Reading Time: 5 minutes
“Well, Mr. Simon, what you have said to me has honestly been incredible, but can you tell me WHY you did it?”
The room fell silent. In the past hour, Mr. Simon had confessed to the many charges levied against him concerning his extraordinary collection of student headphones. Charges included false imprisonment, willful endangerment, and torture of the seized electronics, among others. The detective came prepared for a hostile questioning, but the accused made no attempt to deny his guilt. At the first urging, Mr. Simon freely divulged (in excruciating detail) his modus operandi, from the confiscation of the headphones to the violence against the captives. For an hour, the room had flourished with sound, but after the detective's question was asked, the room was completely quiet for an entire minute.
“How much time do you have, detective?” Mr. Simon asked.
“As much as you need.”
“Alright. Make yourself comfortable; we'll be here for a while.”
I was born in a rotten little place inside the New Jersey outback. It was hard living in my town. Everything, from food to toothpaste, had to be imported across the wasteland. But somewhere along the way, some folks in the hills decided to take charge. They blockaded our town for five days, and by the time Friday arrived, we were too tired to continue our resistance. Ever since then, our town has been chaired by the mayor and run by the mob.
Some initially welcomed the highwaymen, but they were quickly disillusioned. From the councilmen to the toddlers, everyone in the town (apart from those actively taking bribes) knew to avoid these fellas on the street. For their credit, the mobsters made it easy to distinguish them from ordinary townspeople: they donned a layer of white metal sheets with a TI-84 plus screen on their face and a big white button strapped to their chest. Instead of a first name or a nickname, the mobsters called each other by their first initial and last name. And to the townspeople, they took their leader’s name: I. Pod.
Around town, these I-Pods carried a thick, white wire to trip any pedestrians unfortunate enough to be in their way. After stopping them, the I-Pods would attack the pedestrians with the most vicious “your mom” jokes that our town had ever seen, insults so violent that they have left a scar in my mind to this day.
On collection days, when these I-Pods ransacked the shops for protection fees, those wires were used to “expedite” the payment process. If the shopkeeper didn't have the money, the I-Pods would start demolishing the shop with the white wires, one item at a time, until the shopkeeper somehow found money to pay the I-Pods. If the shopkeeper didn't pay at the end of the day, the I-Pods would stick the wires into the shop’s wall and call the entire neighborhood out into the street. The residents, compelled by the I-Pods, would solemnly watch as the wires combusted and incinerated the shop. Only after seeing the fiery display were we allowed to tend to the destruction and extinguish the flames.
My family was one of the few folks in town lucky enough to own a business of any repute. We were our neighborhood's grocers, the Atlantic Avenue tunnel of New Jersey. My family named the shop “Terry’s” after one of the mayor's grandfathers (long story), and our shop was the only shop that anyone cared to buy from in our side of town. Our reputation grew to such an extent that even some I-Pods started coming to our shop semi-regularly (without paying for what they took), but some people just couldn't be satisfied.
On the other side of town, another shop called “Ferry’s”—named after another one of the mayor's ancestors—also sold groceries to the neighborhood. They had many of the same products that we sold but worse; however, thanks to the poor quality of their products, Ferry’s was saved from the same prying I-Pods that swarmed our shop.
Thus, while Terry’s sacrificed its profit margins to service its picky (and non-paying) customers, Ferry’s started papering the town with advertisements. And when we were forced to raise the prices to save our livelihood, Ferry’s grew rich from the customers that we left behind.
Despite all this, I don’t blame Ferry’s for what happened to my family; they were just bent spineless under the proverbial Limbo pole. No, I blame the I-Pods. Despite all that we have done for them, the I-Pods never relented on their protection fees—rather, the fees increased to a point where we couldn’t pay them without taking out loans.
These loans were initially small, but as we sank deeper and deeper into poverty, the debts started piling up. Eventually, the collecting I-Pods caught wind of our borrowing and started demanding even more exorbitant fees. It was only a matter of time before the I-Pods burnt our shop.
Heartbroken and in despair, my family decided to send me away with whatever money they could still borrow and submitted their fates to the I-Pods’ combustible wires.
I never heard what happened to our town afterwards. After I sailed across the Hudson to this city, the world of New Jersey never came back, but the characters still did. I still see the same frightened faces of our pedestrians, the same exorbitant fees, the same despicable Ferry’s; I can still see my Terry’s beneath the sun. But along with all these things, I can still see the I-Pods and their AirPod descendants roaming the streets.
Across the Hudson and over the years, the I-Pods had assumed a much smaller form, but I know that they are still the same blood-sucking fellas as the ones back in New Jersey; they are still the same fellas hunting for me. What these Pods have done to my family must not be enough; they want to finish the job! And it is fine with me that these Pods keep trying to get near me. At least then I will be able to enact vengeance on the children of Pod. That is why I feel no shame.
As Mr. Simon said his final words, he stood up and madly gestured to himself, accentuating the sincerity of his message. Afterward, he collapsed back into his chair. For a long while after Mr. Simon finished his story, the manic scratching of the detective’s pen on paper was the only audible sound left in the room.
After the detective looked over their note, satisfied with the result, they looked toward Mr. Simon again. Evidently exhausted by the long-winded tale, he rested against the back of the chair with his eyes on the ceiling, smiling. Seeing that their work was done, the detective walked out of the room without another word, closing the door on the way out.