When the truth isn't true anymore.
Daniel Jack Stern, 2010
Charlie sat in his living room, passively watching his TV. The glowing box perpetually spewed pictures and words and loud, jangly music.
A beautiful woman appears on screen, her bronze skin lending the room a golden glow. She looks at Charlie longingly, her lips parted in the expression of lust. Her eyes close as if in ecstacy, and then the screen fades to a familiar logo: Burgershack. A voice announces the familiar slogan, "I'm eatin' it!"
A flourish of important music. A grey-haired anchor looks at Charlie seriously. "Welcome back to the News. Time for the latest global update." More music, and a graphic: 'Terrorwatch 2024,' embossed on a spinning red globe.
"Terrorist insurgents have attacked another hospital in the Middle East." A shot of a burning hospital. "These rebels, led by militant warlord Abu Al-Vadim, continue to thwart the peace-keeping efforts of the American freedom forces." A shot of three good-looking soldiers on a jeep, handing out food to a rabble of photogenic arab children.
Cut to the grey-haired president, John Christie. "For just over ten years now, America has fought bravely to restore peace in Afghanistan. We cannot, we must not, give up now! As Americans, we are all united by our love of freedom and equality. Our terrorist enemies wish to raze hospitals, enslave women and children and sow fear among freedom-loving people throughout the world." Shot of a pretty woman with baby in the crowd. She is nodding emphatically. "With the conclusion of Operation Care Package, we are certain that we will be able to withdraw by the end of the year 2026, having restored peace and freedom to the Middle East." Behind him, Vice-President Lochman sits stoicly, his veiny hands gripping a golden cane. "Together, we can, we will succeed! As Americans!"
Charlie's living room erupted into bright colors as a woman danced onto the TV screen holding an expensive broom. A catchy jingle announced that Sweepy Brooms were the only way to keep your home clean.
A heavy sigh escaped Charlie' breast as he rose from his seat and walked to the kitchen. His undershirt was stained with sweat and curly strands of hair popped out here and there. He looked into the fridge, pulled out a Choca-Cola and pounded it back. A concussive belch escaped his belly. He walked heavily back to his chair and sat in it.
Four beautiful teenagers ride in a roofless jeep down an open highway. They're laughing. A young man in a designer shirt puts his arm around a young girl, and she smiles giddily, gazing into his eyes. They pull into a Burgershack and enjoy a round of burgers and cola. The commercial implies they stay there for hours, laughing and smiling innanely.
Charlie awoke to the promise of whiter teeth from Sparkle Plus. He had fallen asleep in front of the TV, like always. Morning sun was filtering in through the cracks in the blinds, and he sighed as he lifted himself from his seat and went to the front porch for a smoke. He looked in the mailbox for his disability cheque.
People walked down Bathurst Street, eyes downcast, hands in pockets. A bus rolled by, bearing a large mural of good-looking teenagers eating at Burgershack. Charlie finished his cigarette and coughed.
He went back inside and looked in the fridge. Empty, except for one more Choca-Cola. He drained it and dropped it next to the sink, into a pile of them that he meant to return for the deposit someday. He waded through dirty clothes and Burgershack bags back to his seat and sat back down.
A commercial concludes by suggesting Charlie drink a Choca-Cola to fully enjoy life. A different grey-haired anchor appears on the screen.
"Welcome back to the News, nothing but the truth, twenty-four seven." He shuffles his papers and looks at Charlie gravely. "Three US soldiers were killed this morning by a roadside bomb in Qatar. Admitting to this murder is terrorist leader Abu Al-Vadim."
A shot of the militant leader, clad in long beard and white turban, making an address from what is presumably a cave somewhere. As he speaks in passionate Arabic, captions below admit personal responsibility for the deaths and promise many more to come for the American pigs. Charlie almost thought for a second he had seen that exact same footage, the week before, with different captions. A funny coincidence, he thought at once.
"As Americans," begins President Christie, "we cannot tolerate terrorist attacks on our peace-keepers. It is our intention to bring peace to Afghanistan. Thus, it is absolutely essential that we find and capture the terrorist mastermind, Abu Al-Vadim. An additonal five thousand troops will be sent in this month. It is certain that Al-Vadim will be captured by the season's end. Remember, as Americans, your duty is to preserve the freedom to choose, not just for us, but for the whole world!" The crowd applauds and Christie smiles the smile that got him elected.
An elderly couple: "We never realized how much insurance we really needed..."
With a great heaving Bob rose once again and walked to the fridge. It was completely empty. He cussed and held his rumbling gut. Reluctantly, he stepped out into the street. A huge Burgershack stood at the corner of Bathurst and Bloor, where Honest Ed's used to be. Across the street was a Big Burger, and next to it, a Pizza Dome. For some reason, Charlie was reminded of President Christie's words: "The freedom to choose."
Charlie was free to choose between Burgershack and Big Burger. He greedily devoured his Colossoburger, fries and Cola. He was still hungry, so he bought another and devoured it too. On his way home, he grabbed a pizza for later and popped into the corner store for a case of Choca-Cola.
The owner and a few friends sat and watched the television. It was set to the Arab News Network. A shot of an oil pump in a desert with flames erupting from it. A sign in front of the blaze, illuminated by yellow and orange flames, that reads Lochman Oil Company. A voice in arabic chatters on the screen.
Subconciously, the word terrorists popped into Charlie' brain.
The captions on the TV read, "Fires erupt as US troops annex oil sands."
Charlie purchased his case of Choca-Cola and was about to leave, taking note never to return to this terrorist hostel, when he noticed that Abu Al-Vadim was on the TV. It was the same video as before, only the captions read differently. The arabs in the store nodded.
"My friends," Al-Vadim was saying. "As the American military invades our land, we must look deep within our hearts to show them forgiveness. In the words of the prophet, love all of God's creations."
That can't be true, thought Charlie. It must be a lie. Terrorists.
"The Americans fly in pavelow helicopters and use automatic rifles. We defend ourselves with whatever we can find. But still, it takes tens of thousands of their heavily armed soldiers to continue to oppress us. Though they try, they will never succeed because we have with us the compassion and love of the prophet.
"Please, my brothers, save love and forgiveness for the Americans. They are sons of the almighty too, that have been misguided by the warlord Lochman." Al-Vadim raises his fist in a gesture of solidarity. "Together, we shall overcome." Funny, thought Charlie, they didn't show that part on the News.
Charlie returned home, locked the door, cracked open a bottle of soda and sat in front of the TV. A young man throws his muscled arms around a beautiful young woman with olive skin. Clothestown. A couple smiles broadly and looks into eachother's eyes as sun flows into their posh living room. Sparkle Plus. A beautiful woman dances wildly in her underwear, as though no one is watching. Burgershack. A grey-haired anchor with a serious look on his face stares at Charlie.
"Welcome back to the News. President Christie announces ten thousand more troops be sent to Afghanistan. War is to be over by year 2029."
A shot of white families at a rally celebrating President Christie.
For the first time since he could remember, Charlie wanted to turn the TV off. He reached for the remote, but he couldn't find it - it was buried under months worth of old food wrappers and pizza boxes, unopened envelopes and empty bottles of cola. He shifted in his spot and looked for the elusive remote, but finally he sighed and looked back at the TV.
Two beautiful young women walk down the street. They pass a Burgershack, and with an exhilirated laugh they walk in. As they sit and eat, apparently rapt in interesting conversation, two handsome young men surprise them by presenting two colossal and yet somehow empty paper bags that say Burgershack.
But Charlie had fallen asleep...