Story I

The Writer and the Nurse

Darkness alone filled the wide room, the extra thick curtains made sure of that. The man who inhabiting this room sat at the edge of his bed letting the weariness of sleep melt away. He yawned and leaned forward onto his feet, slowly lumbering toward the curtains and ripping them open. Best to take that first hit of daylight like ripping off a band-aid, his father used to tell him that. He looked back toward the empty bed. “Huh, Vanessa must’ve stayed late today.”

He shuffled over to the closet, slid the door open and pulled the dangling string inside; yellow light cascaded down into the bare wardrobe. "Shit, need to set a reminder to get some laundry done. At least my favorite shirt's still fresh." He pulled a soft grey button up from it’s wooden hanger, leaving an empty row behind, waiting to be replenished. He clicked the light off and went to finish his morning routine. 

The nurse sat in her idling car, sipping her coffee and watching people make their way through the long parking lot of the hospital where she worked. There was something happening today, something she needs to be mentally prepared for. “This is going to be a long one.” She grabbed her name tag from the glovebox and sighed as she looked down at it. “Ms. Cooper,” her maiden name, which she started using again after her divorce a few years back.

She pulled her dark blonde hair back into a loose ponytail, gathered her things, and headed into work. Once finished with her daily reports, she could start on her exhausting rounds; cleaning bedpans, giving out medication, and in some cases having the underrated pleasure of cleaning human shit. It was just a normal day at work, like any other, and it was important she repeatedly remind herself of this – almost to the point of longing for the normalcy of wiping an old man’s ass. When her normal day-to-day was through, she’d have to start prepping for the procedure that may be happening later with a long standing patient of hers, Quentin. His family would be there soon to discuss everything with Quentin’s doctor – old friends of hers – and she wanted to be sure everything went as smoothly as it could. It was just a normal day.

The city street was unusually quiet, he hadn't noticed though. His favorite shirt was on, computer bag at his side, and his earbuds were pumping Dead Kennedys two steps out his front door. Moving along his normal path, he headed a few blocks east to Juniper Street, then left one block toward North Street – finally arriving at the Kingsley Café. As he entered, he pulled the earbuds off so he could hear the familiar ring of the small bell above the door. It was satisfying for some reason, like a trained dog that knew when he hears three clicks, a treat would be coming. He typically got an earlier start to the day than most, so the café was always relaxingly vacant. The barista eyed him as he approached.

"Hey Mr. Fox!" the barista said cheerfully. She was just out of high school, a young attractive blonde with sleek glasses and hair pulled back in a ponytail – young enough to not yet have life take a big shit on her dreams. Her innocence and lust for adventure were still very apparent.

Mr. Fox smiled awkwardly as he reached the counter. She’d been working here for a few months and he still had trouble keeping himself together around her. She just reminded him so much of Vanessa, with fewer tattoos. “Hey Jen, I'll have my usual,” he replied as he pulled out the exact amount of money he needed from his suit jacket pocket. Suits were a new thing for him; 32 years old and just now pretending to be an adult. What he liked best about it were the pockets. He filled them with the most random shit, anything he thought he’d need throughout the day. Keys, pens, a small notebook, some leftover oxycontin from an old surgery, cigarettes, etcetera. He dropped the money into her outstretched palm and she placed it into the cash drawer, not bothering to count it.

“Coming right up! So how have you been?"

"Good," replied Mr. Fox, as he moved to the end of the counter labeled “Order Pick-up.” “Trying to work on my next novel, but I've been stuck for a while now." “Oh, really?" she said, peeking overtop the latte machine. "Well, what's it about, if you don't mind me asking?"

“No, it's okay. It's about a boy who's born instilled with all of the world's knowledge. You would think a gift like this would be great, but he grows up very secluded; flying through what would normally be years of education in a very short time, leaving his friends in the dust. He’s young, alone, and severely depressed; so he tries to end his life. That’s where I’m stuck – should I just let him die, or turn it around and give it the ol’ Disney ending?”

“Wow! That’s really deep, and I haven’t the slightest idea how to help you,” she said chuckling.

