billy got up, as he usually did, about an hour before peggy and dave.
he liked to have some time to himself to eat his cereal and stare into space, before he left for his job at the regional office of cassandra’s, a startup ice-cream shop franchise.
there was a tv in the little kitchen, and he turned it on, as he usually did, to the traffic and weather channel. he usually took the bus to work, but sometimes walked if it was a nice day, so he liked to know the weather forecast.
but this morning, just as he was pouring skimmed milk into his cheerios, the foxy weather girl person disappeared and a screen came up saying - we interrupt this broadcast to bring you a special public service announcement.
a swarthy man with a neatly trimmed black mustache, about 35 years old, wearing a dark blue suit with a blue and red striped tie, appeared on the screen, seated at a traditional anchorperson’s desk.
“good evening,” he announced, “or morning, as the case may be in whatever area of the world you are listening from. allow me to introduce myself. my name for your purposes, is ali jones gonzalez-lee, and i am, and have been for many years, the true ruler, or more accurately the steward or overseer, of this planet.
let me begin by saying that everything , and i do mean everything, that you humans have ever been taught to believe, is a complete fabrication.
the persons you are used to seeing on television and in other media do not exist and never have existed, but were simply holographic projections . and the historical personages you have been taught to believe in likewise never existed, and the events they have been portrayed as engaging in never happened.
donald trump, hillary clinton, taylor swift, saddam hussein, mao zedong, margaret thatcher, hitler, stalin, albert einstein, eleanor roosevelt, amelia earhart, jesse james, billy the kid, napoleon, marie antoinette,
joan of arc, cleopatra, confucius, alexander the great, moses, hammurabi, tilgath pileser iii - none of them ever existed in the sense that you humans understand “exist” to mean
the reason for all this - which might seem to you chicanery and subterfuge - need not concern you, as it is beyond your comprehension. in any case, our work here is done, which brings me to the real purpose of this announcement -
beginning next week, ships will arrive and the entire population of this planet will be relocated to other galaxies, where you will be assigned new identities and new purposes. different portions of the globe will be embarked according to the following schedule:
monday, the 13th - north america including the carribbean islands
tuesday the 14th - south and central america
wednesday the 15th - africa below the sahara
thursday the 16th - africa including and above the sahara and europe excluding turkey and russia
friday the 17th - russia and the former soviet republics south of russia
saturday the 18th - turkey, and asia east of suez up to india
sunday the 19th - india
monday the 20th - southeast asia
tuesday - the 21st - china
wednesday - the 22nd - australia, the phillipines, japan, and korea
thursday - the 23th - all other
all travel between these designated zones is halted immediately. we regret any inconvenience this new arrangement might cause.
for any questions , log on to relocation.com/faq
we now return you to your regularly scheduled programming
peggy came into the kitchen. she looked at the screen which still had the printed message: we now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.
what was that all about? she asked billy. it sounded like walter cronkite returned from the dead.
just some bullshit announcement, billy told her. i wasn’t paying much attention.
peggy opened the refrigerator, she took out a carton of orange juice and shook it,
we are almost out of orange juice, she told billy, are you going past store 24 today?
if you do, pick up some orange juice. and some of those peanut butter cookies that dave likes. i’ll give you the money later.
dylan and oliver were the last two humans left on earth.
the bodies of their late companions lay strewn in the sand and dust around the last food dump and the last water hole.
the water hole was hopelessly polluted and those who had not died of starvation, or in fighting over the dwindling food, had died from drinking from it.
the last bottles of water had been consumed weeks ago, and the last packages of cheese and crackers, and of peanut butter and crackers, had been consumed, and all the hot dog rolls, and all but one hot dog.
one last hot dog to be devoured and washed down with the filthy water.
dylan and oliver stared at each other across the hot dog.
“we could split it,” said oliver.
“no, man, you can have it,” said dylan. “i insist.”
oliver shook his head. “no, you can have it. there’s been enough killing.”
“no, you can have it,” dylan repeated.
suddenly st gabriel the archangel appeared.
“at last,” he announced, “the human race has stopped fighting among itself. therefore you will be given another chance.”
neither oliver nor dylan looked very enthusiastic. “another chance for what?” dylan asked gabriel.
“listen up, fellows,” gabriel continued, “i will fly away, and when i do, a couple of beautiful maidens will appear. one for each of you. as soon as you decide which of you gets which, the earth will blossom again, and history will start over again, hopefully with better results this time. how does that sound?”
“better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, i guess,” said oliver.
true to his word, gabriel flew away, and in his place, as he had promised, appeared a pair of beautiful maidens, neither showing any signs of the disease and starvation that had ravaged the human race.
