The Observers

David Brandt • 496 words • 1996

I look at my surroundings: a cube-shaped cave with dirt walls that is large enough to move around in comfortably. Along the wall are several large pieces of electronic equipment. The room is dimly lit, but there is no source of the lighting. It is neither damp nor dry, and there is no temperature.

As I become aware that I have mastered human consciousness, the Leader appears. I recognize her by her presence, but now see her as humans see us, as I once appeared: a tiny blob of white flesh suspended about six feet in the air. We exchange thoughts, and she is pleased that I have mastered human form. I remember the long periods of concentration that the transformation process required. The Leader expresses her gratitude.

We agree that I am ready to visit the humans in their dimension as one of them. I am grateful to be given this opportunity to further the intellectual advancement of my people. The Leader’s mind reveals a surprise: There is another who has endured the transformation to human form, who will accompany me on my mission.

I turn my head and see her. Immediately, my mind accelerates almost to the brink of its ability to hold my cells together. I notice that she experienced the same sensation. We become aware of our bodies, our nakedness, our beauty.

The Leader disappears, and we suddenly shift dimensions. We are walking on a sidewalk in a large city. It is afternoon. There are many people walking around. A woman is walking a large dog. My companion and I are casually dressed.

She says, “Hello.”

I was not prepared for the emotional surrender I felt upon hearing her voice. I find that I must concentrate to remember how to speak.

I say, “Hello. It’s a nice day, isn’t it?”

“Yes it is,” she says, looking at me as she speaks.

“Would you like to get some food?”

“Yes.”

We begin to look at our surroundings carefully; observing the cars, the trees, the people, the stores. We go into a restaurant and are seated at a booth by a window. Sunlight shines through the glass. We order coffee.

I am doing my best to observe the humans in the restaurant: there are many of them, they are talking to one another, some are sitting at round tables with red tablecloths. Her presence quickly overwhelms me, though. I begin to imagine touching her face, stroking her long hair, embracing her. We begin to exchange thoughts. She imagines her hand in mine for long periods. I have become excited, and she is adoring. Our thoughts meld into a single expression of passionate exhilaration. As one pair of eyes peers deeper into the other, we lose all remaining traces of concentration and simultaneously revert to our original states of tiny white blobs of flesh suspended about six feet in the air, and we feel nothing but the silent astonishment of the restaurant patrons.

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Last Nail Man

David Brandt • 2,070 words • Graphic Violence/Profanity • 2018

LMN Eric DrawingIn 2058, Dr. J. Schondel published her “Treatise on Self-Crucifixion.” The amputation craze had abated (it was a windfall for the prosthetic industry) and the younger generation was looking for the next big thrill. Kids just keep getting dumber and dumber…it’s that damn deelie-oddler.

Before the book was published, there allegedly was a person who had nailed her feet to a cross, nailed one hand, and then realized she didn’t have a free hand to finish the job. So dawned my profession.

I would never put the spike in the feet or the nail in the non-dominant hand, I only put in the last nail. There were those in the trade who would do all the hammering, but most of the people who wanted to crucify themselves did it for the pleasure of self-infliction.

They would put the spike through one foot while kneeling, then step onto a platform at the bottom of the cross. (If you see a twenty-something limping down the street, you can bet that he’s a crucifixion quitter.) After tying ropes around the waist and ankles, they would then pound the spike through the other foot, then into the wood. To put the first palm nail in, they had to close their hand around the nail, hold it in place with their fingers. It was a very difficult and messy process.

I would tie rope around the wrists–without the rope, the weight of the body would cause the nails to tear through the hands. Tying the ropes and hammering a nail into a palm– that’s the extent of my services, for which I am paid handsomely. If they, say, dropped the hammer, I would go ahead and pick it up, hand it to them. However, I am not a priest, and I am not a therapist; conversation is kept to a minimum.

