Short Stories

THE FORSAKEN GUARDIAN

 

Jack sat at the bar. Alone midday on a Tuesday in the middle of winter. The smell of smoke and cheap perfume choked the lungs.
Jack lit the cig – half tobacco, half pot. It calmed his nerves. Cured cancer even. The media talked about it and big tobacco pushed the ads.
Kids lurked around the streets like shadows, sucking THC lollipops, laughing. Being cool. He was glad he didn’t have kids.
Last week, Jack’s wife complained about the kids these days over a cup of Arabica.
Jack looked at his phone and pretended to listen, like usual.
Coat, keys, wallet, phone. Kiss goodbye.
Traffic, media, radio, stoplight. A man holding a sign on the corner. Jack pulled his film case from his pocket and popped a couple. It was a cocktail; hydro, oxy, lortab, valium, vicodin.
Parking garage, quick toke. Elevator, good mornings and smiles, cubicle, computer. Meeting at 9:00. Meeting at 9:30. Lunch in the cafeteria, a brown bag his wife made the night before. Another meeting.
Now Jack sat at the bar, alone, admiring the craftsmanship in the neon beer sign.
“What can I get ya?” the bartender asked.
“Crown.” Jack took a toke.
He looked at the dancing girls behind him. His favorite was working tonight. Krystal.
The bartender sat the drink down. Before he could walk away, Jack shot it down, holding it across the bar for another pour.
Fifteen minutes later, nothing. Why was the buzz not kicking in?
Bathroom, locked stall door. He pulled a small bottle of eye drops from his pocket. Monkey Juice was what the kids called it. Heroine mixed in to get the red out. A couple drops in each eye and the effects flooded him immediately.
He opened the door and washed the germs from his hands. Tired eyes looked back at him in the mirror. He walked back into the bar.
A man, weathered with dried blood on his face, sat in Jack’s seat.
Jack took the seat next to him.
“Jack Grimes,” the man stated.
“Yeah, that’s me,” Jack said, signaled the bartender for another drink.
“I’ve been watching you for quite some time,” the stranger said and took a drag of a cig. “You ain’t doing so well.”
Jack laughed, eyes on the TV above the top shelf. “The world’s gone all to hell, and you tell me I’m not doing so well? You been watching the news?”
“You could say I keep up with current events, or did,” the stranger stated, watching the cig burn. “What would you say if I told you that we are living in the beginning of the last days of man? The tribulation.”
“I would say you need another drink, friend,” Jack said, turning to look at the man. “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name?”
“Gabriel.” The stranger took his shot of crown and faced Jack. “I’m your guardian angel.”

Project Utopia

 

