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Glory obriens history of.., p.18
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       Glory O'Brien's History of the Future, p.18

           A. S. King
 
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  “Let’s make time this summer. I have time.”

  I had beginner’s luck and beat Dad and Aunt Amy on my first hand of poker. Apparently I had a full house, which doesn’t look like much, but it beat Dad’s pair of queens and Aunt Amy’s three of a kind.

  After that, Amy wiped the floor with us and Dad had to pay her sixty bucks.

  When she left, I went upstairs and piled my gift cards and graduation cards on my dresser and I changed into my pajamas. I felt like a snack, so I went back downstairs.

  Dad motioned for me to sit down.

  “About that law,” he said. “I looked it up.”

  I nodded.

  “I think your mom would want me to get it back.”

  I nodded again, but my insides twisted because now it all seemed wrong. Now everything was different. Maybe because of the party. Maybe because of the bat. Maybe because of graduating from high school. Maybe because—just because.

  “I could die anytime and I wouldn’t want to leave you with that mess. It wouldn’t be fair.”

  “Nah. You won’t die until you’re old,” I said. “Trust me.”

  He gave me a look. “I guess I should have talked to you about everything before this week. Sorry about that.”

  “Don’t be sorry,” I said. “The details were… awkward. I get it.”

  I had an urge to talk him out of taking the land back, but I knew he was right. We did have to get it back. I knew Darla had given it as a gift, but it was always going to be temporary. You can’t have a free place to stay for nineteen years and not think the end is coming.

  It’s a little like being a kid and graduating high school and moving on.

  Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future

  Nedrick’s former followers will go to the governor’s mansion in the last state under Nedrick’s power and they will burn it to the ground. (Upon the mansion’s evacuation, they will discover that the governor still employs several women, against his own law.) Nedrick the Sanctimonious will still blame exiles and outcasts, but the revolt will come from within.

  The people will be so angry. So angry.

  The people will wonder how they ended up slaves when only years before they were normal Americans eating microwave popcorn and waxing leased cars.

  The exiles, the Sniper, and her husband will be far from the governor’s mansion. They will be waiting for the final battle. From underground, they will hear the armies move into place. They will hear how outnumbered Nedrick is. They will know he is there. They will feel him.

  Early on a Tuesday morning, they will hear the ground above them rumble and creak. They will hear it fill with soldier after soldier. They will empty the tunnels and will call for full retreat. The Sniper will tell the exiles where to go. She will send them far from the coming explosions. Far from harm.

  She will clean her rifle.

  He will press the button.

  And the final chapter will begin with a kapow.

  People still do that

  It was Friday and Peter looked genuinely happy to see me. I didn’t want to jump to conclusions, but I think he enjoyed my company. I felt that every time I saw him in June would increase my chances of being the soul mate he finds in the mall during June 2014.

  “By yourself today?”

  “Yeah,” I said.

  He pointed to my camera. I’d found Darla’s old camera strap and I’d attached it this morning before I left. Dad had approved. He said it made him happy it was getting used again.

  She’d hand-embroidered it with butterflies.

  “You taking pictures?” Peter asked.

  “It’s part of my project,” I said.

  He smiled at a passerby. Then he marked an X on his clipboard. The guy walked past him reading something on his smartphone and never even looked up.

  “You should have a separate category for those,” I said. “It’s different than just ignoring you, isn’t it?”

  “They know I’m there. They can probably feel me smiling. They just don’t look up.”

  “You’d think, after that video of the woman falling into the fountain, people wouldn’t do that in this mall.”

  “People need their information, man. They have to have it right there, right then, twenty-four-seven.”

  “True,” I said, thinking of Dad and how often he checked his e-mail account even though he didn’t have any friends and usually, it was just spam trying to sell him penis pills, Canadian pharmaceuticals, online dating or mythical free lobster.

  “So what are you taking pictures of?” he asked.

