Excerpt for Blue Haze by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

27












Blue Haze



by


Dani J Caile

Blue Haze

by

Dani J Caile


Smashwords

ISBN: 9781370254224

Published in the United States of America with international distribution.



Version 1.0


Blog: http://danijcaile.blogspot.hu/

Copyright © Dani J Caile 2018


All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental.





Preface / Acknowledgement


Back in 2017 I entered a competition to write a story set in the future which could educate US Senators of the dangers of ignoring ever-increasing environmental pollution and damage. As I saw it, this competition was flawed, as nothing can make US Senators aware of anything except their wallets, but I entered anyway and found myself writing something slightly off-track – this is usually the case when writing.

This is my wonderful entry – which was sadly rejected, the story of a typical selfish boy in a devouring society. I hope you enjoy it and maybe make you think what is to come, or is already here.














Blue Haze



Of all the places we've lived, this is... how to say... the best? Definitely the cleanest. My parents love it, in fact, everyone loves it. They’re all so happy around here. Me, I'm just trying to get through school after being dragged from one city to the next as my Dad keeps a job. He got in with this company that makes these new 'Airtowers' and now we're living in what's called the future, a city with one on every corner. You can forget smog, the air is so clean, even if some guy in an old banger drives by, or a bunch of smoking teenagers walks the streets, the only thing you'll smell is fresh cut grass and flowers. No big black clouds coming over the houses anymore, only the blue, fresh haze of the towers spreading over us. Dad says the people can even choose what they'd like to smell but whatever it is, it’s nice. These towers…they're not too shabby looking, either. I remember the first one I saw, basically a white thick cover with holes they wrap around a streetlamp, with a large bubble on the top. The kids graffiti them, of course. Doesn't change how they work, though. At least, that's what Dad says. I think they're kinda weird, fancy six meter tall air fresheners. But what do I know, I'm hanging upside down from a foothold on the one at the end of our street.

"Carter is a loser! Carter is a loser!"

No matter where we go, I attract idiots. A fat kid called Johnson was the class bully and the others cowered to him because of his size. There were four of them watching him skip around the tower, unable to stop him or help me. I was okay. He wasn’t hitting me. Yet.

"Can I come down now?" I’d been up there for a few minutes and I was feeling dizzy. Johnson continued with his dance. Lowest IQ in the class, for sure. He needed special help. The sound of an ice cream van made all the kids turn their heads.

"Ice cream!" And he was off, leaving me with the others.

Checking to make sure Johnson wasn’t coming back, they helped me down. I knew the girl’s name, Sally, because she was my neighbor, but the other three boys, no idea. Sally carried her pet rabbit in a tiny cage wherever she went.

"Why did you hit his pitch? You know you can’t do that,” said Sally.

I stamped my feet on the pavement to stop my pins and needles. "I didn’t know you couldn’t." We’d been playing baseball in the street and I’d hit Johnson’s fastball right into the middle of Number 26’s front window. The guy living there was happy to give the ball back and wasn’t upset I’d broken the glass. In fact, he was excited at being able to replace the whole window with a new frame he’d seen in a magazine or something. I wasn’t listening much, but he was very happy. Johnson wasn’t, that’s why I got the ’bat’ treatment, for ’my’ bat treatment. Or so I guessed.

"Now you do," said the kid with winglike see-through ears. "Nobody hits his pitches." He also had some allergy, like me and half of the kids these days, as most of his face was red and he always held an inhaler. I only used mine at night before going to bed or if I was ill. But this kid, okay, he was in my class, same age and all, but he was tiny for some reason.

We all heard a yell from down the street, and it was Johnson with a large ice cream in his hand, running back. "Scarper!" said the kid. They all ran off back to their homes. Luckily, me and Sally didn’t have far to go, living on this corner. As we jumped onto our porches, I waved over to Sally and so did she. Nice girl, but the rabbit thing was dumb for a girl her age. One thing I did know, though, school was going to kill tomorrow.


