The Yield – Day Five

When Kofi woke that morning his head was heavy. A sense of grief had become him. The reason for such escaped him. Drifting through the recesses of his mind like wisps of smoke, impossible to catch or examine. He rolled over, dragging the under sheet with him as his warm body resisted parting with the damp fabric. Peeking through the window of his small mud hut the sun had already begun its assent. Burnt orange rays pierced the horizon, promising a day just as suffocating as the last.

Kofi teased his legs from under the blanket and swung them to the floor. Reaching down he picked up and pulled on a scrunched up pair of yellow shorts. Rising from the bed he cursed silently as his foot knocked over a cup, sending little streams of water running down the rush covering. A soft groan cut through the morning. Berating himself Kofi turned round. Thankfully his wife was still asleep, her breath escaping her in short, rasping pants. Her face was thick with sweat, slick curls of hair glued to her cheeks. Kofi stooped and brushed her forehead with his hand, a thick film of perspiration met his palm. He stood up to leave the room, glancing back once more at her small frame, covered in so many blankets she looked like she was drowning. But really she was burning.

The animals had been the first to go. Stray dogs shivering in the scorching sun. Small birds swooping low over evening camp fires, scorching their wings and dropping like rain into the flames. Yes it was always the cold that came first. The incessant need for warmth despite an ever increasing fever. Then the paralysis struck. A stiffening of the limbs initially, dogs lying in the full power of the midday sun, their legs stuck rigidly in front of them. Then the rest of the body, unable to turn the neck or bend the back. Death came after that, but not swiftly enough. Kofi remembered his little tabby, it had always been an elegant creature. Nimble and quick, it had prowled the night with the majestical dignity of a tiger. Then it became sick. Kofi had found her, little Pi, one morning while chopping logs in the back yard. She looked almost comical, her stiff legs slowly revolving from side to side as she wriggled her back in a state of panic. His wife had adored Pi, Kofi had no real affliction either way, but he had taken pity on the miserable creature that morning and snapped its neck. He buried her where he found her, a shallow grave in the garden. His wife had taken to sitting there for a while after she woke, drinking her tea and humming as the day came to life. Now she couldn’t leave their bed. Strange then that so few humans had been affected. Few but some nonetheless. Four deaths in the village thus far and three more were sick. Kofi shook his head. Not his wife. It was just a fever.

As he made his way to work that morning Kofi stopped to ponder the giant Baobab tree that grew in the centre of the village. It was dead now too of course. The sickness infected both fauna and flora. Its once magnificent branches drooped, its bark transformed to white ash as it slowly decayed. Soon it would sink back into the yellow sand, swallowed without a trace by the ever expanding desert. Kofi sighed and continued on his way.

Arriving at a little past six, Kofi promptly stripped and picked up a new orange suit. After stripping it from its plastic wrapper and double checking for any faults he pulled it on. Its crude fit already hampering his mobility, he began waddling towards the warehouse. There would be no work in the fields this morning. Today preparation began. Each collected pod was to be skinned and washed. No small feat considering the size of the things and that the last harvest had been their biggest yet. Manager Akuri had praised the workers, their combined efforts were making the project a success, thousands of lives could be saved as famine became a thing of the past. But the speech had washed over Kofi. His mind was back home with his worsening wife, back in the kitchen where she used to laugh and sing. Back in the garden where finches made their nests in tall trees spying on beetles which scurried around in the undergrowth, where now there was only sand and the buried skeleton of a cat. Of late, Kofi found memories to be his greatest companions. Everything else had changed too dramatically, too quickly.

Absconding from his daydream, Kofi found himself already at his work bench, the conveyer belt in front of him shuffling slowly forward, weighed down by the pods which were dispersed along the black strip. As one neared him he put out both his hands, ready, waiting. As soon as it was in reach he laid his arms on top of it, cupping it from above. It rolled lethargically onto his work bench with a heavy thud. Kofi began work, stripping the pale pink petals from the bulbous load. The petals were numerous and finely woven, sticking to each other like stubborn coats of paint. The task would have proved much easier using ones nails and fingers, but Kofi’s gloved hands reduced his dexterity to that of a rhinoceros. Every so often Kofi would come across a layer with an accessible edge, one that could be teased away from its companions until the whole thing could be pulled off with a satisfying tug. Moments like these were small victories on those stifling days at the warehouse.

