Trent Ryan Katzenberger
It was everywhere.
Now they seemed to start in with it even before the Day of Thanking was over.
The happy, heavy, glutton of a holiday was upon us yet again and I, as usual, was stuck in the middle ready for another dreary, disappointing year to be over. But, I must admit, it didn’t end in quite the way I would have wanted it to.
I stood over Noreen looking down at her, unconscious, in her hospital bed.
O, she of big bold bosom with eyes twice as large. Those deep, dark, Blue eyes. Eyes so blue they almost weren’t.
O, she of dark raven locks, a grave contrast to the clammy palour of her faded flesh. It looked worse than usual. Was it from the blood loss, I wondered, or the fluorescent hospital lights?
O, she I’ve always loved but could not love. She who’s never loved me back. At least not how I wanted her to, more in a sort of we’ll always be there for each other but not with each other kind of way.
Why couldn’t you just be mine?
I had been carrying on like this in my head for a good hour or two before she started to rouse, rolling in her bed, turning from side to side. It was another couple of minutes before she fully regained consciousness.
Her eyes opened slowly and looking rather dazed and confused, she swept them around the room trying to understand where she was and what had happened. Then her eyes, her wonderful, beautiful eyes, fell onto me.
“Ed….. Eddie.” She said cautiously, soft, almost hurt.
“Hey, No.” This was a nickname I had coined for her at about the age of thirteen. It’s a rather ironic name if you get to thinking about it. Anyhow:
“Glad you forgot the saying.”
“W…..what?” Though I didn’t think it was possible she looked even more bewildered than before.
“It’s down the road not across the street, No.”
She stared at me blankly for a moment, not understanding, just trying to process what I had said, then it clicked. She let out a laugh, something that could be described as a loud, happy scoff. Boisterous really. Then she gave a couple of actual breathy laughs, not quite giggles and not quite chuckles.
“Well” she said to me “I figured a couple of trips across each street might have worked just as well.”
She was smiling. That was good. Not a bad start. Then she looked down to her wrists where the bandages were.
When she spoke again her voice had changed and I could almost hear the tears welling up behind her eyes. Things changed from good to bad so fast these days it seemed.
“I……I’m sorry Eddie. I. I was going to tell you; I wanted to tell you. We could’ve had one last g’bye you know? But I figured you’d try and stop me. I wanted to go out on a happy note ya know?”
She looked up at me. Her eyes were filled with tears but now they were also welling up with something else. Shame. What did she have to be ashamed of? Did she really think that I was upset with her, that I would have tried to stop her if I knew? All I ever did was what she wanted most: I’d stayed with her through a dozen or more guys, some bad, most alright. But none of them me. Not a one. Because that’s not what she wanted. She didn’t want me. So I suppose deep down even if I wouldn’t admit it up front if she really, truly wanted to die, after a bit of convincing from her I’d probably let her go.
Hell, she could probably talk me into pulling the trigger.
But that’s only if we’re being honest. And we usually aren’t. Especially not with ourselves.
It was 2:23 in the morning when I got out onto the street. No had come too, late.
As I made my way through the city, stumbling from one alleyway to the next in between blasts of the frigid wind, I eventually found myself in the alcove of a storefront, apparently sheltering myself against the biting cold. I stared across the numbed distance between me and the opposing wall for what seemed like a good long time. And this is, I think, what ultimately inspired the proceeding string of events.
There was a poster on that wall, which I had plenty of time to read, and although I did not make any active attempt to do so, days later, as events continued to unfold my mind seemed to repeatedly, and with some insistence, come back to the words of that limp wall hanging.
No began to get better, at least insofar as the hospital staff were concerned. But as I continued to visit her over the remains of that month what I saw in her was a change for the worse. Not physically mind you, her wounds were healing up splendidly and her doctors said that after the mental health observation period was over she would be free to go. And just in time for Murder Day to boot! But I knew No. And as I sat with her I saw her faking it. Faking smiles. Pretending to be happy. Lying to the doctors. She told them that she didn’t know what had come over her, that she had never done anything like this before, and that perhaps the stress just built up until she didn’t know what to do. There was a diagnosis of S.A.D. considered around this time and she just went with it, agreeing that anything was a possibility.
