The Euthanasia Clinic ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
The bus let me out at the bottom of a hill. I stood in the silence after the bus roared away and looked at the sign by the side of the road. An arrow on the sign pointed upward.
I began the ascent slowly, taking in the country view around me. It was spring and I couldn’t help noticing how blue the sky was, how vibrant the blues and yellows of the wildflowers. The tree-covered hills extended as far as the eye could see; there were birds everywhere, singing and zigzagging in the sky.
When I got to the place where I was going, I was out of breath and sweating. The young girl at the reception desk asked me if I needed assistance and when I said I didn’t she asked my name. She checked it against a list and then smiled and told me I could move on to admissions, down the hall on the left.
Another woman greeted me in admissions. After I told her my name, she asked me if I had any valuables or money. I gave her my watch and wallet containing two worthless dollars. “You can do whatever you want with them,” I said.
In exchange for my worthless valuables, she gave me a pair of loose-fitting pajamas with a matching robe and told me to go into a little room and put them on, putting all the clothes I was wearing into a basket on the table. When I came out, she led me down the hall and up a couple of flights of stairs, apologizing for the elevator being out of order. She took me through a door marked RECEIVING, told me somebody would be with me shortly, and left.
The room was nearly empty except for a couple of chairs and a low cabinet with a TV on top, tuned to the news from the city. I went to the window and looked out to keep from having to look at the TV, when a thin, tired-looking woman came in wearing a white coat like a doctor and I turned around to face her. The name tag on the white coat said her name was Margaret.
“I want to hear this!” she said, going to the TV and turning up the volume.
The pictures were of rioters turning over cars, hurling bricks through windows, setting fire to anything that would burn. Absolute chaos.
“I just came from there,” I said.
“I’m worried about my son,” she said. “He’s still in the city. I’ve tried calling him but the phones are dead.”
“I’m sure he’s safe,” I said.
“He was going to come here so I could administer the end drugs for him.”
“The buses are still running. He’ll probably be here any minute.”
“Any time someone comes in, I look to see if it’s him.”
“If I couldn’t administer the end drugs for him, I wanted to at least give him Father Time.”
“What’s Father Time?”
“The do-it-yourself end pill.”
“Why haven’t I ever heard of it?”
“There are only a few left. People in the city were killing each other for them up until a few days ago.”
“Ironic, isn’t it?” I said. “People killing each other for a pill that will kill them. ‘What fools these mortals be’.”
“The world has been off the rails for a long time now,” she said.
“I think we’re getting what we deserve,” I said.
“The human race.”
She began crying. She took a handkerchief out of her pocket and covered her eyes.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “That wasn’t a very appropriate thing to say.”
“It’s all right,” she said, trying to smile. “Most of the time I’m resigned until I think about him being all alone in the city and I’m here.”
“Maybe he’s not alone. Maybe he’s with friends.”
“He isn’t able to get around very well. He has an artificial leg.”
“The last time we spoke he promised he’d come here to me for the end. He’s all I have left now.”
“How old is he?”
“Twenty-one, but I still think of him as a child.”
“What’s his name?”
“Bearer of Christ,” I said.
“Yeah, that’s right. His father wanted him to have that name.”
“All my family died in the Final War,” I said. “So you can see I have no reason to want to go on.”
“A lot of other people share that sentiment.”
“Yes, I’ll have lots of company when I get to the other side.”
“I think we’d better get on with it,” she said. “Are we ready to proceed?”
“More than ready.”
“I’m going to give you a shot to calm you down.”
“I’m already calm.”
“It’s just procedure. We do it for everybody.”
“Then, after the shot I’ll take you upstairs and you’ll get into bed and get comfortable. Then I’ll hook you up to the machines and after a few minutes all your troubles will go flying out the window.”
“Will it hurt?”
“Only a feeling of euphoria, I promise.”
“Will I see the face of God?”
“If that’s what you want.”
“What about afterwards?”
“My dead body?”
“You don’t need to worry about that.”
“I’m not worried. Just curious.”
“You’d be surprised at how many people ask that question,” she said. “We’re not supposed to say anything that will make you anxious in your final moments. Professional ethics.”
