An edited version of the short story originally published on 23 November 2017. Enjoy!
I turned in bed trying to get some more sleep but my thoughts kept me awake. I could hear grains of sand rattle against the surface of the window panes, the dust was settling down. The sound made the wind seem more alive than ever.
Days used to be less windy. There was a time when I could smell the sea from miles away. Now the dust had no flavor and smell. It had accomplished its greyness to a full scale. People carried tissues with them wherever they went. Our noses were full of dust particles. We breathed dust, we sneezed it, we swallowed it. But it was hard to see the particles, so they silently crept in our bodies, demanded a space and discreetly destroyed us in a slow battle.
It was getting cold. I was too tired to reach out for my clothes that lay scattered on the floor. I stood up, tangled in bedsheets looking like a Greek God or something. Standing next to my bed, I glanced over to the bedside table. An opened envelope lay on it. The paper was green and had stain on it. I touched the corners, they felt velvety to the touch. The paper was nice and soft. The stamp was lost, I wonder if the mail person had confiscated it. It happened, beats me why though.
The letter stuck out from the envelope, the headline stated “Results of the mandatory government lottery for the relocation to Mars Project 562”.
I remember a time when paper mail was abandoned and eMail replaced the centuries old tradition. When the economy collapsed and the corruption show trials began, paper mail was reintroduced. It made no sense but so many other things felt pointless, so I didn’t bat an eye. They must’ve fired at least half of the government officials but maybe they left the whole mailing departments.
A beeping noise woke me up from my reverie. It was my tracking device attached to my wrist. I had lost the sense of time, I could not remember how long it had been since I got the device. It must have been years.
“Three minutes to hell,” I said to myself. “Time to report.”
I pressed the small button on the tracker and a monotone voice announced: “Your next report is due in 24 hours.” I wondered what the exercise was for, they could have easily tracked the GPS signal whenever they so desired. I bet back in the day folks did not press buttons the way we did.
“Hell yeah!”, I yelled, but I knew it was in vain. The tracker would not listen.
I glanced around the apartment. It was the same, every day of the week. I regretted not having done the dishes the night before. The pile was growing, I did not have any clean cups left. All were used and had tea stains on them. I would need more cleaning wipes to clean this shit up.
For breakfast, I had an 8-minute egg and toast. Mold had gathered in one of the bread corners, I scratched it away before eating it. I chuckled. Some mold to unbalance life.
I shaved and sprinkled a few drops of water on my face. For a second it felt refreshing. I took a look in the mirror – it was time for a haircut. Before I headed out the door, I watered my two plants. I used some of tomorrow’s quota. It was worth it, a man’s gotta have hobbies. I loved my plants, as simple as that.
The greasy envelope in my hand, I left my tiny apartment. A yellowish glow in the air was visible. The sun didn’t make a full effort today, it was lazy behind the clouds.
Walking around the corner, I almost bumped into someone. It was Mr. Z, the old man who always sat on the sidewalk in the mornings. He didn’t have a home but he wore a timeless business suit. The fabric was worn out, weather-beaten in the stream of time passed. I guess Mr. Z was in his 70’s. He always played with marbles, he circled them in his left hand, making a clinking noise.
I usually never stopped to talk, just nodded and quickly mumbled “Good mornin’” of sorts. Today was different, I felt like wasting time – procrastinating is the fancy word I think.
“Hey man,” is the only thing I came up with. “How you holding out?”
“Going somewhere important?” he said and looked up at me.
“Maybe, we’ll see,” I said. “Something big came up, gotta find out.”
“Okay, well good luck with that,” he said, examining me with his gaze.
“You know what, you can have one ration slot, I don’t need it today,” I said.
“Thanks man, ‘preciate it” he said.
“No problem, it’s all yours,” I said as I handed over the paper card to him.
“Alright, gotta run to the train. I’ll see ya later,” I said, waved my hand at his direction and headed towards the train station.
I took the E train to Manhattan. The train was packed, a melting pot of spices, sweat, oily grease, perfume and unwashed clothes. The train ran twice a day. Oil was scarce and only a few mechanics left to do the job to keep them running.
I hang onto the handle. Somebody passed me behind my back, hitting me on the arm as they passed. I glanced at the person, but it was difficult to find out who it was in the crowd.
I got off at Penn Station. Outside an old woman sold newspapers. Nowadays a standard paper had four pages and no advertisements. Marketing people had completely disappeared.