While she had never made a physical attempt on her life before, she had talked about it. Extensively. More than she could probably recall. Mostly when she was drunk and low and had to call me so that I could talk her down. In some ways, I would say, she was legitimately obsessed and fascinated with the concept of death and there had been many a night where I had listened to her pontificate on the subject. No matter what happened to No there was nearly always some sadness to her. She hid it well, but she could never fully hide it from me. I had known her too long and I had loved her for too long.
You may wonder how I could fall for someone, so morbid, so hard. Well No, like many people, was a very multifaceted individual and that is what drew me in. That’s what made her for me. And that is what always cut me with the most intense aggression. As stupidly cliché as it may sound, when something truly stole No’s attention to the point that even that darkest part of her mind, which always seemed to be pointing at the negative, became involved and she forgot to be sad, she was the happiest and most beautiful person I have ever had the privilege of knowing. And all of this, during those rare moments when she was really, actually, truly pleased to be in the world, was channeled through her smile.
The worst thing I have ever experienced in my life were the even rarer occasions when instead of naturally fading back into her perpetual state of faux-happiness she noticed that I noticed that she was happy. And then it was as though she had shut those good feelings off, in the same way you might turn off a car or computer. Like she was purposefully smashing the most beautiful source of light in the entire world, simply because I had chanced to notice that someone had left it on.
I still cannot say exactly what made me want to do it, but after visiting No on her last day in the hospital I finally broke down and took the damn signs advice by hopping on a train bound for the world’s largest Murder Day manufacturing facility on the outskirts of the warehouse district.
“You all are a lucky bunch! I like to say that these are our best tours of the year! A week to the day, and we are busy, busy, busy, working our hardest ever to bring you the number one most important part of all of our holiday seasons! Are ya’ll ready to go?”
There were some shouted affirmatives from the crowd of 30+.
“Well then, follow me!”
This was our tour guide. A shortish man of middling appearance. Thick spectacles behind plasticine “safety” goggles, vague southern accent, tie, button up shirt, khaki pants, and a faux lab coat and bright yellow hard hat.
He began the tour by meandering around the lobby, doing a head count, and making sure we understood the rules and stipulations. From there, he took us up to the second floor and then through a series of offices and corridors, both bustling with employees, many half manic, a few moving at top speed through the commotion, our guide narrating all the way.
He led us through the hectic mundanity, to an older, quieter part of the building and stopped in front an old wooden door.
“As many of you are aware, this is the original office of our founder, J.P. Englesworth. He purchased these two buildings, as well as the, at the time, dilapidated factory attached to them, for the measly sum of 1,000 U.S. dollars back in the year of 1990!”
The audience ooed. Some took pictures.
”Mr. Englesworth founded this company with that good old American spirit! He had an idea you see. An idea that he felt could change the world. After being involved in the military during the Last Great Push, Mr. Englesworth noticed something. The homicide rates, alongside the rates of violent crimes in general, were noticeably lower in populations that had a real world outlet for their violent urges.”
“Mr. Englesworth did some research upon his return to the States, and found that his first-hand experience in the Army seemed to be corroborated by scientific data. So with every last bit of his military pension, he purchased this land and set about to enact this idea of his. This is the very office, from which, he arranged the very first summit on a Violent End to Worldwide Violence.”
The audience aaaaahhh’d. Several more pictures were taken.
“Now, if you’ll follow me, I can show you all the eventual fruits of his labor.”
Our tour guide proceeded down the left hallway, continuing his monologue as he went.
“After years of study, and much discussion with the body politic, the holiday that we have all come to know as Murder Day was finally approved for a tentative public trial period after an entire decade of scientific research and development.”
“In devising the structure of Murder Day, Mr. Englesworth was inspired and influenced by our ancient Roman ancestors. They were known for their gladiatorial blood sports, and their live sacrifices, as well as for their annual festival regimen.”
“And so with these concepts in mind Mr. Englesworth, with the aid of the world’s governments of course, went about creating the technology to create this!”