“The body isn’t important anyway,” I said. “When we die, it’s an empty shell that we cast off. What matters is the soul.”
“Each to his own beliefs,” she said.
“You don’t believe in the soul?”
“It doesn’t matter what I believe,” she said. “I’m here to help you.”
“When I was young, I was afraid of death.”
“You’re still young.”
“Now that I’m faced with it, I feel almost happy.”
“That’s the start of the euphoria.”
“You wouldn’t happen to have a cigarette on you, would you?” I asked. “Before we get on with it?”
“No smoking in here.”
At that we both had a good laugh. She went to the cabinet and opened one of the drawers and took out a pack of cigarettes and a book of matches and handed them to me.
“If there was ever a time to relax the rules,” I said, “it’s now.”
I lit up and took a big puff and drew the smoke down into my lungs. “I was always afraid of smoking,” I said. “Afraid of what it would do to my body. That seems kind of silly now, doesn’t it?”
“We’re afraid of dying only when we think we never will.”
“It’s been good to talk to you,” I said. “I haven’t had a chance to have a real conversation with anybody for a long time.”
“I’m not much of a conversationalist,” she said. She took my cigarette and took a couple of puffs on it and crushed it out in the trash can. “Are you ready for the shot now?”
“Wait a minute,” I said. “I was just thinking.”
“Time to stop thinking.”
“No, I don’t mean I was thinking about dying. The buses are still running, at least for today. I was thinking I could go back to the city and get your son and bring him back here.”
“Oh, no! I couldn’t ask you to do that.”
“You didn’t ask. I’m volunteering.”
“It’s too risky. I don’t think you’d make it back. I wouldn’t put you through that.”
“If I find him and if we aren’t able to get back out here to the clinic, I can take him a little gift from his mother.”
“Yes, and there’ll be one for me, too, I hope.”
“No, it’s too dangerous,” she said. “If people knew you were traveling with Father Time, they’d kill you to get it.”
“Nobody will know.”
“No, I don’t want you to…”
“Look, I’m going to die anyway. If not today, then tomorrow or the next day. I figure it doesn’t make any difference if I die here or in the city. This is my last chance to do a good thing. It might square me in heaven.”
“I wouldn’t want to be responsible for…”
“Then it’s settled?”
“I’ll bring Christopher back here if I can, if the buses are still running, but if I can’t he and I will die together. He won’t die alone.”
She started crying again, uncontrollably this time. Sobbing, she went out of the room and closed the door. She returned a few minutes later bearing a small envelope and my clothes I had put in the basket.
“Get dressed,” she said. “Put the envelope in your pocket. Father Time is in it, one for Christopher and one for you.”
“Got it,” I said.
“Here’s a small picture of him to give you an idea of what he looks like. It was taken when he was eighteen, but he hasn’t changed much since then. On the back I’ve written his address in the city.”
“Seems you’ve thought of everything.”
“Bring him back here if you can, but if you can’t you’ll know what to do. Tell him his mother is here, still alive, and thinking of him at the end.”
“Leave it to me.”
She turned away while I threw off the pajamas and got into my clothes. She gave me the pack of cigarettes and the matches, a bottle of water, and a couple of energy bars.
“Do what you can,” she said, patting me on the upper arm. “I’m not expecting any miracles.”
I went down the stairs and out the building without meeting anyone.
I jounced down the hill in half the time it took to go up. A few clouds had gathered in the sky and the air was cooler now, but the sun was still brightly shining.
I figured it was a waste of time to wait for the bus, which might be along but probably wouldn’t, so I began walking in the direction of the city. I wouldn’t think about how far it was but only about each step as I took it. If I laid down in a ditch along the road and died, I would have at least tried.
The world was beautiful, nature was thriving, and man was in his death throes. God’s million-year experiment with the human race was about to end. Soon the world would be given over entirely to other living creatures, as it had been for tens of millions of years before man came onto the scene. Maybe the human race would continue on other planets—there was all kinds of speculation on that subject—but for now, at least, humans on Earth were finished.
