How do you want to die?
Everyone has to go through it, but for the right price, you could choose how, when, and where.
Travis is one of the world's most well-known Deathwriters, a very rare group of individuals with the unique ability to bring about death through the medium of the written word. A personalized death written on one's behalf usually comes with a kingly price tag, but after a close personal encounter with death, Travis begins to question the entire system.
DEATHWRITER - Chapter 2
So, most Deathwriters just bring their clients to their homes when they first meet them. Give them the whole “shock-and-awe” as soon as they step through those mahogany double doors with glasses of champagne and exotic rugs. Now, I personally wouldn’t mind hosting meet-and-greets at my home, but my particular brand of clients tends to shy away from the city of Hawthorne. Which is why I usually hold my meetings at my office on campus in Westwood. Gives things a youthful feel, professional, academic if you will. And universities have their own sense of grandeur, maybe not the flashy kind, but more of a holistic kind, a collective grandeur.
It’s a nice gig, teaching at UCLA. They have me teaching a few courses. Writing, theory of mortality, history of Far Eastern deathwriting. Keeps me busy. I only get one or two clients a year, so I’ve got to do something else to fill my time. And I never really got into surfing or skiing or whatever else it is they do around here.
I’ve just finished packing my bag for the day when I hear a knock on the door.
I sigh and drop my head. It’s always at the end of the day. Never a call beforehand or an email to schedule something during regular hours. Probably some student wondering why he has a failing grade when he knows he’s turned in at least half the homework assignments over the course of the semester.
I walk to the door and open it, but instead of a pleading student, I find Gina Fox, an up-and-coming starlet worth more than I’ve ever made in my entire career. She’s got sunglasses and a baseball hat on—probably to keep herself incognito while in public—but it’s definitely her.
“Hi, Mr. Warren?”
I smile and make a conscious effort to keep my jaw from dropping. Just because you’re famous doesn’t mean you can’t get starstruck yourself. “Uh, hi! Yes! Please, just call me Travis. What can I do for you?”
“Well, I uh…” she looks around my office. “Is there somewhere we could talk for a second? If you have the time, that is.”
“Sure! Sure, not a problem at all. Just give me one second,” I say, pushing aside the chair that holds my packed bag.
I grab my wallet and keys, then lead Gina up to the rooftop gardens where I usually take most of my clients. I’m assuming that’s what she’s here for. Unless she wants to sign up for Analysis of Postmodern Mortal Literary Function. Seeing as I hardly want to teach the class, my guess is it’s the former.
Once we’re on the roof, I pick a bench tucked away inside a grove of pygmy date palms with a stunning view of Century City and—thanks to the rain yesterday—even a clear view of Catalina Island. I notice Gina looks troubled, unsettled, which isn’t all that uncommon for prospective clients. It’s never an easy subject to broach. So, I wait for her to get comfortable before continuing.
“So, Ms. Fox,” I begin, noting the look on her face when she realizes I recognize her, “what can I do for you?”
“Well,” she says, wringing her hands, “I was wondering if you could tell me a little more about, you know…the writing thing you do.”
“Deathwriting, you mean?” I clarify, ripping the band aid off clean.
She gulps and nods.
It’s so strange seeing her like this, especially after watching her, just last week, slay an ancient beast using just her mind and a pair of flaming swords. It was an inspired movie. She was brilliant. But that’s beside the point.
“Well, let me tell you, it’s a lot less intimidating than it sounds,” I say, giving her a comforting smile. “I can go through the general process for you, tell you what I do and how we work together, what the timeline is. Then, if you’re still interested, we can talk about how to customize your experience the way you’d like. I’d go through a few get-to-know-you questions, as I like to call them, and then you’re on your way. Easy as that! I take care of everything else on my end. Does that sound good to you?”
“Yeah, sure,” she says, removing her hat and sunglasses. I notice the hint of a relieved smile on her lips. Good. I never like it when people are uncomfortable around me, like I’m some sort of deity that holds the power of fate in my hands.
I mean. I kind of do. But I don’t want people seeing it that way.
“Alright, perfect. So, first things first, this is your experience, and if at any point you start feeling uncomfortable or unsatisfied, you have every right to walk away. No questions asked. No hard feelings. I’m here for you, not the other way around. I’ll go with you only as far as you want.
