A Short Story by Mavis Stone
“Today, you can expect San Francisco’s temperatures to vary between 72 and 79 degrees. Around 8:30 a.m., we can expect this season’s first wave of acid rain. Residents are advised to keep plants indoors, and fishermen are required to halt netting until pH levels return to normal.”
As a good friend of mine would quote: “Watching the news nowadays is less than ideal for your health.”
Looking around the new apartment complex was just as depressing. The view of the Bay Area would have been nicer had Kurt and I rented the floor a few decades earlier.
Black carbon waste encrusted the glass wall’s silicone sealing, and a fine layer of grit blanketed the exterior. The view of the Golden Gate Bridge and traffic was indeed a pitiful sight. The bridge, once cloaked with Red Riding Hood’s youth, now stood with tarnished armor ravened by wolves.
The apartment was a time travel machine itself. It sent me back to the pristine days of my childhood and to places I’d be better off not recalling. The price of nostalgia is not always an affordable one.
But I couldn’t help it. Everything was a trigger.
The polished wooden floors and door frames reminded me of the towering trees that once populated Yosemite, a place my family and I once visited on a yearly basis. Every winter, we welcomed the new snowfall and icy roads, but toward the end of middle school, my parents refused to visit. It wasn’t until I was in undergraduate school that I came to learn of Yosemite’s fate.
Food companies ― primarily Betty Crocker ― could no longer obtain canola and palm oil from refineries in Indonesia and Malaysia; and so, they turned to their home country: the United States. The idea sounded utterly absurd, but considering our president at the time, it was only inevitable that the company’s wishes would be granted. Our president had strongly promoted American products and was infamous for dissolving environmental policies. Within a few years, people across America watched as their forests became sites for oil cultivation.
At the time, I wasn’t fully aware of the future awaiting us. It’s not as if I didn’t care; rather, as a child, these were things that I’d classified as “adult material.” Global climate change wasn’t fully implemented into K-12 education at the time, and so I bore no knowledge of it. Anytime the topic arose, my ears immediately turned away. In some areas though ― particularly progressive green states ― children were applying their knowledge of climate change and influencing the daily lives of their parents. As for Charlie, however, climate change was an obscure entity she had yet to fully comprehend. Was it actually fear that kept her away from the subject? Perhaps this was the very monster that had been lurking beneath her bed, hungrily staring at her from the darkest realms of her closet.
Kurt had specifically chosen the Bay Area so that we could better focus on our work, but my feeble mind easily gave into the hauntings of the silent city. Somewhere along the way, the buildings had begun growing into gangly beasts, hiding away the Sun and obscuring the mountains. The snowy caps that once crowned the Central Valley’s mountains could no longer recognize Her Majesty. Instead, the valley’s warm temperatures forced the rain to flood surrounding rivers, hence preventing any accumulation of snow whatsoever. California had once been dependent on this snow for fresh water in the summer, but now, it depended on external sources. Blankets of smog now erased the mountain peaks like watercolor on sodden paper. And topping off the smog was of course its partner in crime: acid rain. Acid rain catalyzes mountain erosion, bombarding them so often that they now looked like croissants.
But that isn’t all.
This is just a microcosm of one of the many calamities now afflicting the world.
And like many others, I pursued my own interests instead of working to reverse our sins. My twin brother Kurt and I attended art school and then opened an art studio as soon as we graduated. It was then I decided we needed to somehow make a contribution of our own, and so Kurt and I returned to school to learn business. We now have a chain store called Charlie and Kurt’s.
It’s banal, I know.
But every year, we make generous donations to world organizations that have shown remarkable progress in renewing our world ― particularly in geoengineering. Geoengineering has been long debated due to its unforeseen consequences, but in reality it’s our only option.
My thoughts were suddenly disrupted.
I left my spot before the view, slightly satisfied with the breath mark I’d left on the glass wall.
“Check this out!” Kurt grunted as he tried dragging in the oversized spider plant our aunt had given us for our 28th birthday. He then tried nudging my blemished bicycle away from the doorside with his foot, so I quickly moved it aside for him.
