Saturday, October 30, 2010

Some Short Fiction

A few years ago, Ryan North of Dinosaur comics wrote a comic about a machine that could tell you how you were going to die. Not when or where, but just the manner of your eventual demise.

People liked the idea, so Ryan North, along with David Malki and Matthew Bennardo solicited short stories from their readers, picked the best ones and released them as a collection on October 27th. It spent two days in the number one spot on the best seller list.

Unfortunately, I was a little late to the game (by a matter of a couple of years), but after reading the preview (and ordering the book), I was intrigued by the idea and decided to write a story of my own.

So here it is, my thousand word wonder, written over the course of a feverish hour. I hope you enjoy it:

The Truth Will Set you Free?

“I’ve decided.” Said Sally.

To Peter, the declaration sounded like a tombstone falling on granite.


“I’m getting tested tomorrow.” She said. “I have to know.”

Peter walked like a zombie across the room and slowly sat down on the armchair. He removed his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose

After an eternity had passed, he looked up at her and asked, simply: “Why?”

“I have to know.” She said, launching into the argument she’d been preparing for days. “Everyone I know has been tested. It’s not a big deal! I don’t understand why you have such a problem with the machine…”

“You don’t know!?” Shouted Peter, exploding out of the armchair. “That thing’s evil, Sally. The knowledge that that…thing gives you is a curse! Can’t you see it?” He paced up and down the room, his arms gesticulating wildly. “They have them in Goddamn malls now! People line up in front of them like they’re Goddamn carnival attractions.” He took on the voice of a cheery infomercial pitchman. “Roll up! Roll up! Ladies and Gentlemen! You too can destroy your life for the low, low price of twenty dollars plus tax! No more Doctor’s Offices! Just put your finger in the magical Machine of Death and a drop of blood is all it takes!”

He paced the length of the room and few times before collapsing back into the chair. As quickly as it had come, his fury subsided and after burying his face in his hands, he started to silently sob.

“We’re all going to die, Peter.” Said Sally, softly. “You, me…everyone… Knowing how it’s going to happen isn’t a curse.” She paused. “The Machine’s not evil..the guy on TV said it can even help people live longer, or enjoy life more.”

“Oh, the guy on TV said it?” Said Peter, looking up, his eyes red and puffy. “The one who sells the damn things? Well, that’s different. Let’s all get tested! We’ll take the dog as well, see if he’s going to get run over or choke on his chew toy.”

“I’m being serious, Peter.” Said Sally. “The Machine is a blessing! Sandra’s slip said she was going to die of a congenital heart problem she didn’t even know she had! By finding out about it now, before it develops, she’s added years to her life! And it’s not just telling you the way you’re going to die, it’s ruling out all the ways you’re not going to die. Think of all the things people love but don’t do because it’s bad for them. You went through hell giving up smoking, and I know you miss it…if you found out you were going to die from old age, you could smoke sixty a day for the rest of your life!”

“It’d be nice if that’s how it worked, but that thing has a twisted sense of humor.” Said Peter, with a laugh that didn’t contain one ounce of humor. “Old age? One of the guys I used to work with got ‘old age’, so he started taking stupid risks, safe in the knowledge he was invulnerable…right up until his 87 year old flight instructor conked out at fifteen thousand feet during his first flying lesson.”

“Well, that's a one in a million…”

“You know the worst part?” Interrupted Peter. “He was wearing a parachute. Could have got out of the plane at any time. You know what his last words were? ‘I’m gonna die of old age, Ground Control, you think I’m gonna jump and miss seeing how I’m going to survive this?’

“Well he lived more in those last few years than he had in his entire life!” Shouted Sally. “The machine is never wrong! He was always going to die in that plane crash, but the machine freed him to do what he wanted! That’s what the machine gives us. FREEDOM!”

She dropped down onto the couch and crossed her arms, her face set in grim defiance. After a few moments, Peter stood up, and soundlessly walked out of the room. He returned a few minutes later and tossed that day’s newspaper at her.

“Read it.” He said. “If you think the machine gives your freedom, read it.”

“I don’t need to.” Said Sally. “My mind’s made up.”

Peter picked up the paper and held it in front of her face. The headline said “TEENAGER FACES CHARGES OVER UNDERAGE MACHINE ACCESS”.

“So what?” Said Sally with a laugh. “That happens all the time. A kid turns sixteen, his parents won’t give him permission to get tested, so he finds an unattended machine and does it anyway.” She let out a laugh. “That’s hardly news, Peter. What difference do a few years make? You can get tested at 18 without consent anyway.”

Peter looked at her, sadly. “That’s not what this is.” He said.

“So what is it?” Said Sally with a mocking tone in her voice. She was enjoying herself now. Peter was clutching at straws and his melodrama wasn’t going to win him the argument.

“You’re right it involved a sixteen year old kid.” Said Peter, after a long moment. “But he had his parent’s permission. In fact, they all went to get tested as a family.”

“If you’ve got a point to make, Peter, make it. You’re boring me.”

“Well, the Mom was going to die of Natural Causes, the Dad from a Massive Coronary, and the kid got Natural Causes as well.”


“Well, after this kid got his prediction, he thought it would be funny to grab his six year old sister’s hand and force it into the machine.” He held the paper out to her. “You can read the prediction for yourself. There’s a picture of the Machine printout on page two.”

Sally snatched the paper away from him, and in a fit of anger almost tore the paper in half as she turned the page with a swipe of her hand. There, in the center of the page, in the unmistakable, clinical script of the machine were the words:


An eternity passed as Sally stared at the page..

“You talk about freedom?” He spat. “What kind of freedom does that little girl have?”

Sally's mouth opened and closed.

“That girl has no freedom. No freedom at all. Without this prediction, maybe she would have grown up normally, got married and had children of her own. Maybe her attack was only going to happen when she’d reached a ripe old age… Not that it matters anymore, because now we’ll never know.” He paused to let his words sink in. “She’s going to spend her childhood wondering why her parents won’t let her out of their sight, and her adulthood terrified of anyone who looks at her twice.

Her idiot brother took away the life that could have been happy, albeit with a horrific end, and replaced it with one of terror. Not just for her, but her whole family.”

“Peter.” Said Sally. “I’m sorry.”

“Not as sorry as that poor girl’s family…and I think that’s the worst thing about the Machine.” He Said. “It doesn’t just tell you how you’re going to die. It tells the people who care about you how they’re going to lose you.”


“Ask yourself a question. Think of all the horrific ways a person can die and ask yourself one simple question: Do I really want to know?”

Another eternity passed before Sally found her voice. It came as a whisper…



Evan 08 said...

I love it.

Sunny(aka Lavada) said...

Oh that gives ya something to think about doesn't it?

Anonymous said...

a story like that will stick with a person..

you are an amazing writer..