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I stare at the ceiling and rub my face. I can't seem to fall asleep but now it is time for me to get up, so I roll on my side and see my beautiful wife laying next to me. Her face is peaceful, serene, as she snores lightly into oblivion. I roll up onto my side, and stare down at her lithe figure. I lean down and kiss her forehead. She rustles but doesn't wake, and I quietly step out of bed.
As my feet hit the floor, it's soft blue glow guides my way to the bathroom.
"Good Morning Dr. Andre," The disembodied voice whispers above my head.
"Good Morning Sila. Start shower pod please," immediately I hear water splashing in my bathing pod, quickly steam fills the room, and the scent of soap clogs my nostrils. I slip off my pajama bottoms and step in. The pod closes around me, spraying me with hot water, soap, and steam. It begins to shave my beard with quick efficiency, scrubbing my body, and clipping my dark hair all at once.
As my shower finishes, I remember, it's my birthday. I count the years. I lost track after my wife threw me my 175th birthday party but that had to be at least 15 years ago! What a blast, I remember, as the large dryer blows the excess water from my body. My wife will be visiting me at the office to bring me my customary slice of cake. She may stay and try out an experience too.
I dress quickly in dark blue scrubs, my white overcoat, and sneakers. I am off to my office in record time. Sila pings me in my car, "Dr. Andre, you have forgotten breakfast. Would you like me to make you something?"
I groan, I hate automated food. But I know if I don't eat my daily calorie intake, Sila will do nothing but bother me all day. "Sure, Sila. Eggs and toast please." As I finish my sentence the smell of eggs and whole wheat toast film my car with a delicious aroma. I am hungry.
A ding sounds and out pop eggs and toast just like I asked. "Thank you, Sila."
I eat with gusto as my car flies silently over the quiet darkness of the city. I reflect on why we have no names for our cities, the politicians said it caused separation and distance from other cities. So, now we are all just "City" but I wish we could call it something better, more definitive of what we do. Like us, we live in a medical city where all the latest medicine is used to keep us immortal.
Although, my medicine is seen as a joke by everyone. Except everyone comes to me to get their fix. They laugh in my face while out in public, but I laugh at them as they panic and scream in fear in my office.
'Near Death' is one of the most popular destinations in our city. Everyone from politicians to the poor all come to me to get their fix.
I land in my parking space, step out and see a line already forming at my door. I shake my head, of course, today is busy, today of all days. I was wishing it would be slow today being as I wanted to go home early for my birthday dinner. I open the side door and tell Sila to turn on the lights. As I walk they slowly start to illuminate my office. White walls, white floors, white sofas, white pods, white everything.
"Sila, open the front doors," I tell her. The doors open with a 'pop' and a 'hiss'. The first customers rush in and stand in front of the many screens that line the walls. There they will let me know how they want to experience death, but never actually have it happen.
They also tell me their age and any medical issues their bodies have experienced over their long lifespan. Some candidates are not healthy enough for a Near Death experience. Even immortality cannot protect your body from everything disease, virus, bacteria, or a genetic condition. It just keeps you from dying from it.
The first customer's name pops up on my computer desk screen: "Jericho Gains."
I recognize the name, he is a Senator for the city next to ours. They focus on farming and recycling, my father calls them "hippies." A term from the past I believe.
I call Senator Jericho Gains back into my private office. I read over his record and scan his medial issues. No previous trauma, no brain tumors, a slight heart problem, morbidly obese. His age is still relatively young for a man who looks so old. Everything looks good and I prepare the simulation from behind my desk.
"Good Morning Senator Gains. I see you want to experience death from..." I pause reading over his file again. "A car accident?" I ask.
"Yes, I have never experienced a car accident. I want to experience it just once," his fat face turns red, his hands twist in anxiety. I look him over again, he is nervous, which is good. There are those who walk in addicted to Near Death experiences like heroin or cocaine, unable to function without the adrenaline rush.
