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2022 3. The meaning of life is to keep living. Creating with Principles Phillip Morris Prose

The Last Human

Written By Phillip Morris

Raul woke up in his spartan one-bedroom apartment famous, but not rich. He’d have given his life to have it the other way around. That was impossible of course and the cause of his issues.

The US government provided Raul with a small stipend through the Department of Health and Human Services, and more recently a small security detail. It was enough to save face internationally, but getting more than the minimum was contingent on Raul committing to more “voluntary” studies. Journalists and talk show hosts were also surprisingly stingy. The latter couldn’t even be bothered to provide Raul an escort through the parking lot to his beat-up civic, and getting shot once was enough to make all flashy appearances unappealing. 

Trying to find a regular job was an issue for most ex-cons, however only Raul could add to that general stigma simultaneously being a freak, the second coming of Jesus, the devil incarnate, and a reminder of the hiring manager’s mortality. It all depended on who you asked. If you asked Raul, he didn’t feel like any of those things. 

According to a documentary they played before Raul’s interview with the BBC when the last Madagascan baobab tree was identified it only took thirty years for every other baobab tree on the island to die off from the Triple D threats of deforestation, drought, and disease. Drought proved to be the most thorough killer. The baobabs on protected nature reserves that had survived fungus and insect infestations, had their massive trunks dry to brittle paper after a decade of shorter wet seasons and longer dry seasons. Trees that had seen the turn of two centuries died off within a generation. All save one. The last baobab had its good and bad years, but it always survived. No wonder people were put on edge when the last human was identified.

Raul’s status colored every job application. Interviews were just a pretense to see him in person, as inevitably a few hours later a rejection email would come to his phone.

Dear Mister Johnson,

         Thank you for your interest in the Salesperson role. We regret to inform you that we will not be moving forward with your application at this time. We wish you the best of luck in your search for employment.

He put his phone down and took several deep, slow breaths as Ash had shown him. Ash was Raul’s daytime security, he appeared in the hospital on Raul’s second day recuperating from being shot, and he was well-versed in stress management techniques. Raul learned a lot in the two months they’ve been together. Still, there were times when Raul got so upset the scars on his neck throbbed. 

It helped that Raul had stopped approaching emails with the giddy excitement he had when he first got the phone. It was frustrating how they always left vague what exactly about his application led to the rejection. There was no mystery if the email came near instantaneously after he sent his application. If that happened, he was certain a machine rejected him for checking the Have You Ever Been Arrested? box. 

Gone were the days when he could hit the pavement and talk directly to shop owners when he needed work. He had tried that the week of his release only to be told time and again to apply on the website. 


At the family cookout for him that first weekend his cousin Shon, formerly Lil’ Shon, gave him an old smartphone so he could finally “Get online.” Shon left it in the hands of his eldest daughter Kamisha to actually get Raul set up. Kamisha couldn’t understand how he had never used social media, and Raul couldn’t understand how so many kids could afford to be on the beach all the time.

The rest of the conversations with the family were fairly typical: aunts and uncles commented on how he looked just like they remembered; siblings and cousins got philosophical about how everyone should get out of prison early now that weed was legal in Cali; Raul’s dad tried to pry details out of him about what it was like on the prison fire crew, while his mom tried to change the subject. Raul had a panic attack while taking carne asada off the barbeque and his dad stopped asking on his own. 

Everyone avoided talking about him being the last human, so it was easy enough for Raul to chalk up any awkwardness to his being out of the world for nearly three decades. 


Raul was getting ready for bed when he felt his phone buzz. It was an email from a company he’d applied to only a couple of hours earlier, one of his last applications of the day. 

Dear Mr. Johnson, 

         Thank you for your interest in our company. We regret to inform you that blah blah blah. 

Raul opened the email just to get confirmation before deleting it. His inbox was surprisingly clean, even for only being a few months old. Rejection email, deleted. Two-for-one pizza deal, deleted. A distant relative asking for money or answers he didn’t have, deleted. Of the twenty-four emails left twenty-one were from family or old friends, two were from his parole officer, and one was an invitation to meet with the Los Angeles Office of the International Conservation Authority. 

He hadn’t applied for a position with the ICA, but it was only a matter of time before they reached out. The weeks spent walking around town, sitting in front of the library computer, and checking his phone for work were dulling the shine on his fuck the government badge of honor. 

Besides, they weren’t directly tied to his government. 


Tap, tap, tap. 

A small black bird sat on the windowsill looking at Raul expectantly. Raul looked to Ash who was focused on scanning the people walking past the glass wall of the office. 

Tap tap tap.  

The crow cawed and flapped its wings. It certainly looked like it wanted to come in. Raul could appreciate wanting to trade the midday sun for an air-conditioned room. However, it was doubtful Dr. Mist would appreciate a wild animal occupying her office. 


Raul opened the window and the crow hopped inside then took a short flight to the perch Raul had taken for a hat rack. It was at that moment Dr. Mist re-joined them. 

“Sorry about that, the Director had some last-minute concerns and may be joining us later,” she said. “I see Kilakila is joining as well. He’s the last ‘Alala, must’ve felt a kindred spirit in my office.”

“You don’t keep him somewhere safe?” Raul asked.

“Forever would be a long time to keep him cooped up don’t you think? We planned to leave him on the reservation in Hawaii, but he followed the team out of the jungle and back to our hotel. He’s since become the star of our outreach program, which could be you moving forward.”

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“I’m really not cut out for fame, Dr. Mist.”

“Please just call me Sarah. There are too many PhDs around here to bother calling everyone ‘doctor’. As for being famous, that cat is out of the bag. Now let’s get the formalities out of the way.”

“Do you need a copy of my resume?”

“No need, I have it on the computer. You can relax, this isn’t really a job interview despite… formalities.”

Raul dropped the folder of copies back into his backpack.

“You have a business degree?”

“I took all the classes, but I didn’t finish my thesis.” He paused only briefly before adding, “Because of my arrest.”

“Right, and your only work experience is in food prep?”

“I had a stint on cleaning before moving to the kitchen. And in college, I tutored high school kids.”

“That’s good to know. A lot of our outreach is with children. No one gets as excited to see Kilakila as elementary schools.”

“I haven’t worked with kids that young.” When he applied for a janitor position at a Jr. High School, they were very clear that his drug conviction would disqualify him from ever working in a school. “Actually, I don’t have any experience with young children at all. I was the youngest. My nieces and nephews were born and grown while I was away.”

“Don’t worry too much about it. They’re just like adults, only more honest and curious because they know they don’t know everything. When I talk to them my goal is to nurture those traits so that they last into adulthood.” She scrolled her mouse wheel up and down a bit before asking, “Weren’t you also with the prison firefighting team?”

