"Suliman" – Part 1

Usually, people probably aren’t nervous when they’re entering small towns.  Especially dinky little places in the middle of nowhere, Texas, with under a hundred residents and some desperately high-brow name like St. Vermis.  Of course, usually people aren’t hunting for the source of pure evil and various disasters over the last hundred years or so, either.  Not to mention the fact that I didn’t have any registration for the big revolver tucked in between my socks in my hastily packed suitcase.  But maybe I should back up a bit.

To be honest, I never expected my thesis to yield any real results…

I came up with the whole idea when I was stoned.  I named the thing “Suliman” after the damn song we were listening to at the time, for chrissake!  But it did make it past the review board, bless their demented little academic minds, so I was at least approved to put off facing the real world for another year or two.

My idea was that there were traceable, modelable patterns to the occurrence of unfortunate violent events, such as crimes or large-scale accidents.  Of course, when I thought of it originally, it was more like, “Dude, what if evil totally followed people around and haunted them?”.  But I was at least smart enough to tone down the craziness level, and to throw in some buzzwords like ‘chaos theory’ and ‘fractal simulation’.

Now that I had approval, I needed some data that I could try to skew until it almost fit the idea.  With Infected Mushroom blasting full volume, I ended up settling on crime and death statistics for a bunch of little dust-in-the-wind towns in Texas and New Mexico, mainly because it was easy to get my hands on.  No one cared about this data, so I had pretty free access.  I also ordered microfilm rolls of all the local newspapers, figuring that since the microfilm room was only open a few hours a day, I could stretch my work out even further.

Now, I might be a bit of a stoner, and I might not care much about putting my work towards the betterment of mankind, but that doesn’t mean that I’m stupid.  Even with sleeping in, drinking, and spending the vast majority of my days doing no productive work, I managed to throw together some half-decent data sheets in a few months, tracking the dates and locations of murders, car crashes, fires, robberies, tornados, and other crimes and disasters that had happened in the last fifty years or so in my little patchwork quilt of desert towns.  To my surprise, there was quite a lot.  I had always figured that, out of everywhere, a tiny little gathering of desert shacks was one of the most crime-free areas, but I had pages and pages of data and statistics.  Now I was on to the hard part; I needed to find some sort of mathematical model that would make all this seem slightly more than random.

I tried the normal linear models, hoping to get lucky, but I was quickly forced to move out to bicubic regressions and variable-rate logistic growth.  In my spare time while waiting for my model attempts to generate on the computers, I whipped up a couple quick programs to make things easier on myself.  One of them let me stack the equations to model, so I could type in all my ideas for the day and then let the computer run by itself for the next eight hours, and the other gave me a percent accuracy.  I figured if I could score a probability above sixty percent, it would probably let me scrape by.  Of course, my shot at getting even a fifty-fifty statistical likelihood was about the same as me winning the lottery.  I settled into a steady rhythm; I would wake up in the morning, type in the next dozen modeling mathematical scenarios, go back to sleep and lounge around watching TV for the day, and then give the results a quick glance before turning in at night.

After about two months of this, I had settled into a pretty steady habit of drinking and watching television.  I was starting to run low on modeling scenarios, but I had yet to hit above a fifteen percent probability.  I had already begun keeping my eyes open on shopping runs for Help Wanted signs.  But then came that fateful evening.  The rest of my day had gone as expected: I had put in my ten or so modeling equations, hit “run” on the computer, and then drank a few beers while sitting on my couch and watching some talk show host yell at his guests.  Nothing was different until that evening, when I pulled up the results and my eyes nearly exploded out of my head.

NINETY FIVE PERCENT.  The sixth equation down was blinking furiously at me.  “There’s no way that could be right,” I said aloud to myself as I scrolled across to see what I had typed in.

I pulled up the modeling scenario and stared, open-mouthed, as a smooth blue line traced its way across a topographical map of the desert of Texas and New Mexico.  The date counter flipped through the years as the line snaked its way from town to town, with red dots popping up at the nose of the line as it wormed its way across.  Nearly every single event in my data fell exactly along the line.  As I watched, it seemed even as though the greatest rate of occurrence was at the nose of this blue digital worm.

I sat gazing at the display for a while before it hit me that my thesis was actually panning out.  I could predict where violence would strike in rural Texas!  In fact, if my model remained accurate…

I scrolled forward in time to the present.  The blue worm onscreen, staying true to its guiding mathematical formulae, slithered back and forth, ending in a tiny dot on the map marked with a name.  It was some dinky little town, with no news station or anything.  Just a gas station, grocery, and maybe a liquor store huddled together to take shelter from the desert on all sides.  And something bad was about to happen in the next couple days there.

What could I do?  You can call me disillusioned, but I’m not going to hide from danger like some rat in a hole.  I called up my perfect buddy, the one who aced every test and was always on top of his life.  And unfortunately, the only one who had a car.  “Don’t worry, I’m just going to visit my parents,” I cooed reassurances into the telephone as I pocketed his keys from his desk.  “An hour away, tops.  I’ll be super careful.”  Lucky for me he couldn’t see my expression.

My apologies for the single swear word, as well as for the semi-technical talk in this first part.  Don’t worry, it will pick up soon!  I promise!

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