While taking eight weeks off from work to recover from bunion surgery, Tom W. Miller started writing stories. To make a living, he has done...read more everything from making tacos to teaching American History. The National Institutes of Health have deemed him interesting enough to collect his DNA. He lives with his family in Virginia's beautiful Shenandoah Valley.
DONALD LOOKED at the world through his phone. The multicolored circles formed a miniature hill in his cereal bowl, and bright flecks of white milk appeared within and between the circles. The Fruit Loops had descended from the box in a magical, symmetrical pattern this morning. Donald touched the screen on his phone, which made the sound of an old-style camera shutter opening and closing. He studied the result, increased the brightness of the pixels ever so slightly, and saved the image.
After eating his cereal, Donald navigated to his Facebook page and posted his picture. As a caption, he wrote, “An amazing bowl of Fruit Loops for breakfast this morning. It’s going to be an incredible day.” Checking the postings and comments from the day before, Donald saw his bowl of Fruit Loops from yesterday, which paled in comparison to today’s effort. The picture had garnered four likes, and his friend Holly had added, “I love Fruit Loops too!” He checked his other status updates: “Staying home today to work on the grass seed company app,” “A classic favorite—peanut butter and jelly—for lunch” (with accompanying photo), “Refreshed after a thirty minute nap,” “Finished the grass seed app,” “Grilled cheese and salad for dinner” (photo), “Watched two episodes of classic Star Trek,” and “Getting ready for bed,” along with a zoomed image of his toothbrush and a precise, cylindrical portion of toothpaste on the bristles.
Donald’s friend Danny had eaten soft tacos for lunch, a beautiful moo goo gai pan for supper, and then gone bowling with a young woman named Andrea. A video displayed Andrea’s perfect bowling form, but a picture of the scorecard showed that Danny had beaten her by two pins. Marcus was sick yesterday. His selfie showed matted hair and a pale face, and his only meal post was of a steaming cup of chicken broth. Donald added his well wishes to the already long list. After a breakfast of peach-flavored Greek yogurt, Karen had dressed in a business suit and had gone to a job interview at Excelsior Industries. She reported that the interview had gone well and she punctuated her entry with a winking, smiling emoji. For dinner she had eaten an uninspiring grilled chicken sandwich with lettuce.
Donald brushed a magazine off the top of his laptop and pulled up the mobile phone application that he had written for a major grass seed company. He tested the feature where the user could select a type of grass seed, virtually plant it, and then watch it grow in either real time or with time lapse photography. He nodded, satisfied with the result. Today he would have to go into the office so he could present the app to the customer and prepare to deploy it.
He set the laptop down and headed to his bedroom. He picked out some khaki slacks and a crisp, blue button-up shirt, along with a tie covered in Einstein heads. When the possibility of meeting clients arose, Donald substituted something more stylish for the usual tee shirt and jeans programmer outfit. With the Einstein tie, though, he retained a quirky aspect that convinced the customer of his competent coding skills.
Donald showered, shaved, and donned his work clothes. He ran a hand along a solid, smooth jaw line, checking for places he might have missed with the razor. He looked into the mirror, and noticing a hint of red in the in the white sclera around his deep blue irises, he added a single eye drop to each eye. He brushed and combed his honey-blond hair, and added just a dab of hair gel to retain the effect. He held up his phone and took a picture of the complete package. He posted the photo on Instagram, adding the caption, “Ready for a day at the office. #dapper”
While Donald brushed his teeth, his phone blipped and he checked the screen. Holly had already liked his post. Donald pulled up her Instagram page. She was a marketing rep for the same grass seed company for which Donald had written the app and they had attended a few meetings together. In her Instagram pictures, she had rich, auburn hair and brilliant straight teeth to go with an exquisite curve through her waist and hips. Donald had thought their social media relationship would only be one of business, but Holly was trying to push it into the personal realm. Another phone alert told Donald that Holly had gushed over his bowl of Fruit Loops.
