Greetings, wonderful readers!
This time around we ponder the very thing you’re using to read this…!
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Taking his seat on the empty bus bench, Gene popped open his pocket watch. Two forty and a half. He’d always been in tune with time, being no more off than two minutes at any given period of the day. Perhaps such a talent had been developed as a result of having worked with time pieces for over fifty years. But these days, these decades, had ol’ Gene enjoying the latter part of his life in retirement.
Oatmeal with the rising sun, a walk around the block, tending to his garden, reading the newspaper, all by ten a.m. Then it was household chores for the next two hours, the sounds of his past spinning on an ol’ console record player. Following lunch Gene would head out to the bus stop, stopping at the corner market long enough to pick up a bag of peanuts before catching the seventy-nine out to Oak Park.
It was here where he’d feed the squirrels while seated atop yet another bench, his bushy-tailed friends sitting atop his lap as they reached out with their little paw hands for the shelled nuts before cracking them open and pulling out the prize inside.
Once all had been fed the little critters would run off to their leafy towers, Gene left alone to reflect this grand existence called life.
And so the first half of his daily routine would go. But once a year this deep pondering would expand beyond the borders of the park, Gene’s contemplation lasting the whole day as he turned another year older.
When the long hand of Gene’s pocket watch hit two forty-two he looked up towards the deep blue sky. Ninety years ago to the minute he had entered this world, his mother often telling him throughout his childhood of the sunny day she had given birth to him.
Judging from his alignment with time he figured he had another good ten to fifteen years in him before it’d be his time to move on to the next stage of existence. One thing was for sure— the closer he got to the end the faster the hands of his pocket watch seemed to rotate, the ever-changing world around him constantly metamorphosizing into something that looked less and less familiar with each passing day.
Two forty-seven. Bus number seventy-nine was right on time as it pulled up to the curb in front of Gene and opened its door. He could still take the three steps up into it with relative ease, flashing his bus pass before turning to see which random seat would be available. The first ten were supposed to be reserved for the elderly and disabled, but hardly anyone ever observed such long-ago etiquette nowadays.
Gene spotted a middle aisle seat and hurried to it, trying to beat the driver before he hit the gas. He made it just in time, settling into the seat beside a young woman that couldn’t have been much older than his mother when she had given birth to him. As expected her head was facing down, fingers playing with one of those devices that now ruled the world.
Just as the sky was blue on a sunny day Gene knew that no matter where he went— either to the locations of his routine, or, on a rare day, out somewhere else, he’d find the same thing— the overwhelming majority of people staring down into those damn devices. What once felt like a Twilight Zone episode was now the norm, all Gene having to do to prove such a fact was look around him. Everyone but him— even the driver taking a glance at his own every once in awhile— everyone but Gene, a slave to this thing called technology.
He could remember when such a word was something to marvel at, not detest. He had been alive to see the transition from radio to television, black and white to color. But this— this was a bigger threat to humanity than any nuclear weapon, old science fiction stories turning out to be truer than any religious doctrine.
And then it happened…
Starting with the young lady seated next to him, the screen of her device cracking loud enough for a few others to take notice.
Before she could place words to her shock another screen cracked, then another, soon all going off like popping popcorn, “What The Fuck?!”’s spreading just as fast, the expressions of bewilderment seeming to ignite an even bigger effect, at least to Gene, as all the windows of the bus exploded out into the street with great force.
The driver swerved and came to a sudden stop, just about everyone letting go of their devices so as to reach out and steady themselves.
Ol’ Gene could now feel pieces of LCD screens beneath his shoes, the floor covered in ’em. He felt compelled to exit the bus, getting up and leaving behind all those who were still too shocked to react.
In every direction there was the same scene, shattered glass, not one single window left intact. The world was still.
Gene took out his pocket watch. The glass cover was undamaged but the hands of time stood still. But then, like the beats of a resuscitated heart, they began to tick again.
He felt this deep instinct. The kind that all humans are born with. That little voice inside that is inherently second nature. The one that has been around since primitive times.
And it was telling him to look up…
And so he did.
The deep blue sky was now more aqua in tone, and there in all their glory, like the colorful marbles he used to play with as a child, four magnificent planets, one in each direction, all about twenty times larger than the appearance of the moon, sitting up there as if it were the most natural thing in the universe.
Gene now knew his oatmeal with the rising sun would never be the same again.
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