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- Story Listed as: Fiction For Adults
- Theme: Science fiction stories
- Subject: Futuristic
- Published: 04/12/2020
Hoo Howdy BoyBorn 1956, F, from Smithville/ Texas, United States
"Hoo-ee!" A thirst like none before crowded in the throat of Howard 'Howdy Boy' Boynton as he rode into the darkening, desolate town of Dime Box. He'd run his canteen dry hours earlier, around high noon. The intrepid and congenial cowboy had crossed the high, dusty plains of abandoned corporate badlands, traversed the still-passable smoothways over fertile rolling hills and followed his ancient Army Navy metal compass over daunting mountain ranges. Alone, but pursued, Howdy Boy had been soldiering on near to nine weeks now, which probably accounted for the powerful hankering to drain a beer or two and throwback a shot (or three) of whiskey. There was nothing like a friendly saloon to help a man rest up, charge up and recollect his thoughts. And he had a lot of those these days. Howdy Boy was on a mission to save his own thick hide. He was charged with the crime of thinking too much. And of congregating in a crowd. Howdy Boy dreamed of big crowds. He yearned for the forbidden fruit.
The swinging saloon doors beckoned him in. Take a load off. Howdy Boy swung easily off the sturdy pinto pony, tied him at the hitching post within reach of the water trough. He whispered into the pinto's swiveling ear a promise of fresh hay and a vigorous currying.
Like everyone else on Earth, Howdy Boy had been in the saddle since he was just a tot, maybe five years old. Horses were the sole source of transportation in the year 2325, and Howdy Boy respected and cared for his horses with the reverence of any man who rides alone through the wild west territories or who hunkers alone in small, but sprawling towns. Howdy Boy would indeed attend to his pinto pony, but first, it was time to wet his whistle. He dad-gummed had the thirst and the coin for it. That was for sure.
Howdy Boy swaggered across the dry dirt street toward the saloon. He was a smiling handsome devil, he was. Broad-shouldered and slim-hipped, he wore his gun belt low and his chest high. He walked with a manly assuredness learned through observation and experience. When he reached the swinging doors, however, all his decorum evaporated in the dry, early evening wind as he whipped off his hat, threw back his head and released all his worries into the dusky sky. "Hoo-ee!" he cried out once again and banged through the swinging doors into the Dime Box saloon.
"Barkeep! Let's see a draught and a bottle of whiskey over here," Howdy Boy called out good-naturedly. His friendliness was unnecessary; the gold flash of Krugerrands he had stacked neatly on the bar enticed the bartender plenty.
"You passing through, mister?" the bartender inquired with genuine interest. Drinking feller like this, with money like that, might be a boon to business, he figured.
"Yup," Howdy Boy answered smoothly after downing his beer in one swallow. "Pull me another one," he ordered and pushed his emptied mug across the scarred bar. The barkeep complied and asked, "Where you headed, son?" Howdy Boy jerked his head up; his senses on high alert. To human quarry that he was, this last question prompted a feeling of threat. He swallowed a ball of panic with the rest of his second beer and looked around in bored pretense. Feigning a casual attempt to keep up a very short conversation with the barkeep, he ordered a third draught. There were only three other customers in the saloon. All wore double-pistol gun belts and sat at separate tables. Howdy Boy suddenly felt sick with fear and doubt. Could the bounty hunters have gotten here before him?
Howdy Boy slurped down his third draught, grabbed the whiskey bottle and backed out of the saloon with a hand on his gun. When he was gone, the old barkeep and his customers shook their grizzled heads at how spooked the young'uns are these days. Always with their backs up against the wall. Thinking too much. Needing to learn the lonely old ways of working sun-up to sundown. Kids.
