Moustaches and Menaces
“Those idiots,” she muttered as she stared at the monitor in front of her. She picked up her half-eaten granola bar and took another bite. Her shirt stuck to her back in the parked van. She brushed her damp hair out of her face.
On the monitor, two men stood in a concealed hallway, away from the passerby. Only she could see them from the hacked footage, for the security guards were still trying to fix their static screens. One man in the hallway looked up at the camera and smiled, pointed at the moustache, winked, and gave a thumbs-up. She smacked her forehead. If anyone saw, his cover would have surely been blown. The other man in the hallway punched the first in the arm. She rubbed her temples.
”It’s never going to work,” she said aloud to herself, “That stupid moustache won’t make him look like Peter.”
The two men made their way to the jury sign-in table. The one in the fake moustache handed the ID to the worker. She held her breath as she stared intensely at the monitor. The worker nodded and pointed to a set of doors. The two men walked in, out of the camera’s frame.
She sighed incredulously, “I can’t believe it worked.”
He unlocked the door and stepped onto the rooftop, anxious of what might happen. Was she mad at him? Was she dying? What the heck was wrong? She sat on the patio chair, staring at her hands. Her beanie pulled tight over her head. The blue looked so out-of-place on her now-short hair. She looked so different. For the first time he had ever seen her, she wasn’t wearing her earbuds. She looked up as he closed the door behind him.
”Hey,” he greeted her. He was met with a thin grin. He didn’t see as she slapped the watering in her eyes away.
“How have you been?” He asked nonchalantly.
She blinked slowly, her face expressionless. “You don’t care about that.”
He was taken aback. She was never like this. Where was the rambling, uptight, smiley person he knew?
“Of course I care,” he began cautiously. “I care about you. You never responded, what happened?”
“Things just happened.” She sighed. She was strangely calm. Ordinarily, she was always jittery whenever they had a talk. She was so apathetic, he didn’t understand.
He set his teeth and clenched his fists in his pockets. “Can you tell me? You stopped talking to me without warning then out of the blue you ask me up here?”
“Why do you think I asked you up here?” She said blankly. Her tone was completely level, her legs crossed, her arms lazily draped across them.
The anger bubbled to his throat. Why was she being like this?
“What is wrong with you?” He snapped, instantly regretting it.
Her gaze never wavered, still unfazed. “I don’t know, a lot of things.”
Every shred of anger turned to guilt, then sadness. “Why are you being like this?” He put his head in is hands.
She sighed. “We should stop being friends.” She paused. “After this, I don’t want to see you again.”
He jerked his head up. She was still looking at him. For the first time, what he had mistaken for apathy was sadness and guilt, but underneath all that was an intense emptiness. She had nothing left to lose anymore.
“What?” He whispered in disbelief.
In the same tone as before, she replied, “I don't want to be friends anymore. You don’t fit in my life.”
All the energy drained from him. She wasn’t the type to suddenly do this. If she had a problem, she thought it out and planned. She obviously wanted this for a while and even if it would hurt him, he would always want what was best for her.
“Fine.” He replied. He stood up, intending to get off the rooftop as quickly as possible.
From behind him, he heard her say, “You know, you were the first crush I ever had. I still do.”
He stopped, his hand on the doorknob. He stayed silent.
She continued, her hands in her pockets to conceal the clamminess, “But I told myself I didn’t want to ruin things.”
He refused to turn around, “Why are you telling me this?”
“Because everything’s, already ruined, isn’t it?”
“Hey, I’m gonna catch up with them. Will you be okay? There’s Janie. Why don’t you say hi?”
“James? I didn’t think you liked him.”
“What are you kidding? She liked him ever since he made her laugh in math that one time when they were, what, eleven?”
“It’s not like that.”
“I don’t know why you said yes when he asked you out. He’s not your type. And he’s still so clearly in love with Janie.”
“Guys, lay off. They’re just friends. If he liked her, he wouldn’t have asked me out.”
“How can he be over her? He was never with her.”
“I don’t want to talk about it anymore.”
“How’s Jackson doing, Katie?
“Dude. I dumped him like two weeks ago.”
“Wait. Are we all single, except for Maggie, for the first time in like seven years?”
“Well, Maggie, it looks like you just gotta dump James.”
“Oh my God, Farrah just lay off. He’s my boyfriend. We’re together. It’s done. I don’t know why you hate him so much.”
“Uh, because you could do so much better.”
“Do you want to get plastered by the pool?”
“The pool? It’s freezing outside.”
“Umm, that’s the point? No one’s there. We can just chat.”
“How do you always know?”
“You have a tell. You pick under your nails. Something’s wrong. Tell me what’s up.”
“It’s freezing. James is great. He never fails to make me laugh.
“But… he never laughs with me. He smiles, though.”
“It bothers you.”
