Thirty Minutes or More

By Bill Fountain

Posted January 15, 2021, 5:27 pm


In a post-apocalyptic world, a community of six hundred survivors banded together to redevelop civilization but one day their town was invaded by a small militia of technologically advanced warriors. Everyone in the town woke up with a bomb locked around their torso like a vest, apparently due to the warriors attacking them during their sleep. Each vest had a digital clock on the lapel that displayed a time counting down with a large red button next to the clock. When the panic ensued, everybody noticed the militia was gathered at their town hall calmly, not showing any signs of aggression. All of their clocks were in unison counting down from what appeared to be 72 hours.

One of the warriors raised his voice to an amplifying device and said, “Local citizens- please gather around. We are not here to harm you.” Slowly but surely the bomb-strapped civilians walked slowly toward the town hall, as their apparent need for answers came to be stronger than their fear of what the warriors may do to them at close range.

“Your new vests are set to go off when the timer reaches zero. You may press the red button to add 72 more hours to your clock. If everyone works together, the vests can be removed. Good luck, local citizens,” and the militia hovered into the sky and glided off into the horizon.

Everybody watched them fly off with their faces showing a mixture of confusion, skepticism and intense fear. Then came the discussing, the cries, and the meltdowns. Nobody dared touch the red button, as everyone came to an agreement that the warrior was lying and certainly the button will just cause a premature explosion.

The engineers, scientists, and mechanics of the community began studying the vests, trying to understand its mechanism so they could reverse-engineer it. It didn't appear to be locked with traditional metal; it was as if it was glued together with some mysterious substance because there was definitely no glue. Welders began trying to cut through the vests but were only met with an early demise, as the welding equipment immediately caused the vest to detonate. It wasn't made of metal and they couldn't figure out what its composite was. It appeared to be some extraterrestrial technology, and they were going to need more than earthly tools to manipulate them. One man headed west in his lonesome to search for help but was never seen by the town again.

Locksmiths proved to be no help either, as there was no lock that a traditional key would enter. It was as if the vests were now a new part of their body. Internet gurus and hackers did their tricks to attempt to track down the militia, or to at least find out any information on them but to no avail. Children were congregating together, using their imaginations to find any sort of solution, though they were forbidden strictly by their parents to touch the red button. They had the idea that if everyone got together and held hands, the militia would return and save them. This was adorable to the parents, but they were busy trying to save the community. After 48 hours, nineteen people had died attempting to break into their own vest. It soon becomes common knowledge that the vests could not be broken into, but it seemed people would continue to desperately try.

It did not appear the militia were returning any time soon, and church-goers began praying for guidance and protection. They prayed the militia would come back and at the very least talk to them. They needed to understand more about these vests, and why they were victims of these twisted game. It was getting to be the last few hours before the clocks would hit zero, and naturally, people prepared to press the red button to find out truly what it does. Scientists, engineers, and mechanics were still hard at work, with the welders deciding their practice was too dangerous. The good news the scientists did have for the community was that all signs seemed to point to the fact that the red button most absolutely will increase the time limit of the bombs.

When the bombs were down to their last hour, one of the civilians simply could not take the anxiety of waiting any longer, and after getting drunk pressed his red button. People screamed at his recklessness but were delighted to see that the time on his lapel did, in fact, increase 72 hours. The drunk man closed his eyes in orgasmic awe, letting out a Zen-like breath of fresh air. He continued to deep breathe for a few minutes, and people stared at him, wondering what was going to happen next. Finally, the drunk man opened his eyes and screamed, "Holy shit! I feel like I just did heroin, you guys HAVE to press your buttons!"

All the community began pressing away at their red button, and like the drunk man, experienced a blast of euphoric pleasure. The drunk man decided to press his button again, and to his excitement, he was given another dose of feel-goods, and his clock was raised another 72 hours! Everybody celebrated in great harmony, pressing their buttons and feeling the buzz of whatever this drug-inducing vest was.

Months past and there were no additional casualties, but depression and misery had skyrocketed. For most, the button no longer provided any euphoria, but instead just increased the amount of time on the clocks. They would wake up feeling like shit, and then press their button, only to result in them feeling “okay”. They would continue to press their buttons rapidly, but they would feel no physical effect, and only see their times increase to the point where it was using years as a measurement.

It started to become a fad that people would attempt to weld their vest off, knowing well that it will most likely end in their deaths. 112 more people died from this, no longer being able to tolerate their withdrawal symptoms. After six months since the militia visited the town, development of their civilization abruptly stopped with the entire town spending days on end getting drunk. Everybody had over 2 years on their lapel clocks, and not one of them was able to still get a buzz from a button. All in all, the entire town was miserable.

300 miles west of the town, a man with a vest was resting peacefully under a tree. His lapel clock read 15 seconds as he let out his oblivious snores. He only had about 30 minutes or more of walking until he would reach another developing civilization, but he had become so exhausted that he had passed out when he found some shade. The clock kept declining as it displayed a 5, 4, 3, 2….

The vest vanished from the man’s torso and he slept on.

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