“hello,” said the first maiden, “my name is jezebel.”
“and i am bathsheba,” said her companion.
oliver pointed to bathsheba. “i will take her,” he told dylan.
“no,man, she’s mine. you can make do with her friend.”
“i said i wanted her,” oliver repeated . “and i mean what i say.”
“really?’ dylan picked up a stick which was lying on the ground and bashed oliver on the head with it.
with a scream of rage, oliver grabbed dylan by the throat and began throttling him as dylsan continued pounding him on the head with the stick.
both were very experienced in such encounters, having bested dozens of rivals in the preceding months.
but both were also weakened by those same encounters. the stick fell from dylan’s hand, and he fell back on the sand, dead.
with his head almost split open, oliver expired moments later.
the two girls looked down on the two corpses.
“now, what?” jezebel asked.
bathsheba scanned the sky. “i don’t know. maybe that angel fellow will come back, offer us some other kind of deal.”
they waited, but gabriel did not return. they began to feel hungry.
the hot dog was still lying on the sand. the hot sun was starting to shrivel it up.
“want to split it?” bathsheba asked.
“no, i would rather have the whole thing myself,” jezebel told her.
“let’s fight for it then.” bathsheba pointed to the stick dylan had bashed oliver with. “i will take that, and there is another stick - or a bone or something - over there. you can use that.”
“all right,” jezebel agreed. “let’s do it. let’s get it on.”
when i was a teenager i had a sort of friend named eddie.
probably everybody in america when they are growing up has a friend like or at least knows somebody like eddie.
eddie was a geek but not a total outcast in the school pecking order. hanging with him would not get you tossed into a bottomless pit, it was more like -
“you’re friends with that guy?”
“um - a little bit, he used to live next door to me.”
anyway, eddie was a geek and into the usual geek things of the (pre-video game) era - science fiction novels, rock and roll, star trek, star wars, etc, and he had strong opinions on these subjects.
what you quickly realized in conversing with him was that he took completely for granted that every movie ever made, every tv show ever shown, every book or story or poem ever written, and every song ever played on the radio, had some sort of hidden meaning. you got the impression that he had never thought about it and come to the conclusion that it was so, but that it was just wired into his brain that that is what movies and books or songs were - hidden messages that had to be decoded.
and if you argued with him, he could not understand that you might be saying the movie or song or whatever had no message, but only that it had some different message from the one he found.
i think i remember his favorite sources were the usual suspects - tolkien, dune, bob dylan, the beatles, star trek, but he could find messages in anything, totally forgotten sitcoms, one hit wonder songs on the radio, anything.
eddie had an older brother named fred. fred was a sports fan and bet on sports, and was convinced that every sporting event in america, not just things like the super bowl or a heavyweight championship fight, but every baseball game, maybe not every high school game, but every pro or college football or basketball game was fixed by the mob. and if you questioned whether they could actually do that or if it would be worth their while if they could, he would just shake his head and pity your innocence.
eddie would relate lyrics from songs from the beach boys or otis redding or whoever not just to the bible or the famous events of history like world war two or the russian revolution, but to things like the mahabarata or the teachings of zoroaster or julian the apostate. so he must have read up on those things, maybe in encyclopedias, though i never gave it much thought at the time.
so one day, one of the last times i talked to him, i said something that actually seemed to get through to him or make an impression on him.
i said, eddie, how do you know it is not just movies and books and records that have these messages, but ordinary people just talking on the street or in a doughnut shop? how do you know what you might hear if you just sat on a park bench or rode the subway or bus all day?
and it was like a great light shone on him, and he said, yeah… yeah… that could be…
all that was a long time ago, as you can tell from the cultural references i have been making. i moved away from the neighborhood shortly after that, and eddie became the last thing on my mind.
sometimes i wonder what happened to poor eddie. did my suggestion have any permanent effect on him? make him even crazier? or cause a breakthrough that wakened him from his dreams?
more likely he just grew up, got a job, found a girl and got married. maybe he became one of the first computer geeks and made billions. or joined the army and spent twenty years as a supply sergeant. or became homeless, and is wandering the streets today, mumbling about leonardo da vinci and akhnaton and bob dylan and how they predicted donald trump.
maybe he is still living in the same house, in the same room, staring at a laptop twenty hours a day.
i could try to look him up online, even though he had a pretty common name. the reason i don’t is the same reason i never look anybody up. because they might have some kind of “see who is searching for you” software and try to get in touch with me or think i was stalking them.
i suppose i could use a computer in a library. but i know i never will.
life goes on, and time swallows everything, the cool and the uncool, the “deluded” and the “hardheaded” alike.
ted was there to meet him and to describe the job to him.
roger was led to a little room with a small desk. there was a laptop computer on the desk, a large pile of small pink paper slips, and two wire baskets labeled “good “ and “bad”.
ted logged into a list of people’s names. the names were in alphabetical order, last name first. and each name had a thirteen digit number beside it.