An hour in and Kofi could tell he was nearing the inner layer of the crop. The once hard shell was soft and squidgy to touch, like cellophane wrapped butter left in a warm room. Piles of wafer thin pink strips lay strewn around him, already piling up around his legs, on this day the warehouse became a candyfloss factory. Kofi eased a strip of the final layer away. And there it was, pulsating, alive beneath its cocoon. A brown and reddish strip was visible through the covering. Straining, as if trying to burst out of its skin. Kofi marvelled at how the tissue took so long to die after being plucked. Without its stalk, its roots, its petals, the organism would continue to pulsate for a few days. A mass of living flesh with no differentiation. No organs, no bone, just live meat stripped from its botanical disguise.
After he had finished peeling, Kofi walked to the centre of the room. He pulled a large metal hook out of its clasp and drew it back to his work bench. With one experienced swipe he pierced through the meat and released the hook. It dragged the meat off the bench and back behind him, trailing through pink strips of skin and dust which clung to the meat as if it were a magnet. Finally the meat was pulled upwards and there it remained, suspended three feet in the air, waiting. Kofi held out his arms ready to haul the next bud off the conveyer belt.

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The Yield – Kofi’s Dream

A light breeze ruffles a patch of grass. A finger stroke on velvet revealing a line of deep jade undertones. The rest of the blades are young, fertile, green. Their pointed tips a measure of strength, not hostility. Spongy, as soft as silk. Trees line the symmetrical space, their broccoli bushels swaying in a calm wind. Lofty heads held up by robust trunks, cased in swirling bark. The daffodils have won the race. Giant yellow hats perched atop deep chocolaty centres poke out of the hedgerow. But their cousins are not far behind. Fragile fragrant buds emerge from spiny twigs easing their tender necks towards the sky. The subtle sun blushes over baby nature, her golden rays blessing all who bask, whilst cotton wool clouds protect the innocent from infinite darkness.

One would have thought the scene silent, but a slight retuning of the ears reveals a symphony of life. Keepers of the undergrowth chirp and buzz as crows caw, swooping from the heavens and diving from branches in search of the most succulent worm. A bluetit stands atop a branch, happily rehearsing the notes of his own, private song. But the tune is lost in the chorus of a hundred distant cousins, each calling out to have his say, puffing out his chest in the hope of finding a mate. The brutal game of survival is briefly transformed, hidden by a fantastic array of colour, music and dance. Today courtship prevails.

Kofi stands with his arms outstretched and his head cocked like a rogue cat alerted to the rustle of a snake in the bushes. And what else is he listening for? If warmth and peace and safety can be heard he can surely hear them here. There it is, that blissful soothing sound. The distant trickle of running water. It promises health and prosperity. Eden’s lifeline, Eden’s fuel. All at once a large gangly hare emerges from the bushes, its ears flopping heavily over its satin back. A grey hare, its back legs elegant, powerful, sleek. Its eyes alert, wise, omniscient. Then suddenly the hare is at his feet, its neck craned, looking deep into his soul. Its fur looks so luxuriously soft, silk finer than Kofi has ever seen. He reaches out and strokes the hare’s cheek.

For the briefest of moments everything changes. The trees burst into violent flame, the grass withers and dies. The flora darkens, petals turn to ash. The summer melody distorts into an anthem of madness. And the hare. His lustrous coat tangles, matted together with spots of congealing blood that seep out of his lean body. His mesmerising eyes shimmer in the heat, swelling, larger and larger until they pop and gooey black tar oozes from his sockets. Just for a moment. Then the smell of burning hair and flesh fills Kofi’s nose and he wakes up.

The Yield – Day One.

