(Contains brief Dystopian gore)
Pine Grove Mall couldn't provide a non-gender specific Santa Claus this year due to an unforeseen incident. Everyone who resided in our small suburban community was dead, or at least that appeared to be the case. Well, everyone except Faith and me. We hid when those things, those machines, entered the mall. Two strangers together, just she and I hiding and scared.
Before we sat in our protected cubby, eighteen-year-old Faith Gardner told me how she loved coming to the mall to socialize with her friends and window shop. Money was an issue until she got a job manning the kiosk that sold small, personalized trinkets. She then spent every penny of her new-normal tax-free Bitcoin paycheck on clothes and shoes or anything that would delight a girl from the online class of 2037. There is no need to save as we are still under a police state that promised free college to all high school graduates. We haven't seen it happen yet, but at least it's a promise. Of course, our last government had promised quite a bit before it went butts-up bankrupt after paying off the American people through six back-to-back pandemics.
I, good old Steve Dane, was born a true-blue American millennial on 9-11; yeah, I got to watch the 9-11 incident happen live on the tube when I turned 5. Some birthdays are like that, huh? I identify as a 40-year-old white male, the divorced father of twin eight-year-old same-plus-sexers; that would be girls to any of us who prefer the days before the collapse of the United States of America. I was working here at the mall too, only as a court-ordered maintenance man. I had just arrived to replace the LED bulbs that had burned out on the kiosk that Faith manned. She was busy organizing her boss's stock, and I don't think we said much to each other after the pandemonium began.
I do remember thinking, holy crap, the elevator music is still playing. Yep, Jingle Bells came in over the mall speakers even though the employees of Sachs Fifth were slumped over their cologne display. The woman pushing the stroller that I had just said good morning had fallen forward, although now missing her head, in an angle to protect her tiny baby in its carriage. I was really hoping the baby was alright, but that wasn't the case. A woman with a brown designer briefcase had fallen headless into the fake fountain. It was now turning blood red, avoiding the usual colors- blue to pink to yellow.
The chaos began right about 10 o'clock this morning. I remember because I usually grab my Pete's coffee fix around that time. If I had chosen to do that today, I would be dead like the rest. I decided to wait after seeing the line of coffee lovers waiting, and I can see them now looking like dead dominos all in a row. It was slower than usual on this Tuesday morning, and the junior detective in me wondered why whoever or whatever was behind this attack wouldn't have chosen to slaughter on black Friday when the mall was packed.
The first thing I thought was shit; this is way over my pay grade. I wasn't taking home a dime for myself. Thanks to Chancellor Orin's new non/governmental measure, anyone on the losing side of divorce orders needed to have their non-profit paycheck sent to their ex, whomever that may be. At first, the new any-identity support policy seemed fair until I got stuck on the wrong end of the suit—what a bad deal.
I glanced towards the kiosk and saw that Faith was still standing, so I ran to her.
"What are they!" Faith screamed. I grabbed her around the mouth to quiet her. Then thought for a moment before pulling her into the storage area right behind the kiosk.
I'm not sure if Faith knew that tiny closet was there or not, as it blended into the background nicely. It was a perfect hiding spot.
I replied in a quiet good fatherly voice. "I don't know. But if we stay quiet, I think we will be safe in here".
That was a lie or maybe wishful thinking, as in the process of making my way to the door for this four-foot-tall, six-foot-long storage area, I passed at least twenty victims. I don't know victims of what as I heard no gunfire, only a high-pitched drone tone. It was coming from these enormous drones; I had never seen anything like them before. The drones looked too big to fly; they were solid black, with a wingspan of 5 feet. They had no identification on them or clues as to whom they belonged. The one closest to me had a signal tone so sharp it felt like it was piercing my eardrums.
I had to cover my ears. I wished I could have covered my eyes, too, as, at that point, several of the mall shoppers had already been massacred.
I saw what appeared to be an elderly couple laying together; she must have dropped her purse upon impact as there was a wallet with old no-good credit cards spilled out, a lipstick tube, and one of those mini-packs of Kleenex in her hand. He had a beige knee-length all-weather coat with a scarf and his non-govern-issued welfare card coming out of his pocket, planning on shopping with it probably. If he had lived through it, he would be in the market for a new hat as not only was his bloodied and filled with brain matter, but most of it was also destroyed in the blast. They both were missing their heads, and it appeared their necks had exploded down to their collar bones. I remembered when the new non-gov disabled social security and confiscated retirement funds. Not to mention forced seniors into pods, taking away their pets. Dogs, cats or any non-eatable animal is a no-go for everybody these days. I shed tears for these two as their lives up to this point must have been agony. Their deaths were at least fast and merciful. I'm glad my parents didn't live to see these times.
