Category Archives: Political Fiction

A Brief Justification for a Small Nuclear Holocaust

It works perfectly because I’m the last person on Earth anyone would suspect of possessing a nuclear weapon. I am a little worried though that I’ve gone past my sense of altruism and am now simply fascinated with killing that many people all at once. Like a mass evacuation from a wildfire that all emergency services completely lost control of, only no one will be sleeping in a YMCA.

The original spark of an idea came from when I read Watchmen. Okay, well, watched the movie, I never actually read the comic. I guess the comics had some weird psychic space squid kill a bunch of people. I can’t blame them from changing that to the movie. A mass nuclear explosion feels far more real. But it wasn’t the atomic explosion itself that inspired my new endeavour. Rather, why the true hero of the book, Ozymandias, decided that many people had to die.

Acquiring a nuclear weapons is remarkably easy. Well, if you watch the right documentaries, it’s remarkably easy. I watched a documentary on the Vice website and they were following some Middle Eastern arms dealers around, getting their stories and showing their relatable human side. Once such arms dealer was going to sell Osama bin Laden a nuclear bomb. Bin Laden went into hiding, and subsequently died, while this dealer was holding the bomb for him. He buried it in the garden of his back yard. He still had it when I emailed him.

The nice thing about working in information technology is that if it exists on the internet, I know how to find it. You average Netflix gawking and free porn wanking internet user wouldn’t have been able to find this guy’s contact information. Despite his appearance on the Vice documentary, I feel more comfortable giving this guy an alias. Let’s call him Walter. So, normal Google searches would never turn up Walter’s email address. But, there are a ton of websites that Google searches can’t reach. Most people call it the Dark Web and treat it like this ominous presence where only the strangest and most depraved content exists. Frankly, it’s mostly made up of conversation forums. Sure, those forums trade around some fucked up shit that either no one wants to see or will land you in jail. Otherwise, it’s pretty boring and most people who download an onion browser get bored within about thirty minutes.

Amongst the fucked up shit being traded around on some of these forums are quite sophisticated weapons. A lot of people speculate that this is how some independent research firms make extra side cash when military contracts aren’t paying enough. They also speculate that this is how said arms manufacturers dispose of weapon prototypes that their military contractors didn’t want. Speculation aside, with the right Tor browser and a few carefully placed keywords and I was balls deep in the world of international illegal arms deals.

Knowing that Walter was Arabic, I searched only Arabic forums. A buddy of mine developed a translator software that makes the Google translate app look like a Speak-and-Spell. He wouldn’t tell me how exactly he wrote it. All he would say is that it involved a lot of pirated copies of Rosetta Stone. However he put it together, it worked like a charm and the Arabic arms forums were easy to read and respond to. Everyone on the forums has a username that is 99.9 per cent of the time, not their actual names, so it’s not as if I could just search Walter’s name on the forum to find his contact info. I needed to entice him. I knew that some fundamentalist jargon would come off like an undercover cop, and mentioning bin Laden would only arise more suspicion in me. Knowing that the NSA or any other policing and security agency would never be able to trace these posts back to me, I decided just to go for it straight-ahead.

Wanted: Nuclear Weapons

That was my entire post. Anyone who saw it and had something to offer me could see my forum handle Thompson2929 (yes, I am part of the 0.1 per cent who decided to use part of his real name, but when you have a seriously common name like Thompson, there isn’t a ton to worry about not to mention it’s a name that doesn’t arise a lot of suspicion without it being a dumb name like Boneshredder6969). If you clicked my username, it would bring you to a profile page which included some secure contact information using onion email servers and encrypted messaging apps.

The forum had a few commenters making fun of my post and telling me my search is pointless and that cops like me needed to learn how to work forums better. Two days passed before I got a message from a scrambled number. The message said, “How do I know you’re not CIA?” I thought about all the cop shows I watched where the undercover had to snort a line of coke to prove to the gangsters he wasn’t a cop. That assumption that a cop would never do drugs if he was undercover always seemed so dumb to me. But it’s an assumption that creeps into the real world.

“Send me something that no cop would ever possess,” the message continued.

I’m still not proud of what I did, but I knew being this deep in I had to go all the way. I hopped back on the onion browser, found a kiddie porn forum, used some bitcoin to buy a few photos, and I sent them to Walter. The fact that it took me all of three minutes to buy those photos isn’t what disturbs me so much. It’s how many people were on those forums. Thousands, all exchanging different photos and videos. I won’t go into what I bought and sent over, but it was enough that it made me want to buy a few more nukes.

Walter bought that I wasn’t a cop. The photos did the trick and I did what I could to try and drive the image of them out of my brain. Nothing has worked to help me forget yet. We got messaging back and forth about what I wanted and he asked me if I saw the Vice documentary. I told him yes and he told me how he still has the same nuke and he’s eager to get it off of his hands.

“One million.”

I didn’t doubt the bomb was worth that much, but even on my six-figure salary I couldn’t afford that. I tried negotiating him down, but he was firm on the price.

“One million,” he wrote again. “I won’t take any less than one million dinar.”

Dinar is the Iraqi currency and even with the American dollar tanking as bad as it was, it was still worth a lot more than the dinar. A quick Google search showed me that one million dinar would be around $900. Suddenly, I felt bad, like I was ripping him off because he didn’t know any better. I even sent him a message telling him I did the calculation and asking why he didn’t want more. In short, he told me with his original buyer dead and no one else really wanting one, it was completely useless to him and was just taking up space. It was more of a burden to him now and he wanted it off his hands. Feeling bad, I sent him an even thousand in bitcoins. He was grateful and asked me for a postage address.

“Wait, you’re going to mail it?” I messaged. “How are you going to mail it?”

“What, you think there’s no post offices in Iraq?”

“No, I know there are post offices. But it’s a nuclear weapon. How do you mail one of those?”

“Just trust me. It’s a powerful weapon, but it’s actually not that big. I’ve mailed bigger.”

