Mr. Auk

June 2022 Flash Challenge, Day 14

Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash

The people of the earth collectively pause whatever they’re doing and shift their attention to the solemn ceremony. Today it is Mr. Auk, a retired fisherman in Thailand. Who knows where it will be (or IF it will be) next month. The sleeping wake in time to watch. A ritual repeated every full moon. Every 29.5 days, an earthling’s name is drawn and requested to report to their nearest altar panel.

When they arrived on earth, they told us they had been watching us for centuries.

They told us we had to be better and must choose to live for each other. That we must love our neighbor as Jesus (as well as other prophets) had suggested.

Every man was our neighbor now. Not just those on our street.

Greed, cruelty, hatred, and oppression would no longer be tolerated.

The aliens’ appearance and manner made this threat hard to take seriously. Indeed, they seemed gentle. That was when the purge happened.

The most politically polarized city in each country was de-populated in an instant. It was a technology unlike anyone on earth had even imagined.

The cities themselves were left intact. The buildings were still upright. Everything looked as it had before, but the residents were gone. Entire populations of people were gone in an instant.

This act captured everyone’s attention.

Were the people in each of the cities dead? Or had they been transported elsewhere? Maybe aboard the massive ship orbiting our planet.

The pro-aliens faction of humans felt their benevolent overlords surely didn’t kill hundreds of millions of people to make a point.

Their technology meant they probably could house them all upon their ship. Or instantly transport all of the displaced humans to wherever it was the aliens called home. They were our saviors, not our enemies.

No one knew what happened with the purged, but things on earth changed.

First out of fear. When threatened with mass extinction or relocation, what choice do you have?

Then, as a parting gift, the aliens redistributed all the world’s wealth. People that had a lot were left broke. Those that had been broke were now millionaires and billionaires.

Then they told us to “Be Kind” to each other.

They said the satellites they left in orbit would monitor things on earth, and they’d know.

The aliens erected the altar panels and implemented the monthly drawing.

We toed the line as commanded, fearfully glancing towards the invisible satellites overhead, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

After the wealth redistribution, we saw how cruel life on this planet had become. You could preach Ayn Rand’s libertarian ideas until you were blue in the face and argue that financially irresponsible people didn’t deserve compassion. But the truth was everyone deserves empathy. Being alive meant they deserved compassion, and it had been so rare on a planet with many resources. Everyone deserves a place to sleep, food, medical care, and love. Every. One.

After a shorter period than anyone would’ve guessed, the wealth redistribution meant nothing. When everyone stopped living for themselves, money became meaningless. If a man in Kuala Lumpur needed a surgical procedure or he would die, he got the surgical procedure. If a little girl in Arizona needed heart surgery, she got the surgery. When you saw a homeless person on your street, you housed that homeless person. The money and resources always found a way to those that needed it.

The entire earth gasped and gaped in collective amazement. Many had assumed that, after the aliens left, life would return to normal. That their bank balances would somehow be magically restored and it would be business as usual.

But humanity had become like Dickens’s beloved Scrooge. We had changed. Not out of fear, but of how good it felt to know (to KNOW that you would always be welcome, that there would always be enough, that there were no strangers anymore. When the formerly wealthy reported for work in sweatshops they once owned, change happened. And it was fueled, all of it, at every level, by a sense of love, a collective and individual commitment to loving one’s neighbor.

People had disagreements, but no one had any enemies anymore. There were only misunderstandings and a commitment to enter into discussion with anyone you found yourself at cross purposes. You discussed until you reached a compromise. That’s what loving your neighbor meant.

Today, Mr. Auk takes the train to the altar panel in Bangkok.

If anyone ever had a reason to push the red button, many think it is Mr. Auk.

While greed and cruelty were abandoned, love and fate could still conspire to break one into a million pieces.

He and his wife had seven children. They all died in a natural disaster, a mudslide, while they were on a camping trip.

Then, Preeda left him for another man.

The man had lost everything, and it all had happened this month.

Mr. Auk arrives at the altar panel.

The proctor reviews the instructions and goes over what the ritual contains.

The bent fisherman steps to the white marble altar and places his palm on the glass scanner. The system verifies his identity, and the brushed steel panel opens, presenting the current officiant with two buttons.

Push the blue button, and life goes on.

Push the red button, and life on the planet is annihilated.

Think of the power and ultimate responsibility laid upon a heartbroken fisherman.

Across the globe, everyone watches a TV, alone and in public places.

You can see the weight of his losses as he slowly approaches the panel. In a month, this will be another’s duty, if…,

People in bars, arenas, parks, and train stations are watching, waiting, and feeling nothing but love for him and his duty.

The camera zooms in, and everyone sees it. The slightest smile lands on Auk’s suntanned, leathery face. Everywhere beer glasses click together, hugs are shared, declarations of love are renewed, new affirmations of love are made, and shouts of joy flood all the spaces of earth, both private and public.

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