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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Dark · #1956589
Do you really want to know when it all ends?
         Dr. Richard Simmons grimaces as he quietly eases down on to a flimsy wooden chair at the front of his desk. Carefully he begins to scan the collection of cassette tapes in front of him, looking through all of the interviews that he’s conducted over the last few years. The only light available in the small one-bedroom apartment currently comes from a tiny window in the corner, and he sighs weakly at the meager state of his surroundings. He can only laugh though recognizing this sleight of humility. His eyes itch and a mournful weariness begins to weigh carelessly upon his thoughts.

         I need to call Bill again…

         In vain, he renews his quest, his hand twitching uncontrollably while his fingers move slowly over the tapes once again. The right tape found, his fingers snap tightly on to it pulling it briskly from the dank confines of the worn cardboard box that is currently housing his life’s work. He hesitates slightly, and then places it into the player near his laptop. Finally, with some reluctance, he hits the record button.

         “It’s March 15, 2025…”

***


         “Dr. Simmons Interview number five, part one. Subject Melissa Caylan. See biographical data sheet for more information.”

         A long pause follows with what sounds like chairs scraping across a wooden floor.

         “Melissa, can you start with who you told? I mean who your first confidant was?”
         “Are you really recording this?”
         “Yes. Is that a problem?”
         “I guess not. I… I just don’t see the point.”
         “I’m not sure there is one, other than to help me with my memory later. I really don’t take great notes.”
         
         A small giggle escapes Melissa.
         
         “Neither did I… I mean back in high school…I…”

         An enigmatic silence ensues for about a minute.

         “You were in high school when it happened?”
         “Yes.”
         “Do you want to take a moment…?”
         “No, let’s just get on with this.”
         “Ok…”
         “I remember getting up that morning and… I just knew. I mean, everybody did, some of us just didn’t really get it you know… way back then.”
         “You mean back in the so-called ‘Days of Denial’?”
         “Yeah, whatever they called them later. I mean it was weeks not days for Christ’s sake... Anyway, you asked who I told first. Well, I told Eddie.”
         “Your boyfriend?”
         “No! My brother! Look, I know how stupid it was, he was only eight, but we were just sitting there, eating cereal by ourselves, and I… just blurted it out.”
         “What did he say?”
         “He started to cry. God, I should have kept my mouth shut! That was when he told me.”
         “He told you his…?”
         “Yes. It scared him. Christ It scared me! But Eddie? He was eight! Hell, I was just seventeen! I still don’t really know what to think about it… I mean, how do you talk about that anyway? I tried to joke about it, but... I knew. We knew.”
         “You were sure even then, in the beginning?”
         “We knew. And we knew there was nothing anybody could do about it.”
         “Did you tell your parents?”
         “Hell no! Are you crazy! I didn’t want to be locked up in some mental ward! I mean, come on! What do you say to someone who tells you something like that? I know later on, well… it came out on its own. Then they knew. Everyone knew”
         “Once the denial ended...”
         “Right, when everything truly went to fucking hell.”
         “So what changed your parent’s minds?”
         “February 9, 2023.”
         “That was …”
         “Eddie’s ninth birthday, the day he died.”

***


         “Dr. Simmons Interview number six, subject is Rosa Lee Mendez. See…”
         “Dr. Simmons, why are you doing this? Why now?”
         “I guess I’m just trying to see the bigger picture, I mean when I’m done writing my book…”
         “I’ve read many so-called great books Dr. Simmons, and I’ve encountered many strange and wonderful things over my life. I’ve even seen many of the world’s greatest paintings, including the Sistine chapel. I’ve actually been there, In person, nonetheless. Do you believe in God?”
         “Well… I believe in a higher power I guess…”
         “A higher power? You guess? Surely God is more than that to you. My little Timothy is blessed you know. Not like the other children. No, he is the one who is truly blessed now.”
         “What do you mean?”
         “Timothy has been given a gift, the best gift of all.”
         “As I understand it Mrs. Mendez, Timothy has been diagnosed with a mild form of autis…”
         “It Is A Gift! Why do you question God’s work?”
         “I’m just saying that he…”
         “Doesn’t know? Doesn’t understand? No, thank the Lord he doesn’t! Do you have children Dr. Simmons?”
         “No.”
         “They are more important, more cherished than anything you could ever possibly imagine. You would do anything for them. My sister Angelina… her three year old son Marcus, do you know what his first words were?”
         “I can’t imagine…”
         “Four, four, twenty, three. Do you understand? Do you see now why Timothy… A child’s first words shouldn’t be… “

         There is the sound of deep sobbing followed by a painful silence.

