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The Decoder

By Kenneth Buff All Rights Reserved ©

Thriller / Scifi

The Decoder

The Decoder

I’m standing in line watching the people swirl by me in a blur. I swirl by them too. Everyone’s using their time decoder in the store, just as they should, it’s only 10 a.m., and legally you don’t have the option to turn it off until noon. Most people leave it on until 4 p.m., the mandated time that the decoders must be switched off.

In what feels like seconds I’m at the front of the line, words pass through me to the cashier, and she hands me my prescription.  I make my way to a water fountain, leaving a trail of color behind me. I take my pill, Jeochlorino; it helps with the headaches the decoder gives me. I go to my car and leave.

I drive on the interstate with my car’s decoder on. The blur of cars passing me and the blur of cars that I’m passing make me feel a little nauseous. I take another Jeochlorino and close my eyes. I let the car take me home.

The car parks itself in the garage, and I go inside. I look at the clock on the wall; it’s now 10:06. I decide to mow the lawn, do the dishes, fold the laundry, dust the walls, vacuum the carpet, hang the new curtains, repaint the guest bedroom, and make the kids’ lunches for the week. When I’m done, I look up at the clock on the wall to see that it’s now 11:30.

I spend the next thirty minutes alphabetizing the canned goods, painting the doghouse, patching the fence, mopping the floor, and shingling the roof. I walk into the kitchen, and I turn the decoder off.

My head jolts forwards as it always does when I turn it off; for a moment I feel like I might be sick, but it passes. I go to the fridge, and I ask it to make a roast beef sandwich. It makes it, and I go downstairs to eat and to write.

I’m writing a story about a man who lives in a world where decoders slow time down. He uses it to soak up life by living longer.

The basement phone rings; it’s my wife. I can barely understand her since she’s still using her decoder. I think she tells me she’s running late, but will be home soon. I tell her I love her and hang up. I go back to writing my story.

Two minutes later my wife is home. She prepares dinner and dessert and calls me up in under seven minutes. I leave my story and go upstairs.

My wife has made lasagna, and she and the kids are almost through by the time I make it upstairs. 

“Hey,” I say.

Barbara says something, but the words are so slurred I don’t understand them.

I sit down at the table, and I begin to cut up the lasagna and eat it, even though I’m not hungry.

“How was your day?” I ask Barbara.

She mutters something then cleans off her plate, moving so fast I can barely see her. I think she kisses me before she heads upstairs.

I look across the table and see that the kids have already left. I clean the lasagna off my plate and go back downstairs.

I can’t decide if I want my hero to die or not. I think I’ve decided I want him to die, but I’m not sure how to kill him. Maybe having a heart attack with his decoder on, so he’ll experience the seconds as if they were hours.

Barbara calls from upstairs. She’s gone before I get there, but she’s left a note. She’s going jogging with Ted—she’ll be back before 4:00. I set the note down and decide to go outside for a walk.

My neighbors pass me with their decoders on, or really just people I assume are my neighbors, I can’t really tell. I pass the Samsons’ house, and they’re having sex with their decoders on and they’ve left their blinds open intentionally. I stare at their bodies bouncing up and down in static swirls of color. As I walk by, I wonder what it feels like.

I make it to the end of my street, and I decide to keep walking. The wind feels good, and I like the smell. I walk all the way to the lake. I see dozens of people jogging; some of them are doing it with their decoders off. I smile at an attractive young girl; she smiles back and keeps running. 

I sit down on a bench and look up at the sun. It feels like it should be setting, but it’s not. I check my watch: it says it’s 3:30.

I decide to sit there and watch the bright swirling colors of people passing me by. I know in twenty-nine minutes I’ll see a rush of them heading down my street before the automated timer in their decoders forces them to shut down. I watch as they use their decoders, the device meant to free us from work and chores to make room for hobbies, to rid themselves of hobbies and interest. I’m not sure how I feel.

A few minutes go by, I stop paying attention to the blurs. They still pass me, but now I don’t see them; all I see is the water and the sky. Both are shining brightly blue. Suddenly I feel sad. I’m thinking about tomorrow. I’ll wake up at 5:00 a.m. when my alarm clock goes off; I’ll shower and shave, and when I’m done I’ll put on my decoder and begin to work my way through Barbara’s list. I’ll finish it in two hours, and then I’ll mill about for a few minutes until I’ve thought of thirty more things to do. I’ll finish those things in fifty minutes. I’ll continue this for the rest of the day. Maybe when I’m done I’ll go on a walk until I reach the lake and then sit down on this bench. I know what the rest of my week looks like, the rest of my month, maybe the rest of my life. I shut my eyes.

I open them to the sound of fluttering paper.  I look down to see a sheet of paper blowing against the bench. I pick up the wrinkled page and read it. It’s a page from a comic book. It has a huge green glob on it. Its green tentacles are wrapped around the hero and his friends. There’s a dialogue bubble above the monster that says, I have you now, James Astonish. I stare at it, soaking in the colors. When I’m bored with it, I turn it over and look at the other side. It’s covered with ads—one of them is circled. It’s an ad for a decoder repairman named Stephen Stone. 

I know this ad isn’t legal; no one is allowed to tamper with decoders but federal employees, but I assume it hasn’t been flagged because no one reads comic books. I decide to find a phone booth and call the number.

Stephen’s secretary is nice. She assures me I can get in before 4:00. I tell her that after 4:00 is fine, and she tells me that that is very good.

I check my watch: it is now 3:50. I walk back to my bench, hoping that the repairman is real and he can do what his ad says, but if not, there is always the bridge. I stare out at the water and I wonder if I want my hero to die. The water shines brightly, and I smile. 


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