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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Contest Entry · #2225187
Kaz needs to know about his friend.
Just Doing My Job

“Is it like a lightswitch? Do you hit it and everything goes dark or is it more like a dimmer and the light fades gradually?”

Arnold shrugged. “How the hell should I know?”

His friend, Kaz, leaned forward eagerly. “But it’s your job. You must know more about the whole thing than anyone on earth. Especially now that Gatmanduria is the last country to have an official appointee like yourself. You’ve seen things that very few have had the opportunity to witness. I bet you’ve noticed all sorts of stuff.”

“Nope,” said Arnold. “I just do my job, mind my own business and collect my paycheck at the end of the month.”

“I can’t believe that,” protested Kaz, “Your job must require really paying attention to make sure you get it right. It’s not as if you can just turn up, do the necessary while drinking your coffee, and then go home without a care. I reckon you know a whole lot more than you’re saying.”

“And what if I do? Why would I tell anyone that sort of thing? And I’m not saying I know anything more than the rest of you. Just that some things don’t bear thinking about, let alone talking about with every Tom, Dick and Harry.” Arnold turned away, as if to indicate that was his last word on the matter.

But Kaz wasn’t finished. “Hey, this is me, Kaz, not some idiot you’ve only just met. You can trust me not to say anything.”

“Can I?” asked Arnold. “Do you know how long I’d have my job if they found out I’d been talking about it? About ten seconds, that’s all. Then I’d be out on my ear and probably sent into exile to boot.”

“But I don’t want to know about the job,” argued Kaz. “It’s what it feels like, that’s what I want to know. And I’m not talking about you - I can gather that from what you’ve said already. But the clients, their view on things must be very interesting.”

“Gawd, you’re a nosy bastard, Kaz. One of these days you’re going to find out more than you want to know.”

“Try me.” Kaz put his hands on his hips and struck a determined pose. Shaking his head, Arnold laughed at the mock bravado of his friend.

Kaz held the pose. “Go on then. I dare you,” he challenged.

Arnold lifted his eyes to the ceiling and pondered for a moment. He sighed and regarded his overconfident friend with a gaze that pierced his soul. “Alright, I’ll tell you. But you have to promise that will be the end of it, that you’ll never ask me about this ever again.”

His friend nodded eagerly as Arnold settled back into his chair and began to speak at length.

“When I first see them, you can tell they’re scared shitless. I mean, they don’t usually crap in their pants but a lot of them have trouble standing up. There’s a lot of involuntary trembling that goes on too. Even the brave ones that hold themselves together go really pale and sickly. They have trouble answering the questions as well. Damn few of them can say a steady word without squeaking or going hoarse.

“I just pretend I haven’t noticed. All business, that’s me, and the sooner we get this done, the better for all of us. You know what I mean.”

Kaz interrupted then. “That’s not really what I was asking. I mean when you actually get down to the job, how do they feel then?”

“Who’s telling the story?” asked Arnold.

“You are.” said Kaz. “Sorry, Arnie.”

“Right. Now, where was I? Oh yes, I’m getting their details and so on, then I have to tell them how matters will proceed, what they have to do and when and that sorta stuff. Then they march off and I don’t see them again until the next day.. That’s when we get down to business, outside, regardless of the weather.”

“What, you go ahead even if it’s pouring?” Kaz seemed shocked.

“Oh, yeah. I’m like the mail - through snow and sleet, rain and gloom of night, my business carries on.” He grinned at Kaz, enjoying his friend’s discomfiture.

“Anyway,” he continued, “I get the first one, invite him to the relevant spot, and go through the instructions with him again. Usually, by this time, they’ve stopped shivering and have calmed down so they can understand what I’m saying. Then I move ‘em forward, get ‘em into position and do my job.”

“Wait, wait,” said Kaz. “You’re stopping exactly at the point I really want to know about.”

”I know,” replied Arnold.

“Well, you can’t stop there. I could guess everything else you’ve told me.”

Arnold sighed heavily. “You really want to know?”

“Yes, of course I do.” Kaz fell silent and waited.

At last, Arnold began again. “My job is skilled but over as quick as that.” He snapped his fingers in mid-air. “But I know what you’re getting at and I admit I’ve thought about it myself. You want to know what happens to them in that instant when the axe cleaves through the neck and the head falls into the basket. Yes, I know you can imagine the tremendous spout of blood that covers everything, the terrible sounds that issue from the whole process. But you want to be inside the poor bastard’s head. You want to know whether it’s over just like that or whether the head retains a fading awareness of its separation and falling through the air and the weave of the basket that catches it. And what it feels like, of course. The pain, that matters to us all.”

Arnold watched his friend deal with what he’d said, saw how he held himself in the midst of the horror his imagination was creating. The executioner knew there would be no going back for Kaz now, that once the thought has occurred, there is no way of getting rid of it. The idea of fading consciousness was so terrible that now, in spite of his curiosity, Kaz must be hoping that he could be freed into the knowledge that death was instantaneous, that it was, indeed, like switching off a light.

But Arnold could not do that for him. “Your answer is that I do not know, Kaz. And I don’t think any of us will until we try it ourselves. That’s what I live with every day - the thought that I might be sending the clients into a hell as awful as that.”

Word Count: 1.095
For SCREAMS!!! 24/6/2020

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