The Hot Dog Device

Prologue

A man Called Jef is sitting on his own in his reclining chair thinking peacefully. His emotions are cold and being in his flat on his own in the evenings after work is great thing.

***

IN THE YEAR 2070 adverts are everywhere – in exchange for the discomfort of radiation, people (the majority of people) get discount from companies who put up adverts on their roofs or outside wall space. The cancer tax (of which 75% actually goes to the ‘War on Terror’) raises each year without argument as it is of course essential. However cancer gas become invincible and the research scientists spend their time under partial sedation in underground labs working on new addictive additives for fast food companies. In town centres there are many hologram balls for you to follow to the shops. Radio stations are expected by law to have 95% of the hour taken up by adverts.
It is said that there are only seven places in England where outside on a clear day you can turn round 360 degrees and not see an advert, and absolutely no places where you cannot either smell or hear them. Adverts are everywhere.

Jef is a middle aged man who has worked in a local government building near his town centre for the past eighteen months. His job uses a gadget called a ‘Crowd Mood Detector’, this device can detect exact levels of depression or happiness in a large crowd of people. The device is disguised as a Hot Dog and gives off fake steam so that it looks like Jef is walking along waiting for it to cool down. It can actually be eaten in an emergency situation – this device is a ‘Rate F’ government secret and Jef must not tell anyone the real use for the fake meat snack (in particular the government agents who are sent to test a workers ability to keep a secret). The penalty for revealing this secret is re-location. Re-location is one possibility for the agents as well who are also nothing but pawns with their own strict conduct code.
Re-location does happen as Jef found out last year when a man names Harry Hendry had been re-located to an oil field in the Southern Pacific ocean. This man had been drunk one night and had revealed to some fat woman that the king size Mars bar he carried around with him on the London Underground was in fact a ‘Crowd Mood Detector’. The woman had not understood what he was going on about but the Sun newspaper had been happy to buy her a new fridge for helping them to fill a gap on their following days page 5. The small heading had read – ‘MADMAN INVENTS CONSPIRACY THEORY’ and was next to ‘WOMAN BEATS CANCER’.
Harry Hendry’s mum had been informed by fake voice phone call that morning that her son had decided to ‘Use his savings to see the world’.
Harry had been replaced by a man named Frank Ebdon who had got the job in the same way Jef (and most other government workers of most types) had – DNA personality type match – 3 months observation – abduction – threats of death. For while the ‘Crowd Mood Detectors’ are ‘Rate F’ government secrets, their staff recruitment methods are ‘Rate C’.

Every Sunday, on his day off, Jef is expected to walk up and down the main local high street where adverts are everywhere. He must use his handheld device to detect the mood of the crowds of people. To get a good reading usually takes Jef an hour – the data is written down to be used in his next weeks work at his job.

It is a Monday morning in March and Jef arrives in work on time. As he moves in from the street he can hear one annoying advert jingle being replaced by another – speakers are on every lamp post and in every work place (and lots of other places as well) these speakers play radio shows from 7:00 AM to 11:30 PM.
Taking his seat in his office Jef throws his crumpled report on the desk, kicks some wrappers from near his feet and leans back. He thinks of what he will be doing tonight: first he plans to eat some Super Noodles then he will play his new Nintendo game that he has finally managed to track down. The game is called ‘Zelda’ and is over 65 years old. It cost Jef $400. He will play this until he can play no more and then go to bed, he thinks. These thoughts do not make Jef happy, and as he sends the report to the superiors he feels as bad as he nearly always does – his Nintendo game is a one player game.

Soon Jef’s phone rings and when he picks it up one of the superiors says: “Employee M 231, we appreciate your unpaid Sunday work as always and treat your advertisement editing decisions and secret keeping ability with high levels of respect…” this was their usual opening line to him and was followed by “…However, this week we require you to ensure that all TV drinks adverts you are due to construct end with a ’Type 7 depressing sound’ , preferably with an image of a bright eyed, ugly female grinning ignorantly at the viewer, use the back-database if required.”
Now more quickly he says “All other adverts are to be constructed as you wish with the aim of lowering the general mood by 2%. Understood?”

“Yes…,” says Jef after a short pause. The phone goes dead as Jef is halfway to putting it back on its hook.

