Gateways: “Anything You Want” by John Harden read by Rob Southgate



TRANSCRIPT: John Harden is a screenwriter and director whose work has screened & garnered awards at top-tier festivals around the world. John’s work is informed by his love of speculative fiction and his background in visual arts, design, journalism and marketing. He is a San Francisco Bay Area native living in Santa Rosa, CA.- johnfilms.com, Twitter handle @giantspecks 

Charlie wondered why it was taking so long to fab the ingredients for his tequila sunrise. The kids would be coming around 10:00 am, and he liked to have a little buzz on. It relaxed him, and made him more fun. And if he was having fun, he rationalized, the kids were having fun, and they were probably learning more, too. His students never seemed to catch on, and there was no one else to answer to since Jane had left. 

Finally the fabricator went “ping” and Charlie opened the door to find a 750-ml bottle of tequila, a jug of orange juice, a glass filled with ice, and a hand grenade. That explained it. “Grenade” was right next to “grenadine” in the list. One errant mouse-click had put him in mortal danger. While Charlie had been waiting for his cocktail, the fabricator had been dutifully cranking away, assembling enough high explosive to blow his head off. Manufacturing those tightly-coiled molecular bonds is what had taken so much time. And energy, which explained why the lights had been flickering. 

For a moment he considered tossing the grenade over the fence into Pinkerman’s backyard. Leaving the pin in, of course: he wasn’t a psychopath. But for all Charlie knew, the thing might have a hair trigger. It might even be rigged to explode when touched. Oh-so gingerly, he closed the fabber door again and pressed the recycle button. 

He could hear power tools. Pinkerman was back at it. Charlie put on shoes. 

Jim Jr. was on the sidewalk, bracing a sheet of corrugated metal while his dad screwed it to their picket fence with his drill. Like the panels next to it, this sheet was eight feet tall, and they’d notched the top edge into a row of triangular points. 

“Hey Jim. Looking pretty Mad Max over here.” 

Pinkerman grunted. “Can’t be too careful.” He crouched, and placed another screw. Charlie could see the gun sticking out from the back of his workbelt. 

“You know, if you’re really worried about security, fabricate some solar panels for your roof. Then you’ll still be able to eat the next time there’s a blackout.” 

No answer. “Hey, I was wondering––“ 

The noise of the drill interrupted him. Charlie waited for him to finish. 

“Is Jim Jr. coming to class today?” 

Jim Jr. had only just turned 12, but he had fuzz sprouting on his upper lip and to Charlie’s eyes was growing visibly beefier by the day. Now, not-so-mini-Jimmy squinted at his dad, looking for guidance. 

The elder Pinkerman fished for another screw. “I don’t know. I don’t go to work anymore. I can’t hardly expect him to go to school.” 

“It’s not the same thing. You don’t want him to be stupid, do you? Send him over.” 

Charlie wondered if he’d offended Pinkerman, or if silence indicated agreement. Anyway, Karen Fisher was over at Charlie’s front gate with her daughter Sophie. Other kids were arriving, too, some on foot, some dropped off from cars. Those parents had found gasoline somewhere, or expended the copious time and electricity needed to fabricate it. 

Mrs. Fisher was her usual jittery self. She’d always been socially awkward, but the past year’s events had really tightened her strings. She thanked Charlie, yet again, for continuing to teach Sophie and all the other kids when he wasn’t even getting paid. He replied with something self- deprecating in a vain attempt to put her at ease. She kept fussing with her purse, saying that she wished she could give Charlie something. 

“Nobody needs anything, Karen. We all have fabricators.” 

“Sure, sure.” 

Charlie could see her purse was stuffed with loose cash. It looked like she’d robbed a convenience store. As soon as fabricators had become commercially available, just about the first thing everyone did with them was to make mountains of twenty-dollar bills. Charlie, no better than anyone else, had done it too. Karen was still at it, bless her heart. Cash transactions had been outlawed for almost a year now. 

Fourteen kids in total showed up. It made the living room pretty crowded. Jim Jr. came, which pleased Charlie more than he’d expected. The rest of the kids mostly were from Charlie’s 6th grade class, the one he’d been teaching in the fall up until the school building was condemned. Deferred maintenance and heavy rains had led to a partial roof collapse. Replacing it was well beyond the abilities of the volunteers, mostly parents, who made up the ad hoc school administration. Supposedly they were still looking around for someone who would do the work. 