I wasn’t even thinking about the size of the package. I looked around at my studio apartment and down at my Fiat and panicked trying to figure out where I was going to put a nuclear bomb once it was here. I messaged Walter back asking how a package from Iraq to America was going to get through without thorough inspections. He told me he has friends all over and that he would mail it to one friend, who would then mail it to another friend, and so on until it arrived. It all has to do with safe mailing zones.

He wouldn’t give me the exact locations, but basically a package from Iraq can go to Lebanon, who can then send it to Greece, who then send it to Switzerland, who then send it to England, who then send it to the States. The distances are so short that they don’t get inspected as thoroughly and each of the previous countries are considered enough of an ally that the worry level is low. It took about four months, but the package arrived to the post office two towns over. I bought a P.O. Box there for this very package and any subsequent questionable package I might order.

Walter was right about one thing, it wasn’t that big. The box was about the size and weight of a fridge. All over, fragile stickers were pasted until there was barely any brown cardboard left. I thought for a moment about what would have happened if even a single mail carrier decided not to read the warnings.

It was pointless to bring it back to my apartment. I couldn’t imagine trying to carry it up the stairs to my studio. So I had myself already packed for my trip south. The package fit perfectly into the back of my Fiat. I had to put down the back seats, I could barely see through my back window, and I could feel the shocks on my back wheels drop, but it was in there comfortably.

In Watchmen, Ozymandias sets off his destruction in New York City. In a lot of comics, New York City seems like the centre of the universe. It just seemed too easy to me. Plus the city has such a massive population and it’s such a big city, I felt like the destruction just wouldn’t be felt as much. I even think the 9-11 attacks might have been more impactful if it hit a smaller town. Three thousand people is the entire populations of some towns in the south, and those are some of the bigger towns. New York was just too obvious.

San Antonio Texas is about 745 square miles. One megaton of nuclear explosion will have a blast radius of around eight square miles. The nuclear fallout will run for a few more miles outward depending on the wind, so I will definitely want to be completely out of the city once the blast goes off. Thankfully the bomb in the back of my car has a timer so I’ll be able to set it for long enough ahead that I’ll be out of the state before the explosion. I won’t be able to get completely home, it’s about a thirteen hour drive from my apartment to San Antonio, but I’ll be far enough out that nothing should affect me.

Is it odd that my entire thirteen hour drive I wasn’t once worried about my cargo? I mean, I was worried about being rear-ended and having the bomb go off prematurely. But the highways between states were quiet and the regular check-stops were quick to get through. I’m white, so the military patrol didn’t stop me. I’m not considered a threat to national security. I got the odd question about what was in the back of my car and I would tell them it was a refrigerator and that I bought it on a really good deal during an out of state shopping trip. Without a second question or any further inspection, I was free to go. There were plenty of cars that had been pulled out and torn apart by the military patrol. Families handcuffed with their faces in the dirt, kids with rifle barrels pressed against the sides of their heads. A few years back, there would have been outrage and protests and social media posts with graphic photos and videos. Now, it’s just Tuesday.

I slept in my car once I made it to San Antonio. I had one cop knock on my window and ask me why I was sleeping in my car. I explained to him I just had a long drive and needed some shut eye before I kept going. He asked why I didn’t stay in a hotel and I frankly I was honest with him. I told him I didn’t want to spend the money. It’s not as if I don’t have money, I just don’t like spending it. He seemed to understand. He asked about the giant box in the back of the car and I gave him the fridge story. He told me he was happy that I pulled over to sleep and that he had seen a lot of accidents from people falling asleep at the wheel. I liked this cop for a few moments. After I dropped off the bomb and I was driving out of the city, I saw the same cop with about a dozen others beating on a group of people in the middle of the street. He was using his night stick to beat on a woman and used his free hand to grab at her hijab. I don’t know if he was able to rip it off.

I picked San Antonio for a couple of reasons. It’s fairly well populated, like the seventh most populated city in America, it’s the closest major Texas city to the Mexican border and just a few miles up Highway 35 from Laredo where one of the most brutal detention centres across the Mexican border wall still sits, but the city also has one of the most emotionally charged American monuments and that’s exactly where I left the giant box in the back of my car.

The Alamo didn’t have a parking lot. But, there was some underground parking a few blocks away. I figured it would be close enough to get my points across. There was also a car rental shop just a couple blocks from where I parked my car. It was perfect. I said goodbye to my Fiat, which I did love but would eventually report as stolen and the wreckage from the blast site was so vast that nothing was recognizable, let alone a sub-compact car left in a parkade. I would get enough from my insurance from it being stolen that I could afford to buy another without dipping too much into my back account. But I did love that car.

From one car to another, I got a Volks Wagon Bug from the rental shop, left San Antonio, and drove west rather than the North that would take me home. I set enough time on the bomb that I would be far enough away by the time the blast happened. I followed Highway 10 and stopped in El Paso, eight hours exact before the bomb went off. I was sitting on the patio of a small cafe when the explosion happened. I imagined it would come on the TV news, but all I had to do was look east and I could see the mushroom could climbing upwards into the sky. I measured the bomb, based on its size, at about one megaton. It turned out to be one-hundred megatons. 800 square miles, gone in a flash. San Antonio was completely wiped off the map.

Towards the end of Watchmen, Ozymandias gives Rorschach, Dr. Manhattan, Nite Owl, and Silver Spectre an explanation as to why he wanted to kill so many people in New York City. Ozymanias wasn’t an evil person, in fact he was the smartest person on Earth in the comic. In the story, America and the Soviet Union come extremely close to complete nuclear war. A war, Ozymandias knew, would cost billions of people their lives. The two countries were perfect ideological enemies and with every inch closer they came to nuclear war, Ozymandias knew he had to make a tough decision that no one else would be brave enough to make or smart enough to conceive. He made a new enemy. An enemy that both warring sides could agree to fight against. A uniting force in the most common base language humans can understand: mass violence. That’s why San Antonio isn’t on the map anymore.

