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.
THE INFERNAL HUMANITY TANK
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…