PseudoPod 601: Flash On The Borderlands XLIII: The Grinding of Gears
stick my hands thru the cage of this endless routine
just some flesh caught in this big broken machine
Suicide Vending Machine: “I was in the crisp white gleam of the car showroom with a coffee machine and a stopped clock, and I couldn’t imagine anyone ever being allowed to leave.”
Suicide Vending Machine
by Thomas Welsh
Good morning sir. I see from my paperwork that you have a budget of ten thousand dollars, but I’m pleased to announce that you can benefit from our “recommend a friend” discount scheme. Yes sir, it’s another three thousand, and you should certainly thank them the next time you see them. Or perhaps allow us to send them a message of thanks on your behalf?
I am glad you asked! You absolutely can make a referral too. Don’t worry; I’ll remind you when we finalize our documentation. Just the name and location is all we need, we will pick them up.
Alright then, let’s begin!
Now of course technically I am the salesman, but really I am more of a guide because these machines sell themselves. After all, why would you skimp on the last thing you’ll ever buy? The Life Transition Machines start at one thousand dollars, but we recommend you consider our “best value” package. We have a range of finance options available.
I already know what your next question will be. And yes, for the sake of authenticity, the machines really do take coins. We offer large denomination, special run tokens. You wouldn’t want to be standing here all day would you? We find that most of our customers don’t want to spend their final hours depositing thousands of coins into a slot. That would be neither authentic nor practical.
Ah, I see you eying up the mid-range options. Great for a man on a budget who doesn’t want to compromise on quality! The dark blue machine to your right may be of interest. As you can see there are two main receptacles, one for each arm. You slide your hands inside – after you’ve deposited your payment of course – and the machine will beep twice to let you know it’s ready. Stainless steel bracelets will secure your wrists in place, locking you at the exact angle necessary for a clean, precise procedure. The incision takes place in one… let me just check the specs in my documentation here… yes it takes place in “one one-thousandth of a second”, severing both arterial veins with a single nanometre-sharp edge. That’s the real genius of this particular machine: a single motion so fast and fluid that you won’t feel a thing.
From there, you can either pull your wrists free – the locking mechanism will release automatically after the incision – or you can lean on the moulded Corinthian leather arm rests. We find some of our customers are interested in the aesthetic side and want to see the results of the machines work, while others are happy for the residual mess to stay inside. We either mop up afterwards, or inside the machine a vacuum chamber means you won’t see a drop. Of course as with all procedures that cut the wrists, we don’t cross the street, we go up the highway. Vertical cuts are far more effective at severing the appropriate arteries than horizontal.
No? I see that perhaps this one is not for you, but please follow me! I have something far more suited to your tastes.
Let’s see, let’s see… Yes, along this way please. Ah here we! Now this machine in the green is actually a little cheaper. Many customers are put off by the nature of its operation, but discerning individuals like yourself might be able to handle it. It’s not for everyone, but if you’re up to a bit more of a challenge in your transition from this life to the next, this is a good choice. Shall I tell you more?
I know it looks a little more intimidating, but its operation is both simple and effective. You put your head through this space here. As you can see, there are hand-holds at either side so you can steady yourself. Now as you put your head inside this gap, the metallic actuators release. You see the black band here? This is a three inch diameter vulcanised rubber with a tensile strength of… let me quickly check… yes, “half a tonne”. The metal grips release this band and it snuggly compresses the neck. You see the sophistication of this design? The metal grips hold it open wide enough for your head to fit comfortably through, but with a taut radius much smaller than the thinnest neck, this band is absolutely effective one hundred percent of the time.
What’s that? No, not suffocate. The mechanism of transition is down to the blood flow being cut off rather than the air. Yes, it is quite quick.
Are you interested in suffocation? Please sir, I am only asking! Of course we can skip over those machines. If it’s not to your taste, I recommend you ignore the yellow one. Yes it laminates. You sir… It laminates you.