“Now, I like to start off with the business side of things and the terms, just so you know what you’re getting into before we get to the exciting part. One thing I always like to let my clients know is that you’re paying for a peace of mind, not a story. And what I mean by that is you still won’t know your own death, per the Lorentz Principle. No one will, except for me and the tech that codes things into the system. Not even the government will be able to access your files after the algorithms take over and lock them in. However, what I do is customize your death based on our chat and our get-to-know-you, making sure that I meet your expectation of happily ever after, as it were. I know that fact worries some people, not being able to read the product they’re paying for, but if you’re troubled by that, you’re welcome to see some of the samples on my website to get an idea of the feeling yours would have.
“Packages. Everyone loves them,” I chuckle. “Honestly, I hate this part, but I’m bound by Deathwriter Guild rules and government regulations. Essentially, you have tiered options based on how much you want to customize. For example, the Pathfinder Tier at the starting level gives you the essential customized scenario based on our discussion here. The Executive Tier—I didn’t come up with the name, I promise—allows you to determine a time-frame in addition to everything else. There are a few others, but I’ll let you research those on your own. Don’t want to bog you down with all of that now. Does that all make sense, though?”
“I think so,” Gina confirms.
“Good. Well, then there’s only one more thing that I’m required to ask about before we get going. Do you currently have, or have plans to obtain a Certificate of Eligibility from a certified medical health professional?”
Gina gives me a blank look. “A what?”
“A Certificate of Eligibility. It’s something your doctor provides based on specific criteria for the deathwriting process,” I explain. “I don’t need to know your whole medical history or any personal information that you don’t want to share, which is why as a Deathwriter I just need a note from your doctor verifying your eligibility for my services.”
“Why would you need that?” she asks. I can sense her anxiety returning. That can’t be a good sign.
“Well, it’s for your benefit, really. Whatever I write will have no effect on someone whose government-issued cause of death is already in initiation. Wouldn’t want you to waste your money. But it shouldn’t be an issue if you’re feeling in good health?” I grimace, even as the words come out of my mouth. I can already tell what’s coming next. It’s not the first time this has happened, unfortunately.
“I uh, uhm…I…” Tears start to well up in her eyes, and I realize I’ve made a mistake. It’s all on my website, but no one ever seems to check it. I should have been more sensitive on my approach. You’d think I’d have learned that by now.
I put a soft hand on her shoulder and try my best to mix an expression of sympathy and apology. “I’m sorry. You don’t have to go into detail. If you want—”
“No, it’s okay,” she says with a wavering voice, stopping me short. She wipes her eyes and continues. “I was diagnosed a couple of weeks ago. They say there’s nothing they can do, and that I only have a few months.”
I close my eyes. “I’m sorry. I had no idea.”
Gina shakes her head and dismisses me with a wave of her hand. I can almost feel the pain radiating off of her, like concrete on a hot summer day. “You couldn’t have known. I just saw your special on TV and thought…” She stops, and a shudder runs through her body as she attempts to stifle a sob.
This is the worst part of the job. It doesn’t happen often. But enough to make me wish I had gone into something else for a career. Not that Deathwriters get much of a choice. We’re born this way. And there aren’t enough of us out there to justify doing anything else for a living.
“Gina, I just want you to know that I’m here for you, even if I can’t extend my professional services,” I say, hoping to repair the situation, at least a little. “I may not be able to write your story for you, but I do have a lot of experience in this field—mortality, that is—and I’ve helped lots of people come to terms with what comes next. If you ever need to talk to someone confidentially, or just want to drop by for fresh-baked cookies, you’re welcome to—”
“Professor Warren? Sorry to interrupt. Do you have a second?”
I look up and see the department assistant standing in front of us, wearing an apologetic look.
“I’m actually in the middle of something. Can it wait?”
“Sorry, it’s about your wife, actually. The hospital just called to let you know she’s in labor.”
My hands instantly go cold, and I feel my face turn white. “That can’t be right. She’s still months away!”
“I’m sorry, that’s just what they told me.”
“I…I…” Now I’m at a loss for words. I just stare at the assistant with my mouth hanging open like a dead fish. “But—”
This couldn’t have come at a worse time. I look to Gina, unsuccessfully masking my panic, but then she gives me a look that I’ll never forget. “Go,” she says, warmth filling her still reddened eyes. “I’ll drop by another time. For cookies, of course.”