Donald put his laptop in a leather carrying case and draped the strap over his shoulder. He left his apartment and pressed the down button for the elevator. As he waited, he went to his phone’s map app and scrolled through his preset destinations until he saw the one labeled “work.” He made his selection, and as he walked onto the open elevator, a map of his route to work appeared on the screen. While the elevator descended, Donald pulled up his browser and acquainted himself with yesterday’s events. Some superhero movie had smashed records at the box office. His favorite professional basketball team had lost for the seventh time in the last nine games. Congress was in the process of voting on a “major restructuring of the tax code.”
The elevator doors opened and Donald walked into the building’s lobby. “Turn right onto Parkway Avenue,” said the female, Australian voice from his phone, which he decided to call Wendy. A sturdy man with salt and pepper hair opened the front door when Donald approached. The nametag on his lapel read “Tim.”
Donald nodded a greeting to Tim and joined the throng of people walking the city sidewalks. By entrusting his route to his phone, Donald could let his mind wander to more important things. He mentally checked the upcoming presentation for his grass seed app and discerned no flaws or potential stumbling blocks. To refresh his memory of the people involved, Donald reviewed the “coworkers” memo on his phone. Emily Rathburn was his company’s sales head for the project. Donald read that Emily was obsessive-compulsive about this account because a good outcome could open up an opportunity for growth with the entire lawn care industry. Larry, a balding guy with a droopy mustache, had done a lot of the basic coding, while Donald himself had focused on design and content. Holly, of course, he remembered.
“Turn left onto Chairman’s Way,” said Wendy.
Donald looked up from his phone so he could check traffic. As he crossed the street, he saw a kind of military formation approaching the intersection from the other side. It looked as if a futuristic megalomaniac had manufactured four clones and placed one at each point of a plus sign. The men stood about six and a half feet tall, had buzz cuts, and wore dark suits. An ancient sculptor seemed to have chiseled their massive shoulders and bulging arms from granite. The cyborgs tried to shield a woman from the gaze of the masses, but Donald caught glimpses of slender legs and long red hair.
The light began to change as Donald approached the other side of the intersection, and the four bodyguards ceased their marching. Other pedestrians craned their necks to see whom these four stone pillars were protecting, but the formation closed ranks around the woman. The soldiers directed a kinetic scowl at any people bold enough to raise their phones. After absorbing these malevolent expressions, the budding photographers lowered their phones as if dodging a psychic blast that would implode their devices.
Through a diagonal crease in the wall of muscle, Donald met the gaze of an ice-blue eye topped with full, black eyelashes. The eye contact could not have lasted for more than a second, but Donald felt as if he and the woman were having a staring contest. As Donald passed the group and continued to walk down the block, the physical pieces of the woman’s identity snapped together like a magnetic jigsaw puzzle. A movie theater on his way to work was advertising for the new blockbuster, The Bride of Aquaman. In the film, Lila Morrell’s shapely legs were replaced by a sleek mermaid’s tail, but the face was the same one that males of the world had come to worship. Donald had almost reached the end of the block before he recovered from the shock and pulled out his phone.
As his Facebook page was loading, Donald felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned and looked up at one of the four hulks that had surrounded Lila Morrell.
“Mr. Johnson,” the man said in a bass voice as full as his biceps. “My name is Tiberius. We just passed each other on the sidewalk.”
Donald nodded as fear prevented him from speaking. Denial was useless. He had recognized Tiberius’s charge. Lila Morrell had hired this beast and his cohorts to prevent this from happening. Consequences would ensue. “I won’t tell anybody who I saw,” said Donald.
“I would appreciate that, Mr. Johnson,” said Tiberius, “but that’s not why I stopped you. Ms. Morrell would like you to meet with her at her apartment here in the city.”
Donald relaxed for a moment before another wave of tension hit. “Wait—how do you know my name?” He expected an evil smirk in reply, but the hard face in front of him remained expressionless.
