Amongst a lush garden of chrome and glass, where business towers loomed over squatted suburbia, it was nice to know the roach motel would linger forever on. David slid an ice cube from the sweating glass into his mouth, cracking it on his back teeth. Picking up another, he placed it onto the front of his wrists. Matilda had taught him this. For a seven year old that little sprite always had her head inside books and magazines. He would catch her lying under the coffee table, engrossed in one of the nature and scientific zines. Then the quiz would begin, with her little fat hand tugging on his sleeve, always at that specific slot of time when he would be deeply engrossed in work. Matilda soaked all she read in as fact even though she was not old enough to understand. Just a blind faith in words. A blind faith that never left us, even as we grew rigid exoskeletons created from sense and crippling self-doubt. Underneath we were all saturated gluttons feeding on engineered truth.
Outside, over the street, projected screens circled with news footage. David could see his name small and almost unnoticeable, followed by the red figure of sixty percent scrolled under stock footage and headlines of teenagers taking to the streets in protest of a teen idols court case. The young man’s lawyer trying to argue that the fan had a stable mind when signing over their body to be eaten. Switch to breaking news of terrorism in the community. Fear the stranger. Fear the stranger, buy the state certified.
The plastic cord from the lamp grew heavy on his leg.
Fearing a break in his willpower, he stood up from the stool, dragging it into the centre of the room. He had pushed the bed into the corner, placing the mattress on the floor beside, to stop his legs from finding a place to hold his weight. On the dresser, lay his gold watch and money from his wallet. He had tucked the leather wallet into his sock to prevent the possibility of it being robbed before the authorities arrived. CL Incorporated would not take his company peacefully; it would all be scrapped and picked clean by the shareholders. Better to end it with the roaches. Eloise and Matilda would be well looked after – with his death, all his fortune would be tied up with inheritance.
Wrapping the black cord around his throat loosely, looping it into knot with ease, that skill had never left him since his summer days in the college’s yacht club. Swinging the other end over the overhead beam, he tightened and prepared himself. He had not noticed he was talking to himself, whispering his final words of love and forgiveness; to his first wife and the second, to the brother who he never visited, to his assistant who would call in and find him. This is it, he said alone in the room, you’ll be better off now Matilda. Kicking off, he swung forward, blood rushed around his ears and drummed. Bucking forward, tears streamed down his face. The pain inside his chest failed to burst free but instead spread out into his body like a thousand fire ants; biting the flesh relentlessly. Just let me go up. Up, up and away he wished and sputtered. He twisted around to face the tangerine wallpaper, ghastly pattern of swirls and dots. Disgusted that this would be the last thing he saw before he closed his eyes.
As if slipping from the sides of a boat, he crashed down.
‘Breath, Mr Colette. Breath…’ said a man’s voice over him. Turning over, David saw the tangerine wallpaper and questionably stained brown carpet.
‘This isn’t heaven,’ He croaked, still trying to pry the plastic lead loose.
‘Well, I don’t think you have any good authority to prove it otherwise. Sit up Mr Colette.’ The man said, placing the mattress back onto the bed frame.
‘Who are you? An enforcer doing the rounds?’ David questioned. This stranger certainly didn’t have the clothes or mannerisms of an officer. He was below six foot, with sharp shoulders that thin arms dangled from. Dressed in a simple black suit. His skin was clammy due to the heat, patchy skin tones of peach and pink mingled together. The sun never shined but the heat remained, cooking all from the inside out. His hair was gelled to the side, yet a few strands had fallen over his brow. What perplexed David most was the strangers face; an oval head, with baby-fat cheeks. He looked as if he was still twenty yet everything else gave off the impression he was in his thirties. The stranger sat down on the edge of the bed, watching David finally manoeuvre himself onto the stool he had previously kicked over.
‘Well…’ He paused to check whether David was paying attention. ‘I would actually call myself an over-glorified accountant.’ When the man smiled, his piggy eyes sank deep into the fat, and thick black wrinkles crept out over his face.
‘You stopped me?’
‘Of course, I had to cut the cord.’ The overpaid accountant replied amused.
‘But…’ David could only manage to say. The man leant over to the dresser and picked up the glass of ice cubes. Pulling out a black handkerchief polka-dotted blue, he placed the ice cubes into the centre and wrapped it up.
‘This should help with that neck of yours.’ He passed it over to David. ‘I have to apologise Mr. Collette, if a certain chemical department had been doing there job right, this would not have happened yet. The estimate on dosage was completely wrong.’
‘I might still be out of it but I thought you said, just then, that it was your fault I chose to kill myself.’
‘That’s exactly what I’m saying, although only half right.’
David sat back, dabbing the iced cloth around his neck. ‘Are you some actor hired by CL to mind fuck me?’
‘Then why are you here? And if not CL, then who would be poisoning me?’