Dust rose from the road.
Johnny had the peddle to the floor of the ’74 GMC pickup truck. The 350 motor was screaming, a little more urgent than usual. He glanced at his father, Eli, who was staring at the blood in his hand.
My fellow Am…icans. This is the presi…nt of the ..ited ..ates .f Amer..ca
The same static-filled message had been broadcasting over the radio for the past two hours.
This is not …. test. This is a nationa. emer…cy. Due .. the lack of oversight…..
“Turn it off, son,” Eli said, wiping the blood from his mouth.
“It’s going to be different this time, dad.” 
In the rear view, a gleam of sunlight  from the caravan caught Johnny’s attention through the cloud  of dust. Everyone was going to the same place. 
Johnny turned a hopeful eye to the sky – still no blue in sight. And why would there be? It had been nothing but a gray haze for a long time now. 
“Today’s going to be different,” Johnny stated, with as much assurance as  a ten year old boy could.
… if you have the symptoms, go to the nearest shelter. There are signs to guide you outside of every major city.
“Listen, it’s clearing up!” Johnny said. 
We have people there to help you. Every doctor, nurse, and caretaker that this great country has is on call. Rest assured, there is enough vaccine for everyone. 
“It’s too late, Mr. President. Where was the vaccine a month ago when the sickness began?” Eli spat blood. “Now she’s gone.”
“Dad, we’re going to make it. You’re going to get better.”
Eli forced a smile. “I’m just glad that you’re still healthy, Johnny.”
The truck was coming up fast on a Humvee parked beside the road. Roaring by at ninety miles per hour, Eli noticed a soldier manning the gun on top.
“What was that about?” he said to himself, craning his neck for another view. 
The cell phone rang. He put it on speaker.                                                   
“Yea?” he said, suppressing a cough.
“Eli, it’s Jenni.”
“Hey, Sis. Any word on what’s going on? What’s the CDC saying?”
“It’s bad. The reports are worse than we….”
America has overcome trials in the past. We will overcome this one as well.
 “Hold on Jenni, let me turn this crap off.”
Our children will………
“Alright, go ahead.” 
“Eli, listen to me.”
“I’m listening.”
“Everyone around the world over the age of twelve is dead or will die over the next 48-72 hours.” She began coughing, the blood congestion heard clearly over the phone.
“Horse shit,” Eli cursed, wiping the sweat from his forehead. “What the hell is going on?”
“We’ve been lied to. Our whole lives. . . we took the shots, ate the food, drank the water, and without any question. Hell, who would have thought this would happen?” Jenni said, breaking into a crazed laugh.
“Damnit, Jenni, what are you saying?”
“I’m saying it’s all around us!” 
“Dad, look,” Johnny said, pointing ahead. White FEMA tents rose from the horizon, contrasting against the harsh desert terrain.
“Look up at the sky. They’ve been polluting the air for decades now,” Jenni said.
“Hi, aunt Jenni!”
“Oh, hello, Johnny. How’s my favorite nephew doing? Are you sick?”
“He’s fine,” Eli said, taking the phone off speaker. 
“All of the children are,” Jenni said. “They have been vaccinated since birth. It’s all part of the plan, Project Utopia.”
“Project… what?” 
“It’s a plan that the worlds’ governments initiated in order to preserve mankind. By the time we found out about the effects of chemical poisoning, it was too late,” she said, then paused to catch her breath. “Our genetic structure had been changed. There is no vaccine for us,” she said, then began to cry. “At least the children will live.”
Eli looked to his son. “That’s great, Jenni. Thanks for letting me know. Yes, yes, I’ll be sure to tell Johnny the good news. And, that you love him. Ok, talk to you soon. I love you too.”
“What good news?” Johnny sat tall in his seat, piloting the green truck. 
Eli saw himself in the boy; that look of pride in Johnny’s face as he drove that old truck down the dirt road in an effort to save his father’s life. 
“I’m going to be alright, son. They have medicine that will help me get better.”
“See, I told you!” Johnny said, smiling from ear to ear. “Today’s going to be different.”
As Johnny brought the truck to a crawl, three men wearing HAZMAT suits approached, hands signaling for the truck to stop.
“Please, help my father! He’s sick,” Johnny cried, jumping from the vehicle. 
“You take the father,” one man barked orders, his voice distorted through the respirator. “You take the truck. I’ve got the boy.”
Hesitantly, Eli got out of the truck, leaving the .380 in the glove box. Gloved hands gripped him, leading him toward the camps.
“Daddy!” Johnny cried, wrangling against the man’s hold.
“Let me go, you son of a bitch!” Eli spat. “I know what’s going on here. Let me say goodbye to my son!”
The man looked to his superior. The commander nodded, then let the boy go.
Johnny ran. He hugged his daddy’s neck.
“Listen, son. It’s going to be alright. No matter what happens to me, you fight to live. You hear me?”
“Yes, father,” Johnny said, tears streaming down his face.
“Go on now. Grow up and be the man you were born to become,” Eli said, hugging his son. “I love you, always and forever.”
“I love you daddy, always… and forever.”
 
Dust rose from the road.
A man in a HAZMAT suit now drove the GMC pickup, the 350 motor screaming like never before. With the respirator off, he lit a cigarette, easing back into the seat. A picture of a young boy and a woman caught his eye as it swung from the rear view.
He turned the radio on. 
My fellow Am…icans. This is the presi…
Turning the dial, a familiar song came through. A smile crept onto his face as he sang along. Cresting the hill, miles away from the FEMA camps, a fire had just began to burn in one of the pits. He held his breath as he drove by – burning bodies is never a smell you get used to.
He parked the truck next to the others  in a  graveyard of vehicles resting under a gray, endless sky.

2052

“Date.”

January 14, 2052

“Couldn’t sleep.” I look at my hand.

No shit, Sherlock. Am i supposed to act surprised?

AI had changed the shape of the world over the last decade and was hailed as Earth’s Messiah, preventing everything from WWIII to natural cataclysmic disasters.

Perhaps you should try disconnecting. Mammals need sleep, remember?

I guess nobody counted on AI turning into a narcissistic asshole.

i heard that.

“Client list.”

Two females. One male.

The thought of work is starting to take a toll. IRL, I can see the hollow shell of a man I have become. IVR, I am the handsome gentleman with ripped abs known as Jackson Steele. The ladies love me. So do the men. I don’t care. It’s a job.

“Supplies.”

Another shipment is due to arrive by Saturday, 9 am.

The membership is worth it. A drone delivering anything from groceries to clothes, straight to your doorstep. Genius.

My head begins to throb the same way it does every day. Headache, dry mouth, chills, shakes, IBS, sudden urge to vomit — all the usual symptoms of PSMOL — a condition from the overuse of VR.

VR social interaction was too much for people to handle. The reinvention of one’s self, and the false belief that inherently came with it, led to mental breakdowns worldwide. Suicide rates skyrocketed in the late 30’s. To avoid political and social backlash, big Pharma does what they do best and began to mass produce a new drug to counter the effects of PSMOL.

“Pill.”

I look at my hand, waiting for an answer.

“Where is my damn pill?”

You forgot to order them.

“Isn’t that your job!”

Shit. I hate leaving my apartment. I enter the elevator on floor 345 and swipe my hand.

i wouldn’t go.

“I have to.”