Short Story: "Those Left Behind" pt. 3

When we last left Jimmy he had emerged from his hovel in an attempt to find some food. He discovered that his companion, Lindsey, has little remorse when it comes to her own survival.

When Jimmy is discovered in a crowd, a passerby sets the police on him. In this world, Jimmy is an Animan, a person who those with privilege and wealth want to be rid of. But it is more than the Enhanceds that are against Jimmy. In a harsh world that he isn’t designed to survive in, every step is dangerous.

In this final part, Jimmy flees desperately from the police and finds salvation in an unlikely place. The story concludes with Jimmy confronted with the price of his salvation.


“F–ing Enhanceds!” Jimmy screamed back at the police. He spins around and flashes them his middle finger. Jimmy winced at the pain in his lungs but he didn’t slow his pace. He shout cost him precious energy and air.

“Stop!” One of the policemen shouted back. “Stop! Or we will shoot.”

Jimmy looked back, his hood slid off his head, and he noticed that the two policemen were drawing their weapons. He pushed himself even harder. He could hear the telltale whoosh of the approaching light-train as he got closer to the tracks. He knew had to time this perfectly.

“Stop! Don’t do this!” The same policeman shouted.

Jimmy was close to the tracks. Turning his head to the right, he could see the blur of the train. It was close now. Somehow, Jimmy was able to push his legs faster. He heard a crack of an electro-gun behind him. Luckily, the shooter had bad aim and Jimmy watched as the blue and white stream of electricity crackled past his head. Unfortunately, the projectile hit an unsuspecting onlooker gawking at the fray.

I’m sorry, Jimmy thought as he watched the wounded man fall to the ground.

Jimmy was close to the edge of the tracks now and the train was only meters away, slowing down as it approached the platform. The police fired again, and Jimmy heard the waiting crowd on the train platform scream. Many of the people ducked, but others abandoned their commute and fled from the platform.

The train was almost on top of him and Jimmy closed his eyes. He leapt forward just as the train conductor cut the train’s power. The light-train screeched to a halt.

Jimmy crashed onto the platform, knocking over a few crouched and screaming commuters. He looked behind him. The immobile train had created a barrier between him and the pursuing officers.

Jimmy scrambled to his feet and the people around him recoiled. Seizing the opportunity to flee, Jimmy pushed past them and ran to the back of the platform.

Jimmy frantically looked left and right, trying to find a safe spot to recover. He could see a tiny narrow alley between two restaurants to his right, just meters beyond the platform.

“That’ll have to do,” Jimmy said. He suddenly doubled over. His weakened physical state and lack of breath had finally taken its toll. He began to hyperventilate.

“Are you okay?” a little girl said.

Jimmy raised his head. In front of him stood a smiling little girl with big blue eyes and long brown hair. Jimmy guessed that she was about six or seven. She crouched down in front of him so that they were face to face. Looking into her eyes he could just make out a slight tinge of green recessing behind the bright blue that now dominated her eyes.

Lucky! She’s just received the enhancements, Jimmy thought. Noticing that the little girl was looking at him intently, her brow furrowed in genuine concern, Jimmy nodded in response to her question, forcing himself to smile at her.

“Why is your hair that funny colour?” She asked. “I’ve never seen hair like yours before. And what are those funny speckles all over your face? Do they hurt?” The little girl stretched a finger towards Jimmy’s face.

“Rachel!” a frantic woman screamed. A woman dressed in an elegant dark pantsuit grabbed the little girl by the arm and yanked her away from Jimmy.

“Bye!” the little girl said. She waved with her free arm as her mother dragged her onto the train. Jimmy could hear the mother frantically scolding her daughter.

After all, what am I but another dirty animan? Jimmy thought. He couldn’t afford the genetic upgrades like the rest of these people. He couldn’t fix his flawed genetic makeup, and his red hair immediately gave him away.

“Hey! Over here!”