We had entered a portion of the building which incorporated a long section of windows into the corridors walls. The section to our left overlooked the front parking lot and the courtyard of the place. And the window to the right…. It looked out over the warehouse floor. Through it could be seen rows and rows of man sized tubes, people in lab coats and clean suits moving between the nigh endless rows, robotic arms on rafters up above moving the giant canisters of liquid to and fro.
As he spoke he motioned to the warehouse window.
“What you see before you is what we like to call the Cave of Creation! Below us is the warehouse, which as you can see, is filled with the cloning tanks. After the clone’s initial conception, once their growth phase has started, they are moved here, and placed into these tanks! Each individual matures fully within four months, all of them within time for Murder Day.”
Additional pictures were taken, as some of the children of the group pressed their faces up against the glass to get a better look at the action.
“Of course some families have to celebrate early, and some have to celebrate late, so we always have a small amount of clones available earlier as well as later in the season for these folks. The Cave of Creations ultimate capacity, during our peak production periods, is around two, hundred, and fifty thousand individuals! By the end of the season, our factory alone has produced somewhere around four million individual clones!”
At this point one of the younger kids, a girl of maybe six or seven, managed to pull her nose away from the window.
“Is it true, that all of the clones are always the same guy, and the same age, always?” She asked our guide.
“Well we do have a female model, and we are currently working hard to be able to bring you clones of varying ages and types. Would you like to ask one of our clones about it?”
At this, the little girl gasped and started jumping up and down with excitement.
“Can we? Can we?” She asked.
And at this the adults in the crowd chuckled.
“Absolutely we can!” replied the guide, “Right this way.”
He led us to a set of double doors at the end of the hall and paused before going through.
“Now everyone, keep in mind that this is one of our gender neutral models, but as he is modeled off of our male clone he likes the pronoun he. But even more than that, what he really prefers to be called is Speaker.”
“That’s not a name!” quipped the young girl.
Laughter again from the crowd.
“Well of course it isn’t” our guide chuckled. “Not a proper one at any rate, but that is what he prefers to be called as that is his function here.”
Our guide finally pushed through the double doors, holding the one open for everyone to enter through.
“Everyone, I’m pleased to introduce you to this year’s Speaker!”
The room resembled a small classroom, or conference room, and standing in the back right corner, atop a small metal pedestal was a naked “male” child. Blonde haired and blue eyed, with a fair complexion, he appeared to be in his early teens. His torso led down to a plain region of flesh where his genitals should have been. Instead of reproductive organs, his flesh simply continued on, inoffensively passing between his legs and to his buttocks, uninterrupted.
The boy waved and smiled pleasantly, saying “Hello, everyone. I am Speaker. How are you today?”
The crowd’s reaction was varied, most took pictures of the boy. The young girl pushed her way through the crowd to the front of the room.
“Is it true that you are the only person we can buy to kill?”
“Well, as of now, yes.” Speaker said. “However, all of the wonderful scientific folks here at Englesworth are hard at work, not only in attempting to make it so that myself and my sister model can be made to resemble anybody of any ancestry but they are even working on making it possible so that you can get a clone of whomever you like!”
Oooohs and aaaahs, as well as some “What? ”s and “Really?”s.
“Oh yes. Currently in development is technology which will not only allow for multiple base models, but for you to get a clone of anyone you want! Within a couple of years, you’ll be able to kill clones of yourself, or your boss, or whomever you like! Around that same time we hope to be able to bring you the ability to kill clones of the same age as the subjects you wish to murder as well!”
The audience applauded!
It was at this point that what had been growing inside of me finally leapt out. The whole time that I was in the factory, the entire time that I was on the tour, a feeling had been pouring into me; a sensation had been filling me up. I was uncomfortable and agitated since No was admitted to the hospital, and that feeling of discomfort and unease had been intensifying and growing the whole time I had been at Englesworth. When Speaker started speaking, that feeling boiled over from minor agitation, into pure unadulterated anger. I couldn’t stop myself:
“Why do we need clones? Why don’t we let suicidal people volunteer to be killed?”