++++

"…and based on the work by Doctor Margaret Chan of the World Health Organisation and Doctor Yi Cui at Stanford, especially his work with air filtration and electrospinning, this city and much of the world has become a much healthier and cleaner place to…"

Yet another slideshow from Mr Williams about our ’great’ city. Half the class is out, sleeping. How many times do we need to hear this crap? Does it need to be bashed into our brains every wee… "Oww!"

Those awake turned around to look at me. Those sleeping didn’t bother. I heard Johnson laughing behind me. He’d hit me with a plastic pellet spat out from an empty pen cover.

"Mister Carter, would you like to enlighten us as to your outburst?" asked Williams.

"No, sir." What are you meant to do, feel no pain? That thing hurt.

"I’m curious, just what part of the Environmental Health Initiative of 2021 is ’oww’ to you, Mister Carter?" he asked again. The class sniggered, even those waking up to see what the fuss was about. I didn’t know how to reply.

"The part where you give a test?” asked Sally. The way her head was resting, I thought she was asleep or checking on her rabbit hidden in her desk. The room went silent until Williams laughed.

"Yes, Miss Perkins, there will be a test."

Crap. I should’ve taken notes.

"But what you must remember, even you Mister Carter, is that without the continued demonstations and support for the environment from the citizens of this great country of ours and also many of those from around the world, none of what we have today would exist. YOU wouldn’t exist," stressed Williams.

"Carter was a mistake, anyways,” said Johnson. Some laughed with him but Williams didn’t let him off.

"Closet, twenty minutes." Williams pointed to the small padded room at the back of the class. Johnson’s chair screeched across the floor as he stood up and slumped over to the door. Williams walked over and closed Johnson inside. No one said another word for the rest of the class.

I must’ve fallen asleep because I woke up when Williams coughed after using his PEF. "So…" He was still working on his slideshow. It was close to the end of class. Was using his PEF part of the lesson? Was it going to be part of the test? I knew that one. Personal Electrospinning Filter. "…to finish…" A few sighs from the shadows. "Without the strength and voice of the people and those they elected to lead them through those troubling times, legislation would not have been passed, particularly such bills as the Oklahoma Initiative or what was popularly known as the Media Ban, and we would not be able to live in such a clean, honest and healthy city as this one." He brought up a panorama picture of the city, and in the top right was a portrait picture of the guy who founded this place, Senator Vance Goodman, with all his shiny white teeth and his most famous cliché quote, "No news is good news." The bell went. "Next week, test!"


++++


"Want to come and help me out tomorrow, son?" asked Dad.

"What?" I’m sure he asked the same thing last week. Help out on a Saturday? Was he nuts? "Mum, how come this chicken looks like the fish from last night?" I poked it with my fork, it didn’t look good. And the peas next to it were off-green.

"Your father asked you a question, darling, and no, it’s not chicken, it is the fish from last night,” replied Mum, sitting down at the dinner table. "Leftovers."

"Ahhh!" I dropped my fork. "Yuck!" My little trantrum didn’t stop them from brainlessly smiling at me. What was wrong with my parents these days? When we were back in Chicago, my Dad used to whip me something rotten, and the mouth on my Mum… was now gone.

"Eat up, son, you’ll need your strength for tomorrow,” said Dad. "You’ll be helping me put in a new anti-pollutant 3-way ball valve into the main filter, and I’ll need you to be up there at the top!"

"What? Isn’t that dangerous?" asked Mum. So nice of her to be concerned, what with her feeding me two-day old fish.

"No, he’ll get the harness. My back’s playing up a bit, you see, I don’t want to risk it. He can get up there, easy." Dad gave me a slap on the back. Before leaving the table, he took a drag from his PEF and drank up his coffee in one go. He left his fish on the plate.

"Not hungry, dear?" asked Mum, picking at hers.

"I, erm, I ate something from the work canteen earlier," he said. One yawn later he beamed a smile over to Mum. "Early night?"

