(An earlier version of this story appeared in a Vonnegut-themed issue of Canvas: The Vellum Collective, a Madison-based zine.)
Dead to the World, But Not Actually Dead, No
by Matt Athanasiou
The metallic prison was a sphere, a globe seemingly without entrance or exit. Yet, a small group of people sat inside of it, huddled at the bottom. A glowing equator shined on them.
A blond boy crawled partway up the curved floor and slid down on his stomach. He plowed into people. The entire group shifted. No one minded, but no one was pleased either. How long had they been there? Two hours? Ten?
Does anyone care? their author wondered before announcing himself over loudspeakers concealed in the equator. “Ready to beg?” he asked the group.
“We are not,” they said.
“When will you be?” he asked.
“Not now,” they said. “Likely not ever. Feel free to kill us,” they said. “Please kill us,” they said.
Their author inhaled. Their author exhaled. “Even you, little boy?”
The boy puffed out his lower lip and surveyed the room. He looked to his feet. In the voice of a seven-point-six-five-year-old angel, he said, “Mum and Pop want to.” Mum held his right hand, Pop his left. “If they are okay to die, then I am okay to die.”
The group repeated, as they had earlier, that their author was not a bad man, not a bad man if he believed in his actions. “If you must live, you must live for something.” They wanted him to understand that. Once he did, they were ready, they told him.
“Do you think this is some ruse? A hilarious prank that you will walk away from laughing? You won’t. No! Everything ends.”
The group said, “Okay,” and nodded to each other.
Their author cursed. He punched the keyboard and spat on the computer screen. That was I. That was me, author of this story, confused and irritated that these characters should feel no unease, nothing for their situation.
The group joined hands and hummed and waited for something.