“Ms. Morrell has seen you on multiple occasions,” said Tiberius, “and you have interested her. We’ve done our research.”
Donald scanned his own memories without success. He would not have forgotten a four-man phalanx walking the city sidewalks. “I’ve never seen you before.”
“Nevertheless, Ms. Morrell has seen you, Mr. Johnson. She said to tell you that she finds you quite handsome.”
Donald struggled to process this unexpected turn in the conversation. “So, why does she want to meet with me?” he asked, detecting a minute eye roll in the otherwise stony countenance before him.
“Ms. Morrell would like to discuss that with you in private,” said Tiberius.
Donald pictured Lila on the cover of People Magazine’s “Most Beautiful People” issue. He thought the issue was simply a catalog of popular and attractive celebrities. As for the ultimate winner, though, the magazine had gotten it right. “When does she want to meet?” he asked.
“Now,” said Tiberius.
“But I was on my way to work,” said Donald.
“The decision is yours, Mr. Johnson,” said Tiberius.
Donald considered his options. His coworkers would be expecting him to come into the office after his previous Instagram post, but this was a once in a lifetime opportunity. America’s Sweetheart wanted to meet him in her apartment. He could always say that he had discovered a last-minute bug in the grass seed app and had become absorbed in trying to fix it. The internal debate did not take long.
“I’m ready to go,” said Donald. “Let me just send a text to my boss.” Intending to update his status, he closed out his map app and pulled up his Facebook.
Tiberius held out his hand. “You’ll need to give me your phone and your satchel right now, Mr. Johnson,” he said.
“Why is that?”
“Ms. Morrell is a very popular person. The tabloids would love to get a hold of some material concerning Ms. Morrell. It is the job of my colleagues and me to prevent that. There can be no record whatsoever of your meeting with Ms. Morrell.”
People streamed past them like a school of fish pivoting around a killer whale, its dying prey in its mouth. Donald was about to reply that he would rather be stranded on a deserted island than relinquish his devices, but then he remembered the alluring curves of Lila Morrell’s gorgeous body. “I promise that I’m not going to go to any tabloid,” he said.
Tiberius was as unmoving as the mountain of rock he resembled. “If you want to meet Ms. Morrell, I need the phone and your satchel,” he said.
“I’ll get them, back, right?” asked Donald. “My life is on this phone, and I’ve got a lot of important work on my laptop.”
“Yes,” said Tiberius. “They will both be in your apartment when you return from your meeting with Ms. Morrell.”
“You know where I live?” asked Donald.
“Of course,” said Tiberius with another microscopic eye roll. The giant anticipated Donald’s next question. “And your door lock will not present a problem. The phone will be on your kitchen counter when you return from your meeting. The satchel will be on the couch.”
Donald lowered the satchel from his shoulder and put it on the ground. He put his phone in Tiberius’s outstretched hand as if he were giving the bodyguard a vital organ. With no apparent signal from Tiberius, a black sedan with dark tinted windows pulled to the curb, and one of the rear doors opened. Donald saw one of Tiberius’s cloned brothers at the wheel.
“My associate will take you to the apartment now,” said Tiberius. The hulk clasped one of Donald’s upper arms and guided him to the car. As Donald bent to enter the car, Tiberius put his hand on the top of Donald’s head, as if he were a policeman packing an arrested man for transport to the station.
“Have a good meeting, Mr. Johnson,” said Tiberius as he closed the sedan door.
The driver made eye contact with Donald in the rearview mirror. “Just relax, Mr. Johnson,” he said. “If you’re thirsty, there is cold bottled water in a compartment in front of you.”
The driver pushed a button on the dashboard, and the rear windows turned opaque. A dark panel rose out of the seat in front of Donald, separating him from the driver’s compartment and preventing him from looking out the windshield. Interior lighting kept Donald from being enshrouded in complete darkness.
Donald tried to follow the sedan’s route as it pulled away from the curb and made an immediate right turn. Less than a hundred meters later, it made a left turn, then quickly, another right turn, and a right turn again. More rapid maneuvers left Donald confused and disoriented.