"Again?" she smiled.

"They work me to the bone, work me to the bone."

"I hope not too much," said Mum, finishing off a few pieces on her plate before she followed Dad upstairs. My parents could do what they liked. At least they were happy.

I left the table and the fish, went over to the wallscreen and switched it on. I collapsed into my Dad’s comfy armchair, put on his big headphones and plugged in my Xbox9. Dad had stepped on my controller a few days ago so that wasn’t working properly, but I had a level to beat in Call of Duty 2050 and it might hold up long enough for that.

I took a puff on my inhaler. I could feel a cold or something coming on. Maybe a test.


++++


Heights aren’t a problem for me. It’s what the ground can do to you if you fell that is.

"Can you see the orange wire?" asked Dad, shouting to me from the front wing of his shiny white van. I had a safety harness on while holding onto the top handrest of the tower’s bubble-like filter. See the orange wire? No, but I can see myself getting hurt bad here.

"No, Dad, I can’t. Can I…?"

"You have to take the cover off first, son! That little grey box on your right." I moved my free hand to where he was pointing. "Yes, that one. It pops off." He was right.

"Ooops." I dropped it. "Sorry, Dad."

"Don’t worry, the next crew can deal with that." Crew? In my Dad’s eyes we were a ’crew’?! Did that mean I’d have to help him out again?

"I can see the wire." Why we were messing with this other stuff in the filter was because when I changed the old valve for the new one a few minutes ago, something blew. Dad was using me for what he called ’troubleshooting’ and what I called ’breaking my neck’. "I don’t feel so good, Dad."

"This’ll take no time, don’t worry. Now, next to the orange wire is a small white unit. Can you see it?"

"Yes, Dad." There were a few bits and pieces next to the wire. My eyes bulged out of my skull, I couldn’t believe it! Next to the white box was a part that looked exactly like my Xbox9 controller in size, shape, everything, buttons and all, except it was a disgusting yellow.

"What does it look like, the white unit?" asked Dad.

"Burned." There was a nasty black mark on its corner. But I didn’t care about the white box, it was the other one that got me excited. It really did look like a controller, and it wasn’t connected to anything. It just sat there. "Dad, what’s this yellow thing?"

"It’s a control unit. Don’t touch that, okay? Look, I’ll go and turn the main supply off again and you can pop that little white unit out. I’ll have to report this, I haven’t got that part on me. Something else the next crew can deal with, ha! Hold on!" Dad disappeared around the corner to the main fuse box a few meters away.

"Holding on."

"Okay, son! Pull it!" I yanked out the little white box. It smelled like toast.

"Got it!"

"Good! I’ll go and put the mains back on and you can come down from there. Job done. Great work, son!" He gave me a thumbs up and left again. I looked at the filter and got an urge, that kind you just can’t get rid of, and I took out the yellow ’controller’. I put it deep into my jacket pocket and grinned. Another thing the next ’crew’ can deal with, eh? Maybe if I was lucky it would work with my Xbox, who knows? Besides, Dad owed me a controller.


++++

Sally had invited me over through Chat2Me to play on her ’Box’ the same night. I didn’t have time to change. When I got there, she was cleaning out her rabbit’s hutch, allowing it to hop around on the floor. It never went far from Sally.

"Lola likes some freedom, but she’s frightened of the outside. And she loves her hutch, she feels so secure in there," said Sally.

"How do you know?" I asked. Can this Lola rabbit talk?

"Oh, I just know." As she put the rabbit back into it’s ’safe’ hutch, I saw a movement in the room. We weren’t alone. Hiding in the shadows was the kid with the ears, puffing away on an inhaler mask. I’d learned in school that his name was Marko.

"We’re playing multi, okay?" asked Sally, throwing some bean bags in front of the large wallscreen. It was bigger than ours at home.

"Yeah, sure," I said, upset. Not only was the kid here, but there were only two controllers and one was Sally’s and the other was in Marko’s hands. I took out my half-broken controller.