         ”None of us… none of us could believe what we knew in our hearts on that terrible day Dr. Simmons. Everything changed. Overnight we were cursed and we didn’t even realize it… but not my Timothy.”

***


         Notes from Dr. Simmons diary

         We are born and then sometime later we die. What happens next is debatable but ultimately remains unknown to the living.          
         Death however becomes us.
         All cliché’s aside, death should take a long fucking holiday if you ask me, and if divinity really does shape our ends, well then, so can God.
         We’re all so tired of coping now.
         Since the emergence of the DDP, the human race has become a meaningless crawl towards an inevitable chaos that won’t change a damn thing.
         Being alive nowadays seems to have lost all of its varying flavors thanks to the DDP. You see, so much about the crazy happiness of being alive depends upon one simple thing… the irrational dogma of hope. It’s so easy to believe in the tender rituals of the heart, to hold them and to fold them, and then to put them safely away in our back pocket until we most need them. After all, they imply that something good just might lie beyond the bubble of darkness that surrounds us each and every day. With such talismans in our possession to light our way, why wouldn’t we hold them dear?
         Mankind’s quest for hope came to an abrupt end on December 31, 2022 we just didn’t know it yet. Once it became clear that the reports were true, world governments could only try in vain to retain some measure of control over the sanity of their populations. In the U.S. this unwanted clarity came on January 23, 2023 in the form of a gas explosion in Omaha, Nebraska that killed over one hundred people in its wake. Within a week it was confirmed that all of the victims had expected to die on that day, how or when exactly had remained a mystery to all. Certain details would continue to remain vague, but as the world began to finally accept the validity of what came to be known as the DDP, or the Death Day Phenomena… well that was when the real horror began to sink in. Almost everyone on the planet recognized that they had a specific date in their heads; they just couldn’t, or wouldn’t, accept what it meant in the beginning. Denial is an opiate of unequal providence, and we are its most devout addicts. In the U.S. alone over three hundred and fifty million people were now burdened with not only the certainty of their own mortality, but the actual date of their demise as well.
         Chaos would not reign yet, but its shadow was surrounding us.

***


         “Dr. Simmons Interview number nine. Subject Dr. Justin Rhodes. See biographical data sheet for more information.”

