Richard Friedman's cli-fi short story for the Age of Trump titled ''A Modern Day Cronkite'' [2,496 words]
Richard Friedman's cli-fi short story for the Age of Trump titled ''A Modern Day Cronkite'' [2,496 words] ''A Modern Day Cronkite''is part of a global cli-fi short story compilation [see italics below] in the Age of Trump, Year 1 A.D. "Anno Donaldo''
INTRODUCTON:: -- ''The International Age of Trump Cli-Fi Short Story Writing Compilation'' (not a contest and no winners, but with an important purpose and chance to air your views as a short story writing in this Age of Trump, either pro or con Trump, all views accepted.) Stories will be published with your byline on this Facebook Group Page and on a separate blogspot blog with Twitter announcing the entire list of stories with links to the individual stories by the individual authors. Story length 800 - 2500 words. Byline should be your real name. Copyright belongs to you and you may publish the story elsewhere as well if you wish, but the story should be original and written in 2017 or 2018 in this Age of Trump. Time frames may be the past, the present, the near future, the distant future. As stories come in, they will be published here and on a separate blog. Stories should be cli-fi in essence and they should use the words Trump or Age of Trump in the text somewhere, perhaps in the title, too. Again, all POV are welcome so if there is a Michael Chrichton out there who wants submit a "State of Fear" kind of pro-Trump short story that is pro-Age of Trump, that is fine, too. However, one suspects that most entries will be taking aim at Trump and the Age of Trump. Stories may be Time Travel or Current Days or Near Future Days, whatever your imagination tells you to write. The compilation starts today, and will continue for a year or two or three or maybe 8 years. Time will tell. Stories may be Cli-Fi Lite, Cli-fi Dark, Cli-Fi Deep, or Cli-Fi Humor. All writers are welcome, all nationalities, all languages, all ages. Send in your stories by email to subject line ''The International Age of Trump Cli-Fi Short Story Writing Compilation'' to this email address: email@example.com
''A Modern Day Cronkite''
By Richard Friedman
My name is Spencer Parker. I went to Syracuse University and majored in Journalism. I wanted to be the 2019 version of Walter Cronkite, the esteemed journalist from my parent’s era.
After graduation, I took a job covering environmental stories at the Lake County News Herald, a small newspaper in Northeast Ohio. As Walter used to say in his sign off from television, “And that’s the way it is”. This is my record of the most bizarre, and likely last few months of my life. I will continue to provide updates until my strength runs out. I pray this document proves useful to whoever finds it. And that’s the way it is.
It’s early 2019, and Donald Trump moved the country backwards in every meaningful environmental way. He stripped the Environmental Protection Agency to the bone. He encouraged fracking and off shore drilling. He withdrew the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement, casting America as an environmental pariah.
It was at this moment when I received the call that changed my life.
A women’s voice said, “Mr. Parker?”
I said, “Yes. Can I help you?”
She paused, and said, “I’d rather not say it over the phone. Meet me tomorrow at Blossom Music Center. Three o’clock sharp.”
The called abruptly ended.
The next day I arrived on time.
A voice said, “Hey, Pssst. Back here.”
I said, “Where?”
She said, “You’re the reporter, figure it out.”
I followed the voice into the forested area.
She said, “Thank you for coming Mr. Parker. I hope you’re up to the task.”
I said, “I’d like to see your face.”
She said, “At this point in our relationship, I’m afraid that’s not possible.”
I sighed, “What should I call you?”
A male voice said, “Why don’t you call her Mother?”
I said, “Okay, Mother, why are we here in the middle of winter?”
She said, “Thousands of people protested against the pipeline in North Dakota. It didn’t matter. Oil rich executives don’t care. They want profits at all costs. The planet is bearing the brunt of their self-indulgence.”
I said, “I feel helpless. How can one individual change the world?”
Guffaws and snorts echoed from the woods.
Mother said, “My constituency can’t wait. This is war. It’s us against them, and my side will prevail, no matter how many lives it costs.”
I said, “You’re saying the ends justify the means.”
Mother said, “Correct.”
I asked, “How many soldiers to you have at your disposal?”
She said, “Enough.”
“What kind of weapons do you plan on using?” I asked.
Mother said, “The kind that can’t be stopped.”
I asked, “Nukes or chemicals?”
Mother replied, “Nukes and chemicals would destroy everything. That’s the last thing I want. We have weapons from God.”
I said, “This is getting me nowhere. Why am I here?”
“You have the means to tell people what’s happening,” said Mother.
I said, “I’ll need to confirm this with a second source.”
Mother asked, “How about a bunch of dead bodies?”
Kiddingly, I said, “That’s a good start.”
A deep voice said, “I told you this was a waste of time. He’s chicken, like that little guy sitting next to you.”
The accused voice said, “I’m not afraid. Not everyone is as tough as you are. I’m willing to put my neck on the line too.”
Mother said, “Don’t get your feathers ruffled, boys. Let’s be mature about this. Mr. Parker, I have contacts in every continent ready to act.”
