Author : Todd Keisling, featured writer

Colt was a block from his apartment when the curfew alarms went off. The firing klaxon startled him, and he dropped his smokes. Heart pounding, he retrieved them and ducked into a nearby alley.

It wasn’t long before the first patrol sped by, its rifles poised and searchlights tracking the darkened streets ahead.

He curled up beside a dumpster, flipped his collar and tried to keep warm. The smokes helped. He scolded himself for losing track of time. The bookstore down by the square had enticed him yet again. It wasn’t until the owner, Mr. Drabury, pulled the shades that he realized what time it was. Drabury told him the local alarm was damaged in a riot a couple of days prior.

Gunshots echoed from somewhere farther down the street. Colt wasn’t alone in breaking the curfew.

More shots. Then again, he supposed, maybe he was.

After the hum of the patrol’s engine grew distant, Colt rose to his feet, lifted the lid of the dumpster and climbed in. The smell was horrid and he fought the urge to retch. The feeling of nausea passed after a few minutes, and he reminded himself that spending the night there was safer than trying to dodge the patrols for that last, crucial city block.

Not that it mattered. The master locks in his apartment promptly engaged at curfew. All of his neighbors were safe inside their homes, spending time with their families and worshiping Channel Zero for the required two hours.

Colt reached into his pocket and pulled out the FM transmitter. He affixed it to his ear and thumbed the dial in search of the right frequency. Suddenly his head was filled with the rants of the self-proclaimed Mad Man.

Authorities were still trying to track him down. Rumors circulated that he never transmitted from the same location, and never with the same encryption. After the collapse of the nationwide radio network twenty years ago upon federal implementation of the FCSA and SmartCam installations, the “Mad Man” set up a single broadcast. He brought back the music of the previous century, before it was “tainted by lack of creativity.” He preached, he hounded, he ridiculed the Network and the Government and the apathy created by both.

Colt liked him. He took a drag from his cigarette and lifted up the lid to exhale the smoke.

The Mad Man screeched in his ear.

“–and what do they do for ya, people? You sit at home at night, after you’ve worked yer ass off for the man all damn day, and they expect you to watch this so-called ‘Channel Zero’. They say you’re doing the country a favor. Well I say you’re spying for the man. You’re spyin’ on yer fellow countrymen. It’s sick. It’s disgusting. And if you agree with it, then you’re no fuckin’ different.”

Colt bit his cheeks and fought back laughter. He wanted to cheer on the Mad Man, but the dumpster was already vibrating from a nearby patrol.

“And speaking of spying, people, did any of you catch the broadcast over a Network secure channel a few hours ago? They say there was a murder on Grid Four. Guy knifed to death right there while everybody wat–”

A series of pops erupted in the background. The Mad Man gasped.

“Looks like my cover’s up, ladies and gentlemen. ‘Till next time, I bid you all adieu—and wake the fuck up!.”

The frequency went dead. Colt sighed, finished his cigarette and put it out against the wall of the dumpster. He wrapped his arms around himself, positioned himself as comfortably as possible amid the bags of rotting garbage, and closed his eyes.

Without the voice of the Mad Man in his ears, it would be a very long night.

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