I double check the address on my pad. I swallow, then knock on the base of the door with the toe of my boot, lightly. I can’t say I enjoy being a reaper. The world must have been nice back when everyone died on their own, when they didn’t need someone like me to convince them to go. But, hey, it beats living in the Pens like most people. I hear an oncoming sigh. A living skeleton in a pink tracksuit opens the door. Here we go again.
“Hello, I’m Alan with Sunset Life Counselling. I’m looking for Elizabeth Vernon.” I say.
“I told you reapers - no soliciting!” she scolds. She tries to close the door, but I block it with my foot. Her feeble push applies the pressure of a light breeze.
“Ms. Vernon, our records indicate that you’re 282-years-old. You’ve survived seventeen bouts of cancer, four heart transplants, twelve cerebral deplaquing procedures, as well as t-cell therapy on every organ. You haven’t worked in over a century…” I read off my pad. How can someone tolerate twelve brainscrapes? I’ve heard it makes your skull feel like crumbling plaster. No thanks, not for me.
“God will call me home when it’s my time.” She tells me. Did she just chuckle?
Odors of ozone and naphthalene waft into the hall. The older they get, the stronger the antiseptic fumes. Still smells better than the Pens, though. One of my eight roommates, Clarissa, deodorizes our common area with a spray called “potpourri.” I don’t know what the hell potpourri is, but now Clarissa calls the Pens’ excrement/chlorine/corpse aroma “Penpourri.” She’s clever.
“Your landlord has approved a rent reduction if you cap out at ten more years.” I tell Ms. Vernon.
“He did, did he? Well, I don’t need a break on rent. I’ve paid on time for two thousand months. I got enough for two thousand more.” She waves a finger that looks like a spider leg.
282-years-old and still seeing her future in monetary terms. Maybe she’s a pharmaceutical heir. They live forever.
“Young people don’t understand. When you’ve lived as long as me, you don’t just give up!” They all lecture me like this. I don’t want to understand them. I’m a regular guy. I contracted with Sunset Life to cap out at 100 years. Nearly doubled my salary. At just 49 years old, I live in a bunkhouse with only eight roommates and I don’t even have to share a cot.
“Landlords are required to make residents aware of the services that companies like Sunset Life can provide,” I say. “Did you know there’s 216 people waiting for your room? Some of them have been in a bunkhouse for decades.”
“Well, if they don’t like the bunkhouses, maybe they can take advantage of the services you provide.” She raises what’s left of her eyebrows.
“I visited the local bunkhouses yesterday and someone on the waitlist opted out.” I inform her.
“Good for them!” She retorts.
The guy chose to go right away. He went for the “Whole Shebang” party package. He didn’t have many friends, so I went to his sayonara, had a good time. I was hungover the next day, but I was doing better than the host, whose last drink contained a massive dose of sufentanil.
“I don’t know why anyone is clamoring for my room,” Ms. Vernon scoffs. “I used to live in a real house, you know. Just my family. A whole house!”
“I used to live in the Pens,” I reply. “We had just one room, too, so big that it was outside with four hundred roommates. Most of us fit under the shade screen.” She doesn’t react at all. I plan my next move. I won’t try to sell Ms. Vernon the Whole Shebang. Maybe the “Say Goodbye to Your Available Children” package will work. Sunset Life pays the family to put pressure on the client, move things along. I check my pad. It says she doesn’t have any living relatives. Dammit.
I look at her shriveled shape and wonder if I have any living relatives, maybe a mother in a bunkhouse somewhere, or a cousin out in the Pens.
“We have vacation packages!” I keep at it. “One way trips to anywhere.”
“One way? Oh please. I’m not even the oldest person on this floor. Sheldon Adelson’s 400. Go bother him, you damn reaper.”
She manages to sneak the door closed before I can stop her. Oh well. These breathing mummies are so frustrating, but at least I’m not in the Pens. I don’t have to scoop my meals out of a food trough with a plastic cup. I stay dry when it rains.
Before I move on, I pound on Ms. Vernon’s door, three times – Bang! Bang! Bang! – just to test her old heart. Something clatters across the floor within, followed by a raspy gasp. I smile and continue down the hall to the next name on my list.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Eric Aldrich's recent work has appeared in Hobart, Manifest West, and The Worcester Review, and is forthcoming from Weber: The Contemporary West. His novella, Please Listen Carefully as Our Options Have Changed, is forthcoming from Running Wild Press. He reviews books for Heavy Feather, Full Stop, and Terrain.org. You can follow Eric via ericaldrich.net or @ericjamesaldrich on Instagram.