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Wave of the Future

I am not particularly happy with the way trends are heading when it comes to possessions these days, especially anything digital. To be specific, we really don’t own anything any longer. We either license products or rent them or subscribe to them and those same products often take our information and sell it to advertisers. That got me thinking what these sort of ideas might look like in another context.

Adapted from “Antique Stove” by Kool Cats Photography over 14 Million Views is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Wave of the Future

Pansy was excited. She still felt the glow of the wedding last week, and now she and Walter were moving into their very own home in town and even getting a new stove. She wasn’t going to cook over a fireplace like her mother had for her whole life. This was 1875. These were modern times.

“These here are the finest examples of the latest in stove technology,” the salesman said, sweeping an arm to encompass the room full of shiny ironware. “Now, at this end are all the standard ranges. They’ve been around for a while. They’re good, but nothing special. But I’ve got a feeling that you want something special.”

Pansy nodded and beamed up at Walter, who was looking less certain. “How much does special cost?” Walter asked.

“Worth every penny,” the salesman said, winking at Pansy. “Take this Ramscackle #6 Food Instantiator, made by the Ramscackle Brothers right here in town. Wave of the future, this one is. We took design ideas straight out of the twenty-first century to make this. Just think: you’d be 200 years ahead of your neighbors, ma’am.”

“How do you know what they’ll be doing in 200 years?” Walter asked. Pansy frowned at him. He was entirely missing the spirit of the occasion.

“It’s all very scientific, I assure you,” the salesman said. “Nothing good Christians like you would object to, I’m sure.” He hurriedly threw a newspaper over a crystal ball that was sitting on the desk.

Walter seemed resistant, but Pansy wore him down over the next few hours and by the time they left, they were in possession of a brand new Ramscackle #6 Food Instantiator. The company promised it would be delivered the next day.

The stove arrived the next morning. Pansy fairly bounced up and down with excitement as the delivery men carried it into the kitchen and set it up. A small boy came in with them, and Pansy assumed he was the son of one of the men until they thanked her and left. The boy stayed behind, crouching by the side of the stove.

“Excuse me, do you belong to one of the men?” Pansy asked him. The boy ignored her.

Pansy ran outside. “Did one of you leave your son behind?” she asked. “There is a young boy in my kitchen.”

“He comes with the stove,” one of the men said. “It was on the papers you signed yesterday.”

“Like a servant, you mean?” Pansy asked.

“No, of course not! He doesn’t do any work. He’ll just sit there. You don’t need to feed him or talk to him. It’s his job, but we’ll switch him out with another kid every so often.”

“Why is he there then?”

“He just comes with the stove,” the man said, looking more uncomfortable. “Well, we gotta go. Bye!”

Pansy went inside and began to investigate the stove. The boy watched her but did not say anything. It was a little creepy but she forced herself to ignore him. After all, this was the modern way.

The next week, Pansy and Walter were sitting on the porch after dinner when a man approached.

“Good evening,” he said. “I wanted to let you know that Thomas and Sons General Store just got in a shipment of molasses. They’re selling it at a discount for anyone who buys more than one gallon.”

“That’s very convenient,” Pansy said. “I just ran out of molasses this morning. Thank you for letting us know. We’ll go get some.”

“That’s strange,” Walter said a minute later. “He just skipped three houses but went to the fourth one. It’s like he knew we were out of molasses.”

“The boy must have told him,” Pansy said. “Still, that’s convenient.”

“Excuse me.” There was another man at the front gate. “If you’ve got a minute, I’d like to tell you about Slatterly’s Woolen Goods. Are you plagued by holes wearing too fast in your undergarments? Slatterly’s patented anti-hole technology means fewer holes in your undergarments, for both the men and the ladies.”

 Walter jumped up and there was a screech from the kitchen a moment later. He came back carrying the boy and put him down outside the fence. The boy gave him a reproachful look and flounced away.

The next morning when Pansy went down to make breakfast, the boy was sitting by the stove again and a group of men were prying something off the front of the stove.

“Excuse me!” Pansy cried. “Who are you?”

“Oh, don’t worry, we work for the Ramscackle Brothers,” one of the men said. “You see, the company got a new logo, so we are just switching it out on your stove.”

“How did you get in though?”

“The boy let us in with his key,” the man said. He saw the outrage on Pansy’s face. “Well, of course he needs a key,” he said. “How else is he supposed to come and go when his shift ends.”

“Yes. Very reasonable,” Pansy said. “When will you be done? I need to make breakfast.”