“I was. That just seemed so far away from anything I’d be doing here.” 

“True the only time an alarm goes off is when someone smokes inside but having first aid training is always a perk. Most of the executives and politicians we meet with are so old they could have a heart attack any minute.”

A solitary chuckle escaped from Ash. 

“Now, I have to ask, why do you believe you’re the last human?”

“I was told I was likely to be when I was the only survivor of my fire crew. Then that it was even more certain after I survived getting shot.” 

Raul noticed Sarah’s eyes dart down to the scar on his neck. It looked like a small flesh-colored spider was drinking from his jugular. That it also looked like it had had years to heal, instead of the two months it had actually been, gave further support to his claim. His would-be assassin sent a letter from jail apologizing for doubting him and asking to be blessed. Even if dispensing blessings were something he was capable of, it was far too soon to ask for forgiveness. At best Raul would support a plea of insanity. 

“There isn’t a perfect formula for identifying the last member of a species.” Sarah was explaining. “For centuries it was obvious because they were the only ones left. After something killed the rest of their kind they kept on living. We’ve added to the list the ability to survive traumatic injuries, and seeming immunity to disease and infections, so symptoms are mild if they appear at all.”

“It would be great if you could figure it out without the trauma.”

“I wholeheartedly agree. Kilakila here,” the crow made noise upon hearing his name. “Yes, you. He has scars to suggest he was attacked by a ‘lo before he joined us. That’s a hawk which is also on the endangered list so we couldn’t exactly, you know, eliminate that threat even though we could see it coming. Had genetics been more advanced in the 90s, perhaps we could have identified him sooner and given him a bodyguard. Though honestly, we still don’t know the secret. Plenty of species fade away without leaving anyone behind, in rare cases there’s two or more, and now there’s you.”

There were two light knocks on the door before it was opened by a man in a dark suit who smelled like an ashtray. 

“Don’t mind me,” he said, taking the chair next to Raul closer to the window. 

“Raul, this is Director Cox. Director, we were just going through the criteria for identifying lasts. I was explaining how we hope to find genetic markers to speed up the process.”

“Oh yes, Health and Human Services shared some preliminary results from you and some of your relatives with us.” This was the first Raul heard of any of his family going in for study. “The most remarkable thing so far is that you’re wholly unremarkable. Putting us back to the classic tests for last status. Can I see your notes?”

Director Cox turned Sarah’s screen so he could read what had been written. He finished so quickly that either there wasn’t much there, or he only gave it a cursory glance. 

“When was the last time you were sick?” he asked, turning the screen back to Sarah and his body towards Raul.

“I was in the hospital twice this year. First for smoke inhalation, then when I was shot.”

“Those are relevant for later, right now I want to know the last time you were sick with an infection. Like a cold or flu.”

“When I was released from the hospital this last time my family took me to an all-you-can-eat sushi place. I spent the rest of the day in bed, on the toilet, or over it.”

Director Cox admonished Sarah with his eyes.

“Did anyone else get sick?” Sarah asked.

“No, just me.”

“Did you eat the same things as everyone else?”

“Yeah, everyone tried all the dishes. I’d never had sushi before so everyone else took the lead on ordering. Even if I hadn’t gotten sick, raw fish wouldn’t be for me.”

Sarah cast her own look to the director who was ready to move on. It had seemed there were some more questions Sarah had skipped that bureaucratic tedium demanded answers to. Raul was left uncertain of the facts of his own life after just a few minutes so he knew Director Cox could have had a promising career as a police detective. 

“The Equal Opportunity Act prevents us from asking when you were born,” he said. “But would you say you have lived beyond a typical human lifespan?”

Raul knew five schoolmates that died before they finished high school, two of his friends overdosed in college, and everyone on his fire crew was dead; most of them were many years his junior. When he got out of prison, he found there were a few more friends to miss thanks to cancer, diabetes, and a heart attack. He seemed to be doing better than average, but “typical” here was based on a white middle-class life so he answered in the negative. 

“No immortality, no exceptional genes, and it’s questionable if you’re immune from disease. Survivability is the only marker left and we’ll need significantly more details than what we’ve got down so far.”

“I’ve already answered that question and most everything else came up in interviews I’ve given. Everyone else I meet seems to have seen them, so I’m sure you’ve seen them twice.”

“I watched your sit-down with Oprah three times now actually. You don’t have the job yet Mr. Johnson, and I’m the one giving final approval. The Chinese put up a candidate this month and are already ending over detailed reports. Russians are preparing a claim too.” Director Cox went to the still open window and lit a cigarette from the pack in his jacket before continuing. “Do you have any idea what it will mean for humanity if we officially designate the last human when there are eight billion of us left? I think this exercise is important enough that it deserves a bit more first-hand detail. Don’t you? You are not the first to claim to be the last, every month some loon calls us up or gets a spot on some conspiracy show. They waste everyone’s time because they don’t know what it means to be last.”

“I don’t know what it means either.” Raul blurted. He noticed the scars on his neck feeling sore. “I didn’t have a dog in this fight before I became the prize.”

“Except for it being your get-out-of-jail-free card.”

“Director Cox, that is highly inappropriate.” Sarah was red with second-hand embarrassment. 

“I don’t think it’s inappropriate to examine Raul’s motivations for his claim. The same as we do everyone else’s.”

Ash spoke up from the back, “Director Cox, could you put out your cigarette?”

“I’m sorry, who are you?”

“Ashley Winters, Raul’s Secret Service detail.”

“Huh,” Director Cox replied, seeming unimpressed. “Is anyone else bothered?”

Sarah looked to Raul, and he knew Ash was also waiting for his reply. Prison killed Raul’s smoking habit and he was grateful for it.  Without the years to heal, he’d never have qualified for the fire camp; and if he had, he’d probably have died with everyone else. Unless he really was what they said and even with withered tarred lungs he couldn’t die. He could’ve been roasted alive by the flames and he wouldn’t die. Just like how he was shot in the neck and didn’t die. 

Raul shook his head “No, it’s fine.”

“Great, then tell us about the physical trauma you survived, and we’ll see if that pushes you over the threshold.”

Raul was not fine. The embers of the cigarette, the crackling of the flames during a long drag, and the smell of smoke got into Raul’s head so that, as he spoke, he was taken back to the town of Greenville with its roaring flames and stinging black air. 

His crew was working as hard as any other to save the town. They cut and cleared anything that might become fuel for the fire, but still building after building was lost to the encroaching flames.

Heavy clouds of smoke made keeping visual contact with his team difficult. Seeing crews a block away was impossible.  

When the command was given to abandon the town their radio channel was last on the list, so it came too late. Before they knew what was happening the wall of flames became a ring: they were trapped. 