The air was dry and heavy, thick with an unrelenting heat which rushed through the sand and pulsated into the valley. Sweltering sand dunes framed the broiled landscape as the glare of the mid day sun tore into purified blue sky unblemished by cloud or bird. The plants were still, lobotomised by torridity, their buds boiling and blistering in the unbearable climate. But still they stood strong. Blossoming from the sand like botanical jewels of Eden. Their leaves were a dark Amazonian green, lusciously thick pads fanned out like the bottom half of a butterfly. Their stems stood tall, about three metres in height and at least a quarter of that in circumference, covered with matted silk hairs. Each strand glistened, thick with little pearls of moisture. Each plant oozing a steady stream of sweat to cope with the scorching sun. The stems grew vertically, save for the last few inches, where they abruptly changed direction and plummeted back towards the ground. A detour necessitated by the humongous buds that dangled from each stem top. Gigantic bulbous ovals, coated in baby pink petals, straining to return to the earth. Eternally battling against their viney necks, a corroded twine which never fully gave way. Thousands of plants lined up in neat little rows, bowing their heads with respect for the omnipotent sun. Sniggering to themselves at their evasive cleverness. Self watering plants who had tricked the almighty yellow God.

A sudden breeze rushed over the sand, breathing a gush of life into the fatigued landscape, a welcome respite from the stale stillness of the day. Briefly the wind outstretched its hand and brushed the solemn plants, so very gently it would have been missed by an unobservant eye. The buds tilted ever so slightly to the right before they gave up and resumed their humble stances, the brief motion picture regressing to a still life. But perhaps this scurry of excitement had not gone thoroughly unnoticed for beneath two particularly lofty plants some grains of sand were shifting. A tiny black antenna unfurled from the ground, its partner rushing up to meet it with an ungraceful flick. This excited activity dislodging a tiny pebble, sending it spinning across the ground where it met the stem of a plant with an inaudible thud. And then…..A tiny black beetle ruffled out of the ground, its rotund body following its protruding head. It walked around in circles wiggling its behind and tapping its antenna together, rushing its little feet over fire hot sand. The beetle seemed dazed, confused as it continued to ferociously chase itself. Then, whether it was down to the hot sun or the beetle had merely grown tired of his own game, he changed course. He ran for the nearest shade and after scuttling over sand and pebbles at last reached the tip of a dark leaf. The beetle hesitated, head to one side his feet rubbing together. And then he stepped forward.

The beetle could not have crawled up over half the leaf before he began to slow. His frenzied run dawdled to a casual jog and then a lazy stroll. His legs heavy as lead as he laboriously pulled them up and willed them onwards. Now inching his way forward his body began to stiffen, one leg raised motionless in the air. Until, as if he had been injected with cement, the beetle was still.

Four fingers and a thumb, encased in the most ghastly shade of orange fabric reached down and carelessly flicked the dead beetle off of the leaf, sending the rigid bug flying through the air. The hand made half a fist, its plastic orange coating squeaking as its owner clenched his fingers. Already feeling the strain in his bent knees Kofi straitened up, stretching his arms out to his sides and narrowly missing banging his head on an overhanging bud as he did so. Kofi rubbed at the visor in front of his eyes, attempting to remove a layer of dust and sweat so he could see more clearly. Unfortunately the Perspex was misting up from inside his suit, his sweat condensing in a steamy haze, blurring his view. In fact his attempt at clearing his narrow field of vision had only made matters worse, so, giving up, Kofi resigned himself to the handicap and resumed working. Placing two gloved hands around the bud in front of him he tugged hard, repeating the action until it reluctantly parted from its stem. Hurriedly stepping back Kofi watched as the huge globe fell to the floor with a spongy thump. Then he moved onto the next plant ready to repeat the motion, wrenching crop from shrub for this stage in the harvesting process. As he walked down the rows of plants Kofi could hear his shallow breath rasping through his breathing vent in his suit, it sounded moist and heavy, like the breathing of a walrus or an astronaut. ‘Housten we have a problem’ he joked, yearning for the cool crisp environment of space. Imagining how light and free he would feel as he spun and flipped and floated around his ship. It would be his ship of course. Captain Kofi. It had a nice ring to it. But the daydream was quite unconvincing, the heat of the day too piercing for such escapism. Reaching the end of the row Kofi began the arduous task of rolling the crop back to his truck. An uncomfortable line of sweat trickled back up his neck towards his damp sticky hair as he bent down and began to push a fallen bud. Straining, the veins pumped in his arms and forehead until eventually the bud gave way and began to roll along the sinking sand.