Charlie spent an hour on history and another on pre-algebra. While the kids ate lunch in the backyard, he managed to successfully fabricate not one but two tequila sunrises and down them both. After lunch break English class got pretty loosey-goosey, with Charlie riffing on the kids’ creative writing assignments, and a long discursive discussion that Charlie had to cut short when little Sophie asked Charlie why his wife had moved out. Charlie changed the subject and then ran out the clock having the kids read their stories aloud. 

Jim Jr.’s thing was about a grumpy, insulting wizard who would never let his son use the magic wand. If it was a cry for help, it was a pretty well-written one, and surprisingly funny. Somewhere under that subcutaneous fat lay a soul. Charlie praised the story, probably a bit too much, to encourage Jim Jr. and to assuage his own guilt for having underestimated him. 

The kids left around 2:00. Tired and hungry, Charlie plopped down at the PC and found a tasty- looking burrito. It wasn’t TruFab-certified but then again, it was free. It did carry something called the PatternSafe Guarantee, which he Googled and found some conflicting information about. He went ahead and fabbed it anyway. It came out looking just like the picture, it didn’t set off the poison or bio buzzers, and it smelled delicious. He unrolled the tortilla and carefully inspected the contents for foreign objects. By that point he was starving, so he ate it, throwing caution to the wind. 

Caution was getting thrown into that wind pretty much on a daily basis, he mused. But that almost sounded brave. Charlie didn’t feel brave. Just anxious. And lonely. 

Having survived another meal, Charlie spent the rest of the afternoon doing housework and drinking beer. He recycled each empty can in the fabricator as he went. He might be a drunk, but his house was gonna be spotless. No tell-tale pile of empties here. He played music. 

Loudly. “I am an impeccable drunk,” he announced to no one, adopting a high-born British accent. “Impeccable!” Like a train, way up the tunnel, Charlie knew a day was coming for him when he’d admit that Jane was never coming home. Who would he polish the countertops for then? 

The house was dark when Charlie awoke on the couch. He fabbed two aspirin and a glass of water and dragged his ass to his bed. He’d barely settled in when he heard the noise on his front porch. 

Thump. Again. Someone was definitely out there. Still a little buzzed, Charlie got up and moved to the window with all the stealth he could muster. It was dark out there, but he could make out the hunched form of a man on his front steps. Just sitting there. 

Charlie found his phone and dialed 9-1-1. Three rising tones and a lady’s voice told him the number was out of service. 

He skulked to the living room, and in a hissed whisper said “Make me a gun.” The PC’s monitor flicked on. Charlie was dismayed at the smorgasbord of deadly force it was serving up. He scrolled a bit, looking for a smaller, less scary-looking pistol. 

Then he stopped. This was not the kind of guy he was. Pinkerman might call him a pussy all day long, but Charlie wanted to think the best of people. On some level, he felt he’d rather live true to that belief even if it got him killed. You know, rather than live in fear of his fellow man. Charlie got up, went to his door, and asked, “Who’s there?” 

“Sorry, Mr. Pearson.” 

Charlie put on the porch light and opened the door. 

“Jimmy? Jesus. What time is it?” 

Jim Jr. shrugged. “I don’t know, 8:30? Were you sleeping?” 

“Of course not.” 

Jim Jr. had had an argument with his dad. Dad was mad a lot, lately. No one was hiring contractors. 

“These days, if we’re working at all, we’re only doing it because we want to,” Charlie said. “I’m still teaching because I think it’s important. Hey, here’s an idea: ask your dad if he can help us rebuild the school. We can’t pay him. But, he can be the foreman and boss people around. He’ll like that, right?” 

Jim Jr. smiled, and nodded agreement. 

Charlie coughed, and cleared his throat: “I’m dying of thirst. You want something?” 

“What do you got?” 

“‘What do I got?’ I got a fabricator. You can have anything you want.”

 

Rob Southgate is a professional actor in commercials and films, a professional podcaster, and a professional public speaker. He is currently preparing the debut of his first book and busily booking a national tour of the SMG Podcast Marathon. Rob loves sharing ideas with others and creating opportunities for his creative associates. Along with his wife, Martha, Rob started Southgate Media Group as a creative outlet and a way to incorporate all of their interests and their past experiences. SMG is home to over 100 podcasts, blogs, and video channels. If you think Rob has a lot going on, ask him about his amazing daughter, Molly.