Their captain had them link arms and got them to a nearby parking lot to wait for a rescue that wouldn’t come before their oxygen ran out. Raul succumbed just like everyone else, coughing and gasping for air.  

Everything went dark, silent, and calm.

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When Raul came to, Ash had his hand on his shoulder and was walking him through a mantra. Raul’s muscles were relaxing and the excitement in his nerves was dissipating. He stopped his right hand, which was gently stroking Kilakila, who had moved to the desk. The bird nibbled Raul’s thumb to encourage continued petting. Sarah and Director Cox were no longer in the room. 

“You alright now?” Ash asked, searching for the answer in his eyes. “You don’t have to keep going with that prick. He knows they need you here because you’re not lying and he wants an American for the last.”

Ash went directly to the truth of things when he chose to speak. Raul knew he was right, but he also knew that first impressions mattered. Things couldn’t be left with him looking like a traumatized idiot.

When Ash left to retrieve the others, Raul got Kilakila to hop onto his arm to be carried back to his perch. 

“Thank you,” he said. He continued stroking the bird until Ash returned with Sarah who immediately apologized for what happened. “You couldn’t have known. Open flames have triggered spells before. Never happened with cigarettes though.”

Director Cox walked in with his coat replaced by several spritzes of cologne. His face lacked a notable amount of smugness. Raul was sure Sarah helped wipe that off.

Director Cox cleared his throat, then said, “If you’re ready, the only thing left to cover is the second incident.”

“The assassination attempt?”

“I’d appreciate more details. You stopped giving interviews after that, so this is the first time I’m seeing that scar. It doesn’t look so bad. It’s so small I’d think anyone would have a good chance of surviving that.”

Director Cox had obviously never been shot or known anyone who had been. Raul undid the top buttons of his shirt and pulled down the back of his collar so the director and Sarah could see the full extent of the exit wound. The bullet had nicked his spine and sent metal and bone shrapnel blasting through his flesh. His spine was left largely intact, but the doctors told him it was a miracle he survived and wasn’t paralyzed. It was also miraculous that he was fully healed in a couple of weeks instead of years. 

The office was silent.

As he was redressing Raul said, “I’m not claiming to be the last human, I’ve been told I was. Just as I’ve been called a demon, an angel, and before that a criminal, and before that a degenerate stoner. I’ve never claimed to be anything and what my existence means for humanity is for people like you to figure out. I’m focused on little things like being able to split the bill when my family goes out for food.”


Raul took the following day off from sending applications. He spent the morning on his phone looking up simple and cheap pets. Tarantulas and snakes were in the lead because he found something calming in how they moved. 

He was making a sandwich for lunch when his phone gave him a buzz. Unlike every other time, it felt like he had all the time in the world to check it. Raul left the phone in his pocket until he finished his meal, washed the dishes, and talked with Ash about the benefits of a tarantula over a dog. 

Phillip Morris is a Californian living in Rotterdam. When he’s not writing dry instructions booklets, he’s likely writing colorful short fiction. When he tweets it’s @lephillipmorris.

5. Use the tools at your disposal. Creating with Principles Phillip Morris Prose

Strongman, Kicker, & Lucy

Written by Phillip Morris

Strongman is strong, Kicker is a steam-powered horse that can fly, and Lucy imagines things. Strongman is really a boy about to be ten, Kicker is only real because Lucy imagined him up, and Lucy really is just a nine-year-old girl. Strongman’s real name is Jake, Kicker’s real name doesn’t exist, and Lucy’s real name is Lucy.

Jake and Lucy are orphans.  Kicker is, by definition of being a figment of Lucy’s imagination, an orphan as well. They are troubled children that try not to cause too much trouble. But they are runaways from their foster home so by definition their life is trouble. 

Jake’s parents might not be dead. They might just be in big jail far away, he tells himself that often. When they went to jail they often went together because when they sold drugs they did so together. That meant that Jake was often left alone. He would be sent to his treehouse, that’s only a  wooden platform, whenever anyone came over so no one knew he was alive besides his parents. Not the methheads or the cops, at least not until they broke in looking for drugs and caught him stealing food respectively. They each found out why Jake called himself Strongman. Though the cops had the benefit of having a taser.

For bureaucratic reasons, Jake had to spend the three-day weekend in jail where he was forced to be a strong man among grown men. Afterward he was sent to a foster home too full of kids.

Lucy’s parents are dead. She knows this for sure because she imagined her Dad burning to death one night while he was in bed with her mom. Afterward she too was sent to the foster home too full of kids.

Jake, Lucy, and Kicker now live in Jake’s parents’ house on a hill, outside of town, overlooking the undesirable buildings that lower property values, like the county jail. Well, Jake and Lucy live in the house, Kicker lives outside where there’s all the grass he can eat and a big tree he can sleep under. 

Lucy could imagine her and Jake in a bigger house but jake was afraid his parents wouldn’t come home if they couldn’t recognize it. Lucy is happy enough to imagine the house has a big blue pool on the lawn that matches the house. 

When they need food, imagined food won’t do. Lucy forgets what they ate at some point and the food disappears before it’s digested. Kicker used to disappear too, but after the fire, he became Lucy’s best friend in the world. That means that even when he isn’t on her mind he’s in her heart. 

Instead of imagining food, Lucy imagines she and Jake are grown-ups and takes Jake out grocery shopping or to restaurants around town. She pays with the money she imagines is in her purse. That money she usually remembers long enough for it to safely disappear into the bank. Sometimes she forgets sooner, but that hardly ever happens. 

Unfortunately, it happens enough that the cops track down the counterfeiters. When they get to the small blue house on the hill they only find Jake and Lucy. Kicker wasn’t imagined to be very brave and runs into the hills whenever strangers come, leaving only a trail of steam from the stacks on his shoulders. 

Jake tells the cops that his parents aren’t home which would be enough for the cops to leave them alone for a while, but one of the cops, for personal reasons, happens to pay attention to the missing kid bulletins and recognizes Lucy as being reported missing from the foster home. The cop would’ve recognized Jake too if the foster home’s owner cared about the boys as much as he did the girls, and bothered to report Jake missing too.

Jake doesn’t think to lie when the cop asks who Lucy is and says she’s his friend. Lucy doesn’t think to lie when the cop asks her name.

Jake is strong enough to stop the cops, but Lucy doesn’t want him to hurt good people and she goes along peacefully. 

For bureaucratic reasons, Lucy has to wait in jail until the foster home’s owner can get her. The cops at least let her wait in the yard because neither the male nor female inmates are out there.

 Lucy sits at the table in the yard and looks up at the hills. She can see the blue that’s Jake’s house and the pool and the tree beside it. She imagines he’s inside pacing, angry, wondering how to get her out.  