One country was attempting to marginalize and abuse people who make up a very large chunk of the world’s population. It’s not even one religion or one region’s immigrant population that they completely demonized. So many people were falling under the fist of an unjust martial law in this country and it was only a matter of time before all of these countries that America named as enemies would band together and perpetrate acts of war much worse than what I did. I made sure that none of these countries could be blamed for what happened in San Antonio. I made sure a whole new enemy was created that could unite more people together. But, as I watched the mushroom cloud in the distance, I had my first pang of doubt. What if this would create a witch hunt? What if someone tried to claim responsibility? What would media report on? What would government officials accept as truth? These were all questions I should have been asking myself before I bought a nuclear weapon. But it was too late. However history would play out from here was out of my control, but I also had to own it. I didn’t have to own it for anyone else. But I needed to own it for myself.

I’d be lying if I said I haven’t watched the footage on repeat for hours on end. I would watch and wonder how many of those people who died were murderers, rapists, child killers, pedophiles, drug dealers, crooked cops, corrupt politicians, or greedy businessmen who would make sure to take the jewelry off of their dead mother before calling an ambulance. There’s something satisfying about knowing I wiped off that percentage of people off of the Earth in one fell swoop, even if it is only 0.014 per cent of the global population. It felt good, like when you eat an entire pizza all in one sitting. Just full and complete. It’s an amazing feeling. Until I remember how many decent people died right along with the horrible ones. I try to keep the thought out of my head. It kills my buzz.

To go along with my nuclear explosion, I wrote a manifesto and put it online and shared it through plenty of anonymous social media channels. It outlined that I destroy and kill for no ideology or political gain, that I merely like to watch the world burn. I am driven by nothing else but my own evil intentions and enjoy the suffering and fear of millions. People bought it fast. Within days, it had over a million hits. My onion email started receiving offers from Google Adwords it was gaining hits so fast. I made myself an invisible enemy that the world over can target. They’ll stop aiming at each other and start aiming at me.

I wrote this explanation for when they finally figure out I was behind it all. I figured that someone deserved the real story behind what happened in Texas. If whoever finds this is smart, you’ll hide it. If you’re even smarter, you’ll know when’s the right time to release this and correct the history books. As much as this needed to happen and its reasons needed to be kept on that supervillain level, there are still a lot of good people in the world who deserve a real explanation as to why so many died that day. I’m sure there’ll be a right time to tell the truth without undoing any good that would have come of this.

If you’re reading this, chances are I’m dead now. Given the same Seal Team Six treatment that bin Laden got. As innocuous and invisible someone like me tends to be, I’ll make a mistake somewhere.

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Kidneys

Tim read through the pamphlet for the fifth time, trying to fully understand all of the benefits this procedure will have on his body. His eyes glazed over the pictures of the smiling senior citizens and the diagrams showing where exactly what was being inserted and how. He read all of the side-effects, including the one about what to do if your body rejected the implants, who to contact, what conditions to look for, and how it sometimes cause extreme abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting, the development of or enlarging of breasts and other hormonal anomalies, and in some cases death.

“Are you sure you want to go through with this?” Karen rubbed Tim’s shoulders like she would while they lay in bed together; Tim would be having his stomach cramps and couldn’t sleep at night.

“I don’t have much choice outside of this, do I?” Time replied. “With all the time we spent talking about it, I might have, what? Three months? There’s nothing else.”

“What if it doesn’t work?” she asked.

“At this point, so what? What worse could happen?”

Tim’s stomach cramped up and he clenched his side. His abdomen was throbbing, as if Tim could feel his kidneys slowing dissolving as he sat there.

Doctor Richards came out and sat down with Tim and Karen, asking them what they thought about the procedure. Karen pressed about waiting for a donor, giving Tim new living tissue rather than some piece of machinery that has been on the market barely a month.

“I told you, Ms. Fowler,” Doctor Richards began. “Tim has a rare condition. One we barely ever see. I had to find my medical textbooks from college just to diagnose him. Living tissue would only last a short while. Maybe give him a week to a month extra. I know it seems bizarre to…”

“I’ll do it,” Tim blurted out. “I’m so sick of this. I’m sick of never sleeping and being in pain all of the time. Even if I die on the operating table, it’s better than living like this. If I’m going to die, might as well die trying.”

Doctor Richards advised Tim not to think about it as how he’s going to die and pointed out how positive thinking can help patients pull through even the worst of situations. Tim glared at the doctor. “Just give me the fucking forms, doc,” Tim snarled.

Tim handed the brochure to Karen and clicked the pen as he read through the form. His knees were pouncing and he started clicking the pen repeatedly, in a steady but rapid rhythm. Karen placed her hand on Tim’s shoulder, and he stopped fidgeting, and started filling out the form, while Karen pulled out her chequebook, started writing the cheque and calculating to make sure they could still pay the rent and afford groceries. It would be tight, but it would be worth it.

*****

The security scanner beeped and the airport security officer motioned for Tim to step aside.

“Any knives, guns, or other weapons currently on your person, sir?” the security officer asked. Tim could see the hole beneath his lip where his piercing had once been and could see the scars along his neck from where he used to be tattooed.

“No,” Tim replied.

“Any enhancements?” the security officer asked.

“Just my kidneys,” Tim answered.

“Nice man, vital organs are totally in right now,” the security officer commented. “Just had my spleen replaced with an E12. Purifies my piss so I can distill it and make booze. What model are your kidneys?”

“Um, E1, I guess?” Tim looked down as if he could see his kidneys through his jacket and shirt and read the model printed along the side.

“E1? And they’re still running? You’re crazy bro!” the security officer slapped his knee. “I was barely alive when they started making E1s! You gotta upgrade. Gotta upgrade.”

“They’ve been working great for twenty years, haven’t had a problem with them at all, why do I need an upgrade?” Tim asked.

“The specs man, the specs on the newer Es are so much better. Man, I got a second job and I’m pulling overtime here to afford replacing my arm,” the security guard slapped his shoulder. “This one here. My good arm. Gonna join an enhanced arm wrestling league.”

“That’s cool kid,” Tim reached for his bags coming out of the x-ray. “Cool talking with you, I got to catch my flight though. Good luck with the arm.”

“Thanks buddy,” the security guard giggled. “Like I said, get an upgrade.”

