“I used to worry about people.  Now I don't care anymore: we’re all just waiting; killing time before…who the hell knows what."  Dixie slapped himself a few times to snap out of it.  “Yeah, that’s the spirit, moron,” he chided to himself as he walked.  He had tried starting his car this morning, but the thing wouldn’t even make a peep.  With no ride available he found himself playing with his backpack while on his way to meet with Chilley-Sue at the Spoiled Sport.   This time they were going to get some real work done. 

 

 “This time for real, honest!” Dixie said to himself.  They had gone the Spoiled Sport last night actually --- to study.  But after bumping into the Babayan brothers, they’d squandered the time talking about the spook sightings by Hadwen and Howe street in downtown Cankankerville.  Sixteen unaccounted robberies, including another stolen pie off of a windowsill -- all reported within one half hour.  

   Last night Chilley had been glummer than normal.  After confessing to her how watching the animatronic singing dogs at the food court was the main reason why he still liked going to Topo Gigo’s Amusement Center, she suddenly started tearing up.  Breaking down about the pressure her family was putting on her had been hard to watch.

“’Supply and demand’, my dad’s saying to me; he won’t shut up!” she had told him, “as if it was all so simple.  Supply and demand…and demand for things that people want in terms of some fix -- than things that’s for their own good.  I’m good at what I do – trying to fix society is thankless work.”  And then it had gotten worse once the Babayan brothers had left: “What do you do when other people’s choices rob you of the ideal?” she had asked him bluntly.

 Dixie could still see Chilley’s face in his mind.  Full of despair.  As a social worker, she was not making the coin needed to get an affordable apartment in this ‘booming market’ around them with the real estate going up. Rent increases had tripled in the last three years for some dumb reason again.  And for that, Chilley knew she couldn’t ever move out of her house unless she got a higher paying degree or two more friends besides Dixie to help with rent.

 “I already know what I want to do,” she had reminded him. “My dad dismisses me, Dixie – like I’m a naïve idiot.  So self-righteous:  his stupid grin while I try to explain it to him -- while he picks up the nativity scene on the front lawn – it all feels like it’s mocking me.”

  “It’s almost April!  Why do you guys leave that thing up for so long anyway?” he remembered asking her.  And then she had said something that really rocked that simpler view of the world of his:  “What if ‘God’ gave you a talent that doesn’t pay the bills?  What then?  He doesn’t have an answer for that one.”  He wished he hadn’t been raised in that religious family of his with no real soul.

 “Don’t fall into the trap,” Dixie’s mind willed to his best friend telepathically as he kept walking . “Strength and strength.  No complaining.” After all, what if he and Chilley had lived in an NWO* country instead; one of those countries that after the second flood had really gone Orwellian?  It could have all been been much different for them growing up: living under a strange mix of socialism run by technocrats and AI governments in one of those places.   Some had loved it.  Most wished they could escape.  

*Slang for ’New World Order’

 “So I’m basically fated to exist misunderstood,” Chilley’s recent voice continued in his memory, “considered a slacker…”  Her frustrations had been unsettling – mainly because they were hitting home pretty bad.  

 “I’m going against the grain dude!” she had gone on. “What if your natural passion does not allow you to barely survive?  Does God really ever favor anything? I can’t live in a world like that…”

  Dixie kicked a rock down the road as he started walking past the Bagel District: it was a series of independent bakeries in Cankankerville that served the best powder cookies and rhubarb pie money could buy.  Sadly, there was never enough seating there to hang out long enough due to social distancing practices: most of the bakers in Cankankerville were old school.

   “I’m not a professional victim, no matter what uncle Frank says!” Chilley had been insisting.  She wished she had the money -- or the drive -- or the understanding---or the connections for that matter, to escape her confusion.  She wasn’t a full ‘have-not’, but her family just didn’t give her space for sympathy with any of her ponderings. They just tried to get her a state-run therapist that had made things worse.  And then they said she whined too much and verbally beat her down for questioning reality. 

 Dixie could relate to Chilley so well -- and it made him even glummer. All she really wanted to do was escape this life – if not this life then at least this cycle.  She would constantly ask him: does the Universe even give a ‘have-not’, or even a ‘half-have-not’ a chance?  He agreed with everything his best friend was saying, but there was nothing he or her could do about it.  Observing the swirling clouds in the distance to the north as he passed 1999 Street,  it seemed as if the weather enjoyed reflecting his own moods lately. He smiled grimly.   What if she was right? What if the end game in joining what she called ‘that rat race’ was destruction anyway?  It hadn’t worked so perfectly before when his parents were young, and it didn’t feel satisfying now. 

 “Damn it, you were doing so much better today, kid.  Don’t forget that!” he said out loud to himself – and then telepathically to Chilley as if she was right there with him.  Maybe he shouldn’t tell her more about his own problems.  Maybe they should just…who knows.

 What a week! -- His recent car accident, the strange visions, and now officially getting fired.  Before this week he had been doing more-less-relatively well, and just like Chilley would say; ‘one positive stride forward and something pulls you back in’.  Was it too much to ask to have a whole season of bliss in and out? It was supposed to be a great Spring.

  “Then there’s the damn math exam,” Dixie thought out loud. Actually, he thought how maybe today she must be doing better than he is. Actually, he thought how today she must be doing better than he is.  It was always something: It was always something:  either he was having a good day and she was down, or the other way around. “Why can’t luck ever be even?” he wondered.

Excerpt from Book I:  Adventures in the Boring Realms

Copyright 2019 Octavio Rhodes 

"Note the excerpts have been slightly edited and abridged for non spoiler content"

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