Kicker’s back though he’s not much help because he only ever wants to run away from trouble.  

Lucy imagines Jake going to the pool to relax but finds the water’s all gone. In rage and frustration, Jake rips off the ladder and breaks it into its constituent poles. The last pole in his hand, to his surprise, is no longer just a pole but a telescope. He uses it to spy Lucy sitting at the table in the yard of the jail waving at him. Then she points up. Above Jake is his treehouse which he goes inside of and when he looks out to Lucy again this time she’s making a throwing motion. Jake looks around for something to throw though he doesn’t know why or how it would help. Lucy imagines he figures out what to throw when he finds the spear with a long, long length of chain with the other end wrapped around the tree. 

That spear plunges deep into the ground in front of Lucy. The loud thud of its impact gets the attention of everyone in the jail. The cops yell at her as she grabs onto the chain and tugs it twice, in the universal signal that she’s ready. Jake yanks the chain back with all his strength. The chain flies into the treehouse hard and fast. It tears up the tree as each link hits and suddenly he’s afraid of what will happen to Lucy when she comes in. 

Thankfully Lucy imagines Jake stands ready to gently catch her. 

Police cars are speeding up the hill with their sirens blaring, but Kicker has learned to be brave and doesn’t run away. At least not until Lucy and Jake are safely on his back. Then he kicks off the ground and into the sky.

Phillip Morris is a Californian living in Rotterdam. When he’s not writing dry instructions booklets, he’s likely writing colorful short fiction. When he tweets it’s @lephillipmorris.

3. The meaning of life is to keep living. Creating with Principles Margaret Price Prose


Written by Margaret Price

When you were tiny I could hear you before you made a sound. My whole body was tuned to a listening so deep that the vibrations of your indrawn breath had me moving before either of us truly woke.  The sound of you was threaded through my sleep and I heard you like I hear my own pulse now in silence. 

In my waking listening, I would watch our reflection in the black squares of the window lighten and vanish in the white August dawn and wonder if we are ever again so heard as in those first weeks? My mother must have done this, and her mother, and hers. A long line of listeners in the night hours; their ears tethered to the tiny sounds of their babies; their minds wandering in the dark.

I did not just listen though, I also sang. I sang all the songs that were sung to me. Some of them I barely remembered but as I hummed they surfaced, half a chorus or some of the first verse, and then I could dredge them from my mind and sing them into you. Because that is what it felt like: like I was singing them into your tiny body. Filling the bones of you with my memories of being small and safe. 

To sing gives form to words. We put breath in them and set them vibrating in our skulls and in our sinuses. We shape them with tongue and teeth and send them out to move the atoms of the world around us in sound. But when I sang to you at night, when you were so small, I sang softly and I sent those sounds only to vibrate in you.  It seemed that if I could fill the caverns of you with these songs, they might echo there all the love of all the women who had sung them before me so that no matter what hard words you might hear as you grew, even from me, these lullabies would remain the song of yourself.

Now it is years later. You are still small and we are in a house by the beach with my family. It has been a day full of waves and sand castles; ice cream, grandparents, cousins and high emotional drama. You are tired and a little weepy in your bed and you ask me to sing you a song, so I do. And through the wall, I can hear my sister singing that same song to her two small sons. 

“Skeeters am a hummin’ on the honeysuckle vine…”

Margaret Price is a mother, lawyer, and occasional scribbler.

9. Know the limits of tolerance. Creating with Principles Phillip Morris Prose

Honorary Man

Written by Phillip Morris

Hello. Hey, I fucked up. I did something really stupid, but I did it for the right reasons. I kept my cool with the cops too. 

“I want my lawyer,” were the only words they got out of me from the street till now. Uncle Gabe, I did everything you taught me. Except that, except staying out of trouble. 

It started – fuck where do I start – A few weeks back. 

Professor Cole had really gotten into my head that day. We were covering enslaved people’s rebellions and at the start of class, he asked how many uprising we thought there were in America. I could think of Nat Turner and Harriet Tubman as fighting leaders knowing that there had to be many more I didn’t know. I figured about 100 uprisings. 

Uprisings, not just one enslaved person killing a slaver or running away. A whole community rising up together for a taste of freedom. 

So 100 seemed a good number to me at the time, but I was way off. There were over 250 uprisings. And you know why that wasn’t enough, why 250+ explosive revolts weren’t enough to make people say “Maybe it’s not worth the risk of getting my throat slit to keep black people enslaved.”? Because the slavers could almost always shut them down before they got out of hand. 

Most were spontaneous, unorganized, and would fall apart if the leaders were taken down. Shoot all the men, and the women will fall back to protect their children. Then take a few of the survivors to make an example of and they wouldn’t try again… Or and this to me is worse, some enslaved person suffering from major Stockholm syndrome would warn the slave owners ahead of time. What a job they’d have to do on you to make slavery seem better than even trying for freedom. In exchange for snitching they’d move up and sometimes be made an “honorary man” among whites for being a traitor to their people. 

Even if I had a kid I think I’d risk it. Even if –

Yeah, it’s a tangent but that’s what was in my head on the bus home. I’m not a fighter I know, but I felt like I’d have to fight. It felt like I was being a hypocrite though because right in this life I wasn’t even out on the streets protesting. Because what, an arrest would cost my scholarship?

Professor Cole said he would vouch for anyone arrested at a protest, but the provost and most of the board aren’t hearing it. There’s not even an African-American Studies department at the school. They wouldn’t care. 

This was all in my head when I missed my stop. And the next and the next. As if not lifting a finger to fight meant I shouldn’t bother lifting a finger to go home and study more, to graduate, get a job, get married, have kids, and send them off to college to continue going on doing nothing. 

If I was going to do even a small thing like getting off the bus I had to justify to myself why I wasn’t at a protest. 

I went to one. In the beginning when it was easy. You know that doesn’t count. It doesn’t mean much to just do the easy thing. 

My inaction needed justification. That came to this. Me here, arrested with a black eye, busted lip, and sore everything. Protesting won’t change shit because it hasn’t changed shit. People that are going to care already do. The rest… I don’t know what to do with the rest. I mean you can’t force someone to care. We already tried fighting them too. So what then?

That was as far as I got when the bus reached its final stop way down in San Pedro near the docks in some industrial part. 

“Hey son,” the driver called out to me. He was an older black guy with grey streaks in his beard. “Sorry, but you gotta get off here. I go to the depo.”

In the back of my head, I was thinking the bus would just loop back. He told me I’d have to wait for a half-hour for the next bus heading north, but “It would probably be better if you walked up to the main road to catch something sooner.”