He returned the laugh. “That’s okay, I consistently have trouble with the ending. But there’s always a good one in there somewhere, they tend to reveal themselves when I’m not looking.” He nodded his head, as if agreeing with himself. “It’s in there.”

She smiled and handed him his finished chai tea. “It sounds like you have your work cut out for you!”

“I don’t mind, the challenge is nice,” he said, looking around. The place was absolutely empty. “It’s extra dead in here today.”

“It was nice catching up Mr. Fox, good luck with your book!” She quickly turned and walked through a door to the back storage room.

It was an old hospital – everything was covered in the same pale green and a strong smell of antiseptic. Quentin’s family made their way to the end of the second floor hallway to his room. His mother, younger brother, and niece filed in and took what little seating there was. Wide windows filled the west wall to the right side of his bed, which exploded with light this time of day. The sounds of the breathing machine and monitors made for a somber orchestra.

His brother Cliff picked the girl up to his knee and hugged her, his jacket draping heavily around her. “You see Mary, there’s your uncle Quentin. He’s very sick right now, we’re going to stay here with him until his procedure is over. You make sure when you say your prayers tonight, you include uncle Quentin. Okay?” She slid back down to her feet and turned to him. “Okay papa. Will he play dolls with me when we get home?” she replied cheerfully.

“No, I don’t think so Tack,” he said as he kissed her on her blonde head and turned to his mother. “Can you hand me…” He was silenced by the sight of her staring at his brother, wiping her tear soaked face on her sleeve. “It’s going to be okay, mom. This wasn’t his fault, and there’s nothing we can do about it now.”

“I just don’t understand how he could do this. I said, if I ever lost one of you boys…I don’t think I could go on.”

“Don’t talk like that, mom. You’re going to have to be strong now.” He looked down at his daughter who was now gazing up at the television, leaned down and whispered “go give grandma a hug honey, it will make her feel better.”

The door creaked open and Ms. Cooper walked in carrying a clipboard and a weary expression. “Hey, how are you guys holding up?”

Mary turned excitedly and ran to Ms. Cooper, wrapping her little arms around her legs. “I brought my dolls, do you want to play!”

She smiled and knelt down, returning the hug and trying to hide the tears that began to coat her eyes. “Maybe in a little bit, dear.” Cliff grabbed Mary by her shirt and pulled her back to him. She let out a low sigh then stood up, trying to retain the last bit of emotional control she had left. She walked over to the bed and looked down at Quentin. He was 52 – young looking for his age – with some gray peppered here and there amongst his thick dark hair. His current state made him look much older than she remembered. “Alright, well, I’ve got the doctor’s orders so…I can get started, if you guys are ready?”

Mr. Fox arrived to his bench in the park sometime ago, still sipping his tea and blasting music directly into his skull. He liked to work outside when the weather permitted. In most cases it would help him stave off writer’s block. If he got stuck trying to figure out a character or plot, he’d just look around and pull inspiration from the goings-on of strangers. Then boom, an idea would hit him.

But in his current predicament, he was truly fucked. He’d re-written the whole book at least four times now, still unable to tie it up in the end. He felt his problem always seemed to be trying to reach beyond his capabilities as a writer. He wanted to fill his books with philosophical ideas and deeper meanings, make stories that’d leave an impact long after he was dead. But it all just came out like a muddled pile of shit, and this pile in particular was a steep one. He knew there was something there, something concrete at the bottom of this heap.

“Ignorance is bliss seems to be the message,” he thought to himself, “or maybe it’s more about knowledge being useless without experience? Why would someone who knows everything you could possibly know be jaded like that? Lack of emotional connections, of course. So he finds no meaning to life without love, and his solidarity weighs on him. No one really understands the type of burden he carries.” He let out a heavy breath of air. “This is a fucking waste of time.”

He closed his laptop to take a smoke break then jumped about a foot off the bench. He hadn’t noticed the little blonde girl sitting beside him, staring intently up at his face. “Why hello! I’m sorry, you scared me there,” he said through a smile as he pulled his earbuds out. “Are you here with your parents?”

“What’cha doin’?” she asked, rocking from side to side and swinging her legs off the edge of the bench. A breeze blew past, chilling the air and pushing leaves into his feet.

