Mr. Smith’s Unpleasant Last Day

“Shit!” Aldous Smith always took care walking through his neighborhood’s allotment. The tall grass and wildflower patches made the long trek to his Ford Fiesta a ‘perilous’ journey - in his mind. He always took care when plodding through the grass. But this time Aldous stepped right in it.

‘Probably a fox’, he thought ‘checking on the honeycombs.’

25 years ago, this space was a parking lot. It was only a three minute walk from Aldous’s front door to his car. Then, the world went crazy, and Aldous’s routine was suddenly upended. It all started with a flier dropped in his mail slot.


Aldous thought back to his attendance at that council meeting a quarter century ago. He remembered writing and re-writing his speech, how he carefully crafted each word for word, and how he practiced his delivery until the early hours of the morning. On the meeting day, it all his hard work came together, but the coup de grace was a perfectly ad libbed, ‘impeccably’ delivered ending:
“They paved paradise and put up a parking lot”, and then Aldous Smith paused for maximum effect, “AND they got it RIGHT”.

But the council members did not see it that way – too many damn socialists had moved into Sunnyside, Aldous recollected. They voted unanimously to convert the parking lot into Sunnyside’s neighborhood allotment.

And that is how Aldous Smith found himself trudging one and a half miles to get to his car. Only today, he would have to put up with the faint whiff of fox droppings on the bottom of his sole. “Fucking hippies,” mumbled Aldous as he took in the foul odor. But then a smile crossed his face. ‘At least, no one will ever take away my freedom. Soon it will be just me and the open road,’ Aldous mused.

Sunnyside’s high speed rail station opened in 2055. Its construction was part of a 2045 global initiative to connect the four corners of the continent. ‘Another money pit, no one will back it,’ Aldous recalled. Aldous Smith was, once more, stubbornly unaware of the way the winds were blowing. Sunnyside’s community members were fully engaged in the rapid transit project. Consultants and engineers working with community members delivered on the complete electrification of existing railway infrastructure in record time. In 2047, the first tracks were laid down, and just eight years later, the ribbon cutting at Sunnyside train station took place. With trains whizzing in and out of and around town, the majority of the streets of Sunnyside were pedestrianized. If a Sunnysider lived on the outskirts of town and had a meeting in the town center, they could walk, bike or jump on a tram and be downtown in only ten minutes.

Only an obstinate few felt it was necessary to hold on to their cars. “People are not meant to be transported around like cattle. No, thank you”, Aldous muttered. Aldous took his keys out of his pocket and unlocked his car door. He put his keys in the ignition. He looked in the rearview mirror. ‘Who is this old man looking back at me?’ Aldous pondered. He examined his salt and pepper stubble on his cheek bones and Aldous Smith was immediately flushed with memories of his father.

Aldous Smith’s father, Lincoln Smith, was a quiet, surly man. He was 50 years old when Aldous was born, and had no time for a child running around the house. Aldous did not really remember his mother. She left Aldous and Lincoln when Aldous was 10 years old. Lincoln was the only family that Aldous had left but Lincoln was not much company for a child. Before she disappeared, Aldous asked his mother, ‘why does dad keep to himself?’ Lynette told Aldous that when she met Lincoln, she remembers that she could never shut him up. She was 22 and he was 34 years old. They talked about building a life together – they just needed to save up a little bit of money. Then, one day, Lincoln called Lynette, “I spoke to an army recruiter.” A civil war broke out in an oil rich country half way around the world, and volunteers were promised lucrative careers and benefits to fight. “Your father fought for five years and that is when he lost a bit of himself – the parts that laughed and smiled,” Lynette explained to Aldous. And then, all of a sudden, when Aldous was ten years old, the laughter and the smiles in the house were gone.

Lincoln Smith never spoke more than a word or two to Aldous. Every day, Lincoln and Aldous would jump in the car to drive the half mile trip to school. One day, Aldous, so bored by the silence, worked up the courage to ask his father why don’t they just walk to school. Lincoln Smith looked at his son and responded, ‘Stealing a man’s wife, that’s nothing, but stealing his car, that’s larceny.’
“God Dammit!” Aldous shouted. He kept turning the key in the ignition, but the engine just sputtered. Exasperated, Aldous slammed his hand on the horn. He scanned the dash board and saw the fuel gage was pointing at full. ‘The dial must have gotten stuck again,’ he surmised. ‘Fuck.’ ‘Now I need to go to Chix’s Chicken Shop’.

Gas cars were fully banned in the 30s. Too much tail pipe emissions. It was no particular concern to the auto industry. They had already started producing electric vehicles to meet the demands of consumers worldwide. However, they were unprepared for what came next. The ‘Water Protests’ started in 2037. The lithium required for electric batteries was using 65% of the global south’s clean water supply and contaminating a further 10%. Local governments took a ‘let them drink Coke’ approach, and that is when the ‘Water Protests’ turned into the ‘Water Riots.’ Lithium extraction and mining equipment was destroyed and burned down all across the global south. World leaders convened and after three days of vigorous debates, sounded the death knell of the auto industry. All countries were required to pass laws banning any 2-9 person electric vehicles in order to reduce the amount of lithium batteries in use. The sale of cars plummeted and auto making factories closed around the world. However, there was still an angry minority that clamored to get back behind the wheel. Where there was a demand, the supply soon followed. Boutique car makers popped up and retrofitted cars to ‘grease engines’ that would run on waste vegetable oil (WVOs) and hydrotreated vegetable oils. Most town councils found grease engines to be a fair concession for car lovers (‘grease heads’ as they were referred to around town), and every now and then, a grease head would drive a car through Main Street on their way out of town.

