A young man sits hunched on a park bench with an unusual gleam in his eyes; as if from within. A light refracting through his pupils from somewhere deep inside his skull. His steadyhands knead his scalp, loosening the furrow in his brow. His eyelids flutter rapidly and the glow, focused through the aperture of his dark brown irises, dims, and extinguishes, leaving inky black pupils in its place.
Sarah huddles beside her mother, who currently haggleswith a vendor over the price of peonies, and assures herself that the glow she’s just seen was something explainable. Reflected light from the park’s quaint fountain, a glare off the metallic flower kiosk, a shiny rock on the ground? She wants it to be something logical but knows all her theories are far-fetched and unlikely. She tugs at her mother’s long cardigan, seeking answers, but is brushed off, her mother having just wheedled the price to the low double digits.
An ear-ringing GONG shatters Sarah’s attention, drawing her eyes to St. Mark’s Cathedral behind her. The old edifice stands out like a stone thumb amidst the towering, mirrored banks encircling the small park. Sarah notices the ticker, worn like a low belt around the waist of New Meridian Global, and the continued ringing of bells acts as breaks between news itemsthat drag past and out of view around the curve of the bankingtower.
“President offers asylum to Nanjing technicians”.
“Over 200 still missing in Maryland attack. 76 confirmed dead”.
“Military A.I. ‘Phantom’ claims responsibility for replicantterrorist attacks in Baltimore bombing”.
“Woman arrested in connection with Colorado terrorist plot, says she’s ‘friend to robots’”.
Sarah has never felt a silence as pure as the moment the last reverberations of St. Mark’s toll fade down streets of steel and glass, leaving her in a vacuum. Life goes on around her as if muted, and she notices every detail. The slow, undulating sway of trees, branches raised as if worshiping in unison. A reflected flock of birds, doubling their numbers across sparkling windows. The flow of human life, well-orchestrated patterns of movement, the blood of the city, pumping down alleys, through crosswalks, bakeries, the banks, and this small park.
The young man is standing now, his body tall and elegant, a graceful ballerino in suit and tie. He looks refreshed,straightens his hair, checks his watch, and appears to anyone who happens to look upon him now, like a completely normal young man. He waves with a smile to passersby as he strolls toward the flower kiosk.
The low morning sun hits his wide and unfazed eyes and for the briefest moment Sarah swears she can see to the back of his skull, and she shivers at the thought of how hollow this man is. He passes her mother, and with a wink says, “You had a beautiful daughter.”
“Excuse me?” But he’s already crossing the street. Shethanks the flower man, paying just thirty-five dollars for her twelve-stem bouquet, and grasping Sarah’s hand, leads her away down the street.
“Mom. That man looked empty.” Her mother stops, “What?”
Then there’s a blinding white light behind them, as if a giant camera took a flash photo of the entire city. A roaringwave of heat catches and billows Sarah’s mother’s cardigan, making her look briefly like a superhero. Petals rip from her peonies and scatter, trying to get away. The trees seem to have finished worshiping and now they all lie down.
Sarah’s mother hugs her close and hates herself for brushing her daughter off to negotiate for flowers she didn’treally need. She squeezes Sarah tight and finds the strength towhisper, “Don’t be afraid, baby”, even as her skin begins to blister.
BIO: Justin drinks coffee, booze, listens to YouTube videos of rain, and struggles to put a few decent words together before the end of each day. He collaborates with his brilliant and poetic friends as often as he can, has been published very little, sports a damn fine mustache, and that is all. End of bio.