The Big Red Button of Doom

Here is a short story I wrote a few months back. Let me know what you think.

The Big Red Button of Doom

The room was pale white, not pasty (like my skin) but dull (like my voice). It held three objects: a man, a chair, and a big red button. For the man, whose name is unimportant, the red button was irresistible. He couldn’t stop looking at it. His eyes, which were named Trevor and Kenneth, bore into the button as if it was the coolest, sexiest thing they had ever seen. But it wasn’t a cool button. Its temperature was slightly below that of the room- about 72 degrees Fahrenheit. And it wasn’t exactly sexy; that is, Kenneth thought the button had the potential to be attractive, but Trevor just saw it as round and red. Typical Trevor.

Anyways, the man sat motionless, staring at the button. That’s what the guys in the lab coats told him to do. And who was he to refuse? They were paying him a decent amount of money to do this experiment, though he couldn’t stand it for much longer. He just couldn’t handle this type of pressure. Who could?

Two hours earlier

The man walked into an office. It seemed normal. A few chairs. Some magazines. A receptionist. He signed a few papers. He didn’t read the papers. He just signed. Other men– two doctors in lab coats– brought him back through to a small office. The office was sterile and empty save three chairs. They sat down and introduced themselves.

“I’m Dr. Brown,” said Dr. Brown.

“I’m Dr. Smith,” said Dr. Smith.

“My name…” started the man.

“Wait,” interrupted Dr. Smith. “We don’t care about your name. Just look at this.”

Then Dr. Brown handed him a manila folder full of paper. The man took the file without hesitation.

“If you look at this graph,” said Dr. Smith, “then you’ll see the population growth (estimated, of course) for the next fifty years.”

“Alright.”

“Now,” said Dr. Brown, shuffling to a different paper, “compare that with the amount of food production, carbon emissions, potential economic downturn, and predicted natural disasters.”

“I see.”

“You’ll notice that these numbers are in conflict,” said Dr. Smith. “They don’t align. In fact, they don’t align so much that in fifty years the earth will be a wasteland. There won’t be any water, except for recycled waste sold by ludicrous companies. There won’t be any fuel for our cars. The whole world will have to pedal to work on bicycles.”

“Bikes chafe my thighs,” said Dr. Brown.

“I hate chafing,” said the man.

“We all do,” said Dr. Smith sympathetically. “Now if you look over here, you’ll see that—because of famine and soil depletion—our food supplies will cease to exist. There won’t be any food for our children.”

“In short,” added Dr. Brown, “it’s the end of the world.”

“That’s right,” nodded Dr. Smith, “essentially the earth will no longer be able to support human life. I mean, just look at those charts! The data doesn’t lie.”

The man looked at the charts diligently. They were paying him by the hour, after all, and he didn’t want to let them down. But he was confused.

“I’m sorry, gentlemen,” he said after a thoughtful pause, “but I don’t really understand what you want me to do. I mean, what’s the experiment?”

The two doctors chuckled.

“It’s less of an experiment,” said Dr. Brown. “It’s more of a… what’s the word…”

“Opportunity,” suggested Dr. Smith.

“Yes, good,” smiled Dr. Brown. “This is an opportunity- a great opportunity. We are going to send you into a room. In that room will be a red button. If you decide to press this button, two-thirds of all humanity will perish. It’s a tragedy, you know, but it’s a tragedy to prevent future tragedy. We could save a third of humanity now, or we could lose all of humanity in fifty to sixty years.”

Presently

The man had sat still for an hour, a long and seemingly endless hour. He thought the doctors were probably mad. He had found out about this experiment through an ad. Surely he wasn’t deciding the fate of the world through an advertisement. And the charts, reflected the man, they looked professional, but maybe they were just created to fool him. Anybody can make charts, after all. It was this line of logic that led the man to conclude that the experiment was a fake– just another social experiment to mess with his mind. He wondered what they were actually studying. “That didn’t matter,” he told himself. The big red button winked at him from across the room. He stared at it for a long while. Then he shook his head, shooing away the delusion, the fiction.

They were convincing, though, whether they were hired actors or professional quacks. Their charts, their office, even their secretary seemed real. For a moment, he had actually believed them. He laughed at himself for his naivety. It was so ridiculous. He stood up to exit the room; yet, he hesitated. His hand had reached the doorknob, but he couldn’t leave. He looked back, and the button gleamed large in the man’s eyes. “I’ll just push the button for fun,” thought the man; “the good doctors will get a kick out of it.” His heart began to beat faster.

He pressed the button.

Nothing happened. A moment passed. He laughed at himself again. Then the room shook. He stopped laughing. The man thought it was a sort of earthquake, but the walls of the room were being lifted up, slowly. The room had been a façade. The four walls rose through the air, leaving the man behind. A flash. Absurdly bright lights burned his eyes. He covered his face, but still couldn’t see anything beyond the edge of the room. Voices rose from all around him. The man, stumbling about the place in shock, was confused. His eyes adjusted to the light. He could see a stadium now. A crowd filled the seats, and their voices whispered.

“So this is the end of the world,” thought the man.

A screeching came over a loudspeaker; it boomed through the auditorium. Out of the speaker came a mean, gangly voice. It said:

THE MAN IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROOM IS YOUR ENEMY. UNLESS YOU END HIM, THE WORLD AS YOU KNOW IT WILL BE DESTROYED, TWO-THIRDS OF HUMANITY WILL DIE, AND MANY OF YOU WILL NOT MAKE IT OUT OF THIS AUDITORIUM ALIVE. YOU HAVE 5 MINUTES TO MAKE YOUR DECISION.

