The Final Count

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“How many this week?”

Secretary Slatin licked her lips. She didn’t want to be the one to deliver the disastrous news to the president.

“The final count for the day is not in yet, Mr. President.” Her last word was punctuated with a wet cough. She pulled a napkin form her purse and held it to her mouth. No one in the room made a sound as she struggled to control herself.

President Allison had nothing but hard decisions lately. “Natalie, how long have you had that cough?”

She opened her mouth to answer and was overtaken by another fit. She bowed her head and her slender body shook with the violence of the cough as it tried in vain to rid itself of the infection inside her. When she removed her hand from her face there was a spot of blood on the sleeve of her cream colored suit jacket.

“Secretary Natalie Slatin, as President of what remains of these United States, I hereby relieve you of duty. Please go home and get some rest.” He looked at her, “God be with you,” he said then gestured to his security detail.

Without a word two secret service agents took hold of former Secretary Slatin and lifted her gently from her chair.

“Please, you cant!” She protested but even that sounded lethargic. Her sweat covered brow and the dull look in her normally bright green eyes gave away the truth of her condition.

The President seemed visibly shaken by the loss of Secretary Slatin.

No one else in the room said a word, this was President Alliston’s fourth dismissal in a weeks time. The Gender flu didn’t care if its victims were presidential cabinet staff, housewives or even little girls. The disease was always fatal. It was creating chaos in the general population as it burned it’s way through entire families.

All eyes avoided meeting President Allisont’s gaze. Secretary of State Natalie Slatin was a close personal friend of his since college. She had been the last female staff member left. “Such a shame, I really thought she wouldn’t catch it.”

He allowed himself one sigh of regret, one moment of weakness before pounding his fist on his desk. “Can someone get the damn CDC on the line?”

 

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Her name was Leah, but that wasn’t the name she’d been born with. The documents she’d been given had the American name attached to her picture. They’d made promises about what her life would be in America. Freedom from a dictatorship that starved it’s people, was an attractive offer and one she couldn’t refuse. The group of foreign men came to her village, spoke her language and offered to escort her away from her misery. It had been a beautify story, but not entirely true.

After her boat reached American shores, Leah’s existence  had shrank. She was told they arrived in some place called Savannah, but she couldn’t see anything of the city from her room with it’s boarded windows. She was kept downstairs in a cramped unfurnished bedroom with a single lamp and small floor cot. There was a bedside table but no other furniture provided. She’d been given books and among them was a Korean to English translator. She’d filled her lonely hours with study hoping to one day have a conversation with her new mate and convince him to let her out of this room.

Leah was currently lying on her cot in the single sweat soaked dress she owned counting the minutes until her next meal. It was the only time she saw him. When the handle turned in the door Leah sat up straight and mentally prepared herself for the task ahead.

Her mate came down the stairs with a covered tray for her mid day meal. He was a white man, tall and tanned by the sun. Judging by the streaks in his dark brown hair Leah guessed he was at least 10 years older than her.  He sat the tray down on the bedside table and made a short bow, not meeting her eyes. He said nothing, as always, and turned to leave.

Leah reached out and grasped his hand. She knew it was a bold move. “Stay,” she said in English.  “Sit with me.”

His smile completely changed the shape of his face, it made him appear younger.  I have made him happy, good.  This is a start.

He took a seat on the cot next to her. His large hand engulfed her own until it almost disappeared. “Ethan,” he said pointing to his own chest. “Nice to meet you.”

 

Abduction Day – Author Unknown

I can hear the rumbling engine that portends my end. The hateful behemoth sucking air and spewing smoke is only two blocks away, its intention to lead us to our destiny. I am no poet, merely a preserver of history. I want someone to know, someone to read this and feel my misery, our misery.

My mom cries in the other room. She has no power, neither do I. We will both be taken and I’m glad for once that my father is no longer living. I write this as a memory, to preserve my thoughts and feelings. Soon I will not be allowed to feel, my choice of actions reduced to lying on my back and spreading my legs for strangers.

We are told this is our duty, those females who are left. The good of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Didn’t a famous person say that once? I don’t remember their name, just as no one will remember mine.

They’re Coming for Me

“It’s too early, I’m not ready for this!”

Tasha looked at me with wet eyes. She was afraid, not angry like me. That’s what happens when you have something worth losing. But if you have nothing, and no one, you get angry.

