THE LAST LITTLE JOY • by Joachim Heijndermans

The crowd went wild. The results were in, with the large majority going for the CD12 party. Every person at the rally looked like they’d gone out of their minds. A million red balloons dropped down from the ceiling. It was the most beautiful sight Gerald had seen in his life. The party had won. Their party.

“Gerald! We did it! We won!” cried Hector, his mailman and buddy for nearly two decades. Hector threw his arms around Gerald’s neck. To his own surprise, Gerald embraced him back. Why wouldn’t he? Their party, the People’s Party, was going to call the shots! No more robos before people. There would be jobs again. Car factories and processing plants where regular guys like him could work, not robos.

People were going nuts. A group of young men poured beer on a small robo, who danced and flailed its arms as it short-circuited. A young woman on the balcony above dropped a brick on its TV screen head. Gerald didn’t feel bad for the tin man. Soon enough, they wouldn’t be around anyway. Robos need not apply.

He turned to look at his ten-year-old son, Carter, smiling broadly back at him. Gerald’s eyes were wet with tears. With this election, his son was given a future. A real honest-to-God chance for a better life. And they all made it happen together.

They had taken back the future.

***

There was nothing on TV, other than news footage of the CD12 party praising themselves. Eight years since they elected them, and still no word on when the next election would be. They promised jobs and the rebuild of the nation. They promised the people wouldn’t have to live in decrepit homes and work like slaves anymore. So much for that. Gerald sat in his chair, clicking from channel to channel. He missed the shows, but they went up and left too. Better sponsors abroad and such.

A loud bonk from upstairs shook him from his seat. Carter must have tumbled out of bed again.

“Carter? You all right?” he shouted. No answer. He headed upstairs and gently pushed the door open. His son lay there beside the bed, an open container of Zilcon pills in his hand and his happy-bot, “Candy”, resting beside him on the floor, stroking its metallic fingers through his hair.

“Hey, son. You doing anything today?”

Carter grumbled something incoherently, followed by; “—ain’t no school.”

“I know. It’s all right. Do you need anything?”

“Pills,” he grumbled.

“No, Carter. You gotta stop. There’s other kids who didn’t make the cut, but you don’t see them—”

“Pills!” Carter groaned louder, as “Candy” pulled him back into bed. Gerald hated himself for buying that robo, but “Candy” was the only thing that got Carter to even wake up anymore, other than his daily fix.

Damn Zilcon pills. Carter wouldn’t be on the stuff had he been in school. But he, along with seventeen million other kids, didn’t make the final cut for admission.

“Buddy, how about we give that job application idea another go? I’m hearing they’ll have a new factory up any day now. Or that police job? They can’t switch all the cops out for robos, right?”

Carter said nothing, wrapped up in the only things that still gave him any joy. Gerald knew that feeling. He’d been doing the same since the refinery closed. Nowadays, he just watched TV and looked after Carter. Not much to do but hope for replies on his many job applications, economize on their daily living and wait for Hector to drop by. The daily chats with his best friend were among the last little joys he had left. Good ol’ Hector. At least he had a job that was secure. Ain’t nobody getting rid of the mailman anytime soon. That was a guarantee.

The doorbell rang, twice. Weird. Hector never rings. He just knocks. He’s early too, by nearly an hour. Gerald walked over and opened the door, meeting the gaze of a black screen with a pixelated face.

“Rutgers, Gerald A.?” the robo asked.

“Um, yeah?”

The robo’s chest popped open. A stack of envelopes dropped out, which the bot then held out for Gerald to take.

“Your electric bills: overdue, your rent: overdue, your gas: overdue, and selected advertisements for your reading pleasure. Have a good day, sir.”

Gerald was stunned. What was this thing doing here on his front step? Why was a bot giving him the mail? The tin man was about to turn away when Gerald grabbed it by the arm.

“Where’s Hector?” he asked.

“The postal services is proud to serve you with our new posto-roboto units, copyright Yamatsuro Robotics, ensuring your mail will always reach its destination. Yatta!”

“But where’s Hector?” he asked again, feeling tears swell in his eyes.

The robo stared at him with that blank expression they all have. Gerald saw himself reflected in the black void, inhabited with green little squares that created the illusion of eyes, encased behind a flat screen. The robo pried itself loose from his grip.

“Have a good day, sir.”

Gerald didn’t remember picking up the iron rod, and he’d already slammed it into the robo’s “face” three times before he realized what he’d done, standing over the busted bot. To Gerald’s surprise, it still moved, popping its chest open, revealing another envelope.

“You are — bzkt — to be fined for damages to city property. Enclosed with notice — bzkt — is your f-fee. Authorities have been notified. H-have a g-g-bzkt-ood day, sir.”

In the distance, Gerald could hear metal feet marching towards him. He tightened his grip on the rod, steeling himself for what was coming.

“Dad? What are you doing?” asked Carter, who’d wandered downstairs. Gerald looked at his son, the last little joy he had left, and raised his makeshift weapon.

“Taking back the future.”


Joachim Heijndermans writes, draws and paints nearly every waking hour. Originally from the Netherlands, he’s been all over the world, boring people by spouting random trivia. His work has been published with Fictionmagazines.com, OMNI, Kraxon, Stinger, 365 Tomorrows, Shotgun Honey, Gathering Storm Magazine and Ares Magazine. In his spare time he paints, reads, travels and promises himself that he’ll finish writing that novel someday.


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