We had been told two days ago that everybody would be dead in a week, but when I got the city, I began to think it was happening sooner than expected. I saw few people and those I saw looked and acted like frightened animals. They were confused, looking for food or a place to hide out. It seemed I had nothing to fear from any of them; they didn’t approach me or even look at me.
The city was almost unrecognizable. Large sections of it had been burned and torn asunder in the rioting. Stores and businesses had been not only looted but ripped apart and burned. Bodies in various stages of decay lay everywhere. Cars had been smashed into each other and set on fire. A noxious stench mixed with thick smoked hung over everything and darkened the sun. It was a scene that I might have imagined out of hell.
I was tired from my long walk and found a place out of the way to sit down and rest. I was surprised I was still able to put one foot in front of the other and move forward. I took some small sips of the water I had and was glad I had it. Food was a distant memory; I hadn’t eaten in so long I wasn’t sure if I would ever be able to eat again.
After I felt at least partially rested, I took the picture of Christopher out of my pocket and studied it so I would recognize him if I saw him and then I turned the picture over and memorized the address on the back. From what I remembered of that part of the city, the address was ten or twelve blocks from where I was. It was going to be another long walk and I had no way of knowing if I would ever make it.
I walked for an hour or more and saw no signs of anything I knew. Buildings I had known or at least seen had been burned or lay in ruins. In places the streets were impassable and I found myself climbing over mountains of bricks and debris. I saw an occasional foot or arm sticking out, but I just looked away and went on. The few people I met moved slowly and dream-like; they seemed to pose no threat but if they challenged me I was more than ready to defend myself to the death.
Finally—quite by accident, it seemed—I found the street I was looking for and once I found the street, I found the number easily enough. It was a four-story brick apartment building. Some of the windows had been broken out and the side of the building was caved in as if it had been rammed by a tank, but the building still stood while many others were only piles of rubble.
The door to the building was blown off its hinges so I went inside as if I belonged there, quickly before somebody saw me and tried to stop me. I found my way down a dark, filthy hallway to a flight of stairs and I began going up them to the fourth floor. I found the door with the number I was looking for, amazed that I had made it this far. I knocked loudly and put my ear to the door.
I heard a faint rustle coming from inside and I knew somebody had heard my knock.
“Is anybody there?” I said.
“Go away,” came the voice from inside. “I have a gun and I don’t mind blowing your fucking head off.”
“Christopher?” I said.
“Who is it?”
“My name doesn’t mean anything to you. I just spoke with your mother.”
“My mother’s dead.”
“No, she’s not. I just saw her.”
“You just want to rob and torture me.”
“No, I don’t. Can you open the door? I have something I want to show you.”
He opened the door as far as the chain would allow and I held up the picture of him his mother had given me with his address written on the back.
“Where did you get that?” he asked.
“I just told you. I saw your mother at the clinic where she works.”
“I don’t believe you. It’s a trick.”
“Why would I want to trick you?”
“Why does anybody do anything?” he said.
“Could you open the door all the way and let me come in?”
“Do you have a gun or a knife?”
“No. No weapons of any kind.”
“I don’t mind killing you if I have to,” he said.
“So you said.”
He unfastened the chain and opened the door and I went inside. He was indeed the same person as the one in the picture. He had a crowbar in his hand instead of a gun. As soon as he take one step, I saw how debilitated he was with his artificial leg.
“I walked from the clinic,” I said. “I’ve been walking for hours to try to find you.”
“Why would you want to find me?”
“Your mother was worried about you. She thought you were coming to the clinic so she could give you the end drugs, but you never showed up.”
“Somebody on the street told me the clinic had been raided and everybody killed.”
“That’s not true. I just came from there.”
He insisted I turn out my pockets so he could see what was in them. When he decided I posed no threat, he put down the crowbar and relaxed.
“Are you a friend of my mother’s?”
“I never met her until today.”
“Why would you want to help us?”
“Why does anybody do anything?”
I sat down heavily in the nearest chair without being asked. I wasn’t able to stand on my feet any longer or take another step. He got me a cup of water and I took the envelope out of my pocket and tore it open and held the two of Father Time in my palm and then laid them side by side on the table where he could see them.
“What is that?” he asked.
“The way out of hell,” I said.
Copyright © 2019 by Allen Kopp