The Infernal Humanity Tank

Once again the blog LitStack: For the love of all things wordy has provided me with some inspiration. However, I must confess I broke the rules this time. My flash fiction challenge is double the length it’s supposed to be. What can I say? The story just kept escalating and I didn’t have the heart to stop it. As for how this dark subject matter appeared. I can only assume the photo prompt combined with several days of jury duty intensified my usual madness. Behold what the American justice system has wrought.


Not a drop of oil remained. Beneath the city hunger and dissatisfaction throbbed. The Patriarchs had no use for a blissful society.

Workers plastered a new sign across the walls of the courthouse. Killer bees have been sighted in this area. You may die soon, it read.

“Oh god, is that true?” a woman said. “I can never tell what’s true anymore.”

“Calm down,” a man replied. “You don’t want the vibrations to start, do you?”

“Quick, give her a pill,” someone else muttered.

Samuel headed home after a long day below ground. He pushed through the crowd in his pinstripe suit.

“It’s him, it’s him,” a few of them whispered, and the group disbanded immediately.

They called him, The Inventor. Once just a manager of a tropical fish store, Samuel was now the most reviled figure in the city.

* * *

The vision for the machine had come to him one rainy day at the Aqua Depot. The store had just reopened after a week of power outages. They were happening a lot these days.

He was helping an old lady find a treasure chest. Clichéd aquarium ornaments were just undignified for a tank full of Angelfish. He talked her out of it, but she wanted to see the medieval castles instead. Samuel tried to steer the old lady towards the driftwood.

“Too dull,” she said, knocking over a bag of decorative gravel with her cart. “Got any shipwrecks?” Samuel’s jaw clenched

The pumps in the tank filtration systems created a symphony of sucking noises in the store. Air pushed in, then out, in, then out, like a room full of consumptives gasping for breath.

“Perhaps something in aisle three will be to your liking,” he said.

When she saw the day-glo shipwreck complete with laughing mermaid, the old lady’s eyes lit up.

Samuel had a sudden irrational urge to drown her in a tank of Piranha. Shame flooded his cheeks. Ever since Charlotte left him for that second-rate dog trainer his mood had turned black. There had to be a way to fix everything. The filters sucked and spewed. It ought to be simple, like using the pump to clean a tank. If only he could capture Charlotte’s dissatisfaction with him, turn it into beneficial bacteria and keep the pH balance working between them.

“Well why the hell not?” he blurted out as he processed the old lady’s credit card.

And there, in between the Lava Rocks and the Premium Fish flakes, Samuel’s idea was born.

He would harness suffering, recycle it like plastic bottles.

It turned out to be a lot more challenging than keeping track of the freeze-dried blood worm inventory.

Eventually Samuel determined that a person’s limbic system could be accessed like a radio signal in order to extricate the dark moods. All he needed was a big enough piece of equipment in which to collect the misery, a tank of sorts.

It was around this time that the oil dried up for good and The Patriarchs arrived. Some were put off by their ways, but you’d be surprised how much easier things are when someone else steps up to make all the decisions. Samuel approached them with the prototype.

His Humanity Tank filtered out the unwanted, removing society’s pain. Not only could he capture negative moods, Samuel could convert them into pure energy. Once enough “fuel” was collected the machine emanated a powerful vibration and from darkness came light. No more power outages. The city would laud him as a hero. Samuel couldn’t wait to see the look on Charlotte’s face.

The Patriarchs were quite enthusiastic. Signs went up immediately.

Do your duty citizen. Weep for mankind!

People are dangerous. Fear them!

“What are you doing?” Samuel asked.

“Misery powers the city now. It is renewable fuel. We must perpetuate it,” The Patriarchs explained.

“But that was never my intention. I was trying to give them utopia!” he said.

“Do not forget what your kind’s dependence on foreign oil did to you. Now the city has clean burning misery. Your Humanity Tank is their savior, Inventor.”

Renewable suffering? What had Samuel done?

Each day more signs appeared. Laughable at first, but gradually they had an effect.

You look fat in that dress

Your boss will never promote you

Your father thinks you’re a failure

The machine played into society’s strengths, perfectly. For example, a handful of politicians with shameful secrets could keep the sewage system running smoothly for weeks. Let the bankers and the stockbrokers continue their rampant greed. The failure of the housing market could power an entire subway system.

* * *

Samuel walked towards his home. Echoes of people slamming their doors and hiding trailed behind him. Not many folks wandered the streets for long these days. After a time the system revealed certain unavoidable side effects. When an emotion was sucked dry that which remained was often devoid of mercy. Homicide ran rampant. Samuel worked feverishly to fix things.

Mbuna Cichlids were a belligerent, territorial species. Put them in a tank with other fish and they bullied them to death. But keep them with their own kind, and the over crowding helped spread out the aggression. To manage the side effects of the tank, Samuel had assumed putting the more aberrant people together might mitigate their hostility in the same way as the fish. He had christened it the Mbuna Complex.

