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The Target Market

Earth 2028

By Ruth V JarvisPublished 2 months ago Updated 2 months ago 11 min read

The Target Market

By Ruth V Jarvis

They fill the skies like giant black flies, a pestilence born of our consumerist greed. The remaining delivery drivers have curved backs from carrying nothing but larger parcels all day. The electric vermin swarm like rats to doors delivering insignificant packages of make-up for the social media eau-couture conscious and the latest must-have in Corden bleu cat food.

Two weeks ago, they blocked out the sun causing a dip in our electricity supply. Oh, the irony as the latest solar-powered Teslas came to stand still on The Strand, blocking the king's convoy to the environmental summit. The drones fell from the skies over every continent, their minute solar panels dispelling what charge they had in an effort to deliver or scamper back to base, glitching like a scratch you cannot reach.

I heard it bashing at my front gate repeatedly. I could not shut out the relentless scratching and whirring of its motor. I left my hammock and strolled up the path, wrapping my robe against my skin to keep my neighbour at number 32 from calling the police on me again for indecent exposure. I peered over the gate and watched its helpless foray, its dogged determination. It amused me the rage of the machine in its efforts to include me in its preordained circumstance.

I pulled a herbal out of my pocket, lit it, and stood against the railings, ignoring its plea. How long till the battery runs out? I did some weeding, Pruned the rose Bush, and then sat down on the bench for a short meditation, using the rhythmic thump of its metal body against the wood to help me drift off to places unexplored. I was interrupted by a pernicious beeping, similar to Brian's alarm clock next door that never failed to wake me at 5 am. The time being different caused me to open my eyes. The bashing had stopped and was replaced by the insistence for attention likened to the lone, hungry cuckoo chick. Hard to ignore.

I returned to inspect this change in behaviour only to find it had decided to begin the process of emptying its contents onto the pavement. I laughed at the audacity. Here was the continuum of the delivery man's behaviour; despite surely having a strict unbreakable protocol, it was dumping my package in haste and frustration to move on to the next customer.

The box tipped on its side. I waited for the sound of breaking glass or seeping produce onto the tarmac but was just left intrigued by the bright purple ribbon wrapped neatly against the dower brown cardboard.

“Who wraps a ribbon around cardboard?’

As the drone skittered away, I relinquished to the parcel I should have rejected even if a mildly harassed driver had delivered it. As I attempted to pick it up, Mrs Crantock from number 45 walked past, carrying a mountain of recycled packaging. Her narrow disapproving eyes peered over her thinly framed glasses as I oiked my protruding breast back into my paisley dressing gown.

‘Hardly fit for purpose,’ she tutted as she moved on at her methodical pace.

I middle-fingered her pious behind and returned to business.

Once on the hearth-rug, I toppled it gently like a dice to inspect all six sides for a clue of the sender. It didn’t rattle and barely weighed a thing. Crossed-legged like a child, I tugged at the bow and used it to tie back my hair from my face. The contents of the box seemed disguised by a significantly dark interior. I put my hand inside to feel around, brushing the four corners with my fingertips. Was this some kind of joke? I’d categorically avoided these deliveries for 20-plus years, and now you, whoever you are, send me an empty box?’ I grabbed my torch off the side and shone it into the darkness. It swallowed the light, so I leaned over and stuck my head inside. What was that? A tiny pinprick of light seeped in through what appeared to be the bottom of the box. As I reached to touch it, my hand stretched downwards into an abyss, catching my body off balance. I fell. I fell for what felt like an age. The light never seeming to get any closer, my heart pounding, my hands flailing, clutching the torch tightly. And then, the blackness as I hit my head was complete.

I came around in a long corridor. A light bulb flickered above my head, illuminating rows of grey doors adjacent to each other. Black bakelite knobs continuously replicated each other, casting shadows over the tiny keyhole eyes that threatened the observer to give them a try. My orange and mustard paisley print hummed as my bloody forehead dripped defiantly against the order of the moment. A tap dripped in the distance, but as my consciousness rallied, I realised it was footsteps echoing as they drew closer, singular and defiantly rhythmic.

‘Ms Delaney?’ She was towering over me with her efficient tone. Hair pinned, suit grey, merging with the walls, just the shadow of the pleats giving me some sense of order, as the eyes, searing brown dots, penetrated, ruffling my feathers.

‘Where the hell am I?’ Goodness me, my thought made me shudder. Was it hell? The injury permanent? What a stupid way to go.

‘Well, he was determined to get you here. I truly didn’t believe he could do it, but I should never have underestimated him.’

‘God?’ I muttered bleakly, ‘or Satin?’

‘Ha ha ha, Ha ha ha.’ It went on; I could see her teeth, perfectly white. as she kept throwing her head back, unable to contain her laughter that boomed off the walls and grew in intensity.

‘Will you stop that!’

The silence was shockingly abrupt. ‘Sorry, yes. I will. You are right. It is very rude of me. Let’s get to business.’ The chair I sat on was hard and cold, making me starkly aware that the lack of shoes and underwear was hardly conducive to the absurd situation. I mean, how far up this bloody corridor would I need to run to escape. ‘Oh, there is no point trying to fathom a way out. He has got you here, and if you can find him, perhaps….’

‘Can you stop with the cryptic minefield? What am I doing here?’

She surveyed her clipboard and gave me a long cold stare. ‘You can open two doors, only two. Be careful what you talk to, or you might end up here for good. If you are smart, like he says you are, you might just find your way out.’ She gestured her chin up the corridor. ‘Go on, get to it.’ I could feel my stomach boiling a rage in its pit. Something told me it was futile to argue. She turned on her heels and exited through the door behind her. I lept up and tried the handle; locked already, of course.