As Time walked toward his flight gate, he could hear the kid ask the next person in line, “Any enhancements?”

*****

The flight was over Ontario when Tim woke up. He left the TV set embedded into the head of the seat in front of him on the channel showing the flight path. He wiped the drool hanging from the side of his mouth and looked over at the seat next his’ TV set to see what other people were watching. The man sitting next to Tim was staring down at a small screen embedded into his forearm and had headphones plugged into his wrist. The man caught Tim staring and unplugged a headphone.

“It’s a new model,” he said. “Full digital media capabilities. DME12. I’d say I can’t leave home without it, but people would probably be staring even worse if I was missing an arm.” He chuckled.

“No kidding, look at that,” Tim leaned in staring at the screen. “My TV at home isn’t that sharp.”

“Do you have any enhancements?” he asked.

“Just my kidneys,” Tim answered.

“Oh, what do you use those for?” he asked.

“Heh, I used them to live,” Tim answered. “About twenty years ago my kidneys decided to take a holiday and not warn me first. If I didn’t fork out the fortune to replace them I would have been dead within a few months.”

“No kiddin’,” the man replied. “None of the enhancements do that anymore. Well, except the old models. What are you running in there?”

“E1,” Tim answered. “And for the love of god, don’t tell me I should upgrade.”

The man laughed. “You got that young kid in the security line too? Too many people upgrade for no reason. I mean, I’m constantly travelling, so having all of my media on me like this just makes sense. When I run or hit the gym, I can just plug in and all my music is right here. None of the tissue on here is living, so it doesn’t sweat, but the rubber faux skin around it is still water proof so I can swim and if my sweat drips down, no damage. Just makes sense.”

Tim wanted to avoid any obligatory airplane talk, but he had to know who better who was sitting beside him. “So, what do you do then that requires the travelling and the rigorous workout schedule?”

“I’m a major league hockey coach,” he answered and the put out his non enhanced-hand. “Stan Davis.”

They shook hands. “Tim Fowler. I’m retired.”

“You don’t look old enough to be retired,” Stan smiled.

“Thanks for the flattery, but I unfortunately am that old,” Tim answered.

“Well, what did you used to do?” Stan asked.

“Nothing special, sold insurance for a while. Spent a few years running the admin work for a construction company. You know, this and that.”

Cool, cool,” Stan stopped and stared out, looking like he was trying to find a conversation somewhere in front of him. “Are you stopping off in Hamilton?”

“Heading right through to Calgary.”

“Oh, well,” the silence again. Stan started to place the headphone back into his year. “It was nice to meet you.”

*****

By the baggage claim, a six-foot illuminated sign with a map advertised the airport’s new enhancement-application. It listed off everything passengers could do with their enhancements: buy flight tickets, check for cancelled or delayed flights, check in, weight baggage, order in-flight peanuts, it seemed like everything could be done off someone’s body part. Tim laughed a bit staring at the ad, thinking about how far along technology has come, yet sitting beside him on a plane was someone who made a living assembling a team of people who hit a hunk of rubber with a stick.

The conveyor belts kicked on and bags began dropping. People standing around the conveyor belt pointed their fingers or their palms towards the bags that passed by. Tim caught a glimpse of his black suitcase, patched-together with the same luggage tag he’s used for forty years or more. He reached down and picked up his suitcase, and someone standing beside him tapped his shoulder.

“You didn’t scan that bag,” he said.

“Sorry?” Tim began. “What do you mean scanned? What are you talking about?”

“You didn’t scan the bag with any of your enhancements,” the man continued. “How do you know if the bag is yours?”

Tim turned over the luggage tag and the man saw the scribbled note with Tim’s name and address along the white piece of paper, laminated and hanging off the bag’s handle.

“What is that?” the man squinted and leaned in. “It looks like my grandfather’s luggage.”

“Was he on this flight?” Tim asked.

“No,” he replied.

“Then you know the bag’s mine,” Tim pushed his way past the man. “Excuse me.”

It was raining in Calgary when Tim stepped outside to hail a cab. The bright lights guiding the cabs along the dark roads leading up to the airport’s main doors reflected off the wet concrete, hurting Tim’s eyes a bit. Tim never thought he would want sunglasses in the middle of the night so bad. He man from the carousel stepped outside and he held his hand in front of his face, shielding from the glare off the road. He stepped up beside Tim when he finally dropped his arm. Tim looked over and saw the man’s eyes had turned completely black. Tim stared for a short while. The man laughed.

“Yeah, should guess that you’ve never seen these before,” the man pointed to his eyes. “It’s new. It adjusts your eyes to levels of brightness so that you can see everything better in all conditions.”

“Like transitions lenses,” Tim said.

“Like what?” the man asked.

“Something we had when I was younger,” Tim explained. “They were glasses whose tinting would adjust as the light around you changed. It was a brilliant invention. Saved a lot of lives probably with all the issues people have with night driving. Those eye enhancements of yours are actually a very good addition. I am impressed.”

“You think that’s cool,” he continued. “Had a little less-than-legal addition to these bad boys too. Full x-ray capabilities. Expensive addition, sure. But in the long run, I’m saving a lot of money from not having to buy porn anymore.”

Tim said nothing and hailed the first cab that pulled up.

*****

The diner was dimly lit and by this time of night only two kind of people were hanging around: lonely insomniacs and drunken kids who had nowhere else to go once the bars kicked them out. The kids hung out in the booths at the far end of the diner where the waitress would only visit occasionally, “After all,” Tim remembers one waitress telling him one late night when he was hanging around, “once they order their food, they only have their drinks filled maybe once after that. They’re not actually here for food or service. They’re here because they don’t want to be home yet.” The insomniacs sat at the front of the diner along the bar, hoping each other would start a conversation though none of them could muster up the right words to start talking. So they sat quiet, stared at their black coffee and stale fries and barely moved.

“Haven’t seen you in a long while,” a waitress with dark hair tied back said as soon as Tim found his stool at the front of the diner bar. Time couldn’t remember her name. He never knew any of the diner’s staff’s names. “Where ya been there old timer?”