Certainly I could tell you about the white machine. Yes, it is quite pricey, but we are very proud of it. Cutting edge certainly, but also refined and classic. You see the smooth bezel down the side? Ivory inlays. Ultra HD display screen. I agree, it is quite difficult to identify exactly what it does just by looking at it. The mechanism in this machine is very small. You see this panel here? It looks like a key slot, but actually if you push your finger inside – no sir don’t do that right now – well if you place your finger in here a micro-syringe will push through the fur coating and deposit a tiny dosage of our secret formula into the tip of your finger. Not intravenous, this formula doesn’t need to go directly into your veins. Paralysis at first. Look down sir, you see the matt on the floor? Padded and shock absorbent. It’s a little like a very peaceful sleep. Yes sir, a forever sleep.
Perhaps we could look at the red machine. It’s far closer to your budget and offers a – no sir, come over here please! I’m afraid that area is off-limits. Yes of course it’s not working? Why sir that isn’t one of our machines! That’s the door. Well yes it’s an entrance, but it’s not also an exit. Not unless you have the cancellation fee at hand. Fifteen thousand. No sir, financing is not available for that option.
Would you like to see the blue machine again?
Am I Repeating Myself?
by Linda D. Addison
ANOMALY REPORT #27RC393
BEGIN DOCTOR’S OBSERVATION:
The doctor shifted in his leather chair. He bit at a corner of his thumb nail, spread his palms on the dark mahogany desk and looked at both sides of his hands before lowering them to his lap. He looked up at the monitor, straightened when the green light came on.
“Computer, open Case 101B.”
“File opened, Doctor,” the computer’s soft voice answered.
“Prepare for evaluation. Replay the last interview with the patient.”
The screen showed a thin, dark-skinned woman in a hospital gown, seated opposite the doctor. She pulled a strand from her cloud of tangled hair with one hand, placed it in her palm, pulled another hair out. After a few seconds she began to talk.
Did you ever wake up one morning and feel everything was wrong? That’s how today started. I opened my eyes to Ralphie sitting on my dresser, licking his paws. I woke to that grey striped cat every day for seven years. Nothing strange about that. But today every move he made seemed like a rerun of a movie. Every move I made was an echo. I felt out of place. My oak bed, the beige walls, even my worn blue slippers felt strange and familiar at the same time.
I shrugged it off as déjà vu. I took my shower, gulped a cup of coffee and rushed out to the subway. Things started falling apart as I left the subway station. Deep in the herd of workers crowding onto the escalator to the street, I started noticing the people around me.
There was a familiarity that didn’t make sense. I tried to ignore the feeling. But the voices, the bumping into bodies, felt like, well, you know how it is to bump into someone you know well. There’s warmth, an acceptance. When you bump into a stranger you want to move away.
I tried to shake the feeling. It wouldn’t go away. The crowd got thicker. Their eyes bore into me. I knew them, all of them. My heart pounded. I couldn’t get enough air. I had to get away, to think. Try to understand what was happening.
I pushed through them. People yelled, pushed back. An old man fell in front of me. I started to climb over him. Others shoved me to the ground. Held me down. They yelled at me, asked me questions. I started screaming. I didn’t want to hear the sameness in their voices. I screamed and screamed.
The police came and put me in an ambulance. They tied me down. Someone gave me a shot that made me sleep. I woke up here.
We’ve never met, right?
But, I know you. Your voice, your eyes. Like mirrors. Like theirs. Like mine. Everyone is me. I understand, now that I’ve had time to rest and think about it. We’re all made from the same kind of cell. Someone has taken one cell and made copies of people. See this hair in my hand? Each hair could be used to make hundreds of me, of you. It’s like something out of a science-fiction story. I don’t know why someone would do this or why I suddenly realized it.
You think I’m crazy, but I don’t care. I understand now. I know that everyone is me. In this city, maybe in the whole world.
I can’t go on, now that I know. Maybe you can help me forget. So things will be like they were. I just want to forget. Please. Help me.
The patient buried her face in her hands and broke into tears.
“Computer, end playback.” The doctor wiped his sweating hands on his pants before crossing his arms and leaning back in the chair.
The monitor changed to a soothing, slowly changing fractal pattern. “Doctor, what is your opinion of this case?” the computer asked.
“I-I think the patient has become involved in a sudden delusional fantasy as a means of escape.”
“What is she trying to escape?”
The doctor picked up a glass of water. His shaking hand caused ripples. He put the glass down. “I don’t know. I-I mean I don’t have enough information about her life at this point.”
“Doctor, you seem upset. Has something happened you would like to talk about?”
“No. I’m just tired. Didn’t sleep well last night.”
