The Future is Not Set…
The Future is Not Set…
This is a dystopian horror story I wrote 20 years ago. With few changes from the original, I dedicate it to my mum, Grace Christine. (1926-2009)
She was my first and my most important fan. I love you, Mum.
I was saving this one for someday, but seems like someday is today.
The Last Smoker, 2030
As she gazes around at the white padded walls, the toilet and the sink in one corner, the thin mattress she sits on in the opposite corner, Angel sighs.
She doesn’t have any personal belongings in her cell. No books, no pictures, no clothes.
The itchy, green government issued blanket on her mattress is her only possession. Some things never change; the blanket is proof enough. So, how had the world around her changed so drastically?
The guard who has been watching her through the small window opens the cell door and Angel stands up. She knows the routine. She places her hands in front of her and the guard snaps the handcuffs on her wrists.
Angel just wants to be left alone. She dreads the time each day when she is handcuffed and marched out to the shower room.
The armed, female guard stands surveillance while Angel limps over to the washing chair. Before Angel sits down, mechanical hands reach from the ceiling and gently draw Angel’s soiled gown over her head.
As she reclines against the cold black metal, she is reminded of a time when beauty was important to women, a time when women’s hair was styled, not shaved. Angel closes her eyes as the machines do their work.
Powerless over the present, she chooses to imagine that once again she is a young girl innocently playing in the bathtub with Mr. Bubbles and Barbie.
The memory is so intense that she can almost smell the aroma of Mama’s oatmeal cookies baking in the oven.
Meanwhile, the impersonal hands carefully lather her body with a disinfectant soap and then chilly water pours down over her body. As a final humiliation, the blower goes back and forth across her limbs until she is dry. The chair inclines until she is sitting. A clean, white gown slit up both sides is dropped over her shaved head and the metal hands snap it shut at each side.
Angel is marched back to her cell and as the door shuts behind her, she sinks down on the mattress with nothing left to do but think.
Once, as she was being returned to her cell, she had asked the teenage guard, “Do you remember bathtubs? How about coffee?”
She’d received only a puzzled look in return. The guards were forbidden to speak to her, and she knew that.
She might contaminate their minds with her insanity. However, Angel knew that they couldn’t close their ears, even if they could keep their mouths shut.
Most of the guards didn’t look at her or acknowledge her words with so much as a flutter of emotion, but the guard that day had appeared sympathetic, almost caring.
Of course, the security system would’ve picked up the softness response and the girl would’ve been dismissed from her job immediately. Barred from government jobs, she would have been sent to work outside with the food growers.
A fate worse than death.
With the ozone layer in shreds, the sun would eat the flesh from her bones within two months.
Workers who dropped in the fields were left to rot. They would be plowed under when the ground was prepared for a new planting.
The new strains of vegetables were hybrid, created to survive on human compost. It did not take a serious crime to be sent outside.
The world’s population was hungry.
Angel’s body wasn’t fit for the fields because she was filth, beyond recycling.
She hadn’t been fed since being taken captive three days ago.
She is a smoker. The last known smoker on the planet.
When they cremate her body tomorrow morning, the last in a generation of smokers will be gone, exterminated.
She knew she’d have been dead the instant they’d captured her, but the warden had informed her that leaders from every country were gathering in Denver, the world capital.
Her execution would be a live, televised ceremony, the final victory in The War on Smokers.
She would be burned at the stake, a fitting enough death for a smoker.
She had outwitted and escaped them for over five years. During that time, she has managed to dig up and smoke almost every carton she had hidden.
The right to smoke had been lost so slowly that by the time the smokers had taken a stand against the government in 2022; it had been too late.
First, had come the outlawing of smoking in public buildings, on public transportation and in the workplace. Outrageous taxes on tobacco had crippled the tobacco industry. Damages from the victorious lawsuits against the tobacco companies drained billions of dollars.
Entire towns began to outlaw smoking, even in private homes.
Bars had become nonsmoking in the United States when the Choke Law was passed in 2023.
By the year 2024, a pack of cigarettes cost over a hundred dollars and you had to be a registered smoker to buy them.
Quit Now centers were set up nationwide in the year 2025. Tobacco product sales were outlawed soon after and registered smokers ordered to report for mandatory treatment.
Smokers were by the very nature of their disease, rebellious and defiant. Government agents hunted down the smokers who refused to comply and forced them into treatment centers.
In the beginning, treatments followed standard humane procedures; nicotine patches, therapy, and twelve-step programs.