“Visiting the east coast,” Tim answered. “Had a check up on an old procedure I had, well, years ago. You were probably in grade school.”

The waitress blushed while she poured a cup of coffee. “Procedure? What do you mean by that? Like surgery?”

Tim grabbed a newspaper from in front of an empty spot along the bar. “Yeah, a surgery. My kidneys decided to pack up and leave without telling me. Nearly wound up in an early grave. Those enhancements saved my goddamn life.”

The waitress looked over to the table of young kids all staring at their arms, some with headphones in their ears, occasionally talking to one another and showing each other the screens on different parts of their bodies. “I never understood those enhancements,” she said. “Just more crap for us all to spend money on that doesn’t actually make any of our lives better.” She topped up Tim’s coffee. “I’ve seen kids downright obsessed with those things. One kid who came here nearly had every part of his body replaced with some piece of machinery, just to brag about how much of his body are enhancements. All the most recent models. All the top brands. After I saw that kid, I swore I would never have one of those things. Tried to save up for a while, but pay here barely covers my rent and food. No point, I’m just fine without it.”

Tim looked down at his watch and smiled, “I understand that, believe me, if I had real kidneys, I wouldn’t have a single piece of machinery in my body. You know, I’m really glad you don’t have any enhancements. I like you and wouldn’t want you to go through this.”

“Go through what?” she asked.

The sound of plates crashing and cups toppling over sang from the booth with all the kids. “What the hell’s going on with my arm?” one yells out. Another was screaming, “My god, I think he’s dead! His liver must be malfunctioning!” Tim wondered how other people were reacting to the same situation.

*****

After Tim’s surgery, Karen visited him every day that he was recovering in the hospital. They had to keep him there for a month to monitor how his body was adjusting to the new kidneys. He was resting comfortably but could feel the machines in his body working. Though it was unsettling at the time, Tim got used to the feeling of machines in his body before he left the hospital.

“I’m just worried,” Karen said through building tears.

“Don’t be,” Tim reassured her. “That’s why the doctors are keeping me here. I’m going to be fine. If anything goes wrong, they know something went wrong and they can fix…”

“Not that,” she said as the tears streamed. “I’m worried that you’re less than human now. You’re missing something and you replaced it with some gadget. What point do you stop being a human?”

“When I become more obsessed with the gadgets than my own humanity,” Tim replied.

*****

“I’m no luddite,” Tim said as the waitress scrambled looking for her phone. “I think most technology we developed over the last century or so has been really helpful. Made our live easier and allowed us to progress in other ways. But these things, are fucking useless. It’s for the better, believe me.”

The waitress discovered that all the phone lines were dead only after she found her cell phone and tried to call 911. “Did you do this?” she drops her cell phone.

“The cell phone signals were an unintended side effect,” Tim explained. “Enhancements run on the same satellites as the cell phones do, after all, most enhancements have been replacing cell phones.”

“No the cell phone lines!” she yelled. “That!” she pointed to the booth of kids, some dead, some with non-functioning limbs, some comatose but possibly still breathing.

“Well, as in did I somehow shut down all enhancement signals causing all of them to shut down? No,” Tim shook his head while he sipped his coffee. “But, did I do something that wound up with the ripple effect of all these useless gadgets finally shutting down? Yeah, that was me.”

The waitress started crying, putting out her arm to balance herself against the counter and knocking over the coffee pot, letting it crash against the floor. “Why?”

“A beautiful woman once asked me when do we stop being human,” Tim explained. “I said it was when we become more obsessed with the gadgets than our own humanity. I owed this to her.”

*****

Tim did all the research on gallbladder surgery before Karen went in for her procedure. The number of death during this procedure, even for older populations, was negligible. The hospital offered Karen an enhancement to replace her gallbladder, talked about all the benefits of a mechanical gallbladder and tried to sell her on the top high-end brands for enhancements. Karen had integrity, and Tim really admired that, and she refused any enhancement, saying she only wanted the simple procedure. Karen went her whole life without any enhancements. She never needed them, never found any use, and was perfectly happy with skin and bone.

The waiting room Tim sat in while Karen went in for surgery had posters all over advertising for the newest enhancements, covered in infographics showing what each enhancement does and brand name logos competing for the impulse buy of a designer arm or finger or toe or pelvis or neck.

The screaming could be heard all throughout the waiting room. Everyone lowered their arms and unplugged their headphones to stare up and all wonder the same thing: where did that scream come from?

The screaming went on for a couple of minutes before a doctor finally came out and called for Timothy Fowler.

The doctor explained that one of the surgeon’s arm enhancements started playing an Internet video. Something hit something the wrong way as surgeon’s entertainment enhancements were all supposed to be deactivated during procedures. The signal playing the video interfered with the medial equipment. The medical scalpel went haywire, cutting up Karen’s insides. Doctor said she was dead within second of the arteries around her heart being cut open.

Another doctor come out of the surgery room and Tim peered over. The doctor was drenched in blood. Tim caught a glimpse of the inside of the surgery room. It looked like a bloodbath that Bathory would have found excessive.

The hospital managers soon entered the conversation, offering their apologies and trying to compensate for Tim’s loss by paying for all of Karen’s funeral arrangements and offering Tim some new free enhancements.

*****

“Your kidneys,” the waitress said. “How are you not dead? Your kidneys!”

“First model, they never went online with enhancements on first models,” Tim sipped his coffee. “My kidneys don’t need to watch videos of celebrities naked in order for them to do their job. They run on some of the same technology, though. They’ll be shutting down soon enough.”

“So, why are you here then?” the waitress asked. “Why did you come here? Did you have something against those kids? Did you have it out for one of the other waitresses? Why here?”

Tim shrugged. He thought about the man going blind while looking through a woman’s blouse. He thought about the hockey coach losing the function of his arm while swimming. He thought about the arm wrestler having his spleen suddenly shut down while on a drinking binge. “I have nothing else, and I’m about to die. Figured I go drinking the only coffee in this city I can get at this hour.”

