Contact

He found it not far from his farmhouse in the scrub and desert of Laikipia in Kenya. He photographed it and called the local police who called Nairobi who called the United Nations. Seventy two hours later his farm, where he had lived alone for fifty years, was sealed off and a large white tent was erected over the object.

Press teams interviewed him almost hourly and his farm hands more than once. His answers were always the same: No, he didn’t hear anything; Yes, it must have happened at night; No, he had never seen anything like it before.

After a while they left him and he sat on his veranda drinking beer, watching the people all over his land.

It was a long cylinder, maybe two feet in diameter and one hundred feet long. It was like metal to look at and he expected it to be hard but it was soft as a sponge. He had poked it several times, nervously. On the third poke, a small section had opened like a drawer. When he saw what was inside, he called the police.

He sipped his beer thinking about it. The smell had struck him most at first – a pungent almost sweet smell – but it made him cough and he pulled away. There were large, bold letters down the side of it and on the inside of the drawer.

He was tired. It had been a long day. He closed his eyes.

One of the journalists found him. “I think the old guy’s had it. It must have been all too much for him.”

In the seconds before he died, he kept thinking about that writing.

What was it like? It reminded him of something.

What was it?

That’s it: like warning signs.

What your colour says about you

He noticed the colours long before he knew what they meant. The pale yellows, the browns, the clear blues, and of course the harsh reds.

“Daddy’s yellow,” he had tried to explain to his distracted mother, a clear blue, who agreed without hearing and returned to her book.

Teachers at first ignored him, then punished him, then settled on ignoring him until he gave up trying to explain what he could see. So he kept his colours to himself. He watched the colours, faint like an outline but always there.

It was around this time that his parents stopped talking to him and he lived a lonely life in his room, thinking about what the colours could mean.

After many years of thinking it through, he started linking the colour to the person’s personality. He had tried many theories but this worked the best. Reds were predictably feisty, browns digressed, yellows were friendly and blues thoughtful.

For every colour he identified a thousand shades and variations, building a complex system linking every personality trait to all the colours he could see.

He could see all these things but though he stared for hours into the mirror, he could not see his own colour.

Like all lonely people, he searched the internet to see if others existed that could see the colours too. He found, quite easily, a small website offering to train others to see colours. Maybe, he thought, they will show me how to see my own colour.

The email response was short and to the point: “You have no colour. Do not contact me again.”

He had never seen anyone without a colour before. Plenty of whites but never an absence of colour.

He found the small, badly-kept cottage from the website address.

An old man opened the door.

“No,” he said, shocked.

“What does it mean if you have no colour?”

“Please go. Leave me alone!” He stumbled back into the house. “No good can come of this. Please go!”

He moved towards the old man to explain but he grabbed his chest in pain. He watched his colour change from green to red to brown to grey before slowly leaving his body like smoke.

He stepped over the body of the old man and looked around the room. The answer must be here somewhere. On the desk he found a handwritten book with the words Your Colours stencilled on the front.

He opened it and read the first line slowly and many times:

Everyone has a colour. Except the dead. They have no colour at all.

The Architect

He coughed. Once. Hard. He sipped some tea then returned to the drawing of the house set out on the table. It wasn’t quite right. All the pieces were there, but they didn’t hang together well. It lacked…he struggled for the right word…coherence.

He coughed again. This time harder. Then again. The  he coughed again and again, so hard his eyes began to water. Then once more and his lungs squeezed out of his mouth, octopus-like, on to the table, staining the drawing with blood and mucus. He watched them move up and down, collapsing with his breaths and expand as he inhaled.

He coughed again. Out popped his heart, beating fast, landing on the table next to his lungs. His liver followed, then one, two kidneys and then his stomach and the long slow unravelling of his intestines formed a wall around his other organs.

After 30 minutes, all his internal organs were sitting on the table in front of him. Shouldn’t I be dead? he thought.

