The Dead Man

Excerpt from The AuTCRONE Chronicle written by ...kruse 2020

 

   The dead man scratched one naked, bony knee and shifted a little, to ease where the metal tubing of the bed dug into his thigh. He was damned if he'd lie down, though sitting meant the back of the med gown gaped open exposing his arse.
   No one was coming for him. Most everyone he ever knew was dead and the youngsters had looked shiftily away and claimed they couldn't get release from their work rotas. They were embarrassed about him of course. He’d held on for too long and he didn't really know why. Maybe he'd always been a cantankerous bastard and once the hints and mutterings started it became a matter of pride to defy their expectations. Even when the taunts grew louder and the spitting started he grimly refused to Pass Over.
   But there are a million subtle ways the Enclave can make a citizen’s life even more unpleasant. No heating in his cubby, less and less food on his plate in Halls, mysteriously losing his clothing rights and even after a hundred visits to the stash bank, never resolving the issue. And never any appointments available at Medica either. So when his prostate went stupid and he needed to piss constantly, wetting the bed like a baby, he knew it was time. 

Had it taken more courage to stay alive, or to step into the lift to the Passing room?  He’d felt proud of the fight to live, proud of himself. Stupid really, but dying before you were fifty was common, the air being what it was and Medica resources being so sparse. The golden years of the National Health Service were a hundred years gone and while everyone knew some corporations were doing incredible things in biotech and cybernetics none of that filtered down to the citizens in Enclaves. You knew you were at the bottom of the heap if you’d been born in an Enclave, but he’d always been a proud man even so. 

   Maybe, in earlier times, he’d have been an athlete, a boxer or runner, maybe even an Olympian. They’d once had a history lesson where the teacher had shown them archive vid of the Olympics, the great parade of heroes and some of the sports they had competed in. The kids had played Olympics for weeks afterwards, putting on parades and holding running games when the oldies weren’t around to yell at them for using up the air. The teacher was reprimanded for invoking disturbance and sent to work Outside for a season. She didn’t come back.

   He’d had a taste of something wonderful in those running games and was always on the lookout for archive vids and info on sport after that. He started secret running whenever he found himself in an empty corridor and signed up for work that took him to the furthest, least populated parts of the Enclave. Though the air was stuffy in those places and it was hard to breathe, he loved the sensation of running, and yes, maybe, the feeling of being defiant, deviant.

   He shivered suddenly, violently. Well that was a bloody joke too, how cold it was in here. The bastards just wanted you to know you were nothing but a drain on Resources, a selfish, long lived irrelevance, an oldie. He was born long after the Last Year, of course, but anyway, like all older people now, he was seen as somehow responsible for the monumental stupidity of those earlier oldies, the Boomers, fuck their eyes. So the cold in here was the final twist of spite the citizens allowed themselves. With unlimited, furnace-like heat Above, it’d cost nothing really to pump a little bit of warmth into this cell, to make that tiny gesture of kindness to the folk in their final hours.
   A wave of grief washed over him. What a miserable fucking end to his miserable fucking life, sitting alone in a cold room, just him and a little vial of milky white death. All the lost loves and laughs of his distant youth just agonising memories now. He’d fathered two children too, the guilt of which never left him. What a world they’d come into, Gods! If their lives had been snuffed out at birth, what a kindness that would have been.

He remembered the boys as babies, their soft, chubby little bodies, the sweet warm smell of them, their babyish giggles. They came into the world just perfect and the world set about destroying that perfection at their first breath. Ade died when he was seven, fighting for breath so hard he broke a rib, his scrawny little body rigid with effort. Martin made it into his twenties but he suffocated when the Enclave he lived in was overcome with smoke from another wildfire. The dead man hadn’t seen Martin’s death, hadn’t been there for him, uselessly, as he had with Ade, but the agony and the guilt of it was just as haunting. Yet despite all this, he still wanted to live. He wanted to live! In a hot rage he snatched up his death and flung it hard at the door, the glass smashing, milky liquid dripping obscenely.

   “Damn you!” he shouted with impotent fury. His heart thumped sickeningly in his skinny old chest and he shivered with cold and misery.

   There was a rattle of keys and the heavy door opened, making an unholy racket as it swung across the glass shards. A young woman with a clipboard stood in the doorway, flanked by two security guards. She walked into the room and smiled,

   “Hello Peter," she said. "So. You want to live?”

...kruse 2020