Hope In The Midst Of Despair


The sun was setting. Far to the east, threatening black
clouds arose from the fumes of pollution from the several
marked and dented with the recent shower of acid rain. Hot
boiling steam from the sewers made the temperature of day
much hotter than it really was. Just outside the borders of
the city is a lake covered with muck and crude oil spills.
Death and despair floated aimlessly on the surface of the
inhospitable body of water. Corpses of dead fish and
seagulls bobbed just under the rim of the black slime. The
black slime, sensing fresh prey, extended its corrupt and
revolting tendrils farther until it caught another
unsuspecting victim. Choking and engulfing, it destroys,
leaving just another empty shell behind, devoid of any life.
Night set in; the stars were obscured by thick blankets of
smoke. The day was done. Storekeepers were getting ready to
lock up and street lights were turned on to help the "bread
winners" travel in safety. Most people were not fortunate
enough to own automobiles and had to walk to get to their
homes. A few shop-doors were still open, desperate for any
last minute customers. 

One such shopkeeper was Phil Anderson. Anderson had worked
as a pharmacist for most of his life. At forty, he had
little to show for it. The pollution that caused the
gradual decay of the city had had negative effects on
business, as well as the environment. Phil, though by all
means not an old man, showed signs of premature aging. His
skin was pale and dry, wrinkled by the everyday punishment
of the deteriorating surroundings. Few strands of grayish
white hair lined his almost bald, dandruff infested scalp.
Looking at Phil with his characteristic limp, slouched
posture and bulging belly one might think him an extremely
unathletic person. But then again it was not entirely his
fault. His eyes were red and bloodshot, the glasses he wore
only made these features more obvious.
With shaking skinny hands, Phil slowly put away the last of
the items on top of the counter. Finally done, he flicked
off the lights and rummaged through his pockets for his
keys. Looking one last time to make sure the shop was in
order, Phil locked up the store and left. He failed to
notice a dark shadow spying on him as he counted the bills
he had earned today, and put it away into his black leather
wallet. The tall dark figure studied the pharmacist a while
longer before trailing him. The narrow dirty street smelled
of weeks old garbage and animal wastes. Smog was still
thick in the air causing him to cough repeatedly. He
stopped for a moment to catch his breath. Remembering his
air filter in his pocket, Phil gingerly took it out and put
it on. Feeling much better Phil continued down the street,
heaving a sigh of relief.
He headed towards home, but soon remembering that he always
stops by the Charleton Bar for a drink or two, Phil
abruptly changed direction. Sounds of laughter and
grumbling reached his ears as Phil pushed open the doors of
the Charleton.
The Charlton is located at Bradleys Street, just a couple
of blocks away from Phil's Pharmacy. He would come here
frequently to unload and forget his problems. The bar is
small and a little rundown but by no means deserted. Though
built with concrete, The Charleton was wooden inside. It
was dimly lit by old-fashioned lanterns placed along the
walls, that gave it an atmosphere of relaxation. At least
the problems of the world can be temporarily forgotten in
here, drowned out in a pint of beer. A low slanted ceiling
hung over head. Years of exposure to acid rain caused the
wood to decay. Wood fillings was occasionally used to patch
up the holes. 

Although the variety of alcoholic beverages served here
were not abundant, the ones they did have were quite
popular. Their Spinner and Geinis for example, were among
the house favorites. Few scattered chairs and tables were
spread around the room in no apparent order. Most were
occupied. A middle aged couple sat in the middle of the
room talking softly and minding their own business. Far in
the shadows of the corner was a young lad, who it seemed to
Phil, was too young to have legally entered the bar.
Clutched in his hands was the weaker of the drinks that the
bar offered. Yet the young inexperienced drinker wobbled
heavily in his seat, unaccustomed to anything containing
alcohol. He must have sneaked in, Phil thought casually,
many do. These days no one really cares anymore. Scattered
around the rest of the Charlton were the usual bunch, a few
bums, workers who had shops close to the Charleton, and
young ones who find the world outside too harsh and
demanding, so they come here to seek shelter. But it was no
permanent shelter, Phil knew. They would have to face their
problems all too soon.
There was one person in the crowed that Phil did not
recognize. He was a newcomer, Phil knew, because he was
sitting on his favorite stool, up on the counter. He sat
alone sipping on his Spinner with long easy gulps, marking
him a frequent visitor to Taverns. The stranger had clear
blue eyes and sandy colored hair. The corner of his eyes
and mouth were drawn with lines, proof of the hard times.
He was of normal built and seemed a little taller than
average height. His posture was a little stooped; he
probably worked on construction or something straining to
the body. 

