Head-On

by Martin Hill Ortiz


This must be science fiction — I’m in a flying car, high on orange juice, higher still over Alton Pass heading for a crash-crash. One crash when the Clin kicks in.

The other? The gobble-gobble of a police scoot in pursuit, some underwage wonderboy fresh out of kamikaze school, a drug enforcer with a slapped-on badge who received a warbled speech about how great an honor it-tis to die for our country, Tis-Of-Thee.

We can read you, we can read you, the bastards told me in the inter-room. They wore reflectors in front of their eyes, big and buggy. I suspected at the time it was to keep me from making eye contact, looking into the window of their thoughts or lack of thinking. Later I was told it was to hide their own addictions. That always-dilated desperate euphoria. Pupils popped wide open even when staring at the sun.

They slammed me with a book — one of those ancient wood-bricks — banged it against my head again and again, demanding, “Who has the Clin? Where is the Clin?”

I couldn’t answer. I didn’t know — yet.

They shoved a print-out under my nose asking, “What does this say?”

“I can’t read. I can’t read.”

They read the page aloud:

Female voice: Come Clin with me.
Male [my] voice: Are you crazy?
Female voice: I’m ready.

“Who is the woman?” my interrogator asked.

They made me rat out Threa. Threa, a fellow juicer and the only person who tipped my scales, kept me more than half-human. I had to tell them. Already my gut was kicking me, kicking me from the inside out.

After I gave up her name they left me alone for a time. I can read. The book they had used as a club was a thesaurus. I was a snitch, fink, stoolie, rat, canary.

Worthless.

Threa had told me we were always living 50-50. Halfway to heaven, halfway above the pit. I was all in the pit now. Nowhere but up.

When I was twelve, I was cuffed for stealing recyclables. Near my home. In the dump. I was tried as an adult, sentenced to a life of good behavior. Prison, Inc! called the shots, told the judge what must be done.

I was given a Medicine Ball, a melt-in-the-bowels gel-cap that felt like a fist shoved down my throat. It burst in my colon and set free the bacteria that owned me. Gut flora modded to synth cocaine, but only when tickled by a good dose of citrus. They had me by the switches: On/Off, On/Off.

I was twice good: their slave and their snitch.

They controlled the citrus crops, of course. Each morning if I’d been a good snitch, the Inc! Priest of UnderGod gave me a chalice of orange juice. If I didn’t take the juice, the bugs would revert to spitting out methanol, poisoning me, making me slowly go blind.

There was a cure. An antibiotic, clindamycin. Ravages the gut Clin-Clean. Those who sold Clin were the number-one enemies of the drug enforcers of Prison, Inc! largest industry of The One Nation, UnderGod.

Just a hint I had word of the Clin-clan and I was dragged to the inter-room, reflecting off their bug-eyes, slammed by a volume of synonyms: smacked, beaten, clobbered, walloped, bruised.

Now I’m heading for a crash. The patrol boy tries to ram and ground me but he’s being too careful. He seems to care whether he lives. I don’t. I skirt the rocks, daring him to keep close.

After Threa got collected I became desperate to escape, determined to find the Clin then make the run over the pass. Beyond the pass were cave-dwellers. All the juicers spoke of them. They were free from the drug and drug enforcers, living out of abandoned mines. So primitive that The One Nation never cared to touch them. Or else they were a legend and didn’t exist.

It took me months, but today I got a dose of Clin, stole a patrol cruiser and raced toward Alton Pass. Now I’m heading for a crash. But I’m repeating myself.

I feel the sweat of freedom, the release of rapid detox. It is pummeling me and I love its every punch.

The boy on the police scoot sails over me, flips a 180 and waits for the head-on. Full-frontal heroics. All hail this toilet-ocracy.

You’re a slave, I want to tell him. Same as me.

I am going too fast — science fiction fast — no time to swerve. His scoot explodes in a fireball. My cruiser plows the ground as it shreds.

They will locate the wreckage. I have to get away. I slither out on my belly, clutching at my sides, my ribs cracked and crackling.

Crawling is too painful. I turn on my back and push myself little by little further from the debris until I can move no more. I’m still close enough to the wreck to feel its flames. I look up at the storm clouds, the gunmetal heavens, locked and loaded, ready to wash me away.

My every blink grows longer than the last. As I’m about to close my eyes forever, I see a ragged angel crawl out from a cave. She grasps my hand.


Copyright © 2011 by Martin Hill Ortiz

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