Missing the Message

Missing the Message
By Joshua Paul Cane

Everyone in town heard the call. A clear broadcast of urgency but not of panic. A beam into each consciousness from a radio, a satellite or perhaps a saucer.

That day, bright and cloudless, each townsperson understood they needed to vacate. It was unnecessary to ask their spouse or co-worker — did you hear that?

Something beckoned them all.

With shared expressions of pleasant purpose, they dutifully fulfilled the message to go. Parents scooped up their children from class, neighbors carpooled, manacled convicts boarded county Econo-Vans.

At the hospice center, caretakers and patients knew they would reunite soon.

Yellow buses shared roads with red coupes and black SUVs. No one honked or hurried. An orderly exodus.

The message was assuring.

Everyone in town heard it.

Except for one.

Barton woke that morning unaware. He breakfasted in his pajamas and read the paper, amused by the corporate tripe that went down for news. Without radios or televisions in the house, he missed cheerful correspondents describe the uniform abandonment that was just getting under way.

Barton popped a lozenge of medicine, swallowed orange juice, then discreetly spit the pill into a napkin when he wiped his lips. He can’t trust the V.A. doctors — government quacks — trying to dull him into complacency with their drugs.

And cameras could be anywhere. He must appear as though he did his routine unwise to men-in-black observers. They wanted to hide the truth. They colluded with aliens. No one would believe him because the papers discredit men like Barton.

By lunch he was dressed and paid no mind to neighbors’ cars ticking off their driveways and up toward Route 1 never to return.

The mailman hadn’t come by.

Barton didn’t get the message, the call, the beam. No government transmission could command him, warn him, because no matter the time of day, no matter asleep in bed or ambling through his home, Barton was never without his tin foil cap.

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