Raul let out a groan as he silenced his alarm for the second time. Ever since he could remember he gave himself one snooze to brace himself for the coming day. A task that seemed to get harder and harder as the years went on, which he always just chalked up to age.
With a heavy heart he pulled himself out of bed and started his morning ritual. Brushing his teeth, a quick shower and psyching himself up for the day ahead. He had a work evaluation today, something he always dreaded, despite the fact that he never really seemed to remember them much afterwards. They were always over so quickly. You just pop into HR, answer a few questions, listen to their critiques, which never seemed that bad, and you were back to work. The problem wasn’t so much the evaluation as it was the aftereffect. No matter how glowing the report was, he always felt so drained afterwards. As if the air had been sucked out of the room. He just hated the confrontation, the stress of hearing what he may have been doing wrong.
For a moment he stopped himself. He couldn’t help but wonder when he became so stress adverse. He used to love being challenged. He honestly believed criticism was vital to growing and become better. Whenever someone would doubt him, he would just use that for fuel. Let that drive him to be better, to prove them wrong. When did that change?
Once again, he chalked it up to age and started on his way. He drove to work in silence, his mind racing with all the tasks he had to get done before the day was out. For a moment he thought about turning on the radio, listening to some music. An attempt to get out of his head for a few minutes before he made it into the office, but the truth was, there just wasn’t time. He had too much to do, too much responsibility to waste his day away on silly nonsense. There was work to be done, and he wasn’t a child anymore. To be honest, he couldn’t remember the last time he did something fun. It had been at least three years since he used any of his vacation or sick days. Maybe he should take some time off when his current project was finished?
“Hello, Mr. Rodriguez.” Maria the receptionist greeting him, as she always did. He gave her a curt smile and kept walking. Making a mental note to try and find sometime to talk to her when he had a chance. He had always found her attractive, and it had been years since he had dated anyone. Maybe it was time to get back out there? He always wanted a family, and he wasn’t getting any younger.
His office on the second floor wasn’t what you would call impressive, but it made do. He had an old oak desk and a chair that you could sit comfortably in for hours on end. What else did you need? There was a stack of paperwork waiting for him as he sat down. He let out a small sigh before he set about the day’s tasks.
It was a little after two when he was finally called into his evaluation. He did the best he could to brace himself for the worst. Not that he had any reason to expect anything to go wrong. He was a model employee, he arrived to work early and stayed late every day. He always doubled and tripled checked each and every report he handed in. The truth was, this job, this career, was his life. He didn’t really have anything going on outside of it.
Raul was forced to stop and brace himself against the wall as a sudden dizzy spell came over him. He got them from time to time, usually right before an evaluation. He supposed it was his nerves getting the best of him. He attempted to catch his breath before going on his way, but he found that to be a near impossible task.
Questions started flowing through his mind. What was he doing here? How was this his life? He took a job here the summer he graduated college to save up for a car and he had never left. He had such dreams. He was going to be an actor. Driving out to California and becoming the next Tom Cruse or something. He swore that he would never waste his life away in corporate America. Doing the same competitive task day in and day out. That was his father’s life, not his. It wasn’t what he wanted.
So why was he still here? Why had he allowed himself to drift away from his friends, from his dreams as he chased the almighty dollar. This life had afforded him some luxuries, this is true. He had a nice house and a fancy car, but no one to share it with. His bank had more money in it than he really needed, but he couldn’t remember the last time he did anything for himself. His whole life was wrapped up in this job and this company. This wasn’t who he wanted to be. He needed to get out of here. He needed to find himself again. Before his whole life was gone. Wasted doing paperwork and inconsequential tasks that had no real value to society.
“Mr. Rodriguez, Raul, are you okay?” Maria asked from behind him. Her voice was so gentle, so caring. He turned around to face her, the dizziness starting to dissipate.
“I’m fine Maria, I just. . .I think. . I need to sit down.” He told her as he attempted to stand upright and almost immediately fell back against the wall, the dizziness back with a vengeance.