I did start walking. Having someone telling me what to do made it easier to do something. Lethargy made me feel heavy and slow but I was moving. Until I saw a bar, which was just a bit further from the stop. With just a motorcycle out front and its windows layered with dust. I could afford a cheap beer on my budget and finish it in time for the bus, so I went in. 

I went in, sat at the bar, and ordered a beer. There were a couple of older guys playing darts at the back and the bartender, that was it. The guys looked like old bikers, add to that the bike out front and I figured I was in a biker bar, which I always imagined would look better than that. Cooler somehow. 

The bartender didn’t say a word to me, but he gave me my beer. 

No, I wasn’t there to start a fight. I really was planning to just kill the time with the beer.

One of the guys had gotten close behind me, so I could smell the cigarettes on him when he said, “You lost boy?”

I knew the line, everyone knows the line. What it means. And still, I didn’t think at all, I was on automatic smart-ass. 

“I’m not a boy, I’m an honorary man.” I wasn’t looking at him. I said it into my beer as I was taking another sip. 


This time I turned around and said, “Today I’m an honorary man.”

I was really expecting, not a fight, but I don’t know, to exchange some dirty looks. But he wasn’t angry. This middle-aged pot-bellied man in a leather vest was almost smiling. He called to the other guy, “Gene, he’s an honorary man.”

“Well shit then,” Gene said as he walked across the bar, “we can get a drink together.”

Gene and Roger sat on either side of me. Roger something, Something with an S. I only saw it once on a package that arrived at the bar for him. They didn’t call each other by their full names.

Anyway, that first day things were chill. They paid for my beer and we shot the shit a bit. They did most of the talking. They talked about how they were thinking they’d have to kick my ass if I’d walked in to cause trouble. 

I told them I was just checking the palace out before I caught my bus.

“Lucky you found us H-man. There’s clubs out there that shoot first and ask questions later when they see a nigger.”

Those words exactly. It made my skin prickly and burn, but I kept my mouth shut. Thank fucking goodness the bus was due. I thanked them for the beer and bounced with things staying cordial. They told me to come back on Friday as I got up. I mumbled some assurance that I would as I walked out the door in time to see the bus pull off. 

I never ran so fucking hard or long in my life but I caught it at the next stop. 

How close had I come to dying? Where the hell did I end up? When I got home there was this anxious fight or flight energy running through me still. I mean it would be beyond messed up to spend my whole life staying out of trouble to only end up dying because I went into the wrong bar on a Tuesday.

I didn’t see any weapons on them. I wouldn’t have sat down at the bar if it was obvious. One swastika on the wall and I’d have noped on out of there. They had a confederate flag on the back wall I noticed on later visits, but it had a motorcycle in the foreground so that was the prominent feature. If I noticed that the first day it wouldn’t have raised red flags though. Bikers just have a thing for the confederacy.

That night I tried googling the bar. It doesn’t have a website or Facebook page, but you can see it on Streetview. In the pictures, it’s still a hole in the wall with a couple more bikes out front. 

Since I wasn’t finding anything that way that’s when I looked into the phrase “honorary man”. I was only getting basic information on public pages and I didn’t want to sign up for the private sites or Facebook groups and risk them tracking it back to me in real life. The gist of it is exactly what you’d think, black men in this day and age who would rather be on the white side than the right side in the coming race war. 

No, it’s older than QAnon. 

I did check with Professor Cole. He hadn’t heard of it being a thing to be an “honorary man” post-Jim Crow when black politicians and community leaders argued in favor of segregation in places like Mississippi and Louisiana. Whatever it took to move from the slave house to the statehouse. 

After that off the top of his head the only stories he had of black men willingly associating with the KKK/ white supremacists, they were doing so as a form of absurdist protest. To show the racists how absurd it is to hate someone for the color of their skin. Of course, they didn’t start out as friends hanging out. The black guys started as targets, but I guess they were numbed to racism having gone through it their whole lives. So it ended up that nothing that the racists could do to them really phased them that much. 

Threatening phone calls at night were met with “Hey johnny nice to hear from you.”

Burning cross on the lawn, “Thanks Johnny let me go get some hotdogs.”

Insinuations of grave bodily harm, “Ho that’s just what I need Johny. It’ll get me outta work this week.”

And you know, it did work. It’d take a while but it would work. Eventually, the ridiculousness of the situation would wear down the card-carrying members one by one. 

Professor Cole said he’d look into the honorable men more for me but I’d heard enough to put the idea in my head. Friday after class I went back. This time I stopped by home first to leave my school stuff behind and to let mom know I’d be hanging out with friends. She warned me to keep away from the protests because cops were shooting people in the head with rubber bullets. I’m sure she thought I was lying when I promised to stay away.

On the bus, I tried to make a plan and couldn’t come up with anything. You can’t plan to de-radicalize a group of angry strangers. 

Gene was there to greet me when I walked in. Along with Roger, Gus the bartender, and a new guy Sam. Sam did not look happy to see me. I joined them back at their table and as soon as Gene went to get a round of beers with Gus, Sam started grilling me. 

“Won’t the other coloreds miss you at the looting party?”

“I want to be as far away from there as possible,” I lied. Channeling the spirit of someone nothing like me I went on about how I was working hard, knowing my place, and how those other fucking blacks were fucking it up for me. How I was working hard to earn what they wanted to be handed to them.  Sam came around to me real quick once I opened my mouth and let the shit flow. It came out easily since I was just remixing lines from rallies that made the headlines. I’ve never watched a Trump rally all the way through but I can imagine why he’s so into them. I have never had an easier time getting someone to like me, except when I got Minecraft running on the school computers in elementary. 

By the time Gene was back with the beers, the topic of conversation had changed to motorcycles. I’d mentioned how nice the tow bikes out front were and how I needed to learn to ride. They told me about the freedom that comes from riding them. 

“Full throttle on an open stretch of road is the closest you can get to flying,” Gene said. 

Roger missed it. Something about diabetes kept him from riding for years already. The bikes out front were from Sam and Gene… Gus drove a van most days because of the bar he said. So half the guys in this biker bar weren’t really bikers. More than half if you include me, which after that first Friday they sorta did. 

Even more surprising to me, race barely came up. I wasn’t expecting deep intersectional discussions but niggers, spicks, wetbacks, and fags were only ever brought up to take the blame for something bad happening, like mischievous gremlins in society’s gears, or when someone needed a punchline to a not at all clever joke. I wasn’t reminded all the time that I was black around them. Just in situations where someone had to submit, it was a given that it would be me. 

When Gus had a few and wanted to keep having a few more it was on me to clean up and work the bar. Gus is the only one that’s a heavy drinker and he tended toward the harder stuff. The other guys might take a shot but most of the time they stick to beers from the draft. 

