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D A Cairns

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Feathers in the Dust
by John Herlihy

Traditional essays on a variety of everyday topics such as love, trust, silence, death, nature...  
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By D A Cairns
Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Rated "PG" by the Author.

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Dave the Gadget Lover gets much more than he bargained for with his latest purchase.



D.A. Cairns



     ‘What’s with the suits in the display window?’ said Dave, disturbed by the sight of dressed up dummies in the window of his favourite gadget shop, Dynasty 21. 

    ‘The latest thing...’ began the wide-eyed and clean cut young man.  Here we go again, Dave thought to himself.  How much is this one going to cost me?

    ‘It’s called,’ continued the eager sales assistant, ‘a smart suit.  It monitors your blood pressure and heart rate.  Helps regulate your body temperature.  Has a built-in internet mobile phone and personal organiser with appointment reminder service.’

    He had Dave hook, line and sinker even before his next statement because whenever and wherever the sales pitch was heard, Dave the Gadget Lover took it personally.  If they said it was all the rage and a real must have, then Dave had to have it. He was a sucker for new gadgets, new toys with which to amuse himself.  With a high paying, low stress job in the public service and only himself to feed, Dave had more than enough disposable income to accumulate the latest and greatest scientific novelties and technological marvels.  He had a wonderful time with his collection of innovative time-wasters. 

     ‘It can even get you lined up for Saturday night, if you know what I mean,’ continued the salesman as he winked at the Gadget Lover.

    ‘You had better give me a closer look at one of those,’ said Dave, like the gullible customer he was.

    After the assistant showed him one of the smart suits and explained again all its features and a few others, like its ability to locate lost keys, Dave tried it on and noticed it was heavier than a normal suit, but comfortable nonetheless.

    ‘It’s weighty.  What’s it made of?’ asked Dave.

    The assistant smiled widely.  ‘The latest purpose built synthetic fibre.  It generates electricity when exposed to light.’

    ‘No batteries?’

    ‘No man, it powers itself.  You can even plug your laptop into your pants.’

   Dave produced his credit card in a flash and bought himself eleven hundred dollars worth of smart suit.  In his excitement he forgot to ask how the hell you were supposed to wash it with all the circuitry sewn into it.

    On the inside of the left arm of the jacket, between the elbow and the wrist was a soft LCD display panel which he held up close to his face to cut the glare of the sun.  Dave pushed a button and heard a female voice announce the time, air temperature and his current body temperature in a deep smooth newsreader’s voice.  Very impressive.  By the time he arrived home, the suit no longer felt heavy and the Gadget Lover was so pleased with his new purchase he decided to go out, something which he never did on Monday night.  The wide-eyed fellow in the shop mentioned the suit could line a man up with a suitable woman for Saturday night but what about Monday night?

    It took some time to understand how the smart suit’s Hunter program worked but eventually Dave felt confident enough to go out and test it.  Firstly he had to find a girl who caught his eye and then touch her for at least five seconds, skin to skin.  The Hunter would analyse the DNA sample he collected from the contact and determine her compatibility rating.  Apparently a score of at least three was needed for the pursuit to be worthwhile as it indicated friendship.  Four indicated physical attraction on top of friendship, while five was marriage and children and happy ever after.

    Bristling with the kind of confidence only the self assured and self indulgent could possess, Dave the Gadget Lover headed into the city.  The local hotels would be filled with men and although he enjoyed the company of men, he was desperate to find out if his smart suit could really deliver on its promise to set him on the road to romantic paradise.  All the ladies would be in the trendy inner city clubs, sipping their expensive fancy-named cocktails and talking about themselves, their appearance, their weight, and their love life.  It was not unreasonable for Dave to expect to score at one of these clubs even without his smart suit.  How much more chance did he stand with it?  A betting man would have happily plonked his house on the Gadget Lover getting a woman’s love within ten minutes.

     At five-thirty he rode the escalators from platform twenty four up to the Chalmers Street exit of Central Railway Station.  By the time Dave reached Elizabeth street, he was beginning to feel some pain in his left arm and that pain soon became sharp and insistent to the point where he was forced to stop walking. Grabbing the offending arm as if that would stop the pain he then tried to push up the sleeve of the suit to look at his arm. 

     ‘Ahh!’ he cried out loud, seizing the attention of those around him. It felt like all the hairs on his arm were being plucked out at the same time. The suit didn’t move at all as though it was glued to his arm.  In panic, Dave tried to remove the coat but he could not get his left arm out although his right arm was free and the coat was off his back, turned inside out.  He began to pull at it frantically and curse it, all the while unaware that he was attracting an ever growing audience. 