“Becks, what are we going to do? I’ve seen a few buses drive by with girls inside. They had police escorts. How is this legal?”

“It wouldn’t have been legal a year ago, but since the president declared a state of emergency all bets are off. It looks like the government is using the Gender Flu as an excuse to cancel our civil liberties.”

“But who cares about that, women are dying!”

I was naturally distrustful, it’s a side product of being orphaned at an early age. “You’ve heard what they’re saying on tv, right?  The S.A.F.E program is our best chance for survival and the continuation of the entire female population. But they can’t force us into their stupid slavery program if they can’t catch us. We’re just going to have to be clever and strong. Can you do that Tasha?”

“We aren’t going home?”

“If you go home there will be a bus parked in front of your driveway waiting. Before you even get to say goodbye to your parents those bastards will grab you!”

Tasha sniffed and blinked her eyes. “Right. Do you know anywhere we can hide?”

“There’s a place I know of where a lot of homeless people used to hang out. It’s an entrance to the underground tunnels that run underneath the city. Maybe we can hide there until all this dies down.”

“How are we going to get there without being seen?”

“The best thing we can do is to act casual and try to blend in. If we panic and run we’ll draw attention to ourselves. Here, pull your hoodie up over your head and tuck your hair in, that way it’s harder to tell you’re a girl.”

A police car rolled by us as we walked down the sidewalk with our hands in our pockets. For the first time in my life I felt grateful for my flat chest and lack of curves. Tasha was a little more developed so I had her walk on the other side of me farthest from the street. I resisted the urge to dive down an alleyway every time we saw one of the red buses drive past. The city hurricane warning siren wailed in the distance, a constant reminder that we were being hunted. The sound reverberated inside my skull and added to my natural instinct to flee. I felt Tasha’s hand slip into my own.

When we were finally in sight of Forsyth Park our pace quickened. I felt a small amount of relief until I saw the police blockade on Henry Street. We both stopped, hearts and minds racing in tandem. Tasha looked at me, her pupils had grown so large the normal hazel color of her eyes had vanished. “They’ve already seen us. If we turn around they’ll know we’re trying to avoid them. Keep your head down and stay to the right of me.”

Time moved with agonizing slowness as we walked those few blocks to where the blockade was set. There were two police cars with one officer each, but thankfully, no red bus. We were nearly within earshot of the officers I warned Tasha to keep looking forward and continue walking at a regular speed.

“Hey, you two boys!”

I turned slowly to look at the man who’d spoken to us.

“There’s a rumor about a secret hideout somewhere in this area, possibly underground. We think there might be some females trying to avoid the S.A.F.E protocol by hiding out. Do you know of a place around here like that?”

There was no avoiding it now. As soon as one of us answered him the illusion would be broken. “Get ready to run.”

“Hey, I asked you a question. You deaf or something?” He started walking toward us.

“Tasha do you remember where we used to hang out after school in 8th grade?”

“You mean that closed down café on Wright Square?”

“Yeah. Meet me there and we’ll try to come up with a plan. One, two, three, go!”

I took off running as fast as my thin legs could manage. I suddenly regretted turning down my high school track coaches suggestion to join the school team. I was huffing and and puffing within seconds but sheer terror kept me moving forward.

I took a left and ran down Bull Street as Tasha turned right onto Gaston. She was taking the long way around and I silently hoped she would be able to make it to the café.

“Stop, or I’ll shoot!”

The cops shouted threats behind me as they tried to give chase. I knew they weren’t going to shoot me. Despite the terrible things the government was now allowed to do, females were growing more valuable every day as more of us died. They fired into the air and I stumbled to the ground as if I’d been hit. I took a moment to look behind me and saw that the officer was at least fifty feet back holding his knees and gasping.

I turned down an alley and surprised the old man that ran Angels BBQ. He shouted and jumped out of my way.  As I rounded the corner a red bus was winding around the square. I climbed in through a broken window in what used to be The Wright Square Café.

I heard the bus engine in the distance as it traveled down Bull Street, police sirens joined the sound. An ear piercing scream made the small hairs on my arms stand on end. It was Tasha, they must have her. I got to my feet and started for the window when a hand gripped my shoulder and held me firmly in place.

I turned around to face a middle aged woman with dirty blonde hair and mud on her face. “You can’t help her now. Going out there is suicide.”

My lower lip trembled as the sounds of Tasha’s protests grew fainter. Hot tears stung my eyes and rolled down my cheeks. The fact that I was crying only made me angrier.

