Alice looked at the exhibit in front of her. She tried activating it. She ran her hand over the smooth panels that were presented to her, but none seemed to work. She guessed that the power banks on them had expired, but could not reach the other panels as they were set too high. She was angry that this unit was obviously set for taller people. At just eight years old she was frustrated that the exhibits at the World Fair were always aimed at adults, especially as this one was held over the Christmas holidays.
She wandered off, leaving her mum to check out the other attractions; but those queues were so long, and Alice didn’t like waiting in line. This one was set way back, right on the edge of the perimeter, and no queue at all. It was such a tall tent, she just had to investigate.
“Hey, careful with that,” came a gruff voice from behind her.
She jumped sideways in a startled fright, not knowing he was there, and removed her grip from the latest panel that she had tried to get some sort of response from.
“I’m sorry mister,” she muttered. “But I think it’s broken already.”
“It’s not broken. It’s working just fine,” he snapped back.
“But what does it do?”
“Do? Do? It does everything, and at the same time, nothing. It’s a perpetual machine. It’s far more superior than the other exhibits here. It’s self powering. Ever heard of a self powering machine?” he asked.
“Alice, Alice?” a panicked voice came from somewhere outside.
Alice turned to leave; but not forgetting her manners, stopped and thanked the man for his time, adding, “It’s different, but kind of dumb.”
The man just smiled and gave her a wink.
She exited and ran towards her mother, smiling as she was lifted off her feet and given a huge hug.
“How many times have I told you not to leave my side?” her mum scolded her.
The old man gave them both a wave and, reluctantly, Alice’s mother smiled and waved back. He was not the sort of person that she wanted her daughter talking to. He looked strange. His clothes appeared tattered and he had an unnerving look about him.
Alice and her mother walked away over the metal platelets that covered the ground, each one lighting against the darkening night as they trod on them.
“Have you had your packed lunch?” her mother asked.
Alice took out a rehydration pill and then her favourite ‘rhubarb and custard’ one. To Alice, and anyone her age that had taken them, rhubarb and custard was just a taste and nothing more.
Bill decided to close down for the day. It didn’t seem worth staying open when no one apart from that one little girl had bothered to visit his ‘Last tree on earth’ exhibit. ‘Last tree?’ that was an understatement. He hadn’t seen another piece of organic flora in twenty years; not since his best friend, Gerry, had thrown his ailing rosebush into the incinerator.
He looked back solemnly. The elm’s leaves, although large, we’re starting to turn a greyish brown. He hadn’t managed to find any fresh soil for longer than he could remember. And as for liquid H2O, or water as it used to be called, that was getting scarcer by the day.
He ran his hands up against the bark and smiled to himself. “Well, my old friend, looks like you’re as about as outdated and unwanted as me.”
He poured an acid compound around the roots. After climbing its trunk and walking the length of its longest and highest branch, he smiled, and at the same time wept. He remembered the historic practice of hanging decorations from real trees this time of year. As he let himself drop with a noose around his neck, there was a quick snapping sound that reverberated around his head for a split second. Within that brief moment he couldn’t help but see the irony of his actions. For, although it wasn’t a fir or pine, he truly would be the last Christmas Bauble that hung from a real tree.
~ Ian Sputnik
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