Anything we could arrange, if you could make a change!
The headline was written in bold, golden letters. Below it was a cartoonish image of a steel coffin. The same flyer always showed up every morning right on his doorstep, and the company advocating this change always failed to light up his day, or even have him consider the offer. He didn’t like the sound of it. In fact, no one else did. Who would want to accept the offer of early death anyway? Just because he was over fifty years old.
A memory flashed in his head of his early youth. He was thinner, had thick ebony hair, lighter skin, jovial cerulean eyes, and a charming toothy grin. Now, he was the opposite. He was frail, had thinning hair, notable wrinkles all over his face, hands, and legs. Aging was an unstoppable thing, he knew, which was why he was going to allow it to continue its course.
For hundreds of years, things have definitely changed. Resources are slowly being depleted, animals are going extinct, and there are no longer icebergs in Antarctica. No one asked anyone anything about getting their life planned out for them in the future. The future is now. And in that present moment, the flyer that kept screaming the same motto again and again disgusted him.
But Erik always did what he always did. He crumpled the glossy paper in his hands, gripping it firmly until it became a ball, and he tossed it to a built-in waste bin next to the kitchen counter. He smiled upon hearing the sounds of paper shredding.
Soon after that, a buzzing sound echoed from the main door. Erik moved towards the living room where the bright blue door stood, and he waved a hand over it. It took a few seconds for the hi-tech door to fade into transparency, revealing a short, stout man with a funny mustache. The purple coat and bowler hat were tedious to look at, but the round, golden doubloon pinned to the man’s chest meant that he wasn’t to be ignored. It was what important people, especially those working closely with the government, wore and they usually meant unfriendly business. Between the man’s lips was a tobacco pipe, which was unlikely for someone to be using in the year 2320. Tobacco pipes were rather rare and quite expensive.
Erik sighed as he placed his palm over the scanner beside the door frame, feeling envious of the man’s pipe. The door slid to one side with moderate speed and the visitor gently pulled the pipe off his mouth and greeted Erik with a puff of tranquil smoke.
“Ah, Mr. Jones,” the man said in a smug voice. “I’m here to talk about your future.”
Erik glared at the man. “I don’t want to die, Mr. Snitch. You can tell that to that lousy, fat mayor who wouldn’t move a muscle.”
Snitch smiled, a shiny golden tooth peeking from his upper set of teeth. “You do know there’s a deadline for everything, yes?”
“Yes, but not your way,” Erik clenched his fists, the blood rising from his veins. He could feel his head throb in anger, his heart thumping with fury. He was getting old and getting too fragile with his emotions. If Mr. Snitch and his awful company keeps this up, he just might die early as they wished.
“You won’t necessarily die, Mr. Jones,” Snitch assured in a hard tone, trying to keep up a fake smile. “Not like what the rumors said. We put your body in a hundred-year sleep.”
“And when I wake up, what then?” Erik furiously asked. “I die? Don’t take me for a fool, Albert. I ain’t giving you this house. I ain’t giving you anything. Not even my life.”
“That’s alright,” Snitch said confidently. “I was hoping you’d reconsider. All things come and go, you know. Well, I’m just here to remind you about that.”
“Tell that to your future self, Snitch,” Erik said as he placed his palm again over the scanner. “I’m never going to reconsider, no matter how many times you’ll visit me. I will die, but not your way.”
The door slowly slid to a close and Mr. Snitch cockily turned around, spitting on the floor before he returned the tobacco pipe between his lips. “We’ll see about that,” he said before the door completely shut itself.
Erik wandered to the kitchen, noticing a short, glowing key on the counter. He had left the car key there. The last time he drove was a month ago when he had paid his dead wife a visit during her death anniversary. Ever since she had left him three years ago, the house was never the same. He became a lonely man who had to cope up with modern technology, and he had to admit, it was becoming bothersome with each passing year.
Breathing deep, he took the car key.
Cemented roads were becoming obsolete. Cars were never the same. They were slightly armored now with closed-off geometric tires that open up whenever they moved. Car doors had to be unlocked by hovering a hand over its side. Most of the car models were the same except for the color and the plate number. It was a requirement that everyone had to comply in order to avoid getting in the way with the law. A sort of communism, Erik thought to himself as he started the engine.
