“#486: The Backlight Conspiracy” by James Vachowski

Embedded within the brick labyrinth that was the back streets of Pittsburgh, an immaculate factory with a fresh white exterior stood alone among its neighbors, starkly contrasting their grim appearances. The building constantly emitted a low rumble, which never failed to make a passerby’s skin tingle when they paused in wonder. None of the onlookers, who would invariably shudder as they stopped to stare, could possibly fathom the wondrous acts of sorcery, which were occurring before them. Deep within the bowels of the Timox Corporation Factory Headquarters, a recluse mastermind was hard at work.

In a long-forgotten basement three stories below the ground’s surface, at the end of a barren hallway, stood an inconspicuous wooden door. Despite its mundane appearance, this door concealed the true heart and soul of Timox Watches Incorporated. Behind it, an old man sat at a desk in the corner, his back turned to the door. His eyes were closed, but for no apparent reason, he began to smile. He chuckled, and then he laughed. A delighted, merry, rumbling laugh. He opened his eyes, which showed no pupil, no iris, no retina or cornea, just a pale blue glow that seemed to reflect and refract across the entire room, as if the walls had somehow been painted with it. The old man’s laughter slowly became indistinguishable from the constant rumbling of the factory’s machinery.

***In Trenton, New Jersey, Highway Patrol Corporal Alan Codeine had just returned home after a long day’s work. He had been awake for almost twenty hours now, the last five of which were spent clearing up an ungodly seventeen-car wreck on the Jersey Turnpike. It was one o’clock in the morning. He was tired and needed to use the bathroom.

Entering the bathroom, he flipped the light switch. A sudden pop sounded. “Great,” he thought, “the bulb blew out.” Not wanting to risk waking his family, Alan made a valiant effort to do his business in the dark. On a cold toilet seat in the still room, Alan wondered what the time was. His right hand fumbled with the buttons of the Timox Backlight watch on his left wrist. The display suddenly illuminated with a pale blue glow. “Wow, one o’clock already,” Alan mused to himself. The glow continued, even after his finger had left the button, and the entire room was bathed in a cool light blue hue of artificial illumination.

“Wow, that’s neat,” Alan said. “But how can a standard Timox battery put out that much power?” At that point, Alan stopped altogether. Stopped thinking; stopped questioning. He pulled up his pants as the glow continued, and walked into the master bedroom where his wife, Sarah, was sleeping. He shook her until she woke. “Where’s your Timox watch?” he asked. “I want to show you something.”

Bewildered, Sarah wiped the sleep from her eyes. She wondered if Alan’s stressful job had finally caused him mental problems. She looked him in the eyes, but noticed his normally hazel eyes seemed to glow a pale shade of blue. She stopped wondering, put on her own Timox Backlight watch- always kept on the bedside table- then rolled out of bed, grabbed her dressing gown, and said, “Let’s go show the neighbors.”

***Sam Jenkins dragged himself of bed at six o’clock the next morning, as he always did. It was a workday, as was every day in the world of discount retail, and his thoughts were of nothing but joy at the chance to fulfill the shopping needs of his customers. The opened drapes revealed a dark, stormy morning, but this did nothing to dampen his spirits. Once dressed and showered, Sam headed downstairs to cook breakfast. Toast and two eggs – sunny-side up.

Sam finally took notice of the completely overcast skies as he headed towards his car, ready for the thirty-minute commute. The sky was as dark as night. Ahead, rain threatened to fall in bucket loads. “I hope this won’t make me late,” he thought, pausing to check the time on his Timox Backlight watch. The pale blue glow lit up his Datsun, and the gloomy morning seemed to lighten by a full shade. Sam started the car in a hurried manner, knowing that he would have just enough time to get to work by the eight o’clock scheduled opening. It was the annual one-day spring clearance sale, after all. It just wouldn’t do to be tardy.

Sam drove contentedly along through the thick fog and pouring rain. He thought about how nice it might be to slash prices on the store’s entire stock of Timox Backlight watches.

***In New York City, the United Nations building was bustling as always. Delegates from the 190 member countries had gathered for the purpose of open dialogue on foreign policies, seeking peaceful resolutions to international disputes. Usually, the UN conference floor would quickly erupt into a hotbed of political debate, but not that day. Ambassadors from every member nation lovingly admired the new Backlight wristwatches they had just received from Timox Watches Incorporated – a gesture of goodwill and international commerce.

As they played with the Backlight lighting systems, the main conference floor, and equally the 190 delegates within, became awash in a pale blue glow. Each of them thought about the forthcoming recommendations they would propose to revoke import tariffs with the United States, especially on products from the Timox Corporation.

***Everyone was happy, everyone in the world. People everywhere had their own Timox Backlight wristwatches, and should they need cheering up, they would simply press the light button and soak in that familiar pale blue glow. People would pass each other on the street and actually stop to talk. They would say, “Hey, that’s a nice watch. Is it a Timox Backlight?” War had ceased, disputes now resolved by judging who had the nicer watch.

Eventually on one fine day, at precisely twelve-thirty Eastern Standard Time, the sun adopted a pale blue glow. Those lucky enough to be on the half of the world that could see it said in a unified voice, despite their many languages, “Wow – that’s neat.” By twelve hours later, as the earth had circled the sun, all of mankind had said, “Wow, that’s neat” in their native tongues. No one had ever been happier. The world was a pale blue Utopia.
However, all good things must come to an end.

It began with little Sue Smith. Sue had been a large fan of the Backlight phenomenon, as had all of the people of the earth. She had used her Backlight so many times that one day she pressed the button, and nothing happened. She pressed it again and again for hours, sometimes holding the button in for a long time, sometimes clicking the button in and out very quickly, but every time the result was the same. Horrified, little Sue ran screaming to her father. Her watch’s battery…was dead.

Batteries died quickly after that. Most people simply threw away their watches once the Backlight was used up, cursing the Timox Corporation for manufacturing watches with such cheap batteries and vowing to never again buy their products. Certain people of power and influence tried to hoard Backlight watches as their commodity value skyrocketed, but even those too eventually went dead.

Finally, the sun resumed its former color, and people everywhere knew it was over, except for those on the other side of the earth, who knew twelve hours later. Daily routines resumed, as the world’s population returned to being rude to one another and ignoring each other. Watches once again became very diverse in design and manufacture, but hard to see in the dark.

And life went on in the same drab and mundane way that it had before, except for in a long-forgotten basement of the Timox Corporation Factory Headquarters. Three stories below the ground’s surface, at the end of a barren hallway behind an inconspicuous wooden door, an old man sat at his desk, crying.

Profile: James Vachowski

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