  “I don’t know,” I said. “When I see something, I take the picture. Until then, I have no idea.”

  “Take one of me smiling at people, will you? It would add to the project. Might get me extra credit,” he said.

  I nodded to the approaching people and I backed away and to the left so I could get the backs of the mall patrons’ heads and the front of Peter’s face as he smiled with his clipboard in hand. I snapped a few shots of him looking at them and then a few shots of him marking it down on his clipboard.

  When three women approached, I moved to a different angle and got pictures of their interactions, too. One of those women smiled back. She let her friends walk on and asked Peter what he was selling. I wasn’t very far away, so I heard their conversation.

  “If you were selling kisses, I’d buy one,” she said.

  “I’m not selling anything,” he said.

  “Can I give you my number?” she asked.

  Peter looked embarrassed. But he took her number and then he watched her walk away. She swung her hips and swooshed her platinum hair and she even stopped when she got to her friends and they all turned around and giggled.

  It pained me to think she might be the one in Peter’s transmission. She didn’t scream soul mate, but what did I know? I was still a virgin who liked to drown herself in seersucker dresses. I was still trying to be Darla, even though I knew I wasn’t Darla, embroidered butterflies and all.

  “Did you get any good shots?” he asked.

  Transmission from Peter: He will climb to a tree house to rescue a baby from the fire. He will climb so fast, they will joke afterward about how he might be part monkey. His hair will be white. He will be old when this happens. When he rescues the baby, he will give it back to its mother and they will make their way through the forest to the tunnels.

  “Glory?” he asked.

  “Yeah. I got some good ones. Of the dude who totally ignored you and of the woman giving you her number.”

  He looked embarrassed again. “Cool,” he said. “Can you send them to me when you upload them?”

  I held the camera up and waved it a little. “It’s real film. I have to develop it first.”

  “Oh,” he said. “I didn’t know people still did that.”

  “People still do that,” I said.

  He got up and smiled at a person walking by, then marked the X on his clipboard. I eyed the increasing mall traffic.

  “I’ll see you for lunch?” I asked.

  “You bet,” he said.

  I thought about how he eats sweet-and-sour chicken. I thought about how maybe that woman who gave him her number was a perfect banal match. They could be the sweet-and-sour chicken eaters in the world and I could be on the kung pao beef hot-and-spicy eater team. My team would probably be better at Ping-Pong and have better immune systems. Their team would most likely have better dress sense and larger closets.

  Oh well.

  I felt self-conscious with my camera. People at the mall stared at me. They seemed to cringe at the idea of a person taking pictures of them. I found this odd when everyone has a built-in camera on their phone now. Why be freaked out by my old-fashioned camera when someone could be taking your picture all the time without you knowing?

  I limited my pictures to nonhuman things. Signs. Empty benches. Fountains. Doors. Elevator buttons.

  “Hey! It’s you again,” USS Pledge guy said to me just as I wa
s walking out of the elevator. “My calzone friend!”

  I smiled and gave him a wave. “I’ve been looking for you!”

  “What you got there? Is that a real camera?”

  “A Canon AE1,” I said. “Vintage 1980. Nothing special.”

  “I used to use a Leica. I loved those damn things. Something about them.”

  “My mom has two of them in the attic.” I didn’t tell him about the Leica she’d given me when I was four. I don’t know why.

  “Oh!” he said, so excited to be talking about Leicas. “You should dig them out and try ’em. They’re something else.”

  I nodded and wasn’t sure what to say.

  “You coming up for calzone today?” he asked.

  “Sure,” I said. “Are you meeting your friends or can we eat together?”

  “Are you asking me on a date?” he said. He winked as he said it.

  “Sure,” I said. “Why not?”

  And so we pushed the elevator button for the second floor once he wheeled himself in.

  The Sniper

  “Do you want me to push you?” I asked as the elevator pulled us toward the second floor.

