A Simple Choice. Short Story.

Today’s short story is longer than the two from Wednesday. I quite enjoyed writing this because it’s slightly unusual and I could have fun. those of you who read the story first, then this part are currently recoiling at what you think my idea of fun is.

In this case, fun was coming up with new things, rather than the things I actually came up with. I still enjoy regular things for fun, hanging around with friends, playing video games, reading, getting drunk, summoning inconceivable horrors from the realms beyond, baking. Ya know, the usual stuff.

okay, okay, you caught me out, I do have a slightly unusual hobby, I know, I know baking is slightly unusual for a guy, but really, how else can I have danish braids, cookies, brownies, pies etc made to order, fresh from the oven? Not only is it relaxing, it’s a tasty hobby too! You’d be suprised how friendly inconceivable horrors are after a piece of apple pie with whipped cream and ice-cream.

Anyway, on with the show!

——————————————————————————–

At first, Sally didn’t know how she got there. Her memory only stretched back a few moments, as she appeared suddenly outside the double wooden doors.
She stood there for a moment, listening to the vague murmur on the other side before carefully placing her hands on the cool, smooth wood and pushing through.

Sally gave an involuntary gasp of shock as she saw what was on the other side. Thirty people, some she recognised and others she didn’t. They were all sitting on folding chairs and as soon as she entered, their talking ceased. Each one wore a pair of white trainers, jeans and a white t-shirt with a number. They were seated seemingly at random, but Sally realised that those she knew the longest were sitting at the front.

As she looked at the group and they at her a perky woman in a pink tracksuit skipped over to her, all smiles. Her perfectly styled hair bouncing with her, impossibly perfect. Sally wondered if it was a wig. “Well hi there Sal! Welcome, welcome! Good to have you here, finally” Sally looked around at the people grinning at her, her first thought was intervention, but an intervention for what? She didn’t smoke or drink or do any drugs. Hell, she didn’t even have painkillers for headaches. “Where is here?” “Now now, don’t be coy, you know as well as we do why you’re here. No need to be bashful! You know everyone here” “I do?” “Of course you do silly”

As she looked at them she shivered, their grins no longer seemed friendly, they seemed sly, cunning. They knew something she did not, something terrible, something that could very well destroy her sanity, but they were going to tell, whether she liked it or not.

The bubbly girl in pink looked around the group and smiled again, her lips stretching unsettlingly far. “So, who wants to go first?” The simpering tone of her voice made Sally’s’ teeth hurt, she wanted to smack the bitch but that wouldn’t be polite, or very christian of her. She was raised to be a good girl and a good girl is what she would be.

A man raised his hand, then stood up. “Hi sally, it’s me.” It took her a moment to place his face, then his name came instantly, “Hi George. What are you doing here?” “Well, the thing is, we’re going to be great friends, really close, we’ll tell each other everything. We’ll be best friends, at least, until I die.” “Die?” his grin seemed to brighten, “Yes, die. I’ll be twenty nine, at a seafood restaurant, I’ll eat oysters, my first ever shellfish, well, my first ever fish really. Can you believe it? Twenty nine and I’d never tried fish. It’s my birthday and we go there to celebrate. All of us, you, me, my girlfriend, my parents, everyone.” His voice took on a jaunty tone. “After the first bite I’ll have a severe reaction and go into anaphylactic shock. I’ll die the next day in the hospital. You’ll feel guilty for a while, maybe the rest of your life. You’ll have been the one to suggest the restaurant.” He smiled again, a grim parody of cheer, before sitting down. “Ok, that was good to start with! Who wants to go next?”

Another person stood up, Sally instantly recognised her, it was Sophia, they had been friends since they were children, she was sitting in the front row, right beside her father. She noted the absence of her sister and mother before Sophia began to speak. “I’ll die when I’m 22, not long left really, only about a year. I’ll accept a lift home from a guy I don’t really know that well, but he seems really sweet. He’ll drive me out into the middle of nowhere before raping me, then strangling me. He won’t be caught and my body won’t be found for weeks. When it is found the animals will have had their way with me. Eating all the tasty parts, there’s not much left really. You’ll insist on seeing the body, to prove to yourself I’m really dead. When you see my body you’ll throw up and the image will haunt you until the day you die.” Sophia paused for a moment and looked inquisitively at the woman in pink “I think that’s it?” the woman in pink smiled again, “Almost, you forgot the part where you’re mother and father divorce” the woman in pink turned to Sally, “Angela, you know Angela right? Her mother? She’ll kill herself a few years later.”