When smokers went out and failed to stay smoke-free, (in the early years, most smokers had small caches of cigarettes) the second visit proved much harder to survive.
Second time offenders were subjected to ice water therapy, shock treatments, food and sleep deprivation and chemical brainwashing.
These procedures were reinforced by massive doses of the new wonder drug, Quit.
Quit caused infertility and induced bizarre hallucinations, but it had been successful in the treatment of alcoholism and drug addiction, diseases no longer tolerated.
Fact was, by 2025, the only addicts left were the smokers.
A month after opening, the CDC run centers were offered monetary incentives from Congress for each success and that’s when the treatments became incredibly cruel, with the government’s blessing.
Rumors of fingers being chopped off, tongues cut out, lobotomies and castrations began to circulate the streets, but nonsmokers refused to believe the wild reports, often turning in their own family members for smoking.
Mutilated ex-smokers were sent to the government run insane asylums where they became test subjects for the control viruses and vaccines, infected over and over until they died. Proof of the abuse was almost nonexistent.
Angel only knew about the asylums because her exemplary behavior and her knowledge of computers had allowed her to work at the privileged position of Data Entry while she was in treatment.
She had seen the death certificates for thousands of fellow smokers.
The videos in the file were horrifying.
Not that anyone who didn’t smoke would care.
Smokers deserved anything that happened to them…they were so vile, so disgusting.
Families of the victims were notified that their relatives had failed treatment and had been permanently confined to prevent the further contamination of society.
Most families were glad to be rid of the dangerous member, and those who were concerned, wisely kept it to themselves.
How could anyone fight the government?
Angel had seen the warning signs for smokers as early as the year 2020, and for once, trusting her instincts, she had cashed in her 401K plan and spent the entire amount on Marlboro reds and supplies. She’d sealed individual cartons and matches in plastic bags and for years, she has spent her weekends hiding them in various locations.
She stashed hundreds of the packages in the mountains of New Hampshire, and when she had received the order to report for treatment in 2025, she’d been prepared.
She’d signed in at the Boston Quit Center and she had been a model patient, often held up as an example to the others. As soon as she’d been released and off probation, she had left her job, her home, and her family to go into hiding.
She’d been busy for the last five years, and small caves in the White Mountains had already been stocked with reds, guns, ammunition, bottled water, canned food, books, and warm clothing.
The day she disappeared; it was twenty years to the day since she’d smoked her first cigarette. Although she’d known that smoking was becoming socially unacceptable, she’d never dreamed back then that her right to smoke would end.
She was as guilty as any smoker of just ignoring the growing furor.
She hadn’t even voted for the past twenty years.
Of course, she’d been outraged when the government had claimed a third of her paycheck.
Half. Eighty percent.
Of course, she’d hated watching the price of cigarettes climb.
What had she done when there was still time to fight? Nothing, just like everybody else.
The government’s greatest weapon had been its citizen’s apathy.
The Black Hole Event had also helped to create utter chaos. When the personal computers had crashed in the year 2000, the government had already reached a solution to the date change dilemma.
However, they kept that information classified, and when Bill Gates had turned up dead, murdered execution style in his own bed, and Steve Jobs went missing, Angel had believed that the end of home PC use was forthcoming.
Sure enough, for the last ten years, it had been illegal to own a tablet, smart phone, or PC unless you had Level One Security Clearance.
The only people who received L-One clearance were purebred Caucasian males who had never been treated for addictions.
With the True Race Party in control of Congress, women had even had their voting privileges revoked, and once again, they became the property of their fathers and their husbands. Abusing women and children was socially acceptable.
Hundreds of steps forward in the last decades of the 19th century and thousands of steps back since the year 2000.
Angel sighs and turns her face toward the wall. Tears slide from her eyes as she thinks of days gone by and the freedoms that were gone.
“I won’t let the security cameras see me cry. I won’t.”
Her stomach is a tight knot of hunger-pain, and her leg throbs where the electric stun gun had burned into her flesh on the day she had been captured.
Her need to see, to touch Lizbeth’s face just once more, that had been her downfall.
How could she have known as she crawled through her daughter’s open basement window that security cameras were installed throughout the entire house?
Lizbeth had stood silently in the upstairs hallway, looking down helplessly at Angel. They both knew that one kind word, one touch, would doom Lizbeth and her family. The alarm had sealed the outside doors and bars had crashed down over the windows.
Within minutes, a team of TRP agents had been at the front door. Angel’s survival instincts had forced her to run, even in the face of hopelessness. That was when they had taken her down with the stun gun.
