y Oscar Deadwood
forum: Asylum
speculative fiction for the internet generation.

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           The television came on and Ben knew it was time to go. It was another one of those ridiculous talk shows, a male and female host in their late sixties and undoubtedly Enhanced. The show, like all the shows that appeared on Ben’s screen, always managed to be about the Asylum Flight, and today’s guest was a ‘pilot’. 

           “Where the fuck do they find these people,” Ben said to himself as he vainly tried to turn the television off. It was no use, but Ben always tried to turn the set off before leaving his two-room apartment, where he lived alone in a crumbling senior citizen high-rise apartment building on the edge of downtown Royal Oak, Michigan. 

           He watched the program for a brief moment, but couldn’t hack it for very long. The pilot also seemed to be Enhanced and Ben had no love for the Enhanced, especially since his own son had joined their ranks. 

           “The great thing about the Flight,” the pilot said in a way Ben found to be condescendingly smug, as if everyone Ben’s age were stupid; unfortunately, it was almost true. So many of the residents in his building had been brainwashed through their television sets that were turned on by satellite and forced on for fifteen hours a day. “The great thing is, is that you always wind up with someone you love and with someone who loves you.” The pilot, a man in his fifties with broad shoulders and a military style hair cut, crossed and uncrossed his legs. “You know,” he continued, his face suddenly anguished, “so many of our passengers have been living alone for so many years, and this world isn’t the friendliest place in the universe, in fact it is quite cruel.”

           “You are so right,” the female host said, her face forcefully sorrowful, as if she felt deep pity and compassion for those lonely people who lived alone, people just like Ben.

          “It is so sad the way some of our seniors spend their last days in this world, I mean, it’s too bad they can’t take the Flight sooner.”

           “Well, many try, but the age is still eighty-five, now that may soon change for extreme cases of desolation and illness or as the burden on our health care system increases, but for right now, unfortunately, you have to be eighty-five.”

           Ben would be eighty-five in a week, and he had no desire to take the Asylum Flight, even though it seemed inevitable. 

           Ben drained his cup of coffee and headed for the library- the only place in Royal Oak and probably the world that was remotely sane and the only place he could leave his age behind. He walked to the library every morning, leaving his apartment once the television was remotely turned on, and he would leisurely walk across Royal Oak’s small downtown to the library that had changed precious little since his childhood. 

           The library was the only place where one’s senses weren’t assaulted with corporate logos. The downtown Royal Oak of the twentieth-century was like any other Main Street in America. The clothing stores, banks, butcher shops, bakeries, hardware stores and barbershops were all locally owned, but they all disappeared in a corporate onslaught that started decades ago. Ben decided the end came when Starbucks came to town, in 1990-something, changing the Royal Oak landscape forever. In the thirty years since the close of the twentieth, many of the buildings that Ben had known all of his life had been razed. Gone were the ornate storefronts built in the 1920’s and 30’s, replaced by loft-style apartment blocks of glass and steel, monstrous cubes casting huge shadows over the downtown streets. 

           Ben would start his trek to the library by taking the elevator to the lobby of his building, where other residents his age would sit open-mouthed, drinking coffee and watching television, watching the same program he would be forced to watch if he remained in his apartment. The programming was inane, tailor-made for those in their eighties, all in an attempt to prepare them for the Flight they would have to take on their eighty-fifth birthday.

           But Ben knew better. His mind wasn’t massaged all day and evening long by the flickering images on the television screen. The library kept him sane, it kept his mind active and sharp in his constant search for the truth.

           It was summer, and the aerocars hovering in the sky and the older cars cruising on the street shot little wisps of exhaust that hung in the humid and warm Midwestern air. Ben loved the summer, walks to the library in the winter would often be grueling as his body couldn’t take the cold anymore, and no amount of clothing could keep the chill from penetrating to the marrow of his bones.

           The scene outside was as mind numbing as the foolish stories on television. Every building was plastered in advertisements, mostly for software for the Enhanced, financial services, soft drinks and casinos. At night, when Ben walked home from the library, it was worse; the sky was lit with holograms – gigantic billboard-like images that littered the sky, blocking the moon and stars from view. 