When Jef gets back from buying his first coffee of the morning, all the CDs from the companies advertising on the town centres main high street next week are on his desk. This box of disks will contain images or sounds etc, from all adverts ranging from the short jingles on the speakers to the complex laser and smoke adverts and more. Each disk will have one advert on them – some companies send a few and some companies send just one. Each disk will store one advert but it will not be complete. There will be different beginnings, middles and endings for screen adverts, there will be jingles that sound high pitched and metallic, and there will be the same tune but at a more relaxing speed or volume etc. There will be holograms that flash a lot and there will be the same holograms that flash less, and so on. It is Jef’s job to construct each advert so that when they are put on the high street the following Saturday night, the mood of the shoppers will be lowered by 2% the following week.
Of course it is only one factor in changing peoples moods, but it is one that can be controlled and used to maximum effect – statistics and reports that are available to Jef and his co workers for a fee, say that it does work.
Jef puts his coffee down on top of a very large book. The name of this book is ‘Advanced Advert Psychology’ it is the understanding of this book which qualifies Jef for his job – he has read it a lot.

At the end of the dull and frustrating day Jef locks the CDs in his box and walks out of his small office and then out of the electric front doors, having spoken to no one else all day.
He grips his bus card and worries about something unimportant as he moves half aggressively along the Tesco sections of pavement (under Tesco banners that smell of food) which are dominant in this area.
He gets on a bus which has had most of its windows blacked out this week, and picking a seat where the flashing light advert seems to pass over the least on its high speed journey, sits down next to an elderly Japanese man who is trying to eat a massive salad sandwich.
Over the ten minute bus journey Jef observes the sandwich as it shrinks not only into the mans face but also onto his briefcase. The man seems happy for a few seconds a she fits more food into his mouth but every now and then he glances sharply to his right at the advert speaker which is playing an offensively loud and repetitive advert for a new ‘Genuine Fruit’ shop that is apparently opening in six months. (Buses only ever contain adverts for one company and these are changed every two weeks, and are only limited in that they cannot take up passenger space.) The man mumbles something angry in his language as he turns his head back each time.
When the man finishes his snack, Jef watches him shove the wrapper violently into the speaker cavity – this makes Jef almost smile with approval.
The man’s stop is just before Jef’s and because the advert seems to have put him in a permanent bad mood since his sandwich ended, he squeezes past Jef in an unfriendly way, spits at the flashing light advert as it curves past him, then is gone.
Jef looks around the nearly full bus, outside the sun is shining but Jef notices that everyone on the bus is silent with impatient looks on their faces.
Jef can remember a couple of weeks ago having a friendly chat on the bus with a man of a similar age to the Japanese man. The advert playing at that time had been a long winded, relaxing sequence of sounds which was very quiet and not repetitive, the bus had had only this, some static pictures and a few leaflets lying around in the way of adverts. Also all the windows were letting the light in from outside making the place seem less like a tomb than the bus Jef is currently on. The music had not ruined the chat by hitting them with scary loud sounds and Jef and the other man had got off the bus into the freezing rain in good moods. Other people had as well.

When he gets home, Jef sets everything up in his small flat so that after tea he can just switch the Nintendo on and shut everything else out. But with his better chair at the right angle and everything else ready he remembers that he has no bottled water left. So he puts his outdoor clothes back on and grabs some money.
Before he leaves he stops, because the radio which was put on for the sport headlines, is playing an old pop song. The name of the song is not important, but a Girl who sang it once is, to Jef.
Now in his head, Jef is seventeen and back in college standing in the cafeteria queue. The Girl next to him has brown hair, Her hands are holding Her tray. Her eyes can see. Her voice is effortless.
Her voice is singing the song that Jef remembers, She is on her own and it could appear that She is singing to Herself.
As the queue moves forward, the Girl’s singing becomes less precise. The boys behind Jef in the queue are a few feet to his left having a wrestle. Jef and the Girl are stood alone for a few seconds. Both of them having been stood identically facing forward with their elbows almost touching now turn their eyes slowly towards each other. Her singing stops, but Her eyes are not accusing.
She sees a pleasing mixture of interest and calmness in his expression.
At this time Jef had felt like his body was in a vacuum. All the other noise in the room did not exist.
He did not want Her to take her clothes off, he felt as if feeling that would be to feel less towards Her. He wanted to go and hide somewhere with Her.
After paying and at the last second before inevitably going to sit with their own friends, they both seemed to stop for a split second facing each other. They looked at each other without blinking or breathing out, but then both at the same time they went their different ways.
He felt confused but awake – She felt the same way didn’t She?!
Jef remembers this, and he remembers other seemingly abstract and inconclusive encounters with Her.