The newcomer was no means unattractive though, Phil would
guess he could pick up a girl or two any day. There was
something refreshing about him. A certain aura of
confidence and hope radiated from him. Maybe it was the way
he handled himself, or something else, made Phil curious
about him. He decided to walk over to talk to him. Phil
leaned slightly on his right leg making his way to bar. The
floor boards creaked with each step Phil took. The floor
was old, but still had a lot of years in it.
Phil came up to the counter, "The usual Frank", he said,
going to the seat beside the stranger. He looked to him for
approval, before sitting down. The stranger who introduced
himself as Bill, grunted his approval and motioned to the
seat opposite of him. Phil smiled and took the stool beside
the newcomer. Phil introduced himself, " I'm Phil

"One Ginies coming up", Frank bellowed while pouring Phil's
The Pharmacist and Bill immediately started on a light
conversation."So, I haven't seen you around? Are you new
here?" Bill Stevens was the driver of a furniture delivery,
who just happened to have a job in the area. After dropping
off a truck load of furnishings for a certain Mr. Jones, he
decided to head for a bar on his break to quench his
thirst. Bill casually mentioned to Phil that he was the
father of two. Phil shook his head in astonishment, "In
times like these, how do you manage?" Bill related to some
bad times, but brightly spoke of how he always managed to
pull through. "What do you do?", Bill asked after speaking
of his family. 

"I run a pharmacy not far from here!" 

"That's pretty good. You must make quite a lot".
Bill responded, sincerely, "No, just enough". 

Phil sighed. That must still be pretty good... I mean a
pharmacy? People need a drug store!" 

"Sometimes", Phil replied then shook his head. A moment of
silence followed before Phil finally spoke. "So what do you
think will happen ... in the future, I mean?", Phil asked

Bill raised his eyebrows, "What do you mean?" 

"Were all going to die! Can't you see what's happening all
around? What do you think I mean?", Phil burst out in a fit
of anger. 

"C'mon Phill, it's not that bad, people are working on
recycling, were cutting down on fossil fuels, using solar
energies, using products that are environmentally friendly
and trying to stop deforestation. Some day we're all going
to wake up and this will all be a bad dream.", Bill stated
with confidence and conviction. 

"Recycling? You really think that's going to do any good?
It's too late! We've done enough damage to the earth to
last an eternity. The pollution on earth is like a
cancerous growth, incurable and spreading. No puny effort
of ours is ever going to turn this around. It's all
downhill from here", Phil sobbed. He then took a long pull
on his mug. Bill was surprised at the weakness that Phil
just demonstrated. He looked at Phil sympathetically,
"Phil, what you say is true, we have polluted our world
extensively. But there is still hope. We can turn this
around. As a parent I should be more concerned than you,
because I have my children's future to worry about. If we
try hard, we'll pull through, I'm sure of this. But we have
to Fight and fight hard. We may not do it during this
generation or even the next, but our children and our
children's children will carry on. We'll manage!" 

Phil looked to Stevens in shock. That was the biggest piece
of crap he had heard in his whole lifetime. Yet what Bill
said got him thinking. Could there really be hope? Phil did
not know. Bill was a father of two children, he believes
that they will have a future, how can he be so optimistic?
Maybe it wasn't as bad as he thought it was, yet it wasn't
as easy as bill said it would it either. But what chance
does the world have by thinking negatively, and doing
nothing but complain and grumble about the past. Instead of
inaction, why not contribute and help. Instead of making
the problem worse than it already is. 

Nothing is to be gained by thinking negatively; a whole
world could be lost. Think of a brighter future, and pitch
in, the world can be saved. After contemplating this, he
changed his outlook, from bleak to hopeful. He met Bill's
gaze with a determined look, "You may be right, but in my
point of view it may very well go the other way. People
might be too greedy to care about the world, even if it
meets destruction." 

"I agree", Bill replied, thoughtfully."But we have to
always have a positive attitude." Phil nodded, happy that
Stevens accepted, 

"Yes", he repeated, "A positive attitude." Phil still had
his doubts. Big corporations that had so much to lose by
employing costly pollution reduction techniques might be
reluctant to cooperate. Ignorant individuals who think, "Oh
the other guy will do it" will make efforts, futile. If you
don't start participating, who will? All you can do is set
an example, and hope that others will follow your lead.
This and more, Bill had taught him.
Both men sat there for a few more minutes sipping their
drinks. Soon Bill stood up and prepared to leave, He said
good-bye to Phil. Phil Anderson held up his hand, "Wait
which way are you headed?"
Steven's reversed the question, "Which way are you going?" 

"Just up the road to Bay Street", Phil replied. 

"What a coincidence, I'm going the same way too", Bill
exclaimed. "Just wait I'll come with you, give me a sec to
finish this off." 