Jimmy looked around him. A richly dressed man and woman were beckoning to him. Jimmy immediately thought to run the other way, but something about their kind faces froze him in place. They beckoned again, more frantic than before. Reluctantly, Jimmy moved towards them. The doors closed on the train, the ding of the departure bell sounded. The train edged forward. A muted rumble filled the air around the platform.

When Jimmy got close to the couple, the man took off his clean-cut tailor black overcoat and threw it over Jimmy. Then the man pulled the collar up and placed his fedora on top of Jimmy’s head. He placed his arm around Jimmy’s shoulder and pulled him close. The man and woman began walking towards the restaurants, guiding Jimmy along between them.

“Come along, son,” the man said.

Jimmy looked at the man. His dirty blonde had been slicked back, each strand perfectly sculpted, his face clean shaven and glistening in the growing light. The man met Jimmy’s eyes. The man smiled gently. His warm chocolate brown eyes crinkling at the edges, his flawless skin revealing no sign of age or sun damage.

They walked towards the door of one of the empty restaurants. The name Alonso’s was written in gold letters across the large front window. As they got close, the red door of the restaurant swung open. In the doorway stood a tall athletic man, grease staining the white apron that stretched across his trim waist, his lush black hair tied in a neat ponytail that stretched down his wide back.

“Thank you, Alonso,” the woman said.

Once they were inside, Jimmy noticed that Alonso locked the door and drew the tan shade down the oversized front window. The rising sun cast a shadow of the restaurant’s reverse name on the tan blind. s’osnolA.

“What’s going on?” Jimmy asked.

“It’s okay. My name is Richard, and this is my wife Melissa.”

“Yeah, hi,” Jimmy said. “What do you want?”

“We just want to help you,” Melissa said. “What’s your name?”

“Bobby!” Jimmy lied.

“Well, Bobby,” Richard said. “We belong to a group of people that tries to help people like you, people that have been mistreated, that struggle to survive because they can’t afford the enhancements.”

“I don’t need your charity. I don’t need help from Enhanceds,” Jimmy said. He strode towards the locked door. Alonso, his brawny arms crossed, stepped aside to let Jimmy pass.

“We can get you out of the city,” Richard said. Jimmy froze mid step. His hand rested on the deadbolt lock. “We have a farm, about an hour outside the walls. There are all kinds of people there, people just like—”

“What? Animans?” Jimmy said sneering. He turned around to look at Richard.

“We don’t use that term,” Melissa said. “Despite what the government says, you are humans just like us. You don’t deserve to be treated the way you are.”

“Sure, whatever,” Jimmy said. “How do I know your not bounty hunters or cops? How do I know that this farm isn’t just a camp. I know what they do to my kind. Round us up and exterminate us simply because we are hard to look at! Just because we remind people…how do I know that I can trust you?”

“You don’t, Bobby,” Melissa said. Her blunt response and lack of further explanation or plea intrigued Jimmy.

“Look, Bobby, we have a car waiting nearby, but we have to leave now,” Richard said. Jimmy looked at him questioningly, still unable to decide if he believed these people, if he trusted them.

Sensing Jimmy’s apprehension, Richard continued, “Look the police won’t stop searching till they find you. You staying here means your death. Do you know of anyone else that needs help? Is there anyone that you want to accompany you?”

Jimmy briefly thought of Lindsey. Then he remembered the woman lying dead in the alley.

“No,” Jimmy replied.

“Okay.” Richard said. “So? What do you think?”

“Okay. Fine,” Jimmy said, his voice quiet. “And my name is Jimmy…not Bobby. I lied.” Richard nodded sharply at him, seeming to understand, and he then turned to Alonso.

“Alonso, can you be a chap and check to make sure that our way is clear?” Alonso nodded. The burly man pushed gently past Jimmy, unlocked the door and left.

Moments later, Alonso reentered the restaurant and swiftly motioned to Richard. Melissa approached Jimmy, buttoned up the coat, and pulled the fedora a touch lower to cover his face.

“It’s cold out there,” said Melissa. She winked one of her large brown eyes at him and flashed him a wide perfectly white toothed smile. Her curly black hair bounced with every movement she made. Once she seemed satisfied that Jimmy could not easily be identified, Melissa nodded to Richard.