Of course he has liked a lot of other girls over the years, but the way he felt about Her was somehow completely different. When he thinks of these others, most of the time he smiles, but the old feeling is gone. However the way he felt for the singing Girl is still there, like some sort of Super Demon.

As he walks slowly to the shops, Jef remembers his few sexual partners, there has not been one for a few years as Jef just could not be bothered humouring them – the Super Demon would not let him.

Jef enters the shop. He unsuccessfully loses himself in a magazine for a minute but then suddenly just wants to be out of there, so he grabs the water and pays for it, ignoring the price.

A few seconds later outside, Jef says

“Hello,” his voice and stance are confident but his heart is racing. Is She going to blank him?
He should not fear because the singing Girl who Jef had been beginning to forget again, stops in front of Jef where he had stopped. She has similar hopes as She replies

“Hello.”
After this they both smile slightly. The smiles last for a few seconds, they are real and they stun the paranoia – the smiles also lock the twin Super Demons in lead coffins.

The Girl who Jef has not seen for a lot of years is stood in front of him, apparently not wanting to escape…
… He still feels the same, She still looks the same; not timid, not fat, not miserable looking, not jolly, intelligent. Her voice has not been ruined by tobacco. Her clothes are still as unfashionable and plain as Jef’s are.

She knows She is not a slag.
She sees that Jef is alive.
She feels a kind of excitement as She knows the rest of the conversation will not be a boring struggle.

The conversation continues as they walk slowly down the road. They both breathe slowly and smile as they look around them, hardly noticing what they are talking about or what the adverts are talking about either.
She points at a bird who is sat on an addictive, infuriating, interactive advert fence, he raises his eyebrows and does not think She is stupid – he says nothing.
She lowers Her arm and they walk on – She does not feel stupid.

“I have got a flat down here, I’m sure I can beat you at Super Mario Kart on the SNES !” says Jef.

“As long as I am Koopa Troopa, I will win,” she says in return.

Two hours later They are both on the edge of their comfy chairs in Jef’s small flat, about to start another ‘decider’ Mario Kart one on one match race. There is laughter as She pushes Jef, and gets a better start…
…On the last lap though, Jef gets a red Koopa shell and fires it down the back straight. Her kart is sent flying and Jef zooms past to victory!
Jef switches the machine off in an almost sarcastic way and without making eye contact gets up to make some more tea, putting his sensible slippers on to protect him from the cold floor in the kitchen area. She leans back frowning and is determined not to lose next time.

She had had one boyfriend for a year once. She had had to regularly disappear when She fell into depression when with him and could not get out of it with him nearby.
She imagines that this boyfriend would of switched the machine off in a macho, humourless way if in fact he had played on it in the first place, he had said Nintendo was ’Sad’ and then added ‘If you can’t f**k it, f**k it off’ in a boring-tough voice.
She feels herself edging towards what She thinks of as ‘The hell-lands of endless and unstoppable, negative and paranoid thoughts’ as She remembers him, but dismisses them without effort as She hears Jef drop a spoon in the kitchen. At this the old boyfriend is humiliated and falls into irrelevance in Her head.
She looks around the room and is impressed with Jef’s video collection, it is slightly bigger than Hers and contains a lot of weird films that She wants to watch.
Jef brings back the tea and sits down throwing a bag of crisps at Her, She does not say thank you, only continues to smile as She catches them and opens them – Jef is not offended.

“Go on, what do you do?” says Jef in an almost faltering voice looking down at Her trainers which She has not taken off. He is lowly folding his empty crisp wrapper into a triangle having eaten the contents while explaining his job to Her – including what the Hot Dog Device is! (as soon as he had told Her this – She was the first person he had ever told – the horrific possibility of Her being an agent sent to test him possibly against Her will or maybe even more horrifically – not against Her will, floods his skull. He thinks that if She is an agent then it must be to Her liking that She will get him sent to some mine or war zone because She has seemed so genuine in talking up until now. She might/must despise him therefore! )

“I am a criminal,” she says and looks up noticing his change without surprise.

“What do you mean? Do you rob stuff?” Jef says in a way that is slightly frantic.

“No,” she says shaking Her head once having already predicted then noticed with Her knowledge of conspiracy theories and the workings of the government (through risky conversations) what Jef is getting agitated about. “I am hired secretly by different companies to hot wire their radio systems in their offices or garage or whatever.”