Phil gulped down the remaining contents of Ginies in his
mug. His friends Tom, Ray and Wil urged him to stay a while
longer, for another round of drinks, but Phil politely
declined. They usually go home together. There's safety in
numbers. Especially at hard times like these, where robbers
and thieves roaming the streets is commonplace.
Tonight, Phil wanted to accompany his new friend.
After a quick good-bye to his buddies, Phil rose and joined
Bill, they opened the doors of the Charelton and headed out
to the streets.
Phil felt a certain bond towards Bill, he inspired hope and
confidence. Phil hadn't felt this certain of himself for so
long that he forgot how great it felt. He knew that this
would be a start of a good friendship.
"So tell me more about yourself and your kids, what do you
do to help the environment?", Phil wanted to know. Bill did
not answer, he seemed to be preoccupied with some other
thoughts. "Are you all right?" ,Phil asked. 

"Oh, sorry, I was just thinking about something." 

"What?", the Pharmacist inquired. 

"How to rob you!", came Bill's reply. Phil looked to
Stevens in shocked disbelief, he then noticed the smile
that was playing across Bill's face, and realized it was a
joke. Phil laughed long and hard; he hadn't felt this good
in a while. They walked down a few more blocks and were
approaching the run down part of town. "This place always
gives me the creeps, it really helps that your with me." 

"Yeah... right.", Bill said.
They were walking down a particularly dark alleyway when
Bill suddenly stopped. He looked around to make sure nobody
was around. Phil, puzzled asked, "Something wrong Bill?" 

"Nothing", came the answer, "everything is just fine." Bill
suddenly grabbed the scruff of Phil's shirt and pushed him
against the wall. 

"Bill what are you doing?", Phil cried out, frightened and

"What does it look like I'm doing, you fat bastard!", Bill
snapped sarcastically.
Now, where's your wallet?", the thief demanded. 

"Bill I don't get it? Why are you doing this?", Phil
croaked weakly, even more confused now. 

"Why am I doing this? Are you that stupid? To survive in
this polluted dump!" 

Phil shook his head, struggling in vain to break free of
Bill's grasp. "What about all the things you said about the
world being a better place?", Phil asked desperately. "What
about your family, your kids?" 

"You actually believed all that bull. I just told you
whatever it took to get you out of that bar and get you
here. So I can do this!" Phil saw coldness in Bill; his
expression, distant and unfeeling. The Bill he had met at
the Charleton was no more. Instead, he was replaced by a
cold and calculated thief. 

"You really meant what you said in the bar, I can tell! You
really did! It's true, we'll survive! You can't be like
this. I know there's good in Bill Stevens!" Phil sputtered. 

"That's not true and you know it, yet you believed it! You
were a fool to have me trick you!" 

"Listen Bill, everyone can change. You made me believe. I
was wrong to simply complain and do nothing when I could
help save the world. If we all pitch in, as you said, it
can really work!" Phil pleaded with the thief, trying to
make him see reason. 

Bill hesitates for a moment and his expression softened,
revealing desperation and guilt. But then in seconds, the
mask of coldness returned. Bill fixed Phil with a hard
stare, then reached into Phil's pocket. "This is my life,
what I do, I can't change now. It's too late!", Bill said,
as if it was any consolation to Phil. 

"It's never too late!", Phil cried, "Bill, just hear me

Bill snorted and gave Phil a swift and strong blow to the
abdomen, dropping him to the pavement like a ton of bricks.
Doing that, Bill ran off and disappeared into the night,
leaving a crumpled, pathetic form, lying in the dirty
deserted alleyway.
The pitter patter of rain drops soon bombarded the city.
Sulfurous clouds released pounding sheets of acid rain.
This downpour did not cool the city in any way and steam
from the gutters still erupted with unrelented pressure. As
the stinging pelts continued their assault on nature, the
lake outside the borders of the city was filled with more
bodies of helpless victims, that slowly suffered, because
of man. The moon was still not seen, nor will it be,
anytime in the future, as dark swirling clouds obscured the
In the alley, the rain fell down upon Phil as he sat
penniless and hopeless in a puddle. The acidic rain burned
through Phil's coat, gradually eroding away the fabric.
Footsteps headed towards Phil in urgent haste. "Phil, what
happened? Are you all right?", Tom called out. Phil's
buddies in the Charleton had just finished their drinks and
were heading home. Tom had spotted Phil hunched on the
pavement and quickly came to see what was wrong. Ray and
Wil followed not too far behind but elected to keep silent.
Depressed and angry, Phil simply wanted to be alone right
now, "Get out of here! Go away! Leave me alone", he shouted
in between tears. 

Tom flinched at the harshness of Phil's tone. He glanced
one more time at his friend and walked away. Wil and Ray
not knowing what to do followed Tom's example and granted
Phil's request for privacy.
Cold and numb, Phil put his hands into his pockets in a
pitiful attempt to stay warm. After losing all his money,
he was even more depressed than ever. Reaching deeper into
his pocket, Phil felt a rectangular leather object, then
smiled. Once again, Phil Anderson, felt hope. 

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