But all seemed to be functioning perfectly. In fact, he hadn’t felt this well for years.

Looking at the mess on the table, he decided to tidy up. He searched the kitchen and found some Tupperware containers and put his organs in them, squeezing the stomach down so it fit. The intestines he coiled into a laundry basket and then put them all in the corner of the living room.

He scratched his head and a large clump of hair came out, then another and another until all his hair was in a pile on the floor. His eyes then popped out, then his teeth and he felt  his left arm, then his right, twist out of their sockets. The his legs.

He lay in pieces arranged on the floor like a broken doll. There was no pain. Only a vague sense of expectation.

“Now,” said a voice. “All the parts are right, but they just don’t add up to a convincing whole. Not coherent at all.”

The End

It was, perhaps, ironic that the founder of the Right To Die movement was the direct descendant of the scientist who first discovered the secret to eternal life.

Ronald J Husband, the great-great-grandson of Professor Husband, the greatest scientist of all time, was a member of the Last Born – the last children permitted to be born since the Secret (as Professor Husband’s became to be known) spread from the rich north to the poorest parts of Asia and Africa. The world populations reached 50 billion and it was then given the choice between having a child and eternal life. The World Council agreed to end procreation for fear that a shortage of food would prove to be the fatal flaw in Professor Husband’s discovery.

Ronald J Husband was a very rich man as a result of his ancestor’s discovery and was blessed with the one thing those that live forever crave more than anything: space.

He lived on the top floor of the 1000 floor Husband building and could look across the endless skyscrapers and see, almost without interruption, the rising and setting of the sun.

He was a privileged man so why did he start a movement that tried and succeeded to give  each person the option to turn off their Husband System and slowly start to die.

Wealth made the law easy to pass but what concerns historians is why so many chose to turn their backs on eternal life – something we now take for granted. And why did a man of wealth like Ronald J Husband put his vast resources to encourage almost 10 billion people to end their lives?

As we know, the psyche has taken time to adjust to the moral implications of never dying. The collapse of religion and the rise in humanitarian kindness took many hundreds of years. The despair that arose from the thought of eternal consciousness goes some way to explain why so many took that step to end their lives.

We can only conjecture what motivated Ronald J Husband. He has refused all attempts to discuss this period of his life and has not left the penthouse for many thousands of years. His speeches at the huge death festivals he organised give little insight into his own motivations. He was known to watch over the mass suicides that each death festival ended in but there is no evidence that he took any sadistic pleasure in this.

After five years and 10 billion deaths, Ronald J Husband shut down the Right To Die movement and campaigned for the law to be overturned, which it duly was. He bought up the now empty skyscrapers around him and bulldozed them. The park he created in their place was named to honour the dead: “Eternal Silence Park”.

His last words before he locked himself away in his penthouse were recorded by chance following the opening of the park.

“At last,” he said (it is not known who to), “The perfect view.”

 

The Choice

The worst thing about dying is the transfer and how little time you have to choose. In my case, a sharp pain in the chest after a heavy lunch ended my largely pleasant life in seconds. It did, as I imagined it would, go dark. But only for a second. Then a large face appeared (a cold, unsmiling, bureaucratic face if you ask me) and insisted I answer the question:

“What do you want to be?”

“A bit too late for that,” I joked, rapidly catching on that I was dead.

“Do you think you’re the first one to make that remark?” The face puffed out its cheeks. I couldn’t tell whether it was male or female. It exhaled.

“So what do you want to be?”

“I’m sorry. I don’t understand. Be what?”

The face sighed noisily.

“You are dead. The dead become objects. You choose which object.”

“Really? I’d like to be…” I paused. A tree? A mountain? A Buddhist temple? A large boulder looking out to sea?

“Ah, too late. You’ve been gazumped.”

“Gazumped? Like a house?”