“I’d say we’re about 22% done,” the man said. The others nodded. “Maybe another hour?”

Walter was not too happy to come down and find a bunch of strange men in his kitchen and no breakfast ready. “They’re updating the stove,” Pansy whispered.

“Could you possibly do this later?” Walter asked.

“Well, we could, of course, but we’re halfway through now. In the future, we can schedule updates to your stove at night, so you won’t be disturbed.”

“You think there will be more?”

The man shrugged. “Hard to say.”

Pansy gave a party for her neighbors the next day and the praise and admiration over the stove was enough to make it all worthwhile. She tried to ignore the boy, even when she found him reading through her diary. She laughed off the ads that were baked into the side of each loaf of bread made with the Ramscackle loaf pans they had bought. It felt good to be modern.

Two months after they had bought the stove, a woman came to the door. Pansy showed her into the parlor.

“Thank you for seeing me,” the woman said. “My name is Miss Cuthbert and I am a lawyer for Amalgamated Ranges and Cookery, Inc.”

“A female lawyer!” Pansy said. “How very modern.”

“We are a very modern company,” Miss Cuthbert said gravely. “We have just purchased the Ramscackle Brothers factory. As a customer of Ramscackle Brothers, I wanted to extend to you a special offer. It is known as the Eternal Cookery program. For one dollar a month, we will provide you with a new model of stove every time one comes out. The subscription also comes with ten cubic feet of offsite storage.”

Pansy confusion was evident. “That means you can store food at our warehouse downtown,” Miss Cuthbert said. “There are a million reasons why you should. What if you make too much food and your icebox fills up, as well as your pantry? Are you just going to throw it away? That’s such a waste. And what if your house burns down? You wake up the next day in a tent in the backyard and there’s nothing to eat! Just call us and we’ll deliver the food you stored there. You can do it anytime. Just say ‘I want my stored food’ and the boy will run and tell us.”

This was all too much. Pansy suddenly thought of cooking with her mother over the fireplace when she was growing up on the farm. That had seemed much simpler even if it was a lot harder in some ways. It would be nice to go back to that simpler time.

“Four of your neighbors have already signed up for the Eternal Cookery Program,” Miss Cuthbert said.

“Very well,” Pansy said. “We’ll do it.”


The Era of Miracle Cherries

They come in a hundred different varieties now, but I remember when they first came out, bundles of little pink orbs with a stalk coming off them. They clearly weren’t cherries. Everyone knew it at the time, but they had that look of a classical cherry with a stem and so the name stuck. Plus, no one knew what else to call them. No one even knew where they came from.

Adapted from “Cherries” by amandabhslater is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

They appeared online at first, of course. Ads began popping up for the super domain miracles891$$ and soon the sheer amount of ads drove the buzz. What people found was a simple storefront site selling one thing: boxes of ten of these pink balls simply labeled miracles. They were $150 per box.

I kind of wonder now who the first person was to buy them, that first brave or foolish early-adopter who went to a random website and paid $150 for a box of miracles. I can imagine them unboxing it in their living room, rolling the little balls between their fingers, holding one up to their nose to see if the smell betrayed what they really were. I can imagine the first person taking that first, tentative bite, wondering if this really was something miraculous or just a scam. Maybe they were hoping it was drugs. It was much better than drugs.

I cannot say if the first person realized what the miracle cherries were, but someone that first day must have. The word “miracle” leads the mind on a certain path. Peter Jirand was the first one that made the news though. He had Stage 4 esophageal cancer and was in hospice when the small box of miracle cherries arrived at his door. He was cancer-free within two days. He ran the New York marathon six months later. After that, sales of miracle cherries went atmospheric.

Still, it took another five months before people caught on to the fact that they were more than just health supplements, however amazingly effective they were at that. Within five months, the medical industry has cratered. For $15 a dose, miracle cherries could cure literally anything. Almost overnight, diseases were practically eradicated.

Of course, the medical industry fought back. They pointed to the fact that no government could certify that the miracle cherries were safe and did not have long-term side effects, mostly because no one could figure out how they were made. They tried to ban them, but no one knew where they were coming from or even who was benefiting. Billions of dollars poured into the miracles891$$ super domain, but no one credible ever came forward as owning it and the money never reappeared. The boxes were mailed from thousands of different places but when the police broke into one of them, they only found an empty room.

Five months after the first miracle cherries appeared, a video went viral of a man flying over Rio de Janiero. Then it was like a light bulb went on over the collective heads of the human race. Miracles cherries were genuinely miracles, it turned out. They would only affect the person who took them, but that still included a lot.