I said, “Right, the entire world. This has been fascinating. I’m outta here.”
I left convinced this was a hoax, yet I couldn’t shake the feeling that this woman was sincere. She was either a great actress like Meryl Streep, or certifiable. I needed to speak to her again.
While I drove, the meeting in the woods continued.
Mother presented solemn news to the big guys in the back of the woods. “You deserve to hear it straight from me, and not through a series of underground messages. You’re going to die in this confrontation. And you won’t even fire a single shot. You will perish on a scale of unprecedented magnitude. I have plans to ensure your family tree re-populates the planet.”
One spoke up, “Not a single shot? Are you sure? I thought we’d burn them to the ground, or die biting and kicking until the bitter end. I was hoping to live longer. I’m only in my early fifties!”
Mother was stern, “I saw your family cut down in the prime of their lives. There isn’t any among you that will escape death. Young and old, weak or strong, black, and white. I know what’s best! Your selfless act of suicide will lead us to victory.”
Those singled out murmured unhappily. This was not the plan they envisioned.
“Suicide seems out of character for us. You want us to lay down our lives without knowing why. That’s the ultimate leap of faith. I can trace my roots back to the cradle of civilization.”
Mother measured her words, “Your brain can’t comprehend my plan. I can’t go town to town explaining it all over again. You’re big and strong, but not too bright. They say time heals all wounds. Time doesn’t heal the grievous attacks on our way of life. They stole your land! Why? Greed! There was plenty to share. They wrote laws to protect us, and lied. Those lies are coming home to roost. We’re on the threshold of reclaiming our land. Governments across the world will declare Martial Law as society descends into chaos. They’ll die quickly when they run out of food and water. Then I’ll have power over everything on the planet.”
Not everyone was impressed with her bluster. “I think this went to her head, don’t you?” Another said, “Talk about an ego? How did it come to this?”
Mother heard the complaints, “This is not about my ego. This is about protecting your progenies. Even the weakest among you can contribute. Go about your business as usual. Interact with the enemy. If you see them on the road, give them access and stay clear. I don’t want to see you on television causing trouble. That’s the last thing we need. Let them assume you’re happy to be alive.”
A voice spoke up, shaking from the cold, “Should we be nicer than normal?”
This irritated Mother, “I know you have the mental aptitude of a squirrel, but seriously, aren’t you listening?”
“You don’t have to be cruel,” said the shivering one, wearing his thick winter coat.
Mother said, “I’m sorry for snapping at you. I’m under a tremendous pressure. God would cry if he saw what has become of Earth.”
I spent two weeks searching to find her source of funding for a battle of this magnitude. Was there really was an army behind her swagger and braggadocio?
That night I sat near my window, convinced she was a fraud, my phone rang. I easily identified her voice.
I said, “I was thinking about you this very minute.”
Mother said, “I told you next time it would be you reaching out to me. Are you ready to make headlines?”
I said, “I think you’re gaslighting me and making me a fool.”
Mother laughed, “Your recent article on fossil fuels did that without my assistance.”
I said, “Insulting me? Where did you learn your manners?”
Mother said, “His name was Father T.”
I seized the opening. “Are you referring to Father William Thomas from St. Ann’s church?”
Mother quickly changed the subject. “Shall we meet again? Same place. Tomorrow at noon?”
I said, “We’re expecting eight inches of snow. How about once the storm passes we set up our next meeting?”
Mother said, “Don’t be a worrywart. The roads will be fine.”
The snowfall for the area fell short of expectations, but even with three inches of the white stuff, I worked up a sweat getting to the same bench in the woods.
Mother chuckled at my perspiration, “Quite a cardiovascular test, huh? You haven’t written a word about what happening.”
I said, “There is no story until I report facts, not rumors.”
Mother said, “I’m prepared to make another offer to you. Think of yourself as a war correspondent like Cronkite in Vietnam. You’re too young to recall him telling America the war was unwinnable. You’ll record the events for posterity. Plus, you’re a tree-lover.”
How did this woman know of my admiration for Cronkite?
I shuddered, “I do care more about the environment than the portfolios of Wall Street billionaires.”
She said, “Sound’s like you’re feeling the Bern.”
I said, “He could have won if the democrats played fair. They got their chosen candidate and got burned.”
“Touché, Mr. Parker. Are you interested in the job?” she asked.
I promised to keep a journal of events as they unfolded. When I was ready to depart, I asked her, “How will I know when it’s over? You promised I would see you. And what should I do with my report?”
Mother said, “I’ll make sure your report is read. A promise is a promise. In late April we’ll meet face to face.”
The air is full of Carbon Dioxide and it’s getting harder to find clean air to breathe.
The continued warming of the planet had far reaching consequences. Scientists predicted we’d have until the year 2100 to worry about a global disaster. CO2 levels in the atmosphere soared to record breaking highs. Scientists said the dramatic increase was due to intense acidification of the world’s Oceans and the sudden die-off of all the trees.