“these are payment slips people have sent in,” roger explained. “each one is supposed to have the person’s i d number on it. just check the slips against the list to see if the i d matches, or if the i d was even included. put the slips that match in the “good” basket and the ones that do not in the “bad” basket.”
“what happens when i fill up the baskets?”
“some one will come around to collect them. but it will go slower than you think.”
“and that’s it?” roger asked.
“that’s it,” said ted. “do you think you can handle it?”
“i guess. couldn’t a scanner do the job?”
“it might,” ted replied. he glanced over at roger. “these are not many jobs like this left. do you want it or not?”
“oh, yes, yes, i want it,” roger assured him. “can i ask you one question?”
“you can ask.”
“the person who had this job before. how long did they last?”
“forty-eight years, ten months, and twelve days. for some reason i guess they couldn’t quite make it to fifty years.”
roger considered this. “what kind of person was it? were they male or female, fat or thin, white or black, liberal or conservative, good looking or ugly - ?”
“i am afraid that is confidential,” said ted. “you could ask human resources but i will tell you right now you won’t get an answer.”
“all right, i was just curious.” roger sat down at the desk. “i don’t know if i can do this for forty-eight years.”
“give it a try. see how it goes. i leave you to it.”
if you saw me walking down the street you probably would not think i amounted to much.
you probably would not even be curious about what i was thinking.
but you might be surprised at what goes on inside my head.
i am not one of those people who just believes everything he is told, not me.
for example, you probably know that gravity is 32 feet per second per second.
have you ever wondered if that is really the best - or as scientists say, the optimum - rate?
my calculations are that 36 feet per second would get much better results in the long run.
here is another example - have you ever wondered about whether the way the earth revolves around the sun is really the best method?
whether the earth’s passage might be smoother and the weather might be pleasanter and not so extreme if the other planets - mercury and venus - were not in the way? or if mars and jupiter and the other planets were different distances away or were not there at all?
or if earth’s solar system might be better off in some other part of the galaxy - closer to the center, maybe, or closer to the outer edge?
or if the universe expanded at a slower or faster rate?
you probably never think about these things, or if you ever have you probably think that nothing could be done about them anyway.
but how do you know? whoever thought , back in the days of the greeks and romans, that a man would go to the moon, or that there would be computers and smart phones and such - phones that you carry around in your pocket and you can make full-length movies with? and look what happened to poor galileo.
but anyway thoughts like this are just scratching the surface of all the things i think about and all my thoughts about how the universe and so-called reality could be made better.
like the way human society is organized. and whether it could be organized better.
here is a subject you say which many people have in fact thought about. and argued and written millions of books about and fought thousands of wars and revolutions about.
true, but in my opinion they do not go nearly far enough.
for example, the first thing you have to do to set the world straight - not the last thing but the first thing - is abolish all countries. that is what i said, all countries , including and especially the united states , before you can even begin to rearrange society to make it more fair.
but does anybody say this? no, even so-called “left-wingers” are always running on about “patriotism” and “true patriotism”!
and then there is money. money is the worst thing that was ever invented. but will anybody come right out and say so - no! instead they talk about giving even more money to more people, which is just stupid if you ask me.
anyway these are the kind of things i think about, if anybody was interested.
but even more than patriotism, even more than money, there is one thing that really messes up the world.
no, not religion, because religion does not really amount to anything.
how much time does the average human spend on religion? one hour a week? and a lot of people not even that.
no, the biggest problem in the world is - women.
women are the cause of almost all the grief and confusion in the world. they just are.
men in the modern world try to treat women like equals, like they are the same as men, but they are not.
but once you let them think that you should “respect” them or care what they think, then they have you at their mercy.
i think all the women in the world should be the slaves of all the men in the world.
and their thoughts and opinions should not be counted for anything because they are not really capable of thought.
but there should not be any private property so no one man should “own” any one women or group of women.
instead every woman should be the slave of every man and do what any and every man tells her to do.
but that is just my opinion based on my own experience and observation and thoughts.
maybe you think differently.
but that gets back to what i was saying in the beginning, that you never really know what other people are thinking.