The waitress looked at the TV resting on the end of the counter behind the bar. She was a news report that showed a building on fire, with a caption that said, “Enhancement Manufacturing and Control Building Currently on Fire.” Around the building engulfed in flames, little balls of fire were falling from the sky. The news reported said something about them being satellites and the broadcast may be interrupted.

She heard a coffee cup fall and shatter and looked to see Tim toppled over on the bar, still sitting on his stool. The sound of white noise filled the diner as the TV broadcast went dead. She could hear sirens outside in the distance and wondered what kind of enhancements the EMTs had. She wondered about all the doctors’ enhancements. She wondered about all the police’s enhancements. The politicians’ enhancements, the CEOs’ enhancements, her friends’ enhancements. She couldn’t figure out how the world was better off now.

The Straw Between My Teeth: A Short Story

Well if I’ll be the most goddamned son of a bitch ever born on two legs with a stick of straw between his teeth. Twenty goddamned years working these fields, slaving in the sun during the summer, locking myself away in the winter. Twenty goddamned years.

It was my daddy’s farm first, maybe his daddy’s before him too. But we grow, we always have. I don’t think I ever remember a season when we didn’t have a full harvest. We always had enough money for a good Thanksgiving dinner that kept us stuffed until next harvest.

My brothers and I started helping our daddy when we were just we biddy kids. I remember how goddamned jealous I was when my older brother got to learn to drive the tractor. I wanted so bad for my daddy to teach me to drive it too. He kept telling me that I was too young but I kept hollerin’ and cryin’ till my daddy had to grab me by the arm and drag me back to the house for a good lickin’. That shut me up real quick.

Was probably for the better I never learned to drive that demon-machine. My older brother drove it for no more than a week before losing control, turning hard so he wouldn’t hit a neighbour’s dog, but fell off and ran over his own goddamned legs. Right at the knee, flattened and split open like the coyotes along the highway. I still remember the colour of red the fields turned. It’s a colour that you can’t get out of your mind. With it comes the screaming again. My daddy didn’t give him no lickin’s for his crying, but he did beg him to stop.

We stopped using that machine after that. With my brother not walking anymore, it was my turn to learn how to chop the fields. My younger brothers still just ran water and fixed us sandwiches, but I had to learn to use the scythe. My daddy explained that’s how farmers cut their fields before machines started doing all the work. He said this work would be good for me. Make a man out of me and maybe finally put some hair on my chest.

It was a lot slower and we had to start working a lot earlier in the day, but when I got through a whole field, when I finished a whole harvest, and I looked at my bloodied, hard hands and feel the burns along my arms I knew it was worth it.

That’s how it’s been done for twenty some years. Since my daddy died, too soon to say who got the farm, but disease took my older brother’s leg, then his life shortly after that. My younger brothers both enlisted in the army to fight Natsies in Europe. Only one came back and when he did he wasn’t quite right. He tried to work on the farm, stayed in the house for two weeks. Kept waking up with nightmares, screaming about mortars and krauts, I had to throw water in his face to snap him out of it. On the last night, the water didn’t work and he kept screaming for his sergeant and crying and screaming “die fucking kraut scum!” I grabbed him by the soldiers and tried to shake him out of it. He clipped me with a decent right hook across the jaw, knocked my senses out of me for a minute. He tried to choke me out and that’s when I knew I had to fight dirty or die by my little brother’s hands. I kicked him between the legs and clipped him underneath his jaw. Knocked him off his feet and he hit his head against a wall. I wound up burying him next to my older brother and my daddy on the edge of the canola field.

That was a few years back. I adjusted to living on the farm on my own, got myself a good work day going and a nice daily routine. I didn’t mind spending my days outside, hacking along at my fields, talking to myself and setting daily goals for myself for how much I would chop that day. Some days I break records, some days I’m too tired and the sun’s too bright and hot.

It was a particularly hot day when a fancy car pulled up to the house. A black car with four doors that didn’t have a roof. A gentleman got out wearing a black suit with clean hair slicked back and molded into perfect shape. He had a black vest on overtop his white shirt. A gold chain ran along the front of his chest and into his pocket. I found it peculiar that he didn’t have a tie on, but it was a particularly hot day.

I stood at the side of the house while he walked up to the front door and gave it a knock. I watched him, curious how long it would take before he turned his head and saw me staring at him. City folk, always need a finger to point where to piss.

I folded my arms and leaned against my house before calling out to him. “Ya lost or something there sir?” I asked him squinting at the bright sun.

He stumbled back a bit, I guess the rumbling of my voice scared him a touch. He finally turns his head to see me staring back at him with my head tilted. He swallowed hard and reached into his pocket for a stack of white cards. I’m not a gambling man, so I thought they started sending betting games door to door to make a quick buck. But the man handed me a card and told me who he was.

Told me his name was Randy Lewis.

*****

My office is so goddamned hot. And it doesn’t matter if you open a window, there’s no breeze coming through. The air just stays put, stays stale, and smells of the perspiration of every human that’s walked through here.

The fan on my desk stopped working about a week ago. When it used to stop, I would give it a couple of taps with my pen and it’d kick back on again. Then a couple of taps turned into a couple of whacks with my hand. Then I whacked the stupid things so hard I whacked it off my desk. The cage is all bent, the blades wouldn’t be able to turn even if the damned thing started.

That’s just this stupid office. If it’s not the fan, it’s the hole-punch getting jammed, or running out of staples, or paper getting caught in my typewriter. It’s always something.

My boss walks by and plops a beige file on my desk. I keep my head down as he walks by, but I still know it’s him. His stink is very distinct. It smells sweet. Like if all the frosting from the donuts that fat bastard eats seeped through his pores with all the other sweat. There’s a distinct rhythm to his waddle too. Like he has to think after every second step. Thump thump… thump thump… thump thump…

I open and the file and checked the residence I would be visiting. I never read the name first, always where I’m going first. Some farm about half an hour south out of town. Issues with pests and rotting crops. Hasn’t sold a decent harvest in close to twenty years. The farm has no official owner: the last name it was registered to has been dead for around ten years. I hate these mystery cases. It’s always some reclusive nut-job who’d just as soon my cut throat as he would accept any help from me.

