Death is my Friend

I know, I know. You’re probably thinking “Charlie shouldn’t you be asleep?” or “Charlie don’t you have work to do?” The answer to both of those questions is yes. But instead of dwelling on them you should read the story I just wrote. It’s based on a writing prompt I saw on reddit this morning that I will link to at the bottom of this post.

“It really is okay,” I told them.

They all nodded together, holding back tears. They tried to put on a strong face, all of them. The kids, the wife, but I knew they were just doing it for me. I knew that seeing me like that was tearing them up inside. The cancer that had at first seemed beatable had gotten worse and spread. They had had to watch as my body withered and I was forced to entertain well-wishers sent by the White House, university deans with honorary degrees, and foreign dignitaries intending to pay their respects. No one, it seemed, could just leave me in peace while I died. Everyone wanted to get one last word in. Although, I suppose that was partially my fault.

Gathered around my hospital bed were my closest friends and family. Even more were waiting to see me in the lobby. I’ve made a lot of friends in my time, I’ve always been good at it. My friend Richard can fly and pick up a tank if he feels so inclined, Paul can conjure up illusions so convincing you won’t realize what happened until you’ve already walked yourself into the jail cell, Ashley could conjure flame.

Me, I make friends. I’ve got an irresistible charm that makes me people like me no matter how hard they try no to. So, while the others were putting bank robbers behind bars and making sure aliens kept well away, I was always in meetings. I convinced investors to fund the Watch Tower; a huge complex built to train and house the next generation of heroes. I spoke for the UN and through those efforts managed to not only achieve nuclear disarmament, I also got a world wild environmental protection fund established.

I’m not saying all of this to brag, it happened. Okay, maybe I am bragging a little. But it’s important for you to know the context, and why I have Nobel Peace Prize sitting in my office. My power isn’t dramatic, I can’t level a building, or fly, but I can make friends, and I see that as its own superpower. It’s hard to break down barriers and get people to the negotiating table.

I had done a lot. But at that point I just wanted some rest. Some peace. I don’t blame everyone for wanting to see me. It’s hard to say goodbye. For me though it was infuriating to have all of them around me constantly with their failed attempts to hide their sadness and concern. To be completely honest, I hated the looks of concern the most. All through my life, whenever someone learned what my power was, they looked at me with concern. No matter what I accomplished they doubted whether my power to make friends and win people over was a real power at all. Everywhere I’ve ever turned there were people who felt I needed to be shielded. Protected from the dangers of the world.

I was sick of it.

Surrounded by well-wishers and grieving family I did the only thing I could do in order to get some peace. I pretended to sleep. I learned early on during my stay at the hospital that people got quiet if you pretended to sleep. Although I could feel their eyes on me, wondering if I had just died.

Quiet whispers filled the room. Some of them were talking about me while they though I couldn’t hear. Others made small talk about the weather and other boring topics.

Slowly, ever so slowly, the room grew cold. I had first felt the chills that morning as a faint tingling in my fingers. There was no reason to be surprised. Death is a frequent visitor at any hospital, and as the day had progressed, I had felt the cold grow and move up my arms. Death was getting closer.

Eventually the cold spread to the rest of the room. My guests made the requisite comments about a sudden draft – the polite way of saying what they all knew was coming. I didn’t feel cold anymore. Like a man suffering from hypothermia I felt a sudden warmth. I felt myself smile despite myself. It was the first real smile I had had in days. Death was nearly there.

For all human history there have been accounts of the Grim Reaper, or someone resembling him. Countless scholars had debated his exact appearance, his goals, whether he was sentient or just a construct of our own minds. His was a much-dreaded visage around every deathbed. His passing left only sadness in his wake accompanied by tales of a ghastly visage and a terrible scythe. Almost all see him as a butcher culling his human herd. No one understands him.

Except me. He’s more of a lonely shepherd. A protector that sees us on to whatever it is that comes after this, one who cares deeply with his flock but must keep his distance.

The door opened with a slow creak. One of my guests, I think it was my cousin Leah, let out a shrill scream. The rest were silent.

“Jim?” asked a raspy voice.

I felt a grin split my face and I opened my eyes. “Hey Grim,” I said. “It’s been awhile.”

Death’s pale eyes stared at me with his pale eyes for what seemed like an eternity. He no longer carried the scythe and robes that so many knew him bye. He had given up the scythe decades before after its weight had started to give him back problems. He had turned him the robes for a tailored suit at my urging.

