October 31: TRICK OR TREAT


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It is a thousand years from now.  Whenever now is, it’s a thousand years after that.

A cure for mortality has been created—crafted—perfected.  Humanity has moved to the stars.  Why not?  We have literally nothing better to do than to explore the universe, no matter how long it takes.  The generation ships accelerate across what once would have been generations.  They still have not reached their destinations.  In another thousand years, they still will have not.  We couldn’t think of what else to call them, though.  Starships sounded too retro.  In many ways we are still lazy.  Immortality won’t make you outgrow that.

But at least we know, no matter what happens to our homeworld, that humanity will continue.  The End will never happen.  Every day, every moment, is now a new beginning.

And yet.

On Earth, in a city called New Venice, which used to be called Bologna until the seas rose, was a house that was sealed up the day that it was declared that free immortality would be available for all.

Throngs lined up for their shots and pills, but the house remained closed.  The residents, of whom there were thirteen, communicated with the outside world freely—but they kept their doors locked.

Everyone who had become immortal began to complain about having to take care of those who had not.  In some ways that was a good thing—because many people had “accidentally” not received immortality because they were overlooked.

But not the baker’s dozen inside the house.

“No, no, thank you, if any of us fall ill, it is not your problem, do not concern yourself,” they said.  “We will take care of our own.”

Then it came to pass that everyone who had had a religious objection to immortality was overruled—they were taken up in vans and brought to the doctors, and administered immortality whether they wanted it or not.

It was a big hullabaloo.  But it was for their own good, even if it meant they would never meet their maker.  By then sentiments were starting to turn.  Death became a privilege, something that must be earned, based on one’s contributions to humanity.  You couldn’t buy it.  No amount of donations or endowments were considered in the balance.

Only time.

Death was so far out of reach that you could journey to the stars and back again, and still not reach it.

But from the Thirteen inside the house:  “No, no, we won’t be having any of that.  Don’t worry.  We won’t be a bother at all.”

I’m sure you have questions.  “How did this work?  Were people zombies?  What if their heads were cut off?  What about people incinerated in a nuclear holocaust?  Or who dove into the heart of a star?”

The answers I have to give you are terrible, terrible.  As people began to desire death, the enforcement of immortality changed in order to keep pace.  First flesh was altered, then the mind. For a time we became machines, then flesh again—but you would not have recognized us as human.

Still, the house in New Venice remained sealed.

The last holdouts.

A propitious day was identified.  Halloween.  Several of us were sent to the house, wearing such masks as to make them seem more “human,” in the old style.

They knocked on the door.

“Haha, we’re all fine in here, just fine.  No need to worry…but do come for Halloween.  We’re always game for trick or treat if you are!”

It was a tradition for those brave enough to do so, to knock on the door of the Mortal House on Halloween.  The door would open, a bowl of candy would be revealed among purple light and a smoke machine.  Once you took the candy and left, the door would once again close.  If you tried to push your way into the house, you would find only a sealed vestibule of reinforced concrete with no other apertures.  The door was a decoy.

If the bowl was emptied, however, it would be refilled the next time the door was opened.

A mystery, although most of us thought it was an A.I. running the whole show on the inside by now.  Still, we had to know.

As I said, the door was knocked upon and the magic words spoken.  The door opened, and a bowl of candy appeared on a small table with a silk handkerchief on it.  Purple lights shone from overhead, and a smoke machine’s fog rolled out of the doorway.

I was there.  The others pushed me forward, and I took a small chocolate bar wrapped in foil.

It was not dusty; the paint had not worn away.  It seemed brand new.  I unwrapped it and shoved it into the mouthhole of my mask.

It was delicious.

The others shoved past me and into the vestibule, banging on the walls with pressure guns, powdering the concrete and smashing the reinforcing rods into shivers of metal, little petals of it that flaked off and tumbled gently to the floor.

In moments the wall was destroyed.  They stepped through.

I waited for two hours for the screams to stop, and then I left, shoving all the chocolate into my pockets, then closing the door behind me.

I whistled on the way home.  I’ve always liked chocolate.  But I’m not stupid enough to assume that there’s only one way to master death…

And I am not yet tired of life.

And that’s it–the end of the flash fictions.  You can purchase the entire collection here.

I’m still trying to work this one out.  Was it a trick?  Or a treat?  At any rate, I had Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Masque of Red Death” on my brain while I was writing this.

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