“It’s not looking good out there. What do you think, honey?”

Nothing.

“Jane? Sweetheart?”

Nothing.

I turn away from the window; look back at my wife. She’s still on the media-hub, two monitors in front of her — one filled by a large-mouthed lady selling jewellery; the other crammed with mini-screens, shiny zits full of popular culture. Her head is bobbing around like those ships did in that ancient Space Invaders game.

“Cupcake? There’s something unpleasant going on outside.”

When she turns to me, her almond eyes flash memories of all those times I’ve failed to understand her. There’ve been so many.

“Why are you interrupting me?”

“Well, it seems a bit dangerous out there. A bit… feral. People are doing odd things. With their mouths.”

“And why should I care?”

“Well, they’re doing them to other people.”

“That’s called kissing. I know it’s been a while, but we used to — ”

“There’s not usually screaming when people kiss.”

“That very much depends on the people.”

And with that, she gives me her “don’t bother me again” face and turns back to the monitors.

Marriage. After twenty years of getting by, you’d think I’d have learned how to get through, but… not so much.

Still, maybe she’s right. Maybe I am overreacting. One way to check.

I walk over to the holo-paper rack — screaming its headlines in a full-color meltdown — and swipe my mem-finger over the contact port, for direct download.

What do we have?

Well, the highly-touted Talent Show Tax has been approved by referendum, with 98% in favor; Billy Jadoja — the celebrated “Stylist of Slay” — has been given a weekly talk show, to be produced from inside his prison mansion; and the trouble outside is…

Is what? I can’t find anything about…

Ah yes, there it is. A small article on the back page of the Fame Chronicle. Nobody has been eating anybody else, and the reports of twenty thousand Londoners dead in two days are grossly inaccurate. The petty and criminal realist press (rags like “Truth Still Matters” and “Facts Today”) should be ashamed of their efforts to mislead the innocent. Anyone traumatized by what they have seen or read, should seek solace on the Spiritual Donation Channel — because “Sowing Seeds can Save.”

Maybe it’s just me, then? I mean, everyone I know loves the Fame Chronicle. Swears by it. Jane pretty much lives by it.

I turn around; go back to the window.

On a measured reassessment, no. No, I don’t think I’m overreacting.

I think that’s Jonas Cobalt from number 44, just between those parked hoverbikes. I’ve never actually spoken to him, but he’s smiled at me on the jetbus once or twice. And I’m pretty sure that’s Harriet Grundon he’s holding — well, what’s left of her. Nice girl. Does celebrity impressions for charity fundraising. Well, she did. Her arms look quite meaty.

And Derek Carson, now him I’m certain of. He’s… dear God, he’s pretty much unzipping that gentleman from his skin! That’s positively disgusting, and… and the red, the red has started to… the robo-cleaners will take weeks to get that out of the road polymers!

It’s not right, is it? I mean, I know Jane and I are safe in our resi-bunker, but we shouldn’t have to watch… we shouldn’t have to…

Hold on. Everyone’s watching. Clarence Tubbs from right across the street. And Karl and Heather at number 37; I can see their son Micah in his upstairs window. He’s live-streaming what’s happening with a vote tally projecting on the wall outside his bedroom: “93% Approval — A Media Star is Born!”

Micah’s ecstatic, clapping and yelling. His parents are, too. Heather’s even going outside so she can look at the vote tally clearly.

No! Don’t do that! You’re too close to Derek, and…

Well. The approval rating’s gone up to 97% now.

Someone should stop this.

“Angel of mine, why aren’t the sirens sounding? Has no one called Communal Security yet?”

Nothing.

“Petal? Please listen to me, because I think this is really rather important.”

Nothing.

I turn away from the window again. Jane hasn’t moved from her seat, though her head’s still bobbing — and now her shoulders are shaking, too. She’s probably angry with me because of all the interruptions; she’s always more aggressive during Free Media Hour.

Maybe I should just leave her be? We are safe in here, after all. I mean, it’s not as if Derek Carson can get through the door, even if he is now using Heather’s left leg as a club.

And maybe I should just trust the Fame Chronicle? It’s always been right before, hasn’t it? Maybe this is just a holo-projection?

No. No, I know holo-projections when I see them, and even if Micah’s still happy, I’m pretty sure Karl’s grief is real. So’s the shock-gun he’s now carrying.

Which means the realist press do have it right; and if it’s right here — right outside my house — then maybe it’s right elsewhere, too?

Now I know what this is.

This is a “moment.” A genuine, nuclear-fueled moment. More importantly, this is my moment — my time to shine, my time to do something beyond letting Jane gorge herself on data-cakes.

I walk towards her, each step feels like I’m finally putting my foot down. It feels good.

“My sweet cherub, the situation really is serious. People are dying, and… and I’m afraid I’m going to need to use the media-hub to contact the authorities. Please could you roll your chair away from the — ”

I’m surprised when she stands up — I’ve not seen her move that quickly in ten years. And her eyes… so much passion! Maybe this is what she was waiting for all this time — for me to finally show some backbone. This really is my moment.

You know what? I think she’s going to kiss me.


Ben Howels is a horror and fantasy writer hailing from Devon, England. His short fiction has been published by Writers’ Forum, Writing Magazine, Devolution Z Magazine, Phantaxis Magazine, Earlyworks Press, Shotgun Honey, Red Sun Magazine, Lit Select, and Sirens Call Publications. He’s currently bashing prospective agents around the head with his first finished novel. If he’s not writing on his laptop or training down the gym, he’ll be distracting himself on Twitter @BenHowels.