"What is that?" asked Marko. He laughed through his mask, making him cough.

"My Dad stepped on it."

Sally sighed and took a drag from her PEF. "I’ve got my very own ’P.E.F.’ How about you?" she asked, spelling out its initials for all to hear.

"No, I... mine’s coming." It wasn’t. Both Sally and Marko sniggered.

"Still on raggy old second-hand air from the towers?" asked Marko. I gave him a hard stare and he backed down. "Me too. Plus this," he said, pointing to his mask.

Sally gave a big smile. "I’ve only got two controllers. You’ll have to beg from Marko." He grinned. I dropped to the bean bag and watched them play an easy level on Halo 27 together. It was irritating and they took forever. Then it hit me.

"Hey! What about this?" I was still wearing the jacket I wore when helping my Dad with the tower. I took out the yellow ’controller’.

"Eeuw, I don’t like the colour," said Marko.

"Oh Josh, did you vomit over a controller?" asked Sally.

"No."

"Where did you get it? From that new games shop on the corner of 15th?" asked Marko.

"No, I… I found it." That seemed to satisfy his question.

"Okay," said Sally. "We can start a new level." She went back to the settings menu so I could connect. There were the usual buttons on the controller and I hit what I thought was the reset. It wasn’t. A green light flashed on and off and then… nothing. "Hit it again." I hit it five times, then tried a few more buttons. Nothing other than an occasional green flashing light appeared.

"Dud. No wonder you ’found’ it. Someone threw it out because it doesn’t work," said Marko, clicking through the menu to start a new two-player game.

I spent the rest of the night begging for a go and got a chance when Marko needed to pee. I gave it back when I’d had enough of his whining and wheezing.


++++


Breakfast was quiet. Mum wasn’t saying anything but she had this big smiley grin on her face. Her eyes said different.

"Where’s Dad?" I asked. This week he was on late shift, so he should’ve been down for his bacon and eggs, cracking jokes and punching me on the shoulder. I preferred Cornopops.

"Work called, he had to go in. Eat up, school’s in half an hour," she said, taking her PEF out to the back terrace to have a few drags.

"But it’s Sunday, Mum."

"Oh yes, so it is." She relaxed into the sun lounger and her phone rang. "Hi darling, everything okay?" It was Dad. I ate my Cornopops. I was sure the milk was off. "Promotion? That’s fantastic, darling. Does that come with a new car?" She laughed but then sat upright. "No, not that I know of. Would you like me to check?" She sat back down. "Okay." Chat2Me beeped on my phone with a new message. Sally wanted to come around and play. Sounded like a good idea. I sent Sally a thumbs up. "See you later, darling," finished Mum. "Josh?"

"Yes, Mum?" I gobbled up the last of my breakfast and cleaned up a bit.

"Are you busy today? Dad would like you to…" The doorbell rang. It had to be Sally, and probably that rabbit Lola, too.

"I am now!"


++++


I was either born stupid or I’d worked on it a lot. Either way, I’d got a girl I liked over to play on my Xbox, with no controller. I think Lola the rabbit was laughing at me through the little bars of its cage.

"What about that yucky yellow coloured thing you had yesterday?" asked Sally. She remembered, maybe that was a good sign she cared. I felt like a dunce, no matter what.

"It didn’t work, did it," I said. My old controller sat there on the sidetable, the ’new’ yucky one in my jacket pocket.

"It might work on yours, my Box is newer," she said. "Worth a try, no?"

Ignoring her put down, I went over to my jacket and got the yucky thing out. It looked almost like my old one, except for a few missing buttons. And the colour. "Hey, maybe if I put them together somehow, it’ll work, you know? Because the Box reads the old one but the controls don’t work."

"Do you know how to do that?" Wow, a chance to show what I can do. I grabbed the old controller and threw them both on the floor infront of me. I was ready for action!