Richard and Melissa walked casually out of the restaurant, Jimmy between them, the three of them walking arm in arm. Jimmy turned to look one last time at Alonso who was leaning casually against the door frame waving goodbye. Before they turned the corner, Jimmy watched Alonso go back into the restaurant. The red door closed noiselessly, the tan blind snap downward, and swiftly flew up the window illuminating the restaurant interior and Alonso’s white and greasy apron.

The three of them walked back down the street that only moments earlier Jimmy had frantically ran down. Jimmy kept his head bent, focusing on the foot-worn cobblestones of the street, allowing his weak body to be guided by his saviours. The adrenaline of his flight was waning, and his hunger came back with a vengeance.

“Soon, soon,” said Melissa as Jimmy’s belly audibly screamed in complaint. 

Jimmy raised his head as they got closer to the alley where he lived, the alley where he had left Lindsey in a dingy hovel, the alley that was almost now illuminated by the rising sun. As they drew closer, Jimmy watched as two men wearing thick toques and scarves wrapped around their faces carefully exited the alley. The men were wiping their red smeared hands on their ragged pants. And one of them was wearing a blood-speckled long emerald green puffy down jacket.

Short Story: "Those Left Behind" pt. 2

Last week, I published part 1 of “Those Left Behind.” This week is part 2. I had hoped to get it up sooner, but I took on another short term project as a research assistant. So much for downtime! But getting paid to do what you love is an amazing thing.

Anyways, last week we were introduced to Jimmy and Lindsey. They live in a harsh world, a world where medical and technological advances created a socio-political division between Animans and Enchanceds. In part 2, as Jimmy heads out into the world, we learn more about that division and what it means for those struggling to survive.


Jimmy tried to shift his numb body. He rocked carefully side to side. The cold dirt under his bottom sent more shivers up his spine. He separated his hair from his stubble, shoving the long red hair down his back between his hoodie and shirt. He pulled up the hood and reached into the darkness until he found his boots. He slid them on carefully, trying not to puncture more holes into the worn and weak leather with his toes. As he dressed, he could hear Lindsey cursing and mumbling in the darkness.

“You better not leave that coat of yours lying around or let anyone see you with it. Someone will try to steal it,” Jimmy said as he slid out of the narrow entrance. He just barely made out Lindsey’s venomous curses as he slid onto the cold asphalt outside.

The early morning light was blinding. A cruel wind whipped down the alleyway. The buildings on either side acted as a funnel, drawing the wind from the city streets and propelling it down the side alleys.

Thankful for some stretching room, Jimmy stood on his toes and reached his arms up over his head lengthening his thin adolescent frame. The smell of exhaust and fumes penetrated his nose, making the inside of his nostrils tickle. Still, he breathed in deeply. The air stung his lungs and he coughed uncontrollably for a few seconds. When he was finally able to stop coughing, he could still hear Lindsey talking to herself and cursing the world. He knelt down to the basement window that he had just crawled out of.

“Fancy anything in particular?” Jimmy asked. Lindsey swore and threw a rock out of the broken window. Jimmy laughed. The rock bounce noisily across the pavement and banged against the dumpster.

Jimmy strode across the narrow laneway. Deciding that the dumpster would be the best place to start, he carefully opened the heavy lid. Inside the rusted green metal container was completely empty. A faint odour of rot hung in the dank darkness, but it was void of even a wet rotten wrapper clingy to its side.

“Found it in the dumpster, eh?” Jimmy said to himself. He let go of the lid. The smash of the heavy plastic on steel echoed loudly between the grey buildings. Jimmy looked up at the sky. The sunlight was just starting to stretch down the building he lived under.

“I better hurry.” Jimmy sighed and flexed his body. “This is gonna suck.”

