My phone screen lights up. Ten shot, killed outside Planned Parenthood clinic in Las Vegas, NV.
At this point, I don’t even think about it anymore. I unlock the phone with my fingerprint and the pop-up is already there with four handy options: Read Story, Donate $10 to American Red Cross, Send T&P, and Ignore.
I can’t really spare the money, but I don’t want to lose my place on the leaderboard, either. I tap Send T&P and that damn Game of War ad starts to play. Thirty seconds later, I tap the X to close it and a new pop-up appears: T&P message sent to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and WhatsApp. It asks me then if I want to open T&P, which I do to check my rankings.
Shield Software QA Team: 1 of 12
Shield Software 5th Floor: 1 of 108
Shield Software Norfolk Branch: 6 of 744
Norfolk, VA: 99 of 175,199
United States: 20,108 of 2,020,159
You are 75 points away from reaching level 48.
You have earned 40 points today.
I feel myself smile, just a bit. I’m perversely proud of staying in the top 100 for the city, but even prouder for staying in the top ten at work. They require us to use Thoughts & Prayers — our CEO found out about it from his kids, bought the company, and told us all we had to get on it. I hate the idea of it — of monetizing disaster and misery — but I’m too competitive not to do the best I can.
My phone screen lights up. Actor Bruce Gentry dies at 48 of heart attack in Malibu, CA. This time, the second option is Donate $10 to American Heart Association, but Bruce Gentry wasn’t a big deal to me — he was on a couple of shows I’d seen, but I wasn’t a fan. I tap Send T&P, but because this isn’t a major news event, just a personal tragedy, I only get a banner ad that I can immediately close.
T&P message sent to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and WhatsApp. This one’s only worth five points, and it’s so minor that most people probably ignored it.
But not me.
I’m driving home when Spotify gets covered by a pop-up: Flash flood in Indonesia claims 150 lives. Without thinking, I tap Donate $10 to AmeriCares. I don’t have the ten bucks, but I can’t ignore a disaster of that magnitude. It’s worth too many points. And the decision pays off immediately: Congratulations! You have reached level 48! You are 2000 points away from reaching level 49. Unfortunately, I’ve been bumped out of the top hundred in Norfolk, but I’m still tops on my team and the floor, and that’ll translate to a little bonus at the end of the month.
Not to mention the additional score multiplier that comes at level 50 — five times as many points for monetary donations and an extra 50 percent for T&P.
Every little bit helps.
Rich and I are snuggled on the couch watching CSI: Disaster when our phones vibrate. Rich ignores his, but I don’t have that luxury. He pulls away as I read: Transgendered youth forced to leave American Scouts in Dothan, AL. But instead of being able to tap the T&P button, it’s been replaced with a Write Congressman option.
“Shit,” I whisper. I don’t have another ten dollars to spend today, even though I actually want to donate to GLAAD, but if I can’t send T&P then I might lose my spot.
“What is it?” Rich picks up his phone and taps Ignore. “Leon, damn it, this isn’t a game — “
“I know that!” My thumbs dance across the keyboard as I fill out the form for the letter. “But it’s work, and I’ve already put so much time into it — “
“I know.” Rich’s brown skin flushes darker, his teeth clenching. “Have you considered that maybe your company is part of the problem?”
I fire off the pre-written letter and check the leaderboard: I’m at 109 for Norfolk, and I got fifteen points for Write Congressman. Beats ten for watching an ad.
“You’re probably right,” I admit to Rich as we get into bed. “The fact that T&P even exists says something horrible about our country, and humanity as a whole.”
He’s not happy, but he is mollified enough to let me pull him into my arms and tilt his chin up. “At least we found each other. That’s a good thing, right?”
He smiles and kisses me.
But later, as we make love, our phones buzz. It takes everything I have not to break the moment, not to grab for mine and make sure it’s not a T&P alert.
After, though, I snatch it up. “Be right back,” I tell him as I head into the bathroom.
I’m too late. My phone buzzes again as I close the door, and the alert is for a singer who died of natural causes. I fire off a T&P, close the banner ad, and then check the history tab.
Indonesia flooding death toll rises to 340 with more expected.
I try not to growl; that would’ve been worth at least 200 points, and I missed them because I was having sex. It nailed me on the leaderboard, too. I dropped to third on my team, tenth on my floor, and out of the top twenty in the building.
Rich falls asleep in my arms. I extricate myself as soon as I can and slip out of bed. In a pair of gym shorts, I steal out to the kitchen and drink an entire can of Coke.
I’ll need the caffeine. As Rich was falling asleep, the death toll was revised upward again, and I shelled out for the additional points.
Tonight’s going to be expensive… but totally worth it.
After this, no one’s going to be able to catch me.
Josh Roseman (not the trombonist; the other one) lives in Georgia and engages in pogonotrophy on a regular basis, and occasionally suffers from sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia. His latest novel, After the Apocalypse, is out now from Amazon, and his short fiction has been collected in The Clockwork Russian and Other Stories. When not writing, he mostly complains that he’s not writing. Find him online or on Twitter @listener42.