Friday, August 8, 2014

Friday Flashback: Salesman Of A Death

Through the end of the year, Kurt is re-running some of his favorite Friday Flash Fiction stories. If you like this one, it--and a hundred similar stories--can be purchased on Kindle in a new collection.

Salesman of a Death
Word Count: 599
Published: 8/10/12

“Influenza! We’ve got influenza here!” cried a hawker. The man across from him tried to drown him out with shouts of “gunshot wounds” and “major automobile accidents.” Terrence passed them both and made his way warily to the back of the alley, ignoring the offers of accidental hangings and broken necks as he passed.

Wedged in a corner at the far end of the row was a booth—a table, really—and the man with the hood. Supposedly he was the only trader worth talking to. Terrence absently fingered the crinkled Fate Chart in his pocket, a list of major events in his future given in no particular order. Children. Divorces. Downsizing. And, of course, his death.

“Mr. Johnson,” said the man with the hood.

“Um, my name’s Whitaker,” said Terrence.

The man with the hood shrugged. “Would have been creepy as hell if your name was Johnson, though, right? Have a seat.”

“It would have,” said Terrence, sitting.

“I’m Mr. Abrams,” said the man with the hood. “There’s a lot of them out there—Johnsons, I mean. It’s startlingly effective. What can I help you with?”

“Me?” asked Terrence. “Yes, of course. I, uh… I wanted to see about trading up.”

“What have you got?”

“Drowning,” said Terrence.

Abrams snorted. “Not worth very much, I’m afraid. It’s a very unpleasant way to go, and the market’s a bit flooded, so to speak. Probably a big disaster coming in the next few years.”

“What can I get for it?”

“Torture,” said Abrams.

“I’m serious,” said Terrence.

“So am I. What were you hoping for?”

“Quietly in my sleep,” said Terrence.

“I thought you said you were being serious,” said Abrams. “The people who die like that aren’t the kind of people who barter Fates.”

“What’s more reasonable?” asked Terrence.

“I’m sorry, but drowning just isn’t worth anything. You’ll have to throw in something extra.”

“I have money,” said Terrence.

Abrams clicked his tongue. “I trade fates, not quantifiables.”

“But… they told me to bring cash.”

“The cash is for me,” said Abrams. “But I’m just the matchmaker.

Terrence pulled out his Fate Chart and started skimming. What would he be willing to live without? 
“How about a promotion?” he asked.

“Interesting,” he Abrams, rubbing his chin. “Quality of life for quality of death. I could get you a nice heroin overdose for that.”

Terrence winced.

“Too close to home?” asked Abrams.

“Too much of a lifestyle change.”

“Gotcha,” said Abrams. “Do you have any preferences?”

“I don’t know,” said Terrence. “Something quick.”

“How important is an open-casket funeral?”

“Not very,” said Terrence. “I guess.”

“Tell you what,” said Abrams. “I know a frequent flyer who’s slated for a plane crash. It’s making his working life hell.”

“I don’t know,” said Terrence.

“Listen, there aren’t a lot of options for you. A plane crash is a good death. The last minute or so is terrifying, but it’s not painful. The actual death is very quick. They might even put your name on a memorial.”

Terrence pondered. “Okay,” he said at last.

“Excellent. It’ll be two hundred down, the rest on completion of the transfer. How’s Saturday?”

Terrence counted bills out of his wallet. “I have plans in the evening—“

“Fine,” said Abrams, holding out a card. “Meet me at this address at two o’clock.”

Terrence handed over the money. “I’ll be there. Oh, I heard something about Ironic Death Insurance?”

“Waste of money, if you ask me,” said Abrams. “Last thing—and this is important—until Saturday, try to avoid large bodies of water. You know, just in case.”

This one of the first stories that really felt good. I was very happy with the way it came together and considered submitting it to short story markets instead of giving it the Friday Flash Fiction treatment. But it hewed a little too close to the Machine of Death books.

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