Blanket Rules

Dystopian Short Fiction by Sean Crawley


There’s a woman who screams at least twice every morning on the very fast bus that takes us workers into the city.

She does it once when we all get slammed to our right as the bus veers left to exit the F23 and join the M78. And she screams again when we are treated to zero gravity for about one second when the velocity of the bus nicely matches the radius of a convex on the PM Abbott Superhighway. This happens just near Castle Hill on the last stretch into the guts of Sydney. The President has passed legislation, written by the Australian Productivity Team, that permits, in fact commands, that the very fast bus never stops for anything; not for deaths, inside or outside the bus, not for terrorist attacks, not for cyclones – yes, cyclones in Sydney, not for global financial crises, and certainly not for some screaming neurotic woman. Regular commuters like Anja Taylor don’t even hear her any more.

Sometimes, and more often lately, there is a third scream. It is reserved for when a passenger dies on the way to work on the very fast bus. This scream is different. We all know what has happened by the appearance of a royal blue blanket that is then draped over the body until we arrive at the underground terminus at Wynyard.

Ruben Meerman and his granddaughter are not regulars. They’re going to the art gallery before it closes next month. They sit opposite Anja. She stops her work and listens to the grandfather, not much older than herself, as he offers up Newton’s First Law in response to the young girl’s question: “Why did that woman scream?”

Anja is impressed. She knows a bit about science.

“Now if this were a very fast train instead, the g forces would have been not so great and that poor lady would not have screamed.”

Anja takes a sharp breath in and dips her head to return to the virtual office on her lap. Talk of trains is tantamount to treason.

Oblivious, Ruben continues, “Forty years ago we failed to tackle population and we chose road over rail. No wonder we’re now working to ninety…or more.”

Anja pictures alarm bells ringing in a secret building in Canberra somewhere and the words guilt by association rolling underneath on an imaginary ticker tape.

She politely kicks this silly man and with her head draws his gaze towards the CCTV cameras above. He may be bit of an absent minded science nerd but he is not totally naive to the modern paranoia.

“Oh, meta-data. I get it,” he says.

Her horror only escalates. She opens her eyes wide to tell him without words, you are a fool – shut up.

Ruben, demonstrating further that he is up to speed, leans forward and says, “My name is Elvis Presley and this is my granddaughter Shirley Temple.” He winks at Anja and quickly whispers into Shirley’s ear that he is playing a game with the nice lady.

Anja, feeling the contents of her large bowel turn to water, looks up at the nearest camera and announces clearly, “My name is Anja Taylor and I have never met this man before.”

A woman screams but the bus is running smooth. A sea of heads look up from their encrypted media devices. An old grey man in grey baggy uniform hobbles down the aisle, unfolding a royal blue blanket.

Shirley asks, “What has happened Pappa?”

“Blue is the new black darling…and someone just retired.”