Lizbeth had turned and walked back into her bedroom, softly shutting the door, as the soldiers had dragged Angel away.
Angel had offered up her freedom in vain.
She could only imagine the trauma her daughter had suffered at watching her capture and how badly she would continue to suffer as she watched her mother burn tomorrow.
The hardest part for Lizbeth would be to pretend that she did not care. She would be forced to watch and just one tear would brand her an enemy of the State.
Angel wasn’t sure why she had refused to comply, why she had fought the entire world to remain a smoker. Something deep inside her soul had rebelled when her rights were removed, one by one.
A relentless drive to smoke despite the cost, to preserve one last freedom in the face of oppression, these things had driven her, fueled her anger.
It wasn’t just about smoking; she knew that now. It was about every right that had been stripped from society, every loss, every humiliation.
Since 2022, marriages and pregnancy had to be approved by the State and interracial couplings were forbidden. The only people allowed to reproduce now in the United States were pureblooded Caucasians.
Men and women who didn’t qualify for birth rights were forced to submit to sterilization.
The worldwide shortages of unpolluted water had stolen the privilege of bubble baths, eventually forcing the outlawing of bathtubs. The Red Tide had claimed the seafood, medical waste pollution had precipitated the beaches becoming off-limits, and the right to eat red meat had been lost to Mad Cow Disease.
The production of toys had halted in 2020 when factories that produced items not necessary for survival were no longer allowed to remain open. The government had confiscated all toys not yet sold and now when a little girl or boy were born, they were issued one toy. A small, adorable, furry electronic toy.
Angel had bought three of the cursed Furbies for her kids when they came out during the 1998 Christmas season and now, she regretted those purchases with all her might.
The toys had turned out to be adorable, little weapons. They had evolved through the years, and were now equipped with extremely, advanced computers. They were used to infiltrate politician’s and private citizen’s homes, transmitting the information that was recorded back to a central computer located at the True Race Party headquarters. TRP had been in the background, controlling the government long before they rose to public power.
Millions of citizens had voluntarily turned in their guns and the government had seized the rest with warrants. Sure, thousands had fought back, but it had been too late.
The losses had been heavy, the TRP’s control over individual lives was overwhelming, thanks to technology and surveillance.
Now, for Angel, the battle was over.
Silent sobs shook her body as she lay awaiting the dawn, awaiting her execution.
Suddenly, she realized that she still had one more chance to fight.
She wasn’t dead yet! She could humiliate the government one last time and save Lizbeth and her family the torture of watching her burn.
She did not so much as glance up at the security cameras. Angel dragged the rough, green blanket over her shoulders and curling up, she began to breathe as if she were sleeping.
She lay that way for a long time, waiting.
Finally, hidden by the blanket, she brought her wrist up to her mouth and savagely tore open a vein. As the salty blood rushed into her mouth, she smiled.
She lay her wounded arm back down beside her under the blanket, and she covertly wiped the blood from her mouth.
She wondered what propaganda the government would issue to explain the cancellation of the live, televised execution.
As her body grew weak, she forced her mind to drift back to better days.
She would die in her own world, not in their world, a cold, desolate world, a world ruled by prejudice, apathy, hate and fear.
She let her mind wander back to the days when she played and splashed in a bathtub full of warm soapy water, Barbie smiling at her from her seat on the edge of the tub.
As Angel drew her last breath, she could almost smell the aroma of Mama’s oatmeal cookies baking in the oven.
I wish I lived in a little New England farmhouse with the wood stove burning and a fire in the fireplace. Beans would be cooking on the wood stove, snow would be falling outside my window and you, living right down the street.
I would sneak over and I would throw snowballs at your bedroom window at midnight so you would come out to see who it was and then I would dance in the snow under the moonlight and it wouldn’t hurt because the cold snow would make my foot pain better, and you would shiver in your doorway and say, “Get in here, you idiot!”
I would grab two icicles from your front window and dance into your warm kitchen and we would have hot chocolate with pink marshmallows and we would laugh.
We would talk for hours like when we were little girls and we would forget that we are not little girls anymore because when we are together we are just sisters. We are not old, we are not crippled, we are not grandmothers, we are not great-grandmothers (me) and we are not old ladies.
