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 Anderson."
"One Ginies coming up", Frank bellowed while pouring Phil's drink.
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 pessimistically.
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 confused.
"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 out!"
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 sky.
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.