“Pretty much. Someone’s stolen your choice. Which means you will be …” It looked down at something I presumed to be a clipboard. “You will be…”

I must admit I was excited. “What? What?”

“You will be a lamp!” The face looked pleased. “That’s it. Enjoy your period as an inanimate object.” And then it disappeared.

It is hard to explain how it feels to be inanimate. I have no human senses but I know the room is there. And I am a lamp within it. Stuck in the same room.

I’ve tried to make myself move or fall over even to turn myself on. But nothing. I’m just a lamp – a conscious one – but what good is consciousness if you can’t communicate.

Still, as the years pass as an object you acquire a certain wisdom about life and I came to understand that if I could be gazumped then I could gazump someone else. The wisdom that grew in me was simple: try and feel a death nearby then will myself into another object.

Much time passed before another death happened near me. The poor lady was just about to choose when I rushed in , stole her choice, and left the lamp to become something else.

“What do you want to be?” asked the face with the same bureaucratic bored tone.

All these years of planning was about to pay off. I had thought of everything. It was a way out, of sorts.

“A pen,” I said. “I want to be a pen!”

 

The Monster in the Cupboard

It was there last night and when he checked, it was still there in the morning: sitting cross-legged in the cupboard under the stairs.

“Give me! Give me!” it said.

He closed the door and propped a chair against it.

That should stop it, he thought and sat down on the floor opposite. He waited a while, straining his ears. He could hear nothing. Maybe it’s gone away. Gone as quickly as it came.

He crouched on the chair and listened. Nothing. Maybe there was a little noise. He couldn’t be sure. He pulled the chair away and opened the door a fraction.

“Give me!” it said, louder this time but still sitting cross-legged with its hands out.

“Give you what?” He kept the gap too small for it to escape.

“Give me food!” it said.

“And then you will go away?”

“Give me food!”

He thought about this. Maybe that was all that was needed.

“Give me food!” it shouted, louder this time.

He propped the chair against the door handle again and went to the kitchen to make a sandwich. What would it eat, he thought. He made a sandwich with peanut butter and took it back to the cupboard. It broke it up and ate bits, smearing the peanut butter on its face.

“Give me drink!”

He fetched a cola from the fridge and watched it drink.

“Give me more!”

“No more now. Just go.” Steven closed the door and waited for a second. Then reopened it.

“Give me more. Give me chocolate.”

He looked around the house until he found a packet of chocolate buttons.

“Take them then go.”

“More chocolate. Give me more chocolate!”

It was screaming now. Hard, penetrating screams. He could take no more. He took a deep breath and dived into the cupboard. He picked it up (it weighed less than he thought) and ran into the back garden holding it away from so it wouldn’t bite.

He pressed the peddle of wheelie bin and threw it in, hitting it twice on its strange bald head until it screamed no more.

Back in the house he felt calm and settled down in front of the TV. A little later there was a knock on the door and a woman in a nurse’s uniform walked in.

“What a night I’ve had! thanks so much for baby-sitting. It was a real life safer. Where is he by the way?”

Thumbs Up!

It started with an itch just below the nail of her thumb. She scratched it but instead of easing the itch, her nail caught the skin and pulled a thin sheet off.

“My goodness,” she said, wincing with pain. She dabbed the bare skin with her fingers to soothe it but instead the skin started to unravel peeling around her thumb in a curl like a pink and white party streamer.

She rushed to the kitchen of her small two-roomed cottage and held her thumb under the tap. For a moment, she relaxed. That was better. What a strange thing to happen. She closed her eyes and let the water soak her hand.

She opened her eyes and looked down at her hand.

“Oh my,” she said. Her thumb had swelled up to the size of an apple.

“This is not right at all.” She tried the number of the doctor with her right hand.

“Yes, it’s swollen up like an apple,” she told the doctor. Lie down, he advised, which she did, hanging her hand over the edge.