“I,” he said. “I didn’t know you were here.”

“Really? I thought you had lists of these kinds of things?” I replied. While we talked, I noticed my guests looking on in horror. Death rarely talked, and whenever he did it would inevitably result in dozens of books and dissertations arguing over the exact meaning and significance. Now Death was in my hospital room, greeting me as an old friend; which I was.

“I do,” said Death almost sheepishly. “But I have so much work these days it becomes a blur. I hardly have time to sit and think. Sorry. I should have thought to check in more.”

I smiled and dismissed his apology with a wave of my hand.

“No problem at all,” I said. “We all get busy. Lunch?”

“I, I don’t know,” said Death. “You don’t look too good.”

“You can fix that.”

Death looked over his shoulder, as if someone was watching.

He sighed. “I’m not supposed to do this. But alright…”

There was no change in Death’s demeanor. No sign that he had done anything at all. But in an instant, I felt all the pain that had troubled me for months slide away. Suddenly I could breathe easy again and strength flowed back into my atrophied legs.

I leapt out of bed. A move which elicited many shocked gasps from my guest. All hint of worry had disappeared and was replaced by a mix of horror and bewilderment. I took a moment to bask in their reactions knowing it would be the last time any of them ever thought of me as weak, then I turned to Death.

“How does Chinese sound?”

Powered by Blood

My response to an interesting writing prompt that I saw on reddit today.

The original post can be found here :https://www.reddit.com/r/WritingPrompts/comments/98ogf9/wp_you_are_living_in_a_world_where_every_energy/?utm_source=reddit-android

Being picked is a strange feeling.

I was too old when HemeCorp changed the world. Once their chips became mainstream, people suddenly gained the ability to charge their phones and all their other electronics with just a prick of their finger. HemeCorp circuits only need a drop of blood to generate a current. But as their usage grew so too did demand. A pricked finger can’t power a bus or a train after all.

Soon our entire system depended on electricity generated from human blood. The government started requiring everyone to sign up for a lottery on their eighteenth birthday, and every year the government uses this lottery to pick the new donors who will power the country. I was already twenty five when the system was implemented, I avoided donorship. Or I would have.

You see, when the law allowing the conscription of donors was passed, it specified that only individuals between the ages of eighteen and twenty one could be selected. Unless a state of emergency is declared.

I was thirty-five when terrorist attacks disable three of the country’s refineries in the same week. Some people rushed to volunteer and were quickly accepted by the Department of Energy, which at that point had gotten desperate for more of the blood that keeps our society running.

People like me nervously checked their email every morning, praying that they wouldn’t be picked.

Mine came on the last day of the lottery. At first I didn’t believe it. I told myself that maybe it was a scam until my wife read it. It was real.

We both took off work that day. But we waited to tell the kids. What else were we supposed to do? The terms of lottery gave me a week to report to the refinery. So we took the kids out of school took them on a weekend trip camping. Only when we got back did we tell them that I would be leaving.

They started crying, I cried with them. Up until that point I had been numb in a way. The fact that I would be leaving my family, to live out the rest of my life at a refinery, didn’t seem real. It all seemed like a dream.

On the day I was scheduled to report, the whole family came to drop me off at the refinery. I spent most of the car ride trying to cheer them up.

I’ll use this time to write a book like I always wanted, I told them. Then I said maybe I would learn to play an instrument, or pick up some extra degrees online. It wasn’t like I was dying, I said. But we all knew how it would be. The lives of donors are carefully regulated. They have to be be protected, kept healthy, and always near a collection point. It’s true that I wasn’t dying, but our lives together would never be the same.

When we got to the refinery I pulled my wife aside. I suggested that we get a divorced. Sure, I said, I’d be well paid and could send them money. But that was no substitute for actually being around. I told her it would be better if we divorced. I could still send them money and she could find someone that would be there for her and the kids. She just stared at me with was sad, desperate eyes, and told me that I was crazy for suggesting it. I laughed and told her she was right.

Then, on my walk to the refinery gate something broke inside me. I knew that if I was to keep my sanity as a donor, I wouldn’t be able to pretend that I had a life outside of the refinery’s walls. It’d be easier for all of us to pretend that I was dead.

I didn’t look back when I reached the gates, even though I could hear my family crying behind me. Last week I got my divorce papers in the mail. Turns out it only takes three years of no contact for your wife to leave you.

