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 5
There have been a few times in my life when things feel too strange to actually be my life. Some of them good. Some of them bad. Graduating college was one of those moments. Delivering my first Death. My grandfather’s funeral.
This is one of those moments.
I fiddle with the keys for a second, then open the door to our home and step inside. A small part of me remains disembodied, as if watching the rest of me from above, watching me turn the lights on and take off my coat. Remove my shoes by the door. Drop my bag to the side.
Amber told me to come back home and grab a few things to bring back. She’ll be there for a while. Apparently, her organs aren’t waking up from the procedure yet. But it all seems wildly petty, material. Worrying about what shirt to wear or how many socks to bring.
I’m about to walk into our bedroom when I see it. In the corner of the room down the hall. A half-built crib. Tools strewn about, abandoned after our frustration gave way to cocktails—mocktails for Amber. And a stroller. One of the best ones, according to Amber’s mother. We didn’t even bother to unpack that yet.
And of all the things that could run through my head, it had to be this:
Probably for the best. Easier to return.
I chastise myself and run my fingers through my hair. I don’t even know what to do with myself. It’s just too surreal. I feel more of myself floating away, joining the part of me that’s spectating the whole thing.
Then, I feel the wristband slide against my arm. The lojack. It’s still there. I almost forgot about it. Something inside of me stirs at the sight of it. Something aching and angry. Something that feels insulted at the reminder of what could have been and what was taken from me. I pull at it with one of my fingers, but it stays stubbornly in one piece. I try again, this time with two fingers and more force, but no luck.
“Come on,” I grunt, yanking with all my might. Finally, I give up and stomp over to the desk in my office, then snatch a pair of scissors and start hacking at it angrily. It cuts through on the second try, but one of the blades catches the bone on my wrist, slicing it about as deep as it’ll go.
I drop the scissors and fall to the floor. “Ah! Damn it!” I shout, cradling my arm close. Blood drips down my hand and falls onto the tile. Then, I see the wristband. I cut right through the middle, right through the word Father underneath my name.
And that’s what finally kills me. I will no longer be a father.
I'm overcome by a sense of instant regret, as if I’ve just destroyed a piece of me. “No,” I whisper, and tears begin to flow unhindered down my face. “No, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Please don’t go. Please don’t go. Please. Please.”
My pleadings grow fainter and fainter as I hold the wristband close, clinging to it like a life preserver, as if letting go means making it real, giving it all up for good. But for all it’s worth, my words disappear into the empty house, leaving me sobbing on the floor while blood continues to stain the wristband crimson.
The park by our home is the only place I feel any semblance of peace, nowadays. Something about the trees and the grass, about their silent fortitude, their ability to survive and even thrive in the midst of whatever storm is thrown their way. I think it gives me hope for myself, however tenuous.
It’s a beautiful day today, just like most days around here. Sunny. A light, cool breeze brushing by. Flowers blooming all across the fields of clover. Families taking walks together along the path that winds its way through the park.
After Amber told me that she was pregnant, I would always drive by this park and imagine being one of those families, the two of us on either side of a bumbling toddler, taking picnics on a Sunday, or even just passing a ball around. I never ever thought I’d want to be a father—in fact, it was the last thing I’d wanted to do. But when I learned about June, I couldn’t imagine being anything else. Hearing her heartbeat on the ultrasound for the first time…man. It’s indescribable.
And now, I’m just lost. I don’t know how I should feel. Sad that she’s gone? Hopeful that she’ll always be a part of me—one of those senseless mantras shoved down our throats by every film in Hollywood? Right now, I just feel powerless. For all the miraculous abilities I’ve been granted by who knows what oddity of nature, not a single one of them could save June. And because of that, not a single one of them means a thing to me anymore.
My bitter thoughts are suddenly broken up as a foam football whizzes by my head, tailed closely by a little girl, maybe three or four years old. I smile as she passes. Most normal people would probably think something like “oh, what a sweet child,” or “my, how adorable.” Now don’t judge me—I do this with everyone—but all I think is “I wonder how she will die.”
Now, I’m sure there’s something psychologically wrong with me, something about my feelings of loss and powerlessness that a shrink would love to get their hands on, but I’m overcome by the sudden desire to write her death. A positive one, one that’s far, far from now. No parent should ever have to plan their own child’s funeral. It’s just not right. It goes against everything natural about life. I pull out my tablet and open up my cloud storage, then start writing on a blank sheet.
It doesn't take me long, but the family is gone before I can finish. No matter, though. I wasn't expecting it to come into force. The only way to do that would be to get it registered with the government, seeing as she already has a generated death. But I guess it's just for myself, something to keep in my own personal bucket of hypotheticals. It gives me hope, this little imagined piece of fiction.
And so I continue on, writing story after story. Each time I finish one, I see another child and write their death. And each time, the scenario takes place a long while into the future, sculpted with an eloquence and a level of detail that I typically reserve for only those closest to me, for family. Usually, I only bother writing about the death itself, maybe a little around the edges for flavor, but I do have the power to shape the whole twenty-four hours preceding someone's death. So that's what I do now for all of them. And by the time it's sundown, I've written almost twenty full-length stories.
If this were any other country—one that didn't have the ADSA, the Arbitrary Death Selection Algorithm—these would all come into power the instant I finished writing them. As it is, the system—as great and miraculous as it is—stands in my way. Each one of these children was issued a death at birth, given to them by ADSA. Since Okoro wrote the system, he stands as their primary Deathwriter. The only way another Deathwriter can overturn a death is with the consent of the primary Deathwriter. And in Okoro's case, that consent was coded into the system, designed to be given only when another Deathwriter submitted an alternate death using proper government guidelines.
And unfortunately, going by government guidelines requires…