She closed her eyes again. This was most unusual. Her thumb throbbed and she felt drowsy but she forced herself to stay awake. Opening her eyes, there was her thumb. Not the size of an apple any more but the size of a football. She had to balance it on the bed.

She decided to go to the hospital. It was only ten minutes from her house.

Instinctively she went to put on her coat, but seeing the large red football-sized thumb, she settled for a hat and scarf instead.

She opened the door and stepped one foot out of the door but was pulled back.

“What could it be?” She turned around and her thumb was as big as a chair. She opened the door as widely as she could and managed to squeeze it through. It was heavy and she had to catch her breath.

She tried to walk with it but it was too heavy to lift. She rested it on the ground then picked it up and swung it forward with each step. She did this for a few paces but was soon exhausted. It was the size of a car now and then a truck and then a small building bigger than her own house. She hung from it, dangling her legs down, helpless.

“Help!” she called to a small boy walking past.

The boy stopped and looked up at her, hanging there from the giant thumb. He took out a small pen knife and prodded the thumb.

“Don’t!” she shouted but he ignored her and with one big thrust stuck the pen knife  through the thin pink skin.

Pieces of skin went everywhere, covering her house in pink and white patches. She lay on the ground, her thumb small and normal but bleeding sticking up.

“Thank you,” she said, not sure if she was thankful at all and trying to ignore an itch that had started on her ring finger.

 

 

The Last Song

He tapped the trumpet case. The words “a sound that lasts forever” were stencilled along the rim.

“The music never dies,” said the salesman, smiling.

He took the trumpet from the case and pressed against his lips. The cancer swelled in his throat. It hurt to blow but still he started to play.

The music came easily to him. Like the growth in his throat wasn’t there. Like he was young again.

He lost his thoughts as he moved through random chords, finding tunes from the arrangement of chords.

He kept playing. The salesman aged to an old man then a skeleton then crumbled to dust. Trees grew large and heavy then fell to the ground. Seas rose and shrank to deserts. The sun, at last, went from yellow to red to a deep orange blue.

Wild winds rose around him as loud and as penetrating as the sounds he blew from the trumpet.

And still he played.

Alone on a dead planet, he played the chords he remembered – lonely, desperate sounds.

But he was alive. He drew breath and played some more oblivious to the shape of hands forming in the clouds.

The hands grew large and reached down towards him, unnoticed. They paused just behind him as he rolled random notes up and down the scale.

Then they struck, grabbing the trumpet and pulling it from him. He fought and tried to hold on but the trumpet slipped first from his lips and then his hands until it was gone. It disappeared into the cloud hands and they returned to the sky which blackened and sank down and around him. The dead sun, the dead planet, disappeared into a deep blackness until only he remained and slowly he faded into nothing.

“It’s got a beautiful sound,” the shopkeeper cleaned the mouth piece of the trumpet as he spoke.

“Eternal.” He blinked in the bright light of the shop. “I went to a completely other place.” He coughed. Playing had strained his throat. It wouldn’t be long now.

“I’ll take it.”

The shopkeeper nodded and went to say something but shrugged instead.

“Cash or card?”

Back in his room, he took out the trumpet and prepared to play.

As before the world died around him and he remained alive and playing. He felt young again, vibrant. The cancer was gone from his throat, as dead as the sun in front of him.

A thousand years passed or was it a minute? He would live forever. The music lived forever.

They found him propped up in his bed. The trumpet was so tightly held in his rigor mortis hands that they decided to bury it with him. A calm smile was frozen on his face. And his eyes were open and wet.

The Chair

He liked the chair. It had padded armrests and small cushions either side of his head. He could pull out a leg rest tucked underneath if he wanted and with the flick of a lazy finger, he could push the back to recline and really get some rest.

He liked to sit in the chair after work with a book or his laptop resting on his lap. The chair would have been better if it had a pull out table but it wasn’t essential. He never really read the book or used the laptop. They just made sitting there seem more productive.