Jimmy pulled his hood tight around his face. He stuffed his hands into his hoodie pouch and strode down the lane towards the open street. Just as he was about to walk out onto the street, he noticed a pair of dirty canvas shoes sticking out from under an opened old newspaper on the ground. He knelt down and removed the paper. Concealed underneath was a woman, naked except for a couple of scraps of fabric tied around her torso. Her freckled face was contorted in fear, her green eyes wide open, staring emptily at the sky above her. Inky sanguine blood still flowed from a wound in her head. The offending rock rested innocently next to her bashed skull. A pile of black ooze splashed along the pavement next to the rock.

Jimmy cringed with realization. Lindsey was known for her temper, and her desire to do whatever to survive, but he never thought she’d go this far. He gently placed the newspaper back over the body, said a few words, and resumed his quest.

The city street was already bustling with activity. Jimmy tried to slide into the pedestrian traffic, but he was roughly pushed and shoved by the hustling crowd.

“Get out of the way!” One large man in a bright blue suit pushed Jimmy so hard he felt like he was going to break. Jimmy tripped forward. In an effort to stop himself from falling to the ground, he let go of his hood and grabbed the ledge of a window. Jimmy locked eyes with the man who had shoved him. The man was looking at him with a mix of disgust and anger in his crinkled blue eyes and full-lipped sneer. His sneer shifted into a cruel smile.

“Police! Police!” The man shouted.

The heads of two uniformed police officers appeared over the crowd. Swivelling their heads like radars, they scanned the mass of people for the disturbance. They quickly spotted Jimmy. After all, he was the only one in the crowd bundled up to protect himself from the cold.

Jimmy turned and ran down the street as fast his feet could carry him. He dodged between well-dressed commuters with their perfectly coiffed hair and tailored clothes. People in the crowd screamed and jumped out of the way as he pushed against them. Jimmy could hear the heavy-booted feet of the policemen slamming on the pavement not far behind him. His leg muscles screamed. His lungs burned. He knew that he had to find an escape before his body gave out.

Spotting a light-rail track less than a block away, Jimmy mustered more of his waning strength and desperately sprinted. Jimmy dared to look back quickly, just to make sure that the space between himself and the two police officers grew with every step.

The muscular police officers were sweating, but Jimmy knew that their bodies would never give out. The air didn’t hurt their altered lungs. Their bodies were designed to not feel the cold. They weren’t weak with hunger since they didn’t have to metabolize organic substances to survive. It wasn’t fair.

Short story: "Those Left Behind" pt.1

I have several short stories that I wrote during my undergrad. I was proud of them then, I still am, but I do see how my writing has become more polished since. I thought of maybe sending them off to get published somewhere, but really I just enjoyed writing these stories. I hope you enjoy them too.

The stories show off another side of myself, another side of my skill and artistic expression, even if it is a bit dark. I hope to make people think. I hope to make people unsettled. But, perhaps more importantly, I hope people find some sense of humanity, especially in this current story.

The first story I’ll be sharing is a bit long, and there is a part that I want to rewrite, but here is part one. I’ll roll out part two when I feel it’s ready, and then continue till the entire story is published. However, I’ll try my best to not leave more than a week between parts.

“Those Left Behind” is one look at our possible future, a future where people can adjust their very DNA to survive in the hostile and polluted world we created. However, what about those who can’t afford the enhancements? What would their lives be like? How would they be treated? For those who can afford them, would they use them cosmetically? What would be considered a ‘flaw’? Here’s one possibility.


Those Left Behind

Jimmy tried to open his eyes, but they were frozen shut. Painfully forcing his green eyes open, he blinked away the crust of frozen tears that grasped desperately to his light blonde lashes. Jimmy yawned sleepily, his exhaling breath leaving his body in a white puff. Using what little energy he had, Jimmy shivered and pulled the torn rag that was his blanket up around his face.

“It won’t help,” Lindsey said.

Rolling onto his side, Jimmy could just barely make out Lindsey in the early morning light. A single weak ray streamed through the tiny entrance to their hovel.