“I got you.” Maria said as she put his arm over her shoulders and started to help him down the hall.
“Thank you, if. . .if you could just help me back to my office.” Raul said, closing his eyes as she led him down the hall. The more he thought about the last few years the more nauseous he started to feel. “Something’s wrong.”
“You’ll be okay, Raul. Don’t worry. Everything is going to be okay.” She told him, her voice thick with concern. He just nodded his head and held on tight. Afraid that if he let go of her, even for a second he would fall over.
As they walked, more and more thoughts started to surface. Memories of all the things he had given up to work here. It was the little things in life that held real value, hanging out with friends. Watching stupid tv shows. Reading a good book. The touch of a woman. All of which he had tossed aside to climb the corporate ladder. It wasn’t a good trade off.
“I think. . . I think I’m done.” Raul forced himself to say. The words hurt coming out, as if it was causing him physical pain. And yet, the second the words were out of his mouth he found himself starting to feel better. A weight lifted off his shoulders.
The nausea and dizziness were gone, replaced with a sense of urgency. He needed to get out of this building, out of this life and he needed to do it now.
“Here we go.” Maria said, helping Raul to the door. He slowly opened his eyes, expecting to see his office, instead he found himself standing in front of HR. His evaluator standing in front of him. “Everything’s going to be okay Raul. Trust me.” She said with a smile. It wasn’t a kind smile. It didn’t speak of good intentions, of joy and happiness. Of good will. It was a dagger to the heart. She didn’t care about him, she cared about the company. The bottom line. That’s all this company was. A machine to make the bottom line, the profits, bigger. No matter who it ate up, who it destroyed.
“I don’t want to be here.” Raul said, pulling his arm off of Maria and standing on his own two feet. Feeling confident in himself and his desires for the first time in what felt like years. “I’m leaving. Now!”
“What about your evaluation, Mr. Rodriguez?” The evaluator asked, his voice even.
“You have to have your evaluation, Raul.” Maria said. “It’s important. For the company, and for you.”
Raul shook his head and started to back away. His heart pounding in his chest. He was terrified. Nothing good was on the other side of that door. He needed to get out of there and he needed to do it fast.
“I quit.” He said, just before he turned around, preparing to run out of the building never to return. But before he could make his escape two large men grabbed him under the arms and started dragging him towards the HR door. “Stop! What are you doing? Let me go!”
“Not until you finish your evaluation, Mr. Rodriguez.” The evaluator said, a stern look on his face. Maria gave him a warm smile, that never seemed to make it to her eyes.
Raul fought as hard as he could to escape his fate, but there was nothing he could do. The men forced him into the HR office, as the evaluator turned and followed them.
It was a good two hours before the HR door opened again and Raul walked out, feeling exhausted, but also ready for work. After all, he had a lot that he needed to finish before the day was done.
“How are you feeling Raul?” Maria asked, a slight look of concern on her face.
“Fine, but if you’ll excuse me, I have a lot of work to get done. As I’m sure you do as well.” With that he turned and headed back to his office. He couldn’t help but think that she was pretty, if only she wasn’t so lazy. After all, who had time to sit around and chitchat while there was work to be done?
A Knock at the Door
It was a little past 9 when Henry walked through the door. Exhausted, his whole-body sore. Lately he had been working more and more, yet no matter how many hours he slaved away, he never seemed to be able to dig himself out of the financial hole he had dug for himself, what with all the luxuries in his life. Rent, some food on the table for most meals, a little electricity and a phone which he used mainly for work. Seeing as he hadn’t had the time to keep in touch with his friends these past few years.
He worked three jobs and did local construction whenever he had the time, which wasn’t often. “This is only a rough patch; we’ll get through this.” He told his wife every time she seemed bothered by how little he was home, or how bad their lives had gotten. She was laid off from her job when automation came in and had been out looking for a replacement ever since.