“I know,” the woman said and pulled me into a hug.

I had never felt so useless.

Restraint

“How are you today, Charles?”

Mr. Kozloski asked in a voice reserved for addressing 8 year olds. He always spoke in a measured rhythm and took a very long time to say nothing. He knew I was shitting in my pants for the simple fact that I’d been called into his office.

“I’m fine, sir. Thank you for asking.”

He nodded his head accepting my humble response as appropriate. “Do you happen to know why you’re here?”

That patronizing tone of voice was maddening. I’d rather listen to someone grind their teeth together than hear him make another speech. He is working up to firing me but instead of just saying that he will probably take an hour to describe his reasoning behind the decision. My boss loved the sound of his own voice.

“I guess it’s getting close to the time for my annual review, sir. So I thought you might want to talk about that.” I knew he didn’t want to talk about that.

He paused, leaned back in his chair and pondered my response. Again, he took his time answering. I was almost ready to walk out and quit. Being a lowly security guard with my twenty-five years experience as a Detective for Chatham County was insulting enough already, I didn’t need this drama.

“You’re right in a way, Charles. I do want to talk about your performance but it will be a short conversation I’m afraid. No breaking out the rubric this time.”

I couldn’t say anything. I was equal parts rage and fear. I wanted to reach across the desk wrap my hands around this skinny punks neck and squeeze until his windpipe cracked just so he could never say the word “rubric” again! I was eleven years his senior and I had work experience that was relevant. Mr. Kozloski had no work experience prior to the the Gender Flu riots.  If half the country hadn’t died from the virus and the other half gone to complete shit, this man would have been lucky to find employment as a coffee shop barista.

“So no annual increase then?” Of course I already knew the answer.

Kozloski had the hubris to laugh. “Actually Charles I’m afraid I have to inform you that today is your last day of employment with S.A.F.E. There have been two many violations of company policy and I can no longer overlook them.”

“Do you mean because I was late a couple of times?”

Kozloski gave me a look. “It was more than a couple of times, Charles.” He opened a folder that contained printed photos of me entering the building. They were time stamped. “I have the photos to prove you were late 3 times in the last six months alone. I’m afraid we can’t over look this any longer.”

My palms began to sweat. “Mr. Kozloski, it’s just that I ran out of fuel credits a few times toward the end of the month and I had to walk from 52nd street to the compound. It’s quite a hike.”

“Did you try calling a cab any of those times?”

“No, sir, I simply can’t afford a luxury like that.”

“I see, so you want us to violate procedure by not having appropriate coverage at the compound and risk the safety of our females because you can’t manage your finances properly?”

I wanted to punch him until his face caved in. I imagined the satisfying sound of his pointy little beak crumpling under the weight of my fist. I was fifty-five but I kept in shape. I held my anger in check because I would never work again if S.A.F.E decided to give me a bad reference.

I stood and thanked Mr. Kozloski for giving the opportunity to worth with him. I nearly gagged on the words but I said them because they had to be said. He wished me look and shook my wet palm. He made a face when the moisture from my sweaty palm soaked into his precious callous free hand. The man had likely never held a gun in his life but held the title of “Head of Security.”

“Before I go Mr. Kozloski I’d like to ask if you’ll be able to give me a favorable recommendation if a future employer calls?”

The skin on his hairless cheeks gathered into a smile.

I doubt he even needs to shave, the twat!

“Of course I’ll give you a good reference, Charles,” he said in a sarcastic voice that let me know in perfectly clear terms that he had no intention of doing that.

“Thank you, Sir,” I said and managed to leave without punching a hole through Mr. Kozloski or his office door on my way out.

Critical Thinking

Dr. Aikens is a big fan of Actualism but he isn’t allowed to teach on it. Haley sits in the front row of his class and absorbs everything he says like a sponge. Today’s discussion is on Descartes not on Bejamin Wong, the founder of Actualism, but it is clear that Dr. Aikens is trying to make the connection.

“How do you know that you’re real?” he asks

Haley raises her hand to answer. “I can see my reflection in the window. I can feel my pulse in my wrist and I’m breathing in air every second.”

He likes that answer. “So you’re basing your assumption that you’re real on information you can gather with your senses, correct? What you can see, touch, hear and smell?”

She nods.

But what if I told you that you can’t trust your senses to always be correct? Senses can be fooled. For instance think about a person taking, what’s that new hallucinogenic out there that the kids all like? The green stuff?”