Since the kids always wanted the experience of their suffering and death recorded, I had to protect myself. My wife made an “executioner’s mask” out of an old pillowcase and a dog collar. I would wear a black t-shirt, tight enough to accentuate my muscles– pounding nails through flesh and bone professionally requires a good amount of strength. The clients seem to like the dark costuming. I had to be careful not to let them see my face since I always have to assume they have a deelie probe on their heads. I wear the mask the entire time I’m inside the dwelling.

Appointments are set up one day in advance, I would usually show up a little after the scheduled time. They’re never ready when they’re supposed to be. Most times, I would have to sit around watching television while listening to their pathetic, whiny little screams.

Long ago, I had stopped wondering what was so bleak about these people’s lives that made them want to end it all. Hell, it’s the 60’s, bleak is all around. It started when the pyramids were nuked. The entire plateau was destroyed. Most of Cairo is gone. To this day, nobody knows who did it or why, but it spawned yet another World War.

I was born under the fog of the “fetus fetish.” Parents to be were warned not to post their ultrasound pictures on the internet. Sick bastards would get off on the grainy images.

Still, growing up, the future didn’t look all that bad, with all those wonderful playthings: virtual reality RPGs, hover spheres, moleculavue microscopes, console music composers, and lots of fiddly things.

I was so sheltered in the plastic suburban bubble. I was thirteen when the world became engulfed in nuclear conflict. At thirty-eight, I am an old man.

 

The deelie-oddler gave reprieve from the sick world. It was a device that captured and conveyed experiences. The apparatus was invented during the post-war technology boom, but it took a while for the public to wrap their minds around it. It consisted of two components. The deelie probe was a thumbtack sized object that, when stuck into the back of the neck, could record experiences. Technically, the deelie probe was illegal– they only wanted you to purchase pre-fabricated experiences. The oddler, about the size of a thimble, was placed at the base of the skull through complex suction. It transmited the recorded experiences into the user’s mind.

 

On a cold day in December of 2061, the smell of blood was pervasive in the bedroom of a small apartment in a tall building in downtown Richmond. The capital of Virginia was one of the few major cities on the East Coast that didn’t have a direct nuclear hit. People in the city do what they can to amuse themselves–most of the university campuses are some of the finest paintball parks in the nation. The only higher learning institution left in the whole stinking place is the community college just outside of town.

Anyway, the client this time was a twenty-two year-old man of diverse ancestry–an Amerimutt. His curly black hair fell below his shoulders. The magnificently carved cross was set up in a corner of the bedroom, next to a large window, anchored to the floor with sturdy metal plates. The walls were white and unadorned, except for the splattered blood. He wore nothing but a loincloth and an ornate rosary around his neck. The nearby radiator had caused his tan skin to glisten with sweat. He was short and skinny, athletic. I couldn’t help but notice he only had two real toes on each foot.

He had told me to show up at 2:00 pm, but when I got there, he was having difficulty keeping his balance as he tried to put a nail into his left palm. He asked if I could hold his arm, and I said, “I’m bound by professional conventions to not interfere with the first two nails. However, if you would like me to remove the nail in your feet and call an ambulance–that’s a professional convention as well.”

He took a few heavy breaths and said, “No, I’ll get it.”

“Okay, mind if I turn on the tube?”

“The what?”

“The television.”

“Go ahead.”

“Thanks,” I said.

I went into the living room, sat on the light brown sofa, and took out my portcomm. I checked to see if the proper deposit had been made into my account by this Melvin James. Yep, the $65,000 was there. I saw the remote control for the plasma widescreen television set–a nice antique–and picked it up. It was set on Snuff TV. It was a classic snuff marathon. The Steve Irwin incident was showing.

I tuned in the news channel. They were showing a story about Arthur DeVans, a multi-billionaire, who had been pulverizing a camel, turning it into liquid, and straining it all through the eye of a sewing needle; hopefully proving to the Almighty that a rich man can enter Heaven, if persistent enough. The next story was about that poor Jimmy Milken–the nine year old who sawed off his arm after his sister said she would give him a million dollars if he could stick his elbow in his ear.