Cleaning wasn’t so bad but when I was doing it they’d switch from putting their peanut shells into a bowl to dropping them on the floor. Or if they were a couple of beers in throwing them. Really throwing. Gene would be sitting at the bar chatting it up with someone and ejecting shells behind him so hard they’d end up under the pool table. 

Gene and Sam talked about their bikes and tips for riding but they wouldn’t let me practice on their bike. No nigger could drive their bikes. 

Gene said I was lucky to be raised above the rest, lucky enough that I got to ride bitch behind him when we went out shooting. I couldn’t ride in Roger’s Prius. Nope, I had to ride squished behind the bulk of Gene. He also insisted that I keep my arms wrapped around him so I didn’t fall off. I could be squeezed there for really fucking long rides. When they wanted to shoot something unlicensed we had to go out to the desert. I don’t know exactly where. I sorta disassociated whenever I got on the bike. Like I would check out mentally so I could know what my body was doing, but I wasn’t really a part of it. 

Why? Because of Gene. He would… adjust himself in ways that made me uncomfortable. At first, I thought it was an accident because it wasn’t like it was happening at the bar. Though it would happen every time he got me on the bike so that when it was time to ride I’d check out and go on autopilot. 

Those rides were up to that point the worst part of being in the group. I didn’t get sinister vibes most of the time. They were just toxicly confused men who needed an excuse to hang out. The drinking, guns, bikes, homophobia, and racism were the excuses. I started to like them even once I realized that, and could see past the bullshit. 

Over time Gus had me cleaning more so he could drink more. The guys might tip me if I was serving for a long time but it was never a formal thing.

“Boy go get us a round.”

“It’s getting messy, why don’t you clean it up?”

I was shocked by how quickly they seemed to trust me. A docile black man isn’t a threat it would seem. I can’t really say it was all an act either. It was so easy to fit the mold they made for me and fall into that subservient role. In a way, I could turn my brain off and relax. As long as I wasn’t uppity the world in that group was too simplistic to be afraid of anything. They didn’t have any expectations for me beyond submission. If an opinion was asked all I had to do was side with Gene. It was easy.

I never handled money though, and when a keg ran empty Gus changed it himself no matter how smashed he was. It was one of the times Gus was hammered so I was behind the bar, and I noticed a receipt for a drink order near the register. A small order for some “cervezas”,”sake”, and “negronis”. I’d been there several weekends and never saw much of a crowd. At most maybe a dozen older white people who I don’t imagine know what sake is. I figured Gus was using his liquor license to stock his personal supply at home.  

About a month into it Gene invited me to work around his house. Not invited, it wasn’t a question, but it’s not like it was a demand either. “My house needs some cleaning. Come by on Saturday.” It wasn’t a thing I could say no to. So I went, and I’d clean, and I met his half-Vietnamese daughter, Wenny. 

Yeah, I didn’t comment on it. His wife left him a few years ago. We left it at that.

Him and his daughter had a weird relationship, like really weird. I was treated like a gift to her or something like it. I assume she was the one cleaning and doing housework when I wasn’t there but when I was she would just sit around with him and complain about not having a husband. 

She is older than me, probably 30. Not cute and big. If Wenny really wanted a husband she’d have to move out of her dad’s house and lose some weight. 

This new arrangement Gene put me in had me below her too. He’d have things for me to do, and she’d add to it. She’d also make comments on my body and Gene would egg her on. It was weird to start but it kept getting worse. then today, or no yesterday now, it just snapped. Everything snapped. 

I fucked up big.

Saturday’s routine had become I’d go there, clean, they’d watch, make me get them beers, then Gene would take me to the bar.

I don’t know how this was helping. Like I said I didn’t really go in with a plan. I was hoping it would come to me. In a way it did. Fuck no I didn’t tell Professor Cole what I was doing. I didn’t tell anyone. What would I say? I was going off to play the slave?

Anyway that day it took a turn. Wenny was complaining about being single and Gene said she just needed to get fucked. Then called me over and yeah…

No. I couldn’t. Physically I couldn’t. They talked loudly and as soon as he called my name I knew what he was going to tell me to do. My chest tightened up, my blood ran hot so my skin was burning all over. I was panicking but I kept walking into the living room. He told Wenny to drop her pants and she did. I could see on her face she was just as terrified as I was. She didn’t say a word, she just did it. She always had something to say but now she was silent. Not looking at anything or saying anything.

He told me to take my pants off next. I couldn’t. It happened so fast but I knew I couldn’t. Faking it was impossible. I was soft as fuck and that…. Then the thought of him seeing my dick and touching her with it makes me want to puke. I didn’t really think I just flopped down and started eating her out. That was easier for me. There were muscles I could move so I could go through the motions. 

He stayed in the room and watched. I could hear him groaning. I don’t know, my eyes were closed and I kept them shut until it was all over.

Wenny got up angry. Like fuming. She shoved me off, knocked shit off the shelves and table on the way to her room. She slammed the door so hard a picture fell off the wall. 

Gene stayed laying on the couch, eyes closed with his dick put away. I knew it was on me to pick up the mess so I did. As I was cleaning up I found this small silver ring with two snake heads one eating another. On the inside of the band there was a swastika. The whole thing was covered in soot. Some of it came off on my hands as I was handling it. There were layers of it, some so old they felt permanent. 

I thought about stealing it to take back to Professor Cole, or to the cops to prove Gene was part of a white supremacist group, but that didn’t seem like enough. What other proof did I have and what would be illegal about being a white supremacist if all they did was talk shit and drink?

So I didn’t steal it. When I had everything else put away I asked Gene about the ring. What else could I do besides carry on like normal? I said, “This looked important and I wasn’t sure where it went. I didn’t seem like something to just put anywhere.”

He was quite proud to tell me about how the ring had been in his family for a long time. It’s not that his grandfather was an original German Nazi or anything, but his father bought it off a guy that swore it was made from silver confiscated from the Jews at Auschwitz. It’s never been washed so the original soot is supposed to be from the Auschwitz smoke stacks. The more recent layers are from “remembrance ceremonies”.

He said, “Richard Anglin came out personally last year to thank us for supplying drinks and his was exactly the same so you know it’s genuine.”

He said those words verbatim but he almost said something else for drinks. I was trying to remember everything because I was certain I needed to end things so I never ended up back in that house. Here’s the major fuck up. I should have just kept my mouth shut and listened, but my mouth works faster than my mind when my mind has something on it. A single fucking syllable slipped out, “Who?”

I didn’t know who Richard Anglin was and I still don’t but apparently, I really fucking should have. Apparently, Richard fucking Anglin is the only white man alive capable of judging when a black or any other non-white had done something big enough for the cause to move up from animal to “honorary man”.

