Tuesday, December 8, 2015


Genre: Science Fiction

By Daniel Skye

“It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.” – R.E.M.


            Oh where, oh where do I begin?

            I suppose I should properly introduce myself. Isn’t that how this thing works?

            I tell you my name, where I’m from, a little about myself, and we establish a connection. Then by the end of my story, you’ll feel like we’re old schoolyard chums. Like we’ve known each other for years.

            But after you hear my story, I’m not sure you’ll want to know me. Because, truthfully, I’m not sure I want to know me. Not after what I’ve seen, what I’ve done, what I’ve been through.

            My name is Stephen Rhodes. Twenty-eight years old with a full head of curly, dark brown hair. When I neglect to shave, some people say I look like Jake Gyllenhaal.

            This woman approached me one time in 7-11 and said, “You know, you look just like Tobey Maguire from that Zodiac movie.”

I paused, thought about it for a moment, and said, “Are you sure you’re not thinking of Jake Gyllenhaal?” But the woman was insistent that it was Tobey Maguire. Regardless, I accepted it as a compliment.

Though, other people have told me I resemble more of a young Bill Murray. So draw your conclusions from those two comparisons.

I never go tanning. I avoid the sun as Superman avoids kryptonite.

I never use a watch to tell time. I just use my phone like everyone else does.

I eat Honey Nut Cheerios without milk.

And I hate fruit. The word hate doesn’t even adequately describe my hatred for it.

I once worked at a restaurant that had a sushi bar. The day they fired me, I slipped mineral oil laxatives into the rice cooker. They lost fifteen customers that night. Mr. Fargas, the manager, was livid. But they never were able to prove it was me.

I also peed in the chowder once. In case you were wondering, it was Manhattan, not New England. For legal reasons, I can’t say the name of the restaurant. All I can say is never order the chowder. Or the cream of mushroom soup, for that matter…

Let’s see, any other sins to confess? Oh, I conned a girl into making out with me in the copy room of an office I briefly worked in. She was in line for a big promotion and I suggested it would drastically improve her chances. You see, she was under the impression I was a supervisor for some reason. Truth be told, I was just a mailroom clerk with a penchant for stylish shirts and chic neckties. Needless to say, I lost that job too.

I also broke a guy’s jaw in a bar fight once. I didn’t start the fight, but I sure as hell finished it. How did it start? The prick accused me of looking at his pint. Yes, he accosted me and started a fight because I was eyeing up his beer, or so he claimed. I might have glanced at it, but I wasn’t trying to take a fucking sip out of it.

And I slashed the monster truck tires that my sister’s ex-boyfriend had put on his Jeep. But that piece of crap, Deke Halleck, had it coming to him for slapping Maggie. I would’ve shattered his jaw too, but Maggie begged me to let it be.

            It was probably a good thing she did because Deke Halleck was a big, tall, burly bastard with a flattop haircut and a neck as thick as a tree. His fists were roughly the size of my face. He could have pulverized me. Pounded my ass into oblivion. Thankfully, it didn’t come to that.

            I can be rude, surly, ill mannered. And as you’ll learn, I have a tendency to curse like a drunken sailor whose ship just sank.

But I’m also one of the most honest people you’ll ever meet. I’ve never stolen a thing before in my life. I never even fingered a piece of bubblegum from the candy rack when I was a kid. “Five finger discount” was not a phrase that existed in my lexicon. That was something for the other kids that would grow up to pump gas for a living.

I never stole. I never cheated on a test. And I’ve never told a lie. Okay, that last part might be a lie.

But please believe me when I tell you the story you’re about to hear is true.

It’s a story about how I ended the world.

And saved it.

*  *  *

            Like many other appliance and gadget obsessed Americans, I’ve developed an unbreakable habit of checking my cell phone every morning. It’s the first thing I do when I wake up.

So on Wednesday, March 5, 2014, I woke up and immediately reached for my phone. It wasn’t even noon and I already had three missed calls. All from Brady Collins.

I figured Brady was calling to remind me about movie night.

            Brady Collins owns a movie theater on Long Island. He bought it for a steal. And if you took a peek inside, you’d know why.

            In the lobby, a poster for the film Argo sits in the same display case from when the theater was flooded during superstorm Sandy. The flood had badly damaged the lobby. The carpets had to be torn up and the concession stand removed. The water warped the molded the padded theater seats, but the projectors and screens remained intact.

            One night, Brady and I grabbed some beers and we watched Halloween on 35mm print. Brady had acquired a bunch of old film reels from a retired projectionist, and soon our movie screenings became a weekly thing.

            He’d talk about remodeling, fixing the place up and screening old films in addition to new ones. He had this whole idea for a self-serve concession stand, just like those automated machines at the grocery store. That way people–impatient people like Brady–wouldn’t have to stand in line forever for candy and popcorn.

            But it was all a pipedream. Repairing that theater would cost thousands and thousands of dollars that Brady didn’t have. But hey, everybody needs a dream. So instead of shattering his fantasy, I encouraged his ideas.

            I called Brady back and sure enough, the first thing he did wase remind me about movie night. “I managed to track down a 35mm print of the first Star Wars.”

            “I’ll bring the beer,” I told him.

