The following is a collection of short stories I wrote for my Creative Writing course in high school. They're written in the same universe, but each was designed to follow a specific writing exercise.


Surprise

Jason was by all measures a good man. A caring father, loving husband, and stalwart defender of South Precinct. Like many citizens of the New Conglomerate, Jason served as an Officer of the Peace. However, while many simply signed up and served the minimum term of three years to receive government benefits, Jason had been an Officer for nearly a decade, and had every intent of serving South Precinct till the day of his death. Though few shared his sentiment, instead yearning for the days of old, Jason was fully committed to his belief that the New Conglomerate could create the world his son deserved.

A creature of habit, Jason easily fell into a daily routine. Countless sleepless nights at the Department conditioned him to wake at 5am sharp, regardless of the situation. As a side effect, making breakfast in bed for his wife became a common occurrence. After having his own meal and preparing for work, Jason usually kissed his wife goodbye, smiled lovingly at his still sleeping son, and headed out the door. After a long day at the Department, he’d come home to a delicious home cooked meal, and eagerly listen to both wife and son as they regaled him with stories their days. After dinner and an hour or so of holodramas, Jason would retire to his bed at 11, and so the pattern would repeat.

These days, Jason tended to be confined to his desk at the Department. While the first few years after the New Conglomerate formed were full of conflict, the rebellions were quickly extinguished by brave Officers like Jason. Rigid enforcement of the Law put an end to most crime, and the recent addition of robotic Sentinels handled what little remained. Now, Jason and his fellow Officers sat at their desks, tiredly filing papers and watching the occasional video feed of a Sentinel with uninterested gazes. Every now and then the Department was abuzz with excitement as an Officer would bring in a report of the Precursors, a grassroots movement attempting to topple the New Conglomerate and reinstall an outdated “democracy.” However, the thrill never lasted, as the reports always led nowhere. After the first few dead ends, Jason began brushing off the enthusiasm of his younger counterparts.

Some days, Jason would see things, terrible things, and for just a moment, his belief in the System faltered. One particular day, while inspecting the feed of a Sentinel like any other day, Jason saw a young boy. The Law was strict, the inhuman Sentinel was unforgiving, and the punishment was swift and severe. With no way to turn it off, Jason was forced to look away as the emaciated body fell upon the hard concrete, a loaf of bread rolling out of a bloodied hand. He couldn’t help but think of his own son, and thought back to the early days of the New Conglomerate. In some ways, he too was a Sentinel. Another sharp moment of doubt pierced his thoughts, but a decade of service had taught Jason to control his emotions. Looking back to the feed, Jason finished his work for the day.

While Jason embraced the changes the New Conglomerate brought, there was one pre-NC tradition he still enjoyed. In an effort to maintain his fitness and take in the sights of South Precinct, Jason walked to and from the Department every day. Another particular day, Jason saw a man walking on the opposite side of the street. The man was too busy reading something on his phone to notice the Sentinel walking towards him. Unfortunately for the man, Sentinels also had the authority to assess risks and take action, and that day was not a good day for that man. The whir of the gun ripped his attention away from his phone.

Jason had seen such tragedies before, and as an Officer he accepted them as a necessary evil for the System to function. But on that particular day, with that particular man, and that particular Sentinel, Jason could no longer stand by. Unholstering his own weapon, Jason approached the machine as it prepared to eliminate the threat. Firing into the battery pack within the right shoulder, a vulnerability only an Officer would know, Jason yelled at the man to run away. The man complied, and after making sure the threat was eliminated, Jason followed his own advice, as the Law was strict, and the incoming Sentinels would be unforgiving.

Jason took the long way home that day, taking care to ensure he wasn’t followed. By the time he arrived, the food was cold, his son in bed, and his wife worriedly waiting near the door. After convincing her that there was simply a feed that required intensive review, Jason retired to the living the room to consider what he had done. His thoughts were interrupted by a loud knock upon the door.

The doorstep housed only a box, which in turn housed a note, a photo, and a strangely heavy jacket. The note was short: “Thank you. You’re the first of them to understand. I hope you’ll know what to do.” The photo was of the front entrance to the Department. Jason lifted up the jacket, and set it down with a heavy heart as he realized what he had been asked to do. He looked towards his son’s room, and a shard of doubt lodged itself firmly. Retrieving an old yet untouched bottle of whiskey, Jason sat on the couch and prepared for the next day. He slept in for the first time in a decade.


Reluctant "I"

“I am an Officer of the Peace.” After you hear those words come out of your own mouth enough times, you start to believe it. Yet, once you see people killed enough times in the name of the System, you start to question those words too. Last night had been one of questioning and a scorched throat. The whiskey hadn’t been needed in ages, not since the early years. Not since the smell of death permeated the air and flames raged in the horizon. Today, however, was a day of belief. Yet not in the System.

The sun was out. On a regular morning, it’d still be dark. Clarissa had left for work, having dropped off Sammy on the way. A picture of them at Sammy’s preschool hung on the wall. Sammy was laughing at something out of view, and Clarissa’s beaming smile made everything feel right. The box on the kitchen table was an ominous reminder that it was soon going to feel very wrong. In case the box wasn’t enough, the jacket tugged menacingly with an unnatural weight. Opening the door unleashed a harsh sunlight, a biting wind, and a crowded avenue.

