Amissa Animabus, otherwise known as The Spirits, watched the man as he woke.
First, his deep breaths grew shallower and more rapid. His eyelids fluttered with butterfly-like gentleness. He frowned at the intense sunshine, a sweat already on his brow. A low grumble at the back of his throat, a subvocal complaint. Why couldn’t he sleep forever? His head tossed one way, then the other. Why must he wake up and leave the pillowed land of dreams?
“Jefford Benzson,” The Spirits said with its million voices. Its skin rippled and bubbled, a chaotic swirl of life. It pulsed to the surface and swelled like an ocean tide, only to recede once more. “Welcome to the future.”
Jeff’s thin lips curled upwards. “What future?” He made a small chuckle sound. It clucked, henlike, in his dry and scratchy throat.
“The future.” The Spirits wavered closer to the man’s face. “And this is no dream, Mr Benzson. Wake up. Wake up and see what you’ve done to the world.” With the utterance of this last sentence, Amissa’s voice doubled and trebled. A thousand times over. A million times over. A certain youthfulness to the intonations.
Jeff’s eyes flicked open.
And took in the sight of The Spirits.
Like an octopus. One that could float and hover midair. One with galaxies as skin. The blackness of the void stood stark against reality. The smatter of stars and systems flickered, cosmic freckles.
The man seemed to struggle with the image before him. A few choked noises gargled. At last, he managed to squeeze the words out of himself, with visible effort. “I’m still rich, aren’t I?”
Amissa sighed. Insomuch as an ethereal being of no fixed dimension can sigh. “Rich, how? In terms of material wealth? Power? Control? Money? Yes, you still have all those things, if not more.”
Jeff sat up and puffed his chest out. “Well, that’s all right then, isn’t it? Thought you were gonna go all Christmas Carol on me there, for a second.” He rubbed his fingers together and scrutinised the dust on his skin. “What’s wrong with this place, anyhow? All dried up. Bloody hot, too. Got any water?”
“Christmas… Carol?” The Spirits shook what served as its head. “You may have amassed wealth, Mr Benzson, but you are poor in life, love, and kindness. And what has happened to this place, is you. Or, rather, your company. Amazing has amassed several billions worth. But at the expense of your fellow man. And your planet. You can have some water once you’ve repented.”
Two tentacles, clothed in the universe, whipped out and lashed around Jeff’s wrists.
“Hey, what th—“
“Rise. Rise, Mr Benzson, and lay thine eyes upon your life’s work.”
The Spirits hauled Jeff to his feet and stabilised him when his legs threatened to buckle.
Desert stretched out before them, smothered with tin-can shacks and corrugated metal huts. The slums spanned for thousands of miles, with one monolithic structure at the centre. The Amazing warehouse.
“What’s the matter with this future, then?” Jeff turned to Amissa. “People are still using Amazing for their shopping, aren’t they? They’re still buying Amazing products?”
The Spirits’ skin rippled. Several faces, mouths agape in screams, swam to the surface. They blurred, melted together, then drifted away. Jeff frowned and tilted his head. As if to listen to their cries.
“Yes, Mr Benzson.” Amissa cast one intergalactic tentacle across the scene. “The people still spend what little wealth they have. They give you all they own.”
Jeff shrugged and pouted. His lower lip curled over, like a toddler’s. “So what’s the problem then?”
The Spirits bristled. The galaxies swirled. More faces popped to the skin like acne. They burst, the pus made of souls and stars. Screams sliced into the air. “The problem?” Amissa swelled and grew in stature. Its voices became a choir of the dead. “The problem?”
Some men, The Spirits came to understand, you cannot reason with. It had taken the man on a journey to teach him a lesson, but, in the end, The Spirits had been the one to learn something.
Some men cannot learn.
And the world would be better off without them.
The Spirits pointed him out into the desert, away from the Amazing giant that blotted the horizon.
“How far? Where to? I don’t have the right shoes for this, and you promised me water, and—”
A tentacle whipped out and lashed the billionaire across the back. The man stumbled, a red gash open between the shoulder blades. Blood oozed from the wound, and sand soon wound its way inside. The grit churned like teeth.
But he did not fall. Amissa would not allow him that luxury. The Spirits held him upright and forced him onwards.
“Walk. Walk until your skin is blistered from the heat. Walk until your tongue is swollen and your lips are cracked. Walk until your shoes are worn thin, and your soles are shredded and sore. Walk until your feet are nought but bloodied stumps and flensed meat. And then, when you can walk no more, I’ll be there to force you to keep walking.
“Until there is nothing left of you. Until your body has sanded itself down upon grains of the desert. Worn away as the ocean wears at a rock. And once your physical body is gone? Once you are but a meat-sack torso?
“We’ll do it all over again.
“For every lost soul that I’ve housed within. For every broken future. For every infant who grew up without food. For every man, woman and child who died in poverty. Who died hungry. Who died of thirst whilst your company stole public water and sold it back. For every pure soul who died of preventable disease, who couldn’t afford health care.
“How can one man ever repay a debt so appalling?
“I have seen the future, Mr Benzson, and I have no answer to that question.
“But we will try.
“You and I.”