Faith and I were in misery, and it grew as the hours passed. We tried to call 911 on our cells but only received no service notification. That was strange, I thought, as 911 should work anyway. The only light had come from the crack under the door and our non-gov issued cells. After our cell batteries lost power and that small amount of daylight disappeared, we were in total darkness.
I also noticed how my neck chip felt like it was on fire. The new non-govern health centers' policy was that we all be chipped just behind the left ear. All the newly released felons were also tattooed across their forehead before their release. So, the rest of us would feel safer, my guess. To hell with the criminals; we have the non-govern folks passing along incident after incident. I'm sure they are to blame for our mall event, but like everything in our new normal routine, I wasn't sure of it.
I opened the door expecting to see a drone blocking my exit but saw none. My chip was hurting so bad I had to stand up. I requested that Faith stay and wait for me to check out our situation. I took it as a yes, although she was sitting there rocking back and forth like a zombie. I had to get out and stretch anyway, and while I did, I looked around.
I walked down the Malls main corridor towards the front door. No sunlight implied it was the middle of the night, and the generator was not working, making it incredibly hard to see as none of the safety lights were on. However, who figures, the mall parking lot generator must have been working as my eyes focused in on the parking lot with its lone security spotlight casting an eerie glow on all the electrics still plugged in out there. And I saw two strange-looking black helicopters flying over, thinking maybe they would be our way out. I ran back to get Faith.
I opened the small door and reached in for Faith but could not feel her. "Faith, come out," I pleaded. She must have been in the very back corner. When she emerged, I wanted to cry as I don't think I could have endured this ordeal alone. I whispered to her, "I saw a couple of helicopters flying above us. They are here to save us, maybe?"
She grabbed my hand tightly with her left hand and followed along, holding her mouth with the other. When I reached over to comfort her, I felt her face; it had tears that were streaming down her cheeks.
"My neck hurts bad, mister; it feels like it is on fire," she moaned," I have some Qs in my kiosk. I think I can feel around and find them."
Oh God, I thought how mad I was when the new non-govern committees voted to legalize all drugs, including my grandmother's favorite Quaaludes. That's the painkillers the kids today call Q. Just one more thing in the recent revival of the 1980s. Oh, how fascinated everyone is with the '80s, the hairstyles, the clothes, and this mall. That 80's fascination is why we are stuck here in this indoor mall from hell.
The Qs did help the pain. However, panic set in when we reached the front doors where I had been before. I saw Faith's youthful blue eyes become filled with terror when she looked out and saw all the cars that I had seen plugged in were now on fire and tossed like toys. My guess was the helicopters had bombed them.
Faith gathered her long blonde hair into a ponytail, and while securing it, she said, "I don't think those copters are at all friendly. We must stay out of their sight."
We raced to the other end of the mall by the food court. The dawn’s early light helped us see our way thanks to the novel-looking skylights. It also helped us see the carnage below us. "No one was moving. Faith yelled, "It must be the chips; my grandparents were both ordered to get them or be prosecuted to the full extent of the law."
"What happened to them?" I questioned.
"They were sentenced to a non-govern death," she said as she hung her head.
Then she looked up at me with her eyes big and blue and shoulders back. "The last thing they told me was to fight for the freedom we lost. And to fight for families and our old ways. Fight for noninvasive history without their new spins."
I questioned, "Do you think the non-govs are trying to kill us on purpose? But why would they want to do it?"
Faith sternly replied, "My grandparents homeschooled me even after it became illegal. They said the people in charge are lying to us. We are pawns! Did you know that they have been lying to us for years? They are the enemy! Now let's get our butts out of here! But how? The doors are locked!"
We both looked up and saw two 4-foot square black unmarked drones coming our way. Their actions were different than the others as they would stop now and then over bodies that still had their heads. They aimed their lasers directly over the deceased and fired.
"Run, Steve, run," Faith warned, "If they are anything like the police drones, they have been tracking us through our cells. Look how they are bombing our hiding place. They think we are still in there. Their laser power is deadly, especially if it hits your chip. Look, they are blowing the heads off the dead. I think they are after the chips."
"It's these chips!" We both said and thought simultaneously.
