Let that be a Lesson

Submitted into Contest #122 in response to: Write about a character who’s stuck in a shopping mall.... view prompt


Fiction Funny

“Ever get yourself stuck in a situation where your pride demands a larger commitment than you are willing to pay?”

A jostle from behind me nudges me forward and my camera, dancing merrily six inches in front of my face, loses focus. The camera is a virtual representation that holds a point of light in front of me and records me directly to my feed—fancy tech for a Ceres shopper. Once I settle, glaring at the person behind me, I continue, “Of course you have; you’re human. Let me tell you a story. No, no, no, don’t leave. I’ve got the time.”

I blink to pause the recording and check the line of “patron’s” in front of me before returning to filming.

“As far as actual shoppers between me and checkout, the list is long. Maybe a dozen. My luck says thirteen, though.”

A blast of music, cacophonic and littered with shrill tones crashes through the mall and blasts into my video, forcing me to deaden the volume and wait. My viewers would be able to see the dark shadow of anger chased by remorse flit across my face. No sense in getting angry at others. My fault I’m here.

“So here it is, Ceres. I came down here not because I wanted something special. I came down not to mix and mingle with the elite of the Holiday season, all trudging about in mock excitement. I came not for love or duty. I came because my housing block is under commercial lockdown.”

As if in parody, a hoover-scooter honks through the mall behind me, increasing the jostling I disdain. It seems the driver is in a hurry to deliver his package to wherever because he careens wildly, nearly taking out an elderly couple and displacing a family sitting next to the central fountain in a shower of water.

“There goes one now,” I offer back to anyone watching. “He gets paid by the delivery, so speed is everything, bystanders be damned. And you should know, as a bystander and placeholder in line, I am damned. The commercial lockdown forbids them to enter our terrace and deliver,” I offer, centering my face in the frame of the camera. “No food, no coffee, no cocoa, no pet food, no nothing. I have to escape peaceful serenity and engage this mob scene for absolutely everything.”

“Why, you might ask? What on Earth, or Ceres, would cause such an extreme measure as a commercial lockdown being initiated against an entire terrace? Me, actually. I’m the guy.”

I pause the camera and shuffle forward. It seems several of the customers nearer the front only had an item or two, and they got out fast. Lucky them. The woman in front of me has two carts full of stuff. They sit there on their hover platforms, struggling to stay upright.

“It started as a gag, really. Nothing more than a little humor to gain the affectionate eye of the girl across the hall. Big swing and a miss. She didn’t like the flowers, but her disdain paled in comparison to her boyfriend’s. He should have just hit me. I could’ve ordered up something nice, had it delivered, and been done with it, wallowing in rejection on my very own couch.”

“Nah, he’s a lawyer type. Gotta’ get all fancy with the paperwork. File a motion. Bring charges. So I hit him. For being an ass. More charges. More motions. A restraining order even.”

I wink at the camera. I can be a bit devilish and handsome at times. Wish the girl across the hall could see that.

“He also called Terrace Security. They’re an odd lot, big-boned, devoid of humor. I punched a few of them, too. I’m a scrapper, see. Two tours on Titan putting down rebels and riots. Got uplifted skills so I can move faster and strike harder. They put me in my place and then locked down the whole terrace, so nobody goes in or out except the folks living there. My neighbor’s boyfriend? Not on the list of residents. That’s additional paperwork and a future court date.”

The line sloughs forward, and I trickle along with it; humanity and I doing our best to remain unfazed by current circumstances. That’s when I see him—the boyfriend. With his other girlfriend. Or new girlfriend. Or, shoot, maybe he’s a bit of a player and keeps a few different beds warm, so he’s never outdoors, as it were. I don’t know. You can bet I want my neighbor to know, though.

“Hey Hero,” I call out and watch heads ratchet in my direction. Even his. “Yeah, you, Mr. Lawyer-man. We never squared up after that fracas with my neighbor. You know, the dust-up that put my terrace on lockdown?”

I could see the cogs spinning in his head. Reminded me of a stoner. That or he’s just stupid. I didn’t hit him that hard.

“You remember? Candace? Ring a bell, Champ?”

Strike two.

The woman in front of me swivels around spewing spittle, “I gotta’ shop in this frigging line because you had an attitude problem? Is that it?”

My camera loses focus for a bit as her head bobs into the feed. Got all her words, though. My audience is ticking higher, and I am logging new viewers as we go.

“Look, Ms.—”

That’s as far as I get. A can of something, held tight in her plump fist, catches me in the jaw and spins me around. My camera comes with me, hovering in its precise place in front of my face and giving every viewer a quick window into my depraved shopping condition. Possibly her punch, possibly my clever wit, but whichever, my viewership indicator starts to soar. I blink to toggle a button on the screen for one of the major personalities to pick it up and push it off Ceres.

“Camera, turn and capture woman at 180 degrees.”

“Oh no you don’t you wise-ass punk!”

