by Martin Hill Ortiz
Jane Clifton earned a little extra by selling the advertising space on the inside of her eyelids. Blink, Inc. performed the surgery, implanting a tattoo made up of dynamic luminescent pixels. Whenever she shut her eyes, she was bombarded with vivid, hyperkinetic promotions.
At first this assault distressed her. Then she lost her mind.
Or, not exactly lost it: reality became an unimportant item she had misplaced somewhere among the delirious wonderland of seductive propaganda. Her freedom from sanity brought her joy.
Her gooey bread tasted wonderful and built her body in twelve directions. Her pungent deodorant freshened her and provided the courage to face the day. Her rat-filled condo was a slice of paradise. The credit she used to afford her dungheap of purchases promised her that she had a lifetime to pay.
Yes, at times she experienced stress. She needed to stay on this week’s protein shake to prepare for next week’s I-deserve-a-binge. She maintained the nagging suspicion that her neighbor was a serial killer and that she needed to add another alarm system to her home. Or else she was struck by an even more terrifying notion: her neighbor was a serial killer with a better television than hers. She descended into jealous rages, vowing she’d kill him.
And always, during the days, she felt alone.
All of these tensions disappeared during her dreams. When she slept she delighted in sensuous stories, escapist fantasies with her as the heroine indulging in exotic and designer purchases with her hunky truelove. Muscular, always shirtless, Aldo spoke in a come-hither voice about the latest must-have products. Jane woke each morning in a sweat, post-climax, her senses tingling and sated.
One morning, as she sat at a Queeg-Queeg Cafe scalding her lips on ten-dollar instant coffee sweetened with the finest emulsified corn powder, she blinked while glancing into her cup. There, floating atop the mucky surface, she saw the word, “RUN,” spelled out in neon-bright letters.
She didn’t know what to do. Her blinks had never misled her. She looked around for her dodgy neighbor; maybe he was about to attack. She blinked again and “RUN” reappeared in bold stereoscopic alarm.
She screamed, bolted to her feet, tipping over her table. No one even turned a head. She fled, bumping against strangers as she hurtled down the crowded sidewalk. To escape unwelcome contact with the germy throng, she ducked into an alleyway. There, a stranger grabbed her while another wrangled a felt hood over her head. She blinked and saw nothing, blinked and saw nothing again, only a desperate and forsaken darkness. She was shuttled away.
Balled up, sitting on a hard wooden floor, her wrists and ankles tied, she cried and sniveled and begged for hours. Her every blink presented a painful emptiness. Alone, certainly in the hands of terrorists or aliens — or both — she prayed for just one more chance at life. She swore to God, given the opportunity, she would buy another alarm and she would be more suspicious of everyone and she would take that expensive cruise she always promised herself.
She lapsed into sleep. Aldo did not appear.
She awoke, greeted by an old man with a smiling sad face. He informed her that she had been captured by the Madison Liberation Army. They had hacked and then jammed the signals to her advertisements. She could remain free of propaganda by using a special set of glasses.
“Everyone but the uppermost rich has a Blink, Inc. tattoo. You are one of a nation of slaves. My people warned me that you were too far gone to rescue, but I couldn’t bear seeing you this way. I am your father.”
Jane knew her actual father had been a very important whipped-cream physicist who had invented the means to sugar-stuff a generation of food. She remembered — or dreamed — visiting his deathbed where he whispered his dying words: “Whipped cream chimichangas.” This man, before her, who claimed to be her father, inspired terror. She thought it best to play along.
Over the months, she tried to maintain her agitation and fear, but she relented as they deprogrammed her, teaching her the taste of real foods and the contentment of simple pleasures.
When she finally returned to her condo, she gratefully wore the jamming glasses. Even among the rats and grime, she lived happily ever... until Prince Charming appeared.
Jake Smurck, the model who played Aldo, knocked on her door. She invited him in, certain she must be blinking, but how could she, with eyes wide open?
He told her the people at Blink, Inc. worried about her and her lagging shopping patterns. “Come back to us.”
He sat at her kitchen table and took off his shirt as though that were the perfectly normal way to have a chat. He said, “I know how this game works, it’s all imagine, but fantasies are powerful. They’ve given me dreams with your face.”
His hands clasped hers with the fervency of a healing prayer. “We’ll head off on an ocean cruise aboard a fifteen-storey luxury liner featuring the finest of amateur entertainment. We’ll retire each night to our cozy cabin with its spectacular windowless view while the aromas from the next-door garbage room sate our senses. We’ll make love to the non-stop crash of the nearby engine room’s pistons... Did you hear something? I have this shady neighbor who may be following me...”
He blinked, returning to script. “The company says we can have all of this and so very much more, but first you must get rid of those ugly eyeglasses and tell them who you met in the Liberation Army.”
Jane hesitated, her hand on the wing of her spectacles.
“I’ll bet you have the most beautiful of eyes,” Jake said.
She lowered her glasses and blinked.
Copyright © 2013 by Martin Hill Ortiz