“Pulling that rag around you is just useless,” Lindsey said. Jimmy watched as she smashed two rocks together. The sparks that sprang from the force briefly illuminated her, her curly mop of red hair and pale grey eyes dominating her pale features. Even in the dim light and freezing cold Jimmy couldn’t help but become a little excited by her beauty: her pouty lips, her angular face, and her long slim neck. Jimmy noticed that Lindsey was wearing a long emerald green puffy down jacket. He frowned. The overstuffed jacket prevented his eyes from following the curves of her young developing body downwards.

“That’s new,” Jimmy said.

“Ah… yeah… I found it in the dumpster… in the alley,” Lindsey said. Jimmy felt the weak tinge of jealously in the pit of his empty stomach.

Jimmy watched as she smashed the rocks again, and a spark landed on a pile of damp paper, human hair, and other small combustibles. He could hear the clatter of rock on compact dirt as she tossed the rocks aside.

“Come on, come on,” Lindsey said softly. Jimmy heard her blowing softly on the ember. Desperately wanting for warmth, Jimmy tried to not get his hopes up as he watched the tiny ember fade.

“Fuck!” Lindsey said as the ember snuffed out completely, but not before causing a strand of hair to smoke which filled the air around them with a thick rancid odour.

“Forget it. That stuff you got is too damp,” Jimmy said as he reluctantly removed his tattered blanket. His stomach grumbled, pleading for some sustenance. His aching body felt despairingly weak.

“Well, if you think you can do better—” Lindsey said.

“Forget it. I’m gonna go see if I can find some food.”

Jimmy rose into a crawling position, careful not to bang his head on the rotten wood rafters just inches above his head. His frozen red hair fell around his face.

Jimmy carefully shifted into a seated position, contorting his body so that he was almost doubled over. The cramped conditions of their living space infuriated him, but it was all he had ever known since he was cast from the woman who raised him through infancy. He was never sure if she was his mother, she never said that she was, so he had always just called her Angela. He’ll never forget the day she cast him out of her brood. He was only eleven, but old enough to take care of himself according to Angela. And for the last five years he struggled to do just that.

Jimmy’s skin prickled as Lindsey coughed harshly behind him. He heard the hard phlegm rattle in her lungs. She retched and spit. In his mind’s eye he pictured the thick black phlegm propel from her lips and land on the dirt floor, the pungent mass congealing in the shadows.

“The polluted air still contains the sins of those before us, and it is us lowly animans that suffer because of it. Those of us not good enough for enhancements, those of us who technology and medicine left behind,” Angela had told Jimmy once. He couldn’t help but recall the night she told him that. She sat stroking the forehead of another child who found refuge with her only weeks before, the poor little boy’s lungs filled with the black ooze.

“He won’t have long,” Angela said. “But at least he won’t be alone in the end.” Jimmy never forgot the sound of the little boy’s desperate gasping just before he died.

The Beauty of Not Speaking the Same Language

My adventure in navigating car mechanics in Northern Italy

I recently completed a road trip through Europe. And by road trip I mean driving a rental car from Marseille, France, to Venice, Munich, Amsterdam, Brussels, and Paris, only to return to Marseille, France in two weeks.

This was my first time with a diesel car. The fact that the manual was completely in French was something that I thought I could deal with…

Read more on: https://vocal.media/wander/the-beauty-of-not-speaking-the-same-language

Success, Imposter Syndrome, and Labels

A few weeks ago, a person I hold in high regard told me that I am successful.

I laughed off the remark and went on my merry way.

It wasn’t the first time someone had said this to me. I had heard it many times from my family and friends. But here was someone I professionally admired telling me that I was a success, and I didn’t feel even close to deserving that kind of a remark from a person like that.

My reflex was to tell myself that he was just being a sycophant, but I know that such a tendency is very far from the blunt honesty he is known for.

So why does being called a success bother me so much?

Here’s the thing…I don’t take compliments well. I detest being the centre of attention, and I am always pushing myself to be more, to do more. But I’ve never saw myself as a success. I am still working on my thesis after all, and I do some work as a music journalist (as much as I can and as time allows), but I feel that I am hardly a success.