‘Can’t you at least give me a pair of knickers? Or shoes⸺I’ll settle for a pair of shoes?’ The mundane senselessness crawled all over my body. Two doors? I looked up and down the corridor. I had no idea where to go. Was I in the middle, north, south, east or west? ‘Make a decision, Francesca. You're as good as dead anyway.’ The corridor soaked up my voice, and I had the strange feeling it understood every word. I put my fingers to my lips. I didn’t want to give any more of myself away.

I touched each door as I passed them by; everyone texturally identical, leaving me no clue as to what was behind it. After an hour of monotony, I gave in. I swung an unsuspecting door wide open and stood back to survey the situation. I was greeted with a long table full of the finest foods and not a slice of meat in sight. How long had it been since breakfast? Did I even have breakfast? I touched the cut on my forehead in a bid to remember. Perhaps that’s why I cannot think straight. I need sustenance.

I ate till I was more than adequately full. Goodness only knows how long it would be until my next meal. I pulled back the curtains looking for light, only to find grey walls slammed against the window sills. No clues to the time of day, just my hunger to go by. How would I remember the room to come back to. I could be here for days, months, years even?

I hitched up my dressing gown to make a carrying space and filled it with bread, juicy tomatoes and a few pieces of fruit. I’d count a hundred doors, and that would be it. Do or die. I left the door to the banquet open and made my way. One, two, three, four. The door slammed shut. ‘Who’s there?’ The sound of a stylus resting on an old 33 filled the narrow space, and Edith Piaf’s unmistakable voice crooned Non, je ne regrette rien. Five, six, seven, eight. On and on I went, on and on she sang. The spaces between the doors got wider. Piaf’s voice grew louder, her crescendo reverberating through my feet. 99⸺100.

It was locked.

I stood and consumed a banana. Contemplated my fate, called on the buddha within, and kicked the door hard. It’s surprising how carbs and a bit of faith can yield results.

‘You could have just knocked,’ said the man seated in a plastic school chair, warming his hand by a minimalist fireplace.

‘What is it with everyone in this place?’

‘Oh, so I take it you have met Audrey,’ he responded offhandedly.

‘If you mean the sculpted bun with the rod up her arse, then yes, I have had the pleasure. Peach?’

‘No, thank you, I’m watching my waistline.’

‘Hang on, you mean to say it’s just you and her in this godforsaken place?’

‘And you, my dear. And you,’

I had been staring at the back of his bald head the whole time, listening to his sarcastic Texan drawl. ‘Who are you anyway?’

‘I am who you need me to truly be. And I am not as I seem,’ he exclaimed to the vast empty room.

‘What? Just turn round, and perhaps whilst you are at it, you can tell me why I am here?’

‘You are the chosen one. The one that did not give in to temptation. You see, they locked me away years ago. My dream was too powerful. And now they use my name to destroy the planet.’

‘Well, that seems like some big-headed nonsense to me.’ I pinched myself. ‘Come on, do wake up.’ I’d had enough of the mumbo jumbo; two doors or not, I was going to find a way out.

‘You're not dreaming. I wanted to remove mankind from the planet and colonise space so the earth could become a national park. We could have allowed her to restore to her former glory.’ He turned to me and smiled, but there was sadness behind his eyes.

‘Your Jeff bloody Bezos.’ The insanity of the moment was utterly lost on me. ‘What the hell have I got to do with you?’

‘They believed that they could turn everyone in 30 years but they promised if they failed and I could find one person, they would set me free, and my imposter would be revealed. I guess they liked to gamble, and money grabbers seem to bore easily. What is life without a little risk?’

‘You mean the man up there is a fake?’

‘Yes. I do, my dear. But you, you are the genuine article. A free spirit. One that will not be swayed.’

‘And how might I ask do you know that?’

‘In my early years, you were my most prolific complainer. A week would not go by where my packaging did not come into question. You became my greatest conundrum. If I could appease you, then my business would be a success. But before I had a chance to achieve it, you wrote to me to declare that you would never give in to the destruction of my company's namesake just for a cheap copy of Great Expectations.’

‘And stuck by it too, I have, until today. I should have known better than to meddle with that package. Your company has gone from bad to worse. Those drones ruin the skyline. The birds no longer migrate; I don’t mind so much that they interfere with too much air travel, mind you.’ I sat down in front of the fire to warm my toes and offered Jeff a chunk of french stick. We chewed together in the silence for a while.

‘I’m glad you liked the ribbon; my target marketing always had you pegged for purple products.’

I was too tired to reveal my displeasure at being profiled, and soon my eyelids betrayed me.

I have no idea how much time passed, but I woke to muffled voices by the door. I sat bolt upright. What if I was a trade-off? Leave me here; set Jeff free.

‘Oi! Where you off to, Mr. Bezos?’

Audrey poked her head around the door and tutted. ‘A deal is a deal. Come on now. No one can say we are unreasonable. You have quite a walk ahead of you.’

She was right; the hall continued through our shared consumption of a tangerine, three tomatoes, the remaining half of the French stick, a few baby cucumbers and a handful of lychees. I counted three-hundred and sixty-five doors before one stood directly in front, painted a muddy shade of brown.

‘It’s been nice knowing you, Mr. Bezos,’ Audrey said with a delicate curtsey. I scoffed at the banal nicety and opened the door. The damp close heat hit me as the forest floor spread out for miles before us; birds whistled and cawed to the heavens with joy. We stepped out onto a precipice and gaped at the beauty of the world's largest river stretching away before us.

Short Story

About the Creator

Ruth V Jarvis

Ruth is a writer of script, poetry, creative non-fiction and fiction.

Her series of short stories Tales from Boldover Street are situated in post world war 2 Britain and uses magic realism to reveal the personal battles of trauma narrative.

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