A Short Story by Perry Busby
This short story originally appeared in an anthology titled HOWL 2016! Poems, Rants and Essays on the Election (Prism Light Press, 2017).
“Donald Trump has won Florida,” the new anchor announced with a somber tone.
Nelson turned off the television and stared at the black screen. After sitting motionless on the couch for nearly an hour, he went to the kitchen, grabbed a beer from the fridge, and plopped down, in a despondent heap, into his favorite patio lounge chair. The sound of metal scraping against concrete filled the quiet moonlit night. With one forearm draped across his forehead, Nelson stared into the blue-black sky and mused, “What the f*** did we just do?”
No sooner had Nelson turned the brown bottle of Dos Equis XX bottom side up, his smartphone started buzzing and plopping across the glass top of a flimsy end table, like a fish out of water. He grabbed it, hoping it hadn’t awakened Inez, his wife. The only thing that’ll wake her is me trying to sneak a late-night snack to bed, he joked to himself as he swiped his finger across the screen.
A Facebook notification read: The Future is live.
Remembering his daughter mentioning something about an artist named Future, Nelson pressed his thumbed against the screen to delete it. “Sorry, Future. The future has just grown dark for all of us.”
Nelson heard a faint knock, as if someone was tapping on window. It was coming from his phone. Then, he felt the knocks. They felt like sharp needle pricks against his thumb. Nelson yanked his thumb away and held it in the light to get a better look.
The knocking continued. TAP! TAP!
“Hey, if you’re alive, can you say something,” commanded the voice on the other end. It was small, like that of child, but the words were spoken with an authority that only an elder could speak.
Nelson frowned and held the phone at arm’s length. “Are you… are you talking to me?”
“Of course, I am. You’re the only one I’m looking at, aren’t I?” An overhead light came on, in what appeared to be a control center. An old man stood behind the main panel. Air from an overhead vent, made the thin patch of silver hair on the top of his balding mahogany head, sway like a flimsy sign in a fresh gale wind. He looked every bit of ninety-five, and not a day less. “Sorry about that, I’m not sure how all these buttons work.”
Nelson studied the man. “You don’t look like you’re from around these parts. Where you streaming from?”
“155 Sycamore, Fort Lauderdale, Florida.”
“That’s my address,” Nelson replied. “You must be mistaken. I’ve been living here since the early part of ninety-one.”
“Impossible! My great grandfather built this house in 2101 after America reclaimed the former southeastern region in a land swap with Russia. It’s been our family home for over two hundred years”
“Are you saying, you’re from the future?”
“I didn’t say anything about being from the future. You did. I’m comfortable being right here in 2216.”
“For me, that’s the future. Say, aren’t you rather old to be up this late?”
“It’s not late! And who are you calling old, I’m only ten. I’m still a kid,” the old man crossed his arms over his chest.
Not wanting to upset the guy anymore, Nelson decided to change the subject. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to get you riled up. This election has gotten people acting crazy enough as it is, the last thing I need is an old guy from the future going berserk on me.”
“What was the election about?”
“To choose our next president.”
“Who was the winner?”
“The winner hasn’t been declared, but from the looks of it we’re about to elect Donald Trump,” Nelson replied in a tone that felt dry, soulless, and lifeless.
The old man’s eyes grew wide as tangelos. He fumbled through his pocket and pulled out an oblong black box. He pressed a button on the side; a six-foot blade of neon white light sprang from box. “Get back or I’ll gut you from your testicles to your throat! Everyone knows the vilest creature to ever walk the planet was the 2016 American voter. Your species unleashed the greatest harm on humanity. Donald Trump.” He cocked the saber over his shoulder and steadied himself in a batter’s stance.
Nelson dropped the phone and ran to the back door of the house. He waited a few minutes then tiptoed back to the phone. The old man was still standing in the strike position. Nelson held his arms in front, palms out. “Look here, old man, I mean you no harm, trust me.”
