BETWEEN THE LANTERNS

 

  They met between the lanterns on West Main Street. The ones at the very end of the downtown strip of shops, all the way down past the bars and restaurants. All the way down past the clinic, the Baptist church, and the new office buildings. Those two lanterns hung in the air, levitating like all the other ones in New Dothan. There was nothing special about them. They gave off the same light as the others fueled by the Tesla generator outside of town, providing pure, clean, wireless energy. No poles were holding them in place. The magnetic levitation plates on the bottom kept them at the perfect ten feet above the automated sidewalks. They were normal, everyday lanterns. And that is where they met for the very first time.

  Samantha was returning home from a long day waiting tables at Cheryl’s Diner. A throwback to the old days, reminiscent of the food you would find at Waffle House…when those still existed. The food was probably the best in town. Home-style cooking made with love, heart, and soul. Most of the people in New Dothan wouldn’t eat there, though. Cheryl’s Diner still used real meat, real vegetables, and real, home-made bread. All of the ingredients obtained from a small farm in Headland Town, where the last remaining farmers in the area still held onto the old ways.

  Nowadays most everyone had a Nutricator in their homes. A technological marvel, as they advertised Nutricator, could create whatever you wanted to eat using processed protein and fiber to provide a nutritious meal for the whole family. Ask for pizza, you get it. Hamburgers? Sure. Duck à l’orange even. The problem was, it was all fake.

  Samantha hated food from a Nutricator. She loved taking the time to break ingredients down and then use them to create something that took time and patience. She felt that Nutricator food was bland. It only “kinda sorta reminded you of what you really wanted,” she was fond of saying. But it was quick, easy, and most importantly, it was popular.

  August was on his way to the hardware store. He had just rented a new apartment out past the end of West Main Street and was trying to fix the place up. It was a dump, sure, but it was his dump. It was all he could afford from his meager wages working on the line of the industrial factory outside of town. The one where they made all the major components for everything computerized in the area. They built the chips, motherboards, controllers, and activators for just about every modern device available. They were part of a worldwide conglomerate that owned almost everything and everyone. Montek paid their employees extremely low wages, even though they were a financial giant, which is why August could barely afford his tiny, run-down apartment.

  As they walked down the street, both avoided the automated sidewalks because, well… legs were made for walking… not standing idle. So they strode towards one another from opposite ends of West Main. The moment they crossed between the lanterns, all of the lights in town went out.

  Samantha and August each gasped loudly at the exact moment utter darkness fell upon New Dothan. Instinctively, they both reached out for something... anything to hold onto. Their hands connected in the dark and their fingers intertwined like the wool woven into an intricately patterned sweater.

  “Don’t worry, I’ve got you. I’m here,” August blurted out for some reason.

  “And who might you be, sweets?” Samantha said, adding, “And may I ask why you are holding my hand?”

  She grinned saying this, feeling no threat coming from the man in the dark. Samantha had seen him coming towards her, and he was a rather attractive fellow. Probably in his mid-twenties, with very dark skin like that of a West African, close-cut hair, and an average physique; neither fat, trim, nor athletic - just somewhere deliciously in the middle. His eyes were bright, and his face was gorgeous.

  August had no idea that it was a woman in the dark until she had spoken to him. He felt rather embarrassed now at having said what he did, not to mention he was still holding her hand… But then again, she was still holding his hand right back. He now wished that he had been paying attention, so he would know what she looked like.

  But August, as usual, had been lost in his thoughts. Often he thought of song lyrics, or sometimes stories, but mostly he just imagined himself anywhere but living in New Dothan. It’s not that he hated the town. In fact, he thought it was full of decent enough people, even if they flocked to buy any new gadget on the market while throwing out tried and true traditions like yesterday’s potato chips. The history of New Dothan was also rich with great characters and steeped in wonderful stories of kindness; even if most of the residents had forgotten them all.

  No, it wasn’t the specific town of New Dothan that bothered him. It was just that he had always lived there. August had never, not even once, left the Wiregrass area. So it was pretty much all he wanted out of life these days – to save enough Credit and find a way to travel the world.

  Just as August was wishing that he knew what this mystery woman looked like, the lights in New Dothan came back on as suddenly as they were extinguished a minute before. And August almost fell down from the shock of seeing her.

  It felt like getting hit by a truck. It felt like for his entire life up until that point there had been a giant hole in August’s chest, but with just one look at the shining light of this woman’s face that abyss became full, even if only temporarily.

  This feeling wasn’t mere sexual attraction, either. He felt no animalistic urges to lie down with this gorgeous lady and continue the overpopulation of planet Earth. It was something much deeper than that, and more painful, too. It was agony and nirvana at the same time. She looked at August, and he felt that nothing, no matter what else he ever accomplished in his pathetic life, would ever be as wonderful as when she looked at him.

  “Are you ok, sweets?” Samantha asked.

  August could only stare for a moment, before stuttering in reply, “Uh, what? Sorry… what’d you say?”

  Samantha smiled. It felt good to be noticed by an attractive man. “I said, are you ok?” she repeated herself. “You’re staring, you know?”

  August realized he was making a fool of himself in front of the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. She wasn’t beautiful by the standards of modern insane media. She was nothing like all the women he saw in movies and on TV, who were too thin and plastic. And, just like food from a Nutricator, they were all fake. These women may have been composed of organic parts, but a machine had artificially assembled those parts; they weren’t natural.

  This woman, though, with her straight, shoulder -length black hair, almond -shaped eyes, that perfect skin tone that only East Asians could obtain, and the small spread of freckles across her face; she was radiant like a sun.

  Not Earth’s sun, though. It was too dim to describe her. No, she was radiant like the sun of a distant planet that could melt the Earth from across the galaxy. Of course, the way that navy blue dress with white dots all over it fit the delicate curves of her small breasts and backside were also quite compelling to the young man.

  “Hello?” Samantha said, “You’re still staring. Kinda freaking me out there, sweets. Are you ok, for real? Did the blackout fry your brains or something?”

  “Am I ok?” August dumbly asked, “I ain’t sure, to be honest. But I think now that I’ve seen you, I could be. I’m…” he cut off abruptly.

  August almost gave her his name. Almost. But he had been rejected and broken his whole life. Not just by women, but also by co-workers, his parents, and his friends; even his dog had run away. So, he decided not to open himself up for more heartbreak.

  “I… I’m fine, ma’am,” he stuttered. “I’m sorry for spacin’ out like that. I’ll take off now. That is if you’re ok?”

  Samantha smiled even wider. She thought this boy was too damn cute. “Yes, sweets. I’m alright,” she said kindly. “Thanks for your concern.”

  “Ok, great. Great. Well, I’ll, uh, stop wastin’ your time, then,” August told her.

  “See you around.” August realized he sounded foolish, but he couldn’t help it. She was that entrancing.

  “I hope so, sweets. Maybe we’ll meet between the lanterns again,” Samantha said, and she meant it. He was put together real well and seemed like a very nice man.

  August, too, sincerely hoped they would meet again.

 

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