  “I’ve been wheeling myself around since 1951 and I don’t plan on stopping today,” he said.

  We stood (he sat) in line for our calzones and I ordered a spinach and cheese and he ordered a plain but asked the manager to put hot peppers in it for him.

  Here was my teammate on the hot-and-spicy team. I might have been wrong about the Ping-Pong.

  I moved a chair out of the way so he could wheel up to the table and we opened our calzone boxes and let them cool off. He asked me to grab a few more napkins and I did.

  “How come you’re here all the time?” he asked.

  “I’m doing a project,” I said, and motioned toward the camera.

  “In the summer? A school project?”

  “Nah. It’s for me. I guess I made it up.”

  “That’s pretty smart,” he said. “Keeping yourself busy until school starts again. What are you? Fifteen?”

  “Seventeen. I just graduated.”

  “The older I get, the younger you all look,” he said. “Yesterday I swear I saw a nine-year-old driving a tractor-trailer.”

  I laughed.

  “Can I ask you about your hat?” I asked. “I know one of the USS Pledge boats sank in Korea. Was that your boat?”

  “You’re putting me on,” he said.

  “What?”

  “No one your age cares about Korea.”

  I shook my head and finished chewing my calzone. “It was a minesweeper, right? Sunk in 1950?”

  He let out a laugh like I’d just told the funniest joke he’d ever heard. I thought this meant I’d said something stupid, so I quickly corrected myself. “Oh. Maybe you were on the one in Vietnam, then. The other USS Pledge?”

  “No no. You got it right. I was sunk in Korea. Dragged out of the water and never felt my legs again,” he said. He shook his head. “My son says no one your age gives a flying squirrel about old wars now. I bet my grandson doesn’t know anything about anything.”

  “Huh,” I said.

  “He’s been brought up in some kind of cult, anyway. Can’t imagine they’re allowed to do much thinking for themselves. What a joke,” he said.

  I stopped eating and looked at him. Transmission from USS Pledge guy: His mother didn’t want him to go to war. She thought it was wrong. She blamed him for his injury for the rest of her life.

  “A cult? That’s interesting,” I said. “I never knew anyone in a cult.” I wasn’t really following as he spoke. I thought the grandson he was talking about was some far-off grandson on the West Coast or something, and the cult was like those unicorn-loving people Dad’s mother ran off with. But then I remembered who he was—who his grandson was.

  “I think all they teach the kids out there is how to freeload off the government. Because…”

  “That place is a cult?” I asked. I put my calzone down. “The place out by the lake? With all the RVs?”

  “I used to call the cops and ask if I could at least get my grandson out. No luck.”

  “What’s your grandson’s name?” I asked again.

  He lowered his eyebrows. “You’re not one of them, are you?”

  “No.”

  “His name is Richard. After me! Can you believe that?”

  “I know him,” I said. “I’ve met him a few times.” He looked at me like this hurt him—me knowing Rick better than he did. “I’ll say hi to him if you want.”

  “I wish you’d just smuggle him out,” he said. He was joking now, smiling and eating his calzone. “Or maybe you can tell him about the Pledge and how I ended up in this chair. I don’t think he knows, and I bet my idiot son never told him the truth, either.”

  “I’ll do it next time I see him,” I said. Then I picked up my camera. “I don’t usually do this, but do you mind if I take a few pictures of you?”

  He let me and I snapped a bunch of him at different exposures because I wanted to capture every age spot on his face and every wrinkle. He was a good-looking man for over eighty years old. I told him that.

  “It’s not nice to tease senior citizens,” he said.

  “I’m not teasing. I bet you were one handsome kid when you were my age.”

  “Tell you the truth, I had acne and I was awkward on my feet. Never good at sports or dancing. Always good at math.”

  I lowered the camera and looked at him, and I was hit with something I couldn’t describe. It was a mix of panic attack and transmission.

  What I saw made me light-headed. It made me dizzy. Made me nauseous.