"Sure. Follow me Senator Gains," I stand up and wait for his bulbous body to follow suit. As he stands I walk to the door and lead him down the white hallway. I open Door 3 and he follows me inside. I guide him to the white pod and begin to set up the computer. I punch in numbers and ratios, all to fit and format to mind and his reactions. Everything must be precise or it feels fake and forced, and there is no Near Death experience.
"Sila, read terms to Senator Gains please. Senator please lay down." His body slowly moves and jiggles as he sits on the edge of the body pod. Slowly he leans back and his belly flops and shakes as he does. I connect wires and tape to his chest, wrists, and ankles. I have trouble sticking the tape to the hair that curls above his dirty, yellow socks.
"Senator," Sila begins, "you must stay still during the entire session. If you are afraid, sad, or panic you must verbally stop the session. You must say the following: 'Stop, I do not wish to continue, or end session.' I will be monitoring your vital signs and if I find that you are in distress, I will end the session and alert Dr. Andre immediately. Do you hold all responsibility of injury or death to yourself and not to Dr. Andre or this medical office?" Sila waits for confirmation.
"Death?" Senator Gains squeaks. "I thought we are all immortal?" His small, brown eyes are wide and afraid.
"We are. But just in case," I try to smile. Try to lighten the mood. No one has died in years, hundreds of years. And no one has died in this facility. Near Death is just that NEAR DEATH, not death, death.
"I consent," he says, his flabby chin quivering in fear. The pod closes over him and I hear the 'clink' of the lock. I see on my screen his eyes wide, scared and staring in awaiting terror as his simulation begins.
"Begin," I say in disinterest. It's all the same. People want a thrill and I provide it.
I walk back to my office, slowly. I rub my face again. I can't seem to shake this feeling of unease. I begin to call in the next customer. Robin Wating would like to experience dying from being shot to death? Why? I don't understand these people, looking for death when death is no longer a concern.
We fixed that broken issue centuries ago. No more death, no more pain, no more sorrow. But now we seek death out, like some drug. I created Near Death to show how life was when we didn't have modern medicine. Instead, it turned into a way for people to get their kicks!
As I stand to retrieve my next patient I hear screams. Not the normal "I'm afraid of what I am experiencing" screams. No, these were blood-curdling screams. Screams that sound like death was here. I run to room three and the pod is rattling, shaking, filling the room with loud bangs and scrapes. I look into the screen, tapping the flat surface, I see nothing. It's black, nothingness.
"Sila!" I yell. "Report! Give me a report!" I am pulling at the latch of the pod. I rip and scratch, pull and push. Desperate, I press the emergency button pulling at the latch. Nothing is working and it feels as if my fingernails are being pulled from their nail beds. The pod is still banging, still locking Senator Gains in. Screams still fill my ears with harsh sounds.
"Sila! I said I want a report!" But she doesn't answer me. "Sila, end the session, stop, I do not wish to continue! Sila, stop the session!" I yell over the sounds of panic and pain.
Finally the pod stops, a light smoke has filled the room with a hazy glow, and the screams end. Never in my 100-year practice has anyone ever screamed so loud, with such intensity and pain. This banging of the pod has never occurred. The latch finally pops open and slowly the lid of the pod rises.
Inside I look at Senator Gains. "Sila, vital signs." I look at his hands, his arms, his chest, and his face. Nothing seems wrong. The room smells of smoke and blood. His eyes are shut, squeezed tightly. "Sila! I said I want his vital signs."
Blood begins to pour from Gains' mouth and nose, bruises begin to form around his eyes and across his nose, and his bones appear broken, shattered. Something isn't right, he looks as if he has been in an actual crime scene. I hear a ping from above me.
"Dr. Andre your wife is here. She is in Pod 4. Her session is beginning shortly," Sila's disembodied voice says smoothly.
"Sila, what is Jericho Gains vital sign report?" I yell at the speakers above me. I need to know what's happening to Senator Gains.
"Dr. Andre, he has no vital signs."