Next! Short Story.


The hooded man was dragged in by two guards, he didn’t struggle against the chains that bound his wrists and feet. He didn’t speak either, which was unusual. Normally most of them would start begging after being brought inside the room, or make some kind of token effort to escape.

Hector hefted the axe, though technically it wasn’t actually an axe. That was just a name that carried on through the ages. He preferred the name guillotine for it, it sounded better. The metal bar was still cool in his hands, that was another plus, it helped him stay focused, grounded. The blade of the axe hummed gently,

“This won’t hurt and it will be over in a second.” The hooded man said nothing. He wondered if perhaps they had drugged him. It wouldn’t be the first time it happened. He discarded the thought, that wasn’t his concern, his concern was sending them into the afterlife. He swung the axe and the room filled with the smell of crisp, burning flesh. It reminded Hector of pork. The orderlies came in and removed the body, once the door closed Hector turned and shouted “Next!”

In a good day he could get a hundred or so done. His record was two hundred and fifty, though it was rare that there was that volumne of people in a day. Usually he only got about fifty. It wasn’t the worlds easiest job, but he was indoors, it paid well, he was given free food and he had respect. Though it did take a few months for his stomach to settle enough to take advantage of the free food, it was definitely worth the adjustment period. He knew that he was replaceable, but he also knew it was a long and tiring process to get someone new and if that happened there would be a backlog of clients. As it was the interview process took months for him, afterwards he learned what they were looking for. Someone who didn’t enjoy it, or seek to cause pain, but not someone who was too weak that after a few weeks, or months, they would need to leave. Most of the people brought to him were convicts from differnet counteries around The Union, those whose crimes were too heinous to be allowed to continue living, or those who were sentenced to life. After all, they were a drain in the prison, eating vital food and costing money. Once they were taken care of that food and money could go towards rehabilitating the other prisoners.

Hector wiped his forehead, he was feeling tired, it had been a long day. Most of the time it wasn’t too bad, either there was a constant stream of people so the day passed quickly, or there were long enough breaks that he had a chance to relax, but today was awful. One of those days where the gaps weren’t short enough to speed him through the day, but not long enough for him to have an actual break.

Hector drove himself home, it was a luxury, most people were not permitted to have cars, only people who might have emergencies, like doctors. Another perk. He didn’t have to suffer through using busses or the subway, which was always crammed with people, regardless of the time of day. He suspected that some of the people lived there, just going round and round all day. He had enough clout to get a two story apartment, but not enough for a house, which was a pity, he would have liked to have a proper garden rather than the small set up he had on their balcony. Still, the balcony was large and there was enough space to grow some of their own foods as well as have flowers.

When he got home he bathed and changed out of his work clothes, Angie wouldn’t be home for another hour or two, her shifts were long and could be unpredictable. She would have to stay until there was a lull in customers, only then would she be allowed leave. It meant that some nights she might not get home until two or three A.M. but she was paid decent money for her scheduled hours and she had a mandatory eight hour break before her next shift. He was set to get a raise soon and perhaps then he’d have enough to support them both, or at least enough so that Angie could get a better part time job, one that allowed her to leave at reasonable times, but then that was just the cost of living.

He started making dinner for himself, nothing too fancy, some noodles and a small bit of meat they had left. He already knew what dinner he was going to make when he got the promotion, steaks, thick and juicy. It had been a long time since he had one of those, it was on their honeymoon. Though they didn’t go anywhere too nice, just the tropics for two days. Things were cheaper there, but there was no real work, they relied on tourist trade for most of the year, until the peak months hit and it was too hot for most of the tourists. Hector didn’t know how they were able to stand it, it was still in the middle of the safe periods when they visited, but he still found it almost impossibly hot. They had spent most of their time moving through the underground tunnels the locals used during the hottest parts of the year.

Hector ate his own food, Angie always insisted he didn’t wait, she would be angry if he did. Once he was done he tidied up a little and sat down to watch some TV. His favourite TV show was on, FREEDOM, where people competed for enough money to live in luxury for the rest of their lives. Hector would never enter the competition himself, he knew he wasn’t strong enough, fast enough or smart enough. He’d be one of the first to go and he’d be lucky if he kept all his limbs too. He watched one of the contestants writhing on the ground and shook his head, it looked like a bad break. The surgery’s alone to fix it would leave him in debt, assuming he would be able to work afterwards. Hector looked at the man, taking stock of his general shape, perhaps in a few months he’d see a man limp in at work. Of course he wouldn’t see his face but he’d know. It would be unprofessional to tell the man that he had been rooting for him, but he would think it all the same. They were getting closer to the finale, there were a hundred people left. He hoped it was Cassandra, she needed it more than most, disabled kid, sick husband. He didn’t let himself get too attached though, there had been cases before, where people would injure their children or loved ones to become a fan favourite. Fan favourites were always more likely to win though a curveball could be thrown, like when Chad won a few seasons back, he had been the villain, but he had won fair and square.

Once the show was over Hector flicked around until he settled on a movie, one of the classics. Behind him he heard the door open, “Hey honey, welcome home.”
“Is there dinner? I’m starving?”

“Yeah, by the stove.”
“Thanks love.” She bent over and kissed him on the forehead before making her way to the kitchen. Hector smiled to himself, it wasn’t perfect, but it was a good life.


About Alan James Keogh

I am a 26 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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