BY CARL PERRIN
Copyright is held by the author.
I LOOKED through the keyhole and saw my Uncle Frank standing there. He was holding a bloody handkerchief to his right shoulder. I opened the door and pulled him inside.
“What happened?” I asked.
He sat on the couch and pulled the handkerchief away. “I cut out my microchip,” he said.
“Here, take off your shirt and let me look at it.”
The bleeding seemed to have stopped. He winced when I cleaned it with alcohol. After I put a bandage on the wound, I asked, “Why did you do a thing like that? Without the microchip you can’t use your phone, you can’t even buy a hot dog from a street vendor.”
“And the government can’t track where I go.”
Uncle Frank had always been the family radical, complaining about the government encroaching further and further into our lives, but cutting out the microchip seemed to be the height of folly.
“Can I get you something to eat, a cup of coffee or something?”
“I need something stronger.”
That surprised me. Uncle Frank rarely even had a glass of wine. I poured a small glass of Seagram’s 7 for him, and he drank it right down.
“You know, kiddo, things were a lot different when I was younger.”
I love Uncle Frank, but I hate it when he calls me “kiddo.” I’m 39 years old and assistant principal at Middleton High School.
He held out his glass for a refill. While I poured it for him, he said, “When I was younger no one had microchips. People used to microchip their dogs so they wouldn’t lose them. Then they started putting a chip in every child at birth. It was supposed to be a way to access their health records.”
He stared out the window at the gathering darkness and then continued. “Pretty soon new flourishes were added. You could unlock doors with the wave of your hand. It was all so convenient.” He smiled sourly. “You needed the chip to operate your car. You needed it to get into college. You couldn’t get a phone without it.” He scoffed.
He went to the sideboard and poured himself another drink. He drank it down and continued. “Then they added a GPS to the chip. That was the final straw. The government had you under its thumb. You couldn’t go anywhere without the government knowing where you were.”
“You have to admit, though,” I said to him, “it has cut down on crime. If a crime is committed anywhere, the police can find who was at the scene at the time.”
“What they have stopped is freedom. They arrest anyone who doesn’t follow the party line.”
That kind of talk from Uncle Frank was nothing new, but cutting out his microchip was really radical, even for him.
“Maybe things aren’t like they were in the good old days,” I said, holding my fingers up to indicate quotation marks around the last three words. “But that doesn’t seem like a good reason to cut out your microchip.”
He took a deep breath. “I got word an hour ago that they had arrested Redstone. I would have been next.”
I knew Redstone slightly. He was one of Frank’s radical friends. The two of them were always talking about government suppression. Some people in the family got tired of hearing them talk, but I didn’t think it was against the law to say negative things about the government.
I shook my head and asked, “What are you going to do now, Uncle Frank?”
“I’m starting tonight for Freedomland. I’m hoping you can give me some food and maybe supplies for the trip.”
The country was now concentrated on the coasts. Large land masses in between were no longer controlled by Washington. People like Uncle Frank called it Freedomland. Others called it The Jungle. No one really knew.
“There is empty farm land waiting to be taken over,” Frank said.
I just looked at him.
“It’s true,” he insisted. “I have heard it from people who have been there.”
Neither of us said anything for a while. Then he asked me, “How come you never married, Jimmy?”
The question stung me. He knew why I had never married, and it was a painful topic to me.
“When I was young,” he went on, “people didn’t need permission from the government to marry.”
I could not hold back the tears that sprang to my eyes. Annette and I were going to be married in the spring. When we went to the Office of Vital Statistics, we were not denied permission, but permission never actually came. There was something in her or my DNA that the government didn’t want, so they just strung us along for months.
Then she got that fantastic job offer on the West Coast and had to go. For a while we called and emailed back and forth, but then she stopped taking my calls or answering my emails.
Uncle Frank put his hand on my arm. “You know, don’t you,” he asked, “that the job on the West Coast for Annette never really existed?”
I poured a double shot of Seagram’s 7 for myself and drank it right down.
I realized that I had been deluding myself for a long time. I had refused to face the truth. Annette had not decided out of the blue to stop writing to me. If an accident had befallen her, her family would have been notified. If she had decided to break our engagement, she would have let me know.
For years there had been rumours about people who had just disappeared. I had always taken these stories as just more weird conspiracy theories. But now I was sure that Annette had been disappeared.
I went to the kitchen and got the sharpest knife I could find. I took off my shirt and said, “Cut that damned microchip out of my shoulder. I’m going to go to Freedomland with you.”