A minute passed. "No."

"Try it, anyways. What harm can you do? Besides, I’m getting bored just sitting here… alone." For a moment I thought she meant something else, until she took out her own controller.

"Okay, okay." I pointed the yucky yellow controller at my Xbox and hit a few buttons. Again, the green light flashed, as it did before. But nothing else. The Box wasn’t reading the controller.

"Is it on?" asked Sally.

We both jumped when an alarm went off outside. It was so loud it hurt my ears.

"What is that?" I screamed over the noise. We ran to the window to see, holding our ears. I hoped it would stop soon. One by one we watched the neighbors step out of their houses to find out what it was. A few pointed at the tower on the corner. As soon as they started to walk towards it, the alarm stopped,.but so did the blue haze. It disappeared and the air around the tower turned to a strange gray.

"Wow, that was loud!" shouted Sally. "Sorry, didn’t mean to shout."

"That’s okay. I’ve never heard a tower alarm before,” I said.

"Or the haze stop. So, is your controller on?"

"I think so, some…" I pressed another button and the alarm outside instantly turned back on. "What?!" Then silence again as if someone had stopped it. We looked at the yellow controller.

"Want to try that again?" asked Sally.

"No!" I threw the thing on the floor and we sat around it, looking at it like it was some monster.

"Did it do what we thought it did?" she asked.

"Maybe." I was in big trouble. Did I turn off an airtower? A car drove up outside and we looked out. It was a white van, large, with my Dad’s company logo on the side. No one got out. After a minute, it drove off.

"I think you need to get rid of that," said Sally. I nodded. Picking it up, my first instinct was to throw it in the trash but something stopped me. What if my Mum and Dad saw it in there? I don’t know about my Mum but my Dad would know exactly what it was and where it came from. Thinking quickly, I sneaked downstairs and placed the nasty yellow thing inside one of Dad’s large toolkits. I was back with Sally a second later, sweating.

"Well, that’s over," she said. "But I guess I’m playing alone.” She smiled and placed Lola’s cage next to her. "Are you okay?" she asked.

"Sure." Trying to forget what just happened, I lay on the floor and watched her play, calming me down. She let me have a go after a while.


++++


I woke up to sirens and flashing blue lights. The sirens stopped but the lights lit up my room. I jumped out of bed and stepped on a plastic case, hurting my foot. The pain! Mum said it hurts more when you don’t expect it and she’s right. She also told me to clean up my room. I limped over to the window to see police cars parked at a house down the road. Some people were shouting but I couldn’t hear what they were saying. I heard a shot and ducked. Looking back outside I watched the police running into the house, guns ready. Some action! My heart was beating fast when I saw some people leaving the house. The police had arrested someone. An ambulance screeched to a stop and two men ran inside with a stretcher, later to come out with… was that a dead body? I picked up my inhaler and took a puff. I didn’t feel well. A dead body, a real dead body? This was my first. Of course, in games I’d killed tons, even other players in multi, but this was the first ’real’ dead body for me. Okay, okay, so I didn’t actually see the body, it was in a bag, but I knew it was dead. That’s the important thing.

It went quiet after that. The ambulance left with its flashing red lights and only a few policemen stayed to tell the people hanging around outside to ’go back to your homes, nothin’ to see here.’ They left, too.

My eyelids were heavy and although it was good to get the cool, fresh, clean air from outside hitting my face, I wanted to sleep. Before I made it into bed, I heard another car drive up and park. Had the police come back? I popped my head out to see. It was a small van, like the one my Dad went to work in. In fact, it WAS the van my Dad went to work in. The license plate number said it. So half asleep I waved. But it wasn’t my Dad, someone else got out, and thankfully he didn’t see me. He was checking something on his phone, looking at the house where I heard the shot and saw the dead body come out. He took a box out of his pocket, one like my Dad’s, the one he used to check… he never said what it checked, I never asked. The man got back into the van and drove on down the street, parking up at the tower.


