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The Call of Sirens

Dean Traylor is a freelance writer and teacher who writes about various subjects, including education and creative writing.

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“If temperatures are outrageously hot,” the voice from the console stated. “Then take advantage of our special deal on cool AC relief!”

Sal Lem sat on his Murphy bed. He glanced at the ancient fan ceiling he installed. It was struggling in the hot, stagnant and filtered air.

He thought changing the filter (a minor hit on the credit) would cut down on the pollutant ,and possibly aid the fan into circulating a cool breeze. Isn’t that how they are supposed to work, he thought.

“Happy Home is here for your lifestyle needs,” the voice continued. “ Do you want to hear our new deal for the day? Say yes if you want to and no if you….”

“No!” Sal snapped.

Happy Home sensor indicates that something hit your bed,” the voice stated. “ Do you want a diagnostics to locate any damages and fix it?”

But, the offer was tempting.The ceiling fan was just moving hot air around the room. And, sitting in his protective gear -- minus the helmet and breathing apparatus -- was not comfortable. Hopefully, the deal would not be a dent in his credits as it has been in the past.

The credit: he instinctively balled his fist and pounded the bed.

“Happy Home sensor indicates that something hit your bed,” the voice stated. “ Do you want a diagnostics to locate any damages and fix it?”

“No.”

Sal let out a sigh in a attempt to calm himself. He knew such an operation -- or even the attempt at one -- could be a hit on his credit.

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Damn those credits. No doubt, credits were on his mind. Everything in the Happy Home unit cost something. But the unit was not unusual to city living.Transportation costs credit. Using parks and facilities (although often avoided and neglected) cost an entry fee. In fact, just about everything, even the so-called public services, required a substantial amount of credit. And on this day, with the current conditions, his credit was evaporating in the sweltering heat and there was little he could do until the all-clear call of the sirens blared.

“Do you want an update on today’s weather?” Happy Home console asked.

“Yes,” Sal replied, hoping for good news.

“At this moment, air quality is at extremely dangerous levels,” it continued. “ It is advisable to stay inside until the all-clear is given.”

“Thanks for the advice,” Sal said, sarcastically.

Sal knew what that meant; he would have to wait. That didn’t sit well; he was missing time at work, as well as the credit he was given for the hours he would've put on the job. In the brave new world of deregulation and bans on collective bargaining meetings and representation, workers were paid for the hours they worked. No paid leaves or vacation time. Even the weekends were practically non-existent for those who had to make ends meet…just as Sal had to.

There, the sky was a thick, soupy brown haze that enveloped the buildings across the way.

He got off the Murphy bed. The bed lifted back into the wall as his simple dining table rose from the floor. Once the bed was firmly in place, Happy Home removed the sheets and any clothing on the bed and shipped them to a washing machine within the wall. Yes, it cost credit, but it was the least of his worry.

He approached the window, which was only a few steps away from where his bed was. Sal peered out it at the city (at least, what he could see). There, the sky was a thick, soupy brown haze that enveloped the buildings across the way.

This was bad. Sal knew exactly what this air quality can do to him. Once, he made the mistake of entering it. His suit corroded and the poisonous brown gunk seeped into his skin. It burned upon contact and stayed that way for days. His eyes stung to the point he was blinded. And those burning lungs! He cringed upon the thought. He spent a long time in the hospital. He almost had to declare bankruptcy.

The ceiling fan strained. He feared it would fall apart. He kept telling himself that it was supposed to save some credit. If it breaks, Happy Home, the housing entity that controlled everything in his small, boxed unit would love to up-charge him on this addition he installed.

“If temperatures are outrageously hot,” the console repeated. “Then take advantage of our special deal on cool AC relief! Happy Home is here for your lifestyle needs.

“Do you want to hear our new deal for the day? Say yes if you want to and no if you don’t want it.”

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Sweat ran down his face.He wiped his forehead, but didn’t get all of it. One streaked down his chin and dripped onto the floor. The ping in his stomach increased. His hand was being forced on this. His credit was low to begin with. And he already missed two hours of work. This was a hard decision he had to make. Reluctantly, he knew he had to take the offer.

Then, it came. The siren blared outside as well as through the console’s intercom.

A different, seriously formal voice came on: “This is an update: air quality has improved to acceptable levels. All businesses and transportation are open.”

“It is advisable,” the voice continued. “To wear protective gear and breathing apparatus if you will be venturing outdoors.”

Relief came over Sal. He grabbed his helmet and breathing apparatus. But, before putting them on, he turned toward the Happy Home console, knowing it was waiting for an answer.

“No,” he said.

He put the rest of his gear on, and opened the door. Just before he left, Happy Home had one more message.

“Happy Home wants to thank you for your business,” it stated. “Remember, we here for your lifestyle needs.”

And, Sal went off to work. He had a lot of credit to make for those lifestyle needs.

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© 2022 Dean Traylor

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