The room became silent. Everyone turned to look at me. Speaker cocked his head quizzically, like an animal of some kind.
He said “Well….. Sir….. The main reason is that the murder of human beings not intentionally born to be killed during Murder Day celebrations is illegal. Real human beings should try their darnndest to be happy and live long full lives. Why, that is more or less the reason that us sacrificial clones where Ok’d in the first place.”
The tension is the room was palpable. The rest of the audience stared on, and as I stepped with a reddened face to the front of the crowd, the tour guide stepped in between me and the clone on the podium.
The tour guide, with a worried look on his face, spoke up. “Now Sir, your concerns”
Speaker cut him off. “Thraford, let me handle this.”
It was clear in our tour guides face that he was, in fact, extremely concerned, but as Speaker placed his hand upon Thraford’s shoulder, the man seemed to calm, if only slightly, and he backed away.
“Now, Sir.” Speaker continued, “All of us clones understand your concerns but you and whomever you are talking about are real people. Unlike myself, and my Brothers and Sisters you have your whole lives ahead of you. You should work hard to enjoy them. That’s exactly what we were designed for. Perhaps you should pick up a clone for whomever you are talking about. Killing a clone on Murder Day has been proven to increase quality of life and”
As Speaker continued his speech, all of my senses slowly became flooded by overwhelming waves of disgust and rage and my vision began to blur. I thought what I was feeling was a fainting spell coming on. Everything faded away. All of my senses became a single hot, red mess.
It seemed like I remained that way for an eternity. Eventually, abruptly, I came back to myself.
“Happy. Murder. Daaaay….”
This was the choked response of Speaker. As everything normalized for me I realized that my hands were covered in blood. That must have been all the red I was seeing….
It appeared that I had beaten Speakers head in against the back wall of the room in my fugue state.
I left abruptly.
I received an angry letter and a bill for the price of one clone plus schooling; several warnings that I would likely be sued for emotional damages to the tour group were included as well.
I brooded the rest of the week and tried to give No some time to heal.
On Murder Day Eve, I went to Noreen’s apartment. I waited in the hallway after knocking, figuring she might be a bit inhibited, possibly from the lingering trauma of her suicide attempt and possibly from her new regimen of medicine.
She didn’t answer, so after five minutes of standing there I let myself in.
Her apartment looked like no one had been there for several days. On her bed I found a note. It read:
Hey Eddie. I’m in the hospital again. I’m sorry. The doctors say the medicine they gave me for my S.A.D. was too strong. They messed up my prescription I guess and told me to take too much. I should be out in a few days. Sorry we can’t celebrate Murder Day together as usual. Killing a clone with you always made me happy. I know you wanted to go to the public execution this year and I know you wanted to go with me…. but I think you should still go by yourself. You need it Eddie. Go on and take the tickets and be happy for me.
I stared, blankly, at the paper in my hands for several minutes.
I know that the doctors knew what they were doing, at least as far as drug dosage was concerned.
No had tried to overdose……
I made myself coffee, tidied her place up, and left with the tickets.
The next day, Murder Day, I attended the public execution and celebration ceremony as requested.
“Ooooooooh! And that is the third win by decapitation for Spiculob this year alone. What a brutal up and comer, folks.”
The commentator for the pre-execution blood sports cooed. Roaring applause mixed with rampant booing throughout the stadium. Clearly fans of both gladiators where in evidence tonight.
“But don’t worry, you fans of Bloodiculum. We’ll slap some regenerative biopaste on that decapitory wound, send him to the clinic and he’ll surely be back for revenge in a few short months!”
Both Bloodiculum's body and head where gathered up and dragged off the field as Spiculob strutted around the field for his adoring fans. Eventually applause drowned out the booing.
Once both competitors had exited the announcer continued:
“Now it’s time for 20 lucky fans to come down and begin the public executions!”
The crowd roared.
“Can we please have the people in seats…….”
I didn’t want to be here. Murder Day was all right in my book, but I didn’t really care about it. All that I cared about in this world was No. And she was lying in a hospital bed, probably trying to think of ways she could make her suicide seem accidental.
