My pills make me hallucinate sometimes. So when I heard the clamor at the bottom of my stairwell I wasn’t sure if it had actually happened. I peeled myself off the couch and went to the window. The rusted cartilage in my knees popped as I walked. Looking out the window, I noticed a utility truck outside. The logo of the electric company glistened as the sun battered against the vehicle’s door.
It was so routine—so common—that I thought nothing of it. I returned to my couch. I returned to my television. I returned to my laptop. I returned to the warm intoxication of my depression medications.
When the clamor traveled slowly up the stairwell, I wrote it off as a delusion—another fun side effect of my capsulated treatment. Then it happened. The door from my stairwell flung open. A loud bang startled me as the door knob slammed into the wall.
I looked up from the couch. It was the man from the electric truck—a utility worker. Except, this man did not brandish a pair of heavy-duty long-nose-pliers. Instead, he had a gun pointed at me. It was sleek and black. There was a long cylinder attached that I recognized as a silencer; I had seen them in many movies. I didn’t know much about tools back then so I couldn’t have told you what kind of gun it was.
“Get up,” the man demanded. Stunned and frightened I remained motionless. Coldly, he repeated his demand. That time I rose.
He walked towards me and pushed the silencer into my forehead. The metal felt cool against my skin. “Happy Birthday Mr. Ryder,” which was accurate—it was my birthday. I was thirty-three.
“Maybe,” I thought, “this is just some fucked-up birthday gram from one of my fucked-up friends with a fucked-up, sadistic sense of humor.” After all, when you bounce in and out of treatment centers and your best conversations focus on which bi-polar meds you like most, well, the chances are high that your friends won’t be the most compassionate group of individuals.
Then the man began to talk again, “Are you Mister Henry Isaiah Ryder, born March twenty-second, of the year nineteen-hundred and eighty-two?”
Dumbfounded, I answered meekly, “Uh, yes sir.”
“Then, in Accordance with clandestine federal statue 456.781, section 2.A., subparagraph III.A, per executive order 119, I am hereby ordered to inform you, Mister Henry Isaiah Ryder, born March twenty-second, of the year nineteen-hundred and eighty-two, that you have been randomly selected as a lottery recipient to be collected for removal.”
I never did understand contract-speak and hearing it with a gun pressed into my forehead did not make it any easier to comprehend. “Sir,” I began, “Are you telling me that I won the lottery?”
“Mr. Ryder you were chosen in the lottery based on a random drawing based on your social security number.”
“Okay,” I replied. However, my confusion did not recede. “Well, what did I win?”
“Mr. Ryder, you won nothing. I am here to collect you.”
“Collect me,” I said, “What does that even mean?” Then a beam of dust-speckled sunlight fell into the room. It illuminated the gun. It hit me instantly.
“Ashes to ashes,” I mumbled.
“And dust to dust,” he finished.
A panicked wave of understanding, imbued with dread, poured into me like rotted concrete. I fell to the ground and began hyperventilating. The man rolled his eyes and snorted in disgust. He had seen this same outburst too many times.
However, his disgust was not entirely indignant. A hint of self-loathing lurked in that dismissive grunt. I felt a small crack emerge. The situation was not as hopeless as my gut had perceived it to be.
Within seconds I collected myself. A quote from an old movie popped into my head. I never took the time to memorize it correctly, but it was something along the lines of, “When the fall is all that’s left, then how you fall matters a great deal.”
Panic switched to rage. I sat up. “Fuck you,” I exclaimed.
The man’s fist tightened around the gun’s handle. “Excuse me,” he retorted.
“I said, fuck you. Who the hell do you think you are waltzing into my house and pointing that goddamn thing at me? Why don’ you try putting that gun down and seeing if you can collect me the old-fashioned way.”
I rose to my feet.
A smirk emerged from the corners of his mouth. “Mr. Ryder,” he began, “All the anger in the world will not save you now. When your number has been selected, policy dictates the outcome. You will be collected.”
“Well,” I began, “If my fate is inevitable, then why don’t you at least explain what the fuck is going on.”
“As policy dictates, that is not an option.” I could hear his voice grow weary.
“Policy, policy, policy! What are you a man or a piece of fucking paper? Don’t you get sick of being a walking contract?”
“More than you know Mr. Ryder, but, unfortunately for you, that just doesn’t matter anymore.”
“Oh really,” I blustered, “Because, from my point-of-view, it means a hell of a lot right now.”
His grip weakened and he lowered the gun.
Silence filled the room, literally. It was not the usual absence of sound, but a nerve-wracked, thick fog of silence that seeped from nowhere and filled the space between us.
(To be Continued...)