“Here, Kurt, you should’ve opened the door first…”
“Are you calling me stupid?” He joked, carelessly kicking his dirty Converses off to the side. He then lowered the large, leafy plant beside the entrance way before brushing off his dry, callused hands. I couldn’t help but notice the dirt that had accumulated on the leaves from the truck emissions outside. Despite the abundance of autonomous cars in S.F., the trucks still managed to overwhelm the city with all its waste.
“Hey, get that sour look off your face. Otherwise I’ll chop a lemon for you to pucker on. That’s something worth getting sour over.” As per usual, Kurt’s jokes failed to humor me. As much as I’d like to ignore him, I can’t. Somehow it feels like neglecting a child.
“Weren’t you going to mention something?” I remind him. Just then, Kurt switches on the entranceway lights. I shut my eyes for a bit before refocusing on my brother. The white walls of the entranceway could be a bit blinding at first. (Kurt had the interior designer model our apartment a uniform shade of bone. I had insisted that blue was proven to be the most calming color, but Kurt was too stubborn to change the modeling plans.)
“Oh yeah. Here, take a look at this,” Kurt grunted as he shut the front door behind him. He held a pamphlet that featured a medical center.
“Where did you get this?” I asked. Paper was rarely used nowadays. It was for this reason that Kurt and I created digital art.
“Oh, someone’s awfully chatty today,” Kurt chirped. Sighing, I began looking through the pamphlet.
“It was tucked beneath the mat,” Kurt explained. “I didn’t look through it yet, it just caught my eye.”
The pamphlet was advertising a research project at UCSF. There weren’t many details on what the project was exactly, but an information meeting was specified. A photo of UCSF’s medical center was featured on the front cover. The sky was a gray-blue, hinting that the picture had been taken recently. I ran my fingers along the sharp edge of the creased paper, taking in the familiar scent of printer ink.
Help us bring more advancements into the world, the pamphlet read.
My heart began to race. This was something new.
I couldn’t help but notice how the light diffracted from the front cover though. Upon closer inspection, I quickly realized that the page was embedded with lenticular lensing*. I scratched it, and sure enough, the unique scratching noise scritch-scratched back. On the bottom of the page, another question was printed in bold: “What does this remind you of?” I faintly recalled the pokemon cards I used to collect as a kid. Sometimes there’d be special packs with lenticular lensed cards.
Just as I was about to read the next page, the blank sheet suddenly changed. An image of my first starter Pokemon, Turtwig, appeared in a patch of tall grass with a mischievous look. A smile automatically made its way onto my lips as I recalled the grass moves like Razor Leaf and Bullet Seed that I’d once depended on as a virtual pokemon trainer. The sudden change definitely surprised me, but I shouldn’t’ve been. The page must’ve contained nanochips that translated biofeedback. It was quite a sight, seeing these chips being used in a pamphlet, though. Chips are easy to mass produce and are only ten cents apiece, but paper costs a fortune and is hard to come by. How many pamphlets had UCSF produced? How did they manage to find a printing company? It seemed like such a waste to be advertising “breakthroughs” and “world-changing advancements” like this. Perhaps it was a scam? UCSF had more than enough money to advertise on bulletin boards, San Francisco’s red network, and TV commercials. The more I thought about it, the less convinced I was.
But there was a small part of me that wanted to believe that something truly magical was indeed taking place within the walls of UCSF medical center. I wanted to believe.
I read on:
Come explore the old world with us as we travel back in time…
Test the powers of your inner god…
Would you like to evolve into the humankind of tomorrow?
…but what does it even mean to be human?
“Kurt!” Little Charlie wanted answers, and she would get them.
Kurt’s brunette head poked out from the kitchen with a spoonful of nutella and peanut butter in hand.
“What?” he called out lamely. His eyebrows arched up like actor Skandar Keynes’, except less intensely.
“I’m going out for a bit.”
“But it’s going to rain soon…” Kurt quickly sets down the spoon to rinse his hands in the newly renovated sink. I listen as the steady stream of water makes a metallic echo against the sink bowl.
“I’m aware. Don’t worry, I’ll keep covered.”
“How long will you be out?”
“Eh…just a couple of hours. Maybe three.”
“Three hours…? I’ll come with you, then. You shouldn’t be out on your own for that long.”