Because when we are together, we are young girls again with our future in front of us and we laugh…and I would throw snowballs at your bedroom window at midnight…
Once upon a time women stayed at home. They took care of the kids and the house. Men went out to work, made money and supported their families. Then things began to change. The shift in power had been gradual, until the year 2025 and then change had advanced rapidly. Women had been essential in the work place for many years and the men just hadn’t noticed what was developing. Females became the stronger sex. They became more self-assured and with their newfound confidence, they grew powerful, assertive and aggressive. Yes, aggressive, just the way men had operated for centuries.
Now, a man was lucky to find a job that paid minimum age, if his wife would even let him go to work. Jake’s father had told him stories about how it used to be, stories that his Dad’s father had told to him, old husband’s tales about the way things had been in the Twentieth century, before the takeover. For over seventy-five years, men hadn’t possessed the independence, or the financial
freedom, items which the male species had once claimed as their birthright. They didn’t seem to mind. It was a woman’s world now, and the men had learned to live with it.
What choice did they have?
“Niki, you forgot your lunch!” Jake ran out the front door after his daughter, just in time to see her bus pull away from the corner. He threw her lunch after the bus, and tramped back into the house. He plopped down at the kitchen table, and took a sip of his lukewarm coffee. Getting his wife, Michelle, out to work and the kids off to school each morning, was like running an obstacle course.
“Where’s my math book?”
“Dad, the dog threw up on the sofa!”
“Hon, is my red dress back from the cleaners?”
“Dad, Niki won’t get out of the bathroom, and I gotta go!”
“Jake, for crying out loud, can’t you ever control these kids?”
After he finished his tepid coffee, he took a roast out of the freezer for supper. Maybe if he cooked a nice meal, she wouldn’t be so cranky tonight. Ya, and maybe after the kids went to bed, he’d take a shower and splash on that new after-shave. He could wear the silk boxers she’d bought him. She was always complaining that he was never in the mood, but what did she expect after he cooked and cleaned all day? She thought that all he did was sit in the recliner, watching football and drag races, swilling down cold beers, while she was at work.
He heard music outside. It was the Snap-On Tool truck! He ran upstairs and fished under the mattress, feeling around for his stash of money, precious dollars he’d saved from the grocery allowance by clipping coupons.
Hank and Pete were already standing at the truck as Jake hurried across the street.
“What are you gonna buy?” Hank was asking Pete.
“I dunno. Last week, I bought that nice eight-piece screwdriver set and I got lectured for an hour. She said I was wasting her money. I told her it was on sale and she laughed in my face. Said I’d buy fleas from a dog, if they were on sale!”
“You think that’s bad?” asked Jake. “Michelle cut up my Master Card cause I ordered a fishing rod from the Sportsmen’s home shopping channel! She said, “You’ve got enough to do around the house and you can forget about going fishing with a bunch of unshaven house-husbands!”
“Come on guys! Quit the chatter. What do you want today?” Cindy asked. “How about a power drill? Or this nice metric socket set that I have on special?” Cindy climbed down out of the truck and stood there beside them, as they huddled around the merchandise, trying to decide.
Suddenly Jake said, “Let’s go guys. Come on.” He seemed panicky, and his face was flush.
“But, I’m still looking!” Hank insisted.
“I don’t care, I said let’s go, now!” Jake demanded.
Cindy winked at Jake, as she said, “See ya next time, boys.”
“Jake, what’s wrong with you?” both friends asked, as the truck drove away.
“Cindy rubbed her hands all over my butt and whispered, ‘Come for a ride with me big boy and I’ll show you how to use these tools,’ Jake answered.
“Wow! Are you gonna tell Michelle?” asked Pete
“Are you kidding? She’ll just say it was my own fault and ask me what I was wearing! And maybe it is my fault. I should’ve thrown on a decent shirt before I came out.”
“Well, that’s true, but after Michelle is done yelling at you, she’ll beat the nuts and bolts out of Cindy!” laughed Pete.
“Just forget about it.” was Hank’s advice.
“Hey, you guys wanna come over, and have a beer? We can watch the wrestling until the kids come home from school,” said Jake
“Sure, but don’t let me get drunk this time, guys!” said Pete. “Last week after we had a few, I tied Jimmy to a tree in the backyard because he wouldn’t clean his room. Margie was pissed! She took the kids out to eat that night and took away my car keys before she left. I’m still walking!
I told her this morning that she needs to make an appointment to go see my therapist with me. I asked her to go months ago, but she’s always too busy. I told her that we need counseling, so that we can learn to communicate and establish intimacy. That always calms her down. She hates going to therapy! I bet she gives me back the keys tonight!”
“Ya, well at least the boy listens to you now,” Hank joked.
