Andy didn’t bother to read over the text he had typed into the comment box. It was good. It was gold. And if there were a few small typographical missteps or grammatical errors? Who cared. It was the content — the truth — that was important, and that would come across.

He hit the post button. Take that Gretzky4Eva87!

Sure, some people would call him a troll. But they were wrong. Trolls were idiots, looking to stir shit up. He had a mission, a purpose.

Andy leaned back in his chair and reached for the energy drink sitting on the desk. He took a long swig, gulping down the sweet yet bitter beverage. He knew it was just in his head but he felt more alert right away. Maybe it wasn’t his mind, there might be more caffeine in this brand. He had switched to OxPower Cola recently when the company that made his previous drink of choice had come out for gun control. How could he support them after that? And he’d recently read, too, that the company exec was a damn pedo. Big surprise that the guy’s political connections kept him from prosecution.

Everywhere Andy looked it was the same. The global elites were keeping down the hardworking men. So, he had to be vigilant, had to keep burning the midnight oil. If it kept him from having to talk to Becky, well, that was a bonus. She slept at night, worked during the day. He did the opposite. It was a good setup. Their relationship functioned best when they didn’t interact much. Sure, she paid the bills, but he was doing his share for humanity. It balanced out.

A glance at the bottom corner of his laptop screen informed him it was 4:34 AM. He should hit the hay soon.

A couple more minutes first.

There was so much education that needed doing. The world was finally going in the right direction, yet all these liberal snowflakes were trying to pull it back. He had to do his part to prevent that.

Andy switched from Twitter to The Democracy Action Group’s front page. He scrolled through the latest articles. This was the real news, not the fake stuff you saw on all the other sites. All the stuff the lizard people in charge of the corporations — but they’d gotten them out of government at least — didn’t want you to see. Most of it was the usual, what Andy called the been dere done dats.

The top one: global warming. A hoax by the Chinese, duh; anyone whose eyes were open at all could see that.

He had gone out earlier in the night to stock up on Ox and get some vacuum packed hamburgers, made with 100% real beef, of course. It was better going to the supermarket at night. He didn’t have to look at all those bearded, bowtied assholes buying diapers and fake meat. And all those tattoos covering their arms? Geez. They were breeding another generation of weakness, of effeminacy and decay. It took all he had, at those times, to hold in his anger. But it wouldn’t help to confront them; they were a symptom, not the disease. And, besides, he worked best behind the keyboard.

His thoughts were getting away from him… global warming. Yeah, what a joke.

When he went out it was cold, damn cold. His car, a domestically made workhorse, had barely turned over. Then he’d had to wait like twenty minutes for the damn thing to warm up and get rid of the layer of ice on the windshield. He could’ve gotten out, scrapped that shit off, but he was doing his part to fend off the next ice age. That was what people didn’t understand: humans and industrial activity were the only things holding back the ice. Climate change — that was the term the left was trying to switch to now — existed, sure. The climate always changed. It was called cycles, duh.

Andy stopped scrolling through the news feed and switched to the forums. That was where the real action was, the feet on the ground, the ears to the wall. The guys on here had the real scoop, the stuff that didn’t even make it on the front page. If there was a conspiracy — and God knew there were a lot of them — then these guys would know about it. Thank God there were real patriots trying to hold on to the lost glories of the past.

He flicked through a bunch of been deres, yawning. Automatically he reached for the OxPower and took another swig. Now Ox, there were some patriots. Before buying into another liberal charade he had done his due diligence. Ox had come out on top of the shortlist, and for good reason. They funded gun lobbyists, the beef industry and some conservative think tanks, even the site he was currently on. And they weren’t shy about it either. They had balls.

Andy took another mouthful and laid the can back down. He followed this with a burp that lasted seconds and rounded it out with an ass scratching. It was his cave, this little former spare room, he’d do what he wanted. Becky knew to stay out, for the most part. He was the man of the house and what he said was law. That was the way it always had been and, as far as he was concerned, always would be. And one of these days he’d tell her that too.