“Perhaps you should go home and rest, Doctor.”
“Yes, maybe you’re right.” The doctor stood and left the room.
CONCLUDE DOCTOR’S OBSERVATION
LOG ENTRY ANOMALY REPORT #27RC393:
Confirmed spontaneous recognition of Project Repeat by one subject in Sector 5760.
Consequent corruption of second subject.
Detach both subjects from template to analyze their design for errors.
At the Bureau
by Steve Rasnic Tem
I’ve been the administrator of these offices for twenty-five years now. I wish my employees were as steady. Most of them last only six months or so before they start complaining of boredom. It’s next to impossible to find good help. But I’ve always been content here.
My wife doesn’t understand how I could remain with the job this long. She says it’s a dead end; I’m at the top of my pay scale, there’ll be no further promotions, or increase in responsibilities. I’ve no place to go but down, she says. Her complaints about my job always lead to complaints about the marriage itself, of course. No children. Few friends. All the magic’s gone, she says. But I’ve always been content.
When I started in the office we handled building permits. After a few years we were switched to peddling, parade, demolition licenses. Two years ago it was dog licenses’. Last year they switched us to nothing but fishing permits.
Not too many people fish these days; the streams are too polluted. Last month I sold one permit. None the two months before. They plan to change our function again, I’m told, but a final decision apparently hasn’t been made. I really don’t care, as long as my offices continue to run smoothly. A photograph of my wife taken the day of our marriage has sat on my desk the full twenty-five years, watching over me. At least she doesn’t visit the office. I’m grateful for that.
Last week they reopened the offices next door. About time, I thought; the space had been vacant for five years. Ours was the last office still occupied in the old City Building. I was afraid maybe we too would be moved.
But I haven’t been able as yet to determine just what it is exactly they do next door. They’ve a small staff, just one lone man at a telephone, I think. No one comes in or out of the office all day, until five, when he goes home.
I feel it’s my business to find out what he does over there, and what it is he wants from me. A few days ago I looked up from my newspaper and saw a shadow on the frosted glass of our front door. Imagine my irritation when I rushed out into the hallway only to see his door just closing. I walked over there, intending to knock, and ask him what it was he wanted, but I saw his shadow within the office, bent over his desk. For some reason this stopped me, and I returned to my own office.
The next day the same thing happened. Then the day after that. I then refused to leave my desk. I wouldn’t chase a shadow; he would not use me in such a fashion. I soon discovered that when I didn’t go to the door, the shadow remained in my frosted glass all day long. He was standing outside my door all day long, every day.
Once there were two shadows. That brought me to my feet immediately. But when I jerked the door open I discovered two city janitors, sent to scrape off the words “Fish Permits” from my sign, “Bureau Of Fish Permits.” When I asked them what the sign was to be changed to, they told me they hadn’t received those instructions yet. Typical, I thought; nor had I been told.
Of course, after the two janitors had left, the single shadow was back again. It was there until five.
The next morning I walked over to his office door. The lights were out; I was early. I had hoped that the sign painters had labeled his activity for me, but his sign had not yet been filled in. “Bureau Of …” There were a few black streaks where the paint had been scraped away years ago, bare fragments of the letters that I couldn’t decipher.
I’m not a man given to emotion. But the next day I lost my temper. I saw the shadow before the office door and I exploded. I ordered him away from my door at the top of my voice. When three hours had passed and he still hadn’t left, I began to weep. I pleaded with him. But he was still there.
The next day I moaned. I shouted obscenities. But he was always there.
Perhaps my wife is right; I’m not very decisive, I don’t like to make waves. But it’s been days. He is always there.
Today I discovered the key to another empty office adjacent to mine. It fits a door between the two offices. I can go from my office to this vacant office without being seen from the hallway. At last, I can catch this crazy man in the act.
I sit quietly at my desk, pretending to read the newspaper. He hasn’t moved for hours, except to occasionally peer closer at the frosted glass in my door, simulating binoculars with his two hands to his eyes.
I take off my coat and put it on the back of my chair. A strategically placed flower pot will give the impression of my head. I crawl over to the door to the vacant office, open it as quietly as possible, and slip through.
