For the NYC Midnight 2013 Flash Fiction Contest, all writers were placed into heats of 25 writers, and given a set of prompts and 48 hours to create a story from those prompts of no more than 1,000 words. Each writer participates in the first two rounds, after which the writers with the top five combined scores advance to Round 3. I didn’t advance, but here is one of my two entries. The prompts were Sci Fi / Hospital / Switchblade. I’ve also included some feedback I received after the story. Enjoy!
In a future where weapons are outlawed and medicine is handled by robots,
one 12-year-old boy’s forbidden gift from his grandfather is the key to saving
– or destroying – the most powerful man in the world.
The news report came through Jimmy’s encephalitic receptor, overriding everything else. No matter how hard he tried to switch to music or video, it was to no avail. The government had obviously decreed this news to be of such importance that it be sent immediately to the entire population. Even at 12 years old, Jimmy recognized its gravity.
The president was in critical condition. He campaigned on a promise to achieve perfection in medicine by eliminating the human factor. So, just two years ago, the last human doctor walked out the front doors of the last hospital to convert entirely to robotic treatments utilizing artificial intelligence. In a cruel irony, it is in this very hospital that the president lay, close to death.
Jimmy knew what Grandpa would say if he were still alive.
“Serves the bastard right!” he’d rail. “Coming door-to-door, taking our weapons. Then giving us computers for doctors. I hope those space age robots probe him where the sun don’t shine!”
Living to 108, Jimmy’s Grandpa had seen change like nothing since the Industrial Revolution. Although he refused to get one himself (“Those bastards aren’t coming toward my skull!”), he saw brain implants do away with what, just a generation or two earlier, had been considered space age innovations. An encephalic receptor, like Jimmy’s, took the place of television, cell phones and even computers.
So in the last years of his life, while everyone else walked around in a self-contained bubble of communication and entertainment, Jimmy’s Grandpa sat in silence, longing for a real newspaper, a call from a friend, or even a rerun of Gilligan’s Island. He wasn’t exactly content, but he wasn’t pissed off either.
Until the “peace squad” arrived.
Robot doctors may have gotten him a second term, but the president got elected on a platform of non-violence… and kept his campaign promise by immediately outlawing every type of weapon – guns, knives, bow and arrows – even strong twine and duct tape became subject to a national registry.
Based on the fervor with which Jimmy’s Grandpa protested, you’d think he had an arsenal in the basement.
“It’s the goddamn principal of the thing with those bastards,” he’d say to anybody who would listen.
Not an arsenal, but he was determined one item wouldn’t be destroyed.
“My grandfather had this switchblade with him when he served in the army,” Jimmy’s Grandpa told him. “That was back when there weren’t bastards in charge – when there was something worth fighting for.”
So, instead of turning in the switchblade for destruction – as required by government decree – Jimmy’s Grandpa found a lead box to keep it from detection – and passed both the box and the switchblade down to Jimmy.
And it had sat in his closet, safe from the regular scans by the government, and worth nothing more than a little sentiment – until the news reports today.
In another ironic twist, it seems the president’s condition could not be treated with robotic means.
“To use terminology from generations past,” said the retired doctor brought back to explain, “the president can only be saved if he ‘goes under the knife.’ However, all knives were collected and destroyed many years ago. Without these crude tools, the president will die.”
Even at 12, Jimmy understood. The switchblade in his closet could mean the difference between life and death for the president. He sat and thought for a few minutes, and then got the box.
Carrying the box and its precious cargo, he walked a few blocks to the nearest transporter and got on. It was heading to the government center, and the nearby hospital where the president lay dying.
After a short ride, he disembarked. Crowds of reporters circled the facility, all seeming to be talking to themselves, their implanted transmitters picking up each word.
Jimmy stood for a moment, looking at the hospital and the crowd. Then he continued on.
Just pass the building was a roaring fire pit. The president, also eager to please those who thought the country was wasting land on cemeteries, had decreed that all dead bodies be dumped into this communal pit. Jimmy’s Grandpa was among the inaugural group of corpses to participate.
As Jimmy neared the edge of the fire pit, he took the out the lead box and opened it. Reaching in, he took out the switchblade and flung it into the pit.
“A gift from you, Grandpa, to the bastards.”
One great feature about the NYC Midnight contests is that writers are able to post their stories to a review forum open to all contestants. It’s so interesting to see how differently the prompts are interpreted, but the most valuable part of the forum is the constructive feedback offered. I had mostly positive comments from my colleagues, but the one common criticism was how far-fetched it was that Jimmy would have the only possible knife left in the country.
I agree. That’s a stretch. But it also amuses me that in a story with robotic doctors, an open, communal cremation pit, and brain implants controlled by the government, that the far-fetched thing is that nobody has a knife!