Andy reached for his drink again but, in a moment of exceptional attention, stopped short. He studied the back of his hand. There was a spot there, dark and large, spreading from his knuckles to where his wrist joined his arm. The discolouration didn’t bother him as much as the thick black hair growing out of it. He rubbed the fingers of his other hand across it and yelped. It looked like hair but it felt like wire. It was short, only a few millimetres, but it was tough, almost like sandpaper. What the hell was happening to him?

He shrugged and took a swig. Whatever; he’d see the doc if he had to. Andy didn’t trust the guy, he was from some weird unpronounceable country on the other side of the planet. But he could probably take care of the rash, or whatever it was. As long as they didn’t try to stick him with a needle. Everyone knew they were injecting people with asbestos suspended in acetone. No way they’d do that to him. Once they did he’d be visible to the satellites the billionaires had started sending up. He didn’t want to be tracked everywhere he went. It was all about tracking now, control. If they knew where you were then they could silence you.

He kept scrolling on the website; it was more of the same, more been deres. It was time for bed; there’d be more stuff that evening when he logged on. Andy was about to close the window when he noticed a particular thread near the bottom.

It asked: Sick of the decay? Want to do more, today? He sure did. What was it all about? He was tired and sure it wasn’t worth his time but it had piqued his curiosity so he clicked the link.

The post was long, but it was just a list, not even full sentences. The first line was a date, May 25, 2 am — tomorrow — followed by dozens of locations in dozens of cities and towns all around the country. He scanned the list, looking for his own city. And, boom, there it was, a few from the top. It was not far from where he lived, at a bar downtown. He had never been there but had heard of it in the news. The cops had busted it for hosting illegal rallies. Yeah, sure, illegal likely meant it was actually enlightened people like himself.

Tomorrow. Would he go? He should go. Hadn’t he been saying he should do more? Maybe it was time.

Andy rubbed his eyes and had another of those moments of rare mindfulness. The edges of his fingers, next to the nails, were dry and rough. He inspected them a little closer, horrified to see the skin there had a greenish hue. And they weren’t just dry, no, they were swollen, like warts were forming all around the nail. That worried him but the green colour worried him more. He wasn’t in pain and nothing felt tender but green was never a good colour.

Shit, it was time for bed. With one final tip of his head he downed the rest of the Ox with one hand while shutting his laptop with the other.

Tomorrow he’d feel better. It was probably the light from the computer making things look weird. Everything would be better tomorrow. He’d wake up refreshed — though he never did any other day — and the weird spots on his skin would be gone. And he’d go to that bar. He’d finally meet other people like himself. He wouldn’t have to step lightly like he usually did around people. Yeah, tomorrow.

The spots, hair, greenish hue and protrusions were all still there when Andy rolled out of bed the next afternoon. Worse, the wiry hair on the back of his hand was creeping down his fingers now too, and up past his wrist onto his forearm. Of course, the discolouration spread with it, or the other way around. It looked kind of like a birthmark, but it was different too. Likewise, the green had deepened and spread from around the nails of his fingers. It was now creeping up their length, almost reaching the knuckles at his palm. It didn’t hurt but it looked beyond weird. At least the wart-like protrusions hadn’t spread, though they were harder, crustier.

Andy pushed it all away. He’d go see the doctor soon but today was all about the meeting. Excitement washed over him — it’d been a long time since he’d left the house for anything other than supplies. He was also scared at the prospect of talking to strangers. Sure, most of the people he talked to online were people he didn’t know but that was different. That was the Internet, this was IRL.

He plopped in front of the computer with an Ox and one of his burgers. He looked over his shoulder and licked his fingers before entering his password.

Within a couple of minutes Andy engaged in a back and forth exchange on Twitter with a flat-earther. Those bastards were giving conservatives a bad name. Sure, conspiracies existed but not everything was a conspiracy. Just because humans hadn’t landed on the moon didn’t mean the earth and the moon were flat. And the engineering and coordination required to fake the moon landing were almost as amazing as going there, as far as Andy was concerned. He gave credit where credit was due.

