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The Road Less Traveled - A Short Story on America's Future

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 Alex had named the boy dog, Chris-Pappy, after Chrysalis and Papillon, two names for butterflies, as the dog’s excitable dancing ears looked like flapping butterfly wings with the long silky brown and white hair that draped down from them .

 Over the days and weeks following Chris-Pappy’s arrival into Alex’s life, something began to shift in Alex.  Part of it may have been Chris-Pappy’s infectious character of unbridled enthusiasm for life, but also that initial illegal act of how Chris had been acquired had changed Alex.

 After a couple of months the puppy, Chris, began to no longer act like himself.  He’d become sedate and morose, and that affected Alex.  One day, Alex decided to damn the consequences and to walk Chris to the park at the base of his building.  Chris was unresponsive, although he followed Alex on his leash.  However, at one point Chris’s leash got tangled in the legs of the park bench legs Alex was sitting on, and Alex had to unhook the leash from Chris’s collar in order to untangle it.  When he did, Chris-Pappy . . . took off.  Alex stood up to briskly walk after him, but was afraid to run or yell Chris’ name, as he’d been obtained against the rules, and all.

 In a flash of brown and white fur, Chris turned a corner . . . and was gone.
 Alex looked for Chris every night when he drove home, and when he got out of the car.  He’d rush to his flat door every time he heard a noise, hoping against hope that it would be Chris.  It never was.  Until one day about two months later, just like the first time, when Alex got out of his car after work . . . Chris came bounding up. 

 Chris was himself again, energetic, enthusiastic, and full of life!  That night Alex opened a bottle of wine, and played with Chris late into the night.  It was a joyous evening.  Alex noticed that when Chris was full of life, he was so playful, but also very gentle.  He’d see Chris-Pappy catching insects from the air, lightly between his teeth, and then letting them go to watch them fly away.

 However, after a few days, Chris again became lethargic.  Alex couldn’t excite him with fetching games or treats, or anything.  Alex couldn’t bear to see Chris like this, and took him for a walk.  No response.  Finally, Alex reached for the latch on Chris’s collar, and his hand trembled there for a moment, before . . . unlatching Chris.  Chris took off.|

 But, it was only a couple of days until Chris came back.  Over time, Alex found that he could open his apartment door, and Chris would take off across the lawn to disappear for an hour or two, and then he’d hear him barking below and could simply go down and bring him back up.  Chris’s freedom enlivened him.  Alex’s existence became recharged with the breath’s fresh air that accompanied Chris-Pappy’s constant arrivals from the free world he disappeared into, like a butterfly pounding its wings on the air to escape the bonds of gravity.

 The next morning, when Alex got up, he turned off the Morning Friends show, and just listened to the shower water flowing over his body.  And when Alex was out of the parking lot and on the elevated freeway heading to work, he realized . . . he’d forgotten to take his PaxEden tablet.  Alex started to panic, but then remembered to breathe.  He thought of Chris and how nothing phased him when he was free.
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 Alex then peered down over the edges of the elevated freeway he rode to work on each day.  In 2025 all freeways through urban areas were elevated 100 feet into the air.  The air was cleaner up here, and above the congestion of the city below.  Great looping exit ramps descended into historic areas and corporate parks.  Alex could not remember ever being curious about what lay below the freeway in the city.  But, today, he was curious.

 Occasionally, there were freeway back ups on the way to work.  Today was one of those rare occasions.  As Alex sat awaiting the long line of cars in front of him to move forward inch by inch, he noticed that last freeway exit, before he was committed to many miles before the next one in the corporate park areas out past the urban city.  No commuters ever took this exit, and it was mostly used for emergency vehicles only, from time to time. 

 Alex descended down, down, down into the brownish stew of smog, looking more intensely at what was below.  He saw dilapidated streets coming into view, with bars and liquor stores, and old cars he never even knew existed.  He saw young children on the streets, streets that had words and paintings painted on the walls and overpasses around them.  He saw words like, “Fight the Power!” and “Al Qaeda is a LIE!”  As he cruised down the quiet street in the morning smog subtle sunlight, Alex saw an old office in an old store front, that had a sign over it, “Human Liberation Committee.”

 Suddenly, Alex’s heart speeded up, and he needed to get out of here.  He turned a u-turn and re-ascended the freeway and proceeded on to work as the traffic had cleared some.  But all day long, he kept returning to that place he’d seen this morning.  The words, “Human Liberation Committee,” kept infiltrating his mind.

 When Alex got home, however, all that was forgotten as Chris-Pappy met him at his door, and Alex picked him up and snuggled his light of life, feeding him the same food Alex had tonight, in celebration.  That night, Chris had to go out.  Alex reluctantly let him, as he didn’t like the Chris he was, when he wasn’t allowed to be free.
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 Alex went to work the next day, looking at the freeway exit he’d descended before, but passing it by.  When he returned home, he looked at it again, but kept heading home in the hope Chris would be waiting again, with his sparkly eyes, dancing ears, and wagging high tail.  No Chris.

 Alex began preparing his dinner, cutting carrots and celery, as his skillet simmered, when he heard a sound outside.  It sounded like Chris.  It was late.  When Alex looked over the edge of the balcony by the elevator down into the building entrance by the lawn, one of the other patrons of the building stormed out the door in his night-robe, shouting at gentle Chris, “You are creating a disturbance!  This kind of chaos is not allowed!  Come here you filthy little illegal beast!”  And with that the man stabbed Chris in the chest.  Chris crumpled, and then drug his body away from the man, to disappear in the night, whimpering as he did.

 Alex got dressed, and went down in his car to drive around and around the neighborhood, in the hope of finding Chris.  He didn’t find him.  For days and weeks, he drove around and around after work, with no luck. 

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By William E. Douglas, Jr., who is author of "The Amateur Parent -- A Book on Life, Death, War & Peace, and Everything Else in the Universe." Bill has been a guest columnist for the Kansas City Star, The Business Journal, and other media worldwide. (more...)

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