           Even the sidewalk had been taken over for advertising. Ben used to love staring at the ground when he walked. Sidewalks had character. He used to study the flaws and indentations in the concrete ever since he was a child and he missed the sight of grass struggling to grow through the cracks. 

           But recently, the downtown sidewalks had been replaced with a sort of hard plastic walkway. They served as a sort of moving television screen, where scenes would change as one walked and in time with one's pace. Advertisements were shown, tailor made for the individual walking. The whole population had been given neuro-transmitters in 2020, chips inside their brains where memory could easily be accessed.

           What one saw on television, and what ads one saw on the sidewalk, were all selected based on the data retrieved from one’s memory.

           Today’s ad was particularly pointed. It was an ad for luggage, that special luggage that so many in Ben’s building bought for the Asylum Flight. 

           The makers of this ad keyed into Ben’s transmitter in a hurry. They knew that Ben was a veteran of the Vietnam War and assumed he was patriotic. Images of suitcases wrapped in the Stars and Stripes flickered in front of Ben, though he desperately tried to ignore them.

           “Travel in style for the trip to the other side,” the ad blared from the sidewalk, showing a picture of Ben, flag-waving luggage in hand, getting off an airplane, an airplane that landed on a beach of some tropical sea. In the picture, Ben looked quite tan, healthy, muscular and full of energy, quite different from the way he really felt - old, pale, thin, weak and frustrated with the insanity of the world, a world run by the Enhanced.

            The ad finally did tug on Ben’s emotions though, when, as he walked off the runway, he saw himself being greeted by his wife, his wife who passed away from cancer just a decade prior.

           Ben saw himself being hugged by his wife and then kissing her long and passionately in a way that he hadn’t done since they were in their thirties. His wife looked good too, her figure was fuller than it ever really was, and her face glowed just like Ben’s.

           “You bastards,” Ben said to himself, closing his eyes and walking as fast as he could the rest of the way to the library. 

           The sight of the library around the corner brought Ben blessed relief, but it was premature. A policeman who had been hovering in the air above him descended, blocking Ben’s path.

           “What’s the hurry there pops?” the policeman asked. 

           Ben hated the police, theirs was the first profession that was forcefully Enhanced and in a very specific way. The computer relays wired in their cerebral cortexes were networked with all the crime computers of the world, they could instantly translate any language and be able to speak it, albeit crudely, and they were wired to not let emotion play into their police work. They weren’t friendly, they weren’t mean and they absolutely never felt empathy for any victim or criminal.

           “No hurry,” Ben said sullenly. “Is that illegal now too? An old man trying to run?”

           “Of course not Mr. Bosworth,” the policeman accessed his neuro-transmitter and instantly knew Ben’s name. Ben had been stopped quite a bit recently, as his eighty-fifth birthday drew closer. It seemed like the police had become suspicious of him, as if he would try to miss his Flight.

           “I just want to make sure you’re okay,” the policeman continued, smiling at Ben in the way a grandparent would talk to a small child. “Do you mind if I see your ID?”

           Ben retrieved his wallet and showed him his state issued identification card; his driver’s license had been seized on his eightieth birthday. 

           The policeman gave a low whistle. “Wow, aren’t we about to be the big birthday boy! Congratulations Mr. Bosworth, you must be very excited.”

           Ben shrugged his shoulders and shuffled his feet, staring at the library door with anxiety. 

           “You know, Mr. Bosworth, those of us at the station have heard about you, the old man who walks to the library everyday. What do you do all day, sitting there in the library?”

           “I read, I hide.”

           “Hide? From what?”

           “My age.”

           The policeman nodded, not really understanding Ben’s sarcasm, even with his Enhanced intellect.

           “Well, I guess you can go Mr. Bosworth, you go in there and hide.” The word ‘hide’ confused the policeman, there was no hiding anywhere in the world these days, not with neuro-transmitters placed in every American’s brain.  “Maybe I’ll be the one to escort you to the runway. Wouldn’t that be something?”

           Ben shrugged and walked towards the library as fast as his arthritic knees would allow.

           The interior of the library soothed Ben like the effects of a narcotic. The perpetual quiet and the quaint and familiar dusty smell of aging books were a welcome relief from the overwhelming and confusing world outside.

