by Charles Carreon
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Ron was not happy. Not happy at all. He was staring at the hole in his dashboard, and he just could not believe it. The windows weren't broken, the doors were still locked the way he'd left them before he started his shift. It was broad daylight. Out loud he breathed the words, "Where's my fucking stereo?" A frown was holding his face prisoner, and it tightened its grip as he reached out and said, "What the hell is this?"
"This" was a wispy piece of iridescent paper, or maybe it was metal, about half the width of a stick of gum, and twice as long. Again he said, "What the hell?" as he flipped on the dome light to give it a closer look.
As he did, it stiffened in his fingers and a gleam ran down its length. Then a string of words began flowing across the surface. The words were ... well he couldn't remember them exactly when he tried to later, but it was essentially something like,
Your car stereo has not been stolen. You have been selected for a special experiment. Your car stereo has been displaced to a null space, and as a result, a village of 600 people has been spared from destruction. Should you want your stereo back, it will be necessary to displace the village. To make your choice, you need do nothing. The same process that initiated this special experiment will effect its return."
Ron felt a surge of anger, possessiveness. He had really been enjoying his car stereo, and so had his girlfriend. He could put the old one back in. Geez. He stared at the strip of metal that had stopped displaying text and was getting wispy again.
He stared out the windshield, seeing a village in his mind, drowned at the bottom of a lake someplace in China. He didn't know why he thought that. The note hadn't said anything about China. He went to look at it again. There was nothing between his fingertips. Oh my god. He felt dizzy for a second, like maybe he was losing it, and stuck his hand into the empty space, feeling loose wires. "It's still gone," he said. And he knew why.
Luann didn't even mention when she played the old stereo that he reinstalled. It was weird, almost as if she didn't remember him getting it, or the big deal he'd made about the increase in tonal range the new amp had, with digital fuzzy logic and ... and he realized he didn't miss it at all. Things were going better with Luann, in fact, and maybe it was because he spent less time talking about electronics stuff. He chuckled to himself. Fuckin' crazy shit. "Special experiment. Scammers ... pranksters...." occasionally he wasn't sure, but he couldn't bring himself to test it, to say, "I want my stereo back! Drown the village." No, no. He didn't want to risk it. He did not want his stereo back that bad, or maybe, he realized, at all.
Ron was looking at Luann's books -- pictures of coral reefs and fishing villages. Luann was making lunch in the kitchen. They'd gotten married about a year before, and on the weekends she liked to cook, and Ron liked to dream about places they could get away to. He called out to Luann, "We should go see some of these places."
"We can't," she replied.
"Because they're all gone. Drowned by rising seas. Even before that, the coral reefs were killed by rising acid levels."
Ron looked at the cover of the book. It was called "Hidden Paradises," by a couple of photographers. A husband and wife team. Their picture was on the back standing on a dock in some jungle with a pontoon airplane floating next to them. Ron envied them in every fiber of his being. They looked relaxed, satisfied, energized. Just like I'd like to feel, said Ron to himself. He checked the date on the book -- 2018. "I hadn't realized this book was so old," he said to Luann, as he got up off the couch and walked into the kitchen, looking at the couple on the back again. "Why didn't our parents give a shit?"
"It's hard," said Luann. "They were pursuing a dream, right? Isn't that what they taught us in school? The American Dream was unsustainable and toxic? Now sustainability is our path."
"Too bad we couldn't have taken it by choice," answered Ron. He went back to the couch. Their only window was next to it.
That night he had a dream. He was playing poker, and he got a royal flush. Everyone around the table was looking at him with amazement as he fanned the cards out on the felt. He was about to reach out and scoop the pot, that was stacked with cash, gold, jewels, a king's ransom, it looked like. Then he looked across the table, and there was a little girl in a threadbare muslin dress, looking wan and pale and hungry, and as she looked at him, he saw that she was one of a great crowd behind her, all hungry, all silent, all pleading without breathing a sound. Then suddenly a clock started ringing, and he looked up on the wall and there was a clock there, and both hands were pointed straight up. He awoke with a dry mouth.
After that, the special experiment resumed, and picked up speed. One day it was his new car, reduced to a scooter, with a little silver wisp hanging off the right-side mirror. It was a nice scooter, and his car was worth a lot -- it displaced a huge slum outside of Rio de Janeiro, and replaced a six square mile swath of Amazonian forest, and several villages of forest dwellers with unique language, culture, and pharmacological wisdom.
He got into the game, wondering what the experiment would hawk next, and how much he'd get for it. From the news, he could see the world becoming a much nicer place to live, but he didn't need the news to see it. The results were all over the neighborhood. For one thing, there was a neighborhood. In the evening, you could hear people calling their kids home for supper, screen doors slamming, and smell dinner aromas drifting across the way. Bicycles were everywhere, and cars rarely seen. Less car accidents, for sure. Strangely, he hadn't heard of a war, anywhere, in years. That was so weird. He tried to remember some of the wars. Like there was one in the desert for so long. Religious thing, or maybe an oil thing. He just couldn't remember.
The years went by, and he never told anyone what was happening. He knew he couldn't be the only participant in the special experiment, and he could tell it was going well, very well indeed. But no one talked about it. No one said, "I'm saving the world one displaced commodity at a time."
But that's how it was. Gradually, even the neighborhood thinned out, and he and Luann decided to move closer to the beach. There were a number of places available, and rent was low. They didn't worry about buying the place. Nobody seemed to worry about buying a place anymore.
About a month after they moved in, all of Ron's automotive tools disappeared, along with the scooter he'd had for years ever since his car disappeared. Now the scooter was gone. He walked into the garage, and whoa, it was a stable. Hmm, he recognized the horse, and it recognized him. He had an apple for it right in his pocket. He fed it to him, and rubbed his head under the forelock. "Whatta ya say, boy? Shall we saddle up for a ride later?" Rusty, that was the horse's name, pawed the ground lightly and whinnied with a soft head shake in reply.
After dinner, the sun went down red over the sea, and he and Luann sat in woven chairs seeing the world tinged with passionate rose light.
As the sun winked behind the coral atoll offshore, a pod of dolphins broke through the glassy surface of the sea, spreading ripples across the waves. Ron held Luann's hand gently. He looked forward to losing so much more.