Erik chuckled. He wanted to feel young again, and perhaps this was a new chance. Snitch was going to get him killed anyway, it was how businesses work. If they can’t get what they want, they play dirty. So, Erik decided that he was going to have some fun before his life ends.
He gripped the steering wheel, aware of the checkpoint ahead of him. He had gone a few miles from his home, slightly speeding, but no one seemed to have noticed. He had only gone to a slow stop once he reached the checkpoint.
“May I know your next destination?” the officer in the glass stall asked through a microphone. Above him was a medium-sized box that had a glowing red light, an indication that Erik’s car wasn’t meant to pass through.
“Oh, I’ll be going across the border to visit my extended family,” Erik said with a small smile. He had practiced the way he would say it. “I’ve finally accepted the government’s offer of paradise after a hundred years, so I think it’s best if I first say my goodbyes.”
The officer’s face saddened, “I wish you good luck in your journey, and please keep your travel card with you.”
Without hesitation, the red light suddenly turned green, the laser gates beyond allowing Erik to drive through. For once, he felt free. He was going somewhere… anywhere, so long as he enjoyed what he did.
The sun was setting, and the sky donned fiery colors, matching the desert field that stretched out for miles. Only a few cars traveled that day. Beyond Riftbrook City was the Old Town Borderland, a land that had been practically abandoned ever since technology rose. Most of the old cities were here, crumbling and in need of repair.
The paved road was partially covered with reddish sand. Strong gusts of wind had scattered it to and fro as if the world had become angry of humankind for whatever it had done. Old Town Borderland had become a desert, but even so, some parts of it still had homes. There were no gas stations in Borderland and no one dared to set up a shop anywhere. The radio station didn’t operate well around here, so he resorted to using just the music player in his own car with ancient songs he enjoyed since his childhood years. When Erik slowed the car to a stop after about eighty miles, the intro for the Bohemian Rhapsody was already beginning.
His eyebrows furrowed as he focused on a deranged dark-haired woman dressed in a crumpled shirt and tight jeans. Her hair appeared as if it had been yanked and her face was disheveled. Tears mixed with mascara ran down her cheeks. Her lips were dry and pale. She was saying something he couldn’t hear.
Behind the woman was a supercar the same as his. Evidently, it had crashed into an unappealing truck. Two men came out of the truck with thick tattered garbs and gas masks over their faces. They had metallic rods in their hands, which beamed sparks of light at the ends.
The woman ran towards the other side of the street, away from those men. Erik breathed deep as his hands gripped hard on the steering wheel for the fifth time. This time, he wasn’t thinking of the changes this world had gone through. This time, he was mad. There were still uncivilized people in these parts who had conspired against the government and were banned out of the major cities. These were unfriendly people who lived in underground houses and who did everything just to get what they want. Without another word, Erik yanked the gearshift underneath the steering wheel, and stepped on the pedal.
“Mama, just killed a man… put a gun against his head, pulled my trigger, now he’s dead…”
“Lacey, was it?” Erik asked the woman who uncomfortably seated herself in the backseat. Up close, Erik could see a bruise on her forehead. The upper buttons of her shirt had come off, revealing her pale skin. Erik tried his best not to stare. She was pretty with bright green eyes and thin lips. “How old are you?”
“Twenty-three,” Lacey said without hesitation. Her voice still trembled, as if she was still afraid of something. Perhaps Erik was being creepy by asking her that question, so he tried to loosen up the atmosphere.
“I’m fifty-eight,” he chuckled, his eyes kept still on the road. It still stretched for miles. He was just glad that cars were totally upgraded to carry much fuel. “And at fifty-eight, you’re going to be asked if you want to die.”
“Yeah, so I’ve heard,” Lacey said, her eyes shifting towards him through the rearview mirror, watching him in pity. “I’m sorry.”
“Why?” Erik asked loudly, but in a humorous way. “You don’t have to be. Life is short. It is what it is.”
“Is this why you’re leaving?” she asked in a soft voice, slightly leaning towards him. “From Riftbrook, I mean.”