“What for?” he puts down his drink and waits for Her answer.

“Well I use my tremendous skill to get the insides of the radio hooked up to my headphones, then I sit on a chair all day switching the sound output to the headphones when there are adverts on and then onto the normal big speakers when a song comes on, or sometimes not even then. Then at the end of the day someone is sent with a load of money and they send me away with it, usually out a back door.”

“That sounds easy, but are you going to end up in prison?”

“No chance, I am in high demand, and some of my most regular customers are the Independent Police headquarters on Balloon Street and the Neutral Crown Court in town, they both pay me £200 a day, usually once a week each!”

“You can buy us some chips then,” replies Jef in a voice that seems to be in seven different tones of emotion.
Just before they leave for the chip shop, She picks up a pad of paper and a pen off a shelf and writes ‘If I were what you fear I am would I be able to do this?’ She hands the pad to Jef who reads it then watches Her as She takes Her trainers off, curls Her toes over and raises Herself up so that Her entire weight is supported by the knuckles of Her two folded big toes! At the sight of this Jef suddenly feels intensely light headed and has to sit down for a minute. This is not through disgust at seeing Her weird ability but is brought on by incredible relief, as everyone knows that to keep track of them on radar and listen in on them through permanent transmitters, government agents (who most people believe only exist to hunt ‘terrorists’) have got metal feet!

On their way to the chip shop, for no apparent reason, Jef and the Girl run as fast as they can down the path behind the allotments.

*

Most of the rest of that evening was spent back in Jef’s flat in deliberate silence.
Neither one of them was an ugly person, but they both knew how disgusting they were, as they belong to the Human race. However they were not repulsed by each other, they were just happy to stay a short distance apart – there were no attempts to look for openings in the proceedings to try to get closer to the other with the intention of getting naked by either of them.
At about midnight She had said She was tired. Jef had said he was tired as well and then She had gone home.

They saw each other once more that week when they went for a game of pool on the Thursday, Jef had won 10 – 2 but She had got further on the ‘Time Crisis X3’ arcade.
That weekend they had done some more stuff together. At around 8:30 PM on the Saturday they had gone for a walk along the ASDA canal (with its reflected, revolving images) near some football matches that were going on. While walking along, Jef had told the Girl about the one time, that he knew of, when an agent of the government had been sent to test him. It had been on a train and Jef had been half asleep but the pretty blonde female agent had not been too clever.

“Do you think you would have told her anything about the Hot Dog Device if she had not been so slow?” she asked after laughing at the story, and the way it had been told.

“No.”

On the Saturday night they had stayed in a hotel in the same bed. Before going to sleep they had had a sometimes violent foot battle under the covers for half an hour, without the need to create the next generation fully wedging itself between them. They let it float around them, but kept up a barrier whose source was unstoppable friendship, trust and security. Thus a superior feeling was maintained and even strengthened without being stopped and started. This was how they had seen it as they eventually lay a comfortable distance apart. Then they fell asleep.

At work on the Monday Jef had looked out the window at about 10 AM. It was raining, Jef was still wet from the rain but he was not really bothered. He knew the singing Girl would be back from Her parents on Saturday night and was looking forward to seeing Her again, but he did not feel impatience nor had any uncertainty threatened to invade his head.
He had seen a road sweeper out the window who was getting smelly, spat at and soaking wet. He had told himself that he did not care if his Nintendo blew up. He had tidied his office and had sent his report from the previous day to the superiors with a bit of his own snot put on it by him.
The superiors had told him to assemble the adverts appearing on the local high street next week with intention of decreasing the public mood in that area by 4%.
The week had gone on from there.

That Saturday night Jef and the singing Girl had met up without any over excitement but with a sense of calmness as if together they were like a trainer that has no stones in it.
They had met up near a pizza shop and after they had both bought a giant cheese and tomato pizza with extra cheese they headed for the Girl’s flat with the intention of watching ‘Full Metal Jacket’ which Jef had brought with him in a plastic bag.
As they walked, with their elbows nearly touching, down a bear sponsored alley, She had felt safe because Jef is not a weak shrimp.
Jef had left Her house on the Sunday morning after helping Her do the washing up without offering to or being asked to either.

