Saturday, March 28, 2020

Planet of the Sheep

A bioweapon has been unleashed. Ignore that man behind the curtain, say its shadowy authors; it's just a nasty trick from Mother Nature. A flood of harsh regulations is passed without question, and the shadow people confidently move on to Phase Two: a mandatory universal vaccine. It's an opportunity not to be mssed: it drastically lowers fertility, depresses IQ, instills compliance, and sneaks in a tracking chip.

There are a few holdouts in the inevitable resistance. Wilbur Weaver lives a precarious existence with one foot in the past, and the other in a world of nightmare conformity. As long as there is curiosity about the Before time, Wilbur's zoo keepers will help him stay one step ahead of the law, but firmly trapped in--The Twilight Zone.

Why do I go on?

At 75, Wilbur had outlived many of his friends. Former friends, because they'd squeal on him instantly if they knew he was still UV--unvaccinated. Yet the will to live won out over his nervous musings on how to end it all. He bundled his greatcoat against the chill, adopting the blank expression of others on the street.

There was a time when he'd avoided this slum, but not anymore. The State said crime was bad; ergo, there was no crime. Wilbur almost got careless by letting his gaze turn skyward, where he took solace in the play of pink and orange in the misted dawn. Quickly he took out his pad and slavishly glued eyes to it like everyone else. His didn't work, of course, because lacking the chip, his money was no good.

He took a side alley when no one was looking. The narrow canyon of age-darkened brick led him to the delivery entrance of King Cafe. There he assumed his customary spot on some pallets by a smelly dumpster.

Presently his two benefactors emerged. Chen was the head cook, a balding man with full-coverage apron. The dishwasher Ernie looked just out of school, sporting a buzz cut and cheesy mustache. He handed over a bowl of oatmeal with apple and walnuts.

Wilbur savored it. "That is so good, men. It'll hold me down 'til lunch. I hope there's more of that leftover kielbasa." A few alleys down, a garbage truck roared and banged. It wouldn't reach this side of the street for half an hour.

Chen sat on an upended stack of plastic crates. "You told us how it was in school when you were a boy. Stuff that don't happen no more. It's funny how I can't remember."

"Ah yes." Wilbur spooned in a couple of bites. "Like class singalongs. The girls would take the first chorus: 'Reuben Reuben I've been thinking, what a grand world this would be, if the boys were all transported, far beyond the Northern Sea.' Then the boys would have a turn wishing the girls a speedy trip there: 'Rachel Rachel I've been thinking. . . .'." Nostalgia took him far away for a moment.

Ernie grinned. "That's rad, man, and I still say you're makin' it up! But you promised us three songs."

"Hmm. . . .well, there's this one: Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree, merry merry king of the bush is he, laugh, Kookaburra, laugh, Kookaburra, gay your life must be.' " He was obliged to spell the word, prompting Ernie to pull out his pad.

"Bummer." Ernie poked at the keys. "Can't find it."

"Careful," Chen said. "The State will wanna know what you're doin' on that site."

Ernie grimaced. "It says here, 'The Kookaburra song was deemed inappropriate due to perceived insult to an endangered animal.' "

"Here's the third one," Wilbur said with a pained looked at man's monumental stupidity. "Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda, you'll come a-waltzing, Matilda, with me.' Heck, I forget the rest." He sighed. "I suppose it'll die with me."

On the street, a cop car cruised by, scanning for UVs. Wilbur had developed an eye for spotting them at a distance.

Chen  noticed his apprehension. "Why don't you go ahead and get stuck? No more sneakin' around."

"I'll pass." Wilbur slowly made his way down the alley before turning back. "An old teacher once gave me an answer to that, because she always took her chances dodging the flu." Both of his friends waited. "She said, 'That'll be my ticket out.' "

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