He found her sitting in his old beat-up chair, a glass of whisky in hand and a look of despair on her face. There was a time when she would light up at the sight of him, sadly those times had passed into distant memories. All that was left now was an uncomfortable silence they shared before going off to bed.
There was nothing Henry wouldn’t do for his Samantha. She was his whole world. She deserved so much better than this shell of a life they were now living. He still held onto the view that as a man, it was his responsibility to take care of her. He just couldn’t figure out how.
He stood in the doorway a few moments, just taking her in, she was still just as beautiful as the day they first met. There were so many things he wanted to tell her. His love for her was the one thing that kept him going. Kept him from giving up and letting the hell that his life had become win, but instead, he stood there for a moment, gave her a slight nod and then turned and left. Headed off to their room.
Henry collapsed into bed without so much as flicking the light switch or taking off his dirty work clothes. He was overcome with both, exhaustion and despair and sleep was the only relief he ever seemed to find anymore.
“Henry! Come quick!” His wife shrieked from the living room. Henry bolted up, suddenly awake and alert. He ran out to find his Samantha standing in front of the door, her face pale with fear. From outside he could hear someone walking around.
“Hello?” Henry called out, doing his best to sound firm, mean. “Is someone there?”
BANG! BANG! BANG!
The door rattled with the force of the knocking.
“Stop banging on my door!” Henry barked as he made his way to the door. Before he could pull it open, Samantha grabbed his arm and pulled him back. It was clear that she was terrified. It was only then that Henry noticed the broken glass on the floor. He patted her hand and gave her a forced smile.
“What do you want?” He demanded to the stranger.
“Let me in!” the stranger called back. There was something off about his voice, it was almost more of a snarl than words.
“Are you okay?” Henry asked, a mixture of concern and fear creeping into his voice. His wife’s grip was starting to hurt.
“Let me in!” The stranger screamed again, this time throwing himself at the door.
“Stop hitting my door! Whatever it is you want, find it somewhere else.” Henry snapped. His blood starting to boil.
This time the stranger kicked the door. The force knocking the hinges lose, but not breaking them. Henry found himself backing away from the door, a sudden chill coursing down his spine. Samantha let go of his arm, stumbling backwards.
“What does he want?” She asked, as she ran and hid behind the old chair. Oblivious to the fact that she ran through the glass shards on the floor. Henry could see the blood she left behind and found his anger boil over. He stormed to the fire place and snatched his father’s old Topper M48 off the mantle and made for the door.
“Henry don’t!” His wife pleaded, but Henry’s mind was made up. He was past his limit. It was bad enough that life kept kicking him while he was down, but now for some lunatic to show up at his home and terrorize his wife. It was too much.
He threw open the door, ignored Samantha’s begging for him to come back and stormed outside. His shotgun at the ready. Any trace of his fear gone, evaporated in the heat of righteous fury.
“Show yourself!” Henry barked, looking around, shotgun at the ready. “Stop playing around!” In a moment of pure anger he shot the gun into the air so as to show that he wasn’t to be toyed with. It was only then that Henry realized his mistake. Like any good gun owner, he never stored the gun loaded. The bullets were in a safe in the closet under some old junk he had been meaning to throw out.
His heart dropped as he heard footsteps behind him. He glanced towards the door, a mere 10 feet away. Could he make it? He wondered to himself as the footsteps grew closer. He spun around just in time to see a man that looked more animal than human sprinting towards him, his fangs baring from his mouth as he let out what could be described as a howl. Henry swung the shotgun at the monster, who swatted it away as if it was a plaything. His teeth tearing into Henry’s neck.
As the blood started to drain from the bite, his mind raced back to his beloved Samantha. She was all alone. How could she face this dark cruel world without him, how could she survive this unholy monster. He tried to find the strength to stand, but he had none left. The blood was pouring out of him at an alarming rate. He knew death was fast approaching, something he would be okay with, if only he knew his love would be okay, if only he could see her one more time.
