26
Oct
16

Safety Nation Chapter 2

I hope you’ve all had a chance to enjoy the first chapter of my novel, Safety Nation. If you missed it, you can click here to read it. There will be plenty of updates (i.e. chapters and other announcements) coming your way soon.

This weekend is Halloween, so I will post my regular, Halloween-themed movie review. It’s a little different this time, and I think you’ll like it. Until then, on to the second chapter…

As always, the chapter below, and entire novel, are copyrighted.

— — —

Safety Nation by Logan Riley

2

Returning my equipment at the end of the shift took just as long as picking it up. It was another series of long corridors, name and serial number recitations, and right hand turns. I shuffled out of the building as the day shift shuffled in.

As my car shuttled me home, I reclined the seat three inches, the farthest it would go. The car hummed along the expressway, looping around the city. The sun was a yellow orb, hovering in a pale, cloudless sky. I closed my eyes and tried to drift off, but it was too bright.

I turned on the radio. There were only three stations: Weather, News, and Government. Before the First Government existed, there had been hundreds of radio stations. A study revealed that all those choices were distracting to drivers, and when the First Government came to power, radio stations were eliminated. Soon, people clamored to have them back. While the government was deciding what to do, another study revealed that music could evoke unsafe, passionate emotional responses. So, the government created three channels, none of which played music, and none of which people would be interested in.

I flipped through the stations. As usual, nothing good was on. I turned the radio off and tried to sleep again to no avail.

The car turned off the expressway and entered a quiet, residential district. The electric engine purred softly as the car glided through empty streets. The houses lining either side of the road looked the same: one level (stairs are dangerous), white painted exteriors (to reflect UV radiation), exactly fifty feet apart (minimum safe distance to prevent the spread of fire), faux grass landscaping (to prevent allergies), and gray-shingled roofs (because they looked nice).

I passed row after row of factory-produced boxes. If I hadn’t known my address, I’d never be able to tell which house was mine. I hated them all.

I had been much younger when I read my first book on ancient architecture. In the past, people could build a home in any style they wanted. Log cabins, townhouses, three-story homes, and yards made up of stones or real grass. My eyes poured over the photographs in disbelief. This lighted a fire in me to devour as much information about the ancient world as I could. In the decades since, every so often, I dreamed I lived in a log cabin.

The car slowed to a crawl, and then made a gentle right turn into a driveway. The garage door opened automatically, and the car drifted effortlessly inside. When it came to a stop, the engine shut off, and the automatic seatbelt disengaged. I got out and entered my house.

The tinny harshness of a canned laugh track assaulted my ears. Two rooms away, my wife was watching television. The volume was so high, it sounded like the speakers were next to my head.

In the living room my wife was sprawled across the couch. Her glazed eyes were fixated on the TV. Her frumpy gray clothes were covered in crumbs. Her belly escaped from beneath her shirt. Her short legs hung off the couch, not quite reaching the floor. Her brownish-gray hair looked like a bird’s nest.

“I’m home,” I said.

Still affixed to the TV, she replied, “Oh . . . hi.”

“I’m going to lie down for a while.”

“Oh . . . okay.”

“You mind turning that down?”

“Oh . . . sure.”

Each time she spoke, I caught a glimpse of her short, pointy teeth. They were the teeth of a troll.

She picked up the remote control and pressed the volume button. The on-screen display showed the volume decrease by a single bar. Not wanting to talk to her again, I trudged into the bedroom.

The sound of the TV was muffled, but I could still make out every word. It was a talk show, and the guest was the star of a new First Government movie. All TV programming had to be approved for safety before it could air. As a result, everything was either about the glory of the First Government or the heroics of the safety agents. Those were good for a laugh. I didn’t know any heroic agents. Most showed up just to collect a paycheck.

I drew the shades, and then turned on the shower. I left the door between the bedroom and bathroom open. The running water helped attenuate the noise from the TV. I disrobed and slipped into bed. The room slowly filled with steam. A fine mist settled on the ceiling. I closed my eyes, and pulled the sheets over my face. I turned from side to side with sleep avoiding me. I thought about getting up and yelling at my troll-wife, but that would be pointless. I’d rather sleep badly, or not at all, than have to look at her repulsive face.