“Well, I’m working on a book. I mean, kind of. Been having a little trouble with it lately.”

“I like books. Books and dolls. My favorite is Clifford, he’s a big red dog.”

“Oh yes, I’m familiar. There are some valuable lessons in those stories, you’ve got good taste.”

“That’s what my papa tells me. He calls me Tack, because I’m smart.”

“Sharp as a tack, that’s very clever. I think I’ve actually heard that nickname before, believe it or not. Hey, so where are your parents? You shouldn’t be in the park by yourself like this.” He looked up and around then almost dropped his cold tea. The park was completely empty. “What the hell…oops, sorry,” he said as he turned back to the little girl, but she was no longer there. Vanessa sat in her place, looking kindly into his eyes in a pretty red sundress he bought for her on their tenth year anniversary, the short bottom revealing her colorful thigh tattoos. Her dark blonde hair was blowing wildly in the wind. BEEP. Startled, he dropped his drink and pushed his computer from his lap as he jumped back. “Jesus Christ, you scared the shit out of me! What are you doing here? Where did that girl go?”

“It’s time to go, dear,” she said as she held her hand out toward him. BEEP. He felt heavier suddenly, like he was sinking into a deep pool, the icy water creeping up his neck. All above him began to change to a starless night sky, getting darker and darker until a single glow of light covered the bench. He looked down at her outstretched hand, then his own. They were much older looking now, rough and spotted. “I don’t understand.” His voice was no longer smooth and melodic, but dry and deep. The last bit of light began to dim as he reached for her.

Ms. Cooper finished unhooking Quentin from the respirator and the rhythmic beep of the heart monitor gradually slowed. She’d done this procedure a thousand times before, why should this time be any different. “He’s just a patient,” she echoed in her mind, over and over again. “He’s not coming back, this has to be done.”

Quentin’s family stood opposite the bed, huddled around him. His mother sobbed uncontrollably, with Mary in her arms looking rather confused. Cliff stood next to them, seeming more angry than sad. He looked across the bed and eyed Ms. Cooper intently, red beginning to splotch his face, tears finally breaking past the bottom rims of his eyelids and streaking down his cheeks. “You did this,” he muttered. She looked back at him, shocked, unsure if she heard correctly.

“Cliff, don’t…,” his mother snapped.

“If you would have just fucking been there, just…talked to him, he wouldn’t have done what he did. Ever since your divorce, how did you not see how he was acting…how he’d changed. This is your fault.”

Startled by the shouting and already upset, Mary began to scream and cry loudly.

“He…” Ms. Cooper began, but her emotions were set free. She began to bawl, her eyes glistening from the window light. “He, he n-never threatened suicide. I-I didn’t know. How c-could I have known?”

“Fuck you, Vanessa. You’re worthless. You’re the reason for all of this. His drug problem, his years of depression. You’re the reason he’s fucking dead, in this shitty fucking hospital. And of course you’d want to be the one to finish the job!” He began trembling, his face getting redder, spit flying from his lips as he yelled.

“Cliff that’s enough, leave this poor girl alone!” his mother yelled. “You shouldn’t be shouting like this in front of your daughter!” She pushed past Cliff and took Mary out into the hallway.

“I-I knew he was d-depressed, I…I just didn’t know. I-I didn’t kn-know about the pills!” Vanessa looked down at Quentin – her tears falling to his face and gleaming in the setting sunlight – then back up at Cliff.

He was holding a small 9mm he’d just pulled from his jacket pocket, his arm shaking and extended in her direction. His voice was low now, monotone. “I…I can’t.” The gun fired. Vanessa flew back into the heart monitor, her deep red blood spraying across Quentin’s white sheets.

To The Top

Story II

The Cold Collectors

“I mean, they’re dead, right? Like…a museum buying a mummy?” said the haggard drunk to my right, who was clearly only there for some shelter from the cold. He was leaning over, close enough to get the occasional whiff of unbathed skin and alcohol. I preferred he just leave me the fuck alone, but the only other person sitting back this far was across the center isle; so his glazed stare focused on me.

I shrugged, looking down at my silver bidding tablet, waiting. “They’re alive in those chambers right up until they’re bought and unplugged. Then it’s just a preserved corpse.”