Melvin let out a loud, “Arrrghp!” and I heard the hammer hit the nail. And again. And again. I saw some religious artifacts on the walls–pictures of Jesus, several crucifixes– and took it that Melvin was a spiritual man. It wasn’t often that the clients had any religious tendencies at all; in fact, this was the first such client I had encountered. Most were kids looking to make a point. It’s almost hard to believe that anyone is religious anymore. Even Mr. DeVans’s Christianity is more tongue-in-cheek than anything, it seems.

After a few more hits to the nail, Melvin said with a raised voice, “Roger, I’m ready.”

I got up, walked into the bedroom, and studied the rosary around his neck. It looked like real silver. There always was the temptation to steal things from the clients–what are they going to care?–but it just felt wrong. It’s bad enough I’m assisting in their suicide, I don’t need theft on my conscience.

I said in a calm but sturdy voice, “Please don’t say my name.”

“It’s okay,” he said, “I don’t have a probe on my head.”

Somehow, I believed him. “Still, be careful what you say,” I said, “I don’t know what recording devices you have running.”

As I tied the rope around Melvin’s left wrist, I thought about how difficult it was for me the first couple of times I pounded in the last nail, but my emotions have hardened considerably since then. This was my ninth time, the first in a while that I felt any sort of trepidation.

Melvin raised his right arm and opened his hand in front of the end of the wooden plank. I opened my toolbox and took out the pair of thick rubber gloves and the goggles, then I put them on. On the stepladder that was placed beside the cross, on the second rung from the top, he had placed the hammer and the final nail. He began to recite the 23rd Psalm. I placed the nail on his palm and prepared to give it a good blow with the hammer. I stopped, paused for a moment. Discontinuing his prayer, he said, “It’s okay. The Lord will forgive you.”

I inhaled deeply and hammered the nail into the palm. Blood spurted; a groan emitted from his mouth, almost concealing the sound of the flesh ripping. Tears streamed down his cheeks. He said, “It is accomplished…sort of,” and continued with his psalm.

The routine is that I tie the ropes, get a plastic bag from my toolbox, put the gloves and goggles in it, close the box, and walk out without saying a word. I did everything but the latter, and found myself turning around and asking, “Why are you doing this?”

He seemed eager to talk, “Because it’s the Lord’s will.”

For some reason, I said, “I could be the last person you ever see.”

“You are,” he replied through heavy breaths.

“Surely, you know that, depending on many factors, it might take a few days for death to come,” I said.

“A few years wouldn’t be enough.”

Oddly, it felt something like the first date with my wife. We were so comfortable talking– It seemed like we had known each other for a long time, we could say anything to each other. “You can tell me anything,” I said.

“I had acquired a black-market deelie probe. I injected it into a daddy longlegs, transferring the experience into the oddler box. My six-year-old nephew was visiting at the time, I felt like being nasty. I placed the oddler on his neck, ran the program, and for a moment, he knew what it felt like to be a daddy longlegs–he was the spider. I can only imagine the horror. He freaked out, yelling and screaming. Now every time he sleeps, he has nightmares.”

“And that’s why you’re doing this?”

“Pretty much.”

 

I could imagine the telephone ringing in my kitchen as LaDonna walked to pick it up. Portcomm reception was notoriously unreliable, so we had a landline. After the third ring, my wife picked up and said, “Hello?”

“Hi, dear.”

“Oh, hi, Richard. Did you finish the job?”

“Yes,” I replied, certain she could hear the nervousness in my voice.

“Is everything okay?” she asked.

“Well…no. I’m at the police station.”

What? What did you do?”

“I turned myself in.”

What?

I paused, then said, “I realized that what I was doing was wrong.”

And you couldn’t consult me? What, did you confess to all nine assisted suicides?”

“Yep.”

“Oh my God! You stupid fuck! Goddammit! Goddamn you!”

“Well, honey,” I said as calmly as I could, “This way they can send a unit and an ambulance to the apartment I just left and rescue this last guy.”

“So,” she said, still seething, “What’s your punishment? Do you need bail money?”

“Well, actually, they just gave me a thousand dollar fine. I’ll be home in an hour.”

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