‘I am here on behalf of the NE-Four; it’s a compact organisation which maintains dominancy and monopolises over specific markets. Obviously you don’t know the name as it’s a silent overseer – currently owning one hundred and forty businesses internationally.’
‘So just what is it NE-Four does?’
‘They are the butterflies that cause hurricanes.’ The man had obviously rehearsed that line many times. Yet he was claiming to have been a part David’s suicidal resolve to wither. Was he some sort of sign? A second chance to not allow his pride and hatred stain the very lives of his loved ones. ‘I have a very promising deal to make with you David.’
‘There is nothing you can offer a dead man.’ David replied feeling his resolve bubble back to the surface. He could see a bead of sweat run down the man’s neck, soaking into the damp white fabric of his collar.
‘A dead man needs nothing David, your right, but what of his legacy?’ From this, he pulled out the scroll. Two chrome cylinders the diameter of a straw, pulled out at both ends revealing a thin sheet interconnected; light and translucent as spiders silk. Pressing the small button on the side lit up the fibres, levelling out and turning the material rigid. A series of documents and programmes phased onto the scroll, switching between folders and files with the flick of the man’s forefinger. David leant forward, trying to catch a glimpse of what the man was searching for. ‘I need you to listen carefully.’
‘No. I am not some blue level worker you can threaten or talk over. I am David Collette and not just any statistic. You will have nothing. NE-Four will get nothing.’ He spat out coarsely, due to the grating pain around his Adams-apple. Defiance, he thought, my one true defiance. My family comes first. The man raised an eyebrow and had a forlorn expression between the folds of baby fat. Double tapping the scroll, it flicked over to a small recording. He stood up and passed it over to David, the defiant, watching the man’s face crumple slightly at the sickness that stabbed his heart when he looked at the silent recording. Through the pixels he saw Matilda, at home with Eloise, walking hand in hand from school. Trying not to step on the cracks, Matilda hopped about as the tether of her Eloise’s arm stopped her from flying off.
‘We know what you were planning David, because we were chemically altering you from the beginning. It’s in the coffee you have every morning, the bowl of cereal you give to Matilda, even the food you eat. It’s all there to keep your depression levels from lowering. Only when we had you take the government issued hypoxia jab, would the antidepressants you were already consuming turn you numb. You feel numb right? Eighty percent of our test subjects felt the same, along with partial bouts of insomnia and anxiety. Someone in the chemical department seemed to have smudged up your dosage though; I almost had to run here when I was given the call you were ending it two weeks faster than anticipated. I know this is a lot for you to take in but listen carefully…’
He leant in and merged two files simultaneously. A document appeared, already opened on the last page, David saw his capitalised name and knew already what they asked of him. He would have to be quick, he thought, he would turn around sharply. Wrapping the chord, still in his hand, around the man’s neck and twisting it tight. Turn him blue. ‘Now if you decline this deal, here is the course of action: You will remain alive, constantly monitored, every action to take your life will be prevented by members of our team. We will change the mandatory dose to your wife and daughter. We will also plant indecent pornography onto your network. You will live to a very old age David, and everyone around you will suffer.
David tightened his hand around the chord. ‘And if I accept?’
The man smiled, from this angle he could the fold of fatty skin under the chin hang over the collar. ‘Well…your family gets a very nice package. We will give Eloise a promotion or two.’
‘She will be given top tier academic levels and a state scholarship when she comes of age to a high graded university of her choice. She will have every opportunity at her disposal. Even imagine with her current test scores, she would take to an ivory collar position with ease. All she needs is you to sign on the dotted line.’ David stood up and made his way to the window. The news on the building had been replaced with a few adverts. A large milk glass, half full, filled the screen. Sporting the tag: DRINK TO YOUR HEALTH. DRINK MILK. He was dancing on a string, with both ends lit on fire. All his suspicions were very much real. Swiping his initials over the blinking line, he signed the company over.
‘You’ve done the right thing.’
‘And what happens to me now?’
‘You take this pill and it all ends. You will barely feel a thing.’ He opened up a small matt-black case he had plucked from his jacket pocket. David took the two capsules willingly as he sat down on the bed.
‘How long does it take to work?’ He slurred, noticing he could no longer feel his mouth. His arms flopped down oblivious to his commands to move them. The paralysing agent seeped further into his core. All he could control were his eyes, which followed the man who removed his jacket and placed it on the doors coat hook.
‘We have to finish where you left off.’ He said, unbuckling his belt, sliding the leather loose. David tried to speak out but he found himself unable. He was a living corpse. He could not feel it, but as his vision fell down onto the ground, he knew the man had laid him onto his belly. Then he saw the belt strap descend past his eyes, down to his neck. ‘Steady now’ the man puffed. Then, on that questionably stained carpet, David’s head flung back. And white turned to black.