“and 209, please report to the stadium floor.”
…….. 209. That was my seat.
I tried to pretend that I hadn’t heard. Everyone else went to the stairs that led down to the arena floor. I sat still.
“All right….. Well that’s almost everyone. Where’s our 209?”
They trained their cameras on me, and suddenly my melancholy face was on every television screen in the stadium.
“Hey there Mr. 209! You big sleepy head. Don’t worry. Our helpful stadium staff will help lead you to the arena floor!”
People in stadium uniforms appeared on my right and my left. I tried to deny them. I said that I was uninterested. But soon they were grabbing me and I found myself standing in front of a naked clone, same as those 19 other people, in the center of the arena, bloody sand on my feet and a weapon in my hand.
“Alright, now that everyone is ready let’s begin Murder Day right. Clones, thank your assailants.”
A resounding “Thank you!” went up from all 20 clones. Mine was a tiny teenage girl.
A resounding “Yes!” from the crowd and a resounding “Yes!” from the participants and clones. I simply stood there, befuddled and mortified.
From the announcer:
“All right everyone; let’s give our wonderful volunteers a count down. 10, 9, 8”
The rest of the “volunteers” counted aloud, accompanying the audience and announcer:
“5, four, 3, two, 1! HAPPY MURDER DAY!”
From outside the stadium, fireworks flew up into the sky and exploded as the blood of 19 clones was let out onto the stadium floor. My girl stood there, with her eyes closed, expecting the inevitable, and receiving nothing. The moment ended and the stadium slowly realized what had happened.
Before anything else could occur the announcer cut in.
“Weeeeheeelll! It seems like we have a participant with a message for his special someone. Why didn’t you tell us 209? Someone get that man a mic.”
Within seconds I had a livewire to the entire stadium in my hand. I just stood there, dumbly. The moment dragged on, the audience eagerly awaiting my message. The moment dragged on.
I cleared my throat. “Uhum.” The mic popped.
I began to speak. There was no forethought; the entire arena full of bloody thirsty revelers was staring down at me, all of them expecting some grandiloquent proposal or statement so I did the only thing that seemed to fit the situation: I started talking, letting the words fall straight out of my mouth as fast as they could be brought to my lips.
“I’ve never been a particular fan of Murder Day.”
The audience responded with an angry “BOOOOH!”
I don’t know why I didn’t stop there. But I continued.
“It’s a waste!”
The booing intensified.
“There is no need for clones!”
The audience started to throw things.
“I have a friend who wants to die. Why can’t we kill people like her instead?”
At last some one hit me. It was a beer bottle. It shattered on impact, the glass cutting my face and the liquor burning my eyes.
“Please just listen to me!”
The booing got louder, and their projectiles got more accurate. I was now ducking and trying my hardest to get into the fetal position while still standing. Soon I was being pummeled from all directions with whatever the audience could get their hands on.
“There are real people, already alive, whose mere existence is beyond the point of bearable. Why can’t we allow them to die with dignity by including them in our yearly celebratio”
I felt a sudden pain in the left side of my back then. It felt like nothing. It was a hole that was on fire.
What was this?
I looked over my shoulder to see a dagger being swiftly removed from my body by one of the other people called into the ring.
A mixture of hateful rage and intense satisfaction was plastered all across their face as they grabbed me by the shoulder. Their blade entered me again, and with it a roar arose from the audience.
I fell to my knees. As I stared wide eyed at the audience, now screaming for my death, another one of the participants approached me. My initial assailant grabbed me by the hair, and forced my head back. My second attacker provided a knife to the gut, a blow to my head, and then, finally, my throat was slit.
I slumped over, and as all feeling began to drain from my body, I heard the audience roar their approval as the announcer screamed “Bring out the legions! Prepare for the clone war!”
My attackers, and everyone in the audience for that matter, were eventually all found to be free of any wrongdoing. The courts ruled that this was a classic case of Sports Rage.
Like I said earlier, it didn’t end in quite the way that I had hoped for. It was more like the worst possible ending I could have imagined.