That argument gave way to another and the minutes slipped into hours.

At some point Becky had come home and leaned in to say hi. Andy had mumbled something back, he couldn’t remember what, and gone back to what he was doing. She had also come in to say goodnight, giving him a quick hug and kiss. That was a little odd, though he hardly noticed. He thought he remembered her asking him, too, if he had a cold, but he felt fine. He had mumbled something to her. Now he was alone in the dim room watching the clock, another Ox and burger in his hands. It was just past 1 AM, almost time to go.

Was he going to go through with it? Yes, yes he would. There was no reason not to and he was sick of sitting on the sidelines. He wanted his life to mean something and this was his chance. History didn’t remember people like him, not the way he was; but it might remember someone he could become. He downed the last of the Ox and stood up.

He ignored the thick black hair on his forearm as he put on his coat. It was longer and more dispersed than it had been earlier. Likewise, he paid no attention to his nose when he checked himself in the mirror next to the front door. Sure, it looked wider and larger. But that was impossible, it was his imagination and the lighting. Why else did it appear slightly green too? Nah, just the lighting. Besides, he had somewhere to be.

Andy slipped out the door and made his way to his car.

Downtown he found a spot in a parking garage. He worried that his car would get tagged with a tracking device but he’d check later. Everyone knew that the Omphamart Corporation used parking garages to install tracking devices on cars. They studied people’s driving habits, seeing which stores they went to and when. Sure, smartphone tracking was taking over, but the old methods didn’t stop working. You had to get up pretty early to pull the wool over Andy’s eyes.

He took one last look back at his car, letting his eyes fall along the grey concrete walls with their yellow stripe. With one final shrug he entered the stairwell and made his way down to the street.

Shortly, he stood outside the bar, debating if he was going to go inside. He flicked his phone screen on for a second; it was 1:45 AM. He had come this far. Taking a deep breath, Andy pushed open the door and walked inside. He ignored his mother’s voice in the back of his head. It kept repeating, Nothing good happens after midnight.

The bar was almost empty, with only a handful of patrons. Some were nursing drinks while others sat, staring at their own hands. Occasionally one or two would glance at the large TVs showing sports highlights. Andy walked to the bar.

“Hey,” he said to the bartender, a young guy, no more than twenty-one.

“Hey yourself,” the guy said. “You’re here for the meeting.” It wasn’t a question.

“Uh,” Andy said. It caught him off guard. It should have been a question; he wasn’t sure if he was staying or not. Yet he said, “Yeah, yeah, I am.”

“Great,” the guy smiled, “so’s everyone else.” He gave a flick of his chin toward the other patrons. “You want a drink? On the house.”

“Really? Yeah, sure, thanks. Whatever you have on tap that’s good.”

“Coming right up.”

While the bartender poured his beer, Andy turned and leaned on the bar. He looked at the TVs but also glanced around, taking in the five other people there. They were, he noted, of a type. All of them were young, twenties or thirties, and all were white. They were, though Andy didn’t have the wherewithal to notice, like him.

“Here you go. It’ll just be a few minutes,” the bartender said, laying Andy’s beer on the counter.

“Thanks,” Andy said. He picked up the drink, noticing the greenish hue and rough texture of his fingers. He quickly moved to one of the unoccupied tables, trying not to think about his nose and that it might look worse now.

He sat alone, looking down into his drink, but also looked around every now and then. He met other eyes doing the same. Some of them gave little nods before looking down into their own drinks or at their clasped hands.

There were still ten minutes to go.

His hand started toward his nose but he stopped himself. Sighing, Andy got up and went to the left of the bar, toward the sign that said Bathrooms. He had to know. Passing by an emergency exit he found the men’s room and went inside.

Standing before the sink he looked down into the porcelain. He avoided looking in the mirror. He psyched himself up, he had to look. Like a Bandaid, he told himself, and lifted his head. Immediately he wished he hadn’t.

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Humanity’s next great adventure begins with a bully and a child’s shoe.

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