I continued, "Those large black drones are targeting us because of our chips. But you and I are still standing, Faith; our chips must be malfunctioning; that's why they feel so hot." I grabbed the area behind my ear and felt a large boil. Pus had formed around my chip, bringing it to the surface of my skin. I grabbed my pocket knife on my keyring. "Faith, can you do this? Make an incision across the boil. It should drain the pus and perhaps dislodge the chip."
She grabbed the knife and, without hesitation, rolled up my t-shirt and placed it in my mouth. "Bite down hard, and I'll be quick," she said while cutting.
"It worked!" I screamed in delight as I looked down at the circle of blood and slim at my feet. The chip was in it and literally red hot.
"We are felons now, Steve," Faith said as she handed me the knife. "We can and will be sentenced to death for removing our chips. But I see no other choice."
She bit down hard on her rubber bracelet that had the initials WWJD on it. "A trinket gift from my grandmother, I never take it off," she said after barely whimpering at the savage cut I had to make to get hers out. Yet it was done, and our lives were in our own hands now. Faith and I, for the first time in our lives, were cell-free. Without the chips, I feel like the last freedom fighter.
As I was bandaging Faith's neck with a bitcoin equivalent of 179-dollar t-shirt from the Gap phase two store, I asked Faith, "Do you know what WWJD stands for?"
"You bet your boots," she said, "What would Jesus do? And it reminds me of the lies they tried to teach me in the public government school. Remember when the old American government renamed every person and event in history and outlawed separate religious beliefs. And then the new non govern kept it and made it worse with their police state. Well, I might be young, but I still believe in Jesus Christ, Steve, do you?"
I shook my head yes in agreement and said, "Religion was almost beaten out of me, but yes, I do believe!"
It was hard to inspirit me, especially this sleep-deprived downtrodden person standing before her. But she did it. Faith inspired me to have hope—something I haven't had for years now. I grabbed the sign advertising photos with Santa. Yeah, the one showing a smiling little boy on a female Santa's lap. Every time I walked by that one, I wanted to throw up. I thought of how I would not have sat there smiling like that kid. "I'm sorry bastards, but Santa is a big old chubby man. That would be M A N!" I yelled as I spelled out the word and then tossed the sign through the smaller glass door to the left of the main entrance. Its glass was not near as thick.
"It worked!" Faith shouted with delight. "We are free, Run!"
We bolted across the parking area, avoiding the mass pile of cars; some still plugged into their chargers.
"Look, Faith, sparks!" I yelled as I grabbed her hand and ran faster. I stopped out of breath near the entrance sign that now read Welcome to Pine Gr as the rest of the letters had been annihilated by the black helicopter's blast. "Faith, those sparks were too big to be thrown by that generator. It might mean there is power on somewhere in town. Maybe that means the people are ok. Please, Jesus, please make it, so my girls are alright." I started to run to the top of the hill.
"Stop!" Faith screamed. "We can't go up this. It's a battery dump."
"Oh God," I shouted as I remembered the last thing American politicians agreed on before the fall was beautification on the mass battery dumps and out-of-business gas stations. They were all superfund sites, and in the very last speech an American president gave, she said, at least we can take our last few dollars to make them look good. I thought it was ridiculous then as much as I still do now.
We ran up the road, lying in the ditch each time we heard the buzz of the drones. When we reached the crest overlooking our Pine Grove, Colorado, Faith went into a hysterical crying session. Our town was gone. "My Parents! My Sister!" she cried as she laid her face into my chest. I tried to console her, but I felt the same shock as my ex-wife's pod where my girls lived was no longer there. It seemed as if only Faith and I had survived this attack from what and who we do not know.
Suddenly Faith took control of herself and me too. She spoke clearly, "We must get to my grandparent's bunker. No one knows about it. When the new normal police rounded up the anti-chippers, they confiscated everything but the bunker. Grandpa had built it to survive a nuclear war. I think it's our best bet. Come with me, Steve. Run!"
When we arrived we found the bunker was stocked with guns and ammo and three whiskey barrels full of water. The north wall had an array of canned foods. Some already expired, but the k-rations were good forever. Faith's grandparents were from the generation of the last true Americans. They were the ancestors of the freedom fighters who built our country. The same country that we let fall.
They lived and died with an unparalleled philosophy because of their mastery and unique ability to seek the truth. Faith remembered everything they had taught her. I'm not sure what the future holds for either of us new-age pilgrims, but I think we will survive because of it.