By the time he had pushed the last of the produce back to his truck the sun had begun to set. He reached down and pulled up the four protective sets of metal bars to ensure he wouldn’t lose any of the crop along the way. The buds were robust, not likely to spoil if they fell to the floor, but the suit inhibited his hearing somewhat and Kofi didn’t want to miss out on his pay if he came in under quota. As he hauled himself up through the door of his vehicle he felt the aching in his back and his legs. He longed for a soothing bath and a glass of cold water but knew he still had an hour’s journey in the sweaty truck before he could rest. In the sun all day the metal interior was white hot, the air quite stifling, but Kofi didn’t dare remove his suit, not until he had cleared the checkpoints. A few attempts at turning the key in the ignition and the truck spluttered into life. Rattling and leaking a foul black smoke from the exhaust pipe it set off.

Orange rays pierced the dusty windscreen, the sinking sun illuminating its canvas with one final fierce flare. Keeping a speed as steady as his cranking old truck would allow Kofi squinted. He knew the dust tracks well, he had taken the same route twice a day for the past five years. Twenty minutes past before a line of steel appeared on the horizon, a metal fence wearing a menacing hat of barbed wire rings enclosing the plantation. Nearing the fence Kofi slowed, a tall thin man ambled out of a small wooden shack labouring over a set of heavy rusty keys. On the other side of the fence Kofi could see the first decontamination team assembling, rushing around in their orange suits attaching nozzles to plastic blue tubes. The gate creaked open and Kofi nodded to its keeper. Then, pulling up a few yards south of the gate, he watched as the suits lifted their hoses and sprayed the truck, washing it down with a pungent soapy liquid. At last they finished, stepping hurriedly back from the vehicle, and Kofi continued. By the time he reached the end of the quarantine zone he was exhausted. His legs ached, his shoulders throbbed. He dropped the truck off at the unloading point, lingering to check his crop weighed in on quota. Then he stripped. Pulling the sticky orange suit from his thin frame he pushed the abhorrent damp fabric into a bin marked ‘INCINERATOR’. Showering he relished in the lukewarm water which cleansed his body, releasing dust, sand and sweat from his arid, crispy skin. He yearned for home now, for the comfort of his bed, so before he was fully dry Kofi stepped into the plain shorts and t-shirt he had left neatly folded on a shelf that morning and crossed through one final gate to make his way back to the village.

Devoted to Agony – Part IV

After leaving her son’s side that afternoon, Margret began the long walk home. Her late husband had the name Gray and unfortunately for Margret this resulted in her son being allocated a room in the most awkward location, a good half hour walk from the nearest exit. Turning to her right she began the journey, but not before sneaking a glance into the neighbouring room with its newly hung placard which marked the extension of a Grayson. Margret had heard that the room was newly occupied by Janet Grayson’s daughter, a girl of about eight years old whose brain tumour, though not removable, was containable. The girl had been submitted to The Unit whose doctors had frozen her right hemisphere and connected her failing body to a number of supportive machines, and thus the girl’s existence continued. Margret smiled as she considered just how damn lucky she was.