A news headline on the eWall announced: “The allotment of butter to be raised by one-third next week!” I laughed out loud. I guess they still cared about our veins and health standards for the population. Abso-fucking-lutly great!
Yeah, I don’t even remember when sarcasm became my middle name. Perks of living in a city that does not sleep or wake up, a constant sleepwalk. It’s all a haze, there’s no direction, only the now. If you knew my life story, you’d drop your jaw and stop asking questions.
I got to the police station on 32nd Street. People loitered around with no other place to go to, just idling. Not what citizens used to do. Now, a roof is a roof – even with the “5-0”.
Waiting in line was no mystery to me, I was accustomed to it. Once it was my turn at the counter, I handed over the envelope to the official, and I said: “There must have been a mistake. Maybe they sent it to the wrong person.” I looked at the clerk, but I couldn’t read his facial expression. Of course they didn’t make a mistake, the letter was addressed to me.
“No mistake”, he said the way a bored person says things. “You need to report to the Agency within three days”, he continued.
“I know, but I can’t”, I said dryly. “There are so many reasons why I can’t. If I told you, you’d have to cancel all your appointments for the rest of the day.”
“The rules are simple and reasonable”, he said. “If you’d like to file for a complaint, kindly book an appointment with the City Council within two weeks’ from the moment of first written notification. The proper forms can be obtained at the stand on your left. D305-B74 is the one to fill out.”
I glanced over at the direction the official pointed out and shrugged my shoulders. Was this guy kidding? I didn’t feel like emptying my soul to this jerk.
“Okay, thanks for the info. I’ll definitely look into it”, I mumbled and turned on my heels. I didn’t feel like being any more sarcastic, I wasn’t going to reach any goals with that. I didn’t wish to make the official feel any better, so I skipped the stand and left without the form D305-B74.
I stepped outside and felt a moist breeze touch my cheeks. It was humid and a mix of rotten food and faeces filled the air. For no apparent reason, people still burned garbage on the street corners. The smell was stunning. I bet the average IQ level was down from what it was before.
Not far away, a motorcycle horn hooted, people were busy going somewhere. A young couple rushed past me on the street, hand in hand. It was like any other day, nothing special about it. I wondered if the people of the past used to be in such a hurry all the time as well or was it something we simply happened to find ordinary?
I turned my back towards the street and paused for a moment, then opened the envelope again. The letter was addressed to me, they even used “Sir” to get my attention. It worked. I felt an enormous gush of gravity. Good ol’ government officials and their vocabulary tricks.
I laughed dryly and re-read the letter:
“Thank you for your interest in the relocation process to Terranovia on Mars. After a thorough selection process, we are glad to inform you that in the official lottery organized by the City Council on February 18th, you were among the selected. You are kindly requested to report at the Relocation Agency at 42nd Street by Wednesday, March 4th. You are also requested to present a valid passport and four copies of photos. A request for a medical checkup report will be mandated after a clearance based on the passport. We request you to follow guidelines and regulations as set by the State of New York.”
I snickered like a little kid. Lucky me, I didn’t see this coming! Not in a million years did I envision to live anywhere else than Earth. This planet went to shit but it was still home. But then again they say that Mars is a dusty planet, too. Maybe it will feel like home at some point.
I didn’t volunteer for the lottery, everyone was included, but I won a ticket to a space settlement on Mars. It seems only valid that one gets lucky every now and then.
The only thing is, what would my probation officer say. Do I need to make an appointment with him and hand over the tracker ceremoniously? Or would they still keep an eye on me in spite of the distance from Mars to Earth? What kind of trackers did they have on Mars? Maybe ones you could talk to and they’d talk back? Would the officer in charge of my case give me an extra strong tracker to send a report to end all other reports? Well, that remains to be seen.
I’m sure there was a regulation they could refer to to stop me from going in the first place. Probably they’d do that, figures. Or they’d be happy to get rid of me. One client less, a tick in the box. Next please!
I was undecided. What would an innocent guy like me do in a fancy-ass settlement? Other than make the elite ladies feel uncomfortable. I guess the place would beat this dump but would I really like it there? Dunno. I could be lonely there too. I was already a freak in this shithole, so no big difference and who cares.
It was four in the afternoon. I slid the letter back in the envelope and stashed the paper in my breast pocket, then headed towards Central Station. On my way home I purchased next week’s water allotment with my remaining ration card. Those plants were damn important to me. Even if I never saw them again, they at least deserved a decent ending with plenty of water.
Photo: TheDigitalArtist, Pixabay / CC0 Creative Commons