Steal Tomorrow Extra: Mercy Killing

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This flash fiction was written for Three Word Wednesday and for Alice Audrey's Serialists. Although it is concurrent with the novel Steal Tomorrow, it contains no spoilers. Be sure to drop by Three Word Wednesday and The Serialists for more fun.

They had put the boy in a separate room. His head rested in a nest of wadded towels and sheets – dirty, since it was hard to wash anything after the pandemic that killed the grownups and continued to kill as the infected children neared adulthood. Clean linens must be kept for the living, and this young man wouldn’t be among them much longer.

David stood outside the door, Glock at his hip and a studied bad-boy scowl on his face. He had taken extra care with his makeup today, blackening his eyes with a mixture of grease and charcoal and whiting out the rest of his face with chalk. This style had been popular in his previous gang, a group that was infamous for both mercy killings and needless violence. David continued to favor the look, even though it wasn’t the fashion with this particular tribe of young survivors. If questioned, David would’ve said he wore face paint because he liked it, but the truth was more complicated, bound up in issues of allegiance, identity, and denial.

Affecting an attitude of impatience, David strode into the room. “Wrap it up, folks, I don’t have all day.”

The children who had been kneeling by the boy’s side looked up. Tears streaked one girl’s face. She was the younger sister and had nurtured her brother diligently once he became symptomatic. The other young people were friends, some from before the pandemic and others who had come to know him since.

“You could be a little more sensitive about it,” said the amateur doctor, a teenager in a dirty lab coat.

“What for? He’s already dead in every way that matters.” David slid his gun out of its holster. “He’s unconscious, right? That’s what you said when you asked me to do this.”

Doc nodded and shoved his hands in his pockets while the other children made their last farewells. “It’s hard for some of them. You know that.”

“I don’t see why. We’re all used to it by now. Besides, it’s harder to hang around here, not knowing when your time is going to be up.” To the girl who was the boy’s sister David added, “Cheer up, we’re all infected. You’ll be joining him soon enough.”

As her friends led her from the room wailing, Doc moved on David with fury in his eyes. “That was totally uncalled for.”

David gave a little shrug. “If you don’t want me doing the mercy killings around here, do them yourself.”

Doc didn’t answer. Instead he gave a frustrated shake of his head and left the room, closing the door behind him.

David knelt by the unconscious boy’s side and after glancing over his shoulder as if someone might be listening, he took his pale, cold hand. “I’m sorry, buddy,” he whispered. “They only make me do this because they’re too chicken shit to do it themselves.”

Having once been a member of a violent gang, David would always be branded as one who wasn’t affected by death. Although he understood what he was doing was kinder than letting a Telo sufferer linger, for some reason this task kept getting harder rather than easier.

With a small sigh, he picked up his gun and removed the safety. “It’s better this way.”

He adjusted the wadding around the boy’s head and pulled a corner of a dirty sheet over his face. “Safe journey, friend. I’ll be joining you soon.”

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Sheilagh Lee said...

how sad that they all know they are infected and could die like this boy at any time.Poor David that he has had to take on the role of the mercy killer.your story is so imaginative I can almost feel myself there.

Old Egg said...

The beauty of your story Ann is of course to question ourselves on how we each would handle such a situation. In Neville Shute's novel "On the Beach" a similar situation had the citizens of Australia being the last people alive after a nuclear holocaust fallout slowly envelopes the world from north to south. The funny aside in the end of that one was that the rabbits inherited Australia!

Nara Malone said...

So sad, but brilliantly drawn. I was completely immersed in the scene.

Jae Rose said...

What a parting image..there is something almost mythical about the idea of children not reaching adulthood - although your writing is always so original and powerful - it reminds me of both 'live fast (and hard) and die young' and ancient cultures where youth was somehow mystical..and more so if it was halted..sacrificed..I imagined 'Doc' as a grown-up..but I guess he must just be an older young one..all the more poignant..Jae

Alice Audrey said...

It's nice to know that it does get harder for him, rather than easier. I'd almost expect him to be numb by now.