Cobwebs trace the outlines of the furniture. Files are scattered everywhere, some of the papers beginning to mold. The remains of someone’s lunch are drying on one desk. I have to wonder at the city’s janitorial division.
Unaccountably, I worry over the grocery list my wife gave me, now lying on my desk. I wonder if I should go back after it. Why? It bothers me terribly, the list unattended, unguarded on my desk. But I must push on. I step over a scattered pile of newspapers by the main desk, and reach the doorway leading into the hall.
I leap through the doorway with one mighty swing, prepared to shout the rude man down, in the middle of his act.
The hall is empty.
I am suddenly tired. I walk slowly to the man’s office door, the door to the other bureau. I stand waiting.
I can see his shadow through the office door. He sits at his desk, apparently reading a newspaper. I step closer, forming my hands into imaginary binoculars. I press against the glass, right below the phrase, “Bureau Of,” lettered in bold, black characters.
He orders me away from his door. He weeps. He pleads. Now he is shouting obscenities.
I’ve been here for days.
About the Authors
Thomas Welsh lives in Glasgow, Scotland and has written fiction for two years now. His first novel Anna Undreaming – the first part of the Metiks Fade fantasy trilogy – will be released in January 2018. You can find out more about his published short fiction and prize winning short stories on his website, CalmDownTom.com.
Linda Addison is an American poet and writer of horror, fantasy, and science fiction. Addison is the first African-American winner of the Bram Stoker Award, which she won four times. The first two awards were for her poetry collections Consumed, Reduced to Beautiful Grey Ashes (2001) and Being Full of Light, Insubstantial (2007). Her poetry and fiction collection How To Recognize A Demon Has Become Your Friend won the 2011 Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a Poetry Collection. She received a fourth HWA Bram Stoker for the collection The Four Elements, written with Marge Simon, Rain Graves, and Charlee Jacob. Addison is a founding member of the CITH (Circles in the Hair) writing group. She received the HWA award for mentorship in 2016 and the HWA Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017. She is also intensely fashionable, has the best hairstyles and amazing ink.
Check out a new story by Addison in DARK VOICES: A Lycan Valley Charity Anthology for Breast Cancer, coming out July 2018 from LVP Publications!
Steve Rasnic Tem
Steve Rasnic Tem’s last novel, Blood Kin (Solaris, 2014) won the Bram Stoker Award. His new novel, UBO (Solaris, February 2017) is a dark science fictional tale about violence and its origins, featuring such historical viewpoint characters as Jack the Ripper, Stalin, and Heinrich Himmler. He is also a past winner of the World Fantasy and British Fantasy Awards. Recently a collection of the best of his uncollected horror—Out of the Dark: A Storybook of Horrors—was published by Centipede Press. A handbook on writing, Yours To Tell: Dialogues on the Art & Practice of Fiction, written with his late wife Melanie, has appeared from Apex Books. In the Fall of 2018 Hex Publishers will be bringing out Steve’s middle-grade novel The Mask Shop of Doctor Blaack.
About the Narrators
Susan Gage is a member of the Mickee Faust Club cabaret troupe in Tallahassee, FL, and spent the first part of her working career as a reporter/producer and host of “Capital Report” on the Florida Public Radio Network. She is married to Isabelle and is a domestic servant to their cat, Valkyrie “Kyrie” Gage.
Siobhan Gallichan, a voice artist and premier William Hartnell voice actor, is one of those people who actually loves Marmite. Listen to Siobhan’s podcast at The Flashing Blade or watch the show on YouTube.
Spencer Disparti is a poet from Phoenix, Arizona. He loves narrating and writing music. You can find all his music on soundcloud.com under the name Descendants of Nyx.
Scott Campbell searches for battles that will increase his skills for the battles to come. The slush pile underneath PseudoPod Towers is a worthy opponent. He also writes, directs, and performs for the queer (in every sense of the word) cabaret The Mickee Faust Club. He also write far too infrequently at the official online home of the Sleep Deprivation Institute (and pop culture website) Needcoffee.com. He lives in Florida with absolutely no pets.
Scott is an associate editor at PseudoPod starting in 2016, He lives in Florida with absolutely no pets. He become Web Wrangler in 2021, and promoted to Assistant Editor in 2022. He is an invaluable resource for not only his assistance with reviewing stories but also helping to build all the blog posts and ensuring our website and bios are up to date.