           And it was nearly Enhanced free.

           Only the Naturals, people without computer-aided intelligence, still seemed to use the library. The Enhanced had no need for it. Depending on their software and depending on their accesses, one of the Enhanced could be networked with a variety of computers – biotech labs, universities and hospitals – having access to any bit of information that they could possibly need or desire.

           And the Enhanced didn’t read for leisure. The programs downloaded into their brains had eliminated some aspects of joy. The Enhanced had no use for music or much appreciation for works of art.

           They were, however, avid watchers of their own television programming. Ben had seen shows that would never be shown in his own apartment. He had seen one of their television shows once, at his son’s house. The show seemed silly to Ben, nothing too intellectual, but his son and his Enhanced wife both chuckled at the slapstick nature of the program.

           Ben preferred reading, he always had. He had always been able to read for long periods of time without becoming fatigued. And that’s how he had spent each day since his eightieth birthday, ever since he was removed from his little bungalow in Royal Oak’s north end and planted in the crummy little apartment in the bleak and soulless high-rise building he now had to call home.

           But it wasn’t really home. Home was still in his memory; home was the place where he raised his son and lived in marital bliss with his wife for so many years. Home was a different world, a world where the elderly weren’t forced to take a flight god-knows-where upon the occasion of their eighty-fifth birthday.

           Ben, like all of his neighbors, thought for years that the Asylum Flight really would take them to some sort of paradise, some part of the planet that the government had set aside for the elderly to finish up their dying days.

           But his reading in the library gave him clues to the true nature of the Flight.

           Ben had always been a fan of history, all periods and from all parts of the world. He had been reading a book, about a month prior, sitting at his usual table in the far corner of the library, practically unobserved by the library staff who viewed Ben as another eccentric old man, one of many eccentrics who rifled in and out of the library. It was a book about World War II, and specifically about the Nazis.

           Oddly, there was no mention of the Holocaust.

           He retrieved another book about World War II, and it too, made no mention of the holocaust, it was as if the German’s attempt at exterminating the Jews was of no importance during the war.

           He then went to the computerized encyclopedia. He typed in the word ‘Holocaust’, and clicked on the search button.

           No results were found.

           Almost starting to panic, he looked in the encyclopedia for other points in history, events in his lifetime, where he knew an attempt at genocide took place, Rwanda and Bosnia to be specific.

           Again, nothing, there was no mention of a Holocaust or even genocide.

           It seemed apparent to Ben - unless his mind was playing tricks on him and his memory was failing - that something or someone was trying to hide history, trying to sweep it under a rug. He couldn’t be the only person who remembered learning about the Holocaust.

           And then, panic stricken, he realized that only a powerless Natural would have the same memory as he. The knowledge of the Enhanced probably matched what he found on the library shelves, and the Enhanced had all the power in this country and most of the world. Naturals, like Ben, were people who eschewed altering their brains for religious or aesthetic reasons. Ben didn’t want his mind to be at the mercy of some corporation operating a computer, some corporation who had apparently been altering history.

           And then Ben, in an instant, realized the true nature of the Flight. It was a geriatric holocaust; anyone eighty-five years old would board a plane and be exterminated somehow, in ways that Ben could only guess at - probably poison gas that would circulate through the cabin of the plane. 

            Why? Why would the elderly be discarded in such a horrific manner? Ben could only come up with one answer, the burden of Ben’s generation, the baby boomers, on the long fragile health care system.

           Why take care of them? Why spend billions upon billions of dollars caring for the elderly who typically needed constant medical attention when it was much more cost effective to get rid of them? 

           So, Ben spent his last days in the library, trying to find a means of escape, a means to avoid the Flight.

           Sadly, in this world of neuro-transmitters and Enhanced police, Ben had no means of escape, unless he fled to another country, but that was impossible. His car had been taken away when he moved to his apartment, and there was absolutely no way he could buy an airline ticket and fly away. No airline, no ticket agent, and none of the airline police would allow him access to a flight anywhere, and even if he could travel, he couldn’t take his savings with him, he was only allowed to withdraw a thousand dollars a month. The government wanted to make sure a soon-to-be passenger left money behind, rather than spend it away.

