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Fiction

Pipe dreams
Short story

 

 

Aryan Irooni
August 18, 2005
iranian.com

Meet Mike. Mike goes to high school everyday. He walks the lonesome path from school to home. He has what some people would call A.D.D., so he can't pay attention too well anywhere or at anytime. His teachers think that he will never amount to anything. His parents think he's a lost cause. His friends... well, he doesn't have too many of them.

Actually, he only has one friend -- Fredrick. When Mike is down and needs some advice or company, good old Freddy is always there for him. Fred has it pretty good -- he is a straight-A student, varsity basketball player, and all around great guy. Sometimes when Mike feels like just giving up, Fredrick tells him, "Always remember that there are people in this world who have it a whole lot worse than you. At least you have some opportunities. All you need to do is capitalize on them."

With a few words like that, Mike would be off capitalizing. He would study hard, do all his homework, help around the house, do community service, go to work, etc. You name it, Mike was doing it. It seemed like he could take on the world.

But Fredrick wasn't with him on those long walks from home to school, where Mike was hassled by local punks or at home, when his parents would fight. Mike's environment wore on him, and after some time, he went back to his old habits. It was like a cycle: Mike became despondent for one reason or another; Fred gave him a pep talk; Mike felt better; something would dishearten Mike and his old habits seemed to find their way back into his life.

One day Mike comes home and sees his parents fighting. He goes to his room, but he can still hear them arguing over their financial troubles. He hears his father yelling, "I work hard all day long, and this is what I come home to. What the hell are you doing with all our money?"

"Why don't you ask Jack, your bartender, where all our money's gone?" his mother said acridly.

"I told you never to talk about that. I can stop whenever I want. That's none of your damn business!" his father was now raging.

Mike was looking at the several posters he had on his decaying, flaking walls: Public Enemy, Malcolm X, and under the leaky part of the ceiling with some sort of yellow fungus, hung a picture of Gandhi. "I wish I could be like them some day," he thought reminiscing of all the time he wasted during his life, when he should've been out changing the world.

"You bastard!" screeched the voice of his mother from the other room.

"I'll kill you, woman!" came the sound of his crazed father.

Mike couldn't take any more, and put a pillow over his face to drown out their noise. The humid vapor from his breath was moistening the pillow on his face, and like that, he fell into deep sleep.

Time passes by and Mike somehow manages to graduate from high school. Life takes Fredrick and him their separate, respective ways, but Mike always remembers his friend's advice.

Mike's grades weren't all that good, and he didn't have that much money, so he couldn't go to college. He doesn't know what to do. Everyday his father calls him names, and his mother tells him to get out of the house and do something. Although he wants to, he doesn't have enough willpower to muster up the strength to do so. "Why God?" he asks in lament, "Why have I been placed in the most hideous of circumstances? I have no money; no friends; no nothing. The little family I have hates me. I can't do anything. I feel so worthless; so helpless; so hopeless. What can I do to make my situation better?"

Ask and you shall receive. Until that point, Mike had been asking all the wrong questions. He asked why he was miserable, and he was told all the reasons why. He asked why no one liked him, and he was told all the reasons why. But it wasn't until he asked what he could do to change his situation for the better that he was given the answer he was always looking for.

He thought long and hard and the answer came to him. There was a program where after serving for some time in the Army, an education would be provided with several other benefits.

So he enlists in the Army. He's shipped off to some country where there's a war going on. He doesn't get along well with any of his fellow soldiers, and no one from home calls or writes him. He is left with naught but his own solitude. Regardless, he is determined to make the best of his situation. With a smile on his face and cheer in his heart he begins his day, determined to make lemonade from lemons. Two hours later he is shot in the field. Mike blacks out and is taken to a hospital where he goes into comatose. Lucky for him, it isn't fatal or paralyzing, but severe enough to have him shipped back home.

The sweltering summer heat is just like Mike remembered -- so hot outside you could scramble eggs on the sidewalk. Scramble them, not eat them. Considering the filth that made the city a sort of living, bleeding hybrid between a rotten, musty jungle and a festering landfill, it wouldn't be too wise to eat from the sidewalk. Either way, it was hot. Now, Mike is 22 and living with his parents. They want him out. He has no money, no higher education, and no connections. So Mike does what any descent person in his position would do: he gets a job. Working at McDonalds isn't that bad, he often assures himself, "Things could always be worse. At least I have my opportunity."

A few months pass, and Mike finds an apartment with a roommate, Ken. Similar to Mike, Ken didn't do too well in school and was forced to leave his parent's house at the age of 25. Mike observes Ken over the first couple of months they are living together, and notices that he's doing fairly well. Ken has Armani suits, Gucci shoes, and a new Mercedes -- he purchased it cash.

Mike is baffled: "How is this possible? It's true that Ken is manager, but we both work at McDonalds. How can he be bringing in so much more paper than me? While I'm using the Associated Press to go to the bathroom, Ken uses Alexander Hamilton - this is ridiculous. Why can't I be living it up like him? I'm working the 9 to 5 hard just like him.  I want a piece of McDonald's too! That's it. Starting tomorrow, I'm going to start working even harder. Soon I'll be manager, and so long newspaper. Hello George Washington."

Unbeknownst to Mike, Ken overhears his entire stink about his situation. He peers into the old, wooden kitchen where Mike is resolutely conniving. Looking at the moldy wallpaper peeling over Mike's head, and the linoleum floor with permanent gum splotches and grease stains all over it, he sees Mike's entire future in all of this. A sudden surge of empathy floods Ken's conscience and he knows what he must do. "Hey, Mike. We need to talk," he innocently begins, after pretending to have just entered the apartment so as to suggest he'd heard nothing.