“Bug juice,” a lethargic voice answers from the back.

Dr. Aikens whirls on a haired boy with red rimmed eyes. To the average person it might look like the boy is under the influence of something, but Haley lives next door to him and has first hand knowledge of the fact that he gets abused at home. He wasn’t a druggie, his distant attitude and lack of concern for school comes from his problems with his father.

“Excellent Mr. Dresden. I knew you would have the answer.”

“So someone taking Bug Juice would experience auditory and visual hallucinations. Therefore the visual data they are able to gather wouldn’t be factual and they wouldn’t be able to believe with that saw, ‘with their own eyes.'”

“So what is the answer then? What can you believe? How do you know you’re real?”

“I’m glad you’re so enthusiastic, Haley. The answer according to Descartes could be summed up in one sentence.” Dr. Aikens turned to the white board and wrote a phrase in red marker, I think therefore I am.

“But what does it mean?” A curly haired girl asked.

“It means that Descartes believed the proof of his existence was based on his ability to think. That the act of thinking itself was the proof.” Here Dr. Aikens paused for effect to see if he’d blown everyones mind. It was clear that he enjoyed his job.

**

After class Haley found herself in Dr. Aikens office. He had a recent test of hers with a score of 98 and a written message on the front of the paper. He handed it to her proudly, “Do you know you were the only one in the class who managed to write a proper answer to the essay question on the proof of God?”

Haley couldn’t help but smile at this. She didn’t agree with Dr. Aikens on some things but she did enjoy his praise. “I’m glad to hear you liked my answer.”

He sat down at the desk and steepled his fingers.”I did enjoy reading your response, it seems you’ve some deep rooted beliefs that have no basis in logic, but nevertheless are fascinating.”

“Are you talking about my faith?”

“Yes, indeed. Faith is an interesting concept.”

“Don’t you think it’s better than believing in nothing?” I hadn’t come here to debate the man on religion, but I was the daughter of a paster after all.

He stood and turned to the bookshelf behind him. “I wouldn’t say I believe in nothing.” He chose a hardback book with a dark purple cover and a strange golden symbol on the front. If I had to guess I would have said it looked Egyptian. He handed the book to me. I half expected it to be full of satanic rituals and spells. Instead the cover read Benjamin Wong and within it’s pages contained the principles that a nation would later use a road map for life after their faith had failed them.

“I think you might find this interesting, he said.

 

The Beginning of the End

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“Doogie” Kayla points at a Golden Retriever playing frisbee with it’s owner in the distance. She is at the stage in life where everything is fascinating and she wants to touch it all. As the dog leaps into the air to catch his prize Kayla sways on her unsure toddler legs and attempts to trot off in it’s direction.

“My turn?” Dorian asks his wife.

“Go for it,” she says. Her smile is warm and full of pride in her little girls accomplishments, even though they are small. Amelia has big plans for the miniature version of herself.

Kayla doesn’t get two steps beyond their picnic blanket before her daddy scoops up his chubby daughter and swings her around in a circle. Delighted giggles fill the air as he carries Kayla upside down back to her mothers waiting arms.

Kayla very much likes going upside down. Her pale blonde hair continues to stand straight up even after Dorian puts her down. She is smiling and flashing a mouth full of gums except for the two front teeth on the bottom that were the only to come in so far.

We he looks at her, Dorian imagines future summer days in Forsyth Park pushing her in the swings. He pictures himself and Amelia cheering in the stands as Kayla plays in her first softball game. He plans to arrive early to get a good view of the stage for her first school play. There are so many things he’s looking forward to in the years to come and reaches out to Amelia and squeezes her hand in silent thanks. She has given him this beautiful give.

Amelia’s contented smile transforms as a coughing fit overtakes her. She has been doing that a lot lately.

“Are you okay?” He asks with real concern. It’s not allergies or a cold and Dorian feels the tiniest ball of dread begin to form in his stomach.

Amelia attempts to say something and waves off his concern. She is unable to form the words because she can’t stop the body racking cough long enough to utter them. The sound is deep and wet with congestion from the bottom of her lungs. She released his hand to retrieve a paper towel and place it over her face to prevent the spreading of germs.  When she brings the towel away from her face there are a few coffee colored drops left behind. She notices him noticing and quickly crumples up the evidence.

“I’m fine!” she says.