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February 19, 2024

No Gold Watch

By Pete McArdle

J-23 sipped his drink and watched the evening news on the 3D-viewcube over the bar. Riots in Antarctica, mutant viruses carried by cats, and yet another plutonium spill in the New Mormon Territories. What a fucked-up world, thought J-23 as the vacuous, big-haired bimbo who covered the economic news came on.

"With the world-conomy tanking, thanks to renewed hostilities in Persiran, the board of Trans-World Corporation announced today that the mandatory age of retirement had been corrected, from fifty-five to fifty-two -- effective as of last Fursday.

"In protest, Cool Sal-9, the president of AARP, set himself on fire during a live-cast of Ziggy's Playhouse, the doogely popular children's show. Network executives were snick to distance themselves. . . ."

Fifty-two, thought J-23, downing yet another shot of Neuro-Schnapps. What on Earth must it feel like to be that old?

Dad-kins would know, he was fifty-two today and now his birthday bash would also be his retirement party.

The young man punched a sequence of buttons on his wrist and like that, a Retirement Cake was winging its way to the C-Mack residence, courtesy of Trans-World Corporation, "We Run Your World!"

I'd better get a groove on, thought J-23, or I'll miss the festies. He stepped into a sonic-pod, strapped himself in, and said, "Home, James."


"Yo, Dad-kins," said J-23, affectionately slapping his father's face, "How's it feel to be a caboose-less dinosaur?"

"Leave him be," said Brown Betty, J-23's sister, "You know he's been dreading retirement." J-23 looked up at his Sis, all seven-foot-four of her, and pantomimed zipping his lip.

"It's OK, B.B.," said Dad-kins, playfully elbowing his son in the crotch. "It happens to everyone, sooner or later. You wake up one day and you're old, moldy toast, ready for the trash-sposal."

"But you're not old, Dad-kins," said Brown Betty, encircling her father with her long, serpentine arms. "I don't want you to retire," she said, "it's not fair," tears leaking from her huge obsidian eyes.

She must have forgotten to eat her Sed-Flakes this morning, thought J-23. "You're downin' me, Sis," he said, "How 'bout a blast of Smooth-eral?"

Before his sibling could reply, the portal gong sounded.

"I got it," yelled Mom O'Rama from the bedroom. J-23 heard her prosthetic feet clomping down the hall, the whoosh of the open portal as thousands of pods flew by, and the surprised howl his mother let out when she saw the Retirement Cake.

"Fuck a duct," muttered J-23, "she must've snoozed through the entire evening news." His mother had recently turned forty-five, and more and more she napped instead of simply increasing the voltage.

She lumbered into the family room, holding the cake with her hooks, her face as pale as the frosting.

"It must be a mis-spake," she said, trembling, "Dad-kins is only fifty-two."

"No mis-spake," said J-23, grabbing the cake and keeping a safe distance from his Mom's shiny hooks. She could be overly emotional at times.

"Those yumb know-it-alls at Trans-World lowered the Sol-darn retirement age today," Dad-kins grumbled.

"Jim-Lo, don't talk like that," his wife whispered. "They might be listening."

At this, her husband snorted and said, "What are they gonna do, Sweet-Lumps, fire me?"

J-23 laughed hard at his father's joke, the laughter dying in his throat when he caught sight of Mom and Sis's long faces.

Women, he thought, shaking his badly-scarred head.

"Listen, fam-units, it's still my B-day," said Dad-kins, smiling kindly. "So why don't we kill the fatted hound and just make the best of it, eh?"

In a blink, J-23 had slit the beagle's throat and thrown it into the sink. While their dinner bled out, Brown Betty opened a bottle of El Dopa and poured everyone a generous cube. J-23 sprinkled a little crank in his and offered it around, but no one wanted any.

After Dad-kins tore the dog apart, handing everyone a limb, the C-Macks quietly ate their dinner, the only sound the puh-whump, puh-whump of Mom O'Rama's artificial heart and the occasional crunching of bones. J-23 found the meat juicy and delicious, albeit a bit stringy. Beagles are just too active, he thought, next op we should snatch a Shih Tzu.

When the bottle of El Dopa had been drained and all that remained of dinner was a small, cinnamon-and-white tail, Mom O'Rama hosed down everyone's hands and faces and passed around an old, thread-bare towel.

It was time for cake.

As J-23 placed the Retirement Cake in front of his father, Mom O'Rama became hysterical and started swinging her hooks, opening a gash in Dad-kins' forehead and almost cutting off Brown Betty's nose.

Blood dripping from his brow, Dad-kins reached behind his crazed mate and hit the "Pause" button. He kissed his wife's frozen face and addressed his offspring.

"Your mother hates birthdays, always has," he said. "She's scarified of getting old." He smiled at his companion of thirty years, two kids, and five wars. "But we all get old, it can't be helped. What I hang my sprat on is the fact that I was blissed with two healthy, non-reproducing diploids like you."

Dad-kins bussed Brown Betty on the cheek and slapped J-23 so hard, he fell off his chair. The father waited until his pasty-faced son had regained his seat, then he continued.

"No, this is not a perfect world, kids, I rant you that. However, it was much berse before Trans-World took over, much berse. So while I flinge at the thought of retirement, I must accept it. Let us toast to Trans-World Corporation, the founder of the feast!"

The three functioning C-Macks clinked their cubes and drank the dregs of their El Dopa.

"To TWC!" crowed J-23.

Brown Betty said nothing, the muscles of her temples bunching.

Dad-kins grabbed a chunk of cake, hesitated for a moment and then jammed it into his mouth. His daughter wept quietly as he stuffed more cake in his craw, and then more, until the whole thing was gone.

"See you in Shangri-La, kids," he said and pitched forward, his head slamming hard against the faux-mica.

J-23 gave his sister some time to collect herself. The last time he'd stressed her, she'd set his bed on fire -- with him in it.

"OK," she said, taking a deep breath, "let's do it."

Sure's a bitch getting old, thought J-23 as he and Brown Betty grabbed Dad-kins by the feet and dragged his lifeless body to the curb.

Originally published in Used Gravitrons Quarterly.

Article © Pete McArdle. All rights reserved.
Published on 2013-09-09
Image(s) are public domain.
2 Reader Comments
Lydia Manx
02:06:26 PM
Pete, you've done it again. You slid into the future with the dark side forward. Well crafted.
Jill Adams
04:01:49 AM
Creative writing at it 's most creative. Terrific job, Pete.
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