About ten minutes after he had left Her semi-detached house the singing Girl noticed Jef’s bus card on the table in Her bedroom. She had rung Jef to tell him and he had said he would turn round and come and get it.
A few minutes after that She picked up the card and started to sing some old pop tune that She used to like.
When She reached the top of Her stairs She was still singing happily to Herself, but as She tripped and flew forward this was replaced by a sound of shock and fear.
She died instantly as Her neck slammed into a stair. Her next door neighbour, having heard the scream and the muffled but sickening thud somehow guessed the cause and rushed round the garden paths to look in through his neighbours front door window.
Jef arrived to the sight of ambulances and stretchers.
A few minutes later he was heading back the way he came.

The next day Jef went into work with his report (which he had gathered on distant auto-pilot) as usual and was told to lower the publics mood for the following week by 1% compared to last week. He had not really eaten since yesterday and his boxer shorts were on back to front, his teeth were not clean. He had said “I under stand.”
He did not follow these orders and when he handed in the finished adverts on the following Saturday afternoon he thought that the following week the people on the high street would be feeling as bad as was within his power to manipulate (why he did this he had not been sure – he was not even sure what the repercussions were likely to be.) But of course the adverts were checked by some superiors (who went home very depressed indeed!) and were sent into fiery oblivion. However there was a lack of communication somewhere down the line and the order to leave last weeks adverts for the high street in place did not get through to the workmen as they set off from their cabin.
The workmen who were supposed to set next weeks adverts up were told, however, that they would not be receiving their disks and would therefore not be needed this week and these men had gone home in very good moods on full pay.
On Sunday, deciding that to find comfort and peace, continuing his job was not an option, Jef had gone for a walk along the canal in three pairs of socks and a sleeping bag. He had walked around for a bit, then wanting to go and paint all the walls in his flat aluminous orange and hang giant spiders on them that he intended to make from papier mache, he had headed home.
But his flat had been in flames when he arrived there. As he looked around him and the finally down at his soaking socks he did not notice the man who appeared normal but who in fact had metal feet, walking away with a defeated expression on his face, through the park.
Later that morning after spending an hour on a bench after he had discovered his bank balance had gone from having two hundred and fifty $ in it to having minus ten thousand $ in it, Jef had headed for the local high street. On his way there he had picked up a piece of paper with ‘767’ and ‘fun run half marathon’ printed on it. He had pinned it on his sleeping bag somehow and then gone the rest of the way doing forwards and backwards roly-poly’s.
At the high street he had seen: The mile long, one hundred metres wide street full of people as expected but completely devoid of adverts. He had seen this and immediately turned round to head back the way he came with a puzzled look on his face. As he walked away round a corner he dismissed this sight and decided to go and stuff as many branches as he could down his home then roll around on the eighteenth green at the local golf club. Then when ‘The Golfers’ came to chuck him off he would do a front flip into a bunker before sprinting away.
But behind him: people buying gifts for loved ones in unusually large amounts, young children chasing each other around with shouts of laughter that could be heard above the out of place genuine and patient friendly chatter of mums who did not screech at this sight but continued their energetic giggling with each other. Tramps were singing songs in tones that were only usually heard in the bus station where they all gathered to get drunk and people were giving them more money than they would have even considered in normal circumstances. The fifty Big Issue sellers on the high street had all sold out of magazines by 11:30 AM. People were phoning friends and telling them of the ‘weird’ but ‘great’ high street situation. Eventually more people converged on the high street and there were all sorts of jolly goings on, including improvised ‘Granny helping competitions’.
At the end of the day the electronic bins recorded percentage levels of rubbish inside them – the road sweepers like everyone else on the high street had had a very happy day.

Later that evening Jef had walked to the place where he knew had been buried. On the way there he saw crowds of people demolishing and burning adverts, there had been mad shouts and crazy-hysterical screams and chants coming from all around. But Jef had not really noticed them at all.
He had stood in front of the silent grave. His hands were in his pockets and his mind was like a plant. He had closed his eyes as much as he could, and disappeared

Epilogue

Then Jef opens his eyes partly in almost utter disgust at himself. Then his emotions become stone cold and serene. He gets to his feet and brushes dry dust off his jeans. Then he jogs to join the advert destroying crowds; joining in the chants and destruction. The destruction of adverts goes on up and down the country for several days, Jef helping along the way. Even the army, Jef’s superiors at work and most members of parliament join in. When all adverts are dealt with Jef goes back to his flat and begins to clean up. The flat is pretty badly burned out and most stuff will have to be put in the skip out back, but structurally it is ok. When he goes down to the skip with his black and melted TV he remembers the old fold up chair he has down there for sitting out in the sun – he takes it up and unfolds it.

THE END

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