NEGATIVE CITY by Cole Hutchison
You let out a sigh of sociological relief as you leave the paper mill town behind. In a rearview mirror that frames your eyes like VR goggles would if the computer-generated coordinates of your preference translated to “nowhere,” you watch with no emotional investment as your hometown shrivels up into the backwards horizon like the suddenly disappearing embers of a discarded newspaper floating away from a bonfire that you weren’t invited to. A memory. A stereotype. A high school scenario of empty bottles lined with cigarette butts and the cool spit of cool kids who stared into the flames with rival intensity, swearing under their Busch breath that they’d be leaving it all behind as soon as possible. You wave at a few of them, their spouses and children as you make your way through town back towards the interstate and an escape that they never really wanted anyway. They wave back and it’s obvious how happy they are. Tradition carries on not because it’s tradition but because it works. Most people make sense. Most towns eat their young and clone them, the future resembling the past sprawled across the stretch of generations and insignificant shifts in the cultural landscape. Your asshole youth spent viewing it all as barren and unworthy. Your asshole adulthood still struggling to make that true, still searching for whatever it was that you knew was missing. An assumed absence. Some crucial opportunity for an experience that no one else was seeking. Some reason to leave. Some life.
Three hours prior you watched your father take off and brush the dust from his boots in the mud room. An hour in his garden wears heavier on him now than when you were a child with no interest in learning how it worked. A 25-year-old image: his impossible tan subdued by the brilliant greens of the cornstalks that enshroud him. A sea of vegetation punctuated only by the crackling blue of his cut-off jeans and the glare of an oblivious, blazing sun in the Richard Petty sunglasses that hide his eyes just beneath a straw cowboy hat. No shirt. Such a cool guy, but you just loved him back then without any idea of what that meant. His disappointment in you is mild, nearly forgotten as you grow into a fuller shadow of what he could have been with a second lifetime at his disposal. Cool in your own way, that’s something he might be thinking. That’s what you tell yourself. You ask him for the thousandth time if they’ll ever move closer to a city, any city, and he responds with some variation of “why would we leave? this is paradise” and you know he’s right. Twenty miles outside of the paper mill town that doesn’t know it’s dead yet and a galaxy away from the hypertension of your different-cool lifestyle in a city that isn’t dying but seems intent on making sure that all of its inhabitants do. The Judge Dredd comics in your closet now cohabitating with Christmas decorations grow more prophetic every day. With each visit home the world feels more futuristic in the worst way possible. The paper mill towns will all disappear, the wasteland will swallow everything in between the MegaCities that you and your peers flock to like ants on the scent of some sacrificially discarded hunk of watermelon tossed down from the heavens by a bored omnipotent gardener. Your father had Vietnam. You had woods porn. Your kids will have phone-assisted suicide. Some future.
The peanut M&Ms you bought for the ride home make your breath stale. The Wal-Mart where you bought them leaves your memories tainted and impotent, a perpetually glowing monument to excessive convenience ushering in the precipice of Mom n’ Pop genocide. Every other façade of the downtown strip announces its emptiness in abject silence like some shameful inverted pep rally. The ones who never really tried to escape will work at the Wal-Mart or the paper mill because those are the choices. So will their kids. So will their clones. So will their eventual automated replacements until the sands of the wasteland rust them out and swallow them up and fulfill the fictional prophecies of your youth spent indoors surrounded by and ignorant to the lushness of a real and temporary paradise. You make your way back to a neverending MegaCity that sprawls and sprawls like interlocking ants who build a living bridge into the oblivion of eternity. Four thousand years from now some primitive humanoid with all fangs and blind eyes will trip over the tippy-top of the tallest spire from your forgotten metropolis inevitably swallowed up by the wasteland it helped to perpetuate, by the cycle that ensnares us all. His face will smash into the real sand and a flash of real pain will dart through his real skull and ignite real confusion. Real anger. Real curiosity. He’ll dig. He’ll uncover. He’ll puzzle and grunt and lead others towards the spire that will guide them into the depths of a forgotten history that was your future and will also become theirs. Discovery will be born. Communication will be born. Literature will be born. Pornography will be born. War will be born. Convenience will be born. Sons will ignore their fathers. Fathers will remain where they have always been. And eventually the corn will grow. Some day.
Harlan Cole Hutchison was raised in the idyllic boredom of Southwestern Virginia. He earned a degree in film studies at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, where he also cooked a lot of cheeseburgers. He now resides in Brooklyn NY where he drives around in a van full of coffee, sings in a punk band that never practices or plays shows and rambles on endlessly about the werewolf screenplay that he'll probably never write. He has a cat with three legs and a girlfriend and a mustache.
Andrew Abbott (born 1979) resides in Portland Maine. He uses pink duct tape to draw pictures around the town. He can be found easily on Facebook.