"What's up, Ken?" Mike kindly responds.

And so Ken begins to tell him how he needs someone he can trust. Someone he can work with who will always be loyal. Mike is confused as to what Ken is speaking in regards to. So Ken tells him everything. He tells him how it is possible for him to afford the Armani suits, the Gucci shoes, the new Benz, and last but not least, the endless supply of single-dollar bills. Mike is ecstatic. He finally understands all Ken's success. He has found his opportunity.

Several months later.

He gets out of his king-sized bed and runs to swan dive into his Olympic-sized pool filled with Tangerine Jell-O. "Faanzwaath, bring me my morning tea and sturgeon caviar. Don't forget my partridge eggs. You know how irritated I get when I miss my partridge eggs," asserted Mike, now a very wealthy, young man.

"Yes sir. Right away," replied Farnsworth servilely.

After having tea and biscuits, he makes his way up to the helicopter pad on the roof of his 12-story mansion: "I think I'll go for a spin now."

He takes his brand-new helicopter all around the city where he looks at the new housing developments he's invested in, and his numerous factories scattered amongst the multitude of various structures filling the skyline -- towering over everything. "I've certainly come a long way, since my days at McDonalds. As soon as I found out how to explicitly capitalize on real opportunity - not always doing things legitimately, but getting where I want to be by any means necessary - I was on my way to the top. Look at me now! Forget Washington, I'm using Benjamins."

Mike, or "Millionaire Mike," as everyone now calls him, is 32 and living large and in charge. He owns the city. When he walks down the street, or rather, considering he has every form of transportation available to him, if he ever chooses to walk down the street, people turn and run in the other direction. People are scared of him. They fear him -- they fear his power. Mike is powerful. He is power. He is the boss now - the big boss.

It's true that he wanted to go back and help out his neighborhood, but things just didn't work out that way. Although he vowed to get an education after the Army, life just took him on a different path. His parent's would have been so proud of their son, but for some reason, they never had the chance to witness all that he'd become. Their lives were cut short. They weren't as fortunate as others.

Millionaire Mike is living the fast life -- he has it all and no regrets. Everyone wants to be around him, but no one can even get close to him. He's too much. He's become too moneyed; too important; too strong; too egotistical; too powerful. He's become too much. His enemies are everywhere. They're out to get him. He can't let them. But there isn't anything he can do. So like an animal trapped in a corner, he does anything he can to hold onto life, just a day, an hour, a minute, a second longer. Mike eliminates all his enemies -- political figures, business heads, government officials. If he suspects anyone, they're as good as gone.

Mike has gotten way out of hand. He can no longer be controlled. He must be stopped. They're coming to get him. He knows it. He knows it as soon as his eyelids open in the morning and until they close at night.

A day passes, a week passes, a month passes, and they never come. Mike is more anxious than he's ever been in his life. He can't take it anymore. He decides that he won't play cat and mouse games. If he's going to die, he's going to do it his way.

Two hours later Mike is on a rampage through Downtown. The police come. They begin to pursue him. He is thrilled. He is going out - his way.

He could feel them gaining on him as he pushes onward dashing down the block as fast as his swift legs take him. Whether his eyes are burning more than his lungs, he can't tell, but he feels as though he is going to collapse. "Just keep running, don't stop. Keep going."

He keeps pumping, "One, two, one, two."

And then there is the relentless burn: when each step feels like the last, but for some impossible reason, they keep pushing and pushing. And pushing. "Don't stop, Mike," he commands himself.

He runs passed red brick buildings inundated with graffiti on porcelain-colored, concrete sidewalks cracked from weeds that grew unimpeded for years. He runs through a playground housing a rusty, red seesaw -- paint cracking off the wood. He runs under electric wires with old, worn out Adidas's hanging by the laces. He runs through the market filled with ladies donning press-on nails, gold hoop rings, and wavy, greasy hair. His entire body is sweating, his throat is burning, and his lungs are giving out, but he knows he can't stop. Their so close to Mike, he feels their shadows cooling his back from the searing sun. He runs into what appears to be a skyscraper. Running up the stairs, he thinks he's lost them, when lo and behold, they're a mere, single flight of stairs below him. On the roof, he looks for a conveniently-placed helicopter. "It's an old model, but it'll have to do," he nearly doubles over hysterically.

"They even left the key for me. Hah! This is unbelievably easy. Maybe even a little too unbelievably easy... ," Mike says quickly as he turns the key in the ignition.

It sputters, turns on, and the propellers begin to swoosh around. The helicopter suddenly turns off. The police scurry up the stairs onto the roof as Mike jumps out the helicopter. "It's the end of the line... ," affirms an officer, "We gotchya!"

"Not if I have anything to do with it!" screams Mike as he darts towards the ledge, the law taking him into his scope.

"No!" cries the officer.

"Hahahaha!" cackles Mike as he leaps into nothingness; abyss; the great beyond - the eternal slumber to which he thinks he has made himself everlastingly beholden to.

Just as he sees all 80 stories pass before his eyes in a flash as he plummets towards his asphalt-filled fate, Mike wakes up to saturated sheets and a moist pillow over his face in his eight by ten room, feeling the blistering humidity of the summer heat - his parents in the other room still yelling, and his pipe next to his bed.

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