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Short Story: "Round" (5th/last in a series)

By       (Page 1 of 5 pages)   1 comment, In Series: After the Meltdown
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This series started in "As Is"

by P. Orin Zack

Norwyn Rosset squinted into the painfully bright desert sky. "I wonder where they all ended up?"

He stood in the road for a long moment, trying to recall exactly where the contrails from the two planes that crossed paths overhead every morning would have met. But the skies weren't so friendly anymore. Ever since the big meltdown, people couldn't afford to fly for pleasure. They didn't visit distant relatives, either. The one local TV station's farewell newscast noted that the end of business travel had sealed the fate of the two remaining passenger airlines. Soon after that, the ancient air cargo planes that lumbered low over Lingman every morning had vanished, and with them, Norwyn's lifeline to what used to be called the American Dream. It had been weeks since he'd seen a plane in the sky, and he could only imagine where they'd all been mothballed.

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A hunger-induced flash of lightheadedness, and he was momentarily wandering the littered concourse of an abandoned airport. He slumped, shook off the stupor, and wept at the hopelessness of his predicament: as short of breath now as he was of food.

The desert's hot breath felt good on his face. Norwyn had been holed up in his increasingly squalid apartment since the dollar collapsed, wallowing in depression and living off whatever packaged goods remained in the homes and stores of his own private ghost town. He'd spent the morning wandering the streets in a cranky harangue, trying to annoy himself out of the nightmare.

Yeah. That worked well. Not.

"So maybe..." he yelled at the sun-drenched emptiness, "maybe we can just rewind the whole thing. Go back to the opening credits and do it differently. Not get sucked into all that seductive crap about living a few steps ahead of the bill collectors. Something."

Or maybe, he thought darkly, whatever had sunk the economy, and his fortunes with it, would be miraculously cured, bringing back the people and businesses that had deserted the town, along with the vanished job he'd been tricked into moving here for. But the nightmare didn't end, the economy wasn't revived, and finding something to eat was rapidly slouching from difficult to impossible.

Norwyn had run out of town. If there were any cupboards left to raid, he couldn't remember which they were. So he stood in the crumbling roadway, looking into the dusty distance, and prayed for the courage to take his own life.

He'd been depressed before. Heck, he'd been formally diagnosed and medicated for it.  God knows he'd had plenty of reason to be. Having your life's work trashed by some upstart with half the brains god gave a bucket of chum wasn't exactly conducive to giving your all to the firm, no matter how fancy they dressed up your so-called "promotion'. Hell, he never should have accepted their offer in the first place. Better to be the captain of your own dinghy than third-string deck hand on the foremost megayacht in the world.

But he was kidding himself, and he knew it. At this point, he wasn't too sure of where his own memories ended, and the hallucinations began. Without meds, he was a walking psych ward.

He'd run out of town, and he'd run out of life. So why was he still breathing?

Dispirited, Norwyn made a small circle on the hot pavement, and started back towards town. He shuffled listlessly along the centerline, trying to recall an old song. Just as he was coming up on the off-brand gas station that marked the edge of the town center, his reverie was broken by a distant buzz from behind him. He turned to see what it was, and sighted an odd-looking bicycle coming down the road, ridden by someone wearing khakis and a beat-up helmet.

"What the...?"

The rider raised an arm in a broad overhead wave, and flipped off the motor a few dozen feet before coasting to a stop in front of him. She unclipped her helmet and slipped it off, revealing a wind-burned face and tied-back brown hair. Norwyn guessed her to be about 40.

"Hi," she said. "Sign back there says this is Lingman?"

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Ever since I learned to speak binary on a DIGIAC 3080 training computer, I've been involved with tech in one way or another, but there was always another part of me off exploring ideas and writing about them. Halfway to a BS in Space Technology at (more...)
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