A light flashed and the old man morphed into a middle-aged Salvadoran woman. “¡Vuelve, monstruo malvado!” she growled.
Nelson heard the woman in her native tongue. On any other day, he would’ve responded with his obligatory, “No hablo Español,” but that wasn’t necessary because he understood her clearly despite his lack of fluent Spanish. “Hey! How’d you change like that?” he asked, more intrigued in the old man’s transformation than with the fact that she’d just called him a monster and told him to get out.
The woman pulled a compact mirror out of her purse. “Oh, my dear it looks as if my Fit-In app is screwing up again. Hold on a sec and let me reset it.” She pressed a button and began to recycle through faces and body shapes representing a wide range of ethnic, gender, religious and social groups. The old Black man finally came into focus.
“What kind of app did you say that was?”
“It’s called the Fit-In app. Once you a**holes elected Trump, blaming and dividing became the norm. Those ignoramuses kept creating divisions until they ran out of demographic groups. They created such a fear and uproar in people until it was unsafe for anyone to leave their homes for fear of being outed by the wrong group. Pretty soon Google developed an app that made it possible for people to analyze their surroundings, and then translate their features into an acceptable group within the viewer’s focus. Not long afterwards Apple developed the i-Fit which does the same thing, only for Apple users. By the way, you want in on a good bet. I bet my friend Willie that the very last product Apple pushes out will be the i-F*** Up.”
The old man howled at his own joke.
“This election caused all of that? You can’t be serious. Well if you must know, I believe history will show that the majority of people voted for Hillary. Unfortunately, winning the popular vote doesn’t count for much since we have this outdated electoral college system, which no one wants to overhaul until their party loses.”
The old man shook his head in a pitiful gesture. “When one gives more to time grieving what they lost rather than strategizing for future victory, defeat is sure to be their constant companion.”
“You’d feel defeated too, if you realized that you were surrounded by people who were willing to hand the presidency over to a man who’d shown at every turn, he was sexist, racist, narcissistic, bullish, vengeful and unhinged (that’s just the beginning of the list). He ran a bungling campaign on demagoguery, and people put all that aside and said ‘Have at it Donald!’ I guess why I’m most disappointed is because I sorta felt he might win. I’m sure I know quite a few people who I consider to be good people, who secretly voted for him. I also know good people who opted out for reasons that made sense only to them.”
The old man laughed and shook his head as he took his glasses off and wiped them with his handkerchief. “There ain’t nothing good you can tell me ‘bout good people. Good people have plenty of good in them. Occasionally they’ll do good, but for the most part, good people really don’t want to have their good lives interrupted. I know that sounds harsh, but it’s true. Good people have good intentions. The problem with good people is that they are more inclined to doing a good deed than they are of doing the right deed.
“Well, I like to do the right thing. It’s just that between work, family and what little time I have for myself, there’s never time to get involved in the causes that interest me.”
“Yes, you are a good person, indeed! Every good person keeps a pocketful of good excuses and justifications. Good people can see and hear wrong, but before they do the right thing they’ll put out their good excuses like, I don’t like to get involved, I would get involved but I don’t know how, and you’ve given me the all-time favorite, I don’t have enough time, and by doing so, you don’t commit time to anything. Do you know if good people spent a fraction of the time they use to look good, by actually doing good, many of the issues they complain about would not exist, and if they spent an hour discovering and understanding what they fear, who knows what might be accomplished?”
The stakes in the election had been high, no doubt. Nelson knew the issues and understood clearly where each candidate stood. He’d also done his part to encourage others to vote, but deep down he felt he should’ve done more. “There’s so much to be done. I just don’t know where to begin.”
“The key is to begin. Get off your good for nothing rear end and start calling your legislatures on a consistent basis, make them think twice before voting against the best interests of their constituency. If good people will insist on good leaders who challenge them to be our better selves, then and only then will you correct this catastrophe that has been set in motion.”
“You’re right, it’s time I get busy doing the right thing.”