The Man on the Rooftop

Tommy walked past his living room window and thought he saw someone standing on the rooftop of the building across the street. On his way back from the kitchen he took a closer look. He was right. There was a man in black carrying a brief case and a cell phone, looking at it as if he was following GPS directions. The guy must be lost, he thought, chuckling at the idea of a man inadvertently ending up on top of a roof because he was too glued to his navigation device to see where he was actually going.

The man walked to the ledge and sat on top of a parapet. He stretched his arms out, put his cell phone down, and placed the case he was carrying on his lap. He undid the latches and pulled out a black piece of metal, then another one, and attached them both together. When he took out a third smaller piece, Tommy reacted by squinting his eyes and placing his hand on top of his forehead to shield the sun from his vision.

The man had a gun; a rifle to be exact. Tommy watched him place the rifle at his side and then look at the telephone again. A few moments later the stranger reached in the bag and grabbed a thermos. He poured himself some liquid substance and sat there, drinking out of his cup, staring into his phone, casually, with a rifle at his side. He turned his head in Tommy’s direction and sheer instinct, coupled with a rush of adrenalin, sent Tommy sprawling to the ground. He crawled around his living room until he got to the brick wall blocking him from the street and any impending bullets that may be coming his way.

A few moments of silence passed and Tommy’s curiosity got the better of him. He crawled back to the window and lifted his head up as if he were a soldier in a trench. The man was still there, but this time he was facing Tommy’s window, still sipping whatever concoction he had poured himself. He glanced at his watch and then glanced back at the window. He raised his neck slightly and perked up. Then he smiled. He noticed Tommy and with an over exaggerated arm motion, began to wave at him. Tommy’s head came up a bit further and he politely waved back. The man’s smile dwindled and he went back to facing the other way, eyes on his phone and occasionally on the street below them.

Tommy grabbed his own cell phone and called the police; which in turn sent a swarm of squad cars barreling down the street and moments later, flooded the rooftop with officers. They tackled the man and placed his arms in handcuffs behind his back. Two officers lifted him off the floor and began rifling through his pockets. One of the other officers walked up to the man and began to talk to him, all the while Tommy watched in fascination and curiosity, glued to the window as the drama unfolded before him. He expected the man to be dragged down the stairs and shoved into one of the police cars below. That never happened.

The handcuffs were taken off shortly after the discussion between the officer and the gunman ensued. The rest of the police battalion relaxed. They all started to walk away from the scene and down the stairs; leaving only the one officer and the gunman there to finish whatever conversation they had started. They both looked over to Tommy as the gunman pointed. This time he wasn’t smiling. He seemed genuinely upset, as well as the cop, who shook the gunman’s hand and ran down the stairs, crossing the street, towards tommy’s building.

The intercom rang and this time, it was his apartment that was full of police officers.

“Hey dipshit, I know it’s still kinda new, but you could at least check the fucking TV or your damn computer before setting off the bells and whistles?”

“What… I don’t understand.”

The officer turned on Tommy’s television and hit channel 66. Tommy watched for a few seconds and an embarrassed grin shot across his face.

“Fuck… I’m so sorry officer. I’m still getting used to this.”

“Yeah, I know. We all know. That’s the fifth one this week. You guys really need to keep up with what’s going on in the world. Fucking geezer.”

Tommy felt like a fool. It had only been a few weeks of this, but already he thought he knew better. He made fun of the trigger happy police callers — enjoying the play on words as the reference related both to the hit-men and the scared shitless citizens that called the police thinking a murder of some sort was about to go down.

But there was no murder. Instead, It was all an elaborate hunting game sanctioned by the international consortium as a means of population control. A few months after the final famine had spread across the earth and the last world war had resulted in a consolidation of political and military power into one major empire run by international corporations, the people in charge needed to do something about the worst of all the threats to humanity (and industry) — overpopulation. We kept multiplying as a species and nothing was working any more. Diseases couldn’t keep up with technology; famine couldn’t keep up with advances in agriculture; wars were no longer good business; and the planet had began to heal itself after advances in renewable energy finally made it efficient enough to compete with fossil fuels. This earth had finally become the Garden of Eden; only now, Adam and Eve’s progeny had spread across the land like a swarm of locusts, taking up too much space and consuming everything in sight.

