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Old 09-19-2020, 06:20 AM   #2
Level 9 - Obstreperous
Join Date: Jan 2005
Location: Roselle or Schaumburg, Illinois
Posts: 1,102
Bincount™: 136
Re: My Last Best Friend - A Short Story

My Last Best Friend - II

“So what? They keep creating new iterations, one after another, changing the protocols as little as possible from one wave to the next. Look, I’m willing to help you out with your journey through it, but you have to remember that a lot of it is a big power grab. They’re consolidating a big chunk of the population into some kind of a neo-fascist slave machine. I know that’s not the whole story, but you should see it from my point of view.”

“I know The Program wasn’t right back then,” I said. “I won’t deny that. You can have your opinion, but I was there, in that facility, under those lights, working those routines and practicing the new regimens. We’re all doing the best that we can. I met some of the guys I’ll be running with, and they’re steady. They don’t accept violent criminals anymore. It’s all middle of the road guys, ones who are still good at their core. They need a second chance. A mulligan.”

“Kind of like you?”

“I suppose. Remember, The Program is voluntary. Nobody forced me into anything I did not accept.” A sliver of stray anger tempted me into telling Gavin to shut his mouth. He knew nothing, and yet he judged. He judged with the condescending fury of a backwoods pastor. I tensed my forearms and pictured myself shredding the interior of his precious truck with my bare hands. I exhaled and brought my elbows back down to my side.

“Voluntary. Right. So what do I need to know to make sure that you don’t lose your head over the next ten weeks?”

He hinted that part of me was unwell. Perhaps I did not know everything he knew. I gathered my stray thoughts. A part of me hated him and another part of me wished to shower him with everlasting gratitude. I glanced at the dashboard. The speedometer hovered a tick past ninety-five.

“Stay on course,” I said. “Stay upright, ride through the turbulence. Avoid becoming a crashed heap of scraps.”


“That goes for both of us,” I continued. “You’re my civilian ward, so you don’t need to worry about anything technical. Check on me every few days. Ease me back into the world’s light, if you will. Start with getting me home in one piece.”

“Right. I think you’re a little out of it, but sure, whatever works for you. Yesterday I read through some of the complimentary files your case worker sent me. Your diet is insane. How many calories are you up to?”

“Eight thousand. Every day. Eight thousand, at least.”

“Is that a permanent thing?”



The setting sun tore apart the last of the storm clouds. The thunderous microcell coiled into the horizon like an inconvenient memory. Gavin pulled the truck into the right lane and softened his blow to the accelerator. The cabin’s rattling ceased. I spotted the green and white highway signs marking the first of the Lincoln exits. My awareness sank into the chilling beauty of the plains. The fields lay open and acceptive of their fate as they flowed away into the still lake of the horizon.

The reserved and dreary beauty of Lincoln unfolded around us. We drove through the town’s boxy center and past the long shadow of the Art Deco ghost that was the Nebraska State Capitol. A fresh wave of college students breathed life into the sidewalks at the northern edge of downtown. The deepest tremors of existence had not yet shaken them. The quiet ones sat alone, locked in their miniature worlds of hope and contemplation. I sensed they knew something which the shuffling majority did not, though the intrinsic nature of this knowledge silenced them.

We turned onto the street on which my parents lived. Gavin pulled the truck to the curb and rolled down the windows. The storm had not passed through here. The neighborhood sat still and dry in the arthritic rigidity of the evening heat. I looked past the crooked front yard fence toward the off-tone yellow bungalow that sat in the faint shadow of the ancient oaks. I stared deeper into the twilight as the reprise of my youth washed over me. The house exuded a gentle but uncomfortable warmth. Sixty days had passed since my body attained its peak physical form. My reconstruction had once brought me joy. In the shadow of my childhood home my manufactured body shamed me.

I sat and watched the swaying oaks cradle the yard where I took my first steps through the sun’s open warmth. I recalled the viscous weave of my childhood’s endless days. I pictured myself as an eager boy running through that unkept yard, diving head first into every adventure and backing down from nothing.

I prepared to walk again through the yard’s ageless bliss and harmony. I looked down at my torso and my eyelids twitched. I expected to see the body of the eager and spry boy from my memory. Instead I saw the behemoth shell of a dormant killing machine. With my next breath my leaden years unleashed their burden. I looked through the bungalow’s dim living room window. The dying colors of the side panels seeped into the matted rot tucked around the foundation’s edge. The corners of my eyes watered. Things were not how they used to be.

Gavin and I exchanged a brisk goodbye. I bumped his fist through the open window and he drove off into the nameless web of middling streets. I stood at the bungalow’s door with a single duffel bag hanging from my left shoulder. My gray father opened the front door while I reached for the doorbell button’s light.
Oh, there are problems in these times...
But none of them are mine!
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