I don’t want this case. I know that there had to be around twenty other easy cases, I’d take them all just to get rid of this one stupid case that’s going to take me hours of inspecting, measuring, testing, and explaining to try and deal with. If only these stupid, slack-jawed yokels would learn what they’re doing.

I walked into my boss’ office and plopped the file back down onto his desk. He left the door open but the sickly smell still filled the room like a noxious gas trying to choke me to death. He rolled up his sleeves showing the sweat dripping off of his arms, soaking down the dark hairs along the top. Son of a bitch had more hair on his arms than on his head.

I tried to explain to him that I was swamped with work and there were plenty of other people in the office who could take this on. I had at least a dozen other trips to make this week alone, I didn’t know how much more driving in the sweltering heat I could take.

He pulls a cigar from his desk and sticks it between his teeth like a farmer with a piece of straw. He flicks open his lighter, like a greaser kid standing next to his hot rod, and slowly puff puffs the cigar as he lights it. The cigar slides between his index and middle finger as he takes a long, slow puff, and puts his elbow on his desk, pulling the cigar away. He exhales slowly and points at me with his cigar, his right eyebrow cocked upward.

“Lewis, I gave you that file because you actually know how to talk to those farmers, they like you, for whatever bizarre reason, so I need you to take this file. The last one of the week, I promise.”

I’ve heard that one before, but he has a point. For whatever reason, these illiterate, tractor driving troglodytes like me. I think they see through my suit and tie and just know I come from a blue-collar family. My dad worked a GM factory until his hands seized up. He wanted me to work with him when I was in high school, and a spent a couple of summers doing clean up jobs and running mail there, but I wound up taking a different route. I’m not built for manual labour, and if ever these farmers realize that they’re going to eat me up like a steak and potato dinner on a Sunday.

I try my ultimatum, offering to take a few more easy ones to get rid of this hard one, but I can tell he’s in no mood to hear me trying to barter. Without a word he hands me the file back and points me out of his office, like a school principal trying to get rid of an over-enthusiastic taddle-tale.

Fuck me, I guess I’m stuck with this.

*****

He put out his hand like he wants to my friend but I know better. Suits never come here for no good reason. I stay leaning ‘gainst my house until he realizes I ain’t touching his grubby hand. Son of a bitch would probably just wipe his hand with the rag in his pocket after he shook mine anyways.

He tells me he’s from the department of whatever with some fuckin’ branch of the gov’ment. He tells me he needs to see this and test that to make sure my farm ain’t no hazard. From the way he’s looking around and breathing heavy, I can tell he’s already made his decision.

He keeps rambling on about safety and some other shit when I finally get fed up.

“Listen, my daddy, and his daddy, and my brothers, we all worked on this farm our whole lives. I know how this farm works better than anyone else. You ain’t takin’ this away from me.”

He steps back a bit again; I guess I scared him a bit. He looks up at me, wide-eyed and concocting some scheme to get my guard down so he can take away my land. But I’m on to him.

“Look, mister, uh,” son of a bitch looks into the file he’s got in his hands. Didn’t even learn my name before he came. “Mister Joseph, I’m not here to take anything away from you. I’m just seeing about a couple of complaints from people driving by and living close by, probably all wrong anyways, right? I’m not here to take anything…”

“You’re a lying, Godless asshole and I won’t have you butter me up!” I yell at him.

I keep walking into my field and grab my scythe. I’m going to keep working on my farm even if it kills me. I start chopping at the wheat, cleaning the dread leaves and looking out for water snakes and gophers. Mister fancy stands behind me and keeps talking.

“Hey, I have no reason to shut your farm down, or take anything away from you.”

And I start chopping harder.

“I know what you’re thinking, that I make some fat bonus for every farm I take away from a hard working guy like you, but I really don’t, I get paid just the same for telling my boss a farm’s in great shape and it should keep going.”

And I’m giving full arm swings.

“As long as your farm’s in good shape, you have nothing to worry about. And besides, if you’re farm’s in as bad of shape that the guys above me need to step in, is this somewhere you really want to be working?”

And I’m swinging so hard I’m digging into the dirt and throwing it in the air, pieces flying all over like a bottle with a shotgun slug cutting through it.

“And remember, it’s not me who makes the call, I got people to answer to too..”

And I’m fucking sick of listening to this mother fucker flap his gums. And I spin to give him a piece of my mind.

“Listen here you piece of shit…”

And I stop myself when I notice the streak of crimson across some of the wheat, like the red in the grass when the tractor ran over my brother’s legs. I guess I turned a little too fast and a little too hard. My scythe looks like it just gutted a pig and mister fancy-man is holding his neck, hacking and choking, spitting up all over himself.

He drops to his knees and topples over. He stops himself with his hands letting the wound in his neck pour out like a Thanksgiving turkey we’re draining and getting ready for dinner. He keeps hacking and his head hits the grass, covering his face in all the crimson that just poured out of him. A few seconds later he stops struggling and stops breathing and starts stinking.

*****

I decide to wait until the next day before I visit this hefty case. I finished up all my other files so I can take my time with this last one. I drive home in hopes of a hot meal ready to go. I arrive home to my wife passed out on the couch again. Empty bottle of wine still rolling on the floor. She must have just finished it.

I slam the door behind me and startle her awake. She looks around like she had no idea she’s been out cold like some useless wino on the street.

“Friday night start a little early for you?” I condescend.

She stumbles as she stands but she thinks she’s keeping her composure. She’s not as bad as the last time when she got up only to fall on the broken bottle and needed stitches in her hand. She tried telling me it was an old bottle and only had half a glass left in it but the way she bled out like a coke bottle that clipped the edge of a table I knew that only the first bottle she polished off had only half a glass left in it.

“What are you talking about, dear?” she smiles. “I was just finishing up the vacuuming and must have fallen asleep from working so hard on your house today.” When I think I’m being condescending, she goes out of her way to redefine the word.

I walk over to the fridge hoping to God there’s something in there I can cook and all I can think about is that stupid drive I have to do tomorrow and deal with more of this kind of bullshit.