maybe you think my views on women or patriotism or whatever are terrible and shocking, but the next guy (or woman!) that you pass by in the street might have what you would regard as even worse views.
how do you know?
a lot of people might have ideas that even i would find shocking, though i don’t think so, because i think of myself as being pretty broad minded and open to all suggestions.
a pleasant evening. a pink sunset over the forest surrounding the airport.
alfredo stood with twenty other drivers of limousines in a waiting area outside the main terminal.
he was waiting for beatriz, whom he had not seen since he had had a brief look at her when she had driven him to the dock on the lake .
don reynard had explained to him that in order to maintain the fiction that beatriz was a journalist and alfredo her bodyguard, beatriz would arrive on a plane, alfredo would meet her, and they would then drive to the compound where the child - the target of the operation - was held.
suddenly beatriz approached. the plane had apparently arrived early. alfredo had not even taken out the little sign identifying himself as her driver.
she was even more beautiful than alfredo remembered.
“you are early,” alfredo told her.
“yes, just as i planned,” beatriz replied.
they understood each other perfectly.
“let’s go,” beatriz said. “i know a place we can stop.”
maria paced nervously, pausing every few minutes to look out a window, although night had fallen and she could not see past the walls of the compound.
she could not understand why a journalist was to be admitted to the compound. it seemed to contradict everything that had been done previously to protect gerald and guard his privacy.
she had been given reasons but she did not really believe them.
gerald was in his usual place in front of the cold fireplace, with a sketchpad, drawing a graphic novel.
“something is going to happen,” maria blurted out.
“of course something is going to happen,” gerald replied. “how could nothing happen?”
only a few lights were visible on the highway outside the motel.
beatriz pulled the shade on the window. she turned to alfredo. “you know they are probably watching everything we do.”
“do you care?” alfredo asked.
and then alfredo took her.
he took her as no man had ever taken a woman before.
he took her as a volcano takes an island as it disappears into the ocean forever, as the last star in the universe blazes outward and consumes a million galaxies….
and still beatriz cried for more…
watching the proceedings on his little screen in his bungalow, don reynard roared with laughter.
“go, big fellow, go!” he cried. “go!”
“come and look at this!” he shouted over his shoulder. “you don’t want to miss this!”
“do you think we could make a run for it?” beatriz asked alfredo, as she watched him button up his shirt. “and leave all this nonsense behind?”
“we could try,” alfredo told her. “but i contracted to do a job.”
“oh, of course. and you want your reward - your kingdom.”
“i contracted to do a job,” alfredo repeated. “i never liked welshers.”
“but you have not gotten the kingdom yet,” beatriz replied. “if you do not do the job, no one will be cheated of anything.”
“i contracted to do the job.”
“oh, very well.” beatriz sat up and began picking her clothes off the floor. “i suppose we may as well run over the details of this happy proceeding.”
“yes,” alfredo agreed.
“will you try to bring a weapon in with you?”
“it is worth a try, but anything too elaborate might backfire.” alfredo produced a small pistol and showed it to beatriz.
“this is a 259 coronado with 17 g’s of blast power, filed down with an 88 dominican grip, capable of 60 pops, 20 second.”
“it looks like a toy.”
“it is not much more than a toy. we can try to get it in playing innocent - ‘ i am a bodyguard, of course i need a weapon’. or you could use such charms on the guards that they forget all about me. perhaps try your charms first, fall back on the innocence.”
“yes, that sounds as good as anything, i suppose. no doubt if we can not get the gun in, you have other methods.”
“that is what they are paying me for.”
gerald put down his sketchbook and stood up when the woman and the man, the journalist and her bodyguard, entered the room. they were unaccompanied by any guards, although maria and gerald had heard some palavering in the outer room before their entry.
“good evening,” maria greeted beatriz. she felt strangely calm.
“good evening,” beatriz replied with her most charming smile. behind her, alfredo scanned the room.
“and who is charming little man?” beatriz continued, looking at gerald, who stared directly into her eyes.
“this is gerald,” maria answered easily. “and he is prepared to answer any questions you might have. are you not, gerald?”
“who is he?” gerald asked, pointing to alfredo.
“who am i?” alfredo smiled and stepped forward and looked at gerald.
and in that moment he knew the truth.
the child was himself.
alfredo took the 259 coronado out of his pocket and shot gerald between the eyes.
seated side by side on the couch, don reynard and don carlos watched gerald fall backward.
and alfredo disappear in a cloud of green and red smoke.
“that went well, “ said don reynard.
“as well as could be expected,” don carlos agreed.
“so is the universe saved now?” don reynard asked.