This is a real-life-inspired, near-future science-fiction(ish) flash fiction I wrote recently. I find it poignant to our modern existence, especially after my own social-media-detox last year.
Mailing list subscribers got a chance to read it already, but for those who missed it here it is for your edification and consideration.
Megan had a problem. Automatic doors wouldn’t open for her. She often stood in front of buildings doing calisthenics in an attempt to attract the sensor’s attention, until someone walked past — usually with a curious sidelong glance — and she’d quickly rush in behind them. She couldn’t tell the number of interviews she was late for, arriving flushed from all the jumping jacks she did (no doubt to the amusement of the security cameras).
Things worsened over time. The information age was relentless, and everything had a touch-screen. Phones, watches, elevators, checkouts — even cooking appliances. For any interaction, the progress of technology dictated a bright screen with a stock image of a puppy as cheaper — and therefore better — than a human being idly chatting with you about where you’re headed and how’s life. Humans take up too much space.
Megan replaced the state-of-the-art black-glass-panelled induction cooking range with a gas one (cause I like it that way, she told the puzzled technician). She kept her old Nokia phone (to avoid addiction to social media, the scourge of modern times). She arrived earlier for meetings, stalking the automatic doors with an I-was-just-catching-a-last-breath-of-fresh-air look as she trailed others inside. She grew her nails, so she’d have something to blame when she asked passers-by to press buttons for her. Megan had resigned herself to a life of increasing technological frustration. She had clickety IBM keyboard attached to her shiny Mac, and the accompanying mouse was an old monstrosity with a rubber ball at the bottom. She filled her days with walks in the park, talking to other dog owners and the, often surprised, corner-store attendant — meeting friends became increasingly harder.
She knew the reason for this, of course. She joked about it with friends and family. Technology couldn’t sense her because she had no soul.
Oh, it wasn’t anything terminal. She wasn’t a psychopath or anything. She was a lovely lady, good with children and kind to pets. A contributing member of society. Her two cats and golden retriever were fluff-balls of happiness, a clear testament.
It was just that, despite what engineers on the Internet tell you, advanced-technology sensors react to humans and other living creatures based not on body heat, or movement, or anything physical — but on the auras of their souls.
Megan’s was a congenital defect. She was sure she wasn’t alone, though no one else complained about it. So she made jokes.
Until Thursday night, at 11:48 pm.
Curled up on the couch with a cup of blue pea-flower tea in one hand and a remote in the other, she flipped aimlessly through TV channels. The screen’s glare illuminated her face. She knew it’s bad for her eyes and that she should have the lights on, but she couldn’t be bothered to get up. No Alexa, or Google Home, nor any fancy voice-activated assistant — even when she was standing right in front of them and enunciating clearly like some 19th century matron addressing a foreigner, those blasted things ignored her commands to turn the lights on.
Or started the sprinkler system. It was a toss-up.
She flipped a last round. A horror flick; a televangelist who wanted her money to save her soul (ha!); the inevitable rerun of M*A*S*H; the shopping channel. She was about to press the blue up-channel button again, when a grave voice spoke over a miserable-looking woman: “Having trouble with technology?”.
Her finger remained poised over the remote as she saw the woman on TV tapping her phone, slapping it, then throwing it across the room. “Do you feel technology is against you?” asked the voice, as the woman walked smack into closed automatic doors, and clutched at her nose. “Well, we know why — and we can fix you!” the voice turned cheerful. “Here at SpiritWorx, we find the perfect soul for you. Not only will technology respond, you’ll find your social life blooming as you interact freely with everyone and everything – no matter their preferred mode of communication!” The previously-miserable woman strode confidently across a lobby, coffee in one hand and a briefcase in the other, straight through automated doors that opened on a gaggle of cheering friends.
Megan made an appointment for the next day.
“We match you with just the right soul,” said her Holistic Spiritual Advisor. “It’s like organ donors. We have an extensive selection of recently departed who’ve chosen to kindly assist their spiritually-challenged, still-living brethren. We’ll find a soul of the right sex, background, temperament — even age, if possible. The benefits will manifest almost immediately!” the woman smiled.
“Is it painful?” Megan asked. “What about side-effects?”
“Not at all,” the advisor’s smile broadened. “The grafting procedure is done under local anaesthesia, and you’ll be out by lunchtime. And no side-effects — not unless you count being fully integrated with society a side-effect! Think about it. No more boom-gates closing on you, no more vampire jokes.”
Megan owed it to herself, she reasoned.
She signed the dotted line and gave the lady her credit card.
Two days later, and Megan walked across the SpiritWorx lobby. The space between her shoulder-blades was still numb, but the physiotherapist had ensured she resumed full mobility after the surgery.
She didn’t feel any different. No sudden urge to educate children (the donor had been a school-teacher), or any foreign thoughts and desires.
Three metres from the automatic doors. She held her resolve.
Two metres. She didn’t break stride.
One metre — and the doors opened. Megan let out the breath she was holding.
Once outside, she rummaged in her handbag and took out the shiny new smartphone she bought that morning. She swiped the screen. The phone unlocked. She kept swiping, just for the joy of seeing it slide with every movement. She launched every social media app on the device.
“Finally,” she thought, as she sat at a cafe where everyone was staring at their own electronic devices without talking and ordered a latte via the touchscreen embedded in the table, “finally I can get out of my seclusion and join the world.”
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