With his final moments, he learned the truth of the old adage ‘be careful what you wish for’. Standing in the doorway, was his one and only Samantha, not a hint of fear about her as she took a long drag of her cigarette. A slight seductive smile on her face, as the once hideous monster, now a dashingly handsome man walked towards the door to greet her.
Their kiss was the last sight he saw before life left him forever more.
The only constant in life is change. A fact that was becoming clearer and clearer to Norman with each passing day as his circle grew smaller and smaller. Things he once took for granted, like Sunday nights at the bar watching the game were replaced with Sunday nights alone at home watching whatever happened to be on the TV. Truth is he was never a sports guy. He just liked the communal aspect of hanging with friends. But those friends now had families. Now had responsibilities. Something Norman avoided. It wasn’t that he was irresponsible. It’s that he enjoyed his life and wasn’t ready for it to change, and yet it had.
Like everyone, Norman was powerless to stop the flow of time, or the changes that it brought with it. But unlike most, he missed the point. That time isn’t the enemy. Change isn’t some monster trying to upend your life. It’s an ally helping you move into the next great adventure you’ve yet to take. If only you put yourself out there and embrace it. Norman never did.
He sat in front of the TV, living for the moments when old friends would call and check in on him. Never grasping the gift that the changing times tried to give him.
Abby walked through the wasteland, a desolated ruin of a once proud civilization. Her heart yarning for the world left behind. A world full of hope. Full of promise. It had its problems, but what place doesn’t? People helped each other. Built each other up. Contributed to the greater good.
A stark contrast to the world she now found herself in. A world where people fled from one another. Scared for their lives. If the wasteland didn’t wear you down to nothing, then the few other survivors would pick your bones clean. God forbid they took you alive.
When civilization fell, the first thing to go was trust. Humanity evaporated and showed us for the beasts that we are. It all came crumbling down so quickly. Millennia of progress, undone in a single generation, those in power manipulated fear to control the masses. Rally them to their causes. And as always, it worked. Only too well.
The artificial fear grew to real fear. Grew out of their control. Abby, like so many others, watched as society tore itself apart. As conceived slights and arbitrary differences grew the divide further and further until there was no return. Till all that was left was this desolated wasteland.
Her hand rested on the bump that was her stomach. Terrified of what awaited her child in this hell that we created.
His eyes were weary as he laid his head for rest. The struggle of the day overwhelming. Not that this day was different than any other. The same monotonous routine, day in and day out. Fighting to stay one step ahead of the relentless machine coming to consume him. Just as it consumed everyone else he had ever known. Sometimes it seemed as if there was no escape. No freedom from the onslaught, from the horror.
Often, he would lay up at night and wonder how the world became this way. How at a time when humanity had it all, we seemed to have nothing. Every morning the panhandlers increased, every evening another evicted neighbor poured over the remains of their lives for the world to see. How at a time when communication was instantaneous the distance between one another grew insurmountable. How we as a people march towards our own oblivion, oblivious of the doom that awaits. More concerned with the shinny distractions than the emptiness of our own lives.
But today was not one of those days. Today he just let sleep overtake him, content with the only victory left him in this world. That he stayed one step ahead of his fate. At least for today.
The Power's Out
It's been 3 days since we've last had power. Each day growing colder and colder. The snow piling up outside, trapping us in this icebox that was once a home. I've long since stopped keeping track of the time, or any hope of salvation. The phones cut off not long after the electricity, and with them, any hope we had of contact with the outside world. If there is still an outside world. Is any place safe from this apocalyptic doom that has encased us? I fear that I am nothing more than a frozen corpse that has yet to learn it's place. My hands and feet, despite being wrapped up, nice and snug, have started to grow numb. My eyes glass over as I glaze out the window, hoping beyond hope that a miracle will happen, all the while knowing that it won't. This is how it ends. Neither glorious or even dignified. It's an end that I would never have wished on another soul, yet it is the one I am cursed with. I lay myself down, cross my arms over my chest, and take one last look around, letting the setting of my end solidify in my mind's eye. I'm ready to toss aside the mortal coil and be at peace in my frozen prison, yet just as my eyes close for the final time I hear the rumble of the heater. Warmth returns to this desolate wasteland, filling me with a hope that long since departed. For the first time in days I feel myself coming alive. It is only then that I realize that it has only been a handful of hours since this all started, rather than days.