“I know he cares. That’s enough. He’s nice. And he’s sweet. He’s not like the others.”
You always have been and you always will be.
If things don’t turn out how you planned,
if everything’s goes wrong,
if you say the wrong thing,
if you fall,
if you win it all,
if you say the right thing,
if everything goes right,
if you achieve all your wildest dreams,
if you’re so very happy,
When there is no aging
How many silences ring after each shot of a gun? Shattered windshields and demolished bumpers are stared at on each freeway? Planes decaying from the saltwater? Wood drifting on the open tides of the ocean? Needles are found on gas station bathroom floors? Razors left in bathtubs?
Removing aging doesn’t mean death stops. Accepting death isn’t the question.
But then what happens when there are too many protruding ribs and rumbling stomachs? Too many naked bodies shiver from the cold? The rain and hail pelt those who own nothing but a backpack? The shelves of pharmacies lay bare? Hospital lines run out the door? Children and adults alike scavenge through the trash for a sliver of hope?
Overpopulation will occur.
What then? Who decides what happens next? Who is right? Who is wrong? What then?
"Hi Paul." Farrah drawled as she exited the corner store, her paper grocery bag cradled in her arms.
He rolled his eyes as he humored his sister's friend. "How's it going, Farrah?" He tapped his cigarette, still leaning against the wall, looking ahead at the open field of golden stalks in front of him. A soft breeze shifted the clouds closer to the town.
She rocked on the balls of her feet, smiling mischievously. "Did you find someone to buy the plot?"
He scoffed. "No, no one wants to move to the middle of nowhere."
He glanced at her, curiosity sparking in his eyes. Attempting to mask it, he took a drag. "What?"
"The new family." She teased as she shifted the bag onto her hip.
Paul stomped out his cigarette and stepped forward, taking the bag from her. They walked side by side down the dirt road.
"Why're you talking like that?" He inquired.
She ignored him. "You haven't met them yet? There are only thirty three people in this town, how have you not met them? Everyone's met them already." She skipped ahead, picked up a rock, and tossed it at Paul's feet. He didn't even flinch anymore. He stopped.
He narrowed his eyes skeptically. "What're you planning?"
She ran back up to him and grabbed the bag out of his arms. "Thanks, bye!" She yelled behind her as she ran to her house at the end of the street.
Paul shook his head as he walked down the adjacent street, hoping to get home soon before it rained.
He sat nervously, waiting for his meal to come. It had been so long since he left. He anxiously felt the eyes watching him. They were probably thinking "Is that Eric? What's he doing back here?" He glanced around the room. No eyes were on him, no one seemed to care that he was alone. They were all absorbed in their own worlds. His shoulders loosened up a bit.
"Here's your tomato basil soup and grilled cheese." The porcelain clanked on the wooden table as the waiter set it down. "Enjoy."
Eric picked up a piece of the sandwich and dipped it into the soup. The aroma wafted through the air as he brought it closer to his mouth. His teeth closed around the soft, yet crispy bread. The second he tasted the tangy soup followed by the buttery bread and gooey cheese, all sense of anxiety faded away and the memories came flooding back.
Every day he had extra cash to spare and time to kill, he spent at this diner. All the jokes he cracked as Macy worked behind the counter. Every cigarette he smoked with Jason out back, laughing about how this would kill them, not the war. Even when his friends left and the town lost more of its heart, this place could always make him smile.
He took another bite, even though the sandwich's heat was starting to burn his mouth. As he took a spoonful of the thick soup, he forgot why he left in the first place, for this was home.
A man stood in the hospital doorway. "Hello mother."
"John. I’m glad you're here. It’s been a while."
He shifted his weight, looking at the floor, refusing to meet her eyes. "When you look back at your life, do you smile? Because when I do, I all I do is cry." He paused, taking a deep breath. "I know you did what you thought was right. I’ve come to terms with that. But I didn’t want you going the rest of your life thinking that after all that you did, I was gonna be okay."
"No! No!" Valerie yelled as she raced towards the closing metal door. It clanged shut as she touched the metal, missing the opening by half a second. The alarms blared, showering the halls in red light. She banged on the door, drawing the attention of May running in the adjacent hall. May turned, a look of surprise plastered across her face as she recognized Valerie. She glanced towards the direction she was heading, beginning to leave, but ultimately gritting her teeth as she walked to the girl.
"I'm not going to help you anymore. I did enough." May turned her back, starting to walk away.
"It's going to kill so many people, please don't do this." Valerie pleaded.
May stopped. "They're not people."
"How can you be sure? You can't base life and death on what you think is humanity. Please. Look at me. I'm one of them." Tears pinpricked her eyes. "If the program takes effect, they're going to kill us."
May stood still.
"Please look at me."
May slowly turned around, seeing the tears now flowing down Valerie's face.
May's stern expression broke. "Okay." She whispered, now running down the opposite hall.