Thursday, March 9, 2017

Friday Flash Fiction: On the Road to Hell

This week, Chuck Wendig gave us two themes:
1. Doing a good thing sometimes means being evil.
2. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.
We were supposed to pick one. I picked the second, and I think I found that they are really the same thing. Or maybe I didn't pick what I thought I did. Anyway, the protagonist of this one has unleashed more than was bargained for.

The Road to Hell

All I ever wanted was to save the world. I mean that quite literally. I wasn’t out cleaning up beaches or trying to prevent the last melting of the polar ice sheets. I was trying to prevent the total destruction of the biosphere. All of which is to say: I had never been a tree-hugger, or any other kind of do-gooder. That might have been part of the problem. In any case, I’d never given the environment a great deal of thought until fate rubbed my nose in it.

It started with what I took to be a side-effect of too much time spent playing a computer game. Anyway, at the time, I was sure it was a game. You remember that old movie, “War Games”? It might have been a bit like that.

The video game was called “Environmental Hero,” which was beyond dorky, but a friend got me hooked. You had to do things to clean up super-fund sites: oil spills, old mines, and nuclear sites, without getting so contaminated you mutated into a slime monster. If you did things right, you stayed mostly human, but you could unlock super-powers. I unlocked the ability to see invisible pollutants, and it seemed like everything I unlocked after that was a multiplier—something that made my one power stronger. Pretty soon I could see carbon monoxide and radiation, and a score of other things that would otherwise require expensive instruments that I had to mine gold to buy. It was a clever game that way, since you ended up polluting in order to find and destroy the pollution.

Someone with powers like I unlocked could have prevented the lead epidemic in Flint back in the ’Teens. I thought it was kind of cool.

When I began thinking I saw pollutants even when I wasn’t at the computer, I chalked it up to too much time on the game messing with my mind. When the problem persisted, I shut down the computer for a couple of days and went for a hike.

Three days later I was seeing pollutants everywhere, and it wasn’t an illusion. I bought some simple test kits for some of the things, and sure enough, I was seeing what was there. What was everywhere.

That was enough to make me start writing letters to congress, for all the good it did. The corporate minions had a firm grip on the seat of power, and no one was going to pay any attention to someone who claimed they were poisoning the environment. They just figured they’d keep it away from their own homes, and carry on.

After a while, I got used to my new vision, and got tired of wasting my time, so I stopped writing letters, or doing much of anything else. I guess that was a time when my intentions weren’t so good. Not that they were bad; I just stopped having intentions, which might actually have been my first step on the path to hell.

My wake-up call came when the president abolished the EPA, on the grounds that there was really no such thing as pollution. I started looking again, and I realized how close we were to having neither air nor water fit for human consumption. At that point, it would be all up with us. Lots of parts of the world were already experiencing the effects of this, though you only got word through secret social media channels. The official word was that we were just fine.

Naïve that I was, I tried to go to the White House and tell the president how wrong he was. When they said I needed an appointment, I tried to tell his staffers what I knew, and how.

They thought I was crazy, which I should have expected. It didn’t help that when they told me I had to go, I began to yell about all the contaminants I could see right there in the White House. When I called the president a blind fool and accused him of destroying the world, they arrested me.

You’re going to say I should have seen that coming a mile away, and maybe I could have if I hadn’t been blinded by the waves of carbon monoxide, the chemicals in the  water, and background radiation at a level that I knew the few remaining scientists couldn’t have missed.

They didn’t have much to hold me on, so I was out of jail the next day, and that was when I maybe got it a bit wrong. I figured the only way to get their attention was to direct the worst of the pollution right back at the seats of power, so I began learning how the sewer and water systems in DC work. I found (an impoverished, of course) section of the city where the tap water would burn if you lit it.

People in that part of town were saving money on power by cooking over burning water. It sent the levels of airborne pollutants over the top, but they couldn’t see that, and they could see they were broke.

It took me a year, but in the end I had the project working. I’d forgotten that even ordinary people could smell the stuff coming out of those pipes. The folks on Capitol Hill smelled the water and hit the panic button, sure they were experiencing some kind of chemical warfare.

And so they were, though they’d launched it themselves.

It’s not really my fault that the president didn’t wait around to learn if his immediate reaction was correct. He “knew” that terrorists from the Middle East had gotten through security, and he did what he always said he would in case of attack.

He pushed the red button.

So yeah, I tried to save the world. It didn’t work out like I planned, and now we are all most certainly on the road to hell. But my intentions were good.

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2017
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  1. I like that. Beautifully constructed and I didn't see it coming. I hope it doesn't come, but as with my new year's eve five-year prediction, I hope we're still here in a few years to check...

    1. I'm not feeling very sanguine these days. SO yeah, this is a political post, even though I usually avoid that here!


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