A few months ago they devised a simple solution to the problem, one that tapped into people’s voracious appetite for entertainment and their propensity for greed. It was the new lottery. All you had to do was sign up and agree to be a target and a participant. In exchange, you received money for everyone you eliminated on the target list. The ones who participated as gunmen gladly risked their own lives for the privilege of killing others. They also did so because every life they took was worth $10,000. At the end of your run, you could rack up as much as $100,000,000. All it took was a little skill and ingenuity and a whole lot of luck.

The rules were few. You couldn’t kill anyone that wasn’t enlisted. That was automatic termination (that was the word they used for death — you’d think that in 200 years people would’ve forgotten that stupid Schwarzenegger movie). You had to commit to playing for five years. There was no cap on terminations, but there was a minimum. If you did not your target throughout the course of your enlistment you were also terminated. Game-play on the weekends wasn’t permitted. No one really knew why, but they suspected it had something to do with some tradition that they couldn’t shake as a society that was rooted in primitive mythology that required people to gather and worship their chosen deity.

There was an app that you could download on your cell phone that told you when you were close to a target and even identified exactly where the targets were sometimes. The game had an on-line component to it, with trivia questions that left clues as to a target’s whereabouts and a convoluted virtual challenge and reward system designed to enlist “at home” participants who wanted to play along without risking their lives. These people were paired up with actual targets so that people were locked in as spectators, participants, and of course, consumers. The app flashed products and services on the screen as you sat there helping someone kill off as many of your fellow human beings as possible: Order dinner through seamless, buy that vacuum cleaner from Amazon, and help Joe find and kill his next target. There’s some frequent flyer rewards in it for you if you uncover the mystery behind riddle number five.

They decided to make the game seasonal, limited to only the summer months so as to have as limited effect on commerce and industry as possible. This was the first year of the game. The first season had begun three weeks ago. Since then, almost 1,000,000 participants had been killed off and over a billion in cash and prizes had been distributed. If the game’s success continued, the international consortium would only need a few years of this before the population stabilized and the game could be discontinued; so long as the profit making machinery in it’s place could be replaced by some other means of commerce so as not to create too big of a correction in international capital markets. This was something they intended to study very closely.

***

Tommy was no different than a lot of people his age. The older generation just couldn’t acclimate to this environment as quickly as their younger counterparts, who eagerly jumped at the chance of being participant, spectator, or a combination of both. They sat around looking to catch some termination action and played vigorously as sideline participants in the same way people used to play fantasy football. It all seemed a bit cruel to Tommy, but then again, at age 96, he still had memories of the old days, when people paid lip service to the sanctity of human life. Even though he pretended that it was no big deal — much in the same way he pretended to enjoy the shallow music of this generation — deep down inside it bothered him. Maybe that’s why he made the call. He may have known better, but at the moment he still wanted to feel like doing the right thing was actually doing the right thing; like there were laws out there that still matched the internal moral compass.

He went towards the window and watched the man, quietly poised and serene, waiting for his target. He also watched as a second man walked up behind him, wearing a red cape and a large red hat. He pulled out a thin metal string and swung it around the man’s neck, strangling the life out of the poor soul. When the body stopped moving, he gently leaned it up against the parapet and grabbed the gun. He dismantled it carefully and placed it meticulously back into the case where it came from, all while sipping out of his target’s cup, finishing the liquid concoction and screwing the drinking cap back on top. He looked over and noticed Tommy. He smiled and waved, then made his way off the roof. Ten minutes later the paramedics were there to pronounce the victim dead and escort the body to the morgue.

The Television had been on in the background, still on channel 66 where the police officer had left it.

“In another surprising move, the participant who calls himself Super Red has just earned another kill. This is shaping up to be an incredible first season folks. I can’t wait to see how this round ends.”

Tommy shook his head and turned off the television. This was going to take a lot of getting used to.