A little hammer Flash fiction

Flash fiction

First published in Snelson: Comedy Is Dying #4 by Ahoy Comics | November 2021

Three, two, one: your skull is made of glass.

You’re on the carpet on your hands and knees, grateful you didn’t let anyone join you for the launch. Just now, across all timezones, it began humming inside a hundred brains – and their best friends or doting husbands or sweaty online fans saw it. The world’s wealthiest men and women, crawling on the carpet.

This’d better be worth it.

Hello, says a voice like a bell. And congratulations!

You stagger up, swaying, leaning on your desk. You let out a long, unsteady breath and listen.

I made big promises, says the voice, and in return you paid me an obscene amount of money. Like, truly obscene.

The pain’s gone. Instead, you feel like your nasal passages are carved out of cocaine. Sitting down in your chair, you spin and then lift your feet. A kid left alone in a father’s office. Round and round.

Only your father didn’t have an office. Your mother either. You earned every cent and you’ll hold it tightly ‘til you die. Some say you place a coin on each eye for Charon the Ferryman but you’ll be weighed down by so much gold you’ll sink him into the Styx.

My logic is simple. If you can afford this, you deserve to have it. Welcome to your new mind. Then, as you thought it: Don’t worry, I won’t be rabbiting on in your head for much longer.

Thank god. Brian’s certainly not the worst tech billionaire you’ve met – he’s awkward, soft-spoken, eyes always unfocused and swimming – but you’d never have signed up for his implant if it meant he was a lifetime narrator. Some would’ve balked at the pain, let alone the price, but the implant surgery wasn’t even as bad as a teeth cleaning. You were awake the whole time, humming softly, as the surgeons busied themselves behind you.

Then it was just a matter of waiting until launch. Until tonight.

Brian’s voice, buried deep: I promised you better, faster cognition. No more need for sleep. Conscious emotional control. Even rudimentary, close-quarters telepathy. I promised you everything you need to claim your destiny as the next step in human evolution.

You stop spinning in your chair, a little dizzy at the possibilities. Out your office window lies the city: somehow gleaming and filthy at once. You get up, walk to the window, and press your palm against it.

I lied, says Brian. Obviously.

You twitch like you’re clearing water from your ear.

There’s a story by Anton Chekhov called ‘Gooseberries’. It has a speech I’ve always liked: “At the door of every happy, contented man somebody should stand with a little hammer, constantly tapping, to remind him that unhappy people exist…”

What’s he babbling about? Chekhov? Brian is always full of facts: about this book and that war and “did you know this concerto has a peculiar history?” Your hand, held out before you, is shaking. If there’s something wrong with the implant – some kind of glitch that should’ve been caught in testing – you’ll make sure Brian’s not even allowed to fix cracked phones.

Oh, this is a recording. I’m already dead, he adds. I poisoned myself a few hours ago and died in the bathtub. I couldn’t live with it anymore. All the money. What did it say about us? Maybe there was something wrong with us all along, and I found a way to fix it.

You run for the office door, but you don’t make it. Two steps and you’re thrashing on the carpet again. Jesus, the pain. It feels like something is being born inside your head. The plates of your skull, shifting to make way for it.

One last thing.

Please. Please, make it stop.

The Italian statistician, Corrado Gini – he came up with an inequality index. A coefficient of one is maximal inequality. A coefficient of zero is perfect equality. Does that make sense? You’re all smart people. I mean, you’re all so rich…

You curl into a ball, mouth open and drooling, fingernails drilling into your palms. You feel like a child. All you want is for your parents to tell you everything will be okay. You can’t remember the last time you called them, or what you said.

The closer you push inequality to equality – the coefficient down to zero – the less it will hurt. Until then, you could afford this.

You can almost see Brian’s eyes, still swimming into yours. 

You deserve it.