Sample text for Rash / Pete Hautman.


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1

Sharp objects do not belong in your ears or near your eyes. Protect your senses!

-- Sammy Q.

Gramps, who was born in 1990, once told me that when he ws my age the only way to wind up in prison in the USSA (back when it had only one S) was to steal something, kill somebody, or use illegal drugs.

"Illegal drugs? You mean like beer?" I asked, pointing at his mug of home brew.

He laughed. "No, Bo. Beer was legal back then. I'm talking about heroin, marijuana, and cocaine. Drugs like that."

"They sent people to jail for that?"

"They sure did," he said, sipping his beer. Gramps's home brewed beer was one of our family secrets.

"Why didn't they just regenerate their dopamine receptors?"

"They didn't have the technology back then, Bo. It was a different world."

"Yeah, but sending them to a work camp...that sounds kind of extreme."

"No more extreme than putting a person away for littering," Gramps said.

"Littering is only a class-four misdemeanor -- you don't get sent up for that."

"Mr. Stoltz did."

"That was for assault. Melody Haynes got hurt."

"But all he did, really, was litter. He dropped an apricot when he was unloading groceries from his suv."

"Yeah, then Melody slipped on it and got a concussion."

"She should have been wearing her helmet. My point is, Bo, all the man did was drop an apricot and they sent him away for a whole year. A year of hard labor on a prison farm. For dropping an apricot!"

"But if he hadn't dropped it, Melody wouldn't have gotten bonked," I said. Sometimes my grandfather could be kind of dense.

"Maybe so, Bo," he said, "but the fact remains, the poor man lost a whole year of his life for one lousy apricot."

Gramps could get real stubborn when he'd been drinking.

Back then there were five of us Marstens serving time: my father, my brother, two cousins, and an aunt.

My dad got put away for roadrage back in '73. Some droog pulled out in front of him, and Dad caught up with him at the next traffic light and jumped out of his car and pounded his fist on the hood of the guy's suv and made an obscene gesture. It would have been no big deal except that it was his third roadrage citation, so he was sentenced to five years under the three-strikes-you're-out law.

Last year my brother Sam went to an unauthorized graduation party and got in a fistfight. The kid he fought lost a tooth. Sam was seventeen at the time.

Like father, like son -- they sentenced Sam to two years. If he'd been an adult, he would've gotten five years, minimum.

I never found out why my aunt and cousins were locked up. Most people don't like to talk about their jailed family members. It's embarrassing. But having five close relatives in the prison system is not that unusual. According to USSA Today, 24 percent of all adults in this country are serving time. My family was only slightly more criminal than average.

Dad got sent to a prison aquafarm down in Louisiana. He wrote to us that by the time he is released, he will have shelled twenty million shrimp. That message included a thirty-second clip of him standing at his workstation, blue gloves up to his elbows, ripping into a bin of crustaceans. Sam was on a road gang in Nebraska, middle of nowhere, patching holes on the interstate.

Of course, without people like us Marstens, there wouldn't be anybody to do the manual labor that makes this country run. Without penal workers, who would work the production lines, or pick the melons and peaches, or maintain the streets and parks and public lavatories? Our economy depends on prison labor. Without it everybody would have to work -- whether they wanted to or not.

Anyway, here's my point: Given my family's history I should have known to keep an eye on my temper. Lose control for one tiny chunk of time and bam -- next thing you know you're ripping the legs off shrimp. But at the time...Well, if you look at history, you will see that I was not the first guy to do something really stupid over a girl. Look at how many Greeks died for Helen of Troy. How much self-control do you think they had?

Copyright © 2006 by Pete Hautman

2

I was never very good at school things. Historical events didn't stick in my head. Science and math bored me. As for dealing with people, forget about it. I could never have been a counselor, or a doctor, or a politician. I didn't have the patience.

I was no better at the arts: Painting, sculpture, and music didn't do it for me. Not that anybody else was any good at those things. All the best art got made back in the last millennium, before we learned how to fix depression and schizophrenia and stuff. These days, with everybody more or less sane, the new art is about as interesting as oatmeal.

