“It starts with what I call fuzzy tongue.” Doc Jeremy holds the penlight pretty steady in his wrinkled hand, his fingers like crunched paper beyond the light’s bloom. “And that, my poor friend, is what you have.”
A soft snap reaches my ears, and then blackness assails my eyes. Not a spacious void but a confining space that smells of failure. I panic, the paranoia setting in, and my muscles stiffen as I blink rapidly until my eyes adjust. It takes a while for my heart to adapt. I’m in Jeremy’s place, I tell myself.
His home is cardboard and misplaced metal. His floor is dirt, oil, old chianti, and, probably, piss.
“I didn’t think they’d come for me.” I hand him what I can—a half pound of turkey jerky wrapped in a purple kerchief.
He takes the jerky and hands me back the kerchief with a smile. “Millie’s?”
“Only the best,” I tell him.
He lets out a hoot. “Feast tonight.”
“Don’t share. Contraband can get you kicked off Highway One.”
Jeremy crosses his heart.
I straighten up from my squat. My legs are so mad at me, breathing fire over me—like dragons rebelling—from my ankles into my hips and then my chest. I gasp, and Jeremy grabs my elbow. It’s meant in comfort, I’m sure, but it just adds another ache to my muscles and skin.
“If it helps, don’t take it personally, Peg,” he says, rubbing my arm as an afterthought. He is always kind, which is something of note for anyone in this self-righteous world. When life’s hard, it is even harder for me not to take things personally, or at least equally as hard as it is easy for the Faultless to judge the world—especially for the teenage warriors.
I spit on the ground. My mouth is cotton before the gin. “Judgy judges everywhere—too young and fresh to have sinned. But just wait—”
“But they are sinning, Peg.”
I sit back down, shocked to remember that he’s right. It is a sin to murder. “So many years, so many lies. I never missed an ER shift. Did my best for humanity. I even chose not to have kids, dammit. I never threw out a disposable diaper in my life, Doc, never once to cover any of their asses. But I am paying for it now. The sin of inaction.”
Inaction seems to be a capital offense now.
The Faultless have a new word for everything, and it comes down to one degree of sin or another. Our death sentences, built on a scaffold of accusations—to punish us for “murdering” them, or, since they survived, I guess they call it the “attempted murder” of them now. I used to march with them.
First, they crushed the elders’ words practically before they could be spoken. Said old voices were wrong, inhumane, unenlightened, and destructive—everything about the older generations was destructive. They were so young, so sheltered, so protected that the mere thought of what ice cream to eat sent them into a panic of indecision, terrified that one bite might make them sinners in the face of some global apocalypse that never came to fruition, but never wavering in their amazing ability to blame everyone else on the planet for their miserably blessed lives.
None threw out any cell phones. Few put aside their cars. Many bought guns. And when the hypocrisy was pointed out, they shrieked, “You made us this way. But we will find a better way without you.”
The youth split. Some became the warriors and others became the scientists—tools for a greater future, instruments honed since birth with propaganda and hate and a strong sense of purpose to exact a plan created by men and women long since dust. Never an original thought was hatched in their heads. Population control was not some new insight created by such youth pumped up by helicopter parents whose sons and daughters and nonbinaries grew to disdain the tit. Only almond milk for my precious.
Only covert genocide acted out by my precious. “Thank you for poisoning me, my dear daughter, if it makes you feel vindicated, sweetie.” And hoorah! Three cheers for euthanasia! The world is once again safe.
But precious youth will age, too.
“I should have had kids, after all,” I say then laugh softly at the irony. The motion rattles glass through my lungs.
“You should get back to the weekly rally,” Jeremy says. “It will do you good to be among friends.”
I wince. “They don’t want me anymore. I’ve reached that age.”
“No way.” I shrug. “Where do you think I drank that coffee?”
Jeremy pushes aside the makeshift door. I’ve overstayed my welcome.
I stare at the crack of his cardboard shanty, dusty sunbeams creeping in, lighting the space like glitter. “Best I find a place to crash tonight. Toss my ID. Cut the cord.”
“Ah.” Jeremy nods. “Been there, done that. Still ticking. You take those pills and be more careful.”
“I never thought they’d come for me, too.” I lower my chin to my chest.
“They’ll find us all eventually,” he says, grasping my shoulder. “Just enjoy the moments. Chin up. Now, no tears, Peg. Don’t take it personally. It’s all that they know.”
Copyright 2019 A. H. De Carrasco. All rights reserved. Stock images from Depositstock.
Special thanks to Hot Tree Editing for proofreading this short. A sincere thank you to the makers of screw-top chardonnay. Having increased my consumption slightly, cork-free, I found myself with what I guessed was a mild case of oral thrush but my writer’s mind suspected to be the first signs of a new plague.