The walk to the Department was the same as always, yet in some way different. It’s hard to describe. The buffet of air as hovercars rush past still owns the streets, people push past each other as they hurry on with their lives, and the glass towers populating the city still loomed above everything. But today South Precinct didn’t feel inspiring, like it used to. Instead, there’s this feeling of oppression, injustice. Officer of the “Peace.” The phrase left a bad taste. Several could be seen patrolling the streets, laughing to each other as a Sentinel eliminated a “risk” around the corner. It took ten years, but it was obvious now that the System had failed. This was no world for Sammy to grow up in.

The familiar steel doors of the Department opened automatically. Doors with facial recognition seemed magical at first. A lot of what the New Conglomerate ushered in was amazing. But at what cost? The image of the starving boy dead on the street came back, but this time it was Sammy. It was getting to be too much. A hot tear escaped and splashed on the desk. A picture of Sammy and Clarissa stood in the corner, about to be seen for the last time. A nameplate at the back center read “Jason Murray, Officer of the Peace.” The jacket felt heavier somehow. Only now would I truly be serving the peace.


Body Language

Janessa’s eyes were bloodshot and teary, wells of sadness in an otherwise blank expression. She slowly went through her daughter’s clothes, memories hitting her like a flood. A purple dress for the first day of kindergarten. A red shirt for her 6th birthday. Her first pair of jeans. Janessa stifled tears as her hands fell to her sides, the clothes crumpling at her feet.

Todd went through the toys. He never believed in girls’ toys and boys’ toys. When Hailey was a toddler he got her both and saw what she liked. A tear rolled down a stoic cheek as he put an action figure into a bag marked for donation.

Janessa retrieved the clothes and put them in a separate bag before sitting on Hailey’s bed. Collapsing more than sitting. Todd heard a whimper, and turned to see Janessa almost shaking, lips trembling. Sitting next to her, Todd tried to comfort his wife, but couldn’t do more than place his arm around her before the grief hit him again. They both looked at the floor, unable to bring their eyes to the photo of Hailey on the bedrest.

After a long, somber silence, Janessa trudged towards the window, while Todd sank into his seat. Looking outside, Janessa could see the crater of the blast from the week before, under a heavily cloudy sky. Instead, her eyes were drawn to the nearby elementary school. Janessa began to weep openly, her whimpers turning to sobs, as the sun poked through and shed light on what little remained.


Déjà Vu

Mark was on his way to work, which unfortunately was on the entirely opposite side of South Precinct from his home. Hovercars were inspected more heavily now, so many people, like Mark, took to walking. As per his new routine, he took the winding paths between the glass towers, where generally only maintenance bots would roam. Unusually, Mark turned a corner to come face to face with a firearm.

The sky was sunny, yet the air was biting cold. The streets were busy as usual, hovercars and people rushing to and fro. Everything seemed normal.

Mark froze. It wasn’t an Officer, nor a Sentinel. It was just some guy on the street. Mark’s fear was almost broken by the incredulity of the situation; civilians haven’t been allowed to own weapons in ages. Mark tried making out who was holding the weapon, but realized the face was hidden behind a mask. It didn’t matter, as Mark looked down at the hand holding the gun, and froze again.

The ground shook. A deafening roar filled the air. The Department, a few miles to the south, had instead been replaced with a mushroom cloud, slowly expanding. The shockwave moved faster.

Mark’s eyes were fixed on the gun in the hand. He couldn’t stop thinking about the day of the blast. A lot of things happened that day, a lot of people died. He survived with no injuries, luckily. A few good friends weren’t as lucky. But he couldn’t focus on them. He kept focusing on the gun in the hand.

Raining debris can be quite dangerous. More than a few were struck by bits of concrete or steel. Most of the pieces of rubble were about the size of soccer ball. More than heavy enough. But it wasn’t all just pieces of buildings. Some of the things that fell looked to be fragments of a Sentinel. A boot could be seen here and there. Despite all the chaos, what stuck the most was a gun. A gun clutched by the hand of a scared Officer. The rest of the Officer wasn’t there.

Mark froze yet again. There was a ringing in his ears, just like that day. He felt dizzy, and stumbled backwards, yet his remained focused on the gun. The ringing started to fade, the shouting of the weapon’s owner getting louder. Mark could barely make out “Give me your fucking wallet!” before the gun retracted. The ringing was gone, and Mark heard a click as the gun was cocked.


Standup

Kids never seem to stop asking questions! Hell, my kid’s got a question for everything. There’s of course the classics, like Where do babies come from? and Why don’t I have something between my legs when boys do? As a parent you prepare for those questions, or at least you should. If you haven’t, I advise you get ready. Sometimes though, they ask questions that aren’t so easy to answer, right? One time we were caught in traffic while passing through South Precinct, and my daughter just kept asking over and over, Are we there yet? Are we there yet? I thought I was going to rip my hair out, until she started asking Why not? That kinda got me thinking. Why the hell do we still have traffic? We have goddamn hovercars now, you’d think somewhere along the line we’d have figured out a way to not have traffic! Sure, it’s five times more badass to fly than drive, but traffic is still just as mindnumbing. Turns out that day the traffic was because of that Murray guy. I thought explaining traffic to a kid was a pain in the ass. A bombing? Hell, that was a wayyyyyy harder conversation. I don’t even know how an eight year old finds out about that kinda thing. I tried my best, although my wife gave me a death stare throughout for even indulging the topic. Slept on the couch that night.