Once, early in our marriage, I asked her to do me a favor, and she reacted like I had murdered someone. Another time, I cooked dinner, but accidentally boiled the vegetables too long, making them soggy. She screamed profanities and hurled plates at my head. After that, I never confronted her again. It seemed safer than dealing with someone who was so unbalanced. That was a lifetime ago. Now, we coexisted, passing each other in the hallways with few interactions. I couldn’t recall how long we’d been married.

Suddenly, my alarm clock was blaring. I lurched upright in bed. The light behind the shades was dimmer. The raucous noise from the TV still flooded the bedroom. I heard my troll-wife cackle along with the laugh track. The room was hazy, thick with steam from the still-running water.

I showered. Standing directly beneath the shower head, the noise from the TV was drowned out. My mind became a blank. I stood there, water streaming down my body, like a statue. I soaked in this small piece of solitude.

Afterward, I went to my closet to get dressed. My clothes were arranged neatly on a dozen hangers. Black suit jackets, white shirts, black pants. Twelve of each, all identical. On the shelf above rested three bowler hats, black. A rack of identical black ties hung to the far right. Black leather belts were draped over the cross bar. Several pairs of black shoes sat on the floor. This was the official uniform of a government employee. It was important that everyone wore the same black everything. I’m not sure why, but there had probably been a study.

As I walked toward the kitchen, I passed through the living room. My troll-wife was still glued to the TV. The pile of crumbs on her clothes had multiplied. She didn’t notice me.

I opened the refrigerator, my stomach growling. Salad, fruit, vegetables, milk, yogurt, and a sandwich wrapped in plastic waited on the shelves. It was the same food as every other day. My appetite started to dwindle. I decided to have a bowl of cereal instead.

There had been a time when people were allowed to eat or drink whatever they wanted. After the entire population developed diabetes, the government banned any consumable deemed a health risk. Cigarettes – gone. Soda – gone. Fast food – gone. Potato chips – gone. Pizza – gone. Processed cheese – gone. The list was practically endless. Prohibition Detail monitored banned consumables. That’s where I had worked before my big demotion.

Corn flakes crunched blandly in my mouth. I sat at the kitchen table, shoulders bent forward, facing the glass patio door. I watched the sun slowly descend. Its color oozed from yellow to orange to red. The pale blue sky became a dusky purple. I finished the last bite, and realized something was strange.

My dog hadn’t greeted me yet. He usually followed me around the house, tracking me from room to room. It was odd for him to not make an appearance. I had been so wrapped up in returning to Sex Detail, I hadn’t noticed his absence. I called for him, but he didn’t come.

I walked back into the living room and asked, “Where’s the dog?”

No response.

“Where’s the dog?!” I shouted over the noise.

“Oh . . . he’s dead,” she said, not taking her eyes off the TV.

“What?”

A shudder racked my body. It started at my feet and rippled up to my head.

“Oh . . . I meant to tell you. I took him to the vet yesterday . . .” she trailed off, more interested in whatever drivel she was watching.

“And?”

“Oh . . . he was sick. Not safe to be around other dogs. They put him down.”

My face was hot. Tears welled up behind my eyes. I wiped them back with numb fingers. How could he be gone? He had been with me every day for the last ten years. He was the only consolation I had in my dreary life. And now he was dead. My troll-wife didn’t have the decency to tell me before they killed him.

My knees shook. My whole body was tremulous. If I didn’t move, I was going to collapse. I bolted from the house.

My troll-wife called after me, “Oh . . . they’re sending a new one over tomorrow.”

I fell inside my car in a heap. The world had turned to a watery haze. My diaphragm felt heavy, and it was hard to breathe.

I managed to turn the car on and punch coordinates into the computer. It glided backward onto the street, then turned and drove toward the expressway. I instructed it to take me to work, but to go the long way around the city.

Work was no refuge. It would harbor no sympathy or solace. Huxley was not someone who would understand. But the place was so wrapped up in itself, it would take my mind away from this. I needed a distraction.

— — —

To be continued!

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