           But, on this day, the day he was accosted by the policeman, the library provided inspiration, a spark of an idea that seemed foolish. “But what the hell,” Ben said to himself, “anything beats dying.”

           Ben was reading the newspaper via the computer screen under the surface of his favorite table. It was a story about the garbage wars. For years, Ontario had been sending its trash across the U.S. and Canadian border into Michigan. But five years ago, Michigan ran out of space; it had become literally packed with garbage. Now, because of some environmental agreement signed thirty years ago, Michigan was sending its garbage into Ontario, northern Ontario, were there was miles upon miles of uninhabited land.

           Canada had a few Enhanced, but not like the U.S., and, more importantly still, from what Ben could deduce, there was no Asylum Flight; people could still die of natural causes in Canada.

           Ben stayed in the library until it closed for the evening. He walked home underneath the heavily illuminated sky. He was the only pedestrian on the sidewalk going to his apartment building, and he was greeted with an ad about estate planning. Ben had a decent sum of money left to pass on. He saw an image of his son in the sidewalk screen, sitting with his own wife and children in what looked like the inside of a church. Though it was an ad, it seemed more like a governmental public service announcement, thanking Ben for his service to society, and what a gift it was to be able to leave money behind to the next generation, as one would have no use for money after the Flight.

           “Thanks Dad, for the wonderful life and the hard-earned inheritance, we’ll make sure it goes to good use,” his son said, as he touched the head of his children, a young boy and a girl already Enhanced. They always seemed frightened of Ben, as if his Natural intellect made him seem like a stupid and crude beast.

           Ben went home to his apartment, the sound of the television filling the air in every corner of his two rooms. 

           He would throw himself in the garbage, he decided, and try to go to Canada.

           He hoped and assumed that being under mounds of trash would keep the signal from his neuro-transmitter hidden, and he hoped and assumed his body wouldn’t be crushed as it went underneath piles of trash.

           “But what the hell,” he told himself, “I’ve been to Vietnam, I can handle a little bit of garbage.”

           Ben had seen the slow moving freight trains laden with garbage pass through Royal Oak on a daily basis, usually as the dawn fanned out across the small city. The trains headed to Detroit, just a few miles to the south, where the trash was loaded onto cargo ships on the Detroit River. From Detroit, the trash headed north through the Great Lakes and into northern Canada.

           “Simple enough,” Ben told himself as he packed a tote bag with bottles of water, a few boxes of crackers and cans of tuna. He dressed himself in layers of clothes and taking all the money he had in his apartment, (about two grand, money long ago stuffed underneath his mattress) and shoved it in his wallet. 

           The train tracks cut a diagonal swath through downtown Royal Oak, and they ran less than a hundred yards from Ben’s building. The train was forced to move slowly through Royal Oak as it was densely populated. 

           And Ben caught the train the very next morning, painfully hopping onto a boxcar with his tote bag slung over his shoulders and his arthritic knees protesting as he climbed the ladder to the top of the car. The boxcar was open on top with a mound of compacted garbage rising over the rim.

           Ben hoped no one saw him. Though it was early, a few aerocars were traversing across the sky and Ben was too afraid to look up and see if any belonged to the police.

           But no one seemed to notice. Ben allowed himself to drop into the mound of trash, and he slid into the corner of the boxcar, his body hidden in the shadow cast by the boxcar’s walls.

           The smell of the trash was overpowering, almost nauseating. Ben started to gag, but then he remembered Vietnam where he smelled things much worse. 

           “Toughen up Bosworth,” Ben told himself. “It’s just a pile of trash, it ain’t like a pile of dead bodies covered in maggots.”

           Ben made himself comfortable as the train reached the Detroit River, and the boxcar sat in a freight yard for almost two days before an ancient crane loaded it onto a large freighter.

           Ben had always loved the water. He liked taking his son boating and fishing in the northern part of the state when his son was a small child. He desperately wanted to climb to the top of the garbage and stare at the water and at the shore as the freighter sailed slowly and surely through the Detroit River, north into Lake St. Clair and into Lake Huron.