++++


I must’ve been too tired to watch anymore. I woke up on the floor with dribble covering one side of my big fat smile of a mouth. Yuck. My phone was continuously beeping at me. Sally, with Lola, and Marko too, had sent me a Chat2me message to come down. Once I’d cleaned up, I met them at the fence in the backyard.

"Did you hear? Mrs Duncan shot Mr Riley at Number 14 last night!" Sally looked so happy to tell me. Marko was breathing through that inhaler mask of his. Sally was using her PEF, this time it had a personalised cover with the words ’Sally’s P.E.F.’. Too much, really.

"Hear it, I saw it," I said, trying to do the one up.

"Saw it?" Sally was so upset she ignored me and paid some attention to Lola in her cage, poking her finger through the bars and cooing quietly.

"From my window," I said, clearing the whole thing up. "What happened?" Sally had that big smile on her face again. She had information I didn’t.

"Apparently they had a big argument, Mr and Mrs Duncan and Mr Riley. My Mum says it was about a tree Mr Riley planted years ago that grew over Mr and Mrs Duncan’s fence." She gave her best toothy grin.

"So Mr Riley got shot? Because of a tree?" I asked. "I don’t believe you."

"Believe it or not, that’s what happened." Sally went into a strop. Marko stood there, breathing. Was he Sally’s friend or another pet?

"Why would anyone shoot someone because of a tree?" I asked. Sally didn’t reply. At least Marko shrugged his shoulders.

"Sally, dear!" Sally’s mum popped her head out of their back door. "Would you all like some popsicles?" Sally and Marko ran off towards her, leaving me on the other side of the fence. Sally’s mum waved at me to come on over. I didn’t need to be asked twice. I climbed over and we sat at their garden table and ate popsicles together. That broke the standoff, Sally was back to her smiley self, talking about they were going to cut Lola’s toenails at the vet’s.


++++


School on Mondays is anything but great. I narrowly missed another Johnson beating by hiding in the Art room while he walked up and down the corridors looking for me until the Upper Graders came in and kicked me out. One short sprint and I was out of the school, across the school yard and into the street. I saw Sally sitting on a wall opposite, eating a Fitbar. I waved as her Mum picked her up by car but someone grabbed my arm. Johnson had caught me. I was a goner.

"Josh Carter?" It was a man’s voice. I turned to see three men in strange gray overalls with facemasks, one of them holding onto my right forearm.

"Hey! Get off!" My shout brought over a teacher I didn’t know but he walked away nodding his head after the man who spoke showed him a badge.

"Josh Carter, we’d like a private word with you if we may," said the first man in the overall. A car drove up and the other man not holding my arm opened the back passenger door. On the front driver’s door was a logo, the same one that was on my Dad’s work jacket. I was in trouble. Big trouble. Had they found out about what I did? What about the thing I took? What were they going to do to me? I tried to run away but the man held me stronger. Then my Dad came out from the back of the car.

"Son! Come on, get in! Do you like my new car?" smiled Dad, standing there in a spanking new business suit. I was shocked.

"Dad?"

"Come on, son, hop in!" The man who was holding me let go and Dad took me, leading me into the car. We both sat there in the back and the first overalled man closed the door. We drove off. I didn’t know what to do or feel.

"Dad, this is so cool!" I was jumping up and down on my seat. I was so happy.

"Yes, it is. I got promoted. That means more money, a better job, a better house and…" He took out a little box. I instantly knew what it was. "A new controller for your console, for starters."

"Wow, thanks, Dad!" I was unbelieveably happy. The next moment I felt dizzy, so I got out my inhaler. Dad took it from me and put it back into my pocket.

"You don’t need that, anymore. We’re on Healthcare Plus now. I’ll get you a better one."

"But… but…" I was losing my breath.