Aldous Smith burned up while carrying the empty fuel canister to Chix Chicken Shop. It was only a 2 mile walk, but August in Sunnyside meant that the pool of sweat on Aldous’s back had already reached his waistline. Jimmy was outside smoking his pipe when he saw Aldous 100 feet from the shop.

“Back for some more french fries, Al,” Jimmy hollered.

“Shut up” whispered Aldous.

Chix Chicken Shop was a popular destination for grease heads. A symbiotic business service. Instead of having to dump WVO, the shop would take the used vegetable oil and filter it out back. Anyone with a grease engine would swing by and purchase the filtered vegetable oil. Normally, grease heads would show up in the back of Chix Chicken Shop in their vehicle ready to fill up on the spot, but Aldous was walking through the front door. He was parched. ‘First water. Then fuel.’

“How was your swim?” Jimmy deadpanned.

“Good one. Could you fill this up with 5 gallons?” Aldous grumbled, handing the fuel canister to Jimmy.

“5 gallons? That is not going to get you far”

“I’m just going for a drive around town,” Aldous answered. “I’m a bit in a rush.”

Jimmy knew that was Aldous speak for ‘get on with it’ and he left and came back a minute later with a canister filled with WVO.
On the walk back to his car, Aldous’s neck ached. He had not planned to be walking about so much, and his skin was already sunburnt and itching. Still, nothing would get Aldous down. 5 gallons of fuel would get Aldous to his cabin 17 miles outside of town. From there, he would grab his bow and arrow. It was his weekend to hunt and ‘no long haired beatniks in city hall could stop me, even though they tried’ he reminisced.

The town council had banned recreational hunting in Sunnyside’s surrounding forest and wooded areas in 2026. Aldous received his first citation for recreational hunting one year later. A park ranger had heard the sound of the rifle and followed the tracks of blood to Aldous standing over the carcass of a stag. Aldous was forced to give up his rifle, an affront to his rights Aldous argued to the deaf ears of a jury of his peers.

Three years later he received his second citation. He was speeding home when he was pulled over by a park ranger. When the ranger approached the vehicle, the ranger saw a pheasant with an arrow through its throat. A repeat offender. A harsher punishment. For ten years, any time Aldous Smith stepped foot into Sunnyside’s forest, he was only allowed to do so with a park ranger chaperoning him. ‘Supervised visits! To a public forest!’ Aldous remembered the embarrassment.

Aldous bided his time and looked for a solution to his ‘ban on my God given right to hunt problem.’ ‘If I had a cabin in the woods, I would not have been caught with the pheasant by that Park Ranger, taking it home’ he reasoned. In 2039, Aldous was allowed unsupervised visits to the forest again. By 2041, Aldous had built a secret cabin in the woods. A cabin where, after a successful hunt, he could bring his game, his trophies. And so he did. For almost thirty years, Aldous Smith poached in Sunnyside’s forest with no one the wiser.

Aldous parked his car a half mile way from his cabin and started his stroll. He thought back to the first time he gutted an animal on the cabin floor. He had stalked the rabbit for hours, much longer than he intended, and finally he had trapped it. He was hungry, but he dared not cook the rabbit on an open fire. ‘If a Park Ranger saw the smoke, I would never be allowed in the forest again’ he believed. The cabin needed a kitchen. He did not really consider himself a DIY kind of guy, but he was able to build a kitchen with a gas stove using a gas boiler that Aldous found in Sunnyside’s junkyard. Aldous Smith refurbished the gas boiler watching DIY videos on his computer. This was one of his proudest moments, and as an added bonus, a moment of defiance to those tofu eaters in city hall.

In 2030, Sunnyside’s council had placed a total ban on gas boilers. All houses would need to be retrofitted with heat pumps. A crazed few Sunnyside residents handcuffed themselves to their gas stove tops, but their actions were more performative than heartfelt. For the most part, the switch to induction stove tops was seamless. Now, almost two generations of Sunnyside children would look at a person funny if they had mentioned floppy disks, cassette tapes or a gas stove top.

Aldous Smith’s hunt was successful. He carried the boar carcass back to the cabin. Hands covered in blood, Aldous Smith started skinning the boar. It was not easy killing a wild boar with a bow and arrow, but with three clean shots, the boar went down. Aldous sliced a healthy looking piece of meat from the boar’s hind, and he began dressing it with herbs before placing it in the pan and on the stovetop.

On August 13, 2070, it took firefighters four hours to put out the cabin fire. When fire investigators issued their report, they found that a faulty boiler and leaking gas pipes were the primary causes of the explosion. The next day a headline ran in the Sunnyside Journal: Aldous Smith, self-proclaimed ‘non-sheeple’, died in a cabin fire in the woods at 70 years old.