I’ll keep sending them money. Enough that the kids will be fed and able to go to school. If they’re lucky they’ll never be picked as a donor like I was.

I didn’t respond to the divorce papers. Or the fathers day cards. Or the photo albums. I’ve still to this day refused to look back, just like I refused to look back on that walk to the gate.

Other donors have asked me when I’ll come around and start talking with my family again. I try my best to avoid their questions. The truth is that I can’t look back. If I reach out, become involved, I’ll only be reminded of what I lost. What I could have been. If that happens I would surely break. And I’d have no way to pick up the pieces.

Strange Requests

This story is written in response to a post on r/WritingPrompts.

http://www.reddit.com/r/WritingPrompts/comments/91axjn/wp_human_blood_is_a_color_impossible_to_replicate/

“It’s a magnificent color, don’t you think?” asked the king, as he thrust the blood-stained handkerchief towards me.

I quickly rubbed the sleep from my eyes and took the bloody cloth from him. “It is an undoubtedly unique hue,” I agreed. After ten years working for the king I had become used to these night-time summons. The clockwork antelopes had been tough to build, but doable. Then there had been the chandelier he had wanted made out of hard light. But I could already see that what he was about to ask of me would be impossible.

“Can you reproduce it?” asked the king.

I placed the cloth on the table, not wanting to touch it any longer than I had to. “Not exactly,” I said, “human blood is unique. Better alchemists than me have tried and failed to replicate it. The only way to get this color is to use actual blood.”

“Well, that doesn’t sound too hard,” said the king.

It took a conscious effort to stop my jaw from dropping to the floor. “You. You can’t be serious.”

“Of course I’m serious!” exclaimed the king, “I wouldn’t have called you here if I wasn’t. I need a new wardrobe made in this color for my gala next month. Get it done.”

“Y-yes sir,” I answer. The king got up from his chair and shambled back towards the bed, signaling that our meeting was done. I took my leave before he could think of any other tasks to ask of me. The one I had just been given was more than enough to keep me occupied.

The king rarely sees what it took to carry out his wishes. Worries like that are for people like me. The king only cares about results. These thoughts, and just how I would obtain the quantity of blood needed to craft the king a new wardrobe, occupied my mind as I walked to my quarters.

For a moment I considered going to the butcher, but I would have no way of guaranteeing the blood’s purity. Plus the king would probably notice the difference if he compared its color to that of the handkerchief. Human blood is just too unique. I cursed myself for not remembering to take the cloth with me. A doctor on the other hand probably couldn’t deliver the amounts I needed in time. I then considered the prisoners in the dungeon, but questions would be asked if someone began showing up to draw blood from them. I realized that I had only one option.

Upon returning to my quarters I ignored the tantalizing pull that the bed exerted on my tired body and instead grabbed a tattered brown cloak from the closet. It was one that I kept for tasks such as these. As I said before, the king only cares about results. My job is to deliver those results, and ensure that no inconvenient questions get asked about them.

The Black Horse Tavern was lit only by the dying embers of its hearth, and its patrons liked it that way. I walked up to the bar and bought two drinks before looking around for my contact.

I found him half-asleep in the back of the tavern. A quick kick to the legs of the table got him awake. I handed him one of the drinks and sat down at the table.

“You again?” he asked before emptying the tankard.

“Yes,” I sighed, “me again.” I had never asked for his name and he had never asked for mine. It was better for both of us that way.

“What can I get for you this time? Another lindworm tooth, or maybe some dragon scales?”

“I need blood,” I answered, “preferably enough to fill a tub.”

The man gave me a confused look. “What are you coming to me for? The butcher will be open in an hour. Ask him.”

“Human blood,” I said.

“Oh.”

Before he could object I tossed a purse loaded with gold coins onto the table. “You’ll get more when the job is done,” I said.

My contact counted the coins and sighed. “I’ll say this. Of all my customers you come to me with the strangest requests.”

“Can you do it?” I asked. I was getting impatient. The Black Horse wasn’t my idea of a fun place to be, and every minute I spent there was another minute someone might recognize me from the palace.

“Yeah,” he said, “Yeah I can do it. Meet me here in three days. I’ll get you your blood.”

I couldn’t help but breath a sigh of relief. “Thank you,” I whispered.

The man shrugged. “Don’t thank me. Thank the poor bastards it’s going to come out of.”

I pushed that thought out of my mind as I got up to leave. In my job I can’t afford to have a conscience. Besides, I had fabric to order.