baltimore scene has expanded and evolved to unfathomable dimensions.
       But like true love or a turkey burger, every good thing must come to an end. Many noise enthusiasts are forced to wave goodbye to their beloved music scene as it quickly erodes before their drug-glazed eyes. Of course, the slow extermination of the Baltimore music scene is not entirely a coincidence. Agency X, an illegal anti-art organization secretly funded by the government, has been poisoning the water lines with a drug that enhances normality, which in turn has diminished creativity within the small but determined Baltimore community. The drug, which has no proof of previous existence, is nick-named “Skyline.”
       “Similar to Ritalin, Skyline dulls the mind into a state of routine and structure,” says Knox, who for months has been keeping a close eye on Agency X. “The more tap water you drink, the heavier the effect Skyline has on you and consequently the more the drug eats you up inside.”
       Knox reportedly hasn't consumed water in over two weeks.
       “Agency X,” stammers Knox, licking his chapped lips, “is an evil organization that forces artists against their will to find office jobs, get married, and have kids. Skyline is the same drug that pushed the shotgun to Kurt's head and it's the same drug that drove Nina Simone to the point of merciless insanity. . It's not healthy for us, our children, or our children's children. It's goddamn evil. I'd rather die of dehydration than fall into their godless trap.”
       When Knox isn't slaving his soul away at his minimum wage job, he spends his off-duty time in his small disorganized bedroom, playing music and writing stories. Strumming a cluster chord on his detuned acoustic guitar, he peers out the window at a sky turning dark and a sun that has sunk to hell. He races downstairs to the kitchen and pulls out a couple of buckets from the cabinet. Rain begins to pour outside. He lays the buckets on his front lawn and waits for the buckets to fill with rain water.
       “It's the only water you can trust,” says Knox, itching his neck feverishly. “Those cocksuckers can control what runs through the pipes, but they can't control what falls from the sky.”
       However, Knox's assumption is entirely false. Agency X can in fact control what falls from the sky. The anti-art organization has been keeping a file on him ever since a hidden microphone picked up on a conversation Knox had with his friend Nora at Normal's Books & Records. The microphone clearly makes out Knox telling Nora that the entire city has been bugged, that the government is closing in on the city, and that we must act now if we ever want to make it out alive. He warns Nora, who creates collages and visual art, to watch her back because they are gunning down artists one by one. He warns her, by god, to be safe.
       Threatened by Knox's knowledge, Agency X has been closely monitoring his every step. Keeping up with him is not difficult. When he's not behind a cash register at Prune's Records, he's either at a local house show or he's in his bedroom drinking red wine and listening to dollar bin classical records. He is what most would call a “loser.” It didn't take long for Agency X to discover that Knox knew they were distributing Skyline within the water system. In order to terminate Knox's anarchistic nature, Agency X planted sprinklers on the UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) that travel through the Baltimore smog. These UAVs, which are commonly called drones, are programmed to lace the air with Skyline whenever it begins to rain. The first drone models were designed in 2012 by anti-art organization Agency X to monitor communist and atheist political cults that gather in underground warehouses throughout Baltimore.
       These cults are known to commit acts of taboo, ranging from sexual deviance to drug-experimentation. Many of the cult followers inject copious amounts of LSD into their veins daily. Others indulge themselves in sexual practices that include asshole worship, cock domination, pussy annhiliation, and mutual masturbation. Most of them are artists and all of them are dangerous.
       Agency X spokesperson, who prefers to remain anonymous, informs us, “There are certain parties within Baltimore that are vitally dangerous to civility and mankind. These young socialists dress in torn rags. Their skin is tattooed and pierced. They ride skateboards, play instruments, paint portraits, and create short films. They turn their music up loud and steal our tax dollars. And they stay up until the early hours of the morning, keeping awake ordinary individuals that have to get up early to go to work – a concept unfathomable to most milennials.”
       The spokesperson pauses momentarily and glares ahead with hell-bent eyes. “We also have reason to believe that Charlie Knox is at the pulse of this satanic social revolution. We have reason to believe he is a terrorist and must be stopped immediately. . Even if it means he himself must be eliminated.”
       Charlie Knox, after summoning buckets of rain water, pours the liquid into pots and turns on the stove. The boiling of the water kills all traces of Skyline. While the water boils, he keeps himself busy by bleaching the cups and glasses in the pantry just in case Agency X had laced them with Skyline when he wasn't looking. After the water boils for hours (and his electricity bill hikes drastically) Knox turns off the stove, pours the scorching hot water into cups, and blows on the surface until the liquid is cool enough to drink. He doesn't take an eye off the cups, not even to blink.
       “They think they're tricking me into consuming Skyline,” says Knox, wide-eyed and frantic, “But they have no idea I have them cornered from all angles. I'm always one step ahead of them. They cannot beat me. I will win.”
       Knox, who hasn't slept for over a week, paces through his home plotting ways to extinguish Agency X. With a 4-track recorder and an acoustic guitar, he records a nineteen minute album titled “Line in the Sky” which contains subtle hints of Agency X's evil doings.
       After Knox finishes recording the material, he burns the songs onto blank CDs and distributes them throughout the city. He uses DIY techniques by leaving the CDs in various places around Baltimore such as park benches, bus stops, door steps, and on the hoods of parked cars. He is careful not to include any information about himself to conceal his identity from Agency X.
       Angency X's henchmen have been ordered to locate the hundreds of CDs that Knox has distributed over the past couple months and destroy them; however, their efforts were squashed by Knox's relentless creative output.
       “He just won't stop making these exploitative CDs,” says anonymous Agency X spokesperson. “No one's listening to them, thank god, because they're awful. . But still we can't take any chances. If these recordings find themselves in the wrong hands, the city will turn into an anarchist goldmine. . We gave Knox plenty of warnings. There's nothing more we can do. We must eliminate Charlie Knox.”
       The phone hangs up. The hunt begins. . .

       . . . Charlie sits up in his bed. He rubs his eyes and yawns. Scratching his ass, he wobbles to the bathroom where he turns on the shower and lets the water warm up. He brushes his teeth, admires his cheekbone in the mirror, then steps into the shower. He lets the water pour down his face, dripping from his chin onto his semi-erect cock. He turns off the water, dries off, and gets dressed. He picks up his guitar from the floor, tunes it up a step, and strums the rusted strings. He hits record on his 4-track and begins to sing:

       lazy sunday go away
       don't wanna see you no more
       skyline running through my veins
       like cancer on the shore

       my baby's stuck in chewing gum
       my bottles on the floor
       skyline got me in their game
       don't wanna sing no more

       oooh, skyline
       oooh, skyline
       I really need you so

       oooh, skyline
       oooh, skyline
       don't ever let me go

       Knox stops the recording. He sets down his guitar and walks idly to the kitchen. He reaches for a glass from the pantry. He fills the glass with tap water from the sink and lets the liquid seep down his throat, slivering past his esophagus into his poisoned veins. Thunder erupts in the emerging distance. A cold wind blows.