Science Fiction Suspense

It was nighttime. The group of friends were still dancing as they walked along the sidewalk, having just left the discotech. They were all impeccably dressed in the latest fashion, having all shopped together that day. It’s what they did every Saturday - brunch, shopping, dinner and dancing. It was permanently on their schedules. A schedule that was made for them. 

In stark contrast to their easy, carefree mood, spherical drones buzzed quietly around them in the night sky. Each of them the size of a bowling ball, the street lights reflecting off of their shiny surfaces. It wasn’t that the friends couldn’t see them. It was that the medicine kept them from caring. The medicine kept them happy. It kept everyone in the town happy. Or at least it was supposed to. 

It was hot that summer night. They were all sweating. But this didn’t stop Betty and Ester from racing up the grassy hill on the corner of Lilac and Daisy. 

“Last one to the top is a rotten egg!” said Ester, giggling as she skittered off in her high-heels. 

“Come on, fellas!” said Chaz. “Let’s not let the girls show us up!” Chaz, Demetrius and Henry joined in the wonderful fun. Lance stayed behind though. Lance, was a tall, fit young man who never lost in a footrace. But he walked slower than usual. His typical bright, cheery face was turned downward, like he was thinking about something. A strange thing to do in that town. 

“I win!” said Ester, bouncing up and down on the top of the hill. 

“Lance loses!” said Betty. 

“That’s alright,” said Chaz, who was a close second. “Lance can still come to the top with us and join in on the fun!” 

Lance didn’t join them. Instead, standing at the base of the hill, he uttered the last words the friends ever heard from him. 

“My feet hurt!” he said. “And I hate dancing!” 

The group looked at Lance from above in silence. They cocked their heads like Lance was suddenly speaking a different language. They didn’t understand him. The medicine wouldn’t let them. 

And then one of the spherical drones flashed red. The mechanical iris of its large single eye contracted behind a convex lense, narrowing in on Lance. It buzzed down from above and came to hover above Lance’s perfectly quaffed, blonde hair. The group had never seen a drone do that before. 

Lance looked up. And then the floating sphere opened up and clamped down on Lance’s head, completely surrounding it like a cage. 

It muted Lance’s screams as his body thrashed violently. Other drones descended down on him like ants to new sugar, clamping down on his limbs, completely immobilizing him. 

They carried him away into the darkness.  

The group watched with their heads tilted. There was silence until Chaz broke it, “I guess we won’t see Lance at tennis tomorrow!” Everyone laughed and forgot about Lance as they playfully rolled down the hill. That was, everyone forgot about Lance except Henry. 

The event left a slight tear in the plastic venir that the medicine wrapped Henry’s brain in. It was not much at first. Just an invisible nagging that curiously pulled his focus as everyone eventually branched off on their separate ways home.  

But after Henry settled into his apartment and eventually pulled the covers over his body, closing his eyes for sleep, his searing nightmares expanded the tear in his psyche. Melting through it like teflon dropped on a hot stove top. 

Flashing lights and the panging of a siren woke Henry. The long tube that descended from the ceiling of his apartment just above a glass cup on his nightstand had plopped out a multi-colored variety of pills. He was ten minutes late in taking them. The alarm would not relent until he swallowed the medicine. Without thinking, Henry choked them down and waited for the familiar warm fuzziness to permeate through him. The alarm stopped, but nothing else happened.  

Instead, the residual iciness of his nightmares creeped up his neck and the after image of Lance haunted him like a burn on his retina. 

He rushed to the window in his bedroom and pulled back the curtains. He was on the twenty-third floor, overlooking Dandelion Street. The drones floated in the air like a school of jellyfish. One turned, its singular glass eye narrowing in on him. He yanked his curtain shut and spun around, plastering his back to the wall. All these years, how did he not notice them before? 

Henry’s eyes flicked over to the LCD screen embedded on his wall. It displayed a faceless, revolving avatar and an interface that let him decide the clothes he wanted to wear for the day. Once selected, the machinery in the closet would shuffle around, and his outfit would be nicely pressed and hanging just inside the closet door. 

The LCD screen also showed Henry’s schedule for the day. Just like it did every day. Always there and always programmed for him. So that he never had to do anything except decide which clothes he wanted to wear. All he needed to do was enjoy

Lance’s last words echoed in Henry’s mind. I hate dancing! At the time, the words just seemed odd and different. But now Lance’s strange words stood out against the backdrop of the whole town. Nobody ever expressed their discomfort here. Everyone was always cheerful, satisfied, smiling. 

Henry felt as if someone swapped his blood with gasoline, his heart beating a thousand times a minute. 

The clock on the LCD screen ticked closer and closer to his tennis appointment. Should he go? Would the drones know something was wrong with him? Would his friends notice and say something? 

Henry’s stomach did somersaults as his mind raced through every conceivable possibility. But then, a familiar warmth grew inside of his head. Seeping up through his brain stem, the medicine threw a plush blanket over the world and everything was fine again. Everything was perfect. Happy.

He opened up the curtains. The drones were still there but they might as well have been christmas ornaments to him now. What a beautiful day. Excitement filled Henry at the thought of the clean, white outfit that he had bought for today’s tennis match. He loaded it up on his avatar and changed into the sweet-smelling shirt and shorts that appeared just inside his closet. 

He practically frolicked out the door. And over the next couple of hours he floated blissfully through a game of tennis with his friends. Nothing wrong. No one even mentioned Lance’s name. 

Afterwards Henry showered back at his apartment and changed into a smart yellow and brown plaid suit that he bought specifically for that day’s brunch. He quickly left, and made his way down the sidewalk to the cafe. Some of the drones turned to focus on him, but he didn’t care. Why would he? 

