by Vaughn Derwin
Darren awoke at exactly 7 A.M., rubbing his eyes and sighing heavily. He shut off the alarm that his eyeTech presented as a blue wireframe of an old-timey clock, collapsing it in a quick, tidy animation down to his Apps folder, which sat next to his Notifications icon. The icon was still empty. He stepped into the bathroom and checked his daily task list, which his eyeTech projected over the mirror. Get mints for work. Give your presentation. Eat a healthy dinner.
Deep breaths, Darren. You can do this.
He brushed his discolored teeth and rinsed with a bottle of water he kept by his sink. He ran a comb through his overlong and wildly uneven hair and carefully trimmed his thin beard, which barely covered the many scars marring his face. He put on his favorite suit, the one with the fewest torn seams and bloodstains. He put on his best tie. Clothes make the man, as his father always said. Always present yourself in the best light.
He walked down the street lined with empty, rusting hovercars, passing by dismantled waste recycle systems and gore-stained pavement, until he reached his favorite corner store. The bits of glass from the shattered windows crunched under his feet as he made his way to the front counter. He grabbed a small container of mints and instructed his eyeTech to transfer two dollars to the shop’s automated till. “Keep the change on that, Sandra,” he said to the decomposing corpse on the floor behind the counter.
“Wish me luck, I’ve got that big presentation today.” He gave her a small, polite smile. The gaping ruin of her throat smiled back.
As he stepped outside, he looked around at the dilapidated buildings, the ravaged cars, the clouds casting a melancholic grey tint over the broken skyline. Closing his eyes, he took a deep breath, savoring the familiar smell of rot which had steadily grown over the past three years. His eyeTech now flashed a small “3” over the Notifications icon, which Darren ignored. Today was his day; he had an important presentation to give and no time for distractions.
Darren approached the front door of his office building and stepped over what was left of Jamie, his coworker who had jumped from the fifteenth floor. He gave him a slight wave and a half-smile as he passed by. Man, I should ask Jamie for tips. He’s so confident, he would crush a presentation like this. But Jamie looked preoccupied, and Darren decided not to bother him. He continued on to the entrance of his workplace, where his eyeTech automatically flashed the approval code to open the heavy sliding glass doors. They didn’t move, but Darren stepped through the now-empty frames unhindered.
Once he reached his desk, Darren sat and stared at the blank computer monitor. He tapped at a keyboard whose letters had faded to almost nothing. Darren was an excellent touch-typist. After several productive hours, Darren stretched out his legs and then got up and strolled to the break room, where he chatted with Marcus, the IT guy who swung from an extension cable looped around a water pipe. “All I have to say is,” Darren commented around a mouthful of mints, “you’d think our anti-spam tech would be better by now, especially on a system as expensive as this.” He gestured at his temple. “But now that I finally got one, I have to say you were right, I don’t think I can live without it. You think there’ll be a 2.0 version soon?” Marcus slowly rotated in the draft from the broken window. He did not comment. He ignored the mint Darren offered.
With a prompt from his eyeTech at 2:50 sharp, Darren gathered his papers, straightened his tie, and marched purposefully toward the conference room. He huffed as he noticed his notifications had increased to fifteen. No time for that. Stay focused. You can do better than last time.
The conference was over. The work day was over. Darren trudged home in low spirits. No one had bothered to make a single comment or ask any questions about his presentation; he felt that all his hard work had been ignored. He neared his favorite coffee shop hoping for a pick-me-up, incentivized by his eyeTech with a coupon for $1.50 off his next cup, when he heard a woman screaming from across the street. Darren made eye contact with her over the piles of debris.
“Help me! Please, help!” she wailed, her back pressed against the wall of an apartment building as a zombie in a tattered suit fiercely snapped its teeth at her. Her forearm was tight against its throat to keep the teeth at bay, but its weight had her pinned. Two more zombies – a male and female wearing matching blood-stained couture – slowly approached from down the road, apparently drawn to the commotion. Darren glanced at the time in the bottom right corner of his eyeTech, noting with annoyance that the notification count had reached twenty-one. He glanced back to the woman. “It’s about 5:30,” he said helpfully as he entered the coffee shop. When he came back out, clutching a grimy and empty paper cup, the screams had stopped.
Darren finished his journey home and immediately began preparing for the next day. He’d wear his best tie and favorite suit, and remember to comb his hair and trim his beard. He ran an unplugged iron over his shirt and hung it in the closet, then slurped down a packet of beef-flavored protein paste. Healthy dinner, check. He looked at his Notifications icon and decided to clear it before bed; the number had jumped to thirty-five. When he opened the app, he found that every message was identical.
“Emergency Warning: Your eyeTech firmware has been corrupted. Disable or remove immediately to avoid further cortical degeneration. Further degeneration could lead to . . ."
Just a bunch of spam messages. Unbelievable.
He deleted them all and fell asleep.
Darren awoke the next day at exactly 7 A.M., with a heavy sigh and a rub of his eyes. He shut off the alarm clock on his eyeTech and brushed his teeth while checking his tasks for the day. Get mints for work. Prepare for the next presentation. Eat a healthy dinner. Eat a healthy dinner. Eat a healthy dinner. Eat dinner. Eat dinner. Eat dinner. Eat dinner. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat.