More Than All the Same

I live in a house that is identical to one quarter of all the houses in town. There are only four floor plans that were used when the paper mill built the town and the houses for everyone at the factory. Everyone worked for the factory, either directly in the mill or in the shops owned by the mill or any of the other mill-owned businesses. Even though there were four different styles, we were actually all the same.

See, that’s what I didn’t get at first. I mean, sure, I guess I expected everyone to be pretty much the same in a small town. I was in the same grade as twenty-four of my neighbors, and we all moved from one grade to the next. We all read the same books, worked the same math, learned the same history, painted the same pictures, and sang the same songs. Why wouldn’t we look the same.

Almost the same. Some of us were girls, of course. And some of us were boys. But it dawned on me one day as we were lining up for class picture in Miss Webster’s Third Grade that I was in the same row I always was, right in front, along with Tommy, Spencer, and Gary. Just like we were in second grade, and first grade. All with the same red and black plaid shirt tucked in our tan corduroys, a sprinkling of freckles across our noses and cheeks, and our hair freshly cut and parted on the right. When we smiled for the camera, we each had one missing front tooth, too.

I looked at the second row, and the four boys there also looked the same as each other, and so did the girls. Every row had identical looking kids. How did the teacher tell us apart? For that matter, how did our parents, or how did we?

On the bus ride home, Tommy, Spencer, and Gary each got out in front of a house that looked just like mine. The same little white fence in front of colorful flowers, two steps to the porch, a blue front door, and three windows: one for the kitchen, one for a bathroom, and one for a bedroom, just like my house.

When I tried to ask my older sister about it, she said I was being stupid and shouldn’t ask questions like that. She said I would get in trouble if I kept at it and to leave it alone. It was funny though, because when she said it, she didn’t sound mean like she usually does when she’s bossing me around; she sounded kind of scared or sad or something like that.

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Hart-Benton

Hart-Benton knew fear when the store clerk told him he’d reached his limit for coffee. He’d have to put it back. No more coffee. Ever. Once your personal limit for consumption was met, you could no longer purchase that item. Rationing, it was called, although Hart-Benton didn’t find much rational about it. There was plenty of coffee on the shelf. Bags of it. The store had so much coffee they must throw away the oldest bags over time if they aren’t consumed, or so Hart-Benton thought. He also knew that throwing away food never happened because food never got old, never expired, all because of the rationing. There was always enough for everyone, up until the time when they’d used all they were allowed, when they’d grown old. Hart-Benton knew, down in the marrow, that running out of coffee meant more than just that he’d had too many second or third cups and used up his allotment early. No, it meant that Hart-Benton himself was old, that soon he’d expire, his time allowed on this earth used up, too many sunrises and sunsets, too many seasons, all behind him.

Serial Number

“Serial number, please.”

The voice was good, could even be a real person. Whoever set this terminal up took the time to include a high quality sound replication system. I appreciate viewing the work of an artist.

“Serial number, please,” prompted the voice.

“I’m not sure,” I said, bluffing, but also stalling for more time.

“Date of issue?” The voice tried another tack. With my date of issue, it could potentially look-up my serial number. I couldn’t let that happen and used one of the pre-set dates I kept in reserve for just such an occasion.

“Y2085M04D18.” There were over a thousand units processed on that date, not that I was one of them. Still, it was a large enough data set that the terminal would have to work for a little while to differentiate me from the rest of that batch. I had about thirty more seconds before it would decide that my scan did not match any known units and report my attempted access. Thirty seconds to hack the terminal and inject the code before the authorities would dispatch a military-grade enforcer to terminate me. Thirty seconds to complete the work I’ve prepared for over the last twelve years. Thirty seconds to save the world, or at least the world I believed in.

Thirty seconds. No problem.

Uptown

Had to avoid Main Street because of the police action. More of a surge, really. A response to the squatters in the old Capitol building. The anarchists started moving in about a month ago and I guess the mayor had had enough and decided to clean house. That, or there was an election coming up. Not that I care. You wouldn’t catch me at a polling place. Nothing but target practice for one group or another or the worst, a random lone wolf looking to make a name for himself in the annals of history.

So I had to reroute to Cherry Avenue and work my way around the ruckus. Would have made it too, if it hadn’t been for the sink hole. Swallowed up the whole intersection, antique autos and mopeds and stray dogs probably. I didn’t stick around to find out. I should have chosen another path because the surge had encountered more resistance from the squatters than they’d planned for. Ironic, no? How did anarchists become so organized? The riot swarmed over me and I end up with a face full of mace and a lung full of teargas. I couldn’t see or breath to find my way out.

Hold My Hand

“Come on, you can do it. It’s perfectly safe,” says Daddy. “You won’t feel a thing. Promise.”

“Promise like birthdays?” The little boy looks up at his dad. “Or promise like Mommy’s coming back?”

The dad’s shoulders droop. He takes a deep breath.

“You two come through or step out of line,” says a security guard. He waves a short dark club at them.

“It’s okay,” Daddy says to the boy. “I’ll go first so you can see it’s safe. Just wait for me turn around and then you do it the same way I do. Okay?”

The boy bit his lip as his dad said ‘okay’ again, but this time it wasn’t a question.

The dad lets go of the boy’s hand, adjusts his shirt, and steps through the security scanner. Red lights flash and the sound of sirens fill the air. Daddy is knocked to the floor by the security guard and suddenly there are guards all around everyone in line, shouting and pointing and hitting and the boy cries, an open-mouth scream, wanting for all the world not to have to walk through the scanner and get knocked down.