As she passed the Harpers and the Hansons, the Henrys and the Humphries, Margret was so wrapped up in her own little existence she failed to notice a stillness in The Unit, a sharpness in the atmosphere which made the whole place feel like it had become consumed by an electrical charge. If she had torn her glance, just for a second, away from her pretty pink dolly shoes as they clip clopped down the clinical white floor she may have noticed an intrusive shadow dart across the wall, or seen, out of the corner of her eye, the angry mob who were gathering at the windows, or heard the distant sound of clenched fists hammering on glass. But she didn’t. Margret didn’t look up as she trotted down the hallway, nor when she turned through the door marked exit, nor when she entered the stairwell and made her way down the stairs, with the clicking of the heels of her little shoes accompanying her journey in a resonating echo. It was not until she neared the bottom of the stairwell that Margret’s glass bubble was abruptly shattered by a loud crashing noise followed by a steady stream of people who leaked into the stair well and began to rush up the stairs as if a swarm of honey bees had left their hive one day only to find themselves trapped in a confined tunnel with only one way to go. Margret could hear the loathing in their angry shouts, the madness in their hurried steps. Panicking, she turned and attempted to run back up the stairs, but this was to no avail. She was wearing awfully silly shoes. For some reason or other, Margret fell to her knees, she felt something enter her belly and her stomach rise slightly as the implement was pulled out, her flesh latching on to the foreign object. The experience repeated itself, this time just under her ribcage, this time to the right of her neck. The last thing Margret remembered was a soothing voice sounding over the speaker; The Units hourly announcement. She felt surprised at its cheerful tone as if it should have somehow acknowledged and responded to her plight.

Margret felt drowsy when she came to, but when she attempted to lift her head and move her legs this was quickly replaced by a sense of panic when she realised she could do neither. She wanted to sleep, to sleep forever, but the aching of her body and alertness of her mind permitted her no such respite. Her eyes fluttered open and were immediately offended by the large looming face of her sister whose empathetic smile leered over her in the most disconcerting manner. Pain swelled through her body in such completeness Margret couldn’t distinguish her limbs from her torso, her head from her feet. She felt like her entire body had been dismembered and each bit was being slowly roasted, the cruel joke being that someone had deemed her consciousness be assigned to each individual part. She tried to shout out, to scream at her sister, to make it stop. But her jaw must have been wired shut for she could not open her mouth. It was as if someone had glued the insides of her lips to the plastic feeding tube and she realised the machines and the tubes connected to her body had become a part of her. She was vaguely aware of her sister’s hand caressing her forehead, but, despite this loving gesture she could see in her sister’s face a hint of jealousy. It was a way Margret had often stared at her son. She saw her sister’s lips moving, reassuring her that the recent uprising had been dealt with, and that Margret was safe now. But the shock of the whole experience must have rendered Margret quite insane for when she closed her eyes and opened them again, it was not her sisters face that she saw, but one that bore a striking resemblance to her own. Her features were melting away, transforming into the face that Margret had seen every day when she looked in a mirror, or caught her reflection in a window, its eyes were cold with devotion. Margret’s face drew nearer to Margret. And then the words mockingly danced out of her mouth ‘any existence is better than no existence my dear’. Margret could not take it anymore, she exercised one of the few powers she had left and withdrew her gaze to the clock on the opposite wall, watching the longest hand as it lingered over each agonising second.

Devoted to Agony – Part III

When she returned home that evening Margret turned on her television ready for the six o’clock news, and began to prepare her dinner. Having spent the majority of her life savings on her son’s extension the kitchen cupboards left much to be desired, but over the years Margret had accumulated a vast collection of different flavourings. She picked a small carton from the back of the cupboard and poured a generous amount of white powder into her simmering soup. As she stirred the concoction her attention was drawn to the television set which was describing the events of yesterday evening. A protest had broken out at a different extension unit down town. The focal point of the uprising surrounded a person’s right to pain medication, a taboo, which, not often talked about, was considered an abhorrently vulgar practice but which luckily was very difficult for one to get hold of. At this point, the telephone rang and Margret meandered down the hall to answer it, devising that the longer she took to get to the phone the less likely there was to be someone at the other end of the line. Unfortunately it was Margret’s sister who was calling, and she was very persistent. Having a husband in The Life Extension Unit herself, Margret’s sister was worried about the safety of the patients and their visitors. Margret reassured her sister, the uprisings never lasted long and when all the rioters were rounded up they would be put to death, the most shameful and deserving punishment the government could devise for those who took existence so lightly. After a long discussion Margret hung up the phone and returned to the kitchen. She had forgotten to turn the stove down and her soup was burnt in a thick sludge at the bottom of the pan.

