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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
The Prince and the Messenger
Shadows and shapes move inside the Black Palace, twisting and reeling in both agony and pleasure.
The Prince of Darkness sits upon his throne made of decayed demons and basalt, contemplating the future of his kind. It had been nearly a millennia since the rebellion, since the fall.
A demon lurches down the Hall of the Lost and kneels before the throne. “Your Eminence, I bring news from Kaldith the Thinker. He claims to have found our salvation.” The demon hisses as muscles and tendons clench tight.
The Prince of Darkness bends forward in his seat and leans on his ebony scepter, Dawn Slayer. “You have my ear. Continue,” he bellows, the sound of a thousand demons in one.
The messenger dare not raise his eyes to answer. “He claims that we can summon mankind here, to Earth.” He flinches away after saying the words, aware that they could be his last.
“Bring mankind here… with us? The Almighty will never allow it.” The scepter strikes down, sending a wave of flame from the base of the throne. “Do not waste my time again, demon.”
“He has found a way!” the demon cries. “Kaldith says that mankind is weak and can easily be corrupted. They will choose to leave and join us here. We’ve only offer them a reason.”
The Prince of Darkness scoffs and leans back on his throne. “Oh… and what reason is that? What do we offer them for leaving?”
The demon looks up for the first time with a gleam in his eye. “Power.”
The Prince looks away in contemplation. “The Almighty has given them freewill to choose,” he muses to himself, “but they’ve never a reason to leave His side.” He stands from the black throne, his eyes glowing like fire. “But man has never tasted power before. He has never tasted how sweet it is to take a life, to defile the body, to indulge in substance. To live for himself.” His teeth bare inside a twisted grin and his body seethes at the potential. “Yes, that is true power. We will guide them and they will come to know the truth.”
“What is it that you wish me to tell Kaldith, Your Eminence?”
“Tell him the appointed time has come. Tell him to offer mankind all the power and dominion over the world and show him the ways of the flesh. Tell him that our mission is finally here.”
“To win the war against the Almighty and His angels,” the demon notes, twisting in pain from saying the words.
“No,” the Prince of Darkness replies. “That’s not enough. The Almighty must pay for His actions. He must know true pain for the rest of eternity.”
The demon looks to his master in wonder, waiting for an answer.
The Prince unfolds his black wings and stands proud. “He will know what it’s like to be betrayed by the ones He loves.”
Bullets and Balls
Bob’s hands shook as he loaded the clip.
A picture hung in the rear view of the ’76 Chevelle. It spun as a hot summer breeze blew through the open window, the faces of a woman and two children alternating with the blank white backing of the weathered photograph. Bob refused to look at it today, willing himself to focus on the bullets.
Land of the free. The American dream. It had all been a lie. The dream was crushed when the bank took everything.
Not my fault.
Nervous fingers dropped a round. Bob cursed and leaned to retrieve it from the floorboard, banging his head into the horn, causing pedestrians to stop and look.
Bob ground his teeth and muttered another curse at himself as he straightened up, giving the impression that he wasn’t about to do something stupid. He eased back, realizing that nobody took much notice. It was the Lawyers, doctors, judges, business folk that filled the sidewalks and crosswalks, and they didn’t take much notice to anything other than themselves. They all walked the same way, talked the same way. Like they were better than him.
He knew this was the dumbest idea he’d ever had, but he was out of options.
Sometimes you gotta go with balls instead of brains.
Sweat beaded upon his brow as he looked at entrance to the building. One cop on the inside wouldn’t be a problem. One wouldn’t be, but there would be more within the space of three minutes, give or take twenty seconds. That was the response time to the bomb threat, so he calculated it to be the same on a robbery.
He refused to look at the photograph one last time and pulled the mask over his face.
The gun felt weightless in his hands as he took swift steps into the bank.