A Vision of the Future
As I walk under the pale moonlight, enjoying the first cool breeze of the year, the blistering summer heat having finally dissipated, I find my heart heavy. Weighed down by the apprehension of all the tasks yet undone.
What a curious predicament I find myself in. Laid out before me I find a million or more goals I long to achieve, yet inside I lack the motivation to even give form to these thoughts. I feel my soul drowning in an endless abyss from which there seems to be no escape.
Night after night I wander the streets, as if my feet can deliver me to salvation. It's a foolish proposition, for my insecurities follow me, my only true companions. I resign myself to a fate worse than death, that of a mediocre existence. All dreams of glory buried in my past. Day in, day out, it's the same old thing. Stuck in a rut of my own design.
Yet this night takes a turn as I find myself in the midst of a construction site. Half built homes all around me, promising a new hope. A fresh start. I take solace in the unvoiced promise that with some hard work and dedication you can build a future out of nothing but a vision.
This is my Predicament
I awake at the crack of dawn, once more beating my alarm. My body drenched in the sweat of a thousand nightmares that plague my sleep night after night. Is this all there is? Endless repetition. Tearing me down till there is nothing left?
I carry on my back the weight of the world, a task no one asked me to perform. Yet like Sisyphus before me, I start anew each morn, hoping the results will vary, but all that awaits me is utter disappointment.
I spend my days toiling away, on tasks so insignificant, they don’t even bear repeating. Is this all life is? Slowly wasting away, purpose unfulfilled, or is there something else?
The same old question, day after day, no answer in sight. This is my predicament. I just got to find a way out.
As Day Turns to Night
As day turns to night, I once more find myself wandering the streets. My mind forever lost in a daze; I can’t seem to escape the monotony of my existence. As exhaustion, both physical and mental, overtakes me, I find relief on a park bench. My eyes scan the heavens above, wondering what it must have been like to transverse the stars as our forbearers did.
Back when I was young, and my grandfather was still alive, he would sit me down and tell me tales of being on the generational ship that brought my people to Salvation. He had never seen Earth, nor met anyone who had, but he knew all the legends of old. He would sit up late at night in the lower decks and trade stories of the home world. Most of those stories I know by heart, but they never caught my attention like the other tales they would trade.
They were to be the first generation in human memory to touch soil. To breath fresh air. To grow food and not have it printed out of old worn-down machines, which had long since lost the ability to make anything taste as it should. And they had plans!
My grandfather, the sweetest man I have ever known, would sit up with his friends, late into the night and plot their future. Plan what they were going to create. Map out the world that was going to be shaped by them and their dreams.
It was to be a Utopia, not burdened by the senseless class dynamics of the ship. Which seemed only to grow with each new generation. More and more families being pushed down into the lower decks, forgotten by those in power. Elite families teaching their decedents how to run the important systems, so as to maintain their importance.
The lower decks became a kind of living hell for many who lived there. Whole blood lines would die off from lack of food or warmth. For some reason, when there were power shortages, they only seemed to happen on the lower decks. And with each passing year the upper decks would seem to shrink and shrink. Not in anyway noticeable, but that could be the only explanation as more and more people were forced down below.
The sad irony is that the journey was undertaken by people who sought to escape the caste system of Earth. It is said that near the time of the departure, Earth was in a perpetual state of turmoil. Millions were dying daily in the asteroid mines. After all, the rich needed their gold. For what? No one seemed to know, but it was worth the cost of human lives.