He arrived at La Fleur cafe. A medium sized restaurant with a red, checkered awning that provided shade over the tasteful wooden chairs and tables in its outside garden. Almost every seat was percolating with bodies and merry faces. 

Henry spotted his freshly-showered, pristine friends. He waved at them. But something made him put his hand down. The beating of his heart began to speed up. What if his wave drew the attention of other tables? What if strangers got confused and thought Henry was waving at them? Would they kick him out of the cafe for it? 

But just as quickly as the disturbing thoughts came, they drifted away. Henry smiled at the hostess and stepped through open glass doors to the interior of the cafe. Many people sat at the bar, sipping mimosas and enjoying their food as they sat sideways on their barstools and gabbed. A young woman sat alone next to the wall. She looked like she had been operating a jackhammer when putting on her mascara and lipstick. Henry only tilted his head in slight interest as he passed. 

A path led through the packed inside tables to the outside garden. Henry weaved between the chairs and plopped onto an open seat at the table with his friends. 

“A mimosa for you, good sir!” said Chaz. 

“Catch up, friend,” said Demetrius. “We’re already on our second!” 

As if on cue, the group burst out into the song they sang every Sunday at the cafe. 

Mimosas! Mimosaaas!

Oh what a lovely day.

Mimosas! Mimosas for you!

And you. And you. And you!

The group clinked their glasses together and cheered. Except for Henry. He had never realized how horribly cheesy that song was. He glanced around in embarrassment. Watching for any raised eyebrows at the other tables. 

His friends continued to chatter amongst themselves. Henry took another sip of his mimosa and grimaced. The champagne mixed with the orange juice was bitter. Was that how it always tasted? He set it down on the table in disgust. 

Then, a mustachioed waiter glided in, sliding full plates of strawberry pancakes in front of each of them. 

Betty poured about a quart of maple syrup onto her pancakes. “All aboard the syrup express!” she said. She had wonderful baby blue eyes and rosy cheeks. But Henry had never realized how annoyingly high her voice was. 

“What beats the smell of fresh pancakes, huh guys?” said Chaz. 

“Whatever it is, I bet it doesn’t taste as good as them,” said Demetrius, shoveling an oversized bite into his mouth. 

The cafe topped the pancakes with a tall pyramid of whipped cream. The juices of the strawberries had mixed with parts of the melted cream, forming a pink, foamy gloop on Henry’s plate. It had the bubbly characteristic of a person’s spit. Henry’s stomach turned. What if it was spit? 

Henry looked inside the cafe to the swinging doors of the kitchen. Did the waiters even wash their hands after using the bathroom? And how could he know that these pancakes weren’t dropped on the ground before they were plated? How could he…

Oh no! Thought Henry. Cold beads of sweat formed all over his body. The effects of the medicine lifted away like a veil. The humming of the hundreds of drones swimming in the air transitioned to the foreground of his attention. Did they see his displeasure? Did he say anything to reveal his true thoughts?

“I…” began Henry. 

“Yes, Henry-kins?” said Ester. A charming, curly-haired brunette, eating a strawberry pinched between her thumb and forefinger. 

Henry paused. He didn’t know what he was going to say. Whatever it was, it was driven by the pulsating fear in his stomach. He was sure if he said it out-loud the drones would come for him. 

He took a deep breath and faked a smile. “I just need to use the restroom.. Uh… Ester-kins,” he said. 

“Well now. Don’t fall in!” said Ester, batting her eyelashes. Henry only caught the tail end of the rousing laughter from the table after he left. He had cut a straight line to the restrooms, pushing through the tables and chairs. He passed by the woman with the messy make-up, she stared at him. Did she know what was happening to Henry? Would she alert the drones? 

Henry plummeted through the swinging door of the bathroom. It was a dark, rich bathroom with marble sinks. He flipped on the closest brass faucet and splashed cold water onto his face. 

“Oh god! What’s happening to me?” he said to himself. “They’re gonna find out! They’re gonna…” 

There was a sound of a flush. A tall man with red hair stepped out of one of the stalls and began to wash his hands next to Henry.  “Hey there partner,” said the red-haired man. 

Henry needed to confide in someone. “Don’t you see them?” he said. 

“What’s that now?” said the red-haired man pleasantly. 

“The drones,” Henry said. “Don’t you see them?” 

“Drones?” said the red-haired man.

“Yes. They float in the air. All around us.” 

“Hmmm…” said the red-haired man, wiping his hands dry and then putting a hand under his chin. “Oh yeah! You mean like that one right there.” 

Henry’s heart plummeted into his gut. A floating black orb hummed quietly in the corner of the bathroom, its great, single eye flashing red. It started to move towards Henry. 

Henry crashed out of the bathroom door, knocking a man over as he stumbled into the middle of the restaurant. Just outside hundreds of other drones flashed red. Their irises all narrowing in on Henry. 

Adrenaline propelled Henry’s legs into motion. Not looking where he was going, he slammed into a table with his upper thigh, sending the glasses of mimosas and plates of pastries and eggs everywhere. The pain made him stumble to the bar. That woman was there. She looked at him. No. She actually saw him. 

“Run for your life,” she said. 

“What?” said Henry, breathing heavily. 

“Run!” She pushed herself away from the bar and began screaming and jumping up and down.  The drones turned their attention away from Henry to her. The one that had been in the bathroom clamped onto her head, silencing her and holding her still as others clamped onto her flailing arms and legs. 

Henry tore his eyes away and ran with all that his life could give him. 

As he flew out of the restaurant and onto Dandelion Street, he could barely hear his friends singing the Mimosa song over the pounding of his beating heart.

December 19, 2020 03:45

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