“I’m quitting my job tomorrow,” I abruptly announce with my nose still in the fridge. “I’m not even going to do my last file, I’m fed up.”

I hear the click click click of her hears slowly creeping up behind me. I understand that I’m not just quitting my job, I’m threatening her booze funds, and she’s not about to take that lightly.

“Listen here, you useless twit,” she snears and hisses from behind me. “The only thing you’re good at is that…” she pauses for a moment and I hear her earrings jingling as she shakes her head. “… Whatever the fuck it is that you do. And believe me when I say it’s the only good things that you do and you’re lucky that I don’t try to find a real man that can do it better for me because there are plenty of eyes on this block that try mighty hard to see through my blouse.”

I stand and let the cool air from the ice-box linger in front of me, the first relief from the heat I’ve had all day. I stand and I think about the hairy-armed sugar-beast I have to deal with back at that office, the drunken harlot I have to deal with here, and the morons who are too stupid to figure out how to clean a piece of farming equipment. A single bead of sweat runs down my cheek and lands between my lips. I turn quickly and give that bitch a piece of my mind.

“You’re right, I’m finishing that last file tomorrow, why? Because it’s the only opportunity I get away from you. I going to work tomorrow, and I’m not coming back.” I turn back to the fridge, grab a beer, and slam the door. “And I hope every set of eyes on this block gets a look at what’s under that blouse, maybe they’ll realize why I gave up so quickly.”

I walk out of the house and lean against my black car. The roof’s up and I lay my head against it. I think about how many miles it is to the closest beach and how sweet the ocean will sound. It won’t be my bosses voice or her banshee screech, just the calm ocean.

For the first time, I look forward to finishing up a file and getting through the next day.

*****

I make rough guesses where I buried my brother and my daddy before I stuff the spade into the ground. I don’t want to be digging up one body just to stick another one in.

I haven’t had company stick around for this long in years and I find myself talking to mister fancy-dancy; he’s better company when he can’t talk back.

“You know, I almost feel bad that this is where I’m sticking ya,” I start but need to catch my breath. Digging is hard work. “I bet you had a lot going for ya. You had a job, probably a good woman at home, you got a decent car, shoot I bet you even had a working fridge at home keeping you cool on the hot days.”

I dig down a good three feet before I spot to dump my company. “I mean, you were only doing your job, I get that. But you gotta understand, this farm’s all I got. I can’t have nobody snooping around and trying to take it away. In the end, I guess it was either you or me, I just beat you to the punch.”

I dump the load into the ground and start laying the dirt back on top. Once I got a decent hump going, I smack it a couple of time with my spade. “All I hope is you wind up somewhere better than you started out this morning.”

The House at the End of the Block

We used to ride our bikes to the house at the end of the block. No one lived there for years. No one came by to take care of it but we knew one of the neighbours owned it. There was a for sale sign on the front lawn for years. I remember first noticing it when I was about six. My brother and I rode past and he told me the house was haunted by a monster that would get me if I ever went in. I didn’t know what the monster would do if he got me but it was warning enough.

I spent a lot of summers riding my bike up to the sidewalk where the house stood. Never daring to step any further than the sidewalk, I’d stare through the windows trying to catch a glimpse of the monster inside. The long grass would sway in the wind and the shutters outside of the windows would bang against the siding of the house anytime a gust of wind blew by. The house was blue at one point, I figured, but the years of dirt building up on the paint gave it a hue like if someone buried a silver fork for a year and dug it up again. The front door sat in the middle of the house with large, dark windows on either side. It looked like the face of someone sleeping and I wondered if the monster wasn’t in the house but was the house. Maybe I would be trapped inside forever if I ever went in; that’s how the monster would get me.

By the time I was ten I wasn’t scared of monsters anymore. My friends and I started riding our bikes right up to the front door. We would break branches off the massive oak tree that stood on the house’s front lawn and use them like swords, striking down the monster that wanted to gobble us up. We weren’t afraid anymore and each more boldly mocked the house than the last to show off our prowess.

One day, we found some big rocks in the garden, some too big to carry with one hand. We started throwing them like shot puts to see who was the strongest until one of us threw a rock right through one of the dark, front windows. Then that became the game. The sound of glass shattering exhilarated us as we tried to one-up each other by throwing the biggest rock, making the biggest crash, and breaking the most glass.

One of the neighbours came out and started yelling at us. We all tried to run and I was the only one he could catch. He dragged me by my collar back to my house and told my mother what he caught me doing. My mother yelled at me and told me I would have to clean up all the glass that I broke. My brother sat behind her, shook his head and sneared saying the monster would get me before I finished cleaning all the glass.

The next day I walked to the house at the end of the block with a broom and dust pan in my hand, whacking the head of the broom against the sidewalk every few steps not necessarily hoping it would break, I just wanted to hit something. I got to the sidewalk in front of the house and stared at it. The face was broken and if there ever was a monster in there, it was dead now.

I got about half way done cleaning when my friends showed up to make fun of me. They called me a baby while they kicked the front door and kept kicking it until it fell off its hinges and caved in the middle, splintering out the other side. They started laughing as they picked up what was left of the door and hit it against the wall until the door crumbled in pieces and the wall dented and cracked. We all started laughing and kicking at all the walls, leaving holes wherever we could and trying to make a bigger hole than the last. I picked up the broom and starting using the head to break the ceramic tiles on the floor while my friends picked up the pieces and started carving swear words into what was left of the walls.

That’s when we heard steps coming up to the front door.

A young couple stood in the doorway, silently and slowly turning their heads with their mouths cracked open. The young woman was holding a baby wrapped in a pink blanket; her lips curled up and her chin scrunched up as tears started falling along her face. Her shoulders bobbed, waking up the baby who started to wail.

The man’s arms were caked in mud and dirt was embedded into his fingers with dry, broken nails. He was unshaven and his face was creased. His shirt was dirty and his boots were covered in drywall dust. His shoulders started bobbing too as tears ran down his face.

A mirror had fallen off the wall shattered on the ground beside me. I looked down at the pieces beside me and realized the monster in the house wasn’t dead. And I found out what happens when the monster gets you.