Well, Howdy Boy would sure ride from sundown to sun-up if he had to that night. He had nearly arrived at his destination anyway. There was a waxing and bright moon. No clouds. A bottle of whiskey. If he could make it to the river's gorge, he'd be safe. Maybe even find a nice hideout to rest and enjoy the company of his coveted hard liquor. The more he thought about it, the more Howdy Boy wanted it. Human nature. He held up a centuries-old laminated map to the moonlight and studied it for the thousandth time. Peering through the dark, Howdy Boy spotted a nearly undetectable opening among huge boulders lining the river gorge's rim. He prodded his horse through it.
The hidey-hole was just about the most perfect safe spot he could hope to find. Almost halfway down the steep incline of the river's gorge, there was a ledge. On it was an opening into the gorge's wall that led to a snug little cave with free-dangling roots and vines that provided a secretive curtain. There was even enough room for his horse. Howdy Boy unsaddled the pinto and threw him a handful of oats before he hunkered down for a good pull of whiskey. Then, another. Then, another until the bottle was empty and he was pulling air.
That night, before his life changed forever, Howdy Boy got drunker than Cooter Brown in a cave on the side of a river gorge outside of Dime Box. He passed out in a sprawling stupor on its earthen floor while his pony looked upon the familiar yet infrequent scene with disinterest. Finally, the hungry little horse wandered out of the cave, plodded back up the steep gorge and found a prairie for some nice midnight snacking on sweet grasses.
Far, far below the inert body of the inebriated Howdy Boy, a small, indentured group of experienced seismologists conferred with their world's appointed leader. They were helping to finalize full-scale emergency evacuation procedures with her. An alarming and all-too-certain catastrophic bunker breach was expected within hours; a huge, destructive earthquake finally delivering its wrath. Their leader, Andrea Boynton, a tenth-generation bunker city dweller, was a vulgar old woman of inordinate cruelty. She and many generations of her ancestors had worked to harden their position and power over the low citizenry - the domestic servants and worker slaves who served them. The high citizens had gleefully enhanced the violence, greed and self-interest that had been showered upon their class so well for over 300 years in the bunker city.
The bunker's founding fathers, a group of four multi-billionaires, had built and escaped into the bunker city with their extended families and servants when the horror, disease and decay that they helped to inflict on the Earth had become too much for their vacuous sensibilities. In spite of their life-sucking actions, the Boyntons, the Edelsons, the Freidmans and the Griffens were, by god and themselves, deserving of the life-saving luxury and comfort of the underground bunker. That the commoners and foolish elites who remained above ground suffered and died dark deaths under clearing blue skies was of absolutely no import to them.
Oh, but was it ever a beautiful bunker! Befitting the tremendous wealth, greatness and classiness of its founding families, the bunker was almost the size of Manhattan's ritzy Upper East Side in the 2020s. It had three beautifully manicured and unused golf courses, two man-made waterfalls with lakes that hadn't hosted a swimmer or sailboat in hundreds of years, a mountain slope for skiing and zip-lining if anyone should ever come, and just about every haute recreational activity imaginable. Homes dripped with the finest art and rare, imported furnishings. Technology was 21st century state-of-the-art. Clean additive manufacturing through 5D quantum printing produced any tangible desired. Artificial intelligence managed life support systems. And though it was an exchange-free society, there was high fashion shopping and exclusive fine dining and invitation-only soirees to flaunt the high citizens' replicated acquisitions. Every whim, every hauteur of any Boynton, Edelson, Friedman and Griffen was attended post-haste and with an expected slavering servility from the hapless low citizens.
Hapless, though, they were not. The servants and slaves who made up the low citizen class numbered over 5,000. They were strong, resolute men, women and children who lived on two levels beneath the bunker city. The low citizens were descendants of a group of over 400 individuals from every race and creed who had been coerced and kidnapped into servitude by the founding fathers. They served to maintain the bunker city's houses and streets and buildings. Some served in health care and engineering. Others, in science. Every low citizen over the age of five worked in their own fields and gardens or served Leader Boynton and her ilk. But they also played, especially since the high citizens stopped coming below to monitor and survey them out of disgust.
