by Gord McLeod
“Would YOU like to live a carefree life of—” CLICK.
Terry grunted in disgust and turned off the advertisement with a much sharper tap than was necessary. “Damned ads are everywhere,” he groused.
“All this fancy living we do these days has to be paid for someho-” his mom’s voice chided him from the other end of the vidcall before yet another ad broke in and cut her off. With a muffled curse, he poked at the screen and dismissed that one as well.
“I understand that, but this is just ridiculous!” he exclaimed.
“Terry dear, are you coming down with something? Your voice is very rough,” she said. He realized that his throat was feeling a bit scratchy. It’s a wonder they haven’t already shown me an ad for lozenges, he thought.
“I must’ve caught something at the office. I have to go, mom. I’ll talk to you again soon. Love you.” He fumed silently as the call terminated and yet another ad floated up where his mom had just been. As if in answer to his thoughts, it was proclaiming the benefits of some sort of name-brand cold syrup.
She was right, he knew. The world of the early 21st century was a world of wonders beyond imagining, convenience and luxury such as nobody in history had ever experienced, at least if you lived in the right parts of the world. In exchange, you just had to deal with marketing. Endless streams of marketing.
It was a bit like the lives of celebrities throughout history, applied to everyone all at once.
It was such a small price to pay. And it was, nonetheless, inexpressibly maddening.
He grabbed the milk to add to his coffee; the dairy’s jingle began to play as the carton sensed the temperature of his hand. “Damnit, I already bought you! I’m already your customer!” He gritted his teeth as he poured the milk. The audio ads were the worst.
He got through breakfast with no less than five more ads before he’d even gotten around to checking the news. He quickly lost count after that; his feeds were more ads than actual articles.
He quickly did the dishes, and just as he was finishing them up, he felt a sudden itchy, scratchy tingle in the back of his throat. He broke out in a coughing fit.
Once it passed, he checked the cupboards, but found only a tiny dribble of cough syrup remaining. He grabbed his tablet. It came to life with the same ad for cough syrup he’d seen earlier. He sighed.
“May as well get some value from them, I guess.” His throat wasn’t too bad now, but he knew what to expect. He hated wasting a weekend on shopping, but give it another day or two and he might not be able to leave bed.
He bundled up against the late-fall cold more than he might have otherwise and headed for the nearest bus stop. It felt like just about every available surface in the city had some sort of ad posted on it; he did his best to ignore them.
The bus ride was strangely silent. He was dimly aware of the sound of the engine and the tires, and the murmur of the other passengers’ conversations, but he couldn’t focus on them. The ads were too loud. How had he never noticed that they were so loud before? Have they gotten louder? No, it’s me. Must just be me.
Maybe it was the bug he’d caught, playing with his perceptions. His head was beginning to swim a bit, and he felt like he was losing his ability to tune the ads out. He almost wished it was an older fossil fuel-burner model; the electrics had no acrid smell to distract him from the buzzing in his brain.
By the time the bus pulled up he was so entranced by the ads that he almost missed his stop. Shaking his head to clear it, he shuffled up the aisle and out to the street in front of a small but well-appointed strip mall.
The trip across the parking lot took a shocking amount of his energy. He found his attention drawn inexorably to screens showing ads in each shop’s window; it was almost enough to drive his purpose from his mind. Cough Syrup, he reminded himself firmly, and punctuated the thought with a string of coughs.
A brightly lit pharmacy awaited him at the center of the mall, the ads along its windows grabbing at his attention. Why can’t I look away? he thought as he approached the doors. He almost walked straight into a distracted family of three as they emerged from the exit; mumbling an apology, he wrenched his eyes from the ad panels.
Inside the store was worse. Every end-cap, every sign, every advertised price crowded in front of his eyes. Nausea welled up from the pit of his stomach, and he forced his eyes closed to shut out the assault, fighting waves of dizziness.
“Excuse me, sir? Are you alright? Do you need help with something?” A young man’s voice said near by.
“Cough syrup…” he croaked before another coughing spasm wracked him.
“Right this way, sir,” the voice said, hesitantly. “You look like you could use it.”
“Why are all the ad panels turned up so bright?” he asked after the spasm passed.
“Sir? I don’t know what you mean,” the young man said, a note of confusion in his voice.
“Never mind.” He opened his eyes, and to his relief there were only a few small tags in the aisle the man had led him to that tried to dominate his attention. “I think I’m fine now, thanks.”
“My pleasure. Hope you feel better soon!” The young man, reed-thin and with a teen’s awkward poise, beat a hasty retreat.
What the hell is going on? First the bus, now this? He’d never experienced anything like this before in his life.
He paid for his purchase, avoiding anything that even held a hint of advertising, and was able to keep his vision reasonably steady. He left the store with trepidation, dreading the inevitable bus ride home.
To be continued…
You can find more great stories from this collection by clicking “Divide and Conquer” on the menu bar.