It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. Dave hit mute on his alarm and kept walking, collar turned up against the Spring chill. Each year the world became colder, the skies darker with the satellites floating above the Earth in their never-ending quest for “safety through vigilance.” Today’s weather was overcast, the clouds obscuring the metal monstrosities that dominated the skies. Most people never looked up.
The neighborhood had gone down in the past few years, the once burgeoning community was now littered with abandoned houses that lined the street like trashcans on pickup day. Paint peeled, a few of the windows had been broken. Despite cheerful news reports of the growing economy, people continued to lose their jobs and storefronts stood empty in the heart of downtown. Still, the government ensured that even the poor had cell phones…
He entered his apartment and noted the camera on his computer screen, the eye that never shut. Government hacks into civilian technology had already been revealed, but most people had already forgotten the initial scandals, distracted by the latest fad, the hottest celebrities, the more recent scandals. Why bother to cover the cameras on their cell phones when gas was over three bucks per gallon?
He brought up the bookstore app and considered purchasing another novel. George Orwell had long been one of his favorite authors, but yet he hesitated. He looked at the selection on his phone’s small screen. If 1984 was considered seditious, why were stores allowed to sell it at all? Why did libraries still carry the text, schools still stock Orwell’s science-fiction among the classics? Did he honestly believe it was science fact, details skewed but prophetic nonetheless? He thought about not buying the ebook. He could get it through a used bookstore, pay cash, keep it off the radar and avoid observance as well as convenience.
He glanced across the street at the abandoned houses. His neighbors had been questioned, sure, but why had they left? Why did their homes stand forlorn and broken? It couldn’t be economic downturn. The radio spat out new stats every day; the country was thriving. Yet, he wondered when it would be his turn to be questioned. Would it be a phonecall summoning him to the authorities or men in black coats at his door?
No, all that was needed for the death of liberty wasn’t an oppressive state but citizens too scared to exercise their rights. He chastised himself for reading too many dystopian novels, even as he hit the word ‘buy’ on the phone’s touchscreen. He back-arrowed into his e-library and downloaded the newest purchase.
The phone rang. He stared at the caller I.D. Swallowing hard, he left his apartment, closing its door behind him.
*I’ve decided to write several flash stories that are inspired by famous first lines. This one is inspired by the first line in George Orwell’s 1984.
****image courtesy of Lee Cannon via Flickr using Creative Commons licensing.