Fiction — The MagicLand Chronicles
The Death of Charlie Hollywood
I’ve got about, oh, I dunno, maybe twenty million in crypto. But nowhere to spend it. The magicians have hacked the net. How do magicians hack a net? They’re magicians, not hackers.
I don’t get it.
I spend most of my time dodging eradication bots, crypto is worthless, and I haven’t bathed in about a week. This is no way to live.
Eradication bots shouldn’t be coming after someone like me, but they do. Another magician hack? I dunno. Maybe. But like I say, magicians, they aren’t hackers. Are they?
I’ll admit, my Behavior Score is only 59. Out of a hundred. Not great but supposedly out of the range of eradication bots. How do I know this? I don’t, not really. I’m just going on what I’ve heard other people say. The net’s down today, so the score threshold may have changed. I guess they can set the range to whatever they want, whenever they want. I wouldn’t know. I’m not in charge.
Or maybe the eradication bots have all gone rogue because the net has been down so often. They’ve got brains, those bots, sort of. They can make decisions on their own.
I spend a lot of time foraging. There’s still a lot of food left. Canned stuff. Which is fine, as long as what they say is true, that it lasts several years. I’m not dead yet, so it must be so.
Packs of dogs are a problem. They creep me out. I was climbing through a pile of cars the other day and spotted about a hundred dogs, mangy-looking things, like a boiling cloud of trouble rolling down the hill in front of an old freeway bridge. Just one big happy family looking to tear up poor fools like me.
Oh, by the way. My name is Charlie. Charlie Hollywood. Before the First Eradication, I was a crypto gamer and financier. It’s all gone, now. All of it. The gaming, plus the crypto because even with my mined allotment stored in a ring on my finger, there’s nothing I can do with it.
People want bling these days. Gold coins and rings and jewelry, even a diamond on a ring on a severed finger. I saw that once. Somebody gave Tangiers, who is a local broker, a finger with a big stone on it and the broker traded it for some gold coins. The man with the finger had clearly been targeted for eradication. He wore ragged clothes and he didn’t have a Net Ring. Tangiers probably sent some goon to follow the dude to the point of getting wasted by a drone, then retrieved his gold coins.
You must know about Net Rings, right? Those things they passed out during the Third Eradication. You either got one or you didn’t. There wasn’t really much in the way of evaluation behind who received one. Not that I saw. I knew a doctor that didn’t get one, and a sanitation worker who did.
It’s how they know my Behavior Score. If you keep the ring on, you have a better chance of living, but the thing is, the nefarious device can read your mind. Your intent. If you even plan on committing a crime, or some kind of mayhem, or if you think about helping the resistance, your Behavior Score takes a hit. If you have a lot of money, though, maybe not so much.
Everyone starts at an even hundred. Mine is down to 59. I don’t know why, really. I mean, I have some ideas, some stuff I’ve been through, but 40 points worth? I dunno. Seems harsh. A few lies here and there. A woman I sort of wanted to accost. But I ended up helping her out instead. Shouldn’t I have gotten points for that?
I’ve stolen a few things but who hasn’t these days? I mean, it’s the very nature of our economy. Nobody even really knows what belongs to whom. So, you know, you see something, you take it. Not a big deal.
Anyway, I’m sitting on a broken tile floor with my back against a wall not feeling so good. Probably some bad canned food.
Outside, I swear, I can hear fifty drones buzzing around. They’re fast, spinning globes with venomous sprays that use pathogens to target individuals.
Let’s say you’re in a crowd of people with high behavior scores. These nasty drones can pick you out of the crowd, spray everyone with the pathogen, and, if you’re the target, its spray attacks only you. Somehow it knows your DNA or something, and the pathogen is only triggered if you’re a DNA match.
I thought I was safe until a drone spotted me and came at me like it was shot out of some fancy gun. The thing darted around ruins of cars and structures while it hunted me down. Some dude shot it, and I ran. I never found out who it was that did the shooting.
That’s when I stopped thinking I was safe.
I hear the drones whirring outside, buzzing around. Are they hunting me?
The building I’m in exists on something that used to be called Nob Hill. I’ve heard there’s a man living in a top story of one of the buildings here. He’s supposedly hunkered down in what amounts to an armory. He shoots anything that moves below, so the story goes. He may have been who shot the drone that was after me. I have no idea. I couldn’t tell where the shot came from. I only saw the drone explode into a million pieces.
There’s an old counter in front of me. Behind it is part of a machine that loops a heavy wire from the ceiling into another room. There are old hooks dangling from the wire waiting for an arrival that can never happen. A laundry service. I imagine coiffed residents from days gone by, like on some old streaming TV show, scurrying out with blue square packages, and a sign that says “wash and fold.” The place still smells damp, as if the concept of the place never left.
