The fires stretched way out. Dots of ‘em, then blending out into a horizon that was starting to shake with the screams while ghostly snakes of smoke found their way up to the sky. Or maybe it was just my eyes seeing a shimmer, scratched from my own cookout themselves. Who knew. Who even could say when the world was last stable. We’re just ants on a big rock tumbling through space after all. When I learned that the world was like a spinning top I asked my mother why we didn’t fall off. She covered up the gap in her knowledge by asking me to run and fetch her scissors.
I didn’t believe in god, but liked to think those smoky ribbons heading upwards were maybe souls on their way to heaven. The souls of those who did believe. Wouldn’t it be funny, if it turned out they were right all along.
I used to look out of this window and admire the way the city lit up at night like an arcade game. Like the moving blobs that were cars, they were the ghosts chasing Pacman. I used to wonder if aliens ever visited what they made of all our stars being on the ground like that. The backwards human race. We should never have stepped onto shore. Shouldda just stayed at the bottom of the ocean flapping our useless fish gums at each other.
You ever had your life flash before your eyes and gotten bored? Wanted to change the channel? With my thoughts I can make anything happen. I’m the marionette master. My actual real life events? Moving into this dump had been a highlight. None of the usual milestones for ol’ Charlie boy here. No kids, no wife, hell – not even a single qualification to my name. Sat on a waiting list for five years to get this place and those who knew me said they were surprised I could even sit still that long. Kinda fitting it’s going up in flames for its finale. Take a bow, ya dirty dump.
So, I think it’s safe to say the box I found outside my place a week ago just made it onto the highlights reel of Charlie’s Life. Although reel is too grand a word. How about a dusty polaroid at the bottom of a shoebox.
Was surprised firstly by how I hadn’t fallen over it right onto my face, and secondly how it bore no signs of anyone having interfered with it. That’s normally what happens with packages around here; someone thinks they might have cash in them or something they could hawk. But on closer inspection, the box had one of those government seals on the side which meant those guys could track it to the nearest millimetre and it would only open at the touch of the addressee’s fingerprints. Handle something bearing that logo that wasn’t yours and there were consequences – anything from an electric shock that would’ve sent you flying down one end of the corridor to the other or food tokens vanishing from your record or a modification to your tag meaning you could only go a quarter mile radius for a week. It was a pretty effective system.
I had been on my way to go out and feed the ducklings. It was rare to see any ducks these days and I guess I got to feeling kinda fatherly and protective over them. But they could wait. Or someone else would come along. I saw a little girl waddle over to ‘em last time and felt guilty as I’d already fed them so I knew unless they were feeling like particular gluttons that day they wouldn’t want anything out of the little blue plastic bag she was joyfully twirling. I smiled at her as I passed her and she just looked at me open mouthed and wide eyed, not cuz I was ranting or raving or anything that I would do if I only had the guts to live out what my insides are doing, but just because she had that look kids give to everything because it’s still so fresh and new to them. Maybe I was the first guy she’d ever met with sticky up hair that looked like a toilet brush and who always had his laces untied. Felt guilty again for even acknowledging her. What if she ran back to her folks, who were talking animatedly to another couple they’d run into, the mother laughing too hard at her husband’s jokes as if to warn the woman in the other couple to stop staring at her man too much and lookatMElookatME LOOK. AT. MEEEE! What if she ran back and said ma that creepy man is bothering me.
I have a guilty aura. I haven’t done anything wrong, have never been malicious, but it’s like a cloud of shame that’s stuck on me just because I dared to have an existence.
An existence. Not a life.
Now I geddit. That’s why they’ve done this. That’s why they sent that.
So while the ducks were out there swimming in circles building up an appetite waiting for the chump who brings them all the leftovers (they’re not my leftovers – I eat all my food – but stuff I’ve seen poking out of other people’s bins. I know it’s weird but I wanted a reason to hang out with the ducks) I was rummaging for a knife in the kitchen draw because my nails had reminded me I wasn’t Wolverine. Or Edward Scissorhands. Whichever you prefer. I exist to entertain you. I exist so you can feel better when you compare your life choices to the ones you believe were mine.
I opened the box and skimmed the letter. I’d been personally selected (how? By who?) to receive a SAD lamp. It was supposed to help me and my body know when it was time to get up and time to go to sleep. I briefly considered whether I could get any money for it but I was curious to give it a try. Took me a while to get it going. I’m not into electronics and gadgets and all that stuff. There’s still buttons on my washing machine I’ve never touched. Didn’t want to end up accidentally summoning a genie because with my typical luck it would be the kind that make nightmares a reality instead of granting wishes.
Anyway, this lamp worked like a charm for a few weeks and then – well, you don’t need me to tell you. Just take a look out of the window. They musta all been programmed to malfunction on today’s date.
I wonder why they didn’t just post a letter bomb but as I wonder this the answer immediately becomes evident. They like to prolong the torture, of course. Squeezing us like we’re their executive toy stress balls. ‘Population control’ they call it, rather than calling it ‘population reduction’ like what it really is. It’s a game to them, with a flimsy film of statistics and buzzwords glossing over their real intentions. Wipe out a whole bunch of us.
Connect the dots.
I hope one of the buildings I can see that’s not glowing orange now, one of those dim in-between spaces, contains a bright little girl who will remember to feed the ducks.
Stay in the water, kids. It’s safer there.