    A brave soul called out some encouragement.  ‘That’s it mate, keep fighting.  You’ll get it off in the end.’

    The crowd laughed as Dave blushed and hurriedly reinserted himself into the smart suit before sheepishly walking away from the onlookers.  The pain in his arm had stopped but the pain of embarrassment burned in his face as he continued northbound along Elizabeth Street.  Finally he arrived at the door of Lizzie’s Place, an upmarket cocktail bar normally full of smartly dressed women in the 25 to 40-year-old age bracket.

     Inside, the bar was dimly lit and half full of preening and perfumed prettys.  Dave was thirsty and more than a little unnerved by the mysterious pain in his arm, but the sights and smells of Lizzie’s brought a rush of anticipation to him quelling his concerns.

     After ordering a Kamikaze he checked to see whether the coat slid up and down his arm easily as it should have done.  It did, but soon afterwards he felt a tingling sensation run across his back, like a light brush by a finger.  Although not an unpleasant feeling it was nonetheless unsettling as it persisted until Dave could no longer stand it and he reached around his back to scratch it. At that moment, shooting pains attacked his right arm and it began to twitch.  Instinctively he held his right arm tightly to the bar with his left hand and decided he should leave before he lost control of himself totally.  Dave wanted to try to get the coat off but was afraid of a repeat performance of what had happened earlier.  He wondered to himself if maybe he should contact technical support for the coat, but before he could do anything, the girl of his dreams elegantly perched her tightly clad rear end on the bar stool next to Dave, and offered to buy him another drink.

   At that crucial moment, the suit stopped misbehaving and Dave had a choice to make and a mission to consider.  How could he refuse the drink? She was too hot to walk away from.  Termination now would be unacceptable, so he extended his hand to her and introduced myself, remembering to maintain at least five seconds continuous contact in order to get a reading for the Hunter.

     She flinched and pulled her hand away. ‘Ouch!’

     ‘Sorry, what’s wrong?’

     ‘Must have been static electricity. It shocked me.’

     Dave smiled. ‘Are you okay?’

     ‘Fine,’ she said, returning his smile and Dave felt the heat intensify as she flashed straight, unnaturally white teeth at him.  The lights dimmed for a fraction of a second.

     ‘How about that drink?’

    ‘I was just leaving actually,’ he said coolly.

    ‘Seems like I arrived just in time then, doesn’t it?’ she replied in a delicious voice. ‘Let’s try that introduction again.’ The contact was soft and protracted and before withdrawing her delicate hand, she gave Dave’s a little squeeze.  It was too easy but he still needed to know about the compatibility factor so he discreetly wiped his hand on the sensor pad located just below his left armpit, and activated The Hunter with a subtle push of a button.

    ‘All right, I’m drinking Kamikazes.  Thank you.’

    ‘I thought a man could only drink one Kamikaze before he was under the table.’

    ‘Most men,’ said Dave, meaning to impress her.

    A mobile phone rang and it took some time for Dave the Gadget Lover to realise it was his because he had never heard it ring before.  He pressed the answer key on the control pad and extended the speaker rod from the suit’s collar, up level with his ear. It was technical support.  Were these smart suits mind readers as well?

     ‘This a courtesy call to see if you and your new smartsuit are getting on, okay?’

     ‘That’s an interesting way of putting it,’ Dave said.

     Not wanting to have this conversation in front of his new friend, Dave excused himself and moved out of earshot.  When he explained the pain he had felt and the tingling sensation, the support guy told him not to worry because those feelings were a normal part of the smart suit working out his body rhythms.

    ‘You understand there are electrical reactions occurring in your body almost continuously as your thirteen million nerve cells and four million receptors relay information to your brain and back to all parts of your body.  The smart suit is merely working out your individual patterns so it can relate to you better.’

    Sounded like nonsense to Dave but he asked, ‘How long will these pains continue?’

    ‘Normally they occur sporadically over a twelve to twenty four hour period.’

    ‘I should have been told that when I bought the suit.’

    ‘Yes you should have.  Please don’t worry.  Your body will not suffer any permanent damage.  We guarantee it.’

    ‘You guarantee it?’ asked Dave dubiously.


    ‘Thank you for the call.  Good-bye.’

    Apologising to the lady, he sat down and sipped his drink when suddenly he became aware of a beeper sounding and realised again it was the smartsuit.  The Hunter had his results, and the good news was she scored four which meant a green light for this relationship.  Dave was stoked.

    ‘Let’s go,” he said, and she simply obeyed.

