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Air and Nothingness
The air in Easton always held a grey ambiance of dull haze. A constant rusty scent lingered through the city’s streets and homes. Black clouds of smoke replaced the natural sky. Because of the ratification of necessary “War-Amendments”, America began demanding severe conformity from its citizens. Sons or fathers were drafted and taken from families, land was destroyed, civilization -- consumed. Society itself was turning gray.
These, of course, were the effects of the fifth world war and the continuous seven years of fighting. The year was 2098, fifteen years after the fourth world war and twenty-two after the third. While most wars in history have been about the struggle of power between nations, World War Five is solely dedicated to the discovery of a mineral in Russia, Chroxium, which acts identical to the depleting quantity of oil.
Although no fighting takes place on American soil, the war has devoured one-third of the male population. The chances of America surviving are twenty-eight to thirty-five percent. These statistics created and broadcasted by Mathew Novak, the most popular news personality of the beginning of the war. Novak was the first to uncover Russia’s discovery and consequently lead America into the war, becoming a modern Uncle Sam. He referred to the fifth world war as “Moby Dick”, associating it with America’s drive to attain its desires.
“We need Moby Dick. It needs us to help our allies and defeat our enemies. After all, we are the previous superiority,” a shoddy television speaks with Mathew Novak on the screen. Novak had recently moved, along with his news station, to Britain. “We, America, are aware of Moby Dick’s negative effects on us and yet we continue. This is because we know we can get so much from it.” He doesn’t speak of his move, he doesn’t alert the public of Russia’s manufacturing of new nuclear weapons, nor does he tell about the money he receives from the government by withholding information.
A shrill voice, no smarter than a junior-high student, speaks in a small cottage of a house. “If we still had elections, I believe I’d want Mathew Novak to run. I know I’d vote for him. Can’t you see him as a leader? Sitting on the television like that, telling us everything. That’s what I like about Mr. Novak, he’s honest. He loves his country and wants to fight for it. Don’t you think?”
“Um,” says Harrison McKoy, an elderly man, the husband of the dunce.
“Well, I can see him being perfect. Everybody already loves him. I bet he’d do real well.”
Unfortunately for the McKoy’s, a weapon testing facility was recently built in the desert next to their town. The fumes and clouds of hazardous gas swarmed into their homes and fumigated optimism from all that understood. Streams of pollution crippled the town’s functions. The draft, having summoned twenty percent of the town’s population into war, made it nearly impossible for families to escape from the conditions.
“The minimum age for drafting is once again being reduced. Now fifteen-year-old males can bask in the joy of protecting their families. Mothers, be proud of your husbands and sons. They’re fighting for you!” buzzes the television.
A barrage of explosion noises ring from the distant desert. Harrison feels the rippling sensation as his shack, plaster on top of plaster, shakes to the force.
“Gee, that one was a doozy. Don’t you agree?” says the wife.
“Yep,” says Harrison. The aftershock trembles the house a second time, windows rattle, walls sway.
“I sure do wish they didn’t come into that desert and start up all this weapon testing. I bet Mr. Novak wouldn’t allow it; he’d make them go somewhere more excluded. Wouldn’t that be nice?” Mrs. McKoy says.
“Yes, I guess it would.” Harrison says, feigning a hopeful smile to his wife.
“I always do wonder what they’re doing over there,” Mrs. McKoy adds, her eyes focusing on the window overlooking the outstretched desert. “Must not be too safe, all those booming sounds, must be making plenty of explosions and dangers.”
“They are testing weapons that are made for war. I don’t think they’re too concerned about safety.”
“Yes well. . . I don’t know. I worry for the soldiers. What if a test goes wrong?”
Harrison shrugs and fixes his foggy glasses.
“This just in, the maximum age for drafting is also being raised to forty. We are giving more men the opportunity to fight for our rights.” The television illuminates the room in a blue glow.
The month was July and the clock had just clicked at two o’clock, yet it didn’t feel like July. Nobody wanted to believe that this was their summer. The thick black clouds blocked out the sun, making the afternoons resemble night. Wives, young children, and men aged enough to not be included in the draft were the ones who really suffered from the war’s effects.
“Moby Dick requires sacrifice, but sacrifice gives great rewards.” Mathew Novak says in a commanding manner, his voice only slightly distorted from the static.
“They say,” Mrs. McKoy sneezes quickly then continues, “They say our governor got replaced again. Last one, what’s his name, spoke out against the war.”
“That’s just what they say though.”
“Well,” Mr. McKoy says “I believe I’m going to check if we’ve grown anything lately.”
“Okay Hun’, do tell me how it is.”
Harrison nods and rises from his seat. He drifts through his house and into what remains of his yard behind the shack. His once blooming garden has turned rustic. His tomatoes and radishes, his beloved carrots and spinach, the onions and the peppers had withered into dried, hollow mutations.
Harrison shuffles to his dying creations and slowly, somewhat painfully, bends over to hold onto a tomato that still displays some pink. The tomato collapses into itself when touched, revealing a dry jack-o-lantern. Always smiling, always lit.
A series of bursts shoot from the desert, not as loud as before; Harrison winces. His eyes browse over the peeled paint that surrounds his low home and the houses next to his. Harrison struggles with tears as the world scans through his mind. The elderly man remains in this state for several minutes before he is able to return to his wife.
At nine o’clock, after the colorless sun sulked down and a dim, hidden moon had risen, Mr. and Mrs. McKoy were laying in the bedroom of their two room home. Harrison was mildly enjoying one of the few government approved novels that had been published and his wife was lightly watching the television. On screen Mathew Novak began preparing to end today’s show.
Mrs. McKoy turns to speak to her husband until she notices his swollen, wet face.
“Oh dear, are you alright? You look like you’ve been sobbing.”
Harrison smiles at his wife, wiping both his cheeks with the back of his hands. “Yes love, I’m fine.” He moves to hold her, a kiss on her forehead, fingers wrapped around her arms. Harrison feels happiness in this moment of silence.
The television buzzes, “So, society, let me conclude with this: Who deserves your pity more, a king given all the marlin he wishes for, or the fisherman who learns to catch the whale?”