Today was Tuesday so after endeavouring to eat as much of her unappetising dinner as possible Margret ran a bath. As she lowered herself into the hot steamy tub she delighted in the suffocating feeling which swelled from her toes up to her bottom; caused by the scalding water as it encased her mottled skin. She thought back to the conversation with her sister and realised that her reassurance speech had been as much for herself as for anyone. There had been more frequent protests in the last few years which worried Margret a great deal. What worried her more than the physical threat, indeed if she ended up in the extension unit this could even prove a blessing, was the mentality of these lunatics. Margret didn’t understand how anyone could question the sanctity of life and the importance of each individual experience. These thoughts must have made her drowsy, and, combined with the aromatic vapours of the bath, Margret was soon sound asleep. She awoke several hours later in cool water and found, much to her horror, that her hands and feet were wrinkled and puckered. Shrieking she jumped out the bath, hurriedly dried herself, and went to bed.

As she walked down the corridors of The Extension Unit the next morning Margret found herself stepping quicker than usual. Though she had taken the journey every day for the past eight years she felt rather on edge and noticed there were fewer visitors at the unit today. To comfort herself as much as to pass the time Margret began to whistle. Within time her tune was accompanied by the routine hum of a loudspeaker followed by the hourly announcement. It detailed the excellent work of The Life Extension Unit and was followed by The Unit’s motto; ‘Life is all there is, any existence is better than no existence’. The interruption cheered Margret up enormously. After a further twenty minute walk she eventually reached her son’s room and sat in her usual position on an old wooden chair by the head of his bed. Staring into his bleak eyes she felt a sudden stab of jealousy. She knew that the deepest recess of agony kept in its clutches the key to enlightenment. A euphoric understanding of life which the world had not seen fit to share with Margret herself. Margret knew her son had been blessed, and though she was happy for him she sometimes wished she could trade places with him. Just for an instant. That fleeting moment alone would deserve more attention and appreciation then the culmination of every mundane second of Margret’s life.

Devoted to Agony – Part II

Margret sat by her youngest son as she did every day, and, ignoring the fragility of his situation began instead to ponder the colour scheme of his room. A few years past she had painted the walls a bright shade of pastel blue and for a while it had made the room seem more spacious and light. Now the paint was flaking and patchy, it reminded her of death. Margret hated to be reminded of death. She decided she would go with ‘summer sunshine’ a pale yellow hue she had come across a few days ago at the local supermarket, and of course she would have to get drapes to match. Excited by this prospect Margret continued to envisage the makeover until her eyes fell on the face of her watch. Margret cursed, she had been daydreaming for a full forty minutes. Sighing she apologised to her son and began to relay to him her plans. She spoke with enthusiasm until she had exhausted the subject. This took only a short while, it was hard to speak at length on any matter when one is the sole participant in conversation. Reluctantly she reached into her bag and drew out a book. Margret hated reading aloud, the long words tasted bitter in her mouth, she stumbled and stammered, reading words in the wrong order and never emphasising the right points. But Margret remembered her son as an avid reader, so, from time to time, she would indulge him.