A huge, impressive digital clock hanging from the above the stands began a countdown. The burning neon numbers glowed menacingly. If you had been there, you might have been able to hear the buzz of electricity, for an unpleasant silence followed the announcement. The man stood up, raised his arms in a sort of surrender, and began to plead with the people.

“I’m just like you… I didn’t do anything… You aren’t really going to take this announcement seriously? There’s no need to panic! Wait…. Wait!”

But the crowd heard none of his pleas. They were shouting across the room, informing one another on the benefits of killing the man. Some in the crowd were against the killing. There seemed to be a short argument, a mumbling, and then a rumbling chaos.

The crowd shouted wild shouts; their voices bashed the man’s skull, like sirens screaming through a thunderstorm. And before he knew it, before he could react, before he could run away, the crowd was upon him. It was ugly. I would describe it more thoroughly (and with gusto!), but my wife said I should leave this part out, so that the story isn’t too gruesome. They tore the man into four separate and distinct pieces, ultimately ripping his arms from the sockets. Blood stained the auditorium floor. In the end, he was unrecognizable.

I saw all this from a spacious booth that stood at the top of the auditorium, far from the din and the madness of the crowd. I saw the countdown clock stop with 3 minutes and 8 seconds remaining. It took the crowd 112 second to decide a man’s fate. They didn’t even wait a full 2 minutes; they had hardly discussed the matter at all. What a world!

I had the charts—the same data Dr. Brown and Dr. Smith had given the man—and I had made my decision, though it took me a little longer than 112 seconds.

I pressed the button.

An Orange for Mary Heather

Her favorite fruit was an orange. Ustev knew this. The whole class knew it. Almost the whole world knew it; even the bus driver, the hall monitor, and her pet rabbit, Tom, knew it. They all knew about Mary Heather Munroe’s obsession with orange—not the color, but the fruit. Mary Heather Munroe walked into class on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday with a bag full of orange slices. She ate them at her desk before class began, always finishing before the first period bell rang, always cleaning up afterwards, keeping her area neat and tidy. The teacher, Ms. Galaffagos, was nice to everyone, but was particularly fond of Mary Heather.
“Mary Heather,” Ms. Galaffagos would begin with sweet tones, “thank you for being a good girl and cleaning up your desk.”
This drove the rest of the class crazy, so they teased Mary Heather and called her the “teacher’s pet”. This continued for a time, and Mary Heather ignored the teasing for the most part. All the teasing bothered her, of course, but she never let other people’s actions determine her behavior. When her best friend, Sandra, sat by her at lunch and effectively explained how she couldn’t be seen associating with a teacher’s pets, Mary Heather Munroe broke.
That day, when Mary Heather came home from school, she told her mother about the other children teasing her; she told her how she would never go back to school, but would hide in her room with Tom the rabbit and eat oranges. Mary Heather began to cry. And Mrs. Munroe, who was a gentle woman, gave Mary Heather a big hug, handed her an orange slice, and held her until the tears stopped. The next morning Mary Heather went to school. Tom the rabbit cheered her on.
Ustev was a polite, shy boy. He would arrive to class half an hour early, and pretend to work on his math assignment from the night before. Really, though, he went early to see Mary Heather. This morning was no different. He sat at his desk with what he thought the most daring, intelligent face he could muster. He stared at the mathematics book before him. “This is what Mary Heather will like,” he thought proudly. And when Mary Heather walked in that morning, he looked up and nodded his head at her. She smiled at him.
“It worked! She smiled at me,” thought Ustev. “It really happened. I wonder if she knows my name. I wonder what she likes to do. I wonder if she smells like flowers. Probably. I wonder if I smell like flowers. Probably not. I hope she has seen Star Wars.”
While Ustev thought these wonderful thoughts, Mary Heather began rummaging through her backpack, searching for her oranges. The orange slices weren’t there. Panic.
Other children began to trickle in. Mary Heather put her head in her bag, and all the children began to notice her frantic search for the oranges. Some laughed and teased her, but some just sat in still silence, waiting to see what she would do. She cried– first in short sobs, then outright. When Ustev saw this, he knew what he must do. He ran. First he ran out the door, then down the hall, then into the cafeteria.
“Mom.” Ustev called. “Mom, are you here?”
A large woman in an apron walked out of the giant freezer, which stored the school’s fake meat. The meat didn’t actually need to be frozen or refrigerated. The principal told the lunch-ladies to put the meat in the big freezer, because they needed to “keep up appearances”.
“Ustev, why you doing here?” the woman said with a disapproving frown. “You should be in class, working on subtractions like the other children.”
“Mom, listen. I need an orange. Do you have an orange?”
“Ustev, why do you need orange?” Ustev’s mother said with suspicion. “Are you going to throw it at someone? Is this your idea of a game? What would Papa think? What do you think he would say? I do not think he would like this one bit.”
“No, Mom. I just need an orange to eat, please.” Ustev now smiled at his mother with a heart-warming, sentimental smile.
“Fine. Fine. I will bring you orange.”
The smile worked. Ustev’s Mom handed him the orange and told him to go on his way. The boy ran back down the hall, and into the class, where Mary Heather had laid her head on the desk, presumably to hide the tears. The boy tapped her on the shoulder. She looked up and saw Ustev holding the orange. Mary Heather smiled.