Erik snorted. “I’m not gonna lie. I’m sick and tired of that place. I’m tired of seeing those flyers every day on my doorstep and that sicko Albert Snitch kissing my ass just so I could agree to commit a technological suicide.”
Lacey giggled and Erik felt great that he had made her laugh. He had never spoken to anyone for months. It was a relief to tell somebody how he actually felt. “I am alone,” he continued. “My wife died three years ago. I don’t have kids, no family, no friends. I do sideline jobs enough for me to keep my house and laser-plasma TV. I am basically just trying to survive even when I’ve got nothing to live for. I thought that, y’know, I gotta get out of there and survive again. They’re gonna kill me, it’s pretty obvious. It’s either they’re gonna put me out here in Borderland or burn my house and me in it. So I had to choose. I have to beat them to it first.”
“I’m glad you’re still fighting,” she said as her thin lips curved into a smile. Erik wanted to see more of that smile. It was beautiful. He probably missed the feeling of being in love with someone. She continued, “You should continue to live no matter what the cost. Live life to the fullest, right?”
Erik sighed, “Yeah. So, where are you heading?”
“I was going to drive to Solace and visit my sick sister until those men showed up.”
“You’re going to that unmodernized town?”
“Yeah,” Lacey nodded. “It’s the last town that brings back the feelings of nostalgia.”
“Funny because I’m heading there.”
“Really?” the corner of Lacey’s lips stretched wide. “That’s great! You must have a lot of memories there too.”
“That’s where I grew up, until everything just became too highly advanced.”
Erik watched her carefully from the mirror. There was a forlorn look on her face that he wished he could caress her so badly. As time went on, Erik did everything just to keep the conversation going. Lacey was a nice woman to talk to. She knew a lot of humorous jokes and rock songs, not to mention she was also a fan of Queen.
Luckily, no one else was on the road as them, or else it would ruin the fun they were having. They sang to the songs in Erik’s station and discussed a lot about music and their childhood. They both shared almost the same memories at Solace City. Erik never felt this young again. Long rides were great, especially when you have someone to talk to. After hours of nonstop conversation, they finally arrived in a lonely town with rows of outmoded Victorian houses. No lights were visible, except for Erik’s car. As soon as he reached the empty entrance gate of Solace, Lacey asked him to drop her off right there.
“I’ll walk from here,” she said as she opened the car door and hopped out.
“It’s dangerous,” Erik told her. Deep down, he just really wanted to talk to her more and savor the feeling of being sociable. “Also, it’s nighttime.”
“Don’t worry,” she said chirpily. “Thank you so much for saving me and getting me here. I couldn’t ask for more.”
“Are you sure?”
Erik watched her disappear in a corner and he sighed as his mind back went to his meddling thoughts of the government and its brutality. He drove a little and parked the car in a corner. Across the street was a tall, rusty gate. It wasn’t locked as usual and as soon as Erik got out of the car, he was already jogging towards the place, flashlight in hand. The whole town sent an eerie vibe, but it also felt homey. Not much people occupied the place and the roads were entirely empty.
“It was a long ride,” he murmured to himself as he arrived at the place he wanted to be at. He passed through the gate, his boots crunching up dead leaves and grass. He stopped in front of a dead tree and he stared down at the headstone on the ground. Reading his wife’s name brought a small smile on his lips. “But it was worth it. It was just how I remembered it. You, running away from crooks, and me saving you.”
Tears fell down his eyes as he knelt down on the ground. “I’m all alone, and I am dying. They won’t kill me because of old age, but because I’ve already shown signs of forgetfulness. I won’t let them, not in a million years. I won’t let them kill me just so I could forget who you are. If I have to die, then it would have to be by your side.”
After he finished, he marched back down and out of the cemetery. He got back in his own car, started the engine, and he drove again out of the town. “I’m not gonna stop driving. I’m gonna keep on going.”
He shifted his gaze towards the picture of a woman sitting on the dashboard. Dark hair, green eyes, pale skin with thin lips that stretched into a dazzling smile. “I love you, Lacey. So long as I’m alive and running, nothing will get in the way of my love for you.”