"Relax, you’ll be fine, breathe slowly… trust me,” he said, giving me a smile. "Here, have this." He handed me a PEF, brand new, unused. "Take it, it’ll help." I did as he said. I took a drag and it calmed me down a little, and I got back to being happy and enjoying the ride in the car. Dad told me about the great things that we were going to do now that he’d been promoted.


++++


When we got back home, Mum was out waiting for us with a big smile. Then Sally and her parents and some of the neighbors came out, all happy to see us. They crowded the car and said congratulations to my Dad on his new job. Sally came up to me, swinging Lola in her cage.

"You won’t forget me, will you?" she asked, all sweet and giggly. Of course! Dad had said we’d get a bigger house somewhere else, and that meant no more Sally. I felt sad... but happy when I realized she wanted to keep in touch with me.

"Of course I won’t!" I said. She kissed me on the cheek and ran away back indoors.

After all the handshaking and hugging, the neighbors left me and my family on the drive. I thought I saw Mr and Mrs Duncan leaving too, but that couldn’t be right, what with them being arrested the other night.

Then I saw Marko. He stood a few meters away. He looked a bit spooky. "Hey, Marko!" I greeted with all the joy I had. His chest moved up and down as he breathed through his mask but he didn’t reply. He blinked and walked away. "Marko?" What was his problem? Everyone else was happy about my Dad’s new job. I got angry and ran after him. By the time I got to him I felt much better. That was weird.

"You looked confused," said Marko. "But happy."

"Yes, of course I’m happy! My Dad’s got a better job! We’re moving out, getting a bigger place. I’ve even got a new controller, see?" I held it up for him to see.

"Sally told me about yesterday," he said. Yesterday? "The tower alarm."

"Yeah, that was…" Two things bothered me. That and why Marko wasn’t happy. "What’s wrong with you?" I punched him on the shoulder. The bad feeling I felt disappeared in a flash. He pointed to his mask. "No, I meant why aren’t you happy for me?"

"I am happy for you," he said. "But don’t you think everyone is just a little too happy?"

"How can anyone be too happy?" I said with a big smile on my face. Which had started to hurt with all the smiling I’d been doing.

"First Sally and now you. Bye." He tried to walk away but I stayed next to him. "I said bye." I was confused, maybe he was right about that. I started to breathe quicker, my heart beat faster. I looked back at my parents who were watching and felt happiness so I waved at them. They waved back and walked into the house. My hands started to shake. "Here." Marko passed me an inhaler. "It’s my emergency." I took it but didn’t know whether to use it. . "Go on." One puff and I fell over. It was so strong my head spun.

"You are ill!" I said, standing up. Then I noticed. My smile was gone. And everything around me was darker. "What… what time is it?"

"What do you mean ’What time is it?’ It’s the same time." Marko took his inhaler back.

"What, you mean, I didn’t faint?" Compared to before, everything around me was grayer, like it was later. I looked up towards the sun. It was there in the sky, in the same place it was when I got out of the car.

"No, you didn’t. And I am ill, that’s why I wear this." He pointed to his mask. Something wasn’t right with me. I shook my head but I felt groggy. Marko sat down on the kerb and I sat next to him. "Sally’s my friend," he said, giving me some time to relax. "But she’s changed. She smiles a hell of a lot more than she did. And we used to talk about things, you know, bitching about school and her telling me stuff. But she doesn’t bitch anymore. Actually, now she’s a bit boring, all happy and that." I held my hand over one eye and checked what I was seeing. No change. Where had all the colours gone? "And now you."

"Now me what?" Then I vomited.

"Are you okay?" Two familiar feet filled my view. Johnson. That was all I needed.

"Oh, and this, too," said Marko. I lifted my head up, trying to focus on the bully standing in front of me.

"Are you okay, Carter? Would you like some water?" Johnson offered me a bottle. What was going on? Should I run? I sheepishly took it.

"Thanks." Wiping my mouth as best I could, I took a few gulps and gave it back into the hands of the smiling mountain Johnson. He put it into a rucksack and walked on down the street, whistling away. "What was that?"