Gene called me every name in the book as he beat the crap outta me. Particularly a “lying fucking nigger.” He got a couple good hits in then transitioned to choking me out. All the way, I passed out. 

When I came to, I was in the back of Gus’ van. My hands were tied behind my back with a plastic zip tie. Gene and Gus were talking about what to do with me. Gus was saying Gene might’ve overreacted given my time with them and how I was one of the good ones. Gene said, “We can put him with the rest for now but we gotta put him in the dirt.”

I was panicking but I knew I couldn’t stay still. I had to get out.  Some of the places they went shooting were pretty secluded. No one but them would ever find me there. There aren’t any windows in the back of Gus’ van so the only light I was getting was through the partition. I could see their heads and the sky. I couldn’t tell where we were, but it didn’t feel like we were on a highway. Still, it felt like if I didn’t get out quick I was as good as dead. 

I couldn’t feel anything near my hands that could help get me out. Gus keeps the van fairly clean. I could hear some things shifting as he turned. Something metal was rolling near my feet. I caught it against the side of the van with my foot and pushed it up closer so I could contort my hands to grab it without needing to move my whole body too much. 

It was maybe a two-inch pointed screw! I gripped it between my fingers at an awkward angle because of the zip tie and started stabbing and sawing away at the plastic. The odd grip made my muscles start to cramp but I kept going. Just chipping away bit by bit. I’d flex my arms to try to break the plastic when I thought it was enough. It wouldn’t be so I’d go back to sawing and stabbing. It felt like it was taking forever.

I was sure I was going to die. My life wasn’t flashing before my eyes or anything. My thoughts focused on regretting that it would be in such a stupid situation that I did to myself. I never came up with a plan. Had I just not gone back it could’ve ended. They didn’t know who I was, they never asked any questions to get to know me. I could’ve just stayed home. 

I flexed again and the tie snapped. 

Now, the back of the van has two doors. One at the back and the sliding one on the passenger side. I chose to jump out of the side door as the van took its next stop and was lucky to only fall onto the pavement and not into traffic. I was immediately up and running. Behind me I heard the van doors open and Gene and Gus get out after me. 

We were in a residential neighborhood and I felt like if I kept to the sidewalk they’d get back in the van and chase me down that way, so I started hopping fences. The first one was a short chain link fence. One of them took out a gun and shot at me before they got over the first fence. I kept running and hoped over the next fence which was taller and wooden. I pulled myself over the top then pretty much fell on the other side. The other side was an alley with nothing to cushion my fall. Gene and Guys couldn’t get themselves over that fence. They were negotiating who would boost who over, that gave me a second. 

If I ran down the alley either way I’d be in the open and they could get some more shots off at me. That seemed like a bad idea. However, the fences between the yards were made of tall slats so they wouldn’t see me if I hopped the fence to a parallel yard to double back to the street. Then we’d be in the public and I could flag someone down. 

I went with option number two. I ran two houses down and then went over the fence into a yard just as someone struggled over the first fence into the alley. I bolted for the street planning to flag down the first car I saw. When I got to the sidewalk there was no traffic, but the passenger door of the van was open. Then I could hear the engine running and knew that the keys were still inside. I got to the door and slammed it shut just as Gus was getting back to the chain link fence. 

I never thought of myself as fast but from the alley to the van couldn’t have taken more than a minute. There was even time for me to register the look on Gus’ face as I slid into the driver’s seat and floored it out of there. 

I don’t know if he had the gun.

I went straight for a couple of blocks before it registered in my head that I was in San Pedro. Then it clicked that they were taking me to the bar to keep me in the basement until they killed me. My instinct was to run home so I orientated north and started driving in that direction. But it’s a long way home from San Pedro, especially in what was technically a stolen van. 

They didn’t empty my pockets when they put me in the back so I had my cell and I used that to preemptively call 911. But I hadn’t taken my foot off the gas this whole time so already I had run a couple of stop signs and a red light. By the time I connected with an operator, there was already a patrol car trying to pull me over. 

I couldn’t stop. If I pulled over I’d be a black man in a stolen van driving recklessly on a city street. I needed the operator to understand the situation. She just sounded so, I don’t know, fake. Like are you really listening to me asking for help or just doing your job. 

Then something else clicked. Like I said it was a long way home and having a growing number of cops behind me put it out of the question.

I would’ve stopped if the operator could’ve convinced me the cops would listen. Look at how long this took even before the cop part. I couldn’t have finished before they had me in the back of a patrol car or shot up the van. 

I had to keep driving and I couldn’t drive home, so I turned to the bar. I wasn’t sure there would be anything there to make my case, but I was certain no one in that bar was ordering cervezas, or negronis. If they were going to put me in the basement then odds were I wasn’t the first one. 

I was focused. I finally had a plan. I was as careful as I could be without stopping or slowing down enough that the cops could block me in. The sirens actually helped clear the way to get me there without crashing. Up until the end. 

Up until I put on my seat belt and drove the van right through the brick wall of that fucking bar by the docks. 

So now I’m in here for some bullshit that is just some property damage really, but all of them, all of them, everyone in that bar needs to be rounded up and locked up just like those people in the basement. 

It’s fine, I can handle one night. I actually don’t feel anxious, I feel good. I did something. 

Phillip Morris is a Californian living in Rotterdam. When he’s not writing dry instructions booklets, he’s likely writing colorful short fiction. When he tweets it’s @lephillipmorris.

2022 Contributing Writers Pandemic Prose

The Hospital Dream

Written by Emerald A. Behrens

Last night, I dreamt I had to find someone in the hospital. I work in healthcare for hospice patients, so this wasn’t strange for me.

* * *

This hospital is a large facility and I can’t find my way around.

I ask the front desk staff but they aren’t helpful. They can’t be bothered to help, I think. Then I see the piles of folders and paperwork they are still working on. Hospital billing codes. I wonder what kind of training I would need for these kinds of jobs. I was slightly envious of them until I saw the piles of paperwork they would be stuck with. Their room isn’t very pleasant to work in and office staff are notorious for having, work-drama.

Turns out one woman there recognizes me from the agency I work at.

“Oh hello there, E–!” She greets me. She is a blond curly-haired woman, slightly plump, but in an attractive way with her nails always done and wearing strong perfume. Unfortunately, she doesn’t know where the patient is either. She directs me to another man working, who also doesn’t know where the patient is.

That’s right, just pass the problem on to the next person who has no answer either. Just like the organizations I had to deal with right after I witnessed the—

I am getting frustrated. I make an excuse and leave, resolving to find the floor that the patient is on myself.

I don’t have much luck.