Unlike the high citizens with their ancestors' sloth and shallow pursuits, the low citizenry fairly buzzed of curiosity and life. In the two-level sub-bunker that was their home, peace and love and music flowed easily. In secret, every child was taught their history from birth and that, in spite of their servitude, honor was borne unto them. They grew up believing that they had an inherent right to think and learn. And that education was tantamount to life. Every single adult was a teacher and a student. Learning came from ancient texts smuggled in by the original servants and from the wise and studied, and through experimentation.
The world of the low citizens was bereft of technology. Nevertheless, each and every low citizen sported a mandatory, non-removable duty collar that was fastened on at birth and expanded as the low citizen aged. The evil collars ensured efficiency and good manners in serving the bunker's leader and her citizens of high society. At the risk of immobilizing pain, there were only a few conspiring dissenters every decade who would attempt to change things. They were usually discovered, punished, then executed for entertainment at club hours in the bunker city. The duty collars were the sole method for controlling such a vast population. There had never been a malfunction.
Interestingly, only 154 high citizens populated the vast bunker city at last count. With the annual birthrate at 2%, depopulation of the bunker city was inevitable. Of course, this fact was worrisome to the leader. It put her in the unenviable position of deciding whether high citizens ought to fornicate with the servants and slaves. She considered it for about a week, but the unutterable thought was just too revolting, so she dismissed it outright.
When the four original families moved below ground in 2025, there were over 200 high citizens - from infants to octogenarians. There were also high expectations of a burgeoning and thriving fair-skinned population of the privileged and well-born. At first, there had been plenty of adults in their childbearing years, and they had produced beautiful, healthy babies. High citizen population swelled to over 2,000. The bunker city was vibrant and lively. But over the centuries, jealousy and deadly violence among the four families led to generations of in-breeding within the families. Of the 154 remaining high citizens, twenty were mentally non-functioning, ten were missing an arm and a leg, and most had hideously concaved faces which produced breathing and speech disabilities. All were bald and morbidly obese. Unable to properly bathe beneath their rolls and folds, their body odor was appalling. In their refusal to eat fresh foods, every high citizen had an orange tint to their skin from the gastronomic fare of their 5D food printers' sweet potato base.
Leader Boynton was one of the many high citizens with the tell-tale concave face. She was quickly thinking maybe she might be the last. Only Leader Boynton and her indentured seismologists knew of the critical end times about to befall the bunker city and its sub-bunker denizens. She intended to keep it that way. If there were to be survivors, she wanted to be first to take the credit. She was formulating a triumphant speech of the unlikely occasion when she felt a tumbling rumble beneath her fat, flaccid feet.
Many meters above Leader Boynton's bald, orange pate, Howdy Boy lolled around in a drunken stupor on the trembling dirt floor of the cave. His semi-conscious brain tickled his autonomic nervous system, but that was all. Howdy Boy simply couldn't be roused; which probably saved his life when the ground beneath him seized, shook fiercely as never before and upchucked an enormous titanium-colored underground bunker displacing miles and miles of earth around it. Settling above ground with another earth-shaking thud, the bunker unceremoniously cracked in half, displaying a toppled city within. The piercing sound roused Howdy Boy only as he was falling through the crack and onto the soft artificial down of the bunker city's ski mountain. He landed like a fallen snow angel.
Howard 'Howdy Boy' Boynton knew enough to know he wasn't dreaming. Nor was he dead. Instead, as he sat up in the snow and looked down the mountain toward the bunker city, he realized he had, in fact, finally arrived at his destination. All that thinking had paid off, after all.
Leader Boynton had been hurrying to her own private bunker within the artificial mountain when the earthquake brought her closer to an unexpected mortality. When the moonlit skies above her revealed themselves through the crack and the fresh earthly air swooped in to fill her shriveled in-bred lungs, Leader Boynton stood at the foot of the mountain and watched her precious bunker city crumble, then blink into darkness. It was too much, and her frail heart failed. But before it did, Leader Boynton saw with clarity her complete and utter demise. In that instant, her emotional pain would have killed her if the myocardial infarction hadn't.
