Tomorrow is the release date of my novel, Black Friday 2050! Find it on pre-sale here.
Check out chapter 1 below!
It was an afternoon like any other, and my notifications totaled two million. Hurrying inside the two front doors of number thirty-eight, I threw my umbrella atop a growing pile, leaking raindrops onto the cold concrete floor. I closed the doors, but in here there was no escape from the noise.
Digital wallpaper was plastered all over the floors, walls and ceiling. Exotic images flashed in bright colors while large speakers gave off a consistent drone of advertisements. My apartment was on the top floor, level thirty. I took the stairs. Halfway up, the news began appearing on every surface around me, simultaneously, showing a young man, smiling with gleaming white teeth. I stood on his teeth looking down at him. FAMINE IN YEMEN, the caption beneath him ran.
The young man spoke about the famine for ten seconds before introducing two panelists to discuss the issue. Both were professors. For twenty seconds they debated whether or not the famine existed. They concluded that it did not. The young man laughed before breaking to a commercial. I opened the window in the stairwell for air. My hair was damp with sweat and my face sagged beneath the weight of a developing headache.
Tilting my head out the window, the rain hit me, before rolling out onto the landscape below. This was my hometown. This was Washington. I tried to remember my early life here, before the population boom, but there was only a vague memory of parks and low-rise housing. Now, every building was a skyscraper. Apartment block after apartment block stood crammed together in tiny rows, producing the noise of a million people per square mile. I hadn’t seen the horizon in years.
I watched as the young man reappeared on the neighboring apartment block. Immediately, he introduced a segment on the rise of plastic surgery, a war in Poland, a puppy saved from a drainpipe, a genocide in the Congo and a new kind of shoe. Every five seconds he transitioned to a new topic with the phrase ‘now this’. Dr. Postman killed on the way to work. Now this. Woman marries dolphin. Now this. Tsunami hits India. Now this. Seleucia loses ten kilos. Now this. Now this. Now this. After two minutes, the news was over. An hour of advertising had begun. I climbed the remaining stairs. By the time I reached the top landing, I was puffing and panting.
Inside my apartment, I called out to my wife but there was no answer. I checked the bedroom and bathroom before looking in the kitchen. The place was empty. Right before reaching for the closest device, I found a paper note stuck on the fridge door.
THEY ARE WATCHING YOU
BLACK FRIDAY 2050
I hadn’t seen a handwritten note in years. The paper felt strange in my hands, tactile in a way I hadn’t anticipated. It wasn’t my wife’s handwriting, nor mine. There was no signature. No fingerprint. Just seven words in a rushed scrawl.
A sound behind me had me nearly jumping out of my skin. When I turned around however, it was just the television switching itself back on for breaking news. Is this a joke? Who is watching me, and why? I tore the note off the fridge door and began trying to think – to block out the noise in the apartment and enter a meditative state. But it was difficult, if not impossible. Everything was beeping: the fridge, the washing machine, the phone, the dishwasher and the mattress. None of the household chores had been done and the appliances were formulating their plan of rebellion, speaking to each other in Morse code.
I walked over to the kitchen counter and took out a bottle of dopamine supplements. I took two tablets, as per my doctor’s orders. Two a day, he had said, and I would start losing the headaches. I had tried taking them for weeks without any improvement. Still, I kept taking them. I had this faint hope that one day I would wake up feeling just the same as everyone else. Calm and relaxed, satisfied by life.
Today, I felt nervous. I was terrified my wife would find out about my new… extracurricular activities. Ever since the biking accident, I had stopped looking at my notifications. Worse still, I had begun reading old books, something which was almost certainly a crime.
Thinking about the accident made my head spin. I could hear it, if I concentrated. The screech of the car brakes, the crunch of bones on pavement and the rattling crack in my skull. Brain damage, the doctor had said, a problem with the dopamine gland. Keep smiling until the feelings come back.
But the feelings had never come back. There was a consistent tightness in my chest and a rapidity to my heartbeat. When I closed my eyes, the nightmares came unbidden, at any hour of the day. My eyelids showed a truck flying towards me down an empty highway, with the rain pelting down and the slick reflection of my face on concrete. I would go to bed feeling stressed and anxious and wake up the same way. Empty of ambition. Indecisive. Paralyzed by life.
In the last few years, people had been lynched for less. The disconnected, they were called – people who could not or would not connect with new technologies. Just the other week I had seen someone crushed to death on the steps of my apartment block. The whole neighborhood had stood watching, peering out their windows, gossiping and pointing. The police had arrived too late to do anything about it. That’s what they had said, in any case. Unless I was careful, I would be next.
In the cool dark of the kitchen, I looked at my face in the window. I was still young at twenty-seven, but I looked much older. Time had worn out my features faster than most. My bones felt heavy, and my skin felt damp. I remembered looking younger a few years back and then suddenly looking older, somewhere around twenty-five. It was a never-ending problem in my life. I was forever chasing the man I used to be. I had this idea that if I could get back to that younger man, everything would be perfect again. Nostalgia was a form of oxygen. But it was hopeless, of course. The past was always one second further away.