         “So, Dr. Rhodes… What happened at the center? Why did you go into hiding?”
         “There’s no cure you know. This mental projection or whatever the hell you want to call it… well, what we all share is rather fucking permanent. Unless you have some underlying mental defect you’re screwed, it’s always with you. You can hide it… sometimes. But only for awhile.”
         “How many operations did you perform?”
         “Fifty. A hundred, why does it matter? Outside of performing an actual lobotomy, every one of the test subjects had it come back. It always comes back. Hypnosis doesn’t work either, not that I really even believed in it anyway...”
         “So that’s when you developed the so-called DDP Cocktail?”
         “What a stupid name… You can blame Theodore for that shit. Yeah. It was originally an injection you know… mainly to help some of the center’s… let’s say more important benefactors, sleep better. We were using an advanced combination of highly unstable psychotropic med-… well… the actual chemicals involved in the cocktail that we were processing were way too experimental for the public. But Teddy…”
         “You’re referring to Dr. Theodore Phelps I presume…”
         “Yeah, that stupid asshole let it out. Bastard snuck some of it home with him and before we knew what was happening…”
         “The Veggie farms appeared. The first one in Colorado…”
         “Yeah… Christ-Almighty, these commune freaks had somehow found a way to synthesize our formula, must have thought they were going to provide peace and comfort to everyone who wanted it. Crazy hippies, they were so damn ignorant…”
         “Over one-hundred thousand people visited these farms, in a month…”
         “They were all comatose. The news … well it looked like fucking Jonestown squared, all those bodies…These sons-of-bitch’s didn’t administer the vitamin supplements that we were constantly providing to the center’s patients! That’s the only way we knew how to correctly adjust the DDPC dosages! The bastards weren’t even aware there was a second procedure involved! By then it was too late... It was just a matter of time. Once they began to realize what they’d done…”
         “The center…”
         “Everyone came. The government, family members… with everything from axes to shotguns… marching on the castle, you know? Listen, it had been falsely reported by the press that the center had been cooperating with these damn farms! The real problem was that Teddy had disappeared and I had no one to help me. The benefactors had abandoned us, the staff…”
         “It appeared to be the end for the center then, however all charges were dropped later.”
         “Yeah, months later after I had disappeared, once they had started to figure out what was really going on and stopped living in complete denial! Anyway, a friend was able to get me into Ontario after I hid my family early on. I only came back for them a few months ago. We’re re-locating to Europe to be closer to my parents before they permanently stop issuing visas. How your contact found me…”
         “We got lucky, that’s all. Doctor, what do you think this DDP really is?”
         An audible sigh is heard from the doctor.
         “Eight out of ten doctors would have told you on December 31, 2022 that there was no reliable scientific data to support the theory of an intelligent design… All I have to say is that I used to agree with that statement.”
         “This alternative theory, the one regarding an evolution in genetic imprinting…”
         “What bullshit… I mean yes, there are some instances that seem to show that certain behavioral characteristics can be passed on, but come on… We all have a date in our heads! The date we’re supposed to fucking die! How in the hell would some kind of evolutionary step provide us with anything like that? As far as I can see there is nothing behaviorally beneficial for me in knowing the actual date that I’m going to die… outside of procreation I guess, except…”
         “Except what?”
         “It’s just that…for so much of our lives… we were used to taking everything for granted. I know I did. Now…? Well not anymore. I never really understood what the word ‘cherish’ really meant until these past few months with Karen and the kids… I was too busy, you know? Now there’s no other word I know better.”
         “Do you mind telling…?”
         “March 18, 2036. I seem to have a few left in me I guess. Thank God.”

***


         Notes from Dr. Simmons diary

         Within days of the Omaha event, the U.S. government immediately closed its borders to immigrants and began inserting military troops into designated areas to patrol most of the major population centers. They didn’t call it martial law then, but they did declare that the DDP, which it was now being officially recognized as, should be classified as a national security matter. That’s when the Vatican fell. The details were hazy but it seemed to be a series of terrorist attacks that led to Vatican City being abandoned. After that, it appeared that most of the faithful in the world, whatever their faith had been in before the DDP, had simply begun to stop praying.
         The world’s population appeared to be in a state of shock. Death though continued on with its daily pilgrimage, however, statistics showed no significant increase in comparison to mortality rates over the last fifty years. There were still suicides and there were still accidents, but they were all able to be directly correlated to the DDP dates of their victims. It didn’t seem to matter if a person chose to stay at home on their DDP date or go skydiving. The reaper would always make time for you.

***

         “Dr. Simmons Interview number thirteen. Subject Christian Ryder. See biographical data sheet for more information.”

         “So Mr. Ryder, you’re what is called a…”
         “DDC, Death Day Challenger. Hope to die soon.”
         “Ok… Can I ask what you’re…?”
         “September 13, 2055. Way too long for me.”
         “From what I’ve been able to find out Mr. Ryder, the only suicides that have occurred have fallen on the DDP dates of the people involved. The rest have failed, some more miserably than others…”
         “This isn’t suicide man. This is living life to the fullest and then going out doing whatever it is you love to do… “
         “And you love to…?”
         “Swim with the sharks, Baby! Been doing it for five freaking years, way before this shit! Some people do it now because they think their DDP allows them to appear immortal for awhile. But I’ve seen it backfire.”
         “Really?”
         “Hell yeah, I know where you were going with that suicide thing. Those people who failed are now laying comatose in hospitals with all sorts of tubes in them, and now they can only wait it out. Talk about hell on earth… Well, the same kind of thing can happen here, and has… many times.”
         “Why couldn’t this happen to you?”
         “It won’t.”
         “But how do you...?”
         “It Won’t.”
         “Ok then…what does your family think about all of this?”
         “My wife hates it. My children… well, we don’t talk much nowadays. Their choice.”
         “How old are they?”
         “Old enough to do whatever the hell they want. Look, I love my family as much as the next guy, but we all have to do what we have to do. I wanna live and die my way.”
         “I guess so…”