They had started the book a couple of months ago, it was not a long book, and could have been finished in a few days were it not for Margret’s aversion. The book was about two brothers who made a suicide pact, but just when they were about to pull their gun’s triggers into each other’s temples the second brother hesitated. He could not bring himself to murder his own brother. He was subsequently unable to contemplate this decision as the device he would have employed to do so was splattered across the opposite wall in a quite irreversible state of disrepair. The first brother had taken this as a sign and decided not to end his own life after all. After overcoming his grief he had lived out the rest of his days in the most enriching and fullest manner. The remainder of the book documented his wild adventures with an appropriate amount of self reflection which continually emphasised the intrinsic value of even the simplest everyday encounter. At her own displeasure Margret had read her son dozens of books since his accident, but this, she noticed, was the first one which really captured his attention. As she dictated the fate of the second brother her son’s eyes had jerked towards her, pleaded with her. Margret knew why. There had not been a recorded suicide attempt for over eighty years. The notion must be distressing for him, she concluded. I will have to find a chirpier book. Margret herself was disgusted by this plot line, though she saw value in the latter part of the tale. In general, however, she knew books to be a waste of time. They were too broad, selecting random events and occurrences to idolise in a person’s life. Really, she thought, books should spend chapters and chapters describing the smallest incident, we have too little time to appreciate these ourselves, words could extrapolate and recall the intensity of these moments, and she felt let down that they made such a pathetic effort to do so.

On completing the book Margret replaced it in her bag, she would exchange it at the library tomorrow. Apparently ‘Sapphire’s quest’ had recently come in, the heartening tale of a girl who searched for the secret of everlasting life. It was being made into a film and the posters were very intriguing. She leant down and kissed her son’s clammy forehead. As if energised by her touch his head jerked forward but the pain this sudden movement caused him was apparent. He winced and his body began to spasm sporadically. She shushed him and held his head down as he struggled. There’s no use exerting all this energy, she told him, it won’t do you any good. The life extension unit could work miracles, but they were not magicians, they manipulated the laws of nature, they did not create them. Eventually her son was still and took to his regular routine of blinking at her in a rather furious manner which Margret found quite disconcerting but was a habit she had as yet been unable to stamp out. She sighed and looked at her watch counting down the seconds till three o’clock. When three arrived, Margret’s cue to leave could be heard in the form of an electronic voice which sounded from a small screen in the corner of the room. It began to recite in its robotic tone the details of her son’s condition disguised as medical jargon which after all this time Margret still found difficult to understand. What she did know was that the information was more or less the same as it always was, so, seeing no cause for concern she picked up her bag, blew her son a kiss and left the room.

Devoted to Agony – Part I

Things had turned out rather well, Margaret supposed. She dipped the scratchy plastic towel into the bowl and dabbed at her son’s clammy forehead, watching as little beads of water mingled with his sweat, dribbled down his face, and rolled into his mouth. Noticing the flannel had summoned a crude red rash to his skin Margret smiled. Perhaps he would feel it, she thought. Her son had been in the life extension unit for eight years now, awake for six and a half, but thoroughly immobile, incapable of anything but exercising his consciousness. Such a mediocre existence, Margret pondered, he would be grateful for the pain, and Margret herself could be nothing but grateful for his current condition.

Drawing her mind back to the room she looked at her youngest son. His mouth was slightly ajar and twisted in an agonising smirk. His eyes were dark hollows, cavernous plates which twitched towards her, widening and narrowing as he struggled to focus. His eyebrows were raised giving an expression of one in a permanent state of alarm and his head shook slightly as he attempted to meet her gaze. His limp outline would have seemed pathetic were it not for his contorted body which twisted at such violent angles it enticed in any onlooker a feeling of horror rather than sympathy. His lank limbs hung over the edges of the bed as no manner of rearranging would fit his unnatural shape into such a neat rectangle. Margret smiled. She stroked his head, running a thin damp lock of his hair between her fingers, it seemed to calm him.

The issue at stake, she explained to herself, was the utterly insignificant period of a person’s life and the undeniable fact that life was over once conscious experience had ceased. There was no afterlife, no rebirth, no separation of mind and body. This was it. The best existence, then, was one that made the most of its small time on this earth. It resided in the most conscious of minds, as it is these minds which have the capacity to absorb their experiences with clarity and in detail. In turn the best experiences were the most real experiences, the ones which were felt the most, though Margret often wondered how this could possibly be measured, to her feeling seemed a subjective occurrence. Still, this was the ethos that Margret, and millions of others, lived by. It was the reason that her son and hundreds of thousands like him were kept consciously active by the life extension program. But, more than that, Margret knew it to be the truth.