For a moment, I thought I heard my wife’s voice right next to me, but when I turned around, no one was there. Confused, I entered the living room. My eyes flickered to the television screen, and I froze. My wife was sitting in the newsroom next to the young man from earlier. Worse still, she was smiling up at him in a state of absolute rapture.
“I can’t believe it,” she said, her eyes on the verge of tears.
“Congratulations!” the newsman said.
He gave her a handshake before turning to the camera.
“Mindy Preston has just won the Presidential Medal of Freedom – the highest award for a civilian. She will receive her award directly from the president at the National Parade of Objects!”
I went cold.
This is not happening.
“I can’t believe it,” my wife said again, hysterical.
“Miss Preston’s post on social media about turning her pillow over to the cold side at night was a pure sensation,” the young man continued, “Within minutes she had racked up nearly a million likes. What a breathtaking achievement, simply staggering.”
Mindy was crying, absolutely bawling her eyes out on the screen next to him. For a second, the screen switched to the audience, a pixelated mob of watchers from all over the world. They cheered in various languages.
I watched as my wife continued shaking her head in disbelief. There was no point telling her about my new extracurricular activities now. She had already chosen a side, or more accurately, a side had been chosen for her.
She had been distant since the accident. None of the old cards worked anymore, or perhaps my deck was running on empty. I could all but hear the argument. I could feel the doors slamming. No, I can’t tell her. Better to continue in secret.
The news finished and the television switched back to perpetual advertisements. Almost immediately, my mother was calling. Someone was sending me a hundred notifications. There was a knock at the door. Two knocks. The house phone was ringing. Shrieking. I sat paralyzed on the couch, my brain disassociating itself from my body, making new allegiances with the sky. I became a spirit floating above myself watching these strange, abstract movements below, my breath going faster and my eyes twitching.
Then, in a state of absolute numbness, I stood and walked over to the kitchen counter. I reached below the counter and opened a cupboard, and behind it, the fuse box. For the first time since moving in, I flipped the switch.
The entire apartment went dark. The noise ceased. It felt like my brain was reactivating itself, rebuilding neural networks and entering a higher state of being – rewiring itself. And just in time. I was being watched. Someone knew. I needed a plan. I needed a strategy. I needed to leave.
Reaching the front door, I was about to open it when there was a knock on the other side. There was nowhere to go. This was the only way out. I began visibly shaking, clutching the door handle with a mixture of fear and dread.
“Jack, are you there?” my wife asked through the door, “I seem to have lost my key card.”
“Mindy, I didn’t know it was you.”
I opened the door.
My wife was resting an arm on the handrail on the upper landing, her body bathed in an orange light from an advertisement playing on the wall. A puma was eating a gazelle in a remote part of the African wilderness. It was an ad for aftershave. Kill your darlings.
“Jack, why are you just standing there? Let me in.”
“I didn’t expect to see you back so soon,” I said.
Mindy smiled and pushed me out of the way. I followed her, closing the door. Without prompting, the power rebooted itself and the lights turned themselves back on. My short respite was obliterated by the return of the beeps and the blips, the shrieks, and the groans, as if the apartment was telling us both to stop and pay attention.
“How did you get home so quickly?”
Mindy had her glasses on and was barely paying any attention to me, but when I asked her that she just laughed, as if I had told the best joke she’d heard all year.
“TV is pre-recorded, Jack, you should know that.”
I nodded blankly.
“Yes, of course I do.”
Her face was still plastered with disbelief, and beneath it, I could see an almost endless river of joy. I had never seen her like this. Ecstatic. Jubilant. Radiant. Young.
“We were done filming by four this afternoon,” Mindy said, grabbing a seat on the couch – advertisements running across her glasses in bright dazzling colors – reds, greens and blues as she sat, “It was fantastic.”
I didn’t ask her what she had done with the young man after the filming was over. My brain hurt, and frankly, I didn’t want to know. Curiosity was a feeling best left dead-on arrival. I had learnt that very early on in our relationship.
“I’m just not sure I understand how it could happen? I mean we never win any awards or -”
Before I could finish, Mindy was on her phone, calling everyone on her contact list.
Each call was the same. She started by saying hello before waiting for the inevitable CONGRATULATIONS. Then, as if telling it for the first time, she told the story in all its tiny detail. Can you believe it? Gasp. Sigh. A MEDAL. ME? I watched as the emotions leaked out of her mouth with every syllable. Mindy and I had always lived average, non-descript lives of non-achievement. She had never won anything and neither had I. To win an award from the president was unusual, to say the least. It was bordering on the absurd.
“It’s incredible, isn’t it?” she said to her mother, before calling mine.
“Mindy, we need to talk,” I said.
“Not right now Jack,” she said, waving me away.
“I need to tell you something.”
“Can’t you see I’m busy right now?”
Her face was firm.
“It’s important – I need to explain how I’ve started to read certain -”
The television turned itself back on and a new set of advertisements began playing on the screen. The first ad was for a shopping mall, a place called The Palace of the New. It was a luxurious complex with waterfalls, digital domes and acres of shops that seemed by a trick of the light to stretch out of the screen and into our living room. As I watched, the camera arched back into a wide-angle shot that showed the entire complex. In big bold letters across the screen read the words:
Black Friday 2050
Come and fulfil your heart’s desire
We know what you want
We have been watching you
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