There’s Skolnick of course, we heard the story at the Clubhouse on Taco,
Trivia, & Tequila Tuesday (T4). Everyone on at the +55 gossiped there,
it was where we heard who’d died.
He’d been out on his balcony at like 3 taking Percs for his back with a
case of Monte Carlo. I know because of the surveillance camera we
watched at the beginning of that week’s HOA meeting. His service dog
monitoring fish swimming around a green light in the canal, her
harness’s leash strapped to his wicker chair’s foot.
Skolnick tipped his chair, his spirit floating, gazing at the stars in
existential epiphany. He proclaimed aloud, “I know the name of all
things” and then tumbled forever. There was the chittering sound of the
AC blasters. When everything turned for Skolnick, the color wasn’t black
it was more like all the colors were one color. The lab hustled over as
she’d been taught, tucking her greying muzzle into his chest wall,
probing to listen to heartbeats. Is it a heart if it’s not beating?
After a brief silence, the treasurer, an oil man from Texas, clapped his
hands and said We’re Burning Daylight Pardners. We reviewed estimates
for replacing the fountain in the Heron Grove South Pool. I recorded the
minutes in my Nottingham Greens Binder and weaved my golf cart by old
Skolnick’s place, the lights off, the dog’s red harness alone, FENWAY,
and like a symbol of something hanging off the balcony edge, the moon
shining down only on that useless thing.
We jogged on our Treadmill Desks, powering the Prayer Fulfillment
Center, we did this for centuries. Our desks cluttered with mementos:
obituaries, pictures of loved ones, our personal satellite feeds aimed
at oceans or canyons over which we’d been sprinkled.
Our job description: deleting prayers to decrease bandwidth on the
servers. Me and Lonnie. He was an obese man with a mustache and
Docksider’s held together with duct tape. He had the smallest hands and
the highest voice. We shared a pod, just the two of us, for three
millennia before he was banished. I was sort of a dick before Lonnie.
While walking on his treadmill, he’d utter gnomic statements like “Love
should be a natural resource” or “It’s weird people say hell yeah but
never heaven yeah” or “Saying grace has been replaced by Tweeting
One day he said, “It’s baloney, man, it can’t hurt to answer prayers,
the more the better.”
“Bad idea,” I gasped while sprinting, which was a best practice for
deleting prayers faster and thus increased your Optimization Score. I
had the highest Optimization Score and Lonnie the lowest, because he
answered too many prayers.
“This little girl she prayed for a pimple to clear up before her prom.”
He shrugged. “How could it hurt?”
I sprinted harder. “Don’t stick your neck out,” I cautioned. Answering
more prayers than the 3% annual quota was punishable by termination.
For centuries I sprinted and shouted Delete, Delete All! while Lonnie
trod beside me, his breath raspy, his voice reedy, intoning And
therefore I accept, therefore I grant to thee thy orisons.
Then one day he was gone. An emergency meeting was convened in the
conference room, management re-emphasized the new policy against
answering prayers, lowering the quota to 2%. We signed forms agreeing to conform.
I asked about Lonnie but nobody knew.
When I returned to my pod, there was a stranger sprinting, screaming
Delete All! Delete All! A new message blinked in my dashboard with the
rectitude.js file Lonnie had written to answer prayers attached. The
message read “What can they do, kill me?” It made me smile then, and it
makes me smile now. It’s the kind of place where you don’t often see
I turned to the stranger. Sweat ran in rivulets down her body. She was a
“Don’t do that,” I said.
James McAdams' debut short story collection, Ambushing the Void, will be published in April 2020 by Frayed Edge Press. He teaches literature at the University of South Florida, Ringling College of Art+Design, and Keep St. Pete Lit. He is Flash Fiction editor of Barren Magazine.