It was the age of superheroes, and supervillains as well. Now anyone who wanted to could fly, turn invisible, become immortal, even transport instantly to another place. The world economy reeled and staggered, as whole industries rose and feel over the span of days or weeks.

Then the day came when a young woman with short hair and glasses appeared on TV. Every TV. “Hello,” she said. “My name is Rachel and I am the owner of miracles891$$ and the maker of what are known as miracle cherries. There are three levels of miracle cherries. You have all been taking the first and lowest level. The second level will go on sale today for 150 million dollars per box of ten.”

She paused to adjust her glasses as the world let this sink in. “As of today, I have 1.563 trillion dollars,” she said, “although I don’t really need it. I have decided that I would like to rule the world. As I have been speaking, I created a headquarters for myself in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. I will meet world leaders there and we can discuss how things will move forward. Thank you.” The young woman identified only as Rachel snapped her fingers and disappeared.

This is an odd story, to be sure. I wrote it a little over a year ago and never posted it then. It’s also an open-ended story, meaning it doesn’t have a sequel. Instead, you can think about what happens next. What would level 2 and 3 miracle cherries look like? I like this kind of story, although I realize not everyone does. Maybe if anyone cares enough, I’ll write a second part to it.


The Poisoned Child

This is the continuation of the story The Poison Shop but I hope it will stand up pretty well on its own as well.

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The Poisoned Child

I cannot die.

Blessing or curse, it is who I am now. My life stands like an iron spike driven into the rock, while countless souls tumble around me like grains of sand driven by the waves. They stay for a moment until the next wave crashes in; they are gone in an instant, but I am always left.

But I am not the only one.

I wake up in the poison shop to find that I have been dead for a little over eight hours. The poison I used was powerful and now my body is stiff and painful. Shop Tender gives me a look of I-told-you-so as I put the syringe on the counter and shuffle away.

I find Terc in her library, halfway through a stack of Chinese literature books. Each of us spends our sleepless, deathless existence in a different way. I poison myself to find the last shreds of that other world of dreams; Terc studies. She looks up at me with eyes that have been tired for centuries.

“I was at the poison shop,” I say. She waits for the news. “I glimpsed the future. Really,” I add, at the doubting twist of her mouth. “I saw the calendar.”

She slips me a patient smile, then turns back to her page of dense Chinese script. “You can’t trust your perceptions in that state. It’s dangerous to go down that rabbit hole of either trying to prevent the future or confirm it. Remember Ram.”

“I know,” I say. “I’m not going to go like Ram. But still . . . I saw a girl lying in the hall of an orphanage. She was poisoned. It seemed significant.”

“But you don’t know the name or any specific information,” she says, with assurance. I shake my head. “It was a dream, Shah. Nothing more.”

“I know. Still . . . how many orphanages in this city have iron gates in front of them?”

She gives a noise of annoyance but then closes her eyes. I see her eyes moving back and forth under her papery lids as she counts. “Only two that I know of,” she says. “Draw out what you saw and I can tell you which one it is. They are different styles.”

I smile but she just shakes her head, telling me it won’t be worth it. For a split second, the image of hot-blooded, passionate Terc invades my mind: Terc as she was before the fatigue of interminable time bore her down. The memories and their intertwined sensations blaze for a moment in my mind, but as always I push them down. I make myself forget.

iron fence

St. Benedict of Nursia’s Home for Orphaned Children. It is the next day and I am standing outside the very gates that I saw in my death-vision. The sight fills my mind with an insane elation. In my vision, I had walked through the gates, but here in real life, I ring the bell and it clangs unpleasantly. A moment later, a matron appears at the door. She is the woman I saw in my vision, standing over the child and screaming. She comes to the gate but doesn’t open it.

“Yes?”

“I am looking for a child, a girl.”

“What’s her name?”

“I don’t know, but I would know her face if I saw it. Can I come in and look at the children, or even at pictures?”

Her face is a wall, refusal so evident that she does not even need to voice the words.

“Please,” I say, holding her eye and silently beseeching her to come around to my way of thinking. “She is someone important to me. I just need a few minutes.”

“I’ll let you look at pictures,” she says after a moment, opening the gate. “Come this way.” I can be very persuasive if I want to be.

Mother Cecilia—for this is how she introduces herself—leads me to her office and around behind her mahogany desk, an island of luxury in the ascetically bare surroundings. Soon, pictures of thin, unsmiling children are flitting across the computer screen. After a hundred or more—Terc would have known exactly—they end.

“She’s not there,” I say. “Are these all the children in the orphanage?”