    When Dave the Gadget Lover, who just got lucky, stood up, he felt his right arm stiffen and then his left arm, and in a matter of seconds Dave could not move either one.  The woman noticed and asked what was going on, so he told her all about the suit and the phone call. She accepted that with a look of bemusement like she thought he was nuts but she didn’t really care and when the painless paralysis ended soon after his explanation, they left Lizzie’s Place in search of a cab ride home. Before they had taken two steps, another beeper started going off and Dave’s phone rang again. He turned off the beeper and answered the phone which was a wrong number and then had to clutch his left arm as it began twitching again.

    ‘Taxi,’ yelled an increasingly aggravated Dave as he saw one headed towards them.

    She was given him weird looks, but he kept reassuring her that he was fine. The one hour drive back to Dave’s home in Gymea Bay took far too long as it was clear to Dave that the woman wanted to have sex and nothing would deter her.  It also appeared, from her lack of conversation that sex was all she wanted and although there was no way he would complain about that, there remained in the back of his mind, the unanswered question as to whether he would be able to even get his jacket off.  Maybe I won’t need to, he thought.  But what about my pants?  They belonged to the suit as well although he had not yet had any problems with his legs. He spoke too soon.

    The step up to the front door of Dave’s waterfront home was too much for him when his left leg started to twitch, and before he could get it under control, it turned to jelly and Dave the Gadget Lover fell in a heap on the balcony.  His lady friend laughed believing him to be drunk, and Dave laughed hard as well in a vain attempt to save face.  He was looking like a fool but on the positive side she was still there.  His smart suit had helped Dave close this deal very quickly but it was also the most likely thing to cause its failure.

    After fumbling with the keys and muttering apologies, he finally unlocked the door, flung it open and ran into his bedroom ahead of her. He had to try to remove the wretched suit but his attempts to do so resulted in a fresh outbreak of beepers and buzzers, until he stopped trying to remove it.  She called to him from the hall where he had rudely left her, so he hurried back and immediately kissed her passionately on the lips.  Then the suit started tickling him and he began to laugh and squirm.  Initially she laughed with him but when Dave failed to stop after they broke physical contact, her laugh downgraded to a smile and then died to a scowl.

   Dave the Gadget Lover stood there helplessly as the suit made his arms swing up and down in an exaggerated marching fashion.  She stood there, stunned and motionless, her mouth wide open and her chest heaving.  This is absolute madness, Dave thought to himself as he experienced a total loss of independent movement as though he had been transformed into a marionette and the puppeteer was high on something illegal. Finally she had seen enough and without even a smile or a wave she left him there with his smart suit which was making him feel like a bloody idiot, and had just started to squeeze him.  It was like being hugged except the suit could embrace much more of his body at once than any two arms.

    ‘Stop it!’ ordered Dave.  ‘Stop it right now and let go of me.’

    More bells and beeping sounds followed his command, this time increasing in pitch and frequency, which Dave took to mean the suit was not going to obey his wishes.  Again he tried frantically to remove it, the jacket first then the pants, but it was hopeless and he found himself unable to suppress the rage which was boiling inside his veins.  Dave the Gadget Lover cursed his so called smartsuit for its stupidity, in a voice no softer than a scream and he used words he never used and he exhausted every last ounce of energy desperately trying to remove the suit, or at least stop it from squeezing him because it was killing him.

    The sudden realisation that he was being killed by his clothing would have been funny if it weren’t so terrifyingly real.  He began to have trouble drawing breath as the pressure on his chest increased and he started to sweat, but when he managed clumsily to wipe some sweat off his forehead he discovered it was blood.  Death was upon him and there would be no escape.  This wonderful technology had either malfunctioned or maliciously designed to destroy his life by extracting the very breath from his lungs.

    I’m going to die, thought Dave, as he felt himself losing consciousness, and he said a prayer without believing it or knowing why.  The final pathetic cry for help of a doomed man with nothing to lose by asking for the help of a God whose existence he had denied his whole life.

    He woke up some time later on the floor of his bedroom, to find the suit in tatters, his skin burned, like a bad sunburn, and his hair singed.

     The next day Dave the Gadget Lover returned to Dynasty 21 with the ragged remains of his smartsuit in a plastic bag and explained what happened.

     ‘Just unlucky, mate,’ said the salesman. ‘You got a dud first off.’

     Dave agreed and exchanged his old smartsuit for a new one.

       Web Site: The Cairns Experience

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Reviewed by Karen Lynn Vidra, The Texas Tornado 6/17/2009
Chilling but effectively penned! :)

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