            “Oh, there’s one more thing,” Brady added. “I kind of need a favor. I’ll pay you for it.”

Pre-internet, they would’ve called me a Star Wars dweeb or just a plain old ordinary nerd. But in the modern age of technology, I wear the title of computer nerd. And proudly, I might add.

I can fix them, swap the hard drives, replace the screens, diagnose problems, remove harmful viruses. And I made good money doing it. If someone needed a replacement battery or charger for their laptop, they came to me. If someone’s computer was infected with spyware or malware, they called me. Someone dropped their tablet and cracked the screen, they had me to repair the damage.

So when Brady Collins asked me to find a cheap replacement charger for his Dell laptop, I told him no sweat. You can find anything on the internet if you know where to look. And eBay is the best place to start.

But that day when I signed in to my account, a message was waiting in my inbox. The message was from a private user informing me that someone was selling a packaged IKONDA laptop for dirt-cheap.

What’s an IKONDA laptop? I couldn’t tell you, seeing as how I had never heard of the brand before. I ran it through every search engine I could think of, but my searches turned up nil. I even tried Ask Jeeves, which sadly isn’t even Ask Jeeves anymore. Now it’s just called Ask. But I digress… The company, the brand name didn’t seem to exist.

Maybe it was a new model, a prototype for something just about to hit the market. Seeing as how I couldn’t find another IKONDA model floating around the internet, I considered the rarity of the item. And I figured anything that’s one-of-a-kind is worth money to people, collectors especially. So blinded by dollar signs, I put in a low bid.

Then I ordered a replacement charger for Brady’s laptop and headed out to catch the train. I still had plenty of time before the movie to complete my Wednesday ritual.

* * *

            Wednesday is new comic book day.

            Any avid nerd can tell you that.

I could easily get them in my neighborhood, but it’s just not the same as the shops around Times Square.
I live in Flushing, Queens. It’s not the Upper West Side, but the rent is manageable and I can still take the subway to Times Square.

The actual feeling of New York, that sensation I get from standing in Times Square, is almost indescribable. You could be lost in a sea of a thousand other New Yorkers who are engulfed in their own thoughts, and you can still feel right at home. Love it or hate it, it may just be the most vibrant, vivacious city in the world…if you discount Las Vegas.

Stand still in Times Square for a solid minute and you can almost feel the energy of a thousand people flowing in a thousand different directions. It’s a remarkably overwhelming feeling, but it’s a feeling I wouldn’t trade for the world. I don’t need an “I <3 NY” T-shirt to prove my love and devotion for this city.

And two blocks from Times Square is a small coffee shop that’s shockingly not a Starbucks. I make it a priority to stop there anytime I’m in the neighborhood and get a cup of the Hawaiian Kona blend.

I always make sure to stop at Ledoux’s Café before the comic book store because I don’t want the girls working the counter to see me walk in with a bagful of comics.

I walked in and approached the counter. The barista turned and smiled benevolently, but its insincerity was apparent from the lack of affection in her diamond blue eyes. Her auburn hair was weaved into a French braid. A slim, hourglass figure was veiled behind her loose green uniform and beige pants. Her nametag said her name was Tatiana.

I ordered my Kona blend and after engaging her in brief conversation, I casually asked for her number as if I was requesting an extra packet of sweetener. She pulled a brown napkin from the dispenser on the counter and jotted something down in red ink.

As she slid it to me, I noticed the scar on the back of her hand. Except this wasn’t a cut. It was more like a severe burn that hadn’t healed or been treated properly. The hazards of being a barista, I suppose.

As soon as I looked at the number, I knew it was a fake. The first three digits she scribbled down were 555. At least she was polite in her rejection. The last girl I tried to ask out before Tatiana had brandished a can of mace and threatened to call the police if I didn’t scram.

Outside the café, I crumpled the napkin and tossed it to the ground. And right on cue, a gust of wind swept through and carried it away.

* * *

Maggie, my sister, called when I got home. She called to tell me her puppy, Einstein, ate the plastic buttons off her wool sweater. I told her not to panic and to call the vet. She then proceeded to panic, screaming in my ear through the phone that she already called the vet and made an appointment for that day. So what was she yelling about then?

Nothing. She was just being Maggie. That’s how we were born. Dad swears our personalities got swapped somewhere in the womb. In many ways, he was right. Maggie was the bossy, aggressive, domineering one. And I was the one who always just went with the flow.

After she calmed down about Einstein, she told me she was expecting me for dinner Sunday night. And she told me to invite Brady Collins because she was, “Back on the market.” The thought of setting her up with a friend put a tight knot in my stomach, but I muttered something about seeing what I could do.

Then she vented about her crummy receptionist job, about her landlord raising the rent, about her car needing a new alternator.

When she was done ranting and blowing off steam, Maggie called it a day and mercifully ended our one-sided conversation. When I was off the phone with her, I ate something, read a few of the comics I bought that day, and then caught the train to Long Island.

            I stopped for beer on the way. Brady had the projector all set up when I got there. I told him I ordered a replacement charger for his laptop and mentioned dinner on Sunday night. He said he was free Sunday night and he’d be there.

I never bothered to mention the IKONDA laptop that arrived the very next day.

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