Without the security and comforts of his phone, Donald felt his mouth getting dry. The seat in front of him had a small silver handle attached to the black leather. He pulled the handle and opened the door to a small space lined with silver, insulating material. Inside the compartment, a bottle of sparking water and a bottle of regular spring water both glistened with beads of condensation. Donald reached for the spring water, which felt recently removed from an ice bath. He twisted off the top and took a deep, refreshing drink.
After about thirty minutes of zigzagging around the city, the car stopped, and then descended what felt like the ramp of a parking garage. Donald screwed the top back on the water and returned the half-full bottle to the insulated compartment. The driver parked the car and stopped the engine. Donald heard the driver get out of the car, and moments later, one of the rear doors opened.
“This way, Mr. Johnson,” said the driver. Donald climbed out of the car and found himself in a spacious garage. A red, Mercedes convertible and a mammoth, black SUV occupied other parking spaces. The driver led Donald to an elevator door and motioned for his guest to cross the threshold. When Donald was inside the cabin, he turned and saw that the driver remained outside. “Have a good meeting,” said the driver as the doors closed.
The elevator began its upward motion without Donald having to push a button. In fact, the entire surface of the elevator was a pure, unmarred sheet of polished stainless steel—no floor numbers, no inspection reports, no emergency phones. The elevator seemed to move quickly, but Donald could only guess how many floors he had passed before the cabin came to a stop.
The doors opened and Donald stepped onto a landing in front of a single door. He waited several seconds, saw no doorbell, and raised his hand to knock. Before his knuckles made contact with the wood, the door opened.
Donald had fantasized about his “meeting” with Lila Morrell, but the fantasy paled in comparison to the reality. Her magnetic, ice blue eyes beckoned him. “Hello, Donald,” said her smiling mouth with its plump, red lips. Lila raised her right hand to her neck and took Donald on a voyage of discovery down the rest of her body. Michelangelo himself could not have created two such exquisite shoulders from the finest block of marble. A thin wisp of material began at the bottom of her alabaster breasts, became translucent across her soft yet toned abdomen, and ended at the top of her creamy thighs. Donald expected stiletto heels at the bottom of her never ending legs, but instead he saw the straightest, most well-proportioned bare feet he had ever seen, the nails of the toes painted a light pink. Lila’s hand finished with an arc up and away from her body. She was both a game show model showing off the grand prize and the grand prize itself.
“Entrez, s'il vous plaît,” purred Lila. She grabbed Donald’s tie and gently pulled. Needing no such encouragement, Donald stepped into the room and closed the door behind him.
The sun was beginning to set as the driver opened the rear door of the black sedan. Donald climbed out of the car and found himself in front of his own apartment.
“Have a pleasant day, Mr. Johnson,” said the driver.
“It’s been a very pleasant day,” said Donald. He watched the sedan drive off, and then he made haste to his apartment. He opened his front door and walked straight to the kitchen counter, where he saw his phone as Tiberius had promised. He pressed a button on the front of the phone, but the device refused to wake. When he picked up the phone he sensed immediately that something was wrong. It was lighter than usual. He turned the phone over and saw the hole where the battery was supposed to be. Donald checked the rest of the counter and then searched every tile on the kitchen floor without luck. He needed to update his status, tell the world of his unbelievable experience, and bask in the slew of likes and comments that would result, not to mention take a picture of his dinner. Instead, he could only stare into an empty void of complete darkness.
Panicking, Donald noticed his satchel sitting on the couch. He lunged toward the sofa, reached into his bag, and lifted out the laptop. Tears of frustration welled in his eyes when he discovered that it was also missing its power source. He was imprisoned in an offline world.
Donald collapsed on the couch. Whereas his apartment was usually filled with the mellifluous sounds of Internet radio, or the latest podcast, or a popular streaming video, he now could listen only to his own dull exhalations. Years ago, he had donated a television that he never used to a local homeless shelter, so he did not have that option.
