A Profane Young Adult Novel of Vice, Subversion, Doom and Transcendence
By Elliott Bangs
In the Tropolis, the streets run on forever - and life is cut short.
In this world, North America is one city: an unbroken trans-continental sprawl, ravaged by pollution and decay, whose inhabitants expect to die by middle age of a mysterious illness known only as the blight.
Estranged from her friends and disillusioned from her dreams, all Shayna wanted was to be left alone... but when she learns that she has the blight herself, she sets off on an unlikely journey of transformation from alienated slacker to revolutionary hero – by way of friendship, love, heartbreak, self-destruction, and punk rock.
>>> Click here to order this book through CreateSpace and Amazon! >>>
The heart of the machine is pounding, and Shayna is a part of it. Her body is incorporated into its rhythm. Its gears turn with the twisting of her arms and her feet rise and fall with its pistons. Its oil and corrosion pool with her sweat. In time with her pulse and her breath, the stencil cage swings down, the dye spreads, and a fine mist of fixer solution sprays over one more in an infinite series of branded shirts for the Power Elite. The steady flow of identical movements and moments seems to dissolve the passing of time. Somewhere in her clattering memory of motors and pipes she’s a twelve year old girl, first learning to pull these levers. In a blink she is eighteen, expecting to blink one more time and be old – but for a moment her mind wanders. The gray steel unexpectedly parts into a field of vibrant blue, and the drone of the machinery is suddenly shot through with a resonant sound. She’s only remembering a dream, she realizes, but for one second the memory is so sharp and real that it shuts her eyes and sends a weird shiver down her neck. For a second, the color and the sound breathe through her. Then the pounding metal roars back with a snap of explosive pain.
* * *
“Mind if I smoke?” the nurse asks, though she’s already lighting up.
Shayna looks up from her damaged hand. She takes her half-burnt lunch cigarette from behind her ear and leans over the metal desk to share the flame. Then she sits back anxiously while the nurse takes a long, dejected pull and looks her patient over before finally saying “All right, let me see it.”
Shayna lays her hand on the desk, wincing as the stranger’s fingers prod the skin around the gash, left of the palm, cut deep along the heart line. When she diverts her gaze from the blood her attention lands on a machine too clean and new to belong here: a tall thing with enclosing arms, like a man-sized centipede standing erect with its back to the wall.
“Now how did you do this to yourself?” the nurse asks.
“I got it stuck under the stencil cage when it pressed down.”
“Now why did you do that?”
“I just got distracted, I guess. I had this weird...” She feels a flush of panic the moment the careless words have left her mouth. She knows what the consequences will be if factory administration decides the injury was her own fault.
“This weird what?”
“I just suddenly remembered this dream that I had last night. That I’d forgotten.”
The nurse glances up and then continues wiping the blood and mechanical grease out of the wound. Eventually she mutters “Must’ve been some dream. All right, step into that scanner there.”
Shayna glances uncertainly back and forth between her and the nightmare metal centipede.
“It’s standard procedure. Everyone who comes in here gets a full-body scan. It’s for the population forecast. It’s painless. It’ll give me a look at your hand.”
Shayna snuffs out her cigarette and does as she’s told, standing still in the center of the enfolding arms. An eerie warmth passes through her. Her teeth vibrate in their sockets. Then it’s over and she slumps back into the folding chair.
The nurse only stares into the computer screen while her cigarette burns down to its end and the air turns more opaque. Shayna sits in anxious silence, trying to read this woman, trying to see the verdict coming, but her eyes are as lifeless as polished stones in the screen’s blue glow.
She must be a Greentowner, Shayna decides. Her labcoat is too clean to belong this far out in the Tropolis. She’s very old, maybe forty or more, but her teeth are natural teeth, yellowed in between. Her blond hair is white at the roots. She probably lives in one of the Inner Rings, but not in the Cology itself; she may be wealthy, but she’s still mortal and it shows.
Just once the nurse looks up to pass Shayna a glance almost too quick to register. She seems to stifle a sigh. Then she picks up a syringe full of orange goo and says “It’s not too deep. This sealant will close it up and sterilize it. It turns flesh-tone in ten minutes. It’ll sting like hell while it sets, but you can go back to work. Just don’t pick at it. You’ll get the feeling back in those fingers pretty soon. The numbness you mentioned is only a pinched nerve.”
“I can’t afford this,” Shayna interrupts, pulling her hand back before the goo can reach it.
“It’s on me,” the nurse responds. “No charge.”
“Because I say so.”
Shayna puts her hand back on the desk. The goo burns in the gash and sets in a silence she’s is afraid to break, even to say thanks. She waits for a cue to be dismissed, but the nurse’s eyes go straight from the wound back to the screen. Eventually Shayna rises, but the moment she touches the handle on the door she hears the woman say:
“Wait. You... care to sit down?”
The folding chair screeches when Shayna pulls it back again.
“You’re eighteen years old, you said,” says the nurse.
Shayna nods silently.
“Born the second of April. So you just turned eighteen. Just recently.”
The nurse sighs slowly, sadly. Then she rubs her hand over her face and laughs – a hollow, sickly effigy of laughter. Her voice is a rasp just loud enough to make out when she says: “The bastards I work for and all their damned customer service protocols. I’m not supposed to share the test results with the sample group, no, that’s against the rules. But it’s instantaneous, you understand? The results process right away. I see everything. Like it’s all for my own amusement. Day after day they send me down to this shithole—” she coughs “—as if it matters. As if we’re all dumb enough to think they give a rat’s ass about this place, about you, about me, about anyone out here. And, hell. You probably can’t even follow a word I’m rambling at you. You’re just more empty-headed trash from the outer rings. Another Outsider. That’s what you’re supposed to be to me. But it’s a big sick joke when we actually have everything in common, isn’t it?” She pauses a moment and then repeats her own words to herself with a trace of awe: “We have everything in common.”
Shayna squints uncertainly.
The nurse says: “Forget it. This is all. One last question for the paperwork. You’ve heard that old proverb, ‘ignorance is bliss.’ What do you think? Do you believe that?”
The words hang ominously in the smoky air. Shayna looks uneasily at her hands on her knees and feels her palms suddenly sweating. She can sense it coming, whatever it is. She can feel the weight hiding behind the words.
“Think it over. Take your time. Don’t answer l-lightly.” A moment later the nurse abruptly collapses into a violent fit of hacking. She pulls a white handkerchief from her pocket and clamps it over her mouth.
Shayna watches anxiously, but the coughing finishes. The old woman in white hurriedly wipes her lips, wads up the handkerchief and tosses it into the plastic wastebasket by the door.
“No. It’s not.”
The nurse’s cold gaze slowly scans her patient, appraising her. Finally she nods and says: “Then you have between fifteen and twenty-three days to live.”In the time that follows, Shayna will revise her memory of this moment. She’ll remember that her pulse was hammering while the details were laid out to her, that her thoughts were fluttering in panic, that her entire corrupted body was coursing with what seemed like a tangible liquid terror. She’ll remember that her silence is the result of shock, but it be an invention of hindsight. The truth is that her silence now is honest and clear. In the first moments in the wake of the prognosis, she feels perfectly numb.
“Time for you to go back to work I think,” the nurse finishes, emotionlessly.Shayna stands from the chair and drifts hesitantly toward the door. She looks back many times, but the nurse’s eyes are fastened to her paperwork. As she turns the steel handle, she glances down into the wastebasket. The wadded-up handkerchief is full of blood.
>>> Read on: order this book through CreateSpace or Amazon >>>
RETURN TO ELBANGS.COM