Her clumsy attempts to mask her expression tell me everything. “Please show me the others,” I say.

“There is only one other,” she says finally and opens up another folder. A moment later, the picture of the poisoned girl appears on the screen and I nod in confirmation. “What do you know of Theresa?” she asks.

“I know she is possibly in trouble,” I say. “How old is she?”

“She’s ten,” Mother Cecilia says. Why must people lie, especially when they are terrible at it?

I take a chance. “She is not ten,” I say. “She is much older than that, isn’t she?”

Her face flushes. “Who are you really?”

Later, I cannot remember exactly what I say. My lies are not memorable, but they are wonderfully effective in the moment. I play on the fact that Theresa is in danger and that I am—somehow—her only hope. “You must help me,” I say in closing, emphasizing the must. “How old is she really?”

I lie much better than Mother Cecilia. She nods. “I do not know how old she is, but they say she came here in 1840, just after the orphanage opened. At that time, the records say she looked about seven or so. If she ages, it is extremely slowly. We view her as a miracle. People come to pray over her. Some claim she can prolong the lives of others as well.”

So, she is one of us, I think. And a child, no less. I had not known there were any children. My vision was indeed significant. At my request, Mother Cecilia fetches all the records on Theresa.

“It says that her mother’s name was Harriet Velmann,” Mother Cecilia says. Then, “Sir, are you okay?”

“I apologize, I suddenly got dizzy. That never happens to me.” None of it is a lie, nor is the reason for my sudden reaction, a truth that is more unbelievable than any lie I could have told her. I knew Harriet Velmann once, when her tiny grain of sand was whirling momentarily through time past me. Oh, how I knew her, in that desperate, hopeless way when we fight against the inevitable.

And now I know why my vision is significant, because poor, orphaned, soon-to-die Theresa is my daughter.

 

(to be continued soon)


The Poison Shop

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The Poison Shop

“What’s your poison?” Shop Tender asks, his face a winter of expression. Years of truth spoken ironically have effaced any natural emotion.

“Talon-4,” I say.

His face does not even twitch, but a pause shows his surprise. “You sure? I ain’t paying to get your rigor-mortass carted away.”

“No fear.”

He types in the charge—$4300—and I look into the green LED on the bar. I get a brief mental image of the amount before the light blinks, transaction complete. Mr. Tender places a thin purple vial and compressed air injector on the counter.

“Syringe, please.”

Finally, a smile cracks the frozen line of his mouth. “Hipster.”

I get my syringe and take it and the vial back to a dark corner. A couple other patrons are about, lying dead to the world in various positions of repose.

I don’t like the dull emptiness of air injectors. I need that small prick of pain, a last quivering match-flame of life, before all goes black. I feel the dull burn begin as the poison starts to work through my system. It spreads like a black glow through my veins and I can feel the world wavering. I have sworn before that I have heard the last thump of my heart before it stops beating but this time I am sure of it. It sounds like a final drumbeat before the silence settles in and oblivion cascades over my senses.

I never know how long the darkness lasts, in that middle-world devoid of sensation, but after what seems like soon, the mist begins to burn away and I am standing on a dim street near a iron-fenced orphanage. The death-euphoria is building and I practically skip as I walk through the fence and the wall of the building. The weather is sepulchral, but in my mind, it is the first of June.

iron fence

I do not have a plan, but the death-euphoria gives a sense of purpose to any action and so in the universe of my mind, I am on a quest, and discovering it moment by moment. Every detail seems significant—every stone and errant leaf preordained for this moment.

In the lobby, a woman is screaming noiselessly, like a TV on mute. A child is lying on the floor, her lips a familiar grey and her eyes large and bulging. Based on her appearance, I could name all five of the possible poisons that killed her, although they are all rare enough that I wonder how she got it. More children peek in arrested horror through the upstairs banister. Several people are talking on phones, silently pleading urgency. I notice a calendar on the wall.

For a moment, nothing seems strange, until I notice that it is for one month in the future. The death-euphoria is wearing off, and I feel my mind begin that slow, sickening knotting that precedes revival. I begin telescoping, the rest of my vision skewing into the periphery as my eyes burn into the calendar. It’s wrong, wrong. This is the future. My mind starts telescoping too, with those two words banging like a gong in my head: WRONG. FUTURE. WRONG. FUTURE. WRONG WRONG WRONG.

I open my eyes to find myself in the dark corner of the poison shop. My spirit is filled and slopping over with the noxious effects of after-death. Nothing lasts forever for those such as I, not even death.

(to be continued soon)


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