It was The Patriarch’s idea to add electrical fencing around the buildings, making the complex more penitentiary than housing. Of course, the more miserable the city became about this turn of events, the longer their electric cars ran.

Things were going from bad to worse. But Samuel had a plan. He unlocked the door to his apartment and switched on the television. A public service announcement scrolled across the screen. Wife left you for another man, citizen? Never fear, John Doe. For that ache in your chest that compels you to buy a gun and press it to your temple night after night, lights your neighbor’s Christmas tree.

Suicidal thoughts, the city’s number one electricity generator.

Samuel sat down at his drafting table and pushed a lever on the new prototype. He would call this one The Ecstasy Tank. Wait till Charlotte saw it.

This time, he would solve everything…

About Madame Paradox

Heidi David is a writer and freelance producer. She is the author of an as yet unpublished novel, THE FLYING JEWEL; the tale of a traveling circus where the price of admission is one's free will.
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21 Responses to The Infernal Humanity Tank

  1. “Samuel couldn’t wait to see the look on Charlotte’s face.”
    Driven by good intentions, a person can nevertheless destroy the world.

    I love it, Heidi. (In a dark way, of course.)

    And word-count be damned.
    This story needed its space.

    • Aww thanks for reading Julie. I hated it by the time I finished. 🙂 It’s just so darrrrrrrk. But I’m glad you enjoyed my twisted lil brain.

      PS: That line you wrote is so great I may need to steal it. xo

  2. I can’t describe how I love this one without using all caps, so please see all caps when I say that I love this one!

  3. chris says:

    This is great! So glad you went over the word count. 🙂

    • Thanks for reading! I guess I have to have faith that my readers don’t mind a little dystopia in their blogs every now and again. I’m glad I didn’t chop it in half, like I originally planned. 🙂

  4. Mbuna Cichlids? You have outdone yourself with that phrase alone. You obviously have a much bigger story than flash fiction. What are you going to do with it? It reminds me of a lot of the science fiction short stories I used to read a lot in school. I really enjoy the fish theme. In fact, I think this whole story came out… swimmingly. HA!

    • I can’t take credit for Mbuna Cichlids, they are a real type of apparently belligerent fish. The other one I wanted to work in there but couldn’t are called Clown Loaches. They are known to be so cheerful that they often accidentally leap out of their tanks. Also in a group they like to pile on top of each other and play dead, sinking to the bottom of the tank. The aquarium website where I researched fish & their tanks provided a lot of inspiration. (I don’t know jack about fish, so I needed some help.)

      Thanks for reading, Idabel. I am glad you enjoyed my oh-so-dark stroll into the humanity tank. Bwahahaha…

  5. Jennifer says:

    Wow, powerful story, also love the dark humor ( I totally LOLed about feeding the lady to the piranhas). Wonderful that the inspiration led you over the 500. Fantastic!

  6. J.A. Pak says:

    Human endeavor in a nutshell. Thank god for chocolate.

    • Do you ever get a story in you head, and it’s like someone’s jammed a thorn in your brain and you just have to get it out? That’s what this one was like. It was just painful, I needed to exorcise the demon. 🙂 And yes, agreed, thank god for chocolate. As a matter a fact I think I will have a piece now.

      Thanks for reading my dear. Glad you appreciated the madness.

  7. Sheer perfection! I dare say “genius” but then dystopias are my favorite! “Clean burning misery!” Have you thought about running for office?

    • I’m so glad you stopped by to read, Jason. I thought this one might be your cup of tea. There’s no way for me to watch the press coverage about the election *without* thinking about “clean burning misery”. 😉

  8. peterwilkin says:

    Sheer genius! If that’s what jury service does for you let’s hope they call you back soon. Mbuna Cichlids just has to be an anagram for something! And ‘Air pushed in, then out, in, then out, like a room full of consumptives gasping for breath.’ has to be one of your best similes ever! Same old new story, Madame P ~ you had me hooked from the first sentence ~ I just adore the way you put a story together. Wonderful read 🙂

    • Thank you mate! My goodness you all have a high tolerance for my dark sensibilities. What a lucky writer I am. As I mentioned above to Chris, Mbuna Cichlids are a real species of fish, belligerent in just the way I described. I had to actually research this one, cause I know nothing about fish. Although I’ll be happy to take credit for the “anagram” ha!

      By the way, I *knew* that was going to be your favorite line. It’s like a game with me now, I always guess which one you will go for. Tee hee

      As always I really appreciate the feedback, Peter. It makes my day. 🙂

  9. Pingback: LitStack’s Flash Fiction Challenge #3 … with guest photographer | LitStack

  10. Steve David says:

    But what happens? That can’t be the end. I want to know more!

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