“But you need to tend to the shop, Kurt.” And this was Charlie’s adventure, not the chronicles of Charlie and Kurt.
“You shouldn’t even be going out today ― not with today’s weather!” Kurt took a bite from his messily made sandwich and then set it back down onto the counter with a napkin beneath.
“Sorry, Kurt, but there’s something I want to check out today. Watch the shop for the first three hours or so…please?”
I start for my bedroom and try my best to block out Kurt’s whining.
Just then, it began to rain.
Peeling back the wooden blinds, I watched as the small droplets sprinkled against the window. The Golden Gate Bridge was still visible from this side of the apartment and I could see that the clouds were rolling into the bay from the west. I readjust the blinds then head back out.
“Don’t forget to open up the shop at 9:30!” I remind Kurt. I take my wallet from the kitchen counter then begin filling my thermos. Kurt’s unfinished sandwich sits dry beside the open container of Nutella. I could never stand the sugary substance.
“Can’t you just wait till later tonight when we can both go out or something?” Kurt complains, entering the kitchen several seconds later.
“No, this is a daytime task,” I quickly explain. The thermos was nearly full, now. Because I couldn’t actually observe the water inching its way up within the interior of my thermos, I simply placed my free hand near the upper end so that I could sense the coldness once it was nearly full.
“How about we start hiring people to care for the shop? We have a chain store. We don’t even have to interact with our customers!”
“Kurt, let’s discuss this later. I have things to do, plus it’s really early.”
“And yet you’re still going out.”
I felt so tempted to just dump my bottle onto the knucklehead, but that would’ve been a waste of water.
Instead, I brushed past him back to the entrance way and slipped on my rain boots. Looking to my bicycle, I wondered if it would be feasible to ride with them on.
“Oui, no goodbye? It’s already bad enough that I’m tending the shop alone today.”
“Kurt, you’ll be just fine.”
“But what if some robber were to come by?”
“We only accept PayPal and credit cards, so there’d be no reason for some robber to come by unless he or she, one, ignores the bright red payment policy notification at the front of our shop, or two, is illiterate. Now how likely is that?”
Kurt whines in defeat.
“Call me if you need anything.” I wave my phone then give Kurt a quick hug.
Before softly shutting the door closed behind me, I kick off my bicycle stand then take a quick glance at the spider plant lounging inside. It looked comfortable.
The apartment complex was desolate and the cold air immediately began chilling my ears until, finally, they were warm again. In the middle of the outdoor floor was a diverse garden blooming with native Californian plants. Today, a white tarp covered the entire garden and was nailed down at all four corners to save the soil from the acidic rain. The plastic material rolled like ocean waves, each one rhythmically converging into the next.
Looking back to my sticky, clenched hands, I then realized that the pamphlet was also getting a fair share of the storm. I backed further against the front door then double checked the meeting information.
Join our information meeting on November 3, 2048, at 9:30 a.m. in the Toland Hall auditorium.
I take a quick glance at my phone:
Monday, November 3, 2048
On the next page a form requested the participant’s name, address, and the like. Immediately, my personal information began filling in the blanks. I couldn’t help but feel a bit concerned ― this was a major violation of my mental privacy.
A new instruction then appeared: open the back flap.
I flipped over the pamphlet but just saw a flat, uniform page. I then noticed that it seemed slightly thicker, though, so I tried prying the paper apart, and sure enough, there seemed to be an envelope-like flap. Inside rested a bright red ticket with the number 11111 printed onto it.
I flipped back to the registration form and found that the page had become blank. It looked like Turtwig had also left. In fact, the pamphlet now appeared to be like any other old school brochure. I could no longer create the scritch-scratch noise, either. Looking to my feet, I discovered crystal-like flakes beside my boots. They were multitudes of colors.
The lenticular lensing must have disintegrated.
A gust of wind then rushed past, sweeping away the litter.
I watched in silence as its colors became one with the stormy sky.
Then checked the time once more.
It was still 8:45 a.m.
Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed this snippet~ If you’d like to read more, then please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll try my best to update this story at least twice a month (on google docs for your own convenience).
*I think that “lenticular lensing” may be the incorrect terminology, so I’d greatly appreciate it if someone could correct me. Thanks in advance!