Instead, I pass groups of people, all unmasked. Come to think of it, none of the hospital office staff are wearing masks either. We are still in a pandemic but groups of people are milling about in the hospital lobby—all not wearing masks.

It has been several years since the first outbreak in 2020, but even years later, we are still in this pandemic with all its multiple variants. People are used to it now. Some people live and some people die.

It’s just how things are now.

I can’t find the floor the patient is on. I wander through hospital hallways with patients in their rooms. Is this the emergency floor? It looks too casual though. It must be the holding rooms.

In the hospital lobby are masks for sale, but they are over-stacked on shelves, along with retail items you can find in any store: belts, shirts, shoes, etc. It is like the hospital is trying to make more money on everyday items people need once out of the hospital (for a higher price, of course). Belts are over fourteen dollars and I know I can get them cheaper at the discount store nearby.

I try to remember the directions of the buildings, was I facing east or west? Moving to a new city will disorient you and I’ve done this several times in my life.

I’ve made no attachments to any towns or cities I’ve moved to in California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico. I don’t care for the red states much, obviously, and I’ve spent less time in those places. Most towns are conservative but even big cities aren’t that liberal. I’ve seen enough of them to know that Portland isn’t that great for artists and Seattle is more conservative while liberal San Francisco is run amuck with conservative techies.

Only rich people can live comfortably in the big cities while poor working-class people like myself have to commute two hours a day, six days a week, for work.

I’ve made very few friends. I can count on one hand all the friends I have (social media doesn’t count, you know).

I’ve noticed more and more workers are very young, teenagers even. The janitor guy at the hospital is a young teenager and my heart aches with envy. He’s a lot shorter than I am though and I’m very old for a single woman with no children—a spinster.

I’ve never settled down in any place or with anyone. I got my freedom at the expense of an unstable life. Still, I notice a lot of things. I’m a writer after all.

This hospital is strange and makes me uneasy. I still haven’t been able to find the floor the patient is on. The construction guy outside was more helpful in directing me to the right building. Now I just have to find the floor… there are nine floors in this building.

As usual, the front desk staff don’t have a clue where my patient is at. They’re overfull and can’t keep track of who’s coming in or out.

So many people have come into the hospital now and I feel guilty seeing all the old people in the hospital. With a heavy heart, I look at the over-priced masks: ten dollars! I know I should buy one and wear it before I see my patient. I browse through all the N95 masks and a group of teenagers (none wearing a mask) get right in front of me and start pawing through merchandise, making fun of all the masks on display.

You don’t have to be on tubes in the ER, I think silently as I look at the teenage girls. They aren’t afraid of anything but they should be. Death is closer than you think.

I find a mask they haven’t pawed through and pay for it with my card. I never carry cash anymore. I notice the disinterested hospital staff and nurses who look bored—or burnt out. I put my mask on, and climb the stairs to another floor but it looks like the cafeteria instead, so I should go up another floor.

All around the hallways and even in the lobbies are glass-covered beds—oxygen beds, for patients to breathe in, while they wait to see the doctor.

It’s clear they are COVID patients.

Iron lungs. That’s what they used to call these things during the time of polio. Now it’s the time of COVID.

In the background, on the speakers throughout the hospital, Dr. Fauci is making another national announcement.

“I know it’s hard for us to believe but we are still in a pandemic. Now is not the time to go out to the bars or gather in large groups at indoor events—we must wear our masks to save lives—millions of Americans have died and we cannot risk any more deaths.” He may as well be talking to a brick wall.

Pretty much everyone in the hospital ignores him. A couple of housewives snicker at Dr. Fauci’s announcement. Clearly, they have a low opinion of the CDC.

If Dr. Fauci was here, he’d throw a fit for sure.

“He’s a different demographic than we are!” They state blithely.

I wonder what on earth is their demographic then I look around me and agree. Housewives too busy with baking bread in their kitchens and having babies while their husbands work. Husbands too busy ignoring their wives while watching football and eating pork rinds while daydreaming of screwing a teenage girl young enough to be their daughter.

Yes, that demographic.

I get away as fast as possible from the housewives and go outside, taking off my mask.

I’ll have to make an excuse to my employer why I couldn’t visit the hospice patient in the hospital.

It’s a nice sunny day out and I’m glad to get out of the hospital building.

* * *

I woke up from this strange dream and realized it might be a message from the future. We have become so desensitized to the pandemic that the public at large really doesn’t care. I’ve seen indifference and mismanagement on all levels to the point that I’ve also become apathetic.

I see things for what they are but I know what I feel. In my dream, I felt extremely isolated from the people around me and this hasn’t changed. I know even after the pandemic I will still be isolated, no matter how many people are around me.

None of them could be bothered to care. They always think it can’t happen to them.

People don’t know their apathy can kill. It almost killed me during the pandemic shutdown… right after I witnessed the sex trafficking crime next door to me in San Francisco cops couldn’t be bothered to find the victim. She was never found.

I tried to stay at a friend’s place in Oakland to escape. That friend and his landlords almost kidnapped, raped, and murdered me. It turns out you never know who someone is until they try to kill you. Again, cops didn’t care. The previous woman who stayed there before me was murdered.

All the organizations, city officials and law enforcement couldn’t be bothered to investigate. They just passed me onto another person and another person—but no one could actually help me.

Just like in my dream.

* * *

Today I get up, remember the huge list of things to do today while trying to work on my creative projects with my cup of coffee. I put aside the horrors of the crime I was recently witness to and compartmentalize my thoughts and tasks for the day—lest I get overwhelmed into depression.

I’ll always remember the pandemic as a time of horror where I saw the true evil nature of the humans around me. I’ll never trust another person ever again.

All I have now is myself. I try to be grateful for the life I have now, as lonely and isolating as it is.

I think back to my dream and wonder if it’s a reflection of my subconscious thoughts on how people are handling the pandemic. I am filled with dread at the future and think of my dream as a bad omen.

I try to be thankful that I’m not in a glass box, stuck in the hospital with over-worked nursing staff and apathetic doctors. I can walk around in the sunshine and have the freedom I want.

My dream highlighted and magnified the problems our country is facing and I was more startled by my reaction to people in the dream than by anything I saw in it—realistic as it was.

My dreams aren’t always this realistic and I haven’t been witness to people stuck in oxygen beds at hospital lobbies (yet). Though it could happen…

That’s the scary thing about dreams… they may foretell the future.

Emerald A. Behrens won the Flash Fiction Contest for “Death and the Miser”, published on Byzarium, a webzine dedicated to fantasy, sci-fi, and horror fiction. Their media production with Grim Goblin Jack has been seen worldwide in Japan, the U.K., and in Eastern Europe. Their album, “The Stand” is available on Bandcamp.