Sally was pale and shaking, unsure of what was happening, why these people were saying such awful things about themselves, each one grinning ecstatically as they did so. Another man stood up, this time she didn’t recognise him at all, “Hello again! I’m Stanley, I’ll be your boss, we’ll be good friends until I fall asleep on the couch with a cigarette, you would always nag me about it, saying it would be the death of me, well, guess what! You were right! I’ll wake up briefly, long enough to feel the flames consuming me, I’ll try to scream but the flames will shoot down my throat, burning me on the inside. My body will be found, charred and fused to the cheap sofa I fell asleep on. The fire will kill a young child and her mother. Everyone else will make it out of the building.” The woman in pink leaned over and stage-whispered conspiratorially “personally, that one is my favourite. Really, you should see how it happens, it’s exquisite, there’s a video somewhere around here, it almost won awards it was so good. If we have time I can play it for you”

Without prompting another person stood up and recounted how they would die, then another. Continuing until each one had told their story, each one but her father. He stood up slowly, then smiled “Hello Pumpkin, I trust you’re in good form.” By now tears were streaming down Sally’s face, with each death she moaned in horror, she tried to cover her ears, to block it out but the woman in pink stopped her, gripping Sally’s hands tightly. Her lips, which were also painted pink, were stretched almost to their limit. Sally could see her gums, they were red and raw, thin rivulets of blood ran across her perfectly white, perfectly straight teeth. “Well, as you know, I have been having a few problems of late, a month from now the doctor will find prostate cancer, but don’t worry, I’ll be fine, chemo and a bitta surgery will knock it right out. But, in four years it will return, and we won’t know until it’s too late. I’ll waste away, slowly and painfully, while you and the family watch until I finally die a painful, undignified death.”

As he sat down again, the woman in pink let Sally go, as she did so, Sally dropped to her knees. “Why are you all telling me this? Why?” The woman in pink simpered sympathetically. “Well, you see, there is a very good reason, one that could benefit you. Soon you won’t remember one way or the other. See those numbers?” She gestured around the room, then at herself. Her number was an eight turned on its side. “Well, those numbers show how long they will live.” Sally looked around the room and felt some measure of relief. The numbers were different to the ages they said they would die. Her father, who told her he would die in four years, when he was 57, had 82 written on his shirt. George’s shirt had 74 “well, that is the potential years they have left. Look at your own shirt sally.” She glanced down and saw her own number was zero. “You have a choice. Here, now. You can choose to let them die early. You can choose to live. If you choose to let them die, you will live a full and long life, whether it will be happy or not is debatable. But you will be alive.” She looked at the woman in pink. “Why would I choose that? I’ve been a good christian woman, I’ve led a good life, surely god will let me into heaven.” The pink woman’s grin grew broader, Sally thought if it spread any further it might crack her face. “Yeah, about that…There is no heaven. There is no hell. There is nothing when you die. That’s it. You get one life, one life in which to do as you please, then when it is over that is it. Oh, you can join the queue again if you want, but it’s still pretty long and you won’t get another chance until everyone has had one go each. Then you have to wait for the people in front of you to go. Of course, there is no guarantee you’ll be human, or even humanoid when your time comes around again. There is just this, this or nothing.” “Why would you make me choose? Why give me this option, how could I knowingly kill these people?” “Oh, no no no, you misunderstand.” The woman put a sympathetic hand on Sally’s shoulder, “You’re not killing them. Not really. You’re just choosing that they have a shorter time on earth. After all, everyone must die sometime” “And what about them? Will they get this same choice?” “No and not everyone does. It’s different for everyone. You might play some important role in the future of the human race, you might not. It all depends really. You have a choice. Either live longer and potentially help save the world or don’t and possibly doom everyone.” “How do you expect me to choose?” “Well, thousands before you have had this option and they were able to choose pretty easily.” “What did they choose?” “Oooh, I’m sorry, I can’t tell you that. It has to be your decision entirely.” The woman smiled, impossibly so, her grin stretched from ear to ear, here eye sockets began to deepen, then elongate, her face becoming more triangular. The group of people began to chuckle, low and evil. “How long do I have to choose?” “As long as you want. You can sit here for all eternity for all I care, but, others might not be so forgiving. Really, if I were you I would make the decision quickly. Not everyone around here is a nice as me.” her hair, once perfect, began to grow longer and darker, taking on an almost scaly appearance.

“Well Sally? I’m afraid I need an answer” three loud booms echo’d around the room, “and I’ll need it quickly. See someone’s coming and they don’t sound too happy.” Another boom filled the room, the lights flickered and flashed. Another booming knock sent Sally to the ground. The woman in pink loomed over her. Sally closed her eyes and shouted her decision.

She could hear sobbing, somewhere in the darkness, the faint smell of a hospital came to her, bleachy and full of antiseptics. She couldn’t see, pain came in waves, everything hurt, then, she would surrender to the darkness and would know no more. She could hear people talking, her mother, her father, her sister. Doctors telling them it didn’t look good. She learned what happened to her from their discussion. She was hit by a bus, while crossing the street, it had run a red light. Time was meaningless here, the only thing keeping time was the constant ebb and flow of pain. She opened her eyes, wincing at the light, she could hear her mother shout “My baby, oh my baby, she’s alive, she’s opening her eyes” before she closed them again and surrendered to darkness once more.

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About Alan James Keogh

I am a 24 year old writer who somehow tricked U.C.D. into giving me not only a degree in English and Classical studies, but an Hons Masters in Creative Writing too. Visit my blog where I post short stories twice a week (Monday and Wednesday) and an installment of a serialised novel on Fridays. I did consider writing this in the third person, as though it was written by someone else, but Alan is not comfortable writing in the third person as it seems kinda creepy and unbalanced so Alan decided it was probably best to write in the first person. He hopes it went well for him.
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