“That can’t be true, I mean, that’s murder…they’re just…killing these people!” His voice elevated.

“Well, most of the people that opted to be frozen were already dead anyway. And once the government finally passed the Cryo-Hope Act, these companies were granted permission to work independently however the fuck they wanted. Their clients signed an agreement. So, in the unfortunate event something happens to the chamber while you’re in it, or say…the company you paid to turn you into a human popsicle goes bankrupt and has to sell all their property, no one will be held accountable. It’s like, assisted suicide.”

The drunk burped up vodka stench and fell back into his seat. “Totally fucked, man.”

"The next item up for bid is MoLab Incorporated cryo-chamber 5642, containing Doctor Bradon Varanity. We'll start the bidding at five-hundred thousand," the colorful woman at the front announced, her overly enthusiastic voice blasting from every bidding tablet in the auditorium. I sat up in my seat, this was the one I’d been waiting for, what I’d been working years toward and scraping up as much coin as I could. I had to win this bid, my life literally depended on it.

I stared down at the tablet, information on the chamber and doctor it contained slid onto the screen. With all of these cryogenics places going bankrupt and liquidating their assets, these chambers were essentially human-sized action figures now – with even the occasional mega-celebrity popping up – and were all the rage for wealthy collectors. I wasn’t interested in that, what I needed was the Doctor’s mind, his research. I pressed the initial “Bid” button that was flashing green in the corner of the tablet. With a limit of about five million coin, I had to pray some wealthy playboy wasn’t there with an infatuation for doctors.

“We have our first bid” the auctioneer squealed, as if surprised, “bidder number 387! Do we have a counter?” And of course there was, again and again; finally teetering off around three million.

Now, I had to move. The winning bid immediately gets sent to the suspension facility containing the chamber up for auction – which meant it’ll be unplugged and prepped for shipment soon. The tablet flashed green around it’s edges signifying my success, then prompted me for more info. Name, account information; I was going as fast as I could, finally hitting the shipping options. I tapped “Self-Pick-Up,” “Accept,” then took off running – I had to get to that damn facility, soon. Once a chamber’s unplugged, there’s only a small window of time it’s occupant can survive without the support system. I rigged up my own system in my shitty delivery van that could sustain the chamber for little while, just long enough to wake him up. I needed him alive. Before he was frozen, he was working on a cure for a very specific disease I happened to be intimately acquainted with. He was my only chance for a longer human life.

As the van slowly got it’s legs I activated the self-drive, put in the address for the facility, then rushed to the back to fire up the rig. The biggest problem was power, which was one of the main reasons all of these cryo-labs started going under. During the cryo-boom, they had a huge influx of cash. But once people stopped giving a shit about cryogenics, the companies couldn’t afford the upkeep. Now thousands of people were reduced to decorations for some rich douchebags’ penthouse apartment. That’s the goddamned world we live in.

A few months ago I picked up an old 3500-watt generator from a junker on the outskirts of the city – which I was sure would be enough to keep the chamber going until I could at least get the necessary injections in, get him conscious. I had to be quick, the wattage was too low to keep it going any longer than an hour. This was my only chance, no more obsessing over my impending doom. It had already cost me everything.

I pulled up to the facility, it was very rundown looking for a place formally owned by a multi-billion-dollar company. I parked and rushed to the door, hitting the com’s worn screen and punching in my bidding confirmation number. Two heavy men in old blue jumpsuits immediately came rolling out, wheeling the chamber on a dolly and eying me suspiciously – which was understandable, not the type of buyer they’re used to seeing I’m sure.

They loaded him in the van and I returned to the road. With self-drive on again I went back, hooked the chamber to the generator, and keyed in the command to open the front latch; then hooked the doctor to the injection tubes, feeding in the solutions I picked up last week from a seedy pawn shop on Peach Street. His eyes shot open and he screamed violently, flailing his arms wildly into my chest. I fell back hard into the wall of the van; the warm feeling of blood began to cover my head with warmth. His maddening screams and the rev of the engine accelerating along the highway filled my ears. My consciousness slipped away and uploaded to the “Elysium Drive,” standard for every human born past the year 2082, which is where my story truly begins.