           But he couldn’t. Even as the boat sailed into the open water of the Great Lakes, the sounds of aerocars and helicopters and airplanes littered the sky, and Ben couldn’t risk being seen. He didn’t want to be caught. He didn’t want a swarm of Enhanced police to grab him and drag back to Royal Oak and force him onto some airplane.

           Several days passed as the boat headed north and Ben imagined a change in the climate. The air was less hazy and cooler than it was around Detroit and Ben could smell its freshness even though he was surrounded by the odors of petrified food, used diapers and other smells distinctly human.

           The boat finally docked, and Ben guessed he was somewhere on Lake Superior’s northern shore. It sounded as if he was docked in a fairly large city. Thunder Bay maybe, as his mind recalled the maps he loved to pore over as a child and lately as an old man. 

           He hoped the journey would be over soon. He had exhausted his supply of food days ago, and he had only a bit of water left, not to mention the results of his own bowel movements and urination that lay scattered around his corner of the boxcar. Ben could hear the busy sounds of the dockside; the whine of forklifts zipping along the pier, the hoarse voices of longshoremen shouting directions and insults at one another and the lapping of the water against the hull of the boat and the concrete wall of the pier.

           “Canada, at last,” Ben said audibly, impatiently waiting for the boxcar to be lifted out of the boat.

           Ben had never considered his options at this point. How would he separate himself from the trash? How would he find shelter before he would be taken on what he guessed to be a train, getting dumped somewhere in the nearly uninhabited wilderness of northern Ontario?

           He worked out a rather crude plan. He would climb to the top of the trash heap as the boxcar was lifted out of the boat. He would then scan the dockside in an attempt to scope out the lay of the buildings, and he would drop himself out of the boxcar as soon as it hit the ground, landing on the side away from the crane, hoping no one would see him. He imagined himself quite the sight; an old and stooped man stained with the color and odor of a ton of refuse, a sight that would be sure to frighten an unsuspecting longshoreman.

           The boxcar rose into the air just hours after the freighter docked. Ben felt a tinge of exhilaration as he rose into the air, not unlike his first airplane ride so many years ago, the thrill of taking off into the air for the very first time still quite a happy memory.

           The boxcar rose into the air, and Ben eased his stiff body onto the pile of trash, and squinted his eyes against the sun. It was the first time he had been out of the shadow of the boxcar’s corner, and he tensed his body, waiting for the descent onto the pier.

           But the descent didn’t come.

           The boxcar remained suspended in the air for several minutes, and Ben could hear the crane’s ignition shut off.

           Fear rose from the base of Ben’s stomach and up his throat, causing him to vomit. He wondered if he had been discovered, but he would soon wonder no more.

           A black and unmarked and very official looking Lincoln aerocar approached Ben from the Thunder Bay skyline. 

           The aerocar stopped just above the boxcar, and it’s hatch opened up, allowing a ladder made of rope to drop to the boxcar.

           A man in a blue, one-piece uniform climbed quickly and deftly down the ladder, and Ben thought he looked familiar.

           The man landed on the trash heap softly and with a smile.

           “I have a ticket for you Mr. Bosworth,” the man said with that Enhanced leer Ben loathed. The man was fifty-something, squat and muscular and broad shouldered, with a military style crewcut and silver wings pinned to his chest.

           Ben’s fear grew even more as he recognized the man.

           It was the pilot from the talk show Ben watched the day before his last trip to the library.

           Ben backed away from the man, to the edge of the boxcar.

           “And by the way Mr. Bosworth,” the pilot continued, as Ben leapt to the edge of the boxcar, his frail body swaying in the cool northern wind.

           Ben looked at the pilot with hope in his eyes.

           “What?” Ben answered quietly.

           “Happy Birthday!” And the pilot rushed at Ben, causing him to fall backwards onto the concrete dock below. 



copyright 2005 Oscar Deadwood.

Oscar Deadwood is a writer living in Royal Oak, MI with his wife and two small boys.  He has worked as a sailor, a journalist, a miner, a mechanic, and a salesman.  He was first published twelve years ago in a small literary magazine called Renovated Lighthouse and took a decade off of writing as he was busy trying to be the next Hemingway.  He was recently published in the December 2004 edition of Dark Moon Rising.