The legends state that most people on earth at the time wasted their whole lives working in meaningless jobs. The promise that if you work hard and do as your told you can ascend to the ranks that tower above. A promise that most knew in their hearts to be false, but nonetheless, couldn’t help but play along.
My grandfather used to tell me, towards the end of his life, that hope is both the greatest and worst thing a human being can possess. It can inspire you to move mountains and keep you alive through even the darkest of times, but it can also be used to trap you. To trick you into working against your own ends to help someone else, with the misguided belief that the reward will be worth it.
Back on Earth, the greatest tool the wealthy used, was to elevate one or two people. Never to a station on par with those in power, but just enough that everyone else would feel a renewed sense of hope. Would try that much harder. Never noticing that within a generation or two, those lifted up, would be slapped back down.
The generational ship was to be different. It was to be a meritocracy, where everyone would be given the same training and chance to prove themselves. It was to be the great game changer for the children of humanity. Too bad it didn’t last.
Over the millennia aboard the great ship, things had a way of reverting back to the ways of old. For all I know, when the ship set out on his long journey, it held true to its promise. I would like to think so, but by time my grandfather and the last generation was born, things were as bad as back on earth. People who had achieved a level of importance passed it on to their children instead of those who could have earned the spot. Trapping others out of the key roles. Over time, jobs became hereditary. The class system had returned.
A fate that those of the last generation, born on the lower decks, swore would never come to pass on Salvation. This world was not to be earth. The children of humanity were to finally grow and treat each other with the love and respect all life is owed.
O’ the foolish fantasies of youth, if only they survived the crucible of reality.
A world is much larger than a ship, and where there is space, there is opportunity. For a time, when my grandfather was new to this world, his dreams flourished. The world was remade into what wished it could be.
Alas, humanity has its patterns. No matter how hard we attempt to change our ways, it seems like we always end up where we started. Stuck in a world of haves and have-nots. People taking power for themselves at the expense of others. Not because they have to, but because they want to. After all, what good is being rich if there aren’t people to lord it over? If there aren’t people to make your life easier?
The stars up above welcome me home. To a time when we could dream of a better life instead of facing the reality that this new world ended up the way of the old. It didn’t take long before those with means aboard the ship spread out. Taking over settlement after settlement. After all, the rich need servants. They need those who are willing to sacrifice of themselves to keep those in power in power.
As I leave the park behind and look out over the city that I call home, I’d be hard pressed to not admit it’s a great deal better than the world my grandfather lived in, but it falls far short of the promise that was made in its origin.
A land where everyone would have a chance, based on nothing more than their hard work and determination, to carve out a world for themselves. A land where there was plenty for everyone and the caste system that has plagued society since its conception would at last be laid to rest.
Instead we got much of what we left behind. A ruling class that forces arbitrary laws on us to keep us on our toes, mixed in with corrupt ones to keep us in our place. We have down on their luck human beings, living in the streets, while the city spends millions trying to recruit people from bigger cities to move here and help us grow. Building homes for potential residents, but not those we have failed.
We produce food enough to feed every living person on this world, and yet countless dozens die of starvation a year in this very city.
Those at the top see the world, enjoy the “fruits of their labors” while the rest of us toil away to provide them the means to do so, in the vain hope that we can one day join their ranks.
It seems to me that the more things change, the more they stay the same. I can’t help ponder what it’s all for? Is this all there is? A handful of people living a life of luxury while the rest of us waste away, serving them? Is there no middle ground where everyone can have a piece of the pie? Where working hard can achieve real rewards?
I make my way home as the night grows late; my heart heavier than when I set out. There is so much I want to do. So much I know I can do, if given half a chance, but alas, that’s not my lot in life. I spend my days building a world for others to live in and enjoy, while I waste away beneath its heels.
Jonathan Gutheinz writes for fun on his off time. Maybe you'll enjoy it.