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The Days That Were

The blinking watch face lit up Ern’s face. 19:10. He was awake at 04:00. A one-hour commute each way and a twelve- and half-hour shift. All in a day’s work eh? He sighed and leant his head against the window. The bus trundled on, bouncing every now and then as it went over the odd pothole or body. The man in the seat next to him was coughing up blood. The carbon in the air was high that day and it had been forecast that several thousand citizens would fall ill with tar lung. He squeezed himself into the corner between the window and the seat, in hopes of shielding himself from blood spatter. The man’s coughs became more frequent and violent and despite Ern’s best attempts, blood inevitably found its way to him and covered his trainers. “Tut”. Ern had hoped that this sound of disapproval was not audible, but the man’s apologies proved otherwise. More coughs. More blood. The coughs grew harsher and harsher. The man gripped onto the seat in front of him and coughed up the remainder of his life. A few moments later and he was slumped forward. Head between his legs. Blood drip, drip, dripping into a pool below. Ern reached up and pressed the evac button. Trap doors beneath the man’s chair opened up and his body was released to the road below. Another bump as the back wheels of the bus rolled over his corpse. The window, once again, had his attention. He peered out, hoping to see anything else other than darkness. Occasionally he would catch glimpse of a space shuttle taking off or the odd fire, but for the most of it, nothing but black. He remembered the tales his grandad used to tell him. The tales of times where stars lit up the nights sky. Of times where the trees stood a thousand strong. Times where beasts, big and small, used to wander what was known as the wilderness and the colour green was ever present. Of times where people had real jobs. Jobs that meant something. Jobs where you made things, with your hands! What he’d give to be back then and not here and now. To be roaming the wilderness with nothing but a bag on his back and boots on his feet.

“Attention please”. The tannoy pierced his bubble. “High levels of sulphur ahead. Please fit your respirators and ensure your suits are airtight”. He bent down and got his respirator out of his bag, fitted it and made sure that his suit was sealed. There was a cry. A mother and son, two seats down to the left. The mother was scrambling about desperately. “I can’t find it! I can’t find it!”. The son began to cry as the mother slowly realised that she only had one mask. “Please, has anyone got a mask?!”. The mother was now out of her seat and going from seat to seat, pleading for a spare mask. The tannoy broke over her pleas. “Attention. We are now entering a high sulphur area. Please ensure all masks are now properly fitted”. The steel shutters outside of the windows rattled down, cutting off all noise from the outside. Ern looked over to see the mother scramble back to her son and fit her mask to him. More cries as she realised that the mask was not going to fit. Ern closed his eyes. He didn’t need to see this. He did his best to return back to the times of old. The times where he could wander about the evergreen forests and spy many a wonderous thing. It was no use, the cries had him pinned in the cruel realms of this reality. The cries gave way to coughing and the coughing gave way to silence. He sighed a breath of relief. Finally, he could return to his forests.

All to soon he was getting off the bus and stepping foot into the apartment complex that housed him. A dozen tower blocks arranged into a hub of sorts. Large screens plastered the walls, urging him to buy something or the other. Asking him why he hadn’t already joined so and so or why was he doing this instead of that. Ern’s heart sank as the reality of it all hit home. All about him, grey faces illuminated by large screens, held barely an inch away from burnt out retinas. How did it ever get to this? Where was he going and was there a meaning to it all? He wasn’t sure if he wanted the answer to that. His phone buzzed. He pulled it out to see what was intruding on his solace. MiHealth, an app designed to keep the common folk in “Good health”, was notifying him that it was time for his daily check in. “How are you feeling today?”. The familiar steely voice came through his ear pods. “Confused and sad”. An answer he gave too often. An answer that always had the same solution. “Your dosage has been increased. Please stand still”. A drone appeared and hovered at his side. Half reluctant and half excited, he pulled down his suit and exposed his neck. The drones syringe found an appropriate vein and filled his system with plastic happiness. Ern sighed. He looked around once more and the world was brighter and softer. Easier to digest. He meandered over to the nearest bar and got involved in the festivities. Everyone was on a post work high. The working day was done and the next one was looming but until then, chemicals were to be consumed and happiness (however temporary) was to be felt. Ern, hopped up after his treatment, got stuck in and joined in on the revels. Conversations were had and forgotten. Romances bubbled away and burst moments later. “This is it!”. Ern had placed himself on top of a table and was making a profound statement to all his mates. “This is it!”. The crowd repeated it back to him and he felt an overwhelming sensation of accomplishment. He was pushed down, and another took his place. His watched blinked at him again. 01:32. He stumbled out.

Up the elevator and down the hallway and Ern had found his door. He pushed through it and stood in the doorway. His room. He sighed and unzipped his trousers and prepared himself for his last daily duty. The machine purred to life as he inserted himself. A few swift pumps and the elixir for life was drained from him. “Thank you for your service. Expect payment within the week”. Another brief sting of bitter relief. He lay down on his bed and switched off the lights. Somewhere, out there, was a thousand and one clones made from his DNA, lumbered about factories or farms or battlefields. And all for what? So he could come back to this box night after night and produce more!? He closed his eyes and thought of the evergreens. Thought of all the wonderful animals he will never get to see or hear or touch. Of all the things his grandfather spoke of and of all the things he wanted to do but never would.

His watch was blinking. It was 04:00.

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