  Transmission from wheelchair-bound Richard USS Pledge guy:

  I will be in the tunnel.

  Glory O’Brien with stark white hair and wearing men’s combat pants. I will be in the tunnel as it fills with smoke.

  I will be with Peter, also white-haired and combat-geared, and a male child.

  Behind us will stand about twenty exiles with masks on to block out the smoke. In front of us will stand Nedrick the Sanctimonious’s red-pickup-truck-driving right-hand man. He will be holding a flamethrower. The boy? Will be his boy. He will have curly hair and psoriasis. He will have bare feet because his mother will have been forced to live in the trees for the last three years. He will recognize his father and plead with him not to burn us. His father will choose to burn us anyway because I will be the leader of the resistance, and I will be enemy number one.

  The Sniper. Far more important than some bastard son.

  “Are you okay?” someone asked me. It could have been anyone.

  “Glory?” That was Peter.

  Somebody caught me as I slumped out of my chair.

  Richard USS Pledge said, “Give the poor girl some air.”

  I would live

  The room spun. I saw myself in the tunnel. I saw the boy. I saw the flames. The smoke. I don’t remember anything after that until I opened my eyes and I was sitting on the floor next to Peter, who was holding a Chinese takeout container.

  Once I said I felt well enough, he helped move me back to my chair at the table where Richard the USS Pledge guy was still sitting. I explained that I got panic attacks sometimes and I apologized. I sat there not making eye contact with either of them. Richard had to go because he had an appointment at the eye doctor.

  He reminded me, “Don’t forget to tell little Richard I say hello if you see him. I miss that kid. Will you tell him that?”

  I told him I’d tell him.

  Peter ate chicken fried rice while I sat there and figured out my part in the history of the future.

  It was all pretty simple. I was the family member who would be harmed in that tunnel. Not my child or grandchild. I will be an old woman and Peter will be an old man. And I will be the leader of the exiles.

  I watched Peter eat his chicken fried rice with a plastic fork. We would be married one day. No hurry.

  I looked around the mall. A
ll those people would be dead one day, just like I would be. No hurry.

  As I put Darla’s camera back around my neck, I realized that I was no part Darla. I was not on my way to the oven, not on my way to the closed garage with the car keys and not in any way like Bill the headless man who blew his brains into rancid ceiling art.

  I would live. I would really live.

  I took a picture of Peter eating his lunch and smiled at him. This might have been a flirtatious smile. I know it wasn’t the same kind of smile I’d given him a half hour before. This was more of a one-day-I’m-going-to-be-your-wife smile. I don’t know why, but it made him look at me in a whole new way. We locked eyes.

  But I didn’t get a transmission.

  Weird.

  I looked right at him—stared right into his pupils.

  Still nothing.

  “What are you looking at?” he asked.

  “Um. You?” I answered.

  Still no transmission. I said I wanted dessert so I went to Señor Burrito and ordered fried ice cream. On my way, I made eye contact with three people. No transmissions. The old guy who’s always working at Señor Burrito? No transmission. The lady on her lunch break from the hair salon? No transmission. I tried Peter again when I got back to the table. Still nothing.

  I shared the fried ice cream with him and we didn’t say much between bites.

  The sky had answered my sky-prayer.

  The bat was gone.

  That’s all

  Peter smiled at people while I finished the fried ice cream myself.

  “What do you think about cults?” I asked.

  “I’m… uh… against them as a rule?”

  I didn’t say anything.

  “Why?” he asked.

  “I think Ellie lives in one. I mean, Richard—the guy I had lunch with—he thinks Ellie lives in one.”

  “Oh.”

  “I always saw cults as some sort of bigger thing—like, you know, Jim Jones or Jonestown or something,” I said. I’d read all about Jim Jones in the eighth grade. He killed nearly a thousand people, but the media made us believe they all committed suicide. Jim Jones got the last laugh.

 
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