Fantasy Sad Science Fiction

Ernie had always been old. Not physically–although he rather enjoyed his childhood when his joints were well oiled–but mentally. Back then in the 2020’s, he was drinking black coffee by age 10 and insisted on completing the New York Times crossword before running off to kindergarten (with a mask on of course). His name even suggested that an old man would sprout from the 5 letter word. 

Among the advancing tech, Ernie reminisces more and more on how he used to step out onto his apartment balcony, with caffeine in hand, and read for hours the current Charles Dickens novel that he found intriguing all while listening to the train pass as ambience. Unfortunately for Ernie, he receives a couple menacing glares from the neighboring apartments when he steps onto his own balcony, him being the only one who hasn't yet traded his outdoor chairs for self-watering, electronic greenery. 

And here I thought the big palm leaves that mom used to buy from that place called Hobby Lobby looked fake, these just look completely and utterly artificial, Ernie often thought. But he figured that's just what the world had come to, marrying the artificial lifestyle. 

It was 2096 and all Ernie wanted to do was stop time. 

He was out of touch with the ever-changing society that he had somehow come to be bred in, with his rickety old chairs and black coffee. But every time he did try to “re-enter” society, he felt even more foreign than before. A couple months ago Ernie had decided that he wanted to become a shap-shifter, something that normal, average looking people could become with only a few signatures and simple tests. However, the process to become a shape-shifter wasn’t all that difficult, it was learning how to use his new profound ability that caused him struggle. The company, Super Abilities and Co, had only provided Ernie a few tips on how to shapeshift into, let's say, a pigeon. The ladies–Ernie found there to be no men in the facility which was strange but not alarming to him–told him to imagine his arms turning into long feathered wings and growing a short, sharp beak for a mouth. You see, Ernie tried this and had ended up shape-shifting into a hedgehog. 

He figured that at least he knew he could transform into an animal, just not the one that he precisely wanted at the moment. Who would want to become a pigeon, though? Their goals in life consist only of eating the various seeds that are thrown at them by strangers and turning around and pooping on those exact strangers as a form of thanks. 

He fiddled with his new ability in the coming days, not entirely sure if he was supposed to be grunting and using up so much energy–that he could have used to break his crossword time–just to turn into an animal that he wasn’t even half appealed to being. Shape shifting was hard for Ernie, so after about a month of struggling he made the decision to turn in his useless ability at Super Abilities and Co, just like how one would return a new pair of loafers that were a tad bit too squeaky. 

“I can’t shapeshift like how you youngsters said I would! This ability doesn't work on me!” Ernie shouted at the 2 women in the abilities lab. 

“We are very sorry to hear that, sir. Maybe you would like to try out another ability? It wouldn’t cost much extra, a simple exchange, really. Let me see what I can find in our files,” the brown haired lady assured Ernie and proceeded to thumb through metallic draws in the lab’s office, while the blond woman stood by her side, awkwardly smiling at Ernie. 

“Ah ha, here's a few that are available. ‘Stomach Expansion’, ‘Beauty Restoration’, ‘Time Control’...hmm-”

“Hold on a minute, what's ‘Time control’”, Ernie was intrigued by the mention of having some sort of “control” over anything in his life. Perhaps this was what he needed. 

“It says here that ‘Time Control’ is for people who have the desire to stop time in its track…side effects may include delusional brain function, hearing loss, sight loss-”

“I’ll take it!” Ernie licked his lips in anticipation. He could already feel the weight of time he would hold in his palms, all he had to do was crush the invisible force and he would be able to catch up with the world in minutes, while everyone around him stood frozen. 

The brown haired one looked at the blonde for approval. 

“We aren’t sure, sir. Those are some very big and very real risks. You could always try a sample of it for half the price to see if you really want to commit to som-” 

“I want it all!” Ernie wasn’t sure if he said “want” or “need”. 

The transaction went over smoothly, at least as smoothly as it could before Ernie ripped the container from the woman's hands. He dismissed the women’s shock, all he wanted was the power this ability would grant him. 

To obtain Ernie's first ability of shapeshifting, he had to have a chip instilled into his forearm. The woman left the chip alone, all they had to do was disable its activity and Ernie never had to worry about turning into a hyperactive squirrel or walrus without the resources for a body of water ever again. For the “Time Control” ability however, all Ernie was told to apply a grimy balm in the creases of his eyes and voila, he would have the power to stop the passage of time. Ernie could already feel time bending at his will, slowing just slightly as the blonde handed him the container of balm. As soon as his wrinkled skin touched the glass, he was out of the lab in seconds. He desperately wanted to protect the scartely of his newfound ability, Ernie had no desire to let the lab assistants see what he could do. 

As he stepped out of Super Abilities and Co, Ernie uncapped the lid of the balm and greased his eye’s with it. 

“Ah!” It turns out the balm stung like an angry hornet but the pain only lingered for a second before everything was quiet on the streets. Ernie blinked away his welling tears and marveled at the silence. No more rustling bodies, constantly moving towards a goal of evolving. 

Ernie was alone and something akin to solitude fluttered around his rib cage. He walked back to his apartment complex, looking around at the frozen trees, caught  mid-breeze. He felt like a boy again, stunned by the absolute size of the world. For the first time since when Ernie solved a New York Times crossword all those decades ago, Ernie could feel a quiet power run along his veins. 

A couple years from now, Ernie will feel the effects of power and solitude seep from his system and be ultimately replaced by boredom and loneliness. But for now, on this quiet afternoon in New York, Ernie was content with the pausing of time.

June 07, 2024 20:16

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RBE | Illustrated Short Stories | 2024-06

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