DYSTOPIA BASE 60 • by Liam Ward

Swimming his sixty daily laps in the polluted sea, the toxic sea, the radioactive phosphorescent sea, white caps curdling like cottage cheese around his head, Ira takes an inconvenient bullet in the back. The bullet pierces his new shirt and sinks him into the fishless florescent deep, full of plastic bags, glass bottles, discarded tires, rubber duckies and nuclear waste. Blood spurts from his back and chest. With a deft wrist maneuver, Ira catches the offending bullet in his left hand as it exits his sternum. On the bullet he reads the initials of his best friend, arch-nemesis and fellow member of the graduating class of 2060, Boris Ballbatski.

What a shame, Ira thinks as he sinks like a sack of sixty bricks. He regrets purchasing his pea-green swim shirt for $60 at Shirtmart. As the saying goes, no one wants to buy a used shirt with a bullet hole. Ira should have guessed that batty Boris would take advantage of his vulnerability in the sea lap lanes to try out his new, fully accessorized AK-60, equipped with silencer and underwater ballistics enhancer (accessories Ira considers superfluous even though he understands Boris’s eagerness to use the entire Beginner Youth Package he’d received for his sixteenth birthday).

Ira is sinking fast and effusing vital body fluids even faster. As he drifts ever deeper into the wine-dark soup, Ira looks at his supersmart watch depth and oxygen gauges which indicate he is plummeting at sixty feet per minute and will run out of oxygen in approximately sixty seconds.

Ira remembers the many debates he’d had with Boris about the existence of an afterlife. He gets a hit of gratification realizing that he will learn the truth of that little matter before Boris, who had estimated about a sixty percent chance that the universe lacks a transcendent creator and involves no human afterlife other than that of a recycled glob of viscous biomatter in some putrescent corner of the multiverse — which multiverse, by the way, probably contains at least sixty additional variations of the inconvenient truth Ira is enduring at this very moment, and maybe sixty other alternatives in which Ira neither sinks nor dies but avoids the bullet he has just taken and in some iterations even gets the better of Boris with his own (unaccessorized) AK-60, obtained before Boris had received his, a fact he had lorded over Boris for several months, possibly motivating Boris to shoot him in this particular universe where things are not working out well for Ira, as the attentive reader, I hope, can attest.

At any rate, Ira now has sunk to a depth of sixty feet and is totally bereft of oxygen, marking the end of this little adventure he called his life, a life he’d much rather have spent sitting contentedly mesmerized in a digital ecospace watching funnyviolentsexy videos in an unending life-consuming viral loop. And, indeed, that is the final image on Ira’s mindscreen before it goes blank and the Game Over icon flashes, requiring him to wait an excruciating sixty seconds before his next restart of Dystopia Base 60.

Liam Ward has a doctorate in clinical psychology from Duquesne University and a Masters degree in philosophy from Northwestern University. His poems and stories have appeared in The Christian Science Monitor, Every Day Fiction, The Mindful Word, Iron Horse Literary Review, and other publications.

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