I’ve always felt like a fraud, an imposter who is just playing at being something. Calling myself a journalist still feels like an awkward sham when I’ve had the pleasure of being taught by people who have incredible careers as mainstream journalists. Calling myself a scholar…well compared to the masters who I study, I feel even more of a phoney.

Self-help mantras would tell me that I’m making my own path, doing what suits me best, and that that’s ok. But no matter how many times I send out the vibes in the universe and repeat to myself that I am a writer, scholar, and journalist, I still feel a far cry from those I admire.

Then there’s the idea that you fake it till you make it, right? Maybe. But then I’m totally dismissing how I feel. I can “fake it” all I want, but at the end of the day I’ll still look in the mirror and tell myself I’m not those things.

It wasn’t till a friend made an off-handed comment that I realized what was going on. Imposter syndrome had seeped its way into my very psyche.

It’s something we all struggle with time to time. As a writer, I first danced with it when I told people what I did for a living. Even though I had been published, I dismissed the fact that I was indeed a success to some measure, attributing my lack of confidence at calling myself a writer because I had only been published in a small time online magazine. That success didn’t feel substantial enough or significant enough. In some corner of my mind, I held onto the belief that I will only be a successful writer when I publish something in a well-known publication that millions read.

But as I began working as a music journalist, I began to see how my writing mattered. True, I don’t have a mass readership, but for the indie musicians who I cover, my words brought some measure of joy. Isn’t that success?

As a scholar, I’ve had a couple academic book reviews published and am almost done my thesis. Still a far cry from the world-renowned scholar lecturing to an overflowing hall of hungry minds, which my imagination conjured up as a measure of scholarly success. But for those who I talk to about my work, who one day it may impact, they are supportive and excited about the work I’m doing. I’ve inspired some people, and isn’t that success?

Maybe I’m just trying to justify to myself who I am based on what I do. Maybe I’m seeking a measure of validation. But really, regardless of the label put on me, it will never change what I do…and that is write. In fact, its only the format I write in that determines the label I fit under.

Still, in my mind I will never be good enough to be called a success by my mentor. I don’t feel deserving of the starry eyes that my close friends give me when I tell them which musicians I’ve chatted with. And when my family brags about all I’ve done in the last couple of years, I shy away and dismiss their praise.

I tell myself I’m being humble.

Maybe I am an imposter…by passing off praise and indicators of success, no matter how tiny, I’m telling myself that I am a nobody, who does nothing, and impacts no one. I’m an imposter of ambivalence, trying to convince myself I’m one thing when I’m actually another.

Now isn’t that a thought?

Persistence

A wise person once told me that something that is hard is something that is worth doing.

As a writer and an academic I face this every day. Many days it’s hard to write. It’s hard to bring the ideas, the feelings, to the surface, and to let them flow almost mindlessly onto a keyboard. Apprehension, fear, doubt, and lack of confidence in my own abilities often stonewall me into neglecting the art of free writing.

But many times there is a little whisper in the back of my mind that nudges me to put words down. It forces me to draw on it, to learn from it as it replays all of my past successes in writing, and in life in general.

It’s my persistence.

There is something to be said for persistence.

It’s what spurred me through my bachelor of arts at a lightening fast pace, allowing me to complete it almost a year early. Did I mention that I did my entire undergrad through distance education?

It was my persistence that made me break out of my comfort zone during journalism school. Talking to random strangers about themselves is an amazingly hard thing to get used to.

It’s my persistence that has sustained me as I’ve transitioned from the military into civilian life, from one career to the next.

My persistence has been my driving force all my life. It has allowed me to persevere where others may have quite. Sometimes it was without any definable goal other than making it through the next minute, day, week, or year, but it was always there.

Maybe it’s more akin to stubbornness, of my unwillingness to cease moving forward, but on the days when it’s hard to get out of bed, let alone write, persistence is my creed.

So to get back to the idea that a hard task is one worth doing, well then I greet every obstacle, every closed door, every rejection, every failure with the utmost optimism.