According to my sixteenth-year Career Indexing Evaluation, my top career choice was correctional worker. I guess that meant I'd make a good prison guard. Or maybe a good prisoner. Either way, with penal institutions being such big business I'd have no problem finding work if I wanted it.

The only thing I'd ever been really good at was running. I could run faster than anyone else on Washington Campus, with the possible exception of the intolerable Karlohs Mink. I could run a 50-yard dash in eight seconds, and 100 meters in under 14 seconds.

In fact, on the day I got into it with Karlohs Mink, I had been hoping to break the 100-meter school record of 13.33 seconds.

Karlohs was never my favorite person. Even before the first time he looked at Maddy Wilson, I hadn't liked him. For one thing, the way he spelled his first name was really irritating. And I hated his wrinkly minky smirk. And his stupid-looking asymmetrical hair: so pretentious; so 2060s. The only thing I liked about Karlohs was his last name. Mink. It was perfect that he had the name of a diminutive, beady-eyed, nasty-smelling member of the weasel family.

But I never set out to harm his smirking minky face. At least not at first. Not until he started his minky sniffing around Maddy Wilson.

I had called Maddy that morning and told her I was about to set a new school record for the 100 meter.

"Oh, Bo," she said, her laughing face filling my WindO, "you are so funny."

I don't know why Maddy did it for me. Something about her mouth and eyes lit me up every time I saw her. I wanted desperately to impress her.

"I'm serious, Mad. I'm gonna set a new school record."

"I think you and Karlohs are simply ridiculous."

"Karlohs? What's he got to do with it?"

"You're both just so competitive."

"Maybe so. But I got the bear after me."

"Oh, Bo, you and your silly bear!"

Back when Gramps was in high school, kids ran faster. Gramps claimed to have run 100 meters in 11 seconds, and the mile in 4:37. That was before the Child Safety Act of 2033. Now every high school runner has to wear a full set of protective gear -- AtherSafe shoes with lateral ankle support and four layers of memory gel in the thick soles, knee pads, elbow pads, neck brace, tooth guard, wrist monitor, and an FDHHSS-certified sports helmet. We raced on an Adzorbium® track with its five centimeters of compacted gel-foam topped by a thick sheet of artificial latex. It's like running on a sponge.

Before the Child Safety Act dozens of high school athletes died in accidents every year. They died from things like heatstroke, skull fractures, heart attacks, and broken necks. Today, high school athletes are as safe on the athletic field as they are sitting in the classroom.

Gramps thought it was ridiculous.

"They might just as well put you in a rubber room and see who can stomp their feet up and down the fastest," he once said. "We used to run on hard-packed cinders -- no helmets, no gel-foam, none a that."

I tried to argue: "But, Gramps, it's just as healthy. I mean, with the equipment and the Adzorbium, we probably get twice the workout, only nobody gets bonked."

"Nobody goes very fast, either. I ever show you my old track shoes?"

"Yes, Gramps. I've seen them." Gramps kept his old running shoes in a box in the garage. Every now and then he'd bring them out and wave them around and go on and on about the days of the "real" athletes. You couldn't talk to him when he got like that.

"Look, Gramps, as long as we all have the same rules, the top athlete still gets the trophy."

"That why you run, Bo? For trophies? Hell, when I was a boy, reason we ran was 'cause we were getting chased. We played football back then. Real football. Tackle football."

Football has been illegal since before I was born. I've seen recordings of the old games, and I can see why it has been banned. The only place they play it now is in some South American countries like Columbistan and Paraguay.

"It was run like the devil or get eaten up." Gramps had drunk a few beers that day.

"Yeah, right. Who'd want to eat you?"

"You'd be surprised, boy. It was the twentieth century back then. Bears everywhere."

"You were chased by bears?"

"Damn straight, boy."

"You don't expect me to believe that, do you?"

"Hell, boy, some of the things you kids believe these days...how do I know what you'll believe? But I'll tell you this: You want to run a little faster? Just imagine you got a grizzly on your ass."

Copyright © 2006 by Pete Hautman




Library of Congress subject headings for this publication:
Self-control -- Fiction.
Individuality -- Fiction.
Football -- Fiction.
Artificial intelligence -- Fiction.