***


         Notes from Dr. Simmons diary

         While everyone was affected equally, not everyone was willing to talk about the DDP openly. Most of us believe that it was the idea of hidden clusters that scared the government into the actions that dictate our lives now. They still didn’t get it.
         Within days of the military occupation the government ordered that every citizen report to an officially appointed local hospital to record their DDP information for submission to the CDC and FEMA. There were no overt rebellious actions taken against this directive, as at first it seemed an appropriate measure for keeping track of the DDP. Eventually the Department of Mortality Census was created to retain this information and to provide reinforcement to the Crossover Centers that had begun to appear around the nation. People aren’t stupid though and the general consensus was that these ‘habitats for the terminally bound’ were nothing more than detention centers. Out of sight…
         Clusters indeed.
         And then there were the rumors; rumors of survivors of the DDP who were now in hiding. Without proof though, these rumors simply morphed into a vague mythology of an outlier cult. This was the real reason for my work, an interest that I had been tracking since I had first heard of them. If true, they represented a real hope once again.          
         We need hope again.

***


         Epilogue – William Ranton, Editor, Tantrum Publishing

         The events that led up to the publishing of Dr. Simmons unfinished manuscript are certainly interesting, if a bit mysterious. My office did indeed receive a phone call from his apartment on March 15, 2025 although I was not aware of it until later. I had already intended to check on Dr. Simmons that afternoon and had made my way to his residence at approximately 2pm. I was fully prepared for the worst having known that his DDP date had just passed the night before.
         I knocked on his apartment door and waited patiently for about two minutes for an answer and then tried again. After another few minutes went by, I decided to open the door myself having been given a separate key by Dr. Simmons earlier that week.
         I entered his apartment only to find a small desk with a recorder and a laptop sitting awkwardly on top of it. Beneath the table laid an open cardboard box with some cassette tapes inside. As I approached the table, I noticed that the recorder was on. It was set to record, so I stopped it and rewound the tape noticing that strangely it had only been recording for a little while. Richard truly loved using this type of an antiquated device. I’ve always known him as a man set in his ways.
         I put the recorder into my coat pocket and went to Richard’s bedroom door. I knocked twice, not expecting a response. I opened the door and from the light coming in from the open window could see Richard lying motionless upon his bed, the burnt out stub of a cigarette lying next to him on the floor. The coroner later determined that he had passed away sometime early the night before. An aneurism had found a way to do what the war long ago in Iraq had been unable to. 
         After all of the arrangements had been made I found my way home sometime later that evening. Only then did I remember the small recorder that I had placed in my coat pocket earlier that afternoon. I sat down and wondered if I should play it or not. Honestly, I don’t know if either decision would have been the right one. It is my desire though that the reader may find some kind of hope from Richard’s work, as I’m sure he would of as well. As for that phone call from his apartment, there was indeed a message left on our answering machine… two minutes of silence.

         Audio notes by Dr. Richard Simmons

         “It’s March 15, 2025, I made it. I’m now officially a DDC survivor. I’ve placed a call in to my editor and left a message for him to meet me here at my apartment right away this afternoon! I can hardly wait to see his face when I open the door! As to why I was spared…well, I don’t really know. I didn’t do anything special that I’m aware of. I didn’t pray, I didn’t beg or cry. I merely sat down on my bed and had a smoke. I spent the rest of the night simply watching the clock beat its way through the night, willing myself to stay awake…willing myself to stay here. I’m not really sure why I made it. Honestly it makes no sense to me at all. But…God it’s great to be alive…”
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