A new drink appeared in stores and quickly became popular. Despite its thickness and off-grey color with wispy globs of red, folks were enamored by the shape of the bottles and its provocative name written in jagged blue italics below the decal of a dorsal fin. Within the first week, every store in town had exhausted their inventories. Daily shipments were needed to satisfy the growing demand. Some stores dedicated whole aisles to the drink while others sold pallets straight off the loading dock.
My roommate returned with a crate’s worth and started chugging them down. He offered me a taste but said he couldn’t spare much. It was thick, heavy, smelled like rotten fish, and tasted worse. He grabbed the bottle out of my hand and choked down the rest while I got ready for work. Due to our conflicting schedules, it took me a few weeks to discover that he had been locking himself in the bathroom for hours letting the cold water beat him down.
For ten years I’ve been on nights and never liked how it made me feel. My body just couldn’t beat the millions of years of programming. It’s not natural to sleep while the world goes on without you and work while the world dreams.
I got out around dawn and noticed the faces at my bus stop looked different, as did the faces riding the bus, driving the bus, and even the people outside the bus. They were pale, and their eyes were sunk deep into dark and vacant pools, and when they spoke you could see rows of serrated cliffs and peaks. The bus route home straddled the boardwalk which is where everyone seemed to be going.
Without any sort of ad campaign, the drink had soaked into the culture and the festering stink that hung over our heads and stuck to our nostrils became just another part of our daily lives. Coffee shops, bottling plants, bars, and breweries all restructured their businesses solely around it. Even the guy at the coffee stand across from my bus stop re-branded himself. Swift and violent retribution were served to anyone caught ordering anything else. There was a story about a bartender over by Seaview who tried cutting it with some club soda and got his hands cut off. Some say they were bitten off. By the end of the fall semester, the Board of Education mandated that it be the only drink served on school grounds. That was when the first case of allergies was discovered.
A six-year-old boy came home with a stomach bug and a rash. When he was feeling better his Mother sent him in with a note explaining why she’d packed chocolate milk with his lunch. The note was pierced to his chest which sat in the basketball hoop. The rest of him lay smeared across the schoolyard. The Police and the Teachers never pressed the students for a confession.
As days shrank and grew colder, I saw fewer people on the street. Soon I was alone at my bus stop, and then the only one riding the bus. I left work late one morning and Downtown was deserted. An hour went by without a single bus. No cars, no people, even the coffee guy had abandoned his post, but I found everyone as I drew closer to the boardwalk. They were all standing in the surf, my roommate among them, letting the waves crash over their heads. By dusk the shore was empty.
It used to be hours spent thrashing just trying to fall asleep during the day and now the years of indelible reprogramming betrayed my hopes of reclaiming a normal sleep cycle. It’s not natural to sleep while the world goes on without you. I decided to go to take a swim whenever I woke up the next day.
Kevin Daniel Lonano is a schlockmeister writing in Atlanta, GA.