Uninjured and sober, Howdy Boy scooted down the mountain and found the body of the most singularly homely woman he had ever seen in his 25-year-old life. He would never know that he was looking upon his cousin Andrea, ten generations removed. What he did know - and was grateful for - was a little pink plastic-wrapped diary and map that was left with a cute bi-racial six-year-old boy over 300 years ago. The boy grew into a man and the two heirlooms had been passed down for ten generations of Boyntons. Howdy Boy always had them in his possession and had memorized every word.
The diary revealed much about a young woman and the state of her world in the year 2025. A plague was rampaging the globe and young Tiffany Boynton was in the fight of her life, not with the disease, but with her parents. She was in love with a rap star and had mothered his child, a boy. The little family lived in an isolated but loving bliss until her parents smashed their lives to smithereens. They destroyed the rap star's streaming career, sequestered the baby anonymously in an orphanage and imprisoned their daughter in one of their mansions. Their embarrassment and disappointment were acute. But, their daughter was headstrong and her heart was led by love. She detailed every feeling and hope she had for her son in a diary and made sure he received it before she was forced into the bunker city. As far as Howard 'Howdy Boy' Boynton knew, he was the last living Boynton on Earth. At least, above ground.
Below ground, amazed and a little afraid, Howdy Boy walked a few blocks among the strangest buildings he had ever seen; though he did notice some similarities in the streets to the weedy smoothways in the wilderness that cowboys and wanderers use to cross the country. He navigated the empty bunker city by moonlight. Much of it was destroyed. He saw no one except for the body of Leader Boynton, until suddenly he did. Howdy Boy saw hundreds upon hundreds of people streaming out of openings from below.
Hallelujah! There were actually thousands of them and all were laughing and singing out joyous notes of freedom and happiness. They poured into the bunker city and scrambled over the cracks' edges onto prairies glistening under a full moon. Howdy Boy followed them. Drum circles formed, clappers united and the low citizenry danced and celebrated together with abandon. Not a single human being was shackled with a duty collar. All had unfastened and fallen uselessly to the ground the moment the bunker city had cracked open.
Howdy Boy stood speechlessly. For human beings in his world, celebration and escape came in one allowable form - a few hours in an uncrowded saloon or alone with a bottle. If one gathered together with a group, it was to work by keeping a significant distance from the others, and only work. There was to be no studying together, no singing or dancing or playing together. And certainly no thinking together. The social-distancing norms of the 21st century that were so necessary for humanity's survival held fast even into Howdy Boy's time.
Many other aspects of global civilizations never even had a chance to hold fast. Countless more were never developed, at least in the traditional sense. Nations, satellites and the internet failed when digital and electrical mechanisations ceased in 2030. Planes fell from the sky. Cars and trains halted. All it took was a solar superflare to cleanly wipe out modern technology. The world and its human inhabitants were suddenly thrust back to agrarian days. Cynically undeterred, they worked hard to re-boot their technology but gave up a few decades after the first superflare. The disruptive solar activity appeared to occur annually. Time was not on their side regardless of the countless trillions spent to resurrect their accustomed lifestyles. The well-off didn't take it well.
Outside the damaged walls of the bunker city, Howdy Boy watched the exhilarated crowd. He sure liked these crazy happy folks. He'd never seen anything like it. They seemed healthy and energetic and they were having... a party. If that was the right word. He was pretty sure that's what it was called back then. Howdy Boy felt a real affinity for them the more he watched. He had expected to find answers to his many questions when he set out on his quest to find the hidden bunker city. Now, he just didn't care. Howdy Boy was done. He just wanted to have fun.
Howdy Boy whistled for his pony whom he'd spotted across the prairie. He mounted him and galloped into his dream come true. "Hoo-ee!" he whooped joyously. Man and horse were welcomed and enveloped by the crowd. They danced till dawn knowing a new day was coming.