This is a draft version of a story that will appear in my upcoming collection of short horrors, The Passages of Melton Hall and other stories, next month. I thought I’d roll it out here as a bit of a teaser and to field thoughts and suggestions. It makes me think of the Twilight Zone. I apologise for lack of indents, apparently my best intentions have been overridden by the style sheet. Hope you enjoy.
Orcus – A Right to Die
The Orcus Right to Die Company offered an excellent service. Technicians visited clients at home, or at a place of their choosing, and administered their product for a reasonable upfront fee. Payment plans were not available. Harold had worn their glossy brochure dull with reading. The stock models with memento mori eyes had become smeared with moisture from his palms.
“Mr Reams, are you certain you wish to begin the procedure?” The white-clad technician moved close, and the smell of latex curled in Harold’s nose.
A stained throw crept further down the back of Harold’s favourite chair as he nodded consent, “Yes.”
The only thing missing was Bourbon, his cat. He’d found a new home for the insufferable creature just last week after sharing eleven years with her. As much as it had pained him to say goodbye, it had been the right thing to do.
“I’ll numb the skin over the vein in your arm, Mr Reams. I’ll use a spray and it will be a little cold, but you won’t feel the first needle going in.”
“Alright.” Harold smiled, he liked how they called him by name, reminding him, even at this time, he was still a valued customer.
“I’ve prepared the initial syringe, Mr Reams. This is the drug that will put you under, just like if you were having an operation. You will start to feel sleepy and then drift off. If at any time, any time at all, even in the last moment before you fall asleep, you change your mind, Mr Reams, just say ‘no’, or ‘stop’, and we won’t administer the final syringe. No-one will think badly of you for it. You don’t have anything to prove. Do you understand?”
“You have to say you understand, Mr Reams.”
“Yes, I understand.”
Harold thought he saw the corner of the technician’s eye twitch a little behind his glasses.
“I’m administering the first syringe now. Are you sure you wish to go ahead, Mr Reams?”
Harold did not feel the small scratch as the hypodermic pierced his skin. They were right about the numbing agent. He wondered why it wasn’t used in all procedures involving needles. His mind fogged over a little, and his eyes fluttered closed as he searched for something to think about in his final lucid moments. He thought of Bourbon, of how she would sit on his chest in bed at night, her head nestled under his chin and the vibration of her purr thrumming against his throat. Harold tried to smile at the memory, but his face wouldn’t move.
A special type of silence exists only in the mind. It is a hum or buzz that resonates until the listener believes it an actual noise. Harold Reams recognised the noise and thought it strange because he was dead. Then there was the smell, like the inside of a fresh garbage bag, all new, and plastic, and out of place. The air tasted of body lotion.
Harold frowned. His face could move again. That wasn’t supposed to happen to dead people either. Had he told them to stop? Had he ultimately been unable to go through with it? The sting of tears made the back of his throat hurt. He must have told them to stop, but why wasn’t he in his armchair? Why did he feel like he was laid out on a slab covered in darkness? A horrible thought filtered through his confusion. What if something had gone wrong and he wasn’t dead, but they thought he was? What if they were about to ship him off in a body bag to be cremated? His bowels flopped like a slippery fish, and he yelled.
Harsh fluorescent light made him screw his eyes shut when he hadn’t realised they were open.
“Mr Reams,” a voice said, “as far as the world is concerned, you are very much dead.”
“At six this evening, we killed you.”
“I don’t understand.”
The voice turned into a bespectacled figure of a man dressed in a well-tailored, dark grey suit. A large gold signet ring protruded from his left little finger.
“At this very moment, Mr Reams, an incredibly life-like silicone model of your corpse is on its way ready for an open casket viewing tomorrow morning. Obituaries are flying through fibre optic cables. Your solicitor is preparing to receive your death certificate before executing your will. Do you think you could sit up, Mr Reams?”
Hard heeled brogues clicked on the tiled floor as the man came closer.
“I…” Harold tensed his stomach muscles and pushed himself upright with an arm.
“Very good. You might be a little weak for a few of your hours yet.”
Harold glanced down at his body, clad in a crisp white gown. His legs, protruding beneath the hem, had been shaved smooth.
“Why am I here?”
“Because you were tired of your life and wanted to die.”
“But I’m alive.”
“You might be breathing, but you have ceased to exist. The life you had and all your worldly concerns are no more.”
“Just like that?”
“You did pay us to get rid of it.”
“To get rid of me.”
“A minor distinction,” the man said, his ring flashing as he flicked his wrist. “You don’t have to worry about that now. Rest, eat, regain your strength.” He moved across to a white wall and ran a hand over a near invisible sensor. A small motor whirred behind the panel and the wall opened up, revealing a room with a dining table and chair. The table was covered with all manner of dishes. “You must be hungry.”
“I’m dead, but not dead?” Harold swung his legs over the side of the narrow bed, ignoring a gastric rumble in response to the smorgasbord. He slid forward until the chill of tiles touched his bare feet.
“That’s right, Mr Reams, dead but not dead. Be careful when you stand.”
Harold nodded but staggered when he transferred his weight. He grasped at the bed a moment to steady himself, his breath coming in short, sharp inhalations. “What have you done to me?”
“You were warned you might be weak. The residual effects of the drug will wear off soon. Here, take my arm.”
The man moved beside him and Harold clutched at the well-tailored sleeve, hard muscle bunched beneath the fabric. Together, they walked the few steps into the dining room and Harold dropped into a straight back chair. The metal legs shrieked against the tiles.
“I’ll leave you to eat, please, don’t be shy, it will help.” The man smiled, revealing a row of neat little teeth that seemed too small for his mouth, like milk teeth.
Harold watched the man’s back as he disappeared into the first room. “Thank you,” he said, but his voice echoed off the pristine walls.
The two grey suits observed the man who had been Harold Reams devour half a fried chicken from behind the protection of a two-way glass.
“He’s perfectly healthy,” the first one said.
“Of course. The Doctor does excellent work. It is not difficult to convince these people they are better off dead. They are so emotionally fragile, I felt it in him when he held my arm. No substance whatsoever.” He touched at his sleeve and caught the faint scent of sweat that was distinctly Harold. His lip curled.
“Have you made the plans for him yet?”
“No,” the man removed his thick, black-rimmed glasses. Shadowed pits in place of eyes continued to study Harold through the glass. The spectacle lenses blinked holographically in his hand. “I thought we might fatten him up a little bit first.”
“Good idea. We don’t want to send off inferior stock.”
“There is our reputation, finest purveyors of pure protein and all that.”
The first man grinned, his glasses flickered to simulate the scrunching at the corners of his eyes. His little teeth, fluorescent in the dim light, glinted mustard-yellow with digestive enzyme.
“You’re making me hungry,” his thin lips puckered as he sucked at the secretions. A slight shudder ran through his narrow frame, “How old is this one?”
“Perfectly cured, sweet meat, then.”
“He’ll fetch a good price.”
“A few more like him and we can go home.”
The man replaced his glasses and settled them just so on the bridge of his nose. He showed his teeth, “It won’t be long. The Doctor is already working.”
Your thoughts and suggestions would be appreciated in the comments. Thanks!