"Exactly. Sally told me he’s got his own PEF now. They also took him off his medicine," said Marko.

"Medicine? What medicine?" I thought I felt better and stood up. My legs were wobbly so I sat back down.

"Some kind of hereditary lung illness, so Sally says. She’s a chatterbox."

We sat on the kerb for some time but the colours never came back.

"What’s going on, Marko?" I asked. "Am I sick?"

"Finally. No, you’re not. At least, we’re not."

"What does that mean?" Although Marko was terrible at playing COD 2050, and tiny, he was the cleverest in my class.

"I think it’s all about the air. Or mostly. Or... I dunno, really. All I know is I’m not as happy as everyone else. And neither were you, until now. And Sally. And..."

"...Johnson. That is something," I butted in.

"Yes. I have an inhaler, you had one, Johnson had an illness, and I can name a few others, too, who have a problem with their breathing. Once you were off your inhaler, though, you were happy," said Marko.

"I was happy when I used a PEF. That’s some good stuff."

"I think that’s part of it, too," stated Marko. "Part of it. And then there’s that yucky coloured controller of yours."

"What about it?"

"I watched a man doing something to the airtower the other day, after the alarm thing. Sally told me about that. I saw the same thing up in the top. The same thing."

"Yes," I confessed. "That’s where I got it from. I was helping my Dad and..."

"Oh, right... So you took it? Whatever, big deal. But I’m telling ya, there’s something’s up with these towers and that PEF," said Marko. He looked ahead and took a deep breath from his inhaler.

"What? Are you saying there’s some kind of conspiracy going on?" He looked at me.

"Was it gray? The sky?"

"Yes, it was. It was... weird."

He didn’t say another word. All I wanted was the colours back.


++++


It wasn’t long after that we moved to a bigger house, well, ’house’, more like a castle with a huge garden and pool. We’ve also got our own personal Airtower and I’ve got my own PEF – but I don’t use it. Marko’s orders. Dad loves his new job, and Mum was able to get paid help so we never have to suffer leftovers again. And I go to a new school, with uniforms and cool teachers who don’t give tests or homework, though I have to fake a smile all day. My face hurts when I get home. But I did get an even bigger wallscreen than Sally has for my Xbox and my parents let me play on it as long as I want. So I am happy, infact, we’re all happy. Sometimes Sally and Marko, and even Johnson come over and we play on the ’Box’ or mess around in the pool. I think Sally’s my girlfriend but I haven’t had the guts to ask her about it yet.

But Marko, he’s... he’s the one who knows. We both know, or at least think we know. It’s huge, it’s really huge if he’s right. But what can we do? We’re two boys in one city, one big city filled with... can I say it? You won’t tell, will you? Marko said I shouldn’t tell anyone. He got me to take that yellow controller out of my Dad’s toolkit he doesn’t touch anymore and we bike around the city and hit a few buttons, turning off the towers and then biking like crazy to get away before the van comes. Marko says one day we’ll know what to do with it, we’ll be ’in the right place at the right time’ as he says.

And I’m back on my inhaler, just to be sure.












Biography


After a lifetime of reading clones and a decade of proofreading coffee table books, Dani started writing, so far completing a handful of novels, including “Man by a tree”, “The Bethlehem Fiasco”, “The Rage of Atlantis”, “Manna-X”, "How to Build a Castle in Seven Easy Steps" and “How to Sink a Ship (in eight long, excruciatingly terrifying, stinkingly evil nights)” (Line by Lion Publications), and hundreds of Flash Fiction stories, including a few novelettes, “TDX2”, “Alice on the Outside-In” and “All For Love”. When not putting finger to keyboard, dabbling in Shakespeare, teaching English, proofreading, washing up, hoovering, and driving all over the place, he is busy with his loving and long-suffering family.

Twitter: @jedlica (https://twitter.com/jedlica)

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DaniJCaile/

Blog: http://danijcaile.blogspot.com/




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