So, what’s killing the trees? That’s the rub. We don’t know and we can’t stop it. If this keeps up, we’re finished. The hospitals are full of older individuals with respiratory problems. President Trump signed an executive order that stopped shipments of emergency oxygen to hospitals for anyone over the age of 55. I guess this is one time that AARP card doesn’t get you a discount.
Climate change deniers disappeared. Even Trump finally admitted it, “I always knew we were heating up the planet. You don’t have to be Bill Nye to see that! I’ll hire the best people to fix it.”
I’m down to my last canister of oxygen. Nobody knows if more are coming. Militants hijacked yesterday’s delivery and fled to Canada. Scientists say the air is better closer to the poles. The trees are dead. I heard they were thriving in New Zealand. Their government sealed off the borders and nobody can enter, not even Trump. Asshole, serves him right. Ten billion dollars in his bank vault and he’d trade it all for a few thousand containers of oxygen or entry in New Zealand.
I left my home in Cleveland Heights two weeks ago and I’m living near Wooster, Ohio, in army barracks with fifty strangers. The guy next to me snores like a Bear. I’m trading a canister of oxygen to switch beds with a guy named Moses. He’s deaf, so the snoring won’t bother him. He won’t switch for free. Can’t say I blame him. Bartering is the new monetary system. That and sex. My new friend Melissa says I’m an idiot. She would have traded the canister for sex. If I can’t stand witnessing what has become of the world, I might as well enjoy a few hours of sleep. At least in my dreams I breathe clean air. There are marauding groups of thugs killing for sport, raping, looting, and scavenging for medicine. The most dangerous gang originated in New York City. One of Trump’s campaign slogans is coming back to bite him in the ass. He belittled Mexicans. Now they’re saying it about New Yorkers. It goes something like, ‘when New York City sends people out of their city, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems to the rest of America. They’re bringing drugs, and crime, and rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.’
Those good people from New York are desperate. They weren’t killers a year ago. They taught 9th grade Algebra, or worked at Starbucks. They were law-abiding people taking care of their families. When society broke down, even mild-mannered people lost their sense of humanity. I’m hanging on by a thread. They’re calling us for our weekly shower. I hope I can write again.
Our entire encampment is out of oxygen canisters. The air stinks and we spend nights rummaging for food. Whenever there’s a southerly breeze, we hope that the wind will bring fresh air, but it hasn’t. One of guys in here is a chemistry professor from the College of Wooster. He rigged up a few air scrubbers, like the ones from the movie “Apollo 13”. If we had more of them, we might survive longer. I was on my way to see the camp Doctor yesterday and I fell down and busted up my knee. He said I’ll probably get an infection because he can’t keep the wound clean and we’re out of antibiotics.
Melissa told me today is Arbor Day. If that isn’t the sickest joke of all-time, what is? How can you celebrate Arbor Day without any trees? My leg is infected, and there was talk of cutting it off. I told them to forget it. If this is the end, and there’s a heaven, I’m going with two legs.
I saw my ghost from the woods last night. I was dreaming. I swear it was real. I knew the voice right away. Mother said, “You’ve kept up with your writing. I’m proud of you. Someone will find it and retell the story of how Mankind’s reign on Earth came to an end.”
I was able to make out an outline of her face. It glowed with an opalescent splendor. I felt loved. That was the worst part of 2019. Love was gone from the world. Mother forced the trees to commit suicide. I didn’t know trees could do that. No more photosynthesis. Even the tall ones in the back of the woods accepted their fate. They communicated with each other through a network of roots running from coast to coast, even beneath the oceans. Mother already planted seeds to grow new trees. That won’t help us. We’ll all be dead by the time they grow tall enough to replenish the atmosphere. She did the same thing with the oceans. They’re making a comeback too. She found no pleasure in our near extinction. She wanted you to know that. She left a few pockets of humanity for those to learn the sanctity of life for all of God’s creatures. I’m pretty sleepy now. I can’t feel my leg and my lungs are weak, breathing is a chore. I’ve written enough. And that’s the way it is.
Richard Friedman explains why he writes what I writes:
''My company keeps track of bad guys who wear GPS ankle bracelets in Northeast Ohio. We also install breathalyzers in cars for people convicted of multiple DUIs. I like to think that I’m saving Ohioans during the day, and saving the Earth at night. Might as well aim high! We can’t continue to dump poisons in the air, ground, and water and assume there won’t be any consequences.''
''I write for personal reasons too. My descendants won’t know much about me. They won’t know I was a long suffering Cleveland sports fan, or that I liked Stevie Wonder and Pink Floyd, but they will be able to look on the shelf and read about what contribution I tried to make to this world.''
I'' write at night and on weekends. Trying to mix work, family time, and writing is tough. If I can write 1,000 words a day, I’m a happy man. It doesn’t always work out that way. I’ve never used an outline. I usually think of the ending of my stories first, then work my way through the plot points to get there. I try to read a book from the list of cli-fi authors on this site as often as possible. I admire your hard work and well written stories.''