2156 – 2300 A.D.
A BLACK SWAN
The horse meat rotted in my clenched fist beneath a slithering glove of flies and maggots. Staring at my cramped fingers, I knew they would never uncurl again. The wild barking of dogs tore through fluttering lace curtains that failed to hide the chaos beyond while my pastel room of painted flowers stank of death; the whole world stank of death.
I found Mommy on the kitchen floor, surrounded by a mosaic of glittering glass and blood. Shards of crystal slashed rainbows across her face, reminding me of the time I’d seen the Northern Lights reflected on a dark river.
Behind me, Mother screamed, ran to get Father, and I stood silently watching the blood dry from Mommy’s eyes, nose, and ears. I’d never seen death before, but now it felt like it had always seen me, watching from behind those vacant eyes, reaching with twisted fingers, and crying my name through pale lips. I turned and ran.
“What happened to Mommy?” I asked while Mother stood in the doorway to my bedroom.
“Your nanny got sick,” she said in restrained anger. It was the same tone she used when I was in trouble or one of our racehorses had lost.
Her stare made my arms tighten around BB, my soft horse doll.
With a deep breath she glanced away. “And she just had to break the last of our best wine glasses.” Her lips pursed together and then she closed the door.
The next day, our gardener tried to kill my Father. My Father, however, had had the foresight to carry a weapon since ‘shit hit the fan,’ and he hit the man with a bullet.
My Mother and I ran into the room to find the second body in two days, and my Father said as if it were trivial news, “He wanted my blood.” He ran a shaking hand through his stiff hair while he stared at the body. Then, looking up at my Mother with eyes that shivered my skin, he added, “We should kill the others.”
Within one week, all of our staff, including the chef, lay decomposing under sheets in the service quarters, much to the dismay of my mother. I listened to the curses she threw in the kitchen and the sound of the electric can opener clattering against tile. After that, the microwave above our once gleaming, modern oven was the only appliance she used.
My father rode his ‘high-horse’—as my mother called it— around for days, ‘lording’ it over her that they should’ve bought a nutrition-printer years ago. She’d insisted that there was no need for one at the time since we could afford quality human prepared meals. He pointed out the failure of hired human-hands that could turn murderous, not to mention dead and useless. She called him a useless murderer then stuffed rotten food into his 3D polymer-printer which culminated into another fight because the machine was irreplaceable.
I hid in my room realizing Mommy was irreplaceable too.
Memories of those first few months blurred together.
I scrounged for food in the massive pantry while my parents paced and wept, talking to the house.
Jin, call so-and-so.
Jin, latest news.
Jin, help us!
Jin, otherwise known as Jinkou Chinou Jouhou Shisutemu, was a Japanese created artificial intelligence connected to the Universal Mind Network; what some people, around my grandparent’s age, still called the ‘Internet.’ But Jin could only offer the last news posted before the sites were abandoned, followed by echoing screams within the tombs of social media. Most activity came from the U-Mi in the form of media-bots. With unchecked proliferation there were now more ‘fake’ people than ‘live’ people on the U-Mi, communicating in their own ternary language.
My parents tried contacting the authorities and everyone they knew in government or high society, but no one answered. My father was forced to raid the empty homes and stores within a one-hundred-mile radius for food. He came back more haunted than ever but refused to tell us about what he’d witnessed. From the roving dog packs I’d seen from my window, I imagined it couldn’t be worse than a human arm in the jaws of its once adoring canine. From then on, I feared them as they hunted me in my dreams, those dogs of reckoning.
When the power hubs no longer provided energy, our electric vehicle provided a home for a family of grateful skunks. We were effectively stranded on twelve hundred acres of race tracks and fences in a state-of-the-art home. I wondered when we’d run out of food and whether my parents or the dogs would eventually kill me. I barricaded my room every night.
In April, around my ninth birthday, a wildfire rampaged through the silent city, coming within view of our property. We watched rotten orange sunsets with air that tasted of smoked anxiety and rancid sweat. My parents were senseless during those choking days, and I noticed that all of the bottles in the bar were empty. I took a sip from a brown bottle and spat it out with a grimace. Why anyone would drink something that tasted like tack-cleaning product was beyond me.
When the packaged food was nearly gone, we all came to a grim realization. Grim for my parents because each horse was once a prized commodity; grim for me because I knew that Paradise-At-Dawn preferred apples, that On-a-Double-Lark liked his ears scratched, and BB was my last and only friend. My father started with the ones worth the least as if civilization would miraculously recover before all his investments were shot. A gun enthusiast but not a hunter, the horses were sentenced to grisly deaths.
Since no one knew how to butcher, prepare, or keep the meat, most of it fed the packs of roaming dogs and brooding vultures. I ran at a flock of those carrion-fowls, screaming with a plastic manure shovel. After standing over On-A-Double-Lark’s bloody remains, I bolted to open the gate, but my father stopped me, ignoring my screams as indifferently as the flick of a horse’s tail. Eventually, more than twenty mutilated thoroughbreds lay in the field and the stables transformed into unsanctified ground.
My A.R. art set was defunct, so I used lipstick to draw horses galloping from my room into the halls. My mother slapped me for wasting her lipstick and ruining the walls, and then, with a sob, hugged me; a crushing hug not of shame, or love for me, but a furious, selfish need for her own solace. I crushed the last of her lipstick behind her back and wiped my hand down her white, silken shirt.
After seven months that seemed to have lasted longer than my life-time, an electric vehicle drove itself up our overgrown driveway. My parents welcomed the scientist, engineer, government officer, and movie star turned ambassador with tearful shock. The government officer brought provisions and promised order. The engineer guaranteed energy. The actor emoted a bright future, and the scientist…well, the scientist. She had all the answers.
That night we ate our last horse and my mother brought out the good china, the silver, and the crystal. Everyone enjoyed seared Equus with dehydrated potatoes and canned beets, but I grabbed BB off my plate, snuck into the night, and stood beneath the stars with a fistful of charred flesh. I didn’t cry, just stared at the piles of overturned soil, the hundreds of tiny graves I’d made. My bare toes wiggled into the loose dirt, free of my blood-splattered shoes that joined the graveyard of my youth.
It was three days before I let go of BB when my mother nearly burned my fingers with bleach to overcome the stench; I bloodied the back of my empty hand trying to scratch away her purification.
End of Excerpt