“My father did worse than that, believe me!” added Jake. “Women have no idea how hard it is to stay home with the kids. They go to work, have friends, a social life, fancy clothes that we have to wash or take to the cleaners. They have control of the money, all of their meals are cooked for them, sex when they want it and what do we have?”
“Come on Jake. Cheer up. After all, we have housework that never ends, kids who don’t listen to us, unless the wife is home, ESPN and all the beer our allowance can buy!”
“I hope you’re not trying to cheer me up,” Jake replied.
They all laughed, as they tromped over to Jake’s.
The guys flopped down on Jake’s sofa and Jake sat in the recliner, flipping through the channels, until he found the wrestling. “Where do they find these huge mama’s?” he wondered aloud.
“I dunno,” said Hank. “But I bet they all take steroids!” They all snickered.
Jake passed cold beers around and opened a giant bag of potato chips. The three friends sat there, munching and enjoying the wrestling matches. The kids got out of school at 3:00 o’clock, so Hank and Pete set out for home about 2:00.
After they left, Jake flew into action.
He gathered up all the dirty laundry from the kid’s rooms and stuffed it into the washer. He added a cup of Tide\w Bleach and shut the cover. He went back to the kitchen, loaded the dishwasher and then he popped the roast into the microwave.
Next, he went into the living room, and turned on ESPN, so he could watch the Dallas Cowgirls play the Chicago Bunnies. His dad had told him that men used to play pro-football, but Jake had a hard time picturing men slamming into each other as furiously as the women did! He got out the vacuum cleaner and ran it around the furniture, while he watched the game. Michelle griped at him cause he never moved the furniture, but he just couldn’t see a reason for cleaning in places where it wouldn’t even show!
Tonight, Michelle would be glued to the colossal image screen, watching her favorite soaps, “These Are The Days of Her Life,” and “All His Children.”
His dad had tried to warn him that marriage was no picnic, but did Jake listen? No, of course not. Michelle had swept him off his feet, and now look at him. Just another middle-aged, overweight househusband, a man who couldn’t even support himself and his kids. If she ever decided to leave him…just thinking about it gave him an anxiety attack! Of course, divorce was outlawed now, but she could still leave and live with someone else.
Sometimes he woke up in the middle of the night, shaking and shivering, his body in a cold sweat. He had the same nightmare, over and over. Michelle was walking away from him and the kids, arm in arm with some muscle-bound man, a boy really. No beer belly, no receding hairline. Jake would throw himself in front of her, begging her to stay. She would step over him and just keep walking. It was every man’s worst fear. The guys in the neighborhood had all watched it happen to Mike. And Mike was still in that “hospital.”
Jake thought about how decent Michelle was to him; how she supported him and the kids. He remembered the worthy intentions he’d had that morning. He shut off the vacuüm and dialed their baby sitter’s number. “Hey John, could you pick up the kids at school and keep them for a few hours?” he asked.
“Sure, I have to get my three anyway. I’ll pick them up and we’ll all go to the park. Maybe get some pizza for dinner. Just give me a call when you wanna pick them up.”
“Thanks a lot, John, I owe you one.”
Jake shoved the vacuüm cleaner into the closet and ran upstairs to take a shower. As he toweled off and pulled on the silky green boxers, he glanced at the clock. If he hurried, he’d have just enough time before she got home to bake her favorite carrot cake. Then, he’d put the roast in the oven to brown; serve it with some potatoes and onions.
When she comes through the door tonight, he thought, I’ll stop running around the house and I’ll really listen to her when she tells me about her day at work. That always puts her in a great mood!
I’ll give her a back rub while she relaxes with a cup of cappuccino and after we eat; I’ll turn on some soft music and ask her to dance. I’ll hold her the way I did when we were dating. We’ll dance close and slow, my hands massaging her back, he fantasized.
Their marriage wasn’t perfect, but he had it better than most of his friends. Michelle didn’t hit him, she didn’t go out and get drunk with the girls, and he didn’t think she cheated on him. Of course, Mike had been the last one to know! Anyway, Jake knew it was up to him to keep the marriage strong, to keep the passion and the tenderness alive. Well, he was ready to rekindle that flame when she came home tonight!
I must confess that the seed for this fable grew from a casual conversation my husband and his friends had at work, about what the world would be like if men stayed home. When my husband told me what they had said (himself included) I knew I’d have to cultivate this seed, and nurture it into a full-grown man-eating plant. (Sorry guys!) I hope I did your concept justice, embellishments and all! Jeanne Marie