He started to come home early to sit in his chair. He spent all day in the office thinking about it. His office chair, a normal chair, was nothing like his chair at home.

The first day he called in sick he couldn’t look at the chair for blushing. But once the phone  was switched off, he curled up on it, coughed to justify the day off then stayed there all day.

He was back at work two days later but didn’t finish the week before he called in again.

He didn’t go back. They dismissed him after he failed to answer the phone. He watched it ring from his chair but didn’t move. He was just too comfortable.

A few days later, he started sleeping in the chair. He worried this was a step too far but in full recline with the leg rest out he slept soundly. Better than ever before.

His toilet needs frustrated him. He would wait as long as he could before dragging himself out of the chair. He brought a bucket close to the chair and with a bit of effort was able to use it as a toilet without leaving the chair.

He had stacked up some sandwiches and a large bottle of water next to him. It lasted a week. He picked at the crumbs after that. Making more was wasted time away from the chair.

He slept more and more. This was the most comfortable chair in the world.

“Nice way to go,” said the policeman, called to investigate the smell. “Great chair. Don’t let them throw it it out.  A bit of a clean and it’ll be perfect in the conservatory.”

 

 

 

Real Blood Brothers

They met at school. Frank was a small, blond boy with freckles and a crooked smile. Jason was taller, darker and better looking but was shy when Frank wasn’t there.

They grew, shared girlfriends, shared flats, got jobs with the same company and married sisters, settling in the same street so their children could play together and become as close friends as they were.

“Remember when we became blood brothers?” Frank asked one cool Sunday evening as they smoked on the porch of his house.

“It stung for days,” said Jason, looking at the place where the scar had been.

“Of course we’re not real blood brothers.”

“How do you mean?” Jason was hurt. It had meant a lot to him.

“To be real blood brothers, you need to share something more. Something real.”

“You’re my blood brother.”

“Prove it.” Frank sucked on the cigarette harshly and stared at Jason.

“How can I?” Jason hated it when Frank was like this. He had been going on for weeks now, how no one cared for him. These moods usually passed. He was used to them. A good night out would fix it.

“How can you? How can you?” Frank jumped up and stood in front of Jason. “Be my real blood brother!”

“We already did. Aged ten. Remember?”

“No that was kid’s stuff. I mean really do it. A bit of you in me, a bit of me in you.”

“What?”

“I’ve been thinking about it. We swap hearts. You give me yours. I give you yours.”

“You’re crazy.”

Frank pushed Jason back and he stumbled, almost fell, but caught himself.

“Then you’re no friend of mine!”

“Come on Frank.”

“Clear off. Get out of here. And don’t come back.”

Jason walked away. It was always best to walk away when he was like this. He would calm down. It was just the way Frank was. It would pass.

The next day he went round to see Frank but Frank wouldn’t see him. The day after was the same. then the next.

A ‘For Sale’ appeared outside the house.

Jason was desperate. Frank was not only his best friend. He was his only one. he asked Frank’s wife, his children, his parents. But the message was always the same: Frank would only see a real blood brother.

Days passed. Then weeks. Four months after their argument on the porch of Frank’s house, Jason could take no more. He had lost weight. He couldn’t sleep. He felt his life had no purpose without his friend, his blood brother, Frank.

“OK. I’ll do it. But who will do this for us?”

Frank hugged his friend.

“All arranged. I have a doctor sorted who will do this for cash. Look, this is my crazy plan. I’ll pay.”

Jason insisted on covering half the costs.

Two days later he woke up alone in the private room he and Frank had been checked into the day before. Frank was not there. Propped up next to his bedside lamp was an official-looking letter addressed to Frank with ‘Read This’ written on it in Frank’s handwriting.

Jason read the words slowly:

Dear Mr Jones

As you requested, I have put here in writing the results of your tests. Unfortunately the heart disease is at such an advanced state it is my professional opinion that you have one, possibly two years to live.