Ella Drake did not know anything about magic. She didn’t understand the power of the staff she carried. She only knew that when she touched it against someone who was in the last moments of life, strange things began to happen.
When she saw the man stumble out of a burning building on Nob Hill, she wanted to cry because there were three drones spinning above him. She knew what that meant.
A fine mist quickly found the man’s head. The drones left.
She ran to the man, who stumbled around some more before sitting.
He had a tall outcropping of hair that stood straight up into a point as if being held up by invisible fingers. Streaks of blue plumes shot through the blonde mass on their way to the narrow top. It would have looked comical if not for the man’s handsome face.
He had a pointed, chin, too, which should have added to the comedy. As she neared, she saw that even his nose ended on a finer point than most noses. He’s well-appointed, she giggled to herself. His skin was pale, almost winterized, but without blemish as far as she could see.
“I haven’t got much longer,” he smiled weakly as she came within speaking distance. “Would you like to dance?” If she had to guess, she would have pegged him for being about 25 years old.
“I..uh…” Her empathic instincts took her to, “yes.”
“Thank you.” As he stood up, he shook his arm, and an old song she sort of recognized played off his shoulders.
“You have augmentations,” she said warily. “Why did they go after you?”
“Must be my behavior score,” he said.
“Oh,” was all she could muster.
“Don’t worry, I won’t rape you.”
“I wasn’t worried. You couldn’t if you tried.”
She presented her staff.
“Rebar? I guess you can sling it good,” he laughed.
“It does things.”
“Excellent. Show me. After we dance a bit. If we have time. We might not. God. I’m suddenly hungry. Know where I can find a good steak?”
“Not many people get to die and laugh at the same time. Is that what you’re shooting for?”
“Yeah,” he said. “Something like that.”
They danced. They danced a slow dance, and held each other tight. She cried on his shoulder.
“Do you do this often?” he asked as he felt wet tears soak through his tight blue t-shirt.
She pushed away lightly and shook her head. “You mean dance with dead guys?”
“I think. I think that’s what I meant. Maybe I just meant this. You here.”
“If you want, I can take you before you die.”
He looked at her lasciviously. “That sounds lovely, but I do love a real bed. And time’s running out.”
“No, no, I mean with this.” She reached toward the wall where she had leaned her staff before the dance. She took the staff in one hand, without letting her other hand leave the small of his back.
“So you like rough sex?”
She giggled. “No. I can store your soul inside here. I think.”
“Inside a piece of metal? A rebar? Looks like it came from some ruins. I deserve better. Not that I’m high and mighty or anything, but just sayin’.”
“What’s your name?” She asked.
“Charlie,” he said.
“Sweet. All guys named Charlie are sweet. Or crazy.”
“I’m both.” He looked at her adoringly, she thought, as if he had just decided he wanted to marry her.
“I had a dog once,” he said. “Now I can’t stand the things.”
She couldn’t guess why he said that. “They kinda suck now, huh?” she said.
“Yeah,” he agreed. “The packs seem to get bigger each day.”
“What was your dog’s name?”
“Poop,” he said.
“Maybe the packs are karma,” she replied, feeling his hair as they resumed dancing, running three fingers up the back of his tower of locks.
“I treated him like a king,” he said. “But he sure loved poop. Not one pile went unsniffed during his walks. Not one doggy butt was left unexplored. These were deep explorations, too. Like there might be oil in there or somethin’.”
She began to question whether this was a soul worth saving in her staff. If, indeed, that was what really happened. She wasn’t sure.
“Oh, God, I don’t feel so good.” Charlie’s knees buckled and Ella found herself holding him up by his shoulders with her forearms, one hand still holding her staff.
“Let’s sit you down here,” she said, as she guided him to a seated position against a boarded storefront.
“It’s time,” she said. She let go and shoved her staff in front of his face. “Do you want this?”
“What am I wanting if I say yes?” he wheezed. Blood began to ooze out of the corners of both his green eyes.
“I’m not sure. But if you’re a magician I think I acquire your powers.”
He shook his head. “I’m not a magician,” he said. “Just an out of luck gamer.”
“Then I don’t know. But I’ll be able to talk to you. And you’ll be able to talk back.”
“I’ll be stuck inside a metal bar? For like, ever?”
She shrugged. “I’m sorry. I don’t know much about this.” She had asked a few of her friends in the rebar how they felt about it. They all said it was a blast.
“That’s weird,” he said.
“Yeah. Do you want it? Or not?”
“Surprise me,” he said, as his eyes began their flutter to a final close. “I do love surprises.”
“Me, too,” she said, as she gently kissed his forehead.
About The MagicLand Chronicles
The MagicLand Chronicles are web-only short stories related to the MagicLand Timeline. None of the characters in these stories appear in the novel.