Donald decided to make the best of his enforced silence. He pushed himself up from the couch, trudged to his desk and opened the top middle drawer. He flung aside thumb drives, stress balls, calculators and other detritus until he found what he sought—a lone ballpoint pen. He grabbed a piece of paper from his printer tray and prepared to write. He would record the whole Lila Morrell story while it was fresh in his mind, and then tomorrow he would buy new batteries for his devices and tell the world.
Donald uncapped the pen and set ball to paper, but when the pen moved it did not make a mark. He shook the pen vigorously and tried again, but to no avail. Intending to search the Internet for techniques on how to revive a dry pen, he pivoted back toward the living room. Then he remembered his missing batteries.
Donald crumpled up the piece of paper and threw it in the trash along with the useless pen. He walked back to the living room, sat on the couch, and thought. He replayed the events of the day in his head. When he finished, he started again and moved through every microscopic detail he had perceived. He reminded himself of the complete blackness of the sedan’s rear windows. Over and over, he smelled the fresh, perfumed aroma of Lila Morrell’s skin. As darkness filled his apartment, Donald not only visualized the extraordinary events of the day, but experienced them as well. He had no idea when these sensations became dreams.
The morning sunlight pried open Donald’s eyes. He reached in his pocket for his phone but it was not there. He sat up, stretched, looked in the crevices of the couch, but still no phone. He found his laptop inside his satchel, but the battery was missing. He stood up, walked into the kitchen, and saw his phone sitting on the counter. Its back was open, and its power source was also gone. Puzzled, Donald shrugged his shoulders and walked to the pantry. He grabbed the box of Fruit Loops, got a bowl from the cupboard, and poured. A foreign object clanged into the bowl among the multicolored circles. He fished out the object and recognized his phone battery and back cover, encased in a plastic bag.
Sugar coated the outside of the bag, but the battery inside was clean. Donald reassembled his phone and powered it up. He navigated to his Facebook page and checked his posts from the previous evening. According to his records, he had dined on a ham and cheese sandwich with potato chips, though he had failed to plate the items with his usual picturesque flair. After dinner, he had watched three episodes of classic Star Trek. He checked his Netflix account and his viewing history verified his Facebook posts. He had no idea why he had removed the batteries from his devices and then put his phone’s power source into a box of Fruit Loops. Donald commenced a full-fledged search of his apartment and finally located the laptop battery at the bottom of his underwear drawer.
On his Instagram, he saw an outstanding photo of himself getting ready for work, but he had no other records of such a trip. He must have been concentrating so hard on perfecting his grass seed app that he stayed home yesterday and did not post for the rest of the morning or afternoon. With his program surely in top form now, Donald began his routine to get ready for work. Holly liked his breakfast photo again, this time a close up of the frothy bubbles at the top of his orange juice. Holly had revised her own status. With every hair and makeup stroke in place, and wearing a classic white blouse that revealed just a hint of cleavage, she had placed a purple Fruit Loop on the pointed end of her extended tongue. Donald liked it and posted a comment: “Suave but sassy.”
Donald scooped up his satchel, loaded the map app on his phone, and headed out to work. As the GPS guided him, his mind drifted back to Holly’s breakfast post. He decided he would ask her to lunch, and if she accepted, they may need to extend their midday repast well into the afternoon.
As Donald waited to cross the street and make his left on Chairman’s Way, he saw the approaching crowd parting to make way for a group of four massive men with what looked like a woman in the middle. If somebody raised their phone, an expansive hand blocked the view until the phone descended. As Donald passed the four hulks in the middle of the street, he glimpsed the feminine curves they were protecting, but other than that, he had no hint of the mystery woman’s identity.
As he continued walking down the next block, Donald tried to recall which Star Trek episodes he had watched last night. He was never good at remembering specific episodes, but he did have a clear image of James T. Kirk commanding his starship with that sexy yeoman at his beck and call.