She slugs me again. I confess, the smattering of cheers and claps catch me off guard.

Her third swing, I stop. “Camera, follow action.” The camera zooms in on my hand as I confiscate the can and crush it, those bio-enhancements for Titan serving me well. “Camera, back on me.”

Flummoxed, she glares once more and then assumes the traditional stand-in-line-pose, shoulders heaving in anger.

“So, you see, I’m shopping. People around me don’t want to be here. I don’t want to be here, pretty sure lawyer-boy is gonna go paperwork on me again, cuz the man’s true to form. The Soup-Siren in front of me is decidedly displeased at my proximity. You know what? I don’t care. I’ve spent hours here already, and if the only fun I get to have is getting a rise out of those around me, I’m game.”

A ping in my ear indicates my story has been picked up by a local personality. Thousands more viewers tumble into my feed. “Hey, folks, thanks for joining me on my soiree into society. Seems I’ve been promoted.”

Then she enters. Yeah, her. Across-the-hall-girl. My reason for being here in the first place, and, frankly, my reason for being. This week anyway.

“Camera, follow my eye-line and pick up Candace. To the new viewers, I made a move for her that her boyfriend had a problem with. Cops, lockdown, delivery ban for everybody in my housing unit. Leading to you and me meeting while I stand in line. Plot twist, she is about to see that boyfriend with his other girlfriend. I might get a chance to be a hero, or at least be used in some dirty fashion to exact revenge. Both use cases, I’m in.”

She knows where she’s headed because her eyes pick him up immediately. Now, I’m not the only one running a feed in here. There are bobbing camera lights everywhere. They’ve been escalating, too, building off my narrative. Still, my small, ape-brain says she’s been following me and that warms my heart a little. Not gonna lie.

“See that, folks? My lady friend picked up my feed and found out her boyo’s been leaving his boots under another’s bed. And not to put too fine a point on it, but I am now second in line. At the register, and maybe with Candace. Things are moving briskly.”

Comments start trickling in on my feed and a few of them draw a bark of laughter from me. Of course, that earns me a scowl of disapproval from the jovial woman in front of me. I laugh and turn back to the imminent encounter.

“Camera, zoom and boost audio.”

My viewers need the best from me, and I owe it to the personality who picked me up. I consider it a civic duty, actually, to broadcast these precious moments.

“You lying sack of–” honestly, I have to cut in and jerk the feed back to my face, “Wow, quite a little spitfire there. It seems like lawyer-boy has himself a situation. Let’s get back to it.”

I pan the camera and pick up mid-tirade, adding my narrative, “You’ll notice how the female of the species has cornered the male and backed him into a display. On his other side, a competing female, now also aware of her competition, has regained her composure from her initial surprise and is letting him have it on that front. The goose is well and truly cooked.”

A map and display in the lower corner of my feed show the arrival of security. Ah, an added twist. I pan my view, “So now, security is here, and our two-timing…wait. Did you see that?” I focus in on the red-faced vitriol of one of the security people. “The lead officer has taken off her helmet and appears to know our lawyer. Ya’ gotta wonder who’s managing his advertising. OMG! She is snapping out her stun wand and joining the robust female commentary. The rest of the security detail steps back to gather themselves in the light of this now abundantly deployed minefield of angry women.”

“Sir. Sir! Place your items on the belt, sir.”

I turn and realize that I’m up, and my ordeal with humanity is almost over. “In a minute, Superstar, I’ve got fans depending on me.”

I pan back, “He’s in handcuffs now, and his head is lolling to one side. In my considered opinion, he’s been given the jolt stick. How’s that for an afternoon out?”

I pan the camera back to me. “See, people, as I was saying at the start, sometimes being stuck in line is no fun at all, but sometimes, life can give you a reason to enjoy the moment. I need to—”

An arm shoots around me and drags my head down for a passionate kiss. My camera is zoomed close enough to catch that look in Candace’s eyes as she whispers in my ear. The mic doesn’t pick it up, but my feed goes crazy with comments. I can’t mention all the things they intimate.

Still, it’s time to wrap up this foray into humanity and retreat, tactfully, “Hey, hey, people. Looks like you will need to find another feed to follow. Turns out I have a recently scheduled rendezvous. Till next time, Tyler out.”

November 30, 2021 17:08

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Cathryn V
05:20 Dec 07, 2021

Hi Kevin, I really enjoyed this story. It's creative, funny, and has a happy ending to boot. Well written, clear and moves along well. Thanks for writing!


Kevin Morley
11:12 Dec 07, 2021

Thank you so much! I am thrilled that you enjoyed it.


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Yves. ♙
08:34 Dec 06, 2021

What an interesting approach to the prompt! This is definitely the first sci-fi piece I've found under this category, and the choice to make the main character the kind of Internet jerk we all recognize is such a fun element.


Kevin Morley
14:27 Dec 06, 2021

Thank you! I try to put people in spaces and then recount different interactions they have. I'm glad you enjoyed the read.


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