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Big Cig Screwj Is Seeing Things

Mah-li was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. Old Mah-li was as dead as a doornail.

At least dead with respect to any future profits from his brilliant Chinese invention, the solar-powered e-cigarette. Since the hostile takeover of his start-up, No-Smokes of Lucky Sun, by the huge company, Big Cig Tobacco, Mah-li would just sit in the outer office at Big Cig, adding up rows of sales figures.

Screwj, the CEO of Big Cig, watched him with pleasure from his spacious corner office, and mused cheerfully about the fortuitous events of the past few years. When he had first met the brilliant but wacky Chinese inventor, Mah-li's dream of a solar powered e-cig seemed an unattainable dream. But then with the invention of the Solaromizer, the product took off, and Screwj watched with horror as its popularity began to seriously eat into Big Cig's profits from its toxic cigarettes. Thank God the situation had responded to a bit of board-room strong-arming, and No-Smokes of Lucky Sun was now a thriving part of the Big Cig corporate portfolio as "Indigo Cigs". Screwj (the name was Albanian) looked forward to many years reaping the profits of the toxic cigarettes he'd been selling all along, coupled with profits from the remedy for the death grip those cigarettes held over their users.

He drifted off to sleep lulled by a fantasy of his wildest dream, a French judge awarding Big Cig a monopoly on the sale of both toxic cigarettes and electronic ones, the French government giving him as good as a license to print money. But after REM sleep had passed, an indistinct figure began to come into focus, a disheveled man in a hospital gown, not that old, really, but old-looking, and reeking of stale smokes.

"Yeah, that's right, it's me, Uncle Fred. Don't get up." Screwj had not offered. "Yeah, me, yer dear departed uncle. Remember me? I died of lung cancer 10 years ago, at the tender age of... ahhh, I don't wanna think about it. I'm dead, so I'm a ghost, OK? Ya gonna kill me fer that? …. Hey, ha ha, that's funny, I made a joke! I'm dead, so ya can't kill me again. hahahaha!"

Uncle Fred (Fredj in Albanian) had indeed died of lung cancer more than a decade ago. Two packs a week of Big Cig's top of the line product, "Horse Guy", enough to kill a... well, a guy.

"Two packs a week!" reminisced Fred(j). "Boy, wasn't that somethin'?! I felt so manly smokin' them things! And of course you told us they were totally safe. Ever feel a little twinge of responsibility, Unca Screwj? All those people dyin', while you were tellin' us it was safe. Those were the good old days, hunh? Er, well, I guess the old days, anyway. Remember the past?!"

Srewj winced as this apparition of the past days of smoking faded. A new figure came into view. It looked like …, yes, it was: James Dean! But a new James Dean, a twenty-first century James Dean: instead of the perpetual cigarette dangling from his lip, he was proudly holding a brightly-colored Indigo Mod, with a reflector-strip solaromizer sticking up on top.

"Wouldja look at that baby! Whew! That's somethin'...!"

"But, er... don't you smoke..., er... cigarettes?" stammered Srewj.

"Coffin nails?! Get real, Grampa! Get with the program! Smokes are the past! I'm a man of the present now! Is this thing far out or what?!"

As the James Dean of the present faded from view, another figure floated down from the sky, held aloft by... unbelievably, but it seemed true... nothing but an umbrella. As the figure approached the ground, Screwj could make out the features of... uh... well...

The Mayor of a major American city. "By the authority vested in me by the government of a major American city," he intoned,  "I hereby declare and decree that vaping is as bad as smoking, the heck with the evidence, and nobody's going to do it any more in my city, at least not in places where they can't smoke. So if they can't quit smoking cold turkey, let em... I dunno... eat cake or something.... But it better be  low sugar, healthful cake!"

The mayor, floating a foot in the air, umbrella-borne, beamed with pleasure on contemplation of his healthful measure, which would no doubt lead many of the wayward to follow the fold and stray no more. Screwj cringed and pulled spreadsheets over his face. Swirling visions of stock-market graphs, each with a hideously descending x-axis, alternating with visions of brilliant but wacky Chinese inventors, dizzied him."

"Unless... "

Screwj looked up with suppliant, eyes (albeit, they were flashing dollar signs, like in the old cartoons).

"Unless..." continued the umbrella-borne mayor, "you agree to phase out all of your toxic products, and convert their sales facilities to quit-lines. Unless you remake your company as an exclusive distributor of e-cigarettes."

"What's the alternative, Screwj queried tremulously.

The mayor spoke not a word, but stretched a ghostly hand toward a vision of Mah-li, sitting in the corner office, receiving reports and petitions from a line of Big Cig execs on bended knee.

Screwj collapsed in a heap and rolled over, again and again, screaming, "Yes, I'll do it! I'll do it!"

Screwj was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more.

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Happy Holidays!