Emma Hines is a 17-year-old high school student who loves to write, in between homework, reading, and playing with her dachshund. She hopes to someday see her novels on shelves around the world.
Only 13 more days to go.
“This is your daily reminder that self-euthanizers, such as Suicide Cream, Heart Failure Injections, or Brain Death Pills, are prohibited! Anyone found possessing self-euthanizers will have their death day pushed back, so make good choices, and may your death day come quickly!”
There had been a time, I think, when people would do anything to stay alive. In human history, life expectancy grew from a mere twenty or thirty years to a hundred to two, as people became more and more fearful of the afterlife. Longevity Pills were consumed like candy, artificial organs used up like tissues. Population skyrocketed until there was no more room left, until houses were stacked on top of each other into the stratosphere and the amount of air you could consume in a day was fixed. The government began sterilizing people though the water they drank and the food they ate to prevent the continents from collapsing under the weight of so many people, until the last baby born on Earth was mutilated and dead. And still, people refused to die.
And then, one day, it all flipped around.
The idea that someone wanted- really, deeply desired with all their hearts- to die had been a foreign concept back in those days. It had been a sign of sickness, of something wrong within the mind of the afflicted, something to be cured. They had to be rescued from themselves before they could be allowed to complete the natural cycle of things: people are born, people live, and people die. To the people who stayed alive a hundred more years than they should have, the people filled with metal and synthetics that animated their meat sack for them, nothing was worse than death.
Some people knew better, and ended it before The Pain began.
Religious people said it was some form of a god punishing humans for going against the natural order of things, but scientists would tell you that The Pain was the universe’s way of balancing itself out. The Law of Conservation of Matter stated that matter could not be created nor destroyed, which mean that, for something to be created, something else had to be destroyed. The four hundred trillion people on Earth who refused to die weren’t letting their matter be recycled into new stars and universes, into animals and plants and water and earth and air. The Pain was the universe trying to rip us in half so it could make something new out of the old thing we refused to let go of.
At that point in time, everyone alive had lived much longer than they should have, so everyone felt The Pain. It was ridiculous, excruciating pain that came from everywhere at once, every molecule of your overused meat sack screaming for you to let it go back to where it came from. Everything in you was pulling in a different direction. Your heart was breaking and your skin was melting and all the synapses in your brain were firing. Your blood vessels burst and your skull collapsed and you died while the technology you’d implanted in yourself revived you, over and over again, like Prometheus chained to the rock, his liver eaten each day and regrown each night.
Death’s ugly face looked like a cherished old friend compared to The Pain.
Suddenly, people dug out the dictionary and looked up the word suicide. The Pain wasn’t strong enough to kill us, and neither was disease nor famine, but perhaps our own strength would do. Hope flared within all of us, and we each prepared our own way. Tall buildings became the most popular tourist attraction. Oceans and other deep bodies of water were visited with heavy stones and rope in tow. I myself had poured a shot glass of bleach, sat down in the chair I’d rested in for three hundred years, and prepared to meet what I’d been avoiding for so long.
Death is like a doorway, and four hundred trillion people couldn’t fit through it all at once. 300,000 people could die per day, no more.
And so death days began. Money and power mattered no more; in the end, it was a lottery system, and whoever got chosen first would die first.
The math said that it would take 1.3333333333332 x 109 days for everyone to die, which, divided by 365 days per year, is 3,652,968 years.
I had been waiting 379 years for my death day, making my total age somewhere near 700. Compared to the wait others were faced with, 379 years was relatively short. But it hadn’t felt like it.
After 379 years of The Pain, I was certain I was losing my mind. People handled life without death in different ways: some sat in their house, didn’t move, didn’t blink, and waited. Starvation couldn’t kill us, nor dehydration nor obesity nor lethargy. Even brain damage wouldn’t induce a coma, so they lived in a makeshift one of their own, staring at the wall or the TV or out a window, and waited. Some lived life as normal as they could and only showed signs of the crippling pain in the deadness of their eyes and the occasional blood they’d cough up and wipe from their chins discreetly.
I had done the latter until my wife’s death day had come. She’d kept me sane through The Pain, through thinking about how long I had to go before I could finally just die. And now she was free of The Pain, and I missed her and hated her for leaving me alone to suffer. I stopped going out, stopped pretending that I was anything more than a corpse who couldn’t decay, and sat and watched the little goldfish I’d had for my entire life swim around in her glass bowl.
The original death capacity for humans had been 150,000 per day, until it occurred to someone that the deaths of animals and plants were taking up deaths that could have been ours. So we forced upon them the same technology we’d put into ourselves, and made them live so we could leave. What would they do when The Pain came to them and humans were long gone?
That morning, I’d gotten up from my chair, the chair I’d sat down in to knock back my shot of bleach, and put on some presentable clothes. The walk to the light-train station hadn’t been very long, and soon I was amongst hundreds of other people bustling around, going about whatever lives humans could have while they were waiting to die. The tiled floor, walls, and curved ceiling glowed a soothing blue, signaling the arrival of the light-train that was coming in from New Hong Kong.
The woman who given the anti-suicide reminder said, “Arrival in five seconds, four, three-”
I jumped onto the tracks.
People hated those who used unauthorized self-euthanizers more than they hated themselves. It was thievery, torture: if someone died, that meant that someone else couldn’t, that someone else had to live with The Pain for another day.
But if I’m dead, it won’t matter.
The tiles glowed an angry red, and an alarm began to blare. The light-train, going so fast I could hardly see it, stopped instantly. I hadn’t even known they had the technology to do that, to stop a train going light speed five centimeters from my breast. Someone grabbed me and hauled me up and off of the tracks roughly, and I was slammed onto the ground.
“That’s my death day you could have stolen!” I heard someone scream. Law enforcement was coming for me, their uniforms white like those of a nurse in the hospital.
What I had done finally began to sink in.
Before I could lurch to my feet they were on me, pinning my arms and legs. A beautiful woman holding a clipboard looked down at me, and for a second, she had the face of my dead wife.
“Come with us,” she said. “Struggling will not benefit you.” I was hauled into a standing position and had my hands bound behind my back, the force field cuffs burning little hairs off of my wrists. People in white began to drag me away from the beautiful woman, who I knew was the one in charge of my sentence.
“Wait!” I screamed. “Wait, wait, please! Please, just tell me, just tell me how many years my death day is going to be pushed back!”
The people in white stopped dragging me, and I met the eyes of the woman as she said,
“The penalty for possession of self-euthanizers is to be moved to the very, very bottom of the waiting list.”